Exercise and focus

When you’re in a rush, behind schedule, or distracted, you’re more likely to make errors than when you are relaxed and attentive in the present. I’ve made mistakes when my mind has been running out of control — I’ve found my keys in the refrigerator, I’ve driven the wrong way down a one-way street, and typos have made their way onto the Unclutterer homepage.

One of the benefits of living as an unclutterer — choosing to get rid of the distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life — is that you have very few or no distractions to disrupt your focus. You don’t constantly worry about forgetting things because you have lists, calendars, and systems in place to manage your time and responsibilities. You aren’t anxious about completing a project on time because you no longer procrastinate. You don’t accidentally put your keys in the refrigerator because they have a designated place to live near your front door.

A neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, Arthur Kramer, in “Ageing, Fitness and Neurocognitive Function” (link is a PDF) in Nature magazine, reports on another way to improve your ability to focus and brain cognition. The answer: Regularly participating in aerobic exercise. From The Invisible Gorilla, pages 222 and 223, discussing Kramer’s study:

… aerobic exercise more effectively improves the health of your heart and increases blood flow to your brain … You don’t need to compete in triathlons; just walking a reasonable clip for thirty minutes or more a few times a week leads to better executive functioning and a healthier brain … Exercise improves cognition broadly by increasing the fitness of your brain itself.

As you’re working on your uncluttering efforts, consider adding thirty minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week to your schedule. If your typical attitude is that you don’t have time to exercise, the reality might be that exercise will help your ability to focus, which can help you to be more efficient with your time. An hour and a half a week of exercise could be an important step on your path to an uncluttered life.

Unitasker Wednesday: Cool Cones

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

Is eating store-bought ice cream bringing you down? Well, let Cool Cones turn that around!

Cool Cones: Like an ice cream cone without the yummy cone!

Cool Cones: Like the multipurpose spoon and bowl, but with only one very specific ice-cream-related purpose!

Cool Cones: Perfect for when your child just wants to eat a single tablespoon of ice cream!

Thanks to reader Alex for tipping us off to this unitasker.

A year ago on Unclutterer



Foundations of an uncluttered life: Useful, beautiful, and in its place

The 19th century designer William Morris is attributed as saying: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” This quote is always great to keep in mind as you’re deciding which of your possessions you want to keep and which you want to purge.

  • Is it useful? Does the object make your life easier? Does it save you time? Does it save you money? Does it fulfill an essential need? Do you use it every time you can?
  • Is it beautiful? Does it inspire you? Do you associate a positive memory with it? Can you see it and appreciate its beauty? Does it help you to develop the remarkable life you want to live?

Another helpful quote to keep in mind during the uncluttering process is the Unclutterer motto: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Combined, these two philosophies can get you on an uncluttered path. Good luck!

Filing with zip top bags

Reader Arnette has created an unconventional filing and reminder system that works wonders for keeping her organized. She wrote to me about it, and I wanted to share it with you because it’s unlike any system I’ve used. From Arnette:

This idea came to me when I was trying to find a way to file small notes to myself or related small pieces of paper on a particular subject. For example, each time I set up an appointment with a new doctor or dentist, I prepare a “baggie file” and then any time I think of something to discuss with the doctor, I put a note in the file, which I review just before the appointment. I currently use quart freezer bags as a mini filing system. I place a used white envelope (appx. 4×9″) into the baggie after writing the “label” information on it at the top (on the clean back of the envelope). I put all info related to that subject in the labeled baggie. I then place these mini files in a small crate or bin which can then be placed on a desk or in a file drawer. This system works very well when traveling, also (minus the bins) especially if the trip involves many different locations. Each baggie contains everything needed for each location, such as maps, hotel info, etc. I always have one labeled “home” in which I place receipts and notes to review when I get home. If needed, I place all the quart “files” in a gallon baggie and zip it for security. I also use a similar system when shopping.

If zip top bags you can buy at the grocery store aren’t professional looking enough for your needs, check out Uline’s selection of reclosable bags. Some of the options are professional enough to take to meetings.

Thanks to reader Arnette for sharing her system with us.

Gorgeous gifts without all the clutter

To keep wrapping paper from overwhelming our closet, I tend to buy a single roll of matte silver paper to use on all our gifts. Silver is nice because it works well for holidays, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and thinking-of-you presents. Plain brown butcher paper can work great, too, as an all-purpose gift wrap.

