Archives for Decluttering
A few weeks ago, a reader asked me if I still stand by the information in our extremely popular 2007 series “Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter” and the three other articles in the paper-begone series. Basically, he wanted to know if I would write the series the same way now that I did then.
Would the fundamental premise of the articles be the same today as it was then? Yes. Would a few specific details change? Definitely.
The most obvious thing I would change is the equipment used to scan and shred the papers we don’t need to retain in physical form. I still love the Fujitsu ScanSnap, but the technology referenced in the article is now about six years old. The ScanSnap line has come a long way since then. Also, I’ve come to adore shredders on wheels because they can be moved around a room to wherever you need them.
The latest model in the ScanSnap desktop line is the iX500 and it’s an impressive machine. I’ve been test driving one the past two weeks (thank you, ScanSnap!) and it’s amazing — it doesn’t require a desktop computer to launch, it will scan straight to a mobile device or an online storage location over Wifi (so I can save straight to Dropbox), it’s noticeably faster than the S1500M model we own, and I’ve been able to customize it to send scans automatically to whatever program I want, so items like photographs now import straight into iPhoto. I won’t upgrade permanently from the S1500M we already have, but if we didn’t have a scanner I would save up for this one. If you’re in the market for one, the list price is $495. They’re expensive, but they’re really nice. (Full iX500 product details.)
As far as shredders go, I’d recommend the Fellowes PowerShred 79Ci now. The thing is a monster at chewing up stuff you want to shred. And, as I referenced earlier, it’s on wheels, which makes it convenient to use and store. It’s also expensive, but the thing will last you a decade or more if you treat it well. Our PowerShred PS-77Cs is still rocking after seven years of service, and we use it daily. Unlike less expensive shredders, the PowerShred line is built to last.
The list of things to shred and not to shred is still accurate, though a lot of people greatly dislike my advice to destroy old passports. I probably should have written more clearly about waiting to shred the old passport until after you get a new one. Submitting your old one does speed up the renewal process. However, once you get the old one back, if you don’t need it for any legal reason, it’s safe to shred (just be sure to pop out the RFID chip first). My last passport, though used many times, didn’t even have a single stamp in it because so many countries have stopped stamping and my old visa had to be relinquished when I left the country that required me to have the visa. If you want to keep old passports, especially if they have stamps in them, do it but please keep it in a safe or safe-deposit box so it doesn’t end up in the hands of identity thieves.
I still use DevonThink to organize my digital documents and FreedomFiler for my paper files (though, I’ve added a ridiculous number of my own files to the FreedomFiler system in the past six years that resemble what I discuss in my book). Those two products have suited me well all this time.
Even with all of these products and systems, paper continues to be something we have to deal with daily in our home. We’ve unsubscribed from as much junk mail as possible, yet we still get some from businesses and services we use. The shredder, trash can, and recycling bin by our main entrance are essential in dealing with the junk immediately and not letting it come deep inside the house. But, the stuff we let in voluntarily — the bank statements, the receipts, the pay stubs, the contracts — still feels overwhelming at times. We’ve gone so far as to unsubscribe from all print magazines and now subscribe to these publications digitally over Zinio. The only way we’ve been able to keep from being overwhelmed by paper is to clear our desks each day as part of our end-of-day work routines. All papers filed, junk shred, receipts reconciled, documents scanned, etc. It only takes five or ten minutes, but it’s still a chore. I’m looking forward to the day when I only have to spend five or ten minutes a week (or less) dealing with paper clutter.
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.
What do you do with your cards after the holidays have passed? Do you keep them on display for a while or put them away in a box? Do you throw them out? When the holiday season comes to a close, you may find it difficult to part with them. If you’re not quite ready to let them go or not sure what to do with them, they can easily clutter your space. Instead of them taking over the top of your dining table or whatever surface they’ve landed on, consider using them in different ways so that you an extend their usefulness.
Make digital copies
Digitizing your cards may be a nice option especially since you can use your favorites as desktop screen savers. You can scan them and continue to enjoy them long after the season has ended and not have to worry about them cluttering your home or office. And, when you decide that you no longer want them, uncluttering will just be a few, quick clicks away.
A fun idea I’ve seen linked to numerous times on Pinterest is to snap pictures of family photo cards you receive with your smart phone and link the images to your contacts so the appropriate picture appears when you get a call. Ashley Ann Photography has a tutorial on her site for how to do this project yourself (the tutorial begins halfway down the page, so you’ll need to scroll).
Donate your greeting cards
Did you know that you can donate new and used holiday cards? The St. Jude’s Ranch for Children accepts used all-occasion greeting cards year-round. Children who participate in St. Jude’s Kids’ Corp. program use your old cards to create new cards for sale. Also check with your local community and senior centers, schools, and after-school programs to find out if they have a need for writing and craft projects.
Make something new
Used holiday cards can be transformed into holiday postcards. Whether you’re sending your usual holiday greetings or participating in Holiday Mail for Heroes, you can host card-making parties and involve friends and family in the card-making process.
Last week, I mentioned that you can make something fun with orphaned socks. Well, you can do the same with holiday cards, too. Indulge your creative side and make gift tags (Instructables has a tutorial), paper ornaments, placemats, magnets (using photo cards), book marks, or game and puzzle pieces.
Frame your favorites
Why not frame the cards you love? Pick a spot on a table or wall to display your favorite ones. If you have several cards that are meaningful to you, consider using hinged frames (like the Easy Change Artwork Frame) so that you can easily rotate the cards you’d liked to display. Depending on the size of the frame you use, you may also be able to include multiple cards at one time.
