A year ago on Unclutterer



Ask Unclutterer: Auto office

Reader Jim submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My wife uses her mini van as an office for her process serving business, and a shuttle bus for taking our children to and from various events plus all the household shopping. Her process serving business involves carrying multiple files that need served and ones that have been served. She also uses duct tape to post papers on doors, flashlight, mace, and a gps. She uses a plastic grocery bag over one of the arm rests for a garbage bag and she carries all the coupons in her van since she never knows when she will need one. All of these items are kept in between the front seats, door pockets and overhead visors. Needless to say the van can get cluttered quite quickly. This drives me crazy when we use her van for family trips. What suggestions or gadgets have you come across for organizing a vehicle? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

The same rules you use to keep your home uncluttered should apply to your car. Specifically, I’m thinking of the Unclutterer motto: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The reason the car is becoming cluttered is because none of your wife’s items have a “place” in the car.

I recommend that you and your wife look into getting an automotive mobile office. There are many different options, so find the one that works best for her specific needs. I like the AutoDesk Standard Efficiency model because of the additional storage space behind the laptop surface:

The prices might initially seem a little steep (most are between $100 and $200), but when you compare them to the costs of traditional office furniture, they’re incredibly less expensive. And, it is her office. Just because she works in a car doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice all of the benefits of a conventional office.

A coupon organizer would be a great solution for her coupon collection and could be stored in the auto desk unit. And, a large litter bag would also be a nice addition to keep trash under control.

As far as posting papers around the car, you might consider using sticky tape to adhere a cork or metal strip to the front of the glove box. Then, either with thumb tacks or magnets she could hang the papers there instead of using duct tape throughout the car.

Thank you, Jim, 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: Tiny desk

This week’s Workspace of the Week is AlmostBunnies’ dining room office:

I’m drawn to this office because of its unconventional location and assembly. For space issues, AlmostBunnies needed the office to be located in the corner of the dining room and for the desk to be as small as possible. Even though the work surface is small, with the help of the storage shelving to the left of the desk, there is space for a paper shredder, inbox, printer, task light, and file box. Additionally, the cables match the wall paint, so they go relatively unnoticed. A description from the owner:

My hunt for a perfect chair is finally over … this vintage chair I scored at a flea market yesterday. I just re-uphostered the cushion with linen and Voila! It’s a perfect match and I’m absolutely loving it.

Again, this desk is DIY. I couldn’t find the right size desk top (small enough to fit in our tiny dining room), so I bought this pine wood panel, had it cut, pained it in white and added the legs from IKEA.

Also notice I spary-painted the IKEA VIKA INGE legs in white because they only come in silver and I’ve never liked it 🙂

Thank you, AlmostBunnies, for your submission 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.

Design Public’s Organization Blog Fest: Bookshelves

The website Design Public is hosting an Organization Blog Fest for a week, and they asked me to be a part of the advice-wielding group for the second year in a row.

Unclutterer’s topic this year is “Clear the Clutter from Your Bookshelves,” and the five tips come from Unclutter Your Life in One Week. The first two tips:

  1. Give away any books that you don’t plan on reading or referencing again, are in the public domain, and can be found in their entirety online.
  2. Keep the leather-bound copy of The Scarlet Letter that your grandmother gave you on her deathbed.

Check out the article to learn the other three tips!

Unitasker Wednesday: Formula Mixer

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

The baby industry never ceases to amaze me with its ability to prey on new parents. This week’s Unitasker is right up there with the Nuvo Ritmo Pregnancy Sound System as being a totally useless gadget. Introducing the Formula Mixer:

As an adoptive parent with six months of making bottles under my belt, I can 100 percent attest to the fact that merely shaking a bottle will produce a wonderfully consistent meal for my son. No electricity is needed to power my arm while it shakes. I don’t need to toss my arm in the dishwasher afterward, and I don’t have to buy my arm seeing as it’s already attached to my body. Since you have to continuously hold down the power button to use this item, I don’t understand how it is in any way better than simply shaking a bottle. Oh, Unitaskers, how you make me smile.

