How to organize a bookcase

This video is more fun than instructional, but I felt compelled to share the amusement. If only my books had magical powers and organized without any work on my part! Enjoy this video from Crazedadman:

via the wonderful SwissMiss

Review: The Procrastination Equation

Piers Steel’s new book The Procrastination Equation made its way to my door last week. I’ll admit, the title taunted me to put off reading it — it’s as if just seeing the word procrastination could create a self-fulfilling prophecy — but, I didn’t. I finished it three days after first picking it up.

Steel has produced an exhaustive look at the research, history, definition, forms, and treatment of procrastination. (Note: Exhaustive may be underselling it, as there are 73 pages of endnotes following the 220 pages of manuscript.) The research, history, and forms of procrastination sections of his book are its strength and most captivating. Until I read Steel’s book, I had no idea ancient Egyptians had eight hieroglyphs referring to delay, one of which specifically implies neglect and/or forgetfulness. Procrastination clearly isn’t a new problem created by modern workers’ addictions to Facebook. Although, I also learned from reading the book that Facebook has such an addictive draw that half of people who personally close their accounts reactivate them.

From a section of the text, “What Procrastination Is and Isn’t”:

By procrastinating you are not just delaying, though delay is an integral part of what you are doing. Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, which means “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, which means “of tomorrow.” But procrastination means so much more than its literal meaning. Prudence, patience, and prioritizing all have elements of delay, yet none means the same as procrastination. Since its first appearance in the English language in the sixteen century, procrastination has identified not just any delay but an irrational one — this is, when we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.

Steel uses the later sections of the book to talk through his procrastination equation, which is:

Motivation = (Expectancy x Value)/(Impulsiveness x Delay)

He identifies motivation as the opposite of procrastination, and that a lack of motivation is a result of troubles with expectancy (such as you expect to fail at the task, so you don’t do it), value (such as you don’t value the work you’re supposed to do, so you don’t do it), or impulsiveness (I explain this one in more detail below).

The book provides tips for overcoming these three roots of procrastination with “action items.” If you’ve read any books or articles on procrastination in the past, the suggestions Steel provides are all ones you’ve seen before: Watch inspirational movies, visualize a positive outcome, identify that you’re procrastinating, positively frame outcomes, do hardest work when you are most alert, keep up your energy levels, reward yourself for reaching milestones, remove temptations and distractions, use specific language when setting goals, break down long-term goals into multiple milestones, schedule time for tasks, etc. In fact, I don’t think there are but one or two tips we’ve never covered on Unclutterer.

As I mentioned earlier, though, the “action items” wouldn’t be why you would read the book. It’s the first part of the book exploring the research, history, and forms of procrastination that make this book worth your time.

One of the items I found most interesting in the book is the discussion of types of procrastination. Steel’s research led him to discover that the more impulsive a person is, the more likely she is to procrastinate:

People who act without thinking, who are unable to keep their feelings under control, who act on impulse, are also people who procrastinate.

Delayed gratification isn’t an option for many procrastinators. If given the choice between watching television or studying for a test, they’ll watch television because it will be instantly gratifying. Even if performing well on a test will be more gratifying, they are unable to ignore the temptation in the present. I had never thought of procrastination as an impulse control issue until reading Steel’s book. This discovery will certainly color (for the better, I hope) my future advice about fighting procrastination.

Review: Five Books

Over drinks the other night, my friend looked over both of her shoulders, giggled nervously, and then very quietly confessed to me that she doesn’t read fiction. I patted my friend on the shoulder, told her it would be okay, and then shared with her one of my favorite new sites for discovering non-fiction works.

Five Books is the site, and its premise is:

Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire.

If you’re interested in learning all about Norwegian crime writing or the Euro or Confucius or gender politics or bats, experts on these topics provide lists of the quintessential books you should read to learn a good amount on the topic. It’s convenient to have a reading list built for you by someone who is intimately familiar with the topic. Whenever I’m interested in learning something new, I pull up the site’s archives, find a topic, and start reading. I’m currently working my way through Paul Barrett’s list of dinosaur books because of my son’s infatuation with these creatures.

