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So much stuff, so little storage

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF, Times Correspondent
Published January 11, 2008


Lately, like many Floridians, I've been grappling with the question of why I pay for a storage unit.

When I lived in the Midwest, my mid-century, two-story colonial house featured an attic, a basement, plenty of closets and built-in drawers and shelving. The house was relatively modest by today's supersized standards, yet I enjoyed the luxury of space to display everything I loved: inherited furnishings, antique china, a completely useless but beautiful pre-Civil War daybed purchased from the estate of an elderly gentleman farmer.

I took storage for granted and reveled in the fact that my house was storage rich and totally self-contained.

Fast forward a few years:

I now live in a typical Florida condo with skimpy storage and no garage. It's a beautiful place, but a lot like living on a sailboat -something that used to appeal to me until I tried to figure out what I would do with my stuff.

Like a sailboat, my tiny condo offers little elbow room for the things I've carried with me through life. Hence, my beautiful old sleigh bed and other treasures too big for my living area languish in storage while I debate what to do.

I've tried adding shelving systems and organizing in plastic tubs and baskets. I've downsized and given lots of castoffs to charity. I follow all of the professional organizer's rules: When I buy a new outfit, I search my closet for something I no longer wear to give away. I keep only the cooking utensils and dishes that I really use. Still, I'm bursting at the seams. Like those 10 extra pounds I'm always fighting off, the same thing goes for my stuff in a too-small space. I love to ride a bike, but one of my bikes must live in my spare bedroom. I read prolifically, but lack room for adequate shelving, so most books are stacked in antique plant baskets rescued from a Dumpster in South Tampa. No linen closet means sheets and towels share closet shelf space with my T-shirts and shorts.

Each month as I make that storage payment I think, "This is money that could be applied to a mortgage on a larger home."

Yesterday I visited a condo bigger than my own and lusted after the large, airy rooms and ample storage space. It wasn't an obscenely big home, just comfortable. It made me rethink what I sometimes preach about - the ease of living in a small space if you stay organized. Organization is no doubt the light and the way. But what if, like me, you have a lot of interests, as well as stuff that you really like and use?

When I was in ninth grade in Miami, one of my classmates lived on a sailboat. I was invited to spend an afternoon on the boat. Although I saw little furniture and few possessions, I was intrigued by the family's superior sense of organization and their ability to use every inch of space, like the tiny hallway that converted into a shower. When school was out, they were free to sail off to exotic destinations, which, at the time, seemed like a highly romantic idea. It still seems romantic, but it now occurs to me they must have had a storage unit somewhere.

Over the years, I've visited lots of people who live in cramped Florida digs. I've decided there's nothing less romantic than a little house filled with too much stuff, no matter how organized.

There's nothing worse than trying to unload a dishwasher around multiple sets of china crammed into a too-small kitchen cabinet space.

Paying to store your stuff is a Florida phenomenon that I wasn't prepared to deal with - at least for so many years. I think a teeny-tiny home without an attic, garage or ample storage is fine for minimalists, bachelors, chronic travelers, renters, or those lucky enough to own a second, larger home elsewhere.

For the rest of us, my advice in the New Year is this: If you are looking to buy a home, buy one that's at least big enough to store precious possessions and accommodates the interests of you or your family.

If you already live in Lilliputian digs and are paying for monthly storage fees, do some serious soul searching about your priorities.

In the meantime, stay organized.

It's the best way to cope with a too-small pad.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

[Last modified January 11, 2008, 00:29:24]

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