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The Holy Grail of Small Space Living: Fitting Everything In

It turns out what I'd been good at was putting stuff away. In my new place there was no "away." As the movers filed out, it looked as if Christo had done an installation using to-the-ceiling stacks of boxes.
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From an early age, I loved organizing. I fancied myself quite adept at it until I moved from a relatively spacious apartment in Los Angeles to my studio apartment in New York and my stuff-to-storage-space ratio went off the charts.

It turns out what I'd been good at was putting stuff away. In my new place there was no "away." As the movers filed out, it looked as if Christo had done an installation using to-the-ceiling stacks of boxes.

My memory gets a bit hazy at this point. But I am pretty sure that as I sat among the cardboard towers, on the remaining patch of floor -- head in hands, overwhelmed by STUFF -- my attention was drawn to the window. The clouds slid apart and a Terry-Gilliam-animated deity boomed, "Arthur!"

"It's Karen."

"Whatever. This is your quest: Fit into one room!"

The clouds slammed shut, and suddenly my life had meaning and purpose.

In the dark days following, I wound my way through the labyrinth of websites, books and mega-stores devoted to home organization, seizing upon each tip that might lead out of the morass. Unfortunately, most were not helpful.

"Eliminate half your belongings," one small space guru advised.

Good idea, Solomon -- which half of the baby do I keep? Sure, at times I craved an ascetic lifestyle unshackled from worldly possessions, but, on the other hand, I liked my stuff.

"Pack one third of your clothes away. If, after a year, you don't miss them, give them away."

Of course I won't miss them, Mr. Magazine Article on Organizing, because I'll FORGET about them, but when I do come across them, I'll be all, "Purple shirt! I love you!" Thanks for nothing!

Then there were the closet-system ads -- photos of beautifully laid-out storage in closets the size of my apartment. Look at all that space, I'd sigh wistfully, the clothes are so... uncrowded. Then I'd look closer. Wait a minute! Why does that closet owner have only three shirts and two pairs of pants? I could fit that into MY closet!

Then, at last, the organizing deity smiled upon me and, and I chanced upon a copy of
Organizing From The Inside Out
by Julie Morgenstern. Morgenstern eschews any particular "technical" tip regarding an arbitrary weeding-out process or one specific storage system over another. Instead, she
that organizing is "a remarkably simple skill that anyone can learn." And she gives you permission to keep your stuff. Organizing can be overwhelming at best, and downright unsuccessful at worst, because we assume -- or are told -- it will require painful decision-making about what to keep and what to discard. We want to avoid wrenching evaluations such as:
  • I've never liked this towel, but what if all my other towels are dirty?
  • Is it possible I'll need this folder of six-year-old receipts one day?
  • This shirt is ugly, ripped and stained, but it might make a swell painting shirt, should I ever take up painting.
Morgenstern takes the fear of decision-making out of the equation and instead has you sort whatever it is you are organizing -- the contents of a small drawer or the contents of your entire kitchen -- into categories that make sense to you. Sorting is not decision-making. Instead, you are simply taking stock and grouping like objects. Paradoxically, decisions flow naturally from this left-brained process and arrive mostly without pain. With Julie Morgenstern's book in hand, everything eventually fell into place and my studio apartment became not only livable, but also uncluttered and pleasant. In fact I considered changing my name to Julia and writing my own book entitled
Julie and Julia

Wait. That sounds familiar -- Siri, has that already been done?