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The 29 best small-apartment organization ideas

The 29 best small-apartment organization ideas


From our friends at The Strategist, the best small-apartment organization ideas, according to professional organizers

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Tiny apartments are the running joke of New York City real estate. If you live in one, you know that every little square foot counts. So making it a functional yet still open space does require some creativity. Don’t have a closet? Find a slim clothing rack. Have a tiny kitchen? Maximize your shelf space. And so on. To find some inspiration for creating order within the confines of a small living area, we talked to some of the people who would know best: Laura Cattano, a professional organizer in New York City who lives in a small, 335-square-foot alcove studio; Mecca James-Williams, a stylist and the proud renter of @itsapt4; interior designer Lisa Gilmore; and Emmett Shine, the creative director of Pattern Brands, which studies what type of products are attracting millennial consumers.

Cattano’s philosophy on small spaces is all about living better with less. “Anyone with a small space should start by thinking about what activities they want their space to support first and then set things up accordingly.” For her, that meant making sure she had sufficient desk space, a sitting area, and a queen-size bed, and then working around that. “I wanted everything to feel spacious and still allow me to do what I need to do. That should be the basis of any space, but especially for a small apartment where you want things to be multifunctional and have purpose.” Below, she and our three other experts share their favorite small-apartment ideas for sprucing up a cramped space, and we’ve also added some more Strategist-approved products based on the wisdom our experts provided.

Small-apartment ideas for the entryway

Leaning Edge matte black wall hook

Cattano says that having an effective entryway is crucial to preventing oversize items from taking up precious space in your living area. “Having a couple of hooks or a coat rack is helpful for a few reasons,” she told us. “Even if you have a coat closet, most people (especially in the city), don’t have room in their closet for guest coats. And it’s great to have a spot to drop your coat and bag instead of tossing it on a chair.” She adds, “I’ve never had a client complain about the additional hooks I’ve added.”

Leaning Edge matte black wall hook /

Small-apartment ideas for the entryway

$10 on CB2

Schoolhouse natural brass J hook

For a slightly more upscale look, Cattano recommends this stylish solid brass option that she says looks good whether something’s hanging from it or not.

Schoolhouse natural brass J hook /

Small-apartment ideas for the entryway

$48 on Schoolhouse

CB2 brushed brass U hook

For a cheap (but expensive-looking) metallic hook, Cattano also likes this affordable option from CB2, which comes in a similar brushed-brass finish.

CB2 brushed brass U hook /

Small-apartment ideas for the entryway

$9 on CB2

CB2 gunmetal wall shelf, 24-inch

Keys and mail are other things that can clutter a space (and get lost) if you don’t have a place for them in your entry. For that, Cattano loves using one of these narrow floating shelves (they’re 4.25 inches deep), which she says are “simple, clean, and don’t take up floor space.” She adds that you can hang a couple of them — for example, a lower shelf for the mail and an upper for a basket with your keys. They start at $30 for a two-foot-long shelf but come in three-foot ($50) and four-foot ($60) lengths, too.

CB2 gunmetal wall shelf, 24-inch /

Small-apartment ideas for the entryway

$30 on CB2

Small-apartment ideas for the living room

West Elm linear lacquer shelves

Unless it’s a studio, an apartment’s living room (or living area) is usually the next largest space after a bedroom. Sometimes, of course, a living room can be bigger than a bedroom — which is why it can also quickly become the dumping ground you use to make your bedroom clean. Both Cattano and James-Williams told us they’ve added additional shelving in every room in their house to create more storage space, and Cattano recommends this shelf set from West Elm. For $29, you can get a two-foot shelf, and for $10 more, you can get a three-foot one. West Elm sells brackets for the shelves separately at the same link, and in addition to the $34 corrugated wood style shown, it offers two different styles of metallic brackets for $39.

<strong>West Elm linear lacquer shelves</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the living room

$30 on West Elm

Urban Outfitters modern wall shelf

These wall shelves from Urban Outfitters come with the brackets, making them a more affordable choice. They come from our list of things that can help declutter a book collection, for which professional organizer Lisa Zaslow also recommended “some kind of wall-mounted solution.”

<strong>Urban Outfitters modern wall shelf</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the living room


Hay Box box stripe, set of four

To keep shelves neat once they’re installed, both Cattano and Shine recommend using boxes, noting that stylish ones can also double as décor. Shine’s favorite storage boxes are these, from Hay, which he uses all over his apartment. “We keep these for paperwork, receipts, tax files,” he told us. “Things that aren’t pleasant, but in these boxes they feel a bit nicer.”

<strong>Hay Box box stripe, set of four</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the living room

$43 on Finnish Design Shop

White Nordic storage bins with handles

A truly bare-bones alternative to Hay’s boxes would be these Container Store storage bins, which Barbara Reich, the founder of Resourceful Consultants, recommended when we spoke to experts about the best storage bins for every room. Small holes along each basket’s exterior make it easy to see what’s inside, and the boxes are made with polypropylene plastic, so you can label them with a dry-erase marker (and wipe them clean again whenever you’d like). The Container Store sells the baskets in multiple sizes; the smallest goes for $6, and it also sells the lids shown separately, for $7.

<strong>White Nordic storage bins with handles</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the living room

$6 on The Container Store

Adesso WK2444-22 Alice floor mirror

When we looked into the best $100 or less home improvements, architecture student Emily Wisseman told us about how a floor mirror can create the illusion of extra space. This floor mirror, from our list of the best-reviewed full-length mirrors on Amazon, received praise for how high-quality it looks for the price.

<strong>Adesso WK2444-22 Alice floor mirror</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the living room

$102 on eBay

West Elm Sunkissed Landscape rug, 5x8

Gilmore told us that when her clients have small apartments, they often make the mistake of buying a small area rug, which ends up looking “dwarfed” by the furniture around it. Instead, Gilmore recommends buying the largest rug your space can fit. “It grounds the room, and makes everything look more unified,” she says. Gilmore says she likes using rugs from West Elm in clients’ tiny apartments, noting that the retailer sells them at various sizes, depending on the space you’re working with.

<strong>West Elm Sunkissed Landscape rug, 5x8</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the living room

$299 on West Elm

Small-apartment ideas for the kitchen

Tower small stackable basket

Much like the living room, a tiny kitchen can quickly become littered with things, too (not to mention that, in many small apartments, the kitchen and living room can be one and the same). To restore some order, Cattano recommends stashing some of these baskets above cabinets and the refrigerator because, according to her, people will otherwise “just throw stuff up there, and it looks terrible.” Each basket is made of steel, meaning they are easy to clean should any food or liquid within accidentally spill.

<strong>Tower small stackable basket</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the kitchen

$15 on Unison Home

Ikea Hallbar bin

If you’ve got a small kitchen, James-Williams recommends putting your trash can under your sink to both save floor space and hide something that’s usually unsightly from view. “It condenses trash around the kitchen area,” she told us, and since there is no practical need for a hidden trash can to be aesthetically pleasing, she opted for this very basic model from Ikea, which has a top handle that makes grabbing it a touch more sanitary.

Ikea Hallbar bin /

Small-apartment ideas for the kitchen

$6 on Ikea

Lynk roll-out undersink 14-inch single drawer

Cattano recommends installing a roll-out drawer like this to tame any unruly stacks of pots and pans overtaking a small kitchen’s precious cabinet space. “Clients call it life-changing,” she says, adding that they appreciate never again having to crawl around on the floor to find an old pan. “Just be sure to measure the space between the cabinet hinges and the back of the cabinet to ensure a good fit,” she adds. James-Williams also likes roll-out shelves, noting she installed a similar one to make accessing her undersink trash can even easier.

<strong>Lynk roll-out undersink 14-inch single drawer </strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the kitchen

$45 on Bed Bath & Beyond

Home Depot triple pull-out trash can

If James-Williams were doing it all over again, though, she told us she would purchase this rolling unit from Home Depot, which includes three trash bins (with lids) as well as a steel rack. The unit comes preassembled and installs with only four screws, so while you’ll need to be somewhat comfortable with a screwdriver (or need to call a friend who is), there’s no need to hire an installation guru.

<strong>Home Depot triple pull-out trash can</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the kitchen

$125 on Home Depot

3M Command clear caddies

Cattano also likes these clear caddies for the kitchen, which she says stick to the wall quickly with no installation required. While she recommends them for the insides of kitchen cabinets, “so people don’t have too many packets of tea and spices lying around,” we think they would also be good for additional shelving space in the bathroom (or shower).

<strong>3M Command clear caddies</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the kitchen

$4 on The Container Store

Small-apartment ideas for the bathroom

Acrylic risers

As our own Rio Viera-Newton has said, creating smart storage solutions in the bathroom is an art form. Cattano swears by these acrylic risers for creating more room in the medicine cabinet. “You can stack them on top of each other to give yourself more shelf space,” she told us, adding that the four-by-two and six-by-three sizes fit in almost all cabinets. (They also come in eight-by-four and ten-by-five sizes.)

Acrylic risers /

Small-apartment ideas for the bathroom

$3 on The Container Store

Ikea Godmorgon wall cabinet

Should you need even more medicine-cabinet space, Cattano says you can always affix a second one to your wall. “I often add additional cabinets in bathrooms, usually over the toilet for extra toiletries, or to separate roommates so they don’t need to share storage space,” she told us. If this sounds like the solution for you, she recommends Ikea’s Godmorgon cabinet, which comes with four tempered (i.e., stronger) glass shelves, and can be mounted to open from the left or the right. She adds that “the high gloss means it’ll blend into the wall better than a mirrored cabinet.”

<strong>Ikea Godmorgon wall cabinet</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the bathroom

$70 on Ikea

Goodfellow & Co olive diagonal zip kit

Shine told us that a hack he’s found for smaller bathrooms is to have a few toiletry bags on hand. “People typically only use these for travel, but you can put together lotions, makeup, dental stuff in different bags and have them stored on a shelf nearby so when you do need to dip into your backups or secondary items, they are right there and easy to get to.” When we asked experts for the best Dopp kits, menswear writer Tim Melideo praised this one for its “premium look” at an affordable price and the fact that its unique diagonal zipper allows it to open up much wider than other Dopp kits (which, if you’re using it primarily for storage, means you can likely shove even more in).

Goodfellow &amp; Co olive diagonal zip kit /

Small-apartment ideas for the bathroom

$15 on Target

Lighting ideas for small apartments

Beistle jumbo paper lantern, 30-inch

Lighting is so important in any space, especially a small space,” Cattano says. “It helps set a mood, and who couldn’t use more light in their homes?” But, according to her, “a lot of apartments don’t come with overhead lighting, so I’ll always add some.” (Cattano told us that she moved into a place with 9 light sources and now has 16.) An overhead paper lantern — which also made our list of under-$100 home improvements — will save floor and table space without breaking the bank.

<strong>Beistle jumbo paper lantern, 30-inch</strong> /

Lighting ideas for small apartments

$12 on eBay

Casper Glow Light

If the smaller size of your apartment means you have less natural light coming in, lamps that artificially mimic the sun can help to simulate daybreak or nightfall — even in bedrooms that face brick walls. That’s why Shine likes Casper’s newish Glow Light. According to him, it emits soft light that both extinguishes and brightens slowly, which can help ease you to sleep at night or wake up in the morning. The Glow Light also has a corresponding app that features a timer, so you can set it to turn on at the same time (or before) your alarm goes off every morning. “It’s great to wake up to,” he told us, “to get melatonin going as you open your eyes for the first time.”

