A Crash Course in Small Living

Within a week of moving into my new studio apartment, I’d asked a friend to hack off eight inches from a queen-size memory foam mattress so it could fit into the tiny nook nestled between the stove and bathroom. The “bedroom” is nearly all mattress, and the excess fabric of standard fitted sheets bunch up awkwardly – but I got my living room back, and the apartment’s flow makes sense.

Taking this risk completely changed how I thought about my apartment, and helped me embrace small living. Other insights?

Keep Clean or Keep Crazy

You know the drill. A small space gets cluttered more quickly. A couple pairs of errant shoes, yesterday’s mail, and a tote of vintage vinyl currently sit in my “entry way,” a 1.5′ x 4′ corner of my living room that also houses a door mat and coat rack piled high. These bulky reminders of errands to run and chores to complete take up a lot of visual real estate – and because just knowing that they’re there stresses me out, I’m more likely to complete them in a timely manner. Okay, fine, I’ll complete them today.

Own Your Stuff, Don’t Let it Own You

This I learned from a friend who’s lived in studio apartments for years. I always admired her ability to stay emotionally distant from her possessions. Sure, there were a few keepers – childhood knick knacks and the fantastically fringed magnets from her grandmother – but she had absolutely no qualms about loading up a tote with clothes that she’d grown tired of (none of that “Well I spent good money on it” nonsense) or leaving furniture at an ex’s when she moved out (instead of finding the apartment to fit her stuff, she empowered herself to keep only the items that fit in her apartment).

Give Everything a Home

For decades, I used the “illusion of clean” technique of getting ready for company. This throw-everything-in-a-closet-and-deal-with-it-later method illustrated my organizational deficit perfectly – too much stuff, no maintenance schedule, and no system.

I’ve come to appreciate great boxes. Shoe boxes, containers from your Apple device, file boxes from the office, and sturdier shipping boxes (the colors/design on ModCloth boxes are fantastic for this) can help organize drawers and shelves by dividing the space into reasonable compartments. You could get all fancy with printable labels or a digital label maker if you want, but I prefer washi tape and Sharpie.

Stay Open to Possibility 

The thing unique to small apartments is that a couple tweaks can have a huge impact. You may be limited in actual furniture placement, but it’s easy to change out a rug and some throw pillows, switch out art on the walls, or trade tchotchkes on a shelf for Real Paper Books. By not getting too married to your stuff, it’s easier to figure out what you actually enjoy being around and embrace an evolving aesthetic. And that’s where the fun begins.

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