Work life creeping into personal life? Try a battery-only weekend

I want to start this post by professing my love for the Internet, my computer, and my job. I love the digital age, and shiver with fear at the thought of living without Internet access.

That being said, I spend a significant amount of time on my computer beyond normal work hours doing non-critical work things. It’s a safe estimate that on a weekday I’ll spend one to two hours behind my laptop in the evenings. On a weekend day, bump that number up to three or four hours. Seeing as I officially work somewhere between nine and twelve hours a weekday, I’m surprised I want anything to do with a computer or work in my free time — let alone hours more.

I decided that I was going to take a break from my laptop and from work for a three-day holiday weekend. Unfortunately, I had a few small tasks I needed to do over the weekend, so I knew I couldn’t completely disconnect. I decided instead to unplug my computer at the end of the workday on Thursday and not plug my computer back in until showing up for work Monday morning.

I would survive the holiday only using my laptop’s battery power and nothing else.

I was able to finish the majority of my work on Friday morning and was confident that I would be able to get through the weekend fine. I opened up my laptop a few times throughout the rest of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it since the battery percentages were in the 70s, then the 60s, then the 50s. Saturday morning, however, when I checked my work email, I noticed I only had 35 percent power left!

I was a little stunned that my Saturday morning number was 35 percent. My first thought was that I must have a lame battery. A good battery wouldn’t be on 35 percent in just a day! Except, when I stopped to calculate my usage on Friday, I realized I had easily spent three hours on my laptop. My battery was working fine, it was user consumption that was to blame.

On Sunday, I opened my laptop and saw 8 percent. About half an hour into checking my email and other little site tasks, I got a message on my screen announcing that my computer was operating on reserve power. I immediately closed my laptop and decided to save the last bits of remaining energy in case of a work emergency.

The only problem is that it takes energy to power-up a laptop after its lid has been closed. I discovered this truth after lunch, when I thought I could sqeeze out a few seconds of power just to see if the website was doing okay. But, all I got was a blank screen.

My computer officially died with 20 hours to go before work started on Monday.

I don’t like the idea that I used all of my computer’s battery power before the three-day weekend had come to a close. What I took from it is that I’m having difficulty drawing the line between work and free time. I think about work constantly and would like to be able to turn those thoughts off and relax at least once in a while.

So, for the duration of the month, I’m going to have battery-powered laptop weekends. Work matters a great deal to me, but so does taking advantage of my free time. I hope that this process helps me to better prioritize my time away from work and relax and rejuvenate to make my official work time more productive. Clutter comes in all forms, and, right now, it’s in the form of working through my weekends. If you’re in a similar position, consider joining me in the battery-powered challenge.

 

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

Unclutter worries from your mind

Even though I’m a faithful user of David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system, I still find that I will sometimes worry about one or two of my next actions. I don’t worry about how I will complete the item, rather I worry about ridiculous things I cannot control (like if my cold will be over by the time I need to make a presentation).

Experience has taught me that when my thoughts become cluttered my effectiveness decreases. Then, to add insult to injury, I get even more frustrated when a task I know should only take five minutes takes me half an hour. It’s a downward spiral that is best addressed earlier instead of later.

When I find my thoughts are a mess, I answer the following five questions to unclutter my mind.

1. What is my worry? Many times, simply naming my worry is all that I need to do to quell my racing mind.

2. Is my worry rational, illogical, emotional, something I cannot control, or just noise? Identifying what type of worry I’m having can help me to find a solution to stop the cluttered thoughts. A rational fear might be solved with the creation of an action item. A worry about if it might rain is just noise because there is already an umbrella in my car.

3. Am I afraid of failure? When this worry creeps into my mind I remember a quote I found a year ago by a woman named Martha Mangelsdorf: “What would I do if I were not afraid?” The quote inspires me to imagine how I would behave differently in a given situation if I weren’t afraid of failing. Doing so has never failed to relieve me of this type of fear.

4. What good will come from my worrying? The answer to this question is often “no good.” If this is the answer, then squashing the worry in a swift manner is the only solution to uncluttering my mind.

