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Tiny-Apartment Expert Erin Boyle on the Basics of Small-Space Storage

Erin Boyle didn’t set out to be an expert on low-square-footage living—she just fell in love with the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights and made a home there in an itty-bitty apartment with her husband, James. She found the minimalism required to make the space work a compelling challenge and, in 2013, started documenting their life on her thoughtful, calming blog, Reading My Tea Leaves. In the years since, Erin’s become a go-to internet source for ideas on how to keep things simple and airy, even in compact homes. She and James have since moved upstairs and expanded to 500 square feet—but also added two kids to the mix. Here, Erin talks ways to keep clutter at bay (something she knows a lot about).

Q. How do you think about storage in a small space—especially with little ones?

A: “I’m afraid it’s not the most sexy answer: A big part is paring down the amount of things you have to store. For me, it’s not so much a question of how much I can cram into a box as it is asking how much I need in the first place. And a lot of my perspective is formed by being a renter. I haven’t made any big investments in permanent storage solutions like built-in drawers because I want everything I buy to be something I can take with me. I like pieces that can be used in a lot of different ways—our nightstands right now are wooden crates, which provide additional storage and have also been used for ten different other purposes in the five years we’ve lived here. These crates have held kid’s books and shoes in the closet. I also don’t invest in anything that’s ugly—something I would only feel okay about it if it’s stuffed into a closet. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive—it just has to suit your tastes.”

“Make sure where you’re putting everything makes the most sense—so the items you need the most are close at hand—and that might cut down on the feeling that you need to buy a bunch of specific products to keep things neat. Our kitchen is tiny. It’s about six by eight feet, and until now, I’ve never installed any special shelves for pots and pants. I focus on putting the heavy things on one side and light things on the other. Just kind of thinking about how a space can be used most easily helps keep stuff from toppling over. I recently rearranged the kitchen cabinets so that the bottom ones are super-accessible to the kids—so that they can get their own cups and be more involved in small tasks like getting their own water. That is minor but has made a big difference—I find small changes like that to be both exciting and helpful.”

Go Small