Category Archives: organizing

The Reality of Tiny House Living

Hillary's Tiny House outside

Could you imagine living in a house this small?

Small and tiny houses have increasingly become popular and known. Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters TV shows have heightened the public’s interest in this style of living.

Tiny houses on wheels are often compared to RVs. However, tiny houses are built to last as long as traditional homes, use traditional building techniques and materials, and are aesthetically similar to larger homes. A tiny house is often considered one that is under 400ft2.

So, what’s it really like to downsize and live in a tiny house? We interviewed our friend Hillary who’s been living in one for the last 6 months. Her space is under 200ft2. The footprint of the home is 8.5’ x 18’ and it sits on a trailer.

Why did you choose tiny living? Basically, the cost of living. It was a creative way to afford rent, and work to live instead of living to work. Also, I was interested in the environmental benefits and owning less.

What surprised you most about tiny living? How comfortable it feels. I’m getting along really well! It took a leap of faith but there have been more positives than negatives. I’ve realized I don’t have to own a lot to be content.

What has been an unexpected benefit? Buying less stuff. Even less food. I don’t go to home stores anymore for random décor. I’ve saved money and affirmed to myself I don’t need as much stuff as I used to.

What has been the hardest part? Finding the right place to put my tiny home took about a year.  I ended up finding my landlord through an East Bay Tiny House meetup. He has 3.5 acres in Diablo Valley area so I am surrounded by nature but also able to connect into utilities. My water comes from a hose line. I have a direct electricity and sewer line hook up. I have propane tanks for heating water and gas stove.

Another challenge is the lack of space for food and clothes. Clothing storage has been the hardest. I still use some offsite storage at my mom’s house but hope to gradually eliminate that.

What was the process of downsizing your possessions like to prepare to move here? I’m still transitioning through the downsizing process because I’m still storing some furniture at my mom’s. Also, most of my book collection. I’m an English teacher and I’d really like to have my books with me but I haven’t figured out how to integrate them into the space. I still need to sell or donate extra stuff. I feel like I haven’t yet had the cathartic moment of truly releasing things that didn’t fit. Other people I’ve talked to in tiny houses have described how freeing it is to let go.  That said, I do realize that there are lots of things I haven’t needed or thought about for 6 months. I still want to take on the personal challenge of only owning what will fit in my space.

Kitchen, sleeping loft and bathroom

Tiny House Living Room and Entry

Kitchen, Living Room, Entry

STORAGE

Let’s talk about storage – how do you get by without a garage? Right now, I’m not fully addressing that; I still store low use items such snowboarding & camping supplies offsite. There is some space underneath the trailer where I can store tubs – I have my backpacking gear in a heavy-duty tote as well as extra blankets & shoes.

How have you had to modify your shopping practices? I shop more often and buy smaller amounts of things when I do. I’ve had to become more aware of what I’m buying. I still buy a few things in bulk and use the storage area adjacent to my sleeping loft to hold low-use pantry items such as baking supplies.

How do you get by without a closet and a dresser? The home does have a really thin closet – 1.5’ wide. I have to be very selective about what gets hung. Reducing clothes was hard because I like to have options of what I wear.  I use open crates in the sleeping loft for folded clothes.

Has living in a tiny house changed your relationship to stuff? Not dramatically, but I feel like I have a higher level of awareness of nice-to-haves vs. have-to-haves. And I’m OK with that. I realized I’m not feeling the loss of giving up on the nice-to-haves as much as I would have thought.

LIFESTYLE

How has the move affected your social life? Not too much. I do have folks come over. I haven’t had big gatherings but I have outside space so that could be used in good weather for gatherings. Having 2-3 people within the house is tight. Having over one extra person is pretty comfortable. I find myself sitting outside more often both when I’m alone or with others. Seating inside a little cramped, especially for tall or larger guests.

Do you have a full bathroom and shower? The toilet and shower are separate and spacious enough. They are average size. I have an on-demand water heater and originally I had a composting toilet but then was able to connect into the landlord’s sewer line so I replaced it with a regular flush toilet.

