It’s Not a SPACE Problem, It’s a STUFF Problem

posted by Andrea | 07/12/2016
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space and stuff

Over the last 10 years of running an in-home organizing service, speaking for various women’s events across the state, and writing thousands of blog posts, I can not even begin to count how many times I’ve heard someone “complain” or bemoan their lack of storage space.

And while I will agree there are many homes, apartments, and offices with VERY poorly designed storage spaces, whenever someone complains about a lack of space, my initial thought is almost always, “You don’t have a SPACE problem, you have a STUFF problem”. 

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I know so many people who think the solution to their storage problems is to buy more bins, put up more shelves, move to a bigger house, build another garage, finish off the basement, or rent a storage unit — because if they can just get a little bit more space, they will finally be able to take control of their clutter (or so they think.)

But you know as well as I do that space is not their problem!

In my experience, the more space you have, the more stuff you’ll fill it with (who can relate!) — unless of course, you set SPACE LIMITS.

What are Space Limits?

Giving yourself a space limit is much like setting a timer and not letting yourself use more time than you have allotted for a specific task, or working with a budget and not letting yourself spend more money than you have allocated to various categories.

Except, instead of working with time or money, you’re working with the space in your home — and not letting yourself use more space than you have allotted for various items.

Here are a few examples of MY space limits.

Dave and I each only have 50 hangers in our bedroom closet (the kids each have 25). Even though our closets could easily hold 2 or 3 times this number of hangers, 50 is PLENTY for each of us and 25 is plenty for the kids (we all have several empty hangers right now). We know that when we’re out of hangers, it’s time to purge something. This way, our closet never gets over-crowded or totally out of control, and I always stay on top of going through the kid’s clothes as they grow and as the seasons change.

Dave and I limit our shoes by what we can fit on the 2 shoe shelves in our mudroom closet — once they are full, we purge a pair of shoes before buying anything new.

We also limit our toiletries to 1 drawer (shared between the 2 of us) and a few larger items under our sinks (hand lotion, mouthwash, etc). Neither of us has many toiletries, so 1 drawer is plenty for us. By setting this space limit, we know that if our 1 drawer is starting to feel over loaded, it’s time to clean out and purge — and since it’s just one small drawer, we can easily clean it out in 5-10 minutes.

In the kitchen, I set space limits by designating certain shelves and drawers for various kitchen items. If we have too many food storage containers to fit in one drawer, then I know it’s time to purge before we get anything new. And if we have too many small appliances to fit in my “small appliance cabinet” I will purge one (or more) before getting another one.

Toys and books — when there are too many to fit in our toy storage areas or on our book shelf, we purge (we do this A LOT!)

Even in our basement (that has TONS of extra storage space) I limit our storage to whatever we can fit in the bins on our storage shelves (and honestly, 2 of the bins are totally empty right now!)

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Without these space limits in place, it would be very easy for us to continue packing things into our closet, our mudroom, our kitchen, our playroom, and our basement without giving it a second thought — after all, we technically have plenty of space left to squeeze and shove more boxes, more bins, more toys, and more clothes… right!?!?

But the point for me isn’t really that we have the space, it’s that we don’t need so much stuff that every nook and cranny is packed full.

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Of course, for those of you who DON’T have as much space, space limits are even more important to keep things neat, organized, decluttered, and simplified!

Just as we set limits for our time, our finances, and various other aspects of our life, it’s also important that we set limits for our space — it might sound silly, but it works! Plus, it doesn’t require buying any bins, putting up shelves, building an addition, or paying monthly storage fees!

Win – Win! 

In my opinion, space limits are not a way of depriving ourselves or being super minimalistic about our stuff; but rather, they are a simple (and free) tool we can use to keep clutter from taking over our homes and our spaces.

Do you set space limits?

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25 comments

  1. Shauntel Isham

    10/27/2016

    Andrea!
    I am so amazed by how organized you are in all parts of your home! It’s truly motivating for me to get my butt in gear and organize my own house to look like yours! Thank you for sharing all of your great tips!

    I also wanted to reach out to you and see if you would be interested in doing a featured post about a brand new product we are launching called the “Ladder Trap.” It is perfect for hanging your ladders on the wall and creating the optimum organized garage space. Feel free to look up our product up on Facebook. If you are interested in featuring our product on your blog, we will gladly ship you a free one! Let me know if you would be interested.
    Thank you so much! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Shauntel. If you’d like to talk more with me about your product and a possible sponsorship on my blog, please just email me: andrea@andreadekker.com

    [Reply]

  2. Louise

    07/17/2016

    You are SO disciplined. You are amazing! This is such a great idea. I don’t think I could come anywhere near close to this but I’m certainly going to give it a much better go than I’ve been doing with my clutter-busting.

