Paring Down

Now that we’ve been in the new place for over a year, I’ve been making a lot of progress on downsizing; the idea is to have more items leave the condo than come in. Since this place is more permanent (I certainly don’t plan to retire here, but I am not obsessing about my “next” place either), I have been parting with things that I “might” have needed to schlep to the next apartment, “just in case,” and focusing on organizational systems, furniture, and the like that serves a specific purpose. Things that were great for old haunts don’t make the cut for the new place.

One example is the plethora of curtains we bought for our bungalow in Kansas. When that place was built in the 30’s, numerous small windows were the way to go, and as such we had to buy a lot of curtains to dress them all. Between the guest room, bedroom, living room, and dining room we amassed twelve pairs of curtains. And that wasn’t even all the windows (some went bare). Our current place has four windows. Four. So, that’s one concrete example of super practical downsizing now that I know what I really need. I sold some online and donated the others to Salvation Army, and now I have a dresser drawer’s worth of space free! Just from finally purging curtains! I think that window dressings can be a semi-expensive furnishing that’s worth dragging from rental to rental until finally reaching a point which seems more stable.

 

Kitchen Essentials

Another example is kitchen stuff. Before I quit my gig at SLT I invested in a few pieces as far as pots and pans go. Three great items in, five good items out (to friends or goodwill). I followed the same rationale that I did when I upgraded my kitchen knives (which I’m still totally satisfied with, btw). If I invest in long-term and higher-quality pieces, I won’t have to shop for those items again for ten, twenty years, or in the case of stainless steel pots… maybe ever again! It’s a nice feeling. The employee discount helped, for sure, but I still recommend buying the best that is available and practical at the time, even if saving up for a little while is necessary.

My recommendations? Shun Sora 8″ chef’s knife // Scanpan CTX frying pan //
Mauviel 5-ply stainless steel pots // Global knives // affiliate links

Furniture is next. After a year we know what works and what doesn’t in this place. It’s an area where the pinch is really evident though– swapping out a sofa is not the same as purging a closet or investing in a stainless steel saucepan. I am in the market for a sofa and a bed frame, and probably new bedside tables, too. But I am going to play the long game and make sure we get the right item at the right price, instead of looking for the instant (cheap) fix.

Overall, I honestly hope this isn’t coming off as braggy or materialistic, I have just been reflecting on quality over quantity. Long-term investments slowly replacing short-term solutions. In addition to that– getting things repaired instead of replaced. I took some of my sandals to the shoe repair and two weeks and $12 later, they are better than new. I feel this is how generations before us filled our homes, and many people now see items as so cheap and disposable that the idea of “made for life” is largely forgotten.

Next on my list to pare down is media. Do you have any tips or personal rules when it comes to getting rid of books, cds, dvds? I hate to admit it, because I really love books, but having a Kindle has helped a lot. Please leave any advice in the comments! 

Some Thoughts on DVD Storage

Months and months ago, Libby asked me for some tips on inexpensive and attractive ways to store DVDs and I came up with exactly zero ideas.

At first thought, it would seem that with Netflix and Redbox the age of buying DVDs is over. Shout it from the rooftops! Movies on your computer! …That is, until you get the very strong hankering to watch a particular movie that can’t be found anywhere (I’m looking at you, “The Parent Trap”). Yes, there is still benefit to owning DVDs. I appreciate that unlike books, the cases are all a uniform size, but on the other hand,the spines are not particularly attractive as decor items. They’re rigid, shiny, and often garish.

Right after we got married, Doug and I took our duplicates (of which there were many–hurrah for similar taste in entertainment) to Hastings and sold them for store credit. Then, last year before moving we took a critical look at our collection and weeded out even more DVDs. We sold them, and got enough store credit to buy four brand new vinyl albums!  I say this to emphasize the fact that while our collection isn’t particularly small, it has been weeded through–twice! So, here we are. With a DVD collection that spans almost nine feet.

Completed Pine Shelving

The DVDs take up 2/3 of the second shelf and a good 1/3 of the bottom shelf. 

The nice thing about our newly installed shelves is that the DVDs line up in an orderly fashion and don’t look particularly heinous. When we get a media unit with closed doors, I know I will move a large chunk of them into concealed storage, though. Books just look so much nicer on display, don’t you think?

Protip: One good way to distract from the DVD overload is to prop small picture frames up in front of them every so often. It helps add a layered look.

Other DVD storage options are using totes, using under-bed storage boxes (if your couch is high enough off the floor), making a custom drawer movie storage system: Check out this Making it Lovely post for an A+ example… or, if you feel comfortable ditching the plastic cases, using binders, which is a good way to consolidate a very large collection.

If you have any tips, I would love to hear them!! I feel that this is a problem that plagues lots of people who, like me, appreciate a good looking space but also love their movies. Let’s get a conversation going… ’cause I could use all the ideas you have. 

