Small Apartment Hacks I’ve Learned After 10 Years in NYC

apartment-hacks

 

Living in New York City

Whenever we're traveling and meet someone new, one of the first things they say when they hear we're from New York is… “New York City?”

When they hear that we are, the response is almost universally the same. “Ooh, do you love it? It's so fun, isn't it?”

Followed by them saying, “…but I don't think I could live there!”

Haha

 

 

I get it.

We love living in New York City and couldn't really imagine life anywhere else, but maybe that's because we've become immune to its idiosyncrasies and long past tolerated its frustrations.

Apartments here are expensive. And tiny. And did we mention astronomically expensive?!

The streets are dirty, the subways are even worse; the bedrooms are the sizes of closets and having a proper laundry room… why, did you win the jackpot?

 



 

 

Apartment Hacks

2020 will mark a full decade of living in New York City. I guess that makes me a ‘real' New Yorker now!

If you've ever wondered what it's really like living in the city, in a tiny couple-hundred-square-foot space… let's just say you learn to get creative. 

From our best & worst furniture buys, to creating storage and hacking a tiny floor plan, here's our best tips and tricks for small space living!

 

Keep reading, or pin this post to read later ⇟

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Marie Kondo Your Stuff

Carrie Bradshaw misled us with that enormous closet.

The truth is, space is a premium in New York and closets themselves are rare in old city apartments. Forget about walk in closets!

Realistically all the fun extras we might have kept in a large suburban home don't have a place in a tiny apartment. So every couple of months or so, we go through my closets and drawers to get rid of anything we can.

That bread machine? Not here.

Tennis rackets? Haven't touched them in years. 

Marie Kondo may have revolutionized America but New Yorkers? They've been learning to keep only that-which-sparks-joy… for ages :)

 



 

 

Hacks for Furnishing an Apartment

Living in a tiny space means adjustments when buying furniture. Let's be real, the only thing we supersize here is our Popeye's order.

And while most people move only when they need to (say, job relocation, having a family, cross country move), moving in NYC every year isn't uncommon.

Rent is just so expensive, and the apartments always have some annoying quirk or big flaw, that it can often be a better deal to move.

Here's what we've learned when it comes to furnishing that new space frequently and cheaply.

 



 

 

How to Buy Furniture When You're Broke

Since people are constantly moving in, out and around the city, it's actually been quite easy to find great deals on furniture in New York City.

When I first moved here, I didn't have the extra funds for a TV, so we picked up a free one off Craigslist. It was perfectly functional and the guy even offered us the TV stand! 

Sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Let Go and Next Door are where you'll want to look for finding free or cheap furniture in good condition. 

For nicer furniture, Apt Deco is a newer site that has more higher quality / brand name stuff. They'll also buy (and pick up) your furniture if you want to sell any large pieces.

 



 

 

How to Buy Furniture When You Have Roommates

Ikea is a great one stop shop for cheap, functional yet still stylish furniture.

There's an Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which has a free ferry to transport you over. If you need a complete set of furniture, you can pay a little extra to have people build and set everything up.

Ikea in the US, while not the best quality, is pretty impressive for what it does offer. They have rolling storage carts, coffee milk frothers and simple hanging shelves that can really transform a space! 

 



 

 

How to Buy Large Furniture on a Budget

Amazon launched a Home section recently which has some surprisingly stylish finds at bargain prices. They're great to use for large heavy items like sofas and beds, that would otherwise cost a fortune in extra shipping fees.

Need a bed?

We've used various “bed in a box” companies like Allswell and Bear mattress and found them to be good value, especially for short term living arrangements. 

Allswell also sells great towels. We love their extra long waffle bath towels!

For small design accents, Amazon and H&M are also great places to shop. They have affordable and stylish home decor like kitchenware, lamps, vases and faux plants. 

 



 

 

How to Buy Furniture When You Finally Live On Your Own

As I eventually got older and had a steady income, I started to slowly trade up and actually buy proper furniture.

Places like The Container Store and Bed, Bath & Beyond, Home Goods and Target have all the small home items you might need at a great price.

Meanwhile, furniture stores in the city like West Elm, CB2 and Pottery Barn all sell small space furniture meant for tiny condos and apartments. 

 



 

Multi Purpose Furniture

When space is a premium, everything has to do double duty. 

 

1. Get Benches with Storage

 

Anytime furniture can double up as storage, your apartment will thank you.

Opt for a pull out sofa bed when you don't have a spare bedroom for guests or a modular sofa that can be configured in multiple ways.

