Archives for September 2010
Now that my son has outgrown his Jumperoo, my husband and I have been on the lookout for a child-size chair. Like most toddlers, my 15-month-old son is insistent upon asserting his independence, and so he wants his own chair. If you try to sit on the same chair or couch he’s on, he’ll go to great lengths to get you to sit somewhere other than his piece of furniture.
We considered getting the Kapsule Chair because it is cute, inexpensive ($49), and doubles as toy storage. Ultimately, we didn’t buy it because when our son outgrows it in a couple years, the chair becomes another thing cluttering up the house.
In the end, we decided to get the Candu Chair, which can also be transformed into a playtable/desk, bedside table, easel, step stool, rocking chair, and magazine/book rack:
It’s 21″ x 18″ x 18″ and weighs 16 lbs. It’s certainly more expensive than the Kapsule — the Candu Chair is $125 on Amazon — but it’s a piece that should have utility for at least the next 17 years. For families like ours that live in small spaces, the more multi-functional the furniture, the better.
Many people find no pleasure in routine household chores — cleaning the bathroom, washing the car, paying bills, preparing meals, doing the laundry. These are activities we have to do if we want to take care of our spaces, but I’m certainly not the world’s biggest fan of doing the laundry or dishes or toilets.
However, one thing I’ve learned about myself since I’ve been living as an unclutterer is the more I know about a chore, the more eager I am to do it. If I research sponges to learn which ones are the most durable, least likely to transmit bacteria, and best at cleaning a bathtub, I’m excited to use that sponge when I do the chore. Add to that research about methods for scrubbing and the most effective and safe-for-the-environment cleaner, and I’m downright giddy when I clean the bathroom.
A few years ago while having dinner in New York’s East Village, I saw a sign hanging on the wall of the restaurant that sparked this personal revelation:
“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” — Voltaire
I realized that knowledge about food is what makes eating and preparing meals more pleasurable to me. When I understand the science, the ingredients, the style of preparation, and the choice of pairing foods and drinks together, I actually enjoy making dinner. It was at this point in my life when I started studying cooking and trying to learn as much as possible about food so that preparing the daily meals wouldn’t feel like such an awful burden. Now, I really enjoy cooking because it’s an adventure. Every day I get to put my new skills and understanding to the test.
If you learned more about the daily chores you don’t like to do, would it actually change your perspective on them? Would you appreciate sweeping the floor more if you knew the most efficient style? How about your office work — would you like to file more if you knew the history, details, and styles of filing? If learning more about something isn’t a motivator for you, what is? Discovering this about yourself can go a long way to helping you in your life as an unclutterer.
It’s starting to get chilly, and I can’t stop thinking about fall. As the cooler weather moves in, here are a handful of resources to keep you organized as you say farewell to the warmer months.
- My Fall Cleaning Guides for RealSimple.com: Systems and Room-by-room.
- Suffer from fall allergies? Lifehacker tells you when it’s okay to go outside.
- Start planning your Thanksgiving meal with help from Martha Stewart’s Classic Thanksgiving Menu.
- According to Consumer Reports, the fall is a good time to buy many lawn and garden goods on sale. If you need to buy a new lawn mower, for instance, September is the month to save some cash. I’m not recommending everyone rush out and buy, Buy, BUY! But, if you honestly need something, you should at least plan and buy it at a time when you can get the best deal.
- Real Simple has some adorable and easy-to-make Halloween costume suggestions. All of them include multi-tasking components.
- YouTube has dozens of free instructional videos on how to carve a pumpkin using knives you already own.
Share your fall resources in the comments.
It’s Monday, and a week’s worth of possibilities are in front of you. Do you:
- Drag your feet, groan, and wish it were Friday already?
- Excitedly jump out of bed, sing in the shower, and rejoice that it is Monday?
- Fall somewhere in between option #1 and #2, where you’re glad to have a new week ahead of you but wouldn’t mind crawling back into bed (at least for a few more minutes)?
Even if you chose option #1 this morning, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have a Monday where you feel like option #2. I woke up feeling like option #3 today (fall has come to the Mid-Atlantic and there was a crispness in the air that made me want to stay curled up under the comforter), but am now on track to feeling more like option #2. In addition to all the ways we’ve written about in the past to help you start your week on an organized footing (Plan your perfect week, Streamlining your morning routines, Preparing on Friday for Monday’s workday, to name a few), there are even more strategies you can implement to be excited about your new week. Here are some ideas for you:
- Fake it. I’m usually the world’s biggest supporter of being authentic in your actions, but when it comes to Monday mornings I don’t see much harm in pretending to be excited for the week ahead. Acting as if you are in a good mood can often put you in a good mood. Your feelings change to match your behavior, and you end up having a positive outlook on your week.
