life in a tiny apartment.

February 13, 2019

Tip #181: Daydream a little.

Five years ago tomorrow, James and I got our keys from a real estate broker and shared a pizza for Valentine’s Day dinner. We sat on the floor of our empty apartment, with a set of string lights reflecting on the otherwise empty hardwood floor. It was snowing. I was six months pregnant. We’d spend the next two weeks slowly moving boxes from one apartment to the next. We hired movers to carry the heaviest stuff. We huffed and puffed and got used to our climb to the very top floor while carrying everything else.

We couldn’t imagine exactly what we were getting ourselves into then—childless and mostly broke—but we knew we’d found a place where we could welcome a baby. Turns out, it’s been a place to welcome two babies.

Today we signed our lease for another year in this spot. People ask me all the time whether or not we’ll stay here. They ask if we’ll always live in the city. If we ever think we’ll buy a home. If we’ll live in a small space no matter what, compelled by principle and precedent. The truth is, who knows? Over the past five years, our space has grown with us—if not in square footage than at least in spirit. We’re always tweaking it—making sure it feels comfortable and usable and like it’s ours in spite of the fact that it’s decidedly not.

We’ve been shuffling furniture around lately. Some of you have noticed that our dining table is in a new spot—two tables, for now, pushed together to make a larger one—anchored against a wall instead of floating in space. Floating a bit is our bench, moved away from a wall and turned on its side. We’ve been marveling at how little changes have changed the flow of energy in the apartment. With the table in its new spot, the kitchen—usually dark and uninviting—somehow seems friendlier. The bench, little used in its old position, has become a regular spot for little ones lounging on dark mornings or reading stories after school. The kids’ table and chairs, now tucked in a corner next to our closet, has taken on a new kind of coziness and utility.

I love the capacity that one tiny apartment has to be transformed. When I’m feeling particularly daydreamy, I add images to my Pinterest boards and imagine beautiful glass vitrines separating bedroom from dining room or kitchen from dining room. When I’m feeling more practical, I wonder if bunk beds or trundles or something in between the two might be in our future and how they might change our space. For the past few weeks, I’ve been working to turn a daydream of a solution for our tiny kitchen counter into a reality. (Shelves, I’ve decided.)

Today I painted a new watercolor floor plan for anyone wondering how spaces flow together, or get kept apart, in our funky little spot. I added a view of how our apartment connects to our neighbors’ and to our hall, and made a note of the crate we keep outside our apartment door for shoes. (Perks of living on the very top floor, revealed.) Mostly, I can’t wait to see what a sketch like this might look like after another year. Here’s to tiny transformations.

What’s new in your worlds?

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  • Reply Amanda Krieger February 13, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    We’ve always kept my sons legos in a cabinet in the dining room— accessible to him but away from our toddlers. Last week he moved them, without asking, into the playroom. Now everyone plays with them multiple times a day. I have to Keep a closer eye on his baby sister when they’re out, but it’s worth it to me.
    They made me think about how simple switches can change your focus. It doesn’t even have to be as big as a piece of furniture!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 13, 2019 at 3:21 pm

      Yes, absolutely.

  • Reply Sarah February 13, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    I’m working on a solution to hide what we keep up in our attic. I’d like to go up there to do yoga and create/have a space of my own, but the energy is fizzled when I’m staring at plastic bins full of Christmas and too small kids clothing, so daydreaming for a solution as well.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 13, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      I believe it! Cheering you on!

    • Reply Mo August 15, 2019 at 6:07 am

      I had a den in the attic when I grew up, a simple space closed off with makeshift curtains (a.k.a. random cloths that where big enough, from sarees to table cloths, to sheets to an actual curtain or two hung over whires and strings or tacked or nailed to the wall and ceiling). It covered the boxes while at the same time giving easy access to them.

  • Reply Megan February 13, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    6 weeks ago (tomorrow) we welcomed a little babe into our 700 sqft space with one bathroom and a dog. An “entertainment center” became a dresser and a cradle passed down from now great-grandparents became a bed for our new bundle. Your blog and book are so inspiring, and a reminder that “this is a thing, people do this”.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 13, 2019 at 4:44 pm

      Yay!! People do this!!!

