Storage is Not a Solution

Look at any organizational website or catalog, and you’ll find a plethora of boxes, bags, and containers billed as “storage solutions.” No matter what the item, there’s a vessel to hold it—big, small, tall, flat, thin, wide, clear, colored, fabric, plastic, leather, wood.

Put them on shelves, pile them in closets, stack them in your attic, basement, and garage. If you run out of room, gather them up and stick them in a storage unit across town.

And presto—your clutter problems are over!

Uh, not really. Storage is not a solution.

Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean it’s out of mind. Your clutter is still there, hanging over your head, piled beneath your feet, lurking in the dark corners of your home. Just the thought of being surrounded by junk can be psychologically suffocating.

(And forget about dressing it up in designer boxes—making it pretty doesn’t make it go away.)

I re-learned this lesson myself, just recently. When my husband and I returned from England, we had our own little storage unit to deal with. Stuff we’d lived swimmingly without for 2+ years had come back to haunt us. It wasn’t all unwelcome, of course—we’re happy to be reunited with our bikes, and Plumblossom loves to cruise along our newly-reinstated futon/sofa.

But I’m also dealing with a box of books, a box of paperwork, and a box of clothing that I’d all but forgotten about. How tempting it was to toss them without opening them—after all, I hadn’t used (or really missed) their contents in years. Unfortunately, I had to peek inside and rediscover the “nice” office clothes that would be $$$ to replace (will I work outside the home again?), the dress shoes made in Italy, the out-of-print art books that will never be available in a library or on a Kindle.

Sigh. While three boxes is far from a clutter problem, it’s more than this minimalist wants to own. And in all fairness, the paperwork is mostly tax, housing, or medical-related, and necessary to keep. But my goal is to slowly detach myself from the rest (I’ve already started).

So take it from me: storage is not a solution—it’s just a way to hide your stuff until you (or worse yet, someone else!) must deal with it later. Instead: declutter, declutter, and declutter some more!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalism 101: Modules

Whenever I pack for a trip, I organize my stuff into modules: for example, I have a toiletry module, a clothing module, a first aid module, and a “long flight” module (earplugs, eye mask, iPod Touch). This system helps me keep everything organized, and prevents me from overpacking.

When I moved overseas with a single duffle bag, I used a similar strategy. I arranged all my possessions in packing cubes: one for pants, one for shirts, one for underwear, one for paperwork, one for kitchen supplies, one for toiletries, etc. It made six weeks of hotel living significantly more pleasant and manageable.

In fact, I loved using modules so much, I made them an integral part of my everyday minimalist life. They’re the sixth step of the STREAMLINE strategy that I outline in my book.

There’s no great mystery to the concept: a module is simply a set of related items that perform a particular task. To make one, all you need to do is:

  • Gather like items together
  • Cull the excess (like duplicates!)
  • Contain them for storage and/or portability

The container can be a drawer, shelf, box, storage bin, or ziplock bag—whatever’s handy and appropriate for the contents.

Modules are particularly beneficial for the following household items:

Craft supplies – dedicate one storage bin to each hobby, like knitting, scrapbooking, or beading
Office supplies – gather together all those pens, paperclips, sticky notes, and rubberbands
Kitchen gadgets
Spices, condiments, and baking supplies
Clothing – assign certain drawers, shelves, and containers to particular items
Sports equipment – use boxes, bins, or hanging bags to corral balls, helmets, pads, and more
Electronics – consolidate those cables, chargers, and headphones
Accessories – like jewelry, scarves, belts, wallets, and bags
Seasonal stuff – like winter hats and gloves, or summer flipflops and beach towels
Holiday decorations
Cleaning supplies
Cosmetics and toiletries

Why are modules so conducive to a minimalist lifestyle? Because they help you pare down in three ways:

1. When you consolidate like items into modules, you see exactly how much you have. Owning sixty-three pens seems more absurd when you see them all together, than when they’re scattered throughout the house. Ditto for twenty white t-shirts, three staplers, or a lifetime supply of yarn.

2. Modules put physical limits on your possessions. For example, once you fill up your box dedicated to video games, you have to toss something old before adding something new. It’s a super-effective way to put a lid on further accumulation.

