Unitasker Wednesday: Shirt Shuttle

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 have no doubts in my mind that this week’s selection works well. I am certain it is water resistant and keeps your shirt completely dry. I am certain it won’t wrinkle your shirt’s collar or introduce any nasty creases into the body of your garment. I am certain it is easy to hang in a closet and won’t get destroyed in your suitcase. I am not certain, however, that anyone needs a Shirt Shuttle:

This large case holds one shirt and it costs $48 in the US or £30 in Britain. If you’re going on a business trip for more than one day, you would need multiple Shirt Shuttles to protect all your shirts, and a nice size piece of luggage to contain all your Shirt Shuttles. It might be fine if you just want to take a single shirt to the gym, but I don’t know many guys heading to the gym who don’t know how to work a hanger or shove their shirt into the steam room to get out any wrinkles that may have inadvertently been acquired during transport.

I don’t like ironing, and neither does my husband, so we avoid the entire need for a Shirt Shuttle by getting him non-iron dress shirts from the Brooks Brothers outlet store. Yes, the non-iron shirts cost a little more than regular dress shirts, but they don’t cost $48 more per shirt, even at the retail stores and certainly not at the outlet locations.

If you want to protect your suit coat, tie, and slacks from wrinkles and the elements, I am sorry to report that there are not currently Coat Shuttles, Tie Shuttles, or Slack Shuttles. You’re still going to have to pull that steamer out of the hotel closet if any of those garments need some attention.

I don’t know why, but the Shirt Shuttle reminds me a lot of the Doughnut To-Go case …

Thanks to the hoards of readers who sent in this device suggestion to us.

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Organizing your workspace based on function zones

Whether you’re moving into a new office or simply uncluttering and organizing your current space, one of the easiest ways to get your desk in order is to focus on organizing zones according to purpose. When you deal with the items on your desk based on similar function, you can keep the most important items as the focus of your space and put the least important items out of the way. If you’re uncluttering your desk, take a day and work on just one zone — you’ll keep from feeling overwhelmed, and you’ll have a well organized office in less than two weeks.

The following zones are the eight most common areas people have in their offices. You may have more, but don’t skip over these areas when organizing your space –

  1. Equipment: This group likely includes your computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner, telephone, pen cup, maybe a hard drive backup system, and any job-specific devices. These are the tools that you have on your desk that help you perform the functions of your work. You access these tools every day and you cannot successfully work if any of these devices is missing or malfunctioning. When setting up your desk (or rearranging it), these items are the first to be placed and should be in the most comfortable, convenient, and ergonomic location. When you’re sitting at your desk (or standing at it if you use a standing desk) you should be able to reach these items without having to move anything other than your arms. Nothing should interfere with your ability to access these items.
  2. Inbox: An inbox is not a place for you to dump stuff you don’t want to deal with right now. The point of an inbox is so people can come into your office, leave materials, and know exactly where to put those materials so you will find them and deal with them upon your return. You can put items in your inbox, but the items in this box should be processed every day. Each evening when you leave work, your inbox should be empty. Similar to the equipment you need to do your job, your inbox should be placed on your desk in an area that is comfortable and convenient to access for you and for anyone coming into your office to leave you things. It should also be clearly marked as an inbox so your coworkers know what it is.
  3. Current Projects: I store each of my current projects in a Flip-Top Document Storage Box. This allows me to have all the files and materials in one location that I can pull out when I need to work on the project, and then easily contain everything for storage when I’m ready to move on to the next project. Magazine files also work well for this. They’re easy to carry into meetings and to keep stacks of paper from overtaking your desk. I recommend storing these projects on a nearby shelf for easy access during your work day.
  4. Active Files: Files you’re accessing multiple times a week can either go in a file drawer of your desk that is convenient to reach, or in a file organizer on your desk. People who are extremely visual should use a file organizer that sits on your desk so you don’t forget the files exist. I suggest using a tiered organizer so you can see all of the file tabs to make retrieval simple. If you’re more of an audio processor, keeping your active files in your desk drawer is terrific because it frees up space on your work surface.
  5. Reference Materials: Most jobs come with notebooks and other materials that are required to be kept in your office. Only have the most current versions of these in close proximity to your desk, and keep them on a bookshelf or in a cupboard where you can access them without too much effort. Since most people don’t reference these items daily, it’s okay to put them further out of reach than those materials you need every day. Be sure to label these items well, however, since you want to be able to find them when you do need them.
  6. Supplies: It can be incredibly simple to hoard office supplies, but you should fight the urge, especially if your workplace has a supply closet. At most, have one extra of everything you use — ream of paper, box of staples, a few pens in various colors, a box of binder clips — but leave it at that. You don’t need five boxes of pens in your desk, but rather more like five pens in your desk drawer. Let the office supply closet store items like it is intended to. There are no awards to be won for having the most office supplies taking up space in your desk.
  7. Archived Files: Many workplaces require you to store files for three or five years before destroying them or shipping them off to a long-term storage facility. All the archived files you are expected to keep should be as far away from your immediate work area as possible in your office. Once a month, you should also sort through your Current Projects and your Active Files to ensure neither of these items are accidentally storing files you no longer reference.
  8. Personal Items: It’s important to have a few personal items in your workspace to signal to your coworkers and boss that you are committed to your job. A small plant, a photograph of your family, and the wallpaper on your computer’s desktop set to a favorite travel destination say that you are a well-rounded person who has a life outside of your job. More personal items than this and your workspace can start to look like a dorm room and unprofessional. Keep your personal items where you can see them but out of the way so as not to impede on your work surface.

