18 Tips to Small Space Living With Kids

How to keep a simple and organized home when you have children.

I’m awfully sentimental — I like homey places that feel lived in and loved. I’ll often keep something simply because I like the person who gifted it to me, even if I don’t have space for it. But I live in New York City in an 850-square-foot apartment with two children. So you can imagine the clutter situation that I am in. What’s an urban mama to do? Get organized.

Enter Korinne Kubena Belock, founder and owner of Urban Simplicity, a home organization company with clients from Los Angeles to New York City. She came into my home, walked me through each room and helped bring sense to the madness, one room at a time. Here, I share her wisdom with you.

From the storage space in your children’s bedroom to your kitchen’s drawers, here are 18 steps you can take to keep your apartment with kids organized.

KEEP THE NURSERY LIGHT AND AIRY. “Having a baby can be so overwhelming,” says Korinne, “and there’s so much stuff coming in and it happens all at once. Suddenly you’re forced to look for storage solutions for all these tiny things that are hard to contain.”

1. A changing station full of drawers. This way you can have a place to hold diapers, lotions, swaddles, onesies and much more. Labeled drawer dividers make it easy for you and other caregivers to keep things orderly.

2. Bookshelves that grow with your kids. Just make sure it’s mostly full of books. Dolls and stuffies don’t sit well in quantity and should be relegated to a bin.

3. Make the most of what you have. Maximize tiny closets with a customized system like Elfa, which allows for double hanging space adjustable shelves. And remember that you can store things under your child’s bed or crib, either with built-in drawer or specially sized bins.

DON’T LET THE TOYS TAKE OVER. “Urban families often live in open floor plans with no dedicated playroom, so one of my clients’ biggest complaints is that toys are taking over their home.”

4. The Five-Pile System. Empty all drawers, shelves and baskets and put like with like. You can then filter everything through her five-pile system: trash, recycle, sell, donate and “put elsewhere.” What’s left over gets strategically put back in bins, stacks or baskets depending on the space.

5. The Six Month/Two Week Purge. Take the toys your kids haven’t touched in six months, and put them in a temporary hidden area, like under your bed, for two weeks. If it goes unasked for, it’s out the door.

6. Stop things at the door. Spread the word that you just don’t have room for that indoor slide or that 4-story dollhouse. And when your little one starts going to birthday parties and bringing home tons of grab-bag toys? Give each kid a bin labeled “Little Things” and when it’s full, that headless Olaf figurine can finally be tossed.

7. Put toys in front of kids. A few open topped bins to sort larger toys like dolls, instruments and trucks can keep the living room looking organized. Labeled, stackable clear plastic bins can keep sets of smaller things like Magnetiles and doll clothes in order. A good test? Korinne says if you’ve got clean up done in 10 minutes, your system is working.

8. Art Supplies: Mobile, Clear, Labeled. As is typical with many city mamas, I am not blessed with a Martha Stewart craft room. Korinne recommends keeping things mobile so your supplies can go from a storage closet to the kitchen table without much fuss. Clear labeled containers that stack are helpful for keeping crayons in one space and glue bottles in another, letting kids know what they have to work with.

ONLY KEEP ESSENTIALS IN THE ENTRYWAY. “Think, what are you currently using, which bag, coat, shoes? That’s what goes here.”

9. A surface catchall. “This can be beautiful and useful, but should only hold the necessities. One pair of sunglasses per family member, one set of keys. And if you have a nanny, this is where you can keep the zoo pass or some petty cash for easy access.”

10. Large bags? Large bins. On the next shelf down, you can use a large basket to contain an assortment of totes, laptop cases and clutches. The rest gets relegated to a closet.

11. Shoe bins for everyone! Korinne says, “Each family member can have their own basket, and you could label them—even little kids can recognize their names, and making them part of the process can really help things.”

12. Create a home command center. Consolidate everything you need to run your home into one area. Pick a spot where you can fit a mail sorter, calendar, catchall, and notepad along with a few file holders so you’ll be able to pay the bills and keep track of your kids’ growing activity schedule without missing a beat. You’ll be one step closer to organizational serenity.

DON’T LET THE PILES PILE ON. Now that my kids are in preschool, my house is now constantly littered with piles of drawings that I just can’t part with fast enough. There is also a large swath of wall in the living room where my children have hung twenty of their favorite pieces.

13. Make a drop bin. Place a bin (open topped and big enough to hold a standard piece of colored paper) wherever it is that the backpacks get cleaned out. Once a week, while the kids are sleeping, spend five minutes tossing what you can. One favorite a month can go in a keepsake box.

14. Display the masterpieces. There’s a way to honor your kids’ work without letting it take over. Find one spot, choose your favorites, and hang those.

YOUR KITCHEN NEEDS A MAKEOVER TOO. “It can take a long time to rethink the organization of a kitchen,” says Korinne, “you really need to focus on how you use the space.”

15. Do a deep clean. Empty every drawer and cupboard and, with her five pile system, get rid of whatever you do not use.

16. Free up prep space. If your kitchen is short on counter space, relocate what you can, like cookbooks and other nonessentials to higher shelves or other areas of the home.

17. For each drawer, a purpose. Dedicate your drawers to specific tasks, like lunch prep or bottle feeding — it will streamline your prep time. You can also subdivide drawers with internal bins, which will let you know if you’re running low on something or have collected one too many of something else.

18. Open shelves. Stack white dishes or rows of clear glasses work well on open shelves, but other things should be stored in attractive bins or put in closed cupboards.

Photography by Jonica Moore Studio for Well Rounded. 

Hanna Neier

Hanna Neier

Raised in the suburbs of Boston, Hanna R. Neier fell in love with city life in Montreal and Tel Aviv before putting down roots in New York City for law school, love and children. After practicing law as a litigation attorney for six years, she now works as a freelance writer and content editor. Her work centers around family and women's issues and has appeared in numerous print and online publications including The Jerusalem Post, Lilith magazine, and Red Tricycle.

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