Under the Sink

I like to think that I run a tight ship as far as cleaning products are concerned. I’ve found that a few products are enough to handle most jobs. Case in point: underneath my kitchen sink:

Under the Sink

Pictured:

  • Method hand soap refill packet,
  • paper towels (we swear by Bounty),
  • Arm & Hammer pet stain and odor remover,
  • Glad trash bags,
  • bleach pen,
  • germ-x,
  • IKEA mineral oil for cutting boards,
  • Febreeze (hiding behind the divider),
  • dog food,
  • Oxy-Clean, Windex,
  • Method grapefruit all-purpose cleaner,
  • dishwasher tablets (Finish brand),
  • Swiffer furniture polish spray
  • (Laundry detergent and dryer sheets are kept in the bedroom closet next to the hamper)

I know that for the majority of my life, that is, taking into account my parents’ house and my prior two living spaces, “under the sink” was something I avoided thinking about at all costs. Terrifying visions of avalanches, suspicious chemicals, and the possibility of bugs (which I always associate with dark enclosed spaces) made me avoid thinking about it–and subsequently avoid cleaning and organizing said space.

News flash: the only way to improve the quality of a space is to clean it! Get rid of all the products you hate or never use. When we moved last fall, I didn’t relish the idea of transporting cleaners and chemicals across the country. I had the notion that heat and elevation changes would result in a moving truck full of exploded cleaning agents. This probably wouldn’t have happened. We used up all we could and gave the rest of our cleaners to the new residents anyway.

When restocking the cleaning supplies, we relied on past experience and only got what we knew worked. I’ve been happy with all these products (with the exception of the pet stain remover, which is fine but not my favorite) and haven’t had to spend needless amounts of money on “the next amazing cleaning product.” I think it helps that I surf the internet with AdBlock engaged and we don’t watch TV (just Netflix and Hulu) so our exposure to commercials is pretty limited.

If I were to add two items to my arsenal, it would be white vinegar and a Mr. Clean magic eraser. They’re going on the grocery list right now.

Got any favorite products I need to know about? And hey, thanks for weighing in on my last two moving-related posts. Lots of great food for thought there. 

An Office in a Drawer

You’ve seen my desk before, but today allow me to share a photo of the rest of my office:

Office in a Drawer

Whenever I can, I try to think of my experience living here in 850 sq ft and share what I’ve learned with other apartment dwellers. One of my small space solutions is paring down office clutter and keeping a streamlined system of the most useful items! I certainly don’t have a spare room to function as an office and guest room anymore, so I decluttered a lot of things I used to think were office essentials.

Items I now consider essential for my “office” are as follows:

  • Pens, Pencils, Sharpies
  • Stapler
  • Envelopes
  • Sticky notes
  • Blank paper (printer paper and lined paper)
  • Checks
  • Stamps
  • Tape (scotch tape and packing tape)
  • Ruler
  • Blank cards for all occasions
  • (Honorable mention: three hole punch. Not a necessity, I find it useful.)

I know the list will be different for many people, but even working in an actual office for a year, I still feel like this minimal list will meet the basic needs 99% of the time.

Having a dresser smack dab in the living room is something many might consider unconventional, but I am really pleased with how well it has functioned in storing all kinds of things. I highly recommend it as a storage solution for those living somewhere small. All of my dishtowels, cloth napkins, and placemats are in one drawer. Packing and shipping materials for my Etsy store live in another drawer (along with some random board games). Anyway, today I am going to focus on the top right drawer and share with you how I maximized the space to hold all of my office essentials.

Slightly messy office drawer

Every now and then, it’s good to reorganize a space like this. Even though I threw away very little, it’s a good refresher to know where everything is and to straighten up a little bit. I started by taking all of the items out of the drawer:

Items that live in my office drawer

As you can see above, my desk is made up of a wooden top and a set of two legs. There aren’t desk drawers to speak of! The crate turned on its end holds files and techy gear (charger cords, software CDs, etc). Everything else lives clear across the room (oh, the horror of getting up and walking across the room!) When I do need to make the interminable trek of about 12 feet, it’s nice knowing that everything will be exactly where I expect it to be.

So, I set about putting everything back into the drawer in a orderly manner. I even emptied out the white box, and placed things back into it thoughtfully. Seldom-used items like a box full of new checks are on the bottom layer, and frequently used items like tape and stamps are easily accessible. I condensed two of the boxes of envelopes. A few things like the swiffer and the cube with prom photos on it (!!) got moved to other places in the apartment. I do have a separate craft drawer in another room, so from there I took out this woven box of notecards for all occasions and replaced it with a ream of printer paper and some lined paper. Those are essential, but I found I don’t use access as often as I use these cards.

