Reader question: the organized shift worker

In a comment to my post about working hard, not a lot, Kenneth in Virginia asked what the information in the post meant for someone who like his father drove a truck for a living. It’s an excellent question, because to be honest, few of us have the luxury of choosing how much we work. Most jobs have a fixed schedule, and require a physical presence during that period.

There’s no working better or faster to reduce the workload and no putting in extra hours to advance. A truck driver has to go from Point A to Point B, a cashier has to ring up purchases, and a factory worker has to run the machine for the entire eight hour shift.

This is completely different from someone who works in an office and has projects to fulfill or objectives to achieve. The previous post was addressed to these latter people, and in looking around at the literature, most business organizing books focus almost exclusively on them as well.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the former group can’t be organized or reduce their workload through efficiencies.

My husband is a factory worker, and one of the most organized people I know. Over the years, I’ve seen him develop a sort of set of rules that help him in whatever position he has.

  • Pay attention. Repetitive jobs can become mind-numbing, and if you’re not careful mistakes can start slipping in if you do not focus on each detail. You might choose the wrong lot of a product to add to a mixture. Or you might let quality slip, which may cause a serious problem for the company, with perhaps long-term negative consequences for you.
  • Don’t make more work for others. In many time-based jobs, workers operate in a sort of vacuum. They may be part of a team, but only are aware of their own part of the process. Take for example someone who works in a supermarket in the meat section. Part of her job may be to add the labels to packages of meat for sale. If the label isn’t applied flat, the scanner at the checkout won’t read it and the cashier has to either enter the barcode in manually or call someone to come give him the correct code.
  • Take your time, but not too much. The proverb haste not waste applies here. The best way to be organized and to make the time pass quickly in any job is to work consistently and carefully. No matter the pressure from above to work faster and produce more, sure and steady wins the race (to use another famous proverb). Speed produces errors which often means having to go back and doing it again. Or in the case of a truck driver, speed literally can kill you. On the other end of the spectrum, however, working more slowly than necessary relates back to the previous point: the less you work, the more someone else will have to.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any other “rules” to add to these three for shift-based work? If you work by hours, what tricks and tips can you offer others to make sure you are working efficiently and effectively?

Letting a corner of clutter slide

The more attuned I am to practicing simple living, the fewer places in my home have hidden corners of clutter. There are some places, though, where disorder thrives and I realize that I am completely okay with it. In fact, these areas serve as little humbling reminders that I am human and am far from perfect.

Case in point: My sock drawer.

Did I just hear you gasp? Are you completely horrified? Are the hairs standing up on the back of your neck as you compose an e-mail to me offering to organize my sock drawer for me? Take a deep breath and move your fingers off the keyboard. It is going to be okay.

You should know that all of the other drawers in my dresser are beautifully organized (imagine the successful use of separators) and contain little to no disarray. It really is just my sock drawer that looks hideous. My husband’s sock drawer is ordered by type of sock (dress or sport) and color coordinated (a helpful activity for those who are color blind), which is strange since I’m the one who often folds and puts away his laundry. My sock drawer is messy, however, and the whole world has not collapsed around me.

I’m mentioning my sock drawer because people can have the misconception that being organized means that every single minute aspect of one’s life is in pristine order. Order is a goal, yes — but so is sanity. Being organized and living simply is about removing distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life. Right now, my sock drawer is not a hindrance to the life I want to lead. Maybe one day it will be, and I will buy some dividers and establish order in my sock drawer. Until then, it is one of a small handful of places where disorder exists in my home, and that’s okay. Really, it is.

Do you have a space where disorder reigns, but the whole of your organization system isn’t collapsing as a result? Feel welcome to tell us about it in the comments. Get it off your chest. You are, after all, only human.

 

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

Don’t give up on getting organized

As much as I like this xkcd comic (licensed under Creative Commons), I hope most people don’t feel they need to “just give up.” The following are some alternative suggestions if you’re feeling overwhelmed:

Adjust for health issues that may be getting in your way

If you’re dealing with ADHD, you might appreciate books that provide organizing solutions tailored to those with attention deficit issues. ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life and Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder are two that might give you some good ideas.

