- Simple steps you can take to reduce food waste
Seven simple things you can do to reduce food waste.
- Uncluttered Valentine’s Day gift ideas
- Unclutterer history and services
We have had a wonderful bump in traffic recently, and we thought it might be a good idea to talk about our history and all that we do here at Unclutterer.
- Putting Unclutter Your Life in One Week to the test
Photographer Tasra Dawson put Unclutter Your Life in One Week through the ringer to see if she could clear the clutter and organize her life in seven days. She documented the process with a video series on her website and I want to share it with you.
- Ask Unclutterer: Credit card clutter
Reader April asks how to control her credit card clutter that is overwhelming her.
- Creating a central binder for your home
A central home binder offers a safe haven for important paper, vital contacts for anyone to access and a receptacle for health information.
This past weekend, I went into my daughter’s bag to find a study guide and pulled out all sorts of interesting things: random pencils, a penguin eraser, box tops, and more. After prompting her to clean it out, I mentally compiled a list of what should be in there, and what shouldn’t.
I should note that my kids are in a public elementary school. An older or younger student might carry around different things. And, a child in an alternative learning environment might have different supplies. Think of the following list as a starting point and adapt as necessary for you or your child’s specific needs.
Both of my kids are now carrying a small pack of tissues in their bags. The weather is still brutally cold here in the northeast, and that means runny noses. Their classrooms have tissues, of course, but they could run out or need one while on the bus. As any parent knows, a kid’s go-to tissue alternative is the sleeve.
A daily calendar is also a good idea. We’re fortunate in that our school provides the kids with an organizer at the beginning of the school year. It’s sorted by subject, and the teachers require the students to write down any assignments that are due in each subject’s slot. I love that they can look at that and know, at a glance, what they’ve got to do each night for homework or review.
If you’re shopping for a planner not issued by the school, bring Jr. along. I tried giving one of my beloved Field Notes notebooks to the kids, but they didn’t take. However, my daughter fell in love with One Direction-themed school supplies. If they love it, they’ll use it.
A good pencil case is another fine idea. My kids have plenty of pencils and erasers, but they were swimming around on the bottom of the bag.
You may or may not want to put emergency information in your child’s bag. For example, if Jr. carries an Epi-Pen, a short note regarding its use might be helpful to those who don’t know your child well, like substitute teachers or field trip chaperones. A non-specific Gmail address you’ve created for the family might be good to write inside the backpack in case it is lost.
Many students keep a refillable water bottle in their school bags, but we found out the hard way how that is not always a good idea. If your child’s bag has an exterior pocket, this might be the safer storage place than in the actual backpack.
Finally, school books and homework storage are all your children likely need. Since Trapper Keepers aren’t cool any longer, nice sturdy pocket folders are great for ensuring work makes it back to the teacher in a decent condition.
There are books available for adults on the whys and wherefores of getting organized but there are not that many for young children.
Franklin the Turtle is a Canadian book series that first appeared in the mid-1980s. I love this entire series of books. Franklin is amiable, cheerful, and enjoys playing with his many friends. These wonderfully illustrated books are written to engage beginning readers.
Specifically, Franklin is Messy recounts how Franklin misses opportunities to play with his friends because he can’t find his costumes or toys. Franklin gets exasperated at not being able to find what he needs as he attempts to do some tidying himself. His parents offer assistance and together they create storage solutions adapted to Franklin’s needs. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing Franklin’s perspective on his organized and tidy room!
When I organized families, younger children would often be intimidated and nervous that a professional organizer was going to overhaul the house, and possibly throw out all of their treasures. I felt that Franklin is Messy was so well written that I took it with me whenever a client had children under eight years old. I would have the kids help me clear a space on the floor and I would sit with them and either read the book to them or have them read the book to me. Often, I would tell the pre-teens to sit with us too — so their younger brothers and sisters would have familiar company.
Usually, as soon as we finished the book, the children would start organizing on their own. Sometimes it was because they wanted to find lost treasures like Franklin and other times it was because they understood that a tidy room meant more time playing with friends.
Franklin is Messy has been translated into over 30 languages and views the benefits of getting organized in a brilliant, well written way that children can relate to in their own lives.
