Archives for Reviews
As I mentioned last week, I recently attended the National Association of Professional Organizers’ 24th annual conference in Baltimore. One of my favorite parts of the conference is the exposition hall, which is filled with manufacturers, retailers, and service providers who work closely with the professional organizing industry. Many of these providers use the conference to introduce new items that aren’t yet on the market, as well as to solicit suggestions for how professional organizers think products can be improved.
Today, I want to feature some more of these new and yet-to-be released products so you can see the latest trends in organizing. A couple of the items are in the “new-to-me” category, but most of them will also be new to you. To be clear, I’m not getting any sort of payment or kick-backs for writing about these products. These are simply the items I found interesting and helpful for common organizing problems.
I’ve grouped the items into themes, and today I want to feature storage solutions –
The Rubbermaid Company has two new products that make me very happy. One of my biggest complaints about large storage bins is that they are more like buckets than useful bins. Small items always sift down to the bottom and to find anything you have to dump everything out to get to it. Rubbermaid is addressing this problem first with their Bento Box with Flex Dividers:
It’s difficult to tell from this image, but inside the box are dividers that are attached to the side of the box that pop out if you want divided interior space or rest flush against the sides of the box if you don’t want dividers. The Bento Boxes are available online and at Target stores.
The second Rubbermaid item is a tray insert for their Clever Store plastic bins. The trays make it easy to store small items in a separate compartment from the deep bin below the tray. I think they’re perfect for toy storage where a doll and her small accouterments can be stored in the tray and then all of the doll’s clothes could fit in the lower bin.
Next up is a custom drawer organizer that has won my heart after just a week of use. The organizer consists of a flexible mat (mine is neon green, I won a sample during a workshop) and 15 dividers. The mat can be cut to fit any drawer and the dividers can be placed anywhere you need them. The dividers grip to the mat and can be repositioned easily. I thought the dividers were going to pop off every time I moved a utensil, but they don’t. I’ve decided the whole DrawerDecor Organizer is magic:
The last product I want to discuss is something that I saw and instantly knew would be perfect for all the visual processors who read the blog. The product is called Pliio and it is a product that fits inside your clothes when you fold them. (It stays in the clothes.) You can use it in your clothes that you put in drawers like a filing system, but that isn’t my favorite way to use the product. What I like best about it is that it allows you to put your clothes on shelves like books:
If you’re someone who puts things in drawers and then instantly forgets those those things exist, the Pliio is great for you. Being able to line your clothes up on your shelves lets you see each item in a highly organized fashion. The product creator (her name is Clare and that is her in the picture on HSN) told me there are versions of the Pliio for sheets in the works, which I think would work wonders in linen closets.
Have you seen any new storage products that can help to organize the home? Share your finds and/or comments about these items in the comments.
We’ve reviewed Scottevest products in the past, and we’re big fans of their approach to space-saving design.
They recently sent us one of their new Transformer Jackets for us to review. Like their other jackets, it has 20 pockets, which can reasonably save you a small carry-on when flying.
What’s nice about the Transformer is that the sleeves are held on by magnets and they come right off when you pull firmly on them. They also reattach much easier than if they were secured with zippers.
The jacket also has a nice and simple aesthetic that belies the fact that it has so many hidden pockets. The jacket is available for pre-order starting today.
One of the topics covered extensively in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is goal setting and achievement. The book’s authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney identify 12 proven strategies for successfully reaching your goals:
- Having a positive attitude about the future. A general sense of optimism about the future helps people to believe they will ultimately achieve their goals.
- Formulating affirmative, long-term objectives. Lofty, big-picture objectives like “finding an interesting career” and “having a good family life” keep your momentum going even when there might be small setbacks along the way. “To stoke motivation and ambition, focus … on the road ahead.”
- Goals and objectives cannot conflict with each other or with your world view. The more congruent your goals and objectives are, the more likely you are to achieve them.
- When setting specific goals, make them on a monthly plan. The idea is that “life rarely goes exactly according to plan, and so the daily plans can be demoralizing as soon as you fall off schedule. With a monthly plan, you can make adjustments. If a delay arises one day, your plan is still intact.”
- Focus on just one large goal at a time. If you try to stop smoking and lose weight at the same time, you’ll probably end up failing at both. Stop smoking first, then move onto the weight loss (or whatever large goals apply to you).