- Embrace your morning routine. Organize and plan your mornings so they include something you love. I love coffee and a few minutes each morning to sit in silence and enjoy my brew. So, I wake up 20 minutes before my son so I can have that much-needed jolt of caffeine and time to myself. If you love to run, try adding this exercise to your morning routine. If video games are your thing, set a timer for 20 minutes and play your favorite game. Your morning doesn’t have to be filled with getting ready and nothing else.
- Take the scenic route. Travel to work on a route that takes you past turning leaves (in the northern hemisphere) or budding flowers (for those of you in the southern half of our planet). The different path might help you to see a work problem in a new perspective.
- Make a list. Take a few minutes to list all of the things you like about your job or whatever you have on your schedule this week. Even if your list is extremely short, refer to it when your mood starts to turn south. You may also find you have more items to add to the list over the course of the week. Keep the list and reference it next Monday, too.
The more organized you are and the less clutter you have in your way, the easier it is to feel excited about Mondays. Keep working on your uncluttering efforts, and give one or more of these positive mood-boosters a try. The happier you are, the more productive you’ll likely be. I wish all of you a wonderful week.
- Combatting backpack clutter
Reader Lisa, a college student, wrote in to Unclutterer asking if we might be able to help her with her backpack woes.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Potato
Now you can buy a music playing, batteries required, painted toy to substitute for nature’s fun: The Hot Potato!
- Organizing your job search
My super organized sister-in-law gives details on how to organize a job search.
- Recovering from an e-mail interruption
Try turning off the notification alert on your e-mail system and only checking e-mail on a schedule and see if it improves your productivity. If the interruption refractory period really is 17 minutes, you should immediately notice significant gains in your focus.
- Workspace of the Week: Nook office
Ivy_Style33 used bookshelves to create an office out of a corner of her apartment. The Ikea Expedit Bookshelf was set to the right of the desk to separate the workspace from the living space.
- Ask Unclutterer: What is clutter?
Just what kinds of things do most people consider to be “clutter”?
- Need motivation? Send an invitation
One of the most fun ways to motivate yourself to unclutter your home and/or office is to invite someone to visit.
- Creating a personal strategic plan
Drafting a personal Strategic Plan can help to keep clutter — especially time and mental clutter — from creeping into your remarkable life.
- Can a deep freezer save you money on meals?
The expense of a deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we’re currently wasting when we buy our food in smaller portions.
- How can you use a freezer to help with meal planning?
One strategy for buying in bulk and using your freezer to help ease the tensions around meal preparation time.
- Shameful Attempt to Garner Traffic from Productivity Blogs
Looking for an (im)practical solution for storing your Hipster PDA? Apple has you covered.
- Sippy cups: Less is more
When you are cleaning cups multiple times per day the less you have to clean the better.
Reader Juliette submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I know why I fight clutter: After a long day at work the last thing I want to do is housework. But is this the same reason as everyone else? Are we all working too hard and too many hours to take care of our stuff?
After years of doing what I do, I’ve found that most people who struggle with clutter fall into one of the eight following categories:
- Overwhelmed by the task, don’t know where to begin. Feeling overwhelmed can be paralyzing. When you are plagued with anxiety, it can be tempting to ignore the problem and just hope it goes away.
- Fear of being forgotten, their stuff is the only proof they have lived. As humans, we know we’re mortal but wish we weren’t. Since the beginning of human history we have been looking for ways to be remembered. People who fear their mortality often have issues with this, especially sentimental clutter.
- Fear of change or of the future. The past may have been a glorious time, and since the future is uncertain, it can be tempting to hold onto everything from the past. Even if the past wasn’t so glorious, it’s at least a known quantity. This also ties in with people who look at objects and think, “I might be able to use this some day.” It stems from a fear that one might not be able to acquire needed items in the future.
- Experienced a major life change, such as death of a family member, a marriage, or a new baby. Major life changes can be difficult because they often come with a lot of stuff — a death means you might have to process someone else’s stuff, a marriage could mean you have to merge two households, and a new baby is a combination of exhaustion and new stuff. Usually these influxes of clutter are short term, but they’re still stressful (even if a good stress).
