Is Your Home Relaxing?
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Is Your Home Relaxing?

Your home should be a place where you can relax. But traffic jams and piles of stuff can actually keep you perpetually aggravated. Here's help for the most common stress spots.

Clutter Patrol

The Dump at the Door

Cubbies and hooks near
the entryway help
contain clutter.

Problem: Areas just inside front and back doors easily become congested with stacks of mail, magazines, book bags, shoes, purses, and keys. Dumped items don't get put away, and you always seem to be looking for them when you're in a rush.

Solution: Create an adult and kid organizational center near the door you use most.

  • For adults, mount hooks to hang keys, glasses, purses, and gym bags.

  • Open mail immediately upon walking in and file into two wall-mounted mail holders, one for "bills" and the other "to file." Just below the mail holders, have a trash can or recycling bin for junk mail and extraneous envelopes.

  • For kids, designate hooks for coats and bags. Have a freestanding shelf with bins and trays for their winter wear, shoes, and school papers.

  • A long storage bench could hold sports equipment.

Grand Central Bathroom

Problem: Family members are always waiting outside the bathroom door. The counter is a mess of toiletries and hair appliances. The floor is scattered with wet towels and dirty clothes. The bathroom always requires a major pick-up before guests arrive.

Solutions: Put hampers in each bedroom to catch towels and clothes. And move as many activities as possible out of the bathroom:

  • Set up a vanity area in each bedroom, so makeup and hair can be done there and related products stored there.

  • Install a linen closet outside the bathroom so people don't need to enter the bathroom to get towels or medicines.

  • If you don't have one, consider adding a small powder room near the front entrance -- this will decrease traffic in the main bathroom and keep guests out of private areas.

Tripping Over Toys

Problem: Children's playthings are scattered throughout the house. Either the house is always messy, or you feel like you're spending all your time picking up. However, you don't want to limit them to playing in their rooms.

Solutions: First, do a toy purge at least once every six months, carting off toys that have been outgrown or that no longer attract your child's interest.

  • Donate the toys, or pack them up for the basement if younger kids are coming along.

  • When kids receive presents at birthdays and holidays, get rid of the same number of toys that are coming in.

Second, instead of trying to put toys away in kids' rooms every night, store them near where they are most often used. Designate a drawer or container, such as a big basket, in every room to catch toys during a quick clean-up.

  • If kids do art at the kitchen table, set aside one kitchen drawer for art supplies.

  • If kids play with race cars in the family room, hide the cars away in a storage ottoman.

Home Layout Problems

Disruptive Traffic Flow

Problem: While you are sitting on the sofa or in your favorite chair, people are constantly walking by, in front of the TV, on their way to another room. It's difficult to conduct a conversation due to these passersby and also because your conversation partner is seated too far away.

Solution: First, identify traffic flow in your home from doorway to doorway. Upon entering the front door, do you need to pass through the living room to get to other rooms? Move furniture out of those pathways, and direct the path around furniture groups. The easiest way to do this is to pull your furniture away from the walls, "floating" some or all of the seats in the middle of the floor. Opposing seats should be no more than 8 feet apart for comfortable conversation.

Cramped Eating Area

Problem: Whether in a breakfast nook or tight dining space, there never seems to be enough room for everyone. People are crawling over chairs or squeezing behind them to get to their own. Seats always seem to be pulled out, blocking traffic. When walking through the eating area, you need to make a big swing around the dining table.

Solution: A built-in banquette makes the most efficient use of small eating areas. Install one on one side of the dining table, or in a corner to cover two sides of the table. Not having to pull chairs in and out on the banquette side means you can nudge the table closer to the wall. Built right, banquettes with lift-up seats can provide extra storage.

For a freestanding alternative, position an upholstered bench or armless sofa against the wall. This is often a more elegant approach in a formal dining room. Just make sure the seat height and depth is comfortable for dining.

Scores of Doors

Problem: Open doors are constantly blocking pathways -- maybe you have to wait for someone else to close the entry closet door before you can get in the front door. In addition, the space within the door's swing span is wasted because you can't put any furniture there.

Solutions: Remove unnecessary doors. These might include doorways to public rooms (such as between a hallway and kitchen) or closet doors. Where doors are necessary, consider switching your regular door for a bifold or pocket door, both of which take up less space. To soften empty doorways or hide closet contents, install a portiere, made and hung just like a curtain.

Under-utilized Rooms

Problem: Family members are packed like sardines into the tiny TV room, while a spacious formal living room sits idle. The dining room is used only at Easter and Christmas. The kids' toys are constantly spilling out of their small rooms.

Solution: Many homes, especially older ones, were designed for a now outdated lifestyle. There is no rule that says you have to use the dining room for dining, just because the blueprint labels it that way. Reevaluate rooms to fit your life.

  • If you usually eat in the "breakfast area," designate that as your only dining area. Move the TV into the formal dining room, making the living room and new TV area one large great room. Or, install French doors in the dining room and turn it into a home office.

  • If you'd like to use the dining room, get rid of your dining set in the kitchen and replace it with a sofa or comfy chair or portable island, thus encouraging meals in the dining room.

  • There is also no rule that says parents must have the largest bedroom. If you'd like to contain kid clutter, give kids the biggest bedroom for more play space and toy storage.

Work Whereabouts

Problem: There is no designated space to do household bills or review papers brought home from work. Papers pile up on dining tables and counters, and they're never completely put away. But you don't have room for a home office.

Solution: It's best to pick just one spot in your house for paperwork, then hide the work behind closed doors when you're done.

  • If you don't have space for a full-blown home office, outfit a spare closet as an office with a plywood insert for a desk, file cabinets below, and shelves/slots above.

  • You could also buy an armoire that is specially designed to accommodate an office, then place the armoire in a bedroom or dining room.

In a dining room, make office space that looks like a skirted sideboard: Place a laminate rectangle on top of a wire desk system, then use hook-and-loop tape to fasten a floor-length skirt around the perimeter of the laminate.

Too Many Cooks

Problem: People constantly pass through the kitchen, disrupting food prep and clean up.

Solutions: Direct foot traffic around the work triangle (the area between the stove, sink, and refrigerator) by adding a built-in or portable island in peoples' usual path. If possible, locate the refrigerator near the most-used entrance, such as the doorway to the family room, so people can get drinks and snacks without completely entering the kitchen. Also consider adding a second sink near the entrance, so water -- whether for hand washing, crafts, or drinking -- is easily accessible.

Small-Space Sanity Savers

Problem: Your house is too small. You have too much stuff. It looks cluttered and feels claustrophobic. You find it hard to keep tidy.

Solutions: Be ruthless and get rid of any unnecessary furniture.

  • Use garage sale proceeds to buy something more suitable.

  • If you have family heirlooms you feel compelled to keep, put them in storage or lend them to friends for a few years.

  • Be creative about which rooms pieces should go in. A beautiful dresser would be just as at home in a dining or living room as in a bedroom.

In small spaces, focus on vertical storage.

  • Armoires, tall bookshelves, and tall filing cabinets can store out-of-season or heirloom items.

  • Add extra shelving in the top portion of closets.

Select and arrange furniture for maximum flexibility and usefulness.

  • When choosing seats, avoid a sofa-and-loveseat combo. Replace the loveseat with two chairs.

  • Consider using an apartment-size sofa, which is smaller scale than a standard sofa.

  • Keep an eye out for clever furniture such as a drop-leaf table that serves as a side table when leaves are down, but provides extra dining space when needed.