Ask Unclutterer: CD storage

Reader Christy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I use iTunes and have burned all my CDs to iTunes. I also have a huge box in my basement of all the hardcopy CDs.

Is there any reason I would need to keep them (computer crash or something), or am I safe to start giving them away?

Christy, the idealist in me says that if you have burned all of your CDs in a lossless format and you have your computer backed up to a secure online location, you should be fine getting rid of your physical CDs. However, the pragmatist in me has to admit that there is a box of CDs in my basement and I wouldn’t even do what I just suggested.

Also, from a legal standpoint, you aren’t supposed to have a digital copy of a CD without also having the physical copy.

I guess when it comes down to it, my official advice would be to simply get rid of the jewel cases (they can be recycled in most communities) and store all of your hardcopy CDs in a CD Notebook. If you do this, you won’t have to pay the fees to store all of your lossless music data online and you’ll cover your arse if the RIAA ever comes knocking at your door.

Thank you, Christy, 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: Organized and adjustable

This week’s Workspace of the Week is |Andrea|’s versatile office:

I am a fan of this space for a number of reasons. First, I like the use of the Metro Shelving units that allow |Andrea| to configure the space in a multitude of ways. Second, I like how things are grouped together by purpose: books on one shelf, media on another (DVDs and such are stored in the red boxes), only things used while working are on the desktop, etc. Finally, I like how the cables have been managed so that they’re not overwhelming the work surface. Well done. Thank you, |Andrea|, for your submission to our 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.

Excerpt: How many bath linens do you need?

Below is the final excerpt from my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week we plan to run on the site — this time on how to determine how many towels and washcloths you need in your linen closet.

This is from the Tuesday chapter, “Your Bathroom” section:

“During its second season in 1967, the television show Star Trek aired an episode called ‘The Trouble with Tribbles.’ In this episode, a member of the crew of the Starship Enterprise is given a cuddly, furry tribble as a pet. Unfortunately for the crew, the tribble reproduces at an alarming rate and thousands of tribbles end up eating all of the grain on the ship. The crew runs the risk of dying of starvation out in deep space since their food supply has been so greatly depleted. I won’t give away details about the ending of the episode, but since the show went on to run for another season and a half, you can probably guess that they found a way out of the furry situation.

I mention this episode of Star Trek because I remember thinking about it the first time I cleared the clutter from my linen storage. I was convinced that my bath towels and washcloths had multiplied. I remembered buying one of the towels before I started college, but I had no memory of how I acquired the dozens more in the years since. It was as if they had spontaneously reproduced while the doors to the linen closet were shut.

To determine how many towels and washcloths you need, use this simple math equation:

(House residents + Guest bedrooms) x 2 = Sets of bath towels and washcloths

The logic behind the equation is that you have one bath towel and washcloth in use and another set in the linen closet ready to go. Since houseguests only need towels while they’re staying with you, they don’t need extras in reserve. Most guest rooms can accommodate two people, so multiplying the number of guest rooms by two usually provides for a towel per guest. (I’m using the term guest room in a general sense; in our house the guest room is an apple-green pullout couch in the middle of the living room.) If you have four people living in your home and zero guest rooms, then you should have eight bath towels and eight washcloths: (4 + 0) x 2 = 8. If you have three people living in your home and two guest rooms, then you should have ten towels and ten washcloths: (3 + 2) x 2 = 10.

This equation might not work for everyone, but most people find it to be a good starting point. If you’re a whiz at laundry, you might be able to get by on one set of towels per person. If you’re particular about having a new washcloth every day, you might need more washcloths in your collection. If your towels are falling on your head every time you open your linen closet, it’s time to trim your collection.

One nice thing about getting rid of towels and washcloths is that animal shelters worldwide are more than eager to take used linens off your hands. They are used to provide soft spaces for animals to rest, to dry off recently bathed animals, and to clean up messes. In addition to towels and washcloths, most shelters also take old sheets and tablecloths. Give your favorite animal shelter a call before you make your donation to make sure that they have a need for your unwanted items, and wash the items you plan to donate.”

