Living small has become a huge interest of mine and I have taken it upon myself to become an expert in the field. Experiencing it myself was the perfect way to start my research on maximizing small spaces and living a more minimalist lifestyle. At the beginning of August we moved to Paris for one year. Just like many other giant cities with condensed populations, space is at a premium. If we wanted the same amount of space we had back home in Vancouver, the rent would be astronomical, so we decided to keep it small and settled into a 200 square foot apartment. In the first few days it became apparent that in order to make this space work, we would have to adopt some new routines. Here is what I have learned so far about living in a small space. Some of these tips can be used to great effect in larger living spaces as well for a more minimalist lifestyle.
1. All clothing and shoes should be items that you a) love and b) wear often. Invest in quality items and only buy things you absolutely love and need. This is a constant process of evaluation and if something isn't being used it needs to either be donated, sold, or thrown out. Be ruthless in your decisions and you will never leave the house in an outfit you aren't happy with again due to the fact it was all that was left in your closet. You will also do less laundry. This has been one of my favourite changes so far.
2. Clean and organize for 15 minutes a day. In a tiny space, being messy is not an option. You simply can't close the door to the overflowing storage room or shove your cloths under the bed. I have found taking a short break to clean and organize each day is necessary to keeping our sanity in check. Doing something each day avoids hours of doing everything at once and doesn't seem like such a chore.
3. Shop for your food daily and eat everything you buy. North Americans are notorious for wasting hoards of food left to rot in the back of their gigantic fridges. I for one was extremely guilty of this! It was insane how much food I threw out. When your fridge is a bar fridge, you are very selective in what you can store and it is usually only enough space for one or two days of food. I can't remember the last time I actually finished a jar of jam or pickles without accidentally buying another one first. When you buy your food daily you can eat exactly what you feel like that day and it is guaranteed to be fresh and delicious. In Paris it is much easier to accomplish this as there are markets on every corner and they package their food in smaller quantities, but you could probably swing every few days in a North American lifestyle without too much trouble.
4. Use your daily grocery bags as garbage bags. Instead of buying garbage bags here, I have been using the plastic bags as my daily garbage bag. I fill it up each day and take it down the next day. When you sleep right beside your kitchen, garbage can't be hanging around for too long before things become unpleasant. I have found the small grocery bags to be the perfect size to collect the days garbage and that way we are re-using the plastic bag instead of throwing it out or letting it pile up in a drawer. Yes, you could use a tote bag to get your groceries and buy garbage bags, but this is cheaper.
5. Do your dishes immediately after your meal, eliminating the need for a dishwasher. Not many places in Paris have the luxury of a dishwasher. Keep dishes to a minimum and wash them after every use. In North America we all have far too many dishes taking up far too much cupboard space. If we washed them daily instead of letting them pile up in big dishwashers, we wouldn't need as many dishes. It's a vicious cycle really.
6. Hand wash one item of clothing each day. Many apartments don't have washing machines here and even fewer have dryers. While I don't think I would give up having my own washer and dryer upon moving home, for now, I'm going to avoid the high cost of doing laundry for a daily hand wash of one item. A lot of my cloths are hand wash anyways so it works out nicely to keep on top of it daily. I will still head to the laundromat from time to time but I'm going to try to keep it to a minimum.
7. Use products (make-up, lotions, cleaners) until they are completely finished before purchasing new ones. You only have so much storage space for products and you don't need two different products that accomplish the same thing. Are you like me (pre-minimalism kick) and have 10 bottles of body lotion half used in your bathroom cupboard? I thought so. When you live in a small space it's best to stick to products you enjoy and use every day. You will save money, reduce clutter, and need less space. I would challenge you to completely purge your product hoard and start fresh. It feels good. Trust me.
8. Mirrors make things look more spacious. Strategically placing mirrors on different walls in a small apartment can make it look twice the size. In our place there are mirrors on all of the closet doors. It gives the illusion of a continuing space and reflects light to brighten the space.
9. Utilize multi-purpose furniture. Our sofa folds into our bed and our table folds into the wall to free up space. In such a small space you need more out of your furniture than ever before. Everything has to be easily moved and multi-functioning to warrant it's place. Function and beauty should still go hand in hand in small places but function is king.
10. Keep clutter and unnecessary decoration to a minimum. Decorative objects aren't really an option in 200 square feet. Great art on the walls is a good idea, but keeping the small surfaces you have clear is a necessity. Focusing on great finishes, fixtures, and storage units that are permanent is key to great design in small spaces.
I am really enjoying incorporating some of these new tactics into my increasingly minimalist lifestyle. It has been an adjustment, but will ultimately save me time and money. Time is our most valuable asset. No amount of money can buy you time so spending the day cleaning your giant house might be better spent exploring a new cafe or museum wouldn't you say?
Until next time,