It came from your clutter: Elephant tusks

The first installment of our new “It came from your clutter” feature is a pretty good one — and a little creepy, scary, too. (Happy Halloween!) It comes from a reader who found himself dealing with an illegal item that his uncle had packed away for years. The contraband in question was a pair of elephant tusks. The ivory trade ban started in 1989, so I’m assuming the reader’s uncle was in receipt of the tusks prior to 1989. From the reader’s email:

I live in the US but have an uncle in Canada; he was recently moved into a nursing home and I had to clean out his apartment. Among his things were two elephant tusks. In doing my research, I discovered that I could neither bring them back with me into the US or sell them in Canada. What to do?? I ended up calling the Natural History division of the Royal Ontario Museum, and they will be acquiring the tusks for their collection. Now my uncle is happy they will not be carved up for cheap trinkets.

Calling the museum was definitely a great idea. Let’s hope that the uncle’s tusks will find a home for a long time in the Royal Ontario Museum.

For those of you who come across a rather odd item while clearing out a basement, attic, or garage, drop us an email. Also, try and take a photo or two if possible.

Workspace of the Week: A garage transformation

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Gently Organized’s new office, which used to be her garage:

Reader Gently Organized recently remodeled her garage and turned it into a spacious home office. What used to be the overhead door to her single-car garage is now a glass door that looks out onto her garden. The desks and overhead cabinets appear to be Ikea pieces and the file cabinets and storage units below the desk look like Elfa products. Looking at another image of the room you can see a fantastic magazine rack, storage boxes behind the frosted glass, and room for her to work with clients:

Thank you, Gently Organized, for submitting your inspiring space to our flickr group.

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.

Seeking advice for cleaning laptops and keyboards

Immediately after Apple released its new MacBook and MacBook Pro laptop computers earlier this month, my e-mail account was inundated with questions about how to clean dirt and grime off white Apple laptops and keyboards. My assumption is that these readers want to upgrade to the new machines and sell their old laptops on eBay. Machines that look like new tend to grab higher prices on the bidding site.

I own a white MacBook, so I decided to try my hand at cleaning my laptop in an effort to help our readers. After making a few calls and asking for advice from my friends, I repeatedly heard that the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser was the cleaning tool for me to try.

Here is a picture of my laptop before I tried cleaning it. You’ll see that there are dark spots where my wrists rest while I type:

I then scrubbed the affected areas with the Magic Eraser:

And, it was successful at taking off a good portion of the dirt and grime:

However, I’m not going to say that it was a gleaming success. The side-by-side comparison shows that although it did get rid of a good portion of the yuck on the wrist rest, it wasn’t a perfect solution:

What have other people done to get dirt and grime off of white laptops and keyboards? I thought the Magic Eraser did an adequate job, but I’m hoping there is an even better product out there to help clean up the rest of the dirt. Let us know what you have found to clean laptops and keyboards in the comments.

Lightbulbs next wifi hotspots?

According to Cellular-News, the College of Engineering at Boston University is launching a program aimed at developing the next generation of wireless communications based on visible light rather than radio waves. From the article:

“Imagine if your computer, iPhone, TV, radio and thermostat could all communicate with you when you walked in a room just by flipping the wall light switch and without the usual cluster of wires,” said BU Engineering Professor Thomas Little. “This could be done with an LED-based communications network that also provides light – all over existing power lines with low power consumption, high reliability and no electromagnetic interference. Ultimately, the system is expected to be applicable from existing illumination devices, like swapping light bulbs for LEDs.”

Fewer wires and increased communication with all of your devices sounds like a winning advancement to me. The technology for LED-based wifi has just begun, so I’m cheering for the labs at BU to work diligently to get this to market.

(via Engadget)

Unitasker Wednesday: Tiny toe towel

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

Everyone has a routine as to how they dry off after taking a shower or bath. Those routines usually only involve one towel, or maybe two if you wrap a second around your hair. These two towels are completely insufficient for your drying needs, however, because they’re so big and cumbersome and easy to use. Thankfully, there is now a product on the market that will meet all of your drying needs. The Tiny Toe Towel reaches between the unreachable areas of your toes. No more wet socks because your toes are soaking wet because you don’t own the tiny toe towel. How else does one dry off between your toes? From the product description:

This thirsty little towel reaches between toes for quick, thorough drying — keeping them comfy and healthy! Easier to use than a bulky bath towel, its unique shape fits comfortably between toes to gently whisk away wetness. Easy-grip handle prevents bending or straining.

There you have it. No bending or straining (assuming you don’t dry your ankles). The marvels of modern technology never cease to make our daily lives easier!

