Considering Your Possessions by Time as well as Space

As humans, we have many possessions. We need clothes and kitchen items for cooking. The things we own can be out of necessity or from simple appreciation. The amount varies from person to person as well as the amount of space available to each person. The decision of what to keep and what to get rid of depends on the values of that person as well as the space they have available. The individual, who is an avid cook, will likely keep all the various accoutrements for whipping up things in the kitchen. Finding a way to think about the things you collect in a new and different light can be challenging, yet can offer realizations, changing your view of the collection.

I think we all have something that we treasure and are reluctant to part with. This is illustrated by the person who will make other sacrifices to make room in a less logical place for those items. The bookshelf in the bottom of a closet or kitchen items in other rooms are two examples.

One standard approach is to assess the space available. There are the concrete limitations of your space. The amount of flexibility you have can depend on the size of the rooms. There are tools and furniture to help try to maximize the area you have available. The layout of the closets and cupboards can significantly constrain options for you. Unless you are able and willing to move or do major renovations, this is what you need to find ways to cope with. This is the time to think about what you value enough to consider putting in an “odd” location. If you are serious about living without excessive clutter, having small spaces can help you figure out what matters most of your belongings. What are you willing to part with so that you can keep something else? When you start thinking about what you are willing to sacrifice in order to keep something else demonstrates where your priorities are.

Lately I have found that thinking in terms of time to be even more powerful. It is useful for those things that might even have space available, but just because you have the room for something, does not mean that you need to be holding onto it. Using time as a gage can shift the way you think of things.

Last year my husband and I decided that we wanted to make a point to listen to each CD we owned. We were sporadic about it last year, and as we were talking about it, I looked up the number of albums we own. It struck me that we could listen to one album every day and it would take almost two years to get through our collection. With that number of albums, it is not surprising there are albums that we cannot remember the last time we listened to it. Part of the reason we wanted to listen to every album was to evaluate whether we wanted to keep it, so we are continuing to review our collection of CD’s. Framing the number of CD’s in relation to how long it would take to listen to each one, helped illustrate how hard it can be to appreciate some large collections.

Yet, we want to appreciate the music and with that number, how much are we truly appreciating it? Are they all worth the valuable space they take up? Would someone else appreciate them more? The answers to these questions help figure out what is worth keeping and what needs to find another home.

Media, in most forms, is something that I collect: if you can read it, listen to it, and even watch it, I am reluctant to part with it. With the CD’s, it would have been simple to ignore it until we ran out of room in their cabinets. This inspired me to look at the other media I own and consider it in terms of the time it would take. The video collection was excessive, considering how often and what I watch, so this too I have trimmed down, only keeping what I love and value.

Considering your possessions in terms of time can prompt a completely new way of thinking about your things. Use any increment of time that makes sense to the context and ask yourself how much you will be able to use or appreciate the items within that time frame. In the course of a year, are you going to use all of those 12 muffin tins? If you have clothes that you wear less than once a year, how much (if any) of them are worth keeping?

Only you can decide what is worth keeping, no one can come in and tell you definitively what to keep versus what to get rid of. Your values and interests determine what needs to stay, though thinking about them in terms of space and time can help you figure out what things are no longer important or necessary. As a human you will always have possessions, and determining which things are worth holding onto can only maximize your appreciation of those items.

Closet System Decisions

Let me say it and get it out of the way: buying a closet system will not solve organization problems. Nope. Nor will any number of bins, containers, cabinets, or shelves. However, if you are committed to working at increasing your level of organization, these things can be useful tools, if they are used correctly.

It makes me sad how many times I’ve seen someone install a closet system that doesn’t meet their needs, or buy the perfect bins for organizing, which end up in the basement, piled up with all the other stuff.

If you are considering a closet system, there’s some important considerations you need to take into account.

First, you need to figure out what you need. Do you like to hang almost everything or do have a fair amount of things folded? How many shoes do you have and do want a system that contains them? Do you want room for purses, jackets, belts, or ties? What do you currently have in your closet and what you realistically want in your closet? Do you want to use for something other than clothes?

Second, consider whether you will want drawers, baskets, or one-purpose holders for those purses, belts, or ties? What happens in five or ten years from now, will you still want those things? These can be useful though a more generalized system is more modifiable. Closet systems often have various shoe gadgets built into them, some are really clever, yet I cannot help thinking that it limits the use of the space. What if someone suddenly decided that they would have a shoe rack by the door for their shoes? That nifty area in the closet suddenly is useless. Shelving is wonderfully versatile, holding purses nicely displayed or stacks of clothing. One thing that is universal, large, deep drawers or baskets are not as useful as they appear. Anything kept at the bottom of these disappear and if you need to actually get at them, you mess up the things above it. Stay away from deep drawers or baskets, maybe one if you insist for large purses which can be lined up and equally accessible.

