A little uncluttering goes a long way

Organizing and uncluttering may seem like an overwhelming job, but that is only if you think about your entire house or your entire office as a single project. Instead of feeling anxious about the tasks you have set out for yourself, make a realistic plan you can manage. The following are a few tips to help you keep the momentum and not become discouraged:

Slow and steady wins the race. Clear one small space at a time. Organize just one drawer or one shelf per day. Think about looking at the empty spots and making them bigger. Working for just five or 10 minutes a day will help clear the clutter. Walk around a room with a trash bag. Put everything you see that is trash into the bag. Place the bag by the door and take it out the next time you go. Repeat this task with a bag for items you wish to donate to charity.

A detour does not mean you’re losing! There will be setbacks. You may have a day where you’re just too tired or ill to unclutter. Don’t let it stop you — just start again as soon as possible.

Done is better than perfect. It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay for your uncluttering and organizing efforts to be not quite right. Keep the overall goal in mind and you’ll make it to the finish line.

Think (but not too much). If you’re making long, complicated decisions about each item, you’ll never finish uncluttering. Don’t spend more than a few minutes on any particular item. Ask for help if you need to. Just because you can think of many ways to use an item, does not mean you have to keep it or that you will ever use the item in all the ways you imagined. If you haven’t used the object in a year or haven’t even seen it in ages, you can probably live without it.

Take a risk. The people who gain the most are usually the people who are willing to risk the most. Play a game with yourself by asking, “What’s the worst that can happen if I throw this out? And how bad would that really be?” Chances are, the worst is not as bad as you think.

Make it easy. It may seem like a simple idea, but having the trash can or garbage bag easily accessible makes it easy to get rid of trash. Rather than putting garbage down just anywhere, put it in a trash bag. If you need to, put a trashcan, recycle bin, and donation basket in every room. It may take a little longer to collect up the trash bags on garbage day, but each room will be cleaner.

Sort before discarding. By grouping similar items together as you work, you speed up the organizing process. It is hard to get rid of one white shirt but it is a bit easier to get rid of 18 of the 20 white shirts.

Grand Prix! Give yourself a prize each time you’ve successfully reached a goal. Vow to give yourself a treat such as a special dessert or an evening at the movies if you’ve uncluttered 20 minutes per day for a whole week.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

  • Money saving ideas that can create clutter
    You can turn your clutter into cash. Check out these six money making ideas and tips to keep clutter from infiltrating your space.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Elegant Baby Cup
    At $160, this Elegant Baby Cup signals to all the other babies that your baby knows how to live it up and fine dine with the mucky muck. Even though your baby can’t hold up its head or find its mouth with regular consistency, pay no mind.

2011

2009

When multitasking can be dangerous

In an effort to get more done each day, we’re often tempted to multitask. As Erin has noted before, sometimes this is fine — for example, running a load of laundry while I’m writing this post is unlikely to cause any problems. However, when both tasks require focused attention, multitasking can actually be detrimental to productivity. As Tim Wu wrote in The New Yorker, “The brain is not good at conscious multitasking, or trying to pay active attention to more than one thing at once.”

While this attempted multitasking would usually just make us less efficient, sometimes it can be downright dangerous. The dangers of texting while driving are self-evident, since taking our eyes off the road can’t be a good thing. One study showed that the crash risk when texting was 23 times greater than when not texting. (Another study reported a less drastic figure, with an eight times greater crash risk, but that’s still very high.) Drivers who texted had their eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds, which is long enough to go the length of a football field for someone driving at 55 miles per hour.

But studies show that talking on a cell phone while driving, even hands-free, is also very dangerous. A white paper from the National Safety Council (PDF) states: “A few states have passed legislation making it illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving. These laws give the false impression that using a hands-free phone is safe.”

