life in a tiny apartment.

July 17, 2017

Tip #154: Spread a little cheer.

This morning, the muscles on the underside of my forearms are aching. They’re tender from overuse this weekend, being put to work on tiny apartment improvements that didn’t really need to be made, but that could be made and that make our humble space move a percentage or two closer to perfect. (I’d say we’re hovering somewhere around 35% in this space, but who’s counting?)

Renters, as many of you know, occupy a tricky space. The urge to make a change gets complicated by the dueling dilemmas of not wanting to pour too many resources into something that you don’t own yourself and not wanting to cross the line of making too many unsanctioned improvements. So, mismatched doorknobs or switch plates remain untouched, but a prominent light fixture gets swapped or a steam pipe gets repainted. A can of white paint gets opened.

A few weeks ago I finished Christina Baker Klein’s A Piece of the World. (Recommended and just right for summertime.) In a particularly heart rending scene, children buy a gallon of bright blue paint and proceed to paint anything within sight the cheery shade in an effort to wrench their mother from what the reader must assume is postpartum depression. Decades later, the marks of these efforts are still apparent in the old house on the hill—random old chairs and tables all painted in the same shade of cerulean.

It reminded me from a passage in my own book, if I may be so bold, about the particular brand of magic that for me is found in a can of white paint. Of course the point is, whatever your color, use it. Perhaps it’s a burst of blue that you desperately need. Maybe it’s a subtle gray or a defiant yellow. For me, it’s white, which feels bright and refreshing.

When I finished repainting the inside of our closet nearly two years ago, three-quarters of a gallon of paint remained. It’s been sitting up in the storage nook above our closet, alongside the chandelier and light fixtures we replaced when we moved in. 

This weekend, we cracked it open and started our own cheer-making project. There are little ones underfoot and only so many hours in which they’re sleeping or otherwise able to be occupied outside of the apartment, and so we’ve started repainting the place slowly. A wall here, a wall there; a shelf and a tool box and a kid’s sized table get a makeover. All of it an effort to feeling a little more at home and to make sure those improvement muscles get flexed.

For the curious: We’re using Benjamin Moore’s Natura Paint in Simply White. It’s lovely and just what these extraordinary pockmarked and scuffed and otherwise filthy walls needed. Ditto that shelf.

If you feel like I’ve talked about this all before, I have. Magic, I tell you. More about white paint here, too.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 -153, right this way.

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  • Reply Sasha July 17, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I think white paint is like black and white photography for me. With B & W, the image is calm, yet dramatic. Your eye really focuses in on the face, or texture, or light, or shadows. The image feels unified and deliberate. Stark white walls do the same thing somehow…you see the light and shadows, the color in the tapestry is so vivid, the texture of the basket easier to appreciate. Slowly, room by room, my house is becoming white. I love it so much in our bath rooms, yoga room, guest room, that the pale grey of the rest of the house seems too colorful and dull. I think the bermuda blue in the bed room will stay though. Winter is long and it feels like an island.

  • Reply Karen July 17, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    I read that book recently too – the painting has always been fascinating to me, the relationship Andrew W had with Christina and family. I found the book to be sad and haunting, fascinating too. Very well written.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 17, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      Yes! But such enviable fortitude!

  • Reply Mary Kate July 17, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    I read her other book, Orphan Train, and I think I’m the only person on earth who didn’t like it. Did you read that one? Was this one better?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 17, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      Didn’t read!

  • Reply Audrey July 17, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    I struggle so much with renting and wanting to fix all the things wrong with our house. On one hand, we’re trying to save for our own house one day and not sure I want to make the time investment either. But on the other hand, our bathroom is orange…

    Thanks for the motivation!

  • Reply Heather July 17, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    We’ve been slowly re-painting everything Simply White, too! (+ Gothic Arch window frames). I love it. Need to get it done! 🙂

  • Reply JPB July 18, 2017 at 6:09 am

    Do you just use the same (wall?) paint for everything? Does this work out or does it peel easily?

    Also, if you had an organized post/menu for you life in a tiny apartment tips that would be so lovely! So far, me trying to read all the tips turned out to be a bit of a tab-chaos when I tried it with the current menu.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 18, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      We had a can of eggshell wall paint and a can of semi-gloss that we used on the trim and woodwork! No peeling! Sorry for the archive chaos! Will see if it’s something I can fix with a redesign!

  • Reply stacy July 18, 2017 at 7:53 am

    where did you get your bags from?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 18, 2017 at 8:46 am


  • Reply Veronica July 18, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    Yes! We had too many existing shades of white (on various trims and ceiling) to add another, so we did Benjamin Moore Horizon on the walls, and left the existing whites on the trim. This did the same trick, brightening everything up and adding crisp colors and lines to an otherwise tiny space. Horizon is the perfect barely-gray, to the point that we questioned whether they had added any tint to the gallon at all!

  • Reply Karen July 19, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Erin,
    I’ve been looking for simple metal clips like the ones featured here. Would you mind sharing the source?

  • Reply Eric July 20, 2017 at 6:21 am

    There is a simplicity to white. A purity. A never-ending fresh start. It’s my go to color when I need some therapy.

  • Reply Rachel July 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Where did that little booklet of the constitution come from?!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 21, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      It came with a donation to the ACLU!

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