8 things we love for smaller living spaces

small apartment living

Moving to a new space often means reconfiguring and rethinking how you arrange things or how you store things. Over the past 8 years, we found a few things that have come in darned handy to help our clients moving to smaller spaces make the most of that space.

FLAT PLUG EXTENSION CORDS

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Flat plug extension cord, Amazon.

One of the first jobs on move day is to get an extension cord in any outlet that will be behind a large piece of furniture. We love cords with flat plugs because they allow furniture to be closer to the wall.

NEW SURGE PROTECTORS!

surge
Surge protector, Lowes.

Okay, we like this for any living space, not just smaller ones. Surge protectors have a lifespan. If you’ve been using yours for more than 5 years, it’s probably time to replace it. Although we can’t endorse any particular brand, the Wirecutter blog can–here’s there list. ‘

SLIDE OUT KITCHEN TRASH BINS

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Slide out trash bin, The Container Store.

Nothing impedes the flow in a compact kitchen than having to dance around a wastebasket every time you cook. A under sink slide-out trash bin solves that problem.

SLIDE OUT PANTRY SHELVES

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Slide out drawer organizer, Wayfair.com

Many apartment kitchens have a deep pantry closet. The generous space is a beautiful thing, but having to go through contortions to get something out the the back is not. Slide out pantry shelves make it easier to get that elusive can of soup hiding behind the other cans, boxes and bottles.

LAZY SUSAN

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Lazy susan organizer, The Container Store.

A lazy susan can be worth it’s weight in cinnamon for organizing your spices, vitamins, teas and anything that comes in bottles and boxes whether tucked in a cabinet or on the counter.

VERTICAL PLATE ORGANIZER

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Vertical plate organizer, Bed, Bath & Beyond.

More compact kitchens may have less cabinet space. Storing your plates vertically uses cabinet space efficiently and makes them easier to grab as a bonus. If you’re one of the people who rotate the dishes you use so the wear on them is even across the set, you’ll really love an organizer like this.

BATHROOM STORAGE

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Wall mounted bathroom cabinet, CostPlus World Market.

The one place most of our clients really feel the space crunch is in the bathroom. Changing the habit of buying in bulk is step one. In an apartment, you have less storage, and that storage space might be better used for for your off season clothes rather than your 36 rolls of toilet tissue, 12 rolls of paper towels and 6 boxes of tissues. But even with paper products pared down, additional storage is usually needed.

Apartments often have storage under the sink and a medicine cabinet, but not much else.  A wall mounted storage cabinet or shelves is enormously helpful. Pinterest is stuffed to the gills with ideas for creative bathroom storage. One particularly clever idea: a shelf over the door for all those rolls of spare toilet tissue.

Wall mounted is usually a better choice than a floor standing storage unit. If you add a toilet seat with handles or a commode, there is a good chance the floor standing unit won’t fit behind it.

DOUBLE HANG CLOSET ROD

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Double hang closet rod, Home Depot.

Many apartments have nice walk-in closets. But with one clothes hanging shelf at a height for longer hanging garments, you give away a lot of space underneath your shorter hanging garments. Adding a second wall mounted shelf with a clothes hanging pole is the best choice, but short of that, and double hang rod that attaches to the top shelf is a quick, inexpensive fix.

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Please note that we don’t have any special affection or allegiance to the products shown. Versions of these products are available multiple places by multiple makers. We love the concepts and have used many versions of them when working with clients. And if you have something to add to the list, we’d love to know about it!

 

The Three-Year Rule

It’s a simple rule: if you haven’t touched something in the past three years, you probably don’t need it. Applying the rule makes it easy to spot things you won’t miss once they’re gone, making the job of thinning out clutter easier.

Start where the pickings is likely to be ripe, in the deepest, darkest reaches of your kitchen cabinets. Is that an ice cream maker? And a crepe maker? Oh look, a fondue pot–where did that come from? Apply the rule: have you made ice cream, crepes or fondue in the last three years? If the answer is no, out they go.

Be brave and take on your wardrobe. There’s the paisley jacket that still has tags attached from a boutique that closed eons ago. You’ve never really been a paisley kind of person, but you thought maybe you could become one. You were wrong. Next to the jacket are the pants that don’t fit your thighs properly, the sweater that makes your neck itch and the handbag with a strap that bites into your shoulder, which is why none of them have left your closet in at least three years. Time for them to go.

