Reader Theo submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
My daughter is in fifth grade with long hair and every *&*^%#! hair accessory you can possibly imagine. Our house is overrun with ponytail holders and barrettes. I threaten to cut her hair off in the middle of the night if she can’t find a way to keep all of these things on her head or in her room or bathroom. Her mother has short hair and is oblivious to my frustration. Help please. — Theo, who is tired of cutting ponytail holders out of the vacuum belt
Theo, are you actually a time-traveling version of my dad writing from the early 1980s? Your email hints of so many fights he and I had when I was a kid — except replace “ponytail holders” with “ribbon braided and beaded barrettes.” It gave me a shiver, actually, when I first read it.
Your email reminiscent of my father spurred me into taking a look at my current hair accessories (yes, adults have them, too) and admitting to myself I haven’t been doing a great job organizing them, either. Everything was crammed haphazardly into a basket in my linen closet and dozens of ponytail holders were on door knobs and drawer knob pulls throughout the house (out of reach of the vacuum, but still not in their proper place).
I decided to spend about an hour this past weekend getting these items under control and what I did might work for your daughter.
The first thing I did was round up all my hair doodads — I searched the house and also grabbed my disorderly basket out of the linen closet and poured it all on my bed. Next, I sorted by type. All ponytail holders were put into one pile, all hard headbands made another pile, all soft headbands made another one, then barrettes, bobby pins, hair clips, bun holders, etc.
After sorting, I threw out all items that were ready for the trash from each of the piles — broken or over-stretched ponytail holders, bent bobby pins, barrettes missing their back clips, etc. Then, I went through the piles again and pulled out any accessories that aren’t my style any longer and put those in a large envelope to send to my toddler niece who loves dressing up and doesn’t care much about current fashion trends at this point. What remained after these two purging cycles was manageable and so I didn’t need to do a third round, but your daughter might want to (these items she could give to friends if they’re in good condition and her friends are amenable).
I decided to recycle some items in my home for storage solutions for the accessories that remained. Since developing a gluten intolerance, I no longer have a need for a wheat flour storage canister. So, I washed mine out and repurposed it for my hard and soft headbands:
If you don’t have a container like this, I recommend heading to your pantry or local grocery store with one of your daughter’s headbands. Try them out on different food canisters — they usually fit well around oatmeal canisters. She can wrap the container in her favorite wrapping paper or contact paper to spruce things up a bit.
For ponytail holders, I repurposed an old pill travel organizer:
Again, if you don’t have one of these, a lot of different materials could work, even toilet paper rolls but you need to stuff them with something sturdy so they don’t collapse (wrap this one in contact paper — I don’t recommend wrapping paper for this project as it gets ripped pretty easily, but contact paper is much more sturdy).
I put bobby pins in an old box I inherited from my grandmother. Barrettes and clips went into zip-top bags until I find something else to store them in over the longterm:
My point in repurposing these items was to show that you don’t have to go out and buy something just for organizing her accessories. You probably have things already in your home you can use. If you want to spend some money, there are manufactured options available.
Thank you, Theo, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I’m also thankful for the motivation you gave to me to get my hair accessories in order. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
My colleague at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Chris Rawson, recently explained why most people should think long and hard before installing a beta version of the iPad and iPhone operating system. These betas are typically distributed to developers so that they can test their apps against future updates, but any interested party with $100 can sign up as a developer and get it themselvers. It was a great piece and contained this blurb from a frustrated iPad owner:
I recently bought an iPad right before a trip to Africa for a family vacation. Being right after the release of the iOS 5 beta 2, and being part of the development program, I [installed iOS 5 beta 2]. It worked very well for the first 2 weeks of my trip. Then at exactly the halfway point in my trip, the screen went black … It’s just sitting in my backpack now, useless for the next week until I’m home.
Really a pain, because I’m still in Africa with nothing but my iPod nano and an Internet cafe to entertain me for the rest of the trip.
Forget the iOS install and focus on the huge problem illustrated by this user: He’s on vacation in AFRICA — a foreign continent — and can’t find anything to do without his iPad.
There isn’t one single compelling thing to do in all of Africa?
