Renting vs Owning a Home: The Eternal Debate

Back in 2006 when I left Canada, I sold my house and thought I’d never buy another one again. The place had been a fixer-upper and my father and I had invested a lot of time and money into it (nine years to be exact) — just in time to sell it.

I know that home-ownership is supposed to be the holy grail of the (North) American Dream, but I really wasn’t sure I wanted to ever get back into the cycle of renovations, repairs, and mortgages. It took a bit of an attitude change because as a simple search on Amazon suggests, mortgage-free home-ownership is what we are all supposed to aim for.

But I knew couples who had been renting for over twenty years and they had more disposable income than I’d ever had. When something went wrong in their place, it was the building owners, not the renters, who had to pay for it. Renters also knew exactly how much they needed to pay every month without any sort of surprise costs like a new roof or plumbing repairs.

That sounded good to me.

Generations ago in Ireland, my father’s family were renters. Yes, they owned property, but they never lived where they owned. They used the extra income from renting out the place to rent something better for themselves. And while they had those emergency expenses that any homeowner had, they considered it as a part of running a business, rather than intruding on their lives directly.

When I settled in the Basque Country, I was convinced that renting was for me. Although it irritated me a little bit that I couldn’t do up the place exactly as I would like, I was pleased to no longer have the temptation to enter into constant rounds of renovations like my parents did. They cycled through the house I grew up in, redoing one room a year, and I can’t count the number of times they completely remodeled the garden.

When my parents died a few months apart from each other then eight months after that my mother-in-law passed away, my husband and I found ourselves with a chunk of money. Given the volatile nature of the markets at that moment, investing did not seem like a good plan.

So, we got back into the home-ownership market, not just once but twice, buying a flat where we live full-time plus a second one in a sunny part of Spain. However, this second time around, owning a home is different from the first time.

  • We chose to live in a tower instead of a detached home, meaning emergency expenses are shared by the whole building and in a recent case, spread out over three years.
  • Our flat is half the size of the (small) house I had in Toronto, and is just the size we need.
  • Renovations happened quickly, before we moved in.
  • Mortgage payments are less than the monthly rent we were paying.

The second flat we bought (mortgage-free) has a double purpose, one as a weekend and summer retreat, and the other as a retirement emergency fund in case one or both of us needs to go into a nursing/retirement home. While medical costs are covered here in Spain, there is a big difference between public and private retirement residences. With the money from selling off the second flat, we will be able to live out our final years in comfort.

My siblings, however, took other routes: my sister invested in a large rambling country home and my brother sold his house and sunk the money into his girlfriend’s place, turning home-ownership into a type of romantic commitment.

When deciding if renting or owning is for you, just as with any project you undertake, it’s imperative you consider your priorities. In this case, the questions that can help you decide which option is better for you include:

  • What type of financial situation do you want to be in? Fixed or variable costs?
  • How important is it to you to put your personal stamp on the space you live in?
  • How much space do you really need? How much do you want to maintain?

The New York Times, has a good rent vs. buy calculator. I plugged in the original numbers for our primary residence and the results confirmed that buying was the right option financially, as we would be paying about three times the amount in rent each month as we do with the mortgage.

Are you a renter or a homeowner? Do you know which is the better option for you financially? Or are there other factors (emotional, familial, etc…) that led you to choose?

Sock Purge: Getting rid of mismatched socks

Hate matching up sock pairs while folding laundry? One way to save you time is to have all socks of the exact same color and style.

Every so often (when most of your socks are worn out), throw away all of your white sports socks and replace them with six pairs of new, identical white sports socks. Be sure to alternate the style or brand between purges so if an old sock accidentally doesn’t get purged, you can identify it when it tries to sneak back in to your drawer. All of your socks will have the same amount of wear, they all will match, and it will save you time during folding.

If you’re a man who works in an office, do the same with black and brown dress socks. Three styles are faster to sort than 18 pairs of different styles.

For your children with similar sized feet, you could buy a dozen pairs of the same sock and split them between the kids. Alternatively, you could buy each child a different brand/style/color of sock. For example, your daughter could have white socks, and your son could have white and grey socks.

Our family has subscribed to this process for many years and we love the simplicity it brings to our laundry days.

What’s on your kitchen counters?

