A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Sushi Made Easy
    The Sushi Made Easy requires two additional steps and another piece of equipment for the maki-making process. It’s not Sushi Made Easy, it’s Sushi Made More Complex. It’s also sushi in the style of caulking your bathtub!
  • Get organized for back-to-school
    Help your children get organized and ready to go back to school with these four tips.

2011

2010

  • Marketing to Unclutterers-In-Name-Only
    Regardless of if you have read or your opinion of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love and the recently released movie of the same name, the show Marketplace on National Public Radio had a very poignant piece this Friday about the business, marketing, and branding of simplification and uncluttering.

Ask Unclutterer: How do you stay motivated when sorting papers?

Reader John recently asked the following question in the comment section of the post “Why is organizing and uncluttering paper so difficult?“:

The draining emotional impact of sorting through and properly organizing boxes and file cabinets of paper can at times be overwhelming. Could you address in more detail strategies for maintaining or improving personal motivation to get the ongoing task completed?

John, many people have this concern, so I’m very glad you asked the question. The following are strategies that might work to motivate you to keep organizing your papers.

Work in reasonably small blocks of time

Organizer Janine Adams wrote on her Peace of Mind Organizing Blog about a women who got through 12 years of accumulated papers by working on them for 15 to 30 minutes a day. It’s often easier to tackle a dreaded task if you know you only have to do it for a short period of time.

But, if you want to work for a longer stretch of time, that’s fine, too — just be sure to take breaks. You want to avoid decision fatigue. If you find yourself thinking, “I just don’t care any more,” you might start making poor decisions as a result.

Create a pleasant work environment

If you’re a person who gets energized from music, try playing some as you sort through those papers. Also, make sure you’re working in an area with sufficient lighting and a comfortable room temperature.

Have good tools

I know someone who prefers to keep certain papers in a three-ring binder. However, her three-hole paper punch didn’t work well; she always had to struggle with it. She has decided to invest in a higher quality hole punch that will be easier to use.

It definitely helps if all your frequently used tools work well. Those tools might include a label maker, a stapler, a staple puller, a letter opener, a shredder, and a scanner. If you are someone who is inspired by beautiful or cute objects, consider investing in those, too.

Put some things off

If you’re going through a big stack of papers and find a few you just can’t deal with right now, set them aside. Know that this is both normal and perfectly okay. Don’t let the few papers that are hardest to deal with derail your efforts. And, when you come back to those papers somewhat later, you may find them less challenging.

Keep the goal in mind

You’re likely going through papers for some good reason: so you can find things when you need them, so your space supports you in your work and family life, etc. Keep your goal in mind, and celebrate the small victories along the way, such as a critical paper found, or a chair that’s now usable because it no longer has papers stacked on it.

Enlist some help

A trusted friend might be able to help by doing a first-pass sort: financial, medical, etc. Or the friend could simply sit with you as you go through the papers, perhaps acting as a sounding board or just as an accountability partner.

And you can always hire a professional organizer to help. The National Association of Professional Organizers has a website that can help you find someone in your area.

Thank you, John, for asking such a good question.

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Bottle Opener Cap Catcher

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

As longtime readers are aware, I don’t understand the desire to keep trash as a hobby — I’m referring to things like wine corks and baby teeth. I’m cool with dropping these items into a trash can or recycling bin, because that is where trash belongs. But displaying trash or hoarding it in a drawer doesn’t sit right with me. Trash, waste, rubbish is clutter.

This week’s unitasker selection falls into the trash-as-hobby category, it’s the Bottle Opener Cap Catcher:

This device removes bottle caps, and then stores them for you. Instead of removing a bottle cap and instantly putting it into the trash or recycling bin, you get to save it … for reasons I cannot not imagine.

Maybe if you are an artist and bottle caps are your medium I could understand the desire to save bottle caps. However, my guess is that the vast majority of Unclutterer readers are not artists who are paid to create sculptures from bottle caps. Just a hunch.

Per Jacki’s post about “Modified principles of sanitary design” on Monday, try to avoid buying things that create additional work and unsanitary conditions for you and your family. If your intention is to throw away the bottle caps after collecting them, don’t add the extra step of collecting them in the first place. Throw them right away. Save space in your drawers/cupboards for things that are worth taking up that space. A small bottle opener is uncluttered and doesn’t tempt you to keep trash as a hobby — this device is the opposite of those things.