- Poor decision-making and/or time-management skills, simply don’t know how. Decision-making and time-management skills are learned, not engrained. They need to be practiced just like a toddler practices walking and a guitarist practices his craft. Michael Phelps didn’t wake up one morning with a new ability to be an Olympic gold medal winner — he spent years practicing. If a person hasn’t practiced and trained to have strong decision-making and time-management skills, she isn’t going to know how to handle everything that comes her way. She’ll often keep something out of guilt or habit.
- Lack of energy. Many people call this “being lazy,” but I think it’s really a lack of energy. If you don’t get the right amount of sleep your body needs, eat foods that best fuel the mind and body, and move around a lot during the day, you’re going to have less energy than you need to get things accomplished. And this isn’t a weight issue, either. There are people of all shapes and sizes who don’t eat or sleep well who struggle with insufficient energy.
- Side effect of a physical disability or mental disorder. If you’re not of sound body and/or mind, it’s understandably a challenge to get through the day. These people benefit greatly from the help of professionals to assist them.
- Don’t want to, don’t see any reason to change. I wouldn’t say that these people actually “struggle” with clutter, though people who come into contact with them probably do. The truth is that being an unclutterer is not the only way to a remarkable life. For some people, clutter isn’t an obstacle. And, as long as the person with the stuff isn’t a danger to himself or others (just messy, not a hoarder), I don’t see this as a problem. People need to do what is the best path for them to achieve the life they desire.
Based on the information in your question, you might have issues with clutter because of insufficient time-management skills. This is just a guess, though, I’m basing on your use of the phrase, “working too hard and too many hours.” You might read through the list and see another category (or two) that suits you better. I was a clutterer because of many of the reasons listed, but mostly because I had awful sleeping and eating habits, poor time-management skills, and didn’t realize clutter was keeping me from living a remarkable life. Throw in my physical disability and a mild fear of being forgotten and I think that sums up all of my reasons for living so many years as a clutterbug.
We all have our reasons for struggling with clutter — and there are certainly a few reasons people fight clutter that don’t conveniently fit into one of these eight categories — so be sure to read the comments to learn about why different readers are here. Additionally, there are hundreds of posts in our archives that address how to handle each of these categories of clutter. Thank you, Juliette, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck in your pursuit of a remarkable life.
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 Apostrophe Lover’s transformed desk into a baby changing and storage station:
Apostrophe Lover explained the redesign in the comments to the photographs:
It’s actually a repurposed computer desk. I’m a working, first-time parent (as is my spouse), and I wanted to have everything organized and accessible for those bleary-eyed baby changings. The trash can (the step function is essential) sits where the computer once did.
When closed, the baby station just looks like an armoire. The baby’s laundry basket is just to the right (soiled items can be tossed in even when the station is open).
On the inside of the right door is a hanging organizer “For those extra things that don’t get used every day, but that need to be nearby: nasal aspirator, cotton swabs, corn starch, Desitin, and nail clippers.”
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.
A handful of interesting links related to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living from this week’s news:
- From today’s New York Times, “When Possessions Lead to Paralysis” about how the elderly can be prevented from taking care of themselves because they’re overwhelmed by their stuff.
- Jamie Lee Curtis shares her organizing and simple living tips in “Jamie Lee Curtis Comes Clean” in this month’s Good Housekeeping magazine.
- Rolf Potts travels around the world with no luggage in his no baggage challenge.
- Gretchen Rubin has a fun photo post on The Huffington Post today about “7 Ways to Avoid Procrastinating.”
Before you pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, or construct an e-mail, you should be able to express the reason for the communication with a one-sentence purpose statement. Similar to a thesis statement in a report or memo, you need to know exactly where you’re going before you begin writing or talking so you can get to your point as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Here are some examples of hideously bad purpose statements:
At the end of this phone call, I will have convinced my co-worker to cover for me on Friday while I’m on vacation.
At the end of this meeting, attendees will have discussed what is on the agenda.
At the end of this e-mail, I will have expressed my anger about this project.
These purpose statements are vague, lack tangible actions, and don’t include much direction for getting you where you want to go with your communication. You’re also not likely to get the response you desire with purpose statements like these because the recipient of the communication could easily be confused by what you’re intending.
