Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tales of an Apartment Dweller, Part II: The Practical

Having established where I live - a wee apartment with myself, the Husband, the Bee, and a cat - here are my tenets (ha!) of tenancy.

  • Practice good apartment-hunting.  The most valuable weapon you can have is time.  (I guess an unlimited budget would be even more valuable, but I'm being realistic).  We started looking at the apartment situation in Georgetown even before we knew we were moving here.  Was some of it just idle time-killing and wishful thinking?  Sure, but it also gave us a good idea of the typical rent, what amenities to expect, and how long apartments stayed on the listings.  Poring over apartment listings for months also enabled us to make only one epic trip from Rochester to DC to look at the "ideal" apartment we saw that was at the right location and in our price range, which is an important consideration if you're moving a considerable distance.  The other hunting rules are pretty basic - investigate your landlord, inspect the place before moving in, make sure you insist on any repairs you feel are necessary, get a lease, etc.  Getting an apartment that you actually like with a decent landlord goes a long way toward happiness, as do things like having a dishwasher and/or washer/dryer (if those are things you want).
  • Get unsentimental.  If you're going from big to small, you are going to have to get rid of some stuff.  No getting around it.  We sold our big couch and loveseat, my much-loved gigantic circa-1960 table, our large storage racks (I wasn't sentimentally attached to those), and our car (which is another post itself).  It's hard to just cut off so much stuff.  We also donated a lot of old clothes and some miscellaneous furniture.  Things we knew we wanted to keep but didn't need right now (baby swing, too-small baby clothes, outgrown toys) went to the grandparents, who have much more storage space.
  • Think in scale/less is more. Small, multi-function (when possible) pieces of furniture are the best.  Our living room furniture now consists of a sleeper sofa (the klick-klack kind), a small computer desk, and a television stand with as small of a footprint as we could manage.  Wall-mounting would have been my first choice for the television, but who wants to entrust their television to shoddy drywall?  I am probably going to pick up a couple of flat-topped storage ottomans in the near future.  Our dining table is a 2-seat bistro number where the chairs fit under the table when not in use (the Bee sits in her high chair on the exposed long side while the Husband and I sit at the ends).  Next to the table is a small 3-shelf wicker number for miscellaneous kitchen items that we use, but not constantly.  We had a small wine-rack on wheels that stores wine glasses, 9 bottles of booze (trust me, we never have more than that at once!), and miscellaneous bar equipment, but that has since been moved into the second "bedroom."  Which brings us to our next point.
  • Throw out room labels.  Bedroom?  Study?  Workroom?  Nursery?  Whatever.  They're just rooms.  Our living room is pretty standard (couch, TV/Wii/computer.  Our kitchen has a washer and dryer (the small, stacked kind but I love them just the same) right across from the refrigerator. Two of our three bookshelves are in our bedroom.  The weird room - or "The Workroom" as we call it - started out as a nursery.  We gave the crib to the in-laws, and the room now features one large adult dresser, a kid-sized dresser (which is also used as a changing/dressing table) a bookshelf, and a corner desk, along with a fair amount of miscellaneous items (baby bath, seasonally appropriate coats/jackets/shoes, and brewing equipment). The Husband keeps his laptop and science books in there and it is essentially his office.  Someday we'll probably put a futon in there for the Bee to sleep on, but I don't see her moving out of our bed in the near future.
  • Use those walls!  We try to keep the floor as uncluttered as possible - it really makes the rooms feel bigger.  No, we don't have those plastic sleeves that you vacuum your clothes into AS SEEN ON TV.  We do have 3 tall bookshelves, laundry bags that hang in the closet, hanging produce baskets, a shoe rack, and neatly Tetris-ed closets. Also lots of pictures because they're pretty - and at least with a small space you don't have to buy tons of wall art.
  • The whole city is your house.  Do you know why people put up with expensive, small or expensive and small houses/apartments in, we'll say, Boston, New York, Philly, DC, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver?  They are kick-ass cities.  So when the walls close in, we gear up and go somewhere!  Whether it's the "tot lot" (under-5 playground a block away) or something a bit more touristy, it's good to go see the amazing things that DC has.  Museums, people watching on the Mall, funky restaurants, general historic landmarks, the Canal that runs through Georgetown... it's all a lot bigger than our apartment, full of other people (yay!  I like people!), and pretty low cost (most things only involve the cost of bus or Metro fare).  I imagine the situation to be similar in the other cities on my "awesome" list.
  • One last thing:  childproof the bejeezus out of your tiny apartment so that little people can have the run of the place.  We do keep our bathrooms and the workroom shut, but the Bee can go from the living room through the kitchen into the  bedroom with no impediments, as of Saturday.  It is so nice to not have a baby gate!  It's even helping me get work (and blog posts!) done because she's happy to occupy herself for the most part now that she is free to check in periodically.  She is presently doing who-knows-what in the bedroom, and that's okay with me.  I think she's yelling at the patio.
Anyone else have awesome small space ideas that I missed?  I've got another four years to implement them.  Also... I would hate to give the idea that I am absolutely always happy with being in a cramped space; these are just the things I do to be mostly happy with it most of the time!


  1. We lived in apartments till Mikko was 2, and now we live in a fairly small condo. So…I agree with all of the above! Throwing out room labels is very important, as is getting outside to make use of free outdoor space. And we do have all multi-function furniture (stools as end tables, stackable dining chairs, sleep sofa, etc.).

    The Get Unsentimental part is crucial, because the less stuff you have in a small space, the happier you'll ultimately be. (Ok, I'm speaking for myself, but I find it's true, and this is even spoken as a reforming packrat!) It ties into babyproofing, too, because you'll all just have more space to move, and less preciousness to knock into, if you pare down. The only thing I'd add in that category is to clue your family and friends into the situation — we've had to make it clear (numerous reminders over the years) that we don't have much space, so don't give us huge things we don't ask for, and expect us to clean things out regularly. This has become more important as we've had kids and the grandparents have wanted to give us big plastic toys and furniture and so on. We just keep reminding them, Thanks, but no room. They've gotten pretty good at asking us first.

  2. I have a tip that's a little impractical sometimes, but made a massive difference for us. Pack EVERYTHING into a storage unit for six months. When you get back, go through it and see how much of that stuff you even actually either NEEDED or REMEMBER having! And then get rid, get rid, get rid.

    So, yeah. Not practical for everyone, but really, all those things you 'might need oneday' go through them and ask yourself if they're realy worth keeping.

    Oh, and next time I buy a bed it'll have under bed drawers, so we can keep our linnen and blankets etc in them and save two or three shelves in your cupboards!

    Stopping by from Friday Favourites at Diary of a First Child

  3. Lauren - I am grateful the grandparents are understanding of the small space. This Xmas we took a train to see my in-laws, so our ability to get anything huge was pretty non-existent. I agree with paring down for childproofing; anything that gets moved over and over again finally just gets moved OUT.

    Luschka - impractical, but a good idea! If we do another big move into a house I might have to try it. As it is, our closets sometimes serve the same purpose.

    Watching Pawn Stars (it's trashy, but I enjoy the owner's encyclopedic knowledge of tchotchkes, it's amazing!) recently has kind of made me realize that in so many ways, stuff is just so binding. I'd rather have room for indoor bowling than an end table!

  4. Stopping by from Friday Favourites at diaryofafirstchild.com

    Great post! I love your ideas. We don't live in an apartment, but a small house, but we do use a lot of the same tactics. One of my favorite things that we did was get rid of dressers and hang all of our clothes. We have small rooms but nice sized closets to that works very nicely.