Finish up the last of your summer to-do items

For those in the northern hemisphere, just 28 days of summer linger on the calendar. Before the cool days of fall and winter set in, now is the time to finish up warm-weather uncluttering projects that remain on your to-do list.

  • Your garage. If you haven’t already cleared the clutter from your garage this season, now is a great time to take advantage of the access you have to your driveway. Pull everything out of your garage and sort it into piles: Keep, Purge, Other. Clean your garage (starting at the top of the room and working your way down), make any necessary repairs and/or add organizing systems, and then return only the “Keep” pile items to the space. Donate, recycle, and/or trash the items from the “Purge” pile, and return the items in the “Other” pile to their owners or the places they belong in your home.
  • Your car. Similar to the process used on your garage, do the same with your car. Don’t forget small areas like the glovebox and the console.
  • Trash cans and litter boxes. Now is the perfect time to haul your trash cans and litter boxes to your local self-service car wash and give all of them a deep cleaning. Set them in the bright sun for a few minutes to dry before hauling them back to your place, stink free.
  • Your chimney. Before the rush of callers pour in to your local chimney sweep, give him a call and schedule an appointment now. This way, you won’t have to wait to start up your fireplace on the first cool night of the season.

Whatever tasks remain on your summer to-do list, schedule and take on those tasks now before the weather keeps you from doing them.

Bringing clutter into the light

Is there clutter hiding in your basement, attic, or garage? Is it at the back of a closet, under the kitchen sink, or in your medicine chest? What is the situation under your bed, in the linen closet, and in the drawers of your entertainment center? How are things in your filing cabinet or your car’s glovebox? Are you harboring clutter in an off-site storage facility?

When you can close a door or drawer to hide whatever lurks inside, it’s easy to use that space as a place to put clutter and forget about it. Even though this area might not be distracting you from living the life you want to lead right now, it does create stress and anxiety each time you access the area and whenever your thoughts drift to these spaces. Plus, you are spending money to maintain these objects and areas, and you’re keeping something you might value more — something that actually matters to you — from being stored in its place.

Unlike clutter that “hides” in plain sight, clutter that is tucked away can lead to bug and/or rodent infestations, increase the levels of dust and dander in your home, and keep you from discovering leaks, cracks, or other major structural issues. Not being able to see into your home’s closed spaces can really cost you over the longterm — financially and emotionally.

To bring this hidden clutter into the light of day, find a clear, flat surface you can use as a place to set all of your stored things. A dining room table works well for small spaces, and your driveway can work for large areas. Pull out all of your items and group them by type (make piles of like things). Once you can see all of the items, go through each group to determine if anything can be thrown away, recycled, or donated to charity. Once you’ve determined what should stay and what should go, only return items into storage that should be in storage.

Try not to store anything in cardboard because it is a tasty treat for bugs and rodents and it won’t protect your things if water leaks into the space. Also, label any containers you can’t easily see inside so you won’t waste time when you go looking for something — holiday decorations, camping and hiking gear, 2008 contracts.

Also, while your stuff is out of storage and on display, don’t forget to give your storage spaces a good review and cleaning. Repair any damages and clean out the cobwebs so you return your items to the best space possible. Install battery-operated lights, too, so that you can easily check on your stored objects in the future.

I’m of the opinion that the less stuff you have in storage, the better. Good luck to you as you shed light on your home’s hidden clutter.

Assorted items for July 14, 2010

Some interesting things to share:

