Archives for Home Organization
A couple years ago, my wife and I succumbed to the fact that individual paper planners weren’t doing it for us. As much as I love jotting things down on paper and carrying a notebook of lists in my back pocket, it’s no good when two people are trying to coordinate Cub Scouts and ballet and play practice and Girl Scouts and chorus and homework, etc.
In other words, our Family, Inc., needed an appropriate tool. For us, it’s Trello.
Trello is a web-based collaboration tool that’s meant for teams, but it’s perfect for families. It runs in a browser so it doesn’t matter if you’re using a Mac or a PC, and it allows you to create “boards” that hold the tasks, assignments, reference materials, and so forth for a given project.
We have a board for each of the kids, as well as for ourselves. In addition to who needs to be where, we add things like what needs to go where (pack the script and change of ballet clothes for Tuesday drop-off) as well as who’s going to do each.
Trello’s emphasis is on speed and no-fuss teamwork. Essentially, a board holds several cards. Each card contains one item in the list of information that becomes the support material for a project. Each board (“William”) holds several boards (“Cub Scouts”). Here’s how we use Trello at Chez Caolo.
The need for quick capture of ideas and news
Items added to Trello from one device show up on another. For example, my wife can update a card on her iPhone and that edit shows up on mine. Likewise, I can make a note from my computer and it shows up on both phones. As we go about our days, it’s comforting and useful to know that we’re in touch and up to date, even on those days when we barley see each other between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Perhaps you know how that goes?)
As I said, Trello works great in a modern web browser. There are apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, too. But, honestly, the website is smart enough to work and look great on a mobile device, so check it out before you install an app.
Trello is really meant to be used by business teams, but we’re getting a lot out of it as busy parents. In the end, we’re pretty happy with it. Trello is a near ubiquitous capture tool that is always in sync. Shortcuts make it fast and cloud sync lets me stay on top of things.
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.
When Scottish physician, chemist and agriculturalist Willilam Cullen first demonstrated artificial refrigeration at the University of Glasgow in 1748, one has to wonder if his young son had already pasted his drawings to the door of the new device.
Two hundred and sixty-five years later, home refrigerators let us preserve food and collect lots and lots of clutter. Many refrigerator doors put the junk drawer to shame. I’m certainly guilty, and I need help.
At any give time, my refrigerator door holds any combination of the following:
- Elementary school art
- A calendar
- Commemorative magnets
- Supermarket flyers
- School photos
- Phone numbers
What started as a toddler art gallery has morphed, Kafka-style, into a horrific creature. To-do lists, permission slips and class photos fade into a single, unworkable mass. How did this happen?
Alternatives to the vertical stack
I’m looking to you, Unclutterer readers. I’ve tried several solutions, but none seem to work. My first was technological. I own an iPad, and I have dreams of it becoming the ultimate kitchen tool. I bought a great refrigerator iPad mount from Belkin with the best intentions. It holds the iPad in place brilliantly. It’s right at eye level and offers my calendar, email, Facebook, project software and even Netflix for when I want to watch junky TV while cooking.
Yet, all I do is end up pushing the paper aside to reach the Belkin holder.
Next, I bought several magnetic baskets from the local craft store. For a while, this worked well. One was for pens, one for scissors and a few others – neatly labeled – for school papers and the like. That is, until the magnets started to fail and they slowly slid down along the door. Down, down, down.
A behavioral change
I realize that no piece of equipment will help me if the core behavior remains intact. There’s a part of me that still believes if these items are in my face, every day, I’ll know where they are and act on them in an appropirate and timely manner. However, the fact is this: the larger and more unruly the refrigerator door becomes, the more I resist going near it. So here are my questions to you:
- Do you hang stuff on the refrigerator?
- Do you you actively avoid putting stuff on the refrigerator door?
- If you don’t use the door as a secretary, how do you keep track of those little items (like permission slips) that need action, in short order?
I’d love to hear about your experiences, good and not so good. To quote Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Destination Station serves as a public informational resource about the International Space Station. It is a mobile museum exhibit that allows visitors to experience what it’s like to be in a space station.
Destination Station is NASA’s International Space Station Program national awareness campaign that promotes research opportunities, educates communities about activities performed on the International Space Station, and communicates the real and potential impacts of the station on our everyday lives.