Third, how easily can the system be modified? Although you might hang almost everything right now, things can change down the road, so can shelves replace part of the hang area? If you want to have a system that works well for your child right now, that may not be good when they become teenagers. Some companies are constantly revamping their product line, will the closet system you get become one of those? If they might be, it could be challenging to get different parts if you want them. As with the specialty features, a system that can easily modified is ideal, allowing the system to benefit and conform to you and not trying to force you to adapt to it.

Fourth, what is the design of the shelves? There seem to typically be three types of materials used: wire, laminate, or metal. Wire shelving comes with serious drawbacks: things can topple, fall through, or get things caught in them. They do make a plastic covering you can buy separately, though these are made for specific shelves and cannot be used on every wire shelf. The laminate or metal at least are solid and will hold things evenly.

Fifth, how sturdy is it? There are so many systems out there these days that you can go to Walmart and pick up a system to put into your closet. How long will it last? The unit itself needs to be sturdy as well as the part that attaches to the wall. Although price is rarely not an issue, going for the least expensive will probably waste your money in the long run.

Finally, are you willing or able to install it yourself? There are companies that specialize in closets that will offer a do-it-yourself option with a minor price cut. The Container Store‘s Elfa system is mostly a do-it-yourself system though they are providing an installer for some areas, but they offer extensive phone support for installing the Elfa system. Some companies only have the professional installation option. Interestingly, I found that the professional installation does not always add up to costing more.

These are the major points that I have come across when people have or need a closet system. I would not wish the bad closet design on anyone, so if you decide that you want to have a system for your closet, consider these points, or maybe even consult with an expert who will know what questions to ask to get you the system that will fit your style and needs. As with any tool, you need it to benefit you and not end up making you change to use it.

Is a closet system the thing for you? Not necessarily. It is not the simple, easy answer to all problems. If used correctly, it can assist you in your efforts at getting organized. This is what matters most, finding ways to help yourself, which means that a system may not even be useful to you.

Life is Blossoming Again, Time to Clear the Dust

Has spring arrived where you live? It feels like it has here in Wisconsin, despite the small snowfall last weekend. The crocus and tulips bulbs are peeking out. The tradition of spring-cleaning beckons. The time has arrived to air out the house and rid yourself of the dust that has collected over the winter. Of course, officially Spring is here, the equinox was a few days ago, and the days will just get longer and theoretically the weather will just get warmer.

I recommend taking one room at a time. It does not matter which room you choose to start with, but stay focused on that one room. It is easy to get distracted and lose focus. If you happen to stray from that room, stop what you are doing, and return to the room you chose. Then just pick up where you had left off.

Since dust just falls to the ground, work with the gravity and begin with the top of the room. Clean the light fixture and ceiling fan, if you have one. Knock down the pesky cobwebs from the ceiling and corners.

Take down the curtains and any other else in the room you can get laundered. Decide whether you can throw them in your washer or if you need to take them to the dry cleaner. This is also a great time to take out any rugs and shake them out if possible. Even just hanging them outside while you are working in the room can freshen them.

Continuing with the clearing the dust, wipe down whatever is on your walls. Any shelves and décor items need to be wiped down. This can be a great time to consider whether you love the items in the room. Is it time to move some things around, or for items to leave?

As you examine the things living in the room, grab a container or three and pick up whatever does not belong. The container can gather things for another room. I will use one container, even a plastic bag, for getting items together that belong in another room. Depending on the amount of things, I might even use one container for another level in the house, like upstairs, instead of a specific room. The key to this is to stay in the room in which you are working. The container is there so that later it is easy to transfer the items. Leave the container to the side of the room or just outside the doorway while you are working. You might find more items as you continue as well as keep yourself focused on the room you’re working on.

Remove the cushions and vacuum them, and don’t forget to do both sides. Find what might have fallen under the cushions and then vacuum up what remains. It is always surprising to me how much dirt and debris collects under our cushions, even when there are no “treasures” discovered. If you are able, this is a good time to move the furniture out and vacuum under and behind it.

Wash any windows in the room, inside and outside if possible. Don’t forget to wipe down the light switch plates, they gather fingerprints surprisingly noticeable if you stop to look!

