Our Storage Spaces: The Plan, The Actual, The Emotions and The Current State

Hi pals!  As I type this, I am heading home after seven long but extremely fantastic days of travel.  Last week I had the opportunity to head to NYC to check out some amazing holiday inspiration thanks to my friends at Lowes Home Improvement {and hang with my blonde besties Courtney, Cassie and Megan}.  From there, my main man and I hopped a plane down to Florida for a few days to help out some family with a little project.  I fully intended to work while I was away, but between all of the travel and getting my hands dirty with some paint, I just had to take an itty bitty bloggy and Etsy shop break.  But as always, it feels good to be back!  And boy do I have a novel of a post for you today.  I apologize for turning into a Chatty Cathy, but let's finally get you caught up with this super mega storage room project we have been working on.

This storage room initiative of mine sure has taught me a lot as I have taken on my biggest organizing project to date.  Although I haven't had daily/weekly updates, I am getting into the nitty gritty today.  Organizing projects of this nature are not like a room makeover.  The process is completely different.  And this is not a two hour sort and make pretty storage type of project.  This is an empty three stash-and-dash rooms, sort them down to the bare essentials, donate donate donate, create a storage plan, put things back where they make sense, label label label type of project.  With room makeovers, you can blog and share along the way, things like, "Today I spray painted this side table which I distressed and embellished with nailheads."  With huge organizing projects each post would be, "Last night I sorted, and felt like I got nowhere."  There are no before and afters, because you just sort and sort and sort some more.  I have spent endless hours sifting through photos, family home videos, home accessories and thrift store items, craft supplies, childhood memories, holiday decor, tools, paint and painting supplies, fabrics, electronics, hardware and more photos.  And there are no afters because the before started out as one giant pile, and as I sorted through that pile, I just created more new piles.  So although I haven't been blogging about the process so far, just know that behind the scenes I have been spending endless woman hours making great progress and drumming up a lot of fun things to share during the final phases.

The Plan:

We started this project by making the choice to address and problem solve our storage areas.  For us, these areas consist of our utility room, the space under our stairs and our garage.  These areas are either rarely seen or are used to work on our DIY projects.  They have never been set up to succeed, and therefore, they have failed us in a major way.  They have become the places where everything that doesn't have a home, goes to die.  Half finished projects, projects to work on later, tool piles from finished projects... all of these items get stashed within these spaces.  And all of these spaces were already filled with massive amounts of bins and baskets overflowing with twelve plus years of memories and holiday decor.  Not a pretty picture.

Our utility room was our main dumping ground for anything that we didn't know what to do with.  The under stairs area already had our memories in large bins, however, they were arranged in a way in which they were not easily accessible which equals to not easily maintained.  And then home decor/accessories and things to donate/sell started getting tossed in there to be "dealt with later".  Our garage was the holding ground for larger items to sell on Craigslist, items to be donated to the Habitat ReStore, our main area to use for working on projects which include spray painting and using our table saw {which also leads to dusty messes} and also was a holding cell for purchased furniture waiting to be made over.  All of those items within the garage ultimately took over, and didn't allow us to enjoy or utilize the garage for the main purpose of storing outdoor supplies and our vehicles. 

My initial plan was simple.  Remove everything from each space.  Sort it.  Purge it.  Donate and sell it.  Organize the rest.  Be done and get back to enjoying our home.

The Actual:

Removing the items from the utility room and under the stairs was easy.  However, the after effect was one of the most challenging parts of the entire process.  Living with this mess:

And this one:

Yikes right?  Can you imagine?  I couldn't.  That photo above is the mess I was left with after emptying the area under our stairs.... bye bye workspace!

How in the world did we fit SO much into such small spaces?  I still can't wrap my brain around it.  It is off the charts on the amazing level.

My personal organizing process is one of needing to start from scratch and to sort everything at once.  This isn't such an overwhelming way of doing things when working on a junk drawer, but when working on three full junk rooms, that is a different story.

