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19 Thrifty Ways to Find More Space in Your Home

Storage at home is tricky when you live in a small house. These storage ideas for small spaces have made our home feel bigger. Here’s how I implemented the best storage ideas for small kitchens, pantry storage ideas, small bedroom storage ideas, small bathroom storage ideas, home office storage ideas, and other small space storage ideas.

Finding more space in a small home, using a shelving unit as a closet and stacking books creatively.

Sixteen years ago, Daniel and I bought a house that had all the space we wanted. Since then, our family size has doubled! We still live in that house with our 13-year-old Nicholas and 4-year-old Lydia. It doesn’t seem as spacious as it once did….

Our house is 1,488 square feet (not counting the porch or the unfinished basement)–smaller than the average American home built in 1973 and a little more than half the size of the average new home! With 4 people in the home, we have 372 square feet per person, also much less than the American average at any point in my lifetime.

We’ve managed to come up with lots of ways to make the space we have work for us!

Kitchen Stewardship® is all about balancing God’s gifts without losing your mind, and that includes making wise use of your resources instead of constantly consuming more.

Every cubic foot of your home has to be heated/cooled, cleaned, and repaired–so less space means lower energy bills, less time and effort, fewer resources going into cleaning and repairs, more time for healthy cooking and enjoying meals with your family!

That said, I’m not a minimalist, except when it comes to barefoot shoes. The world is so full of great stuff, so much of which is available free or cheap after other people are done with it, hence, my family tends to accumulate a lot.

You’ll see in the photos that our home is kind of cluttered. The trick is to store our stuff in ways that make it useful and enjoyable.

I’ve already explained how we diversified our dining room to make space for multiple activities in one room. Here’s how to find more space in the rest of your house. 

Using baskets to organize bathroom shelves. Stacking books efficiently and using a shelving unit as a closet.

Kitchen Ideas for Storage 

Double Up Your Shelving

Adding a shelf in the cabinet to organize plates.

It’s annoying to stack different sized plates like a wedding cake. We have plates in 3 basic sizes, but we don’t have enough of any one size to fill the whole height of the shelf. (Our kitchen-cabinet shelves are not adjustable.)

Use a wire shelf to make an additional shelf. This wire shelf cost only a few dollars and has held up well for 15 years (similar one found on Amazon).

That makes it easier to use our dishwasher efficiently because we can pack it completely full for every wash load, without running out of plates.

We use shelves like this in our freezer, too!

Create Counter Space with a Cutting Board

Placing a cutting board in a drawer to add counter space while cooking.

Need more space to put something temporarily while you’re working in the kitchen? Simply pull out a drawer, place a cutting board across it, and close the drawer to grip the board between the drawer frame and drawer front.

Your cutting board needs to be 1-3 inches wider than the drawer for this to work. My main cutting board fits perfectly over the drawer next to the stove. The smaller cutting board, which we use for onions and garlic so that their flavor doesn’t transfer to other food, fits the narrower drawer next to the sink.

Not all drawers are strong enough to allow you actually to chop food on them. (My drawers, like the cabinets, are 1950s Pittsburgh steel! They are super solid.) Be careful! You might need to use your temporary counter space just for setting aside ingredients, a prep bowl, or the compost bucket.

But if your drawers are strong enough for chopping, you may find that the slightly lower height makes it easier to press down on the knife, cutting with less effort!

Make sure to get out anything you’ll need from the drawer before you cover it. Also, be careful to clean up any juices or bits of food that might get into the drawer or on the underside of the counter edge. (I’ve found this doesn’t happen much when I close the drawer tightly on the board–but it’s best to check just in case. You don’t want to wonder where that rotting-onion smell is coming from!)

Oh, and to prevent bruises: Remember that the drawer is sticking out, and step around it as you move about the kitchen!

Use the Top of the Toaster Oven

Using the top of a countertop appliance to add more counter space while cooking.

This tip also works with a microwave or any other appliance that has a flat, closed top and is sitting on your counter with some space above it. Just put part of your project up there when it’s in the “set aside” stage, or put the cookbook up there for easy viewing without cluttering the counter.

