Small House Organizing

Photo credit: 
nicolas.boullosa on flickr (though your house doesn't have to be THIS small!)
Little spaces look bigger when you're organized

I walked into this house and knew it was right. After an apartment, to have a 1400 square foot house to my husband and myself seemed like heaven! It appeared huge, and although we didn't have decent furniture or the finances to afford any, the lovely cedar walls, the quaint porch, and the adorable tiny kitchen made it feel like mine right from the beginning.

That was 16 years ago. Since then:

  • It no longer feels spacious, given two teenage daughters, two large dogs, one old cat, one dove, a divorce and a second husband (this one 6'4").
  • The kitchen has been redone and now feels much bigger.
  • And the house is still just right. Well, most of the time.

Throughout the years I have struggled with what has become a tiny space, and have struck a kind of balance between my house and my home life; I have chosen to make a home that is warm and welcoming, comfortable and easy. In exchange, I settled for some clutter and shelving.

Strategies to avoid shrieking
Some days my goal is to live in a hotel lobby, where everything is carefully arranged, spare, unused, and smells of disinfectant. Okay, so I can't really live like that. But I often long to shriek at everyone "PICK UP!" I resist, but sometimes just barely. To prevent shrieking and begging for help picking up, I developed some strategies that would work for anyone whose house feels too small.

Children's playroom/private space: When the kids were little, they shared one room, and the other room became the playroom. Splitting the functions cut down on clutter. As my daughters grew, we rearranged so that now each has her own, albeit tiny, bedroom. The playroom works as a combination study-, art-, play-, sewing-, and computer-room.

A place for everything: More stuff means more space. New hobbies, which seem to happen with alarming frequency, create storage crises. The only ways to make space are shelving, containers and boxes, and lots of creativity.

Ruthlessly giving and throwing things away: We have a give-away bag (always on hand) and weed through books, clothes, and other possessions, at least annually. I especially hate giving my books away, but I need the shelving more than some of the books that find their way into our house.

Shelves and boxes: They're the only way to make space in a house where there's none. Going up makes otherwise unused areas into useful, organized places. Grouping items on shelves in labeled boxes makes putting things away easier, thus reducing the tendency to clutter.

Staying on top of it: I've found that regular patrol is an important part of keeping a tiny house manageable. What we call patrol consists of daily and long-term activities. We take a few minutes a night, or at least every other day, to make sure the main spaces are picked up. During the patrol I start identifying categories of things without their own spots. Once I identify a category, I can try to assign space for those items.

Long-term, I make sure every room is fully cleaned and organized over the course of a month or so. Some people have suggested that I don't want to move because it's so much work. I always think about the number of times I've been through every item in every room in this tiny house, and realize I "move" about once a year--I just spread the move over a longer time.

Nightly patrol is the most important. During the nightly mission, I assign some things to piles, containing the clutter to deal with later. I clear the dining room and kitchen table (unless they are home to a temporary art or science fair project), and remove unauthorized clutter from the kitchen counters. This investment of five or ten minutes gives me the illusion of order that I desperately need.

A good time for all
The result of my program is that we have a stack of the latest books, homework assignments, papers, and art projects still out and ready to be worked on. We know where other stuff is, or where it should be. Our house is a home: Comfortable, easy, and (almost) manageable. In fact, we have a pretty good time. And only occasionally do I think of running off to a hotel to free me from further clutter!

Elizabeth Donovan Walker is a writer who writes as much as she can, including children's stories, adult fiction and mysteries, and technical and marketing writing. She lives in Boulder, Colorado in a small house with her small family and more pets than she had intended to have. You can contact her at

Comments's picture

My house in AZ is about the same size as yours, Beth, and, like you, I fell in love with it at first sight. However, now that my husband and I are getting close to starting a family I'm perplexed at how we will fit one (or even two or three!) more people into our humble home. Your article was very encouraging to me.
If you have any more suggestions on book, craft, and entertainment storing, please pass it on!

andrew's picture

Try getting rid of stuff you dont need. Paint the walls. Its cheap and can give your house a fresh look .

Cheapcollector's picture

My home is only 920 square feet! Originally when I bought it, I was a single mom with only one child it was perfect and I was excited about the challenge of downsizing into a home I felt was perfect for my daughter and I.

Since then I have added a 6'4" man myself! It's amazing how one large man can take up so much space. LOL But I keep trying to remind him (and myself) that families of 4 or 5 lived in homes the size of mine in the 50's and they did just fine with one bathroom and no space to escape to.

I plan to live in my tiny house as long as we can possible do it. But it takes a lot of organization and like you said, nightly pick up's.

Trina's picture

:) I was content in my house with my animals until i added a wonderful man to my life. The system i had for myself doesn't work anymore ... instead of being organize for one i need to be organize for two!!!! his systems doesn't work for me as my systems didn't work for him. Now i am trying to find a system that would work well for the both of us in my small house of not even a 1,000 square feet! So far i declutter moved out stuff that i haven't used in awhile ... still feel having a clutter problem! :-(

Guest's picture

Thank you for these tips!
I love my little house and don't like when discontent starts to rule my every thought. I like to think if you are content where you are you can appreciate and be better at the things you do but if you can't be content now - you never will be. I have my fourth baby on the way and my other three are still under school-age. I used to have an awesome system, but bit -by-bit it has unravelled on me and my once uber-organized mind is now just trying to make it all work.
Thank you for the actually practical advice, there seems to be so much out there that sounds really nice, but just doesn't apply to me. I have long accepted I will not be living back in my first apartment with all my fun ideas, but can now get it together here and make time to think of new fun ideas and my kids are enjoying the less stressed Mama too.

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