The other problem I faced is that I had nowhere to put the sorted items, except back into new piles still around the family room/studio.  The utility room got a quick face-lift, however, I still had to determine the bins, the shelving setup, placement, etc.... Although we decided that it is not cost effective or necessary to finish the walls and ceiling in the utility room, the opposite is true for the space under the stairs.  I ultimately hope to utilize that space as an extension of my studio, and would like for it to be finished with oodles of awesomesauce storage.  Knowing that we need to do the drywall, nothing could be placed back under the stairs once sorted and paired down.

When it came time to start working on the garage, it has been so cold and rainy in Wisconsin, that we couldn't just empty it all out into the driveway/yard and leave it until the entire garage is outfitted with appropriate storage.  Everything has to stay within the garage and be worked around.

Here are a few more details regarding how everything has played out up until this point:
  • Happy dancing commenced for quite awhile after the utility room was given a little attention with shelving and painted floors.  
  • Sorting started and I focused on picking through the piles for all of my paint supplies.  Hours and hours later of transferring paint to jars and sorting down bins and baskets, the paint was given a new home on the shelves within our utility room.
  • Before placing our paint supplies within the utility room, I had done some research and looked at a few sites online for guidelines around paint storage.  We were under the impression that it just needed to be a specific distance from our furnace to be deemed safe, so we proceeded to store our items back where they had lived for the previous twelve years.  After thinking about it further and even stressing about it a little {thanks to writing an entire post about it and even after a few questions from you super sweet readers}, I contacted our HVAC professional for a second opinion and to learn more about the dangers involved.  Although stains and certain paints may appear to be sealed, they still may off-gas dangerous and flammable fumes.  So although we were "probably" OK given the fact they were quite a good distance from our furnace, I was not OK with "probably" safe as far as my family is concerned.  Therefore, late one night I actually got out of bed and moved all of the paints back out of the utility room, and onto shelves within our laundry room instead.  Anything with potentially dangerous fumes were placed within cabinets, the pretty jars got to stay out on the shelves.  Live, learn, share.
  • One night we ran into HomeGoods to grab something, and I stumbled into the most incredible wrapping paper.  It was lust at first sight.  I purchased three rolls and once all of the paints were moved to the laundry room, we removed the foam board backing we had previously lined with shelf liner, and lined the opposite side with the new pretty gift wrap.  SO much better.  I loved that all of the backings were the same and that the pattern was more fresh and simple and even complimented the floor.  Sure, I am cray cray, but for me, it is always those special little details that make these projects more exciting.
  • Once paint was sorted, my next goal was to go through family photographs.  I had organized a lot of our photos previously, however, in the process of emptying the contents of the storage rooms, I found SO many more.  Bins of photos.  Bins of scrapbooks.  Bins of photo albums.  Just to warn you, organizing photos will never be a quick process.  I sat down with the intentions of just getting them all placed inside of a single bin within an hour.  Six hours later, I was sucked into years of memories, endless feelings of gratitude for this beautiful life I have been given and emotions ranging from laughter and grins to tears of sadness for those that I have loved and lost along the way.  I spent time looking at years and years of events ranging from weddings and the birth of my children to simple moments of picking apples and playing card games with the kids.  The goal of the night was to get all of the photos out of albums and every random box and bin, and into one container to be focused on later on.  Ultimately, we hope to have all of the photos organized by event/type and scanned and stored both online and on CD's.  For now, just getting them into a one bin is good enough as photos are only a small piece of this very large project.
  • Then I found our home movies.  Some on mini-VHS tapes and others on DVD's.  We sat down with the boys and watched them all in their entirety.  Some of them twice.  This was my favorite part of the entire organizing process.  Although watching school concerts and Christmas programs that the kids had put on through school was sweet, the videos of the boys searching for their Easter baskets, opening gifts on Christmas morning, counting with their fingers, singing the ABC song and missing 25% of the letters, crawling and walking for the first time, playing sports, swimming in their inflatable pool on the deck and just hanging out on a typical afternoon doing everyday things were my most favorite moments to watch.
  • Back in the day I had done a really good job keeping the really, really important stuff for each family member organized within storage bins under our stairs.  We are talking important milestone items, home from the hospital outfits, publications, etc... However, as the area under the stairs worsened, so did my ability to easily store the items we cherish most.  Wanting to ensure that each member of the family had a proper "memory" bin, we measured an area in our storage room and went on the hunt for the perfect solution.  We searched for weeks until we came across something that fit all of our criteria: it had to fit the shelving space we had available, be sturdy/durable with handles, attractive and ready to stick with us for the long haul of life.  Once we found them {we selected these}, I spent more hours heading back down memory lane, and packaged everything nice and neat within the boxes {more on those within an upcoming post}.
  • Once the main categories were organized down {paint supplies, photos and videos, home accessories, etc...}, I found myself with a new mess.  Because we emptied the contents of our storage areas into giant piles within my studio, I was no longer able to work or craft there.  Instead, I took up residence at the kitchen table.
      • Working at the kitchen table posed a whole new set of problems.  I had my work piles everywhere in our main living area, which we had to eat and live around.  Every few days I would do a "clean up" and take those items/piles back down to the studio.  Only, I couldn't get to my containers and baskets easily, so I just made new piles to deal with after the rest of the stuff was dealt with {sounds pretty silly right?}.  There was this giant trickle effect not being able to use certain areas of our home for their primary purposes, because they were taken over by this other project.
      • Once the storage room items were taken care of and sorted, then I had to focus on my studio storage.  We have really exciting plans for the area under the stairs, which includes finishing it, installing a wrapping station and storing every last electronic, craft supply, printer cartridge and shop material.  The storage for this area will be a combination of items we already had, along with a few of these storage carts from IKEA.  We assembled them, I spray painted the frames, and we set them all up in our playroom so that I could finish sorting down the remainder of my studio piles.  Now the playroom is gonzo as well.  Poor kids.  Lucky for us, the weather has allowed them to play outside while mama sorts her stuff.  I didn't want to put anything back under the stairs if I could help it, because I didn't need any reason to not finish it with drywall and paint right away.  
      • All of this sorting also meant oodles of purging.  We had three new piles forming.  One was for items to donate which went right into the back of our SUV, another was items to sell which went straight to our guest room and the final pile was items to toss which went straight into a trash bag.  We used all of the typical checkpoints when making a decision for each and every item we touched: "Will we ever need/use it again?", "Is it in good condition?", "Is it worth my time to sell this item?", etc...  We even began listing and selling items on Craigslist.
      • For now, "good enough" is enough.  Everything was placed into a bin that fit the storage space we had available.  It didn't matter if the bin "matched" or was "pretty".  It just needed to be purged and sorted.  Once a bin was dedicated for a specific type of item, I slapped a simple post-it label to the front.  Once the entire sort and toss process is done in all three spaces, then I can focus my time on making fancy pants labels.
      • So now the storage spaces have been emptied, piled, sorted, purged and it felt INCREDIBLE.  Wait.  There are no words for the feelings I felt.  Let me thesaurus some for you: amazing, awesome, fascinating, marvelous, shocking, stunning, surprising, unbelievable and wonderful!  And then I walked out to the garage....

