Judd Abrams says he is a clean freak, the kind of person who has valued order since he was a kid. But when his fiancee, Nicole Sassaman, met him a year ago, Mr. Abrams' collections of old guitars, cameras, and tribal masks were scattered throughout his Malibu, Calif., bachelor pad.
One night, a few weeks into their relationship, he asked her for home improvement ideas. After all, she is a contractor who specializes in finding hidden space in the tightest of condos. He thought she could suggest a few tiny fixes for the reasonably tidy house where he has lived for a dozen years.
"Well," she said, searching for the right gentle words, "you know you don't have to fill every space with something."
By the time Ms. Sassaman was finished, the trinkets were gone and so was the sofa table. "Judd thought that if there was a blank wall, it needed to be filled with pictures and to have a table against it and that table needed to have stuff on it," she says. She designed built-in mahogany bookcases in the living room to display some of his collections and found containers to store the others. She also took down a jumble of pictures on the walls and rehung a few interesting ones.
Stuff. We all have it. It spreads, it spills, it piles, it grows. As homes get larger, they're being filled with more kitchen gizmos, high-tech must-haves, holiday garnishes, and keepsakes for amassing collections.
Our beloved wheels sometimes get shoved out of the garage in favor of sports gear and other outdoor provisions. Spare patio cushions dangle from the rafters, bikes are hooked to the walls, and recycling bins and five-gallon water bottles block pathways.
Shoes, jackets, and backpacks get dumped in the entry. Kitchens are packed with barbecue and tailgating supplies, TV rooms are a tangle of cords and loose discs, and everything else is jammed into closets.
Over time, the buried stuff is forgotten until a moment of real need - where is that thing? - fuels our desire to manage it all better. Then we resolve to get our things in order.
But where to start? Most homes simply aren't built for all the things we have, says Glenda Schwartz, an owner of Closettec in South Toledo. A rod and a shelf in a closet is usually inadequate.
The first need of her clients is typically closets, followed by the kitchen pantry, laundry room, office/den, and garage.