I’ve never been a minimalist. When I started college—insisting on packing “essentials” like every piece of clothing I owned and 10(!) bath towels—one parent walking by my throng of suitcases assumed my mother was moving in twins. It didn’t matter that I went to school in the middle of a city (within a block of CVS), or that I was only an hour from home. I felt a need to squeeze a six-month supply of tampons, winter boots I had never worn outside of a ski slope, and a 13-gallon trash can into my tiny shared dorm room.
Fast forward a decade, and I still don’t have all that much space. My apartments have all hovered around 500 sq. ft., including a studio that only had one narrow closet. Out of necessity, I had to step up my storage and organization game. But out of preference, I wanted my place to still look like an adult lived there. I wanted posh, not plastic.
After much personal trial and error, I’ve established a roster of products that make it possible to love living in a tiny space—even with a ton of stuff. Spoiler alert: Vertical space is your friend.
1. Cubbies to maximize storage space
While cubbies aren’t a revolutionary storage solution, I can’t say enough about how much of a game-changer the Threshold 6-Cube Organizer Shelf has been. I use two side-by-side, making for more than 12 cu. ft. of extra space for everything from sweaters to cleaning supplies. (I even have one dedicated to yarn and knitting supplies, a hobby that wouldn’t get precious real estate otherwise.) The top is also perfect for perching a TV, books, or any other knick knacks you want to display. Plus, the honey oak finish looks more like a piece of furniture than a storage unit, especially when paired with sand-colored bins (below).
2. Bins to keep messes hidden
Sure, you can display books and files in a set of cubbies without bins, or alternate every other. But to really maximize storage and keep your unit looking sleek, bins are the way to go. I have 12 of these fabric bins in Sand, each 13-inch cube looking sleek and polished on the outside while hiding messes like tangled extension cords or mail that needs sorting. I’ve kept laundry detergent in my living room for years and my guests have never had a clue. Pro tip: Try to store items as vertically as possible so you can see everything inside at a glance.
3. An under-sink organizer you can customize to your needs
I know I said no plastic, but hear me out. Under the bathroom sink is a hidden zone prone to leaks and spills, so this is one area you want function over fashion. The beauty of this organizer is not its style but its customization. It expands to fit most any cabinet and allows you to move the two drawers and six flat shelves to account for plumbing and taller items. Fit standard shampoo bottles on the lower shelves, toilet paper and tissues up top, and fill the drawers with smaller, loose items like nail polish and razors. There’s even about an inch of space under the lowest shelf—I use this space to store a mini dustpan and flattened travel totes for toiletries.
4. A cast iron skillet to replace unused pots and pans
Organization doesn’t always involve downsizing, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt. As someone who doesn’t cook well or often, I was devoting a whole lot of space to pots and pans I never used. When I finally discovered the wonder that is cast-iron cooking, this Lodge skillet became my go-to, allowing me to cook everything from meat to veggies to shakshuka in one heavy-duty pan that could work on the stove and in the oven. Plus, in our roundup of the best cast iron pans, Lodge came out on top.
5. A jewelry holder that doubles as décor
Vertical space is key in tiny living, especially when it comes to accessories. Instead of having a jewelry box take up most of the top of my small dresser, I use this heart-shaped IMM Living wire jewelry holder. Pretty enough to function as décor all on its own, it looks even cooler holding a dozen hoop and dangling earrings. Rings, studs, and even necklaces fit perfectly on its ceramic dish, too. And because it looks like this personal recommendation is also popular to the point of selling out online, here’s one that looks like it will work just as well (and who doesn’t love a cactus?).
- Get the IMM Living Jewelry Holder on Amazon for $14.99
- Get the Airmoon Cactus Ring Holder on Amazon for $12.99
6. A suitcase to use as extra storage space
I love to travel, so I need to have my suitcase easily accessible. But in a tiny home, that means it’s occupying pretty valuable storage real estate since suitcases are not generally attractive enough to leave out. Aside from the fact that it’s a breeze to take on a plane, this carry-on from Samsonite is sleek enough to fit under a bed or stand up in a closet. Plus, its hard exterior means no matter how much you stuff into it, it will stay the same size. I use this to my advantage and store my gym bag, larger bags, and even some purses inside. Sure, you have to empty it when you go on a trip, but it’s worth it to hold those bulky items the rest of the time and save valuable drawer space.
7. A console table that makes for a perfect bar
If there’s one thing I don’t mind storing out in the open, it’s liquor. Owning a well-stocked bar was one of the first times I saw my place as a real adult home, even if some of the bottles—er, boxes—of wine and booze still skewed college. There’s something about long-stemmed glassware and cocktail shakers that simply looks elegant, especially when they’re perched on this antique brass table with glass and mirrored shelves. While the table is technically made for more decorative objects, I’ve played with bottles on top and glassware on the bottom, and vice versa, depending on the space. The middle section is perfect for shot and rocks glasses, as well as a few cocktail recipe books.
8. A stackable shoe rack that makes room for even your least favorite shoes
While living in a small apartment may make me think twice about buying non-essentials, an impulse shoe buy will always win out. I have three pairs of near-identical strappy nude heels that I would have otherwise had to pare down if I didn’t use a shoe rack. Not only is this Whitmor model stackable, but it’s expandable too. In one apartment, I stretched out two side-by-side units under a window, and in another, I made them narrow and tall to fit in a tiny closet. And even though the racks feature an angle for shoes to perch, they’re secure—I’ve never experienced a shoe avalanche like I have with other brands.
9. A shower caddy that makes bulk shopping possible
One of the major downsides to living in a tiny space is missing out on those sweet, sweet Costco deals. There’s no use buying in bulk if you physically can’t fit things in your place afterward. But because deals on everyday items like toilet paper and shampoo are too good to pass up, I found a solution: the shower caddy. Yes, this can help organization even if you’re not stocking up a three-month supply, but by migrating all waterproof, shower-related bottles to the tub shelves and caddy, you can free up precious under-sink storage for the rest. In my shower, this hanging caddy holds eight bottles, a razor, and a detangling comb, leaving tub shelves open for even more stock.
10. Bar stools that only look expensive
IKEA is the juggernaut in the small-living biz, but my favorite product for my home hasn’t been anything storage-related. Instead, I’m obsessed with these bar stools that can be adjusted in terms of height, as well as repurposed as side tables for drinks when friends are around. Backless, they fit neatly under a countertop overhang or small kitchen table, and they’re lightweight enough to move around.
Since I’ve lived for years without a proper dining room table, these stools help expand the surface area of the coffee table, which comes in handy for movie nights or stocking up on snacks for a Netflix binge. Plus, they’re easily the most complimented pieces of furniture I’ve owned—and I put them together them myself!
11. Drawer dividers for keeping utensils in place
In my studio apartment, my utensil drawer was the single source of my organization frustration for months. Too narrow to fit even the smallest of utensil dividers (trust me, I tried them all), the drawer ended up just being a heap of forks, spoons, and knives. I had resigned myself to a life—or at least a lease—of sticking my hand in a pile of sharp objects. Then I tried a set of expandable drawer dividers. While I assumed they were only good for separating clothing like socks and underwear, they fit perfectly in my skinny kitchen drawer, saving my fingers—and my sanity.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.