Book review: Keeping It Straight

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read Keeping It Straight — You, Me, and Everything Else by Patrick Rhone. It’s a digital book that is part memoir, part simple living and productivity guide, which through a collection of short essays addresses clearing clutter from your life to greater experience happiness. If you are a Mac user, you may be familiar with Patrick’s website MinimalMac.com.

It is a quick read, but an intimate look at how and why someone has embraced simple living practices. I certainly gained some wonderful insights from the text, and wanted to share a handful of excerpts with you.

I really liked his approach to smart consumerism:

… anywhere I can make a buying choice that I, with proper care and maintenance, will never have to make again for the rest of my life, I do. In those cases, I’m willing to pay far more for an item if I know it will last a lifetime and, even more importantly to me, if I will never have to spend the mental energy making a choice again. Especially because making final choices often requires far more time and research then making regular ones. In fact, I would argue that the more final the choice, the longer it should take to make it. Also, what you spend on the front end usually repays exponentially, and in many different ways, on the back end.

His thoughts on saving time by learning a piece of software and its associated short-cut keys:

if you use an application more than once a day you can save so much time and effort by learning the keyboard shortcuts for the features you use. Do you know how to reload a page in your browser without touching the mouse? How about opening a new window in the Finder? While those may seem like no-brainers to some, I can tell you from personal experience that it still takes me conscious effort to use my keyboard to jump into the Google search field in Safari because the muscle memory of clicking it is so strong. Bottom line, if you find yourself performing regular actions, see if there is a way to automate those.

A non-traditional perspective on creating to-do lists (especially in contrast to the Getting Things Done maybe/someday list):

Your to-do list should be a sacred place. It should be filled only with the things you really plan on doing, things you are constantly evaluating, and things you are taking active steps to move forward and to get them done.

And his humorous, yet poignant view of productivity tools:

The Three Most Important Productivity Tools — The trash can, the delete key, and the word “no.”

If you enjoy a memoir with helpful simple living and productivity advice, Patrick’s book of essays is available for sale at keepingitstraightbook.com and firsttodaypress.com. It is also available for download from Amazon for the Kindle.

Links for April 21, 2011

These items caught my attention over the past couple weeks, and I wanted to share them with you. They weren’t large enough to stand on their own as full posts, so I gathered them together in a link roundup:

  • The company Electrolux sponsored nine teams at the Domus Academy in Milan to design the kitchen of the future. The concepts are pretty impressive, especially for small space and storage design. Electrolux ReSource.
  • The show Clean House is looking for cluttered homes to be made over for future episodes. The show is filming next season in the greater Los Angeles and New York City areas, and to be considered you must own your home and at least two adults must live in the place. If you want to be on the show, email your name, address, phone number, list of everyone in the house and relationship to them, photos or videos of three rooms in your home that are messy, and a brief explanation for why you want to be on the show to Rose at rosecastingcleanhouse@gmail.com for LA consideration and Amy at assistant@mendenhallmedia.com for NYC consideration. You must submit your email by tomorrow, April 22, 2011.
  • SwissMiss featured a great little product that bands your writing utensils to your favorite notebook, clipboard, or book. The pencil holders are called Clever Hands and they’re made by an artist on Etsy. I think these would be a great organizing tool for students.
  • A website, hysterically named BookshelfPorn, features daily pictures of (usually) organized bookshelves from amazing libraries around the world. After our post earlier this month about keeping clutter off your bookshelf, I thought you all might enjoy seeing these (mostly) amazing solutions.
  • My friend Julie Bestry, a professional organizer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently wrote a post for the Metropolitan Organizing website on how to become a Certified Professional Organizer. If you’ve ever thought about a career as a professional organizer or are already a professional organizer and want to be a CPO, I highly recommend checking out her post.
  • Another professional organizer friend of mine, Allison Carter based in the Atlanta area, has a quick post on uncluttered gift ideas for moms for this upcoming Mother’s Day.
  • Last August, NPR featured a 40-minute segment on Fresh Air exploring “Digital Overload.” It’s a long segment, but it’s interesting as it looks at people’s addiction to multi-tasking.