No matter how you choose to repurpose the holiday cards you’ve received, remember that you can be creative with ways to get more enjoyment from them. Just be sure that they don’t end up cluttering your home or office. And, don’t forget, you can always trash and/or recycle them.
The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, is a self-described “unique and charming” museum that displays well over 10,000 shoes and hosts podcasts about “one fantastic shoe” every month. And, shoes aren’t the only thing on display. The museum also held an art exhibit featuring socks and the history of their humble beginnings.
The curious thing about socks is that they often lose their mates and become a source of clutter. Unlike those featured at the Bata, the ones in your home can end up under your bed and in between the sofa cushions. They are also often relegated to the dark recesses of shopping bags when Justin Case comes for a visit.
“I’ll keep this sock, just in case its mate turns up.”
Does that sound familiar? When we misplace an item from a matching set, we tend to hang on to them for a while, especially when the items cannot be used without each other (such as a gadget and its power cord). We probably keep lonely socks because we still see some value in them, even though they are now orphaned and we may not want them anymore. Fortunately, there are uncluttered alternatives to keeping mateless socks:
- Wear them! This may not seem as obvious (or maybe it’s so obvious that it’s often overlooked), but you can still wear them. You can make a pair using another lonely sock and wear them around the house.
- Use them as padding in your packages. Clean socks can be used inside packages to protect the items that you’re mailing. This is a good way to keep the contents of your package safe, but you should let the recipient know that the socks can be discarded.
- Use them to protect holiday decorations. You can store some of your holiday decorations (like ornaments) inside the socks before packing them away.
- Dust with them. I’m not a fan of dusting, so this is my least favorite option, but you can add mateless socks to your cleaning supplies. Just be sure to keep a specific number of sock dusters so that you don’t end up cramming more and more of them in with your supplies.
- Use them in craft projects. This is perhaps the most fun way to repurpose socks (especially for children). From sock puppets to doll accessories, get creative and make something new. Looking for inspiration? Check out the book The Lonely Sock Club: One Sock, Tons of Cool Projects!.
- Make a pet toy. If you have pets, you can make a cool tug-of-war toy for them. Have a look at this tutorial from Real Simple on how to make one. If you have a cat, you can stuff a little cat nip inside it, close it up, and watch your cat go nuts. You may also want to check with your local animal shelter to find out if they have a need for them.
The next time you end up with orphaned socks, be sure that they don’t overstay their welcome and turn into another source of clutter. You can use one of the suggestions above to breathe new life into them, but remember that it really is okay to let them go if you have no use for them.
Inboxes of all kinds can easily grow out of control without much effort. Recently, I admitted to myself I had entirely too many, and processing each one had become a time-consuming hassle. I’d forget to look in one or the other and miss something important. Now, I’ve pared them down to a few essential inboxes. Here’s what I’m using for inboxes, as well as a few tips on effective inbox management and decisions to consider when setting up inboxes of your own.
What’s an “inbox?”
An inbox is a productivity middle man that sit between your receipt of stuff — email, phone calls, crumpled papers at the bottom of a school backpack — and your neatly organized to-do list. It’s anything you might use to capture all your stuff that needs to be processed.
I define stuff per David Allen’s definition: stuff is anything that isn’t where it should be. Tickets for the play you intend to see over the weekend, the water bill, a permission slip from your child’s school. All of this stuff must be processed (figure out what it is and what must be done, if anything).
Inboxes I use
- Notebook and pen. I’ve got a notebook and a pen with me at all times. It’s my favorite way to capture ideas that pop into my head (“I must remember to schedule an oil change for the van”) as well as things that come up in conversations. I love my notebook for several reasons. First, it never goes down or has a dead battery. It never crashes or loses data. My notebook never needs an update and every pen I own is compatible with it. Water won’t kill it (I fished one out of the Delaware river that I’m still using). Plus, they’re cheap and easy to recycle.
I use a Fisher Space Pen because it’s light, durable, small and can write in any position, for those times you have to prop your paper up against a wall to get a flat surface. Ordinary pens would succumb to gravity and stop working in this situation. Not the Fisher.
As for notebooks, anything small enough to fit in your pocket will do. I’m partial to Field Notes Brand because they’re durable and fairly inexpensive.
- Email inboxes. I’ve written about email before, so I won’t go into great detail in this post. But, I will say this: don’t go silly with rules, folders, colors, tagging and so on. I have two folders (Review and VIP) and a few rules — most of which kill spam. The goal is efficiency. Create just what you need to process your email stuff effectively, and nothing else.
- Physical inbox. Visit any office supply store in your town and pick up a tray or two. I have a cheap-o faux leather box from Staples. I use it most often with index cards.
I keep a stack of plain, 3×5 index cards on my desk. When some stuff shows up, I write it down on an index card, throw it into the inbox and resume what I was doing. The interruption is minimal and my brain trusts that I’ll give the info on that card the attention it deserves later in the day, so I can continue to focus on the task at hand.
Here are a few ideas for even more effective inbox management.
- Don’t share an inbox with your spouse … or your housemate, roommate, or whomever you live with if you live with someone. My wife and I made this change a few years ago and it’s benefited our productivity and our marriage. We have our own conflicting ways of dealing with stuff, and the differences led to tension. Plus, my stuff no longer gets lost among hers and vice-versa.
- Designate a time to process your inboxes. I like to do this at the end of the day. I know that my energy level will be low, and the act of flipping through index cards, email messages and notebook scribblings isn’t very taxing. I’m not completing tasks at this point, just reviewing the day’s crop of stuff and deciding what must be done about it.
