Expert advice on living in small and simple spaces
Erin Boyle, writer and photographer behind the Reading My Tea Leaves blog, joined writer Jura Koncius for a recent online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Most of the time it’s just me in my small house. Sometimes I think about getting rid of all the extra plates and glasses and such, but then house guests come to stay and everything ends up in use, so I keep them. (I hate plastic cups and paper plates.)
How do you balance what you and your family need every day, versus what you might need when others come?
A: There are many days when I wish we could have just the number of dishes we need for our family, but of course being able to welcome folks into our house is a lovely thing to be able to do!
I believe in striking a balance between being “prepared for anything” and not feeling overcrowded. So maybe a full set of dishes works, but three extra guest towels and four sets of sheets aren’t necessary!
Q: I have an 800-square-foot house and a toddler. Any tips for controlling clutter, especially the extra car seats, bikes, strollers, etc.? I have no garage and feel as if I could drown in toys. I am trying to maximize vertical space; any other tips?
A: Having kids definitely means contending with a fair amount of clutter even for those us of who try to keep it at bay. We’re in less than 500 square feet with two kids, so we’ve started from a place of trying to do without as much as possible. For things we can’t live without, we’ve done our very best to clear places in closets and under beds for stashing unsightly gear. If there’s something I don’t mind looking at, I’ll take that out of storage and put something less attractive (a car seat, for instance) into that spot.
We’ve also gotten creative: a small scooter instead of a bike, for instance, takes up much less storage space.
Q: I’m curious about your views on placeholder objects. When you’re just starting out, is it better to have a gallery wall of pieces that you’re not totally in love with, or a sad blank wall with just one or two things on it? Any ideas for how to fill a space inexpensively until you find those forever pieces (wall, couch, coffee table, etc.)?
A: I always opt to build slowly rather than to fill a space with things I don’t really love. That said, it’s understandable that you don’t want your space to be sad! This is one of the main reasons that I’ve opted to buy secondhand furniture inexpensively.
A good example right now is my kitchen table. It’s not my favourite object in my home, but it’s functional and practical and looks good enough to work until I find something I love more. Because I bought it second-hand from a small consignment shop, I know I’ll likely be able to sell it again for exactly what I paid for it when I’m ready for it to find a new home.
In our current space, we don’t have the space for bedside table, but we do have the space for a small wooden crate. It’s not an expensive design object, but it serves a functional purpose of keeping a cup of water and a few books next to bed and it matches my esthetic. Even better: if we ever find ourself with more room, it’ll still be useful for another storage purpose.
For small objects and decor, I’ve often gone the route of even more temporary fixes: a few dried flowers taped to the wall look pretty while I’m building my art collection; a poster tacked up with bulldog clips can stand in until I have the resources to get it professionally framed; a little washi tape and a vintage postcard brighten up a dark corner, etc.
I have an 800-square-foot house and a toddler. Any tips for controlling clutter?