I haven’t been asked by Five Books to create a list of organizing or uncluttering titles, but I have thought about it a little. Obviously, I’d put my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week on the list. Also on the list would have to be David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook and Randy Frost and Gail Steketee’s Stuff would likely make the list, too. I’m torn about what my fifth book would be, though. Would I choose a corporate management book like The Toyota Way or a classic home-organizing book like Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much or would I go on more of a philosophical bent with a book like The Plain Reader?

Thankfully, I don’t have to make a decision about what books I would put on my list, but I’m glad the experts on Five Books are able to narrow down theirs. The site is an incredibly convenient way to become knowledgeable on a subject without cluttering up your time.

Review: Real Simple’s 869 New Uses for Old Things

The editors at Real Simple magazine have put together a hardcover collection of multi-tasking equipment and suggestions to honor their 10th anniversary. The book, Real Simple: 869 New Uses for Old Things, is an alphabetical listing of unexpected uses for wine corks, olive oil, old jump ropes, Q-tips, salt, soap and hundreds of other common household items.

The retail listing for the book is $27.95 (it’s 180 pages, and like a coffee table book it is mostly images and a lot of white space), but it is selling for a more reasonable $16.34 on Amazon. It’s a nice resource, but I’m looking forward to it being available digitally, so it can be more portable (on a cell phone, iPad, or Kindle) and more easily searched.

Here are some helpful tips I learned from reading the book:

  • Baking Soda / Rub tub stains with a paste of equal parts baking soda and cream of tartar and a little lemon juice. Let sit for 30 minutes, then rinse. (Green, non-toxic, and economical!)
  • Bobby Pin / Keep pleats folded while ironing tricky pieces.
  • Floss (unwaxed) / Safely loosen a photograph stuck to an album page or another photo by sliding a piece of floss between the two.
  • Penny / Prevent algae from growing in a birtdbath by tossing a few pre-1982 coins into the water. The copper keeps the organisms from multiplying.
  • Soap / Take the grit out of gardening. Scrape your nails along a bar so the soap gets under them and keeps everything else out.

I love the New Uses for Old Things column in Real Simple magazine, and the book is full of many ideas that have been featured in this column and hundreds of new ones. Like I explained earlier, it’s a good resource in book form, but it will be a great resource when it’s available digitally.

Assorted Links for October 30, 2010

It’s been a fun Halloween week here at Unclutterer, and we hope you have a terrific time celebrating the holiday officially tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy these links related to uncluttering, simple living, and some randomly cool things:

  • Recent bride Naomi Selden wrote about how to create a clutter-free wedding registry on D. Allison Lee’s Organize to Revitalize blog. If you’re getting hitched, this is a wonderful resource.
  • E-book owners might be interested in Leatherbound — a website that compares prices for e-books from around the web to find you the best deal.
  • If you live in a small space, Matroshka may have some space-saving furniture options for you. Production appears to be limited at this time, but the company is growing.
  • I’m drooling over this Stackable Oven-To-Table Cookware that was featured on Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn. I don’t typically make eight casseroles at a time, so I have no need for it. But, I’m happy to know it exists.
  • The website She’s Next, a site “featuring 60-second inspirational videos for 21st century women,” launched this past Thursday. Erin is one of the presentations, talking about where to get started in your uncluttering efforts.
  • Website ZenHabits has a quick resource for unclutterers from Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project: “Nine Quick Tips To Identify Clutter. I especially like the question “Was I ‘saving’ it?”

And the final winner in our Kindle Wireless Reading Device giveaway is…

Thank you to EVERYONE (all 11,095 of you!) who are now following @Unclutterer on Twitter and who participated in our Kindle giveaway. Now, let’s get on to the good stuff …

At 10:00 a.m. EDT, the random number generator picked the following number:


Which means, the winner of today’s Kindle Wireless Reading Device is:


I have direct messaged the winner of the Kindle and she has 24 hours to respond.

Again, thanks to everyone for participating in our giveaways and congratulations to @wickedphysics on winning the second Kindle. I hope the device helps to alleviate bookshelf clutter in your home.

And the first winner in our Kindle Wireless Reading Device giveaway is…

Thank you to EVERYONE (all 10,738 of you!) who are now following @Unclutterer on Twitter and who are participating in our Kindle giveaway. Now, let’s get on to the good stuff …

At 10:00 a.m. EDT, the random number generator picked the following number:


Which means, the winner of today’s Kindle Wireless Reading Device is:


I have direct messaged the winner of the Kindle and she has 24 hours to respond.

