Ask Unclutterer: Dual desks

Reader Cory submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

What are some good solutions for a two workstation/desk in a apartment? I will soon be moving in with someone sharing a one-bedroom apartment and we are looking for an elegant way for us to both have a small desk/laptop workspace in the new place. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

There are various setups available that are similar to what you’ve described. The following are images I’ve collected over the years of two-person desks that I like. You can click on the images to learn more about the desks. I encourage our readers to add their finds in the comments section and hopefully our collective responses will lead you to a solution.

Thank you, Cory, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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. Please list the subject of your email 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.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Instructions for uncluttering your home (in less than 500 words)

One of the most frequent questions I ever get asked about organizing is the process. How do you make the decisions to get rid of things? While there are many tips and tricks you can use to ease the streamlining process, it all comes down to 5 easy steps:

  1. Set yourself a goal “I am going to sort half this room before bed” or “I am going to streamline the contents of this one box.”
  2. Figure out broad categories and where you are going sort each category into.
  3. Sort your stuff, moving systemically through the space, and not bouncing back and forth.
  4. Purge what you don’t want.
  5. Stop when you’ve reached your goal.

Use the sorting time to reminisce about the objects — don’t make any decisions at this point. Allow the emotions to come up and clear themselves out so that when it comes to the streamlining stage you are free from the emotional ties and can make more objective decisions about them.

If the idea of sorting overwhelms you, give yourself some early victories and do a walk-through of the space, choosing to remove a few large things that will open up the space quickly.

After sorting:

  • Take one category and if you can, move it out of the space in which you are working, and into a clear space (like the dining room). This allows you to concentrate on the one category and not have to face the rest all at once.
  • Ask yourself two questions: Need it? Love it? If you can’t say yes to either then get rid of it. Life is too short to fill out our spaces with things we’re indifferent to.
  • Take the things you are not going to keep out of the house as quickly as possible. The longer they stay the more likely they will come back into the house.
  • Give yourself rewards – for example out of fifty childhood books you’ve never reread but have kept for sentimental reasons, keep five and store them in a place of honor where you can see them and appreciate the memories associated with them.

There are two instances in which you stop for the day even if you are not done:

  1. If you find yourself hitting a “brain fog” where nothing makes sense or you find yourself holding on to everything you are reviewing.
  2. If you have hit a manic state and start tossing everything without looking at it.

Simple, yes? So now tell us, what are you going to streamline this week?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Unitasker Wednesday: Computer Rearview Mirror

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

I have nothing against mirrors. They are very useful. Mirrors can be used to help you put on make-up, shave, floss your teeth, etc. Dentists use tiny mirrors to see all of our teeth. You can install large convex safety mirrors to see around blind corners and prevent accidents.

The Clip-On Cubicle Mirror/Computer Rearview Mirror was invented to help workers in open office spaces. Many open office plans have desks facing walls or have desk ‘nodes’ where workers face each other and have their backs open to the rest of the room. However, millions of years of evolution has taught humans that sitting with our backs exposed makes us vulnerable and we instinctively seek to minimize that threat. When we are in this unprotected situation, our stress levels increase. The theory is the Clip-On Cubicle Mirror/Computer Rearview Mirror is supposed to help us minimize this stress by allowing workers to see people walk up behind them.

In my opinion, this mirror will do the exact opposite. Any flicker in the mirror, would be a distraction. The worker would continually look to see if the flicker is a potential threat. Rather than improve productivity, this device may actually decrease productivity and increase employee stress levels.

Let’s solve the whole problem by redesigning office spaces so that these mirrors are not needed and workers, (especially women) feel safe, comfortable, and less stressed.

Organizing light bulbs

Good lighting in our homes is essential. We need light to read books, work on projects, and perform basic household tasks. The brightness and hue of the lighting we choose can change the look and feel of our home.

When I was growing up, most homes had incandescent light bulbs sometimes kitchens and workshops had fluorescent ones. Our choice of light bulbs was fairly limited. Today, however, there are many options including LEDs, compact fluorescent (CFL), halogen, and ‘smart’ bulbs that can change colors and turn on and off with voice commands.

Lowes Hardware has a great explanation of wattage, light output (lumens), and temperature (Kelvin) of light bulbs and a guide for choosing the correct lighting in your home. We encourage you to read their articles if you are unsure of what type of lighting and lightbulbs you need.

Personally, I prefer LED bulbs. They are energy efficient and are cool to touch. They do not contain mercury like fluorescent/CFL bulbs so they are easier to dispose of. With LED smart bulbs, you can dim or change the colour/hue. This is helpful because with the smart bulbs, one lamp can serve many purposes. You can increase the brightness and change the colour to cool white to easily see your sewing project then turn the brightness down and the colour to warm enjoy a relaxed ambience.

LED bulbs are expensive (especially the smart bulbs) compared to many other options however, if you gradually replace your regular bulbs with LED bulbs over time, the financial impact will be reduced. Because LED bulbs last for many years, you won’t need to replace them very often!

Unclutter light bulbs

Go around the house and collect all of the light bulbs you may have stashed in various closets and cupboards. Dispose of any lightbulbs that are broken, damaged, or no longer work. You may need to test some of them in a lamp. Remember that fluorescent and CFL bulbs contain mercury so you cannot throw them in the trash. The Environmental Protection Agency has advice on how to dispose of them responsibly and where to find local disposal facilities.

Separate the remaining light bulbs into categories. For bulbs of all the same size and shape, you could separate them by brightness and hue (wattage, lumens, temperature). You may have specific bulbs for specific fixtures so they could be in a separate category.

Store light bulbs

Light bulbs can be easily stored in the package they come in. If they ship from the warehouse to the consumer without breaking, that package is sturdy enough. Be sure to label the box with the type of light bulb and where it is used, for example, LED 60W soft white for ceiling fixtures in living room, hallways, bedrooms.

If you have uniquely shaped bulbs, such as those for outdoor floodlights or chandeliers, you could wrap them in packing paper and write on the paper the type of bulb and what it is for.

You can create your own lightbulb storage by gluing plastic or foam cups to cardboard sheets and stacking them in a bin. Professional organizer Linda Chu from Vancouver demonstrated this technique for storing Christmas ornaments but it would work equally well for lightbulbs. Re-purposing a cardboard bottle tote is an option too.

We store light bulbs in a small Rubbermaid tote, either in the original packaging so it is easy to see what the bulb is, or we wrap the bulbs in fruit net wrap that the local grocery store was going to throw in the garbage anyway.

Designate one spot in your home for light bulb storage. It could be in a basement or linen closet. When you remove the last bulb of a specific type from your storage box, remember to add that type of light bulb to your shopping list.

If you have any light bulb organizing tips to share with our readers, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Ask Unclutterer: Corner kitchen cabinets

Reader Marnie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Our house has corner kitchen cabinets with lots of wasted space. Is a lazy susan the way to go? I feel like there is a decent amount of unused space when they are used. Do you have any recommendations?

Marnie, I love this question because I had been struggling with the same problem in my kitchen and recently found a solution. The answer we discovered are storage systems that use the descriptive phrase “blind corner” in their names. Some are called “blind corner tracks” or “blind corner cabinet systems” or some version of all of those words.

They are regular cabinet shelves that sit on a sliding hinge and pivot mechanism. The unit pulls out into the room so that you can have easy access to everything on the shelves. When it is not in use, it folds back into the cupboard and occupies every nook and cranny.

blind cabinet shelves

There is also a blind-corner pull-out system. It is comprised of two large shelves that swing out of the cupboard door on a large pivot. The shelves can be pulled out one at a time so you can easily access the contents. You can purchase either a left-hand or right-hand opening depending on the design of your kitchen.

Unfortunately for corner cupboards, the only system seems to be a Lazy Susan. You can use wedge-shaped bins and half-shelves that will help you maximize your storage space.

Thank you, Marnie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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. 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.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Saying “no”

One of the reasons people frequently claim that their home lives are in disarray and extremely stressful is because they are never home. They would get to the mess in their garages if they just had more time or they would go through their stacks of mail if there were more hours in the day.

If the person is currently the primary caregiver for a sick child, parent, or spouse, I can see his or her point of view. That person is needed in a life-sustaining way and uncluttering the garage may really be an impossible task.

In the majority of cases, however, the “never home” and “not enough time” claims are just excuses. The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough time in a day, the problem is that they can’t say “no.”

Do you really need to be on five civic committees? Does your child have to be involved in every after school enrichment activity? Is there another job out there that is as fulfilling and financially rewarding as your current job, but without the insane work hours or horrendous commute?

Serving on one civic committee allows you to focus your time and efforts more effectively. One music lesson, one team sport, and valuable time with the family will be more rewarding for your child than endless after school activities that reduce family time. Changing jobs to improve your work-life balance is a worthwhile endeavor, especially when it means that you get to keep your sanity and happiness intact.

There are respectful ways to say “no” and then there are disrespectful ways. Obviously, I’m suggesting respectful, thoughtful, considerate ways of expressing regret:

  • I really appreciate the offer to chair X committee at church, but I wouldn’t be able to devote the time and level of interest that you’re seeking to do an effective, mindful job. At this time, I will have to decline.
  • Sally enjoyed being a Girl Scout last year, but this year she has decided to go out for the basketball team instead.
  • I realize that this sounds like passing the buck, and in a sense it is, but have you talked yet to Brian about his interest in project X? He and I had a discussion a few weeks ago about how he is looking to get more involved with your division and this might be a good way for him to learn more about your work.

