life in a tiny apartment.

August 27, 2018

shoe storage | reading my tea leaves

Survival Tip #174: Shoes in a bucket, bin, or basket.

There’s not much quite as comforting as returning home from a long day away and kicking off your shoes. (Well, maybe removing your bra, but let’s stick to the subject at hand.) When you live in a small apartment, you have the added challenge of needing to kick off your shoes without immediately tripping over them. (Not all of us have the space to accommodate a Fred Roger’s-style bench for thoughtful shoe tying.)

But what to do with the shoes once you take them off? Removing our shoes before entering the apartment isn’t just about comfort, but also cleanliness. There’s enough gunk and grime on the soles of New York City shoes that even someone not accustomed to the practice will come around quickly, and it’s nice to have a place to deposit your shoes near the door without tracking any of the nasty stuff inside. Sure, you can bring them in carefully and stow them in the closet—and very we often do—but when coming to and fro several times a day, it’s nice to have a designated spot near the door.

Mostly we stick to the ratio of a few shoes by the door, most shoes in the closets. I’ve written about our closet shoe storage solution before. It’s served us well for the past four years, but the entryway solution has been something of a moving target. shoe storage | reading my tea leaves

First we used an old crate. Then we started to use the crate for art supplies and relegated the shoes to a big old enamel basin, which worked okay but which frequently got sloppy. When we moved back into our apartment after our paint repair this spring, we revisited our shoe approach and came up with still another iteration of “shoes in a bucket” that’s my favorite one so far. This time, I separated adult and kid shoes. Adult shoes go into a crate. Kid shoes go into a basket perched on top of it. This way, my kids can more easily find their shoes on their own and no one needs to go digging to find the perpetually lost stinky Converse for putting on chubby toddler toes. So far, so genius. Four years in, we’ve gotten a little bold and we put our entryway shoes in the hallway outside our apartment door. We live on the top floor and so there’s a little landing with space for a compact solution.

At my sister’s apartment a few blocks away, shoes are currently getting thrown into a large planter by the front door. Shoe storage solutions are hard to settle on in a small apartment and a planter seems good enough when you’ve just finished a cross-country move less one plant and plus one empty pot. Her apartment, like mine, opens directly into the living area, so what you might be tempted to call an entryway is really just a door—a place to enter—and not accompanied by any kind of more generous architectural feature offering space or storage.shoe storage | reading my tea leaves

And a family’s worth of shoes aside, there’s the additional question of what to do with everyone elses’s shoesthe sisters and nieces and nephews who arrive daily to say hello. At our place, we can have everyone kick off sneaks and sandals and leave them in the hall. Things are a little messy for awhile, but the mess is out of sight and out of mind. At my sister’s, the railroad apartment entrance meets in a skinny V with her next-door neighbor, so even a single pair of shoes left in the hallway feels like an intrusion.

What do you do? The solution can’t be too ugly, because you have to look at it. It can’t be too complicated because the whole point is that it needs to be even simpler than walking the extra paces to a closet and putting your shoes away there. And it can’t be too big because, well, we’re talking about small spaces here.

A shoe cabinet with fancy folding compartments and a slim profile?

A sturdy basket big enough for everything and pretty to look?

A hanging rack inside the closest closet door?

What do you guys use in your homes? 

For the curious:

Crate: The gray crate is vintage. The crates in our closet are these large and divided crates.

Basket: I found my French market basket with double handles many years ago at Brook Farm General Store. It’s no longer in stock there, but here’s a similar one.

Rug: The littlest of the Willaby hand-loomed rugs, in seashell.

Kid Shoes: My kids currently each have a pair of Converse sneaks and a pair Saltwater sandals (the Classics work for Faye, but Silas’s feet need a roomier fit and the Sailors have been better for him). For dressier “party” shoes, Faye also has the pair of saddles from Mabo you see here and a pair of Fraileras to match my Pons Avarcas. She was wearing them when I snapped this photo of the kids’ shoes, so you can’t see them here, but I love the Velcro on the Pons which make them easy for Faye to take on and off herself.

