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.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Wick Trimmer and Waxi Taxi
    Maintaining candles is super easy. You light them, let them burn, blow them out, let them cool, and then put them into storage until the next time you want to use them. The end. So why all the crazy contraptions?
  • Uncluttered cleaning supplies
    With so many specialized cleaning liquids and supplies on the market, how can you keep your cleaning closet from exploding — literally and figuratively? Jeri offers expert advice on how to unclutter the non-essentials and keep your cleaning closet clutter free.

2012

2011

2010

  • Many paths can lead to the same, remarkable goal
    I’m not much of an environmentalist — I’ve never tried to save the whales, or even just one whale — but simple living advocates and proponents of waste reduction often find themselves in the same professional circles. I thought Colin Beavan’s words in No Impact Man might have something to inspire me in the work I do, and I was correct.

2009

  • Weekend Project: Your closet floors
    To be able to vacuum and/or sweep the floors of my closets, I have to pull out storage containers and crawl on my hands and knees to reach back into some of the corners. Inevitably, I find something that I didn’t remember was there and I end up clearing a bit of clutter out of my home.

Why is organizing and uncluttering paper so difficult?

For many people, paper is the hardest type of clutter to process. There are an extraordinary number of reasons why paper is difficult to manage; the following are some of the most common reasons, along with strategies for solving these problems.

Paper is a bunch of small stuff

When I help people sort through a paper backlog, things often go like this: junk, junk, junk, incredibly important paper, junk, junk. Handling paper is time-consuming because you need to look at every piece, so you don’t miss the important stuff.

Then, you need to make a decision about each piece of paper — the same type of decision you would make when evaluating what to do with a hammer or a pair of jeans, except those are larger. You can go though a stack of papers and make hundreds of decisions and not see the same amount of obvious progress you can see with other types of clutter.

Strategy: Tackle the backlog in short-enough bursts of time that you don’t hit decision-making fatigue. And don’t be harsh with yourself if the progress seems slow, as that is just the nature of the paper beast.

More paper keeps coming

In general, we can get control of other types of stuff by doing our uncluttering and then avoiding any more unwise purchases. This isn’t the case with paper because it keeps coming in the mail, often unbidden.

Strategy: Remove yourself from mailing lists you don’t want to be on (for catalogs, charities, etc.) to limit the incoming paper.

Paper represents information

Many of us are addicted to information; it feeds our curiosity or our desire to know as much as we can about the field in which we work. Our paper piles can include huge stacks of things we feel we should read — magazines, professional journals, etc. — or should keep filed away.

Strategy: What-to-read strategies are the same for online information and for paper. The article four questions for preventing information overload may help you decide if something is really worth your time.

When it comes to the toss-or-file decision, imagine under what circumstances you will pull this reference information out of your files. If you’re planning to write a paper or give a speech on a given topic, keeping related articles may make sense. And certain reference papers are just so good that we do find ourselves coming back to them, time and again. But all too often, we file away informational papers that we’ll never use, many of which we could find again if we had an unexpected need for them.

Paper represents an investment in time and/or money

Notes and handouts from classes or conferences often languish in piles or files, never to be seen again, yet we may hesitate to throw them away.

Strategy: As Scott Belsky said, “Separate the wisdom from the action.” If you haven’t already done so, identify the to-do items buried in those notes, and incorporate them into whatever system you use for managing to-dos.

Then, decide what to do with the “wisdom.” For the papers that are keepers, consider how best to store them, so they can be found and used in the future. It may be more helpful to file them by topic, rather than keeping everything from a given conference together. You may also want to scan the article and run it through OCR software so you will easily be able to search its contents later.

Not all papers will be keepers, even from a worthwhile class or conference. Sometimes, the major benefits of a conference are connections made or a few key insights gathered. You don’t need to feel bad about dumping any paper that isn’t useful to you. Also, notes from old classes and conferences may have been useful at the time, but not so useful a number of years later.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Locker Rocker

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

A long time ago, I went to high school. (True story. This awkward phase actually happened.)

Like most everyone who ever went to high school, I was issued a locker. It was a brown, metal, industrial, rectangle with a door that had been embedded in the wall of the school since before my grandmother had gone to school there. It was utilitarian and stuffed with books and notebooks and supplies and my coat and purse and about a thousand pony tail holders. It was not glamorous because it was a locker, not a night club, and I wasn’t an extra in a teen movie.

High school kids today, however, must either have enormous walk-in lockers or not need books or notebooks or supplies or a coat or purse or ponytail holders because the other day in The Container Store I saw this: A Locker Rocker.

Why?

Why would any student have need for a chandelier in his or her locker?

Are lockers really so large today that students require task lighting in these spaces?

Well, if a chandelier isn’t enough proof that lockers today must be the size of small cars, check out the locker rugs and locker wallpaper you can get to go with your chandelier. (I’m not making this up. Really, I’m not. Chandeliers and rugs and wallpaper.)

Kids must bring their contractors and interior designers with them on the first day of school.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

  • Nest 8 saves space in the kitchen
    Joseph Joseph’s Nest 8 collection of nesting kitchen items is a fantastic way to save space in your cupboards.
  • Uncluttered collecting
    Being an unclutterer doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have collections — but it does mean taking an active role in ensuring your collection doesn’t become clutter.
  • Ask Unclutterer: I’m organized but my workplace isn’t
    I’ve heard about some companies doing a 2x a year “office clean-up” day — I don’t know if my office will go for it, but I’m interested in hearing if others have experience with this method.

