Natalie is an artist and a graduate student in the midst of writing her thesis in Art History. The apartment she shares with her husband is lovely, but there isn’t a lot of office space. Natalie’s art supplies and her writing space are crammed into a tiny room that also serves as a general storage space. Natalie is responsible for the storage of a collaborative art project she curates each year: SP Weather Station (see below), and these artworks are stored in the room too.
Because this room must accommodate all of these uses, it can easily get cluttered, which makes focusing on her thesis difficult for Natalie. She also didn’t have a lot of mental energy to spend on changing the room. She said,
Every time I get excited about making the space better I also get disheartened/overwhelmed at the same time.
I knew that we had to start small, but I had a feeling that if we just took a few simple steps to open up the room and get it a bit organized, Natalie would start feeling better.
Natalie’s long-term goal is to be able to use this room as a guest bedroom. That’s a long way off at this point. We narrowed down two more immediate goals:
- Free up more space!
- Make the room more conducive to thesis writing.
We started out by identifying anything that could leave the room, especially the bins under the desk above. We realized that in addition to things that could leave the house, some things could find a home elsewhere in the home–for example, out of season clothes in the storage closet could go into a bedroom closet. Some items could go into “deep storage” in a part of the house where they’re less accessible. Ideally this room would be devoted only to Natalie’s work and the storage of her art projects.
Next we turned to Natalie’s primary workspace:
I thought a little tidying could go a long way toward helping Natalie focus better. It turned out she just needed a little company to make going through the minutia of office supplies less tedious (together we threw out a lot of empty inkpens). We cleared out things that didn’t belong in the office (tennis balls) and went through the items on and around the desk to move things that aren’t important to Natalie’s work to more remote storage locations. Here are our results:
I know that a tidy desk doesn’t always last long, so I left Natalie with some mini projects to do over the following 4 weeks to keep the progress going. We decided a manageable schedule would be one task per week. These included things like mailing other people’s artworks back to them and either fixing a broken printer or getting rid of it. Natalie did a great job following up on these mini projects and seemed less overwhelmed by the major task of tackling this room. She ended up saying,
My mess feels like an existential problem, but I think what is great about working with you on it is that even small concrete steps can make a difference.
Nancy is a talented graphic designer with her own business and a charming apartment on U Street. She loves to cook and entertain, and the large kitchen gives her lots of space to get creative. But Nancy found that there is so much space that sometimes she loses track of what she has. She came to me with three goals:
- To stop wasting or forgetting about food in the cabinets or the fridge.
- To prioritize kitchen space around the most-used items.
- To make better use of her lovely fireplace area.
We also talked about some lifestyle goals. Nancy wanted her kitchen to be more inviting so that she would be encouraged to invite people over for dinner or brunch. We were able to accomplish all of her goals in one 6-hour visit by clearing out clutter and unwanted items and by finding the best home for her belongings and food.
Here are some “before” photos:
Nancy’s cabinets were so crammed that she often left things on the counter instead. As a solution we cleared out unwanted items and created designated spaces for the things she wants to store. She said,
Even though I didn’t often go into the messy cabinets I still knew the mess was there.
Together we whipped the cabinets into shape so that she could make her counter spaces more appealing. See the “after” photos here:
With some unwanted items off Nancy’s open shelves, there was more room to show off her more attractive jars of preserves. A small tray of produce reminds her that she has fruit to eat. The small lamp and clear counter put the emphasis on her wine rack, reminding her of her intention to entertain more. Her homework was to invite a friend over to open a bottle!
Now the fireplace area is ready for other uses. Nancy thinks she might add a full-size stool so someone can keep her company while she bakes.
Nancy’s thoughts on the process:
If I did this on my own it would have taken a very long time and I’m sure I wouldn’t have thrown out as much stuff. It helped to have someone to keep things moving, to question me about items I wanted to keep, to give me ideas that I may not have thought of on my own, and to give me encouragement. It was nice for someone to say, “you’re doing great!” to keep the day positive, and to do it all in one day so as not to lose steam. Having some company actually made it a little bit fun.