Uncluttering more than 800 pounds of stuff

In “Ditching 800 Pounds of ClutterWall Street Journal reporter Sue Shellenbarger narrates her six-week project ridding key areas of her home of clutter.

The headline is a bit misleading. Shellenbarger actually got rid of more than 800 pounds of stuff — the 800 pounds were just how much trash and recycling she purged. She also donated a SUV-load of items to Goodwill and 17 boxes of books to her public library.

Shellenbarger learned some valuable lessons during her spring-cleaning project:

  1. Declutter and organize before cleaning.
  2. Research, plan, and know why you’re going through the process before lifting a finger.
  3. Things can look worse before getting better.
  4. More than four hours at a time can be overwhelming for some people (it was for her).

From the article:

Since crawling across the spring-cleaning finish line earlier this month, I have been reveling in the benefits. My neatest and tidiest neighbor noticed my departures for the landfill with my Explorer packed to the roof, and dropped by for the first time to compliment me on a garage that is now nearly as sparkling and capacious as his. I am saving money, because I found stuff I thought I had lost and was planning to replace, such as snorkeling gear and moss-remover for my lawn. Laboring over my stuff has taught me to handle and recycle possessions with greater care. And I have to admit: Parking my car at night in the space actually designed for it, the garage, is beyond cool.

Be sure to check out the whole article, including the wonderful before and after photographs and the interactive closet graphic.

(Thanks to reader Melissa for pointing us in the direction of the article.)

Unitasker Wednesday: Cupmen Instant Noodle Figure

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

If it weren’t for instant noodles, I might have starved in college. Back then, I could buy 10 servings for $1. I would add vegetables or meat or even pasta sauce to them if I had some extra cash. I remember months when I ate them twice a day, every day. I continue to be incredibly nostalgic about instant noodles and will make some when the mood strikes.

In addition to being inexpensive, instant noodles are also idiot proof. If you let them sit in water too long, you have soup! If you don’t let them sit in water long enough, you have yummy, crispy noodles! They’re the perfect food for anyone who hasn’t yet mastered basic cooking skills. Which is why I am completely dumbfounded by this product:

The Cupmen Instant Noodle Figure rests on the lip of your steeping noodles and tells you when they’re “done.” In three minutes, the plastic, heat-sensitive Cupmen Figure transforms from a little blue guy into a little white guy. When he’s all white, you know your noodles are ready to eat. Yay, unnecessary plastic doodads!

I prefer to simply poke a fork at my noodles and see when they’re the consistency I prefer. A fork and my eyes seem to work extremely well. If you want to get high tech, you could even set three minutes on your watch, microwave, or timer … things you probably already own, and don’t have to buy or clean or eventually toss into a landfill.

A year ago on Unclutterer


Simple steps to unclutter your workspace

Today we welcome guest post writer Jaky Astik, who blogs about country, culture, and change on his blog Stories and Stuff.

Five easy steps to unclutter your office life:

  1. Stop using sticky to-do notes. Instead, use a more permanent system, like Tasks inside Gmail. You can’t misplace a digital file as easily as you can a sticky note.
  2. Use Google Docs and encourage your coworkers to do the same. There isn’t any paper to clutter up your desk. You can simultaneously work on spreadsheets and documents. And, you can save time since your documents will auto organize themselves.
  3. Every day before you leave the office, put things in order. Your files, pens, staples, etc. should be returned to it’s proper place. You’ll start your morning uncluttered.
  4. Get rid of the emotional clutter at work. Whether you get angry about a coworker or you don’t like or a rude boss, these aggravations distract from your job. Negative thoughts add up an emotional clutter to your life that will eventually burden your brain.
  5. Repurpose small cardboard boxes for drawer dividers. You don’t need the most beautiful product to do a job effectively. Small cardboard boxes come in handy and help organize things effortlessly.

What tips and tricks do you use to keep clutter to a minimum in your office? Share your tips in the comments.

Signum for cable management

Over the weekend, Lifehacker posted a great cable clutter solution from Ikea that I wanted to bring to your attention.

This Signum Cable Organiser is a black polyester pouch with two steel clips that can hook to the side of a workspace that has a 2″ or smaller edge. The clips are also convenient to remove, which means that you can have the Signum work double duty as cable carrying case. The case is 19″ long, and at just $5.00 it is a relatively inexpensive way to keep your computer or electronics cables under control.

