Sunday, March 31, 2013

Organizing Our Spare Room: The Big Reveal

First, a big thank you to Laura and readers for the inspiration, resources, and encouragement to take on this project; I would not have considered it possible to redo this room without your support.

There were many days in the beginning that even 10 or 15 minutes in the room was overwhelming. Maybe because I usually did those minutes in the morning, without any coffee onboard at 0530. My efforts to wake up early and make the most of my mornings finally paid off. 

But I digress, so, without further ado, here's the old view entering the room (BEFORE):

The new view when you walk in is a comfortable lounge (AFTER)... 

The spot in front of the window crowded with junk and empty boxes (BEFORE)

The window area now has a desk, with a view just like my ideal pinterest room during planning (AFTER):

Ideally we might get something like Linea, a leaning space-saving desk from The Container Store for the space, which won't block the window and obstruct the view but can still hold a laptop and some cute accessories:

Lest you think everything is too good to be true in here, there's still a bit of a situation with the books. 

We ended up using the closet to house a small bookshelf to hold journals, photo albums, school binders of material, and reference books. We kept the hanging rod empty so guests can store clothes and by December we will empty and remove that bookshelf so guests can store suitcases in there too (AFTER):

We needed a lot of storage space, including 8 file cabinets and 5 plastic totes, to store the magazine clippings, files and office supplies that we had acquired (BEFORE):

While we still have too many books, we now have only four file cabinets. We purged many magazine articles, donated many of these office supplies, and shredded many unnecessary files and papers (AFTER):

As part of our new system of organization we plan to pin relevant magazine articles, travel destinations, and recipes instead of storing them, for reference, in the file cabinets. We also vow to keep just 1-2 of each office item (tape, glue sticks, paper pads) around at a time. 

Otherwise we could end up with another pen situation (BEFORE):

 Inside each bag looked like this (BEFORE):

And now just one long storage tote, which used to hold cookbooks, hides under the futon storing office supplies when they are not needed (AFTER):

The clear area of wall space where these storage totes and file cabinets used to be now houses a dry erase calendar to track appointments and assignments (AFTER):

This tracking board is also part of our new system for organization. It will reduce the number of paper notes, lists and reminders left around the room and provide easy visual tracking of assignment, project and paper due dates.

We repurposed items from many other rooms- a futon, a desk, a bookshelf, and some items set aside for the finished office over the years (like a black and white calendar of photos and a dry erase board/calendar)- to complete this room. We spent $0, as planned, despite earning over $50 from the excess items we purged. And that included giving away the extra $200 file cabinet for just $5!

Before, this room was a cluttered wreck. We would shut the door and hope guests did not go in there. It made my heart pound and my nerves unsettled to look inside at the piles and piles of stuff. It was a shameful secret we hid from others. Now, we are proud to have a clean and organized space to welcome guests, write notes to friends, complete school assignments, and choose the next books we want to read.
Challenge Summary:

1. What space did you decide to organize and why?
I chose to organize the spare room for several reasons. First, it was a total wreck and made me uncomfortable every time I walked by it. Second, we intended to use this space as a library and study lounge when we first moved into the house. Finally, as part-time students with full-time jobs we need a quiet space away from the t.v., phones and soft pillows in our bedroom to study! 
2.  What steps did you take to ensure you completed the space within the 31 day timeline?
I first went to Pinterest and decided on a vision for the space. Then I made a plan, but not a timeline for when I would do each piece by. Honestly, if I had estimated the time it would take me to empty the space I would have guessed somewhere between 4 hours and 4 months. I had no idea. I began by a commitment to spend just 15 minutes daily organizing the room. It got easier and I was able to devote more time. For several weeks I made it my part-time job spending 10+ hours/wk in there shredding papers, pinning magazine articles for later reference, and purging excess.
Getting up by 0530 each morning and making this my first priority of the day helped immensely.
3.  What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and how did you overcome it?
The hardest part of the challenge is purging the space to completely CLEAR the room. I justified in the beginning how I might "work around the clutter" and imagined myself rearranging the piles to "organize them". But eventually I had to admit that taking everything out of that room, no matter how uncomfortable it is to see it stacked up in the dining room or hall, gave me the real feeling that we could transform the space into the vision. Purging many items gave it the transformative appearance you see now. You cannot rearrange the piles to change the space. Believe me, I spent some time each morning with my coffee imagining that possibility and did not see an answer there. I truly didn't know how much different the room could look until I had emptied it.
4. What did you do with the “stuff” you were able to purge out of your newly organized space?
  • Shredded personal documents. 
  • Rehomed cookbooks to the kitchen
  • Tossed magazine articles. 
  • Donated unused but excessive numbers of office supplies to family and teachers we know. 
  • Returned unused items to stores for merchandise credit. 
  • Sold some books online for cash. 
  • Sold items like an extra file cabinets, old photo frames, and a bulletin board on craigslist.
  • Drove the tote of unsold items to our favorite donation shop.
5.  Tell me one of your proudest moments during this challenge?
Obviously there is pride in emptying the room and showing my husband an empty space. Clearly I am now proud to keep that door open letting rays of sunshine into my home since the window is no longer blocked and will be proud to welcome guests to spend the night there. 
But I believe my proudest moment came early on after about a week in the challenge when I recognized that we had a lot of cookbook/recipe clutter in the room. Then a few days later I gained insight regarding similarities between weight loss and decluttering efforts and results. It's impossible to get started on these projects if you set unrealistic goals or consider how you will ever "lose all that weight" or "transform a room" but by setting small, achievable goals like "eating vegetables with every meal and snack" or "clearing out a tiny space of the room" is the way to go. I was so proud to connect the need for baby steps in both life areas. 
6.  Explain any organizing “tools” you used to help you create additional space and to establish some limits and boundaries?
We expanded the donation area by setting aside several plastic totes without covers that we had in the basement. First, I filled up the empty boxes from the room that were stacked in front of the window and then I filled up the plastic totes. I repurposed a long, flat storage tote to hold office supplies and tucked it under the futon which gave us much needed floor space and reduced the need for so many plastic totes/file cabinets in the room. 

I brought in a small second bookshelf, temporarily, with plans to empty at least half the books from the large bookshelf. By the end of the year we can remove the small bookshelf and guests can have room to store suitcases.

Tools such as a dry erase board calendar will track appointments and assignments due to reduce paper clutter while the attached mini bulletin board will display important magazine articles until pinterest time. These efforts should keep the paper clutter at bay. 
7.  What is ONE piece of advice you’d give to someone else to encourage them on their organizational journey?
Small daily efforts lead to BIG lasting transformations.

Posting such personal photos takes a lot of courage. Cleaning and organizing a space takes a lot of time. When you can muster the courage to embark on the journey, set your alarm clock to get up 1 hour earlier than usual and get to work. And hit up pinterest for inspiration and encouragement frequently along the way!

If you enjoyed the tour of my new space leave me some love in the comments and come back next month for more pictures of our Master Bedroom closet makeover. I will be purging clothes, organizing storage, and probably painting the space. I'm excited even though I have not had time yet to sit down and plan!

Thank you for visiting.


  1. Wow! Amazing did a fantastic job! Doesn't it feel so awesome to have a functional room now?!?!
    ~ Kimberley

    1. Thank you- yes the room is a space we can use and are proud to share with others. I still cannot believe I shared the before pictures-- not even our closest friends and family had seen that!

  2. Wow Jenny! What a great room! Honestly, paper clutter is the most time consuming and difficult thing to tackle. You did a fantastic job!

    1. Thanks Mrs. P, I think I have to agree you. Taming the paper clutter is a big problem. If I could have given a second piece of advice it would have been to make a plan for your future paper, mail, magazine articles, etc. Stopping that clutter before it begins is half the battle. If you can't stop the inflow you'll never be able to actually declutter an office space!

  3. Wow! What a huge looks great. And I'm sure you're enjoying your "new" space. :)

    1. Thanks Kristin, we are really enjoying it!

  4. Nice Work! I'm impresses with how you worked through all the paper clutter, and set boundaries for things like office supplies. Enjoy your newly organized space, and congratulations on completing the challenge!

    1. Thank you much. It feels great to have it finished, for now, and to have a plan for the future so it never becomes that way again. There are still dreams of painting and about half as many books in there...perhaps an update post later this year?

  5. WOW!!!!! You must feel amazing! I can imagine because my office area looks about like your starting picture (although instead of piles of books I have piles of kids clothes and toys that need to be sold or donated!!) and it drives me so crazy! I feel better just looking at your after pictures! Nicely done!

    1. Kat, I hope it serves to inspire you. I truly only gave it 10 or 15 minutes daily at first- whatever I could tolerate before my anxiety about being in the mess and walking through the piles was unbearable. If you setup a sale box somewhere in the house and then list those items every day for a week you may make similar progress. You just have to set the resolve that at the end of the 3-4 weeks you MUST drive what did not sell to the donation shop or to a friend who would love to inherit it.

      The good news is that everyday gets a little easier in there and halfway through the challenge I actually had to kick myself out of the room so I could get to school work, housework, or my job on time! It begins to feel good going to the space after awhile. Cheap therapy?


  6. Wow and Wow, again! I absolutely LOVE the room now and am a tiny bit envious of your space. What an excellent peaceful area to go study and read. Absolutely beautiful! You should be very proud of the area and of yourself for accomplishing this. Good for you. Kudos!

    1. You're sweet for gushing and now I'm blushing. Thanks :)

  7. Hey Jenny,

    I am giving you a cyber standing ovation! That room is awesome. The bulletin board is something I have been looking for and seeing yours now confirms that is definitely the one I want. The fact that you did this in a month is great. I have been working on my master which is the "storage area" for all things in our house and you have inspired me to get busy listing my craigslist and ebay items to clear up more space. Thank you for opening up your personal space for us to see as you worked through your journey.

    1. Your words lift me up. Thank you :)

  8. I love your room!!! I especially love that table in front of the window - what a sweet space to sit and study or daydream! You did a great job with your makeover!

    1. Thank you Susan. It's very much the concept of the vision. With a little paint and a few more office appropriate pieces it will be perfect but the goal was to declutter and organize the space into an area we can work in/with in a month and I feel I did a great job with that!

  9. You have done a ton of work! I love the idea of having a separate room as a quiet space to study ... I might just hide in there for a few days LOL! It looks so nice and peaceful! Great job!

    1. April,
      Just walking by and looking in brings peace and joy now. Maybe having the room a bit cleaner is enough peace of mind to get the studying done?

  10. I love how your office turned out! It's so organized and comfortable. Getting up early to organize definitely shows your dedication and I think it paid off in the end result! Great work!

    1. Thanks Beth, we're pretty glad to have an organized and comfortable study lounge now.

  11. Maybe I will have to go take a picture of my spare bedroom!