Making the Most of a Small Space

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Rach and I have have known each other for a long time (that's us hanging out, in twinning colors, no less, at a park on my 25th birthday) and in that time, she's consistently remained the most organized person in my life. It's come in handy: She plans parties, weddings, and most recently a big move where she and her husband temporarily relocated to a 400 square foot bungalow. Somehow, her place still feels bright, airy with plenty of room to spare. I asked Rach to share her genius tips on paring back and how she makes the most of a small space. 

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Keep it light. I love color and we've always painted in our previous apartments. But in a smaller space, I found myself craving all white or light grey walls and I think it helps make everything look larger. We get some color from pillows and throw blankets so it doesn't get too boring. 

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Be selective. We've accumulated a lot of art over the years (mostly due to our love of the annual Self Help Graphics print sale) and it was tough to acknowledge that we weren't going to be able to hang it all in our current place. With limited wall space, we chose a few of our favorite smaller scale pieces and hung them strategically. I wanted blank wall left over so that it didn't start to feel cluttered. We didn't get rid of any of our art (we're renting, so we never know what the situation will be like in the next place!) and we can rotate pieces in and out. We have a couple of petite homestead paintings by Lily Stockman that are our absolute faves, so they are always guaranteed wall space. 

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Pay attention to scale. We are very, very lucky that the mid-century couch we found on Craigslist several years ago is relatively small and has been able to move with us to our current place. Even if your oversized furniture can technically fit in your small space, it will dwarf everything around it and the result won't be good. We always make a floor plan as soon as we consider renting a place, so that we can figure out what furniture will fit comfortably and whether we can live with it (we had to jettison one of our living room chairs for this move, which was a little tough). D does all our plans in AutoCAD, but there are free programs out there as well. And keep in mind that you need to leave enough room to maneuver! Here are some useful rules of thumb

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Be flexible. Our last place didn't have space for a dining table of any kind, which we quickly realized was a big bummer for people who love to entertain. When we were considering our new place we knew there was no way we could fit a dining table in the house (we even had to get a smaller coffee table!), but there was a small outdoor space that we decided could work as our "dining room" and it sealed the deal. D made a picnic table, we bought a couple outdoor chairs, and effectively added another room to our house. 

In the last few years my husband and I have moved from an 800 square foot apartment to a 600 square foot apartment, to a 400 square foot cottage. We weren't consciously trying to downsize, we've just been focused more on location than size! The process of paring down hasn't always been easy, but we've learned a lot along the way. 

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Make it float. We've installed floating shelves in both of our last places. They're win-win because you get more storage but they're so much more airy than a wall of solid cabinets. Downside - you do have to dust more, so make sure that the things you're putting on the shelves are in near daily use. Our plates, glasses and salad bowls never get a chance to get dusty because they're constantly being used, washed and put away. We also like to hang some furniture, when possible. 

Dustin created a custom top for a set of Ikea cabinets and hung it on the wall in our old apartment. We didn't have space for the entire thing in our new place, so we just took one cabinet and he created a new top. Having cabinets mounted just a little bit above the floor makes the room look larger because you can see more floor (make sure to mount it so that you can catch a glimpse of the baseboard). And it makes cleaning easier, which is awesome. Note - we do rent and while none of this is allowed on our leases we've always gone ahead and installed stuff anyways. We make sure to patch and paint before we leave, although in our last place the manager asked us to leave some of the shelving up and gave us a credit for it. Your mileage may vary! We've been lucky and had fairly easy going management. 

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Don't get too crazy with storage solutions. Yes, you need places to put things and it's a challenge in a space that doesn't have so much as a linen closet. There are a million organization and storage solutions out there but I think the best one is having less stuff. We could have gotten creative and crammed a lot more into our current place, but I knew it would start feeling crowded and stressful for me, no matter how well organized it was. Before we moved we pared down our wardrobes so that all our clothes could fit into a single dresser and shared closet. We made some under the bed storage boxes for our shoes, and put in some hanging rails in the kitchen, but we've resisted the urge to go nuts with other storage solutions. I went through my kitchen supplies as ruthlessly as I could. We cut down to two sets of sheets, five kitchen towels, and five bath towels. Even with all this, we did give in and now rent a small storage unit a couple blocks away. I hate storage units and generally think they're a waste of money, but since we know we won't be in a space this small for very long it didn't make sense to get rid of our good furniture, art, etc. We just made sure to factor the storage unit cost into our budget (we consider it part of our rent). It's turned out to be a great mental exercise, because you are literally paying to keep every item you're choosing to store. So as we looked through our things, we kept in mind that everything we're holding onto is costing us more money each month and it has to be valuable enough in the first place to justify that. Even when we move to a bigger place, I know we'll carry this mentality with us.