March 2012 marks my fifth year working for Unclutterer.com. My first post didn’t appear on the site until April 6, 2007, “Solving the Imelda Marcos Problem,” but I actually started a few weeks before that doing work on other areas of the site. Honestly, I’m shocked it has been five years. It is amazing how quickly time flies when you have a job you love. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to write for such an amazing site and such a terrific group of readers.
I already knew a fair amount about uncluttering and organizing before I started working here, but over the past five years I’ve learned so much more from our readership and researching the topic. The following are a handful of things I have learned about the world of simple living and writing about this topic every week day for five years that I thought you might enjoy:
- Paper is the gateway issue. More new readers come to the site seeking advice on how to process paper than any other topic. I would have thought in the digital age that paper wouldn’t be such a priority, but it is. Search after search after search drive people here who are looking to get rid of the stacks of paper in their homes and office. But, while paper is the gateway issue, our “Creating a Weekly Meal Plan” post gets more hits than any other single page on our site.
- Relationship advice. The most common question asked of me in emails is along the lines of “How do I live with someone who is cluttered?” The second most common question concerns dealing with clutter kept by elderly family members — fears that the family member will die and leave the mess or worries about how to help the family member downsize to a retirement home. When people are frustrated with their family members, they turn to email.
- Fear, conflicting priorities, and lack of good time management and decision-making skills are significantly more likely to be the causes of clutter than laziness or lack of motivation. As a former clutterer, I knew a lack of organizing skills was to blame in my case. However, I wasn’t exactly sure why so many others fought clutter, too. Writing for the site has taught me physical disabilities, attention disorder, sentimental personalities, a desire not to be forgotten, structural prohibitions, death of a loved one, shopping addictions, and dozens more reasons also cause clutter.
- We keep a list of topics to avoid because of the awful comments people leave on the site in response to posts containing them. We have written about these topics a few times after they made the “do not discuss” list, but we always do it when we know we’ll be at our desks all day to monitor the comments. In case you’re curious, this list includes Sandra Lee and her show Semi-Homemade Cooking, Pottery Barn, baby formula, and Saran Wrap. The list is longer than these four items, these are just the four that baffle me the most and I never knew they were hot-button issues before writing for the site.
- A good number of readers buy unitaskers after we feature them. Numerous manufacturers, after we featured their products as unitaskers, have reached out to us to say thank you for spiking their sales with links from our site. I’ve even received emails from manufacturers asking if we might feature their items as unitaskers. We’ve never featured a product a manufacturer wanted us to, but I admire the risk they take for reaching out to me. This all speaks to the adage that all news is good news. I don’t have any issues with people buying the unitaskers (as I’ve said before, I have a few of them), but I just find it interesting that our unitasker posts increase product sales. I never would have expected this when we started the feature. After learning this information, we stopped reviewing products that we don’t recommend because we would rather nothing be said about them instead of drawing attention to bad products.
- A few people have asked me over the years about the systems I use to write. Every post I’ve ever written has been constructed in TextEdit, I hand code or use preset snippets I’ve logged into TextExpander for all the links and formatting, and then I import the whole thing all at once into our content management system (WordPress). All images are edited in PhotoShop and I use a MacBook Pro. In addition to the MacBook screen, I also have a second Dell flat-screen monitor that looms over the left edge of my laptop. I type about 105 words a minute. I get ideas for posts from our staff, professional organizers I talk to at industry functions, and questions or suggestions from readers. Very, very few ideas come from press releases that constantly bombard my email account (maybe four or five a year).
- Routines are the answer for chores you hate to do. I’m someone who hated routines five years ago — I thought they killed creativity and stifled my life enjoyment. What I have grown to learn from reader suggestions over the past five years is that putting daily chores into a set routine actually provides me with more time to focus on the things I love to do and I enjoy the fun stuff more because I don’t have any responsibilities weighing on me. Routines are amazing and save me incredible amounts of time. I hope they work for you, too.
- Life is short, even if you live to be 102, and clutter shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the adventure. If something isn’t distracting you or causing you worry or frustration or making life unnecessarily complicated, it’s probably not clutter or disorganized. There isn’t a single standard for what is uncluttered and what isn’t. Only you know what is in the way of you achieving the life of your dreams.