How do you manage with tiny closets & baths?

tinker_2006April 2, 2011

We are working on buying a charming older home and thinking about it 24/7! Right now, we live in a fairly large 3,300 sq. foot house (newly built in 2008). Master bath is a nice size, and we have him & her closets, my closet is a large walk-in size, lots of extra empty space!

Our kitchen is a nice size with an island and eating area. It's a nice house, but the developer went bankrupted, new builder building, and our investment is gone. PLUS, although I'm grateful for our home, and know I'm blessed, it doesn't feel like "home". My true love has always been older homes, and we have lived in a few real fixer-uppers in our younger days (I'm only 49 - so not that old!)however, they were all much larger in size than the bungalow home we are buying.

So, the house we are looking at is darling, has a small kitchen, and I'm perfectly fine with that. The master bedroom and bath are fine too, what I'm wondering is how we will manage with such small closets, and the other 3 baths are standing room only. No room for vanities, they all have pedestal sinks. Looking at the floor plan, we could move walls, and a few doors here and there and make a couple areas larger (master closet and one bath).

So my question is, if you all leave it "as is" and learn to adapt to the space, or have you moved walls and enlarged your space?

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In the baths, can you attach shelving/cabinets on the walls so you have storage without taking up floor space?

And for the bedrooms, what kind of spaces do you have? Many Europeans manage quite well even without closets because they are accustomed to having tall pieces of furniture -- wardrobes -- that take the place of dedicated closets. Also, for children I've seen some very useful space-saving beds where the bed is 5'-6' off the ground and the space underneath is dedicated to built-in desk/storage. I don't know what your taste in furniture is, but consider taking a look at Ikea for functional and compact storage furniture; they have a number of pieces that are pretty tall, which will increase the amount of storage you can get from a given furniture footprint.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 5:36PM
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You'll probably get used to it as you adjust; it's pretty normal in older homes to have less storage (and less square feet overall) than modern houses have. We have a typical 1920s bungalow for our city, and it has one 6' x 9' bathroom and two 3' x 5' closets; that's it. A three bedroom in our neighborhood would have a third closet the same size and maybe an extra bath (usually not original to the house). The really old houses here sometimes have no closets at all! Families get by fine with this space, though it helps a lot if you have a garage or basement/attic storage. (We are lucky to have both, so we keep things that are used infrequently in the basement.) Older homes often have built-in cabinetry, and if they don't have that you can add freestanding casework to store things. De-cluttering and being very thoughtful about the furniture you choose also helps a lot; everything should have a purpose (and bonus points if it can double in purpose!)

You might also try posting on the Small Homes forum for some ideas on organization and storage in a small house; lots of good ideas there!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 7:02PM
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Iwouldn't call 2800 sq.ft. small--that is a third larger than my three bedroom house which has a finished attic and basement storage. People today are consumer hogs--they don't need half the stuff they have--chances are, they wear something a few times then go buy more, but don't get rid of the unused stuff because it 'might' be used again. The only people who came close to having as many shoes and such as the average person today were people like the Vanderbilts and Astors, and they had mansions to house it.

Wardrobes, as said above, took the place of closets, and people were more conscious of saving things and using them more than once. Use meant using it until it couldn't be worn, then it went into rags or quilts. Unless you are Imelda Marcos and have your own country, no one needs hundreds of pairs of shoes, no matter what the fashion nazis say. :)

Declutter and suck it up--buy an armoire or two, and use underbed storage. Oh, and pedestal sinks are all the rage now--add a medicine chest or shelves to the small baths--you don't live in there, although I often take a book, and the cat will come in and shut the door behind her so she can be petted.

This may sound harsh, but I'm tired of seeing people whine on tv about lack of storage when they have 500 pairs of shoes, and a whole room of things they probably wear only a few times and forget about. Moving is a prime time to get rid of old clothes--plenty of charities could use them, and it's a tax deductible item.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 9:47PM
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no offense taken.. you're right! We are a bunch of spoiled people aren't we. I did at one time manage very well with a small closet and 1/3 of the shoes ( which I don't wear). I think it will be a challenge to decutter, but hopefully, we get this house and I can!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 9:57PM
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"people were more conscious of saving things and using them more than once." That's how I GOT so many clothes! Someday I will once again be a size 4. Or if not, then a size 6! Bellbottom jeans came back in style; shoulder padding is making a return. You just never know!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 10:04PM
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My closets are on average 4' X 6' in my old house. I also have knee attics in the upstairs that would be great for storage- but I only use one for extra quilting fabric. I have always felt blessed to have such "large" closets for an old house! Of course they are no where near the size I had in my monstrous, modern, "keep up with the Joneses" house that felt sterile and unwelcoming!