- Buy tools you enjoy using. If you have a new toy, you’re likely to play with it. Honestly, I use Field Notes Brand notebooks because I like the look of them. They’re cute and harken back to the old-time agricultural notebooks that farmers used to keep tabs on their crops, livestock, etc. I like that about them, and therefore, I want to use them. Find an inbox tray you like. Identify a favorite pen. Heck, I even occasionally splurge on fancy-pants index cards when I’m feeling flush.
- Ditch the guilt! No one gets clean and clear every day. It’s perfectly okay to go to bed before you’ve placed every little item into a project or list, just try not to make it an every day habit.
A Few Decisions To Make
There are a few things to consider when creating inboxes. First, will you separate professional vs. personal stuff? I’m more than happy to let a note from my kid’s school mingle with to-do’s for work. If that bothers you, consider a way to keep them separate.
It’s also important to consider if you should go electronic. Apps, computers, and mobile devices are appealing and fun, but not always the best solution if you don’t consistently use them. Often a low-tech solution like pen and paper is just the ticket. Also, getting stuff off an electronic inbox can sometimes be a hassle.
I hope this helps. Remember to use as few inboxes as you can, but as many as you need. You’ll process more quickly and miss less.
In Gretchen Rubin’s recent article in The New York Times, she said:
While we’re constantly bombarded with messages of “More!” and “Buy now!” we’re also offered the tantalizing promise “You’ll be happier with less!”
She goes on to say that achieving simplicity is not as cut and dry as it may seem. Like some relationships, it can be complex. And, it can get especially complicated when you have to let go of things that have high sentimental value.
Rubin also suggests that we need to keep things that are precious to us. Striking the right balance between how much to keep and how much to let go of can be difficult if everything is (seemingly) dear to you. How do you decide what stays and what goes? It’s this part of the process that can stop you in your tracks. And, there are times when you’re forced to make a decision, like when you’re moving to a smaller home (or office) or if you have to sort through the belongings of a loved one who has passed away.
Though you may not know what to do with everything, there are some steps you can take until the time comes for you make a decision.
- Pack them away. When your emotions get the best of you, it can be difficult to make a final decision about what to purge and what to keep. You might find yourself changing your mind many times. This can add to any stress you’re feeling, so you may want to put those items in a box to review later. But, before you put that box in the garage or the top shelf in your closet, add a label with the contents and an expiration date. Choose a reasonable timeframe that you think will give you enough time to figure out what to do. And, if/when that time comes and you still haven’t decided what to do with them, give yourself permission to let go of the box and everything in it.
- Capture the moment. One of the reasons we hold on to documents is because we want the information that on them. The same can be true for sentimental objects. Sometimes, it’s not the object but the memory that the item conjures up for us that we wish to save. Consider writing down (or recording) your memories and feelings associated with those cherished items. A paper journal may be all you need, but you also can create a digital scrapbook (and include photographs) or start a blog to capture all your memories. This way, you’re still honoring the objects without having to keep them.
- Pick the best. As you try to decide what to keep, select the things that mean the most to you or that are in the best condition. Then, put them in a spot in your home or office that you can easily see them. Over time, your feelings for them might wane. By then, you will have enjoyed them and be ready to pass them on.
Making a decision about an emotionally charged object is a tricky endeavor. But, you don’t have to have all the answers right away or to decide what to do immediately. And, if you keep in mind that you likely can’t keep everything, you’ll be able to part with items that are truly clutter and keep the ones that mean the most to you.
To help keep clutter at bay, it can be helpful to keep a few tried and true organizing principles in mind. When you weave them into your day-to-day life, you’ll have a path to follow so that you can keep your spaces organized and feel less stressed when things get a bit overwhelming.
Last month, I shared six organizing concepts and today, I have five more for you to review.
To maintain order, start thinking about your lifestyle and then …
Create habits and routines that work for you
“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle
Being able to keep things in order is hinged on routines. If those routines fit your lifestyle, are easy to follow, and you (or others you delegate to) keep up with them regularly, you’ll have a greater chance of kicking clutter in the arse. Organizing strategies are not one-size-fits-all, so be sure to test a few to find the ones that mesh well with your current lifestyle.
Everything must have a home
When the items in our homes and offices don’t have a designated space to live, you may find them scattered about in several areas. You might also be tempted to throw them all in a box to review later. In reality, though, when the time comes to sort through them, they’ll probably continue residing in that box if there’s still no specific place for them to permanently go. The good news is that once they have a home, you’ll be able to put them back where they belong (instead of putting them down) and find them easily when you need them.
Keep frequently used items easily accessible
It can be extremely frustrating if you always have to move other things to get access to the items you use often. You’ll also end up wasting a bit of time and chances are, you probably won’t put anything back in place because of how difficult it is to reach them. Instead, put the things you use frequently close by and in the same place all the time (your favorite pen and notebook on your desk, your keys on the hook by the door, your earbuds in the gadget box). Put the other things that you don’t use all the time on a high shelf (or behind your frequently used items).
Group like items together
By now, this rule of thumb is probably permanently etched in your mind. I say this tongue in cheek, but I couldn’t leave it off the list because it works extremely well. When you gather all the similar items in your home or office, you immediately know how big your stash is and you avoid buying duplicates. Which also means you’ll be saving a bit of money and add a few minutes to your day because you won’t be searching high and low for your stuff.
Don’t buy something simply because it’s on sale
…or because you have lots of coupons. Getting a great deal on something you’ve had your eye on can make you feel happy, almost triumphant, especially when that thing is something that you need and will use. But, sometimes sales can tempt us to buy things that we don’t use or even like. The result can be an overgrown pile of things that gather dust and take up space that could be used for things that you actually use. Before opening your wallet, think about how much you and your family will realistically use the product you’re about to buy. If you won’t really use it, why not share the deal (or coupon) with someone who really needs it?
