Archives for August 2010
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Clutter plagues the workplace in many ways, but these three areas are most often the worst offenders:
- Filing cabinets. At some businesses, filing cabinets are merely graveyards for old papers. Keep only the papers and files that you must and recycle (or shred) the rest.
- Language. Using buzz-words and let-met-try-to-impress-you language in your writing and speech can cause confusion, reduce productivity, and waste resources. A good rule of thumb is that if you can find the phrase in Unsuck-It‘s dictionary, you should think twice before using it. Direct language that is simple to understand will save you time and improve your communication skills.
- Top of your desk. The only items that should be on the top of your desk are the equipment you use at least once a day and the project you are working on currently. Pack up your project when you move on to the next task (I like using one flat file per project), and store in drawers and cupboards items you don’t use daily.
Meetings and cable clutter typically round out the top five hiding spots for clutter in offices. Where is the clutter in your office? Schedule 10 minutes a day to address your clutter issues and in a few weeks your office can be the last place clutter will be able to hide.
- Downloading digital sheet music
While at her local Nordstrom’s Department Store, my friend spotted the piano player using a MusicPad Pro for his sheet music. It’s a digital device, much like a Kindle, that can hook to a special music stand or be carted around like a single piece of sheet music.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Extreme Bug Vacuum
If only there were clutter vacuums to suck up the absurd bug vacuum!
- Link week
My first link of the day is to a book review professional organizer Julie Bestry wrote about “Everything I Know About Perfectionism I Learned from My Breasts.” This book, written by the talented organizer Debbie Jordan Kravitz, has been on my to-read list for months but I haven’t yet reached it in the pile. Julie’s review of Debbie’s book, however, has convinced me to jump it ahead on my list. And, since it persuaded me to read the book, I thought it was a review you might wish to read as well.
- Alternative uses for colanders
Not only does knowing how to properly use your kitchen utensils save you time, space, and money, but knowing additional uses for your utensils can have the same effect.
- Workspace of the Week: Inspired office
A few days ago I picked up a copy of No Better Than This, the new Rounder Records debut album from John Mellencamp (AKA “Johnny Cougar,” “John Cougar,” “John Cougar Mellencamp”). I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of the Coug, but this particular collection of recordings was produced by T-Bone Burnett.
I would buy a $300 box set of audio test patterns if it was produced by T-Bone Burnett.
What’s intriguing about No Better Than This is that all the tracks on the album were recorded at historic locations with a single microphone on a 1955 Ampex portable recording machine (with no overdubs).
We’ve written before about the benefits that self-imposed limitations can bring to creative work. In the particular case, the low-tech (and deceptively simple) approach to the audio production lends many of the songs on the album a raw and honest quality that you don’t usually hear on modern recordings.
Over the years I’ve actually noticed that quite a few of my favorite studio recordings were produced this way, direct to tape with only one or two microphones:
The Trinity Session by Cowboy Junkies (1988)
It’s mind-numbing to think that this whole album was recorded (under false-pretenses) at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Ontario in just over a day with a budget of $250.
They even ended up with so much good material that not everything from the session ended up on the original Latent Records release.
A Meeting by the River by Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (1993)
This impromptu recording actually won the the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 1994. All the tracks on the album were entirely improvised by the four musicians involved in project. If you have any affinity for acoustic slide-guitar recordings, this Water Lily Acoustics release is a must-have. It’s also possibly the “warmest” sounding recording that I’ve ever heard.
How to Grow a Woman from the Ground by Chris Thile & the How to Grow a Band (2006)
Single-mic recordings aren’t all that uncommon for bluegrass bands trying to capture the same sound that’s present on early Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs recordings. It is, however, quite rare to hear that kind of unvarnished production on bluegrass covers of angst-ridden songs by The Strokes and The White Stripes.
If anything, these recordings should definitively prove that you don’t need the newest or most-technologically advanced tools to produce great music.
This week’s Workspace of the Week is Johannes Bosgra’s study:
The first thing that caught our eye in this workspace was the chair. It’s the EA 119 “Executive” model from the Aluminum Group collection, which was designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1958. The EA 119 is a very swank and substantial piece of furniture, especially when compared to most of today’s popular “task chairs.” Right now I’m seriously contemplating whether I should eat cat food for the next six months so I can justify buying one.
