Organizing Small Living Spaces

Tactics for spaces from studio apartments on up

When space is at a premium, you need to take advantage of every scrap of it you can squeeze out. It is possible to find "a place for everything" even in tiny living quarters. And these tips can apply to the biggest mansion, since stuff seems to expand to fill whatever space we do have. Speaking of which:

Tip Number One: Get rid of unnecessary stuff
Be ruthless about clutter. If you absolutely must keep more than you can store in your living space, face it, it's time for mini-storage. Figure out what can go in the storage bin and what has to stay at home.

Pare down on clothing. Pick two coordinating colors of basics (for instance, navy and tan). Try to have no more than two of each of these: Pants; jackets; sweaters; skirts; dresses; and two pairs of shoes (plus two pairs of jeans and a pair of sneakers).Limit yourself to eight warm weather tops and eight cool weather tops (long and short sleeves included). Remember to go along with your 2 coordinating color family basics.

To keep your wardrobe from being boring you can use a layered look in both seasons, and accessories go a long way toward making an outfit. In a small space, though, you can't afford to go overboard. Try limiting yourself to easy-to-store items like jewelry, scarves and maybe a vest or two.

Tip Number Two: Use unused space
If it is available make a priority out of using under-bed storage. Measure your under-bed area so you know what the clearance is, and use those measurements when you shop for containers that will fit. You might consider moth proof containers. A good rule of thumb is minimum of three containers so that the area doesn't become one giant black hole to sort through. Do the best you can to make sure there is nothing blocking access to that area.

One overlooked storage area is the ceiling! The beauty of ceiling storage is it's inexpensive and easy. You can get plant hooks just about anywhere along with chains, "S" hooks and eye hooks of varying thicknesses and lengths. If you can't drill, try liquid nail for ceiling hooks. Often you won't have to do either if your ceiling is made up of metal dividers and ceiling tile. They make special hangers for those already. You may need a metal or plastic anchor (or molly bolt) so you don't have to worry about something crashing down on your head. With four plant hooks , four eye hooks, four pieces of chain and a board you can work storage wonders! Fasten an eye hook in each corner of the board, attach chains to each, and hook on to plant hook in the ceiling--instant shelf.

Don't miss the space above the door. I have book shelves over our doors here at home that are functional as well as pleasing to the eye. Easy shelf recipe: Two plant hanger brackets, one board no wider than the brackets themselves. To install brackets you may need an anchor or molly bolt. Align brackets to side and top of door molding (do not go above door molding as you will use door molding to help support board). Top with board, instant shelf.

Tip Number Three: Be creative!
Stackable milk crate storage can go to the ceiling (and if you don't care how they look, often you can find them for free). Secure pieces together with plastic wire ties; you can find them in the home electronics section of most department, hardware and superstores. Ties can be cut if you need to change configurations--the height or width.

One overlooked storage area is the curtain rod! Of course you don't want to hang anything too heavy there, maybe an empty back pack or even a food basket.

Don't underestimate the capacity of your car trunk!. There you can store winter boots, older reference books, luggage and lots of other stuff you don't need to have right at hand.

Ever seen those figurines that stack one inside the other? (The Russians call them matryoshka.) Use the principle of storing something inside something else. Store clean socks inside unused shoes,mittens inside hats and extra sheets and blankets under the mattress. Put your detective hat on to look for more oppportunties to use this type of storage.

Related items:

Nita Jackson is a self-described "recovering messie" and the woman behind the OrganizeWize website, where you'll find organizational help for the holidays. She says "I began my messy journey like this: Nerve damage for five years now from a car wreck that was not my fault. I am in pain 24 hours a day so I can no longer work harder, I have to work smarter! I read Sandra Felton's 'Messies' books and they changed my life! My passion to get my life in order has spilled over into a web site on time management and organizing." This article © 1997-2003 Nita Jackson. Used by permission.


Dorothy Gardiner's picture

Thank you for your wonderful ideas!

With the economy up on blocks, the need for applying small living in a larger home is also necessary as family members return.

I find a lot of uses for shoe pockets hanging on both sides of doors. I also prefer utility cupboards, which go almost to the ceiling, to dressers. You can use a valance to hide the stuff piled on top. Because I sleep in the living room, I make my single bed on top of a quilt, put the bedding in a cupboard in the morning, and voila! the bed quickly and easily converts to a place to sit. As for the bed, use a wooden box for storage instead of legs and a boxspring.

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