Sunday, December 27, 2009

rePURPOSING Things: Family Documents

Other than using your own home to store them, what can you do with  photos, documents and certificates passed down from generations?

One family inherited lovely full-color, framed 1917 graduation certificates from a Sabbath School in Pennsylvania. They had hung in the matriarch’s home but when she died none of her family wanted to hang them in their homes. But they were beautifully framed and seemed historical. It would be a shame to toss them.

With just a short search on the web for the church - which had undergone a name change - and a quick call to the church office I made arrangement to donate them to hang in their church library.

The church was very appreciative to be able to display a part of their history and sent this photo from the Sunday they announced the donation.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ready to be Ruthless: Rosemarie’s Home Office

After her children grew up and moved out, Rosemarie started spreading her things around the house. One child’s room eventually morphed into a home office with no real planning or thought. She moved in a desk. Then some shelves and a file cabinet. But nothing moved out. The kid’s bed stayed along with the possessions they didn’t take into their grown-up life: stuffed animals, sports equipment, prom dresses, school papers.

Rosemarie wanted her office to function better.  And she wanted the bed to stay so her kids could stay over occasionally.

She had all the ingredients to make this room into a pretty terrific work space: storage, desk, bookcases, file cabinet, privacy, even an inspiring garden view. But there was just too much stuff in the room and the furniture placement was unattractive and inefficient.

Rosemarie is a college professor so, in addition to her own kids’ school papers, she had her students’ as well. She is also a voracious reader and had the books to prove it. A large file cabinet, topped with books, was in an awkward place at the head of the bed. It was basically inaccessible so she piled her papers in stacks and boxes around the room. Her many files even hid the glorious view of the garden. The sleeping space, crammed between the file cabinet and a bookcase, had binders and materials from conferences and classes stacked around it. It was not a serene place to nap.

Our strategy was to clear enough space to move the furniture into a more efficient configuration and visually separate the office space from the sleeping space.

Rosemarie was ready to be ruthless. In a few short hours we filled:
·      a large commercial-sized paper recycling bin
·      her car trunk with books for resale or donation
·      several boxes for good will
·      several more boxes of things to be returned or given to friends

This cleanse led Rosemarie to a flash of insight as to why she was buried under papers. One of her first jobs involved endless hours of boring filing that she swore she’d never do again. Once she sees that a quick pass at daily filing will give her access to any paper she needs plus a serene workspace, I think she will overcome her filing aversion.

After the “psychoanalysis session”, we moved her desk under the garden-view window, positioned the file cabinet so she could actually open the drawers and cleared the area around the bed.

We stuffed her kids’ possessions in the large closet and shut the sliding doors. Her next project is to get the kids home to haul it away. Then she’ll have more room to store the boxes she didn’t get around to filing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christie’s Condo

Christie had the exact opposite issue from Melinda, Aline, Amy and Jennifer: she didn’t have enough stuff! And some of what she had was not a good fit to create a serviceable and serene home for her and her son. So she asked me help evaluate, eliminate and integrate what she did  have. Then we actually supplemented as well.

In her undivided public living area she had a maple farm table and chairs, a nice navy blue leather sofa, an oversized TV cabinet that was custom made for a different residence, large bar stools for the breakfast counter, a trunk and a variety of lamps.

The first task was to create identifiable sections: entry, dining and living rooms.  For the entry we added a small side cabinet in white to match the next thing that would be seen when you entered: the farm table with white legs. We ditched the oversize bar stools and replaced them with three new ones with smaller profiles. Their rush seats and white legs matched the maple table with white legs. The dining section was now visually coherent.

To visually create a separate living room area we turned the sofa away from the table - and away from the TV in the far corner – and oriented it toward a large window. A long buffet table that matched the entry side table - but this one in black is more sophisticated for the living room – gave a focal point, and storage, to a long wall. The massive size of the TV cabinet prevented experimenting with placement so we left in a rather dead corner, away from visual focus of the room.

Christie needed additional comfortable seating for guests that faced the sofa but was light enough to move for television watching. A few days later I stumbled across the perfect solution at a re-sale shop in Capitola: antique Queen Anne chairs reupholstered in navy blue brocade. The chair profiles and brocade texture contrasted nicely with the leather sofa and the color matched it perfectly!

