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?

Get organized on a shoestring

Shelving systems, storage boxes, and drawer organizers are convenient, but they also cost money. When you take on an organizing project, sometimes what is convenient isn’t always in the budget. Here are some tips to help cut costs and become a little more organized:

Boxes: Whether they are cereal boxes, shoe boxes, moving boxes, or mystery boxes from long, long ago, you can make use of them in storing just about anything. You can spruce them up with contact paper or wrapping paper to make them more aesthetically pleasing. Make sure you label them accordingly so you know what is inside. You can also use cut larger boxes to a smaller size or use smaller boxes for drawer dividers. By making use of jewelry boxes, shoe boxes, or any other small box you can keep your drawers organized on the cheap.

Shelving: We made use of some old doors for shelving purposes in our basement. They are large, sturdy, and serve the purpose of makeshift shelving. Light-duty shelving units are relatively inexpensive, but taking a look around your home to see what you could repurpose before you head out to shop. In my opinion, basement or garage shelving should be utilitarian. Scrap wood and cinder blocks made sense in college for an entertainment system, surely it can make due as a place for your paint cans and bins of holiday decorations.

Thrift stores: They are a treasure trove of storage possibilities. An old chest of drawers can be used for tools and painting supplies. You can often find discounted desk sets, file storage solutions, and more.

Unclutter first, store later: Take stock of everything you want to organize. You may be surprised at the amount of stuff you don’t actually need. This may cut down on the storage solutions that you may need.

I know our insightful readers have some great ideas to add to this post. Let’s see them in the comments section.

 

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

Did you forget about Valentine’s Day?

vday-bearMy wife and I never observe the whole Valentine’s Day thing. Partly because we have an important anniversary date around mid-February and partly because we don’t really find the whole holiday very romantic. That’s just us. To each his own. If you’d like to shower your loved one with romance and terms of endearment go right ahead, but don’t let February 14th give you the excuse to go out and buy anything red just to make it look like you made an effort.

If you don’t put any thought into what you are giving your significant other, then that probably leaves you scrambling to find something at the last minute. That may lead you to purchasing something like the teddy bear pictured with this post. Convenience stores and gas stations love to display this stuff prominently this time of year. If you would like some ideas on what gift to give, check out our Gift Giving Guides. Although most of the posts were intended for the Christmas season, they can still be used for any gift giving occasion.

 

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

This Valentine’s day, make a change

As we talked about in the post Ask Unclutterer: How can I change someone into an unclutterer?” we get many emails asking how unclutterers can live with clutterers. It reminds me of one of those light bulb jokes: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.

Our clutterful light bulbs — our roommates, significant others — may not want to change. But, there is something that we can change, ourselves.

If you’re up for the challenge, what small unclutterer change or efficiency enhancer are you willing to make? If you’re stumped, think about your partner’s pet peeves. Some examples I’ve seen with couples are:

  • Dropping a jacket on the floor when arriving home
  • Leaving dishes about the house
  • Losing keys frequently

These things may not bug you, but we’re talking about our partners here — the things that bother them. As I got to thinking about Valentine’s Day this year, and realizing that gifts themselves can just contribute to clutter, I thought: how about changing something I do? I ran the idea past my significant other and we agreed it was a good idea. We decided that I will work on keeping the house better stocked with groceries. I’ll make a template with a specific list of items to regularly have on hand (in addition to the staples). It’s the little things that make a difference.

Forming a New Habit

Some experts suggest that takes 21 days to form a new habit. I like to use 30 day blocks, however, to be sure the habit gets locked in.

Start Small: Pick just one daily, do-able thing that you’ll take on for 30 days. For example, you commit to putting your clothes in the hamper before bed for the next 30 days. Selecting one thing will put all of your focus there, rather than trying to tackle several habits at once.

Be Clear: Be sure that you know clearly whether you’ve accomplished the task or not. For example, is your goal to file paper in your home office for 10 minutes each day or is it to file 1/2 an inch of paper each day? Near dinner time each day, mine task will be to check off food items that need to be purchased this week.

