For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in close quarters. It started with a closet of a dorm room, complete with a set of bunk beds and crusty sink built into the wall. From there, I’ve transitioned from small space to small space, all united in the fact that there’s little room to fit more than a full-size bed and a bookshelf. And I don’t think I’m alone in my predicament: many of us have limited budgets and live in expensive cities, two conditions which pretty much warrant a compromise in square footage.
But rather than bemoan this fact, I’ve chosen to embrace it in creative and even fun ways. I’m preparing to move to an even smaller room than the one I currently rent, which means I have decorating projects on the brain. Though I do enjoy the prospect of downsizing, I don’t readily identify as a minimalist, so my own take on living in a small space will include re-purposing and organizing my possessions, in addition to adding a few items to help maximize the amount of open space I do have. Here are some of the essentials for living in a small space that I’ve picked up over the years.
1. Everything needs a place.
This is not the time to carelessly toss your coat to the ground the minute you walk in the door. In order to prevent your space from looking like a slovenly pit of despair, invest time in making sure everything has a rightful place. This might mean placing a coat rack in your entryway, or putting out a pretty plate as a sort of “catch-all” for keys, sunglasses, jewelry, etc. Personally, I like the look of chaos within order, which is to say that I enjoy seeing mismatched items stored together in quirky ways.
2. Think vertically.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when renting tiny apartments is placing everything at one level. Having a bed, desk, dresser, and bookshelf all close to the ground imparts a weightiness to the room that makes it feel even smaller than it is.
Of course, you can’t very well make your dresser float, but there are ways to create the appearance of levity in a small space. Install floating shelves on one wall and use them to store books, plants, or tschotskes. Hang your favorite pictures at varying heights on another wall. Remember to keep things bright and open so that the eye travels from one end of the room to another, from floor to ceiling.
3. Mirrors help maximize.
Incorporating mirrors into a slightly claustrophobic bedroom is a sure-fire way to give the appearance of a larger space. You might hang five or six small mirrors together on a wall as a statement piece, or place two big mirrors on opposing walls. I love the idea of hanging a couple antique mirrors in a room (bonus if they’re actually reflective!) and letting them serve as artwork. This is also a nice way to create dimension in an apartment where you can’t drill into walls, since there are plenty of sturdy wall hooks that don’t require anything but adhesive.
4. Pick a theme and carry it throughout your space.
Themes are great in any living space, but they’re especially valued in places where there’s limited area to begin with. And really, your theme can be anything you want. I once stayed at an apartment in NYC where the owner hung small quotes and affirmations throughout her place–from the bathroom to the kitchen cabinets, these quaint messages created a kind of cohesiveness that made the small rooms feel fluid.
5. Don’t be afraid of color.
A lot of home improvement gurus recommend eliminating color (especially dark shades) in favor of light and translucent decor. While I do happen to have a lot of beige and white, I’m also not opposed to some warm colors as a means of giving texture to a space. Try placing a forest green wing-back chair in the corner of a room or hang some dark curtains around a window. The key to using dark colors is balance; don’t overwhelm your rooms with a ton of deep hues, but it’s okay to add pops of color here and there.
6. Incorporate multi-purpose items.
One of my favorite pieces of furniture is something I purchased for $25 at an estate sale. It’s a wood table that doubles as a table and mini-bookshelf, with wooden slats below for storing books. Look for unique and aesthetically pleasing pieces that serve a dual purpose. If you can find furnishings that allow for storage, such as a hollow ottoman, even better. Find ways to hide clutter that still tie your design concept together.
What are your tips for living in a small space?
More home ideas: 8 Ways to Refresh the Energy in Your Home
10 Must-Haves to Maximize a Small Kitchen
Also by Molly: 8 Surprising Lessons I’ve Learned Since College
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Photo: mermaid via Flickr; Henry McIntosh via Unsplash