How to survive in a tiny apartment or dorm

IKEA dorm design. Space saving tips. Credit: Creative Commons/IKEA
IKEA’s take on designing a dorm room for maximum efficiency. Credit: Creative Commons/IKEA

Living in a big city often means living in a small apartment. And while it would be great to come home to a house of zen, when space is scarce, living quarters are usually more cluttered than the chaotic city outside. But downsizing no longer has to be a dirty word. Metro spoke with real New Yorkers to find out their tips and tricks for maximizing space in tiny apartments.


Wall shelving from IKEA. Credit: Creative Commons/IKEA
Use your wall space with creative shelving. Credit: Creative Commons/IKEA

Linda Wang, a 21-year-old NYU graduate, shares a 300-square-foot studio with two other roommates in East Village.

“The most challenging part is finding privacy, especially when sharing a studio,” Wang says.

So how do three girls sharing one studio make it work? “We minimized furniture,” Wang says. The 300-square-foot studio contains only the essentials: a bunk bed, a futon, a portable closet and a table.

“We also store things in boxes and crates and put them in the closet or under the bed. We utilize shelf space and the doors,” she adds. The roommates hang hooks over both sides of their doors; the closet door hold purses on one side, a show rack on the other. The bathroom door is adorned with towels and a long mirror.

“When we had more furniture in here, I had to sacrifice accessibility to everything — if one person was studying at the table, they had to get up and move so I could open the fridge,” Wang says. “With less furniture, we don’t have that problem anymore.”



Jacob Ardron, a linebacker at Columbia University, shares a 160-square-foot dorm room with Nikolas Padilla, who plays defense tackle for the team.  So how do these growing boys keep from being space-starved? Ardron and Padilla have gotten creative with their living quarters by rearranging their room multiple times to find what works.

“We raised our beds up so we could fit dressers beneath them. We put in more shelves to add space for our TV and many fans. Basically we stacked shelves on top shelves,” Ardron says.

One of the simplest ways to maximize floor space is by utilizing wall space. Stacking shelves upon shelves or nightstand upon nightstand will open up plenty of floor space.

“The hardest thing to sacrifice,” says Ardron, “was a huge couch and a full-sized fridge.” For these college football players, their beds also serve as couches and the Columbia campus is their kitchen.


Small apartment decor. Credit: Creative Commons
You can live large in a small space. Credit: Creative Commons

Arlene Markowski, a wife and mother of two, moved with her family from a large house in Los Angeles to an apartment in Manhattan. The 1,100-square-foot apartment in Chelsea has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an all-purpose room and very little hallway space. The biggest challenge for this family is defining separate spaces within the confines of the existing floor plan.

“The living room and dining room are one space,” Markowski says. “So I had to make sure that I defined the spaces using lighting, carpeting and other furniture. The same is true for the bedroom. I also got rid of the end tables in the bedroom and instead put two small desks and shelving on either side of the bed in order to create personal study space.”

Buying furniture with multiple uses is another trick, she says. The apartment includes a couch that opens into a bed and a coffee table that transforms into a desk.

The family also eliminates clutter with a “no hoarding policy,” says Markowski. Old things have to be recycled, donated or thrown out before new things can come in.

“Honestly, we love living in a small space. I feel like it brings us closer both in proximity but also in relationship,” she says. “A small space gives us lots of chances to communicate, to share in what we’re going through and to build memories.  I feel like our family has become closer, more expressive and overall more appreciative of one another. Oh and did I say how grateful I am to not have more space to clean?”


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