Now all the room needed was an area rug to anchor it and warm it up with. I spotted a gorgeous blue with red accents Persian-style rug on sale at Pottery Barn. It looks great on the hardwood floors and ties all the pieces together. The blue compliments her sofa and the red adds some punch to the room.

A gift of matching black floor and table lamps, IKEA drapes over the windows and some houseplants finished the room.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Year-end Possession Purge Contest

Entering a new year is a good time to take stock; that's why many of us make New Year's resolutions. If yours includes clearing up your clutter I have a quote to guide you. Adopted from a speech by Plato, I found it in A Grateful Heart edited by M. J. Ryan.

"O beloved Pan, and all the other deities of this place, grant that I may become beautiful in my soul within, and that all my external possessions may be in harmony with my inner self."

I have a challenge for you. Clear out possessions that are not in harmony with your inner self and send me "before" and "after" photos by tax day, April 15, 2010.  I'll post your inspirational photos on this blog and the person with the most impressive possession purge wins an embroidered rePURPOSE: What to Trash, What to Treasure apron. Its pouch pockets, waist ties and adjustable neck strap make it a perfect to wear when you clean or possession purge. Email photos to

Ready to release excess possessions? Imagine how good you'll feel when you're done.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

RePURPOSING Spaces: A San Diego Cottage

Lisa lives in a darling two-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-story cottage with a bedroom and bath upstairs and a bed and bath downstairs. The small bedroom upstairs was her “home office” but, filled with boxes, it was really was more storage than office. The large downstairs room was her bedroom with a double closet, a wide hallway, a bathroom with a tub and French doors opening to the backyard.

When her partner moved it created an opportunity to evaluate how space in this house was used. Much like our house, their rooms did not fully match their functions so they decided to switch the bedroom with the office.

Here is the downstairs mid-move:

Switching rooms made sense for a number of reasons:
·      Sleeping upstairs eliminated the trek up to the shower every morning and back down to the closet to get dressed.
·      The smaller upstairs room was just the right size for the bed and its smaller closet was just the right size for their clothes.
·      The larger room downstairs had space for the desk and they could add bookshelves to hold what was in the storage boxes.
·      Its double closet was large enough for both off-season clothes and some office storage.
·      Floor space was opened up for practicing yoga.
·      And they got a big bonus - a view of the backyard during the day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

RePURPOSING Spaces: Our Bedroom

Living in a small house has been a large lesson in seeing ways to use space beyond the obvious.

Here is a photo of the first time we saw the Front Bedroom as potential home-buyers:

It is exactly the same size as the Back Bedroom and the bathroom is directly between the two but this one must have been designated the "Master Bedroom" because it had the largest closet. So, influenced by the home staging and without questioning the room functions, we moved in and set up our bed.

The house had minimal closet space so we added IKEA wardrobes and used the Back Bedroom as a home office.

Then one day it hit me. Why were we sleeping in the sunniest room in the house and spending waking hours in the darkest room? Wouldn’t it make sense to switch? But we'd have a lot less closet space because the sunny room had a picture window and, therefore, less wall space for the wardrobes. They would have to go. Could we live with less clothes?

Like most people, we wore 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. After deciding we’d rather have a sunny spot to work rather than clothes we rarely wore, we whittled down our wardrobes. Most of my husband’s everyday clothes were folded and put in a dresser. He selected his favorite shirts, sports jackets, ties and belts to hang in his 29" Back Bedroom closet.

I did the same in the Front Bedroom closet with mine. To save space, we stored seasonal clothes in protective bags under our bed.

Without the wardrobes we had space for a guest sofa bed in the Front Bedroom. So now we have a bright, sunny place to read, do projects or use the computer and our guests have some privacy.

Plus we sleep much better in the darker Back Bedroom, our romantically cozy "new" Master Bedroom.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

rePURPOSING Things: Grandmother’s Dresser

Inventing new uses for old objects can be really fun. After our storage clean-out I had a few items from my family that I absolutely could not part with but for which I had absolutely no use. So here is the first of my personal examples to inspire you to rePURPOSE your own problem possessions.

Grandmother’s Dresser

According to my mother, this poor dresser had seen more than its fair share of abuse. Family lore is that it came on a ship from Ireland in the 1890’s along with my immigrant Grandmother. It supposedly had an attached mirror and gingerbread decorations but when it came into my hands in 1969 it was a plain pine dresser with sticking drawers. I was a hippie, so I painted it red, white and blue.

