Unitasker Wednesday: The can grip

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

Some weeks, I need to write a great amount of exposition about our featured unitasker because some folks might not understand why I believe a product lacks utility. This is not one of those weeks.

Introducing the Can Grip:

Why would I “instantly need to turn a can into a mug”?! Why?! WHY?! WHYYYYYYYYYYYY???!

Thanks to reader Scott for sending us this unitasker suggestion.

A year ago on Unclutterer



Seven tips for managing the overwhelming to-do list

No matter how much planning, preparation, and winnowing of your schedule you do, there are still times when responsibilities can wreak havoc on your to-do list. Whether at work or at home, there will be days or weeks when a lot of things just have to get done. How you face and perceive these challenges, though, will determine your stress and anxiety levels throughout this process.

  1. Maintain perspective. Now is the time to remind yourself of the big picture and of the temporary nature of this stress. Why are you taking on these responsibilities? What is the goal of all your hard work? Looking at the end result reinforces the temporary nature of your current condition.
  2. Don’t lose sight of the details. Be sure every vital to-do item is written on your list and methodically work your way through these items. If an important action is not on your list, you’ll worry about it unnecessarily. Also, remember the KISS principle and get the most important work done first.
  3. Embrace some of the stress. A little bit of stress (what is known as short-term, fight-or-flight stress) can be a good thing, especially if it helps to push you through your work. Use any stress you’re feeling to your advantage to give you a boost of energy to get many items checked off your list.
  4. Take breaks. Research shows that you’ll be more productive if you alternate between mindful and mindless work. You’re more likely to finish all of the items on your list if you take a short break for mindless work for at least five or 10 minutes every hour.
  5. Manage expectations. Regularly check in with the people who are waiting on the completion of your to-do items. The more they know about where you are in the process, the better they can anticipate and plan their to-do lists. How often and how detailed your updates need to be will be determined by the type of responsibilities you have.
  6. Don’t extend the stress. Now is not the time to take on a new project. Schedule appointments to talk about new opportunities for a few days or weeks down the line. You don’t have to say, “no,” you just need to say, “not right now.”
  7. Celebrate. When you’re finished with your massive to-do list, or at least the extremely weighty parts of it, take time to celebrate. You don’t need to go on a vacation (although, vacations are nice), but a reward of some kind is definitely in order. I’m quite fond of a walk to the ice cream shop.

Reader uncluttering strategy: Buy back your stuff

Yesterday, in the comment section to “Downsizing after a divorce” reader Clutter Junkie left an amazing strategy for reducing clutter that I wanted to highlight as its own post. From Clutter Junkie:

I’m rubbish at decluttering, but I had a girlfriend help me do my place.

She brought $20 in coins to start me off, and put everything I owned to one side of the room. If I wanted to keep anything, I had to buy it for a dollar (Just one dollar!) at a time. You soon realise that you wouldn’t pay a dollar for that CD in a junk shop — so why are you keeping it? All the money I paid went to charity, the amount of stuff I didn’t want also went to a charity store. It’s amazing how unappealing that old sweater looks when you have to pay for it.

I think this idea would work amazingly well for some situations — helping kids to minimize their toy collections, reducing the number of clothes in a closet, and deciding which sentimental items to keep and which to toss are a few situations that instantly come to my mind. If you have to “buy” your things again, you will certainly be more selective with what you choose to keep.

I also love the idea of the money and the left over items going to charity (assuming they’re in good condition). It’s nice to know that good things can happen as a result of your uncluttering efforts. Thanks, Clutter Junkie, for sharing your uncluttering strategy with us.

Will someone be able to use this before I do?

I mentioned last week in “Musings on children’s birthday parties” that my plan was to bake my son a Dinosaur Train cake for his first birthday. Now that the cake has been made, I no longer have a need for the train-shaped cake pans.

A small, sentimental part of me thought I might keep the cake pans. My friend Julie and I even came up with more than 25 things I could do with the pans if I decided to keep them — everything from jello and ice molds to flower pots and bird baths. Since my storage space is very limited in my kitchen cupboard, though, I knew keeping them would be difficult.

Before I made my final decision about what to do with the cake pans, I made a pact with myself to see if someone else I know might need them. I put a message up on Twitter and on Facebook to see if any of my friends could use them. I decided that if someone else needed them before me, I would give them away without hesitation.

Seconds after I posted my message on Twitter, I got a response from my friend Nanette saying that her nephew had an upcoming birthday and she would love to make him a train cake. Tomorrow, the cake pans are going to Nanette and they will make an awesome cake for another little boy.

This uncluttering process has me asking the question, “Will someone be able to use this before I do?” about a number of items in my home. I ended up giving a pair of hand-tooled leather boots to a friend because I realized by the time I can wear tight-fitting shoes again (if ever), the boots won’t be in style. If I give them to her, at least she can wear and enjoy them now. I passed along a tent to a friend who regularly goes camping. And, my painting supplies went to a colleague’s wife who is an artist and will use them well before I “find” the time.

This question is best asked of things you’re storing and using extremely infrequently. Check your long-term storage spaces and see if there are things others might be able to use before you do. If so, consider getting these things out of your home and into the arms of someone who could actually use them with regularity.

Moleskine notebooks for Kindles

Moleskine has introduced a great new product for Kindle owners — the Moleskine Kindle Cover with Reporter-Style Notebook:

I like it because it’s a terrific theft deterrent. While a Kindle is enticing to would-be thieves, a scribbled-in journal holds much less appeal. Since its exterior is identical to that of a regular Moleskine notebook, it doesn’t call attention to itself the way other Kindle covers do:

My guess is that the Moleskine company will go on to create similar products like this one for the Apple iPad and maybe the Nook and Sony Ebook Reader. At least, I hope they do. Electronic book readers are fantastic ways to reduce clutter on bookshelves. I also recommend audio books to anyone looking for ways to reduce the number of books taking up shelf space in your home.

Until Moleskine comes out with other book-reader notebooks, check out this hack for creating your own and other cool things to do with a Moleskine notebook, via Treehugger.

Downsizing after a divorce

Today we welcome Erin Ellia, a writer in transit, as a guest post author. She will be blogging her move discussed in this post at TheHouseAndI.blogspot.com.

I’m preparing for a move — a big one. I’m leaving my husband and our three-bedroom Boston-area house to sublet a furnished room in a Times Square apartment by myself. The soon-to-be-ex and I are trying to do this as amicably as possible, but I have to admit I laughed when he asked if I’d thought about what I might want to take with me. Honestly, the first thought that popped into my head was, “Well, I suppose they sell toothbrushes in New York…”

See, the soon-to-be ex is an inveterate clutterer, and I am emphatically not. It’s been a constant battle through the years. But no matter how Spartan an attitude I’ve always taken toward my stuff, I know it’s not realistic to move to New York without so much as a toothbrush. Is it? No. I’m 40 years old and every thing I’ve ever owned is in this house — there’s got to be something in it I want to keep.

Besides, I’m only renting the furnished room until I get my bearings in a new city. I really will need just a suitcase and toothbrush in the beginning, but soon enough I imagine I’ll be wanting things like furniture. I plan to winnow my half of our bulging houseful down to a minimal, manageable amount, to store in my father’s basement for the time being, until I find the quaint little rent-stabilized divorce-pad of my dreams.

It so happens I’ve done this for two households so far this year. In February, I helped an elderly friend move to assisted living, and last month I cleaned out my mother’s house (she passed away last fall). The way I see it: if I could manage the emotions of both of those fraught situations and still maintain focus on the task at hand, then I should have no problem making rational decisions about jeans that don’t fit anymore, or the broken bunny-rabbit mug I’ve been holding onto since the seventh grade. It’s all about perspective — I’m starting my life over; I’m happy to wriggle away from stuff like snakeskin.

Here’s my strategy:

  1. Approach my pile as if it belongs to someone else, as if I’ve never seen that broken mug.
  2. Keep only things I can realistically use in a small apartment — a lamp, a chair, maybe a trash can. If there are duplicates, I’ll take just my best or favorite one.
  3. Pack a single box each of decorative doodads, kitchen gear, and silly sentimental objects.
  4. The rest of the items I plan to sell. Books and CDs are (mostly) easy to replace, or a good excuse to finally get an iPod and a Kindle. And, I need to remember there’s not much chance my divorce-pad will actually be rent-stabilized.

I might just keep the broken bunny-rabbit mug, though, as it has been with me for 28 years — exactly twice as long as my (ex-)husband.

A year ago on Unclutterer




Programs for reading online content off-line

Regular readers of Unclutterer and also of my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week know I am a huge fan of Evernote and Instapaper. Both programs allow you to save articles and pages you find on the web and access them later without returning to the original site or needing an active internet connection.

If something is part of an ongoing research project (like Unclutterer post ideas), I tend to save what I find to Evernote. If what I want to read later is interesting to me, but not necessarily related to a specific project, I’ll send it to Instapaper. I have both programs on my smart phone and laptop, so I can access all the documents on any device. When I know I’ll be traveling in the near future, I tend to “Read Later” a lot of documents to Instapaper so I’ll have many options to read on my journey.

