Sponges: Separating the new from the used

Reader Kathryn sent us the following tip to avoid sponge confusion:

In our household, we discovered a trick: the Good Clean sponge [for dishes] is used as-is, straight out of the package. When it gets downgraded to the Wiping Sponge [for kitchen counters and the table], we cut one of the corners off. When the sponge gets downgraded again to a Skunging Sponge [the dregs of cleaning], we cut another corner off. This way, each sponge is easily identifiable by its shape. People who have more than 3 life cycles for their sponges could adapt this by cutting off additional corners as the sponge continues to move down the ranks.

This is a simple tip that makes sponge identification obvious to all of the people in a house. A pair of kitchen shears would easily tackle the cutting job, too. Thanks, Kathryn, for the great tip!

What simple tricks do you use in the kitchen to make your time there easier and more streamlined? Share your insights in the comments.

Coverleaf may be a way to curb magazine clutter

If you are tired of receiving magazine subscriptions in the mail, but still enjoy reading them, you may want to check out Coverleaf. Coverleaf is a way to read magazines online and forgo the hard copy altogether. From their site:

Coverleaf.com is a service that provides digital editions of many of your favorite magazines allowing you to conveniently read your magazine anywhere with Internet access. No software downloads are required. If you are a current print edition subscriber, you can access your magazines for free by verifying your subscription. You can also browse the selection of magazines on coverleaf.com and look inside any issue for a free preview. If you opt to register on coverleaf.com, you can clip, save and share pages from any issue. Coverleaf is provided by Texterity, a leading provider of digital publishing services, in partnership with leading publishing and fulfillment companies.

You also can purchase digital copies of a single issues for $0.99. The current selection offered by Coverleaf is pretty limited at the moment, but we hope to see their selection expand. They offer an Unclutterer favorite, ReadyMade, for $0.99 per digital issue.

The next little thing?

I’m not so sure that downsizing is taking the country by storm, but an interesting article in the New York Times highlights a few folks who have taken downsizing to the extreme. A man who built an 80-square-foot tiny house out of free stuff he compiled off of Craigslist is included in the article along with a woman who lives in an 84-square-foot home that is in her friend’s back yard.

While my wife and I decided to downsize our home this past year, cutting our living space by one-third, our decision was quite conventional compared to these tiny homes highlighted in the article. I’ve seen children’s playhouses that were larger than some of the homes pictured. I’m not so sure that these tiny homes are trendsetters, but they are definitely unique while being a repudiation of the “bigger is better” mindset when it comes to most home construction.

These tiny homes may be an option for empty nesters or singles who want to buy a starter home, but raising a family may be a bit too much for such little space. 

(Image from Karie Hamilton for The New York Times)

Clutter and the U.S. economy

The past couple weeks have opened up the door to strange e-mails coming into my inbox. Apparently, when the U.S. stock exchange goes on a roller coaster ride, this is the time to send angry messages to the editor of an organizing and simple living website.

I haven’t been replying to the messages because I have learned that people who write these messages don’t actually want a response. They don’t imagine a human receiving their rants, and a response only infuriates them. More importantly, they’re not usually regular readers of the site, and I’d rather spend my time helping our constituency.

However, I realized that I may not be the only recipient of similarly themed comments. If you are someone who chooses to live an uncluttered lifestyle, people may be saying comparable things to you. (Granted, they probably have more tact than what I receive in anonymous e-mails.) So, I have decided to address a few of these questions here, to help you formulate a response if confronted by a person who disagrees with your choice to live simply during times of economic flux.

“You are so stupid!! How can you suggest that people get rid of things when we’re headed toward a Great Depression?”

Owning clutter is never a financially prudent endeavor. It costs money to store objects (mortgage, rent, heating, cooling, humidity control, storage supplies), and the more clutter you own the more money you have to spend to store your things. If you have things piled on your floor, it restricts air movement in your space, and the fan on your heating or cooling system has to run longer and harder–which costs you more money. If you have stuff shoved into closets and cabinets or crammed into your basement, it is difficult to notice little cracks, leaks, and other problems in the structure of your home. You don’t see the small issues appear, and then you have to spend thousands of dollars repairing what would have been an inexpensive quick fix earlier in the game. It’s also difficult to identify if you get bugs or pests in your home because you won’t see them until you have an infestation. Additionally, if you have clutter in your car, you earn worse gas mileage than when your car is lighter. A cluttered car costs you more at the gas pump. The list of ways clutter costs you money is virtually endless.

“You’re promoting the recession by telling people not to buy things!!!”

Regular readers of Unclutterer.com know that we support smart consumerism. We define smart consumerism as buying products and services that are high quality, built to last, have consistent utility for the person using the product or service, and improve and/or inspire your life. Regardless of economic recession or growth, this is the type of consumer behavior we recommend. Frivolous buying for the sole purpose of owning more things is always a bad idea.

“Once again, you recklessly suggest that people spend money to buy something when you should be telling people to save their money.”

See the previous response, and add the following: Buying products and services when they are necessary and/or extremely useful can sometimes save a person time and money over the long term. (Note the example with home repairs discussed in my first response.)

“I’m looking forward to when the depression hits and you and all your readers wish they wouldn’t have taken your advice.”

Wow. Looking forward to a depression is messed up.

Seriously, though, it isn’t typically the organized, productive worker making money for his company who is laid off in leaner times. When companies have to make layoffs, they often start with the employees who don’t have a positive impact on the balance sheet. This isn’t always the case, good employees can be let go when a company goes out of business or for lots of other reasons, but it’s still a decent rule of thumb. The productivity and office organizing advice we provide on our website hopefully helps people to be more efficient workers and stay in their jobs as long as they want to be in them. We can’t promise the moon, but sharing what we know about productivity and office organizing seems more responsible than keeping it to ourselves.

Have you run into any simple living nay-sayers? What have you heard and how did you respond?

A year ago on Unclutterer

Lifetick: Goal-setting software that actually helps you achieve your goals

On Thursday, I wrote in my column on Real Simple’s website about a few goal-setting systems that might not currently be on your radar screen. Today, I wanted to talk here in more detail about my love affair with one of the programs I mentioned, Lifetick.

As the tagline on the website mentions, Lifetick is “Goal setting. Made simple.” And, after a couple weeks of using the service, I have to agree that it is simple. It’s also well designed, stable, and extremely useful.

When you first log into the system, you are asked to set up your core values. I based mine on the main areas of my life I address in my Strategic Plan. (For example, three of my core values are health, marriage, and career.) After you establish your core values, you then create goals and tasks for these areas of your life. Each time you create a goal, the system prompts you to write a task and provide a deadline to help you achieve that goal. I also like that the system then asks if my goals are SMART.

If you’re unfamiliar with the SMART philosophy, it states that goals are easier to achieve when they are: S-Specific-State what the goal will achieve, M-Measurable-How will you measure if you have achieved a goal, A-Achievable-Can the goal actually be achieved, R-Relevant-Is the goal relevant to your life’s values, and T-Time Specific-When do you want to achieve the goal?

One of my goals was to plan a weekend getaway with my husband. I assigned it to my marriage core value, and then created tasks for how to plan the getaway. One of my tasks included calling the resort and finding out their weekend availability, another task was to sit down with my husband and coordinate our schedules, and the final task involved calling the resort to make the reservation. When I finished the tasks, the program asked me if I had completed my goal or if I needed to assign new tasks. I clicked the button saying that my task was complete, and it gave me a gold star. Who doesn’t love a gold star?!

You can also set Lifetick to send reminders to your e-mail account before tasks need to be completed, and it will also drop you a note when you’ve failed to complete a task on time. It’s a simple nudge to keep you on track, and keep you involved with the service. It syncs with iCal, Outlook Calendar, and Google Calendar, too, so that task items automatically appear on your daily schedule.

I initially thought that I would just use the system for personal goals, but I’m starting to use it for some of my Daily Grind work goals, too. Since it pushes data to my Google Calendar, I don’t have to enter tasks into multiple locations. Also, it’s helping me to remember that some of my work is done for a larger purpose than just keeping my head above water.

There is also a Lifetick application for the iPhone, and you can keep a private Lifetick journal to comment on your progress with your goals.

You can sign up for Lifetick and create up to four goals for free. If you want to work on more than four goals at a time, then there is a $20 a year charge. I suggest starting with four and seeing if the program helps you to keep on track with your goals. I really like the program and am enjoying putting it to use.

The screen shots used in this post were courtesy of Lifetick. I felt weird about putting up my personal goals for all the internet to see, and they happily supplied me with generic alternatives.

Workspace of the Week: Utilizing the home office closet

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Joyful Abode’s inventory closet:

Home office closets are spaces that can easily be underutilized. Often, they’re closets that were built for clothing, and home owners are hesitant to transform them. I chose Joyful Abode’s inventory closet for today’s workspace for many reasons, one of them being that it reminded me of my office closet. Additionally, she has found a way to use the closet for her home-based business effectively. Items like notecards and paper products are in appropriately sized clear plastic boxes. Since the boxes are clear, she can instantly see when she’s running low on an item and what is contained in the box. Her aprons hang according to style (adult sizes on the right, children’s sizes in the middle, and dress aprons on the left). All blankets are on a high shelf, but not stacked so deeply that they have to be rearranged to remove a specific item. I also like the empty tubs on the left that lead me to believe she’s planning on increasing her inventory and sticking with her clear plastic box system.

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.

The Loopa Bowl

Having a two year old daughter snack in the back seat of our car is a blessing and curse at the same time. The snack gives her something to do, but there are inevitably stray Cheerios spilled all over the floor and seats when she is finished. The Loopa Bowl is the brainchild of parents Brad and Melinda Shepherd and it is a cleverly designed bowl that makes spilling treats just about impossible. From the Loopa site:

Its revolutionary spill-resistant technology utilizes a weighted inner bowl that rotates 360 degrees, keeping the dry snacks inside – no matter how little ones grab or turn it.

The bowl is very child and parent friendly. The design will save you from having to pick up snacks from the back seat of your vehicle or your living room floor, that is unless your little one is prone to tossing his snack. For more on the Loopa Bowl, watch the demo here.

Additionally, we know that this is a very specific item, so be sure to pass it on to another parent with a toddler when your kid is through with it. What keeps clutter out of your life one day, can easily become clutter the next.

(via Ohdeedoh)

Unitasker Wednesday: Small apple dish

I’m not sure about you, but when I finish an apple I’m in desperate need of somewhere to place the core. Yeah, I can stroll over to the garbage can and dispose of it there, but I like to sit back and admire the core for a bit. Thankfully for me, there is a perfect product for just this specific use. The small apple dish is kind of like an ashtray for apples. It has a convenient spot to place the apple and the core. From the designer’s site:

By creating an appropriate place in the dish, your fruit waste becomes an esthetic part of your meal.

See? Admiring an apple core is esthetically pleasing to some people, and what better way to put it on display than with the small apple dish? I defy you to find a better way to present your apple.

Thanks to reader Vinod for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

**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

  • Mudrooms for all!
    As if homes in the United States weren’t big enough already, homeowners now need to have a whole room to act as a landing strip.
  • Read a book over e-mail
    DailyLit sends you sections of books by e-mail so that you don’t clutter up your home with physical books.
  • Clutter and depression
    People who are depressed sometimes lose the drive to do just about anything and that might include cleaning up their living space and keeping things in order.

Win a Dyson vacuum from Life and Style

Life and Style magazine dropped us a line to let us know that they’re giving away a Dyson Ball DC24 vacuum on their website this week. I’ve been curious about this model since it hit the market earlier this year. Instead of wheels, the DC24 moves on a giant ball. Supposedly, it makes maneuvering a breeze and allows you to easily sweep under furniture. I have hardwood floors and don’t have much use for a vacuum, so I hope that one of our Unclutterer readers wins this vacuum that has been retailing for $399.

Sign up for the drawing by clicking on the vacuum here, and be sure to come back to let us know if you win!


The StairCase is an ingeniously designed shelving unit that combines a bookshelf with a pull out stair system in the bottom three shelves. It is designed by Danny Kuo and is currently in the working prototype stage. The shelving system is fairly high and the top shelves are accessible by using the bottom shelves as steps for access to the higher shelves. I love this concept and find it very practical. It’s perfect for a small space.

(via Apartment Therapy)