WARNING: Be very careful that your appliance is completely cool while you are putting things on it! Think ahead to make sure you won’t need to use the appliance later in preparation of this meal.

Mount a Pencil Basket on a Vertical Surface.

Instead of a pencil jar taking up space on your kitchen counter, hang a basket within easy grabbing distance but in a place where it won’t bonk anyone in the head or shoulder. (We had to experiment a bit to get the right height.)

Another advantage to this type of basket is that you can keep blank notepaper in there, too. (Here’s how to get the perfect size shopping-list paper for free!)

Use a pencil holder on your fridge to optimize space.

We have wonderful steel kitchen cabinets, so we chose a magnet-backed basket. These are great on the refrigerator or file cabinet, too. They’re sold as locker accessories, so look for them in the school supply department.

If you don’t have a steel surface where a pencil basket would be handy, mount your basket with hooks or adhesive on a wall, a door, or the side of a piece of furniture.

Our basket is on the same cabinet door with our shopping lists, right above the counter where Daniel packs Lydia’s lunchbox and where we pack up food for freezing. We keep a permanent marker in there, too.

It’s great to be able to grab a marker to put Lydia’s name on a lunch container or to label a freezer bag, then put that marker away out of the 4-year-old’s reach, without taking a step! Adding things to shopping lists is easier when you can do it while prepping food with your other hand–and easier means you’re more likely to remember to do it!

Create a Compact Command Center

This corner of our dining room was transformed into an alcove by placing a bookcase facing toward the closet door. I’ve been hanging my calendar, to-do list, and other important papers on that door for years. Now I have stacking bins and a pen jar on the top shelf of the bookcase.

Organizing shelves to make more space.

All my important stuff for planning our weekly activities is here, very convenient for me but out of reach of my 4-year-old! Lower down on the door is the calendar the public schools send us every year, with all the school holidays and events on it. This is all low-tech stuff, but I can store my iPad here, too–just slide it into the lowest stacking bin. (I got those bins free when my office was downsizing.)

I also keep Lydia’s hair accessories, comb, and nail clippers here (on the second shelf) so we can move quickly from eating breakfast to getting her ready for school. And you can see where I’m storing all that xylitol gum I reviewed!

We arranged our books throughout the house so that the books we use most (like cookbooks!) are on very accessible shelves with nothing in front of them. The shelves that have useful items or decorative knick-knacks along the front edge hold books that we use less often or that we take out only when we’re going to read the whole thing before re-shelving.

Small Pantry Storage Ideas 

My house doesn’t have a pantry. So I found one anyway…

The best way to stock the pantry

Like many city houses built in the 1920s, our house has a small kitchen with not many cabinets. In my tips for a tiny kitchen, the very first tip is to set up a pantry outside the kitchen, and I explain how Daniel and I used space adjacent to the kitchen in our two previous 1920s homes – but in this house, we just don’t have a good space on the same floor as the kitchen.

Place a Pantry Shelving Unit Outside of Your Kitchen

We placed a shelving unit facing the bottom of the stairs in our basement to serve as our pantry. When we expanded into keeping some non-food items in the pantry as well, we added a second shelving unit against the wall and moved some food over there.

Our pantry is functional and semi-organized, but it’s not beautiful.

Exactly what you keep in your pantry and how you organize it will depend on what you eat regularly and what categories make sense to you, so I’ll mention just a few basic principles:

Rethink How You Restock 

Some foods are essentials that you want to have in stock at all times–but think about how soon you need to restock each item.

Some are used frequently or used a full package at a time; put them on the shopping list when you take the next-to-last package (or refill from a big package) from the pantry.

Foods that are used more slowly, like cooking oils, go on the list when you take the last package out of the pantry. Foods you use really slowly or sparingly, like mustard, don’t go on the list until the one you’re using is less than half full. 