I have found that a closet organizer does wonders for a small closet, things are easy to find and everything will have it's place, helping to keep you organized as well. I have put them in all of my closets and have plenty of space. Although, thinking back, when I first installed them, whatever didn't fit, got donated. The rule of thumb at my house is if it isn't worn for over a year, out it goes. Besides, I could use the tax write off.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 10:48PM
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Don't forget about the "one in, one out" rule! Good for all clothes, shoes, toys, books (!).
You'd be surprised how you really think about how much you want those shoes if you have to get rid of one of your current pairs!

One thing I can recommend for clothing is rotation. Our winter clothes go into storage during summer, and the shorts and tank tops go away when the snow flies. It really saves up the "active" space you need for clothing. (This is, of course, assuming you live in a part of the country that requires dual wardrobes. ;)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 11:35PM
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In addition to wardrobes and under the bed storage, we move out of season clothing to a standing rack in the attic. We have a basement and use it for storage of extra grocery store purchases. We don't use 25 types of house cleaning supplies - white vinegar and baking soda fit easily under the kitchen sink. We have a pie cabinet that works for bathroom items. We rotate books out as donations to our local library. etc etc etc.

It definitely requires a different mindset to live lean, but it sure can be done!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 5:47AM
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It's all relative, isn't it? I was looking at the floor plan of your house yesterday and thinking, wow, all that storage in an older house! And closets deeper than the width of a coat hanger--deluxe!

OK, ribbing aside, here's what I see: The unknown room w/cypress ceiling could become a satellite closet for the master bedroom. Evening dresses, ski clothes, off season stuff, luggage, whatever--that room could become a generous-sized overflow closet for the master.

For the two bedrooms that are next to each other, you see the walls with closets between them, one for each room? There is a chance that one of those closet walls is load-bearing and one is only a partition. (consult an expert first!). If this is the case, the partition wall could be moved out a foot or two to make the closets deeper. Also, I notice they did not split the space evenly in half for the closets; that partition wall can be moved.

As for the master closet, why not knock out the wall behind it and commandeer that hall closet space, making the master deeper? If that is a linen closet needed for the bathrooms, just delegate some of the "unknown room/master closet overflow" space for that. Or, ignore everything I just said, and instead take the entire "once a porch, could have been the main entrance" room next to the master for a truly awesome/generously sized master closet and dressing room.

For the bathrooms I recommend converting doors to pockets wherever you can. Johnson hardware's kits are frequently recommended on gardenweb, but I haven't tried them myself yet. Not having to deal with door inswings can make the bathrooms feel bigger (and it's safer).

Finally, I think the kitchen looks very nice, and it would be a shame to do this on many levels (especially since I'd like to see the space converted back to a real porch), but looking at the floor plan, the converted porch that is flanked by the living room and dining room is begging to be a kitchen space. You'd have to move that exterior door, because it's right where you'd want a main cabinet run, but other than that, I think that could make a great kitchen.

OK, enough surgery on the house. I've just destroyed my rep on this forum! :-)

I think it's a great house; when I saw the pictures and floor plan, it reached out of the monitor and grabbed me viscerally. That doesn't happen to me very often!

Here is a link that might be useful: the original post with the floor plan

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 8:46AM
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slateberry51, thanks so much for your input and your ideas.. that helps me know that we are thinking in a good way! LOL. We thought of taking that back hallway closet and expanding the master closet, and I was thinking of using that unknown room with cypress ceiling as another closet for the overflow or other storage items. Her in FL storage space is missing with no basements or attics, and garages and sheds are not a good options (humidity and bugs). I will have to think of a linen closet for the 2 full baths at the end of the house, as neither of those baths have any storage.

From what we can tell, and the 2 inspectors, and the homeowner, the kitchen is original, except for the far end open area before the laundry rm, that was a small porch.. maybe we can tell for sure when we renovate the kitchen.

Sure is a lot to think about!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 4:05PM
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I can see in the vivid green bathroom that they have a lame over the john toilet, and then rolled towels tucked under. Lame in the sense of tiny and inadequate. What you want is an upper kitchen cabinet, maybe even a tall one (42" instead of 30 or 36) over that toilet. As wide as you can fit. Make sure you hang it high enough that you don't bang your back or head into it when you are, er, occupied. you might even be able to custom order one that is only 9" deep instead of 12"; try scherr's.

Also, install a simple shelf over the bathroom door and put your rolled bath towels up there. In the hall bath with the two doors in the corner, you could even do a nice diagonal corner shelf treatment over the doors.

Here is a link that might be useful: scherr's custom cabinets online

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:02AM
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I never thought of actually having a custom made cabinet here, so that's a helpful suggestion!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:31AM
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Some excellent suggestions above.

But the biggest management you need is self-discipline.

As a bachelor, I easily moved from a home of 4,400 sf plus fully finished basement into a one-bedroom walkup. (Okay, I had a garage for building supplies and tools.)

