Oh my god will our house never stay organized!
November 5, 2013 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Lets say you had 500$ to spend on making your messy house more organized and to create more storage. What would you spend it on? What things would you do to solve your messy house? My husband and I have a pretty small (~850 square feet total) house that is forever cluttered and messy despite our constant attempts to keep it clean. We're fed up and are prepared to make major changes to get this house permanently organized. Help us to be one of those hyper organized households! Of course there are snowflakey details within.

First of all, we love our house, we love where we live, we aren't open to moving. So please, lets skip that. :)
Secondly, we do not currently have the money to build on an addition. It is something we'd like to do eventually (5-10 years) but we cannot do it now.

Snowflakey particulars:
- no basement (just a crawspace, don't like to put too much down there aside from wine)
- no attic
- we use wood heat and the stove is in our living room. A moderate amount of our living room is unusable because in the winter months you can't put things too close.
- we are going to a lot of effort to sort through everything we have and get rid of (donate/sell/throw out) the things we don't need or use, and while it feels like we have gotten rid of a TON of stuff, it doesn't seem to have helped at all.
- It seems like every week he and I do a MAJOR clean and organize of the housed, get everything put away and sorted out, but it never stays tidy for longer than a day or two. Again, big part of the problem is that we don't have room for everything we need day to day
- Small kitchen, not a lot of storage space (no room for an island or the addition of any new shelf or cupboard)

Particularly bad problem areas:
- the huge, deep, annoying corner cupboards in the kitchen, both above counter and below. We just seem to lose things in there, and it is always messy.
- We have a wine rack that is a bit of a dividing point for us. I think it is a waste of space and that we could be using that space a lot more effectively. The "table" surface on top of it is always cluttered, too small to make any good use of. He likes it and wants to keep it because he likes wine and likes the look of it.
- My laundry/clothes are a problem. I have culled a huge amount and am down to essentials and only clothes that I wear regularly. Still, they are forever exploding all over the place. Before you ask, my dresser is a god damned pain in the ass. The drawers are really annoying and are always getting stuck and it is just three big drawers. I need a new dresser. I also need to do a better job keeping on top of my laundry.
- The coat closet by the front door. None of us actually put our coats in it, we end up tossing them on the hooks on the back of another door nearby. Same with shoes, they just get taken off by the door and left. Plus, the door is one of those fold-in-half track type door which just sucks right from the get go. We are discussing removing that door altogether and repuposing the closet (or maybe just start to use it AS A CLOSET), but we need ideas for how to make the most of that space.

Basically, I'm looking for creative things people have done to maximize the utility of the space they have. INEXPENSIVE creative things. We don't have unlimited funds, maybe only 500$ max to throw at this.

Things we're considering or already doing:
- getting rid of as much stuff as possible
- not getting any new stuff if at all possible
- removing doors to free up the space needed to swing it open

I'm fairly handy and am able to complete most DIY projects without too much difficulty, so any suggestions for projects I can do myself would be great. The less money we spend, the better.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Home & Garden (61 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
Those things that you listed as a goddamn pain in the ass, like the kitchen cupboards and the dresser? Replace them. Anything that annoys you with its ineffectiveness regularly is an obstacle and worth spending part of that $500 on. Start there.
posted by windykites at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: The only way I stay semi organized is by having lots of baskets and boxes to throw things in. And those boxes are deep enough that it's not ugly to keep the lid off because closed boxes keep you from putting things in them.

Flat spaces like the top of your wine rack invite clutter. Put some pretty things on top so there's no room for junk or put baskets to throw your crap into.

There's nothing wrong with putting coats on hooks instead of a hanger (maybe there is but none of my coats are nice enough for it to matter.)

Get a basket for your shoes that you put by the door.

I read a blog post (trying to find it now) that made the point that you have to do what works for you. It's possible to change your habits but it's also possible to make your space organized and functional for you.

Tldr- buy a new dresser and lots of open boxes and baskets.
posted by missriss89 at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

What's your daily routine like? If you take a timer, and set it for 15 minutes, and then use that time to pick things up and put them away, it might be helpful. (flylady) I know you say you don't have places for things, but if you're doing a major clean every week, and it's only lasting a couple of days, it might be helpful to set aside time for maintaining, if you can.

I have gone primarily digital with many of my books, and some comic books.

We have a crawlspace/unfinished basement space and do put rubbermaid bins down there with out of season clothes, decorations, etc - anything we're not using currently.

There isn't a way to put the wine rack in one of the corner cabinets, is there? :)

I like the lazy susan type wheels for the deep corner cabinets. I also got a lot of various size rubbermaid containers, and put random things in those, then labeled them, and put them in the cabinets.

I agree with windykites - if you can identify problem areas, tackle them first. Replace your dresser, if possible.

For the closet - if you remove the door, can you build shelves or purchase shelves to put in there? Maybe you could just reach in and put your shoes in a cubby, or hang coats on hangers on the walls of the closet, if that door was gone.
posted by needlegrrl at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not sure how many cleaning-service visits you could get for $500, but for me, a huge feature of having a cleaning service is knowing that I need to declutter the house every few weeks in preparation.
posted by Etrigan at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Get a lazy susan or pull out racks for the corner cabinets, this will make them much more useable.

Do you have a coffee table or ottoman than you can switch out for a storage ottoman? That can keep your shoes, or whatever else clutters up your livingroom.

How about your nightstands or side tables? If they don't have drawers trade them out for ones that do. Use craiglist to find cheap furniture.

Are you using any space under your sofa, beds or tables? Use baskets under those. Try goodwill or other thrift shops to source them cheap.
posted by Requiax at 9:38 AM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

See if you have room for a hanging pot rack in the kitchen- you'll free up SO much cabinet space if you can do this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, I have recommended this.

Sit down and consider the "knots" that you deal with, room by room, on a pad of paper.

Have a list for "What is working"

Have a list for "What is not working"

Under that: "Problem Manifestation"

then, "Possible Solution" and "Ways to Implement"

I have charts and forms I can send if you want to PM me your email address.
posted by jgirl at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

I used to live in a Cape not much bigger than yours; we moved when four kids + 2 adults got….snug.

Take one closet and FILL it with shelves, top to bottom. Then put a small folding stool just inside the door for getting to the highest space.

Could you throw away some stuff if it was documented well -- like good scans/pictures printed well that would make you feel free to discard the original, 3-D object? This is mostly useful for "important" papers, concert t-shirts, and other ephemera.

Think vertical: most people are wasteful with the high areas or how many shelves are required to get a lot of stuff in a volume of storage but still be accessible. (I like a lot of thin shelves instead of a few monsters because otherwise stuff migrates to the bottom of the piles and is never seen again.)

If your storage is clearly labelled, then you feel better about going into it to grab things -- and put them away again after.

I think being a fascist about putting your stuff away when you're done with it is the real key.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:40 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you have a garage where you could move some (overhead?) storage?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:43 AM on November 5, 2013

This planning tool might be helpful.

I think such a process is better that being all OMGTHROWSTUFFOUTBUYCUTEBINS!
posted by jgirl at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Honestly, I think the first and most productive thing you should do is to work on de-stressing your feelings about clutter, and for your husband to do the same work on his own feelings. It seems from your writing like this is a big and stressful issue for you that probably affects how you feel about yourself. But the stress interferes with your ability to see solutions to what are really just practical problems.

How does your mental process go around, say, putting the coat in the closet? If it goes like this "I should put the coat in the closet but I don't because I'm a slob and a bad person and a failure who just leaves her clothes everywhere" then you are disempowering yourself before you even begin. If it goes, "I want to put my coat in the closet but I don't because I hate interacting with that door" then you know that the problem is something you can fix. Change or fix the door.

It seems like you don't like the dresser. Try to figure out what about the dresser isn't working for you and then either change those things or get a new dresser that will work for you. But get the judgment out of your head first or you won't be solving the right problems.
posted by gauche at 9:56 AM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that has helped me enormously (I'm king clutter, my wife will tell you) is taking the extra 5-30 seconds to Just Put It Away Now. It doesn't solve everything and I don't do it all the time, but it makes a huge difference and keeps the whole house happier.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'd hire a professional organizer.
posted by radioamy at 10:02 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

1. Purchase labelmaker - $50 or so
2. Doors off of closet, fill with shelves + bins. Label bins.
3. Get rid of
     a) dresser
     b) fear of crawl space as storage location
     c) general clutter angst - I'm sure you are a fine person but if you want ot stay in your place you need to make peace with the fact that problem solving this is part of your life, that's totally okay.
4. Get over
      a) wine rack (use top of it as space for something)
     b) "my laundry is impossible!" thinking
     c) "We can't do this" thinking - ultimately this is math and habits. They are within your grasp.
5. Purchase
     a) shelves/bins for clothes so that you can and will put things away
     b) deep storage for crawl space so that you can put away seasonal stuff)
     c) shoe caddy or bin for front hall
     d) slide out bins for cupboards and/or lazy susan stuff.
6. Purchase laundry solution that works for you (I have something like this with a lid) and subscribe to the mantra that clothes don't just "explode" (I know the feeling, trust me, but part of working on a solution is that you fix some bad habits as well)

Other areas where you can make up space: up high (agree with wenestvedt), under-bed, above cupboards, tables behind couches. Other things you didn't mention but keep an eye on: mail, trash/recycling, dishes in/out, paper products and other consumables

At some level you should be able to get to a point where you have just cleaned the place and you can eyeball how much more stuff you have that doesn't have places to go. That is the percentage of stuff (though maybe not the exact stuff) you need to get rid of. Best of luck, this will work best when you and your husband are a team trying to tackle this problem together.
posted by jessamyn at 10:02 AM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

One thing that is super helpful for me is to have a place for transient stuff. Like a bin for library books, or stuff that needs to be donated, or returned to friends, etc. Also place for your purse or work bag when you're at home.
posted by radioamy at 10:03 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also are you sorting the laundry as you're putting it in the hamper? If space allows, have separate hampers for your different loads. Makes it a lot easier to throw in a load when you don't have to sort it first.
posted by radioamy at 10:04 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would buy portable iphone/ipod speakers.

I'd pick out a podcast that you like. And clean for one podcast, and one podcast only, per day. If you skip a day, don't make it up the next day. One podcast per day, max.

This serves two purposes: 1) it keeps you from getting bored and 2) (most importantly) it shifts success from CLEAN ALL THE THINGS to "clean for 35 minutes then stop."

Organizing all your stuff will always feel overwhelming. Keeping moving for 35 minutes of an interesting podcast is way easier. Don't focus on what you're getting done, don't focus on the big picture, just keep moving for the podcast. Then stop.

(Speakers are pretty cheap, so if you want to buy a new dresser, then do that, too.)
posted by mercredi at 10:06 AM on November 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Any storage solution that you are not currently using, or using to its full effectiveness, should probably be replaced. That dresser would be a good place to start, but those cupboards in the kitchen are another culprit.

You also probably need to set aside time, every day, to take care of these things. Clutter on counter-tops and tables is frequently things like mail and paperwork that needs to be dealt with. Do some every day. That'll prevent piles from building up on the desk where it's supposed to go. Same goes for clothes, etc. You just gotta do it.

Of course, improving your storage facilities so they're not a pain to use would really help there. I was a lot better at doing laundry three apartments ago, when the washer/dryer were very easy to get to, than in either of my last two places, both of which have the washer/dryer on a different floor than the bedroom. You can't just relocate the washer/dryer, unfortunately, but you can do things like replacing storage units that are a pain to use, throwing away stuff that you're not going to use anymore,* removing doors that just plain don't work, etc.

*Honestly, you're not. Really. Just throw it out. Even if you do find that you someday need it, the cost of buying a new one is usually worth not having stored it for five years.
posted by valkyryn at 10:07 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: - The coat closet by the front door. None of us actually put our coats in it, we end up tossing them on the hooks on the back of another door nearby. Same with shoes, they just get taken off by the door and left. Plus, the door is one of those fold-in-half track type door which just sucks right from the get go. We are discussing removing that door altogether and repuposing the closet (or maybe just start to use it AS A CLOSET), but we need ideas for how to make the most of that space.

So following a plumbing misfortune, we had to gut our front hall closet. I rebuilt the guts of it giving half of it as a household landing strip and half went to coats and is just a normal closet.

I had a guy come in and add an electrical outlet so that I could put up lighting in it (this was about a hundred dollars and staggeringly worth it for the reduced exasperation in my life about not finding things.)

I built a big scaffold on the landing strip half of the closet with a shelf for each household member (three of us). Each shelf has a charger for cell phone and a small basket to throw keys or wallets in. Shelves are big enough to put computer bags and backpacks. Mine has a big basket where I can throw miscellaneous crap in it -- I like that sort of thing. Mr. Llama's doesn't -- he likes the open space for his computer bag.

Our daughter has her shelf, the lowest, where she can put her backpack and where her iPod lives, along with her coat.

There's this detritus we all carry around with us and it fills the house with spores. Knowing where all of that is, and having a dedicated space where our stuff goes -- handbags, computer bags, work stuff, keys, my favorite gloves, sunglasses -- it's so awesome I can't begin to tell you.

I spent about $50 on materials.

My inspiration for this was my kid's kindergarten cubby, which has such a sane, grounding function in her life.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:08 AM on November 5, 2013 [23 favorites]

Best answer: General

You have got to get in the habit of putting things where they belong, every time. Coats go on the hook. Shoes go in the cubby (or wherever). Dishes are in the sink or in the cupboard. Clothes are in the laundry basket or in the drawer. Do a Fly Lady style reset every night after dinner (before you get too sleepy). My routine is dishes washed, litterboxes cleaned, cat's breakfast set out on counter, and my clothes picked out for the morning. I confirm that my keys or on the table and I've got everything I need for the next day in my tote bag. I've gotten to where I can't relax if I don't (which is good!) Clutter begets clutter. A place for everything and everything in its place, etc.

I have found this comment very helpful.

I agree that you should replace the closet door. Look for other little things like that that frustrate you and turn into clutter bottlenecks. Make it easy on yourself.

Make a list of anything that ends up in deep storage (like a box on the top shelf of the closet) and tape it to the outside of the box. This will make it easier to find what you need and you will feel more in control.


Get a new, larger dresser and attractive laundry baskets that you like. I use this to keep shoes organized and have laundry baskets on top of it.

Do your bedside tables have drawers? If not, I would replace them with ones that do.

Get drawer organizers so little things don't get lost in your new drawers.

Do you have underbed storage containers? I have a bed with built in drawers, which is awesome, but probably outside your budget.


Do your laundry the same day every week even if you are not out of clean clothes. Do you have your own washer and dryer? If so, put a load in before you leave for work, put it in the dryer when you get home and you can fold it and put it away before bed (and it won't be that much because you're doing it every week, right?) If you get in the habit of doing this every day (one day your clothes, one day your husband's clothes, one day towels, etc.) you won't have any laundry marathons eating up your weekend.


I did a big cleanout in my kitchen and now have only four dinner plates, four salad plates, six cups, and six of each utensil. It's just me and my boyfriend and we hardly ever have guests. We spend much less time dealing with dishes. If you do need those extra dishes sometimes, put them in the back of a bottom drawer so you won't be tempted to use them unnecessarily.

Get rid of all your mismatched tupperware. Get a new set with universal lids or something like that. I love my set of Pyrex. Having everything nice and new and matchy will make you want to keep it nice.

How big is the wine rack? Can you compromise with a vertical one that holds only three bottles?

How about putting lazy susans in the corner cupboards?

Good luck!
posted by fozzie_bear at 10:16 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your problem is trying to do everything at once, and then clutter just re-accumulates by itself with no intervention on your part?

No. Part of the problem is that you're not putting things away. The second you don't put something away, it becomes clutter.

Which brings us to the next problem: you can't put things away. You put things in the cupboard and the cupboard loses them for you. There is actually some truth to that. Don't spend $500 in one go. Buy a Lazy Susan for that cupboard and see if you still tend to lose things in there.

Instead of doing one massive cleanup, do 20 minutes per day. In 20 minutes, for example, you clean out one drawer completely, and you get rid of EVERYTHING in that drawer that you don't need. Line the drawer with scented shelf paper, and put everything back neatly. Keep like items together, so if you find an item in the drawer you're cleaning now that would be a better match for the things in the drawer you've already cleaned, transfer it. If you have a lot of loose papers in that drawer, order an accordion file, wait to receive it, and then sort all the papers into that file before putting the accordion file in the drawer and moving on to the next.

The trick here is that, once a space, however small, is cleaned out, it stays cleaned. You have to continue to handle it according to the way you've set it up.

In this fashion, you can gradually work your way across your entire space and make decisions incrementally. You don't have to spend $500 on a huge piece of furniture that will solve all your problems. You can spend $5 here and $5 here and work with the furniture you have. By the time you complete this process you will have a far clearer idea of what will work for you and what won't, and you can order bigger items then.

There is a mindset that you must not get into. Number one, ergonomics will screw you over if you let them, so usability is key (i.e. Lazy Susan in awkward corner cupboard). Number two, apart from the ergonomics issue, the clutter isn't accumulating by itself. A thing goes where a person puts it. I realise that might sound preachy, but when I was a child my father was permanently angry at things disappearing and would go around yelling "this house!" So of course, I was happy when we moved. But the next house had the same problem. On some level, he had honestly convinced himself that the matter was out of his hands, that the house was literally losing items and accumulating clutter on its own. You can't let yourself slip into believing this is out of your control.
posted by tel3path at 10:19 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My reading is that you have two connected yet separate issues.

One is that your house has some broken/malfunctioning things, like the dresser, the kitchen cabinets, and the closet doors. Those are fixable (and cheaply, if you have access to Ikea and/or Home Depot). Without fixing the things that are just plain broken, you are always going to be fighting a losing battle. Spending money on cute baskets when you have these basic issues won't fix the problem.

But the other is that it sounds like you are living in a small house, but with the possessions and lifestyle of a medium or large house. In a 5000 square foot house you can have wine racks and multiple laundry baskets and redundant appliances, and you can have entire rooms full of things just tossed into piles. To live tidily and comfortably in 850 square feet, you have to make some choices about owning much less, and about keeping things organized. Part of that is the sheer quantity of stuff and how even one or two extra things can totally clutter a small room; part of that is also that small spaces require things to be put away right now, every time.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I used to live in an 800sqft 2bd/1ba with a 70sqft kitchen, so I totally feel your pain.

One of the best things I did when decluttering was make a rule that if it hadn't been used in the last six months, out it went, with the exception of things like christmas decorations or tools. Having the rule forced me to realize that I hadn't used most of my stuff in YEARS, so really, what was I hanging on to it for, except good intention?

I had a lot of stuff that I had inherited. I had some idea that I needed all of this STUFF in order to properly remember the person it had been inherited from. But the fact was, I would avoid using those things (or they were already shoved in a drawer somewhere) because seeing those things brought up painful memories.

Life is too short to live surrounded by things that bring you painful memories. I got rid of every. single. thing. that brought me a painful memory, even if it meant that I had to buy a new one.

One of the biggest pains for me in terms of clutter was also having to clean/dust all of my chotchkes pretty often. Such a waste of time.

What things are you not getting done because first you have to take care of your clutter? When you re-prioritize those things, it will be easy to realize that you don't need to hang on to some of your stuff.

To eliminate that waste of time, I took most of the tables out of the living room, and all of the shelves. Which meant my decorative chotchkes went away. All but my favorite books were sold or donated (a much easier task now with electronic media). Now we just have the couch, a chair, an ottoman (which serves as a our coffee table), and a small side table in the living room. The tv is mounted on the wall, along with some artwork and photos. No tables and shelves means nowhere for pocket change or random flotsam and jetsam to land. Those things are forced to be put away now because there is no other option.

The (detached) garage was a major storage area for us, I had shelves that I used as a canned goods pantry (not that exact one, but you get the idea). I also stored my serving dishes and china out there.

Do you have a filing cabinet that takes up a lot of room (or a lot of papers that take up a lot of room because they haven't been filed yet)? Borrow a friends scanner and scan your docs for storage.

Be merciless in getting rid of clothes you don't wear, regardless of the reason that you don't.
posted by vignettist at 10:26 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

TAke teh door off the closet by the door so its easier to throw shoes and coats there. Put rotating shelves in your kitchen corner cabinets. Put dirty clothes directly into the washer (don't presort laundry unless it is absolutely necessary (like a new item that will bleed, something soiled with poop, or an evening gown). Get rid of books you haven't looked at in the past year. keep stuff you use outside the house in your car (i.e. kids basketball practice bags - don't even bring it in). get rid of decorations and use only live seasonal ones (like pumpkins, maize, real christmas trees). If you have boxes of photos or kids art, pick a few, frame and mount on the wall and throw the rest away or give to grandparents (framed nicely). Don't "air out" clothes if you are not washing them after wearing, just fold and put them back in the drawer. Airing out does nothing and is just a peace of mind thing. Cancel magazine subscriptions and use Zinio or another service instead. Get rid of excess pillows. Hang the TV on the wall if you have a flat screen and get a low profile entertainment center. get rid of a lot of pots and pans. Get a better dresser (with more shallow drawers to make it easier to find things, but with one deep drawer for thick items like sweaters).
posted by WeekendJen at 10:30 AM on November 5, 2013

One other thing - have you considered renting a storage unit? You might be able to get a small one for a small cost, and have some place to put summer/winter clothes or lesser-loved clothes, for example. Keeping all things at all times available and in the mix means you've always got some inventory that really and truly doesn't need to be there.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:34 AM on November 5, 2013

In terms of finding extra storage space, you have to get creative.

We live in a very old apartment with a fancy-looking built-in bookcase that actually doesn't provide a lot of storage, and a similar one in the kitchen. We bought these linen boxes at Container Store and put them above the unit in the living room - they look really nice and store stuff we don't need access to regularly, like Grandma's china. In the kitchen we got some sturdy wicker crates from Target and store extra paper towels.

I also noticed that due to the awkward layout of our hallway there was an unused corner, so I got a tall Expedit from Ikea (5 tall by 1 wide). Target's Itso boxes fit nicely in it and look a little nicer than the Ikea offerings.
posted by radioamy at 10:42 AM on November 5, 2013

If your drawers and cupboards and closets aren't organized, you'll never get there.

Focus on keeping storage space - what little you have - organized and you're half way there.

Also - why is a little clutter an issue? Are you worried that it's not the way grownups live? Or are you always having to dig for things?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:42 AM on November 5, 2013

Seconding radioamy, spend the $500 on a professional organizer who can come in to your home and make some recommendations for you. There may be solutions staring you in the eye that you just can't see from having lived in the space for a while, and strangers on the internet can't see them either.
posted by donajo at 10:59 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Some really good ideas so far. Lazy susan is a super obvious one and an easy fix. That will be done ASAP. New dresser is on the books and will hopefully happen in the near future.

And I appreciate people's concern but I'm not pathological about this, nor do I define my self worth around whether my house does (or does not) have clutter. LOL No, it is just that my husband and I were talking at lunchtime and we both are like "Enough!" because we're tired of putting so much effort and time in to something that clearly isn't working. A little clutter, hey! that's life! We have a six year old and we both work and we have lives. The house isn't going to be immaculate 24/7. We aren't striving for perfection here. ha ha We SHOULD however be able to maintain a level of tidiness that doesn't making going to pee in the middle of the night some sort of horrible pitch black obstacle course. We love the look and feel of our house when it is tidy, it feels relaxing and calming for both of us. We both feel more stressed and frazzled the more disorganized and messy our house gets. Our kitchen is the only place that stays mostly tidy because we are anal about making sure that when we go to bed every night the kitchen is clean. Our kitchen is also the only place where each thing has a place it is supposed to be, so putting things away is obvious. That said, we still haven't found a good solution for where to store our cookie sheets...
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:10 AM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: a good solution for where to store our cookie sheets

On the inside of your kitchen cabinet doors.
posted by jamaro at 11:14 AM on November 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

I know everybody hates IKEA, but I live in a place significantly smaller than yours and have a bunch of their stuff, and while I don't expect it to last decades, it's generally fine if you don't beat the crap out of it.

You've got to go vertical in small spaces. You could replace your dresser (Hemnes 8 drawer is $300) and buy two 6.5 foot Billy bookcases ($110) with doors for about $570 with tax. Alternatively, you could buy the 4x4 Expedit ($140), which stores a LOT of little stuff and just sits along a wall taking up about 16" of space.

Our pantry is the bottom half of a Billy with the half-height doors. Works fine.
posted by cnc at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2013

I store my cookie sheets (and cutting boards baking dishes) vertically, and it is SO much nicer to not have to lift everything out just to get one stupid cookie sheet. I happen to have a narrow tall cabinet (like 4" wide and full height) by my stove, but I've also seen people who use tension curtain rods vertically to make a vertical sub-division in a regular shelf or cabinet. Like so.
posted by foodmapper at 11:19 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's also okay to just throw stuff away.
posted by 99percentfake at 11:23 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I store my cookie sheets (and cutting boards baking dishes) vertically, and it is SO much nicer to not have to lift everything out just to get one stupid cookie sheet.

Truth. Also pans and lids and casserole dishes and other random stuff. I don't love any of the lazy susan options I've seen, but that space might be usable for some of these and similar suface-mount pull-out drawer organizers.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:56 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I dropped most of a tax refund on a set of Elfa wire shelves from the Container Store to shove all my clothing in. And I primarily buy knit stuff that doesn't wrinkle (much), and just shove it in rather than folding. Lifted no end of stress off me, because I can just lug the hamper with clean clothes into the closet and shove it all in with minimal sorting (pants, shirts, underthings, socks) instead of trying to fold it all neatly.

We also have a bunch of these over-the-door storage shelves (from Container Store again, we should just buy stock because we spend so much there), which extend our closet and pantry space by a lot--it's on that laundry room door, two closets, and both pantry doors right now. If you want to use the over-the-door rack to store tall things like wrapping paper or, say, cookie sheets, you can also buy a media rack for it, which allows you to slip tall, narrow things through the slots in the bottom of the rack, like the setup in the 3rd and 4th photos on this blog post.

Helpful hint: if you decide to buy these over-the-door things, make sure to measure the width of your doors, make sure they can open and close with the shelves on them, and also measure the THICKNESS of your doors: the one in the picture ended up thicker than regular doors, probably because it opens onto the garage, and we had to get the commercial hanging kit instead of the residential kit (same price).
posted by telophase at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Contemplate your ceiling! Of course the best thing would be for you to have a mudroom loaded with hooks and bins and cubbies and shelves. But without that, yes, remove those closet doors. Inside that space:

Hang a single shelf that spans your entire closet, and make it as HIGH as you can reach with a pair of shoes in your hands. Home stores sell these shelves cheap in the organizer section. Buy as many of the heavy duty triangle brackets as needed to support the length you need. This is your shoe shelf.

Underneath the shoe shelf, perhaps 6-8" below it, hang heavy duty hooks every 12" across. How many full-length coats do you have? Not many? Hang more hooks at belly button level.

Consider the left and right walls of your closet. How deep are they? Do you have lots of things like hats, gloves, scarves, etc? Find hanging bins or baskets that don't stick out more than about 10" from the wall and allocate a couple for each of you--and maybe one for the dog. This will give you a great start in that closet space.

Also consider your ceiling space elsewhere. Shelves as high as you can reach can be very useful. Hanging pot racks, or those wall racks with hooks are great for nearly everything. Have an IKEA near you? Get yourself to an IKEA or at lease peruse their web site for DIY inspiration.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:39 PM on November 5, 2013

I recently read this book. Even if you're not interested in minimalism or simple living, it lays out a great plan for decluttering, room by room and even makes it sound fun. The concept of modules ( a designated space to hold a certain category of thing beyond which you will not allow stuff of that category to expand, e.g. one shelf to hold all your DVDs no matter what - if you have too many to fit on the shelf, you have to get rid of some) changed my life.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:45 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

About the wine rack, how about putting a small cabinet on top of it? This way you can bung stuff into the drawers rather than having it spread all out on in the open. I have this one from Ikea, it's helped shift random odds off of my tiny study desk.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: I would definitely ditch the door on the coat closet. Don't replace it -- or replace it with a curtain on the closet-side if you feel like you have to hide the contents. Be sure to put in a tie-back hook so the curtain can be open most of time. Reduce the psychic barrier to "putting the coat away." Kick of the shoes into a heap, sure, but have the heap *in* the closet. If there's no door, the shoes will dry just fine.
A Terrible Llama's subdivision of the coat closet into half-coats (with shoes below), half-landing pad is probably a good idea for you. It will help you use the height of the closet better and give you some concrete but smallish chunks of storage for daily stuff.

For the clothes explosion, ditch the dresser and get a wardrobe with a few drawers on the bottom if your exploding clothes are mostly things that hang. If it has a lip at the top, and you don't live someplace seismically active, you can pop a box of off-season clothes up on top. I think Ikea has some freestanding closet-systems (for inspiration, at the very least). Again, the idea is to use the height, and to have storage in a format that aligns to your actual stuff.
posted by janell at 1:13 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've recently made some pretty cool storage changes to my small bungalow that you may like:

We installed good quality bronze coat hooks onto walls to hang coats and backpacks.

Put your cleaning supplies in an over the door shoe holder.

By the couch, we installed more hooks and hung baskets to hold remotes and iPads.

We store blankets on an old ladder, snug up against the wall.

Next project is to build a number of rolling book and magazine holders.
posted by lstanley at 1:35 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sometimes I sound like a broken record, but the very best way to find storage solutions is to use the search function on Pinterest. I just looked at coat storage, corner cupboard organization, dirty clothes organization, etc. The visual ideas are very helpful. I would also recommend 20-gallon ziploc bags for the crawlspace storage. They work great in my basement. I use a lot of hooks for clothes and coats, there are really nice attractive ones that work with any decor. I like the ones already attached to wood pieces because I'm not very handy, Hobby Lobby has a good selection although I no longer shop there.
posted by raisingsand at 1:40 PM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

If overall space is tight, and you've already gotten to the storage tables mentioned above, it's also worth considering ways to work vertically. For example, you could get a wall-mounted magazine rack that lives next to the couch where everybody puts their Stuff to Read heap. Or you can get a vertical file for incoming mail, rather than throwing it on that little table -- and a slot could be for outgoing mail or whatever. Similarly, we have used horizontal shelves (like stacking In Out trays) on top of a small table to multiply its usefulness -- maybe each of us gets one shelf as a To Deal With bin (rather than using part of the diningroom table) and there's still a surface on top of it for the napkins. There might be a number of places around the house where a small cabinet or couple of open shelves could be added that would give you a Real Place for occasional use items that otherwise crowd your counters or coffee table...

More grist for the mill. Good luck!
posted by acm at 1:54 PM on November 5, 2013

I hate dish drainers They get so gross and take up too much counter space I could use for other things. so, I rigged up my own version of the Finnish Dish Cabinet by suspending a wire shelf between the cabinets over the sink. Is it pretty? not really, but it is so very efficient.

It never gets grody and it holds way more than any counter top dish drainer does. The only thing it doesn't hold well is silverware, so I have a small plastic container that suction cups to the window that i use for steak knives and single utensils (like my coffee spoon or ice cream scoop.)
posted by vespabelle at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I second the notion of pulling seasonal stuff out of the piles and finding a way to rotate it in and out as the year rolls on.

Shorts, sundresses, most short sleeved shirts, swim gear, canning gear, popsicle making kit, etc, etc. Put it in bigass tubs and stow it out of the house. Garage? Storage? Friend's basement? Go get it in May when you are hauling out the shovel, bulky coats, stockpot...
posted by Sublimity at 2:36 PM on November 5, 2013

Three things make the biggest difference for me in keeping neat:

*Keep as little stuff as possible. I'm a packrat & I have a lot of stuff, but if I wasn't careful it would be SO MUCH MORE.
*Everything has a place where it lives. This is easier if you have enough space for everything, but it's essential - when you're cleaning, you need to put things where they actually go, not find a place for them.
*10 minutes of cleaning a day (might be more or less for you). This keeps everything relatively clean. Then, it's not overwhelming to start cleaning.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:51 PM on November 5, 2013

This may sound facetious but I'm serious: throw out 3/4 of your possessions.

Don't even worry about donating it or selling it on eBay or whatever. Just get rid of it.

We do not need most of what we keep. Just throw it out unless it is vital - vital! Keep what you actually need and use. It's hard to be messy when you own only what you use.
posted by k8lin at 4:01 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

My laundry/clothes are a problem. I have culled a huge amount and am down to essentials and only clothes that I wear regularly. Still, they are forever exploding all over the place. Before you ask, my dresser is a god damned pain in the ass. The drawers are really annoying and are always getting stuck and it is just three big drawers. I need a new dresser. I also need to do a better job keeping on top of my laundry.

Yup. My problem was that my 2 dressers, while large, didn't have enough compartments for different types of clothes...a few days after sorting and stacking, the process of searching for what I needed mussed the whole thing up. Putting laundry away in this system was a pain in the ass. I'm lazy and disinclined to do things that are a pain in the ass...which meant clothes everywhere except where they're supposed to be.

Enter Ikea. Which, of course, solves all Life Problems. I bought several Algot frames and baskets according to approx. how many clothes categories I had...i.e undies, bras, black long sleeve, black short sleeve, skirts, jeans/pants, socks, sweaters, leggins/tights etc. etc. This eliminated the need to search large dressers for single items (thus making a mess) and also eliminated the need to fold clothes (file under pain in the ass) when I put them away since my only reason for folding was find-ability. I'm also fussy about visual appeal and hung nice drapes from ceiling wires to cover the frames, thus making a dressing room of sorts.

The dressers are now for sheets, towels, blankets etc.

I also can't seem to get myself in the habit of putting clothes away that I'll re-wear...I keep a separate 'worn but clean' laundry basket for stuff that more disciplined folks would just put away immediately. When the basket is full, it gets emptied.
posted by space_cookie at 4:23 PM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

For the kitchen: Covering a couple walls with pegboard has freed me from having to dig in cupboards for pots, pans, and other kitchen instruments. Got the idea from Julia Child.
posted by 2ghouls at 4:58 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: In addition to the EXPEDIT, IKEA now has clear plastic bins with lids that are stackable. The small size is exactly half the width and height of the big one, so you can fit 2 big ones in each cube of the expedit, or 4 small ones, or 1 big and 2 small. One or two EXPEDITs in a bedroom somewhere could make a world of difference. We have one room that is dedicated to storage (it's also a guest room/study), so the rest of our tiny house can be clutter free.

Wanting to get rid of clutter is not anal. Visual clutter can be stressful to many people, and as you know, you can waste a huge amount of time constantly battling to keep it clean. This used to be a constant struggle for us. It was only after we got some standardized storage, and got organized (so there is only one place in the house where each type of thing goes) that would could finally get it together. Now it takes 5 minutes to get ready for company, instead of 3 hours of frantic stuffing-in-closets.

The old adage is simple but true: a place for everything, and everything in its place. With a house that small, you're going to have to be far more aggressive with getting rid of stuff, it sounds like. We recently got rid of 3/4 of everything we owned, so we could downsize. I don't miss ANY of it.

Good luck.
posted by ravioli at 6:08 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: A lot of my clutter cleared up when I stopped thinking of my coat closet as where coats go and started thinking of it as where I store seasonal items and where GUEST coats go (and, okay, my off-season coats).

I got a storage bench for shoes, and a shelf (with baskets) and hooks above it. Coats on hooks, shoes in bench, and each person has a basket that holds hats & mittens, phone & chargers, whatever. I thought we'd sit on the bench to put on shoes, but in fact it's where all the backpacks and purses and things land. Having this out in the open, instead of behind a door, makes a TON of difference because it's trivially easy to put things where they go, and having the catch-all baskets is also a huge help. Even if you don't have the space for a storage bench, you can probably put some hooks on the wall and a shelf with baskets above them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:10 PM on November 5, 2013

Use the space between your wall studs for storage. In your kitchen, you can get the cans and boxes out of your cabinets and onto shallow shelves where you can see everything . Then add baskets and rollouts to the cabinets to store everything else you need in your kitchen. We created stud-storage in an 800 sq. ft. house and used narrow louvered doors to create a very shallow pantry.
posted by Joleta at 7:15 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

When my plumber went into the crawlspace to do some work, they wore a cartridge respirator and taped around cuffs of pants and shirts to keep black widows out. A crawlspace under the house is not like a nice clean attic "crawlspace", and it's very limited what can be stored there without being ruined.

If you can use some less accessible storage space, build a small shed.

Build very narrow shelves in hallways and behind bathroom doors.

Find a place to hang pots in the kitchen. Put cup hooks underneath or inside cabinets for mugs.
posted by yohko at 10:17 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some have already been mentioned, but there are some good ideas here.
posted by superfish at 10:37 PM on November 5, 2013

For the corner cupboards, find large containers that fill most or all of the space in those cupboards and that can be slid out easily, if the layout of these silly cupboards makes such a move possible. Then pull the whole container out on to the counter, get what you need, and slide the whole container back where it came from. Or devise an evil plan to convert the corner cupboards into a built-in wine rack to replace the freestanding rack on the counter.

