life in a tiny apartment.

April 25, 2016

tiny apartment, big drop cloth | reading my tea leaves

Tip #138: Keep a drop cloth hanging around. 

There were five times in the past month when I’ve wanted to ball up our canvas drop cloth and leave it curbside in hopes of never seeing it again. Cumbersome to fold, heavy to maneuver, monopolizer of space in the precious “linen closet,” I’ve wanted to say enough is enough: goodbye.

But I’ve kept it. Here’s why:

It makes our little place just a little bigger. When you’re on the top floor of a building in the middle of a busy city and when you don’t have any outdoor space to speak of, you have to get creative. Embarking on a project of almost any scale in a small apartment can feel like a fool’s errand. Apartment dwellers often lack the space—and the tools—to properly tackle a project from start to finish. Bathtubs and fire escapes and, in a pinch, the illegally accessed roof become places to attempt messy projects. Barring those options, a drop cloth is a handy thing to have.
tiny apartment, big drop cloth | reading my tea leaves

When I’ve painted a dresser, or scrubbed down a stinky cot, or, in a particularly sleep-deprived moment, taken on an assignment to weave my own (expletive) doormat,  I’ve relied on my trusty drop cloth to get the job done. A clean drop cloth tossed on the floor can transform your apartment into a mini workshop. Like keeping a well-stocked toolbox, having a drop cloth hanging around is a nod toward your own ability to get shit done or tackle a messy project.tiny apartment, big drop cloth | reading my tea leaves

On Sunday morning, our drop cloth served as backdrop for spring planting. We hauled our pots in from the windowsill, we pulled our bucket of soil out of the bottom of the linen closet, we let Faye go at it in a gigantic pile of dirt. All thanks goes to the drop cloth (and to James for picking up the fresh herb starts in the first place).tiny apartment, big drop cloth | reading my tea leaves

I’ve been on something of a project mission around this place lately and despite all of my wishing it away, I’ve been pretty pleased with my little drop cloth. So, here’s a little encouragement to a keep a drop cloth kicking around, just in case you need to flex your muscles or get dirty or work on something using your own two hands.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – #137, right this way

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  • Reply Lydia @ lupinelydia April 25, 2016 at 7:56 am

    man, I’ve never even thought of having a drop cloth… my dad does, sure, but I’ve always just spread newspapers over the floor for my planting… but I see how that could be problematic with a small child because you do have to be careful not to slide the papers apart. 🙂

  • Reply Ricarda April 25, 2016 at 8:12 am

    A curious question: How do you clean the cloth before packing it away again? I’d be worried that next time you try to spread it, half that earth will end up right back on the floor.

    • Reply Erin Boyle April 25, 2016 at 8:16 am

      No need to worry! We take it outside shake it out, and if need be, toss it in the laundry for washing.

  • Reply Ame April 25, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Did you make this rectangular awesome woodbox? Or when did you get it?

    • Reply Erin Boyle April 25, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Bought it years ago! It’s a teak windowbox I got at GRDN. If you’re not local, similar ones are here.

  • Reply Katharine April 25, 2016 at 8:58 am

    I had these exact thoughts about our drop cloth last week. It takes up so much space in the linen closet, and it doesn’t get used that often… but when I need it, I really need it!

  • Reply Katherine April 25, 2016 at 10:04 am

    I like how you bleep out the word “fucking” but then say “shit” in the next sentence. 🙂

  • Reply first milk April 25, 2016 at 10:09 am


  • Reply Mary Kate April 25, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Ha yes we always utilized the illegal roof access. Why do they all have to be illegal in a city where outdoor space is so rare?

  • Reply Emilie April 25, 2016 at 11:46 am

    …. and isn’t this the drop cloth used around the base of your Christmas Tree?! I was so inspired, that during Christmas de-cluttering I passed along our “skirt” and next year, out comes the drop cloth! Ours would have gone had I not seen a pleasing aesthetic around your Christmas Tree. Now little grandchildren can plant herb gardens in our future smaller place!

    • Reply Erin Boyle April 25, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      Yes! You’re right! Multipurpose!

  • Reply Becky April 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Agree with this SO much! Painter drop cloths have saves my flooring from bike maintenance projects.

  • Reply archana April 25, 2016 at 1:36 pm


    You have mastered the art of owning the right things and the right amount. Something to aspire to.

    • Reply Erin Boyle April 25, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      A work in progress!

  • Reply Stacy April 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I have much more space than you do in our home, plus a driveway and a backyard, but I still found myself at the hardware store the other day picking up a dropcloth for projects! Here in Portland it’s rainy much of the year, and so it will allow me to do projects indoors when the weather doesn’t allow it outdoors. Also, I do a good amount of repainting, and scrounging up newspapers and paper bags every time was getting to be quite annoying. Enter the dropcloth. A simpler and more sustainable solution to keeping things clean.

  • Reply Rachel Gilleece April 26, 2016 at 1:05 am

    There is something about that determined hand thrust into that bag…and that little dirty ankle…made me smile so much. My little girl adores projects like these that she can really get stuck into. We also live in a small apartment in the U.A.E., so indoor projects happen a lot!

  • Reply Kathleen April 26, 2016 at 9:50 am

    And they make the BEST curtains….nice and unobtrusive inside and out!

  • Reply Sarah April 27, 2016 at 8:06 am

    I love this post. 🙂 And little Faye doing all of the gardening is just so much fun. It’s a good reminder to me to embrace the mess sometimes in favor of good experiences for my little one who is around the same age as she is. As soon as the weather gets better here (it’s currently in the 40s-50s!!!) I’m going to involve my almost 2-year-old in planting the garden boxes.

  • Reply suzanne April 28, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    I love drop cloths , too. but for different reasons; i use them to make curtains, slipcovers, napkins. I sometimes dye the cloth. the cotton soaks up the colour beautifully. btw, your blog content is always excellent. thanks for sharing.

  • Reply SW April 29, 2016 at 11:29 am

    A shower curtain works great too!

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