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10+ Tips for Living in a Small New York City Apartment (How to Maximize Space)

Tips for Living in a small apartment in New York City

My wife and I just finished moving into a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, our second home in the city. Although our second unit is (slightly) bigger than our first, we’ve still had to come up with a few hacks for living in a small NYC apartment.

We’re not to the point of storing winter coats in the oven (yet), but full transparency: my wife likes to shop. In this post, I’ll give you a local’s take on how to survive living in a small New York City apartment, and locals are encouraged to leave their tips (and horror stories) in the comments below. Let’s dive in!

Tips for Living in a Small Apartment in New York City

Table of Contents: Small NYC Apartment Tips

The Right Lightbulbs Make a Huge Difference

Poor lighting can make or break an apartment. Our last apartment (which is smaller than our current unit) had south-facing windows and the natural light made it feel enormous. To meet somewhere in the middle, I decided to buy brighter light bulbs (and chuck the dim, yellow ones)

Most small New York City apartments are painted white (which helps reflect light), and brightening them up can make them feel more airy and breathable. These light bulbs are an inexpensive way to make your space feel bigger with the (literal) flip of a switch.

Anthropologie Mirror, How to Live in a small NYC Apartment

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who Has the Smallest NYC Apartment of Them All?

Regarding natural light, mirrors aren’t just decoration; they’re light reflectors that add dimension and help create the illusion of a bigger space. Put them all over the place; it’s one of the best tips I can offer for living in a small New York City apartment!

They help brighten up even the most cavernous of apartments. I have three full-length mirrors, two in my living room and one in my bedroom, and they make a world of difference. I positioned the largest of them near one of my windows (my apartment faces north) to maximize natural light.

Beds Aren’t Just For Sleeping

Easy peanut gallery, this isn’t what you think. When maximizing space in a small NYC apartment, the bed you choose can make a difference. I bought this bed because it rose 12 inches off the ground. I also picked up these handy under-the-bed storage bags to make the storage system even more effective.  They help keep things nicely stored and (more importantly) clean since dust in New York City is no joke.

If your budget is more generous than mine, I suggest this bed that my sister bought for her small NYC apartment. She swears by it and says it makes storing things under the bed so much easier, I can’t recommend it enough!

When Shopping for Furniture, Add “With Storage” to the Search Query

Looking for a coffee table, ottoman, desk, or TV console? Don’t forget to add “with storage” to the end of every search. Although it won’t replace a loft or a closet, the extra space can help with all the random knick-knacks that would otherwise create clutter (TV remote, books, coasters).

If you can’t find anything with storage, I suggest getting furniture with a sleek, minimal design. Bulky furniture feels like it absorbs the space around it, even if it has the exact dimensions of a sleeker counterpart. One of the best tips for living in a small New York City apartment is to take up as little floor space as possible.

Sometimes It’s Not About Space, It’s About Efficiency

Sometimes, it isn’t how much space you have; it’s how you use it. We put everything into boxes, crates, and bins. Our entry closet (one of only two in our apartment) is outfitted with marked stackable bins. It makes finding things much easier than if we just chucked everything in and shut the door. You can maximize space in a small NYC apartment by staying organized!

Doors are a Decent Place to Hang Things

My father is a carpenter, so I grew up hearing that it’s poor practice to hang things off doors (heavy items can cause the door to sag). Well, pops, studio life has changed (some could say broke) me because every single one of my doors now has one of these bad boys. I hang wet towels, backpacks, totes, and just about anything else with a handle. They even make small door hangers you can attach to your cabinets for things like cleaners and paper towels!

Vacuum-Sealed Bags Aren’t Just a Gimmick

I can’t be the only one who remembers the late-night ads for vacuum-sealed bags. Based on first-hand experience, they’re not just gimmicks; the bags are one of the best hacks for maximizing space in a tiny NYC apartment. In a pinch, I have even used a regular trash bag to store a comforter, using my vacuum to suction out the air and tying it (really tight). It more than halved the blanket in size!

