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Originally published Friday, December 7, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Tools to make small spaces work

The last thing you want are boxes that are too big for your shelves or shelves that are too big for your space.

Special to The Washington Post

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Whether you live in a small space, are moving into a small space (hello, college dorm!) or just want to adapt some small-space diligence, you have to start by editing and organizing. Over the years, I have helped countless people pare down, and when we start sifting through their stuff, they are always surprised (and often embarrassed) by how much they have squirreled away.

How many times have you gone looking for an item, couldn’t find it and then just went and bought a new one? Part of the problem is that many folks haven’t set up the right systems and framework; you have to have a place to store things. This usually means an investment in shelving, boxes, bins — basically a quick trip or two to the Container Store, Bed, Bath & Beyond or Target.

Here are my top small-space must-haves, but before you shop, make sure you measure — the last thing you want are boxes that are too big for your shelves or shelves that are too big for your space.


My mother bought me my first Elfa shelving system for my dorm room in 1982. Since that time, I have used the Swedish modular-storage system for laundry rooms, home offices, closets, kitchens, garages and family rooms. It’s easy to install (and disassemble, so you can take it with you if you move), and you can customize the shelves and bins to fit your space and your needs. Just bring your dimensions to the Container Store, which has owned the storage line since 1999, and the staff will help you design the right shelving configuration.


It is true that an empty shoe box is as good as anything to organize your stuff, but I would argue that the better your boxes and bins look, the more likely you will be to use them. Ikea always has a number of stylish boxes to choose from. I use them to store everything from photos to hats and gloves. Just make sure you label each box so you know what’s inside.

Canvas closet/shoe bags

The easiest and cheapest way to outfit your classic pole-and-shelf closet is with canvas shoe and closet bags. All you have to do is attach their Velcro tabs to your pole and you have instant vertical shelving. I use the sweater bags to store clothing, linens and board games. On the inside of all of my doors I have hung canvas shoe bags that have shoes, accessories, kid’s toys, canned goods, tools or wrapping supplies.