A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Coffee Grinder Brush
    Sadly, this specialized brush can’t do the job of getting particulates out of your grinder any better than a pastry brush (which you probably already own if you’re grinding your own coffee and spices).
  • Searching for inspiration for a multipurpose guest room
    I’m looking for ways to make our guest room into a fabulous guest room and a practical hobby room in one. The solution will have to include storage for the hobby supplies that can be completely closed up when guests are present and using it for their retreat. And, I want it to be extremely practical as a hobby room when guests aren’t visiting.

2010

  • Organizing your home and family with notebooks
    Notebooks are great because they keep all of your important papers in one place and they are easily portable. In our home, we have a recipe notebook, appliance notebook (instruction manuals, purchase receipts, maintenance and repair receipts, and warranty information), and important information notebooks for all four of us (our cat even has one).
  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Krustbuster
    When did knives become too difficult to use? When did crust become something you don’t eat? When did we become a people demanding the production of the Krustbuster?
  • Musings on children’s birthday parties
    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.

Ask Unclutterer: An entire agency uncluttering project

Reader Lee submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I work at an agency that has about 20 staff. In early July we will be renovating our space and most staff will have to pack up their offices to prepare for the renovations …

Without coming across as militant, how can I help my co-workers through the uncluttering process? I’m forever pointing out that they hold onto things they no longer need. For example, many of the print resources they hold onto are available on-line.

Also:
We have the ability to scan and store documents.
We have a client database where some information can be stored.
We have a pretty good timeline for the packing-up process.
We are renting Frogboxes to pack things into.

Lee, I’m oddly giddy for you and this experience. It’s so rare for an organization to have an opportunity for everyone to unclutter on company time.

The first thing I would do is help your coworkers to learn how to scan documents. If you’re in human resources, you can send out an email inviting everyone to a training session in a conference room and offer snacks (people like snacks). If you’re not in human resources, I’d still hold an information training session for your team. Suggest your boss get everyone lunch and hold the informal training session while you all eat. Even if everyone says they know how to scan documents and file them on the network, simply suggest it’s a refresher course to help speed up the process as they tackle their paper piles before the move. A training session also indirectly lets your coworkers know that the expectation is that they will get rid of some of their paper before the move.

Next, I would set a schedule for everyone on your team (or at the agency, if you’re in HR) to tackle group projects together. If your team shares a group filing system, schedule a two-hour time block when everyone on the team will help to sort, purge, and/or pack these shared materials. By having these set group activities on the calendar, you will be able to train everyone on how to unclutter. As a result, these group experiences can then help to encourage individual behaviors when your coworkers are working on their personal spaces.

Also, I’d communicate that there are a limited number of Frogboxes (such a cool service, I would like to add) and that people will only be able to pack what can fit into the boxes. If you’re in HR, you will know exactly how many boxes each person will get for his office and you can share that exact number. If you’re not in HR, just stay vague and say things like, “since we’re limited in how many boxes we can have to store our personal office items, learning how to scan nonessential documents is valuable.” This isn’t a lie — there is a limit of how many boxes Frogboxes will be providing to your company — you just might be implying there won’t be any exceptions, which there probably will be.

Honestly, I doubt anyone will think you’re a militant since all you’ll be doing is encouraging others to unclutter. As long as you stay positive and offer to help other people, I think your efforts will be well received. Avoid walking around and patrolling your coworkers, as it’s ultimately up to them what they decide to keep and purge. Simply encourage and train and hope for the best.

Thank you, Lee, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck with the office move and don’t forget to check the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

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.

Breaking projects down into simple, achievable steps

Years ago I worked as a special needs teacher, creating and implementing educational goals for students with autism and other developmental delays. It was an amazing experience and, in many ways, has affected the way I manage projects and tasks today. A few tricks I learned back then now help to keep me productive and confident, even when my project list is overwhelming.

