Space truly is the final frontier! Everyone seems to be on an endless quest for it...for space in their homes...on their desks...in their busy lives! Yet it eludes most of us. Just as soon as we find some....poof! It’s gone and the search begins anew. But what if instead of spending all of our space, we kept some of it….empty?!! Today, I’m making a case for space!
First, how is empty space even useful?
Preserving your empty space boils down to choosing space over stuff. You may be asking...if empty space is so valuable, then why do people tend to choose stuff over space? Good question! Clients usually call me when their lack of space begins causing a problem in their lives. They are aware that they need more space, yet still seem compelled to fill it back up again when given the opportunity. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons, along with my counterpoint for each one: Do any of these sound familiar?
Fear of being without something you may need (clothes, paper towels, shoes, serving dishes).
Counterpoint: If you run out of something, you can go shopping, do laundry, borrow from a neighbor, order online. If none of these are possible, you will likely find a way to make do in an emergency. Such emergencies will be very rare and far outweighed by the everyday benefits of having more space. Think up a back-up plan in advance if that makes you feel less afraid to part with something. (Personal aside: At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when toilet paper was difficult to find, I came up with multiple contingency plans for if/when we ran out. I never had to use any of them, but now that I have them, I don’t feel a need to use up my valuable space hoarding toilet paper.)
Avoiding a deep-seated (and usually misplaced) perception of poverty and/or a misperception of “wealth”.
Counterpoint: Having more stuff doesn’t make you rich. It actually costs you more in the long run. Would you rather be “rich” in stuff that gets in your way, or rich in time and energy that can be spent on having new and meaningful experiences, learning more about the world, and forging/maintaining important relationships? Which will matter more at the end of your life? Remember, the old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth.
Unwillingness to make choices (aka decision deferral).
Counterpoint: Making decisions gets easier and quicker with practice and takes less time when you do it on a daily basis. Developing a habit of making decisions in the moment takes effort but will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Need to fill up the other aspects of life that feel empty (relationships, self-esteem, productivity, sense of control).
Counterpoint: Space gives us freedom. We need space to live in, move in, fill up with the people and activities that bring us joy. When we do that, we will not feel emptiness; we will feel fulfilled.
So how do we create and maintain empty space?
Simple: Choose space over stuff. Now that you understand the value of empty space and why you may have chosen stuff instead in the past, it will be easier to make more intentional decisions in the future. There are three key components to this:
With a little conscious decision-making and a few good habits, even holding onto empty space can be easy peasy!
Okay, so you've purged all your excess stuff, replaced single-function furniture and items with multi-function alternatives and organized what's left as efficiently as possible using all the techniques in last week’s blog and still don't have enough room? It's time to stare at the wall, or hang it up...literally. There's oodles of unlocked storage potential on those walls, as well as behind, above and on the backs of all your cabinets and doors. Tap into the wealth of vertical space, and you will be amazed at how much more additional storage room you actually have to hang stuff up.
Clockwise from top left: Paint cans hung from floor joists; Mugs hung from shelf; Bike helmets hung from tension rod; Toiletries stored in shoe pocket organizer on back of bathroom door.
Just a few ideas to get you started:
So the next time lack of space has you feeling down, look up for inspiration. The sky's the limit...literally
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My husband used to get annoyed with me for re-loading the dishwasher after he had already loaded it. Eventually, he stopped doing that task and now just says, "I'll let you work your magic." He knows I can always get a lot more in. But it isn't "magic" at all...it's just a matter of knowing how to use the rack space efficiently.
If you've been following @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook, Instagram or this blog, you know that I've been sharing tips all month on how to create more space in your home. We started with the Declutter Challenge to get rid of all that excess stuff you don't really need. Then in last week's blog, I explained how seeking out multi-functional items to serve double-duty around the house, instead of buying multiple items that each only serve one purpose, can save a lot of storage space. This week, I'm going to share some tips for eking out even more space here and there -- without even getting rid of anything -- just by using the space you have more efficiently.
While it is true that neatness does not necessarily equal organization and vice versa, it does tend to be the case that most truly organized homes are also neater. Mostly that's because it's easier to keep it neat when it's organized. But did you know that being neat can also save space? Consider a pile of papers...not that I'm encouraging you to have too many of these, mind you. Which takes up less space on a desk, a cascade of messy papers, or a neat stack of papers? When items are neatly stacked or folded, you can almost always fit more into a smaller space. Adopting a few simple strategies can make a big difference in just how much space you are able to save.
As you can see from the photos above, I was able to fit 20% more into the basket simply by folding the towels. Not only that, the basket fits better on the shelf where it lives and towels are more easily-accessible when they are folded. However, folding alone doesn't always result in a space savings. You must also ensure you are folding items to the right size to fit your space efficiently. Don't always fold towels the exact same way just because they are towels, or you could end up with extra, unusable space next to them on the shelf. Instead, play around and figure out how to fold them in order to fit the maximum number on that specific shelf where they are stored. You may be surprised how many more you can get in simply by changing the way you fold them. I fold the dish towels above differently than I fold the hand towels that live under my powder room sink, even though they are roughly the same size. That's because they are being stored in a different sized basket. This same principle applies to clothing, sheets, blankets...anything! It's worth taking a few minutes to figure out a folding strategy for each space! Once you do, you'll be all set.
