Storage

One Space, Many Options

Sometimes a client will say to me: “Just tell me the right way to do things.” Seems like a perfectly reasonable request, right?

But that’s the funny thing about organizing: it’s so specific to each individual person. There is no one strategy that works for everyone!

This is because a good organizing system doesn’t just contain stuff: it nudges your brain into patterns and behaviors that will make it easier for you to retrieve and use your stuff. In order to create an organizing system for you, I have to know more about how your brain works and what nudges will get you moving in the direction you want.

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So I thought I’d show you a concrete example. Here is my upstairs linen closet. It stores the extra bedding and towels we keep for guests (we have this much because if we get creative with air mattress placement, we can sleep 7 additional people - and yes, it’s happened!).

This system totally works for me for specific reasons:

  • items are grouped by set, then item type, in a way that makes intuitive sense to me,

  • everything is neatly folded so that I can see it and easily retrieve it,

  • this is a rarely used space, so it didn’t make sense to invest a lot in customizing it,

  • the layout is straightforward enough that my husband, my weekly housekeeper, and I can all use and maintain it.

You may notice that this closet is missing two very popular things in the organizing world: labels and bins! But you know what? I personally don’t need those things to keep this space neatly organized. At this point, it’s pretty second nature for me to fold everything the same way I always do and put each item back where it came from.

That said, for different types of clients, I might recommend labels and/or bins in a very similar space.

Labels are super useful for people who are trying to get used to an entirely reconfigured space. They’re also good for people who are not familiar with living with any sort of organizing system at all and need visual cues about how to train themselves to use things and put them back where they belong. I also recommend labels for spaces that are highly trafficked by multiple people - they just help everyone get on the same page.

Bins are great for people who are easily overwhelmed by options. In this closet, instead of a face full of linens, they would only have to mentally process each item type. Bins are also good for storage spaces that are somewhat open (my closet has a door on it, so everything is neatly out of sight). And of course, the aesthetic of rows of clean, neat bins can also be really appealing!

So, I'm sorry to say that there is no one system that works for everyone! But the good news is that with over five years of experience, I’ve seen enough spaces and clients to be able to quickly and efficiently get down to business, learn about people’s needs and preferences, and build organizing systems that work and last.

Curious about what I could do for you and your home? Book your free in-home consultation here.

LMW

Organize or Containerize?

A friend of mine called me earlier this year, all in a tizzy. “I need your expert advice!” she exclaimed. She went on to explain that she was watching her sister-in-law try to organize her home, and felt like something wasn’t clicking. “She keeps buying all these pretty matching boxes,” my friend puzzled, “and putting stuff in them. But it doesn’t seem to be making a difference for her. What am I missing?”

I knew exactly what was up - I’ve seen it so many times before! And it’s a really common misconception, so please don’t beat yourself up if you’ve done this too.

“You’re right, something IS missing,” I told my friend. “But what she’s doing isn’t organizing. It’s containerizing. And it’s just a short term fix for the organizing issues she’s having.”

Sound confusing and/or somewhat ridiculous? Let’s break it down. 

This space is containerized, but not organized. At this point, the client and I still needed to edit her items and store like with like in containers that made sense to her.

This space is containerized, but not organized. At this point, the client and I still needed to edit her items and store like with like in containers that made sense to her.

Organizing makes life easier. The way it does this is by making sure you can efficiently find and use the things you need to accomplish life tasks, from getting ready in the morning to paying bills to completing home renovation projects. Common tactics include storing like with like and keeping most frequently used items most accessible.

Containerizing is just what it sounds like: placing stuff in containers to make a space look nicer.

You can absolutely organize effectively without containers. It might look a little sloppier than you’d like, but if you’ve set up the system correctly, it should work for you. I went into this in a little more detail earlier this week, and you can see actual pictures there of closets I’ve completed for happy clients that involve fewer containers than most organizing inspo photos on social media.