  • Reply Lee February 13, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    We recently stooped a rickety old dining room chair and we’ve been using freecycle to get rid of things we no longer use (old electronics that still work, etc). It has been really lovely to see our giving things away has helped bring a lightness to our space and a bit of joy too (we gave a Wii to a dad who was so excited to play it with his 10-year-old son). I also bought a new broom–all wood and horse hair bristles and I’ve never been more excited for a package to arrive. Trying to make cleaning more beautiful and joyful too. Thanks for the tiny-space inspiration (i share 700 sq ft w/ a spouse and pet).

  • Reply Maggie February 13, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Do you really only have one window?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 13, 2019 at 5:58 pm

      Nope, I messed up! We have three. Two in the main room and one in the kids’ room.

  • Reply Beth February 13, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    Have you thought of a loft/bunk type bed for the kids someday? It would be bigger than a bunk and allow them a private space within a space maybe with a privacy curtain. Just a thought. They have ideas on pinterest. It would be an investment, but one that would grow with them. I love your blog and your photography.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 13, 2019 at 8:12 pm

      We have a bit! For a very small bedroom in a rental it doesn’t really make sense for us!

  • Reply Erica February 13, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    I love what you say about your space growing with you. My husband, dog, and I have been living in a 400-sq foot studio for six years, and when asked if/when we’ll ever leave, I find myself finding it hard to imagine anything different. Our home has seen us through dating, an engagement, and now marriage, and it too, has evolved over the years. It’s a magical feeling to know “home” can mean so many different things to so many different people. It truly is a reflection of who we are as individuals and even more so as a unit. Thank you for sharing your appreciation for home, however that looks.

  • Reply Francesca February 13, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    We have just decided to stay in our one bedroom rental for at least another year, despite our baby becoming a toddler. We have been here for nearly a decade and similarly our space has grown in spirit along with us. A few days ago, I added a kitchen island that, rather than making the room feel smaller (as additional furniture often does) made everything feel bigger and more functional.
    It is astonishing how much a small change can make such a difference. Reading this makes me feel better about our choice to stay in our home, so thank you!

  • Reply SEM February 13, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    I love spying on your place via your drawings. I sometimes imagine how I’d decorate your space (and others I see online) too! #fantasydecorator

  • Reply Ali Enza February 14, 2019 at 8:41 am

    I need to find a solution for my crafting corner which has exploded 😀 I love reading your posts because they inspire me to think outside the box about our small space!

  • Reply Nina February 14, 2019 at 11:19 am

    Ah yes, this is what I needed to be reminded of this week! I’ve been feeling a bit despairing about the smallness of our home (mid-Feb, and my sister just moved into a much bigger new home, so…) and our lack of money to do anything to it. But we recently salvaged a shelf that a neighbour was throwing out, and fitted it into a kitchen cupboard, which allowed for some rearrangement that put the recycling bag into another cupboard instead of out in the open. And even just moving the printer paper the other day, so it’s now right next to the printer, felt significant! So, thanks for the reminder to keep chipping away like that.

  • Reply steph February 14, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    i’m working on rebuilding my late grandma’s plant corner. it’s a gift to myself and to her memory. as for spaces we’re on the tail end of our travel year and i’m just dying to finally have a space of my own again! for january i had set a big goal to get rid of stuff everyday so that when we do have a home the things that enter are truly items i need, use or love. you can read more here:

  • Reply Bliss February 14, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    This post resonated with me, not so much because I live in a small space (I don’t), but because of the thought and attention you take with your space. It is refreshing. I also appreciate that you allow yourself the possibility to change and grow and adapt your space, as needed. Sending love from California on this Valentine’s Day!

  • Reply Jeanne February 20, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    My husband and I moved into our space three weeks before we got married; two and a half years ago. (Our space=2 bedrooms on the bottom floor of a multi-family home) I was three months pregnant with my son who just turned two and now I am 5 months pregnant with a little girl. I like where we live. It is affordable, it works for us. But I feel pressure to move so I feel like I explain my living situation more frequently than I’d like. I wish I shared the same pride that you do when it comes to small spaces and living with children.

  • Reply Mo August 15, 2019 at 6:14 am

    I remember when I moved my bed 90 degreees, what a revelation! So much space! I suddenly had a working bedrom/office with a clear demarcation line. Spaces, and small spaces in particular, depend so much on the flow to make them not only functional, but enjoyable.

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