Surviving a Small Living Space

She probably doesn’t need under-the-bed bins.

My roommates and I stood transfixed, in awe of how lucky we were.

The apartment was beautiful. And somehow, it was ours. We imagined our Brooklyn apartment hunt would be a more grueling process, but here it was, a miraculous gift from the renting gods.

Then we moved in. I’m not sure which of us was the first to notice what we’d failed to see while touring the place.

No closets. Not a single storage space. Not even so much as a shelf anywhere in the apartment.

Four people. No closets.

And two of those people were my boyfriend and I, who would be sharing a bedroom. We had to come up with some creative storage methods (especially since we weren’t allowed to make holes in the walls, and we didn’t have the resources to create our own minimalist trendy micro-apartment). What we didn’t expect was how freeing it would be to cleanse our lives of unnecessary clutter and objects. I’d like this to be at once inspiration for organizing in cramped quarters, and a championing of the benefits to living with less stuff.


Under the bed

The first thing we did was sort of gracelessly shove as much as we could into flat bins that roll under our bed. These bins are a lifesaver. Get your bed off the floor and fit as many of those bins as possible. Ours hold off-season clothing, sentimental paperwork, and knick-knacks.

Shoot for the sky… or, ceiling

We bought two large plastic bins for the rest of our winter and fall clothes. They go in a corner stacked on top of each other. Stack as many of these as you can! Hang hooks over your door. Do anything to make use of the space between your floor and ceiling.

Stick to small

Small furniture will make your space look larger. Since we knew having two dressers would clog up the room, we bought two of these cube organizers instead (below), and a couple of the fabric cubes to go with it. We use one cube organizer for miscellaneous things, and the other for clothes. You can even stack these cube shelves to save even more space! We also bought a tall, skinny hamper that holds a lot but doesn’t take up too much floor space.

My favorite shelf of all time.

Consolidation and functionality

Any kind of large bag or suitcase can be filled while you’re not using it. Ask your roommates if you can set up a shoe rack system, where shoes can be kept outside of bedrooms and on a shelf near the front door. Every piece in your small room should have more than one function. A nightstand should have drawers, dressers and desks should provide additional shelf space. Buy sparingly and carefully.

The joy of downsizing

To live comfortably in a small space, you need to regularly downsize. Take this time to really parse through those clothes you’ve been lugging with you to every dorm room and apartment since college. I was able to fill bag after bag with clothes that weren’t my style anymore and take them to a clothing drop-off. Throw away old or extraneous toiletry items. Make tough calls on things you sort of like, but just aren’t using. Kindly tell family that gift items should be small (you can do this politely by emphasizing your lack of space) or even more preferably, flat (and made of paper, and green…). Young adulthood is a transitionary time for living spaces, and owning less lightens the stress of moving. Having fewer things will declutter your mind as well as your room!


Your space-saving techniques may not always be the most attractive. Nice furniture is often way beyond the budget of a twenty-something. You’ll probably have to be thrifty and accommodating. But you may find, as I did, room to breathe was more important than any else.