Archives for January 2012
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Unitasker Wednesday: USB-Powered Foot Warmer
Socks seem to be a pretty decent alternative to shelling out $20 and giving up a USB port to power this dangerous foot warmer.
- Can a waffle iron make more than waffles?
For the first time since we nominated it back in 2007, I have come to doubt our Unitasker designation for the waffle maker after learning about the fun new website: Waffleizer.com.
- What is your free time worth to you?
Over on the economics blog Marginal Revolution, a reader asked Tyler Cowen how to determine the financial value of his free time. Cowen responds in the post “What’s the value of your time?“
- Ask Unclutterer: Coat control
I live in Brooklyn on the top floor of a Brownstone and have NO coat closet, which is killing me this winter because our coats just end up all over the kitchen table. Do you have any ideas/suggestions for coat/hat/gloves/boot storage for a small apartment?
- Book review: Career Renegade
If you’re ready to have a career you love, then Career Renegade is the book for you.
- Productivity and organizing insights found in Lean systems
Programs that strive to increase productivity in the workplace are usually worthwhile systems that increase morale and creative thinking, instead of stifle it. Additionally, most have proven records of increasing quality and efficiency.
- Choose from the heart: Clutter free and feeling fine
Danielle LaPorte heads helpful advice for keeping your clutter under control.
- Reader suggestion: Cleaning ornaments
Clean ornaments with compressed air.
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.
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:
And, I’m not exactly sure where the website FFFFOUND! found this storage gem, but the under staircase storage in this home is gorgeous:
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:
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:
- Your fingers
- A sharp knife, or, heck, even a dull knife
- A pie server
- The handle of a spoon or fork
- The head of a spoon or fork
- A spatula
- The edge of a plate
- Any flat-ish, hard-ish object ever created
- 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!
- January 2011 resolutions and a plan of action
I am ready for a year of 100 percent success, and monthly resolutions with daily schedules will be my plan of action to make that happen.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Snap Jack Pancake Cutter
Are you against owning any knives? Do you really like pancakes? If you answered both questions affirmatively, well then I have the perfect product for you! Introducing the Snap Jack Pancake Cutter.
- The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100: An ultra-portable paper clutter reducer
Yesterday at CES, Fujitsu released its latest model in its ScanSnap scanner series. The S1100 is a mobile color scanner, smaller than my shoe.
- Review: The Procrastination Equation
Piers Steel, PhD, has produced an exhaustive look at the research, history, definition, forms, and treatment of procrastination.
- 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.
- 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.
- Post-holiday cleanup, part 2
Storing ornaments through out the year is a bit of a pain, but it is necessary if you do have a Christmas tree to decorate this time of year.
- Post-holiday cleanup, part 3
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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!
In Tuesday’s post, we discussed the seven routines and guidelines most unclutterers follow. These aren’t laws, they’re just actions that unclutterers often have in common. In a comparable vein, unclutterers seem to repeat similar statements about physical possessions.
The vast majority of unclutterers I know are not ascetics who eschew physical possessions or consumerism. There are a few minimalists in our ranks and some anti-consumers, but the majority of us like the conveniences of modern life, have some sentimental items in our homes, and think of ourselves as smart consumers — we spend less than we earn, research purchases before we make them, and mostly buy only things we need but with a few fun things thrown in to keep life interesting.
Not surprisingly, the statements that tend to unite unclutterers are straightforward and practical. Again, these aren’t laws, no one ceases to be an unclutterer if he or she doesn’t agree with one or more of these ideas. Rather, these are the eight concepts unclutterers often use when evaluating and discussing their stuff and their uncluttered and organized lives:
- You are not your things. If your home were to burn down in a tragic accident, you wouldn’t stop being you. People would still recognize you in the office and in the grocery store. On a less dire level, if you part with an object, you’ll still be whole. The physical stuff in your life is not your life.
- Physical possessions are not alive, they do not contain souls. Your grandmother is not inside the quilt/rocking chair/ring she gave you. Objects remind you of the person who gave them to you. Objects stir up sentimental memories associated with happy times. However, if you were to recycle a rusty and damaged knife your grandfather gave you, you would not be recycling your grandfather. If an object were accidentally destroyed, you would still have the joyful memories of the person and/or event associated with the object.