To be fair, this is far from being the worst unitasker we’ve featured. However, I think it’s important to really think about the items we buy. Are we creating extra work for ourselves? Are we keeping something that really belongs in the trash? Good questions to ask about everything, even something as simple as bottle openers.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

2010

  • New office products: Antimicrobial file folders and bookmark index cards
    My friend and professional organizer Julie Bestry recently headed to Office Depot to see what is new in the back-to-school supplies section. Her recap of the adventure introduced me to two new types of organizing products I wanted to pass along to you.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Mayo Knife — Spreader
    I think my favorite part about this unitasker is how it mentions an alternative multitasking object that can do the job just as well in the product’s name. The name of the product reminds you about a knife! A knife you already own! A knife that makes this product completely unnecessary!
  • The multitasking sleeper chair
    Sleeper chairs are fantastic additions in small spaces because they work double duty as seating and guest accommodations. One of these multitaskers in a living room or office is perfect when you don’t have a guest room or space for a larger sofa sleeper.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Trash or treasure old stuffed animals?
    Reader Kay wants to know what she should do with all of her old stuffed animals that have been in storage for decades in cardboard boxes in her basement.

2009

Be a clutter detective

Years ago, I worked in a group home. It had a big kitchen with flat, spacious counters. My staff and I were very good at keeping the place nice and tidy, however, there was one corner of the countertop that just seemed to attract clutter.

No matter what we did, things would pile up in that corner — notebooks, mail, pens and paper, all sorts of stuff the should’ve lived in the drawer in the kitchen. For a long time, this annoyed me. I’d think, “How hard is it to just put this in the drawer? Why can’t anyone put this stuff away?” It was only after doing some detective work that I discovered the problem. The cabinet where the clutter should have been stored was the same cabinet that held a whole lot of plastic storage containers. The containers were stored in a haphazard fashion, and opening this cabinet almost guaranteed that lids and other bits of plastic would rain down upon you. Once I took care of the plastic storage containers, the countertop remained clean.

Today, you can conduct the same type of clutter detective work in your house. Look at the areas that are typically messy. You’ll want to try your best to see the space with fresh eyes. That is to say, hold a question in your mind as you inspect the space: “What exactly is keeping this area so messy?”

I did some successful detective work around our own house recently. The back door of our house is what we use most often. Just inside this door is a small coat rack we bought for the kids to use years ago. However, the kids come home from school and drop their coats and bags and hats and what-have-you all over the floor. This drove my wife and me crazy, and constant requests to please pick up after yourself after coming home from school seemed to fall on deaf ears. So what was the problem?

Well, one afternoon while putting everything on the rack again, I remembered how wobbly it was. After heaving the last winter coat onto it, the whole thing toppled over. The coat rack was the root of the problem. My kids learned that the rack just was broken and stopped using it entirely. A new coat rack was the solution.

You can apply this investigative strategy to your home office as well. In a previous post, I mentioned something I call swivel distance. This is the distance you can reach things from your chair without having to get up out of your seat. Since human beings will almost always lean toward the path of least resistance, we’re more likely to stack something instead of getting up and putting it in filing cabinet across the room. That stack of papers could be due to simple poor office layout planning.

The takeaway here is to periodically scan your house for persistent clutter spots and try to figure out why clutter loves to accumulate there. Often, the reason isn’t what you think. For example, my kids aren’t lazy or disinterested in following the rules, they just learned that the coat rack wasn’t very effective.

Modified principles of sanitary design

In the food industry, a high level of hygiene must be maintained and, in order to be profitable, it is beneficial to reduce the amount of effort required to maintain this high level of hygiene. Therefore, before any piece of equipment is purchased or any process started, it is evaluated with the Principles of Sanitary Design.

In order to reduce clutter and make my days easier and more productive at home, I ask myself these tough questions first and then I apply a modified version of the Principles of Sanitary Design prior to making any purchases. It might seem weird to use a food industry practice in one’s personal life, but I’m willing to do so because it makes my life easier, saves me money, and creates less clutter.

Easy assembly/disassembly: Items should be easy to disassemble and reassemble. If you need a degree in mechanical engineering to put together and take apart your food processor each time you need to clean it, you probably won’t use it and it will end up as clutter. Pieces of furniture may require some time and effort to assemble, however once built they should be solid. If you live a nomadic lifestyle (e.g. military family) consider purchasing furniture that can withstand being disassembled and reassembled numerous times and is easy to assemble/disassemble with a minimum number of people.

Compatible materials: Kitchen tools and kitchen appliance parts should be dishwasher safe and easily fit into the dishwasher. Fabrics should be durable and withstand day-to-day wear. Clothing should be machine washable (even if on a cold water, delicate cycle). Furniture should be able to withstand regular vacuuming and it should be easy to do “spot-cleaning” between regular deep cleans. (Purchasing a beige sofa with two children under 5 years old was not one of our family’s better ideas.)

