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.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 6:45 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 2033 times
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Foundations 2013: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

My refrigerator is only uncomfortably full when I am having guests. When Kevin comes home he will argue that there is not enough food.
I am also trying to declutter my home. I have hopes for the basement but not until our friends take their stuff that we are storing while they try to sell their house. The garage is hopeless - it will always be full. The rest of the house doesn't look too bad until you look in the closets, cabinets and drawers....
Good luck with your endeavor!

Posted by MNKB on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 7:39 am

At least your garage is full of what a garage is for!

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 7:46 am

I do plead that our garage is so full of other stuff because we don't have a basement. (Where else to people have their washer and dryer in the garage?) But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot that could be decluttered.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

It amazes me to remember just how long it took me to become a good calculator of how much food I could carry on my back. I first had to learn in Japan where the closest grocery store was a 20minute bike ride away. I still had trouble when I first moved to Switzerland and the closest grocery store was a 5minute walk away. It wasn’t until a few years of Swiss living that I got pretty good at figuring out what would fit in my backpack. It’s hard to train yourself out of the “but it’s such a good deal I have to buy it NOW” line you’re fed in America so much – even when you have to carry your food on your back and keep it in a tiny fridge! My suggestion to you – combine your exercise routine with your shopping for a month: only walk to the store and carry everything home on your back. You’ll learn a thing or two about just how much you do or don’t need!!

Posted by Janet on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 9:43 am

Until the store that is 30 minutes away reopens, our grocery store is now an 80-90 minute round trip, if I'm walking—and that doesn't count shopping time. The closest groceries are at Target, which is an hour-long round trip. Not only would I learn to make do with less, I'd be in great shape!

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 10:09 am

Janet- when I lived in Houston, I got a week's worth of groceries using my bike saddle bags plus a backpack. I used to rate groceries based on volume- example- I would regularly purchase 100 corn tortillas rather than one bag of tortilla chips, and then bake or fry my own chips in the name of saving valuable transportation real estate.

For anyone wondering what a Swiss fridge looks like, this is from my blog archives, although our current fridge is just a smidge bigger because the freezer is now it's own appliance and is no longer taking up a shoebox worth of room in the fridge.

Posted by Monica on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

I love your Tetris analogy, Monica.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 11:14 am

Wait until you down-size to an apartment, after a very big home. It is possible to do it, but somewhat painful also. RC

Posted by Ruth Campbell on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 11:59 am

We had a glimpse of that when we moved to Boston, and into an apartment. Part of it was a relief (we were forced to do some decluttering) but it was certainly painful. Enough to make me determined to declutter now (though I've been working on it over 10 years!) because when you're forced to do it, it's easy to make mistakes.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Problems are still problems whether first world or third world! Many immigrants who come here suffer from the loss of community even as they acquire wealth, so it is not a problem isolated to one culture or peoples.

I have a never-ending battle with my family's accumulation of "stuff." At the root I think, is a fear of doing without. As though if we did not have a thing, we could not get by or go on in the manner we want to. I have a great yearning for a simple life, and what seems an uncrossable canyon between us. Thank you for posting on this important subject! There was a great article in the NY Times Magazine about it a couple weeks ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/opinion/sunday/living-with-less-a-lot-less.html?_r=0

Posted by Tienne on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Thanks for the comment and the link, Tienne. Other people's efforts, successes, and even failures are always inspirational. May your own efforts bear good fruit!

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Definitely a topic of interest to me! Thanks! I liked the connection between miscalculating space and time, such as before a vacation. Too true.

I lived in Manhattan for 2 years, zero storage space, a tiny refrig and no car. My sister in London stops at the greengrocer nearly every day, for her under-counter refrig. Better freezer, though--my "shoebox" freezer was worthless.
I have to keep re-learning that cleaning out, organizing, and decluttering are never once-and-for-all! I have to schedule time to keep at it, or the space fills up again. Quickly. Reading that others are in the battle, too, helps.

Here is a thought that has helped me many times, especially with the fear of doing without. I don't recall which book it's from. "There is a great place to store that extra box of paper clips or computer paper. It's called the office supply store." I don't have to store everything myself! I can get to the store when I need to, or close enough. There is a difference between an inconvenience and an emergency.

Posted by Leanne on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 9:49 am

Thanks for the comment, Leanne. I do like to have extra computer paper, almost as much as extra toilet paper. But in theory I love the office supply store storage idea!

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 7:29 am

The solution that "the best place to store the extras is at the store" only works if the store can be counted on to have it! That's not true here - there are times when all the stores that I know of in Brikama are out of the same thing. If it's my favorite variety of soda, I can survive, but if it's toilet paper that's missing, that's much worse.

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Saturday, April 06, 2013 at 7:06 am

Absolutely! And it's that memory—of things needed being unavailable, either because the store doesn't have them or because I can't for whatever reason get to the store—that keeps me from paring down as much as I'd like. It's hard to adjust to an "abundance/always available" mentality. But I can cut down quite a bit and still have plenty of toilet paper in case a hurricane hits. I just want my rooms, closets, drawers, and other spaces not to be so full that I have trouble fitting the next thing in.

Another thing I have to work on is the time issue I also mentioned: If I'm not working at the last minute, it won't matter that I can't get to the store now for more printer ink.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, April 06, 2013 at 7:43 am

For me, it is the act of going to the store that is the problem. I'm one of those people that hates to shop. When I finally get the momentum up to get to the store (this applies to grocery shopping, too) then I want to purchase enough to last me....forever (so I never have to go shopping again). Too bad that doesn't work.


Posted by dstb on Sunday, April 07, 2013 at 9:49 am

Oh boy, do I understand that also, Sarah!

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, April 07, 2013 at 12:04 pm