Upfront admission: This is a First World problem, and I know there are millions in the Third World who would love to have it. But we are First World people, and it is a problem.
Janet, our (almost) Swiss daughter, has a refrigerator about half the size of the one I had in my college dorm. It is, understandably, uncomfortably full. Heather, our New Hampshire daughter, and I each have what I'd call a normal-sized refrigerator. Each is uncomfortably full. My sister has a large refrigerator. You guessed it: her refrigerator is also uncomfortably full. (Maybe that's only because I usually see it at Thanksgiving. But I doubt it.)
Janet has a small cubicle in their apartment basement for storage, stuffed full. Heather has a good-sized basement, and the only reason it's not yet stuffed full is that they just removed the large furnace and chimney that were taking up a good deal of the space. My sister's basement is wonderfully large, but it has the same problem. We don't have a basement, but I know what it would be like if we did.
Janet doesn't have a garage. Heather has a one-car garage that is crammed with stuff. We have a two-car garage, ditto. My sister's three-car garage is in similar shape.
Janet's apartment is very small, with no closets and little cupboard space: it's overcrowded. Our four-bedroom house has decent cupboard and closet space: it's overcrowded. Heather just moved into a large Victorian monstrosity of a house, and their newly-renovated kitchen alone has awesome cupboard space. But even after making allowances for temporary construction equipment and materials, it's clear that the house is well on its way to filling up. Thanks to a taste for clean lines and an eye for beauty, my sister's very large house doesn't feel crowded (except at Thanksgiving), but her closets and cupboards are as full as the rest of ours.
I could go on: Attics. Bookcases. Drawers. Filing cabinets. Even boxes. I'm seeing a pattern here, and it's not good.
No matter how much or how little space we have, our possessions expand to fill it to the point of discomfort. I wouldn't want to limit the food I have in our refrigerator to what would fit in Janet's. But if she can manage, why can't I keep ours at the point where there's still wiggle room? Why do our bookshelves hold books behind books, and books on top of books? If we had fewer bookshelves we would have the same problem—but with a quantity of books that would fit comfortably on the shelves we do have.
I've come to believe that the problem is actually a mental miscalculation, similar to the one that results in my having almost-but-not-quite enough time to meet any deadline. If I could have 30 more minutes before guests come for dinner, I would be relaxed and well-prepared. If I could have one more day to prepare for our vacation, I would step onto the plane well-rested and confident. If I had left home ten minutes earlier, I wouldn't be fretting about traffic and red lights. What I want to do always fills up the time available—plus a little bit more. Likewise, what I want to store always fills up the space available, plus a little bit more.
Solving this problem has become one of my Foundations 2013 goals. Inspired by Janet's organizational and deluttering efforts, encouraged by some modest successes of my own, and cheered on by friends and family who are tackling similar projects, I hope to recalibrate my mental vision, or at least figure out how to compensate for its known errors.