Monday, September 03, 2007

My Apartment Is Getting Bigger

Those of you who have no interest in how I continually move the furniture around in our small place in order to maximize efficiency and are tired of hearing about the joys of de-cluttering may want to turn away now. I imagine I've just lost 99% of the male readers at at least 20% of the female ones but that's the way it goes. ;-)

My kitchen storage area "before". (As always, click on any picture to see a larger version for more detail.)

The gargantuan shelf pictured above has been in our place since before the day we moved in. As I mentioned in previous posts, as a wedding gift to my husband and I, my brother-in-law furnished our place to a utilitarian state from Salvation Army finds as well as arranged for the apartment itself (he didn't pay for the apartment, just the furniture...he's not incredibly rich, just helpful). In addition to the shelf pictured above, he also bought us a chest of drawers which I believe was designed for kimono storage or bed clothes because the draws were really long and shallow, a kitchen table, and several futons. Having these items when we got here was incredibly helpful.

The shelf shown above was probably more than 22 years old when it finally went to the old cabinet's burial ground (where its spirit will frolic and cavort with other discarded pieces of cabinetry). We had it for 18 years and I'm sure whoever had it before had it for at least 4 years and possibly far longer. The handles had broken off of 3 of the 4 drawers (hence the reason I removed them) and the laminate that was covering it was starting to crack and peel off in a lot of areas. Every once in awhile, I'd see what looked like an ultra-thin paint chip on the floor when I was vacuuming and that was this old shelf shedding it's coating like an old man losing his hair.

About 3 weeks ago, I was sliding one of the glass doors shut and it cracked the entire length of the door along the point where an indentation was in the glass to allow you to grip and slide it. If I hadn't put plastic on it to make it look frosted, I imagine it would have fallen down and there may have been a potentially ugly and bloody accident but the plastic held the pieces together sufficiently to spare me that. The door, however, was now useless and I had to choose between finally ditching that old crumbling (but highly useful) thing or keeping it without the doors. Given that I covered the glass in the first place so that I wouldn't have to look at the unappealing jumble of dishes inside and it's continual state of decay, I decided to retire it.

My kitchen storage area "after". The dishes are safely out of sight in the cabinet on the right.

I didn't want to buy any new furniture to replace the cabinet for several reasons. First of all, I think we have more than enough furniture for our place's size and it'd be better to try and reduce the quantity overall. Second, we're trying to save money so spending it on new stuff, particularly when we're operating with an eye toward leaving Japan rather than an eye toward staying, seems wasteful. Besides, we've had to replace every appliance in our place in the past 2 years except the television and washing machine so we've flexed our consumer muscles enough lately. Finally, I've been wanting to move our oven away from it's resting spot next to the refrigerator literally for years. Having it there has been causing the refrigerator to work over-time compensating for the heat being put out right next to it and it's just really bad in terms of energy efficiency and the life of the refrigerator.

The rolling cart serves double duty for storage and a surface we can place right in front of the oven should we need it. Those dark spots on top are where the varnish has worn away. I really should re-finish it! Those baskets are mainly full of baking and cooking supplies which are infrequently used or the remainders of what can't yet be decanted into canisters.

Since it was going to take 3 weeks for the "dai gomi" (large garbage) people to come and pick up the cabinet, I set to work on some deep (cutting down into the marrow in the bones of pack-rattery) de-cluttering and space optimization. I threw out 2 trash bags of stuff, mainly related to inefficiencies in my filing system and old "Before and After" magazines I didn't want to let go of, but also about a half dozen dishes I was never going to use. In terms of space optimization, at this point, I'm literally looking for any open space in a drawer or cabinet which is only 2/3 full and trying to fill that space without cramming it full. Through doing this, I was able to empty out the entire shelf that you see in my kitchen now. I guess it just goes to show that you often have more to work with than you think.

Behind the canisters, I have a tray to toss random food items into for extra storage. Having the tray allows me to pull everything down or out and makes sure nothing falls down behind the shelf. You may recognize the jar of Skippy on the right from it's trademark blue lid.

The main problem I've always had trying to move the oven was that it is nearly impossible to find a shelf that was strong enough to take its weight and had the right sort of material to take the heat. Most of the shelves designed for ovens are relatively small and low so they provide too little storage space or are too wide for my available space. They're also very expensive. So, I decided to re-purpose the tall metal shelf our T.V. used to be on when it was in our bedroom. This skeletal metal monster has been a real problem to place ever since I changed around my living room and bedroom and I've actually taken it apart and put it back together 6 times and put it in several different places in the past several months. If you enjoy manipulating large, unwieldy, sharp, metal pieces, this is an ideal hobby but I was getting pretty tired of it.

One problem with the shelf is that the slots don't always space in a way that works for my needs. I couldn't both create a storage area for my frying pans at the top and easily fit the toaster oven into the shelving if I had to put the bottom shelf up high enough for the rolling shelf to fit under it. I ended up having to re-construct the shelf with the toaster oven "trapped" in there. It just fits under the lip of the shelf (the shelves are like shallow boxes turned upside down). If I ever need to take out the toaster oven, I'll have to tear the whole shelf apart to get it out. :-p I'm hoping, however, that this is the last time I'll have to puzzle that shelf apart and together and that it's found a penultimate home (the final resting place is obviously with its now deceased predecessor).

My old table and refrigerator set-up "before".

Besides no longer cooking my refrigerator along with my food, moving the oven freed up the space on top of the table. For the first time ever, we have the option to use the table top for what it was intended though I don't know that we'll ever actually sit at it and eat. It is, however, very nice to have all that area to work with when preparing food rather than having to work in a cramped space in front of the oven as I did before. The table, incidentally, is the last piece of original furniture left from the items my brother-in-law initially bought for us and we have no plans to replace it.

My new table and refrigerator set-up ("after").

After removing the oven, I had to deal with the wall that had been lightly-scorched by the oven's proximity so I decided to cover it with some 100 yen shop finds. The cork board is empty because I just put it up yesterday but I'll probably use it for recipes and reminders in the future. I mainly chose it though because it was one of the few things large enough to cover the space. The pictures above it are print-outs of food from a Kai's Power Photos collection I've had for a long time in wooden 100 yen frames.

In my attempt to fill vertical space more efficiently, I re-did the storage on the top of my refrigerator. A plastic book-holder is there to keep the boxes in place (it's the green thing you can barely see). I also killed two birds with one stone and found a place for the overly-many plastic storage containers we have and got rid of un-tidy bags of chips and croutons by decanting them into the containers. It looks better and means fewer containers in my reduced shelf space.

The sink area was little changed though I could see rather clearly how yucky the front of my gas table was. I'll have to work on cleaning it up though I don't know if it's possible to scrub off nearly two decades of dust and grime. The only difference here is that I hung a few baskets to keep our toothbrushes (which used to be on the table as well) and some of the spices.

The counter area was not changed at all. Since this is a record of various aspects of our life in Japan for my own reference, I'm including a picture here for the sake of completeness.
The laundry/shower area "before".

The one part of the apartment which I really feel still needs some work is the laundry area. It's probably the hardest because it has to be a catch-all for cleaning products and storage of dry goods that we've had to purchase by the case from the Foreign Buyer's Club. I also used to store tools there but have since moved them into storage under the sofa. I think the landlords who decided not to give us any storage space should have to keep my cleaning products in their huge house. :-p Their genkan (shoebox) is bigger than our one closet.

The laundry/shower area "after".

While I've cleared this area out a bit of it, it still needs some work. The bicycle pump, for instance, really has nowhere to go though I must say there's no excuse for not having covered the front of those clear drawers with white paper to mask the chaos within aside from procrastination.

I love new furniture and have had to squelch the impulse to go the easy path of buying things more than once while doing my alterations but I must say that it's gratifying to just use what we have. It's especially nice because every piece of furniture we get rid of makes the place "bigger". Virtually every room now has more space due to the changes I've made and it feels more open and it is easier to move around in. I'm sure there's some fancy Feng shui reason for this but it's all just common sense to me.


Anonymous said...

Good job!


Shari said...

Thanks, Bill. :-)

Yanpa said...

Well, I'm male but I find stories about living in Japanese apartments fascinating! Do you have a floor plan or description of the layout?

Shari said...

Hi, Yanpa, I'm pleased to hear you're interested as I've not spoken the last about such things! My hobby at the moment is fixing up the place and I'm certainly not going to be quiet about it. ;-)

We don't have a layout but I would really like to have the one the landlord uses to advertise it among real estate agencies. I've though many times about asking for a copy of it but I'm concerned he might find the request troubling. When I took pictures of cleaning people to show what was going on in my blog, he was afraid I was disturbed by their actions and thinking of suing. I may yet ask him and explain why. If not, I really should attempt to draw up a diagram myself and use it as part of a new apartment tour when I'm ready to put one up.

Many thanks for your comment!