Looking back on five years at Unclutterer.com

March 2012 marks my fifth year working for Unclutterer.com. My first post didn’t appear on the site until April 6, 2007, “Solving the Imelda Marcos Problem,” but I actually started a few weeks before that doing work on other areas of the site. Honestly, I’m shocked it has been five years. It is amazing how quickly time flies when you have a job you love. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to write for such an amazing site and such a terrific group of readers.

I already knew a fair amount about uncluttering and organizing before I started working here, but over the past five years I’ve learned so much more from our readership and researching the topic. The following are a handful of things I have learned about the world of simple living and writing about this topic every week day for five years that I thought you might enjoy:

  • Paper is the gateway issue. More new readers come to the site seeking advice on how to process paper than any other topic. I would have thought in the digital age that paper wouldn’t be such a priority, but it is. Search after search after search drive people here who are looking to get rid of the stacks of paper in their homes and office. But, while paper is the gateway issue, our “Creating a Weekly Meal Plan” post gets more hits than any other single page on our site.
  • Relationship advice. The most common question asked of me in emails is along the lines of “How do I live with someone who is cluttered?” The second most common question concerns dealing with clutter kept by elderly family members — fears that the family member will die and leave the mess or worries about how to help the family member downsize to a retirement home. When people are frustrated with their family members, they turn to email.
  • Fear, conflicting priorities, and lack of good time management and decision-making skills are significantly more likely to be the causes of clutter than laziness or lack of motivation. As a former clutterer, I knew a lack of organizing skills was to blame in my case. However, I wasn’t exactly sure why so many others fought clutter, too. Writing for the site has taught me physical disabilities, attention disorder, sentimental personalities, a desire not to be forgotten, structural prohibitions, death of a loved one, shopping addictions, and dozens more reasons also cause clutter.
  • We keep a list of topics to avoid because of the awful comments people leave on the site in response to posts containing them. We have written about these topics a few times after they made the “do not discuss” list, but we always do it when we know we’ll be at our desks all day to monitor the comments. In case you’re curious, this list includes Sandra Lee and her show Semi-Homemade Cooking, Pottery Barn, baby formula, and Saran Wrap. The list is longer than these four items, these are just the four that baffle me the most and I never knew they were hot-button issues before writing for the site.
  • A good number of readers buy unitaskers after we feature them. Numerous manufacturers, after we featured their products as unitaskers, have reached out to us to say thank you for spiking their sales with links from our site. I’ve even received emails from manufacturers asking if we might feature their items as unitaskers. We’ve never featured a product a manufacturer wanted us to, but I admire the risk they take for reaching out to me. This all speaks to the adage that all news is good news. I don’t have any issues with people buying the unitaskers (as I’ve said before, I have a few of them), but I just find it interesting that our unitasker posts increase product sales. I never would have expected this when we started the feature. After learning this information, we stopped reviewing products that we don’t recommend because we would rather nothing be said about them instead of drawing attention to bad products.
  • A few people have asked me over the years about the systems I use to write. Every post I’ve ever written has been constructed in TextEdit, I hand code or use preset snippets I’ve logged into TextExpander for all the links and formatting, and then I import the whole thing all at once into our content management system (WordPress). All images are edited in PhotoShop and I use a MacBook Pro. In addition to the MacBook screen, I also have a second Dell flat-screen monitor that looms over the left edge of my laptop. I type about 105 words a minute. I get ideas for posts from our staff, professional organizers I talk to at industry functions, and questions or suggestions from readers. Very, very few ideas come from press releases that constantly bombard my email account (maybe four or five a year).
  • Routines are the answer for chores you hate to do. I’m someone who hated routines five years ago — I thought they killed creativity and stifled my life enjoyment. What I have grown to learn from reader suggestions over the past five years is that putting daily chores into a set routine actually provides me with more time to focus on the things I love to do and I enjoy the fun stuff more because I don’t have any responsibilities weighing on me. Routines are amazing and save me incredible amounts of time. I hope they work for you, too.
  • Life is short, even if you live to be 102, and clutter shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the adventure. If something isn’t distracting you or causing you worry or frustration or making life unnecessarily complicated, it’s probably not clutter or disorganized. There isn’t a single standard for what is uncluttered and what isn’t. Only you know what is in the way of you achieving the life of your dreams.

28 Comments for “Looking back on five years at Unclutterer.com”

  1. posted by danielle on

    Very interesting tidbits, especially about the “hot” topics that you avoid. Now I’m going to have to do some searching in the archives!

    This is a great site…thanks for all that you do!