I don’t condemn this reader individually, because he has succumbed to an insidious epidemic. Specifically, we’ve cured boredom. And that’s a real problem. In The Wall Street Journal, Scott Adams wrote back in 2011:
But wait — we might be in dangerous territory. Experts say our brains need boredom so we can process thoughts and be creative. I think they’re right. I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.
I make my living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.
I’ve expressed this idea in less articulate terms myself. The insistent nature of Twitter, Facebook, and a thousand games in your pocket has produced a generation that never experiences a dull moment. That means we also never experience a contemplative moment, a reflective moment, a creative moment. Scott Belsky agrees:
Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. Our cars now have mobile phone integration and a thousand satellite radio stations. When walking from one place to another, we have our devices streaming data from dozens of sources. Even at our bedside, we now have our iPads with heaps of digital apps and the world’s information at our fingertips.
I know this makes me sound like a cranky old misanthrope, but I don’t care. It’s impossible to generate a truly creative thought while the incessant barrage pelts us. It’s like complaining that we’re not dry while standing in a rain storm. You won’t dry off until you go inside and get away from the falling water.
Turn off, be quiet, and be comfortable with your thoughts. It’s OK, I promise.
The following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. For the past month, I’ve been aggressively testing this product and the review is based on my first-hand experiences. We agreed to work with Staples because they sell so many different products in their stores, and our arrangement with them allows us to review products we use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Again, these infrequent sponsored posts help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.
As a parent of a toddler with an intrinsic desire to push every button he encounters, we’ve been living the past few years with our shredder unplugged from the wall. Each day when the mail arrived, I had to take the safety plug out of the outlet, plug in the shredder, turn on the shredder, shred any mail with sensitive data on it, turn off the shredder, unplug it, and put the safety plug back into the outlet. I gladly did this because I care more about my son’s safety than the inconvenience of plugging in and then unplugging a shredder, but I kept thinking there has to be an easier way.
I also knew I couldn’t be the only person in this situation and someone had to have found a better solution.
Turns out, shredder manufacturers had thought about folks like me with toddlers and about people with pets as curious as three year olds. For safety-conscious people, they have created shredders that require keys to unlock the shredder’s functionality. In this specific case, I’ve been using the Staples’ 10-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder with a Lockout Key. I can keep it plugged in all the time, but it can’t be operated until the Lockout Key is inserted into a lock on the top of the unit. (Removing the Lockout Key actually disconnects the power to the unit.) It’s simple to use and a significant improvement over the unplugging method.
And, if you’re someone (like a grandparent) who doesn’t regularly have young children or pets in your home, there is a discrete switch on the inside of the unit that can override the key functionality for as long as you desire.
Specifically addressing the 10-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder, it has some additional nice features:
- It automatically turns off if it overheats (something I’ve never had occur, but the manual says it is possible after four minutes of continuous run time)
- If it turns off because of overheating it has a specific indicator light to let you know that is the reason it shut down (so you don’t think the shredder is broken), and that light goes out when the unit cools down and is ready to go again
- It cross-cut shreds, which makes the shred more secure than just a strip shredder
- It eats credit cards and other thin plastics
- It eats staples, so you don’t have to remove them before depositing papers into the shredder
- Another safety feature is it doesn’t operate if the top of the unit isn’t seated securely on the base
- It will eat 10 pieces of paper at a time, which means you often don’t have to open envelopes if you know they’re junk and don’t contain any metal
- The bin that catches the paper shreds pulls out from the front (like a drawer) and you don’t have to take the shredding unit off the top to empty your shreds (this is a nice improvement over our old shredder, too)
- There is a little clear panel on the front of the bin so you can see if you need to empty out the paper shreds from the bin
- As for loudness, it’s not the quietest shredder I’ve ever heard but it is far from the loudest — the manual claims it has about a 70 decibel noise level
Interested in knowing which papers you have that you should shred before purging? I suggest shredding anything with any personal information on it. If an identity thief could use the information to verify himself or herself as you, shred the paper. In my area, paper shreds can be recycled, so I shred unabashedly. If your recycling program doesn’t take shredded paper, you can compost the shreds (just make sure you don’t have any plastic or staples in your bin).
If you have specific questions about what papers to shred and purge, you might find this infographic I developed to be helpful, “Shred, Scan, or Store?“
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
When I began receiving emails from readers nominating the Fat Magnet for our Unitasker feature, I was a bit nervous to follow the links. I feared some sort of bullying might be transpiring or not-so-family-friendly content was on the other end. Alas, there was neither bullying nor unseemly mature content, only an incredibly ineffective unitasker. Introducing the Fat Magnet:
When I finally followed the links, my understanding of the periodic table of elements set off my dubious detector about this device that is supposed to skim fat off foods. This “magnet” is not a magnet. It is made of aluminum and aluminum is a non-ferrous metal and not magnetic. (The only way you’ll get a real magnet to stick to a ball of aluminum foil is if you involve tape or glue.) Also, fat is not magnetic. Fats are lipids, and unless the animal you plan to eat had itself consumed a ridiculous amount of ferromagnetic metals over its lifetime (and I mean a lethal amount of iron, nickel, and/or cobalt), that fat won’t have any way of being magnetic. (Don’t believe me? Try sticking a refrigerator magnet to the meat you just cooked. How’d that work out for you?)
In theory, the Fat Magnet is supposed to work by drawing fats in liquids to the cold surface of the “magnet.” In scientific terms, this process is called solidifying. It’s hoping to turn liquid fats back into solids, and then get those solids to coagulate onto the cold “magnet.” If the liquid you’re working with isn’t especially hot, you can usually do this simply by dipping a spoon into ice water and then skimming the back of it along the top of the liquid. The slightly warmer fat usually sticks to the colder spoon. You have to repeatedly stick the spoon in the ice water, though, as the warmer liquid will warm up the spoon and make this process completely unhelpful. I’m more of a fan of just using a spoon to stir the liquid and create a bit of a whirlpool. This quick stirring pushes the heavier fat toward the edge of the pan (centrifugal force) and I just skim off the fat from the edges of the pan. Irrespective of the method, neither requires you to need something other than a spoon … which you already own.
Save your money and disappointment and reduce fat in your foods by consuming less meat or cooking only lean cuts of meat or trying one of the spoon techniques I previously described. Honestly, though, fat is often the most yummy part of meat as it is what gives it a rich, buttery flavor. Imagine bacon or pork belly without their delicious fat … well, I don’t even want to think about how depressing that would taste …
Thanks go to the dozens of amazing readers who tipped us off to the Fat Magnet.
- Five tasks to keep your Monday morning productive
Monday mornings can be tough, especially rainy ones like we’re having in the Mid-Atlantic this morning. Instead of wasting away your morning, try these simple five tasks to keep your productivity from stalling.
- New additions to the Unclutterer family: Introducing Deb Lee
We are happy to announce that two writers are joining our content team here at Unclutterer. First up, is professional organizer Deb Lee.
- Weigh in: How do you store the tiniest toys in your child’s playroom
Reader Stephanie is in the process of making over her children’s playroom and wrote to me asking for some organizing help. She is specifically having problems finding ways to store those small, easily misplaced, choke-able pieces of games and toys. She has tried using zip-top bags with very little success and wants a more visually pleasing solution.
- Ask Unclutterer: Regular car maintenance
Do you have any tips to keep track of upkeep for your vehicle, such as when to have tires rotated, etc.?
- Tipke Marine Fold-It Utility Cart
A folding wheelbarrow can save space in the garage or shed.
Once the uncluttering is done and you’re deciding how to store the keepers, you may find you need some products to help you create an organized space. You might need bookshelves, file folders, a scanner, an inbox, some good hangers for the closet — any number of things.
How do you select your products? Most importantly, you want something functional, something that really meets your needs. Price is obviously a consideration, too. But what criteria do you use beyond that? The following are five recommendations for how to acquire the right organizing products for your needs:
Use something you already own
This saves money and it’s a green way to go. It can also result in some very personalized storage solutions. Many people have excess coffee mugs that could be used as pencil cups. I’ve taken a cat bed that my cats disdained and turned it into an inbox in my office. The pretty box pictured below? A friend used it to package a gift for me and now I use it to store my flossers.
Get something second-hand
Buy something at a thrift store or join your local freecycle community or other similar groups and get something there. Garage sales can be sources of incoming clutter, but, if you’re a wise shopper, they can also be sources of organizing product treasures.
I recently freecycled these drawers. I’ve also given away wooden hangers and lots of filing supplies. People in your local group may also be giving away organizing products.
Buy from stores that easily accept returns and exchanges
Even if you check the dimensions of your space, you may still find the item you’ve purchased doesn’t quite work for you. If you’re concerned this may happen, you’ll want to buy from a store where returns and exchanges aren’t a hassle.
Honor your personal values
Based on your ideologies, this may mean you buy from local stores or independent stores or individual artists. It may mean you buy from stores that are known for treating their employees well. Maybe you look for products manufactured in your own country, rather than abroad. Or maybe you look for products that aren’t over-packaged and are made from sustainable materials. Depending on how you feel about the research on plastic food storage containers, you may want to avoid plastics for anything going into the microwave.
Or maybe none of these things matter to you, and that’s fine, too.
Acquire things that delight you
Sometimes all you need is a basic plastic bin, but other times you may want something with more flair. In those situations, look for products that delight you with their design, their color, their silliness, etc.
Most of my bookends are just simple and sturdy, but I do love this rhino, and it helps me to get books back on the shelf after I reference them because I like looking at it.
This oversized mug is what I use to store my kitchen utensils. I bought it at a local craft fair about 20 years ago. It still makes me smile every time I look at it.
You’ve probably read about the negative impact a sedentary lifestyle can have on your health — sitting for long periods of time can create a multitude of health issues, including lower back pain, poor mobility, and an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
…the more hours a day you sit, the greater your likelihood of dying an earlier death regardless of how much you exercise or how lean you are. That’s right: Even a sculpted six-pack can’t protect you from your chair. But it’s not just your heart that’s at risk from too much sitting; your hips, spine, and shoulders could also suffer. In fact, it’s not a leap to say that a chair-potato lifestyle can ruin you from head to toe.
This infographic shares more details about how sitting for too long can affect various parts of the body.
Image credit: CBCNews.com
Is it any surprise then that it’s often recommended that you get up and take breaks regularly throughout the workday? Not only can getting up often help increase blood flow (to your legs in particular), but this also gives you a chance to hit the “reset” button so that you can return to work more prepared to get stuff done. It seems that standing while you work also can help you to be more productive. A recent study (The Take a Stand Project) conducted by Dr. Nicolaas Pronk found:
Office workers who spent an hour or so a day at stand-up workstations felt more energized, productive and even happier … and if they keep it up, they may help reduce the damage done by sitting at a desk all day.
This doesn’t mean that you should stand for eight hours a day, but you can choose to work while standing for short bursts during the course of the workday. When it’s time to sit back down again, be sure your spine is erect and your shoulders are relaxed. If you slouch or lean forward, you can put stress on your back. Sitting with the proper posture will also allow for better breathing.
What are some work-while-you-stand activities that you can put into practice? There are a couple of things you can begin doing immediately, like standing (or pacing) while you talk on the phone or while you meet with a colleague. You can ramp things up a bit by working at a standing desk. If you choose this option, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and get an anti-fatigue mat to stand on. If you’re interested in making your own standing desk, you can find a number of tutorials at IKEA Hackers, like this one:
Image credits: IKEA Hackers
There are other things you can do to reduce the amount of time you’re sitting down, like holding a walking meeting or if your meeting is on another floor, consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You also might want to try working while walking using a treadmill desk or riding a pedal desk.
While sitting for too long does have poor health effects, standing for too long is likely not a good idea either. Consider varying your movement so you’re not in any one position for long periods of time. Test various schedules to see what works best for you (like intervals of 20 minutes sitting and 40 minutes standing) and use an alert to remind you to get up until it becomes a regular part of your routine.
- Unitasker Wednesday: The KAZeKUP
We talk a lot on Unclutterer about honoring the things you choose to keep in your life. Put these things up on a (proverbial) pedestal and enjoy the items you value and treasure. But … the KAZeKUP isn’t really what we had in mind.
- An uncluttered plunger, really
I was recently impressed when I saw a demonstration of the new Rubbermaid Clean and Dry Plunger (yes, you just read that correctly, I was impressed by a plunger … and you probably will be, too).
- Book review: Stuff
Hoarding specialists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee recently published Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things that explores the psychological world of hoarding. In the book, the components of the disorder are explained through case studies, and the authors also provide many examples to illustrate where a hoarder’s actions diverge from those of a healthy individual.
- Parting with sentimental clutter
We all struggle with sentimental clutter, not just hoarders, and the authors of the book Stuff explain why on page 45: “We can’t help but imagine that some essence of the person or the event symbolized by the objects will magically rub off and become part of us.”
- Unitasker Wednesday: Tu-Go Travel Coffee Cup Holder
A decade ago, I might have looked at the Tu-Go Travel Coffee Cup Holder and not considered it for our weekly unitasker feature. But now, thanks to security measures at the airport, I can’t even imagine when a person would have the opportunity to use this.
- Not getting things done? Try WSD
WSD = Find something to write on. Find something to write with. Finally, and most importantly, WRITE STUFF DOWN.
- Hinge hooks
Recently, I learned about these simple hooks that fit over the pins of door hinges. You pull out your hinge’s pins, slip the hook onto the hinge, and then slide the hinge pin back into place.
This week’s Workspace of the Week is PennPal’s repurposed home office:
I have a number of praises for PennPal’s workspace, but before I delve into them I wanted to make sure everyone saw the wonderful description that accompanied the photograph in our Flickr pool:
This is where an ESL lecturer gets stuff done at home, away from the hectic classroom and the distractions of a shared office at the Uni.
I was inspired by photos of Dieter Rams home workspace and needed extra surface area for occasional co-working with my better-half. The Melltorp table is Ikea’s best lesser-known desk option. Add a flipped-over Pluggis for a monitor stand and a few candlesticks for the speakers.
I also have a phobia for visible wires.
(I’m not certain, but I think this is the inspiration PennPal used for the home office.)
I love how white is the base color, which helps a great deal with keeping distractions to a minimum. A single color of any kind could have the same effect. I also love the cable control in this office — so many items are wireless, and those with wires have them culled with hooks on the back lip of the table. The speaker stands are ingenious. There are so many things to be inspired by in this office; thank you, PennPal, for sharing your space with us.
Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.
You’ve done it! Your home is uncluttered, with everything in its place.
But then, a few months later, things aren’t quite the same.
How do you maintain that organized space you so enjoyed? The following seven ideas will give you an edge and don’t rely on a magic wand.
Make it super easy to put things away.
Well, OK — it’s fine if your holiday decorations are stored in a place that’s a bit hard to get to. But, with things you use frequently, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible to put them back in their places.
Make sure the containers you use aren’t too full; strive to keep them at least 20 percent empty. Think about how hard it is to file things in an over-stuffed file cabinet. Other overly full containers are also hard to work with.
Consider containers without lids; consider hooks instead of hangers. If you have high shelves you need to access fairly often, have a step stool close at hand.
And, as much as possible, accommodate the way paper and objects naturally tend to flow through your home. If incoming mail gets dropped on the coffee table, put an inbox there. If coats wind up in a pile right by the front door, consider putting hooks or a coat tree in that area.
Make sure everything has a home.
Also, make sure that all family members who share putting-things-away responsibility know where those homes are. You can’t put something in its proper home if it doesn’t have one. Buying something new? Make sure you decide where it’s going to live in your home before you pay for it.
Share a file cabinet with another family member? Make sure you both agree on how things will be filed. I met a woman who filed the house insurance under the name of the insurance agent; her husband had no idea where to find it.
Don’t forget to label your storage containers, especially when it’s not immediately obvious what goes where. You can use pictures to label toy bins and such for young children, so they can help put things away, too.
Use good tools.
I spent way too much time pulling jammed paper out of my shredder before I invested in a new one. Now I’ve got one that works, and life is so much easier.
Look for file cabinets with full-extension drawers — where the drawers pull out far enough that you can easily get to the files at the back.
Develop a routine.
Maybe you and your child take 10 minutes to put toys away each evening. Maybe you sort out junk mail daily, and do your filing weekly. Figure out what routines work for you and your family and stick to them.
If finances allow it, consider hiring help.
Hiring a gardener or a housecleaner to take care of some routine tasks can free up your time for the things that only you can handle. If you have a small home-based business and hate doing the bookkeeping, consider hiring someone for this task, so you don’t get behind.
Or, maybe you have some projects sitting around that are creating clutter because they aren’t getting done — those shelves aren’t getting installed on their own and that thing you were going to repair isn’t getting repaired. It might be worth paying someone else to do those types of projects for you.
You could also consider doing a task swap with a friend. You despise doing Task A, but don’t mind doing Task B? Your friend is fine with doing Task A, but always puts off doing Task B? Maybe you can help each other.
Do a periodic uncluttering.
Tastes changes. Needs change. The lids to food storage containers get lost. Children outgrow things. Schedule some time, every once in a while, to make sure all the things you own are still things you want.
Set an appropriate standard.
Unless your home is on the market with potential buyers coming by any time or unless your home is being used for a photo shoot, immaculate is probably an unnecessarily high standard for daily living in your home. Keep your home safe, functional, and generally uncluttered — but don’t fret that it isn’t perfect. Perfect is an impossible continuous standard.
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
Whenever I sit down to have some fruit or vegetables, my first thought is often, “I bet these nutritious foods would taste better if they were thinly cut and curly.” Because, let’s all be honest with ourselves, curly foods just taste better. If it’s a choice between a carrot that can be dipped into hummus or ranch dressing and a thinly cut, curly mound of carrot shavings — you want the carrot that is decorative! Those of us who are willing to admit our desire for curly fruits and vegetables, we thankfully now have the Fruit and Vegetable Twister Garnish Processing Device to make it all possible:
And the Amazon reviews really sell it:
Do not buy!
Is not functional product …
A little flimsy, have to be careful not to break it
That last quote, by the way, is from the only 4 star “positive” review of the device.
Seriously, if you really do desire vegetable garnishes, let me recommend a sturdy, quality product that will take up less space in your kitchen drawers and you can use it on any non-mushy fruit and vegetable (unlike the item above, which would crush most everything besides tubers) — the Julienne Peeler by Kuhn Rikon. It’s also extremely simple to clean and is what professional cooks use in restaurant kitchens. I’m not sure why you would need one at home, but if you do, please leave the plastic doodad off your shopping list and go with a functional, useful version instead.
Thanks go to reader Kerrie for sharing the Fruit and Vegetable Twister Garnish Processing Device with us. (Even its name is unnecessarily long and cluttered!) It is genuinely a unitasker.
- Uncluttered gift ideas for Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is this weekend (May 13) and although flowers and plants are usually an appreciated and safe gift, you may be thinking outside the (flower) box this year. If you’re still looking for ideas, consider giving an uncluttered gift.
- Using dynamicFRAMES for children’s artwork
Parents often write to me and ask how they can organize their children’s artwork so that it doesn’t overwhelm every vertical surface in their homes. I usually suggest purchasing an art gallery system and rotating works through dynamicFRAMES.
- 35 luxury notebooks to organize your life
If you’re a traditional pen and paper notebook aficionado, then this exhaustive list of notebooks will get you headed in the right direction.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Spin the Bottle Game
The Electronic Spin the Bottle Game isn’t your parents’ empty bottle.
A creative, productive person has a motor. Much like a car or scooter, that person is driven by his or her motor — driven to do, to make, to create, to find fun things to do with the kids, to build a media room in the basement, to learn French, to pursue innovative carrer goals, or to plant a flower garden.
The problem is that sometimes the motor won’t shut off and you get more ideas than you have time or attention to achieve right now. Many people put these on a “Someday/Maybe” list of goals to consider for another day. I think a list such as that is organized clutter. The someday list can cause a lot of guilt. So, instead I put my own spin on this type of list.
Someday/Maybe is a tenent of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. He refers to it as (I’m paraphrasing), a way to capture the projects you’d like to complete in the future, lest they continue to nag at your thoughts. Additionally (critically, even), those items should be a part of your weekly review. Every seven days, ask yourself, “Is it time to move on any of these things?”
My problem is, the answer is always “No,” and that fantastical trip to Japan remains untouched, emphasizing my inaction for another week. Here’s what’s worse: noticing the pattern, I add items that I know I won’t act on, consciously or not. The someday list is my personal waiting room.
