Seven habits and routines that will help you become a more effective unclutterer

Over the last few days, several of our posts have focused on resolutions and ways to achieve the goals you have for 2013. To help you through the process, you may want to arm yourself with additional skills, like what you might find in a book like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Though it was published in 1989, it remains a bestseller today because the advice is solid. We thought you might want an uncluttering-specific tool, so in this Covey style, we have created seven habits and routines to become a more effective unclutterer.

  1. Have easy-to-follow uncluttering rituals. Complex routines that have more than three steps can be difficult to keep up with, so create simple routines that are easy for you manage. It’s also important to create a system that works with your current lifestyle. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right type of activities (like getting up 30 minutes earlier to unclutter, keeping a donation box inside your closet) that are not only easy to follow, but also produce the results you’re desiring.
  2. Engage in uncluttering activities regularly. Maintaining a clutter-free environment is an ongoing process that needs regular attention. Otherwise, clutter can build up and quickly take over your space. Add regular uncluttering days to your calendar for a specified time frame (30 minutes each weekday, 60 minutes each weekend day).
  3. Use the right strategies and tools for you. Rather that use a strategy that’s popular at the moment, use techniques that suit your personality. For example, you will need to capture your tasks so that you remember to get them done. If you prefer paper, write your task list in a notebook, but if you’d prefer a digital option, use an app, like Due or Remember the Milk.
  4. Keep frequently used items accessible. If the items you use often are not easily accessible, putting them back will be a hassle, which means you’ll be less likely to put them away when you’re finished using them. Put those items that you reach for frequently on shelves that you can reach easily and at eye level.
  5. Put things away rather than putting them down. Unclutterers tend to put things where they belong after each use. Doing this reduces the chance of having clutter pile up, and you’ll always be able to find what you’re looking for without having to search for hours on end.
  6. Have a “home” for everything. It will be much easier to put your things away when there is a space already designated for them to be kept. Items that don’t have a home will always be unnecessarily out and about. Instead, have a place for the items you use in the room that you tend to use them (magazines in a basket in the living room, office supplies in the home office closet).
  7. Refrain from making whimsical purchases. Purchases made without much forethought have a greater chance of hanging about your home or office. When you think about the types of purchases you’ll make beforehand, that’s also an opportunity to figure out the proper place to store them. Keep in mind that the fewer things you have, the less you have to maintain and store.

Unclutterer odds and ends

As the weather starts to get cooler here at the Unclutterer headquarters, we’ve been busy brewing up some fun and helpful projects to get us through the rest of the year and into 2013. The post topics we’ve selected for the remainder of 2012 look spectacular, and we are hopeful you’ll enjoy and benefit from them. (I am LOVING our plans for the Holiday Gift Giving Guide!)

Also on the schedule are a few things we wanted to share with you.

First, the audio version of my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week has been recorded and we are looking into ways to make it available for sale. The voice actress who plays me in the recording is phenomenal and the project, in my opinion, is a total success. If you’ve been waiting for an audio version of my book, you won’t have to wait much longer. We’ll notify everyone when the audio book is available for sale, which I’m hopeful will be in the next two weeks.

Speaking of books, I’m eager to write another one. If you’ve been searching for an uncluttering, organizing, or simple living book on a specific subject but can’t find one, let me know. The concept that has been bouncing around my brain isn’t set in stone, and I want to write on a topic people who are very interested in this subject area want to read. Now is your chance to weigh in if you have an opinion!

Third, so this post has some useful content, here are my recent posts on Women and Co.:

Finally, another post will go live in a few minutes (if it hasn’t already) so you will get uncluttering and organizing content in addition to announcements today. Stay tuned!

Unclutterer now appearing on Women and Co.

Last month, I started writing articles for the financial advice website Women and Co. I’m not one of their regular bloggers (they have a full-time staff), but someone who will have featured articles from time-to-time on their site’s homepage. The focus of my writing is to provide tips on how being organized and uncluttered may help to improve your money management.

Once the technical aspects are settled, we’ll put a widget in the middle column of our homepage linking to my articles as they appear on the Women and Co. site. In the meantime, these are the articles I’ve written so far:

How to Create Emergency Binders
In this piece, I provide directions for making two binders — a Basic Emergency Binder and a Worst-Case Scenario Emergency Binder. There are checklists for what to include so your loved ones can find all the important documents and information needed to help you and your family in all types of emergency situations.

Make Some Extra Spending Money: De-Clutter Your Home
Without much effort, you can likely find some cash in your clutter — and not just an unexpected $5 in the pocket of your old coat. In this article, I provide detailed steps for how and where to sell your clutter.

How to Pack a Cooler (and Save Money) for Your Next Road Trip
If wanderlust has set in and you’re looking to hit the open road, this post may help you save some money when you head out of your driveway. Even though gas prices are high, it doesn’t mean you have to skip out on some of the treats that make road trips fun.

