Apartment Hacks: Storage and Organization
June 29, 2021 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Please share your tips for organizing an apartment kitchen, bedroom closet, walk-in storage room, and more!

I want to streamline storage and optimize organization. I would love your tips and tricks for staying organized and making chores easy. I have been reading past advice like this and that but would appreciate any additional suggestions. Repeats are encouraged as it shows how valuable something is!

My space is a third-floor walk-up apartment with one big bedroom, tiny bathroom, medium-sized balcony, and a giant living/dining space with kitchenette. There is also a glorious walk-in storage room/closet that has a wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves. I do not want to buy or build any new storage systems but rather work with what's already there.

By nature I am very disorganized and messy at home while organized and focused in my professional and personal life. While untidy, I do keep things hygienic. My balcony is very neat because I love it so much. I have two cats and keep their food in the kitchen and litterboxes/litter genie in a corner near the door. (Eww but this seems to work best.) Hobbies include cooking/baking, sewing/crafting, reading, and taking classes online. Part of the challenge is finally having my own place again after a few years of housing instability so I'm overly cautious about getting rid of anything I may need later. Your compassion is extra appreciated there. I've done Marie Kondo-inspired decluttering in the past but we can't get rid of everything, eh?

Thank you so much!
posted by smorgasbord to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Does not wanting to buy any new storage system include boxes? Because a quick way to organize your sewing and craft supplies and everything else is to measure your shelves and order different size storage boxes with lids from IKEA which has a ton of inexpensive options. My favorite book storage is a shelf that is 10" or so below the ceiling that runs along the wall above the doorways (accessed with a step ladder).

But you might also look at online blogs of creative people to see what their spaces look like. The only one I can think of offhand is Ann Wood. Here's a couple photos of her original apartment but I know there are more if you dig deeper in her blog.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:53 PM on June 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Lots and lots of see-thru bins. Either with holes, mesh, or "clear". You may want to measure the spaces carefully, and go visit Dollar Tree, which has a TON of bins of various sizes and shapes, and do a little math to see which ones would fit your storage.

Also remember, you can add shelves / levels, as well as use the "underside" of each shelf for additional storage space with the right type of "rack".

Lots and lots of "Dollar Tree DIY" storage or pantry videos on YT.

I believe a lot of clutter comes from "I can't find X now, I have to buy another X", so having clearly defined "regions" for each "category" (including a "file away ASAP" zone, similar to a "dump tray") is important. So it may be time to go over everything you have, at least one section at a time, and sort your stuff based on your interests and needs, and "urgency", i.e. "do I need this now, in a week, in a month, or in a year?" And store and label accordingly.
posted by kschang at 3:12 PM on June 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm especially interested in this sentence from your question: "My balcony is very neat because I love it so much."

What can you do to make the rest of your space into a place that you love that much? Do you need to paint, decorate, buy a couple of plants, find a beautiful couch on craigslist? I do think when you truly love a space, it's not just easier to keep clean but also more FUN to keep clean. I am not a great housekeeper and I actually love cleaning my house and putting things away because I love reconnecting with the space that I've made my own.

But also, yes, lots of clear boxes that are labeled (can be labeled with masking tape and sharpie) in that nice walk in closet.
posted by EmilyFlew at 3:37 PM on June 29, 2021 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Re sewing: I store fabric folded into rectangles and placed vertically on a shelf like books. My patterns are in a filing cabinet. Cut ones are in gallon ziploc bags.

It’s key to be able to see where things are! I read a book recently by Susan Pinsky aimed at organization for people with ADHD and I like her ideas about reducing friction and giving everything a home. Prioritize function over aesthetics—your beautiful closed boxes won’t be so aesthetic if you are constantly stacking stuff on top of them. I try not to put anything behind other things or I’ll never find it again. I wouldn’t personally love the clear plastic boxes if you already have closets with shelves. It adds a whole layer of difficulty in finding and accessing your stuff.
posted by music for skeletons at 4:10 PM on June 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your shelves might comfortably fit office paper boxes, which are probably still ubiquitous. Or maybe the size of boxes that 12-packs of beer come in; many beers have fun logos. I use hang tags that I decorate with stamps, all labels go on the upper left corner. If you will buy storage containers, file crates often go on sale, stack well, easy to handle, easy to label., and, despite my link, are offered in lots of colors. Not all sizes stack perfectly, but they do stack. I have tons-o-crap stacked neatly. I have accumulated a lot of canvas totes, and use those for crafts like knitting, on shelves.