Another thing we like about this study is the second work surface immediately behind the primary desk. It is height adjustable (with a footswitch) so it can be used as a standing desk. Both pieces are available from Hülsta. Being able to move around and have different work-surfaces can increase productivity.
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.
The website She-Conomy (a site that focuses on the business of marketing to women) recently published the article “Men, Women Lead 4 Out of 5 Stages of the Buying Process.” This interesting article discusses Marti Barletta’s research in the book Marketing to Women and how when “men and women buy as partners, women control at least four out of five stages of the purchasing process.”
The five stages of the buying process are Kick-off, Research, Purchase, Ownership, and Word-of-Mouth. Barletta’s research found that the only stage of the purchasing process men dominate is the actual laying down of the cash, and that women are in control of the other four. Then, she implies that men don’t actually control the buying, even though they think they do.
The explanation about the Research stage of the buying process is eerily similar to how we plan purchases in our home, except it isn’t always me taking on this role:
Once the decision has been made to make a purchase, it is the woman who does research to develop the short list. She may begin with numerous options, but she is very detail oriented as she narrows the field … They consult with close friends and family, as well as experts, Web social networking, local news and magazines. Once she feels she has investigated all of her options thoroughly, she compiles the short list or makes a final decision.
It is this list or choice that she shares with the man. So if your product or service doesn’t make it on this list, it is very unlikely it will be considered when it comes time to make the purchase. After all of the research and time she has put into it, she typically knows exactly what she wants.
In my relationship with my husband, we usually alternate who is the researcher and who is the buyer based upon who is interested in the purchase. Having the researcher not being the person who is putting down the money for the product usually means that we’re spending more wisely than we do independently. We’re smarter consumers because there are two of us involved in the process.
Even if the research is true and the majority of women in relationships do control the five stages of the buying process, it doesn’t always have to be this way in your home. You can mix things up as a way to keep your spending in check and be smarter consumers. If you’re not in a relationship, you can use these five stages as a checklist to ensure that you’re being a smart consumer and not simply purchasing things on impulse.
Overall, I found this article to be a fascinating analysis on the buying process and how products find their way into our homes. The more we know about the science of buying, the better, more informed consumers we can be.
Thanks to reader Deb for introducing us to this research.
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
Mmmmmmmm, bacon. Bacon is so yummy, but it is extremely difficult to detect when it’s on a table next to other breakfast foods.
Voice-over: Does this happen to you?
[Camera pulls back to show a helpless woman sitting at a table.]
Woman: [Stabbing an egg with a fork.] Is that bacon? [Tastes food on fork.] No! Yuck! Those are eggs. I’m so full and I haven’t even figured out which plate has bacon on it!
To end the confusion and help your family know which food is bacon and which food isn’t, you need to put it on the obvious Bacon Platter!
Warning! The Bacon Platter is for bacon only. You and your family will be even more confused if you put sausage, pancakes, or other breakfast foods on it. And you don’t want to confuse your family, do you?
Also, when serving bacon on your awesome Bacon Platter, you should definitely consider using canned bacon. There is no bacon like canned bacon.
Thanks to reader Linda for finding the Bacon Platter and bringing it to our attention.
- Staying focused on the big picture
On Friday, my grandmother turned 100 years old, and her birthday has me thinking about a phrase that I often repeat to myself: Even if you live to be 100, life is short. (Update: She’s now 101!)
- Five ways to use Evernote to organize your busy family life
I recently wrote a post for the Evernote website that I want to direct you to: “5 Ways to Use Evernote to Organize Your Busy Family Life.”
- Cut the clutter
Knowing how to properly use a knife can save you time, money, and space.
- Back-to-school organizing
Rachel Ray’s website has nine great back-to-school organizing tips to help get your little ones ready for the new year in the article “Back To School Planning” by Katie Hetter.
- Reader question: Fireproof storage, part two
The second installment in this series discusses features of home fireproof boxes and off-site digital storage devices. Both storage methods are essential if you’re looking to be organized in times of emergency.
For those in the northern hemisphere, just 28 days of summer linger on the calendar. Before the cool days of fall and winter set in, now is the time to finish up warm-weather uncluttering projects that remain on your to-do list.