New additions to the Unclutterer family: Introducing Dave Caolo

As I mentioned Tuesday, we have delightedly added two new voices to the Unclutterer content team. Today, I want to introduce you to Dave Caolo, who will be sharing his phenomenal insights on the site twice a month.

You may have seen Dave’s writing at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, where he serves as news editor, or on his personal site 52 Tiger. He’s also published several books, including Using iMovie ’11 and Taking Your OS X Lion to the Max (and he has a new one coming out this fall). When Dave isn’t writing, he can be found spending time with his wife, kids, and Boston Terrier, Batgirl, in Massachusetts.

The amazing Dave Caolo

I was raised in a small, shoebox-shaped house in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Inside was faded linoleum, a 24″ television and my typical American family: middle class, happy enough, and terribly disorganized.
Consider the kitchen. The cabinet above the pink laminate countertop contained my mother’s recipes. Unlike most mom’s collection, Carol’s never saw the inside of a cookbook. Instead, it hung from the back of the door with yellowing strips of tape.

A potato salad recipe dangled next to my grandmother’s hand-written instructions for stuffed squid. There were pages ripped from magazines, supermarket handouts, 3×5 index cards … anything flat enough to write on and light enough to stick to a pine cupboard door was called into service.

Most bore stains acquired in the line of duty. “David, hand me that sheet of paper,” my mother would say. Another Christmas, another batch of lemon squares and another crop of buttery smears. By the time I was in high school, the recipe was nearly illegible.

While the fly-strip method of recipe storage keeps everything accessible, it’s a poor filing system. Linguine with anchovy paste rubbed up against blueberry cheesecake, which is something that should never happen, not even in print.

Like most messes, my mother’s organizational habits migrated through the house. Likewise, my dad’s garage looked like a yard sale, and the basement was a jumble.

What all this means is that I’ve got chaos in my blood. Daily, I must make a concerted effort to keep things in check. It’s a struggle that I’ll share with you on Unclutterer. I look forward to sharing my organizational success and missteps with you. Here’s hoping we both learn something.

New additions to the Unclutterer family: Introducing Deb Lee

We are happy to announce that two writers are joining our content team here at Unclutterer. Starting today, there will be three active voices bringing you advice, reviews, inspiration, and a little bit of humor regarding home, office, and life uncluttering and organizing. Twice a week, Deb Lee will bring her seasoned perspective to the site (she’s a phenomenal professional organizer who knocks my socks off with her depth and breadth of knowledge about how people can improve their lives with order). And, twice a month, Dave Caolo will share his wit and wisdom (he’s a technology wizard who has helped me improve my digital organization more than any other writer out there). I’ll still be here, too, rounding out the content team.

I really respect the work Deb and Dave do and I’m thrilled you’ll be able to get to know their work. In case you aren’t already familiar with them, they have written brief introductions to let you know a bit about themselves. Deb’s is below, and Dave’s will run on Thursday. Welcome, Deb and Dave.

The fabulous Deb Lee

Hello, I’m Deb and I’ve been anal retentive for, well, forever. I thought I’d open with a joke, but it’s really true, most people would describe me as anal retentive. I’m kind of like the husband in Sleeping With The Enemy, but without the evil, violent, murderer traits.

If my name seems familiar, it might be because Erin has mentioned me in a few blog posts. We became friends through the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, of which we’re both members.

As a professional organizer, I help people kick clutter in the arse and manage their time better. I’m also a first-time mom and I’m learning that all my plans for staying organized are much more difficult with a new baby in the house. This transition into parenthood hasn’t been so easy for a Type-A personality like me, and there have been many times the past few months when the control freak in me has needed a time out.

Although I’m personally obsessed with being organized, I’m not judgmental about how other people are. Being organized works best for me and my life. I enjoy being organized so much, though, that I love to help others who are interested in being organized with their lives, too.

Ok, so now that you know a little about me, tell me more about you.

Looking back on five years at Unclutterer.com

March 2012 marks my fifth year working for Unclutterer.com. My first post didn’t appear on the site until April 6, 2007, “Solving the Imelda Marcos Problem,” but I actually started a few weeks before that doing work on other areas of the site. Honestly, I’m shocked it has been five years. It is amazing how quickly time flies when you have a job you love. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to write for such an amazing site and such a terrific group of readers.

