You might think it’s strange that we’re calling out the Japanese culture specifically for help with storage needs. But there’s a good reason. If you’ve heard the phrase “Does it spark joy?” then you’re at least partly familiar with Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant who took the world by storm with her minimalism and simple fixes for cluttered homes. With a population of just over 125 million, Japan needs all the storage solutions they can get. This culture has been known for centuries for their austere, aesthetic approach to living in small spaces. Why not take advantage of some of their – now well-known – secrets and get your home organized?
Assigned Bins for the Bathroom
Bathrooms are small spaces that can easily get overwhelmed by the number of products and self-care items we use day to day. Unfortunately, they’re also a great place for dust, hair, dirt, and smudges of who-knows-what to collect. But vanities and bathroom cabinets are pretty unrealistic spaces for storage. Often narrow and tall, they’re not exactly made for small bottles, travel kits, and more. The easiest way to keep your bathroom cabinets organized and clean is to use plastic or wire mesh bins. Divide items up by type or size, and when necessary, they’re easy to wash out in the sink or dishwasher. Bins come in a variety of sizes and materials to fit your aesthetic and personal needs.
Yes, we’re suggesting you use office supplies in the kitchen. While that might sound like an odd solution, check out what one person used them for in their freezer – hanging those lumpy, space-eating bags of frozen food. Additionally, binder clips can be secured to an inside cabinet door or cabinet wall to hang those tiny products you can lose easily, such as food coloring or packets of yeast. By hanging them up, they’re in your line of vision and easily accessible, while freeing up space that could be easily overrun by small items.
If you’re a crafty person, chances are you’re also slightly messy. It’s easy to get excited about a project and totally ignore organization or cleanliness. On top of that, it can be really hard to find that one thing you need to finish the project. Mason jars are a great way to store and keep track of all your craft items. Anything from embroidery thread to polymer clay to markers can be stored in mason jars, and the clear jars give you an easy view of what’s inside. Find what you’re looking for quickly and organize your craft room using whatever system you like. Size, color, type – it’s up to you! Look for jars with decorative accents or labels for added flair and character.
The new way to go is using dish risers. They’re basically a shelf within a shelf, and create multiple levels for you to divide up your dishes. No more stacking bowls on top of plates and loudly clanking around to dig one out. This will also free up storage space for other kitchen items, meaning your countertops will be free and clear for you to enjoy meals with no mess. Everything is within easy reach and safe from getting chipped or cracked. Plus, there’s something very satisfying about seeing an organized dish cabinet.
Over-the-sink drying racks aren’t exactly new, but they’re definitely underutilized. These dish drying racks are secured over your sink and come in many shapes and sizes. They can be stationary stainless steel or bamboo racks, rolling stainless steel mats, or built-in racks that can be hidden gracefully in your cabinet. Whatever aesthetic you’re going for, built-in racks provide out-of-the-way storage as dishes dry and take up less space on your counter. All forms of these racks can be tucked out of sight, leaving your kitchen looking more organized and clean. As an added bonus, they’re easy to clean and keep grime and bacteria off of your countertops.
If you loved cereal as a kid, you most likely have a fond memory of the cabinet it was kept in – a geometric mess of half-crushed cereal boxes, all different shapes and sizes. But as with many food items, cereal rarely takes up all the space in a box (just think of how disappointing chip bags are with all that air). Additionally, a packed cabinet or pantry can make it hard to find exactly what you’re looking for. What color was that bag of rice? Did you put the lentils near the dried beans, or the flour? Food bins or containers, especially transparent ones, create a sense of conformity while making it easier for you to find what you’re looking for. And while they come in all different shapes and sizes – like cereal boxes – they still create an organized look when it comes to style. Keep an eye out for bins or jars that have labels included, so you know what you’re grabbing in a hurry and can organize at the blink of an eye.
Kitchens have so many odds and ends in them. They’re a gathering place as well as a place for storage. Most people these days are familiar with the “junk drawer” – a kitchen drawer full of things like batteries, twist ties, tape, and whatever else doesn’t have a specific home. But even your every-day products can look out of place in the kitchen. Olive oil bottles, wine openers, even your paper towels hanging out on the counter (because they don’t have anywhere else to go) can look messy. Magnetic refrigerator organizers will go a surprisingly long way in saving you space and getting those odds and ends out of the way. They’re built to house bottles, cans, spices, small kitchen tools and paper towels – all on the side of your refrigerator. This is a little-utilized space that can be taken advantage of. Plus, most refrigerators are magnetic these days, so these organizers are an almost guaranteed solution for small space organization.
Visiting hotels can be incredibly relaxing for many people, especially when those little “touches” are included. Mints on the nightstand, a towel formed into a swan, the ends of the toilet paper folded into an even triangle. We aren’t suggesting you get a minibar for your house (unless you’re into that), but getting in the habit of rolling your towels can create more storage space while giving your home a touch of class. The simplest way to roll your towels is to lay them out, fold them in half length-wise, and roll from the base up. Make sure your roll is tight and, when you’re ready to store them, consider using a bin or drawer for stability.
Leaning ladders were a bit of a fad recently, but they should definitely stick around. These simple constructs are versatile and can add subtle style to any home. The easiest way to use your leaning ladder in a living space is to store folded towels or blankets on it. Textured or patterned blankets, especially, can add some color to a room and can be useful in cold months or when guests are over. By taking up little space, these ladders create ideal vertical storage – a type of storage the Japanese love. If you want to take things a bit further, purchase bins that can hook onto each horizontal section for out-of-the-way storage or get a leaning bookshelf. The latter works on the same concept as the leaning ladder but uses unobtrusive shelving.
Washrooms are essential to any home but can be tough on organization and storage. In fact, we like to keep this necessity so out of the way that stackable washers and dryers are an option for especially tiny homes and apartments. Of course, there are all the necessary products for washing your clothes too – laundry detergent, wool dryer balls, fabric softener, dryer sheets…the list goes on. If you’re especially focused on your clothing, you likely need a space to hang clothes so they’re wrinkle-free, too. Because most washers and dryers are located in tiny closets behind closed doors, or in small rooms, vertical shelving is a great option. Most of this shelving is lightweight and easy to use, often metal. They’re made to fit over a standard washer or dryer and add anywhere from 2-5 shelves of storage space. While you might not like the idea of a cluttered washroom space, you’ll be surprised how much organization these shelves bring if you also utilize bins and hangers.
A little realized storage space is that behind your closet, bedroom, bathroom – or any door. Just think about it: when you close your closet, there’s probably at least six inches to a foot of space between the door and your hanging clothes, right? Why not use it? The Japanese philosophy on storage is to use as much space as you can in an organized fashion. Let no door go unturned! Over-the-door hooks and hangers are a great option for added storage and work in any room. In your bedroom closet, you can store coats, jackets, scarves, or purses. In the bathroom, these hooks are a great place to hang extra towels or products. This is just one hidden storage hack that will give you even more room in your home.
Grid panels have a sort of industrial look to them, as they’re usually made from metal, but the geometric and symmetrical pattern can also be attractive in certain settings. In Japanese homes, grid panels are a large part of essential storage – especially in kitchens. If you make meals even a few nights a week, chances are your tiny kitchen can end up a mess. And once you really get into cooking you realize just how many items you need. Colanders, spatulas, whisks, mandolins. Purchasing a grid panel to fit any empty wall space you have, as well as a few S-hooks, will go a long way in keeping your kitchen organized and full of whatever tools you need. You can also hang up fruit, dried herbs, etc. – whatever will give your home the aesthetic you’re looking for!
In the Western world, we’re used to looking around for large spaces to utilize. Areas where we can fit a big shelf, table, cabinet, etc. Bigger is better for us – but we need to change that and learn to use small spaces, as well. Take another look around your kitchen to find those small spaces. Chances are, you’ve never considered the 3-4 inch gap between your kitchen and cabinet or stove and cabinet as a storage space. That’s because there aren’t many storage products that fit that space, but if you know what you’re looking for you can find them. Roll-out shelving often fits these narrow spaces and can act as storage for oil, spices, cans, and commonly used kitchen items. While it might not be the prettiest way to store things, it definitely gets the job done and frees up space.
Many famous Japanese organization consultants can’t speak highly enough of storage bins. They come in all shapes and sizes and can fit so many spaces. Plus, they’re easy to remove and clean, and they keep your pantry or cabinets clean as well. But bins can also be utilized outside of the kitchen and in literally any drawer, which is why they’re a great option for storing and organizing your clothes. American clothing stores display their products in a laid-out fashion and due to that, we tend to fold them the same way. But once we purchase clothes, the best way to fold them is actually to roll them. This saves space and makes drawers look much more organized. This is also a really common travel tip for those trying to maximize the space in their duffle and travel bags, so why not use it at home? Roll your clothes the same way you’d roll towels and store them in bins inside of your dresser drawer for easy organization.
