Ask Maxwell: Can You Help Me Put Some Sanity Back Into My Apartment?

published Aug 22, 2022
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Ryan's photos of his apartment he sent in for Ask Maxwell column
Credit: Ryan W.
Ryan's kitchen with his desk right in the middle!

I am in desperate need of help. 

I live in a 2bd 2ba apartment, along with my 5yo son Abel. He is back and forth from here and with his mom, but lives here the majority of the time. I also have two older boys, David 17, and Matthew 15, that live with their mom and are here on weekends, and lastly is my dog, Toby, a Lhasa Apso. 

My apartment faces the south, and gets all day sun throughout the year. I also have my desk for work setup currently in the dining area in lieu of a dining table. I have been working from home due to the pandemic. I initially put my desk out here and not in my bdrm because I wanted that seperation of my bed and work space. However, having my desk out here in the front has had its own problems as well. Being in the main area of the apartment, my 5yo is mainly here in the living room watching tv and playing with his toys and my desk has replaced the dining table.

I typically eat my meals at my desk and my son eats on the couch, I have tried to get Abel to stay in his room, putting a tv in there and playing with his toys in there as well, but being by himself and isolated like that, he always ends up back out here in the front with me watching tv and he brings his toys with him. This not only makes it difficult at times for me to concentrate on my work, and then there’s always the extra clutter from all the toys he brings out. At this point, I am just stuck and do not know where to put everything so as to be able to have that flow as you stated in this morning’s article. If there is any advice/guidance you could share with me to achieve the flow, and some sanity hahaha, back in my life, I would greatly appreciate it. 


Dear Ryan,

Wow, this is a tough one and while I would agree that it’s generally good to get your office out of your bedroom, seeing your work station in the middle of your kitchen seems to have created an even bigger problem, and, while it could work, it’s not working for you so let’s see what we can do.

1. The flow problem you’re having is not just about where things sit in each room, it’s about mixing the intentions of your home. In other words it’s really confusing – energetically – to put work energy in the middle of your cooking/food/hearth energy, and I would say that losing your dining table and the ability to sit down with your son and eat a meal is a no go for me. We’ve got to restore your kitchen and dining table – this will help restore sanity.

2. Where to put the desk? You’ve got a fairly roomy apartment with that second bedroom and I would first clean that room up and get your desk in there or – barring that – put it into your bedroom and throw a sheet over it all at night to help you detach from the machines. There’s no perfect solution here with three kids, a dog and working from home, but – probably – putting it snugly into your bedroom is the best idea until you return to the office. The other thing you could do – if you dismantle your TV setup in the living room – is put it up against the wall by the sliding doors, which would keep your bedrooms free and just clutter the edge of your living room, but what the heck? it’s better than sitting in your kitchen!

Credit: Ryan W.
Other end of the room - the living room - with sliding doors to patio and TV mounted in the corner.

3. But that brings us to the other problem you mentioned – that your son loves to hang out with you and goes wherever you go. I love that he wants to be with you, but I totally understand that is nearly impossible to work on a computer with kids around. If this is the big issue at the end of the day, I would go back to getting your desk into your bedroom (maybe get a slightly smaller desk that will take up less room) and let your son take over the living room and join him there and in the kitchen whenever you can. This last piece is going to be about drawing firm boundaries with him and yourself around working when he’s there. Children can’t play by themselves forever, but they can for about an hour or so. When he’s home, make a strict schedule that gives him the time he needs with you and it may even mean working less or tucking work hours into times when he’s asleep. In the end, this will also restore your sanity.

Finally, one of the basic concepts with Flow is to make clear zones for each activity and not mix them up. When you don’t have enough room, you might have to remove a zone (for example, you can work at the kitchen table and eat in the living room if you live by yourself, or you can remove a living room to turn it into an office). When space is tight you have to pare down to preserve your sanity, otherwise your home turns into a clutter jumble.

It would seem to me that the place you and your son are going to hang out the most is the living room and kitchen, so I would let that be, return the TV and let him play in there, then join him, cook dinner and sit down at a table together and have a good laugh about this crazy time in your life that will soon pass and seem like a funny memory – the years when you lived on top of one another, two boy roommates in the 2020’s and got to know one another better than probably a lot of other dads.

Best, M

Credit: Ryan W.
Ryan's bedroom, which has some extra space in it for sure!

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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