life in a tiny apartment.

July 18, 2018

power tools in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves Tip #169: Consider Power Tools. (Just one.)

I remember distinctly—or believe I do—the first time I used a power tool. I was in fourth grade, sitting in a patch of sunlight on my kitchen floor. My dad was helping me make a wooden sign for a school project. I had written a report from the perspective of an early American colonist, an apothecary, and I’d be playing the part during an elaborate affair staged at the historic house across the street from my school.

In my memory I was the only girl in my class to take on a male role, though it’s perfectly possible that I’m misremembering that detail. What I’m sure I remember clearly is standing proudly next to the sign that my dad and I had made and handing out horehound candies to my classmates. 

On the day we made the sign, my dad and I had used his ancient power drill to bore holes through the bottom of the sign. We hung a golden ball—the namesake of the shop, in this case made from styrofoam and spray paint—from the holes we made. I can still conjure the feeling of the drill in my hand. My dad held a board steady below the sign so I didn’t drill right through the kitchen floor. I remember the buzz of the drill, the pressure of the contact with the board, the sweet satisfaction of seeing curls of wood spin out from the holes. Then, the sweeter still pleasure of accomplishment. power tools in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves


For anyone new to this space, this is my tool box. It was my dad’s before me, a gift given to him when he was ten, from an uncle who owned a hardware store. (It came, I recently learned, with an electric drill inside it.)

As an adult, I’ve always kept my apartment tools relegated to this spot. The tools I keep are relatively simple: a set screwdrivers, a hammer, a tiny level, a few metal clamps. There are small mint tins, covered in washi tape and labeled, which house extra picture hangers and shelf brackets and other things too tiny to be left loose but too handy to part with. (There’s also a bit of the kind of miscellany that closed-up boxes of this nature tend to attract: remainders of painting tape and a bike tire repair kit and bottle of wood glue.)

What hasn’t been in there, is a power tool. Whenever I’ve needed an electric drill in the past, I’d put the project on the back burner until I’d stockpiled a small list of chores that needed finishing. Then, on a weekend when I could borrow my dad’s, in a fit of productivity I’d install curtain rods or hang a shelf or do whatever else needed more than my own strength to accomplish.power tools in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

You can imagine where I’m going with this. There comes a time when a woman in a tiny apartment needs a power tool of her own. And if you invest in one power tool for a small space (or anywhere) I’d make the strong suggestion that it be a small but sturdy electric drill and driver. For my part, I chose a compact drill that runs on battery and that’s highly recommended. It arrived in a small black carrying case and while it doesn’t quite fit into my tool box, it’s small enough to fit neatly into our closet all the same. It’s been handy for hanging the bathroom shelf and for quickly swapping the colorful brakes on Faye and Silas’s scooters. It made quick work of reinstalling hooks post-painting. Soon, I hope, it will help me to hang an improved knife rack in our kitchen. Mostly, it’s nice to know that it’s there (just in case Faye needs it).

Tiny apartment survival tips #1-168.

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  • Reply Rebecca July 18, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I relate completely! I live alone in a small space and have been borrowing my brother’s drill to put up shelves at home and do various things in the last few months since I moved. I’ve been meaning to buy one but then I think that I don’t have much storage for it and no holes left to drill in this current rental… But someday I’ll have my own! In the meantime, my thrifted yellow metal toolbox lives in my living room because I don’t have extra storage for it and it looks so good anyway :))

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      YES! That’s a great looking tool box!

  • Reply Kate July 18, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    The very first thing my mom bought after she divorced my dad was a power drill. She loved how capable and independent it made her feel 🙂

  • Reply Michaela Carroll July 18, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    I love the idea of a pretty thrifted/gifted toolbox to hold that type of thing! Right now we stack everything haphazardly on a shelf in an already full closet. Can I ask where the canvas zip and grey box are from? It would be nice to organize said shelf 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 18, 2018 at 3:34 pm

      The canvas zip is from Muji from ~ 6 years ago! The grey box I found at a local stationery shop, since out of business!

  • Reply Mary July 18, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    I’ve always envied your toolbox. Last year I unearthed my grandpa’s old toolbox in the middle of clearing their house after my grandma’s passing. The toolbox was very rusty but I managed to sand and spray paint it, and now I also have a beautiful tool box like yours 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 18, 2018 at 9:24 pm

      Oh, so great! (Though there’s rust a plenty over here!)

  • Reply Rhian July 18, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    Love this. An electric drill is a key leaving home purchase! There have been times when I’ve wondered if a man is necessary at all once you have power tools – they are *exceptionally* liberating. Both my dad and my husband are crap at DIY and could at best only ever offer brute strength under close guidance. Once you have electricity you can dispense even with this and just get on with making your home lovely and functional without waiting for them to get on with it (not that I’d dispense with my dad and husband entirely, I actually love them more than life itself). For this reason, I would always go for mains powered rather than cordless (much stronger for hard, old walls). Bought my drill 20 years ago – a lifelong friend, I’ve been surprised how often it comes in handy. Plus it helps when talking to contractors to let them know that you know what they’re talking about… so don’t kid me on! P.s. had a hilariously proud parenting moment last year when my 3 yr old daughter spontaneously used an electric screwdriver properly – she’s not normally especially dexterous or confident, so this was a turn up and some compensation for my terrible parenting in allowing this to come into her reach in the first place…

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 18, 2018 at 9:23 pm

      Ha! Love this!

  • Reply Genevieve July 18, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    Awesome, Erin. Thanks for the encouragement. Wish I’d learned to handle tools from my dad when I was little but it’s never too late.

  • Reply SarahN July 18, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    I routinely read, for so many years (ie pre (your) kids). I have to say: I love you.

    When my grandfather died, I took a small blue metal toolbox and I think subliminally, it was cause I knew about this tool box of yours. It stores my tools for floristry, as I do church flowers every now and then. It leaves in my car boot.

    As to a drill story? Well for my 30th, I had made invites, and said that gifts were not required, but if you insisted, let it be hand made, second hand or an experience. Some friends who’d recently combined households gave me a drill. He’d long been a local friend and I’d borrowed socket sets and other tools. It was SUCH a perfect gift for me, and from them!

    I’ve lived in apartments for most of my adult life, and the bottom drawer of my entry buffet has always been the hardware drawer. Everything corralled in a ream of paper box lid. This is slightly smaller than the drawer, so things can also wedge in alongside the box. I have (surprisingly) everything I need in that drawer. My parents will say (in their big house with a shed in the past) we need to buy this or that, and I’ll have it in my tiny drawer!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 18, 2018 at 9:21 pm

      Yay! This just made my heart swell!

  • Reply Leslie July 19, 2018 at 1:33 am

    I cannot tell you how many power drills we have at our house but that is the one my husband and I use the most. I like that it is light so it is easy to control and keep things straight and we both like that it is small enough to fit in small spaces, odd angles etc that abound in old houses.

  • Reply Pat S July 19, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Could not survive without a power drill.

  • Reply Elizabeth July 19, 2018 at 8:26 am

    When I bought my first house the year before my husband and I got married, my first “big” purchase was a Hitachi power drill. It was around $100 and it was the most expensive single thing I’d bought up to that point (aside from the house and my education, of course). I was *so* proud of myself for learning how to use it. Now, 8 years of marriage later, my husband and I just bought a big old Victorian that we’re restoring to its former glory and the drill is still going strong. I second the comments above about learning to use tools being incredibly liberating. Give me a power drill/ driver and a crowbar and I will fix all the things. Love this post!

  • Reply Em July 19, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    If you ever want a tour of my maximalist girl tool box – I’d love to share! Complete with table saws, bench grinders, and a bandsaw 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm

      Ha! Yes!

  • Reply Nina July 20, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    That’s a beautiful toolbox – can’t imagine any but the snootiest tool considers itself ‘relegated’ there. We’re still borrowing my parents’ tools and storing the few bits we do have in a crummy plastic tub; I think an upgrade might be in order before age 40 !!

  • Reply Mo February 7, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    My mum taught me how to use a power drill when I was a child and one of my moving out gifts was an old tool box with surplus tools, screvs and nails from her extensive collection. I think the only tool I have ever bought new is a spirit level, but I admittedly still borrow my mum’s power drill, because she lives a 15 minute walk from me and her power drill is awesome and way better than anything I could afford right now.

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