When my hippie phase passed and I decided to clean up my act, the dresser became my first furniture-refinishing project and was transformed into an attractive honey color. Over the years our family used it as a dresser, a baby changing station, a dining sideboard and it even had a brief stint holding the microwave in a temporary kitchen.

Then we moved into a small casita. We had a nice dresser and no room for a sideboard. So it went into storage.

Cleaning out the storage I had an idea. We had a window in the living room that could use a table in front of it. But the dresser was too tall; it would block the view. So, I cut it in half... length-wise. The formerly four-drawer dresser was now a two-drawer side table…and a perfect perch for out cat!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Our Storage, or Physician Heal Thyself

When we moved into our 888 square foot house five years ago we had bigger things to concern ourselves with other than the efficiency of the one tiny storage closet near the carport. It had prefab shelving in that held our 66-gallon storage boxes so we shoved them in and basically forgot about it except at the holidays when we retrieved our decorations…

…until we decided that the time had come for us to practice what I preach: clean out the off-site storage unit we got when we moved and stop paying to store things we rarely use.

The first step was to evaluate the storages unit’s contents, which was mostly my husband’s art supplies, camping gear & CDs and various family items I inherited and couldn’t bear to part with.

The art supplies went to his art studio and he ingested the CDs into iTunes and sold the discs to a record store. I rePURPOSED a few family items (more on this later) and we were left with the camping gear and a few framed pieces of family art. Surely this would fit in our storage closet?

Here I go again with no “before” photo. You’ll have to take my word that I made some clever changes to this closet.

When I measured the closet I realized how much room the prefab shelves took up. If we installed plywood ones we could gain an additional shelf plus a slot for vertical storage for family paintings. So we did.

I hired a carpenter to build shelves the same height and depth as my storage boxes. I measured the new shelving to accommodate a footlocker that had been stashed under my desk in the house (which is why my chair never went fully under the desk). Then I corralled items that were not already in storage boxes into additional ones I bought, which I labeled. This arrangement left plenty of room to hang the camping backpack on the inside of the door and beach chairs on the side walls. Perfect!  Everything is findable, accessible and it will only take five months of not paying the storage fee to cover the carpenter’s cost. From then on, free storage!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Aline’s Home Office- File Cabinets, Part I

I love file cabinets. I don’t know how people live without them. When my youngest daughter turned twelve she surprisingly requested a file cabinet for her birthday. I guess she saw me use mine all the time, it looked liked fun and she wanted one, too. It IS fun. The flat file is one of the greatest inventions ever. Every paper has a place and you can always find what you want but ONLY IF YOU FILE IT.

File cabinets play a central role in Aline’s home. She has plenty of them but she doesn’t fully exploit their usefulness. She needs to get papers off her horizontal surfaces - the floor, tables, book shelves – and into her file cabinets.

To make it worse, years ago her partner boxed up a lot of these piles of papers to make room for a new floor installation. Then boxes sat there, for years, being an eyesore and taking up floor space. She didn’t even know what papers were in them.

Her priority with my time was finding a document she suspected was in one of the boxes, so we started our paper purge there. I worked as a coach, encouraging her to divest herself of random papers we came across during the search.

We sorted the papers and other items into boxes for:
Yard sale
And a special box of ephemera from her religious movement to send to a library for their archives.

She got into a paper tossing rhythm but she couldn’t bring herself to part with the folders and binders we emptied. Her instinct was keep them and other office supplies to be reused. My belief is the less you keep, the less likely you are to fill them up. She agree to keep only a few.

When we finished for the day we had found the missing document. But more impressive, we reduced 18 boxes to five - two to file, two with small papers and photos that remained to be sorted and one with papers to shred.

This was the first step in reclaiming space in the office she and her partner share. She has a lot of next steps ahead of her and most of them involve file cabinets:

1. She needs to clear outdated papers from her file cabinets so she has space to file the papers she wants to keep.

2. Once their contents are reduced she should move her file cabinets to arrange “like with like.” A black file cabinet in the living room could join the matching one in the office. Placed side by side they would create a larger horizontal surface. If she moves her two three-drawer file cabinets next to each other under her printer shelf, they will create a larger horizontal space where she could store printing supplies.  If she can reduce the need for so many file cabinets, it will reduce the furniture in her small condo, which will expand her space.

