Whether you’re moving into your first studio apartment or are looking for ways to bring some much-needed order to a small space in your forever home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re facing a mountain of belongings threatening to break the bonds of their current less-than-effective storage solution.
Thankfully, finding the most efficient, attractive, and sustainable way to keep your belongings under control when space is at a premium is actually quite simple. With a little creativity, some elbow grease, and a level-headed approach, it’s easy to get your stuff in order.
The golden rule of small space organization
This may be hard to hear, but here it is:
You probably have too much stuff!
Clutter is the enemy of a small space. If your goal is to get your stuff in order, your first step is to purge—and then purge some more. Not sure how to start? Divide your stuff into three piles:
- Keep: Only keep items you actually use.
- Toss: Anything that is broken, worn out, or otherwise unusable, should be thrown away or recycled.
- Donate: Items that are still usable but which you personally don’t use can either be gifted, sold, or donated. If you want to score some good karma points, check out local Buy Nothing groups in your area.
As a general rule, anything you haven’t used in over a year can likely be tossed or donated. Once you’ve purged, there are a couple of things you can do to keep your clutter under control:
- Create a regular decluttering schedule. Seasonal purges 3 or 4 times throughout the year are an easy way to manage your clutter.
- Follow a “one in one out” rule. Before you purchase anything new, think of what you will get rid of in order to make space for the replacement.
- Don’t purchase any duplicate items. You really don’t need that third spatula.
- Figure out where you will put anything before you purchase it.
12 small space organization tips
No matter what small space you’re dealing with, these tips can help tame your clutter and keep your space organized.
1. Divide your space into zones
Small spaces often have to pull double—or even triple—duty by serving multiple purposes. The best way to manage these multi-purpose spaces is to create “zones” within the room by separating each area and giving it a defined function. This could include:
- Work space/home office
- Craft space
- Play area for kids
- Dining area
SMALL SPACE HACK: Visually separate zones using room dividers, rugs, or other furniture and decor.
2. Maximize vertical space
When you’re dealing with a small space, think up, not out. Here’s how:
- Embrace wall storage tools like vertical shelving units, over-the-door storage, towel rods, pegboard, or magnet strips.
SMALL SPACE HACK: Pegboard and magnet strips are especially practical in the kitchen, as well as in crafting or play spaces. Use them to hang cooking equipment and utensils, or as modular shelving and wall storage that can be adjusted as needed.
- Hang shelves near the ceiling, such as above furniture or doors, for books, framed pictures or artwork, and other decorative items you don’t need to access on a daily basis.
- Make use of otherwise-empty door space by hanging shelves on the inside of closet doors. They’re perfect for storing gift wrap, picnic materials, or other small items.
- Hang picture ledges for low-profile storage. Picture ledges are excellent for displaying children’s books, as well as framed artwork.
- Make the most of narrow wall spaces by hanging corkboards. It’s great for storing light items like jewelry and small pieces of artwork.
- Use a slatted door for attractive and functional vertical storage like Jamie at C.R.A.F.T.
3. Don’t forget corners
It’s easy to overlook or under-utilize corners when you’re organizing a small space. Take advantage of these spaces by hanging vertical corner shelves. If you can, avoid heavy furniture that sits on the floor—it can appear bulky and make the space feel claustrophobic.
4. Look for furniture that doubles as storage
Furniture that functions as storage, such as a bench or ottoman with an interior compartment, is a great way to maximize your space.
Cube storage shelves are another attractive and highly functional option. You could also add a narrow console table behind your couch to function as a dining or work area. Bonus—it’ll function as a room divider and will help you create different zones in your small space.
SMALL SPACE HACK: No floor space for furniture? Hang storage pockets from the back of your couch or the side of your bed for things like phones, tablets, chargers, notebooks, and pens.
5. Make the most of your closet space
Utilize closet storage solutions such as shelves, hanging storage racks, shelf risers, and over-the-door storage solutions.
If you have lots of empty space at the bottom of your closet, look for cube storage, storage benches, or simply shelves stocked with storage containers.
MOVING TIP: If you’re just moving in, wait until you’ve unpacked and you know what you need before you purchase any storage solutions.
6. Keep things off the floor
Try to avoid using your floor as storage space—it’s easy for your floor to become a dumping ground and look even messier. Instead, use shelving units to maximize your vertical space and keep your floor clear of clutter. As an added bonus, a clear floor is easier to clean.
If you simply can’t keep your floor clear, try to position anything stored on the floor underneath furniture to maximize this otherwise-wasted space:
- Store off-season clothing or linens in tightly sealed plastic bins under your bed.
- Install bed risers to lift your bed and open up more storage space.
- Add casters to any plastic bins you store under furniture so they are easy to roll in and out when you need them.
7. Use baskets and bins to corral clutter
Sort like items and store them out of sight in baskets or bins. For easy access storage, look for clear plastic bins. For storage that suits your style, try wicker or fabric baskets that complement the rest of your decor.
8. Look for furniture with a small footprint
If you’re buying new furniture, look for pieces that are small and tall. Narrow pieces that don’t take up much floor space, such as ladder shelves, add practical storage with an airy feeling that won’t clutter up your floor.
