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Closet Alternatives – 5 Ideas for Living without Closets (without Renovating or Spending a Lot)

by Victoria Gazeley

I love looking through home decor magazines, with all those houses that sprawl over thousands of square feet, or have been recently renovated to the tune of $200K.  Closets and nifty storage units spill out from the pages, beautiful rolling drawers are tucked into every nook and cranny, and everything has a place.  For someone who loves efficient storage and likes to know where everything is, it’s organizational nirvana.

Unfortunately, I don’t live in one of those homes.

My little house is precisely 650 square feet (give or take) and features absolutely zero closet space.  It’s a restored 80+ year old homesteader’s cabin, and, well, homesteaders didn’t have a lot of stuff – hence, no closets!  Flash forward 80 years, and its current owner has so much stuff that all her furniture is in storage with her ex (lucky him) and friends, and the rest is in her parents’ attic.  And that’s after paring down over the years.  While I’m not a ‘collector’ of things – when you live in small spaces, you simply can’t be – I still have ‘stuff’.

So what do you do when you have an average amount of ‘things’, a home business, a child, a penchant for things looking nice and neat – and you live in a sweet little house with no closets?  I’ll tell you what I did – and it didn’t cost a lot, nor did we have to undermine the integrity of the heritage structure we live in by adding built-in storage.

Armoires Are Your Friends

Art supply and game storageI don’t know what I’d do without armoires.

I’ve got several and because I’ve always lived in small spaces, they’ve been a terrific help in keeping things neat and tidy.  They’re ideal for use as office space, coat closets, arts/camera/games supply cupboards… whatever you might need space for.  And they come in so many different shapes, sizes and styles, you’re bound to find one to suit your decor.  Most of mine have been with me for years, though I did buy a new one for our ‘coat closet’ when we moved into our little cabin.Art supply and game storage

Now, buying new is always fun and infinitely simpler, but I’ll let you in on a little secret – your best deals can be found on Craigslist and at garage sales.  While it takes a little longer than just picking one up at the store, you’re bound to find antique treasures, beautiful hand-crafted pieces and high-end designer units for a fraction of the price of new.  Worth the extra effort, I think.

In short, without armoires, my little house would be a mess – they’re such a necessity for us.  Chances are they will work for you too.

Baskets = Brilliant

Baskets – such a brilliant invention.Magazine storage

Now, I’m not just talking any old baskets, but beautiful, well built square or rectangular baskets that fit together nicely and are stackable.  I’ve got three different styles in our house, and they all coordinate with the others.  The big sturdy ones I pick up at our local big box store when they go on sale (which is actually fairly often), and the smaller, more colourful baskets were purchased inexpensively at Pier 1.  Add to that a couple of bolga baskets (those gorgeous market baskets from Africa) for some of my son’s toys and my mending and knitting projects, and we’re pretty well set.  For me, baskets are like the armoires – indispensible.  To be able to have little things out in the open without it looking messy is such such a gift.  And things just don’t get lost as easily!  Now that’s helpful when you’re running out the door and can’t find that movie you need to return to the video store…

What’s Hiding Under the StairsUnder stairs closet

In our little house, we have a set of open-riser stairs going up to the loft.  The stairs were left open to keep the main room lighter and airier, but it created some issues when I decided I’d use the space for storage of bins that are, shall I say, less attractive than all those beautiful baskets (I’m talking Rubbermaid totes and those clear closet storage bins).  Essentially, it’s an ‘under stairs closet’. Under stairs closet

So what we did was create fabric pieces to fit the openings, and simply pinned them up with flat, white, metal tacks, leaving the bottoms free for access.  Now, obviously this technique has its limitations (and weirdly, getting the right shape for the triangle was incredibly difficult – apparently pattern-makers we are not!!), but it works for us for now.  One day, we might frame in the stair risers and put proper doors on the openings, but for now, this works, and it didn’t cost a penny outside of my mother’s time to sew the panels.  Thanks, Mom!

No More Tripping Over ShoesShoe storage

I have a pet peeve about shoes lying all over an entrance way.  When you live in a tiny house, it’s not just annoying, but downright dangerous – tripping and falling where there’s a sharp corner within two feet in every direction is not a safe proposition.  In our case, we employed the old food cupboard from the original homestead as a shoe closet.  It sits on the front porch and acts as a repository for all the boots and shoes we aren’t using imminently.  Keeps us tidy and safe, plus it adds to the historical feel of the house and is a bit of a conversation piece.  The cupboard was without any rot after 80 years of damp west coast weather, so it would have been silly not to use it.  You could use any small cupboard, really, or something purpose-built for shoes. It doesn’t really matter, so long as it keeps your shoes neat and tidy.

As with armoires, shoe cabinets are easy to find on Craigslist without a lot of effort.  Worth checking out – unless, of course, you enjoy tripping over shoes…

Chests as Linen ClosetsAlternative linen closet

With no closet space, I wasn’t sure where to store all of our spare linens, wool blankets, and the like.  The little house had a few mice scurrying about when we moved in, so I wanted to make sure all the antique linens were secure from the teeth of tiny four-legged critters.  Fortunately, I have a cedar chest that was my grandmother’s and that my dad re-skinned for me many, many years ago.  It now sits proudly in the loft and stores all our linens and traveling gear (backpacks, linen bags, etc.).  It works out well, but honestly, it could stand to be about two feet longer.  Or maybe I should just get rid of a few things…  Needless to say, you can find these pieces pre-owned for a steal in most cities and towns.  It’s amazing how much great furniture people get rid of on a regular basis.

The Wrap-Up

So there you have it!  You might have to spend a bit of time and energy on finding the right armoire, baskets or shoe cabinets for your space, but the results – no longer tripping over piles of stuff, or struggling to remember where you last saw your car keys – are worth every penny.

Do you have any unique ideas for storage in small spaces?  Share them below – we’d love to hear!

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Revised on April 19, 2011

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Bergstrome April 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm

This is great Victoria, having recently moved from a little 700 sq’ foot cabin in Granthams, I can really appreciate all your tips! I had the ‘luxury” of an unfinished basement to hide most extraneous things away, but my buffet/hutch combo and corner cabinet became my best friends :)

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Elvie Look April 26, 2011 at 1:52 am

Absolutely love all of your storage and organizing solutions. We are two minds who think alike! You do such a great job.

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