Within this journal series, we explore comforting nourishment tips, practical organization inspiration, and more, to ease you into 2024. Our hope is that it transports you into the world of slow living and inspires you to implement these ways not just in the new year, but in your day to day practices as well.
As you'll come to learn, Alison Mazurek is an expert in small-space organization. Thus, we bring to you our interview with her in hopes that you gain new knowledge on how to retain your sustainability values within a tight space, decluttering tips, and more!
First things first, we’d love a little “elevator pitch” so we can learn about who you are.
I'm Alison Mazurek, married mom of 2 (10 and 7 year old). I created 600sqftandababy / @600sqftandababy to share about living small with a baby in the city. Over the years of sharing I have found a deep love for creative small spaces and helping others embrace their small spaces. I also work full-time in the interior design industry, love coffee, the ocean and my Saturday runs with friends.
When and why did you start documenting your home on your blog and Instagram?
I started after our son was 1 years old. Almost everyone told us we needed to move out of our 1-bedroom Mount Pleasant apartment if we were going to have a kid. I spent HOURS combing the internet for proof that families could live in small spaces. I couldn't find a lot of examples at the time beyond some home tours but not the ins and outs of how it actually works in the day to day. So I promised myself that if we were happy living small with a baby that I would share about it so others wouldn't feel so alone. I started on Tumblr because I had no idea what I was doing!
My goal was always to remove the shame of living small and actually celebrate it. Over the years I have found such a supportive community of like-minded city living families sharing in the ups and downs of living small in the city.
Now that you’ve been doing it for over 7 years, how have you been keeping up with staying thoughtful with what you bring into your space?
Once you have done some major decluttering of your space it's more about being really mindful of what you bring into your home. I was incredibly strict about the "one in, one out" rule when all shared 600 square feet. I have gotten more flexible in our bigger space (approx 900 square feet) and it is not working out as well. More things, means more cleaning and more organizing. I stand by old-me's rules and need to get back to them, ha!
But truly I believe that what you own eventually owns you. Living small can be incredibly freeing if you only have what you absolutely need and love. A long-term goal of mine is to have everything in our home be useful and beautiful. My husband only cares if things are useful/functional so this is a battle sometimes ;).
Many people think of the new year as a “refresh”. What are a few things that you do to revitalize your place in January?
I will definitely do a New Year declutter. With many years of decluttering and developing the habits of not bringing too many things into our home, I don't find major purges are necessary anymore but it's always helpful to take a look at closets and shoe cupboards and take note of things that are worn or outgrown.
We have a tiny entryway that's in the middle of our staircase with an 18" closet so I find I am often managing our entryway and ensuring that only the most important shoes and coats are hanging in the entryway (1 jacket per person). I transfer the rest to our shared closet in a bedroom. This helps our tiny entryway function better day to day. I really should film one day all of us trying to come in the door at the same time, take off our shoes and hang up our coats. It's a dance!
I'll also do a review of the kids' room with them, as they got new things for Christmas this can be a good time to re-evaluate what they have. We are often rearranging their room and reconsidering how it works for them as they grow and their interests change.
We’re quite excited to do some organizing and re-decorating in 2024! What is your top tip to decorating a small space without making it feel cluttered?
Truly less is more in a small space. I am often removing a piece of furniture, a side table, or a chair and am always pleasantly surprised how much bigger the space feels with less in it.
Though one thing I often add is a lamp. I find soft glowing light from table lamps, plug-in sconces or even a portable lamp add coziness and warmth to a small space. And a good lamp is really art. Some of my favourites are Hay (Matin Lamp), Audo (formerly Menu) (Carrie Lamp) and Ikea (Fado and Desja).
I also find larger scale art really helps in a small space. It draws your eye and holds your attention. Lots of smaller pieces of art or small shelves can feel like a lot to look at in a small space and make it feel smaller.
For the person that doesn’t know where to start with organizing their small space, it can be overwhelming. We love that you feature other people’s homes on your blog for inspiration, but you also offer a consulting service! Can you tell us about that and how one could benefit from it?
