i’ve been wanting to share a post about urban living, and how we’ve made a 2 bedroom apartment in new york city work for our family of 5. we’ve been in this space for almost 3 years, and since questions around city living seem to be asked a lot these days, i thought i’d share what we’ve learned and how we manage. also, i have a lot of opinions on the matter, so get ready. ;)
i first want to start with a disclaimer, because what can work for one family may not work for another, and when people compare urban life to suburban or rural life, i just don’t think that makes sense. it’s all apples and oranges, honestly. pros and cons to both. they couldn’t be more different and i don’t believe one is better than the other. it depends on the atmosphere, the space, the preferences, the season of life, and most importantly, the people. some people might say our apartment is really big, some people might say it’s way too small. it feels just right for us, and i’m just super grateful for it.
we don’t really know much else besides city living with our kids, and so far, we love it. there’s this great saying around new york about how 500 square feet in new york city is bigger than 500 square feet anywhere else. ha! i believe it. in a nutshell, while we’re in about 700 square feet of space, our apartment is really narrow but long, going from the front of the building to the back, so you walk through every room to get to the next. this can make for tricky furniture arrangements, but since it’s really long, it doesn’t feel too crammed. and the kids have plenty of room to run and scoot and play throughout the entire space. (thankful for kind neighbors who swear they don’t hear them play! insert hands over eyes emoji here.)
i think my biggest tip for anyone apartment hunting is if you can find something with tall ceilings and a lot of natural light, it can help make the space feel bigger than it is, even just by 10%, which feels like a lot sometimes. :)
it’s been a fun challenge with furniture and keeping “stuff” to a minimum. we make frequent trips up to goodwill to drop off clothes and toys and other things we don’t need, and have mostly just enjoyed making this space our own and the way it allows us to live in the heart of such an incredible city.
below are some photos i took over the past few weeks and also a few tips and thoughts on how to get the most out of your city living experience….
1. MOVE IN! …. PAINT THE WALLS, HANG THINGS UP! DECORATE!…
one of the hard things about city living and apartment renting, is you’re never really in one spot for very long. it gives you this terrible mentality of, “well, i don’t know how long i’m going to be here, so i’m not going to really move in. i’ll settle into my space when i own it…” that’s fine, and it works great for a lot of people, but for me, whether i’m living there for three years or two years or even just a year, i want that space to feel like mine. i want it to be my safe place, my refuge from a hustling and bustling city, and for my family, i want it to feel like a good representation of us.
it’s tricky when you’re renting, but most landlords will still allow you to paint. just ask! sometimes they’ll request you paint everything back to white upon leaving, but honestly, a little paint goes a long way to helping a space feel like yours. i know white walls and white floors and minimal stuff is all the rage these days in the interior decorating world, and since i’m no interior designer, perhaps we’ve done it all backwards by painting some of our walls bold and bright colors, but we love it. and i think that’s what matters. (in fact, we let eleanor pick out that blue color you see in the dining room last year. ha! i’m just glad she didn’t pick out a pink or something.)
in all of the spaces we’ve rented, we’ve loved hanging up a mix of art we’ve collected and our own photos on the walls. we also like sticking some of the kids art on the walls as well. the kids love to see their own faces on the wall and also the art they are creating! several walls in their nursery are filled with their drawings and paintings and a few of their most special paintings i have framed in our living room. in their room, i rotate their drawings and paintings on the wall every few months or so (i wish i could save all of their art, but we just have room to save a few pieces every few months or so in big art binders. their art binders are currently being stored under their toddler beds.)
also, since both my previous bikes were stolen when locked up on the street, we’ve been storing my current bike in the apartment and hanging it on the wall which helps take up less floor space. keeping it inside has also kept it in tip top shape, which is nice. i also think it’s pretty up there on the wall!
chalk board walls are also so fun! i’ve painted one in every space i’ve rented, dating back to my first college apartment in the city when i was studying at juilliard. so they aren’t just for college dorms or kids rooms! this one is currently in our small hallway to the kitchen, and a nice place for the kids to hang out while we cook. i use this chalk board paint. also, i know my books are messy on the shelf there. :0 that’s next on my list to tackle and organize.
we took the smaller bedroom and gave the kids the bigger one. you have to walk through ours to get to theirs, but we’re a close knit family so it’s never bothered any of us. we’re a little bit lucky to have two rather large and deep closets in there (at least by nyc apartment standards!) so josh and i are both able to store a lot of stuff in those things! we also bought a bedframe that is high enough to store containers underneath with items and various things we don’t use daily.
josh and i each have a shoe rack on the back of our closet doors. it’s a great way to store our shoes in our space. this shoe rack is the best one we’ve found so far (we’ve tried a few). we have a big wire basket under the desk in our living room where the kids shoes go. it’s easier to store them by the door since that is where they put them on and take them off, and since they are in charge of putting them away, it works well. we just carry our shoes back to our closet since we don’t have a lot of storage in our front space for them.
inside my closet on one wall, i have several hooks for hats and bags. i also have a storage container in the back of my closet where i keep other hats and bags as i rotate through them during the year.
