3 Ridiculous Small Space Storage Problems We Solved in Our Second Flat!

Organizing storage for small spaces in our new home!

As this flat was BRAND NEW, to say that we were excited to move into it was an understatement. We’d learned that not many buildings in New Zealand were built to the right standards, so we had high hopes for this new build.

It was “a granny flat”—an apartment attached to a larger home. The owners had just built this house and were renting out the flat.

They told us they’d had a huge slew of applicants (we figured). Somehow we won them over and they chose us as the new tenants. It was either our American-ness or the fact that all our “hobbies” I listed in answer to their application questions happened to be quiet ones.

(Which is totally true. We don’t play the drums and I don’t make loud noises while gardening. Now THERE’S a hilarious picture…maybe I should start…)

So we were giddy with excitement to move into this brilliant new space. It was even tinier than our first place, and we didn’t care.


Problem #1

However, on move-in day, we realized they had made a MASSIVE mistake in the kitchen. One that still has me scratching my head.

We were in the middle of the move-in-mayhem (you know, friends coming in and out asking you where to put everything and you have no idea, the landlord stopping by to have you fill out last-minute paperwork, etc)…

…and at one point we were trying to put away things like our cooking spoons, utensils, measuring cups—all those things you usually put into a drawer, right?


In the kitchen.

No drawers. No drawers in the kitchen. I can’t stop saying it.

kitchen with stainless steel hood stove, oven and refrigerator

In fact, there was so little storage anywhere in this kitchen that we had to leave most everything out on the counter (or “bench,” as they say in NZ) while we were moving in and say, “We’ll deal with THAT later.”

Well, later came, and you wanna know how we dealt with no drawers for our silverware?

Get ready, because it’s gonna blow your mind.

Utensils in cups


Solution #1

BAM! Silverware in mugs. That’s right!

Oh, it gets better. Not only was this my only “solution” the night we moved in, but it stayed that way. I never bothered to come up with anything better.

(I probably couldn’t get over the fact that there were no drawers, and my subconscious was refusing to come up with some brilliant solution, as if this silent protest would magically make drawers appear and I could say, “THERE!”)

Poor silverware. (The correct term in New Zealand is to call it your “cutlery”. Don’t you love these little NZ vocab lessons?)

And BEST OF ALL, the weight of all our silverware often shifted when you pulled out one of them, so that the whole thing would fall over and spill your cutlery all over the bench. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!

(I don’t have a picture of my not-amused face to insert for you here.)

Utensils in cups on contertop

Yep, that’s them. Pretending they are NOT going to fall over the next time I grab a spoon for my muesli. Poor things. They really should have had a better home. (Lest you feel too sorry for them, they do get a better home our next place. The grieving can end.)


Problem #2

There were also NO upper cabinets or shelves of any kind. Now, this wouldn’t be such a problem if they’d actually had a plethora of lower cabinets, or lots of extra storage somewhere else, but they did not.

And do YOU put your most-used items in your lowest cabinets? Don’t you love it when you go to someone’s house and ask where the glasses are and they say, “Oh yeah, down by your feet in that cupboard, waaaaaaay in the back behind all our other essentials.”

No. You don’t. No one does. I think we’re all in agreement here.

Thankfully I am married to The Man Who Can Build Me Anything, and I spotted potential on an empty wall between our refrigerator and stove.

“Can you build me some shelves there? ASAP? They don’t even need to be pretty. I just need two…just two would make life magical in here…”

Shelves with dishes, cups and tea pot


Solution #2

And magical they were. I didn’t even care about him filling the screw holes at that point. I HAD SHELVES. THEY HELD THINGS.

We could now magically grab a glass when we needed a drink or a cup of tea—WITHOUT having to squat down and dig around in a lower cabinet.

Hip hip! (Now you’re supposed to answer, “Hooray!”)

Mangoes in a bowl

It really is the little things in life that bring joy.

And I get OVERJOYED about things like being able to easily whip my way around the kitchen, grabbing what I need easily, and having everything be in a place that MAKES SENSE and that I can write about IN CAPITAL LETTERS to you to help you really understand HOW EXCITING THIS TRULY WAS.

And to help you understand why I did a little jig.

