Archives for Decluttering
When cleaning out your kitchen pantry, there is a good chance you’ll find cans of food with date stamps like “Best By 04/2013.” What do you do with those cans?
You may want to keep them.
Obviously, if the cans show signs of problems — bulges, dents along the seams, etc. — you won’t want to keep them. But if the only concern is the date, the food might be safe to eat. As the FDA says, there are surplus grocery stores and food-salvage stores that specialize in such products — and if you buy carefully, those foods can be fine.
The USDA explains: “A ‘Best if Used By (or Before)’ date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.”
NPR interviewed John Ruff, president of the Institute of Food Technologies, who had a lot of interesting things to say on the matter, too.
According to Ruff, most products are safe to eat long after their expiration date. …
That’s because it’s not the food that sat on the shelf too long that makes you sick, Ruff says. It’s the food that got contaminated with salmonella or listeria bacteria, or disease-causing strains of E. coli. And that food might … have arrived in the store only yesterday.
“In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can’t think of [one] that was driven by a shelf-life issue,” Ruff says.
Canned food, in particular, can stay safe for a really long time.
“Foods can remain safe to consume for some time beyond sell-by and even use-by dates provided they are handled and stored properly,” says Dr. Ted Labuza, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota. … Canned foods and shelf-stable goods like salad dressings, Labuza adds, can be consumed for years beyond their expiration dates. While their quality might suffer — for example, emulsified dressings may split — they will not pose a safety hazard unless contaminated. Apart from baby formula and certain types of baby foods, product dating is not even required by federal regulations.
You might donate them.
Some food banks will accept these cans, and others won’t — so check what the policy is at your local food bank. And, of course, food banks won’t want those damaged or bulging cans, either.
One woman who volunteered at a food bank shared her experience:
I literally, personally had to throw away over 3 huge trash cans, each weighing more than 350 lbs, of dented and expired cans. … What I did learn though was that you can donate expired canned goods up to 6 months from the date on the product.
The Food Bank of Iowa has a list of Food Shelf Extended Dates, listing exactly which “expired” foods, including canned items, it accepts. This same list might also help you decide which products you feel comfortable keeping and using yourself.
You might compost the contents.
I’m no expert in composting, but it seems that canned goods are fine to compost, with a few exceptions. For example, meat and fish products can attract pests, so don’t compost those. Some sources indicate that canned goods with salt may be problematic, too.
You might empty the contents and recycle the can.
Even if you aren’t composting, you could open the cans, dump the contents down the garbage disposer or into a trash bag, and recycle the cans.
You might just throw them away.
Sometimes you may decide to just throw away the cans you don’t want. This is especially true when doing a large uncluttering project, where getting the work done may take precedence over being ecologically conscious. Or, maybe dealing with old food just makes you squirm. As with almost any organizing project, the “right choice” is a very personal thing.
In the comment section of my post “10 suggestions for where to begin uncluttering” reader Anna asked the following question:
I’m in the process of decluttering and streamlining my utility closets and cabinets. I’ve searched the web high and low for a minimalist list of cleaning supplies to use as a loose guideline. I’ve used the search function on this blog to find old articles but I’m coming up empty. I’d appreciate a link if an article comes to mind. Thanks!
Another reader chimed in with a helpful response, but I wanted to chime in with my thoughts in a broader sense. Especially as the Washington Toxics Coalition says: “There are hundreds of cleaning products vying for your dollar. However, you don’t always need a special purpose cleaner for every dirty dilemma.” Since many of us have a number of such special purpose cleaners, there are certainly some uncluttering possibilities.
As with almost any uncluttering situation, there’s no one right answer — no single list of products we should all have. But I’ll present some strategies to consider, with pointers to additional resources.
Strategy 1: Eliminate toxins
The ingredients used in many cleaning products have potential risks; some people will want to avoid products with these ingredients. The Environmental Working Group has extensive information about such toxins and their possible dangers, and it rates a large number of commercially available products on a scale of A to F.
Another list of potentially hazardous chemicals in our cleaning products, in an easy-to-read format, comes from the David Suzuki Foundation. Anna mentioned in another comment that she makes her own, so this first strategy is more for the big-picture perspective.
Strategy 2: Make your own
Many online sources — and a number of books — explain how you can use a limited number of common products to make your own cleaning solutions. As Martha Stewart says: “Many people are conditioned to believe a house is not clean unless it smells of chemicals. In fact, the opposite is true. You can make your house sparkle with just a few simple supplies, many of which are already in your cupboards.”
