How to organize a small apartment, according to a professional

A professional organizer helps us out, right in time for the holidays

Small apartment with stacked baskets, desk and colorful area rug
(Image credit: Shantae Duckworth)

Organizing a small apartment, or any size home for that matter, can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to. While we all tend to accumulate lots of things, whether it's clothing, kitchen items, or makeup, it can be hard to find the right place to put it all, when options are limited. After all, you can’t just store those off-season sweaters or swimwear in a garage or in that extra guest room closet you don’t have. Still, with a bit of planning, a realistic evaluation of what items you truly need, and some clever organizers to help keep everything in its place, you can easily sort out a small space and maintain your home, no matter how tiny it is. 

Here's a failsafe 4-step approach for success:

1. Be ruthless with the declutter

Professional organizer Shantae Duckworth (opens in new tab) tells me the best way to organize a small apartment is to start with a ruthless approach to decluttering. “Pull everything out of every space and really analyze everything you own.”

Then ask yourself if you will actually use an item, whether it's a blender, a pair of shoes, or sporting equipment. If something doesn’t fit, isn’t in working condition, or you forgot you had it, it's probably time to say goodbye. “Think about how much stuff you actually own compared to the size of your apartment and living situation. For example, if only two people live in an apartment, do you really need ten dinner plates or a ton of towels?”

2. Donate what you don't need anymore

Instead of disposing of things and adding them to a landfill, Duckworth highly suggests giving your unworn or unused items a second life by donating them instead. This can be a bit of a challenge if you live in a city or don’t have a car, but there are ways around this. She tells me, “If you don’t have a car to transport donations there are a lot of companies that will come and pick up clothes and furniture donations for you. There are a lot of free options that will require some research in your area. All you would have to do is schedule a time that works best for you.”

3. Get creative

While it’s easy to organize a large home, smaller spaces require quite a bit more work. “In an apartment, space is so critical because it is smaller compared to an actual house, so you have to be very mindful of what you have in your space,” says the organizer.

Duckworth recommends opting for furniture to help you maximize your space. Storage sofas (opens in new tab) are a great example of this. Most have cushions that lift to reveal empty space. This is useful for storing things like linens and throw blankets. You can also consider purchasing a coffee table that has storage underneath.

She advises getting creative with makeshift shelving such as over-the-door (opens in new tab) racks to store shoes, or clothing. “Stackable shelves in your cabinets will also help maximize some space for dishes and glassware.

Command hooks (opens in new tab) (if allowed by your landlord) are amazing. I use them to hold up my broom and mop on the back of my linen closet door. Also great for hanging up jackets,” says Duckworth.

This type of hook is ideal for apartments because they stick to the wall or door and don’t require a hammer and nails. When you’re ready to move, they lift off without ruining the paint underneath. Duckworth particularly likes Broom And Mop Command Hooks (opens in new tab) to organize things like cleaning supplies.

Considering installing stackable shelves (opens in new tab), which help organize the inside of kitchen and bathroom cabinets to maximize vertical space that would otherwise go unused.

4. Keep it that way

While organizing a small apartment is one thing, maintaining it is a different story. However, with a little bit of planning, it isn’t too difficult. “I would suggest setting up a consistent schedule to go through each space of your apartment. I always suggest every month going through one particular space to really determine if these are items that you really want, so one month you may pick the bedroom closet, the next month you may pick the medicine cabinet,” says Duckworth.

It’s also crucial to be mindful of what you bring into your home. After all, that’s how things end up accumulating and causing clutter “If you know it is not your vibe, or that you were not going to use it, don't even let it come through your apartment door.”

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!