Archives for December 2009
We’ve recently talked about strategies for curing your e-mail addiction to reduce the number of times a day you check your e-mail at work. With many of us in the western world having a day or two off from work this week, I thought it might be appropriate to address the addiction you might have with checking messages of all kinds when you’re not at work.
How many times have you been at dinner with a friend and she puts her phone on the table without any explanation? (I’m not talking about when someone is waiting for an emergency call, but rather when she simply doesn’t want to miss any social call that might happen to come her way.) How many times have you done it? How many times have you been talking with someone and he reaches into his pocket to check his phone to see if he has any messages? (Again, not when he is on call or expecting an important message, but because the person can’t go for five minutes without checking to see what may have filtered in.) Has this been you? Are you obsessed with checking your phone for voice mail, text, and/or e-mail messages?
An addiction to checking your voice mail, text and/or e-mail messages may be cluttering up your life. It also might be interfering with your pursuit of what matters most to you. Even if you’re not addicted, and you just wish these forms of communication took up less time in your life, try the following tips to get message checking under control:
- Determine why you are always checking your messages. What reasons are propelling you to check in all the time? Are these reasons tied to what matters most to you? Or, are they tied to insecurities or simply out of habit?
- If some of your reasons for constantly checking your messages correspond to what matters most to you — maybe your job or your family — can you find a way to make these checks less obtrusive? For instance, can you set a specific ring tone for calls and messages from your technical support team at work? Can you turn off your message notification sounds but leave on an alarm so that you check your messages only at specified intervals?
- If your reasons are tied to insecurities or out of habit, can you leave your phone in your car’s glove box when you go into an event so that you can have access to it if you need it, but that access is just annoying enough that you won’t do it unless there is a reason? Can you ask the person you’re out with to carry your phone for you while you’re together?
- Remember that people survived only a decade ago without constant access to voice mail, text, and e-mail messages. If someone needs to reach you in an emergency, there is almost always a way to do it. Portable communication devices are extremely convenient, but using them shouldn’t be cluttering up the remarkable life you desire or interfering with what matters most to you.
Good luck to anyone who is struggling with a message-checking addiction. I have to admit, the first three months I had my iPhone, I was definitely addicted. I got through it, though, by having my husband carry my phone when we were out together. Eventually, I broke the habit and the novelty of constantly checking for messages wore off.
Some great new discussions are underway on the new Unclutterer Forums:
Be sure to check it out and add your thoughts to the mix. Remember, you can start your own thread (which our system calls a “topic”) by clicking the “Add New” link under Latest Discussions on the Forum homepage.
If you use an RSS reader to follow your favorite blogs, you can easily keep track of what’s going on in our new forums. Add the feed for latest topics or all the latest posts. You can even follow specific topics using the RSS link just below each topic’s title, or create an RSS feed of your own by adding topics as favorites.
Reminder: If you’re still looking for any last-minute shopping ideas, be sure to check out our 2009 Holiday Gift Guide.
I’m running a 10-mile race in April. My training schedule starts the first week of January, and I’m really looking forward to the workouts ahead of me. When I was putting together my training plan, I was reminded by how rewarding it is to have goals on my schedule that involve doing things that aren’t easily accomplished.
I’m not a life-long runner. I only started running this past year after I realized how well running fits with my lifestyle. I like sports that involve very little equipment (a good pair of shoes) and can be done without a lot of planning (no courts to reserve, no gym hours to remember). Plus, I’ve come to genuinely like the experience of running.
However, running 10 miles isn’t a normal thing for me. I’ve actually never ran more than five miles in a single run. Pushing myself up to 10 miles is going to be uncomfortable. There will be days when I’ll be sore and others when I’ll consider quitting, but I hope I’ll finish the race in April with a decent time.
Setting goals that are difficult to achieve opens us up for failure. We might not be successful. We might have to try multiple times to get something right, or we might not get the result we desire. The risk of failure makes achieving a difficult goal that much more rewarding.
As you start to think about resolutions for the new year, consider planning for something that isn’t easily accomplished. Stretch yourself to take on a project with the potential for failure and success. Make 2010 a year when you take a risk for big rewards.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll write about how to create and organize a schedule for achieving your difficult goals. Right now, though, I want you to brainstorm on what you want to achieve in 2010. Make a list, or three or nine. Visualize your life after achieving different goals. Talk to friends, family and/or your boss about the ideas that are bouncing around in your head and get their feedback. Sit in silence for an hour and listen to the thoughts spinning through your brain. Formulate one or two big, risky resolutions you would like to make happen for yourself.
