10 Tricks to re-designing your New York apartment

Last Updated on June 7, 2023 by Christine Kaaloa

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As a continuation to the NYC Survival Guide I: Big dreams in New York City and small spaces,  here are 10 Insider  tips and tricks which will help anyone moving or already moved to NYC, survive the compact and harried lifestyle of the Big Bad Apple.

Looking back to when I first moved New York City, nothing could have adequately prepared me for its mentality and  lifestyle. New Yorkers are a unique breed of urban warriors and survivalists with a career-focused, time-efficient and spatially-deprived mental training, which sets them into that “hardcore/hard-edged” category.

As a community however,  New Yorkers realize one unifying fact- they’re all in the same boat when dealing with spatial limitations (here’s some pics of my  Manhattan apartment). As such, there is a lot of “insider trading” that goes on and here are some basic starters…

10 Ways New Yorkers create space in their apartments:

1.  Dietary Rule: end bulk-spending habits.

Know your apartment’s storage capacity and purchase household items on an “as needed” basis.   Manhattan’s apartment and household habits favor “a lean diet” vs “stocking up”.

Think of it this way:

• Whatever you buy, you will have to physically carry home on foot (or via taxi) in snow, torrential downpour or sweat-drenched heat.
• You will require space to store your purchases and you can only fit “so much” into a cabinet before its door refuses to close.

With groceries (and because I share the refrigerator with my roommate), I make my purchases with the mental limit of having enough meals for ONE week.  As a pedetrian, this equates to two hand-carried grocery bags + a stuffed backpack.


2. Bunk beds are not only for “children under the age of 10”

Six of the seven roommates I’ve had (ages 23-30) at some point, used a bunk bed to maximize their room space, myself included. I will not go into the dynamics of trying to have sex on a bunk bed…but bunks make use of your vertical space. With your bed placed high and out of the way, you have space underneath to court either a mini lounge space, hanging closet or work/office space area. The “advanced adult” wanting to invest in their space as more than just transitional living quarters, however, might go with a Loft bed.

3. Systematize

There are two popular New Yorker cliches:

“Time is money

New Yorkers are impatient

New Yorkers like to gain a lead advantage in everything they do  and so they create efficient systems for  their routines and ways they access things. Your organizational habits will either add or detract from these navigational chores.

Minimizing obstacles at home, creates a life of time-saving sanity. Organize and systematize your habits and keep things in accessible and “specific” places. Label and color-code if you have to.  Things DO get lost in small spaces and when you’re in a rush, it creates unnecessary stress and panic to have to hunt for things. Weave a system of ease and fluidity into your home regime and you will gain your leading edge over the competition.


4. Look for space-saving solutions

There are many creative space-saving solutions which will help you organize and resculpt your apartment to maximize space. The Container Store, Bed, Bath & Beyond and IKEA are great stores which offer cheap to fair  prices for anything from furniture, installable closet/shelf organizers, storage containers, hanging shoe racks, etc….  IKEA (located in New Jersey), offers FREE weekend bus commutes to/from Port Authority (42nd Street) station in Manhattan. Also, websites like www.apartmenttherapy.com or www.furniture-for-small-spaces.com can offer some smart / simple ideas for design.

5. Downsize

Invest in ” compact magic genies” and have your household items handle multiple tasks vs. just one .  “Three-in-One”, “Versatile” “Convertible” “Collapsible” and “Multi-purpose” are your keysearch words. An old clothes trunk works as a coffee table, sofa seat and storage device. What about a juicer/blender combo or a steamer/iron?

Secondly, downsize and convert.  I loved my CD-VHS-DVD box collections with their pictures and summaries. Today, I have DVDs stored in a zippered wallet-album case. My CDs are all converted to mp3s and stored on my laptop and iPod. This saves space and minimizes the dust collection!

6. Throw on a new coat of paint

Paint color into your environment and enhance the mood and energy of your abode. Color can also sculpt your perception of space. For example, light colors- they tend to open, reflect light and uplift spaces, making them feel larger and brighter; meanwhile dark colors tend to absorb light and make for a more cozy, fetus feel.  You decide…


7. Engage in karmic recycling

Clean out your apartment and make periodic donations to your neighborhood Salvation Army or better yet, your neighbors themselves! In Manhattan, there’s a fine line between freeganism and consumerism which I call  karmic recycling. Surprisingly common, NYCers openly partake in this activity of rummaging through other peoples’ rejects and the recycle is highly appreciated. In our building, the second floor landing is our donation center and one of my roommates furnished 75% of her room like this and with classically refurbished chic! Donate with goodwill and it will come back tenfold…just remain aware of tip #8.


8. Assess wants vs. needs

Consumer life in NYC is about making choices which will inevitably either create space or add clutter your apartment.  NYC spaces offer limited storage capacity and closet space, so if you’re a “collector”, you’ll have to choose…

A friend-of-a-friend recently moved into a cozy studio apartment (approx $1700/mo) on the lower east side overlooking a popular park. She brought a U-Haul van packed FULL with a queen-sized bed, sofa, large bulky furniture and boxes to the ceiling. The space had a medium-sized closet and a few kitchen cabinets; needless to say, much of what she brought will end up going to the trash. Aiyi!


9. Get out of the apartment or out of Manhattan

New Yorkers don’t like spending too much time in their apartments (go figure…). They know it’s necessary to get out from time-to-time… not only from their apartments but out of the city. So get away from the craziness of the city and explore a place, where grass grows greener and in a natural environment or where you can see the other 7/8ths of sky.

How much to do want to spend to get out of

$50+ :Explore a weekend getaway : anywhere starting from the suburbs of Brooklyn and Queens to  Hamptons, Jersey shores, Martha’s Vineyard or the Catskills.

$20-$50:  day trip to D.C., Connecticut, Boston, Maryland, etc… The infamous Chinatown bus and Bolt bus offers free Wi-Fi and cheap RT tickets at a bargain basement price of under $40!

0-$20 range: just get out of the apartment and explore the plethora of NYC options, from heading out to Jones Beach (via LIRR + bus $16.50)  to Coney Island (Q line on the metro); visiting The Cloisters; find a free concert in Central Park or as my roommate has suggested,  free kayaking up at the Downtown Boathouse. Be creative!

central park events in manhattan

10. Get a good mattress

This is recent advice from a friend on Facebook, Jim Taylor: Expect that much of your time will be spent either at work or outside doing things in the city. And as he puts it, “the one thing you REALLY need for your peace of mind is a great bed – as long as you sleep well, the space is irrelevant…”

Anyone else have any great tips
or tricks that they use for surviving the New York space crunch? Feel free to add your ideas below!

Related article: Big dreams in New York City and small spaces. ( NYC Survival Guide Pt I)

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