life in a tiny apartment.

January 7, 2019

Tip #178: Look around.

I’ve been dragging furniture into new spots around the apartment all morning. Must be January. Or maybe I’ve been inspired by my kids’ new dollhouse and the daily—even thrice daily!—ability to turn everything on its head and begin again. Maybe there’s a cosmic event conspiring to have me simultaneously wanting to nest and shake things up around here. Regardless, it’s been a workout.

In the spirit of a new year and resolutions, I’ve been thinking about our apartment and how we’ll make it a place that’s comfortable and useful as our kids grow and our needs change and who knows what else unfolds.

We’ve got slow plans in the works to welcome a new dining table—something larger that will better fit visiting family. In the meantime, we’ve smushed two tables together, a makeshift expansion that’s helping me to get used to the idea and to the space, while also providing space enough to seat the whole ragtag crew.

James and I are both resolving to read more before shutting down for the night in the new year, which means that rectifying our bedside lighting situation feels moderately more urgent. I’ve been thinking generally about books and art supplies and other things that are nice to have around for young kids—and everyone—but that also take up precious space. How to allow the room for creativity and messes when space is limited and a need for order also strong?

I’m thinking it might be the year of the bookshelf. A custom set of shelves, perhaps, sized to fit and solve once and for all the problem of our strangely floating kitchen counter. I’m putting out feelers and assessing my own skill set, all the while thinking about the particulars of life as a longterm renter and trying to balance life-improving solutions with investments that can be taken with us when we go.

I’m reminding myself of the little improvements that this past year gave us: a bathroom with an electrical outlet, and a light, and a mirror that we don’t mind at all looking at. We have a baseboard that’s not (yet) rotting and and paint that’s (mostly) not yet flaking. We have a bathroom ceiling that’s not spotted with mildew. Small victories, in other words. Easily taken for granted, but not forgotten.

What about all of you? What’s on the horizon? What’s waiting to get finished or revisited or pushed to the other side of the room?

For the curious:

Our candle stick is from Notary Ceramics.

Our bitty bowls are from East Fork Pottery.

Our dollhouse is this one, with furniture from these fine folks (and a rotating cast of characters.

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. 

You Might Also Like


  • Reply MissEm January 7, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    I can’t wait to hear about your book/art supply/kid needs/order needs solutions as this particular issue has had me hitting my head against a wall for longer than I’d like to admit! This is my year of finding the balance between order, beauty, and creativity in my home as well.

  • Reply Katy January 7, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    I had that battle between nurturing creativity and maintaining order within our household of four children. After years of experimenting, I’ve decided to leave the play dough, glitter, collage material, finger-paints, acrylic paints, etc. to their pre-school to handle! We keep a stocked pile of plain white paper and construction paper, quality crayons, markers, and colored pencils, nice water colors and watercolor paper, glue, scissors, and that’s it. They have never missed those other things at home and I feel like my sanity is restored. Simple is sometimes better and not necessarily less creative.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 7, 2019 at 6:02 pm

      Yes, agreed! Right now most of their few supplies are available, but there are also some on a high shelf. Would love to get everything on their level. For their sanity and mine!

  • Reply Crystine January 7, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    You must have a secret way to scrape wax out of those little bowls (which I love by the way)!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 7, 2019 at 6:52 pm

      Freeze ‘em and pop it out with a little wooden butter knife!

  • Reply Genevieve January 7, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Nice! For me, plans include to make a couple of things (finish a handmade table, start–and eventually finish–my first quilt), make some fresh napkins (and some extras for family and friends), to freshen my indoor plants in various ways, maybe to get a new pillow, and in a dream I hope I can realize, clean out my studio’s one (large) closet and find ways to donate the contents (a lot of it sewing supplies I will never use).

  • Reply Karin January 7, 2019 at 8:17 pm

    We are doing a new carefully chosen table too. One to hopefully last many years. We ended ordering a custom made ash tabletop and some hairpin legs which we will put together ourselves . The hope is to have a simple solid wood table that will only look better with time for our small house.

    • Reply Trish O January 8, 2019 at 6:37 am

      Love this idea. We need a new table but not sure what I want

  • Reply Erica January 7, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    I don’t know what it is about this new year, but I, too, also find myself making little shifts around our space. New year, fresh feeling, perhaps? As longtime renters as well, my husband and I would love to update our 70s-style kitchen cabinets, but seeing that we can’t paint them, do you have any suggestions for a good quality removable, stick-on alternative? As always, thank you for sharing your insights into small-space living!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 7, 2019 at 8:40 pm

      Our last two apartments have had cabinets with a finish I really didn’t like (and we haven’t had permission to change the). So far, I’ve taken the approach of downplaying them without making any overt effort to change them or hide them. It’s not perfect, but it’s worked for me so far!