Small poufs that can open up for storage, kitchen banquettes that can hold extra kitchenware or an entryway bench that can store extra shoes are all great options!

 

 

2. Light Colored Furniture is Best

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When I made my first real (aka expensive) sofa purchase, I fell in love with the look of deep blue velvet. Don't make my mistake. 

Light colored furniture makes a space feel much more spacious, especially if you're placing them against a wall in a portion of the room that doesn't get much natural light.

White and natural colors reflect sunlight, dark furniture creates a gloomy black hole.

 



 

3. Add Furniture on Wheels

 

Rolling furniture is perfect for small spaces.

Get a rolling kitchen island that can double as a mini pantry space, extra prep station or makeshift table. A bar cart that can move from kitchen to living room as the party goes on.

Or a side table that can double as a coffee table in a pinch.

 

4. Consider Foregoing a TV

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Unless you have cable, a TV looks less and less necessary the older I get. A projector works just as well to stream videos.

Or, if you insist, get a TV but mount it to the wall. Skip the media console for extra floor space. You can mount your speakers to the walls too! 

If you're fancy, the Samsung Art Frame TV is a beautiful way to go double duty. It looks like a piece of art when not in use.

 



 

5. Opt for Furniture with Legs

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Somehow the small addition of legs on furniture makes a big difference.

Whether its a buffet, sofa or media console, furniture with legs just makes a space feel more open and airy than items that sit on the ground.

On the other hand, if you have a small space but double height ceilings, like a loft space, go for low furniture that sits on the ground. It will make your ceilings look even taller and give an airier feel to the apartment.

 

6. Open Space is OK

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I used to think you had to ‘decorate' every spare inch of a room.

But leaving space open can help make even the smallest apartments feel bigger and airier!

 



 

7. Try a Statement Art over a Gallery Wall

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Gallery walls are trendy, but they're not doing your small space any favors. 

A wall covered in prints, frames and art can make the room feel cluttered. Chances are, in a prewar apartment, the walls are crooked and uneven so even if you triple measure, that gallery art work will hang crooked and look amateur.

Instead, go for a statement piece of framed art. We love Minted for their variety and affordability. If you're on a budget, Amazon has some great posters and prints too!

 

8. Create Your Own “Rooms”

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When you live in a small studio, your bed, kitchen and living space are all together and you might feel like there's no separation of your daily activities.

Get creative with furniture placement to create your own rooms – without putting up a wall!

For example, add cube storage or a bookshelf to make a partition between your bed and the sofa. Stack shelving or storage units to create partitions and get creative!

 



 

9. Skip the Coffee Table

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Instead get small nesting tables or leave the space entirely bare.

Living rooms in NYC are often tiny or they double as both dining and living spaces. Nesting side tables that can be moved around are a great way to maximize a space! 

 

10. Use Lots of Mirrors

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Preferably the tallest, widest mirror that fits in your space.

Not only do mirrors have the obvious function of letting you check your outfit before you head out the door, mirrors make a space feel bigger and brighter.

If you place it opposite a window, it will reflect the light and really make a dramatic difference!

 



 

Clean Often

When space is tight, a clean, clutter free area looks and feels just so much better.

 

11. Empty Counters

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If you can hang things up, hide things in cupboards, the apartment looks tidy and clean. 

To do this, we added a ton of kitchen cabinet storage – drawers, jars, stackable bins – and quickly found that we can store a lot more behind closed doors than when we just left things in stacks and piles.

These tiered pull out drawers, stackable bins and drawer organizers helped the most!

 

12. Set a Cleaning Routine

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I swear by my Roborock robot vacuum and Miele cannister vacuum. My apartment gets dusty in just a minute, but these two gadgets keep the worst of it at bay. 

Robot vacuums can be programmed to vacuum daily and sweep pet fur, hair, dust and crumbs. Some can even do double duty and mop!

For dusting furniture, curtains and wall molding, the Miele really comes in handy.

 Read more:  Review: Roborock Robot Vacuum

 



 

13. Do the Dishes!!

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Don't leave piles of dirty dishes in the sink. It's a beckoning call to bugs and just looks gross when the kitchen takes up 1/5 of the space. 

If you're tight on counterspace, you can get a little stand like this one that doubles as a shelf to keep your plates organized and as a sink side stand for dishes to dry. 

Or, get a foldable over-the-sink rack that does double duty. This one can be used to dry dishes as well as an extra flat surface for food prep.