What life circumstances would have to change for you to feel like you have to move? I feel like I could live here indefinitely if I was living alone. Cohabitating with a partner doesn’t feel very feasible to me here.  If I had a child it feels like it would be feasible maybe for the first year or so.

What are people most curious about? Mostly they just want to know – “Is this working for you? Are you comfortable?”  Anyone who comes to visit quickly sees how doable it is!

Want to watch the entire interview? Let us know!

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Filed under Decluttering, downsizing, Guest Experts, home organizing, Moving, organizing, Perspective, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse

The Chaos of Business Card Collections

We’ve all been guilty of it – hanging onto business cards that somehow end up on dresser tops, stashed in drawers, or floating around on counters. We sort of know we probably don’t need them but there’s a nagging sense of importance about them that makes them seem valuable. So, we neaten the pile or shove them back in the drawer and forget about them for a while.

Why are you keeping them?

Managing clutter is all about making conscious choices.  The first step to getting a handle on those stacks is to take a clear look at your motivations for hanging onto them:

  • You may want to use that person’s services
  • Something you want to do someday
  • Somebody you want to network with
  • Neighborhood services
  • Cards of services you use regularly
  • Nostalgia – cards of family members, cards of your past careers
  • Cards whose designs you like

Figuring out why you’re keeping them helps you get clarity on how relevant the info actually is. That informs whether you really want to continue to keep them and how you store them. Part of what makes business cards a less precious resource than we think is there are so many ways other ways to find services and people – Facebook, Yelp, list serves, LinkedIn, Google… put in bits of information into a search tool and have that person show up.

After you do a serious purge of the stacks its time to decide how to store the keepers.

Store for easy retrieval

Ways to store them

  • Electronically – scan or enter into your favorite digital address book tool
  • In a mini-file box
  • Rubber-banded in a drawer or on a shelf
  • In a rolodex
  • Binder sleeves designed for business cards
  • File in a resource section of your filing system (can attach card to larger piece of paper)

Make them useful

If you are keeping cards, it can also be helpful to jot a few notes of relevant info to help you remember why you have the card.  Write on back (have a sharpie close by):

  • Next actions/promises you made to them
    • Where you met them
    • Your follow-up plan
  • Interesting fact about the person (their dog’s name, for example)
  • What you have in common with them
  • Who you both know
  • Key words (name and date of event, category of contact)

business card boxes - 1

It’s perfectly fine to hang onto cards you may not actually need or use — so long as the stacks of cards don’t stress you out and don’t impact your usable space. If they impact your peace of mind or are getting in the way – take action to clear the clutter.

When you browse through your business card hoard, what is the wackiest card you find?

 

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Filed under Business Organizing, Decluttering, Memorabilia, Office, organizing, Paper, Products, Strategies

Perspectives on Letting Go

freedom release letting go

Ahh, attachments to our stuff. It’s really all a mental game. If we were truly able to assess our belongings according to our practical needs, we would probably be living with 10% of what we own.

Why is letting go so hard? How do we manage the psychology of releasing things?

Over the years, we’ve seen people find success with one (or a combination) of these three approaches:

Focus on how you can help yourself

Honor the life you want to live. Have a vision of how you want to be in the world and edit your stuff so you can match that and live your best life now. This is about releasing the past and creating your ideal future. You’re honoring yourself by letting that be your focus.

Focus on how you can help other people

Recognize that your excess is a form of abundance. Release your objects so they can serve their purpose in other people’s lives. Release resentment or other negative emotions that the objects bring up in you and put them out into the world to do positive things for other people.

Feng Shui expert Karen Kingston tells a story of a divorced woman had a pair of large, expensive decorative urns from her divorce settlement. They were beautiful but made her think, with bitterness, of her ex-husband.  She was encouraged to sell them and get a lot of money for them instead of having them foster bitterness and resentment and a constant reminder of a painful relationship.

Focus on how you can help the environment

Bringing in less can aid the environment, but disposing of things in a thoughtful way will help offset the environmental impact of consumption. Some people hesitate to clean out a closet or garage because they don’t want it all to go to landfill. Take advantage of living in the San Francisco Bay Area which is filled with easy options for recycling/reuse and responsible disposal.

Stopwaste.org is a quick way to find what is available near you. There are many places that accept e-waste, expired medicines, CFLs, hazardous waste, styrofoam, packing peanuts and air-packs. Partially used art and office supplies can go to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse or S.C.R.A.P., building materials and hardware can go to Urban Ore or a Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet. Plastic children’s toys, if not donate-able, can be recycled with hard plastic at most urban recycling centers. There are also resources for your unneeded medical equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, tubing, etc.)

Freecycle, Craigslist, Nextdoor, and other community neighborhood forums are great places to post usable items for free.  These places allow you to find people who want your cast-offs and will take care of the hauling!

If you don’t want to deal with the public, you can pay for a hauler to come. EcoHaul, 1-800-Got Junk, Lugg are companies that advertise responsible disposal of items the remove from your place.

There is no “right” approach. What is that key that will release you from the obligation to hold on to things you don’t need and really don’t even want? Not sure how to get rid of something? Just ask! As Professional Organizers, we’ve got ideas!

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Filed under Decluttering, organizing, Perspective, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Strategies

Untangling Electronic Cable Clutter

cable salad

Who hasn’t opened a desk drawer to see a snarled rats nest of cables and electronic devices from the past? An intimidating and unappealing cable and device salad?

We live in a time of amazing technological advances but one of the drawbacks is that devices quickly become obsolete. Our consumer culture pressures us to keep replacing things, which creates a constant stream of electronic litter in our homes.

The charging and connecting cords that go with these items create an extra layer of frustration and confusion around the issue. Hot tip: when you get a new device, take the time to wrap the cables! Purging old electronics becomes so much simpler when you can quickly grab the device and all it’s parts and cables.

bundled cables

Many people get rid of the electronics but don’t search for the cables (and even the CDs that that go with them) to dispose of at the same time. They’re left with a box of cables they are afraid to get rid of.  There might actually be a useful one in there for a device they still have. The box of chaos becomes a project for that mythical weekend when you’re going to organize your garage, sort your photos and finally deal with that box of cables. Yeah, right.

The simplest way to bundle cables is using twist ties. You can use the grocery store variety or a heavier duty kind – silicone twist ties, which are sturdy and easy to use. Ziploc bags work well to group accessories and software with the cables making it even easier to dispose of the group when the time comes.

It sounds like such a straightforward solution, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the most elegant.  And they can save you from future frustration. Your time is precious, invest a little bit up front to save yourself hours later.

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Filed under Decluttering, disorganization, Garage, General Organizing, home organizing, Office, organizing, Products, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Technology, Time Management

Giving Your Photos and Memorabilia a Reason for Living

photo organizing

Do you have piles of photos stored somewhere in your basement or attic or the back of your closet?  You’re not alone.  Many of our clients hit a wall when it comes to tackling the photos and memorabilia.  It always seems to be the lowest priority until a life event like a birthday or graduation prompts the need for quick and easy access to your loved ones photos.  It’s then that you realize how inconvenient you’ve made it for yourself to view your family memorabilia.

Organizing photos (digital or printed) is a lot like organizing anything in the house – the first step is to determine why you would be keeping them.

Take a few minutes to consider the bigger picture…what do you want your photos for? Do you imagine that you’ll pass the unfinished project on to your kids? Would you like to have some on display or in albums? How important is it to identify people or events for others?

Before you dive into the backlog spend some time framing (pun intended) the picture of your immediate and long-term goals – it will give needed clarity to your sorting and purging.

Figure out what you’re keeping. This takes setting aside time, regularly, to gather and weed your collection.

