Share stuff: one way to reduce clutter

How much stuff do we have in our homes that we seldom use? The infrequent baker may have muffin tins, cookie cutters and such that hardly ever leave the cabinet. The person living in a warm climate may have clothes for the once-a-year ski trip; families may have tents for twice-a-year camping trips. Homeowners may have tools bought for a single need — tools that are rarely if ever used again.

If you don’t like giving your space (or your money) to these infrequently used items, you may want to investigate ways to rent or borrow these items. Or, perhaps you enjoy owning certain items, but would like to allow others to save money and space by borrowing from you. You can rent all sorts of things, but for now I’d like to focus on borrowing.

You may well have friends or family members who you can borrow from (and lend to), but what if you don’t?

If you’re in a condo, your homeowners’ association may already have items available for members to use. On the Ask MetaFilter website, one person said:

My old condo HOA had a lot of game/sports stuff. For instance, you could borrow the croquet set and put it up in the greenbelt behind your townhouse. It was a random mix of games and toys but it was actually really nice.

Neighborhood, condo, or apartment building Facebook groups are another way to facilitate sharing. MetaFilter member Jacquilynne Schlesier shared her experience:

We have a very active FB group for our building on which people are constantly asking if anyone has an X they can borrow. Most if not all of those requests are fulfilled within about an hour. I’ve lent people my sewing machine, my grocery cart, my c-clamps and my drill. I’ve borrowed a flatbed dolly, and also asked people to save up their empty cereal boxes for me instead of recycling them so I could use them for a project. Our FB group gets a bit testy, but people helping each other is actually one of the things I love about living here.

If you have a good local freecycle group, and your group allows borrowing, that’s another possible route to go. There are also websites focused on facilitating this kind of sharing.

NeighborGoods, which Unclutterer has mentioned before, defines itself as a “social platform for peer-to-peer borrowing and lending. Need a ladder? Borrow it from your neighbor. Have a bike collecting dust in your closet? Lend it out and make a new friend.” NeighborGoods also has sharing guidelines that include things, such as:

  • For borrowers: “Return the item in better condition than you received it.”
  • For lenders: “State your expectations for the maintenance of your item up front. If your item needs to be cleaned or serviced before return, be clear about that before lending it.”
  • Over in the U.K, Streetbank is “a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours.” People can add things they want to lend or give away, and can include skills they are willing to share, as well as their stuff. As the FAQ states: “Communities that help each other are closer, nicer, and friendlier to live in. Streetbank can help make your neighbourhood a nicer place.”

    I haven’t used NeighborGoods myself — the closest community is an hour’s drive away from me — but the idea behind NeighborGoods and Streetbank is appealing. I have done some lending; for example, my neighbor borrows my manual juicer when she needs one.

    While it always makes sense to take reasonable precautions when borrowing or lending, sharing with others lets all of us live a somewhat less cluttered life.

    Small living design inspiration from actor Vincent Kartheiser

    We wrote about actor Vincent Kartheiser and his obsession with minimalism in our 2010 article “Celebrity minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser.” Back then, he was just beginning construction on his new home and admitted to using his neighbor’s bathroom because he threw out his toilet.

    Three years later, construction on Kartheiser’s space is complete and the beautiful renovations are featured in the article “The Tiny Hollywood Home of Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser” in Dwell magazine’s November 2013 issue.

    In the article’s accompanying slideshow, it is this picture of Kartheiser pulling his bed down from the ceiling that took my breath away:

    Image credit: Dwell’s Joe Pugliese

    The bed on pulleys with 300 pound counterweights is sheer genius, and the headboard (a large piece of redwood) is on a lever so it can fold down during the day to serve as a desk or sideboard. Another small-space idea that caught my attention in the article is his outdoor coffee table that is also a fire pit. The sliding closet doors that become a privacy wall for the bathroom is a nice touch, too.

    Technically a one-room cabin at just 500 sq feet, Kartheiser remade the home and outdoor courtyard with builder Funn Roberts. It doesn’t say it directly, but the article seems to imply Kartheiser even shares this tiny space with his fiancée, actress Alexis Bledel.

