Ask Unclutterer: Prioritizing relationships after the birth of a baby

Reader Nichole submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I both have large families that we need to travel to see. We also have a large network of friends. We both value these relationships immensely and [try to] make them a priority in our lives. We are expecting in August, my husband is finishing up a degree now, and I am working full time and a doctoral student on the side. We also have 2 dogs that we love to pieces and we enjoy spending time at home with them.

Many of our friends and family members are celebrating big events this year — weddings, graduations, etc. They would also like to see us as much as possible before and after the baby is born. My question is do you have any tips to balance the needs and desires of ours and our loved ones to visit and spend quality time together without overrunning our weekends and our budget? I feel pulled in too many directions. We have stuff to do at home, have a very tight budget (that I manage well, but still), and enjoy being home together, we would like to see our local friends and leave time for impromptu summer BBQs and hikes, but the people and the events that also require our attention feel too important to miss.

I don’t know if this is an issue of priorities, budget, or too many close relationships (that has always been such a blessing in the past!), but it is stressing me out having to choose between my loved ones and feeling like there is not enough time left for myself. Any ideas?

The truth of the matter is that all of this will naturally work itself out, regardless of any advice I give. When you chose to have a baby you prioritized your growing family over your friends, and the changes that are to come will reflect this decision. You didn’t decide to get rid of your friends, but your relationships with them will be different — some friendships stronger, and others will weaken. So, instead of advice, I’ll explain what the next three years of your life will probably resemble (something I wish someone would have done for me):

In your last six weeks of pregnancy, you’re simply not going to be able to travel long distances to see friends and family members. Even if your doctor gives you permission to travel that close to your due date, you likely won’t have the desire. You won’t be sleeping well, you’ll constantly feel like you have to pee, and standing on your feet for hours on end at a wedding reception won’t be something you’ll want to do. You also might have a strong desire to nest and spend time getting the house ready for its newest addition. Plus, your little one could decide to arrive early and thwart all your last-minute plans. All of my friends who have been pregnant say the last few weeks of pregnancy are physically draining, and I believe them.

Then, your child will arrive and life will be hectic for two months. You may go out a couple times with local friends, just to prove to yourself you can do it, but mostly people will come to you during this time. If friends and family members offer to make you dinner or do your laundry or wash your dishes during this time, take them up on their offers. (You can return the favor at some point.) Your dogs will probably be very jealous that there is a baby getting all your attention, so be prepared to spend daily time with them to help keep their behavior under control.

If you and your child are healthy, things become easier during the three to nine month range in comparison to those first two months. Your social life will perk back up and traveling will be relatively simple. The Holidays might be a perfect time for you to travel to see family — but if you plan to go by airplane, be sure to check with your child’s doctor first. A long car ride might be better suited for your specific little one’s ears (and easier to transport all the baby gear).

The big hit to your social life will most likely happen when your child becomes mobile. Even though your child-less friends will say they love your baby, the novelty starts to wear off when your kid can break their stuff. Family members and friends with children seem to be less annoyed by toddlers, so your social life will probably veer toward these relationships. As a result of this period, I’ve certainly become closer to my parents, which is a wonderful benefit. Also, this time is so much fun with a little one because they start to be less like a blob and more interactive with vibrant personalities and crazy preferences.

There are babysitters you can pay to watch your child in the evenings and on weekends while you socialize with friends (ranging between $15 to $20 an hour where I live) — and I recommend having a date night with your husband at least two to four times each month and some alone time for yourself, too — but you probably won’t use a babysitter as much as you think you will. It’s not just a money issue, but a priority issue, especially if you both work outside the home and your child is in daycare for eight to 10 hours a day. Time with your child will be rare (maybe only two hours when he/she is awake each weekday), and passing up those awake moments can be difficult.

