life in a tiny apartment.

August 13, 2018

in a small space, cover a bookshelf with a curtain | reading my tea leaves

Tip # 172 – Straighten your stacks (and hide them).

I’ve written before that my approach to making room for books in a small space is to not hang on to too many and to tuck away the ones I decide to keep. Shocking though it might be for bibliophiles, as much as I like to run my finger across a row of spines and pick out a favorite book, I don’t get the same joy from looking at the spines of books in my small space. Indeed, in an effort to achieve a bit of visual peace, I prefer to keep books more or less under wraps. I’ve covered books with brown paper bags and marbleized papers saved for the purpose. The crates I use as nightstands hide small stacks of books. More crates tucked under our couch cache still more.

Most recently, I made a curtain for a book shelf. In tiny apartments, or anywhere, you have to be willing to be a bit quirky to make your space right for you. I remain unapologetically myself, which is really the only advice I have to offer to any of a small space, cover a bookshelf with a curtain | reading my tea leaves

Until recently, the kids’ books in our house were something of a challenge. We have a lot of them. And on top of the books we own, we usually also have a large stack of choices from the library. To keep up with the growth, we’ve moved our kids’ book collection around a bit. What started out in a crate under our cot-turned-couch moved to a larger crate. What was in the larger crate got moved to a shelf that formerly held cookbooks. What was formerly in the living room was moved into the kids’ room, et cetera.  We went through a few successful rounds of making seasonal edits—for instance, sending summery books into hibernation in the closet for the winter—but a few months ago, Faye decided she did not want to relegate the Tomten and fellow wintry company to storage, and shortly after that, I decided that this would absolutely not be the hill I die on. We cleared a shelf in the kids’ room formerly used to display a few toys and put the full picture book collection there instead. It’s a smarter use of the space, but it made for a bit of a jumble. To help control it, I kept my eyes peeled for a set of bookends, and eventually I found a slim steel set that’s been perfect. They don’t inspire my four-year-old to reshelve with her mother’s precision, but they do help keep things generally a small space, cover a bookshelf with a curtain | reading my tea leaves

A curtain to cover the whole thing made the move feel even better. I cut and hemmed a rectangle of fabric from an acorn-dyed swaddle we used for Silas, and strung it up over a bit of wire. For the kids, it makes the shelf of books feel extra dramatic—a secret spot for hiding bookish treasures. For me, it makes it so that when I sit at the kitchen table to work, my view is calm and uncluttered. 

Who knows how long it will last there. No doubt our book collection will face another round of edits and new additions. We might need to find it a new home. Maybe I’ll eventually decide a curtained shelf looks too much like something a pair of puppets is going to pop out from behind. But for now, tucked behind a curtain, our favorite stories have a sweet spot to rest. (More updates to the kids’ room coming tomorrow.)

What about you? Quirky small space solutions of your own?

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – 171.

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  • Reply SEM August 13, 2018 at 11:26 am

    You gotta do you. I had a similar feeling about bar items. I once thought them super cute… all styled and beckoning visitors to glance their way. Now I see them as dust collectors and space crowders, so I’ve nestled them away in the cabinet. I seem to have a waivering opionion of the ‘shelfie’ in my own life.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm

      Ha, totally! Just never really a huge fan of open shelving in my own space!

  • Reply SEM August 13, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Oh, clip question. Do yours screw in to the wall and then clip to your posters? Or do do you use a 3M tab or some sort?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 13, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      We use tiny nails!

  • Reply Diane August 13, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Speaking of , I always love your kids’ reading suggestions…

  • Reply Ann August 13, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Oh! I’m a real book sick. I keep them everywhere. 🙂

  • Reply Rebekah August 13, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Girl, staring at endless spines of books IS maintaining visual peace for me. It’s the one item I do allow myself to collect (of course I have them for reading, not for collecting). To each her own✌

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 13, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      there you go.

  • Reply Rita August 13, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    I just covered my shelf with a similar fabric system last week, great minds eheh

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 13, 2018 at 3:12 pm

      Ha! Hooray!

  • Reply Sam August 13, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    Our bookshelves are the stuff of nightmares for an organized person but they are the only mess in the house I’ve come to enjoy. Our two year old reads all day everyday – I got tired of picking up after her and now just appreciate that the chaos means she loves her books!

  • Reply Alix August 13, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    I’m fine looking at my (very edited) collection of books, but I do NOT want to dust it. Glass-doored bookcase and/or cupboard is a must for me.

  • Reply Jay August 13, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    I love the fabric you used for the curtain, Erin. Curious to know what you think about shelving books spine in?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 13, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Thanks! On a shelf as big as this one, I like being able to read the spines!

  • Reply Jen August 13, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    I just read B is for Bear tonight to my kids- bought it while visiting the local bookstore in the author’s hometown. And while I like to swap out seasonal books I agree with Faye, The Tomten stays!

  • Reply Nancy August 15, 2018 at 2:18 am

    I think the biggest small-space quirk I have is repurposing existing pieces for other uses. I have an piano bench that I couldn’t part with because my grandmother embroidered the cover on top so I use it for seating and store little things inside (where the piano music would normally go). I also have a big dresssr that I had intended for one of the kids’ rooms but when I realized it wouldn’t work in that space, I put it in my office area where I had no storage and am using it to store my work supplies, crafting supplies and kids’ memorabilia.

  • Reply Rachel August 15, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    I just moved into a tiny New York apartment this week for the first time in my life (I haven’t lived in such a small space since my college dorm room!) and books are the one thing I’m prioritizing keeping and having out. But I’m a writer and seeing my favorite books is both useful (to be able to refer to them) and inspires me to keep working 🙂

    On that note, I just moved in this week and am still unpacking box after box and trying to find space for stuff or determine the best way to sell or donate the items we can’t fit. I keep thinking that if you can do it with two children, we can do it with none! Thanks for providing the inspiration to keep trimming down and finding happiness in small quarters.

  • Reply C August 17, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    My favourite line here is “I decided that this would absolutely not be the hill I die on”. Yup. That about sums it up. My daughter loves a few small very visually unappealing toys and… yeah. This hill, not me. I have a bottom drawer that can house the pieces I don’t want to look at. I love them accessing books but my little boy really loves to throw them around. Library books at least must be stored where only I can access them for the time being.

  • Reply Elizabeth August 23, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Our kids (4 and 8) share a bedroom with bunkbeds and a nightstand. They each have a drawer in the nightstand (referred to as their “special drawer”) and that’s where they can keep all the random items collected at birthdays, found out and about, etc. If the drawers gets too full, it’s time to purge their treasures. I like that I don’t have to manage which of these things to keep, and they’re out of eyesight since most aren’t that attractive 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 23, 2018 at 11:47 am


  • Reply Lucinda November 8, 2018 at 10:45 am

    Can you share some more recommended books? Your lists are always very good!
    Many thanks x

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 8, 2018 at 10:48 am

      Yes! Working on one now!


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