Clear the clutter, build a fort

Pillows, blankets, stacks of books, and dining room chairs are currently the decorations of choice in our living room. My son is going through a fort building stage and we’re lucky we’ve been able to contain it to the living room. If he had his druthers, we would also have fort kitchen, fort bathroom, fort laundry room, and fort front yard.

I loved building forts as a kid, and I am very glad my son has an interest in it, too. My son’s favorite part of fort building is knocking down sections of the fort to do renovation work. A room might have been too small or maybe it had a window he didn’t like or the roof was too saggy. Once the room is down, he declares it to be broken and then begins the rebuilding process. After a room is finished, the whole family is invited to visit the new space, where we discuss the renovation and how it is preferable to its earlier condition and then play drums and harmonicas or pretend to take naps (fort construction is hard work).

My son’s obsession with forts has reminded me how truly simple it can be to pursue the life you desire. My son likes building forts, so he builds forts. He doesn’t talk about building forts or wish he were building forts or make excuses for why he can’t build forts, he simply builds forts. When he is tired of fort building, he will play with trains because he wants to play with trains or whatever interest is next on his agenda. Unless I tell him he can’t do something because it’s unsafe (like building a fort inside the stove), he’ll do whatever it is he wants to do.

Unlike toddlers, as we grow older and mature, we take on more responsibilities, allow unwanted things to come into our life, and living the life of our dreams becomes more difficult. We are easily distracted by things that don’t really matter to us. We also let doubts and worry and negative messages invade our brains so that we stop doing the things we really want to do. Clutter comes in and prevents us from building forts (or whatever it is you enjoy doing).

I’m not suggesting it’s bad that you are responsible for the people and things in your life. Those of us who aren’t insanely wealthy have to work to pay bills and provide for ourselves and our families. Rather, I’m suggesting you get rid of all of the stuff that doesn’t matter. Get rid of the clutter (extraneous physical stuff, negative thoughts, bad relationships, commitments that don’t interest you) so you can have time, energy, and resources to use on what matters to you. If you want to spend more quality time with your family, unclutter the distractions and start spending more quality time with your family. Embrace your inner toddler, and simply do it.

Identify what matters most to you, identify the distractions that are keeping you from the things that matter, and do your best to remove the clutter so you can pursue the life you desire. Life is too short — even if you live to be 102 — not to build forts or laugh with your children or catch up with a dear friend or volunteer at your favorite charity or lend your neighbor a hand in a time of need or meditate or go on an adventure.

Unitasker Wednesday: Sküüzi

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

I don’t have much issue with this week’s unitasker selection of the Sküüzi, “the Scandinavian koozie.” It’s an adorable little mitten and koozie …

… except it appears to have a fatal flaw.

If it’s cold enough outdoors that you need to wear gloves, isn’t it cold enough outdoors to keep your beer cold without a koozie?

Thanks to reader Alv for sending this one our way.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

  • 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 Frank Black sings “Where Is My Mind?”, consider CB2 next time you’re about to make the drive to IKEA.
  • Ice Box Art
    The first part is a simple acrylic sign holder with magnetic tape on the back. There are many ways that you can decorate this, or if your kids are a little older, have them decorate it themselves.

2009

2008

Four changes you can make to help you complete undesirable tasks

My mother-in-law recently gave me a pair of bright yellow rain boots. They are silly and funny and very good at keeping my feet dry. I cannot stop smiling when I wear them. And, now that I own them, I look forward to it raining. I actually cheered last night when the weatherman on the news said rain was in the forecast for today.

Most people don’t look forward to the rain because it slows down traffic and forces you to spend more time indoors than preferred. Before the boots, I felt this way, too. The rain was an inconvenience to me. However, one simple change — new yellow boots — and my entire perspective has been altered from negative to positive.

Along these lines, are there tasks in your work or home life you dislike completing and procrastinate doing? Could changing one thing associated with those tasks improve your perspective and help you to get the work done?

  1. Appearance: If you dislike the look of something, you may not enjoy using the object. If your laundry room in your house is in a dark, concrete, unfinished basement, you might avoid doing the laundry because you don’t want to spend time in the space. A little paint on the walls, some vinyl flooring, new shelving, and improved lighting might be all you need to change to help you to keep current with this chore. Brightly colored file folders might help you to be interested in your filing. A sharp looking notepad or a new pen might help you to write down to-do reminders.
  2. Timing: Changing when you do an activity can also improve your perspective about it. If you normally try to tackle an unpleasant task right before you leave work for the day, try moving it to right after lunch or first thing in the morning to see if it helps you to get it done. If you dislike the crowds at the grocery store on the weekends, make a routine of going shopping on Tuesday evenings.
  3. Game On: For tasks I have to do that don’t take much time or mental power (like cleaning my desk or taking out the trash), I set a timer and see how quickly I can do them. I record the times and make notes about how I changed the task to make it more efficient. It sounds ridiculous, but the game of racing the clock and finding a more efficient way to do something is fun for me. Create a game you would enjoy, and it might help you to complete the undesirable task.
  4. Linking Activities: Plain and simple, some tasks are just not enjoyable. However, there are things you can link to these unpleasant activities to improve the overall experience. If you dread going to the dentist, find a friend who goes to the same dentist and start making your appointments for regular cleanings back-to-back. You can catch up over breakfast before the appointments, chat in the waiting room, and console each other afterward. If you’re not fond of having to drive to a far-flung location for a meeting, find a restaurant or place you would enjoy visiting nearby, and then be sure to stop at the more interesting location when you’re done with your meeting. If you don’t enjoy returning phone calls, make sure the last call you return is to someone you really enjoy talking to.

