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Living with Cats in Apartments: How to Make It Work in a Tiny Space

Living with cats in apartments — especially small apartments — can be easy, enjoyable and clean! Check out these simple tips from someone who's done it.

Louise Hung  |  Jan 7th 2015


I’m almost living the dream. Well, my dream. My tiny dream. While some people dream about mansions or penthouses, I dream of wee little homes on wheels with snug lofts and crannies. I don’t quite have my wheeled house of dreams yet, but in moving to Japan I got pretty darn close. My apartment is the smallest I’ve ever inhabited, and I LOVE IT. But living with cats in apartments does have its challenges:

A small apartment.

My husband, my cat Brandy, and I live in an apartment where our bed takes up almost half of our square footage, the kitchen is our living room is our office is our closet, and our bathroom is an exercise in contortion. But we’re happy. What we lose in space we make up for in two big windows that brighten our whole apartment, cozy quarters, and a-little-decorating-going-a-long-way.

Best of all, this apartment has given Brandy a “cat-sized” playground full of hiding places and perches to survey her domain. I suspect this is Brandy’s favorite apartment too.

But keeping a cat happy in a tiny apartment is tricky. It requires a bit more diligence to keep her standard of living as she prefers it. All it takes is a couple of days of laziness on my part, and I find myself living in what amounts to a spoiled kitty’s messy bedroom.

For those of you who also dream of tiny living, here’s my advice for living with cats in apartments:

Clean daily when you share a tiny apartment with a cat

Ugh. I am not by nature that person. While I’m not “dirty,” I am gifted at rationalizing messiness as “artistic clutter.” Doesn’t quite work with a kitty in a small space. When living in a tiny home, a little cat hair becomes a LOT of cat hair real quick.

A cat in a small apartment.

Egads! I hate it when those “lifestyle” mags tell you, “All it takes is a few minutes a day to see God and Martha Stewart gleaming in your floors!” But really … it does take only a few minutes a day in a tiny space. Without those few minutes a day I set aside for wiping and sweeping, my kitty and I would very quickly be living in a smelly nest of cat hair, outside debris, food crumbs, hair balls, cat scratcher sheddings, cat litter, my hair, and dust.

Every night I do the following:

  • Sweep the entire floor. Kitchen/living/office area, space around the bed, and the storage nook where Brandy likes to barf. Total time: approximately 5 minutes.
  • Get a wet cloth or hand towel, maybe shoot it with some nontoxic multipurpose cleaner, and wipe down the table that Brandy likes to tap-dance on, her window seat/throne, our two windowsills, our one foot by one foot “kitchen counter,” and any hairballs that might have been deposited in “Hairball Alley” (storage nook). Total time: 2-3 minutes.
  • With a second wet cloth, wipe down Brandy’s eating area. She’s the messiest eater alive, and because she eats a partially raw diet, I can’t have chunks of raw meat rotting on her “dinner table.” Plus, her eating area is right next to our bed (just like everything else), so if nothing else, this is a necessity. Total time: approximately 1 minute.

Total daily cleaning time: 8-9 minutes.

Put on a couple of tunes and SNAP! The job’s a game! (Or a dance party. You do you, I’ll do me.)

How to clean a litter box in an apartment

Alright y’all, this is the big one. In a tiny home, the litter box can go from zero to MISERY in two scratches flat. Brandy’s litter box has become my borderline obsession, my mission in life.

If you want to live in a tiny space with your cat, know that you will have to commit to cleaning your cat’s litter box twice daily (I recommend doing this anyway), if not more. Your cat doesn’t want to live in stink, and neither do you.

At first I felt like a slave to Brandy’s digestive system, but now it’s just another part of my daily ritual.

Whereas my husband and I once haggled over whose turn it was to clean her litter box, I now enjoy doing it in the same way a person with OCD (me) enjoys putting all the items on their desk at perfect right angles. Nothing pleases me more than knowing Brandy has a fresh, clean place to crap.

Also, the only place we could fit her litter box was a few feet from the foot of our bed, under our “clothing nook” (we have a lot of nooks). I learned very quickly that neglected cat box odors (even just between post breakfast potty break and early evening potty break) will take hold of your clothes, sheets, and SOUL faster than you can say, “How’d you know I have a cat?”

A cat looking out the window of a small apartment.

I should mention the type of litter we use. A while back, we discovered the wonders of pellet litter. I know, I know, a lot of cats don’t like it, but if your cat does (and Brandy actually prefers it), I’d highly recommend using it. Not only is it easier to clean up the few stray pellets that make their way out of the litter box (my pet peeve used to be little bits of grainy litter stuck to my feet), but I find the pellets actually encourage us to clean her box more.

I also find their odor controlling ability quite good (I use an “all-natural” Japanese brand, similar to my all time FAVORITE Oxbow Eco-Straw Litter, sadly discontinued). But let wet pellets sit too long and it’s a soggy, goopy mess. Gross. Once it gets to that goopy mess state, you waste a LOT of litter. Keep regularly lifting out the wet spots, and your litter stretches longer. Just scoop, pour in a little extra, and go.

Because Japan sells cat litter in stupidly small bags, we’ve found vigilant litter box cleaning is the optimal way to keep kitty, our home, and our wallets happy.

Remember that everything in your small apartment is shared with your cat

It’s Brandy vs. my memories, so choose where you place that picture frame wisely.

Somehow she got it into her head that the ONE TABLE I’ve devoted to framed photos must be conquered. I’ve tried blocking her path to said table, but she is a nimble, determined little creature and CANNOT BE STOPPED. This is what I woke up to this morning. It’s not unusual.

Clutter and picture frames in a small apartment.

Living in a tiny home, “off-limits” zones for cats are nearly nonexistent. Cats will go where cats want to go, and in limited space, unless you seal it off, your cat will get into it. Especially if you don’t want them to.

We very quickly learned that anything toxic, unsafe, or not for feline free-grazing had to be shut into a cabinet, as our tall, open, storage shelves said “jungle gym treasure hunt!” to her devious little kitty brain. If you have “nice things” (what are those?) you don’t want covered in cat hair, or tossed to the floor with the abandon, invest in shelves you can affix at a height your cat can’t get at. Or make your peace with lidded storage containers.

A cat in a tiny apartment.

“Easy breezy” everything-out-in-the-open living might look pretty, but with a headstrong kitty involved, you might want to rethink some of it. (TIP: If you can get a bed with drawers underneath it, it saves space and is great for keeping clothes hair-free.)

So that’s how we do it. We’re still figuring it out, but so far we’re pretty happy with the arrangement. Do any of you live in a tiny home with a cat or cats? How do you do it? What are your tips for having cats in apartments? Tell us in the comments!

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About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Yokohama, Japan, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com.