For those who prefer to watch rather than read, the books were adapted for television in the mid-1990s. In this Youtube video, the Franklin is Messy story starts at 11:40.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Puppy Tweets
What is a Puppy Tweets? It’s a device your dog wears around its neck that transmits messages to your computer so your dog can tweet you. Because, um, tweeting is something you really want your dog to do?
- Curing clutter problems in under-sink cabinets
Cabinets under sinks in kitchens and bathrooms are common places to find clutter. Following these steps can help you to get rid of clutter for good from these spaces.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Shoe Bibs
Are you a messy eater? I mean, a really messy eater? Are you constantly having to replace your shoes because you can’t find your mouth? If so, then you must be the target market for Shoe Bibs!
- Why we hold on to sentimental clutter
Sentimental clutter plagues our attics, basements, closets, garages, and desks. These sentimental trinkets can keep us from moving forward with our lives physically and emotionally. If there is so much of the past taking up space in the present, there isn’t room to grow.
- Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet
I like to think of my wardrobe as being an exclusive club that only the best of the best can get into. I’m the bouncer, and I get to decide what items make it past the red velvet rope, and what items don’t.
- Ask Unclutterer: Corner kitchen cabinets
The answer we discovered are storage systems that use the descriptive phrase “blind corner” in their names.
All over the world, subscribers to the Unclutterer shipment from Quarterly have received their third mailing from us. If you didn’t subscribe to the third mailing, but were curious as to what we sent, I’ve detailed the contents below.
Each box is sent with a letter from our team, and I penned the third one. This time I focused on kitchen clutter and space-saving storage solutions. What was in the box?
- IMCG Fridge Monkey is a simple device for storing round items like bottles and cans. It can be used in the refrigerator or on a pantry shelf. We are using ours in the pantry to store cans of beans.
- Squish Colander is a collapsible colander that stores flat and then flips open to a 4-quart strainer. It’s also convenient in that like other collapsible colanders it doesn’t collapse when you set it down.
- Squish Measuring Cups are like the colander but measuring cups. They, too, are BPA-free and save space in kitchen drawers when not in use.
- Madesmart Expandable Shelf Organizer is a tiered storage device that keeps small items from getting lost at the back of your pantry shelves. We use two in our kitchen — one in our cupboard for spices and one in our pantry for snacks.
If you’re interested, we have a fourth mailing coming out in the next quarter (and then a fifth and a sixth …). Dave Caolo is putting together our next one and we’re excited about how it is coming together. Sign up if you want to subscribe to the organizing shipments. If not, we’re totally cool with that, too.
I recently saw a comment online that read something like, “All I use the iPhone’s Home button is for is taking screenshots. What else is it for?” Here at Unclutterer, we believe that knowing what your gear is capable of doing improves your productivity and helps to keep you organized. In short, we think you should always read the manual so you get the most of your technology and don’t waste your time and money. With that in mind, the following is a list of the things that simple little Home button can do for iPhone and iPad owners, as described in the products’ manuals.
- Go home. This is the most important feature. No matter where you are, you can get back to home screen with a tap. If he gets frustrated or lost, it’s comforting to know that a single tap of the Home button is the way out. He can start over.
- Take screenshots. Yes, it does this and it’s quite useful. Hold down to Home button and the power button (top of the device) for just a second to take a screenshot. You’ll hear a “camera shutter” noise and find the image in your Camera Roll
- Multi-Task Bar. A double-tap reveals the apps you’ve opened most recently, in order. Tap any one to jump right to it. Or, swipe the image of the app screen up and it will close the app.
- Wake. Tap the Home button to wake your iPhone’s display.
- Reset. Force a misbehaving iPhone to shut down by holding down the Home button and power button simultaneously until the screen goes dark. When you see an Apple logo, let go. Note that you only have to do this if your phone is seriously misbehaving.
- Siri. Press and hold the Home button to get the attention of Siri, Apple’s automated assistant.
- Accessibility functions. The Home button can perform one of five accessibility functions: toggle VoiceOver, switch the display to white-on-black, toggle zoom, toggle AssistiveTouch and ask which function should be performed. You can set this up in the Accessibility Settings.