- Your garage. If you haven’t already cleared the clutter from your garage this season, now is a great time to take advantage of the access you have to your driveway. Pull everything out of your garage and sort it into piles: Keep, Purge, Other. Clean your garage (starting at the top of the room and working your way down), make any necessary repairs and/or add organizing systems, and then return only the “Keep” pile items to the space. Donate, recycle, and/or trash the items from the “Purge” pile, and return the items in the “Other” pile to their owners or the places they belong in your home.
- Your car. Similar to the process used on your garage, do the same with your car. Don’t forget small areas like the glovebox and the console.
- Trash cans and litter boxes. Now is the perfect time to haul your trash cans and litter boxes to your local self-service car wash and give all of them a deep cleaning. Set them in the bright sun for a few minutes to dry before hauling them back to your place, stink free.
- Your chimney. Before the rush of callers pour in to your local chimney sweep, give him a call and schedule an appointment now. This way, you won’t have to wait to start up your fireplace on the first cool night of the season.
Whatever tasks remain on your summer to-do list, schedule and take on those tasks now before the weather keeps you from doing them.
I keep lists, lots of lists, and my friend Brittany thinks this habit is “adorable” and “precious.” She recently sent me a link to author Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s website (a link that is NOT safe for work) about a list Amy has decided to keep.
In opposition to a bucket list (a list of things you wish to do before you kick the bucket), Amy has also started a list of things she doesn’t want to do. The name of her list rhymes with bucket but begins with the letter F. If you didn’t click on the link above, just think about it for a second and you’ll eventually figure out why I’m not naming it outright on our family-friendly website.
Brittany is well aware of the fact that I already have a list such as this, though mine is lacking Amy’s naming creativity and is simply called: “Things I won’t do again.” This list is as important to me and the way I live my life as is my list of things I want to do. Often, expressing what you won’t do leads to very positive results.
For example, when I was in my 20s, I abandoned my car in the middle of the street to engage in an intense yelling match with a woman over a parking space. There was a lot of nonsensical screaming about how I felt entitled to a spot that this woman stole from me — and, well, the police became involved. I wasn’t protesting against human trafficking or genocide or something actually horrific, I was on the verge of being arrested over a small piece of pavement in front of a CVS Pharmacy. Hours later, when I had calmed down, the embarrassment of the situation led me to write “I will never fight with anyone over a stupid parking space again” at the top of a new list. In DC, where parking can be a nightmare, this life rule has led me to be calmer when hunting for parking, kept me out of jail, and also out of physical harm.
Most of the items on my “Things I won’t do again” list actually have to do with being an unclutterer, which is why I’m mentioning Amy’s list, my list, and my awesome friend Brittany. Here are a handful of them:
- I will not go more than a week without doing the laundry (except in cases of a structural impediment, like being without power, or when on vacation).
- I will not throw my clothes on the floor and I will not put wet clothes or towels in the hamper.
- I will not keep a gift out of guilt.
- I will never abandon a pan on the stove for hours with food still in it that needs to be disposed or refrigerated.
This list is especially good at motivating me to stay on top of my responsibilities. In the evenings, when the siren call of the television and comfy couch are singing my name, I’ll first take care of chores before kicking up my feet and relaxing. I’ll say to myself, “I don’t go more than a week without doing the laundry,” and then put a load of clothes in the washing machine.
Do you have a “Things I won’t do again” list, or a more creatively named one like Amy? If you think it could motivate you to change your behavior in a positive way, maybe this strategy could work for you. It has certainly helped me to maintain an uncluttered life.
During a presentation at a conference I attended a couple years ago, Illinois-based professional organizer Sue DeRoos made the obvious, yet insightful comment:
Everyone gets organized at some point, they just might not be around for it.
DeRoos’ comment was morbid, but absolutely true. At some point, someone is responsible for sorting, purging, and getting your affairs in order — either you do it while you’re alive, or your loved ones do it after your gone.
I was reminded of Sue’s comment after reading The New York Times online editorial “How to Lose a Legacy” from July 12. The author, Ellen Lupton, uses the op-ed to express her mixed emotions about her possessions, specifically her fears that her things won’t be of value to her daughter after she is gone:
I probably wouldn’t have kept [a set of Wedgwood cornflower blue china inherited from my mother’s mother] if I had bought them in a junk shop 20 years ago. But they were my grandmother’s, so I keep them safe, and take them out a few times a year for family celebrations. As I wash each piece by hand, I wonder, with a pang of melancholy, if my daughter will someday do the same.
I had somewhat of a negative reaction to Lupton’s piece. I stand more firmly in DeRoos’ camp. I think that if you truly love people, you don’t want to burden them with your clutter after you’re gone. You want to make things as simple as possible for them, not bog them down with guilt, piles of stuff, and responsibilities. I hope to ease their grief, not make it worse.
What are your reactions to the DeRoos quote and Lupton’s piece? What are your thoughts about what you plan to leave behind? Yes, it’s morbid to ponder, but we are mortal. What do you want to be your legacy?
My husband and I have five pairs of eyeglasses between us. Since we have a toddler who loves to pull glasses off your face without a moment’s notice, the multiple pairs have become necessary. (When my son was five months old, we learned the hard way that having a backup pair is a very good idea.)
As a result, we’ve been looking for an organized way to store our multiple pairs of glasses. We have decided to get a display stand that one might usually see on a counter in an eyeglasses shop:
We’re setting the display on our bedroom dresser so we will also have a place to safely store our glasses overnight and make them easy to find first thing in the morning.
Because glasses are much less expensive than they used to be (thank you, Internet!) it’s becoming more common for people to have multiple styles of frames, the way they might have a few belts or purses. If you’re in this group of owning multiple pairs of glasses, an eyeglass shop display stand might be a good organizing tool for you, too.
Do you use a different organizing method for storing your eyeglasses? Give us your tips in the comments.
- Nesting cookware for camping
I want to introduce you to the MSR Flex 4 System Cookset.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Lem-O Saver
So you have a lemon, and you only want to use half of it? Wow. Now that is a conundrum.
- Reducing unnecessary distractions from colleagues at work
Mark at Productivity501 has some great tips for keeping office distractions to a minimum in his post this week “People Who Come to Distract You.”
- Storing small memory cards
Do you have multiple games that are stored on small discs or do you carry small cards for work or your camera? How do you keep them stored in a safe and organized fashion?
We want to bring your attention to the inspiring and mesmerizing Things Organized Neatly tubmlr site:
This new photo site is a steady stream of orderly stored objects. Its publisher clearly has an eye for design, so the images featured are striking, as well as streamlined.
Reader Nancy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
My husband and I both serve as executors for the estates of family members. When we arranged to have [the deceaseds'] mail forwarded, we got on marketing lists and are getting tons of mail — even for a family member who died in 2001! How can we stop it? We must have gotten thousands of pieces of junk mail and we are just in the beginning with a new estate!
Nancy, I’m sorry to hear about your losses. You and your husband are so kind to take on the closing of estates during your times of grief.
One thing to keep in mind is that even after taking the steps I’m about to mention, you still might continue to receive junk mail for deceased family members. Some companies have predatory practices and don’t really care who lives at an address. Their goal is to get their marketing materials into a mailbox, and how they obtained an address is irrelevant to them.
Your first step in the process is to talk with your local post office about the mail being forwarded to your address for anyone whose estate is already closed. The USPS will provide you a form to complete and then stop forwarding all mail for this person to your address.
Second, the USPS recommends that you put the name of anyone who is deceased on the “Deceased Do Not Contact List.” From the USPS:
You may request to have the deceased’s name removed from commercial marketing lists. To assist in this process, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has created a Deceased Do Not Contact list. All DMA members are required to remove names on this list from their mailing lists and many non-DMA members comply, as well. Once a name is registered, commercial contacts from DMA members should begin to decrease within three months. There is a $1 fee for the service. To register a name or learn more, visit the DMA Web site.
Again, the USPS and the Deceased Do Not Contact List are not 100 percent. However, following these two steps should significantly cut down on the amount of mail you are receiving. Additionally, if you receive any mail that isn’t junk mail (like a note from an uninformed friend), a phone call explaining the delicate situation is likely your best and most considerate option. Since the name and address of the person appear on the envelope, consult a phone book or your directory information (411) to obtain the person’s phone number.
Thank you, Nancy, 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.