Consider charitable giving

Legend had it in my hometown that a boy named Joel wrote the band The Dead Milkmen a fan letter in the late 1980s, and a few weeks later the band sent him a package in return. His fan letter allegedly requested that the band send him some mementos from their homes that he could have and value as keepsakes. Not wanting to let down their “biggest fan,” as Joel’s letter had proclaimed, they put together a box full of goodies for him to treasure.

The box was filled up with some of The Dead Milkmen’s clutter — a random dirty sock, the plastic wrap off of a pack of cigarettes, some bottle caps, a magnet, etc.

I don’t know if the story is true (20 years does weird things with history), but I like to think that it is. I like the idea of being able to box up things that I no longer need (quality goods, that is, not cigarette wrappers) and give them to someone who can appreciate them. Although I don’t have a fan club to happily receive my clutter, I can have a similar experience by donating my lightly used goods to charity.

Throughout the United States there are thousands of charities that accept goods for distribution or to sell. About a year ago, the Real Simple television show did a roundup of many of these national organizations. If you missed the episode, view the exhaustive five-page list here. It is a nice collection of groups that are always looking for donations.

For our neighbors to the north, Charity Village has a list of Canadian organizations that also accept used items.

The Computer File

We have several computers in our home office. To keep warranty information, manuals, and software CDs for each machine organized, we use extra-large magazine files. Each file is neatly labeled with the hostname for the machine. This makes it easy to find materials specific to a given computer whenever you need them, right on the bookshelf.

UPDATE: There are some much cheaper ones available at Amazon, as per Jack’s comment.

Unitasker Wednesday: The waffle maker

Yes, I love waffles. Who doesn’t? But am I going to run out and buy an appliance to make waffles a handful of times a year? The answer for all of us trying to unclutter their lives should be, “No.” For those of you that already own a waffle maker when is the last time you used it? If it isn’t in the last month or two you should probably get rid of it.

Ok, you just crashed from a waffle high and you need that fix again so you start shopping for a waffle maker. Stop and think to yourself if this is just the syrup talking from your recent visit to the Waffle House. Let your mind drift away from the the deliciousness of the waffle and remind yourself how many times you’re going to actually make waffles in your own kitchen.

Now, step away from the waffle maker and go home. Whenever you crave a waffle revisit your local Waffle House or settle for an Eggo.

Simple Living and Labor-Saving Devices

In the comments section of last week’s post on dishwasher safe products, there was an interesting debate on the merits of hand washing dishes. Some readers were surprised by the amount of thought and effort we seem to expend trying to avoid hand washing cookware.

I am an advocate of technology in the service of simple living. There is physical clutter in our lives, and there is time clutter. Often, judicious use of technology can help us tame the latter.

The Shakers, known for their focus on simplicity in all aspects of life, believed labor was sacred. To that end, they developed numerous labor-saving devices:

  • metal pen nibs
  • the flat broom
  • a prototype washing machine
  • the circular saw
  • waterproof and wrinkle-free cloth
  • a metal chimney cap that blocked rain

In fact, the Canterbury community in New Hampshire owned one of the first cars in the state. They also embraced the use of electricity long before their non-Shaker neighbors.

Good technology has the capacity to simplify our lives and empower us. It reduces time clutter. The arrivals of the washing machine and the electric iron were landmark events in the history of women’s liberation. By reducing the amount of time women spent on chores, they increased the amount of time women could spend on other activities.

By contrast, it’s easy to see that bad technology just gets in the way. We are seduced by the false promises of the Ronco Food Dehydrator. In the end, we are not only parted from our money, but we are left with a colony of unused infomercial appliances multiplying in the recesses of our kitchen cabinets. From the very beginning, you didn’t have a chance–by the time you bought the seemingly innocuous waffle-maker, the war was already lost.

Simple living is about clearing away the obstacles in our lives, including the unwanted tasks. We can only do this if we are honest with ourselves about whether that labor-saving device really justifies the space it consumes.

High quality media storage at high prices

If you’re looking for a modular storage system for a home or office environment, and you’re willing to pay an arm and a leg for industrial quality, you should definitely consider looking at Can-Am’s online catalog.

They offer a wide range of configuration options well-suited for storing files, CDs, DVDs, books, AV equipment, or just about anything else. You won’t need to worry about running out of space, as the modular design allows the systems to grow along with your storage needs.

Can-Am’s products, which are available in a variety of durable powder coat colors, have a clean and minimalist look which we find particularly appealing.

Now I just need to sell a kidney so I can afford this stuff.

Paperclippy: New shopping blog for professional women

Always remember: the key to keeping a home uncluttered is to never let anything cross the threshold of your home unless it’s something that you know you need or that you know you will love and cherish for a long time to come. Before you buy a new knick-knack, ask yourself whether you need it and, if you don’t, whether you’ll love it and use it.

OK. That said, I’d like to bring your attention to a new blog that yours truly and my significant other, Kathleen, have recently launched. It’s called Paperclippy and it’s a shopping blog for professional women. We feature cute work outfits, fun office gear, interesting books, and other cool stuff for working gals. We post new items every weekday, so make sure to bookmark the site and subscribe to the daily email.

Also, to help spread the word of our launch, we’re going to have a drawing for a free Apple iPod Shuffle. For every five friends you tell about Paperclippy, you get your name in the drawing, which will be held June 10. Check it out now!

Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the female closet

A way to keep clothing from cluttering up your life and taking over your bedroom is to have only a basic wardrobe. Stocking your closet with essential pieces limits frustration and saves you time and energy. A previous post focused on the elements of the basic wardrobe for a man. This post, to conclude the brief series, targets items for a woman’s closet.

The basic wardrobe is a tricky discussion piece because what is basic for a 20-something woman who works in a corporate environment is very different from what is basic for a 60-something retiree. Mix in varied climates, social demands, and fashion preferences, and basic is even harder to determine. I’ve tried my best to construct a list for the widest audience, but keep in mind that your specific needs might be different. Consider this post as a “big picture” look at building a basic wardrobe.

The basic wardrobe for a woman should contain:

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Extreme minimalism Monday: the anti-McMansion

If one were going to make a reductio ad absurdum argument in opposition to the tenets of sustainable architecture, the result might manifest itself in the form of Jay Shafer’s house. At 96 square feet, it’s smaller than many bathrooms.

If you’re similarly hardcore about simple living, Shafer’s company can hook you up with plans for your very own Lilliputian dwelling.

Doggie drawer cures doggie food mess

My friend recently renovated a previously unused area in her home and kept her dog Jenny in mind when she was making plans for the room. One of the many things that she did was create a clutter-free eating area for her puppy.

Jenny’s food bowl now lives on the bottom shelf of a built-in cabinet in the new room. The shelf is on rollers and can pop out for easy cleaning. My friend slides out the food bowl shelf when it’s time for Jenny to eat, and then pushes it back in when Jenny’s finished. There’s no clutter and no mess. Jenny’s big bag of food is stored on a shelf above the food bowl, which also rolls in and out of the cabinet for easy access.

My friend had her cabinets custom made by a local woodworker, so her exact solution isn’t available online. However, a quick internet search led me to this Elfa product, which my friend says is the same concept as the pull-out shelf she uses in her puppy’s feeding area. If you’re a dog owner looking for another way to bring organization into your home, this might be a solution for you.

Dishwashing safe products can save time

In her book The Simple Living Guide, Janet Luhrs suggests that people wash their dishes by hand. I like Janet Luhrs and agree with most things that she says, but when I read this piece of advice I laughed aloud. I grew up in a house without a mechanical dishwasher, and my daily chore was to wash the dishes by hand. Every night, for more than 10 years, as I stood with my hands immersed in soapy water, I dreamed of owning a dishwasher. I pledged that in my adulthood I would never wash my dishes by hand.

In the present, if I didn’t have a dishwasher, I cannot imagine how disorganized and dirty my kitchen would be. One of the things about committing to a dishwasher lifestyle, though, is that it limits what I can buy for my kitchen. The everyday plates and cups are almost always dishwasher safe, but many items beyond the basics typically are not recommended for the dishwasher.

If you’re just starting out or are a fan of the dishwasher like me, here are a few dishwasher-friendly, beyond-the-basics, kitchen products that I have found and use:

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The quest for the perfect charging station

I have a few more portable electronic devices than I probably should. The numerous incompatible chargers for my iPod, mobile phone, Nintendo DS, and digital camera create what I consider to be an unacceptable amount of unsightly cable clutter and lately I’ve been trying to find a good solution to the problem.

I would just buy a charging station, but almost all the ones I’ve found look like cheap plastic or wooden junk.

On the other hand, the Rotaliana MultiPot (pictured) looks great, but at over $200, I consider it unjustifiably expensive.

Then I found these directions to make an attractive charging station out of an archival photo-box, a surge protector, and some silver oval bookplates. I think the results look quite nice, and this solution is considerably cheaper than the MultiPot. But I’ve also found this thread about the project over at Make. Several commenters express serious concern over the safety of the design, and this makes me reluctant to go this route. So, readers, we would like to know how you deal with your birds-nests of device chargers?

DIY designer knife block

Rather than spend $125 on an unbelievably sexy Schaschlik knife block, Chris DiClerico went the DIY route and saved himself a benjamin in the process. After looking at the Flickr photos of his completed project, we can’t tell the difference.

If you’re going to try this, just make sure you buy skewers that are long enough to be suited to the task. They need to be at least the length of the blade of your longest knife.

Chris DiClerico, we salute you.