5. How much additional time should I devote to worrying about this issue? There are times when a fear is rationally grounded and deserves my attention. I will schedule the proper amount of time to devote to the worry (five minutes to five hours) and then address the issue and only that issue during that time. I will sit down with a cup of coffee and a notepad and work out a solution. When my scheduled time is completed, I create action items or I wash my hands of the worry. I try not to be consumed with the worry before the scheduled time, as well as afterward. A focused time to worry keeps the worry from slowing me down during times when my mind needs to be working on something else.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: S’mores caddy

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

Summer is here and with it comes camping, camp fires, and of course, s’mores. Over the years, we’ve featured various s’more makers in our unitasker series including a barbeque s’mores maker, an old fashioned s’mores maker, a microwaveable s’mores maker, and even s’more s’more makers.

This summer is no exception. A big thank-you to reader Gabrielle who sent us a link to the Hershey’s S’mores Caddy. It is a plastic box designed to hold all the ingredients to make s’mores.

IT IS AN EMPTY BOX!

That’s right. For $10 USD, you get a plastic box. You have to buy the ingredients separately. And, it is designed to hold only a specific size of Hershey chocolate bar and a specific size of graham cracker. I guess if these are your favourite brands, that would be fine but if not, you’ve just wasted your money.

However, if wasting money is your goal, you can spend $16 USD and get the SUMPRI Smores Caddy because it has a place to store extra candy and SUMPRI roasting sticks neither of which are included.

Organizationally challenged

In our post on helping kids develop organizing skills, reader Vicki asked for suggestions to help a developmentally challenged person get organized and be able to maintain the level of organization.

Here are a few resources that can help.

Not everyone thinks the same way (it would be a very boring world if we did) so an obvious solution a caregiver would put into action, might not be intuitive to the person using the system. One of the most enlightening books I’ve read on this subject is Conquering Chronic Disorganization which provides new perspectives on organizing systems. Many of the tools used are the same, such as filing folders and labels, but how they are used and perceived is different. For example, a typical way to organize a filing cabinet would be to put the files into categories such as Medical, Car, Banking. An atypical solution would be to use categories like:

  • Head (thought requiring activities like finances)
  • Heart (things deeply felt like home, family, charity work)
  • Hands (information about objects and projects such as car, tools)
  • Health (medical, dental, etc.)

When helping someone get organized, adapt the system to them and the way they think and exist in the world, rather than having them use a system that they cannot relate to.

Another great book for people with ADD, ADHD, and everyone else is ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life: Strategies that Work from an Acclaimed Professional Organizer and a Renowned ADD Clinician. It is packed full of basic and straight-forward suggestions that work for any age group from toddlers to grand-parents. When I was doing hands-on client work, it was one of my “go-to” books for easy-to-implement ideas.

Judith Kohlberg, who wrote both books listed above, also authored, Getting Organized in the Era of Endless: What To Do When Information, Interruption, Work and Stuff are Endless But Time is Not! I had the privilege of seeing her present a seminar on digital disorganization at a NAPO Conference. She provided excellent information applicable to people with organizing skills of all levels. This book expands on that topic to help you manage your time and your life when everything, everywhere is always “switched on.”

Some people manage just fine using electronics such as digital calendars and various apps to stay organized. Other people prefer paper-based calendars and planners. There is no right or wrong way. It is a personal preference so do not try and force a person to use something that does not resonate with them.

One of my all-time favourite resources for uncluttering and organizing information, is Unclutterer readers. Everyone is unique. Different ideas and perspectives enrich our community. Thank you to those of you who comment on our posts and participate in our forum. To all other readers, please be sure to read the comments to find more great advice and if you have an idea, you are welcome to add it.

Gallery hanging systems can solve artwork clutter

When we lived in England, our home had picture rails mounted on every wall in the lounge (living room) and dining room and on at least one wall in each bedroom. At first, I thought it was odd. But, the walls were made of concrete covered with layers of plaster so when I tried to hang a picture by drilling a hole and sinking a plug, I almost broke the masonry bit, the plaster kept chipping off, and it was a big mess.

I purchased some equipment to hang my pictures from the rail at my local hardware store and hung my artwork. It was the easiest thing ever!

The following post (updated since it was originally published in 2007) talks about the ease and versatility of the picture rail system, something that I will install in our next home.

 

My father is a wildlife photographer. As his daughter, I have free access to his always expanding portfolio. I do not, however, have an always expanding supply of wall space to display my collection of his work.

To solve my conundrum and to keep my collection from getting out of control, I decided to turn the walls of the first floor of my house into an art gallery.

I started the project by installing an art gallery hanging system along the top of my walls. Cables slide into the tracks, and pictures hang from hooks that attach to the cables. I can hang multiple photographs on the wall at once, in any configuration, without having to hammer a single nail.

I currently have enough of his photographs that I can change the artwork on the first floor of my house three times a year. It does take some time to switch out the frames–I only have one set of frames that I use–but on the whole it is a pretty quick process. When the photos are not hanging on the walls, I store them in glassine envelopes inside an archival storage box. Having a limited number of pictures out at a time and the others stored safely in a small storage container keeps my collection of my father’s artwork uncluttered.

If you’re someone in a small space or who has a large artwork collection, you might want to consider installing an art gallery hanging system in your home. The system certainly worked for me.

Free-up space in your bathroom by getting rid of nail polish

My mother has the most beautiful finger nails a woman could ever dream of having. They’re strong and straight and no one believes her when she says that they’re real. She doesn’t have professional manicures and, even though you won’t believe me, she doesn’t wear finger nail polish.

To let you in on a secret: My nails are not as beautiful as my mother’s, and I don’t wear finger nail polish either. I wouldn’t even know how to put it on if someone gave me a bottle.

I trim and file and put lotion on my cuticles so that my nails always look healthy, clean, and well-maintained. My mom might even buff hers a bit to make hers shiny. But, open up our bathroom cabinets, and you won’t find finger nail polish anywhere.

In my experience, people only notice someone else’s nails when they are dirty, unkempt, or have chipped paint on them. If you’re looking to free up some space in your bathroom cabinets, you might think about getting rid of your finger nail polish supply. In addition to giving you some space, it also has the bonus of saving you money on polish and polish remover. I also don’t experience stress about chipping my finger nail polish right before an important meeting.

If you decide to get rid of your finger nail polish, be sure to dispose of it properly. Remove the nail polish cap and allow it to become a solid (do this in a well-ventilated area, like on your front porch). Once it is a solid, it is safe to throw away in the trash. If you have an extensive finger nail polish collection, then take all of your polish to your local hazardous waste disposal facility. It is unsafe to dispose of liquid polish in your trash. Nail polish remover should also be disposed of at your local hazardous waste disposal facility.

 

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

Ten things to do in 10 minutes

I get frustrated when I work for eight hours straight and then finish the day feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything. It is as if I have been a hamster in a wheel, running nowhere. It’s times like these when I seek out small tasks that I can finish quickly to feel some sense of productivity. Often, too, small tasks are all that I can handle because I’m exhausted.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, feel welcome to tackle one (or more) of the following 10 uncluttering tasks you can do in 10 minutes:

  • Organize your sock drawer. Get rid of socks that are hole-ridden, stained, or without mates.
  • Clean out the cupboard under your kitchen sink. I’m not sure why, but in my home this is where all of my “I don’t want to deal with this right now” kitchen items land.
  • Round up all of your pet’s toys. My cats like to swat their toys under dressers and into closets. Once a week, I walk around the house with a yard stick, retrieve all of their toys, and return them to their toy basket.
  • Sort through your magazines. Decide which ones can stay and which ones should go.
  • Clear out your “to be watched” list. Check your favorites list on your Amazon Video, Netflix, and other streaming services accounts. Delete the movies and TV series you’ll never watch.
  • Start a load of laundry. Laundry and I are in a constant battle, and usually Laundry is winning.
  • Sit in silence and do nothing. I often forget to take time out of my day just to sit, collect my thoughts, and relax. Uncluttering my mind is just as important as uncluttering my home.
  • Straighten out the trunk of your car. Right now, there is a stack of wood in the trunk of my car. I remember how it got there six months ago, but I don’t know why it is still in there. It needs to find a different home.
  • Pull all of the extra hangers out of your closets. Hangers are like tribbles. They seem to appear out of thin air. I put mine in a grocery sack, toss the sack into my car, and then drop them off at the dry cleaner’s the next time I’m running errands.
  • Post a Freecycle ad. Find one thing you’ve been meaning to get rid of in your home, and create a Freecycle post for it.

Feel welcome to drop suggestions for 10 minute projects into the comments section–we would love to hear your ideas.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Half and half cupcake maker

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

Although it is highly rated, I do not see the usefulness of this half and half cupcake maker.

It has dividers for all twelve cupcake cups in one unit. It is large and difficult to store. You would not want it to get bent or warped because then it wouldn’t fit into the pan correctly. Since it comes with its own cupcake pan, I suspect they work together as one unit and the divider portion may not work in other cupcake pans.

I’m still not sure why people want two flavours in one cupcake. Personally, if I want two different flavours, I’d eat two different cupcakes (not necessarily the same day — it is cake after all).

If you really feel you need a unitasker to make half and half cupcakes. Batter Babies cupcake dividers take up much less space and are likely easier to clean. You could also make your own using cardboard covered in waxed paper.

 

Helping kids develop organizing skills

My mother was a teacher for over 30 years. When I decided to have children, she gave me the book, Kids are worth it! by Barbara Coloroso. I learned a lot from that book, including how to help my kids (and my organizing clients’ children) develop their organizing talents and independent thinking skills.

Identify the problems

It is important to identify the organizing challenge and frame it correctly using positive, empowering language. Blame and accusations are counter-productive. Young children need help in identifying the issues while teenagers should be capable of figuring it out on their own. For example, if you want to help a younger child keep a playroom tidy, you might state, “You seem to be having some trouble finding [special toy]. Would you like some help organizing so you can find it when you need it?” With teenagers you might say, “The family sits down to supper at 6pm. You’ll need to create a plan so that your art supplies are cleared off the dining table by then.”

Give ownership and options

By giving the child ownership of the problem and letting them know you will be available to help, builds confidence. As a parent/caregiver, asking these questions will prompt useful answers for creating organizing solutions.

  • What is working? If something is working well, try not to change it. If the children are happy with all of the Lego pieces in one large bin, don’t suggest they separate it into various colours and types. With younger children you will likely have to ask them specific questions about specific things such as, “Do your dolls like living on this shelf?”
  • What is not working? By clearly identifying what is not working, you can take steps to fix it. For example, the kids need a large, flat space to do art and crafts and the heirloom dining table is off limits to paint, glue, and ink.
  • What are the most and least important tasks done in the space? What are the most and least used items in the space? These questions encourage kids to establish priorities. Once those are defined, decisions can be made about how better to use the space.
  • How do people and things move through the area? Do people need a clear path to walk across the room? Is there enough space to build the Lego Millennium Falcon?

R.S.V.P. solutions

In the Kids are worth it! book, Coloroso uses the acronym R.S.V.P. to determine if discipline techniques are appropriate. This acronym can also be used for organizing solutions.

R — Is it Reasonable? The organizing solution needs to make sense. Helping younger children choose their outfits for the next day is reasonable. Having a teenager do his/her own laundry and prepare their own school clothes the night before is also reasonable.

S — Is it Simple? The organizing solution should be easy to implement. Purchasing hanging shelves or toy bins is relatively simple as is tidying up for ten minutes at the end of the day. Renovating the house or hiring a cleaning service is not so simple.

V — Is it Valuable? It is important that the solution work as intended. It might take a little while for a student to get the hang of using a planner (either paper or electronic) but the end result will be worth the effort — having homework assignments submitted on time.

P — Is it Practical? If a child is always late for school because they are disorganized in the morning, a practical solution would be to prepare as much as possible the night before. Skipping school or having a parent drive the child to school every morning is not practical.

