I have always loved buying stuff. Around my apartment are little tchotchkes, too many floral dresses, throw pillows, and ceramic dishes to serve eight people even though I don’t own a dining table. All of that is stuffed into one room; I live in a studio apartment in New York City.
Yet I somehow make it all work, mostly because I am smart about squirreling everything away into an organized chaos of bins, shelving, and carts, all tucked away behind closed doors. I thought I had a good organizational process...until I stayed in a tiny house.
Just before the pandemic hit, I stayed at a little yellow house at Tiny Digs, a “hotel” of tiny houses in Portland, OR. Despite being 5’1” (my friend sharing the space with me was also petite), looking at it from the outside, I felt hesitant about it. Not without reason—the 180-square-foot train car named Arthur was not even wide enough for us both to walk through it at the same time! Inside though, it had a staircase leading up to a lofted bedroom, a workable kitchen with a surprising amount of counter space, and a bathroom with a full-size shower, sink, and flushable toilet. It took just one night of staying there for me to realize that my NYC studio wasn’t really that small and that there were plenty of ways I could get more creative with my storage there.
Here are some of the things I learned about making small spaces work from my stay at Arthur, the Tiny House. Whether you live in a 300-square-foot apartment or a 3000-square-foot home, I think you could use these six tips to make the most of your space.
1. Nobody puts baby (desks) in a corner, but they should
Immediately upon walking in, there was a tiny (barely) two-foot-wide desk mounted to the wall with a little stool. It was just big enough to fit a laptop on, and was also used to store a binder with housekeeping rules and some suggestions for enjoying the area. I have thought about buying a desk for three years now, but couldn’t find the space for a traditional one. This looked handmade, and after showing a photo to my dad, he said it was the easiest thing to make with a few pieces of wood stained a color I liked. This nook could be equally great tucked into the corner of a living room—even better if you did it like a "Murphy desk" that folds up—or in a kid’s bedroom for remote learning. If DIY isn’t your schtick, this $40 fold-up desk looks pretty solid and doesn’t use up any floor space.
2. Get things off the counters (and onto hanging racks)
We’ve all seen hanging pot racks and Julia Child’s elaborate peg board system, but it doesn’t have to be that complex or big. Just installing a little bar to hang frequently-used items like measuring spoons, utensils, and—in the case of the tiny house—mugs makes living with a smaller footprint that much easier. It’s a great way to save on cupboard and counter space, and it’s easy to reach. This simple utensil rack is only $19, and could be painted to match your kitchen’s aesthetic. The tiny house I stayed in had a mug-hanging rack with a shelf on top to put drinking glasses, which could be mounted above the utensil rack to double up storage.
3. Mount your paper towel holder. That’s it, that’s the tip
Ones on the counter take up so much space! I’m giving mine away and buying a wall-mounted one instead. (Maybe this sleek one from simplehuman.) There are also ones that slide under your cabinets which work just as well and don’t require getting out a drill.
4. Buy furniture that does double duty
I know that you know what a futon is. Everyone’s owned one at some point. But buying functional furniture that does double duty is essential in a small space. Recently I’ve been looking into sleeper furniture that isn’t a giant, heavy couch that has a full or queen-size bed attached. Instead, I found petite options like this beautiful blue convertible chair that folds into a chaise or twin sleeper, or this coral futon that isn’t as
unsightly boring as some of the mattress-on-a-wood-frame options. The side table next to the futon in the tiny house also worked as a makeshift dining table, as there were no other surfaces (other than the aforementioned desk)—and to be honest, it worked very well.
5. Add shelves and hooks wherever possible
The bathroom in Arthur could have been claustrophobic, but because all the shelving was built between the shower stall and the back door, there was plenty of room to walk around. All toiletries, towels, and toilet paper were stowed away off the floor, and there were a bunch of hooks to hang wet towels too. Not every place you live will have an opportunity for built-in shelving, but adding shelving and hooks in tight spaces that otherwise couldn’t fit furniture is always helpful for extra storage.
6. Pick one bright color to use through the entire space
What drew me to the space originally was the bright yellow used on the exterior and interior of the house, making everything feel cohesive and open. I think if I had seen color-blocking to designate “rooms” I would have focused on how small each space was. I love the way the natural light reflected off the yellow, and brighter rooms just look bigger and more inviting. White is normally the color experts say make a room appear its biggest, but I’m now firmly team yellow, which is...a step above beige. It makes even the tiniest apartment seem sunnier and happier, and isn’t that what we all need right now?
Every stayed in a tiny house—what did you love most? Tell us in the comments.
This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 may earn an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.