- Precommit to success and don’t give yourself alternatives. When speaking, say that you are un unclutterer, not that you are becoming one. If you are trying to follow a healthful diet, make rules like “I don’t eat doughnuts” and “I eat green vegetables every night for dinner.” When you precommit to how you will behave, you won’t snack on a doughnut in the break room at work because you are not a person who eats doughnuts.
- Use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. The authors are big fans of Allen’s system for creating precise next actions and using the tickler file. Knowing exactly what you need to do next and when items need to be completed frees up your energy to focus on the work and not trying to remember to do the work.
- Work on your goal every day. High school valedictorians are rarely students who cram for exams. Rather, they review material and consistently study every day. The daily habit of working toward a goal produces dependable, positive, long-term results.
- Set your goals publicly. “People care more about what other people know about them than about what they know about themselves. A failure, a slipup, a lapse in self-control can be swept under the carpet pretty easily if you’re the only one who knows about it … But if other people know about it, it’s harder to dismiss. After all, the other person might not buy the excuses that you make, even though you find them quite satisfying.”
- Help others. Navy SEAL commandos going through Hell Week are more likely to survive the week and become SEALs when they have “the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear, and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others.”
- Monitor your actions daily. Keep track of your progress using a smart phone app or computer program, write a sentence or two in a journal, or update your progress on Twitter. Then, be sure to review your entries so you can see how well you have progressed toward your goal.
- Give yourself relevant rewards for achieved milestones. Obviously, achieving your goal will be extremely rewarding, but the road to success might be a long one. Set up milestones throughout the process and award yourself when you meet these milestones.
Choosing to become an unclutterer doesn’t take much effort. You decide you want to get rid of the distractions that get in the way of the life you desire. That aspect of the process is simple — but what comes next isn’t necessarily a walk in the park.
Actually becoming an unclutterer requires a good amount of energy and willpower to purge the distractions, set up working organizing systems, consistently maintaining the order you’ve established, and pursuing the life you desire. It’s not hard, but after a full day at the office and tending to other responsibilities, your energy levels may be spent. It can be more tempting to plop down in front of the television and turn off your brain or to escape into a good book than it is to sort mail, put away folded laundry, file important documents, take a load of your child’s out-grown clothes to charity, and spend quality time with your kids, favorite hobby, or whatever you have deemed truly important to you.
In the recently published book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney explore the science behind willpower and self-control. They analyzed findings from hundreds of experiments to see why some people are able to keep their focus and determination for extensive periods of time and others aren’t. Their book also looks at how David Blaine can complete incredible acts of endurance, how to predict which graduate students will become tenured professors, why some anti-smoking and anti-drinking programs are more successful than others, why David Allen’s Getting Things Done method works for so many people, and other case studies that personalize the research. Best of all, they report on proven methods for strengthening these skills, so readers can increase their willpower and self-control.
There is so much valuable information in this book that today will not be the only time I write about it. However, I do want to mention a few of the strategies they provide for increasing your willpower:
- Physically remove the temptation and/or distraction. For example, if you want to stop watching television during the week, remove the power cord from your television and stick it in a drawer. If you’re tempted to jump on Facebook instead of working on a report, install a program on your computer that bans you from looking at Facebook for a set amount of time or reports to your boss if you’re looking at Facebook. One of the reasons Baumeister and Tierney say AA is effective at getting people to stop drinking is because the attendees are at an AA meeting and not in a bar.
- Take on a seemingly unrelated improvement in behavior. Working on your posture or using complete sentences every time you speak (“Yes, I would like a drink of milk” instead of “Yep”) will help to increase willpower and self-control in other areas of your life, as well as in the area of your attention.
- Set routines and stick to them. The book’s authors report that people who floss their teeth every day tend to have more willpower and self-control than those who don’t. Initially “… use your self-control to form a daily habit, and you’ll produce more with less effort in the long run.” Stated another way, start by using your willpower to create positive daily habits and routines. In three to six months, you’ll simply do these regular tasks without much effort and you can use your extra energy on larger tasks that require more self-control. Tasks on auto-pilot don’t use the same stockpile of energy as one’s you have to consciously complete.
- Surround yourself with people who can help you build your willpower and self-control. This might include getting an accountability partner to help keep you on track when you’re uncluttering or hiring a professional organizer to guide you as you tackle the mess on your desk. If you want to start exercising, it will benefit you to work with a personal trainer or to join an online forum to talk about your progress with other people using the same exercise system. It’s easier to not smoke when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t smoking and it’s easier to be organized when surrounded by people who are organized.