      • I promised lots of messy pictures, so I felt the need to follow through on those promises.  Let's just pretend that is why I let my garage turn into a DIY war zone.  
      • We followed the same process with our garage as we did the other two problem areas.  Sort, sort, sort, purge, purge, purge.  We found a weekend day in which our kids were away with Grandma, and knew we had to get as much done while they were away as we could.  We blasted the tunes and sorted until only items we needed/wanted remained.  
      • We were RUTHLESS during this process.  I forced my hubby to say farewell to things he has been holding onto for 20 years!  I did the same.  We found so many things that made us raise our eyebrows, and once we started letting go, it become this freeing and contagious feeling that brought us back to do it more and more.
      • Not only did this project have a negative impact on many other areas around our home, but it also had a huge positive impact as well.   We haven't done a full house purge in about two years, and I found myself also cleaning out my closet, the sideboard in our dining area, kitchen drawers and other small and often times forgotten areas of our home.  I just couldn't stop.
      • So far, we have made three trips to our local donation center, two to the Habitat ReStore, one to my brother's apartment and one to the local recycling center.  Finding a family member who was in need of some items for their home really helped us keep many of the items we purged, within the family.  To us, that felt like a huge win.
      • Total man hours invested thus far has been a minimum of forty hours!  That includes emptying storage rooms, painting floors, assembling storage, sorting every last item, cleaning, running to donation centers, taking photos and creating listings for Craigslist, etc...

      The Thoughts & Emotions:

      Between looking at the photos and watching the videos, I came to a HUGE realization.  Our life used to be full of simple pleasures such as lazy days on the couch watching football, an afternoon of swinging in the backyard or a competitive game of cards after dinner.  We hosted more gatherings and truly enjoyed our home, vs. always working on our home.  Life was slower.  Life was sweeter.  There was very little social media or technology 10 years ago.  Can you imagine not having a device growing out of your hand?   Not sharing every moment on Instagram or telling the world what you are doing right this moment on Facebook and Twitter?  Just nuts right?!  Now we spend our mornings packing lunches, rushing the kids off to school, working all day, homework, sports, dinner and baths every night.  Once the kids are in bed, we work on house projects, emails or my shop.  Most nights I fall asleep on my laptop and wake up to do it all over again.  Weekends are when we typically catch up on everything that didn't get done throughout the week, work on bigger projects and get our grocery shopping done.  With the boys growing and playing every sport imaginable, my business expanding and technology being front and center of our lives on a daily basis, those simple pleasures are shamefully less frequent.  I know that this is what naturally happens as you have busy work commitments {especially ones you are overly passionate about} and growing kids.  However, this project quickly turned from not just organizing our storage room, but to also evaluating our schedules and habits to get back to our roots as well.  It has opened my eyes to evaluate what matters most.  It made me want to focus on our family blog again, to take more photos and family videos of everyday moments, to spend more Saturday evenings snuggled in watching family movies and eating homemade popcorn, to go on long family bike rides and to dedicate weekends to less work and more play.  

      Aside from the major memory lane "Ah Ha" moment, there were also an endless range of emotions encountered during this process:
      • Excited!  The deep excitement we had in the pit of our stomachs is what got the ball rolling to do this project, and is what kept it rolling through the not so easy moments.  Having a set goal of bettering our home and daily lives was always that driving factor.
      • Overwhelmed.  The moment that everything was removed from our storage areas and in the wide open to be seen, that really gross feeling rushed over me and I wondered, "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
      • Invested.  Many of the items we stumbled into were just things.  But many other items were much more than that.  They were forgotten photos and videos and boy scout badges and high school medals.  They were yearbooks and diplomas and love letters.  I felt very invested in making sure I gave each of those items a proper home so they would never get lost in the shuffle again.
      • Confused.  Where did all of this stuff come from?  How did it get so bad?  Of course, deep down I knew the answer boiled down to being too busy or maybe even lazy and just stuffing and stashing into places that were never properly outfitted with good storage solutions.  Saying, "we will get to it later" and then it was later, and later and later....
      • Embarrassed.  Our piles took over our home during this process.  We had to apologize to endless people while entertaining or even those that just happened to pop on over.  "Look away" and "We are in the middle of a huge project" and "We promise this is not normal" along with "We have heard rumors our basement is filled with boogie piles, we advise you to run for your life" were all things we spouted out with bright red faces.  
      • Tired.  I stayed up numerous hours and nights after the kiddos went to bed, to work on this project.  I had to take breaks for a few days at a time to catch up on work, sleep and other projects for sanity purposes.  
      • Frustrated.  Piles everywhere is enough to drive anyone loopy.  I wanted to check into a hotel or just ship everything away and start from scratch.  Too bad there is something called the real world.  I had to face these piles head on.  Who knew that two plus years of neglecting spaces could create such a huge downstream impact?  Every day that went by, I just wanted our home back.  
      • Overwhelmed {again}.  It is really hard to look at piles and know where to start.  I found that I ultimately just needed to pick a spot and go to town.  It was slow going and most days I felt like after hours of picking away at it, I still hadn't gotten anywhere and had no post to share.  The only photos I could post would still all look like the "befores".  This was completely a different ball game from what I am familiar with.  Finding a balance of time management between sorting and working on something that would provide me a post, and spending time on quick projects that didn't "have" to be done, but would give me a post, proved to be very challenging.
      • Grateful.  Although there is nothing easy about giant projects like this, my hubby and I spent many hours reminiscing and chatting and singing and laughing.  We realized how lucky we are for this crazy, beautiful life we are living and found this to be a tremendous learning experience for us both.
      • Smart.  Seriously.  Problem solving makes you feel smart!  We had to think about every item that we shed ourselves of, and question the reason for that.  We had to think about every item that didn't get put back and ended up lost in one of these rooms, and think up better solutions for those items.  We had to think about what category each item fit within, to be sure we could easily find it down the line.  By the end of it all we were self proclaimed geniuses. 
      • Relieved.  Once we left the last donation center with an empty trunk, and had every last item sorted and given a home, I was overcome with a whole new set of those AMAZING feelings and emotions.  Tears may have rolled down my face.  #dontjudge  There was a lot of high fiving, smiling, celebrating and singing going on.  A lot.
      • Excited again!  We finally have our spaces back!

