Organizing in a small apartment that lacks storage space

Unclutterer reader Tami recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenge:

I just moved from a 2-bedroom, 1200-square-foot apartment into a 1-bedroom, 784-square-foot apartment. I LOVE my new place but to say “lack of storage” is an UNDERSTATEMENT. I have adequate space in the kitchen but I literally have NO linen closet, nowhere medicine cabinet, place for sheets, towels, just STUFF. I have a hall closet (which is where I have put my broom, mop, etc.) and placed a basket up top for sheets to try and organize, and a closet for the washer and dryer (yet another basket system for cleaning supplies, meds, and odds and ends) but I KNOW there has to be a better way!!!

Tami, this is a problem you share with many others. On Unclutterer, we’ve written before about strategies that often work in small spaces, but the following are some more suggestions that may work for you.

Re-evaluate what you own

When you’re in a small space, everything you own really has to earn a place in your home due to how functional it is or how much you care for it, aesthetically or sentimentally. There may be no room for anything that’s just “okay” or “perfectly good” if it isn’t something you need or love.

For example, how many bed linens do you really need? Many people get by with two sets: one on the bed and one spare. (And the same principle might apply to other linens, such as towels.) If you have a number of specialized cleaning products, could you move toward multipurpose cleaners?

Look beyond the (non-existent) closet shelves

You’ll want to be sure you’re storing things safely, where small children and pets can’t get to them (if that’s a concern in your living situation). And remember that medications are often best stored away from the humidity of a bathroom. The following are some alternatives to consider:

Use the backs of doors

Shoe pockets hung over a door can be used to store all sorts of things. Parent Hacks has a great list of ways this versatile product can be used. Elfa also has some door racks that might be worth a look.

You can use the backs of cabinet doors, too, adding baskets or trays.

Use the walls

Your lease may limit your options here, since it may preclude you from adding anything that would put a hole in the wall.

But even then, you have some options. For example, Perch attaches to many walls with damage-free Command Strips. If your lease doesn’t limit you, you can look into shelves and pegboards.

Consider different ways to store linens and towels

I’m assuming that you don’t have space to add a storage piece such as a cabinet, trunk, cart, or shelving unit. If you do have space, that’s one alternative, but certainly not the only one.

Some people store an extra set of linens between the mattress and the box springs. Some linens, such as tablecloths, can be stored on hangers. Placemats can be hung from hangers with clips.

Towels are a different challenge. Perhaps you could store them in an empty suitcase. (An under-the-bed storage box could work, too.) You could also add a towel rack that mounts in the door hinges to store extra towels.

11 Comments for “Organizing in a small apartment that lacks storage space”

  1. posted by [email protected] on

    Great ideas. You can also use overhead space. I was at the Ikea store and walked through one of their tiny houses. They had utilized every bit of space included above!

  2. posted by Emily on

    To me, the first step would be getting rid of at least half of my stuff. Drastic maybe, but if you’ve halved your living space, you should have the stuff that fills the space as well.

    What about dedicating one wall to floor-to-ceiling bookcases, either built-in or mock built in or whatever fits your style? Books and pretty things can fill some of them, baskets full of anything can fill others.

  3. posted by Emily on

    To me, the first step would be getting rid of at least half of my stuff. Drastic maybe, but if you’ve halved your living space, you should half the stuff that fills the space as well.

    What about dedicating one wall to floor-to-ceiling bookcases, either built-in or mock built in or whatever fits your style? Books and pretty things can fill some of them, baskets full of anything can fill others.

  4. posted by Bette on

    I recently moved to the same size apt. It’s a challenge!

    I pared down my belongings and learned to live with less. As the article notes, you don’t need more than two sets of towels and sheets, which I keep in a storage bin under my bed. I also bought tall shelving from the Container Store and either display proudly or hide in baskets quite a bit of my stuff. I have a fabric basket that sits on the toilet tank that serves as my medicine cabinet and toiletry holder. I have a storage bench w/ baskets underneath, a great standing coat rack that holds my coats and umbrella, and a multipurpose entertainment unit (small) with glass-front doors and interior shelves. My coffee table and end tables each have drawers and shelves.

    After six months, I can honestly say my apt feel spacious and everything has a place. I’m amazed at how easy it is to live like this.

  5. posted by Arja on

    A few months ago, my daughter, our two cats, and I moved from the Gulf coast to the West coast, downsizing from a three bedroom, two bath, two car garage suburban house to a 550 sq. ft. apartment in a high rise. Books and media were downsized by about 75%. We sold or donated most of our furniture (down from 40+ pieces to 10) and filled a charity truck with other items to be donated. After the move, we acquired beds, a small couch, kitchen table, a small chest, and three shelves. We donated an additional carload of things that did not suit the new place as well as downsizing books and media by another 50%.

    Since there is only one small closet and very limited kitchen cabinetry, we had to get creative with storage. Brightly colored folding cloth storage cubes hold electronics accessories, office and art supplies, tools, and clothes. Suitcases hold out of season clothing. Under bed storage holds additional art supplies and art work not currently displayed. Cleaning and cat supplies occupy under sink storage. Broom, mop, and step ladder fit next to the washer/dryer stack and pet carriers are stacked on top of them. A cedar chest holds linens and towels and doubles as kitchen seating. High ceilings, a large window, and minimal furnishings allow the apartment to retain an open, uncrowded feel.

  6. posted by Pat Reble on

    I’m also downsizing and I’m finding that the trick is to keep going back over things you’ve already culled and cull again. It seems to get easier and easier with each additional sweep, a bit like defragmenting a computer. You get better and better at discarding the Ok things and only keeping the perfect ones. The biggest change I’ve had to make is to stop a life time habit of bulk buying. The bigger size and the bulk lot may be cheaper, but they are more trouble then they are worth. I’ve also got rid of all my extra place settings and given my holiday stuff to the kids. Less is more!

  7. posted by Ann on

    You can also be creative with finding additional stand-alone storage items. I live in an 832 square-foot condo, and have a white laminate assemble-it-yourself wardrobe in the corner of my dining room. Inside the wardrobe are large stacking plastic boxes with slide-out drawers, which turn the wardrobe into a great storage place for all kinds of stuff! I also have things stored in unusual places, like toilet paper and light bulbs in a file cabinet, plastic ware in the cabinet under my stereo, and canned goods in a wooden jelly closet in my living room. My household chemicals are in a decorative leather-look box near my front door (it would have a padlock if there were small children present). There is a metal cabinet on wheels with a butcher-block top in front of some of my kitchen cabinets, for additional counter space and shelf space, and it can be rolled aside if I need to get to the lesser-used items in the cabinets behind it. And there is a wooden jewelry box on the counter in my bathroom, which is used for things like my comb, dental floss, hair bands, etc.

  8. posted by momof3 on

    said it before, will say it again: Raised three kids in a 920 sf house on a slab. We managed quite well despite the small space. Our oldest two are now out of state with jobs post college graduation (yes oh yes oh yes—but sad…300 and 1000 miles from home)

    I am going room by room and finding things left…that i am not interested in and will save for them to go thru on next trip home. Either the stuff goes with them or it’s donated!

  9. posted by Sherri on

    Getting organized in a small space is always a challenge. I second what Anne said about finding stand-alone storage items to help you stay organized. We have a 3 piece set of bedroom organizer boxes that have helped many of our customers with their lack of storage. You can view the organizer boxes at: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....tterer-20/

    Our customers have used them to store everything from baby clothes, socks and scarves to stationary, cords, toiletries and crafts. They are stackable so you can sit them in the corner of your room or on a shelf. Hope this helps!

  10. posted by skiptheBS on

    Underbed storage boxes on wheels are great. But-when I found a great deal on a taller box, I discovered that my bed was a couple of inches too low. Bed risers do not allow for mobility and my bed’s casters were small. Lowe’s has larger diameter casters for around $20 a set and this more than doubled potential storage space. Wooden bed legs, if sufficiently large, can be drilled out and sockets inserted for stem casters.

  11. posted by Mo on

    I live in a small space and run a business from home so I have a lot of stuff.
    I have a bed that is a simple white frame with wooden boards across (my dad made it for me!) Lots of store space underneath. My coffee table is two storage cubes. I find even a small space can feel big if it isn’t weighed down by stuff. When it starts to mount up, I have a garage sale and I am surprised that once things are gone I don’t miss them..well maybe the add thing…

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