Tackling your iPod clutter

Belkin has a solution that adds virtually nothing to your desk space and keeps the iPod wires where they belong — out of sight. The Belkin In-Desk Dock saves valuable desk space and you can seamlessly charge and play your iPod as you sync it to your computer. It also has stereo-output jack which lets you listen to your music through your stereo, powered speakers, or headphones.

It requires one of those standard 3-inch holes in your desk. If your desk doesn’t have one already, you can always just buy a hole cutter at a hardware store and drill one.

Toy clutter treatment

I’ve been to homes where children’s toys are literally everywhere. Toys on the floor in the foyer, kitchen, den, playroom, bedroom, bathroom, and hallways. Parents are conditioning their children to become little clutter monsters.

My wife and I have already started to teach our child to put her toys away in certain designated places. She is not quite twelve months old, but she understands where her toys go when she is finished playing with them. If one always cleans up after a child, the cycle will never end, and one will continually be dealing with a toy tornado. On the other hand, if you don’t ever clean up after a child, then the child will begin to think that the toys are supposed to be all over the floor all of the time. The key is teaching the kid to fish, as it were.

We’re not quite at the point where we have purchased storage bins for our child’s toys, but we have considered this storage bin shelf system. It makes the toys easily accessible and makes clean up easy for a toddler. Also, the natural finish is versatile so it can be painted or stained to match the decor of any room.

How do you help your children to keep clutter under control in your home?

There’s wealth in simplicity

I just finished reading Tim Ferriss’ new book, The 4-Hour Workweek. It’s a great book if a little schizophrenic. On the one hand, the strategies to eliminate distractions and focus on the activities that generate the most value are excellent. On the other, the chapter on starting an automated mail order business wasn’t for me. That said, it’s an inspirational book that deserves a read from anyone looking to redesign their lifestyle. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I came to this passage toward the end of the book:

I’m not going to tell you to walk around in a robe and sandals scowling at people who have televisions. I hate the kashi-crunching holier-than-thou stuff. Turning you into a possesion-less scribe is not my intention. Let’s face it, though: There are tons of things in you home and life that you don’t use, need, or even particularly want. They just come into your life as impulsive flotsam and jetsam and never found a good exit. Whether you’re aware of it or not, this clutter is creates indecision and distractions, consuming attention and making unfettered happiness a real chore. It is impossible to realize how distracting all the crap is–whether porcelain dolls, sports cars, or ragged T-shirts–until you get rid of it.

What’s remarkable is how well that jibes with our own philosophy here at Unclutterer. The point isn’t to be a monk or disavow consumerism. The point is to be selective about the things you do have in order to live a quality life. On of Ferriss’ great insights is that when people say they’d like to be millionaires, they don’t mean that they’d like to have a million dollars. They mean that they’d like to live like a millionaire. It’s possible to do that without the money, and in my mind the first step to luxury is paring down.

Ferris goes on to explain how simplifying helps:

I created 40% more space in my apartment and hadn’t even grazed the surface. It wasn’t the extra physical space I felt most. It was the extra mental space. It was as if I had 20 mental applications running simultaneously before, and now I just had one or two. My thinking was clearer and much, much happier.

I certainly recommend you check out the book.

Bonus: Here’s Tim Ferriss’ talk from SXSW. (MP3)

Organizing digitally scanned data

Continuing in my series of posts on controlling paper clutter in the home, I want to tackle the issue of manuals and instruction booklets.

In my recent past, I have had an obsession with holding onto every manual that came with what I purchased. I can only think that this hoarding had something to do with a little voice at the back of my mind saying, “but, what if I need it one day…”

Our filing cabinet is not the world’s largest piece of furniture, so finding more available space in it was a priority for my husband and me. When we started on our paper reduction plan, we had more than 50 current manuals in our top drawer, and now there are none. Here is the plan that we followed to clean up the clutter:

The obvious first step is to throw out the manuals for products you don’t own. (I’ll keep my mouth shut about how many of these we had in our files!)

The second step is to set aside the manuals for all major appliances that will remain in your house if you ever sell it. I put these manuals in a magazine file and then stored them nicely on a bookshelf. Manuals in our permanent file include the refrigerator, stove, built-in microwave, dishwasher, water heater, furnace, washer, dryer, and security system. It’s kind to pass these manuals on to the next resident of your house so that he or she will know how to operate the equipment properly. In addition to storing these paper copies, you also may want to apply the fourth and fifth steps listed below to these manuals.

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The Collyer brothers, a study in compulsive hoarding

Homer and Langley Collyer were brothers who lived in a Manhattan row house in Harlem in the early part of the 20th century. Their story is bizarre and illustrates the depths people will go to hold onto anything and everything.

The discovery of just how bad the Collyer brothers’ hoarding was came to light in March 1947 when an anonymous person reported there was a dead body in the Collyer residence.

The authorities did not have an easy time gaining entrance to the home. They started by trying to remove tons of garbage from the front foyer, which consisted of newspapers, phonebooks, furniture, boxes, and other miscellaneous debris. Unsuccessful in their attempts, a patrolman broke a window on the second floor in order to gain entry. After climbing through junk for two hours, he found the body of the elder brother Homer among the boxes and trash. Missing from the home, however, was Langley, the younger of the two recluses.

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Junk Removal

So you’ve taken the initiative to clean out all of your cluttered closets, junk drawers, and other trash accumulating areas. Considering that not all of your clutter can be donated or FreeCycled, you may want to consider options on what do you do with all of those bags and boxes of unwanted clutter? Well, how about contacting 1-800-GOT-JUNK. Most city garbage collection services only pick up bulk garbage once a month, if you’re lucky. 1-800-GOT-JUNK claims:

…from old furniture and appliances to yard waste and renovation debris – including many things that your local garbage company won’t typically accept. We’ll find a time that is convenient for you – even the same day in many cases!

This is a convenient option that will help rid yourself of your unwanted clutter and your home will be better for it.

Send in your pics

Are you in the process of uncluttering your home or workspace? Send us before and after photos and we’ll post them on Unclutterer to help inspire others. Just shoot them to [email protected]. And don’t forget we love to answer your questions on the site, so send them our way, too.

Reader question: Magazine clutter & organization

Unclutterer reader Michael wrote in with this question:

What solutions can you suggest for magazine freaks? I have about 10-12 magazine subscriptions–which means about 30+ objects or so come to my door each month, demanding attention. Plus I buy other magazines. I sit at a computer all day and so prefer not to switch to digital subscriptions.

Well, the first question you have to ask yourself is why do you have a dozen magazine subscriptions. These can pile up out of inertia because it’s often a lot easier to subscribe to a magazine than to unsubscribe. Whenever I get a renewal letter from a magazine I take the opportunity to consider whether I’ve been reading it and really enjoying it, or whether it’s been piling up unread. Piles of unread magazines can cause feelings of guilt, but you should remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Let magazine subscriptions expire if you don’t devour them and no one will think the less of you for it.

Now, I’m not sure that advice applies to Michael because he seems like an avid reader who does consume the magazines he subscribes to. If that’s the case, what I suggest you do is keep them all together in one place, pull out only the one you’re reading, and always put it back before you take out another once. Magazine clutter comes from having them strewn about–on the coffee table, by the bed, in the bathroom. A drawer or a simple desk tray might be all you need to keep all your mags in the same place. If you’d like something sharper, try a nice wall-mounted magazine rack.

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Undo the junk mail damage

Jerry mentioned in a previous post a couple of ways that you can cut down on the amount of junk mail that comes into your home. His suggestions got my thoughts about junk mail spinning and I knew that someone out there had to have a service to take care of the junk mail problem for me. Not only did I find a company to do the work, but I found a company that also works toward improving the environment.

Green Dimes, for a fee of $36 per year (monthly and lifetime membership options also exist), does the leg work of unsubscribing you from the majority of junk mail lists and also has a service to specifically get catalogs out of your mailbox. You can even unsubscribe previous residents of your home from receiving junk mail at your address.

The best part of this service, however, is that for every month that you’re a member the company plants a tree in your honor. EVERY MONTH! If you become a lifetime member, they immediately plant 270 trees for you. Reading the company’s FAQ page really helped convince me that of all of the companies out there that could help reduce my junk mail problem, Green Dimes was the one for me.

Slay your wire monster, part 2

Belkin has some very useful alternatives to your usual run-of-the-mill surge protectors. They are compact and can conceal the unsightly mess of all those outlets. Belkin says:

Now you can add outlets, protect your electronics, and save space with multiple outlets as close at hand or far from view as you want them.

The regular surge protectors that you probably have are not very user-friendly and don’t lend themselves to keeping the cord situation inconspicuous. They simply serve the purpose of adding more outlets for your needs. The Belkin solutions add the outlets and take into consideration the unsightly mess that those outlets add to your home or office.

The three options are the Conceal Surge Protector, the Compact Surge Protector, and the Clamp-On Surge Protector. Each serves a different purpose and you should be able to find the one that’s right for you.

The Conceal Surge Protector does exactly what its name suggests. It conceals the outlets and plugs underneath a cover that closes over the top. Leaving a clean white box instead of a wire octopus. The Compact Surge Protector has more to do with space saving than concealment. It features a vertical design that combines functionality and style. The Clamp-On Surge Protector provides a mountable design for portability and convenience. Each model also includes a Connected Equipment Warranty.

Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter

Three months ago, my husband and I hit our limit and knew that we had to get the paper clutter in our house under control. Our paper clutter problem has since been greatly reduced and I would like to share some tips for how we accomplished this task in a series of posts on the topic.

Our filing cabinet was the worst of our paper monstrosity. Crammed into folders were papers that we wanted but didn’t necessarily need in tangible form. We knew that there were some papers that we had to keep in paper form — like mortgage documents, tax returns, and insurance policies — but finding them was next to impossible because of all of the other clutter. Ultimately, we decided that we wanted our filing cabinet to only include those documents that were at must-keep status.

To rid our home of the unnecessary papers, we invested in the Fujitsu ScanSnap (available for the Mac and PC) and scanned all of the papers that weren’t vital for us to have in paper form.

The ScanSnap is surprisingly small (about the size of a football) and takes up less of a footprint than the papers it scans. It comes with a copy of Acrobat Standard, which means that in addition to the image of the document you can also OCR the text. In one pass, it scans BOTH SIDES of a piece of paper in color or black and white, and it even deletes empty pages. It’s fast (up to 15 pages per minute based on quality settings), and it automatically straightens your pages with its de-skew function. And, the Mac version integrates with DevonTHINK Pro Office for great organizational help.

After having so much success with reducing the paper clutter in our filing cabinet, we went next to our magazines. We pulled out each article or image that we wanted to keep and scanned it. Now, I have files on my computer such as “sewing inspiration,” which are right at my fingertips.

If paper clutter is overwhelming your home, I highly recommend putting the money into buying a Fujitsu ScanSnap for either your Mac or PC.

Visit the whole Paper Clutter Begone series:

  • Part 2 — Organizing digitally scanned data
  • Part 3 — Paper file organization systems
  • Part 4 — Shredding unnecessary paper

Freecycle

One of the most innovative decluttering resources I’ve discovered in the last year is Freecycle. Freecycle is an online community that connects people wanting to get rid of goods with people who want to take possession of those goods. All of the goods are free, as the name suggests, and vary greatly in type.

Earlier in the week, my husband and I discovered that we had two shoe boxes full of computer cords stuffed in a corner of our office closet. Inside the box were 20 or more RCA, USB, and coaxial cables that we hadn’t used in years. Instead of throwing them in the trash, we posted them on Freecycle around lunchtime, immediately someone responded that they wanted them, and by 5:00 p.m. that same day the cords were out of our house.

We have seen bikes, holiday decorations, and Renaissance-era chainmaille up for grabs in our neighborhood. Usually, however, the items are more conventional and are similar to what people post on eBay, but with the exception that they don’t want money for the goods.

If you’re looking to get rid of clutter in your home, Freecycle might be one way to say goodbye to your stuff.