29 November 2017

Keeping House for One: Storage

Dear Lissy,

Matt just received his 3D printer in the mail, and spirits are running high.  I can't wait to see his projects! 
In today's letter I wanted to talk to you about the biggest piece of managing a home, managing your 3D space.  Many -- ok, most -- young people out on their own don't think about how to use space and storage effectively.  The difference between an apartment that works well for you and one that feels like a flophouse is usually more about efficient storage than hours of work.  You may have a roommate, and this is where disagreements usually arise.  Make a commitment to each other to create and use storage so you're not tripping over each other's stuff. 

Wall Storage

Wall storage is usually boards (white, chalk, or cork), hooks, peg racks, shelves, and wall pockets.  Other forms exist, but usually only in specialty stores.  Wall storage is my favorite way to keep frequently used items organized.  Check your apartment lease to see what is allowable for holes in the wall.  
Wall storage has three strong benefits.  
  • Wall storage is single motion storage (you don't have to move anything to store the item you want to put away)
  • Wall storage creates storage at the exact point of use.  Training yourself to throw your coat and purse on a hook just inside the door is far easier than walking to a closet two rooms away and putting your coat on a hanger.
  • Wall storage keeps items off of floors and surfaces so wipe-down, sweeping, or vacuuming can be done in a single quick motion.  Floors, sinks, counters, and worktops can all be swiped down in seconds if you don't have to lift and replace items.


  • Clothing:  In my experience, every room in the house where clothing is removed needs a pegboard or three.  You can create a hook set with adhesive hooks if necessary, or make or buy a stand that utilizes hooks.
    • A sturdy pegboard in the entry allows single motion storage for coats and bags.  Without sufficient "hookage" coats and bags end up dumped on furniture.
    • A set of hooks  next to a dresser or closet creates a home for clothing that has been worn once, but doesn't need to hit the hamper yet, like jeans.  If it works better and you have an old dresser, install the hooks right on the side of the dresser or use a purse hook that cantilevers on the dresser top.
    • We always installed a hook on the back of your bedroom door for a bathrobe and jammies.
    • Bathroom hooks keep clothes off the floor and wrangle damp towels better than rods or bars.  Towel bars are best for hand towels and face cloths.
  • Utensils:  Any utensil used more than 2 - 3 times a week works best stored in one motion storage on the wall.  This includes everything from your toothbrush to your oven mitts.  Special clamp style hooks are available for items with long handles like brooms or shovels.  Small baskets that hook onto a hook rail are available for smaller items.  
  • Electronics:  Install hooks to hold remotes, headphones, gaming devices, and unruly wires.
  • Towels in the kitchen and bath.  I have an old fashioned hook with three long arms that rotate that holds dishtowels as well as hooks for measuring cups and spoons, frequently used utensils, and reusable shopping bags.  Magnetic hooks are available that allow fridge space to be used or over the door hangers are available for storage, too.
  • Jewelry:  A jewelry box may not be practical, but small hooks can hold necklaces and bracelets.

Shelves and Wall Pockets:  

Because shelves are mini horizontal surfaces, they can quickly become cluttered.  If you plan to store an item on a shelf, put an open top container (one motion storage!) on the shelf to designate it as a home for that item:  a small dish for keys, a cup for toothbrush and toothpaste, etc.
  • Entry:  A shelf or wall pocket in the entry creates a place for incoming and outgoing mail, your keys, and any other odds and ends you don't want to forget.  At the time I'm writing this letter, a pocket that wrangles mail, keys, and other small items is available to hang over the doorknob on the inside of your entry door.  An over the door shoe bag can hold gloves, sunscreen, bug spray, and any other items that tend to congregate by the door.
  • Kitchen:  Spices work best on narrow shelves or racks rather than taking up drawer or cupboard space.  Store them in the coolest part of the kitchen.  Shelves that hang from the upper cabinets and hold a cookbook or an ipad are also available.  I have a lucite pocket that holds coupons, dry erase markers, and post it notes on the side of our fridge.
  • Bath:  Shelves by the sink and in the shower keep bottles and cans off the surfaces that need to be wiped down every day.  
  • Living Area:  Shelves are a great way to add 3D elements to your decor on the cheap.  A handful of flowers in an old bottle, pictures, or nice editions of books all make inexpensive and homey decorations.  If you need to corral a lot of books, videos, or game cases, a bookcase is usually a better choice.
  • Office Area:  Chances are your kitchen table is your office in your first apartment.  Hang a wall mounted file pocket in an unobtrusive spot to keep current papers corralled.  A filing cabinet with a cloth over it makes a great end table or night stand elsewhere in the apartment, but creates storage that requires 3 or more motions and just begs to have stuff stacked on top of it.  An open top filing box is another good solution.  Some of them have cute designs and can be stored on shelving units or on top of a filing cabinet that has a decorative cover.
  • Bedroom:  A shelf by the bed can serve the same purpose as a nightstand while taking up almost no space.  I don't recommend a shelf over the head of the bed -- falling items could be an issue.  Shelves are a nice way to add inexpensive decor in the bedroom as well. Pockets that slide between the mattress and boxspring to hold nightstand type items are also easy to make or cheap to buy.  An over the door shoe bag is a good way to corral not just shoes, but any small items.
  • Hardware organizers  Multi drawer wall mounted hardware organizers aren't attractive, but can create huge amounts of storage for small items.


