Print   |   Back
February 13, 2014
The Real Issue
Organizing after Downsizing
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


We just moved into a house that is about a thousand square feet smaller than our previous home. I love the new house, but I’m struggling to keep it tidy. It seems like there is stuff everywhere.

Do you have any tips for organizing a small-ish home?


A small home is like a puzzle. It takes a lot of thought to figure out what should go where in order to make the house run smoothly and not feel cluttered. But home organization is not only the act of arranging your possessions in your home. It is also the process of keeping things arranged from day to day.

The purpose is not just aesthetic, nor is it only to keep things clean. The purpose is to have a hard-working house that you enjoy living in, that is attractive and neat, and that is set up in a way to help you accomplish what you want to do with your time.

To accomplish this, my first suggestion is that you develop systems for doing things. A system is a routine you follow that makes your life easier. For example, when you enter your house, you might have this system: come in, close door, put shoes on mat, put keys in dish, put away purse, hang up coat, put away purchases.

That is fairly straightforward, but if you do it you will always know where to find your coat, keys, shoes, and purse.

Other systems, especially those that involve children, may take more thought to devise and time to implement. You’ll need one for your morning routine, evening clean up, coming in from outdoors, bedtime, the mail, the kitchen, laundry, bath time, and schoolwork, for example. If you have a pet, you’ll need a system for caring for it.

The point of systems is not to impose crazy regimentation. It is to build orderly habits that make life easier. For this reason, each system should include putting away things that you are done using. A morning routine, for example, should include making beds, putting away pajamas, clearing breakfast dishes, and putting away breakfast foods. It is infinitely easier to keep a house picked up when pick up happens throughout the day as you perform your daily tasks.

Second, you need less stuff. The best organizing tool is a garbage bag. So don’t unpack anything you don’t like or don’t want anymore. Leave it in a box and either throw it out or put it in your car for the Salvation Army.

Don’t hesitate to throw away things you never use, even if they were expensive. You can sell them, but if that thought is overwhelming, just let them go. A lucky shopper at the Salvation Army will love them.

Don’t think this step will ever end. The process of throwing things away is ongoing, especially when you live in a small house. New stuff is always coming in — school work, books, toys, flower vases, clothes, magazines — and there isn’t room for it all.

So as the years pass, and the things you used to love become less dear, or wear out, or are replaced by newer things, remove them from your house.

Third, as you unpack, you need to designate a place for things. Each item’s place should be where it will be used. Kitchen things should go in the kitchen. Bathroom things should go in the bathroom. Furniture should be put where people need to use it. Don’t make yourself walk from room to room to get what you need.

Make sure that things you use frequently, like pots and pans or coats or scissors, are easy to reach when and where you need them. Things you don’t use very often can go on the top shelf or in the back of the closet. If you find yourself frequently on hands and knees or on the stepladder as you try to make dinner, you probably need to rethink where you have put things in your kitchen.

Keep your doorways and walkways clear as you arrange furniture and other items. You don’t want to step over a beanbag or squeeze past a bookcase to get to your closet. You shouldn’t have to move your stand mixer to reach your dinner plates. And children’s items should be stored where they can reach them and put them away without help.

Fourth, stop buying new stuff. Before you buy anything, ask yourself, “Do I have room for this? Where will I put it?” Be specific about where you will put it, and if you don’t have room for it, don’t buy it. Also, don’t buy things you can’t use. Pretty dishes, decorative towels, fancy pillows, elegant furniture — only buy them if you will actually use them. There is no room in a small house for ostensibly useful items that are not used.

A corollary to this is to use the stuff you already have. If you have a set of pretty dishcloths that you’ve never used because they were too pretty and too expensive to muss, use them, for heaven’s sake. They are dishcloths. They are meant to be mussed. The same goes for dishes, towels, sheets, and everything else in your house (and closet). By all means, purchase attractive items for your home, but don’t save them for someday. Use them and enjoy them now.

This applies to how you use the rooms in your house, too. In a small house, it makes no sense to have entire rooms that are off-limits because they are full of items and furniture that are too fancy to be used. It is far better to actually live in the rooms you have. If your dining room doubles as a play room, so be it. Just have a system for transforming it back when company comes and needs to eat in it.

Finally, do not confuse use with abuse. A home and its furnishings, especially if they get heavy use, need to be treated with respect. If you keep things nice, you will be able to use them for years longer, and your home will look nicer.

Also, children should be taught how to care for things so (a) they don’t destroy your house and (b) they don’t destroy other people’s houses. Nobody likes a juvenile guest who jumps on the couch and wanders around the family room with a glass of milk.

Copyright © 2024 by Cyndie Swindlehurst Printed from