Breathing Space: the Zen of Clutter Management

Joanna Rueter

Now in her fifth year of working people and their space, Joanna Rueter is very pleased to have the opportunity to help you make your home and office work for you. Please call or email your questions and organizing dilemmas to Breathing Space c/o Planet Vermont or 802-365-9600, or

Dear Breathing Space,

Thank you for the Q & A's. I suspect everyone finds useful information in each answer, no matter what the question was. None of us is so well organized that we can't use more help.

I am currently organizing my father's old painting studio for my own use, and according to your answers, I am doing pretty well! I have numerous closets in the rest of the house and the kitchen still to go. However, I have found that working on what I am moved to do rather than just on the next obvious or most "important" thing that needs doing keeps me from getting too flattened by the enormity of it...

Thanks, Slowly but Surely

Dear Slowly but Surely,

Glad to hear from you. Just want to say YES to all you wrote!

Dear Breathing Space,

I know that there is a standard system for organizing a kitchen. I have heard that you should have only so many steps between the sink and the refrigerator, for example. Is there a similar standard for offices? We need help with furniture placement and design for a home office. We have a photocopier, computer, scanner, postage meter, two desks, table for collating, etc. How do we set it up efficiently, but also keep some degree of personalization to the space so that it doesn’t feel so sterile?

Thanks! Unorganized office owner

Dear Un-organized Office Owner,

You are asking excellent questions. I agree that an office space needs to FEEL good as well as be functional! I don’t know of the same sort of layout guidelines as in a kitchen. Ideally though, the equipment you use the most often will be within easy reach from your sitting position at your desk. Therefore an “L” often works well—or a U—so that you can reach whatever you need from a swivel chair. You might want to put the postage meter and everything needed for handling mail in an area where you would stand up—away from the desks.

The most important criteria is comfort and safety—no sharp corners to run into, enough space to move around in. Touches of color that you like such as a scarf draped over a file cabinet, or plants can also help.

There are some interesting theories about desk placement in Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement. One is that you should be able to see who is coming in the door from your desk, by having your desk face the door or, if that’s not possible, by having a mirror positioned so you can see the doorway in the mirror. No harm in trying that out and seeing how it works for you.

I’d love to know what you end up doing. Remember that it’s ok to make changes down the road also.

Best wishes!

Dear Breathing Space,

My office is located in a basement with only three tiny casement windows. How can I make the space feel large and sunny?

Down In Darkness

Dear Down in Darkness!

Great question, especially with the dark winter months coming. Luckily there are some relatively simple ways to “lighten up” ...Paint! Basement walls are often dark. However, most walls can be painted even if they are covered in old paneling. The color of the walls and ceiling make a huge difference. You can use a quick drying primer on almost any surface. Then use a bright top coat such as a creamy yellow. The change can be dramatic. If the ceiling is dark, paint it also. Use colors you like rather than a pure white.

Next—lighting. White Christmas lights are a relatively low cost way to add extra cheer...and a bit of light. The eyes like variations in light sources. Full spectrum bulbs for your lamps and enough lamps to light the room fully though gently are a good idea too. It’s pretty vital to not stay in the dark! You can also use mirrors to reflect and thus double the light that is in the room especially opposite the windows.

Consider using a warm bright rug on the floor and having a “low-light” plant to make the space feel even larger. It’s worth it to have your work space as bright and cozy as possible.

If we run into any other solutions we’ll be sure to let you know! Anyone else have some other suggestions?

Breathing Space

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