Space Management Survival Guide: The Basics

by Michael Allen

Most storage problems do not arise from having too little space, but are the result of disorganized space. The first step in space management is to take an inventory of what you actually own. By emptying out the specific area you want to tackle (only do one area at a time or the task could become overwhelming) and spreading out your belongings, you will get an idea of what you use regularly and what you are just holding onto. Do you really need those jeans that you will "someday" fit into? How about the sweater you received as a gift that doesn't go with anything? Will you really reread all of those paperback novels you are storing on your shelves? Keep two garbage bags near you while you work, one for trash and the other for donations. Get rid of anything that you haven't used for the past 1-2 years except for tax and business documents. This sorting process should dramatically reduce your storage needs.

After you have eliminated non-essentials and unused items, it is time to take inventory of what you have and sort the items by use -- put all of your books in one pile, shoes together, CD's and tapes together, cutlery in one place, etc. Then start measuring your larger items. In order to plan storage you must know how much space you actually need. I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago when I built a bookcase with shelves that were (I found out upon completion), too short for my taller books. This is also a good time to take a count of your items so you can plan enough space for them (you will only get frustrated if you set aside storage space for 8 sweaters and later find out you have 15).

Once you have your storage needs clearly defined, it is time to decide which solution you want to use. You have four choices. You can either hang it, put it in a drawer, store it on the floor, or shelve it. Hanging items is a great way to utilize otherwise bare wall surfaces to solve storage needs. In the kitchen, hanging pots and pans is a good way to free up cupboard space and is very inexpensive. All you need are some ceiling hooks, S- hooks, chain, and a sturdy wire rack. Suspend the rack from the ceiling and use S-hooks to hang the pots. Try inexpensive hooks under cabinets for mugs and in the closet for caps, scarves, belts, and purses. A folding lattice pegboard can also be hung for these items. Using the same suspension system that you used for the pots in the kitchen, you could also build an inexpensive custom closet organization system by suspending thick doweling from your existing clothes rod by a combination of chain and shower curtain hooks. (Don't forget to use space-saving multiple hangers for added storage.)

Drawers are useful for putting things out of sight. A helpful tip for drawers is to use dividers (cardboard, plastic, whatever) to separate items for easy access.

The floor is another option for storage. Do you have extra space between the fridge and the wall? This is a great place for storing cookie sheets, pizza pans, a folding stepladder, or other tall, thin items. I also have space between my bookshelves and the wall where I store my oversized art books. You may also consider inexpensive cardboard or plastic boxes under the bed or under tables covered with floor-length tablecloths as additional storage areas. (Don't forget to label boxes on all sides for quick and easy retrieval.)

Lastly, shelves are a great solution for storage problems. Shelves are inexpensive to make using cement blocks and particle board, but don't forget to utilize space off the floor and install shelves (with brackets) above beds and desks, in kitchens, and in garages. Extra shelves in the freezer increase your space there and a double-tiered lazy susan works wonders in cupboards and in the fridge for easy access to those pesky condiments that "hide" in the back.

As you can see, good inexpensive storage solutions take a little time, planning, and motivation, but with some creativity, I bet you have more space than you thought.

Good Luck!

Michael Allen is a part-time planning consultant and professional organizer in Cleveland, Ohio. He offers workshops and organization services to homes and businesses to help people get, and stay organized and maximize their personal satisfaction and professional productivity.
For more information, contact him at

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