White boards and cork boards create a one-motion space to store frequently needed information like a church or work calendar of events, phone numbers, etc.  Boards can also be used to hang paper ephemera (a drawing from a child) or important pieces of paper (a ticket to an event).  Both white boards and cork boards are available in magnetic formats that can be used on the side of a fridge or filing cabinet.  The sides of the fridge are also large magnetic surfaces that work well for anything that has a magnet.  If you use the front of the fridge, it will be more difficult to spray and clean quickly.


Totes come in a variety of materials (wood, leather, wicker, canvas, plastic, metal) that will match any decor and budget.  I use totes extensively to corral items that are used together:  Bible study supplies, laundry supplies, makeup, office supplies, manicure, first aid supplies, toys for child guests, guest toiletries and spare keys, car maintenance supplies, sewing supplies, gaming controls, etc.  I feel that totes function best when they are stored up off the floor or worktops.  Tote bags are dirt cheap and can be used to create go bags for the beach, hiking, etc.  Tote bags can easily be hung out of the way on the end or back walls of closets.  Keep totes cleaned, organized, and thinned down to their natural capacity as you go, or blitz through them while you listen to a favorite podcast.  
If you have a roommate, you should each have a small tote or laundry basket where the other person can put stuff you leave out.

Maximizing Traditional Storage

Apartments are notoriously stingy on traditional built-in storage.  The key to using closets, drawers, and cabinets well is "containerizing" and labeling the area. Closets, drawers, and cabinets are at least two motion storage, and can often be three or four.  This mental block means the item gets left out or thrown into a clutter casserole inside the storage area.  While expensive, beautiful options abound, I usually opt for cardboard boxes or flimsy plastic baskets inside drawers, cabinets, and closets. 
  • A closet functions best when it is containerized into three zones:  A floor storage unit (a shoe rack in a bedroom closet, for instance), high and low hanging rods, and an upper shelf that holds labeled storage boxes.  
  • Keep an OPEN TOP hamper where you normally undress (bedroom or bathroom)  You should be able to toss clothes into your hamper from where you undress.  Fun fact:  This was a big sticking point with me as a newlywed.  We had covers on our hampers growing up, and I thought open tops were gross.  Daddy made it very clear he was happy to always use an open top, but that if I insisted on a lid, he would just throw his clothes in the general vicinity.  I don't think I've picked up his clothes off the floor more than once or twice in 25 years. 
  • Use trays or dishes to create easy, open-top organization for items that live on horizontal spaces like a table or dresser top.
  • Unless they are very small and only hold one type of item, drawers need plastic or cardboard dividers or they become default "junk" drawers.  
  • Fit undivided cabinets with drawer units or shelved cabinets with open top plastic tote boxes that can be slid on and off the shelves. Obviously some areas in the kitchen don't need containers, but a host of shelf organizers are available to keep everything from dishes to cans corralled if you have the extra $ and a small space.
  • Only purchase furniture that has storage capabilities:  an end table with shelves or drawers, a bed frame with drawers and a bookcase, etc.  Most of your furniture will be hand me downs at first, but as you invest, make wise choices.
  • Utilize rolling underbed storage if you have a bed frame, or a rolling set of plastic drawers under a table.
  • For more information on this concept, look at Julia Morgenstern's book, Organizing from the Inside Out.
  • Organize your car to reflect how you use it.  Passenger seat or back of the seat organizers are available if you're on the road a lot. Trunk organizers are expensive, but milk crates work well.


You can have a professional organizer come in and invest thousands of dollars in every organizational unit under the sun, but it won't work if you don't put things away as soon as you're done using them.   
  • Equalizing, or picking up, is why I dramatically prefer hooks, shelves, and other open top, one motion, store-it-where-you-use-it storage. 
  • Don't "over-organize." You don't need a separate divider for every item, just for every type of item.  In my baking drawer I have a divider for measuring cups and spoons, one for KitchenAid attachments, one for small hand tools (bench scrapers, pastry brushes, scoops), and one at the way back for sharp or infrequently used small tools (apple corer, donut cutter).
  • Train yourself not to leave a room with stuff out of place.  Take 10 seconds before you leave a room to drop or hang everything in it's place, and you'll find keeping house a snap.  It's perfectly fine to tell a friend who drops by and wants you to go out with them "give me 5 minutes to put my things away, and I'll be ready to go."
  • If items tend to travel from room to room (I'm looking at you drinking glasses and snack dishes!), immediately bring them back where they belong as you leave the room.  Apartments are small.  You can afford to loop to the kitchen and swish your snack dishes and water glass out before heading to bed.
  • Keep a decent sized OPEN TOP trash bin in every room.  It's a pain in the neck to walk to a separate room to throw away a wrapper or Kleenex, and they'll end up on the floor or another horizontal surface.
  • Twice a year go through room by room and discard, sell, or give away items you no longer use or those weird gifts and purchases you never used.

Why Bother?

Organizing your 3-D space will create a sense of peace and cut your cleaning time down to 30 minutes a week or less. You'll be able to invite a friend in at a moment's notice, or minister to someone in your church or neighborhood. If you have excellent storage -- stuff management -- you'll be far less likely to succumb to buying stuff, too.  Finally, you're unlikely to stay in your first apartment for more than a couple of years.  Packing to move is a snap if you're well organized and a nightmare if you're not.
Remember the feeling of going to Grammy's house on the lake?  There's always a deep sense of peace, not just because of her sweet spirit, but because she keeps her place free of clutter.  She dusts, vacuums, and mops weekly or biweekly, but her home feels wonderful because she's faithful about keeping it neat.

I look forward to seeing your first place.  A huge learning curve usually accompanies your first time housekeeping, so I'll come over and help you anytime you want, judgment free.  I love you and want you to have a comfortable, homey home to refresh your own spirit and minister to others.



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