Senses of Living® Décor

August - September 2007
© 2007 by Bret S. Beall


"Art Imitates Life" is an idiom that implies when an artist draws upon his or her own life to create his or her own art. Because I am a design and décor educator/writer (among other things), I am going to draw on my own life's recent activities to be able to share my design and décor art (via this essay) with you.

Catching up!

In particular, I've been organizing like a mad man! There are only a certain number of hours in each day (I'm told that number is 24, but I don't believe it any longer; I'm sure there are fewer than 24 hours each day!). Anyway, organizing takes time, and I hate to admit it, but since I have to choose between taking care of the cats, taking care of the plants, visiting with friends, writing columns, cooking/developing new recipes, traveling, and organizing, then organizing will always be last (actually, house-cleaning is always last). Here is an odd assortment of tips that I have been using to get organized; this is not a systematic presentation of organizational ideas; it's just a hodge-podge, not unlike life itself!

Business cards: Maybe it's just because I have my own business, but do ever find yourself with lots and lots of business cards that you don't want to discard? Maybe they are for service providers, or various retailers, or perhaps some vacation venue. I use two different methods. The first is to staple or tape the biz card to a sheet of re-used paper (usually a half sheet), add a few notes about that card's relevance, and then file it in an appropriate resource file (by using a larger sheet of paper, the small biz card is less likely to get lost). The second is to use some sort of Rolodex; I use a small box with homemade tabs (light cardboard cut to the size of a biz card, but slightly deeper to allow me to write the "topic" on the top of the tab). The key for me, however, is to organize the cards by topic, not by name; if you are like me, you will remember an event, or a general theme before you remember someone's name (if, on the other hand, you do absorb names well, by all means, organize the cards by last name … there is no right or wrong).

Boxes: I mentioned "resource files" above … those are kept in boxes. I've written an entire column or two on filing (http://www.god-dess.com/webhintsApril03.html and http://www.god-dess.com/webhintsMay03.html). The key value of boxes, though, is their stackability! By putting loose items in boxes, labeling them, then stacking them, you take up less space. The psychological satisfaction of gathering up like items, organizing them in containers, and placing those containers away, leaving a clear, clean, uncluttered view, has enormous calming value.

Paper sorting: Again, maybe it's just because of the business I have, but I keep lots and lots of papers. Some are reference documents, or historical documents, and those get filed appropriately as mentioned above (or, if they relate to a completed or abandoned project, they can be recycled). But, a lot of them are time-sensitive announcements about restaurant openings, wine tastings, gallery showings, special exhibitions, lectures, etc. It is again so satisfying to just purge those time-sensitive documents that have expired. And speaking of time-sensitive: unless you need a magazine or newspaper for business purposes (which is VERY few of you), they are in your life for pleasure. It is NOT pleasurable to have piles o'magazines and newspapers lying about. My father used to save newspapers for YEARS, planning to someday get caught up. He never did. While he's an extreme example, even keeping "pleasurable" reading materials around for more than an extra month or two is unnecessary. If that product hasn't enhanced your life, purge it! Recycle newspapers, and donate magazines to your local library sale.

Shelve it! Unshelve it!

Shelf space to display dishware: If you read my column about designer and lifestyle guru Russel Wright (http://www.god-dess.com/services_sensesNovemberDecember2006.html), you know I'm a fan of mid-century modern dishware design. And with a company called "Global Organic Designs," you can be sure that I am always seeking new examples of organic design. So, as I come home from my occasional thrift shopping adventures, or as the boxes arrive with eBay winnings, I need to find places to store my finds. If I've managed to add additional pieces to existing sets, I can usually find a place for them in one of my three dining room hutches/buffets, or in my service pantry. However, sometimes something is completely new, and needs a new home. Sometimes, those completely new designs are so cool they will serve better as display items than service items. I have several shelves in my dining room, as well as surfaces, so I will often use these new dishware types as décor … and on occasion, I've even been motivated to do a complete overhaul and purge in order to accommodate my current design esthetic … most recently, I purged all of non-organic wooden serving pieces, donating them to a local thrift shop … I saw them for sale, and now know that my donation earned several hundred dollars for AIDS and HIV services.

Shelf space to store dishware: In general, I just stack dishes in appropriate piles in my hutches, buffets and pantries (I have no kitchen cabinets, by the way, hence the abundance of other storage options; it's a wonderful, open design, and I love it). This is usually quite straightforward, but sometimes, the distance between shelves can be so great that if one fills the space with stacked dishes, the result is awkward, dangerous, or damaging due to weight on the lowest dishes. Therefore, I have been known to use "lifts" to take advantage of lost space and to ease access to dishes. Specifically, I'm talking about "mini shelves" that either stand on legs and can perch around dishes below it, or which can attach to a shelf above and hang down into empty space. Remember: vertical storage is efficient; horizontal storage is NOT efficient.

Purging travel books/files: Some of the easiest materials to purge are travel files. Use your own guidelines, but in my world, I have found that any travel documents over five years old can be sacrificed (ie, recycled or donated). Sometimes I keep older travel documents as remembrances of trips I've taken, but that's rare. I recently cleared five full shelves in my library of obsolete, outdated travel books, and I've only just begun to purge the travel files … but I can hardly wait! This is actually a great way to unwind, sitting back on the couch, enjoying a glass of wine, with a cat curled up on one side of me, reviewing files and dumping most of the contents into the recycle bag. Be ruthless with your own travel documents, and anything else that might contribute to your unique clutter (FYI, I find the very best, most current travel information on the internet; as a professional travel planner, I just don't use ephemera much anymore).

Pruning and purging plants: The summertime is great because the plants are happy, and they grow and grow and grow … and now they are out of control! So, I have gone out of control with the scissors, the trowels, the potting mix, and the clay pots. With a snip and trim and a snap and an occasional CRASH, the plants are getting prepped for their winter period. They still have several months of outdoor and summer-type growth conditions available, so by trimming them now, they will continue growing and be healthy and vibrant when the cold weather hits, and be able to thrive and survive over the winter. But, sometimes some plants thrive so much that there is no longer room for others. So, I give away plants with ever increasing frequency. If you don't enjoy a plant, don't keep it. Pass it on to others who may enjoy it more than you do.

Recycling and Donations: I talk a lot about purging, processing and tossing. Please, Please, PLEASE don't just toss stuff into the trash. I am continually shocked by this. There are lots of recycling opportunities available, and they are much better to use than the trash bin. Even better, donate as much as you can to resale shops, especially connected with charities. As I mentioned above, my recent purging of wooden bowls resulted in a couple hundred dollars of income for HIV/AIDS service providers. You can sometimes get tax deductions from your donations, so purging coupled with donating is a win-win-win situation! It doesn't get much better!

Pantry Purge: If you read my food columns, you know I advise buying ingredients when they are on sale, and using coupons if you have them, to live most frugally. However, maybe you are like me, sometimes finding yourself with more dry goods, canned food, frozen treats, and refrigerated condiments than you really to have. I literally ran out of space for storing the great deals I got on sale. So, I first had to STOP buying new stuff. Then I had to intentionally use what I had already bought or made. Gradually, I've freed up space: I've purged entire portions of my pantries, I've created large gaps in both the freezer and fridge, and I've had an absolutely delicious time doing it! I'm saving huge amounts of money while eating really well!

For example, I had several cups of shrimp stock and some whole raw shrimp in the freezer, some leftover red wine in the fridge, and some onions and medium grain rice in the pantry: I made a killer shrimp risotto! I had a lot of pesto in my freezer, and boxes of pasta in the pantry, so that allowed me to enjoy many lunches of pesto pasta (because I always have several types of pesto in the freezer, my lunches never got boring). I have continued to buy fresh lettuce, but I was able to use up several partial bottles of vinegar and olive oil, along with some lost pieces of cheese, and partial containers of nuts and dried fruits to dress salads to accompany my pasta and risotto. Sometimes organization can come about merely by enjoying a great meal, and I have a talent for finding creative ways of using up bits and pieces of items in my own and others' fridges, freezers, and pantries.

If you'd like to tap into that culinary talent, or any of my organizational talents, you can reach me at 773.508.9208 or email me to become a client. Nothing intimidates me, and I am motivated by the prospect of helping you have as wonderful a life as mine. It's an art! It's life!