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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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, that old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth, aka your "stuff".
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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I no longer wish for a bigger house with a bigger kitchen. It's true that, for years, I longed for oodles of counter space to spread out during my marathon baking sessions, a walk-in pantry, and plenty of space to store all manner of appliances and cooking/baking tools. In fact, when we were house-hunting for our "starter" home back in 2002, I told the realtor that a big kitchen was a must. She almost didn't show us this townhouse because of the small kitchen, but the minute we walked through the front door, we knew this was the one. Our next house will have a bigger kitchen, I thought. I can make do with this one until then.
But somewhere along the line, I came to appreciate the smallness of my space. The fact of the matter is, there's far less cleaning and upkeep here than with a bigger home, which is a HUGE benefit worth the trade-off, in my humble opinion. We seem to have adequate space for our needs 90% of the time. (Entertaining is still a challenge.) And we'll be empty-nesters in just a few years, so there's no point in upgrading to a bigger home now. But the biggest factor in me being able to let go of my dreams for a bigger kitchen is just the fact that I've learned to live quite comfortably within my available space, and I like this simpler lifestyle. With the help of these five simple strategies for organizing your kitchen, you just might learn to love your space too:
1) Maximize your vertical space
When a client tells me they need more space, the first thing I do is look behind all the doors. I'm always surprised to find many of them bare. Finding available vertical space is like finding money you didn't know you had! Here are just a few ways to make the most of this pot o' gold:
2) Corral the little or irregularly-shaped stuff
Nothing's worse than "losing" a small container of yogurt in the back of the fridge until it starts to smell bad. When you use a small bin for storing packets of spices, half-opened bags of rice or beans, etc., you can squeeze a lot in without worrying about encountering an avalanche in your pantry. It's also easier to find what you need when you can take the entire bin out into the light instead of feeling your way around the back of a dark cabinet. Use bins in the pantry, fridge, freezer or a high shelf for all those random small items, packets and bags.
3) Buy stackable containers for your pantry
I hate having to move stuff to see what's behind it in my pantry! All those Pinterest photos showing off Martha Stewart-esque pantries full of beautiful matching glass jars make me shake my head. First of all, you shouldn't have to break the bank to achieve a beautifully-organized and functional pantry, especially if it will all be behind closed doors. But also, tall containers force you to store things in front of each other. And have you tried measuring out a cup of flour stored from a canister with a narrow opening? Large, shallow, rectangular containers that can be stacked, taking up all the shelf space from front to back rather than from top to bottom, will enable you to see what you have without having to move anything to see what's in the back row. Labeling makes it a slam-dunk on grocery list-making day. As a bonus, you can easily get your hand in there to measure out the flour, sugar or rice, mess- and hassle-free.
4) Decorate with everyday items
Have you ever noticed that a well-styled kitchen always boasts an inviting bowl of fresh fruits or vegetables on the counter...attractive glass jars of staples...a pedestal of yummy baked goods? Showing off the offerings from your kitchen not only increases its appeal, it also saves valuable fridge, pantry and cabinet space. Take advantage of this little secret! Just be careful not to make your surfaces look too cluttered. Here are a few suggestions for dressed-up items you can store out in the open:
5) Store kitchen items in another room
I know, I know...this is not so covenient. That's why you'll want to limit this strategy to items you rarely use. And while we're on that topic, think long and hard about whether such items should be stored in your house, or perhaps in someone else's, if you get my meaning. I'm pretty ruthless about getting rid of stuff I don't use, but even I have a few appliances or baking tools I couldn't live without yet only use once or twice a year. It's worth the effort of having to retrieve them from another part of the house on the rare occasions I really need them in order to have more space in my kitchen every other day of the year. Here are some candidates to consider removing from your kitchen:
Most of us prepare food several times a day. If you're gonna spend that much time in one room, why not make it a pleasant and stress-free place to be. With a little organization and some space-saving tricks like these up your sleeve, even cooking in a tiny kitchen can be easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.