8 Mistakes You're Making With Your Apartment's Storage — And How to Avoid Them for Better Small Space Living

Designers and organizers share the most common apartment storage mistakes they come across, and how to get it right

Neutral modern apartment with accent armchairs, couch and style coffee table
(Image credit: Pete Helme/ August Collection)

Even if a squeeze at times, having the freedom to decorate an apartment as you wish can be worth forsaking a little square footage. Let us not forget, however, that seasoned interior designer or not, you will have to find a way to fit everything into your home. 

Especially for city dwellers, working with limited room and awkward nooks in apartments is simply a part of modern living. Designers worldwide have not only encountered the most 'interesting' approaches to apartment storage over the years, but they have also come up with solutions to help people get their homes into shape, the right way. Naturally, we want in on their best-kept secrets so we asked what we keep getting wrong and how to remedy even slightly small and unruly apartments.

What are the most common apartment storage mistakes?

Turning your living space into one of stress is not an ambiance we strive to achieve. While you might think you've got your apartment's storage sorted, there is room to get it a little wrong... These are the apartment storage mistakes to avoid ASAP according to designers and professional organizers.

Common apartment storage mistakes

Dining corner with round table, built in bench and bespoke kitchen units

Photography by Pete Helme /Design by August Collection

(Image credit: Pete Helme / August Collection)

Including dual-functioning furniture is essential in small spaces like apartments. A place to sit can double up as storage, and if it is wonderful storage, then it should be visually striking too; there is simply no room for single-use furniture.

In this corner of a quintessential Parisian home, there's been a smart use of kitchen storage, while this small diner opens onto a living room. Although there is only a little space to play with, it is pushed to brilliant capacity: 'We were able to create an integrated dining space alongside the kitchen by creating bespoke storage in the bench, overhead in the cabinets and shelving units,' says Karolina Wierzbicka, Senior Designer at August Collection.

In terms of Parisian style decor, for example, where square footage is often limited, weaving in clever storage solutions and dual-purpose items is a part of life. 

2. Focusing too much on minimalism

Small apartment living room with blue tones, small couch and style coffee table

Photography by Margaret Rajic, design by Outline Interiors.

(Image credit: Margaret Rajic)

Onto some of the theory behind storage and declutter a home. It is easy when getting organized to focus too much on what needs to go rather than how to solve storage for the long term, and this is where we often trip up: 'As a professional organizer, I don’t push for minimalism or getting rid of 90% of your belongings,' says Barbara E.Tanaka, of orderly, balanced.

'Instead, I focus on analyzing and explaining how much and how often my clients actually use their items and work on curbing excessive shopping.' Minimalism in interior design is a timelessly cool look when created with the right foundation. Although a clear out every once in a well is wise, if you swiftly begin to accumulate 'stuff' soon after, without having your solutions in place, this is an apartment storage mistake we could all do without. 

'Apartments — with their limited storage, require smart space planning. Don’t buy overly specific items that serve just one purpose, especially in the kitchen,' continues Barbara. 'If the Japanese can handle almost the entire cooking process with chopsticks — mixing, sautéing, plating, and eating — so can you.'

3. Not investing for the long-term

Yellow bedroom and bedding with integrated bespoke shelving unit

Photography by Pete Helme /Design by August Collection

(Image credit: Pete Helme/August Collection)

As enticing as a pocket-friendly and quick apartment storage purchase can be, it may not be worth it in the long run, and could hinder your efforts at keeping your apartment organized. 

'Built-in units may be more expensive but allow spaces to be utilized to the full,' continues Karolina from August Collection. 'Be it floor to ceiling, wall to wall or to fill an awkward gap; they look more professional, have a more elegant finish, and can be made a feature with color or painted the same as the wall colors to keep them subtle. Plus you can arrange the interior to suit your needs, adding pullout drawers, shelves, hanging, shoe storage, etc.'

Allowing yourself a little more budget, will mean that you can invest in custom built in storage solutions like what we can see in the above small apartment bedroom. Acting as a shelf, headboard, and hidden storage too, everyday items are under wraps but visually the finish is lifted and inspiring.

4. Not using evey inch for everyday items

Apartment living room with large bespoke open shelving, marbled contemporary art and light colored couches

(Image credit: Decorilla)

Whether redesigning a modern living room or working around an awkward layout, there might be potential in the most unlikely spaces. 'Floor-to-ceiling shelving maximizes walls and keeps all the items organized,' adds Joyce Huston, Lead Interior Designer & Co-founder at Decorilla Online Interior Design. 'I tell my clients to consider sleek and open shelvings for a modern look or closed cabinets for a more streamlined look.'

Alongside curated open shelving, seek out hidden spots to find a world of opportunities for utensils, TV remotes, and anything you absolutely need but don't necessarily want to show off to guests. 

Just as ideal for the living room as for a kitchen: 'Do use every inch of space you can — walls, inside cabinet doors, fridge doors, or the entrance door,' continues Barbara. 'If it’s in a visible area, make it look sleek with curated yet handy items like a knife strip, magnetic hooks, or magnetic key racks. For less visible areas, Command hooks are a lifesaver — budget- and renter-friendly too.' You can find Command Hooks on Amazon.

5. Letting storage disrupt the flow of an apartment

Neutral modern apartment with accent armchairs, couch and styled coffee table

Photography by Pete Helme /Design by August Collection

(Image credit: Pete Helme/August)

Overcrowding is a mistake you want to avoid. Even when an item of storage furniture may help out your overall capacity, you should be thoughtful with the size and placement of anything that will contribute to the vibe you're looking for when decorating an apartment.

'In small spaces we need to minimize the number of furniture pieces to keep the flow and make everything easily accessible for the guests,' continues Karolina. Be sure to leave walkways clear and tap into furniture that is multifunctioning and ergonomic. Especially in an entryway or living room, leaving passageways unobstructed will amplify Feng Shui and perhaps even enhance interior design trends... Let there be space for new and positive energy.

6. Not letting the room breathe

Modern bedroom with unique wave headboard in minimal neutral space with pops of color in art

Photography by Räul Candales Franch / Design by August Collection

(Image credit: Photography by Räul Candales Franch for August Collection)

In the same rhythm, getting storage right in an apartment is a true balancing act. More often than not, we recommend looking to the y-axis, for living room storage like shelving for example, to free up floor space; and although there is design sense in this, the result can often feel heavy. You need to spot the bigger picture. 'Especially in small rooms, they need to breathe,' says Karolina. 'For the room to breathe, we have to balance using the wall space and height to create storage, with the lower levels of the room too.'

In this space for example, the interior designer didn't solely rely on vertical space, opting for clever bed storage ideas amongst other things: 'Ottoman beds with storage under really help to provide a place to put large items like suitcases and long-term storage boxes,' shares Karolina. 'They have a great hydraulic lift mechanism, to open easily, that is not visible from the exterior of the bed. It is much better than traditional drawer storage which can be restricted by the size of a room, plus they can be seen on the bed base.'

7. Forgetting access and not labeling

Green painted small desk cubby with open bespoke shelving

Photography by Margaret Rajic, design by Outline Interiors.

(Image credit: Margaret Rajic)

Remembering to keep items you need regularly within reach is something people often forget when putting things away is the goal, so think rationally about what you need daily, weekly, and so on, then store them accordingly. 'Accessibility is also one of the things clients usually neglect,' adds Joyce. 'Do not pack everything away in hard-to-reach nooks, keep all the items that you use more frequently accessible, use drawers dividers and organizers to keep things within easy reach.'

For anything that you do need to stow away in containers for less frequent use, labels are your friend: 'Another great tip is labeling everything, adding labels on bins or boxes will make it so much easier to find what you need,' adds Joyce.

8. Not combining beauty and function

Dark wood bookshelf with arrangmenet of decor

Photography by Steph Everett for Urban Clarity

(Image credit: Steph Everett)

When storage is the label you are looking for, aesthetics can often go out the window, and it is a more frequent apartment storage mistake than you think. Instead, use storage as an opportunity to enhance interior design trends and showcase more of your home's unique style. 

'Make your storage beautiful and functional,' says Amanda Wiss, Founder of Urban Clarity and home staging company Urban Staging. 'Use larger furniture pieces to act as a room divider and storage area. With drawers or doors, any piece of furniture can be appreciated for what it brings to the design, while still concealing extra linens, electronics, and other less appealing clutter.'

Some storage pieces are timeless, in the sense that every organized and good-looking home with feature them. 'Drawers and bins will always be useful pillars of design and storage. In modern home design, we tend to want everything to be able to serve multiple functions, and furniture with drawers allows you that opportunity. '

How can I keep my apartment uncluttered?

Investing in storage that pulls double-duty is essential, as well as making conscious choices about the items you bring into your apartment in the first place. 'Be mindful of your space and aim to maximize it,' continues Barbara. 'Don’t buy organizing products just because they’re on sale; mismatched and ill-fitting products will only clutter your limited storage further. It's about seeing how much you actually need day to day, minimizing where it makes sense and not just for the sake of it.'

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is a freelance interiors writer and the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including DIY, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and it was during her year abroad studying in Bologna that she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille has a passion for art and beautiful spaces. When not writing or refreshing her home, you will find her gallery hopping, taking photos, painting, and traveling to seek out interiors inspiration.