The Best Small-Apartment Ideas, According to a Professional Organizer

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It’s nearly spring, which means it’s nearly the season of cleaning and organization. There’s something particularly alarming about emerging from the winter doldrums to find that your home is a dusty, cluttered mess. To help you (and us) with sprucing up and restoring order, we’re talking to professionals and experts this week all about the best tricks and tools.

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 someone who would know best. Laura Cattano, a professional organizer in New York City who lives in a small, 335-square-foot alcove studio, says that her 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.” To maximize space, she recommends balancing what’s seen and what’s not with open storage (like shelving) and closed storage (like cupboards). “It’s also important that it looks good and that it’s seamless with your aesthetic.” Here, her small apartment ideas for how to spruce up a cramped space.

Entryway

Leaning Edge Matte Black Wall Hook
$9, CB2

“Starting at the front door, creating an entry is important. Having a couple of hooks or a coat rack is helpful for a few reasons. 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.”

Steel Wall Hook
$32, Ahalife
Multi-Hook Wall Shelf
$24, Urban Outfitters

“Having a mirror, floating shelves or even a floating nightstand where you can drop your mail and put your keys can be decorative and create a space for your stuff. I love the floating shelf as it’s simple, clean, and doesn’t take up floor space. You can hang multiples: a lower shelf for mail and an upper for a basket with keys. Having a dedicated spot for your keys means you’ll always know where they are, and a spot for mail means it doesn’t end up in a pile on the kitchen counter
or dining table.”

Living Room

Best Box
$4, The Container Store

“If you have open shelving, put boxes on the shelves to hide the stuff that doesn’t tell a story about you, like Band-Aids and pens and stationery and office supplies and brushes and hair spray. No one wants to see any of that. I want to see your art, your books, your decorative accessories. I want to see photos. When you look around your apartment, you should really only see things that you love.”

Kitchen

Muuto Restore Basket
$106, Amara

“I recommend boxes for above the cabinets and above the refrigerator because people like to throw stuff up there and it looks terrible. I have about six boxes on top of my refrigerator because there’s no cabinet up there. That’s a great way for people to add storage without feeling like it’s too much. Any boxes for over the kitchen cabinet or fridge should be plastic, or something easy to clean if you cook a lot and have a small kitchen, but you could also put a basket like this over your refrigerator for snacks and bread, which will save you cupboard space.”

3M Command Clear Caddies
From $8, The Container Store

“These are super cute. They’re these clear bins that stick on the wall, but you can take them off, so there’s no installation necessary. I’ll put those on the insides of cabinets so people don’t have too many packets of tea and spices lying around, whatever packets of food you have.”

Lynk Professional Roll-Out Under-Sink Single Drawer
From $45, Bed Bath & Beyond

“I really like adding drawers on the lower cabinets of the kitchen so you’re not crawling around looking for your saucepans. Clients call it life-changing. You do lose space with them, but they make your life a lot easier. Just be sure to measure the space between the cabinet hinges and the back of the cabinet to ensure a good fit.”

Closets

3M Command Nickel Modern Hooks
From $10, Bed Bath & Beyond

“Adhesive hooks are game changers. Use them in closets for belts (the small utensil ones), or get larger ones for handbags, tote bags, hats, scarves, umbrellas, and necklaces. They’re handy in the bathroom, too, for hanging up robes, towels, and shower brushes.”

Real Simple Over-the-Door Shoe Organizer
$20, Bed Bath & Beyond

“Instead of using those over-the-door shoe organizers with the canvas pockets over the door (which I don’t like because there’s a tongue that hangs over the door), I use an Ook hook, which is a picture hook, to hang these organizers on the side wall of the closet for shoes, hats, gloves, scarves. You can use them for anything. The clear ones are really good for cords, or for kids’ things, so you can see what’s in there.”

Joy Mangano Black Huggable Hangers
$9, Bed Bath & Beyond

“If you don’t have a ton of hanging space, you can use these slimmer, huggable velvet hangers, which I recommend if you have a limited amount of hanging space.”

Cotton Soft Box With Lid
$18, Muji

“I love Muji for good-quality stuff that really lasts. This is a zippered, structured canvas box. You can stack them if they’re really filled. I like those for blankets, for off-season clothes, for anything really. I like those in a closet on a top shelf or on the floor of the closet.”

Bathroom

Acrylic Risers
$4, The Container Store

“These are little acrylic risers, which are like mini-shelves to stick in the medicine cabinet. You can stack them on top of each just to give you more shelf space. The six-by-three size fits in most medicine cabinets.”

Lighting

Eden White Pendant Light
$70, CB2

Lighting is so important in any space, especially a small space. It helps set a mood, and who couldn’t use more light in their homes? I love a plug-in sconce or overhead plug-in lighting for saving floor and table space. They also help define a space. A lot of apartments don’t come with overhead lighting, so I’ll add some. Beside my closet and my bathroom, I have nine light sources and added seven of them.”

Bedroom

Nest Storage Bed
$2,465, Design Within Reach

“I do not believe in storing things under the bed because people don’t clean under the bed. It’s like the basement, where you put your stuff that you don’t want to deal with. What most people stick under the bed is crap that they don’t use. But if you have a storage bed with drawers, then that’s fine. And if you’re going to do that, I suggest keeping often-used things in there, so you’re actually going in there regularly, or off-season clothes. I like storage beds best for kids, so they can put away their toys.”

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14 Tiny-Apartment Solutions From a Professional Organizer