Rolling carts aren’t common in most Western households, but they should be. These carts can be used to store kitchen items, commonly used food products, spices, pots and pans, and the best part is – they can be moved to wherever they’re needed most. There’s a reason you’ve probably seen them rolling around your local grocery or clothing store, so why not take that tip home with you? Additionally, they’re a great option for cleaning your home. Cleaning products can easily be stored on the cart’s shelves and the cart can be maneuvered from room to room. There are many different styles for rolling carts, from open mesh to tailored wood, designed to fit your personal aesthetic. No need to tuck this tip out of the way.
Pots and pans can be the bane of any kitchen. They’re impossible to keep organized, to the point where many homes have used hanging racks. These racks keep them out of the way, but don’t really cut down on the messy look of the place. Luckily, if you have a deep enough kitchen drawer, file bins can be used to store and organize your pots and pans. These bins are vertical and angled, with an opening at the top. They come in different widths that make mixing and matching easy. When installed in a drawer, each bin can hold a different pot or pan with handles angled outwards. Pulling the drawer open to search for the pot you need will never be frustrating again.
As we mentioned earlier in this post, the Japanese love vertical storage. It’s easily overlooked, and our eyes need to be trained to see opportunities we’d otherwise miss. In this instance, it’s all about shelving. Houses these days have a lot of nooks and crannies, including spaces that don’t seem useable. Dormers in Cape style houses are a perfect example. Areas like this can be perfect for adding shelving. Before you start thinking about whether or not shelves are really necessary in this space, what else would you use it for? By creating shelving – even if it’s a narrow area – you’re creating storage. Keep books, kids’ games, blankets and more in these out-of-the-way spots and give them a purpose.
Stairs are obviously essential in a home, but have you ever thought of them as storage spaces? Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy tip for creating more organization, but it does fall into the Japanese lifestyle of using whatever space you have. Some homeowners have taken on the project of turning their stairs into…drawers. Obviously, they still work as a functional staircase, but each step houses a separate drawer. Households with this kind of setup use the drawers for seasonal clothing storage, footwear storage, or kids’ toys. While it’s an unconventional move and a big step, those looking for storage options in their small living space might want to consider a renovation.
Whether it’s in your home office, kitchen, or bathroom, drawers can be the stuff of nightmares. They’re easily overcrowded and it’s tempting to toss an item into a drawer so that it’s out of sight, out of mind. Just think of all the “junk” drawers in kitchens – stashes of batteries, chargers, twist ties. The secret to keeping drawers organized is to look for small mix-and-match bins made for the purpose or try out something as simple as a utensil tray. By dividing the drawer up into sections, it’ll be easier for you to find what you need, be visually more appealing, and you can decide whether or not you should keep something quickly. Does it fit in with what’s in the bins? No? Then toss it. For odd shaped drawers, check out individual bins that come in a variety of sizes and materials.
Tension rods are commonly used to hang shower curtains and are easy to set up. Most versions require a few twists to create the tension they need to stay up. You’ve probably never considered using tension rods for quick storage options, but it turns out they’re good for more than just hanging shower curtains. Tension rods come in all sizes and can be easily maneuvered to fit whatever space you want to throw temporary shelves in. In fact, for closets, tension rods are a great option for installing a shoe rack or purse rack. They can be placed over washer and dryers as temporary shelving or clothes hangers. And the best part is, they’re easily removed in case you aren’t sure how you want to lay out your space or what kind of permanent shelving you want to install.
Getting home from work, vacation, or an outing can lead to a sudden drop in energy. You’re tired, ready to settle in, and not really thinking about keeping the house tidy. It’s easy to kick off your shoes, toss your keys…somewhere and pile your coat in the corner. But by setting yourself up for success right through the door, you’re guaranteed to have an easier time on your way out. By using a wall organization hanger within your foyer or close to your front door, you’ve created a space to hang keys, store mail, and have everything you need to go out and about right at hand. No more forgetting that piece of mail you have to send or searching coat pockets for your car keys.