- Exit “Jiggle Mode.” Jiggle Mode refers to the state your iPhone is in when you’re rearranging or removing app icons. To enter Jiggle Mode, tap and hold on any app icon. When you’re done, tap the Home button to resume normal functioning.
By reading the manual we discovered this one button can do eight separate things.
Think about all of the devices you own and all of the buttons on those devices. Do you know what every single one of those buttons does? Can it perform more than one function? If you have technology in your home or office and you don’t know all that it can do, take a few minutes now to read the manual to save you time and money in the future.
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
This week’s unitasker selection comes to us from Britain. Since I have never been to the Isles (only the neighboring continent), I must assume that this device exists in Britain because they do not have washing machines or microwaves. It must be a land lost in time and technological development, and therefore have need for the Hygienic Dishcloth Store:
Though, Unclutterer writer Jacki Hollywood Brown who lives in Britain swears to me they do have washing machines and microwaves. In fact, she says she tosses her dishcloths and sponges into them all the time to clean and disinfect them. She even said it takes the exact same amount of time as it does in the US! She puts a wet sponge or dishcloth in the microwave for two minutes, waits for it to cool, and then uses it to clean because it’s free of mold, mildew, and 99.9 percent of bacteria. Just like I do! There’s an ocean between us, yet we can both kill germs the same way … allegedly.
Inspecting the product description a little more closely, we were both bummed to read that the device requires a “sterilising tablet” to work. So, in addition to the £9.99 price tag for the unit, you also have the ongoing expense of buying tablets to go with it.
However, I was quite intrigued to learn the Hygienic Dishcloth Store is freezer safe. Why? Why does it need to be freezer safe? What is it about Britain that a dishcloth sanitizing unit should be freezable? In this case, being a Canadian by birth, Jacki was not British enough to know what that reason might be. We may never know …
- Should you keep a family heirloom or donate it?
How to decide if you should keep or donate a family heirloom.
- Ask Unclutterer: Organizing photographs
Storing photographs in a large tote isn’t the best way to show you value the images. Follow these seven steps to get your images organized.
- Baby safety clutter
After browsing through an unsolicited baby product magazine that I received in the mail, I am now aware of the products that over protective parents just can’t live without.
- Storing specialty hangers?
How do you keep the non-standard hangers organized when they aren’t in use?
- Unitasker Wednesday: The snowman kit
Snowman kits include everything except the snow!
Unclutterer has written about makeup expiration, but what about all those other toiletries that tend to accumulate? Shampoos, lotions, and other products can also clutter up a bathroom.
Expiration date labels
You may find expiration dates on beauty and body care products to help you make a keep-or-toss decision — but not all products have such requirements.
Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, writing in the Chicago Tribune, summarized the requirements in the U.S:
The Food and Drug Administration requires that expiration dates be printed on all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but not on cosmetics — unless the cosmetics are also considered drugs, such as toothpaste with fluoride, anything with sunscreen, anti-dandruff shampoo and antiperspirant. But even then, over-the-counter drugs without dose limitations don’t have to carry expiration dates if tests have proven they’re stable for at least three years, which is why one sunscreen may have a date while another won’t.
Things are different in the European Union, where cosmetic products with a shelf life of 30 months or more must have a Period-After-Opening symbol indicating how many months the product can be used “without any harm to the consumer” after it’s been opened. (Products with a shorter shelf life are labeled with a “best before” date.) Some American products have decided to use this same symbol, but that is voluntary.
Of course, if you’re going to rely on a PAO guideline, you’ll need to remember when you opened the product. You may want to write that date on the product with a permanent marker, or add a label with the date.
Real Simple reported shampoo is good for about three years; Jyl Craven Hair Design suggests “no more than three years and an opened bottle for at most 18 months.” Jyl goes on to say that some products — those that avoid using additives and preservatives — might go bad more quickly.
You can also rely on the smell and the feel of a product to alert you if it has gone bad. Amy Corbett Storch wrote:
How can you tell that shampoo is bad? Usually by the smell. An expired bottle of Pureology, for example, smells straight up like wet dog. Other signs: the shampoo appears separated or extra runny when you squirt some into your hands, and a lack of good lather.