Don’t Forget to Use the Walls

A great use of space is to install shelves in the bedroom, towel hangers in the bathroom, or pot racks in the kitchen. I once had a friend who installed a pot rack so she could use her kitchen cabinets for shoes instead. Even Command Hooks for your keys can help de-clutter a space and make it feel less stuffy. Just take this tip for living in a small apartment in New York City with a grain of salt, and double-check your lease (and what’s behind the wall!) before drilling holes.

If You Have Suitcases, You Have Mini-Closets

Those storing their suitcases in a closet or underneath their beds should be sure to fill them to the brim with any seldom-used items (or seasonal items, like winter coats). It doesn’t make sense to leave them empty when so many things are to be put away! And a bonus tip: if you have both carry-on and check-in suitcases, stuff the smaller one into the bigger one.

BuTure Cordless Vacuum Cleaner, How to Live in a Small NYC Apartment

Invest in the Latest and Greatest

I know I’m not the first to say, “Why do I need to buy the new (blank) when the one I have still works?!” Well, if you can swing the upgrade, it can be a great way of maximizing space in small NYC apartments.

The new Dyson vacuums are half the size of the prehistoric Hoovers we grew up with. Sonos speakers replace antiquated home sound systems that take up half a living room. Kindles hold more books than a six-foot bookshelf, and so it goes. If budget allows, sometimes upgrading really makes life so much easier.

Don’t Hoard Junk

Do you need more space? Or do you need fewer things? I’m not a minimalist, but one of the best tips for living in a small New York City apartment is to simply get rid of stuff you don’t use (not pointing fingers; I’m the biggest culprit of this!)

The packaging your electronics came in? Toss it. Cables and remotes to devices you no longer have? Nope. The souvenir shirt from your trip to Cancun when you were twelve? You know the drill. Don’t get me wrong, I get attached to sentimental things, but living in a small New York City studio becomes much more bearable when you’re not swimming in clutter.

Purge… and Then Purge Again!

Another department where you’re likely hoarding junk is in regard to clothing. Here’s a little hack: first, go into your closet and hang all your clothes with the hangers facing one direction. Then, after you wear something, flip the hanger around.

Give yourself a time frame of six months or a year. When your deadline rolls around, toss everything on a hanger that has yet to be flipped (which means you didn’t wear it, or even reach for it) into the donation pile!

Tips For Living in a Small New York City Apartment

  • Look for furniture with storage
  • Utilize the space under your bed
  • Organize with bins
  • Use door hangers
  • Vacuum-sealed bags are your friend
  • Hang things on walls
  • Stuff your suitcases while they’re in storage
  • Enjoy the technology of the 21st century
  • Invest in brighter light bulbs
  • Get rid of useless

Frequently Asked Questions
How do I organize my small apartment in NYC?

Maximize vertical space by utilizing wall-mounted shelves, multifunctional furniture, and clever storage solutions to optimize every inch of your small apartment in NYC.

How do you cope living in a small apartment?

Prioritize decluttering regularly, embrace minimalist living, and focus on creating multifunctional spaces to maximize comfort and functionality in your small apartment.

How do I optimize my apartment space in NYC?

Maximize space by utilizing smart storage solutions, multifunctional furniture, and creative organization techniques to optimize your apartment in NYC.

How to decorate a small apartment in New York?

Decorate with light colors, utilize mirrors to create the illusion of space, and incorporate multifunctional furniture to maximize functionality while maintaining a sense of openness in your small apartment in New York.

How do you make a small apartment feel luxurious?

Enhance the ambiance with plush textiles, strategic lighting, and curated decor to elevate the aesthetic and make your small apartment feel luxurious.

What is the average apartment size in Manhattan?

The average apartment size in Manhattan is approximately 733 square feet.

What is the average apartment size in Brooklyn?

The average apartment size in Brooklyn is approximately 900 square feet.

What is the average apartment size in Queens?

The average apartment size in Queens is around 850 square feet.

I hope this list of tips for living in a small New York City apartment proves useful! Don’t forget to share your hacks (and horror stories) in the comments!

Until next time, Alejandro.

Allie Salgado

Friday 5th of January 2024

Building off your point about brighter rooms feeling bigger I've noticed light colored furniture also makes the space feel bigger