  • I’m recording an interview about uncluttering for Renew You that should be available this Friday through next Tuesday. Renew You 2010 was a conference that occurred earlier this summer, and every few weeks the organizer of the conference sends out links to new interviews to conference attendees and people who register for the mailing list. The interviews are targeted toward women, but the information I’ll be giving is applicable for anyone. The e-mail list is free, but there are pay-to-listen areas of the site that have some cost associated with them. You shouldn’t have to pay anything to hear my piece on uncluttering. The interview should be about an hour long, so sign up if you’re interested in hearing my talk.
  • TV business kisses HDMI goodbye” on the THINQ site leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m glad multiple manufacturers are coming together and establishing a standard cable, but it means we will all have to buy new cables. Not sure it’s simplifying anything.
  • Author Harlan Ellison decided to purge and auction off the majority of his book collection, including a signed birthday present from Neil Gaiman. The following link includes a profane word or two, but is still an interesting read about uncluttering your bookshelves: “The Great Ellison Book Purge” on the AV Club.
  • Have many errands to run at once? Lorie Marrero recommends the “optimal route planner” Route4me to determine the shortest route to take.
  • The website FreelanceSwitch offers terrific project management advice in its post “The Swiss Cheese Method of Project Scheduling.” The article is geared toward freelance programmers, but is applicable to anyone budgeting her time.

NeighborGoods helps you find specific items to rent or borrow

Borrow or rent equipment, tools, and reusable goods from your neighbors through the new NeighborGoods site. Instead of buying a specialized item, first check to see if you can save your money (and storage space) and get it on loan from a neighbor.

Since the NeighborGoods site is new, there might not be many items yet available in your community. If you’re interested in building up your community, don’t be shy about spreading the word to your friends and neighbors. The more people using the system increases the likelihood that you’ll find what you need.

Ask Unclutterer: Processing car clutter

Reader Ruth submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

As a mini-van driving mom (and unabashed unclutterer), I am stymied by trash that seems to accumulate in the car on a daily basis. Dirty kleenex, gum wrappers, parking stubs, crumpled notebook paper, empty water bottles – all mysterious appear in the back of the car when I am not looking. I spend about 10 minutes a day cleaning it all out into a recycled grocery bag but can’t help wonder if there are other ideas on how to hold/manage trash in a vehicle. Of course, I would prefer something that was aesthetically pleasing (ie. NOT a Hefty bag tied to the back of the driver’s seat).

I would really like a scientific study commissioned to look into the trash and stray paper breeding ground of the automobile. I truly believe it is one of the most fertile regions on the planet. Our car grows straw wrappers, toll receipts, and used handy wipes faster than a flash of lightning — the humidity and sun exposure must be ideal trash and paper growing conditions.

To try to reduce the over-population of these items, we use a reusable trash bag tied to the back of our passenger’s seat. It’s not beautiful, but it’s better than the lawn and leaf black plastic bag you mentioned in your question.

Granted, getting others to use the bag might be the most difficult task of all. It took my husband and me a few months to even remember we had installed it, but once we remembered we’ve been using it with regularity.

You’re doing a great job by taking a few minutes each day to clean the stray clutter out of the car. I recommend to everyone a simple uncluttering session each time you get out of the car at your home. If you have kids, put incentives in place for actually using the reusable trash bags or make a game out of using it. You also might find that a bag on the back of multiple seats increases the likelihood that the receptacles will be used.

Good luck to you on keeping the clutter out of your car. For additional car uncluttering information, check out “Cleaning out your cluttered car” and “Clutter creeps into the car.”

Thank you, Ruth, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Ask Unclutterer: Regular car maintenance

Reader Roberta submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Do you have any tips to keep track of upkeep for your vehicle, such as when to have tires rotated, etc.?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cross-the-board answer to this question. All cars need regular oil and filter changes; brake, hose, spark plug, and belt inspections; coolant system flushes; tire rotations; and some need distributor cap, rotor, power steering, manual line, and gas line checks. However, when your car needs these things done is based on the car’s manufacturer, model, production year, and type of engine under the hood. For example, my old Dodge Colt could go 7,500 miles between oil changes, but my VW’s engine needs it every 5,000 (or earlier).

The specific information for when to have your car serviced can be found in your car’s owners manual. If you don’t currently have your car’s manual, you can likely find it in its entirety online or at least order a new one. The website has a comprehensive list of “Where To Find Your Car Owner’s Manual Online.” (Porsche and Mitsubishi owners will need to contact your dealerships directly to obtain a new manual.)

