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Itty Bitty Spaces

Part One: Under Places


What can you recommend for people living in spaces so compact that there’s hardly any place to hide things out of sight? Such as shoes, linens … and the ever-growing collection of things to throw out or otherwise redistribute! - A Faithful Reader

Dear Faithful Reader,

Ahhh, yes, the ongoing challenge of keeping a compact space looking and feeling open and organized. In answering your question, I must begin with the obvious: Your space will free up by immediately throwing out the things already deemed dispensable. If you have a pile of things to donate, give away to friends, or otherwise distribute, then make that the first priority.

Juli Shulem

Whenever I coach someone about making the environment more efficient and orderly, the first order of business is to get rid of “trash.” That can be anything from actual garbage that has collected and has been ignored, to useable items that no longer meet your needs and can be gotten rid of. This step typically leaves a room looking considerably better than it did prior, and the difference can be eye-opening.

Don’t get too excited with that result, however, as it is merely the beginning of the process. Next comes going through the storage spaces you do have to determine which items you actually want and which are just taking up valuable real estate. If you haven’t cleared out your cupboards and closets for over a year, chances are there is plenty there that you simply don’t use or need. This is usually the first place more space is found. It’s easy to create and costs nothing but some of your time.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you have done all this and you still have things that have nowhere to reside. This week, and the following two weeks, I will address hidden storage spaces: under places, over places, and inside places. The following are some under-places worthy of serious consideration:

Beds: There are many containers that allow for easy and neat under-bed storage. Don’t just toss things under the bed, or they become dusty, hard to reach, and often destroyed when more things get shoved alongside them. Measure the space before purchasing a storage container as they come in various sizes. Be sure that it will clear the bed frame and not just the vast open space below – depending on the kind of bed you have, those measurements may not be the same. Repeat: The container must clear the smallest of the measurements. Don’t overlook support bars often in the center of a larger bed as that will dictate the size and shape of your containers.

Desks: Rarely do one’s feet need all the space at the back of the desk where you sit. A shelf or two there can hold an entire cupboard’s worth of supplies. Or, there are also portable shelves and drawers, even rolling racks, that can be placed there instead. It’s one of the spaces most often overlooked for simple, affordable storage.

Couches: A shallow basket holding games, magazines, or living-room supplies can often fit nicely under a couch, out of the way yet accessible. Blankets, Playstation controls, dining trays, and DVDs can be tucked away there quite nicely. Be careful not to just shove things under the couch, however, or you may have a difficult time retrieving them later.

Plinth Drawers: If you know what these are, you are ahead of where I was! The space I called the “kick plate,” below the kitchen cabinets, is unused space. This can be more of a project, but drawers can be made in this area for such things as cookie sheets, linens, and other flat objects you don’t get to frequently. If you are someone prone to leaving drawers open, however, plinth drawers may be a dangerous solution for you. Tripping over a low-flying open drawer would not be worth the space savings.

Existing Shelves: Many times, stationary shelves have more space between them than can be used properly. Here are two solutions. The first is to attach drawer units, which can double or triple the spot’s usable storage capacity. The second is to add an under-shelf wire storage basket. Available in various designs, most of these baskets simply slip onto on an existing shelf and hang there, instantly doubling the usable space. If you have adjustable shelves, consider readjusting them to fit the contents they are holding. I notice people often overlook a simple adjustment to increase capacity – adding even one additional shelf can make a huge difference.

Watch next week’s Ask an Organizer column, “Hidden Spaces: Over Places,” and see more ideas for stretching out in small quarters.

Ask a question for the column, and I will address it at the appropriate time. Email questions to Coach Juli at jshulem@gmail.com, and put “question for column” in the subject line, and they will be answered right here.

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