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Organizing Your Small (or not-so-small) Space

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

When people confess that they hate organizing, I always wonder why...Organizing gives the immediate gratification of a tidier, prettier home and the results last longer than a pedicure. What could be better than that? But organizing can be a daunting task and there are several things you can do to ensure you get the results you want.

If your space will allow it, it is best to store items in the room where they are used; so jump-start your organizing project by moving your items to their rightful places: clothes and shoes to the closet, kid’s stuff to their rooms or play area, paper to the desk. Putting away (or temporarily piling) items where they belong also gives you an idea of your storage needs in each area. Don’t worry if it isn’t tidy yet for that will come; you often have to make a bigger mess at the beginning of your organizing project before you see results.

Eyeballing your pile-to-put-away gives you an idea of your storage needs, and you will likely find yourself looking for more space. Finding somewhere to store your stuff is the key to good organization but a challenge if you are in a small space. To enhance storage, look about your home for options that may not be immediately obvious. For example, many older buildings are blessed with high ceilings, so hooks hung high work well for storing seldom used or off season items; take advantage of the height and put a second row of hooks lower down for the things you use more often. The back of a door is a natural spot for an over-the-top hook unit which is great for hanging PJ’s and towels out of the way. Under the bed is another oft forgotten storage option and you can buy plastic bins made especially for this space. Or slide your suitcases under the bed and use them to store your off season clothes and duvets. Some dressers are high enough that you can fit baskets under them, which is a good place for shoes. Getting dressed each morning is a cinch with clothes in the drawers and co-ordinating shoes at hand!

When embarking on organizing projects an essential question to ask yourself (and to your family) is if you are "filers" or "pilers"! Filers like things put away out of sight, whereas pilers like to keep things out where they can see them. These two organizing orientations can be at odds with one another and stall your organizing efforts. For example, I am a filer and my husband is a piler. So if I am organizing my own things I use a closed storage system, but in the case of my husband open storage is a must. Organizing a home is only successful if all members participate, so by considering the organizing habits of your family before you start, you have a greater chance of success.

A compromise for filers and pilers are drawer units. They come in all sizes and materials, and I prefer them to a stacking system such as Rubbermaid since drawers are easier to search through and also to put things away in. They work particularly well for children who can easily access their toys and then (hopefully) put them away just as easily! Drawer units keep spaces shared with children looking grown up and they also work really well for seasonal decorations (no more digging through bins to find the tree topper!) Small ones tidy up the bathroom counter, and a desktop unit could corral office supplies, which has the added benefit of keeping items in these spaces dust free.

For those pilers who prefer their things visible, shelving units are indispensable. These can range from desk-sized units for organizing papers, to larger bookcases and armoires. Shelving units work really well in a bathroom, stacked with towels and toilet paper, or in a laundry area filled with all your cleaning essentials. Open storage can quickly end up looking messy though, so a stylish solution to this problem is baskets. Like drawer units, they keep everything tidy but accessible, and are useful everywhere from closets to bathrooms. I find basket-type containers particularly useful in the pantry or fridge where it is all too easy to forget about the items in the back. I found slim acrylic containers at an affaire shop made especially for the fridge; they are perfect for reaching the ketchup bottle at the back and spills clean up in a jiffy! I find bins and baskets do look best when they are all the same kind. This requires a bit of an investment on your part, but will look so much more attractive when finished. Always shop where you can buy your bins and baskets in bulk (Ikea and Pier Imports are good sources), and buy a few extra for expanding storage needs. Labelling your baskets can help everyone find what they want. A label maker is an essential tool in organizing, and a whole lot of fun to use! My friends tease me that I am so addicted to my label maker that I will soon be labelling them, my family, and the cat! But it really is an indispensable gadget when organizing.

There are certain areas of the home that seem to be particularly resistant to organization. Entryways are one, and coats, boots and papers can quickly pile up there. To reign in the chaos, a closet or hooks are essential for coats, and a pretty mat gives everyone somewhere to leave wet footwear. If you have the space, set up a hallway hub: put a narrow console table on the longest wall, preferably one with a drawer that can corral keys, bus passes and sunglasses. Place attractive baskets underneath for storing hats and mitts or outdoor toys. If you find ones that have a firm lid they can double as a place to sit when changing shoes. Then, put a small hanging file unit (the kind you might use in an office) on the table, and label the folders with days of the month in the back and days of the week in the front. When important paper comes home, file it under the month in which you will need it; then once a week, put the monthly papers into the appropriate daily slot. No more searching for that essential piece of paper as you go out the door! A pretty painting over your table is the finishing touch, as well as a small lamp to welcome you home on sombre days.

Kitchens are also a challenge to keep neat. So many little gadgets, so little time to sort them! Putting like things together –cutlery, large utensils, small utensils, plastics, etc- is a start to achieving order. Drawer organizers (small containers of different sizes that fit together like puzzle pieces) are extremely useful in the kitchen; find them at office supply stores. Or put your cooking utensils out on the counter gathered in a pretty pitcher. Make food storage part of your kitchen décor by decanting cereals, pasta and dried fruit into canisters. A row of these lined up on a shelf looks lovely and frees up space in the cupboard. I also find keeping the lids of plastic containers on is preferable to storing them separately; they take up slightly more room in the cupboard this way, but saves you time in searching for the right lid.

In many ways technology has simplified life, but it has also invited disorganization. Multiple cables look cluttered, and every plug in the house seems busy recharging an Ipod or phone. Solve this problem by putting a docking station at the desk area or on your hallway hub. You can buy these ready-made, but they are very simple to make as well. Invest in an attractive sturdy box (a photo box works well) and a power bar. If the box is big enough, place the power bar in it. Make a hole in the back to pass the cord through finished by a metal grommet. Alternatively, make several grommet-covered holes in the side of your box, then run the cables of each device down to the power bar on the floor. Your family can plug in their devices in as soon as they walk in the door, and the next day they are easily found, charged up and ready to go. Just be sure to label each cord to avoid confusion.

Tidy scraggly cords in other areas of the house by neatly winding them up and binding them with a color co-ordinated twist tie. If possible, tape the cord along the baseboard or use stick on clips specially made for this purpose. Doing this makes an enormous contribution to an organized effect.

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