7 Ways to Conquer Clutter in a Small Space

7 Ways to Conquer Clutter in a Small Space

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Nancy Mitchell
Apr 26, 2015

If you look at a lot of New York apartment listings (which often include photos of the previous occupants' stuff, because brokers are hot to get those places on the market), you'll notice that a lot of small apartments look... cluttered. Really, really cluttered. Of course clutter is a challenge for anyone who lives in a house and owns things, but it's an especial challenge for tiny apartment dwellers.

Have less stuff (purge, purge, purge).
This first point is kind of obvious but it's worth stating again: half of the battle against clutter is just having less stuff to begin with. If you've been living in your small space for a while, a big purge may be in order. If you're just moving in and feeling a little overwhelmed about what to keep and what to toss, start by making room for the things that are most important to you, and then fit everything else in. The things that don't find homes may be good candidates for the Goodwill pile.

Have a space for everything.
The old mantra 'a place for everything, and everything in its place' is more important than ever in a small space, because if something doesn't have a place, its place is going to be a countertop or tabletop or a floor, and in a small apartment, once you have a few things on the floor the whole place starts to feel a little cluttered. Small spaces aren't very forgiving in that way. If you're feeling panicky because your apartment just doesn't have that many places, and you don't have room for extra furniture, consider some of these sneaky storage spots.

Have more spaces than you think you need.
The problem with clutter is that it tends to expand, slowly, sneakily, so you need to go on the offensive. Besides just having a space for everything, it's smart to also have a few extra spaces, for the things that somehow just don't have a god place. I have a half-empty underbed box, and another tupperware box that functions as my 'junk drawer'. This way, if something is floating around it's easy to quickly tuck it away, without reorganizing my whole apartment.

Use the walls.
Wall-hung organizers and shelves are your new best friends. If you own something and it exists in three-dimensional space, you can probably store or hang it on the wall somehow. Don't forget to look for storage space above other things — you can hang shelves or cabinets above dressers and desks, and pot rails above sinks or countertops.

Embrace opacity.
Sure, storing things in clear boxes looks cute in that Container Store ad where everything in the apartment is inexplicably the same color. But you are a real human being, and even if everything you own is incredibly beautiful it probably doesn't look all that great jumbled up together. In order to avoid looking at that melange all day, you need opacity. Like drawers, cabinets with doors, not-clear boxes. Pretty stuff can be in open storage, but everything else gets tucked away.

Stop clutter before it starts.
Like I said, clutter tends to expand in a space, but the way it gets there isn't at all mysterious: it comes in through the front door, like you do. Creating a landing strip near the front door is a great way to control cutter right where it starts. You can do this even without a dedicated entryway, and it doesn't need to take up a lot of space. Check out Maxwell's tips for creating a landing strip here.

Let yourself cheat (a little).
Actually, you know what? I'm going to say that outsourcing a little bit of your storage isn't even cheating, because I write tons of 'how we make this tiny apartment work' type posts, and lots of people admit to doing this. If you have something that you don't want to get rid of but only plan on using once or twice a year, like a tent or a Christmas tree or a ball gown, consider putting it in storage. You may be surprised at how affordable it is. And don't just think of it as paying to store your stuff: by getting rid of things that take up a lot of space, you're actually expanding the square footage of your apartment. Worth it.

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