I already knew a fair amount about uncluttering and organizing before I started working here, but over the past five years I’ve learned so much more from our readership and researching the topic. The following are a handful of things I have learned about the world of simple living and writing about this topic every week day for five years that I thought you might enjoy:

  • Paper is the gateway issue. More new readers come to the site seeking advice on how to process paper than any other topic. I would have thought in the digital age that paper wouldn’t be such a priority, but it is. Search after search after search drive people here who are looking to get rid of the stacks of paper in their homes and office. But, while paper is the gateway issue, our “Creating a Weekly Meal Plan” post gets more hits than any other single page on our site.
  • Relationship advice. The most common question asked of me in emails is along the lines of “How do I live with someone who is cluttered?” The second most common question concerns dealing with clutter kept by elderly family members — fears that the family member will die and leave the mess or worries about how to help the family member downsize to a retirement home. When people are frustrated with their family members, they turn to email.
  • Fear, conflicting priorities, and lack of good time management and decision-making skills are significantly more likely to be the causes of clutter than laziness or lack of motivation. As a former clutterer, I knew a lack of organizing skills was to blame in my case. However, I wasn’t exactly sure why so many others fought clutter, too. Writing for the site has taught me physical disabilities, attention disorder, sentimental personalities, a desire not to be forgotten, structural prohibitions, death of a loved one, shopping addictions, and dozens more reasons also cause clutter.
  • We keep a list of topics to avoid because of the awful comments people leave on the site in response to posts containing them. We have written about these topics a few times after they made the “do not discuss” list, but we always do it when we know we’ll be at our desks all day to monitor the comments. In case you’re curious, this list includes Sandra Lee and her show Semi-Homemade Cooking, Pottery Barn, baby formula, and Saran Wrap. The list is longer than these four items, these are just the four that baffle me the most and I never knew they were hot-button issues before writing for the site.
  • A good number of readers buy unitaskers after we feature them. Numerous manufacturers, after we featured their products as unitaskers, have reached out to us to say thank you for spiking their sales with links from our site. I’ve even received emails from manufacturers asking if we might feature their items as unitaskers. We’ve never featured a product a manufacturer wanted us to, but I admire the risk they take for reaching out to me. This all speaks to the adage that all news is good news. I don’t have any issues with people buying the unitaskers (as I’ve said before, I have a few of them), but I just find it interesting that our unitasker posts increase product sales. I never would have expected this when we started the feature. After learning this information, we stopped reviewing products that we don’t recommend because we would rather nothing be said about them instead of drawing attention to bad products.
  • A few people have asked me over the years about the systems I use to write. Every post I’ve ever written has been constructed in TextEdit, I hand code or use preset snippets I’ve logged into TextExpander for all the links and formatting, and then I import the whole thing all at once into our content management system (WordPress). All images are edited in PhotoShop and I use a MacBook Pro. In addition to the MacBook screen, I also have a second Dell flat-screen monitor that looms over the left edge of my laptop. I type about 105 words a minute. I get ideas for posts from our staff, professional organizers I talk to at industry functions, and questions or suggestions from readers. Very, very few ideas come from press releases that constantly bombard my email account (maybe four or five a year).
  • Routines are the answer for chores you hate to do. I’m someone who hated routines five years ago — I thought they killed creativity and stifled my life enjoyment. What I have grown to learn from reader suggestions over the past five years is that putting daily chores into a set routine actually provides me with more time to focus on the things I love to do and I enjoy the fun stuff more because I don’t have any responsibilities weighing on me. Routines are amazing and save me incredible amounts of time. I hope they work for you, too.
  • Life is short, even if you live to be 102, and clutter shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the adventure. If something isn’t distracting you or causing you worry or frustration or making life unnecessarily complicated, it’s probably not clutter or disorganized. There isn’t a single standard for what is uncluttered and what isn’t. Only you know what is in the way of you achieving the life of your dreams.

Recent updates and notifications from the Unclutterer staff

A few items of note about things at Unclutterer:

  1. Unclutterer is now on Pinterest. You can find our pinned items at http://pinterest.com/unclutterer/. If you’re not a member, you don’t have to join to see the images and inspiration we find from around the web. We usually add a few pictures a day that run the full gamut of uncluttering and organizing styles.
  2. If you go to our homepage to read our content, you may have noticed a permanent advertisement for The Six O’Clock Scramble on our page. We are such fans of the service and how it helps to reduce stress in the kitchen that we have decided to become an affiliate of the service. Don’t feel obligated to subscribe to the Six O’Clock Scramble grocery list and recipe emails, but if you want to subscribe, we would love for you to click on the link from our site. Doing so helps us to pay our bills and keep Unclutterer available to you for free. Plus, as I’ve written before, we really do find the service to be wonderful, and working with their company has been a delight.
  3. Speaking of our homepage, you also may have noticed that there is no longer a link to our posts on Real Simple Magazine’s website RealSimple.com. After four years of writing for this publication, I decided it was time for me to step away from being a regular contributor. I still might publish with them occasionally, but I’m no longer under contract to work exclusively with them. As a result, stay tuned for Unclutterer advice in other publications — but always, of course, here on Unclutterer.com.
  4. This last item isn’t about uncluttering and organizing, but is about Unclutterer’s continued charity support of relief efforts in Haiti. We are committed to helping the people of Haiti get clean water, medical treatment, and other services they so desperately need. We would love it if you could join us in supporting those in need through Partners in Health (or a similar organization of your choosing), or simply learning about the dire conditions most Haitians have been experiencing since the devastating earthquake in 2010: “An Urgent Message from Dr. Paul Farmer.”

