In my twenty-seven years on this earth, I’ve never lived in a space larger than a two-bedroom apartment. My current apartment measures 271 square feet (10 square feet per year of life, plus one to grow on), which is actually an upgrade in size from my previous place. It’s fair to say that I’m used to coping with limited space. In the comments of her recent post about moving into a smaller apartment in New York, Monika asked me if I’d be willing to write my own post about how I organize my stuff in my miniature apartment, and I’m happy to oblige! This post would have gone up earlier, but I managed to delete the first draft entirely, ugh.
A couple of caveats here. First, I’m a bit of a slob. I try to keep my slobbish tendencies in control, but I’m never more than one step ahead of entropy. My preferred method of “tidying up” involves tossing more and more things onto the futon until there’s almost no room for me to sit. Do you really want to take organization advice from someone who sleeps on a mattress on the floor? Maybe, but be aware that few people would describe my lifestyle as “aspirational.” Second, I live on a graduate-student stipend in an area with a high cost of living, which means that I have very little disposable income. I’m not sure how much advice I can give about limiting the amount of new stuff you buy, since my own limits are imposed by my budget and not my living space, but I’ll do my best.
Anyway, let’s take a tour of my apartment!
Here’s the living room, which contains my futon, my dresser, and my kitchen area.
The robot pillow presides over the “traveling pile”: a heterogeneous and constantly changing assortment of objects that migrates from the futon to the bed to the floor to the top of the dresser.
My apartment was listed as a studio, but it has two rooms–I assume there’s a law that prevents landlords from advertising an apartment under a certain size as a “one-bedroom.” The bedroom contains my mattress totally legitimate bed, my desk, a tall bookshelf, a sort of nightstand/low table thingy that I use as a bookshelf, and two built-in shelves, one for my nail polish collection and one for my makeup and more books.
The bedroom also contains the only closet in my apartment. It’s a really small closet; it extends farther to the right than you can see in this photo, but not much farther. The black Urban Outfitters tote bag is my “extras bag,” which holds contains a jumble of toiletries and household stuff that I don’t have room to store elsewhere.
In my previous apartment, I had three closets: one for my clothes, another for my coats, and a third where I stored my suitcases, my cleaning supplies, and the miscellaneous crap that follows me around from one residence to the next. When I moved to this apartment, I had to get rid of most of the stuff from the third closet: old notebooks and magazines, clothes that I hadn’t worn in five years, etc. But what about the items that weren’t miscellaneous crap? Well, I had to make do. My smaller suitcase fits in the closet, but my larger one now lives in the space between the refrigerator and the wall, and has itself become a shelf for my bag of bags (don’t lie, you have one too).
I store my household tools and cleaning supplies in a dresser drawer, in the aforementioned UO bag, and under the bathroom sink. I donated the unworn clothes that were still in good condition and tossed the ones that were ripped or stained.
Finally, the bathroom. My previous apartment was in recently constructed graduate housing, and all of the apartments in the building conformed to modern disability codes, which meant that my bathroom occupied about a third of the interior space. My current building is much older (I’d guess that it was built in the ’20s, but I can’t find any solid information), and like many decades-old buildings, it seems to have been constructed as a giant fuck-you to people with disabilities. My bathroom is literally the smallest I’ve ever seen outside an airplane:
Notice how the door takes up a good portion of the bathroom when it’s open? It’s actually about half the width of a regular door.
Since Monika asked specifically about how I store toiletries, here’s my medicine cabinet:
For the overflow of products, the top of the toilet has to suffice. Here are the rest of my lotions, plus a catch-all basket for bobby pins, earrings, combs, etc:
And now, a few general rules that have helped me live in my dollhouse:
1. Fuck Pinterest.
Pardon my language, but seriously, fuck it. Pinterest exists to make you feel bad about not having more money. Before I moved into this apartment, I spent hours on Pinterest looking at artfully cluttered interiors like this one:
|Source–read it and weep (with envy)|
There’s nothing wrong with using Pinterest (or interior-design magazines, or whatever) for inspiration, but you also have to accept the reality that your own apartment will probably never be Pinterest-perfect. And honestly, have you ever been inside one that is?
2. Your minimalism may not look minimalist.
It’s a cruel paradox: the smaller your space, the less “minimalist” that space will look. I probably have fewer material possessions than most people my age, but my apartment will always appear cluttered because of the lack of storage space. One way to remedy this is to designate one area–a drawer, the top of the dresser, whatever–as the place to toss things that don’t have any obvious home. Establishing a sort of “nature preserve” for clutter will help you keep the other areas tidy; at least, it works for me.
3. Embrace the steampunk ethos.
Not necessarily the steampunk aesthetic (unless that’s your thing), but the idea that the inner workings of your life might have to be out in the open, like the gears of a steampunk watch. I don’t have enough storage space to hide all the unsightly but necessary objects that are always out of sight in Pinterest photos.
(That aspect of steampunk has always confused me, by the way. Surely the pseudo-Victorian societies imagined in steampunk fiction have the technology to develop a protective case for all those gears and tubes and screws? But I digress.)
4. Don’t be afraid to put furniture to unaccustomed uses.
The most pertinent example in my own apartment is my dresser, which often turns into an extension of the kitchen counter when I’m making something that requires more space than usual–pizza, for instance:
Pizza with roasted asparagus and caramelized shallots, to be precise.
5. When buying new clothes, enter a store with a specific goal in mind (don’t go shopping just to see what’s new), and choose items that can serve as the basis for several different outfits.
I don’t want to generalize too much here, because everyone’s style is different, but I do think it’s important to develop a kind of uniform. The components of my wardrobe can be grouped into two categories: versatile pieces that can blend into almost any outfit (don’t ask me how many gray v-neck shirts I own) and statement pieces that can make those unassuming pieces interesting, like this floral blazer from Zara:
What you want to avoid are pieces that look like they should be basics but don’t actually go with your other clothes. Case in point: this Anthropologie skirt that I’ve owned for, no joke, an entire decade. I’ve worn it once, to my high school graduation, but I’ve never been able to persuade myself to get rid of it because it’s so pretty. Don’t put yourself in this painful position.
In her post, Monika asks if people who consider themselves minimalists wear their clothes until they fall apart. In my case, the answer is yes, though I’d replace my clothes more regularly if I could afford it. But honestly? You should be buying clothes that you can imagine yourself wearing until they fall apart, even if you have no financial need to do so. We all buy makeup that we anticipate wearing only a few times, and in some cases, those few times are worth the money we spend. I’ve worn NYX Castle exactly twice–last Halloween and when I went to see the new Hunger Games movie–and I still think Castle was worth the $4 or whatever. But it’s risky to apply the same principle to clothes, unless you’re buying a wedding dress.
6. Avoid temptation.
To keep yourself from buying too much new clothing or makeup, stay away from company websites (unsubscribe from emails if you have to), from blogs that continually review new releases, and from forums that enable feeding frenzies over new collections. And don’t buy backups of makeup, EVER, unless your very favorite product is about to be discontinued. You won’t get through three tubes of that limited-edition metallic copper lipstick, I promise.
Well, maybe you will.
I hope this was somewhat helpful! Do you have any tips for living happily in small spaces?