life in a tiny apartment.

October 16, 2017

sick day in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves#157 Give Yourself a Sick Day

I spent much of my childhood engaged in long drawn-out games of make-believe. Some of these games featured bucolic scenarios of apple picking or making feasts of mud soup for a celebration, but for the most part I pretended to be in the grip of tragedy. The scenarios I acted out with my best friend, Allison, were particularly bleak. Someone or another was usually in the midst of perishing from consumption or scarlet fever. (One winter, when Allison was unfortunate enough to come down with scarlet fever for real, we were thrilled by the diagnosis.) In our games we readied imaginary medicines, stoked imaginary fires, and brought another blanket to pile atop the stricken friend, no matter if we were playing in the middle of August’s hottest days. There was much hand wringing over each other’s imagined imminent demise.

We can unpack the psychology of a childhood spent play acting suffering at another time, but the memories of those imaginary sick days come to mind on the mercifully rare occasion when someone in our apartment is, indeed, ill. Mostly because there’s an awful lot of bustling around the place while the poor suffering soul is laid up smack in the middle of it.

So, how to have a sick day in a tiny apartment? Here goes: 

Get out: We get by mostly by having as many healthy people as possible leave the apartment for as long as possible. This is our strategy for surviving life in a tiny apartment generally, but when someone’s not feeling well, we try especially hard to make sure that those who can are spending long days out of the apartment.

Distract: Getting sick with little guys underfoot is a challenge regardless of the space you live in, but not having a bedroom door to shut, or a way to create a little physical distance can complicate things even more. When we have to be inside, we try to center the healthy person activity in just one spot—like the kids’ bedroom, or the corner with our kitchen—to try to afford the person who’s under the weather the space to rest. When a parent is sick, we find the best way to give that person a little space is to distract the rest of the family with an activity that’s fairly all-consuming like a baking project, or fort construction, or, even, a bubble bath. Build an epic enough fort or draw a bubbly enough bath, and someone might even be able to sneak in a nap.

Quarantine: Containing germs when your sick bed is feet from the kitchen table is paramount, but we find that practicing regular good hygiene, like washing hands frequently, washing bed linens often, and putting a trash bin next to the bed to catch extra tissues, helps us from infecting the whole apartment when one of gets sick.sick day in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves


For the curious:

+ The only storage in our tiny apartment bathroom is a partially broken mirrored medicine cabinet from the 1960s. We use that for toothbrushes and toothpaste and a few other toiletries, but our medicines and bandaids, thermometer and nail scissors, we keep out of reach of the kiddos in a wall-mounted first-aid box. It’s been the perfect small and simple solution for our needs. Maybe for yours, too.

+ We try to use washable hankies for day-to-day nose blowing, but when we’re really under the weather, we indulge in disposable tissues to keep laundry and germs under control. For when we do have a box in the house, this linen tissue box cover solves the dilemma of the ever-ugly tissue boxes. 

What about you guys? Sick day challenges in your spaces? (Can I interest you in some elderberry syrup?)

Tiny apartment survival tips #1-156, RIGHT THIS WAY.

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  • Reply Madeleine October 16, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Hi Erin and all. 🙂 I just wanted to mention that used tissue paper is, of course, compostable. Another win for the zero-waste habit shift!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 16, 2017 at 10:44 am

      Hi there! I’ve been less sure of whether it’s okay to compost bathroom tissue! The NYC zero waste site is a bit inscrutable on the subject—they list food-soiled napkins and papers as compostable, but say that “bathroom” waste like bandages, sanitary napkins, and diapers are not. No specific mention of tissues/kleenex! I imagine the temperatures reached in the composting process would render the germs obsolete—will do a bit more digging and decide if we can brown bin our tissues, too! Would be terrific!

      • Reply Alix October 16, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        We’ve been putting our used tissues and Q-tips (paper-based, not plastic, although trying to move away from this habit) in the brown bin for years. Never had any pushback from the people at the Greenmarket!

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 16, 2017 at 2:01 pm


  • Reply Аnn October 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Wet cleaning of premises and aromatherapy (a drop of natural oil on a handkerchief, on the radiator) is our everything, except for treatment by a doctor.

  • Reply Annie October 16, 2017 at 11:04 am

    The anecdote sent me down memory lane! As a girl, my friend and I would act out the “Little House on the Prairie” series. And of course, someone would come down with scarlet fever. Great post for the changing seasons!

    • Reply Erin October 18, 2017 at 9:40 am

      We were obsessed with cholera after reading Meet Kirsten from the American Girl series.

  • Reply Rebecca October 16, 2017 at 11:33 am

    A little off topic, but, for those of us that are lucky enough, may I strongly recommend the mental health sick day. My mother allowed us to take one of these a semester when I was growing up (not to be taken to get out of a test or presentation and planned to fit with her schedule) and as an adult, I’ve finally started giving myself the permission to take one from time to time and try (although sometimes fail) not to feel guilty about it. Calling out sick and if asked, a general description of “being under the weather” (true!) usually suffices. Different concerns for those with children to take care of but something to keep in mind.

    • Reply Wb October 17, 2017 at 1:56 am

      Brilliant! Don’t wait until you get seriously sick. Be proactive.

    • Reply Ashley October 17, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Agreed! I manage a small staff and always make a point to stress that mental health is as important as physical health. Mental health days are encouraged when necessary.