You can containerize without organizing, but it will not make your life easier in the slightest - and might even make it more difficult! How? Well, visualize a cluttered space in your home. Now imagine that instead of crowded shelves and surfaces, there are matching baskets full of all the stuff that currently occupies that space. Sounds amazing, right? Ok, now imagine that you need to find one single item: a Sharpie. Where is it? If you just put stuff willy nilly into containers to make the space look nicer, you are going to have no actual idea where the Sharpie is, and you’ll have to ransack each and every basket in order to find it. Not so amazing after all!

Now, there’s no shame in liking to put stuff in containers. I definitely use wire baskets in my laundry room, drawer dividers in my closet, and canisters for dry goods in my kitchen. But in order to use containers of any kind effectively, you’re going to need to organize the stuff that goes in them first.

This is why, when people ask me if they should buy bins or tubs before they start working with me, I say absolutely not! There’s no way to know how we should containerize your stuff until we organize it first.

Got lots of containers and still feel overwhelmed in your space? Get in touch, I can help you get organized AND containerized!

LMW

Organizing for Network Marketing Success

Network, or multilevel, marketing has a mixed reputation these days.

In the 20th century, joining a network marketing company like Avon or Tupperware gave women a chance to earn their own money, make their own purchasing decisions, and gain a little more independence than they otherwise might have had. Sounds great, right?

Fast forward to today, and there are more multilevel marketing companies than I could possibly name. You’ve probably seen a few of them on your Facebook feed: Beachbody, Beautycounter, Scentsy. Some of the products are great… and some aren’t. And unfortunately, the networks are structured so that most reps don’t actually make much, if any, money.

I’ve worked with a few representatives from some of the most popular multilevel marketing companies around to help their organize how they incorporate their business into their home. This is a huge challenge, and solving it can be the difference between a rep who makes a tidy sum, and one who breaks even or loses money. As I see it, there are three main organizational struggles, all of which an be solved by sticking to basic organizing principles.

1) All. That. Inventory.

This is my client’s current inventory after culling products that were not the current version (therefore not sellable).

This is my client’s current inventory after culling products that were not the current version (therefore not sellable).

Multilevel marketing reps aren’t just sellers - they’re required to purchase the physical product themselves before they sell to the end user. This is a serious space challenge… if you live in a relatively small apartment or house in San Francisco, what exactly are you going to do with all that inventory?

We have to get real. The company will be pushing you to buy, buy, buy! They make their money when YOU buy, not when your CUSTOMERS buy - that’s when you make your money. So, as with any kind of purchasing, you need to buy according to your own individual needs and priorities. If the lip balm is flying off the shelves but nobody wants the body butter… don’t buy the body butter, even if the company gives you a huge incentive to do so.

And in terms of storage, just like any other collection, designate a specific storage area and pledge Do Not outgrow said area. This means you’ll have to make tough purchasing decisions, but it will also mean that your partner or roommate won’t want to stab you with that cool new earring they just stepped on!

2) Fun marketing ideas, oh my oh my!

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The companies know that they can’t just shove out product and hope it sells - they have to help their sellers market the stuff! Although social media is definitely a major part of any multilevel marketing strategy, most of the companies still push the traditional party setup where women get together to socialize and see the products firsthand. So, a lot of the marketing materials come in the form of stuff: paper, banners, trinkets, etc. that all need to be stored.

Again, you need to consider your own needs and priorities. You literally couldn’t implement every marketing idea the company sends you - you’d never sleep, or eat, or spend time with your family. So instead of keeping all the marketing materials that come your way, instead only store the ones you like to use and see great results from.

3) Tracking your (ideally) bumper crop of customers, orders, and shipments.

So you’ve purchased your inventory, received your marketing materials, and started making sales. Now, how do you keep track of all these folks? Many of the companies still use paper order forms for in person parties, and the online ordering systems can cumbersome.

My advice, as with most things, is to go as paperless as possible. Paper not only takes up storage space, but also is harder to search through, compile, and use for marketing purposes. I highly recommend using some kind of customer relationship management (CRM) tool. 

Here’s the key: a CRM has one major thing in common with any paper filing system you can think of: you have to actively use it. Whether digital or physical, an information management system is a dynamic product and not a set it and forget it type of thing. So, there will be a learning curve - but I promise, if you start when you have so few customers it seems a little ridiculous, and stick with it, you will see major impact on your marketing efforts and sales.

Need help setting up organizing systems for your network marketing venture? Get in touch, and we can schedule a complimentary in-home consultation for you!

LMW

Master Bathroom Reveal

Designing a bathroom is a little more complex than installing a closet - as I found out first hand! The room isn’t a blank canvas of a neat box, but instead more of a puzzle of plumbing, structural issues, and of course, organizing needs.

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Before we started the design, I knew exactly how I wanted to organize the space. We wanted a separate tub and shower, as well as a water closet with a door, and double sinks. I have found that double sinks are one of those little luxuries that really cut down on minor spousal squabbles! And I wanted both individual and shared storage areas, since many toiletries are person specific but you also need a spot for medication, first aid supplies, and other things everyone uses.

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I worked closely with both my architect, Stuart Hills of Apparatus Architecture, and my contractor (no website, booked for the next 3 years, that’s life in San Francisco) to create the design. I picked out the herringbone floor tile and marble counter top, and suggested the black on white tile frames on the opposing walls. It was my contractor who suggested turning a negative (an extremely thick foundation that runs along the back wall of the entire room) into a positive (the continuous counter top that gives us an extra deep sink area and provides a shelf in both the shower and tub areas). And it was Stuart who steered me away from a tile backsplash (too dated) and suggested instead that we mount the medicine cabinets and light fixtures on a mirrored surface.

There are, as ever, trade offs whenever you design a space. In order to get the aforementioned double sinks, we had to sacrifice vanity storage space. So, we went with medicine cabinets for our individual toiletry needs, and use the drawers in the middle of the vanity for shared products. The under sink areas each have pull out drawers where we store backup and travel sized products. 

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I’m really big into uncluttered surfaces in my own home. So, everything that you can see out on the countertop has a purpose and was specifically selected. In the shower, that means only the products we use daily are there. It’s aesthetically pleasing, but totally unnecessary, to pick a single brand for your shower - hey Kiehl’s, if you were to make a shaving cream for ladies, that would really completely my picture here - it’s just important to edit down to what you really need. I’m also a fan of buying larger containers where possible to cut down on the amount of plastic you use overall.

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Clutter free living in a bathroom also means that my medicine cabinet has to hold all my skincare and hair products. Since this photo was taken, I have actually also moved all my makeup here as well - the mirrored storage unit on the counter by the tub was bugging me! I manage this by maintaining a high quality, tightly edited collection. Although I’m actually quite a product junkie, following new releases and keeping a list of things I’d like to try, I follow a hard and fast rule: I can only have one of each type of product open and in use at any one time, with no more than one backup stored for when it runs out. No, I can’t buy everything shiny, new, and pretty to hit the market. But, what I do have is everything I need at my fingertips and a truly enjoyable primping experience because I love each and every product (well, maybe not the zit cream…).

I’m so happy with how our master bathroom turned out, and I feel like I’ve settled into a nice groove of being able to get ready efficiently every day. Because that’s what organizing is all about in the end - making life easier!

LMW

What. The. BLEEP.

I follow a lot of other professional organizers on Instagram - it’s fun to see what people are working on and get inspiration from their projects! But something I saw the other day really shocked me on a visceral level.

Below a picture of a spare pantry shelf featuring neatly categorized snacks in open wire baskets was a caption with a “pro tip”. The organizer suggested that to give your pantry a desirable, high end look, you should purchase attractive snacks and fancy water (SmartPop and Fiji were mentioned by name), store them in pretty rows and wire baskets, and then… Never. Eat. Them.

WHAT?? Guys. Wait. No. Seriously??

The first pantry I ever organized - nicely labeled and containerized, but still very functional!

The first pantry I ever organized - nicely labeled and containerized, but still very functional!

Let’s unpack this for a second. I’ve been processing this for a few days now, and I’m still just staggered that this organizer is suggesting you devote storage space to things that you do not need and will not consume in order to create a certain look. In a room in your house that NO ONE EVER GOES IN.