A well-constructed purpose statement is concrete and specific, and it also identifies why the specific communication is best achieved through the phone call, meeting, or e-mail.
To develop your purpose statement, complete the following sentence: “At the end of the [communication], [person/people] will …”
Here are some examples of significantly better purpose statements:
At the end of the phone call, Susan will have agreed to change her shift on September 29 with my shift on September 17.
At the end of the meeting, attendees will have drafted a one-page annual strategy statement that will guide our team over the next year.
At the end of this e-mail, Claudia will know I believe purposefully missing the deadline for the project without notifying the client could possibly lead to us losing this client, not being paid in full for our work, or not covering the salaries of those working on the project.
When you know what you want for the final result of your communication, you’re more likely to achieve it and save time for everyone involved in the conversation. Quickly draft these one-sentence statements on your computer or pen them on a notepad before every out-going communication and look at them during your conversations to keep you on track. Say them aloud or print them at the top of your meeting agendas so everyone in the meeting knows why they have been gathered. Know where you’re going, so you’ll be sure to get there.
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
After injuring my foot this past winter, my doctor prohibited me from running and walking for more than a mile a day until my foot completely healed. About a month ago, I finally got the green light to return to running, and I was thrilled to be able to exercise again.
However, not running for five months had some consequences on my body. I am extremely slow now, can only run 1/4 mile before having to walk for awhile, I have to carry a change of socks with me because if my socks get sweaty I instantly get blisters, and I weigh 20 pounds more than I did at the time of my injury.
That’s right, I gained 20 pounds in five months. I had no idea what that looked like — simply looking in the mirror was ineffective — so I jumped online and ordered 20 Fat Replicas, 1 lb each:
Now that I have my 20 Fat Replicas, I know how much weight I gained! If it weren’t for the 1 lb Fat Model Replicas, I’d be oblivious to what it felt like to carry an extra 20 pounds of fat. I bet you’re thinking, “But Erin, can’t you tell since it’s YOUR body?” Well, that is just silly! It is 100 percent impossible to know what weight feels like without the Fat Replicas.
As I shed the fat and start to regain muscle, I’m going to have to order some of the 1 lb Body Muscle Replicas so I’ll know what muscle feels like, too!
Thanks to reader Dominic for bringing this unitasker to our attention.
- Banishing the No Momentum Monster
We want to again welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer and professional organizer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome. This is his second post of three in a series on fighting procrastination.
- Prioritizing uncluttering and organizing projects
Reader Jane wrote in and asked us how she should decide where to begin uncluttering and organizing in her home. I got the feeling from her e-mail that she feels overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of her and doesn’t know where to start. I always suggest starting in one of three ways
- Flattening the Never Finishing Monster
When we don’t finish projects we leave the door open to chaos. We let the Never Finishing Monster into our lives and everything around the place needs just a few adjustments to finish, but nothing’s totally completed.
- Hoarders: Geralin Thomas discusses her experience on the show
Professional organizer Geralin Thomas, who appeared on the first and second episode of the show, details her experiences in a post on her blog.
In Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much Workbook (the companion piece to his popular It’s All Too Much) he discusses the physical limitations of storage and how to use math to determine how much you can keep and have your home be clutter free.
From page 63:
While you are figuring out what fits where, there is a concrete way to measure your space for what it can contain. I’ve said it before: You can’t fit four cubic feet of stuff into two cubic feet of space and not have clutter. So get out your tape measure and see what will work in the space you have.
First, measure your shelving space or bookshelves or hanging space and use the table below to work out how many of a particular item will fit.
Peter provides the following “cheat sheet” to identify how many of one item will fit into a linear foot of space:
VHS tapes — 11
DVD cases — 20
CDs in jewel cases — 29
Magazine box with 10 magazines — 3 (30 magazines total)
Books — 12 (on average)
Jeans/pants — 12
Shirts/blouses — 15
Heavy jackets/suits — 6
Shoes — Estimate about 8 inches per pair
To put his numbers to work, let’s look at his estimation that books average about an inch a piece. To properly store 100 books, you should have 100 inches of bookshelf space. The popular Expedit bookcase from Ikea has shelves that are 13 inches, so you would need 7 shelves of an Expedit bookcase to hold 100 books. Since there are 16 shelves on an Expedit bookcase, you could store approximately 208 books total on the shelves.
