Space Optimization and Storage Ideas for Small Apartments from a Professional Organizer
Optimizing your space is one of the biggest challenges with living in New York City or any city where apartments tend to be on the smaller side. Many of my clients often ask me to help them optimize their space and recommend storage solutions for their homes.
Usually, the biggest challenge is overloading things that will not comfortably fit in the allotted closets and cabinet space. Therefore, the first rule before you do anything is to declutter if you haven’t yet.
Step 1 – Declutter and understand your “inventory”
What does it mean when a professional organizer asks you if you’ve already decluttered or if there is an opportunity to declutter (also called editing or purging)? Basically, we would like to know if everything that you have in your home is “keep”. Most people have some items that they are willing to let go of. The decluttering process, in theory, is simple and a great way to understand precisely what you have (what you have = “inventory”). You will want to start with an area (for example - kitchen, closet) or category (for example – electronics, shoes) in your home. I usually like to declutter a category to which you have very little attachment, like kitchen items, utility closets, kids’ toys, or electronics. Whatever category you start with, you’ll want to pull those items out, group them by category, and “stage” them. Once items are categorized and staged, you can see exactly what you have. From there, you should have three main groups:
2) donate, and
I don’t recommend it, but another category can be maybe; you don’t want to have too much in the maybe pile! You will then decide what you want to keep, donate, and toss. It’s a lot of decision-making, but it's worth it! In this process, you really can understand what you have. Some questions that you may want to ask yourself are: when was the last time I used this? Do I love it? Will I use this in the future? Is this item worthy of my space? Once you’re done decluttering, the next step is to organize the items you use all the time.
Step 2 – Organize the items that you use all the time in easy-to-reach areas, a.k.a. your “prime real estate”
It’s essential to think about what you use the most and the flow of your day. Ideally, you will organize your space by putting the items you use regularly in areas that are easy to reach and make sense to you. For example, I wake up in the morning and open my medicine cabinet; there is no clutter on the shelves where my everyday items are, so it’s very easy to grab, use and put back right away. From there, I go to my closet, and if it’s a workday, I have a place designated for work clothes. Another easy reach! The final stop is in the kitchen, where I will make my coffee. The coffee capsules are easy to reach, and my mugs are in the cabinet above the Nespresso machine. My whole process has a flow and makes sense to me. Once you put your things away in the prime real-estate areas of your closets, wardrobes, and cabinets, it’s time to optimize the space and find storage solutions.
Step 3 – Optimizing your space and using storage solutions for your prime real-estate areas
There are several ways to optimize your prime real-estate areas:
Hanging clothes – try using thin hangers and ones that match. My go-to is usually the slim velvet hangers. I also like the clear acrylic hangers. For skirts, consider using hangers with clips. Organize your clothes by type, color, and sleeve length (you can also organize them by summer and winter, work and non-work, and so on.
Hanging coats – wooden hangers are tremendous, and consider getting the thinner version for some of your coats; this can save space if you have a tight closet!
Dresser – when looking for a dresser, look at the accurate measurements of the drawers. Sometimes, it looks like a dresser is significant, but the drawers don’t have as much space as we thought.
Drawer dividers – these are great for organizing your clothes by category in your dresser, especially socks and underwear.
File fold your clothes – fold your clothes in a file fold. This is a great way to see what you have. I like organizing my clothes by type and color.
Shoe storage solutions – there are lots of options here. You can get an expandable shoe rack, which is great because you can expand it (for more shoes in the future or if you want to place the rack in another area). Other options are shoe shelves and stackable shoe boxes. You’ll always want to measure how much floor and vertical space you have. If you have a lot of vertical space, get a three-tier shoe rack or stackable shoe shelves.
Dishes – are there shelves in your kitchen cabinet that have extra space? Using a riser can help optimize the space and divide types of dishes. They can add that extra shelf space in a lower cabinet space, which can be helpful if you have a small kitchen.
Deep cabinets in the kitchen – things tend to get lost in the back of deep cabinets. This is why I recommend getting deep pantry bins. Not only will you take advantage of the space, but your items will also be easy to reach. You can also put items you rarely use in the back.
Pantry bins – these are great if you have a lot of loose food items. Categorize your pantry items and organize them by type. Don’t forget to take measurements to ensure the bins fit.
Spice rack – I like putting the spices I use often in the front of my pantry cabinet. I don’t cook too much, so my daily spices are minimal! If you have a lot of spices, you may want to get a spice rack. They come in different shapes and sizes.
Once we’ve optimized the prime real-estate space, it’s time to optimize the harder-to-reach spaces for items you don’t use as much and can be stored away.
Step 4 – Optimizing space and storage solutions for hard-to-reach items
Under-bed storage – if you have enough room under your bed (at least 6.25 inches from the floor to your bedframe), you can store items under your bed. I prefer using plastic bins with wheels, if possible. Less dust will get into your things, and it’s easy to pull out. Some things to put under your bed – off-season shoes and clothes, linens, nostalgic items, overflow, and an air mattress. Anything that you don’t need immediate access to.
Bins for upper closet space – TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR VERTICAL SPACE. So many people do not take full advantage of their vertical space. Vertical space can be the upper areas in your closet—for example, the top shelf to the ceiling. I recommend getting clear bins that are not too big and are easy to handle. I like using the Container Store’s large shoe box or sweater bins. Put items you don’t use a lot in bins by category—label and stack on top of each other. Examples of what you can put in these bins are off-season clothes, future baby clothes, nostalgic items, and holidays.
Under sink and bathroom storage – under the sink is usually a place with a lot of vertical room to take advantage of (the space from the bottom to the top of the cabinet. I would recommend getting risers or stackable bins.
Vacuum bags – use these for clothing, linens, and pillows. You can also bin these bags so it’s easier to stack. I currently have some under my bed with extra comforters that I use for guests.
Suitcases – not always ideal, but if you need extra space, you can use your suitcase as storage; this would be a last resort solution!
Whether your apartment is small or large, you can use these tips to optimize your space!