Storage for Small Places

by Lisa Reid

One of the choices our family has made is to live in a fairly small house. We say we "built" this house ourselves. What that really means is that we acted as the contractor. We also actually did quite a lot of the work ourselves (although, there, too, we had substantial help from family members). But we had an architect design it, and this is what we told her, "We want our house payment to be X dollars a month. Here's a list of the things we want in a house. Design us a house that has as many of these as possible within that budget." It turned out to be 1500 square feet. We think we got a fabulous little house this way and, five years, later, it is still a joy to live in.

Since we moved to this house from a rental that was a miniscule 700 square feet, we've had many years to learn to fit things into small spaces. Downscaling the number of square feet of housing a family budget must support is a real option for reducing expenses, especially when everything is organized in such a way that it looks good and makes the stored items easily accessible.

We've collected ideas for optimizing the use of space. Some are particularly useful in kids' rooms. Keep in mind that things look more ordered if they are behind a door or in a drawer. Open storage benefits from all being in containers, grouped together by similar colors, sizes and shapes. Collections are more pleasing displayed in one group, rather than dispersed throughout the house. You can store a lot in a little space without creating a cramped feeling if you leave some open space, for instance, on one wall or around a piece of furniture.

Containers. It's really unnecessary to buy containers. Great containers are thrown away every day. If you catch the produce guy or gal (go in the morning) at the grocery store, he or she will load you up with empty produce boxes. Restaurants go through lots of food that come in gallon size glass jars and will usually give extras away. Copy stores often have extra boxes with lids that paper comes in.

Other free container ideas: large size cans, baby wipe containers, old suitcases and lunch boxes, fishing tackle or hardware organizers no longer in use, heavy-duty detergent boxes with handles and boxes from the liquor store that are divided into individual cubbies. Hang hats in a row above a window. Put up a "clothesline" in your child's room and clothespin artwork or stuffed animals. If you have lots of extra hanging space in a closet, fill a large Ziploc with all the plastic dinosaurs or wrapping paper bows you are saving to reuse and clothespin it to a hanger.

Hidden storage space. Look around at all the little pieces of air space. Those little pieces, such as the one next to many refrigerators, don't really add to the overall feeling of spaciousness, but can provide a good deal of storage space. Even 4" shelves can hold canned goods, paperbacks, toilet paper, office supplies, tapes, CDs, and videos. Narrow shelves can be added to the inside of closet doors and between wall studs on interior walls.

Shelves above doors and windows are great and usually quite easy to build. My first office was a 2' X 4' space at the end of a hall. It had a window with a shelf above it, a bulletin board on one wall and hanging pocket files on the other. The desk was a laminated board cut to fit the space with a two-drawer file cabinet beneath.

Think, too, of storage furniture like benches and footstools with storage below the seat. And don't forget underbed space!

Double duty. Create space by using one thing for two jobs and getting rid of the extra. For instance, when Ivy has an overnight guest, we just take the futon out of our window seat and put it on Ivy's bedroom floor. This saves the space (and expense) of providing a second bed for guests in her room.

Is it really needed? How many extra dining chairs do you really need to buy and make room for when you can use the piano bench for overflow seating? If you only have overnight guests four times a year, do you need a special space just for them? Extra space and extra possessions have a monetary and a time cost - make sure they are a good value in your eyes.

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