How To Live Well in Small Spaces (like, 22m small)

The housing search ruled my personal life and anxieties for the past while. Weeks and months of effort, with seemingly no results, and accompanied by a deadly extensive daily commute to school passed, one more depressing than the other; but at last, the patience and perseverance paid off. After a 5-month treasure-hunt in the disastrous housing market of Amsterdam I have finally found myself a place.

As we speak, I am writing this in my home, comfortably seated on my zafu, with a view of my personal library and items collected from all over the world, SZA playing through the speaker and a cup of hot green tea waiting next to me. Looking something like this:

Over the last 5 years I have lived in over 20 places, and although a big advocate of nomadding around the globe, I recently started to witness this deep desire of wanting to have a place to call home. Emotionally, going through that switch still feels unreal, but for today I’d like to zoom in on the practical challenges the space offered.

Because here is the catch: it is small. It is, very small. You know those cute apartments they have at the IKEA showroom to display creative solutions for making the most out of your small space? Those are like 45m. I now live on 22m, exactly half of those. This includes everything; the bathroom, kitchen, living room, bedroom, wardrobe, all of it.

So I have to keep it real with you; the first time I came into this place my heart dropped an inch; although super happy to have just any place, I had no idea how to make this work. Besides the size it has the awkward dimensions of 2 x 10, which eventually turned out to be a strength but at first sight just made it look like a narrow and lengthy hallway. The previous owners clearly didn’t care to clean much and the dark grey walls in combination with the gray flooring did not make it seem any more appealing.

Determined to make the best of it; a true extreme home make-over project commenced. And we fucking made it work. IKEA absolutely saved my ass, with a bit of assistance of Flying Tiger and Sostrene Grene, and of course the hands of the men in my life and a sprinkle of my own creativity to actually manifest it all.

Looking around now, I absolutely lovelovelove what we have managed to create here. And so I thought to share some best practices for anybody facing the same struggles. Here come 5, plus 2 bonus, tips on how to live well in a small space:

1. Let the light in

Before anything, I (and my team of sweet/helpful friends) painted all the walls white to make it look more clean and spacious. The smaller the space, the more crucial the role of light. In whatever I did I made sure not to obstruct my two windows so as much daylight as possible can find its way in.

2. Think vertical (like urban planning)

My first insight was this. Like a city that is lacking ground to build on, they go up in the air, starting to build flats and rooftop terraces. This same exact principle applies to any space. I realized I had to switch my perspective to focus on the space on the walls rather than the space on the floor. This got implemented in the form of high furnitures and storage even on top of those, a whole lot of floating shelves, some racks, even hanging plants from the ceiling opposed to placing pots. However you apply this is up to you of course, but the insight really helped me to look at the place differently so that I could truly exploit every inch of it.

3. IKEA Expedit / Kallax is everything

Sometimes the simplest designs are the most powerful ones. For me, the IKEA Expedit, in 2014 changed/renamed to Kallax, is one example of that. Providing you with a grid lay-out, these pieces provide a surprising amount of storage space while allowing for a lot of customization so you can close off some spaces and put items on display in others. These can also be perfectly used as room dividers. To make most use of my vertical space I got the biggest edition they have which is the 5×5 grid.

4. Get creative

Get storage under the bed, on top of your furnitures, put hangers on the insides of doors, exploit the room under the sink and in the ‘meter closet’, put boxes below the clothing rack, etc etc etc. Let no inch get wasted.

5. Scale the fuck down

This is key and there’s no better time to unclutter than now. I’ll admit to being quite the hoarder myself, but since a year or so I’ve been scaling down. I’m still and probably never will be anywhere near a minimalist, but it really is a sense of liberation to get rid of all these excessive possessions and ‘baggage’ in a way. Moving into the small space only further promoted this development so that’s actually a good thing. So the advice is rather simple here; throw some shit out. Be selective. I did it myself by moving in parts. So instead of moving all my books, clothes and just all stuff, I started by bringing my favorites and living with them for a while before bringing in more. If you have no idea how to start de-hoarding, stick around for next week’s blog on this. Team unclutter.

+ Flow

Think of how you ‘flow’ through your apartment. What actions you do in a daily, in what sequence, your morning and evening routines. Some things need to be accessed on a daily basis but some items may not be bothered by some obstruction if you only need them every once in a while. You can even hack the space to arrange your things in a way that supports your healthy habits and removes the barriers between you and doing them.

+ Channel your OCD

Make your best attempt at being a neat freak; not necessarily in cleaning but in tidying up the space. Keeping the tables and kitchentops free and most of your stuff neatly tucked away really works miracles.

+ The usual

Contrast. Mirrors. Multifunctional pieces. Fold-able pieces. Glass and see-through items.

 

Bam. All this, along with my fanatic approach to having plants around, helped me turn my container into a little castle. I hope it helps you do the same 🙂

Did these tips help you at all? Do you have any to add?
Let me know and have fun building your sanctuary!

Posted by Nadia Piet

New Zealand-born, Amsterdam-bred terrestrial being, practicing the art of living in a digital age, and help others do the same. Passionate about shaping the future of work, education and life and helping people and organizations navigate the many challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Because I believe “the best way to predict the future is to create it”.