There are so many amazing organizational products on the market - customizeable shelving units and decorative boxes and coordinated containers and pieces of furniture that open up to reveal storage space within - and endless experts on home shows and in decorating magazines telling us how to declutter our space and cleverly disguise anything we own that's unattractive or utilitarian. We're constantly shown images of picture-perfect homes filled with carefully clutter-free shelves, coffee tables containing a single photography book and an objet d'art, gleaming expanses of clear kitchen counters with nary a blender or dirty dish in sight, closets with shelves and rods and shoe racks organized down to the last inch - and no sign of children, toys, remote controls, family photos, meals being served or eaten, or clothes being strewn about.
Don't get me wrong - obsessive compulsive as I am, most of my house does mirror these magazine spreads most of the time. Organization is kind of a hobby of mine. Almost a passion, really. But I am even more passionate about enjoying my life and making an enjoyable life for my family - and when the ideas of keeping a pristine home and a comfortable home clash, family comfort wins. It's far more important that our home is comfortable for us, and part of that means being realistic about how we use our home.
Our home is designed and organized for us - not to impress the people we entertain. We keep things in the rooms we use them, because that's where they're the most practical. I have friends who have a drink with dinner every night but store their alcohol in the cold cellar and their good glasses in the dining room, who bake every day but keep their mixer in the pantry cupboard, who are avid readers but keep their books in an upstairs home office, who watch TV every day but keep their big television in the basement. This just doesn't make any sense to me.
Designers tell you not to put a TV in your living room or to hide it so it's not a focal point. Well, we use our televisions - the boys watch a show while I make dinner every day, they play Wii before soccer practice on the weekend, we have a family movie night once a week, my husband and I snuggle up to watch something on the rare nights we manage to have all three children in their beds at the same time. For us, it's not practical to make the living room television-free and relegate any electronics to the basement - space in our home is too precious to waste any on "show space." Yes, remote controls are ugly, as are video game consoles and stacks of games and DVD collections - but what's the point of having a home if you can't use and enjoy every square inch of it the way you want? We spend our whole lives in this space.
The same is true for children's toys. Of course toys need to be kept somewhere when they're not being used - but they need to be kept somewhere convenient for the kids to access them. There are all sorts of fabulous colourful storage boxes and bins for toys, but that doesn't mean we have to relegate all toys to the basement or playroom or the kids' bedrooms where they won't clash. Be creative with how you store them - an ottoman with a hinged lid looks the same as one without, and can also store dozens of board games and books and DVDs. In our home, most of the toys live in the playroom - for our family, it works the best when all the toys are shared rather than separating them into certain toys for each boy kept separately in their bedrooms. And we have a LOT of toys, so they need to live somewhere. But our house is very well-loved and lived in, so every room houses the toys we use there.
Our living room is styled to our own taste and is very carefully organized and clutter-free. As guest-ready as it may look, we use this room for playing, reading, video games, TV and movies. Yes, that's a TV in the middle of the shelving units. We also have a DVD player, two video game consoles, and all our video games and DVDs right there under the TV - because that's where we use them.
A couple of luggage-look fabric storage boxes on the bottom shelf of the coffee table house everything, and they're within arms' reach when we need them. Suede storage boxes that fit exactly underneath the sofa side tables look like nesting tables but store more of the kids' stuff - one box holds a collection of Baby's favourite books and toys, the other a bunch of the bigger boys'. Everything we use this room for is at our fingertips but easily hidden away.
Just because you live in a small space doesn't mean that keeping things organized has to mean keeping things packed away or hidden in a standard shelving unit or storage system in the basement or a closet. Think about how you use your space and commit to keeping things where you use them - then decide how to make that work with whatever storage solutions you can come up with.
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Living room before & after
Knick-knacks and trinkets and tchotchkes - oh my