Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series.

With apologies to the late, great George Carlin, where do keep your stuff?

Everybody has stuff. We Americans like to keep our stuff in the garage, instead of parking our cars there. We park the cars in the driveway, or on the street, so our garages can hold more stuff. But some people don’t stop there. They cram the kitchen, the bathroom, sometimes the whole house full of stuff.

Yup, we Americans sure love our stuff. We buy more and more of it every year, never doubting that we’ll be a lot happier as soon as we get our hands on even more stuff. This is a big comfort to our corporate marketing pals, who would really panic if we suddenly stopped buying all their stuff.

Rather than making us happier, though, what really happens with most of this stuff is that we just get tired of having it. You know the stuff I’m talking about: the fancy exercise machine with the digital readout; the bread, popcorn, peanut butter and yogurt makers with the digital readouts; and of course the air hockey table with the digital readout. Then there’s that expensive gaming console your kids just had to have, which was white-hot two years ago and now is totally worthless.

All of this ends up in the garage, in closets, or under beds, inevitably transformed into just that much more useless stuff.

Of course, the best way to deal with all this stuff is to get rid of it and try not to buy any more for a while. My personal litmus test is this: If this stuff I’ve squirreled away suddenly vanished, would I ever even notice it was gone? Usually, the honest answer is no — if I never saw this stuff again, I’d forget I ever had it.

Let’s suppose you got rid of the stuff you didn’t need, and now you’re down to the irreducible kernel of stuff you think you really do need. Where do you put it?

Alas, much as we Americans love our stuff, our homes are poorly equipped to store it. Our storage arrangements are designed mainly for show, not for practicality. Sure, there may be lots and lots of fancy-looking cabinets — whether in the kitchen, the bathroom, the laundry, or even in the closets — but for the most part, they do a lousy job of storing your stuff.

Take the average base cabinet, for example. To find anything in there, especially if it’s at the back, you have to go groveling on your hands and knees. Extra-cost bells and whistles such as pullout shelves or drawers help, but they can’t overcome the basic flaw, which is that these cabinets are both too low and too deep to get at things easily.

Conventional wall cabinets aren’t much better, because the interior space is typically chopped up into sections by vertical dividers, which are there, it turns out, mainly to attach those elaborate doors designers love so much.

While acres of fancy doors may look impressive, there’s a simpler, cheaper and more practical way to store stuff: on plain old open shelves, in a little room that’s just for storing all your stuff.

Next time, the junk room — cheap, simple and it actually works.

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