Start with identifying your resolution because if you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t organize your plan for how to get there.
- Uncluttering your schedule to keep clear of unnecessary stress
Proper planning — being honest with yourself about how long it will take to complete action items, setting a schedule, and having the diligence to keep to that schedule — will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and in control of the things you can control.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Hot chocolate pot
I’m not a hot chocolate connoisseur, but my wife’s homemade concoction passed my taste test.
- Multifunctional printers
If you have a home office and space is rather limited for all of your peripherals, you may want to look into multifunctional printers.
- 2008 Gift Giving Guide: Guide wrap up
Links to all of the wonderful entries in the 2008 Unclutterer Gift Giving Guide.
- Workspace of the Week: Stylish simplicity
This week’s workspace of the week is Sadida’s simplified workspace.
- The Onion’s fake gift boxes
In the spirit of Unitasker Wednesday, the always hilarious Onion has some great gag gift boxes for the holidays.
- Wrangling newspaper recycling
The Stak-N-Tie newspaper recycling bin keeps papers from piling up around your home.
- Kindle: Is it worth it?
Amazon’s Kindle device seems like the unclutterer’s dream … but is it really?
- Last night I played freezer Tetris
In a what turned out to be less than two minutes I rearranged my freezer’s contents into an amazingly tight and compact block.
- Bucketless car wash
If you hate washing your car as much as I do, you may want to check out Green Earth Waterless Car Wash from Lucky Earth Products.
- Design ideas: Wax candle holders and a step chair
Two ideas for uncluttered design.
- Download free audio books from your local library
- Unitasker Wednesday: Martini shaker
Someone with two broken arms couldn’t even operate this unitasker!
- Dealing with teenager’s clutter
So do we have any readers that deal with teenagers and their inevitable clutter? Would any parents be willing to brag about their clutter-free teen?
- My New Year’s Resolution: Laundry
Reader Kristin submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Loved your response to Miriam [last week] and how you focused on keeping things in perspective. Now, you mentioned taking old towels and linens to an animal shelter. Great idea! Do you have any other ideas for where to donate hard to place clutter items that still have some use left in them? Thanks a bunch!
A great question, and one that many people posed to me this week. Below are types of organizations I’ve had luck with in the past for very specific donations. As with all donations, be sure to call ahead to make sure that the group actually needs what you wish to give. Also, beware of getting caught up in getting specific items to specific agencies as a procrastination tactic. Follow your instincts, but get the items out of your home.
- As I wrote last week, animal shelters very often need lightly used linens (towels, sheets). They use them for soft sleeping surfaces, bathing, and general mess cleanup.
- Women’s shelters often need children’s toys and books, diapers, and female business attire. Shelters here also accept half-used bottles of shampoo and conditioner you became bored with half-way through the large container.
- Hospitals and doctors offices may want your old (but from the past year) magazines for their waiting rooms.
- Our local prison constantly requests academic books (great for those books the university didn’t buy back at the end of the semester and you lugged with you on many moves) and reference books.
- Half-way houses and men’s homeless shelters are usually in need of men’s business attire and winter coats in cooler climates.
- Groups that build homes (like Habitat for Humanity) need power and hand tools and unused supplies (still-in-their-original-package screws, nails, etc.).
- Kitchen storage containers (like good condition Tupperware and Rubbermaid containers, not old margarine tubs) are often accepted by groups that provide meals to the needy (like Meals on Wheels).
By no means is this list complete. I hope that readers continue to add ideas in the comments. I’m sure we can create quite a wonderful collection of suggestions.
Thank you, Kristin, 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.
This week’s Workspace of the Week is _TiTO_’s sweet setup:
The cable management in this photograph makes me salivate. I want 13 plug-ins and I want them NOW! The shelves with the collectibles are fantastic. The raised gaming system is nice, too. Honestly, everything about this office is wonderful. The image says more than any words I could use. Thank you, _TiTO_ for your superb submission to our Flickr group.
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.