3.  Then she can clear off her desk because she’ll have places to file current papers.

4. Her last step is to take everything off her bookshelves, clean them and re-shelve only the books she will actually read again or use for reference.

We’ll check in later on her progress.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Amy’s Office


Amy won my basic two-hour assessment at an auction. She is a minister and wanted to rearrange her office to add some privacy and comfort when she met with her parishioners. In our two hours together she learned how to evaluate, eliminate and integrate her office furnishings.

We began by reviewing the plan for furniture rearrangement she created with room design software on her computer. I explained a few of the how to’s for organizing and design, made suggestions for improving her layout. She had many bookshelves scattered around the room. I suggested she group them into a single wall unit. We decided she could live without the return L portion of her desk which would free up a lot of room and give her more flexibility in where she could place her desk. We switched a few chairs with another church office so that hers all had complementary upholstery and planned for them to be grouped in a comfortable conversation area. And then we dug in and began the massive job of sorting and reducing her paperwork and library so that she could get to the fun part - moving the furniture.

Luckily, the church was having a yard sale that very day so we had a convenient and instant place to recycle books and possessions she no longer needed. I suggested ways she could free her office from years worth of thank you tokens from her congregation and still keep the sentiment of those special gifts. We started by removing the inscribed flyleaf from a book - a book she would never read again – and putting the sweet note in a scrapbook. Then the book went into a box of things to pass on.
I gave her permission to let go of other gifts she had been given. A gift is given to you. It is yours. You can do what you want with it. Even though the green movement has made re-gifting acceptable, there are things that are still hard to part with. To remember them she could take photo of it before she passed the item on, or use it in a different room or for a different purpose than it was intended.

By the end of our session Amy had specific boxes for:
· Things to file
· Things to return or re-gift
· Trash
· Recycle
· Yard sale

She also had a plan of what to do next and the momentum to it:
· Continue to evaluate every single item in the room
· Clear out her flies to make room for the current files
· Arrange for help moving her furniture
· Hang a curtain rod over her large window with curtains that can be closed for a private consultation

I went back this Sunday to see how she has progressed.

She still has more work to do but this is huge improvement. She gained more floor space by removing the desk L. She moved her desk under her windows so she can enjoy the courtyard view and see who is coming. The conversation area is much more cozy and the books are all in one spot. With just a few more discards, filing, and hanging some artwork she is done!

"After" - mostly. Just a bit more work to complete it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jennifer's Basement

I get so excited about the possibilities of each project that I dive right in and forget to take either a "before" photo or an "after" photo or both! Here is a project where I have a "before" and a "during." Some day I'll go back for the "after." In this case, by the time we were finished I think I was just too tired!

Jennifer's basement BEFORE

Jennifer is an artist who has many collections of interesting things she may one day use to make art: cards, suitcases, ceramics, galvanized tin. She also collects dishware that appeals to her. She is pretty organized and has a huge basement to stash all this stuff but it got to the point where just had way too much. She couldn't find things, they weren't put away in the right categories and she needed help.

We evaluated what we could get done in a morning, prioritizing what would make the biggest impact on her space. First off, organizing and slimming down the excess dishware would create more storage space for the art supplies.


This is just some of the items for her to take to a dish re-sale store.

Clearing out the dishes allowed us to create a central space for art supplies including odd items for assemblages. We consolidated all her linens in a dresser that was stored in the basement and used her suitcase collection to house seasonal clothes. Gift wrap was corralled in her basket collection. After she realized she would rather make art than spend her time repairing, refinishing or repainting the damaged furniture she had stored, we carted it off to the alley behind her house and where it miraculously disappeared between our trips to the basement for more.

There is still more to do but now things are easier to find and there are less things crying out for her attention. The guys driving by the alley were happy and she stands to recover some money from the dish re-sale shop. The most important thing is that she has more room for what really matters to her: her art.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Melinda's Closet

Melinda's half of the walk in closet she shares with her husband was overflowing. It made her feel chaotic to go in there. She had gorgeous clothes she couldn't locate quickly. We removed everything from the closet, used more efficient hangers & started over.


This is part way through the project. It took about four hours plus a little of her time after I left. She took 4 or 5 large bags to Goodwill.