life in a tiny apartment.

October 30, 2017

storage in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

Survival Tip #158: Get Stubborn/Find Room.

This summer, we finally caved and got a window air conditioner. After the third consecutive June night where temperatures in our apartment were just shy of 100 degrees, I decided I would have to swallow my pride and my desire to win in the no A/C competition I’ve waged against myself, and cool our apartment to a tolerable temperature. We didn’t go completely off the deep end. We didn’t buy two air conditioners. We didn’t keep the thing running constantly. We only cooled our apartment to 78 degrees or so on the hottest days. It still felt like summer in here, but we could breathe. And sleep. And boil water on the stove. For June through most of September, it was an absolute godsend to this family of four living in less than five-hundred square feet.

Now that fall is here, of course, the air conditioner poses a new problem. Last week, we had to find a place to store the behemoth for the cooler days ahead, and so we embarked on an evening game of tiny apartment Tetris. After the kids were asleep, James and I pulled everything out of our closet. We tried our hamper in the bathroom. (No good, can’t fit your feet in front of the toilet that way.) We tried rearranging our shoe storage to go tall instead of wide. (No good, it kept toppling.) We briefly considering parting with our last crate of books in this place. (No good, we’re not total philistines.) We ultimately decided to part ways with a full-size wooden ironing board and a set of bongos (don’t ask).storage in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

The air conditioner now lives in the bottom of my half of the closet. It’s covered in a blanket to keep it from getting too banged up and from looking too ugly. On top are two large totes—one where we store things like our baby carrier and extra canvas totes, and one where I store all things blog-related. We rehung our dustpan and brooms in different places that work better with the new configuration. Yes: The solution is ever so slightly wonky. No: It’s not a custom-built cabinet designed for the purpose of caching the A/C. But it sufficiently hides something ugly and allows our livable space to appear just at it did before.

The point is: Where there’s a will there’s a storage solution that doesn’t involve compromising your living space.

The first apartment that James and I rented together was huge by New York City standards—the bottom floor in a ramshackle Queen Anne in Wilmington, North Carolina. There was an entire that we called a closet and treated accordingly. It was filled with camping supplies and various Tupperware bins housing Lord knows what kind of field equipment James needed for his graduate work. There were bikes and surfboards and James’s ugly plastic hamper that he’d had since college. There were rolling suitcases and paint cans from past tenants. In other words, it was the kind of extra space where it was easy to stash things we mostly just didn’t want to see.

The next apartment we lived in was very dreamy and very much devoid of closet space. (There was one closet, about six inches deep and outfitted with hooks.) Before we moved in, I spent nights (plural) fretting about how we would fit everything we owned into the new smaller apartment, without the luxury of closet space, let alone an entire storage roomstorage in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

What I learned then, and what was especially clear in the very very tiny apartment that we eventually lived in just prior to our current one, is that yes, a lot of living comfortably in a small space is making sure you genuinely need and use everything in your home. But more than that, it’s about tapping into some good old-fashioned stubbornness. It’s about looking at a pile of stuff you don’t want to look at and figuring out a way to make it disappear even if it takes three stabs at rearranging the one closet you’ve got before everything fits.

In that second apartment of ours, we ended up hanging sleeping bags from hooks in the closet (better for them, better for us). We unpacked crates and distributed their contents into drawers. We bought locks for bikes and locked them up outside. We left behind a wonky shelving unit and vowed never to buy a similarly ugly solution ourselves. In the matter of a few hours we figured out how to fit our old stuff into our new space, even without traditional storage areas. In this place, it’s a blanket-covered air conditioner in an already filled closet. The common denominator is prioritizing a certain standard of clutter-free living and finding solutions, even when there don’t appear to be any. Where there’s a will there’s a slightly wonky way.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – #157, RIGHT THIS WAY.

PS. Two more days to vote for Reading My Tea Leaves in the Domino Design Blog Awards! UPDATE: Voting extended! Cast your vote daily (!) through November 7, 2017 at 11:59 pm! Right this way!

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  • Reply SEM October 30, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Oh those d*mn AC units! We rent the second floor of a house and are lucky to have a basement storage unit to stash our unsightly crap. It is nice, but it also allows us to defer a lot of decisions and keep a lot of random junk. I think sometimes the lack of space can be quite freeing when it comes to closet tetris… you are forced to decide. At our previous apartment, we got good at under couch and bed utilization and our teeny utility closet/pantry/recycling/suitcase/clutter catchall was monitored and maximized weekly. Kinda a godsend when it came time to move.

  • Reply christina October 30, 2017 at 11:51 am

    We have window A/C’s too. But we have a barn to store them in. I’m amazed at your creativity with such a small place. Our little house is listed in the records as 675 sq feet. But we have since moving here 22 years ago closed in a porch, added a sunroom and closed in another small deck, that became our entry way and my husband’s desk area. So now it’s probably just under 900 square feet.

    Always enjoy your blog.

