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How to Thrive in a Small Space, According to 6 People Who Really Know

As grateful as I am that I can work from home during this period of social isolation, I didn’t realize it would be a fairly challenging adjustment. This misconception was reinforced by my “grass is always greener” mentality that it actually… might be kind of nice? I assumed I would be hyper-productive with work, now that I no longer would need to leave the house or step into a meeting or spend all day on set for a shoot. I assumed I would take advantage of the opportunity to get a little extra sleep. I assumed Austin and I would revel in each other’s company.

Instead, I’ve found it hard to approach my work as effectively as I did at the office, I’ve woken up earlier than usual every day because I’m anxious, and Austin has been working until 1:00 a.m.—so we haven’t exactly been spending quality time together, despite the irony that we haven’t been more than 10 feet apart. (Last night, I asked him if he, too, feels like the walls of our one-bedroom apartment appear to be contracting an inch every morning we’re confined here, like that scene in Star Wars with the trash compactor).

My inexperience with the whole “working and living in a small space with another person for an indefinite period” is definitely showing, so I turned to the Man Repeller community for advice. Below are some salient tips for how to handle an unexpected situation like this with grace, from people who’ve had a bit more practice.

1. Pick a Designated Work Space

Advice from Olivia, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle with her husband:

“When I first moved to Seattle, I worked as a freelance graphic designer for a year, which meant that 90% of my time was spent in my small apartment. Something that helped me so much then, and is helping me once again, is picking a chair or desk or area that is my designated ‘work space.’ When I’m in bed, in the kitchen, or anywhere else, I’m ‘home,’ and when I sit on my designated chair, it’s like I’m stepping into my ‘office.’ It helps me to focus on work when I need to, and relax and get my mind off work when I don’t.”

2. Maintain a Routine

Advice from Ella, who lives alone in a small New York City apartment:

“I’ve worked from home both as a remote employee and recently as a freelancer, going on over five years now. My advice is to try and stick to a schedule. Wake up, have breakfast, take a shower, and get dressed (you can wear comfy clothes, obviously, but get out of your pajamas from last night). Take an actual lunch break, and watch that episode of your favorite soap opera, or read a chapter in a book. Cut yourself off from email whenever the office would typically close up.”

3. Reward Yourself With Creative Bursts

Advice from Kay, a high school student who lives in a 300-square-foot studio apartment with her mom:

“Since my school is currently closed, I’m at home almost 24/7, and my mom (a nurse) is home three days out of the week. Something that has helped me spend so much time indoors is balancing out my schoolwork with creative activities. Every time I have to write something down or do a worksheet to scan and turn in for school, I draw or paint on the back of the paper. It’s not the most revolutionary tip, but letting myself do one creative task after every work task can be so incentivizing.”

4. Clearly Delineate “Work Life” From “Home Life”

Advice from Taylor, who works from home alongside her husband in a two-bedroom apartment in Delray Beach:

“For many people, the post-work commute provides an opportunity to transition mentally between work life and home life. I’ve found it beneficial to recreate the same effect by doing something every day to separate these two things. For example, I typically shower right after I finish work, which has the same therapeutic effect for me.”

5. Set Boundaries

Advice from Kendall, who lives with two other women in a 2.5-bedroom apartment in Sydney:

“It’s great if you’re super close with the people or person you live with, but that also makes emotional boundaries all the more important. My roommates and I try to avoid ‘brain dumping’ on each other at the end of a hard day without checking in first to see if the recipient is in a place to hear it, so no one feels overwhelmed or burdened. It’s easy to absorb everything that’s going on in each other’s lives by virtue of proximity, but sometimes you’re better off venting to someone you don’t live with.”

5. Don’t Ignore Your Desires

Advice from Avril, who lives and works from home with her partner in a one-bedroom apartment in Barcelona:

“I’m a sexologist, so my advice is to get in tune with your sense of desire. Most of the time, desiring a partner is precipitated by distance, but living in close quarters—especially during a situation like this—makes that difficult to come by. No matter how you’re feeling, positive sexual communication is key. I encourage people to use ‘I’ statements—for example, telling your partner, ‘With everything going on right now, I’m just not feeling very horny lately’ or if you’re experiencing rejection from your partner, you can lead with something like, ‘I feel undesirable when my advances are dismissed and want to have a conversation about that.’ I also think it’s important to keep in mind that even though events and concerts are cancelled and bars are closed, pleasure is not cancelled. Don’t underestimate the potential impact of scheduling time to connect with your partner, whether that means having sex or just holding hands on the couch.”

6. Celebrate Your Productivity

Advice from Gabriella, who works freelance out of a small apartment in Copenhagen where she lives with her boyfriend:

“I definitely recommend installing a time tracker on your browser. I use Clockify and have the extension in Chrome. It shows me how much I ACTUALLY work every day and on which projects. I love to look at the weekly and monthly reports, too, to see where my time goes. I even have a ‘project’ for self/professional development, so I can log my time spent working on this aspect of my career—applying for jobs, finding conferences, updating LinkedIn, online learning, etc. I feel very productive at the end of the day, seeing how much I accomplished.”

Anyone else have tips to share? Sound off in the comments.

Feature photos by Heidi’s Bridge.

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Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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