No niches: Items that have nooks, crannies, and other hard to clean areas are off my list of potential purchases, especially if they are frequently used kitchen appliances. I avoid purchasing glasses with divots in the bottoms and bowls with rims because they collect water in the dishwasher. Furniture, lamps, and light fixtures that have dust-collecting decorative features are off my list, too, especially if I have to get a ladder to clean them.

Clean operational performance: During normal operations, the equipment should not increase my workload. For example, our hot-air popcorn popper spewed more popcorn on the floor than it did in the bowl. This created more work because we had to make two batches of popcorn to get enough in the bowl and we had to sweep the kitchen floor. A table saw that cuts wood faster than a manual saw but sprays sawdust all over the house may not actually save time or energy when cleaning up efforts are taken into account.

Hygienic compatibility: We tend not to purchase items that require special cleaners or special cleaning processes. This saves us time and effort, as well as money since we do not have to purchase special cleaners.

This list may seem restrictive, but we have found when items do pass the test, they last longer, we use them more often, and we have very little mess to clean up afterwards.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Morninghead
    However you think this product might work, you’re wrong. And, based on its name, whatever you think the product might do, it isn’t that, either. Seriously, it is NOT that.
  • Free up computer disk space
    Tips for freeing up disk space on your computer’s hard drive.

2012

2011

2009

Unitasker Wednesday: The dunkr

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

Back in 2011, we featured The dipr in one of our Unitasker columns. It’s a spoon made to only hold sandwich cookies when you dunk them in milk — to clarify, it’s only for cookies like Oreos and Hydroxes. It’s cute, but undoubtedly a unitasker.

Since its introduction into the sandwich-cookie-dipping market, a few problems have been discovered with the product. The most notable of these problems is that The dipr doesn’t work well with standard cups. The angle of the handle is too shallow, so the cookie rolls off The dipr when you go to dip your cookie in milk. Instead of doing the sensible thing and changing the angle of the handle to improve the product, the same company has introduced a specialty shallow cup to hold your milk! The dunkr:

Now, you can buy The dipr AND The dunkr! For $15! One cup. $15 for just one cup. Not two, not four, one. All to “fix” a bug with the original product.

Can you imagine if a car company “fixed” a failing brake problem by asking customers to buy special padding to wrap the car in instead of fixing the brakes? Or if a roofing company solved a leaking problem by telling its customers to buy buckets to catch dripping water?

This does nothing to help my faith in the manufacturing industry.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Daddle
    Oh, Daddle, you are one of the most special and strangely inappropriate unitaskers I have encountered.
  • Bringing clutter into the light
    Is there clutter hiding in your basement, attic, or garage? Is it at the back of a closet, under the kitchen sink, or in your medicine chest? What is the situation under your bed, in the linen closet, and in the drawers of your entertainment center?
  • Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old awards?
    In sorting old memorabilia, I have found my large collection of award ribbons from the many fairs and shows that I competed in as a youth. There are some that I plan to keep that really meant a lot to me. But I literally have a large Sterilite container full of these. Do you have any suggestions on a nice way for me to store these or some sort of way to use them? I hate to just throw them out.

2009

Filing: what’s worth saving?

One of the questions I ask when tempted to save and file some paper (or save information electronically) is: Under what circumstances will I ever pull this out and look at it again?

Some items obviously need to be saved for tax and legal reasons (talk to an accountant, tax lawyer, and/or estate lawyer in your state to know exactly what the law requires you retain). But, what about the other bits of information we tend to save?

I started thinking about the items I have indeed pulled out and looked at again, and what prompted me to look at those items. I asked the following questions, which have led me to keep specific types of additional documents:

Large purchase receipts: When did I buy my refrigerator?

My refrigerator was making strange noises, and I was wondering whether I was going to need to replace it. A starting point in the repair vs. replace question is how old was the refrigerator. To answer this, I looked up the receipt, which I had scanned. Keeping receipts for large purchases can help with returns and warranties — and if the receipt is for a large appliance that will remain in the house when you move, you can pass it on to the next home owner.

Computer instructions: What apps do I need to update before I update my operating system?

When I went to update my MacBook to the Mavericks OS, I looked to my computer bookmarks to find the site that had an extensive list answering just this question. I’ve since shared this list with two other people who had the same question.

Additionally, sometimes when I’m using an application that I use infrequently, I may forget how to do certain actions. I’ve filed away how-to information that was a bit difficult to find, so I have it handy when I need to do the same thing again.

Local resources: What can I do with this old fur coat I inherited?