What have you done to improve your perspective about a dreaded task and turn it into an activity you want to complete? What activities in your life could use a makeover? Share your strategies and struggles in the comments.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

2009

2008

Workspace of the Week: Organized, elegant, and keeping a secret

This week’s Workspace of the Week is SimonaVysinova’s office of surprise:

This is a really great space, organized well. However, this office has an amazing secret — there is a piano hidden in there:

The piano was so unexpected that when I saw it I may have shrieked with joy at decibels that only dogs can hear. It makes me incredibly happy and is such a terrific storage solution. Thank you, SimonaVysinova, for your wonderful 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.

Organizing inspiration from around the web

Thanks to the website Pinterest, I’ve recently come upon some inspiring home organizing solutions that I wanted to share with you.

MarthaStewart.com has a wonderful tutorial for making a mini office in a chest that is uncluttered and organized and perfect for a teenager or someone with little paperwork:

I don’t have a custom-built closet, but if I did, I would want pants storage like this closet featured in Better Homes and Garden:

Small tension curtain rods make great dividers for vertical storage in the pantry — again from the brilliant people at MarthaStewart.com:

The website Kitchens.com has pictures of a truly beautiful pot and pan organizing system by Rev-a-Shelf:

And, I’m not exactly sure where the website FFFFOUND! found this storage gem, but the under staircase storage in this home is gorgeous:

Unitasker Wednesday: English Muffin Splitter

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

This week’s unitasker selection is so absurd that I fear anything I write about it won’t be as funny as the actual object. I’ll simply introduce you to the object and then you can have a good chuckle without my interference. The English Muffin Splitter:

Wowza, right?

But, jut in case someone is considering buying this doodad, here are a few alternatives to using the English Muffin Splitter that I came up with in less than a minute:

  1. Your fingers
  2. A sharp knife, or, heck, even a dull knife
  3. A pie server
  4. The handle of a spoon or fork
  5. The head of a spoon or fork
  6. A spatula
  7. The edge of a plate
  8. Any flat-ish, hard-ish object ever created
  9. Nothing — who cares if an English muffin isn’t evenly split?!

Thanks to the hoard of Unclutterer readers who found this object and emailed it to us. A terrific unitasker discovery!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

  • Increasing energy: Erin’s first set of 2010 resolutions
    I’ve written in the past about how getting adequate sleep is linked to an uncluttered life. If I’m exhausted, I’m less likely to eat well and exercise (also energy related), tackle items on my to-do list, think and work efficiently and clearly, keep up with chores, stay focused, and respond well under stress. One hour of missed sleep can tank my productivity the following day.
  • 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.

2009

  • 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.
  • January is Get Organized Month
    The National Association of Professional Organizers has once again declared January Get Organized Month.

2008

Unfinished business

The inbox on my desk is currently overflowing. I returned from traveling two weeks ago, dumped a stack of must-complete paperwork out of my briefcase and into the inbox, and immediately started to ignore the mess I’d made. The inbox ceased to be an inbox and became a Black Hole of Forgotten Items.

The situation with my inbox is similar to how most messes begin in our house and in my work. When a mess occurs it is usually because:

  1. I’m in the process of doing something and am interrupted before I can finish the action. For example, I’ll be sorting through the mail, the phone will ring, I’ll set the mail down when I go to answer the phone, and a week later I’ll find a stack of old mail sitting in whatever strange location I dumped it.
  2. I don’t take the time to do something properly because I don’t really want to work on the entire task. I’ll do the enjoyable or easy part (dump all the paperwork into the inbox), but stop short of taking care of the problem (processing the paperwork).
  3. I start a task when it’s impossible to finish the task because of time limitations or situation. For example, I’ll check my voicemail when I’m sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office — I might be able to listen to one or two messages before the nurse calls me out of the waiting room, but I certainly don’t have time nor is it appropriate for me to return any of the calls right then.

Once a mess has started, I’ll either become immune to it (stepping over the unpacked luggage each time I go to the washing machine) or feel stress and anxiety about it (I have so much to do! Did I remember to write down that I have to call Margaret back?). My space is cluttered and my thoughts are often cluttered, too, simply because I didn’t finish what I had started.

Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with most of these messes before they happen. A few sneak up from time-to-time, as has happened with my inbox this January, but I tend to have fewer messes in my life because the mess never gets started. Here are many of the things I do to prevent the mess:

  • Limit interruptions. It is impossible to prevent all interruptions, but you can reduce them. Turn off the ringer on your phone or set it to “Do Not Disturb.” Turn off new message notification sounds on your computer and mobile devices. Put a sign on your office door or hang a sign in an obvious place of your cubical requesting that you not be disturbed except for emergencies for a limited time period. If corporate culture permits, wear earphones even if you aren’t listening to music. Hire a babysitter for a few hours to watch your children while you tackle a project that requires focus at home.
  • At work and at home, create standardized to-do lists and routines. In case you have to abandon a project, you’ll at least cycle back through it the following day and finish it then. Also, get in the habit of writing everything down in a central location — on your mobile phone or in a day planner or a notebook.
  • Before starting any important task, ask yourself, “Do I have enough time and is the situation appropriate for me to complete this task?” If you don’t have enough time to finish a project, ask yourself, “Do I at least have enough time to do what I can and clean up before moving onto something else and leave things so the project does get finished?” If you answer “no” to both these questions, don’t start working on something.
  • If you can do something right now, do it. When returning home from vacation, immediately unload your dirty clothes directly into the washing machine and unpack the rest of your luggage within minutes of walking in the door. If you can file a piece of paperwork as quickly as it would take you to drop it into your inbox, simply file the piece of paperwork.
  • Avoid having catch-all drawers, bins, and bags. If you’re going to need something from the catch-all container, it’s best to have the items organized in a way so that dumping all the contents onto the floor isn’t the easiest way to find something. Large toy chests are horrible because kids have to dump out all the toys to find the one item they want.
  • Create kits. Kits can sometimes lead to duplicate items (you may end up owning four pairs of scissors), but they’re extremely useful in that all of the things you need to accomplish a task are easily accessed and easily stored after use. Sewing kits, gift wrapping kits, scrapbooking kits, house-cleaning kits, car-cleaning kits, etc., make doing certain tasks more efficient and less messy.

What do you do to prevent messes from starting in your home and office? How do you always finish what you start? Share your strategies in the comments.

Hoarding as art, in miniature

St. Louis-based artist Carrie Becker made internet fame last week when images of her hoarding-project in miniature “Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse” started being circulated on MetaFilter. The following image is one of Becker’s photographs of the home’s Laundry Room. In it, the furniture is Barbie furniture and the plastic items are made by Re-Ment, but the majority of the tiny items in this picture are handmade by Becker:

I’m fascinated by the artistic ability to create such life-like conditions in miniature. Becker explains the project in more detail on Flickr:

During the summer after completing graduate school I had some down time and decided to use my commercial photography skills to shoot my miniature collection as though it were “real”. Also during that time, I also frequently watched shows like “Hoarders” and “How Clean Is Your House?” With that in mind, this past summer I began creating the images that are presented here, though I reflect their inspiration as a mirror and not a judgement. For me, this series is about creating a small, but perfect world where the viewer cannot distinguish between what is reality and what is fiction.

In this weekend’s Riverfront Times, Becker showed reporter Aimee Levitt how she created the rooms for the project. The second page of “Local Artist Wonders, What If Barbie Were Secretly a Hoarder?” is a pictorial explanation of the miniature-creating process.

Personally, I’m less conflicted looking at these images — since I know they are staged and not real images of someone’s home — than I am about watching the television shows the artist previously mentioned. The shock and awe is because it’s tiny and not because of an actual person’s struggle with a hoarding condition. In this situation, clutter is art and nothing more, and I find it impressive.

Image by artist Carrie Becker.

Happy fifth birthday to Unclutterer!

On this day in 2007, lawyer and clutter-despiser Jerry Brito published the very first Unclutterer post: “A manifesto on simple living.” Since that day, there have been more than 2,775 uncluttering and organizing posts on the site written by more than 45 simple living enthusiasts. Millions of readers have dropped by over these five years and left almost 63,000 comments (that isn’t counting the Forum or messages over Twitter or on Facebook).

Since Unclutterer was founded, the post “Creating a weekly meal plan” has been the most read article on the site. Trent Hamm’s amazing website TheSimpleDollar.com has linked to us more than any other (thanks, Trent!). And, we’ve been featured in The New York Times, Real Simple magazine, Woman’s Day magazine, Wired magazine, The Washington Post, O: The Oprah Magazine, House Beautiful, USA Today, CNN.com, MSN.com, Slate.com, and the Wall Street Journal Online, among many others. We’ve also been on The Rachel Ray Show and Martha Stewart Living Radio. Simon and Schuster also published Erin’s best-selling book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week.

Most importantly, on this day of celebration, we are thankful to all of our readers for supporting us over the years. Without you, we wouldn’t have made it this long. Thank you, thank you. We are blessed to have such a fine group of supporters.

The past five years have been an incredible journey and we’re excited about all the amazing adventures the future holds!