Adult Shoes: I’ve been wearing my Nisolo Isla Slides in white for the past two summers and I really like them. They’re a bit dressier than my other sandals so they’re a nice option for days when I want to look a bit more polished but not at all fussy. (After two New York City summers spent walking an average of three miles a day in them, they’re a little beat up, so I might take advantage of Nisolo’s shoe reclamation program next summer.) My brown slip-ons are Pons Avarcas Eco-Classics. I’m a longtime fan of these sandals and I love the slimmer profile of the Eco-Classics. (If you want details on James’s shoes, I’m happy to try to oblige, but something tells me you might not be clamoring for those.)

Tiny apartment survival tips #1-#173.

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. 

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  • Reply Cynthia August 27, 2018 at 11:32 am

    I never solved the shoe dilemma when I had boys living here, but with a big entry porch it was always fun to arrive home and see what I was coming home to based on the shoes kicked off at the door. Sometimes a pile of huge athletic shoes (lots of boys), sometimes a mix of girls and boys, and occasionally an unrecognizable pair for intrigue. We also have an entrance via our basement and it works now for us to house our shoes down there and simply use that exit and entrance so we can come upstairs in our slippers.

    But what I really want to talk about is your sister moving back to NYC! Is she keeping the Portland house as a rental? Was Portland too rainy/dull/far away from Boyles? Is her NYC apartment a tiny space like yours? I know you share the same aesthetic for simple, clean lines. So happy you are together again!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 27, 2018 at 11:38 am

      Love the idea of coming upstairs in slippers! Ha! Cait and her husband sold their Portland house. His family is still out there, so they’ll probably spend most of the summers in Oregon! Cait’s work is really based in New York so the move was mostly centered around that…and being closer to Boyles! Their place is a little bigger than ours—somewhere around 700 square feet, I think, and with two bedrooms—but still quite cozy!

  • Reply MissEm August 27, 2018 at 11:50 am

    We use a crate too, and my husband keeps all of his in our closet. It’s still a mess, so I may separate the kid shoes from the adult, though somehow with backpacks and nature school packs and scooters and outdoor gear and sunscreen…it never looks streamlined like yours! I want to work on that bc the visual clutter makes me a grumpy parent.

  • Reply Emily August 27, 2018 at 11:56 am

    Actually, one thing I wanted to ask you bc I think about it all the time, is what do you do when your kid’s aesthetic conflicts strongly with your own in a small space? I feel like I’m constantly saying no to my kids (when you add in junk that will break and is awful for the environment, tv shows that are mostly for marketing product, the avalanche of sugar, and sheer excess, it feels like I’m in a wrestling match with American values for my kids’ minds and hearts, and I’m the one who ends up looking heartless). But that’s a tangent – what I’m wondering is if you’ve thought about how you will incorporate your kids’ aesthetic interests if they end up being into….hot pink and purple, bright plastic, glitter, and maximilism. My kids were happy with my aesthetic until just recently but now it would bring them tremendous joy if I let them plaster themselves in plastic glittery rainbow colours with tv characters on them, and I wonder if I’m making the wrong choice by curtailing that (which I’m concerned would lead to massive consumerism and ecologically unhealthy habits, sadly).

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 27, 2018 at 12:40 pm

      I think it’s okay—even great—to set limits and boundaries. What’s parenting except imparting values and guiding kids through decision making? But I mostly think it’s great to think about ways that allow for personal expression without having that be tied to consumerism. You know? Sure, kids might see sparkly unicorn shirts and decide they want that, but they might also decide they want to add purple to their room and so you string up purple flowers! Or dye their play dough bright pink. Or paint colorful pictures. They might express themselves through play or music or dance. I think it’s easy to get so caught up in questions about “stuff” that we forget about all the rest! Kids are bombarded with marketing and no doubt they’ll sometimes want things that might not fit the particular aesthetic of their parents, but like every single decision we make about what we consume, I think it’s sometimes okay to say yes and sometimes more than appropriate to say no.

