Just Get Rid Of It! - Couple Struggles Part 4

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

Today, we’re diving into what happens when partners have very different levels of tolerance for the sheer amount of stuff in their space. Some people prefer a really minimal environment, containing only a few objects that have been carefully chosen. Others like to be surrounded by a bounty of things, all of which have personal meaning and aesthetic appeal.

Just like we talked about in Part 2, neither one of these approaches is necessarily the correct one! A minimalist may be missing out on memories, connections with loved ones, or even experiences that they aren’t prepared for. A maximalist may lose time and energy trying to find and use things that they may actually prefer to spend somewhere else.

The commonality is that these types frustrate each other! In particular, I often find that the maximalist partner wants to work meticulously through a space in order to organize it, while the minimalist partner believes that if they just throw everything away and start from scratch, all their problems will disappear.

Now, if you’ve read anything on this blog, you know that I do believe very strongly in the concept of less is more! It’s so important that I start each and every organizing project with the decluttering process. This is a critical step, because it opens up storage space and ensures that the client is surrounded by only the things they love and use.

However, this process is also crucial for a reason many of my clients don’t expect. By going through all of your things and making decisions, you can piece together the story of how you got to this place where the level of disorganization really frustrates you. You can see patterns: what you hold on to that you don’t actually use, the types of things that cause you guilt, the patterns in consumption that have led you to waste things. Decluttering can be incredibly eye opening.

On the other hand, if you were to just throw everything away, you’d avoid that entire critical learning process that informs and motivates behavior change going forward. Also, in the case of a couple, the person whose stuff got tossed might feel betrayal and distrust towards the person who talked them into it!

I worked with a wonderful couple living in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. He definitely leans minimalist, while she forms a stronger attachment to things and has trouble decluttering. When we first started to work together, he expressed that he just wanted to see her “get rid of” a large percentage of her stuff.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

So, I carefully guided them through a middle ground. By respecting the wife’s attachment to things and being willing to take the time to talk through each and every object, I was able to get her comfortable with reducing the amount of stuff in the space in order to accommodate their larger goals for their home. And by discovering the true meaning and intention behind the things she decided to keep, I was able to help the husband understand how to incorporate those things into their life in specific ways so that it didn’t just feel like “more stuff.”

So if one of you just wants to toss everything and the other can’t bear the idea, know that there is room to meet in the middle if you’re both willing to commit to the process. After all, there’s more to each of you than just being a minimalist or maximalist!

Stay tuned for the final post in this series: strategies you can start using immediately to find common ground on the often-fraught topic of organizing your home with your partner.


The Organized Smitten Kitchen

Do you read Smitten Kitchen?  If you don’t, and you love food, you should!  Deb Perelman takes a voracious appetite, a cramped NYC kitchen, and a disdain for fussiness and mixes them all into a seriously addictive food blog.  I’ve tried a couple of her recipes and they are very easy to follow and come out just as she describes: delicious.

Part of Deb’s success is that she is so accessible: as a cook, a writer, and a personality.  That’s why I was so delighted to discover this piece on how she organizes her kitchen: How I Organize My Food Cabinets: Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.  Deb’s strategies are just like her blog: simple, visually appealing, and accessible to the average person.  Her food storage doesn’t look perfectly curated a la Pinterest, but everything is visible and the system works for her.

My food storage looks an awful lot like Deb’s, in fact.  Food storage takes up three upper cabinets over our stovetop, which is tight but manageable.  I store everything by category (all baking items together, olive oils and vinegars together, dried beans and rice together) and accessibility (tea, coffee, and sugar/sweetener needs to be readily available, as does salt and pepper, but the stockpile of chicken broth can live higher up).

I also use clear containers, but so far I have gotten away with not labeling them.  I like these OXO plastic sealing containers instead of glass canisters because they’re a little bit less cumbersome and stack well together (pro tip: rectangular containers always use less space than circular ones).  I know it's tempting, but don't buy one of the pre-selected sets with different sizes because inevitably you won't have all the right sizes for the right foods. Instead, figure out which items you need to store in which quantities and then order the correct size containers individually.

Don’t forget that your food storage area or pantry (my kingdom for a pantry… sigh!) should be organized on a regular basis just like your closet.  Things expire, turn weird colors, or just plain never get used, and getting rid of those will make more room for things you actually need for cooking and baking!


Some Good – And Not So Good – Closet Tips Part 2

As promised, here is the second part of my point by point critique of this article from Apartment Therapy: 20 Ways to Organize Your Bedroom Closet.

11)   I don’t see many spaces that are so small that taking off a closet door would materially change the room, but I can imagine this would work very well in the right place!

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12)   A good laundry storage solution is a key piece of keeping a closet organized.  Just one day’s worth of clothes on the floor often acts like a magnet and leads to an overwhelmingly cluttered closet.  Simple rubber bins work if they fit inside your closet, but if you’re like me and lack the space there are many attractive options for storing and separating laundry that you won't mind having out in your living space.  I use this one from Pottery Barn.

13)  I had never really used hooks in a closet until our closet designer suggested them when we installed our shelving system five years ago.  Now I’d recommend them to anyone!  They’re perfect for quickly stashing a jacket you’re going to wear again, tomorrow’s planned outfit, or this week’s pajamas.

14)   For those who have the luxury of a large enough closet: you have the freedom to consider color and texture!  For the rest of us: keeping your storage system neutral in color (from shelving to hangers) and having enough light will put the focus on your clothes and help you stay organized.

15)  I would only recommend that you seriously consider storage like this if you are truly limited on closet space.  I find that clients who are stashing clothes in various locations around the house, even under their beds, never actually put those items into regular rotation.  You’re much better off paring back your collection so that all your clothes fit in your closet and you can see them daily.  Seasonal rotation is a definite commitment and something you should consider carefully based on your own motivation and available time!