You’ll notice another shift in your social life around age two and three, when your child starts demanding play dates with specific friends from preschool and getting invited to birthday parties. You’ll befriend your child’s friends’ parents, and you’ll start to hang out all together. Your social life will be active again, but in a different way. Your family will also demand that all major holidays and vacations are spent with them (because they want to hang out with your cool kid), and they will be hurt if you don’t come to visit or have them to your place. (This is often less of an issue if your parents already have a slew of grandkids.) This also might be when you decide to have another child and start the cycle all over again.

Children are amazing, and you and your husband will love being parents, but your social life will change to reflect your new priorities. My advice is to jam pack your social schedule this May and June, ask friends and family to come to you July through October, make plans to see family at the Holidays in November and December, and then expect to see more of your local friends in January through May of next year. After May 2012, you’ll just have to follow your little one’s lead. Schedule daily time with your pets to keep their jealousy under control. And, most of all, enjoy the blessing of your larger family as much as possible.

Thank you, Nichole, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Check back in with me in a couple years and let me know how things worked out for you. Also, check the comments to see what other readers have to say and if their experiences are like what I described.

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: Standing desk in a cubicle

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Jeffrey Abbott’s reconfigured cube:

Research abounds that sitting all day isn’t good for your health. As a result, a lot of desk workers are incorporating standing desks into either part or all of their workspaces. In this week’s featured workspace, Jeffrey Abbot has transformed his cubicle desk into a standing desk with the help of a homemade riser.

I’m sticking with my traditional desk and simply making sure I get up at least once each hour and move around the office. If you’ve been thinking about a standing desk, though, but didn’t know how to make it happen in your workspace, maybe Jeffrey’s uncluttered standing hack could work for you?

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.

AwayFind launches new features to help people curb their addiction to checking email

When I go on vacation, I’m a loyal AwayFind user. The service makes it so I don’t have to check email while I’m traveling, but I still receive emergency messages via text message (or IM, a secondary email account, or a phone call). Instead of being tethered to my email while I’m supposed to be relaxing, I can actually relax because I know only the very important stuff will get through to me.

We’ve previously written about AwayFind’s basic service, so today I just want to discuss a cool new feature that was released on Tuesday. The new service is called “People I’m Meeting Today.”

This feature isn’t really for folks on vacation, but is great for consultants, real estate agents, and anyone who is regularly running from client site to client site. To activate the “People I’m Meeting Today” feature, you link your digital calendar to AwayFind and then set a notification period. If a person you’re meeting with emails you right before your upcoming meeting, you’ll get a text message or phone call. This is extremely helpful if the meeting time or location changes at the last minute, and you’re already headed to the meeting.

Another feature, called “Alarm,” was also released on Tuesday, but I haven’t yet tried it. It’s an iPhone-only service, and it actually rings the phone’s alarm whenever you receive contact from a specific person. For example, if you are waiting on a message about your dream job, instead of checking your phone every few seconds, an alarm will sound if the person contacts you in any way — call, text, instant message. You can have the ringer off on your phone, and the alarm will still sound if the VIP calls you.

AwayFind isn’t free (which is why I only use it when I’m on vacation), but, to be fair, it’s also not very expensive ($15 per month or $140 per year). You can try the basic service for 30 days for free to see if it works for you. And, it should go without saying, but AwayFind isn’t compensating me in any way to write this, I’m sincerely a fan of the product. I’m specifically happy about their commitment to helping people get over their addiction to constantly checking email.

Unitasker Wednesday: Woozie

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Oh, Woozie, who is your intended target market? Who needs you? Regular wine drinkers know better than to pour more wine into their glasses than they can consume before the drink gets too warm. And, if I’m to believe fancy music videos, people who party on yachts and tropical beaches can afford wine buckets and coolers to keep bottles chilly.

Maybe guests at the Royal Wedding Reception will have these on their wine glasses as they stroll through the gardens? If so, I bet there is a fight over who gets the leopard print.

Thanks to reader Matheus for sharing this unitasker with us.

Three uncluttering projects you can probably do right now

Getting started with the uncluttering process may feel overwhelming. If you’re new to uncluttering, you may feel like there is too much to do and the process will take too much time. You might have a lot to do, and it may take awhile to get through everything, but the end result is worth it and the process isn’t difficult.

