My fiancé's father passed away in February 2012. His mother had passed in 2006. His mother had been an Egyptologist, religion scholar, bibliophile, and all around collector of cool things. His father was a carpenter, metal smith, leather smith, and general craftsman of all sorts. That means we were left with a 12-room-house-full of stuff to deal with. And that's not counting the attic, outside storage, and fully equipped wood working shop. I don't think I need to express that we were overwhelmed with how to store, organize, and eventually incorporate some of this stuff into our own home.
Almost a year later, here are some tips that I learned while trying to put my things, my fiancé's things, and the things we salvaged from his parents' home into our small urban apartment.
Shelving is your best friend
Here in Atlanta, Ikea is the go-to place. They have all sorts of shelving units specifically designed to store lots of things in small places. I love those Swedes and their cube shelves that come in multiple colors and styles. Their Expedit shelves are what we use for books since they are sturdier and can hold a couple hundred ancient textbooks on Egyptian mythology. And in a place with tiny closets, Ikea sells canvas drawers that fit into many of their cube shelves to turn them into a clothing storage system.
Put things on the walls
Not every apartment complex will let you hang shelves, clothing hooks, or even pictures with large nails, but some places will. And there is no reason to have empty walls when you can put up hooks, hangers, small shelves, shadow boxes, and of course, display your art.
Learn to play Tetris
My brain is very good at spatial reasoning. I can do shape puzzles all day and have long been the Queen of Tetris among my friends. Don't let anyone tell you that video games will not teach you useful skills. I learned that Tetris is a real life game when I was faced with a hallway closet that had built-in shelves and I had to get a bunch of miscellaneous boxes into it. So the tip here is to use every inch of the space you have. Stack things appropriately (heavier things on the bottom). Never leave an open inch of space when you can slide something else into that space. This lesson lead me to my next challenge…
Label the hell out of everything
Write on your boxes. Get a label maker. Make an inventory list. I don't care how you do it, but if you don't label when you are shoving things into a closet, you will regret it when you go to look for that one thing you never use (the SATA to IDE adapter for my PC).
This can be hard sometimes, especially when dealing with departed family members belongings, but I am a firm believer in the saying "I don't use it; therefore, I don't need it." If I have had something in storage for so long that I forgot I had it, it means I don't care enough to miss it, and it becomes useless to me. Of course this excludes sentimental things. I have my grandmother's wedding china in storage and I don't currently use it, but I will not be getting rid of it.
That said, I regularly (at least every six months) go through every room in the apartment and make a pile of things I don't use, don't wear, don't need, and give them to the local Good Will or thrift store. My mom taught me to give things away if they are still in good condition, not throw them in the trash, so I advocate the use of FreeCycle, thrift stores, and clothing swaps among friends.
Most importantly, find what works for you
If you prefer under the bed storage to closets, that's great — put it to use. If you store clothes and extra toiletries in your kitchen cabinets because you never cook, that's fantastic. Figure out what makes you happy and what works for your house/apartment/dorm/hut/etc. Don't let your piles of things take over your life. You don't have to be a slave to your stuff, or someone else's stuff, or some 4,000 books that I have no idea what to do with when we get them out of storage. That might be another post all together.