9 Pro Organizers Share Their Best Tips for Maintaining Order in Under 500 Square Feet

published Apr 28, 2017
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(Image credit: Chloe Berk)

When you live in a small space, you face two major challenges: First, how do you make all your stuff work in such a tiny home? And second, how do you keep it from getting messy the second you use any of your stuff? For some—looking at you, minimalists—this is an easy task. But for others, learning to adapt to a tiny apartment can be a struggle. If you’re the latter, how do you deal?

To help, we asked professional organizers to share their top tips for getting organized—and staying that way—in even the tinest homes. Here’s what they shared…

Get furniture that doubles as storage

Since your furniture will obviously take up a lot of space in a small apartment, be smart about the pieces you get and make sure they can serve more than one purpose. Anna Bauer of Sorted by Anna suggests pieces like a couch with storage inside, storage ottomans that double as extra seating, and a bookcase with drawers. “By investing in pieces which serve double duty, you’re saving space and money by not having seven different pieces doing different jobs,” Bauer said.

Be smart about your kitchenware

Much like your furniture should have more than one use, you should also stick with kitchenware that does double duty, according to Rashelle Isip at The Order Expert. “A kitchen can be a particularly cramped space, so it’s important to make sure you have only what you need,” Isip said. Some examples? Isip suggests investing in glass storage containers that can be used both to serve and store food, sticking with one powerful blender instead of buying a blender and a food processor, and even an adjustable sink colander so you only need one, rather than multiples in different sizes.

Take advantage of vertical space

When you’re in a small apartment and don’t have the floorspace for everything you need, look up and think vertically. Erika Dalager at roOomy is all about “utilizing unexpected spaces,” so when in doubt, use your walls. “This keeps high traffic areas open for dining and mingling, yet still provides a comfortable atmosphere,” Dalager says. Her suggestions? Create wall galleries and hang shelves, for starters. The point, she says, is to keep usable space for guests free of clutter and decor.

(Image credit: Brittany Purlee)

Use doors to your advantage

Your walls aren’t the only place you can take advantage of if you’re going vertical. According to Nancy Haworth at On Task Organizing, the backs of your doors are where it’s at. “Make use of the space behind every door by hanging shoe organizers to hold a variety of items such as hats, gloves, scarves, cleaning supplies or haircare supplies,” says Haworth. “Also, create space on the inside of cabinet doors by hanging hooks, baskets, or even magnetic boards or bulletin boards to hold various items.”

Create an “everyday station”

“You are going to walk in the door with stuff, and without a home, that stuff will be spread all over or left on a table,” says professional organizer and speaker Jamie Novak. “Plus, you’ll need a spot to stash all the stuff you need to take with you—employee ID, mail to be mailed, dog leash for a walk with Fido, sunglasses, phone charger, etc.” Having a space to keep everything that’s right when you walk in will cut down on clutter and keep you organized. Novak’s suggestions: hang an over-the-door organizer on the back of a closet near the entryway, use a slim bookcase or a baker’s rack, or even a small table with a basket underneath.

Be selective about your purchases

When you’re short on storage space, you have to think carefully about every single thing you buy—will it have a home, or will you have to get rid of something else to make room for it? This goes double for any monthly subscriptions, according to Thalia Poulos at Organized Beautifully. “The decision to stay organized starts before you enter your home—it begins with your decision to buy,” Poulos says. “Cancel your subscriptions to all but the best periodicals and—sorry, Birchbox—to products than are sent to you monthly. Your bathroom counter top, shower stall and linen closet will thank you.”

(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

Try the 3-4-3 Rule to stay clutter free

Need a system that can help you stay on top of your cleaning tasks? Katherine DiGiovanni at Refine Home Concepts suggests what she calls the 3-4-3 rule. “If you live in a small place, this is an easy habit that really pays off,” she said. “Every night before you go to bed, take THREE minutes to put away at least FOUR things. Then take out THREE things that you need for the next day— could be your outfit, workout bag, work bag, etc. If you live in a small place and you do the 3-4-3 consistently, your apartment will never be messy.”

Set a timer for tidying up

Another great method of keeping yourself on track and staying organized: setting a timer. Christina Giaquinto at Christina Giaquinto Organizing swears by the 8-minute rule. “I usually suggest my clients use this rule for their bedroom, but if you live in a smaller apartment this rule applies to the entire space,” she says. So how does it work? Simply set a timer for 8 minutes, and put as much as you can away in that time. “I like doing this before I go to bed—it puts my mind at ease, and completes my day, but you can do it at any time that is right for you! This is going to prevent your apartment from getting chaotic. Eventually this will become a habit, and when it becomes a part of your lifestyle your apartment will never get out of control.”

Have temporary clutter catchers

“Let’s be honest, it’s nearly impossible to have a clean and clutter-free home 24/7,” says Cassandra Aarssen at Clutterbug. “Unlike in those beautiful magazine or Pinterest photos, our homes have ‘stuff’ that we need to deal with on a daily basis that doesn’t always have a place to go right away.” So the question is, where do you put those things until you have the chance to deal with them or find them a home? Aarssen suggests having a bin—or even a few—to collect those “homeless” items in temporarily. “Invest in a few pretty baskets and place them in areas that tend to have clutter piles,” she said. “Not only will a bin or basket contain your clutter and make your home look neat and tidy, but it is a great visual reminder to tackle the stuff inside. When the basket is getting full, schedule a few minutes to go through it and put everything away.”