Break It Down

My students, being individuals, performed best under teaching conditions tailored to their abilities. We’d identify their strengths and areas of need and go from there. I also found that certain methods benefited a large number of students, including the practice of breaking complex tasks down into small, sequential steps. Once the first step was learned, the second step was introduced. After that, the third, fourth, and so on. Eventually, many of our students could perform all of the small steps in succession, thereby completing a larger task. Today, I use this technique when devising the steps that must be completed before I can mark a project as “done.” Here are two examples:

Learning to tie one’s shoe is challenging for most kids. However, the individual steps that lead to a properly tied shoe are simple:

  1. Hold one lace in each hand.
  2. Cross the laces to form an “X.”
  3. Grasp the center of the “X” with the thumb and index finger of the right hand.
  4. Push the left lace through the opening at the bottom of the “X.”

You get the idea. While “tie your shoes” is tricky, “hold one lace in each hand” is not. The same goes for the projects we must complete in our personal and professional lives. “Get ready for the conference” is complex and possibly overwhelming. If you’re like me, you’ll avoid something so daunting. To make it more manageable, identify some of the steps that must be completed before this project can be marked as “done.”

  1. Add date and time of conference to calendar.
  2. Make appointment to have car serviced prior to travel.
  3. Pre-load travel route on GPS map.
  4. Brainstorm presentation ideas.
  5. Devise outline from brainstorm session.
  6. Review outline, expand upon it.
  7. Write first draft of presentation.
  8. Etc.

There are two things to notice here. First, each small task is easily accomplished and leads to the next one. Also notice that every task on the list starts with an action verb.

Action Steps

The key to burning through your to-do list is clearly defining what must be done. “The presentation” is not a good action step. “Write first draft of presentation” is. The difference is that the first word is a verb. In fact, all of the steps listed above start with a verb. Try it when writing your own to-do lists. It’s great to know exactly what must be done.

What is a Project?

David Allen defines a project as “anything that requires more than one action step to be completed” (is my fascination with David Allen obvious yet?). This means that things we might not consider projects actually are projects. In my example above, get ready for the conference, definitely is. But so is getting an oil change for the car or volunteering for a 3rd grade field trip to the beach. Going back to my days as a teacher, I’d break down the oil change project like this:

  1. Review calendar to identify free days.
  2. Call favorite mechanic’s shop to make appointment.
  3. Travel to garage on given day and time.

The beach trip would look like this:

  1. Confirm availability on target day.
  2. RSVP to teacher request.
  3. Buy sunscreen.
  4. Clean out cooler in basement.
  5. Gas up the car.

Breaking projects into small, easily achieved tasks is beneficial in many ways. First, it makes a big project seems less daunting. It also allows you to clearly define exactly what must be done, and provides a real sense of being on top of things.

Unitasker Wednesday: Corn Desilker

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

I should start this post off by reminding everyone that I grew up in Kansas in a corn family. Most of our family farmland produced field corn (like what is used in the corn flakes you may have had for breakfast) but a few acres each year went to sweet corn for all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors to eat straight from the ear after harvest. (The families also produce a little alfalfa, soybeans, barley, and sorghum, but those crops have no bearing on this post.)

Okay, back to corn … so, in all of my years of shucking, cooking, and eating a ridiculous amount of corn, I have never once thought I needed a device to remove the silk from an ear. However, someone out there apparently thinks I am wrong and believes a special tool is necessary for doing a very simple task that your hands can do. Exhibit A: The Corn Desilker

Seeing as a few strands of corn silks are not dangerous to consume and almost always lodge themselves loose during the cooking process, I’m not especially clear on why removing all of them is an important task in the first place. But, if you are someone who hates corn silks, all you have to do is use your hands to remove them easily (or a rubberband) instead of this unitasker.

Remove the husk and as much of the silk as you can with the husk. Holding the base of an ear in your dominant hand, twist the ear while you rub it with your non-dominant hand. The rest of the silk will come off in a matter of seconds and you can immediately dispose of it.

If simply using your hands doesn’t seem to work for you, all you need is a multitasking rubberband to thread the silks off the ear.

