Happy Memorial Day!

At Unclutterer, we’re taking the day off from work to honor those who have fallen in service to our country and those who have passed before us. We’ll see you back here tomorrow for regularly scheduled content!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2009

  • Do you have a big ‘But …’?
    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?
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Garbage Bowl
    I know that the Rachel Ray Garbage Bowl pictured to the right looks like a regular bowl — but it isn’t. No, this is a very special bowl.
  • Task wheel
    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.
  • 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.
  • Workspace of the Week: Pristine pictures

Ask Unclutterer: Too much storage

Reader Annette submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My family lives in a modern 4 bedroom house with a 2 car garage, finished basement and shed. We have deep closets, shelving, and storage rooms galore. My husband and I and 3 kids are on a mission to reduce our possessions yet we have so much storage there are little bits here and there. Some cabinets are just plain empty. I’m still left with the feeling of clutter and disorganization since everything is spread out. I’m not sure what I own or where it all is! What would you suggest to consolidate things and keep my belongings under control? Thank you.

Too much storage? Annette, I have to tell you, it’s not often I come across people in your situation. However, too much storage can be a problem, especially since our human tendency is to fill up the space we have. Fighting this natural desire and keeping your family from wanting to fill it up, too, will likely be a struggle as long as you’re in this home.

In the world of Make Believe, you would sell this house and downsize to one that more appropriately meets your family’s needs. However, this is the U.S. in 2010 when the housing market is in the toilet, and not Make Believe. So, just tilt your head back, have a good chuckle, and then continue reading for some more serious advice.

First, when organizing the things you decide to keep, group like items with like items. This may require pulling everything you currently have in storage and sorting it out on your living room floor. Extra batteries should be grouped together, towels together, and so on and so forth.

Once you have items grouped together, return them to the storage place physically closest to the place where they are used. Coffee mugs should be stored next to the coffee maker, toilet paper in bathroom closets, lawn mower in the garage or a shed, and sheets in their appropriate bedroom closet.

Within the specific storage space, put those things you access most often on shelves between your knees and shoulders. Items you access less often can go on shelves below your knees and above your shoulders. Obviously, put heavier items on those lower shelves and lighter items on the highest shelves.

Only use your attic and basement storage space for things you access just once a year or less — holiday decorations, for instance. Make an inventory of what you have stored in these areas and post it on the back of the door or next to the light switch in these areas. Since you shouldn’t be storing much of anything in these spaces, these inventories won’t take you long to create.

By storing things in your home closest to where you use them the most often, you shouldn’t have much difficulty finding things when you need them. You can always create inventories for closets that store regular items if you want. And, since you have kids, you might want to label the lips of shelves so little helpers can learn where things are stored.

Thank you, Annette, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck organizing your storage spaces!

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: Desk drawer cleanup

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Maureen’s uncluttered desk drawer:

I am one of those odd people who could waste hours a day looking at pictures of well-organized desk drawers. They make me incredibly happy, and this one is spectacular. There is place for everything, and everything is in its place. It’s serene. Blissful. Calming.

And, what is even better, there are “before” pictures on Maureen’s blog. It’s a makeover drawer!

Thank you, Maureen, for submitting your terrific drawer 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.

Choosing to display, store, or get rid of an item

I am a firm believer that everything you choose to own should be display worthy, even if you choose not to display it. My hammer is stored in a toolbox along with screwdrivers, pliers, nails, and other tools because a portable box is the most efficient and uncluttered solution. The way I think about it is that I could hang my hammer on my living room wall, but I don’t because that would be inconvenient and a little odd with our decor. (Now that I’ve written about it, though, I must admit that I’m incredibly tempted to do it. Very dada.)

The fronts of my kitchen cabinets are mostly glass, so even my plates and cups are on display. Since I follow the red velvet rope test for my closet, I’m fine if people see my clothes, although I don’t know why they would want to look at them. My office supplies are stored in a closet, but the closet has made so many appearances on Unclutterer that people actually ask to see it when they come to visit.

For a possession not to be on display in my home, it must meet one of four strict standards: security, safety, efficiency, and anti-distraction.

