Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Primer: A Place for Everything

A place for everything, and everything in it’s place.

(This is the first of a irregular series where I share my decidedly amateur wisdom on how to decorate a home in the hope of helping you move from ideas and inspiration to execution. I call it The Steampunk Home Primer. More shortly.)

Whether you subscribe to the minimalist approach or not, if you have too much stuff, it’s hard to do things that make your home beautiful – it’s hard to rearrange furniture, to paint the walls, or to install flooring. I also believe that a cluttered home weighs on your mind and adds stress to your life. Your home should be a retreat, and oasis of tranquility for you and your family. Having clear tabletops for eating and working on projects, open expanses of floor for kids to run through without tripping over anything, drawers and shelves in which you can find the things you know you have – all of this makes your life calmer and more in control. (But enough of my soap box…)

I learned about clutter “management” from Flylady, an online housekeeping coach. She has a book, a website, and a mailing list. The mailing list was the kick in the rear end that I needed to learn routines to keep my house in order – 20 or more emails a day, reminders and motivators and positive toned “lectures” that taught me habits of thought and activity that I still use, years after unsubscribing, to keep my house in order. If you are overwhelmed with clutter, this is where to start. If you just need a little bit of help, buy the book, browse the website, or try some of the ideas below.

One of the Flylady techniques is a “21 fling boogie.” Despite the silly name, it’s a great technique for making progress on cleaning up a room with minimum pain or commitment. Here’s how it works: Grab a trashbag and walk around a room, with a goal of grabbing 21 things to throw away. When you’re done with that, do it again with a goal of finding 21 things to give away. That’s it – you’re done. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day, etc, and eventually your room is clear enough that it becomes easy.

Another technique is to identify your “hotspots” – areas that collect clutter on a regular basis – and clean them up daily to keep them from getting out of control.

Another good source for decluttering advice is It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh. Here’s two good tricks:
1) If you really love something, then you should honor it by giving it the space and prominence it deserves in your house. A shelf with three carefully edited knick-knacks shows them off better than one filled to overflowing with ten.
2) Figure out how much space you have for something, and declutter down to that space. Example: let’s say you have a lot of DVDs, and a 3 foot shelf dedicated to their storage. Measure how many dvds will fit into a foot space, multiply by 3, and you have your target quantity of DVDs to get to. Go through your DVDs, deciding if each is special enough to merit space on your shelf. When you get down to 3 feet’s worth, you are done. If you buy another DVD, make room for it by getting rid of one. (This method also works well for clothes in closets.)

The best filter I have, however, is “If you do not know something to be useful or believe it to be beautiful, get rid of it.”

One of the most important insights I’ve learned is that clutter often represents unfinished work – or unfinished projects. Because you see the potential in something, it’s hard to get rid of it. Since steampunk has such a strong “do it yourself” component, this is becoming a problem for me, and maybe for you. The best advice I can give for this is to designate specific spaces for this sort of material, and not to let it exceed its space. (My “in progress” steampunk material currently lives in a laundry basket in the garage, for instance.)

Unsolicited advice, just in case you want to embrace minimalist steampunk, or just need help getting started on your home.


Erica said...

*grin* well now, that is such a lovely sentiment, but every time I throw something away I need it just about within a week. My studio bit of the house follows very different rules. One of the perils of DIY artisanship is that you always need an odd bit or a bobbin of something, and if you had to run out and buy every one it would get very unfun very fast. So all I can say is, pull it apart and put it together. I pull everything out of one section of my crafting area, then organize or re-organize and sort things into bins and boxes and label the crud out of it all. Then I try to streamline by sorting things into project areas, for instance things which require big tools go near those tools, and things which require a large open table go near that. And throw nothing away, for the regret and bother simply aren't worth the tiny amount of new clear space you get :)
Simple my two pence on the subject, you mileage will certainly vary!

And another thing I have noticed, the wealthier you are the less stuff you have in your house. My friends from less fortunate circumstances have houses packed with stuff, while my insanely wealthy rock star friends have nothing, and I mean nothing, in their houses. The bathrooms have a tube of toothpaste hidden in a microscopic drawer, and the dining room has a shelf with (lovely) plates, and one piece of art. Of course, that isn't their studio or shop, which are always wild, but still, a lesson worth looking at.

LoopdiLou said...

Wow.. Flylady! I miss that website.. Thanks for reminding me of it.. I totally need to go on a Flylady rampage through my house.. Thanks! Oh.. and Steampunk minimalism is totally doable - like that bar in LA - The Edison! They're totally minimalist.. and gorgeous.. *nodnod*

Art Donovan said...

Great article, Sara (and also great comments.)

Happy V. Day to you and all.

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