In an 18-minute video, Dr. David Strayer of the University of Utah’s Applied Cognition Lab explains the problems with talking on a cell phone when driving, noting that:

  • Someone talking on a cell phone, hands-free or not, is about four times more likely to be involved in an accident than someone who isn’t using a cell phone. That’s about the same risk level as a person who is driving drunk at a .08 blood alcohol level.
  • Listening to the radio at normal volume levels doesn’t result in impairment. Neither does talking to a passenger. In fact, talking to a single adult passenger actually lowers the crash risk a bit. (David Teater, the senior director of Transportation Initiatives at the National Safety Council, makes this same point in another video.) Passengers will know to stop talking if the driving situation gets difficult, and can serve as a second set of eyes.
  • “Just looking at something doesn’t mean you’ll see it.” When people are talking on cell phones, their attention is diverted from processing traffic-related visual information (pedestrians, cars, traffic signals, etc.) and they “fail to see up to half of the information that they would normally have seen.”
  • People talking on cell phones tend to only look straight ahead, rather than also looking at things in their periphery by using their side mirrors and rear view mirror.

While many U.S. states have restrictions on texting and driving, and some restrict talking on a handheld phone, it’s currently legal in all states for most drivers to talk on the phone hands-free. (Young drivers, novice drivers, and bus drivers are restricted in some states.) However, the studies show it’s a bad idea.

For increased productivity with your work, avoid multitasking when you need focused attention. More importantly, avoid the types of multitasking that can create dangers for yourself and/or others. If you’re driving, pull off the road if you need to make a call or send a text message.

Unitasker Wednesday: BootSwag

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

ARB is a chain of stores in Australia that makes accessories specifically for 4X4 trucks. As opposed to most 4X4 owners in the US, it appears 4X4 owners in Australia occasionally take theirs off road. (Who knew?!)

One of the things ARB manufactures is tents that attach to 4X4s (by extending off the truck bed or the trunk or on the roof or in some other awesome manner) and regular ground tents for hikers who drive exciting places off road. But, lo! Their tenting doesn’t stop there! They also make a special cutie patootie itty bitty tent just for your boots. The ARB BootSwag:

We really aren’t pulling your leg with this. It is a real, genuine product. According to their website, “the ARB BootSwag provides a sheltered enclosure for storage of footwear and other items.”

Now, I would assume that one’s tent or enormous 4X4 would also provide this kind of shoe storage … but, apparently not?? I’d also think a large zip-top bag could do the same thing and keep snakes and spiders (or whatever deadly critters roam the Outback) out of one’s boots (this does not, as the bottom flap doesn’t close). But, what do I know? I drive an all-wheel vehicle and the only “off roading” I’ve ever done is in a busy Target parking lot after a big snow. And the closest I’ve come to camping in the last two decades was in a cabin with central air.

Thanks to reader Richelle for introducing us to this fun unitasker.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

2010

  • The dimensions of stuff
    In Peter Walsh’s “It’s All Too Much Workbook” he discusses the physical limitations of storage and how to use math to determine how much you can keep and have your home be clutter free.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: 1 lb Fat Model Replica
    I had no idea what 20 lbs of fat looked like — simply looking in the mirror was ineffective — so I jumped online and ordered 20 Fat Replicas, 1 lb each.

2009

  • Combatting backpack clutter
    Reader Lisa, a college student, wrote in to Unclutterer asking if we might be able to help her with her backpack woes.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Potato
    Now you can buy a music playing, batteries required, painted toy to substitute for nature’s fun: The Hot Potato!

Review: ScanSnap iX100 is a fast, portable, uncluttered scanner

When I worked as an IT director in the early 2000s, scanners were huge, bulky slabs of plastic and glass. They demanded a lot of desk space, cranky software, and patience. I thought of those olden days while I reviewed the ScanSnap iX100 this past week.

