An impartial participant can help get rid of clutter

Little League BaseballSentimental clutter can be the most difficult clutter to clear from your spaces. “Oh, I remember this!” is the exclamation that inevitably gets tossed around while trying to clean out a closet, basement, or attic. Until you went to organize the space, you probably had no idea that you were holding onto these items. You’re then struck with the pang of nostalgia and you flirt with the idea of keeping everything you’ve rediscovered.

If you are going to take the time to clear your home of clutter, it can be a good idea to get someone impartial to help handle your sentimental clutter. Whether you hire a professional organizer or you get a friend or spouse to help you, their impartiality may help you get rid of sentimental clutter.

Trying to get rid of things that you think you’ll miss or one day need is a problem for most of us (I struggle with it). This article in the San Diego Reader is entertaining and shows how the process of getting rid of clutter can be helped by having an impartial participant. From the article:

David sat on the floor and began unloading a large box; I stood beside him and sifted through a crate. Every few seconds, I would hold up an item and say, “You don’t need this. Trash?” I’d wait for him to nod before placing it in the big white plastic bag. David grumbled here and there, but an hour in, I’d filled three large bags and broken down four boxes.

If you’re struggling with clearing sentimental clutter, you may want to read the full article for some inspiration.

 

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

Reader question: How to store earrings?

Reader Laure sent us the following question:

Do you or any of your readers have a suggestion for storing earrings so that they are (preferably) not visible at all (i.e., in a dresser drawer or someplace else) or at least displayed elegantly in a way that takes up minimal space and doesn’t add to a visual sense of clutter? Thanks!

This is a great question, Laure! A 40-compartment tray would be great for earrings and the matching trays for your other jewelry would work well too. I use a tool chest as my jewelry box and the trays would sit in the drawers nicely.

I think that egg cartons or ice cube trays could serve the same function. You could line the egg carton or ice cube tray with fabric if you wanted to protect your jewelry and make the trays look more sophisticated.

I think it is best to put your jewelry in a drawer for protection. It’s a lot more difficult to lose a valuable earring if it’s not out where someone could accidentally bump it.

Thank you, Laure, for your question. I hope our answer was helpful!

 

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

How high should you go?

I instinctively follow this rule when stacking things in my home:

If items are alike in every way, stack as high as the shelving and item itself safely allow. If items are different, stack only three high.

Dinner plates, towels, and rolls of toilet paper get stacked as high as the cabinets in my home will let me. (Dinner plates=8, towels=5, toilet paper=4) If I need any of these items, I just grab from the top of the stack because they’re all the same.

Pots and pans, board games, and sweaters, on the other hand, stop at three in a stack. I do this because I know that if I remove the lowest item I will take the time to properly replace the two on top of it. If there are five varied items in a stack and I need the fourth item, I may put everything back in order a few times, but inevitably the stack will become a mess.

I don’t know why this is the case, or how I came to make this realization about myself, but it’s the way of my world. To some people it may be obvious, but it may be a helpful tip to others. Take a look around your house and see if you tend to have a mess erupt in one location. Is a stack of items to blame? If so, you may want to consider reducing the size of the stack if the objects in it are different.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Capabunga Artisan Bread Saver

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

Artisan is a term used to describe food produced by non-industrialized methods, often handed down through generations but now in danger of being lost (also known as home cooking). An artisan baker is a craftsperson who is trained to the highest ability to mix, ferment, shape and bake a hand-crafted loaf of bread (also known as my grandmother).

Interesting though these definitions are, most people buy their artisan bread at a bakery where bread making can be automated to some extent. There are variable speed, electric mixers and blenders, and proofers and ovens with accurate timers and fine temperature controls — a long way from how my grandmother made bread using a bowl, a spoon, her hands, a clean linen cloth (which at other times acted as a tea-towel), and a wood stove.

I guess if some people buy their bread at artisan bakeries they would also purchase the Capabunga Artisan Bread Saver to ensure that their bread stays fresh as long as possible. To keep a loaf of crusty bread fresh, you have to cover the cut portion to keep the moisture inside the loaf while allowing the crust to stay exposed to keep it, well, crusty. My grandmother told me that. She also told me that waxed paper or foil wrap and an elastic band (all of which you probably already own) would work really well.

Thanks to reader Joy for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

Innovative organizers to carry your gear

Every once in a while, we feature organizing items in development. Here are a few that help you transport your gear from one place to another effectively and efficiently.

E-Hive

The E-Hive is a sturdy carrier similar to a briefcase that can store and charge up to four phones and three tablets at the same time. It is lockable but lightweight with a comfortable handle. The no-slip elastic straps inside the E-Hive keep your devices secure and prevent damaged screens. One of the best things about the E-Hive is that you do not have dozens of cords strung all over the place.
e-hive transportable charging station
I have travelled a lot with my family of four so that meant 4 phones, 4 sets of earbuds, and a few other devices. We each dragged along USB chargers and cords and crawled under furniture in each hotel room trying to find enough available outlets. How I wish we could have had the E-Hive. We wouldn’t have forgotten the charger we had plugged in behind the curtains. We could have locked our devices when the hotel housekeepers came into our room.

I have a feeling it only works on the North American power grid (110V/60Hz) but it would be great if it was able to work anywhere in the world.

The Mommy Bag

backpack diaper bagMy children are adults now but I still remember struggling with various types of diaper bags when they were babies. I think The Mommy Bag is the best diaper bag I have seen in quite some time. For one thing, the front part of the bag opens fully so when you hang the bag on a hook, you have full access to what you need to change a diaper — including a changing pad. The neatest part of this bag is that the small side pocket has a slit so you can pull diaper wipes out one by one! The other side pocket is insulated to keep milk/formula cold. The Mommy Bag has 20 interior compartments so nothing gets buried in a big mess at the bottom of the bag. It also has a compartment for a 15-inch laptop so when baby falls asleep you can get some work done without having to haul around a separate bag.

It would be a great gift for any parent or caregiver. The only disappointing part is the name –“The Mommy Bag” doesn’t make it sound inviting for fathers, grandparents, or other caregivers.

SideKick: The Ultimate Gym Fitness Bag

Finally, people have put some thought into creating a gym bag that is not just a large, formless sack with a strap! Sidekick has three compartments — one main compartment and two separate compartments at each end. The end compartments have wide openings so it is easy to get a pair of shoes in and out, and they have ventilation holes to prevent moisture build-up. Sidekick also comes with a mesh laundry bag you can toss directly into your wash. The interior is lined with elastic strapping to keep your water bottles upright and your gear organized. Sidekick has detachable backpack straps to convert it from duffle bag to a backpack. It is extremely durable with heavy-duty, snag-free zippers and magnetic snaps instead of Velcro. But my favourite thing about the Sidekick bag is that it has an interior support structure so it stays upright making it much easier to find everything inside.

ultimate gym bag sidekick

Travel Bag Buddy

The Travel Bag Buddy secures a bag or purse on top of a rolling suitcase with an adjustable elastic strap and extra sturdy buckle. It sounds familiar but this item also holds your essential travel documents, phone, cash, cards, and a few other items to give you quick, convenient access when you need them. The Travel Bag Buddy works with almost all bag sizes and handle combinations. The bag strap can stay attached to your secondary bag and reattach to the handle in seconds so it will never get lost. Travel Bag Buddy folds flat so you can store it in your purse to keep your travel information organized and RFID protected.

Travel Bag Buddy - RFID Protected Travel Organizer and Secondary Bag Strap

I have seen many people (myself included) fumble with purses, bags, passports, boarding passes, and electronic devices while going through airport security. It is frustrating and time consuming. If everyone had a Travel Bag Buddy maybe we would all get through security checkpoints faster and in better humour.

 

What do you think of these designs? Would you invest in these products? Do you have any suggestions to make them better?

Reader suggestion: Storing and disposing used paint

Paint CansReader Mike sent us the following tip that he adapted from an episode of Clean Sweep that aired a number of years ago:

Paint cans in my garage tend to reproduce and grow. Pretty quickly after various projects there is a collection of 1 gallon paint cans taking up huge amounts of space. When my wife and I went to finish painting a room, we discovered our less than half filled paint cans also thickened a little over time.

To put and end to this, I purchased a few 1 quart cans and poured the paint out of the gallon containers into these little guys. In the end, I wound up throwing away a very small amount of paint, but a very large amount of paint containers.

He added the following tip:

Paint in its liquid form is hazardous waste, however, as a solid it is safe to throw away. I combined all my left over paint into a single one gallon container, capped it, and saved it with the used light bulbs for hazardous waste disposal. The rest of the [empty 1 gallon] cans were left outside in the sunlight to dry, then they were simply tossed.

Our readers may want to also consider the quarter-pint (125mL) cans for smaller amounts of paint required for touch ups. Mason jars with tight fitting lids are a good alternative but store them in the dark as exposure to light can change the color of the paint.

Thank you, Mike, for the great tip!

 

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

Simple steps for organizing a home office

Today we welcome guest blogger Jason Womack, a workplace effectiveness and productivity consultant. You can find him on his corporate website at womackcompany.com.

