WFH Solutions for Small Spaces

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Well, it’s September and the kids are back in school, if you can call it that. By now, you’ve probably found a work-from-home solution that applies to your situation. Given, of course, that you do have work to do. It doesn’t escape me, the irony of celebrating Labor Day with many Americans outside of work. Or celebrating our hard work, when parents are shouldering schoolwork without pay for the past few months. Or mothers who have never been paid, ever, for that matter.

Regardless, we find ways and solutions. I remember in our own home, when shut-downs first happened, we thought this would be a temporary thing. “It would only be for two weeks,” we said. We made work stations around the only desk that existed in our small space. Mike had his desk in the corner, Kirse took the dining table and laid out the laptop, two monitors, and keyboard that she took home from work, and I sidled next to a side-table in the living room that could barely seat my Microsoft Surface Pro (pictured above). If I needed privacy for a recording or online meeting, I would escape to our tiny balcony and cross my fingers that the garbage truck would arrive an hour later than normally scheduled.

Small spaces in particular make working from home quite tricky. Where does a person create separation between work and home when there is no office space? How to isolate when the living room is the bedroom next to the kitchen where a significant other needs to make lunch? Where does a parent take a call, when there are no doors in the home and an ever-curious child has an everlasting list of questions? How can you keep a professional face on a Zoom call when you see your two youngest kids fighting in the corner of your eye? Lastly, how does one shut off for the evening, when the office desk is always visible in the home?

Thankfully, those who live in small spaces have had plenty of practice with making do. I am always amazed by tiny home dwellers’ creativity when it comes to maximizing a space. For WFH solutions in particular, I’ve heard pod-casters lock themselves in closets for a bit of sound-proofing. I’ve seen folding screens and shower curtains hiding desks in bedroom corners so that a house can actually feel like a home. I’ve read about people using their kitchen island as a make-shift standing desk, and I feel for people who gave up clothing and a dresser to create space for a computer.

Now, with kids schooling at home, parents have the added complexity of creating spaces for their little ones to thrive in. Not to mention, balancing different schedules and timelines, wearing the hat of parent, teacher, tutor, and money-maker, as well as logging into Zoom calls for the kids and the self.

None of this is easy, let alone sustainable. I, do, however find hope in the fact that we are all trying to make do. I want to believe that tomorrow it will be easier. That our reality is waiting for us just around the corner. Meanwhile, I hope these short stories help others feel a little less alone. And for those who haven’t quite found WFH solutions in their small space, perhaps the addition of one of these would make all the difference.

For those wishing to read more, I suggest these WFH solutions by 600sqftandababy and the idea of taking a Gap Year for the little ones.

The planner is from Smitten on Paper.

Laundry Hampers for Small Spaces

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Leave it to me to worry incessantly about finding the right laundry hamper. In the name of transparency, I will admit to having a small break-down over my own laundry bag conundrum. The most mundane thing has caused me to cry as we walked away from Ikea with a solution that was perfectly functional, but definitely not eco-conscious or beautiful.

I have owned the same hamper since I moved out of my parent’s home at the age of 22 years old. I have never upgraded, even after moving four times since. Even after getting married. Even after getting a job and earning a decent living. Because when you are indebted to a system, you have no time to hone in on hampers.

But with the recent events turning my focus inward on where I spend most of my days (home), I can’t help but notice these little details. How the old rattan basket that I proudly bought at Walmart as a symbol of my grown-up-ness is fraying at one end. How twigs have unraveled and fallen off, leaving a little opening at the right-most edge. How it has sat patiently in the middle of the bathroom floor, in between the toilet and the tub, underneath the old towel rod that’s no longer there, waiting for its turn to be noticed. Silently, it endured the slamming of its rickety lid, the careless tossing of dirty clothes into the deep abyss, the merciless plop of its entire being in front of the washing machine. It has weathered weekly abuse, without so much as a peep.

Finally, it was noticed. And thanked for its services. Its time to retire has come.

Its replacement, however, is no easy find. With its retirement came a long list of expectations for the one that would take its place. A few of my requirements, I share below:

I no longer wished to have something wedged between the toilet and tub.
I no longer wanted the laundry to be in plain sight. Which meant it had to somehow fit in the narrow corner next to the washer hidden by a barn door. This narrow space happened to be only 9″ wide.
I didn’t want a hamper that would attract used (but still reusable) clothing until laundry day.
I didn’t want something pricey.
But it had to be eco-conscious and beautiful to look at.
Let alone functional.

I strike hard bargains. I can attest to the fact that, for me, curation is emotionally draining work. Anything that falls short of perfect is painfully inadequate.

What’s the big deal?, you say. It’s just a hamper.

However, nothing in my life is “just” anything. Belittling decisions such as these reduce their importance, which then reduces the end-product of our dwellings. In order to avoid ending up with “less-than”, I need to do the work now. Assuming these things to be trivial would be a mistake. Perhaps that’s a personality thing, but to me, everything is embedded with meaning and purpose, so no, it’s not just a hamper.

The hamper is a symbol holding all hope that I can have my dream home with nothing more than a few pennies to my name. Every item I own is imbued with relentless reserve, discipline and hard work. A reward for my penny-pinching. A sign that it’ll all be okay.

So, yes, I had a break-down at Ikea. After much research, I arrived at the store to find that the one I didn’t want but had come to terms with was sold out. I watched as a customer took away the floor model, having reached it mere seconds before I did. I felt my heart sink, my hopes of a good home dwindle. I walked around for thirty minutes debating on buying the same laundry hamper in black, instead of white. I bought it, resisting the alternative which was to purchase the hamper of my dreams for five times the price. Silent tears fell as I walked to my car.

I’m not saying we should care so much about first world problems such as these. But I hope this post draws attention to the fact that we are human. There will be moments where we will be sad about laundry hampers. Where small space living limitations make life a little harder to live. When decisions have to be made and you need to make do with the one you don’t want. I go through it, too. Like all things, it ends up being okay.

Silver linings still reside in the daydreams.

Below are some of my favorite laundry hampers for small spaces, including the Ikea one that ended up making the cut and entering our home.

  1. Canvas Laundry Bin on Wheels.
  2. A Hanging Linen Laundry Bag.
  3. A Japanese Foldable Hamper.
  4. A Washable Paper Laundry Bag.
  5. A Narrow Ikea Hamper.
  6. A Laundry Station and Hamper.

Small Space Living

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Tip 15: Go without a wardrobe closet.

We only have one closet in our entire home. It is inconveniently located underneath the stairs on the first floor. We rent out the first floor commercial space and live upstairs, where there are no closets – alas, not even doors. Which means any storage occurs in the first floor Harry Potter room.

In our bathroom, we have an inlaid nook, where a short, waist-high cabinet was placed by the previous owner. Likewise, there is a rod positioned there, which I would assume is for hanging clothes, exposed to all. As someone who dislikes visual clutter, I really dislike the idea, though we did try it for some time. Since we also don’t own a towel rod, we’ve designated where our clothes would hang as the place to hang-dry our towels instead. Which means, there is no place to hang clothes upstairs.

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And while the solution seems to easily be, get a wardrobe upstairs, we’ve decided to go without. I’ve hung what few fashion items I own in that closet under the stairs. My most oft used items go in the bathroom underneath that aforementioned cabinet, along with the underwire and underwear (pictured above). I have a handful of tees that I cycle through, which goes in the narrow drawer under the sink, next to my skin care routine and a few jewelry items (as seen below).

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Of course, I’ve done my fair share of searching for beautiful wardrobe closets that I would gladly welcome into my space, if not for the sole fact that I value my space too much to relinquish it. In case it’s helpful to others who are looking to get a wardrobe or dresser, here’s are a few clothes storing options that I find to be functional, but also, minimalist.

+ A Bamboo Wardrobe

+ A Japanese Clothing Stand

+ A Mobile Closet

+ A Full-On Armoire

+ A Modular Rack.

Small Space Living

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Tip 14: Forgo the coffee table.

We have yet to corral a coffee table into our living room. Erm, what we designated in our minds as the living room. In reality, I’m referring to a corner of our small space that our neighbors decided would better fit as a bedroom for them. Regardless of the designation, the room where we have a couch and a projector has yet to hold a coffee table.

I just haven’t  come into agreement with one.

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I used to own a coffee table. It was a big and bulky thing that I came across at a consignment store when I was first (and finally!) moving out of my parents home – at the ripe age of twenty-three. I rationalized to myself its bulkiness, saying that the solid wood meant that it would last. “Heavy-duty” was the word I used, when explaining the table to Mike that evening. I convinced him to accompany me the next day to “look at it”, but really I meant “pick it up and take it home”.

