life in a tiny apartment.

August 29, 2012

Tip #28: Books.

well, that’s not a tip. it’s more of a sigh. books. 

in our tiny apartment my relationship with books goes something along the lines of can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

before moving to new york, james and i always had an apartment filled with books. we had favorite childhood books and favorite college books, and a rotating cast of mandatory graduate school books and a sizable collection of oversized and exasperating art books. our various homes have been so full of books that we even developed a really fun game wherein i organized books according to subject and height and author’s last name, and james shoved them back in the shelves at random for me to find later. thrills!

yesterday, i had lunch with my brilliant friend reina (who is also a tiny apartment dweller in this large city) and she asked me what i do with my books. i’m sure my face fell. the truth is, we haven’t come up with a very good solution. mostly, we forced them onto our parents, surreptitiously off-loading boxes into attics and basements of their more spacious homes. but the problem is this: we haven’t been able to truly keep the books at bay. they creep back in. it’s too easy to slink into our neighborhood bookstore and bring half of it home. once the books are here they mostly land in a small pile on top of our dresser or they get shoved indecorously into the spot between the bed and the wall. it’s a bad scene. but here, a few book-related tips, from someone who admittedly hasn’t mastered this:

1. this one strikes again: hold on to what you love, part with what you don’t. even if, like us, you don’t have room for an actual bookshelf, keep around a book or four that you really love. you never know when you might need them. when you do accumulate new books, think carefully about what you keep. pass what you’ve read onto a sister or a friend or a used book store. if you have the time or patience, sell them online (and have it out with your author friends re: royalties).

2. so does this one: rotate your goodies. especially those big art books. choose one or two to keep out, and put the others in a box under your bed. when you get tired of le corbusier, ogle some o’keeffe.

3. get a library card.

4. make like one of my sisters and invest in a kindle.

5. revisit that tiny space between your bed and the wall and see if you can’t actually wrangle something that approximates a book shelf (yes, this one’s mostly for me).

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  • Reply Alexa August 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    ah, books. the only real head-scratcher for me in studio life. i arrived in the city with a freshly minted english degree (so…with a million tomes in tow), i'm still an avid reader, and i work in publishing…so it's like they are breeding. my proper bookshelf maxed out ages ago, so i have taken to making friends with books stacked on every flat surface. it works..for now…

    • Reply Erin August 31, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      yes. stacks and stacks.

  • Reply forefrontfashion August 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    i had this exact problem in my old studio. i ended up just stacking my books everywhere – i had lots of "end tables" made from a stack of books. surprisingly decorative, unless you want to read something from the stack. then it all falls down.

  • Reply Erin "For the Love of Bookshops" August 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    There is some clutter that you're simply better off with. I wouldn't want to live in a home that wasn't jam packed with books. Another tip: Stack them up and use them as functional side tables or ottomans. We decorate with them in every room, even have them displayed on the lattice shelf under the glass top of our Ikea kitchen table. Picture here, if that's hard to imagine:

    • Reply Erin August 31, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      agreed. i can't be finicky about *everything*.

  • Reply Harri Davison August 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Brilliant post. I'm a fashion student, so I buy and get bought books all the time. When I lived in my tiny Uni room, I had no space at all, so I created a make shift bedside table out of a small tower of books. I can't say it was brilliantly convenient when your after the book on the bottom, but it worked out well for the short term and looked pretty cool! x

  • Reply Milynn {Love + Whimsy} August 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I never thought about this as an issue for small space living! I have been planning on moving into the city and have a master plan of creating my own in-home library, so my books are multiplying. This does pose an issue, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the tips you've shared and your readers! So helpful!

  • Reply Kayla Poole August 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I come from the belief that a home void of books isn't really a home at all. Tiho comes fromt the belief that the advent of the kindle and ipad should be fully embraced. He loaded over 10 books I wanted to read on my ipad earlier in the summer and you know what? I still went to the bookstore and bought actual copies for my nightstand. Old habits die hard.

    (I told him that when we move, I'll be responsible for packing and unpacking my hundreds of books. He retorted with "yeah, but who's going to carry them?!").

