Several years ago, a neighbor friend of mine who knew that my husband and I wanted to get in shape offered us--FREE--a treadmill that had been sitting idle for some time in her basement. We were ecstatic! That treadmill was just what we needed to transform ourselves from couch potatoes to svelte beach bodies by the time bathing suit season rolled around (well okay...give or take 50 pounds). Best of all, the price fit right into our meager (read: nonexistent) budget. We’d have to be crazy to say no to that...right?
While impulse purchases are a real thing, most of us actually do weigh the cost vs. benefit before we acquire something new. Thus, something free + something we want = YES! So why are our closets and garages so crammed full of stuff we never use? Clearly, we are miscalculating something. Perhaps we're leaving something out of the equation. I propose the correct formula should be:
Financial cost + Space cost + Convenience cost + Opportunity cost = True Cost
Most of us don’t see past the money and never even think about the last three components of this equation, probably because they are difficult to quantify. But omitting them from the equation altogether is how we wind up feeling disorganized, frustrated and suffocated by all our stuff. Let’s take a closer look:
This is usually the primary and often the only cost we consider when deciding whether or not to acquire something new. If you want proof, look no further than the ridiculously long checkout lines at your local Dollar Tree. How many times have you bought something just because it was “such a great deal”? And note that I keep using the word "acquire". That's because considering the cost of something applies even to--especially to--items for which we paid no money at all. Interestingly, the more money we pay for something, the less willing we are to part with it once we realize it was a poor purchase. And the longer we keep it in some vain attempt to “get our money’s worth” out of it, the more it ends up costing us...in space, in convenience, and in opportunity. As my husband and I would eventually discover, that $0 treadmill was most certainly not free, after all.
Ah space…the final frontier! Most people completely underestimate the value of empty space. We see it as something to be consumed instead of recognizing the important role it plays in keeping us organized and sane. Every single item you own--from vegetable peeler to king-sized bed--costs you valuable space. Like money (and cake), you cannot keep (have) it and spend (eat) it too. Overspending your space--or cramming as many objects into your empty spaces as you can--leads to clutter, visual noise, stress, and sometimes even guilt. The more spacious your environment, the easier it is to maintain and control. Purging items you no longer need/use makes it infinitely easier to see, access and keep organized the things you do. That “free” treadmill ended up costing us significant space in our small basement.
Life gets really inconvenient when you lack space. If you’ve ever watched one of those hoarder shows, you’ll be struck by how much more effort it takes them just to accomplish everyday tasks like cooking a meal or taking a shower. When your access to the items you need is restricted, it takes more time, energy and effort just to get them out and use them...much less to put them away again when you're done. Pretty soon, you stop bothering to put things away at all. This leads to clutter, chaos, frustration and a sense of defeat as you either lose items or they continually get in your way.
Also, the more stuff you accumulate, the less visible everything becomes. If you can’t see what you have, you’ll either buy it again or you won’t use it at all. So why are you keeping it? And owning too many belongings makes you less nimble...the sheer inconvenience of moving all that excess stuff out of the way in order to make home improvements or repairs can lead to procrastination, sometimes causing or worsening damage and costing even more money in the long run. Before you know it, you’ve increased the financial cost of ownership well beyond your initial investment.
Remember our treadmill? Well, we had to sacrifice some of the space we had been using for sorting and folding laundry just to make room for it. This made doing the laundry an even bigger chore than usual. Laundry baskets often ended up stacked up on the treadmill because there was no place else to put them. Talk about a motivation killer! If you think I’m going to do laundry first just so that I can exercise, think again! In my book, Exercise + Laundry = Forget it! The convenience cost of that treadmill in doing laundry was huge, not to mention that actually being able to use the treadmill itself was so inconvenient, it ended up just sitting there collecting dust for months. So why keep it? Good question!
What are you missing out on because you’ve acquired too much stuff? If you had just said NO to some of those “great deals” would you have had the money to go on a weekend getaway with your sweetie? If you could've just made do with fewer kitchen gadgets, might you have more space to share your love of cooking with your grandchildren? If you cleared all the “some day maybe” stuff you paid good money for out of the guest room closet, would you be more likely to entertain overnight guests?
It was summer when we said yes to that treadmill, so we forgot that the only spot we had available to put it in is where we normally put our Christmas tree...right across from the fireplace, next to the big recliner where my husband reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids every Christmas Eve before bed. There was no room for our tree in the basement that year. No enjoying the beautiful lights by the warm glow of the fire. That treadmill ended up costing us a valued family tradition that Christmas, and it was truly a bummer.
The good news is that you can mitigate the costs of the things you own if you just ask yourself a few simple questions before you acquire anything new:
We’ve all made mistakes in saying yes when we should have said no, but that doesn't mean you have to keep paying the price for your error. That treadmill? We gave it back to our neighbor and joined the gym instead. You see, we concluded that the financial cost of a gym membership was worth what we would save in space, convenience and opportunity. Don’t let what you paid (or didn’t pay) for something interfere with righting what's wrong.
With a little honest contemplation about the true costs of ownership, even saying no to a blowout sale can be easy peasy!
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Everyone has excess stuff. (I know I do!) And the first step in effectively organizing any space is to eliminate as much of the excess as possible. Unfortunately, just like doing the laundry, cleaning, eating right and exercising, this need to purge your excess is ongoing. You have to keep doing it if you want to stay in good, orderly shape.
One of the biggest deterrents to ridding ourselves of the fat in our home is all the guilt that wraps itself around each unwanted, broken, useless, ill-fitting piece of surplus in our closets. Some people have storage units stuffed to the brim with that guilt. It comes in the form of gifts received but never used, deceased loved ones' belongings that we don't know what to do with, clothes long out of fashion that used to fit, broken furniture or toys we always meant to repair but never did...all good intentions and fond old memories that are now saturated in guilt. If this sounds like you, it's time to bring that guilt into the light, recognize it for what it is and purge it once and for all.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you confront your guilt:
Memories cannot be donated. We often keep items because they trigger a fond memory for us. But unless you encounter that object, the memory isn't getting trig gered. My readers know that I'm big on re-purposing, not only because it saves money and reduces waste, but because it often enables you to place a memory trig ger in the midst of everyday life. There it can do its job much better than if stuffed into a bin in the garage. But if you can't find a use for it, consider documenting the memory in some other way. Take a photo of the item or write about it in your journal before donating it to a good home.
True gifts are emotions, not tangible items. No one ever intended to give you a burden as a gift. The physical object they gave you only represents the true gift of their love, appreciation, friendship...and those are things you cannot get rid of simply by donating them. Often, the giver will not even remember the specific object that represented their real gift, much less realize that you parted with it.
A purchase is not a lifelong commitment. Yes, you may have spent "good money" on it. True, you may have loved it once upon a time. If you are not using it and no longer need it, then getting rid of it now does not change those facts. Hopefully it served its purpose at the time you acquired it, but even if it didn't, depriving yourself of the space it occupies now will not make it so or increase its value.
If you're gonna fix it, fix it NOW! Stop procrastinating. If it is important or valuable enough to warrant keeping, make it useful again. Otherwise it is just broken stuff getting in your way. If you haven't fixed it by now and aren't willing or able to do it today, you probably never will. Give yourself a firm deadline for getting it done and pitch it if you don't meet it.
Sharing is honorable. Perhaps there's an item that reminds you of someone special. If you don't need it or can't use it or display it, why not honor that person by sharing it with someone who can? Preserve the memory with a picture or journal entry and pass it along...perhaps to someone else with a connection to that same special person.
New memories await creation. Don't allow your desire to hold onto old memories squeeze out the opportunity to create new ones. You need space to live and grow and collect tomorrow's keepsakes. Give away that guilt to make room for something better.
I'm not suggesting that you can't keep anything just for its pure sentimental value. But you owe it to yourself and to the simplicity you need in your life to keep it manageable and meaningful. Decide in advance how much space you are willing to devote to that category and once it is full, it's time to purge something or stop collecting.
With a little courage and pragmatism, even purging your guilt can be easy peasy.
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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.
When it comes to saving space - and money - nothing beats the power of multi-taskers. Getting in the habit of investing only in items that serve a double-duty function can yield some big dividends when it comes to creating more space in your home.
So what does this look like? Well, consider the many areas of your life where you can get double the usefulness objects:
The key is to get into the habit of brainstorming how you can use your belongings in more ways than one. Before you buy something new, look around to see if you already have something else that will fulfill your need. You'll be surprised how much space (and money!) you'll save...and trips to the donation dropoff too.
With a little creativity and a few multi-taskers, even creating more space in your home will be easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.