29 days a leaping

Leap Day — oh, it’s such the mysterious date on the calendar. Every four years it appears and gives us an extra 1,440 minutes. It’s a bonus day just hiding out in February. Sneaky, sneaky.

Geralin Thomas, long-time friend of Unclutterer and owner of Metropolitan Organizing in Cary, North Carolina, has an article up on the Fine Living Network website with suggestions for how to spend this day. One of her organization suggestions from the article is quite cool (pun intended):

Just Chill: If you scramble around, wasting time looking for your reading glasses, mobile phone, remote control or car keys on a regular basis, it’s probably because you don’t have a designated place for things. While this idea sounds crazy, it works! Get a cafeteria-style tray – the kind with separated compartments – and a label maker. Label the sections: Keys, Glasses, Wallet, etc. Before going to bed, put these items in their appropriate place and set the entire tray, contents and all, in the fridge.

Happy Leap Day!

Workspace of the Week: A transformed room

This week’s Workspace of the Week is AimeeRoo’s transformed office:

The area has purpose, structure, and space to move and be creative. What is best of all, is that it used to look like this:

AimeeRoo committed herself to shaping up the space, and even did it without spending a single dollar on the redesign. Other angles of the room include a dedicated arts and craft space and her washer and dryer. Before, it was a disorganized room, and now it’s a wonderful, transformed office. Great work, AimeeRoo!

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

A multifunctioning curtain system

My husband and I are redecorating our bedroom. Our first step was to acquire a duvet cover we liked, and then we painted the walls a pale grey to match. Our next step was to decide on window treatments.

After evaluating what I can only refer to as every single curtain option on the market, we decided to go with the Ikea Kvartal system. Our windows are around 11′ tall, and they let the most amazing light into the room. We didn’t want to block this light during the day, but we wanted privacy at night.

We ran the three rail curtain rod (pictured at right) across the whole length of the wall. This allows us to pull the panels fully off the windows where they can act as artwork during the day. Also, we’re only using two of the three rails right now, and we’re planning on hanging artwork from the third rail like we do from our art gallery system. We like the versatility the system provides, too, so that we can easily and cheaply change the fabric as our tastes change.

Big window without curtains:

Big window with curtains:

Wall between windows without curtains:

Wall between windows with curtains:

I’m writing about these curtains on Unclutterer because they have such a multifunctioning purpose to them — panel curtains, panel artwork, and an art gallery system. Additionally, they have a very clean aesthetic.

If you’re thinking about a similar curtain system, let me offer some advice:

  1. Fully assemble the rod and attach it to the wall mounts before hanging it on the wall.
  2. The cut of your panel fabric needs to be straight for your walls/ceiling, not the actual fabric. (We learned our walls are not straight.)
  3. Like all things Ikea, serious assembly is required for this project.

Also, I want to apologize for the poor quality of these photographs. I was trying to only shoot the top of the windows since the rest of our bedroom is in disarray with the redecorating, and it didn’t result in attractive pics. My father, a professional photographer, will be calling any minute now to instruct me about where I went wrong.

Next up on our bedroom redecoration project is new furniture …

Modular kitchen design

While looking around the web for multi-functioning kitchen tools and gadgets, I stumbled upon the following design for a modular kitchen. As you can see from the photos, the modular kitchen designed by Fevzi Karaman is an interesting concept for small spaces. It looks to be, at this point, just a concept. Hopefully, in the near future this modular kitchen concept will be available for purchase. Just about everything you need in a kitchen is packed into this small, rectangular counter top:

Fevzi Kitchen 1

Fevzi Kitchen 2

Obviously, this is intended for small living spaces and isn’t going to be very useful for larger families. For a small space, however, it is well done.

(via Tuvie.com)

Unitasker Wednesday: Food molds

Penguin Sausage MoldYou may have eaten a few hardboiled eggs in your day, but have you ever eaten one in the shape of a cute little fish? If you or you child have been waiting for a more exciting ways to consume hardboiled eggs, your opportunity is now. Over at Slashfood, they highlight the fish mold for all your hardboiling needs. Those folks in Japan think of everything don’t they?

Once you’ve had your taste of an egg in the shape of a cute little fish, you’ll most likely be craving for some more molded foods. Not to worry, the good people at the eBay Store in Japan have your sausage making covered with the Penguin Sausage Maker (pictured). Have you always wanted to have a little more fun when eating plain old sausage links? Your morning breakfast will be full of excitement when you take a bite out of a sausage link shaped like a lovable little penguin. Penguins not for you? How about sausage in the shape of a crab or an octopus? Either way, you’ll be living it up with your newly found love for molded foods.

Wait, what about your kid’s lunch? You’re covered there, too. Boring sandwiches can now be cut and molded into bears, bunnies, or flowers. Take your pick. Now, go forth and eat some molded food!

