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Originally published Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 12:04 AM

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How the pros play keep-or-toss

Living in a really small space is not so terrible. In fact, if done well, it can be quite rewarding.

Special to The Washington Post

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I have had a lot of experience in the small-space department. For 30 years, I have lived in either dorm rooms or apartments ranging in size from 180 square feet to 2,000 square feet.

Although my current apartment is on the larger end of the spectrum (about 1,900 square feet), it is smaller than America’s average home size (about 2,300 square feet).

Unlike many of my suburban friends, I have no basement, no attic and no extra storage. I do not hold on to the clothing that my kids have outgrown, and I do not keep the smaller-size dresses that I hope to fit into again one day.

When I buy something, I get rid of something. I do not buy in bulk.

I maximize both horizontal and vertical space — my kitchen cabinets go all the way up to the ceiling, as do my closets and bookshelves. I use under-the-bed and over-the-door storage.

I have boxes, bins and baskets — all labeled so I can find what I need when I need it. I don’t let paper accumulate: My husband scans and stores important papers on Evernote, a digital archival system. We have converted to almost all electronic billing. I shred paper regularly.

I hold on to the best of my kids’ artwork and use it as wrapping paper or greeting cards. I do not keep magazines or catalogs — at this point I can find whatever I need on the Internet. I do not save birthday or holiday cards unless they include a special personal message. To sum up, I constantly edit.

Sound exhausting? Well, I can tell you that small-space living is a challenge and that some days I am more disciplined than others. But if you think of it as a game, just like the Rubik’s Cube, you just might find that the challenge is fun, and gratifying. Small-space living teaches you to live with less space, but also less stuff — something that many of us could benefit from.

Elizabeth Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”


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