Forget Marie Kondo, Here’s to Stashing it All

Tips for Small House Storage


I have been to McLean. In McLean they have closets. Such closets!

Master suites have closets the size of boutiques, one for her, one for him, or for her and her or him and him, or them. These have mirrors and dressing tables, and poufs on which to plop for strapping on your Manolos. The suite might have a couple of baths too, one with a tub, the other with a shower, and each featuring storage for the shaving cream and hair spray, other than the back of the toilet.

There are many more baths and closets, of course. In one house I know of, there are eleven baths and two powder rooms for two adults and two children.

In the kitchen they have cabinets from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, all fitted out with gliding shelves and built-in spice racks and room-sized pantries. There are multiple sinks, eight burner ranges, wall ovens and center islands large enough to autopsy three bodies at once, and cabinets hidden in the shoe moldings (handy for hiding the diamonds, no one steals silver any more, you can safely leave that out).

I have seen these things and so much more! Do I envy them? Not at all. There’s way too much cleaning involved, and no reign on the acquisitions, leading to more cleaning.

On Capitol Hill, few homes off East Capitol Street are larger than 2,000 square feet, many are less than half that. Luxuries are miniaturized. If you have a fantastic kitchen, you probably sacrificed the dining room. Or, as is the case with many remodels, you sacrificed a separate living room as well, and probably the foyer.

If you happen to still have rooms, you might be lucky enough to have a few closets. Probably small ones, but at least they exist. A hall closet adds a hundred thou to the sales price. Hall closets are gold.

Often, in remodels, you have bathrooms at the expense of closets. This might not be noticeable when you buy a house, because what closets exist were cleaned out to make them look spacious.

How many bathrooms do you really need? A powder room is a fine concept, when it’s in the front hallway of your villa in McLean. In Hill-sized houses it’s more likely in the main living area, which turns using one into making a statement, if you catch my drift. Advice: install a loud fan – or tear it out and make a closet.

How many bathrooms do you want to clean anyway?

If you’re lucky enough, as we are, to have a basement and/or a garage, you have built-in spare space, until you’ve lived in the house for 35 years and you find – and this is amazing – it’s full.

Of course, you can Marie Kondo your home. Our daughter Monica tackled the kitchen when she last visited from Raleigh, where she lives with her husband and our grand-dog Tallulah. It certainly looked joyful when she was done. The morning after she left, I sat down with a bagel and Amazon and replaced half the things we’d so happily discarded. The eighth set of dinner plates, which she urged me to get rid of, were packed into a box and donated to the basement.

Never get rid of anything if you can possibly help it, I always say. Tomorrow you’ll need it.

So, to storage. The container store has a million useful if unattractive plastic storage ideas. I offer eight alternatives, because I couldn’t think of 10.

Tips for small house storage:

  1. Folding screens. These are great for hiding eyesores like the vacuum and trash cans. In a studio apartment they can create the illusion of a bedroom. Screens come in wicker and wood, traditional and contemporary, short, tall and multi-panel styles. While you can’t slam them, which is why I like doors, they are excellent for carving out space in a cavernous room and creating interesting angles. Bonus: they’re a great spot for hanging your feather boa.
  2. Skirted tables. Yes, it’s so granny, but it’s amazing how many magazines, toys and games can fit under there. A shabby table is fine, as long as the cover looks good. Wander the streets on bulk trash day and you’ll probably find just the thing.
  3. Ottomans with storage. Lift the top and you can shovel all kinds of dreck in there. You can also find them with fold-out, single beds inside, which is handy for guests who you’d rather would not stay for very long.
  4. Beds with drawers. These are usually made in two sections, making it possible to carry them up most of our narrow staircases, and are probably deep enough to store all of your off-season clothing. Or, just pack a suitcase and shove it under the existing bed.
  5. Baskets. Think towels, toilet paper, recyclables and the aforementioned magazines. Kids toys? Just toss them in. Get a couple with lids. Out of sight, out of your mind!
  6. Armoires. No hall closet? Put one in the foyer (or the area that would be the foyer if it hadn’t been torn out). In fact, an armoire is a handsome solution just about anywhere – a focal point in the living room if you have no fireplace, a linen closet, an entertainment center or a pantry. If the doors are shut no one will know that you’re just storing … soup.
  7. The radiator. Radiators still give the best, most even heat, but few are particularly attractive. You can have custom covers made – or just top them with slabs of marble or tile or whatnot and you have a neat shelf. Drape the one in the bathroom with a scarf or small tablecloth and you have a dressing table.
  8. Boards. Need a dining table for 10? Plop a plywood board on your existing table and cover it with a tablecloth – or paint it. Just make sure the overhang isn’t too great, otherwise the borsht might slosh on someone’s belt. If you’ve nowhere to store the board when you’re done dining, chop it up and use it in your fireplace or fire pit. “No, no, NO,” said my husband, who’s made a career of fixing old houses. “You cannot burn plywood.” He went on to tell me something about toxic glue but I fell asleep. Okay, so don’t burn it. I know a garage in McLean that has room …


Stephanie Cavanaugh writes a weekly gardening column (of sorts) for the news website