I get questions like this from my organizing clients, and I have bookmarks in my online browser with resources, ready to share. You may wish to keep a similar reference file with business cards, notes you’ve jotted down from friends’ recommendations, etc.

Travel resources: What did I want to see in a city I’m going to visit?

For places I’m hoping to visit someday, I keep bookmarks and scanned articles about them in a digital folder; other people may choose to keep such information in Evernote or in paper. While it’s easy to search for major tourist sites in any city, and nothing replaces an up-to-date guidebook, I also like the articles that point me to oddities I might not find otherwise or point me to things worth noticing at those major tourist sites. Visiting places like this have often been a highlight of a trip.

Looking at these questions, I can see what has been useful is practical information that I can’t necessarily find through a quick online search. Realizing this is the information I reference, it will help me make better decisions in the future about what to keep and what to toss. Now it’s time to ask yourself: Under what circumstances will I ever pull this out and look at it again?

Utility storage alternatives

Of the 16 different homes in which I have lived, 12 of them did not have a designated utility closet. Most of the houses had basements or garages and we were able to our utility items in those areas. However, in a few homes, we had to be creative with our storage space, as in addition to not having a utility closet we didn’t have a basement or garage. The following are some storage solutions we’ve come up with over the years as alternatives for storing utility items in areas other than a utility closet, garage, or basement.

Cleaning products

Start by cutting down on the amount of cleaners you have. Consider using an all-purpose cleaner instead of specific cleaners for bathrooms or kitchens. Also, purchase smaller containers of cleaning products. It is a little more expensive in the longterm, but it is worth a few pennies per ounce not to have crammed cupboards. A small wash bucket can double as a caddy in which to carry the cleaning products around the house.

Here are some possible places to store cleaning products if there is no designated utility closet.

  • Bathroom cupboard
  • Kitchen cupboard (away from food storage and preparation areas)
  • Laundry room cupboard or shelf
  • Hallway or linen closet on an upper shelf

Most cleaning products, even the all-natural, organic ones, can be toxic. It is important to keep them out of the reach of children and pets. Ensure the products are on an upper shelf or cabinet doors are fitted with safety locks.

Paper products

Paper products should be stored close to where they are used. In the bathroom, consider using a multi-roll toilet roll holder so you don’t need shelf storage. Extra rolls of toilet paper can also be stored in a bathroom cabinet, in a basket or bin beside the toilet. A narrow shelf above the toilet can also provide some storage space. Surplus rolls also could be stored in a hallway closet or under a bed.

Paper towels (or kitchen roll as it’s called here in the UK) and paper napkins are often stored in the cupboard under the kitchen sink, however, if there is a leak, all of the paper towels and napkins may get ruined. Since these paper products are lightweight, consider storing them on the top shelf in a hallway closet, above kitchen cabinets, or in the cupboard over the refrigerator. Remember that paper towels are flammable and should not be stored above or near the stove or oven.

Brooms, mops, and vacuum cleaners

Brooms and mops can fit in narrow spaces. Additional storage suggestions:

  • Between the refrigerator and the wall
  • Inside closets or tall cupboards
  • Behind kitchen or bathroom doors

You can even squeeze a folding stepladder in these narrow spaces.

Vacuum cleaners are generally big and bulky. More storage options:

  • In one end of a hallway closet or bedroom clothes closet.
  • In a tall cupboard in the kitchen.
  • Behind a doorway.
  • Under a stairwell.
  • Behind a tall houseplant in the corner of the living room (upright vacuums)
  • In a chest or trunk that doubles as a table or seat (canister vacuums).

Tools

Having a few essential tools handy will help you complete household projects quickly and easily. Ideally tools should be stored in a locked box so little fingers cannot access things they shouldn’t. A toolbox can be stored under a bed, sofa, or chair or it can be stored on a shelf or in the bottom of a closet. A larger toolbox can be stored inside a closet or it can double as a console table in an entryway.

Everything Else

There are many small items that may be kept in a utility closet. These include batteries, extension cords, screws, nails, bolts, extra cable ties, bungee cords, padlocks, keys, and even some UFOs. It is best to sort these items into categories and use small containers to keep them organized. My favourite container is the Professional Organizer by Stanley. It is great for small things like nails and screws. A tower of plastic drawers is ideal for a closet or cupboard and can be used to store larger items such as flashlights, duct tape, and vacuum cleaner attachments. If you’re looking for something a little more aesthetically pleasing than plastic drawers, consider purchasing end tables with drawers and using chests of drawers as console tables and hallway tables to maximize your storage space.

There is no right or wrong way to organize utility items — use whatever method works best for you and the space where you live.