How few? Kelly A. Smith writes about cleaning her whole home using only vinegar and baking soda. Clean: the humble art of zen-cleansing goes a bit further, but still says you really only need five ingredients: baking soda, borax, lemon, salt, and white vinegar. And the website Wabi Sabi Baby has recipes with only six ingredients — and since one of those is water, it’s really only five.
Many sites include essential oils, such as lavender oil and tea tree oil, in their recipes for homemade cleaners. However, the Environmental Working Group points out that these have some potential risks, too — so you’ll need to consider whether or not you feel OK about using them.
With make-your-own cleaners, you don’t have to make a lot at once. With a little practice you can simply make up what you need for one cleaning and then store the un-mixed ingredients.
Strategy 3: Consider whether you really need antibacterial cleaners
An article in Scientific American challenges the need for antibacterial products in most households, while noting that people with weakened immune systems may have good reason for “targeted use” of such cleaners.
Strategy 4: Start with a list from Martha Stewart or Real Simple
With some searching, I’ve found some decent lists of minimum products that you can then customize to your own circumstances and preferences.
Martha Stewart says: “For routine cleaning, less is more. You actually need very few products to clean any given room.” She then provides a universal cleaning list with only six items — but this excludes items such as brooms. Stewart also has other, more comprehensive, lists: a kitchen cleaning kit with 15 items and a window-washing kit with seven items.
And Real Simple has a house-cleaning kit checklist with only 20 items. It includes white vinegar, baking soda, and an all-purpose cleaner — but also microfiber cloths, a toilet brush, a dust mop, and other such items.
If you’ve got a large uncluttering effort ahead of you, one of your questions may be “Where do I start?” There’s no one right answer, but the following are some ideas for where to begin your project.
- Start where you’ll save money. Are you renting a storage unit (or more than one)? Each unit you can let go of will save you money, and give you that immediate satisfaction of a completed project. You’ll also get a savings if you can move from a larger unit to a smaller one.
- Start with the attic, basement, or garage. Sometimes when you’re uncluttering a space like a bedroom or a kitchen, you’ll find things that don’t really need to be close at hand, and which could be stored without concern in one of these less accessible spots. But if the attic, basement and garage are already filled, there’s no room to store anything else in these spaces.
- Start with the place that bothers you the most. Is there a cluttered place you see every day, and every day it drives you crazy? You may want to start there. You’ll gain momentum for other projects without this big frustration looming over you.
- Start with the quick wins. Do you have things you can unclutter relatively easily, such as old baby clothes when your last child has outgrown them? You might want to start there and see immediate progress, before tackling areas that will be harder for you.
- Start with your own stuff. If you’re living with other family members or roommates who are skeptical about uncluttering, you may want to start with the things that are purely your own. Lead by example.
- Start with areas that benefit the whole family. If you’re living with family members who are more uncluttered than you are, you may want to work on common areas to acknowledge your interest in creating a better space for all of you.
- Start where the weather makes it easy. If you have a nice sunny day that’s not too warm, it may be a good time to work in the garage. If you’re in the middle of a heat wave, you’ll want to work in a room where you can stay reasonably cool.
- For papers, start with the current stuff. The current piles of paper are likely to be more important than the old ones; they are where you’ll find the bills you need to pay, notices about events you want to attend, etc.
- For papers, start with the old filing cabinets. But maybe your current papers aren’t a burning issue, in which case you may want to clear out the old filing cabinets first, to provide room for new papers to be filed. This is similar to the idea of starting with the garage, attic, or basement.
And even though unsorted paper clutter is inherently slow to go through, sorted papers can sometimes provide a quick win. I’ve tossed bunches of file folders full of reference material when I realized the information was outdated, and I could find everything I needed online. Or you may find filing cabinets full of things like old utility bills, which, upon reflection, you find you have no reason to keep.
- Start anywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter where you start — simply that you do. Pick an area at random, on impulse. Or write down each cluttered area on a slip of paper, place the papers in a hat, and pull one out.
An axiom of organizing is that clutter often represents unmade decisions. Since decision-making is often difficult and time-consuming, it helps when we can have basic rules for whole categories of things, so we don’t have to make decisions about each item individually.
Here are some examples, just to get you thinking. Of course, your own basic rules might be very different from the ones I’m listing.
You might decide that news magazines only get kept for a week, because the information is dated very quickly. For other magazines, you might decide that the backlog of unread copies will be no more than five, because you’re never going to have the time to read more than that.