Knowing exactly how much storage space you have and exactly how many items you can store in that space can make it easier to decide what to keep and what to purge. Let the math do the work.
I’m a proponent of wasting time when it feeds a greater purpose, such as when it recharges your body and mind, strengthens a relationship, or introduces you to a new way of looking at things. A former colleague of mine had a jelly bean dispenser in her office, and while on mid-afternoon strolls by her desk we sometimes solved work-related problems just by casually talking them over with each other.
What isn’t productive, however, is wasting time as a procrastination technique, to avoid responsibilities, or to take advantage of someone else.
If you don’t know the difference between productive and destructive time wasting, here is a simple way to tell:
Imagine your boss or a well-respected colleague were to walk by your desk and have immediate and full access to what you were doing and thinking. Would you change your behavior?
If the answer is “no,” you’re very likely in the productive time wasting category and you should feel comfortable with what you’re doing. Remember that even bosses and respected colleagues take breaks from time-to-time, so be realistic when you’re constructing your answer.
If the answer is a strong “yes,” however, you’re in the destructive time wasting category and it’s time for you to get back to work.
If you have school-age children, you’re well aware that some mornings can be difficult. Even highly organized children have a few mornings each month where there is a melt down and things fall apart.
Here are a few tips to help get your children (and you) out the door on time:
Is your child getting enough sleep? When children go through growth spurts, they often need more sleep than at other times. If their courses are more difficult this year than in the past, they might need more sleep to mentally process all that they’re learning. Talk with your child’s pediatrician to determine what is the best amount of sleep for your child.
Are parents ready before children? It’s easier to help your child in the morning if you’re already up and prepared for your day. The younger the child, the more important this is.
Have you planned for 15 extra minutes? No matter the day, you should always plan an extra 15 minutes into your morning schedule. Don’t have a super tight schedule, because if things go wrong your child will be late for school. When an emergency arises, it’s wonderful to have the additional time.
Are materials set the night before? Clothes, packed backpack, extra curricular sports or dance bag, lunch (in the refrigerator, but ready to go), and whatever materials your child needs for the next day should be prepared before your child goes to bed.
Do you have an “out-the-door” checklist? All children (and even adults) can benefit from a checklist for what to remember in the mornings. I recommend typing up the checklist and laminating it. Then, let your child use a dry erase marker or a wax pencil to check items off the list before heading out the door. You can also add special items to the list (Don’t forget your signed grade card!) when there are daily items your child needs to remember. Older children might not need to physically check items off the list, but they should stop and review it mentally.
Do you scream or sing in the morning? The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin recommends in “Tips for being a more light-hearted parent” to “Sing in the morning. It’s hard both to sing and to maintain a grouchy mood, and it sets a happy tone for everyone—particularly in my case, because I’m tone deaf and my audience finds my singing a source of great hilarity.” Keeping a light-hearted mood can help inspire your kids to also have positive outlooks — which can help set the morning tone.
Is everything okay at school? If you’ve tried every piece of advice for getting your child out the door on time and still can’t do it, you might want to talk to your child’s teacher or a trusted person at your child’s school. There might be a bigger issue you need to investigate (abuse, bullying, isolation, etc.).
Check out Unclutterer’s “Don’t forget your materials” and the comments to the post for additional tips and tricks. Good luck!
- Stuff versus relationships
People often choose the comfort of stuff over relationships because relationships can be scary. People can reject you. People are sometimes critical and judgmental. People can be mean, insensitive, and heartless. People can leave you, abandon you, and disappoint you. But your stuff never will. That is, until your stuff chokes the life out of you.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Itzbeen
It’s called the Itzbeen because it is a timer that tracks how long “it has been” since you last fed, changed, or put your child down for a nap. You know, in case your screaming live human infant isn’t a clue that you are neglecting him, or if it isn’t extremely obvious that the breathing lump of flesh next to you is your napping child.
- The state of self-storage in the U.S.
The New York Times ran an incredibly well-researched and informative article this weekend on the current state of the self-storage industry. The article gives insight into how the downturn in the economy is affecting storage units in terms of capacity and purpose of use. Additionally, the article confirms that the majority of units remain full of clutter, but it paints a vivid picture of people who are using the spaces for other, non-clutter reasons.
- Vanquishing the Getting Started Monster
There’s only one thing to get yourself started uncluttering, and that is to get rid of the Getting Started Monster.