life in a tiny apartment.

October 3, 2016

tiny apartment survival tip: check your sentimentality.
Tip #147: Check your sentimentality.

Here’s a short list of the things that I’ve decided to part with in the past month or so:

+ A mirror. (Sold).

+ A rug. (Sold).

+ Three canvas tote bags. (Stooped.*)

+ A vintage printer’s drawer. (Stooped.)

In addition to my usual flurry of seasonal shifting about, we’ve been making a few changes around here in anticipation of another human entering the scene. In the midst of this shifting, I’ve been reminded time and again that one of the keys to making this small space feel livable is to keep my sentimentality in check. Sure, I’ve worked hard to make sure that everything in here has a story, but some of those stories—and their accompanying objects—have more value than others. And to paraphrase an anecdote I recount in my book, the story can stay, even if the object itself doesn’t. I don’t think there’s inherent value in purging, but I do think there’s value in purging when the object in question is taking up space that might be otherwise more useable. 

Why the purge, you ask? Parting with each of these things has opened up space for something else: Selling the mirror meant being able to showcase a different, more favorite, mirror that had been hidden behind a dresser since we moved our bed out of the bedroom last fall. Selling the rug opened up storage space in Faye’s room. Parting with canvas bags maintained my sanity (how do they get in here in the first place?). And getting rid of the printer’s drawer meant being able to move James’s surfboard out of Faye’s room.

Why the sentimentality? Let’s take the printer’s drawer  typecase (editor’s note: update to reflect the proper terminology as identified by those in the know) as an example. When I was 24 and living in North Carolina, my friend Mandy and I went to a local flea market where an incredible abundance of treasures were waiting for us: rotary telephones, transistor radios, colorful tin cans with branding from the last century. Some of those things were useful, some of them not so much. I walked away from most of it, but I brought home a vintage printer’s drawer because I found it to be irresistible and because, I figured, it would be a helpful place to stash my earrings. In the ensuing years, we’ve found a place for the tray to live in four of our apartments. It’s held earrings in two, sat mostly empty in one (save for a few beachy finds), and most recently it’s been a stashing spot for paperclips and safety pins and spare keys. But the honest truth is that it’s also caught an enormous amount of dust and its shallow and very small compartments have often proved too small, even for the tiniest objects. (It was, without a doubt, a drawer for lowercase letters.) Lately, a certain toddler’s proclivity for thundering around the place has caused various pins and clips to be sent scattering along the floor on a regular basis. Still, despite the debatable usefulness, I’ve held on to it. In part because it reminds me of the hot spring day in that hot southern city where James and I first learned to live together.

But the more I considered the drawer, the more I realized that the object itself wasn’t really terribly important but that the space I’d gain by passing it along to someone else would be. When we decided to move James’s surfboard out of Faye’s room, the only wall we had for it to lean against was the one where we’d previously hung the drawer. I took down the drawer and slid it against a different wall until I decided I could just to let it go. We staged a small farewell ceremony (just kidding) and bid her adieu. The truth is that whether someone else puts it to inventive use or burns it as firewood or sells it at a premium to a sucker at a city flea market, is really neither here nor there, but that it’s opened up a corner of Faye’s room and given us a new spot to keep James’s surfboard has been just exactly what this tiny apartment needed.

So, here’s some encouragement to practice a little letting go if it’ll do you good. 

PS.  I’ve got a whole chapter on dealing with clutter and family heirlooms and other objects that just get complicated in Simple Mattersjust in case you missed it.

*A verb I made up meaning to leave something behind on a New York City stoop with the knowledge that someone else will come along and make it theirs.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1-146, RIGHT HERE.

