Archives for January 2011
It’s difficult for me to believe, but our sister site SimpliFried has been live for two weeks now. In case you missed our big announcement, we started this new site as a way to help readers relieve stress surrounding mealtimes (because this is the area of life we struggle with the most).
As a quick round-up, these are the posts we’ve had so far on SimpliFried:
- How to avoid a mountain of dishes in an RV (or small kitchen) sink
- How to find local farmers markets and how to know what’s in season near you
- Oven Baked Brown Rice
- The SimpliFried Manifesto
- Elastic recipes: Using leftovers to unclutter a fridge
- SimpliFried meal plans
- Staples: Bread Machine Whole Wheat Bread
- Cast iron, five recipes which use it, and all from an RV
- Elastic recipe: Chicken Stew
- Good fish
- Understanding cooking thermometers
- SimpliFried’s first Meal Plan
If you haven’t check out SimpliFried yet, please do. We’re excited about the community we’ve built there and are loving what’s coming up on the schedule.
Reader Steve sent us a great solution for keeping mail off his family’s kitchen counter tops and dining table:
Our problem was that every piece of mail, receipt, kids artwork, etc. lands in our kitchen and ends up in endless piles. With everything from tax forms to our 4-year old’s “masterpieces” piled together, we never know where anything is. Since our home office is upstairs in our home, nothing ever seems to make its way there. As a result, I used six mini “Command” removable hooks and six 10″ x 13″ mailing envelopes to create a paperwork organization wall on the inside of a coat closet door, adjacent to our kitchen. I labeled the envelopes for “Bills,” “My paperwork,” “My wife’s paperwork,” “HSA receipts,” “Worthwhile Coupons,” and “SHRED.”
This new system allows my wife and I to easily sort paperwork into its appropriate place and then hide it away by simply closing the door. We can then grab the folders, as necessary, on our way to the office, the store, or the shredder, and bring them back when we are done.
I think this is a wonderful solution that could work for many busy people and families. If you’re someone who might take an envelope up to the office and then forget to immediately return it to the door, you could easily hang two additional empty folders on each hook. Instead of using envelopes, you could also use large binder clips.
Thanks, Steve, for sharing your terrific solution with us.
The Latin phrase tabula rasa translates into English as “blank slate.” Philosopher John Locke described tabula rasa as a person who is similar to a piece of paper void of any characters. Poet William Blake wrote about it as innocence and said its opposite is experience. For our purposes, we’re going to use the phrase to represent a room empty of everything except for its permanent fixtures.
When uncluttering and organizing a room using the tabula rasa method, you start by moving everything — absolutely everything — that isn’t affixed to the walls, floor, or ceiling out of the room. As you’re pulling out the items, group them together by type on your dining room table or on a tarp covering the ground in your garage or back yard (assuming it’s a day when it’s not expected to rain). Shoes should be piled with other shoes or can openers with other can openers.
Once everything is out of the room, assess the space: Are any of the fixtures damaged? Does any paint need to be applied? Is every surface as clean as possible? Do any light bulbs need to be replaced? Do you need new storage shelves? When the room is empty, now is the time to address these structural issues.
After making repairs and cleaning, walk through the space and evaluate how you use it: What do you do in this space? How could you arrange the room to best meet your needs? Using sticky notes, label zones based on what you do in that area. If working in your bathroom, the sink area might be labeled “Toothbrushing, makeup application/shaving, hand washing.”
Next, head to your stuff that is in piles. Take with you a trash bag, your recycling bin, and two large boxes with one labeled “Donate/Sell” and the other “Special Attention.” Diligently go through each pile of your stuff and sort its contents into: Keep (simply leave it in the pile), Trash (put it straight into the trash bag), Recycle (put it into the recycling bin), Donate/Sell (put items you will donate to charity or sell into this box), and Special Attention (only put items in this box that need you to do something specific with them that doesn’t fall into the other categories).
After everything has been sorted, return the Keep items to their new storage area closest to their use zone in the room.
When all of the Keep items are in their new homes, you still aren’t finished uncluttering and organizing the room. You still need to address the Trash, Recycle, Donate/Sell, and Special Attention containers you created earlier. Obviously, put Trash with your other trash, and return your Recycle bin to its place. Then, sort through your Donate/Sell box and handle these items as necessary. Schedule times to drop off the charity donations at the collection site and immediately list sell items on eBay, Craigslist, or whatever system you want to use to sell your things. Finally, sort through your Special Attention items and do whatever you need to do to take care of these items. If you need to repair or return objects, do it right now or get it scheduled on your calendar. Don’t let these items continue to clutter up your life, just in another area of your home.
Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s easiest to do tabula rasa uncluttering and organizing projects when you have the entire day or weekend to focus on the project. If you schedule only a few hours, you leave out the final step of addressing the Donate/Sell and Special Attention boxes and these items will continue to weigh on you. When you give yourself a day or two, you can complete the project from start to finish.
- Ask Unclutterer: Coat control
I live in Brooklyn on the top floor of a Brownstone and have NO coat closet, which is killing me this winter because our coats just end up all over the kitchen table. Do you have any ideas/suggestions for coat/hat/gloves/boot storage for a small apartment?
- Uncluttered and inexpensive storage designs from CB2
Since it’s probably safe to assume that you don’t eventually want to end up watching the buildings around you burn while the Frank Black sings “Where Is My Mind?” consider CB2 next time you’re about to make the drive to IKEA.
- Productivity and organizing insights found in Lean systems
Programs that strive to increase productivity in the workplace are usually worthwhile systems that increase morale and creative thinking, instead of stifle it. Additionally, most have proven records of increasing quality and efficiency.
- Choose from the heart: Clutter free and feeling fine
Danielle LaPorte heads helpful advice for keeping your clutter under control.
- Reader suggestion: Cleaning ornaments
Clean ornaments with compressed air.
- Storing coffee
Is your coffee equipment taking over your kitchen?
Reader Deborah e-mailed the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Deborah: My sister moved across the country eight years ago and left boxes of things at my house because she wasn’t sure if she’d stay out west. They had been stored in an extra bedroom that we weren’t using at the time. Since then, we’ve had two kids and really could use the space. I’ve asked my sister to clean out the room, and she does go through a few boxes when she visits, but basically there are boxes stacked to the ceiling. How do I get this space back in my home without causing a problem between the two of us? If I had the extra money I would just ship the boxes. I’m not working so the cost is prohibitive to me.
Every now and then, I’ll have time in my schedule to respond to readers as e-mals arrive in my inbox. A couple weeks ago, one of those days popped up on the schedule, so I sent Deborah back the following response:
Unclutterer: Explain to her exactly what you just explained to me. Then, tell her that by X date if the boxes aren’t gone, you’ll start going through them for her. You’ll sell the more expensive and not-very-sentimental items on Craigslist, and use that money to ship to her the few boxes of what you believe to be very sentimental stuff (photographs, favorite childhood stuffed animal).
Hopefully, she’ll come and go through the stuff. If she doesn’t, though, you’ll have a way out from under her stuff. I’m sure going through her stuff won’t be fun, but at least you’ll be able to reclaim your space.
Then, to my wonderful surprise, a week later Deborah e-mailed me again:
Deborah: Thank you so much! I have a pile of boxes to ship in my car, and three bags of shredded documents to drop at recycling. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders!
Clutter can put a lot of strain on relationships, so I am so glad to know that these two women worked things out after eight years. I hope other readers in similar situations can find a way to have comparable conversations to reduce stress and clutter in their homes.
Thank you, Deborah, for e-mailing your question and for letting me know how things turned out in the end.
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 TinaFB’s bedroom office:
For the second week in a row, I wanted to highlight how someone has solved the space constraint of needing to put a desk in their bedroom/office/living space. The reason I like this desk so much is because it closes up and goes away when TinaFB wishes to relax. She doesn’t have to stare at responsibilities and bills, she can simply make them disappear. I also like that she took the time to personalize the furniture (it’s a piece from Ikea) with red paint on the back panel and chalkboard paint on the inside of the doors. The chalkboard paint can be very useful for posting important reminders, without having to have an actual chalkboard hanging in the room. Thank you, TinaFB, for submitting your office to our workspace 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.
SNL writers got this sketch right when they poked fun at the way people routinely dehumanize each other. When we’re in a hurry and on cruise control, it can be easy to forget that the person driving the bus or handing you dry cleaning or taking your order in a restaurant isn’t an automaton. People in service industry professions are often treated like robots, or, worse yet, like they’re invisible.