  • Reply Hilary January 7, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    It always feels good to refresh your space. We are a family of five living in 1000 square feet (two bedrooms, one bath), so we don’t live tiny at all, but we are always reassessing what gets to stay and what gets sold or donated. The real struggle is not having it come in in the first place, but that’s another discussion. Right now, we’re looking at ways to carve up the large bedroom our children share in order to give my oldest some privacy to read at night while allowing the younger two to get to sleep earlier (room divider curtain and a loft bed, methinks). I love the idea of custom shelving for art supplies and other little kid stuff. I don’t think kids need tons of stuff to create art (and the recycling bin can keep kids stocked when it comes to craft supplies), but I enjoy having some quality materials available at a level they can reach and organized in a way that they can maintain on their own. We’ve been happy with some quality materials like oil pastels, tempera paints, nice watercolors, a small assortment of brushes and rollers, crayons, markers, colored pencils, some dough or thinking putty, good paper, scissors, and glue. There are things we have that we don’t need: dot markers, elaborate hole punchers, pattern scissors, stamp sets, embellishments/stickers (which are just a bunch of plastic anyway), and any kind of “craft kit” type thing. It just doesn’t take much fanfare for kids to create masterpieces.

  • Reply Lizzy January 8, 2019 at 4:49 am

    I have similar considerations with my bought apartment. We have a 5-year mortgage and are planning to sell the place soon after we paid off the mortgage. So I am struggling to find a balance between making investments that will improve my life in the apartment and not investing too much since I know it won’t be a long-term home.

  • Reply laura January 8, 2019 at 9:04 am

    i’m curious if you all are considering moving at some point, when the kids are a little older, to a slightly larger place?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2019 at 9:07 am

      Probably! When and if it makes sense for our family!

  • Reply B January 8, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Make it the year of the book too. I was given a medium sized bookcase for my birthday. I have a huge library ordinarily and I’ve moved to a smaller space. So I use it as a book station, and go back and forth between my library boxes and the bookcase. It works for now, as I can visit the previous house at any time. This could be a solution, if someone is willing to house boxes of books for you. Or they could be stored under a bed, as mine are, for transit and reboxing. Or perhaps you borrow most of your books. I don’t think there should ever be obstacles for readers.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2019 at 10:20 am

      no lack of books or access to them around here!

      • Reply B January 9, 2019 at 9:47 am

        I think that maybe I’ve confused your needs with that of your children, as you mention wanting to read more yourself and then wanting to store your children’s things better. My point was that a small space, perhaps two shelves, with a well thought out purpose and method will help. Perhaps you already have a shelf for yourself. I feel like I’m missing information or adding it: that you’re not reading because you don’t have a shelf for yourself, that you all use the kitchen table. No matter. Whatever you come up with will look beautiful and suit the task.

  • Reply Anna Handy January 8, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    I have struggled with the same art and craft supply storage, and though we don’t have much I find that I want it to be organized and separated. For years I searched for a vintage flat file, and every time I happened upon a good one it was too large or the drawers were woefully old and hard to open and shut. I finally caved to a solution you may not embrace but it has worked wonders for our space and our kids – the IKEA ALEX drawer unit. We have had it for years and can see using it for many purposes in the future!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 8, 2019 at 2:07 pm

      Sounds great!

  • Reply steph January 8, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    i finally got around to making my resolutions and i’m approaching things a bit differently this year. general guidelines for how i want my year to go and a big goal for each month. for january my focus is to get rid of more stuff, basically getting back to things i set aside for my travel year (aka stuffed in boxes). i wrote more about it here:
    without even realizing it i find myself more ready than ever because it wasn’t on my horizon for a while, now i finally feel ready to tackle it once and for all.

  • Reply Julie Inzanti January 12, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    A bigger table? Hmmmmm, would you consider selling that lovely dining table in the future? 😉 It is so great. I also live in a tiny one bedroom nyc apartment with two kids and both my husband and I work from home! I have been searching around for a great smallish table.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 13, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      Will def be selling eventually! Feel free to email for details!


    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Comments are moderated.