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?

Tool for change

When I set goals for myself, I start by writing them down and then imagining how I want things to look in the future. I often have done this activity by writing myself a letter that I schedule to open on a future date — sometimes two weeks, two months, or even two years in the future.

The other day I stumbled upon a link to the website FutureMe.org. FutureMe is similar to what I was describing above, but instead of writing a tangible letter you create an email. I really like the idea of a future email because you can’t lose it and you don’t have to worry about a physical letter cluttering up your desk. You can set the letter as “private” so that only you receive the message, or “public but anonymous” for all to view.

Consider writing yourself a future email through FutureMe.org as a way to help you keep on track with your uncluttering goals.

 

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

Hidden benefits of uncluttering

Here at Unclutterer we espouse the clutter-free lifestyle. The reasons are mostly obvious: a clean, tidy home means less time is spent searching for things, knowing what you actually own, etc.

In this post, I want to look at the less obvious benefits of uncluttering. These less obvious advantages are just as powerful as those listed above. Let’s get started with time. Time, not money, is the only valuable commodity we have. Would you rather lose ten dollars or ten years? Without time, nothing else has value, so the wise person treats it as precious.

Finish small tasks right away. Schedule time to spend on big tasks and stick to it. Clean as you go. Adopt a calendar/planner that fits your lifestyle and use a productivity system you trust. You’ll spend less time on household chores, and more time with family and friends.

Next, and this is a rather specific example but bear with me. Being uncluttered means that unexpected visitors do not elicit a stressful frenzy of straightening up. It might not happen often, but when that unannounced guest is en route to your door, a few minutes of tidying is all that is needed to make the house presentable. Compare that to the frenzy of straightening a cluttered house.

Before I continue, an important note. A working home is not a museum. As I said in 2015:

“These are the years spent in the trenches. The years where my wife and I argue over who gets to be the one to grocery shop, because grocery shopping means you get 25 minutes to yourself. If guests arrive and there’s a stack of papers on a table somewhere or library books strewn about or if our dear visitors have to witness a round of my favorite 7:38 a.m. game, ‘Where Are Your Clean Socks And Why Must We Go Through This Every Blessed Day?’, Fine.

The people who are nice enough to travel and spend money just to be in our company understand where we are at this stage in our lives. They love us, and know that transferring the breakfast cereal into labeled Tupperware containers is just under ‘jewel-encrusted, heated driveway’ on our list of current priorities.”

It’s completely unreasonable, in my opinion, to live in a clutter-free home 24/7/365. That’s not what I’m proposing. Just make an effort to tidy as you go to save some stress.

Next, your family will catch the uncluttering bug. I know, that sounds crazy. I have two teenagers whose favorite activities include sleeping, eating and playing video games. (Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario.) If the house is routinely tidy, they won’t like it when it isn’t. In fact, they’ll start to organize to keep things on an even, tidy keel. I’ve seen it happen and it’s glorious.

When the tidying starts to happen consistently, you’ll feel more creative. This one is backed by science. Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute demonstrated that a cluttered environment restricts one’s ability to focus. Having trouble finishing that novel or getting some work done? A cluttered desk or office could be a contributing factor.

Lastly, you’ll likely get more sleep. A sleep study conducted in 2015 showed that people who routinely sleep in cluttered rooms are more likely to have sleep disturbances and get less restful sleep than counterparts in tidy rooms. Who doesn’t want better sleep? I sure do.

There you have a few less obvious benefits to pursuing the uncluttered lifestyle. If you’ve discovered any hidden benefits to being uncluttered, please share them with readers in the comments below.

Work hard, not a lot

Gretchen Rubin interviews the most fascinating people over on The Happiness Project blog. Recently, she spoke with Morten Hansen, co-author of Great by Choice and sole author of Great at Work. In the latter book, he reveals something that I have championed for years: working more does not mean achieving more. This is something that I’ve known intuitively and have seen in clients and in myself over and over again: it’s all about how you work, not how long you work.

