14 Ways I’ve Found “Me Time” in a 470-Square-Foot Studio (Which I Share With My Husband and Our Dog)

published Nov 29, 2020
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My preferred time has always been Me Time: Growing up, I delighted most in locking myself in my room for hours while I read, drew, and played with my Barbies in complete silence. (College, and specifically the lack of privacy dorm life allows, was a total disaster and existential crisis in comparison.) As an adult, I’ve designed my life so that I’ve been able to have ample time to myself, no matter my obligations with family and friends.

But being an introverted homebody proposed a unique challenge this year, as I struggled to find time to myself while hunkering down in a 470-square-foot studio with my husband and our dog. I felt stifled, squashed, and strapped for time. I got lucky in some respects: My husband is an introvert, too, and after three years in the same space, we have learned how to maximize every nook.

But after a few months of sheltering in place, it was pretty clear that I would have to crack the stay-at-home code for the sake of my career, mental health, and relationship. And I knew my tricks and tools had to be weather-proof for an impending long winter.

“Taking Me Time is important to give yourself boundaries and an opportunity to re-center,” Rachel Hott, PhD, a Clinical Psychologist and co-director of the The NLP Center of New York, tells Apartment Therapy. “In order to be available for others, we first have to take care of ourselves. Otherwise, many people discover they become resentful of those who are part of their work or family life, and may even take on coping habits that are not beneficial.” In other words: Me Time can make or break your relationships.

Here are 14 of my favorite ways to create solitude, personal space, and Me Time for yourself this winter if there’s no option to be physically alone besides hiding in the bathroom:

1. Communicate clearly.

The first step toward Me Time when you share a space? Talk about it. Hott’s advice is to be vocal (and specific) about your needs first and foremost. “When you live in a shared space, it’s best to have an agreement with those with whom you live,” she says. “Once each person has identified what they need, it is important to define Me Time as an opportunity to create healthy boundaries, because when there will be ‘We Time,’ everyone will be more engaged and cooperative.” Ask the other person: what do they need to recharge? How can you support their Me Time? And then be clear about your needs, too.

2. Sync your calendars.

At the beginning of each week, my husband and I sync our calendars so we each know when the other will be on calls, out of the house, or be engaged in something important. We don’t need to know every single detail on each other’s schedules, but we DO benefit from knowing when each person is available and unavailable. Not only do we not end up scheduling over each other, but we aren’t reaching for our headphones in frustration when the other jumps on a call we weren’t expecting to happen. This makes our time together more connected, more present, and more fun.

3. Create Me Time territories.

“Staging is everything,” Adam Bokunewicz, a Manhattan-based real estate broker at Keller Williams NYC, tells Apartment Therapy. “‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ is the best way to navigate small spaces.” He suggests looking at what you do throughout a day and seeing where each activity can live: “Designate certain ‘areas’ for specific functions when you don’t have the luxury of designating rooms.”

Finding a space that’s got max Me Time functionality “might be as simple as turning a chair around,” Hott suggests. I’ve rearranged my favorite corner of the apartment so that it serves as my makeshift office, but I can also turn my chair 45 degrees to the right, and stretch my feet out and blissfully daydream without feeling like I’m “at work.”

4. Turn your bathroom into a personal retreat.

Maybe don’t “hide” in there, per se… but why not embrace that extra closable door if you’ve got it? Add some fun, personal touches to make it somewhere you’d actually want to hang out, then get creative with the few square feet you can have to yourself: I’ve found it’s actually the perfect place to meditate, journal, and even catch up with your best friends.

5. Designate one specific area of your home to be your “home gym.”

Find a space the size of your yoga mat where you’re able to do your favorite workout with ease—and stick to it. For me, the hallway leading from our front door into our studio features the perfect dimensions to perform my favorite at-home HIIT moves. While it’s not the biggest space in our apartment, the consistency allows me the same comforting feeling I’d get when I snagged my favorite treadmill at the gym. 

It’s worth noting that most digital fitness studios know most people don’t have tons of extra room in their homes; as a result, they’ve created workouts that don’t require anything more than a few feet of space.

6. Become BFFs with your headphones.

Headphones aren’t just for working out or tuning other people out. They’re also a way to destress and redirect your attention on what you really want to focus on: yourself. Stephen Stansfeld, Professor of Psychiatry at Queen Mary University of London, told The Guardian “there’s a sense of relief” when you can isolate yourself from intrusive sounds. “Unwanted noise can cause irritation and anger if it feels like an invasion of privacy […] Without noticing, you’re putting in a lot more effort in order to block out the noise,” he said. 

