A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

  • 2010 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Organized gifts for kids
    A list of practical gifts for kids that they can unwrap, which help to keep their lives more organized.
  • Being organized before a doctor’s visit
    Doctors can be intimidating, even those with amazing bedside manners. It can be easy to be anxious and/or timid around them — especially when they’re wearing those impersonal white lab coats. A little organizing can help reduce these anxieties.
  • Review: Five Books
    What are the five books you should read to learn as much as possible about a specific subject? Five Books has the answer.
  • 2010 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Pampered grooming gifts for him
    There aren’t many gifts more practical than grooming items. All of these items are utilitarian and functional, but are luxurious enough that they’re likely not something a man in your life will routinely buy for himself. You can pamper him, and know the gift won’t clutter up his space.
  • 2010 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Kits
    A kit can be an extremely practical gift, one that could make a real difference in an emergency situation.

2009

2008

Unitasker Wednesday: Puzzle Sorters Puzzling Made EZ

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

While on a recent trip inside Barnes and Noble, reader Megan had reason to stop and pause. It wasn’t a book title that caught her eye, nor was it a glossy magazine cover. On this particular trip, it was a unitasker that tempted her to pull out her camera and snap a picture of the Puzzle Sorters Puzzling Made EZ:

For $17 you can be the proud owner of what she describes as:

… a set of 8 plastic (of course) “sorting trays” to assist in doing puzzles. Now you can put all the pieces of similar colors into these trays instead of putting them on the table like countless other puzzledoers have been doing for generations.

And, if square trays aren’t your style, you can also get them in oval!

At first, I thought maybe they were a teaching tool for young children. Except, the box and product description clearly state that they’re not appropriate for people under the age of 12. Like Megan, I’m stumped as to why someone would need these. If having sorting trays were really important, couldn’t saucers or salad plates (which you may already own and rarely use) or paper plates (100 for 1/3 of the price) work? At least with paper plates you could write on them to explain exactly what type of pieces you have in that pile. You can’t easily write in a non-permanent way on plastic trays.

Finally, I’m starting to find that any device with the word “EZ” in the title is usually worth considering for a unitasker submission (e.g. the EZ Cracker).

Thanks, Megan, for taking a few minutes out of your Barnes and Noble trip to share this with us.

2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: The kitchen

The kitchen is the heart of many homes. It’s a gathering place for meal preparation, for spirited conversations, and, if you’re like me, the best place to find a decent cup of coffee. The kitchen brings people together, and also helps us gain the energy necessary to make it through the day.

The obvious high utility items in the kitchen are the oven, stove top, refrigerator, and sink. After these workhorses come pots and pans, plates, drinking vessels, and silverware. If someone in your life needs any of these items to be replaced, I recommend getting his opinion on the matter. People have such strong personal preferences on these items, not getting the gift recipient’s input can end up wasting time and money for both of you.

The next segment of high utility kitchen items includes knives. If someone on your list is using damaged knives, her safety is at risk every day. Replacing these knives can greatly improve the quality of her life.

In the November issue of (image 9) Cook’s Illustrated, the test kitchen staff reported on the best and worst knife sets available for purchase in the U.S. market. In the article, their “testing confirmed that you are much better off shopping for knives à la carte; that way, you get only what you need.” They reported these to be the “six essential knives that fit nicely inside our favorite universal knife block”:

  1. The Bodum Universal Knife Block
  2. A pair of Shun/Kershaw Kitchen Shears
  3. A Victorinox 6-inch Flex Boning Knife
  4. A Victorinox 12-inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife
  5. A Wusthof Classic 10-inch Bread Knife
  6. A Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch Chef’s Knife
  7. And finally, a Wusthof Trident Classic 3-1/2-inch Paring Knife

The knives, sheath, and block (pictured below) are mostly inexpensive and the whole set can be combined for under $315.00. And, since it’s à la carte, you would only need to purchase the knives your gift recipient needs.

If all your gift recipient needs are his knives sharpened, this might be a good present, too. Where I live, the average price to have a blade professionally sharpened is $1 per inch of blade. To sharpen a 10-inch chef’s knife would cost $10 for that knife. National chain kitchen stores like Sur La Table often provide this service, but it is also a good idea to check Angie’s List to see if there is a respected professional knife sharpener in your area. The daring individual on your list might be up for the AccuSharp Knife Sharpener (not pictured below), which is available on Amazon for less than $9, to sharpen her own knives.

If knives aren’t an issue, but getting food on the table every night is stressful, consider (image 8 ) Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes cookbook. He does a wonderful job in this book discussing ways to set up meal plans for healthful and easy meals. Our family relies on many of these types of cookbooks to help us get food on the table without anxiety or arguments.

As part of our 2011 Gift Giving Guide, we also will have a special offer for The Six O’Clock Scramble meal planning and recipe service. In December we’ll provide all the details for how to get an Unclutterer discount when you purchase for someone on your list or as a gift for yourself.

If the person on your list already seems to have everything useful in the kitchen and isn’t stressed out about what to get on the table, a coupon from you to help him unclutter his cabinets or deep-clean his refrigerator might be a welcome (and free) gift. Obviously, such an offer isn’t perfect for everyone and must be given delicately, so as not to be taken as an insult. I know that immediately after becoming a mother, an offer like this would have been highly treasured.

Please add your suggestions for daily use kitchen gifts in the comments. The more ideas we can collect the more we can help someone looking for an uncluttered gift.

View the complete 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

Unclutterer’s 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Daily use, multi-use, high utility

Each year when putting together our Holiday Gift Giving Guide, we look for a theme to unify our selections. This year, we decided to focus on items that get a lot of bang for their buck. We want to suggest items that someone on your list might use daily or nearly every day. We’ve been referring to these as high utility gifts, and they’re amazing when you can find them.

Over the past five years, we’ve included many non-tangible gifts in our Gift Giving Guides — experiences, charitable giving, etc. — and we still think these are wonderful gifts to give. In fact, many of the gifts I plan to give this year don’t come in a box. Check out our 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007 Guides for dozens upon dozens of these types of suggestions.

However, just because something does come in a box, it doesn’t mean the gift is clutter. A high utility gift appropriately matched to the right person can improve his or her quality of life. If your mother is using rusty, warped, and unsafe knives in the kitchen, getting her new knives that will keep her out of the emergency room can be a big improvement to her daily cooking routine.

Stay tuned this week and next as we explore high utility gift giving. We have some terrific suggestions headed your way. And, if you’re ready to go shopping right now (it is CyberMonday, after all), check out our guides from past years for uncluttered inspiration: 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

Are the gifts you plan to give able to help the people on your list every day? Can the gift improve their quality of life? These are the questions we’re asking of each item in Unclutterer’s 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

View the complete 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

Unitasker Wednesday: Topping Tornado

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

Reader AMK sent us this unitasker that just might get the award for being the most unnecessary unitasker we’ve ever featured. Introducing, Wilton’s Topping Tornado:

The purpose of this gigantic plastic device is to evenly distribute sprinkles on top of an iced cupcake. You’re not missing anything, all it does is shoot sprinkles at a cupcake.

How to preserve photographs worth keeping in three simple steps

Today’s post is written by Sally Jacobs, the Practical Archivist. She has worked on archival collections at the Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division, the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives and American Girl. Thank you, Sally, for agreeing to share your amazing, in-depth knowledge of archival procedures with us.

Before I start talking about preserving heirloom photographs so they last as long as possible, I want to state the obvious: Every photograph in your collection is not an heirloom. In fact, some (most?) of them are photo clutter. If you’re in the process of sorting through your pictures to determine which ones are keepers and which ones aren’t, I recommend checking out the YouTube video I made to help free people from the myth that every print is a treasure. Now, on with the discussion of what to do with the pictures you want to keep …

Ancestor photos are less likely be photo clutter in your home, in part because they are more scarce then modern snapshots. Photography used to be much more expensive than it is today, which means Great Aunt Estelle didn’t have many throwaway shots. Perhaps your collection only includes one portrait of Great Great Uncle Milton — as a soldier or in his wedding suit — but even if it’s just one, you probably want to treat it well. (If you don’t want to keep the old ones, consider passing them along to a genealogist or DeadFred.com.) In addition to these older photographs, you may also have a handful of newer portraits you want to preserve, and this is the best way to keep all of them safe:

Three Simple Things You Can Do to Extend the Life of Your Heirloom Photographs

1. Handle your photos carefully and safely.

Ever wonder why archivists wear white gloves? I use mine so often I wash them and store them in my underwear drawer. Human hands contain oils and salts that can damage photographs, and cotton gloves are an easy barrier to protect photographs. If you’ve seen as many 19th century photos as I have, you’d never forget that a fingerprint that’s invisible today will eventually become an impossible-to-ignore brown stain in the future. White cotton gloves are a simple and inexpensive solution. You can buy them online from suppliers like Uline.com.

If you truly can’t stand to wear gloves while you work on your photographs, I have an alternate suggestion. Wash your hands with soap before you start working, and be sure to wash them again after you take any break. Also, don’t put on hand lotion until you’re finished working with your photos for the day. Other than that, be careful where you place your fingers and try to hold prints by the edges only.

2. Store them in the right spot.

I’ll skip the long boring lecture about temperature and relative humidity and cut to the chase. Like Goldilocks, you want a spot that’s not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, and not too dry. High temperatures speed up the chemical processes that cause damage. Here’s a sobering thought: The rate of decay doubles with each increase of 18ºF. Doubles! High humidity like you find in basements and attics encourages mold and mildew, which can permanently stain and destroy photographs. Fluctuating humidity can cause the photos to crack because the paper backing and the emulsion absorb moisture at different rates. Basements and attics are also at high risk for flooding, and we all know flooding is bad news for any kind of treasure.

So, what’s the right spot? An interior closet in a house that’s cooled in summer and heated in winter is a safe bet. Guest bedrooms and linen closets under stairs work for many of my clients. Under the bed can be a great location, as long as you aren’t putting your photo treasures next to a heating vent.

3. Choose high quality boxes for a longer life

Controlling temperature and humidity levels to a specific zone can be difficult and expensive to accomplish. Fortunately, you can offset what’s going on in a room by putting your photo treasures in archival boxes. This creates a micro-environment that offers protection from UV light damage, dust, and discourages pests. You can even use silica gel to remove excess moisture from the “micro-environment” of your box. Boxing up anything that is loose also protects your photos from folding, crimping, and collecting scratches that happen when a corner of one photo nicks off emulsion from a nearby print.

When I say better boxes, do I mean archival boxes? Well, yes and no…

Yes, in the sense that you want to use the kind of boxes used by professional archivists. But, also no, because the term archival is unregulated and therefore meaningless. Finding a product sold as archival tells you very little about whether it’s a safe environment for your photo treasures. You probably know already that acids will damage paper and photographs. However, a true archival box is both acid free and lignin free. Lignins are a by-product of the paper-making process, and if they aren’t removed they will cause the paper to become acidic over time, even if it’s acid free today.

When it comes to storing photographic prints and film (as opposed to letters and printed material) there is another factor you should consider for your storage materials. The safest boxes for storing photographs have passed the Photographic Activity Test, or PAT. This test is an independent third party test that uses accelerated aging to discover whether the box or envelope will interact with the photographs in any way. You can read more about the PAT in “What Archival Really Means,” an article/rant on my personal blog.

Where can you find PAT-passed materials? Probably not at your neighborhood stationery store or scrapbooking supplier. You can find boxes, envelopes and folders that have passed the PAT in a dizzying array of sizes from archival suppliers such as Gaylord.com, HollingerMetalEdge.com and TalasOnline.com. I also sell an entire kit on my website, if you don’t want to track down individual pieces. (Note from Erin: It’s a nice kit, it’s actually why I asked Sally if she wanted to write a guest post for us. I saw it and thought, “I could really use that.”) If you do right by your photographs, they’ll be around for future generations to enjoy.

And, since this week is Thanksgiving in the U.S., I recommend bringing along copies of your old photos to family gatherings — you can ask relatives to help you identify any unknown people and also enjoy looking at the images.

Have vacation brain at work? Try some of these mindless, but productive activities

It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving in the U.S. and if you’re at work, it’s very likely your brain isn’t. Oh look, Sharon from accounting brought in doughnuts! I really should talk about the game/movie I saw this weekend with ALL my coworkers! Now is a great time to make my holiday wish list! Shiny!

On a philosophical level, your employer is paying you to do a job, so you probably should be doing something work related. If you don’t have it in you to focus on creating a viable work product right now, consider doing a little mindless work that supports your work functions:

  • File. Put on headphones (if they are acceptable in your workplace), and start putting papers away where they belong. If all your papers are filed, review your files to make sure you’re not keeping any information that doesn’t need to be archived. Organize your papers so that they help you do your job.
  • Review your bulletin board. How recent are all those items hanging on the walls of your cubicle or bulletin board? Can you easily see all of the most vital information? Is the calendar from two years ago? Is there anything that can come down or be replaced?
  • Clean your phone and work surface. When was the last time you scrubbed either? The dust bunnies behind your monitor aren’t going to clean themselves.
  • Enter information off business cards. If you’ve recently acquired business cards from important contacts, enter the data into your address book.
  • Backup your computer. If it’s not done automatically, now is a great time to backup the information off your computer’s hard drive. Be sure to follow your employer’s system for doing this task.
  • Unclutter your bookshelves. Do you have any out-dated manuals or irrelevant reading materials taking up space on your bookshelves? Now is a great time to recycle, shred, or remove these items from your office.
  • Equipment check. Are you using all of your equipment in your office? Is it in its best possible shape? Could you benefit more by knowing how to better operate the equipment you do have? Make a request to have the item serviced or take the time to read the operator’s manual or get rid of anything you don’t use.
  • Restock. Do you need more tape, more pens, more notepads, or any more office supplies? Go “shopping” in the supply closet if you do.

Mindless work often gets a bad reputation as “not working,” but the reality is that you need some down time to let your brain process all that mindful work you are usually doing. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that “alternating between mindful work (work that requires intense thought and focus) and mindless work (routine activities that require very little processing power) enhances your efficiency and creativity.” In the end, a little mindless work might actually help you do a better job at producing your mindful work — I call that a win-win.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

2009

2008

Workspace of the Week: Bright and in the basement

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Michelle.the.last.nameless’ basement office:

Yes, you read it correctly, this is a basement office. The light color carpet on the floor, the white wood furniture, and the pale blue (or maybe it’s lilac?) paint on the walls helps immensely to brighten this space and make it an inviting office. The five large canvas images add personality to the room without taking up space on the work surface. Camera bags, flashes, papers, and pens all have a place to live on the bookshelves. And, I love that even the trash can is out of the way, but conveniently located under the desk. In Michelle’s notes, she mentions that her husband’s desk is identical to hers, adjoins to the left side of her desk, and sits in the next corner of the room. It looks like a wonderful setup for a shared office. Thank you, Michelle.the.last.nameless for your inspiring submission to our 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.

When to let chaos reign

Danielle LaPorte is in the midst of finishing work on her next book and recently tweeted the following:

Danielle’s perspective is wonderful. I know her home and work spaces are usually well organized, clutter free, and inspiring. While she is in crunch time with her book, though, she has let many of her minor responsibilities go for a few days as she focuses on what matters most to her. Her book and her family are her top priorities, and nothing is distracting her from these two things. She can see the big picture, knows eventually order will return, and isn’t letting herself feel any guilt over the secondary details.

When people turn to me for advice, often their questions begin with descriptions of very serious issues in their lives — physical limitations, sick family members, personal health concerns, financial difficulties, legal matters, major deadlines, and job security. After sharing these heavy anxieties, they will ask for guidance on handling clutter and being organized. In some cases, especially with long-term issues, turning to uncluttering and organizing can provide relief and improve the quality of life (especially with on-going physical limitations and financial difficulties). In most cases, however, the decision to turn to uncluttering and organizing is a distraction from what is really important. People want to avoid the serious problem or have lost sight of what matters most and can no longer see the big picture. It’s like an amplified desire a student might have to clean her apartment when she really should be studying for an exam taking place in a few hours. Stress can quickly cause someone to lose their clarity of priorities and sight of what really matters.

Regardless of the situation, my first piece of advice is to pause, take a deep breath, and remember uncluttering and organizing are not brain surgery. Unless a hoarding situation is immediately endangering someone’s life, clutter is typically not a life-or-death affair. Too-small clothes crammed into a stuffed closet or old magazines sitting on an end table will be fine if they sit a few days longer. Your bookshelf doesn’t have to be dusted right now. Your son can load the dishwasher using his haphazard method instead of the one you prefer and the sun will still rise tomorrow. Just take a break from whatever it is you’re doing and try to relax.

Once you’ve calmed a bit and have a clearer state of mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Right now, in this very moment, what really matters to you?
  2. Will uncluttering and organizing help you focus on these priorities, or are these actions avoidance or procrastination measures?
  3. Do you want to unclutter for the sake of uncluttering, or do you want to unclutter to help you focus on what really matters to you?
  4. If you delay uncluttering and organizing a few days/weeks/months will there be major repercussions, or will your situation actually improve if you focus on what really matters instead?

There is a time and place for uncluttering and organizing, but it usually isn’t when more important issues deserve your full attention. Focusing on the big picture and what really matters to you will help you gain perspective to know when is the right time for uncluttering and organizing, and when isn’t. Uncluttering and organizing are simply tools to help you achieve a remarkable life — they’re not the only tools in your workshop and they’re not what matters most to you. When calmer waters return, then is the time to put more effort into uncluttering and organizing.

Unitasker Wednesday: Fizz Saver 2-Liter Soda Soft Drink Dispenser

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

In theory, I don’t have issue with this week’s unitasker selection (the idea of not having flat soda is a good one). In practice, however, the Fizz Saver 2-Liter Soda Soft Drink Dispenser is an accident waiting to happen:

We all know that 2-liter bottles of soda are difficult to handle and unwieldy in smaller hands. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a full bottle of soda could sit on that itty bitty stand and not fall over or off the counter and make an enormous mess. On the first use, I would end up wearing every ounce of liquid in the bottle. Plus, there would be little drops of soda on the counter or floor beneath the dispenser that would create a sticky blob. Who knows what would happen at a party of junior high students and a half dozen of these?! Heck, just looking at them I’m tempted to have a soda fight!

I loved everyone’s entries for last week’s You write the commentary. You are a very creative lot of folks! But, alas, I had to pick a favorite.

Honorable Mentions
Ruth: “It’s like looking at Berlin after the wall went up … or Romeo and Juliet. Sad little cereal exiled from that lovely lake of milk. That little escape route on one end just doesn’t do it…these two aren’t lovers any more, they have to meet on supervised visits. Tear down that bowl! Make breakfast, not war!”

Marianne: “Would you want to eat out of something that was named after the Greek coins buried with the dead to secure passage to the afterlife? Or maybe named after a Swedish company involved in a major fraud scandal? (Source Wikipedia). But maybe that is what it’s all about: to swindle you out of your coins.”

My Favorite
J.P.’s fictional saga of getting revenge on cereal for the death of his mother: “… Now, each morning, I fill my Obol with milk, then slowly, oh so slowly, pour the cereal into the adjacent compartment. I want it to know whats coming. Drowning? Too good for cereal. Annihilation by mastication? Over too fast. No, the cereal must wait, sitting in its compartment, anticipating the suffering to come.”

To all who participated, thank you. I had a really great time reviewing the entires.

Clean and organize your refrigerator

Tomorrow, November 15, is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day in the U.S. I’m not really sure who decided to declare such a day, but my guess is a refrigerator manufacturer or food producer had something to do with it. I only know about it because of Hallmark’s Ultimate Holiday Site, which tracks the most absurd holidays. (Case in point, today is National Guacamole and Pickle Day.) Although zany, Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day makes a teensy bit of sense being so close to Thanksgiving — it is a good idea to make room in your refrigerator for all the food that will be needing space in the coming days.

When cleaning out a refrigerator that hasn’t been tended to in many months, I like to tackle it in the following manner:

  • Gather supplies. Two large trash bags nested one inside the other (food is heavy and a broken bag makes a huge mess) is a must. You’ll also want a bucket with fresh, warm (not hot) water and mild dish detergent with a sponge. Also, a roll of paper towels or a few clean hand towels are good to have with you to dry the shelves when you’re finished wiping them down, especially for the freezer. Finally, I recommend having a notepad and pen handy so you can create a shopping list as you work.
  • Purge all food past its prime. Working from top to bottom, clear out all food from your refrigerator that is expired, rotten, and not good for eating. If you don’t know if something is edible, check StillTasty.com. If a food is in a jar or bottle and you can’t find its expiration date, visit the company’s website. Many websites have sections where you can enter the item’s bar code and learn its shelf life information.
  • Wipe it down. Give all the walls and shelves of your refrigerator a firm but gentle scrubbing. Clean up all spills, leaks, and general yuckiness that can dirty up the inside of your refrigerator.
  • Organize. In addition to putting like items with like items (making it easier to retrieve foods, as well as remembering what items you have), consider employing some advanced organizing techniques. Add stackable, removable shelves or under shelf baskets to better separate items. Use shelf liners to make it easier to clean up future messes and to keep round foods from rolling. If your crisper is where foods go to mold, try removing your drawers so you won’t forget about your produce (if you’re a visual processor, this may really help you). Also, learn what the recommended cooling temperatures for your food are so you know where the best place is inside your refrigerator to store each item.
  • Clean the containers. Now is a great time to wash all the reusable food containers that may have been hiding storing rotted items.

While you’re working, it’s also nice to inspect the seals on your refrigerator. Are they letting air escape? If they are, you can likely replace them yourself for not very much money or effort. Check your manufacturer’s website for exact information on the replacement seal required for your specific refrigerator model.

If your workplace refrigerator is in need of a good cleaning, you still have time to organize a clean-up project for tomorrow. You may want to add rubber gloves to your list of supplies, though. You never know what science experiments are happening in the back of those shelves.

Random note: November 15 is also Sadie Hawkins Day, so if you are female you can ask a male to help you clean out your refrigerator and celebrate two bizarre holidays at once.