Repurposing a room

Organizing and uncluttering are ongoing projects because the needs you have and your goals change with time. In my case, a room in my home that was once very useful has stopped being so, and my wife and I have decided to transform it.

First, a little background: When my wife and I moved into our home, it had a tidy room just off of the back door that we turned into a dining room. We set it up with a small table, a few chairs and we were good. Later, the kids came along and the table was replaced with IKEA bins for toys, and later still, it took on coats and backpacks. We’ve called the room “the playroom” for the last 12 years. But a few weeks ago, we noticed something odd: No one ever plays in it.

In fact, the room was almost completely unused. The kids would hang their coats, hats, and backpacks there, walk into the house proper, and not return until the next time they left the house. In addition to being the drop-off point for these items, it also housed our our wall calendar and some seldom-used toys. We didn’t spend much time in there at all and it was time for a change.

Now, if you ever find yourself in this situation, you might personally want to consider our advice from 2007: buy a smaller house. But, if you’re like me and moving isn’t a possibility or a desire, I recommend considering how else the room can be used. Do so by observing how the room is being used, and build upon that.

We started the repurposing by removing what we no longer wanted in this space:

  1. The IKEA cabinets went upstairs to hold my own collection of board games.
  2. A large IKEA table went to the laundry room as a perfect surface for folding clean clothes.
  3. Toys that the kids no longer played with went to charity or to the trash (if not in good enough condition to donate).

Then, we kept those useful aspects of it (landing space for items coming and going) and added to the room what we needed (like seating and working spaces). We kept a small cabinet in the corner that houses the games we play most often and turned it into the following:

It felt great to rework this room, and it only took a single weekend to get the job done. It isn’t always obvious when something like this needs to change, but try to recognize that feeling when it comes. With a little elbow grease, you can turn an “eh” room into something working that you’ll love.

What to do with an unused piano

An Unclutterer reader wrote to us asking a surprisingly common question:

I’m currently getting ready to move out of state. I’m retired, and am downsizing everything in my life. I have a piano that my father gave me when I was in high school. He passed away over 20 years ago. I’m moving to a small beach cottage on the Oregon coast. I am struggling with the decision of not taking the piano. I don’t really play it anymore, and feel that it isn’t going to fit in our small home. Somehow, I’m not sure if this is the right decision. What are your thoughts?

This is a question I can relate to, as I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of a piano. In addition to being a large instrument, pianos can also hold great sentimental value for their owners. Therefore, what to do with a piano can be a difficult decision.

The piano

First and foremost, pianos are big. Even a small upright piano can be as large as a couch. Inviting one into your home is a commitment, as they’re big, heavy, and difficult to move. Typically, once a piano has been placed in its spot, that’s where it’s going to stay until you move.

Don’t get me wrong, a piano is not a burden. It’s a lovely instrument. And, like many other objects, a piano can harbor tremendous sentimental value. When I was in high school and a dedicated music student, my parents acquired a piano from family friends who wanted to offload it. For the price of moving it across town, the piano was ours. I adored it and spent countless hours on the bench, playing away.

When I moved out to attend college, my parents were left with a massive piece of unused furniture. I was the only one in the family who played, and while I studied far away in Boston, the old piano back in Pennsylvania was being used to display family photos. After much deliberation, they decided the piano had to go.

The sentiment

The weight of emotion can be even stronger than trying to budge a piano that exceeds 400 pounds. In 2010, the BBC published an article, “What is nostalgia good for?”, which acknowledged the appeal of keeping sentimental items:

Nostalgia is a way for us to tap into the past experiences that we have that are quite meaningful — to remind us that our lives are worthwhile, that we are people of value, that we have good relationships, that we are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning.

The article also noted the potential risks of keeping everything from the past:

While highlighting the benefits of nostalgia, a 2006 report in Psychology Today magazine has warned that ‘overdoing reminiscence’ risks an absence of joy derived from the present, and a reliance on past memories to provide happiness.

If you have no need for the piano, but it holds a great deal of sentimental value for you, perhaps there’s a book of sheet music in the piano’s bench you can display in a quality frame. Maybe the rack that holds up the music can be removed and repurposed elsewhere in the house. For your specific situation, I’d suggest finding a way to display some part of that experience in a meaningful way that will let you say goodbye to the piano itself.

As far as getting rid of the actual piano, start by asking friends if they might be interested in having it. Talk with music teachers — at schools, music stores, and those who give private lessons — to see if there might be students who are looking to acquire an instrument. List it on Craigslist or your local Freecycle if you can’t find the piano’s next owner in one of the previously mentioned ways. And, finally, see if the next resident of your home might be interested in having it. It’s very difficult to sell pianos, so prepare to think of it as a donation instead of something with monetary value.

Good luck and congratulations on your new home.

Organizing a small space

People who live in small spaces have unique organizing challenges. There may be limited storage space (small closets and no garage, attic, or basement) and limited living space (small rooms used for multiple purposes).

The following are some suggestions for organizing in this kind of small space. The same ideas could be used in any space, but they are more important when space is at a premium.

Unclutter

Assuming you’re planning to live in the same tiny space for a number of years, it’s time to be extremely selective about what you let into that space. You probably don’t have room for stuff that’s just okay — as much as feasible, limit yourself to things you love. You’ll want to avoid (or limit) those unitaskers, too.

Remember the wise words of Peter Walsh in his book It’s all Too Much, where he recommends you begin your uncluttering/organizing project this way: “Imagine the life you want to live.” If you’re holding onto things that don’t fit with your current reality or your realistic imaginings, it may be time to bid them farewell. (You may want to take some photos of special items before you part with them.)

You’ll also want to give thought to how many of any one thing you need. How many sets of sheets? How many T-shirts?

Go vertical

If you have limited floor space, look to the walls. Can you use shelving (freestanding or wall-mounted)? What about hooks and/or wall pockets? Would a hammock for the stuffed animals make sense?

Consider vertical versions of standard storage pieces, too. For example, a shoe tree may work better than a horizontal shoe rack.

Try smaller versions of standard items

Many shelving units are 12-18 inches deep; for example, the Kallax system from Ikea (which replaced the very popular Expedit) is 15 3/8 inches deep. If you don’t need that depth, you could get a shelving system that’s only 10.3 inches deep.

Look for other situations where a smaller product will meet your needs, saving precious space.

Consider collapsible and folding items

You can get collapsible versions of many kitchen items: colanders, whisks, scales, dish drainers, etc. Another example: Gateleg tables fold up into a small space when not in use.

Look for hidden storage spaces

Not everyone likes to store things under the bed, but if this doesn’t concern you, consider getting bed risers to provide more under-bed storage space. Paper towel holders can be mounted on the bottom of the upper kitchen cabinets. Shower curtains can have storage pockets. These are just a few of the ways to make use of every bit of space you have.

Consider dual-purpose furniture

I’ve visited friends who have no kitchen or dining table in their small home, but their coffee table has an adjustable height and it converts into a dining table quite easily. Some of this dual-purpose furniture is on the expensive side, though.

Go digital

If you’re comfortable with digital solutions, you can save a lot of space that used to hold papers, books, CDs, DVDs, etc.

Avoid most bulk purchases

Even if it saves money, you’ll probably have to pass on many bulk purchases because you simply won’t have room to store what you’ve bought. Some people manage to find space for a few high-priority bulk purchases (toilet paper, paper towels, cat food cans, etc.) but forego the rest.

Ask Unclutterer: If something is multifunctional is it always uncluttered?

Reader Bethany emailed this morning, and although it’s not a traditional Ask Unclutterer question I thought it made for a great discussion:

I’m a reader of the Swiss-Miss blog and like her style. In her Friday Link Pack today, she had an item for “It’s a desk. It’s a bed.” When I saw it I thought it was the opposite of a Unitasker and wanted to make sure you saw it. I think it’s a horrible idea, but wondered what you thought of it since it’s a multitasker?

Live-Work Desk images from StudioNL

Oh my word, that is depressing, Bethany! You’re right that it is multifunctional, certainly not a unitasker, but it’s also one of the saddest pieces of furniture I’ve ever seen.

I like the general concept of one piece of furniture having many functions. And, to be fair, this does appear to be a well-made piece of multifunctioning furniture. It has nice lines. But, I don’t like the idea of literally sleeping in your desk. I think there should be a clear division between sleeping and work. Maybe — and this is a really weak maybe — I could see a medical resident who is on call having a need for a desk like this since he or she has to stay at the hospital for ridiculous hours on a regular basis. But for the rest of us normal folks, this feels dismal.

I believe that people should be productive when at work not so they can transform themselves into robotic corporate drones, but so they can really relax when they’re not at work. Work happens between set hours and work stays at work. When not at work, one’s mind should be free to dwell on things other than to-do items and projects that need to be completed at the office. You get more done at the office to enjoy non-work time more fully. This desk doesn’t provide for that at all — it promotes an end to non-work time. We’re humans, not worker bees.

What do the rest of you think about this Live-Work Desk? Are Bethany and I off base thinking it’s a dreary addition to an office? Share your reactions in the comments. And, thank you, Bethany, for inadvertently submitting your question to 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.

Three desks that help you control cable clutter

If you have gadgets in your home or office, chances are that you have (at one point or another) encountered a tangle of cables and wires that were difficult to decipher. Sure, you can go wireless to avoid the problem altogether, but for those of you with wired devices, there are several products you can use to corral your cords. You can also use a desk that has special features to help you keep your cables from cluttering your space, like the Cable Guy Desk created by Ingland Designs (the same designer who made the Mealbox, dining table and chairs in a box).

Cable Guy Desk

At first glance, it’s not very obvious how this desk keeps your cables in order. Give it a closer look and you’ll notice the track for storing your cords inside the legs of the desk. There’s also human-shaped grommet on the surface of the table for your cables to drop through.

Image credits: Igland Design

You can get the desk in large sizes to accommodate several people. This can work well in a meeting room or if you need to share a desk with another person. You can also get the optional ball speakers (with accompanying grommets).

Image credit: Igland Design

StudioDesk

The StudioDesk by Bluelounge (you might be familiar with another of their products, the Cable Drop) has a slot on one end for your cords to flow through as well as a hidden storage area that’s large enough to house power strips, USB hubs, external hard drives, and a MacMini server.

Image credits: Bluelounge

The StudioDesk comes in two sizes (standard and extra large) and doesn’t appear to have drawers or any other bells and whistles. It is, however, very easy to assemble. Simply add the legs once you receive it.

Image credit: Bluelounge

OneLessDesk

OneLessDesk, though it has a small footprint, this desk has two parts — an upper and lower deck — the latter of which can be used for your keyboard, laptop, or as a flat surface for writing. The upper deck can be used for storing your primary (or secondary) monitor or keeping the items you need to access on a regular basis.

Image credits: Heckler Design

It also has a rear-facing shelf for your peripherals or power strip. Adding labels or tags will help you figure out items match each cable. Though each desk has its own unique way handling cables, they all have a simple design that is intended to help you keep cords and wires from cluttering your desk.

Image credit: Heckler Design

Control desktop clutter with the Homework Desk

For the last two months, I’ve challenged myself with the goal of walking every day. I’ve been spending more time with my treadmill and, as a result, I’ve also been doing quite a bit more reading on my iPad while I walk. I’m thrilled that I now have scheduled reading time and that I actually find interesting articles that help make the time pass relatively quickly. During one of my walking and reading sessions, I came across a blog post that asked if having a messy desk is such a terrible thing. My first thought, even before I read the post, was that I wouldn’t be as productive as I am if my desk were cluttered. In fact, I would probably feel compelled to organize it before I started working.

But, I also know that sometimes while I’m working, things can get a little, er, out of control. I like keeping my favorite pen, sticky notes, and notebook on my desk. And, I also have my water bottle and iPad. If there’s something that I don’t want to forget to do, it will probably be on my desk, too. The problem is that when there are too many things strewn about, it affects how well I can get things accomplished. But, if I had the Homework Desk, I might be able to have the best of both worlds — a clear desk and needed items within reach.

Have a look:

Image credit: Tomas Kral

This simple desk (aluminum placed between two slabs of wood) designed by Tomas Kral has no bells and whistles and no drawers. Instead, it has trench-like storage around it’s perimeter (Kral refers to it as a toolbox) to hold papers, pens, books, or documents that you need to have on hand. This leaves you with the entire expanse of the desk to do your work. The photo below shows a cable coming from the back of the desk, so it seems there may be built-in grommets.

Image credit: Thomas Kral

If you like this style but prefer having drawers, here’s a similar model, called my writing desk, designed by Inesa Malafej. It also has open slots on two corners for cables to run through.

Image credit: Design Boom

The drawers are slim but big enough to hold some essentials (like business cards, pens).

Image credit: Design Boom

This desk also has removable legs which would make moving it to a different location relatively easy. Of course, with both models, you’ll need to make sure you don’t clutter your table gutters with rubbish and items you don’t use.

Image credit: Design Boom

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.

Inexpensive and industrial-chic shelving from shipping pallets

We were seriously impressed by this shelving built for a tasting room at Olabisi wines. As you can see, it’s just a stack of shipping pallets.

130104-pallet_storage

It’s amazing how in the right environment, something as rough and unfinished as a stack of shipping pallets can look modern and expensive.

Table and chairs disappear inside bookcase for easy storage

This design concept from Orla Reynolds Furniture seems like one of the most efficient uses of space that we’ve ever seen. Watch how the four colorful chairs and a table hide inside the panels of a 16-compartment modular bookcase:

My only concern would be scratching the chairs and table when sliding them away into the cabinet.

The Tambour Table: A work space with a simple design and hidden storage

Furniture that can do more than one thing usually is a great find, especially when the features help you to get on with the business of being productive. The Tambour Table by Michael Bambino is such a find. On the surface, it looks like a regular table, but when you push aside the tabletop, you’ll find a hidden area for storing pens, your notebook, tablet, cables, or the important things you need to have at your fingertips.

The Tambour also hides an outlet and a USB hub. The simplicity of the design makes it very easy to use.

The table in action:

Thanks to Swiss-Miss for giving us a head’s up about this table.

Ask Unclutterer: Designing a new space that prevents clutter and reduces cleaning time

Reader Howard submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Do you have any tips for remodeling or building a house that would help prevent clutter or reduce cleaning maintenance in the design of the space?

This is a really fun question, Howard, and I’m so glad you asked it. You have a terrific opportunity in front of you to build a space that can help you achieve and maintain an uncluttered lifestyle.

First things first, thoroughly unclutter your existing possessions so your new space is free of things you don’t want in it. Check out “Start a full-room organizing project with a blank canvas” for tips on uncluttering in this style, but apply it to your entire home.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, I highly recommend designing the space with ample storage that can easily be reconfigured. Use elfa shelving (or the competing product from Rubbermaid) in closets and pantries so shelf heights can be adjusted or clothing rods installed or drawers can be added as necessary. Your needs for storage change over time, and your storage solutions should be able to adapt. If they can’t adapt, at some point they will cease to be helpful.

Also, when it comes to storage, think outside the closet. Have drawers set into the risers of your stairs, recess shelving between the studs of your walls, have window seats double as storage cubes, furnish with ottomans that have interior storage, or whatever fits your design style. The idea here is be creative with the elements you use in the space to improve storage instead of hinder it.

Beyond having ample, reconfigurable and creative storage, there are numerous cosmetic things you can do to help with cleaning and preventing clutter. None of these is a perfect solution, but they’re certainly things I do in my homes when I’m not renting:

Paint the walls with washable flat latex interior paint that contains ceramic microspheres. (You can find these in the washable paint section at most home improvement stores. Check the ingredients on the paint cans. The ceramic microspheres are usually in the higher-end washable paints.) Even if you don’t have pets or young children, it’s still very easy to get marks on your walls. With washable paint that has ceramic microspheres mixed into it, these stray marks come off like you’re washing tile instead of your painted walls.

Lay hardwood floors and use throw rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially if you have pets. Cleaning and maintaining hardwood floors is exponentially easier, and it’s much less expensive to replace a throw rug than an entire room of carpeting.

If money is no object, install smart glass windows. You’ll never have to clean blinds again. (But, I guess if you can afford smart glass windows, you could probably also afford a cleaning crew to wash you blinds …)

Finally, I’ve never had one, but I’ve always thought a central home vacuum system would speed up cleaning time. Some of the systems have horizontal intakes (I think they’re technically called “sweep inlets”) so in addition to using the vacuum hose, you can also sweep directly into the suction area and not have to use a dustpan.

Thank you, Howard, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. And, like I mentioned earlier, be sure to check the comments for suggestions from our readers on designing spaces to prevent clutter and reduce cleaning time.

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.

Return of the console television

This week, Ikea announced that it will be selling a new television with an attached cabinet that has DVD and BlueRay players and stereo speakers built into it. It’s called the Uppleva:

The purpose of the Uppleva is to get rid of the cable mess and lack of visual uniformity that often comes with televisions and components today. The cabinet also can be configured to include additional space for more components, like a digital cable box. And, it comes with a universal remote.

The new television has been referred to as “groundbreaking” and an “amazing all-in-one television” since the announcement, but I’m going to shy away from both of those phrases. To me, it’s simply the reintroduction of the console television with modern components. It’s attractive and effectively hides all the cable mess and visual distractions. It’s certainly an uncluttered entertainment center and it’s nice to see companies creating streamlined products.

According to Reuters, the system will be “in five European cities in June, throughout seven European countries this autumn, and in its remaining markets [such as the USA] in the summer of 2013.” The electronics were designed specifically for Ikea by China’s TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings (they create the brands TCL, ROWA, Thomson, and RCA). Prices for the Uppleva system have not yet been announced.

What do you think of the Uppleva?