    I know how much I love it when I can find things easily. I love it when I can go to my wardrobe and know that I love everything in it and can easily put together an outfit. I know how much I love it when I can put the sheets and towels away easily- because it’s not overcrowded and everything has a place. I just hadn’t thought about going this far with make-up, toiletries and kitchen items.

    I’m now set for a big purge. Thanks for the inspiration and ideas.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Louise!
    I think for me, I know how much happier, content, and peaceful my life feels when things are neat and organized — so that’s my main motivation for keeping my house under control. There are definitely times when it’s less organized — but I always make the time to get it organized again because it’s important for me.

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  3. Olga

    07/14/2016

    I love this post! Thanks Andrea for reminders like this, about reasons why life is less stressful when we set limits for all the big and small things in it. I am guilty of having more than 50 hangers though. ☺ As for the kids(10 &8), I keep their stuff within MY limits because they would keep some stuff just because of special attachment. For example socks with a hole on the toe, because of the Lightning McQueen image on them, and apparently that’s a friend. Loads of pictures from classmates in the end of the school year -because they are cool, etc,etc.
    One thing I learned though, is to NEVER dispose of kids’ drawings for me when any of them is present around. I do keep some drawings and writing from them for the future, but the rest is secretly disposed to recycle.

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  4. Mary Ann

    07/12/2016

    Yes! A few years back I had an epiphany about only keeping what could actually fit in an area. Before that, I constantly felt that I wasn’t a good enough organizer. It was so freeing!

    When we were first married, our bedroom in our first rental was small so we chose to share one dresser instead of cramming 2 in. As our living spaces have increased, we continue to use the one dresser to store our clothes that we don’t hang up(our closets over the years have been crazy small ). It has worked so well and helps us to keep only what we love and will wear!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’m a big fan of less clothing — it makes it easier to get dressed in the morning, there is less to wash, fold, and put away, and it makes packing for a trip simpler as well!

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  5. Beatriz

    07/12/2016

    I feel like I have that problem right now myself, there just seem to be so many odds and ends around my house but whenever I go to throw it away I feel I can’t. However I think this week I’m going to make more of an effort to do a purge. I did this during winter, I went through my closet and threw away so many things I filled up 2 garbage bags! I let my sister, a friend and mom (who are smaller than me) cherry pick what they wanted and the rest went to Savers. I had so much space left in my closet, that things I had placed in drawers but should have been hung went into the closet. Now it’s easier to pick what I’m going to wear in the mornings and I know what I have hanging there.

    Now I have to go through all those odds and ends to remove what is either not used or let go of it emotionally. Many of the things I have are things that were gifts or simply things that hold a special memory but at the end of the day I still have the memory even if I don’t have a weird miniature clay Chinese mask bought at an airport, even if it was bought as a nice gesture towards me.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    as you probably know, there are people who are much more sentimental and emotional about their things – you might be one of them. I am NOT one of those people, which makes purging SOOOOOO much easier for me.

    I don’t want to make excuses for you, but that is probably one of the reasons purging is more difficult for you — it’s not that you don’t know how to do it, or not even that you don’t want to do it; it’s just that your brain is telling you that you CAN’T do it. Sometimes it helps to have some help from a friend or relative who is not emotionally attached to your things. They can help you overcome that emotional attachment!

    Also, just keep thinking about how great it felt when you purged your closet — you could eventually feel like that with the rest of your house if you purged some of your excess!

    [Reply]

  6. Nancy Johnson

    07/12/2016

    My husband and I live in a 1960’s ranch. It has 3 closets, one one in each of the bedrooms. One is storage for things other than clothing. My goal is for the two remaining closets to hold all our clothing without overcrowding. I am recently retired so am in the purging process for office attire. I can use some of it for church and going out to dinner, but definitely do not need all of it anymore. A friend said, as we were discussing the small closets, “can’t you turn one of the bedrooms into a big closet?” Well, yes, we could. But I prefer to go at it from the other direction. One 1960’s size closet should be enough for one retired lady’s clothes!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I like your goals, and yes, I think one 1960’s closet should be enough for your clothes 🙂

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  7. Liz C

    07/12/2016

    We absolutely do have space limits. They help so much!! We have five people in a little mid-20th century, no-closets cottage that has under 800 square feet of living space. My husband and I both work from home, and we homeschool. Being careful with our space limits means we really do have enough room to do what we want and need to do!

    Flip-side, we have friends who have a house three times the size, and are stuffed to the gills, due to an inability to release excess blessings. There’s only so much I can do to encourage it when my friend complains about how they live… because she’s not willing to let go of anything. Ever.

    One very cool side effect of teaching my children about space limits is seeing their own streamlining, weeding, and releasing skills grow as they grow. They have an attitude of abundance: we have more than we require, so we can share with others! We can meed our needs simply, and share with others!

    We tend to get a good number of hand-me-downs. My little girls, now 11 and 8, can go through the bag, choose the few things they like best to update or round out their wardrobe needs, choose a few things suited to the likes of a nearby cousin, and then go grab some of their own items to add to the hand-me-down bag before we give it away. They feel no pressure to keep all of it… or even any of it!

    Looking at my utensil jar on the counter… it’s about time to weed down! I only LIKE one of the spatulas… so why own three? Weeding down to our happy minimum, that suits the space we have: bliss!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This is awesome Liz! Thanks so much for sharing. I hope my children will be able to make similar decisions when they are older — but Nora already shows LOTS of signs of wanting to keep everything. She just loves stuffing papers and little tchotchkes into bags and boxes until they are stuffed to the gills. I try to never FORCE her to get rid of anything (because I don’t want her to rebel and start hoarding everything when she’s older) but it is definitely a struggle sometimes!

    [Reply]

  8. Heidi

    07/12/2016

    I’m at that point right now with our playroom- we have a big room but it’s full (and always a disaster). I’m seriously considering turning it back into a guest bedroom just to force our hand to lessen the number of toys we have.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I always wished we had a HUGE playroom…until we had kids. Now I think our very small play area is just good enough. It’s big enough to play in, as long as we don’t let it clutter up with too many toys!

    [Reply]

    Maria Reply:

    Yes, playrooms can really be a problem when there are too many toys. I try to tackle this problem by not having too many toys out all at once, which makes the room look like a disaster. I like to rotate the toys by putting some of the toys away for a while. I find that by doing this, the kids are excited when I bring back their old toys, which they haven’t played with for a while and the clutter is kept to a minimum.

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  9. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    07/12/2016

    I love this! I’ve always noticed how people tend to fill whatever space they have. A bigger house eventually just gets filled up with more and more stuff because there’s room for it. I just wrote a post about not organizing what you can declutter, and I feel like it goes right along with this. Space limits are a very good idea. I think we have some, somewhat subconsciously, but I’m going to think of some more on purpose. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes! I’m convinced that unless you are very intentional about how you use your space, your stuff will eventually take over whatever space you have! I think this is one of the reasons tiny homes are becoming more popular these days!

    [Reply]

  10. Jamie

    07/12/2016

    Yes! When we moved into our house 7+ years ago, we were amazed at all the storage (1920’s farmhouse with TONS of built-in cabinets/drawers) and I vowed that we would never fill every single space of storage. With designated areas for certain things, I know when things are starting to get out of control and purge whatever area needs it. We’re expecting our 4th child in December and I’m glad to say we still have a handful of empty drawers and plenty of extra space in our closets. Yes to space limits!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow, that’s awesome that your house has tons of storage! We don’t have tons of storage — but we have enough!

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  11. Karen

    07/12/2016

    This is one of my favorite posts! I have finally realized that the less stuff I have, the easier it is to keep clean. I thought of you yesterday when I was purging our master closet. I am embarrassed but proud to tell you that I am hauling six bags of clothing to a ministry clothing place today! I love your idea of limited hangers and drawer space!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks karen!
    And yay for a big closet purge!!

    [Reply]

  12. Elizabeth

    07/12/2016

    Yes! I love this post. My parents have a chronic problem with stuff (which is why I am a minimalist!!!)! My mother is always complaining about how if she just had this set of containers or better closets, etc, she could finally get it under control. This is always my top tip for anyone who asks me about my clean house: each thing has a designated space; when that space is full, it is time to make some choices about what needs to go. If you take the time to set up a space “budget” and actually follow it, your house will almost keep itself tidy.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    You are probably more in the minority than your mother (unfortunately). I think many people I know would agree with your mom and they just need more space and then their clutter problems would be solved 🙂

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  13. Karen

    07/12/2016

    This is such a great reminder and I love how you reference space to a budget.

    [Reply]