The second pass

One of our local libraries recently asked for donations for their upcoming used book sale. The revenues from this sale help to supplement their funding over the year and they also go through the donations to see if there are any books in good condition they wish to add to their collection. I love this time of year because it gives me an excuse to go through my bookshelves to see if there are any titles I’m ready to give away for the sale.

In the article, “Keeping book clutter off the bookshelf,” I outlined the standards I use to decide which books to keep and which ones to donate, recycle, or toss. Now that I’m a regular Kindle user, I added a fourth standard to my Donate, Recycle, or Toss list that includes getting rid of books easily accessible in the public domain. If I can find it for free online and easily download it to my e-reader, I donated the book to my library for their used book sale. I use Google Books and my library’s digital checkout system Overdrive (a very large number of public libraries in the US use this service, so check it out to see if yours is included) as my online resources.

Inevitably, as was again the case this year, a week or two after the donation period for the sale I’ll look at my bookshelves and spot even more books I could have donated. It’s as if the first pass was a practice run and helped me to build up courage to be even more thorough with my uncluttering efforts. Instead of letting the books linger on the shelf until the next year, I grab a box and complete the second pass.

The second pass has become a vital step in my uncluttering process, whether I’m getting rid of clutter off my bookshelves or in my kitchen pantry or in the linen closet or my wardrobe. I’ll always find at least one more thing to donate, recycle, or toss, but usually I find enough items to justify a second trip to a local charity. In the case of books, another nearby library has a used book sale a couple months later, so I simply make a drive to the other library to donate the second pass books there.

When completing a second pass, I don’t usually need to go back to reference the standards I used on the first pass. The only question I ask myself during the second pass is, “Do I really want this?” If I have finally admitted to myself I’m never going to finish reading a book on my bookshelf, the second pass is when I’ll pass it along to someone who will read it. If a shirt is a pain to care for, and I don’t get enough enjoyment out of wearing the piece of clothing as I should for the amount of energy I have to invest in it, the second pass is when it’s most likely to get added to the donation pile. Being brutally honest with myself is all the second pass typically requires.

The second pass is also a good time to evaluate the organizing work you did after the uncluttering process. Is everything in its best place? Does everything still have room for storage? Are the items you’re accessing most frequently in the most convenient to reach locations? Are items you’re not accessing very often in the less convenient to reach locations? Is there anything you need to do to improve your initial organizing efforts?

