Decoration

3 Clever Tips for Working on Big Projects in Small Spaces

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Like most creatives, I’ve often craved a “room of my own” to pursue projects, but I’ve been living in a self-renovated Airstream trailer for over five years. It’s 188 square feet designed to maximize usable space. In this tiny tin can, I’ve freelanced, gone back to graduate school, and worked full-time jobs remotely alongside my husband, who has done the same. We’ve built architecture models on the desk, pinned papers up on the cabinets, and taken work meetings in the corner of the bathroom for privacy.

For years, we’ve had people ask how we manage to live in a small space. They’ve wondered if we argue about tiny living (yes, of course) or if it can be challenging to work (noise-canceling headphones solve a lot of problems). Here’s the thing: I’ve seen countless creatives work in smaller spaces and achieve significant things. Doing so bends a part of your creativity to explore big thoughts within the confines of what some, and occasionally myself, have considered not to be the perfect environment. There have been times I’ve craved a large desk and open wall space, but tiny workspaces do have some pretty huge benefits if you know how to lean into them.

Here are three ways creatives still have big ideas — and work on large projects — in their small spaces. 

“When working on my book, I designated a small section of a cabinet to everything I needed, from my camera equipment, to labeled folders with printouts of interview questions, and edited book drafts. I wrote at my tiny dinette and used noise-canceling headphones to minimize distractions since I shared the space with my family. I often worked outside too — setting up at a picnic table at a campsite or editing pages in my foldable camp chair,” shares Oliver.

Surface designer and printmaker Emily Wool works in a small home studio. In her petite working space, she makes nature-inspired printed fabrics that she stitches into bags and other goods. For practical purposes, it’s important to clean after a day of work, relying on vertical storage rather than horizontal surfaces. On a creative level, though, Wool says the small space allows her to expand deeper into her process. “It makes me focus more and not take on too much [at once]. I’m pickier about what I bring in and I get more creative in my process,” Wool says.

Freelance creative Grace Bilbao makes her space flexible by relying on different types of furniture to maximize her home studio space. “I have tiny tables that I move around,” Bilbao says. Her space is a labyrinth of dinner trays and card tables that she uses as quick impermanent surfaces to work on client projects and personal creative endeavors. “I’ve read creativity hates clutter, and a disorganized space can hinder my creative process, so if I have a desk that just sits there, stuff accumulates. A folding table is a neutral space to me — I can pull it out and fold it up,” she says.

There are ways to maximize small spaces and do large creative projects, but the constant refrain I personally always come back to is that in creative work you are exploring all the threads and folds. A small space can be logistically harder to work in — your desk is smaller and your storage limited — but it pushes you to refine and edit your work and what you need to create it. By thinking beyond the confines of your workspace, magic is often born. 

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