Everything got put back in neatly:

Office drawer organization

Office drawer organization

Don’t have a spare dresser in your living room? Go back and look at the list at the beginning of this post. All (or most) of these items would fit very easily in a milk crate, in a paper box, in an under-bed box, or even in a kitchen drawer! It’s easy to run a tight ship if you simply keep just the essentials on hand (and avoid the siren song of the school supply section of Target in the fall).

I’m certainly no expert on eliminating clutter altogether, but in this realm I think I’ve got it whipped.

Any things you consider essential that aren’t on my list? Do you have a smart way to hide boring stuff like office supplies? Please share in the comments!

Getting a Storage Unit

It’s a little-known fact that a large proportion of city dwellers have a secret spot to stash a small percentage of their junk. Okay, this statement is more true in very dense places like New York City, Singapore, or Tokyo, but for us I think it will be a good solution for our peace-of-mind.

The apartment, while spacious, doesn’t have the kind of storage we had gotten used to (a garage and a basement for crying out loud!). We did get very creative as far as solutions go–we created a DIY sofa table to hide two monstrous speakers and barstools, we organized our bedroom closet like it was a high-stakes game of tetris, and used the white dresser in ingenious ways… it became media storage, office storage, linen storage, and more.

Faking a Sofa Table

Hiding some larger items behind the sofa was one solution

All this junk tucked “in plain sight” was starting to wear on me and I thought it might be worth the peace of mind if we got some of it out of the way. That way the items that we did have up here in the apartment would have “breathing room” and the whole place would feel more peaceful. I know the obvious solution to my first-world problem would be to simply donate or trash the other items but don’t we all have some stuff that we feel like hanging onto but don’t want in plain sight? Since we hope to move to a much larger place (home, condo or townhouse) within a few years, I feel like storing some of this stuff will make sense in the “medium-run” (that’s somewhere between the short run and the long run).

Goals: 

  1. To rid the living room of the brown wardrobe. It was exactly what we needed at our last place, where proper closets were lacking. In this place, however, we do not lack for hanging bar storage, and the wardrobe with its one shelf did not provide the right kind of storage for us. The dark brown mass also made the living room seem artificially small and closed-in. Goal: Accomplished! Wardrobe sold for $80 on Craigslist. 
  2. To free myself of the over-the-door shoe hanger. To be honest, I do love it–but it makes it impossible to close the bedroom door. I have to sleep with the door closed at night or else I will worry that Mosey will roam the apartment leaving messes and chewed items in his wake (a bit of an unfounded fear, but tell that to me at 3AM). Goal: Under way. I’ll have to pick up an inexpensive shoe rack at Target or IKEA this week. 
  3. To make better use of the bedroom closet shelf. This ties in with #1 and #2; I would like to move essential items to the closet and ensure they are easily accessible. Other non-essential items, like holiday decoration or equipment boxes (that we like to keep for when we move) can be tucked away but be ready when we need them. Goal: Accomplished! 

storage unit

Here’s the little storage unit in all it’s glory! We left the right part free so we can stash our bikes when the weather gets warmer and we actually feel like using our balcony. Note what appears to be evidence of water there at the back. This is why we placed the durable plastic totes on the bottom–just in case our stuff gets its “feet wet.” The barstools and speakers pictured in the other photo above will make their way down here too, probably, or be moved into the bedroom closet now that a lot of space has been freed up in there. We have one more plastic tote that’s being loaded up which will go underneath the big suitcase in the foreground.

I kind of feel like a cheater since I’m trying to inspire apartment dwellers to “work with what ya got,” but this solution, made available to us through our complex, makes sense for us right now.

Overall, I know we’re probably overpaying for the amount of space we’re getting, but if it helps me feel less antsy about moving again (which we don’t really want to do when the lease is up in September) then it’s worth it. The apartment already feels larger, even if it’s kind of crazytown in here. I gave you two sneak peeks last week and we haven’t even gotten around to rearranging the furniture yet since I was knocked out by a cold this weekend. All in due time, friends!

Faking a Sofa Table

Sometimes you have awkwardly large items you need to store, and no place to do so. In our case, two large speakers and two bar stools. Where to put them? One option is to get rid of them, but I really, really love these bar-height stools and look forward to using them in a future home, once we’ve moved on from our current apartment. The speakers will be cool when hooked up to a turntable someday (unfortunately, the turntable we have does not have any output capabilities except the speakers in its unit) so we’re holding on to those for the future as well.

That said, when you’re dealing with just over 800 square feet, every space must be maximized to its full potential. There is no spare bedroom, basement, or garage to hoard items in–which is quite the learning curve for my since the last place we lived had all three of those hoarding storage solutions.

I really (really, really, really) like the console table that John built to go behind the Petersik’s sofa in the living room over on Young House Love. It has a ton of hidden storage and adds a lot of dimension to the room. I thought perhaps I could take a clue from that and come up with some kind of storage/hiding place solution in our apartment! All it took was a little brainstorming and one pre-finished shelf board at Home Depot.

I love the look that a sofa table adds to a room. It gives the space much more dimension than just having the couch shoved up against the wall and in the corner.

The finished product:

The untrained eye would never guess what is going on behind the couch! It is a fantastic place to keep some of my more attractive (and more frequently thumbed-through) design books, a few pretty tchotchkes, and a much-needed lamp. It also provides an alternative place to put snacks and drinks while watching TV, since the coffee table is simply too dog-accessible.

And a peek behind the curtain:

The cloth runner (from Target) is up there for two reasons: a) it looks pretty, and b) the shelf board is a little shorter than I like so this hides that awkward fact pretty well.

If I ever get around to it, another shelf board slid on to the lower bar stool rungs will be a great addition for a little bit more concealed storage.

And a bonus shot, with a little explanation:

I realize I never showed the world the back of the couch cushions! When we purchased the gray microsuede for our upholstery, it was a remnant and about a yard short of the needed amount to cover all the cushions. We went ahead and selected an inexpensive contrasting canvas printed with french postmark stamps (I think?) to make up the difference. So far we have been able to arrange the furniture so that it remains hidden.

Now you know our (not so dirty) little secret! Have you ever gotten creative with something like this? I bet they do a lot of creative “faking it” for furniture on TV and movie sets, don’t you?

Storage Wars

To be 100% honest, I have never seen the show that this post is named after. Storage does seem to be a war a lot of the time, though. “Me vs. My Stuff.” Sometimes I win, sometimes the stuff wins…

This week, I have been doing a lot of thinking about storage. Not for myself, because the storage situation in our current house is a nightmare (No idea what we’d do without the basement as a catch-all), but because an old friend of mine asked for some advice on reorganizing her closet.

Armed with measurements, pictures, and two “rules” to keep in mind: 1) consider a limited budget, and 2) no plastic bins (due to smell of off-gassing VOCs and environmental concerns) I proceeded to to research online for smart, well-designed storage options to maximize a space that, to be honest, was pretty much already “at capacity.”

Color: I went with storage pieces in a coordinating color palette: light wood tones and white. Lots of storage options come in these colors, so it’s an easy theme to go with, and to me it’s important that visually the space looks clean and crisp, especially when storing a lot of different items–it is easy to get overwhelmed by competing colors, patterns, and textures, and having some continuity can help tame the chaos.

Click the image below to be taken to my Storage Pinterest board where you can access each item at it’s respective store.

Items, in what I consider order of importance:

  1. One of my college roommates (who had a TON of clothes) got a drop-down secondary closet rod. It literally doubles the number of normal-length shirts one can hang up. The one I have selected here just hangs from the existing rod, meaning that there is no permanent installation! With an adustable length, it can accomodate the right number of shirts, and still have some space left on the high bar for dresses and other long items.
  2. Shelving: Storing items in stacked boxes is fine, if you don’t need to access the items in the bottom ones! Utilizing a shelving system with pull-out bins helps make items accessible, yet concealed. I especially like this system for shoes: a few pairs of shoes can go in each bin sorted by color or level of formality, and even men’s shoes should be able to fit. Other things like “tech junk” that is rarely used but seems like a good thing to keep around, scarves or other soft accessories. I do not own an EXPEDIT but I truly think that the repetition of the square shape can help any craziness seem a bit more orderly. Plus, with the open back, the large versions can even “float” in the middle of a room, defining space and providing storage at the same time.
  3. Laundry bin: Purchasing a large, durable and attractive laundry bin makes it possible to tuck it in the corner of a room and gain some real estate in the closet. Also, if you’re like me, a laundry bin stored in the closet will overflow onto the floor and the carpet ends up 100% obscured by dirty clothes. Putting it out in the open is a simple reminder to do laundry once it’s full (at least, this works for me). Here’s a cheaper DIY option for those with less coin, but more time on their hands.
  4. Hanging garment bags. I would LOVE to get one of these for myself to keep my out-of-season coats or special-occasion dresses in. Things have a tendency to get dusty, and I don’t want to have to sift through my not-frequently-worn items to make sure I didn’t tuck something in the back of the closet. I don’t want a ton of these cluttering up my closet, but corralling these particular items in a specific “pod” would be super-organized and super-functional!
  5. Shelf organizers. I can see these being a game-changer for anyone trying to organize multiple items on the shelf. Books, purses, other boxes… keep things from cascading into an empty space when one item is removed temporarily.

Stay tuned later in the week for some more organization goodness, featuring many of the items I blogged about today!