If you have a chronic illness or disability, you may well be familiar with the Spoon Theory regarding the energy you have available for daily tasks. Some days you may not have any “spoons” available to tackle organizing work, and that’s to be expected. But hopefully you can establish systems that allow you to get and stay organized — perhaps with help from family, friends, support groups, or paid professionals — while minimizing the demands on your energy.

Realize that situational disorganization will pass

All of us are likely to have times when our life situation means we’re not as organized as we normally are and like to be. You may be adjusting to a new job or hitting a particularly demanding time at an existing one. You may be dealing with a temporary medical issue: recovering from surgery, for example. In these and similar situations, it’s important to identify the organizing tasks which must be done, such as making sure the bills get paid. You can then let other things slide for a while, without feeling nervous or guilty.

Experiment with different approaches

Judith Kolberg wrote, “Chronic disorganization is the result of the bad fit between people who organize unconventionally and the very conventional organizing methods which exist for them to use.” If you’ve been fighting disorganization for a long time, you might find some useful ideas in her book Conquering Chronic Disorganization.

Storage ideas for bathrooms

We’ve rented several different houses that had bathrooms with no storage space — just a pedestal sink, a toilet, and bathtub. Here are some storage solutions I’ve used over the past.

We thought it was odd that one older house we lived in did not have a toilet roll holder already installed. Nor did it have a place to hang a towel by the sink. Rather than drill into the plaster/concrete walls, we opted for an over-the-tank toilet roll holder. We also installed a Command towel bar. Command, the experts in damage-free hanging items, has a large selection of products for bathrooms such as a wall and cabinet organizer, hair dryer holder, accessory organizer, and soap dish. They are amazing products, especially for renters who may not want to drill holes in walls when moving in or fill holes and repaint when moving out.

While we opted for a plastic rolling cart (similar to this one) for storage under our pedestal sink, a neighbour used pedestal sink shelves with a collection of little baskets to keep her things in order. I like this narrow cabinet with pull out shelves. It would be handy in a small space, but being made of wood, it would easily suffer from water damage if a toilet or sink overflowed. A standing corner shelf might be better option.

I’m not a fan of storage over the toilet. I’ve had the misfortune of smacking my head on cupboard doors left open and losing my hairbrush and cosmetics in the toilet. Also, some cabinets are installed so low that they must be removed if the toilet has to be repaired. That being said, storage over the toilet can be a great space for items not accessed frequently such as extra towels, toilet paper, tissues, etc. Perhaps a cabinet with sliding doors would be a better option for this space.

For more tips on bathroom organizing, check out our posts on towel management and storage as well as how to corral bath toys.

Second favorite organization tool: The labelmaker

I have written in the past about the ScanSnap, my favorite organization tool. Today, I want to talk about the item that runs a very close second on my favorite’s list, which is the labelmaker.

I’m actually a little surprised that I haven’t written more about it on Unclutterer. Any storage box in my home that isn’t clear gets labeled. Same applies to every file folder in my filing cabinet, the recycling bins, containers in the bathroom, and about 1,000 other items in my home.

Until I had one, I didn’t know what I was missing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to say about the labelmaker because it is such a straightforward device. Maybe its simplicity has something to do with why it’s so high on my list of favorite organization tools.

 

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

How to properly store books

Last weekend I donated several books to the local collection box. Most were titles I had lost interest in, and a few were duplicates (don’t ask how I got multiple copies of one book). When I came home I researched how to properly store the books, as I want the keepers to stay in good shape. Here’s what I found.

When it comes to storing and preserving books, the two biggest enemies are humidity and pests. Moisture in the air encourages mold growth and that will damage books terribly. Additionally, don’t wrap books in plastic or store them in zipper seal plastic bags, as that also encourages mold growth.

Books do best in a controlled climate. Areas where temperate and humidity fluctuate — like an attic, basement, or garage — will lead to damaged books. Places that are too humid can encourage mold growth, while a location that is too dry can make books brittle. Direct sunlight can fade the colors on covers and dust jackets.

It is best to store books in the main living quarters of your house, where the temperate and humidity are relatively constant. Storing books upright on an open bookshelf makes them easily accessible but if books lean against each other or the sides of the bookshelf or are jam-packed on the shelves, the spines can become misaligned. Ensure you clean the books regularly. Attach a soft brush to your vacuum cleaner and set it to low suction to keep the books dust free.

If you don’t have shelf space available, acid-free, lignin-free storage boxes are a viable option. Try to use small to medium in size ones so they won’t be too heavy. Never use boxes that previously stored food, as food odors can attract pests. Pack books flat in the box with the biggest books at the bottom. If you pack books vertically, always have the spine facing downwards to avoid stress on the binding. Fill any empty spaces with acid-free, lignin-free paper to keep the books from bumping into each other and possibly causing damage. For detailed information on book storage and preservation, see the Library of Congress website.

I have this fantasy that, someday after I’m gone, my children will inherit my “library,” as humble as it is. When I was young, my grandfather converted one side of a hallway into a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that I found fascinating. When he left us a few years ago, I took a few of the books I had always admired to be my own. I like to think that someday, my children (or grandchildren) will bring my old books into their homes. I mean to keep them in good condition until then.

Are you a rebel, too?

Quite often Gretchen Rubin’s interviews inspire to me to write posts here. These posts have got me thinking about Rubin’s Four Tendencies, specifically the tendencies that resist expectations. Taking Rubin’s quiz, it turns out that I’m a Rebel, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. My inner teenager maintains a firm hold on my ability to get things done which means I will do something for two reasons only:

  • Because I decide it’s a good idea
  • Because I want to avoid getting into trouble

Before doing the quiz, I thought that perhaps I would end up being an Obliger, fulfilling others’ expectations but not my own, however it turns out that any obliging tendencies I may harbor have more to do with wanting to avoid a scolding than wanting to please people. This avoidance of negative reactions doesn’t just emerge when it comes to external expectations; I act the same way about my own inner expectations, getting things done to evade an internal scolding.

Knowing this, I have to ask myself what having an inner teenager at the helm means for being productive and organized?

Well, for one, to get myself moving, I have to see a benefit. A teenager doesn’t get out of bed unless there’s internal passion, or at least a decent reward of some kind for completing the task.

A rebellious teenager’s favorite question is “why?” and teenagers also tend to reject history, thinking that they can invent and discover new ways of doing things that their elders (being old and slow) have never thought of.

At work, I’ve always been able to channel this rebellious attitude into productive outcomes, looking for new and more effective ways to do things, rejecting “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” out of hand, only accepting traditional ways if they prove to be the most effective.

In my personal life, however, I don’t look for new and productive ways of doing things. Instead my conflict-avoiding teenage attitude tends to rule over me and it can get me into trouble. I don’t communicate enough with my partner, either doing what I want without any sort of consultation or turning into a people-pleaser because I feel that doing anything else will end up in confrontation. Of course, what the teenager is not capable of understanding is that this avoidance strategy only creates more conflict in the end.

Staying productive, motivated and organized, therefore, requires and understanding of the following:

  • I can’t force myself into any action or I will do the opposite.
  • I need to know the benefits of any course of action.
  • I need to remember that conflict avoidance just creates more conflict.
  • The more I streamline processes, the more likely I will do them.

Have you taken Rubin’s Tendencies Quiz? Do you know yourself well enough to work with, rather against yourself?

Getting the most out of your storage closets

I have often written about my office closet on Unclutterer. In fact, the last time I mentioned it, I received an email from a reader doubting its existence. “How big is your office closet? You write about it like it’s Mary Poppins’ purse.”

My office closet is in fact real, and it is quite large. It’s 10′ wide, 8′ tall, and 2.5′ deep, which gives me 200 cubic feet of storage. The space is accessible by two sets of panel doors and takes up the whole of the west wall of my office. Here’s a peek into half of the closet:

The second half of the closet looks quite similar to this one, but with the addition of a hanging bar for out of season coats and wrapping supplies. Most everything in the closet sits two rows deep and the shelves are Elfa brand. My husband and I built the closet, gladly sacrificing the 25 sq. feet of floor space on that side of the room.

