September 19, 2017

How to Keep Small Spaces Organized

Have a closet, drawer, or cabinet in your home that's always disorganized? Learn how to get and keep small spaces organized in just a few steps. These easy tips are great for organizing the closet, bathroom, or kitchen.

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We all have that one cabinet, closet, or drawer in our home.  You know, the one that you throw yourself in front of when a guest reaches to open it.  You’re so adamant that they keep it closed, they probably think you’ve stuffed a dismembered corpse inside.

Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to be embarrassed by that junk drawer?  That entry closet?  That bathroom cabinet?  With an organizational system and a little discipline, you can keep small spaces organized in your home.

First, we’ll take a quick look at the difference between storage and organization.  Next, I’ll walk you through how to organize a small space.  Finally, I’ll leave you with a simple plan to keep small spaces organized.

Storage vs. organization

Do you know the difference between storage and organization?  Or maybe a better question is, did you know there was a difference between storage and organization?  Let’s break it down.

Storage is the space and container in which items are housed (Where).

Organization is the manner (How) and order (Why) in which items are arranged ins relation to the task they support.

Simply put, storage is the where.  Organization is the how and why.

Storage is the where. Organization is the how and why.Click To Tweet

Understanding the how and why of each item is crucial to your ability to keep small spaces organized (And large spaces, too!).

How to organize a small space

Space in our drawers, cabinets, and closets is limited.  As a result, we need to be intentional about the items we keep in them.  That means deciding how and why we use the space, getting rid of things that don’t belong, and coming up with a system to organize the items that do belong.

Step 1:  Figure out how and why you use the space

Before organizing your space, figure out how and why you use it.  Trust me, this is the foundation of keeping small spaces organized.

What exactly do I mean by how and why you use the space?

Let’s take my bathroom cabinet as an example.  More specifically, the center shelf of the cabinet.  It’s located in my master bathroom (Captain obvious, at your service), next to the sink.

The tasks I do regularly in this space are my morning and evening skincare routines, my hair, and my makeup.  I do these tasks here because they’re near my closet and bedroom, which is convenient for getting ready for work or for bed.  That is the how and why of my space.

Step 2:  Take EVERYTHING out and get it sorted

Remove every. single. item from your small space, one by one.  Place trash, recyclables, and items to donate into the appropriate containers immediately (I.e., the trash can, recycling bin, donation bin).

Next, let’s look at the items you want to keep.  Decide if each one fits in with how and why you use this space.  Sort them into 2 categories based on whether they fit your space’s how and why:

  • Belongs/matches the how and why of the space
  • Doesn’t belong/doesn’t match the how and why of the space

Place the items that don’t belong into a box, and put them where they belong later.

Grab any items that you use in this space but store somewhere else.  Include them in step 3.

Step 3:  Decide how to arrange the items

Next, look at the items that do belong in your space.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I regularly use some items together?
  • Do I use some items more frequently than others?
  • Will I forget about some of these items if I can’t see them?
  • Do I have enough space to store everything that belongs here?
  • Are some items too large to be stored here?

Based on your answers to these questions, group the items together in a way that makes sense to you and fits with your routines.  Some items may be grouped by category (Such as hair products), some by task (Such as morning skincare routine), some by size (Such as a large blow dryer).  All that matters is that it makes sense to you.

Step 4:  Do a test run with temporary containers

Are you surprised that step 4 isn’t shopping for cute baskets, bins, and containers?

The truth is, that’s the reason most organizing projects fail in the long run.  Even if we successfully complete steps 1 through 3, choosing the wrong containers is almost like a death sentence for a newly-organized space.  We can’t possibly choose the right containers until we have tested the organizational system itself.

We can't choose the right containers until we've tested the organizational system itself.Click To Tweet

Remember the items you grouped above?  We’re going to use ordinary boxes, jars, tubs, etc to create a mockup of our storage and organizational system.  In other words, we’re going to combine storage (The where) with organization (The how and why), to test them out.  As a result, we’ll perfect the organizational system before we invest in permanent containers.

Organizational Test Run:

  • Gather unused containers that might fit within your space
    • Boxes
    • Jars
    • Baskets
    • Trays
    • Clean and empty food containers such as butter tubs, milk jugs, yogurt cups, etc
  • Modify them to fit your space, if needed
    • Cut box walls down so you can more easily see inside
    • Cut milk jugs in half so you can get items in and out
  • Place the temporary containers in your space
  • Arrange your organized (grouped) items inside the containers in a way that makes sense to you
    • Make sure you can easily see each item
    • Try to keep grouped items together
    • If possible, place frequently-used items toward the front, and seldom-used items toward the back
  • Live with it for at least a week, tweaking as needed

Yes, you heard me right.  Use your new storage and organizational system for AT LEAST a week, preferably 2.

If something isn’t working, change it.  If a box needs to be shorter, a jar just isn’t working, or you find it a hassle to reach a certain item, rearrange items and containers until the problem is solved.  Keep making tweaks and adjustments until you’re able to use and access the items in the space quickly and effortlessly.

That’s the beauty of a trial run.  You aren’t already invested in cute containers, so you can easily make changes to your storage and organizational systems.

Step 5:  Choose permanent containers

Once you’ve done a test run and optimized the storage and organization systems for your space, you get to do the fun part.  Shopping!

Prepare yourself for container shopping by doing these things:

  • Measure your space
  • Measure each temporary container
  • Write down what each container’s purpose
  • List the features you want in each container (Do you want a clear container?  A basket?  A cute jar or vase?  A lidded box?  Do you want them all to match?  A short container so you can see what’s inside?)

Once you have your list, find containers that fit your needs.  Be sure to keep your receipts.  Do a final test run with your permanent containers.  As a result of your final test run, return any containers that don’t work out.  Replace them with something that’s a better fit for your space and organizational system.

How to keep small spaces organized

You’ve put lots of time and effort into your storage and organizational systems.  Now it’s time to keep your small space organized.

Keep items out that don’t belong

This is simple:  If it doesn’t belong in your newly-organized space, don’t put it there.  If there isn’t a why to justify putting it in your small space, take the extra 30 seconds to put it away where it belongs.

Putting things away is called storage.  Placing them where they belong is called organization.

You’ll almost never be able to keep small spaces organized if you use them to store things that don’t belong.

Putting things away is called storage. Placing them where they belong is called organization.Click To Tweet

Declutter your small space regularly

Regular decluttering is one of the best ways to keep small spaces organized.  Remove items that are empty, no longer used, or used somewhere else.  Quickly scan through the items in your small space every few weeks, and weed out anything that isn’t currently used or needed there. Check out my post on keeping a clutter-free home for some easy decluttering tips!

Once you have a decluttering routine established, why not add a daily cleaning routine as well? I’ve mapped out a daily cleaning routine that’s the perfect companion to regular decluttering.

Make adjustments as needed

Your needs and routines will change at some point.  Make sure your storage and organizational systems change with you as a result.  Spaces organized around old routines almost never remain organized.

Putting it all together

Keeping small spaces organized takes a system, maintenance, and discipline.  Here’s a recap of what we went over today:

  • Understanding the difference between storage and organization is foundational to keeping small spaces organized.
  • You need to understand how and why you use a small space.
  • Each item in the small space needs to clearly fit into the how and why of the space.
  • Grouping items together according to category or task is a great foundation for an organizational system.
  • Before you invest in permanent storage containers, do a test run of your organizational system using temporary containers.
  • Once you’ve perfected your organizational system, choose permanent containers.
  • Keep your space organized by excluding items that don’t belong, decluttering regularly, and making adjustments as needed.

I hope I’ve convinced you that a good organizational system is the best way to keep small spaces organized.  Have you had success with small space organization?  Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. – If you’re interested in learning more about organizing, check out my post on reducing paper clutter!

Have a closet, drawer, or cabinet in your home that's always disorganized?  Learn how to get and keep small spaces organized in just a few steps.  These easy tips are great for organizing the closet, bathroom, or kitchen.

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