2. ON STORAGE! AND DECLUTTERING (ALL THE TIME!)…
we don’t have additional storage units anywhere in the city. so everything we own, is in our apartment. i occasionally send a box to my mom of any special things i want to hold onto (kid clothes mostly, i’m super sentimental there and can’t give all of it away. she’s the nicest for storing a couple of boxes in her basement for me. thanks mom!), but not having a storage unit or a garage or an attic to store stuff has really helped us to just declutter all the freaking time. we often make a large pile to take up to goodwill. here’s josh and samson taking a big haul in the bucket bike last month! i talk a little bit more below about how we handle the toys and books situation for the kids…
by the way, we have these water tight storage trunks stacked in several closets and under our bed. they are the best we’ve found! we have christmas stuff in one trunk, winter clothing in another, tools in another… they are awesome. also, that’s my laundry by the door. more on that below!
3. KIDS TOYS AND BOOK STORAGE…
so we have all three little ones in the bigger bedroom. conrad still sleeps in our room a lot of the time, so i can’t really advise anyone just yet on how three share a room every night, but i’m writing a separate post about how sleep arrangements have been working in our family as that is also a frequently asked question. so stay tuned!
we rotate through the kids toys and books often. as they get new toys, we give old ones away. same goes with books. it just helps minimize the amount of “stuff” that can collect with kiddos, and i think talking about donating helps the kids not feel too attached to their things and learn about sharing.
i’ve tried several different storage methods when it comes to their toys and books, and i’ve found that these wire baskets (or clear containers) where they can SEE their toys, is what works best for us. that way they aren’t dumping out an entire container looking for a single toy. while it doesn’t always happen, we try to keep to the rule of putting whatever away we were playing with before getting out something different, so we don’t have a mess of train tracks AND legos AND play-doh out at once. (although that happens more often than not. we’re working on it.)
we don’t really enforce any other rules when it comes to the kids toys. they are welcome to play anywhere in the house with their toys, they aren’t just confined to their room, although that’s where they tend to play the most. we have the most amazing downstairs neighbors who claim they can’t hear us playing! it is probably our biggest blessing with this whole apartment living thing.
4. ON KITCHEN STORAGE…
when it comes to the kitchen, we don’t have a lot of cabinet space, so we keep food items in our cabinets and have a great shelving unit where we store all of our dishes and other things like them. we keep our crockpot, kitchen aid and the bulkier food equipment on the lower shelves. we keep the blender and toaster on the counter, since those are used almost daily. we have a smaller fridge as well, so that, paired with not a whole lot of cabinet space means we don’t buy many things in bulk (besides diapers! you can never run too low on those things!).
it’s actually been rather nice though, because we tend to bring in and eat a lot of fresh produce this way, since we’re grocery shopping every few days. another perk of city living is that you can get all of your groceries delivered at a specific time you request, which makes grocery shopping online every few days even more convenient. we also have two garbage cans in our kitchen, one for recycling and one for regular trash, and we take the trash out a lot.
5. ON TREATING YOURSELF!…
we don’t have a washer or dryer in our apartment. i get the biggest kick out of those street easy ads around manhattan that say you know you’ve made it in life when you have a washer and dryer in your apartment. guess we haven’t made it yet, hopefully someday. ;) in the meantime, we send out our laundry for wash and fold and it has seriously SAVED MY LIFE. it feels like the biggest luxury! i don’t know if i’d want a washer and dryer after experiencing “wash and fold.” ha! in our neighborhood, it doesn’t cost much more than doing it yourself, and we can have it picked up at our door and dropped off right back at our door on the same day. also, hooray for laundry coming back so neatly folded in a cube cause truth be told i’ve always struggled folding!
A FEW OTHER NOTES….
a few other things i thought i’d write about since they are often asked…
with most of the grocery stores in our area delivering groceries, as well as several online food delivery services, we have most of our shopping and grocery items delivered. this works out great since we do live in a walk-up building. this way, we don’t have to worry about carrying a bunch of bags up the stairs as often and can just carry conrad instead. in new york, sometimes you can get lucky with a larger lobby in your apartment building that has a place to store strollers, so you don’t have to carry one up and down the stairs, too!
several asked on instagram how one entertains in new york. it’s an interesting question i hadn’t really thought about before, because most of the time, we just meet friends out and about. in fact, i brought this up to a couple of girlfriends after thinking about it and we all kind of thought it was interesting how we don’t really entertain here that much. it sounds so weird now that i think about it, but i haven’t even been to a couple of my good girlfriend’s apartments! how weird is that! but there is so much to do and see and eat in new york, we are constantly out and about in the city together, that we usually have a play date out, or a dinner date out with other couples…my church group has had a mommy email list since i moved here where people are constantly emailing and texting throughout the day saying “we’re here at this playground, come join!” or “we are heading here in the morning around 10…” and so there is always something going on and everyone has always been included. it’s one of the best things about city living, i think, how these people instantly become your family. i mean the saying couldn’t be more true… it takes a village, or in this case, a city.
and we do enjoy having people over every now and again, as well. if we do have people over, for breakfast or a birthday party, people sit everywhere and anywhere they can. we’ve even had several friends and family members stay with us. it’s what blow up mattresses are made for! so long as everyone is cool with sharing a single bathroom!
i know i am biased, but city living is just wonderful. we live just a few blocks away from several parks including central park, museums, the library, a number of different playgrounds and our favorite shops and restaurants. i love how city life exposes my children to a variety of people and beliefs and ideas. i love the hustle and bustle (although not during rush hour, ha!) and all the lights. i love the caliber of talent and energy and motivation that new yorkers have around me. i love how new york challenges one to explore more, create more, and live. this city will forever have my heart and i’m grateful for the chance to live here for a chapter of my life and to share this adventure with my little family.