Sundius and Ichiki say that setting priorities and exercising healthy boundaries is what can keep your energy and spirits up: “We don’t need to work such long hours and have so many meetings.” If you decide to turn off your phone and be unavailable, they say, “Go for it…the whole cracking-the-whip, frantic work life needs to be replaced with something more balanced and sustainable that centers around family.”
Hale says that when you feel like you need to press the pause button, do it without hesitation: “All the remote conferencing and screen sharing is draining. At midday, I make a point of unplugging, stepping outside, sitting down, and simply not saying anything for five to 10 minutes.” In this time, he draws or makes a collage in a sketchbook his brother-in-law designed for him. “Attempting to make something beautiful every day should be a palliative habit,” he says.
Define Working Spaces, but Leave Room for Flexibility
The built-in dining table in Marah Hoffman’s tiny home, Micro Modula, can be adapted for work.
For Benichou, finding space to work means rearranging her surroundings. “Simply put, there are no limits,” she says. “I push my furniture aside and enjoy my space. Then, I clean my desk and surroundings after a day’s work so the house looks and feels like a house again—not an office space!”
Hoffman also takes time to reset in her 156-square-foot tiny home. “My tables and surfaces serve multiple functions,” she says, “but I try not to use them at the same time.” For instance, her dining table is her designated office nook until the day is done, when it transforms again for meal times. To take this strategy a step further, she sets what she describes as “behavioral boundaries,” using phone alarms to start and end the work day, and to remind her to go do bed. Although her line of work requires that she be available outside typical 9-to-5 hours, her alarms are gentle reminders to maintain healthy boundaries: “They care for my well-being, and allow me moments to exercise self-care and gratitude.”
Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama pose with their two children, Otto and Lula.
Courtesy of Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama
Compartmentalization strategies also work for Tolstrup and Mama, who have two children. “We separate our family life and our studio, and our kids respect that when we are in the studio working,” they say. The kids are allowed to visit and stay in the studio, but they know to keep busy with drawing or homework. “Doing this makes them feel welcome and part of our studio work environment,” they say.
For Sundius and Ichiki, their dining table has become a multifaceted workhorse: “It’s a school desk for six hours of the day, then a virtual playdate space; every evening, it’s a dinner table, other times a crafting area—and so much more.” This is all possible as long as there’s an intention set beforehand, and everyone cleans up after themselves. “It’s been a big savior,” they say. “Everyone is doing their part to respect these boundaries.”
“Telephone calls and Zoom meetings in a shared, small space are distracting and loud,” concedes Hale. As a solution, he says to carve out temporary defined zones. “If you can, designate a room for calls,” he says, “and even take it a step further—move some clothes to transform a closet into a telephone booth.” He encourages people to perceive so-called limitations as an opportunity to turn your “team” (aka family members) into a well-oiled machine that can handle any curve balls thrown their way.
Keep a Sense of Humor
Prentis Hale has a setup in his daughter’s room. Her motivational poster is tacked on the wall.
For Hale’s temporary work-from-home space, he “rented out” his daughter’s 11 foot-by-11 foot bedroom. “My laptop and iPad sit on her plywood desk, white pegboard to my right,” he describes, “and there’s a wall of light gray/blue to look into when I’m not staring at a screen.” But perhaps the highlight is his spirited cheerleader—a motivational cartoon poster crafted by his daughter that says “Thank the ground for catching you.” In these unpredictable times, a little laughter goes a long way to keep the peace and the sanity within a small space.
Sundius and Ichiki endorse having a schedule but keeping an open mind when things go inevitably awry. “It’s hard for everyone right now,” they say. “Although we’ve always worked from home, we have maintained the thought that this is strange for everyone, and have tried to tend to everyone’s needs as they come up.” For instance, they encourage their children to come up to them and express their issues instead of shouting: “We’re often on a call, and their screams and pleadings are now broadcasted across the nation.” Overall, the duo say to be polite and patient. When in doubt, laugh, and seek out the positives. “Yep, productivity is down, but on the bright side, my cooking and drawing skills have gotten better,” jokes Sundius.
Keep Your Home Tidy for the Feeling of More Space
Something as simple as making your bed can make a small dwelling feel instantly larger and more spacious.
Hoffman says that making your bed is a small, simple act—yet an incredibly effective way in making spaces feel larger. She uses Marie Kondo’s KonMari method of tidying up because it allows her focus on elements that matter the most to her, “and reminds me to let go of everything else that’s not currently serving my well-being.”
Hale also subscribes to a spring-cleaning state of mind. “If you feel your small space is getting you down, do something about it!” he says. “This hard time could be an opportunity for the greatest spring cleaning in U.S. history, and to change the way we use and value space. Let’s not miss it.”
Tolstrup and Mama say to rid yourself of things you do not need, as small spaces should be filled with joy and happiness. “Only keep quality things you love and care about,” they say. “Get rid of everything else that’s not in regular use.” For example, digitize your files and paperwork with a program like Adobe Scan or Genius Scan. Overall, these types of exercises are what makes living in small spaces so enriching: “It ultimately forces you to evaluate the things that are truly meaningful to you.”