How you store your shampoo can make a difference, too. Aubrey Organics said, discussing skin and body care products: “Long-term exposure of products to sunlight and/or heat should be avoided because the resulting oxidation may affect freshness.”
Real Simple explained: The Food and Drug Administration requires that all sunscreens maintain their optimal strength for at least three years, but you should also check the printed expiration date on the bottom or the side of the product.
But again, you’ll want to pay attention to how the product appears. Real Simple goes on to quote Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist in High Point, North Carolina: “Most commonly, a foul odor indicates that the preservative has failed.”
And Dr. Lawrence Gibson wrote on the Mayo Clinic website, “Discard sunscreen that is more than 3 years old, has been exposed to high temperatures or has obvious changes in color or consistency.”
Proctor and Gamble explained about the expiration date on toothpaste with fluoride:
Toothpaste past its expiration date may be less effective — some fluoride won’t bind with tooth enamel, reducing the toothpaste’s ability to strengthen teeth and defend them against cavities. Another result may be viscosity issues, such as toothpaste that is more difficult to squeeze through the tube.
Dr. Joel H. Berg, chairman of pediatric dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, explained the binding problem and a bit more in The New York Times.
He said depending how long and at what temperatures the tube was stored, the goo inside could separate, meaning less or more fluoride in each squeeze, and less or more flavoring agent, which could be mintily disconcerting.
Real Simple suggested lip balm can be kept unopened for five years, and opened for one to five years.
For more guidance, you might check with the individual company and see what information it provides. For example, Hurraw! Balm: “We recommend using your tube of Hurraw! Balm within a year of opening (fyi, stability tests place expiration at 3 years ‘on the shelf’) and storing it between 40-72F (4-22C).”
That last part is important, because a number of people indicate that lip balm will often go bad — developing clumps and texture problems — if it gets too hot or too cold, because the emulsification of the materials gets broken.
The more careful we are about how we store our toiletries, the longer they’ll last, and the less we’ll have to toss. But careful storage still doesn’t mean the products last forever.
Sometimes you may leave your current job by choice and sometimes you don’t have an option but in today’s fast-paced economy it is best to be prepared for a job search at any time. When you’re applying for a new job, you need accurate records of where and when you worked because almost all employers perform background checks. If you have had many jobs over the years, it may be difficult to remember exact dates of employments.
The following tips explore what type of information you need to collect and how to organize it for quick reference:
Information you should collect
Company contact information: Obtain the postal address, phone number, and website of all your previous places of employment if they still exist. Additionally, if these people are still employed at the company, have your direct supervisor’s name, company email address, and telephone extension, his/her supervisor’s contact information, and this same information for a key member of the Human Resources department. If they’re not still at the company, note this in your records and try your best to obtain a private email address for your former supervisors. Future employers usually wish to verify your previous employment with the company as well as discuss your performance with a supervisor, irrespective of where that person is currently employed.
Employment record: Most large companies keep employment records that include employee training, qualifications, and performance reviews. Review this information on an annual basis to ensure that it is up-to-date and obtain a copy prior to leaving the company.
Smaller companies may not keep detailed employment records so you may have to create your own. It should include the job titles you had at the company, dates you held those positions, and the rates of your pay. It should also list any training courses you took to improve your job performance.
Compensation: In addition to your pay rate/salary, note if you earned any bonuses or commissions. This gives you a benchmark to negotiate your salary at your next place of employment. List any benefits you received such as health and dental plans, maternity benefits, holidays, family, and compassionate leave.
NOTE: You can request a statement of your employment history from your government’s employment or taxation department (Social Security in the United States). This statement will provide you with details about your places of employment, dates, and earnings. You can also find this information on your old tax returns. However, these documents do not provide job descriptions or details about supplementary training during the periods of employment.
Job descriptions: If a detailed job description is not available from the company’s Human Resources department, create your own. List all the tasks for which you were responsible, to whom you reported, and who reported to you.
NOTE: If you used acronyms in at your company, always write out the words in full. You might not remember what those letters mean a few years from now. This is especially important with proprietary software programs used within a company. No one knows what “SADC-DB” means but future employers would understand “Systematic Approach to Document Control database.”
