Archives for June 2012
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 should start this post off by reminding everyone that I grew up in Kansas in a corn family. Most of our family farmland produced field corn (like what is used in the corn flakes you may have had for breakfast) but a few acres each year went to sweet corn for all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors to eat straight from the ear after harvest. (The families also produce a little alfalfa, soybeans, barley, and sorghum, but those crops have no bearing on this post.)
Okay, back to corn … so, in all of my years of shucking, cooking, and eating a ridiculous amount of corn, I have never once thought I needed a device to remove the silk from an ear. However, someone out there apparently thinks I am wrong and believes a special tool is necessary for doing a very simple task that your hands can do. Exhibit A: The Corn Desilker –
Seeing as a few strands of corn silks are not dangerous to consume and almost always lodge themselves loose during the cooking process, I’m not especially clear on why removing all of them is an important task in the first place. But, if you are someone who hates corn silks, all you have to do is use your hands to remove them easily (or a rubberband) instead of this unitasker.
Remove the husk and as much of the silk as you can with the husk. Holding the base of an ear in your dominant hand, twist the ear while you rub it with your non-dominant hand. The rest of the silk will come off in a matter of seconds and you can immediately dispose of it.
If simply using your hands doesn’t seem to work for you, all you need is a multitasking rubberband to thread the silks off the ear.
And, now I’m craving a big ear of grilled sweet corn. Yum.
- Organizing advice from classical Greeks
More than 2,000 years ago, famous Greek philosopher Socrates and a man named Isomachus were having a discussion about how Isomachus wished his wife would run their home (the conversation is recorded by Xenophon in chapter eight of his writing Oeconomicus). Isomachus told Socrates he had asked his wife to keep house by finding a place for everything and having everything in its place.
- You are not your stuff
I was recently captivated by the article “The mess he made: A life-long slob decides it’s time to get organized” by Michael Rosenwald in the June 7 issue of The Washington Post. As the title of the article references, the piece is a first-person narrative of a diagnosed hoarder who went to see Randy Frost for help to change his ways. During Rosenwald’s visits with Frost, he came to the following inspiring conclusion.
- Outfitting a minimalist kitchen
A list of the 10 things I can’t live without in my kitchen.
- The Uniform Project
We’ve recently stumbled upon The Uniform Project and are amazed at the variety Sheena Matheiken is getting from a single dress and a lot of accessories.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Battery eater
Of all the unitaskers that I’ve written thus far, this may be the most confusing.
Now that I’m a parent, my schedule has more activites and I seem to continuously be on a quest to find more time. It’s not lost, but it has become more elusive. Rather than run around frantically (which is not a good look for me), I know that I need to rely on simple systems that have worked for me in the past.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to capture a few extra minutes:
- Laundry. Just saying the word laundry makes me want to run and hide. I don’t like that there are so many steps to getting clean clothing. It’s a long but necessary process, so I shorten it by doing smaller loads. That way, I can wash, dry, fold, and put away all clothing in one evening. I don’t have to sort since I use a three compartment hamper to separate the clothing colors ahead of time. This really saves some precious minutes. It also helps to make sure clothing is not inside out before they go in the washer. When they are finished drying, all I have to do is fold and put them away. Did I mention I tend to wear clothing that doesn’t need ironing?
The best thing about doing laundry is that it’s not a task that requires you attend to it the entire time. So, once the clothes are in the machine, I can do something else.
- Dishes. Though I dislike doing dishes, I love seeing an empty sink. I tend to wash dishes right after I’m finished using them. On the occasions that I let them pile up, it often takes too long to get them done. In short, do ‘em as you use ‘em.
- Cooking. While something is simmering or sitting in the oven, I wash the dishes or put away the ones that are already dry. Also, when I’m prepping my ingredients, I keep a bowl on the counter for things that I will eventually throw away. This means I have less spills on the counter to clean up. And, if something does spill, I wipe it up straight away.
- Morning Coffee. My coffee maker turns on automatically at 5:30 am every day and all I have to do is put in a coffee pod when I’m ready for my cup. I also fill up the water reservoir each night before going to bed.
- Keys and Purse. My keys and purse are always hung on a hook next to the door. Other items that I’ll need when leaving the house are set by the door the night before so that I don’t forget them or run around looking for them before leaving.