My car’s manual feels like it is written for a 10-year-old with a first grade reading level, so it was really easy to create a spreadsheet of all of my car’s maintenance requirements. If your manual isn’t written as basic as mine, I suggest finding an online community of people who own the same make, model, year, and engine you do. Someone in the community has probably already created a similar spreadsheet and would eagerly share it with you. If you can’t find an owner’s online community, turn again to and their recommended maintenance schedule to at least learn what basic work you need done at your car’s current mileage. (The recommendations for my car aren’t 100 percent in line with my manual, but they’re close enough that I think it’d be fine to follow it in a pinch.)

I taped the maintenance spreadsheet I made to a page in the front of a Moleskine notebook that I keep in my car’s glove box. In this notebook, I also record work I have done on the car, dates, mileage, and store my registration and insurance cards in the notebook’s front pocket. If I sell the car, I’ll take out my cards and just pass the notebook along to the new owner. Nothing fancy, but I’m not certain my little VW really needs fancy.

Thank you, Roberta, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Summer sizzles with organization

Today we welcome a guest post from certified professional organizer Bonnie Joy Dewkett, who runs The Joyful Organizer in western Connecticut, and her wonderful advice on summer preparations.

The summer months are almost here for those of us in the northern hemisphere! By taking a few moments now to get organized, and plan for your summer, you will be able to make better use of the free time you have while the weather is warm and the sun is shining.

  1. Start by making summer plans now. Planning your vacations, organizing projects and home improvement endeavors now will help ensure that they get done. Planning and putting events on your calendar will help you find the time to purchase supplies and get the work done. Also, planning vacations ahead of time can save you money as prices are often less expensive the earlier you book.
  2. At the end of the school year, have your kids go through their backpacks and get rid of any junk. Put important papers, such as report cards, in a file. Toss all the trash, recycle papers, and store scissors and other supplies that can be used next year. If the backpack is not going to be used again next year, consider donating it to someone less fortunate.
  3. This is a great time of year to buy new sun block and bug spray. The ones you have from last year may be almost empty, and you run the risk of running out when you need it most. Sun block in particular loses its effectiveness over time.
  4. Create a “to-go” bag for swimming, or the beach. Put frequently used items like towels, goggles, and pools passes in the bag and keep it by the door or in the trunk of your car. Throw in an extra bathing suit and towel for when you have the opportunity to take a dip!
  5. If you are taking a vacation, start doing research now. Visit the city’s chamber of commerce website and look for deals and coupons. If you are an AAA member, contact them in advance for free maps in your destination. Find out if your AAA discount can apply to your lodging, or any of your trip expenses.
  6. Flip flops can easily add clutter to an entryway. Use large drink tubs, or baskets to toss summer shoes in. Or, you can hang them on hooks to make sure you can always view your options, and they are ready to go at a moment’s notice.
  7. This is a good time of year to update your car’s first aid kit. If you don’t have one, now is a great time to get one. Many discount stores sell pre-packaged first aid kits that are under $10. Make sure all medicines are up to date and that band-aids still have adhesive.
  8. Life jackets need to fit properly in order to be effective. Have your kids try theirs on at the beginning of the season to see if you need to purchase a new size. Don’t put your child’s life in danger with a life jacket that is either too big or too small.
  9. Summer sports equipment such as soccer cleats, baseball gloves, and basketball shoes should be tried on before the summer season begins. This will ensure you have plenty of time to purchase new ones if your child has grown from the previous year. Shopping early will help you have the best chance of finding their size in the style they desire.
  10. If your kids are going away to camp, call the camp now to request a list of required items. Start shopping with your weekly errands to avoid a large time commitment or expense all at once.

Multitasker: The Chinese military shovel

This video is long (so click through it, or watch it over your lunch break), but really interesting. I wish I had one of these amazing tools. I could replace a number of items in my toolbox with the Chinese military shovel:

Scissor, bottle opener, hang, and anchor were my favorite purposes of this multitasker, simply because they were so unexpected (although, I think oar is stretching it a bit). It’s nice to see that necessity can breed such wonderful multi-tasking inventions.

What are your favorite multi-tasking tools?

(Note: There is no talking on this video, so don’t worry about turning off the sound if the background music starts to grate on your nerves.)

