Archives for Books
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.
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.
My friend and professional organizer Julie Bestry recently headed to Office Depot to see what is new in the back-to-school supplies section. Her recap of the adventure introduced me to two new types of organizing products I wanted to pass along to you.
First up are Pendaflex Antimicrobial File Folders, which protect “against the growth of mold, mildew and odors.”
Pendaflex and Smead makes a similar product. These folders are perfect for businesses and homes when you expect to store a file for decades. Any business that puts documents into long-term storage would also benefit from folders such as this. If you’re not planning to store copies of printed documents for 20 or 30 years, these are probably overkill. However, they’re perfect for birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc.
The last product I want to bring to your attention are index cards with small cut-outs in them to use as bookmarks:
Oxford makes these Book Mark Cards and sells them exclusively in Office Depot brick and mortar stores. Mead’s version of the product can be found online and in many non-Office Depot office supply stores.
These bookmark index cards are great for writing in books that aren’t yours without the fear of sticky residue being left in the book, like you might experience with Sheer Colors Post-It Notes.
Have you found any great new office products in the back-to-school aisles? If so, let us know about them in the comments.
Where Women Create magazine is a product of the Stampington rubber stamp company and is published four times a year. Each issue features 10 to 15 offices and studios of women who make their livings in creative careers.
Since artists typically need lots of supplies to produce their crafts, I thought the spaces in the August/September/October 2010 magazine might feature some atypical storage solutions. Although most of the offices were stuffed with supplies, many of them had ingenious methods for storing items. Here are a few of my favorites:
Camille Roskelley covered her closet doors with white felt to use as an inspiration board for her fabric while designing quilts (image by Ryne Hazen):
Wendy Addison uses an old architect’s blueprint chest to store paper supplies she uses in her artwork. These chests are perfect for organizing flat items (image by Michael Garland):
Artist Jennifer Murphy is clearly a visual processor, and as a result uses walls lined with cork board to store her papers and materials. For people who need to see their work or they forget about it, taking advantage of vertical space can be very helpful (image by Jennifer Murphy):
Editor-in-chief of Where Women Create Jo Packham has repurposed antique shelf brackets to hold ribbon rods and new shelves to store craft supplies in her studio (image by Zachary Williams):
Editor and consultant Nancy Soriano utilizes the space above her office door to store books and the back of her door to hold magazines (image by Scott Jones):
Self-proclaimed “junkinista” Ki Nassauer has made a career of rescuing damaged and discarded items and turning them into artful and usable objects. In this case, she took an old table, sanded, repaired, and painted it, and then added a small fabric mattress to create a kitty bed. It’s not necessarily storage, but it is incredibly cute (image by Heather Bullard):
Reader Lynne submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I still love the feel of paper in my hands … real books or magazines. I cycle through my magazines relatively quickly. But yesterday as I was ripping off the address labels so I could pass them along (Purple Heart takes magazines), I had another thought. I recycle almost everything. In passing these along, is it much more likely they will end up in a landfill?
Technically, if you pass along the magazines to someone else and a second person gets use out of a product, you’re recycling. Re=again. Cycle=a full turn. An object doesn’t have to be repurposed to be recycled, it just needs to be used again. If a dairy sanitizes and reuses their glass bottles, they’re recycling (putting the bottle to use again). Simply passing along your magazines to another person is recycling, in the strictest sense of the definition.
However, I think your intention is to keep the item out of the landfill, which means you hope that the paper is repurposed. I would start by asking Purple Heart exactly what happens to the magazines after you donate them. If they’re packaged up and flown somewhere overseas, well, you have to weigh the environmental impact of the oil, exhaust, and other damage the airplane will put on the environment against the environmental impact of the recycling center you normally use to process paper. In this case, my guess is that if your desire is to have the smallest amount of environmental damage, your choices would be: Best–local recycling center, Middle–local landfill, Worst–flying them overseas. Conversely, Purple Heart might just donate them to the local VA Hospital and the hospital may have a paper recycling program of their own. So, donating to Purple Heart might be a great choice all around if the magazines are staying local. You won’t know, though, until you ask.
If you haven’t read the book No Impact Man or seen the documentary, I recommend you do. Colin Beavan talks at length about his struggles to determine what actions have the least amount of impact on the environment. You may not like Beavan’s personality (he rubs some people the wrong way), but the content of his message is still interesting.
Thank you, Lynne, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
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.
Interesting products and articles related to uncluttering and organizing:
- Not the fastest reader of online content? Want to improve your speed and efficiency? The site Zap Reader helps increase your reading speed — and it’s free.
- A nice reminder from NPR that libraries “hand you things for free.”
- BlueLounge has caught our attention recently with two fantastic looking products to help curb cord and cable clutter. For many cables, you might be interested in the CableBox, and for cables that are longer than necessary you might like the CableClip. I want them ALL.
- If you need some help organizing your briefcase or bag, Lifehacker introduced us to the Cocoon Grid-It Organizer. They’re straps of various lengths in perpendicular and parallel directions to accommodate anything you need to carry.
- Office furniture designer Mebelux has some amazing, modern roll-top desks in their Angular line. I love the idea of roll-top desks, especially for small spaces where you might not have a separate room for an office. Being able to close up your desk lets you easily keep your work life from invading your home life.
- Merlin Mann has an interesting (albeit meandering) post “On Future-Proofing Your Passion.” Although it might not seem too related to uncluttering, it has a lot to do with clearing the clutter to focus on what is important.
- Jeffrey Tang has a wonderful guest post on ZenHabits about “The Clean-Slate Guide to Simplicity.” The premise is to put everything into storage, only pull things out as you need them, and, after a set amount of time, get rid of everything still in storage.
Some interesting things to share:
- I’m recording an interview about uncluttering for Renew You that should be available this Friday through next Tuesday. Renew You 2010 was a conference that occurred earlier this summer, and every few weeks the organizer of the conference sends out links to new interviews to conference attendees and people who register for the mailing list. The interviews are targeted toward women, but the information I’ll be giving is applicable for anyone. The e-mail list is free, but there are pay-to-listen areas of the site that have some cost associated with them. You shouldn’t have to pay anything to hear my piece on uncluttering. The interview should be about an hour long, so sign up if you’re interested in hearing my talk.
- “TV business kisses HDMI goodbye” on the THINQ site leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m glad multiple manufacturers are coming together and establishing a standard cable, but it means we will all have to buy new cables. Not sure it’s simplifying anything.
- Author Harlan Ellison decided to purge and auction off the majority of his book collection, including a signed birthday present from Neil Gaiman. The following link includes a profane word or two, but is still an interesting read about uncluttering your bookshelves: “The Great Ellison Book Purge” on the AV Club.
- Have many errands to run at once? Lorie Marrero recommends the “optimal route planner” Route4me to determine the shortest route to take.
- The website FreelanceSwitch offers terrific project management advice in its post “The Swiss Cheese Method of Project Scheduling.” The article is geared toward freelance programmers, but is applicable to anyone budgeting her time.
Moleskine has introduced a great new product for Kindle owners — the Moleskine Kindle Cover with Reporter-Style Notebook:
I like it because it’s a terrific theft deterrent. While a Kindle is enticing to would-be thieves, a scribbled-in journal holds much less appeal. Since its exterior is identical to that of a regular Moleskine notebook, it doesn’t call attention to itself the way other Kindle covers do:
My guess is that the Moleskine company will go on to create similar products like this one for the Apple iPad and maybe the Nook and Sony Ebook Reader. At least, I hope they do. Electronic book readers are fantastic ways to reduce clutter on bookshelves. I also recommend audio books to anyone looking for ways to reduce the number of books taking up shelf space in your home.
Until Moleskine comes out with other book-reader notebooks, check out this hack for creating your own and other cool things to do with a Moleskine notebook, via Treehugger.
Back in 2008, we wrote a raving review of 3M’s Sheer Colors Post-It Notes. These transparent sticky notes were amazing because they made it simple to write in books that aren’t yours or in books that you plan to sell or pass along to someone else. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, 3M pulled the clear Post-Its from the market and we haven’t been able to find them in years.