Dinah Sanders lists categories of books you might decide you can discard, ranging from out-of-date reference books to cookbooks that no longer fit the way you eat.
Some discards are obvious: photos that are out of focus, or ones that have people’s heads cut off. But you might also want to discard the ones that are unbecoming shots of yourself or others, the ones of acquaintances or co-workers you can’t even remember, and the shots of scenery when you know you could easily get better photos online. Then there are duplicates, or near duplicates, where you may want to say you’ll keep the best one or two photos. A more all-encompassing rule would be to get rid of all those photos that don’t have either personal sentimental value or great artistic value: the less-than-stunning photos of flowers, sunsets, the neighbor’s dog, etc.
Clothes that don’t fit
If you think you’re likely to lose weight and don’t want to give away all the clothes that don’t fit right now, you can still set rules for which ones are definitely not going to be keepers. Even if you do indeed lose that weight, you won’t want clothes that are going to look dated or that don’t fit the way you dress now. And you probably want to give away those that were never quite right: the color was wrong, the item was uncomfortable, it required too much care, etc. And you might set a simple rule like, “I’ll only keep the things that really inspire me to lose that weight, because I’d really like to wear them again!”
Old greeting cards
My own rules include not keeping cards that don’t have personal messages in them. And here’s a different sort of rule: I give myself a specific amount of space for these cards. Once the box is full, I need to be more selective, and keep fewer cards.
Food storage containers
You might have a favorite brand of storage containers, and decide to only keep those types of containers. Or you might decide to only keep square and rectangular containers, because they use space better than round ones do.
Things needing repair
You may want to say that if the repair doesn’t get done in the next three months, you’ll acknowledge it just isn’t likely to ever happen, and the item needs to be discarded. You might also set some basic rules about how much time you’re willing to give to the repairs; sometimes, the time investment might not be worth it to you.
If you have some basic rules that work well for you, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Almost any time I do some uncluttering, I wind up with things that are still in good shape and that would be useful to someone. In many cases, it isn’t worth my time and effort to sell these items. While I sometimes donate such items to charity, I often offer them up on my local freecycle group.
Freecycle groups exist in local communities around the world, and they’re all dedicated to helping keep useful items out of landfill. The communication is usually done via email lists. I’m a huge fan — I’m even a volunteer moderator for my local group — for a number of reasons:
- Freecycle makes things easy. I offer the item, one or more people ask for it, and I pick a recipient. That person comes and just picks it up off my front porch, if that’s what I choose. I don’t need to go anywhere to drop something off; I don’t need to be home when the recipient arrives.
- I can give away things I couldn’t easily donate. What do you do with a bottle of a nice shampoo that you’ve used a few times, but decided it’s not quite right for you? I can freecycle that item pretty easily. I can also give away books with highlighting and marginalia, the plastic hangers that my neighbor was about to toss because Goodwill didn’t want them, a set of inspirational CDs with a few of the CDs missing, and houseplants.
- There’s usually immediate gratification. When I give something away on freecycle, I know it has gone to someone who really wanted it — and that’s a good feeling. I’ve especially enjoyed getting school supplies into the hands of teachers, and getting yarn to people who knit scarves and hats for a local charity.
And if I freecycle on behalf of someone else, I can pass along the sweet thank you notes I often receive. Here’s one example, from someone who took some Christmas ornaments I offered one year: “Thank you very much for passing these onto me. … The gorgeous ornaments will grace our tree and be part of our memories for years to come.”
- I get to know my neighbors. There’s someone I knew in passing before we crossed paths on freecycle, but I never knew he was into cooking until he sent me some requests. One freecycler lives a block away from me, and that’s how we met.And I’ve made some good friends using freecycle, too. One friendship resulted from giving away a single CD — Verdi’s Aida with Placido Domingo — back in 2009. Another friendship started back in 2007 and developed more slowly, as we kept running into each other on freecycle and began to realize the many things we had in common.
Steps you can take: Want to join your local freecycle group? You can go to Freecycle.org and search for groups that are part of The Freecycle Network. Because not all freecycle groups are part of that network, you might just want to use your favorite search engine to find your local group; search for the name of your city and the word freecycle. In the U.K., some freecycling groups have joined together to form Freegle as an alternative to The Freecycle Network, so you might look there.
