Storage solutions for small spaces/budgets

by Rose B. 09-04-04

The five of us live in a single-wide trailer. It's wide as trailers go, but it's much smaller than the three bedroom home with attached garage where we used to live.

Underbed storage is cool, and we use that, but that's not the only space under furniture. I have boxes of craft supplies under my coffee table. A big table cloth or a seasonal piece of decorator fabric hides the boxes. We also use space under one of our dressers. It's a shallow space, but we've found we can keep school supplies there in the plastic pencil cases, or in cardboard trays. There's a small bit of space under the computer desk, and I have a stack of legal pads tucked in there.

I've used wire shoe racks and plastic bins to get the most out of space under sinks, behind or beside the toilet, on the bathroom counter, or other small spaces. An over-the door shoe bag, the flat kind with clear vinyl pockets, can hold all sorts of things, like a family of fashion dolls, hair care items, knit hats and mittens, school papers, or stationery and bills.

Storage can go up as well as down. I've been known to stack coffee tables and end tables for more book storage. I have a simple wooden hutch that I stack on a dresser, a wooden box with some shelves in it that goes on another dresser. I have two tall bookcases; on top of one, I have all our puzzles and board games stacked to the ceiling. On the other, I have plastic in/out trays holding flat wrapping paper, drawing paper, construction paper, and anything else that fits. I've used the in/out trays to hold plastic lids in the kitchen, too. Plastic storage boxes can stack on top of dressers, too. They can go in the tops and bottoms of closets.

A way to get storage pieces for less money is to repurpose furniture. In my kitchen, I have a low dresser that I use to store lots of things that need to be out of sight, like the chocolate chips and marshmallows, and my special dairy-free breakfast bars. It also holds all my herb teas. It has held the kitchen linens, the instant mixes, the packages of special spices, and many other items. In the past, I used this same dresser in a sewing area to hold patterns, notions, needlework kits, and one drawer held the winter hats and mittens. On top of this dresser, I currently have the wooden hutch, to hold my plates, cups, bowls, and such. Because I don't have a drawer anywhere that is sturdy enough to hold my flatware tray, it sits on the hutch too.

Other repurposing ideas: I made a child's desk from an unused door laid over two end tables. I took a metal shelf such as you see in garages and put it in my kitchen to hold large pots, bowls, and so on. I now use a short one to hold all my bulk spices, my flavored vinegars, and my Asian-food ingredients. I've used large entertainment centers as extra bookcases. My current desk is made up of separate parts; an upright desk holds the actual computer, monitor, printer and stacks of disks; a shelf laid across two file cabinets provides storage space and a surface for books or whatever. I took two sturdy bar stools, laid boards across the seats and the backs, and made a shelf that fits under a window. I found I could fit plastic storage boxes between the rungs, and the remaining space keeps the cat's litterbox out from underfoot.

For further maximization of storage space, I have over-the door storage of various kinds. I have a five-bar towel rack on the inside of the bathroom door, and a fold-down rack for hangers on the outside. That's only a few steps from the dryer, so it's convenient for clothes that need to be put on hangers while they are still warm. I have a rack for baseball caps on the door of the master bedroom, but I'm going to move it to the outside of the pantry door, because we just don't have an entry closet. I have a wire rack mounted on the door to the front bedroom; because that's right next to the refrigerator, it's where I keep my plastic tumblers, the travel mugs and sports bottles, and the packages of ramen. Other people use these for paperback books, videos, CD's and DVD's. My daughters hang their purses on hooks on the inside of their door. They have the half-bath -- they have a hook with a plant hanger on the inside of that door, where we stack spare rolls of TP. On the outside, and both sides of their closet door, are more hooks for various things. Another over-the-door hook is clipped to the footboard of the upper bunk, making use of three inches of space left over from the tall dresser.

I use the light over-door hooks for Christmas wreaths on my windows, hooked over the top of the blinds, to hold vine wreaths or other light decorative items. That lets me display some of my favorites without using wall space.

Remember, my wall space is mostly filled with vertical furniture and storage! Another advantage is that I have more interesting window treatments despite the ordinary look of the only second-hand curtains that fit.

The outer doors of trailers are metal, usually sheet steel on the inside. This means the 'fridge isn't the only place to display things held up by magnets.

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. I do, too. Wherever there is a space that isn't doing something, I try to find a way to fit something in. I'm constantly seeking hooks, bins, hanging baskets, shelves, or anything that will help me utilize the wee bit here, the smidge of space there, the inches behind a door. I just found another product I like, an organizer like a small shoe sorter, that hangs from the rod for the shower curtain. I bought one and hung it OUTSIDE the shower curtain, and now it holds the five deodorants, the hair spray, and a couple of other things that the cats kept knocking off the tiny sink counter. There's one pocket left, and I'm going to put the spare bath soap there.

Rose B, mother of three, in NC