Earlier this week I was browsing the Unclutterer Forums when I found this thread: What’s on your kitchen counters? It’s a conversation that’s been going strong since 2012, with the latest contribution being published just a few days ago. Here are my thoughts.

Our kitchen is very small. Even after a major remodel in 2002, we’ve got precious little counter space. As such, we’ve had to be extremely selective about what earns its way onto the counter. Many products “audition” but few make the cut.

The first to go was the microwave. Yes, we’re a microwave-free household. Really, the stove/oven does everything the microwave manages, albeit more slowly. We can’t afford a huge bulky item that duplicates functionality. Instead, we’ve got a toaster oven.

We’ve got a few books in a bookshelf, a drainer for drying the dishes, and the mixer. Honestly, that’s it. Utensils live in a drawer and dishes, glasses, etc. live in cabinets.

Items that are used only occasionally are stored in the basement until they’re called into duty. This includes the slow cooker, blender, and big mixer. We just don’t use them often enough to warrant long-term storage in the kitchen itself.

Now I’ll ask you: what’s on your kitchen counters, and why? Does “size matter” or is function the deciding factor? Sound off, here or join the conversation on our forum.

The minimalist kitchen

The New York Times ran an interesting feature in which food columnist Mark Bittman explained how one could outfit a functional, well-equipped kitchen for less than $300. Even though this article was published in 2007, it is still relevant and helpful.

If you’ll be moving out on your own, you could turn this into a shopping list or a source for ideas for your wedding gift registry. If your kitchen counters and cupboards are overflowing, you might consider using this article as a reality check for the things you already own. If you have all kinds of kitchen accessories you don’t use, and they’re not on this list, you might want to consider getting rid of them.

Particularly interesting is a section at the end of the article where Bittman lists several “inessentials”:

STAND MIXER Unless you’re a baking fanatic, it takes up too much room to justify it. A good whisk or a crummy handheld mixer will do fine.

BONING/FILLETING KNIVES Really? You’re a butcher now? Or a fishmonger? If so, go ahead, by all means. But I haven’t used my boning knife in years. (It’s pretty, though.)

WOK Counterproductive without a good wok station equipped with a high-B.T.U. burner. (There’s a nice setup at Bowery Restaurant Supply for $1,400 if you have the cash and the space.)

However, if an item on this “inessential” list is one that you use regularly (be honest here), or saves you time and effort, by all means keep it.

Being organized about protecting your computer (and your smartphone)

You’ve probably heard about the ransomware attack that hit numerous computers earlier this month, with hospitals in the U.K. being some of the major victims. When computers became infected with the malware, their files were locked unless a ransom was paid to unlock them.

While this specific attack probably didn’t affect you, it’s a good reminder that you can take an organized approach to protecting yourself from future attacks by following a couple simple strategies. These won’t protect you from all malicious attacks, but they are critical parts any strategy for keeping your computer files safe.

Keep your software up to date

The computers that got infected this time were those that had not installed the relevant security update from Microsoft, which was released two months prior to the attack. And some of computers were running Windows XP, a version so out of date that patches weren’t even being released unless special support contracts were in place. (Microsoft later made the necessary patch available to everyone.)

Whether or not you enable automatic updates of your computer’s software, it’s important to install any security patches promptly. This is not a time to procrastinate! Besides the operating system (Windows, OS X, macOS, etc.) you may need to install security updates to software such as your web browser — I just did an update to Safari. Adobe Flash Player is another bit of software that gets frequent security updates.

While updates can be complicated in corporate and industrial settings — think about operating systems embedded in things like MRI machines — in most cases it’s much simpler for those of us with our personal computers.

Keep your smartphone updated, too

Smartphones and tablets can also need software updates for security purposes, so don’t overlook those. The phones that get security updates the fastest are Apple’s iPhones and the Android phones that come directly from Google rather than from a third party vendor. As Kate Conger explained on the TechCrunch website back in March:

Google has spent the past year working with third-party manufacturers and phone carriers to improve its update system for Android, which is often criticized for not being fast enough to protect users from known vulnerabilities. And while Google says it has made some progress in this area — Android issued security updates to 735 million devices from more than 200 manufacturers in 2016 — about half of Android users still aren’t receiving important security patches. ….