Do you do a second pass on your uncluttering efforts to make sure that you didn’t accidentally leave clutter in your collections? If you haven’t been doing a second pass of the areas of your home and office you’ve uncluttered, I recommend you schedule it on your calendar for a few days or weeks after your first pass in your uncluttering process. My guess is you’ll find one or more items you’re now ready to purge from your bookshelves, or whatever area you’ve recently uncluttered.

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Ask Unclutterer: How do I convince my spouse to get rid of unnecessary papers?

Reader Kat submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do I get my husband and stepson to follow the systems I set up? How do I work with other people to attain organization? How can I convince my husband that we don’t need to keep every piece of paper that crosses our threshold??

Full disclosure: Kat’s email was significantly longer than the paragraph of questions quoted here. The gist of the other part of her message was that her family has incredible qualities, they’re truly wonderful people, they just LOVE keeping paper and not doing anything with it except for stacking it. This behavior drives Kat, a newlywed, batty.

Kat, the first thing you need to do is accept that you live with paper keepers and stackers. It’s who they are. They were this way before you married into the family two years ago, and you will never be able to force them into becoming shredders, scanners, and filers. As much as you want to, you can’t force anyone into being an unclutterer.

That being said, you can implement strategies to help you deal with your frustrations about their behavior, and you can also talk with them about your uncluttered and organized preference and hope they choose to adopt them.

The first step is to sit down and have a family meeting about the paper situation in your home. If you can maintain a calm conversation at home, have it there. If voices are likely to be raised, take pictures of the rooms in your house that are cluttered with paper and head with your family to a restaurant to have the conversation in public. People are much more likely to keep level-headed in public spaces.

During your conversation, be specific with how you feel about the paper clutter, the impact the paper clutter is having on your life (don’t over dramatize, state only facts), and describe exactly how you wish the space to look. Then, ask your husband and your son how they feel about the paper clutter in the house, how is it impacting their lives, and how they want their home to look. Try your best to come to an agreement between the three of you for how you want your space to look. You will have to give a little, and they will have to give a little, but the three of you should agree on a state that works for all of you. Then, discuss in detail how you plan to make the vision a reality.

If you cannot agree upon the way you want the house to look, I strongly recommend seeking the help of a therapist. Talking things over with a person who doesn’t live in your house can help significantly in these situations.

After you decide on the desired state of your home, everyone should do a walk through of the entire paper handling process with each other to make sure everyone will work in the same way. Since you already own a shredder and scanner, everyone should practice on the equipment. Don’t be condescending to each other, just walk through the process.

Then, when the walk-through is over, you need to trust your family to stick to the plan. You also have to stick to the plan, no exceptions. If your husband or son do not follow the agreed upon behavior, they have two choices. Ask, “The three of us agreed that we want our home to look a specific way. Do you still agree with this or has something changed and we need to revisit our goals?” As long as the person still agrees with the goals, he will very likely get up and process the papers appropriately. If the person no longer agrees with the goals, you need to sit back down and have the conversation about paper in your home again.

If the paper situation doesn’t bother anyone but you and neither your husband or son have interest in changing their ways, there may be a point where you will want to take over as the paper person for the house. You can’t take over this role without the permission of your husband and son. If everyone is okay with you being the paper person, though, trade it out for chores you don’t want to do but that your husband and son do. Maybe you agree to process paper and your husband agrees to do all the yard work? Maybe you agree to process paper and your son agrees to load and unload the dishwasher every night after dinner? Whatever trade you decide to make, be sure the chores are as close as possible to taking the same amount of time and energy to complete. We do this separation of responsibilities with numerous home maintenance work in our home.

Thank you, Kat, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck getting the paper under control in your home and be sure to check the comments for even more suggestions 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.

Daily routines: What time of the day works best for you?

In my experience, routines are an essential component to an uncluttered life. Without a few minutes of dedicated work each day, housework and clutter quickly build up and create stress. Small steps each day keep everything under control and ultimately give you more free time to focus on the things that matter most to you.

