Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Step Twenty-Two: Organize Your Living Room

I love browsing through better living-type magazines and Pinterest in part because of the beautiful homes they showcase. Looking at an organized, color-coordinated, and cozy living room makes me want to jump into the picture so that I too can curl up with a book or host game night on a whim. Of course, it only took a few moments of introspection to realize that I don't want a cottage-style home or the latest side table from Pottery Barn, what I want is a clean, comfortable space of my own, where gathering friends and family is convenient and fun, and which only contains things I love, use, and am willing to dust.

Part of the appeal of a zero waste lifestyle is the clearing of things you don't need to make room for the experiences you want. Humans are social creatures, and so in one form or another we crave contact and positive interaction. That's why today's baby step is to clean, clear, and organize your living room. Having a comfortable common space will give you the opportunity to gather your loved ones together, enjoy your hobbies, and provide you with a concrete reminder of why you're working towards zero waste.

Many wonderful people advocate clearing out a space entirely when  reorganizing, then returning only the functional or beautiful things. I'm kind of lazy, so instead I like to take a pen and paper into a space completely separate from the one I plan to declutter. Sometimes that has meant leaving the house entirely, in which cases I've been very grateful for my local library. Being someplace out of sight of the space in question helps me to clear my mind of distractions so that I can freely visualize what I truly want the room to look and feel like.

When you think of your home's living room, what do you want from it? A place to watch TV, play games, have friends over, engage in hobbies, read, visit with loved ones, exercise, or nap? What furniture and items make you comfortable? Do you like walls lined with bookcases, family photographs, framed art, your children's drawings? How do you want to lay out the room so that you and your guests can comfortably move and interact? Would you rather usually be facing the TV, the window, or have options for both? Now is the time to daydream until you have a clear and happy idea of your ideal living room.

Once you have this picture in your head, write down what physical things are there. Furniture, electronics, decorations, and functional objects like scissors or clocks all should be written down. Don't be intimidated or feel pressured if your list is long; it often takes many things to make a home. The most important part of the exercise is that you write down only what you truly want in your ideal space. Any heirloom, just-in-case, or there-out-of-habit things that you don't freely imagine as part of your dream room don't get written down. I recommend writing a list because I tend to think in lists and charts, if you're more visual, draw a picture of your ideal space instead, or you could even assemble an inspirational collage.

It might take several tries before your list is refined and you feel confident that it's what you want. That's okay, take your time. Once you have your list, use it as a guide to clean, clear, and reorganize your living room. Don't be afraid to modify your list, even after you've started working from it. Being flexible is an important part of being happy.

When you're ready to tackle the physical work, start by clearing the room of things that don't belong. Donate things that you don't want or no longer use. Return out-of-place items and family member's belongings to the correct room. Compost, recycle, and even trash things that won't be useful to you or others. I find it helpful to have a dedicated tote bag for returnable things like movie rentals and library books so that they have a place when they're in your home, and you don't have to scramble when it comes time to return them.

Give everything that remains in the living room a designated home so that you and those you live with always know where to put it away. Now is the time to rearrange furniture if you like, or even to go shopping for any missing items that would enhance your quality of life (check the thrift store first!). Don't wait to paint the walls, hang art you've always loved, organize your personal library by color, or set out knick-knacks that make you smile. The more welcoming your living room is, the more time you'll spend in it, and the more likely you'll want to keep it neat  and usable.

If you have financial constraints and can't afford the extra bookcase you need, chair you'd love, or paint you adore, make space in your budget now to start saving for these items, even if you can only put away a little at a time. Freecycle and Craigslist are great resources for affordable things, or even just make-do items. In the meantime, use what you have until you can afford what you want. Books can be stacked on the floor and space left empty, it's likely no one will notice. While waiting you might even decide you don't need that thing after all, you may come up with a solution you love more, or, at the very least, you'll become more assured that you've made the right decision to buy the item you've waited so patiently for.

Now the best part, go live in your living room. Use it to scrapbook, talk, host cookie exchanges, tickle your children, watch Frontline, knit, sew, play games, send e-mail, pet your dog, assemble puzzles, gather your family around pizza and movies, take a well-deserved nap, write letters, and, most importantly, keep dreaming of what you want in life.

Feel like you need more intensive help in cleaning and organizing your living room? I highly recommend The Joy of Less by Francine Jay, and Unclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin Doland. These two books cover everything you need to know to simplify and streamline your home, and were my two favorites in helping me transition from pack-rat to minimalist.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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