Reining in the Spread

I have written in the past about the Organizing Goddess corollary to Parkinson’s Law. Remember Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion? The Organizing Goddess’s corollary is: Stuff expands to fill the space available for its storage.

I saw that very principle in action recently in my own home. Since we have remodeling being done, my husband and I have moved out of our bedroom and are living in what we still call our daughter’s room, even though she doesn’t live here anymore. Among the items that I moved to the other bedroom are my jewelry box. I bought this wooden jewelry box over 30 years ago at a crafts fair. I love it for its beauty, craftsmanship, and practicality.

But this wasn’t my only jewelry box. Over the years, my jewelry has spread out into additional boxes. I didn’t want to move them into the other bedroom, since they contained stuff I hardly ever wore. That was a clue for me that I didn’t really need them, nor most of the stuff inside them.

One thing that I don’t like about my beautiful jewelry box is that it has stacking trays, not drawers. There are four levels, which means that I have to remove three trays in order to get to the bottom level. Just like cream rising to the top, my most frequently-worn jewelry (my earrings) are at the highest level. The deeper levels contain the stuff I wear the least.

To get rid of the smaller jewelry boxes, I reviewed everything inside them. I relocated some stuff that wasn’t even jewelry, and then donated or tossed other stuff. I was left with just a few items that I wanted to keep. I relocated those to the bottom levels of my wooden jewelry box, which were mostly empty anyway since they are hard to access. My daughter was happy to receive one of those unwanted jewelry boxes, as she had not yet devised a good jewelry solution in her new home.

So how you can combat Lowenheim’s Corollary and rein in the spread of stuff? By limiting the amount of space you allocate to it. You can see specific strategies in an earlier post called “Don’t Let Your Stuff Crowd You Out“.

The Best Way to Store Jewelry

People always ask me what’s the “best” way to do something. I also say — it depends. Different methods work for different people.

When it comes to jewelry, the most important factor is that you want to see everything that you own so that you can decide to wear it. (This goes for clothes as well.) There are multiple ways to accomplish this.

I’ve recently helped three clients organize their jewelry, so I can tell you some caveats.

Let’s start by talking about necklaces. Some of my clients were storing their necklaces bunched together in a bag or a box. The end result was a lot of tangling! This is not just an impediment to seeing your jewelry, but also to wearing it once you find it.

I am an advocate of hanging necklaces. They won’t tangle, and you can see them easily. I wrote about this in a post several years ago (see Hang Your Necklaces). Command™ makes some products to facilitate this, which I wrote about in the post.

If you don’t have the space to hang them or don’t like how it looks, then another possibility is to lay them down. If you search “necklace tray” in Amazon, you’ll see a lot of options.

Now let’s talk about earrings. Is there anything sadder than an earring that has lost its mate? I like this set of earring trays on Amazon that keeps each pair of earrings in its own little compartment. It can also be used to hold rings or pins.

Another very cool option is a hanging jewelry organizer with necklaces on one side and earrings/rings on the other. This can be hung in the closet on the clothing rack, or on a hook inside the closet door. Here’s one option at Amazon.

I advise against keeping your jewelry in the small opaque boxes that you get from the jewelry store. This is okay for just a few special pieces, but if you keep many items that way, you will never wear them because you won’t see them.

Two important things happen when you can see all of your jewelry easily. One is that you get to enjoy more of your pieces rather than wearing the same few items over and over again. The second is that you start to notice which pieces you aren’t wearing. Perhaps your style has changed, or it was a gift that you never liked, or it needs repair. Whatever the reason, taking action on it (by giving it away, selling it, remodeling it, or getting it repaired) will enable you to enjoy your jewelry even more.

Space as a Finite Resource

I think we are all used to the idea of money as a finite resource. But space is a finite resource as well — not just for those of us who live in small homes, but for everyone. Even if you have an attic, basement, or garage to stash the stuff you aren’t using, eventually it will be so full that you will have to deal with it.

One way to avoid coming up against space limitations is to use them as an ally and not an enemy. Use space to help determine how much you own.

Here’s an example of this. I love cardigan sweaters. (For those of you not up on your fashion terms, a cardigan sweater is a sweater that opens in the front, as opposed to a pullover.) I wear them over turtlenecks in the winter, and I carry one with me in the summer to combat over-cooled restaurants and subway trains. But I can’t have an unlimited number of cardigan sweaters because space is finite resource.

So I have allocated one — and only one — drawer in my dresser for my beloved cardigans. That drawer is always full. If I decide to buy another sweater, I need to figure out which sweater to get rid of. Embracing my space limitations forces me to make choices, which is the key to avoiding clutter. And I can always find the sweater I’m looking for, because they are limited to just one place.

You can apply this method to anywhere in your home. When your bookcases are full and you want to buy another book, figure out which book(s) to give away. Don’t start putting books somewhere else (where you will never find them again) or lay them horizontally across the standing books or start another row of books in front of the existing books. That, my friend, is clutter.

Once you’ve allocated the space for a particular type of item, stick with it. If it’s something that gets used up — like toilet paper or breakfast cereal — you will easily be able to see when you are running low and need to buy more. If it’s something that doesn’t get used up — like handbags or neckties — having a limited number will enable you to find what you are looking for faster and more easily.

Honoring Your Family’s Legacy

When my father passed away in 2015, my sister and I took on the laborious process of going through everything that he and my mother had left behind in the apartment where they had lived for 40 years. (You can read more about that experience in Home is Where the Heart Is.)

Among the few things I brought home were two pieces of jewelry that I had never seen before. One was a tie clip that my teenage mother had given my father before they were even married. It had his initials (JL) and was accompanied by a note saying, “Because I love you.” I had never seen my father wear this tie clip and I didn’t know it existed. The other was a ring with several small diamonds that might have also predated my parents’ marriage, as I never saw my mother wear it.

I sat on these items for several years, not sure what I wanted to do with them. Recently, I reached out to my colleague Jane Becker of JB Jewels, to whom I have referred several of my clients when they wanted to remake jewelry. I knew that I wanted to turn the tie clip into a necklace but wasn’t sure what to do with the ring. Jane and I discussed some of the possibilities and ultimately decided to remove the stones from the ring and turn them into a unique pair of earrings.

My father’s tie clip is now a necklace

I recently received my new jewelry and was delighted with the results. I feel so good that these pieces that my parents saved for over 60 years have been given new life. Jane wrote about my new pieces (including photos) in her latest newsletter, which you can read here.

I’ve seen so many of my clients hold on to items that came from their parents and grandparents, burdened by the space they take up but not using them and not wanting to part with them. If this sounds like you, then I urge you to think about how you can make some of these items work for you. Don’t let them be sources of guilt when they can instead be wellsprings of joy.

Coming Out of Hibernation

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve just emerged from a 16-month hibernation.

When New York City shut down in March of last year, it was such a shock to have all of the hustle and bustle grind to a screeching halt. My daughter asked me how long I thought it would take before we were back to normal. I told her that the flu epidemic of 1918 lasted two years, so we should expect at least year and a half. But deep down, I really didn’t believe it would take that long.

Little by little, I abandoned old habits and adopted new ones. Early on, I stopped wearing my rings because I was washing my hands so much. When mask-wearing became mandatory, I stopped putting on makeup and lipstick. I abandoned earrings because they interfered with the headphones I was wearing for virtual organizing sessions and Zoom meetings. I got used to wearing jeans every day. (At least it wasn’t sweat pants.)

Because all of my outside activities had been canceled, I spent more time reading books, finishing 84 books in 2020 and 55 so far this year. I even found time to polish my fingernails regularly, which I hadn’t done in years because I never sat still long enough.

For me, the thaw began earlier this year when I became vaccinated. But the big change was when the CDC announced that masks were no longer necessary for vaccinated people, except where explicitly required (such as on the New York City subway and bus system, and in taxis). Our local stores relaxed their mask mandate, and then my apartment building did. I no longer needed a mask to step outside my apartment door! I felt so liberated.

While I had gotten used to wearing no makeup, I started doing a little just for fun. Now I’m back to my usual 2-minute makeup routine, but with milder lip color that won’t stain my mask when I take public transportation.

The jewelry issue was a little more complicated. I have had my ears pierced since college, but I had never gone a year without wearing earrings. My right ear was fine, but my left ear was just not cooperating. I wasn’t ready to give up earrings permanently. I have very short hair, and earrings coordinated with my outfit are part of  “my look”. It took some daily effort to get back to where I was, but now I’m able to wear any earrings I own. However, when I try on some of the more elaborate earrings, they no longer seem like my style. I may end up donating some of them.

My ring situation was even more complicated than my stubborn left earlobe. When I put on my wedding ring, it was too big, maybe because of the weight I lost during the pandemic due to my healthy eating program. I have had it resized and am wearing it again, if I can remember. Sometimes I leave the house without it because I’m still not used to having it on.

As for wearing jeans — well, that habit is here to stay. I also want to continue my reading habit.

I’m still contemplating how busy I want to become as things reopen. I enjoyed the less hectic lifestyle that was forced upon me during the shutdown. I need to keep an eye on my calendar to ensure that it doesn’t get overly full.

Interestingly, I’ve left the house several times recently without a mask even though I am going somewhere where I know I’ll need one. I guess I was ready to ditch that habit!