As the year winds down, my husband and I are embarking on The Great Paperwork Filing Project of 2009. It’s such an undertaking it feels appropriate we give it an official name with capital letters. (Similar to The Big Move of 2004 and Project Remove Splinter from My Finger, which unfortunately is still ongoing.)
Most of the papers we’re dealing with right now are from our son’s adoption. We have about eight inches of documents that need to be scanned and destroyed or scanned and filed. It’s a relatively easy process, but, even with the help of the new Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M we’re test driving from the manufacturer, it still takes awhile to review every sheet of paper to decide its fate.
We’re following the method I describe in the “Tuesday at Work: Fixing Your Files” section of Unclutter Your Life in One Week. If you’re also looking at a Great Paperwork Filing Project of 2009 or 2010, try the following method to get it under control:
- Determine what papers you have that need to be processed. If you don’t have a firm understanding of what work you need to do, you can’t create a plan for handling all of it.
- Determine what rules should define what to keep and what to purge. You’ll end up getting rid of too much or not enough if you don’t have firm guidelines in place before you begin.
- Determine how you will classify, categorize, and arrange your documents. You hope to one day be promoted/sell your company for millions/have someone help you with your work, so your system needs to make sense to you and others. Create a system that you can maintain and that can easily be explained to others when your big promotion comes in!
- Sort, scan, and file your documents. I recommend tackling an inch of paper at a time. As long as you have less than an inch of paper coming in a day, you’ll eventually make it through your stacks.
- Back up your digital system to protect from loss or damage. If it’s not backed up, you run the risk of losing everything when your hard drive fails. And, as we all know, there are two types of hard drives — those that have failed, and those that eventually will.
(The image associated with this post is from the FreedomFiler website. Check out our post on Paper file organization systems for more information about FreedomFiler. It’s a solid tab labeling system, especially for home-related papers.)
Paste Magazine dedicated their November issue to the “bests” of the 2000-2009 decade. They made lists of their favorite albums, movies, books, etc. of the past 10 years. One of the lists that caught our attention was their “20 Best Gadgets of the Decade.”
As unclutterers, we were specifically fond of Paste Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson’s poignant observation about these technologies with item #3, the Garmin GPS:
When judging new technologies, you have to remember what they replaced. And is there any vestigial remnant from the 20th century we’ll miss less than the fold-out car map? The first automotive navigation system was developed in the early ‘80s, but it wasn’t until an executive order eliminated the intentional margin of error the military had insisted for commercial use on May 2, 2000, that the dashboard GPS became more accurate and widely available. Now you can navigate with voice directions from Homer Simpson, Gary Busey or Kim Cattrall. And you never have to try to fold those maps again.
The vast majority of gadgets on the list are devices that helped to get rid of clutter in our homes and offices. Gone is the need to stash blank VCR tapes thanks to the TiVo DVR (#2). The Amazon Kindle (#6) freed up space on our bookshelves. A single USB Thumb Drive (#17) replaced hundreds of CDs and floppy disks. Other items, like the iPhone (#7) created space in our bags and purses by replacing our little black books, pocket calculators, notepads, watches, calendars, and even our iPods (#1).
For all the unitaskers and useless doo dads the past decade gave us, at least there were a few gadgets that helped to get clutter out of our lives. Check out the “20 Best Gadgets of the Decade” and head back here to weigh in on the items selected for the list. Do you think the items are clutter-ful or clutter-freeing?
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 first time I saw hand-only oven mitts, I thought they were a little ridiculous. I prefer to use long oven mitts so that I only need to own one pair (I can wear them while grilling, reaching into a pot of boiling water, or simply removing a pan from the oven), but the hand-only ones at least appear safe.
Let me show you what doesn’t look safe:
That’s right, fingertip oven mitts do not look safe. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they look unsafe. And, all you can do is grab a hot plate with them. You certainly couldn’t use them while grilling, reaching into boiling water, or removing a pan from the oven.
I declare that reader Peg sent us a fantastic unitasker!
- 2008 Gift Giving Guide: Gifts of clutter
It’s the holiday season, and we all need a little smile. Similar to our Unitasker Wednesday posts, we think you might enjoy our favorite gifts of clutter.
- Storage beds
Sometimes referred to as a captain bed, the storage bed can alleviate problems that you may have with storage in your closets or dressers
- Displaying holiday greeting cards
My wife came across a easy and creative way to display our Christmas cards from Martha Stewart Living.