3. Modules provide a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. The result: you’re much less likely to acquire an extra screwdriver, measuring tape, or bottle of vanilla when you can easily find the one you already have.

(Just a note: be sure to declutter, declutter, and declutter some more, before you put anything in a container–otherwise, you’re just organizing your clutter.)

Modules help you organize your stuff, eliminate the excess, and refrain from accumulating more. They’re one of the easiest and most effective ways to get your stuff under control—and keep it that way!

Let me know what you’re putting into modules in the Comments…

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Workhorse: Mason Jars

Those who’ve read my book know I’m a huge fan of versatile items – from both a minimalist and ecological standpoint, I think it’s better to own one multi-functional item than several single-function ones. In my opinion, the more uses something has, the more worthy a place in our households.

When it comes to multi-functional items, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better workhorse than the humble mason jar. Besides their obvious use for canning and storing food, they can fill myriad other roles in our homes: from serving as lanterns, to drinkware, to impromptu piggy banks.

The best part: they can do double-duty as both storage and décor. Instead of buying mass-produced tchotchkes, consider “decorating” your home with the stuff of your everyday life. It’s elegant, inexpensive, and makes you truly mindful of what you own.

Consider the following ways to put mason jars to work in your home:

1. Kitchen storage/décor. Displaying dry foods in glass jars – like pasta, beans, coffee, and spices – are a wonderful way to add warmth to your minimalist kitchen.

2. Bathroom storage/décor. Use them to hold cotton balls, q-tips, or bath salts for a serene, spa-like look.

3. Laundry room. Powdered detergent is prettier in a glass jar than commercial packaging. (Make your own, so you can skip the packaging altogether!)

4. Vase. A mason jar makes a lovely, simple vase for a single bloom or small bunch of flowers.

5. Lanterns. I love the look of white candles or tea lights in glass jars – so beautiful!

6. Office supplies. Use them to corral all those loose paperclips, rubberbands, or pencils.

7. Paint. A great way to store your paint so you can actually see the color.

8. Hardware. Fill them with screws, nails, bolts, and all those other bits and bobs on your workbench.

9. Drinkware. Nothing says summer like a mint julep or iced tea served in a mason jar.

10. Terrarium. For some low-maintenance greenery, make a terrarium: all you need is potting soil, pea gravel, activated charcoal, and some moisture-loving plants.

11. Piggy bank. There’s something very satisfying about seeing all that spare change accumulate.

12. Craft supplies. Beads, buttons, and embroidery floss are gorgeous in their own right – and make more interesting décor than mass-produced trinkets.

13. Natural décor. Glass jars of sand, stones, seashells, and other natural treasures lend a nice organic touch to any room.

14. Gifts. Homemade mixes in mason jars make wonderful gifts. Layer the dry ingredients for a decadent treat – like hot cocoa, or chocolate chip cookies – and attach a label with the recipe.

Do you have any other ideas for using mason jars? Please share them with us in the Comments!

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Self Storage Units – Turn in the Keys!

mm-selfstrgAccording to the Self Storage Association, the self storage industry has been the fastest growing sector of U.S. commercial real estate over the last 30 years. At the end of 2008, there were over 51,000 primary self storage facilities in this country. The total self storage rentable space in the United States is estimated to be over 2 billion square feet—an area more than three times the size of Manhattan!

In fact, there are 7.4 square feet of self storage space for every person in the nation—meaning every American could stand under a self storage roof at the same time (!).

If you are one of the 10% of U.S. households that currently rents a self storage unit, it’s time to ask some questions:

* Can you list the contents of your self storage unit from memory?
* If not, do you really need to own things you don’t even know you have?
* When is the last time you used these items?
* Is it worth paying good money to store things you rarely (if ever) use?
* How important is an item that you don’t use (or love) enough to keep in your home?

One of the first steps to becoming a minimalist is to empty out your self storage unit. This is even easier than decluttering your home, as you’ve already made a physical (and perhaps emotional) detachment from these things.

So make a final visit, bring home only what you need, and sell, donate or Freecycle the rest (please do what you can to keep it out of a landfill). You’ll eliminate the mental, and monetary, burden of renting a “second house” for all your excess stuff!