Challenges and achievements: Using the job description, write down a few problems that you encountered during your time on the job and how you solved this problems. Make note of your achievements and awards, too. It is easier to recollect this sort of thing when you are in your current job rather than when you are updating your résumé for the next job. You can use it as leverage when discussing your salary at your next performance review or at your next job interview.
Likes and dislikes: Write down what you liked and did not like about the tasks you performed. This information should never be put on a job application or résumé, but it can definitely help you decide the types of roles in which you excel and it will save you the trouble of applying for jobs you probably wouldn’t enjoy. It may be helpful to write this information in a style that would be a suitable answer for interviewers who are going to want to know what you liked and did not like about a previous job.
Contracts: If you signed a contract for employment or a confidentiality agreement, keep a copy for your records. Ask your employer how long they recommend you keep these documents and be clear, especially with any non-compete clauses, how long they apply to you. If you work with proprietary, copyrighted, or patented material, you may be obliged to maintain confidentiality for many years after you’ve ceased working for that company. You also may be prohibited from working for a competitor for a number of years.
Certificates: If you took any specialized training (WHIMS, First Aid, computer skills) in order to do your job, make sure you keep the certificates. They are the proof of having successfully completed the training.
Reference Letters: If you’re preparing to leave a job, it will be much easier for your supervisor to provide you with a letter of reference now when he/she is familiar with your work. The letter should state things like your relationship to the letter writer and a couple examples of how you contributed to the team and helped solve problems. It can also outline your positive character traits such as being punctual, hard working, and ability to adjust to the corporate culture. Obtain several original signed copies if possible.
Organizing your employment information
A simple form (the document is in Word and works on both Mac and PC) can be used to capture the details (company, contact information, job description, likes and dislikes) of each job. You can fill out the form and save it on your computer or print a paper copy.
It is helpful to organize your employment history on your computer as many documents are now only in electronic format. It may be worthwhile to scan the original certificates and letters of reference in case the originals are lost or damaged.
Ideally, the folders on your computer and your paper files should have the same names so it is easy to cross-reference and find the information you need. For example:
Keep original copies of certificates and reference letters in file folders or binders. You may be required to provide proof of training at a job interview, so storing documents in acid-free sheet protectors will keep them in good condition.
Career transition experts indicate that résumés and cover letters should be customized for each job application for best results. By having your employment history organized and easily accessible it will eliminate some of the stress in applying for a new job or promotion.
Finally, special thanks goes to TORI Award winning career transition expert Audrey Prenzel for her guidance on this topic.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Cakepop chocolate dipper
This week’s unitasker is a mini-crockpot that keeps melted chocolate warm. But before you think this is too useful, you still have to melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler and then transfer the chocolate to the Chocolate Dipper to be able to use it.
- Workspace of the Week: A ‘make it your own’ home office
- Single socks and how they can help you learn to process what-if clutter
If you’re someone who regularly plays the “what if” scenario in your mind, try giving the lost-sock basket a try in your home. Recycle any sock that remains in the basket for more than three months. Since you know the worst that can happen is that you might end up recycling two socks, it’s a relative inexpensive way to practice making these types of uncluttering decisions.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Baby Buddy Bottle Buddy
This week’s unitasker selection rises to a brand new level of unitaskery, with an $80 price tag. Introducing Baby Buddy Bottle Buddy: The Electronic Formula Dispenser.
- January resolution wrap up, and introduction of February resolution
In 2011, I’m trying out small, monthly resolutions instead of large, annual New Year’s resolutions. My public resolution for January was to be more organized in the kitchen, and create and use more nutritious meal plans for my family. In February, I will go through everything — absolutely everything — in my office.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Watermelon knife
This year, I vow to impress watermelons! I shall feel no shame about using a multi-functional knife. Instead, I will win the watermelons’ affections as I pull out my Stainless Steel Watermelon Knife.
- Three uncluttered activities you can do on a lazy Saturday
Three of these to-do items on my list today are great tasks to complete on a day you’ve decided to stay at home. From my home to yours, I bring you three uncluttered activities you can do on a lazy Saturday.
