I have wanted to write a post about minimalism for a while now but found the prospect daunting. Minimalism seems like an intriguing lifestyle but I don’t really grasp what it’s all about. In my mind minimalism means painting my walls white, reducing my furniture to half (all white) and having no hobbies or interests (hence none of the supporting stuff). That scenario has seemed unrealistic to me in the past. Curious though, I recently delved deeper into the philosophy of minimalism. Here are my new understanding and personal thoughts. (Click on Read More to continue)
I often come across organizing books on clients’ bookshelves that were purchased in an attempt to get organized. Many clients give a little laugh, “Well, I guess that didn’t work” and hand me the book thinking I might gain better use than they did. This does happen - I sometimes adapt ideas for other clients, pass the book along or grab personal insights to improve my own home. One such book I recently came across was Living Organized by Sandra Felton. (Living Organized: Proven Steps for a Clutter-Free and Beautiful Home, by Sandra Felton, 2004, Fleming H. Revell, Grand Rapids, MI.) It is a typical organizing book in that it describes personalities, strategies, maintenance and the psychology clutter. As an organizer, these books as a whole rarely offer anything new that I have not seen or heard before. However, there were two outstanding sections I found helpful both personally and professionally. Below is an overview of the book with my favorite sections noted.
Living Organized is set up in six parts. Throughout there are stories, quizzes and letters from real situations. In the first few parts, many detailed descriptions help the reader understand the Messie concept, confirm their own personality type, and find hope for change if they are a Messie (or living with one.) A Messie is a right brain dominant, creative person who oftentimes struggles with clutter. There are good descriptions of Messies and Cleanies; right brain versus left brain dominant personalities; history of housework; and the response of family members to a Messie and his/her clutter. Also here is the first outstanding section of the book: the phenomenon that right-brained, creative people are most comfortable keeping their childhoods alive via memories and mementos. Childhood pictures and memorabilia are not just parts of the past but are real, living treasures of the present for Messies. These physical things are kept to remind the owner of his/her creative, impulsive, idealistic, fun-loving nature. These personal characteristics are integral to a Messie's nature and so are the belongings. Efficient management and storage of these things become extremely important. Subsequent chapters describe such space saving ways to organize.
Part four attempts to teach how to declutter a home. There is the briefest instruction on how to clear clutter. I doubt most Messies could even get started by reading this book. At one point the author says, “Let us assume that your house has come under a moderate degree of organizational control.” I wondered, how did that happen without more step-by-step guidance? More importantly, the motivational piece for decluttering is also in short supply. Perhaps the author’s pioneering Messies Anonymous support groups fill that purpose.
On a positive note, (if you get your house clutter free) the cleaning chapter is a bit more useful. It describes three levels of cleaning: big stuff, little stuff and congealed stuff and how to tackle each type. There are motivational notes for Messies to make their cleaning faster and easier.
Another chapter gives general organizing hints. It reminds the reader that he/she must make decluttering an everyday activity not just an occasional one. There are standard solutions for problem areas common to every home. The author teaches basic organizing principles such as defining the uses for each room, locating like things together, eliminating duplicate tools and storing supplies close to where they are used.
The last parts of the book describe home design and decorating. These make up the second outstanding area. I found inspiration in the author’s guidance to come to terms with the energy of your home. She describes the haphazard way many homes are put together, without much thought to consistency or appearance. Making a home cohesive and attractive is possible even if the occupants have very little design ability. Moreover, the author does a great job helping the reader find his/her personal style and how to begin to apply it to the home. She describes little actions (and includes a question/answer section) that eventually, over time improve the feel of a home.
An interior designer has written the section on decorating and design. This is a hands-on, entertaining set of instructions based on the MAGIC ROOM method. It teaches how to find your personal style and how to achieve it in a methodical fashion. The result, they say, is a room that you deserve. It includes decorating scenarios as examples of faulty decorating. It describes step-by-step tasks to identify your preferred colors, textures, ideas and objects. If anything were to work for me, this would be the system. I can imagine following it and getting a home that reflected my personality perfectly. The designer further points out that individualized decorating improves mood and physical well-being. I was so happy to see that this section also cautions the reader to be practical in choosing colors and fabrics: nothing that will get dirty fast, ruined quickly or be hard to maintain.
The value of Living Organized for me consisted of the outstanding features above. Other readers may likely find different reasons to value the book. Overall I found it motivational and worth the time.
In probably 90% of my work, clients are in fact responsible for the clutter in their homes. I help them declutter their spaces, find storage solutions and develop habits to maintain the organization. Today, though, I want to talk about the remaining 10% of the cases where home design is to blame for clutter. By that I mean: there are too few closets, storage is in the wrong place, windows and doors are located in inconvenient places, rooms are wrong size, or there was little thought put into how someone would actually live in the space.
We all know that older homes were short on closets. However, many newer homes, though quite large, are designed poorly for the way families live. For example, open floor plans look impressively spacious but are difficult to get organized. There just doesn’t seem to be any place to put the things people use on a regular basis. Many homes have expensively outfitted kitchens with no convenient place to put trash and recycling bins. Some homes have been modified by homeowners without sufficient thought to the consequences of the placement of the new deck, sun room or garage. The result is an expensive, unused space. By far the most common challenge for homeowners that I see is in making the most of their entryway spaces. The front door is oftentimes equipped with a closet, tiled floor and space for transitioning into the home from outside. However, the back door (the one that gets the most use) often has little to no conveniences. And what makes matters worse is that people do not realize that this is the cause of clutter in the area.
Here are some ideas to consider. Whatever entry is most often used should have convenient drop off spots for groceries, backpacks, coats, shoes and purchases. The ideal house has a mudroom for this purpose that is located between the garage entry and the house proper. If your common entry lacks these organizational systems try to emulate them as best you can. The first thing to do is to be aware of the problem. You will be able to tell if shoes are in the way, coats have no place to be hung, bags are tripping hazards and it generally seems like extra effort to transition from outdoors to indoors.
If there is no closet, create a place where will you hang coats and put outdoor shoes. This need be only large enough to handle the most often used outdoor gear. Purchase a coat rack, wall hooks, shoe rack, and/or bookcase for coats and shoes respectively. Make space for a table, bench, cubbies, or hooks to temporarily deposit backpacks and purchases. You may need to take time to rearrange other furniture to make the area workable. Place function over aesthetics in designing this space. You, and your family, will appreciate the effort. By the way, this area is the key location to place reminders such as school papers, lunches, and store returns; to hang keys; and to display shopping lists so they are not forgotten. Make a place for these reminders by installing a bulletin board, shelf or hanging clipboard. Remember to include a large sturdy mat on the floor to keep dirt, water and debris from tracking into the house. With a little forethought this area will keep you organized, your house clean, and transitions efficient. Let us know how you solved entryway problems.
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Carol Martin-Ward, encouraging practical ideas for easy organizing