Just as NASA’s Destination Station serves as a resource, a similar set up in your home can have a positive effect on your daily life as well. No, I’m not suggesting that you outfit your house with space artifacts and informational posters, but you can create a go-to space (see what I did there?) — also known as a command center — and it can prove to be very helpful.
Here are five benefits of creating one for yourself:
- Stay in the know. In busy households, communication can sometimes seem like a child’s game of telephone. A destination station can be a place to stay in contact with family members and housemates even when you’re not all present. For example, you can post a calendar to keep track of joint appointments, parent-teacher meetings, vacation schedules, etc. You can also mount a chalkboard to leave important notes and messages.
- Find things quickly and easily in one central location. Skip the scavenger hunt for bills that need to be paid or items that you need to mail or return to the store. Instead, keep those items in the command center so you can quickly put your hands on them when you need to, and use baskets and containers to collect specific items in an organized way. By having them in one central spot, you won’t have to search your entire home to find what you’re looking for when you need it.
- Keep track of frequently used items. The command center can also be a place to keep things you use often. This can be a great spot for your keys, daily bag, mobile phone and charger, tablet, sunglasses, or any other items you need before heading out the door. You might even install a hook for your favorite jacket. Again, since the items are kept in one location, you’ll always find your things quickly and easily.
- Stop clutter from creeping into various spaces. When the things in your home don’t have permanent storage places, they can often bounce about various rooms and create clutter. It can be tricky to know where to put things that won’t be staying in your house, and the destination station will give you a location to organize and store your stuff until it’s time for the items to leave.
- Flexible to suit your needs. One of the helpful things about a command center is that there is no right or wrong way to create one. It can have elements that will help you (and everyone in your home) keep things in order. You might have a section for each person in your household, an area to collect shoes, wall files or binders for important papers, or hooks for keys. The beauty of it is you can create an area to address your specific circumstances.
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.
Depending on your buying habits and your drinking habits, you may never need worry about whether or not to keep a bottle of booze. But sometimes people do wind up with alcohol that may not be worth keeping: because they got something as a gift and never drank it, because their own drinking habits changed, because they inherited some bottles, etc.
At Unclutterer, we’ve touched on this subject before, but I’d like to provide more detailed guidance.
Two things can go wrong with beer.
Beer can get skunky — so it smells pretty awful, almost exactly like a skunk — if it’s exposed to light. Beer in brown bottles or in cans has good protection from skunking. And as the Beeriety blog explains, some beers that come in clear or green bottles use a hop substitute rather than actual hops, which means they won’t get skunky.
Beer also goes stale over time — more quickly if it’s not refrigerated. It won’t harm you, but it won’t taste all that good. How long does that take? As Chantal Martineau explains on Food Republic, one expert says three to six months for many beers; those with high alcohol content last longer. You can check for sell-by dates on the bottles, although they’re sometimes hard to see, and may use codes rather than actual dates, making things more complicated.
“Distilled spirits don’t go bad; they fade,” says Glenn Jeffers, writing in the Chicago Tribune. Unopened bottles of hard liquor like whiskey will last indefinitely, unless you store it horribly — like in a cedar chest, close to mothballs, or near a direct heat source.
What about an opened bottle? Ethan Kelley, an expert quoted by The Kitchn explains, “From a spirit geek standpoint, it’s good for 6-8 months — that’s the industry standard. For the average layperson, 8 months to maybe a year.”
But those old, opened bottles aren’t unsafe to drink from — although you may not want to. As Phil Vettel writes, also in the Chicago Tribune, “Barring contamination, liquor doesn`t go bad in the sense that meat or fish go bad. Liquor instead experiences a gradual decrease in quality; for example, an ages-old bottle of whiskey might develop, over time, a taste so unpleasant that you can`t drink it.”
Bottles with very little left in them deteriorate more quickly; these are the ones you’re most likely to want to pour down the drain.
These liqueurs will indeed go bad; some will note an expiration date on the bottle, so look for that. You can also check the guidance of the individual brands.
Baileys says of its cream liqueur, “Baileys … guarantees its taste for 2 years from the day it was made, opened or unopened, stored in the fridge or not when stored away from direct sunlight at a temperature range of 0-25 degrees centigrade. … Under normal conditions of storage Baileys has a shelf-life of 30 months.”