Keeping book clutter off the bookshelf

I’m possibly taking my April resolution for a Super Simple Month a bit too seriously. Instead of starting to read new books, I’m re-reading a few of my favorites — they’re books I love, books that entertain, as well as books that cause me to examine my view of the world. They’re also books that are so complex I fear I may have missed some insights the first time I read them.

I’m currently re-reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami is a gifted storyteller and I’ve wanted to re-read this mystery since I made it through the first time. However, the book lingered for many years on my bookshelf, and it was starting to become a “look-how-cool-I-am” book (one that sits on your shelf for the sole purpose of impressing other people, not because you’ll actually read it again).

When we were packing up books for our move, I committed to getting rid of all of my books that fell into the “look-how-cool-I-am” category. I thought I had been good at keeping these books off my shelves, but I certainly found a number of them when I was sorting titles. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was one that I initially put in the Donation pile because I hadn’t re-read it like I had thought I would. After a few minutes in the Donation pile, though, I moved it to the Keep pile and gave myself three months to re-read it. I wrote on June 1 in my calendar to donate it if it wasn’t re-read. I did this with three titles, all of which I hope to re-read this month before donating them to our library’s annual book sale.

When packing up our bookshelves, these are the standards I used for deciding what moved and what didn’t:

Keep

  1. Current reference books. These are books that are as up-to-date as possible and are more accurate or specific than what you might find online. For example, I kept two dictionaries — one Scrabble dictionary (because it’s nice to have a copy on the table during game play) and one illustrated French dictionary for my son (he’s learning French so he can speak with my husband’s family). I got rid of our other dictionaries since finding words online is easier than retrieving a book off the shelf.
  2. Regularly accessed cookbooks. Technically, these are reference books, but I think they deserve a mention independently. If you use the cookbook at least once a month, I think it’s a good book to keep. If you use it less than that, you might want to consider giving it away.
  3. Books you plan to read. My rule of thumb is that I can only have four months of future reading material in the house. Any more than that, and the books start overwhelming the bookcase. I read four to eight books a month, so for me that means only 20 or 30 to-read books on the bookshelf at a time. I have a Kindle, so I also count my Kindle books in this number, even though they don’t take up physical space.
  4. Books you have scheduled time to re-read. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not really to going happen. Keep only the books you will actually re-read, and then get rid of them.
  5. Books of great sentimental or financial value. Maybe the book is a first edition and it’s signed by the author? Maybe it was the first book you ever read after you learned to read? Keep only those, however, that would break your heart to lose. A copy of The Scarlet Letter that you bought to read for an English class in high school can go (especially if you hated it). Keep the copy of the book that changed your life.
  6. If you have children, books for children. It’s easy for kids to work on their reading skills when they have many options for reading materials.

Donate, Recycle, or Toss

  1. Damaged books. If a book is damaged and it’s not worth salvaging, get rid of it. Toss it if it’s covered in mold/mildew, and put it in the recycling bin if it’s only structurally damaged.
  2. Books you’ll never read/re-read. Maybe you purchased the book thinking you should read it, but never got around to it. If you know deep down that you’ll never read it (or re-read it), get rid of it.
  3. Look-how-cool-I-am books. Bookshelves are for storing reference books, books of great value to you, and books you plan to read. Bookshelves are not for trying to impress other people. If you want to impress other people, get a trophy case.

We ended up moving 17 boxes of books, and 6 of those boxes were full of my son’s books. For a bibliophile like me, I felt like I did a decent job of getting rid of all (or at least most of) the clutter. Could your bookshelves use a good review? What standards do you use to decide what stays and what goes? If you plan to re-read a book, do you have a due date set on your calendar? Do you have more books on your to-read shelf than you could possibly read this year (or in your lifetime)? Can you stop buying books until you’ve worked through your to-read list?

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:

3758

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

@wickedphysics

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:

5320

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

@austinmomof7

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 random.org 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.