I’ve no doubt that it’s important to have long-term goals, even those whose only benefit is dining in an out-of-the-way noodle house. However, there must be a better way to keep track of them and taking action.
A few years ago, I attended Macworld | iWorld in San Francisco (it was still called Macworld Expo back then). One of the highlights was hearing Merlin Mann speak. He said, among other things, that one should take a good, hard look at the Someday/Maybe list. Ask yourself, “Will I ever do this?” If the answer is no, ditch the item completely. Will I ever become fluent in Japanese? It’s highly unlikely. Off it goes. But will I ever travel to Japan? That item is much more likely, so it stays.
While understandable, culling the improbable has a “crush your dreams” vibe that bothers many people. “Spend a month in Japan” is a huge project, but there’s a little more likelihood I’ll achieve it than learning an entire language.
Before ditching that trip all together, let’s consider how it can remain on the list of things I’d like to do without any of the guilt.
Years ago, I worked as a special needs teacher in a residential school for children with Autism and other developmental delays. I taught in a classroom and eventually supervised a group home with 8 students and a staff of 12 teachers. We practiced the Ivar Lovaas method of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). I’ll do Dr. Lovaas (and by extension, B. F. Skinner) a great disservice here and offer too brief an explanation of his life’s work.
ABA uses positive and negative reinforcement to change behavior. One method is called chaining, or breaking a complex task into several simple ones that can be taught in succession and, when successfully performed sequentially, comprise the original task. I never guessed that training would be so influential in my everyday life.
In GTD, “visit Japan” is not a task, it’s a project. Fortunately, my old job helped me get good at breaking complex behaviors (or in this case, projects) down into very small, observable, concrete actions. Perhaps “discuss life in Japan with uncle who used to live there” is a doable first step. Maybe “research seasonal weather in Japan” or “find a well-written book on Japanese customs or food” could be other first steps. In breaking down the project, two things happen.
First, I feel like I’m making progress on this huge task, rather than letting it stagnate. Second, I’ll get a true measure of my willingness to go through with completing the project completely. If my interest wanes, I can safely remove it from the list as Merlin suggested. If I have an increase in interest that will suggest motivation, and I’ll continue to devise small steps that move me closer to completing the project.
The Research List
What’s really happening here is I’m turning the someday list into research tasks. Therefore, I’ll suggest changing the name from Someday/Maybe to Research. It sounds more pro-active and suggests something to do other than sit and wait until I get around to it “someday.”
I’m not going to tell you to ditch your Someday/Maybe list completely. Again, let’s not crush those dreams. However, I will say be very honest with yourself and consider:
- Is this list a dumping ground for the unachievable?
- Am I dropping things here that are too unpleasant to consider for some reason?
- Is there a way to actually make progress on this?
- What is the first tiny baby step I can actually do?
Figure out the answers to these questions and get moving. Avoid the clutter and guilt of a Someday/Maybe list and start working toward these projects in the present.
People who know me know that I have an intense dislike for doing laundry. Like uncluttering, if you don’t keep up with it, things can quickly get out of control. Because there are several steps to completing the process, I’m always on the look out for ways to make it a little easier and faster to complete. In fact, I was elated when I recently read about a shirt (made by Wool and Prince) that can be worn for 100 days before it needs to be laundered. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like doing laundry (no surprise there) as the shirt is already sold out. And, since it’s for men only, my dreams of collecting a few for my side of the closet quickly faded. I have hope for the future, though.
Image credit: Wool and Prince
I’ve even considered wearing one core piece every day for one year (like Sheena Matheiken did). Though I’d still have to wash my clothing, I’d theoretically have less of it to launder and I could save a bit of time looking for something to wear each day. But, in reality, I’m not sure I could be creative enough to pull this off for 365 days. After a while, I suspect that I’d want to switch things up a bit.
Since these options don’t seem viable for me and my lifestyle, I’ve decided to redouble my efforts and take more practical steps to help ease the pain of doing laundry. If you’re like me and find laundry to be a major thorn in your side, consider these six suggestions:
- Reduce your stash. Spring is great time to unclutter your home (or office or car) so why not start with your closet? The less clothing you have, the less volume of washing will be required. And, you’ll gain more space in your closet.
- Share laundry duties. Teaming up with your spouse, partner, or housemate to get chores done is not a new idea, and this principle can easily be applied to doing laundry. Decide who will be responsible for specific steps in the process (don’t forget about ironing). You can alternate each step or take on the tasks that you don’t mind doing. For instance, I love folding. It’s a quiet and solitary activity that relaxes me. On the other hand, you might want to do laundry with a friend who’ll help you with all the steps and then on another day, you return the favor.
Another option is to let everyone in your home be responsible for keeping their own clothing clean. This can be a great option for adults and older children, though you can also get younger children involved. Of course, you can also outsource your laundry. When I lived in NY years ago, I used a service that would pick up, wash, dry, fold, and return my clean clothing to my apartment. It was money well spent as all I had to do was to put everything away.
- Wash smaller loads. This may seem counterintuitive, but it may help you get through all the steps if you have fewer clothes to work with at one time. This might mean that adjusting your laundry schedule (increase the number of loads per day or the number of days you wash clothing) so that you can finish the entire process for each load washed.
- Keep your laundry area stocked with needed supplies. Nothing stalls the process like not having everything you need. It’s important to have all the supplies you tend to use so that you can start and finish the process. If you’re missing something (or don’t have enough of it), you’ll be frustrated and doing laundry will take longer (or just not happen until the last minute). Keep the supplies you need in your laundry area and be sure they are easily accessible or else you probably won’t put them back where they belong. This also applies to good equipment — if you have a washer and dryer at home, it’s much more enjoyable to do laundry when the equipment is in decent working order.
- Use a steamer. If you’re not fond of ironing, you might want to consider using steamer. They seem to be a bit easier to use and don’t require as much effort as a traditional iron does. You can also find portable units that don’t take up a lot of space. You could also purchase wrinkle resistant clothing that requires little or no ironing once you remove it from the dryer, but these items are typically treated with resins that may irritate your skin, so use caution. Clothing made from bamboo fibers may be a good option as they are lightweight (and potentially easier to keep wrinkle-free), tend to be odor resistant, and are quick drying.
- Buy the same. This is a tried and true tip — especially when you are laundering socks. Having the all the same socks means that you won’t spend a lot of time pairing them up.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Cupcake Corer
This week’s selection sincerely leaves me asking a lot of questions. What horrible event could have possibly happened to someone to make him want to punish cupcakes and those who love to eat them? Introducing the cupcake mutilating Cuisipro Cupcake Corer.
- April resolution wrap up and an introduction of May’s resolution
For May, my public resolution is to be more mindful and deliberate about my media intake. I’m not against television, magazines, newspapers, or the internet (obviously), I think they are wonderful forms of entertainment, education, and information distribution. I’ve simply realized that it is more difficult for me to disconnect from media now than it once was, and this doesn’t sit well with me.
- Book review: Keeping It Straight
Keeping It Straight — You, Me, and Everything Else by Patrick Rhone is a digital book that is part memoir, part simple living and productivity guide, which through a collection of short essays addresses clearing clutter from your life to greater experience happiness.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Lawn Stryper
No matter how many times I read the product description I couldn’t figure out what the Lawn Stryper does.
- Celebrity minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser
In addition to being a great actor, Vincent Kartheiser also appears to be in the running for the most extreme minimalist celebrity in Hollywood.
- Organizing and uncluttering as entertainment
If organizing and uncluttering are fun as games, why are these same activities considered chores in our homes and offices? Why don’t we look forward to putting things away? Why is cleaning up after a dinner party never as much fun as setting up?
- Unitasker Wednesday: Snap On Bottle Tops
When you’re drinking soda pop out of a can, do you really wish you were drinking it out of a bottle? Is a 12 oz. soft drink just the right size, and 20 oz. way too much? Sure, you could buy a 20 oz. bottle, drink only the amount you want, and save the rest for later — but we both know that would be too easy!
- Bluetooth keyboard with integrated trackpad eliminates wires and multiple devices
The Logitech Mediaboard Pro makes an excellent keyboard for a Home Theater PC.
- Barnes and Noble now selling audio books online
Barnes and Noble has jumped into the online audio book market.