And Carolans says, “An unopened bottle of Carolans will last about 2 years on average, but this can vary depending on storage conditions — exposure to excessively hot storage conditions can adversely affect the shelf life. … All cream liqueurs are best drunk ‘young’ and should be consumed within 6 months of opening the bottle; refrigerate after opening.”
“What’s the worst that can happen?,” asks Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats. The answer? “Maggie Hoffman reports that the Baileys in her father’s liquor cabinet actually became solid after a decade or so.”
Consider taking a moment to assess your own liquor collection, before you ever get to a situation as sad as solid cream liqueurs.
What would you save if your home were burning? It’s an intriguing question that I hope none of us ever have to face. The point, of course, is a harsh way to get us to consider what’s truly important and want’s expendable.
My wife and my daughter spent this past weekend at a Girl Scout campout. This was the big, multi-troop event that takes place each spring. The girls leave home on Friday night to have a great time, enjoy each other’s company, and return on Sunday with, among other things, a car full of stuff that smells like smoke.
I spent most of Sunday afternoon washing the stinky laundry, including Cow (pictured above). Cow has been with my daughter for a decade. In fact, she’s “had” cow since before she was born. When my wife was pregnant, she and I took at trip to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. I decided it would be fun to win a toy for the new baby on the midway, so I played game after game after game, losing each one in spectacular fashion. I ended up buying Cow from a gift shop (my wife took a photo of the shameful transaction).
My daughter loves Cow and was disappointed when she couldn’t sleep with her on Sunday night because Cow was still wet. That’s when I realized, when my daughter moves out, I’ll keep Cow to remind me of her childhood. Everything else — the artwork, Hogwarts scarf, posters and so on — pale in comparison to Cow’s significance. I could let everything else of hers go. It’s my “rescue from a fire” item I’d grab for my daughter.
A few years ago, when my grandfather passed away, I traveled to New York for the services. We went through the things in his house, and I found many things I wanted to keep. My grandfather was a tremendous artist who worked in pewter and silver mainly, designing flatware and other pieces for Oneida, Ltd. While going through his house, we found so much more than forks, knives and spoons.
There were paintings, sketches, drawings, short stories, tools and so much more, including a steamer trunk from his time in the navy that bore incredible things. I wanted to take so much of it home.
But, I told myself no, and took some time deciding what few items I could store in our house as mementos. As I recovered from the overriding emotion, I thought about it more logically. All of that stuff, as amazing as it was, would be clutter in my home, stuffed in a basement, closet, or attic. I’d take it out to look at occasionally, then infrequently, then almost never. That’s not the kind of treatment my grandfather’s memory deserves.
In the end, I took two spoons he designed, as well as the original sketches for their design. At home, I got a shadowbox from a craft store, mounted them inside and hung the result on a wall as a piece of art. Now I see it almost daily and smile every time I do.
All of the love without the clutter.
My wife did something similar after her grandmother passed away. Her grandmother was a Polish immigrant who often cooked for my wife and her family when she was a kid, generating lasting memories. Today, we have a pastry cutter that she often used and a hand-written recipe plus a photo in a shadowbox that’s hanging, appropriately, in our kitchen.
Here’s one final example. I have a “thing” for T-shirts, much to my wife’s chagrin. Two years ago, she took several of my oldest ones, which I was too afraid to wear due to their age, and had them made into a beautiful quilt that lives on my bed. Again, all the sentiment with none of the clutter.
No, you don’t have to turn off your emotions when de-cluttering. Find that one awesome item (or two or three), treat it with the respect it deserves, and enjoy the uncluttered memories. Treat those things you hope you would be able to save in an emergency with the respect you feel for them.
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.
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The following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. For the past month, I’ve been aggressively testing this product and the review is based on my first-hand experiences. We agreed to work with Staples because they sell so many different products in their stores, and our arrangement with them allows us to review products we use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Again, these infrequent sponsored posts help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.
As a parent of a toddler with an intrinsic desire to push every button he encounters, we’ve been living the past few years with our shredder unplugged from the wall. Each day when the mail arrived, I had to take the safety plug out of the outlet, plug in the shredder, turn on the shredder, shred any mail with sensitive data on it, turn off the shredder, unplug it, and put the safety plug back into the outlet. I gladly did this because I care more about my son’s safety than the inconvenience of plugging in and then unplugging a shredder, but I kept thinking there has to be an easier way.
I also knew I couldn’t be the only person in this situation and someone had to have found a better solution.
Turns out, shredder manufacturers had thought about folks like me with toddlers and about people with pets as curious as three year olds. For safety-conscious people, they have created shredders that require keys to unlock the shredder’s functionality. In this specific case, I’ve been using the Staples’ 10-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder with a Lockout Key. I can keep it plugged in all the time, but it can’t be operated until the Lockout Key is inserted into a lock on the top of the unit. (Removing the Lockout Key actually disconnects the power to the unit.) It’s simple to use and a significant improvement over the unplugging method.
And, if you’re someone (like a grandparent) who doesn’t regularly have young children or pets in your home, there is a discrete switch on the inside of the unit that can override the key functionality for as long as you desire.
Specifically addressing the 10-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder, it has some additional nice features:
- It automatically turns off if it overheats (something I’ve never had occur, but the manual says it is possible after four minutes of continuous run time)
- If it turns off because of overheating it has a specific indicator light to let you know that is the reason it shut down (so you don’t think the shredder is broken), and that light goes out when the unit cools down and is ready to go again
- It cross-cut shreds, which makes the shred more secure than just a strip shredder
- It eats credit cards and other thin plastics
- It eats staples, so you don’t have to remove them before depositing papers into the shredder
- Another safety feature is it doesn’t operate if the top of the unit isn’t seated securely on the base
- It will eat 10 pieces of paper at a time, which means you often don’t have to open envelopes if you know they’re junk and don’t contain any metal
- The bin that catches the paper shreds pulls out from the front (like a drawer) and you don’t have to take the shredding unit off the top to empty your shreds (this is a nice improvement over our old shredder, too)
- There is a little clear panel on the front of the bin so you can see if you need to empty out the paper shreds from the bin
- As for loudness, it’s not the quietest shredder I’ve ever heard but it is far from the loudest — the manual claims it has about a 70 decibel noise level
Interested in knowing which papers you have that you should shred before purging? I suggest shredding anything with any personal information on it. If an identity thief could use the information to verify himself or herself as you, shred the paper. In my area, paper shreds can be recycled, so I shred unabashedly. If your recycling program doesn’t take shredded paper, you can compost the shreds (just make sure you don’t have any plastic or staples in your bin).
If you have specific questions about what papers to shred and purge, you might find this infographic I developed to be helpful, “Shred, Scan, or Store?“
Once the uncluttering is done and you’re deciding how to store the keepers, you may find you need some products to help you create an organized space. You might need bookshelves, file folders, a scanner, an inbox, some good hangers for the closet — any number of things.
How do you select your products? Most importantly, you want something functional, something that really meets your needs. Price is obviously a consideration, too. But what criteria do you use beyond that? The following are five recommendations for how to acquire the right organizing products for your needs:
Use something you already own
This saves money and it’s a green way to go. It can also result in some very personalized storage solutions. Many people have excess coffee mugs that could be used as pencil cups. I’ve taken a cat bed that my cats disdained and turned it into an inbox in my office. The pretty box pictured below? A friend used it to package a gift for me and now I use it to store my flossers.
Get something second-hand
Buy something at a thrift store or join your local freecycle community or other similar groups and get something there. Garage sales can be sources of incoming clutter, but, if you’re a wise shopper, they can also be sources of organizing product treasures.
I recently freecycled these drawers. I’ve also given away wooden hangers and lots of filing supplies. People in your local group may also be giving away organizing products.
Buy from stores that easily accept returns and exchanges
Even if you check the dimensions of your space, you may still find the item you’ve purchased doesn’t quite work for you. If you’re concerned this may happen, you’ll want to buy from a store where returns and exchanges aren’t a hassle.
Honor your personal values
Based on your ideologies, this may mean you buy from local stores or independent stores or individual artists. It may mean you buy from stores that are known for treating their employees well. Maybe you look for products manufactured in your own country, rather than abroad. Or maybe you look for products that aren’t over-packaged and are made from sustainable materials. Depending on how you feel about the research on plastic food storage containers, you may want to avoid plastics for anything going into the microwave.
Or maybe none of these things matter to you, and that’s fine, too.