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  • Reply Miranda | Miranda's Notebook October 3, 2016 at 8:21 am

    I always seem to magically accumulate clutter, and as I live in a tiny flat too, that’s definitely not a good thing! Thanks for inspiring me to have a bit of a sort through. Miranda xxx

  • Reply Marie October 3, 2016 at 11:03 am

    After reading this my daughter has put her printers drawer up for sale. She really likes it but hasn’t used it for what she had intended it for and its stood behind her bedroom door, unused, for over 12 months. Do love it when we declutter. Marie

  • Reply Elizabeth October 3, 2016 at 11:31 am

    As a hobby letterpress printer I confess I’m feeling compelled to note that the item you refer to as a “printer’s drawer” is properly called a type case (or typecase). Happy purging!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 3, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Noted. Thanks!

  • Reply Mary Kate October 3, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    I suck at getting rid of anything for feat that I might need it again someday. I have a habit, of rather than get rid of stuff, just bring it home to my parents’ house and stash it in my childhood bedroom or my parents’ attic “in case I need it again.” In *some* cases, I’ve actually gone back and got the thing (candles, fragrances, art, in one case); but most of it is stuff I don’t need that I just have a mental block when it comes to getting rid of it. So then after a year or so when it’s still sitting there, I’ll finally donate it. This has helped me a lot because it gives me a staging area for getting rid of stuff, if you will. Now I just have to rely on my parents never moving to a smaller space 🙂

  • Reply Shelly HW October 3, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Oh, your typecase! I actually loved the image of yours hanging on the wall vertically, in a previous post, and purchased one for myself. If I lived nearer I would give it a new home. 🙁

  • Reply laura October 3, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    oh i totally emphasize! i am generally good at decluttering and purging but i have this strange, sentimental attachment to this small three-legged chair (i believe it’s a swedish make) with a ZEBRA chair cover on it that i’ve been meaning to update for ten years. purchased it at a tag sale with my best friend when i graduated college and felt oh so chic for finding something european! i’ve lugged this darn thing in and out of 8 apartments in the past 10 years! it will finally get a permanent resting place when our house is built but this time i promise to actually recover it!

  • Reply Mark McDonough October 3, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Love the article and truthfully being tidy is a bit hard but a must. Thanks for those tips above … first the house then my clothes 🙂

  • Reply SEM October 3, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    You are really gifted with your words. The phrase “making this small space feel livable is to keep my sentimentality in check” resonated with me. At once an edict and a judgement free conviction. So liberating. Though my current apartment isn’t particularly tiny, I appreciate the mindfulness and permission to self acceptance you afford yourself during this shifting process. I also appreciate your addressing that you don’t find inherent value in purging for the sake of purging. I think so many decluttering guides emphasize the process of managing and processing the “things” without helping us to understand how to simply slow down and enjoy fewer things.

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 4, 2016 at 6:15 am

      Thanks so much for your kind words!

  • Reply Traci Barr Segal October 4, 2016 at 12:15 am

    I guess it’s me but I don’t think surf boards in home add any beauty. Seems like an object that needs to be stored in a garage or sold. Anyway, the rest of your organizing and decorating is lovely.

  • Reply Loretta October 4, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Love your advice and you look so lovely.I very much enjoy your book.

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 4, 2016 at 6:14 am

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply Anna October 5, 2016 at 6:51 am

    Would love any and all tips about where and how best to sell things when they have outlived their purpose in your life. Craigslist? Etsy? Ebay? Consignment? Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 5, 2016 at 8:01 am

      All of the above! Except maybe Etsy. Unless you really want to run a vintage shop, I imagine that’d be overkill!

      • Reply Anna October 5, 2016 at 8:32 am

        Thanks! I need a DIY selling-your-decluttering-efforts-on-the internet primer – wonder if there is one out there somewhere…Love your blog!

  • Reply Jane Hasty October 7, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I just recently sold a small church pew I purchased form our church when they remodeled. I had all intentions of refinishing it and using it in my home but after 4 years I haven’t touched it. Bye bye. And hello $75!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2016 at 3:16 pm


  • Reply lsb February 13, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Agree – I am having trouble figuring out what to do with things that are in good shape but not necessary:
    DVD’s that are still wrapped, collectible toys, just stuff that seems to small for craigslist and not worth the time on ebay?

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