The problem with open-style storage

The modern trend for open-style storage doesn’t make sense for many reasons. It creates visual clutter, requires much more cleaning and tidying, and exposes things to unnecessary wear and tear.

Open-style storage

Designer homes featured in trendy magazines have no doubt played their part in the trend for open-style storage, but there must be something more, and I think I’ve finally figured it out. The simple fact, when you do the maths, is that open-style storage is much more affordable because it doesn’t include the cost of DOORS!

But is the saving worth it?

If you are super neat, love dusting, and don’t own much stuff, then it’s probably fine. But if you have a fair number of possessions, and especially if you have a busy life and don’t have time to lovingly arrange everything to look “just so”, or spend hours each week cleaning, then it’s not such a good idea.

From a feng shui perspective, the difference between closed and open-style storage is huge. With closed storage, energy flows more smoothly around your home, causing you to experience a corresponding ease and smoothness in your life. With open-style storage, the objects on each shelf present an obstacle that slows energy down, and if things are untidy or disorganized, the effect is even worse. It can make everything you try to do in life be much harder work than it need be.

Why closed storage is best

I’ve noticed that open storage seems to especially appeal to people who have clutter, and also to perfectionists, who fear that out of sight is out of mind. Clutter doesn’t melt away just because you store it in cupboards with doors, but it does improve the energy flow of a space dramatically. People who invest in this change notice a significant difference and also report there’s a lot less dusting to do too!

Let’s be clear here. I’m not recommending you just throw clutter into cupboards or wardrobes (cabinets or closets, if you’re American), then close the doors and that’s the end of the matter. If you have clutter, there is still sorting, clearing, and tidying to do. But many people find it so much easier to do this if the energy in their home flows smoothly to begin with.

There’s scientific evidence to back this up, too. In a study titled Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex, researchers at Princeton University Neuroscience Institute measured how much visual clutter can affect a person’s ability to focus. It didn’t surprise me at all that they discovered people are more productive and generally function better when the distractions of visual clutter are removed.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2012, updated 2023

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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6 Responses to The problem with open-style storage

  1. I’m a no-clutter neatnik living in a very old house. Typically, I prefer to have things put away in logical, consistent places. By chance (more than choice), I have open shelving in my pantry. I love seeing my dishes on display. The shapes, colors and textures are decorative and cheerful. They inspire me to cook, craft and create. I think of them as functional art, serving a dual purpose. Organizing comes easily and naturally to me. I have an artist’s eye as well. Karen would probably say I’m a perfectionist.

    If I were ever able to get cabinet doors I would like some to be glass so I could continue to see and enjoy some of the items. Dust is a problem only with those I use less frequently…although the shelves they sit on do tend to accrue. It’s a pain…I admit it…and the price I pay. Dishes are the only thing I own a lot of, but they do get used and they bring me joy! Some day I’ll need to move to a smaller abode and, accordingly, will need to cut back. At this time, it’s difficult to imagine parting with more than around 10%. Until then, I’m happy with my well-used, well-loved collection and their many lifetime, special memories. They’ve been good helpers and good friends! I identify with them as a positive aspect of myself.

    QUESTION: I understand that physical objects hold symbolic significance. Aside from their functional and creative use in my life, dishes—ultimately—are containers. I wonder what you might have to say about this symbolism, Karen?

  2. I recently had a disagreement with one of the cupboard doors in my kitchen – the door lost and is not not attached to the cupboard anymore!!! Anyway, the cupboard revealed: a bunch of plastic bowls I don’t use, various lids that I don’t know what they go to, plastic storage bags that I’ll never use, a new set of knives, Swifter duster cloths, etc. So, I’m in the process of cleaning out the junk and now I have “open storage!”

  3. I would never use open storage in a kitchen. 1) dirt, dust, grease needs to be cleaned constantly if you wish to have a clean, hygienic home. 2) I can’t stand having to re wash everything before I use it to get rid of dust. Maybe I just like cleaner kitchens. Each to their own I guess but definitely agree with Karen. Closed dust free kitchen storage is for me. Bunch of fresh flowers on the table, a photo frame on the wall, calendar too. Easy peasy to keep clean without looking sterile.

  4. Interesting. I think that open storage and interior decoration are also merging. Affordable art and decoration is highly commercialised. Clean lines are encouraged. Why have a picture, something personal in fact, on the kitchen wall if you can artfully hang pots and pans, that more or less look design because of the clean lines and curves ? Add a 5-dollar series of framed pictures and big, your home is “design”. So one key to understanding open storage must be that “everything” needs to look good. Ironically Karen, I think this is an influence from Feng Shui or Asian design, Ikea…

    Personnally, I find it very difficult to keep open storage clean – dust, cats, kids and even me… So, my challenge is to solve the “fear that out of sight is out of mind”. I try to do that by investing ALL of my space, even the closet, through some kind of mental awareness or spiritual ownership. You know, my living space also is what’s inside a closet, not just the “living space” I physically move about in.

  5. I’m not surprised to see this post here, but… I am by no means a person who enjoys or possesses clutter yet I prefer open storage almost always to hiding things behind closed doors. Clothes and the like may be an exception though, as they create such an amount of dust, and I don’t live for cleaning up.

    As a result of many things we recently purchased a dresser, closed drawers and all. It’s nice, right size and fits our decor and the place reserved for it. And it gathers clutter. Should all the stuff be on open shelving, where I can see it whenever I wish, there wouldn’t be any clutter. When things are visible they must be more worthy of a spot in a home and loved enough to get saved. Whereas hidden somewhere, any piece of scrap might make it. That’s probably why many people find that the more storage space, the more stuff they keep to fill it up (we live in a smallish appartment and have lots of empty shelves though). I’ve already decided to sell the dresser when sometime in the future we move to a place where fastening open shelves on the walls is an option.

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