Reader Mip submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I checked the archives, but couldn’t find anything quite like this. My boyfriend and I are moving into a room in an apartment that has two other roommates. Despite the consolidating of two people’s stuff into one room, we have a problem: my boyfriend has three siblings, and they’ve accidentally left a lot of their stuff.
There’s very little chance that they’re going to come by and pick stuff up since one’s deployed with the Navy, and the other two live a minimum eight hours away, and are extremely busy. A lot of this stuff is just not useable to us — for example, they left us a guitar that neither of us can play. It’s taken up the whole room, and it’s just a mess. What’s the best way to store this stuff so that we can have a room of our own, but still keep all of their stuff out of the way?
This is one of those times when I will give advice and the majority of the commenters to the post will strongly disagree with me. Mip, you may even have a negative reaction to my response. However, please know I’m not an insensitive troll. I understand how this sort of thing happens, but it’s hard enough to deal with our personal clutter. Voluntarily taking on another person’s (or, in your case people’s) clutter — when that person is alive and well and of sound mind and physical ability to care for his or her own belongings — it is completely unfair, in my opinion.
So what is the advice you’re likely to deem heartless? I believe your boyfriend should contact his siblings and let them know that if the stuff isn’t picked up by X date, he’ll sell the stuff and send them the money minus a small fee for handling the sales. The date he chooses should probably be two months in the future, so his siblings have a realistic amount of time to retrieve the items. And, with the holidays coming up on the calendar, it is more likely their paths will cross in that timeframe.
For the two not in the Navy, if they really want the stuff, they’ll ask him to send it to them (at their expense) or come and pick up the stuff in person. If they don’t retrieve the stuff, they do not want it, irrespective of what they say. No one “accidentally” leaves a bunch of stuff at someone’s house and then makes no effort to get that important stuff back. It is not a priority for them if they cannot figure out a way to get their things or to pay for them to be shipped in a two-month period. (Again, I’m assuming they are mentally and physically healthy and are fully functioning adults. Different standards would apply if one of them were in the hospital or a rehabilitation facility, for example.)
The sibling who is in the Navy is a bit more difficult of a situation, but if he/she is on active duty, it will be years before he/she will likely have room to store the items. The items should be sold or the sibling needs to start paying for a storage facility for the items. Living in the Washington, D.C., area, I know numerous active duty members of the Navy at various ranks and types of enlistment, and all of them use storage units when they are deployed. When my father was on active duty in the Navy, he had one trunk of stuff at his parents’ house — but his parents lived in a giant farm house, and not a single room. If the person in the Navy is responsible enough to protect the people of our nation, he or she is responsible enough to take care of his or her personal possessions in such a way that it doesn’t burden his sibling.
Also, it’s not hard or all that expensive to ship a guitar (usually under $100) to the sibling who left this with your boyfriend. There are numerous sites on the Web that detail how to ship musical instruments safely, if your boyfriend is unaware of how to make this happen.
Simply stated, your home is not a place for other people’s clutter. His siblings are being disrespectful and if the stuff really mattered to them, they already would have it with them or in a storage unit.
Thank you, Mip, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please check the comments for more insights from our readers, as they will very likely be different opinions than mine, and certainly worth considering their viewpoints.
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.
If you find yourself struggling under mountains of paper piles, you might also be yearning for the day when those piles are replaced by digital files that are easily searchable. That will mean less time sifting through documents and you’ll be able to find what you need quickly.
But, though it may seem that clutter is only attracted to the physical things you own, it can also creep into your computers and make a mess of your digital files. As Leo Babauta put it, “there are costs to such packrattery.” Whether you’re storing lots of photos, music, or documents on your devices, if you don’t have a system for easy retrieval (just like with your paper files), you’ll likely spend more time than necessary looking for the items you need. And, if you have an influx of files that you don’t use anymore, they will take up a lot of space and make your processor seem like it’s running on molasses.
To begin the digital clean up process, start by …
Purging duplicate files
Have you ever bought something only to discover that you already had it? Most likely, you just didn’t see the original or know where to find it, so you went ahead and got another one to replace it. Duplicate files can be like that, too. When you can’t find the file you want, it might seem easier to just download, recreate, purchase or somehow duplicate what you already have. You will then end up with multiple copies of the same thing, which can make using your laptop or PC more complicated than it needs to be. And, like unnecessary multiples of anything, they will consume space that could be put to better use.
- If you find documents with the same name followed by numbers in parenthesis, like XYZ.doc(1) and XYZ.doc(2), they’re likely to be the same document that you’ve downloaded several times. Use Duplicate Cleaner, Easy Duplicate Finder, Double Killer, or Tidy Up (for Mac) to remove multiple copies of the same files.
- Schedule purging sessions at regular intervals (once/month, once/quarter) to remove your duplicates.
- Start tagging your files with names that are easy for you to remember, and consider using the same structure (e.g. YearMonthDay_filename.extension, 20121024_digital.jpg). Before downloading or saving a new file, use the search feature on your PC or mobile device to ensure you don’t already have it.
Remove programs on your mobile devices you no longer use
Grab your smart phone or tablet. How many apps are on the home screen? How many do you use on a regular basis? If there are apps that you no longer use or like, it’s time to give them the boot. Keeping them on your device eats up space, may slow down your device, and stop your phone from being backed up. In my case, I had too many pictures (along with some apps I didn’t use anymore) stored on my iPhone and iCloud declined to run the backup. After reducing them, the backups resumed.
