Optimize Your Living Space … By Pretending to Move

By Bonnie Hillman Shay

The new year is a great time to commit time and effort to optimizing the spaces you live (and work) in. We all feel lighter and calmer when our spaces feel under control. As a professional organizer, I see people going through challenging times (e.g., divorce, illness, loss, etc.). I find that for such people, the more under control they feel about their home environs, the more able they are to deal with the bigger issues in their lives and take care of others (this idea follows the guidelines of “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”)

To that end, I encourage my clients to pretend they are moving every 5-7 years so that they have the opportunity to review their possessions and usage of space. As a result, they lighten their inventory of possessions, which frees up space and gives them a boost on how they use their space. This effort can be very rewarding and rejuvenating, besides giving them a new perspective on and appreciation of their living space.

Tips to help you through the process

  • Empty everything out of each storage area in the room (cabinets, drawers, closets, etc.)
  • Review each item and categorize (e.g., keep, discard — trash or recycle — or donate). Make this effort easier by asking the following four questions:
    • Do you use it?
    • Do you love it?
    • Do you need it?
    • Is it irreplaceable?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, chances are it is something you will keep. If you answer “no” to all of these questions, chances are it is a good candidate to let go of.

Principles for deciding where to store everything

  • Prime Real Estate: The spaces that are most easily reached should be filled with items that you use on a regular basis (e.g., coffee for breakfast or favorite skillet). The items that you infrequently use (e.g., punch bowl or xmas tree holder) are put in less accessible spaces.  Remove obstacles and make it easier to reach things.
  • Centralize: Keep like things together so you will more easily remember where to look for such items (e.g., all batteries or all light bulbs). There are some exceptions to this rule (e.g., toilet paper will be in each bathroom). Make the “finding” effort as easy as possible for yourself.
  • Leave Space: Don’t fill cabinets, drawers and closets to their maximum capacity. This makes it easier to reach all things in the space and leaves you some breathing room. This provides you with visual peace and calm when you open your drawers, cabinets and closets.

If you feel stuck in managing these efforts, a professional organizer is an ideal person to help you in the following ways:

  • Lead you through the review, edit and purge process.
  • Help decide where to store everything.
  • Make the process less tedious, more fun and less overwhelming.

I wish you great progress towards optimizing your living space and restoring peace and calm to your surroundings.

Bonnie Hillman Shay