Updated: Sep 1, 2020
Like everyone else in the world, since COVID I have been spending WAY more time inside my home. My apartment is a small Toronto condo - only 600 square feet. Somehow in the span of four months I've accumulated more things than I used to have (most of which is stocking up on bulk foods). Although my apartment is livable, it's not as orderly as I would like. As you can see in my "Before" pictures below, there are giant Costco bags on the floor filled with our bulk food purchases, the front hall closet is a dumping ground of supplies, shoes and coats, and the den is a hodgepodge office. At the beginning of the crisis I didn't care too much. It was more important to have everything we needed to be safe. Also, like most people, I thought it would be temporary.
Sometimes, even the most organized person falls into bad habits. And that's OK. The important thing is to get back on track.
Now that this is becoming the "new normal" I want my apartment to feel like home again. I want it to be functional and not have to trip over bags of food when I walk in. I challenged myself to complete this project in one month. I was able to do it in a matter of two weekends! Want to know how? Keep reading!
Step 1: Determine how I want to use the space
I realized the apartment requires dedicated stations so that I can have my comfort creatures near me, but also get the sense of peace and order that comes with a tidy, clutter-free home. Here are the 3 main stations I want to focus my challenge on:
Station 1: A Mudroom
Ok remember how I said I live in a 600 sq. ft condo? Obviously this won't be a huge, lavish, gorgeous mudroom like you'd see on Pinterest (which by the way is one of my #futurehomegoals). Rather it will be a zone for me to store pre-COVID things like keys, mail and shoes but also post-COVID things like masks and gloves (we have so many!). I was inspired by Tiny and Tidy's video of how she makes a 800+ sq ft condo work for a family of 5.
Station 2: A Pantry
This condo does not have a pantry and has limited cupboards in the kitchen. Pre-COVID I was easily able to store most food and cleaning supplies (toilet paper, paper towel, etc.) in the kitchen or front hall closet. However since COVID began I have WAY more cleaning supplies and non-perishable food items.
Station 3: An Office
To be honest, the den in the condo was always a bit of a hodgepodge. It was the only space that fit my dresser (which came with me from my previous, much larger, apartment). So instead of being a true den or a true office it was a multipurpose space that was rarely used. Now that I realize I probably won't go back into work for the rest of the year, it's time to make it a dedicated office space (with a dresser that holds linens and PJs since I don't have a linen closet or drawers in my closet).
Once I established how I wanted the space to work for me, I started planning.
Step 2: Plan, plan and plan some more!
I am a very visual person. I could see in my head how I wanted the place to look and feel but to make sure it could actually work, I had to measure the space, draw it out and start looking for new organizational solutions. I'm also a very frugal person so I did try to re-purpose the existing organizational solutions I already own.
I started with the biggest challenge - where to store all the food items? I found myself longing for a pantry as beautifully organized as this one. The apartment doesn't have a pantry but it does have a very deep front hall closet. So I decided to purchase a metal shelving unit and make my own pantry! To make sure everything fits and I wouldn't have to return anything (which is a major pain during a pandemic) I took copious measurements and made various sketches and searched Amazon to find different options and measurements. I'm definitely NOT an artist so I won't show you all my sketches, but I will share one:
Once I figured out that the shelving unit would fit the space (hooray!) I started to visualize and sketch out what will be housed in the pantry. I wanted to put heavy items on the bottom (e.g. water bottles, giant bag of flour) and then group by category: canned goods, snacks and back stock (i.e. things that I buy in bulk). I tried to re-use existing baskets I already owned as much as possible. I wanted to take advantage of the free space at the top of the closet to store larger lightweight items (toilet paper, paper towel and tissues).
Now that I figured out I could easily store all the food items that are currently being housed in giant Costco bags in my hallway, I tried to visualize what I would do with the other items currently filling my closet: my shoes and my coats.
I really wanted more easy access to my shoes and coats. However since COVID, I don't use these items to the same extent. I considered storing off-season shoes in a shoe-organizer that could be tucked away under my bed . However all the options I found online wouldn't fit (the space under my bed is really narrow). This emphasizes why you need to plan - if I had just bought under the bed shoe organizers, I would have sadly discovered later that they don't fit and would have to go through the hassle of returning everything.
To figure out the best solution for the space, I listed out all the shoes and coats my husband and I currently own. Writing out the list helped me realize I had more shoes than I realized but they all served a purpose. There was maybe one or two pairs I could toss. Same things for coats - a few things were unnecessary and could be donated but most items were useful (even though I'm not going outside as much, I still have to go outside and in Canada the weather is unpredictable!)
I tried to figure out what storage solution I already own that could work. I realized that I could use the large tote containers I own to store off-season items (parkas, coats and boots) and the shoe mat and shoe hanging organizer for every-day shoes. Having listed out the shoes and coats before, I realized my existing storage solutions weren't sufficient. So I researched shoe organizer solutions at IKEA (more details in step 3). Once I drew out how the mudroom station and pantry station would work, I moved onto the last station: the office.
This was probably the most challenging because I have existing pieces of furniture in the space that I didn't want to get rid of. They came with me from my previous apartment and are still in good condition. Plus, I hope to move in the next year and the pieces will work in an another home. Lastly, it's a rental so I don't want to drill too many holes in the wall for floating shelves or other shelving solutions. So I had to figure out how to work around it. I started by thinking about what currently is working and what isn't.
