Monday, April 07, 2008

an amazing trip trick: organization (part i)

Not long ago, I wanted to move.

I was desperate to move.

Because our house is relatively small, just a tad over 1,600 square feet, and we have a lot of small children in this space, it doesn't take much time for our home to become completely overrun with kid stuff and turn in to a disorderly disaster. And when our house is a disorderly disaster, it causes me great physical pain and emotional turmoil.

The fact is, I don't function well when my living space is cluttered. I'll slip in to a deep depression and feel out of sorts. My diet will deteriorate from three two well balanced meals a day to chocolate cake and apple cider. I'm not uptight or anal retentive, but I cannot live in chaos.

I just can't.

Last year at this time, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the stuff that we had packed in to this house - the toys, clothes, shoes and miscellaneous supplies which seemed to be shoved in to every square inch of available space. I was feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of where four children would sleep and where oh, where I would put anything new that came in.

We have one small closet for the kids - and it was packed to the brink.

Toys were breeding in the corners - flowing out across the rooms.

Books were falling off of bookshelves - pictures were falling out of albums.

Dressers were packed with clothes and there were little shoes everywhere.

Pots and pans and appliances were shoved in to cabinets. Linens were stuffed on to shelves. If I tried to get one thing out from the top of a closet - I had to hold my other hand up to prevent everything else from falling squarely on my head.

I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed out almost nonstop.

And there were more things coming in, daily.

Presents. Packages.

New clothes and toys and food for our children who were growing faster than I could have imagined.

I was convinced that we needed a much larger house. I honestly didn't see how it would be possible to raise four children in a three bedroom (one room is actually a den and devoid of a closet), two bathroom home that lacks a basement and attic (to speak of) and whose garage is occupied with a large, shedding, poop-eating dog.

After several months of talking and thinking non-stop about moving, I was finally dragged kicking and screaming, back to my senses. To sell our house and move to a bigger house would be a huge expense. And unless we were prepared to liquidate our retirement accounts, put our children in daycare, or hire a full-time nanny, so that we could both return to work full-time, we would not be able to cover our monthly expenses in the new pad.

Something had to give.

Ultimately, I went through every square inch of our house and made a determination of what we needed and what we didn't. I reorganized our home from top to bottom and side to side and in doing so, have maximized our usable space tenfold. I also discovered that in order to make living in a small space enjoyable (or at least tolerable), you must:

1) Possess the ability to get rid of stuff that you are no longer using or absolutely love.

2) Possess the ability to get organized and embrace the love that is a label maker.

3) Maximize your space and find creative ways of storing things.

These days, I can honestly say that I am throughly embracing our small space and I thank my lucky stars (and all of you that told me I was nuts for entertaining such thoughts) that we didn't sell this house - move to a larger house - and take on a monster mortgage. I am thankful that I am not responsible for cleaning a space that would be twice as large and trying to keep track of a baby that is constantly on the move. But mostly, I am thankful that we are able to afford our lifestyle and I am able to spend every waking moment with our children.

* twitch* twitch *

For the next few days, provided I'm not distracted, I am going to write about some of the big (and small) changes that we made and how we have simplified and organized our small home.

Tomorrow, I'm tackling toys.


  1. Ohhh I would love to hear all. We have a 4 bedroom home with two bathrooms and only one small boy but feel like it is way too small for us. I think really - it is just about ridding ourselves of things we just don;t need (like my highschool textbooks) and reorganising what we do have. Thank you for discussing this. Love it.

  2. That cake looks delicious. Is it from Costco?

  3. I personally think it is refreshing to hear a couple that is willing to live within their means and enjoy it.
    We are surrounded by people in our little town who are always "moving up" into bigger and better homes. It seems like enough is never enough.
    I look forward to your organization tips.

  4. This is a great idea. I've been looking for ways to get rid of some of our things recently. I just don't know where to start. Our house is a tad smaller than yours with only one child, and I don't know where I'd find room for one more (which I can't wait to add). I'd rather deal with it now. I can't wait to hear your ideas.

  5. I lived in a too small house for 9 years. I purged and kept nothing. And then we moved to a 2700 sq foot house and I purged some more! It is a great feeling to be rid of clutter and extras. Plus they get bigger and take up more space:) I can't wait to read what you did. I need a few organization tips for the mess that is my office.