Items are located on shelves in the closet based on how often they are accessed and their weight. You’ll notice, too, that like things are grouped together:

Office supplies, business documents, and my yarn and fiber are at waist or eye level because I open the closet for these items on a daily basis. Games, which usually are only played on weekends, are a little higher and more difficult to reach, but well labeled. Our comics are at waist level because they weigh a lot and would be difficult to access at a different height, and the same applies to our records. We only pull our photographs and albums out of storage 10 to 15 times a year, so they’re the most hard to reach items in the closet. And, to be perfectly honest, my hope is to have the majority of these digitally scanned this year, which will free up a good chunk of this space.

When organizing your closets, ask yourself the following questions: Do you have sufficient closet space or do you need to build your dream closet? Are you using all of the space in the closet effectively? Could a shelving system, like the Elfa system, improve your functionality? Are items grouped together by type (games with games, photographs with photographs)? Are items most regularly accessed at waist or eye level? Are the heaviest items at waist level or lower? Are boxes well labeled or clear so you don’t waste time hunting for specific items? Do you have a small step stool nearby to conveniently access the hard-to-reach spaces (we have a kik step, which reminds us of our elementary school libraries)? Are you faithful about returning items to their proper place in your organized closet?

Taking the time to plan your storage closets will really improve their functionality and effectiveness in your home. If you have questions or want to share tips about your storage closets, feel welcome to discuss them in the comments.

 

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

What could be secretly hidden in clutter?

Last week my daughter lost her AirPods. She said she was wearing a particular jacket when she last had them. On examination of the jacket, we found a small hole in one of the pockets and the AirPods had fallen through the hole and were trapped between the jacket and liner. Fortunately, that jacket had not yet passed through the washer and dryer!

This incident made me think about some precautionary measures to take while uncluttering.

Before donating or disposing, we certainly should examine the pockets of clothing but if the pockets have holes, or if we find the pockets have been repaired, we should make sure that nothing is trapped between the layers of fabric. We don’t want to be like the woman who donated her husband’s old shirt in which he had hidden $8000 cash. Luckily, she was able to retrieve the shirt and the money, but what a stressful experience!

When examining clothing, always check inside mittens and gloves. Did a ring slip off a finger and remain trapped inside? Is something trapped in the lining? Look inside the brims of hats as people have been known to stick cash and receipts up there. Due to the notorious lack of pockets in women’s clothing, some ladies have placed money, important receipts, and jewellery inside their bras. Check inside shoes too, underneath the insole and deep into the toes.

Verifying all the compartments of purses and wallets is pretty obvious but again, check between the purse and liner for any items — especially if you find holes in the lining or see that the lining was repaired. Hand stitching on mattresses or other furniture may be a clue that something could be hidden inside.

At a NAPO conference I attended, one professional organizer mentioned she found a diamond tennis bracelet like this one, (but with real diamonds and worth thousands of dollars) in an inside pocket of a suitcase to be donated. As well as pockets, always check the bottoms and lids of suitcases and briefcases for hidden compartments. If suitcases have linings with zippers, open them and check within.

For centuries jewellery boxes had many secret compartments to thwart thieves and the tradition continues today. Completely empty jewellery boxes and give them a good shake to ensure you haven’t missed a hidden niche. Once, when doing an estate clearing, I found cash hidden behind the liner of a jewellery gift box so do check inside all items that may have contained valuables.

Secret safes may be overlooked while uncluttering. There are book safes, safes that look like food containers, hairbrushes, and even surge protectors. This Pinterest board shows some amazingly creative hiding spots for valuables!

When you’re uncluttering someone else’s things, especially elderly people (who may believe their mattress is safer than a bank for storing cash), and anyone with dementia or other mental health issues, it is helpful to think about how a spy would hide their secrets. We don’t mean to suggest that anyone has nefarious motives but there are times when honest, upstanding people put items “away for safe-keeping” and then forget where that is. For example, a recycling plant employee found $100,000 cash hidden in the back of an old television. Fortunately, the money was returned to its rightful owner who had forgotten he had stashed it there many years before.

If you’ve found something interesting or valuable hidden in clutter you were about to donate or dispose, please share it with our readers so they know what to look for.

Dry erase boards for the 21st century

When my brother and I were teenagers, my parents had a dry erase board hanging next to the door we used as our main entry point to the house. All of us, parents included, were to write where we were going and what time we expected to return on the board as we left the house. We didn’t have cell phones and we didn’t get an answering machine until my senior year of high school, so this dry erase board was our way of keeping track of everyone.