While Google-manufactured Pixel and Nexus phones and tablets receive automatic updates, hundreds of manufacturers that run Android on their devices don’t push security updates to their customers immediately. This practice can leave customers waiting for months to get updates, and their devices are vulnerable in the meantime.

Also be aware that some older phones may no longer have guaranteed security updates, so you may need to replace your phone to keep it secure. As Google notes for Nexus phones (with a similar statement for Pixel phones):

Nexus devices get security updates for at least 3 years from when the device first became available on the Google Store, or at least 18 months from when the Google Store last sold the device, whichever is longer. After that, we can’t guarantee additional updates.

Do your backups

We’ve written about the importance of backups here on Unclutterer in the past, and ransomware attacks are just one more reason these matter so much. Backups won’t protect your computer from being infected with malware — but if you have good backups in place, you could use them to recover from any such attack.

Reader question: How do you fold clothes to save space?

Reader Josephine recently sent us the following question:

I don’t own a lot of clothes, but yet my drawers are always out of control. What are some ways to fold and store clothes to best use the space that you have?

That’s a great question Josephine. Maximizing storage space depends on many factors including the amount and types of clothes that you have as well as the design of the space in which you store them.

Our writers each lead different lifestyles so I asked each of them this question and compiled their reports.

Jeri

With any clothes storage effort, the first step is always to unclutter. There’s no point in figuring out how to store clothes you’re not going to wear.

But let’s assume you’ve done that. There are products designed to help you fold things neatly and make the most of your drawer space, such as the Pliio clothes folders. I know people who use these and think they are terrific. And in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo presents her own folding technique for clothes, including socks. Many people won’t have the patience to do that careful folding — but if it works for you, that’s great. You can find numerous online videos showing folding techniques, if you prefer visual instructions.

Personally, I’m not someone who likes to fold. So, it works out well that my home has very little drawer or shelf space for folded items. The only things in drawers are a few knit items (which are folded), pajama bottoms (folded, but not carefully), socks, and underwear (which just get tossed into the drawer). Everything else is on hangers or hooks. I don’t own many clothes, so it’s easy to keep the closet and the drawers about 20 percent empty, making it easy to put things away and take them out.

Sock storage becomes easier if you buy multiple pairs of the same sock. For example, you might buy just one type of black dress sock, one type of white sports sock, etc. Then you don’t need to worry about rolling socks, folding them into pairs, or otherwise matching them up — the pairings are obvious. You might still want to fold them as a space-saving technique, though, if space is a concern.

One more space-usage tip: Sometimes I see people with some sentimental clothes items in their closets or dresser drawers. Since these are not being kept to be worn, they can be stored somewhere else, freeing up limited closet or dresser space.

Dave

Last year I taught a group of Cub Scouts how to unpack, set up, and then store a tent. They were very interested in getting it out of the bag and set up as quickly as possible. Later when it was time to put the tent away, I quizzed them while they worked.

“What’s the most important aspect of using a tent?” They offered answers with enthusiasm: “Finding a good spot,” “Proper staking,” and so on.  I told them that the most important part is actually putting it away. By taking the time to put the tent away properly now, you save yourself time and headache later.

It’s the same with storing clothes.

When I was a college student, “storing clothes” meant “somewhere in this room.” As I matured, I recognized that a drawer stuffed with T-shirts only makes more work for me so I developed a new way to store my clothing – a system I’ve been using since I left school.

  • Top drawer: Sleepwear, socks and underwear. I roll up each like a burrito to maximize space used.
  • Second drawer: T-shirts only. Each is folded thirds lengthwise (arms and sides together) and then in half and in half again. This way I can fit several into a single drawer.
  • Drawer three: Jeans or shorts, depending on the season, folded up in thirds.
  • Drawer four: This last drawer is for what I call “dress pants.” I almost never go in this drawer (I can wear jeans to work), unless there’s a wedding, funeral or job interview I must attend.

Long-sleeved and button-down shirts are hung on hangers.

Sweaters are never hung, as they get those “bumps” in the shoulders. They usually live on top of my dresser during sweater season and in the off-season, in labelled bins on a shelf in my closet.

Alex

Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how I fold my clothes, but then after two years of living in our apartment, my husband decided to give our walk-in closet an overhaul. We ended up having several discussions about the pros and cons of folding clothes in certain ways, and although at first, I thought the conversations were bordering on absurd, but we realized that how the clothes are folded can make a real difference in how they are stored.