It had drawers (two in fact) for storing things. The upper drawer was topped with glass, so that you could look in on the display. It always felt cluttered though, so all it did was collect dust. The bottom drawer was worse. It collected junk. If things disappeared, that would be the first place I would look.

What’s more, when we moved into our small space, a 900-square-foot loft without any doors, the coffee table we owned took up what felt like half of the living room. Since it was a solid wood table, without legs or airiness beneath, it made our space seem divided and small(er). Plus the dark colored wood – an almost black-grey kind of brown – absorbed much of the natural light.

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We ended up donating it to a family in need, which was its only saving grace. But I’ve been hesitant to add a coffee table again since the trauma of criss-crossing between the guilt I felt for getting rid of it and the hatred I felt for its unbecoming qualities.

I suppose today’s post about forgoing a coffee table originates from negative experiences with mine. We have been making do with a tiny side-table, which I also have half a mind to donate. At least it’s easily movable to the corner of the room, allowing both of us to lay out a yoga mat in front of the couch.

I do prefer the flexibility of a side table. In fact, I’ve considered multiple flexible options in lieu of a coffee table, such as ottomans and foot stools in the form of tree stumps.

Below are a few contenders, in case you are also searching.

+ A camp stool – for the sole purpose of putting tired feet up onto something. I love this stool because you can fold it up and stash it against the wall or behind a console, for a less cluttered look.

+ Maple nesting tables, of the stackable variety, to reduce real estate when not in use.

+ A mushroom tree stump, for holding a drink or two. Bringing natural elements in, without buying more houseplants.

+ A step stool, which has dual-use for shorties such as myself.

+ Actual ottomans, in a rich sienna leather. Extra seating when gatherings resume post-COVID.

Small Space Living

Tip 13: Mason Jar and Ceramic Pitcher Vases

The one thing about living in a tiny home is that there is not much storage room. It isn’t such a problem when there’s not much to store, and for some people, therein lies the rub. I have friends who are affronted by the suggestion of living life without simple “essentials”. Case in point: vases. On the flip side, I have other friends who roll their eyes at such frivolity. Both sides get along just fine with each other and that’s the whole point. It doesn’t matter much which camp you sit in as long as whatever lifestyle you have matches your space. Well, rather, whatever space you have matches your lifestyle.

If I am being completely honest, I own one vase. It’s a tall, cylindrical, long-stemmed glass vase that was given to me by a friend from dental school years ago. I’ve tried to de-clutter it a handful of times, but to no avail. It holds no more than 6 tulips, and funny enough, I have never used it. I suppose this means de-cluttering it definitely requires a revisit…

Which, in my opinion, puts me in the latter camp. When flowers find themselves in our home, I am more likely to grab a mason jar or a ceramic pitcher that we bought during our honeymoon in New Zealand than that darn vase. I have an affinity for assigning twenty functions to household items, if possible, so both solutions actually make me appreciate the bouquet more. There’s something gleeful about re-purposing stuff. Maybe THAT’s why I never use my actual vase. It’s too singular in purpose thus making it unattractive.

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Either way, look. It doesn’t matter whether you like a lot of stuff or a little stuff. It matters more that you love what you do have and use them often and well. It’s important that your things are beautiful in your eyes, even if it’s “just” a mason jar in other people’s eyes. To you, it could be a storage for bulk items, a container for a new candle, a get-together-party-favor holding your famous enchilada sauce, a jar holding homemade jam, a refreshing water glass (or lemonade or wine), or a vase. Maybe I’ve spent too long making do with what I’ve got. It sure as hell isn’t a bad way to live.

Nothing gives me more joy making something out of nothing – vases included.

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Thank you to Sonia for the lovely flowers. 

If you happen to be a vase person, East Fork Pottery is releasing a new bud vase today at 12pm EST. Hand-thrown in their beautiful soapstone glaze, they are a perfect addition to a ‘minimalist’ home.

Small Space Living

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

Tip 12: Introducing Color

For the past few years, I have been quite averse to introducing color into my life. Not that my life has been any less colorful. It’s just, I learned through my de-cluttering of closets  that a minimalist earns more success by sticking to a neutral palette. And it’s true. I’ve lived a simplified life that has allowed me to blossom in other, more prioritized aspects by sticking to a curated few guidelines: Less is more, clutter-free is productive, and neutral reigns supreme.

