life in a tiny apartment.

March 24, 2020
make peace at home | reading my tea leaves

Tip #192: Make peace at home.

I’ve spent lots of the last nine years writing about living in a small New York City apartment. I’m no stranger to cramped quarters or working from home, but it’s an understatement to say that living and working in a small apartment during a pandemic presents a whole new kind of challenge.

Like folks across the globe, the five of us have found ourselves suddenly cut off from the people and places that help us thrive. The city that we rely on as a place to stretch our legs and expand our world is largely shuttered and we’re missing friends and family and our regular routines something awful. All this while also coping with a craven lack of federal leadership in the face of a deadly illness and a floundering economy? It’s a whole lot to process.

Still, I’m making peace at home. In the Skillshare class that I launched last week, I lead students through simple exercises to better acquaint them with taking control of their things, shifting their habits, and tapping into their creativity in an effort to create a more peaceful home. I explain that those changes are often exceedingly simple—the difference between something left on the floor or hung on a hook, for instance, can change not only what my space looks like, but also how it functions and how it makes me feel.

In my own apartment this week, I made three simple changes that have resulted in a more peaceful space (and a more peaceful me). I didn’t buy anything new or get rid of anything we already had, I just paid attention to what was working and what wasn’t and shifted things around accordingly.

make peace at home | reading my tea leaves

Here’s what I did:

+ Made a door buffer. If my kids slammed the door to their bedroom one more time, I was going to blow a gasket. Instead, I jury rigged a damper from a scrap of thick cotton jersey pressed over the latch with washi tape. It prevents the latch from clicking noisily into place and buffers the slam of the wooden door. We’ve had other solutions for this slamming door in the past, but so far, this one requires the least maintenance and is most effective. Most important, all gaskets remain intact.

+ Moved a bookshelf. Until this week, we had a bookshelf squeezed into a narrow space next to the kids’ bunk bed. It was a fine spot for the shelf in theory, but for two kids who are a bit more stir-crazy than usual, the proximity to the bunk bed ladder meant a daily (or hourly) brush with injury. Our solution was to move the shelf into a corner in our main room that was underused. Now we don’t have to worry about our kids hurling themselves into the bookshelf and we’ve freed up precious floor space in their tiny room at the same time.

+ Repositioned a desk. Repositioning the kids’ desk to be under the window in their room has shifted the room in such a way that’s cleared space for us to wheel Calder’s mini crib in and out of it easily. While she’s still largely in the newborn stage where deep sleep comes and stays easily, for moments during the day when she could use a little quiet, we’re able to make that happen.

make peace at home | reading my tea leaves

These tiny changes won’t solve any of the biggest problems we collectively face, but they made being at home feel a little more tenable this week. I imagine I’m not the only one who could benefit from anything that does that right now.

If any of you have found similar comfort in these kinds of shifts this week, I’d love to know.

And if you haven’t taken my class yet, you can join for free here: https://skl.sh/erin. (For every person who signs up through this link, Reading My Tea Leaves earns a small commission. Huge thanks for sharing widely!)

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34 Comments

  • Reply Stephanie March 24, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    We are currently trying to work from home with two young kids. Our 2.5 year old is a super social person who is sorely missing his friends at daycare and has energy to burn! He has been letting us know through various small acts of frustration that he’s not thrilled with our current arrangements 🙂 and has been ‘getting into things’ more than he ever has! We generally don’t keep much lying around our home, but taking some time to re-arrange things and move a few tempting items up higher or find a closed cupboard to keep them has reduced the number of things getting pulled apart or inadvertently explored when he goes looking for something to do.

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  • Reply Tina March 24, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    We shifted a pack and play out of a closet and a desk in. It means a schedule shift but a quieter space for my husband to take meetings away from our two kids. We also moved our dining table to wear the desk used to be allowed a safer running space in our 650sqft apartment. Haha.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:07 pm

      Apartment as playground definitely requires some adjustments 😉

  • Reply Judith Ross March 24, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    I just signed up for your class. Alas, the videos won’t play — perhaps because there are over 4,000 people watching them? Just wanted to make you aware of the glitch.

    • Reply Judith A Ross March 24, 2020 at 5:52 pm

      Update: it’s working fine on our newer computer. I guess the older one just couldn’t handle it.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:00 pm

        Oh good! Thanks so much for joining!

  • Reply marion March 24, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    Hi Erin! such a nice post. Indeed we are all trying to find solutions… For me was also moving some furniture from the furnished-apartment that I am living in, an removing the coats to another place to make the entrance a “little bit” more bigger. Also a super super clean kitchen helped a lot. It’s crazy how not having this space clean really can affect me so much this days!
    I’m sure that more than one is taking quite some time to evaluate how they actually space works for them. Anyway, thanks for the post (and the skilshare classe, I love it!)