    • Reply Christie August 27, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      I have to deal with this, too. When my kids go to their friends, they can play Zelda on their Nintendo and eat their Oreo cookies. It’s a treat. But not at our house. I am very straight with my kids about what I value and what is important. Since they were very young, I told them what marketing was (and they are only allowed a few pbs cartoons at home). If we are at someone’s house and an ad comes on, I always explain that that company wants to sell them something by trying to convince them that their life is meaningless or less happy without it. I have been somewhat aggressive about preaching my values but I understand that they see a lot of things at public school and families that do things differently. And I tell my kids that one day, they may choose different things for themselves. And that will be ok with me. But for now, we value simplicity, the environment, and family. I think having frank discussions with your kids about these things is important. Don’t judge other people. Just explain that that works for their family but not for yours and why.

    • Reply mado August 27, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      Just chiming in to say I feel you! I often feel like the party-pooper, especially in regards to my in-laws, my child, and plastic/sugar/liscensed marketing. But they are getting the message! Birthday presents this year were so much better than last. And thank you Erin for continuing to provide inspiration and solidarity for us parents trying to impart this kind of guidance.

      • Reply Emily August 27, 2018 at 6:04 pm

        Thanks all – always nice to be reminded that there are other parents who think this way too. It’s tricky…I’m dealing now with a 7 year old who definitely feels shame about liking things that don’t mesh with our family style and values, which is hard to see (and I definitely try to take the shame element out, but that’s complicated) and occasional embarrassment at being out of step with her peers. There’s also the aspect of not teaching them to judge other families while at the same time teaching that some of their practices may be harmful. I’m not great at any of it, but they say showing up is half the battle so…banking on that! Haha

        • Reply Lara August 28, 2018 at 10:38 am

          I also have a 7 year old daughter, and some of the comments above really resonate- She has always been interested in people, and learning from others… and I can see the sense of enjoyment she gets from being with friends whose families do things differently than us- and I think it’s important to being open and understanding to other ways people live. I try to emphasize lack of judgement too, but it’s hard for kids to understand why we won’t do certain things if they are ok at a friends house 🙂 . Limits on technology and media were the biggest cultural struggle for us in the past year, but after about a year of just trying to stay strong on what we do/watch at home, vs. what’s out there, I can see her coming back around, and accepting the limits at home and enjoying what we do at home .

    • Reply Sasha L August 28, 2018 at 4:46 pm

      I love this whole discussion and reading all of these thoughtful replies. It’s tough to be different isn’t it? My children are 20 & 22 now and this was my struggle as well. We didn’t do junk food, I tried to limit junk toys and TV and exposure to pop culture, we didn’t eat meat, we homeschooled but aren’t Christian, in a nutshell, we were always SO DIFFERENT from just about everyone. There were times when I felt like a kill joy or that others were judging me (and thinking I was super judgy). But now I really do feel ok about all of it. I can see that we’ve raised adults that are discerning and critical (in a good way) and think for themselves, which includes having their own values which sometimes differ from mine. Both are vegetarian but both also have tattoos (multiple!!). Both wear makeup and like fashion and shoes…… Stuff that I didn’t model but also totally ok. My youngest ordered a diet soda the other day and a part of me died. ENJOY being able to control their lives while you can.

      Keep teaching those values mamas. You’re raising thinkers.

  • Reply Sarah T August 27, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Ah, this is my current storage problem! In Chicago where I live, blessed to have more ample living space, but the weather conditions mean in the span of a few days, I might need ready access to: sandals, sneakers, rain boots, and snow boots. Plus for several months of the year, winter boots are being set out to dry. The shoes take over! Would love to hear if any folks here have found good solutions!