Teapot and cups on shelf

When friends come over for coffee, I’m usually so intently listening to what they’re saying, or telling an animated story in answer to a question, that I can’t focus on trying to find coffee or tea things hidden in cabinets.

Yes, Marie Kondo, these shelves spark joy.

Tea containers and sugar on shelf


While we don’t cook with white or brown sugar anymore, we did at this time in our wild lives.

And with how much coffee and tea those Kiwis drink, everything I needed for my Hot Drink Station Area, which is what this kind of became, was readily accessible.

(Really, there is “Morning Tea” and “Afternoon Tea” that everyone seemed to truly observe—it was even mentioned in Matt’s work contract when he accepted their job offer and we moved to NZ! That is some serious cultural teatime observing.)

Containers on shelf with sugar and tea and mangoes in bowl

Again, ignore the screwholes like I told Matt to ignore the screwholes, and remember that I was just excited to have SHELVES in our kitchen!

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone forgotten by a Chinese builder.

To fit even more necessities into the kitchen, we came up with the idea of attaching these white hooks to the bottom of one shelf so that we could hang extra mugs.

Coffee cups hanging under shelf

Yes, you’ll recognize these as the same style mugs that served as our silverware holders. They’re famous now.

cups hanging under shelf with basket

A pause to show you the lounge:

Looking over from the kitchen, you get a glance over to our lounge totally unstyled and living normal life. (Hence the giant unattractive DVD holder we have on the bench there under the TV.)

I show this only to mention three things about this small space:

Living room with chair and couch

More solutions & storage for small spaces:

  1. There was no dining area. The lounge went directly into the kitchen. (We ate on our couch while we lived here, and used our pallet coffee table as “the table.” More on that later.)
  2. This is a glimpse of my favorite chair. It was part of a chair + couch set I got for $20 used, and turned out SO BEAUTIFULLY.
  3. The coffee table, like my desk, was made by Matt out of pallet wood we got for free. Everyone ADORED this coffee table! (Maybe because that’s what they all had to eat off of when they came over, or maybe because they were Kiwis who admired us making furniture for next to nothing,)
Pallet coffee table

I loved the castors on it most of all. Living with it convinced me. You can see more pics of our pallet coffee table here. We also later made our kitchen island with castors.


Problem #3

So clearly this place is so tiny it doesn’t have room for drawers or a dining nook. We’ve already established that.

On top of that, the builders and owners apparently also thought we didn’t need a closet anywhere in the main living area.

I’m also about coming up with creative storage solutions for what you’d normally keep in your living area closet, but where do you hang your coats? Your purse? Your hats? What about your guests’ coats, purses, hats?

I wanted some wall hooks, but THEY WERE SURPRISINGLY EXPENSIVE. We went to Bunnings (similar to but not exactly Home Depot) and hooks at the time were what we thought was a ridiculously high amount of New Zealand Dollars.

We needed to solve this problem for about $5 NZD. (Which at the time was $4 USD. Now it’d be more like $3)

So we decided to finegle something with leftover pallet wood + and some inexpensive drawer pulls we found. (We weren’t going to need them for any drawers, I’ll tell ya that!)

Wall shelf with canvas print, plant hat and bag


Solution #3

I will admit, drawer knobs are not as ideal as actual hooks. Some things did not hang well here. But most things did.

Matt added a shelf to the top so it was hanging space + shelf space. Always fitting in the extra storage if we can.

Wall shelf with canvas print plant hat and bag

In this case I used the shelf to display one of my bits of Kiwiana, plus a sprig of yucca I’d pulled off a plant and put into a mason jar with water. We also could set our keys up there, wallets, whatever anyone might need to when they came into our flat.

Wall shelf with hat and hanging bag

Below, you can see where we mounted it in relation to our front door:

Wall shelf with canvas print plant hat and bag

It’s so pretty. This picture has some of my favorite colors in it: green, blue, white, black, and something woven.

Wall shelf with canvas print plant hat and bag

Best of all, when we moved into a place with decent storage and an actual closet, we were able to sell this wall shelf via TradeMe to a lovely Kiwi who needed a similar solution in her place.

I probably bought more plants with that money, but that was in our next flat…

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