Fifteen years ago, I was someone who let things fall apart during the week and then spent a good portion of my Saturdays cleaning up all the messes I had made during the week. This meant that every Saturday morning and some afternoons were wasted. I couldn’t meet friends for brunch or read a book or whatever relaxing task I would have rather been doing. When I traveled over a weekend, it meant that I returned home to a place as messed up as I had left it and then I would have two weeks’ worth of cleanup to do the next Saturday. It also meant I would never have people over during the week because dirty dishes would be on the kitchen counter, dirty clothes would be spilling out of my hamper, and so many other things would be in disarray. During the week, everything was not in its place.

After my initial uncluttering and organizing spree, I knew I had to change my ways and figure out new daily routines to keep my home and office organized. I won’t lie to you, it took a lot of practice, and there are times now when I’ll miss a day here and there. Overall, though, daily routines have made maintaining an organized life incredibly simple and I no longer carry stress about the state of my home. That feeling of calm is very important to me now, and I have no desire to abandon it.

Since we’ve talked a great deal on the site about creating routines (e.g. articles 1, 2, 3), I won’t go into too much detail in this post about that stage of the process. However, I do want to discuss when to do the actions on your routines list.

We all have different times of the day when we have energy to do chores and when we don’t. Our motivation levels change throughout the day, too. Knowing yourself and when you are most likely to get daily chores done is key to choosing when to do your routines.

  • Before work. I function my best in the morning, and only want to do relaxing stuff after the sun goes down. As a result, I have to do the majority of my housework in the morning before sitting down at my desk to work. The same is true for my husband, so we unload the dishwasher, put a load of laundry into the washer, and put away stray items from around the house before we start work. We do these chores in addition to bathing and getting ready, getting our son fed and ready for his day, and eating breakfast and cleaning up the kitchen afterward. It means we have early mornings, but it also means our evenings are relaxing and light on chores. (Since we both work from home, we put the laundry in the dryer around 10:00 a.m. and then fold it and put it away during our lunch break.)
  • Throughout the day. If you work from home, you can set up chores to take place for 10 minutes every couple hours to give you a break from work. This is much more difficult to do if you work in an office.
  • Immediately after work. If you’re not a morning person, I strongly recommend doing your daily routines right when you get home from work. This way, once you’re done with dinner, you can relax and focus on doing what matters to you. Plus, you’re more likely to have energy at 5:30 p.m. (or whenever you get home) than you are closer to when you go to bed.
  • After dinner. If everyone in your family comes home at different times, daily routines might have to be completed after dinner when everyone is in the house and can lend a hand. You’re more likely to avoid your routines because you’re tired, but if you have the motivation you can still get them done. My friend Julie reports that she will incorporate her daily chores into her nightly television watching. Instead of fast-forwarding through commercials with her DVR, she lets them play and races to get a chore done while the commercials play.

Try doing your daily routines at different times to determine which one works best for you. When do you have the most energy and motivation to do the little stuff you need to do every day, so you can spend the majority of your time doing what matters to you?

Unitasker Wednesday: Cauliflower Corer

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’m glad reader Jeri included a description with her submission of this week’s unitasker because I had no idea what it was just looking at the image:

I didn’t even know Cauliflower Corers were a thing. Where I come from, tubes with sharp things on the end of them are used for digging holes for fence posts.

Maybe, and I loosely use the word maybe, someone working in a restaurant that serves a ridiculous amount of cauliflower might be able to use such a device. However, I still would assume using a knife would be faster — it only takes five cuts to completely remove a cauliflower’s core with a knife. I also know a knife works on every size head of cauliflower, whereas this device would shred up a small head of cauliflower. For home use, this device is complete overkill and would take up way more storage space than a multipurpose knife.

(Don’t know how to quickly core a cauliflower without this device? eHow has a short video posted on YouTube explaining how easy it is to remove the core from cauliflower.)