Acquire things that delight you
Sometimes all you need is a basic plastic bin, but other times you may want something with more flair. In those situations, look for products that delight you with their design, their color, their silliness, etc.
Most of my bookends are just simple and sturdy, but I do love this rhino, and it helps me to get books back on the shelf after I reference them because I like looking at it.
This oversized mug is what I use to store my kitchen utensils. I bought it at a local craft fair about 20 years ago. It still makes me smile every time I look at it.
You’ve done it! Your home is uncluttered, with everything in its place.
But then, a few months later, things aren’t quite the same.
How do you maintain that organized space you so enjoyed? The following seven ideas will give you an edge and don’t rely on a magic wand.
Make it super easy to put things away.
Well, OK — it’s fine if your holiday decorations are stored in a place that’s a bit hard to get to. But, with things you use frequently, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible to put them back in their places.
Make sure the containers you use aren’t too full; strive to keep them at least 20 percent empty. Think about how hard it is to file things in an over-stuffed file cabinet. Other overly full containers are also hard to work with.
Consider containers without lids; consider hooks instead of hangers. If you have high shelves you need to access fairly often, have a step stool close at hand.
And, as much as possible, accommodate the way paper and objects naturally tend to flow through your home. If incoming mail gets dropped on the coffee table, put an inbox there. If coats wind up in a pile right by the front door, consider putting hooks or a coat tree in that area.
Make sure everything has a home.
Also, make sure that all family members who share putting-things-away responsibility know where those homes are. You can’t put something in its proper home if it doesn’t have one. Buying something new? Make sure you decide where it’s going to live in your home before you pay for it.
Share a file cabinet with another family member? Make sure you both agree on how things will be filed. I met a woman who filed the house insurance under the name of the insurance agent; her husband had no idea where to find it.
Don’t forget to label your storage containers, especially when it’s not immediately obvious what goes where. You can use pictures to label toy bins and such for young children, so they can help put things away, too.
Use good tools.
I spent way too much time pulling jammed paper out of my shredder before I invested in a new one. Now I’ve got one that works, and life is so much easier.
Look for file cabinets with full-extension drawers — where the drawers pull out far enough that you can easily get to the files at the back.
Develop a routine.
Maybe you and your child take 10 minutes to put toys away each evening. Maybe you sort out junk mail daily, and do your filing weekly. Figure out what routines work for you and your family and stick to them.
If finances allow it, consider hiring help.
Hiring a gardener or a housecleaner to take care of some routine tasks can free up your time for the things that only you can handle. If you have a small home-based business and hate doing the bookkeeping, consider hiring someone for this task, so you don’t get behind.
Or, maybe you have some projects sitting around that are creating clutter because they aren’t getting done — those shelves aren’t getting installed on their own and that thing you were going to repair isn’t getting repaired. It might be worth paying someone else to do those types of projects for you.
You could also consider doing a task swap with a friend. You despise doing Task A, but don’t mind doing Task B? Your friend is fine with doing Task A, but always puts off doing Task B? Maybe you can help each other.
Do a periodic uncluttering.
Tastes changes. Needs change. The lids to food storage containers get lost. Children outgrow things. Schedule some time, every once in a while, to make sure all the things you own are still things you want.
Set an appropriate standard.
Unless your home is on the market with potential buyers coming by any time or unless your home is being used for a photo shoot, immaculate is probably an unnecessarily high standard for daily living in your home. Keep your home safe, functional, and generally uncluttered — but don’t fret that it isn’t perfect. Perfect is an impossible continuous standard.
People who know me know that I have an intense dislike for doing laundry. Like uncluttering, if you don’t keep up with it, things can quickly get out of control. Because there are several steps to completing the process, I’m always on the look out for ways to make it a little easier and faster to complete. In fact, I was elated when I recently read about a shirt (made by Wool and Prince) that can be worn for 100 days before it needs to be laundered. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like doing laundry (no surprise there) as the shirt is already sold out. And, since it’s for men only, my dreams of collecting a few for my side of the closet quickly faded. I have hope for the future, though.
Image credit: Wool and Prince
I’ve even considered wearing one core piece every day for one year (like Sheena Matheiken did). Though I’d still have to wash my clothing, I’d theoretically have less of it to launder and I could save a bit of time looking for something to wear each day. But, in reality, I’m not sure I could be creative enough to pull this off for 365 days. After a while, I suspect that I’d want to switch things up a bit.
Since these options don’t seem viable for me and my lifestyle, I’ve decided to redouble my efforts and take more practical steps to help ease the pain of doing laundry. If you’re like me and find laundry to be a major thorn in your side, consider these six suggestions:
- Reduce your stash. Spring is great time to unclutter your home (or office or car) so why not start with your closet? The less clothing you have, the less volume of washing will be required. And, you’ll gain more space in your closet.
- Share laundry duties. Teaming up with your spouse, partner, or housemate to get chores done is not a new idea, and this principle can easily be applied to doing laundry. Decide who will be responsible for specific steps in the process (don’t forget about ironing). You can alternate each step or take on the tasks that you don’t mind doing. For instance, I love folding. It’s a quiet and solitary activity that relaxes me. On the other hand, you might want to do laundry with a friend who’ll help you with all the steps and then on another day, you return the favor.
Another option is to let everyone in your home be responsible for keeping their own clothing clean. This can be a great option for adults and older children, though you can also get younger children involved. Of course, you can also outsource your laundry. When I lived in NY years ago, I used a service that would pick up, wash, dry, fold, and return my clean clothing to my apartment. It was money well spent as all I had to do was to put everything away.
- Wash smaller loads. This may seem counterintuitive, but it may help you get through all the steps if you have fewer clothes to work with at one time. This might mean that adjusting your laundry schedule (increase the number of loads per day or the number of days you wash clothing) so that you can finish the entire process for each load washed.
- Keep your laundry area stocked with needed supplies. Nothing stalls the process like not having everything you need. It’s important to have all the supplies you tend to use so that you can start and finish the process. If you’re missing something (or don’t have enough of it), you’ll be frustrated and doing laundry will take longer (or just not happen until the last minute). Keep the supplies you need in your laundry area and be sure they are easily accessible or else you probably won’t put them back where they belong. This also applies to good equipment — if you have a washer and dryer at home, it’s much more enjoyable to do laundry when the equipment is in decent working order.
- Use a steamer. If you’re not fond of ironing, you might want to consider using steamer. They seem to be a bit easier to use and don’t require as much effort as a traditional iron does. You can also find portable units that don’t take up a lot of space. You could also purchase wrinkle resistant clothing that requires little or no ironing once you remove it from the dryer, but these items are typically treated with resins that may irritate your skin, so use caution. Clothing made from bamboo fibers may be a good option as they are lightweight (and potentially easier to keep wrinkle-free), tend to be odor resistant, and are quick drying.
- Buy the same. This is a tried and true tip — especially when you are laundering socks. Having the all the same socks means that you won’t spend a lot of time pairing them up.
You’ve uncluttered your home, and now you’re making sure everything you’re saving has its defined storage place. You’ll usually want to store the things you use most often in easy-to-reach places — but please make sure you’re also storing things safely. Here are some of the issues you’ll want to consider.
A recent study by Safe Kids found that parents know the importance of storing medications up and away from children — but emergency department visits for accidental poisonings are still increasing. What’s going on? Children are ingesting medicines found on the floor, in purses, in pillboxes, etc. They get into these medicines not just at their own homes, but also at the homes of grandparents or other relatives.
So when you’re looking at storage requirements, be sure to think about those pillboxes and purses. And, remember that pets can also get into medications.
For more information, check out the Up and Away website, which reminds us to put every medicine and vitamin container away every time you use it — even if you’re going to use it again in just a few hours.
Most everyone knows to keep things like pesticides and antifreeze in places where children and pets can’t get to them. But other hazardous products might escape attention.
For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a safety alert warning about the dangers of single-load liquid laundry packets. These colorful packets look like toys to children, but they often contain chemicals that are dangerous if ingested — so they need to be kept safely away from kids.
If you have pets, please be aware of the materials that may be toxic to them, and store those items appropriately. The Pet Poison Hotline has a detailed list of pet toxins for cats and dogs, including items like chocolate, matches, nicotine, and mothballs. Since so many foods can be poisonous to pets, you’ll want to be sure you have a pet-proof garbage can, one that’s tucked away where pets can’t get into it, or pets that are trained to never raid the garbage can.
