life in a tiny apartment.

September 18, 2017

life in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leavesSurvival Tip #156: Make it sized to fit.

On Saturday night, we ate spaghetti. There were two big white bowls filled with pasta smothered in Marcella Hazan’s famous sauce, a smaller wooden one, filled with the same and sprinkled with extra parmesan, and a high chair tray festooned with inch-long pieces of pasta and holding an a eight-month-old who decided mouth-direct-to-tray was the clearest route for hoovering. In the center of the table was a lit a candle. (We’ve been lighting a candle for all of our dinners lately, not because they’re fancy but because the light is changing and dinnertime is creeping closer to sunset, and also because a bit of ceremony has proven useful for getting the three-year-old in our midst to come to the table for a semi-civilized meal.)

During our spaghetti dinner, Faye sat on top of a new cushion. The cushion is an attempt to make an adult-sized chair work for a decidedly child-sized person. She’s had to abdicate her throne to a very smiley despot and so we needed a new solution that would work for her. (No room for two high chairs in a tiny apartment; hardly enough room for one.) 

The cushion is just the latest in our attempts to make this space work for a growing family. As you know, my general philosophy is to opt for solutions that are least oppressive in terms of cost and aesthetics so I’ll submit that a custom-sized wool-filled cushion is not the most economical of all the options but it’s a solution that will last through the duration of our small-bottoms-in-big-chairs phase—in other words, at least for another four years—and so everything considered, that seemed good enough to me.


A few weeks ago, across town, a friend in a similarly diminutive apartment give birth to a sweet little boy. In their apartment, like in so many, the closest thing they had to anything that would qualify as a changing table was, in actuality, their dining table. Even a minimalist might take pause at serving dinner next to the diapers. But there wasn’t room enough to add another piece of furniture and so they retrofitted a spot in their closet, building themselves a table with just the right dimensions for a little guy needing to have his diaper changed approximately one million times a day. 


As a renter, it’s rare that true customization makes sense financially, and I can tire of small space advice that says that the only way to survive life in a smaller-than-average home is through custom-built fixes and fancy folding furniture. Still, sometimes investing in a little something that’s been designed with exactly your space in mind can have its advantages. Sometimes that something is a cushion. Sometimes it’s a folding bed. Sometimes it’s a tiny table meant for a tiny human. 

Tiny apartment survival tips #1-155 right this way.

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  • Reply Camila September 18, 2017 at 10:12 am

    NYC rental arrangements force us to be creative indeed. Which all around has served us really well. Along with your insights. Happy Monday and week Erin 🙂

  • Reply Susana C. Galli September 18, 2017 at 10:21 am

    I bought a meditation cushion for £20, if I’m not mistaken, for my first toddler, who is now 9 years old, currently serving our third child… It has enough weight that doesn’t fall off the chair, and they all love it when they can sit in a “proper” chair… It also doubles as a, well, meditation cushion when I resolve to get back to it!

    • Reply Kate September 18, 2017 at 11:45 am

      I love this solution! Yes, a meditation cushion is perfect for this (and when the kids are done using it you can get back to your meditation practice!).

  • Reply Shelbi September 18, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    I completely understand what you’re saying. We rent a small apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area and we’re always having to be creative. However, we did put a changing pad on top of a small dresser and used that to change our little guy when he was a baby. My mom said she never had a changing table, so I just didn’t really think of it as a necessity.

    The only thing that drives me crazy about living in an apartment is not having a yard and my own washer and dryer. That’s it. The rest I love. Sometimes my three-year-old is getting into everything (he’s always been that way) and I just want to throw him in the backyard so he can eat dirt like normal kids…but we don’t have a yard.

    Any suggestions?

    Shelbi | Urban Girl’s Closet

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 18, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Oh, totally. We use the top of a dresser, too, but these guys just didn’t have the top of a dresser to put to use! The closet shelf solved the problem for them! As for the yard, that’s one of our biggest challenges too! We spend a lot of time walking to the park!

  • Reply Jay September 18, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    For diaper changes, we used a changing pad/mat on the floor.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      So glad that worked for you!