- Starting with your home screens, remove your unused apps.
- After purging, take a few minutes to arrange the apps in a way that makes sense to you.
- iPhone and Android users (with Apps Organizer) can group similar apps together in one folder (music, finance, games, productivity, etc).
Organize your contacts
Digital contacts, like business cards, can linger around long after they’re useful. This is another area that duplicates can creep in, so look through your contacts list to remove them.
- Delete duplicates and update contacts with current information.
- When possible, separate your personal and business contacts.
- Keep your address book organized with programs like Google Goggles or Evernote Hello.
Cleaning up the clutter on all your devices may take a bit of time up front, but once you begin the process, maintenance will be easier. You’ll also immediately notice how much easier it is to locate specific information and you’ll have more room for the programs and files you need.
When you need to unclutter, getting help from someone else can make the task seem less daunting. Sometimes, all you might need is another person who can be in the room with you while you actually do the sorting and categorizing of your items, which in the industry we refer to as an accountability partner. You might even be very willing to assist when you’re called upon to help a friend, family member, or colleague with getting more organized. Though it’s helpful to keep rules of thumb in mind, you’ll also want to remember that organizing another person’s items is not exactly the same as sorting through your own belongings.
To give yourself the chance to offer the best help possible, first …
Before embarking on any uncluttering project, you likely come up with one or two goals and then figure out the steps needed to achieve them. When you’re helping someone else unclutter, you will also want to establish goals — not yours, but theirs. Having a goal (or goals) gives you both direction and a path to follow. Since you are there to be supportive, you first need to know what the desired result is (clear the floor around my bed, get rid of paper clutter from my desk and create a desktop filing system, get my car back in the garage).
- Get a clear picture of what they want to accomplish and consider having a quick meeting over the phone or in person to discuss it. Talking it through can help you both make a solid and reasonable plan of attack.
- Find out if he/she has a deadline in mind. This will help you understand how much needs to be done and figure out if indeed you have the time to help.
Understand that uncluttering can be an emotional process
When you’re organizing your things, there are times that you probably find yourself feeling motivated, surprised, productive, overwhelmed, and everything in between. You can go through a range of emotions at varying points in the process. Chances are, the friend or family member you’re helping will also take a ride on the same emotional roller coaster. And, those feelings may be heightened because they now have another person (you) present. Yes, they know you care about them, but by sharing the experience with you, it can feel as if they’re exposing their deepest, darkest secret (and perhaps they are).
- If the person you’re helping begins to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, reassure them you’re not judging them and you genuinely want to help.
- If emotions start to run high, stop and take a break so you can both regroup. Before jumping back in, re-focus on the goal(s) that were established. Pause after a reasonable amount of time so you can see which action items you’ve completed and which ones you will move to next.
Be patient as you facilitate the process
When you’re working with someone else, you’ll likely want to exercise more patience than you’re expecting to, particularly if the process doesn’t move along as quickly as you would like. For example, although you may know the person you’re helping very well, you’ll still need to ask if you can throw things away, even if those items seem like trash to you. To help keep yourself from immediately acting on items, think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed and someone else (seemingly) took ownership of your belongings. That’s not the impression you intend to give, but that may be how it is perceived.
- Before you be being working, come up with ground rules that you both can follow (all magazines prior to August 2012 can be recycled). This will help speed up the process a bit and be in line with the parameters you both agreed to.
- Be aware of how you’re feeling and take breaks when you need to so that any frustration you may be feeling isn’t conveyed in your actions or words.
Remember that backsliding is possible
Keep in mind that organizing is a process, not an end point. Systems may be created to keep things in order, but they have to be kept up with on a regular basis to make sure that clutter doesn’t return. It will take some practice to do things differently and there’s a possibility that there may be some backsliding. This is not unusual or necessarily a reflection of something you did or didn’t do.
- If you intend to continue helping, don’t be discouraged. It’s possible that backsliding is situational (something traumatic or dramatic happened) or that they need more time to practice a new way of doing things.
- Consider using mantras to help you both stay motivated and in a positive state of mind.
Helping someone else unclutter is a very thoughtful thing to do. With a bit of planning before you begin working, patience, and reasonable expectations, you’ll likely end up with more organized space while keeping your relationship intact.
Your wallet (or purse) is likely one of the items that you probably use on a regular basis. Can you name all the things that are inside of it? How long does it take you to find what you’re looking for? If it’s bursting at the seams or you’re keeping it together with a rubberband, try …
Purging your receipts
…along with the other pieces of paper (post-it notes, business cards, movie stubs). Why overload it with things that you probably won’t remember are in there? If you need to reconcile the receipts before you discard them or remember that phone number you wrote down, take a photo of those items and let go of the paper. And, if you really need that business card, enter it directly in your contacts or save it in your online notebook.
Use digital coupons
If you’re still carrying around store loyalty cards (or paper coupons), they could be taking up much needed space in your wallet. Try using digital coupons or a smart phone app, Passbook (for iPhone), instead. They’re attached to your phone and loyalty number, so you really won’t need those cards (which means you can also let go of the ones for your key chain, too).
Figure out your must-haves
Everyone’s wallet will hold different items based on their unique situation and routines. There’s no right or wrong way to organize your wallet. The right way is the way that works best for you. But, that doesn’t mean that it needs to be stuffed and stretched beyond its limit. Take a minute to figure out what you really need to have in your wallet on a regular basis. For me, one of those things is a book of stamps. It’s probably not typical wallet fare, but I really like having quick access to stamps when I’m running errands (I’ve been known to mail cards when the mood strikes). As you sort through your things, consider how many credit cards you really need to carry and be sure remove your social security card.
