From those of us that have learned the hard way

In a small space, every inch of shelf space is valuable. Add two-tiered shelving to the top of your mantel with a shelf affixed to the wall. It provides a seamless addition of display space. 

Laurey W. Glenn

Even before everyone got a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for Mother’s Day or their birthday a few years ago, Americans started downsizing. Over a period of ten years, from 2006 to 2016, the average apartment size decreased an average of -8%. For some layouts, like studios, the decrease was -18%. The average apartment size is around 889-square-feet, and many are smaller, hanging out in the tidy 600s, like the petite loft I live in. I’ve been there almost two years, and I’m starting to think it’s good for the brain, living in a constant puzzle like that.

And it extends beyond just apartments, as small-space philosophy applies to 1000-square-foot cottages and cheery 2000-square-foot bungalows too.  (Our Senior Homes Editor, Zoë Gowen, makes the case that 1500 square feet is the optimal size for a home.)

For all these variations on "small," the biggest mistake in living in a compact space is letting pieces have only one job, and overlooking opportunities for double-tasking and storage. Here, a few opportunities to cash in on every square inch of a small space. Make sure you’re not ignoring these spaces:

Ledges

Whether the mantel, the back of the oven, above the sink, or anywhere else, don’t let it just collect dust. Example: A pillow on top of a wide windowsill, low storage unit, or radiator cover instantly makes it a welcoming possible seat. The back of the oven (depending on your model) is the perfect spot for seasonings.

Above and Below Cabinetry

Storage is not limited to just inside! If you have space above cabinetry, invest in a step ladder and baskets. I keep paper towel rolls and unused mugs and dishes in big woven baskets on top of my cabinetry.

WATCH: The Hack That Will Give You So Much More Space in Your Kitchen

Furniture

Needs to work double-time. It just does. Sure something looks good, but does it do anything else? Ottomans should provide storage, nightstands and coffee tables should be more than just table-top surfaces, and beds should hide off-season clothes or unused art (or anything else!) underneath.