When my family moved to a new city in 2004, we didn’t need a lot of room. At that time, it was just me, my husband, our 2-year-old daughter, and our pets. Considering we’d come from a 600-square-foot duplex that didn’t even have enough room for a kitchen table, our new home felt palatial — at first.
See, I didn’t know it when we moved, but I was pregnant with my first son. The home to which we’d moved was about 850 square feet with a partial, unfinished basement. It had 3 bedrooms, but because of the poor layout and the fact that we needed an “office”, that home got cramped pretty quickly.
We started to look for a home of our own in 2006, and despite the fact that we made two different offers on two different properties, things didn’t pan out there.
I became pregnant with our third child in 2007, and the need for more space became a little more urgent. We were stacked in that little house like cord wood!
Because we’d lived in such tight quarters for so long, I had a different perspective when it came to living space. I had a friend who’d always tell me, “Well, can’t you do …?”, or, “Can’t you just put something …?”. She always thought I was being difficult, I think, until she saw how I’d used every bit of space that we had. The basement could have been better organized. We could have found a lot more space there. But the living space was as good as it was going to get.
In 2008, Columbus, Indiana experienced “The Great Flood of 2008”. Hundreds were left homeless with nothing but the clothes on their backs; thousands were left to clean up the mess. We even lost our hospital for several months, and in a city of around 40,000 people, this can cause some issues. (It certainly did for us, but that’s another story for another post.)
Anyway, experiencing the devastation that this flood brought to my door step caused me to look at our preparedness in a completely new light, and it got me thinking, “Where am I going to store provisions in this tiny little house as I acquire them?”
Now that we live in over 2300 square feet, it’s a lot easier to find places for things. It’s also a lot easier to keep junk (because you have the room to do so.) I thought I’d share some tips and tricks for those who’re dealing with a cramped living space but would like to store preparedness items (like food, water, fuel, firearms, camping items, clothing, etc.)
Consolidate and De-Clutter
So many folks are amazed at how much space they actually have once they’ve consolidated, organized, and de-cluttered their living space. For instance, go into your kitchen and go through all the little storage containers that you have tossed into a cabinet. Find all the containers that have matching lids, and recycle everything else. It’s amazing how often we end up with stray containers with no lids or stray lids with no containers. I remember the first time I went through an odds and ends cupboard and I was able to condense the contents into about 1/3 the space.
Also in the kitchen, do what you can to get down to only one catch-all drawer. Even though I have a large kitchen here at home, I only have 3 drawers, so I don’t really have a catch-all drawer. In the past though, I’ve had one catch-all drawer, one tableware drawer, and one drawer for knives and cooking utensils.
In bedrooms, clothes usually waste the most space. Don’t keep clothing that’s too big for you. By donating your “fat clothes”, you’ll be much less likely to let yourself gain enough weight to need a bigger size. At least with us women, it’s easy to go buy smaller clothes, but it’s usually pretty traumatic to have to buy clothing that’s a size larger.
Also, I’ve found that Space Bags are invaluable when dealing with clothing, outerwear, and blankets. Even here where I have plenty of space, I store seasonal clothes in Space Bags when they’re not in use. In the summer, for instance, rather than cluttering our coat closet with loads of winter coats, snow pants, hats, gloves, and my husband’s Carhartt, I can pack everything into two enormous Space Bags and shove them under a bed or onto an out-of-the-way shelf somewhere. I use the same tactic with throws and winter blankets, and I’ve even used Space Bags to pack clothing for the family into our winter car kit.
Using Vertical Space
It’s easy for us short folks to forget about vertical space, but it’s amazing what you can do if you see your space with a different eye. I use a shoe rack that stores 18 pairs of shoes on the back of the door to my master bathroom. Now, I don’t have 18 pairs of shoes — not even close — but I use some of the empty spots to hang jammies and towels.
Obviously, most people think of vertical space with their firearms, but people don’t always think like that when it comes to the kitchen. In the kitchen, one can hang utencils, knives, skillets and frying pans, and even coffee mugs on the wall. Think of adding shelving alongside cupboards, and you can get all sorts of stackable shelves that are meant to sit on your countertop so you can take advantage of the vertical space there.
Perhaps my favorite items that make good use of vertical space are the food storage and rotation systems from ShelfReliance.com. These ingenious food storage systems let you store an insane amount of food in a very small foot print. They make units that fit inside cupboards, and they make free-standing units that, when fully loaded, would likely weigh too much for certain parts of my home!
Also, when I lived in a smaller house, I used a cabinet that was meant to sit over the toilet so you could have more vertical space there. Two supports sat on either side of the tank, and they supported a fairly large cabinet and shelf unit that allowed us to put extra toiletries, personal items, and other things someone might want to access in a bathroom. It worked nicely, and we didn’t have to do any damage to walls at the rental to install it.
When we lived at the rental, we had things shoved in every useful space we could find. While I hadn’t thought to shove canned goods or water under our beds, I did use that space for other useful purposes. The same thing went for our living room. We didn’t have a real couch; we had a futon. I could fit all sorts of things in flat bins under that futon. I also used every bit of space I could find in places that would otherwise be considered “wasted space”. Don’t be afraid to think outside the closet!
Also, when space is at a premium, don’t waste space for the sake of aesthetics. For instance, don’t put your broom and mop in a pantry just so it stays out of sight. Fill your pantry with food, water, and the rest and hang your mop and broom on the back of a door somewhere. If you have a lot of folks living in a small space, your home isn’t going to look like a museum. You can absolutely keep things neat and tidy; you just won’t always have the luxury of keeping everything out of sight.
Like I said in the beginning though, when you’re trying to find new places to store items in a cramped living space, the most important first step is to actually go through what you have, consolidate, organize, and trash / donate. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I used this?” And if it’s something that you haven’t used in ages and you don’t have an intense emotional attachment to it, then it has probably served its purpose for you. Once you’ve done all this, the sense of security, satisfaction, and peace that you’ll feel is SO worth it!