Thanks to Lifehacker for bringing this organizer to our attention. Oh, and beware: There are at least seven products named Signum at Ikea, which is confusing.

How much is enough?

As part of my second set of 2010 resolutions, I started going through my entire home and office playing the “I’m moving overseas!” uncluttering game.

However, I ran into a problem because I know I’m not actually moving overseas. It’s like setting your alarm clock 10 minutes ahead — you always know it’s 10 minutes ahead. I can’t seem to trick myself into behaving in a way that makes the game beneficial. And, since I already own much less stuff than the average American, I’m using that as some strange justification for my decision-making process.

I’ve come to realize that this game isn’t for me and that I need a new approach. Taking the place of “I’m moving overseas!” is my new “How much is enough?” evaluation procedure.

The premise of “How much is enough?” is simple:

  • Sort objects into groups by product type. All hammers in one pile, and all free mini-tubes of toothpaste from the dentist in another.
  • Evaluate product types and decide what we need and what inspires us. Is it necessary that I have three hammers? Is one hammer enough to meet my family’s needs? Is more than one hammer a distraction (clutter)? Is having one pair of scissors in the sewing supplies, another pair in my office desk, and another pair in the kitchen the best solution for our family? Do I have more yarn than I could possibly knit in a year or in a lifetime?
  • Sort remaining objects into groups by purpose. All home maintenance and repair tools in one pile, and all toiletries in another.
  • Evaluate purpose groups and decide what we need and what inspires us. Is it necessary that I have a cream rinse, conditioner, and a leave-in conditioner for my hair? Do we need earthenware when our china is more durable and can go in the dishwasher and microwave? Do I need 40 photographs of family and friends on display, or will five really great pictures inspire me more because I’ll actually look at them instead of seeing a mess of frames?
  • When returning objects to their official storage spaces, ask again if what I have is more than I need or effective at inspiring me. Am I owning this object just to own it, or is it an object that my family or I really need and/or find truly inspiring?

What I’m learning is that I have more than I need to achieve the remarkable life I desire, and I don’t need to be surrounded by so much stuff. It is ridiculous for me to own 10 sweaters when I only wore one this past winter (and this was the worst winter we’ve had in D.C. in my lifetime). One sweater is enough for me. I’m simply not a sweater-wearing person. And, if I need another, I thankfully have the resources to easily acquire another sweater. All nine of my other sweaters can be donated to a charitable group for people who really need sweaters during the winter to stay warm.

My answer to the question, “How much is enough?” is turning out to be much less than I imagined. My family and I don’t require too many physical objects to be healthy, happy, and comfortable in the modern world. And, in a couple rare cases, I’m also finding that there are objects we need but that we don’t own. In these situations, I’m making room in our home for these items and I’ve started saving money to buy them.

If you choose to use the “How much is enough?” evaluation procedure to help you sort through your clutter, remember that your answers will be very personal. The decisions that you make will likely be different than mine (you may need more than one sweater in your wardrobe), and that is okay. What I’m learning is that my answer to the question is much different than it was even just two years ago. Don’t be surprised if your answers have changed over time, too. Happy uncluttering!

Kindle software available for Mac users

I know that not everyone is on board with reading electronic books as a way to control over-flowing bookshelves, but if you are, you might be happy to know that Kindle software is now available for Mac.

Just like it is on the iPhone, the software is free to download. It provides easy access to Amazon’s more than 450,000 digital books. If you already have a Kindle device, you can now synchronize your account between it and your Mac. Or, instead of using a Kindle to read books digitally, you can use your Mac and avoid purchasing a Kindle completely.

My guess is that Amazon released this product in an effort to thwart a competing service that Apple might have for its iPad. I also expect the price of the Kindle to drop after the release of the iPad to be more competitive — so if you’ve been waiting to buy a Kindle, you might wait until after April 3 to see what happens.

Organize with the backpack couch

Kids and college students might especially enjoy this wonderful backpack couch (officially the “Club Sofa 01”) from designers Quinze and Milan and backpack company Eastpak:

I love all the terrific storage options for remote and video game controls, magazines, books, and whatever else you might want to have at your fingertips while relaxing on the couch.

From a description about the couch on DesignBoom:

the ‘built to resist’ collection combines quinze & milan shapes with authentic eastpak product characteristics, including bags, zippers, handles, colorful strong fabrics and popular prints.

The couch will be released at the Milan Design Week 2010. Additional images of the backpack couch available on DesignBoom.

