5 Things I Learned From Living In 90 Square Feet

Photo: Max Touhey/Curbed NY.
Could you live in an apartment that was only 90 square feet? What if it meant paying less than $1,000 a month in rent for a studio in the West Village, one of New York City's most expensive neighborhoods

Mary Helen Rowell has called this humble, 78-inch-wide abode home for two years now, and has become a pro at figuring out how to make even the tiniest of spaces work: She had a bed frame custom-built with extra storage and transformed outward-facing pipes into clothing hangers (there's no closet in the apartment, of course). Oh, and she shares a bathroom with her neighbor across the hall. It may seem like a crazy inconvenience, but Rowell admits that being confined to such a small room has completely transformed her opinions on what really matters in a home.

Ahead, she shares five tips she's learned from living in one of the smallest apartments you've ever seen.

1 of 5
Photo: Max Touhey/Curbed NY.
Marry Form And Function
"When you’re living in a small space, you have to consider form and function as equals. Consider it a balancing act: Your bookshelves can store a lot of crap, but when you look at them, you shouldn’t see crap. Use the things you love to hide the items you need but would rather not see every day. I keep my tools and cords, for example, in a bin nicknamed 'the garage' beside a Peter Lindbergh book — the joy the tome brings me balances out the need for a less-than-beautiful storage solution."
2 of 5
Photo: Max Touhey/Curbed NY.
Embark On An Organization Marathon
"One of my biggest takeaways from Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is to tackle organization head on. If you try to organize little bits at a time, you end up living in a half-finished space — which turns out to be even more discouraging than living in a pigsty.

"I use a storage service called MakeSpace to help with this one. Each season, I lay ALL of my clothes out on my bed. I then pick up each piece and decide what to keep for now, what to store for later, which items I’ll keep in the year-round rotation (this pile is actually smaller than you would think), and what to donate. Things like winter coats and boots are easy to categorize, but multi-season pieces like lightweight sweaters and cords can be tricky. You can’t keep everything all the time, so each item must fall into a category.

"Coming into spring, I’m thinking about which items will be stored as fall and winter. I’ll get my winter items ready to store with MakeSpace and swap it with my spring box from last year. Then, in a couple of months, I’ll be ready to store those mid-weight fall items and simply trade them out for summer! It feels amazing to get the pieces you’ve been wearing for months on end out of sight. And, when you get them back six months later, you can be excited by them again."
3 of 5
Photo: Max Touhey/Curbed NY.
Learn To Say Goodbye
"Saying goodbye to our possessions is hard. But, it is the most important lesson for living a big life on a small scale.

"The first step in being able to successfully say goodbye to material possessions is to recognize when something is done serving its purpose. As soon as you realize an object has overstayed its welcome — whether it's a book, a jacket, or a kitchen utensil — take another cue from Marie Kondo and tell it, 'thank you.' Once you acknowledge the way this item has served you, the more easily you can part with it. The good news? It gets easier every time.

"After you master saying goodbye, you will start to see new potential items with more clarity. Becoming hyper-aware of how your belongings affect your experience will help you cut down on the impulse purchases that might have gotten you here in the first place!"
4 of 5
Photo: Max Touhey/Curbed NY.
Respect Your Possessions
"For me, the initial organization was the hardest part. But, many people who have reached out to me for advice on how to get and stay organized admit that putting things back in their place after using them is their biggest downfall.

"The best way to break a bad habit, or create a new one — like always putting your items back where they belong — is to simply change your approach. Be mindful of your possessions and consider how they contribute to the overall purpose of your space. If something is out of place, it is essentially creating negative space — and no one wants that! If you kick your shoes off as soon as you walk in the door and don’t take the ten seconds to put them away, you’re basically sabotaging yourself. You’ll trip over them later or forget where they are, costing you more time and frustration than if you had just put them away in the first place."
5 of 5
Photo: Max Touhey/Curbed NY.
Live Deliberately
"It took me a long time to become comfortable identifying as a minimalist; I was worried that I wasn’t doing it right or still owned too many things. The truth is, your lifestyle is not defined by the things you live with, but by the way you live and the happiness it brings to yourself and others. I’d always thought that making such a marked choice about my home would be limiting, but it is actually the most liberating thing I’ve ever done."