    Unclutter your storage spaces with “a thing a day”

    Many people new to uncluttering will begin the process with a simple technique called “a thing a day.” (I learned about the method a few years ago in the Unclutterer Forum.) There are a couple of positive aspects to using this simple method in an effort to clear clutter. First, it’s not overwhelming. If you choose to focus on one thing, it’s likely to be a lot easier and quicker to complete every day. Second, it’s also a momentum builder. By doing one uncluttering activity each day, you get an opportunity to practice creating order, so that it feels like a typical part of your life, rather than a chore that you dread doing. And, as your space becomes free of unwanted items, you’ll be able to create a plan to keep it organized.

    Another benefit of using ATAD is you can begin the process wherever you’d like. Your one daily thing can be retrieved from any room of your home. As this becomes a regular part of your routine, you might look for one thing in several or all rooms, though based on a recent study done by IKEA, you may want to start with your clothes closet. The results showed that despite the fact that the average person owns 88 pieces of clothing, only 25 percent of them are actually worn. This may be because most people are reaching for their favorite (or most comfortable) items frequently and leaving other pieces for another time.

    If you find yourself in this situation, you can likely free up a bit of space by selecting specific articles of clothing that you hardly reach for as your first items in your ATAD journey. Sure, you’ll have some things that you may only wear on special (infrequent) occasions, but you may want to take a look in your closet for specific items that you haven’t worn in two seasons or more. You might want to focus on removing one thing every day over the course of several weeks so that you can systematically go through each piece of clothing.

    Would you be surprised to learn that the same study also found that a large number of Americans say that having a laundry room is high on their wish list? As it turns out, that’s not the only room that they covet — just about any room with added storage capacity seems to be highly desired.

    When looking for new homes, a whopping 93% of Americans want a laundry room, 90% want linen closets in their bathrooms, and 85% want a walk-in pantry.

    That’s probably no surprise as many people often feel that a lack of storage is the root cause of overstuffed and cluttered spaces.

    While changing the size of your closet (or adding more storage) can be a huge undertaking, selecting one thing that you can part with will be much less daunting. As you start thinking about how you might include ATAD in your day-to-day life, have a look at the rest of the IKEA findings.

    Image credit: IKEA

    Do you need more storage space or fewer things?

    Raise your hand if you think you need more storage space in your home. Anyone think that if they just had more storage areas, their home would be easier to maintain? Sometimes I wish my home had more closets, especially a dedicated linen closet. But, I’ve found a way around that and, honestly, I don’t need a separate space to keep towels and sheets, which means it’s probably more of a want and not a need.

    Of course, if you live in a small home, your storage options may be limited. You’ll likely have to use tried-and-true techniques (maximize vertical space, use under bed storage, hooks, armoires, etc.) and take advantage of creative solutions, like using multi-purpose furniture or hiding things in plain sight. You might even come up with some unconvential ways to keep your stuff, like using a car or minivan (that isn’t needed for transportation) as storage space.

    In a recent blog post over at Extraordinary Observations, Storing Private Stuff in Public Space, the author started giving this some thought. He reasoned that it would be very convenient (the vehicle would be parked close to his home) and when he crunched the numbers, he found that it would be a cost effective option, too. 

    … street parking (public space) is used to store automobiles (privately owned things) for little to no cost (it would cost me $35 per year for a residential permit in my neighborhood). Using a van for storage would cost significantly less money than renting a space at one of those self storage warehouses, and it would be a lot more convenient.

    It’s an interesting notion and it seems to make sense from a monetary standpoint. For anyone seriously considering this as a solution, another question comes to mind. Why not reduce your stash so that the car isn’t needed for storage? You wouldn’t have to worry about the types of things you could store in your vehicle (since it’s not temperature controlled) nor would you have to be concerned about someone stealing it. With one less spot to maintain, you’d also have less work to do, fewer decisions to make, and more time to focus on other things. And, you’d have the option of selling or donating your car, both of which come with financial benefits.

    Though the benefits of living with less are clear, going through the process is not always straightforward or easy, especially when you have to let go of things that you’re emotionally attached to. When faced with the task of uncluttering and downsizing, it’s important to remain focused on the positive outcomes of reducing the number of things you own (particularly if you don’t use or want them). Keep in mind that you can also handpick who receives certain items which can help put your mind at ease. Of course, simplifying doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of everything. You’re simply prioritizing and carefully selecting which items you will bring the most value to your life.

    Ultimately, anyone going through this process will need to answer this question: Will a storage unit (of any type) be a regular and permanent part of your life, or would you prefer to find a way to live well with less?

    Workspace of the Week: Stand up and store

    This week’s Workspace of the Week is BMeunier’s collapsible standing work desk:

    When you live in a small space, you do what you can to make areas serve different purposes and still meet all of your needs. A flat-screen television might also be a computer monitor and an art display. A coffee table might also be a storage unit. In BMeunier’s home, his standing work desk can collapse and simply be part of the wall or it can also be a counter space for making morning coffee. Since it has been hung at standing height, no desk chair is required — saving even more floor space. I like the practicality this collapsible desk brings to this small space. Thank you, BMeunier, for sharing your workspace with us.

    Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

    Creative, space-saving furniture for almost any room

    When you live in a small space, you typically need to keep only the items that you use the most and that have high sentimental value. Of course, you can use hooks, glide out shelves, and other ease-of-use items to help you keep things stored well. Though you might think that you’ll lose out on style in a small home, you can find functional furniture that is both compact and aesthetically pleasing.

    This desk by designer, Yoon-Zee Kim, can also be also used as a bookshelf. Depending on your needs, you might choose to use it as seating. It appears to be a concept design but you may be able to create something similar.

    Image source: Yanko Design

    Using vertical space to store items usually means that you’re making use of walls and doors to mount items. Doing this reduces footprint of those items so that you have more floor space to walk. Furniture that is raised off the floor can help you achieve similar results.

    Boxetti, a transformable furniture series by Lativan desinger, Rolands Landsbergs, starts out looking like a cube but doubles as a table (when not in use) and couch. The Boxetti Lounge also integrates several elements needed in a living room, including a three-seat sofa and side tables.

    Image source: Boxetti

    This coffee table by Resource Furniture lifts up to reveal a small storage area. Once raised, it can be used as a desk or eating area in front of a couch or chair.

    Image source: Resource Furniture

    Many companies, including La-Z-Boy, now make similar lift-style tables.

    Casa Kids: Space-saving children’s furniture for small-space living

    The November 2012 issue of Dwell magazine (content not yet online) introduced me to Casa Kids, a Brooklyn-based children’s bedroom furniture company led by designer Roberto Gil. What amazes me about the furniture is how it is perfectly designed for small-space living. In addition to being very well made, almost all of the furniture also increases the function of a room — something that is so important in tight living quarters.

    A few of my favorite space-saving pieces:

    The Dumbo Loft Bed with Closet, which includes a desk and a closet in the first level and even has a hamper drawer for dirty clothes:

    The Dumbo Storage Bed, which would significantly increase the amount of storage in any room. (Note, those are shelves on the front of the unit. There is a ladder that goes on the front left like in the picture above but that isn’t in this image.):

    The Dumbo Folding Bunk Bed, which would be terrific in a room that serves as both an office and a guest room.:

    You can check out the furniture online or in person at their showroom at 106 Ferris Street in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Most of the large pieces of installed furniture hover in the $4,000 price range, but smaller items are significantly less expensive.

    Multipurpose furniture can help you maximize your small space

    As someone with a particular way of doing (and organizing) things, I can appreciate an uncluttered and (almost) object-free space. I tend to like clear surfaces, especially in the kitchen. If it were up to me, there would be no appliances on the counters (well, maybe the coffee maker). I like the look of walls with no paintings or art work mounted. The more of the floor I can see, the more comfortable a room feels to me. I’m not a minimalist, but I certainly have an appreciation for minimalism. If I could push a button and hide my furniture until I needed it, I would.

    It turns out that there are people who instead of just dreaming about this style are actually living out the idea “disappearing design” in their homes. Everything, including outlets, light switches, and even exhaust fans are subtly hidden and bleed into the rest of the environment. So much so, that the most of a home’s necessary components are virtually invisible. In fact, architects who design these homes consider anything that protrudes from walls to be an intrusion, a form of clutter.

    In a recent New York Times article, disappearing design was described as:

    …meant to both maximize one’s ground plan (particularly in small urban apartments) and minimize the “visual noise” created by things like bulky knobs, dust-prone vents and the ancient albatross of many decorators: the wide-screen TV.

    How do you make a television vanish? Create one that doubles as a mirror when not in use. Clever, yes? While most of us probably wouldn’t take issue with TVs, we would likely appreciate the ability to increase the functionality of an item that is normally used for just one purpose.

    When you live in a small space, having multipurpose furniture (or rooms) can help you get the function you need without sacrificing living space. If you’re having overnight guests, a sofa that turns into as a bunk bed means you can still have company over without needing an extra bedroom. No room for a dining or work table? Flooring with folding panels can be transformed into a table, or almost any kind of furniture you need.

    Those are very unique multi-purpose pieces, but there are others that don’t require hydraulics and that you can make yourself. This coffee table from IKEAHackers.com was created with KNUFF magazine holders and a stool. When fully assembled, you’ll get a table and storage for your magazines, books, pens (in the center of the table), or even the remote.

    Photo of coffee table taken from IKEAHackers

    What about using a bookcase for more than just books? Another great find on IKEAHackers is the Billy bookcase that has been enhanced with compartments and a hinged door for hidden storage. The site suggests using it to store bar and drink accessories, but it could be used for office supplies (or anything that you use often). And, if you like the idea but prefer not to make it yourself, Parts of Sweden (IKEAHackers partner that offers free shipping) can do it for you.

    Photo of bookcase taken from IKEAHackers

    The Paperpedic Bed profiled by the website Inhabitat is fully recyclable, includes storage, and is very easy to assemble. No tools are required — simply fold the paper panels to create a single, queen, or king-sized bed. This is a great option for small homes and would be easy to pack up for a move.

    Photo of bed taken from manufacturer, Karton

    When you live in a small home, look for multi-tasking furniture pieces that can help you maximize your space. You’ll need less furniture (which means more room to move about) and keep your home uncluttered.

    Ask Unclutterer: Suggestions for easily eliminating messes

    Reader Barbara submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

    I’m organized and like things to be put away, except it doesn’t always happen. (I’m swamped, just like everyone is these days.) I want to know what I can do to step-up my game. Easy things with big impact, without much effort. I’m single and live in a 1BR apartment.

    You say you’re already organized and that picking up is your biggest concern, so these three simple suggestions are tailored toward alleviating messes (not uncluttering) your small space.

    1. Five minute pick up. If you watch television, use the first commercial break of the evening to do a general clean up around the apartment. Race the commercials to see how much you can get done before your show returns. If you don’t watch television, each night before making dinner set the timer on your microwave for five minutes and race the clock. If your space were larger or there were more people living in your place, I’d suggest using two or three commercial breaks or setting the microwave timer for 15 minutes. A little work each night goes a long way toward keeping your place mess-free.
    2. Shift your mindset. For reasons unknown, most of us think of doing something and putting stuff away afterward as two activities. For instance, we think about “dinner” as making dinner and eating dinner, but we think of cleaning up the dining room and kitchen afterward as another thing to do, “cleaning up after dinner.” If you stop thinking of cleaning up afterward as a separate activity, but rather as part of the activity itself, you’ll get better at putting things away after you use them. Wrapping a gift for a friend doesn’t stop when you put the bow on the package, but is complete when all the wrapping supplies have been returned to storage. You aren’t finished playing a board game with your friends when someone claims victory, but rather after the game is boxed up and returned to its shelf. This also means you don’t ever randomly set stuff down. The act of handling the mail each day includes retrieving it, reviewing it, and processing it (shredding, recycling, filing, etc.). If you set the mail down on the table without processing it, you didn’t complete the project of handling the mail.
    3. Get ready for bed at least an hour before bedtime. I’ve written this nugget of advice numerous times, but I do so because it has such a strong impact on the state of one’s home. Since you’re not overly tired an hour before bedtime, your dirty clothes make it into the hamper and your shoes and accessories get returned to their storage spaces. You have energy to wash your face and brush your teeth and then put away related supplies. You also signal your brain that you need to start winding down, which can make it easier to fall asleep when you eventually go to bed. Your memory is better then, too, so you can set out all the things you’ll need to take with you in the morning without forgetting anything important. The only thing left on your to-do list in the hour before bed should be crawling under the covers and turning out the bedroom light.

    Thank you, Barbara, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

    Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

    Workspace of the Week: Effortlessly efficient tiny home office

    This week’s Workspace of the Week is Geek in the Garden’s marvelously simple home office:

    To create an office at home, you don’t need a lot of stuff. No large desk with built-in drawers is required to be able to get work done. This week’s selection is a wonderful example of how a basic table and chair can be all you need to check email, pay bills online, and read Unclutterer. This specific desk is adjustable in height, so it can be a side table when not being used as a desk. The curtains hung with pressure rods on the storage unit are wonderful for keeping unattractive components out-of-sight when not being used. And the colorful bins make the shelving fun, but vastly more useful. Thank you, Geek in the Garden, for sharing your tiny and uncluttered office with us.

    Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

    Small spaces: Custom closet using Ikea bookshelves

    One of my favorite places for small living inspiration is Ikea Hackers. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a collection of reader-submitted modifications to pieces of furniture from Ikea. The hacks range from relatively small (like adding paint to a Lack table) to extremely involved (like turning a Spar butcher block into an electric guitar). The site has been around since 2006 and is teeming with ways to personalize Ikea furniture.

    Earlier this month, the site featured Regina’s amazing closet for her itty bitty Swedish apartment. Under what I think is her lofted bed, she has five modified Expedit bookcases (in the 2×2 configuration) that she added a piece of wood to the base and then attached four casters to the bottom of the piece of wood. In the U.S., these Expedit shelving units are just $40 a piece and the Besta casters are $10 for two, so the whole system probably cost less than $350 to create, which isn’t bad for a custom closet that could easily cost four times this price. Visuals from the article:

    The rolling bookcases not only hold her clothes, but also her hobby supplies (such as the sewing machine and fabric stash pictured above) and other necessities for her apartment. I like that she can roll the sewing Expedit directly to her sewing table, and then roll it all back into the closet when she’s done. The storage system is ideal for this small space, and I think could easily be utilized in other homes — small or large.

    Note: There are casters that are specifically made to hold the Expedit bookcase, but they stick out beyond the base of the bookshelf, so you can’t nest the shelves directly next to each other. They’re also $5 more for two casters, which adds $50 to the cost of casters, but gets rid of the need to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of each bookcase. If you don’t need the items to nest next to each other, the Expedit casters might be a good alternative for you.

    If you are unfamiliar with Ikea Hackers, spend some time perusing it for even more ideas. Most of the hacks are inexpensive and easy to do.

    Images by Regina as posted to IkeaHackers, and thanks to reader Shalin for bringing this closet to our attention.

    Space-saving solutions for small homes

    Although I grew up spending weekends on our family farms shucking corn and talking to Bessie the Cow (all the cows had the same name, it was easier that way), I am a big-city girl at heart. I long to be in a city with a coffee shop right around the corner and pavement under my feet. And for most people, myself included, city living is synonymous with small-space living.

    Even though I’m currently living in Suburbia, I’m looking forward to our next home that will hopefully be in a more metropolitan location. As a result, I am constantly on the lookout for space-saving solutions to use in our next big-city dwelling. The following are some of the terrific ideas that have recently caught my attention:

    The website Apartment Therapy featured D.C. residents’ Josh and Lauren’s dining table artwork. It’s a table that hangs on the wall when not in use –

    The now-defunct magazine Ready Made included a formica countertop on wheels in its article “Southern Comfort.” The countertop rolls into the kitchen for food preparation space and then rolls out into the remainder of the room to create a dining table –

    Continuing with dining solutions, back in 2010, Dwell showcased a wall hiding a bookshelf that folded down to create a table set atop a rolling island –

    Short walls are also called pony walls or knee walls and Better Homes and Garden suggests cutting into them to create untapped storage space in their article “26 Great Bathroom Storage Ideas” –

    Have you spotted any small-space fixes recently? Share links to more space-saving ideas in the comments. I’m always searching for uncluttered and efficient solutions.