Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Felice Cohen says she had a panic attack during the first night in her tiny apartment. (Nicolas Boullosa/Nicolas Boullosa)
Felice Cohen says she had a panic attack during the first night in her tiny apartment. (Nicolas Boullosa/Nicolas Boullosa)

What it's like to live in 90 square feet Add to ...

Apartment-dwellers often complain about a lack a space. Not Felice Cohen. The writer and professional organizer is perfectly content with her teeny New York rental - which measures just 90 square feet.

A YouTube video of the writer/professional organizer showing off her home has recently gone viral ("It can be a little daunting getting out of the tub," she says with a smile). Even the lack of a kitchen doesn't faze her: "In New York most people store their laundry in their stove anyway."

More related to this story

The space may be small, but Ms. Cohen pays just $700 a month to live steps from Central Park.

She managed to squeeze some time into her day to take a few questions from The Globe and Mail about the trick of tight spaces and the lightness of living without the weight of "too much stuff."

In the land of monster homes, a lot of people will think you are crazy getting by on 90 square feet. What's the hardest thing you had to give up to make it in that space?

I don't think in terms of what I had to give up, except, of course, space. Sure I don't have a large refrigerator or an extra room, but when it comes down to it, I live in New York city, steps from Central Park (my backyard), Lincoln Center, numerous restaurants, theater and wonderful museums. I don't value owning a lot of material possessions. I wanted to write my grandfather's book and experience living in NYC without going broke. And I was able to do that.

How did you cull your belongings to get them to fit? What was the hardest item to throw away?

I gave away a lot of books, a leather couch, clothes. Most was stuff I wasn't wearing or had read. And it felt good to give it away to someone who needed it. Too much stuff can be a burden.

What would you say is your most clever adaptation?

The shelving unit. I had designed it before I even moved in. I knew what I was going to buy and had it measured out. It is very tall and absorbed most of my belongings. It is my workspace, storage space, holds my art and some clothes.

What was your first night like?

I had a panic attack. I had a friend sleep over and I said I'd be okay sleeping next to the wall. I woke in a cold sweat, walls all around and a body blocking the opening. I rushed to get out and my friend said, "Take your time," as she was afraid I would fall. There was only the ladder. Then I lay on the floor staring up at the ceiling on a towel thinking, "What did I get myself into?" But then I added a bar to the side of the ladder and a hook on top and after that first night, I felt safer and now I love the space. Cozy and intimate.

Storing your laundry in your stove? Is that really the New York way?

As an organizer, I've worked with many people, from Luther Vandross to the average Joe in a small apartment. I had one client who lived in a studio who didn't cook and kept her dirty laundry in the oven. People store all kinds of things in their oven. With all of the opportunities for different foods, not many New Yorkers find the need to cook.

What's an advantage of downsizing?

It's less to keep track of, to clean. How many books do people have on their shelves? And of those, how many have they already read? Why not pass them on for someone else to read? Our closets are full of clothes and I know I often wear the same things. Plus for me, I feel overwhelmed with lots of stuff. Trinkets or collectibles are useless things that take up space. Usually after working with clients who have a lot of stuff, I go home and get rid of one or two things.

Any interesting culinary inventions in your make-do kitchen?

Quesadillas in the toaster are great. I also make the Passover coffee cake (only in season) because it comes with a tiny throw-away pan that fits perfectly in the toaster oven.

You know that prison inmates have more space than you do. Don't you feel a little trapped in that space sometimes?

Never. When Bernie Madoff went to prison, I wrote an article (that never got published) offering him advice on how to survive in his new digs since I was adapt at living in a small space. (A sample: "Bunk your bed. It's probably been done for you by a guy named Bull. Be nice to Bull.")

As a New Yorker, I'm always on the go. But the days I work at home, I go out for walks to clear my head, more from work than being in a small space. The room gets a lot of light and has high ceilings so it never feels so small.

Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories