life in a tiny apartment.

April 23, 2014

works in progress

Tip #101: Embrace messy projects.

Here’s something that I think might not get talked about enough:

Tiny apartments aren’t always picture perfect.

I started this tiny apartment series on my blog just 8 days after moving in. I didn’t share photos of the entire space until—wait for it—11 months later.

In blogland we see a lot of beautiful (and professionally styled) finished spaces. We also see a fair amount of before and afters—but many of those have that dubious quality of the Dr. Zizmor ads on the subway. You can’t quite bring yourself to believe there wasn’t some amount of makeup applied for the after shots and some amount of deliberately shoddy lighting used in the before shots.

I’m not suggesting that people need to show the messy stuff. There’s a lot of personal sharing demanded of bloggers and allowing for a degree of privacy is welcomed, even necessary. But in case you find yourself discouraged in the midst of getting your own place to feel just right, I think it’s helpful to remember that it all takes time. Especially when there are full-time jobs and growing babies, and, you know, breathing to attend to.

When you live in a tiny place—especially a tiny place in the midst of a crowded city—even something as simple as repainting a dresser can present a particular set of challenges. Instead of being able to haul a piece of furniture out to a garage or the backyard, there are often multiple flights of stairs between you and solid ground. And there aren’t always neighbors who are enthusiastic about you making the sidewalk your personal workshop.

Last weekend we embarked on a little bébé-inspired project that’s still only half finished mid-week. And it likely won’t be finished this weekend either. Here, a few concrete tips for working on an apartment project when space is limited.

1. Carve out dedicated time to work on the project. And be reasonable about how many of these sessions the project is actually going to take. Tiny apartments weren’t built in a day, etc.

2. Tackle one project at a time. Do the pipes in your bathroom need fresh paint? Focus on those first so that you don’t need to have your bathroom out of commission at the same time that your bed is in pieces and your kitchen cabinets emptied of their contents. Slow and steady, etc.

3. Make ample use of drop cloths. They’re good not only for protecting nearby furniture, but they can be folded up neatly to corral offending paint cans, brushes, measuring tapes, and other things that you might not want to stare at in the precious moments between working.

PS. We went to Green Depot this week to pick up a few supplies, and they’re having an awesome Earth Day sale on their zero-VOC yolo paint which ends April 28. I’m reasonable enough to know our project won’t be finished before then, so I thought I’d share it now. YOLO, friends.

For tiny apartment survival tips #1 – 100, head here.

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  • Reply Alexa April 23, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    i love this post/series and so appreciate your roll-up-your-sleeves-and-let's-talk-real approach. i live in a 400 sq foot studio in a fourth floor walk-up on the upper west side and the logistical aspects of homemaking (especially how to paint furniture!) that seemed so easy before i moved to ny sometimes escape me now. thanks for talking these challenges out, one by one!

  • Reply Melissa L April 23, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Hahaha the Dr. Zizmor ads are a perfect comparison. I literally laughed out loud at that one.

    Melissa | M is for Melissa

  • Reply Sophie April 23, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Hmm. Know what you mean about the before and after shots, it's nice to have a middle one!! Love this series.

    Sophie x

  • Reply Kari April 23, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    These tips are very helpful, regardless of the size of one's home, if one is busy enough not to be able to devote much time to household projects. Thanks again. This is one of the reasons I always look forward to your posts.

  • Reply Jenni Haikonen April 23, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    So much truth in this! I was feeling so discouraged about my space not being decorated enough after living in it for 5 months…and then I realized I had only been living there for 5 months! Things do take time and it's so ok that it's not picture perfect.

  • Reply Adrienne Leonard April 23, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    So true! I'm trying to appreciate where I'm at in life but the struggles of simple things, like painting furniture really make you realize what you're working with. Thanks for the tips.

  • Reply dervla April 24, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    i can't believe you referenced the Dr Zizmor ads! Love those. They make me chuckle every time i'm on the train. Hope you're feeling great.

  • Reply Rachel April 24, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    TRUTH! It took us 2 months of weeknight and weekend work sessions to get our kitchen cabinets put in. Because honestly, neighborly decency means you can't be drilling in the kitchen past 9:30 pm and when you don't get home from work until 7:30 (and would still like a chance to eat dinner, thank you very much), well, that's limiting. And there just aren't enough weekends in a month!

    We did consider taking a full week of vacation and just knocking out ALL the projects, but ultimately decided that was not our preferred way to use limited vacation time.

    Our next project is making a custom dining table and I shudder to think how long it will be before we can have dinner guests over and let them sit at an actual table. Trying to convince myself it won't take as long as the cabinets, but I'm not really sure …

  • Reply valerie c April 24, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    thank you for this! i think it's so important for all readers across the blogosphere to realize how calculated and often times, formulaic blogging/social media/etc. truly is. no need to get discouraged; simply consume for the sake of inspiration.

    xx valerie at lily on fillmore

  • Reply Rebecca April 24, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Also- learning to live with imperfection. Finding beauty in the piece of furniture that isn't Pinterest-perfect but that fits you and your journey right now. Staying with the curtains that jar with rug because sometimes it's better to be than to do. Wishing you contentment in this special time in your life and hoping that you can find the time to sit back and savour it as well as striving for the best (physical) environment in which to welcome your baby…

  • Reply Poppy B. April 24, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you for this post — I needed the reminder. I love the way you always write with love and calmness in your voice, and this post is a perfect example of that.

  • Reply crystal ross May 12, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    I love that you live in a tiny apartment! I have been recently investigating tiny homes and micro apartments. I think they are so cool! I love your website and how you write. Very classy and chic!

    Sincerely, Crystal Ross

  • Reply Ana Alves April 1, 2022 at 9:40 am

    Doing DIY takes time, I am in the process of filling, sanding, prepping and painting the door between my kitchen and laundry room and it takes time. Time to fill holes in the wood, time to let the filler dry, time to sand, time to clean that up, time to prime, time for it to dry, time to paint multiple coats and time for each coat to dry. Not to mention time needed to buy the materials and time that you can dedicate to doing it all. I find it slow and sometimes frustrating, but i like the end result and always feel proud of what i eventually get done. Slow and steady wins the race.

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