What is working:
The "desk" and chair (I use air quotes because it's not a real desk but rather a front hall table I now use as my desk)
The dresser as a linen closet to store towels, beddings and PJs (there just isn't enough room in our bedroom closet for these items)
A place for daily prayers
What's not working
The storage bins in the Kallax are overloaded with things just tossed in
Purses and laptop bags on the floor
No whiteboard the office (I have this in my real office)
Difficult to access stationary and extra office supplies
I actually closed my eyes and started to visualize what I wanted the space to look like. I then sketched out how it could work. I realized I need to add a white board/cork-board above the desk so I can write out weekly priorities. I wanted some sort of shelving unit to hold stationery, office supplies, notebooks and cords . I also want to use the bins in the Kallax to house purses, laptop bags and overflow of books.
Step 3: Shop
Once I knew everything would fit I went shopping online! (The most fun part if you ask me)
Here are some of the purchases I made from my go-to online shopping store - Amazon:
5-tier metal shelving unit
I also love IKEA ! They have so many options perfectly suitable for small spaces. For shoe organizers I considered many items (Trones, Bissa and Mackapar) but ultimately selected the Mackapar because it would fit well in my hallway and leave with me space for new things like a sanitization station and masks.
Step 4: Purge
Because I had done a true Marie Kondo style purge over a year ago, I didn't have too many things left to throw out. However, I still took the time to go through everything that was currently in the 3 main stations and made a mental list of things I want to donate. In my case it was some old (but still decent condition) jackets and some clothes that no longer fit.
Step 5: Organize
You know the expression, it's going to get worse before it gets better? This is definitely true when you're re-organizing a space! Clearing out the closet did not look pretty (see photos below). As you can see I took EVERYTHING out of the closet and dumped it on my bed, the den and the kitchen floor. I was then able to start putting in the big items. I filled two large baskets with paper towel and toilet paper and placed them on the top shelf of the closet. After that I (well mostly my husband) assembled the shelving unit and we placed it in the closet. Once that was done I was able to start putting things back into the space per my sketch.
Here are some of my tips to keep the closet/pantry as clean and organized as possible (these work for any home, not just small apartments):
Store things seasonally. I kept our winter coats, accessories and boots in two large storage containers (mine are from Rubbermaid; I've had them for years). If you don't think that parkas and puffer coats will fit, watch this video (big shout out to my sister who shared it with me). When it gets colder, I plan on swapping the fall/winter items with the spring/summer items currently in plain view.
Make sure things you use frequently are easy to reach so that you won't need to move several items to get to them. I made sure the floor wasn't cluttered with too many items so I could easily reach into the deeper recess of the closet and access food items.
Keep heavy items on the bottom.
Use every square inch of the place, including walls and doors. I placed broom holders on the inside of the closet door. And in the inside of the closet, I put hooks for a small ironing board and hooks for plastic bag holders.
Group similar food items together. This will make it much easier to keep track of what you have on hand when you're doing your meal planning!
Scroll through the pics below to see what the final closet/pantry looks like:
It may not be the most beautifully polished closet worthy of Instagram drool but it's 100% more functional! I can't begin to tell you how many times in the past I tripped over something or had something fall on my head. This is a vast improvement.
The Mud Room
Once the closet was finished it was time to assemble the Mackapar. To be honest, this was the part I was most excited about. Not the actual assembly - my husband did most of that - but seeing what the finished product would be. It did not disappoint! A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the final product:
You could angle the shelves so the shoes tilt downwards but I also wanted to store things like shoe cleaner, extra Kleenex boxes and some latex gloves (another thing we stocked up on at the beginning of the pandemic) so we kept the shelves straight. The top of the cupboard is now a space for our masks (stored in the cute RAGGISAR baskets), a place for mail and my diffuser which I now use daily.
To complete the "mudroom", I used adhesive hooks (a great product for renters who don't want to make too many holes) and hung up our hats. When I enter the apartment I now feel a sense of calm and relief since I no longer see things strewn across the floor!
All of this took almost an entire day. By 5 pm I was pooped and decided to move onto the office/den the next day.
The office space wasn't that bad to begin with; I simply wanted wall space for a white board, a less cluttered floor space and more organized storage bins. To get this space the way I want it I started by moving out all the items piled up on the floor and emptied the bins. I then placed the 6-drawer rolling rack in the corner. After that, I hung up the whiteboard and put our degrees on the wall using Command strips (genius product for renters!). Each drawer is organized by category:
Printer paper (bottom drawer since it's the heaviest)
Office supplies (post-its, pens, highlighters, printer ink)
Misc. work documents
I really like this unit because the top comes with built-in trays for pens, post-its and other supplies you want to have easy access to.
The last part of the office area was putting things back into the bins and creating a less-cluttered prayer space.
Scroll through the pics below to see what the final product looks like:
I wasn't planning on adjusting things in my kitchen, but when I started to organize the pantry area, I realized I could re-arrange some things in the cupboard to improve access to everyday spices and cooking supplies. At the last minute I bought a spice rack organizer and a lazy Susan from Amazon. Here's a before/after of the cupboard and a pic of the lazy susan:
It may seem minor, but it's MUCH easier to access my everyday spices now.
So that's it! I feel like my apartment is home again.
I really hope you picked up some tips to help you get back on track or re-organize your small space. If you have questions or comments please share them here. I'd love to hear from you!