A year ago on Unclutterer


DIY rolling tool cart

Yesterday, Lifehacker linked to the wonderful Instructables series “Build a Peg Board Tool Cart Then Brag About It.” It’s an extremely organized creation, and, best of all, the creator of the tool cart said he made the entire unit for less than $50:

It is a sturdy design that would be a fantastic tool organization system in any garage or workroom. You can watch the tool cart in action on YouTube:

(Images from Instructables)

Wall beds that have function and style

The company Bonbon Trading has some wonderful wall beds that are perfect for small spaces or guest rooms. I’m a fan of the Ulisse wall bed unit with desk:

And, I am quite fond of the Poppi Ponte single bed that unfolds to reveal storage in addition to the bed.

When space is limited, wall beds are a great way to to get multiple uses out of the same room. These designs also remind me of the lofted bedrooms by Tumidei.

O Magazine focuses on uncluttering

The March 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine just hit newsstands and it is dedicated to the theme “De-Clutter Your Life!” The uncluttering articles begin on page 142, but most of the content in the rest of the magazine is tangentially related to the topic.

If you turn to page 158 of the issue, and search diligently, you can even spot a quote from me (hunting for it is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo?). This was my first time being quoted in O, and I was thrilled they thought of me for their big “De-Clutter Your Life!” issue.

For one of the uncluttering stories, Oprah let camera crews into her closet to see how much clutter she had stored on her rods and shelves. Her closet seemed to me to be in decent shape, but she talked frankly about her decisions to keep and purge items with Adam Glassman, O‘s creative director:

OPRAH: “I bought a lot of little bags when I thought I was going to be a ‘lady who lunches.’ I’ve never been one, but I’ve always liked the idea and longed for that life. There’s something about dressing up and being ladies–it’s like playing house.”
ADAM: “Fashion can help you create an image, but be honest about your lifestyle. Do you really need yachting clothes when you never set foot on a boat? When buying an item, if you can answer ‘Where am I going in this?’ with at least four legitimate places, you have my blessing.”

One of my favorite features in the issue is a chart on page 153 “The 10 Habits of Highly Organized People.” From the list:

9. FORSEE (AND AVOID) PROBLEMS. You wouldn’t leave the house on a gray day without an umbrella, right? People who appear to sail through life unruffled apply this thinking to every scenario, says [Dorthy] Breininger [president of the Delphi Center for Organization]. Have a cabinet packed with leaning towers of Tupperware? Organized folks will take a few minutes to short-circuit an avalanche before it happens. (In other words, rearranging that cupboard now is easier than chasing after wayward lids as they scatter underneath the fridge.)

There are many great tips to be garnered from the March issue of O. Also, the items that Oprah decided to pitch from her closet are being auctioned on eBay starting March 1, and proceeds with benefit her Leadership Academy.

More mindful, less clutter

Have you ever been on a road trip, driving down a long stretch of highway, and suddenly become mindful of where you are and what you’re doing? You don’t know where the last few minutes went, but you are instantly aware that you had zoned out for awhile. You weren’t asleep; you just weren’t alert or present to the task at hand.

I’ve been on the Metro and had a similar experience. I’ve ridden past my stop because my mind was focused on something that had happened earlier or wasn’t focused on anything at all. I was absentminded because I wasn’t mindful of what I was currently doing.

When we operate on auto-pilot in our lives, we cease to be aware of what is happening right now. A man on the street will hand you a flier for a shoe sale, and you’ll put it into your pocket without thinking twice. Then, the flier clutters up your coat pocket for days, maybe weeks, because you don’t even remember it is there. Had you been mindful when you were on the street, you wouldn’t have taken the flier in the first place.