My husband has more clothes than I do, so has five shallow shelves to my two deep ones. While he has one full shelf each for t-shirts, trousers, sweaters, pyjamas, and scarves and such, I have a pile for each. How we store our clothes therefore has to be different.

Let’s look at trousers, for example. He folds his in four and has several piles of no more than five. I fold mine in three and have all of them in a single pile.

My t-shirts and sweaters need to be folded much more narrowly than his, again taking advantage of depth and height to compensate for the lack of width.

The one area of clothing that I outdo him on is dress shirts. For me, the trick has been to use the same type of hanger for all of my shirts, to iron them as soon as they come off the clothesline, and to do up at least the top button on the hanger. Everything hangs at the same level and being ironed, the shirts don’t bunch up or twist at the collar, and by being buttoned, they lay flat against each other.

After the overhaul, we now leave the closet door open a lot more because it’s actually a joy to see everything so nicely folded and hanging straight.

Jacki

I purchased drawer organizer cubes for my dresser to store my clothes. Here’s how they are organized.

Socks and undergarments

Like Jeri, I don’t fold these items, just put each type of clothing into cubes; socks cube, panties cube, hosiery cube. I do however, neatly roll my hosiery because it is less likely to get snags and runs. For bras, straps are folded into the cups and they are all lined up in a rectangular shaped drawer cube.

T-shirts, sportswear, sleepwear

T-shirts are folded lengthwise in thirds then rolled from the collar to the bottom of the shirt.

Athletic wear very slippery and doesn’t stay folded, so it is rolled similar to the t-shirts. However, after the shirts are folded, I add a pair of folded sports shorts, sports bra, panties, and sports socks then roll the whole thing up like a burrito. All I have to do is grab a roll of sportswear and I have everything I need to go to the gym.

Pyjamas are folded/rolled the same way as sportswear, bottoms rolled up inside the tops.

Spending most of my life in cold climates (I’m Canadian), I have one drawer specifically for long underwear. It is stored in rolls the same way I store pyjamas.

Hanging clothes and shoes

Blouses are hung on hangers, trousers are hung on a pants hanger. I use skirt hangers for separates and combo hangers for business suits.

We’ve lived in several different houses. In some houses sweaters have been stored on shelves with the help of dividers. In closets with more hanging space I’ve used a set of hanging shelves to store sweaters.

Shoes are stored in plastic shoe boxes, sometimes piled on the floor below the hanging clothing, sometimes stacked on shelving.

 

Thanks for your great question Josephine. 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.”

Wedding gifts we still use 16 years later

Way back in the year 2000, my then girlfriend and I decided to get married. We created a gift registry, as so many engaged couples to do. As a pair of young people with very little in the way of “real world” possessions, we asked for many things we thought we’d use for years. Fortunately many of our friends and family obliged and a year later we found ourselves happily married with a pile of new stuff.

Sixteen years later, there are items from that registry that we still use every day and others that were donated/tossed/given away long ago. Here’s a list of the few keepers that still see active duty.

Dishes

The first item we registered for was a set of dinnerware from local potter Steve Kemp. We loved Steve’s work and thought, “What the heck. Maybe someone will buy us a setting or two.” We ended up with full service and those very plates and bowls are still in daily use at our house. Yes, I’ve broken a few but that’s what anniversary gifts are for, right?

Flatware

My mother was raised in Oneida, New York, home to Oneida flatware and, before that, The Oneida Community (I’ve been inside the fabled “Mansion House” many times). My maternal grandfather worked for Oneida, designing flatware. Of course, I had to have a set, which we asked for and received.

For the first few years, I kept those utensils tucked away until Christmas other other “special” occasion. Eventually I decided that that was silly and now we use the Oneida flatware every day.

We didn’t ask for things like knifes or pots and pans, as we inherited sets of each, which we’ve since replaced.

Bed

As two single people we had, of course, two twin beds. As a gift we received a queen sized bed with some nifty storage compartments and it’s still in use.

Stuff we asked for, have, and never use.