Living a busy life can give us the sense of being needed and popular. Eventually, though, being the one to always say “yes” can become exhausting and stressful. Never being home in a relaxed state denies you the ability to re-energize and recuperate. Your home life will remain a mess until you take the time to be at home and give it proper attention. Learning to say “no” respectfully and in appropriate situations will help to put things back on track.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Universal cell phone charger by 2012

Throwback Thursday: I had to laugh when I pulled this one out of the archives. Back in 2009, we expected all smartphones to charge with only one type of charger by 2012. That did not happen. And to increase confusion, in 2012 Apple ditched the 30-pin iPhone cable introduced the lightning cable to charge its newest iPhone 5 making some households even more cluttered.

Here in the future of 2019, more and more devices are being charged using wireless charging stations. It isn’t the cable-free technology as we had hoped for in our post below, but it is a step to uncluttering cables. Enjoy this peek into the past and let your imagination dream of a clutter-free cordless future.

 

News hit Tuesday that 17 phone manufacturers have agreed to use Micro-USB chargers on all phones by 2012. According to ZDNet, “Companies signed up to the initiative include Nokia, Motorola, Orange, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, T-Mobile, 3, Telefónica and Vodafone. HTC was not on the list of compliant companies in the announcement, but an HTC spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the manufacturer will participate in the scheme.”

I love the idea of a single charger being able to power multiple devices, but I worry that this announcement is a little too late. In three years’ time, devices like mobile phones might best be charged with cable-free technology, like “WITricity” or Powermats.

Another unsettling point is that many of the smart phone makers didn’t sign onto this agreement. Palm, Blackberry, and Apple aren’t among those on the participation list. I don’t see Apple changing their docking systems to Micro-USB in three years.

I definitely believe that this is a move in the right direction. A single power cord is a brilliant idea. However, I worry that Micro-USB may be an irrelevant standard in three-years’ times.

(Note: An astute reader pointed out that the image is a Mini-USB port instead of a Micro-USB port. Sorry for the confusion! There are so many standards, even I got confused. Ugh!!)

Unitasker Wednesday: Catch & Go steering wheel smartphone holder

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

The Catch & Go steering wheel smartphone holder holds smartphones from 3.5″ to 5.5″ wide. It quickly and easily attaches to your steering wheel. You can use your GPS and talk on your phone hands free. See the video here.

It is important to have a hands-free device when you are driving your car. Keeping both hands on the steering wheel is the most effective way to control a car. It is also important to keep both eyes looking out the windscreen at the road, traffic, and surroundings. I briefly considered calling the device a multi-tasker because it would allow you to watch a movie on your phone while crashing your car at the same time.

The other issue I have with Catch & Go’s steering wheel smartphone holder is charging the smartphone while it is attached. Often GPS apps can drain the phone battery significantly so the ability to charge the phone while using it would be helpful. You would have to have a longer cable to compensate for turning the steering wheel but would the cable get tangled if there was too much slack? If the steering wheel turned and the cable was too tight would it yank the phone out of the holder and cause further distraction?

The steering wheel smartphone holder just does not seem like a safe option to me. In all fairness, Catch & Go makes a couple of different phone holders that do not attach to the steering wheel. They would be a lot safer as the phone would not be in your direct line of vision nor cause the cord to get tangled in your legs while driving.

Despite all this, I really like the design — but not for driving. It would be handy to have one of these easy to install gadgets for the kitchen. Hanging the phone from a cupboard door handle would keep it off the messy counter.

Would you use it for driving? If you didn’t use it for driving, where would you use it?

Do organized people have a bad reputation?

I received an interesting email message the other day:

Why should I bother getting rid of my clutter if my clutter doesn’t bother me? It only seems to be a problem for other people.

I receive dozens of emails like this a month. They are messages from people who stumble upon the website and feel a need to defend their messy way of life. The incorrect assumption is always that since we talk about home and office organizing on Unclutterer, we believe that we’re better than messy people.

At a networking event last year, a woman I had just met told me she hated people like me. She said that she hates organized, tightly wound people who look down their noses at messy people. She made these comments after I said only the words, “Hi, I’m Erin. I’m editor-at-large of a website called Unclutterer.com.”

I haven’t quite figured out why, but there does seem to be the misconception that organized people spend a great amount of time looking down on people who are messy. How did this inaccurate stereotype develop? Why is pursuing an organized life considered to be one full of judgment?

