7 ways to use your home's wasted space (© Jack Parker/Popular Mechanics)

© Jack Parker/Popular Mechanics

It's hidden inside the walls, beneath the stairs, in places you'd never think to look. The solution to the great American storage crunch is all around us in the form of unused space — cavities and nooks ready to absorb clutter and help bring order to domestic chaos.

As a longtime carpenter and builder, and now the host of “Wasted Spaces,” a show on the DIY Network, I've specialized in finding quick and efficient ways to make use of these little-used storage resources.

One of my favorite tricks is building drawers and shelves beneath a staircase. Plenty more storage solutions can be found throughout the typical house. With a little creativity and basic carpentry skills, any homeowner can win the space race. Here's how to start — without getting into trouble.

1. Be ruthless
First, move everything that's cluttering a room into another area. Organize it into three piles: everyday must-haves, items for long-term storage and stuff you can give away. Pile the long-term storage items into plastic tubs, give away the donation pile, and place the day-to-day necessities back where you got them.

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2. Get creative
Now, take a fresh look around. In a typical house, there's space waiting to be tapped behind knee walls where a roof cuts through a room, above appliances and underneath cathedral ceilings. Even a standard stud cavity inside a wall is 3.5 inches deep — enough space for toiletries, canned goods and some office supplies.

3. Avoid wiring and pipes
Before opening any walls, inspect the house from the attic to the basement to see where electrical wiring, phone and data cables, air-conditioning ducts, and water and waste piping may be hiding. Everything seem clear? Use a drywall saw to cut a neat inspection hatch. If you find mechanical systems in the wall, it's no big deal to reinstall the drywall patch and seal it with joint compound.

4. Watch your bearings
The typical roof rests on a house's outside walls and the inside walls that run perpendicular to the rafters and joists. Don't touch these load-bearing walls without consulting a licensed structural engineer. A truss roof is a different story. The load rests on the outside walls; in most cases the interior walls underneath can be altered — just be careful not to damage the truss by ripping out any hardware attaching the truss to the wall.

5. Be neat
Prepare your work area by removing furniture, taping dropcloths to baseboards and using plastic sheets over passageways to prevent dust from migrating throughout the house.

6. Get clearance
During planning, make sure that doors and drawers will be able to open fully in the newly reconfigured area. And leave enough room to walk around comfortably.

7. Keep the mess outside
Build cabinets in the yard to keep the indoors neater. Just make sure that anything you build isn't too big to fit through the door. Don't laugh: I've seen it happen.

By Karl Champley, Popular Mechanics