Everything you’ve heard about New York City real estate is true. The rent is too high, the apartments are too small, and you’re almost never getting what you’re paying for. All that said, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because there’s nowhere like NYC.
So, even though I could probably buy a house in some parts of the country for what I pay in rent each year, I'm committed to making Manhattan my home. After turning 25, I decided it was time to strike out on my own, living without a roommate — even if it meant moving from a converted one-bedroom (real estate talk for "one bedroom with a fake wall to create an extra room") — into something smaller.
I must have stalked StreetEasy every single day to find listings in neighborhoods I loved that were still within my budget. When I saw a cute little studio in Gramercy open up, I jumped at it.
Once the keys were in my hand, the real challenge began. How on earth was I about to move my entire life into a 488-square-foot studio? Thanks to some ingenious storage products and guidance from Lisa Jacobs, organization guru and founder of Manhattan lifestyle company Imagine it Done, I was able to optimize the space in my tiny NYC apartment and make it feel 10 times bigger. Here’s how:
1. Give Each Closet A Theme.
“If you don't start out from the beginning putting [things] in the right space, it's going to be disorganized,” Lisa told me. “A perfect example of this is in an entry closet. Because people don't know how to set up other spaces, [belongings] end up in the entry closet. So [there’s no space left for] what really belongs in the entry closet.”
Fortunately, this studio happens to have the biggest walk-in entry closet I’ve ever seen. It was so tempting to fill this giant closet with all of my random things, but I kept Lisa’s advice in mind while unpacking and made sure to designate this space to what really belongs there: coats, luggage, and off-season shoes.
But let’s be honest, it would have been foolish not to utilize the entire closet, so to keep things organized, I used plastic chests to store extra linens, towels, and other miscellaneous things. Everything in the closet has its own designated place, which makes it so much easier to keep organized.
BUY NOW 3-Drawer Storage Chest, $12.99; The Container Store
2. Invest In Accessories.
“The only way to [create the illusion of a bigger space] is through accessorizing,” Lisa said. “Accessories are the best invention in organization.” Somewhere a girl could always use more space? Her closet. Laying my shoes on the floor of the closet quickly proved to be a wasted effort, since there was only room for about half of the pairs I actually own. The easiest fix was a shoe organizer unit, which not only allowed me to store eight pairs inside, but also on top and in front. It essentially quadrupled the amount of shoes I could fit in my closet. Best invention, indeed.
3. Pull-Out Bins Are A Gamechanger.
“Every space needs a bin, whether it be in a closet, in the bathroom, or in a cabinet, because stuff needs to be corralled so that it is much more available,” Lisa explained. Her words couldn’t have been truer when it came to the space underneath by bathroom sink. Between hair dryers, brushes, toiletries, and other essentials, I needed serious help. This sliding drawer unit has two bins that pull out, while the racks themselves stay in place. This optimizes the space both vertically and horizontally, because I can easily access the things toward the back of the cabinet.
Just like my entry closet, the bins give everything its own designated place, so it’ll never look like the photo on the left ever again.
BUY NOW Pull-Out Bins, $24.99; The Container Store
4. Target Your Tabletop.
“As far as an open space is concerned, eliminate clutter on the tabletop,” Lisa suggested. Luckily for me, my apartment couldn’t fit much more than a small coffee table, so I didn’t have many surfaces to mess up to begin with.
I found a two-tiered coffee table, so I decided to use the lower tier to display decorative books that look pretty but don’t have much day-to-day use. All I put on top of the coffee table is a round tray that corrals a few small decorative accents; in this case, a candle and bowl of matchboxes. It also doubles a place to keep my TV remotes so they don’t get lost in the cushions of my couch.
5. Use Cramped Quarters To Your Advantage.
“People think that the limitation is space,” Lisa said. “But that's not true because the more space you have, the more space you have to disorganize.” Enter, my pantry. Two small shelves are all I have in my kitchen to store shelf-stable food. With that, I know to only stock up on essentials I’ll use, instead of randomly grabbing for fun things at Trader Joe’s I don’t really need.
A two-tier rack lets me see all the spices I have while I’m cooking and makes them easily accessible. Plastic containers are perfect for pastas that come in bags, because it helps avoid messy spills. Turns out having less space can actually work in your favor.
BUY NOW Double Acrylic Spice Rack, $19.99; The Container Store
6. A Well-Placed Mirror Opens Up Your Space.
You’d think that once my dressers entered the room, the space would feel smaller and more cramped. Thanks to these beauties from West Elm, my living-room-slash-bedroom actually feels more airy. The mirrored dressers reflect light coming in from the window and brighten the room. I also chose to hang my body-length mirror on the wall that faced into the room, which opens it up even more.
BUY NOW Over-The-Door Mirror, $12.99; The Container Store
7. Let The Room Evolve Over Time.
“Live with your new space and get familiar with it,” Lisa said. “Nothing is set; everything is capable of being changed.” This was the one piece of advice that resonated with me most. It’s easy to put pressure on yourself to get it right from the get-go. If you realize the way you organized something doesn’t actually fit your lifestyle, that’s fine. The best part about moving into a new space is playing with it, and if you don’t take it too seriously, that’s how the magic happens.
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