Stock Your Pantry With General Categories 

Some foods are things to buy only when the price drops and you don’t have a lot of similar food already. One way to avoid getting overstocked is to think about the general category of food rather than the specifics. For example, pretzels, wheat crackers, and pita chips are interchangeable in my family, so we need to limit the total volume of “crunchy snacks made from wheat” to avoid many open packages going stale.

Stock Up On Sales 

Buy extra of your essential foods when they’re on sale. Check expiration dates to calculate how many you can buy so that you’ll use them all before they expire, and make sure to check your existing pantry stash before you go to the store.

Group Similar Foods Together 

Group together foods of the same general type to make a basic organizational scheme that fits your current stash into your pantry space. Then keep an eye on how it’s working out as you use up foods and buy more foods. Adjust your categories, or the shelf space allotted to them, as you find empty or overcrowded spaces developing. Be sure to tell the other cooks/shoppers in your household if you’ve relocated a section!

What if you don’t know which foods go fast and which are slower? Keep a list (or computer spreadsheet) for at least two months: List each type of food and mark how many you used. That should give you an idea of how to pace your stockpiling.

My Pantry, Shelf by Shelf

Keep an organized stocked pantry for simple meal planning

At the top left of our main pantry are tea and grains. 

RELATED: Storing grains long-term

Great tips for pantry organization

The other end of the top shelf are dry beans – not to be confused with the canned beans. My family eats some type of bean or lentil 2-5 times a week (not counting leftovers) so several varieties are among our essentials.

RELATED: Best beans for long-term storage

Here you see instant hummus mix, red lentils, split peas, black beans, and in the background green lentils. 

Stocking Your Pantry For Simple Meal Planning

In the back is a big jar of rice, which we buy 5-10 pounds at a time. I guess it got shoved over by that giant bag of corn chips! We tend to let the chips fall where they may, filling in spaces that are currently empty of what would usually go there.

All right, here’s the part where I admit that my family sometimes eats foods that you just stick in the microwave or cook a few minutes in a pot! We do try to choose these carefully, and we don’t eat them all that often.

In the middle of this shelf are the vinegars, which also includes lemon juice and (visible in the big photo) blends into the Department of Sauces. We’re also keeping popcorn and nuts on this shelf and, in the back, some giant bags of Pretzel Crisps that were on sale at Costco (a good example of a sale item that’s not a staple) and a half-full bulk bag of fair-trade organic coffee.

Tips for stocking a pantry - make food planning simple!

On the next shelf down, we’ve got coconut milk, nut butters, olives, pickles, and canned fish.

Canned salmon is better for our health and environment than tuna, so salmon is what we use in family meals like this delicious Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens

Tips for organizing the pantry-make meal planning simple!

The other half of that shelf is the canned beans.

By the way, if you’re worried that canned beans will give you gas, you can really minimize it by putting the beans in a colander and rinsing them thoroughly to remove the thick liquid. You can also find brands that pressure cooks the beans like Eden Organics which you can find on Thrive Market. 

Department of dressings, sauces, oils and big jugs

The bottom shelf of our main pantry is heavy cans and big jugs. 

Use an Auxiliary Pantry 

Try putting items you don’t need to access regularly in an auxiliary pantry. In my tiny place, the auxiliary pantry is actually closer to the kitchen so the things I use most go there. 

spice shelf

Our extra spices and other baking ingredients are on the top of the auxiliary pantry shelves–along with my very big pot for those times when I make soup or spaghetti sauce for a crowd, and some flashlights in case of power failure. (Pardon the dust in this honest photo.)

Keep spices in alphabetical order to help you find what you need quickly. We have a lot of spices in the pantry at the moment because a lot of the bottles in the kitchen are nearly empty, so their replacements are waiting!

RELATED: Are irradiated spices safe? & How to organize your spices 

Same thing for the baking powder – don’t buy it too far in advance because it doesn’t work as well when it’s old.

Keeping a stocked pantry can help with meal planning

Keep food you need to grab close by. For example, fruit leathers are a school supply, in that they’re only for the lunchbox and not to be eaten at home. Every once in a while I succumb to a sale on an individually-wrapped item for the lunchbox, if it’s relatively healthy and not too horribly wasteful, but in general we try to pack a low-waste lunch.