This small scanner (pictured above with my computer’s mouse for scale) is just under 11 inches long and about 1.5 inches tall. It’s very light — only 14oz — and completely wireless. But don’t let the size fool you, the iX100 is a very capable scanner. I scanned everything from documents to 8″x10″ photos to playing cards with ease. Finally, the lack of cables makes my clutter-averse heart happy. The following is a detailed look at the Fujitsu iX100 ScanSnap wireless scanner.

Unboxing

It was very simple to get the iX100 up in running. Inside the box, I found:

  • A DVD with installation software for Apple’s OS X as well as Windows
  • A Getting Started Guide, complete with URLs for detailed instruction in 10 languages
  • A detailed handbook, again in several languages
  • Warranty and registration information
  • A micro-USB to USB cable
  • The iX100 itself

I was happy to see the USB cable, as I’ve bought a few printers that shipped without one.

Setup

The iX100 requires software to run, of course, and you’ve got two installation options. To get started, just insert the supplied DVD. From there you can install from the disc itself (the faster option), or download the lot from online. It’s a simple process and the installer walks you through the whole thing.

When that’s done, you can connect the scanner to your computer via the supplied USB cable and turn it on by simply opening the feed guide (the little flap on front). My Mac recognized it instantly, which was great. That’s cool and all, but wireless setup is even better.

The installer will ask if you want to enable wireless scanning. If you do, flip the Wi-Fi switch on the back of the machine so that the indicator light turns blue. The software will ask for permission to access your local network. Grant it and follow the instructions on the screen. When that’s done, you can put that USB cable right back in the box! Hooray! This entire process from opening the box to being ready to scan took less than 10 minutes.

Scanning

Easy setup doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t work, right? Well I’m glad to say that it definitely does. There’s a tiny feature here that I really like. On the far left of the feed guide there’s a tiny arrow pointing to its edge. That little guy tells you how to orient documents, as well as where to place smaller items. If you’ve ever wasted time by scanning something upside down, you how nice that tiny arrow is.

To scan a document, push it gently into the iX100 until you hear its motor give a tiny whirr. That tells you that it has hold of it. Next, decide if you want to scan in straight or “U-Turn” mode. If you decide on straight, it will spit your document out behind the scanner. If you decide on U-Turn mode, it won’t do that. To engage U-Turn mode, fold the top of the scanner’s case up. This directs the paper going through the scanner back toward the front. If you’ve got the scanner on the edge of your desk like I do, this is terrific, as you needn’t worry about anything falling to the floor or getting crumpled by an adjacent wall. Then tap the Scan/Stop button and the scan begins.

Once the scan is complete, a menu pops up asking what you’d like to do with the scanned file. I was elated to see my beloved Evernote included. You can either send your file to Evernote as a document in the inbox or as a note. Other options include sending it to a specific folder, email, your printer, Dropbox, Google Documents, and more. This set of options is really nice, as chances are you aren’t going to simply drop the file onto your computer’s desktop, but do something with it once you’ve made the scan. There are even dedicated operations for organizing receipts and business cards in the software.

Scanning to Mobile

This feature is super cool. Scanning to a mobile device lets to scan even if your computer is turned off or not around. Once wireless scanning has been set up, all you need to do is download the iX100 ScanSnap mobile application. It’s available for iOS, Android, and the Kindle Fire. I have an iPhone, so I tested the iOS app.

Once the app has been installed, and both devices are on the same wireless network, just launch it on your smartphone or tablet. It will immediately begin looking for the scanner, and once it has found it, it asks for the device’s password, which appears on a sticker on the scanner’s underside.

Now, all you’ve got to do is place a document into the scanner and hit the blue scan button in the app. The document is scanned and sent to the device. It worked just fine for me and it’s a super fast way to get a document into my phone and ready to share. When you’re ready to scan to the computer again, simply close the app.

In conclusion, I’m quite impressed with the iX100. It’s very small and light, takes up almost no room, scans quickly and offers a wealth of options for working with your scanned document. Setup was a breeze and scanning directly to my iPhone is super useful. It is perfect for a small home office and for anyone who travels for business. Anyone looking for a clutter-free and simple scanning solution should definitely consider the iX100.

