A few years ago, I met an incredible designer who later turned into a dear friend. She even designed the incredible florals for our first-ever National Stationery Show booth! Michelle and I have chatted a few times about her experiences living in a Brooklyn apartment with her family (and what organizing / decluttering looks like in a smaller space). I absolutely love her advice and was so excited when she agreed to pull it together for you all here!
Michelle, her husband, and their 4.5 year old (plus a baby on the way), live in a three-bedroom, 900-square-foot apartment. The kids will share a 9x9' room, and the extra 10x10' bedroom serves as the office. After living in Brooklyn for 13 years, she’s certainly mastered simplicity within small spaces, and I’m excited to share her with you all!
Michelle’s Top Tips
- Not living in a cluttered space comes down to one main principle: have fewer things!
- How to have fewer things: 1) Don’t buy them, and 2) Make it clear to relatives who buy gifts for your kids that you don’t want big toys or too many toys and clothes.
- Do not buy anything or bring anything new into your home unless you already know exactly where it
- Say no to fast fashion and fast home decor purchases. “Fast” here meaning mass-market purchases that are produced cheaply and that you don’t actually need. You can live without that fourth gray t-shirt. You’ll be fine without buying ANYTHING from the home department of Target. I promise you!
- Hide the things you do have, so you don’t have to look at them all day. Bins are your best friend.
- Throw anything out that doesn’t work. Have you ever grabbed a pen that doesn’t work, then you put it right back into the drawer? Throw it out!
- Find places to utilize hidden storage: under-the-bed bins, coffee tables that double as ottomans with storage, and little nooks in your home to put a few shelves for books and knickknacks.
- Be vigilant about putting things away!
- A small paid storage unit (or begging your parents to keep things in their attic or basement) is the secret for out-of-season clothing and baby gear.
- Rent or borrow! We don’t have a garage, attic, or basement to store things that are only used occasionally. These things could include maternity clothes, baby gear, camping equipment, beach stuff, snow / sport clothing, bikes, etc. Look into either renting or borrowing these items (instead of purchasing them) when you need them.
Team Simplified: What are your tips, specifically, for simplifying a small living area?
Michelle: In a small home, the living space is often doing double or triple duty. Our living room is also the dining room and the playroom. Keep toys to a minimum and store them out of site in cabinets, drawers, and bins with lids. Throw out any toys that are broken or missing pieces. Be ruthless! Your kids won’t miss them. Double duty furniture is key – our ottoman has storage, which is where we keep all the coloring supplies. The drawers on our entertainment center hold all of my son’s toy cars and little figurines.
Team Simplified: How do you keep a kitchen with limited space organized?
Michelle: A small kitchen means less space to store dishes. We own three kid dinner plates and 6 kid bowls. That’s it for unbreakable dinnerware. Then we have a set of 6 plain white dinner plates, salad plates, soup bowls, and a few miscellaneous “bowl-plates,” as I like to call them. That’s all. We don’t have casual dishes, fancy dishes, china, holiday dishes, guest dishes, and outdoor dishes. We just have dishes. Your holidays will continue to be memorable without themed dishes.
Invest in multi-purpose appliances. Our KitchenAid mixer lives in a cabinet, but I have the attachments to make it a food processor too. Small living spaces are often without an official pantry. We only buy at the store what we will eat that week (including non-perishables like rice, canned goods, and pasta), which is a very typical shopping habit among city dwellers. There is hardly anything extra around at the end of the week, but it helps keep the small space decluttered and organized.
Team Simplified: What’s your best advice for decluttered bedrooms in a multi-functional space / apartment?
Michelle: Make it clear to all relatives who buy toys for your kids that you do not have the space for large toys. Sure, my son really wants this 4’ tall matchbox car track, but no way on God’s good earth is that thing fitting in his room. Limit the amount of clothing they have. Kids grow out of things so quickly! The second that all of their clothes do not fit into their drawers or closet, pack up the pieces that are sentimental to you and donate the rest. Shelves. Utilize the wall space with floor-to-ceiling shelves. Create a clean look by using multiples of the same bin to organize toys by category: painting stuff, play-doh, legos, etc. For the master bedroom, invest in some pretty under-the-bed storage containers for out-of-season clothes and extra sheets.
Team Simplified: How do you manage a bathroom with very little storage?
Michelle: I can’t emphasize enough here the importance of finding those few perfect products that you use and resisting the temptation to buy more. Get everything you can off the countertop by smartly utilizing bins in drawers, your medicine cabinet, and shelving. Consider doing your hair and makeup in your bedroom. Our one bathroom is so, so small that I dry my hair and do my makeup in our bedroom where there is a little bit more room to keep my products organized.