Home Forums Challenges Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

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  • #159685
    Avatar of chaotickaren
    chaotickaren
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    Help me, I’m drowning in clutter!

    London house prices being what they are, I live in a very small rented studio flat, which is rammed to the gills with my two passions – books and vintage clothes. I’m not the world’s tidiest person and I often work long and tiring hours and don’t want to tidy up when I get in, so the clutter and mess just builds up. All my storage space is full of stuff, as are all the surfaces – chairs, edges of bookshelves, dresser, you name it, it is piled high with things.

    I look around and I don’t even know where to begin! How does one declutter a place like this?

  • #201820
    Avatar of liag
    liag
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    You need to decide if you want the clutter or the space. If you want the clutter, we aren’t much use. To declutter, get rid of all but the favorites. Enjoy giving away to special people. Use the library for books except a few you like having around. More than 2 weeks’ worth of clothes is superfluous. If this sounds too hard, perhaps you want to keep the clutter. It’s an individual matter. Around here, the space and lightness from having less is primary. Good luck. Love your name.

  • #201824
    Avatar of chaotickaren
    chaotickaren
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    You’re a bit of a hardliner, aren’t you?!

    I think I differentiate between ‘clutter’ and just ‘things’. I have no aspiration to a completely minimalist life. I love having beautiful things around me and find very sterile environments oppressive. I’m with William Morris on this one: Have nothing you do not know to be useful nor believe to be beautiful.

    Stuff isn’t clutter to me as long as everything has a place and storage is neat, attractive and easy to use.

    I do regularly have clearouts of clothes and give away to friends or charity anything that doesn’t fit or suit me, and cut up anything beyond wear for cleaning rags. The thought of giving away books is absolute anathema to me though – asking me to only keep my favourite books is like asking someone with four kids to give away all but their favourite offspring!

  • #201825
    Avatar of candy
    candy
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    What kind of storage solutions do you have today? Could you be helped by putting up more shelves on the walls, for example very high up under the ceiling for your books?

  • #201826
    Avatar of liag
    liag
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    Sounds like you know what you want, and that is what counts. Just get yourself to a place of comfort. It’s individual.

  • #201827
    Avatar of Nina
    Nina
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    It sounds as if you have too much stuff for your limited amount of space and I see two ways of dealing with it: either you get rid of some things to clear some space and/or you try to maximize the space you have to accommodate your belongings. I personally would advocate doing both, the decluttering first. I too am a book lover but if you do want to create more space maybe you can give away some books you either don’t love or don’t use (as your quote says)? The same goes of course for clothes. There are several questions you can ask yourself when you go through them: Do I love it? Does it fit me? Do I actually wear it (at least x times a year)? Is it wearable or does it need mending/altering – and if yes, will I do it?

    For storage solutions especially for small spaces I would browse aparmenttherapy.com. They show mostly smaller homes and lots of studios (they have a special section for those in their yearly “small is cool” contest). One thing I noticed in most studios is that they make use of the vertical space they have, so if you haven’t already you could extend your bookshelfs/wardrobe up. Or create space in unexpected places like over a door or under a bead.

    Of course clearing/reorganizing a home takes time but if you feel overwhelmed I would start small: tackle a drawer a day or set your timer every evening for just 10 or 15 minutes. I find that once you’ve started you’ll want to keep going.

  • #201828
    Avatar of chaotickaren
    chaotickaren
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    Hi candy!

    It’s a rented flat so I can’t add any fitted shelving or other storage unfortunately. I have several free-standing bookcases taking up two walls, all of which already have boxes on top of them for storage of paperwork, sewing stuff, games etc. I have two wardrobes and two chests of drawers for clothes and accessories, and a bedside table and a bureau both of which have rather become dumping grounds for things I can’t find a place for!

    I’ve made a start today, using the ‘circuit’ method that somebody on here recommended. I’ve tidied and dusted the shelves, cleared out my dresser, cleared all the clothes and accessories off my easy chair and put them away, and organised my CDs and DVDs. I’ve generated two bin bags of rubbish and a huge pile of stuff on my bed that I need to go through and find homes for. Time for tea and a snack now though!

  • #201829
    Avatar of candy
    candy
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    That’s a good start, congratulations!

  • #201832
    Avatar of djk
    djk
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    Welcome, Karen!
    Liag put it well–I agree completely.

    A wise person once told me that every decision is a renunciation. To use a clothing analogy, by choosing a red top to wear to work you are renouncing all other colours of tops that day. Saying yes to to one special person in a committed romantic relationship is saying no to every other person (hopefully!) Saying yes to clutter is saying no to a decluttered space.

    Enough about Deep Thoughts á là Jack Handy, now for practical ideas.

    Not every book needs to be kept and not every piece of clothing can rank amongst the “best of”
    Start with picking the low-hanging fruit first, the easy, obvious stuff.

    Do you have bookcases lining the walls all the way to the ceiling? Go up if possible. You can get height extensions for the Billy bookcases at Ikea. They must be secured to the wall to prevent toppling.
    Speaking of toppling: when carefully done, hardcover books can be stacked on top of each other securely if you keep them correctly aligned. Use common sense, of course. Don’t create hazards. Helterskelter jumbles of books are more hazardous than a tidy stack though. Remove once-read novels, “airport books” or out-of-date reference material and put them in carrier bags ready to go out the door the next time you do. Get a library card, buy an e-reader, exchange with friends, but get over the idea that it is necessary to own every book you have ever read. I keep a simplified reading journal to record by month what I have read. I then keep a record of what I have read without keeping the item itself. This odd little trick helped me get rid of thousands of books because I no longer needed to see the book to prove I’d read it. It’s a great reference to remember titles and authors (I read a lot and tend to forget authors’ names)

    Clothes: are worn/dirty clothes mixing with clean clothes? Wrinkled with ironed? Are they your personal wardrobe or for resale on a site like eBay?

    Assuming they are your personal wardrobe (and I’m jealous if so, I love vintage styles but they never fit me!) then not every item can be your favourite, not every piece can be just right, make you feel great, is in perfect condition. Get rid of the would-be-so-perfect-if-only-it-didn’t-have-that-faded-spot/stain/dropped hem/whatever pieces. Do that right away.

    Straighten what you have left. Are things falling off hangers in the closet? Wrap a rubber band around each end of the hanger to keep items centered. Keep all your hangers facing the same way with the garment fronts facing the same way. That takes less space and
    looks less chaotic. Hang what you can, fold what you can. Nothing should be on the floor nor be haphazard. If you must have a stack of sweaters on a chair, stack them neatly with the rounded fold outward. Yes, I’m a bit OCD:) or CDO, which is like OCD but with the letters in the proper order;)
    The first task really comes down with doing what you can–stack or straighten 10 books, 12 dresses, whatever.
    These are the first things you can do to reduce a feeling of overwhelm.

    Do you have a kitchen/egg timer? When you are exhausted after work use the minutes while your kettle is boiling or bath is running to look around for one single thing to get rid of. Or set that timer for 5 minutes and scramble around to find one thing that could leave your life.
    Then go to the A Thing A Day (ATAD) thread and tell us what you got rid of!

    Organizing and using space wisely are very important but don’t faff about organizing things you don’t need or love in the first place.

    Please let us know how it goes! I’m a small-space dweller myself and it’s possible to live in an orderly small space.
    Good luck!

  • #201833
    Avatar of djk
    djk
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    Ok, I took so long to write the epic missile above that there were a ton of responses posted while I was writing. Sorry for the duplication of ideas!
    Sounds like you are already on a roll! Well done

  • #201838
    Avatar of herisff
    herisff
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    I have no clue what your library system is like in London, but for the first pass I would eliminate duplicates from your library. If the public library has it, you can request it if you want to read it again. Then see how your shelves look. Are there any books you haven’t re-read in a bit? What I did w/ my shelves is that I made myself re-read all of my books before I made a decision – it turns out that many of the books I had fond memories of… weren’t so good a few years later. My tastes had definitely changed! I’m a few years down the road from that first epiphany… and got down to 2 bookcases single-stacked. And now that I have a Nook, I’m down to 4 bookshelves, since I’ve converted my “must haves” over to digital format and donated/sold the dead tree copies. I’m still in the process of converting slowly (it gets kinda pricey).

    As for clothing, there must be some that you’re not wearing as frequently. Take a hard look at those. The ones that don’t fit quite right, are not as flattering – those can go. Fix the minor repairs and decide if they can stay or go. Keep doing this, and your wardrobe will eventually fit into your closet.

