Originally posted 1/18/2015
By Robert L, THAC
Over the last 10-15 years, entire industries have been founded and flourished teaching how-to and supplying consumers with goods to organise their in-home stuff. Organisations have formed, books and websites were written, professional designation titles such as, “Professional Organizers” have surfaced. Institutions glean and design plenty of clever ways for keeping our vast quantities of possessions in check with baskets, bins, pegboards, labels, shelf, drawer & slot systems, etcetera.
From craft-rooms to kitchens, to garages to sheds, Canada is blessed with many creative ways of keeping any size of space more manageable and appealing. We even have apps to help keep the personal shoe inventory organised!
Much of the home-organization ingenuity has come from industrial and retail business applications, where inventory and process controls are tied to overhead costs of space and labour. As an “industrial organizer” and professional improvement specialist, I have been able to take advantage of the home and business organisational ingenuity, and I am thankful for it!
Anyone who knows me will say I am near clinical regarding personal and professional organisation efforts, “everything to have a place and everything in its place”, is what I teach a strive for.
Over the last 20+ years, I have used this inclination to facilitate better systems of workflow, worker health/ease of work, and inventory accuracy/cost savings. However, I can’t help but think, as I gaze upon the large stores and the supply of mass-produced products for our home organisational efforts, are we better off with our hyper-organized possessions? Why are we taking so much time, money and finite resources to engineer ‘solutions’ to organise our possessions? For the majority of us, is there even a return on the investments, outside of the appeal of a picture perfect closet and perhaps more room for more?
Allow me to deviate for a moment to get perspective, let’s look at some statistical numbers for Canada.
The Canadian Home Builders Association reports that the average size Canadian home is currently 1,900 square feet. As of 2011, Statistics Canada shows the average number of persons in a household to be 2.5. Let’s say 3, for this examination (I don’t now any 1/2 persons, so that is around 633 square feet of space per person in the average Canadian home). Meh, take away utility rooms and the like, maybe 550-600 square feet of liveable space per person. While I’m at it, I’ll tell you that the average home cost in Canada (as of Middle of 2016) is between $475,000 and $508,000. Roughly $250+ per square feet based on that average of 1,900 square feet. I’m not even going to add on the accrual costs after mortgage percentages for the life of the house, insurance and property taxes, but it is easy to calculate that the cost goes way up as the financial institutes gain a massive amount of our earnings for our shelter.
Most employed or in school Canadians are working an average of 36.5 hours a week. Add the time we are out commuting, shopping and socializing and sleeping (you use little of your house when you are sleeping). How many of us are home enough to enjoy our 550-600 square feet q. ft. of our space?! Organised or not.
My quick calculations (thanks again to Statistics Canada) is that we are home and awake/interactive with the home for of 72-76 hrs/ week (around 46%) of the available 168 hours in a week. Yes, this excludes the 1.6+ million Canadians that work at home or those that are unemployed, part time employed, etc., but I’m taking averages and majorities here. The point is, many households have large spaces where on a few hours of time are spent being productive in them if any at all.
If you amortize the average time, we are at home with the costs of our houses and compare that with the average Canadian income, the numbers can be staggering. Many experiences the cost of shelter to be between 40-50% or more of their gross income. Again, for only half of our waking hours.
While the house itself can be difficult for the average Canadian to sustain, our consumer culture then tells us to fill those houses with goods. With our remaining finances, Canadians consume a tremendous amount of materials and labour to buy stuff and then more on top to organize that stuff.
I propose a viable alternate concept. It is time for Canadians to get rid of the need for the space and the organisation of the goods. Get rid of the excess we make in our life and re-focus on the more important things! Let’s take inventory of the heart, not possessions.
Evaluating our needs vs. wants is not a different discussion, but seems for many to be left only as that, as a discussion; not so much action.
I’m reminded of one of my favourite songs, Society by Eddy Vedder (abridged),
It’s a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
You think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won’t be free
When you want more than you have
You think you need
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
‘Cause when you have more than you think
You need more space
A large number of studies have emerged over the last several years that reveal the more people tend to have, the less happy they are. Often the reasons are that the time and energy required to acquire and them maintain the possessions of our lives, the big home, the car(s), the status, and so on, drains us of the more expensive elements critical to the deeper satisfaction of our short time here on Earth.
Freedom from pressures and a realignment to a self-sustainable lifestyle is a great deal of what the tiny house movement and other small footprint homes are about. Reconnecting with community, friends and family are the benefits of working less to achieve the consumables.
So, next time you are again evaluating how to organize your closet or your garage better, to add more in the home or to cycle out the old and bring in the new, consider, what is the payoff to the stuff in the first place?
And are the house and possessions that you are in and around for about half your life costing half of your income and time?
Are such things enriching your time on Earth or are they a distraction and adding to stress?