If I have forgotten any updates, I will add them to the comments.

Happy fifth birthday to Unclutterer!

On this day in 2007, lawyer and clutter-despiser Jerry Brito published the very first Unclutterer post: “A manifesto on simple living.” Since that day, there have been more than 2,775 uncluttering and organizing posts on the site written by more than 45 simple living enthusiasts. Millions of readers have dropped by over these five years and left almost 63,000 comments (that isn’t counting the Forum or messages over Twitter or on Facebook).

Since Unclutterer was founded, the post “Creating a weekly meal plan” has been the most read article on the site. Trent Hamm’s amazing website TheSimpleDollar.com has linked to us more than any other (thanks, Trent!). And, we’ve been featured in The New York Times, Real Simple magazine, Woman’s Day magazine, Wired magazine, The Washington Post, O: The Oprah Magazine, House Beautiful, USA Today, CNN.com, MSN.com, Slate.com, and the Wall Street Journal Online, among many others. We’ve also been on The Rachel Ray Show and Martha Stewart Living Radio. Simon and Schuster also published Erin’s best-selling book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week.

Most importantly, on this day of celebration, we are thankful to all of our readers for supporting us over the years. Without you, we wouldn’t have made it this long. Thank you, thank you. We are blessed to have such a fine group of supporters.

The past five years have been an incredible journey and we’re excited about all the amazing adventures the future holds!

In observance

In observance of Memorial Day here in the United States, the Unclutterer staff has today off from work. We’ll be back here tomorrow with more uncluttering, organizing, and simple living advice.

Follow @SimpliFried on Twitter for a chance to win a Le Creuset French Oven

Today I am excited to announce that our sister site, SimpliFried, is giving away a versatile Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven, which typically retails around $240. Plus, if you are the winner of our giveaway, you get to pick from the nine available colors. They really are wonderful multitaskers.

How to enter to win: Entering to win is simple. All you need to do is follow @SimpliFried on Twitter. If you aren’t already on Twitter, create an account and then follow us @SimpliFried.

The full contest rules are available here, on SimpliFried.

In the last few weeks at Simplifried, we’ve posted some great recipes and cooking-related tips:

Confused about how to boil water? Is your refridgerator running? Shouldn’t you go catch it? Head on over to Simplifried to have all your cooking related inquires answered, or follow @SimpliFried on Twitter.

A moment of reflection: Four years and 500,000 words

In March, I passed my four-year anniversary writing for Unclutterer. During this time, I have written more than 1,650 articles for the site on the topics of simple living, home and office organizing, and uncluttering (our tech team says I’m just shy of 500,000 words in my posts). Add to that the twice weekly column I’ve been writing for RealSimple.com for three years, guest posts on other sites, magazine articles, and my book, I’ve published somewhere around three-quarters-of-a-million words in this specific genre.

To put this in perspective, in four years I have written about as many words on being an unclutterer as there are in the King James translation of the Bible. It’s roughly the number of distinct senses of all the words in the Oxford English Dictionary. And, Shelby Foote’s The Civil War series is roughly 1.5 million words, so I’m somewhere between his descriptions of the battles at Fredericksburg and Meridian.

My hope is that somewhere in that mound of advice you have been able to find a piece of information that has helped you on your uncluttering journey. If you have searched for resources, support, ideas, or solutions, I hope you have discovered a new perspective or answer for your problem.

As I mention every Friday, please feel welcome to send us your questions so we can help you directly in our Ask Unclutterer column. 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.”

It is a joy to be able to write about simple living every day and to have such amazing readers. The Unclutterer community is truly wonderful and supportive, and I love working for you. Thank you so much for a terrific four years, and I’m excited about reaching the five year mark and 2,000 posts by next March!

Unitasker Wednesday: The Happy Sack

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

I have to start by saying that this probably isn’t a unitasker. It’s a cell phone stand, and if you use a cell phone stand then it might actually have some utility for you.

I felt compelled to choose it for our feature, though, because the script for the infomercial made me laugh hysterically. The people in it are completely LOST without the Happy Sack. Honestly, I am bewildered as to how their characters can even operate a cell phone:

“Every time your cell phone rings, you’ve got to find it, and then pick it up!”

My love affair with infomercials continues, thanks to the reader who sent us this gem. If you’re looking for more infomercial fun, check out one of my favorite unitasker selections from 2009, the EZ Cracker.