life in a tiny apartment.

February 4, 2015

couch corner

Tip #117: 5 Things You May or May Not Need in a Tiny Apartment.

I’ll first admit that James and I recently watched a whole slew of Tiny House Nation episodes. This fact proves the point I tried to make here. And it’s given us a case of wanderlust.

But mostly the show has gotten me thinking about all of the things that people tell you that you need should you dare to live in a small space. Lots of these things are helpful. Lord knows I’ve made my own lists of suggestions for helpful somethings or other. But here’s the problem with tiny space must-have lists: any small-space solution is only as good as the problem is bad.

Here are a few common must-haves that you might decide you don’t really need at all.

1. Tiny velvet space-saving hangers.
You know the ones. They’re super slim. Clothes kind of stick to them so that your carefully pressed shirts won’t slip off. They are certainly very helpful for all manner of closets, but if your clothes fit perfectly fine onto bulkier hangers that you already own, and nothing is really very much squeezed at all, then there’s no need to invest in a whole new set. Non-problem solved.

2. Storage ottomans.
Assuming that having an ottoman is a possibility in the first place, I can understand the appeal of being able to make it more useful. Multipurpose furniture can certainly have a place in a small space, but it’s worth considering that you don’t actually need to store things in every square inch of a home. Sometimes these kinds of storage solutions end up trapping stuff you might not really need to be hanging on to in the first place: magazines you’ve read, junk mail, cords for electronics you don’t own anymore. Clutter caught is still clutter.

3. Drop-leaf tables.
Helpful? Absolutely. No doubt. Reason to kick your table to curb if it doesn’t collapse? Not necessarily. Drop-leaf tables—or any kind of transformer furniture—can be super helpful when space is at a premium, but only necessary if you don’t have the space for something immobile. Consider how often you might actually close the thing up before you invest in something with movable parts. In our apartments, we’ve hung on to favorite decidedly non-transformer furniture rather than buy new and that’s mostly worked out just fine. Bottom line, don’t panic if your furniture doesn’t come with moving parts. Maybe you don’t really need it to move?

4. Collapsible hampers, etc..
A collapsible hamper (or shoe rack, or colander, or dish rack, or what-have-you) is a really nice idea until you collapse it exactly never. If you’re not going to take advantage of the special functionality of a piece, consider whether it’s worth trading out what you already might have and love for something new. If a collapsible colander is EXACTLY what you need in order to store that very helpful kitchen item, go for it. Just remember: like a drop-leaf table whose leaves you never drop, a dish rack that you never fold up is, for all intents and purposes, not a foldable dish rack.

5. Gadgets and gizmos.
There are a million tiny things—special hooks and toilet paper holders and pocketed shower curtains, and shelf doo-dads—that you can buy to “make the most out of a small space.” Some of these things might be exactly, precisely, the very thing without exception that you need. But take it slow. Try a few freebie self-made options before investing in the “cure-all” that might not cure much. So many of these gadgets are cheaply made, or questionably constructed, or catchalls for junk rather than savors of sanity. Put simply: beware the gadgets.

Tiny apartment survival tip #1- 116, right HERE.

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  • Reply missris February 4, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I love that show! Every time I finish an episode I find myself wanting to clean and purge our (already small, pretty sparsely furnished) apartment.

    • Reply admin February 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      oh man! get it? one day i promise to start using spell check!

  • Reply Victoria February 4, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    "Clutter caught is still clutter." That statement alone works WONDERS for those of us living with "storage problems"!!!!

    I don't really live in a tiny place, but I do have wayyyy to much junk for the space that I'm in. I keep stuff because "I just might need it some day". Your advice would probably be, "If you haven't used in the sum of days behind you, you're probably not even going to miss it. And I should listen!

  • Reply Anonymous February 4, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Outside of the pedantic comment I'm about to make, these are great suggestions! Especially about the objects that never actually get collapsed.

    That being said, I think it's "ottoman," not "…mon." 😉

    • Reply Erin February 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      oh man! get it? one day i promise to start using spell check!

  • Reply Jackie {York Avenue} February 4, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Love this post. So many of the "small-space savers" that are touted are simply useful for storing tons of stuff in a small space, when really (I think) the best strategy for a small space is to edit, edit, edit (constantly) and be really careful what you bring in. Granted, I need to constantly remind myself to practice what I preach, but that's beside the point :).

  • Reply sarah e. February 4, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Couldn't agree more! I'm in 500 sq. ft. and every time I start looking for new storage "solutions" I realize it's time to reevaluate if I'm keeping something because I can or because I actually need it. In most cases the answer is no. Also, collapsible colanders are the best (but so hard to clean!)