Today we welcome an illuminating guest post from Elspeth Kursh with a look into how museums decide what, if anything, of your great-grandmother’s stuff is worthy of donating to a museum. Kursh is the Collections and Facilities Manager at the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum in Washington, D.C., which celebrates the history of women’s progress towards equality. You can learn more about the museum at SewallBelmont.org.
You’re calling me about the trunk you found in your great-grandmother’s attic. She kept these old brochures about how crazy it is that women can’t vote in most states in the Union. You found my phone number by Googling for a museum that works with women’s history, and you have called to see if I want these things for our collection. Sadly, the answer is probably “no.”
I’m sure your materials are beautiful. I’m not being sarcastic, either. Some of the most marvelous things I’ve ever seen have come from someone’s attic. But, just like your attic, museums, historical societies, and other repositories of our shared experiences are bursting with stuff. When we accept something into our permanent collection — a process called accessioning — we are making a promise to care for that object for as long we can and as long as our mission supports education. And, because of the commitment involved to the objects we do accept, it likely means we’re not acquiring something else instead. To remove something from the permanent collection — deaccessioning of an object — is also a complex, often legal process that involves far, far more people than you would guess. As a result, we can’t allow things into our permanent collections without a great deal of thought, discussion, and careful measurement of how much storage space and resources we have. (Think of the process you use to decide what objects come in and out of your home, but add committees, boards, mission statements, and budget officials to that decision-making process.)
In order to add an object to our permanent collection, I have to understand where it fits in our historical narrative. Does it offer a new perspective? Is it a unique representation of a historical event? Generally, diaries, pamphlets, photographs of people, or mass produced books do not fit these parameters. Pieces of furniture or clothing have to be what are called “seminal examples” of a period or style; just because something is beautiful and old doesn’t mean it’s important. If I had a penny for every time someone called me with a stupendous find from their basement, my museum wouldn’t be worried about budgeting anymore.
As a museum professional, I am bound by the ethics of my field and the policies outlined by my institution. I spend a lot of time with a long document called a “Collections Management Plan,” which outlines the goals for our collections, how we plan to care for them, and, most importantly, how we decide how to add or subtract objects. This policy is approved by our Board, so it’s not slap-dash; it’s a technical, often binder-sized file that guides nearly every decision I make, and helps us balance public education with the need to store all the cool things we’ve acquired over the years.
Storing and caring for objects amounts to an incredible strain on our limited resources. It requires thousands and thousands of dollars, and that’s just for our small, historic house museum. If you think you’ve got something no-one has ever seen before, do some searching on the internet to learn if you’re correct. We have a selection of collections detailed online, like many museums. Lots of museums have “wish-lists,” which can give you some guidance for what they’re seeking. If we’ve already got something similar, we generally don’t want a second (or tenth) example. In our case, unless you’ve got the banner Alice Paul threw over the balcony when the 19th amendment was ratified, I probably don’t want the items your great-grandmother saved. If you find that banner, though, call me.
Today’s guest post is by Amanda Scudder, Organizing Consultant with the company Abundance Organizing. Please give her a nice welcome.
There is a Yiddish folktale about a man whose house is too small and noisy. Seeking a solution, he consults the wise woman of the village. She advises him to bring a chicken into his house. He does, but it makes his house seem even smaller and louder, so he again seeks her council. She tells him to add a goat. Not surprisingly, the goat makes the situation worse, not better. Each time he returns to complain, she tells him to bring another animal into the house. Finally, in exasperation, he returns to the wise woman and tells her that he can’t stand another minute of living in this increasingly cramped, cluttered, and noisy house. She smiles and tells him to go home and let all the animals out. He does so and as he shoos the last goat and chicken out the door he looks around at his now spacious dwelling and savors the calm quiet that surrounds him.
Not unlike this man, many of us find ourselves living in a space that feels cramped and chaotic. Our closets are overflowing, our children’s toys are everywhere, and our basements are jam-packed. So we add more — bigger closets, a larger house with a playroom, a storage unit to hold the overflow. But the more we add, the more chaotic things seem to get. Take a minute to think about the “animals” that have come into your home over the years, be they more stuffed animals than there are days in the year, clothes that no longer fit or flatter, gadgets that sounded good on TV but now sit in a corner collecting dust, equipment from hobbies long forgotten, or more activities and commitments than you can reasonably accomplish. Some of the “animals” might even be day planners or organizing products you’ve brought home hoping they would make your life less busy and cluttered.
I suggest that today is the day to start shooing those animals out. You don’t need to evict all of them at once. Even a few less chickens and goats will make a big difference. Where to start? Pick a number — any number — and find that many items in your home to let go. You make the rules — it could be 23 things from the junk drawer (bread ties count) or 8 unused condiments from your refrigerator or 16 items of clothing or 5 things from under your sink. The trick is just to do it. I’m willing to bet that when you are done, your drawer or refrigerator or cabinet will seem a little bit bigger. You will feel a little bit lighter. Commit to repeating this exercise on a regular basis and you will soon find that your house is calmer and less cluttered. You might even discover that you don’t need a bigger closet, house, or storage unit once the excess has been removed.
When you first start practicing this exercise, you may worry you will regret giving some of your “animals” the boot. If so, here is a strategy to help: Put the items you are evicting into a bag or box marked with the date. Put the bag or box in a closet, basement, garage, under the bed, or any other out of the way place. On your calendar, mark a date one to three months down the road. If, by that date, you haven’t needed anything in the bag or box, commit to letting it go without looking in it. You may even have forgotten what is in there.
Kids often create an enormous amount of artwork — and then there’s the huge volume of schoolwork they come home with, too. Keeping it all would be overwhelming, but how do you decide which things to keep?
Kids often draw the same thing over and over again. How many nearly identical pictures of cats or superheroes do you need? Consider just keeping representative samples done over the years, which show how your child’s art has evolved.
Jessica Hinton wrote that she used to keep every piece of art her toddler made, but she’s changed her ways:
Today my daughter made 20 portraits of her baby sister, but I only kept one that she called her “favorite.” More likely than not we’ll keep it on the fridge and throw it away when another replaces it tomorrow. Or maybe, just maybe, this will be the one we’ll frame and hold on to for years to come. Maybe.
And as Susan Ward noted, even handprint art — something parents tend to keep — can be overdone:
You probably don’t need to keep two different handprint crafts made during the same week. Your child’s hand has not grown in 48 hours. Pick the cutest one and toss the other.
Choose original art
Drawings your children create out of their imagination will be more meaningful than those where they just filled in the colors in a coloring book.
Keep papers with a personal connection
The essay entitled “My Summer Vacation” or “My Family” is probably more meaningful than the essay on George Washington. Weekly spelling tests can probably be tossed, but a few samples of your child’s handwriting over the years might be fun to keep.
Other likely keepers are the papers (artwork or schoolwork) that showcase your child’s personality and talents. If your child decided to write the essay about George Washington in haiku, it might well become a keeper.
Consider ditching the macaroni art
Anything that’s three-dimensional is going to be harder to store than simple pieces of paper. You may well want to save some of these projects, but for others, it may work fine to just take a photograph of the art. Consider having your child hold that artwork when you take the photo.
Ask your children what to keep
Your children may have their own ideas about what is worth saving. If a particular piece is especially meaningful to your child, it’s probably a keeper, along with a note explaining the significance, if it’s not obvious.
Parents often have more difficulty in parting with the art than their children do. Michael Tortorello, in an article for The New York Times, quoted David Burton, a professor of art education, talking about kids and their art:
Once they’re through with it, they may lose interest in it very quickly. The process is more important than the product for the child.
But Burton also notes that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to see you toss the art into the trash hours after they create it.
Remember that your children, when they’re adults, will thank you for not keeping everything
Most people enjoy seeing a representative sample of the work they did as children. But too many papers takes away that joy.
As a commenter wrote on Apartment Therapy:
A friend of mine was just given a GIANT box of old art and school papers and she cried. Not from joy or sentiment, but from the burden of having to deal with it. It’s now collecting dust in her basement.
Aby Garvey summarizes things nicely:
I use the “ahhh …” test, and keep things that really tug at my heartstrings. It’s the original artwork or the creative writing stories that are most special to me. Spelling tests and math worksheets just don’t have the same tug, but we might keep one or two of those, just so we can see how things change from year to year. By including my child in the process, I also make sure we keep items that are meaningful to her.
You see, I believe that should is one of the most damaging words in our language. Every time we use should, we are, in effect, saying “wrong.” Either we are wrong or we were wrong or we are going to be wrong. I don’t think we need more wrong in our life. — Louise Hay, quoted by Jim Hughes
When we go to make organizing decisions, we often know, deep down, what’s right for us. But then sometimes we listen to the “shoulds” — from other people or from ourselves — and veer away from those right-for-us decisions.
