If you aren’t comfortable, what’s the point?
Everyone wants to be comfortable at home. I grew up with everything I could possibly need, but I’ve always thought of comfort as something that doesn’t fit in the “need” category and isn’t worth spending for — you need to be comfortable with what you’ve got, I thought. Pregnancy, post-partum, and Xander have made me change my tune. Being satisfied with what you have is a great skill, but you also need to recognize when your discomfort starts bleeding into other areas of your life. Being uncomfortable made me cranky, rude, exhausted, mean, unhappy, all of which obviously impacted my relationships (ew).
If you’re in a place where you HAVE to make do with what you’ve got, having goals for small upgrades in addition to your larger objectives is a good idea. That might mean anything from reorganizing a closet, to actual renovations. I didn’t have those goals, so when I was in a position where I was ABLE to make myself more comfortable, it didn’t even occur to me. I learned that having things doesn’t mean they’re meeting your needs. And if they aren’t meeting your needs, it’s time to move on.
Down to brass tacks.
We live in an upper duplex, like many in Montreal. It’s a quirky 5 1/2 with small closets, few outlets, a tiny bathroom, and enough bedrooms for three adults, but no dining space (weird). Over the years I’ve worked hard at making it comfortable and cute, using every small space trick in the book, and accounting for our lifestyle. It’s different for everyone, but I think I’ve found that sweet spot where comfort meets space efficiency for us.
Our bathroom is the exact width of the bathtub — no hidden closets or medicine cabinets. It’s also tiled floor to ceiling, making it tricky to install storage anywhere. It’s so tiny that we even had a piece of the door cut out and replaced with rubber strips so it could swing by the toilet bowl (seriously). There’s a window in the shower/tub which is protected by a plastic curtain. With a curtain on either side of you, taking a shower becomes an exercise in avoiding entanglement, even when you aren’t washing your hair. I used to just rush through it and carefully twist myself in very specific ways to avoid the cold wet touch of the curtains (ick). Our toilet was installed so close to the wall and the door that whenever I sat, one side of me was actually against the wall. The tank was cracked and I lived in constant fear that the thing would just collapse under me one day. The floor tiles were a horrible dark brown colour with dirty grout that was impossible to clean, cracks, and unfinished corners that collected dust, hair, and who-knows-what-else. After rushing through my shower, I’d race right out of the bathroom to touch the floor as little as possible. Sounds relaxing, right? Eventually we want to gut the entire bathroom and start over, but while I was pregnant in 2019 I had a few changes made so we can be comfortable enough while we wait to upgrade completely.
1- I searched a while to find a way of making the bath wider without actually making it wider or taking up extra space we don’t have. For us, the solution was the Rotator Rod. It’s a very clever curved shower rod that can be flipped out to make space in the shower, or flipped in to make space in the rest of the bathroom. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed taking long hot showers until I installed this baby and finally had enough space to turn around in the shower without getting caught in the curtain. Seems like nothing, but it was a big deal.
2- It was obvious we needed to replace the toilet. I considered having one of those corner ones installed, but it was too expensive, with too much potential for making the bathroom seem even smaller. Also, without any storage space, flat surfaces (like the top of the toilet tank) are a hot commodity for us. We did two things: we moved the door so that it swings out instead of swinging into the bathroom, instantly giving us a few more inches of space. That enabled us to install a toilet that was slightly bigger than the last one, but that had all the things I was looking for: a flat top with a side flusher, straight sides for a clean look, and a good price. We went with this Glacier Bay one, which also has a slow closing seat and cover and a water saving function that uses more or less water based on how long you hold down the flusher. I didn’t know one could love a toilet, but I do.
3- We had the floor re-tiled and the corners finished. I chose a hardwood look-alike super hard floor tile to avoid any cracks and to tie-in with the hardwood floors in the rest of the apartment. I can’t recall the brand, but I got it at Home Dépôt and it looks kind of like this one. I’m very pleased with the results.
A place for everything and everything in its place. I’m messy, but I love to organize, so I took to this philosophy really well. The idea is to inventory the things you have, determine what you need and what you can give away, and figure out where the things you’re keeping will live. When you’re tidying, you know exactly where everything goes, which speeds things up. I’m slowly working through the whole house, leaving my beast of a basement for the spring.
We have a closet in each room, two hall closets and a former kitchen pantry that now houses our boiler. I used to just pile all our cleaning supplies on the floor in the hall closet, but I could never find anything and I became afraid to stick my hands in there to pull things out and find what I needed (don’t ask). In fact, to find anything in any of the closets, I always had to pull everything out.
