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Storage Ideas To Maximize Organization for Small Apartments, Dorms and Living Spaces

Especially in cities or school dormitories, the upkeep of your wardrobe depends greatly on the available storage space. If you watch HGTV, you've probably seen the folks who end up keeping their shoes atop the kitchen cabinets, and entire families whose basements are buried in the accumulated toys, books, clothes, bedding and furniture of the modern consumer age.But that's them, and this is you. Even if you live in a shoe box-sized apartment, there are things you can do to maximize your closet space and put your stuff away.

Most College Students Start in a Small Space

I know a couple of women who went to graduate school together. One lived in the dorms, the other had the world's smallest studio apartment. It was built literally in the space between two stairwells in an old house that had been broken into 13 apartments. She could hear her neighbors coming and going at all hours, and sometimes opened her front door to let her neighbors' visitors pass through her apartment's back door (eight feet away) to the back stairwell, which couldn't be reached from inside the house any other way.

Unorganized Spaces are Miserable

She had a terrible time in the place, because she wasn't the most organized human being, and her books and papers tended to become strewn about the place in a clutter mess. The open wire shelving unit above the bed were usually draped with half-unfolded clothes, and once she sprained her ankle by skidding across a layer of school papers when trying to answer the phone.

When the dorm-dweller saw the tiny place, her eyes lit up, and two years later, when her friend moved, she took the apartment. She lived there for four years, until she married and moved into a bigger place, and she still sighs for her tiny, perfect jewel of an apartment.

Organization Brings Happiness to a Space Space

The difference between these two students was one of character. One was a highly organized person with a great sense of order and the design sense to take advantage of what little space was available to her with special bins, boxes, and other storage containers. The other student was hopeless, and needed lots of room to find things. It didn't occur to her to use extra shelving units bolted to the walls, or to organize her books and papers in magazine racks. Her organized friend, on the other hand, made perfect use of the apartment.

Furniture Tips: How to Find Extra Storage

  • Captain's Bed - One of the most underrated pieces of storage furniture is the captain's bed. Built ship-style, this bed has drawers underneath that pull out for storage. It's a brilliant use of space because the usual bed is up off the floor, with nothing but flip-flops and dust puppies underneath it.

  • Closed Shelves vs. Open - Entire shelving systems can be created to fit alongside walls or in under-utilized areas. Closed shelves look neater than open ones, but both have their place. Things that get frequent use, like kitchen spices or coffee canisters, should be kept in the open for easy access. Winter bedding and sweaters can go on high, closed shelves in summer, and come down to open closet areas when they're needed.

  • Wire and Wall Shelving - Large armoires or cabinets can take up a lot more space than they return to you in storage. If you want a grand piece of furniture to hide a few things in, that's fine. But if you want to spend fifty bucks instead of five hundred, and you're looking for serious storage, open wire shelves, bracket shelves and free-standing fabric-walled closets may be more what you're looking for.

  • Get the Right Hangers - The right coat-hangers can maximize the space in your closets by hanging more than one item neatly in such a way that you can still find everything you need without having to dig through the bottom of the closet.

Kitchen Organization and Storage Tips

  • Choose smaller applicances - Sometimes, great big appliances aren't the best choices for small spaces. If you're not a big fan of cooking, a slightly-larger than dorm-sized fridge can hold enough beverages and apples to keep you nourished in between trips for take-out. Hot-plates can be very useful for boiling water and cooking all sorts of stove-top delights, and can be crammed into a drawer when you aren't using them. Before there were microwave meals, I had a friend who lived in one room for a year, and learned to bake fresh sourdough rolls in her microwave. (It takes 4 hours to make the dough and let it rise twice, and about 42 seconds to actually bake it.) She wasn't much interested in the domestic arts, so besides that, she ate a lot of Cheetohs and Diet Coke. (Someone once convinced her that you could roast a chicken in a paper bag in the microwave, and against her better judgment, she tried it. It was, of course, inedible.)

  • Many Small Appliances Are Space Wasters - A second note about appliances: some of them are just stupid and wasteful. One example would be the potato peeler that works by shoving the tuber onto a spindle and cranking off a thin, winding coil of potato. Cheap ice cream makers don't work either: first, you have to keep the gel-insulated bowl in your freezer so it'll be as cold as possible when you get ready to use it. Then, you have to chill your ice cream mixture for hours in the fridge, then place in the bowl which the goes into the machine. The machine turns the mix, and while it does start to get icy, it doesn't actually freeze until you stop the machine and return the soft serve to the freezer for another couple of hours. The lesson is this" if you must have an ice-cream maker, get the kind that has its own built-in freezer. It costs a lot more, but you'll actually end up with ice cream. (And my personal favorite is the really old-fashioned freezer, which was a cedar bucket with a metal canister inside and a crank that you turned. When you aren't making ice cream, which is most of the time, the bucket sits by the door with dried flowers in it, looking picturesque.)

  • Just Say No to the One Function Appliances - Now, this is radical, and I may get complaints, but I really, truly believe that the bread machine is a silly appliance. It can only do one thing, it takes up a lot of space, it's hard to clean, and the bread has a hole in it. My bread machine is a bowl.

  • Waffle Iron Can Do Many Things - For my money, the finest all-round appliance is the waffle iron. Nothing else in the world can make a waffle. But, also wonderful is the fact that you can make the best grilled-cheese sandwiches ever in a waffle iron. You can also grill chicken breasts or vegetables, or anything else that isn't too greasy. You can make your own ice-cream cones, too! An added plus: modern-day non-stick surfaces make waffles irons a breeze to keep clean. (But the vintage ones are extremely good-looking, and you can always buy non-stick spray).

  • Choose a Food Processor Over a Blender - The best appliances can do more than one thing, are easy to clean, and don't take up much space. One more example: you can make daiquiris in a good food processor, but it's harder to chop foods evenly in a blender.

Tips for Keeping an Organized Home Maintained

Organization is largely a matter of scheduling periodic maintenance. Some places in your house (e.g., the coffee table in the living-room) need to be de-cluttered daily. Kitchen food cupboards can be rearranged when you bring home new groceries. One way of keeping control of the fridge is to throw something away every day until the smell is gone. (I've heard that some people actually clean the fridge at regular intervals: I suppose you could do it that way.)

We all now have so much stuff, that it becomes difficult to control its spread. I heard that the word "dungeon" came from an ancient word meaning "to forget". I wonder if today's basements are merely modern dungeons for stuff. Proper lighting helps you organize a space, because what you can't see, you tend to forget. You can buy all sorts of lamps or even have pot lights wired into closest and cupboards to help keep you abreast of what's living in those spaces. Even a little fluorescent fixture on a nail can help you keep the basement organized, because you can see what's in there.

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