Uncluttering regrets

In the comments section of Tuesday’s post “Asking the better question,” reader Cheryl asked:

Have you ever gotten rid of something about which you later regretted making that choice? What was it? If it’s happened more than once, what object or person or habit was most regrettably gone?

In my personal experience, the only things I’ve regretted getting rid of are things I didn’t know I was tossing. During my first major purging process, I got impatient and just wanted the clutter to be out of my life. So, without opening the lids on some of my boxes and sorting through my things, I just blindly disposed of a few boxes. Included in one of the boxes were my social security card and passport. Both items were able to be replaced, but it would have been much less of a hassle had I not thrown them away in the first place. Rushing through the process is what led to my regrets.

Otherwise, I’ve never regretted getting rid of something. In fact, I’ve always felt better about getting rid of the clutter than I have felt about any of the things I’ve purged.

A couple people responded to Cheryl’s questions in Tuesday’s comments, and I’m interested in reading even more people’s responses here. Have you ever regretted getting rid of something? I think this is a wonderful question to ask. Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Unitasker Wednesday: Even more elaborate butter cutters

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

We believed the Butter Cutter was quite the ridiculous unitasker when we featured it back in October of 2007. Little did we know that there were even larger and messier competitors in the non-knife butter cutting market. Behold the Gourmet Butter Mate and the One Click Butter Cutter:

I am 100 percent serious when I say that I don’t understand why someone would prefer to use one of these devices instead of a knife. A knife is relatively small, dishwasher safe, and can be used to cut hundreds upon hundreds of things. Neither of these devices can be used to cut anything other than butter and they’re huge and made up of many plastic parts and complete overkill and … well, you get the picture.

In comparison, these two devices make the original Butter Cutter we featured feel much less like a unitasker.

Free time-tracking applications

Keeping track of how you spend your time is a necessity when you’re billing segments of your workday to multiple clients, but it’s also valuable for determining your efficiency and productivity. Lifehacker recently reviewed and rated the Five Best Time-Tracking Applications and awarded Klok (free and usable on all platforms) as the top application:

Built with Adobe AIR, Klok is a lightweight and cross-platform tracking solution. You can create a hierarchy of projects and sub-projects in the task-management sidebar and then track the time spent on each by dragging and dropping them into the workflow for the day. While you can delve into the details of each block of time, simple adjustments like expanding the amount of time you’ve worked on a project is as easy as grabbing the edge of the block with your mouse and tugging it down.

Also on their list are Manic Time (Windows), SlimTimer (web-based), RescueTime (Windows and Mac), and Project Hamster (Linux). All five of the applications mentioned in the article are free to access or download.

If you haven’t tracked your time before, I recommend keeping records for at least two weeks to see how you spend your time. The data you will acquire will give you insight into your most productive hours of the day, your low-performance times, when people tend to interrupt you, and how much time you waste during an average day. Then, you can start to tweak your work habits to get the most out of your time in the office.

Asking the better question

Reader Diana recently e-mailed her process for deciding what stays and what goes when she is uncluttering. Simply stated, she asks:

Does this make my life better?

If the answer is yes, she keeps the object or routine or whatever it is that she is examining. If her answer is no, she gets rid of it.

“Does this make my life better?” is a simple question. However, it’s important to think about what the question isn’t asking.

The word does is in the present tense. Diana isn’t asking if the thing did make her life better at some point in the past. She isn’t asking if it could maker her life better in the future. Nor is she asking if it should make things better based on other people’s perceptions. All she is asking is if it does make her life better, right now.

So often we hold onto things because they were once meaningful or because we think we might need them at some undetermined point in the future or because we worry about what other people will think if we get rid them. Asking the straightforward, “Does this make my life better?” allows you to avoid these cluttering scenarios and instead focus on the present.

Great advice, Diana. Thank you for the tip!

Reducing résumé clutter

In the comments to last week’s post on organizing a job search, a reader asked if we might be able to put together a résumé organizing post. Since I haven’t put together a résumé in more than five years, I thought it best to turn to a professional. Today we welcome guest author Tiffany Bridge who worked for many years as a recruiter for a job placement company. Welcome, Tiffany.

Usually, uncluttering is about organizing your stuff in such a way that life is simpler for you. Résumé uncluttering is a special challenge because it’s about organizing your stuff so that it’s easier for someone else — most likely someone you’ve never met.

Common causes of résumé clutter and how to combat them

The One-Page Résumé. This is one of the most pernicious lies ever to haunt hiring managers. Yes, the Career Services people at your college were right that you should keep your résumé to one page when you’re just coming out of school, but once you have some real experience to talk about it’s needlessly constraining.

Solution: Your résumé should be exactly as long as you need to describe it, and no longer. For most people, this is about two pages, but even three are fine if you need them. You generally only need to cover about the last 10 years of your experience for most fields.

The Functional Résumé. This is another one of those things that your college Career Services people tell you about, which kind of makes sense when you’re getting out of school, but is completely useless once you’ve had a job or two. Hiring managers want a sense of career progression, how you got to where you are now, and a functional résumé completely obliterates any ability to observe it. It’s also commonly used to play down embarrassing gaps in one’s work history, so the hiring manager starts wondering what you’re trying to hide — firing? nervous breakdown? prison sentence?

Solution: It’s fine to have a functional component of your résumé if you have a job history that’s not a straight line toward your goal or if you’re trying to change fields and need to pull all your relevant skills together. However, you still need to be able to show the actual chronological history of your career.

The Objective Statement. This is a waste of an inch or two of space you are trying to use judiciously. If you’re bothering to apply to a job, clearly your objective is to get that job. No one needs to be told that.

Solution: A summary statement is a nice alternative, especially to pull together disparate experience, as long as you avoid tired phrases like “customer service-oriented,” “team player” or “seasoned professional.” Or you can skip it altogether and just jump straight into “Experience.” Your cover letter will explain your objectives better than a statement on your résumé.

In short, remember that the HR person or hiring manager giving your résumé the first review is going to be scanning, not reading. Keep the most relevant information (your experience) near the top, avoid pointless and outdated conventions, and don’t be afraid to take enough space to help the reader connect the dots of your experience and skills to get a complete picture of your strengths.

Your stuff isn’t you

Over the weekend, writer Andrew Sullivan linked to the findings of a 2003 study on “The role of eyebrows in face recognition.” The study concludes that when a person removes his or her eyebrows (either by shaving them off or digitally removing them in a photograph) it is very difficult to recognize that person.

More than half of the people looking at images of celebrities will fail to name the celebrity when their eyebrows are missing. And, since most of us aren’t as famous as Richard Nixon, it’s safe to bet that if we were to remove our eyebrows that most people wouldn’t recognize us, either.

I’m mentioning this study because it is fascinating to me on two levels. First, I thought it was cool. Who comes up with the idea for testing this sort of thing?

Second, I instantly thought about the human desire to express ourselves through stuff. We buy doo dads and knick knacks and a seemingly unlimited supply of things to proclaim, “this is who I am!” We think our stuff tells the world who we are, but our eyebrows — little bits of hair that nature automatically provides — say more than our possessions ever will.

Remove a favorite chair from your home or toss out your beloved t-shirt and everyone in your life will still recognize you. Shave off your eyebrows, and even your closest circle of friends will have to stare at you for awhile to realize that they know you. I’m not suggesting that you shave off your eyebrows, rather that you remember this strange study as further proof that your stuff isn’t you.

(Images of Richard Nixon and Winona Ryder from the study.)

Keep it in rotation

Professional organizer extraordinaire Monica Ricci returns to Unclutterer to talk about consumable products. You can follow Monica on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog for more organizing tips.

There are two types of things in our lives — consumable goods and what I call hard goods. Consumable goods are things we buy, use, and re-buy to sustain our lives. Hard goods are items we buy with the intention of keeping them long term. There are some important differences between consumables and hard goods. First, the obvious is that consumables get used up and need to be re-acquired. Second, it makes sense to purchase consumables in quantity because of their consumable nature, provided you have ample space to store them. But one of the most important differences is that while consumables get consumed, hard goods live with us until we choose to move them along. Another differentiating factor is that consumable items need to be balanced and stay in motion. If not, you’ve got trouble. Trouble in the form of overspending, crowded storage spaces, mystery inventory and expired products which equals more wasted money.

To avoid these perils, evaluate your consumable inventory regularly. This means keeping on top of three primary areas: the refrigerator, the pantry and your toiletries stash.

  1. Clean out the refrigerator weekly, preferably the night before trash goes out to the curb.
  2. Keep informed about what’s in your pantry and don’t buy things you already have. Sort through everything in your pantry at least twice a year.
  3. Except for toilet paper and possibly bar soap, only keep a few extra toiletries on hand at any given time. Toiletry goods expire quickly (especially makeup), so buy them only when you need them.

There you have it … three simple ways to make sure your consumables get consumed in a way that doesn’t crowd your life, waste money, or waste food.

A year ago on Unclutterer



Need motivation? Send an invitation

One of the most fun ways to motivate yourself to unclutter your home and/or office is to invite someone to visit. Whether you decide to throw a party or just ask your cousin over for tea, it’s nice to have a reward for getting your space into shape.

During the fall and winter, I often nest. Stuff comes into my house, but it’s difficult for me to get equal amounts of stuff out of it. My solution is to throw a holiday wine and cheese party every year. I have to clean out the refrigerator to make space for the hors d’oeuvres, I purge all the clutter in the house, and I make sure that everything I own has a “home.” I also call in a service a few days in advance to help me get all of the nooks and crannies that usually get overlooked a good cleaning. Then, after all of my hard work, I get to celebrate my orderly space with my friends.

When I worked in a traditional office, I would set up a meeting time with my boss and invite him/her to my space. The day before the meeting I would dust, go through what was on my bulletin boards, and get my office into its best state. Sure, my boss came by my office every day, but he/she didn’t usually spend more than a few seconds relaying information to me. The sit-down meetings were motivation to really improve my office.

If you’re looking for a push to get you uncluttering and organizing, check your calendar and send an invitation.

Ask Unclutterer: What is clutter?

Reader Jennifer submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Why do so many people seem to think that if something is small, it isn’t clutter? Is the clutter in most people’s houses composed of large items? Just what kinds of things do most people consider to be “clutter”?

My definition of clutter has nothing to do with size. Clutter is any distraction that gets in the way of a remarkable life. Clutter doesn’t have to be physical — you can have time clutter or mental clutter or even bad processes that qualify as clutter. I think most of us have had toxic relationships that have been clutter in our lives. Stuff definitely can be clutter, but it’s not the only form.

That being said, most physical clutter that I have encountered in people’s homes and offices is small stuff. Spaces just can’t hold a lot of big items. So, in terms of quantity, it’s the small stuff that takes the title.

One thing that is also important to distinguish is that clutter and disorganization aren’t the same thing. If an item is useful and used or is inspiring to you, it isn’t clutter. However, if that useful or inspiring item is without a proper storage place (a place for everything and everything in its place) then you will be distracted by it the same as if it were clutter. The lack of an organized solution is clutter, not the object.

Additionally, what constitutes clutter for one person isn’t necessarily clutter for someone else. And, people have different thresholds for how much clutter they can have to achieve their remarkable lives. I don’t organize or regularly unclutter my sock drawer, and I’m okay with that. To focus on what matters most to me in life, I don’t need to have a pristine sock drawer. I rarely wear socks, so I just don’t come into contact with this drawer much at all. A drawer full of hole-ridden socks in complete disarray, however, might drive someone else batty and waste a great deal of their time. We’re different, and that is magnificent.

I’m also interested in reading other people’s definitions of clutter, so I hope that this post receives many comments. Your question was thought provoking and a good one to ask. I believe that formulating your own definition of clutter can go a long way in helping get it under control. Thank you, Jennifer, 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: Nook office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Ivy_Style33’s corner office:

If I understand things correctly, Ivy_Style33 used bookshelves to create an office out of a corner of her apartment. The Ikea Expedit Bookshelf was set to the right of the desk to extend the small wall and separate the workspace from the living space. This is a fantastic idea, especially for people in open floor plan dwellings. Visitors don’t have to see everything sprawled out on your desk, and you have increased privacy when working. Additionally, Ivy_Style33 has set up the space in an extremely organized and efficient manner. This is such an inspiring addition to our Flickr pool.

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.

Recovering from an e-mail interruption

The October issue of Real Simple magazine quotes a Microsoft and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study that claims it takes 17 minutes “for a worker interrupted by e-mail to get back to what she was doing.”

If this statistic is true, and I know from experience that there is a refractory time after any distraction, it is strong evidence against leaving the notification alert active on your e-mail program. Instead, you should schedule time in your day to check your e-mail. Based on the type of office environment you work in, you might need to check your e-mail at the top of every hour. However, most people can get by only checking their e-mail two to four times during the work day.

I also recommend checking e-mail during the times when you are usually distracted during the day. Whether this is when others tend to interrupt you or when your mind typically wanders on its own, it’s best not to try to do high-functioning activities when you plan to work through your e-mail inbox. For me, this is right after lunch when I find it difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. I check e-mail, return phone calls, and do a little bit of filing.

Try turning off the notification alert on your e-mail system and only checking e-mail on a schedule and see if it improves your productivity. If the interruption refractory period really is 17 minutes, you should immediately notice significant gains in your focus.