Apartment living can get crowded fast. Between plants, pets, roommates — and all of said roommates’ things — your small dwelling can quickly feel cluttered and claustrophobic. But living in a small space doesn’t mean your home can’t be organized. In any sized home, committing to zero clutter is all about building good habits, says Elise Hay, the founder of home organizing company Organized Sanctuaries based in Seattle, Washington. “So much of how we live in our space comes down to habit,” she tells Bustle. Decluttering your space doesn’t need to be an arduous task, but you do need to dedicate yourself to setting up organizational systems (and sticking to them) and discarding items when need be.
However, lovers of knick-knacks and tchotchkes can breathe a sigh of relief: A clutter-free lifestyle doesn’t mean a minimalist one. “You can have stuff in a small space, but you need to be judicious and keep your favorites,” says New York City-based Sharon Lowenheim, a certified professional organizer and founder of Organizing Goddess. Lowenheim has developed a method for paring back unessential items: use it, love it, or lose it. Utilitarian items like a toothbrush or drinking glasses as well as sentimental items you may not use all the time but you love — like artwork, memorabilia, or vinyl records — can stay. “Everything between what you use and don't love and what you love and don't use is rife for getting rid of,” Lowenheim says.
Once you’ve whittled down your belongings to the essentials, it’s time to get storing and organizing. Below, Hay, Lowenheim, and other organizing experts offer their best hacks for small-space storage, from Command hooks to cube systems.
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Shelves Are Your Best Friend
From displaying your favorite trinkets to doubling the storage space in your cabinets, shelves are an apartment dweller’s dream come true. For cramped kitchen cabinets, Lowenheim recommends stackable ones to create multiple levels for dishes and glasses. Make the most of your vertical space by installing shelves around the perimeter of a room a foot or so down from the ceiling for a unique bookshelf alternative. “You want to be able to display things and you want to be clever about it, so put up a little floating shelf on the wall to display a few of your favorite things rather than putting them on a surface that's already overcrowded,” Lowenheim says.
Perfect for kitchen cabinets, these storage shelves double the space.
For a natural aesthetic, go for storage shelves in bamboo.
With invisible brackets and a range of colors and sizes, these floating shelves are versatile enough for any room.
Make the most of your precious medicine cabinet space by storing toilet paper and beauty items on a bathroom shelf. Bonus points for the towel rack.
Perfect for renters, a tension shelf is easily adjustable to fit your space — no power tools needed, says Zoe Katz, founder of Twice As Organized, a professional organizing company based in New York. “A tension rod shelf is affordable, easy to put together, and is an instant way to maximize your shelf storage without drilling or permanently adding a shelf,” she says.
Divide Your Space Into Zones
When working with clients, San Diego, California-based professional organizer Jennifer Du Bois, founder of Organized by Jen D., recommends they divide their home by activity: Here is the spot where we eat, this is the nook where I crochet. For each section, you’ll want an organizational tool, like a bar cart for cocktail supplies or a basket for blankets in the living room. “Once you’re intentional with your zones,” Du Bois says, “it helps to keep a space organized.”
To help contain clutter on kitchen countertops, Du Bois recommends Lazy Susans or turntables because they “designate a home for where you put things.” Put one next to the stove for spices, olive oil, and other cooking items.
For the section of your apartment where you’re likely to entertain guests, set up a bar cart to store bottles, wine and cocktail glasses, coffee and tea supplies, and other accessories.
Du Bois’ favorite organizational item is a handy basket. “They come in an infinite number of shapes, sizes, materials,” she says. She’s used them in clients’ kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, and even to store her own books.
Maximize Kitchen & Bathroom Space With Under-Sink Storage
“In an apartment setting, I would say the kitchen and bathrooms tend to get cluttered quicker than the rest of the spaces because of the lack of storage,” says Katrina Green, founder of Badass Homelife and a professional organizer in Sacramento Country, California. Rather than shoving random cleaning supplies and odds and ends under the sinks in your kitchen and bathroom, make the most of those spaces with bins and cabinet door organizers. Be mindful of your vertical space in these cabinets, Hay says, and go for organizers with drawers. And you can even utilize the back of the cabinet doors with hooks and organizers. Remember: Plumbing lines live under the sink, so be sure your storage items can fit around pipes.