- Car care. I spend a fair amount of time in my car and am usually eating on the go. Since granola bars and water are often what I have on hand, it’s easy for me to accumulate food wrappers and water bottles. I stop them from taking over my car by simply removing them each time I run an errand (e.g., get gas, go to the bank or market) or once I return home.
These simple steps have been extremely helpful and have kept me from losing my head the past few months. I do, however, need to figure out a way to keep better track of my phone. Since my little one came along, it’s the one thing that I tend to search for the most. I can’t explain this phenomenon. Recently, I’ve been saying a little mantra before I leave any room in the house and when I get in the car: “Do I have my phone?” This strategy seems to be helping and I find that I don’t have to search for it as often.
What do you do to gain more time in your day?
Ties, wallets, and socks might be utilitarian things that just about every father needs, but why not try something a little different this year? Instead of getting a physical gift that may lay around and not be used (or wanted), think about getting something a bit more interesting and, of course, uncluttered.
- Things to eat. A couple of years ago, my husband got his dad an exotic meat basket. This gift was actually well thought out because my husband knew his father had an adventurous palate. My father-in-law’s reaction: he loved it! Perhaps a different dining experience might be more appealing to your dad, like eating in the dark at restaurants like Opaque and Dans le Noir, or maybe dinner at his favorite eatery. You could take things up a notch and hire a chef to make his favorite meal.
- Things to do. If your dad likes being outdoors, take him fishing or on a walking tour. If he likes watching movies, get him tickets to a drive-in theater. Or, you could send him on a quick road trip by renting him that car he’s always wanted to drive. Whatever you decide to get, pick something that will suit his personality because he’ll really enjoy it.
- Thoughtful things. These gifts help your loved one with a regular chore, but in a bigger way. You might consider giving your dad three months of hair cuts or lawn maintenance. Have his car detailed or replace all the tires. Or, hire a maid service to take care of the laundry once a week for a month.
- Wanted things. What does your father want? Has he mentioned anything that would make his heart sing, like tickets to see his favorite sports team? Does he have a tablet or set of Dremel tools on his “must have” list? If I were buying a gift for my dad, I’d get a set of of John Wayne movies on DVD (he LOVES John Wayne). And, we’d watch them together.
- Finding solutions to disorder by identifying the causes of disorder
Sometimes the solution for solving a clutter problem is simply identifying the cause of the problem. It sounds obvious, but you may be surprised by how often the cause of the problem isn’t considered when looking for a solution.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Square Pie Iron
Everyone makes pies while camping. Pies and camping are a perfect pair, and the Square Pie Iron makes it possible.
- Ask Unclutterer: Gift bag storage
Reader J is having difficulty storing gift wrap and is looking for a way to deal with unruly gift bags and boxes.
- ‘Self-control is an exhaustible resource’
“Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. And I don’t mean self-control only in the sense of turning down cookies or alcohol, I mean a broader sense of self-supervision—any time you’re paying close attention to your actions, like when you’re having a tough conversation or trying to stay focused on a paper you’re writing.”
- Unitasker Wednesday: The Pressto! tofu water extractor
This was a first, this week’s unitasker had to be explained to me because I couldn’t even figure out what it was.
- Once again, write in books that aren’t yours
Avery now makes clear sticky notes. Let there be dancing in the streets!
- Illuminate your clutter hiding spaces
Clutter has a way of accumulating in poorly-lit spaces. If you can’t see it, you forget it’s there, and it’s easier to mindlessly add to the disorder.
- Review: NeatDesk and NeatWorks for Mac
To my surprise, however, I liked the NeatDesk for Mac. Specifically, I really liked the NeatWorks software.
- Resources for designing a custom tool cabinet
To get a perfectly organized tool chest, you might want to consider going the custom route.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Rochambeau
This week’s Unitasker Wednesday is a plastic version of the Rock, Paper, Scissors game.
- Creating a multi-tasking wedding registry for your kitchen
Let Alton Brown help you discover which kitchen items are multi-tasking goodness for your wedding registry.
This week’s Workspace of the Week is NomadJim’s corporate office:
Back in 2010, we featured NomadJim’s tropical paradise outdoor home office and I was green with envy. Now, I have to admit, I’m also in great admiration of his office at work. The office environment is obviously a big benefit to this space. There is natural lighting, ample work surface, and the exposed beams are terrific. Sure, NomadJim has a few drinks, but we all probably do over the course of a workday. I’m also a fan of the L-shaped desk that isn’t stuffed in a corner. Thank you, NomadJim, for once again impressing us with your workspace.
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.
Furniture that can do more than one thing usually is a great find, especially when the features help you to get on with the business of being productive. The Tambour Table by Michael Bambino is such a find. On the surface, it looks like a regular table, but when you push aside the tabletop, you’ll find a hidden area for storing pens, your notebook, tablet, cables, or the important things you need to have at your fingertips.
The Tambour also hides an outlet and a USB hub. The simplicity of the design makes it very easy to use.
The table in action:
Thanks to Swiss-Miss for giving us a head’s up about this table.
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
About five years ago, Disney began airing a show called Mickey Mouse Clubhouse featuring the classic Disney characters. It’s a computer animated cartoon that plays a They Might Be Giants song at the end of every episode called “Hot Dog.” If you’re unfamiliar with the diddy, you can hear it and watch the video on the Disney Junior website.
Did you listen to it? It’s super annoying, right? And INCREDIBLY infectious. No need to thank me for getting that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
Anyway, I mention the “Hot Dog” song, because it instantly pops into my head whenever I think about this week’s unitasker selection — the Hot Dog Dicer:
Once again, a tool to do what knives do! Knives you already own! What do people have against using knives? I’m so confused by the knife-alternative industry.
Also, did you watch the video that accompanies the link to the product? Such scare tactics! The whole advertisement is about how your kid could die choking on a hot dog. Maybe, and this is just little ol’ me musing, if you’re so afraid of your kid choking on a food, learn how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver? That safety move can work in all choking situations, not just hot-dog choking situations. Or, possibly, just don’t feed your child hot dogs until you know he or she can safely chew his food? Recent scientific studies are suggesting toddlers shouldn’t be eating hot dogs, anyway. They’re full of nitrites and nitrates, which increase the risk of cancer. Why is that not mentioned in the Commercial of DOOM?
Okay, back to happier thoughts … “hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog!”
Want to see even more hot dog unitaskers? Check out the Hot Dog Roller and, one of my all-time favorites, the Hot Dog Pop-Up Cooker. Finally, if you do feel the need to buy one of these Hot Dog Dicers, you can store it in your drawer right next to your Banana Slicer. They can be twins!
Thanks to all the readers who sent us this week’s selection.
- Recovering from a productivity plunge
Unfortunately, as my responsibilities have plummeted in the last two weeks, so has my productivity.
- The immersed career. A career that you love with a deep passion, surrounded by great colleagues who support and believe in a similar vision, and that is an integral part and reflection of who you are. Your career and your personal life bleed into each other, happily.
- The detached job. A job that has regular hours, no demands on your time beyond your scheduled work day, generates enough income for a comfortable lifestyle, great colleagues, and a positive corporate culture. You clock in, do your job, have no major complaints about being at work, clock out, and rarely think about work when you’re not there.
Other types of jobs lend themselves to creating frustration, unproductive stress, and disappointment. If you are immersed in a career with people you can’t stand, you’ll be miserable. If you’re in a detached job but have a boss that calls you on your free time expecting you to drop everything and come back to the office, you’ll be resentful. And, in case it isn’t obvious, I’m of the belief that misery, resentment, frustration, and unproductive stress are clutter.
If your job is clutter, financial circumstances might make quitting it difficult, especially if you’re in a part of the world where lining up a new job is very difficult. If your career is clutter, you have the financial aspects to consider, as well as quitting can leave you feeling like you’re cutting off a part of yourself. For many people, though, the clutter of a bad job or career may be too much and worth quitting and taking the risks of something new.
If you’re wanting to leave your current employer and looking to have an immersed career, I strongly recommend checking out the new book The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. His book is an efficient blueprint for creating a job that helps you to achieve your vision of an uncluttered life.
Before I started my writing career, I was afraid of all the things that could go wrong: What if no one wanted to read what I had to say? What if I never sold a single article? What if I hated writing from home and missed a traditional office environment? What if? What if? What if? Having fears about starting your own business or pursuing the career of your dreams is common. So are fears about finances and being able to pay the bills when your revenue stream is anything but certain. But if you’re ready to ditch a cluttered job or career and face your fears, Chris’ book can help with seasoned, practical advice and case studies of dozens of people who have done exactly what he recommends and succeeded.
The book is rich with real-world wisdom, but my favorite part of the text relates to his recommendation to create a one-page business plan. If you can’t describe what you plan to do in a single page, you’re going to be slow to act and slow to find support for your idea. You need to know where you’re going and how you want to get there (just like with all things uncluttering related). In short, you should be able to explain your “product or service, a group of customers, and a way to get paid” in one page. If you have ever seen a business plan, almost all are notebook size and brimming with unclear business lingo and buzzwords. Chris advises you to abandon that and just get to the heart of what you want to do. Have a clear vision for your future. You can download or print a free copy of his one-page plan at 100startup.com if you’re interested in creating one for yourself.
Are you frustrated, unproductively stressed, and miserable in your cluttered job? Are you ready for a change that will land you into an immersed career where you’re doing something you love or in a detached job that allows you to pursue your other interests freely outside of work hours? What’s keeping you from letting go of job clutter? Would a giant push in a new direction help you to finally let go of the job clutter? Would a book like Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup help you to work through some of your fears, make a plan, and help you get on the path to an uncluttered work life? Speaking from experience, I can say I’ve found an uncluttered career worth the risk of making a change. If you don’t like clutter in your home, do you really want it in your career?
The loss of a loved one, no matter the circumstances, can be an emotionally charged time. Having to sort through the things that belonged to a special friend or family member who has died can make the time of mourning even more difficult. The process can take longer than expected, other family members will likely need to be involved, and there may be disagreements about what should be kept, discarded, or donated. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to get through the decluttering process more easily.
Be mindful of your feelings
Remember that you are grieving and that it’s natural to feel a variety of emotions. It’s normal to laugh, to cry, to get angry, and to be overwhelmed. Feelings of guilt also can come up and stall your plans to decide what to do with your loved one’s belongings. Rather than pushing your feelings aside, accept them and try to declutter during times when you tend to be at your best. For me, that would be morning time. I can take on just about any challenge at seven o’clock in the morning, but the situation is reversed at seven in the evening.
Decide when to work alone or with others
It can be helpful to work by yourself, especially if you’re not in the mood to talk and prefer to focus on what you’re doing. There will, however, be times when you need to include others, not only because certain decisions need to be made, but also because it’s helpful. You may be feeling emotionally and physically drained and it can help to have other people to lean on.
Create simple ground rules
Having a plan to guide you through the process will keep you on track and minimize disagreements. Come up with some basic rules that you will stick to. For example, if something is broken, it will be thrown out (or recycled, if possible). Here are some more to consider:
- Things that are difficult to decide how to handle can temporarily be put in a maybe pile and decided on later.
- Any items with mold will be immediately thrown away.
- Unwanted items in good repair will be donated to your loved one’s favorite charity.
- Valuable items will be given to specific family members or sold. *An appraiser can help you figure out how much items are worth.
- Duplicate photos will be given to specific people who want them.
Take regular breaks
It can be very easy to just want to plow through the uncluttering process. You can be particularly productive on a given day, so much so, you might forget to take a breather or to eat. There are days when you may be very emotional and need to take a moment to regroup. Remind yourself to take breaks at regular intervals by setting an audible timer. Hearing it (rather than having one that only vibrates) will prompt you to stop when you need to.
Be easy on yourself
You don’t have to decide what to do with everything all at once. And, you don’t have to get rid of it all. I kept the dress I wore to my brother’s funeral over 20 years ago. I never wore that dress again. I hung it in my closet and it was with me through three moves. Just last month, I donated the dress to charity. I was finally ready to part with it. The dress was still in good condition and I felt good knowing that I wasn’t throwing it away, that someone else would appreciate it.
Anyone — even a very organized person — has difficulty at times like this. Don’t expect all decisions to come easily or to always be in control of your emotions. There will be highs and lows. Some days will go very well, and others, not as much. Be aware of how you’re feeling and don’t beat yourself up. It can feel like being on a roller coaster. On days when things are not going the way you want them to, remember that it’s a process. You will get through it.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Eggies
Without Eggies, “You’ll be peeling all night!”