Where next? The garage, the craft room, the linen closet, the basement—anywhere there’s clutter that bothers you. When you donate, hand down or sell your unwanted things, you win twice. Your have more space in your home for things you really use, and you’ve sent the unwanted things on to new owners who will enjoy them.

To spittoon or not to spittoon

You don’t need a brass spittoon. It’s not valuable, it’s not attractive and you can’t even remember where it came from. There is no logical reason to keep it. But for as long as you’ve lived in your home, that spittoon has been sitting on the fireplace hearth. You can’t let it go.

So don’t. At least don’t right now.

When you’re making hundreds of keep, sell, or donate decisions, there are always things that linger until the end because you’re on the fence about keeping them. Designate a special place to gather those items. If it’s a reasonably collection, rather than force a choice that you might regret later, call a time out. Pack them up so you can make a decision when you’re under less pressure.

Photograph the items and label the box so you don’t forget they exist. When you have time and emotional distance from your transition or estate dispersal, unpack and spend some time with them. You may find that even though you no longer have a hearth, that spittoon is fabulous on your dresser filled with poppies and ferns. Or you may find that it isn’t important after all. What matters is that you gave yourself a chance to think about it.

Downsize, Divide and Concur

If you’re moving to a smaller place, you know you won’t need all of the things in your current home.  Deciding what to bring and sharing what’s left with family and friends can be challenging.  Good communication and  advance planning can help make  that process easier.

Feather your new nest first. Determine what you’ll need at your new home. Make a list of the furniture, household necessities and decorative items that you like best, focusing on things that will provide the most comfort, function and style. Think creatively – an armoire can become a pantry or entertainment center; a kitchen table can be a desk; a trunk can be both an end table and extra storage.

Do the math. Once you have your top picks, it’s time to get out a measuring tape, graph paper and pencils. Work with a floor plan of your new home and the dimensions of your furniture pieces to create a proposed layout. Make the design process as concrete as possible, starting with a scale drawing of the rooms and scale representations of your furniture that can be moved around to try different arrangements. If possible, block out your proposed plan on the floor of your new home using blue painter’s tape. You might find that what looked like plenty of room between the couch and an armchair on a drawing is a tight fit in reality.

A place for everything. After deciding where to put your furniture, turn your attention to closets, kitchen cabinets and drawers, and furniture that provides storage space to determine what you will store where. Here again, be specific. Look at the list of kitchen items you’d like to bring and assign each to a cabinet or drawer. The more detailed and realistic you are in this step, the less likely it is that you’ll wind up either giving away something you wish you hadn’t or struggling to accommodate things you don’t really need or have room for.

Make your mark. Once you’ve finished your planning, mark the things that you’ll be taking with removable adhesive stickers in your favorite color. The stickers will help when it’s time to pack boxes as well as let others know that those items are going with you.

Family and friends come next. There likely will be things that you’d like to hand down to others. Perhaps you’ve already decided who will receive the fine china, the sterling flatware, the mantle clock and the bird’s-eye maple rocker. But, confirm that the recipient will truly appreciate your gift. Your son might have loved the sea as a child, but the schooner model might not fit in with his current passion for minimalist décor.

The most important heirlooms are often the ones rich in sentiment, not cash value. Does someone want the cookie jar more than anything else? Or the angel that tops the Christmas tree? Or the painting of the cabin in the woods? Here again, find out by asking. The answers may both surprise you and trigger some pleasant shared memories.

Set your own rules. There is no one best way to divide things among family members. Even the closest of families can find themselves disagreeing. You know your family dynamics – choose a strategy that will minimize friction, and make sure everyone understands the rules before you start. You might spend time with each child individually, and then make the decisions about who gets what yourself. Or perhaps you’d prefer for your children to negotiate with each other. For some families, it’s a priority to ensure that each sibling receives things of equal value; for others, it’s not. If the best way to maintain family harmony is to have the discussion facilitated by a neutral third party, don’t hesitate to bring one in. Also, consider hiring a professional appraiser if necessary.

