Making Room For Storage

by Kelly · 11 comments

in Frugal Organization

little_millLiving 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?


1 Greener Pastures February 27, 2009

I applaud you! Organization is not my forte! I end up purging a lot just to get rid of the clutter. If I do organize it, I end up forgetting about it. What’s that saying ” If you haven’t seen it for two years and find it, throw it away?” That’s been my motto, though now I give it away or sell it instead of throwing it away!

Greener Pastures´s last blog post..Not Buying In to Recession Marketing

2 Kika February 27, 2009

Sounds like we have more space than you and lots of built in cupboard/closets which helps. I, too, have a box of clothes per child that we find, second-hand and store away to grow into. I tend to only keep what we regularly use and frequently pass things along to the thrift shop, local “take it or leave it” or friends. We homeschool and have lots of books/craft supplies, but even in this area I’m picky about what we choose to keep. I see no point in keeping things that simply collect dust. I sincerely enjoy your blog and feel that I’m gleaning helpful ideas and attitudes from you! Thanks for sharing.

3 Tanja February 27, 2009

I too store things in boxes (transparent). I have plenty of them and may have spend an unreasonable amount on them (though I only purchase them on sale), however, it works for me. I love them and they keep my focussed.

One tip I have, which may sound silly: whenever I buy / or otherwise aquire a new cabinet (because the old one broke or simply because I needed it), I’ll check to see if my boxes fit in it. I have plans to fix up the hallway closet (it’s tiny, I have a coat or two in there now) with shelves to keep my towels and cleaning supplies in, and I’ve meassured it and calculated the right size and distance for the shelves to fit my boxes. Otherwise, I might have to eventually get new ones which I do not like. Not only will that cost me money, it will also not fit with the rest in looks or stackability (my boxes have different sizes but they stack wonderfully, two of the smaller ones on a bigger one).
By doing this I have the freedom to change where I store things, without having to repackage or rearrange things. It saves time and energy.

I have a fairly small flat, without any built-in closet (or even a storage area in the basement) so all my stuff is ‘out in the open’ unless I make an area for it. When moving here (from a shared flat, with little furniture of my own) I ordered a semi-custom made storage cabinet that goes up to the ceiling. It also stores my clothes (has a hanging area). It’s a modular system that easily let me choose between a few different depths, a specific height and the devision of shelves. It also only has sliding doors, so no space needed in front to open the doors.
And my boxes fit perfectly 😉

Tanja´s last blog post..Indy gifts for mother, sister and boyfriend.

4 Rebecca February 27, 2009

The idea to go up is a great one! I live in a small condo too and going up has saved me a lot of floor space.

5 Saver Queen February 27, 2009

Excellent suggestions! I love the idea of using book cases in unorthodox places – very cool! I have lived in some teeny tiny places and the best tip is just getting creative, utilizing all under the bed & under the couch storage space, and keeping organized with craft cupboards, like your friend (although i kept cramming stuff in – the idea of getting rid of extras once the box is full is a very useful idea). Where possible, asking relatives with more space to hold bigger items for the future is very helpful.

Small spaces reduce costs but they also require you to get rid of some things that you would otherwise be able to store – the only downfall. But then again, you can’t buy as much if there’s no space for it!

Saver Queen´s last blog post..Big or little, it’s the thought that counts

6 dixie February 28, 2009

I grew up in a 1000 sq ft condo and while it was just me and my mom we didn’t have a garage or very large closets at all. It was great because I’m not a pack rat what so ever and I’ve learned how to organize well and know when to throw out things I don’t need. I rarely feel sentimental about things when I need to toss it. We would do a massive cleaning of stuff about every six months or so. I have a rule that if you find something while cleaning and you didn’t even know you had it then it probably isn’t important enough to keep. You will remember things that really matter like family photos.

I find papers to be the biggest thing that piles up in my house – reciepts, magazines, catalogs, invoices, letters. A good filing system for things you need is very important.

I also think it’s good to have designated catch all spaces. I have a couple baskets of useful items I use all the time or need on hand right away- scissors, pens, tape, batteries, small umbrella, my camera and cables . I only have two drawers in my kitchen so my useful stuff baskets on bookshelves so you can’t see inside them so they look clean.

Being in a small space does make you more aware of what you have and makes you keep it more organized.

dixie´s last blog post..I made my first sale!

7 Quadelle February 28, 2009

Things we’ve done to save space include:
– purpose built on-top of desk storage so everything is easy access (used second-hand materials and painted it)
– adding shelves to kids’ closets
– hooks or hanging baskets on the inside of closet doors
– using stackable storage containers in pantry, so we can go up and easily can see when we’re running low on items
– keep kids’ bedding and towels in their closet rather than linen closet / bathroom
– store toys with many pieces in their original boxes, which saves purchasing extra storage containers or having too many toys in one big box and never being able to find all the relevant bits.

Quadelle´s last blog post..Give the girl a tape measure

8 Katie @ Making This Home March 1, 2009

Our kitchen is 36 square feet in Europe. We just finished remodeling… and took advantage of every vertical bit of space we could just like you say. It’s such a great method. I like the tips other people have left, too. They have me thinking!

Katie @ Making This Home´s last blog post..Finding Room for Everyday Dishes

9 Betsy Bargain March 1, 2009

One brilliant storage idea I saw once in a book about Japan – they had built storage into the floor. Here and there there were little covers that you lifted up, and there was a compartment, about a foot deep, for storing stuff. Brilliant! The Japanese are masters at utilizing all the available space. In the same book there was also a bed that raised out of the way during the day, and at night it lowered down to rest on a large platform that was used as a table by day. Amazing! I wish I could remember the name of the book…

Betsy Bargain´s last blog post..Get Paid to Play

10 Barb March 2, 2009

I’m an anti-packrat but I know a lot of people who are and the Tightwad Gazette book is one of my favorites, and her storage article was very interesting.

11 Lawrence October 2, 2009

I have a very small condo. Its very hard to find extra space to store items.

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