Decide if you need a new wallet
Once you’ve decided which things you must always have with you, figure out if you need a new (larger or smaller) wallet that will suit your needs. Instead of forcing many items into a too-small wallet, use one that will comfortably fit everything. The reverse is true, too. If things keep slipping out of your larger wallet or you find you’re not using all the compartments, consider getting a smaller one.
And, before you put everything neatly back in place, make a copy of each item first (remember to update it when you add/remove something). Hopefully, you will never need to refer to it, but it is helpful to have if you lose your wallet or if it is stolen.
Have a spot for an emergency money
Along with your driver’s license or state ID and health insurance card, it’s a great idea to have emergency money in your wallet (a small sum will suffice). If you’ve ever been caught off guard when you realize (too late) a restaurant only accepts cash or your debit card is expired, it’s nice to have that extra money.
What do you have in your wallet that you could remove?
A reader recently emailed asking if I could put together a detail of what my day looks like and how I stay on top of uncluttering and organizing tasks. I’ve written something like this before, but I’ve become a mom since writing the original article, so I thought I’d put together an updated routine. This one-day example shows how a little bit of effort each day can keep most people’s homes in good condition.
Not every Tuesday works exactly like what I have listed here, but this is a fairly accurate representation of how I move throughout my day. All of the chores I share with my husband, so where the schedule says “load the dishwasher” or “take son to school,” it might be either of us who does this activity.
One thing to note is most weekdays I work until 5:00 p.m. The “After-Work Errand Routine” is special just to Tuesdays and allows me to grocery shop and run errands at a time when the stores and streets aren’t crowded. As a result, most Tuesdays I go back to work from 8:45 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. instead of relaxing during that time.
A Typical Tuesday
Morning Home Routine:
6:30 a.m. Wake up, brush teeth, wash face, put on workout clothes, and make bed.
6:40 a.m. Unload dishwasher, make coffee, feed pets, assemble son’s lunch, get breakfast on the table.
7:00 a.m. Sit and do nothing for 10 or 15 minutes with a cup of coffee.
7:15 a.m. Wake up son, everyone eats breakfast.
7:45 a.m. Load dishwasher, sweep floor.
7:50 a.m. Supervise son getting dressed, teeth brushed and flossed, his face cleaned, and backpack loaded.
8:05 a.m. Take son to school.
Morning Work Routine:
8:30 a.m. Work on most important writing/client project.
9:45 a.m. Check email, social media, and administrative work.
10:00 a.m. Work on second most important writing/client project.
11:15 a.m. Check email, social media, and administrative work.
11:30 a.m. Make and eat lunch, load dishwasher.
12:00 p.m. Exercise or do yard work (like mowing).
12:45 p.m. Shower and get ready.
Afternoon Work Routine:
1:00 p.m. Work on third most important writing/client project.
2:00 p.m. Make another cup of coffee, check email, social media, and administrative work.
2:15 p.m. Wrap up writing/client projects for the day.
2:30 p.m. End-of-day routine for work: set phone to do not disturb, clear desk, set writing agenda for next day, have everything set and ready to go for tomorow.
After-Work Errand Routine: (Tuesdays only)
2:45 p.m. Pick up son from school.
3:05 p.m. Run errands to grocery store (made shopping list on Sunday), post office, dry cleaner, etc.
Evening Home Routine:
4:00 p.m. Return home and sort and shred mail, put away groceries, scan and shred receipts, unload son’s lunchbox and other items from backpack, load lunchbox items into dishwasher.
4:05 p.m. Spend time with son.
5:20 p.m. Put load of son’s laundry into washer.
5:30 p.m. Make dinner and get son’s lunch ready for tomorrow so it only has to be assembled in the morning. Everyone eats dinner.
6:30 p.m. Load dishwasher, run dishwasher, sweep floor.
6:35 p.m. Move son’s clothes to dryer. Everyone does 20 to 30 minutes of general house clean up with special focus on bathrooms. (Other special focus areas: Mondays are kitchen and dining room; Wednesdays are bedrooms; Thursdays are living rooms; Fridays are remaining spaces like hallways, entryways, and garages; and Sundays are meal planning.)
7:00 p.m. Spend time with family.
8:00 p.m. Bathe son and put him to bed.
8:30 p.m. Fold son’s clothes (will put away tomorrow morning after breakfast), get self ready for bed, brush and floss teeth, feed pets.
8:45 p.m. Hang out with husband or do more writing/editing work.
10:30 p.m. Go to bed.
On pages 98 and 99 of my book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week, there is a routine schedule that covers the full week. We’ve made a few additions to the schedule now that we’re parents, but it is still very similar to what we do in our home. It has worked well for us for many years and keeps our weekends free to have as much fun as we desire.
Also, twice a year we spend a weekend doing major uncluttering work throughout the entire house. Even with daily maintenance, we find we still need to give everything we own a good review every six months. Usually our major uncluttering weekends are held the weekends preceding our fall and spring cleaning weekends. We like to get rid of clutter before doing the spring and fall cleanings so there is less to clean and maintain. You can find our cleaning guides in my book on pages 100 and 185. We usually do the “Dedicated Cleaner” plan.
Finally, we try our best to put things away after we use them and to have a permanent storage space for everything we own. These two simple actions aid us significantly in keeping our home uncluttered and organized.
My dog, an oft-naughty Boston Terrier named Batgirl, recently taught me an important lesson about clinging to clutter, attachment, and the real value of memories. How?
She ruined an irreplaceable baseball that I loved.
In late 2011, my brother-in-law and I took a road trip to Boston. We went to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. I love the Sox and typically attend a game or two per season. My brother-in-law is also a die-hard fan, but he hadn’t attended a game since childhood (we’re both in our 40s now). The trip was a big deal; we had never gone together and he hadn’t been in decades.
Plus, my brother-in-law was dealing with stresses at home and the game was an opportunity to shut that off for a while. We wedged our widening backsides into plastic chairs, over paid for hot dogs, and engaged in the overtly American tradition of watching millionaires hit a ball with a stick for our amusement.
Then the game went south.
The opposing team scored early. And often. The Sox answered by not scoring, which, for those unfamiliar with professional sports, is the textbook wrong way of doing things. A Red Sox comeback seemed possible, then improbable, then all but impossible. My brother-in-law joked that every time he visited Fenway as a kid, the Sox lost. It seemed his streak would remain intact, and it did.
As the game came to its inevitable conclusion, it was announced that we were a part of Red Sox history. Although our beloved team had lost, that game was the 700th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park. All attendees would receive a commemorative baseball upon exiting the park. We were thrilled to have a keepsake, even if the team lost, because of this historic accomplishment and our afternoon spent together. The ball I got sat on my desk for months.
Last weekend, my son was tossing it around and left it on the floor. A few hours later, I found it as you see it above. Much like Boston’s 2012 baseball season, the ball is done. My immediate reaction was one of despair. “Oh, that dumb dog! She’s destroyed that ball! How I loved it and that day at the park! Now it’s ruined.”
As I wailed and gnashed my teeth, I paused and remembered a great quote from American psychiatrist Mark Epstein. In his book Thoughts Without A Thinker, he relates a wonderful story about a glass:
“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
The ball itself isn’t what was important. All of the memories I relayed in this article I conjured up without it. The ball is now in the trash bin; the memories and emotions of that day are in me. When I realize the ball is chewed, or my life is short, I’m reminded every moment with it was precious.
It’s often hard to part with items of important emotional significance. I’m keenly aware of this and struggle with it all the time. I mean, I need every picture my kids drew of the two of us holding hands under a rainbow! Or do I? I can feel the rainbow, the sun, and my girl’s love without the paper and her Crayon art. The drawing is nice to have, but I know it and all of my possessions won’t be around forever.
Uncluttering is a process, not something that happens overnight or that has an end point. Sometimes getting more organized can feel overwhelming and chaotic, but there are some basic principles you can use to stay focused on maintaining order. Here are five practical tips I often share with my clients (and use myself). They tend to be useful for many situations and can help you conquer clutter.
Use positive self-talk
It can be very easy to let negative thoughts clutter your mind, especially if you find it challenging to master a particular organizing strategy. And, since your actions are typically driven by your thoughts, you can find yourself feeling down and stressed, two emotions that can stop your uncluttering plans in its tracks.
Though your goals may seem daunting at first, remember that it’s normal to meet upon a few stumbling blocks. But, and this is the good part, you will get through it as long as you keep trying. Replace negative self-talk (“I will never get this place organized”) with more positive statements (“I’m getting more organized by doing a little at a time”). And, coordinate your uncluttering with things that put you in a better mood, like playing your favorite music, exercising, or calling a friend who makes you laugh. You’ll feel less stressed and be able to get more done.
Wait before making impulse purchases
Whimsical purchases can really creep up on you, even when you have your list in hand as you’re shopping. The tricky little buggers appeal to your sensitive nature and convince you to leave the store with them immediately (because they’re special and just right for you). If you don’t get them straight away, who knows what catastrophes might happen?!
Rather than making an impulsive purchase, regain some emotional (and wallet) control by focusing on your list and waiting 24 to 48 hours before buying “that thing.” You could stretch that timeframe to 30 days, if you wish. Usually, after a bit of time to to think it through, you’ll come to a better decision about whether or not to buy it. That doesn’t mean you won’t go back to the store to collect that special item. It simply means you’ll give yourself adequate time to think it through before taking it home with you. This can save you some time and another trip to the store if you decide that you don’t want/need it afterall.
Use the “one in, one out” rule
Another way to limit those impulse buys is to think about the one thing you currently own that you’ll let go of when/if you bring the new item home. This also gives you some time to consider if you truly love (and need) the new item. If you’re working on uncluttering, you might even use the “one in, two out” rule to raise the stakes a bit.
Without a list, you will be lost. Yes, I know there are people who can keep entire novels in their heads and remember every detail. Most of us are not like that, so why rely on your memory when you can just write things down (or do some smart phone data entry)? Lists are great for capturing just about anything and can help you remember things you don’t do on a regular basis, or you might otherwise forget because you’re feeling stressed or rushing around a lot.
Two of the most common ways people use lists is to record their to do’s and needed grocery items. But, you can also use them to keep track of:
- Favorite travel supplies
- Places you’d like to visit
- Seasonal maintenance activies
- New processes (like a new filing system or steps to completing a new project)
- Ingredients for a new recipe
- Home improvement ideas
- Your bucket list
- Things you’re going to donate
When leaving a room, always take something with you
One of the things I often ask my clients to do after an organizing session is to maintain the order that has been created in the space we worked in. The goal is to keep the momemtum going and encourage organizing activities so these actions can become part of the client’s regular routine. A fairly easy way to maintain an area is to leave it better than how you found it. Before leaving a room, take something with you that doesn’t belong (like glasses from the coffee table to the kitchen, mail on the kitchen counter to the mail processing station). These small steps can go a very long way to helping you keep things looking and feeling the way you want them to.
