life in a tiny apartment.

September 17, 2018

small space projects | reading my tea leaves

Tip #175: Look to what you have.

This weekend I found myself mired in a new project. It’s one I’ve been wanting to work on for ages—putting collected scraps of fabric together into something that’s useful and, with any luck, nice to look at. I’ve got a new callous forming on one of my fingertips. I’ve stayed up too late for three nights running just wanting to pull a few more stitches through delicate fabric. Every night, I pack away my supplies. Scraps of fabric go back into the canvas bag that hangs from back of the linen closet door. Needles get tucked back into my tin box. The iron is left to cool on a dresser top and stashed back up in the closet come morning.small space projects | reading my tea leaves

When I’m asked to give small space advice, folks often direct me to what’s missing. What do you have to live without? What did you have to give up? What do you think you miss? A work space, I might say. I long for a spare room with a long table and brilliant natural light. I want a spot I could sneak off to to be alone or finish some work or leave an iron out overnight. It’s easy to rattle off a list of things that might be nice to have. But working on this project over the past week has made me think a whole lot about the things I already have. There are the scraps themselves, of course: saved fabric leftover from past projects or former curtains or no longer serviceable swaddles. But at the risk of being insufferably saccharine, it’s kind of humbling to think about what else there is that’s already lying around. Turns out, of course, that opportunities for thankfulness abound. I don’t have a studio space, or a large work table, and I need to clear off my work surfaces after every hour or two that I steal for the project, but look at what I do have: A felt pad for ironing, a table I can drag over to the light of the window, a drying rack for hanging freshly ironed handkerchiefs and other scraps. Needle and thread and two working hands.

The real advice here might simply be to listen to my own advice. I’ve said so much of this before:

Embrace messy projects! Embrace your hobbies! Undress your art supplies. (Space is mutable!)

Here’s to a new week and noticing what’s right in front of me. What are you all working on?

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  • Reply Pat September 17, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    After living in Eastern North Carolina and seeing the devastation of Hurricane Florence only 35 miles south of my home and the starting over of those flooded right here in our town, I am again reminded to be thankful for those things that I usually never think about – electricity; clean drinking water; a functioning bathroom; a clean, dry home; food. Thankful for the safety and well-being of my family. Anything, anything beyond this is just the cherry on top. Your mentioning of thankfulness today is so timely and appreciated.

  • Reply Susanne September 17, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Hear, hear!

  • Reply Hannah September 17, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I’m really into mending and darning right now. I love taking something worn and extending its life while also adding a personal touch and exercising my creativity. Hoping to eventually parlay this into making my own clothes, but I’m not quite there yet! (Also: really inspired by Katrina Rodabaugh on this front and am eagerly anticipating the release of Mending Matters!)

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 17, 2018 at 2:01 pm

      me too!! can’t wait for it!

  • Reply MissEm September 17, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Looking forward to seeing what this project is! Btw, are all your clothes stored in dressers? Do you hang any of your clothes?

  • Reply Rita September 17, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    As someone who is currently living/working in a smaller space then yours (although I have my own backyard yay!) and go through similar steps to do anything and was last night up to 2am embroidering a wool sweater for the coming Fall poorly seated on the edge of the bed because my sitting place is ocuppied with boxes because the tiny closet is being painted 🙂 I must say that in my experience I end up living more and doing more in small spaces than I have done in biggest houses I’ve lived. The curse of a small space is also its blessing: everything is at hand and a step away (although the necessary Tetris playing on the end). Anyway, Erin, I just wanted to thank you. I didn’t end up in small house by choice although is by choice now and you were a mind/sanity/life saver. I didn’t had the time to comment in your last post but I want to thank you for you blog. Thank you ❤️

  • Reply Kelly Libby September 17, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Last night, i was feeling overly anxious so i made the choice to clean out the disgusting basement in my rental. Previous tenants have left their junk there and I, too often, put bags of clothes with intent to donate but didn’t.

    I hauled 4 giant boxes up and left them on the curb with a FREE sign. Within MINUTES neighbors and church goers gladly rummaged through. Then, I thought, now is a great time to start purging some dishes I’d been wanting out of my home. Out to the curb to join their other freebies. Gone! It was pure joy.

    I love love love donating things. My head and heart and home feels free and clear. And, somebody else is happier for their found treasures.

  • Reply Mims September 17, 2018 at 10:38 pm

    I’m working on an octagon shimmer baby quilt. And I use the ikea rolling kitchen cart as my cutting table and ironing board! I use a folded wool blanket as ironing pad. Simple, but it suffices.

    • Reply Sophie September 18, 2018 at 3:24 pm

      A-ha, there’s the perfect solution to the problem of “where do I keep my sewing machine and supplies?” Thank you!

  • Reply Ann September 18, 2018 at 1:41 am

    This is a wise idea, to pay more attention to what is already there. Thank you, it’s in time for me.
    I keep my paint-pencil-paper in the curbstone under the TV and I continue to draw my first book.

  • Reply Jessica Large September 18, 2018 at 3:12 am

    Currently working on downsizing my jewelry collection; a daunting task when I have curious little ones and no place out of their reach. I wish I had an area of my own, but I’m grateful for our closeness.

  • Reply Celia September 18, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Vintage handkerchiefs are true treasures. Can’t wait to see what you make!

  • Reply BRI September 19, 2018 at 2:31 am

    Putting a button on a new rescue second-hand op shop summer shirt dress. I’ve mended a light wool skivvy four times over the winter here in Australia. It keeps getting runs, but it’s been my hero piece this year, so I’m determined to make it last.

  • Reply Kathleen Lupole September 19, 2018 at 8:06 am

    I just found your blog and will be reading all your back posts. I too live in a small space, a studio apartment that I just moved into a few months ago from a large house. I love it and the fact that I was able to downsize and get rid of a lot of stuff. I really don’t lack for anything here since it is just me and my house rabbit. It is fun for me decorating it and at the same time keeping it functional and organized.

    • Reply Rita September 19, 2018 at 8:33 pm

      I enjoyed discovering your blog so much!

  • Reply kimberly harper September 20, 2018 at 8:54 am

    I live in a huge space. Much more than I need or want. I still find your posts helpful and refreshing. I love your book and have shared it with my daughters and friends who are living in small spaces.

    I too want to know what project you are working on with all the white squares of fabric.

  • Reply Liza Hawkins October 5, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Awesome! It’s truly Life in a tiny Apartment. article, and I have got the much clear idea concerning from this post.

  • Reply Jess October 31, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    From Someone who lives in under 500 sq ft with my fiance, I can completely relate. Its a never ending back and forth between wanting to get rid of everything and live more simply and finding space saving hacks and decor to enable us to keep more things that we love. Your website is beautiful . Stop by my page sometime – i have a video tour of my tiny studio with Refinery29… would love to hear what you think <3

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