As mentioned previously, this book is stocked with scientific research that provides a wealth of tips and strategies for improving your willpower and self-control. While reading the text, I was constantly amazed by how much of it was directly linked to uncluttered living and creating what the authors call “orderly cues.” To learn this information for yourself, check out Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Also, continue to check back to our posts as I plan to refer to the text a few more times over the next couple weeks. The section of the book on teaching self-control strategies to children was incredibly helpful and I definitely want to share the information relevant to uncluttering with you all. I highly recommend this book to all of our readers, regardless of where you are on your uncluttering and organizing journey.
We have a number of musical instruments in our house. Due to humidity concerns, we like to keep them stored in their cases year-round. What then, to do with the big, clunky cases?
Rather than hiding them under a bed, which would be inconvenient since we actually play the instruments regularly, we keep them rested on a Guitar-Stor rack where they are easily within reach. It keeps the cases from scratching the walls and it looks nice in our living room where we practice.
The other really nice thing about the unit is that you can rest guitars directly on it without their cases. This is convenient when you’re practicing, or when you have a number of friends over to pick. And, even if you leave a guitar on the Guitar-Stor rack for an extended period of time, you don’t have to worry about the foam padding marring the finish, as the manufacturer uses a custom-formulated EPDM/neoprene synthetic blend for the padding that touches the instrument (this is important because open cell and and/or organic materials such as those found in natural rubber and surgical tubing are susceptible to outgassing, which can damage guitar finishes)
The racks come in several styles and finishes. We opted for the basic MDF model in black, for a more contemporary look. In this configuration, the Guitar-Stor is priced at $475. The company also offers more elaborate models in both cherry and walnut finishes with hardwood construction.
The manufacturer’s website only shows guitars on the Guitar-Stor rack, but you can see from the photo taken in our house that we have no trouble storing cases for both mandolins and violins on the rack.
These Guitar-Stor racks are not an inexpensive solution, but they are very well-built. We think it’s a small price to pay if you have expensive guitars that you want to keep safely out of the way when not in use.
A couple months ago, the company SCOTTEVEST sent me a trench coat to test drive. My husband got their fantastic Essential Travel Jacket awhile back and seeing as I’ve been envious of his coat ever since, I eagerly accepted the company’s offer.
SCOTTEVEST is a company that specializes in making clothing with gigantic hidden pockets. Let me show you how this works:
There are 18 pockets in this coat. I can fit my Kindle, son’s diapers and wipes, two Epipens, wallet, iPhone, small camera (a Canon PowerShot SD600), keys, sunglasses, zip-top bag for receipts, a stack of Band-Aids, and still have pockets available to hold more stuff. Even with all of these things in my coat, you can’t tell the pockets are loaded.
When wearing the coat, I have no need to carry a purse. Having my hands free is an incredible benefit when chasing after a toddler, and I don’t have to worry about losing my purse or it being stolen. (Sure, I could be pick-pocketed while wearing the coat, but I doubt there’s a thief out there who knows how to get into all 18 pockets undetected.) It’s also very nice at the airport because a coat doesn’t count as a carry-on bag. I fill my coat with my regular carry-on items, and then put my clothes and laptop in a traditional carry-on bag — avoiding the checked baggage fee.
The sizing for the product is accurate, the material is durable, and it’s an attractive coat. I get compliments on it every time I wear it. I’m such a fan, I’m planning to buy a second one in black to wear for more formal occasions. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have an optional wool-lining insert that would make it a four-season jacket.
The SCOTTEVEST trench coat is uncluttered in appearance and application (no additional purse to carry), and since each item I’m carrying with me has its own pocket, it’s also incredibly organized. I don’t waste time hunting for anything I need. I wish all coats were this practical.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read Keeping It Straight — You, Me, and Everything Else by Patrick Rhone. It’s a digital book that is part memoir, part simple living and productivity guide, which through a collection of short essays addresses clearing clutter from your life to greater experience happiness. If you are a Mac user, you may be familiar with Patrick’s website MinimalMac.com.
It is a quick read, but an intimate look at how and why someone has embraced simple living practices. I certainly gained some wonderful insights from the text, and wanted to share a handful of excerpts with you.
