10 Ways to Organize Your Stuff

In my last blog,I wrote about how to know if you have too much stuff. The purpose of this blog is to offer solutions to organizing what you have decided to keep.

Our houses reveal so much about who we are and even who we want to become. At the Family Narrative Project, we believe that our homes give us a unique way to revel in the atmosphere of past and current relationships. Our homes are also an album of our life experiences.

We refer to this particular outlook or style as Narrative Design.

Homes that clearly reflect the interests and personalities of the family are warmer and more engaging than homes that simply try to mimic current trends. Narrative Design does not copy, but it may be inspired by the creations of others.The goal is to help people honor the items that truly matter. When we declutter and arrange what we own, then the objects we value shine. Here are some simple ways to organize so that you can more easily live in the now, while loving the past that brought you to your living space.

1. Use your phone to take photographs of all rooms.

Take photos of all of the flat surfaces such as tables, counters, desk tops, and shelves. This may seem like an unusual way to gain perspective on your space, but trust me, there is something so revealing about seeing the space through the lens of a camera.

Then, carefully look at each picture as an impartial observer. For just a moment, see the space as unfamiliar and honestly evaluate what you love and what you don’t. Forget how you currently use the space and imagine what it could be. After close observation, you may decide that overall the image is quite pleasing and may only need a few tweeks or may need nothing at all. Or perhaps you have a kitchen table full of coats, keys, book bags, etc. Maybe this clutter detracts from the beautiful handmade table and keeps your family from eating dinner or from sharing a cup of tea with a neighbor.

Don’t erase the pictures because they will provide the before shots so that you can revel in the spaces that you choose to improve.

2. Focus on the areas that cause you the most daily discomfort or stress.

This area could be a mudroom where there is not enough space to hang coats, bookbags or keys. Perhaps your bedside tables so filled with a menagerie of items that you don’t have room to place a book or a glass of water. Take a few minutes and clear your bedside tables completely. Wipe it down thoroughly, enjoying and appreciating the clean surface.

Now, bring back what is absolutely necessary or what brings you happiness. Reducing the high stress areas first will provide immediate gratification and motivation to continue the transformations.

Be sure to take an after picture and compare to the before image. If you are a facebook person share the image with your friends.

3. Question your beliefs about where things should be stored!

Years ago, I remember reading about sidewalks on college campuses. According to the article, when a new building was constructed, sidewalks were immediately poured to connect that building to another, but over time, the students created their own more direct paths to access buildings. This led some planners to rethink pouring the sidewalks immediately, and instead, wait for the natural creation of dirt paths to determine exactly where the sidewalks are needed.

Look for your home’s areas of useless or improper storage. Is there storage that your family is not using because it is ineffective or inefficient? Just because you or your parents always put something in a particular place doesn’t mean it works now. Part of keeping things organized means finding a home for each item that makes sense!

4. Give each item in your space a home and imagine as you return the item home it is happy to be there.

I know that imbuing items with human emotions might not be sensible for everyone. The oldest form of religious belief is Shinto Animism; this belief holds that everything has a spirit. I personally don’t literally believe in this doctrine, but when I value every object that I choose to surround myself with and treat it with honor and respect, then I am more grateful for the service and beauty it brings to my life. I even use the word home when reminding my family where something goes. I recently overheard my husband telling my 15 year-old son, “Alex, the home for the remote control is on the tray. Please put it there so we all can find it.”

5. Reduce items on flat surfaces by at least 30%.

You don’t believe this will make a difference? I challenge you to pick a surface and try it. Start with tables, side tables, and countertops. Make sure that what you leave on the surface is either highly useful or beautiful, preferably both. There is freedom in having room to lay down a book or a drink without having to move any objects out of the way.

6. Display only some of your favorite items.

If you have available storage, pack up or rotate your favorite objects. One way to freshen your home and change with the seasons is to lighten your space by editing some of your objects. If you love the deep red handmade piece of pottery but want a spring look, then temporarily remove it and use a lovely glass vase filled with long branches of yellow Forsythia. Bring the red bowl out in the fall or winter and fill it with apples or pinecones. Bringing out pieces that you stored for a season sometimes feels like rejoining with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. There is no rule that states that everything you own must be on display.

7. Arrange like items together.

Perhaps this is rule number one for professional organizers. Keeping like items together simplifies everyday living because you know with certainty where to find what you need.

In addition, collections are especially pleasing to the eye. Laura Roselle, another member of the Family Narrative Project, has a number of of pocket watches and chains pleasantly arranged on her mantle. One of these came from her great-grandfather who emigrated to the United States from Scotland in the early 1900s. She and her husband also have a collection of small inkwells on a nearby shelf and hanging above that is an old picture of the farmhouse that used to be on her land. These curated and loved objects not only connect her to the past, but they speak to their personal values on the importance of writing and taking the time to pursue what is truly important.

A watch collection displayed on a stone mantelpiece.

The watches are striking when the morning light comes through the easterly windows.

8. Use trays and boxes to harness and contain the items you love.

Now we are moving into the arena of professional room stylists. Observe decorating magazines for the ubiquitous use of trays. After you have reduced the number of items on your surfaces, try putting what is left, or at least some of the items, on a tray. Suddenly, what seemed a jumble is transformed into a single cohesive display. Boxes are also great for harnessing like items. Your grandmother’s couch may not work in your home, but perhaps there are cherished trays, hat boxes, baskets, and wooden crates you can inherit that are not only extremely useful, but also add a touch of narrative design to your home.

9. Organize according to frequency of use.

It seems common sense to place the items we use the most often in the easiest locations to access. It also seems self-evident that we wouldn’t store rarely used items in the highest real estate zones of our home. Nonetheless, I imagine that we all are guilty of breaking this simple concept. Walk around your home and look for items that are occasional versus daily use. Reverse the order of just a few of these and observe how these small changes can have a big impact.

10. Utilize wall space for more than just pictures.

On one small wall in my upstairs landing, I have a coastal oil painting created by my younger sister, a garden gate given to me by a very good friend, and a sweetgrass basket that I bought from a street artist in Charleston, SC. Hanging from the iron gate are baby shoes worn by my husband’s mother in the 1920s.

Look for objects that you love that are perhaps in storage and let them shine on your walls. Gallery walls may be improved with the addition of objects such as keys, plates, maps, architectural pieces, and pottery. The more unexpected, the better. In addition, there is the benefit of freeing up space in your drawers and closets.

Finally, leave some blank spaces for the eyes to rest. It is important to provide room for new experiences and new objects to come into our lives. Blank, serene spaces give us room to breathe. We appreciate what we have when air and light circulate in our rooms, drawers, and closets. Value the serenity of spaces instead of rushing to the nearest big box store to fill the void. Look for ways to make what you own more personal. Narrative design can’t be duplicated because it relies on our unique experiences and family to create.

By Kim Winslow

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