Maintaining pet health records for the benefit of your furry friends

Keeping accurate records of your pet’s health information can play a vital role in quickly recognizing and identifying your pet’s health issues. Additionally, if your regular veterinarian were not available in an emergency, another vet would be working without any reference points and not know your pet’s normal vital signs (pulse rate, temperature) or any medication that was previously prescribed.

The following is a list of the minimum information you should retain in your pet’s health file:

Description of your pet. Photos as well as a written description of your pet will help identify him and prove proof of ownership in the event your pet goes missing. The photographs should show your pet from different angles to highlight unique markings. A copy of proof of ownership should be kept with your health records but keep your original in a secure place (licenses, adoption records).

Normal vital signs. Your pet’s temperature, pulse, and respiratory rate are important indicators of general health. If you can do it yourself, take these measurements a few times and record the data noting the time of day and ambient temperature. This will allow you to establish a baseline. Knowing what is normal for your horse, dog, or cat will allow you to quickly notice and respond to any abnormalities. If your veterinarian has a record of the pet’s vital signs, ask him/her for a copy.

Deworming. In addition to marking on your calendar when your pet is due for deworming medication (if applicable), make a note of which product is used each time. Some types of worms can become immune to the medication after a while. Your vet can provide advice specific for your pet and your geographic region.

Grooming. If you send your pet out for grooming, note the date of each visit and list the type of grooming that was done. This will help you to determine a plan for regular appointments in the future.

Vaccinations. Make a note of all vaccinations that your pet has received and the date on which they were given. Travel to certain parts of the country may be restricted if you do not have up-to-date records of vaccinations.

Medications. List any drugs your pet receives, along with the dosage, whether it’s an ongoing treatment or a short-term antibiotic. Note any side effects as well and report them to your veterinarian. You should also include any feed supplements on this list as they may have interactions with any prescribed medication.

Minor injuries. If your pet has had any minor injuries, make a note of when and how they were treated.

Veterinary visits. Record every veterinary visit including the reason for the visit, the treatment performed by the vet, and any treatment you must administer. Make a note to yourself to follow up with the vet if any diagnostic tests are performed.

Dentistry. If your pet has his teeth cleaned or removed, record this information. Note any other dental procedures.

A simple notebook with an annual calendar may be sufficient for recording information if you’ve only got one or two pets. Mashable has a list of apps that are good for recordkeeping for both dog owners and cat owners.

Many horse farms have a large calendar posted so that the humans know which days the veterinarian and farrier are scheduled to be at the stable. This is great for a facility that has horses with different owners. Rendaivu offers an app that allows horse owners and stable managers to record, organize, and search horse health records from a smartphone.

Keeping good records for your pets shouldn’t be a chore. There are many different ways to manage the information. Owners should speak with their veterinarians about specific medical record recommendations for their pets. Often vets will pass along free medical record sheets provided by animal health companies. These health sheets can be kept in a three-ring binder with other papers on which notes are taken.

Regardless of which method you use to record your pet’s health information (paper or electronic), leave a copy with anyone else who may care for your pet from time to time.

Remember, healthy pets are happy pets! If you have any preferred apps for managing the health of your pets, share them with fellow pet lovers in the comments.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Nail Perfect
    This gigantic doodad is to help you avoid painting your finger as part of the fingernail-painting process. But, you still have to clean the machine, it slows down the process, and it DOESN’T WORK ON TOES!

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Easy 2 Pick Luggage Locator
    The flashing, sound notification, and vibrating don’t increase in intensity the closer you get to your bag. You’re simply made aware that somewhere, within 90 feet of you, is what you’re searching for. A wee bit cruel, if you ask me.

