Book Review: Apartment Therapy

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It’s been quite a few years since Scott and I sold our house and moved to where we live now. Earlier this year I spent some time investigating other options, only to realize that there’s nowhere else that offers the space, the view and the conveniences we now enjoy unless we move to another city and probably pay a lot more. It seems only logical that instead of moving away from a neighborhood that we like, we take the extra money it would cost for moving and higher living expenses and use it to fix up our current apartment.

While shopping at Indigo this summer, I decided to explore the decorating section to see if I could find a book that focused on rental apartments, since the approach is obviously very different than when you own your own property and have the freedom to make pretty well any changes you like. I didn’t want a bunch of pictures of decorating ideas, but rather practical tips I could apply to my own situation, so I was very excited to discover Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. Published in 2006, it’s not a new book, but it is one that escaped my attention until recently.


One of the things that impressed me was the way that author Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan described the close connection between decorating, organizing, cleaning, and living in harmony with one’s surroundings. For the first time, I understand what feng shui is really about.

The book outlines an eight-step “cure” to transform an apartment from an impersonal space to a healthy living place. One of the first steps recommended is buying fresh flowers every week, a habit I am happy to adopt. As he explains,

As simple as it sounds, the act of buying flowers for your apartment holds great significance and will heal your apartment on many levels. As organic elements, flowers strengthen the bones and contribute to the breath of your apartment through humidifying and cleansing the air. Through their color, shape, and smell they contribute a living beauty that enlivens the senses and invigorates our vision. There is nothing created by man that compares to nature’s own work. And because they are ephemeral, cut flowers are a gift of freshness and faith to oneself and one’s home.

I started with a small bouquet of carnations. This gave me a chance to use a vase I received as a gift-with-purchase many years ago and have always liked, but never had anything to put in it before.

I had always considered decorating to be about esthetics and organizing about function, but this book made me realize that dealing with one and not the other may leave your client feeling less than satisfied. The harmonized step-by-step approach to creating a happy and healthy home provides an excellent framework for developing an organizing plan that incorporates other work your client may need to complete or hire another professional to do – reinforcing the importance of forming alliances with decorators, contractors, and other service providers.

The questions Gillingham-Ryan asks his clients during the initial interview might also prove helpful to you. They won’t help you determine your client’s organizing needs, but will give you important insight into what you can expect while working with him or her, and can therefore be a valuable addition to what you’re already asking.

As the title suggests, the book focuses on people living in apartments, but many of the principles would apply equally to any residence. This book is a must-read for all home organizers, especially those who specialize in clients who are downsizing or already living in small spaces.

If you know of other great books or websites I should be checking out, please let me know!

Photo © Michelle Buchanan Photography & Design / Licensed via Creative Market

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A former professional organizer, I now eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

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  1. Linda Samuels Linda Samuels on October 7, 2019 at 8:01 am

    I love fresh flowers. While I don’t buy them weekly, I do purchase them as frequently as possible. Aside from seeing their colorful blooms grace the rooms, I also enjoy the process of selecting them, arranging them, and placing them around. They definitely infuse an extra burst of color and life in the spaces.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on October 7, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      When I revisited this post recently, I realized how quickly I fell out of the habit of bringing home flowers. I really should buy some once in a while!

  2. Avatar Seana Turner on October 7, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Well this is very interesting! Is there any connection between this book and the website Apartment Therapy? I definitely believe we need organic elements in our space. I have a lot of plants in mine. For me, taking care of plants is a reminder to invest regularly in the “health” of my space. They provide shape and color, and even remind me that life is not static, but ever-changing. Soon my “Christmas cacti” will start to bloom. They are triggered by colder nights, which I think is so fascinating. I’m going to see if my library has this book. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on October 7, 2019 at 12:57 pm

      Yes, the website was launched in 2004 and the book came out in 2006. I don’t think I’d discovered the website when I wrote this, or I’d have mentioned it for sure!

  3. Avatar Sabrina Quairoli on October 7, 2019 at 11:44 am

    I love the idea of adding fresh flowers to my home. I have a lot of live plants in my house, and adding some color with flowers will add to the calmness to our space. Thanks for sharing your book review.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on October 7, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      I have NO live plants right now, other than the herbs and flowers on my balcony, which aren’t likely to last much longer. I’ve had some, but they don’t do well. I guess I don’t have a green thumb!

  4. Avatar Nancy Haworth on October 7, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    Thank you for the book recommendation, I will have to check it out! I agree that decorating and organizing is different when you rent the property rather than own it. Good luck with fixing up your apartment, the cut flowers sound like a great idea!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on October 8, 2019 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks, Nancy! Since I wrote this, we’ve decided this is where we’re staying for the foreseeable future, and got the old carpets removed, laminate flooring installed, and a paint job for the living room, dining room and hallway. Some people might think it’s a waste to spend money on a home you don’t own, but it would have cost much more if we instead moved to a place that was already upgraded, and we love our neighbourhood.

  5. Avatar Stacey Agin Murray on October 7, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    I frequently consult the Apartment Therapy website to gather ideas for my clients living in small spaces. I grew up in an apartment and my parents still live there. We rarely had fresh flowers growing up but my mom tended to a bunch of year-round plants in our kitchen including an avocado pit that a lived on top of the fridge. Speaking of aesthetics–I love the brightly-colored cover of the book!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on October 8, 2019 at 12:33 pm

      You are a pro then! Before moving here, I’d only had short-term stays in apartments, so it was pretty new to me. I remember visiting a relative’s apartment for the first time when I was very small, and I was in awe that they had a whole house inside of another building!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on October 8, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      Stacey, what type of plants did your mom have? Was there a window in the kitchen? I’m having trouble finding something that will survive with the amount of sunlight they get here. We do have a huge window but we keep the drapes closed all winter to block the northeast wind.

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