The 1.5 °C mitigation challenge for urban areas goes far beyond decarbonizing the cities’ energy supply and needs to enable and incentivize carbon-free everyday living. Reviewing recent literature, we find that dense and mixed urban form enables lower direct emissions from mobility and housing, while income is the major driver of total household carbon footprints; importantly, these effects are not linear. The available urban infrastructure, services and societal arrangements, for example on work, all influence how households use their time, which goods and services they consume in everyday life and their subsequent carbon footprints and potential rebound effects. We conclude that changes in household consumption, time use and urban form are crucial for a 1.5 °C future. We further identify a range of issues for which a time use perspective could open up new avenues for research and policy.