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Moving In Together: Advice For Couples Sharing A Small Space

Tips to help keep harmony in your home.

Moving into a studio apartment with a partner allows you to save on rent, but it also means you’ll get to know each other really well (really, really well). It can have its challenges, such as limited time to yourself and not much breathing room. Living together in small spaces tends to magnify disagreements and irritating habits. However, it’s possible to remain amicable and even grow closer if you’re savvy about it.

Emotional and communication skills are really important in making a situation that works for you both, and so are practical changes to your space. Here are some layout and decor tips to encourage harmonious living.

Make the most of the space. You won’t have the luxury of ample room in a studio, so furniture placement must be considered carefully. Before you move in, draw up a floor plan and work out where things will best fit. I like to have the bed in a quiet corner and the couch near a window, but that will come down to personal preference. Discuss the pros and cons of the placement of each piece of furniture with your partner.

Set clear expectations. Problems arise when couples have mismatched expectations about what living together is going to look like. Do you leave canisters of tea and coffee out on the countertop or should they be stored away? It’s possible that one of you has much higher standards of neatness or cleanliness than the other. Or maybe you expect a lot more undivided attention than your partner does. Try sitting down together and writing down in one column your nonnegotiables and in another your preferences. It’s important to know what you won’t tolerate and what you just don’t like. Try to compromise on some of your preferences but stand strong on your nonnegotiables.

Communicate cleaning habits. Neither of you can change your behaviour unless you know it’s upsetting the other person. But deciding what to bring up and what to let slide requires some consideration. A couple of dirty dishes in the sink may be something you can live with, but a refusal to help out with any cleaning may not. Ensure that you have plenty of cleaning utensils and products on hand to make any cleaning job easier, and then keep them stored away in a designated kitchen or bathroom cupboard.

Merge your styles. Deciding how to decorate a shared space can be stressful. Maybe one of you is a boho fanatic, while the other loves Scandinavian design. Or perhaps you both own a random selection of furniture and decor that you don’t think will work well together. The trick is to be selective about what you bring in to your small space. Different styles can work together to create an eclectic look if you think about how patterns and colours react. Or maybe your partner has no interest in decorating the apartment, in which case — go crazy!

Have your own interests. Although it’s lovely to be interested in the same things, it can help to keep some areas of your life separate from your partner’s. Whether you’re in a book club, a meditation group or a band, having some designated time to spend with friends or on your own can be a good idea. Perhaps ask your partner if he or she might like to take a night out with buddies or dinner with family so that you could invite friends over (to host said book club, etc.).

Separate living areas. When there’s no separate dining area, it can be all too easy to eat your meals on the couch (or in bed!). It’s much healthier, however, to sit down and make an occasion out of each meal. It also promotes quality time together. Putting a small dining table against the wall means that space isn’t wasted, and it helps the studio feel like a home rather than just a bedroom.

Add a sliding door or screen. If you suddenly find yourselves in a heated argument, there’s nothing worse than having no area to retreat to afterward. A sliding door or movable screen is the most practical way to create a sense of having different rooms.

Or add a curtain. If you’re renting, you’re probably unable to add a sliding door. A sheer curtain can be a great substitute. If your partner’s watching TV and you’d like to read, pull the curtain across for a bit of solitude.

Take time out. If you are trying to do work or just need space, you may want to physically leave the apartment for a couple of hours. Make the most of your surroundings — rate the coffee at your local cafes, read in the park or simply go for a walk. If you don’t have the space in your apartment to take time out, find it outside. It’s a good excuse to go exploring too. Alternatively, a pet (if rules allow) can help reduce stress and promote a sense of calm.

Select new furniture together. If you don’t own suitable furniture and decide to buy new pieces, pick them out together. This encourages a sense of equality in the relationship and ownership of your space. Think about the intended purpose of each piece and the style you are going for.

Stow away clutter. When you’re living in small quarters, excess items will stick out like a sore thumb. Use smart solutions, such as underbed storage and built-in wardrobes. You could try having a minimalist challenge, where you have to get rid of (recycle or donate) one item per week or month. Just don’t throw away your partner’s items without asking!

Add personality. Your home doesn’t need to be lacking in character just because it’s on the small side. The cocktail station pictured is one way to add some fun to the apartment. This is your home; make it feel like your own.

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