I could do the same today. Excess personal possessions are an encumbrance. And with solid-state and on-line storage, and Ebooks, even music and books take no space. (Anyone remember moving cases of LPs?)

However, mrs. worthy is fuming for the past year as we downsized to 3,700 sf. Nowhere for her 60 unpacked cartons of clothes and cosmetics. Let alone the steady stream of new purchases

When a friend's mother died years ago, cleaning out her farmhouse was an unbelievable chore. Literally of tonnes of broken items and bits 'n' pieces of this and that. Turns out her husband had supported the family through the Great Depression by scrounging other people's discards, refurbishing and selling them. A hard habit to break.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 2:24PM
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I found that downsizing gave us a great sense of freedom. Now I am much more conscience of accumulating unnecessary "stuff."

However, I hope that you really consider how you live before you buy a charming house and have to turn it into something else in order to make it comfortable for you. Perhaps it would be worth looking at other houses to see if one fits your life better.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 4:23PM
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Ah, the "I love old houses but hate the lack of storage" ordeal...we can relate.

We have an old 1920's tudor.

We've expanded into our basement for more living space. We have storage on the upper beams of our garage. We, luckily, have attic space on the second and third level that offers additional storage room. Closets are small. Our roof was a complete tear off, unfortunately. Fortunately, we were able to expand an existing closet when the roof was redone, as it was previously dormered out. We expanded it into a walk in closet, which was cheap enough to do as they were already removing the entire roof.

Keep furniture to scale. Overloading rooms with more furniture to add storage space is only going to make your rooms look more cramped. For that reason, I do not have a storage caddy above my toilet, especially considering my very small full bath. I would inset a new cabinet before I added a caddy, but that's just my taste and I always think caddy's appear like an afterthought. Just my opinion.

My best advice if you are thinking of knocking walls out, get advice from an architect before doing so. There's nothing worse than walking into an old home with character where you can tell it doesn't have the proper "flow" to it due to bad choices and people trying to make it into something it's not. The worst is seeing a contemporary style decorating in a period home, and we've seen plenty of those in our home searches.

We go through our closets annually and send any clothing we haven't worn in the past year to goodwill. Same thing with items in the house. Periodic decluttering is absolutely necessary, and the donations each year are a nice tax write off. Spring cleaning is a nice time to declutter annually.

Craigslist is a nice way to advertise items for "free" if you want to get rid of them curbside, fast. Anything I've posted has been claimed within a few hours.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 7:54PM
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I have a TON of closet space, but tiny bathrooms. Thankfully, the builder built storage into the walls in the upstairs 1/2 bath. The downstairs full bath has a nice corner cupboard. Not enough space to store towels, but gives me some storage.

Personally, I think you just get used to it and learn to go through things on a regular basis. Our last house was brand new and we had HUGE bathrooms. It was definitely hard at first, but now I don't even think about it. You don't really spend THAT much time in the bathroom. The only complaint I have is the only outlet in my upstairs one is this tiny thing on the light (original cabinet and light) and no plug fits in it.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 8:01PM
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Thanks everyone for the good feedback. I HAVE lived in much smaller homes and did just fine.. we did get spoiled the last few years, but one of my desires is to get rid of this big house, with 10-11' ceilings. I'll miss my closet space some, but really.. most of it is filled with clothes I don't wear or have never worn!

Master bath, and 3/4 bath are fine, no issues, the one hall/bedroom bath, I can easily recess a custom cabinet above the toilet for storage. The last bath, I don't see an option, but the bedroom is large and a little storage cabinet would work just fine. Sure wish we had an attic or basement for suitcase and Christmas things.. that's the hardest part!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:00PM
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I really hope you get the house and that you'll love it there!

Like ColumbusGuy I get my hackles up a little about house sizes. Our house is under 1,300 sq ft and we only have one bathroom that is 6'x5.'5...that's the smallest I think you can make a full bath. The tub is barely wedged in and there is only room for a pedestal (the bowl actually overlaps the tub a little) and a toilet. Hopefully one day we will add another bath but the point is that you really do get used to anything. There's just no need for enormous storage spaces and so many bathrooms. You can never use all the space at once and if you don't have easy access to your stored items then why have them?!

I'm sure you will do just beautifully in your new house. Smaller spaces have a simpler charm that is comfortable beyond compare. Since you've already lived in smaller houses I'm sure you will settle in just fine, it sounds like your plans will work out very well, going into the studs for storage is always a golden idea in my book! Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:19PM
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I think now with credit a little harder to obtain, property taxes going up like crazy, and more importantly energy prices going sky high too....the days where the average family of 4 thinks they "need" a 4K square foot McMansion on 5 acres may go by the wayside.