- Evaluate your household routines
Do you have a routine chart for household chores? Is everyone in the house taking responsibility for and completing their duties? Do you need to evaluate your routines to make sure they’re meeting the demands of your home and fit with your schedule? With the start of the new month, now might be a good time to make sure you have a functioning system in place.
- Ask Unclutterer: How many hours will a family of four spend on laundry each week?
Reader Amanda recently e-mailed and asked a few questions about laundry maintenance for a family of four.
Doing your own sewing repairs can save you some money and you’ll always be able to leave the house looking neat and tidy. You don’t need to be a seamstress or tailor or need a bunch of expensive equipment. This list outlines basic essentials. If you have some talent or training in sewing you may want to invest in more tools, but these are the minimal items necessary for most DIY repairs. If you prefer, you can buy a sewing kit that contains all of the basics. I would rather build my own kit, as I prefer left-handed scissors and I like to select my own colours of thread.
Invest in quality scissors to be used only for sewing. I recommend two pairs: Dressmakers shears with 8″ (200mm) blades for cutting fabric and embroidery scissors that have blades about 3″ or 4″ (90mm) long for precision cutting and trimming. If you’re left-handed, buy left-handed shears. It will make sewing tasks much easier.
Using sewing scissors for paper and plastic will quickly dull the blades making it difficult to cut fabric. Use a marker or label to indicate that these scissors are to be used for sewing only.
Needles and Pins
Purchase a variety of needles in a one-at-a-time dispensing pack. You’ll have the needles you need and they’ll be organised too!
Pins should be straight and sharp with colourful heads that do not melt if you iron over them. Store the pins in a small plastic box or in a pincushion. Magnetised pin holders are handy for picking pins up from the floor but they do not protect your fingers from getting stabbed.
Safety pins, in a variety of sizes can be used for pinning things together that you may not have time to sew. They can also be used to help feed elastic or cord through waistbands and cuffs. You can hook them together into a long strand to keep them organized if you don’t have a storage container.
Purchase quality poly-cotton blend thread in a variety of colours that match the majority of your clothing. You should also buy an olive drab colour because it can be used on almost any dark material (blues, blacks, browns). There is a reason the army calls this colour “camouflage!” Good quality thread should have a smooth finish; fuzzy thread will tend to get caught while sewing and break easily if pulled too hard.
This is a tool with a sharp point, a blunt point and a sharp blade in the middle. If you stitch something in the wrong place, use a seam ripper to cut the stitches without cutting the fabric. It can also be used to remove buttons that are half hanging off and for cutting thread in areas that scissors won’t reach.
You should have a flexible measuring tape at least 150cm (60″) long with imperial measurements on one side and metric on the other. Fabric tape measures stretch slightly with heavy use so if yours is older, you may wish to replace it so that you have accurate measurements.
Iron, Ironing Board
Ironing removes the wrinkles and seams and presses folds neat and sharp making fabrics easier to sew. If you don’t have the space to store a full-sized ironing board, invest in an ironing pad. Also use a pressing cloth when ironing delicate items that might be damaged or those that have a special surface such as sequins or glitter. There is no need to purchase a special store bought pressing cloth, a lightweight cotton or linen dishtowel will do as long as it is clean, stain-free, and white as colours and stains may transfer to your fabric.
Fusible hem tape is used with an iron to quickly hem skirts and pants. It is ideal if you don’t have matching thread available or if you’re in a hurry. Be careful when you iron as you might scorch delicate fabrics. It may lose its adhesiveness after multiple washings so stitching can reinforce it.
Keep a variety of buttons handy in assorted colours and sizes to match the majority of your clothing. Keep them in a small, divided, plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Often the clothes you purchase will come with little packet of extra buttons so this little container is a great place to store those extra buttons.
It never fails that in the rush to school and work in the morning, someone has a nylon backpack strap or shoelace that is unravelling. A quick flick of the lighter will melt the ends of synthetic straps so they won’t unravel. And if someone misplaces the lighter used for the birthday candles, you’ve always got a spare one in your sewing kit.
Sewing tools need to be cared for just like any other tools. Keep them free from dirt and do not drop them. Store your sewing tools in a plastic bin or decorative basket. It can be plain or fancy, with or without handles. It should however, have a sturdy latch.