I grew up in a small-ish Midwestern town where everyone already knew everybody else’s name. When I moved to a major city, I missed knowing my neighbors and the people where I went. So, a decade ago, I started making it a point to know people’s names. I know the names of the checkout clerks, butchers, and the wine and cheese buyers at the grocery store; I know the names of my regular UPS man, mail carrier, and FedEx lady (and even most of their substitutes); I know the name of the woman who schedules appointments at my hair salon; I know the names of bus drivers, cab drivers, and the women who work at the dry cleaner’s. And, for the most part, these people know my name, too.
Although learning people’s names takes a little bit of time (you must strike up a conversation), I’ve found that the act has incredible uncluttering benefits overall. Had I not started talking with my butcher, I’d have never known that I can order a quarter of a cow (instead of a whole cow) from a local grass-roaming, organic farm each year and that the butcher will cut up the meat for me exactly how I ask him to, free of additional charge (well, I do give him a nice tip). Buying a quarter of a cow has saved me incredible amounts of money (it’s insanely discounted compared to buying separate cuts of meat) and time (I don’t have to run to the store). Twice, I’ve called the receptionist at my hair salon and she has found a way to get me on the schedule at the last minute, and I haven’t had to whine or beg or threaten or do anything other than ask nicely. The mail and package delivery folks always wait for me to answer the bell, instead of slapping a sticker on the door and driving away like I know some of them do. I get my package on the first delivery attempt instead of having to go to a central office to pick something up or wait another day. Bus drivers have waited for me as I’ve hurried down the street. Simply stated, my life runs more smoothly because I’ve taken the time to learn someone’s name and taken a sincere interest in what they do.
I’m not suggesting you learn someone’s name for the singular purpose of getting better service. Rather, I’m suggesting that meeting the people — all the people — who are a regular part of your life can be beneficial in many ways. It is certainly more enjoyable to go to the market when you know you can learn something from the people there, instead of thinking about the errand like a mundane chore and the people who work there as idiots (they’re not). And, as someone who has previously worked in a service industry job, the work day went much more quickly when I was able to help someone who saw me as a person and took an interest in what I did. I enjoyed helping those people most of all.
Even if you have ignored someone you encounter regularly in your life, it’s never too late to extend your arm, shake a hand, apologize for never learning his or her name before, and properly introduce yourself. In my experience, you’ll immediately feel more connected to your corner of the world and see a few uncluttered benefits, too.
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
Some of my favorite unitaskers are USB powered devices — the USB-powered eyelash curler, the USB pet rock, the USB-powered hamster wheel. This week’s unitasker is USB powered, and quite possibly the most dangerous unitasker we’ve encountered in awhile. Introducing the USB-powered foot warmer:
I appreciate the theory behind this contraption (I certainly don’t enjoy having cold toes), but I can think of a couple scenarios where this isn’t a good idea:
- In an office environment the last thing I want to smell is my co-worker’s stinky feet “warming” from the adjacent cubicle.
- Standing up, forgetting your slipper is attached to your computer, and pulling your laptop onto the floor, shattering your laptop into a million pieces.
I’m sure I could think of more, but these two seem to be decent arguments against this unitasker. I’m also unsure of why you would need one of these especially since there are high-utility things like socks, shoes, and blankets already in your home. Not to forget you also have to shell out $20 and give up a USB port to use the foot warmer, which make it even less desirable.
Thanks go to reader Erika for introducing us to yet another USB-powered unitasker.
- Can a waffle iron make more than waffles?
For the first time since we nominated it back in 2007, I have come to doubt our Unitasker designation for the waffle maker after learning about the fun new website: Waffleizer.com.
- What is your free time worth to you?
Over on the economics blog Marginal Revolution, a reader asked Tyler Cowen how to determine the financial value of his free time. Cowen responds in the post “What’s the value of your time?“
- January is Get Organized Month
The National Association of Professional Organizers has once again declared January Get Organized Month.
- Book review: Career Renegade
If you’re ready to have a career you love, then Career Renegade is the book for you.
Creating a home inventory is a good idea for a number of reasons:
- A complete inventory is good for determining how much home owner’s or renter’s insurance you should be carrying.
- It is also priceless after a disaster or if something has been stolen to help with completing forms and proof of ownership for your insurance claim.
- If you have an item stored in your basement or attic, the inventory can save you time by giving you the precise place to look to find that item.
It is best to have a copy of the inventory on your home computer, but, most importantly, have a copy saved online. If you don’t use an online backup service like DropBox or BackBlaze, simply e-mail a copy to your Gmail account.
The new Mac App Store has a program available for purchase ($10) called Compartments that looks to be simple to use. There are numerous other programs out there, I simply suggest finding one you like and using it. The inventory software programs are nice because often they’ll prompt you to remember an object you might have overlooked otherwise. An Excel spreadsheet could also work, though, if you have a keen eye. The point is to use whatever system is easiest for you that you’ll actually use.
Have you done a home inventory? What program did you use? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.
Thank you to EVERYONE (all 12,855 of you!) who are now following @Unclutterer on Twitter and who have participated in our Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 birthday giveaway. We have greatly enjoyed this giveaway and Fujitsu’s generosity! Now, let’s get on to the good stuff …
At 10:00 a.m. EST, the random generator picked the following winners:
I have direct messaged the three winners of the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 and they have 24 hours to respond.
Even though the birthday giveaway is over, you can still sign up to follow @Unclutterer on Twitter. Also, sign up to follow @ScanSnapIT for tips and tricks about reducing your paper clutter. Again, we want to give BIG, AMAZING, GIGANTIC thanks to Fujitsu for doing such a generous giveaway for our birthday celebration and our Twitter followers!
An uncluttered life is one where you choose to get rid of the distractions (the clutter) so you can focus on what matters most to you. You get rid of the messes and stresses to spend time pursuing the life you desire.
For most of us, the life we desire and the things that matter most to us aren’t boring things. In fact, they’re usually quite the opposite. The things we do when our lives are free of clutter make us smile, bring joy to our lives, and are rarely regrettable. We take our children to the park, sing along to our favorite songs, and follow our dreams.
An uncluttered life may contain more silence than a cluttered life, but it might not. I need moments of solitude in my day to think clearly — and if I’m pulled in too many directions and my schedule is a mess, I don’t get this time. My definition of an uncluttered life includes a couple time-outs during the day, but these moments are far from boring. They’re relaxing and rejuvenating and unclutter my thoughts.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on “Boring 2010,” a boredom conference held Dec. 11 in London. More than a dozen of my friends e-mailed me links to the article with comments joking, “This would be perfect for you!”
The headline for the article was “Boredom Enthusiasts Discover the Pleasures of Understimulation.” But, when reading the article, you realize that understimulation wasn’t anywhere on the agenda. Workshop after workshop had speakers droning on about topics like paint colors and reflections on breakfast foods. Even though the topics were dull, the speakers were providing constant stimuli. There weren’t any blocks of time for silence to be enjoyed. The conference should have been more accurately identified as a Constant Clutter for Your Thoughts.
An uncluttered life doesn’t mean you have to listen to boring people talk about boring subjects. Rather, it means just the opposite — you purposefully avoid such events from cluttering up your time so you can do things that matter more to you.
For the second winter in a row, I have found myself with a cast on my leg. This time, I became cast-worthy after tripping on the hem of my jeans (I was wearing heel-length jeans with flats) and falling down a flight of stairs. I didn’t break anything, but my podiatrist said I tore the muscles off the bones in my foot and something else awful to do with my ankle. (I’m a little vague on the ankle stuff because I got a bit light-headed after he said I’d “tore the muscles” off my foot. Yuck. Just typing it makes me queasy.)
Thankfully, this whole cast situation is temporary, and my husband has been a rock star around the house taking over most of my chores and parenting responsibilities. My son also believes I’ve started transforming into a robot, which makes me the coolest mom in the world.
Winding up in a cast once again reminded me how important it is to be organized before you have an accident. I was lucky that all I did when I fell down the stairs was mess up my foot and ankle. I’m well aware I could have been injured much more severely, especially since I went down the stairs like a stuntman in an action scene in a movie.
Before you have an accident, be sure to:
- Carry your insurance card on you at all times.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet if you have any allergies or severe medical conditions.
- Have your doctor’s name and phone number stored in your cell phone or written on a sheet of paper in your wallet.
- Have a file in your filing cabinet with “In case of emergency” as its name and let your friends and family know about it. In this file, list the bills you pay every month and other important and relevant details someone else might need to know (contact information for your health insurance agent, your boss, your child’s teacher, etc.).
