Organizing small spaces: 10 tips to make the most out of your space

Posted February 1st, 2010 by RyanMitchell and filed in Issue 15: Small Space Tricks

1. Use vertical space
After talking with lots of Tiny House folks, I have seen this as a trend: maximize the vertical. Everything above 8 feet is all dead air if you don’t use it, so capitalize on that. You could have a small chest that takes up 2 square feet of floor space. If it is 4 feet tall, you will have around 8 cubic feet of storage. Take that to the ceiling and suddenly you have doubled or tripled your volume, but haven’t given away any more floor space which is a scarcity in a Tiny House.

2. Everything has a place and is in its place
When working with a small space I know that everything needs a place. Without it, your house goes from quaint to cluttered. Make sure every item you have has its own resting place and be sure that it finds its way back once you’re done using it. One lady who lives in a 90 square foot apartment said to me “if it doesn’t have a place, do you really need it?” and that’s a good point. Things that matter and are used are important enough to demand a place.

3. Double duty on items
There are those items which are by their nature, multi functional. You need to capitalize on these types of items. When you consider an item, you should always think if there is something else that can do it already. A perfect example of this is the end table, which transforms to a chair for extra seating. Check it out here.

4. Purpose built – built ins
Built-ins are nice, but built-ins with a purpose are even better. Think specifics. When paring down your possessions, you will identify the 100 or so items that will be contained in your house. Take stock of those items and let them dictate the form of your storage. If you are a ski patrol member, your closet should be able to fit your skis. If you live in colder climates, you will need more room for larger jackets than others might.

5. Go digital / paperless
As if being greener isn’t motivation enough, going digital, as I call it, means that you are able to reduce the tangible items you need. Digital files take up no space if you have them stored online, with the added advantage of being able to access them from anywhere. Combined with backing the files up, they become safer than real world things. The IRS officially accepts all scanned copies of receipts and bank statements. This extends beyond receipts: books on your Kindle, movies on your Roku, music on OpenTape, or recipes in a wiki. See my post about using some of these. Here

6. Less is more
At this point I am preaching to the choir but, the question is not how to organize all your stuff, but on how to reduce the stuff to organize. The mentality needed is the same as you had if/when you went to college. The dorm rooms were tiny and you were broke. You only had what you really needed. Studies have shown that more stuff does not lead to happiness, so focus on the important things in life.

7. One thing in, one thing out
One principle that I like to pull from the Zen/Fung Shui school of thought is this. If you want to add a new item, consider adopting the rule that for every item you bring in, you must give up something else. Now, no cheating – like giving up a pen for an arm chair, but you get the idea.

8. Be intentional
Living with intention will have a profound impact on your life. Be thoughtful in your actions and choices. This extends to your organization and stuff. When you consider purchasing an item, you must first evaluate it and decide if you really need it. I often don’t buy it right then, but next time I am in that store (in a week or two). If I still want it then, I usually go for it if it makes sense.

9. Think inside the box
This is a technique that I use when I feel that a certain space is cluttered or if I start stacking stuff. Take a box, fill it up with everything. Then as you need the items pull them out of the box. Six weeks later, if you still have stuff in the box – no, let me rephrase that, you WILL have stuff in the box – you can evaluate what is left. There is rarely an item that I have that I don’t use within 6 weeks that’s worth keeping. Detailed box theory.

10. Most used items easy to access
This seems pretty obvious, but having the most used items in the front means you are able to access them quicker and without disturbing other things. This ties back to being intentional. You should be intense about organizing your items in this manner. If you notice that there are items in the back that haven’t been touched in a while, it’s time to evaluate whether you still need them.

For more articles like this and other on Tiny Houses visit

Thinking Big, While Living Small: 4 Design Ideas

Posted February 1st, 2010 by Tammy "RowdyKittens" and filed in Issue 15: Small Space Tricks

January 2010 FunMoving to a smaller apartment has helped us downsize even more. Less stuff and less cleaning lowered my stress level, improved my health and saved an enormous amount of time. My extra time is now spent with friends, hobbies, and Logan.

Even though we have less stuff, I still want my home to be a safe, beautiful and welcoming environment. I think tiny apartment or home can be all of those things and more.

Whether you live in 80 square feet or 1000, the following tips will help you arrange your livings space to perfection.

1. Let your style shine through.

You can still let your style shine through and make room for the necessities. Jessica from Apartment Therapy has a 200 square foot apartment in San Francisco that is functional and designed beautifully. She has a “penchant for vintage” and “tried to blend antique collections with a modern aesthetic–all in a home the size of most people’s guest bedroom!”

You might even consider designing a special nook in your tiny space. :)

2. Less is more.

Less really is more. If you live in a small space, you don’t need to stuff it to the max. A few beautiful pieces of furniture will make your small space appear larger and less cluttered.

3. Use Mirrors.

Consider adding a large mirror to your little space. The use of mirrors will pick up extra light and make your home appear larger. Logan and I have a few mirrors in our apartment. The mirrors are designed simply, but add so much character to our apartment. I considered giving them away before leaving Sacramento, but I’m happy they are with us in Portland.

4. Bring in the plants.

Plants bring life to any small space. If you use vertical space you could even start your own radical gardening project on your balcony or inside your apartment. Creating a small outdoor project is not only fun, but a great hobby.

Do you have any design tips to add?

You can learn more about my downsizing journey by reading my blog, RowdyKittens, or following me on Twitter.