The problems I needed to solve for: having space for everything, and being able to find everything. “Everything” includes: things you might need in the bathroom (bath towels and towelettes, lotion, soap, medicine, toothpaste, floss, etc.), and cleaning supplies (broom, mop, toilet cleaner, rubber gloves, Windex, wood cleaner, disinfectant, etc.). The other closets, we use for our clothes, jackets, hats, bags, etc.
There were two game changers for me here: this label maker, and this over-the-door shoe-rack. A LABELLED place for everything, and everything in its ASSIGNED place. The shoe rack was a trick I first used to keep all diapering and changing supplies handy in Nathan’s tiny room. I loved it so much, I decided to use it everywhere else. The hall closet contains all bathroom and pharmacy supplies and the boiler space/pantry contains all the cleaning supplies. Not only do I know where everything is, but I can tell at a glance if there’s anything I should include in our shopping list.
We’ve done many things in the kitchen since we moved in, the first being installing a pegboard to keep all pots and pans visible and easily accessible. I bought the pegboard part (like this one) and asked a friend to put it on the wall for us (he built a frame for it, too). This is easily the best thing we did, since we had previously been lying on the floor to find the pans we needed in the back of the under-the-counter cupboards.
I’ve mentioned the old pantry-turned-boiler-space. There’s one shelf above the boiler where I would throw larger food things — extra flour, spare foodstuffs… Actually I barely remember what I kept up there because I couldn’t see anything (I’m 5'6" which is pretty average, but when it’s too high up, it’s too high up!). When I took everything down to sort through it all, I found maggoty flour, and more gross things (the flour is the thing I remember the most, for obvious reasons), so I threw it all out and decided to only put non-perishable, non edible things up there, like the electric griddle, spare ZipLock bags, my pasta maker, extra large bowls… things you won’t miss if you don’t see them every day, but that you know where to find when you DO need them.
Now we have an open pantry for food things. I got a cheap shelving unit from Ikea, clip on baskets, and some storage boxes to organize it all. I keep the most used things out on the shelf, and put anything extra in the cupboards. It hasn’t reached rustic chic levels yet, but it’s a work in progress.
I organized the cupboards with shelf inserts to use all the vertical space and organized my most used spices in magnetic spice jars that I can stick to the side of my fridge. I organized baby eating things in baskets on top of the fridge. Non-perishable milk, and root veggies go in a rolling basket from a friend that’s just the right height to fit under the kitchen table, and I use Command cord bundlers to keep electrical cords contained on countertops.
The cupboards in my kitchen go all the way to the ceiling, so I keep a light three-step stepping stool handy to be able to reach everything. In case you’re wondering, that didn’t work for the pantry-turned-boiler-space because it made me taller than the top of the door, so I still couldn’t see anything.
In early 2020, Xander insisted we upgrade to a king size mattress. I was dubious at first (does anyone REALLY need a king size bed? Our room isn’t that big…), but I am totally sold now. Every now and again when I am overcome with how comfortable I am, I still thank him for insisting on getting it. I firmly believe that a king size bed is a much more effective use of small space. Let me explain.
The king takes up a lot of space in our room, but we had a queen before, and we weren’t really doing anything with the couple extra square feet it gave us. Bedrooms are for sleeping, and unless you have a huge room in which you can fit a couch and chairs and a desk, you’re not doing anything else. So you might as well use more of the space for a bigger bed. Still, there are options for minimizing the space the bed does take up, and for using the space under the bed for additional storage.
I got this under-bed storage bag for baby linens I keep under Nathan’s crib. We got this bed and headboard from Ikea for our room. There are three large drawers on each side, only one of which we use for spare linen for our bed. The rest is for our stuff. I like the headboard because it allows us to have floating bedside tables — much easier to sweep under them and they take up less space.
Instead of choosing between overcrowding our space or going without, we choose foldable pieces. Our laundry baskets, my work desk, Nathan’s high chair, learning tower, Pikler triangle, and easel all fold. We opted for a couch with folding seats that I found on sale rather than a larger L-shaped couch (which we plan to have the space for eventually).
Staying healthy is important to us, so we make physical activity a priority. Xander’s much better at it than me 😝, but I’m working on prioritizing it better. The first step for me was to set up a corner of our living room for our gear.
I got this exercise ball base and this ball wall mount so they aren’t rolling around underfoot. I used these bag dispensers from Ikea to organize yoga mats, rollers and elastics. I got these hooks for longer elastics, jump ropes and other items that we store in a mesh bag. We have an awesome space saving set of PowerBlock dumbbells. They aren’t the easiest to switch between weights, but I chose them because you can increase the weight in smaller increments (2.5lbs rather than the standard 5lbs). They’re also expandable in case we need more weight.