I lived in New York City for five years so I've awarded myself with a degree in small-space living because I do what I want and I deserve it- you go girl. Yes, I'm talking to myself now. Just a lingering effect of living in shoeboxes.
While I once lamented my decision to move to a city where parking costs as much as rent in my college town, and you must sacrifice your first-born for lease approval, I eventually picked up enough tips and tricks to live comfortably and happily in small spaces. I even appreciate the challenge these days.
Although apartment searching in Montreal is not nearly as stressful as in NYC (understatement of the year), we once again had to sacrifice space in order to quickly find something furnished because the length of our stay is yet to be determined. Behold my new little living room, pre-furnished with basics, personalized with our own decor and storage solutions, and made livable and functional with 6 lessons I've learned along the way.
1) Consider Your Lifestyle
This might seem obvious but I see folks let notions of what a home should be dictate decor choices that are less than optimal or simply not realistic, e.g. a bedroom is not a bedroom without 2 matching nightstands, a living room is not a living room without a coffee table and matching end-tables.
Instead, it's best to focus on optimizing your space for your own personality and lifestyle, which is actually quite fun. Do you often work from home? Sacrifice a night stand and create a dedicated work space. Do you love to entertain? Sell a side table and pick up a new decorative chair for extra seating. In our last studio apartment in New York, we used a loveseat as a couch in an open living space that blended seamlessly into the "dining room" in lieu of a tv and larger couch. Since there were just 2 of us, there was no need for a larger couch, and the only tv we cared to watch was Netflix on a Macbook. This set up made the most sense for our lifestyle and allowed us to open up the two spaces for hosting big parties, which trumped having a large couch+tv. Rethink what you need in your space and focus on what works for you.
2) Be Open Minded
This goes along with rethinking old ideas. Just because a space was created for one thing doesn't mean it can't be repurposed. In our case, we have a rather large kitchen with ample storage for...suitcases and seasonal clothing. Yes, that's right, our suitcases share a room with the fridge. We frequently cook and eat at home and still have space for suitcases + more cabinets that remain empty. Even if you have a tiny kitchen but your closet is overflowing and takeout is your jam, don't be afraid to replace the dried goods with your winter sweaters. Also, a step stool makes a perfectly good plant stand + table (above).
3) Double Duty Furniture is Your Friend
I can not stress this point enough. If you have limited space, choose items that do more than one thing whenever possible. This could mean nesting tables that are easily rearranged or moved according to the occasion, a small bench that can be used as a table when needed, or a drop-leaf dining table that extends when you have dinner guests. My personal favorite is this very versatile set of ottomans I found on Amazon. Sometimes they are a table, sometimes footstools, sometimes extra seating, and always storage.
4) Save Floorspace by Decorating UP
If you're space is tiny, don't neglect the precious real estate on your walls and ceilings. Where there's no space for a floor lamp or a table lamp, hang one on the wall. Small shelves make great bedside tables and a foldup wall desk works well for an occasional workspace. Hang planters from the ceiling if you've run out of space for a plant stand. I could go on and on.
5) Personalize With Local Shops and DIY
When you're young and mobile and living with roommates and moving in with significant others and breaking up with significant others and open to moving across the country should the opportunity arise (millennials, right?), investing in unique high-quality furniture tends to fall low on the priority list. More often than not, the remedy is Ikea, irresistible purveyor of all things assemble-yourself and relationship black hole. The blessing that is Ikea becomes a curse when your apartment is a carbon copy of a catalogue page, or the first thing your guest says is "nice table, I have that too!" While 20-somethings in large crowded cities may never escape dependence on this necessary evil, it is possible personalize your space by other means. With the advent of Pinterest, blogging, and sites like Apartment Therapy and A Beautiful Mess, finding inspiration is a snap. And while that gorgeous pintuck velvet couch might fall outside your budget, you can still create the ambiance you want with more affordable home accessories that you won't find in the homes of all your friends. Try Ticktail or Etsy, or go the old fashion route and shop flea markets, vintage stores, and local shops.
6) Learn to Live With Less
I shudder when I think about the day my mother helped move me to New York City with a carload of unnecessary crap. Her four-door was filled to the brim with all the things I thought I needed, and this was before I purchased any furniture. As the years passed by and shlepping my stuff became a yearly ritual, I edited my personal belongings more and more. I realized that too much stuff was a burden and an anchor to my mobility, something that I treasure deeply. This realization plus trends like the tiny house movement and Marie Kondo's Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up made it easier to truly appreciate my small space. In New York, we live in and entertain in tiny spaces, and it's simply a fact of life, but it is not a burden. It is an opportunity to optimize your space, to "get rid of anything that doesn't spark joy", to think creatively, and to relieve yourself from the burden of stuff.