A year ago on Unclutterer


Ask Unclutterer: Simple baby-proofing solutions

Reader Liz submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I recently bought our first house, and we’re really looking forward to all the space, especially with our 20-month-old son! However, we have an issue I haven’t seen addressed here (or anywhere for that matter) — what is a good computer set-up that can also be locked away to keep little fingers away from the keyboard, mouse, and tower? We’re looking for something relatively inexpensive, but we haven’t found a good solution that would also fit in a living room, since our computer/monitor also functions as our TV/DVD player. Any suggestions?

My eight-month-old son is about a week away from taking his first, unassisted steps. The past month has been a giant lesson in baby proofing our home as he has learned to pull himself up to standing and toddle along next to any surface that will support him. I wholly understand your dilemma.

We found that making items “invisible” is the best thing to do with the things that can’t be set on high shelves. If my son doesn’t see the breakable and expensive electronics, he has no interest in messing with them.

For cords and cables, we used Kwik Clips to secure them to baseboards, support beams, the desktop, and along the back of furniture. Not only are the cables secured, but they become “invisible” because they’re no longer obviously there. We also put down area rugs to hide our surround sound speaker wires and then ran the wires up through the speaker stands. For your computer table, a large mouse pad might work in a similar fashion.

For your electronics, you can hide these items by installing cupboard doors or screens to an existing desk or media center, or purchase a new storage system that already has doors. If the doors open, simply use childproof latches to keep them closed. If you’re buying something new, I recommend checking out the desks and media centers at Ikea. They’re inexpensive and you can easily unload them on Craigslist if you ever want to upgrade. At least in our area, there is a huge community of people always looking for Ikea pieces. Armoires are also great for hiding desks and equipment — check out Mark Coggins’ office that we featured as a Workspace of the Week. Using a closet might also work, and you can simply shut the closet door when your son is in the adjoining room.

If you want to make your own screens to use with your existing furniture, I recommend purchasing art canvas frames or large picture frames and then stretching a material similar to panty hose across them (check your hardware and fabric stores, there are a few different fabric styles available). This way, your child can’t see the electronics, but your IR remote can still communicate with the hidden devices. Once your child loses interest in pushing buttons, you can permanently remove the screens.

I’m sure that there are other solutions out there that our readers have used, so be sure to check the comments for more baby-proofing solutions. Thank you, Liz, 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: She’s crafty

This week’s Workspace of the Week is |_viviana_|’s quaint craft space:

This craft desk and shelving is wonderfully designed to contain |_viviana_|’s supplies in an organized and useful fashion. With the large work table, I can only imagine how great it is for projects large and small. The portable drawer storage is perfect for unsightly items, the task light appears to be extremely functional, and even the chair looks comfortable. Best of all, I think I love the button storage in the jars on the shelf. Sometimes supplies are worthy of being seen. Thank you, |_viviana_|, for sharing your inspiring craft workspace with us.

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.

Capturing meeting notes

Recently in the Unclutterer Forums, reader Knyghtmaire started the interesting thread “Capturing Meeting Notes” and asked:

I am curious how other [people] capture their meeting notes to reference later.

The answers that follow are wonderful and shed light on the different ways we all work. A few of the highlights:

HappyDogs: Frequently, we end up mapping out something on the white board, then, since none of us want to rewrite it, we take a photo of it.

AJ: How about a pen that records your writing and puts it into a PDF? A pen that also records (if you want) and co-ordinates the timing of your notes with the voice recording?

I haven’t looked into prices because it’s not available where I live, but the SmartPen looks like a really cool gadget.


rachel_413: What I do for important notes, is I scan them and put them in the computer folder for that particular project, usually in a subfolder called Basis. Although scanning your notes is an extra work step, it gets rid of paper files, and it’s important to have records for other people who work on the project, or may have to follow your trail long after you’ve moved on to other projects or companies.

I will type notes directly into a text file and then save the file in the corresponding client folder. If the notes will need to be referenced at a point when I’m not at my computer, I’ll upload the file to Evernote. If someone is interested in reading my notes, I’ll simply e-mail them. I like the idea of linking the notes somehow to the event that was scheduled on my digital calendar, but I’ve never actually done this. Anyone know how to do this with Google Calendar?

How do you capture meeting notes? Share your ideas in the comments to this post or join in the discussion on the Unclutterer Forums.