    • Reply Sasha L August 28, 2018 at 4:54 pm

      Sarah, this is my dilemma too. We live in Montana, so similarly changeable weather. I am a minimalist in pretty much everything but shoes are so dang hard. I think I need: warm snow boots, hikeable snow boots, hiking boots, rain boots, clogs for running errands, dress boots, cowgirl boots (Montana ), water sandals, flip flops, dress sandals, sneakers, indoor shoes (Crocs). Seriously, I WANT to pair down, but what don’t I need?? I don’t even have heels, not a single pair. But that’s still more pairs than I feel like I have comfortable space for in a small house, with a husband who has all those pairs too and big feet.

  • Reply Mary in Maryland August 27, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    How about a hanging rack in the hall at your sister’s place?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 27, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      Anything in the hall would be awesome! But, alas, no luck—not allowed to hang up or keep anything in the hallways!

  • Reply Marcia August 27, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    We are so lucky you have a small closert by the back door, so I have an elfa drawer system and everyone gets a drawer. The bigger closet by the front door I did algot shelves and everyone has a shelf.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 27, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      Ah! Sounds dreamy.

  • Reply Amanda August 27, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    We live in a pretty sizable apartment (no entryway though), and I’ve set down large tiles on the carpet near the door and we leave several pairs shoes there, the rest are in bins under our bed. Definitely not ideal, but it keeps the carpet clean-ish.

    What this post mainly makes me think of is my college dorm room shoe battle. My room was the popular hang-out mainly because it was the only one on the floor that had a place to sit and chat (a futon from Walmart that we definitely squeezed every penny out of!).

    As a result of the popularity the carpet got filthy quickly. It was common knowledge that I expected shoes outside the door, which worked well until one night we threw an Olympics opening ceremony party and exceeded the room occupancy, which wouldn’t have been obvious except for the ginormous pile of shoes outside the door 😀 Luckily the attendant on duty liked us, and told us to bring the shoes in and keep it down, such good memories!

  • Reply Emily August 27, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    I have the Ikea STALL cabinet and love it! The entry hallway in my NYC apartment is super narrow (like, have to walk down sideways like a crab if I have any sort of shopping bag narrow), and the cabinet is slim enough to not take up too much room and creates a great landing spot on top for keys, sunglasses, etc. Plus it stores about 10 pairs of my and my partner’s shoes!

    • Reply Lee August 28, 2018 at 11:30 am

      My husband and I have the STALL cabinet (3-stack) too! We have a long awkward hallway in our tiny apartment with dead space at the end (not big enough to put a large dresser, etc. The STALL fits perfectly and holds sooooo many shoes! I’m honestly amazed at how much we can fit in there.

  • Reply Jenna August 27, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    The problem I find with storing shoes in baskets/tubs is that the grime from the bottom of one shoe gets on the top of the shoe below it. Do you run into this problem too?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 27, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Oh sure, but it’s not too terrible and it’s the most space efficient method we’ve found so sticking with it!

  • Reply Hannah Joy August 27, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    The problem I encountered with shoe storage is the size of my husband’s feet! Every shoe storage solution looked adorable with my size 7’s stacked in there, but his size 13 1/2 EEE’s burst out of every option. I ended up purchasing a huge antique metal crate and everyone’s shoe size is appropriately accommodated! I put a narrow rug underneath to prevent damage to the wood floor. Yes there is always a large pile of shoes in the crate, and sometimes I throw in an umbrella, but lately that full crate has reminded me of the full and meaningful lives we walk through together.

    • Reply Susan Magnolia August 27, 2018 at 7:54 pm

      That sounds like my family. My daughter and I share a shoe rack and Papa’s big shoes are relegated to the floor or closet.

