15 Genius Tips for Living in Small Spaces

Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves and Gardenista and her husband live together in seriously small quarters—a 240-square-foot studio, to be exact. She agreed to share her surprising tips about how to make it work (and not drive each other crazy)…

1. Maximize your windows. Drape your windows in a way that allows for maximum light—I’d go for the bright white curtains—and try hanging a mirror nearby to reflect light into the room. Remembering to clean the windows helps, too!

2. Choose simple furniture. We’ve found that furniture with simple and spare lines makes a tiny apartment feel roomier. (Our couch is the tiny Elton Settee and it fits perfectly in our “living room.”)

3. Remove closet doors. Closet doors that swing into a room take up considerable floor space. Take the doors off and ask your landlord to store them. Then hang a simple curtain from a suspension rod to hide the inside of your closet instead.

4. Keep closets organized. Our old wooden hangers are, admittedly, wide and bulky; these huggable hangers would probably do the trick much better.

5. Play a romantic song. In the heat of an argument, you and your partner may both crave space—but in a small apartment, there’s nowhere to go. Here’s a trick: Play a love song. Emotional distance from the fight is more important than physical distance. It’s really hard to keep your blood boiling when you’re listening to a song you love, with the person you love, about love. It’s like putting on a lullaby to soothe a crying baby.

6. Give yourself permission to say no to overnight guests. Our apartment has just enough space for one guest to sleep on the floor, head wedged between the ladder to the loft where we sleep and our loveseat, feet reaching nearly into the bathroom. It’s okay to explain that you don’t have the space to accommodate overnight guests.

7. Streamline your music collection. Tragic though it might be, tiny apartments likely don’t have space for the entire vinyl discography of The Beatles. Swallow your pride and go digital. We’re total radio junkies so we have a Tivoli radio, which also plays the music from our iPhones.

8. Invest in beautiful cleaning supplies. No broom closet to be seen? Swap the plastic broom and dustpan for something pretty and you won’t mind looking at them hanging from a hook or propped in the corner. (Brook Farm General Store is my go-to stop for fancy brushes and dust pans, and we buy Common Good dishwashing liquid and cleaning spray in bulk.)

9. Tiny things matter, too. Move into a tiny apartment and expect an onslaught of tiny gifts. (Look! A mini muffin pan! Tiny spoons!) Try to spread the message to well-meaning friends that tiny things can be as difficult to store as large things. Ask for comestibles instead!

10. Use quick-drying towels. We’re linen towel converts. Our tiny bathroom doesn’t get much ventilation, but linen towels dry so quickly that there’s no musty smell to contend with. (We recently upgraded to these pretty linen chambray towels from Fog Linen.)

11. Use an absorbent hand towel as a bath mat. There are very few bathmats on the market that fit in a truly tiny bathroom. We use a quick-drying hand towel instead. (These white Hammam Hand Towels are absorbent enough to keep the floor from getting soaked and just the right size for the tiny bit of floor space we have. Bonus: they’re easier to drag to the laundromat!)

12. Keep bedding simple. We used to have a bright floral quilt, but it made our tiny loft feel tinier. We also experimented with darker sheets but returned to crisp whites. Simple bedding is easier on the eye and makes the apartment look bigger. (We love our Brahms Mount Ticking Stripe Blanket.)

13. Unpack suitcases right away. In our tiny apartment, an unpacked bag causes stubbed toes and violent bouts of cursing. Even if we return home from vacation in the wee hours of the morning, the first thing I do is to unpack my bag. There’s nothing more delicious than waking up in my own trusty bed knowing that everything’s just where it should be.

14. Embrace under-the-bed storage. My sister manages to live in a 390-square-foot apartment with a baby and a husband and keep nothing under the bed. In case you’re not blessed with similar minimalist super powers, use the space under your bed to keep winter clothes, extra blankets, and that guitar you haul out three times a year. (Muji’s soft storage boxes have been a godsend for us.)

15. Treat the whole dang city like it’s your living room. We sit on the church steps across the street for weekend lunches and after-dinner treats. And if there’s a public park in this city, chances are that we’ve picnicked in it or strolled through it. A few numbers to help you understand why: Central Park: 843 acres; Prospect Park: 585 acres; Brooklyn Bridge Park: 85 acres; The High Line: 6.73 acres; Our apartment: 0.005509 acres.

Overall advice: Approach your tiny apartment joyfully. I get more notes than I could ever answer from people who are nervous about an upcoming move to a tinier place. Here’s the one bit of advice I can offer universally: See it as an exciting challenge and not as an impending nightmare. It is what it is!

Thank you so much, Erin! (I especially liked the tip about playing a romantic song after an argument.) Any advice you would add? Read more of Erin’s many tips on Reading My Tea Leaves. xoxo

P.S. A 500-square-foot apartment in San Francisco, and a great book about small spaces.

(Photos by Erin Boyle; the bedroom plant photo originally appeared on Gardenista)

  1. Ash says...

    Love this :). How did you hang the U.S. heart piece? How did you mount the clamp on the wall?

  2. Maximize windows and a romantic song bear a good combination. Everybody like to listen a song inside a window.

  3. All good tips but, you know, if you get a Japanese futon it would be an even better solution than the simplest bed one could possibly think of. Mainly because the futon would only be there when you need it for sleep. If you don’t you just store it away and that’s that.

  4. Mary Muller says...

    Wonderful. How beautifully presented. Really a lovely post. keep sharing :)

  5. Gabrielle says...

    Such good advice! Now I feel like my 640 sq foot apartment is bigger than I’ve ever thought before :).

    I love Erin’s blog and hope you feature her Beauty Uniform sometime!


  6. The place looks absolutely beautiful, I love the mix of angel-white fabrics with rusty objects in the room. Looks amazing!

  7. Brilliant! This tips totally what I need. Gotta to bookmark it. Thanks for the tips.

  8. I admire you for living in such a small space. Cleaning it would be both easy and hard I would think…easy because there is not a lot to clean, hard because there’d be things I would want to keep and wouldn’t be able to. Great post and great pictures!

  9. Wonderful tips… and I can’t believe how neat and organized your apartment looks with two little boys living in it. Congrats on that, it’s not easy to achieve :)…

  10. Kay says...

    So many fantastic tips!!! I wish I had stumbled upon this earlier! My boyfriend and I just moved into our first place together along with my 90 lb dog and our apartment is 335 square feet. I had been dreading moving and entirely frightened that it would compromise so many things that i had been enjoying in my previous 1000+ sq ft apartment. While it has been a bit of a challenge and struggle we are slowly finding our ways and making this home. I will have to keep in mind your tip for the love song when either of us gets upset.
    I do have one question though, what do you do about storage for shoes? I feel like we just have so many and theres no eye-pleasing/convenient/out of the way method to storing them. we have boots, sandals, work shoes, running shoes, comfy shoes, ect. any tips would be greatly appreciated!!!

  11. My favorite part of all this is: “See it as an exciting challenge and not as an impending nightmare. It is what it is!” I’ve downgraded 2 times for the last 3 years and every time it’s not as bad as everyone thinks. You just get rid of the unnecessary and that’s it!

  12. Jacky O'neal says...

    Totally agree on investing in good looking cleaning supplies. They are an eye sore when one don’t have a proper closet to store them.

    more storage space for NYC