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10 tips from a renter who's lived in one 338-square-foot room for almost a decade

By Scott McCulley  | July 3, 2012 - 9:19AM

I never thought that I’d live in one (338-square-foot) room for nine years, but I’d rather have one room in New York than ten in any other city.

Occasionally, I think about moving up to a two-room apartment, but then I realize that I’d want to tear the wall down and have one big room--in part because I think that so many of the special times I’ve had with friends in my apartment were due to the fact that we were all in this one room.

Here are some things I have learned about successfully living the studio life:

1. Storage is the key to happiness
As much as possible, keep items concealed and out of view for an uncluttered look.

Closet storage is best.  To maximize it, be careful of closet organizers. These can actually take up more space if not planned properly. Regular shoeboxes, meanwhile, take up a minimal amount in a closet and can be stacked tighter for better use of space.

Consolidate all of your travel items into your suitcase and store in there -- this makes packing faster and easier when you are ready for a quick getaway (see Tip 10).

I also recommend tote bags from LL Bean or Lands End, which hold tons of stuff and can be monogrammed or labeled for easy identification. These are also easy to move for cleaning, and since they’re made of fabric, they give more flexibility in tighter space. This is a great way to store magazines or books.

When you don’t cook, use your stove as a storage area – it has shelves that are adjustable and can provide much-needed space (just remember to take your stuff out again before preheating!).

A vanity cabinet instead of a pedestal sink provides added storage in a bathroom.

2. Chic, clean & stylish design
Be sure that your apartment has an aesthetic. Play with color and accessories; don’t be afraid to use them.  

Design elements aren’t just for mansions. If you’re lacking closets or cabinets, create a storage/display making your space both decorative and functional.  

So many couture items such as vintage handbags, shoes, ties, and scarves are actually pieces of usable art. A smaller space can be a more opulent space.

3. Buy multifunctional furniture
My twin bed is a platform with two storage drawers underneath.

When helping a friend with her first New York apartment, I suggested the same bed but in a double size.  She found that the 4 drawers on the bottom actually had more space than a dresser, and freed up a ton of floor space for her.  

Ottomans and stools can convert from storage cubes to tables to additional seating.

4. Forget about room dividers, go for artwork instead
Use art to section off areas of the room instead of room dividers.

These dividers often make the room look much more cramped and disrupt the flow of good energy through the apartment.  Using art to differentiate spaces makes your apartment feel bigger and more open.

5. Be obsessively organized
When closets and cabinets are overflowing, it’s time to clean and reorganize.  

Many times you’ll find a treasure buried inside, like that great Prada handbag that you’d forgotten about.  

In a small apartment, you often find that you don’t have that catchall space that you do with a larger apartment.  

Mail must be sorted each day and laundry must be done of a regular basis.  

Once a routine is established, you’ll find that -- just like your space -- your time becomes more efficient.

6. Live in a convenient neighborhood, so you can purchase food/supplies as needed
When shopping for an apartment, the more conveniences your neighborhood has, the better.

It’s best if you have a grocery store, drug store and, of course, liquor store within a five-minute walk. Then you can purchase only as needed.

If the 8oz bottle is going to last for 6 months, why buy the 32oz?

Every time I visit any store, I check my cabinets and make a list. I never double buy items. I’d rather walk two blocks in a week when I need a replacement.

7. Buy only what you love and purge often
After living for a few years with less space, you tend to buy only what you really need or really love, eliminating trends or donating them when the trend is over.  

I’ve found that since I live in one room, buying quality instead of quantity makes the dollar stretch further in the long run.

And being on your fashion game in one of the most stylish cities in the world is a bonus.  

Owning one pair of Manolos is better than having 12 pairs of mediocre shoes that take up valuable real estate.

8. Use every square inch
It’s not the amount of space, but how the space functions that matters. Make use of every square inch.

Most people actually use 20% of the house most of the time. I use 80% of the space in my apartment on a daily basis.

I use my entire living room every day. I sleep on one side and watch television on the other.

Many people have a guest room and they use it once a year when that friend comes to town. Or they have an extra room filled with belongings that they never use, and ultimately don’t need. I believe in living simpler.

9. Do cost comparisons
When I start to get apartment envy and consider moving to a larger space, I talk to my friends with bigger apartments and quickly realize their rent and utility bills are much higher than mine.

Living in a smaller space, the costs are lower. I don’t dread opening that Con Edison bill.

10. Travel as often as your schedule and budget permits
I go out of town at least five times per year, and often one or two weeks at a time as my schedule permits. This is a nice break and change of scenery.

Friends LOVE to stay in my apartment. I know people in other parts of the country with 2-3 guest rooms, and no one ever stays there.  

People stay in my apartment 4-7 times a year; so many look at my single-room studio with more sentiment than their own homes, considering my apartment their NYC pied a terre. It’s a quick reminder that my little piece of heaven in Manhattan is a sanctuary no matter the size.

Related posts:

10 Minutes with California Closets' Brenda MacLeish: Making room for sex toys and humongous flatscreen TVs

10 Minutes with professional organizer Jeffey Calandra: Even the rich need Bed, Bath & Beyond

Farm to City: I share a studio with a total stranger

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