Thrifted Storage Solutions – Or Not

For the longest time, I was keeping my thrifting eyes open for a shoe rack to try to corral this mess:

Every time I opened my closet, I averted my eyes from the horror that was the top shelf. Despite how clean and uncluttered my clothes looked hanging just below, it was kind of ruining my closet mojo.

I pride myself on thrifting anything I need for storage (or repurposing something I already own) – I dislike the idea of paying retail money for storage solutions, probably because there is so much out there designed to make you think you’ll never be organized without splashing out cash. But no matter where I thrifted, I couldn’t seem to find one – or anything that really could work in a pinch. So I let the shoes (and the scarves, and the router, and the…I don’t even know what some of that was?) sit in an inglorious jumble, messing with my feng shui.

Until I realized I didn’t need to thrift, or even find, any storage solution. I just needed to move my off-season shoes elsewhere, and put everything else where it belonged.

So the shoes I wasn’t currently wearing went in the guest room closet where we keep off-season clothes (one pair that was too tight got donated). The scarves went on the scarf hanger thingy that hangs in my closet. And the antennae/router junk (used to very, very occasionally watch network tv and stashed there to keep out of the reach of my kid, who kept messing with it) went in a box and into the guest closet shelves where it could easily be set in the guestroom, where it gets the best signal.

Here is my new shoe shelf:

Ahhhhhhhhh.

What corner of your house has been waiting – so you think – for that perfect storage solution but really just needs a clear out or something as simple as a repurposed shoebox?

My Kondo-ed Sock Drawer

While I got a lot out of reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – including the ever-useful closet-clearing question, “does this spark joy?” – I’ve never properly Kondo-ed my possessions.

It’s not that I’m against the idea of collecting all my clothes, or books, or kitchen gadgets, etc. in one place and holding each of them to determine how they make me feel. (I think that would be rather invigorating, actually.) It’s just that I seem to accomplish tidying in waves: Hmm. The closet/bookshelf/kitchen drawer is looking a little full. Think I’ll do a quick review to see how joyful I feel about all this stuff. It’s analogous to the “these pants are getting a bit tight” method of weight management rather than the crash diet method.

Regular but small-scale evaluations of my stuff seem more manageable, time-wise, than Kondo’s recommended “tidying marathon.” And it’s nice to have something to tackle when I get the “clean out and organize” itch.

But I think the real reason I like doing it this way is that it lets me work up to letting go of items with which I’m not quite ready to part. Usually this is about an image of myself, an image that’s more fantasy than real life, more vanity than authenticity, more fear-of-the-future based than present-need-based: “This architectural blouse makes me look so hip on Instagram.” Or “What if I need this [insert kitchen thingamabob here] some day? It’s so practical!” Or “What will people think of me when they see the entire collection of Mitford novels on my bookshelf?”

In my experience, shedding those phantasms takes time. When I recently ditched the books from college that made me feel well-read (but that went largely unread), it was because I could finally embrace the fact that I’m much more likely to re-read a good mystery or a cozy, psychologically astute portrait of small-town life.

(Seriously, as a pastor, Jan Karon’s Mitford novels – while occasionally a bit simplistic – and Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor series are morale-boosting manuals on how to live life in service to the “takes all kinds” variety of people you find in a church and still keep your sanity and sense of humor. Prayer and whiskey both seem to help.)

I do have a picture frame conveniently placed in front of the Mitford series just in case a guest is feeling super judgmental. So maybe I still have some work to do.

But these prolonged tidying forays have taught me that Marie Kondo is spot on about at least one thing: my wardrobe/bookshelf/kitchen drawers feel the happiest when I focus on my feelings (whether I love something) rather than my thoughts (rationales for why I “should” keep an item).

Oh, and she’s right about boxes for organizing. So helpful.

So since I like seeing pictures of other people’s lovely, neat drawers after they’ve been Kondo’d, I thought I’d share my sock and underwear drawer, where I just axed two pairs of socks (donated) and two pairs of saggy underwear (textile recycling) that were still “practical” but utterly unjoyful. I also just realized I would feel mentally happier if I used one little storage box (from some storage system I bought years ago and then tried to make my spouse use for computer stuff) to give it a little structure instead of letting all the socks and underwear run together:

(Yes, I roll my big socks and undies Kondo-style because it’s aesthetically pleasing but ball the athletic socks because I can’t be bothered. I am a walking contradiction, what can I say?)

Disclaimer: if you don’t count the three-pack of new underwear I picked up at a Goodwill in North Carolina, absolutely none of these clothes are thrifted, because used socks and underwear rarely make it to thrift stores and when they do, I’m not buying them. And because the sleep t-shirts are from my childhood and the bras are retail – saggy used bras that may or may not be my size are not something I thrift. (Oh, the wonders of a proper bra-fitting! High on my list once I have exited the maternity/postpartum stages.)

(Wait! I lied! The King Kong Empire State building t-shirt was a prize find from the Scituate Goodwill in college. Still use it as a sleep shirt because it’s worn so wonderfully thin and comfy.)

Cute and practical but no-longer joy-sparking socks:

Well, that was a heftily psychological excuse to show you my sock drawer.

What’s your psychological approach to tidying? Or your practical approach to organizing your sock drawer?

