How to organize a small space, in 4 easy steps

Kaitlyn Rapai organizes a small shelving unit

On my way to getting my brain and time in order, I started seeing the benefits of organizing the spaces in my home. The more organized my spaces were, the easier it became to find my things, the less time I wasted. There is nothing brand new here. This process is an amalgamation of techniques and ideas from Marie Kondo, The Home Edit and Dana K. White. In my experience, these steps can work for almost any small, shelved space like a pantry or storage closet.

Step 1: Measure the Space

Whether you’re going to purchase containers new or repurpose those you already have, you need to know what will fit in the space. I like to create a sketch with measurements to use in whatever store or online shopping destination I will be visiting. 

Make sure you not only measure the length and depth of your shelving but also the height. The most frustrating thing to find out mid-sort is that the containers you purchased won’t work with your space.

Step 2: Find Containers to Fit the Space 

My eyes love when containers match, but it’s just as lovely to use items you already have on hand. As an avid glass bottle collector, I understand there is merit in being as Earth-friendly as possible.

If you are purchasing containers, you will likely also need labels. This is especially important if you have other individuals in your household that will be utilizing your new system. Make it as easy as possible for them. 

I love reusable clips that fit many sized baskets and can be erased and easily re-written each time a category changes. You can search “Removable Basket Label” to find your favorite, or add these tried and true Amazon labels to your cart. Plastic Basket Bin Label Clip on Removable Basket Label Kitchen Pantry Basket Label Clip with White Chalk Markers for Storage Fabric Bin Basket Box Hanging Bin Clip Label (18 Pieces)

Step 3: Yank, Edit & Sort (YES!)

This sounds like 3 steps but it’s all completed at once. 

The experts differ on whether pulling things out is always good, but with a small space I think it’s usually necessary. Most small spaces can be solved in under 2 hours, but if you don’t want to go fast and furious, you could instead pre-label containers and place items in them as you sort. 

Either way, place like items together, making sure to get rid of things you don’t need as you go along. If you find old food in the back of your pantry, you can skip the sorting and throw it directly into the trash/compost. One less thing to contain!

Have a bin ready for donations to make life a bit easier. Unexpired/unopened food can be donated to a food bank. Some toiletries, sanitary and beauty products can be donated to women’s shelters. And clothing can be donated to the charity of your choice. 

Step 4: Contain & Label

How is it best to contain items? Think about where you would find items together in a store, or which items you utilize together. One of my clients loves baking sweets but also regularly bakes bread, so we created two separate baking containers that had all of the ingredients she uses regularly for each task. 

While I’m sorting items and starting to decide which bins they will inhabit, I use painter’s tape to write temporary labels. Categories often change while sorting, and are sometimes combined or split up. Once everything is sorted into its container, the last step is to write out and attach those finalized labels. Place your containers in their new home, and you should be all set with your newly organized small space!