A sleek and streamlined multipurpose piano

For as long as we have been married, I’ve told my husband I want a piano. We haven’t purchased one because pianos take up a lot of space, and when you live a relatively minimalist lifestyle, space is limited. Pianos also require professional movers to transport, have to be tuned annually (or more often, based on the model), upset your neighbors when you practice if you share a wall/floor/ceiling, and they don’t fit through all doorways. Even though I regularly said I wanted a piano, I didn’t really want one — at least not a traditional piano.

Then came along our tenth wedding anniversary and my amazing husband found the perfect gift for a minimalist who constantly said she wanted a piano.

This is the Roland DP-990. It is a digital piano with 88 full-size, weighted keys that folds up to be a narrow (less than 14″ deep) side table.

These pictures do not properly illustrate how inconspicuous this piano is. It isn’t obvious it is a piano when it is closed up and used as a side table. In addition to its powers of transformation, it doesn’t require professional movers to relocate. My husband and I easily carried it into the house and assembled it. Since it is digital, it doesn’t have to be tuned. You can turn down the volume or plug headphones into its jack so that no one else can hear you while you practice. It even comes with clips on the back of the unit that hide the two cables so it’s not obvious it is a digital piano. It’s sleek, practical, beautiful, and so much more convenient than a regular piano.

My husband purchased an adjustable piano bench that folds flat for storing in our coat closet when we want the piano to be used as a table. This makes the piano even more small-space friendly (and kid friendly, since my son and I are significantly different heights). The lid that covers the keys also has a slow-drop mechanism, perfect for not squashing a toddler’s fingers.

If you’ve been looking for a piano to work with your streamlined and/or uncluttered lifestyle, I recommend considering a piano like the Roland DP-990. I really like the way it sounds and the way it fits into our home and lifestyle. I’m also thankful to my husband for being such a conscientious anniversary gift giver and finding exactly the right gift for this Unclutterer. (He also got it on sale through one of our local piano stores because there is a newer model than this one now available — the DP-990F — so be sure to check for discounts and special offers.)

All of the images are from Roland. The ones I took in our house didn’t come out well at all.

Ask Unclutterer: The connection between surroundings and perspective

Reader Tom submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I don’t buy it. I read “Clutter can kill creativity and innovation” and don’t believe a word of it. I can work if my desk is a mess. The “scientific research” is preposterous. I don’t need a minimalist workspace to be creative or innovative. Explain that.

Tom, you don’t need scientific research to prove what you already know to be true: Your surroundings influence the way you work and live, regardless of if you are aware of it or not.

Whenever my office or home are a mess I think about the drive from the Kansas City airport to my hometown to remind myself of how important my environment influences my work, life. It takes a little more than an hour to get from the airport to my mom’s house in Kansas, but the trek is more about transforming one’s perspective than ticking off minutes on a clock. The hectic, metropolitan energy carried through the airport gives way to a raw, rural world as the car travels west along Interstate-70.

Out there, trees are pruned by years of savage winds and spirited rains instead of manufactured gardening tools. Tall grasses wave from their chalky dirt, as if to welcome you to this barren, yet beautiful, golden landscape.

Evidence of man’s presence and dominance of the land appears on the rolling hills with water towers and grain silos every 15 or 20 miles. The smooth highways, road signage, and farm houses are less jarring reminders that people call this place home.

Life in my hometown feels heavier and more exposed than it does in the DC suburbs. You can feel callouses when you shake a person’s hand. People speak honestly and candidly, even to strangers. You can’t be anonymous, rather you have an obligation to carry your burdens and the burdens of your family and neighbors. Life isn’t better or worse or backward or calmer in Kansas — it’s simply different, unprotected. I’m different, less guarded, when I’m there.

