5 Tips For Living It Up in a Tiny Living Space

By Claire Golden

If you live in downtown Portland, you probably know the struggle: Housing is so expensive around here that a lot of us are crammed into a tiny living space. Lots of college students live in a dorm room, which is not exactly known for its spaciousness. In my own case, my fiancé and I share one small attic room, with my office wedged into one corner. But I’m quite content in this space, because I have everything that I need. Here are my tips for making a small living space yours.

1. Decorate: The first thing I did in my “office” was decorate the walls. You can hang things up with tape or sticky wall hooks so as not to anger your landlord by putting holes in the walls. I’m not picky about what goes up on the wall. It doesn’t have to be an “art print” to go on my Wall of Art. Right now I have a picture of my chicken, my enamel pin collection on a pin banner, a pigeon ornament, an embroidered cat, a John Green quote poster, and the parking pass from the place where my fiancé proposed to me. These things have nothing in common with each other except that they all make me smile.

2. Double down on storage: Storage is key in a small space, and I take great delight in my miniature drawers from Target, which hold my school supplies, makeup, and knicknacks. I am also probably the target customer for IKEA’s Raskog cart, which is a three-shelved storage cart on wheels. I have two of them, one for yarn and one for stuffed alpacas, and they are a lifesaver when it comes to storage.

3. Try journaling for frustration: Journaling is a great way to create something beautiful on paper. You can go for a basic journal or go all out with art journaling — there’s lots of inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram. Journaling is also an excellent way to cope with frustration and process your emotions…and you can do so in a pretty way.

4. Go online: When  get fed up with not having enough space to express myself,  I turn to online platforms. Then, when I can’t control something in my physical space, I can make my online space a haven. My blog and Instagram are my creative outlets and ways to connect with people. I find happiness in curating them exactly the way I want.

5. Let go of the unimportant: Above all, the most important thing I’ve learned about living in a small space is not to hold onto things that don’t make me happy. There’s no reason to keep something you don’t want to keep (except, perhaps, those tax papers…) that will only clutter up your space. My favorite book on organizing is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, in which she advises only keeping things that “spark joy.” This is the rule that I live by when it comes to my living quarters. Because of this, everything that I have makes me happy when I look at it, and it’s enough to make a small living space feel exactly the right size.

Clean Room, Calm Mind

By Claire Golden

Like many college students and recent graduates, I live in a small space. This means that even a small mess can quickly become overwhelming because it takes up most of my living quarters. I am naturally a messy person, much to the chagrin of everyone who has lived with me. (Shoutout to my younger sister for putting up with the Yarn Blob when we shared a room!) However, over the years I have discovered that having a messy room has a negative impact on my mental health.

When I’m feeling depressed, I lose motivation. That leads me to set things on the nearest horizontal surface, whether that’s the nightstand, table, or floor. Then my room becomes a Depression Den (as the Internet likes to call it), which causes me to feel even more depressed, and the spiral continues. I suffered from Major Depressive Disorder a few years back. Fortunately, now I only deal with seasonal winter depression, but I’ve found that both conditions lead to the same result. When my room is littered with clothes (both dirty and clean), books, papers, and things everywhere, it doesn’t help my mind feel any less like a disaster.

It feels impossible to clean up a Depression Den, so sometimes you might have to ask for help. I lived with my parents during college and my mom would offer to keep me company while I cleaned. This prevented me from getting distracted with various knick-knacks and books and also gave me some moral support. Now that I live with my boyfriend, we put on a documentary and clean together. If cleaning your whole room feels like it will never happen, then choose one area to tidy — I always feel better when the floor is picked up. Or, set a timer for a manageable amount of time. Even five minutes of cleaning is better than nothing.

Ideally, I would take a few minutes every day to tidy up, but my mind just doesn’t work like that. So I tidy when I feel capable, and create impossibly tall stacks of books when I don’t. I’m far from perfect, and the state of my room reflects that. In the end, you have to do what works best for you. But I encourage you to set aside a few minutes to care for yourself by making your living space calmer. It might just help brighten your mood, too.

Dorm Pie

By Erika Nelson

As I’ve written before, I live in student housing. Dorms— a word that connotes many things related to “the college experience”— ridiculously tall beds, hallways decorated to reflect the RA’s floor theme, washing machines that only work half the time … and above all, socialization. From bonding over bowls of instant ramen to flashcard quizzes in the common area, you can’t picture dorm life without thinking of social interaction. 

I came to PSU in the fall of 2019 — ignorant of COVID and the pandemic on the horizon, I had one blissful term to experience the social aspect of college and dorm life. Sure, most of the other residents seem to fall into the 18-21 cohort, and at 27 I’m an old lady by comparison, but mixing colors at Paint Nite and making dorm decor at RHA-sponsored events was a great way to chill out and meet fellow Vikings. While waiting on my laundry one night last year, I ran into a couple girls reading Tarot cards. Naturally, I threw my accounting homework to the side so I could get a reading. The cards uncannily reflected a recent breakup and reminded me of my ex (although, to be fair, pretty much everything reminded me of my ex at the time.) I bawled like a baby and the three of us swapped stories about Men Who Did Us Dirty. I don’t remember those girls’ names, and I never ran into them again, but I’ll always appreciate that experience.  

The halls look very different now … no Tarot cards or half-finished puzzles to be seen. Occasionally I’ll bump into another student on the way to their room, or the elevator will stop on another floor and a resident and I will awkwardly stare at each other until the doors close and the elevator continues its trip up or down (one of the new Housing rules: only one person/household in the elevator at a time, to cut down on germ transmission. The elevators didn’t get the memo, so they continue to stop at floors where the button is pressed.) Once in a blue moon, there are freebies left by kind strangers — individually-wrapped hand sanitizing wipes; packets of tea; paper napkins with a note saying “emergency toilet paper :).” I don’t usually partake in these freebies (sanitizing wipes are an exception) because of, ya know, the virus … but it always warms my heart a little when I see them. 

Around Thanksgiving, I found a Dorm Pie. A solitary pumpkin confection left on a communal table, the pie was exposed to the elements without a cover, and there was no note explaining its presence. It was like an unaccompanied child at the airport, and I simultaneously felt mild amusement, pity for the lonely dessert (lockdown has caused me to anthropomorphize everything), and gratitude that someone thought, “I have an extra pie. Someone will want this.” We’re a building of college students, after all — we love free food even when COVID hasn’t made employment scarce — and it’s the season of giving. And I love pumpkin pie … sure, it may be uncovered and rife with viral particles, I thought, but it’s probably fine! I don’t want it to go to waste, or dry out before someone can find it …

I ended up leaving the pie. Whether someone ate it or threw it away, I’ll never know, but the Dorm Pie will forever live in my memory as a symbol of goodwill during hard times. 

Even though we dorm-dwellers can’t socialize in person, there’s still a sense of community — seeing free stuff someone’s left for their neighbors is a reminder that even in these socially-distant times of Zoom trivia nights and solo elevator rides, residents are still looking out for each other. 

Or maybe they just want to unload excess stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  But if you’re reading this, kind Pie Donor — you should probably leave the cover on next time. 

Lockdown in Student Housing

By Erika Nelson

In March, Housing and Residence life sent out a mass email encouraging those of us in student housing to move if feasible. By doing so, we’d be lowering the amount of interpersonal contact in the buildings, and therefore lowering the chance that COVID-19 could spread among us.  The result was a mass exodus of student residents. For the last few weeks of winter term and throughout spring break, students hauled boxes and furniture out of their apartments. Many people abandoned their belongings altogether — and common areas quickly became littered with discarded microwaves, bedding, and half-used bottles of hot sauce. At first, the refuse left behind was annoying. But then the custodial staff removed it all, taking along with them any items that residents used to socialize and bond, such as the puzzles left out on tables for everyone to work on. This served only as a stark reminder of the tenants’ absences.

There are some perks that come from living in an almost-empty building — solo elevator rides save time, and I have yet to have to wait for access to a washing machine. The sheer emptiness of the building is palpable — instead of hearing music and muffled conversations when walking down the halls, there is a conspicuous silence. Common areas are empty. There are no more University Success events in the lobby. Even though those of us who remain are still in our rooms, typing on our laptops and having Zoom classes, it’s hard to ignore that the absence of so many residents is a symptom of the larger changes in the world.

I don’t have family close by. I wasn’t lucky enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how well you get along with your family) to be able to crash somewhere else while still remaining in Portland’s orbit. Sure, I could pay to rent a car and haul all my stuff back to Southern Oregon, and there’s no doubt that I miss my friends and family … but Portland is my home now. I’ve set up roots, and I’d rather try and stick out the pandemic locally rather than going through the added stress and expense of moving back and forth. 

There are times when I regret that decision. Being cooped up is weighing on me emotionally. I miss my loved ones. I miss socializing. I miss human touch. So many of the things that made me fall in love with the city, like restaurants and the county library, are closed for the foreseeable future. The truth is, no one knows how long this lockdown will last, and if things will ever go back to normal. Public officials are cautious about ending the stay-at-home order too soon. Not knowing a timeline and being able to count down days is disheartening. However, I have hope that we will all get through this and be stronger because of it. Even though the building is lonely, I know I’m not alone in feeling alone.

A day Trip to the Emerald City

Exploring the Emerald City

For those of us who live in the city without a car, we sometimes forget how easy it is to get out of the city for a weekend. Whether you take a bus or hitch a ride with a friend, it is really easy to just get away, and I know sometimes I forget that and stay cooped up in my dorm.

This past weekend I went to Seattle with an old friend for a concert; I hadn’t been to Seattle since I was two and planned on making the most of it. Before the concert, we went and explored a few of the touristy spots of Seattle. I got to watch the fish throwers at Pike Place Market, I bought some fresh plums from a fruit stand, saw the ever famous Gum Wall on Post Alley and walked around the outside of the Space Needle (there was no way I was paying 20 dollars to ride an elevator up to the top), and then went to the concert. Even if I was only away from campus for a day or two, it was still a nice change of scenery.

Cupcake Fiasco

Cupcake Fiasco

Isn’t that cupcake beautiful? It only took two trips to the store and three different people’s kitchenware to produce. When making a box cake mix takes this much effort, it’s extremely obvious that this is my first month having a kitchen.

It’s my first time living away from home, and my kitchen is not that of a chef’s. Even though I have had some difficulties, I have found that if you just ask a friend or a neighbor if they have cooking spray or a bowl big enough to mix in, generally someone will have something they can loan to you for the night.

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, because otherwise you will have some difficulty making that new pasta recipe if you don’t even have a pot to boil water in.