If you can, invest in comfortable headphones you’ll enjoy wearing often—Black Friday sales might be the perfect time to score a deal. Listening to your favorite music or podcasts through your headphones can feel like creating invisible personal space, and allows multiple people to be doing things simultaneously without that “barging in” feeling.

7. Learn, improve upon, or revisit a skill that has no immediate use other than bringing you joy.

As much as I try to set boundaries for myself around my work and personal life, I sometimes let my hobbies and interests fall by the wayside if they’re not directly linked to professional success.

But whether it’s an online course, virtual lessons, or a group training you’ve always had your eye on, choose something meaningful to you and build it into your weekly routine. It doesn’t have to be brand new—I started taking singing lessons again after a 10-year hiatus, and they’ve become the highlight of my week. Dedicating an hour a week to something that’s purely about joy has been unexpectedly rejuvenating… and helpful in creating that elusive work/life balance I keep hearing so much about.

8. Walk yourself.

People with dogs know to walk their dogs. But a lot of people forget to walk themselves… especially when it’s cold outside. Even a 10-minute walk around the block can work wonders. Studies have proven that walking can increase creative thinking, boost your mood, and even ease anxiety and depression. “No matter what the weather, pretend you have a dog that must go out for a walk. Take yourself for a walk and feel the fresh air any time of the day,” suggests Hott.

Just make sure you’re properly prepared to “walk yourself” when it’s cold outside so you don’t waste your precious Me Time grousing about the weather. Check the wind chill (aka the “Feels Like” temperature on your phone’s weather dashboard) to prevent any surprises once you step out the door; dress in cozy layers; and keep your ears covered with a hat or headband, as they’re hyper-sensitive to cold.

9. Take advantage of when your partner isn’t home.

I immediately feel refreshed when I have the entire studio to myself. Since this doesn’t happen often, I take advantage of every minute I get. Carrie Bradshaw famously called this solo routine “Secret Single Behavior,” but it doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure, just something you normally wouldn’t do if you were sharing the space. Blast your favorite music (that your partner doesn’t love) out loud. Have a solo dance party. Watch a loud TV show, sans headphones. My husband and I now make sure we each take at least one dog-walking shift solo throughout the day to give the other anywhere between 10-30 minutes of time to ourselves.

10. Create action, task, and time-of-day specific playlists based on how you want to feel.

Mindfully consider when you’ll be playing the playlist: How do you want to feel when you’re working on a big project? Answering emails? Cooking? Pumping yourself up for the day? Unwinding? Carefully curating playlists for yourself based on how you want to feel is the Me Time activity that not only helps you recharge while you’re creating the playlists themselves—it pays off when you plug in those headphones and press play.

11. Practice your gratitude.

There is so much to be grateful for, in so many ways. But how do you actually practice gratitude? I personally like setting aside five minutes for a simple exercise: I pick one thing in my home, set a timer for one minute, and focus on why I’m grateful for that thing for the allotted amount of time. I repeat this process with four more things until the five minutes are up. Not only do I feel like I created a pocket of positive Me Time for myself, I get back in touch with why I love my home in the first place. 

Once you practice on a weekly, or maybe even daily basis, it will be easier for gratitude to come naturally. 

12. Schedule out “white space.”

In design, lazy or boring. Being intentional about when your “lazy time” is might be the make-or-break moment as to whether you get your Me Time or not. You’re giving yourself permission to do whatever feels rejuvenating in that moment, even if that’s staring at the ceiling. And speaking of…

13. Stare aimlessly at the ceiling.

There are tons of types of meditation, and there’s a fit for everyone. Even so, the practice of meditating can sometimes seem too formal or intimidating. (What if I’m doing it wrong?!) When I need to access a sense of “me time” and reset fast, I channel high school and stare aimlessly at the ceiling or out the window. As someone who always has a to-do list on hand, “zoning out” or daydreaming is like wiping my internal slate clean so I’m more aware and alert for whatever comes next.

14. Embrace the temporary as best you can.

It can be helpful to remind yourself—either mentally or out loud— that the way we’re living now is not the way we’re going to be living forever. Knowing that this moment is temporary, how can you (and your small-space partner) do the best with what you’ve got… and the best for whatever comes next? 

I’m a huge fan of journaling, and have used my Me Time this year to capture how I’m feeling so I can look back at it in years to come. As Hott shares, many people are choosing to focus on the “silver linings” they’ve found this year, as rare or small as they may seem. “Perhaps you can finally exercise in the morning because you don’t have a long commute, or maybe you have reconnected with old friends on Zoom.”

“Use this time to learn and grow,” she says. “When we take Me Time, we find ways to optimize a connection with ourselves and then be ready for whatever shows up for us in life.”