life in a tiny apartment.

September 24, 2014

art supplies

Tip #110: Undress your work supplies, consider dedicated storage solutions.

 Because I haven’t tackled a reader query in a while, here’s one that I receive a version of every month or so, and I’m afraid I’ve never responded in a satisfying manner. 
Dear RMTL:
…I have a puzzle for you, for small spaces. Sarah, my partner, and I live in a small apartment in Philly and we try to be pretty minimalist and careful about what objects we bring into our home and about giving away things that we can no longer use/don’t need. But, there’s a major wrench in the system: I’m an artist. 
Half of our living room is taken up with art supply storage, a small letterpress and its associated large trays of lead type, books being pressed, paper storage, portfolios of prints, etc. We’re lucky enough to have a bedroom, a living room, and an oddly divided kitchen-eating space, as well as a hallway, but none of the rooms has much space in it, for two people and a lot of art supplies (which are often too expensive to buy in small quantities).
How does one live happily in a small space, when that space has to double as an art studio?
As someone in the throes of balancing a career from the confines of a tiny apartment, part of me wants to crow from the rooftops, “Invest in a studio!” “Give yourself the room to breathe!” “Make your home your sanctuary and move the work on out!” “Get messy!”
But as someone who also hasn’t figured out a way to swing an out-of-the-house office, I understand that that’s a difficult step. My work doesn’t require many supplies so something that I like to call the “divide and tuck” method has worked well for me. There’s a box of ribbon and stamps and paper goods for styling projects in one box, there’s a shelf of glass bottles and pretty napkins in a closet. My computer sits on a small table in a corner and I drag a dining chair over to it when it’s time to write. A wine box full of camera equipment and external hard drives lives under the couch. The supplies are divided and tucked away, and generally the division doesn’t interfere with my productivity and it means that my home doesn’t look like an office.
In the case of art supplies, you’ve got a different kind of beast on your hands. And as much as I’m an advocate of using what you have and resisting the urge to buy too many “organizers”, I think in the case of an in-home art studio, the investment would be worth it. For less than the cost of one month’s rent for a studio, for instance, you could have the tools you need to wrangle all that stuff. 
But before you buy anything, decide what you don’t mind looking at and what you’d rather seen put away.
A small letterpress and associated tray of lead type sounds kind of lovely. Maybe the trays of lead type are something you could leave out for easy access and eye candy? Could you invest in something that allows you to hang them on the wall, leaving the associated papers and tools as the bits you put away? Regardless of the specifics, identifying the elements that are most in conflict with your general sense of order is the best first step.
For me, one of the things I hate most about art supplies is all the packaging. Do you have papers still languishing in ripped open shrink wrap? Supplies sitting around in the cardboard boxes they shipped in? I once inherited an office full of this kind of stuff. On my first day of work, I spent a few hours undressing all of the supplies. I didn’t have an special organizing supplies to speak of, but I made do. Pens came out of ripped open packages and landed in coffee mugs, papers got neatly stacked by color instead of sitting topsy-turvy in squashed boxes, extra batteries came out of open blister packs and were lined neatly in drawers instead. If you haven’t done this already, undress your supplies.
After you’ve stripped the detritus, you’ll have the space to think about dedicated storage solutions. Maybe it’s as simple as replacing old and falling apart portfolios with a set of fresh matching ones? Maybe you’ll discover that a small rolling shelf provides a nice landing spot for smaller supplies? The wheels could mean that it’s something that you tuck into the bedroom while entertaining friends in the living room, and pull out again when working. Maybe it’s a larger shelving unit that makes sense? If that means that the shelf is front and center in your living room, you could rig a canvas drop cloth as a curtain. If it were me, I think I’d hunt for a dresser or wardrobe. This might be the stuff of dreams, but a large dresser could become the perfect spot for wrangling supplies without making your living room look like the studio it actually is! 

More on my own home office, embracing your hobbies, and transformer furniture.


Tiny apartment survival tips #1- 109, right HERE.

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  • Reply Maja September 24, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Great tips! Thanks so much!

  • Reply jenn @ beyond the stoop September 24, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    first thing that stuck out while reading this post was "A wine box full of camera equipment and external hard drives lives under the couch." I don't know about the rest of us, but my sofa is certainly not high enough to fit a wine box beneath it. HOWEVER, if I replaced the legs for taller ones so that I COULD put things like a wine box beneath it, that opens up SO much unused storage! 🙂

    • Reply Erin September 24, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Great idea! Our sofa has enough room two wine crates to slide beneath it and we're so glad for the extra space.

  • Reply Abby September 24, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Good tips! I'm with you on the wardrobe/dresser and shelving. My husband and I are both teachers, and I have limited storage space at school, so we have a LOT of books, binders, packets, etc. at home. We've invested in some good bookshelves (where we can store our growing collection of boardgames and my camera equipment, too), and use an old dresser to keep our paper supplies. It's definitely not perfect, but it's so helpful to have clear floor and desk space.

  • Reply Archana September 24, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    I have something i would like to tell her about my experience. Not every home will look instagram minimalistic or picture perfect. Wabi-sabi: embrace the imperfection, there is a beauty in it. You are the baker. And your kitchen will look different from an 'eater'. If you are an artist and have supplies that are essential, is it fair to sweat it, in the name of minimalism? I tried this route and it was draining my energy. And decided its not worth my energy at all. Ofcourse, we do our best to keep organized. Great tips.

  • Reply kristin @ W [H] A T C H September 24, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    undressing your supplies is a brilliant tip.

  • Reply Kim Johnstone September 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    I keep trying to convince my boyfriend to let me do this. I keep wanting to pare down, but he keeps wanting to add stuff. Our space isn't so small that it can't accommodate what we have, but I'm certainly ready for everything to feel "lighter" and more organized.

    Great advice, Erin!

    • Reply Kim Johnstone September 24, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Oh! And don't even get me started on his compulsion to keep the boxes for things — even though he doesn't keep stuff IN the boxes! Ugh, terrible habit.

    • Reply Kayleigh September 26, 2014 at 9:09 am

      My boyfriend does this too! It annoys me so so much. He says it makes for better moving and selling, but ugh, all that wasted space…

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