  • Reply Charlotte August 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Until recently I had hundreds of books shoved into every corner of my house.. now I have about 20 that I can't part with and have taken the rest to charity. My boyfriend bought me an e-reader (the sony version of Kindle) for christmas two years back and it really has made a world of difference.. it's easier to give away old books when you know you still have about 100 books you love kept in the tiny computer in your handbag. plus, classics are often free, so it's a money saver too! xx

    • Reply Erin August 31, 2012 at 12:22 pm


  • Reply Whitney August 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    My tiny apartment is overflowing with books! Because I blatantly refuse to get rid of them, they've become "practical" parts of the decor. Wherever there's a lamp, a stack of like-sized books resides beneath it. Others reside on invisible shelves, in window sills, and yes, even between the bed and the wall. Books are my favorite thing to decorate with — their colorful spines brighten up a room instantly!

  • Reply Elizabeth August 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    This is admittedly a tip for people who own their spaces and/or have mad cool landlords, but my husband and I live in 480sf with a dog, a cat and soon a baby and had to come up with a creative solution for the many, many books I've accumulated. (Thanks, English degree and soon-to-be history PhD!) To save floor space, my husband built me a floating shelf that wraps around the top of two of the walls in our studio-style bedroom/living room. It's about 24' of linear shelf space, so pretty much the same as a tall bookshelf, but it requires no floor space and because it's higher than eye level it doesn't look cluttered the way bookshelves sometimes can. I love it!

    • Reply Erin August 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      elizabeth, that sounds awesome.

  • Reply Lottie August 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    i love books too and we have just had to become more callous in the ones we keep and get rid of–the poor books.

    but it does mean that if it is a classic it will stay and if we weren't blown away by it then we either give it to family to read or give it to the charity shop.

    another tip is that if you and a friend have very similar taste in literature how about swapping books for a while.

  • Reply Debs August 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I love books but sometimes you have to let them go. I keep only special ones and then trade them at:

    • Reply Erin August 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      awesome resource, thank you!

  • Reply Kaitlyn August 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Books are the thing I struggle with the most in my small space — they're overflowing on the two bookcases I own and are stacked precariously on all surfaces. *sigh*

  • Reply Kristen August 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Oh the horrors of living in a small space!! Lol! Luckily we have a built in book case in the hallway, but it's packed to capacity!!

  • Reply April August 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    We purged almost all of our books after college, keeping only reference books and those we knew we'd read again and again. I use the heck out of our local library system instead, which usually means a stack of 4-6 books on my night stand. We have a shelf that is near the ceiling on one end of our house for storage of books and DVDs since we're limited on space, too.

  • Reply Kari August 29, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I'm so happy to see so many people who still love books. Real, physical books. It makes me feel there's hope for humanity after all.

  • Reply apartments in marietta ga August 30, 2012 at 12:49 am

    With ipads nowadays, it's easy to forget about books because you can simply download soft copies via the internet. But did you know that you can actually use them as decor? Just make sure that these are books you've read at least once or your favorite collection. After all, these books tell who you are too.

  • Reply la domestique August 30, 2012 at 1:21 am

    This is such an issue, even in a bigger apartment. I love books, but I finally decided to compromise by only buying hard copies of books I really really love for their photographs/design. I have the kindle app on my ipad and mac, so everything else is purchased there, especially reference books (the huge volumes with lots of pages and few pictures).

  • Reply Anonymous August 30, 2012 at 5:06 am

    i have been living in a one-room 400 square-foot cabin for the past 20 years… trust me when i say that i too could write many a survival tip on living in small spaces : ) as an english major/book hound, i always have a generous collection of books. in addition to one giant bookshelf filled to capacity, i have often made use of chests, suitcases, baskets, etc to use as furniture/storage space. i occasionally rotate the collection so i can enjoy them all. i love books too much to go the digital route! oh, and every summer i haul out as many as i can part with to our library's used book sale… that way i can make room for some new ones.