    • Reply Leslie September 18, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      Me too! I liked not worrying about my baby falling and plus those foam cushions made for changing tables are typically treated with nasty flame retardants.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 18, 2017 at 2:45 pm

        I’ve really appreciated having a dedicated spot to change diapers so that the diaper accoutrements didn’t end up all over our apartment! My mom made our changing pad from wool batting and organic cotton!

        • Reply Jay September 18, 2017 at 11:08 pm

          Your mom sounds amazing, Erin!

    • Reply Sari September 18, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      We did the same, and I often wondered why this is not a more popular choice. Both our kids loved being diaperless for several moments during a diaper change, and since we didn’t have to worry about them falling, we’d get to do a thing or two while they were perfectly content enjoying air on their bottoms.

  • Reply Amanda September 18, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Marcella’s spaghetti sauce literally changed my life. I can’t go back to canned sauce, ever.

  • Reply Rylapack September 18, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    I’m making spaghetti for dinner tonight because of how well you described yours! Also, we converted a dresser into a changing table and we hardly use it. The floor and a nice changing pad work so much better and helps me get my squats in! haha

  • Reply Gretchen September 18, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    We really did use our dining table for the first two months! There was lots of room to spread out all our cloth diaper bits and pieces.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 19, 2017 at 9:20 am

      Ha! Perfect! I really liked having a centralized spot to keep all of the diapering supplies tidy and organized…but of course the booster seat and changing table mentioned here are really just meant to function as examples of the larger message of their sometimes a bit of customization makes a space more functional!

  • Reply Nancy September 18, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Somehow, we ended up with two hefty books–one a giant thesaurus and the other a giant dictionary. This is what we use for booster seats at the dining table. 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 19, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Perfect! So many different options that will work and sometimes something that needs a little tweak to work just right!

  • Reply stacia September 19, 2017 at 6:06 am

    in the olden days. 🙂 we used phone books for the transition from high chair to big chair. worked great.

    • Reply Bertie September 19, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Oh yes – I remember my little bother in 1960 “getting” to sit on the phone book! I was jealous!

  • Reply megan September 19, 2017 at 10:41 am

    We live in a 1 bd on the upper west side with a baby who is now a little over 1. We converted our hall closet to a baby changing station when she arrived. When we outgrew that and baby took over the bedroom as we moved our bed to the living room the hall closet became an office. Its amazing to me how many different configurations a space can have and how many functions they can serve when you get creative. Love your tiny apartment posts!

  • Reply Heather September 19, 2017 at 10:54 am

    We haven’t had anything custom made for our small space, but this summer we did buy a few new pieces of furniture, which allowed us to finally create a lovely “master” bedroom. I think the room is 9×10, including the closet, so a queen-size bed didn’t fit in the room with the large desk we had been given, which my husband works full-time from. Trying to separate our sleep area from our two girls, we slept on the floor for ten months until we found the right solutions. We finally found a pretty little desk and then had room for a bedframe. We got the Keetsa at your recommendation and my husband had discovered Home of Wool mattresses on Etsy and we love it for its low-profile! It feels a million times better now, all thanks to finding a smaller desk.

  • Reply Laura September 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    We actually use a clip-on highchair (Mountain Buggy Pod)! Connects directly to our table, and folds up to be less than 12x2inches so it can be popped in a cupboard/drawer when we don’t want it connected to the table (it’s not the most beautiful product in the world ha, but its function more than makes up for its form factor). It has been a lifesaver for small spaces!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 20, 2017 at 11:32 am

      Such a great solution for a small space (or any space). Our table has a super long apron so we can’t use clip-on chairs, otherwise I would have gone this route, too!

  • Reply jane September 22, 2017 at 11:21 am

    We’ve gotten through two diapered littles + two more part-time littles without a changing table. The idea of them rolling off a changing table kept me content using the floor + a changing mat (for the messiest prospects). 🙂 An inexpensive junior chair from Ikea was our choice for letting the high chair go in the toddler years.

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