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