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

Book review: The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster

On Monday, I had my wisdom teeth pulled, and spent most of the day propped up in bed catching up on some reading. One of the books I read, The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster created by Samantha Ettus, was a quick, fun, and informative read. The book is a series of 100 essays by professionals who are experts in their fields. Each essay focuses on how to be efficient at one aspect of living.

The first 16 essays address issues in the home, and the next 11 essays provide tips for work. Mind, body, love, pleasure, travel, and future round out the other subject areas of the book.

The following are some of my favorite essays and a tip or two from their content:

  • “Do Laundry” by Lucinda Ottusch: “Make laundry more tolerable by transforming your laundry room into a livable, productive workspace.” (pg. 25)
  • “Organize Your Closet” by John Trosko: “Successful closet organizing requires tough choices about what flatters your best assets and what doesn’t. Forecast what your life will hold for you in the next year. Everything in your closet should have a purpose for today and tomorrow, not yesterday.” (pg. 33)
  • “Sort Mail” by Peter Walsh: “Decrease the amount of mail coming into your home by getting your name off junk-mail lists. Phone 1-888-5OPT OUT (1-888-567-8688) to have your name removed from lists that send those annoying credit card offers. Likewise, log onto to remove your name from lists that stuff your mailbox with unwanted catalogs.” (pg. 37)
  • “Find a Lost Object” by Michael Solomon: “IT’S NOT LOST — YOU ARE. Accept that the problem is not with the object — it’s with you! For there are no lost objects — only unsystematic searchers.” (pg. 55).
  • “Bake a Cake” by Warren Brown: His advice is good, but the best part of this essay is that he includes his recipe for vanilla cake with chocolate glaze icing. Yum! (pg. 251)
  • “Holiday Shop” by Paco Underhill: “Make a list of people to buy for. Jot ideas or specific gifts on your list for easy reference. Don’t buy for anyone who isn’t on your list — there must be a reason why he or she didn’t make it on the first time.” (pg. 264)

I recommend checking out the book if you’re interested in reading something fun on efficiency. I certainly enjoyed this book.

The 5-, 10-, and 15-minute unclutterer

When it’s hard to carve out an hour or two (or more) to complete an unclutter mission, sometimes we forgo organizing at all.

That’s where the speed unclutterer comes in handy. When your boss is about to drop by your cube or friends have called to say they’re coming right over, uncluttering has to take on velocity. I have found that this works best when you close off all distractions, focus solely on the targeted area, set the timer for 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments and unclutter until the timer dings.

What you do in your 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments depends, of course, on the degree of disarray in the area you plan to unclutter and the system you use. Here are some ideas to get you started. Adjust them according to your situation.

The 5-minute Unclutterer

To know where to begin on a 5-minute uncluttering project, asking yourself questions will sharpen your focus. As I wrote on page 20 in The Naked Desk:

If you have limited time to organize, ask yourself, “What single action would make the greatest impact right now?” Or, “What can I do in five minutes that will make the biggest difference?” Scan the office and choose the area that is calling out for order the most. Then take action!

These questions will help you quickly home in on the area that if you unclutter it, will bring you the greatest relief, serenity or beauty. Overwhelmed? Put a bull’s eye on one corner of the table to get started, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing.

Zen Habits also has a great list of 5-minute uncluttering actions in the article 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.

I love Leo’s tip #6:

Pick up 5 things, and find places for them. These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.

Make a mental note of the new spots for items so you can retrieve them when you need them.

The 10-minute Unclutterer

You can power through a small uncluttering task in 10 minutes or make progress on a larger project.

Admittedly, the morning dishes in our home sometimes get left unwashed as family members dash out the door for work and school. I set the timer daily for 10-minute dish washing blasts — instant sink and counter uncluttering. Other things you can knock out in 10 minutes include:

  • File one inch of paper
  • Organize a book shelf
  • Start a load of laundry

From home to work, there are many 10-minute uncluttering opportunities. For example, you can reserve the last 10 minutes of the day to unclutter your desk to start fresh and clear the next day.

To fend off return-from-home clutter piles, make it a habit to use your first 10 minutes through the door to put things away, such as your umbrella in the umbrella holder, your jacket in the closet and your keys on the landing strip.

The 15-minute Unclutterer

With all that you can accomplish in five or 10 minutes, 15 minutes can make an even bigger dent in clutter. You won’t streamline a bedraggled garage, but you can clear out one box.

When you find yourself with an unexpected block of 15 minutes, you can use the time to clear out clutter from your home or office. For example, you’ve arrived 15 minutes early for a lunch appointment — unclutter your car. Additional ideas:

To unclutter and clean, check out’s Sarah Aguirre article”15 Minute Cleanups.” The article provides cleaning checklists for six different rooms, from the kitchen to a kid’s room.

I put the Bedroom Cleanup checklist to the test one evening from 8:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. As I followed each of Aguierre’s steps (except I substituted vacuuming with dusting), the room took on an extra sparkle. (Earrings that had collected on my dresser got returned to their home. I also unpacked my husband’s suitcase from last week’s business trip.) It was fast and easy to run through someone else’s pre-made to-do list. I’m glad I did it and will try her suggestions for other rooms.

Some cluttering projects do take hours, days, or months to finish. But, starting with 5-, 10- or 15-minute uncluttering bursts can give you instant progress. These timed uncluttering sprints are also useful for daily maintenance.

What are you able to get done in 5-, 10- or 15-minute unclutter sprints? Let us know your regular routines in the comments.

Ikea hack for toy storage

The older your child gets, the more important it is to find great ideas for toy storage. It is always important to get rid of toys that your child doesn’t want or play with any longer to keep the toy inventory manageable. It also is important to find a storage solution that is easy for you and your child to use. Enter this idea from Ikea Hacker:

The hack uses the Ikea Pax wardrobe and Trofast storage boxes, which fit perfectly in the slots. This hack stores an incredible about of toys and is simple to create. I’m not sure if my daughter has enough toys to fill a full Pax wardrobe, but I’m sure we will be able to find use for all of the drawers.

(via ohdeedoh)

How much of your mortgage is going toward clutter storage?

If there is a room in your home that is off limits because of clutter in that space, you are not only wasting space but also wasting money. An Evening Gazette article explores the findings of a study by Ikea on the costs associated with cluttered rooms. From the article:

In a survey of UK homes, Ikea found 77% of us have a big problem with clutter, which contributes to wasting a whole room.

Squandering that space but paying for it over the years on our mortgages costs us on average an eye-watering £38,246 [$60,140] in Middlesbrough.

Research by another company, junk clearance business Any Junk?, confirmed the “wasted room” evidence and put it at only a slightly lower cost. It estimated on average householders waste around £32,000 [$50,250] worth of space – in Middlesbrough the figure is about £14,870 [$23,350].

In these tough economic times, it can be important to take stock of what you own. If your possessions are filling up a room in your home, then it is probably a good time to clear it out and purge the items that are wasting an entire room. Downsizing or finding a more utilitarian way to use the space may help you out financially over the long term.

When previous decluttering can come back to haunt you

Recently, my husband and I were filling out forms for a background check and the forms required that we list all of our previous addresses. My husband can count the number of his residences on his fingers and recite all of them from memory. It took him about two minutes to complete his portion of the forms.

It took me about an hour to remember all of my previous places of residence, and then another two hours to track down the information. To count my addresses I need to use my fingers, toes, and maybe an elbow, knee, and ear. For example, during the decade of the 1990s, I had 10 different residences. In the year 2000, I had three residences. It was my first year living in D.C. and I moved three times in a single year. In my defense, though, my first apartment that year had snakes in the ceiling. SNAKES!

I have purged all of my pay stubs and tax documents from before 1998, so the years from 1991 to 1998 were the most difficult for me to obtain. And, of course, these were the years I was in college when every fall meant a new dorm room or apartment. I also imagine that if I did have these documents, that my parents’ address would be listed on them as my “permanent” address, anyway. I searched my home for old address books (to no avail), e-mailed former roommates (one address was found this way), and called my mom (she produced another one). I even discovered an address on a ski lift receipt I had pasted to a page in a scrapbook.

I eventually found the remainder of my previous addresses in a box of old love letters I had forgotten I had saved. My husband was laughing as I transcribed information off the fronts of the envelopes.

“You should write about this on Unclutterer,” my husband said when his laughter had subsided enough that he could speak. “Advise your readers to hold onto their old love letters so that they’ll have a record of where they used to live.”

“I think it would be easier to recommend that they keep a list of their previous addresses,” I countered.

“Yes,” he agreed, “but these letters are hysterical! This one guy talks for an entire page about how your souls are connected by invisible forces, like bungee cords.”

“Old letters from you are in that box,” I reminded him. “I could write about them on Unclutterer.”

“The list idea you mentioned sounds like a good idea to me,” he said.

“I thought you would like it.”

When purging papers from your home or office, let me recommend that you keep a list in a file in your filing cabinet or on your computer of all your previous addresses and addresses of your former places of employment. Even if you don’t have a need for them now, things could change and you might one day need the information.

Now I’m off to either scan and purge or find a more preservation-friendly storage option for my old love letters … well, after my husband and I get a few more laughs from them. Let us know in the comments if you have ever been too eager with decluttering and what lessons you can share with our readers!

A year ago on Unclutterer