life in a tiny apartment.

July 10, 2018

Tip #168: Hang a high shelf.

My forever motto is less stuff, not more storage. But there are some things that need having and those things need a place to perch. In those cases, a clever solution is worth its weight in gold. 

Enter our new bathroom shelf. 

Our bathroom is tiny. It’s windowless and furniture-less. Until now, we’ve stored our few essentials on the back of the toilet, but it’s been a cumbersome solution both because of the toilet’s tendency to sweat and because of our children’s tendency to grab anything within reach and use it to festoon themselves or each other. In the midst of our bathroom updates, I decided it was finally time to create a nook to store our in-bathroom essentials: stain remover and laundry detergent for hand washing clothes, and, if we could swing it, a few extra rolls of toilet paper.

I didn’t want anything too imposing—or too tempting for tiny climbers. Above-toilet shelving units abound and there’s no shortage of small space advice extolling their virtues, but I crave open space and our bathroom storage needs are small enough that I can’t justify the expense or imposition of a large shelf. (Indeed, neighbors recently moved out of our building and left a lovely unit of this sort curbside, but even at the very tantalizing price of completely free, I didn’t want the space hog.)

Instead, we now have a shelf where I least expected one: Above the doorway. The wall above the bathroom door is the perfect place for mounting a slim shelf that virtually disappears from view. A quick step up on the footstool we keep below the sink for hand washing and teeth brushing purposes makes it easy to reach for adults but far out of reach of kids. 

It’s a tiny fix that’s decluttered the back of the toilet and made room for an extra roll or two of toilet paper at the same time. I can see it being especially useful in a kitchen, too, but really it’s a simple way to use otherwise wasted space, anywhere.

For the curious:

+ We chose the Brake Angle Shelf, generously provided by Schoolhouse Electric. We have thicker-than-drywall plaster walls so we had to get extra long screws, but the mounting was fairly straightforward and I love the clean lines of the shelf.

+ Somewhat unrelated but I know the questions are coming. I’m often asked about I how I manage to wear white/sleep on white sheets while also living with two small kids. The answer is two-fold: First: I try hard not to be too precious about this sort of thing. (What’s a grass stain but a sign of good living?) Second: I remember that most stains, if treated swiftly, will come out. Here’s what I use: 

+ My very favorite stain fighter are solid bars of stain remover a la La Laundress Wash & Stain Bar. We’ve also had equally terrific homemade options procured from small French markets. Should you be traveling this summer, keep your eyes peeled. Nellie’s All-Natural also makes a stain stick that I imagine is terrific, but I’ve never tried it. “We” once accidentally spilled an entire glass of red wine onto our slip cover and we removed the stain entirely using one of these bars. Truly, every bar of this sort that I’ve ever tried has worked extremely well and I keep one in a small glass jar in my bathroom at all times. We were also given a bottle of La Laundress Stain Solution that we keep on our shelf. I’m trying hard to avoid single-use plastic, so I wouldn’t purchase this again, especially because stain bars work so well.

+ For regular hand washing needs, including daily washing of cloth diaper covers, we use Common Good detergent which we can refill locally at our grocery store. (If you don’t have a local refill option, stay tuned. They’re soon going to launch remote refills! UPDATE: You can preorder your box today and get 30% off. Will ship late-July in a container that uses 83% less plastic!)

+ For loads of white sheets (and other laundry) that we send down to the laundromat, we supply them with Nellie’s Oxygen Brightner and detergent (most often these days, Charlie’s Soap). We wash our sheets weekly! Does this keep them perfectly pristine? No. But our current bed sheets are all more than two years old and they still feel mostly fresh to me!

+ More about the rest of the bathroom updates this way.

What about you guys? Any genius small-space storage solutions you’ve stumbled upon lately?

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  • Reply Jennifer Odle July 10, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Do you use dishwasher soap? I’ve been looking for a good alternative next time we need to purchase some.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 10:57 am

      We do. My favorite is Ecover powder!

  • Reply Heidi July 10, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Hi Erin, do you have room to hang bathroom towels? Looking for a hanging rod type solution for a few kids and a few adults towels in one tiny bathroom!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 11:28 am

      Yes! We have little hooks that we screwed right into the back of our bathroom door and we hang our towels from their towel loops instead of over a rod!

    • Reply Rachel July 10, 2018 at 5:12 pm

      Heidi, I’ve been eyeing these beauties for a while, in case they’re what you’re after …

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 10:32 pm

        Beautiful! Fog linen also has really lovely slim brass towel rods.

    • Reply Trish O July 12, 2018 at 11:51 am

      We use hooks as well. It really saves space in our tiny bathroom. We are a family of four with one bathroom. Two hooks on the wall, a row of hooks on the back of the door. Then we can hang bath towels and a few swim things after the pool.

  • Reply Debra July 10, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Soap nuts are great for laundry and no bulky bottles or boxes to contend with. They can be composted when worn out. Supposedly you can use them for hair washing and such but I haven’t tried this.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 11:46 am

      Yes! Since we don’t have our own washer or dryer in our apartment (or building), we haven’t tried soap nuts. Would love to know if you have experience using them to hand wash!