Katie here: Just be careful to not mix non-food with food. You don’t want your laundry detergent leaking and dripping on your hard earned groceries! If you must combine food with non-food, put the non food items on the bottom shelf. 

Storage Ideas for the Bedroom 

Our small home has tiny bedrooms. These are the most helpful ideas for small bedroom storage we implemented. 

Build a Closet in a Bookcase

Because we didn’t have a spare bedroom for Lydia when she was born, her bed is in an alcove of the dining room, and our downstairs bathroom became her “changing room.”

When you come in the door from the kitchen, the toilet is on your left, the window is straight ahead, and this space is to your right.

Adding a tension rod to a shelving unit to make a closet.

This bookcase used to be all shelves, with Lydia’s clothing stacked on the upper shelves and her cloth diapers on the lower shelves. We changed her diapers on the floor. (You can see the black foam padding we stuck to the edge of the bottom shelf so she wouldn’t get hurt on it.

That was a great system when Lydia and her clothes were tiny. As she got bigger, we freed up a chest of drawers from elsewhere in the house and moved it into the changing room. I laid her dresses flat on a shelf until they were too wide for that. Then we removed one shelf from the bookcase and made her a closet!

At first, we simply hung a tension rod in the bookcase. But when all her dresses were clean and hung up, they were too heavy and pulled the rod down. So Daniel fashioned these little hanging blocks to support the rod. He put two pieces of scrap wood edge-to-edge, clamped them to the workbench, and used a large drill bit to cut a circle–half on each block. He attached them to the bookcase using Command adhesive, so we should be able to remove them easily when we’re ready. And we decorated the rod with some plush bendy flowers, just for fun!

When Lydia was a baby and I was pumping milk for her, I stored her bottle-drying rack on top of this bookcase. (I carried it into the kitchen when washing bottles and then carried it back–our kitchen is too small to keep it in there.) Now, we store cleaning products and extra toilet paper up there, out of her reach.

BONUS TIP: Those white things under the dresser are zippered mesh bags for Lydia’s dirty socks and other small laundry items, to keep them from getting lost in the wash!

Increase Closet Space with Custom Shelves and Hooks

Increase closet space with hooks behind the rod.

Our house was built with only 4 closets, none of which is deep enough for clothes hangers! Back in 1920, working-class people had only a few clothes and hung them on hooks around the perimeter of these 11-inch-deep closets. We use the hooks in our dining room closet for our reusable shopping bags, and we’ve filled in the rest of the closet spaces with shelves. We use a coat tree for our coats.

Increase closet space with shelves.

Over the years, Daniel has added storage to his side of the closet, designing it to hold things he needs and fit into the space available. He’s been able to do it mostly with scrap wood and basic hardware and wire bins that were being discarded in my workplace, so it didn’t cost much to make his space much more useful! The bins have hooks designed to hang over a cubicle divider; he hung them over the board that forms the side of my shelf.

Use Shelves as a Bedside Table

Use a shelving unit as a bedside table fore even more space.

I’m a fan of repurposing things we already had and keeping plastic out of the landfill.

Using shelves for a bedside table and covering with fabric to keep things looking tidy.

Repurpose a plastic shelving unit with an old curtain to create not only a bedside table, but a storage area under the table, and the storage area is hidden from view! You can subdivide the shelf with boxes without worrying about how they look since you won’t see them except when you pull up the curtain to get something. This is where I keep my what-to-read-next pile and (in the box) my pajamas.

The space under the bottom shelf can be used to store things you rarely need if you’re willing to pull out the bed when you do need those things. Or, if you can reach that space from the other side or the end, it’s a great space to stack rolls of toilet paper you bought by the case!

(Speaking of green tips, here’s why you’ll want a basket of little cloths on your bedside table.)

If it’s under the window like mine, you can put potted plants on top. Win! 

Alternatively, this would be a great way to keep using a favorite baby blanket as the child gets bigger.

Small Home Office Desk 

Tuck a Computer Corner Behind the Television

Using a corner table mid room to have a desk and tv stand in one area.

This tip only works if your room size and shape allow for it, but it’s been great for us!

This L-shaped computer desk was designed to support a desktop computer and cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitor that were very heavy and bulky, like the ones we had when we bought the desk in 2001. When we moved to this house, we set up the computer desk in the dining room. When we bought a flat-screen TV, we put it with the computer on the desk. (Learn what not to do when recycling your CRT!) 

Instead of facing into a corner of a room, the computer desk is now placed in a corner of the living room but with one end against a wall. This leaves the other leg of the L-shaped desk facing the center of the room. The TV faces out, toward the couch. The computer corner is tucked behind it–but there’s still plenty of space to sit there, thanks to a small alcove in the room.

There’s room on the outer corner of the desk for our other devices. There’s room on the end toward the wall for a lamp, pen jar, and a few computer accessories.

Storage under a corner desk. Using the corner desk for computer and tv.

The space under the TV is utilized, too, with a paper-recycling bin. 

I’ll admit, there are a few downsides to this arrangement:

  • The desk blocks a small part of the 5-foot-wide archway between the living and dining rooms, which isn’t ideal aesthetically.
  • All the electronics and the desk itself tend to shift around a bit with use. We have to keep an eye on the alignment to make sure that nothing is hanging off the desk ready to topple, and that the desk isn’t wandering into our main “path” through the house.
  • There are a lot of cords in between the screens and dangling down the wall toward the power strips on the floor. Luckily, Lydia has never been very interested in playing with the cords! They’re just confusing and not very attractive. (But I’m glad I cleaned up the desk to take photos because I found that almost half the cords in the jumble actually weren’t connected to anything! I collected them into our bag of spare cords.)
  • Because the DVD player is not parallel to the TV, it sometimes doesn’t pick up signals from the remote when you’re sitting on the couch–you have to lean over to point the remote at the front of the DVD player. (We don’t have the remote for our VCR anymore! You have to get up and push the buttons like an old-fashioned person.)

Small Bathroom Storage Ideas

Use the Space Above the Toilet

Using baskets on open bathroom shelves to keep them organized and looking nice.

Our main bathroom was completely renovated in 2010. We had the contractors install wall-to-wall “floating shelves” (anchored to the wall studs with brackets) in the alcove above the toilet. They are finished with boat varnish to prevent them from warping in the shower steam!

If you’re installing shelves, make sure the height of each shelf is right for the kinds of things you’ll be storing. Use all the space up to the ceiling; put less-used items on the top shelf. Choose the lowest shelf’s height and depth such that it won’t bonk people on the head as they stand up from the toilet!

If you can’t install shelves, try an étagére, a shelving unit designed to fit above a toilet, standing on legs around the toilet tank. Before the renovation, we had an étagére to supplement the storage in our little under-sink cabinet.

Our bathroom has a skylight, we can keep our potted plants on the top shelf. 

These shelves also demonstrate another efficient storage tip:

Use Baskets on Open Shelves

Most items on our bathroom shelves are organized into baskets we bought at Ten Thousand Villages. These were made from an invasive water plant by artisans who were fairly paid, so they solve several problems at once: removing a plant that clogs the waterway, creating jobs, and using minimal resources to create helpful storage!

We are delighted that these baskets are in nearly perfect condition after 8 years of use in our steamy bathroom.

Baskets create distinct storage areas to help you find things. They also make small items easier to access because you can lift the basket down from the shelf to get things from it. (Simply step up onto the toilet lid to reach the upper shelves!) Using all one style of basket gives shelves a unified look even when you’re storing a lot of stuff there!

Our baskets on the middle shelf hold essential oils; items like cotton swabs, razors, and thermometers; and medications. On the bottom shelf, the cylindrical basket holds a spare roll of toilet paper, the small round one is for cloth wipes, and the big rectangular one has miscellany like the empty yogurt bucket for washing my hair with vinegar. (Oh–and that brown box over at the left is not cocoa powder! It’s a cocoa canister repurposed for damp-proof storage of baking soda for cleaning!)

When a bathroom supply comes in a plastic bag, we transfer the contents to a repurposed glass jar. Then we can see what’s in the container without having a bunch of ugly packaging sticking out of our baskets. They’re just not all that fragile or all that prone to being dropped, even for a clumsy person like me.)

What if we might need information that is printed on the packaging? I cut out the important part, place it inside the jar facing out, and hold it with my finger as I put the items into the jar. (You can see a pink Drug Facts panel in the jar with the yellow-wrapped cough drops.)

For things that stay in their original packages, baskets cover the labels so that the shelf looks less cluttered and “noisy.” This is especially important to us because our mirror faces these shelves, so they effectively make up twice as much of our bathroom scenery as they physically represent. 

You can use baskets for storage in any of your small spaces. 

Storage Ideas for Small Spaces 

Here are the best small storage ideas throughout the rest of the house.

Store Things in Different Directions

Stacking shelves to make them hold more things and keep them organized.

When a shelf is much taller than the books you want to put on it, placing the books vertically leaves a lot of wasted space above them. Stacking books horizontally may be more efficient. You can put some books vertically and others horizontally to separate categories of books.

Stocking clothes and books creatively on shelves will help make more space.

The multi-directional thing also works for organizing drawers and fitting in more stuff. Many items in my desk drawers are stored on an edge so that it’s easy to see everything. It’s been decades since I bought a stationery set, but I’m still using the boxes to sort plain letter paper, fancy letter paper, notecards, and postcards.

We keep a lot of our folded clothes on edge, too. I was doing it before the Kon Mari craze! Here are my handkerchiefs in a corner of a drawer, surrounded by supplements and prescriptions and my tiny supply of makeup.

Store a Stool Over a Vent

Adding a stool over a vent to be able to stack things on top and add space.

This is the one place where I’m showing you the Before picture! Writing this article motivated me to clean and/or tidy up many of the areas shown. But I just have to show you how much junk fits into this space!

That’s our collection of “things to give away.” I cleared it out, Daniel took the stuff to Goodwill, and now we have a big empty hamper to remind us to put aside stuff that’s not serving us well anymore.

Baseboard vents need open space both above and in front of them, which makes furniture placement annoying! Our bedroom bookcase won’t fit into the corner because of the vent. But that awkward corner space is perfect for this tall stool! We keep the stool in our bedroom so it’s handy when we need to reach the cabinet above our big closet.

Meanwhile, the top of the stool provides some storage space–but anything we put there needs to be easy to remove when it’s time to use the stool. This mesh hamper works very well . . . as long as we don’t load it too heavily or stack it far beyond the overflow point!!

There’s also a storage space next to the stool for our portable drawing board! It just exactly fits there, not blocking the vent.

Hide Items Behind and Under Furniture 

We don’t have air conditioning, so in hot weather, we use a window fan to push out hot air or pull in cooler air at night. 

Using every bit of space to keep things organized.

When we take out the fan, we place it endwise in the gap between the bedside table and the desk. The cord still reaches the outlet, so we don’t have to unplug.

There are half a dozen other places around our home where a slight mismatch between room size and furniture size creates a handy place to store something. 

In Lydia’s changing room, the shelving unit and chest block off the corner. We needed a place for a rectangular laundry basket that’s used only to carry loads to and from the basement. (It’s not one where dirty laundry gradually accumulates.) It fits neatly down into the corner! And it’s so lightweight that it’s easy to lift over the dresser. Oh, and that shelf we removed to make her closet is stashed here, too.

Hang Handy Hooks

Adding hooks to the bathroom to add more space.

Our kitchen walls have plastic tile up to shoulder height and all around the window. (It’s about 60 years old; we try to see it as “vintage” rather than “tired and stained.”) It’s great for hanging suction-cup hooks! We can put them wherever is most useful to us and move them whenever we want. They work on smooth-textured steel appliances as well as tile–but don’t hang them on anything that gets hot!

Using hooks in the bathroom to add more space.

Other options are magnetic hooks on the refrigerator or file cabinet, Command hooks with reusable adhesive on almost any hard surface, or hooks hung with screws on the wall or wood furniture.

We use our hooks to store things like a:

  • dishcloth
  • hand towel
  • bottle brush
  • apron
  • lunch bag
  • bag of plastic shopping bags for reuse. (We end up with some of those no matter how hard we try! There are 9 ways to reuse plastic bags toward the end of my reusable-bag guide.)

BONUS TIP: Use a black towel for drying your cast-iron pans. Then you’ll have no worries about unsightly marks on the towel.

Make a Stairwell Double as a Broom Closet

Using wall stairwell space to hang cleaning supplies.

This space-saving feature was already in place when we bought the house: On the wall along one side of the stairs to our basement are two parallel boards with nails on them for hanging things. We can store our brooms, mops, and laundry bag for kitchen towels, just as we would in a closet–but instead of any square footage being taken up by a closet, these are in a space we walk through!

Using the wall space in the stairwell to organize cleaninig supplies.

There’s also a shelf across the very lowest part of the stairwell, which you can reach while standing on a certain step. That’s where we keep the toilet plunger, a bag of rags for messy jobs, and stuff like that.

Of course, you can’t hang a dripping-wet mop over the stairs immediately after using it and rinsing it out! We lean it on the basement sink until fully dry, then return it to its storage space.

(Our dustpan and whisk broom are from Grove Collaborative! The bristles frayed a little, which makes them look dirtier, but that broom works really well, and so does the dustpan.)

If you have a garage, you can use similar wall storage for shovels and other tools. 

Expand Space with the Right PictureUsing a picture to make a space look larger.

At the top of our stairs on the second floor is a hall only 4’x7′. It’s an efficient circulation space, connecting the stairs to the bedrooms and bathroom and gym (see below!), but it can feel very cramped. One way to expand space visually is to hang a mirror, which reflects light and also gives the impression that there is more space beyond the wall.

Using a picture of nature to make a room look larger.

We happen to have lucked out with this huge framed photograph, which we bought at an auction years ago. When the hall is brightly lit by the bathroom skylight, the glass over the picture hanging opposite the bathroom door acts like a mirror.

When the hallway light is on, the picture itself has a pleasant visual effect. Not only does it look like a window to the outdoors, but it has a “tunnel” of perspective that makes you feel as if you’re looking far beyond the wall. 

Turn Your Hallway into a Gym

Building a gym in a hallway to add more space to your home.

This is our most mind-bending example of finding new space in our home. This hallway is 31 inches wide above the baseboards, so obviously there was no space there for anything except walking from the main upstairs hall (the space mentioned above) to the back room. 

Daniel suddenly came up with a scheme to build a home gym in this hallway. His gym would stand on 4 legs of 1 1/4″ diameter, so (accounting for the baseboards) we’d still have 24 inches of walking space. The walls support it along both sides, and foam padding prevents it from banging the walls or wobbling.

He was right! He built this gym out of galvanized steel plumbing pipe, plywood for the climbing wall, and scrap wood for the hand-holds on the climbing wall. He bought a set of rings to hang from and adjustable straps to hang them. The total cost was under $200, with the rings being the biggest expense. (The ring storage hooks are just wire clothes hangers!)

Building a gym in your hallway to add more space to your home.

In 18 square feet, we have rings, a chin-up bar, dip bars (at sides), and a climbing wall! And we can walk down the hall as easily as ever! The rings can be tucked up to the sides when not in use. Here’s more detail about how he designed and built the gym.

It’s also a great place for the kids to play. Our yard is not suitable for a climbing structure, but this one can be used in any weather! No, it’s not totally safe–a kid could crash into the wall while swinging from the rings, or fall from the climbing wall, and get hurt. But we supervise, and our kids and their friends have been fine so far.

Use Your Attic and/or Basement

Our house has a full-height basement under the front porch as well as the entire first floor.

