Favorite Unclutterer posts of 2009

I had a great deal of fun going through all of the 2009 unitaskers for yesterday’s best unitaskers post, so I spent a few hours and did the same with all of the Unclutterer posts. The following are the posts that I loved writing this year. They’re not necessarily the most read or commented on or likely to be your favorites — they’re simply the ones that rang “favorite” with me. Enjoy!

Outfitting a minimalist kitchen:

Making “essentials” lists is a risky endeavor. Obviously, the items I turn to every day aren’t going to be what other people use. It was still a fun experiment and I created my list by answering the question: “If my home were destroyed in a disaster, what 10 items would I replace first?”

Ask Unclutterer: Having it all:

Reader April asked the following question in the comments section of a recent post: “How do you have time for all of this – running a blog, writing a book, all of these musical activities & all the other stuff you seem to do?”

10 uncluttering things to do every day:

8. Get ready for bed an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Doing this means that your dirty clothes are more likely to be returned to a hanger, dropped in the hamper, or put in a mesh bag for dry cleaning, hand washing, or repairing. Also, a set bedtime routine signals your brain that it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep.

Official release: Unclutter Your Life in One Week:

Today is the day Unclutter Your Life in One Week officially goes on sale. It has been a roller-coaster ride, and I am so glad to finally be at this stage in the process. Expanding the Unclutterer message to a new medium is honestly a dream come true. My sincerest desire is that this book will help people discover the benefits of an uncluttered life and inspire them to clear the clutter to pursue what they value most.

Ask Unclutterer: How many hours will a family of four spend on laundry each week?:

Kids seem to generate a lot of clothing — spills, sports practices, uniforms for after-school jobs, indecision about what to wear, etc. If I generate 16 pounds of clothing in a week, I imagine that a middle schooler or high schooler could easily create 14 to 15 pounds of clothing in a week. Multiply that by two and add in two adults, and a family of four probably generates between 60 and 65 pounds of clothing per week. In our washing machine, that would be five to six loads of clothing.

Productivity and organizing insights found in Lean systems:

Even if you don’t implement the full systems, simply knowing about their methods can help to improve the way you do your work. I have definitely gained many helpful tips and tricks studying their processes.

What Unclutterer posts did you count among your favorites this year? Share your list in the comments.

Best unitaskers of 2009

With only one more day left in 2009, I thought it might be fun to relive some of my favorite unitaskers from the year. Enjoy!

The book brush:

The Tootsie Tanner:

The Hawaii Chair:

The Garbage Bowl:

The Meatball Grill Basket:

The Cooler Dry

Plastic wishbones:

And, for the big finale, what I do believe was THE best unitasker of 2009 — drumroll please — The Spin the Bottle Game:

What were your favorite unitaskers from the past year? Check out our Unitasker Wednesday archives for a complete walk down memory lane.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2008

2007

Unitasker Wednesday: The Tuna Squeeze

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

The last unitasker of 2009 is the Tuna Squeeze!

No longer do you need to use the lid of the tuna can to conveniently drain off the water or oil packed with the fish. With the Tuna Squeeze, why, just open your kitchen drawer, remove your can opener, open your can of tuna, remove the lid, quickly rinse the lid, toss the lid into the recycling, open your kitchen drawer again to return the can opener and pull out your Tuna Squeeze, insert your can of tuna into the Tuna Squeeze, press down on the plastic top piece, drain the liquid into the sink, open the top piece of the Tuna Squeeze, remove the can of tuna, open your dishwasher, put the Tuna Squeeze on the top shelf, and then shut your dishwasher. It can be that easy!

And, if you order now, you get not one, but TWO Tuna Squeezes for $10.00 — I’m sold!

(Special thanks go to reader Paula for bringing this fishy unitasker to our attention.)

Review: The Happiness Project

Today is the release of Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project. I’ve made no secret about being a fan of Gretchen’s blog of the same name, and so I was elated when she sent me an advance copy of the book to review. I spent the weekend reading it (devouring it may be more accurate), and really enjoyed the 292 pages of insights and advice on happiness.

Let me begin by saying I have never created a deliberate plan to increase my happiness. “Be happier” has never made it onto my to-do or resolutions lists, and I’ve never read any books (before this one) directly related to happiness. Happiness is something that matters greatly to me, but I have always thought of it as a side effect rather than an end itself. After reading The Happiness Project, I’ve come to see that happiness can be an action item the same as any other goal.

In short, Gretchen took a year implementing all of the major theories on happiness and wrote about her experience from a first-hand perspective. The eleven areas she chose to focus on were boosting energy (a resolution I’m tackling this year), her marriage, her work, parenting, being serious about play, her friendships, money, eternity, pursing a passion, being mindful, and altering her attitude. Each area of focus included one to five specific action items — remember birthdays, launch a blog, ask for help — that helped her achieve her overall happiness ideal. She used a chart, similar to the one Ben Franklin describes in his Autobiography, to track her progress.

I was surprised by how honest Gretchen is about her personal failings in the text. I think this honesty adds to the practical nature of the book. The reader is able to see what concrete steps worked, and which ones didn’t, in helping her achieve her resolutions. For example, she started keeping a gratitude journal, only to give up on the journal a couple months later. It didn’t make her feel more grateful, and she had found other activities that actually did. Also, it took just one Laughter Yoga class before she knew it wasn’t a class for her.

Starting on page 25 of the book, Gretchen discusses her resolution to “Toss, Restore, Organize”:

Household disorder was a constant drain on my energy; the minute I walked through the apartment door, I felt as if I needed to start putting clothes in the hamper and gathering loose toys.

She spends a good chunk of the month of January getting rid of clutter and organizing her home and office. On page 26, she even mentions the Unclutterer blog as being an inspiration to her. (A totally unexpected shout out!) She experiences such a boost in her happiness level from clearing the clutter that many other times in the book she talks about lending friends a hand when they take on their uncluttering projects.

I have always been of the opinion that when you take on an uncluttering project of any kind, before you empty a single drawer or pull a piece of sports equipment out of your garage, you need to have a clear vision of why you want to make a change. What is your motivation? What is it that matters most to you? The Happiness Project is an incredible resource for helping to identify these motivations. Even though many of the things that matter most to me aren’t what matter most to Gretchen, my brain was constantly spinning about the things that would be part of my happiness project. It helped me to formulate my 2010 resolutions list, and I think I’ll even keep a chart like the one she and Benjamin Franklin used.

If you are interested in clarifying your reasons to become uncluttered, are looking to be happier, or simply enjoy the genre of “a year in the life” style books, I recommend checking out The Happiness Project. It’s a great reminder for not letting the joys of life pass you by.

Reminder: Chicago book signing and meet and greet

A reminder that tonight is the first stop on my Unclutter Your Life in One Week book tour:

Chicago

The Book Cellar. 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave. I’ll be there from 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.

Again, there isn’t a speech or formal presentation, so come when it’s convenient for you during the three-hour window. Also, Unclutterer team members PJ, Brian, and Gary will all be able to make it to this event. You can hang out with us and other Unclutterer readers, grab a drink, have your book signed (if you’re into such things), and enjoy a post-holiday happy hour in Lincoln Square.

Also — I’ll be on WGN’s Midday News around 11:10 a.m. on Tuesday, so set your DVRs.

Creating a plan to achieve your 2010 resolutions

Now that you have brainstormed resolutions for 2010, it’s time to formulate your plan for achieving these resolutions in the new year. As I’ve noted before, it’s easy to write “Be more organized” on a sheet of paper — but it’s difficult to actually become more organized without a plan for how to do it.

Your next step may be to research your resolutions. How do the already uncluttered plan meals with little or no stress? How do they get their laundry washed before it explodes out of the laundry basket? How do they stay on top of e-mail? How do they file papers so that their inboxes don’t look like mountains?

Another thing to keep in mind as you’re starting to put together your plan is the weight-loss study we discussed on the site in October about it taking 12 weeks for most people to establish a new routine:

… participants gave a figure for how long it had taken to develop habits and the mean was 3.0 months (s.d. 1.8).

As a result of the findings in this study, I’m going to tackle my resolutions on the quarter system this year: introduce two in January, another two in April, two more in July, and the final two in October. My first two resolutions are both focused on gaining more energy (going to bed every night by 10:00 p.m. and exercising in some form every day), so that I can be ready to take on the more difficult tasks planned for the subsequent quarters. When I’m tired, I lack motivation, and motivation is a key factor in achieving resolutions.

The final task in creating your plan of action is to follow the steps we outlined in the post “Making your resolutions a reality.” These five actions are essential if you really want to achieve your resolutions.

Are you looking forward to the end of this decade and the start of 2010? I’ll admit, I’m a little sad to see 2009 come to a close. This year I wrote Unclutter Your Life in One Week and my husband and I adopted a baby. It’s going to be difficult to top this year full of so many blessings. However, with my plan of action in place to achieve my 2010 resolutions, I’m sure it will be fine. Good luck to all of you as you formulate your personal plans.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2008

2007

An uncluttered liquor cabinet in time for New Year’s Eve

With only five days left before New Year’s Eve, many people’s minds are already turning to their next round of celebrations. I’ve already started to think about the holiday — what resolutions will I make, what silly hat will I wear to the party, and what specialty drink will I have?

In the celebratory spirit, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about keeping an uncluttered liquor cabinet. Similar to traditional food pantries and linen closets, most liquor cabinets have a bad habit of things going into them faster than items coming out. Before you know it, you’ll find you have three open bottles of vermouth, two dripping bottles of Rose’s lime juice and another of the grenadine, and five bottles of the exact same type of gin. (Well, at least this is what I found lingering in my liquor cabinet.)

Start by pulling everything out of your liquor cabinet and setting it on your dining table. Group like items together — shakers with shakers, vodka with vodka, etc.

Now, evaluate what you have. Unless you are a serious socialite, you probably don’t need to own three martini shakers or nine bottles of rum. Pull out any excess or expired pieces. (Expired? Remember that vermouth is made with wine, so after a few months lingering open in your cabinet it starts to taste “off.” I haven’t found evidence that it’s actually bad for you, but its flavor is definitely shot by the time it’s been open for a year. Bailey’s can curdle, and some sweet liqueurs will fade.)

Pour down the drain any liquor past its prime. Freecycle or Craigslist extra bar utensils (now is a great time to do this as other people are gearing up for their NYE gatherings). And, start calling your friends throwing end of the year parties to see if they might want to take extra bottles off your hands. Either that or decide to throw a party yourself to work through the extras.

When putting bottles of liquor back in your cabinet, consider these storage tips from the article “What is the Shelf Life of Distilled Spirits?“:

Tips for increasing liquor shelf life:

  • Keep opened bottles sealed tightly. Use the original cap, a replacement cork or the wine corks that also take the air out of the bottle.
  • Never store liquor with speed pourers unless you’re using them, these allow air to get inside the bottle.
  • Avoid exposure to extreme heat or cold. Also, keep your liquor cabinet away from an exterior wall.
  • Avoid bright, direct light.

Similar to how you sorted items on your dining table, return items to your cabinet storing like things with like things. Put shorter bottles in front and taller bottles in back so that you can always see what you’re storing.

Also, check out the fun book Ultimate Guide to Spirits and Cocktails. Have fun starting the new year with an uncluttered liquor cabinet!

***

Don’t forget! If you’re in the Chicago area, join Erin and some of the Unclutterer staff at The Book Cellar on Monday, December 28, any time between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m.

Happy Holidays!

Like a good chunk of the western world, Unclutterer’s offices are closed today. We wish everyone who celebrates Christmas a merry one, and the rest of you we wish a joyful day off from work! Don’t forget, you can always jump into the Forums and join the conversation there. We’ll return tomorrow to share more Uncluttering insights.

An uncluttered holiday gathering

If I were hosting a holiday meal this year, it would probably involve lots of steamed and pureed vegetables, baby cereal, and maybe — if my guests were lucky — a few bottles of wine. Thankfully for the people in my life, my new-parent brain is not responsible for hosting any holiday gatherings.

Before sleep deprivation, when I would throw a dinner party of any kind, I kept three principles in mind:

  1. The gathering is about creating joyful memories with guests.
  2. Going overboard typically makes people uncomfortable.
  3. Simplicity=sanity

Regarding the first principle, good conversations are often all it takes to create joyful memories with guests. If you’re in a kitchen, removed from your guests while you cook and work the party, you’re not creating memories with anything other than your oven. Plan and prepare your meals ahead of time, have a bakery or restaurant fix the most time-intensive items, or invite people over for only one part of the meal (like appetizers or dessert).

The second principle is true in most situations. If you are stressed out and things are “too perfect,” usually your guests pick up on the tension and never feel welcome in your space. Invite people fully into your home, let them see that you’re human and that you care more about them being comfortable than recreating an idyllic scene from a movie or magazine.

The third and final principle is also true in most aspects of life. You can’t drive yourself to the point of exhaustion when you keep things simple. Only having a few, important tasks on your to-do list will keep stress levels low and your priorities (the first principle) in check.

Good luck, and I hope your holiday gatherings are a success!

Unitasker Wednesday: Gift Wrap Cutter

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

Scissors are so obsolete. Sure, they have efficiently and effectively cut billions of things for more than 3,500 years, but whatever. You’re not into multi-taskers. You’re all about tools that only have one specific purpose, like the Gift Wrap Cutter:

Additionally, the “the Gift Wrap Cutter from Inovent makes gift-wrapping as much fun as opening your own presents.” Wow! That is a lot of fun! How can you turn your back on so much fun?! Yes, you could simply use a multi-tasking ruler to serve as a straight-edge while you cut the wrapping paper with your scissors but that’s NOT FUN!

Wait! Why stop at just the Gift Wrap Cutter when you can also get the hand-held gift wrap cutter, the enormous tissue paper holder and stand, and the Zibra Universal Package Opener to fill out your scissor-replacement collection?!!

(Thanks go to reader Karen for finding this wonderful holiday-themed unitasker.)