A few simple and quick uncluttering projects might be all you need to get you moving:

  1. The front of your refrigerator. If you have a magnetic refrigerator, the front of it might be covered with expired coupons, old school lunch menus, damaged pictures, and broken magnets. Quickly pull everything off your refrigerator and only put back those things that belong on your refrigerator. Anything that is expired, out of date, broken, or damaged certainly shouldn’t go back up, but you’ll have to decide what else does. Maybe nothing will be returned and keeping the front of your refrigerator clear will be your new normal?
  2. A bulletin board. Whether you’re at home or work, uncluttering a bulletin board can be a great little project. Very similar to the front of the refrigerator, bulletin boards are where old extension and phone trees linger, warped pictures, and memos from 2007. Get rid of all the clutter and keep only the things that really belong on the bulletin board. When you’re hanging items back on the board, be sure not to overlap any vital information and put things where you can actually see them when you need them.
  3. Stray item roundup. Pens, shoes, pony tail holders, or paperclips may be items strewn about your office or home. Whatever item seems to be out of place everywhere, round up all the same item and put it in its proper place. At the end of a workday, I might have 10 different pens on my desk, so I do a daily pen roundup.

Remember the aphorism: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Take on a few simple and quick uncluttering projects each day, and eventually your office and home will be clutter free.

Follow @SimpliFried on Twitter for a chance to win a Le Creuset French Oven

Today I am excited to announce that our sister site, SimpliFried, is giving away a versatile Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven, which typically retails around $240. Plus, if you are the winner of our giveaway, you get to pick from the nine available colors. They really are wonderful multitaskers.

How to enter to win: Entering to win is simple. All you need to do is follow @SimpliFried on Twitter. If you aren’t already on Twitter, create an account and then follow us @SimpliFried.

The full contest rules are available here, on SimpliFried.

In the last few weeks at Simplifried, we’ve posted some great recipes and cooking-related tips:

Confused about how to boil water? Is your refridgerator running? Shouldn’t you go catch it? Head on over to Simplifried to have all your cooking related inquires answered, or follow @SimpliFried on Twitter.

Switching out seasonal clothing

If you live in an area of the world that experiences four seasons, this is the time of year when you’re switching out your cold weather clothes for your warm weather ones (or the other way around if you live in the southern hemisphere). Before you pack away your winter coat and hat, take a few minutes and make sure you’re keeping clutter out of storage and also protecting your clothes so you won’t be unpacking clutter in the fall.

Ask these questions of the clothing:

  • Did I wear it in the past six months? Any item of clothing you didn’t wear in the past six months should be a strong candidate for the donation pile. Exceptions to this might be a black wool suit you wear to funerals, but you were very lucky not to lose someone close to you in this winter. However, if an item of clothing is trendy and you didn’t once put it on your body, it should probably be donated to charity.
  • Is it clean? Do not pack anything away that has been worn and not cleaned. Pests love to snack on dead skin cells, so clean everything you plan to pack away for the summer.
  • Is it damaged? If an article of clothing is damaged, it needs to be fixed before putting it into storage. Give yourself a week to do the repairs yourself. If you don’t make the repairs in a week, send the clothes out to a tailor to be professionally repaired or get rid of the item of clothing because you may not care enough about it to even have it fixed.
  • Will it still be in style in six or eight months? If you already know the trend has passed, and you care about trends, it’s time to get rid of the piece of clothing.
  • Does it pass the red velvet rope test?

Only donate to charity clothes that are in good condition. Any piece of clothing that has seen better days can be marked as rags. Many charities that accept clothing also collect rags, so you can make both donations at the same time. Just be sure to call ahead to confirm that the charity is currently accepting both types of donations.

When storing clothing:

  • Pack the clothes loosely into an air-tight, thick plastic container. Pests will eat through cardboard and fabric containers in seconds. Plastic containers keep out the smaller pests (like moths) and slow down larger ones (like mice).
  • Pack pest deterrents in with your clothes. Freshly sanded cedar chips or blocks, lavender sachets, and other anti-pest products will help to keep pests out of your stored clothes.
  • Store clothes in pest-free areas, as best as you can. In other words, if you know you have mice in your garage, it’s probably best not to store your clothes in the garage.
  • Clean, clean, clean. Again, remember that pests love dirty clothes. Everything you store for the season should be clean before packing it away for the summer.

Curbing distractions when you work in an open office

Similar to the open classroom trend in the 1970s, open offices became a popular layout design in the 1990s and continuing to today for businesses wanting to increase collaboration, break down hierarchical barriers, and save on overhead (cubicle and permanent walls are more expensive than no walls). For all of their advantages, even the biggest proponents of the open office layout admit there are some downsides to their structure — no privacy, constant noise, usually messy (no one takes ownership of shared spaces), and endless opportunities for distractions.

I’ve worked in a few open offices, and have been able to experience their benefits and disadvantages over the years. I currently work in an open office, and greatly prefer the setup to the alternative. There are certainly distractions, though, and to keep them at bay I usually employ one (or more) of these methods for tuning out the noise when I really need to focus:

  • Pick up and move. If you can find a quiet area of the building to retreat to for an hour or two, and the equipment you need to do your work can transport with you, head to the hideout. Conference rooms, lobbies, and the coffee shop around the corner can be good options for finding a little solace. You can’t run away for the whole day, or even days on end, but a short time away from the noise can be beneficial.
  • Wear ear phones. Even if you aren’t listening to music, the ear phones act as a muffler and send the message to your coworkers that you don’t wish to be disturbed. If ear phones aren’t acceptable in your corporate culture, invest in a good pair of ear plugs to wear when you really need to focus. (To hear your phone when it rings, you may need to forward your office calls to your cell phone and then turn the ringer to vibrate.)
  • Don’t go out of your way to have a super-inviting workspace, at least not all the time. Don’t have a candy bowl on your desk or wind-up toys or novelty gadgets. Keep supplies like staplers and sticky notes in your desk drawer so coworkers aren’t always looking to you for these materials. In other words, don’t tempt your coworkers with a reason to interrupt your work.
  • Come in early. If you know you have a big project on your schedule for the day, come in an hour or two before the rest of the office. No one will email you, call you, or even know you’re there working.
  • Have a clearly marked and empty inbox. If people know where they can set paperwork or materials so you will see them, they don’t have to hand you the items. Your coworkers won’t always use the inbox, but they can’t use it if you don’t have one.

Additionally, there are ways you can create fewer distractions for your coworkers:

  • Avoid using speakerphone at all costs. Even if you’re the boss, no one likes listening to your phone conversations.
  • Turn the volume down on your phone’s ringer and earpiece. Again, no one likes listening to your phone conversations.
  • Don’t call out to coworkers. Get up and walk over to someone if you need to speak with her, unless there is some kind of emergency where yelling is appropriate.
  • Respect the earphones. Email or instant message someone who is wearing earphones if your communication is not vital. Your coworker can respond when he isn’t focusing so intently.
  • Use an inbox. If someone has an empty (or mostly empty) inbox, use it for paperwork or materials instead of interrupting her work.

Do you work in an open office? Have you ever worked in an open office? Share your tips in the comments for curbing distractions in an open office environment.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

2009

2008

Ask Unclutterer: Photographing sentimental objects

Reader Mary submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I’ve noticed that one of the main pieces of advice you give to people looking to reduce or corral sentimental clutter is to photograph it and then toss the original item. I have to admit I am baffled by this. I cannot think of a single “memory” item I have retained where simply having a photograph of it would be as valuable as having the original. This does not include things like photographs and documents, where scanning does make sense to me since it’s about the information, but not the physical object–I’m talking about 3D objects. Could you give me some examples of the types of items you have found photographing useful for? Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who can let go of the sensory experience of holding a memory in my hand.

Mary, my guess is you are better at letting go of things than I am. Your home probably isn’t being overrun with items you deem sentimental. You likely only retain an amount you can manage and honor appropriately. The reason the advice is baffling to you is because you can’t imagine replacing your valuable sentimental items with a less valuable photograph, which is healthy.

The problem I have — and many of our readers, too — is that we want to keep all items with any sentimental attachment, even the stuff we don’t value more than a photograph. Before I started my uncluttering journey, I had every handbill anyone had handed to me on the street when I was on a vacation. They were sentimental, because they reminded me of the vacation, but they weren’t the most valuable trinkets from my vacations. I actually value a photograph of these handbills more than the real objects, so the decision to photograph and get rid of them was simple.

The decision to replace a sentimental object with a photograph should be based on your answers to the following questions:

  1. Would an image of the object recall the same memory as the physical object?
  2. Would you value an image of the object the same as the object or more than the object?

If “yes” is your answer to both questions, photograph the object and get rid of it. If “no” is your answer to both questions, find a way to feature the object in your home. If your answers are split, take a photograph of the object and store the object in a taped-up box in your garage or storage space for six months. If six months have passed and you’ve never accessed the box to look at the object, you should be fine with just keeping the photograph and getting rid of the original object.

Thank you, Mary, 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.

Workspace of the Week: Mint condition modern

This week’s Workspace of the Week is John Megadeth’s home office:

Organized is not synonymous with new, and this week’s workspace is a perfect example of how older furniture can continue to work perfectly in the present. Using a desk from the middle of last century, John Megadeth has achieved a wonderful, stylistic look for his home office (and not a cable in sight!).

From the photo’s description:

The makeover began last summer with the purchase of the mighty tanker desk. With this piece, I began to really get into mid-century industrial furniture. With the addition of an awesome desk lamp (which we searched high and low for), and a great desk chair with matching side chair, the office is coming together well.

Unlike many of the people whose work spaces I see, I am not a computer programer. I’m a Technical Writer for a major-US airline here in North Texas, but I (unfortunately) don’t need to work from home. Our computer is mainly for everyday use.

Thank you, John, for such sharing your workspace with us.

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.

Links for April 21, 2011

These items caught my attention over the past couple weeks, and I wanted to share them with you. They weren’t large enough to stand on their own as full posts, so I gathered them together in a link roundup:

  • The company Electrolux sponsored nine teams at the Domus Academy in Milan to design the kitchen of the future. The concepts are pretty impressive, especially for small space and storage design. Electrolux ReSource.
  • The show Clean House is looking for cluttered homes to be made over for future episodes. The show is filming next season in the greater Los Angeles and New York City areas, and to be considered you must own your home and at least two adults must live in the place. If you want to be on the show, email your name, address, phone number, list of everyone in the house and relationship to them, photos or videos of three rooms in your home that are messy, and a brief explanation for why you want to be on the show to Rose at [email protected] for LA consideration and Amy at [email protected] for NYC consideration. You must submit your email by tomorrow, April 22, 2011.
  • SwissMiss featured a great little product that bands your writing utensils to your favorite notebook, clipboard, or book. The pencil holders are called Clever Hands and they’re made by an artist on Etsy. I think these would be a great organizing tool for students.
  • A website, hysterically named BookshelfPorn, features daily pictures of (usually) organized bookshelves from amazing libraries around the world. After our post earlier this month about keeping clutter off your bookshelf, I thought you all might enjoy seeing these (mostly) amazing solutions.
  • My friend Julie Bestry, a professional organizer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently wrote a post for the Metropolitan Organizing website on how to become a Certified Professional Organizer. If you’ve ever thought about a career as a professional organizer or are already a professional organizer and want to be a CPO, I highly recommend checking out her post.
  • Another professional organizer friend of mine, Allison Carter based in the Atlanta area, has a quick post on uncluttered gift ideas for moms for this upcoming Mother’s Day.
  • Last August, NPR featured a 40-minute segment on Fresh Air exploring “Digital Overload.” It’s a long segment, but it’s interesting as it looks at people’s addiction to multi-tasking.