Sunday, January 13, 2013

When space is a problem

In response to my New Year's post about organizing preparedness supplies, a reader write, "Where do you put all your buckets? I live in a little 2 bedroom apartment, & feel crowded in the pantry with 9 buckets of grain. Please can you give me some ideas?"

Almost a year ago, I posted a request asking you all to chime in on this very issue. Here's a synopsis of the results.

It is clear that prepping requires space to store extra quantities of things you might not normally have. Food, stored water, supplies, equipment… these things add up and require someplace to put them.

Unfortunately not everyone is blessed with space. For those living in small homes or apartments without the benefits of backyards, basements, outbuildings, spare bedrooms, garages, or other locations, what’s a prepper to do?

Following are some of the collected suggestions:

• Avoid places where stored items will be vulnerable to extremes in temperature and moisture. Attics or outdoor sheds are particularly troublesome except for items which won’t be affected by temperature extremes (hot or cold). For tough items that can be stored where there are temperature extremes, make sure the items are sufficiently protected against damage due to moisture, insects, and rodents.

• Keep in mind that most of us have junk we no longer use or need. Hold a yard sale, sell stuff on eBay or Craig’s List, or otherwise clean out the clutter. This provides a two-fold benefit: it frees up space which can then be used for storage AND you get a little extra cash, which can be used for prepping supplies.

• A large part of incorporating storage into small living quarters is to strategically replace furniture with storage-friendly options. Essentially, hidden buckets or crates will replace some standard pieces of furniture.

• Consider replacing all bed frames with buckets. When you think about it, beds are about the largest “surface area” furniture in most homes, and often the spaces are totally unused otherwise (except for shoving junk underneath, particularly troublesome in children’s bedrooms). You can either put cinderblocks at the corners and fill in the spaces with buckets and lay a large sheet of plywood over everything, then lay the mattress on top of that; or you can skip the cinderblocks and just use plywood over the buckets. A bed skirt will hide everything from sight. Buckets stored in this fashion will be difficult to get to, so don’t store anything that you’ll be using on a frequent basis. But for long-term storage or for seldom-used supplies or equipment, under the bed is a great option.

• In closets, stack buckets two or three deep behind hanging clothes. Be sure to put large labels on the sides with the labels facing out so you can identify what’s in each bucket.

• Closets also have other storage options. Sturdy shelves installed above head height or above the clothes rod can be used to store buckets, supplies, or equipment. Additionally, buckets can be stacked one or two deep all across the closet floor, a custom-cut sheet of plywood can be laid across the stop, and this becomes the new “floor” for the closet. This can be a benefit for those who don’t want to endlessly bend over fishing in a dark closet for shoes or boots, since the new “floor” is higher. Once more, these buckets would be hard to access on a frequent basis, so use this option only for seldom-used or long-term stored items.

• If you’re storing buckets, square buckets tend to pack tighter than round buckets.

• Customize existing shelves or other storage spots. Whatever came pre-existing in your home or apartment is likely to be an inefficient use of space. Adjust or install permanent or temporary (if you’re living in a rental) shelves which are raised or lowered specifically to what you want to store, so that unused headroom is eliminated.

• Often kitchen cabinets have a large space between the tops of the cabinets and the kitchen ceiling. This space can be ideal for storing buckets or other items (my personal preference would be to put lighter-weight items in these spaces, like mega-packs of toilet paper). Hang short attractive curtains to hide the contents.

• Think about unconventional locations. Nothing says toilet paper can’t be stored over kitchen cabinets, or food can’t be stored in the bathroom. Squeeze things in wherever they fit most efficiently.

• A more ambitious challenge would be to take an entire wall that has no windows, doors, or other encumbrances, and stack this wall floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall with storage buckets. Stacked this high, the buckets are going to be unstable and tippy, so install brackets or braces or other support structure to keep them in place (especially if you live in earthquake country). Then drop a floor-to-ceiling curtain over the whole shebang to hide the contents, or even install removable partitions for a more permanent look. Once more these buckets should contain things you won’t access on a day-to-day basis; they would be for long-term storage. However it would only remove about sixteen inches of room from your living space and would provide tremendous amounts of storage. If you install removable partitions, you can hang pictures, place furniture next to it, and otherwise hide your storage in plain sight.

• If you can’t devote an entire wall to storage, consider “rounding off” the corners of rooms by partitioning a corner or two, essentially making a corner closet. The resulting triangular space could be fitted with shelves and either curtained or partitioned off, and furniture placed in front. While this would yield a fair bit of compact storage space, the disadvantage is the unusual arrangement is likely to be more noticed by visitors.

• Many people routinely replace their coffee tables and end tables with stacked buckets topped with plywood and draped with a cloth (a similar technique is possible if you use one of those giant wooden “spools”). Alternately, purchase or make coffee or end tables which are nothing but large boxes, and store supplies within.

• Stash flats of canned food or other slim or small items in odd spaces, such as under or behind couches. There is actually a surprising amount of room behind many couches – use it!

• Make a list of where everything is! When you start squirreling away enough stuff in odd and diverse locations, it’s going to be hard to remember where everything is. Be sure to have a master list and map of what is stored where, and in what quantities.

• I don’t recommend you lease an outside storage unit. Aside from the cost, if you need access to your items immediately, you may have difficulty retrieving them (for example, if there’s unrest in the city and it’s dangerous to venture out). If your living quarters are so limited and you feel you have no other option, I suppose a storage unit is better than nothing, but recognize its limitations.

These are just some of the creative ideas readers came up with. Needless to say, everyone’s circumstances will be different. The whole idea, however, is to think outside the box when it comes to storing supplies.

Can you think of additional ideas? If so, post them so we can all benefit!


  1. I'm still learning all this stuff, so thanks for posting all these responses!

  2. After reading everything, and as you said think outside the box. Who does not have luggage in their home. You can put your emergency clothes and toiletries in one and food supplies in the others. They are out of sight from prying eyes. Just think of how many dry & can goods you could put in them.

    I am using an pull piece of luggage for my niece's emergency carry kit for her truck (food,water,tools,blankets,clothes.pre-paid phone card & cash). When she leaves home it will roll out to the truck, and roll back when she gets home, do not leave in the vehicle due to temperature changes. Great gift for anyone who can use it.

  3. Patrice, here is a web site of a woman in Montana that uses many very clever storage concenpts, take a look.

  4. Anonymous @ 1:51 - I checked the Montana site. Very clever but I'd be concerned about the cans going bad. I realize canned foods last longer than the expiration date on the cans, but even in my everyday pantry, I've had cans expand and leak.

  5. At the moment all of my buckets fit in an area under my stairs totally out of the way and stored very well stacked up, but I have considered expanding by using the under the bed idea stated above.

    I was thinking of using those milk crates filled with can goods and other supplies and then put the plywood and mattresses on top. The only downside I see is the difficulty of accessing items. You would have move mattresses to access, but this could be remedied to a small degree by using a system.

    In my scenario once every month or two you could rotate two crates of goods out to use and put 2 new ones in. Yes you would still have to move the mattress, but my guess is the whole operation could be done in 30 minutes or less one time per month or even every other month and would not be that difficult.

  6. Well, there is this. It holds close to 400 cans and is a beautiful piece of furnuture as well. I have used it for almost a year now, and it has been awesome! And no one who visits has any idea it is there !!! My SIL took my initial design and off he flew!