How to organize a small house without storage

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Make the most of your humble abode, even when it seems impossible, with these ideas for organizing a small space.

For two years, I lived in a tiny apartment (nicknamed the “shoebox”) just for the chance to wake up to a view of the ocean every morning. While I wouldn’t trade those happy years at the beach, it was a constant I have trouble keeping my things organized. During my time in this tiny house, as well as helping clients make sense of their equally tiny spaces, I have developed systems and strategies that emphatically maximize space. While I don’t pretend to be a magician, these tips might sound like a miracle if you’re looking to learn how to organize a tiny home without storage.

Helen Norman

1. Choose multifunctional furniture

A storage ottoman that holds sneakers while serving as an end table. A sofa with an attached lounge chair that lifts up to store extra paper towels and toilet paper. A full-length mirror that opens to reveal jewelry. These are just a few of the pieces of furniture that I have incorporated into my small apartment to effectively add storage space. Turn to flexibility cabinet with built-in storage to hide bulk objects. Other options include coffee tables or bed frames that lift up to reveal a hidden home office or seasonal clothing storage.

2. Use all the vertical space you can

I’m a bit of a minimalist, so I’ll admit I don’t like filling walls with clutter. However, in small spaces this may sometimes be necessary. Bring in a floor-to-ceiling bookcase or hang floating shelves for storing books, bathroom products or bar items. Or turn a slim shelf on wheels into a perfectly organized pantry.

For a small office, choose a wall-mounted desk next to a filing cabinet that doubles as a bench. Hang the hooks where you need them, like for keys or a coat by the front door instead of a front door. Or use customizable rack organizers to hold small things inside any door, like the coat closet. This helps hide small items until they are needed.

3. Make the product organization work

There’s nothing more overwhelming than when the tools designed to help you get organized start turning into clutter. I’ve seen it too many times, so I strongly recommend that you be intentional in your purchases.

That said, product organization can greatly improve the amount of space in your cabinets and closets. Some of my favorite storage supplies include shelf risers, stackable drawers or flip-top shoe boxes, two-tier lazy Susans, and slim hangers. The key is to take careful measurements, especially in a small space, and to determine in advance the number of products needed to avoid excess. This may seem like overkill, but I always recommend counting exactly how many clothes you want to hang or hanging how many shoes you have so you can accurately purchase the right amount of shoe hangers or organizers.

Plus, mastering the art of folding your clothes into drawers or baskets will also maximize space.

4. Keep it to a minimum

While not exactly storage advice per se, a “less is more” mindset can dramatically improve the functioning of a tiny home. No matter how much storage you create using these methods, you will continue to feel cramped if you have more stuff than space. Make a habit of regularly declutter your things. Before your weekly grocery run, take a minute or two to look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer to throw away what’s expired and avoid buying something you don’t actually need. Keep a tote bag in or near your closet and refill it as you find things that no longer spark joy. Block out half an hour on your calendar once a season to go over skincare and makeup. Take the time to trim regularly and you’ll feel like your home has magically grown.

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