When I moved into a new house this year and set about filling the closets, stocking the shelves and otherwise occupying the space, one thing quickly became clear: My stuff wasn’t all going to fit.
The home has four closets, an attic and a garage — not unusual for a 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom Seattle cottage. But apparently it’s not roomy enough to comfortably house all of my family’s belongings. In Seattle, many older houses and newer townhomes suffer from the same issues — tiny or few closets, cramped garages and tight quarters all around.
My current approach — stacking plastic tubs to the ceiling in a Leaning Tower of Pisa-type sculpture — isn’t sustainable. To retrieve my holiday ornaments from the stack of bins, for instance, I’ll have to unstack them all first, points out Lynnwood-based professional organizer Linda Deppa.
I obviously need to look outside the box for my storage solutions.
Deppa recommends that I utilize the limited space I have not by stacking items in one spot, but by adding shelves and repurposing rooms, nooks and other areas in my home.
Here are more tips and suggestions from Deppa and other Seattle-area organizers on how and where to store our belongings when space is tight.
If you have a bedroom closet with a single, lonely hanger rod, Deppa suggests removing the rod and installing shelves instead. The closet can then be used to store a variety of items and not limited to hanging clothes.
Ready-made kits are available from big-box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, or you can get customized help from a closet company that will measure and install a shelving system.
At a minimum, add a second hanging rod, plus a simple row of shelves. “You can put shoes or folded clothes on shelves,” Deppa says, and keepsakes and other items that require infrequent access can go on the highest shelf.
Other deep shelves or cupboards in the home might benefit from a rotating lazy Susan, which brings items from back to front easily, Deppa says.
Val Sporleder, the owner of 1AD Studio in Seattle, specializes in maximizing space in accessory dwelling units — or ADUs — and older urban homes. She says people often overlook storage in their remodeling plans. Small-scale storage solutions ensure items are where you need them, when you need them, she says.
Recessed closets built between wall studs can hold books, cooking spices, brooms and other small items that you want to keep handy, yet out of sight. Sporleder takes advantage of tall ceilings in small spaces by adding storage for seldom-used items (such as luggage) up high and accessed with rolling library ladders.
“Garages have become more popular than usual lately [for storage],” says Seattle-based designer Michelle Gion of California Closets, which designs and installs custom cabinetry for both large and small spaces.
In garages, Gion says her clients typically want storage systems to include built-ins like a workbench or a place to wax a snowboard. Cabinets are constructed on footers to help ward off moisture and flooding that can occur in garages.
Seattle’s below-grade garages are particularly prone to moisture or water. Eric Koho, who works at Lynnwood-based Garage Logix, recommends testing for dampness and, if necessary, waterproofing before adding new storage. He says new flooring materials for the garage include a vapor barrier to keep floors dry.
If you choose to create your own shelving or cabinetry in the garage, Koho warns that inexpensive materials may warp in Seattle’s damp climate and sometimes cannot handle large amounts of weight.
In an unheated, uninsulated garage, moisture and mold can harm precious items. If you’re storing important or meaningful things there, Deppa suggests using airtight containers to help keep them safe.
Wall- or ceiling-mounted storage is ideal in a smaller garage where the car or other items occupy the floor space. Deppa recommends the black, powder-coated shelving or ceiling-hung racks that are available from Costco. They can accommodate bikes, holiday decorations and other items used seasonally, sports gear and, of course, boxes. But they are large, and you may need to bring in a professional to install them.
For additional elevated storage, look beyond the ceiling rack and into the attic. Attic sizes vary depending on architectural designs, and some homes simply do not have usable space at the top. But for those with attic space, it can be a valuable spot to squirrel away certain belongings.
One of Deppa’s clients placed plywood over the rafters to store rarely used bins and installed a ladder for accessing the space via a hole in the ceiling — as well as a fan to keep the space from getting too hot.
Even with a fan running, the attic is probably still the warmest part of your house, Deppa says. “Don’t store anything there that can deteriorate or melt,” she says.
Other spaces around the house
Rather than having hats, scarves and shoes scattered throughout the house, Gion recommends storing them all in a small, freestanding “mudroom” by the front door. Prices for custom mudroom setups can range from $2,000 to $10,000, she says, and involve mounting cabinets that match the aesthetics of nearby furniture and decor.
A laundry room is another underused storage spot, Gion says. Closets installed there can store and hide items such as linens, cleaning supplies and cat litter boxes.
If you have an extra bedroom that’s only used by guests a few times a year, Deppa recommends “refunctioning” the space for everyday use. Swap the bed for a high-end inflatable model that’s stored when not in use, and outfit the space for use as an office or bonus room.
Furniture can serve multiple purposes — think about that footrest that you also use as overflow seating or as a flat eating surface when you’re binging Netflix. Another purpose can be for storage, such as an ottoman that’s designed to stow extra pillows or winter blankets. An unused nook under the stairs can be a clever place for adding bookshelves, a closet or a food pantry.
When you’ve run out of space inside your home, a relatively easy and cost-effective solution might be available outside. Sporleder says one storage-challenged ADU renter she worked with added a prefabricated shed from Home Depot in the backyard to hold their camping equipment.
Deppa says every homeowner should be able to enjoy a peaceful, clutter-free living space, regardless of the size of their home. And that includes not worrying about when that leaning tower of tubs might finally tip over.