When I talk to my Kansas family on the phone from my east coast suburban house with my suburban manicured lawn, I’m not instantly transformed into the person I am when I am there in person. My mind and body know I’m only a few blocks from a Starbucks and a Metro ride away from Congress. My perspective is heavily influenced by the concrete, steel, glass, and seemingly endless river of shopping centers, office buildings, and neighborhoods with their developments’ names carved into stone. To make the anticipated quip, it’s obvious I’m not in Kansas anymore.

If you think your environment doesn’t influence your perspective, imagine the experience of attending a game in a sports stadium. Being at the venue is vastly different than watching the game on your television at home. You’re immersed in the smell of the popcorn from the concession stand, experience the same temperature as the players on the field, and feel the cheers from the crowd.

There are other scientific studies different than the one referenced in “Clutter can kill creativity and innovation” supporting these same conclusions, but you don’t need to read them. You already know that you feel differently walking along a beach on a warm spring day looking out over the ocean than you do waiting in a crowded line at the DMV. An organized, comfortable room easily instills in you a sense of calm and clarity that takes longer to achieve (if at all) in a chaotic space. Without clutter, there are fewer things to distract you from focusing on what is important to you. It might not be impossible to be creative or innovative in a cluttered office — but, it certainly is more difficult. Why make things more difficult than they need to be?

Thank you, Tom, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to provide you with a sufficient response. Be sure to check the comments for even more insight into this issue from our readers.

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: Dutch details

This week’s Workspace of the Week is iBSSR’s minimalist Mac office space:

This selection is located in a minimalist house recently built in Parkstad Heerlen, the Netherlands. (It’s in the southern Limburg province of the Netherlands.) The name of the house is “Minimum to the Max,” which I believe also aptly describes the feel of this room. In the desk and workspace area, there are only computers, desks, task lighting, and chairs. Likely, when the space is in use, there are also project materials strewn about the desks. However, at the end of the day, all items are put away and stored on the bookcase. The bookcase is built into the wall and was part of the original design of the home. Without the bookcase, the space would feel empty or impersonal. With the bookcase, the space transforms into an inspiring studio that can provide clarity and creativity. The long window that runs along the wall opposite of the bookshelf is also nice for bringing natural light into the space. Thank you, iBSSR, for sharing your minimalist space 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.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Pumpkin Gutter

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

Halloween is less than a week away and gourds of all shapes and sizes are popping up in fields and on dining tables and adorning stoops and front porches. These gourds may be small, hefty, orange, yellow, green, brown, round, club shaped, bottle shaped, painted, or carved. One thing is for certain — Americans love gourds in late October. Gourds! Gourds! Gourds!

If you have plans to carve your gourd into a jack-o-lantern, I’m sure you have acquired all your special pumpkin-carving tools: knives and ice cream scoop. If you’re a fancy pumpkin carver, you’ve probably also put that grapefruit spoon to use on “shadow” work. (Look at that, grapefruit spoons have more than one purpose!) The really hardcore among you, however, might also whip out your drill and attach the Pumpkin Gutter drill bit!

This bad boy will gut the innards out of your pumpkin faster than you can say, “Why do I need this when I can use an ice cream scoop?”

Granted, the video demonstration of the tool is pretty kick arse and if you have dozens of gourds to gut this Halloween, or if you’re a professional gourd artist like my friend Angela Lexow, I can see how this device could be useful (surprisingly, the Amazon reviews are all sincere five-star rankings). I’m just sticking with my ice cream scoop, though, as I’m usually a one- or two-gourd gutting gal each Halloween. Plus, ye olde ice cream scoop allows me to put my biceps to work scooping and scraping out all those guts.

Our appreciation goes to reader Danielle for introducing us to this seasonally appropriate unitasker. Happy (early) Halloween!

Don’t procrastinate — create an “In case of …” file today

A little over a week ago, my paternal grandmother had a stroke and sadly passed away a few nights later. She was 102 and had an awe-inspiring life, so mixed with our family’s sorrow was a celebration of a spectacular woman. Unfortunately, also among the sorrow and celebration was some stress.

Even though my grandmother had her proverbial “affairs in order” since the time she was 93 — burial plot purchased, funeral home under contract, ceremony officiant chosen, Last Will and Testament and estate papers organized and properly filed — there were still people to notify, a death certificate to be obtained and filed with numerous state and private entities, papers to sign, bills to be paid, a large family to gather, a funeral and meal to plan, and all of her belongings removed from her nursing home. She did as much as possible to alleviate her family’s anxiety by having as many details coordinated as she could, but some stress remained. I can’t imagine how chaotic the past 10 days would have been had she not been so well organized.

I know I wrote about it many times in August, but now seems like an extremely relevant moment to remind everyone to create an “In case of …” file. Being organized has many personal benefits, but having an “In case of …” file is the best way you can benefit the other people in your life. In fact, it may be the most important area of your life to have organized. Obviously, the hope is that none of your family and friends will have to look at this file until you are 102 or older. Just the same, make the file now. It is good to have the file in cases of illness or injury, not just in case of death, for others to help you carry out your responsibilities while you recover. You want to do as much as possible to relieve the stress on the people who care about you in case something awful does happen.

Articles to help you create an “In case of …” file:

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

2009

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Chef’n Garlic Zoom
    Most multi-tasking or high-utility kitchen products have simple names that begin with lowercase letters: skillet, oven, knife, plate. A good sign that something might be a unitasker is when its name is cutesy and trademarked: JerkyXpress, Plater Grater, Nostalgia Cotton Candy Maker. By all accounts, the Chef’n Garlic Zoom is destined for unitasker greatness based on the fact that it includes a random apostrophe and the word zoom.
  • Space-saving cheese grater
    The Joseph Joseph brand cheese grater folds flat for storage and up for use. It’s sturdy and comes in a handful of colors. It’s great for small-space living.

2008

Ask Unclutterer: Storing large brim hats

Reader Joanna submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

As I was cleaning this weekend I was completely stumped when I tried to figure out how to store the three hats my husband and I own. Not baseball caps or winter hats, but two cowboy hats and my wide-brimmed sunhat. We use these regularly and don’t want to get rid of them. None of our drawers are tall and wide enough, and none of the hats have loops for hanging them on the wall. Any suggestions?

Like you, I have a similar large hat storage requirement. Everyone in our house has at least two cowboy hats (summer and winter), my son has a hard plastic fireman’s hat, and I own two large sun hats. Currently, we each have a large hat box where these hats live in our closets. I covered my hat box with contact paper for fun, but you could easily skip this step and keep the box plain. And, for good measure, I throw some cedar chips into all of the boxes as a precaution against pests.

If you want daily or even weekly access to your hats, you might be interested in a rack that is more suitable for a location beyond your closet.

I like the idea of a countertop hat display, like what you might see in a retail store, and one costs less than $30:

In an entryway, you could hang a piece of pegboard, paint it to match your wall color, and then attach hat brackets to the pegboard for less than $2 a piece:

In our previous house, we had an Eames Hang-It-All that was great for hats — but it retails for $200, so you’ll probably want to go with a less expensive option:

Finally, if you’re artistic, maybe a few styrofoam mannequin heads ($10 each) could work with your decor:

Be sure to check the comments for even more hat storage ideas from our readers. Thank you, Joanna, 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.

Unitasker Wednesday: Retro POP Handset

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

My friend’s son recently asked her what games she liked to play on her phone when she was a kid. Oh, if only calling 867-5309 repeatedly were a game …

Anyhoo, this week’s Unitasker selection is one way you can teach your children that we all used to have dumb-phones instead of smart ones. Other than teaching your children this lesson, however, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want to use the microphone on your telephone, iPad, or laptop when communicating digitally/wirelessly with someone else — or, you know, just use a wall or desk phone as an alternative. The Retro POP Handset is cute, though, and would certainly be a conversation piece. (Did you catch my really bad pun right there? A conversation piece? Wacka wacka!):

Thanks to reader Crystal for leading us to this novel unitasker.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

  • Simple, utilitarian, uncluttered cooking ideas
    Unless you’re a professional chef or have super powers, your cooking routines are likely similar to mine; you’re interested in finding meals you can make when you’re wearing your proverbial Cook’s hair net instead of your Chef’s hat. Here are more than 100 ideas to get you cooking, uncluttered style.
  • Workspace of the Week: No-mayhem mudroom
    It’s not really a workspace, but it’s still an inspiring space — a narrow hallway that was transformed into a highly functional mudroom.

2009

2008

Simple strategies for changing a bad habit

For the month of October I’ve been trying to work on improving my posture. In the book Willpower, the authors reported on a study that found that simply reminding yourself to stand up straight can increase self-control and resolve in other areas of life. I’m waiting until the end of the month to evaluate my level of self control. In just two weeks, though, I have noticed a huge improvement in my posture, which is certainly a desired outcome.

In the comments to the post about setting my October resolution, reader Emily asked, “what are you planning to do to work on your posture?” This was a great question, seeing as changing any habit is difficult. What I am doing to help improve my posture might be beneficial to other people working on the same goal, or really anyone trying to change a bad habit. And, to be honest, so far the process has been pretty easy:

  • I’ve posted sticky notes around the house — bathroom mirror, front of microwave, computer monitor, inside of front door — with “Stand Tall!” written on them. I’ve had to change the notes a few times because it has been easy to stop seeing them after a few days. If you are trying to change any habit, you could easily write similar messages to yourself: Hang up coat! Make bed! Do the dishes! Put clothes in the hamper!
  • Dressing less casually. This is probably just me, but I tend to slouch less when I’m wearing nicer clothes. I keep telling myself I’m “dressing for success.” A similar external cue could work with helping achieve other goals. For example, washing the exterior of your car once a week could motivate you to keep the inside of it in a cleaner state.
  • Balancing a book on my head while sitting at my desk. I don’t do this every time I sit down to write, but I do it enough that I think it is helping. I use a hardcover book without the jacket on it because the cover’s fabric-like texture helps it stay on my head. I’m not exactly sure how this could translate to helping with another goal.
  • Abdominal, shoulder, and core exercises. The first week of October I was sore from switching up the muscles I regularly use in my belly, back, and shoulders. I decided to add a 15-minute core workout to my schedule three times a week. The muscle pain I was experiencing has gone, so I think it is helping. With other goals, identify a possible hurdle to success and instead of ignoring it, take care of it early on in the process.
  • Publicly declaring the goal. Letting all of you know about my posture improvement goal has added a bit of pressure I might not feel otherwise. For many other goals, I can see how announcing to your friends that you’re working on a specific change in habit could be beneficial.
  • I’ve also been giving myself a daily grade in my calendar as to how well I think I did on the goal. If I worked on standing up straight a fair amount and feel positive about my performance, I’ve awarded myself an A. Most days, especially those in the beginning, were mostly in the B or C range. Monitoring my actions has let me see that the process has become easier in the second week than it was in the first, which leads me to believe it will be even simpler in the last week of the month. This review process has definitely been beneficial.

What methods have you used to remind and motivate yourself to change a bad habit? Share your success strategies in the comments.

Clean your barbecue grill? Might want to wait until spring

I’m a fan of grilling all year round — even in the snow and ice of winter — but many people pack up their grills in the fall. If you’re someone who puts your grill away for the six cold months, consider the idea of not giving your grill a hardcore cleaning before putting it into storage.

