Disaster uncluttering

Today, I want to introduce you to Unclutterer programmer Gary DuVall. This post is the first in a series that he has agreed to write for us based on his personal experience of losing everything he owned.

June 27, 2008, was like any other day. It was early afternoon, the sun was out, I was working from home, and I was on a conference call with a client. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a plume of smoke coming from what seemed to be our building’s roof.

As the plume grew larger, I began to realize the smoke wasn’t an afternoon pre-Cubs-game barbeque on the rooftop by a couple of guys playing hooky from work — this was a real fire. I ran up the stairs toward the rooftop deck to check things out. By the time I got to the door leading outside, the fire had grown large enough that I could hear it blazing, and I knew there were a half-dozen propane grills on the other side of the metal.

It was most certainly time to go.

Luckily, before the fire had spread downward through the floors, I was able to herd our two cats into the carrier, pack up my work laptop in the bag I always had close by, and make it down the smoke-filled stairway and out the building with a couple of minutes to spare. Unfortunately, in the end, we lost almost everything — but we had our pets, our safety, and an emergency line of communication.

Months before, when my wife and I first moved into the building, I insisted that vital items like our cat carrier be stored in easily accessible places in our apartment (rather than the basement storage area) in the — we thought — unlikely case of just such a situation. Only a couple of minutes of planning for what could happen made that split-second decision-making much easier when it did.

This is the crux of what I like to call “disaster uncluttering”: Being prepared for the unlikely, in case it happens. It takes but a little time and thoughtful review to prevent mind clutter from getting in the way of your safety when you have very little time to spare.

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself and suggestions of what can be done to prevent both mind and physical clutter should a disaster strike you out-of-the-blue:

  1. Consider where you store things. You should have almost immediate access to the following items: Pet carrier(s), an emergency line of communication (preferably a laptop, netbook, or advanced PDA), a cell phone, your car keys, a rugged flashlight, and, if at all possible, a copy of your renters or homeowners insurance policy.
  2. Have an escape route ready, and cover your bases. Being on the third level and without a fire escape, our elevator was out and one stairwell had already become dangerously consumed by smoke. Become familiar with every pathway that leads out of your home ahead of time.
  3. If you have pets, consider putting Pet Safety Alert decals on external windows and your front door to alert neighbors and authorities you have animals (in case you aren’t at home when an emergency happens).
  4. Spend the time, and take inventory of your belongings. Even if you don’t use an automated system, a video of everything in your home can help spur your memory. Be sure to backup the video so you can still access it if your home is destroyed.
  5. Are your vital documents protected and organized? Ideally, you’ll want to store them in a fireproof safe and keep a backup copy online. Check out our series on fireproof safes for more information on this subject.
  6. Consider where you’ll temporarily live if you’re unable to inhabit your home. Will you need to stay in a hotel, or will you have access to the home of a friend or relative?

In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss what happened after the fire. In many ways, the aftermath was far worse than the fire itself.

The image above is what was left of our oak bedroom floor. In addition to soot, it took only a few hours for mold to begin to grow in the water that helped put out the fire.

Our year without a dresser

dressersAfter living in our new home for just under a year, my wife and I finally have a dresser. It has been a big adjustment to all the new storage space. The year without a dresser went by very quickly and it forced me to take stock of my clothes time and time again.

I purged unnecessary clothes from my wardrobe on numerous occasions last year because I didn’t have room for extra clothes. The first purge was our yard sale in preparation of our move. Then, I made a donation to the Vietnam Veterans. With just these two clothing purges, I easily cut my wardrobe by half.

Living without a dresser in our bedroom was a bit of a pain at times, but it did get my wife and I to live with less clothing clutter in our lives. Now, we’ll need to be mindful and remember not to let the clutter creep in just because we have more storage space than we used to.

Swap baby goods

My daughter is going to be three years old in less than a month. The amount of clothing and other baby products that we have gone through in those 36 months is pretty extensive. We have donated a lot of items to local charities, consignment shops, and friends, but it seems like we still find ourselves behind the curve in the accumulation battle.

Reader Tina wrote us to recommend a website that focuses on swapping baby goods. From the Swap Baby Goods site:

SwapBabyGoods.com is the first web site of its kind, providing a friendly place for parents to swap, buy or sell baby items that are no longer needed. Our philosophy is very simple - Why buy when you can swap? Our product focus is baby items; for this reason, our users can enjoy the website, knowing that they are part of a community. Our primary goal is to provide a platform that brings together willing sellers, buyers and swappers in an online marketplace, benefiting everyone involved.

Babies grow so fast and so do their needs. Before we know it, the cute little outfits, baby toys, and other baby items we once could not live without become outgrown and underused, taking up an inordinate amount of space in our homes. The baby item one family is ready to put in the attic or out in the garage sale might be just what another mom or dad is looking for. Our ultimate goal is to help parents all across the nation save money and the environment by providing them an online venue to swap baby items.

While there are many options to buy, sell, or donate items, this looks like a pretty good resource for tracking down some must-have baby products. It also looks like a place to get rid of clutter that your little one no longer wants or needs.

Do you know of other baby goods swapping websites? Let us know about those resources in the comments.

Is it still tasty?

Lifehacker’s Adam Pash tipped us off to an invaluable resource to use when cleaning out your refrigerator and kitchen pantry: StillTasty.

StillTasty’s tag line is “Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide – Save Money, Eat Better, Help The Environment.” You can search for a specific food item, or you can browse through the categories to determine how long it is safe to keep a product. The site is easy to navigate and will keep you from wondering if the unopened bottle of ketchup is safe to consume.

There is also a question and answer section. My favorite question so far is “I Left Pizza Out Overnight — Is It Still Safe To Eat?” The answer: No.

The next time you clean out your refrigerator and pantry, keep StillTasty open to help you determine what can stay and what can go.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2008

Is e-mail a flawed form of communication?

In my continuing research for a solution to my e-mail woes, I came across the following video about why e-mail is a difficult medium for communication. “Why Email Starts Fights!” from BNET:

This may be the heart of my issue with e-mail. It’s the fundamental flaw as a medium that keeps me from wanting to use it. I know that for most interactions there are faster and more effective ways to communicate. I’m not convinced the phone or face-to-face are the only solutions, but I think that they are definitely more efficient than some e-mail messages I’ve crafted.

I really like communicating over twitter because it forces brevity. It’s difficult for others to misconstrue “I am running late because my child had to be rushed to the hospital.” It’s plain speech in 140 characters and can be accessed when it’s convenient for the user. I also do most of my communication with the Unclutterer staff over Campfire. It’s a chat room structure that facilitates on-going communication. Since the conversation is continuous, problems rarely arise among members of our team because clarifications can be made throughout the day and people add to the conversation as their schedules permit.

What communication systems do you prefer over e-mail? Do you think the seven percent figure named in the article is accurate based on your experiences? How would you change e-mail if you could?

Ask Unclutterer: Dual desks

Reader Cory submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

What are some good solutions for a two workstation/desk in a apartment? I will soon be moving in with someone sharing a one-bedroom apartment and we are looking for an elegant way for us to both have a small desk/laptop workspace in the new place. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

My husband and I share an office in our home and we have considered setups similar to what you’ve described. The following are images I’ve collected over the years of two-person desks that I like. You can click on the images to learn more about the desks. I encourage our readers to add their finds in the comments section and hopefully our collective responses will lead you to a solution.

Thank you, Cory, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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.

Workspace of the Week: Angled architecture

This week’s Workspace of the Week is a before and after look at MeAndMyPictures’ peaked platform:

Before:

After:

The before image shows a cramped, dismal workspace with few storage options. A little bit of paint, a larger desk, and more storage cabinets (not pictured) transformed this office into a more useful, organized and happier space. From MeAndMyPictures:

[The desk is from] Ikea!! ;) I purchased kitchen cabinets and countertops and made it so it fits the length of the room. I have another 186 cm to the left of the window (that’s my husband’s desk), that makes the desk 5 meters long in total … Behind me I have more cabinets where some other printers are stored on top.

I really like how the the desktop is separated into distinct work spaces. I also like how moving the storage from the wall into a cabinet provided space for inspiring artwork. Thank you, MeAndMyPictures, for a before and after look into your office.

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.

PowerShelf charging stations

If making a charging station (like we recommended earlier this morning) isn’t up your alley, then we know of a product that might interest you. One of our Twitter followers tipped us off to The Power Shelf:

I especially like one of their products that is currently in development. It’s a PowerShelf for hair appliances like curling irons, straighteners, and blow dryers.

DIY charging station

I’ve been thinking a great deal about do-it-yourself projects lately (the economy has that effect on me), and wanted to share a favorite find. Blogger Zakka Life posted directions on her site for creating a cell phone charging station out of an old lotion bottle:

Simple, recycled, and space saving — a trifecta of uncluttering!

Thanks to reader Adora for the initial link.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Hawaii Chair

hawaii-chairAll Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

I love products that promise to exercise your body without any of the hard work. Just sit or stand while the “exercise” machine does all the work. The Hawaii Chair brings this concept to new heights by simulating a hula dance while you sit back and go about your daily routine at home or the office.

As the jingle for the Hawaii Chair sings, “Take the work out of your workout.” Is it too good to be true? Why don’t you take a look at this video and judge for yourself:

The constant hula motion is supposed to tighten up your flabby mid-section and “promotes vigor without strenuous activity.” I have my doubts, but the people in the commercial are all so skinny — so it has to work! From Perfect USA’s site:

Hawaii Chair combines the ancient art of the Hula of the Hawaiians with an easy-to-use fun exercise machine. The Hawaii Chair is an automatic exercise machine; you don’t have to exercise, the Hawaii Chair will do it all for you! The Hawaii Chair’s exercises strongly affect your waist, buttocks and thighs to thaw and loosen redundant fat. After using the Hawaii Chair you will have a narrow and well-defined waist. Old men can use the Hawaii Chair easily to help improve the operation of digestive and cardiovascular systems.

I’m sold. This thing is a steal at $300. No strenuous activity while getting fit and shapely? I’m going to have to take their word for it. I can’t wait to sit in a meeting across from someone in a Hula Chair!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2008