You think you have small closets? The real test is how to organize a small home without any closet at all on the main living level. In that case, there is no place to go but up.
How to Organize a Small Home Without a Closet
A classic Philly row home is only one room wide and two or three rooms deep. They are THE original tiny homes, and so charming. When organizing for this young family, we took the IKEA Ivar system that they had already started with, and added several sections all the way down the length of the living room to maximize the storage space on the one blank wall. There was a little time to get used to the idea of a whole wall of shelving. Would it look too cluttered? It’s hard to imagine that a simple, open shelving system like this can really help you hide things in plain sight, but when everything ends up on the floor more often than not, open shelving can be a real improvement.
This homeowner had already started painting the Ivar unit the same deep blue as her walls, and I love her for that. I’m all for DIY-ing, but doing it in a tiny home with essentially no back yard takes real guts. Painting the shelving the same unit as the wall helps it to fade into the background, which also makes the room feel as large as it can. So in this before shot, we’ve got the structure, but now we need the organizing plan to maximize this tiny house space. Don’t forget to secure a tall unit like this to the walls for child safety. (Color= Midnight in the Tropics: Behr Ultra Interior Eggshell Enamel Primer & Paint In One at the Home Depot)
This wall storage has to be everything to everyone, since this small home without a closet has no other storage space on the first floor. That means it has to hold his stuff, her stuff, kid stuff…oh, and Daisy Dog gets some real estate, too.
Hide Everything in Plain Sight
The storage strategy is simple and multi-layered. The toddler gets the first two shelves in each section, and then some.
Toddler books are easy to reach, and art supplies are up a little higher where mom can supervise. I love the fact that you can leave off the bottom shelf rom the Ivar unit, which leaves room for things like sliding in a child’s desk. Keeping her bins open at the top will encourage quick cleanups. Don’t bother with bin lids when your child is 2-5 years old. They just get in the way. Her larger toys, like the shopping cart, the doll bunk beds, and the doll houses, can all sit on or in the shelves. The smaller things, like balls and stuffed animals, all get a bin.
Daisy’s dog crate, treats, and toys are closest to the door.
The mister’s books, mail station, and tattoo gear gets a section. Fun fact: I’ve never gotten to organize tattoo supplies before. While they are here in plain sight, they don’t create a visual mess. He’s going to be so much more creative now!
Her books break up the middle section. No, we didn’t have to rainbow-code them, but in an open plan like this, it helped to bring the visual noise down just a bit.
The shelves directly behind the dining room table become the de-facto server and liquor shelf. It also holds a row of 8 magazine files at the top, which can hold everything from mail to toys you don’t want the kid to see to emergency chocolate to well…magazines! I love magazine files to help control random clutter. ProTip: Hang some art on the walls inside a shelving unit. Why not?
Some must-haves are stored in simple and classy cardboard boxes. Bandages and light bulbs look much better stored this way. Photo and paper keepsakes are a sorting work in progress, but for now, they are getting stored on the very top shelf. I added the self-adhesive metal book plates like these to give them a little sophistication. (affiliate link)
This family is into art, both making and enjoying it. There was plenty of space to display handmade projects that were previously packed away. See the empty space? You don’t have to pack every little inch. Give your pretty things some room to breathe.
Me? I enjoyed hanging out with the space slug. This is why I love my job so much. Over sixteen years in the business, and this is my first space slug close-up. This is proof that we all need art in our lives.
One Thing Leads to Another
You might have noticed that by making full use of the vertical space, we were able to clear the horizontal space, as well. At the end of the run of shelves, we debated for quite a while, but decided to hang the painting party canvas. It may get replaced later, but it looks much better hung in this alcove than sitting on the floor, that’s for sure. The tiny corner buffet used to be cluttered, but now holds Dad’s prized record player, which had been stored in the basement. I LOVE seeing family treasures out in your living space instead of being packed away.
The plan is to either hook this up, or trade up to a modern record player. Use it or lose it. Have you seen these adorable turntables that come with speakers AND bluetooth connections? (affiliate link).
So Much to Look At
The real trick to making an open-shelving system work for you is to create focal points, wonderful spaces that your eye wants to rest on. With these destination spots built in, you can’t help but look at them. My favorite here is a gorgeous hand-crafted wooden and jeweled lazy-Susan. Too big for their table for everyday use, we stood it up and braced it in the back. Now we’re showing it off, alongside some interesting shells and rocks that the family collected. (And it creates a neat little hidey-hole behind there.)
When you have beautiful sections like that, you might not even notice that this storage unit is also holding two computers for the work-from-home crew. Adjustable shelving is made to be customized, and these two tiny slots, just big enough for laptops and their chargers, are a hidden gem.
Sustainable Organizing With No Closets
There are so many things to love about this lovely storage solution, but my favorite has to be the minimal use of plastic bins, and the resulting feeling of casual comfort. There are a couple of plastic bins in the mix that the client already owned, but the new materials are wood shelves and crates, cardboard boxes that look classier than they have a right to for $4 each, cotton braided baskets, and metal bins. Check out the raw materials loaded up in my van (and follow me on Instagram) here.
Did I mention that we stalked IKEA for months during the pandemic to get enough parts to complete the shelving system? While it’s fun to start and finish an organizing project quickly, sometimes you’ve got to be patient and follow your organizing plan to have it all come together just right.
And don’t think everything has to be new. Check out that vintage TV cabinet. Dreamy, right?
Do you need more storage space at your place? Is this long-and-tall storage solution for you?
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I’m truly honored that you stopped by. Of all the junk out there on the internet, you spent a few minutes here, and I’m grateful. If you want more of this kind of transformation in your life, please check out the ways you can work with me to organize closets (or your lack of closets) no matter where you live.