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The Life-changing Magic of Downsizing

- 12/04/2019

Marie Kondo’s 2014 book, ‘The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up’ and hit Netflix show, ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ have captivated audiences around the world, forcing them to stop and think about the spaces they live in and how decluttering can improve it - aesthetically and emotionally.

We spoke to Melbourne Square’s design experts, Chris McCue, Carr Design’s Director of Architecture, along with Jacqueline Foti-Lowe, Director at Hub Furniture, to find out what they thought. 

Have you followed the hype and Marie Kondo’d your life?

Chris: I’m currently renovating my own house from top to bottom so had inadvertently Marie Kondo’d my own life by attempting to rid myself of items that I had carried around with me for many years and yet not opened, used or even been aware that they were still there! 

It’s a small house so for a long while I’ve been operating on the belief that if there is something new coming in there must be something old going out, which is a really good way to determine if something has value or for you to question – do I really need this new thing?

Jacqueline: I think I channel her methodology most days incidentally - through many years of trying to achieve clarity and focus. 

Apartment downsizers often have more ‘stuff’ in their home, than they will fit into their new apartment. What are some simple steps to avoid overloading a new, smaller living space?

Chris: Apartment design is often about balancing the need for everyday storage but in my view should not be to the level that it's either vastly insufficient for people at all life stages to comfortably live or so vast in storage that it encourages hoarding. 

I’ve had many clients reach a point where the sentimentality of keeping their grown children’s drawings, photo albums and trophies is outweighed by the literal weight and space they occupy.  If it can’t be digitised or passed back to the kids it doesn’t make its way into the downsizing space.  

Similarly, furniture that suited a larger home may not fit either spatially or stylistically into a newly designed space. I’m re-staining and refurbishing a 1960’s dining suite to bring it into the modern day and breathe new life into it rather than disposing of it simply because it's not as cool.  

Jacqueline: I think if you’ve made the decision to downsize from a larger home to something smaller, you’ve probably already determined that you want to have less - less gardening, less cleaning and therefore less belongings. It’s easier to offload the peripheral things that, in a way, belonged to a previous life – kids’ things, sports equipment - things you’re not going to need that you still have because you haven’t made any major changes but you don’t need to take with you.

Bring up to the surface the things you want to celebrate and put them front and centre in a beautiful way so they’re not in cupboards but are still part of your everyday life. For me, it’s horse riding, I have a saddle in the entry to my home on a beautiful saddle stand and it reminds me of the one or two things I want to focus on. Storage is pivotal in a small space but it can be limited, so think about what you can bring out into the living area in an interesting way. I have three little children and I use my ironing board often so I have decided to not have a cupboard for it and have a spot in the living room where it lives. I had an ironing board cover made from a lovely fabric so the ironing board becomes something I enjoy seeing around and gives me an entire cupboard area I can dedicate to something else. I bought a beautiful trivet for the iron to sit on a shelf and now I feel a sense of enjoyment wrapping the iron up and putting it back on the trivet.

You can make other small changes like using a beautiful timber clothes airer instead of plastic, the reality is they’re out a lot of the time so if you invest in something purposefully once, you’ll feel like you’ve intentionally made some meaningful decisions and you won’t mind seeing it.

What is the biggest cause of clutter in apartment living and what can someone do to overcome it?

Jacqueline: It’s going to be different for everyone but I think a big one is clothes: clean clothes, drying clothes and dirty clothes. Coming up with a functional way of addressing all those things will stop it feeling like clutter. 

One trick I’ve learnt when I’ve moved into small spaces is to do an inventory before I move in, and document by each cupboard and storage area how much space you’ve got and start allocating the things you have and need into those spaces. You need to be honest before you move in about how much you’re going to take with you and be ruthless about not taking more than you’re going to fit. When you look at a smaller space through rose coloured glasses, the tendency is to have an optimistic view that by downsizing that you’re going to leave everything behind. 

There’s mounting evidence that suggests an untidy home is also a stressful home. What are the best ways or trends to take a tidy approach to interior design? 

Jacqueline: I don’t subscribe to the minimalist approach – I love my books, objects and things. I bring something new into the house every other day.  The trend I’m finding more valuable is that of identifying the things that are important to me! 

For example, it’s important that my daughter has her toy kitchen near my kitchen so she can play out with the family instead of in the playroom. I had to get rid of the pale pink, enormous toy kitchen that she had and switch to a smaller, neater Ikea kitchen that fits in my décor and that allows her to be in front of me. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money to upgrade or change something you’re living with to align it with where you are today.

There has been a lot of things said about untidy desks and work environments and there’s an Albert Einstein quote that I love: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” 

My definition of untidy and yours is going to be completely different – I don’t define having my things around me as untidy. Sorting things allows you to have a rhythm, so for me it’s having quick access to the ironing board so I don’t have to worry about getting it in and out all the time. 

People can be very unstressed when they’re a hoarder and the process of clearing their belongings creates stress. Tidiness is a continuum and you need to find where you sit on the continuum and then work towards an improvement on the direction you want to go. If you want to have more, you need to work out how to do that without creating more stress. I will never curb my appetite for books so I have to keep getting more shelving. I have also discovered a beautiful way of piling them under a window frame in the house on the floor on some timber tree trunk trays.

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