I need to keep these books because I should read them
Unless you’re in school, you can probably let go of this “should.” If you have absolutely no interest in reading some of the classics, you can give the books away; you really don’t have to read them. You only have so much reading time available in your life, so why not use that time to read the things you truly want to read?
I should convert from my paper planner, address book, or to-do list to a digital system
Digital tools certainly have their advantages — but if paper works for you, there’s really no need to change. You may want to look at how you could back up these physical copies just in case they get lost or damaged, but there’s no reason you need to switch from what’s working well.
I should keep this sentimental thing
Well, perhaps you should keep it. Is it actually sentimental to you or is it the kind of thing most people find sentimental? I got rid of all but a few pages of my high school yearbook because I just didn’t care about it, even thought this act would horrify other people.
Alison Hodgson wrote about the collection of love letters from her husband that she held onto because, when she asked her siblings for their advice, two of the three said she should. Here’s what came next:
I tucked the letters back into their box, and there they remained, untouched, until the day they burned in a house fire. And I have never given them a second thought.
Looking back I can see I really wanted to get rid of them but didn’t think I ought to — that was the tension. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, it was that what I wished to do conflicted with what I thought I should.
I should never check email in the morning; that’s what Julie Morgenstern says
That’s advice that works for many people, but not for everyone. If you give it a try and it’s interfering with your workflow or just doesn’t suit your personality, it’s fine to ignore this suggestion. The same goes for the advice from any organizing expert. What is most important is finding the productivity system that works best for you.
So take a minute to ponder: Are you holding onto something or making any other organizing decision just because it’s what you think you should do? If so, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
User manuals are a necessary evil. When you bring home that new TV, blender, or printer, you set it up, try it out, and tuck its user manual away somewhere. Chances are you’ll never look at it again. But, you might, and that’s why you can’t throw it away. So, it gets tossed into a junk drawer or set on a shelf in the basement or crammed into the closet with all the other manuals you’ve stashed in there, just in case. These things are the definition of clutter. They sit around and do nothing for years and years. Wouldn’t it be great to store them completely out of sight yet have them instantly available, whenever you need them? Digitizing them is the answer. With a little bit of time and some free software — plus one very cool trick — you can achieve User Manual Nirvana. In this article, I’ll show you how to:
- Get manuals into your computer.
- Use the nearly ubiquitous Evernote to make your manuals accessible from your digital devices.
- Ensure that every manual is ready as soon as you need it with NO searching required (the cool trick).
- Reduce frustration and repair time around the house.
The first step, of course, is to find digital versions of your paper manuals and get them into your computer. There are several ways to do this, and I’ll cover three.
Go To The Source
You best bet is to look online, and your first stop should be the manufacturer’s website. For example, here’s a link to the manual for HP’s Officejet 6500 Wireless All-in-One Printer. If you can’t find the manual you’re after by visiting the manufacturer’s site, you’re not out of luck.
Check Third-Party Websites
User-manuals.com offers a large selection of user and service manuals, mostly for large appliances. The manuals on this site aren’t free, and will charge you about $8.99 per manual. The site’s search feature works well, and lets you narrow your inquiry by brand. Another option is theusermanualsite.com. It stores thousands of product manuals and a huge, searchable list of brands and products. What’s really nice is that theusermanualsite.com is supported by an active community of users who will respond to your requests. Theusermanualsite.com requires a free membership. There are other manual sites available, but I’ve had the best luck with these two.
Scan It Yourself
If the manual is not too long, scan it. Many are only long because they contain several languages. You can scan the two, three or four pages that are in your language and disregard the rest. If you don’t have a scanner, don’t worry! There’s a great iPhone app called Piikki that’s useful in this situation. It’s meant for taking photos of receipts, but really you can use it with any piece of paper. Piikki is very good at identifying the edges of paper and grabbing a readable, useful image. From there, send it to your computer.
Of course, you can also take a photo with Evernote and get it right in your database that way. More on Evernote later in this post.
A quick note before I move on to the next section. Don’t overlook “homemade” manuals and similar supplements. A few years ago, I had to replace the belt on our clothes dryer that turns the drum. While I had the machine apart, I sketched how it came apart, where the parts belong, and how it all fits back together. Today, I’ve got a scan of that drawing for future reference (and yes, I got it back together again).
Now that you’ve got your digital user manuals, store them in a fantastic, nearly ubiquitous digital database called Evernote.