Label things however works for you, but label. Crafts - dyes - tie-dye or Knitting - yarn - needles - books or Clothes - size 12 - winter - sweaters. In my furnace room, I have old cupboards, and I wrote on the front edges of shelves -> screws, or glue and tape. It helps find things, also helps me stick to the plan. Clip-on lamps make it easy to locate stuff.

Kitchen - baking stuff goes together, pantry stuff, etc. stuff used less often is on the highest or lowest shelf/ drawer. I was given tons of rosemary, and it discourages pantry moths. (I use cedar old to discourage wool moths. Moth balls are carcinogenic, far as I know.) I like to cook and allocated a fair bit of space for herbs and spices. Single ingredient herbs, like oregano are on one shelf, combos like chili powder on another, baking stuff like vanilla and sprinkles on another.

My books are mostly by subject, and fiction is alpha by other. If you have beautiful books, doo-dads, albums, whatever,
posted by theora55 at 4:39 PM on June 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're going to use storage bins, I am now pretty passionate about not mixing and matching more than necessary. I use two specific sizes of Sterilite brand boxes and two sizes of Iris boxes to meet my range of needs, and both brands are pretty reliably going to stick around and they tend to not dramatically change the look and feel too often. Once too many other brands get mixed in, now it's a hunt for the right lid to fit and they don't stack well and they often butt up against each other in a way that wastes space. You want to orient with heavier stuff on lower shelves and lighter on higher, but that doesn't automatically mean larger bins low and smaller high - you may have some very light stuff that can go in a larger bin, just make sure you can comfortably take it down and put it back when loaded. Really heavy smaller stuff, I find, work best in the two smaller box sizes stored at roughly waist-elbow height.

For pantry and cabinets, I use different shape/sizes of mDesign acrylic containers, but BB&B and Container Store have their own brands of the same thing.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:58 PM on June 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One of the more useful organizing ideas I've ever come across is that wherever you intuitively look for an item is where it should be housed. I mean, okay, there are limits to this, and not literally everything can be in the one drawer you're prone to guessing random stuff might be, but then at least put your most-used items there in a tidy fashion and pick secondary locations for everything else individually ("if this weren't in the drawer, then where would I look?"), so that your brain has an easy time learning where each thing goes (because it already knows!) and is more likely to prompt you to put it back. An accompanying concept is that you don't allow stuffing or overflow. If for example you'd intuitively look for cups in one tiny cupboard, seriously consider whether the number of cups that fit comfortably in that cupboard is equal to the number of cups you need in your life. If not, is it at least possible that it's equal to the number that need to be in active use, and the others can be regulated to storage in a closed box that's in its own predictable place? Leaving breathing room around items makes them easier to use and put back, and if you only occasionally use something there's no need to be regularly expending brain power on its management.
posted by teremala at 5:30 PM on June 29, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: As a starting place, I'd recommend looking at Clutterbug, an organiser who discusses different organising style. Given that you say you're super organised at work, you may be a "micro-organiser", so a cricket or a bee. Or maybe not. But it's definitely worth having a think about whether you like to see your stuff or not (clear versus opaque storage containers, clear benches or not), and if you like to "micro" or "macro" sort. I actually use all the styles in different places. She has a lot of youtube content, if you feel like doing a deep dive to get some ideas. Her "look" is quite consistently twee, but there's a lot of organising options if you look past that.

I also love not buying containers:) If you can find an easily accessible box that fits on your shelves, start hoarding them. I actually prefer reusing something, as you can write on the outside with a permanent marker, and not feel like you've ruined it.
posted by kjs4 at 6:47 PM on June 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Agree with kschang, it's worth it to invest in matching bins. Depending on the ones you buy, they may be modular so they stack on top of each other nicely. If you buy them from somewhere like The Container Store, you have a very good chance that the same line will be available for years, if you need to buy more.
posted by radioamy at 8:15 PM on June 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's been years since I've lived in an apartment but I followed Apartment Therapy even as a home renter / home owner because you could find good ideas there. I'm posting this to share that link with you.
posted by TimHare at 10:06 PM on June 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're willing to buy one thing, I love, love, love my label maker. There's something that's just so pleasant about having neatly printed labels on storage containers. I can't find the specific one I have, but this is close.
posted by FencingGal at 6:17 AM on June 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: hmmm, unfinished sentence above If you have beautiful books, doo-dads, albums, whatever, display them.
posted by theora55 at 6:21 AM on June 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: for me, this is mostly just spending hours reading AT instead of actually organizing, but with the same satisfaction as long as i never look at my actual closet. more good time wasting sites to recommend are remodelista and their sister site the organized home.
posted by zsh2v1 at 7:53 AM on June 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

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