Entryway

The Joy of Empty Closets

I have empty closet space in my house. 

Does that statement seem strange to you?

If so, let me explain.

For many people, and pretty much all of my clients, there is a direct relationship between the amount of storage in their home and the amount of stuff they have. Specifically, the amount of storage dictates the amount of stuff, and when space runs out, they seek to obtain more storage.

In my personal life, and when working with clients, I flip this around. Forget the storage space you have - whether it’s closets, shelves, a basement, an attic, whatever. Instead, focus first on the stuff. What do you actually need and use? What do you love that brings you real joy? And why would you have anything at all that doesn’t fall into either of those two categories?

Then, only then, do we talk about how and where to store the stuff.

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

Leaving empty storage space is also about acknowledging that time is an important dimension of organizing. The process of living an organized life is ongoing. You need to maintain your home organization systems every day (it takes just a few minutes if your systems work well) , and adapt them as your needs change.

If there's one thing I know, change is a constant in this life, no matter how much we may fear or resist it. So, given that, why not leave yourself both the physical and mental space to accommodate that change? Future You might take up a new hobby and need a place to stash the equipment. Future You might throw a party and want a coat closet to accommodate guests. Future You may work from home and need a place to set up a work station, and Future You may bring home a baby with all of the gadgets, gizmos, outfits, and diapers parenthood brings.

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

By completely stuffing all of your storage space full, you are creating serious problems for Future You! Under likely time crunch and performance pressure, Future You will have to cobble together a solution for their new venture, rather than having the space and energy to comfortably and easily fit it into their life.

In so many ways, living an organized life is about investing time in the present to free up more time in the future to spend on the activities and relationships that really matter to you. What kinds of amazing future projects could you make room for if you left yourself some empty storage space?

LMW

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The first thing you see when you walk into my house is stairs.  We live in one of those wonderful old Edwardian buildings in San Francisco in which each flat takes up an entire floor and has a front door to the outside on the main level.  So, there’s not much room for a coat rack, hall table, or any of the usual “corral your stuff” organizational solutions!

Please excuse our muddy carpets... life with dog when it's rained recently!

Please excuse our muddy carpets... life with dog when it's rained recently!

In fact, it took my husband and me a couple of years (yes, really!) of trial and error to figure out how best to deal with purses, wallets, phones and chargers, and all that good stuff you need at your fingertips when you’re heading out the door.

Finally, I realized that a random little alcove in our hallway, which held an attractive end table and lamp, was the place we ended up dumping our stuff.  And the table itself just wasn’t cutting it.  It was a mess, largely because it turns out we need instant access to a lot of things: from keys to bags to travel items.

Add to this a complicating factor: if my husband can’t see something small, it doesn’t exist.  He always stashes things he uses frequently and then forgets them, resulting in bags and drawers and hidey-holes full of Kleenex, chapstick, phone chargers, etc. 

One of my key organizing principles is to organize your life so that it works for you in particular.  So, to satisfy my need to have everything off flat surfaces and my husband’s need to have visual access to small items, I chose a console table, with a shelving unit above and his and hers bins below. 

The drawers in the console table (purchased from One Kings Lane) provide just enough space for us to store larger items.  One drawer is his – I don’t ask!  One drawer is mine – I keep my iPad, Kindle (still the best for beach reading!), passport, and UK cell phone here.  We share the middle one: it’s for chargers, adapters, travel products, and any leftover foreign currency ready for the next trip.  And the bins (these from the Container Store) provide a resting place for our daily-use bags while keeping the console surface clear: my tote and laptop case, and his backpack and work folio.

The shelving unit (purchased from Pottery Barn, now discontinued but this one is similar) keeps small items like chapstick, keys, headphones, and coins separate and visible.  

There’s just one thing I need to add to perfect our entryway system: I’m in search of a set of hooks to store daily wear jackets.  In the changeable and rarely hot weather of San Francisco, I’m never without a light jacket, and it’s tedious to hang up a jacket in my closet each evening only to pull it out again in the morning.  I'm thinking the hooks will go under this picture:

The best test of an organizational system is how long it lasts, and I’m proud to say this configuration has eliminated the dreaded pile-up of daily items.  And also, it must be said, a few bickering sessions over cleanup.  After all, the whole point of getting organized is to improve your life!

LMW