Hansen has taken this intuitive sensation of mine and proven it with a study. People who work too many hours a week are actually less productive than those who work less.

He doesn’t, however, go so far at Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week. Hansen states that to achieve higher than average productivity, it’s important to work hard and work a bit more than the average, but not to work so much as to damage other areas of your life.

I learned how to focus on quality not quantity back in high school when I played in the school band. I knew I wasn’t ever going to be a full-time musician (because I was a decent technical player, but couldn’t improvise to save my life). There were times when I practiced an hour or more a day and others when I practiced only a few times a week. I discovered that it didn’t matter which of the two levels I practiced at; I remained at the same level, so of course, I stopped wasting my time and made the conscious decision to practice only a few times a week.

For me, it’s a kind of intangible minimalism. Just as a minimalist mindset looks at the home and asks, “What is the least amount of stuff I can have while still maintaining the quality of life I want?” a minimalist attitude to work asks, “What are the least number of hours that I can work to reach my top productivity?”

It sounds like an easy question, but the answer is hard to calculate. Often you don’t have a choice. You’re contracted to work a specific number of hours and have to do that no matter how productive you are in that time period. Or the culture of your company is one where unpaid overtime is a sign of real commitment regardless of productivity levels (hopefully none of you works in that situation!).

According to Hansen, the most productive people put in about 25% time more than the average (50 hours of work instead of the traditional 35), but if someone starts putting in more time, the productivity drops off steeply.

My question for everyone, therefore is: How much do you want to achieve your objectives? Are you willing to invest that 25% more time into them than the average person? Can you even quantify that that average time investment is for your objectives? If not, perhaps you might consider making that calculation your top priority.

More kitchen tips

Here are a few kitchen tips from an article in The Telegraph in 2007:

  • Uncluttering tips: A time study revealed that most people use the same four pots and pans over and over again. Take an objective look at the other seldom used items. Consider eliminating them or storing them elsewhere.
  • Recipes: A three-ring binder with magnetic photo pages can be used to store recipes collected from family and friends, magazines, newspapers, and the internet. Avoid those that require ingredients you will never buy. If your family doesn’t find a recipe to be a hit, then toss it out. Discard unused recipes yearly. It takes only minutes to do this. Consider displaying special cookbooks on your bookshelf or coffee table as a conversation piece.
  • Paper and mail: It’s best to open mail right beside a recycling bin or trashcan. Don’t put it in a pile to “sort later.” This delay tactic only wastes time, as you’ll have to review the mail a second time. It takes seconds to pitch junk mail and unwanted advertisements now. If you can’t get your magazines read, do not renew your subscription, instead use the library, or pick up an occasional copy at the grocery store.

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Creating extra storage and counter space in a small kitchen

You’ve been a good unclutterer and gone through your cabinets and discarded the items you never use. You’ve put away the rarely used appliances that sat on your countertop. For those with a good size kitchen, you’re done. Your kitchen is uncluttered. But what about the rest of us?

If you’re like me and you rent an apartment or own a condo with a tiny kitchen, your counter space still doesn’t offer enough room to cook a complete meal. I have size and poor design to deal with in my kitchen. I can clear my counters completely and still have a difficult time finding space to cut vegetables. To work around this dilemma, I have found a solution: A kitchen cart.

I used to think kitchen carts were silly. That is, until I had a real use for one. Now, I can’t exist without it.

My cart won’t fit inside the kitchen, so I have to store it against the wall across from the kitchen entrance. When it’s time to cook, I just wheel the cart over to the kitchen and, suddenly, I have all the counter space I need. It also blocks off the entrance, keeping my husband and the dog out of my cooking space.

Here is what to look for in a kitchen cart:

  • Sturdy – You need to be able to chop things on it, so go for something that won’t rock or cause you to slice your fingers.
  • Wheels – You should be able to move it where you need to use it.
  • Wire Racks – This feature is great for holding mixing bowls and other items used for cooking.
  • Hooks – If you’re also short on drawer space, the hooks are nice for utensils.