small apartment; view from the kitchen to the family room

When you’re living in a small apartment it’s important to keep clutter to a minimum so that it will feel spacious. Here are 5 tips on how to organize in a small apartment.

The most important idea to hold in your head is that you only want to have things in your home that you use, love, or believe to be beautiful. That is paraphrased from a quote by William Morris a 19th century English poet and craftsman who said, “Have nothing is your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.

Keep this thought in mind as I give you my tips on how to organize in a small apartment.

Tip #1: Look Up

When I say look up, I mean make good use of your vertical space.

Install shelving. You can install floor to ceiling shelving if you have lots of things to store. Use floating shelves if you just need a little extra space to organize books, display items, kitchen ware or office supplies in your small apartment.

If there is room above the washer and drier install a drying rack that hangs from the ceiling.

Is there wall space in the kitchen for a peg board? If so, get some metal clips for the peg board and use them to hang small kitchen tools. This will save drawer and countertop space.

Another way to organize in a small apartment is to install a tension rod under the kitchen sink. Hang cleaning supplies there. You can also get an ‘S’ clip and hang a small broom and dustpan from the tension rod. This saves space in other cupboards.

Install a basket to hold boxes of things like tinfoil, plastic wrap, or sandwich bags.

Use the inside of cupboard doors as other places to store things. You can install a lid rack and store your pot lids here.

Hang a cloth shoe holder on the inside of the coat closet door. Use it for small umbrellas, hats, gloves, and scarves.

The trick to organizing in a small apartment is to make use of all available space without making it look crowded. You want the apartment to feel larger than it is. Using the vertical space on the inside of a door or a cupboard keeps things organized and out of sight.

Tip #2: Look Down and Under

Look down and use the space under furniture to store things you don’t access often.

Use drawers that can fit under the bed to hold extra sheets, towels and blankets. Use another under the bed drawer for out of season clothing.

Store wrapping paper and ribbon in a box that can fit under the living room couch or under the bed.

Tip #3: Buy Multi-purpose Furniture

When you’re furnishing your apartment, look for pieces that can serve more than one purpose.

Some coffee tables have shelves underneath which can hold games.

Some foot stools are hollow and have a lid. Use the space inside to store throw blankets, placemats and napkins, or other odds and ends which need to be near the living room.

If you have a walk-in closet put a chest of drawers inside the closet. This gives you more space in your bedroom. If there is room to hang a mirror above it or room to place a standing mirror on it, the chest of drawers can serve double duty as a dressing table.

Tip #4: Create Zones

Organize the space even better in a small apartment by creating zones; defined areas which serve specific purposes. We do everything in our homes now, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we need larger homes. We just need to define the spaces and determine which activities happen in which zone.

If your dining table is at one end of the family room or living room, divide the space with a couch. If you have room for a chest of drawers near the dining table, use one or more of the drawers for office supplies. You can use the dining table as a workspace during the day. It is also a great place for children to do their school work.

For instance, the kitchen is the cooking zone. If there is a counter where you can sit and eat, it may also serve as another workspace. During meal prep time the kitchen would be the cooking zone but during work hours it would serve as another office if both you and your partner work from home.

Abby Lawson has some great ideas about creating zones in a small house.

Tip #5: Create Boundaries

If you live in a small apartment you know there is not a lot of space to store extra things. To make the place feel spacious set limits on what you bring into the apartment.

Avoid buying things in bulk. Stay away from the warehouse stores. Yes. The price is good but where will you put all those paper towels or rolls of toilet paper?

If you must get extra paper products, then be creative. Put a tablecloth on your dining table and hide all those extra paper products under the table.

If you are hanging on to some odds and ends and don’t know what to do with them. The minimalists have this advice: if you can replace something in 20 minutes for under $20 then release it from your home if you are not using it. They call this the Just in Case Rule.

To recap, when you go about getting organized in a small apartment follow these 5 tips as outlined in this article. If you find yourself getting stuck and you don’t know what to do reach out to me here. I’ll be happy to talk to you to create a personalized solution.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADD, Hoarding, and chronic disorganization.

16 Comments

  • My daughter and her husband live in a small apartment in DC. They got that coffee table with the shelf underneath where they store games – exactly as you suggested! It really does add a lot of storage because a coffee table is pretty large:) Great suggestions!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      My son lived in a one room efficiency apartment for a couple of years. It was amazing how helpful multi-purpose furniture was for him. Thank you, Seana!

  • Excellent! The Zones I love ..I call them drop zones! Great advice and tips!!

  • These are excellent tips, Diane. It makes me think about places I’ve stayed in when traveling. The best ones have everything you need, cleverly set-up, organized, and accessible. Even in small spaces, their are distinct zones (reading, eating, cooking, sleeping, relaxing.) Many of them can be multipurpose like the sofa that turns into an extra bed. Or the living room, which can also serve as a dining area. The other thing that becomes clear when I travel (it’s been a while because of the pandemic,) is how little I actually need. So bringing that type of thinking back to home is useful.

    While our home isn’t big or cluttered, I sense that it’s time to release more things. I recently donated several bags of household and clothing items. It felt good to let them go. I don’t miss them, or remember what they were. That’s telling. I know there are more things like that. Thank you for the inspiration and reminder.

  • Great tips for small spaces! With over 20 years living in a smaller home, we had to become creative with storage, and my mantra is if I can add cabinets that go up the wall, I will. I do this with my basement craft cabinet as well as my office space, which is only ten by 10 feet wide. I do find that over the door storage units work great as well since we have lots of doors in our home. I’m sharing this one on social media! Thanks.

  • Melanie says:

    I wish had read this post when I lived in tiny apartments in NY, hahaha. When my husband and I were dating we lived in a 500 square foot box. We certainly learned to make the most of our vertical space. We also used made a rule that anytime someone bought something new, it should replace something old.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      That’s a good rule to follow no matter how big your home. The item you bring in replaces something that has left or is leaving.

  • Organizing a small apartment can be challenging. I really liked what you said about furniture serving more than one purpose. I love furniture where it morphs.from one usage to another. A table becomes a chair a shelving unit becomes a bed. It’s incredible.
    I always thought that my very first apartment out of college, like a little dollhouse, was the most organized. I had to minimalize everywhere. And it was so easy to keep up! What

  • My husband and I recently downsized from 3,800 square feet to 1,250 square feet. We love living in a smaller space with much less stuff! I especially love your tips for utilizing vertical spaces and for using multipurpose pieces of furniture. One of the best decisions we made was to purchase beds with storage drawers.

    Thanks for the excellent article!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you for joining the conversation, Angie! I know, those under the bed storage drawers make really good use of otherwise vacant space!

  • Deb Lee says:

    All great tips, Diane, especially #1. The walls and the inside of closet/cabinet doors are your friends!

  • Amy says:

    I don’t live in an apartment but I employ the Multi-purpose furniture strategy to keep our home open and airy. An extra bar stool doubles as an end table in the family room. It moves to and from the kitchen bar as needed. Our 8 dining room chairs are used in the home office, family room and spare bedroom. This prevents us from buying extra furniture we don’t need or use on a daily basis. Boundaries are key to organizing any space too. Great read!

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