9. Don’t be afraid to DIY
If you can’t find the perfect store-bought storage solution for your space, DIY! Build a piece of furniture that satisfies your unique storage needs, such as this super-slim behind the couch table. Amy at Always Never Done didn’t have space for side tables, so this ultra-thin table was the perfect solution.
Other popular DIYs:
- Transform the empty space between wall studs into a small closet. This space is perfect for storing cleaning supplies. Check out this example from the Craftery.
- Fill the empty space between your fridge and the wall with a narrow slide-out cabinet for spices and other pantry items, like the team at Classy Clutter.
10. Lightened up lighting
Use wall- or ceiling-mounted light fixtures such as sconces or pendant lights to keep lighting off your limited table or floor space.
11. Removable hooks
Maximize your cupboard storage by mounting removable adhesive hooks on the back of cupboard doors. These handy hooks are perfect for hanging things like hair styling tools or kitchen utensils.
SMALL SPACE HACK: Use a tension rod under cupboards, or a towel rod on the inside of cupboard doors, to hang cleaning supplies.
12. Open up your space using decor
Opt for a simple, light, and cohesive color scheme to avoid creating an overly cluttered or busy space. You can also:
- Hang mirrors to reflect light and give the appearance of space. Reflective elements like shiny light fixtures or mirrored trays can also help brighten up a small space.
- Avoid heavy furniture like dark wood or upholstered items. These pieces can make a space feel particularly cluttered. Instead, opt for thin legs (think mid-century modern or Scandinavian design), glass, metal, or light wood finishes. And of course, look for slim and tall items.
- Hang a piece of statement art. Hanging a large piece of art in a small space may seem counterintuitive, but it adds a focal point that most designers agree gives small spaces a spacious feel while also showcasing your unique style.
- Wall-mount small furniture items like your nightstand to keep your floor entirely free of clutter.
Room by room small space organization tips
Dealing with a small kitchen? Or maybe your “bathroom” is little more than a closet? Here are some of our best room-by-room small space organization tips:
- Start by decluttering your pantry. Get rid of anything expired, or which you no longer use. Then you can tackle your cupboards and drawers. Toss or donate any duplicate items, anything that’s broken, or items that only serve a single purpose.
- Embrace tools that help you make the most of unused areas, such as the back of cupboard doors, inside cabinets, and over stove tops. Practical tools include lazy susans, tension rods, drawer dividers, magnetic strips, and adhesive hooks.
- Store items near where you use them. For example, keep dishes near the sink or dishwasher (if you have one) so they are easy to put away, and place everyday items lower for easier access. Lesser-used items are best stored in harder-to-reach areas.
- Ditch cumbersome packaging (looking at you, Costco) and store items you bought in bulk in streamlined containers.
- Try to keep your countertops as clear as possible so they appear uncluttered and are easy to clean. If you need to use your countertops, use trays to stay organized.
- Organize under your cupboards using tools like roll-out trays, shelves, containers, drawer units, shower caddies, or even office file storage containers.
- If you don’t have any cabinet space in your bathroom, make use of vertical space by hanging a shoe caddy over your door, installing shelves over your toilet, or adding an extra curtain rod for towels and bath supplies.
- Hanging space is more efficient than shelf space. If you have to choose, opt to maximize your hanging space.
- Set up zones based on how you use your wardrobe and sort your clothes accordingly. Try sorting by garment type, season, colour, occasion, or frequency of use.
- Add a second, lower hanging rod to coat closets so your kids can easily access and hang their own coats.
- Use space-saving hangers like cascading hooks, tiered shirt hangers, shallow hangers, or super-thin hangers. You can even use soda can tabs to DIY your own cascading hangers.
- Maximize your shelf space. It’s important to keep things off the floor in your basement, especially if it’s susceptible to flooding or dampness. Metal shelving is best for withstanding heat, humidity, and moisture.
- Hide cluttered shelves with curtains, especially if your basement pulls double duty as a living or work space.
- Keep frequently used items easier to access, on shelves that are eye-level or lower.
- Install floating shelves above your laundry machine to add vertical storage without relying on heavy or bulky shelf units.
- Add a tabletop over your washer and dryer to function as a work surface.
- Conceal your washer and dryer with sliding doors, curtains, or barn doors. You could even tuck your appliances into a closet or cabinet if you have the space.
- Make it easy to stay organized by ensuring that everything is easy for your kids to access. Store frequently used toys on lower shelves in easy-to-open bins.
- Don’t stress about labelling—labels make it more likely that something will be put into the “wrong” spot, when it’s typically better to focus on getting things put away at all.
- If you don’t have a separate play space, look for furniture that doubles as storage, such as storage benches, ottomans, or coffee tables with drawers. Cube storage is perfect for keeping things organized and out of sight using baskets and cubbies.
If you’re trying to declutter a small space, remember the golden rule:
Clutter is the enemy! You don’t need more space—you probably have too much stuff. The solution? Purge like crazy. Once you’ve purged and decluttered, get organized by:
- Separating rooms into zones
- Maximizing vertical space
- Using furniture that doubles as storage
- Keeping things off the floor
- Opting for decor that opens up your space
Control your clutter with our organization guides.