How to Live Small

Last Tuesday, September 1st, was a big day. But amid all the hoopla of two literary announcements, it felt like an oddity for me. Normally on September 1st, I would be all "Fall! September! Back to school! Leaves! Change!" Luckily, I rectified that mistake with a post on Thursday, so you weren't left hanging on that for too long. You're welcome.

But this September 1st was momentous for another reason that I didn't mention at all throughout the day. It was my one year anniversary of living in this apartment! After two years of living in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, following 23 years of living home with family members in various combinations, I finally moved into a space all, all, all my own. And it's been the most amazing year!

It's not for everyone, but I love living alone. And I also happen to love living small, in my studio apartment. (Which is really lucky, considering I wouldn't be able to afford living in this town I love so much without a roommate otherwise.) But I won't lie, it takes some getting used to, some adjusting, and some changes in behavior.

The tiny house movement (not to mention the minimalish, as I like to call it, movement, and the decluttered aesthetic) keeps gaining traction, and I think it's for good reason. For starters, it's economical and financially attractive to a generation who generally can't afford not to think about the dollars and sense of lifestyle. For another, a lot of people—myself included—reap other benefits from living small as well: encouragement to get out of the house more and explore the world, less stuff=less stress, less time spent cleaning or searching for things, and a built-in reason for saying no to the house guests you don't want. (Where my introverts at?)

But like I said, it's not always easy to start living small. I hear that, and I gotchu, girl.
1. Give everything a home. Clutter happens when things don’t “belong” anywhere. Think about it: stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills, piles of shoes, towers of clean laundry. They all accumulate when there’s nowhere else to put things other than “right here, just for now.” Then “just for now” becomes “always” and your small space feels even smaller because there’s stuff everywhere you look. Give everything—everything—a place to live and keeping tidy becomes so much easier. It doesn’t always have to be an elegant solution, just one you can adhere to.

2. Create separate spaces. A tiny place looks even tinier when the kitchen feels like an extension of the bedroom or the living room functions as a walk-in closet. Even if you don’t have walls (I don’t), you can use furniture placements (the back of the couch, a bookcase, or even the angling of a chair), toss rugs, plants, and color schemes to create visually different spaces and increase functionality. I can see my entire kitchen from my bed, and it would take me less than 10 paces to get a glass of water, but I’ve tried to set it up in a way that there’s enough between each area that it doesn’t feel like my bed is a breakfast nook.
3. Purge often and with care. This might be trickier for some than others. I am really good at getting rid of stuff—after years of being a borderline hoarder who never let go of anything and sang the “just in case” song a whole lot. I could (should) probably do a separate post on my rules for decluttering, but in a nutshell, if I don’t need it or love it, it doesn’t belong in my apartment. But here’s the thing: You have to purge with care.

If you toss something in a fit of emotion or as a response to a fleeting moment of stress, you may end up regretting it. As a result, you might have to spend more money in the future to replace that item, or shopping emotionally as a response to the void you didn’t need to create. What I like to do is set up a big shopping bag or bin in a corner of my apartment and as I come across things I want to get rid of, I put them in there. Every few weeks I go through the bag and donate. More often than not, everything that goes in the bag ends up leaving my apartment. But every once in a while I’m glad I didn’t toss a thing right away because I end up retrieving it.

4. Consider what matters to you. Your space should be yours. (“Yours” as a singular if you live alone, or plural if you live with a roommate/significant other/family.) In a tiny space, the walls can start to feel confining after not too long. A key to combating this is to have things that make you smile or bring you joy everywhere you look. Let your home be representative of the things that make you you. Hang family photos or a tapestry from your trip abroad or a floor-to-ceiling map outlining your travels or pipe dreams. If you love to work out at home, make your space open and conducive to that. If you love to cook, keep clutter off the kitchen counters so you have the space to work. If you’re always in the middle of several books, you can use them to decorate as well as to read. And if you love stark white, plain walls, that’s fine too.
A yoga space (I somehow manage to have a few!) / because the overflow books have to go somewhere / my dressing dresser
5. Set up your space for how you live, not how you think Pinterest wants you to. I firmly believe that Pinterest is the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to all of us. On the one hand, hello to amazing ideas, simple solutions to everyday problems, healthy recipes, financial tips, and sneak peeks into sales and bargains. But I feel like in certain circles (primarily blogging and weddings) it really can inspire feelings of inadequacy. Go to Pinterest for ideas, but remember that most of the pins at the tops of their algorithms are from people who have different resources (time, money, skills, collaborators, photography equipment, etc.) than you do, and are working with and for different kinds of lifestyles, and don’t draw unfair comparisons.

