A year ago on Unclutterer

2008

2007

Canning: Meal planning months in advance

Last summer, while sharing a bottle of wine with food columnist Kim O’Donnel, I professed that I wanted to learn to can. Kim didn’t skip a beat, she’s always game for whatever random schemes I hatch, and said that she would teach me. Then, before we could set a date, she decided to follow her husband to Seattle and skipped town (if I didn’t like her husband so much, I would have protested this decision much more vehemently — whisking my pal away to live on the other coast is usually grounds for a good fist shaking and finger waving).

So, this summer, I had to give this canning thing a try without her seasoned help. My belief is that canning is preferred to freezing because the power can’t go out on your pantry. Also, when done with friends, you get to divvy up the goods and everyone goes home with amazing treats. It’s wonderful in the middle of winter to open up a can of tomatoes picked from your own garden when they were at their peak. (And, even though I put fake flowers in my window boxes, I do have a garden. Growing food is a much different endeavor in my mind than frivolous ornamental plants required by the HOA.)

I decided to take a sweet route on my first foray into canning. My friend Krystal and I headed to the Chesterfield Berry Farm near Richmond, Virginia, with high hopes for making strawberry jam. In the fields, we picked more than 20 pounds of beautifully ripe strawberries and then made what can only be described as the world’s best jam. (Twenty pounds of strawberries was overkill, by the way — eight or nine pounds would have been enough.)

Over the next 12 months, in addition to consuming as much of it as my stomach will hold, I’ll be giving out the extra jars as gifts instead of the obligatory bottle of wine when I go to dinner parties at friends’ homes.

How is canning uncluttered? Well, I’m not sure that it is in the strictest of senses. It is, however, a great way to extend the fresh fruits and vegetables of summer throughout the whole of the year. It saves money (a lot cheaper to grow your own than it is to buy it in a store during the off-season) and it makes meal planning extremely simple. The New York Times ran an informative article this week on this very subject titled “Can It, Preserve It, Pickle It, Savor It” that provides many resources for new canners. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can head to your local farmer’s market and pick up the in-season foods you wish to can.

Do you can food? How does it help you with meal planning? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Ask Unclutterer: Reader mail round-up

Today we’re going to break with tradition a bit and respond to a number of questions all in one post. These questions are great, but didn’t necessarily need an entire post of their own to answer. Please jump in the comments and add your additional suggestions.

Please share any ideas you have for storing bracelets? I have many large bangles that are costume jewelry. I currently have them in shoeboxes under my bed. It is not working! — Andrea

Have you seen the hanging jewelry organizer? Each bracelet gets a pocket and the organizer hangs in your closet. I think it’s a great solution for jewelry that has a fixed form.

I’m currently using 37signal’s Highrise to track conversations (phone and email) with clients, and manage projects (cases). I’m not thrilled with some of the email integration, so I’m looking elsewhere. Any suggestions? Using a Mac. And I’m interested in web-based and non web-based options. — Avrum

Professional organizer Scott Roewer recommends Daylite and I am a fan of Bento. Check the comments where I hope more of our readers will give you additional ideas. These are the only tracking products I have experience using that aren’t massive ERPs.

I’d love to hear any feedback you have about “paper idea clutter.” I have a lot of papers around that have great ideas for projects I’d like to do (I’m a community-minded entrepreneur – I started one nonprofit and am involved in many others). Every time I start to go through paper, I find another great idea from a conference I attended or a clipped magazine article I “just can’t get rid of.” I have a similar computer file problem! Any ideas that might fit in a post would certainly be appreciated. — Lisa

One word: Evernote. I would kiss this program if it had lips.

I have an old bag from MacWorld 2004. It’s a red conference bag for holding papers and handouts with a big CDW logo on it. It’s in perfect condition, but I never use it. What can I do with it? — Nic

I recommend filling it with clothes that you no longer wear (that are still in good condition) and donating it and the clothes to your favorite charity. You could also give the bag to a neighborhood after-school program for the volunteers to use to store and/or carry supplies. Since you don’t need the bag, give it to someone who does.

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: Pristine pictures

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Anthony Grimes’ photo studio:

From the flame encrusted mini-fridge where I assume he stores film and snacks to the completely clutter-free desk, I am quite fond of this week’s selection for Workspace of the Week. Notice the reading storage, the elevated monitor stand, and the simple coat and umbrella hooks on the wall. There is a place for everything in this photographer’s office, and everything is in its place. Also, don’t miss his second picture in the set that shows the other side of the room. I especially like the charging station on top of the dresser. Thank you, Anthony, for submitting your office to our flickr pool.

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.

Picture hanging strips

In my continuing search for apartment-friendly organizing solutions, I’ve found a sturdy product from 3M that can help renters from having to put nails into the wall.

Picture Hanging Strips (12 pack) are like heavy-duty velcro. You adhere one strip to the wall and one strip to the back of whatever it is you wish to hang. When it’s time to move, pull the release strip and cleanly remove the adhesive from the wall:

They would be perfect to hold a tiny landing strip for next to an apartment door:

3M also makes Poster Strips (48 strips), which are very similar to other adhesives already on the market.

Task wheel

After Brian’s DIY note card task board post ran on Unclutterer, reader Cindy tipped us off to the Card Wheel by Real Simple:

Similar to a photo album, the Card Wheel has clear pockets that you can slip paper cards into and organize the cards by color tabs. Instead of using note cards, you can use business card size paper for your tasks. Simply flip open the Card Wheel and see all that you need to do.

Thank you, Cindy, for this great idea.

Unitasker Wednesday: Garbage Bowl

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

I know that the bowl pictured to the right looks like a regular bowl — but it isn’t. No, this is a very special bowl. This bowl can only be used for disposing food scraps and trash while you are preparing a meal. It is the extremely specific Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl.

Anyone who has been using a trash can or another bowl for this purpose is way out of line. Only a proper and trademarked Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl should be used for such tasks.

Additionally, if you have one of these bowls and are using it for something else, you are going against everything this bowl stands for. There can be no multi-tasking for this Garbage Bowl. It’s not a regular bowl. You can’t put chips or salad in it. Don’t you see its name!?!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2008

2007

Do you have a big ‘But …’?

I was in sixth grade the first time I saw the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. My friends latched onto the “I know you are but what am I” line from the film, and I quipped “Everyone I know has a big ‘But …'” no fewer than a thousand times.

Sure, the line I often quoted from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was juvenile, but it was strangely accurate. Everyone I know actually has a big “But …” in their lives:

  • I would get my office organized but [insert excuse].
  • I would ask the kids to help with chores around the house but [insert excuse].
  • I would start exercising but [insert excuse].
  • I would finish this project but [insert excuse].

There are times when excuses are warranted, such as with health issues (I would eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup but I won’t since I’m allergic to peanuts). However, most “But …” excuses are purely a resistance to change.

We keep bad habits and clutter in our lives because they’re known quantities. We know what life is like when things are disorderly. Life after a change is different and unfamiliar. It might be better, but we don’t know that from where we are now.

As someone who went from a clutterbug to an unclutterer, I can vouch that life is really greener on the organized side. I have more time and less stress in my life than before. The change was worth it, but making the change was difficult and I know I said my fair share of “But …” excuses as I was going through the process.

So what is your big “But …”? What is keeping you from letting go of your clutter? The next time you catch yourself making an excuse, think about what you’re saying. Is your excuse warranted, or are you just voicing a fear of change?

New Litter Robot accessories help keep your cat’s bathroom clean and uncluttered

We’ve written before about our love for and evangelism of the Litter Robot.

Our only complaint about the product related to the fact that one of our two cats isn’t always conscientious of ensuring that everything that’s supposed to end up inside the door to the globe actually does.

So we were pleased to find out recently that Automated Pet Care Products now offers a few accessories that solve our problems. They sent us an upgraded unit for review, and here are our thoughts.

The first accessory is a relatively inexpensive lip extender that catches any “misses” and helps redirect them back into the globe. It snaps into place over the existing lip and extends the catch to a total of three-and-a-half inches.

The second is a new “Bubble Unit” globe that creates a skylight in the back. It also adds a few more inches of space for larger cats like our Charlie (who is now on “the light food” to help her slim down a bit). This upgrade is a complete replacement globe and it also includes a lip extender.

We know the idea of a litter box costing over $300 might seem outrageous to some, but we’re convinced the efficiency of the internal sifting mechanism causes us to buy less than half as much litter as we previously needed, so we figure the device is actually likely to recoup it’s own cost over the long run. And you can feel good about the fact that your cat always has a clean and uncluttered box.

You don’t need to take our word for it though. Cat owner’s who have Litter Robots are fanatical about them, so just look at the Amazon reviews to get an idea of how great these things are.

Ability to delay gratification can help with routine maintenance

In the 1960s, 653 children were given a marshmallow by psychology researchers at Stanford University. The children were told that they could eat the marshmallow right away, or they could wait 15 minutes to eat it and receive a second marshmallow as a reward.

Based on how they performed in the experiment, they were rated on a scale from low delayers (kids who ate the marshmallow instantly) to high delayers (kids who waited the 15 minutes and received a second marshmallow). Over the next 40 years, these children have been tracked by Stanford researchers. And, to many people’s surprise, there has been significant correlation between rates of drug abuse, S.A.T. scores, body-mass index, stress management, career success, and ability to maintain friendships to how the children performed on this simple marshmallow experiment.

Children who were high delayers were the ones to achieve more success in life than their low delayer classmates. In fact, a child “who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.” According to the article “Don’t! The secret of self-control” in the May 18 issue of The New Yorker:

For decades, psychologists have focussed on raw intelligence as the most important variable when it comes to predicting success in life. [Walter] Mischel [the Stanford professor of psychology in charge of the experiment] argues that intelligence is largely at the mercy of self-control: even the smartest kids still need to do their homework. “What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control,” Mischel says. “It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

The article and research does point out that there were some students in the study who transformed from low delayers into high delayers over the course of 40 years. The scientists have since concluded that delaying gratification is a skill that can be learned, simply by practicing specific techniques (some are described in the article).

So what does this have to do with uncluttering? Good question. An essential component to maintaining an uncluttered life is having routines in place that keep the clutter out of your home and office and the self control and diligence to systematically complete the routines. These are routines to process mail, do daily chores, create meal plans, and process paperwork and actions as they come across your desk. Doing these not-so-fun tasks everyday ultimately pay off because you have more time and less stress in your life overall. Thirty minutes of chores and routines each week night gives you two free days on the weekend. You delay gratification for an even larger reward.

If you have difficulty maintaining routines to keep clutter out of your life, I recommend that you check out this article. You can learn and practice these skills so that you, too, can live a remarkable, uncluttered life. If you’re already a master at self control, the article still makes for a very fascinating read.

Hanging coats

Since today is a national holiday in the U.S., we’re going to keep posting light this Monday. We’ll be back to our regular posting schedule tomorrow.


If you don’t have a closet near the front door to your home, a free-standing coat rack might be a good way to keep your summer jackets from ending up on the back of every couch and chair in the adjacent room. Website Remodelista has a roundup of 13 pieces that might be useful in your home:

On the left: The Sprout Coat Tree for $99. On the right: 10 Degree Coat Rack for $49.95. Both available at CB2.

Check out the post “10 Easy Pieces: Free-Standing Coat Racks” for eleven more ideas.