**Unitasker Wednesday posts humorously poke fun at the single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

LinkBun.ch unclutters messages with multiple links

Reader Craig recently submitted a link to us about a link bundling service called LinkBun.ch. From an article about the service:

“LinkBunch is a service that does exactly what it sounds like it should do: condenses multiple URLs into one short address. Just paste them all into one text box, hit a button, and your new, slimmer URL is ready to go. Your days of sending just one LOLcat picture at a time are over! When someone clicks on your LinkBunch, they’re directed to a page that shows all the links you included.”

If you’re working on a project for a client and you want to show him three different versions of a design, now you can send him one uncluttered link instead of three. This service also works well for twitter posts and texting when you want to save keystrokes.

If you have a link you want to share with us go to http://del.icio.us, and mark your suggested link “for:unclutterer” (without the quotes).

Casualties of the format wars

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

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

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

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

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

Multifunctional home office hub

CNET’s positive review of the Brother MFC-685cw Color Inkjet Multi-Function Center caught my attention mainly because of the inexpensive price and all the functions it performs. For a price as low as this ($130), you can’t really expect to have high quality photo printing when the device consolidates so many functions into one product. But, if you are in the market for an all-in-one printer, fax, scanner, copier, phone, answering machine, wireless network interface, and photo printer, this may be for you.

You are sacrificing quality for quantity and run the risk of losing all functionality if one of the devices breaks, but you are saving space. Fewer wires and a smaller footprint for your home office can be beneficial to an uncluttered workspace.

Reader suggestion: Staying organized with binder clips

Reader Christine, author of the blog Compass and Coffee Spoons, has a terrific little suggestion for staying on top of paperwork. A traditional tickler file didn’t work for her, so she found a system that did. After learning about her process, I asked if she could write up a post for us explaining it. Thank you, Christine, for sharing your tip with us!

Like most people, I am constantly battling the paper monster. Though I am making strides in going digital, I had been struggling on how to organize the things I still receive as hard copies. Inevitably, there are things that need to be filed, paid, or acted upon in some way at some time that does not exactly coincide with the moment I first touch them. For me, letter sorters didn’t work — the papers would end up avalanching all over the place or would be sorted incorrectly. I had tried and failed to use a “to do” file folder; I personally benefit from visible reminders and would easily forget about them when I filed the papers.

After seeing small binder clips with “to do” and other similar words printed on them, I was inspired to create my own using regular large binder clips and a labelmaker. I printed labels on my labelmaker that read “To Do,” “To File,” and “To Pay,” placed them on the binder clips, and hung the clips on sleek aluminum pushpins on the inside of my coat closet door. The papers are out of sight when I want them to be, but serve as a visual reminder for all my “to dos” each time I open my closet door. The size of the clip also creates a limit to how long I can put off the inevitable.

This idea can be applied in various ways, of course. I can see it working on a bulletin board or wall in a home office, or inside of kitchen cabinets. (Magnetic spring clips could be substituted on a chalk board or other magnetic surface.) You might want to have one by the front door for papers you must bring with you when you travel. This would also be a good way to organize kids’ homework or household information you need to frequently access (for that application, I could see laminated sheets on a ring, with the clips as identifiers). You could also use color-coding — either painting them yourself on regular black binder clips or by purchasing clips in various colors. No matter where, why, or how, it’s a cheap and easy idea that can help you be a little less paper-crazed.

Unclutter your writing with self-imposed limitations

Two ideas recently converged for me in one device. The first idea is the notion of self-imposed limitations, and the second is the concept of retro-computing. The device is the AlphaSmart Neo. Here’s how it all fits together.

Self-imposed limitations

writeroom-color-screens.jpgI’m not the first to note the challenge that modern computing presents to human concentration. Writing is a hard thing to do, and when you have to do it, easy things like email, feeds, and Facebook can tempt and paralyze you.

The name of the game is focus and a cottage industry of apps has sprouted around eliminating distractions. The poster-child for these is WriteRoom, which hides everything on your screen except a monochrome text-editor. Slate has called these programs “zenware,” while the New York Times took a more Western tack and called them “biblical.”

These programs work because they allow users to self-impose limitations in order to concentrate and get more done in less time. Internet-related distractions are not the only target. In large part these tools are a revolt against the tyranny of Word. That was the focus of the New York Times piece, which was inspired by the Steven Poole essay “Goodbye, cruel Word.” In it he explains how the Microsoft flagship long ago gave up the pretense that it was a tool for the art of writing. A good tool disappears in the act of creation. Word might once have been such a thing, but that’s certainly no longer the case. Poole, an author of two books and countless articles, writes:

Many people agree that revision 5.1a, specifically, was the best version of Word that Microsoft has ever shipped, combining utility and minimalist elegance with reliability. Sadly for me, although it wasn’t strictly necessary, after a few years and a colour Performa I “upgraded” to Word 98, and somehow the magic was gone. Yes, I turned off all the crappy lurid toolbars and tried to make the compositional space as simple as possible, but by this time Word was stuffed with all kinds of “features” that let you print a pie-chart on the back of a million envelopes or publish your cookery graphs to your “world wide web home-page”, and it already felt to me that Word was only grudgingly letting me write nothing but, you know, words. Trigger Happy got out of Word 98 and onto the streets, but not without routine crashes and the occasional catastrophic loss of a few finely honed paragraphs.