Wine glasses. My wife and I drink wine maybe once a year. Yet we requested and received a set of wine glasses, figuring we’d be entertaining wine-loving friends. That hasn’t happened yet, and to this day a set of pristine wine glasses sit idle in a cabinet. The same goes for the blender. Again, we’ve used this maybe a dozen times over the past 16 years. The thought of fresh fruit smoothies every morning sounds great until you have to make them and then clean the blender.

Items we no longer own

First things first, if you’re reading this and you’re the person(s) who gave us any of the following, I’m sorry! We tried, honest. Let’s start with the bread machine. At the time when we got married, these things were very popular. Toss the ingredients inside, hit a switch and presto, you’ve got bread. The bread machine we owned was huge and took up a massive amount of counter space. So it sat in the basement until we decided that we wanted to use it. That day never came. The same goes for the ice cream maker. Oh, how charmingly naive young couples are. “We’ll make ice cream! It will be great.” Add a few kids to the mix and you realize there’s no time for that. Away it went.

What I wish we’d asked for

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to the year 2000 and ask for the following:

A decent, basic set of tools. You can get a way with cheap tools for a while, or skipping some essentials entirely, but starting off with a high-quality starter set is well worth the investment.

A rice cooker. We didn’t buy a rice cooker until a few years ago and we’re amazed at how useful, compact and efficient it is. Everybody should own one.

A full set of Pyrex: 1 cup, 2 cup and quart measuring cups; 8×8 cake pan; 2qt, 3 qt and 4 qt baking dishes. You can’t kill these things. They last forever.

If you’re getting married soon, consider creating your wedding gift registry with Amazon. They have a vast selection of gifts at various prices. Your guests will know exactly what you want and your guests will appreciate that the gifts can be automatically delivered to you.

When shopping for wedding gifts, consider giving something that the couple likely wouldn’t buy themselves. Personally, I lean towards the practical. It’s kind of boring, but let’s be honest. There’s no time for making ice cream.

What are your organizing priorities?

The other day, a new topic was posted in the Unclutterer Forums asking what people store on their kitchen counters. That got me thinking about when we renovated our apartment and how we really worked hard to get the space organized right before the construction began. So we looked at our priorities and worked from there.

First priority: We have an open-concept kitchen and it’s almost the first thing you see upon entering, so anything that is merely functional and not decorative needed to be stored away.

Second priority: We are addicted to our Thermomix (for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s like a blender, food processor and cooking tool all in one, but so much more!). We use it at least twice a day — more than any other appliance in the house. It therefore needed its own counter space in the center of the kitchen, but not too obvious because while incredibly functional, it’s not the most beautiful machine in the world.

Third priority: We entertain frequently and have a lot of dishes, plus we keep a wide variety of foods and gadgets on hand for when a cooking whim strikes us (like making sushi from scratch or blow-torching a crême brulé). Easily accessible storage space was imperative. We opted for lower cabinet drawers rather than non-moving shelves so that nothing ever “disappears” in the back of a cupboard. It’s all visible and at hand. For the areas where we could not install drawers, we opted for sliding stainless steel baskets.

Fourth priority: We listened to the professionals, but trusted our intuition. We took our initial plans to a kitchen design shop and they made some really good suggestions such as installing tower-based fridge and oven/microwave units. But, we also knew what we wanted and stood our ground on some issues (such as sacrificing space between the peninsula and the wall in order to keep the full-size peninsula). Coming up with the ideas was based on hours and hours of looking at kitchen designs (mainly through photos posted in the Houzz app).

In the end, the kitchen was the most expensive part of our back-to-the-walls renovation, but given how much time we spend there, we consider it money very well spent.

Organizing isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Your home (or work space) won’t stay organized if it doesn’t mesh with your priorities and if you don’t know what those are, you might only get your space “right” by accident. So the next time you’re going to do a major re-organization or renovation, take some time to think about what’s important to you and how you want to use the space before diving into the project.

Organizing the recipes: choosing categories

Thanks to Neven Mrgan, I recently discovered the cookbook Made in India: Recipes From an Indian Family Kitchen and its three ways of organizing recipes.

  • Standard table of contents, with entries such as starters and snacks, vegetables, meat, fish, sides, breads, desserts, etc.
  • Standard index, with entries such as cauliflower and cinnamon, followed by the recipes using those ingredients
  • Alternative contents, with categories such as midweek meals (30 minutes or so), cooking in advance, party food, and low-fat.