Furniture, televisions and other heavy items
Living in earthquake territory, I’ve learned about the perils of toppling bookcases and other heavy items. The Dare to Prepare website reminds readers to tightly secure everything that could injure someone if it falls — as well as any fragile items you would hate to see damaged. The site provides information on how to properly secure bookcases, filing cabinets, etc.
But, until recently, I hadn’t thought about how easily children can get crushed if a television or a piece of heavy furniture were to fall on them — which can happen when a child reaches for something like a remote or climbs onto the furniture to get to an attractive item. The Georgia Department of Public Health has written about these issues, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Tip-Over Information Center. Safe Kids has a report providing extensive information about the TV tip-over problem and how to avoid it.
Where do you store plastic bags? Do you dispose of dry cleaning bags immediately, in places where young children and pets can’t get hold of them? These bags can present a suffocation risk, so please handle them appropriately. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that you “tie plastic bags in a knot before storing them out of reach and out of sight” if you have children ages 6-12 months.
Being well organized also gives you the opportunity to be more safe in your home. Storing items securely and safely can help to prevent accidents.
“Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.” — Francis Bacon, Sr.
It’s no secret that writing things down is beneficial in several ways. A mind that’s not trying to remember tasks is better prepared for problem solving and focusing on the present. Good ideas are fleeting and need to be captured, irrespective of when they happen. It’s important to have written goals and lists that can remind you of what you need to do. There’s more, of course, but I’m going to address that last point.
I’ve been keeping a to-do list in my pocket for years. For most of that time, it was a simple list of things I needed to do. That’s great, but I found problems. Notably, I’d feel guilty about tasks I couldn’t complete because of my circumstance.
For example, I can’t make progress on “get pants hemmed at the tailor” while I’m stuck at my desk. I can’t pay the registration fee for the kids for soccer while I’m standing in line at the DMV. Likewise, I often don’t have the energy or time available for more demanding tasks when I’m reviewing my list at the end of the day.
Looking at items I couldn’t take acton on was stressful. It was time to re-think the simple to-do list. The following are several ways to sort, organize and prioritize the items on your to-do list for easy reference and guilt-free productivity on the go:
Sorting by context
Step one was to sort by context. I know a lot of people dislike this idea, but hear me out on this. At the top of my to-do list, I’ll put a heading like “@phone.” Beneath it I list tasks that require a phone call. Next, I’ll put “@errands” and “@computer”. Appropriate tasks are listed under each one. That way, when I’m at my desk with some free time, I can look at “@phone” or “@computer” and hammer out those tasks. I don’t even see items listed under “@errands”, so I don’t feel guilty about not making progress on them. (David Allen refers to these location-based lists often in his writing.)
Time and Energy Available
Of course, context isn’t the only way to decide what you can work on at any give time. It’s smart to also consider your time available and energy available. When your fresh first thing in the morning, tackle those jobs that require much physical and/or mental energy. Reserve something less taxing, like filing receipts, for the end of the day or after lunch when you might have a dip in focus. Likewise, I don’t always have the time to lay out the new flower bed. But a free Saturday afternoon lets me do just that.
A few weeks ago, I came across Word Notebooks. My notebook addiction is legendary, so I could not resist buying a pair. They’re similar in size and shape to the Field Notes brand notebooks that I love so much, but offer something different.
Each paperback notebook has a “use guide” that’s printed on the inside cover and in the margin of every page. You’ll find a small circle around an even smaller circle. The idea is to highlight the importance and completion state of each item with these circles. Here’s how it works.
- Color in the inner circle to identify an item as a bullet point
- Highlight the outer circle to identify something as important
- Put a single line trough both circles for items that are in progress
- Draw an “X” over items that are complete
It’s tidy and offers an at-a-glance overview of the status of your to-do list. Unlike the context system that I use or the energy-available strategy, the Word notebooks visually arrange action items by priority and state of completion. Pretty nice! Of course, you don’t have to buy a special notebook with pre-printed circles. You could roll your own solution.
The Dash/Plus System
My Internet buddy, author and all-around nice guy Patrick Rhone described a system that he devised for keeping careful track of the items on his to-do list. His system uses plusses, arrows, and geometric shapes to denote the status of an action item. It’s clear, simple, and doesn’t require a special notebook.
Now I’ll turn it over to you. Do you keep a plain list or have you adopted a system like these? Let me know in the comments.