I Literally Wrote the Book on Small-Space Living—and Here Are the Top 5 Organizing Lessons I Learned
Adopt these storage strategies, no matter the size of your home.
As an adult, I have always lived in small spaces, including a 225-square-foot studio apartment and a teeny-tiny cabin in a county park one glorious summer. But writing my book about small spaces, The Little Book of Living Small, gave me a chance to poke around in other people's small spaces to really see what made them work. The experience taught me a few things about organizing that can apply to any home, whether you live in an actual tiny house or a suburban five bedroom. Here are the top organizing lessons I learned from small-space homeowners.
With enough closet space, even a tiny apartment can look calm, cool, and collected. While you can’t wave a wand to get more closet space, you can probably use what you’ve got more efficiently. The homes with the most organized closets were the ones that were most organized all around. Outfitting a closet with The Container Store Custom Closets or California Closets is a game changer (and in my opinion, totally worth the investment), but there is also a lot you can do with inexpensive organizers. I saw homeowners use over-the-door shoe organizers (not just for shoes, P.S.), storage drawers, and bins to great effect. Invest your time and money into planning how to use each inch of your closets, and you will be rewarded. And if you’re really short on closet space, you might consider buying an armoire to hide things away (IKEA’s Pax system is a popular choice.)
While an abundance of storage space is usually a good thing, large bins, oversized baskets, and undivided cabinets are a recipe for disorder. Oftentimes it’s better to have two small bins instead of one giant one. (This is especially true when it comes to toy storage: Imagine a toddler dumps a smaller basket of playthings, there is less to clean up.) Likewise, a big expanse of undivided space in a cabinet or closet is hard to keep tidy: Dividing those storage spots into smaller spaces will help you stay organized.
The old saying about “a place for everything and everything it its place” is easy to dismiss because we’ve all heard it so many times. But it is the key to true organization. If you look around your home and zero in on what’s cluttering up your surfaces, a good chunk of it will be the things that don’t have a place. For instance, in my living room, my son’s toy sword, a newspaper I’m not done reading, and my own Kindle are three things that don’t have a set place in my home. If I wanted to clean these items up, I’d have to make a decision about where to put each of them. The goal is to always know where every single item needs to be put away. This can be as simple as deciding: The Kindle lives on my bedside table or adding a tray to your coffee table for your current magazines and newspapers.
Don’t use a lack of space as an excuse for a disorganized kitchen. A small-space dweller, I’ve always found I could make my kitchens work, but touring a dozen other houses with mini cooking spaces confirmed my belief that any small kitchen can be tidy and hardworking. Yes, you may need to use some Tetris-like maneuvers to fit things in. You may also have to decide between things like a toaster oven and a microwave, or a countertop blender and a food processor, but those compromises and creative solutions won’t get in the way of wonderful meals. I found that the key is in paring back, avoiding single-use appliances and tools, and culling the rarely-used gear to free up space.
Even the most avowed minimalist seems to have a weak spot when it comes to books (myself included!). The small space homeowners in my book came up with many creative ways to store their books, including some drool-worthy custom bookcases, but I discovered the real secret to keeping books organized lies in culling your collection at least once a year. Luckily, donating books is easy to do in most communities. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll never read and make use of your local library.
For even more small-space organizing ideas, check out the Little Book of Living Small.