What are the best organization systems for small spaces?
This, from a reader and newsletter subscriber after I’d announced to my monthly letter subscribers a few weeks ago that, beginning with the 2019 February issue, a new Q & A section would be included. What burning questions, I’d asked, did they have regarding simplicity, living well, and interior design? Such great questions came back to me! Some answers, I found, are shorter and better suited to a paragraph or two in the monthly letter Q & A section; others, however, really are best answered in a long form blog post. Here’s my reply, for small spaces, or large. Enjoy! (You may subscribe to my monthly letter by clicking the linked black bar at the very top of this page. Submit your own questions for Q & A by emailing them to email@example.com.)
Zipped pouches here, handbags there. Clogs in this one, flats in that one. Leather belts rolled and tucked alongside folded jeans. Scarves hanging from a hoop, hoop hanging from the closet rod. Boxes and baskets, hoops and hooks for keeping what needs keeping.
On the pantry shelves, dried beans for winter soups. Black and pinto and kidney and white clink, clink the glass as they pour from bulk bag to glass jars. Canned salmon is stacked in towers beside tomato sauce stacked two high. Capers. Anchovies. Olive oil. Vinegars. All the staples in rows and columns, ready for grabbing without looking.
Then, there’s the basket that sits atop the washer/dryer stack, the catchall for random potions, first aid miscellany, extra toothbrushes. It’s a teetering mess. Quite time for it to be bumping its way to the top of the list for a good spring clean out. A few minutes of captured time, a stack of mesh and zippered bags, and everything will be set to rights.
Safe to say, we all have one spot or another in our homes (I have several) that need some effort and attention, some organization. And goodness, do we ever know how overwhelming purging, organizing, and straightening can be! How do we do it? What do we do with it all? Easy to think that if we just had a bin big enough, a shelf tall enough, a closet large enough - if we could just find the right system for holding all our this-and-thats, then the random disorganization would blissfully go away. Or maybe we think the key is in finding the right collection of boxes and bins (the fancier/sleeker/higher tech the better!), or the perfect closet system of rods, drawers, shelves. Need more storage? Buy some random shelves! A heap of bins! A pile of baskets!
Can I just pop in right here and say let’s simplify this whole approach? I’d venture that the secret isn’t in finding the holy grail of organization systems, it’s in understanding what you own, then choosing the best containers to hold it. Simply put: horse first, then cart. Know what you have, then you’ll know what you need to put it in. Ten pair of shoes? You’ll need space that holds ten pair. Five sweaters? A shelf, or drawer, for five. Fifteen dinner napkins? Bin for fifteen.
For my above mentioned messy basket situation? I’ll begin by emptying the entire basket, tossing what we don’t need, and putting what remains in categories: first aid, shoe care, cough and cold, etc. I’ll then know how many zippered pouches and drawstring bags I’ll need, and in what sizes. I’ll choose colored pouches and mesh bags because color designation and/or see-through ability helps things stay tidy when multiple people are accessing the basket’s contents (tags or labels work, too). The basket will still reside atop the washer/dryer stack, keeping it and its contents near the rooms/people that will be needing them.
I follow the same practice and principle whether I’m organizing something as small as a basket in our home, or designing larger spaces such as houses, closets, or kitchens for other people.
Now, having said all that, what ARE the best organization systems for small spaces?
My simple answer is this: the beautiful one, made with quality, that fits your budget, your space, and your things. Here is a closer look at some options I would consider, if I were looking for structures to assist me in organizing what I have.
Use a vintage or antique wardrobe or secretary. A good idea for so many reasons, but maybe the best for taking what already is, and using it for your needs. Designer Darryl Carter used a walnut secretary in his master suite. It’s compartments and cubbies are perfect for housing the small stuff like cuff links, gloves, glasses, and billfolds; it’s larger spaces just right for folded garments.
In her twin babies’ nursery, Country Living contributing editor, Cathrine Burke, chose an antique French armoire in which to keep the babies’ clothes and blankets. The mirrored door casts light around the room. In the closet, she placed an antique chest of drawers below the hanging rod.
My friend, Erin Boyle, master of tiny apartment living, snagged a vintage armoire curbside for her little ones’ bedroom, fitted the doors with wood panels in place of it’s original glass, painted it, attached new hardware, and filled it with that hold her littles’ clothes.
If you like the idea of using a wardrobe or armoire to hold your things, but you prefer a newly built piece, here are some beautiful, solid wood, made in America options (most of these companies offer dressers and chests of drawers, too).
(Photos are linked!)
Thankfully, there are also modular shelving systems that are solid wood, beautiful to look at, and made with thought and care. Swedish Wood Shelving from Willaims Sonoma is made in Sweden from pine wood sustainably forested in Sweden. Great for both closets and pantries.
(Photos are linked!)
Wood Closet Designs offers wall hanging wood closet systems made in America from maple or oak in an asssortment of finish options. Soft close drawer slides and door hinges come standard. A generous 16” depth maximizes available space. Wood Closet Designs offers a limted lifetime warranty.
(Photos are linked!)
For containers, here are some favorites (photos linked):
Also? I’m not sure I could put a post like this together without including a couple books that might help steer us in the right direction when it comes to learning how to simplify and keep our things in order.
If you’d like help in creating a soulful home, I’d love to work with you. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here, I write on living well. Where tasteful design and simple living meet in an inspired, organic way.
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