6. Plan ahead. Once you’re in your small space and have everything put away, you’ll notice that some things are less accessible. They just have to be; with only so much space for hangers, only so many items can hang in your closet. Ditto shoes, extra towels for guests, fancy glassware, the big pot you only use once every two months. When you know you’re going to need something, get it out in advance so you’re not adding to the frustration of crunch-time.

For me, this is never more true than in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work. Fact is, I can’t see all the clothes I own at once. It’s just not possible. And I also don’t have time to peel through everything I can see and can’t see to find the perfect outfit. So I pick out my outfit the night before, so I don’t end up either wearing the same thing every day or running late just because I can’t find clothes to wear.

7. Create storage wherever possible. Look up. Look underneath. Look inside. Your coffee table can be a storage trunk for DVDs, spare blankets, workout gear, your charging cords. Or you can slide fabric bins or baskets underneath it to make use of the dead space and store what you need. Floating shelves high on the walls can home your books, keepsakes, even decorative boxes with odds and ends. This really ties back to number one on this list, but the real takeaway is that you have to look beyond the obvious storage solutions for giving everything a home.

I have an antique dresser in my “living room” that has magnificently deep drawers with sturdy bottoms. I use the bottom drawer to store my pots and pans, since it is situated about 8 feet from my “kitchen” and I have no cabinet space there to spare. There are no rules you have to adhere to; it just needs to make sense and be helpful for you and how you live.
Into the "living room" / a bookcase (I gave up a whole one of these and all the books in it when I moved in here! Gasp! / the top of my secretary's desk (a perfect pick for a small place!)
8. Use whatever color palette you like. Again: Ignore what Pinterest insists you do. Unless you like it and it works for you for a reason other than “that’s what it looks like online.” Ignore "rules" that everything has to be white/light in a small space. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily go and paint all the walls black, and there is some truth to the theory of letting light in and reflecting light to make a small space feel bigger.

But not all sizes of “small space” need to be made to feel bigger. Some can be perfectly cozy and lovely, while being small. I have a white bedspread, and let most of the walls stay bare (not all), but my furniture and rugs are in mostly earth tones and mismatched brown woods with splashes of red throughout. Every time I go to my friend K’s apartment and see it in all its light, white splendor, I want to run home and redecorate. But then I get there, and look over my place again, and it feels just like home should feel to me. Suit your style and preferences, even if it defies the “rules.”

Are you, or have you ever been a small-space dweller? What's your best advice to make it easier?

Comments

  1. girl storage is like an oddity here - we have had to become very creative lol, but it's fun having everything in a space and without clutter! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  2. yes yes yes! i love making everything have a place otherwise it gets tossed or donated. whatever comes in, the same amount must go out. i could totally live in a smaller space but unfortunately, my child and husband are pack rats and love keeping things for eternity #rage

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  3. Love this post! I live in a huge apartment by myself and I don't need all the space. When I move I want to downsize, I've already started going through things and getting rid of what I don't need. I love the tip about having a bag (I use a box) to put things you are getting rid of and let them sit there for a few weeks. I'm always worried I might need things again "someday' but having a chance to go through it twice before I make the final cut makes me feel much better.

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  4. Oh my gosh yes! I also live in a studio apartment so I know the struggle is real. I've kinda put off decorating because I wasn't quite sure what to do with it lol.

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  5. you know I love the minimalish word and movement! It's way more my jam haha.
    I love this post and all of your tips - even if we don't live in a small house (well, we do in my opinion, it's not tiny, but it's not what most people on pinterest live in....) i can take and use all of these tips. i hate clutter but i'm really bad about decluttering, so i need to get on that.
    my favourite though is - Set up your space for how you live, not how you think Pinterest wants you to. yes to this a thousand and seven times. it took me ages to realise that i hate a lot of what i see on pinterest, especially for home decor. it's not realistic. i will never get a white couch. i don't care that you can wash the white slipcovers, i don't want to wash my bloody couch. plus, i have 3 cats, so no. I like things to mismatch. I want my house to look and feel comfortable and lived in. I hate that pinterest makes us feel like we need a 3000 sq ft home and we need big kitchens and 2 living spaces as well as a basement and a 3 car garage and all kids now need a big SUV and full size beds even though I grew up with a sedan and single (twin) beds. bigger does not necessarily mean better!

