How I'm Making My Teeny Tiny Japanese Apartment Feel Like Home

Some people dream of mansions. I dream of one of those tiny houses on wheels that used to be a storage container.
Publish date:
October 23, 2014

This may be the best apartment I've had in years.

It's small, bright, functional but cozy, and frankly it's the lowest rent I've paid since college. When I give most people the Face Time tour of my apartment, their first reaction is always "It's TINY!"

By western standards it might be. My whole apartment is probably the size of my friend's Dallas bedroom, and much smaller than my other friend's downtown Los Angeles loft. But I love this apartment.

Maybe it's my inability to multitask with interior decorating. The hallmark of my previous apartments has typically been that one room looks like an adult human made a living space, while the rest of the rooms are almost purely functional. Bedroom -- has bed, comfy sheets, is good. Bathroom -- is clean, is good. Kitchen -- has food, is clean, has kitty-cat oven mitts. Good. (Though I do have these awesome "antique" naked lady paintings I've carried with me everywhere, and they always live in the bathroom. They make life fancy.)

But in my current little living space, I can stand in almost any given spot and take everything in. The way I see it, my apartment is one pretty picture.

Okay, I'm not going to sit here and lie to you -- I am no master decorator, and I have no knack for creating "spaces." My interior decorating values vacillate wildly between "out of sight, out of mind" and "artful clutter" (I like to call it "Victorian," a pretty word for "Louise's Sculpture of Precious Junk.")

The core of what makes me happy in my home is the meaning and the memories behind all my stuff. I'm really not one for "Memory Boxes" or hiding away keepsakes. If I like something, and it makes me happy, I like to have it out where I can see it everyday.

Small apartment living really lends to this. There's no "saving something for good" really. Storage is reserved for winter clothes, luggage, miscellaneous supplies like drying racks for clothing, and the library of PhD books my husband keeps rotating on our bookshelf. Everything else is either out in the open or carefully arranged so as not to be intrusive. I guess I'm lucky that I've always dreamed of living in a tiny house.

Some people dream of mansions, I dream of one of those little houses on wheels that used to be a storage container.

And since I just made an enormous move to a foreign country, a move in which everything that wasn't irreplaceable or "good underwear" was tossed, donated, or sent to my mom's garage for her cats to pee on, I find that my life has been significantly reduced. This has been a perfect opportunity to try out my tiny living skills.

Have I nailed it? Nope. Would I dare actually advise anyone on how to decorate their home? How embarrassing -- NO. But what I can offer is some insight as to how I've made this apartment feel welcoming, safe, and special to me.

A Corner of One's Own

I work from home, so one of the first thing I wanted to do was make myself an "office."

Yeah, it's like no office I've ever had either. But you know what? It makes me happy, and it's a corner of the apartment that is all mine. (We store snacks underneath my table, so, BONUS.)

I spend most of my days typing away on our kitchen/living room/TV table with those delightfully demented kitties to my right, and the noises of my neighborhood out the window to my left. Twice a week I'm treated to a mini truck driving slowly down the street playing a tinny version of "Edelweiss." They are either telling us to bring out our trash, or I'm in a Stephen King novel.

It's just a table that barely separates me from where we store the cat's medication, instant coffee, and paper towels, but for me it's my own little bubble. My laptop has a home, and I can trust that the stuff I put in my corner will not be disturbed.

Living in a small space with another person, there's really very little you can claim as "MINE." But if there's just one little spot you can claim (my husband has his corner too, a corner I resist all urges to tidy up) I highly recommend it, for those times you just need things to be YOUR WAY.

I Get a Kick Out of "Chicken-Kitty Commons," So I Kept It.

One thing that is both a blessing and a curse in living in this apartment is that I know that it's temporary. I may be here for a year, I may be here longer. I just don't know yet.

So on the one hand, I don't really want to invest too much time or elbow grease in making it my dream apartment, as I'll eventually have to tear it all down. But on the other hand this frees me up to do the simple, quirky, temporary things I wouldn't necessarily do in my permanent home.

Behold Chicken-Kitty Commons.

At this point in my life, most people have figured out three things about me: I like food, cats, and chickens. So most gift accordingly.

Nothing in the above picture, except for the books, was purchased by me. Everything is something one of my friends or family saw and thought my husband and I would like. Or, even better, they made it for us. Yep, that's a newsprint chicken, and a needlepoint cat.

My mom has a thing for smiley faces.

It isn't the prettiest display, it isn't even spaced out very well (I realized too late that I couldn't get the hooks out of the walls after I'd hung the pictures), but it is a reminder of good times with people I love who are very far away.

It's an odd little addition. One that I suspect betrays my lack of "grown up" decorative taste.

But if the goal is to make my little apartment feel like home, it certainly does the trick.

The same goes for my "Memory Pile" of a night stand/pajama nook.

Being Okay with the Living-Kitchen-Bathroom

In deciding to make a large part of our apartment sleeping quarters (the bed takes up pretty much half of the apartment), the rest of the apartment is used for everything else. Cooking, storage, yoga, primping, and occasional J-Pop dance parties -- this is where we do what we do.

There is NOWHERE in the bathroom to store stuff. The entire bathroom is basically a shower, so unless you want your toiletries soaked after every shower everything gets stored in the hallway (minus shampoo, conditioner, and soap). Our deodorants, oils, toothbrushes, and various potions live on a shelf right by our front door.

I was recently in an airplane bathroom, and actually thought to myself, "This is pretty roomy."

Every viable space is utilized. You might notice the little shelf I added on the top left hand corner of the "kitchen" -- a place I gave myself to store bobby pins, hair rubber bands, and deodorant powder. Until I added that shelf those three items were always getting lost or in the way. One little shelf later, and all is well.

Everything is kept to a bare minimum. There just isn't room for anything else. A bit of a pack rat back in the day, this has been an adjustment. Bringing anything into the apartment, even just some makeup or a new pair of shoes requires some thought. Where will it go? Am I willing to rearrange the harmony in my apartment for this new item?

Sometimes it's worth it, more often it's not.

I guess the greatest lesson I've learned living in my little home is deciding what matters. What will add to my home, and what will just be stored there.

So that's how I live. Maybe it inspires you somehow in how you might design your own small space, or maybe you're just nosey like me and like to see where people live.

Either way, I hope you enjoyed a peek into my little apartment. I certainly enjoy living in it.