6 Ways I Make the Most of My Small Space in the City

Thoughtful life hacks that make micro-spaces doable
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Thoughtful life hacks that make micro-spaces doable

It was always a dream of mine to have my own place in downtown Boston. How wonderful it would be to wander the city at will, frequent local coffee shops, explore the local happenings, and go out with ease on weekends.

Of course, landing my dream spot meant I had to sacrifice on space. Don’t get me wrong, my place is nice. It’s small, yes. But it has a high ceiling, three tall windows overlooking the street, wood floors, a fireplace, and a full kitchenette.

But even with a great canvas, decorating with both function and form in mind is a huge challenge when your entire home is the size of some people’s kitchens. And I definitely don’t have the budget to outfit it extravagantly. While it’s still a work in progress, here are some tactics I’ve found useful to make the most of my tiny room while staying within my means.

01. Weed Out Your Possessions

I moved to my apartment from my parents’ home, which made the pre-move purge my most overwhelming challenge. With years of stuff stored at my family’s home, I never had to worry about where to put all my things. The spacious attic and basement were always available.

When downsizing (or maximizing a small space, in general), it’s critical to be prudent about what you bring and make sure it’s worth it. Every inch counts. For instance, I have quite the clothing collection—but my place has one minuscule closet. Cue the panic. Before moving, I closely evaluated my wardrobe. Many refer to minimalist extraordinaire Marie Kondo’s advice for paring down: Does the item bring you a “spark of joy”? But I found another rule of thumb helpful as well: If I hadn’t worn it in a year, I probably wouldn’t in the next year (barring fancy outfits for once-a-year occasions). I either donated any extraneous clothes or passed them down to my younger cousins.

Besides clothes, go through anything you’ve kept stored over the years—from high school projects to childhood memorabilia. In order to reduce clutter, everything should have its own designated spot in your digs. Just don’t go too crazy in your quest to curate your belongings.

02. Settle In Before You Invest

It’s easy to fall prey to the addictive pattern of Pinterest pinning and decorating your dream space. It sure is fun! But unless you’re certain of a purchase, hold off on buying big-ticket items—couches, beds, tables—until you’ve lived in your place long enough to know whether the specific style makes sense. Interior design writer Katy Orme suggests, “Try not to rush into interior design decisions. Live in the space, find out how you use it, and make organic decisions to create a room perfect for you.”

Naturally, I wanted everything to be perfect the moment I moved in. But now I know it was better to wait. After living in my studio for a few weeks, I realized what kind of lighting I needed for balanced light during the day and night. I bought a few lamps that did the trick instead of wasting money and energy on items that wouldn’t give me quite the look or purpose I was going for.

Although I cringed at first, I am also using an old family kitchen table temporarily. I’ve rearranged my place quite a bit, and now I have a better sense for the type of table I need: a classy high-top. This is very different from my initial ideas, yet it is much more prudent for my space.

I also use inexpensive wired clothing bins until I figure out the best way to store clothes in my room. It still looks presentable for guests. But I left room for improvement as I gradually personalize my space according to my budget and needs. Although it may be frustrating at first, refrain from over-purchasing at the outset because your vision will likely change after you settle in.

03. Stack Up and Store Under

Think up when choosing your organization and storage. With minimal space, you need to maximize what little you have. In my studio, I only have four walls to work with, a tiny closet, and an even smaller bathroom. So, I used one style of wire bins that I could stack on top of each other to take up less width along my walls. Vertical shelving holds my microwave and other food items as well.

Make use of the space under your bed, tables, and furniture to hide items that don’t fit elsewhere. You can put risers on your bed to expand the space underneath, and then use shallow plastic bins to store shoes, clothes, and even toiletries. My laundry basket is hidden under my kitchen table (unless guests come over!). This allows you to truly maximize every possible storage spot. Window designer Zach Motl keeps bins of tools beneath his bed in his Brooklyn studio apartment. He shares, “It’s a toolbox but spread out.” Whatever your belongings might be, figure out functional ways to tuck them under or over.

04. Give Your Furniture (Multi)Purpose

It’s important to think multipurpose when looking to optimize a tiny room. Along the lines of stacking up instead of out, I bought a tall, thin bookshelf the height of my wall to store not only books but also other items: electronics, cooking supplies, and documents.

Get creative about how you could use a traditional furniture item for nontraditional purposes. For extra seating and storage, consider a bench with a top that opens into a storage compartment. And who says you can’t use the same surface as a table and desk? My kitchen table sees me chomping on breakfast and typing away. Designer Mark Egerstrom uses multifunctional pieces in his home as well. He says of his tri-purpose table, “The table functions as an entry center table, a serving table, a breakfast table, and, with a linen cloth, a formal dining table.” A genius move for living and entertaining in the same small space!

05. Bring Cohesion Using a Few Signature Pieces

Your place may feel a bit haphazard at first and lack cohesion. But it only takes a few items to draw attention and unify the look. The color scheme I chose for my studio includes shades of purple and gold. To catch the eye upon entering, I bought a gold-framed mirror to hang over my fireplace (my favorite feature of my home). Advocating for the enlarging effect of mirrors, House & Garden decoration editor Gabby Deeming explains, “Mirrors have to be one of the most effective ways to combat a poky space. They bounce light into dark corners, can create the illusion of a door where there isn’t one, and appear to double the size of a space.”

To continue my color scheme, I placed an antique gold plate and candle on my fireplace mantle. I placed gold and purple pillows on my armchair and bed. I purchased drinking glasses with gold tints. These few items stand out and unify an otherwise random assortment of furniture. A few signature pieces will show off your decorative aesthetic and personal style to bring together the unique feel of your place.

06. Take an Evolutionary Approach

Like any creative project, designing your living space is an evolving process. Over time, your design eye and needs may change. Don’t let the anticipation of future adaptations limit what you do now, and don’t feel pressured to get it right on the first try either. I’ve been in my place for three months, and there’s still much more I could do. As I continue to grow into my Beacon Hill perch—known for its charming gaslights, brick sidewalks, and hilltop views—I plan to keep building my little nest to fit my wants, not just my needs.

If you’re anything like me, you won’t be spending all of your time in your small space. I moved into the city to be out and about. It’d be nice not to shimmy in and out of my bathroom, but it is possible to live comfortably and stylishly in a tight space. Be creative and intentional, and it’ll eventually be the cozy and convenient home you dreamt of.

Photo Credit: Belathee Photography