Purchase Matching Sets
While matching sets look nice and neat, that's not the reason I'm advocating this. Stacking items that are part of a set is generally easier and more space-efficient than stacking individual random items. This is because items in a set are usually the same size or have been specifically designed to be nested together or stacked. Think about it: dishes, food storage containers, storage bins, mixing bowls, measuring spoons, towels, etc. tend to come in sets that are intended to be stored together. You'll save tons of space by nesting food storage containers and then "filing" the lids, by size, upright in a bin or basket so that you can easily find the size you need. Sometimes lids within a set are designed to fit a variety of different bottoms.
Bundle and Contain
Have you ever noticed that odd-shaped stuff has a way of spreading out all on its own? I'm talking about bags and packets in the pantry, loose contents in drawers, charger cables, empty plastic shopping bags, etc. This "clutter creep" wastes a lot of space. The way to stop it is to bundle or contain it. When you store items like this in bins, baskets, boxes or drawer dividers, you are not only defining and limiting the amount of space they consume, you can literally fit more into that space. Imagine pouring a bag of sugar out onto the countertop. What happens? It spreads out across the surface of the counter into an inefficient mound. But pouring it into a canister eliminates gaps and contains the contents, consuming a smaller surface area. The same principle applies to your oddly-shaped items. Bundling and containing them also makes items easier to find and access.
Is your closet rod too tightly packed? Consider removing all the empty hangers from the rod and placing them in a basket on the floor of your closet. It's rare that you will be storing every article of clothing you own on the rod at the same time. Usually you'll be wearing some or laundering some, so why take up precious rod space with an empty hanger? And speaking of hangers, why waste space with a thick hanger when a skinny one will do the job just as well? Invest in thinner hangers to save space. Also, keep in mind that hanging clothes is more space-efficient than folding them and storing them in drawers and makes clothes easier to see and find.
Another big "filler" is the air in your off-season clothes and spare linens. Pack them in vacuum bags that eliminate the air when they are in storage. Similarly, save space in the pantry by dumping items like pasta, cereal and chips into airtight containers rather than storing big boxes that are half full of air. If freezing food in zip-loc bags, lie them flat during freezing so that they will stack neatly and save space.
Go with Corners
Whenever possible, choose square or rectangular storage containers over round ones, as they utilize the space more efficiently and leave fewer gaps between them. Also look for straight-sided bins rather than angled ones. It may not seem like this would make a big difference, but the space savings sure do add up.
Maximize Your Vertical Space
This is a big way to free up space in your home. Adjusting shelf height, using walls, backs of doors and cabinets, etc. can reap big space savings. In fact, there are so many ways to create space by going vertical that it warrants its very own blog post. I'll be covering this in more detail next week, so stay tuned.
With a little bit of tweaking in the right places, saving space without even getting rid of anything can be easy peasy.
If you have kids at home - especially young ones - no doubt you are well-acquainted with the pain of walking through a minefield of Legos. If you haven't had the pleasure, just imagine walking across a floor covered in broken glass. Or maybe you've encountered the slip-n-slide effect of stepping on a stray paper or magazine left on the stairs...or discovered a new life form growing in the sweaty clothes strewn across your teenager's bedroom floor. Ah yes, kids seem to have a special knack for sowing chaos, destruction and grossness, but they are equally capable of creating order and finding solutions with the right guidance, encouragement and opportunity. Which is a good thing, because you won't have the time or energy to keep up with their messes without a bulldozer...and not many of us have room for storing one of those. You'll need some help!
Maintaining an orderly home requires solid teamwork from the entire family, and raising a generation of organized, clutter-free adults begins at home with consistent coaching from you. Even if you struggle with organization yourself - in fact, especially if you do - there are still things you can all do together as a cohesive unit to transform your home into the calm and relaxed sanctuary you all deserve to live in.
Start early by training your young children to sort objects, put their toys away and make thoughtful decisions about their belongings. Establishing routines for everyone in the household (including you!) and stating clear expectations will help all of you stay on track. Instead of barking out orders and making chore-time feel like a punishment, underscore the unifying effect collaboration will have on your family unit. Offering age-appropriate incentives and finding creative ways to make the process fun for everyone will teach them that with a little planning and teamwork, orderly living and a home they can proudly share with others can be easy peasy!
No matter how old your kids are or what state your home is currently in, it is never too early or too late to start adopting some of these strategies:
Keep it Positive
Lay the Foundation
Go on Autopilot Whenever Possible
Evolve and Adapt
Make it Fun!
Parenting is at its most challenging when we are faced with the prospect of teaching our young ones something we, ourselves, are still trying to learn. But in my experience, some of the most special experiences I've shared with my children are the ones where I was learning alongside them. You don't have to have to be an expert at cleaning and organizing to begin teaching your children the importance of learning those skills. You just have to be willing to make the effort to model how to learn them.
With a little effort and collaboration, even maintaining an orderly home can be easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.