  • Reply Of Ashes & Bones October 16, 2017 at 11:49 am

    I always have the thrash bin under the bed for the tissue! Sometimes I feel suffocated living in a tiny space, but our place has big windows and sliding door to the balcony. So whenever we’re home I will put up the curtain and open the windows. It also helps to feel the air outside

  • Reply LoriAngela October 16, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    As a nurse I applaud your efforts. I am usually left ALL alone when I am ill. But in nursing children I recommend a tissue box with their favourite characters (recently stocked up on Paw Patrol), a silly straw to encourage hydration, the splurge on goldfish crackers or similar fun food, and always my best choice: popsicles

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 16, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Ha! No cute characters here but Faye is *very* into the linen cover 😉

      • Reply MissEm October 16, 2017 at 10:09 pm

        On the rare occasion when our littles are running a high fever and in need of drinking more than they might like to, we use diluted juice (since the only other times they get juice are basically Christmas Day, New Years, and when out with grandparents, it’s a huge bonus ;))

  • Reply Marie October 16, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    I have a little one who loves playing ‘sick’ and ‘injured ‘ with her dolls and animals. She really had some a wasteage of band-aids….so I invented reusable band-aids: a piece of ribbon or bias tape with some string attached. With the string she ties and secures the ribbon or tape around the wounded legs and arms. No waste plus another way to learn how to cord ; )

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 16, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Love that!

  • Reply J XD October 16, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    When I or mine are sick the first steps are “germ reduction therapy”, which means I put them in the shower and get clean pajamas for them, then change their sheets and park whatever may be needed by the bed (in hopes of keeping them there). Tea, chicken soup, hot cocoa, popsicles, and fruit are supplied on demand. A new toothbrush is often in order as well.
    When my eldest was away at college, he did this for his friends as well.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 16, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      Oh gosh, what a sweet guy!

  • Reply Alix October 16, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    I had to laugh at your scarlet fever memories, Erin. When I was a girl, my friend and I were forever at risk of fainting, and the only thing for it was to take many, many pills (Good & Plenty).

  • Reply MissEm October 16, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Haha, I love kids and the dramatic play. I’m not sure I should admit this on the internet, but when I was little, I would pretend that forest creatures (elves? fairies? undetermined) were nursing me back to health with some special forest remedy and would slowwwwwwly sip whatever I was drinking while reviving, then solid recovery in beautiful leaf hammock and rest of life spent in forest. As for grown up life, we indulge in disposable tissues when sick as well. Elderberry syrup, emergen-c, no dairy or sugar, essential oils, and lots of herbal teas and broth. My other big thing is to keep the sick room/area feeling fresh – straightening bed sheets and blankets, keeping tissues corralled in a pretty basket, fresh glasses of water, keeping the area tidy and necessary things accessible, maybe a bud vase with a flower or a plant on the bedside table if the sickness has been going on for a couple of days and outside time hasn’t been happening. I believe that having a lovely surrounding helps us feel better and recover more quickly.

  • Reply MissEm October 16, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    Btw, don’t want to be overly prying, but what do you all keep in your medicine cabinet? We have a mix of otc medicines and natural remedies (I lean latter, spouse leans former), plus ingredients for making natural remedies, and things like a neti pot, thermometer, essential oils, etc – I can’t quite imagine fitting them in a first aid box, but our current old wooden drawer situation is getting a little unwieldy.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 17, 2017 at 10:09 am

      We have a mix of things, too!

  • Reply Cynthia October 17, 2017 at 10:58 am

    My sister’s niece went to college in my city and I welcomed her with dinner at the house and an occasional lunch out. One day she phoned in tears saying she was sick and couldn’t get any rest in the dorms. I had a guest room ready by the time she arrived 30 minutes later. I made the room dark, supplied her with a pot of tea and a carafe of water and closed the door. Many hours later when I heard her stirring, I brought up soft boiled eggs and toast and another pot of tea. A long hot bath, some chicken soup, and more sleep and she was back to her dorm 24 hours later feeling much refreshed and able to cope. Truly one of the most satisfying mothering experiences of my life!

  • Reply Rachel October 18, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    One of the reasons I love your blog is due to the fact that you introduce me to things I never would have thought on my own. Linen tissue box cover? Amazing. Thanks so much. I’m at the point where keeping a box of tissues in every room is paramount, with the changing seasons. I find myself standing at the store, trying to figure out which tissue box matches my room decor. None, but more like, which box is the least hideous. Also usually none. I’m going to order one straight away. The linen will match perfectly.

  • Reply Allison October 19, 2017 at 12:33 am

    Looking back on it, I was really always destined to work in public health, wasn’t I? xoxo

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 19, 2017 at 9:15 am


  • Reply McKenzie Allyshia November 4, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    I had to chuckle when you mentioned Skarlet fever only because my son contracted Skarlet fever earlier this year. Honestly, I thought it was a sickness of the past that was no longer around. When they told me that he had Skarlet fever I was so confused. Afterwards I had to laugh at myself for being so oblivious to the fact that it is indeed still around. As for when one gets sick in our home, quarantine is a must. I also diffuse our OnGuard essential oils and that has worked wonders for helping the sickness subside quicker as well as keep us healthy. I will go as far as to rub the oil on our feet!

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