Little apartments tend to come with big responsibility. Here’s how to maintain a clutter-free home without purging all your stuff.
So you’ve found The One: a space to call your own. It’s got a great location (you actually landed a Mission-area apartment in San Francisco, CA!), the rent fits your monthly budget, and it even has a little architectural charm. The only downside? Its size. And while you knew things would be tight, there’s still a moment of surprise when you realize that an amount of clutter that wouldn’t make an impact in a larger place makes your apartment look as though it should be on Hoarders.
Short of doing a major purge, you can focus on smaller, easier-to-manage problem areas. “Apartments, or small-space homes, tend to have two main areas that get easily cluttered: the entryway, and the kitchen counter or table,” says Clea Shearer, co-founder of the stylish organizing service The Home Edit.
Here are a few expert solutions to tame those areas — and others — that collect the most clutter in your small space.
If you let dirty dishes take over the sink (or, perhaps, have temporarily hidden them in an unused oven when guests drop by), you know how to solve this clutter area: Wash them. Divide the task into two parts to make it seem like less of a time commitment: Once you rinse dishes, stack them on a drying rack — just be sure to tackle the rest of the chore later. “Dirty dishes should never pile up,” Shearer says. “But once they are clean, they can go right onto a drying rack if you don’t have time to put them away immediately.”
If you have an open bin for recycling, you’re going about it wrong — all it takes is an empty milk jug (even flattened) and a few catalogs to create an overflow. The better alternative is a receptacle with a lid (like this IKEA Sortera recycling bin). You can also stack another bin on top, to further sort paper from plastic, doubling your bin space in the same amount of floor space. Thinking vertical also comes in handy for cleaning supplies, which can be sorted in stacking bins (like in the above image from The Home Edit) or in rolling drawers.
The answer to stressful heaps of old bills and junk mail: Know thyself. “If you walk into your apartment and always set the mail down in the same spot, put a basket down to keep everything contained and neat,” Shearer says. You could even use a slim magazine file to separate must-read mail from the inevitable catalogs if you’re the type to lose things in a pile.
If you’re living without a laundry room, detergent and dryer sheets can end up anywhere — sometimes out in the open or cluttering up spaces that don’t make sense, like your pantry. Look to odd-sized cabinets instead. “Use that brilliant little cabinet in the kitchen, there’s almost always one, that’s oddly positioned and wouldn’t be used for china or dishes,” says Nicole Krinick, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman in New York, NY. “This is always a go-to, or under the sink in the bathroom if there are cabinets there.” If you just laughed at the idea of cabinets, you might have to store supplies in the open. But you can make detergent pods a little prettier by stowing them in a nice jar, decanting liquid detergent into bottles (just make sure to label!), or throwing everything into a stylish bin like in the above example from The Home Edit.
Corners of any room can collect shoes, and when tossed absent-mindedly on the floor, shoes are at best hard to find and at worst, a tripping hazard. Organizing expert Felice Cohen (you might remember her from the viral video on living in a 90-square-foot apartment) stresses first cutting down on how many pairs you own, then solving the issue at hand. “Once you’ve culled down a little, under the bed is a good place for shoes,” she says. “Or a multifunctional bench with shoe storage in the entrance. I like shoe cubby storage that has slots for several shoes. You can also fit one on the bottom of a closet, where the space is usually wasted.”
Sports gear often is tossed just about anywhere. To better organize it, hide it in plain sight. “Yoga mats, rolled up, fit nicely in an umbrella stand outside my door. They also fit nicely into shoe cubbies, or you can roll them up and place behind an angled piece of furniture,” Cohen says. “For bikes, I have found they take up the least amount of room hung up by the top wheel on a hook. They’re easy to install and can fit up high.”
Small spaces often come with small closets and small spaces for dressers, which is why it’s important to prioritize what you need and store things based on use. When it comes to next season’s clothes, a somewhat-inaccessible location is totally fine. “High, hard-to-reach cabinets or under the bed are great for storing things you use less often, like decorations or off-season clothing,” Cohen says. Subdividing smaller items, like ornaments, into smaller bins minimizes headaches when it comes time to use them.
Of course, even the cleverest solutions won’t help if you’re still holding on to things like your high-school T-shirt collection. If this sounds like you, it’s time for a purge. “That can be easier said than done, which is why I encourage clients to break the clutter down into manageable, bite-sized tasks,” Cohen says. “Can you get rid of five things a day? Or put away just five things a day? Now imagine if you did that every night. Soon, most would be put away.”