After living in New York for four years, I can’t help but laugh when I see portrayals of a “Manhattan apartment” on TV or in a movie. Without fail, the spaces are unrealistically gigantic, full of decorative pieces that serve no secondary function, and in real life would cost way more than the characters could afford. (We’re looking at you, Friends and Sex and the City.) That’s unfortunate because honest-to-goodness New Yorkers are brilliant when it comes to making the most of a small space, no matter their budgets.
Because New Yorkers know how to live stylishly, even in a shoebox, we asked them for tips on how to make the most of your space and declutter like a mindful minimalist.
01. Everything should multitask.
And we mean everything. When space is scarce, everything from kitchen gadgets to furniture should have more than one function. Single-use appliances such as bread-makers and waffle irons typically take up more space than they merit (unless you’re willing to make more than breakfast in your waffle iron). The same goes for utensils—you don’t really need an avocado or egg slicer. As for furniture, New Yorkers look for seating that doubles as storage or a coffee table that doubles as a desk.
Likewise, the space under your bed ought to be more than a dust bunny breeding ground. If you’re in the market for a new bed frame, look for one with drawers to store linens or clothing. If not, invest in sturdy under-bed containers. Loft your bed using cheap bed risers for even more space. If it can’t serve more than one function, be sure each item is as space-efficient as possible. For example, opt for a collapsible silicone strainer rather than a rigid plastic or metal one that you’ll have to constantly wedge between your mixing bowls.
02. Be selective when something new enters.
Your friend is giving away a throw pillow that would go so well with your curtains. You found a gently used shelving unit on your neighbor’s stoop. There was a great sale on a food processor online. Initially these items may seem like good deals, but if they’re going to stick around, they need to maintain their value once they cross your home’s threshold.
Know where you’re going to put something before deciding to bring it into your space. As minimalism maven Marie Kondo says, “Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out.” Whether it’s a big-ticket item like a couch or bookcase or a smaller object like a blender or art, have a plan for where it’s going to live before you start to live with it. Carefully measure your interior real estate to be sure the room will continue to function well. That cute couch might technically fit, but can you still open the door to the next room or comfortably pass it on your way to the kitchen?
03. Purge often.
It can be tempting to put things in storage, whether in a closet, elsewhere in your building, or in a separate unit. But if you don’t really need what you’re holding on to, you may be wasting precious resources. Kondo also says, “I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. The real problem is that we have far more than we need or want.” Remember: Having space doesn’t mean you have to fill it. Unnecessary items can be donated to local thrift shops, libraries, or organizations such as Goodwill. And when you’re looking for a new book to read or a series to binge on, borrow from the library or go digital.
Not sure what should stay? We like to live by Kondo’s three rules when deciding what to keep:
- The item must currently be in use.
- You need the item for a limited period of time (e.g., winter or summer).
- You need to keep the item indefinitely.
Note that none of these rules include just in case. Keep items you must for legal or family obligations, and toss anything you don’t use.
04. Second-guess your space.
A sunny window ledge can be a tiny garden. The wall space above the toilet can serve to add towel racks. One New Yorker we spoke with recognized that the window overlooking the air shaft didn’t get any light, so she built shelves into it to store kitchen utensils (chosen with discretion, of course). If you’re renting, there may be limitations as to what you can build into your space, but you’d be surprised at the lot of temporary options for decorating a rental, if you’re willing to look at your space in a different light.
Any room can feel bigger than it appears when it’s afforded thoughtful preparation and proper care. Small doesn’t have to mean cramped and cluttered. In fact, one of the benefits of living in a small space is that it helps you see how much less you can actually live with and thrive on. Regardless of size and geography, your living space should reflect who you are and what’s important to you. That’s how a house—or a shared room, an apartment, a condo—truly becomes a home.