Create Order by Maximizing Vertical Spaces

Are you spring cleaning? Moving back into your summer space? Looking to simplify your environment year-round? One of the most useful tactics that you’ll ever take into the organizing battle is maximizing vertical space. Whether that means hanging objects from walls or ceilings, stacking them vertically, or just standing them on end versus laying them flat, “going vertical” is almost always a good idea for creating a more streamlined space.

That’s because it moves things up and out of your way and may allow you to eliminate some horizontal surfaces, which are notorious clutter magnets. The higher up you can go (without creating dangerous or unrealistic retrieval requirements, of course), the smaller the horizontal footprint you’ll have, and the more space, light, order and breathing room you’ll create. Your home will feel – and be – less cluttered.

Store only the “big three”: what you need, use and love

This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Purge thoroughly before you make, beg, borrow or buy any kind of storage apparatus because you don’t have to store what you no longer own. Plus, how can you accurately judge the number, size and kind of storage-infrastructure pieces you’ll need if you don’t know what you’re storing? First things first: pare down, then plan your storage needs.

Hang it, stand it, stack it, rack it

Let’s look at some of the many ways to implement this principle of using vertical space.

Love my cubby: Cubby units and lockers are vertical-space champs because you can hang stuff inside, put items on top and maybe even store things under them if they’re on legs.

Book ’em: Albums and three-ring binders that hold recipes, schedules, photos, household information, carry-out menus, CDs and DVDs, and owner’s manuals can store a lot of information vertically.

April showers: Caddies and organizers that hang on the wall of the shower or over the showerhead can hold bottles on their little shelves and bath puffs and shavers on their hooks.

It’s the curtains for you! Shower curtains, that is. Use one with pockets sewn on the (dry) outside to create lots of spots to stash lightweight items such as combs, cotton balls, scrunchies and manicure tools.

Can you feel the tension? A tension rod – a long pole that runs floor to ceiling – that’s outfitted with horizontal “arms” and posted in the bathroom provides spots to hang brushes, sponges and towels, as well as buckets or baskets that, in turn, can hold small things such as soap and shavers. A pole like this can also hold plants elsewhere, and heavy-duty garage versions can even support bicycles.

It’s a shoe-in: Clear-plastic shoe organizers with a dozen or more pouches are great for holding bundles of socks, rolled-up belts, folded scarves, large pieces of jewelry, small toys, mittens, hairbrushes and on and on. They hang nicely on a wall or on either side of a door – vertical space that’s often overlooked.

Shoe-in, too: Another variety of shoe (or sweater) organizer is the fabric kind with rectangular cubby holes – in both narrow and wide styles – that hangs from a closet rod. It can hold shoes, naturally, but it can also corral entire outfits for kids, shirts, pants, socks, underwear, small games, toys and myriad other things. When placed in a mudroom or at the door you use most, it can hold mittens, hats, purses and dog-walking gear. The best part? Its big, wide-open slots (with no lids, doors or other obstacles) should encourage even the most organizationally challenged folks to put things away. If your household members are a little more disciplined, they might enjoy outfitting this  organizer with fabric drawers.

Tie one on: Tie, scarf and belt racks consume zero floor space and can hold plenty of ties, belts, scarves, necklaces, bracelets and lint brushes.

The best little hook: Cup hooks rule! Besides hanging mugs from them inside or under a cupboard, hang a hair dryer from one inside the bathroom vanity, or hang your keys on the wall by the door you use the most.

Up and under: Suspend wine glasses by their bases on tracks, either inside or under a cupboard, and mount small appliances under cupboards to free up counter space.

• Up and on: Boxes of plastic wrap, aluminum foil and zip-top bags can be stored on the inside of a door with the help of a special holder designed to hold long, lean boxes.

Up and over: Over-the-door hooks and racks are super for bathrobes, coats, towels, tote bags, clothes you plan to wear again and fresh laundry on hangers. Some of these have a fold-down drying rack attached, which can hold damp towels, wet mittens and other things that need air-drying.

Chain gang: If you hang a length of chain (or a set of shower-curtain rings linked together) from the ceiling or over a closet clothes rod, and then hang S hooks or clothespins on it, you’ve got a winning vertical storage idea for purses, hats, scarves, belts and lightweight stuffed animals with collars.

Clothesline it: String a clothesline, rope, thin chain or ribbon along a child’s bedroom wall, and hang art pieces from it with clothespins. Or, hang a clothesline on a kitchen wall to hold photos, messages, invitations and greeting cards.

Those lazy days of summer: If you don’t seem to be using that summer hammock out in the yard, use it inside the garage. Suspend it from two walls in a corner near the ceiling, and use it to corral sports balls, cushions, canoe paddles, sleeping bags, swim noodles or other light-but-bulky items. A smaller fabric-mesh version in a child’s room can hold stuffed animals, pillows and large-but-lightweight toys.

Double the pleasure: Suspend a second clothes rod from the existing rod in a closet using two cords or lengths of chain to double your storage capacity for shorter clothes. If you need to store longer items as well, suspend the second rod from only part of the existing rod, and hang the longer items from the original rod.

Shed no tiers: Tiered, hanging baskets – typically three wire-mesh ones in graduated sizes that hang from a chain – can hold fruit and vegetables in the kitchen, cotton balls and wash cloths in the bathroom, and socks and small treasures in kids’ rooms. Tiered skirt hangers are also cool because you can hang many skirts – on both sides of it – in not much more width than it would take to hang one.

Shelve it: Plastic, plastic-coated-wire or metal shelf inserts can be real boons for your cupboards and closets. Add them anywhere where you have a lot of vertical space but not much horizontal surface area – on the shelf in a high-ceilinged closet, in a tall cupboard with no shelves, or in a standard-height closet that would store things more effectively if there were a “mezzanine” added to its shelf. Imagine the precarious towers of objects you’ll eliminate.

Straighten up: Another shelf savior is the vertical divider. Whether made of wood, metal or plastic-covered wire, these function like bookends to make things that tend to topple – sweaters, purses, towels and blankets – stand at attention.

Hang, stand, stack and rack to embrace vertical space!

Paula Apfelbach – formerly the owner of Breathing Room Professional Organizing in Madison – is now the Peninsula Pulse’s copy editor.