Many would say: “Yes, but I need all this to [live my life] [have the kids’ clothes handy] [keep my paperwork] [refer to later] [other] (take your pick)”, but the fact of the matter is that it is entirely possible to live in a small space without having to wade through things all the time, if you manage to find out what it is you really, really need rather than what you think you cannot live without. I am convinced that every household (including my own) has items that are completely superfluous, and that is okay as long as they don’t affect your quality of life. However, if you find yourself moving stuff around to get to other stuff, that limit has been overstretched. Do you actually know what you own any longer? How much useful stuff is lost in the sheer mass of not so useful items?
A simple way to keep things from taking over too much space is to stick to a certain volume of space dedicated to particular things. Take your bookshelf, for instance: you only have so much space to place books in it. If you cannot squeeze any more books into the shelf, you – like many other people – will resort to placing them elsewhere: on the floor, in another room, in a cupboard, … generally in place you would not normally place books. The more sensible approach would be to live with the understanding that – if you have no more space in the bookshelf – you’ll have to take some books out that you can live without. It’s the “one in, one out” approach, and it’s amazing what it does for keeping clutter at bay. By the way, if you have to squeeze books in you have already passed the limit! Give it some thought.
The same goes for hanging space for clothes, wardrobe shelves, sock drawers, shoes, papers, toys, etc. Of course, it is tricky to decide what to let go, but there are ways to do this. If you are true to yourself you’ll have to admit that some things in either of those storage spaces are no longer your favourites. You only keep them out of habit, because they were expensive to buy or because they hold memories. Don’t get me wrong: that old threadbare sweater you love so much has as much right to be there as the new flashy costume – as long as you have enough space. And when push comes to shove, you might keep the sweater and ditch the costume. When all else fails and you cannot decide, but space is starting to become limited, take everything out and take a really good look at what you’ve got. You’ll probably spot things you have not worn, played with, used or read in a long time and are unlikely to use again, ever. Those should really go, unless you feel extremely attached to them for sentimental reasons.
The thought to keep in mind when going through that triage is “if I can only keep x many of this type of item, how many do I have and which ones could I ditch?”
Each of us has different needs in terms of how many of each type we want to keep. Some might need more space for books, others have and use a lot of shoes, and someone else might need lots of wall space for pictures. We are all individuals, but that does not take away that we have to limit ourselves to keep only as much as we can afford to have in our homes, without overtaxing the space available. The thing to do here is to find out what it is you feel strongly about and how that translates into things you actually need. If space is at a premium, you have to concentrate on the things you need and things you want are a luxury that has to be limited.
Even if you have a lot of space available to start with, you’ll find that this luxury is a limited commodity after all: more space could only mean that you accumulate more stuff and end up being as cramped in as someone else with less available storage space. And you’ll spend an awful lot of time when the time comes to simmer it down.
The thing is: your home should feel cosy, welcoming to yourself, your family and visitors. If you find that it is lacking in either of these categories, you may want to take a step back and look at it from a point of view of someone walking into your home for the first time. This is hard to do, I know, and our brains are wired to get used to things very quickly, even the ones that actually annoy us. We simply edit them out and stop seeing them.
If you are serious about getting to know where there are tough spots in your home, find a friend you trust completely and ask them about their impression of your home: you might just find their answers interesting and enlightening as they could point out things that you are aware of, but have never identified as being much of a problem, until now. Be kind with them when they answer your question honestly. Don’t take their answer as a personal comment on you, but simply a point of view of someone else who does not see your home on a daily basis.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.