Casper Glow Light /

Lighting ideas for small apartments

$129 on Casper

Small-apartment ideas for the bedroom

Wayfair Bianca white under storage drawers

While many of us hate storing things under our beds (“For many, it’s like putting things in the basement,” Cattano says), sometimes in small apartments you just don’t have a choice. “If it must happen,” Cattano says, “can we make it beautiful?” She recommends these rolling underbed storage drawers from Wayfair’s children’s line, which she says will work for anyone who wants to turn their underbed area into additional, efficient storage space.

<strong>Wayfair Bianca white under storage drawers</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the bedroom

$110 on Wayfair

Ikea Malm underbed storage box, pack of two

If your bed frame has legs in the middle as well at the four corners, James-Williams suggests these underbed storage bins from Ikea that come in two parts. “I have four under my bed,” she told us, “and I use them for my sweaters, out-of-season clothes, and workout clothes.”

<strong>Ikea Malm underbed storage box, pack of two</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the bedroom

$75 on Ikea

Mainstays Home 8-shelf bookcase

If your bedroom closet isn’t the biggest — or if you don’t have one at all — James-Williams recommends getting a bookshelf that can function as additional clothing and shoe storage. When we trawled Amazon to find the best-reviewed bookcases under $50, this sleek étagère-style bookcase made the list, with one reviewer noting how it can be used “for proper storage as well as décor.”

<strong>Mainstays Home 8-shelf bookcase</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the bedroom

$88 on eBay

Yamazaki home tower leaning ladder rack

In the same vein, a wall ladder can also do double duty as décor and storage, and it might be just the ticket for anyone familiar with the concept of the bedroom “clothes chair,” where outfits lay in an increasingly tall heap as the week gets busier and busier. This one is a favorite of writer Laura Perciasepe, who says it’s like having a whole extra closet.

<strong>Yamazaki home tower leaning ladder rack</strong> /

Small-apartment ideas for the bedroom

$84 on Wayfair

Nest storage bed

If you’re moving into a brand-new cozy space, and are able to splurge, Cattano loves this storage bed from Nest, which she notes will help the things you’re storing stay dust-free, as the mattress acts as a sealant over them. “I do not believe in storing things under the bed because people don’t clean under the bed,” she says. Cattano says this bed is particularly great for people who live in climates that require constantly changing wardrobes, or for kids, so parents have a place to stow and easily retrieve their toys.

Nest storage bed /

Small-apartment ideas for the bedroom

$3,200 on Design Within Reach

Closet ideas for small apartments

3M Command nickel modern hooks

Cattano says that too many small-apartment owners underutilize the inside of their closet doors. “Adhesive hooks are game changers,” she told us. “Use them in closets for belts (the small utensil ones), or get larger ones for handbags, tote bags, hats, scarves, umbrellas, and necklaces.” She swears by 3M’s collection of adhesive hooks, which come in all manner of sizes.

<strong>3M Command nickel modern hooks</strong> /

Closet ideas for small apartments

$9 on Home Depot

Fayleeko ultrathin stainless steel metal hangers, 40-pack

“Felt hangers are not the be-all and end-all,” Cattano explains, noting that despite their space-saving thinness, many users complain that they make clothes harder to get on and off. Instead, she suggests using some equally slim tubular metal hangers, a style that she says has been in her closet for the past 20 years.

<strong>Fayleeko ultrathin stainless steel metal hangers, 40-pack</strong> /

Closet ideas for small apartments

$36 on eBay

AmazonBasics velvet suit hangers

While Cattano may be against fabric hangers, Strategist writer Hilary Reid swears by them. She specifically swears by these AmazonBasics velvet hangers, which she praised for their durability, and the fact that they helped her fit “about 25 percent more clothes in my closet.”

<strong>AmazonBasics velvet suit hangers</strong> /

Closet ideas for small apartments

$25 on Amazon

Cotton soft box with lid

If you’re looking to maximize storage on a closet floor or built-in shelf, Cattano suggests using these softer, zippered storage boxes from Muji. “I like them for blankets, for off-season clothes, for anything really,” she told us, adding that they also look a lot nicer than your average cardboard box.

<strong>Cotton soft box with lid</strong> /

Closet ideas for small apartments

$18 on Muji

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