Can everyone hear me? Communication is key to keeping discussions productive. Whether the dividing of possessions is taking place in person or over long distances, keep the process as transparent as possible. Make sure everyone involved knows the final outcome of these decisions. To avoid disputes later on, write them down and see to it that everyone involved gets a copy, as does the executor of your estate if you’ve chosen one.

Add background information. When it’s time to hand things down, it’s also the perfect time to provide a written history of special treasures, whether they’re high in monetary or sentimental value. Your notes don’t have to be long and formal; even a few words on an index card will be appreciated by future owners. Your Niagara Falls vase will mean even more to your daughter if she knows that you bought it on your honeymoon.

Making notes is particularly important when it comes to photographs. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a parent smiling in a photo from long ago, but having absolutely no idea who they’re with and where they are. Filling in those information gaps can help preserve family memories.

Forward thinking. Take the opportunity to think ahead a generation. If you have grandchildren, chances are that sometime in the future they’ll have their first apartment. Imagine how much they’d enjoy receiving a box packed with a few essentials – a measuring cup, mugs, kitchen utensils, a pair of candlesticks, and, best of all, a note from you.

Outward bound. Now that the discussions and decisions have been completed, it’s time to get things out of your house so you can make forward progress toward your transition. Work with your family or hired helpers to pack stuff up and move it out on a timely basis.

You don’t have to go it alone. A senior move manager can assist you and your family in determining what to bring to your new home and facilitate the process of dividing up no-longer-needed possessions. Having someone who can help you share pictures of belongings with family members all over the country via a digital catalog, as well as with packing and shipping, can make downsizing less stressful and less time-consuming.

De-cluttering: a work in progress

We could all do with a little less.  Weeding out things you  no longer need  is essential if you plan to move into a smaller home,  but it can make life better even if you’re staying right where you are.  Get a start with these tips:

Give yourself time. As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ve spent a lifetime accumulating wonderful things; don’t expect that you can sort through it all in a weekend.

Start small. The cluttered area that vexes you the most is the perfect place to begin. But instead of taking on your entire basement or dining room at once, start with one drawer, one cabinet, one shelf. Breaking de-cluttering into small manageable segments can keep you from giving up in frustration.

Take advantage of momentum. When it comes to clearing clutter, remember that the anticipation is always worse than the reality.  If you’ve broken the job into manageable pieces, you’ll find that each sorting session gets a little easier. Decisions require less thought and you can feel the positive effect of your forward motion.

Keep what matters. Keep for yourself the things that you use frequently, that make you happy and that you cherish most. The items that have the most value for you are not necessarily your most expensive possessions.

Think positive. It’s easy to get bogged down in lamenting the things you’re giving up. Instead, try thinking of it as an editing of your possessions, and focus on the new life that the items you’re gifting, selling or donating will have with new owners who appreciate and use them.

Touch it once. Set up boxes for things to be donated, sold or given to family members. As you sort through items, pack each one carefully so you can just seal the box and send them on their way.

Share it forward. Take advantage of your transition to hand down heirlooms to family and friends. Provide a bridge to future generations by writing down the history of the items. A simple note gives meaning and context to things as elegant as a silver dresser set or quaint as grandmother’s cookie jar.

The price is right. Selling no-longer-needed items is a win-win situation. A happy buyer gets a treasure, and you get a little folding money. Consider a yard sale, an online auction site or a consignment shop. If you have a substantial amount goods that you want to sell, a professional sale organizer can be a great resource. Be sure to ask for and to contact references before signing a contract.

Know what you have. It’s tough to estimate the value of an antique or collectible if you’re not an expert.  A piece of china may be a fine thing to have, but it’s not always a valuable one. Conversely, some novelty items command high prices from collectors.  A little digging around on the internet can turn up good clues about the value of an item. If in doubt, hire a reputable appraiser.

Help others. Items that are no longer needed but still serviceable are welcomed by charities. Keep a list of your donations for tax purposes. Don’t donate things that are broken, stained or torn. Social services organizations work hard enough without having to take extra time to dispose of unusable items.

Don’t go it alone. The old adage that many hands make light work is never truer than when you’re clearing clutter. Having helpers to box items for sale and donation, pack for a move and keep track of what’s going where is invaluable.