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Stowing it Away: Where to Put It

The longer we live in a home, the more belongings we accumulate. Day by day, our house seems to shrink. Stuffed closets, crammed cabinets, and a basement jammed full of who-knows-what – but there is still more we want to stow!

All those piles can be pretty daunting. Of course, if we’ve got money to burn, we can always buy a larger house or build an addition, but most of us are looking for a less expensive solution.

Fortunately, the problem of clutter can be tackled. The key is to take it one step at a time.

The first step is to ask yourself a very broad question: “Do I have more ‘things’ than I really want to have?” Another way of asking the same question is, “Do I own all these things, or are they starting to own me?”

Most of us feel saddled with too much stuff, but feel overwhelmed by the challenge of having to make all those tough decisions that go along with paring back.

You can simplify the task by mentally separating your things into categories. Use broad categories so that you end up with no more than ten groups of things. Your list might go something like this: “Keepsakes, books, magazines, clothes, construction materials, files, toys, and furniture.” To start, pick the category that is least threatening. Let’s say you choose “clothes.”

Next, decide if, overall, you really need all the clothes you have. Try to come up with a general number. Let’s say you decide that you need about 50 percent of the clothes you have. After all, everyone has things they haven’t worn in years.

Armed with that number, dive tight in and start making decisions, one garment at a time. Ask yourself, “Is this in the top 50 percent of my favorite clothes, or the bottom 50 percent?” If the item doesn’t make the cut, put it in the “to go” pile.

As you go through each category, you may find that your resolve starts slipping. If this happens, take a moment to reflect on the reason. There are many reasons why we are reluctant to get rid of old things. They may spark good memories, or we might think they would prove valuable to others. Sometimes, we simply remember how much we paid for the item. Other times, we think we just might need the item in the future.

Think about what is holding you back. If memories are the reason, pick a few items that best evoke a set of memories – kind of like designating ambassadors from another time in your life. By narrowing the quantity of memorabilia, you’ll find it much easier to take good care of the few special items you choose to keep.

Choosing someone specific to give the things to can also make parting easier. Perhaps there is a family member, neighbor, or friend who might appreciate the item? And if you end up giving it to charity, you not only enjoy the pleasure of giving to those in need, but also stand to earn helpful tax deductions.

Another great way to part with things is to have a garage sale. But keep in mind that garage sales are not for everyone. However, for those that enjoy the process, it can be a great way to find new homes for your things. At the same time, you’ll get meet some people and reconnect with neighbors you probably haven’t seen for a while.

And when the sale is over, you’re likely to find that you have a surprising amount of cash. The hardest part might be resisting the temptation to run out and buy some more things!

Once you’ve trimmed down on possessions, it’s time to look at your four basic storage enhancement options: reallocating spaces, improving infrastructure, opening new spaces, and moving things to remote storage.

Some storage spaces are very handy and easy to access. The odds are good that you’ve got some low priority items occupying some of this prime real estate. For example, do you have cans of soup in the basement and the large turkey platter in the top cabinet in the kitchen? Unless you use the platter often, you should switch where you store these items. As you move things, keep in mind that some items are more vulnerable to hazards -like basement dampness and attic heat.

You can also increase the convenience and capacity of many storage places with relatively inexpensive enhancements. Lazy susans, pullout shelves, and special trays can make kitchen cabinets much more useful. Utilize file cabinets, rather than shelves or boxes, to make papers and files more accessible and compact.

Attics can be made more useful with added flooring, better lighting and pull-down stairs. Get more effective use out of the basement by installing shelves and improved lighting. Also, consider improving basement air circulation to help guard against moisture damage.

Add shelves, extra rods and bins to increase the usable space in closets. While super-efficient systems are sold and installed by closet specialists, you can also buy a full range of accessories at the local hardware store and install them yourself or with the help of a handyperson.

Most houses have additional, untapped storage areas. Do you have access to every part of the attic? Is there a hollow bulkhead over the kitchen cabinets that can be opened for additional storage? Is there space in your garage or carport for a storage loft? Walk around and through the whole house, specifically scouting for new storage opportunities in existing spaces.

Finally, if your belongings still outstrip your house, consider renting a locker at one of those mini-storage places. Though not cheap, they offer an ideal solution to temporarily storing large amounts of stuff for a few months in preparation for a move or a remodeling project.

The clutter monster can be tamed. It’s just a matter of approaching the matter systematically and establishing broad priorities up front.

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