If we changed our plans, we either had to first come by the house and write it on the board or call and hopefully reach someone at home to change the information on the board for us. We also kept appointment reminders (Dentist Tues. 2:00) and notes to ourselves (Don’t forget Kara’s math notes!) to help with the flow of life in the house.

Now, in my own home, I find that there are times when I still wish I had a dry erase board next to my door — even with cell phones, voice mail and the like. I’ll write messages on Post-It notes and stick them to the door as reminders for things I shouldn’t forget (Bank!). The Post-It people must have been listening because it has come to my attention that I can have a giant dry erase board next to my door without having an unsightly dry erase board hanging there.

I can now buy dry erase whiteboard film! It is like self-adhesive, dry erase wallpaper except it’s removable! It is rather expensive but I don’t have to worry about drilling holes in my walls and it can be cut to fit the exact space I want.

In my situation, I think it would be great for by our door, but it could be used in kids’ rooms, offices, classrooms, kitchens, and conference rooms. As an organizational tool, I think this is a wonderful idea.

 

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

More benefits of being organized

Dave just wrote about the hidden benefits of uncluttering, and that reminded me of the stories I’ve been collecting that illustrate the benefits of getting organized.

Many of the stories have to do with saving money. Mike Isaac tweeted about having to absorb a $313 airline ticket change fee because he couldn’t find the receipt so he could get reimbursed by his employer. And it can get worse. Mike also tweeted about forgetting to pay a bill for a few months, having it go to collections, and seeing his credit score take a big hit.

A smaller savings comes from not buying things you already own but forgot about — or couldn’t find. Erika Hall tweeted about an all-too-common situation:

Finally attacked and organized the spice cabinet.
If you have a recipe that uses 137 tablespoons of cinnamon and an equal amount of paprika, let me know.

A while back, as I was dropping off donations at my local non-profit thrift store, I saw someone who was buying a tie because he arrived at a wedding site without one. Since it would be odd for someone to walk out of the house on his way to a formal wedding without a tie, I assumed he had arrived the previous night (or earlier) as part of an overnight stay or a longer trip. If he’d had a packing checklist that he consulted, he wouldn’t have needed to make a last-minute tie purchase, saving a bit of time and money — and avoiding owning another tie that he may not need or especially like. (If that was the case, I hope he donated it back to the store or another charitable organization.)

Being organized can make creative work easier because it’s easy to find (and to put away) your supplies. Louise Hornor is a quilter who lives on a boat, and I enjoy reading about how she organizes her materials in such a small space. For her scrap strips, she’d been using a do-it-yourself approach, working with facial tissue boxes, but recognized that the boxes “don’t nest or stack nicely,” making it a bit cumbersome to “pop one or two strips into the right bin without shuffling the whole stack.” So she adjusted her system by getting better tools:

I treated myself to a set of multi-color Akro bins. Oooo! Aaaah! So pretty! So sturdy! So stackable! So open in the front for easy access, no matter how high the stack!

Another benefit comes about in a situation I hope you don’t need to face: evacuating your home. Someone I know had to evacuate when her large apartment complex had a fire. (Fortunately, the fire didn’t reach her unit.) When she had to leave, she was able to grab all her essential items in about a minute because she knew exactly where everything was, and all her most important things were in one of three places. And being an organized person, she immediately reflected on what she overlooked so she could do an even better job if she ever needed to evacuate again.

Unitasker Wednesday: TriceraTaco Taco 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!

We’ve written about taco holders on prior Wednesdays: the Taco Truck and the TacoProper. But I just came across the TriceraTaco taco holder, and couldn’t resist revisiting this subject.

There’s no doubt this is a unitasker, but it also made me grin. So if all of the following statements are true, maybe buying a unitasker wouldn’t be so horrible:

  • You make tacos often.
  • You don’t use the flat-bottomed taco shells that stand up fine on their own (and wouldn’t fit in this holder).
  • You have plenty of space to store this taco holder.
  • You (or your family members) would be delighted every time you used it.

However, it’s also worth remembering that what seems cute at first glance will sometimes wear thin in repeated uses. Would you still like the TriceraTaco on the 20th use?