    It doesn’t all have to be done at once, just stop the incoming and let the rest come slowly.

  • #201847
    Avatar of Ella
    Ella
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    Hi ck, and welcome to the forum. I sympathize with your difficulties of living in a cramped space with beloved belongings. I’m in a tiny studio apartment, and if things are out of their places it’s nearly impossible to turn around in here. But it’s getting better and better, thanks to this forum as well as lots of reading and experimenting and just plain keeping at it. I don’t give up and I don’t throw up my hands in despair, though there have been many times I wanted to. No matter how tired I am, there’s always at least ONE thing I can do to make my nest tidier before I call it a day.

    You really accomplished a lot today – congratulations! From what you’ve written so far, I have four recommendations…

    1) Choose one, and only one, daily home-care task, such as making your bed every day or hanging up all your clothes. Commit to doing it every single day for a week. Even if you do nothing else, be sure to do that one task.

    2) Join us on our “ATAD January 2012″ thread. The idea is to find at least one item each day that no longer serves you in your present life, and either throw it out or give it away. One way or another, remove that bit of clutter from your home. Then post on the ATAD thread and tell us about it. Check out the other posts for ideas and inspiration.

    3) Read! There are so many wonderful, inspiring books about uncluttered living with the things you love.
    Two good ones for starters are
    Erin Doland’s “Unclutter Your Life in One Week”
    and my favorite
    Brooks Palmer’s “Clutter Busting”

    4) Know thyself. Some people like to declutter in carefully measured baby steps (that’s me), while others get energized by a major blitz. Some like to set a timer for short spurts, while others like to just putter. It’s all good… but finding the method that works for you may take a bit of experimenting. There’s no one right way. It might turn out that several different methods work for you at different times or moods. Just keep at it.

    A clean serene home with everything you love in its place and working well for you… it’s the goal we all have here, though our individual visions and methodology may differ widely. As you get closer to your own vision, keep coming back here for more advice on a specific area. Right now, it’s a bit difficult to give advice for the broader clutter situation you’ve described, except as I’ve listed above. Keep up the good work you started today.

  • #201848
    Avatar of loripax
    loripax
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    It comes down to culling your stuff to fit the space you have. If you have so much stuff that you can’t properly put it away, something has to go, or you’ll be doomed to piles on chairs and on the floor and everywhere else.

    As others have said, start small. Commit to clearing one drawer or one shelf, or sorting through just the blouses, or setting a timer and working until it dings — whichever method seems most logical to you. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    In conjunction with this, figure out how much room you have to store one kind of item, say, jeans. Pull out all the jeans. “Shop” your pile and pull out the ones you love most. Try them on to make sure they still fit and don’t have holes or stains or need repair. Put them in your designated storage space as you go. When the space is full (but not stuffed), you’re done. What’s left are your least favorites, the ones that should probably go.

    One other trick I’ve found useful is paying attention to what I pass over in my closet as I’m getting dressed. For example, say I want to wear a long-sleeved shirt today. I tend to gravitate toward the same few. If I think about wearing one of the ones I don’t normally wear, do I end up with one of the tried-and-true anyway? If so, and if that happens more than once, that less-loved one should probably go in the donation basket.

  • #201852
    Avatar of luxcat
    luxcat
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    I lived in a tiny, rented studio for 7 years and I can very much sympathize with your plight! I found that I had to get very creative with storage (underbed, a layer of plastic bins on the floor in the narrow closet with my shoes on top, a Tetris-like situation on the shelves above, a tall over-the-loo stand alone shelf system to hold things like shampoo and TP and cosmetics, as I did not have a cabinet in the bathroom). I think you have clearly made a huge step in progress from what you said in your last post. If you cleared out only say 10% of your flat so far and you have two bags of things to go out the door (trash or donate) and you’ve found places for what remained, then you’ve found the secret. Just keep doing that in little bits each day and before you know it you’ll have a much better overall idea of what you can do with the flat and you can start refining the storage/display issues. From experience what I do not recommend is purchasing anything (storage boxes, shelves, etc) until you have really gone through everything in the place at least once and have a good idea of what you’ll end up keeping.

  • #201873
    Avatar of bandicoot
    bandicoot
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    welcome to the forum!

    this really does come down to a simple choice : stuff or space.
    which do you value more?
    if you value the stuff more, then you either have to live with it everywhere OR pay more for a bigger flat.
    the idea of working longer/harder or else giving up other things to pay more for a bigger space will give you a clear idea of what the stuff is actually worth to you.
    personally, i have come to the conclusion that most stuff is just a burden….it is a burden to choose it, to pay for it, to drag it back home, to unpack it, to set it up, to clean it, maintain it, store it, insure it, then inevitably dispose of it.
    i look at most stuff these days and i clearly see the life cycle of the whole thing and i just don’t want it any more.
    instead, i want a clean, serene, spacious home that doesn’t take hours to clean….and plenty of time and funds to pursue my interests of travel, cooking, reading, gardening.
    take some time to consider what you want from life.

  • #201884
    Avatar of pkilmain
    pkilmain
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    Ah bandicoot, you do cut right to the heart of things! This resonates with me.

  • #201888
    Avatar of Sky
    Sky
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    So many wonderful ideas here, as always.

    If you are looking for places to store things, don’t forget under your bed storage boxes, shelves above doors, furniture with built-in storage and custom closets with shelves.

    It sounds like you are making progress. Just be sure not to organize what you don’t want.

    I personally can’t imagine having so many clothes! It sounds great but they require so much care and space. Since I’ve reduced my clothing, my laundry is so much easier and I have everything I need for most any occasion.

    Keep us up to date on your progress, chaotickaren!

  • #201899
    Avatar of snosie
    snosie
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    I’m a recent home owner, having rented before, and dealt with the tenant who was in my place. I’d speak to the landlord (not the agent, groan), and see what your options are. If you’re willing to install higher shelves/wardrobes (at your cost) they might LOVE the idea. Even if you install removable stuff (like IKEA’s stuff), there’s really not that much involved with patching up walls. And maybe for you the effort of the move out, wall patching, might be better than living with ‘not enough’ storage now.

    But you sound like you’re in good company here, and you’ve already started! Many of us advocate ‘clear curfaces’ really help to feel less cluttered – so sure, have stuff on walls, stored whichever way (even if you display your clothes in removable hooks on the wall), so long as you eyes and mind can rest on a ‘blank’ space – such as a made bed even!

    Keep up the good work!

  • #201903
    Avatar of rutheverhart
    rutheverhart
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    Your comments about books remind me of the experiences of a recent contributor on the forum — was it PJ? If you think “I love my books!” it seems impossible to get rid of any of them. But if you look at your books one at a time, you’ll find it’s possible to let go of quite a few of them relatively painlessly. Try it. Brooks Palmer is a great unclutterer — check out his website and books — and one of his most significant tips is not to treat items in groups (e.g. “books”) but as individual items (“specific titles”). Same with clothes. Yes, they may all be vintage, but they are not all the same and you don’t love them all the same! It IS possible to pare down, and you will find yourself breathing easier.

    You want to do this — or else why did you ask for help? Good luck!

  • #201941
    Avatar of PJ
    PJ
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    I think it *might* have been @Conny who said it, Ruth. But I agree. I also like a combination of ATAD for continual progress, and for a boost, the strategy @Lori Paximadis suggested, where you group together all your jeans (or mugs, or earrings, or candle holders, or whatever!) and keep those that are your favourites and/or see the most use in your current lifestyle. I’m also fond of setting quotas for how much can be kept, when using this method. How severe the quota is depends on how horrified I am by how many of “X” I have, how useful I find X’s, and what the life cycle of an X is. So for example, if I have 17 pairs of jeans, which I wear frequently and which do wear out, I might only cull 50%. But if I have 53 mugs, which I use frequently but do not break a lot of, I would probably cull more than 75%.

  • #201942
    Avatar of bandicoot
    bandicoot
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    another vote for brooks palmer’s book and blog!

  • #202867
    Avatar of EraserGirl
    EraserGirl
    Member

    Decluttering a tiny flat – advice needed!

    when you mentioned vintage clothing and tiny flat i envisioned clothing racks on a pulley up near the ceiling and lowered when you want something and hoisted up when you don’t. but indeed with a tiny flat and too many cherished objects, you need to make some hard decisions. space or things. just organizing things into bins and lining the walls with them isn’t uncluttering, it’s just wrapping up the clutter and stacking it.

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