Making the most of small quarters

Tidy is not organized. Get creative with unused space.

Why is it that some people can live in a really roomy house and struggle to find places to put things, while others in tiny apartments manage to neatly stash everything they own?

It's not so much about space as about mind-set, says Rachel Rosenthal, a.k.a. Rosey of Rosey's Urban Style (, a personal organizer. She left a career as a lawyer a year and a half ago to launch her venture and has found no shortage of people in need of guidance.

Tidy is not the same thing as organized, Rosenthal says firmly. A one-time tidy-up dissolves into chaos without an "ongoing process" of weeding out what you don't need and putting in place what remains.

We polled friends and coworkers who live in small spaces about what specific possessions they had the most trouble storing. Rosey had some smart suggestions:

Suitcases. Perfect candidates for putting on a high closet shelf or way under the bed. But never, never left empty. Either store one inside the other, like nesting dolls, or fill them with things you don't use every day. Out-of-season clothes or bedding, certainly, but think creatively, especially about large flat items: serving platters, photo albums, old yearbooks.

For frequent travelers, luggage merits a more prominent home, such as a hall closet. Leave it packed with cosmetics and other travel gear. One more extreme idea: Pick good-looking suitcases and stack them to serve as a side table.

Cooking gear. Where to put stock pots, waffle irons and stand mixers when you're short on counter space? If you don't use your oven much, start there. It's safe for noncombustibles as long as you always check inside before you turn it on. Then think vertically, using pot racks, wall-mounted baskets, hooks and shelves, going as high as you can.

Don't overlook the area between counter and cupboard; lots of stuff can hang there. The space between cupboards and the ceiling is perfect for things you don't use often; canvas zipper cases or lidded bins will keep out dust. And how's this for inventive? Dish towels rolled to fit in the empty slots of a wine rack - the more colorful the better.

Handbags. First choice is the closet shelf, which is much better than a drawer. Invest in shelf dividers to keep them standing upright (tissue paper helps hold their shape). Small evening bags can slip inside larger totes. And if your bag collection is smashing, display it on a wall like the artwork it is. ("Store as decor" is a Rosenthal mantra.)

Ties. These need to hang. Rolling them in cubbies in a drawer bunches up the fabric and gobbles drawer space better suited to other uses. Best bet is a layered or spinning tie holder to hang on a closet rod. Double closet rods are a must: shirts and ties above, pants and suits below. And don't let old ties hang around. If you don't wear them, don't keep them.

Clothing. Under the bed is an obvious place for excess clothing. Wheeled see-through storage bins are less obvious, but well worth the investment. Raise the bed if you can; that's more room underneath. Put out-of-season items back against the wall, things you may need around the perimeter.

Vacuums, ironing boards. When buying these basics, look for compact and collapsible styles. Canister vacs are easier to store than uprights. Small-scale ironing boards can slide behind a couch or under a bed. A decorative screen can hide similar big items, such as beach gear, baby strollers, and folding chairs.

Bathroom necessities. Look into tall, narrow shelving designed to fit around the toilet. Use every inch under the sink. If there's no built-in vanity, add a simple sink skirt.

Wires. A tangle of cords under the computer or sound system makes a place feel smaller. There are lots of cord controllers on the market, or tape wires out of sight behind desktop or table legs.