The dimensions of stuff

In Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much Workbook (the companion piece to his popular It’s All Too Much) he discusses the physical limitations of storage and how to use math to determine how much you can keep and have your home be clutter free.

From page 63:

While you are figuring out what fits where, there is a concrete way to measure your space for what it can contain. I’ve said it before: You can’t fit four cubic feet of stuff into two cubic feet of space and not have clutter. So get out your tape measure and see what will work in the space you have.

First, measure your shelving space or bookshelves or hanging space and use the table below to work out how many of a particular item will fit.

Peter provides the following “cheat sheet” to identify how many of one item will fit into a linear foot of space:

VHS tapes — 11
DVD cases — 20
CDs in jewel cases — 29
Magazine box with 10 magazines — 3 (30 magazines total)
Books — 12 (on average)
Jeans/pants — 12
Shirts/blouses — 15
Heavy jackets/suits — 6
Shoes — Estimate about 8 inches per pair

To put his numbers to work, let’s look at his estimation that books average about an inch a piece. To properly store 100 books, you should have 100 inches of bookshelf space. The popular Expedit bookcase from Ikea has shelves that are 13 inches, so you would need 7 shelves of an Expedit bookcase to hold 100 books. Since there are 16 shelves on an Expedit bookcase, you could store approximately 208 books total on the shelves.

Knowing exactly how much storage space you have and exactly how many items you can store in that space can make it easier to decide what to keep and what to purge. Let the math do the work.

5 Comments for “The dimensions of stuff”

  1. posted by Sue T. on

    Erin, when storing books there is an even more important item to consider than number of books per linear foot. Weight of the books is critical. According to one author who wrote for Fine Woodworking magazine, the average weights per linear foot are:

    6 lb – paperbacks (and I think this is underestimated)
    20 lb – small hardcovers
    32 lb – large hardcovers
    40 lb – magazines

    Most inexpensive shelving units are made of particleboard which can have a total load limit of 46 lb over a 3′ span. I have stacks of books sitting on the floor of my living room right now because two of the shelves gave way and ripped right down inside the bookcase. I was actually there when one of them went one night – eerie and upsetting to watch your books slowly tumble to the floor. (Fortunately the cat was asleep in the other room.) I am now in the process of saving for all-wood bookcases that can support the load of whatever I put there. I will never again get a particleboard bookcase, such as the ones from Ikea, because they just can’t take the load. Recommend reading this site which discusses shelf load limits:

    But thanks again for a great website which I enjoy reading daily.

  2. posted by Kat Jenkins on

    Another thing to take into account is shelves that are deep enough to doublestack books or other media–assuming of course that the shelves will support the weight. Less frequently accessed items that you still want to keep can sit in the back, and more frequently used titles can be in the front. However, it’s important not to give into the temptation to clutter the back with stuff you just don’t want to deal with–the decluttering principles still apply!

  3. posted by Keter on

    The clothing space requirement is way off…tightly packed clothing makes it hard to hang things, causes wrinkles, makes it hard to find stuff, looks cluttered and encourages piling instead of hanging. Hung properly, about 8 shirts, or 3 suits. Jackets can vary in thickness so much that’s not something that can be estimated without physically hanging and measuring.

  4. posted by Dag on

    “You can’t fit four cubic feet of stuff into two cubic feet of space and not have clutter.”

    You can’t do that period.
    The problem isn’t generally volume, but how to use it effectively. Loose CD-ROM cases always seemed to be a problem because they would get stuffed wherever there seemed to be space.
    But after buying a foot-long properly sized CD box I got them all neatly in there and have space to expand.

  5. posted by Mike on

    I don’t know about loads or which Ikea shelves you are referring to, but I have been using Ikea’s Billy bookcases for two decades (and they’ve been around for 30 years). I have had my entire library on them (thousands of books, many textbooks), so do relatives and many colleagues. I have never seen them fail or even sag.

    (It’s still a good idea to put the heaviest books on the bottom shelf, not because of sagging but because of tipping.)

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