- Know yourself, have less clutter. When you know who you are and what your priorities are in life, it’s easier to get rid of the things that don’t belong. It’s also easier to keep from acquiring things that distract you from what matters most to you. If you don’t know who you are and what matters to you, there will always be “what if” and “just in case” clutter in your life.
- Read the manual. Knowing what you own and all of the things these items can do prevents owning items that have duplicate purposes. Obviously, this applies to electronic equipment, but it can also apply to low-tech equipment. A three-hour knife skills class can help you to know how to properly use knives so you no longer need extremely specific kitchen tools that do the same things knives can do.
- Quality over quantity. Although this advice applies to purchases (a $50 toaster that lasts 50 years is a better deal than a $10 toaster that only lasts 5), it’s more about editing the things in your home. Instead of owning five pairs of pants you don’t like and don’t fit well, try owning two pairs that are the perfect fit and style. Instead of hoarding all your grandmother’s possessions in your garage, choose the one or two items that you truly value and use them in your home.
- Anyone can learn to unclutter and be organized. As long as a person is in good mental and physical health, he or she can learn the skills to being uncluttered and organized. Everyone learns at a different rate — heck, I’m still learning — but everyone can learn. And, everyone should expect to have bumps in the road and failures as they learn, as this is part of the skills acquisition process.
- Being an unclutterer is a choice, and it’s not for everyone. A person has to want to be an unclutterer to be one. You can’t force anyone against their will to adopt an uncluttered lifestyle. (You can teach them, talk with them, and show how it has improved your life, but that is where it ends.) More importantly, being an unclutterer isn’t for everyone. Uncluttered living is great, but there are multiple paths to living a remarkable life. Being intolerant of how other people have chosen to pursue what matters most to them only clutters up your time.
- Uncluttered and organized is not the goal, it is a path to a better goal. What matters most to you are the goals; being uncluttered and organized merely allows you a smoother path to reach your other goals.
In addition to these common perspectives, individuals will have other ideas they bring to their uncluttered life. What perspectives do you hold that help you communicate with yourself and others about your uncluttering and organizing adventures?
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
Back in middle school and high school, I participated in the popular extra-curricular activity Model United Nations. I wasn’t really interested in the resolution writing and nation researching aspects of the club (seemed to resemble “education”), mostly I just liked the parts where we socialized with kids from other schools (diplomacy!). Although I might have been representing Greece or France officially, I would just tell everyone I was from the nation of Jalapeno Twinkies.
The nation of Jalapeno Twinkies was a fantastic place to represent. It was spicy, sweet, and everyone ate cake with dinner. The people of Jalapeno Twinkies knew how to have a good time. One thing is for certain, though, the people of Jalapeno Twinkies would never, not ever, remove seeds from jalapenos before eating them. Why would anyone remove the best part? Jalapeno seeds are the spicy delicious part!
As a former fake Ambassador of Jalapeno Twinkies, I am truly baffled by the need for a Jalapeno Corer:
Forgetting for a moment the imaginary nation of Jalapeno Twinkies (it will be difficult, I know), I’m fully perplexed as to why a paring knife is insufficient for coring a jalapeno. A paring knife is smaller than the Jalapeno Corer, it works on things other than jalapenos, you probably already own one, and it’s extremely simple to use. If you’re planning to stuff the jalapeno to make poppers, you cut off the top of the pepper, insert the knife and make a swooping motion around the inside of the pepper cutting free the core (exactly like you would with the Jalapeno Corer), turn the pepper upside down and tap out the core and seeds. If you’re chopping up a jalapeno, simply do what the woman does in this short YouTube video. I don’t advocate cutting out the delicious, spicy seeds of a jalapeno, but if you must, a paring knife is certainly the uncluttered way to go.
The nation of Jalapeno Twinkies endorses this message.
You’re not a superhero? Well, neither am I. No unclutterer I know is a superhero, either. We’re all just non-superheroes doing our uncluttered, non-superhero things.
To an outsider, an unclutterer can appear to have super powers. But, trust me, unclutterers don’t have the ability to wave a magic wand and instantly be clutter free and organized (although, that would be an amazing power to possess). Instead of magic wands, most unclutterers simply do a little work each day and adhere to a few simple guidelines to keep from being overwhelmed by an avalanche of clutter.
These aren’t laws, but these are the routines and guidelines most unclutterers follow to keep clutter at bay:
- Have a place for everything. If something you own doesn’t have a place to be stored, it will always be out of place and cluttering up your space. Everything needs a home that is easily accessible so you can find it when you need it.