      The Current State:

      My studio is CLEAN!  Can you hear me screaming it from the rooftops?  I can now be a productive human being again and work in my office.  Who knew I loved it in there so much?  And I can also successfully walk to my laundry room without tripping on something or fearing that my leg will be impaled by a random sharp object.  Shucks, that means I actually have to start doing laundry again....

      Wait, that is the first glimpse I have given into the current state of the studio!  Now do you see why I haven't revealed it yet?  For some reason even after priming and painting three coats of white on the built in storage, my drawer fronts and other areas of the cabinets are yellowing.  So strange.  And I have plans to make some changes to the focal wall, finish that sweet little blue desk chair and add a new rug.  More on that when the time finally comes....

      Under our stairs is completely cleaned and cleared out, waiting for some lovin'.  All that remains in there is my frame collection, which clearly needs to be used on a gallery wall.   

      The rest of the house is back in order as well.  We can get back to those roots I chatted about earlier, and begin living in the home we love so much... Enjoying family dinners without a computer monitor in the way, snuggling on the couch without a pile of tools below our feet and playing games in our family room without tripping over paint cans and being eaten by piles of home accessories.  Life is good.

      The playroom has been taken over by my organized office supplies, which will ultimately be stored under our stairs.  I am bribing my kids to drive their daddy crazy so he has a little fire in him to get my storage area finished and the boys can have their play space back in time for the cold weather to hit.  The items are all sorted down to the very last little paperclip, and ready to be moved as soon as the drywall and painting are done.  Crazy excited for that!

      The utility/storage room still needs to have the light installed and all of the bins need to be labeled and tidied up a bit.   The tools need to be organized and we also hope to create a shelf dedicated to holding emergency preparation supplies.

      Our guest room is packed to the gills with items to sell on Craigslist.  Wish us luck.  We want to start hosting guests again in the near future.

      The garage is purged, but far from done as we still have some really fun storage plans up our sleeves.  We have two cars to get in before snow starts falling so time is limited.  Not to mention, I am pretty sure those doors are asking to get painted....

      You all know that it is always my primary goal to keep this blog and organizing nothing but light hearted fun, so I apologize if this post comes across as whiny.  That said, you are going to get honesty from me and at the end of the day, there were times when I thought this project, well, stunk.  There, I said it.  I was mad at myself for letting areas get like they did, ashamed, embarrassed and frustrated.  I can't pretend that living with my entire house torn apart for a month and tripping through piles every day was blissful and butterflies.  But there were lessons learned and piles conquered and spaces smiling so big at us that I can now sleep at night.  And that my friends is what it is all about.  Simplifying, learning and bettering our lives.

      Now for the fun, happy, sun-shiny parts of this huge project.  You know, the light at the end of the tunnel that has kept me excited and motivated since the beginning.  It is time to get out the paint brushes and tools, create tons of labels, make pretty storage and install a few different systems to ensure that our spaces can stay streamlined and simplified going forward.  We are in the home stretch now, here's hopin' we knock this project out of the park!

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