  • Reply Rebecca ♥ August 30, 2012 at 6:39 am

    This is absolutely my biggest issue with my space. I am a book hoarding FIEND. At last count, I had 523 books. Fitting that into a minuscule apartment just wasn't going to happen. So, I crammed as many as I could into every crevice (silently panicking I was creating a fire hazard, but admiring my creativity when it comes to book stacking) and putting the rest in store (aka my parents' basement). I've recently thought about selling the vast majority of my collection, keeping only my favorites and those of significant sentimental value. However, I always seem to add more than I edit, so we'll see how that goes.

    • Reply Erin August 31, 2012 at 12:25 pm

      the age old conundrum, isn't it? (thank goodness for generous parents and spacious attics).

  • Reply Anonymous August 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    BIG Sigh… You are all my friends. We understand each other's struggle in this area … I am not an English Major but a bookworm like y'all. Someone once said: "my books are my friends". So true. The library has been my life and that has helped me somewhat in not being a book packrat? lol … The danger sometimes is that I will borrow a book from the library and be so absolutely enthralled by it that I end up buying it. At this stage, books have become part of the decor & fixtures in our small home. In time, I have become more practical (due to economics as well) and just hoard books and DVDs & CDs that I enjoy. Every so often I go through a purge as well… I can't see myself going electronics but then I won't say never… In recent years I've also taken to giving books (instead of cards) to people. I can then write on some of the blank pages my well-wishes & greetings. Cards are so expensive and people usually throw them out after a while (because I do) and a good book one doesn't discard (because I don't) and I think it is nice to remember our friends (what they've written on the blank pages) through books that will be w/ us ~ "till death us do part" (Thoughts from CONNIE CHONG-EE)

    • Reply Erin August 31, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      three cheers for kindred spirit, right? i love your idea of giving books instead of cards. smart lady.

  • Reply allthebrightsides August 31, 2012 at 12:06 am

    My boyfriend and I are both PhD students in English literature, and when we moved in together, our book collections also moved in together. We live in a pretty wee apartment, so we had to figure something o ut. We donated double copies, filled our bookcases — the standard stuff. We also configured some pretty neat looking invisible book shelves so the books feel like they're floating on the wall. Once that was done, we started tucking away leftover books artfully into all the nooks and crannies, piling them in corners… I actually love the way this looks. We left the open space open, so nothing feels too cluttered.

    I love books, so I like that they're still a real presence in my home without feeling like they're consuming me. I'm not sure how I'd feel about owning a kindle. But I agree: a library card is key!

    • Reply Erin August 31, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      i know, such a tricky choice, huh? i haven't been able to make the leap myself. but i admit that my recent thirst for hardcover fiction is draining the old bank account.

  • Reply Bria August 31, 2012 at 2:24 am

    I just spent the last half hour trying to figure out how to fit my books better in my apt and came here to find the perfect post. Thanks!

    • Reply Erin August 31, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      hurrah. so glad.

  • Reply Amielle August 31, 2012 at 9:24 am

    The last two and a half years have been me moving away from home and trying to decide which books I really need. After I left high school, it was three books that I stashed in my suitcase, followed by a box full two years later that are now packed up into a box in my parents' garage as I traipsed out once more, the same three books stowed away, with a few additions I managed to find places for. I imagine I'll have the same dilemma as I head back home in another two years. :p But at least I can say I'm consistant.

  • Reply Tim August 31, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I've come to terms with the fact that Half Price Books is my storage closet. I pay them around $6 a book every time I want to retrieve something I've previously given them. Then they give me $.02 when I give it back to them.

    Seriously though, I know you've made quite a home in your tiny apartment, but I also know you are well acquainted with the joys of moving more than once a year. I used to think keep books around kept me sane. Then I moved them across state lines a half-dozen times… Gone with you twice ready copy of "Team of Rivals." Take a hike Parisian flea market Miller.

    I'm still recovering.

  • Reply Sirama Bajo September 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    As a person plagued with being in-love with a book collector I love this comment. As for my personal book collection, it is full of tattered, second hand numbers that wouldn't buy you a loaf of bread if sold, in its entirety, back to the used book store -but they have character! Erin, I began reading your blog because I just moved my boyfriend and self into a 300 sq. feet studio. I appreciate your view point and I have renewed love for all of my literary clutter.

    PS. Any chance you'll devise a bathroom library soon?

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