Making the Most of Your Tiny Space

In general, I think that most people have plenty of space. If you've got a three-bedroom house in the suburbs and feel cramped, you should give serious consideration to the decluttering issue. But some you are truly living in tight spaces. Chances are if you're an apartment dweller or living in a large, expensive city, you're living in a space that feels much too small. Here are some ideas for living comfortably in little places.

Get Rid of Your Junk.

I can't stress this one enough. Most people have too much junk. If this is your problem, you'll never feel like you have enough space until you get rid of the extraneous stuff. Take a look at my article on decluttering, or for more in-depth advice check out Don Aslett's fine books on the subject, Clutter's Last Stand and Not for Packrats Only.

Go Urban.

In other words, build up, not out. Put shelves up, hang your pots on the wall or on a pot rack, put hooks on the doors. If you have no coat closet get a peg rack and hang the coats on the wall. You can hang anything from ironing boards to plants, thus freeing up your storage space and all of the workspace around your home at waist level. Look around; see how much empty wall and door space you have, and put it to use. And when you buy new furniture, don't forget to look for tall items that use little floor space.

Redesign Your Storage Space.

I have yet to live in an apartment, in which the closet and cupboard space is perfectly, or even adequately, designed for my belongings. Closets are the worst offenders, usually consisting of one hanging rod and one shelf. You don't need to call in the expensive closet refinishers to remedy this. All it takes is a drill; a stud finder, a pencil and a ruler to install shelving you buy at the hardware store or lumberyard. You can borrow these tools if you don't own them. While you're at it, get a shoe rack from the local house wares store and hang your shoes on the inside of the door. Check out your cupboards for extra headroom, and move (or remove) the shelves as necessary. You can sometimes add shelving too; under the sink, for example. Just look in your closets and cabinets and pinpoint the empty spaces. In addition, find the dead spaces elsewhere in your home and put them to use: the top of the fridge and the cabinets, the space beside the refrigerator and under the bed and the sofa are all areas that could serve as storage space.

Make Your Furnishings Do Double Duty.
  • Coffee and side tables with drawers and shelves below the tabletop for magazines, newspapers, etc.
  • Try using trunks as tables and stacked suitcases as end tables then store items inside.
  • A bed with drawers or separate under bed storage.
  • Two filing cabinets used to support a desktop.
  • Loft beds for the kids with space for a desk underneath.
  • Pottery to hold tea bags, cookies, hairpins, q-tips and utensils. You know you have some of that charming but currently useless crockery taking up space in your cabinets.
  • Woven baskets to hold magazines, Afghans, plants, makeup.
Make Sure It Works.

I helped a friend organize her home a few years ago. We eventually ended up getting rid of some of her furniture because it was hurting more than it was helping. It turned out that she was saving an irreparably shaky and derelict bookcase because it was a present her mom had bought fifteen years ago. Her daughter's dresser was three sizes too small - really the size of a nightstand - with a broken drawer. This kind of stuff makes it harder to get organized. So make sure you're not trying to make do with rickety or broken furniture. Get it fixed or get rid of it. And don't try to use those teeny tiny items either. Among others, consider:

  • The spice rack that holds only ten bottles when you use thirty
  • The file drawer that's so crammed it needs to be two (or archived)
  • The bookcase that holds everything from A-J.
  • The CD or tape cases that contain just a bit of your burgeoning collection and require you to re-alphabetize every time you buy something new.
  • The cute little hutch you bought for the bathroom that doesn't even hold your shampoo and your conditioner.
  • The giant exercise-thingy you do or don't use. If you must use equipment, switch to something small like a rowing machine, which is very compact and can slide under your sofa or bed. Or switch to jumping rope, walking or running.
  • That cute little wobbly chair used only by the cat.
Decorate With Style.

Just because your space is small doesn't mean you have to feel like you live in a tenement. Instead of looking at it as a burden, try approaching it as a challenge to see how comfortable you can get in your little place. Think cozy. Here are some ideas:

  • A few nice, large pieces of furniture will look and feel better than lots of tiny pieces. Tiny pieces continually remind you that your space is small. They look insubstantial and make you feel like a lumbering giant. Big pieces that do double duty have the advantage of offering better storage capacity. "Adult" sized furniture will also serve your needs better now and later, when you move up to a bigger place.
  • Less is more with accessories and knickknacks as well. A room cluttered with knickknacks on every surface feels claustrophobic. Try removing all of your decorative pieces and plants from a room, and then putting just the biggest ones back, one by one. If you have a number of small accessories, make a few groupings of them instead of spreading them throughout your home. This makes it easier to clean, too.
  • Use color in paint, rugs, wall hangings and accessories. You wouldn't believe what a few inexpensive bright throw rugs, a decent bedspread and a new shower curtain can do. Have a nice big, healthy plant in each room - but don't have six!
  • Draw the eye upward. This makes tiny rooms feel more spacious. Most of your furniture stops at waist level, and even most tall pieces stop two to three feet below the ceiling. Hang pictures and other wall hangings, and put big plants or accessories up on those tall items. If you have nice ceiling molding, consider painting it something other than white. There are lots of ways to add details above head height.
  • Use warm, bright lighting. Spotlights and halogens are very inexpensive. You want to focus the light on the "people spots" in your home, and on one or two beautiful things in your rooms to serve as focal points.
One Advantage.

Small spaces don't need to be frustrating; you can make them work to your advantage. And don't forget the most important thing: They're much quicker to clean and maintain than a big hacienda so think of the time you save.

Creating More Storage Space