The baked on crust that surrounds the metal on your grill grate will help protect the grate from rusting during the winter months. Rust can’t oxidize the metal grate if air and water aren’t able to directly come into contact with it. Instead of scrubbing the metal until it shines, take a clean, dry, cotton rag and wipe off all the large food crumbs and burned bits, but leave the black coating intact on the grate. Next spring, when you start up your grill for the first time, you can heat up the grate over the fire for 10 minutes and then scrub the grate thoroughly with a metal grill brush over the open flame (obviously wearing a really good oven mitt and using a grill brush that is up for the job). Fight the urge to do this type of deep cleaning now, though.

If you have a charcoal grill, you’ll want to empty any remaining ashes out of the bottom of your grill before storing it for the winter months. Please, be smart and only empty cold ashes from your grill so as not to hurt yourself or start a fire. Once the ashes are removed, use the same dry, cotton rag you used on the metal grate and wipe out the inside of the grill. It doesn’t need to be sparkling clean, you just want most of the ash out of the kettle of your grill. Again, the remaining ash will protect the interior of your grill from rusting during the winter months.

If you use a gas or electric grill, you can also use the dry, cotton rag to wipe down the cooking elements on the inside of your grill. Be careful not to damage them — a light touch is all you need. Gas grill owners will want to disconnect the tanks from the grill and return the empty to the rental company for a voucher. The voucher will let you start back up in the spring without having to pay another deposit for the tanks, and you won’t have to worry about storing the gas tank over the winter (something that can be dangerous if the tank isn’t completely empty).

You may want to dust off the exterior of your grill before storing it, but this step isn’t even all that important. It is important, however, that you cover your grill with a grill cover. The grill cover isn’t perfect, but it will help to keep most moisture out of your grill while it’s not in use. Moisture is the grill’s most common enemy, and you want to protect your grill from this adversary.

What you can give a good cleaning are all your grilling utensils. If any items need replacing, you may want to replace them now so you’ll be ready to go on the first warm day of spring. I like to replace the metal grill brush annually.

Ask Unclutterer: Hesitant to get rid of old computers because may need files off old machines

Reader K submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

We have a few computers that should be donated, but I’m deathly afraid of losing files that either weren’t migrated to the new machine or were created after the new machine was up and running (and therefore, not on the new machine).

Is there some sort of computer utility program that can compare the directories (and nested subdirectories) of one computer against those of another, to highlight differences (files, newer versions) so I can decide whether or not to keep or delete the files?

I could just recopy the files to the newer machine, but I really want to make a conscious decision to bring over files, not just by default.

After the comparison is done and the files are copied over (assuming there are some), I know it’s important to have the hard drive destroyed so we don’t let our personal data into anyone else’s hands. I also know it’s important to recycle the components, not dump them. We will do those steps only after I’m satisfied that there aren’t files (i.e., older photos, important random documents) that need to be saved first.

Oh, by the way, I’m talking about Windows computers, not Macs.

My assumption is that you are using a Windows 7 operating system since it has been the OS-du jour the past couple years. As a result of this assumption, I’d start by trying SyncToy 2.1, which is a free Microsoft program that works with Windows 7. (Free! Free!) It will help you to transfer documents from multiple old machines to your current machine and also compare all the files to identify duplicates. It’s easy to use and all you do is click on boxes to make decisions about your files.

When the comparison is complete, I recommend spending 15 minutes a day weeding through all the documents on your new computer. You no longer need to worry about duplicate files, but there are likely still files you transferred that you don’t need or want. Eventually, you’ll sort through all these old files, and your machine will be uncluttered. At this point, be sure to do a much needed backup of your computer to an external hard drive or online, or, better yet, both.

For new content you create on your new machine, consider using a method that regularly has you deleting unnecessary and temporary content. I like the method Brian Kieffer uses — it’s the one I detail in my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week — which he describes in detail in “Managing computer file clutter.”

Finally, when it’s time to say farewell to your old machines, check out “How to dispose of old electronics” for advice on how to delete data from your hard drives.

Thank you, K, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Be sure to check the comments for even more ideas from our readers.

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.