In a promotion for the Organization of Moms program Avery recently launched, they sent me a box full of their products that they think are useful for moms. I haven’t really had time to learn about the program yet, but I did look through the box of freebies and discovered that Avery now makes clear sticky notes! And, best of all, the Avery NoteTabs brand has tabs so I can quickly find where I’ve made notes in the text:
The longer 3″ x 7.5″ NoteTabs are perforated in four places so you can adjust the length to fit your needs. Shown in the image are the 3″ x 3.5″ ones, and I used a highlighter and Sharpie on them. Pencil also works well when writing on the NoteTabs, but ballpoint pens aren’t stellar.
I really like the Avery clear NoteTabs, and wanted to pass news of them along to other bibliophiles — especially bibliophiles who rely on marginalia and are therefore reluctant to check books out from the library, borrow them from friends, or get rid of books after they’ve read them. Three cheers for the return of clear sticky notes! It is weird how excited I am about them.
Hoarding specialists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee recently published Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things that explores the psychological world of hoarding. In the book, the components of the hoarding disorder are explained through case studies, and the authors also provide many examples to illustrate where a hoarder’s actions diverge from those of a healthy individual.
The book is written in a positive and conversational tone that shows compassion for the subjects who are described in the case studies. The authors refrain from using judgmental language and shock-and-awe descriptions, which I find very refreshing, and instead focus on accurately portraying the complex world of hoarding.
Since the book was released, the authors have been interviewed quite a bit in the media, and these interviews cover a general sense of the text of the book. I recommend reading the Time article “Hoarding: How Collecting Stuff Can Destroy Your Life” and the transcript of the author’s NPR interview to get a big-picture view of the book’s content.
At Unclutterer, we are very open about our posts not being targeted toward people who are hoarders, but rather toward mentally healthy individuals who struggle with disorganization and want to learn more about simple living. Stuff does an excellent job of defining hoarding and describing the disorder, and I wanted to share some examples from the text with you –
From pg. 21: “The sense of emotional attachment that Irene [a hoarder profiled in chapter 1] felt for her possessions has been shared with us [the authors] over and over by people seeking help with their hoarding problems. These sentiments are really not that different from what most of us feel about keepsakes or souvenirs — the abnormality lies not in the nature of the attachments, but in their intensity and extremely broad scope. I find many articles of interest in the newspaper, but their value to me is reduced when piles of newspapers begin to impinge on my living space and overwhelm my ability to read what I have collected. For Irene, the value of these things seem unaffected by the trouble they caused.”
From pgs. 31-32: “Hoarding appeared to result, at least in part, from deficits in processing information. Making decisions about whether to keep and how to organize objects requires categorization skills, confidence in one’s ability to remember, and sustained attention. To maintain order, one also needs the ability to efficiently assess the value or utility of an object.”
From pg. 101: “Sentimentalizing objects — giving them emotional significance because of their association with important people or events — is not unusual. We all do it — ticket stubs from a favorite concert, pieces of a long ago wedding cake, a scrap of paper with a child’s first drawing. In this respect, what happens in hoarding is not out of the ordinary. The difference for Irene and Debra [two hoarders featured in the book], as for many hoarders, is that intense emotional meaning is attached to so many of their possessions, even otherwise ordinary things, even trash. Their special ability to see uniqueness and value where others don’t may stem from inquisitive and creative minds and contribute to this attachment. The desire to ‘experience everything’ may expand the range of attachments hoarders enjoy.”
From pg. 93: “Hoarding affords many of its sufferers the illusion of control and replaces fear with a feeling of safety.”
From pgs. 147-148: “While some hoarders, such as Ralph [a hoarder profiled in the text], become captivated by the possibilities in things, others are trapped by the fear of wasting them. Both types would save [a] rusty bucket with [a] hole in it, but for different reasons. For Ralph, imagining uses for the rusty bucket brought him joy. Anita, a participant in one of our treatment studies, spent little time thinking about possibilities, but a great deal of time worrying and feeling guilty about waste. For her the bucket would bring pain as she thought about what a wasteful person she would be if she discarded it.”
From pg. 155: “In one of our recent studies of people with hoarding problems, we found … hoarders were unusually sensitive to even small amounts of anxiety.”