- When you’re finished using something, put it away. You can’t easily find something if it’s not in its proper storage location. Don’t waste time hunting for things, simply put items back when you’re finished using them. If you’re finished using something for good, put it in the trash, recycling, shredder, or donation bin.
- The fewer things you own, the fewer things you have to store, maintain, put away, clean, etc. You don’t need to be a minimalist, just focus on getting rid of the clutter so you’re only caring for the things you value.
- Only own things with utility and things that bring you happiness. Not everything in your home needs to be useful, but the things that aren’t useful need to at least make you happy. If you have a knickknack that you curse at every time you dust, it’s time for the knickknack to be passed along to someone else. If something that was once useful is no longer useful, it’s time to get rid of it, too.
- One in, one out. If you buy a replacement good, get rid of the inferior good you’re replacing.
- Everyone does his/her part. Everyone sharing your living space, including you, needs to lend a hand around the house out of respect for the others living in the space. Irrespective of how you choose to divvy up the major load of housework, everyone should: put away items after they use them, put their dirty clothes in the dirty clothes hamper, and clean up all messes he/she makes.
- Do a little every day. When you do about 30 minutes of dedicated work on your home each day, you can pretty much cover everything you need to do over the course of a week. How to set up a daily routine is explained in the article, “Ask Unclutterer: Exhausted after work,” and also in more detail in my book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week.
You don’t need to be a superhero to follow these seven routines and guidelines. You, too, can be an unclutterer — no super powers necessary.
January is Get Organized Month, or what the organizing community refers to as GO Month. It’s the time of year when home and office organizing supplies typically go on sale at major retailers and when people start acting on their organizing-themed resolutions. It’s also the time of year when professional organizers tend to hold public events in their communities talking about organizing and uncluttering strategies. Check your local papers to see if any of these events will be held in your area.
When organizing, it’s best to unclutter first. Pull everything out of a space and sort it into piles: keep, purge, and other. Keep obviously means that you plan to continue to store and/or use the item. Purge can mean that you intend to trash, shred, recycle, or donate the item to charity. Your other pile is for objects that need to be repaired, relocated, returned to a friend or family member, or some other special action needs to be taken. Once all of the objects from the space have been sorted, you need to deal with the purge and other items immediately. If you don’t, they’re likely to cause you much frustration in the coming days. Trash what needs to be trashed, donate the objects that can be donated, return items to friends, and drop off objects that need to be repaired at the repair shop.
Once all the purge and other items are handled, take a look at all the objects you have in your keep pile. Do you need to do another round of uncluttering? If you’re feeling more courageous about purging items, now is the time to do it. When you are satisfied with your keep pile, sort the objects into new piles of like items — pencils with pencils, envelopes with envelopes, jeans with jeans. When everything is in piles by type, examine what you have and compare it to your storage systems. It is only at that this point that you should consider going out and buying organizing systems. Before you do, though, look through your house or office to see if you already own something that could hold and organize your objects. If you do, you don’t have any need to go out in the cold to buy anything.
If you decide to buy organizing products, check out the sales going on this January. The Container Store has a 30 percent off sale on all its Elfa closet organizers. Home Depot has all their storage and organizing items on sale through January 29, including their Martha Stewart line and many Rubbermaid products. And don’t forget to check out your local retailers that might also have sales on organizing items.
Before putting objects away, be sure to clean the space where the items will be stored. Wipe down shelves, replace shelf liner if needed, and vacuum out all the dust and spider webs. Repair or replace any storage items that are damaged, and make the storage area inviting. You are more likely to use a storage system if you like it.
As you’re putting items back into their newly cleaned storage spaces, be sure to put the items you access most often in the most convenient locations. Objects you access less often can go into the less convenient locations — and the heaviest of these objects should be stored lower to the ground so you don’t hurt yourself when you retrieve them. Put lids on things that aren’t accessed enough that they might collect dust, but keep objects you access regularly open to speed up retrieval time. Try not to stack anything more than three objects deep. Most importantly, know yourself. If you’re someone who has difficulty putting items back where they belong, make it as simple as possible to put items back in their places. A four-step return action will mean you probably won’t ever return the item back to where it belongs — one-step and two-step return actions are the easiest. Keep things simple.
What projects do you have planned for GO month? Share your plans in the comments.