Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Living In Small Spaces

Readers of this blog all ready know that I live in NYC student housing, that I am married and that I believe in various money saving solutions like stockpiling sale items and cooking from scratch and in bulk. Some clever readers have also picked up on the fact that the B&B family is going to be adding another little member to the household. So many of you familiar with NYC apartments have asked me the obvious question: Where does all this stuff fit?

First a small description of my apartment. There is one small room that is our bedroom. It has a nice closet. We have shelves and drawers in there. There is not much walking space (NO walking space on the sides of the beds) but it does not feel cramped and there is even a good spot for the baby when it arrives. Then there is a bathroom with shelves for toiletries and towels. The one larger room serves as a living room/dining room/guest room in which there is a closet, a futon for guests, a dining room table and a big bookshelf. Then there is our kitchen. It is the room you walk into when entering the house. We have no hallway or lobby, just straight into the kitchen. It has a small table and some very limited shelving. It came with a Small fridge/freezer combo. There are also two coat closets. So that makes two rooms of unequal size, a bathroom and a small kitchen. Certainly better than my studio living days.

Right away my first move was to maximize shelvage. Who needs two coat closets? The coat closet closest to the fridge and oven quickly became a pantry. I did this very simply by using stackable cubes. I built a unit of cubes in the closet and this is the major location for all food storage. I also got some extra shelves and screws from home depot and installed them in all the closets. There was enough height for an extra shelf, so why not use it? I have to stand on a chair to reach it so less used items, like a set of blankets for guests or items I am saving for future needs go up there.

I also did what many NYC women would consider heretical and sacrificed the closet in the big room. I put a small freezer in there to hold frozen food stock ups and food that has been prepped ahead of time and frozen. I do not regret this one bit. Especially since I do not pay electric. it helps me get normal prices on meat and cheese and I always have some food on hand for times when I do not want to cook or have unexpected guests. Plus it cuts down on food waste.

I maximized what space I did have by rotating seasonal items. Clothes only need to be out in the closet and shelves when they are being worn. That means winter clothes do not need to be out in the summer and summer clothes do not need to be hanging in the closet in winter. I take off-season clothes and pack it nicely in an under the bed box. This rolls right under my dust ruffle and I can get to it easily next season. This has the advantage of forcing me to go through my clothes once every season to make sure I am not keeping things I do not use. De-cluttering is a very important step and I do it often. Often it even makes me a profit on items I once used but no longer have need for.

I also found creative places to keep things. My spices all go on a corner shelf I installed. I knew exactly what I wanted and spent a good few months searching for it. The only place I could find one was The Container Store. It was worth it. It looks great and totally maximizes kitchen space. I also found some pretty airtight bins to store things like flour on top of the kitchen shelving, in the space between the end of the shelf and the ceiling. Sure, I have to use a step ladder to get it down, but that's a small price to pay for buying flour at nearly a quarter of the usual retail price here.

Shelving does not have to be expenssive. Our apartment came with some furniture that we could not remove. This included two wooden bookcases that come up to my midriff. They are sort of useless as bookshleves because I can get something much taller, that will hold a lot more and look nicer. We put them in the kitchen to divide the oven area from the table/doorway area. I covered the back with felt. This faces the public area and the shelving faces the kitchen creating a perfect spot for my appliances and pots. Plus it is a work surface that I was sorely in need of. Kitchen carts and islands, that offer much less storage and are in my opinion uglier, sell for hundreds. This cost me nothing. My mother had the fabric in her basement.

Having stuff stashed in various locals, without easy visibility, means you have to keep track of everything. I personally like google documents for this. Every so often I will make a little spreadsheet detailing what is in which freezer and what is in the pantry. This way I don't have to sort through a whole freezer to realize something is in the other freezer. I can also quickly glance at the document wherever I am - work, home, at my parents - as long as there is internet. This means I can quickly do a meal plan or decide it I need to buy more of a certain item.

It takes a little creativity, and a little sacrifice on the shoe storage space, but it all works out.


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