Several weeks ago, I visited one of my very dearest friends up in New England. Boston isn’t the first large city in which she’s lived, as she previously referred to Brooklyn as “home”. Over the years, Ashleigh has become the boss of city life, including knowing how to stay organized in tiny apartments. I mean, really small, like, you know the space we refer to as a “coat closet” here in suburbia? She calls it “kitchen”. As I looked around her small, yet very organized, space, here are some of the major themes I noticed.
Make space where there isn’t any. Every single door has been transformed. The pantry door has an over-the-door shoe bag for cleaning supplies. Her full-length mirror hangs on the door from the living room to her bedroom, versus taking up any valuable wall space. There is a hanging toiletry bag containing everything she needs over the back of her bathroom door. She has two small closets in her bedroom. On one closet door, there are multiple hooks for purses. Over the other closet door, there is another over-the door shoe bag (this time for shoes!). Even the door to her apartment joins the party, hosting multiple hooks for coats. She has flat zippered sliding bags under both her bed and her sofa to store out of season items. There is truly no unused space of any kind.
Drop zones are needed here, too. Because of the lack of a foyer in her apartment, she purchased a bench. This bench serves as a spot where she can drop her laptop, purse, sunglasses, etc. when she gets home each day. It has a couple of hooks, and from one hangs a bag that contains reusable grocery bags, an umbrella, a rain jacket, and any other items she may want to grab on her way out the door. The bench is not necessarily the first thing she sees when she walks in the door, but it’s there, and she uses it to drop everything. Everyone’s home, regardless of size, MUST have a drop zone of some kind. Otherwise, everything from the day winds up on the furniture, leaving nowhere to sit. Or it hits the kitchen counter, leaving a germy countertop at worst, nowhere to cook
Go paperless. Ashleigh loves her iPhone, iPad, and laptop. With the exception of her penchant for classic novels, all of her “paper” is on her devices. You won’t find a planner or a stack of coupons or take out menus laying around in her place. No need – it’s all just a click away!
In addition to keeping most everything in digital format, she is very strict about incoming “snail mail.” She checks her mailbox every day, and again, any coupons or magazines that can be found online are tossed, along with any mail deemed as “junk.” She puts her bills aside in a designated space and pays them weekly. And she files paperwork she needs to keep in plain black magazine holders that live on her bookshelf. All of her storage is aesthetically pleasing, even if not totally hidden.
I mentioned her love of classic novels, specifically in hard copy. To ensure that these stay organized, she owns a small book shelf. But wait – there’s more! She shelves the books in a doubling fashion, creating space for twice the number of books that would fit otherwise, so that the book shelf is being used at its maximum capacity. I love this particular tip because it’s a reminder to continuously try to think outside the box. We don’t always have to use a piece of furniture or an organizing product the way it was made to be used. A magazine holder can be turned sideways to contain water bottles in a cabinet for easy retrieval. We can cut a hole in an over-the-door shoe bag for holding rolls of gift wrap.
Retail therapy is NOT okay. Perhaps the most important rule when living in a tight space is not to overbuy. Ashleigh goes to the grocery store only when she needs something, and when she does, she only picks up what she needs that day/week…and no more. There isn’t room to store 12 rolls of paper towels or a case of water, so she doesn’t buy those extra things. I don’t think “Costco” is even in her vocabulary.
After three days of doubling her apartment’s typical capacity and my air mattress taking up her entire living room floor, I am fairly confident that Ashleigh didn’t cry too hard after hugging me goodbye as I hopped into the Uber car, airport-bound. And as happy as I would have been to stay another day or two, I was glad to be home. When you’re not used to tight quarters, it’s pretty difficult to acclimate yourself. But when there is literally nowhere to put any “extras” in your life, hanging onto only the necessities and storing them appropriately becomes second nature…and maybe even a gift.
Have any of you ever lived in a very tight space? What tactics did you find helpful to maintain order?