Chances are you know how it feels to put on excess pounds.
You’re uncomfortable. Nothing fits right. Everything seems to take more effort.
Sharon Kreighbaum believes that’s how it is with houses, too.
The Hudson, Ohio, resident has written “Is Your House Overweight? Recipes for Low-Fat Rooms,” a guide to putting a house on a clutter diet. The book aims to help people streamline their homes and set them up in a way that simplifies day-to-day life.
The book’s premise is that a bloated house is an uncomfortable one. Clutter gets in our way, increases our stress and wastes our time, energy and resources.
The self-published book grew out of Kreighbaum’s work as an interior designer and home stager, as well as her early experience as a kitchen designer. Through her staging business, Staged Makeovers, she mostly rearranges and redecorates homes for sale, but she said she’s found that some clients want her services just to make their houses more livable.
She’s also been inspired by a few people in her life.
One is her husband, Mark, whom she described as a minimalist. Another is a cousin in California whose house was devastated by an earthquake and who then decided not to replace many of her possessions because she realized she didn’t need them. The third is her brother, a priest who once lived in a monastery in Italy with just one closet and one dresser.
He enjoyed his situation and always looked sharp, she said. “He had such a full, rewarding life living without stuff.”
Kreighbaum said she’s incorporated those lessons in her work, and she’s seen the difference that decluttering can make in her clients’ lives. One couple even lost weight after their house did, probably because decluttering lowered their stress and freed space in their kitchen so they could more easily cook and eat healthful meals at home, she said.
A clutter-free home doesn’t have to be a spare one, Kreighbaum said. The artist in her loves beautiful things, and she loves surrounding herself with them just as much as her clients do.
“You can live with luxury, but just enough that it’s not clutter,” she said.
Clutter, she said, comes from indecision. Things accumulate because we haven’t decided how to handle them or where to put them. And when we don’t make those decisions, we set ourselves up for the frustration and wasted time of continually searching for things or having to deal with the consequences of our laxity.
So one of the keys to Kreighbaum’s approach is assigning everything a home, which should be where you use the item or where you need it — your purse and cellphone near the door, for instance, and your dishes within reach of the dishwasher.
Another is deciding which activities you want to happen regularly in each room and then keeping in it only the things that support those activities. In a kitchen, for example, that might mean putting the everyday items in easy reach, storing seldom-used serving pieces in less accessible spots and finding other homes for the backpacks, mail, paperwork and other things that tend to accumulate there.
Think of it as living like you’re on vacation, Kreighbaum said. Even the most luxurious hotels and vacation homes contain only the things their guests will need during their stays. “Any more than that and we wouldn’t be able to relax and unwind,” she writes in the book.
After all, fewer possessions mean less stuff to maintain, she points out. It’s easier to put things away properly when there’s space to store them, and housework goes faster when there’s less to clean.
Decluttering saves money, too. Not only will you stop buying things that don’t enrich your life, she said, but you’ll also have a better handle on what you do own so you don’t find yourself buying duplicates. And if you’re paying money to store what you’re not using, you’ll be able to eliminate that expense.
She recalled one couple she worked with who paid $175 a month for a storage unit. They finally decided to clean it out and have a garage sale, but because the unit wasn’t climate-controlled, they found ruined clothes, rusty bikes, and furniture and books that smelled of mildew.
The husband did the math. In the eight years they’d been renting the unit, he discovered, they’d spent $16,800 to keep things that were worthless.
Better to be generous, Kreighbaum said. It’s a win-win situation: Donating what you don’t need frees space, which helps you, she said. It also makes your unwanted things available to others who need them, which helps them.
Even cleaning can be a matter of decluttering. Manufacturers have convinced us we need specific cleaners for specific tasks, Kreighbaum said, but she limits herself to just a few key supplies — baking soda, vinegar, lemon oil and dishwashing liquid. They’re cheap, safe and readily available.
Her own home is an example of her philosophy. The house is richly appointed but uncrowded. Walls are hung with large pieces of art and oversize mirrors; kitchen counters and other surfaces are kept mostly clear; and accessories are carefully chosen and artfully displayed. Even her pantry is carefully arranged — canned beans in one place, pasta in another.
It’s all about balancing beauty and function, she said.
And in the end, it’s about feeling good about where you live.