The rest of the floor comes last, sweeping and mopping or vacuuming, as required. Be sure to check your canister in the vacuum and change the water for your mop periodically as you go.

Depending on the room you are working on, you’ll need to apply the principles to that room. I might be forgetting some things, but here are a few additional details to remember:

  • Flip and/or rotate the mattress – check your manufacturer’s instructions for their recommendations, as some newer mattresses are not made to be flipped
  • Clean out the refrigerator and freezer
  • Go through all medications, disposing of anything that is expired or that you don’t anticipate using
  • Wipe down washer, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, and cabinet fronts
  • Empty trashcans and clean out, don’t forget any lids, too
  • Clean any litter boxes after empty
  • Clean stairwells – vacuum or sweep

Unless you have time and energy to spare, pace yourself and do not try to do it all in one day. Having a nice day where you can hang out the rugs or even the linens, where having the windows open is a possibility, can bring home the change of seasons.

Are you ready to jump into a room and get it ready for spring? It is a good time for the blossoming of life and clearing the dust and clutter is just one aspect.

Happy Spring!

Do You Have a Collection or Does a Collection Have You?

We all collect something. There is something that we value or are drawn to own. We have all heard of the stereotype of the woman with tons of shoes. I’ve known people who have collections of binoculars, watches, portfolio bags, muffin tins, CD’s, figurines, and the list goes on. It matters little what the collection consists of, we often have something we collect.

Recently we decided to go back to the House on the Rock. At one point I turned to my husband and said, “Now, this is where I would step in and say, ‘Do you really need more than 300 Santa coffee cups? How about we try to cut this down to a more manageable size?’” Although some were unusual or antique looking, most looked like the typical mugs you would find at Walgreen’s each Christmas.

And it wasn’t just Santa cups, but cigarette lighters, whiskey barrels, rifles, scrimshaw, and far more. Picture of: Scrimshaw, Model Ships, Ship in a Bottle, Wooden Sailor

Alex Jordan collected things, to the point that he kept adding buildings to contain all the things he was collecting. This is not something that many of us can realistically do. If we run out of room to have access to or display the things we collect, we need to start to make hard decisions.

How often do we collect something and then stop to consider whether this still reflects who we are and what we want? We continue changing and evolving throughout our life and need to make time to re-evaluate what we have around us.

If you have been keeping up with my newsletter/blog you know that I recently went through my collection of class notes, some dating back to my middle school days. Taking the time and knowing it was time to part with these things, I was able to recycle more than 90% of the papers I’d saved.

On the other hand, I loathe parting with books. I was so pleased that, in planning our redecorating of a room, we had come up with a way to combine the functionality of holding more books, without limiting the use of the room. Although the total count of books is not yet complete, it looks like there will be more than 2,000 books in our home! (See why I think the term hoarding can too easily applied?) So far in the rearranging, I have only found 4 books that I willing to part with. Books hold importance for me.

Whatever we collect, the determining factor is whether there is room for the items. Are there things that we can part with, if need be, to make room for what we are determined to keep? Unless you have the resources of Alex Jordan and can keep expanding your house as your collections expand, you have a limited amount of space to work with and it is important to live well within those dimensions.

I want to be able to appreciate the items I value enough to keep. I do not want to be overwhelmed by the things surrounding me or even to become blind to them by their familiarity. It is a continual process. I periodically will look around the house with a critical eye, watching for things that have lost some of their value to me. It is important to not forget the things that are behind doors, in drawers, anything that is not immediately visible are worth going through.

Is there something you are reluctant to examine with the possibility of parting with it? When was the last time you looked through your collection and pared it down?

Purging School Papers and Why Saying Hoarding Should be a Crime

I mentioned that doing the room re-vamp is a good excuse to sort through some old papers. The truth is, the little 2 drawer filing cabinet I picked up in college contained these college papers so well, they were together and out of the way. With all the things in life that needed to be done, I had no pressing need to pull out those papers and go through them. That is, until we decided to empty the room and remove the little filing cabinet! Fortunately, by then I had already decided that I needed to go through them and purge them.

But first, before I go on, I have a confession to make. I hate labeling behavior. Doesn’t make a difference if it’s mine or someone else’s. I just do not see much value in applying labels and see that they can too often apply to a wider audience. The problem lies in the negative connotations that we associate with the labels and being reluctant to think of ourselves with these labels. I am thinking of “hoarding” and in writing this I decided to look up the definition. According to Merriam Webster, hoarding is “the act of collecting and hiding or storing (esp. valuable items) for preservation, security, or future use; treasure up (esp. money); store in the mind etc.”