Get your garage ready for summer

A lovely woman named Meri who works for California Closets e-mailed me last week to see if I would be interested in talking to Peter Walsh about garage organizing. Her offer came literally minutes before I was to interview him about office organizing. I told Meri that Peter is probably getting sick of us here at Unclutterer, and maybe she could just pass along some of his tips by e-mail.

She happily obliged, and a day later the following advice arrived in my inbox. If you’re in need of turning your garage back into a garage, these tips can serve as your instructional guide to a clean and organized space –

  1. Remove: If you want to really organize from the ground up, take everything out and take a good look at the space you have.
  2. Measure your car: When everything is out of your garage, pull in your cars and mark the floor where your car ends on all sides. You now know how much room you have if you want your car to fit.
  3. Throw Out: Get rid of the old and damaged. Decide what items are no longer useful, damaged, or have missing pieces, and dispose of them.
  4. Recycle: Reduce the clutter and be eco-friendly. Old newspapers, magazines, glass, aluminum, old oil or paint can be recycled.
  5. Donate: Time to get rid of the things that won’t ever fit or you won’t ever use again. If the items are still in good shape, donate them to a worthy cause.
  6. Group Items By Category so they are easy to find: When returning items to your garage, group like items together, such as sports and recreational equipment, garbage and recycling, lawn and garden, hardware, home maintenance, and tools.

I really liked the second tip to outline the car while the garage is empty. Simple, practical, and a fantastic idea. Once again, thanks to Peter Walsh for his terrific advice.

Basement Project: Day 4

The next task in my basement project was to clean up our tool bench. Here is a picture of its cluttered state before I got started:

It is a decent tool bench and serves our purposes. Unfortunately, the workspace had become quite the dumping ground for whatever we thought belonged in the basement but didn’t yet have a permanent storage solution. After a couple hours of attention, the clutter was removed. All that remains are the tools that we use for guitar and furniture making and basic home improvements.

In addition to the great peg board for the most-accessed tools at the back of the bench, I also put to use a set of four plastic storage bins from Ikea (which I can’t seem to locate on their website, but Container Store appears to carry similar ones):

These bins will keep errant screws, nails, and other small materials from running rampant on the workspace. A significant improvement to our tool bench.

Other posts in this series:

Project Basement: Day 3

My basement project hit a bump in the road on Wednesday when I made the mistake of touching one of my old teaching files. I pulled the file out of its Rubbermaid bin, thumbed through the pieces of paper, and felt a nostalgic tug at my heart strings.

I can’t throw this away! I must keep it! I worked hard to make this stuff!

I told my husband I had changed my mind and I wasn’t going to let the six bins of teaching paperwork go. He laughed, and then realized I was serious.

PJ: You don’t need it.
Me: Yes I do!
PJ: Why do you need it? Have you looked at it a single time in the past four years?
Me: I looked at it today!
PJ: That doesn’t count.
Me: Sure it does.
PJ: Maybe you could scan the files?
Me: That will take a lot of time. It’s easier just to put this stuff back into the basement.
PJ: Wasn’t your goal to clear the clutter from the basement, not pull the clutter out and then put it back?
Me: I guess this is what I get for marrying a guy who pays attention to what I say.
PJ: Yes, dear.

Except for a couple hours this morning pulling out the washer and dryer, sweeping the floor where they had been, and doing a general cleanup in the laundry area of the basement, I’ve been sorting, scanning, and recycling a couple hundred pounds of paperwork. Truth be told, I’m missing the basement. Organizing tools and unearthing strange cleaning supplies is infinitely more fun than digitizing old papers.

Here’s how I’m tackling the paperwork portion of this project:

  • Sort. I didn’t do a very good job of editing these files before I put them into storage. So, many of these papers are going straight into the recycling bin instead of being prepped for scanning.
  • Scan. I’m using our ScanSnap, which has a multi-page document feeder and optical character recognition (OCR). After the pages are turned into searchable PDFs, I’m recycling or shredding the pages.
  • File. As the final step in the process, I’m using DEVONthink to manage all of the digital files on my computer. Since the OCR process identifies the words in the documents, I’m primarily relying on the Google Desktop search function to find anything I might one day need.