- 2008 Gift Giving Guide: Digital giving
This installment of the Unclutterer Gift Giving Guide explores the virtual world of digital products.
- Workspace of the Week: A car’s glove box
A hipster PDA in a car’s glove box makes for a terrific workspace.
- Join our Unclutterer Group on Facebook
If you’re already on Facebook, you should join our group!
- Unclutterer’s Matt in the Washington Post Express
Matt is included in an article about experience gift giving!
- What to do with holiday cards? Recycle!
Two ideas from readers for what to do with holiday cards after the holidays.
Every Sunday morning there is a man in his 60s or 70s with a long white beard and even longer hair cleaning the underpass of the highway near my house. He has a large broom, a tiny dustpan, numerous garbage bags, and what I’ve decided is a battery-powered vacuum in a shopping cart from Trader Joe’s. I don’t know if he is there because he is an adopt-a-highway sponsor, is cleaning it as part of a court-mandated community service obligation, or if he has a compulsion of some kind. It’s an extremely dangerous area of road, so I’ve never stopped to ask him why he is there. And, I’ve never seen him around town other than when he’s cleaning up the underpass.
I mention this public-space unclutterer because apparently he’s not the only one randomly cleaning up the streets in my area. The Washington Post reported last week that there are more vigilante unclutterers out there cleaning up Virginia roadways. From Signs of a roadside crusade in Fairfax“:
Some people spend their Saturday mornings cruising yard sales or running errands. Juli Verrier spends hers ripping down signs.
Outraged over the bumper crop of ads that spring up along Fairfax County roads, Verrier dodges traffic and angry merchants in a one-woman fight against clutter, filling her car’s trunk to overflowing with signs hawking everything from sushi bars to massages.
It’s illegal to post signs along roadways in Virginia, and each sign is worthy of a $100 fine. The article explains, however, that because of budget cuts the state Department of Transportation (VDOT) no longer patrols for sign violations. In fact, “VDOT is so broke that if not for volunteers, no one would be cleaning up the signs.”
Budget cuts have also reduced mowing funds, which this past summer led one county supervisor to start mowing the shaggiest of medians with his push mower.
Have you ever felt compelled to become a vigilante road unclutterer? I’ll admit, I don’t have any desire to risk my safety and pull up signs. I also don’t own a lawn mower to care for nearby medians. It’s an interesting uncluttering hobby, though. Sound off with your opinions about these volunteers in the comments.
Professional organizer Scott Roewer sent me a Christmas card this year with an uncluttered message printed on the inside of the card. After the seasonal greeting and his signature was the phrase:
“This card expires January 2, 2010, at which time it should be recycled.”
Scott got the idea from Jill Revitsky, a professional organizer from Pittsburgh, who produces a line of greeting cards for organizers. On the inside cover of each of her Clearly Noted cards she includes the phrase:
“This card is good for one week — Then you have my permission to toss it!”
Unfortunately, I’ve already mailed my holiday cards, so I can’t do something comparable this year. However, I’m definitely going to add a similar sentence to my cards in years to come:
“You should immediately recycle this card or run the risk of it turning into a monster that will eat your arm.”
Okay, so maybe not exactly that, but you get the idea.
I ran across an image yesterday on 43folders that I wanted to share with you:
If you check your e-mail every 5 minutes when you’re at work, then you are checking it 12 times an hour. Multiply 12 times an hour by 8 hours a work day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (assuming you aren’t checking your e-mail while you’re on your two weeks of vacation) and this is how Merlin determined the 24,000 total.
If you’re checking your e-mail 24,000 times a year, what are you sacrificing? What are you not working on during that time? Could you reduce your rate to every 15 minutes (a yearly total of 8,000) and be more productive with other aspects of your job? Could you reduce it to once an hour (2,000)? Three times a day (750)?
How often are you checking e-mail currently? If you don’t know, track your productivity to see how you’re really spending your time at work.
How can you break an e-mail addiction? Start by turning off your notification indicator and setting an alarm for every 15 minutes. Only check your e-mail when the alarm indicates you do so. Every client I’ve worked with has found that they will not face any trouble at work if they only check e-mail on a 15-minute or 30-minute schedule. Most come to find that once an hour is sufficient, but it takes awhile for them to build up confidence to make this change. I try to check my e-mail fewer than 5 times a day (some days I’m more successful than others).