This got me thinking about all the many ways you might want to categorize recipes, including:

  • By meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack
  • By meal course or type of dish: appetizer, main course, soup, salad, dessert, etc.
  • By main ingredient: chicken, fish, eggs, etc.
  • By dietary restrictions: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, nut-free, etc.
  • By holiday: Christmas, Lunar New Year, Passover, Thanksgiving, etc.
  • By preparation time: quick recipes vs. time-consuming ones
  • By status: untested vs. old favorites
  • By cooking method: outdoor grill, slow cooker, etc.
  • By source, such as your grandmother or Bon Appétit magazine
  • By part of the world outside of your own: Indian, Italian, Korean, Thai, etc.

And of course, you might want to subdivide these. Desserts might be subdivided into cakes, pies, etc. Indian recipes might be split by region within India. And you might want to know which recipes use a specific ingredient even if it isn’t the major one.

So how do you ensure you can find the recipes you want when they could be filed so many different ways? This is fairly easy if your recipes are stored on your computer, tablet, or smartphone — perhaps in an app such as Paprika or Evernote. Depending on the software you’re using, you can either add multiple tags or place the recipe into multiple categories. If you’re setting up your own categories or tags, it helps to consciously create a master list so you don’t wind up with unintended duplicates. Also, a master list can help ensure you don’t overlook a categorization you’re going to wish you had later.

Alternatively, your digital solution may just involve using the search function to find the recipes you want, such as the ones that use a specific ingredient that you happen to have on hand or all the gluten-free appetizers. Just be sure that each individual recipe includes the key words you’ll be using when you do your searches.

If you’re organizing in binders or recipe file boxes, though, you’ll need to choose a primary organizational scheme that serves you best, day to day. You can certainly combine two or more — for example, you may have one binder for untested recipes and one for those you know you like, with each binder having the same categories inside.

I concur with the contributor on the Chowhound website who wrote, in reply to a question about organizing recipes:

It really depends on how you think. I arranged my binder according to how I categorized each individual recipe in my head. For instance, my Chinese food section has all sorts of stuff that would otherwise cross several different categories (vegetable, main dish, pork, chicken, et al), but since I think of all those recipes as “Chinese”, then that’s where they go.

And for the secondary categories, you could decide to emulate the Made in India cookbook and create lists of recipes that fit into the secondary categories that are important to you. You could also make copies of a recipe page or card and file it in multiple places, but that can get cumbersome. For example, if you wanted to note something you changed when making a recipe, you’d need to note it in multiple places.

Finally, no matter how you categorize your recipes, you can always re-organize them if the categories you create don’t quite work for you. As with most organizing solutions, we often don’t get it exactly right on the first pass.

Book review: Unf*ck Your Habitat

Note: Some of you may take offense at the title of this book, in which case this is not the book for you. But if you’re fine with the title, you may enjoy the book and find it useful.

When people talk about their messy homes, they’re often talking about two related challenges: organizing and cleaning. Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman deals with both of these as part of the ongoing process of creating a pleasant home.

Hoffman focuses on creating a “functional and livable home that you aren’t ashamed of or stressed out by, “not one of the “picture-perfect” homes you often see in magazines. And her advice applies to someone living in a dorm room or renting a room in someone else’s home, not just those with their own apartments or houses.

You won’t find any radically new organizing advice here, although the advice provided is good. Some examples:

  • We’re disorganized primarily because we have more stuff than storage. There are two solutions: less stuff or more storage. Less stuff is almost always the better option.
  • Your everyday items should live someplace where it’s just as easy to put them away as it is to leave them out.
  • When you’re getting rid of stuff, don’t make it someone else’s problem. … If something is broken, outdated, or no longer useful, you’re just passing the buck on ending its life cycle when you know good and well that it was time for it to get tossed or recycled.

Hoffman advocates doing your organizing and cleaning in a series of 20/10s, one or more per day, where a 20/10 is twenty minutes of work followed by a 10-minute mandatory break. But here’s something I really liked: She says that if 20/10 doesn’t seem right for you, go ahead and make it 45/15 or whatever works better. If you have energy limitations, she suggests that 5/15 may work better. And if your physical limitations mean that 5/rest-of-the-day is all you can handle, that’s okay, too.