I really liked his approach to smart consumerism:
… anywhere I can make a buying choice that I, with proper care and maintenance, will never have to make again for the rest of my life, I do. In those cases, I’m willing to pay far more for an item if I know it will last a lifetime and, even more importantly to me, if I will never have to spend the mental energy making a choice again. Especially because making final choices often requires far more time and research then making regular ones. In fact, I would argue that the more final the choice, the longer it should take to make it. Also, what you spend on the front end usually repays exponentially, and in many different ways, on the back end.
His thoughts on saving time by learning a piece of software and its associated short-cut keys:
if you use an application more than once a day you can save so much time and effort by learning the keyboard shortcuts for the features you use. Do you know how to reload a page in your browser without touching the mouse? How about opening a new window in the Finder? While those may seem like no-brainers to some, I can tell you from personal experience that it still takes me conscious effort to use my keyboard to jump into the Google search field in Safari because the muscle memory of clicking it is so strong. Bottom line, if you find yourself performing regular actions, see if there is a way to automate those.
A non-traditional perspective on creating to-do lists (especially in contrast to the Getting Things Done maybe/someday list):
Your to-do list should be a sacred place. It should be filled only with the things you really plan on doing, things you are constantly evaluating, and things you are taking active steps to move forward and to get them done.
And his humorous, yet poignant view of productivity tools:
The Three Most Important Productivity Tools — The trash can, the delete key, and the word “no.”
If you enjoy a memoir with helpful simple living and productivity advice, Patrick’s book of essays is available for sale at keepingitstraightbook.com and firsttodaypress.com. It is also available for download from Amazon for the Kindle.
Piers Steel’s new book The Procrastination Equation made its way to my door last week. I’ll admit, the title taunted me to put off reading it — it’s as if just seeing the word procrastination could create a self-fulfilling prophecy — but, I didn’t. I finished it three days after first picking it up.
Steel has produced an exhaustive look at the research, history, definition, forms, and treatment of procrastination. (Note: Exhaustive may be underselling it, as there are 73 pages of endnotes following the 220 pages of manuscript.) The research, history, and forms of procrastination sections of his book are its strength and most captivating. Until I read Steel’s book, I had no idea ancient Egyptians had eight hieroglyphs referring to delay, one of which specifically implies neglect and/or forgetfulness. Procrastination clearly isn’t a new problem created by modern workers’ addictions to Facebook. Although, I also learned from reading the book that Facebook has such an addictive draw that half of people who personally close their accounts reactivate them.
From a section of the text, “What Procrastination Is and Isn’t”:
By procrastinating you are not just delaying, though delay is an integral part of what you are doing. Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, which means “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, which means “of tomorrow.” But procrastination means so much more than its literal meaning. Prudence, patience, and prioritizing all have elements of delay, yet none means the same as procrastination. Since its first appearance in the English language in the sixteen century, procrastination has identified not just any delay but an irrational one — this is, when we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.
Steel uses the later sections of the book to talk through his procrastination equation, which is:
Motivation = (Expectancy x Value)/(Impulsiveness x Delay)
He identifies motivation as the opposite of procrastination, and that a lack of motivation is a result of troubles with expectancy (such as you expect to fail at the task, so you don’t do it), value (such as you don’t value the work you’re supposed to do, so you don’t do it), or impulsiveness (I explain this one in more detail below).
The book provides tips for overcoming these three roots of procrastination with “action items.” If you’ve read any books or articles on procrastination in the past, the suggestions Steel provides are all ones you’ve seen before: Watch inspirational movies, visualize a positive outcome, identify that you’re procrastinating, positively frame outcomes, do hardest work when you are most alert, keep up your energy levels, reward yourself for reaching milestones, remove temptations and distractions, use specific language when setting goals, break down long-term goals into multiple milestones, schedule time for tasks, etc. In fact, I don’t think there are but one or two tips we’ve never covered on Unclutterer.
As I mentioned earlier, though, the “action items” wouldn’t be why you would read the book. It’s the first part of the book exploring the research, history, and forms of procrastination that make this book worth your time.
One of the items I found most interesting in the book is the discussion of types of procrastination. Steel’s research led him to discover that the more impulsive a person is, the more likely she is to procrastinate:
People who act without thinking, who are unable to keep their feelings under control, who act on impulse, are also people who procrastinate.
Delayed gratification isn’t an option for many procrastinators. If given the choice between watching television or studying for a test, they’ll watch television because it will be instantly gratifying. Even if performing well on a test will be more gratifying, they are unable to ignore the temptation in the present. I had never thought of procrastination as an impulse control issue until reading Steel’s book. This discovery will certainly color (for the better, I hope) my future advice about fighting procrastination.
ScanSnap sent me a model to test a couple weeks ago, and I think it’s a great little machine. (It’s weird how I drool over scanners and their paper clutter-reduction powers … I may have a problem … ) It works with the same dependability and quality as other ScanSnap products.
It took me about four minutes to install the software, and I was able to use the scanner instantly after that. The software works with both PC and Mac.
My only complaint is that it doesn’t scan both sides of the paper you feed into it. However, since I have a desktop scanner that does duplex, it’s not such a big deal to me. This device is really built for lugging around in your briefcase or suitcase, so its compact size and convenience outweigh the lack of duplex scanning. If you attend a lot of conferences, you want a small scanner like this that weighs next-to-nothing (my home scale said it weighed half a pound) and quickly processes all the paper you collect. You could easily leave an event without a single piece of paper cluttering up your travel bag.
When ScanSnap contacted me to see if I might want to review one of the S1100 models, I asked if they might be interested in giving away a few units to our readers in celebration of Unclutterer’s fourth birthday (assuming I liked the unit). They were generously game (the units are currently retailing for $199 a piece), and later today we’ll provide details about the giveaway. Stay tuned if you’re interested in winning one for yourself. I think a lot of Unclutterer readers could use an ultra-portable scanner like this.
Sue Shellenbarger, the work and family columnist for the Wall Street Journal, yesterday wrote “Steps to New Year’s Resolution Success” detailing the science behind keeping resolutions. Great advice begins right at the beginning of the article:
When setting a resolution, simply deciding to change your behavior may work for a while. But when the cognitive parts of the brain responsible for decision-making become stressed by other life events, that resolve is likely to succumb to an emotional desire for instant gratification, says Baba Shiv, a Stanford University marketing professor who specializes in neuroeconomics, the study of the biological bases for making economic decisions.
Keeping a resolution requires a detailed plan, with emotional rewards when milestones are reached—and even a strategy when there’s a setback. And don’t wait for Jan. 1, experts say: Start planning now to increase your chances for success.
The full article is worth reading if you’re interested in making uncluttering or organizing resolutions for 2011. I’m already planning out my resolutions for next year and will share details next week. I’ll definitely be putting into practice some of Shellenbarger’s suggestions.
Also in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal was a great article on organizing craft and present wrapping supplies featuring suggestions from Los Angeles-based professional organizer John Trosko: “More Homes Make Room for Wrapping.”
Over drinks the other night, my friend looked over both of her shoulders, giggled nervously, and then very quietly confessed to me that she doesn’t read fiction. I patted my friend on the shoulder, told her it would be okay, and then shared with her one of my favorite new sites for discovering non-fiction works.
Five Books is the site, and its premise is:
Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire.
If you’re interested in learning all about Norwegian crime writing or the Euro or Confucius or gender politics or bats, experts on these topics provide lists of the quintessential books you should read to learn a good amount on the topic. It’s convenient to have a reading list built for you by someone who is intimately familiar with the topic. Whenever I’m interested in learning something new, I pull up the site’s archives, find a topic, and start reading. I’m currently working my way through Paul Barrett’s list of dinosaur books because of my son’s infatuation with these creatures.
I haven’t been asked by Five Books to create a list of organizing or uncluttering titles, but I have thought about it a little. Obviously, I’d put my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week on the list. Also on the list would have to be David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook and Randy Frost and Gail Steketee’s Stuff would likely make the list, too. I’m torn about what my fifth book would be, though. Would I choose a corporate management book like The Toyota Way or a classic home-organizing book like Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much or would I go on more of a philosophical bent with a book like The Plain Reader?
Thankfully, I don’t have to make a decision about what books I would put on my list, but I’m glad the experts on Five Books are able to narrow down theirs. The site is an incredibly convenient way to become knowledgeable on a subject without cluttering up your time.
That’s why I was so excited to see that the MoMA Store is now selling an edition of Lanier Graham’s 1966 design for only $65. This set has 95% of the coolness of the Hartwig design at 18% of the price.
And look at how nicely the pieces fit together in the box. It’s an Unclutterer’s dream…