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:02 pm

      Yes! All about that clean kitchen (tho also kind of flabbergasted by how much more quickly everything gets dirtied when we’re all here all day , cooking and eating three meals a day)!

  • Reply Annie March 24, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    As luck would have it we had to replace a very old, beyond repair mobile computer desk two weeks before I was to start working remotely after the libraries shut down. The new desk is so much better as the base actually fits under the chair I have to sit in due to back problems so I can sit properly all day with minimal fatigue.

    Not being able to shop so easily has made me realize how little I really need versus what I think I need. I had been cutting back on shopping as I have embraced minimalism/sustainability but this really drove the realization home.

    Also I found several coloring books that I bought a few years ago and had been sitting on my bookshelf not yet used. Now I have another way to keep calm and occupied in the evenings after work is done.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:03 pm

      Totally agree on the shopping! I’m not a big shopper anyway, but we typically buy things like groceries just a meal or two at a time and this has made us so much more mindful.

  • Reply Lee March 24, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    We have also shifted things in our tiny apartment (680 sq ft) to accommodate 2 adults (my spouse and I) working full-time from home. We rearranged a closet so we could fit a low bureau/cabinet in there and then ordered a sit/stand desk from Ikea to put in the place where the bureau/cabinet was previously. We actually love the bureau in the closet and may leave it there even if we end up selling the desk eventually. Sadly, during the week our kitchen table is also a desk–so lots of eating on the couch or on the floor during the week and on the weekends we move things away so we can have the table back.

    I also signed up for skillshare and plan to watch your class this week! My husband is also determined to learn massage techniques by watching skillshare videos. I’m pretty excited about that since I’m 20 weeks pregnant and have chronic pain–can’t wait to have a live-in masseur. ; )

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:04 pm

      Ha! Yes to the bureau in the closet and the live-in masseur. Sending all my best wishes for a healthy pregnancy!

  • Reply Hannah Cain March 24, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    “. . . a craven lack of federal leadership . . .” – couldn’t be better said. I have found more peace in being grateful, which has been really hard. I’m not new to being stuck at home with kids (I’ve been a stay-at-home mom with no car to take 5 boys anywhere for 8 years), but we’re in the middle of renovating our home and have most our things in storage, so I feel I can’t actually make our house feel like a “home”. My husband nor I can work anymore, either (we do carpentry), so (thankfully) we have a tax return to live off of, but that will run out. I can only imagine how parents who have lost jobs, have kids at home, and have no money are faring. I can only imagine how their children are faring. I may not be able to do anything I’d like in my house right now (put anything on the walls, for instance) because we are in the middle of bankruptcy and have to sell, but there are many things to still be grateful for: having a place to live, food to eat, and none of us being sick. It is hard, though, with a future so uncertain.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      Totally agreed. So much that’s uncertain, so much to worry about, so much to still be grateful for.

  • Reply Pippa March 24, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    I feel for you being stuck in that tiny apartment with three small kids. What will you do if the virus hits you guys? You can’t possibly self-isolate in such a small space with a newborn. And yet…you can’t leave the building as you would infect others. What a mess this all is.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:06 pm

      It sure is. One day at a time and all the prayers and precautions for good health.

  • Reply Sarah March 24, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    Whittled down the mixing bowl stack to the ones we actually use, making it easier to pull them off of the high shelf in the cupboard where they live!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:06 pm

      Yes!

  • Reply Maddie March 24, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    Love your posts and instagram pictures. Definitely helping to keep me sane! Thank you.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks so much for being here!

  • Reply Zara March 24, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    What a difference moving a few things around can make!
    We made the transition to bunk beds this week with a 4 and 2 year old. We went with the Ikea one that allowed for a lower top bunk and so far no accidents coming down the ladder.

    It has freed up so much space not having a crib and twin in the same room. We now have a reading book and permanent place for the dolls house!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 24, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      Cheers to those bunks! Such a game-changer.

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  • Reply Lindy March 25, 2020 at 12:12 am

    Will do yr class after figuring out how to do my yoga class video.. I set myself up at a table but my charger cable was hanging in the floor and I learned from you and made a spiffy setup taped to the wall. And love the ritual intentional it’s it sets up. And sincere empathy for what yr going they… leadership space loss economics health concerns.. to much for any brain to process.. scuds spelling.. it’s dark and I can’t see.

  • Reply Lindy March 25, 2020 at 12:26 am

    Actually moved a bed.. set up a Covid Station for sanitizer wipes etc sanitizer also right at front door too.. removed any fabric so surfaces could be wiped diwn and moved to a walker handbag and clothes that can be washed or wiped.

  • Reply Lena Onate March 25, 2020 at 9:08 am

    Erin, you are an inspiration. I still cannot believe a family of 5 living in a tiny 500sq ft apartment!!! How do you do it??! You were one of the reasons I decided to minimize and declutter my life. You and Marie Kinda haha…I have been following your blog for years and use your tips and tricks. That door buffer idea! I will be using it.