This week, Lifehacker tipped me off to another program like Evernote and Instapaper, but “ToRead Sends Article Text Straight to Your [E-mail] Inbox.” I don’t like receiving e-mail, so this isn’t a program for me. However, I thought ToRead might appeal to those of you who are averse to using an unfamiliar third-party viewer.

Are you already a ToRead user? What’s your preference for reading online content when you’re without an internet connection? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Ask Unclutterer: Processing car clutter

Reader Ruth submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

As a mini-van driving mom (and unabashed unclutterer), I am stymied by trash that seems to accumulate in the car on a daily basis. Dirty kleenex, gum wrappers, parking stubs, crumpled notebook paper, empty water bottles – all mysterious appear in the back of the car when I am not looking. I spend about 10 minutes a day cleaning it all out into a recycled grocery bag but can’t help wonder if there are other ideas on how to hold/manage trash in a vehicle. Of course, I would prefer something that was aesthetically pleasing (ie. NOT a Hefty bag tied to the back of the driver’s seat).

I would really like a scientific study commissioned to look into the trash and stray paper breeding ground of the automobile. I truly believe it is one of the most fertile regions on the planet. Our car grows straw wrappers, toll receipts, and used handy wipes faster than a flash of lightning — the humidity and sun exposure must be ideal trash and paper growing conditions.

To try to reduce the over-population of these items, we use a reusable trash bag tied to the back of our passenger’s seat. It’s not beautiful, but it’s better than the lawn and leaf black plastic bag you mentioned in your question.

Granted, getting others to use the bag might be the most difficult task of all. It took my husband and me a few months to even remember we had installed it, but once we remembered we’ve been using it with regularity.

You’re doing a great job by taking a few minutes each day to clean the stray clutter out of the car. I recommend to everyone a simple uncluttering session each time you get out of the car at your home. If you have kids, put incentives in place for actually using the reusable trash bags or make a game out of using it. You also might find that a bag on the back of multiple seats increases the likelihood that the receptacles will be used.

Good luck to you on keeping the clutter out of your car. For additional car uncluttering information, check out “Cleaning out your cluttered car” and “Clutter creeps into the car.”

Thank you, Ruth, 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: Home office comfort

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Snidegrrl’s snazzy workspace:

I chose this office because it’s well organized, but more importantly that it has so much wonderful work surface. It’s great for handling home paperwork and as a place to retreat and curl up with a good book. Snidegrrl wrote about her guest bedroom, now office remodeling project on her blog, and there is also an alternate view of the desk in the Flickr pool. Thank you, Snidegrrl, for submitting your office to our 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.

Musings on children’s birthday parties

Next week is my son’s first birthday. To celebrate this event, I’m making him a Dinosaur Train cake and some homemade orange popsicle flavored ice cream, both treats my husband and I plan to consume in significantly larger quantities than what my son will. (He’ll likely wear a good portion of his servings.) We’re not having a traditional party, but we’ll video chat with grandparents and cousins when he opens (rather, when we open) the gifts they generously sent to him. We might go to a park or the zoo if the weather is nice.

My expectation is that his second birthday celebration will be similar to this and he won’t start having parties with friends until he’s at least three, four, or five years old — whenever he requests a more standard party. Until then, we’re keeping things as low key as possible.

Before I became a mom, I never understood the lavish parties parents in my area throw for their kids. I’ve heard of some events that easily cost parents thousands of dollars, and guests to the party end up leaving with bags of goodies more valuable than the toys they brought for the guest of honor. I know I won’t ever throw a party like this for my son (sorry, kiddo!), but I’m at least starting to understand why parents do.

As a parent, you want the world for your kid. You want your child to be liked by his classmates, you want your child to be happy, and you want to celebrate his life. A basic swimming party with hamburgers can easily cost a hundred dollars — spending 10 times more once a year on a birthday party wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, especially if you’ve got the disposable income to do it. Research even shows that experiences make you happier than physical possessions.

My parenting philosophy and budget don’t include renting elephants, night clubs, and cruise ships for my son and 100 of his acquaintances, though. I’m more interested in teaching him to appreciate adventures than extravagance. I want him to respect people more than glamor and glitz. And, I hope he learns that the things that matter most in life don’t usually come wrapped in shiny paper with bows.

I don’t judge the parents who go all out for their child’s birthdays — for all I know, they’re teaching their children the same values I’m hoping to teach mine, just with the addition of a really great party once a year. A simple party is what works for our family, however, and I hope my son won’t be an outcast or disappointed by our decision when he’s old enough to know what a party is. If we stay in this area of the country, his birthday might regularly fall on the last day of school, which he might even see as party enough.