Like most New Yorkers, Erin Boyle is no stranger to small spaces. Her first Brooklyn Heights apartment with her now-husband, James, was a teeny-tiny 240-square-foot loft.
In 2014, with a baby on the way, the couple decided to size up — well, kind of. They now live in a 500-square-foot, one-bedroom, fourth-floor walk-up with two small children, Faye, 4, and Silas, 18 months.
“It’s really magical, but it’s also really hard,” Boyle admits. “I sometimes wish I had a back door to open and let the kids go run around in a backyard.”
That said, she’s learned over time how to maximize what space she has. She has chronicled her small-living adventures, as well as tips she’s learned along the way, in a series on her blog, Life in a Tiny Apartment.
“We don’t need as much space as we think we do,” she said in an interview. “Limit yourself to the space you have.”
We asked Boyle for her best small-space living tricks.
Opt for simple, neutral furniture
Every design decision matters when space is limited. “We’ve found that furniture with simple and spare lines makes a tiny apartment feel roomier,” Boyle says.
Pared-down bed linens are also easier on the eye and make the apartment feel larger. “Keep things relatively neutral and pick a cohesive color palette,” Boyle says. Skip the mountain of throw pillows and instead invest in two sets of crisp, white sheets, a bed skirt, and a thick cotton blanket for nights.
Plan your meals in advance
Cooking in a tiny kitchen can get very messy, very fast. Meal prep, Boyle says, is one way to make the experience a little easier and more enjoyable. “We have a tiny fridge and very limited cabinet space,” Boyle explains. “Planning meals in advance and shopping locally and frequently helps us live a low-impact lifestyle, both in our personal lives and on the environment.”
Edit your clothes seasonally
To consolidate your closet, each season take stock of the clothing you wore, how it fit and how it made you feel. Then divide your clothing into three stacks: stay, go and ponder.
“My motto is don’t hold on to anything for a negative reason,” Boyle emphasizes. “You should only hold on to things that make you happy, not because you feel guilty because you spent too much money on it, or somebody gave it to you as a present.”
Cull your bathroom supplies
Pare down and organize your bathroom goodies for maximum efficiency. “I try not to have anything in the house that we really don’t need or use,” Boyle says. “Part of it, I understand, is living in the city — we have a 24-hour drugstore a block away — but you don’t need 18 different face creams or 15 toothbrushes for ‘just in case.’ ”
Adopt the “use it or lose it” philosophy and routinely take stock of your items. For Boyle, this means sharing one shampoo, conditioner and bar of soap among the family. One easy way to start decluttering: Ditch any expired medicine or makeup.
Forget about photo-ready perfection
With social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest, it can be easy to get caught up in the visuals. But a home should reflect your actual lived experience, and furnishings should be situated accordingly.
“People feel stymied by the rules and the conventions of how we design our spaces,” Boyle explains. “But first and foremost you want it to be a space that you enjoy and feel comfortable in.”
For example, she keeps her queen-size bed in the apartment’s main living area. It may seem unconventional, but it makes the most sense for her family at this stage in their life. (The children have the bedroom.) “Humans are so adaptable and can find better solutions that fit their needs as long as they maintain an open mind about it,” Boyle says.
Despite the layout, Boyle is still able to entertain guests. “We don’t really have the table space (or seating) for formal sit-down dinners, so we often do appetizer-heavy gatherings, where folks can graze from cheese boards and platters and perch on a couch with a small dessert plate on their lap (and go back for seconds),” she added in an email. “It takes so much pressure off.”
Get creative about storage — and stick to it
Everywhere you turn in Boyle’s apartment there are clever catch-all solutions. For example, an apple crate doubles as a side table, and Mason jars store extra food and excess supplies. “Find a space for everything and stick to it,” Boyle says. “Once you establish that, it becomes a habit and makes living much more manageable.”
And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. When Boyle realized her family needed a little extra room in their tiny, windowless bathroom, she installed a shelf above the doorway. “It’s a tiny fix that’s decluttered the back of the toilet and made room for our laundry detergent and extra rolls of toilet paper,” Boyle says. “It’s a simple way to use otherwise wasted space.”
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