When I was apartment hunting, I made a long list of all the things I wanted in a new place. I wasn’t sure how much I’d have to compromise on for the very low rent I was willing to pay. I was hoping for:
- a separate bedroom
- a separate kitchen with a window for ventilation and dishwashing view
- a dishwasher
- outdoor space
- a big refrigerator
- a proper stove
- a safe neighborhood
- walking distance to a coffee shop
I wound up in a very cozy 230 square foot “efficiency” in Eagle Rock/Highland Park. It’s a studio with a kitchen area, an IKEA wardrobe, and a roomy bathroom with a shower and a sliding door. There’s no separate bedroom or kitchen; it’s not really a walkable neighborhood for shops; the stove is not quite a full one. However, the place is incredibly well-laid out. There are wonderful boat galley touches I never would have thought of myself — a single towel hook in an ideal spot, a window that opens out with a crank so it’s easy to reach, a single wall-mounted unit that serves as air conditioner, heater, and fan without the noise of a window unit. The place did come with a mini dishwasher! And, of course, I got a private deck with a teeny garden.
This is not my first time in a tiny apartment. My friends and family always remind me of the “studio” I lived in after I graduated from college. It was located in Berkeley off of Shattuck Ave. on the ground floor of a small apartment building. The small, 9’x 12′ space was directly behind the carport, and I was always frightened by the sound of my landlady driving in on a Friday night with an alacrity that indicated her tipsiness. The water hookups were clearly meant for a laundry room, but the landlord instead rented it out as an apartment. The “kitchenette” consisted of a microwave and a “convection oven” — a plug-in glass pot with a fan that I used to crisp up takeaway katsudon purchased from the nearby Japanese grocery store, Musashi. It always smelled of rancid oil. The bathroom was tiny and expedient—you could wash your hands while sitting on the toilet. The closet was a cutout space in the wall with a bar for hanging clothes, and the room itself barely fit my full-sized futon and not much else. My mother was horrified by the place, but it was the first time I’d ever lived alone and I didn’t mind it. It was only $500 a month.
So I’m fine in a small space. With this new place, I knew I didn’t want to spend a fortune on rent. But I didn’t expect to appreciate living in a tiny apartment as much as I do now. There’s less to vacuum, which means that I actually do vacuum. I can do the whole place with a handheld, battery-powered stick vac while taking a ten minute eye break from my computer. It’s also harder to lose things, as I have less stuff and there are fewer spots to misplace them. Though I’m a person who’s never had much claustrophobia, I think of the neighborhood as my living room, and I hike its rosemary- and cactus-lined roads as the sun makes its way over the hills in the morning. When I take a break, I inspect the plants on my deck under a canopy of giant eucalyptus. Though my abode is small, my world feels expansive.
I think a lot about how to make the most of this space with the least amount of stuff.
I love this small corner double sink. To save counter space, I got the MUJI adjustable stainless dish rack with an extra slim cutlery basket which is about the thickness of a deck of cards. They drip right into the sink. Behind the sink is this weird triangular space which happened to be the perfect size for this IKEA Rågrund triangular bamboo shelf. I chose the four-shelf version because building up helps me maximize storage in a tiny space.
On the very top shelf is a MUJI stainless wash bowl, which I use to thoroughly clean my greens. I hate trying to wash greens in a tiny bowl — greens want space to be swished around in before a soak that lets the dirt fall to the bottom. When I’m done washing the vegetables, I dump the water into a bucket I have outside; when I’ve collected enough, I use it to water the plants.
On the second shelf are some of the glass containers I’ve emptied since moving into the apartment. I’m trying to minimize the amount of packaged foods I buy, in part because I want to eat healthier, but also in part because I don’t want to bring another jar into my house only to toss it into the recycling bin. So I bought one jar of jam, and now I use that jar to store homemade jam, which I’ve just started making. (Good god, why did I ever give precious artisanal jam makers my money? Homemade jam is the easiest thing in the world, especially if you don’t bother preserving properly. I don’t bother sterilizing because I refrigerate the jam and eat it before it spoils.) Anyway, I’ve been cooking down frozen organic raspberries with chopped pear for pectin and a tiny bit of sugar (1 part sugar to 4 parts berries), finishing with some vanilla extract. It’s better than anything I can buy (because it’s made to perfectly suit my palate), I can cook it while I putter around the apartment, and I save another jar from entering the manufacturing/waste cycle.
Magnets also help tremendously by lifting objects off the counter and placing them on the walls. I have a magnetic timer which I use constantly for toasting bread in my half-size oven, brewing tea, etc. The oven mitt is a San Jamar Kool-Tek Puppet with a magnet in the tag, and behind that is a magnetic silicone trivet I took from my dad. Under my friend Hee Jin Kang‘s photo of a cherished memory of summer in Hudson, I’ve got my magnetic knife strip. I LOVE a magnetic knife strip. You can see at a glance all of your tools, and whenever you need one, it’s easy to grab. I don’t know why you would store your knives any other way. Also, people who keep knives free in drawers are sadists (or masochists).
The oven is half-size. Before I found this apartment, I thought for sure I’d get a Breville Smart Oven, which I’d coveted since writing about it for The Sweethome. Since my apartment oven is already kind of a like a toaster oven, I didn’t have to. Half sheet baking pans don’t fit, so instead, I bought two of these Vollrath quarter sheets, which I now feel are indispensable in the kitchen—especially if you cook for one or two. I love how easy it is to clean the small quarter sheets, even in my extra small sink. I’d recommend them to anyone living alone. They’re perfect for cooking off just a few discs of frozen cookie dough, or roasting a single head of cauliflower.
I’ve purchased a lot of brilliant space savers from MUJI. I appreciate how thoughtful the designs are and how they make things that are minuscule by American standards. But my favorite item of all is probably this mini dust box, which I use as a countertop trash can. The most genius thing about it is that it has a rectangular metal ring inside (there’s a picture on the MUJI product page). You take that out, thread any small plastic bag through (I like the leftover bags from the produce section), and snap the ring in place for a super neat, Carmen Carrera-worthy tuck. As you can see, it’s not much bigger than a large yogurt container (which is what I use to collect compost scraps), and given the emphasis I’ve been placing on reducing waste and packaged foods, I find it’s really all I need. I love that I can leave it out on the counter instead of having to lean down and open the cabinet under the sink when I have trash.
I’ve got more to say about the rest of the apartment, but I should probably clean it up a bit before I post pics of the place here. Which may mean you’ll never see it. But, hey, we all need goals.