I tried to come up with legitimate suggestions for ways to be able to use this on something other than cauliflower, and, except for using it on the obvious broccoli or to dig holes for fence posts, I was stumped. It possibly looks like it could be useful on a first-generation Diaper Genie. The plastic liner cutter that comes with the old Diaper Genies is pretty much worthless. However, scissors work just fine, so I’m still at a loss for legitimate alternate uses for the Cauliflower Corer. Attach it to an enormous pastry bag to decorate a giant cake? Wear it as a dangerous hat?

Thank you, Jeri, for finding and sharing with us this incredibly specific unitasker.

Tax time: Three basic steps to get you closer to filing your taxes on time

If you’re good at procrastinating and do it often, putting off doing your 2011 tax returns would be a very simple thing to do. I know it’s even easier to procrastinate doing them when you suspect you owe the government money.

There’s no need to let stress about completing your taxes take its toll on you, though. Getting started with just a few easy tasks right now can alleviate some of your anxiety, help you to be better organized, and assist you with meeting the federal and your state’s tax deadlines. The federal deadline is Tuesday, April 17, 2012, and most states have the same deadline — but pay attention if you live in Nebraska, Louisiana, or West Virginia as your state deadline is earlier in the month. (And lucky are those of you who live in the seven states without an income tax and who only have to file federal forms.)

Make life easier on yourself and try these basic tasks this week:

  1. Per U.S. law, you should have already received copies of your tax statements from your employer and investment/banking entities. If you haven’t already done so, grab a large Kraft envelope or file folder and place all of these tax documents into one place. Label the exterior of the envelope or the top tab of the folder as “2011 Tax Statements.” If you have numerous statements, list them on the front of the envelope or folder.
  2. If you are filing complex tax returns — listing deductions, credits, claiming expenses, etc. — group all of your supporting tax receipts and paperwork and place them into another large envelope or file folder. Don’t worry about sorting or grouping these documents at this stage of the game, simply gather. Label the exterior of the envelope or the top tab of the folder “2011 Supporting Tax Documents.”
  3. Call and make an appointment with an accountant or tax preparer if you are filing complex tax returns. Look up the number right now and pick up the phone. If you don’t know an accountant or preparer, ask for recommendations for people you trust, or consult a review service like Angie’s List. If you have no deductions, credits or other items to claim on your tax form, learn more about e-filing through the federal government and your state (do a Google search for “e-file state of X” with X being your state), or download “ez” forms from the federal government and your state.

My hope is that you have already filed your taxes and the information in this post is completely irrelevant to you. However, if you haven’t, stop procrastinating and take these first steps to getting your taxes done on time.

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Ask Unclutterer: Organizing electronic accessories and conquering Mount Techmore

Reader Katie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do you handle tech clutter? I have an underbed storage box full of old wires, chargers, manuals and remote controls I’ve never used. First, I need some guidance about how to sort through Mount Techmore: I don’t want to throw out adapters for gadgets I’m still using, but I can’t always tell what goes with what. Then I need a strategy for handling new gadget clutter as it comes in. I like to keep the old device around for a bit until the new one is running smoothly. But then I forget to purge the old one until two years later when it’s really no good to anybody anymore. What do you suggest?

Unfortunately, I think everyone reading this post has a Mount Techmore. In the electronic age, it’s difficult to avoid this unpopular storage destination. I’ll explain what we do in our house to keep Mount Techmore from erupting, but be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

New products. A few years ago we realized we had to be diligent with marking cords, adapters, and other electronic accouterments the minute we unwrap an item. We have to do it immediately or we wonder for years what device goes with what peripheral.

If we plan to regularly use the cord that comes with a device, we’ll adhere a cable identification tag to it. If the item has a wall wart, we’ll stick a printed label on its bulky back. If the wall wart is black, sometimes we’ll even just write directly on it with a silver Sharpie. If we plan to store the cable/charger/whatever until we donate the device to charity or sell it, we stuff it inside a zip-top plastic bag and write on the bag with a black Sharpie what is inside and what it belongs to.