2011

2010

  • Getting your child out the door in the morning, on time
    If you have school-age children, you’re well aware that some mornings can be difficult. Even highly organized children have a few mornings each month where there is a melt down and things fall apart. Here are a few tips to help get your children (and you) out the door on time.

2009

A quick Friday link

It’s been a long week and I am so thankful it is finally Friday. Instead of putting up a long post today, I want to simply direct you to a fairly long interview I did with the financial website Mint.com.

In the article, I talk about how I got started working with Unclutterer, provide some insights on why we buy so much stuff, and then end with a little financial advice I’ve picked up over the years.

Expert Interview with Erin Rooney Doland on Uncluttering

Feel welcome to check it out and have a great weekend, everyone. Happy uncluttering!

The clutter we rarely notice

Our homes and offices can have everything in place and still be cluttered because some of those well organized things are actually things we could do without. We may not even notice the organized clutter because we’ve often lived with those things for quite some time.

Sitting on a bookshelf in my living room is a very nice music system, the components chosen with care about 15 years ago to replace a much larger system. But a few days ago, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had used it! I like music, but I don’t enjoy having background music on while I work, read, or do household chores. And if I did want music, I could choose some that I have in a digital format. Now I’m considering getting rid of the system because I’ve realized that, at least in my life, it’s just clutter.

Our lives change, but the things that fill our lives don’t always keep pace. I’ve had many people tell me they could never get rid of any of their books. But when we looked carefully at their bookshelves, they found plenty of books to give away because their needs and interests had evolved.

Here are some other types of clutter that can be hiding in plain sight: collections that no longer bring you joy, art that’s no longer to your taste, and pantry items you’ll never use because your style of cooking has changed. A nicely labeled bin of holiday decorations in the garage, attic, or basement is just clutter if you no longer choose to decorate for that holiday.

Similarly, you can have beautifully organized files full of papers there’s no reason to keep. My favorite example: My mother used to keep all her old utility bills, from an apartment in another state, neatly filed away.

Of course, we can have hidden digital clutter, too. We can have nicely organized computer files full of documents we’d discard in a moment if we remembered they were there. We can have useful apps organized on our smartphones alongside apps we haven’t used in years or will never use again.

Sometimes the hidden clutter is stuff we’ve purposely chosen to hide. Many people have never-used gifts hiding out in the back of closets or on shelves in the garage.

This hidden clutter doesn’t seem to be as problematic as the more obvious clutter, but it can still be worth tackling. My music system might as well be sold or donated (giving me a financial benefit) or given away to someone who will use it. And keeping our spaces uncluttered makes it easier to clean, easier to move, and easier to find storage space for the things we really do want.

If you decide to look for (and dispose of) the hidden clutter in your own spaces, I would recommend reading Erin’s post on strategies for seeing clutter. I’d be interested in hearing about what you find, so share your experiences with us in the comments.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Selfie Brush

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

If the dictionary were to have pictures instead of words providing definitions, the entries for vanity and absurdity would only need this picture:

The Selfie Brush is, exactly as its name implies, a brush for you to use when consumed with the process of taking a selfie.

Technically, it is a brush and a cell phone case and a mirror and an arm extender. Regardless of its multiple functions, however, it leaves us asking two questions that we feel make the Selfie Brush an undeniable unitasker:

  1. Why?!! WHY?!!!! WHY?!!!!!
  2. The more existential question, “Is this really how far we’ve fallen as humanity?”

Many thanks to Dave for stumbling upon this unitasker while reading an article on Engadget.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Organizing for emergencies
    Although I hope you never have to go through a crisis, by following these organisational steps, you’ll be able to survive with much less stress.

2011

2010

2009

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Itzbeen
    It’s called the Itzbeen because it is a timer that tracks how long “it has been” since you last fed, changed, or put your child down for a nap. You know, in case your screaming live human infant isn’t a clue that you are neglecting him, or if it isn’t extremely obvious that the breathing lump of flesh next to you is your napping child.