Use vertical space
Organizing products can save you from having stuff strewn about your home, office, and car. But, sometimes those products can have big footprints and take up a quite a bit of floor space. “Going up” or using vertical space (walls, backs of doors) removes that hinderance and gives you another option to store your stuff. You can still mount products without permanently installing them by using adhesive-backed products (like Command Hooks by 3M).
In an effort to unclutter my wardrobe, I made the decision a few years ago to streamline everything and stop buying printed clothing. Three years later, and except for five pieces, I’ve achieved this goal. My pants, tops, coats, dresses, suits, and skirts are now solid colors and are also in a very limited color scheme: navy blue, white, gray, black, brown, red, and teal.
Shopping is certainly easier — in fact, all of my casual tops are one of two styles of basic t-shirts (this one and this one), just in different colors. When one of the t-shirts is damaged or worn, I hop online and order the exact shirt to replace it. My dresses all come from two designers (this one and this one) who have outlet stores near my home and almost exclusively design in solid colors. Three of the dresses I own are even the same dress in black, gray, and white. Since these items fit me exactly how I prefer, it’s nice to have the color variety (and getting them at discount at the outlet stores is nice, too).
The idea of having a classic, basic, streamlined wardrobe seems boring or lacking in creativity to a lot of people, but the way I see it is my clothing is like a canvas. My shoes and accessories are where I let my personality speak. A headband and coordinating pair of shoes stand out when they’re not also competing for visual attention with a shirt and skirt. I’ve also found shoes and accessories are significantly less expensive than well constructed, quality clothing. As trends change, replacing a scarf is easier than replacing an entire wardrobe. And, until I point it out to people, no one ever notices I have a basic wardrobe of solid colors in a limited color range.
Recently, I came upon a design concept that is so in line with my uncluttered wardrobe system I was saddened to learn the concept isn’t in production. I’m mentioning it, though, because it’s where I would like to see fashion trend. I’d like to see more uncluttered ideas become mainstream.
I see my clothing as the basic flat shoe that is enhanced with the heel accessories, or, in my case, simply accessories.
Keeping clutter out of your wardrobe can be difficult, and how you choose to do it will reflect your style and personality. In my case, a streamlined wardrobe of solid color, well constructed pieces in classic designs and a limited color palette work best for me. This system works because all of the pieces fit me well and are complimented nicely by my fun, trendy shoes and accessories. There are obviously different ways, but this is how I achieve an uncluttered wardrobe.
Shoe design found via Design-Milk.
Who doesn’t love receiving gifts? If you’re like me, you tear them open enthusiastically to see the fantastic things that await you. Gifts can be tangible reminders that someone was thinking of us or wanted to help us celebrate a special occasion. In fact, the person giving the gift likely gains a good dose of positive feelings by the act of giving. It’s hard to think of a downside to getting a present.
…except perhaps when your space is limited. And, when you’re uncluttering. If you’re focused on reducing your stash of stuff and having “a place for everything and everything in it’s place,” you might find yourself reluctant to bring something new into your home. On the other hand, refusing (even if you do so graciously) can result in the gift-giver (and you) having hurt feelings. To better navigate these delicate situations and to avoid mistunderstandings, first…
Talk about your uncluttering plans
…with everyone. When you decide to make a change in your life, like eating healthier, you probably tend to tell those closest to you. That way, they’re not surprised when you decide to eat in or order healthier fare from the menu. A nice side effect of telling the people in your life about your plans is that they can help motivate you and try to help you reach your goal.
Why not do the same when you’re uncluttering? Let your friends, family members, and colleagues know you’re being very purposeful (or even ruthless) about the types and number of things that you will keep. They genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed. So, rather than stop them from giving you a gift, tell them you’re minimizing the tangible things you purchase and receive, and instead …
Suggest experience gifts
Have you been meaning to go to the new play that opened a few months ago? Or, perhaps you really want to see your favorite musical group the next time they come to town? Or, maybe you’d like to get in one last road trip with friends before the summer comes to a final close? If there’s a special event or new experience that you’d like to try (like driving your dream car or riding in a hot air balloon), don’t keep it a secret. These types of gifts still let the important people in your life celebrate special moments with you, and you won’t have to carve out storage space for something new.
Ask for a gift for others in need
Knowing that you’re helping someone without getting anything in return can often be very rewarding. In lieu of receiving a physical gift, ask friends and family members to donate to a charity you love. You could also spend some time together volunteering to help others in need (local meal center/food bank, animal shelter). This would be an opportunity to do something good for someone else and spend time with each other.
Accept gifts you receive
It’s not likely that you’ll never again receive a physical gift. When those occasions arise, graciously accept the gift, send a thank you note, and then take some time to decide how useful the item is to you. You may need to create a “deciding space” in your home to store gifts so you can figure out if you will keep them (perhaps in a well frequented closet so that you don’t forget about them). At first, you might not think that you’d find the gifts helpful, but they could end up being just what you needed. If, after a second look, the gift really doesn’t suit you or your current lifestyle, donate the gift to a charitable organization or regift it to someone you believe would really use it (letting that person know they’re welcome to pass it along if they don’t need it).
If you do receive gifts as you’re purging and uncluttering, remember that gift-giving is an emotional experience. The person giving is probably excited about giving you a present and has the best of intentions. He/she is not trying to thwart your plans to simplify, and just might not know that you’re doing things a little differently. Start by having conversation with those in your inner circle about your uncluttering plans. Over time, they will likely adjust to a new way of sharing special moments and experiences with you.