All manuals for items we plan to sell or donate go inside a plastic sheet protector of a three-ring binder. If we don’t plan to get rid of the item and simply keep it until it breaks, we go online, find a .PDF of the manual, and link it to a spreadsheet. If the manual isn’t online, we’ll scan it, save it as a .pdf, and link the file to the spreadsheet. Once we have access to a digital copy, we recycle the print version. Learn more about the spreadsheet method in our 2007 article “Organizing digitally scanned data.”

Old products. When we started labeling our new stuff, we took a couple hours and sorted through all the old stuff in Mount Techmore. We labeled everything we wanted to keep as described above, and ultimately got rid of a good amount of electronic accouterments we no longer needed. Do a little each day, or tackle it in one afternoon, but it is important to figure out what all the old stuff is and if you really need it. If you’re like us, you’ll be surprised by how many USB cables you own.

Storing. We store Mount Techmore exactly the same way you do, but we use a Rubbermaid Footlocker because we have so much electronic equipment in our house and for our company. We have zip-top bags grouped into bins inside the footlocker based on type (all cords in one, all adapters in another, all chargers in yet another) and the manual binder is in there, too. There are also hard drives and electronic repair tools in it.

I’ve seen people use over-the-door shoe storage organizers and put a printed label on the pocket, which seems to work very well. I also like when people use drawers for cable storage and use a sock drawer organizers for each cable. I don’t think there is a wrong way to store these things, as long as everything is well marked and can easily be found.

Out with the old. When we replace an item, we dump the old device and all of its accompanying stuff into an electronics recycling bin that we keep in our laundry room. The device and its stuff usually sits in the bin until the bin is full and we have to decide if we want to sell, donate, or simply recycle the items in the bin. The bin we use isn’t very big (it’s kind of like this one, but in navy blue), so we go process it four or five times a year. Since we don’t immediately get rid of the items, we have a crossover period in case the new device doesn’t work. And, if we offer the old device to a friend, we know exactly where it is when the friend comes around to retrieve it.

Even doing the one-in-one-out method, we still wind up with obsolete cables, duplicates, etc. lingering in our footlocker. Because of this, we still go through it once or twice a year and pull out anything we no longer need.

Thank you, Katie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope something I wrote above will help you. And, again, be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers for how to conquer Mount Techmore.

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.

What aren’t you using this winter?

While the chilly winds blow (at least on those of us in the northern hemisphere), now is a great time to go through your home and see what winter-related items you haven’t used this year and donate the excess to charity. You’ll free up space in your home, and possibly help someone in need make it through the winter more comfortably.

Check out your:

  • Blankets. Are there heavy blankets lingering in your closet that you haven’t used this year or last year or the year before that?
  • Sweaters. If you haven’t worn the sweater by now, are you ever going to wear it again?
  • Hats, gloves, scarves. If you have children, do all the hats and gloves in your closet still fit someone in your home?
  • Coats. Similar to your sweaters, if any of your winter coats haven’t been worn this season, are you ever going to wear them?
  • Boots. If they’re in good condition, someone in need could really benefit from any boots you’re not wearing.
  • Outdoor recreation items. Sleds, toboggans, and skis won’t help someone in need, but if you’re no longer using them, they still shouldn’t be taking up space in your garage.
  • Outdoor care items. Snow shovels, snow blowers, and other outdoor care items should be replaced if they’re broken or unsafe to use. Don’t donate unusable items to charity, but recycle and/or trash pieces as appropriate.
  • Decorations. Any holiday or winter decorations you didn’t put out this year could easily be sold on eBay, Craigslist, or given away through Freecycle. Check with local doctors’ offices, day care centers, and schools to see if they have any interest in the items you didn’t use this year.

Those of you basking in the summer sun in the southern hemisphere, consider doing a similar sweep for unused warm-weather items. If you haven’t used something yet, it’s likely just taking up space in your home unnecessarily.