I was working with a woman who had labeled herself in this way. I was talking to her and mentioned that I struggle with “hoarding” too. As an organizer, she dismissed my claim, unable to believe that I hold onto things more than I probably should. Yet, the truth is that there are things that I am reluctant to get rid of. I believe that we each have things that we hold on to, things that someone else might not see the value of, and organizing is about finding places for the things that matter to the individual. The important piece about holding onto things, is making a place to keep those things we value, and as long as they have a logical place and do not hinder life, it does not matter how or what we collect.

At this point, I am almost embarrassed by the fact that I have kept all my college and, even worse, many of my high school class notes and handouts, and a few from middle school. I have lugged them through many moves and cannot say that I have used or read them since I acquired them. Many years ago, I did gather each class together, in either a three-ring binder or a folder, and labeled each of them. They lived easily together. As I was moving them out of the room, I made sure to keep them all together.

Despite my not looking at them for so long, I think it is important not to just toss them. I have been going through them, looking at the name of the class, which helps me know if there are likely things I might want to save, and directing me on how much time I might spend on going through the papers.

One of the first things I discovered, which validates the importance of going through things before tossing, was some drawings my best friend made on some poems I had written for a class. I have found other things that I still value and want to keep.

As I continue the process of reviewing these, it has become obvious that I will need a way to organize and store the papers I still want to save. I am pleased because I also can see how much I have decided to get rid of and that far outweighs what I am keeping. The things I still feel are important also show me what I am still interested in and value having information on.

Here is a YouTube video of the process of going through old notes and papers.

Some of the notes and papers I have saved are the reproductions that classes have included as part of the required reading. I find this is one of the hardest areas to sort. I am an avid reader, and books are one of the things that I am loathe to part with, so I will take more time going through these photocopied essays and poems. They were useful for the class itself since they were organized by the order they needed to be read. One of the major reasons that they are not fully functional as they are currently is that I do not really know what I have amongst them.

Likewise, I have made another YouTube video for the reproductions from classes and how to approach the task of sorting and saving what is important.

Maybe I am unique for holding onto school notes and papers for so long, even finding some that date back to middle school, yet it was obviously something that I valued. Does it make me a hoarder? Does it matter? The crucial point is how we do not let our collections interfere with living life and to organize them so that when we want to appreciate those things, we are able to do so.

Revamping the Dumping Grounds in Your Home & Other Lost Rooms Part 2

As soon as we finished taping the last segment, my husband turned to me and said, “Why don’t we paint the room?” This would be the best time to get that done, so what else was I to do but say yes. Most furniture would be out of the room and what wasn’t could easily be covered. This is how another item was added to the list of things to do.

First, I talked about gathering things together as I moved them out of the room. It is important in limiting the stress of re-doing a room to actually do sorting and grouping as you are moving it out. If you are moving it, why duplicate your efforts by finding out as you are moving it back into the room that various items no longer belong there?

It feels tedious to have to sort at all, and when you are excited with the new vision, it can be challenging to take the time up front. Part of emptying a room to re-do it means creating a fair amount of clutter elsewhere in the house during the process. When you do the pre-sorting you can reduce the extent of clutter in the rest of the house by being able to re-locate items as you are moving them.

In addition, having items grouped together you can logically go through the things. In a small file cabinet, I kept some college notes and articles. It has been many years since I have looked at them and since we were not planning on keeping the two drawer file cabinet, I can systematically go through all the papers. My goal is to purge as much as I can. Keeping them together allows me to know whether there are inadvertent duplicates, and I can keep topics together easily for what I decide to keep.

This is also a great time to review the contents of the large filing cabinets. For me, there are several drawers that I know are well organized and maintained. I took to using tabbed pages to separate years in the business files, so I could easily pull the old years for shredding when it was time. Nevertheless there are some drawers that could be looked at and probably stand some purging. I needed to empty several drawers so they could be moved for the painting, and before refilling the cabinets, I can go through the old files. This is especially important since I want to use a drawer to hold some of the office supplies, the supplies we use infrequently.

Having all the various items out is the perfect time to evaluate what is important to keep and what you can get rid of. It can be illuminating, for instance, I suddenly realized that I have 20 3-ring binders. I know that I will never need that many, so I can part with most of them.

Now that the room has been painted, the furniture moves in.

There are a couple of approaches to furniture arrangement. Probably the most effective way to decide on how to place furniture in a room is to make diagrams, precisely measuring and cutting out equivalent paper to represent furniture. This provides a good visual for how cluttered it might feel as you lay out the paper furniture over the room diagram. There are computer programs now that can do this for you, some even offering a “walk-through” view of the room.

With how much furniture we were eliminating, we did no measuring; we sketched out a rough drawing and talked about ideas. We’ve moved in the furniture we know we want in there and are still in the process of finding some potential furniture for the room.

Meanwhile we can start arranging the things that need to live in the room. I am keeping with the popular approach of zones within a room, where you designate spaces for specific tasks. I’ve set up the front half for the largely functional things, the computer peripherals and filing cabinets. On the other side, the chair will be the place to relax by the window and you will be secluded from the functional items in the room by the bookshelves.

The decision to create distinct zones reduces much of the decision making process. Office supplies need to find places within the front part of the room. Although the specifics are still being worked out, this was considered as the vision of the room came together, and we decided that it would be possible to achieve by using the filing cabinets and the shelving units that hold the computer peripherals to hold the office supplies.

Most important to me was that the back half of the room needs to be a truly relaxing place to sit and having office items easily visible would reduce that effect. This is part of the power of thinking of your rooms as having zones.

See the zones in person and what has been done so far.

Revamping the Dumping Grounds in Your Home & Other Lost Rooms

Do you have any rooms or parts of rooms that have become dumping grounds? You know what I’m talking about – the dining room table that the kids use for backpacks and various sundries that spill out of them, or the guest bedroom that looks more like a warehouse than someplace your friends or family can use to spend the night. When I’m in someone’s home and find a dumping ground, I starting examining and questioning the function of that room. Does it have a clear purpose, or perhaps, does it have a useful purpose? If the purpose of a room is lacking, it can show with the amount of clutter filling it, though there are many possible reasons that a space is not orderly.

Trying to re-imagine what you are going to do with a space can be challenging. You need to be able to take a step or two back and get some distance. What changes do you need and want?

What needs do you have? Do you want a space for exercising? Or doing crafts? What about a place to relax? Or to curl up with a book or a movie?

If you have a space, utilize it to fulfill your needs if possible. Feel free to use the room to meet multiple purposes. We’ve all heard of people who use part of their kitchen for their mail center. Challenge yourself to be as creative as you want or need. If you enjoy crafts, give yourself a specific space that allows you the freedom to do that; I have heard of people setting aside part of their dining room for that since the table can function well for that. Whatever your needs and interests are, you can discover ways to implement spaces for those.

The biggest challenge is to wait until you have decided before taking any action. Sit in the area that you want to change, look around, think about your needs and wants, and if others share your space, talk with them. Sometimes inviting a friend over and brainstorming with them can provide a launch pad for more ideas. Don’t be so tempted by the first idea that you stop thinking and jump to altering the layout. Allow yourself the freedom for the possibilities to percolate. The best is when the concept for a space excites you and meets all the needs you have identified.

I have one such room in my home that my sister-in-law vacated over a year ago! It had been the computer and paperwork room and some of those functions still need to stay there. The computer peripherals, filing cabinets, and office supplies are best suited for this space in our home. Yet, we wanted to utilize it more than just for those things. We have been going back and forth with ideas, none of which grabbed us enough to take action while it slipped into a dumping ground, an easy place to drop things “out of the way.”

Happily, we have come up with a plan, which excites us and feels like it will accommodate some the dilemmas we’d been stuck on previously. I am taping as I go so you can see the process in stages, and eventually the final product.

Having made the decision about the space, the process can actually start moving. Yeah! Since it is large reorganization, I actually made a list, largely chronological, so that the actual doing can go smoothly and with limited chaos.

I will start with gathering the clutter together and dealing with what I can. The relatively little stuff, not furniture, needs to be contained and separated into similar categories. Some of the piles are my husband’s and he will need to go through them later, but I can get them altogether now. (A good post topic would be on sharing space and organization!) All the office supplies, from desk drawers and top of the desk, will stay together and need to be relatively accessible during the transition.

I am thrilled that we are going to be re-purposing items in our home so we will need to spend virtually no money. We have two double-sided library bookshelves up against walls, limiting their full usefulness. Both will be in this room by the end, providing considerable additional shelving as well as a way to divide the room.

Some furniture will be removed completely, freeing up considerable space to offer in the end, a secluded place to sit and relax by the window.

This is where I am starting. Stay tuned to find out what happens after this has been accomplished.