Track Progress: Use a calendar, goal-setting software such as Lifetick or create a spreadsheet with 30 boxes to track your progress. A check mark or gold star means you did the task. Leaving the box blank of course means you didn’t do it.

Keep It Visible: Have your document pop up on your screensaver, set reminders in your electronic calendar or place in another visible place, such as on the refrigerator. As you’re forming a new habit, you’ll need prompts.

Be Consistent: When possible, do the task at the same time every day. This will make the action a routine and, in time, you’ll be pulled to complete it automatically. For instance, pop your jacket into the closet right away when you arrive home each day.

Begin: The hardest part is to begin. Pick a start day. Today is a good idea so that you don’t build up resistance to change. And, why wait to surprise your partner with a clean family room or an uncluttered car?

I think creating a productive habit will give you more mileage than your standard Valentine’s Day gifts.

Up for the challenge? What habit do you want to take on for 30 days? Let us know in the comments. And, if you choose to go a more traditional route, check out Matt’s post from last week on uncluttered Valentine’s day gifts.

 

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

Valentine’s day gift ideas

vdayValentine’s day is just around the corner and some of us are probably scrambling to find that perfect gift for their loved one. Don’t let your desperation lead you to your local retailer in search of a gift just for the sake of paying attention to the calendar. We highly recommend consumables as gifts. For example, food, tickets to a performance, or an experience gift.

If you need some ideas, here area few that should make the day a little more memorable:

Dinner for two (prepared by you): If you don’t usually cook, do yourself a favor and figure out how to make one dish very well. You can surprise your significant other with an unexpected meal — freshly made and ready to eat.

Movie night: Find and rent the first movie that you watched together, no matter how bad it was. It will bring back some memories and if it was a really bad film it will probably make you laugh.

Be creative: If you are the creative type, create a collage of photos and mementos or write a poem. If you don’t consider yourself creative, give it a try — you may be surprised at your hidden talent.

Organize: Surprise your loved one by organizing a particular problem area of your home. Try to choose an area that really gets under their skin.

Tickets: Print out a set of redeemable tickets for back rubs, foot rubs, or chores that your partner usually takes upon themselves. Whatever you can think of can be printed onto these redeemable tickets.

These are just a handful of ideas, feel free to add your own in the comments section.

 

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

Casualties of the format wars

Throwback Thursday

While looking through pasts post, I came across this one from 11 years ago and I had to smile. Format wars were going on long before HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray. As a member of the Generation X cohort, I remember when we were told 8-track tapes for music, and laser discs for movies were the way of the future. Even 11 years ago, it was hard to imagine that music and movies are now distributed via streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Unlimited Music. It will be interesting to see what the future holds. In the meantime enjoy a bit of the past.

 

It is always a risky decision to make when competing formats are at each other’s throats for market dominance, but what if your early adoption choice is on the wrong end of the format wars? If you don’t know what I’m referring to here, you probably haven’t made a choice between Blu-Ray or HD DVD. Recent developments have basically put the nail in HD DVD’s coffin.

What should one do with the HD DVD player and discs that are basically going to become relics of the latest format wars of home entertainment? Well, you could try and return all of your HD DVD merchandise if you have the receipts and are within the return date cut off. But, what if that ship has sailed? Are you supposed to hold on to this dying format only to pull it out in 20 years to impress your technophile friends with this short-lived format?

Should you resort to listing it on eBay or Craigslist? It seems that a lot of people already have that idea. Could you use the discs as coasters for your drinks? Not really a great idea either. Unfortunately, I think you just admit that it’s time to move on and buy a replacement Blu-Ray player. If you choose to dispose of your old player, be sure to read our post on disposing electronics first.

I’m going to hold off buying a new DVD player for a while and rely on digital distribution for my HD movie viewing pleasure. Services like Amazon’s Prime Video and my cable provider’s On Demand make this relatively simple. It is definitely the most uncluttered of all the options, and I’m in no hurry.

For those of you who have all the hardware needed to convert HD DVDs to Blu-Ray, Wired has a tutorial on how to do just that.