16)  Color coding is one of those things that is helpful if that’s how your brain works.  My brain doesn’t necessarily require it, but I do sort by item type, fabric, sleeve length, and other functional ways of categorizing clothes.

17)  I do recommend using storage items that you find aesthetically pleasing.  After all, you want to stay motivated to use them!  However, as I always say, consider the utility of an item first.  A whole set of pretty matching boxes is going to be useless if you can’t see the contents and forget to wear the items inside.

18)  If you have a deep closet, a rolling cart would be an excellent way to use that depth without consigning everything in the back to invisible oblivion.  However, as with any other storage, make sure you can see what’s inside and that it’s easy to remove those items.  Stacked opaque boxes often mean that you’re not going to haul out the upper boxes to get at the contents of the lower boxes.

19)  As with point 18, I strongly caution against storing anything – even off-season stuff – in places that are excessively hard to reach.  Needing to move a lamp, knicknacks, stack of books, and a full trunk as shown in this photo is going to prevent a lot of people from ever accessing the items stored in the bottom trunk.

20) I do think the use of storage furniture is a great idea, but again, I caution against stacking.  Storage can be attractive, but it should above all else be useful!

Let me know if you’ve tried out any of Apartment Therapy’s tips in your own closet and how they're working for you!


Some Good – And Not So Good – Closet Tips Part 1

Apartment Therapy is a super popular website for all things home décor, so it stands to reason that it covers aspects of home organizing as well.  One of their greatest hits is this article: 20 Ways to Organize Your Bedroom Closet.  It’s pretty typical of home organizing advice you see around the internet and in mainstream magazines, so I thought it might be interesting to go through tip by tip and give you my advice on their advice!

1)   Especially in the older homes and apartment buildings of San Francisco, closet space is often too small for modern wardrobes, misshaped, or in inconvenient locations.  Alternative approaches are definitely needed.  I recommend planning any exterior clothing storage carefully, as methods that are popular with Pinterest and bloggers such as rolling racks and open shelving can easily become cluttered and distracting.

2)   Ah, the old turn-your-hangers-around chestnut.  My clients, to a person, already know what they’re not wearing.  They just need the time and permission to go through and get rid of those items.  I don’t like the hanger trick because it doesn’t take into account the creation of a wardrobe over time, special events and keepsakes, or the fact that you can wear something literally weekly and still despise it!

3)   Storage should definitely be arranged by utility, and if you do this you’ll find that clutter is less likely to accumulate because it’s easier to put things away that you use frequently.

4)   A closet customized to your specific needs is always easier to keep organized.  There are options for a wide range of budgets, and this is one of the valuable services that I provide for clients: analyzing their wardrobe’s needs, pricing, and supervision of installation.

Photo courtesy of

5)   Coordinated hangers do make a world of difference visually, but I recommend you go with slim line flocked hangers like these (I get mine at Costco).  They allow you to fit more in your closet than fancy wood hangers, don’t let your silky pieces slip off like cheap plastic hangers do, and don’t crease the shoulders of tops like wire hangers can.

6)   I recommend decorative storage ideas like this sparingly.  They work best in larger storage spaces because they are less efficient, and too many together can be visually confusing.  Use of touches like this depends greatly on your personal esthetic and the effort you put into tidiness on a daily basis.

Photo courtesy of

7)   Dedicated shoe storage is SO important.  It allows you to keep your shoes in good shape (a tangle of beautiful shoes on a floor is so tragic!) and find them to pair with outfits at a glance.  There are lots of great solutions for small spaces – I use this cheap metal version you can get at Bed Bath and Beyond.

8)   Shelf dividers are sorely underutilized in many closets.  These will help you maintain neat stacks of sweaters, purses that keep their shape, and any number of other great uses.

9)   Vertical space is also commonly underutilized.  That high space you need a stepladder to reach is perfect for items you don’t use often but don't want to forget about, like off season clothes, hats, and evening bags.  I even have a super high hanger bar in my closet where I store clothing I really only bring on vacation, like shorts – it’s usually way too chilly in SF to wear them!

Photo courtesy of

10)  Light is critical - if you can't see something, you won't wear it.  If you don’t have the budget or permission from your landlord to install lighting, battery powered sticky lights like these will absolutely work in a pinch.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the second half of this list!


Getting Organized? Don't Buy Boxes!

Let me state up front: I love The Container Store.   Every time I go there I’m inspired.  I particularly love the Elfa system, which is attractive, incredibly functional, works with a variety of styles, and keeps contents quite visible.  However, I do think it’s important to not confuse use of organizational tools (bins, shelves, file folders, drawers, etc.) with true organization.

Photo courtesy of

You can have a whole room of meticulously labeled and categorized file folders – but do you need paper records of those things?  Can you find what you’re looking for?  Is it easy to sort incoming important documents into their proper places?

You can have a giant closet full of clothes stored in garment-specific bins, bags, and boxes – but do you wear all those things?  Can you find what you’re looking for?  Is it easy for you to put outfits together?

I’m currently working with a client who has purchased a couple of different kinds of decorative storage boxes over the years, from pretty soft-sided bins for the closet to plastic file tubs for overflow papers.  To her surprise (but not to mine!), the pile of empty boxes that she’ll probably get rid of is larger than the pile of papers to trash.

There is a tendency out there, backed rather strongly by Pinterest, to believe that if you purchase the right system, you’ll be able to get organized. But this is actually backwards.  If you start getting organized by editing and curating your items, you’ll be able to figure out the type of storage tools you need and create the system that works for you.

True organization consists of having only things you need and love, organized so that you can find and use them in a way that matches your esthetic.  And if certain organizational tools help you do this, all the better!  But remember, it starts with the stuff, not the tools.