Part of me thinks that digitizing these old papers is a complete waste of time. However, the sentimental part of me won’t let me get rid of the files any other way. I don’t know if I’m going to scan all six boxes of files, seeing as the activity is already starting to grate on my nerves. I’ve committed to sorting through everything, though, so I’ll at least know what I’m tossing. I don’t want to make the mistake again of blindly throwing away a box of items only to learn later that it included my social security card and passport — I’ve made that mistake, and replacing them was a nightmare.

Other posts in this series:

Project Basement: Day 2

Going through the mess in my basement to unearth its contents ended up being a relatively painless task. As predicted, there are a number of boxes filled with my old teaching supplies, some chemical cleaners and bug sprays that are past their prime, and a multitude of cobwebs.

I didn’t find anything shocking in my first day of work, but I was confused as to how some things ended up in the basement. I discovered a set of dishes that I thought I’d given away before our last move. I learned the kickstand on my bike is longer than it should be, which is why my bike tips over whenever you pass by it to get to the tool bench. And, I realized that we have more screwdrivers and socket wrenches than we need (three complete sets).

Items like the dishes and tools can be donated to charity, sold, or Freecycled. However, I was unsure of what to do with a number of items I found on our shelving. Once I left the basement and made my way to the computer, I quickly discovered what to do with many of the items:

  • Paint. I will need to sort these into two groups — good and bad. Good paints are those that match colors currently on our walls and that could still be used. Bad paints are those that don’t match anything in the house and/or those that were improperly sealed and are dried out. I will continue to store the good paints and write notes on their lids with a permanent marker (Living Room, North Wall). The bad paint, however, will need to be taken to my county hazardous waste facility. The latex paint isn’t necessarily hazardous to the environment, but our local facility still recommends bringing it in to them. To learn the location of your local hazardous waste facility, go to your city or county’s website and do a search for “hazardous waste disposal.”
  • Caulk. We have three partially used tubes of caulk, and none of it looks like it could be used again. Since I don’t remember when or where this caulk was purchased, I also need to take it to the hazardous waste facility.
  • Bug spray. I discovered that we have ant, roach, wasp, hornet, slug, and snail sprays. All of it has passed its expiration date, and all of it is poisonous. So, like the paint and caulk, this stuff will need to be taken to the hazardous waste facility.
  • Weed spray. I’m pretty sure this bottle was here when we moved into the house. I’ll be taking it to the hazardous waste facility, too.
  • Grout and tile cleaner. These cleaners were still good, and we have to use them from time-to-time if one of our cats gets sick on the kitchen or bathroom floors. (Yuck!) I have a metal box that I purchased from The Container Store many years ago that I’m going to label “Powerful Cleaners,” place on a high shelf, and fill with these cleaners and similar cleaning products. I want to keep these poisons out of the reach of my son, and so I want to make them as inaccessible as possible.
  • Joint compound. This is still good and we use it to patch nail holes, so I’m keeping it. However, it is poisonous if consumed, which means that it will also be going on a high shelf for storage. If we don’t use all of it, our county also recommends taking it to the hazardous waste facility for proper disposal.
  • Thorocoat. We’re required by our home owner’s association to cover all exposed concrete on our house with this product. It’s still usable, but since we repainted last year, we don’t currently have a need for it. I’m going to send an e-mail out to our neighborhood discussion group to see if anyone wants to buy it from us for their home.
  • Wood glue. I discovered five bottles of dried-out wood glue on our tool bench. The wood glue is water based, so it can be disposed of in our regular trash. If it were solvent based, it would have needed to go to the hazardous waste facility.

The next step in the process (unfortunately) requires me to get my hands dirty and make a giant mess. I’ll be pulling everything out of the basement so that I can clean the cobwebs, dust, and mess that currently sits beneath the clutter. I’ll discuss this process in tomorrow’s Project Basement post.

Other posts in this series: