Living in a small house has its advantages, to be sure. Lower heating bills, less time spent on cleaning, lower rent or mortgage payments. But (and there’s always a but) the major downside to living in a small house is that there’s so little room for stuff.
That’s a big problem, of course, but not one that’s unique to living in a small house. Any house, if it’s not well laid out, or doesn’t have a lot of built in closets will give you a major headache when you try to figure out where to stick things. I have a friend who lives in an apartment a full 100 square feet larger than my house, but which only has one built in closet for her family of four. Talk about a headache!
I think I do a pretty good job of organizing stuff, and we do have a lot of it. I believe that it’s important to have a stockpile of food and household goods, both to take advantage of good deals and in case of emergencies. We also have a great deal of clothes for my kids which are stored away for the day when they grow into them. Not to mention my husband’s five guitars!
Here are my three rules for storage.
1. Be Creative
My first introduction to frugality, like so many other people, was through The Tightwad Gazette. Something that really stuck with me was the idea of finding non traditional and unexpected places to store things. I really take her advice to heart, and try to store things differently. For example, two of my husband’s guitars are in between our couch and the wall, and another guitar is under the couch; we had an electric keyboard under our bed until my husband lent it to a friend.
This tip only really works for things which you don’t need to access often. If you don’t have a six piece band that you need to store under your bed, you could consider storing things like extra toilet paper or diapers, rolls of wrapping paper, or seasonal decorations.
You can be creative with your storage structures as well. We have a large, tall bookcase in our kitchen to store canned goods and herbs and spices. And we have another, narrower bookcase in the bathroom, where we store extra diapers, medicine, and the famous stock of shampoo, soap and so on.
2. Boxes Are Your Friend
I love boxes. I stick everything in boxes. I have boxes for my boxes even, and since Ikea opened up down the street I’ve been able to indulge my lust for shiny plastic boxes. Boxes are a great way to store things, even on open shelves, because they keep the contents organized. For example, my bathroom shelves hold six large, rectangular boxes (one on each shelf) made of light blue plastic. Because the plastic is clear I am able to easily see the contents of the box, but because the plastic is colored, the clutter is well hidden!
For boxes where the content is not as easily discernible, make sure to label well. I have a lot of boxes of children’s clothing separated by size. But you can’t tell what size of clothing is in the box without opening it, so I’ve labeled all the boxes with scraps of paper shoved down in front.
Another friend of mine is very crafty. She has lots and lots (and lots) of craft materials, and fortunately a bigger house than mine in which to store them. Her organizing principal is simple: she has one box per craft supply and as soon as the box is full she no longer keeps the item. So once her box of wooden beads is full, she no longer keeps any more that comes her way.
I do a similar thing with our household supplies. I stock up whenever possible, and then, twice a year I give extras to a local battered women’s shelter.
3. Don’t be afraid to go up.
A lot of my storage is vertical. In our bedroom and our children’s bedroom we have tall wooden storage cabinets that cover almost the entire wall and go up almost to the ceiling. Although these cabinets are in my children’s room, most of what they hold is not intended for them, at least not immediately.
In fact, children can only really access a small amount of space, if you think about it, because of their height. So the bottom cabinets and lower two shelves hold their toys and games, and the top shelves hold boxes of clothing, pictures, boxes of important documents etc. Because I use only one kind of box to store these things, the shelves don’t look cluttered either.
Two key factors to success
There are two important factors in keeping things organized, in my opinion. The first is to make sure that things are as accessible as you use them. In other words, don’t store your daily vitamins in a box inside a box, where you need three movements to get them out. And if you don’t need to refer to your refrigerator’s warranty on a daily basis, there’s no reason to keep it in your desk.
The other critical element is to make sure that you don’t have too much stuff. To that end, I am constantly sorting, pruning and organizing our possessions. Once my children grow out of their clothes, if I can’t pass them down within the family, I sort them and take them to the thrift store or the consignment shop. Extra beauty supplies are donated to shelters. Books get sent to BookMooch. In fact, the only thing I haven’t yet been successful at paring down is my husband’s music collection… in fact, I do believe that his guitars multiply like rabbits when I’m not looking!
How do you organize your stuff? What are your frugal organization tips?