You’ve probably never considered vertical towel racks, but it turns out they make more sense than horizontal towel racks – at least in terms of organization. Bathrooms are damp places, and used towels need room to air and dry out; hence the horizontal racks, which allow them to be spread across a surface and get airflow. But installing two towel racks or a double towel rack vertically creates storage space for your rolled towels. If you’re short on laundry closets or shelf space, this is a great option. Towels are within easy reach and look classy when stored this way. Plus, by using these racks vertically, it’s easier to find space in your bathroom for that extra storage. Tuck them behind a door or in the tight space right next to your bathroom sink.
You’ve probably heard the saying that you aren’t an adult until you have a bed frame, but no one told you that there are so many options out there! Minimalism is an important part of Japanese culture, and there are countless beautiful, minimalist bed frames out there. But what if your bed frame could function as additional storage? This type of bed frame is popular with kids, when built-in drawers are convenient to hide toys and clothes. But they can be just as helpful for adults. Just think of all the seasonal clothes you can pack away or finally having a place to put the shoes you love buying. Look for platform beds with pull-out drawers or, if you’re not feeling that aesthetic, get a raised bedframe you can store bins under.
Bet you’ve never thought of storage under your shelves. That seems like doubling down on storage options, right? But it’s a very real possibility. While extending your cabinets downward would be a pain and likely expensive, adding storage under your shelves is simple. There are plenty of bin or mesh racks that use your bottom shelf as a support system and hang beneath. This is a great option for hanging paper towels, popular plates and cups, bottle brushes, and more. If you’re looking for something a bit more disguised, the bin under-shelf storage designs are usually opaque and can be chosen to fit the style of your home. Utilize every inch you have to tuck those odds and ends away!
In Western culture, our first instinct is usually to tuck everyday items away and out of sight. You may have experienced a parent insisting that the house needs to be spotless before guests come over. As a kid, your first thought is, Why? We live here. The same should apply to your home and, in this case, your bathroom. Bathrooms are places for hygiene, self-care, and relaxation. They should reflect that, and you shouldn’t need to dig through packed cabinets to find that one skin oil you use literally every day. Rolling carts can be a great way to store your bathroom products out in the open, but in an organized manner, which creates a clean look. Look for carts that have multiple shelves, room for bins if you’d like to include them, and handles where you can hang items like brushes or hairdryers.
We’ve already taken a look at how staircases can create room for storage, but the renovation was pretty extreme. Alternatively, consider storage under your stairs instead of in them. Plenty of items can be kept under a staircase, from a hidden coat closet to The Boy Who Lived. These spaces also come with options: they can be open or closed, have hanging space or cubbies, use bins or racks. Utilize the space under your stairs in a way that reflects the aesthetic of your home, and find more room for storage along the way.
Like over-the-door hooks, cupboard hooks are the perfect solution to organize and keep track of small everyday items. They’re a great option for kitchens and slide easily onto the underside of your cabinets. Use these hooks to hang coffee cups, kitchen scissors, whisks, various utensils, and more. They’re also easy to move, so if you’re unsure of how they look in one place you can move them to another. Tuck them under an out-of-the-way cabinet or right over your stove for ease of use. Have everything you need at your fingertips and stop losing kitchen items in messy drawers.
For large families especially, food storage can be tough. In the last few years making food ahead for the week had become more and more popular. But that means storage can be an issue when you have little space. Food-grade stackable containers are a great option for keeping your refrigerator and freezer organized. It’ll be easy to find that meal you prepped a few days ago and need to get ready tonight! Look for containers that are clear, stackable, and have labels if necessary. They’ll free up space from cutting out those bulky vegetable and meat packages, and keep your food items fresh.
Many Japanese organization consults talk about the importance of keeping at hand only what you need. For those of us who live in areas affected by the four seasons, that can be tough. In fall we might need to whip out a sweater or two – in winter, a full-on parka. If we want to stay organized, how can we keep our closet less cluttered with bulky coats in there? Pack away seasonal items. It’s up to you where you find the storage space to do so. Many people store seasonal clothes and shoes under their bed, or in closets. Large bins or vacuum sealed bags are both wonderful options to get these bulky items out of the way.
As an added bonus, switching your clothing out seasonally gives you the time and space to go through each item and decide if you really need it. Have an expensive coat that you never actually wear? Or shoes that look great, but pinch a bit too much? Take the time to consider whether or not you’re going to actually use them, and if you aren’t, donate them. Minimalism is an important part of Japanese organization and storage, too.