Have you ever noticed that more space attracts more stuff? Parkinson’s law says that work expands to fill the time you give it. And I think it tends to be true with physical space and material things.
More space? More things.
When we lived in Milan and we were just starting our family, we had what was called a two-butt kitchen — it was so narrow that if one person was cooking, there was only space for one other person to pass by.
It probably had about 12 inches of counter space and included a fascinating little appliance that was half-oven and half-dishwasher. (Brings back memories of our first Thanksgiving and how we had to go around to butcher shops with a measuring stick to make sure the turkey would fit!)
Our kitchens in Arlington and Manhattan were barely more spacious. However, I still managed to carve out a corner for my Mom Command Central — a kind of kitchen office that is like the gateway to the outside world. Phone numbers and rechargers, receipts and calendars, rosters and party invitations. This is the stuff that churns everyday life, so it lives in the center of the house: the kitchen.
Cut to today: we can’t believe the size of the kitchen we now have in Washington, D.C. Although it is no Tyler Florence design beauty, the galley kitchen’s white formica countertop extends all the way along the wall into the dining room area for a ridiculous 11 feet. Our family has grown to include four children and a couple of budding businesses, and I think our kitchen paper clutter finally breathed a sigh of relief and spilled itself all over the counter.
My mom, who I consult regularly on design questions, didn’t think the clutter was a big deal. But the open messiness bothered me, and it looked especially bad when we had people over for dinner. So one morning — I always have a burst of energy on the weekends after my cup of espresso coffee — I attacked.
Now I am the one breathing a sigh of relief. Here is how I did it.
Step 1: Purge and Rearrange
As you may remember, a few months ago I read the Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year, which I recommend whether you’re having a baby or not. I got all energized about getting rid of clutter and extra stuff that was just bouncing around my house and not getting used much.
So I got out one bag for giveaway and one bag for trash and started ruthlessly tossing stuff like leaky sippy cups, empty wipes containers, plastic water pitchers, mini coolers, dish racks, random pots and pans, and broken appliances.
(If regret is holding you back, you might like 5 Reasons to Skip the Yard Sale and Give Away Your Extra Stuff.)
Step 2: Get the Rest Out of Sight into Drawers and Cabinets
I freed up even more space by moving less-frequently used things, like tablecloths and silver serving dishes, out of the kitchen or to high-up cabinets. A few weeks later, I realized that if I rearranged things a little more, I could end up with a few empty drawers. Shocking! And why not move all my yucky paper and unsightly clutter into those drawers?
When anyone talks about whisking important papers out of sight, the fear is: but what if I forget about it? And that brings us to Step 3.
Step 3: Instead of Physical Reminders, Use To-Do Lists
I have to fight the temptation all the time to use the object in question as a reminder to deal with it. Whether it’s a package that needs to be mailed or a form that needs to be filled out, I think that by leaving it out, I will be forced to deal with it.
But the problem with this system is that it creates a constant layer of low-level anxiety. Now that I have changed my system — clutter inside, lists outside — I feel infinitely better.
And the thing I love about lists? Stuff actually gets done. Sometimes I’m amazed at how many things I can cross off when I go back to my lists. It’s like the act of writing down cements the information in my mind, and when I have a minute, I just subconsciously know to do it.
I fully recognize that this counter is crazy-long and, I’m lucky to have so much space in the kitchen. Before we bought this house, I thought I would use an idea I loved from Better Homes and Gardens. In Hidden HQ, they show how people can use a piece of furniture like a buffet or a hutch to contain the messiness of a family’s nerve center.
But my point about all the tiny kitchens we’ve had in the past is this: no matter how much space we have, we all have things we can get rid of or put away, and spaces we can use more efficiently. Decluttering means less stress and more peace. And I wish that for all of you.
Has your January been about streamlining and clearing out too? Please tell me what you’ve been doing in the comments at the end of this post!