If you’ve decided to quit your commute and work from home, one of your big challenges may be maintaining the sanctity of your work area. When your office is disorganized, it can easily become a magnet for bills, toys, receipts, homework papers and even dirty laundry. This clutter can quickly bring your productivity to a screaming halt.

In order to stay one step ahead of the chaos, keep your workspace as productive as you are. Here some ideas to keep a clean desk and a clean path to productivity:

  • Make processing a priority: Processing your inboxes (voicemail, email, paper, and files) clears the deck for your life and work. Every five days, you need to make processing your focus. This weekly overview will enable you to create the space you need in order to work the way you would like.
  • Get it: Take everything out of your briefcase or bag and put it on your desk to tackle.
  • Supply it: Go through your travel and business supplies and replace or restock anything that is low. Also purge and restock an area or two on your desk (fill printer with paper, stapler with staples, water a plant, check the electric plugs by the floor to make sure they are in contact, etc.)
  • Gather it: Put any as-yet-unprocessed notes into the in-basket. These can be from anywhere – meeting notes, Post-its, business cards you have picked up, email messages, or other mail.
  • Update it: Review any papers in your “pending” file to make sure their status is up to date. Also open and review your current project folders.
  • Find it: Check your calendar and your to-do list. On your calendar, look two weeks back and four weeks ahead. If you have any reminders in there, add them to your to-do list. Add to your to-do list by going through the notes in your inbox or other reminders you have. Check off anything you have completed.
  • Assess it: Finally, take an overview of your outcomes and inventory your incomplete goals. Reassess your commitment and decide if there is an action that can be added to your to-do list in order to reach that goal.

If you undergo this weekly assessment of your workspace, you can spend a lot more of your time on your actual work in your home office.

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

Yearbooks: Worth keeping or clutter?

About once a month, a reader writes to us asking what to do with his or her large stash of yearbooks. Whenever this question comes to me, I’m always at a loss for what kind of advice to give. I have all of my old yearbooks — a spiral bound paper one from elementary school, two paper ones stapled together from middle school, four traditional ones from high school, and two traditional ones from college — and my husband has five of his. They take up a cube on our bookshelf and sit beneath our reference books.

In a way, I think of these books as reference materials. If a person I don’t remember makes a request to connect to me on Facebook or LinkedIn, and the request states that I went to school with the person, I’ll head to my yearbooks hoping that a picture of the person will spark my memory. I also look through the portraits before heading to class reunions, but those are pretty much the only times I look at them.

However, the idea of getting rid of them sort of makes me nauseated. Maybe a part of me is fearful that one day I’ll lose my memory and need them to recreate my past? Maybe I hope that my children will be interested in them and want to better understand who I was when I was their age? Even though I can’t exactly identify why I keep them, I have carved out a place for them in my home.

My advice is that if you want to keep them, then it’s okay to keep them. Store them in a place that is safe (not in a cardboard box in a mildewy basement) and scan any pages that you would be crushed to lose if your home were destroyed by a natural disaster. Remember to backup your hard drive at an off-site location so that you won’t lose your data in an emergency.

If you don’t have any desire to keep them, then scan individual pages you want to keep digitally and recycle the books. You might e-mail your former classmates and see if any of them are interested in the books if you don’t want to toss them straight into the recycling bin. You also could contact your school’s historical society and see if they would want them, or if a current journalism teacher at the school might have use for them.

How have you handled your yearbooks? Do you have additional advice for what to do with yearbooks? Your ideas are welcome in the comments.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Pie markers

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

Canadian Thanksgiving is fast approaching and with the smell of pumpkin spice lattes wafting out of every coffee shop, our attention turns to pumpkin pie. (This is my favourite, super easy recipe.) With only four adults in our family, it is pretty easy to cut the pie into equal pieces. If you have to serve pie to five or seven people, it gets a little tricky to cut pieces into equal sizes.

That’s why you need a collection of Pie Markers! Pie markers score pies (and cakes) in equal proportions for serving your guests perfect slices. Made of durable food grade aluminum, these pie markers will make sure that you will not waste time trying to equally slice your pies with a knife which will be inaccurate and time-consuming.

Buy an entire set of pie markers so you can cut pies into 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12 slices. Just remember that the diameter of each is almost nine inches so the entire set will create lots of clutter in your cupboards.

If you would like to avoid the clutter, this video shows you a trick for using a simple piece of paper (which you likely already have) to find the centre of a pie. In the video they score a line across the centre of the pie but if you want to cut the pie into an odd number of pieces, do not score across the centre, just make a little X to mark a line out from the centre and use a protractor (clean it thoroughly first) to mark the angles around the pie according to this chart.

Unless you are running a bakery, restaurant, or catering business and need to mark many pies and cakes every day, use a piece of paper and protractor. They will take up a lot less space in your kitchen cupboards.

Reader Question: What to do with partially used toiletries

Unclutterer reader Joan sent us an email with this question:

What should I do with toiletries and similar items that were tried but we do not use? I have a number of products I purchased but did not care for. Also, I was an cosmetics rep for over 20 years, and that was many years ago. I have a large number of products stored in my basement and I would like to find them a new home.

This is such a great question. There are many reasons why we may have unused or partly used toiletries lying about, including:

  • You purchased an item and it does not work for your hair/skin type.
  • Guests (including children who have gone off to college) left items at your place.
  • You are moving and the moving company will not take any liquids.
  • You received items as a gift and will never use them.

The first step is to check if the products are expired. Some cosmetics/toiletry company websites will allow you to look up the lot number and see how old the product is. You can also inquire by email or use the website’s contact form. Two great independent websites for checking products are Check Fresh and Check Cosmetic. Both of these sites list lot numbers and expiry dates of most major brands.

If the product has expired unfortunately, the only thing you can do is dispose of the product and recycle the container. It seems like a waste but when the products degrade, they may do more harm than good. They may be contaminated with bacteria, as they breakdown they could irritate your skin/hair. Some products (specifically sunscreen) are no longer effective past their expiry date.

For products that have not yet expired, here are some uncluttering options:

  • Contact local charities and ask if they accept partial bottles as donations. Do not be surprised if they say no. Due to health/sanitary concerns, many charities will only take new, unopened products.
  • Have an Uncluttering Party and invite your friends or neighbours in for a “swap meet.” You might be able to unclutter your items and get items you would actually use.
  • If your workplace allows, leave items in a common area for fellow co-workers. (Always check with your human resources department first!)
  • List your items on Freecycle, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or other type of online classified ad site.
  • Offer items in your neighbourhood groups such as Nextdoor, or Facebook neighbourhood groups if you belong to any. My neighbourhood has a ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group that has been very successful in helping people get rid of what they don’t want while helping others get what they do want.

Thanks for your great question Joan. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Junk drawer wars

Admit it. You have at least one junk drawer in your home. My family has one in our kitchen. It holds batteries, scissors, a flashlight, glue, and quite a bit of miscellany.

For some people, the junk drawer grows and grows until it eventually becomes a catch-all for everything in its vicinity. Before too long, one junk drawer overflows into another, and then you find yourself going from drawer to drawer looking for a postage stamp.

Apartment Therapy had a helpful post that motivated me to organize our junk drawer. The post suggests easy steps for getting this drawer into tip-top condition. I particularly liked the first three suggestions:

Sort: First, you have to know what’s in it. Find a space to dump it out and sort it. There’s stuff that should go in there (in ours: extra batteries, spare keys, friend’s keys, parking permits, a small accordion file for museum membership cards and takeout menus) and stuff that shouldn’t (screws, tools).

Return: stuff that should go elsewhere should go elsewhere. Put the screws and tools back in the toolbox, the working pens in their place, the broken pencils in the garbage, donate the old eyeglasses.

Rethink: for items that should go elsewhere, make sure there’s a place for them so similar items don’t end up here a few months hence. For example, have a place to put items you need to keep for your taxes so old movie ticket stubs don’t end up here again.

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

Survey your home for clutter accumulation areas

A quick walk around my house and it is pretty easy to figure out where the clutter accumulates. Problem areas include my desk, the kitchen counter, and a landing strip that borders our kitchen and dining area. The clutter seems to collect like dust and it seems like an unwinnable war.

Take a stroll around your home and identify your perpetually cluttered zones.

Once you figure out which areas of your home are the problem areas, the next step is to do something to remedy the accumulation process. First you have to identify what is in all that mess and where it belongs. Do some of the items belong in the trash? Do they simply not make it back where they officially live? Is some kind of storage solution needed?

Laying out everything that makes up a clutter problem area is a good way to determine where things need to go and whether or not you need to create a new storage solution. If most of the items are simply there for no other reason than they haven’t made it back to their proper places (or to the trash/recycle bins), then you probably should make a conscious effort to not let things form a pile. Either that, or evaluate if its home is really the best and most convenient place for that object.

My desk has been a problem area for quite some time. I accumulate items on my desk that have no business being there. I have become much better in the past year, but as I type this I can see a three-hole punch that I never use sitting behind my display screen. It’s time for me to put the hole punch back where it belongs and ramp up my commitment to keeping my desk organized.

After you take care of the problem areas, keep a watch over them the next few weeks. See if you can identify how and when things accumulate and work on stopping those clutter-prone habits.

 

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