Prior to my minimalism journey, I was a person in love with color. My closet was an exploding rainbow tucked into drawers. My duvet cover was a painting printed on fabric, and I myself painted and hung up my art on the walls. I had a hodge-podge of jewelry and accessories and my signature bag was Kate Spade – the funky kind. But when I graduated from dental school with a huge student debt, I found all of that to be overwhelming – which is what initially led me to de-clutter, whittling down all I owned to nothing but white, black, brown and grey. And for three years, that decision and lifestyle carried me through some very tough times. For that, I am grateful.

After what I would consider to be a wild success with my loan repayment journey, we are finding ourselves entering a new stage in life – one wherein I do have a little more space to allow a tiny bit of myself back in. And when I turned to making the house a home these past few months, the items I was attracted to had, well, color.

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Which is what this post is about. Introducing color is absolutely scary for me. Mostly because, I have found that color tires the eyes. It disrupts the space. It can be loud and encroach on the mind. And to be honest with you, I will get sick of a color after a while. That’s just the way it is. Unlike whites which last forever (especially with the help of bleach), colors will likely only be loved for a few years. They will fade, both physically and metaphorically. And for a very long time, this fact is what stopped me from introducing color back into my home and my closet. Because I didn’t have money to waste on a few year’s worth of joy.

But what I’ve learned is that, life without joy is not really living. I keep re-learning that intentional living is as much the frivolous little things as the journey to get there.

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There will be many a blog space and minimalist person chanting the pros of an all-white space. I mean, Jenni Kayne has certainly proven the timelessness of blanched walls and bleached linens. And small spaces can appear larger with white everything. But the truth of the matter is, we all have a calling to certain colors. Who’s to say that a formula fits all? There are colors that, for whatever reason, are subconsciously reminiscent of a previous lifetime – and for every person, these colors are different. In fact, for the same person, these colors change over time. Whatever the science is behind all of this, I am going to say that as a small space occupant and minimalist writer, I am giving permission  (mostly to myself) to introduce color.

Everyone’s tolerance will be different, and one should aim for the amount of color that works for their particular space, but if you are like yours truly and are hesitant (or afraid), may I suggest the following guidelines that have helped me?

  • Start with a section of the color wheel.
  • Begin with smaller items; Accessories in blue rather than a full-on velveteen couch.
  • Choose “color neutrals”, as coined by my dear friend when speaking about this Parachute bedding of ours. An undoubtedly terra cotta color, but its closeness to brown makes it more neutral. Other color neutrals would be seashore blue or dusty rose, a pale yellow or olive green.

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  • Start not necessarily by adding color, but by knowing your emotions toward certain colors. Which ones are exhaustingly loud? Which are depressing or make you moody? Which ones give you energy?
  • Don’t choose a color because of a trend. Trends will change come next season.
  • Before making the purchase, find similar examples online and check-in on how they make you feel.
  • Lastly, follow your gut reaction. You know more than you think.

For the curious, the wool pillows are from Territory Design

Small Space Living

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

Tip 11: Finding Cable Solutions in Media Consoles

I am really adverse to adding furniture to our small space, especially if it entails taking up floor space. It pains me to clutter up a home, and for this reason I have been fighting the urge to add anything but a couch to our living room. So why did I buy a media console?

To be honest, the media console stemmed from my contempt regarding cables. I wrote prior about how I detest the sight of wires running along walls like snakes, connecting different gadgets throughout the home to each other so that they may work in harmony. It isn’t the tech itself that I despise. It’s the inability to make the tech look neat and tidy and clean.

Currently, we have an amp near the kitchen area that connects to a projector behind the couch that wires to two speakers and a record player, and somewhere in the vicinity sits a Switch console. Don’t ask me how they interplay with each other. The moral of my story is that the unsightly array of wires drives me crazy. And we came down to the solution of trading our five speaker system and amp with a sleeker, minimalist pair of Sonos 5 speakers (in white, of course), which can plug directly into the record player and the projector. Wire management is the name of the game here.

And with a media console, I would have the ability to hide both speakers behind sliding doors. I could connect them to the record player that sits atop, and run the wires out of holes around the back where a plug remains hidden. The Switch consoles and controls can also be tucked safely inside, and the only thing to hide is a single wire connecting the projector to one of the Sonos 5 speakers. Everything moves from the kitchen to the living space and it brings me such peace to know that, finally, the cables can be nearly invisible, even if it means at the expense of floor space.