First of all, we’ve got the straight up waste. I don’t know about you, but food waste really bothers me. It’s not just a waste of money, but also of the resources used to grow, manufacture, and package the food. Food waste is also a huge environmental problem, taking up space in sewers and landfills. And there are hungry people in this country for goodness’ sake - it’s just extraordinarily poor taste to flaunt never-to-be-touched food in a public forum.

Second of all, this is an epic case of Keeping Up With The Jones’ (or Kardashians, if you’ve seen the pics of their cookie jars that no one eats from). It’s another example of mindless consumption at its least constructive. If you actually eat SmartPop and drink Fiji water, and have large enough pantry in which to store them in pretty wire baskets with lots of white space, awesome! But if you don’t, create your own custom version of a well organized food storage area and live your truth. I find it extremely ethically suspect to recommend that people put on a facade of a lifestyle they do not live. It can only lead to feeling more empty behind that false front.

Another straightforward pantry I organized for a busy young family.

Another straightforward pantry I organized for a busy young family.

And third, we’ve got the total perversion of the entire point of organizing a home. The reason to get organized is to make your life easier. Full stop. Organized living means you spend less time and energy dealing with your stuff, and instead devote those resources to the relationships and activities that truly matter to you. A pantry full of pretty uneaten food contributes to an easier life in exactly zero ways.

I’m just… I’m agog. It’s all well and good to create an aesthetically pleasing home. But to go to this degree in a PANTRY? Where no one goes except the people who live in that house? Just so you can post pictures on social media? Of measuring up to somebody else’s idea of what “high end” is and why that is desirable? I am so squicked out by the whole idea.

I’ve now been helping people organize their homes for over five years. And I can tell you conclusively that happiness does not come from more stuff, or fancier stuff. It comes from feeling love, connection, and contribution. A fake “high end” pantry will not make anyone any happier.

LMW

Overwhelmed by Creativity

Creativity comes along with a lot of stuff. One of my very first clients absolutely loves scrapbooking. She has a ton of backlogged projects and is always finding new inspiration. She also has all the latest and greatest scrapbooking tools and a bountiful supply of card stock, paper, ribbon, washi tape, etc. for when the creative mood strikes! As you might imagine, all this equipment and material takes up an awful lot of space and is relatively complex to keep organized. 

A little #organizationporn for all my needleworkers and color enthusiasts!

A little #organizationporn for all my needleworkers and color enthusiasts!

When I work with highly creative, inspired clients, I’m still doing the same thing I always do: helping them to edit their belongings so that we can create a streamlined organizing system that supports their goals and is easy to maintain. This does mean that I help my clients edit their raw materials and project ideas. And edit is a pretty word for delete, or throw away.

This may sound like I’m trying to limit my clients’ creativity in the interests of creating a gorgeous organizing system. And I can see that perspective. But here’s why I believe that even the most creative people benefit from careful editing.

  1. A human being only has so much time and energy. Many incredibly creative people I work with can think of more projects in a day than they could complete in years. And the more projects you add, the more stuff accumulates… but the more projects remain unfinished, or even un-started. Which leads me to…

  2. The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve finished a creative endeavor and send it out into the world - whether it’s submitting a book for publishing or just getting that photo you’re so proud of framed and hung - is incredible. It’s rewarding, and it fuels you for the next project. If you have too many ongoing ideas, you’ll never actually get through any of them, and you’ll rob yourself of the opportunity to be proud of your finished product. And anyway…

  3. There’s freedom in limitation that can lead to all kinds of surprising inspiration. It’s like kids who play for hours with the box a playhouse came in and don’t seem all that interested in the house itself - the blank canvas of a box, although it has fewer features, gives them more room for imaginative play. Plus, there’s a dark side to endless possibilities…

  4. I often work with clients who feel a sense of guilt or inadequacy from knowing that they are not following through on some great ideas. I ask them the question: will it feel better to keep this project around and know that it’s available to you to work on, or will it feel better to acknowledge that you don’t have the time and energy to complete it and let go of the idea to focus on other projects? It’s often not until I voice this question out loud that they realize how much a of a burden some projects have become!

