Three places clutter might be hiding in your life

After having to scrape frost off the car windows yesterday morning, I’m finally willing to accept that fall has arrived. As I have been pulling out all the cold-weather supplies (coats, hats, boots, shovels, grill covers, etc.), I’ve stumbled upon some unexpected clutter in these storage spaces. If you haven’t already pulled out these supplies in your own home (or done the same with warmer-weather supplies if you live in the southern hemisphere), be sure to check out these locations for hidden clutter:

  • Linen storage. I found a couple blankets and flannel sheets that I stored over the winter that should have been donated to our local animal shelter back in April. The elastic is shot in one set of sheets and two of the blankets have worn thin in places. Inspect your cooler weather linens to see if they’re ready for six months of use. (And give your warmer weather items a serious inspection before putting them into storage.)
  • Exterior storage boxes/sheds. If you store items outdoors during the winter, but in protective storage, be sure to give these areas a good review before putting tools away for the season. Small rodents and other critters may have been using these locations for living quarters during the summer months.
  • Car trunk. While loading a blanket and some freeze-dried snacks into the trunk of our car, I noticed a number of summer items hadn’t made it out of the trunk yet. Pull everything out of the trunk of your car and evaluate if it should live the winter in this space. If you don’t have a car, inspect the basket on your bike or thoroughly go through your backpack.

Have you found hidden clutter in your home while getting things ready for winter? If so, tell us where so we can all give these spaces a good review before the cool temperatures have us nesting indoors.

Eye candy: Wood organizing products

Knife and Saw is selling a beautiful bike shelf that is perfect for city dwellers in small spaces:

It’s not inexpensive ($270 for Ash or $300 for Walnut), but it is beautiful. And, the top of the bike rack can be used to hold stuff, which makes it a nice multi-tasker:

Speaking of beautiful wood things, have you seen Combine Collective’s Black Walnut Keyboard Trays?

Ranging from $69 to $79, they hold up to three Mac wireless devices in sustainable wood to use on your lap or desk.

It’s nice to see organizing products that are visually stunning and incredibly functional. So many organizing products are designed with utility as the only focus, completely ignoring aesthetics. I’m always on the lookout for items that manage to have high-quality function and form, and both of these certainly meet those standards.

(Bike shelf via Cool Hunting.)

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 Edmunds.com 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 Edmunds.com 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: