Let go of your clutter crutches

Regular readers of the website may have noticed that I use the words “terrific” and “wonderful” in almost every Workspace of the Week description. I didn’t realize I did this until a co-worker pointed it out to me, and now I cringe at the sight of those words in my writing. They’re stale and lack the punch of much more descriptive choices. Terrific! Wonderful! Ugh.

The more I think about these vocabulary crutches, the more I realize I have similar crutches in other areas of my life. Some of these crutches are good — like when I need a friend to listen, I turn to the same trusted people again and again — but others aren’t so positive. In fact, most of my crutches create clutter in my life.

For example, when I am really busy at work, the first thing I cut out of my day are magazine and newspaper reading. All incoming magazines are stored in a “to read” Stockholm project case and hang out with the idea that I’ll read them when things calm down. Except, when things calm down, I have that day’s reading materials to tackle and not enough time to read two week’s worth of information. I have a project case to hold my “to read” materials, but no set plan to ever empty the case. Weeks and months pass, the box becomes jammed packed, and I end up tossing the materials straight into the recycling bin without ever looking at them. My crutch is this box, and all it does is create clutter.

Each day for the next seven days, I’m going to try to eliminate one clutter crutch from my life. I’m going to look at how the problem came to be, what is wrong with the situation, and how I can change my behavior to immediately deal with the clutter. I’m also going to try not to use the words “terrific” and “wonderful” in my writing or speech.

What clutter crutches do you have in your life? If you’re game, make a seven-day commitment with me to banish these clutter creators!

(Thanks to Michelle who writes Design Evolution for inspiring me to do something about my terrific and wonderful vocabulary!)

Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old journals?

Reader Kelly submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

When I was a teenager and a young 20-something, I often kept journals – not daily, but more in bursts. I haven’t kept one since I was about 26 or 27, and have no interest in reading these now and keep moving them in a box with me everywhere I go (I’ve had a few moves). I don’t get rid of them because I feel I _may_ want to look at them when I’m older (say 20 or 30 years from now), just as I recall my grandparents looking back on their own items with great affection and sentiment. However, I really would never want anyone else (ie, my spouse or children or other relatives) to read them since they were the angst-filled musings of a young person. I’ve told my husband of my concern about the journals, and to please throw them out if something happens to me, but they still cause me unease!

So, what do you think… keep or dump?

This is a question that I have struggled with myself, but not for the same reasons you are. I don’t care if someone finds them and reads them, but I’m more concerned about the amount of space three decades of journals takes to store. (Trust me, someone would be bored silly reading my third grade journal that is full of daily rantings on how I don’t want to practice the violin. The horror!)

Ultimately, your decision to keep or dump your journals should be based on your answer to the following question:

Why did I write the journals?

Once you figure out why you wrote in the journals, you should easily be able to decide what to do with them in the future. Here are some examples:

  • If you wrote them for therapeutic reasons, as a way to work through problems in your life, then go ahead and burn them.
  • If you wrote them as messages to your future self, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them as a record that you were alive in that moment, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them to vent your frustrations, then burn them.

There are hundreds of reasons why you may have kept them, but once you identify why you did, the next step should be clear.

I have written in journals for all but five years of my life because I wanted to keep a record of what life felt like at a specific age. I wanted help to remember who I was and how much I’ve grown. Which means that I have chosen to keep them.

If you choose to get rid of them, you must burn them. Throw yourself a party. Read some of your favorite entries. Then, toss them in the fire and don’t look back.

If you choose to keep them, put them on a shelf in a low-traffic area of your home and read them when the mood strikes. Don’t keep them in an inaccessible box like in a museum. Choosing to keep an object means that you’re choosing to have the object be a part of your life.

Thank you, Kelly, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Workspace of the Week: Garage wonderland

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Jake Loupe’s well-organized garage:

This week’s entry isn’t a workspace in the traditional sense, but I can only imagine that this area sees a lot of work. As per our site motto, there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. Before the weather gets warm, you may want to take Jake’s lead and get your garage ready for summer use. Thank you, Jake, for creating such an inspiring space.

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.

Could your productivity benefit from a professional nagger?

We’ve talked in the past about how nagging the people you live with is never a good idea. It’s disrespectful, it upsets you, and it usually angers the person you’re nagging.

But, what if the situation were different and you chose to have someone nag you to keep you from procrastinating? What if you didn’t have any kind of an emotional or physical connection to the person who was nagging you to keep moving?

Last week, I learned about just such a person — a professional nagger. Her name is Rachel Cornell and people pay her to nag them.

She offers a daily nag, a power nag, an on-going nag, a week-long nag, and a community nag. She even has troubleshooting services to help you get over your bump in procrastination. I must be honest, I was flabbergasted to learn that she offered so many nagging options.

One of the reasons I think a professional nagger is an effective idea is because there isn’t a prior relationship between you and the nagger. You don’t have to sit down to dinner with your nagger. You don’t have to worry about what your nagger thinks of you. You have a business relationship with this person, and nothing else.

After learning about Rachel, I did some research and learned that there are hundreds of professional naggers available to nag at people who want their services. If you’re in the market for a push to keep you from procrastinating, do a search for “professional nagger” on Google to find one who might work best for you.

What do you think of a professional nagger? Would you ever use such a service? I definitely think I could have used one in college.

Purchasing the right CFL bulbs

cfl-bulbI recently returned some compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to my local hardware store because they were too dim and white. The traditional bulbs they replaced had been much warmer and brighter, and I prefer this kind of light.

Martha Stewart Living had an article in their September 2008 issue that highlighted the differences of all the CFL options. I highly recommend consulting this guide before you head out to purchase some new bulbs. I wish that I would have first consulted the guide. Here are some the recommendations they offer:

Table and floor lamps: Compact fluorescent in warm white.

Reading and Task Lamps: 23-watt CFL in warm light or daylight.

Recessed Fixtures: CFL in warm white or a halogen.

Some general tips on color size and shape:

Energy-saving bulbs have adopted the shapes, sizes, and appearance of traditional bulbs, making it easier to phase them in.

Warm White
When in doubt, opt for a warm-white CFL, 3,000 degrees Kelvin or lower. It has the color quality most associated with traditional bulbs.

Cool White
This color temperature is best avoided. It washes out skin tones and makes reds, oranges, and browns look muddy.

Daylight Bulb
In general, you should use a daylight bulb only in a reading or task light. The cool, bright tone makes text jump off the page.

The size and shape of CFLs has changed over the years and there are many more options for decorative lighting. There are globes for vanities and candle shaped bulbs for candelabras (with adapters).

To learn even more, read the full guide from Martha Stewart Living.

Unitasker Wednesday: Underground time capsule

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

Let me start off by saying I have nothing against time capsules, but lets face it they are a way to stow away some clutter for viewing on a later date. The contents of the time capsule will most likely be toys from your youth and perhaps a newspaper clipping or two.

This brings me to the Underground Time Capsule. It stores your capsule-worthy items in a plastic tube with a fake rock as a lid. Wouldn’t making your own time capsule be much more fun? How about using an old food jar of some kind? Your children could decorate it anyway that they would like. They could even draw a map on how to find their homemade time capsule. And, you’ll have a receptacle for some of your children’s clutter before they bury it for safe keeping.

The amount of creativity that is lost by purchasing such an item reminds me of the snow man kit unitasker from a few weeks ago.

A year ago on Unclutterer


Replace exercise DVDs with video podcasts

I recently cleared out my video and DVD collection and got rid of most of my workout programs. The ones I liked, I watched so often I don’t need the videos any longer to do the routines. And, the ones I didn’t like, never came out of their boxes.

One of the reasons I felt comfortable parting with these tapes is because I have found a terrific replacement with video podcasts on iTunes. Now, I don’t have to waste space storing videos and DVDs, and I can mix up my routines by simply downloading different video podcasts.

For a listing of all video podcasts on iTunes, go to “Power Search.”

Once in the Power Search, type “Fitness” in to the Description field, choose “Health” in the Category field, and check the box “Search Video Podcasts only.” Your search results should include at least 90 programs. Try out which ones work best for you.

Video podcast workouts are a great (and free!) alternative to bringing more items into your home. To get you started, here are two yoga video podcasts that I enjoy:

Title: Yoga Today video podcast
Cost: Free over iTunes
Duration: 5-10 minutes
Notes: I would describe this video podcast as American hipster yoga. Targeted to intermediate and advanced yoga practitioners, episodes range 5-10 minutes in length. The hosts are cheerful and music accompanies the routines.

Title: YOGAmazing video podcast
Cost: Free over iTunes
Duration: 5-25 minutes
Notes: Host Chaz Rough creates yoga classes in response to viewers’ requests. It’s led in the more traditional style and is targeted to the intermediate and advanced yoga practitioner. I think beginning yoga practitioners would easily be able to adapt Chaz’s routines to their skill level.

Organizing food storage wraps

If you’re not lucky enough to have a designated drawer for food storage wraps in your kitchen, you probably have to sacrifice space in your pantry or cupboards for plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, plastic sandwich bags, freezer paper, cellophane bags, reusable shopping bags, and reusable produce bags. I have to store these items in my pantry, too, and I have been considering the following items to help better organize my space:

Right now, the wrap shelves and the bag holder are what I think I’m going to buy. What do you use to organize your food storage wraps in your kitchen? Or, are you one of the lucky ones with a designated drawer? Tell us about your food storage wrap situation in the comments.

Best Buy takes electronics recycling program national

You can now take your broken or out-of-date electronics to your local Best Buy for recycling. From their site:

Now you can bring everything from TVs and computers to DVD players and more to any U.S. Best Buy store, and we’ll recycle it. Best Buy does not charge a fee for recycling most consumer electronics. However, we do charge $10 for TVs, CRTs, monitors and laptops, which is offset with a $10 gift card.

We accept up to two items per household per day.

Best Buy locations also offer recycling kiosks that can be used for inkjet cartridges, batteries, cell phones, CDs/DVDs, PDAs, smart phones and used Best Buy gift cards. If you live near one of the over 1,000 Best Buy locations, you can easily drop off your old electronics.

Also, be sure to check out our post from the summer of 2007: “How to dispose of old electronics.”

Real Simple’s six causes for clutter

Real Simple magazine has a helpful list of clutter causes. These causes have been covered here at Unclutterer, but this specific list is succinct at pointing out the causes and supplying solutions. From the article:

The obstacle: ‘If I get rid of this wedding vase, I’ll feel guilty’

The solution: People feel a responsibility to be good stewards of things, says Randy Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, and a coauthor of “Buried in Treasures” (Oxford University Press). Especially items they’ve been given by or inherited from a loved one. Getting rid of a present feels like disrespecting the giver. But remember the true meaning of gifts.

“When you receive a present,” says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, an interior designer in New York City and the founder of ApartmentTherapy.com, “your duty is to receive it and thank the giver — not to keep the gift forever.” 

Guilt is a powerful force to make us hold on to gifts from others. Sentimental clutter is equally powerful. The “I might need it someday” cause is also covered in the list along with procrastination, belief in future value, and bill paying.

Never again

It is a wise person who can learn as much from failure as success. I try my best to gain what I can from mistakes and botched attempts, but there are times when it takes me more than once to learn a lesson.

Until last week, it never crossed my mind that I could track these failures and learn from them in a more systematic approach. Then, I learned about these:

The actual paper folders are unnecessary, but the fundamental idea behind them are brilliant. After seeing them, I created a folder on my computer called “Never Again.” Then, inside that folder, I made a series of plain text documents: Restaurants, Books, Websites, Ideas, Hotels, Vacations, Wines, and Gifts. In these documents I recorded important notes to myself about mistakes I’ve made in the past.

An excerpt from my “Never Again: Gifts” file —

  1. Anything with nuts in it for Mary (allergic)
  2. Massage gift certificate for Katie
  3. Scented candles for anyone
  4. Lilies for Dana (allergic)
  5. Smoking items for David (quit 1/07)

The documents I put inside my “Never Again” file are on subjects that I instantly knew I had information to record. I’m sure that in a couple weeks I’ll have even more documents. Learning from mistakes helps improve productivity, saves time, and keeps us from spinning our wheels. Tracking our mistakes in an organized manner can help us to learn (probably best not to buy anyone a gift with nuts in it) and to free space in our mind to think of something else.

If you’re worried about someone gaining access to your “Never Again” file on your computer, make the file password protected. A simple password will keep your mistakes from becoming public information.

What “Never Again” documents would you create? Do you think this is a way that could help you learn from your mistakes and save you time in the future?

(Via Debbie, a professional organizing coach I follow on twitter. She can be found online at Virtually Organized.)