Well if you are overwhelmed starting to declutter I would start small and in an area of your home that is easier for you and you feel less emotionally attached to. Start small with a drawer or a shelf. Review everything one at a time and ask yourself if it is something you use and love. If not, could it be recycled, donated, or is it garbage? Tackle this one small area and feel good about it. Then move onto the next area of your home when you have time. Try to reward yourself when you achieve some decluttering.
I find the kitchen easier to declutter than say my closet. Clothes are more emotional for me. So I'll often start with the kitchen or bathroom to remind myself that I can do this before moving onto other areas. Also I think there is alot of guilt associated with letting things go and it can be difficult to ethically offload items. I think the best thing is to try to find ethical ways to declutter and then focus on moving forward and not making the same mistakes again. Don't hang on to things out of guilt or what they once meant to you.
Anyway, you asked about the consults! I find each one is unique as everyone has different needs and spaces but there are definite themes that arise. Most people contact me when they have decluttered as much as possible and tried many different ways of organizing their space but they want another perspective on specific small space challenges. We are often reviewing things like living room layouts, shared kids rooms, tricky entryways. I love offering furniture, lighting and storage solutions for their unique spaces. We toss ideas back and forth. It's often problem solving and collaborative. Often I am suggesting removing a piece of furniture , especially small bulky shelving units. I am hopefully a positive voice in their ear reminding them that living small as a family is possible and can be wonderful if you have the right amount of "stuff" for you. I really really love connecting one on one and helping people love their small spaces more. It's truly fulfilling for me.
What is something unexpected that has come about or that has challenged you from living in tight quarters with your partner as well as your little ones?
I love how our small space makes communication a priority. Whether it's the kids sharing their room and working out conflict over cleaning it or sharing things, or all of us navigating how to share one bathroom. I find we have to be clear about what we need from each other. I think it really makes us very close and I hope that carries us through whatever the future holds.
Though I have to say, I just got a new soap that I'm excited about from Penny Frances Apothecary and I really don't want to share it because I'm afraid the kids will play with it in the bath and waste it! One bathroom problems!!
What is your favourite functional furniture/décor piece that you would recommend someone to invest in?
Oof, there are way too many to count. I can be a bit of a wall bed pusher as I think they are so versatile for a small space. Especially if you plan on staying small for a long time, a wall bed adds another bedroom or guest space without sacrificing a whole room. And you can take it with you when you move! We went from a one bedroom as a family of 4 to a 2 bedroom as a family of 4 but we always feel like we have more than enough space because of our wall beds.
Beyond a big purchase like a wall bed I believe, similarly to your clothing ethos, that it is better to have fewer and better items than many items. I find everything in our small space takes al ot of wear and tear so I try to save up for quality items made from natural materials so it can withstand our family. Solid wood, linen, and wool are materials I am drawn to. I also believe investing in good lighting will go a long way to elevate your small space. A great thing about living small is you don't have many lights or furniture so you have more money to invest in fewer pieces. Larger spaces often have two living rooms or a rec room. If you only have one sofa it makes it easier to invest in your one piece.
We, too, believe in creating and putting our money into versatile pieces that you can wear long-term. If you had to pick one harly jae piece to keep in your closet, which would it be and why?
I've been living in the James blouse. I dress it up for work with dressier pants and hoop earrings and then I've been wearing it with my favourite knit pants on the weekend to dress it down. It's flattering and works in all situations.
Reflecting upon the new year ahead, what is something you’d love to launch with your platform?
A book has been a dream of mine for years but I'm also just very grateful to connect online and in-person and share what we've learned in our spaces and I love sharing other small spaces that inspire me.
The virtual consults will continue and I hope to create a few more guides like my recent Kids Rooms: and sharing them. It's an accessible way to share lessons learned from my consults and the site all in one condensed format. Open to other ideas of how I can help others live small, comfortably, and beautifully!