Expert Advice: 10 Tips for Living in 240 Square Feet

Two and a half years ago, when Gardenista editor Erin Boyle moved into the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her husband, James, they opened the door and burst into laughter. As Erin tells us, “We were coming from Providence, where our space was at least four times as big. We thought we had moved into a bathroom.” Here, she gives us some tips on how they have (happily) survived life in 240 square feet. (If you missed it, we featured Erin’s apartment earlier this week.)

Photography by Erin Boyle from her blog Reading My Tea Leaves, where you can read more about living small.

Remodelista: How do you survive living–and often working–in such a small space?

Erin Boyle: Being extremely tidy and really conscientious about putting things away helps a lot. We don’t have that much stuff, but we’re really well organized and everything is put away when finished, with nothing left on the kitchen table.Above: Wine crates for storage under the sofa.

RM: Where do you put all your stuff?

EB: We really don’t have a single piece of furniture made for storing things. Instead, we have storage under the bed in the sleeping loft. There’s a big zip-up Muji bag with sheets and extra bedding and a large plastic tub for some of James’s stuff.  And under the sofa, we use wine crates to store craft supplies, two tool boxes, and table linens. There’s also a crate that’s a catchall for my laptop and cords. If I’m not charging my computer, I put the cords away. I am a crazy neatnik–it’s hereditary!Above: Zip-up bags for linen storage are kept under the bed.

RM: Rules to live by in a small space?

EB: I think of them as rules to live by anywhere, and the key point is to consider very carefully your purchases. I don’t buy much stuff and I don’t bring much stuff into the apartment. I want everything to be special. Living on a budget and having picky taste limits what you can buy.Above: A magnetic knife rack above the stove allows for more drawer space in the kitchen.

RM: Suggestions for working in a tiny kitchen?

EB: Tiny apartments tend to only have one small wall cabinet; we were lucky to have more. The cabinets are ugly, but they’re great for storage. There’s not much counter space. I have a magnetic knife rack above the stove; it’s not the prettiest, but it means all the knives go up there. I also have the world’s tiniest dish rack and I never let dishes stay there for long–I hate looking at drying dishes.Above: Jars for storing dry goods.

RM: How do deal with food storage?

EB: I buy from the bulk section at the grocery store. It’s a hippie grandmother thing to do, but it keeps things neat. I don’t have to deal with large cereal boxes or packages. I just buy what I need and put it in a jar. Our neighborhood grocery store loves us. James and I shop there together everyday and mostly just buy on demand. We compost our scraps, so we don’t have a lot of garbage.Above: Entertaining at home. Explain Erins: “The largest group we’ve ever had in our apartment was nine, including me and James and a four-month-old baby. We left quickly for a walk around the neighborhood!”

RM: How do you tackle entertaining?

EB: We entertain a fair amount, mostly family and friends and the place can get crowded fast. I prepare ahead of time so that everything is ready and I’m not dancing around people. Our table only seats four so I use it as a serving board and have people eat with plates on their laps.

RM: How are you able to accomplish so much work at home?

EB: I put felt tabs on the feet of the kitchen table so I can move it around easily. When I photograph DIY projects, which I do about twice a week, I tear apart the apartment and move the table in front of the window.Above: A hand towel serves as a bath mat.

RM: What’s the bathroom like?

EB: It’s really small. A regular bath mat is too big, so instead I use hand towels that fit the space and can be washed easily. And we added a clear shower curtain; everything hems you in so quickly here that the more space we can create the better.Above: A clear shower curtain keeps the space feeling open.

RM: Decor advice for small spaces?

EB: Keep the walls white and no dark drapes or busy fabrics. The woman who lived here before us had crazy patterns, but it’s such a small space that keeping things neutral has been a lifesaver for me.

RM: Any other tips?

EB: We take off our shoes because the thought of walking around New York City streets all day and then tracking the sidewalk dirt back into our apartment totally skeeves me out. If we take our shoes off by the front door they also end up getting corralled into the wooden crate we keep there, instead of getting left in the middle of the floor. I also don’t have a carpet or rug; it would feel too crowded.Above: The table prepped for guests.

RM: You’re expecting a child and actually planning to move. Is there anything you’ll miss?

EB: For me living here has made me realize my own resilience. Writing about it, I have learned that there are many people doing this and it’s been nice to be part of a community of fellow tiny apartment dwellers. Happily, our next place likely won’t be significantly bigger so we can continue the adventure!

Have a look at Erin’s many Gardenista posts, shot and written in her apartment, including her Honey Garlic Elixir for warding off colds and her Clementine Rind Votives. For expert advice from another tiny house dweller, see 10 Secrets for Living in a Small Space. Also don’t miss 10 Ways to Live with Less from Zero Waste Home.

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