2009

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Frozen Food Safety Monitor
    So, in addition to having rotten food, you also have a monitor to tell you that your food is rotten — how about that!
  • Do it now
    I try to hold true to the two-minute “Do it now” policy at work, and an extended five-minute “Do it now” policy at home.

Organizing writing projects by year

Andy Ihnatko is a technology journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times, an author and a podcaster. I’ve followed Andy’s career for years, as I admire him greatly. Last January, he tweeted a strategy for organizing his writing that I immediately adopted.

Andy’s organizing system creates a “2014 Omnibus” in an application called Scrivener. The program is intended for use by professional writers and is immensely helpful when working on a large writing project that requires research, organization, revisions, and more. It can be used by anyone, though, who has writing as part of his or her job — briefs, reports, studies, analyses, website posts, tweets, etc. I used it to write my books and occasionally use it when I’m working on especially demanding articles. Thanks to Andy’s suggestion, I now also use it to store and catalog my writing.

Scrivener lets you organize your work into projects. A project can be broken down into chapters, revisions, and whatever else you utilize during your writing process. Further, you can use folders to group these features together as you like. To set up my “2014 Caolo Omnibus,” I followed these steps:

  1. Create a new blank project called “2014 Caolo Omnibus.”
  2. Create 12 folders, January through December
  3. Make several labels, I used ones such as “Unclutterer,” “TUAW,” and “Guest Posts.”
  4. Add articles into the appropriate folders with the appropriate labels.

The next step is to create a backup. I tell Scrivener to save my project to a folder in Dropbox, so if something happens to my computer, I still have an online copy. The software also has several export options, should I want to get my work into another format. Finally, I can see how many words I’ve written at a glance (I’m at just over 89,000 words in 2014 so far).

Scrivener is Mac-only, but this trick would work just as well in the platform-agnostic Evernote system. When your work is to create something ethereal, like words on a screen, it can feel like you’ve got nothing to show for your efforts at the end of the day. This practice doesn’t solve that exactly, but it almost gives you the sensation that your work is tangible. Also, if I wanted to find highlight pieces for a portfolio, this setup makes that much easier.

Disappearing office supplies

I often wondered why items disappear from shared spaces, such as pens from the reception desk or coffee mugs from the lunchroom. I read about a group of epidemiologists from Australia who published the results of a study in the British Medical Journal documenting the disappearance of teaspoons from their lunchrooms. They purchased both high and low quality teaspoons and distributed them throughout the lunchrooms of their research centre. They examined teaspoon disappearance in common lunchrooms and private lunchrooms.

They found in private lunchrooms half the teaspoons had permanently disappeared in 11 weeks. However, from communal lunchrooms, it took only 6 weeks for half of the teaspoons to disappear. The researchers concluded that in order to keep their employees satisfied with the amount of teaspoons available, the research centre should purchase over 250 teaspoons per year.

I found this study interesting from an organizing perspective because it indicated items disappear faster when left in a common area where more people who have access to them. This is a problem in office settings as time is wasted looking for items and money is wasted in purchasing extra supplies. In a home setting, items are more likely to be picked up and moved by someone else in your home when left out in a common area instead of being properly stored after use. Organizing and simplifying procedures can minimize loss and misplacement of items.

Suggestions for change:

In an office setting, educate co-workers as to what is happening. Let them know how much the missing items affect the bottom line of the business. Spending a hundred dollars on replacing teaspoons means less money for other things. Encourage co-workers to bring their own personal items such as coffee mugs, water bottles, and teaspoons to use at work instead of stealing from the cafeteria or lunchroom.

Ensure people have the supplies they need. At work, each employee should be issued with a standard set of office supplies as necessary (e.g. stapler, tape dispenser, scissors, hole punch). Also, review common areas to determine what shared items are needed in these work spaces. At home, if your children are in school, they will need their own supplies for their desks instead of needing to take them from the kitchen or from your home desk.

Purchase specialized items for common areas to make them obviously shared items. For example, coffee mugs in the office lunchroom could all be exactly the same size and colour and have the company logo printed on them. The stapler and hole-punch at the photocopier could be bright red and labeled with a gold permanent marker. In your home, you might decide to get supplies for each person/area in specific colors (red for son, green for daughter, purple for mom, brown for dad, black for the kitchen, and yellow for the craft room). If you don’t wish to share an item with a roommate/family member, be sure to put it away after use to reduce the risk it will be picked up by someone else.

Some larger companies are using vending machines to dispense tools and supplies. Employees type in their employee ID code or swipe their pass-cards on the vending machine. This is an ideal solution for companies who cannot afford a full-time stock controller. It also allows management to track employees to find those who routinely misplace, hoard, or even steal tools or other supplies. It may not work with all offices, though, and certainly wouldn’t work well in a home.

While all the systems listed above may work, nothing beats a system where the items have a designated area and people are educated on the importance of returning items to where they belong. At home, a simple walk through the house each night before bed to relocate out-of-place items can also help to return items to their proper storage space so they don’t “get legs” and disappear for long periods of time.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Wax Vacuum
    This week’s unitasker is a product that doesn’t do what it claims to do (suck wax out of your ears) and doesn’t do what I wish it did (erase embarrassing memories) and is only “Similar” to an As-Seen-on-TV product. Oh, Unitasker, you make me sad.

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Cork Presenter
    This is one of those unitaskers that makes me believe manufacturers think their customers are suckers, patsies, easy marks. In their eyes (especially manufacturers that target pregnant women and people who like to cook), we’ll buy any doodad and gizmo they tell us we need. Them: “You need this gadget that does the same thing as what you already own!” Us: “OF COURSE WE DO!!”

2011

2009