Life is unpredictable — I certainly wouldn’t have guessed I’d be in a cast twice in less than a year. What have you done to prepare for the unexpected? Share your advice in the comments.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Chair socks
Look at these cute socks. Oh, wait. You’re saying they’re not socks I can wear? They’re socks for my chairs?
- James Jamerson’s Uncluttered Bass Rig
I’ve written before about my constant battle with an affliction called Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). It’s an almost compulsive need to purchase new equipment in the firm belief that the new item, be it a guitar, amp, or effect pedal, will be the spark that ignites stale monotony into inspired genius. Sometimes it works, but I find that more often, buying new equipment is just a substitute for doing the hard work required to be creative.
- Build your own recyclable furniture with Grid Beam
Grid Beam allows you to use a few standard modular and reusable components to create whatever structure you need at the moment.
- Multipurpose games
Avoid board game clutter by purchasing games that serve multiple purposes.
- Book review: The Power of Less
If you are looking for sound advice on how to improve your productivity, The Power of Less will help you to be more efficient in all your dealings.
- Sony and Borders join e-book forces
- Unitasker Wednesday: Spinmallow
Why roast a marshmallow like a caveman using a stick when you can sit back and relax while the Spinmallow does all the work.
Piers Steel’s new book The Procrastination Equation made its way to my door last week. I’ll admit, the title taunted me to put off reading it — it’s as if just seeing the word procrastination could create a self-fulfilling prophecy — but, I didn’t. I finished it three days after first picking it up.
Steel has produced an exhaustive look at the research, history, definition, forms, and treatment of procrastination. (Note: Exhaustive may be underselling it, as there are 73 pages of endnotes following the 220 pages of manuscript.) The research, history, and forms of procrastination sections of his book are its strength and most captivating. Until I read Steel’s book, I had no idea ancient Egyptians had eight hieroglyphs referring to delay, one of which specifically implies neglect and/or forgetfulness. Procrastination clearly isn’t a new problem created by modern workers’ addictions to Facebook. Although, I also learned from reading the book that Facebook has such an addictive draw that half of people who personally close their accounts reactivate them.
From a section of the text, “What Procrastination Is and Isn’t”:
By procrastinating you are not just delaying, though delay is an integral part of what you are doing. Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, which means “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, which means “of tomorrow.” But procrastination means so much more than its literal meaning. Prudence, patience, and prioritizing all have elements of delay, yet none means the same as procrastination. Since its first appearance in the English language in the sixteen century, procrastination has identified not just any delay but an irrational one — this is, when we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.
Steel uses the later sections of the book to talk through his procrastination equation, which is:
Motivation = (Expectancy x Value)/(Impulsiveness x Delay)
He identifies motivation as the opposite of procrastination, and that a lack of motivation is a result of troubles with expectancy (such as you expect to fail at the task, so you don’t do it), value (such as you don’t value the work you’re supposed to do, so you don’t do it), or impulsiveness (I explain this one in more detail below).
The book provides tips for overcoming these three roots of procrastination with “action items.” If you’ve read any books or articles on procrastination in the past, the suggestions Steel provides are all ones you’ve seen before: Watch inspirational movies, visualize a positive outcome, identify that you’re procrastinating, positively frame outcomes, do hardest work when you are most alert, keep up your energy levels, reward yourself for reaching milestones, remove temptations and distractions, use specific language when setting goals, break down long-term goals into multiple milestones, schedule time for tasks, etc. In fact, I don’t think there are but one or two tips we’ve never covered on Unclutterer.
As I mentioned earlier, though, the “action items” wouldn’t be why you would read the book. It’s the first part of the book exploring the research, history, and forms of procrastination that make this book worth your time.
One of the items I found most interesting in the book is the discussion of types of procrastination. Steel’s research led him to discover that the more impulsive a person is, the more likely she is to procrastinate:
People who act without thinking, who are unable to keep their feelings under control, who act on impulse, are also people who procrastinate.
Delayed gratification isn’t an option for many procrastinators. If given the choice between watching television or studying for a test, they’ll watch television because it will be instantly gratifying. Even if performing well on a test will be more gratifying, they are unable to ignore the temptation in the present. I had never thought of procrastination as an impulse control issue until reading Steel’s book. This discovery will certainly color (for the better, I hope) my future advice about fighting procrastination.