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5 Tips on Staying Organized in a Tiny House

I have a confession to make.

When I lived in a large suburban house I was not that organized.

I had a theory that if I would use an item again I didn’t want to have to put it away only to get it out again to use it.

Not only that, but mail would pile up on the counter and clothes would never make it back to the closet after they were washed.

piglet laundry

So, I wasn’t precisely sure how living in a tiny house would change anything. I figured it could get just as messy but worse in a small space.

As it turns out, going small helped me with my organizational skills. Here are 5 ways I stay organized in the tiny house and you can too.

Put it away. The good news about a tiny space is that the place where something belongs can’t, by nature, be too far from where it is used. Put it away. Does that salt shaker go on a shelf? Don’t leave it on the counter. Did you just get home from the Laundromat? Put the clothes in the closet now, not later.

For more ways to stay organized in a tiny space see below:

Designated places. When I got home from work and we lived in a big house I would toss my purse on the counter and throw my coat on the back of a chair. They didn’t belong there but somehow I felt like I deserved not to put them away because I was at work all day. Now, I have a dedicated shelf in the closet for my purse and a hook for my coat. They never stay out in the main living space.

kindle

Digitize. Are you worried about books, DVDs, and CDs taking up too much space? This is an easy to solve problem in this digital age. The Kindle Reader app is free and can be installed on any device from a tablet to an iPhone. You can watch movies and TV shows on Netflix or Hulu. And all your music can be stored as MP3s on iTunes.

kitchen drawer

Small organizers. I have found that if I have a large storage bin I tend to shove whatever fits in it, even unrelated things. My solution – smaller storage bins within the larger context of a shelf or closet. For example, use small baskets in your kitchen cabinets to put all of the food items. Rice and pasta can go in one, oils in another, condiments in another. This will keep your pantry from getting out of hand.

storage loft with piglet

Out of the way containers. For things you need in your tiny house but don’t get used every day it is good to have a space, hopefully out of the way, dedicated to them. Our tiny house was designed with a storage loft over the front door. We can keep our winter comforter in a box so it is out the way but accessible when we need it. We also keep batteries, extra towels, and even a game or two.

How do you keep yourself organized in a small space?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Robin July 31, 2013, 4:18 pm

    Only problem with using a kindle is that not all books are available in that format. I have many that are out of print and a few collectibles.

  • MotherLodeBeth July 31, 2013, 7:32 pm

    Our son has a Kindle and our daughter in law has a Nook, and they love them.

    Something I don’t see discussed by small house inhabitants on various websites are issues like work that requires one to have a work space in a small place. Or tools and other items needed for ones profession anc how one used and/or stores them at home.

    As a skier, kayaker, biker rider, backpacker,organic vegetable gardener and food preserver, I would love to see more small homes that have folks who are living very active lives with the accoutrements that go with these lifestyles.

    • Cahow August 1, 2013, 9:58 am

      Amen, MotherLodeBeth, Amen! You wrote: “As a skier, kayaker, biker rider, backpacker,organic vegetable gardener and food preserver, I would love to see more small homes that have folks who are living very active lives with the accoutrements that go with these lifestyles.”

      What I’ve seen that addresses this issue on the tiny house blogs I’ve read, is that those that have the above needs just keep adding another tiny dwelling and another tiny dwelling and yet ANOTHER tiny dwelling to their land. I guess if you really like building structures and want your property to look more like a commune than a home, it works.

      NOT for me, however. I live in an area of Four Seasons with deep-deep snow and bitter cold so shoveling yet another 40′ path in February so I can go out to a below zero shed to get something is pretty darn low on my list of “Pleasurable Things To Do.” Beside, if you live in a climate with extremes of weather, those precious belongings of yours take a hard toll from being subjected to 130 degree temperature extremes. Stuff molds, rusts, mildews, gets chewed by rodents….the list goes on and on. THAT is why our 800 sq.ft. tiny house (down from 2,800 s.f.) was purchased: 8’x8′ room for home office; 10’x12′ pantry that holds ALL my canning/baking needs plus a frig, upright freezer, a year’s worth of food and the upright washer/drier unit. Skis, holiday decorations and seasonal clothes changes are stored in the attic (pull down stairs) which is temperture controlled and checked monthly for bug/vermin traces.

      My office also holds my loom and fibers; the guest bedroom holds my husband’s office, 2 bunk beds and his stained glass bench, which has wheels and rolls into the wall to wall closet, along with his supplies.

      Sure, we could have had someone make a 200 sq.ft. tiny house for us and then built three more 200 sq.ft. out buildings, with the need to run electric and gas out to them, plus 12 more walls to build, 3 more foundations to pour and 3 more roofs to add + windows but that falls into my catagory of “WHY?!” We proudly rescued a building built in 1920 as a country grocery store and moved into it with very little rehab, so I’ve got to get credit for repurposing a structure, right? In our resort area, if I hadn’t bought it for a home, it would now be an abandoned building that had housed at least 5 unsuccessful business attempts at being a salon, coffee shop, upscale clothing store, antique store and real estate office. We’ve had the cottage for 15 years and that is the sad fate of the local tiny homes all up and down our country lane; basically, the new businesses last one season and then go out of business for lack of business. When you have three months to earn your income (Memorial Weekend to Labor Day Weekend) and you’ve priced your wares higher than the 200 permanent residents can afford, well…that’s the high cost of doing a POORLY planned business.