  • Reply welliewalks February 4, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    love this! you are so right to add the caution that this may solve a problem one doesn't even have! i think that is the most important part…along with what others are saying- getting rid of things is more important than buying special purpose items. i was thinking about hangers the other day and kind of wishing i had some beautiful wooden ones- but i know that the white plastic ones i have now are best…we air dry everything, so there is no need for hanger switch after our shirts are dry.

  • Reply iris February 4, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Storage ottomans are perfect for things you need, but don't need often. Like your entire collection of board games. But, yeah, storing magazines you aren't going to read doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd imagine in a truly tiny apartment, that'd been purged long, long ago.

  • Reply Kari February 4, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    This post confirms everything I've ever felt about this topic. Thank you for being such a voice of reason.

  • Reply Anonymous February 4, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    I REALLY like the velvet space saving hangers. I can get about 30% more in my closet since I switched. Maybe that is the problem? I guess that is the point! Thank you for the thought provoking post! Kim P

  • Reply astanoch February 5, 2015 at 12:41 am

    This is a very interesting article, thanks Erin!

    On the topic of TV shows, I really enjoy watching A&E's Hoarders (specifically that version of the show). Within 10 minutes of the show being on I'm tossing things in the trash! It does wonders for downsizing.

    • Reply admin February 5, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      That's terrific! Sweet satisfaction when things end up working out in the long haul!

  • Reply Lexie February 5, 2015 at 8:00 am

    Bravo. Yes when I moved into my 300 square foot garage apartment 9 months ago, I was given all manner of these suggestions. I even made a trip to the container store. I realized that its all just clutter and I ended up making do with what I have. Now I have a organized functional space that I love. Without the gadgets, ottomans and such. its a matter of working with what you have to make it work in your space.

  • Reply Anonymous February 5, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    We have a drop leaf table that's folded down most of the time. We both have big families so it's great to use it as a full-size table when hosting family events. We also have two storage ottomans that we use for bed linens. They double as seating in our small house. These were all items that came with us from our even smaller apartment and have served us well.

    • Reply Erin February 5, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      That's terrific! Sweet satisfaction when things end up working out in the long haul!

  • Reply Hannah S February 5, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Love this post! Every time someone comes to visit our tiny studio apartment they try to give me a bunch of advice on how to keep things neater and to give us more room. I understand that they are trying to be helpful and sometimes it really is, but more often then not I have learned that I have to let things go and do what makes me and the boyfriend the happiest and most comfortable for us.

  • Reply Amanda February 5, 2015 at 4:57 pm


  • Reply Anonymous February 5, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    in my ~350sq/ft efficiency, a collapsible hamper really was useful, even though it only really got collapsed on laundry day. the fact that it was flexible as opposed to hard plastic or wicker meant when necessary we could squeeze extra things into the closet (like my SO's toolbox, or a guest's overnight bag) (overnight guests in a 350 efficiency are only welcome if they enjoy floor-sleeping), but we'd still have some space to toss dirty laundry. plus, in our complex's laundry room it was customary to leave your hamper on top of the machine you had clothes in to let people know, and i felt nicer to have my slim folded hamper than my neighbors' big wicker things.

    i agree wholeheartedly on the rest, though. this place had mayyyybe a foot and a half square of counter in the kitchenette – the dishes get washed, dried, and put away, and the rack must go away before the next meal!

    a lot of this seems like decor-as-storage stuff (the ottoman…) but do you have an opinion on storage-as-decor? SO and i are in more spacious living for now, but we'll be moving to a similarly tiny apartment long-term again, and i'm giving real consideration to one of those storage-cube-walls as a divider between sleeping space and living space.

  • Reply Amy @ The American-Made Guide to Life February 7, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Those hangers really are a space-saver lifesaver. I would also say that an expanding table with leaves is a good alternative for a drop-leaf version.

    • Reply Erin February 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Totally. If you *need* the space, the hangers sound helpful!

  • Reply Ariana February 8, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Oh, those velvet hangers. They break so easily and I just don't like how they look. Wood hangers keep the shape of bulky clothes and don't put yellow streaks on clothing like plastic will over time…

    When we moved to a tiny Paris apartment, we got rid of the clothes that didn't fit on our wooden hangers. We still have plenty to wear, and nothing gets crowded in the closet.

    • Reply Erin February 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      We kept our wooden hangers in our really tiny space, too!

  • Reply Anonymous March 3, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Oh, that well meaning storage and compact living advice from people who have never lived in anything smaller than 700 square feet! Truth be told, when I lived on 145 sqare feet, all my furniture was custom made or foldable. The bed was a sofa by daytime, seating at the dinner table when I had more than 3 guests (I made sure that it was the same hight as the chairs) and long or short term storage (as in clothes in the easily accessible drawers and bulkier or seasonal stuff in the cumbersome drawers you could only access by lifting the platform). But I was never ever tempted by pocketed shower curtains and other "helpful" gadgets!

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