  • Reply MissEm August 27, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    We once strung up bungee cords on the inside wall of a closet – three rows with two bungees each set closely parallel to each other, screwed in tight enough to slip shoes into each of the rows. It holds maybe 9 pairs of adult shoes and if you get a colour bungee you like it’s not bad looking!

  • Reply MJ August 28, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    I love these ideas but struggle with what to do with shoes when it’s wet/snowy, which is a huge chunk of the year where I live. Then the basket and/or crate idea doesn’t seem to work as the shoes on the bottom will get soaked. Any ideas?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 28, 2018 at 12:52 pm

      Hmm! Maybe a hardworking doormat, too?

  • Reply Anita August 28, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    We have the wall mounted Trones shoe cabinets from Ikea in our hallway. Chris and I have one each, for our current shoe pair rotation. And we have a third where we keep winter hats, scarves and mittens etc. We have two free range (rescue) house bunnies living with us, so this solution is super to get the shoes off the floor away from eager rabbit teeth. It also makes the hallway less cluttered when we can lock up our shoes, out of sight.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 28, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      free-range bunnies!!!

  • Reply Sasha L August 28, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration Erin!! I have an over door pocket hanger that we’ve used over the years for lots of different storage ideas. It’s in our laundry room/entry from garage, teeny tiny space but only realistic space for shoes as we lack for closets and that closet houses our dog’s crate. I think I will try it for my shoes (husband’s too big) and mittens and winter gear too. Something about fall that makes me want to declutter, tidy, find better uses.

  • Reply Tina B August 29, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    Shoe problems, the worst problem in a tiny space! ESPECIALLY one where winter last 6 months (we live in Toronto, I feel like Brooklyn is probably similar). We also do a couple shoes by the door most stored in a closest but our solution isn’t working currently it takes up too much floor space of our precious closet. I’m struggling with finding a solution for rubber boots and winter boots. Definitely going to try a basket for the others though, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 29, 2018 at 3:35 pm

      Sigh, I know it. (And no claims that things don’t get a little unruly in the hallway on the day of a snowstorm!)

  • Reply Brooklyn Morning Garden August 30, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    We just moved into a new little Brooklyn apartment (after I spent the year in a cabin where the front door entered right into the BATHROOM of all places, so I kept shoes next to the shower!) and have been keeping the bottom shelf of the low bookshelf by the door free for our “in use” shoes. It fits about two and a half pairs, and won’t fare well come gross weather and wet shoes, but it’s working just fine now, and I like how it feels almost like a built-in shoe cubby.

  • Reply Cussot September 2, 2018 at 10:06 am

    I’d be tempted to stick one of those hanging wire drawers in that crate to give me 2-tier storage .

  • Reply Shannon September 4, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Hi there. Erin, I love your blog and have given your book to my daughter, who is in her sophomore year of college, and several of her dearest friends. I figured it was a good gift to give, as they have each independently read my copy cover to cover when curled up on our couch! I am going to lug a crate to Boston from Oakland, CA when I visit my girl in October, as she is having shoe storage issues in her tiny dorm room. Thank you for the idea! I would also like to share my 2 cents regarding the parenting discussions from the earlier emails. Trust your parenting instincts and do not be afraid to instill your aesthetic and values. My two daughters (the other is a senior in high school) have each gone through phases of “self-expression” that go against my simple aesthetic over the years. Think bright red as a bedroom color theme ( I was outnumbered…) feather hair extensions, and t-shirts sporting neon mustaches. Sigh. They tease me for only using “beige wooded toys, silks, woolen dolls and rice” as their childhood toys, but they have each thanked me for their simple and magically sweet childhoods. I do believe that picking one’s battles is important (you can wear the side-pony tail and all the rubber bands we were recycling up your arm as a “statement bracelet” , but we are not getting video games- ever) and your kids will ultimately thank you. I now have two nearly- adult daughters who have thanked me for keeping their childhoods simple. Trust yourselves, you mamas. Your instincts are right on! And you are going to raise a great generation of kids:)

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