There’s a reason most sitcoms set in New York City feature roommates prominently. When you live in the Big Apple or any big city, you often have to share space to bear the cost of rent.
If you have your own bedroom, you’re at least entitled to four walls of privacy. But if you’re splitting a small apartment two (or three, or four) ways, personal space is harder to come by. Harder, but not impossible.
Living with other people doesn’t have to mean surrendering every square inch of your independence. With just a little communication and the following tips, you can MakeSpace for yourself and your roommates in an apartment of any size.
1. Divide the room.
A lot of privacy goes out the prewar window when you’re sharing a small apartment with roommates, but even if you sleep in the same room you can still create boundaries. There are many ways to physically separate living areas that don’t require a construction permit.
Curtains, screens, and bookshelves each provide personal space without taking up much of their own. Tall plants and standing mirrors can also create the illusion of separation. Room dividers don’t have to be solid. Although your own private area may extend only a foot beyond your bed, the effect will feel expansive.
2. Decorate and furnish different areas.
One of the simple pleasures of living alone is expressing yourself in your décor. With roommates, furnishing and decorating require more compromise, but you can still lay claim to certain areas of the apartment to make it more you.
Whether it’s the door of your refrigerator or the walls of your decluttered bathroom, decorating an area provides a sense of personal space. Talk with your roommates to coordinate colors and style choices, and divvy up the apartment, if you all choose to.
Just make sure everyone’s on board. Personal space should never come at the cost of communal peace.
3. Cozy up your bed.
Regardless of how many roommates and square feet you have in your apartment, you’re always guaranteed some personal space: Your bed.
Even if you lack your own bedroom or a room divider, the realm of your mattress is all yours. So make it comfortable.
Invest in nice sheets and duvet covers. Buy a headboard to extend your personal space upward. Fill your bedside table with books (here’s how to decide what books to keep or get rid of) and mementos that reflect you. Your bed should be a cozy place where you love to be, whether you’re eating, sleeping, reading, or watching TV.
4. Swap your couch for chairs.
While there are many space-saving sofas and couches for small apartments, individual chairs create more personal space in your living area. In fact, a chair is all yours as long as you’re sitting in it, creating another microcosm of independence.
5. Invest in a loft bed.
If you and your roommate(s) share a small apartment with high ceilings, it might be time for you to invest in a loft bed. Whether you buy your future loft bed from a store or have one custom built, these beds save space by creating space. Space in which you can put a desk or closet beneath your bed while enjoying an elevated view that’s all your own.
Lofting beds is a common hack for dorm rooms, but many designers and architects have made it a respectable small-space solution for adults, too. Consider the stunning Domino Loft System by ICOSA Design that’s pictured above for example.
6. Put your non-essentials in storage.
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If only half (or a third, or a quarter) of an apartment is your space, and a lot of that is shared, try to limit your possessions to the essentials. Send out-of-season clothes, shoes, accessories and furniture to storage, and pack old photographs or books along with them.
By paring down your belongings, you’ll have more room for your personal use. You’ll also create a more spacious and decluttered home, which is essential to living happily with other people in a small space.
7. Create a reading nook.
Regardless of how big or small your apartment is, chances are there’s at least one empty corner or alcove. If your roommates are cool with it, put a chair there (ideally in front of a window like the nook in one of Lake Street Studios’ micro-apartments) and use that nook for reading and relaxing.
Your nook doesn’t have to be completely private. Even if you’re situated in the middle of a common area, as long as you have that nook all to yourself, it’s still your personal space.
8. Find a local escape.
Exchanging two roommates for 40 noisy coffee drinkers may sound like an oxymoronic solution, but only if you haven’t tried it. Any regular of a café knows you don’t have to lease a place to feel some ownership of it.
Going to a coffee shop regularly, having a favorite table, and befriending baristas can give you a sense of belonging. Sure, you may be in a crowd, but the space still feels personal by being away from the roommates you see every day and night.
9. Cook for yourself.
Since you have to eat anyway, find a time when no one else cooks. If your apartment has a separate kitchen, that’s a full room of personal space while you’re in it. Even if it’s attached to the living room, the counters, stove top, and floor in between are your domain, so use them as often as you can.
10. Enjoy the shared space.
If there’s anything we learned as kids to practice throughout our lives, it’s that (except for toothbrushes) sharing is caring. By sharing a lease, you’re able to afford a more spacious and nicer apartment than you could if you lived alone.
Always remember that, and enjoy your space with, not despite, your roommate(s). Which should be easy if you add a Polycade or any of these other ridiculously fun space-saving games to the mix.
This article was written by David Michael McFarlane, a writer from Texas and Oregon who lives in New York and loves smart design and organization.