  • Reply Steph October 30, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    You’ve just inspired me to get rid of my ironing board. There are 3 of us in app. 550 square feet, and the ironing board only gets used every few months. My grandmother always put a big smooth cotton blanket doubled up on top of her kitchen table and had a nice big ironing surface. When I’m too lazy to wrangle with the ironing board, I put some old flattened towels on the kitchen counter, which works great. So really, I should get rid of the creaky old thing.

  • Reply Alice October 30, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I can relate to this so much. Any new acquisition (often even seemingly small ones) starts a domino effect of apartment tetris! If this goes here, that must go there, which will fit if we move that other thing *there*… and so it goes! As you say, the solutions are sometimes wonky (and not the *most* convenient), but still workable. We have a really tall, peaked ceiling, and our small closets have really tall ceilings as well. So we have things like linens piled up on a high shelf so tall that the only way to access them is by standing on a chair, but luckily this only needs to be done about once a week. Somehow it is refreshing to hear about other people’s struggles (and triumphs) making a small space livable!

  • Reply Jennifer October 30, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    You’ve just inspired me to use my kids nap time today to do something productive. Thanks! Tackling our closet!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm


  • Reply Kim October 30, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    I had a great little reminder of why I started being more thoughtful with the things that I bring into my home the other week when I opened the closet in our daughter’s bedroom that we use to deep store things and found that everything in there had succumbed to mildew and mould. We live on a little island near Toronto and its been a particularly wet year here so the humidity in our little house was super high.. sigh. Anyways it has motivated me to continue to prioritize clutter free living and live without those shoes that I kept for that one day a year that I might need them. On another note have already voted 4 times for your blog really hope you win! Love keeping up with your clever ideas and thoughtful points of view!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks so much, Kim! Feels like you can only really ask your mom to vote for you more than once, but I really appreciate it! Sorry about that mold!

  • Reply Danielle October 30, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    For two years I set my A/C unit on its side on the floor and used it as a stand to set a floor-length mirror on, covering it with extra pillow shams and scarves. The mirror changed height drastically every summer, but otherwise, it worked.

  • Reply becky October 30, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    I am so proud of the “bed boxes” I built last winter. In our very tiny home with no wheels every space counts. With strong plywood, wheels and handles. We fit three under our double bed. We have no dressers for clothes. It keeps my clothing selection limited but that’s okay with me!

  • Reply mado October 30, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Thanks for the reminder to vote! More than happy to do so but honestly wouldn’t remember on my own.

  • Reply Alie October 30, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    This feels SO familiar! We live in Dumbo and just finally caved (after over 6 years) and bought an air mattress, instead of lugging our friends’ borrowed ones back and forth. But then–where to put it! 🙂 Finally made room in the bottom of a closet and try not to look at it 🙂

  • Reply Alix October 30, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    We used a company called the Box Butler in Manhattan to store ours 2 window units for $12 / month. Totally worth it just so we didn’t have to look at them in our living room all winter!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 31, 2017 at 2:42 pm

      Sounds so great! Just did a quick search and the pricing sounds like it’s quite a bit pricier at Box Butler now, but what a deal you guys have!

  • Reply Molly October 31, 2017 at 8:51 am

    This rings so true to me. Living Ina tiny appartment in Dublin currently. There is a rental crisis here, so reasonable and affordable accommodation if hard to find.

  • Reply Lisa October 31, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    I voted for you, because I’m a fan, but also because you deserve it a bunch of times over!

    I think it would be interesting to do a list of different carriers for things that you have chosen to keep/own….I think everyone gets totes for everything these days and you must have some creative uses for justifying having them around!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 1, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words (and votes!). Regarding the bags, we have a few canvas totes and a few slightly more packable Baggu totes that we keep around. I try to either refuse or pass along everything else! There was a period when I had about 15 canvas tote bags in that larger LL Bean tote! (Too many!).

  • Reply Susie October 31, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    This doesn’t relate to this post but what is the color name/brand of Blue that you used for your headboard and the few other dark blue items you have shared in your photos. I love it!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 1, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      It’s called Abyss by Benjamin Moore!

  • Reply Elizabeth November 2, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    Voted! Congratulations on being nominated!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 3, 2017 at 10:11 am

      thank you!

  • Reply Amy November 3, 2017 at 7:03 am

    This post is such a good reminder about making choices. Don’t you think that’s gotten a bit lost these days? I find myself in a place in life right now where I have to make hard choices about what to keep, where to spend my money, how to best use my time. It is humbling to remind myself that I can’t have it all, but there is also a certain freedom once you accept that. I’m now inspired to look at the areas of my home needing attention and think: how can I make this work, even if I must give something up?

  • Reply kris November 4, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    “On top are two large totes—one where we store things like . . . extra canvas totes . . . . ” Storing totes in totes: you are a woman after my own heart. 🙂

  • Reply Elizabeth November 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I’m so glad you posted about this. I had been trying to figure out how to deal with our AC in an apartment without any external storage – now it’s in the closet on top of a towel and under all of the other bins/suitcases/etc. Your use of the blanket also gave me just the right solution to deal with a fan that we’ve been shuffling from room to room since we couldn’t find a perfect spot for it. It’s now wrapped in a blanket in the back of the clothes closet.

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