Apr 112014

When we visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder home in Mansfield, Missouri last summer, our tour guide told us that there were some rooms on the second floor that we couldn’t see. One of them was full of miscellaneous stuff – a junk room – because Laura believed that “every house needs a junk room.”

I agree with her, but I prefer to call it a “storage room,” because I don’t keep anything that’s “junk.” If I have no use for something, I get rid of it immediately, but the problem in our house right now is that there are lots of items that I do have a use for, but I have nowhere to put them. Things like wrapping paper, extra storage bins, the kids’ memory boxes, the school supply bin. Guess where all that stuff currently ends up? In my office. My teeny-tiny office.

Our old basement laundry room used to double as a storage room, and I was excited when we finished our upstairs laundry room because I thought, woo hoo! Now I’ll have more room for storage downstairs! Except a funny thing happened; my husband kind of took it over. He likes to build model cars (because beneath his handsome, manly exterior, he’s a 10-year-old boy at heart), and race HO cars, so he set up his race track, modeling table, and all of his supplies in there. At first it didn’t really bother me, so I said nothing. However one day, when I was trying to make room in my office closet for a bin full of stuff that was up for auction on eBay, AND a box of gift items and Easter candy that I bought for the kids, I had a realization.

It wasn’t fair.

I had waited for 8 years to have a room to call my own, and now I was having to fill it up with household necessities and stuff belonging to the children, when it was supposed to be for ME. For my stuff. And here my husband had two rooms – his office (which is a BIG room, but the space wasn’t usable because it was full of junk), AND the old laundry room – for his stuff.

So see…I was a little bit mad, but when I explained this (calmly) to my husband, he agreed that no –  it wasn’t fair – and that I should have a storage room. At this point, I reminded him that it wasn’t for me, it was for everyone. Because, to be frank, I resent the implication that kid stuff and household items are a woman’s problem. We both own this house, and they’re his kids too, amen? He also acknowledged that his office was a dusty, cluttered, nightmare hoarder nest, and it was time to do something about it.

So we made a plan. We’d clear the room out completely, and stud and drywall the two exterior walls, which were still the original concrete forms, to help with warmth in his office. We would then repaint, and replace the ancient window with a new, energy-efficient one. We’d also replace the old, worn carpet with hard flooring that can be easily cleaned, so he can work on his models without worrying about paint and glue stains. We also agreed that the partially-built model train layout, which he’d started building 7 years earlier and had made no progress on, would be dismantled. Instead, we’ll arrange the room so that he and the kids can set up both a working train set and a race track.

My husband is very excited about this project because not only will he finally have an efficient space where he can work on his hobbies, but I’ll also have the storage room I want so much. In the years we’ve been together, I’ve learned that my happiness is important to him, and if I talk to him about a problem he’s always very willing to work on a solution that will work for both of us. He’s also very enthusiastic about the idea of getting rid of stuff he doesn’t want, in order to make the stuff he does want a priority. This is something he’s been learning over the years –  he has limited space, and limited time, so he has to be selective. You can’t keep adding to your plate without ever taking anything off. It never works, and it’s bad for your health and sanity.

Together, it took us more than 6 hours just to clear out this room.


See the partially-built model train layout, and the cloud backdrop he painstakingly painted on the wall?

Lots of stuff. We sold this display cabinet on Craigslist.

We sold this display cabinet on Craigslist.


We’re getting rid of the old computer and desk.


More stuff.


No trim on the door. This room has never had any trim at all, so we’re going to work on that as well.

Do you see why my philosophy has always been to just not go in this room?

The first thing we did was get his workstation set up in the little fireplace nook in our basement family room. This was the easy part.


We cleaned, dusted, sorted, and threw away as we went, but as always, I had to constantly keep my husband – who tends to flit around, hither and yon, without actually completing anything – on task. Fortunately, I have 14 years of experience in helping him get rid of stuff, so I’ve learned to just say, in a gentle, teasing way, “Hey get back here! You haven’t finished going through this box yet!” He can do it, but he needs my help and guidance, and prefers if I work with him on this kind of thing.

When we finished getting him set up so he could work, we went to work removing everything else from his office, and this was the hard part because it involved lots of decisions. But I was very proud of him! He worked hard and got rid of a lot of stuff!

The only things we didn’t go through were his memory box (this is difficult for him, and he often gets hung up on sentimental things, so I felt it was better to save that for another day when we had more time), and his boxes of model train supplies. We’ll sort through those and decide what he wants to keep when he gets the train layout set up, and then get rid of the extra.

In one Saturday, we managed to get the room completely cleared, and the carpet torn out.


The next weekend my husband got the new window installed,


and began working on studding and insulating the exterior walls for drywall.


Now my work begins – I have to sell all the stuff he weeded out for eBay. This is why I always say, before you buy anything you should ask yourself, “Will this item contribute to the life I really want to have?” Because anything you bring into your house will require you to give up something really valuable – your time – in order to clean, store, and otherwise maintain it, and someday, when it’s outlived its usefulness and you no longer like or want it, you’ll have to dispose of it.

Unfortunately, getting rid of stuff is way more work than buying it.