  • Reply Virginia March 25, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Several years ago I came across your book shortly after my husband and I relocated to a one room garage apartment in NC. It couldn’t have been more perfect timing. Since then, and moving into a slightly larger place back in GA, I have reread your book many times. Last week I brought it back out to reread your suggestions on simple cleaning products and as luck would have it, I soon after discovered your new class online! It was so simple and inspiring that over the course of the weekend, I found myself reconsidering many tchotchkes taking up valuable surface space throughout our space including an old bulky record player which I had held on to for so long out of obligation as it was a gift from my mom many years ago. After removing those items from our little space to see what it would feel like without them, I decided I valued the new space and renewed peace of mind much more. So with a quick trip to goodwill and a few posts on the local swap and shop, I was able to create a greater sense of tranquility in our home that hadn’t been there before with the extra clutter. To my surprise, even my mom referred to the old record player as a “dinosaur” when I told her I had decided to get rid of it and was just as happy to see it go. How funny, right?

    So appreciative of your work as always!

  • Reply Meg March 25, 2020 at 10:09 am

    I love the class, and it feels very useful now. Thank you so much, Erin.

    Giving things away is harder with the temporary closure of all our local thrift stores. I have been working through the Buy Nothing Group. That takes a lot more time than throwing everything in a bag. Hopefully this experience makes me much, much more careful about what I take in.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 25, 2020 at 10:21 am

      so glad! yes: definitely difficult to clear things out right now—our buy nothing group is actually limiting use to things specifically covid related to make sure folks are able to properly socially distance—but such a good time to evaluate what’s important.

  • Reply Tanya March 25, 2020 at 11:55 am

    My husband and I live in a small, 500 sq ft apartment. The first week of isolation, we both worked at the dining table — the only work space in the apartment — and we were driving each other crazy. Additionally, our bedroom door doesn’t close because of a hanging shoe rack on the door that we use for storage, so we have even less personal space. So we got rid of the shoe storage and moved the shoes into a bin under the bed. We also cleared the top of his dresser in the bedroom to use as a standing work station. Now he can switch between dining table and bedroom, and the bedroom door closes. Small victories are big victories in a tiny space!

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 25, 2020 at 11:55 am

      Indeed!

  • Reply Jessica March 26, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Such great advice! We recently moved to north brooklyn and have been making some changes to our home — including tearing down a wall to connect two rooms, removing carpet, and removing the glued-on carpet squares underneath to expose linoleum (that’s right, three layers of flooring + subflooring, all laid on top of the original hardwood floors) . We’d been living in an in-between state for weeks with the room blocked off by plastic sheeting. When we realized we were likely to be stuck at home for a while, we quickly sanded the remaining joint compound, painted the walls of the newly expanded room, unrolled craft paper across the glue-covered linoleum floor, bought a wool rug that we’d been eyeing, and arranged our stacked up furniture into a proper living room. It’s had a huge impact on the way our kiddo is handling the other changes — she has a new, slightly larger space (probably palatial to a 3 year old), with organized and nearly stored toys, books, and activities.

  • Reply Cindy April 2, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    Read your blog and have learned lots in terms of simple living and minimal living. Bought your Book as well.
    For me I want to respectfully acknowledge ( for me, not wanting to disrespect other views),I am grateful for our leadership and pray for the wisdom and guidance to help all of us through this…. as there is no playbook for this. I believe in the power of positivity. These are times that are trying- I do believe praise rather than put-down can place / help to push positive outcomes. It certainly keeps me from going to the dark side of thoughts. Certainly as well helping those who have needs in terms of buying extra for and local economy purchases. Thank you for your so very helpful insights into reduce and re-use. I do use some of your very helpful tips.

  • Reply Josie April 3, 2020 at 10:40 pm

    Erin, I live in Brooklyn too and have 3 kids myself I’m 29. I have 9,4,&3 year olds but honestly when will you move into atleast a 2 bedroom ? I like you a lot but this is very unrealistic and not something common or even legal in New York to have so many people in one space. I just feel like if it were a minority trying to sell this same image they’d have these questions asked to them tenfold by now but no one asks you that and I think it is an obvious thing that should be addressed. Could you atleast speak on it either in a blog post here or an ig post about 5 people living in a 1 bedroom in Brooklyn New York. I’m sorry just I am a born New Yorker raising a family here myself and know that your not allowed to have so many people in such a small space and to glorify it but at the same time able to buy relatively expensive items while you live in that small space by choice is just when others may be in a similar situation by force seems to me a bit tone deaf.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 4, 2020 at 10:22 am

      Hi there: All kinds of families live in this city in all kinds of apartments. It is not illegal for a family of five to live in a ~500 square foot apartment and we are not alone in doing this. We have certainly made choices based on our personal budget, jobs, family, lifestyle, etc., in just the same way that you surely have.

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