8 things we love for smaller living spaces

small apartment living

Moving to a new space often means reconfiguring and rethinking how you arrange things or how you store things. Over the past 8 years, we found a few things that have come in darned handy to help our clients moving to smaller spaces make the most of that space.

FLAT PLUG EXTENSION CORDS

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Flat plug extension cord, Amazon.

One of the first jobs on move day is to get an extension cord in any outlet that will be behind a large piece of furniture. We love cords with flat plugs because they allow furniture to be closer to the wall.

NEW SURGE PROTECTORS!

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Surge protector, Lowes.

Okay, we like this for any living space, not just smaller ones. Surge protectors have a lifespan. If you’ve been using yours for more than 5 years, it’s probably time to replace it. Although we can’t endorse any particular brand, the Wirecutter blog can–here’s there list. ‘

SLIDE OUT KITCHEN TRASH BINS

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Slide out trash bin, The Container Store.

Nothing impedes the flow in a compact kitchen than having to dance around a wastebasket every time you cook. A under sink slide-out trash bin solves that problem.

SLIDE OUT PANTRY SHELVES

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Slide out drawer organizer, Wayfair.com

Many apartment kitchens have a deep pantry closet. The generous space is a beautiful thing, but having to go through contortions to get something out the the back is not. Slide out pantry shelves make it easier to get that elusive can of soup hiding behind the other cans, boxes and bottles.

LAZY SUSAN

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Lazy susan organizer, The Container Store.

A lazy susan can be worth it’s weight in cinnamon for organizing your spices, vitamins, teas and anything that comes in bottles and boxes whether tucked in a cabinet or on the counter.

VERTICAL PLATE ORGANIZER

plate organizer
Vertical plate organizer, Bed, Bath & Beyond.

More compact kitchens may have less cabinet space. Storing your plates vertically uses cabinet space efficiently and makes them easier to grab as a bonus. If you’re one of the people who rotate the dishes you use so the wear on them is even across the set, you’ll really love an organizer like this.

BATHROOM STORAGE

medicine cab
Wall mounted bathroom cabinet, CostPlus World Market.

The one place most of our clients really feel the space crunch is in the bathroom. Changing the habit of buying in bulk is step one. In an apartment, you have less storage, and that storage space might be better used for for your off season clothes rather than your 36 rolls of toilet tissue, 12 rolls of paper towels and 6 boxes of tissues. But even with paper products pared down, additional storage is usually needed.

Apartments often have storage under the sink and a medicine cabinet, but not much else.  A wall mounted storage cabinet or shelves is enormously helpful. Pinterest is stuffed to the gills with ideas for creative bathroom storage. One particularly clever idea: a shelf over the door for all those rolls of spare toilet tissue.

Wall mounted is usually a better choice than a floor standing storage unit. If you add a toilet seat with handles or a commode, there is a good chance the floor standing unit won’t fit behind it.

DOUBLE HANG CLOSET ROD

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Double hang closet rod, Home Depot.

Many apartments have nice walk-in closets. But with one clothes hanging shelf at a height for longer hanging garments, you give away a lot of space underneath your shorter hanging garments. Adding a second wall mounted shelf with a clothes hanging pole is the best choice, but short of that, and double hang rod that attaches to the top shelf is a quick, inexpensive fix.

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Please note that we don’t have any special affection or allegiance to the products shown. Versions of these products are available multiple places by multiple makers. We love the concepts and have used many versions of them when working with clients. And if you have something to add to the list, we’d love to know about it!

 

3 days to add to your calendar

calendar book

There are three days you might want to consider putting on your calendar every month. They aren’t something you have to juggle among other appointments, places you have to go and people you have to see. They are flexible commitments to yourself. We have so many obligations to others, it’s easy to forget to make time to do things that will make you feel a little happier and a little more in charge of your life.

dangling ends knot

Day 1: Dangling Ends Day

Everyone has projects and/or tasks that never quite cross the finish line. For some reason, they get postponed or shoved to the back of the task pack. So they hover about like annoying little gray clouds. Declare one day a month Dangling Ends Day—a day to tie up all the loose ends on those projects and chase those clouds away. Believe me, the anticipation of getting those things done is always worse than actually doing them.