A significant amount of clutter in our homes could be eliminated simply by being more mindful in the present. Mindfulness helps you to make significantly fewer impulse buys, you throw out junk mail before bringing it into your house, and when you spot clutter already in your home you take care of it immediately (recycle it, trash it, put it in a donation box) instead of pushing it aside and letting it continue to bother you. I’ve also found that if I’m tired, I’m more likely to be absentminded. (There is a direct correlation between how many typos make it onto Unclutterer and how much sleep I had the night before I edited the article.) Keeping up energy levels helps a great deal with being mindful.

If you’re not in the practice of staying mindful, consider temporarily putting up post-it notes around your home or office that say “What are you doing right now?” A note on your computer monitor, one on your bathroom mirror, another near your mailbox, and another one on the door of your microwave are good places to start. A second idea might be setting a timer on your computer with a recorded voice saying “What are you doing?” to sound every 15 minutes. Also, keeping up your energy levels is a plus.

What do you do to help you stay mindful in the present? I’ve tried the post-it note idea and had decent success with that strategy. However, I found I needed to change the post-it note every few days (switch up my handwriting, change to a different color of paper, and move the location slightly) so that they continued to grab my attention.

Cleaning and Chinese New Year

I was recently inspired during the days before Chinese New Year (which started on February 14) to clean the entire house and do some necessary baby proofing in the process. It is a custom in China to thoroughly clean your home before New Year’s Eve to get rid of the bad luck of the previous year. It’s similar to the “out with the old, in with the new” idea many in the U.S. express in late December, but taken more literally. Get rid of the old — especially the dust and dirt — to make way for the new.

When taking on a cleaning project, I like to tackle it with the same vigor and vim I do an uncluttering task. (And, as my friend Don often says: “If you lack vigor, bring an extra dose of vim.”) Here are the five tips I keep in mind when cleaning:

  1. Start at the top. If you’re cleaning a room, this means starting at the ceiling and moving your way down to the floor. You’ll inevitably stir up dust and other non-desirables, which means if you start at the top you’ll never have to clean a surface twice.
  2. Use the least caustic cleaner first. I think this is a tip I picked up from an episode of Martha Stewart Living, and it’s a good one. The less dangerous a cleaning agent, the easier it is on what you’re cleaning and it is almost always less expensive. You wouldn’t bring a cannon to a thumb wrestling tournament, so you don’t need to haul out the big guns unless you really need them. Plus, if you have kids or pets, you don’t have worries about accidental poisonings cluttering up your mind.
  3. Be safe. If you need to move up the caustic cleaner scale, make sure you aren’t using one cleaner that can interact with the residue of the previous product (like don’t use an ammonia cleaner with or on top of a bleach-based cleaner). Keep the area ventilated, wear eye and breathing gear if recommended by the manufacturer, and store the chemicals under lock and key. Read all packaging to ensure that you are being as safe as possible.
  4. Don’t feel you need to take on cleaning your entire house all in one weekend. At Chez Doland, we deep clean the kitchen and dining room on Monday, Bathrooms on Tuesday, Bedrooms on Wednesday, Living and family rooms on Thursday, and Friday is for the foyer, garage, and laundry room. After a 10 minute general pick up around the house, we focus for 20 minutes on the targeted room.
  5. Don’t tackle cleaning alone. If you live with other people, equally split up the tasks. If you live alone, call in a cleaning service every once in awhile to give yourself a well-deserved break.

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! Feel welcome to add your cleaning tips in the comments section of this post.

A year ago on Unclutterer



  • Going paperless
    According to the New York Times article Pushing Paper Out the Door, a paperless future is coming quicker than a lot of us may think.
  • The Socket Sense Surge Strip
    The size of the black cube takes up two or possibly three outlets on the strip. That’s not fair, is it?


  • Of wants and needs
    Never let anything cross the threshold of your home unless it’s something that you know you need or that you know you will love and cherish for a long time to come.
  • Living more simply through eBay
    You don’t need to be as hip and PoMo as John Freyer–who sold all his possessions online–to see the benefit of eBay as a tool for turning clutter into cash.