Divide your photos into 4 categories:

1 – Photos to display, share or put in an album

These are the best of the best; the ones you would be sad if they were destroyed. You may never actually create the album, but it’s important to make the separation in case you or your family member gets motivated.

2 – Photos to keep but not display

The second cut, those you want to store or archive for safekeeping and possible future use.

3 – Photos that tell a story

Even if they are not perfect, don’t automatically toss a great picture if it tells a significant story. They can be illustrative of some specific point in time or mark a milestone.

4 – Photos to dispose of

Come on!  Do you need to keep the 5th copy of a photo you don’t even like? Blurry photos, poorly composed photos, photos of people you don’t even remember can all be tossed.

Next step, determine the keepers.

Set up containers with the 3 separate categories labeled — Album/Display, Archive, Trash — so it’s easy to separate them.  The pictures that tell a story can be tagged with notes and put in the appropriate category.

Once the initial sort happens, you can drill down into more specific categories.  Categories help with retrieval. They help you browse the archive for retrieval or help determine the structure of an album.

Would a picture of Aunt Mary on vacation with you in Hawaii get sorted into Vacations, Aunt Mary and Her Family, the year & month of the trip or …?

There are no right or wrong choices, but you will need to make a choice.

Post-its and index cards, Ziploc bags are great temporary ways to sort printed photos until you arrive at your final organization. Start with broad categories or themes and know that you can come back and fine-tune, if desired, later. To keep the process moving, limit your time with categorizing of each particular photo to a couple seconds. Resist the urge to reminisce; there will be plenty of time for that later.

Power Sort Box

Power Sort Box from Creative Memories for sorting physical photographs

Digital photos need this kind of attention and maintenance also! Don’t kid yourself – the accumulation of thousands of unsorted digital photos will create just as much overwhelm and hassle as the boxes or bags of printed photos taking up closet space. Digital photos can be tagged with multiple categories.  This is a great advantage; it’s the equivalent of having the same photo in 3 or more different places.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tackle bite-sized chunks.  Commit to just one box of sorting, or time yourself and do one-hour blocks of time or enlist an interested party and make a date to do it together.

IMPORTANT! Moving forward, make sure you have a sound system of photo management in place so you’re not contributing to the backlog. For most of us this means managing digital photos. Here are some tips:

  • Figure out how to sync your devices and/or copy photos to ONE master location
  • Make sure you have a backup system!
  • Use additional folders for sorting and/or use tagging to mark a photo as belonging in more than one category
  • Make actual prints of favorites so they can be enjoyed on display

If this article has left you feeling completely hopeless and overwhelmed instead of inspired, it’s time to ask for help! Search the Association of Professional Photo Organizers (www.APPO.com) for a local resource.

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Filed under Decluttering, disorganization, Empty Nest, Memorabilia, middle-age, Moving, organizing, paper organizing, Perspective, Strategies, Technology

Tips for Maximizing Your Storage Space

Most of us have stuff in storage, whether it is in a commercial storage unit or a closet in your house, we have things to store. I figure even The Minimalists have items in storage of some sort.

How do you maximize the space you have to avoid paying monthly storage fees or to minimize the storage fees you pay by renting a smaller space?

Here are a few tips for making the most out of your storage.

First: Do a little purge

Figure out your have-to-haves as opposed to your nice-to-haves. Do you really need to keep that snowboard, if you haven’t been to the snow for 10 years? Would it be easier just to rent ski equipment if you decide to take a trip to the mountains?

Doing a purge doesn’t mean you have to go through everything you’ve been storing. Take a quick look around and see if there is anything easy to get rid of. Is there a carpet that is so stained you’ll never use it again? or are you holding onto art that you’ll never hang on your walls?

It’s not very methodical, but every item you remove makes space to see and evaluate what’s you really want to keep.

Once you have done a sweep of the items you know you won’t keep, you can go through boxes individually, but for the quick and dirty method, just rearrange the space to make full use of it.