Children who create and implement their own R.S.V.P. organizing solutions, develops self-discipline and confidence. As they grow, they learn to recognize the value of uncluttering and organizing, setting them up to be productive adults.

Transforming inherited jewelry

In doing research for posts on inherited clutter, I discovered an artist who takes old costume jewelry that people never wear, modernizes and reworks it, and creates stylish, fashionable, new pieces of jewelry. Since outdated, costume jewelry is the majority of what I inherited when my maternal grandmother passed away, I find this process brilliant.

I wanted to learn more, so I contacted Sara Bradstreet, the artist I discovered who most deeply captivated my attention, for an interview. Thank you, Sara, for talking with me. (The necklace pictured on the right is a brooch she transformed.)

Unclutterer: What inspired you to become an artist who brings new life to old jewelry?

Sara: I wanted to create art with little waste and satisfy my desire to sniff out the diamond in the rough. With jewelry, there is little waste. I use most elements of the piece. Sometimes, I will buy a not-so-attractive necklace just for the clasp, or a bag of buttons for the few rhinestone buttons at the bottom — even things as random as old silverware find their way into my collection. I find much beauty and integrity in old things and hate to see beautiful gems in a dumpster.

Unclutterer: What types of pieces are best for this type of transformation?

Sara: There is a lot of room for variety here. Sometimes the most random pieces, when re-oriented with others, make the most interesting. I look for pieces that, with a little manipulation and solder, can turn from a brooch into a pendant or cuff link into a clasp. I like to use only quality silver and gold–I’m not into green necks–and use my sense of touch to bend and scratch and, oddly enough, I will even smell it to see if it is metal or simply painted plastic. I am not afraid to alter a collector’s item and am often feared by collectors.

Unclutterer: What should people consider before having their older jewelry reinvented?

Sara: Well, the jewelry won’t be the same anymore. The good news is that it will be out of your jewelry box, or that random box under your bed, and hopefully, around your neck. I hesitate to use pieces that have extreme sentimental value and like clients to be somewhat detached from the brooch being simply a brooch, but an element of something larger that will be worn again. When creating custom pieces for clients, I like to have a variety of pieces, multiple chains, found objects, etc. I may not use all of the different elements, but the more I have to chose from, the merrier.

Unclutterer: Some of our readers might be distraught with the idea of repurposing their grandmother’s brooch. What would you say to people with such hesitations?

Sara: I believe that what I do helps people to remember and, in ways, celebrate those who have passed away.

I agree with Sara that wearing and getting use from your jewelry is much more worthwhile than hoarding it in a box where it doesn’t see daylight. Also, if you decide that you aren’t interested in reinventing your old jewelry, but are still looking for ways for it to cease being clutter in your home, consider donating your pieces to artists like Sara.

 

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

The tried and true Swiss Army Knife

We often discuss unitaskers but today I want to talk about multi-taskers. The classic Victorinox Swiss Army Ranger Pocket Knife measures in at 3.5 inches and weighs a minuscule 4.8 ounces as it packs a whopping 20 different tools including:

  • Large and small knife blade
  • Corkscrew
  • Can opener
  • Bottle opener
  • Cap lifter
  • Screwdriver
  • Wire stripper
  • Reamer, punch
  • Multi-purpose hook
  • Nail file
  • Nail cleaner
  • Scissors
  • Metal file
  • Fine screwdriver
  • Wood saw
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Key ring (ok, so this isn’t really a tool)

You can’t take it on an airplane, but around your house it has endless possibilities. This is the gold standard of multi-taskers. You can get a left-handed version here. A Leatherman Multitool is the only multi-tasker that plays in the same league. Go get your MacGyver on!

 

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

Everyday things: Are you buying quality or quantity?

In April 2005, the article “101 New Uses for Everyday Things” appeared on the Real Simple Magazine website. Although the article is old, its underlying premise is still valid: Items you already own can serve multiple purposes and save you from having to buy even more stuff.

For example, if you own olive oil, do you also need to own wood polish?

Knowing about the potential of what you already have on hand can keep you from acquiring even more things. What are some everyday things in your home that can serve double-duty? Let us hear your suggestions in the comments.

 

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