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Friday, August 24, 2012

MakeShift: Seven Survival Tips for Living in Small Spaces

Posted By on Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 10:21 AM

  • Michael Cory/Flickr

MakeShift is a design series for city dwellers with roommates, space constrictions, and other such awkwardness. It's a conversation for people who are being artful with their space and kicking ass while doing it. 

Want to be in the next MakeShift? Submit to: 

1. Wash Your Dishes as You Go

Having spent my first 25 years in a lot of 50-unit apartment complexes in Chicago, I have lived with a few thousand cockroaches. Even though cockroaches don't exist in my day-to-day life at the moment in San Francisco, my undiagnosed OCD over memories of roaches partying in my sink full of perpetually dirty dishes is my impetus for keeping a clean sink. I learned the idea of, "Wash your dishes as you go" from an old co-worker, who said, "Easier to clean since the food hasn't dried on them yet, saves water and time scrubbing the hell out of them. Fewer dishes break when they're not piled in the sink. And you have room in the sink, so they're easier to wash." Easier washing-as-you-go than not: While your food is cooking, wash the dishes you used to prep the food. Your roommate doesn't have to go out for their seventh burrito that week just because you decided to take over the kitchen with your used up dishes. After you're done eating, put away your leftovers and wash whatever dishes you cooked your food in. Your kitchen will feel bigger when it's clean. Your whole apartment will feel better when it's clean.

2. File Your Papers

The advent of online bill pay has done nothing to deter my paper problems. When people were coming over, I used to just scoop up whatever junk mail, bills, greeting cards, copies of my lease, newspapers, magazines, last year's tax papers, fliers, and menus, and just dump them in a paper bag and throw them in the closet. Eight months later, upon moving (because my average move-in life has been every eight months) I would go through about five or six of these bags and shred everything, keeping at most half a bag of important documents. Deal with paper as soon as you walk in the door. Recycle what you don't need. File away what you do need. You don't need a 500-pound filing cabinet. Get something smaller.

3. You Don't Have to Buy More Shit

Don't think in terms of "fitting everything in" your tiny crevice. Deepak Chopra's been saving my life lately. I think his biggest message is: Let go. As in, excess doesn't make you happy -- physically, metaphysically, maniacally, whatever. Sometimes you have to choose between having chairs + table or having a couch + coffee table, but perhaps you can't have both. One big decor piece to put on the wall versus a collection of small pieces. You'll figure out what works for your wall. And for the rest of your space. Think about what you would like to see. Decorate with unlikely items. Be weird. Make mistakes. Try working with what you have before going out for more things (if you live in the U.S. you probably have more than you think). Get rid of any shit you haven't used in five years, or even three years. Have shit that doubles as other shit. Your filing cabinet can be an ottoman; your table can also be your desk. Find stuff that folds but isn't too tacky -- For example, I have a great solid wood vintage folding chair. The general rule is to have three feet of space between furniture pieces. Not hard and fast, not crazy-like, but you know, let the room breathe a little. Have a sidewalk sale. You can get as addicted to making cash off stuff as you can hoarding stuff. 

4. Use Height

Shelves, aka shit that holds your shit, can be tall. Especially if you are lucky and have tall ceilings. Either way, they should be taller than fat and secured in the event of The Big One. And you shouldn't have to spend too much money. If you're handy, or even if you're not, you can probably build it yourself.

5. Your Desk Doesn't Have to Be Right Up Against the Wall

Especially when your desk can double as a table with seating on either side, and especially when nobody wants to sit in a chair just to look at a wall, including you. If you have no other choice, decorate the wall so you can look at it for days. If you have a window, maybe that's where your desk can go. I've never read anything about true feng shui, but I associate facing a wall with being punished.

6. Don't Worry About Dividing Everything

  • IKEA

If you live in one room, everyone who sees your one room knows you live in one room -- You're not fooling people! Unless you're living in that room with someone you'd rather not see naked, there's no reason to put up a divider. That IKEA Expedit shelf in the middle of the room? That's a myth so tantalizing we don't even see the gorgeous converted warehouse space engulfing the massive thing in pictures. We forget that the Expedit shelf is 12" deep and there's like five of them put together with a single object -- a white bowl, for example -- in each shelf. So what if people can see your bed? 

One time I brought up Murphy Beds in conversation with a friend, who said, "You don't want people to see your bed, you're an adult." It's not so awkward if your bed shows, because people assume you sleep. When I first walk into a room, all I care about is a place to sit. If there is a chair for me, or even a floor pillow, it's more than enough.

7. Get Rid of Depressing Shit

Such as:

  • blinds, especially if they're dirty or broken
  • harsh overhead lighting. Up-lighting is calmer.
  • furniture made with veneer, particle board, or cheap plastic. Impossibly bulky items,  sleazy contemporary leather couches, and chairs with big, cheap metallic legs
  • a surface decorated with your toiletries and personal use items. Hairbrushes, chapstick, deodorant, vibrators, hair clips. If these things need to sit on top of the dresser, at least transfer the contents into bottles and containers, otherwise your decor is just free advertising for companies that are probably making a lot more money than you do.
  • matchy-matchy items. If your whole space is one color with no variation, or pirate-themed, or all the woods match perfectly, or all of the furniture is white, it's a bit much.

Anything you wanna add to this list?

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Rose Tully


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