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However, outfitting a home with media consoles that are sustainably sourced or ethically made is near impossible, barring the case that you know of a particular woodworker who would be willing to custom create you a shelving unit at an affordable price or that you do woodwork yourself. Thankfully, West Elm provides a few options that was aligned with a mid-century style. The particular one we bought was a narrow and short (48″) low profile console which was barely deep enough to house the speakers. All of the wood is FSC-certified and therefore sustainable sourced and the product is a fair trade product. Additionally, it is GREENGUARD gold certified.

There were only a few things I did not like about the console. First, it’s very narrow, so if you were considering hiding a few vinyls behind the sliding doors, then you’ll be out of luck. However, it holds coffee table books well. Secondly, the color was a bit darker than pictured, which isn’t too much of a bad thing. All furniture from West Elm comes with white glove service which is a mandatory additional fee, but the service was actually very good. Plus the delivery came two days from ordering, a few weeks in advance from when we would get the speakers.

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Speaking of the Sonos 5 speakers, we used a perk for being a healthca[;’pre worker during this time, as Sonos is offering a discount of 20% to all medical professionals and first responders. To learn more about potential COVID-19 perks for certain professionals, check out my post here. It could serve to be a very frugal opportunity until the end of 2020.

Ethical Furniture and Home Goods

I know that ethical and sustainable options are few and far between when it comes to home goods. While slow fashion is starting to garner attention, slow homes are lagging behind. Here, I list a few of my favorite go-to sources.

Furniture

Home Goods

Small Space Living

Tip 10 // Hide the remote control

When it comes to small space living, it becomes important for a neatnik such as myself to have a few simple solutions regarding clutter. Small spaces can feel overwhelmingly full much quicker than larger spaces, and neatniks can feel overwhelmed much quicker than carefree individuals. Rules such as keeping surfaces clear or walls white help tremendously in creating a peaceful sanctuary for mindful living. Whereas a regular sized home may house a grand clock over the fireplace, for example, a small space home would be better off sticking to bare walls.

As a minimalist living in a tiny home, the importance of these basic ‘rules’ becomes magnified. I am not a naturally tidy person. However, I am an introvert who does not like an excess of stimuli and who works most efficiently out of a space without distractions. Therefore, I work diligently in order to maintain the environment that lets me thrive. Which leads me to the conversation of hiding remote controls.

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I am greatly averse to tech because of the endless amount of wires, routers, chargers, connections, et cetera that come with them. I like the devices themselves, if only they could be invisible and not need to be attached to something to communicate. As you can see here, I try with all my might to disguise mangy cables and the like. I mean, we don’t even have a TV because I did not want anything bulky hanging on our walls. Instead, we have a portable projector that creates a screen on our wall bigger than any TV we could buy but remains non-existent when not in use … a win-win situation for us both.

Unfortunately, a projector still requires wires to hook up to speakers and power. It also came with a remote control. This is the only remote control we own, which is already quite the statement considering the number of controls my parents have. It’s quite tiny too, but it still felt like a visual nuisance, until now.

We’ve decided to stash the remote control in a place unseen. Instead of always looking for it (sometimes it would be on the kitchen island, on the dining table, on the projector itself, on top of the speaker, etc.) and instead of always being an eyesore (because previously it belonged on the tiny side table), I am happy to say that it has a designated spot out-of-sight. With the help of two pieces of velcro that we had lying around in the garage, we decided to velcro the control underneath the side table that it’s supposed to sit on. The project was hardly a project at all. We simply cut a small piece of velcro and placed the felt-type part on the remote and the scratchy-part underneath the table.

Now our surfaces are clear of clutter, our remote control is safely stashed in it’s proper place, and peacefulness has been restored.

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I know this may seem less dramatic than I make it sound, but I cannot emphasize how important small details such as these are to creating an intentionally curated home. Simple solutions in small spaces bring me such joy. I wanted to write about it as yet another example that storage solutions does not always lie in buying storage containers, as more begets more. There are equally easy solutions that can be found with a bit of resourcefulness and creativity. Most of the time, these are solutions that save you money. And of course, there is always the option of getting rid of. If you think about it, a remote control is quite unnecessary since the projector sits right behind the couch and every button you’d need is within arm’s reach. Whereas most people would think that purchasing a basket to stash the control in would be the better solution, I would argue that it goes against curation as a whole.

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