It’s the bane (and pride) of just about everyone I know in Brooklyn: figuring out how to live in small spaces. While sharing tips and tricks for using all the space we have helps us bond (hint: try hanging your stroller on a wall), so is imagining what it will be like someday when we have a little more space. Most of my friends (and I) are under the impression that more space = more time, and once we move outside the city, we’ll magically have time to lie in bed a read a book which we can’t do right now anyway because turning a light on might wake the baby who is sleeping in her crib two feet away.
Time and space are just two of the luxuries we imagine await us once it’s time to move to the suburbs (if that ever happens). Also on the list: quiet, peace (both personal and world), and a magical ability to organize everything so that everything has a place and it never leaves that place.
But the more time I spend in my little apartment with my three kids and having just come back from spending the holidays with family in a decidedly less urban and more spacious part of the country the more I realize that, actually, small spaces are nice. And not just because I can virtually vacuum my entire apartment without unplugging to change outlets.
While living in small spaces may not be for everyone, I honestly think that it has improved my life in a lot of ways from strengthening my relationships to forcing me to think more creatively, and many more you can see below.
There’s No Room for Clutter 1 of 7
The simple truth is there's not room for everything we want in our apartment. This means that several times a year we go through and purge get rid of things that we've been hanging onto for too long, or things we picked up needlessly. We keep only as many toys as will fit in the toy box and only as many clothes as we can keep in a couple of drawers (each). This makes our space feel bigger and more pleasant to be in, of course, but keeping clutter at bay has also been shown to be an integral way to give your health a boost.
You Become More Mindful 2 of 7
Living in a small space has made me very aware of what I am capable of and what our needs are. Can we make room for one more activity in our lives? One more hobby or a new piece of furniture? There must be a purpose to everything we bring in; it must pull its own weight. My husband and I talk about how each new thing we bring into our apartment can change the feeling of the space or detract from the way we want/need to live. It has made us thoughtful about how we interact with our environment and aware of the way we are able to mold it.
Clean-up Happens Quickly 3 of 7
There's no running up and down stairs to put toys, books clothes whatever in their proper place. In fact, set a timer for 5 minutes, and we can have our apartment looking passably organized, even if it previously looked like a tornado had gone through. And when cleanup happens so quickly, there's more time for more fun.
The Outdoors Become Your Living Room 4 of 7
It's true that living in a small space can, at times (like the middle of winter) feel somewhat oppressed. And we do, at times, feel cooped up. But that makes it all the more important that we get outside as often as possible. The time outside walking, running, biking, playing makes us feel even more at home in our neighborhood, and ensures we keep our bodies moving.
You’re Forced to Come up with Creative Solutions 5 of 7
We have just a handful of cupboards in our kitchen and two very small slabs of counter on each side of the kitchen sink. This is hardly adequate to house the food and utensils needed to prepare and plate meals for a family of 5, especially when I do so much of the food prep myself. Using the space we have to fit the life we lead has taken a lot of thought to come up with innovative solutions. Our kitchen has sprouted shelves that fit its odd shape. Our bikes and strollers become "wall art" when not in use. We've hacked a "pantry" in our sons' bedroom closet. (They don't need it, anyway.) And we've built our own furniture to fit odd nooks and crannies.
You Bond with Your Neighbors 6 of 7
My nearest neighbor's front door is inches from my own. We share a wall and can often hear each other coming and going. While we have very little in common (she's very elderly and has lived in that apartment for much of her life, while my young family and I have lived in 3 apartments in the 6 years we've been in Brooklyn), our proximity has brought us together. Same goes for neighbors who we cross paths with as we are entering and exiting the building, and who we can peek out the window and see if they're making dinner or not. We've felt very loved as neighbors have helped us get our laundry/groceries/bikes/strollers in and out of the building with three children underfoot, and we've felt watched over by neighbors who sit on their stoops and give us a kind word as we walk down the street to the library or grocery store.
Your Family Becomes Stronger and Closer 7 of 7
While we were staying with family over the holidays, it was, on the one hand, really nice to be able to send the kids down to the playroom for hours at a time and not hear from them as they lost themselves in their toys. But on the other hand, at the end of the day, I felt somewhat disconnected from my kids. I knew that they were safe and warm and having a good time, which was gratifying, but usually I am close by to witness their little squabbles, their random imaginings, and the delight they take in each other. And even if I never intervene, it's fun to be there, which I can't help but do when we're always just right around the corner from each other. I like the closeness that being in a small space encourages. It feels cozy. It feels safe.
all images by Lizzie and Micah Heiselt