Big dreams in tiny New York City spaces

Last Updated on July 7, 2021 by Christine Kaaloa

by Christine Ka’aloa
A New York resident’s reason for living in the city, surviving the small apartment lifestyle and the trade-off that makes it all worth it!


I am back from my stay in Hawaii… back to my New York lifestyle and living in a shoebox-sized apartment in Hell’s Kitchen , swallowed by a bustling, cramped and noisy city which won’t let me sleep, relax or …stretch.

It’s time for the seasonal re-assessing of one’s apartment and what needs tossing out, in order to live one step closer to the zen of “uncluttered” existence (*additionally, my sister is visiting NYC and staying with me; hence the inspiration).

Old clothes, VCR, a huge metal rack organizer, etc.. all make their way onto the landing stoop of my apartment building so that fellow neighbors can find recycled use for them.

Now breathe, Om…. S  P A C E.

my manhattan apartment bathroom
My small bathroom. Shower to the right, tucked away.

People tend to have slick and glossy impressions transof the average Manhattan apartment and spatial affordability.

…charming Lower Eastside brownstones, hip Soho lofts, regal Park Avenue high-rise condos with elevators and doormen, and warehouse-sized artist studios. Walk-in closets, elegant foyers AND…a living room!

Luxury apartments like these DO exist, with “luxury” as the cost-operative, trust-fund word. These spacious “movie set” digs typically range from $2,500- 6,000/month for a 1-3 bedroom space.  Yow!

An average  urban survivalist, like myself (artists, designers and fellow ladder-jumping transplants, who moved to NYC to follow their dream), lives their LARGE dreams from much simpler and tighter living quarters. For the out-of-town visitor or the aspiring resident,  this reality can spell- C.U.L.T.U.R.E  S.H.O.C.K.


But how can you not have a living room?


Believe me,  my apartment size is not my ideal.  But for a majority of New York City dwellers, the miniature apartment sizes come as no surprise; it simply means you must be resourceful, innovative and creative in your redefinition and design of your home environment.

my manhattan apartment kitchen
My Manhattan apartment kitchen

A common but peculiar trait among New Yorkers, is our “comparative curiosity” towards  Size .

Quickly scanning others’ apartment layouts like cat burglars the moment a door opens, we’re curious whether our neighbor has MORE space than us and if not,… how have they designed and acclimated their lifestyle to fit their compact nest?  

–    Is their kitchen is bigger?
–   Does their apartment get natural light, lack windows or have one window which opens to a brick wall?
–   Do they have a shower or the luxury of a tub?
–   … And DO they HAVE  a living room?

The ‘One size  fits  Small’  vs an ‘Irregular Fit.’

Apartments come in all sorts of odd shapes and configurations, from slanting ceilings and floors to small cubby recesses which squeeze in a makeshift kitchen or can potentially house a small dining table. There’s the infamous railroad apartment which i’ve only heard horror tales of and which makes all my roommates glad that their room comes with a door. Whatever the unique/off-beat layout challenges are, NYCers definitely live some interesting nip & tuck work-arounds.

Also, don’t think that everyone in the building has the same floor plan layout. The fact you’re in the same building just presents that illusion that your apartment must mirror the one across of you.. I just got back from visiting one of my neighbors tonight and realized she’s got an extra partitioned area for an office space; meanwhile, a neighbor below me has a larger kitchen, another had a larger bedroom,….  These are all incremental slights in the grand scheme of things but here, the pennies feel like they add up!

my new york apartment
Another view of my kitchen. There’s a weird angular cut at the far end by the window, which makes it hard to fit anything in that space. Had to resize the table to fit.


Why boast about living in Manhattan and  pay costly rent,  if it means squeezing into a cramped existence?

Why after 8 years am I still here in the same tiny apartment vs. “the larger and more tranquil apartment space” I yearn for and could probably find in Brooklyn or Queens? This was an ad I once placed for a roommate:

“Looking for a roommate to share a cozy 1 1/2 bedroom apt on the westside. We are in an EXCELLENT & IDEAL location in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen- near subways (C,E, 1, 9, N, R, W, B.D) and bars/restaurants, broadway theaters, post office, grocery stores,  public library…basically EVERYTHING!  Laundromat conveniently located on same block.

You will have YOUR OWN unfurnished 8’x10′  room (dorm-sized) with small closet.  The apt share is on a 5-flight walk-up of an old, but well-maintained and clean building. Full kitchen and shared bath.

Unfortunately, there is NO living room.”

I have had financial brokers, models/actresses, collegiates, etc… wanting this room at ANY cost.

Now what’s that all about?

Location Convenience.

To be living on this 13.4 mile isle of Manhattan is to be spoiled.

Everyone wants to live in Manhattan.

The reason is clear- proximity.

All of city life greets you the moment you step out your door.

You can hail a cab at 2 AM or grab a bagel from the local deli on the corner at 4 AM, order takeout from any one of the hundreds of restaurants in your five mile radius, jog everyday in Central Park, participate in all the free activities or weekend street fairs in the city AND  be within walking distance of your work place, auditions, classes, etc…

Yes, admittedly, we are big whiny babies and may feign an excuse when it comes to having to commute outside of the city to Queens, New Jersey or Brooklyn,… even if it means a seeing a  friend’s art opening or going to a party (even though when I lived in LA, I’d remember easily drive 3 hours just to get to one!)  The average NYC mentality is focused upon convenience and accessibility and this rules king to having space.

If you want peace, trees and an artsy crowd, move to Brooklyn. If you want to raise a family, hitch down in Queens. Cheap and sp-a-cious?… tip-toe it out to the Bronx, with a can of mace. But if you want to be in the “I Heart Buzz” action in the capital city of the world, then the Big Apple is where you must move and a shoebox-sized apartment is where you’ll learn to call Home!

Article to be continued in:  10 Insider Tricks to surviving the crunch of NYC apartments (NYC Survival Guide Pt II )


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