From pg. 157: “Anxiety is not the only emotion hoarders seek to avoid. Most people, hoarders and non-hoarders alike, attempt to alleviate or preempt grief and sadness. Anyone who has stayed in a bad relationship or a bad job or has delayed breaking bad news to a friend can understand the urge. The difference with hoarders is a matter of scope: the number of sources for these feelings and the intensity of the feelings themselves, as well as the lengths to which they’ll go to protect themselves, are unusually great.”
From pgs. 214-215: “At this point, geneticists are betting that hoarding has at least some significant genetic cause, but exactly what is inherited is not clear. One possibility is that hoarders inherit deficits or different ways of processing information. Perhaps they inherit an intense perceptual sensitivity to visual details, such as the shapes and colors of Irene’s bottle caps. These visual details (overlooked by the rest of us) give objects special meaning and value to them. Or perhaps they inherit a tendency for the brain to store and retrieve memories differently. If visual cues (i.e., objects) are necessary for hoarders’ retrieval of memories, then getting rid of those cues is the same as losing their memories. Whatever is inherited, it is likely that some kind of emotional vulnerability must accompany this tendency in order for full-blown hoarding to develop.”
If you are interested in learning more about hoarding, I greatly recommend picking up Stuff.
J.D. Roth, who writes the educational and extremely valuable personal finance blog GetRichSlowly.org, just published Your Money: The missing manual with O’Reilly books. The book is filled with charts, graphs, checklists, guides, and explanations that explore the basics and advanced methods of personal finance — all with Roth’s simple ease and charm.
The book begins with a quote from George Mallory that aptly reflects the focus of the text:
“We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
Roth’s financial philosophy is based on the premise that you have to spend less than you earn. Regular readers of this website know that this is also a fundamental rule of being an Unclutterer. If you spend more than you earn, your thoughts will consistently be focused on anxieties (clutter) about money instead of on what matters to you most. Roth details how to get out of debt, spend less than you earn, and save money for the future (saving also means that you alleviate worries about your financial future).
One of the highlights for me is on page 95 of Your Money: The missing manual. Here, Roth presents a flowchart created by April Dykman that she “created to help her stay on track while shopping.” I think all Unclutterers should have this chart tattooed on their forearms (I jest. Please don’t get a tattoo of this.):
I’m also fond of the section titled “The Tyranny of Stuff,” which is perfectly suited for Unclutterers. In short, Roth’s premise in this section is if you “own less stuff” you will spend less on new acquisitions as well as maintaining the stuff you choose to own — less clutter, less storage space, less to clean, and less wasted money on unnecessary purchases.
In addition to the book, if you aren’t familiar with Roth’s blog GetRichSlowly.org, I also recommend you check it out. Money Magazine named it one of the top two financial advice sites on the internet. Roth knows very well how to get rid of cluttered finances. I give his new book two thumbs up.
I know that not everyone is on board with reading electronic books as a way to control over-flowing bookshelves, but if you are, you might be happy to know that Kindle software is now available for Mac.
Just like it is on the iPhone, the software is free to download. It provides easy access to Amazon’s more than 450,000 digital books. If you already have a Kindle device, you can now synchronize your account between it and your Mac. Or, instead of using a Kindle to read books digitally, you can use your Mac and avoid purchasing a Kindle completely.
My guess is that Amazon released this product in an effort to thwart a competing service that Apple might have for its iPad. I also expect the price of the Kindle to drop after the release of the iPad to be more competitive — so if you’ve been waiting to buy a Kindle, you might wait until after April 3 to see what happens.
The website Design Public is hosting an Organization Blog Fest for a week, and they asked me to be a part of the advice-wielding group for the second year in a row.
- Give away any books that you don’t plan on reading or referencing again, are in the public domain, and can be found in their entirety online.
- Keep the leather-bound copy of The Scarlet Letter that your grandmother gave you on her deathbed.
Check out the article to learn the other three tips!
Today is the release of Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project. I’ve made no secret about being a fan of Gretchen’s blog of the same name, and so I was elated when she sent me an advance copy of the book to review. I spent the weekend reading it (devouring it may be more accurate), and really enjoyed the 292 pages of insights and advice on happiness.