Moving and Minimalism – Part 2: Toys

Although (as we discovered in Part 1) I am not a decor minimalist, as we have moved into our new home I have embraced a completely different aspect of minimalism: keeping my kid’s stuff boxed up because she does not miss it.

This kid is the only grandchild on both sides, and we have very generous neighbors and friends who often give her toys as well (many from Goodwill, yay!), and despite my regular trips back to the Goodwill she has more playthings than she knows what to do with. After we boxed them all up to move, she asked about some items that were put away, but overall she seemed content with the few things we’d kept out.

Once we got to Boston I decided to ride that train and piled unopened boxes of toys (and books – oh, the books!) in her closet. Grandma brought down a box of dinosaur toys, the church left a dozen little animals all around the house for her to find, and we had play-doh and markers for the coloring book pages my sister drew for her. (Yes, both the church and my sister are amazing. I think The Sister should sell custom coloring book pages, yes?)

The kiddo was perfectly content with that initial load for the first week or so, and we have slowly, slowly added things, either by opening an occasional box or by letting her use her birthday money at the thrift store. (8 dollars goes a long way shopping secondhand!) We also found kid-sized hockey sticks at the thrift store and my husband, who played when he was a kid, has had a blast teaching her backhands in the backyard using a ball the church gave us.

With fewer things around, she seems to play longer and more creatively with what she does have, and there’s a lot less to clean up/keep track of. I simultaneously can and can’t believe that it hasn’t occurred to her to wonder where former obsessions like her pop-it beads and code-a-pillar are. I’m hoping to drag out the toy reveal as long as possible, maybe with a rotation where we pack one toy away as we bring out others.

The books, too, are still boxed up apart from the one we initially opened. In the meantime, by George, we have discovered the library! We never took her in Atlanta because she was in daycare (so no need for the daytime programs libraries offer) and the full-size adult bookcase in her room was so full it had books we had never read. But while the kiddo’s at home for the foreseeable future, we tried out the kid-friendly mini-branch in our town, and it’s amazing – you can check out toys while you’re there (great fun without adding to our toy collection at home) AND there’s a kids’ resale shop that benefits the library. You know that’s the first place I went! In the next few weeks I’ll share what I found there to keep her warm during cold Boston winters.

Like lots of parents, I wrestle with how to keep her toys/books at a manageable level – and how to effectively involve her in the process so she learns to do it herself. She’s an enthusiastic kid and once she’s spied something that’s been tucked away, she’ll want to play with it (even if she ends up abandoning it twenty minutes later). Luckily, she’s great at playing with things in the store without needing to take them home; but asking her whether she wants to donate something rarely gets a “yes.” She’ll also randomly ask about X toy she hasn’t played with in weeks, which makes it hard to donate things on the sly – a technique that is starting to feel disingenuous now that she’s a preschooler and old enough to realize what’s happening.

Given all that, moving and keeping everything in boxes is an unexpected boon. I’m planning on having a conversation with her about how much better it can feel to live with less stuff, and as it starts to sink in, maybe she’ll pull the trigger on a few of those donations herself.

 

What have you done re: keeping things in boxes after a move? Dealing with your kids’ stuff in a respectful but practical way?

Moving and Minimalism (Or Not) – Part I

Moving is a great time to come face to face with your relationship with stuff – whether you want to or not.

With our recent move, I was mostly in the former category. While our move was stressful in some ways and there was a lot of work involved, I relished the chance to go through all our possessions and get rid of what we didn’t need or want. (My spouse willingly halved his t-shirt collection, joy!)

I returned things to those from whom we had borrowed them, passed other things on to friends, and made many, many trips to the Goodwill – not the least of which was to say goodbye to Daniel, the man who worked the donation door at our closest GW and who had become a friend over years of frequent closet-cleanout donation runs.

We decided to stage our condo for selling potential, and as we prepared to do so, I wondered whether I would experience the epiphany some minimalists (for example) describe when staging their homes. You know – It feels so open and light! We should have done this years ago! It’s a popular minimalist concept to stage your house as if to sell, but then just live in it. (See what I did there? Popular concept, pop minimalism!)

But as I sat in our echo-y condo, the majority of our belongings already on their way up Boston, I realized I’m not the stereotypical minimalist who thrills to clean white walls and sparely furnished rooms. Contrary to my relative non-attachment to stuff (see: closet cleanouts above and my willingness to ditch wedding gifts we’ve never used), I missed our things.

I didn’t miss individual pieces, per se, but the feeling that the things we have more or less purposefully accumulated and come to love made our house into our home. Without them (and with the addition of the weird chemical smell of new carpet), our place just seemed… sad.

Obviously, the memories you make, people you love, pets you adore, etc. are more important in making a home than stuff is. But as I follow the aftermath of Harvey and the ongoing reality of Irma and think back on the houses I helped gut and the waterlogged possessions I shoveled into dumpsters after Katrina – man. I ache for the families who, while safe and sound, will come back to houses full of the ruins of familiar pictures they’ve walked past, kitchen utensils they’ve used, couches they’ve curled up on every day for years. The things that made the house theirs, even if the people and pets they love – please, God – made it through.

Even if we don’t let it rule our lives, stuff is important. And I’m grateful that ours is intact and that the stuff we staged with will arrive today so we can keep making our new house feel like home.