Living room storage mistakes – 6 things to avoid and expert-approved alternatives

In the ever-evolving landscape of home décor and organization, certain living room storage trends may no longer be practical

Living room storage mistakes
(Image credit: Lindye Galloway Studio + Shop/Chad Mellon / Studio McGee / Neptune)

Although it may not be top of you list when considering how to design a living room, the storage options in your living space play a pivotal role. They are key to ensuring it remains organized, has a cohesive flow, and achieves the desired aesthetic, so should not be overlooked. 

Making the wrong choices when it comes to your living room storage can have an unfortunate domino effect on the way you use this space. By being aware of these storage mistakes  – from not making the most of the available space or choosing outdated and impractical living room storage options – you can create a thoughtfully designed space that accommodates your storage needs and design preferences.

Our experts have explained six living room storage mistakes to avoid and the practical alternatives.

Living room storage mistakes

When rethinking living room storage, it's essential to steer clear of clutter-prone options that contribute to a dated look, ensuring your storage is up to date and practical to prevent living room organizing mistakes.

1. Underutilizing alcoves

colors not to paint your furniture, living room with grey walls, coral painted cabinet, marble fireplace, wooden floorboards, artwork

(Image credit: Neptune)

Alcoves in living rooms are a really valuable space and are often underutilized as storage options. These are awkward spaces for furniture but can be ideal as storage space. Don't make the mistake of leaving them empty or not maximizing all the available space while creating a tasteful display.

If you have empty alcoves, consider installing shelves in the alcove.

Another error is using bulky freestanding shelving units in alcoves that do not make the most of the available space. 

While freestanding shelving units used to be a popular choice for displaying items in the living room, they can be difficult to maintain and may not provide enough storage space. These often become dumping grounds for miscellaneous items, leading to a disorganized appearance. They also take up an unnecessary amount of space that could be utilized in comparison to built-in shelves, and will not accommodate for your changing space and storage needs.

'Open-backed shelving that is removable from the wall is lighter and airier in both appearance and feel, and easier to change or modify to suit the quickly changing nature of modern life,' advises Kim Corey at Finely Sorted Organizing.

2. Employing oversized storage ottomans

White living room with darker accents

(Image credit: Studio McGee)

Oversized storage ottomans, once considered a good choice for storage, in reality  tend to take up more space compared to the hidden storage space they offer.

'Ottomans are versatile pieces of furniture that can serve as extra seating, footrests, or coffee tables. Still, they can also be bulky and cumbersome, especially if they have hidden storage compartments inside,' says Jacky Chou, the principal and director at Archute.

'Unless you really need the extra storage space, you might want to ditch the oversized ottomans and replace them with smaller and more elegant ones that match your couch and chairs.'

We recommend this slimline Bouclé Louise storage ottoman, from Anthropologie.

Principal and Director at Archute
Jacky Chou
Principal and Director at Archute
Jacky Chou

Jacky Chou is the Principal and Director at Archute, an editorial magazine about architecture, home and garden. They have been referenced by The New York Times, Bustle, House & Home, Bloomberg, and Angi. Jacky also his own an online interior design company as well called Laurel & Wolf.

3. Using bulky entertainment units

Dark green living room

(Image credit: Matti Gresham)

These units, characterized by large cabinets, not only take up valuable floor space and make the room feel cluttered but also fail to meet the requirements of modern entertainment systems.

'Entertainment centers are becoming increasingly more outdated due to the fact TVs are being mounted directly onto the wall and the other elements associated with the TVs don’t need to be directly hooked up because of wireless technology and Bluetooth,' explains Elana Mendelson, interior designer and CEO of Elana Designs.

'It’s always nice to have a piece of furniture or a fireplace below the TV to “anchor” it, but we no longer need large media cabinets to house all of the TV’s accoutrements like the DVD player, DVDs, gaming consoles, etc.' 

Jacky Chou adds, 'If your TV stand has drawers and cabinets underneath, you might be tempted to fill them with all kinds of things that might not belong in your living room. This can make your TV stand look heavy and chaotic and distract from the focal point of your living room: the TV screen. 

'Instead of using your TV stand as a storage unit, you should use it as a display unit. Keep only the essentials on it, such as your TV, sound system, streaming device, etc., and decorate it with some plants, candles, or art pieces.' 

The best TV stands are sleek, wall-mounted media consoles or stylish console tables as an attractive alternative to bulky entertainment units. These contemporary storage options are more functional, optimizing space utilization and contributing to a more streamlined and modern aesthetic, aligning seamlessly with the demands of modern living.

4. Displaying plastic storage bins

living room with alcove bookcase, built in sofa, wall light, wallpaper

(Image credit: Lindye Galloway Studio + Shop/Chad Mellon)

While they can be convenient storage options, having plastic storage bins as permanent fixtures in the living room can detract from the overall decor.

'Plastic bins and baskets are cheap and convenient, but they are also ugly and tacky. They can ruin the aesthetic of your living room and make it look like a garage or a basement,' says Jacky Chou. 

'If you need to store some items in your living room, such as blankets, pillows, toys, or magazines, you should invest in some more stylish and sophisticated storage options, such as woven baskets, wooden crates, or metal trays that can be integrated storage within furniture for a more elegant and cohesive appearance.'

5. Using a blanket chest

Large living room with beamed ceilings, large windows, cream sofa, gray sofa, large square ottoman

(Image credit: Jessica Bennett of Alice Lane Interior Design, photography by Nicole Hill Gerulat)

Traditional blanket chests just don't work well in most modern living rooms today. They take up too much space and can break up the flow of a room.

A large blanket or pillow chest is convenient because it serves two purposes – a coffee table and storage. However, you'll most likely need to remove everything from the surface every single time you need to access its contents, rendering its multifunctionality redundant. 

A better option can be a storage solution that allows for easy access and takes up less space, such as an aesthetically pleasing basket. Blankets can also be integrated into your living room decor rather than hidden away.

You can drape your favorite blankets or throws over the arm of a couch, armchair or across an ottoman. This not only saves space but adds visual interest to your living room.

6. Cluttered coffee tables

Living room with bay window, pale blue walls, built in bookcases, cream sofa with multi-coloured cushions and large square coffee table

(Image credit: Alecia Neo)

'Coffee tables are another piece of furniture that can double as a storage solution, but they can also double as a clutter magnet,' says Jacky Chou. 

'If your coffee table has shelves underneath, you might end up storing things that don't need to be in your living room, such as books, magazines, newspapers, coasters, napkins, etc. This can make your coffee table look busy and messy and take away from its functionality and beauty.

'Instead of using your coffee table as a storage place, you should use it as a display piece, keeping only the essentials on it, such as a lamp, a tray, a vase with some flowers, or a decorative bowl.'

There are also plenty of functional coffee table storage options with hidden storage that should be kept rigorously organized, such as the one below.


What is an outdated living room decor trend?

A prevalent oversight in living room design is over-decorated open shelving. The downside of open shelving is if it is used without due consideration for organization, this will result in a visually chaotic and cluttered space. 

Instead, you should approach oven shelving with a purposeful and curated approach, selectively showcasing items that contribute to the room's design aesthetic.

Moreover, integrating decorative storage solutions such as baskets or decorative boxes ensures a polished appearance while effectively managing smaller items. 

This scrupulous method will elevate the visual appeal of the room while fostering a more organized and sophisticated living environment, blending aesthetics and functionality.

Jacky Chou leaves us with one final tip: 'Using a mix of different containers can make the room look messy and uncoordinated. It's best to invest in a set of matching storage boxes or baskets to create a cohesive and tidy look.'

Remember, when choosing your living room storage it is essential to consider two things. First, how you will most effectively utilize the space when integrating storage options, and secondly how these will contribute to the aesthetics of your space. You should achieve a balance between these equally important factors in the storage options you choose to avoid any common living room storage regrets.

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past five years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including recipe articles, reviewing products, writing ‘how to’ and ‘when to’ articles. Lola now writes about everything from organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate student, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.