A Space-Starved Brooklynite’s Best Home Organization Advice: Get Rid of Your Stuff

Photo by Dustin Aksland

Out with the old — but not so much in with the new.

It’s become tradition to harness the optimism of the new year to get organized. But before you run out to the nearest Container Store or dream up a space-saving closet system, consider the top six insights from this studio-dwelling minimalist.

Growing up, I was actually a pack rat. But city life taught me a number of invaluable lessons. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. You don’t actually need that much stuff.

Or space, for that matter. In seven years of living in cramped city rooms, I’ve learned to live with less. For me, the benefits are worth it.

My rent is cheaper because I live in a small space. I can also move to a new apartment by putting my stuff in the trunk of a cab. I adore every possession I have.

This time of year, I’m especially thankful for the benefit of being able to organize all my things in just a couple of hours.

I’ve found that the less I own, the easier it is to keep organized, and the better I feel about my home. If there’s one rule to make organization more manageable and effortless in a small space, it’s getting rid of as much as you can stand.

Photo by Nina Holst via Stylizimoblog

2. But you do need enough clothes to make the laundry manageable.

For everyday garb, I own three pairs of pants and seven shirts. That means I have to pop by the laundromat every week. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll wash a few items by hand to make my clothes stretch for a few more days.

At one point I had just one pair of jeans and three shirts for my workwear. It was not enough.

But even now, the worst part is that my clothes never fill a washing machine on their own. So I end up doing my partner’s laundry every week to optimize the wash cycle. Always being the one who does the laundry can at times provoke mild feelings of resentment.

But if this is the worst drawback I feel for owning less that the average American, I’m probably good.

Photo via My Unfinished Home

3. Paper is more trouble than it’s worth.

Books? I have five on a shelf. My phone has the rest.

Christmas cards? I appreciate them for the month of December and then I take a picture and recycle the card. The same photography technique works for other sentimental but useless objects. That way I keep a reminder of what the object meant — but without the clutter.

Filing cabinets are black holes of unnecessary items. I’ve found that I’m better off without them. Any forms or paper I do need can be easily digitized with my phone.

A couple of years ago, I spent hours digitizing notes and resources from my grad school days. Have I ever looked at those meticulously scanned insights? Nope. Same goes with my digitized tax returns and health insurance mailings. But I’ll keep the files in the cloud just to be safe.

Now, as soon as I get a letter or other piece of paper at home, I try to process and recycle it right away.

Photo by Mesh Architects

4. Nagging a partner to get rid of stuff has the opposite effect.

It just doesn’t work. I’ve found that the most successful way to get a roommate or partner to get organized and clutter-free is to be organized myself.

Mere weeks after I stopped nagging my spouse to get rid of his books, unworn clothes, and miscellaneous electronics collection, he miraculously took decluttering into his own hands. Since moving into our studio, my husband has eliminated more than half of his previous possessions — and he recently digitized an entire archive of family photographs.

5. Avoid complicated, convertible multipurpose furniture.

This will probably be controversial, but in my experience, murphy beds, expandable tables, and tricked-out transforming apartments are more trouble than they’re worth.

When I still lived with roommates, I formulated a grand plan to outfit my meagre seven-by-nine-foot bedroom with a futon mattress on the floor that folded up into a storage bench that doubled as a desk. After a few weeks living with a mock-up version, I realized that I left the bed open 90 percent of the time. So I ditched the transformer plan and just stuck with the bed.

Rather than rely on complicated arrangements, it’s better to create a simplified space optimized to meet the majority of use cases.

Photo via Futon.cc

6. Cultivate hobbies that don’t require equipment.

I used to be a painter. When I had enough time and inspiration, I’d lay down a canvas drop cloth, set up my collapsable easel and break out the brushes and oil paints. It was glorious. But I did this — at most — a handful of times a year. When I wasn’t painting, the equipment took up nearly half a closet shelf.

At first, the prospect of giving away my painting things was scary — it felt like I was abandoning a part of my identity.

But I got just as much joy and inspiration from sketching in a notebook with a pen. And those tools fit easily in my purse. So out went the painting supplies. And I haven’t felt the loss.

Reading, photography, public speaking, long walks — all these activities can be enjoyed with a minimum of required tools.

What organization and de-cluttering strategies have most worked for you?

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Originally published at www.brownstoner.com on January 8, 2016.