And, now I’m craving a big ear of grilled sweet corn. Yum.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

  • Organizing advice from classical Greeks
    More than 2,000 years ago, famous Greek philosopher Socrates and a man named Isomachus were having a discussion about how Isomachus wished his wife would run their home (the conversation is recorded by Xenophon in chapter eight of his writing Oeconomicus). Isomachus told Socrates he had asked his wife to keep house by finding a place for everything and having everything in its place.

2010

2009

  • Outfitting a minimalist kitchen
    A list of the 10 things I can’t live without in my kitchen.
  • The Uniform Project
    We’ve recently stumbled upon The Uniform Project and are amazed at the variety Sheena Matheiken is getting from a single dress and a lot of accessories.

2008

Six simple ways to gain more time in your day

Now that I’m a parent, my schedule has more activites and I seem to continuously be on a quest to find more time. It’s not lost, but it has become more elusive. Rather than run around frantically (which is not a good look for me), I know that I need to rely on simple systems that have worked for me in the past.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to capture a few extra minutes:

  1. Laundry. Just saying the word laundry makes me want to run and hide. I don’t like that there are so many steps to getting clean clothing. It’s a long but necessary process, so I shorten it by doing smaller loads. That way, I can wash, dry, fold, and put away all clothing in one evening. I don’t have to sort since I use a three compartment hamper to separate the clothing colors ahead of time. This really saves some precious minutes. It also helps to make sure clothing is not inside out before they go in the washer. When they are finished drying, all I have to do is fold and put them away. Did I mention I tend to wear clothing that doesn’t need ironing?

    The best thing about doing laundry is that it’s not a task that requires you attend to it the entire time. So, once the clothes are in the machine, I can do something else.

  2. Dishes. Though I dislike doing dishes, I love seeing an empty sink. I tend to wash dishes right after I’m finished using them. On the occasions that I let them pile up, it often takes too long to get them done. In short, do ’em as you use ’em.
  3. Cooking. While something is simmering or sitting in the oven, I wash the dishes or put away the ones that are already dry. Also, when I’m prepping my ingredients, I keep a bowl on the counter for things that I will eventually throw away. This means I have less spills on the counter to clean up. And, if something does spill, I wipe it up straight away.
  4. Morning Coffee. My coffee maker turns on automatically at 5:30 am every day and all I have to do is put in a coffee pod when I’m ready for my cup. I also fill up the water reservoir each night before going to bed.
  5. Keys and Purse. My keys and purse are always hung on a hook next to the door. Other items that I’ll need when leaving the house are set by the door the night before so that I don’t forget them or run around looking for them before leaving.
  6. Car care. I spend a fair amount of time in my car and am usually eating on the go. Since granola bars and water are often what I have on hand, it’s easy for me to accumulate food wrappers and water bottles. I stop them from taking over my car by simply removing them each time I run an errand (e.g., get gas, go to the bank or market) or once I return home.

These simple steps have been extremely helpful and have kept me from losing my head the past few months. I do, however, need to figure out a way to keep better track of my phone. Since my little one came along, it’s the one thing that I tend to search for the most. I can’t explain this phenomenon. Recently, I’ve been saying a little mantra before I leave any room in the house and when I get in the car: “Do I have my phone?” This strategy seems to be helping and I find that I don’t have to search for it as often.

What do you do to gain more time in your day?

Uncluttered gifts for Father’s Day

Ties, wallets, and socks might be utilitarian things that just about every father needs, but why not try something a little different this year? Instead of getting a physical gift that may lay around and not be used (or wanted), think about getting something a bit more interesting and, of course, uncluttered.

