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A place for everything

Think outside the cabinet when stashing your stuff

January 9, 2005

A wastepaper can doubles as handy storage for wrapping paper and ribbons. It can also be used to hold feather dusters and other cleaning tools.
"That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff.
A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it."

– George Carlin

Once upon a time, the term "home storage" didn't exist.

Storage was a word most often used in combination with moving, as in "moving and storage." Home storage was almost an oxymoron – after all home was the place you put your stuff when you were done moving and didn't need "storage" anymore.

Fast forward to today's overstuffed, space-starved abodes. Home storage has taken on a new meaning. Now that we have more material objects in our homes than ever before – and seemingly never enough storage room – an entire "home storage solutions" industry has sprung up to help us make the most of our space.

Looking for extra storage? Solution may be overhead

You've probably heard the rule: "If you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it."

Sounds good, but in reality it doesn't work when you need to keep rarely used but necessary items like luggage, ski equipment or Boogie Boards.

Storing these types of things presents a special challenge – you want them out of the way yet accessible for when you're ready to use them.

Two options you may have overlooked are right over your head: attic crawl space and garage rafters. Folding attic ladders (available from Ace Hardware) provide easy access to crawl spaces. Rafter storage systems can be found at Home Depot and online retailers such as and

A word of caution: Depending on how your home was built, these areas may or may not need structural reinforcement to make them safe.

Many attics lack flooring and are filled with fiberglass insulation, so be sure to consult a licensed contractor if you require assistance with these issues.

Also keep in mind that even with good ventilation, attic and rafter spaces are usually high-temperature and/or high-humidity areas, which could be detrimental to certain materials.


Folding attic ladder:
Garage rafter storage:
Home Depot's Ceiling Mounted Shelf, Model 167177

Ironically, the explosion of home storage products actually has added to our "stuffocation" situation. Now we're not only overwhelmed by stuff – we're overwhelmed by stuff created for storing stuff.

Choosing the right products and places in which to store your stuff should be simple. Put kitchen stuff in kitchen canisters, bathroom stuff in bathroom bins, and so forth.

But since every home is different, such room-specific storage solutions may not work for your particular needs.

Fortunately, it's perfectly legal to put almost any kind of storage device in any room (contrary to what all those fancy store displays might suggest). So don't be afraid of using various products differently – and more effectively – in your own home.

For example, some of the most space-maximizing and adaptable storage systems are designed to hang on walls or from the ceiling. When you've always seen them used in, say, the kitchen, it might be disorienting to think of using them in a different room. But consider these options:

Pot racks are not just for pots.

One familiar sight in many "gourmet kitchens" is a pot rack suspended from the ceiling, festooned with gleaming copper pots and other dangling culinary doodads.

But wall-mounted pot racks also can be put to good use in closets (especially walk-ins), utilizing wall space for storing accessories such as scarves, belts and purses. You can even hang clothing on hangers from the hooks, or hang night clothes or exercise gear directly on the hooks. Some wall-mounted pot racks also include a shelf for storage of non-hangable items.

The bathroom is another area where insufficient storage space may be supplemented with a wall-mounted pot rack for hanging towels, robes, hair dryers, curing irons, and anything else hangable that otherwise ends up on the floor or next to the sink.

This three-tierred hanging basket typically used in the kitchen to hold fruit and vegetables can be used in the bath to store towels, soap and bath sponges.
In some homes, it also may be possible to use ceiling-mounted pot racks for various storage purposes. However, when installing a ceiling-mounted pot rack, it's important to choose a place where what hangs from it will be accessible yet not obstructive. It should be hung low enough so you can put things on the hooks easily, but not low as to be in your way when all the hooks are occupied. If that's not possible, you're probably better off using a wall-mounted pot rack instead.

Pot racks come in an ever-widening variety of styles and materials, and are available in the kitchen sections of department stores such as JCPenney.

But the best selections can be found online through specialty retailers: and (a division of are two of the most popular.

Hanging fruit baskets aren't just for fruit.

Here's another good example of a storage solution that's been pigeon-holed as kitchen-specific. The hanging, three-tiered, wire-mesh basket system (available at Linens 'n' Things) is an old-fashioned but perennially useful product designed originally for storage of fruits and vegetables.

But it also works well for storing toiletries, hair accessories, and washcloths or small towels (rolled or folded) in the bathroom. Other places where it can help you keep things in order include the home office and kids' rooms.

As with hanging pot racks, however, it's wise not to hang in haste – choosing the right spot is crucial.

Towel bars aren't just for towels.

Bathrooms are where most towels get used, so of course that's where you're accustomed to seeing towel bars. But these bars are also wonderful storage tools when installed on the inside of closet and cabinet doors.

In linen closets, they're ideal for hanging long, hard-to-fold items such as sheet sets, tablecloths, and over-size bath/beach towels.

In clothes closets, they provide the perfect place to drape recently worn, not-yet-ready-to-wash jeans, sweat pants, or any items that don't belong on hooks (but are sometimes too much trouble to put on hangers).

Another place where towel bars work well is the back of a bedroom door. If you don't have sufficient floor space for a quilt rack or need a more convenient way to store your bedspread, door-mounted towel bars are a simple, inexpensive and space-saving solution.

Kids' rooms, too, are good candidates for "towel bar treatment." Again, the back of a door easily becomes a handy place to drape pants and other clothes that don't hang well on hooks and which often end up piled on the floor.

Key hooks aren't just for keys.

Small hooks, whether used singly or grouped on a rack, are great for easy-access storage of many types of grab-and-go items. Near (or on) a door or entryway, it makes sense to have hooks for frequently forgotten or misplaced things such as caps, sunglasses and dog leashes (and, of course, keys).

In the kitchen, items such as scissors, pot holders, aprons, or whatever you use most often can be hung on the side of your fridge with magnetic hooks.

Also in the kitchen, a small hook installed on the underside of a cabinet will give you an efficient way to hang bananas, so you won't need a counter-space-wasting "banana tree" or hammock-style ripener.

Wall file pockets aren't just for offices.

Designed to be mounted on a vertical surface, wall file pockets – also known as hot files or wall pockets – are used in offices for storing frequently used file folders and other materials.

But they can also work well for keeping various resources accessible in your kitchen and other areas of your home. Made of plastic, wire mesh or wood and available in a variety of sizes at office supply retailers (such as Office Depot and Staples), some are magnetized so they can stick to refrigerators as well as file cabinets.

In the kitchen you can use one on the fridge as a handy home for escaped recipes, takeout menus, coupons, appliance instructions or any papers that like to live on your counters.

In other rooms (including the bathroom), the wall-mounted pockets make convenient magazine holders.

And last but not least, a different type of storage option (not wall-or ceiling-mounted):

Wastebaskets aren't just for trash.

It seems like such a waste to use certain wastebaskets for disposing of "rubbish," as the British genteelly refer to it. (Don't some receptacles look like they were designed for more decorative purposes?) But even the daintiest ones can serve a utilitarian role as storage containers.

For example, slender cylindrical wastebaskets are perfect for keeping rolls of gift wrap upright and unwrinkled, and for storing cleaning tools such as feather dusters and lambswool dusters.

They're also useful for vertical storage of vacuum cleaner hoses and wands.

Harriet Schechter is an internationally acclaimed organizing expert and the author of three books, including "Let Go of Clutter" (McGraw-Hill). Her online advice column is at

©Copyright 2004 Harriet Schechter





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