4 ways your brain tricks you into keeping stuff

Joy Overstreet, color consultant, feng shui, down-sizing, decluttering, Vancouver WA, Portland ORWhy do people have so much trouble throwing things out? Turns out, the answer is in our heads; our brains make at least four cognitive mistakes when we try to declutter.

Marie Kondo, the Japanese guru of living a clutter-free life, seems to understand these brain machinations, which is why she’s had such remarkable success with her clients around the world.

Could Kondo have based her approach on basic behavioral economic theory? One economist, Financial Times columnist Tim Harford, thinks yes, at least at an intuitive level.

Here are four cognitive mistakes (as an economist would describe them) that trick us, and how Kondo helps us get around them:

The sunk-cost fallacy. “Sunk costs” are payments (of time or money) that have already occurred and can’t be recovered. We get irrational because it seems a waste to not use something that we’ve poured resources into, even though deep down we know the item is no longer (or never was 😥 ) useful to us. This pain is most acute if the item is relatively new, and/or if it was expensive. If Kondo were American, she would tell us “Don’t cry over spilt milk;” it’s done, now let it go.

The status-quo bias. Most of our stuff stays put because we can’t think of a good reason to get rid of it. Kondo turns things around. When she piles everything in a category on the floor to go through (all your books from all over the house, for example), the status quo for her is that every one of them will get gone unless you can think of a compelling reason why it should stay. You pull out and keep only the ones that “spark joy.” Backwards of how most of us sort our stuff.

Diminishing returns. One of a thing may be good, but two or three or four etc is not two or three or four times better. The more you have of something, the less valuable each successive item is, so let some of them go.

Opportunity costs. We forget that keeping unused stuff around wastes space, wastes time (maintaining, working around, locating), and a consumes lot of psychic energy (guilt, the pull of the past, etc.) When we get rid of our excess stuff, we also get rid of this mental and physical toll—and once you’ve felt that freedom, Kondo says you’ll never go back to your cluttered ways.

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How to dispose of what doesn’t “spark joy”

Getting rid of crapPerhaps you’ve taken one of my clutter clearing classes or perhaps you Just Did It — either way, you’ve made a massive attack on your extraneous stuff. Congratulations!!

However, you now have heaps and bags of things that just need to get gone. Some are worth money. Some could be used by others and charitably donated. Some can be recycled. Where to start?

First, forget about a yard sale. It’s a huge amount of work. Unless you have too much time on your hands and lots of eager helpers, it’s not worth it.

Auction it: for relatively valuable furniture, art and collectibles
O’Gallerie Auctions in Portland knows their stuff and they’re reputable. Prepare yourself to be shocked (and not in a good way) by what you can sell these things for today. You won’t get back what it’s worth, but at least you’ll know someone else wanted it and will use it. . The commission % depends on how much they are able to sell it for. http://www.ogallerie.com

Sell it yourself
It takes some effort and patience, but it’s usually worth it.

  • Locally: http://portland.craigslist.org Sign up for a free account to manage your listings easily. List in the appropriate For Sale section – with photos and measurements. Also note the FREE category there. It’s amazing what people will take off your hands and haul away.
  • Nationally (or further) http://www.ebay.com

Furniture Consignment stores:
Some may pick up, but be prepared to rent a truck and haul to them.

Clothing resale stores
Some specialize in kids clothes, others in vintage, plus size, etc.

Paper and Photos
Digitize what you want to keep, but in less bulky form:

  • Use Evernote for emptying your brain and putting all the info in reach with a quick search on your cell phone, PC, Mac, the web. Replace all those scribbled notes and lists, business cards, receipts, warranty info, recipes, measurements, paint colors, prescription numbers and dates, books and movies, travel plans, juicy quotes. Download free at https://www.evernote.com. You will thank me.
  • Let a professional scanning service scan your photos, negatives, slides, home movies.  https://www.scancafe.com (watch or call for special deals)
  • Costco Photo does this too, but the service is temporarily suspended until a security breach is fixed. Ouch.
  • Make photo books at http://www.snapfish.com , shutterfly.com and others.

Just to get rid of it!!
Think beyond Goodwill to places like the Cancer Society, Humane Society, Friends of the Library, Free Geeks, your church rummage sale. Here’s a long list of charitable organizations for still usable items:

Recycling resources
Paper shredding for sensitive documents:

Electronics, automotive, construction, yard, paper, plastics, metals etc

If you missed my clutter clearing class at Clark College, it’s scheduled again for Tuesday, February 2, 2015. Catalog listing is here: “clutter-clearing class”. If you’d rather have me come to your home and get you started or help arrange what’s left more artfully, give me a call at 360-903-3659.

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Clutter Class collectibles

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 8.18.32 PMA few days before the clutter-clearing workshop at Clark College, I emailed all the enrollees and asked them to bring a small object from home that they knew they should let go of, but just couldn’t, yet. We would have a show & tell, their stories fueling a discussion of all the reasons we hold on to things.

Before the show & tell we discuss how our Stuff is always talking to us, subliminally and often reproachfully. This is one reason why we feel so relaxed on vacation; we are away from our Stuff and all those subliminal messages.

“When you’re on vacation,” I ask them, “have you ever missed your collection of ceramic frogs back home?” Wouldn’t you know, a gal in the front row then reached into her purse and pulled out her show & tell item. You guessed it: a ceramic frog.

Lee's keysAnother student, a realtor, brought a heap of about 50 unlabeled house keys which she had carried in her car for years, to houses she had sold years and years ago, just in case… well, in case she wasn’t sure what.

And my favorite moment of the class was when a student used his helmet as a representation of the motor scooter he’d had for three years and only ridden 224 miles, the last 4 miles of which were to our class. Amazingly, another student had been looking for a scooter, and after class they set about negotiating the transfer!

If you missed this class, I’ll be doing it again October 28. Contact me for more information: (joy@creatingjoyfulspaces.com or 360-903-3659).

 

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Proportion matters!

Proportion False frontI was walking around the Mission District in San Francisco recently and, as one does in SF, marveled at the elegance and variety (and colors!) of the Victorian houses. The houses are not always as tall as they look from the front. But to maintain a proper sense of proportion on the second floor, the builders added a false front to give a graceful line to the flat roof behind it.

If the roof cornices were dropped to just over the windows the building would totally lose its grace.

proportion low roof ranchCompare the Victorian to this low-slung ranch house in Portland. The windows butt right up under the roof, and it feels like King Kong stepped on it and squished it down. I would always feel like ducking when I went through the front door. What were they thinking?

Proportion tall DRAnother example of poor proportional judgment is this dining room. Can you imagine eating in here? Humans are most comfortable in human scale spaces.

The exception to this rule is the cathedral, when the soaring ceilings are supposed to make humans feel tiny in the presence of God.

Spend some time looking around spaces and buildings you feel comfortable and uncomfortable in. Is proportion a factor?

 

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Clutter Clearing Class at Clark College July 15

paperpile cartoon(Pardon the alliteration.)

Got paper piles? Heirloom overload?  Photo fatigue? Overflowing closets? Free yourself from the tyranny of Stuff!

If you’re struggling to live a more minimalist life, with less stuff hogging your space and energy, spend a couple of hours with me July 15 from 6 to 8 pm at Clark College’s new downtown class space (500 Broadway, Vancouver WA).

rat holeHere’s what you’ll get: the tips, tools, inspiration and motivation to create a simpler, more conscious, clutter-free home. We’ll cover techniques ranging from 15-minute daily sprints to the full Monty: the Marie Kondo “tossathon.” You’ll also learn how to use Evernote, the amazing online filing and retrieval app, so you can get rid of all those random scraps of paper, shopping and to-do lists, recipe boxes, instruction manuals, serial numbers, you name it.

Register here soon, as space is limited: the workshop is only $49. Call me if you have questions at 360-903-3659.

 

 

 

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Curb appeal that invites passersby to stop

Poetry box

Poetry box

Walking in my new NW Portland neighborhood I marvel at how certain homes compel me to stop because what’s out front is so delightful. Today it was a beautiful hand-carved stand that held copies of the poem of the day, which passersby are invited to take.

Sometimes it’s a quirky front garden – this one sprouting defunct KitchenAid mixers, like colorful mushrooms. The homeowner is a baker.

Baker's Garden with Kitchen Aid Mixers

Baker’s Garden with Kitchen Aid Mixers

Or this one, with a giant drawing:

Callahan cartoon

Callahan cartoon

This owner chose to make a mosaic of river rock in his parking strip:

Parking strip mosaic - NW Portland

Parking strip mosaic – NW Portland

One simply must stop and enjoy…

 

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Transforming an empty white loft apartment

Me, the color queen… and I find myself renting a stark white loft apartment in a converted turn-of-the-century warehouse in NW Portland’s Pearl District. Time for another makeover – my first in a home I do not own.

Most tenants and owners of these loft apartments keep the industrial white & industrial gray “decor” of the original building. That look is fine for other people, but too grim for me. And because I am a renter, my makeover options were limited to paint and furniture placement. (I did change a light fixture.)

Kitchen before

Kitchen before – note exposed pipes

The building is held up throughout by MASSIVE (18″ on a side) old-growth fir beams, which appear at random places in each apartment. I have a big one between my kitchen and desk space (that is, pretty much in the middle of the space), and a corner of one peeking through the wall in my bedroom area. The cast iron tops were painted black but looked too prominent, so my first step was to paint the tops to blend into the ceiling.

Old growth fir post

Old growth fir post

The bedroom is not separated from the entry hall  🙁  but a bank of freestanding Ikea “closets” separates it from the living room area. Unfortunately the backside of the closet was super ugly – melamine with pressed wood edges – totally unpaintable. You see a little of it to the right below. My desk was to go against it. The long bare wall is where my couch and bookcase were going.

Living room wall and backside of Ikea closet

Living room wall and backside of Ikea closet

First order of business was to bring some of the gray on the pipes into the rest of the space. So it went on the lower part of the kitchen wall. A little more went around the large warehouse windows. (Color in this photo looks more blue than it is in reality, and blends well with the slate countertop.)

Kitchen after – gray wall

Next job was the long white wall that went from behind my bed through to the couch wall to the windows. My bedroom looked cold, my couch looked lost, and the white did my art no favors. Dusty rose did the trick.

Dusty rose living room wall

Before I could bring in my desk setup I had to cover that Ikea closet back. Fabric was the only option. I found a pair of textured gray curtains at Target which weren’t big enough to cover the whole thing (but they matched the kitchen gray), so I bought a piece of navy fabric to cover the lower third, and repainted my ancient file cabinet navy to blend in.

Desk space on closet back

I also painted the humongous white pillar navy and now use it as a changing art gallery, since I have little space elsewhere for art.

Navy pillar art gallery

Navy pillar art gallery

My bedroom space was pretty grim in white. The dusty rose feels super cozy now.

Bedroom area before

Bedroom area before

IMG_4570

Bedroom area After

Now if I were a guy, I would choose some color other than dusty rose… but I’m not.

The bathroom was also totally white, with an icky ochre-ish colored vinyl floor. I found a color that warmed the space and also blended with the floor.

Bathroom before

Bathroom before

Bathroom - after

Bathroom – after

 

I have a year lease, and hope to hell the landlord will extend it, because I am very happy here. Besides, fixing up a new place to suit my standards is a butt-load of work. At some point I will write about down-sizing yet again – this time from a 2100 sq. ft house (with garden) to 730 sq ft (plus one potted plant)….

[Not shown, my dining room area – because it’s too difficult to photograph because of a mirrored wall.]

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Does your décor shout “LOOK AT ME!”

I’m all for homes that are colorful expressions of the owner’s personality. An interesting interior gives pleasure and comfort to those who live within, and makes a visitor feel welcome.

But then there are homes that shout “LOOK AT ME!!”  There’s too much of a good thing. Bright color! Crazy furniture! Wild art! Where do you look first?  The inhabitants are dwarfed; you barely notice their presence. Not good.

emerald

In all fairness, these photos are not homes, they’re demo sets for a home décor convention in Las Vegas, showing off Pantone’s “Color of the Year” In case you hadn’t guessed, for 2013 it’s Emerald. The high priestess of Pantone looks in her crystal ball and makes this annual declaration, and decorators jump (really…). You will see Emerald everywhere, mark my words.

I have nothing against Emerald. But this is too much. A single wall, maybe, but not with that LOOK AT ME mirror and the Emerald carpet plus the bold pillows. I’d prefer a soft gray wall and an Emerald sofa, and perhaps a green lamp base. Otherwise I need the eyeball equivalent of earplugs.

The demo set depicting last year’s Pantone color of the year, Tangerine Tango, has a similar problem. Love orange, but this is too much. Orange wall or orange dresser, but not both.

tangerine tango

If we’re going to jump on Pantone’s color bandwagon every year, it could get expensive, even though paint is cheap. Instead, why not just change out your towels? I much prefer the subtle use of last year’s Tangerine Tango as it is done in this bathroom. This year we could just replace the towels with green ones!

tango towelsHere’s more about the color of the year. And the Pantone website. 
If you need help making more livable color choices, and you’re in the Portland OR metro area, give me a call! 360-903-3659

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The best value home pick-me-up? Designers agree…

color potsRecently The Oregonian asked eight Portland designers how best a homeowner on a limited budget ($200 max) could spruce up their living room. All but one of the designers gave their top priority to fresh paint.

Since paint is so inexpensive (assuming you’re the painter) you should have plenty money left. What else might you try?

Their suggestions included:

  • Add a big potted plant.
  • Recover those tired couch pillows with lively fabric scored at a remnant sale
  • Improve the lighting. An effectively illuminated space can be transformational, but unfortunately good lighting also reveals areas of wear and neglect…
  • Replace or recover an outdated lampshade, perhaps spray-painting the base too.
  • Add bold artwork. For some novel ideas, check these out.
  • Cull, thin, weed, toss. The Oregonian didn’t seek out my opinion, so this is my addition to what their designers suggested.  Getting rid of extraneous unused unloved broken stuff costs $00 and makes everything else you do with your $200 look much much better.

If your mind is boggled by your options give me a call. I’ve got good ideas to spare. What better way to start the New Year? 360-903-3659.

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2 quirky homes: to each his own Joyful Space

 

Frank Gehry house-frontIMG_2685There must be something in the Santa Monica air… in one small neighborhood I discovered two homes that are exuberant expressions of the owners’ wildly different creative visions. Both began as unassuming suburban homes.

The first is the home of an Iranian couple, Aziz and Louise Farnum. She took a mosaic class (I believe at the local community college) in 2002 and got totally fired up about it. In the ten years since, she and Aziz have covered most of the walls, inside and out, with mosaics. They are very proud of this creation and readily engage with gawking passersby about their baby. I made a half dozen mosaic tiles trivets with my grandsons last Christmas, and let me say this: it’s not as easy as it looks! Enjoy:

[cincopa AsFAkALC77He]

A few blocks away is the home architect Frank Gehry bought for his growing family in 1977, when he was experimenting with such deconstructivist materials as chicken wire, sheet metal and chain link fencing. Instead of remodeling the modest bungalow, he added crazy wings and flaps of these materials, to the horror of his neighbors. Read about and see more pictures of it here.  All I can say is, to each his own!

Frank Gehry Santa Monica 3 Wall at Gehry house

 

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