Two-tiered and with dividers for each drawer, these storage baskets are great for cleaning supplies, hand towels, toiletries, and more. Plus, they maximize vertical space.
Ideal for kitchens, these organizers are spacious and provide enough space between tiers so you can see exactly where you put that bottle of Windex. Bonus: you get two organizers for the price of one.
Maximize both vertical and back of door space with this cabinet door organizer for pantry items, cleaning supplies, hand towels, lotions, and more.
Just hook this organizer over the cabinet door and slide your blow dryer, straightener, curling iron, or brushes into the tool rings.
Hang Everything With Command Products
The last thing any renter wants is to patch small holes in the wall before moving out. Enter Command hooks, the press-and-stick adhesive hanging tool. Both Hay and Lowenheim are huge fans of the Command brand of hooks for hanging artwork, jackets, kitchen utensils and accessories, pots and pans, masks, hairdryers, keys, necklaces, tote bags — you get the gist. “They’re easy to put up,” Lowenheim says. “They enable you to use the walls and the walls are greatly underutilized when it comes to storage.” Even take advantage of the space in the back of your cabinets with hooks, Du Bois says. “If you literally open your cabinet and look along the walls,” she says, “you can hang measuring cups, you can hang keys.”
So long to brooms and mops languishing in a corner. These grips hang right on the wall (just peel off the adhesive sticker) and broom and mop handles rest in them.
Hats, oven mitts, large spoons, jackets, towels: these hooks are incredibly versatile and can hold up to 3 pounds of weight.
For daintier items, like masks, keys, or measuring spoons, these little hooks are handy and unobtrusive, making them perfect for the insides of cabinets.
Keep your bathroom counter clear with an accessory organizer, ideal for your toothbrush and toothpaste.
Get The Most Storage For Your Space With Cube Storage Systems
Cube shelving may be reminiscent of preschool cubbies, but there are plenty of grown-up versions that offer a ton of storage sections without taking up too much floor space. From vinyl records to shoes, these systems are versatile and aren’t an eyesore. Plus, you can add storage bins in just about any material you like to create drawers out of each cubby.
This eight-unit shelf is beloved by Green. “You can do a bin system, use it as a closet space for folded items, storage for toiletries,” she says. “Very versatile piece!”
With six cubes, this organizer is a bit smaller and more compact for entryways or living areas.
Adjustable based on your space, this nine-cube storage organizer can be stacked tall, square, or like steps.
Slide these storage bins into the cubbies to create makeshift drawers for shoes, magazines, umbrellas, and more. Plus, they’re available in nine colors.
Let Your Furniture Play Double Duty
If you’re looking to upgrade certain pieces of furniture, make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck and space. Green is a fan of dual-purpose pieces for smaller spaces “because it’s just so efficient and key to utilizing the areas better.” Having storage items built into your furniture gives you ample opportunity for organizing. These pieces will be more expensive than your traditional storage hacks, but it’s fewer containers to move down the line.
The chaise section of this sofa lifts to reveal a handy storage area underneath.
Kick your feet up and throw your blankets inside this storage ottoman. No one will ever know it serves any other purpose than relaxation.
In cramped rooms without closet space, having extra drawers for linens, towels, or clothes is a game-changer.
Doubling as a stylish furniture piece or extra seating, this ottoman plays triple duty in terms of style, storage, and size.
And for a non-splurge-worthy option, Katz suggests using storage bags under the bed.
Elise Hay, founder of home organizing company Organized Sanctuaries
Sharon Lowenheim, certified professional organizer and founder of Organizing Goddess
Zoe Katz, founder of Twice As Organized
Jennifer Du Bois, professional organizer and founder of Organized by Jen D
Katrina Green, professional organizer and founder of Badass Homelife