Is this your own house, such that you are free to make minor structural modifications? If so, look at the back and side walls of every cupboard and closet and ask yourself what would happen if you were to knock all or part of that cupboard or closet wall out and either leave it open or add a door to it from the other side. Ideal candidates for such things are kitchen cupboards that open into the kitchen from the front and into a closet or pantry from the back, so you can use stuff from the front/kitchen and restock stuff from the back/pantry. Other candidates are cupboards in the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, if you have such a thing. (And Mr Wine Rack might be open to making a wine cupboard that opens from both sides, giving him easy access to his beloved collection while getting it the hell off the kitchen counters.)

I also need to do a better job keeping on top of my laundry.

Do you do all of the household laundry? Instead of that shit, roll dice (or spin a "wheel of laundry destiny" or something like that) to decide who takes care of the laundry that day or week or month. And this is just an example -- there may be other household tasks you could also split something like this. You both agree that the kitchen needs to be mopped X times a week, but neither of you wants to do it all the time and you don't want to make up tedious rules for deciding who has to do it, so you just roll for it on a certain agreed day (every Sunday morning, for example), and neither of you feels nagged because it's just chance if you have to mop the kitchen or clean the toilet or change the cat box. Play your household like a board game.
posted by pracowity at 1:56 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, you guys have a lot of great suggestions. You've helped up really focus on what we need to do and come at this problem from a way better direction.

After talking last night we are going to do the following things now:
- remove coat closet door, install hooks and cubbies, making space much more usable. My husband likes this idea and is going to take the door off this weekend, but he is a little concerned about having it possibly be messy and that be the first thing that guests see, so I am going to install a simple curtain (with tiebacks) to hide it when need be.
- keep purging and being much more aggressive about it. While I paint the bedroom this weekend my husband is going to wage war on our living room.
- I got a new dresser off of kijiji that is MUCH better and more useful. Best 100$ I have spent in a while.
- lazy susan(s) for the crap annoying corner cupboard (we both were like "Duh! why didn't we think of that!")
- getting rid of inefficient storage things we were using and replacing with much more useful storage. The most obvious one is that we had been using our kid's old change table as a shelf and storage drawers in our laundry room but it is seriously inefficient, as you can imagine. We have someone taking it away for us tonight and we're going to get a simple open shelving until from Home Depot, which will be MUCH more practical. The laundry room is just off of the kitchen so we are going to store some of our kitchen items there.

Things we're considering:
- removing other doors in the house, especially the door to the closet in the laundry room which is always left open anyway since we always have to get in there.
- spending some money to replace our current pretty haggard looking ottoman and replacing it with a new one that has storage inside for blankets (which are always an issue)
- discussing whether the wine rack should go. He still wants to keep it, but he agrees that it maybe isn't the best use of space. I am proposing we take one level of an existing shelving until and convert THAT in to a wine rack. He is pondering this over.
- trying to reduce the visual clutter in terms of decorations/things on the wall/etc.

We're getting a solid plan and we're feeling like we're going to be able to make major improvements without a whole lot of effort! YAY! Thanks everyone! And if you have more suggestions, keep 'em coming!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:04 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just thought of this today- my coat closet has a set of over-the-door hooks, and all the coats and scarves wind up getting hung there because it's easier and more convenient. You might want to get some of those until you remove doors in places where stuff winds up on the floor.

Have fun getting organized!
posted by windykites at 5:53 AM on November 6, 2013

Response by poster: We have the over the door hooks, and they are actually part of the problem. They are all absolutely covered in things and have added feet of extra bulk to the doors. We're hoping that converting our coat closet to something more useful we'll be able to get rid of them.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:02 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like you're pretty well sorted (ha!) with advice and a plan, but I thought I'd pass along a few nuggets of wisdom a home organizer gave me:

- don't think of organizing any specific area (clothing, kitchen cabinets, linen closet, etc.) as a one and done kind of deal. Maybe because growing up, my family didn't have much money, but I learned to hold onto things forever and to stuff as much as possible into every available nook and cranny. Spring cleaning was a foreign concept and I had no habit of regular organizing and purging of belongings. Now I understand it's sort of an ongoing, constant process to stay organized and on top of things.

- halt the flow of stuff into the house. Without much conscious thought about what we needed or would find useful, my husband and I both constantly brought new items into the house. As you can imagine this soon overwhelmed our space. Before having the organizer point it out to me, I simply thought I just needed to organize things better. I know it sounds obvious but it really took an outsider to point out we had too much and were adding to the problem constantly. We needed to purge a lot of stuff but also change our habits of amassing things.
- use clear storage bins. Being able to see into the containers of things we do have stored has been really helpful!

Hope you find those tidbits of use. Best of luck in your organizing!
posted by JenMarie at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get rid of 50% of the things you own. I do this every 12 months.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:06 PM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: If you have any issues with socks, like a bag of unmatched socks that sits around taking up space in your closet, a build up of socks waiting to be matched that attracts other random clothing so that you don't put it away, throw away ALL your socks. And all your husbands socks In reality each of you only really needs two types of sock, right? Prob white athletic style socks and then some darker, longer dress socks. Go buy 15 (or whatever) pairs of white socks for each of you that are all EXACTLY the same. Same with dress socks.

You will never have to waste time matching up socks again. All your socks will just match.
posted by corn_bread at 11:17 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I keep a give-away box in the basement. When I get tired of the clutter, I make a resolution to put ONE thing in the box every day. Seven things a week. And drop it off when it gets full. Works really well. When it gets really difficult to find the one thing, you can stop for a while.
posted by raisingsand at 6:48 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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