What will you do with your newly discovered time? Simply taking the time to plan your perfect day will help you manage your time more wisely.
On Friday night, my dear friend Clark and I were discussing how easy it is to want rules to guide our behavior. As humans, we want a series of checkboxes to tell us that if we mark off X, Y, and Z, we will be happy or good or whatever it is we’re trying to achieve. Although human nature makes us crave this kind of simplicity, we all know that life isn’t a series of standardized checkboxes.
My conversation with Clark reminded me of the article “Buy Local, Act Evil” that reported a University of Toronto study that found test “subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.”
The article explains that the green shoppers felt as if they had done their good deed (purchasing an Earth-friendly product), so they were entitled to let other areas of their lives slip (donate less money to charity, cheat, steal). I have certainly had a similar mindset when driving — I’ll let someone merge in front of me in traffic (Look how nice I am!) and then I’ll get as close to their back bumper as possible to prevent anyone else from doing the same thing (Now I deserve to go!). I also notice I do this with chores around the house — I’ll do the dishes (Check!) and then get irritated when my husband asks me to help him finish folding a load of laundry (Folding the laundry was not on my checklist!). I have to remind myself that life isn’t a standardized series of checkboxes and that one deed doesn’t preclude more.
The same is true for uncluttering. Just because we choose to keep our homes and offices free of distractions doesn’t mean we are entitled to judge those who don’t. In the Friday chapter of Unclutter Your Life in One Week, I touch on this subject in the section “Living with Clutterers.”
Now that most of the clutter and distractions are gone from your life, you may be noticing other people’s stuff. If you live with someone or share an office space, that stuff might be physically close to you, or it could be a disorganized client, boss or parent whom you are starting to notice and wish would change his ways. When this happens — and it will — you have to remember three things:
- You cannot force someone else to become an unclutterer.
- What matters most to you is different from what matters most to other people.
- Being an unclutterer is not the only way to live.
As much as your new strategies and techniques have made a positive change in your life, don’t think about your new way of living as being better than how other people choose to live their lives. Think of an uncluttered life as being easier for you.
Today we welcome Mandi Ehman to share her tips on helping kids learn to battle clutter.
If you’re committed to living an uncluttered life, you probably want to pass those same ideals on to your children as well. Here are five methods we have used (and continue to use) to teach our four children the value of uncluttering and organizing:
- Model good behavior: It’s no secret that children are greatly influenced by their parents’ actions. “Do as I say and not as I do” just doesn’t work, and it’s not enough to try to teach your kids the value of living an uncluttered life if you’re buried under a pile of stuff yourself.
- Share your struggles: That said, I firmly believe that kids learn more from watching us struggle and overcome than they do from living with the impression that we’re perfect and have it all figured out. Let your kids know when you realize you’ve bought something that is a waste of time, money, and space. Let them see you wrestle with the decision to give away certain items. And let them watch you walk through the process of deciding what to keep and what to sell or give away.
- Get them involved: Although it’s easier to unclutter without children underfoot, it’s important to involve children in the process. No one likes to have their stuff thrown or given away without their permission, and if you regularly involve your kids in the process, you may find that it’s not nearly as bad as you expect.
- Set limits and let them make the choices: Everyone has things they hold onto that don’t make sense to outside observers, and it’s important to give children freedom to choose special toys and knick knacks of their own — within limits. Set concrete limits on toys and doodads and let your children decide what to keep and what to give away within those limits. My girls each have a special container next to their bed with miscellaneous doodads that don’t belong anywhere else. They are allowed to keep whatever they want as long as everything fits in the box. This gives them control of the decisions so that I don’t have to play the bad guy.
- Don’t wield uncluttering as a threat or punishment: If you want to give your children the tools they need to live an uncluttered life, it’s very important that uncluttering not be used as a threat or punishment. Threatening to throw away or give away their toys if they don’t clean their room doesn’t do anything except make them hold onto their stuff more tightly. In our home, uncluttering is always handled matter-of-factly and never with negative connotations. If I feel the need to take away certain toys to handle behavior issues, they’re packed up and put away for a specific period of time.
What methods do you use to teach your children the value of uncluttering and organizing?