  • Reply Brittany Thielmann July 10, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    We use Nellies stain stick remover and it’s nothing short of amazing! Poop explosions (we have two under two so there’s a lot of those it seems), blueberry stains that have been left for a couple of days, wine stains, they come right out with a gentle scrub and that remover. It’s a bit absurd how well it works.
    I love the idea of refilling our laundry detergent! I’ve never heard of such an option. Definitely going to look into that now! Thanks!
    We’re currently using an ikea trolley for our toilet paper/towels/hand towels in our bathroom. It fits perfectly into an unused; awkward corner behind our door, which makes the bulkiness of it not so bad! I love your shelf idea though. May have to look into that…

  • Reply Katie July 10, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    This is not necessarily a small space solution, but a very poignant observation that I’ve had over the past week. Last week we evacuated our small condo on July 4th due to a wildfire less than a mile from our home (started by a couple of idiots firing tracer rounds…). We had a decent amount of time to pack (we watched the fire start and spread erratically within an hour, so we got to packing immediately knowing the drought situation), and two cars to fill, so there was quite a lot of thought that went into what we’d want to take if our house burned. We don’t have a lot, but I do have a box of sentimental items (think photos, year books from elementary school, many medals from races I’ve run and even won, etc.) that I was sure I’d take in an emergency. Come to find out, those year books, medals, and even some of the photos, did not mean as much as I thought! I ended up not packing them. Now that the fire is no longer threatening our home and we’re back inside of it, I’m looking forward to purging more things from our home that I’ve realized are not essential or meaningful after this experience. This is all to say… if someone needs a few more tips on how to minimize the amount of things, envision yourself in an emergency evacuation situation with a set amount of room to pack!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 3:49 pm

      So sorry to hear, Katie! So glad you and yours are safe!

  • Reply Steph July 10, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    I’ve been looking for a simple white shelf for our small bathroom, this is perfect! We’re a family of three in 550 square ft, I’ve been getting so many great ideas from your blog, thank you so much! Sometimes it’s almost like magic…i need something very specific, and then you post about it

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 10, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      Cheers to magic and to families making it work in small spaces! Thanks for your kind words!

  • Reply Karen July 11, 2018 at 12:14 am

    I’m in awe of the “before” scenario wherein a family of four stores all of their bathroom necessities on the back of a toilet!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 11, 2018 at 8:24 am

      Ha! I mean we store other essentials in other places: in the medicine cabinet, in a small over-the-shower-head caddy, in the closet in the main room…These were the extras that I find very useful to keep in the bathroom but that didn’t have a real home!

  • Reply Julia July 11, 2018 at 1:29 am

    Think you mean tempting vs temping. Small thing.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 11, 2018 at 8:23 am

      Typo! Thanks.

  • Reply Sue July 11, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Re red wine spills …. I was at a party and someone dropped a glass of wine right beside me. It sprayed up all over the (new!) cotton dress I was wearing. Because it was a party, there was lots of club soda on hand, so the host grabbed some, splashed it on the wine spray, and magically, in an instant the wine was gone.

    Chapter 2 …. entertaining friends at home, red wine spill on the carpet. No cans of club soda at hand, but we do have a soda stream to make carbonated water, so thought it might be worth trying. Same magic!

    I don’t know if this magic would work on dried red wine stains, but any kind of carbonated water seems to do the trick quite effectively on fresh ones.

  • Reply Katie L July 11, 2018 at 8:35 am

    Have you (or anyone here) ever tried a “bluing agent” for their whites (like Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing)? I’m interested in getting it for our all white bedding (with two cats who sometimes leave less than desirable things behind… it can be tough to keep things very white for long) and towels.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 11, 2018 at 8:42 am

      Never have!

    • Reply Rie July 11, 2018 at 11:07 pm

      I use Mrs. Stewart’s on my white linen sheets, and 5 years in, they are still pretty white!

  • Reply Lauren July 11, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Yes, yes for the magical stain-removing properties of French laundry soap! We picked up a Marius Fabre laundry bar six years ago in Paris and it works wonders on everything – wine, coffee, greasy foods, even blood! Plus it lasts forever – after six years of heavy use it is only about 1/5 of the way gone.

  • Reply Meg July 14, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Thanks for the recommendations, Erin! I have a narrow space beside our stacked washer and dryer that could use that little white shelf. Quick question on Nellie’s Brightening and Charlie’s Soap. I use cold water (except for sheets), and I have had trouble in the past with powdered detergent failing to dissolve all the way and leaving white smudges on dark items. I’d like to switch back to powders. Do you happen to know if these dissolve well into cold water? I’m not sure if you specify wash temperature when you drop off at the laundromat, so you may not even know!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 16, 2018 at 8:09 am

      Hey there: we do always use cold water and I never notice any issues! Surely dependent on water etc., but here’s hoping it could work for you!

  • Reply Mo February 6, 2019 at 6:07 am

    I swear by aleppo soap and gall soap. I have used the same aleppo soap for 20 years (with a few years break when I couldn’t find it after a move and had easy access to gall soap) and it can be used for laundry, blocking, stain removal and as a substitute for shampoo.

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