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  6. "Give everything a home" is huge when it comes to preventing clutter, small home or not! I like all of these. The only room we have to be somewhat efficient with is our kitchen and the "create storage wherever possible" definitely comes into play there. Mostly, though, this reminds me of my sister's apartment. She's got 400 some square feet of space, which I thought would be tiny, but the way things are arranged, it feels perfectly cozy! For example, instead of bothering with a bed AND a couch, she has 3 single beds lined up against the wall across from the TV. Like a wall of bed. Genius!

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  7. So many great tips in this post!!! I love the idea of everything having a home. I hate clutter and it drives me crazy to see mail sitting around our kitchen or Chris's shoes all over the floors. I have created homes for all of that stuff...PUT IT THERE! LOL! I think if you dont love it and enjoy it, get rid of it! That is my new motto for letting go of the extra in our house.

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  8. I like pinterest for a place to keep my ideas and look for ideas but I rarely reproduce anything exactly...mostly because of how *I* pin. If I like the IDEA of something, or the look of one thing in a photo or on a blog, I'm going to pin it. I might have jumped somewhere else in my mind, but the people re-pinning that don't know it!

    Love all of your tips here. A place for everything and everything in its place should be a rule for everyone regardless of how big or small their house is. We have a lot of stuff (MFD holds on to a lot) but it all has a place. Because if it doesn't, it has to go.

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  9. Great advice! I definitely agree with how Pinterest can effect your feelings about how your space should look. Everyone is different!

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  10. I love the minimalist movement and wish I were better at decluttering. My husband and I have been extremely good about getting rid of things this year, but I too am 'just in case' girl. And a sentimental girl, too. Slowly, but surely I'm getting better but it's truly a process.

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  11. Taylor and I watch a show about people that buy and live in these TINY houses. They are like a few hundred square feet for families and I cant even imagine how they do it. I have so much stuff. I think it is probably so freeing though.

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  12. If comparison is the thief of joy, Pinterest is the thief of time, happiness, money AND joy. Great tips, reminders and ah-ha's from you as always.

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  13. I don't really live small, but I am a HUGE fan of making sure stuff has a purpose and ensuring everything is put away, but mostly that my space is MINE. While I like the awesome rooms on Pinterest, none of those spaces feel like home. I'd rather walk into my house where the towels don't match the rugs and almost the rainbow is totally a color scheme.

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  14. I love your space- it looks so cozy! Great tips, too, and a reminder that I need to do some purging soon! I never really look at the decorating/home stuff on Pinterest because it all looks so staged to me. I like a lived-in feel, not one where I'm afraid to sit down!

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  15. I am a fan of tiny houses. If it were just me and one dog, I could do it. Not with my current situation. We'd kill each other.

    I live in a rather big house (especially for a family of three) after spending many, many years living in a townhouse with a very poor layout. All of these tips are essential to making your home feel a) bigger and b) like your home. Pinterest is great for ideas but copying someone else's style will always make you feel dissatisfied. Decorate your home for you and your family, not for photographs.

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  16. High five for small living! My place isn't as small as yours (I can dream though haha) but I love living small and never want to go back to having any more space than what I need. Something about it just feels like the perfect fit. I've definitely adopted your philosophy of only having what I need or love, and I totally agree that purging on the reg is key. Even if I'm unsure about something, if I can replace it easily and/or cheaply, it goes. I definitely used to hang on to "just in case" things but not anymore. I listened to minimalist podcast about the emotional cost of hanging on to stuff like that and I was like ah, totally! It's seriously draining keeping things because I'm afraid of not having them.
    The only house stuff I browse on Pinterest is tiny home inspo ;) I don't need any tips on the perfect fall tablescape for my non-existent dining table, thanks. Home decor seriously gives me a headache these days. Save for a few items, if it's not functional in addition to being pretty, it has no place in my home. I know that life isn't for everyone but it works for me. I love your space so much, for real. You definitely prove that minimal doesn't have to mean bare and that functional doesn't have to mean boring.

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  17. What an awesome use of space! I'll definitely be applying some of these to our little apartment home. Thanks for sharing!
    Morgan - theradwife.blogspot.com

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  18. We live in a one bedroom apartment and it's the perfect size for us... but we'd still like to get a house with a couple of rooms in the next year or so. The storage is what sucks the most! I'm fine with the space itself other than that!

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  19. I really need to start decluttering my home and making homes for everything. It really does make everything more inviting.

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  20. Im still in the process of fully conceptualizing how to live small even having been in my one bedroom for a few years. One day Ill get it!

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