      So, like you, MotherLodeBeth, I’d LOVE to see some blog posts about people that have active hobbies that require space and people that need an office (NOT JUST A LAPTOP!) to do their business. Maybe they just don’t exist in a tiny house footprint so they are automatically disqualified? Sad to think that, though.

  • Cahow July 31, 2013, 7:42 pm

    Hi, Laura. I was very curious about your organizational advice since so many people admit to being adrift in their own clutter, whether that’s sharing a room as a roommate, being alone in a studio/tiny house, or part of a large family.

    Your advice is very sound and I’m sure that many people will benefit from it, if they actually put it into practice. And, I guess that for some folks, if actually reducing the square footage of their living space is the only way they can accomplish less clutter, who am I to judge?

    Did you ever hear the urban myth about baby alligators? Well, back in the “Old Days”, (pre-1970), you could buy baby alligators by the bushel when you visited Florida…as pets! (It’s utterly illegal, now!) You were told that “…if you let them live in a fish tank, they won’t get any bigger.” So, the myth boiled down to, if you restict the SIZE of the home, you’d reduce the SIZE of the “contents”, meaning the baby alligator. There are times, when I read blogs about how a “small house means no clutter”, I think of those baby alligators of old and wonder about the “contents” (home owner + stuff) of their tiny home.

    Certainly, if a person is a natural Clutter Bug, restricting the size of your “tank” means you literally have less place to clutter. And, if a person has properly downsized and reduced their stuff to 2 cups, 2 plates, 2 pairs of shoes, 3 shirts, et al, well, then I guess their “alligator” is not going to outgrow their “tank”.

    Now, this may come as a surprise to some folks, but YES!, there are some of us (*waves hand high*) who are naturally organized so reducing our tank to the bare minimum isn’t necessary. Imagine that! (LOL) Now, to be fair, I don’t know if it came naturally for me or by my Gran’s teachings; my mindset must have been compatible with her philosophy and it grew deep roots.

    Growing up on a farm on the prairie, EVERYTHING had it’s place both in the home and barn and Woebetide the Girl who messed with it! My Granpa knew where every tool was located throughout the farm and Granma knew which drawer/cabinet/cupboard held whatever. I was taught to NEVER-EVER leave a room “empty handed”…when you were leaving the kitchen you had to look around and say, “Do I need to put something away? Or wash it? Or straighten it out?” When I was taught to set a table at age 5 for up to 30 farm hands and family, I had better eyeball the entire table for napkins, enough serving spoons, salt & pepper, etc., because once we all sat down to our meal, NO ONE was allowed to get up from the table to ‘fetch’ a forgotten item. Strict? Oh, you betcha! Did I learn right quick to think things out to prevent shame and uncomfortable stares in my direction when the salt was forgotten or the water pitcher? Again, you betcha! So, by time I was 17 and off on my own, I had become hard-wired to immediately put everything back where it belonged, exactly how you described YOUR process in the 5 Steps. “Does that salt shaker go on a shelf? Don’t leave it on the counter. Did you just get home from the Laundromat? Put the clothes in the closet now, not later.” So, Nature (innate habit) or Nurture (tiny house living), the end result is identical.

    I only bring this up because being organized is completely doable in a home greater than 200 sq.ft. You just have to stay commited to the concept of it. But, I completely understand why some folks need to corral their “alligators” in a small “tank”. 😉

    • Ralph Sly July 31, 2013, 10:04 pm

      Cahow, I was your grandfather in the work place, Laura at home and never you. (I did strive to have your attitude and am envious of people who can and do this. I preached it to the kids but never formally did it) I found in the small place I do manage to put things in a designated spot of their own and manage it well. Now with that said, I think the close quarters for people like Laura and I just make it so we can find that organized spot quickly. In the big house I would think, damn the laundry is in the basement and the bedroom is on the 2nd floor so I will do it later, had the mail in hand and it ended up on the kitchen table, two rooms away from the office and on went the saga.

      I and I will toss you in here Laura in a nice way, am a bit of scatter brain in that I have so many personal interests flowing through my mind and just want to get back at that when a sudden instant stimulation happens. Life has to be lived but in the back of my mind, there were more important things than to fold the laundry at that particular moment, I only include you in the scatter brain thing Laura in that I am not a writer of your sorts but have put together many policies and procedures and work pace manuals so can only imagine when the creative flow comes to a writer, that takes precedence over mundane things like life LOL, if I am correct, then you know what I mean by this. If I was working on something that was relative to a fatality, especially one I was involved with, I had to get it absolutely correct or it would drive me nuts and something would trigger just the right wording or whatever. With that said, Cahow, I know you are in that creative mindset but you were fortunate to have been trained young to be organized so that is 2nd nature to you, dam man you have it all figured out donca ya know.

      I just thought of a laugh for you Cahow, I can imagine how many people who have read my comments are calling this “BS” thinking, this guy could never write anything in short briefs and have it make sense like a P & P or manuals have to be. Well folks miracles can happen and I was good at it. These sites are an extracurricular activity so I enjoy and do little if any editing.

      • Cahow August 1, 2013, 3:19 pm

        I’m such a fan of your posts and stories, Ralph! <3 I really enjoy your sharing your life experiences.

        Well, I won't laugh at you and call you "B.S.". I'd say that over 50% of my friends sound like you describe yourself: laser-like focus on some projects yet utter scatterbrain-ness in the other 50% of their life. Now, I don't know if this is Part & Parcel but of those friends (men and women, from 18 t0 71 y.o.) but they all have diagnosed conditions of ADHD and OCD. Some are on drugs, some aren't, some own their own companies, some have very prominent jobs with loads of technical requirements. Brilliant people but they'll be the first to admit, they can't find their keys, misplace bills, lose important phone numbers, are never on time for anything, and need a cleaning lady to keep their home from being condemned, etc. I adore them all a bushel & a peck and wouldn't change a single thing about them; their lack of focus doesn't impact me one way or the other. So, I can see how limiting one's surroundings to the smallest footprint could bring great calm and peace to them; unfortunately, most have kids or are kids themselves who live with their parents so living in a tiny house isn't an option.

        My Gran used to say, "There's no difference between puppies and babies," meaning that when very young, training is everything! Rather than be stroppy and resent my Granparent's training, I took to it instantly. It made me proud to make them proud. The blessings in that long ago stewardship is that it grew to encompass my personal and professional life; not wasting any time digging or looking for "lost things" brings ME great peace, despite the fact that I live in a larger dwelling than Laura.

        We each need to find the path that brings us to our goal.

  • di September 26, 2013, 7:16 pm

    To save space, store kitchenware and a wardrobe in pull-out baskets beneath a daybed or sofa bed.

    Closets, cupboards and shelving may not be needed.

  • di September 26, 2013, 7:19 pm

    To save space, dine or study on a folding shelf beneath a window sill.

  • di September 26, 2013, 7:21 pm

    Store convenient items on a nearby window sill or in a tote bag hung on a nearby hook.

  • Linda January 31, 2014, 6:33 pm

    Yeah, if you can reach ANYTHING in your tiny house by standing in one spot, then why put something on a table when it goes on a shelf? A place for everything and everything in its place is EASY in a tiny house.

  • Kat January 31, 2014, 9:43 pm

    I agree with the “put it where it belongs” idea… I get cluttered in my little apartment (one closet..clothes and everything….) But then I get to it and put it away… I make use of behind my door for storing brooms, chairs, laundry rack… I only have a couple doors for that 🙂 The sliver of space next to the fridge..and honestly…I know I have too much. But I’m ready. I have mentally gone through a lot of stuff, and have been deciding what I need, LOVE and have to have. I have a lot of stuff to get rid of. I could easily do with less “stuff”. Less ornamental stuff. I try not to bring in anything more that can’t have double usage. (This excludes pre existing junk…) I love clean minimalist style, but it doesn’t belong to me… So my journey when I finally get my own tiny going will be that. I do love the books I still have. I’m not to the Nook/Kindle era…probably never will be. But I can use vertical space for that…and I know I can do it. I’ve liked reading your articles and tips. I hope one day to contribute here myself in that fashion. Give Piglet a little squeeze from me. 🙂

  • Lisa February 1, 2014, 7:57 pm

    I read your preamble and had to laugh; that’s me! I thought. When I lived in a small house in CA, it was pristine clean and tidy all the time; what a sun-filled joy! Then I processed over the years to a “success” house of 1800 sq ft on a quarter acre. I hate it. The place is a nightmare of housework and clutter all the time. My New Year’s resolution is to become debt and stuff free and escape. I’ve cut my spending and base debts, I’m saving as much as possible each month to build my TH, and I’m currently in a downsizing e-course preparing for my escape to a tiny off the grid house on wheels. Bless you Tiny House Movement; you are my salvation!

  • Janice November 3, 2014, 12:14 pm

    I am currently in the process of purging. I have two older granddaughters that are in the process of furnishing their own homes so I hope to be able to ‘palm off’ some of my better stuff to them with a lot more going to good will and the trash. I have a super large closet in the basement with shelves that I am now putting whatever I think I will need / want to keep. And then find myself going back thru some of those same ‘keeper’ boxes to purge some more. Next stop ….. the MANY shelves in the shop area & hopefully help from my hubby to start going thru all his goodies. I know we will need to downsize in the next 5 years due to health issues, but I will be ready when the time comes.

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