He goes on to say that he’s converted to WriteRoom and Scrivener, but not before giving us a tour of the tools that he’s loved the most. Apart from Word 5.1a, they include a Brother LW-20 electric typewriter with a 6-line LCD screen, and an ultraportable Psion 5. What he likes so much about WriteRoom and the rest, he says, is how much they imitate the single-minded purposefulness of those old tools.


That brings me to the second theme in this story. One way to achieve zen word processing is to hide the fact that your modern computer is a modern computer. (Out there, no doubt, is someone who paid $1,800 for a MacBook Air only to then run WriteRoom on it.) It’s an attempt to travel back to a time before virtual tailfins. Another way to zen, however, is to simply use the tools from that era—the era in which word processing had been perfected.

Writer Paul Ford has said that his weapon against distractions was installing WordPerfect for DOS on his computer—the original that WriteRoom emulates. As a result of switching to the mouse-less, crash-less WordPerfect he says, “My average daily word count has doubled, and my stock of fresh ideas seems to be replenishing.”

Another promoter of retro-computing is Andy Ihnatko who inspired me to look not just to old software, but to old hardware as well. He sings the praises of his NEC MobilePro 790, a Windows CE device he picked up for $10 at the MIT flea market. It doesn’t have the MacBook Air’s 1.6 GHz or good looks, but it matches its weight, comfortable keyboard, and more than serviceable screen. But when distraction-free writing is the goal, the latter matters more than the former.

The AlphaSmart Neo

I think I did Andy one better, though, or at least more retro. I discovered the AlphaSmart Neo, in part thanks to Paul Ford’s writings because the Neo is his companion to WordPerfect. What is the Neo? It’s a full keyboard with six-line LCD attached. That’s it. No distractions. It’s a thing of beauty.


At two pounds, I take it everywhere. I love my MacBook, but it kills my back, and for no good reason since most of the time I just want to write. Instant-on, and automatic save of every keystroke make it even more appealing. Some other retro advantages:

  • At an all-day conference my three-hour battery on my Mac isn’t much help and I have to be on the hunt for limited power outlets. (The NEC MobilePro wouldn’t fare much better.) The Neo’s frugal processor and simple screen, on the other hand, gets me 700 hours from 3 AA batteries. That’s about a year’s worth of normal use.
  • The keyboard is amazing. It’s a real, honest-to-goodness keyboard with satisfying travel and quiet clickitiness. It really feels better than my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, which is the same design as the Air’s. It also beats out the MobilePro’s slightly cramped keyboard.
  • AlphaSmart was started by two former Apple engineers and it has overtones of the eMate 300. Like the eMate, the AlphaSmart was designed for the education market, and it shows in the build quality. If it’s tough enough for kindergardeners, it’s tough enough for me.

Most important, though, is that it keeps me focused. If I go to a coffee shop to get some work done, the only thing I can do with my Neo is write. There are no distractions. There isn’t even bold or italics (something I get around with Markdown). When writing is the only thing you can do, you get it done, and it remains an enjoyable activity because it’s not the thing that’s keeping you from Twitter.

At some point in our technological past we perfected word processing. Every feature since then seems to have subtracted from the experience. Do yourself a favor and look into some single-purpose, “underpowered,” and self-limiting tech.

Workspace of the Week: Repurposed artist’s studio

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Vitamin Design’s artist workbench:

I particularly appreciate how Vitamin Design has repurposed an Ikea kitchen island into a standing art desk. The stainless steel that is helpful in a kitchen is fabulous when working with paint. It’s nicely organized, to boot!

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Instant workspace

Design Within Reach currently has a promotion where you can get all of the furniture for a home office for $2,018 until February 26. This initially sounds like a lot of dough, until you look at the items in the package:

If you’re just starting out or are interested in redoing your office and you’re into the look that Design Within Reach offers, this is actually a decent sale price. You get a Tavola table, Panton chair, Leaf light, a Cubits Shelving unit, and a file cabinet on wheels. Plus, it comes with free shipping. Not too shabby.

As a final note on this specific topic … I own a Panton chair and should warn you that it carries quite a big static charge during winter months. If I sit in it, the next thing I touch gives me a shock. I even run a humidifier full time in my home. It’s not a deal breaker in my mind, but annoying enough that I thought I would share the information.

Along with the idea of an instant office, Reader Chris brought to our attention the Apartment-in-a-Box. Quite interesting!