This is the second of three posts answering the question, “How do you keep your house so clean?” Sorry, Nikki, but you’re not going to like a lot of this.
For me, the storage to stuff ratio is the second most important key to keeping my house clean. Whether you live in a sprawling 7000 sq ft house in Texas or a one-closet apartment in New York, the universal tendency is to have slightly more stuff than you can store.
Let me first be clear, that by storage I mean covered storage. Although TV designers get all hot and bothered about kitchens needing a “combination of open and closed storage”, I disagree. Open storage is not storage; it’s display. If there is a ever a chance that your so-called open storage will need to house your kid’s rainbow colored plastic cups, cover it all, baby.
Once you’ve honestly assessed your current ratio of stuff to storage, there are several ways you can work on getting it down to one to one.
Stop buying stuff.
You have to work on the deficit before you can address the debt. The same principle applies.
1. My greatest trick for not buying more stuff if that I don’t allow myself to buy anything without first picturing where I’m going to store it in my house. When buying clothes, I visualize the kids’ closets and drawers. How full are they? Is this duplicative of something they already have? When buying toys, I visualize the toy chests and crates and closets. Do I have room for this? Where will it go? Then when I get it home, I already know where it goes, so it doesn’t get stuck in a half-way house in our living space.
2. My second trick is going on a clothes purchasing fast from January 1st (have to hit the after-Christmas sales a little bit) until March. We are all stocked up by then, and the weather doesn’t change enough to justify new purchases. This was troublesome last year when I really needed new gym socks in February. If you want to ease in, try a purchasing fast from New Year’s to Valentine’s. You’re house and probably your wallet will love it.
3. Go digital. Stop buying stuff doesn’t mean you don’t get to have things anymore. Kindle, Netflix, Amazon Downloads, and MP3s have helped us entirely ban the purchase of books, DVDs and CDs in our house. The only exception is childrens books. Even those I am ever trying to limit through the use of library books.
4. Last, but far from least, is the crazy notion of using more of what you have. You and I have a lot of wonderful stuff! If we used more of it, we wouldn’t feel compelled to buy new stuff so often. Spring/fall cleaning has the added benefit of helping you realize what amazing things you already own. Going through my crafting bins is guaranteed to kill any desire to buy more fabric or materials. Instead I realize I already own the stuff for half a dozen projects. If you hate to purge, at least go through your stuff occasionally with the aim of rediscovering and using more of it. Kids do bore of toys quickly, but instead of buying new ones all the time, I try to rotate what we have.
Stop storing stuff.
1. Sell it instead. There is nothing I love so well as raiding my house and putting half of its contents up on Craigslist. Especially for items that hold their value, I don’t feel too bad about parting with them because if I ever do need one again, I can probably pick it up for a comparable price on Craigslist myself. The Craigslist cycle is like renting. You can enjoy things without the commitment.
The sell option is very helpful when you want to buy something new but your mental imaging reveals that you don’t have room to store it. What can you sell or donate to make room for it?
Over a year ago, I purged our book shelves. Kent who loves books but does not read them had accumulated a large collection. I approve of book collections, but I had to address our stuff to storage ratio before we went from three people in the house to six (including the au pair, Happy Birthday, Beth!). When we have a mansion with a library, we can collect books. In our townhouse, we can’t afford to own books that we would merely “like to read”. Janelle taught me the virtues of selling books on Amazon.
And in the interest of full disclosure, since the babies moved in with two high chairs and two jumperoos and two cribs and so forth, I am feeling the strain of storing more than I would like. As soon as we are decide the family size question definitively, I will have an enormous sale of well cared for baby gear as well as a lot of cute matching boys outfits and/or a mountain of gorgeous girl clothes.
2. Borrowing from friends is great especially when you have young kids since they go through cycles of toys every 3 months. Sure, you have to have room for it in your house, but you don’t have to find a place in the attic when you’re done.
3. Donate what you can’t or won’t sell. Be honest, are you using “I could sell it” as an excuse to keep storing it? If the effort of selling is too much, maybe you could pass it along to someone who would use it.
Before the boys were born, Kent had been using our covered rec room built-ins as a Technology Museum, archiving years of electronics and cords that despite some vague notion of “needing some day” were NEVER to be used again. The tech companies out there even change the cords at least once a year so that you always have to buy a new one. My views on the miniscule lifecycle of electronics and technology and what that does to the environment are for another time. For now, suffice it to say that as soon as you upgrade something, sell or donate the old thing. Unless you really have the space and desire to curate an exhibit of technology from the past millennium, don’t. Especially since you are more likely to just buy the new cord each time rather than go through a duffle bag of old chords to make sure you really need it. I cajoled Kent into a tech purge, and we donated most of the excess to various friends and Unique.
Increase covered storage.
Ideally, we could all just buy a bigger house with a bigger garage and a bigger storage room and bigger closets, right? Not necessarily. In addition to “If you can’t find it, you don’t really own it,” I believe in “If you don’t use it, you don’t really own it”. I would rather sell things (unless they are truly one of a kind) than pay for a storage unit of stuff that by definition I do not use enough to need under my own roof.
While we’re waiting on that bigger house, here are some things I’ve had to do.
Toy kitchens like this one have tons of storage. Much as I love the new one, I wish you couldn’t see through the microwave and oven doors! This modern kitchen sports “a combination of closed and open storage”. Pffft. I think the faux granite, stainless steel and glass tile backsplash are killer though.
I look for furniture like this coffee table which houses a monstrous number of board games.
Converting display to covered storage is a life saver. Formerly, the left side of our rec room built-ins looked like this. I despise this look.
Despite reminding Kent of the multiple services we subscribe to to ensure that all these movies are available to us should we ever wish to see them again, Kent put his foot down about keeping these. So I put a photo gallery in front of them. Currently it looks like this, but I need to change the pictures again. It’s clearly been quite a while. It’s not exactly covered storage, but at least I don’t drive my fingernails into my palms in abhorrence every time I see it.
Because we don’t have a mud room and our garage closets have been deemed fire hazards (!), I am forced to include our garage in what I consider covered storage. Since we utilize the garage entrance 99% of the time instead of the front door, I put up shoe cubbies right by the door in the garage and hung two coat racks on the wall beside them. The shoe cubbies are assigned usage, but I don’t fuss over how neatly they go in. On top is a basket of hats, umbrellas and bug spray. This move freed up the coat closet on the main level which is now half special occasion shoes/outerwear and half storage closet. Yay!
Thanks to Pottery Barn, grand arbiter of American taste, like everyone else, I have a couple of bookshelves that look like this:
This is the first pose in a three part series. Here are the other two: