How to Organize Items on Shelves

Hanging shelf. figuring out how to get the most of your shelves can be challenging. Here are a few tricks.

When I was designing my first bathroom, my contractor nicknamed me “shelving Seana” because I was always adding shelves. Shelves are the perfect blend of form and function, and maximize the efficiency of vertical space. Unfortunately, figuring out how to get the most of your shelves can be challenging. Here are a few tricks.

Many shelves are adjustable. We frequently set the shelves up once, and then forget that they can be moved to accommodate shifting storage needs. Every now and then, pull everything out and look at what you need to store, and then move the shelves accordingly.

Shelves = instant storage, so consider adding a shelf or two, either to an existing bookcase/closet, or to a wall.

  • If you are adding to an adjustable shelving unit, ask your home supply store to cut a piece of birch plywood to your specifications. This can be installed either with some extra peg supports (if you have pre-drilled holes) or with with wooden cleats or brackets.
  • If the shelf is behind closed doors in a closet/cabinet, it doesn’t matter if the finish matches. If you want to try and match it, you can either paint it, stain it or use veneer tape along the front edge.
  • Decorative shelves can be added to any wall, making an instant command center, mudroom, linen “closet,” etc. When adding shelves to a wall, always be sure to secure into studs with proper hardware, and be aware of any weight limitations.
Add a shelf
photo credit: Kris Kara

One problem I frequently run across is very tiny items sitting loose on a deep/tall shelf.  This is no good. Deep shelves are great for storing very large items (quilts pillows, stand mixers, etc.) not loose bottles of nail polish.  When filling any storage area, it is always good to put the largest items away first. Then, if you have tiny items….

If you only have a large space and want to put little items inside, create small storage areas inside the broader space. Affordable and effective solutions include graduated “stairs,” slip-on hanging wire shelves, and smaller bins which can serve as “drawers.” Subdivide anywhere you can: the fridge, the pantry, the closet, under the sink, in a playroom closet, etc. Also, remember to label smaller bins so coworkers and family members know where to find (and where to replace) belongings.

Graduated can holder
Small boxes for toys

Put the items you use most on the shelves that are either at eye level, or directly above or below. Leave the top shelves for rarely needed items. Consider putting bins or baskets on the floor to create a bottom drawer.

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Shelves are one of my favorite “accessories” because they provide space to store and display what matters most to you. What shelf do you use most in your space?

20 thoughts on “How to Organize Items on Shelves”

  1. I really need all the help I can get with shelf organization throughout the home, because this is something I truly am not as good at. So, I thank you for sharing this hear today and am so going to need to take up some of your advice soon now 🙂

    1. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me a photo:) Love helping my bloggy friends out in return for the smiles they give me online!

  2. I know when we moved into our house 13 years ago I “removed” half a dozen shelves from my kitchen cupboards to make it work for me. However we did the opposite in our closets by adding more with closet organizers.

    1. Ah, such wisdom, Jill. It’s all about making the shelves work for you, right? Sometimes we need more height, and sometimes less:)

  3. Great post. I totally agree. It is OK to add shelving to shelves. It helps you maximize your usable space in your older fixed cabinets and closets. Thanks for reminding us about this important part of organizing.

    1. Thanks for reading, Sabrina! It is amazing how something so simple can almost double your space, right? Or sometimes you need to take a shelf out. It’s all about remembering that shelves are tools with options:)

  4. ha! Shelving Seana! It works. Cassidy is a shelver. He loves to put them in interesting places and put his dorky science fiction toys on each one.
    I’ll have to send him this post because he’s no expert and sometimes we just get confused about the space in certain rooms of the house.

    1. Yet another of Cassidy’s strengths:) I love that he displays his toys… collections are for enjoying, not storing away in a box somewhere. Pull them out, stage them, and have fun looking at them. Of course, nice if your spouse also likes the collection!

    1. I’m amazed at how something so simple as an extra piece of wood can suddenly double storage space. And I get it, Michelle, every inch counts!!

  5. We don’t have lots of shelves at home but that’s really something I’d like to add to our house for enough storage and organization. I’d like to have stylish shelves! 🙂 Great options Seama!

    1. The great thing about a shelf is that it can be super affordable and make all the difference. And if the shelf is on display, you can always get a few attractive bins/baskets to put all the ugly stuff in and still have a very attractive display:) Thanks for the comment, Rea!

  6. I need you to come and organize my drawers. the previous owners put some crazy, deep drawers in that I can do nothing with but throw stuff in – which makes me nutso.

    1. I hear you, Kristen. “Deep” anything can be a real pain… like a black hole. And how often is it the deep drawer that doesn’t open and close well so that you can’t even reach into the back and see what is there?? Maybe try putting smaller boxes or bins inside of them… even shoeboxes work well.

  7. Ahhh…the lovely shelf. These sound like such great ideas. I would just have to keep in mind with the phase I am with babies and toddlers, I just have to keep things higher than their reach. 🙂

    1. Yes, Brittnei, I say go with the “up high” plan as long as you can:) Eventually, the kids can reach everything!!

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