If you go the minimalist route with your wrapping paper, you might want to spruce up your gift with ribbons or bows. I like to keep things simple, so I typically just reuse nice ribbons that were attached to gifts other folks gave to me. A steam iron quickly gets out the wrinkles, and no one else is the wiser (well, at least they weren’t before I wrote about it).

The website NotMartha recently linked to a Martha Stewart project that is right up my simple-wrapping alley.

Simply using construction paper and a razor blade, this plain brown package is transformed into a beautiful gift. Easy, multifunctional materials, and whimsical — a great idea without all the clutter. Learn how to make a similar pop-up personalized bow with Martha’s step-by-step illustrated instructions.

Small but spacious condo

The website Freshome recently featured a beautifully designed studio condo in New York City’s East Village. The space is only 500 square feet, and the architecture firm JPDA found a way to take advantage of every inch of it:

I truly love the storage in the risers of the stairs. I also love how the space has a designated office built right into the room.

Be sure to check out all the photographs of the condo. I’m pretty sure the bathroom sits in the closed space between the kitchen and the living room (under the stairs) and the area between the front door and kitchen is storage. (A final note: I think the 15th picture in the series is from the Indigo Lounge redesign and incorrectly in the photo series for this home.)

A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Free time-tracking applications
    Lifehacker recently reviewed and rated the Five Best Time-Tracking Applications and awarded Klok (free and usable on all platforms) as the top application
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Even more elaborate butter cutters
    I am 100 percent serious when I say that I don’t understand why someone would prefer to use one of these butter cutting devices instead of a knife.
  • Uncluttering regrets
    Have you ever regretted getting rid of something?
  • The Stash for organizing the small stuff
    Organizing small things, specifically small things you regularly need at your fingertips, can be frustrating. Most of the pre-made organizing products for small things aren’t very attractive and/or made exclusively for drawers. While searching for a way to organize my son’s bath supplies, I came across an attractive organizing system that is made specifically for small things that sit out on a counter or hang on the wall. The Stash by Boon.
  • Workspace of the Week: Picture perfect design

Binder clip hack for your wire shelving

Making the rounds on Reddit this week was a great refrigerator hack by Muteboy on Flickr:

Muteboy, a.k.a. Matthew Petty, created an adjustable beverage rack in his refrigerator with a simple binder clip. The clip can be moved to the left for more beverage storage, or to the right for less. It’s a great idea for those of you with wire shelves in your refrigerator.

Since I have glass shelves throughout my refrigerator and freezer, this particular hack won’t work for me. However, it works great in my office closet where I have two rows of these types of wire shelves in my elfa system. I have already put it to use for corralling four poster tubes. It could work wonderfully for wrapping paper and wine bottles, as well.

Oh, and speaking of elfa, the Container Store is currently holding its 25% off shelving sale. Now is a good time to buy if you’ve been wanting a shelving or closet makeover.

Ask Unclutterer: Clutter is causing marriage woes

Reader Jenny submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I am a 29 year old, married, full-time MBA student. I have ADD, and have poor time management skills and am usually scrambling to get my school work and TA duties done. Since my husband and I first moved in together 8 years ago, we’ve never been able to come up with a way of managing household tasks. I grew up with parents who were both lax with household stuff, and my husband grew up in a very clean house in which is mother did 90% of the cleaning. Because we haven’t figured out how to deal with this, there is a lot of resentment and our ability to communicate about the subject has deteriorated. We’ve tried a cleaning service (which now we can’t afford), but it didn’t help the issue with the clutter. Our house is big, and takes a long time to clean (but we can’t sell in this market). Any thoughts on how I can learn these skills?

Jenny, let me begin by saying I empathize with your situation. When my husband sat me down to talk to me about my clutter, I was working full time, going to graduate school, and completely clueless how to “keep house.” He was frustrated by how I was living, and I was completely overwhelmed by my mess.

The first thing you need to do is re-open the lines of communication with your husband. Sit down together on the couch, hold hands (I’ve found it really difficult to yell at someone if you’re holding hands), and start talking.

Share with each other how you want your life to look when the clutter is gone. What will you do together? How will you spend your time? How will you live in your house? Initially, don’t talk about the present. Don’t talk about what needs to be accomplished to get to the point in the future. Instead, define in concrete terms what your remarkable life looks like, feels like, and how you two will function as a couple. Both of you need to talk, and both need to listen. Be specific.

Write down your vision of a remarkable life so you can reference it later. There will come a time mid-way through the process when you are tired and don’t want to work any longer, and looking back over this paper will help you remember why you’re putting in so much effort. You’ll have to trust me on this, but once you know where you’re headed together, getting there will be a lot easier.

The second part of the process is more difficult because you’ll both want to express your frustrations for the way things are in the present. I recommend heading to your favorite bar or corner restaurant to work out this part of the plan. (Similar to holding hands, I’ve found being in a public place often keeps tempers under control.) The two of you need to decide what needs to get done around the house to get you to a manageable baseline, who will be responsible for each action, and when that action needs to be completed. Your list and timeline need to be reasonable (think weeks, months, maybe a year), so have a calendar and lots of paper for list making. Responsibilities should be divided as equally as possible. Even if one of you is responsible for a part of the house being extremely cluttered, the other one can be tasked with uncluttering, cleaning, and organizing the space. Your home is one of the physical spaces where your marriage exists, and you both are responsible for it from this point forward.

If your marriage is your biggest priority, and saving it is paramount to both of you, it means you’re both going to have to temporarily sacrifice something else to make that happen. You may have to stop watching television for a couple months or give up weekends camping with friends or stop procrastinating (the rush from finishing something at the last minute can be quite addictive). I’m not suggesting you drop out of graduate school and become a full-time homemaker, but you can likely find something you’re spending time on that isn’t important to the remarkable life you have decided you want together. You’re going to have to make difficult choices, but those choices are hopefully worth it.

Having ADD is going to make this process more difficult for you than your spouse (assuming he doesn’t have it). He needs to be aware of this and find fun ways to help you stay on track that don’t annoy you. He could hang silly signs in the house with phrases like “Honey, you are beautiful, especially when you’re cleaning out the linen closet!” He could tell you jokes every 15 minutes as a reward for staying on task. He could work by your side and help you maintain focus. The more support and compassion you have for each other, the better and faster you’ll work — ADD or otherwise.

Be sure you both eat right and get a decent night’s sleep throughout this process. Doing this will ensure you have the energy you need to go to work, school, and take care of things at home.

Once the major clutter is cleared, you’ll be ready for maintenance. What’s good is that the less you have, the less you have to clean, put away, organize, insure, and maintain. At this point, you can create a weekly chore chart to keep up with all the things around the house you both need to do. Get a copy of my book and check out pages 98 and 99 for an example of how you might structure your chart. In short, you’ll want to do 30 minutes a night of chores where you do a general cleanup around the house for 10 minutes and then spend the remaining 20 focused on a designated room of your house. As the two of you work, play upbeat music or make a game of racing each other through your chores. Find something positive to motivate each other. Check out “Exhausted after work” for more suggestions on how to handle these daily house-keeping activities.

Thank you, Jenny, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope that the two of you find a way to get out from under the clutter and get back to having a resentment-free marriage. As someone who has been where you are and is now living an uncluttered life, I can attest that it was worth every second of hard work. Good luck!

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: Computer command center

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Aldebaran’s home office:

There are many beautiful things about this workspace — so many, actually, I couldn’t list them all in a reasonable amount of space. A few of my favorites: In the notes for the image, Aldebaran says that the wooden box on the bottom left shelf are where he stores all of his bills that need to be paid (attractive and useful). I love the “vanity panels” under the desk that hide vast number of cables out of sight. And, even though there are at least 10 computers in this office, their arrangement is terrifically uncluttered. Thank you, Aldebaran, for your fantastic submission to our Flickr pool. I am in awe.

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.

Eye candy: Wood organizing products

Knife and Saw is selling a beautiful bike shelf that is perfect for city dwellers in small spaces:

It’s not inexpensive ($270 for Ash or $300 for Walnut), but it is beautiful. And, the top of the bike rack can be used to hold stuff, which makes it a nice multi-tasker:

Speaking of beautiful wood things, have you seen Combine Collective’s Black Walnut Keyboard Trays?

Ranging from $69 to $79, they hold up to three Mac wireless devices in sustainable wood to use on your lap or desk.

It’s nice to see organizing products that are visually stunning and incredibly functional. So many organizing products are designed with utility as the only focus, completely ignoring aesthetics. I’m always on the lookout for items that manage to have high-quality function and form, and both of these certainly meet those standards.

(Bike shelf via Cool Hunting.)