  2. posted by Jacque on

    105 wpm? On top of everything else that I love about this site, I am ridiculously impressed.

    Keep up the good work, and thank you!

  3. posted by No Comments Usually on

    I normally don’t comment but I couldn’t help responding (like Danielle) to how intrigued I am about the “hot topics”. If I share what I think, will this be deleted? :)

    Sandra Lee: the annoying blonde who managed to translate her non-cooking skills into a career

    Pottery Barn: the go-to catalog for starter-yuppies who have NO decorating skills whatsoever (read: my sister-in-law)

    Baby Forumla: this stumps me but I’m going to assume it’s the ‘breast is best’ contingent vs ‘I am not a cow’ contingent

    Saran Wrap: I adore this product but people probably freak about about the ‘is it safe in the microwave’ issue.

    How did I do?

  4. posted by No Comments Usually on

    *freak OUT about

  5. posted by Shalin on

    @Erin – it’s been to tag-along on this ride :) 5 more years!

  6. posted by Shalin on

    **it’s been great to tag-along…

  7. posted by CM on

    Congratulations on 5 years, Erin! I have to say, with apologies to the other contributors, that your name is synonymous with this site.

    I get the first three must-avoid topics, but… Saran wrap??

    And that is too funny that your posts ridiculing unitaskers end up driving sales. But it makes sense, because I always see comments on those posts saying, “I do X all the time, and I never knew this existed, but it will make X so much easier!”

  8. posted by cng on

    I really enjoyed these insights, Erin. When are we going to see YOUR workspace featured as Workspace of the Week? It would be great to see where the magic of the website actually happens :)
    Thanks for five great years of good reads!

  9. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @cng — That could be fun. Except, do you think it would be weird if I made it an actual Workspace of the Week feature? Kind of strange to award myself that status … hmmmmm …

  10. posted by J.P. on

    Congratulations on five years! It’s been a blast!

  11. posted by Katie J on

    Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee used to be awesome. Her idea of cooking was “Stir a teaspoon of vanilla extract into a tub of cool whip and spread it on a store bought cake.” Then 20 minutes of tablescapes and cocktail time. Now she wants people to cook with an…oven. Lame.

  12. posted by Karyn on

    I remember the big blow-up over Sandra Lee. And I, the non-TV watcher, sat there thinking, Sandra WHO? And I remember thinking, people, you are taking this WAY too seriously. Not my style of cooking, but not worth ushering in the Apocalypse, either. :-D LOL.

    Anyway, congratulations on five years of Uncluttering! You’ve accomplished quite a lot. Pat yourself on the back, or better yet buy yourself some good chocolate.

  13. posted by Katrina on

    Congratulations on 5 years of uncluttering and 5 years of a job you love! Also, congratulations on staying sane while coping with the workload that a site this popular brings.

    It’s amusing that some of the unitaskers have more sales after you mention them. I hope this wasn’t with some of the more dangerous items, and was just for the quirky ones.

    The topics to avoid remind me of the many ‘brain explosions’ we’ve had. The ‘saran wrap is an evil pollutant only rivalled by Godzilla for its destructiveness’ one was especially amusing in its passion. In many ways it shows that you have a healthy community as people are willing to discuss things openly although occasionally a little too passionately.

  14. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    Thank you, everyone, for the kind words!!

    @Katrina — I do appreciate the passion, I do! I just don’t like the name calling. Personal attacks in comments are removed so quickly (hopefully) that no one sees them.

    @Karyn — I’ve watched a few episodes of her show and still don’t get the outrage against her. I don’t cook like that, but I think she truly is trying to help busy people get food on the table. Great for new cooks looking to start making meals at home instead of going through the drive-through. Baby steps … but I was SO out-voted on that one. Wowza. I had no idea I was poking a sleeping bear.

  15. posted by Jodi on

    @Karyn…Thank you! I have been thinking “Sandra who?” ever since I read Erin’s post!

    @Erin, this post means more to me than I can explain right now (though maybe someday that will change), but i would like to offer a soft “thank-you” all the same. =)

    @Erin #2: Maybe one of the other unclutterer writers could feature you as Workspace of the Week? I would love a WOTW of your workspace!

  16. posted by Lizzie on

    I’ve always wondered about how much achieving Unitasker status boosted sales. I wish you could somehow post the numbers of people who buy it through your link when it’s an Amazon item. (You’re an affiliate, right? I help run the program for our PTA.) You could just slip the number casually into the following week’s post so we knew how many people bought the spaghetti fork set!

    Whenever I think of Pottery Barn I think of the fabulous episode of Friends when Rachel keeps buying things from PB but convincing Phoebe that she found it at a flea market.

    Happy fifth!

  17. posted by Maciej, PL on

    Congratulations, Erin, and thank you very much for providing us with Unclutterer! :) Go on, good luck!

  18. posted by Janet on

    I love the comments about the “Forbidden Four” – too funny!

    We have gotten so hysterical about our personal hot buttons that is has become, well, hysterical. I don’t have cable TV in my home but I am aware of Food Network stars like Sandra Lee from being online. I had heard a lot of criticism of her show and when I read what her cooking was all about I have to admit I was very confused. A lot of the people who were criticizing her cooking either used many processed foods in their own kitchen or ate at fast food restaurants on a regular basis.

    Keep up the good work, Erin!

  19. posted by WilliamB on

    @erin: Except, do you think it would be weird if I made it an actual Workspace of the Week feature? Kind of strange to award myself that status … hmmmmm …

    You’re not awarding yourself that status, we’re nominating you. The rules don’t allow you to refuse, right everyone?

    Never would have guessed about saran wrap. Huh. Must have some as quite an unwelcome surprise.

  20. posted by Mary on

    Congratulations on 5 years! I love your site and read it every weekday. I get a lot of practical tips and a lot of thoughtful ideas which help me to unclutterer my surroundings and enjoy life more. Thank you so much!

    P.S. And you also make me smile (as I wonder about Pottery Barn and Saran Wrap)!

  21. posted by Kristin Turberville Haffey on

    Loved this post! I’ve been coming here about that long, too, so it was neat to see the recap and nod my head. Congrats! :)

  22. posted by Karyn on

    Erin – As I recall, a lot of the outrage was over how unhealthy some of the processed and prepared foods were. Well, there are plenty of healthy, natural, and organic alternatives out there. I try to eat as “real food” as possible, but that includes using some prepared sauces and such. Take away what works for you and leave the rest, as the saying goes. I totally agree with you that personal attacks are unnecessary, especially over something like TV cooking shows!

  23. posted by Karyn on

    By the way, speaking of prepared sauces, most of San-J’s soy sauces and Asian cooking sauces are now gluten free! :-D

  24. posted by cathleen on

    By far the best Sandra Lee episode is the one where she’s outside at a German picnic, wearing lederhosen with ample cleavage and starts the program with: “I’m going to show you MY fabulous baked bean recipe for Oktoberfest! Start with a can of BAKED BEANS…”
    I’ve never laughed so hard,

    Her show is like comedy not cooking. I especially like that she always has cocktails, even for breakfast. It’s like My Drunk Kitchen, fab!

  25. posted by Sooz on

    Erin, congrats on FIVE fabulous years, and I’m looking forward to the future! I admire what you’ve said about how you’ve changed your own life & priorities over time, and I admire how you keep this place spinning!

    This blog has changed my thought-process, my attitude, and my outlook. I can’t thank you enough for that, Erin. What you write is very often thought-provoking for me.

    I especially appreciate your step-by-step descriptions of how you think about/approach particular uncluttering issues, because that’s where I need help, and you break it down into clearly stated, rational steps.

    I get great tips from you & from the commenters – you’ve ALL provided me with many “a-ha!” moments. It’s also nice to know I’m not the only one who gets stuck sometimes in the de-cluttering process. And I’ve learned to give myself credit for what I *have* been able to accomplish, instead of beating myself up over what remains to be done.

    I must also mention how much less paper there is in my home because of unclutterer.com. Over the past 18 months or so, we’ve used our Scansnap to digitize over 8,000 items(!), and we can now find important items very quickly on our computer, instead of plowing through a filing cabinet wondering “where did I put that?”. My take on it is this: Scansnap has let me create the digital equivalent of an extremely well-organized closet for my paperwork.

    So THANKS again, Erin, and here’s to all the years ahead!

  26. posted by Penny on

    I disagree about your doing a Workspace of the Week — don’t do it. BUT I say this only because the Workspace of the Week gets just one photo or so … Please do an entry about your office, but do it with MULTIPLE photos (hopefully some close-ups of your various systems/drawers/etc.) so that you give us the full tour of your office.

    I think we’d all like to see it!

  27. posted by Mira on

    What an interesting post article! Thank you so much for the work you do. Keep it up! And congratulations!

  28. posted by April on

    I agree with Penny. Don’t do your desk as a workspace of the week. Do it as a separate post so you can be more detailed and have several pictures. I’d love to see how you’ve got it all set up.

    Congrats on 5 years. :)

    Also, saran wrap? Lol!

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