If you’re living in New York or D.C., chances are that you’re stuffing yourself, significant others, belongings, and possibly pets into as little square footage as possible. Small spaces (and the inevitable shortage of closet space) can often mean coming home to a disorganized mess.

We got some tips on how to stay sane and clutter-free—even on a budget—from professional organizer extraordinaire Erin Strasen and CourseHorse, a marketplace for great local classes (including interior design!) in New York and D.C.

Erin Strasen - Organizational tips for small spaces

photo via Erin Strasen/ Placed By Erin

You’re staring down the kind of closet that you’re afraid to open because things will definitely fall on your head. What’s Step #1?

Take each item out one-by-one and create piles, grouping similar items together. Starting small is key because you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Organizing and going through your possessions can be exhausting. Help yourself to stay sane by making sure you’re not creating a massive mess that you may have to live with for a few days until you’re done!

What if the apartment has little to no closet space? How do you compensate for that in different rooms (kitchen, bedroom, living room, bathroom)?

A closet can be created anywhere with a simple wall-mounted hanging rod and some well-placed shelves, or a freestanding dresser. When creating closet space that can’t hide behind closed doors, it helps to think of it as a retail display and style it accordingly. All the hangers should be identical, and grouping clothes by color or length will help to cut down on the visual noise of an open closet. If all else fails, a curtain will work wonders to hide what needs to be hidden!

That’s awesome! What’s your favorite organizational trick of the trade?

The best organizing trick I find myself falling back on every time I embark on a personal or professional project is to group like things together. It’s so simple, but I think categorizing all of your possessions can be tricky! Think of a broad subject like electronics and then sub-divide accordingly: chargers, travel adapters, extensions cords, etc. Grouping like with like is the best way to make sure you don’t purchase duplicates and end up with more clutter. By defining that larger category, it also becomes easier to remember where things are because you can think of things in the context of their larger category. You don’t have to worry about where you put your spare headphones and your iPhone charger and your batteries…you just have to remember where you put your electronics.

organized and minimalist small home office - organizational tips for small spaces

photo via Erin Strasen/ Placed By Erin

What is one must-have item that’s a total organizational hero and a fit for small spaces?

I’m a big fan of using baskets. My favorite use for a basket is one I keep near the front door as a “limbo basket.” Whenever clutter builds up and I really don’t feel like dealing with it, I’ll sweep everything into this basket to quickly clear surfaces. I go through the basket whenever it gets full. It’s small enough so that nothing ever sits there for too long, and it’s also a great place to put incoming items that don’t yet have a home.

What’s your biggest DON’T for apartment dwellers with limited space?

My biggest “don’t” for small spaces is having too much open storage. Storage is a wonderful thing, but when you have open cabinets or a messy bookshelf, it becomes a distraction. Too much open storage can make a space feel claustrophobic.

organizational tips for small spaces - apartment dwellers

Good point! What happens after everything is organized and delightful and totally zen. How do you keep it that way? Can you realistically expect that drawer to always look so neat and tidy?

Thanks to author Gretchen Rubin, I’ve been using the “one-minute rule” to help keep my own space organized. The idea of the one-minute rule is that if you can do something in one-minute or less, you should just do it. It always feels easier to shove clothes into my drawers (or on a chair, or the floor) and not worry too much about properly putting them away, but the one-minute rule helps keep me in check.

I also think that maintaining an organized space is realistic if it’s something you truly care about. This sounds profound, but it’s important to know what matters to you. If you love the idea of opening your closet and seeing your clothes arranged by color, then you’re going to be more motivated to maintain it—and the one-minute rule can help!

What’s your favorite multipurpose hack?

I love using in-drawer utensil holders for things besides utensils, both inside and out of drawers. I use them for organizing makeup, or for corralling junk in a junk drawer. I even use them in my TV cabinet to organize various electronic cables, converters, chargers and batteries. Bookends are also handy for other uses besides books. I use them in the kitchen to keep cutting boards upright, to keep stacked cans from rolling around, or in the closet to keep folded stacks of clothes contained.

Now go forth and organize!

minimalist and organized small bedroom - organizational tips for apartment dwellers

photo via Erin Strasen/ Placed By Erin

This post is contributed from our friends at CourseHorse. CourseHorse is a marketplace of local learning experiences. From interior design to tech classes – you’ll get the opportunity to excite your mind and connect with others.

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