Dangling Ends Day requires some self commitment. If you write it on the calendar, you owe it to yourself to do what you’ve asked yourself to do. At the end of the day, you will be pretty darned pleased with yourself.

phone a friend telephone

Day 2: Phone a Friend Day

We have friends we see a lot, that are a part of our lives now. And we have friends that we don’t see all that often. They’re on our mind, but we just never manage to get together. And time passes; months can go by without talking to one another. That’s why we all need to make time on our schedules for Phone a Friend Day. It’s amazing how good it feels to make a simple phone call.

If you’re not a phone person, a great alternative is Write a Note Day. Texting is fun and fast, but there’s nothing nicer than to get a real letter in your mailbox.

box of donations

Day 3: Declutter Donation Day

We all have a few to many things in our lives. Some of us let them accumulate longer than others. Declare a Decluttering Donation Day every month. Whether you take magazines to the library magazine swap pile, clothes that you no longer need to a shelter or tchotchkes to a charity thrift store, make a point of making at least one donation run a month, getting things you no longer need to places that can do good with them.

That’s our short list. What kind of day would you add to your list to make you feel happier and less stressed?

Editing your workshop

A well-stocked workshop is a beautiful thing. Having the right tool, right screw, right dab of paint when you need it makes household repairs end in victory instead of an unplanned trip to the hardware store. But the workshop can also be a catchall full of “that might come in handy someday,” things you bought for one job a decade ago, and other mysterious hardware findings that somehow found their way into your life. If you’re an average human, your workshop has probably built up all kinds of hardware flotsam slowly over time.

Whether you’re staying where you are or in the beginning stages of downsizing, a bit of time editing of your workshop is time well spent. Reducing clutter, reminding yourself of what you actually have and tidying up will make finding whatever you need when you need it easier.

Wondering how and where to start? Sort things by type, rather than by area. Your hand tools might share a drawer with tape and paintbrushes, but it’s much easier to assess what you have when you gather like things. How else will you realize that some way, some how you have managed to have a bakers dozen of phillips head screw drivers?

workshop tools

Identify your key hand tools, sort out your extras

Looking at your hand tools, what are your essentials and what are your duplicates and surplus non-essentials? Group all the surplus together, you’ll be surprised at how many screwdrivers and measuring tapes you have. What to do with those no longer needed hand tools? Make up a tool box for someone in your family who is new to living on their own. Make up small kits to donate to furniture banks for families that have lost everything and are starting over. Donate individual tools to a non-profit Habitat for Humanity ReStore or a similar organization.

Review your power tools

Two things to think about with power tools: do you still use them and are they old enough that they’ve been outmoded by newer models have improved safety. Tools that take up space but haven’t been used for years can be donated, sold or passed on UNLESS they are no longer safe to use. Those should be recycled.

Some power tools represented big investments at the time they were purchased. But if you don’t use it, if you don’t need it or if it’s not safe, it has not earned a spot in your life and it’s time for it to move on.

workshop nails

Sort your nuts and bolts and bit and bobs

A good workbench has a nice assortment of hardware. Hardware is small, doesn’t take up much space and has a magical ability to multiply in stealthy ways over time. Look for screws you bought for one particular project—you needed two, you had to buy a box. And jars of rusty nails. And coffee cans of rusty  nails. And the ever popular little bags of hardware that came with furniture, window treatments etc. You will likely find that you have more brass brads than any one person will ever use in a lifetime. Edit down to what you are likely to use and donate or share the rest with others.

workshop miscellany

Equally able to multiply with stealth are the bits and bobs: outlet covers, adapters, picture hangers, plastic caps, felt furniture pads, lengths of chain, ceiling hooks, mending plates, L-brackets. If you don’t see a use for it in your immediate future, let it go.

workshop cans

Sort your cans and bottles

The workshop is a chemistry lab. There are solvents, lubricants, cleaners, putties, adhesives, paints, stains and everything in between. Start by sorting into three groups: useful, dried out/hardened, no longer needed.

Review the useful things so you know what you have. Put them back on the shelves, grouping like things together. The dried up things can go into the trash. The no-longer-needed things can be divided again into: things you can offer to others, new or nearly full things you can donate, things you can safely dispose of and things that are hazardous waste.

FYI: Old latex paint can be opened, mixed with cat litter and left somewhere with ventilation to harden. Once it’s hard, it can go in your regular trash. Alkaloid paints that clean up with spirits are.

Sort your project supplies

Sometimes a project requires specific supplies. The things that springs to mind immediately are decorative paint treatments, wall papering and laying tile. If you don’t see those projects happening again in your near future, pass on, donate and/or dispose of those things as is appropriate.

workshop glue tape

Take a look at what’s left

There are lots of things in a workshop that we haven’t talked about like tapes, painting supplies, pipe wraps, rolls of screen mesh, extension cords, twines and ropes, doorknobs, latches and more. Sort through the rest of these things with a trash can on one side and a donate box on the other side.

Step away from the rickety stepladder

Look at your collection of stepladders. Some might be best voted off the island for safety reasons. It might have lived a long full life and is a little rickety from age. Or it might be poorly designed and wasn’t particularly safe to use from the start. (Those are the ones without anything to hold on to when you are going up 2 or 3 steps.) And anything held together with duct tape should probably also be asked to leave.

It’s not a bad time to look at a step stools as well. If it has a non-slip top, wide balanced base and no duct tape reinforcements, it’s probably fine. If not, time to go!

And finally…

Now that you’ve sorted and organized, you may find yourself with storage boxes, drawers and bins that you don’t need anymore. Donate or pass them on, don’t leave them to fill up again! And give yourself a pat on the back at a job well done. Somewhere, someone is setting up their first workshop, and the things you no longer need will go on to have a new, useful life with them.

 

New year, new way to fold clothing

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We all have a favorite method for storing clothes in drawers. Some of us fold precisely, some of us roll and some of us are just fine with a random tangle as long as all the things with arms are in one drawer and the things with legs are in another drawer. When we’re on the job with a client, we fold clothes or linens their way. Myself, I alternate between roll and fold. But the new year always makes me itchy to try new things, so I decided to look into the whole Konmari folding thing.

What is Konmari? It’s the name of the organizing methods of international superstar organizing phenomenon, Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2011). For her true believers, it’s not a book, it’s the gospel of an organizing religion—ritual decluttering that enhances the quality of their lives. In the interest of learning something new that might help our move management team do our job better, I have tried to read the book. Multiple times. True confession, I have not succeeded. It’s a little strident for me.

At our NASMM conference a couple years ago, one of the presenters demonstrated the Konmari folding technique and while I was not an immediate convert, it stuck in my brain. Particularly the visual image of a t-shirt folded and placed vertically in the center of the table. It was still there, as she placed it, at the end of the hour. It wasn’t hard to find videos and diagrams to refresh my memory on Konmari folding. The internet is full of them.

In a shirt folding video, Marie Kondo lays the shirt flat, caresses it and thanks it for its service before folding it gently into a rectangle. With a cynical sigh, I emptied my shirt drawer and laid the first tee-shirt flat on the bed. As I smoothed it flat and folded it into the neat rectangle and folded it a couple more times until it became a tidy vertical-standing, gravity-defying parcel, I realized that shirt that made me happy every time I wore it because I loved the color and the cut. In spite of myself, eye rolls aside, I had thanked that teal blue raglan sleeve tee. I knew it had earned a spot in my life and my drawer.

I worked my way through the short sleeves, long sleeves, sweaters, sweatshirts, things with legs, things to wear on feet, unmentionables and cozy things to burrow under blankets in. That process of carefully flattening, folding into neat rectangles and lining up in the drawers was peculiarly enjoyable and ultimately liberating. For all the clothes I loved, there were a fair number that I tolerated; garments I kept because I spent money on them and not because they made me happy when I wore them. By fair number, I mean 6 large bags full of clothing that I sent on to either textile recycle because it was ratty and tatty or donation because it was in nearly new condition.

Dropping those 6 bags at their destinations felt marvelous. Fitting all my summer and winter clothing into my drawers and closet so nothing offseason was stored in the attic felt even better. My hope is that this exercise will keep me from purchasing things that are just meh; things I don’t really need and things that won’t add value to my wardrobe.

There are many videos out there, some featuring Marie Kondo and other featuring devotees demonstrating her methods. This book trailer for her second book, Spark Joy (2016) made the folding process super clear for me. And the video of her folding awkward clothing at New York’s 92stY is funny and charming.

While it’s not for everyone, you might be just as surprised as I was to find out that a simple change in how I folded my clothing could make me happy every time I open a drawer and find clothes I am fond of standing at attention, ready to lend me another day of service.

 

The Three-Year Rule

It’s a simple rule: if you haven’t touched something in the past three years, you probably don’t need it. Applying the rule makes it easy to spot things you won’t miss once they’re gone, making the job of thinning out clutter easier.

Start where the pickings is likely to be ripe, in the deepest, darkest reaches of your kitchen cabinets. Is that an ice cream maker? And a crepe maker? Oh look, a fondue pot–where did that come from? Apply the rule: have you made ice cream, crepes or fondue in the last three years? If the answer is no, out they go.

Be brave and take on your wardrobe. There’s the paisley jacket that still has tags attached from a boutique that closed eons ago. You’ve never really been a paisley kind of person, but you thought maybe you could become one. You were wrong. Next to the jacket are the pants that don’t fit your thighs properly, the sweater that makes your neck itch and the handbag with a strap that bites into your shoulder, which is why none of them have left your closet in at least three years. Time for them to go.

Where next? The garage, the craft room, the linen closet, the basement—anywhere there’s clutter that bothers you. When you donate, hand down or sell your unwanted things, you win twice. Your have more space in your home for things you really use, and you’ve sent the unwanted things on to new owners who will enjoy them.

Downsize, Divide and Concur

If you’re moving to a smaller place, you know you won’t need all of the things in your current home.  Deciding what to bring and sharing what’s left with family and friends can be challenging.  Good communication and  advance planning can help make  that process easier.

Feather your new nest first. Determine what you’ll need at your new home. Make a list of the furniture, household necessities and decorative items that you like best, focusing on things that will provide the most comfort, function and style. Think creatively – an armoire can become a pantry or entertainment center; a kitchen table can be a desk; a trunk can be both an end table and extra storage.

Do the math. Once you have your top picks, it’s time to get out a measuring tape, graph paper and pencils. Work with a floor plan of your new home and the dimensions of your furniture pieces to create a proposed layout. Make the design process as concrete as possible, starting with a scale drawing of the rooms and scale representations of your furniture that can be moved around to try different arrangements. If possible, block out your proposed plan on the floor of your new home using blue painter’s tape. You might find that what looked like plenty of room between the couch and an armchair on a drawing is a tight fit in reality.

A place for everything. After deciding where to put your furniture, turn your attention to closets, kitchen cabinets and drawers, and furniture that provides storage space to determine what you will store where. Here again, be specific. Look at the list of kitchen items you’d like to bring and assign each to a cabinet or drawer. The more detailed and realistic you are in this step, the less likely it is that you’ll wind up either giving away something you wish you hadn’t or struggling to accommodate things you don’t really need or have room for.

Make your mark. Once you’ve finished your planning, mark the things that you’ll be taking with removable adhesive stickers in your favorite color. The stickers will help when it’s time to pack boxes as well as let others know that those items are going with you.

Family and friends come next. There likely will be things that you’d like to hand down to others. Perhaps you’ve already decided who will receive the fine china, the sterling flatware, the mantle clock and the bird’s-eye maple rocker. But, confirm that the recipient will truly appreciate your gift. Your son might have loved the sea as a child, but the schooner model might not fit in with his current passion for minimalist décor.

The most important heirlooms are often the ones rich in sentiment, not cash value. Does someone want the cookie jar more than anything else? Or the angel that tops the Christmas tree? Or the painting of the cabin in the woods? Here again, find out by asking. The answers may both surprise you and trigger some pleasant shared memories.

Set your own rules. There is no one best way to divide things among family members. Even the closest of families can find themselves disagreeing. You know your family dynamics – choose a strategy that will minimize friction, and make sure everyone understands the rules before you start. You might spend time with each child individually, and then make the decisions about who gets what yourself. Or perhaps you’d prefer for your children to negotiate with each other. For some families, it’s a priority to ensure that each sibling receives things of equal value; for others, it’s not. If the best way to maintain family harmony is to have the discussion facilitated by a neutral third party, don’t hesitate to bring one in. Also, consider hiring a professional appraiser if necessary.

Can everyone hear me? Communication is key to keeping discussions productive. Whether the dividing of possessions is taking place in person or over long distances, keep the process as transparent as possible. Make sure everyone involved knows the final outcome of these decisions. To avoid disputes later on, write them down and see to it that everyone involved gets a copy, as does the executor of your estate if you’ve chosen one.

Add background information. When it’s time to hand things down, it’s also the perfect time to provide a written history of special treasures, whether they’re high in monetary or sentimental value. Your notes don’t have to be long and formal; even a few words on an index card will be appreciated by future owners. Your Niagara Falls vase will mean even more to your daughter if she knows that you bought it on your honeymoon.

Making notes is particularly important when it comes to photographs. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a parent smiling in a photo from long ago, but having absolutely no idea who they’re with and where they are. Filling in those information gaps can help preserve family memories.

Forward thinking. Take the opportunity to think ahead a generation. If you have grandchildren, chances are that sometime in the future they’ll have their first apartment. Imagine how much they’d enjoy receiving a box packed with a few essentials – a measuring cup, mugs, kitchen utensils, a pair of candlesticks, and, best of all, a note from you.

Outward bound. Now that the discussions and decisions have been completed, it’s time to get things out of your house so you can make forward progress toward your transition. Work with your family or hired helpers to pack stuff up and move it out on a timely basis.

You don’t have to go it alone. A senior move manager can assist you and your family in determining what to bring to your new home and facilitate the process of dividing up no-longer-needed possessions. Having someone who can help you share pictures of belongings with family members all over the country via a digital catalog, as well as with packing and shipping, can make downsizing less stressful and less time-consuming.

De-cluttering: a work in progress

We could all do with a little less.  Weeding out things you  no longer need  is essential if you plan to move into a smaller home,  but it can make life better even if you’re staying right where you are.  Get a start with these tips:

Give yourself time. As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ve spent a lifetime accumulating wonderful things; don’t expect that you can sort through it all in a weekend.

Start small. The cluttered area that vexes you the most is the perfect place to begin. But instead of taking on your entire basement or dining room at once, start with one drawer, one cabinet, one shelf. Breaking de-cluttering into small manageable segments can keep you from giving up in frustration.

Take advantage of momentum. When it comes to clearing clutter, remember that the anticipation is always worse than the reality.  If you’ve broken the job into manageable pieces, you’ll find that each sorting session gets a little easier. Decisions require less thought and you can feel the positive effect of your forward motion.

Keep what matters. Keep for yourself the things that you use frequently, that make you happy and that you cherish most. The items that have the most value for you are not necessarily your most expensive possessions.

Think positive. It’s easy to get bogged down in lamenting the things you’re giving up. Instead, try thinking of it as an editing of your possessions, and focus on the new life that the items you’re gifting, selling or donating will have with new owners who appreciate and use them.

Touch it once. Set up boxes for things to be donated, sold or given to family members. As you sort through items, pack each one carefully so you can just seal the box and send them on their way.

Share it forward. Take advantage of your transition to hand down heirlooms to family and friends. Provide a bridge to future generations by writing down the history of the items. A simple note gives meaning and context to things as elegant as a silver dresser set or quaint as grandmother’s cookie jar.

The price is right. Selling no-longer-needed items is a win-win situation. A happy buyer gets a treasure, and you get a little folding money. Consider a yard sale, an online auction site or a consignment shop. If you have a substantial amount goods that you want to sell, a professional sale organizer can be a great resource. Be sure to ask for and to contact references before signing a contract.

Know what you have. It’s tough to estimate the value of an antique or collectible if you’re not an expert.  A piece of china may be a fine thing to have, but it’s not always a valuable one. Conversely, some novelty items command high prices from collectors.  A little digging around on the internet can turn up good clues about the value of an item. If in doubt, hire a reputable appraiser.

Help others. Items that are no longer needed but still serviceable are welcomed by charities. Keep a list of your donations for tax purposes. Don’t donate things that are broken, stained or torn. Social services organizations work hard enough without having to take extra time to dispose of unusable items.

Don’t go it alone. The old adage that many hands make light work is never truer than when you’re clearing clutter. Having helpers to box items for sale and donation, pack for a move and keep track of what’s going where is invaluable.