The reality (or, at least my reality) is that I barely have the time to do the things I want to do. I want to help people who want my help to be more organized and live more simply. I want to be a good friend to my friends, and a good family member to my family. I want to be happy. I don’t have the time or desire to judge people because they are messy. And, since I used to be completely disorganized, I would have to look down on my past self — and I don’t have the time to do that, either.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think organized people get a bad rap? More importantly, what can all of us do to put these inaccurate and judgmental stereotypes to rest? Or, am I off base, and are most organized people standing around thinking bad thoughts about messy people? I’m interested in reading your opinions in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Real Simple’s six causes for clutter

Real Simple magazine has a helpful list of clutter causes. These causes have been covered here at Unclutterer, but this specific list is succinct at pointing out the causes and supplying solutions. From the article:

The obstacle: ‘If I get rid of this wedding vase, I’ll feel guilty’

The solution: People feel a responsibility to be good stewards of things, says Randy Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, and a coauthor of “Buried in Treasures” (Oxford University Press). Especially items they’ve been given by or inherited from a loved one. Getting rid of a present feels like disrespecting the giver. But remember the true meaning of gifts.

“When you receive a present,” says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, an interior designer in New York City and the founder of ApartmentTherapy.com, “your duty is to receive it and thank the giver — not to keep the gift forever.”

Guilt is a powerful force to make us hold on to gifts from others. Sentimental clutter is equally powerful. The “I might need it someday” cause is also covered in the list along with procrastination, belief in future value, and bill paying.

What excuse do you use the most to justify your holding on to clutter?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old journals?

Reader Kelly submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

When I was a teenager and a young 20-something, I often kept journals – not daily, but more in bursts. I haven’t kept one since I was about 26 or 27, and have no interest in reading these now and keep moving them in a box with me everywhere I go (I’ve had a few moves). I don’t get rid of them because I feel I *may* want to look at them when I’m older (say 20 or 30 years from now), just as I recall my grandparents looking back on their own items with great affection and sentiment. However, I really would never want anyone else (i.e. my spouse or children or other relatives) to read them since they were the angst-filled musings of a young person. I’ve told my husband of my concern about the journals, and to please throw them out if something happens to me, but they still cause me unease!

So, what do you think… keep or dump?

This is a question that I have struggled with myself, but not for the same reasons you are. I don’t care if someone finds them and reads them, but I’m more concerned about the amount of space three decades of journals takes to store. (Trust me, someone would be bored silly reading my third grade journal that is full of daily rantings on how I don’t want to practice the violin. The horror!)

Ultimately, your decision to keep or dump your journals should be based on your answer to the following question:

Why did I write the journals?

Once you figure out why you wrote in the journals, you should easily be able to decide what to do with them in the future. Here are some examples:

  • If you wrote them for therapeutic reasons, as a way to work through problems in your life, then go ahead and burn or shred and recycle them.
  • If you wrote them as messages to your future self, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them as a record that you were alive in that moment, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them to vent your frustrations, then burn or shred and recycle them.

There are hundreds of reasons why you may have kept them, but once you identify why you did, the next step should be clear.

I have written in journals for all but five years of my life because I wanted to keep a record of what life felt like at a specific age. I wanted help to remember who I was and how much I’ve grown. Which means that I have chosen to keep them.

If you choose to burn them, throw yourself a party. Read some of your favorite entries. Then, toss them in the fire and don’t look back. You could throw yourself a lovely party if you shred and recycle them too but it might not be quite as dramatic as tossing them into the flames.

If you choose to keep them, put them on a shelf in a low-traffic area of your home and read them when the mood strikes. Don’t keep them in an inaccessible box like in a museum. Choosing to keep an object means that you’re choosing to have the object be a part of your life.

Thank you, Kelly, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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. 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.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Are cookbooks a thing of the past?

cookbooksIt’s another Throwback Thursday! This post was originally published in 2008. Back then we believed that cookbooks were becoming a thing of the past but there are still many, many for sale. Most are available in a Kindle version which will reduce the clutter in the kitchen.

Read through the post below and let us know in the comments if you have stopped using and buying cookbooks.

My wife enjoys cooking and baking. She has a shelf dedicated to her cookbooks, but she hardly ever uses them. More often than not she accesses recipes via the internet. The amount of information that is at your fingertips is astounding and the ease of accessing that information gets easier and easier.

One cookbook that my wife swears by is the Joy of Cooking. It is an encyclopedic volume of just about anything you can think of cooking or baking. She swears by its usefulness and relies on it quite a bit. Other than that, her cookbooks are seldom used. So are cookbooks obsolete? Why clutter up a whole shelf in your kitchen for a bunch of books that you never use? Here are the recipe sites my wife frequents instead of using a cookbook:

One site that I just happened upon is Supercook.com. The site lets you enter the ingredients you have in your kitchen and then gives you ideas on what you may be able to prepare. Maybe it’s time to let some of your cookbooks go?