The transforming diaper bag

I’ve been looking around for baby items that can multitask, and I may have come across the most unique and useful one yet. It is the Hoppop. The Hoppop is a diaper bag that transforms into a baby seat.

This is a fantastic idea for parents on the go. The Hoppop would have been used quite extensively if my wife and I had owned one. It serves two very important purposes and comes in a fairly compact size. The step-by-step instructions look simple and straight forward. If you want something extra when it comes to your diaper bag, you may want to look into this innovative design.

(via ohdeedoh)

Time-saving tips

I consistently have about four hours each weekday when I’m not working or sleeping. Subtract an hour out of that for dinner, and I’m left with just a few hours a day of free time. If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do with those three hours is chores.

I’ve mentioned before that in our house we do about 30 minutes of chores a night, and we try to focus at least 15 of those minutes on one specific room doing more intensive activities. (Monday=living room, Tuesday=bedroom/laundry, Wednesday=kitchen/dining room, etc.) This routine keeps us from having to spend our weekend cleaning the house and also means that our house is usually clean enough to have people over without worries.

I’m always looking for time saving tips, though, because if I spend more than 30 minutes in an evening doing chores I get cranky. I’m constantly asking people I meet what they do to save time on chores. How do they get everything they need to do, well, done?

Most everyone agrees on a few basic principles:

  1. The less stuff you have to get messy, the less time you have to spend picking up messes.
  2. If you can afford to have a cleaning service come in once or twice a month to do the intense toilet and floor scrubbing, it can help immensely. (I don’t currently have a cleaning service, but I’m seriously considering it.)
  3. If you get something out, put it back when you’re done.

I’ve discovered some other great advice from the people I’ve asked and I wanted to share some of it with you. Please, if you have valuable advice of your own, add it to the comments! I think all of us could benefit from learning about what you do to save time.

  • Sort your laundry when you take off your clothes instead of in your laundry room. I have a light bin, a dark bin, mesh bags for delicates, and a bag for my dry cleaning all next to my closet.
  • When you swap out towels in your bathroom, use one to quickly wipe down the strange dust that collects on the edge of the bathtub. (Where does that dust come from, by the way??)
  • Water house plants with the stray ice cubes that tumble out of the ice maker and onto the floor.
  • Reader Mike suggests when loading silverware into the dishwasher, group like items together. When the dishes are dry, you can grab all of the forks, spoons, etc, and put them away at once.
  • Have a shredder and a trash can where you process mail so that junk mail never has to be corralled out of your home.

A year ago on Unclutterer

Introducing summer 2008 Intern Julia

Unclutterer readers, I would like to introduce you to Intern Julia. She is on loan to us for the summer from the College of William and Mary, where she will be a junior this fall. We picked her out of all of the other intern applicants because she is quite gifted at writing and, most importantly, she made us laugh. She continues to entertain us even though we keep throwing data management work at her–what a trooper! Please give a hearty welcome to Intern Julia!

Hello internet. I am Julia, and I am a reformed clutter freak.

I used to keep nearly everything, with the vague idea I might need it someday. Finding it, however, was a different story. Since my floor served second-duty as a shelf, cleaning it was like embarking on a small-scale archaelogical dig. This, I thought, made me artsy and deep.

One day, in the midst of exams, I realized that I couldn’t think clearly among all that mess. I’d always prided myself on organizing information well, such as when it came to argumentation and schoolwork, but my personal space was a different monster. All my stuff was weighing me down. It was stressing me out. It was making it difficult to put things into my brain. Perhaps I was collecting all that junk as a buffer, to sit between me and adulthood. But, that old pair of sneakers and the pile of newspaper clippings and ticket stubs really were not going to do that for me. Needless to say, I’ve pared down my possessions to a managable level, and I live better because I (try to) live simply.

That’s what drew me to Unclutterer. This blog isn’t just about neat clean surfaces, or finding humorously useless items on the internet (see: bizarre battery-eating contraption). It is about reassessing what you really need, and letting go of the rest. I’m happy to be here and I look forward to typing to you again.

The pumpkin rule

Today, I would like to welcome Megan Drayton as a guest author to Unclutterer. When I learned that Megan is the mastermind behind the recipe organization eChef Software, I asked if she would write a post for us about how her product came to be. Thank you, Megan, for sharing your insights with us, and hopefully you’ll inspire a few Unclutterer readers to create some more organizing solutions for the rest of us! Oh, and Megan also has a cooking blog, complete with pumpkin-themed recipes, which can be found here.

I learned “The Pumpkin Rule” at a young age. Every autumn at the pumpkin patch, my brother and I were allowed to select any pumpkin we wanted.

As long as we could carry it.

One would assume that my parents just didn’t want to get stuck carrying a 40-pound pumpkin to the car. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that they knew that one of the keys to a simple life is to not take on more than you can handle. The Pumpkin Rule is a great metric to apply to any of life’s messy situations, and I use it often (it only seems natural that a foodie like myself would have a gourd-themed life mantra).

Even with life-guiding tips like “The Pumpkin Rule” in hand, combating our weaknesses is not always easy. Knowing that I’m the founder of a recipe software company, you can probably guess where my uncluttering standards once collapsed. Three years ago, I reached rock-bottom with my recipe obsession. What started as innocent magazine reading and internet browsing soon developed into all-out hoarding. My passion for food and flavor manifested into a need to collect every possible taste available. I was genuinely afraid of missing out on the “perfect recipe”. I figured that as long as I had them all in my binders, the recipes were within the realm of my organizational ability and, thus, always at my disposal.

They weren’t.

My collection was completely out of my control, leaving me helpless at dinnertime. When I eventually realized the extent to which I had violated my own Pumpkin Rule, I feared that I must declare recipe bankruptcy and live a life of back-of-the-soup-can casserole dinners! Luckily, I had a better idea. I needed something that allowed me to digitally manage my recipes just like I did my photo and music collections. Like they say, necessity breeds ingenuity.

Today, I’m pleased to have the eChef tool at my disposal. The various organizational features allow me to quickly locate any of my recipes and create grocery lists. Additionally, I can easily share my collection with others via email, Pownce, or my personal website. I’ve created an organizational solution that does my collection justice, and the sloppy recipe binders are gone.

The idea behind The Pumpkin Rule is simple: at the end of the day, there is only so much that each of us can maintain in our life. Find a way to keep your most important possessions and hobbies in the fold and eliminate the rest. When it comes to collections, a properly organized one allows you to become more aware of your inventory, thus enabling you to eliminate redundancies while exposing gaps. Furthermore, achieving some clarity with regard to your collection can curb any compulsive tendencies you may have. Taking control of my recipes brought enjoyment back to a beloved hobby, which I had let get out of control. Now, all that is left for me to do is cook.

Thai Pumpkin Soup, anyone?

Workspace of the Week: Small-living desk

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Skorpion24’s fit-it-all desk:

The reason I picked this image from the flickr pool is because it is a great example of how to organize a lot of computers and peripherals in a small space. The ability to spread out isn’t a reality when you have less than 20 sq. feet to contain your home office. Skorpion24 has four computers (I’m counting the XBox 360, the PC, and two Macs), a speaker system, an iPod, an iPod Touch, a keyboard, a mouse, a good size display monitor, a router and probably a KVM switch all in this tiny space. I’m impressed because there is even room on the desk to write with good ol’ pen and paper. The perfect desk for a space goes a long way in keeping a person organized. Grazie, Skorpion24, for sharing your desk with us!

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.

Watch out for bumper clutter

Honor students, America, political figures, and the environment are all subjects that are routinely displayed on a bumper sticker. I’ve never been one to display my political or social beliefs on a sticker on the back of my car, but it seems that many people enjoy displaying things on the bumper of their car. To each their own, but some drivers feel that they must wallpaper the back of their car with just about every conceivable sticker they can find. It turns out, that the over use of bumper stickers may have a correlation with incidents of “road rage.”

Dale Jewett, citing a Nature article in AutoWeek, writes about the possible correlation between bumper stickers and aggressive driving:

“The number of territory markers predicted road rage better than vehicle value, condition or any of the things that we normally associate with aggressive driving,” psychologist William Szlemko said. “What’s more, only the number of bumper stickers, and not their content, predicted road rage.”

I’m not sure of the merits of this study, but it sounds legitimate enough to me to keep bumper stickers in high numbers off the back of my car.

For more on the study behind the AutoWeek article, check out the Nature magazine article (registration required).

Set your DVRs!

On Wednesday, July 2 at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST, the television show Clean House on The Style Network will be tackling a very large organization project.

In this special episode, Niecy Nash and her team of organizers, builders, and designers will take on the “messiest home in the country.” This year’s winners of the title are Phil and Mindy Wheeler of Temple, Pennsylvania. They submitted personal video to be considered for the honor of messiest home and a chance to have it redone by Clean Sweep.

From the press release:

In a special two-hour episode titled “Clean House: Messiest Home in the Country,” Style’s cameras document the total transformation of the Wheelers’ living space, from one completely overrun by mountains of clutter and hand-me-downs to an orderly space fit for a family hoping to expand.

I love being able to see people’s lives transformed by organization and watch professional organizers create workable solutions. If you’re like me, consider setting your DVRs for Clean House on July 2.

Thank you, L.A.-based professional organizer John Trosko, for calling our attention to this interesting episode.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Hot Dog Roller

Just in time for summer, the Hot Dog Roller! Everyone has an incredibly difficult time rotating hot dogs on the grill, right? Uh, right? C’mon, work with me on this. The issue of keeping a hot dog evenly grilled is a REAL problem. No, really. And, the Hot Dog Roller is there to solve this dastardly grilling dilemma. Simply place the hot dogs or corn on the cob(!) on this little contraption and you are good to go. With a simple move of the handle you can move up to five hot dogs at once. FIVE. At the SAME TIME!

Think of all the time you spend rolling hot dogs instead of playing Frisbee with your children. This roller can increase your hot dog rolling efficiency by five times. (I did the math.) That’s right, now you can enjoy five times the fun with your family and friends with this efficient, time-saving grill essential.

(Thanks to reader Eve for sending us this suggestion.)

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

A year ago on Unclutterer

Streamlining your morning routine

My friend Brittany has a problem. She can’t get out of the house in the morning on time. No matter how early she wakes up, she can find a reason to be late. Laundry, phone calls, or lost objects are common time sucks.

“I dawdle,” Brittany reports.

Brittany doesn’t have a big issue with her lack of promptness, but her boyfriend who carpools with her does. Most days he makes her lunch while he waits for her to get her act together. She admits that she doesn’t even figure making her lunch into her morning routine any longer, if she were responsible for it, she’d be even more tardy.

“He likes having something to do while he waits for me,” she rationalizes.

Her lateness is starting to wear thin on her boyfriend, however, so she turned to me for advice. She asked if I could help her streamline her morning routine so that she could start getting out the door on time.

The first step in streamlining your morning routine is to discover how you’re spending your time. In my friend’s case, I think that her boyfriend might be a better person to track her morning processes. Either way, keep a log of how you spend your time from the point you wake up until you arrive at work. Keep this log for two or three weeks so that you get an accurate view of your typical morning. How long does it take to shower? Choose your clothes? Hunt for items you need to drop at the dry cleaners, post office, or child’s school? What throws you off track?

After you have a log of what you do, you’ll need to evaluate the information you’ve collected. What are the activities that you do every day that you can’t avoid (things like showering, teeth brushing, getting dressed, and commuting fall into this category)? List these items and their time requirements on a sheet of paper. If your commute time varies, find the average length of your commute times over the two or three-week period and use that number. Now, do the obvious and add up these numbers to make sure that you’re waking up at least early enough to achieve these essential tasks.

The next step is to evaluate those other tasks that don’t have to be completed in the morning. These are tasks like picking out your clothing, making lunches, collecting things together, or hunting for your daughter’s pony tail holder. Could any of these tasks be relocated to the evening beforehand? Could you make all lunches for a week on Sunday afternoon? How much time are you wasting every morning doing tasks that don’t have to be handled before work?

Here are some other questions to ask yourself:

How many times are you hitting the snooze button on the alarm in the morning? Do you need to move your alarm clock to the other side of the room? Resolve not to hit the snooze at all? Go to bed earlier?

Do you routinely pick out your clothes the night beforehand so that you can make sure your shirt is ironed, you know where both shoes are located, and your socks match? Do your children go through the same process?

Do you have a spot in your home where you put all items that you’ll need for the next day? Do you have a basket where your child puts forms that have to be signed for school so that last-minute tasks are kept to a minimum? Do you keep your keys, wallet, watch, and cell phone in a valet, purse, or on a landing strip so that you don’t have to hunt for them?

Do you take the time to read the paper in physical form when it might be easier to download a digital version and read it on an e-book reader or your iPod/cell phone on the subway/bus? Are you stopping to buy coffee every morning when brewing it at home would reduce the time involved (and the price tag)?

In the drastic measure department, do you need a different job that doesn’t care what time you get in to work? Is there a family in your child’s carpool that routinely makes everyone else late that you could tactfully un-invite from your carpool?

Once you work through this process, you should have a clear view of what is keeping you from arriving at work on time. Now, you have to take the steps to streamline your schedule and get your morning routine running on time.

Good luck to my friend Brittany and to anyone else trying to get your morning routine on the right track!

What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t

I have a friend who is a psychologist who specializes in family therapy. One of the reasons I love this friend is because she doesn’t seem to mind my endless supply of psychology of clutter questions. I’ll ask her a question, she’ll think about it for a week, and then she’ll provide me with a brilliant response. Every once in a while, she’ll even throw a question at me (like when she asked how I survive working seven feet away from my husband every day).

A few months ago, I asked her to assist me with constructing a post to help mismatched couples. When I say “mismatched couples,” I’m talking about couples where one of the people in the relationship is clean and organized and the other person in the relationship is messy and disorganized AND at least one of the two people has animosity about the difference. (If no one seems to mind, then the pair isn’t mismatched.) The following advice derives from the conversations we’ve had on this topic since I first posed the question to her. If you’re a part of a mismatched couple, hopefully we can be of assistance.

  1. When considering moving in with someone (romantic or otherwise), a person’s level of order and cleanliness should be part of the equation. Similar to how in pre-marriage counseling couples are asked to discuss finances, living arrangements and household expectations also should be discussed. No one should be surprised six months into a living arrangement that his or her partner/roommate is messier or cleaner than one had hoped.
  2. If you’re already in a living arrangement and are disappointed by your partner/roommate’s level of order, you need to have a conversation. Yelling and passive aggressive behavior isn’t productive and damages the relationship. Having a calm, sincere, and respectful conversation has the possibility of yielding powerful results.
  3. It is good to have ground rules for what to do when frustration takes hold. Here are some productive rules you might consider establishing:
    • No nagging. Treating someone with disrespect is never a good option. Either the person honors what you say the first time you say it, or they don’t. All nagging says is: “I believe you are an idiot and I think I have the right to constantly tell you that you’re an idiot.” No one responds well to that message.
    • No backpacking. Set a time limit for how long after something happens that it can be discussed (like two weeks). If you don’t bring up the frustration within that time limit, you have to let it go. You can’t fester or stew on a frustration. Also, if you’ve already discussed something, you can’t bring it up again. The reason it’s called backpacking is because it’s like people carry around another person’s wrongs in a backpack and pull every wrong out of the bag when there is a disagreement. Don’t backpack, it isn’t fair.
    • Discuss the real problem. If you’re upset that your wife repeatedly leaves her dirty dishes strewn about the living room your frustration has very little to do with dirty dishes. You’re upset because you believe she doesn’t care about the cleanliness level in the living space. So, talk about the real problem and use the dirty dishes as an example of how that lack of caring is expressed.
  4. Often times, the person who is messier than the other doesn’t care one bit if his or her living arrangement is disorderly or orderly. When this is the case, and if you’re the one who prefers a more orderly home, prepare to take on full responsibility for cleaning up after the other person. Happily do the work because you’re the one who gets the sense of joy from an organized space. If a pair of shoes in the middle of the living room floor annoys you, just move the shoes to a location that doesn’t annoy you. The five seconds it will take you to move the shoes are less than the time you will be angry over the shoes if you don’t move them. The children’s book Zen Shorts beautifully addresses this topic.
  5. Maybe the problem is that there aren’t any systems in place to deal with the mess where it happens. For instance, my husband stores his wallet in a valet in our bedroom. I store my purse in a cube near the front door. He puts his wallet in his pocket first thing in the morning and takes it out at night before he goes to bed. I only grab my purse as I’m entering and exiting the house. If my purse were supposed to be stored in a valet in our bedroom, I can guarantee you that it would never be in the bedroom. It would be on the dining room table or living room floor or wherever I conveniently dropped it. So, a storage cube near our front door is the best place for my purse because it’s a storage location that works. Think about how you live and find solutions that meet your actual needs.
  6. Designate “clean rooms” or “messy rooms” in your home. In my family, we insist that all public spaces are clean rooms. This means that rooms visitors will see when they come into our house must be free of clutter. Visitors rarely come into our office, though, so the rules for this room are less stringent. Things can’t be dirty (no food or bug-enticing items), but if objects are left out of order in this space it’s less of an issue. A once-a-week cleaning is more typical in our messy spaces.
  7. Finally, if you’ve tried all of the previous options and nothing is working for you, try seeking outside help. This help can be in the form of a professional organizer or maybe a couple’s counselor. If you’re in dire straights, you want to work with someone who isn’t a part of your relationship and can see it more broadly. I don’t recommend using a friend or family member for this task–if you do, the other person will believe that you’re ganging up on him or her, and that won’t be productive. Also, professional help could be in the form of a cleaning service coming into the house twice a month. Let someone else handle the deep cleaning so that the light work is less of a burden.

If you’re a part of a mismatched couple, what effective strategies have you employed? I’m sure that everyone could benefit from reading your positive results in the comments.