Make Your House "Bigger" Without Adding Space

Cimarron, NM - that's me, before I "decluttered" my pack...
Hey, is that a GOLF COURSE over there?
Two summers ago my elder son and I spent two weeks backpacking in the New Mexico wilderness. Two weeks carrying all of our food, water and gear on our backs.

The planning leading up to the trip was an immense task, trying to anticipate everything we'd need on the trail. Once in the wilderness, you have what you have - there's no buying additional camping gear on the trail.

Turns out that was the wrong approach.

We were thinking too much about the "stuff" we'd need - we should have been thinking about the stuff we didn't need.

A few days in, we realized we'd overpacked. The additional burden of useless stuff was literally weighing us down, slowing our progress and sapping some of the enjoyment from the hiking.

Fortunately, we had an opportunity to purge our packs of excess stuff - stuff we thought we couldn't have survived without - and continued the adventure happier and far less burdened.

You're Carrying Too Much Stuff, Too

There's a gentle warning we often give to our clients (probably too often) when they want to make things bigger - your belongings will expand to fill the available space.

If your closet is overflowing now, will a larger one fix the problem? Or will you buy more clothes and shoes until it's full again?

It's easy to assume that more space will solve the problems you think you have with your home, but like my backpacking trip, what you're really struggling with might be too much stuff.

Too much accumulated stuff that you've found easier to keep around than purge from your life; stuff you're not sure you'll ever need, but after years of collecting, probably don't even know you have.

This Stuff Is Heavy

Sometimes we're blind to the clutter in our homes. We convince ourselves that everything has some future value to us, and we squirrel it away in some corner of the attic, the basement, or a spare bedroom.

The leftovers from the decisions you won't make ("should I keep this, or throw it away?") pile up. You're not saving time or money by keeping everything; you're only adding weight to a growing burden.

But the real weight of that burden is that it's taking up space and preventing you from using your home as it's meant to be - a place that enriches your life.

$211,000 Is A Lot For A Broken Chair

I speak to you from painful (and expensive) experience.

Eleven years ago I rented office space for my architectural practice, space that included a good sized storage room.

It quickly turned into my "junk room", a place I could put anything I didn't want to bother with deciding whether to keep or not.

After all, I had the space, why not use it?

Recently, a friend looking for a small office to rent asked about the storage room; we decided it would be perfect and I went about cleaning it out...a much larger task than I'd imagined.

I was forced to decide the fate of eleven years' clutter, very little of which I ended up keeping. Some went to the landfill, some I sold on Craigslist (way cool, but that's another story). I emptied the room, including - it must have been one of the first things I put there - a broken office chair. Broken, as in can't be fixed. Ever.

All of that newly-empty space inspired me, and so I took on the task of cleaning out the rest of my office too. I filled a recycling dumpster - twice - with useless papers and files.

And discovered I didn't need so much office space after all. So I moved to a space half the size, saving $1600 a month in rent.

$1600 a month times 11 years - $211,000 to store a broken chair.

Piano In The Dining Room

But this article is about homes, not my office or my camping trips.

So I'll tell you a brief story about a visit to a potential client's home, a modest-sized home in a well-kept early 20th Century neighborhood, and hope it will provide you some insight into space issues at your house.

The couple I met with was interested in expanding their living space. The house felt too small, even though their children had grown up and gone.

We walked through the home, talking about which rooms worked, which didn't, and what they wanted to change. I couldn't help but notice during our tour that nearly every room was filled with old furniture, business files, and boxes of clothing.


At one point, the lady of the house mentioned that seating in the dining room was tight. They'd like to entertain more now that the kids were out of the house, but could only just squeeze six around the table.

As she talked, I looked around - as dining rooms go, this one was pretty big. But one wall was completely taken up by a nine foot wide breakfront, another was partially blocked by hubby's lounge chair. The third wall was occupied by an upright piano, leaving the table and chairs only a small space.

More stuff.

My suggestions - move the piano, the lounge chair, and the breakfront - caught the couple by surprise.

I was a little surprised, too, because it was clear to me that they didn't realize how simple the solution to their space problem might be. They'd lived with their stuff for so long they'd stopped noticing it.

Probably talked myself out a job that day, but if I helped them lighten their load a bit, it was worth it.

Are there simple solutions to the space problems in your home? Is clutter and "stuff" keeping you from enjoying your home to the fullest?

Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio.

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