life in a tiny apartment.

January 23, 2020
the one best small space storage solution | reading my tea leaves

Tip #191: The one best small space storage solution.

I can’t help but click on the stories that promise me small space solutions. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been disappointed, or, more usually, just bored by the solutions, I’ll still click. Even if the story requires scrolling through slides, my personal least favorite design feature of websites, I’ll dutifully make my way to the end. But I’ve never found a small space solution this way.

The only small space solutions I’ve found have been through the passage of time. Time that allows me both the opportunity to understand what kind of solution I actually need in the first place and time that gives me the chance to embark on the hunt itself.

I realize that I might sound like a broken record, but if the internet has limitless room for posts touting the 10 Best Small Space Storage Solutions, each with an only slight variation on the theme of questionably small-sized furniture, than there’s certainly room for one more post reminding us all that best is subjective and finding your personal best takes time and perseverance.

So where to start?

Here’s the story of how I came to find one cupboard, to give an idea of my own quirky process, in case it’s helpful:

As we prepare for the arrival of the new addition to our family, James and I have known that we’d need to find space for the tiny onesies and diapers that make up the majority of my personal list of “baby essentials.” (Even a minimalist baby has a few material needs.)

So we began our search for a cupboard in earnest a few months ago. We measured the space we had and marked out a masking tape outline of dimensions that we thought might be ideal. We texted each other inspiration images. I ripped out a picture from a magazine and tacked it to the wall. We scoured second-hand sites like AptDeco and 1stDibs and pinned anything mildly inspiring to a shared board on Pinterest. We were brutally honest about what we liked and what we didn’t and we nixed (and guffawed at) far more pieces than we ever considered.

Together we tracked down listings on Facebook’s Marketplace and Craigslist, followed leads presented by our neighborhood Buy Nothing Project, and eyed piles of curbed furniture with intense interest. We made like a pair of Goldilocks (minus the breaking and entering) and chased cabinets and cupboards around the neighborhood, wanting to test things out and see them up close.

Finally, we found our fit. A neighborhood woman was moving to a new apartment and she sold us this battered old beauty for a song. On a frigid morning, James and I walked together to pick it up and bring it home in the back of a taxi. It was musty and needed more than a bit of deep cleaning. It was less wide than we’d hoped for, but it fit our very shallow depth requirement and it was the perfect height to fit into the sweet spot of being tall enough to take advantage of wall space without being overbearing in a small space.

To my view, this is what the one best small space storage solution looks like: the one that works best for us and is best for right now. It might not be the best for you, or the best for Sue down the street, but this little cupboard has been perfect for storing my camera and my computer and hard drives, our router and computer cables, and all of my other work supplies, including my maximalist collection of scissors that I’d previously cozied next to the linens in our closet. (Make way for diapers, etc.)

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  • Reply Nicole January 23, 2020 at 11:33 am

    It fits your space beautifully also. We are looking to move in a few months and are taking inventory of what we might need in the new space. Have taken inspiration from you and your book which I read every January to accumulate slowly and preferably second hand.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 23, 2020 at 11:45 am

      Thanks so much, we really love it! Wishing you lots of luck in your move (and hunt)!

  • Reply Elaine January 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    Sweet little cupboard. I just sold a similar one because I am rightsizing my life. It doesn’t fit where I live now. Enjoy your find!

  • Reply Maria January 23, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    I am with you, Erin.
    We (2 adults , 2 children and a dog) live in a 3 room (incld open kitchen-living-room, office and family bedroom) . We took the furniture that works for us at the moment and will change as our need change, unless we will reinvent ourselves. It is fun and creative and sometimes challenging. But this is what we chose: the home, the city and the lifestyle.

  • Reply Sarah January 23, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    I really enjoy reading your thought processes for these kinds of decisions. It reminds me to take a step back and make more considerations instead of rushing for the first solution I see. Congrats btw – happy baby prep! Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Miquell Tregoat January 23, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    It’s good to be reminded of « the process » in finding what works and the patience it takes- in Paris this is the month of big sales everywhere I turn- I’m looking for the perfect coat but I have vowed to be more consciences about waste so have vowed to buy 2nd hand- today I saw a gorgeous and perfect coat but I was happy I could just walk away as I know it’s just that 50%off that eats away. I’ll be back at it tomorrow scrounging through all the 2nd hand and vintage shops here and there are quite a bit- thanks

  • Reply andrea January 23, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    It suits your space so well! Plus it’s the perfect spot to lean the broom against.

  • Reply Jessica January 23, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    We just bought a home in north Brooklyn and our portion is 900-1000 sq ft (the rest is rental units). While reading this, I was struck by how variable definitions of “tiny” apartment and “small” space are. Moving from a 500 sq ft apartment to this new space makes it feel palatial. It also makes it feel that we have so much space to FILL. Like you, and many commenters, we’re planning to take a measured, second-hand approach to filling our space even though it’s not tiny to us and doesn’t necessarily require us to map out where each item will fit. (And we fully recognize that the space that feels enormous to us would be teeny to others!)

  • Reply Ramona January 23, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    I love it! And love that there’s a story behind it! Perhaps one day it will move with him/her to their first apartment! 😉

  • Reply Lauren January 23, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    I would love to learn what you use to deep-clean secondhand wood furniture, especially how you tackle that musty smell! Any tried and true tips?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 24, 2020 at 9:56 am

      Sounds like a post might be in order!

  • Reply abby January 26, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    It looks beautiful in your space. I am sure you have considered/looked into it, but just in case, have you tested the paint on it for lead?
    Love your blog.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 27, 2020 at 8:34 am

      thanks. yes, lots of consideration re: lead paint! this cupboard is very old and doesn’t have any paint at all on the shelves/interior, which is helpful. the exterior definitely still has traces of paint, as you can see, but there’s no alligatoring, peeling, or chipping, so we decided to leave it intact (and certainly not to sand it) in case the remaining paint does contain lead. The inside of the door had the most paint and so that I decided to prime and paint to seal up for good measure.

    • Reply Tara March 16, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      You can always use some charcoal packets if there’s a lingering mustiness.

  • Reply Amanda August 8, 2020 at 1:55 am

    A pretty cabinet. I love rustic old pieces that are still functional. I’m curious, with the shallow depth and the height, did you anchor it to the wall to keep it from toppling over onto littles?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 8, 2020 at 6:49 pm

      Yes, we use a simple l-shaped bracket!


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