our living room is a storage unit

Two months ago, we did something drastic.

We were feeling the frugal-fever, excited to save money, and so we made a bold decision.

We moved our entire storage unit into our living room.

Our camping gear, 11 boxes of cosmetics (stacked against the wall…don’t ask), our childhood memorabilia, 4 standing lamps, a glass hookah, 4 bins of old clothes, a heater, and 15 smoke alarms (definitely don’t ask…); the accumulation of 53 combined years of living.

hey, this is a finance blog, not a housekeeping one...
hey, this is a finance blog, not a housekeeping one…

I know what you’re thinking – how did I end up with a storage unit in the first place?

Well, a couple months ago, when we downsized from a 1450 square foot 3-bedroom house to a 620 square foot 1-bedroom apartment, things got a little ugly. Some accusations about who owns more pairs of shoes were thrown, and as we emptied out our massive garage, with floor to ceiling racks filled with bins, I started to panic.

So we decided that we would temporarily get a storage unit. I found a deal on Yelp for 1/2 off the first two months of a 10×6 foot unit.

When the guy behind the counter asked if we wanted to sign up for direct withdrawal, I resolutely shook my head.

“We’re only going to be renting it for the two months,” I told him. “Just until we get settled.”

He gave me that look like, “that’s what they all say…”

And for a while, it looked like he was going to be right.

As Day 60 drew near, we discussed incorporating the storage unit ($72 once the promotion was over) into our monthly rent, and just accepting it as part of downsizing.

Our new apartment has no storage space, no closets, and no garage. It seemed impossible to ever store it in our apartment. We talked about slowly, box by box, going through our unit and getting rid of stuff. But weeks went by and we never went to the storage unit, or even thought about it.

And then one day I had an idea.

If we wanted to keep the stuff, shouldn’t we be forced to live with it?

By having our extra stuff safely stored away in a storage unit, we are having our cake and eating it too. If you have a clean living room and organized closets, but all your junk is being stored out of sight, does that really count as being a minimalist. What greater motivation would there be to get rid of our extra stuff than if we are seeing it every single day?

That night, I pitched it to A: “If we keep our stuff in storage, we have no incentive to get rid of any of it. But if we put it in the living room, we’ll get rid of 80% immediately because we’ll both go so crazy.” I also delicately pointed out that if a certain unnamed person in our relationship wanted to own 45 pairs of identical Nike sneakers, shouldn’t that unnamed person have to (literally) live with (and trip over) that choice?

Amazingly enough, he was on board.

I was actually shocked he agreed. I pitch him on a lot of crazy ideas…running a dog sitting business out of our home, eating canned beans to save money, having only 39 pieces of clothing (more on this soon), getting rid of our TV, going without internet, giving up the cars…but this was up there on the crazy scale.

Not only did he agree, but he offered to move the entire unit himself. For one week, he took a load every day before work, and gradually our living room looked like something on the Hoarders show.

On Day 52, we marched into that rental office and cancelled our storage unit.

It felt fantastic!

Until we got home, and saw our living room…

It was awful. So messy. So chaotic. So unorganized. It was like everywhere you stepped, or looked, or turned, there was stuff.

Weeks went by, and it felt like our experiment was working, but in the worst possible way. We were having to live with our consumer choices, and it was agony!

So, we decided that our Columbus Day weekend, a holiday usually devoted to sales and shopping, we would tackle our apartment and get things organized and cleaned once and for all.

We used the $20, 20 minute rule, and took 2 full car loads to the thrift store.

I went through three bins of school assignments, childhood writing, and saved birthday cards. Everytime I wanted to keep something, I asked myself, “is this item worth all the time I’m going to spend in my life organizing it, moving it, sorting it, and dealing with it, and all the stress I’m going to feel because of the additional work?”

Without further ado…the after picture.



What do you think? Pretty good, right?!

Happy Columbus Day everyone! I hope whatever your home looks like, it makes you as happy right now as my home is making me :)

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  • Fantastic! I watched Adam Baker’s TED talk last week (it’s on YouTube – I don’t want to spam up your comments section) and he was advocating the same thing: de-clutter your life and get back some freedom. He makes a very strong argument, particularly when he gets to around the 13-14 minute mark and starts talking about the work-crap-debt cycle. Well worth watching.
    Myles Money recently posted…#SmartMoney | 12th Oct 2014My Profile

    • I don’t miss any of it yet, and I truly hope that I don’t in the future. But I doubt I will. The hardest part for me was getting rid of useful stuff that we will probably need again (standing lamps, cork boards, baby gate) and probably have to rebuy down the road, but we just don’t have the space to store it until we need it again. That’s really where the 20/20 rule comes in handy!

  • That is awesome! When we moved nearly two years ago we downsized from 2000 sq ft and an unfinished basement for storage to a 1000 sq ft apartment. Things got interesting. Fast. I might have to use your technique to get rid of the stragglers. I’d love to have a home as tidy as yours (we have very little storage as well) but without much storage space it feels like there isn’t enough homes for everything.
    Alicia recently posted…Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!My Profile

    • Yeah, it’s amazing how motivating downsizing is! I hope our apartment stays this tidy…maybe I’ll do an update in a few months.

  • Wow…your decluttered living room looks amazing. How did you do it? Did you guys throw away most of that stuff? What happened to the Nike sneakers? We moved from a 600 square foot apartment to one about 800 sq ft, but I’m trying not to let that be a reason why we accumulate more stuff.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Embracing MinimalismMy Profile

    • Thanks Andrew! We gave 5 bags of clothes to goodwill and Buffalo Exchange, put our camping bins on our covered balcony and got rid of tons of sentimental stuff. Good luck on your new place :)

  • Just scanned your blog there is some good stuff here.

    Storage units really are the devil!
    I don’t have one but my mother does and I just feel sorry for her. It’s costing her money she doesn’t have but she insists on keeping everything.

    I print screen of the questions you asked when getting rid of sentimental stuff. They are going to help me finally part with some stuff.
    The Roamer recently posted…A Wedding or A Marriage? Part 1My Profile

  • Storage is always a problem irrespective of the space. I believe the unorganized style of living is the killer. I have a 5 bedroom house and we still look around for space!!!…..Garage option I like it, currently mine is messy, a clean up would open plenty of storage options.

  • Your living room looks fantastic now! I like your realization that if you want to keep your things, you should be forced to live with them. Obviously, storage units can be super useful if there’s repairs going on or if you recently moved. However, they’re called “temporary” storage units for a reason, and it’s good to get everything back into your own home again. Thanks for sharing!

  • Now your living rooms looks great and more specious than before. I have also this problem and planning to buy storage units to keep unnecessary stuffs into it and make my living room more specious and organized.