Let me begin by saying I have never created a deliberate plan to increase my happiness. “Be happier” has never made it onto my to-do or resolutions lists, and I’ve never read any books (before this one) directly related to happiness. Happiness is something that matters greatly to me, but I have always thought of it as a side effect rather than an end itself. After reading The Happiness Project, I’ve come to see that happiness can be an action item the same as any other goal.
In short, Gretchen took a year implementing all of the major theories on happiness and wrote about her experience from a first-hand perspective. The eleven areas she chose to focus on were boosting energy (a resolution I’m tackling this year), her marriage, her work, parenting, being serious about play, her friendships, money, eternity, pursing a passion, being mindful, and altering her attitude. Each area of focus included one to five specific action items — remember birthdays, launch a blog, ask for help — that helped her achieve her overall happiness ideal. She used a chart, similar to the one Ben Franklin describes in his Autobiography, to track her progress.
I was surprised by how honest Gretchen is about her personal failings in the text. I think this honesty adds to the practical nature of the book. The reader is able to see what concrete steps worked, and which ones didn’t, in helping her achieve her resolutions. For example, she started keeping a gratitude journal, only to give up on the journal a couple months later. It didn’t make her feel more grateful, and she had found other activities that actually did. Also, it took just one Laughter Yoga class before she knew it wasn’t a class for her.
Starting on page 25 of the book, Gretchen discusses her resolution to “Toss, Restore, Organize”:
Household disorder was a constant drain on my energy; the minute I walked through the apartment door, I felt as if I needed to start putting clothes in the hamper and gathering loose toys.
She spends a good chunk of the month of January getting rid of clutter and organizing her home and office. On page 26, she even mentions the Unclutterer blog as being an inspiration to her. (A totally unexpected shout out!) She experiences such a boost in her happiness level from clearing the clutter that many other times in the book she talks about lending friends a hand when they take on their uncluttering projects.
I have always been of the opinion that when you take on an uncluttering project of any kind, before you empty a single drawer or pull a piece of sports equipment out of your garage, you need to have a clear vision of why you want to make a change. What is your motivation? What is it that matters most to you? The Happiness Project is an incredible resource for helping to identify these motivations. Even though many of the things that matter most to me aren’t what matter most to Gretchen, my brain was constantly spinning about the things that would be part of my happiness project. It helped me to formulate my 2010 resolutions list, and I think I’ll even keep a chart like the one she and Benjamin Franklin used.
If you are interested in clarifying your reasons to become uncluttered, are looking to be happier, or simply enjoy the genre of “a year in the life” style books, I recommend checking out The Happiness Project. It’s a great reminder for not letting the joys of life pass you by.
As one of the programmers here at Unclutterer, I spend quite a bit of time educating myself on new technologies. My bookshelf is pretty crowded, mostly with books that I’ve already read, and now only need to refer to once in awhile.
I’ve been looking for a good way to unclutter my programming bookshelf, so I was excited to find out that O’Reilly, one of the foremost publishers of technology books, is currently running a promotion to allow owners of paper versions of their books to buy ebook versions at a substantial discount of only $4.99 per book.
While many people prefer paper versions of books for readability, ebook versions have a few notable advantages that make them particularly useful when it comes to technology books.
- Tech books are typically big and take up a lot of shelf space. Ebook versions are quite a bit smaller, and take up approximately zero shelf space.
- Code samples cannot be cut and pasted from paper books. Some books include an additional DVD, or link to a website, that contains sample code. This is unnecessary with an ebook, and can save a lot of time when trying to learn new concepts quickly.
- Ebook text can be searched much more easily than paper text. Especially across multiple books at once.
- Ebooks make it possible to take your bookshelf with you on the road, and nobody wants to be anchored to an office just because that’s where his books are.
To take advantage of this offer:
- Visit oreilly.com and log in to your account, or create a new one.
- Register each book you own using its 13 digit ISBN number.
- Find one of your registered books in the O’Reilly store and add the ebook version to your shopping cart.
- Enter the discount code 499UP during checkout.
The promotion runs through the month of October.