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Less Storage Space Desired

By Kevin Meyer

Published: 25 June 2007

My mother in-law's great passion in life is looking at houses.  Whenever she visits she wants to go to every possible open house to get ideas for her own house, poke fun at what others apparently mistakenly believe is tasteful, and to dream of being able to move from cold Michigan to the California coast.  Or perhaps it's to see what little you get for the crazy home prices out here.

Inevitably we get into a discussion, usually polite, on storage space.  She's all about the multiple huge closets, walk-in pantries, attics and crawl spaces, sheds and oversized garages, and any other designed-in nook and cranny that can hold... stuff.  What stuff?  Holiday decorations, clothing, books, nick-nacks, and assorted memorabilia long since forgotten.  In her opinion the more storage space the better, and the ultimate home would have a door to an alternate dimension holding another couple thousand square feet of open space (preferably with built-ins) within the confines of the house.

I disagree.

I've spent the last couple decades convincing companies that anything that doesn't move or get consumed is waste, doing 5S after 5S to get rid of excess equipment, tools, and inventory, and almost instinctively looking in dark corners for items to be discarded.  Rack after shelf after cabinet has been removed to make room for productive manufacturing space.  The organizations are held to lean manufacturing metrics and methods driving lower and lower inventory and cycle times.

The same carries over to the home.  I've been lucky enough to have companies pay to move me from city to city, with the unfortunate downside being that there's no incentive to get rid of excess stuff.  A team of guys comes into the old house, packs everything up and loads it on a truck, then a week or so later a different team unloads and unpacks in the new house.  Inevitably I'm surprised to find a trash can... with my old garbage still in it.  I soon learned to get my keys, pets, and wife safely out of the house before the movers arrive.  We've now been in this house for seven years, the longest I've ever stayed in one home in my life.  A couple years ago I realized that there were boxes that still had not been opened, and I don't think they had even been opened at my previous house.  So I chucked them.  A very liberating experience!

From that point on, coupled with my increasing focus on lean manufacturing, my wife and I have been on a minimization kick.  Clothes not worn for a year... gone.  Mismatched dishes... gone.  Baskets of "stuff"... gone.  Just yesterday I reorganized one of the home office areas and was able to remove a desk extension, cutting the desk space in half.  Remember one of my earliest posts on 5S and the Danger of Horizontal Surfaces?  A horizontal space is dangerous in that stuff, usually unorganized unintentional stuff, can be placed on it.  That's why the great benefit of flat screen TV's is not the great picture quality but the fact that clothes can't be stacked on top of them.  Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project has a great post on the clutter mentality.

The only conflict my wife and I have had is over books... my wife thinks they simply take up space.  I enjoy being surrounded by the repositories of knowledge (and, ok, a few trashy novels), and since I get two or three books to review each week I have a lot.  They're now in a special office library... off premises.  I am also in the process of minimizing all required home and home business files.  Throwing out what we can and beginning to scan records and documents that must be maintained.  My goal is to have no paper storage by the end of the year.

But back to my mother in-law.  Yes, the same mother in-law of Dr. Phil and Oprah fame.  Whenever we are touring an open house she inevitably looks for a maximum amount of storage space.  I do the opposite, and am impressed with small closets and no pantries.  The less room there is for storage, the less that will be stored.  The less that is stored, the less cash that gets spent on stuff that might expire, go out of style, or disappear into boxes that may be next opened by archaeologists. 

So next time you're wandering through a house for sale, make a comment that there's too much storage space... and observe the stunned reaction from the real estate agent.  Paradigm shifts can be amusing to watch!