Old houses tend to have some very unique storage challenges because they were just designed for life in a different time. Read on to find out about the organizing tricks for old homes that we use to make our 120+ year old farmhouse work for modern life!
There’s a reason that a lot of our renovation projects have a large storage/organizational component to them. When we moved in to this house from a much smaller house, it seemed like we would surely have more than enough space, and we do, it’s just that none of that space is really meant for storage. This house has no pantry, no linen closet, no walk-in closets (OK, Kennedy has the only one), no coat closets, no hall closets…. you get the picture. Once we got ourselves moved in here, we definitely found a lot of real-life challenges when it came to storing and organizing the stuff of our lives in this house. Over-the-years we’ve renovated and tweaked different areas of our house to turn it from super frustrating to super functional. If you’re living in an old house and wondering how you’re going to make it work for modern life, here are some of our favourite organizing tricks for old homes.
Line Your Walls With Storage
If you have walls, you’re lucky. You have almost unlimited storage potential, right there. Room sizes in old homes can be small, so adding in extra furniture for storage can be a challenge, but if you create built-ins along your walls, you’ll save a ton of space and end up with an incredible amount of storage. We’ve done this in quite a few areas and definitely plan to do it a whole bunch more. A giant wall of beautiful shelving or cabinetry is just something that never gets old for me!
(This photo was from our little spring home tour last year.)
We have built-in shelves along one wall in Jack’s room which have been super helpful. How sad is it that I don’t have any pictures of his room that are less than five years old? We’ll have to fix that one day!
And this is the setup that Chris built in Kennedy’s room. I’m jealous, actually! I could use a little desk like this! 🙂
Add Tiny Shelves in Small Spaces
I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed at the unlimited potential of photo ledges and other tiny shelves. I’ve used them a lot around the house to turn tiny slivers of wall space into a main focal point of a room and also to create useful storage in places that you just wouldn’t normally even notice.
If you happen to have the opportunity to add an addition to your home, I can’t recommend a mudroom enough. Those 100-ish square feet will free up many hundreds more. We realized recently when we had our first snowfall of the season how much bigger our kitchen felt when we didn’t have to tiptoe around any puddles of melted snow because they were all in the mudroom. And we didn’t have to step over piles of mittens and hats in front of every vent in the living room because they were all in the mudroom. Our basement has become so much more organized now since we installed our mudrooms because all the little toys and outdoor gear that used to hang around down there in bins now have proper homes in drawers and on shelves.
We have a little mini back hall mudroom off of our bedroom…
…and then also a bigger one that we added on last spring just off of our kitchen. Both have been major lifestyle upgrades for our whole family.
Hmm, now where else can I tack on a mudroom? 🙂
Baskets and Bins A’ Plenty
I feel like I say this way too often, but: Use baskets! Seriously! Pretty ones!
Baskets are such an easy, stealthy way of organizing your home… or just making your home look organized in an instant. They hold and hide all your stuff but they also double as decor. Our coffee table just wouldn’t be as pretty without the added texture from the baskets underneath but they also hold all kinds of cords, cases, photo props, and books that we don’t have shelves for yet. Sometimes the answer really is just as simple as buying a few baskets that you love and calling it a day.
Find Extra Space in Non-Living Areas
One thing that’s true for a lot of old houses is that they often have quite a bit of extra space that kind of becomes wasted space in a lot of scenarios. We have a basement under the original part of our house that’s the perfect size for storing so many things. While it’s probably what most people would think of as a crawl space because the ceilings are just a little over five feet high, it works perfectly for me because I’m short. 🙂 We went a little crazy filling the space with sturdy plastic shelving a few years ago and now it stores everything from Christmas decorations, DIY supplies, and patio furniture, to extra cleaning supplies, paper goods, and extra small kitchen appliances.
Attics can also be a source of great, useful space, even if you can only stick your head up there and can’t walk all the way in, you can often slide a few plastic bins up there.
Our house has/had a lot of wasted space in areas leading outside as well. It seems like every door leading outside had a hallway or stairwell leading up to it. We’ve made good use of most of them, but we have a really wide stairwell and landing area leading off of our kitchen out to the backyard that I’ve been dying to turn into a useful area. I’m sensing more built-in cabinetry in our future so we can create a secret stairwell pantry area or even just have somewhere to hide our larger sports gear like skiis, helmets, and skates.
And don’t forget under the stairs! We have a little toy closet just off of our living room under the stairs and it almost completely makes up for the fact that we don’t have a separate play room in this house. Almost. 🙂
Get Rid of Stuff
There are no two ways about it: Success at being organized in an organizationally-challenged home always comes with a little side of discipline. This is true of keeping a home tidy in any situation, but maybe a little more-so in an old home. You need to get into a routine where you’re playing editor with your possessions on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be a big event. Just set up a donation bin and get in the habit of tossing stuff in there regularly, whenever you notice something that doesn’t quite fit in with your life anymore. The things you’re looking to keep in check are probably going to mostly be things like clothes, toys, books, crafting supplies, things like that. But they might be old cords and chargers, extra kitchen appliances, or pet supplies too. It could even be whole pieces of furniture if you’re feeling like things are getting a little cramped and some built-ins might work better for you.
The point is to make editing your stuff a regular part of your daily tidy-up routine so you’re not always just moving stuff around from one temporary holding place to another when you really just don’t need to be holding on to it any longer at all.
If this sounds like something you might need to do, also check out my post on the simplest, most straightforward closet organization ideas. This post was all about the simple ways that I keep our old-fashioned, non-walk-in closet organized. If you’re someone who still has one of those old “regular” closets like we do, let me know! We’re becoming more and more rare these days! 🙂
Do you live in an old house with storage challenges? What are some of the tactics you’ve used to make it work for you?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.