So many of my friends (I'm an hour north of NYC) have homes like this and complain endlessly about their 15K+ property tax bills. I have a cool old 2200 sq-ft Victorian on a nice tree-lined street in the village on a third of an acre, my taxes are 6500. Sure, I don't have a 'master suite' and all that jazz....but I can mow my lawn in 30 minutes with a push monthly landscaping service bills or expensive riding mowers to maintain either...and I get some exercise while I'm at it...that's good too.

I think the 'regular people' or 'middle class' in this country (of which I belong) got way out of hand with what they expect in a house.....every newer house I've been to has Viking appliances, master suites, jacuzzi tubs, pools, 3 car garages, etc.....then they whine about having to pay for it.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 11:29AM
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enigmaquandry - That's about the size of our full bath. It was hard to get used to at first, coming from a house with big bathrooms. But now that my kids are big enough that they don't follow me in the bathroom every time I go in, it's plenty of space. :) One person at a time, but that's how a bathroom should be, anyway! Haha!

mkroopy - I couldn't agree with you more. There are times I get sucked into thinking I wish I had what my friends have, but hey....we're the ones out of debt! Well, minus our mortgage, but that's under $100,000 and our property taxes are less than $1,500 a year. The house I grew up in....a very small ranch, probably like 1,200 sq. ft....was plenty big enough for our family of four. And the people who lived there before (in the 70's) us had a bunch of kids! When I was a kid and before, people raised large families in small spaces. My generation thinks every person needs a whole wing of the house or something! My boys are sharing a 10x10 bedroom and I'm pretty sure they don't feel abused. :)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 10:24AM
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Tinker, I love your new (potential)house, and the grounds are magnificent! How excited you must be! Your kitchen is adorable, and I wouldn't change a thing.

I live in a 1916 Arts and Crafts home with HUGE closets (approx 17X9), and don't have any advice for you on how to stretch your space. Also the baths are as bigger than most bedrooms. How many bedrooms do you have? Could one of the bedrooms be converted to additional closet space and a nice bath?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 11:51AM
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I live in an 1889 Victorian mcmansion with twelve tiny bathrooms and lots of bedrooms that have been split into two rooms (not small....20x20 or so is a half).

And one small closet lol.

We turned a bedroom into a closet for niw and plan on taking the other spaces back to closer to their original configuration. I also have several English wardrobes (an amoire for hanging and a dresser as well as shoe cubbies) for the bedrooms we use (the others are guest rooms). They are a nice optin until we start fixing the changes that have taken place over the years.

One thing I recommend is to do nothing for the first year as you learn to live in the old place and learn her flow. Things we thought we were going to do on day one have totally changed a year later. We have a much better idea how the house flows and how we flow in it. I thought we'd rarely use the servants dining room and we are in there daily. I hadn't planned on doing much with the guest baths but now I am going to convert four to powder rooms and replace the showers/tubs with stackable washers and dryers.

We purchased it lock stock and barrel down to the food in the kitchen so I've weeded out a lot of the old b&b stuff and replaced with more functional stuff. Most of the replacement pieces do double duty like a decorative side table that converts too a dining table for six or my and side tables that are actually antique chamber pots.....great for storage and they move easily! I've actually started collecting them lol.

I live your new place. As to modern homes....we have one of those as well (80s) and it had small bathrooms and closets...times don't always change. There I gutted it...but in the mcmansion I like to be more methodical so that we do the right thing for the old house.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 7:04AM
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"an 1889 Victorian mcmansion"

I think that's an oxymoron....McMansions to me (and most people I would think) are from no earlier than the late 80's / early 90's (around here anyway...NY), and are always in subdivisions next to other equally large homes.

I think if live in a 1889 Victorian and it has 12 bathrooms, you are entitled to drop the "Mc" prefix and truly call it a mansion.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:03AM
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How do I manage...?

Truth is, I don't! We are "stuff" people and have an overflowing house. Having been here 20 years, we are just doing the spring cleaning to end all spring cleanings - the first one with one child out of the coop, first time I've had time to deal with all the detritus accumulated while living in a half-finished house and trying to have a life on the side.

So my advice: if you are working on the house, work on one project at a time and finish it! Aim to eventually live in a finished house, not a perpetual project, if you can. Tools and supplies take up so much space.

Do commit to a reduced stuff lifestyle, or if you decide to embrace it (as I do), get a nearby storage locker and treat it like an extra room in your house - you know, furnish it for your needs and use it for seasonal stuff etc. My locker keeps me sane and I view it as simply the cost of staying where we are rather than moving to a bigger house.

Small bathroom requires communication and learning to think and plan ahead and to consider the needs of others - has been a good lesson for the kids. And move some activities out of the bathroom - if there is more than one sink in the house (eg laundry room), not everyone needs to brush their teeth in the bathroom, hairbrushing can be done in bedroom, etc.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:00PM
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