Remember, there is one more giveaway this Thursday, October 28, so you can still sign up to follow @Unclutterer on Twitter. Congratulations, again, to @austinmomof7.

Is this the first you’ve heard of the giveaway? Learn more.

Unclutterer giving away two Wi-Fi Amazon Kindles

Unclutterer readers are the most amazing readers on the internet — at least in our (unabashedly biased) opinions. As a result, those of us on the Unclutterer staff will be purchasing two of the latest generation Wi-Fi Amazon Kindles to give away to two of our lucky readers.

Books can take up a lot of storage space in our homes and offices, and having a digital e-book reader certainly helps keep bookshelves from lining every inch of our spaces. The two units we’re giving away are the latest generation Kindle Wireless Reading Device, which are Wi-Fi only, with a 6″ display, in Graphite. It’s the same device I have and love with a passion. (I especially appreciate that I can read silly mystery novels and no one else is the wiser.)

How to enter to win: Entering to win is simple. All you need to do is follow us on Twitter. If you aren’t already on Twitter, create an account and then follow us @Unclutterer.

Next Tuesday and Thursday (October 26 and 28, 2010) at 10:00 a.m. EDT, I will use twitRand() the Random Integer Generator at and select that day’s one winner. You only need to follow us once (and please, only once), to participate in the giveaway. If you already follow us on Twitter, then you are already participating and need not do anything more. Winners of the giveaway will have 24 hours to respond to a direct message from @Unclutterer to claim their new Kindle. Failure to respond within 24 hours will disqualify you from the giveaway.

I know that some of you aren’t interested in social media and will want to complain about having to sign up for Twitter to participate in the giveaway — however, this is the easiest way for us to manage the giveaway and it ensures that many of our readers are already entered to win with no additional effort on their part. Also, if you’re an avid Wired magazine reader, you know that social networking sites can help increase worker productivity if used efficiently.

I am so exited about this reader appreciation event and cannot wait to give away two Kindle Wireless Reading Devices. Remember, you have until 10:00 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 26, 2010, to follow us on Twitter for the first Kindle giveaway.

NOTE: twitRand() appears to be offline, so we’ve had to change the manner by which the winners will be randomly selected.

Pack rats illustrated in comic books

The website Comics Alliance, as its name suggests, covers comic books and all things related to the comic book industry. Reader Haley called our attention to the site to check out the post “Super-Hero Hoarders. The 7 Biggest Pack-Rats In Comics.”

Art often mimics life, so it’s not surprising that fictional characters struggle with clutter the same as everyone else. I really liked #4, Rick Jones’ illustrated mess. From the article:

At first glance, it’s pretty easy to call Rick Jones out for hoarding super-hero contacts. Over the course of his existence in the Marvel Universe, he’s sidekicked for the Hulk, Captain Marvel, Captain America, ROM: Spaceknight and the entire Avengers team, and been singled out as the bearer of the Destiny Force, which was so complicated that even Curt and Chris won’t touch it.

In reality, though — or at least, in one reality — Rick’s a straight up legitimate hoarder: In the alternate universe of “Future Imperfect,” the Hulk ends up killing all of the other super-heroes and super-villains, leaving Rick to amass a pretty hefty collection of memorabilia

Check out the full article to learn who took the top spot.

Organize your writing, J.K. Rowling style

The website /Film reported on Friday about author J.K. Rowling’s method for organizing her books. Using pen, notebook paper, and a simple grid, she plotted out the direction of her stories. Pictured here is the chart for chapters 13-24 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

(Note: /Film includes a larger version on their site for detailed reading.)

The grid outlines the chapter, month, chapter title, explanation of how that chapter relates to the over-arching plot of the book, and then columns for each of the book’s six subplots (prophecies, Harry’s romantic interests, Dumbledore’s Army, Order of the Phoenix, Snape and crew, and Hagrid and Grawp). Like the /Film post’s author, I believe that Rowling likely used more organizing tools in her story preparation. However, I think it’s wonderful to see how an author planned out her story before writing it.