Evernote can be your digital database
We’ve written about Evernote before and for good reason. It’s a dead-simple way to store just about anything that’s digital, from manuals to ideas, from music to packing lists. Best of all, it’s nearly ubiquitous. There’s a version for just about any device you own, as well as the web. I treat Evernote as my digital filing cabinet. Evernote stores information in what it calls “notes.” Similar notes can be grouped into a “notebook.” In our case, one note will be one user manual, and all of those notes will be gathered into a single notebook called, you guessed it, “Manuals.” Here’s how to set things up.
Create a Notebook
First, create a notebook. Fortunately, the process couldn’t be simpler. On the left-hand side of your browser window, right-click (that’s Control-click for you Mac users) on the grey area where it says “Notebooks” and select “New Notebook.” Name it “Manuals” and you’re all set.
Create a Note
The exact steps required to create a note depend on the device you’re using (iPhone vs. Mac vs. Android device, etc.). I’ll review how to do it in a web browser, as that’s the same for everyone, and leave you to suss out the (similar) process on your computer/tablet/smartphone of choice.
- Navigate to Evernote.com and log in.
- Tap “+ New Note”.
- The note creation screen appears. Enter a name for you note (like “DVD Player Manual”).
- Click “Show details” and enter “manuals” as the tag. This is important as you’ll see.
- Click the attachment icon (it resembles a paperclip), navigate to your manual and attach it to the note.
- Select “Manuals” from the Notebooks drop-down menu to put it in the proper notebook.
- Click “Done”.
That’s it. Repeat the process with all of your manuals. Once you’ve done this on one device, those notes will be available on every other device that you have that runs Evernote. Adding them can be boring, but now for the fun stuff.
Find manuals when you need them
I promised to teach you a cool trick. This isn’t it, though it’s still pretty nifty. You can search for a term in Evernote and then save that search so you don’t have to type it over and over again. Plus, Evernote is smart enough to update the results for you.
In the Evernote app for the desktop, enter “manuals” in the search field and hit Return. Look at the results to make sure they’re accurate, then click on the File menu, and then choose File and then Save Search. Give it a nice name (I suggest “Manuals”) and you’re all done. From now on, all you need to do is click the search field and “Manuals” will appear there for you. Just give it a click.
Here’s another cool bit: saved searches sync across devices. That means, once you’ve created the saved search on your computer, it will be available on your smartphone as well.
OK, here’s the super-cool trick I’ve been promising you.
Access manuals from the appliances themselves
While doing research for this article, I came across this brilliant idea from author Jamie Todd Rubin. His idea is to use QR codes, Evernote, and sticky paper to create almost immediate, no-search access to your digital user manuals.
QR Codes are those funky, square-shaped boxes of scanner code you might have seen, similar to the one at right. A QR Code reader (like this free one for the iPhone), can read the information it contains and perform a resulting action, most often opening a web page.
You can make your own QR Codes for free with a tool like this one at KAYAW QR Code by providing the link you’d like it to point to. Every Evernote note has a unique URL. To find it, simply open the note in your Evernote app and select Copy Note Link from the Note menu. Then make a QR Code with that URL, using the free QR Code generator linked above. Once that’s done, print the page, cut out the code and stick it to the side or back of your printer, blender, DVD player, what have you.
Now, whenever you need the manual for that device, all you need to do is scan it with a free QR reader app and presto! Evernote launches and opens that exact manual for you. No searching, no typing. Ingenious. If you don’t want to use the Note URL from the Evernote app, open the target note in a browser and copy its URL. That will work, too.
There you have it: digitize your user manuals to greatly reduce clutter, keep them close at hand on a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and use QR code stickers on your devices to let THEM retrieve your manuals for you. Have fun.
Many people new to uncluttering will begin the process with a simple technique called “a thing a day.” (I learned about the method a few years ago in the Unclutterer Forum.) There are a couple of positive aspects to using this simple method in an effort to clear clutter. First, it’s not overwhelming. If you choose to focus on one thing, it’s likely to be a lot easier and quicker to complete every day. Second, it’s also a momentum builder. By doing one uncluttering activity each day, you get an opportunity to practice creating order, so that it feels like a typical part of your life, rather than a chore that you dread doing. And, as your space becomes free of unwanted items, you’ll be able to create a plan to keep it organized.
Another benefit of using ATAD is you can begin the process wherever you’d like. Your one daily thing can be retrieved from any room of your home. As this becomes a regular part of your routine, you might look for one thing in several or all rooms, though based on a recent study done by IKEA, you may want to start with your clothes closet. The results showed that despite the fact that the average person owns 88 pieces of clothing, only 25 percent of them are actually worn. This may be because most people are reaching for their favorite (or most comfortable) items frequently and leaving other pieces for another time.
