All Things Home

Couples in Small Spaces: N + One

Written by Frances Grove

Relationship experts say the key to making a marriage work is communication. (Or maybe it’s a steamy sex life. I’m not sure.) But I respectfully disagree with the experts. I think the key to a happy marriage is space. As in square footage. Closet space. “I need some space.”

John and I were already middle-aged when we met. By the time I moved into his charming but small 1920s apartment in Los Feliz, CA, we’d each accumulated a lot of stuff. And right away we each started complaining about how much space the other was taking up. He even coined a nerdy nickname for me: “N + one” — a reference to high school algebra.

What he meant: If N = the amount of storage space available, then the amount of my stuff = N + one.

Between us, we had three cats, three sofas, two bikes, and enough CDs and LPs to open a secondhand record shop. Our place was jam-packed. Then we got married and it was as if a Crate & Barrel had exploded in our apartment. There was no place to sit, no place to put our feet up. I started to dread going home. It was time to take drastic action.

By the time we arrived at the storage facility, we were barely on speaking terms. But the friendly guys who work there acted like they rent space to fighting couples every day. And while I realize we have no better chance than any other couple of staying together, six years post-wedding, the monthly rental has clearly been a smart investment in our marriage. With our least favorite belongings out of the way, John and I were able to go back to enjoying each other’s company.

We’ve also had to be clever about finding furniture that does double duty as storage and relentless about eliminating clutter. Here are some tips for cohabitating in tight quarters:

Invest in a power drill.

Don’t ask me why, but keeping things off the floor makes a huge difference. John installed shelves and hooks in every room. We keep fruit in a basket hung from the ceiling. He knotted the cords on my hair styling tools and hung them from hooks in the bathroom. He assembled a modular metal shelf you can get from Sam’s Club or any hardware store and set the lowest shelf to hover just over our portable dishwasher in the kitchen. That’s where we keep our microwave now. On the rest of the shelves, we have dry goods in Mason jars, which free up more cabinet space.

Out of sight, out of mind.

In my home office, I keep letters, receipts, checkbooks and other papers in decorative boxes stacked on another simple glass and metal shelf. We store extra blankets in an old trunk in the living room. A friend cleverly packs old suitcases with cloth napkins and guest towels. Instead of a basic bedside table, use a rattan basket with a large serving tray on top to provide a flat surface. We’ve all seen those ottomans that double as storage. But there’s more stylish, innovative furniture on the market that serves multiple functions, such as nesting end tables and platform frames with drawers. Look to places that sell European-style furniture, as Europeans are accustomed to living in tiny apartments.

Take it outside.

It’s impossible to feel smothered when you’re sitting under the night sky. One of the best things about living in Southern California is that we can dine al fresco all year long, but even if you live somewhere with actual seasons, this a great solution for the warmer months. We fire up the barbecue, plug in a string of little white lights, listen to music and eat in the backyard under the stars (or where we’re sure the stars would be if we could see them through all the smog). It’s almost like we’re dating again. And at the end of the night when it gets a bit chilly, we’re actually happy to go back inside.

About the author

Frances Grove

Frances Grove is a freelance writer and script coordinator in Los Angeles. She's written articles for the Los Angeles Downtown News and creative content for HBO, along with a waist high stack of scripts on spec. She's worked in the TV industry for ten years, but her fantasy careers would be to name nail polish colors, grow tomatoes, and do crosswords professionally.

Currently reading: Spoiled by The Fug Girls

Workout m.o.: Brisk walk or hike through Griffith Park, aqua aerobics or a yoga class

Secretly obsessed with: The Stellar's Sea Cow (extinct)

Dream vacation: Italian countryside, rented villa for a month, friends and family visiting in shifts.

Currently listening to: Talking Heads' "Talking Heads:77"

Go-to relaxation technique:Adult beverage + hammock

Personal theme song: "You Just Haven't Earned it Yet Baby" by The Smiths

Must-haves if trapped on a desert island: Tweezers, SPF, light-weight poolside coverup and kicky wedge heels, The Coen Brothers Collection and suitable playing device.