While developing my style statement last week, I had an interesting realization. It came about with this question and answer (from the Style Statement book by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte):
Some things in my living space that I want to toss but haven’t or can’t: most things! Actually, not really — I just wish all my things were stored in a way that was beautiful and displayed them properly.
I’d been thinking for ages about how grand it would be to toss everything and start over with a clean slate. But when I thought about my answer to this question, it struck me — for the first time ever — that I like my stuff! Sure, some of it is more practical than precious (plastic wrap, dental floss, sports bras, computer cords), but I’m such an enthusiastic purger and declutterer, there isn’t a whole lot of pure junk. That got me thinking: if it’s not my stuff I don’t like, then why am I always longing to get rid of it? What is it that’s driving me so crazy all the time? That’s when I realized it wasn’t the things themselves that bothered me, but the way I keep them. Nearly all my storage solutions are ad-hoc and utilitarian, and overcrowding makes it hard to know what I’ve got or enjoy anything that’s not in immediate use. When I think about beautiful spaces, I think about studios, galleries, museums — places where each object is carefully chosen and each one gets its due. Could I possibly apply that aesthetic to my own belongings?
About a month ago I had an opportunity to see a stranger’s home. He’s an artist (a filmmaker), and his two-bedroom apartment filled me with wonder at the way he’d displayed ordinary objects to unexpected effect. Behind his tiny kitchen sink, he’d blown up a photo to serve as a bright, colorful backsplash. Instead of storing his jeans in the closet, he’d hung each pair up on its own wall hook. It was maybe a little bit Gap-store-display, but on the otherwise bare white wall, the different denim washes and the varied creases and drapes made for a really striking installation. Of course, plain walls and hardwood floors do help in making everything look like art! But it was the aesthetic I loved, more than the specifics.
After coming up with my style statement, spacious authenticity, I felt energized to apply it to some area of my life, and it was easiest to start with my stuff. And of course, when it comes to stuff, the closet is the gapingest of the gaping black holes that are my storage systems.
Here’s the “before” of my side of our shared closet. It’s not terrible; after all, I do like things to be organized, and constant purging of my wardrobe keeps it to a manageable size (dresses, accessories, etc are stored elsewhere). But it’s not fun, either — it’s boring to look at and even more annoying to riffle through. In the top half of the closet, I had sports bras hanging in an unappealing heap on a clothes hanger, sweaters and skirts hanging nearby, exercise clothes folded on the shelf, and underwear stuffed into a cardboard box. I didn’t even bother putting my earrings and necklaces back into the jewelry box, because I could never open it (my workout socks sat in a basket on top of it).
Underneath this shelf is where the big, three-compartment laundry bin lived. My shirts were crowded off to the side next to this bin. Although I liked having the bin out of sight when the closet door was closed, I didn’t really like storing my clean clothes next to the smelly worn ones. And every now and then, something would fall off one of the upper hangers (or I’d drop it when getting it out), and land in the bin. In fact, on one uncomfortable occasion, I landed in the bin, when I was trying to stand on the shelf to reach one of the purses I’d stored at the top of the closet. Ouch.
It’s not a very sexy closet and I knew there was nothing I could do about that. The center shelf prevents me from keeping my dresses and coats with the rest of my clothes, and since I share the closet with Erik, I only have so much space. But I figured there had to be something I could do to make it feel more spacious and authentic. The main problems were the laundry bin, which made the daily task of getting dressed feel mildly grody always, and the inaccessibility of nearly everything, from squeezed-together t-shirts to the jewelry in a box I couldn’t open. So the first thing I did was remove the laundry bin to another area of the bedroom. Then I moved everything else around so there would be more space in between the clothes hangers.
I brought in a vintage yellow breadbox that I’d bought at a thrift store a year ago (I had thought to use it for craft-show display but that never happened) and lined it with pink tissue paper, then filled it with my undies. I put my workout clothes into cardboard boxes (which I hope eventually to replace with more permanent bins that don’t have that weird cardboard smell) and stacked the breadbox on top of those, then stacked another box and the sock basket on top of that. It looks a bit chaotic in the picture, but keep in mind that these things were all previously obscured. It’s a huge improvement just to have them in plain view and within reach!
Now that I could open the jewelry box, I put my earrings and necklaces back into it, and even hung up some decorations on the wall above: the painting I made several weeks ago, a rose-quartz heart from my friend Tina, and a sweet flower-shaped pincushion which was a gift from Mo of The Mouse Market. It’s not exactly a gallery setting, but it’s worlds better than before.
Here’s a full shot of the closet “after” (note that when I took this photo I was still trying out a different art piece above the jewelry box). It still feels full, but not so crowded, and most important, nothing is out of reach. The closet is now functional and non-smelly, and it has more open spaces and a few individual touches. Instead of looking at it and groaning, I now look at it and grin! And getting dressed is fun!