Hoffman is a compassionate realist. She admits that cleaning is not fun and that “there’s no magic solution to the problem of disorganization.” She expects you might backslide into messy ways, because forming the new habits needed to keep your home in decent shape is hard. She writes, “The only way to really succeed is to not give up at the first setback (or the second or fifth or tenth), and to keep trying until it sticks.”

There’s a useful chapter on dealing with roommates, spouses, and significant others who don’t share your cleaning and organizing goals. And the chapter entitled “Emergency Unf*cking” gives a practical plan on how to respond when you need to make your place presentable, fast.

Unf*ck Your Habitat is a quick and easy read. It won’t give you lots of detailed advice regarding how to organize your clothes, your files, etc. But it just might inspire you get going, even when your home feels like a total disaster.

The calming power of lists

“Hold on, I’ve got to make a list.”

I’ve said this so many times — at the beginning of a project when I know a lot is about to come at me, when I need to go shopping, or when I’m about to tackle some errands for the day. If I have to communicate with a group of people, I make a list so I don’t leave anyone out.

Often, I’ll find a pen and a paper when I’m feeling overwhelmed and want to get everything out of my head. The simple act of writing down what needs to be done, when, and by whom, gives me a sense of being on top of things, even when the resulting list is ridiculously long. I feel a sense of relief, which can be explained by science.

Recently, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind, shared his insights with the podcast, Note To Self. He said, among other things:

“I think this is really important, that you write down all the things that you have to do, clear it out of your head so that you’re not using neuro resources with that little voice reminding you to pick up milk on the way home and to check to see if you paid the utility bill and that you have to call back Aunt Tilly because she left a voicemail and she’s going to worry and all this chatter – get it out of your head, write it down, then prioritize things.”

This notion mirrors something that author and productivity expert David Allen has said for years (I’ll paraphrase here), “The mind is not for storage. It’s for problem solving.” When you try to force it to do the former, you create dissonance and tension.

I prefer to outsource the task of remembering of what needs to be done to lists. Long-time readers know that I’ve got a pen and a notebook in my back pocket at all times. What’s inside my notebook? Lists. When I need to refer to what’s next, I just look at the notebook. My mind is free to do the work, not remember what work needs to be done.

It seems there are two types of people in the world: listers and non-listers. Unless you’ve got a mind like a steel trap, I don’t know how you do it. I’ll be a lister forever. Long live lists!

Organized gifts for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is just around the corner so we’ve compiled a list of items that can help female parent figures of all types stay organized.

For moms at home

Stackable trays that form a jewelry box. There are 27 different compartments that organize earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and brooches. Mom can stack the trays in the order that she chooses and easily reorder the trays at her convenience.

A stylish yet functional cosmetics organizer with four drawers and 20 sections will help mom keep all her make-up in one place. She’ll save time getting ready for her day.

Velvet-covered hangers will save space in mom’s closet and can hold a heavy winter coat. They have notched shoulders so silky, satiny, items will not slip off.

For moms who travel

A compact travel jewelry case made from super soft felt is perfect for mom to transport her jewellery whether she’s going on an overnight outing or to business conference. It has a place for everything. It even snaps necklaces in place so they won’t get tangled.

When traveling one never knows how much space there will be in the bathroom. This cosmetics bag, with dividers and compartments, can either rest on the vanity or hang on the back of the bathroom door. It would be ideal for both vacationing or hanging in mom’s locker at the office or gym.

Moms that travel need to keep their cords and cables organized. This sturdy pouch with 10 separate compartments keeps all mom’s tech gear tangle-free. The transparent panels with labels allow mom to quickly and easily find what she needs. The compartment dividers are adjustable so cables and chargers of all sizes will fit.

For moms who keep fit

Does mom spend too much time looking through messy cupboards for a water bottle? She might appreciate a stackable water bottle storage rack. She can place the rack in a cupboard or right on the counter to keep her sports bottles ready to go.

To help mom keep her fitness area tidy, install a simple over-the-door coatrack to hang her jump rope and resistance tubing.

Moms who enjoy protein shakes might appreciate the ProStack Blender Bottle. The little containers that snap on the bottom of the shaker bottle will allow mom to make her protein shake immediately after her workout without carrying around little plastic baggies of protein powder. This product might also be useful for making up baby formula when mom is on the go.