  • Things to eat.  A couple of years ago, my husband got his dad an exotic meat basket. This gift was actually well thought out because my husband knew his father had an adventurous palate. My father-in-law’s reaction: he loved it! Perhaps a different dining experience might be more appealing to your dad, like eating in the dark at restaurants like Opaque and Dans le Noir, or maybe dinner at his favorite eatery. You could take things up a notch and hire a chef to make his favorite meal.
  • Things to do. If your dad likes being outdoors, take him fishing or on a walking tour. If he likes watching movies, get him tickets to a drive-in theater. Or, you could send him on a quick road trip by renting him that car he’s always wanted to drive. Whatever you decide to get, pick something that will suit his personality because he’ll really enjoy it.
  • Thoughtful things. These gifts help your loved one with a regular chore, but in a bigger way. You might consider giving your dad three months of hair cuts or lawn maintenance. Have his car detailed or replace all the tires. Or, hire a maid service to take care of the laundry once a week for a month.
  • Wanted things.  What does your father want? Has he mentioned anything that would make his heart sing, like tickets to see his favorite sports team?  Does he have a tablet or set of Dremel tools on his “must have” list?  If I were buying a gift for my dad, I’d get a set of of John Wayne movies on DVD (he LOVES John Wayne). And, we’d watch them together.
If you’re still mulling over what to get for your dad this coming Sunday, forgo the usual dad gifts and consider something more meaningful (and uncluttered). You’ll be creating memories that will be cherished and have lots of great stories to share each year.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

2009

2008

Workspace of the Week: A corporate office to be desired

This week’s Workspace of the Week is NomadJim’s corporate office:

Back in 2010, we featured NomadJim’s tropical paradise outdoor home office and I was green with envy. Now, I have to admit, I’m also in great admiration of his office at work. The office environment is obviously a big benefit to this space. There is natural lighting, ample work surface, and the exposed beams are terrific. Sure, NomadJim has a few drinks, but we all probably do over the course of a workday. I’m also a fan of the L-shaped desk that isn’t stuffed in a corner. Thank you, NomadJim, for once again impressing us with your workspace.

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.

The Tambour Table: A work space with a simple design and hidden storage

Furniture that can do more than one thing usually is a great find, especially when the features help you to get on with the business of being productive. The Tambour Table by Michael Bambino is such a find. On the surface, it looks like a regular table, but when you push aside the tabletop, you’ll find a hidden area for storing pens, your notebook, tablet, cables, or the important things you need to have at your fingertips.

The Tambour also hides an outlet and a USB hub. The simplicity of the design makes it very easy to use.

The table in action:

Thanks to Swiss-Miss for giving us a head’s up about this table.

Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Dog Dicer

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

About five years ago, Disney began airing a show called Mickey Mouse Clubhouse featuring the classic Disney characters. It’s a computer animated cartoon that plays a They Might Be Giants song at the end of every episode called “Hot Dog.” If you’re unfamiliar with the diddy, you can hear it and watch the video on the Disney Junior website.

Did you listen to it? It’s super annoying, right? And INCREDIBLY infectious. No need to thank me for getting that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Anyway, I mention the “Hot Dog” song, because it instantly pops into my head whenever I think about this week’s unitasker selection — the Hot Dog Dicer:

Once again, a tool to do what knives do! Knives you already own! What do people have against using knives? I’m so confused by the knife-alternative industry.

Also, did you watch the video that accompanies the link to the product? Such scare tactics! The whole advertisement is about how your kid could die choking on a hot dog. Maybe, and this is just little ol’ me musing, if you’re so afraid of your kid choking on a food, learn how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver? That safety move can work in all choking situations, not just hot-dog choking situations. Or, possibly, just don’t feed your child hot dogs until you know he or she can safely chew his food? Recent scientific studies are suggesting toddlers shouldn’t be eating hot dogs, anyway. They’re full of nitrites and nitrates, which increase the risk of cancer. Why is that not mentioned in the Commercial of DOOM?

Okay, back to happier thoughts … “hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog!”

Want to see even more hot dog unitaskers? Check out the Hot Dog Roller and, one of my all-time favorites, the Hot Dog Pop-Up Cooker. Finally, if you do feel the need to buy one of these Hot Dog Dicers, you can store it in your drawer right next to your Banana Slicer. They can be twins!

Thanks to all the readers who sent us this week’s selection.