 

14. Always Make the Bed

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Some bedrooms are so narrow they fit a bed and not much else.

An unmade bed is like a screaming pile of dirtiness. 

 



 

Make Use of Vertical Space

It's pretty common for a studio apartment to be just 300 square feet.

But often older, more affordable spaces can have dramatic high ceilings 9 to 13 feet high. So use all that potential storage and train yourself to look up! 

 

15. Move Things Off the Floor

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When you don't have much square footage, vertical space is where it's at.

Get bed risers to life your bed off the ground and unlock tons of space. If you can raise the bed high enough, you can add under the bed storage boxes to store out-of-season clothes, rarely worn shoes, extra tools, etc.

Another great option is to buy a bed frame with built in storage!

 

16. Add Hooks

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Just a couple hooks by the door can hang dog leashes, keys and jackets.

These Anthropologie ones dress up a space or simple Command hooks work well for inside closets and doors.

Hooks can even swing bikes up and out of the way on to the wall! 

 



 

18. Install Shelves

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Adding shelves is a relatively easy thing to do to store shoes or extra clothes. Book shelves that go all the way up in the living room can double as a small desk.

Any extra space on top of your kitchen cabinets can hold extra appliances or fancy dinnerware that you won't use as often.

If renovating, design your cabinets all the way to the ceiling!

 

19. Take Advantage of Building Basement Storage

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Some buildings offer additional storage lockers in the basement.

See if you can store seasonal items (Christmas ornaments, snow shoes, etc) or large things like a bike, out of your apartment.

 



 

20. Invest in Quality Storage Bins

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I got rid of my standard shoe rack and got these clear shoe bins instead, which can fit up to 2 flat pairs in a box.

They interlock and stack up or across in almost any configuration so that 3 foot long shoe rack? Now it's just 7 inches wide and I've reclaimed my narrow hallway!

While storage bins can feel pricey, high quality and well made storage that stacks or configures in multiple ways will last me from apartment to apartment when furniture often won't. 

 

21. Get a Fold-able Step Stool

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These are great to take advantage of all the space up top.

Best of all, fold up step stools take up almost no space and can be tucked into a corner or closet.

 



 

22. Choose Multi Use or Compact Gadgets

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For example, one Instant Pot can be the equivalent of a dutch oven, rice cooker and pressure cooker.

Forget a large ironing board, steamers work faster and take up a fraction of the space. And a humidifier and diffuser is a nice 2 in 1.

Try a bench with hidden storage for seating, or a dining table that can double as a work desk. Get creative!

 

23. Lighting Makes a HUGE Difference

small space living smart lights

 

New York apartments tend to either be flooded with light or suffer from gloomy darkness.

If the former, get a double curtain rod with white inner drapes and outer blackout curtains. If the apartment faces the back of a building or narrow courtyard, it's important to get as much natural light as possible.

In the winter, it's next to impossible but lighting inside your apartment can help. I relied on this rhythmic clock when I lived in a bedroom without a window.

 

I also highly recommend changing out your light bulbs for smart bulbs that can change to any color spectrum. Some energize you, others help you wind down.

I recently installed these LED light bulbs in my bedroom to act as a sunrise alarm clock and they're fantastic!

If you work from home, just going out for fresh air and sunlight will help your mood!

hi Read more:  How I Built My Own Sunrise Alarm Clock with Smart Bulbs

 



 

24. Go Easy on Seasonal Decor

Speaking of Christmas ornaments… it might be best not to get too many. Opt for a real tree over a faux fir that you have to store 10 months out of the year.

 

25. Don't Hang on to Sentimental Things

I'm incredibly sentimental and a bit of a hoarder but over the years, I've learned to purge.

Instead of framed photos, I have hard drives of digital photos. Instead of forcing all my clothes into two closets, I do a seasonal closet swap and put the rest in storage.

 

26. Always Have A Stash of Steel Wool

The first time I saw a rat in the subway I screamed.

Imagine finding them in your apartment though…?!

Get some steel wool and cotton to patch up any holes or cracks in your apartment, no matter how small the crevice may be. It's the one thing that will deter any vermin.

 



 

Shop Storage for Small Spaces


 

Small Space Living

Living in a New York City apartment means space is a premium! Over the years, we've learned to ruthlessly purge our closets, adapt the Konmari method and max out every inch of space. Despite the challenges, we love interior design, NYC real estate and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else. Follow along on our small space living adventure!

 

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