Small spaces

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.

LMW

Don't Buy Random Crap for Your Loved Ones

You’ve heard of The Five Love Languages, right? If not, the basic premise is that people tend to prefer to give and receive love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. Once you and your loved ones figure out your individual love languages, it can help you show love to each other more effectively. In fact, if you’re not sure what you prefer, there’s an online quiz you can take to find out!

Recently, I’ve watched my clients struggle with the gift giving love language. Specifically, they have family that lives very far away and misses them very much, and shows their love by sending them inexpensive gifts regularly. While I haven’t met the gift givers in person, it’s clear to me that these gifts are sent out of an abundance of love, with absolutely no ill intent.

However, there are serious side effects to a regular gift giving routine.

  1. Those gifts add up fast. In thinking of one client in particular, her mom likes to send her costume jewelry, cloth bags, cute glasses and dishware, and general tchotchkes. My client, like many of us here in San Francisco, lives with her boyfriend in a one bedroom apartment. It’s plenty of space for them and their cats, but there just isn’t enough storage to accommodate the constant inflow of gifts. 
  2. Those gifts cause serious guilt. My clients tell me that they don’t want to donate these gifts because they know that if the giver found out, they would be hurt. The gifts, in effect, become an emotional burden and an extension of the guilt my clients already feel over living so far away from their loved ones.
  3. Those gifts can cause relationship strife. I have a couple of clients who deal with continuous gift giving from both of their moms. They are each uncomfortable with dealing with so much stuff from their own mothers, but end up taking that frustration out on each other and the other’s mom. While this is so common for all of us as humans - we redirect anger at a person we can’t confront to the people who see us every day - it’s completely avoidable in this case.
This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

People whose love language is gift giving (and I am one of them, so I know of what I speak!) sometimes struggle with the idea that a gift could be a bad thing, and they often don’t know how to communicate their love in other ways that feel just as effective. So, I have a few suggestions!

  1. Take a picture of the cute tchotchke, send it to your loved one, and tell them why it made you think of them. How fun is a random loving message in the middle of the day? You get all the benefits of gift giving, like reminding someone that you love them and showing that you understand what’s special about them, without any of the downside. This also gives you the opportunity to see whether or not your loved one actually wants that item! If they text back “hahaha, love that, I miss you too!” then the thought was enough. But a text that says “OMG I need this!” means you have the green light to send a gift!
  2. Give experiences rather than objects. This is something my family has wholeheartedly embraced as part of our gift giving tradition and we all absolutely love it.  You get the gift giving experience - opening something, the surprise, the feeling of being special to the giver - and then you get to extend it by talking about the upcoming event, planning for it, then doing it and reminiscing about it after the fact. My sister gave me a trip to Jackson Hole for Christmas a couple years ago and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!
  3. Direct your gift giving energy to people who are in need. Every holiday season, my husband and I adopt a family through Compass Family Services, and take great joy in making their Christmas magical. I love giving to friends and family, but it's even more rewarding to give to people who truly need and appreciate the gifts.
  4. Save your gift giving effort (and budget) for select occasions. Often, people send many cheaper gifts because they feel that the number of gift giving occasions should be maximized but they don’t have the funds to purchase high quality gifts that often. When it comes to gifts, like many other things in life, I recommend going for quality over quantity. Two high quality, beautiful gifts per year will give your loved one all the surprise and delight you crave, and because you have the extra time and money to spend on selecting it, chances are much higher that they will use and love the gift.
  5. When in doubt, just pick up the phone and say “I love you.” Because that’s what we’re all really trying to do with gift giving, right?
This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

I, personally, will never stop loving the process of opening a present that someone has selected just for me, and then watching them open something I know they’re going to love. But I love it even more when it’s a truly special moment and not just a regular thing.

LMW

How French Girl Style Works

Simple, minimal style can be as visually compelling and fashion-forward as it is timeless.  Think of classic “French girl” style, which gets fawned over every few months by fashion blogs (for the ultimate primer on the current state of French girl obsession in our culture, see Eliza Brook’s piece at Racked: How To Sell A Billion-Dollar Myth Like A French Girl).  You can instantly conjure an image of what this looks like in your head and it’s an image you likely want to see yourself in… imagine, if you will, a pair of straight leg jeans, smart little booties, and a slouchy sweater topped with a classic leather cross body bag.

I have a theory about how “French girl” style evolved... and you’re not going to be shocked that it all comes back to organizing.  I suspect that the ability to create a simple, timeless style à la Parisienne stems, at least in part, from a basic fact: French girls have small closets!

When I say that European apartments have small closets, I mean they are SMALL.  In the very lovely one bedroom apartment my husband and I inhabited for a few months in London, the entire closet space for the two of us consisted of a wardrobe from Ikea that was less than four feet wide.  No one I mentioned this to found it in any way out of the ordinary. 

When your storage space is smaller, you’re forced to make more careful decisions about what you buy.  You’re prevented from purchasing in great quantity or frequency because there just isn’t room for haphazard shopping! And if you have to buy fewer things less often, you necessarily find yourself getting pickier about the things you do buy and how they fit into your personal style.  This situation also means that you can probably afford to spend a bit more on each piece, rather than dividing your budget among a plethora of cheap stuff.

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Above and below: the same cream cashmere Theory sweater (not currently available), a bunch of different ways, from my Instagram!

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Imagine how a tiny closet might change your shopping habits, and in turn, your style.  French girls might have one Saint James striped shirt instead of a pile of them from Zara.  They might wear a single pair of the perfect worn in jeans on repeat instead of rotating through twenty different washes and cuts.  They may have chosen the perfect slouchy cashmere sweater instead of stocking up on trendy acrylic copies.  In a way, French girls are living with enforced capsule collections. 

A cruel irony of fashion is that it’s often easier to refine your style and express it when you have fewer options to choose from.  So, if you want to cultivate your own particular flavor of “French girl” style, consider downsizing your wardrobe to its true essence.  And if you’re considering a wardrobe overhaul, I’m here to help!  Schedule a call with me today and get started on your own dream closet.

LMW

... and we're back!

I’ve really enjoyed giving you a window into my life and how I organize it, but to be honest I haven’t had much to say on the subject over the past couple of months because of our big move.  We are about to embark on a pretty extensive renovation project, and so we’ve sort of been “making do” regarding decoration and organization. 

Fortunately, that’s all about to change.  Plans and permits are in process, and I’m starting to work on interior design for the spaces that won’t be changing.  Hopefully I’ll be able to bring you some new approaches to organizing, particularly regarding small spaces (our new single family home is actually smaller than our old condo in terms of finished square footage!), and some fun comparisons between old and new organizational strategies.

As ever, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m an ultimate authority on home organization.  I do have an organizing process I believe in and trust, and I show you how I use that process in my own life so that you can see how it works. 

I always welcome comments and questions, and love hearing that something I’ve done inspired you!  The most remarked upon post by far?  This one on how I organize my nail polish!

LMW