  6. I can also use some of your great organization tips. We have about 1400, usable, square ft with 2 bedrooms (Ashlyn sleeps in a hallway) and only 1 bathroom/laundry. Our 4 kids are pretty much on top of each other. I have big plans to send my kids off to grandma's the end of this week so I can finally finish unpacking and turn our porch into a play room. Can't wait to hear what you've got.


  7. The pic of the cake at the top was just evil :) because now I think I am going to have to go bake something because I am drowning in my saliva at the moment so much I couldn't even concentrate on your post, but I got the jist of it and will be excited to see/hear how you do it....because I could use some serious organizing in my little 1200 ft home with the thousands (literallY) of toys, clothes, shoes and junk we have!

  8. Yes, girlfriend. How can you do this post and not supply the recipe for that devilish-looking cake?

    I'm all ears & eyes for your organizational posts. We're in a 1200 sq. footer with two kids and thinking of adding a 3rd to the mix. Darned So. Cal home prices are preventing us from moving into a bigger joint. I am drowning in stuff and it gives me the hives.

  9. Karen in Buffalo4/7/08, 1:04 PM

    Can't wait to read your tips! If they're as great as your others, I'm going to have to start ordering you some Jo-Jo's or something as a Thank You!
    I have to tell you that I bought a kite and our girls had a blast yesterday chasing the tails! They were pooped out and almost asking to go to bed last night!

  10. I've been in purge mode, too. We have a small, 2br apt and I, too, want desperately to move (for several reasons, not just the space). But with SIL coming to visit tomorrow and nothing but time on my hands since I lost my job, I too have been through every square inch. I'm embarrassed at how much we had accumulated and how much I threw away/gave away. I'm still looking forward to your tips. I still feel cluttered. Space bags are my new best friends.

  11. If you had bought a bigger house you would just find a way to fill it with stuff. We expended our house after #3 and we have a lot - LOT - more closet space and yet it is all full up to the brim. And we are NOT packrats.

  12. Is it bad that I keep revisiting, just to look at that piece of cake?

  13. I think the absolute best decision you have made is to stay in your house. Do you know if you would have bought that house last year at the PEAK of the real estate bubble, you'd be so upside down it wouldn't even be funny? THANK GOD you didn't do it. Do you even understand that you could have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars?

    I admire that you have chosen to live in the smaller space. I have NO IDEA how you do it. I can't imagine where you put your vacuum. (Although I can think of where you can put your vacuum! LOL!)

    But, seriously, you made a wise wise wise choice. I can't wait to get some organization tips. We are overflowing over here. Everyone I know lives in AT LEAST 3500 square feet and they only have just triplets.

  14. You will have thought of this.....but just in case you haven't. I am going to share an idea with you. When my kids were young, I took half the toys and packed them away in the rafters of the garage. In six months I would trade them with existing toys and they acted like that had all new toys as they had all but forgotten the put away ones. Of course, each time, I put away, I would purge some of the toys.

    I have two large storage cupboards in my garage now, filled with toys for visiting grandchildren and other kids. I even have a Thomas the Tank table and all the engines and cars and track all set up!! (in the garage) no dog out there, but a car is in the garage, also.

    In my toy cupboards I have lots of plastic boxes filled with activities. I label them with felt markers....or pictures of the toys inside the box. I have never gotten rid of any of my childrens' books, so they are in my huge wall bookshelf in the family room.

    Somehow, I'm thinking that you also have plastic bins and boxes, storage shelves, etc. So.......just take it from a fellow organizer--I seem to have to share my ideas.

    You are definitely on the right track to making the most of the room you have. I say, "hats off to you two for being content to stay where you are!"

    You are also fortunate that you live in a pretty nice climate and can let the children play outside more than some climates can. (like Oregon where it rains, and rains, and rains, but is always green!!)

    OH! I made your bread on Sat. Yum! Since I live alone now, I'm going to experiment with freezing the extra and see how that works out!! Thanks for the recipe--I think the cornmeal is what makes it taste so good.

  15. I have been thinking about this post since yesterday. I can say Ditto to this whole thought. The only difference is I am about five years behind on organizing and decluttering. If I could get that done I would have a beautiful perfect sized home. Love grows in small places. It is a daily struggle for me and one I tend to put on the back burner often. Anyhow I am thankful for your awesome writing skills and saying what I feel 99% of the time. I used to ask my self how did families do it before in little ramblers, they just did, they made it happen. I can too. looking forward to all your awesome tips to come:)