  • Security: If having an item on display risks your personal security, then by all means keep it stored out of sight. Your social security information, your passport, and other sensitive data is more secure if it’s difficult for strangers to find in your home.
  • Safety: Cleaning supplies, weapons, and medications should be stored in such a way as to make it difficult for children and visitors to accidentally poison or injure themselves. If you or someone in your home has a mobility disability, keeping things stored away might also help reduce injuries.
  • Efficiency: Storing tools in a toolbox is a good example of the efficiency factor — it is more efficient to carry a single toolbox to a project than to take each tool off a wall and carry it individually to a project. It’s efficient to store pots and pans in a kitchen cupboard because it keeps dust, bacteria, and grease from collecting on the items.
  • Anti-distraction: This is a tricky standard and should be used carefully. It would be easy to justify storing every note you wrote in middle school in a box in your attic because displaying them would be a visual distraction. But, if you would be embarrassed to have any of the notes on display, you would be abusing the anti-distraction standard. The anti-distraction standard is for when an object being out on display distracts you the same way clutter does. Office supplies are better stored in a drawer if they infringe on your work surface and draw your attention away from your work. Your goal at your desk is to work, so your desk surface should be clear of all distractions.

Another good standard is the embarrassment factor: If I would be embarrassed for someone to know I owned something, it’s clutter and I get rid of it. Socks with holes in them and stained t-shirts become dust rags, for example.

If an object is not on display or stored because of one of the above standards, I recycle, trash, sell, or give it away.

Do you use standards or guidelines to help you decide what objects in your home belong in storage instead of being on display? I’ll admit that my standards are more strict than other people’s, but they work for my family and our small space. These standards also help us keep clutter to a minimum because if I don’t think an object is worthy of being on display (even if I choose not to display the item), I’ll get rid of it. Fewer possessions result in fewer things to clean and maintain — and I greatly value these benefits of an uncluttered life.

Solving the mug clutter problem

In my grandmother’s farmhouse, at the center of the kitchen table, stood a mug tree. From the branches of the mug tree hung four coffee cups in varying shapes and sizes. Whenever her friends or family members would visit, they would have a seat at the table, grab themselves a mug, and my grandmother would pour them a warm cup of coffee.

If you have the kind of life where people drop in on a daily basis for coffee and a chat, I like the idea of a mug tree. A mug tree keeps cumbersome mugs out of the cupboard and is an inviting element in a kitchen. Unfortunately, I live in an area where people write each other e-mails, survey their calendars, and schedule appointments to meet at coffee shops instead of stopping by each other’s homes on a whim. A mug tree in my house would have two cups on it used each morning by my husband and me, and two mugs that would simply collect dust.

As a result, I use a shelf in the kitchen cupboard to store coffee mugs. And, if you do the same thing, you know that coffee mugs and tea cups take up a lot of shelf space. Even if you use an under-shelf storage system for mugs, they still get in the way.

I recently went searching for stacking mugs, in an attempt to reclaim some of our kitchen shelf space and found these from Heath Ceramics:

I’ve ordered a handful to replace the chipped and faded ones in our cupboard. We’ll see if they help save space and keep the cupboards organized.

What do you do to keep mugs from overwhelming your cupboards? How do you organize your coffee cups? What is the “right” number of mugs for your home? And, when was the last time you checked on your mug population to make sure it wasn’t getting out of control?

Unitasker Wednesday: The Cherry Chomper Cherry Pitter

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’m not a huge fan of cherries (unless they’re candied and in the middle of a giant dollop of chocolate), so I don’t own a cherry pitter. However, if you’re a fan of cherries, I hear the workhorse cherry pitter can be a small and useful single-task device (similar to a garlic press).

Reader Alison has introduced us to a very specific type of cherry pitter that is the opposite of small, looks extremely difficult to clean, and doesn’t appear to be nearly as efficient as its traditional competitor — and definitely crosses the line from single-task device into unitasker territory. The Cherry Chomper Cherry Pitter:

One of the reviews on Amazon is titled: “A Messy Waste of Time — Works Like it’s Part of the Federal Government.” I don’t know if that headline is accurate, but it certainly made me laugh.

Thanks, Alison, for bringing this big head Cherry Chomper unitasker to our attention!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2009

2007

Preserving for posterity or hoarding?

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail ran an article last week about artist and writer Douglas Coupland. Irrespective of if you are familiar with Coupland’s work, “A Generation X pack rat forfeits his treasures” is a thought-provoking article that explores the fanfare surrounding Coupland’s recent donation of his home’s vast collection of clutter to a university’s library.

On Thursday, the library at the University of British Columbia announced it had acquired Mr. Coupland’s papers, a voluminous and fascinating collection now available to researchers.

Among the treasures is the first draft of the novel Generation X, the title of which became a catchphrase for those who, like the 48-year-old author, were born in the shadow of self-obsessed baby boomers. The opening page of the draft, written in tidy cursive in blue ink, includes the author’s annotations and revisions.

The archive is stored in 122 boxes featuring 30 metres of text and graphic material. It includes 30 objects, 40 audio and videocassettes, and 1,425 photographs, among them a Polaroid snapshot of Terry Fox’s artificial leg. (The prolific author’s credits include a non-fiction book about Mr. Fox’s aborted cross-Canada run.)

Articles such as this always make me uncomfortable with their choice of words like “treasures” and “archives” when discussing someone’s clutter. And, I’m not the one calling the 122 boxes clutter, Coupland is:

“I was feeling like I was on that TV show Hoarders,” Mr. Coupland said Thursday. “The excuses people gave for keeping an old empty Styrofoam cup were the same reasons I was using for holding on to stuff. It was a wake-up moment.

“The moment it was out the door, I felt a thousand pounds lighter.”

Coupland admits that keeping all these things was unfulfilling and he was happy to see all of the clutter go — but the article treats his things like an archeological discovery “now available to researchers.” And, based on a paragraph in the middle of the article, it sounds like the library may have paid for the donation:

The library received the archive 18 months ago after several years of gentle entreaties and, finally, serious negotiations.

Reality is that the majority of us and our things will end up in landfills and recycling centers. We are not Douglas Couplands. No one is interested in our clutter. We do not need to be curators or purveyors of stuff for future generations. But articles like this one seem to promote collecting or hoarding random things on the chance that we might become famous and that someone might be interested in our stuff and they might pay us for it.

What do you think? What came to your mind while you were reading this article? Were you as conflicted about the message of the article as I was? I’m interested in reading your reactions to this thought-provoking piece, and I’m glad Coupland is now living clutter free.

(Thanks to all the readers who sent this news story our way.)

Motivation tips for slackers

Today we welcome guest post writer Chaya Goodman, editor of the website Networx. Chaya’s website provides information on how to fix, renovate, and decorate your house.

I spent most of my life procrastinating, and, as a result, lived in very messy, cluttered apartments.  A year ago, I moved into a studio apartment and I made a binding resolution with myself that I would keep it clean and free of clutter. I can happily tell you that I stuck to my resolution. A messy, cluttered house can be symptomatic (or the cause itself) of problems with procrastination and motivation. As a former procrastinator who has undergone a transformation into a tidy minimalist, I’d like to offer some compassionate, but straightforward, advice:

  1. You can’t organize your life all at once, nor can you get to the root of your organizational problems in one fell swoop. Start small.

    First things first and last things last. I have a friend who can’t seem to hold down a job or keep a space clean, largely because she decided a long time ago that the root of her problems is that she can’t find the right community to live in.  Thus, she has spent years packing and unpacking her belongings, living out of boxes, and losing important items and holding onto stuff that she “might need one day.”  If you can’t hold down a job or keep a room clean, then work on getting up and going to work every day — don’t worry about why you can’t do it, focus on doing it.  Tidy up your house for 10 minutes every night.  Don’t skip town.  Eventually, the problem and its root might just disappear.

  2. Accept that work, especially house cleaning and organization, can be boring.  You might have to spend time doing tasks that you think are below your intellect.

    If you believe that you are too busy, intelligent, or talented for grunt work, your space is probably going to be a disaster area.  I know this first hand.  I used to write poems instead of doing dishes, or get so busy with community projects that I couldn’t find time to put away my laundry. Believing that you’re too smart for house work is faulty logic and egotism. Do I find folding laundry boring? Yes.  Do I sometimes wish I could sit and write instead of mopping my floor? Yes.  However, footwork is a means to an end. I accept that I get to read books and write stories after I’ve tidied up my apartment. Having a clean house allows me to think more clearly than ever, and washing the dishes is a great distraction-free time to brainstorm visionary ideas.

  3. Progress, not perfection.

    The biggest bug behind procrastination is making plans that are too grandiose. I used to write up these elaborate meal plans and organizational plans that always bombed, because they were far too ambitious.  One of the biggest revelations I’ve had in maintaining a healthy diet and reducing the number of dishes I have to wash is that I essentially gave up on cooking during the week.  I keep a large plastic bowl at work, and a sharp vegetable knife.  Twice a day, I take 5 minutes to rinse off a few vegetables and throw together a big salad in my plastic bowl.  For protein, I throw in some nuts or beans or sprouts, and I eat a couple pieces of sprouted bread from the health food store.  If I were limiting my definition of healthy eating to making elaborate macrobiotic meals, I’d be fat and unhealthy, and I’d have dishes piled up in the sink.  I found a way to eat my vegetables in 10 minutes a day. Is it a perfect diet? No, but it works.

  4. Know your limits.

    I’ve noticed that the cycle of slacking for me goes like this: 1. Taking on way too many projects (organizational or otherwise), to compensate for having slacked off; 2. Trying to do all the tasks using poor time management skills; 3. Failing at fulfilling responsibilities; 4. Giving up hope; 5. Slacking. When tasks start piling up, do not touch the dust of taking them on all it once.  Be honest with yourself — you’re not a superhero who can stop time. Instead, make a list and deal first with the task with the biggest penalty for slacking.  For example, renewing my driver’s license has the biggest financial risk associated with it, so I decided to undertake it before putting away my laundry.

  5. The best way to tackle responsibilities is to multitask.

    You can master time management by multitasking.  For instance, I like to throw dinner parties, but my minimalist kitchen only has one burner and a toaster oven, and I only have one morning a week available for house cleaning. When I throw a dinner party, my plan might look like this:  On the morning before a dinner party, I start by writing a list of tasks. Next, I organize what jobs I can do concurrently.  First I cook the rice.  While the rice cooks, I sort my laundry into piles and chop vegetables for stew.  Next, I put the stew on the burner to cook.  While the stew cooks, I take my laundry to the Laundromat on my block.  Once my laundry is out of the house, I sweep and mop the floor. Then, I wipe down my baseboards and windowsill. I take the stew off the burner and start making salads. I set the table.

    Eventually, you will be able to gauge how long particular tasks take, and you’ll be able to do several actions at the same time.

Essentially, what I have learned over the past year of staying organized and living efficiently is that the best safeguard against slacking off and procrastinating is doing the task now, whatever it is.  I often remind myself that whatever chore I want to put off will be harder later. The anxiety that procrastination causes is much harder than just bucking up and doing it now.

Packing tips and tricks from flight attendants

Heading out on a summer vacation? Check out these wonderful packing tips from flight attendants in The New York Times’Packing Tips from Travel Pros.”

Now that nearly every airline is charging baggage fees, travelers are motivated to pack as efficiently as possible. And who knows more about packing than professional flight crews? In interviews with a dozen flight attendants and pilots, one theme emerged: to pare down and still have everything needed at the destination, think strategically.

Heather Poole, a flight attendant interviewed for the article, can fit more than 40 pieces of clothes and two pairs of shoes into her carry-on bag. She primarily rolls her clothing, but also “wraps” her nice clothes around her rolled casual items (which, are mostly 50-50 cotton-polyester).

Also, don’t miss the 12 image slide show that accompanies the article with step-by-step photographs showing how Heather Poole fits it all in her bag. It shows how-to instructions for even packing clothes you don’t want wrinkled.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2009

2008

  • G&S Design Compactables
    G&S Design has a nice selection of common kitchen tools that compact down into a more convenient size that makes storing them a little easier.

2007