Excerpt: Being a social butterfly

Below is another excerpt from my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week — this time on how to have a social life in this busy world.

This is from the Friday chapter:

“One of my biggest complaints about adulthood is that it’s difficult to simply hang out with friends. In high school, you could call up your friend and say, ‘Hey! A bunch of us are hanging out at Kara’s place. Stop by if you want to hang out.’ No one scheduled ‘hanging out’ on their calendar. No one knew at the start of the night what might transpire by the end of the night. And no one ever left at eight thirty, tapping at her watch, saying she had an early day tomorrow.

When I graduated college, I was completely unprepared for having to schedule time to hang out with friends. The first time one of my friends told me that she had to check her calendar to see when we might be able to grab lunch together, I laughed so hard I made myself cry. Oh, to have so few responsibilities that we could hang out whenever we want!

Review your list from the Foundations chapter that identifies the things that matter to you most. Is spending quality time with friends and family on your list? What else is on your list? Schedule the time now to live the remarkable life you desire.

  • Don’t turn your back on your routines. A little time every day spent on basic routines will provide you with more time in your schedule to pursue the things that truly matter.
  • Plan at least one social event a week. Make a date with your friends or loved ones and keep that obligation. If the people in your life are really a priority, then you need to respect the time you spend with them. Say no to less important requests for your time and keep your date.
  • Plan at least one stay-home event a week. If you’re already a social butterfly, make a commitment to staying home at least one evening a week and taking care of yourself.
  • Keep a list of things you want to do, and do them. Have a list on your smart phone or carry a small notebook with you, and record things you want to do. I have lists of wines I want to try, new restaurants that are getting good buzz, day trip locations, bike trails I’ve discovered, and dozens of other things that have caught my attention. When you’re organized and focused on what really matters, you’ll never have the opportunity to say, ‘I’m bored.’
  • Pay money to take a class. When you spend money on a class, you’re more likely to make a commitment to attending it. If you want to have more variation in your meal plan, take a cooking class at your local cooking school to give you ideas and confidence. If you have always dreamed of going to Rome, sign up for Italian language classes at the local community college to get you prepared. If you wish that you and your significant other would go out dancing, take a ballroom dance class together. If finances are tight, look for free classes listed in your newspaper and make the extra effort to attend.
  • Stop making excuses. You can come up with reasons for why you can’t do something until you’re blue in the face. Instead of wasting the energy coming up with those reasons, use that same energy to find ways to make it happen. You’ll be surprised by your ingenuity.”

A brief word on political banner ads

Many readers have emailed us today to complain about the content of some political banner ads running on this site over the last few days. Most of the banner ads and all of the RSS ads for this site are served by Google Adsense without any direct overview by us.

We found many of these ads to be offensive enough that we have set our Adsense preferences to now block all political ads from running on this site. We haven’t made a permanent decision, but, at the very least, we are doing this until the end of this election season in the United States.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind those of you with a service or product that might be of interest to our readership that we sell banner ads on our site directly at a significant savings over the cost of purchasing them through Adsense.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Egg Cuber

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

I think that this week’s unitasker may actually be a non-tasker. Ever since reader Penni sent this Egg Cuber to me, I have tried to imagine why someone would want square eggs — and I have yet to come up with a reason.

Does the oval offend some people? Do square eggs have a longer shelf life? Is it easier to crack a square egg than it is to crack an oval one? Is there a major problem with eggs rolling off counters and trays that I don’t yet know about? why? Why? WHY would anyone want a square egg?!

Also, I think you have to own chickens or at least have access to immediately laid eggs to be able to take advantage of this device. Egg shells are only transformable for a very short time period after being laid. It seems like quite the task to be able to even get these to work.