That gives us a lot of space for line-drying laundry, our pantry, our workshop, and storage. Do you think we have a lot of stuff in our house? Well, the basement holds an embarrassing excess of “things that might come in handy someday”–we recently did an inventory and realized we now have twenty-six shelving units in our basement!

Attic space being used for extra storage.

We’re planning to finish part of the basement to make a new bedroom for Nicholas so that Lydia can have her own bedroom. That means reducing the volume of storage in the basement so we can free up some cubic feet! Of course, we need to get rid of some of those things we’re really not using. But we’ve also moved some of our storage to the attic.

Since our roof is almost flat, the attic is not a place we’ll access casually. It’s good storage for things we use once a year or less. We’ve put our first round of stuff up there now, and we still have lots of space.

Daniel installed a floor in the attic simply by nailing plywood to the joists. (The plywood had to be cut to a size that would fit through the hatchway.) 

We definitely aren’t minimalists. We have a lot of interesting stuff that makes our lives richer! But we love the coziness and efficiency of living in a relatively small space, and we look forward to our next renovation making our cubic footage even more useful!

Is your home smaller or larger than the American average? What are your favorite tricks for using your space effectively?
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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8 thoughts on “19 Thrifty Ways to Find More Space in Your Home”

  1. Thanks, this was such a fun post! I love seeing how other people use the space they have and make their priorities fit! We are a family of 5 living in 1150 sq ft…no attic, no basement, no garage (just 2 smallish sheds). Creativity is key, as well as using space creatively. It also helps to have a handy husband who can custom build things to fit the space.

    1. Becca @ The Earthling’s Handbook

      Construction skills are so useful! I’m glad Daniel likes to do that kind of thing and is very good at it. I’m more like willing to do that kind of thing and sort of competent at it, myself, and would rather look for the used furniture that just fits!

  2. We recently moved in with my grandparents after my grandpa had a massive heart attack. We moved our 3 bedroom house into half of my grandparents’ basement. And I’ve been doing a lot of decluttering ever since. My goal is to make us fit comfortably in the half basement so that when we eventually have to move (hopefully not for a long time, since it would mean my grandparents were gone), we’ll have the freedom to move somewhere smaller if that’s what our budget needs. And if we go somewhere bigger, we’ll have the benefit of an easier to clean space.

    1. I’m so impressed with anyone who is really successful at decluttering! It’s not my strong suit. But it was very satisfying when we got new bookcases a few years ago and sorted ALL of our books–there were a lot that we’d been keeping because they were good books when we read them 20 years ago…and we hadn’t read them again since…so if we didn’t feel like rereading right away, it probably wasn’t going to happen, and we should give someone else the thrill of discovering them in the used book store!

  3. Creative use of space! We live in super expensive Northern California so we have to make do with our small home and we don’t have basements here! Our home is 1200 sq. ft and we have 3 boys 14 and under. It’s tight but we make it work. Our house has 3 bedrooms so the boys have a sleep room and a playroom. We only have a livingroom so as soon as everyone was out of cribs they started to share a room so we could move their toys out of the main living space. It makes all the difference for my sanity to have some clutter free time after they go to bed at night!

    1. Becca @ The Earthling’s Handbook

      That’s something we did when I was a kid, too! My brother and I had a bedroom and a playroom until I got old enough that my friends started teasing me about sharing a room with a boy.

      It’s been a great solution also for my friend whose house has 2 big bedrooms and a small one (about 7’x8’) over the entrance hall: The little room was the nursery for each boy, and then when they were out of the crib, they got bunk beds in that room and one of the big bedrooms became their playroom.

  4. This made me giggle- our house is almost 1200 sq ft and we have 5 people living here (had up to 7 when we were foster parents). I guess it’s all about perspective, right? Some great tips here, thanks!

    1. Yes, it’s all about who you compare yourself to. I was stunned to learn that our house is so much smaller than average; I had thought of it as a little smaller than American average which I knew to be bigger than most families really need. If you compare to typical middle-class homes in Japan or in many European cities, our house is huge! And of course there are many places in the world where people live in far less space.

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