Second: Use containers for storage

Boxes are easier to stack than small loose items. Whenever possible, box and label items that can be stacked or put on shelves. Clear plastic tubs are great because you can easily see what’s inside.

Third: Maximize the use of the space

Use vertical space, add shelves, use rollers or wheels under things to make things moveable. These rolling metal shelves come in different sizes.  The shelf heights can be customized. Find them at Home Depot, Costco, The Container Store and even on Amazon.

These plastic shelves are inexpensive and easy to move around.


Fourth: Arrange the room

Packing the room according to your access needs is essential. Group items toward the front that need to be accessible…even if they aren’t exactly in the same category. For example, you might need access to your summer equipment more often than your Aunt Gertrude’s ashes (yes, we find those in storage units.) Seasonal items take priority over memorabilia.

Consider whether you need walkways to get to things or can items be put on rolling shelves and stack the shelves right next to each other – knowing you can roll them out to get to the back.

Fifth: Label

In addition to labeling any boxes and tubs it can be useful to label whole shelving units or zones within the space.

Tip: Use shelving on wheels so you can roll things out and get access to items in the back…instead of having to unpack the whole unit to get to something at the back wall.

Tip: Use as much vertical space as possible. Shelving enables that but if what you’re storing doesn’t make sense to store on shelves such as rolled carpets, framed pictures or skis, see if you can hang things on the walls or from the ceiling using brackets or hooks.

Handy items to keep in your storage unit:

  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Labels and/or blue tape
  • Large magic markers/sharpies
  • Box cutters/scissors

What to bring with you when you go to visit your storage:

  • Storage unit keys and access code
  • Camera/phone for inventorying
  • Toolkit with battery operated drill
  • Brackets/hooks
  • Sturdy plastic bins or boxes with lids

Remember to balance the true value of your items against the ongoing cost of storage Most likely, you are paying $1200 a year to store these items in a commercial storage facility.  You might intend to have items in storage for a short time, but statistics show that we keep things in storage much longer than originally planned.

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Filed under Garage, General Organizing, Moving, organizing, Perspective, Storage, Strategies

Couples and Clutter – Conquering Defensiveness

agreement

Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore defensiveness and its antidote.

In our post about criticism, we addressed how blaming inhibits a couple’s communication and ability to work together to create a home that supports them both. Next up was contempt, which takes criticism to the next level. Defensiveness is the third common behavior, which sabotages relationships.

When one is faced with criticism and/or contempt, defensiveness is a natural reaction but rarely works to resolve the issues being discussed. More often, defensiveness escalates the conflict because it is actually a form of blaming.

Here’s an Example:

One person likes to park their car in the garage. The other person is working on a project and because of the weather, is staging the items in the parking spot.

Partner 1:

You left your stuff all over the garage and I can’t pull the car in! You’re such a slob.

Partner 2:

Well if I had some space in the house to work, this wouldn’t be an issue! Can’t I do anything without you harping at me?

Note that Partner 1 is launching into the exchange with criticism and contempt, and Partner 2 immediately responds with defensiveness and adds some criticism for good measure.

Antidote:

Partner 1:

I tried to park the car in the garage today and found it blocked up. I was frustrated because I had to park outside in the rain.

Partner 2:

I’m sorry, I forgot that you would be coming home before I cleared it out. I could have let you know that I might not have been finished before you got home.

The antidote for defensiveness is taking responsibility for your own actions. Resist the urge to blame outside forces or your partner and think about what you can own yourself. What set you up for the miscommunication? What do you want to apologize for?

Here are some ways to communicate that sidestep defensiveness:

  • I’ve been overwhelmed lately and I’m sorry that I was so negative
  • I’ve not asked for what I needed and I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you
  • I’ve been overly critical lately and I’m sorry I was really grumpy

Defensiveness, criticism and contempt rarely show up alone, often they work together as a tag team, dragging down the good intentions of having a productive conversation. Next up we explore the final culprit which interferes with creating a comfortable and organized home, stonewalling.

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Filed under couples, Decluttering, organizing, Perspective