If you find yourself in this situation, you can likely free up a bit of space by selecting specific articles of clothing that you hardly reach for as your first items in your ATAD journey. Sure, you’ll have some things that you may only wear on special (infrequent) occasions, but you may want to take a look in your closet for specific items that you haven’t worn in two seasons or more. You might want to focus on removing one thing every day over the course of several weeks so that you can systematically go through each piece of clothing.
Would you be surprised to learn that the same study also found that a large number of Americans say that having a laundry room is high on their wish list? As it turns out, that’s not the only room that they covet — just about any room with added storage capacity seems to be highly desired.
When looking for new homes, a whopping 93% of Americans want a laundry room, 90% want linen closets in their bathrooms, and 85% want a walk-in pantry.
That’s probably no surprise as many people often feel that a lack of storage is the root cause of overstuffed and cluttered spaces.
While changing the size of your closet (or adding more storage) can be a huge undertaking, selecting one thing that you can part with will be much less daunting. As you start thinking about how you might include ATAD in your day-to-day life, have a look at the rest of the IKEA findings.
Image credit: IKEA
Reader Theo submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
My daughter is in fifth grade with long hair and every *&*^%#! hair accessory you can possibly imagine. Our house is overrun with ponytail holders and barrettes. I threaten to cut her hair off in the middle of the night if she can’t find a way to keep all of these things on her head or in her room or bathroom. Her mother has short hair and is oblivious to my frustration. Help please. — Theo, who is tired of cutting ponytail holders out of the vacuum belt
Theo, are you actually a time-traveling version of my dad writing from the early 1980s? Your email hints of so many fights he and I had when I was a kid — except replace “ponytail holders” with “ribbon braided and beaded barrettes.” It gave me a shiver, actually, when I first read it.
Your email reminiscent of my father spurred me into taking a look at my current hair accessories (yes, adults have them, too) and admitting to myself I haven’t been doing a great job organizing them, either. Everything was crammed haphazardly into a basket in my linen closet and dozens of ponytail holders were on door knobs and drawer knob pulls throughout the house (out of reach of the vacuum, but still not in their proper place).
I decided to spend about an hour this past weekend getting these items under control and what I did might work for your daughter.
The first thing I did was round up all my hair doodads — I searched the house and also grabbed my disorderly basket out of the linen closet and poured it all on my bed. Next, I sorted by type. All ponytail holders were put into one pile, all hard headbands made another pile, all soft headbands made another one, then barrettes, bobby pins, hair clips, bun holders, etc.
After sorting, I threw out all items that were ready for the trash from each of the piles — broken or over-stretched ponytail holders, bent bobby pins, barrettes missing their back clips, etc. Then, I went through the piles again and pulled out any accessories that aren’t my style any longer and put those in a large envelope to send to my toddler niece who loves dressing up and doesn’t care much about current fashion trends at this point. What remained after these two purging cycles was manageable and so I didn’t need to do a third round, but your daughter might want to (these items she could give to friends if they’re in good condition and her friends are amenable).
I decided to recycle some items in my home for storage solutions for the accessories that remained. Since developing a gluten intolerance, I no longer have a need for a wheat flour storage canister. So, I washed mine out and repurposed it for my hard and soft headbands:
If you don’t have a container like this, I recommend heading to your pantry or local grocery store with one of your daughter’s headbands. Try them out on different food canisters — they usually fit well around oatmeal canisters. She can wrap the container in her favorite wrapping paper or contact paper to spruce things up a bit.
For ponytail holders, I repurposed an old pill travel organizer:
Again, if you don’t have one of these, a lot of different materials could work, even toilet paper rolls but you need to stuff them with something sturdy so they don’t collapse (wrap this one in contact paper — I don’t recommend wrapping paper for this project as it gets ripped pretty easily, but contact paper is much more sturdy).
I put bobby pins in an old box I inherited from my grandmother. Barrettes and clips went into zip-top bags until I find something else to store them in over the longterm:
My point in repurposing these items was to show that you don’t have to go out and buy something just for organizing her accessories. You probably have things already in your home you can use. If you want to spend some money, there are manufactured options available.
Thank you, Theo, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I’m also thankful for the motivation you gave to me to get my hair accessories in order. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.
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.