Space Saving Furniture

Posted February 1st, 2010 by Michael Janzen and filed in Issue 15: Small Space Tricks
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In my wanderings on the web for tiny house design ideas & news I often come across great space saving ideas. Many of them I post on Tiny House Design and Tiny House Living. Below are some of my recent favorites. I look at these ideas with an eye for uncovering inspiring ideas, not products to buy.

Built-ins and multi-purpose furniture seem like great tricks for getting more use from a space without cluttering it up. No matter how small or large your home is, freeing yourself of stuff and de-cluttering your existing spaces can really help you clear your mind, relax, reduce stress, and make you more productive.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, and visit my design blog, Tiny House Design

The Splendid Kitchenette

Posted July 13th, 2009 by Tyson and filed in Issue 9: Food and Cooking

pastaI like to eat.

A lot.

I have to digress here and note that as I have grown up, I have never ceased to be astonished by the amount of time, energy, and sheer activity required in the maintenance of a space and the life it contains. Spending hours preparing a meal and cleaning up after it remains a concept almost impossible for my mind to accommodate.

This makes eating difficult.

So, barring a magic kitchen that prepares my food and cleans the dishes, I’ve discovered that in order to eat food that I can enjoy, the preparation and cleanup must be extremely easy. In order for that to be the case my food storage, preparation, and cleanup station MUST be simple and efficient. Having my own tiny house has given me the unprecedented luxury of designing my own highly functional simple cooking setup.

I’m not going to write about recipes or my philosophical perspectives on food in this issue, except to say that I avoid purchasing meat that isn’t fish, that I’ve started my first garden this year, that I am averse to cooking anything that takes longer than thirty minutes and unlikely to prepare anything that requires more than an hour, and that I rather despise recipes. (Cooking, for me, is almost always an exercise in improvisation, and frequently draws on an idea I like to call MexItalian Fusion).

I would like to talk a bit about my kitchenette, which is something to which I’ve devoted a fair bit of time and experimentation.

Here is the layout.

Small Living Journal Cooking 006

(Not that It’s actually been entirely implemented yet. Far from it. But I’m pretty sure that this is what it’s going to ultimately be like. I’ll start with what I’ve got so far, which presumably is the most important elements.)

The bulk of the primary storage, preparation, and cleanup is laid out linearly. I have 11.5 sq/ft of counter/workspace which is directly adjacent to the stove. I think this may be the most important thing of all. In my cooking experience, nothing is more frustrating than inadequate prep space located more than arms length from the stove top. (Nothing has delighted me more than having my buddy Dylan, a chef, test out my kitchen and tell me he thinks it’s more functionally designed than most full-sized kitchens – another victory for the design-by-prototype approach.) Eventually, this location will also host a small cabinet for essential foodstuff, as well as recessed under-counter storage,  and a couple stools that can live underneath as well for simple eating at the counter.

Directly to the right of the counter space, located under a window, is the little Magic Chef four-burner apartment stove. (The window location is rather crucial because it provides great ventilation). This little champ is only 20 inches wide and less than 24 deep, and more than adequate for the sort of cooking I do. These things are cheap used ($60 dollar range) and as common as flies, and this one is converted over to run on liquid propane. (As is the on-demand water heater. This makes for a completely propane driven kitchen, which lends itself exquisitely to off-the-grid living powered by two 5 gallon propane tanks.)

To the right of the stove is a big, ugly, plastic utility sink. It had been sitting outside the shop at work doing nothing for about a year until I asked my boss if I could have it. It gets the job done for the time being, but if I can find a sink of the same dimensions but with two basins, that’s the sort of thing I really want.

So here’s my big idea for dish cleanup and storage – the little dish cabinet is going to be located directly above the sink (high enough up to avoid banging your head). But it’s going to have an open bottom, and instead of shelves it’s just going to be dish racks, thus integrating dish washing, drying, AND storage. Pretty cool, huh? I’ve heard a rumor that this is common in Spain.

As you can see, there appears to be something located directly under another window, obstructing the access to the sink. This is a little (probably Ikea) rolling island butcher block that I picked up used for $7. It more or less lives in that location, partially obstructing sink access, until it’s time to cook or clean, at which point it easily rolls over a few feet and blocks off access to the bathroom. Not the most elegant arrangement I suppose, but it gives me another 2.5 sq/ft of counter space, some shelving, and utilizes the principle of Sequential Access in a way that’s not terribly inconvenient.

In the corner by the island and the bathroom door is a hypothetical floor-to-ceiling pantry. This will be used for bulk dry food storage, etc.

Small Living Journal Cooking 002

On the other side of the bathroom door is my latest folly, the newly restored Randall icebox, presumably built in 1921 (if we are to believe the ancient sticker pasted inside the ice compartment).

It was my Christmas present from my parents, who had had it forever. My dad had been using it to store hydraulic fittings for a couple decades. I’ve spent the past six months restoring it, off and on. I stripped out all the old lead paint, tarpaper, and nasty paneling, put in a bunch of extruded polystyrene insulation, and put her back together. Friday I finally inaugurated her with thirty pounds of dry ice, a 12 pack of coca cola, and a gallon of milk.

I’m still working out the kinks, but i’ve got an ice-cold coke for anyone who wants to come visit. Unfortunately that’s about all I can offer. I just checked on it and all thirty lbs of dry ice has all sublimated away in 48 hours. I have to go back to the drawing board on this one – one of the obvious drawbacks of the design-by-prototype approach.

My cooking setup is rounded out by a salvaged charcoal grill I’ve got out on the deck. There’s really not much else I could ask for in a kitchen. Sure a microwave and a toaster oven would come in handy, but they consume a lot of electricity and take up more space than I can afford to sacrifice.

Somehow, I think I’ll get by.