Please leave your explanations (the more humorous the better) for why someone might need the Egg Cuber in the comments. There must be some reason for such a device beyond the end result just looking cool.

(Image via The Kitchen Store)

Making exceptions to your uncluttered standards

We all make exceptions to the uncluttered standards we have in place. In my closet are one or two pieces of clothing that don’t fit me right, but for some reason I haven’t been able to give them away to charity. There is a chipped mug in my kitchen cupboards that we got as a wedding gift and the sentimentality of the object pulls at my heartstrings. Also, there is an enormous Jumperoo in my office that makes me wince every time I walk past it, but all the jump, jump, jumping makes my son so blissfully happy that it stays.

Making exceptions to uncluttered standards, though, can become a slippery slope. If we don’t keep a watchful eye on our stuff, eventually our entire homes and offices are filled with clutter again. This is especially true in places where clutter can easily hide — closets, cupboards, and toy bins.

As a result, I have created a new uncluttered standard for my exceptions. It states:

If getting rid of the object causes more distraction than having the object, I keep it.

If I got rid of the chipped mug in my cupboard, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it once it was gone. So, the mug should go.

However, if I got rid of the Jumperoo, I’d feel extreme guilt. I’d know that I had gotten rid of one of my son’s favorite things and it would continue to distract me for weeks to come. Since there isn’t any other reason he shouldn’t have it except for the fact that I hate how much room it takes up in my office, I’m keeping it. (The minute he gets too big for it, though, that thing is gone.)

Do you make exceptions to your uncluttered standards? If so, how do you keep these exceptions from cluttering up your space?

A year ago on Unclutterer



Excerpt: Participating in Meetings

Below is another excerpt from my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week — this time on how to efficiently participate in a meeting.

This is from the Wednesday chapter, “Communication Processes” section:

“You might not realize it, but meeting attendees have some control over how quickly a meeting runs and they certainly impact the quality of the discussion.

  • Be prepared. Read the agenda at least a day in advance of the meeting. Come to the meeting with relevant materials. Have a pen and pad of paper with you. Turn your BlackBerry to vibrate. Know who else will be at the meeting. Know the goal of the meeting, its location, and its start time. Arrive at the meeting on time.
  • Respect others. How many times have you been in a meeting where a presenter has had to repeat information because Gary and Stephanie were focusing on their laptops instead of paying attention the first time something was said? Not only does this type of distraction waste Gary’s and Stephanie’s time, but it also wastes the time of everyone attending the meeting. Focus your attention on who is speaking. Make eye contact. Show that you’re listening. Avoid making snide comments to your neighbor. If you’re having trouble concentrating, write down in excruciating detail everything the speaker is saying. It will give you something to do, and you can review your detailed notes later if you spaced out on what was being said.
  • Think before you speak. Before you contribute to a conversation in a meeting, ask yourself: 1) Is this comment helpful and relevant to the topic being discussed right now? (If it’s not, save it for after the meeting.) 2) Will this comment be helpful to everyone in the room or just one individual? (If the comment is only helpful to one person, save everyone else’s time and talk to that specific person after the meeting.) 3) Can I craft my comment so that it takes less than thirty seconds to express? (If you can’t, keep crafting. If you’re not presenting, your comments should be brief.)”

What do you do during meetings to help speed them along? Add your ideas to the comments.

Excerpt: Eight strategies to stop procrastinating

The following is an excerpt from my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week, which comes out next week on November 3. If you have pre-ordered the book, THANK YOU! and also don’t forget to sign up to receive the special PDF bonus worksheets. And, to let you know, the electronic Kindle version is now available for pre-order (still no word on the other e-book formats).