When constructing memos, documents, short stories, novels, or whatever it is you’re writing, do you map out where you’re going and all that you want to include? Could adopting a method like Rowling’s help you to be a better organized writer? I’m certainly taking a few tips from her method and applying it to my own work. I’m thoroughly impressed.

The dimensions of stuff

In Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much Workbook (the companion piece to his popular It’s All Too Much) he discusses the physical limitations of storage and how to use math to determine how much you can keep and have your home be clutter free.

From page 63:

While you are figuring out what fits where, there is a concrete way to measure your space for what it can contain. I’ve said it before: You can’t fit four cubic feet of stuff into two cubic feet of space and not have clutter. So get out your tape measure and see what will work in the space you have.

First, measure your shelving space or bookshelves or hanging space and use the table below to work out how many of a particular item will fit.

Peter provides the following “cheat sheet” to identify how many of one item will fit into a linear foot of space:

VHS tapes — 11
DVD cases — 20
CDs in jewel cases — 29
Magazine box with 10 magazines — 3 (30 magazines total)
Books — 12 (on average)
Jeans/pants — 12
Shirts/blouses — 15
Heavy jackets/suits — 6
Shoes — Estimate about 8 inches per pair

To put his numbers to work, let’s look at his estimation that books average about an inch a piece. To properly store 100 books, you should have 100 inches of bookshelf space. The popular Expedit bookcase from Ikea has shelves that are 13 inches, so you would need 7 shelves of an Expedit bookcase to hold 100 books. Since there are 16 shelves on an Expedit bookcase, you could store approximately 208 books total on the shelves.

Knowing exactly how much storage space you have and exactly how many items you can store in that space can make it easier to decide what to keep and what to purge. Let the math do the work.

Book review: The Art of Non-Conformity

When I learned Chris Guillebeau had written a book, I begged him for an advance copy. In person, Chris is charismatic with extra doses of magnetism, practicality, and kindness thrown into the mix. I imagined his book would be similar (it is) and I would want to carry it with me even after I read it, like a trusted companion (I already do).

The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World is hitting bookstores today and is a handbook for anyone who wants to break free of an unfulfilled life. As Chris explains, “It’s your own life, so why not set your own rules. You can do good things for yourself while helping other people at the same time.” It helps you plan a course for a remarkable life, get over the fears and obstacles that are currently in your way, and get started living the life you imagine. It is detailed, plausible, and full of concrete examples.

Chris is obsessed with traveling the world — he’s on a quest to visit every country by April 7, 2013, and has made it to 149 of 192 already — and he explains how he transformed his circumstances to make achieving his non-traditional life possible. The book is full of advice for how to achieve similar ambitions — whatever type of life your heart desires — even if it doesn’t include traveling. In addition to Chris’ first-hand experiences, there are interviews and biographies of more than a dozen others who have bucked the system and lived life on their terms.

At the end of most of the chapters is a “Remember This” section that highlights the major themes in that block of text. At the end of the chapter “Setting the Terms of Your Unconventional Life,” are the following notes that spoke to the unclutterer in me:


  • The pathway to world domination, or whatever it is you want to do, begins with clearly understanding what you want to get out of life.
  • Once you begin taking your ambitions seriously, you can usually accomplish most things in less time than you initially expected.
  • In the end, it’s not all about you. Most of us want a life that leaves a positive impact on others.
  • When you start doing what you really want, not everyone will understand. This is okay.

The reason I pursue an uncluttered life is so I have the time, energy, and resources to live remarkably. I don’t want to be weighed down by my stuff; I want to have as much freedom as possible to focus on what matters most to me. Chris’ philosophy is similar, and his book even includes tips for creating a “stop doing” list and suggestions for how to live with 100 things. A key component for living his remarkable life is keeping clutter out of it, and he provides strategies for doing this.

A word of note: If you are not interested in setting your own rules and changing the world (even just a little part of it), this book is not for you. This book speaks directly to people who already have the desire to live in unconventional ways. No pages are used to persuade or convince someone to pursue a non-traditional lifestyle. Either you’re on board from the beginning, or you’re not. In my opinion, this makes the book stronger because it doesn’t waste time preaching to the choir.

If you are interested in living a remarkable life, I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World.

Book details: