Millions of homes filled with too much stuff offer an opportunity for creative minds 

What can we invent that comes to the aid of occupants of outdated, jam-packed living space?


Every three months I pay a $415 rental bill for keeping household things in one those self-storage units that we see popping up everywhere. (According to Spare Foot, a company that tracks the self-storage industry, there are more than 50,000 storage facilities in the United States.) And each month I ask myself why I spend more than $1,600 every year to preserve stuff that I could probably replace for less than its costs to store.

I suspect that I have a lot of company in such folly.

Most of us accumulate more stuff than we conveniently have room for in our homes. Closets, kitchen cabinets, attics, basements and garages are overloaded.

Countertops are crowded with appliances that we no longer have room for in our cabinets. I can’t even find room for my shaver or toothpaste in my bathroom cabinet or drawer. The problem is most serious in homes designed when architects didn’t anticipate the present need for storage space.

Basic principles

Remember the typewriter? Many models had a carrying case. When we finished with the occasional formal letter that we wrote, we packed it up and put it back on the shelf in one of our closets.

It may surprise younger millennials that we actually hand-wrote letters to our relatives and friends before the days of computers, printers and Facebook. Unlike the old typewriter, a computer and its printer occupy about 24 square feet of space that wasn’t considered when the floor plans of most homes and apartments were designed.

So, the problem isn’t just storage; it’s also the scarcity of space that results from the stuff that we leave in place all of the time.

As I’ve written many times in previous columns, annoyances are opportunities for inventions. So, what can we invent that comes to the aid of occupants of outdated, jam-packed living space?

I suspect that the gears in your internal computer are probably already turning, on the verge of providing a novel storage solution. It may help if I cover a few principles that apply when we consider storage space.

First, vertical storage is much more space than its horizontal equivalent. Walk through a Costco or a Home Depot, and look up at the space beyond your reach. It’s loaded with inventory. The shelves below must be reserved for an optimum amount of each SKU (stock-keeping unit). Thus, storing above your head is efficient, if not always pleasing to the eye.

The space above the washer and dryer may offer a good amount of cubic space for shelves. Such shelves can free up space under your kitchen sink, as well as keeping handy the clothes washing articles.

What can we invent that is better than shelves, or increases our ability to utilize the wider-than-average shelves that we can install in the laundry room?

Thinking out of the box?

Bookshelves that extend to the ceiling are the most space effective. And who among us book lovers doesn’t own a sizeable fraction that we haven’t taken from the shelf in years? Those books belong on the top shelves, of course, which lets you place the titles that impress your friends at eye level. Better yet, donate or recycle those old novels and use the space for other items.

Excuse my interruption. I just came up with another of my “great ideas.” Why not a box designed to fit the height and depth of bookshelves, the front of which is the simulated spines of classics? The six volumes of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” would provide space for that 35mm Nikon and the five rolls of Kodak film that I can’t bear to discard.

On second thought, such a box was undoubtedly invented long ago.

Square or rectangular is better than circular. Shelves that rotate waste more than 20 percent of the equivalent square space. Slide-out shelving utilizes the corners. Is there a better solution?

One of the relatively recent space-saving ideas is that of the evacuated plastic bag for cloth items and pillows. These bags come in a variety of convenient sizes, the largest being about 32 by 40 inches. The bags have a valve through which the excess air exits, either by hand rolling the items or using your vacuum cleaner attachment.

The amount of compression varies, but my observation has been that about 25 percent to 50 percent of space is gained–even more for pillows. The vacuum reduces thickness more effectively than rolling.

But for traveling, rolling is safer if you want to assure that your clothes will fit your baggage all along the way. It’s not likely that we can improve this storage system, but I cite it because it illustrates a novel principle. What other storage methods are ripe for a dramatic new upgrade?

One of the big space wasters in bedroom storage is the fitted sheet, a.k.a. the contour sheet. I suspect that most of us who have tried to fold these sheets ended up crumpling them in a ball and stuffing them in a drawer.

My friend, Jan Reinhart, invented what she named Wonderfold®, a patented device for folding a fitted sheet into a neat rectangle that looks essentially the same as the folded top sheet. (She does not yet have the full production item on the market.)

Plastic boxes of various sizes can be space savers as well as means of neater storage. Using many boxes of the same size is important. We can adjust shelves to prevent wasted air space above the boxes.

I found that the Hefty® 15-quart size is perfect for my needs. They’re sturdy, they have latches that keep them secure, and they don’t break your fingernails when opening them. I bought eight and arranged the shelves to fit them.

Nothing novel here, but the modular principle can be applied elsewhere. However, be aware that half-filled boxes can waste as much space as they are trying to save. Label your boxes so that you can mix several kinds of storables in the same box, and fill it.

Opportunistic equation

Enough examples. The amount of land in the United States is fixed, but the population continues to grow. As the cost per square foot increases faster than inflation, houses will probably get smaller but more efficient with respect to storage space.

Though many novel improvements have been accomplished, there are still more opportunities as the cost of space increases.

But before you rush off to a patent attorney with your “novel” spice rack that mounts on the back of a door, check out You’ll find several different models and sizes.

Hmmmm, maybe I could use one for my shaver and toothbrush.