Now, on with the excerpt from the Thursday chapter, “Working While at Work” section of the book:

“… try these strategies for improving your productivity when you don’t really want to work:

  • Similar to what you might do when exercising, play music with a fast rhythm.
  • If you drink caffeine, consume it in small, frequent amounts instead of just one large cup at the beginning of the day.
  • Set time-specific goals in two-, five-, or ten-minute increments. Identify what you want to accomplish in a very short amount of time, and then set a timer and go for it.
  • Isolate yourself. Remove the desire to procrastinate by not having any other options but to work.
  • Acknowledge that you’re procrastinating. Often, just realizing that you’re putting something off is enough to get you working.
  • Challenge a colleague to see who can get the most work done in a set time period.
  • Ask someone to help you stay accountable. There are professional motivators who will call you once a day to see how you’re doing, but a trusted and willing friend or coworker can do the same thing for free.
  • If the task doesn’t require much though, listen to an audiobook while you work. Agree to only listen to the book when you’re working on the project you don’t want to do. This way, you’ll be interested in hearing more of the story each time you take on the undesirable task.”

Cooking and freezing: Ideas for getting past mealtime stress

Since our son surprisingly joined our family two months ago, my husband and I have had weird eating routines. Gone were the days of sitting down and eating a well-balanced meal at the table, and in were sandwiches gobbled over the sink in a groggy, sleep-deprived daze. I don’t like hastily prepared meals that lack major nutritional food groups, so I called my mom and asked her to help me get things back on track.

This past weekend, my mom and I prepared, cooked, and froze about a month’s worth of meals. Beef stew, burritos, pre-mixed ingredients for homemade bread, and dozens of other options now line the shelves of our refrigerator and freezer. It’s nice to once again be working from a meal plan and not feel overwhelmed by the simple act of getting dinner on the table.

I’ve found that extending a formal invitation to a friend or family member to help with an aspect of my life where I need to be better organized can be the motivation I need to get things done. I actually did most of the cooking this weekend while my mom played with her grandson and kept me company. Simply having a set time on the schedule and someone with me meant that I didn’t put off this chore and stayed focused on it. In addition to meal preparations, this idea also works great for closet uncluttering, paper filing, and cleaning out the garage.

If you’ve never worked from a meal plan or used a freezer to help with meal planning, I recommend you read these articles and give these methods a try — especially if you feel stressed out by the question “what’s for dinner?”

Also, last week, the Lifehacker blog ran a wonderful article called “10 Simple Freezer Tricks to Save You Time and Money” that can get you moving in the same direction.

How do you keep from feeling overwhelmed at mealtime? Give us your tips in the comments.

Unclutterer nominated for Los Angeles Organizing Award

Each year, the Los Angeles Organizing Awards literally roll out the red carpet to honor individuals and companies in the professional organizing world. For the first time, has been nominated for one of these prestigious awards in the “Best Organizing Website or Blog” category.

Now through December 15 you can cast your vote for your favorite products, services, and organizers in the many categories. Anyone can vote — you don’t need to be a professional organizer — and those of us at Unclutterer would love your support if you think that we’re worthy in the Website category. The winners will be announced in late January at the historic Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. The Los Angeles Organizing Awards are the organizing world’s equivalent of the Oscars or Emmys, and we’re truly honored to be nominated for a 2010 award.

I recommend checking out the nominations in all of the categories, even if you don’t vote for us or vote for any of the options. It’s nice to see a listing of the best of the best in the industry. I learned about the Canadian organizing television show Neat through last year’s voting process and many other great organizing and uncluttering resources that had never made it onto my radar screen.

For example, do you know about the other sites in the “Best Organizing Website or Blog” category? If you’ve never checked them out, I suggest giving them a peek as they are written by some amazing organizers:

The Clutter Diet Blog, written by Lorie Marrero:

Jeri’s Organizing and Decluttering News, written by Jeri Dansky:, written by Paul & Valerie Holstein:

Simplify101 Blog/Website, written by Aby & Jay Garvey:

Again, now through December 15 you can cast your vote for your favorite products, services, and organizers in the many categories, and obviously we would truly appreciate your support if you think we’re worthy in the “Best Organizing Website or Blog” category.