There must be something symbolic about containers. My people love them. They're everywhere. I believe that no Danish butter cookie tin in the history of cookie tins has ever been recycled. This is why food manufacturers keep putting out expensive commemorative tins and jars: they're like crack. Forget the cookies, give me the containers! Jars! Boxes! Baskets! Barrels! Buckets! Bins! Tubs! Hampers! Lunch boxes! The dream of antique library card catalogs! If I can only finish soaking the label off this, it'll look great on the shelf with all the other ones... The bewitching thing about containers is that they're always so full of potential.
Containers are constraints. They can only hold a certain amount of stuff. Therefore, they wind up being used to store whatever item is closest to that volume. (That's assuming they are being used at all). Let's take the butter cookie tin as an example. It starts out as the "sewing box." It's big enough for scissors and a pincushion and a needle case and some thread. It starts to fill up. The materials accumulate. They no longer fit in the cookie tin. The cookie tin, though, is now an official bodily organ. It cannot be removed. Additional incoming sewing supplies have to go somewhere else. They start filling up other containers chronologically. Not by use, not by volume, not by color, not by application, but by whatever container happened to turn up around the time that another container was needed. That's why all of my people have so many shopping bags with stuff in them. This is the "bottom up" method. What do I do with the stuff I have?
The "top down" method looks completely different, and that's why we have Pinterest. We start with the questions: What works? and What looks good? Design starts with the room, its function, and its appearance from a macro, interior design and ergonomics level. People gasp when they see rooms that were designed from the top down, and they also gasp when they see rooms that were "designed" from the bottom up, but for different reasons. "Wow!" Versus "What the heck happened in here?"
Containers ask to be filled. When we're charmed and delighted by them, we keep them for their own sake, putting them everywhere they will fit. In the windowsills. On every available shelf and flat surface. On top of the fridge. On top of the toilet tank. In closets. In boxes in the garage or storage unit. We can't even bring ourselves to get rid of travel mugs with cracked lids, or mismatched, melted Tupperware, so how could we possibly get rid of these super-cool awesome decorative containers?
The troubles are many. We can't see inside and we can't always remember what's in each container. When they're displayed next to each other, they don't match, because we appreciate almost every possible style of home decor. Country cute meets Victorian meets Asian meets baroque meets cardboard carton. Somehow it's all coated with a furze of dust, strands of cobwebs, and a thin veneer of grease. Each individual container is fascinating in its own way, even as it makes it harder to find stuff and harder to clean house.
One of the fetching charms of containers is that they represent aesthetic values in a scaled-down, affordable version. I can't afford a castle, but I can afford something that looks like it could GO in a castle! I can't afford antique furniture, but I can afford this vase. I can't afford to travel the world, but maybe I can afford this steamer trunk. The heartbreaking part of this is that the cost of all these items, added together, might be enough for that round-the-world ticket, or the antique armoire, or, if there's a storage unit in the picture, the down payment for that dream house. Containers are aspirational.
My people are dreamers. They're quite bright and sensitive, as a rule, and usually have a very strong design sense. It's hard to tell what that is, though, because they are Rescuers of Things and they like to run Stray Stuff Homes. Come to me, battered brass and chipped porcelain, and I will display you forevermore. My role as organizer and coach includes drawing out that love of beauty and appreciation of the finer things. What would your house look like if you planned it? What would 'intentional' look like for you? It's like carving Mount Rushmore out of living rock. Mount Stuffmore. Find the style under the clutter.
There are other ways to think about containers. Furniture can also be a container. Finances are always, always an issue with my people, and that's why they don't go straight out and buy a furniture solution for their container needs. A dresser, an armoire, a standing bookcase, a chest, or a cabinet with shelves can all hold a lot of bits and bobs that are currently distributed between uncountable smaller containers. I suspect that a lot of people could hold a yard sale and come up with enough ready cash to buy such an item. Most of my people already have at least one piece of furniture that would do the job, but of course it's already full of stuff! Downsizing even a couple of small items from every container can free up enough space to redistribute everything. This is why decluttering always comes before organizing.
Containers are meant to contain things. My people, like nature, abhor a vacuum (and so do their cats), and any container cries piteously in loneliness until it is filled with something. It's helpful to think of the room itself as a container. A home is a container. A home contains your life and your loved ones. There needs to be enough room to live and to welcome guests. A home is the most fascinating, lovely container of all, because it contains you. Let that be enough. Get rid of the symbolic containers and see whether the potential starts to show up.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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