I have to admit, I identify  and sympathize strongly with many of my creative clients. As I build my business, I’m always coming up with new ideas and projects! But I have to remember to focus on delivering my services to the very best of my ability every day, and add only those things that I truly have the time and energy to maintain.

So, creativity is not the opposite of organization! In fact, a great organizing scheme can really support your creative projects and help you bring more of those brilliant ideas to fulfillment. 

LMW

Rethink Your Approach: A 3-Step System for Organizing Paper

What if I told you that the average adult couple needs just one standard size file drawer to store all the paper they require for their personal lives?

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Many people I talk to about organizing immediately bring up their struggle with paper. From the influx of mail to all the paper that comes home from school with kids, the sheer amount of paper in our lives can be really overwhelming. Yes, even in the year 2019, when we have theoretically gone digital!

There’s just something about paper. Maybe it’s a holdover from an earlier age, when every single piece of paper was potentially important… and also irreplaceable. Maybe it’s because we’ve been burned by digital storage in the past. Maybe it’s because we still don’t fully trust the privacy of digital storage. I suspect that for many of us, it’s a combination of the above. 

No matter why we struggle with paper, we can’t avoid it, so we need a way to deal with it! And in order to get to a place where we have only the paper we need, we have to reframe the way we think about it. 

I’ve developed a three-tiered system for addressing paper that I use in my own life, and that serves as the basis of paper management systems I set up for all my clients.  It works like this: when a piece of paper comes into your home, it can fall into one of three possible categories:

1) This is an important record that must be kept in paper format (e.g. mortgage paperwork, car title)

> All important records should be kept in a neatly organized filing system. I personally recommend a drawer because it is less likely that files will get banged up or rearranged. 

Pro tip: if you have a folder labeled “Miscellaneous” - you’ll never find those items when you’re looking for them! File documents the way that you would think to retrieve them.

2) This represents an action item (e.g. pay a bill, RSVP to an invitation)

>All paper action items should be kept in one location within your field of vision where you usually take care of these sorts of tasks. The idea is that you will constantly be presented with these items so you won’t forget to do them, but they won’t be spread everywhere creating clutter that overwhelms you.

Pro tip: once you’ve done the action item, toss the paper immediately and enjoy the feeling of relief!

3) This can be tossed immediately

>Anything not in the above categories can be thrown away. Notice that I said, “can,” not “must.” I encourage all my clients to reframe their perspective on paper and let go of the pieces they don’t need, but I also acknowledge that everyone has a different comfort level and may need to move to a low-paper lifestyle over time.

Pro tip: most of the paper that comes into your home fits in this third category!

If a deluge of paper is overwhelming you and your household, try on my three tiered system for size and let me know how it goes!

LMW

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

My Most Difficult Organizing Job

Last week, I was explaining my work to someone, and they asked me a question I actually had never been asked before. They wanted to know what had been my most difficult job, and why.

I have been so fortunate to have absolutely wonderful clients over the past few years. There really have not been any horror stories - my clients have listened to me, trusted me, and been honest with me. I value the relationship I have with each client, and remain incredibly grateful they have allowed me into their lives to help them.

That said, one job does come to mind. The client wanted me to help unpack following a move - which is a great time to get organized! However, this person was also absolutely unwilling to consider changing any habits or getting rid of any items at all whatsoever. This person believed that I could wield some sort of organizer magic to make the stuff they owned take up less space and look prettier, without requiring them to put in any effort to change.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that’s not what it’s about. I do not wave a magic wand, and I do not do cosmetic fixes. I create an organizing system that works for each of my individual clients, and then I make it look beautiful. People come to me because they realize that their space is not working for them, and I do my very best work when they are willing to undertake change.

Plus, when you come right down to it, organizing and storage are limited by the rules of physics. There is nothing I can do to make a certain number of shirts suddenly take up less physical space. I cannot bend the space-time continuum! This is why I always tell people that organizing is not about the storage, it is first and foremost about the stuff.

So there you have it: my most difficult organizing job. And if that’s all I’ve had to deal with, then I count myself very lucky indeed!

LMW

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