- Ask Unclutterer: Organizing and operating a central supply room
Reader Brenda is looking for guidelines on how to organize and operate a central supply room.
- Organizing your refrigerator
Like any storage space in your home, organizing your refrigerator to meet your needs can save you time and money over the long term.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Zoku Quick-Pop Maker
For those times when waiting a couple hours to make traditional ice pops in your freezer is just a ridiculous request, there is the Zoku Quick Pop Maker.
- Hoarding: Why forced cleanouts are unsuccessful
On Memorial Day, A&E aired a new episode of Hoarders that showed the progress — or, rather lack of progress — of a handful of the first season of the show’s participants. Four of the five of the people featured in the new “Where are they one year later?” episode had fully returned to their hoarding ways.
- Save kitchen space and make good coffee with an AeroPress
Coffee snobs seem to like the AeroPress. We like how small it is.
- CableBox is a box for cables
Sometimes, all you can really do is hide clutter in a pretty-white box.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Rotato Potato Peeler
It doesn’t slice, it doesn’t dice, it doesn’t even julienne! All it does is peel, peel, peel.
Reader Rose submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Before I ask my question I have to tell you I am seriously not computer savvy. I don’t understand the lingo. My question is: Since technology changes so quickly and your article ["Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter"] was written 5 years ago, would you still recommend the same scanner, software etc. to be able to accomplish my purpose? Is it possible to use the scanner on my All-in-One printer? Does the software allow you to create categories to put the articles in? Please if you have a recommendation for the simplest to use of these items that would be so gratefully appreciated!
You’re asking a number of questions and all of them are fantastic! I’ll address them in my response, but be sure to check out the comments for even more answers from our readers.
Your first question is if I still recommend the same scanner and software for tackling a paper pile (or two or ten). The short answer is yes, I strongly recommend Fujitsu ScanSnaps, their scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software, and DevonTHINK document organizing software. The long answer to that question is more nuanced.
In the long answer, I’ll tell you that you need to find equipment and software that works best for you. If you already own an all-in-one scanner, you likely have no need to go out and buy a new scanner. However, you may want to acquire software that provides OCR processing if the software with your scanner doesn’t have this capability. Or, if you’re comfortable with storing documents online, I suggest opening an Evernote account. After you scan a document, you can upload your files to Evernote, which can read words found on documents and in images and even some handwriting (and it lets you organize your papers, too, in a way that works best for you). And, if you want a great tutorial about Evernote, check out Brett Kelly’s terrific Evernote Essentials downloadable guide. There are numerous options available to you, not just the ScanSnap-DevonTHINK one I provided in the earlier article.
Since you don’t mention what all-in-one scanner you have, I don’t know if it has document organizing software as part of its package. Most don’t, but some do have these features. You can also just nicely organize the documents on your computer in folders like you do all the other work you save on your computer. I recommend saving all files as PDFs, because if this file type ever goes out of style, you can bet there will be conversion programs that will allow you to turn PDFs into whatever becomes the new standard. To save a file as a PDF, follow the instructions in “Printing to PDF.”
Next, you asked what is the simplest way to turn your physical paper pile into digital files — and the truth of the matter is the easiest way to do it is to have someone else do it for you. Simply do a search online to find local document scanning service providers. I also recommend checking out reviews on Angie’s List to be sure the company you’re going to have scan your papers is reputable and secure. Most companies will shred your documents after they scan them. There will still be some work for you before you hand off your papers and after you receive the digital files, but having someone other than yourself do the scanning is the easiest method. (Sort your papers before you give them to the scanning company so you are only paying for important documents to be scanned and then you’ll have to organize all the digital files once they have been scanned.)
My only additional notes are to be sure to back up all of your scanned documents saved on your computer to an online site like DropBox or the previously mentioned Evernote. The last thing you want to have happen is to lose all of the documents you so diligently digitized when the hard drive on your computer crashes (which it will). And, lastly, if you are doing the scanning yourself, don’t forget to shred all of your paperwork after you digitize it.
Thank you, Rose, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck digitizing your paper collection and kudos to you for taking on this worthwhile task. Since you were able to fill out a contact form on Unclutterer to send me this question, I already know you’re more computer savvy than you give yourself credit for being.
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.