Organizing (and practical) principles that help keep clutter at bay

Uncluttering is a process, not something that happens overnight or that has an end point. Sometimes getting more organized can feel overwhelming and chaotic, but there are some basic principles you can use to stay focused on maintaining order. Here are five practical tips I often share with my clients (and use myself). They tend to be useful for many situations and can help you conquer clutter.

Use positive self-talk

It can be very easy to let negative thoughts clutter your mind, especially if you find it challenging to master a particular organizing strategy. And, since your actions are typically driven by your thoughts, you can find yourself feeling down and stressed, two emotions that can stop your uncluttering plans in its tracks.

Though your goals may seem daunting at first, remember that it’s normal to meet upon a few stumbling blocks. But, and this is the good part, you will get through it as long as you keep trying. Replace negative self-talk (“I will never get this place organized”) with more positive statements (“I’m getting more organized by doing a little at a time”). And, coordinate your uncluttering with things that put you in a better mood, like playing your favorite music, exercising, or calling a friend who makes you laugh. You’ll feel less stressed and be able to get more done.

Wait before making impulse purchases

Whimsical purchases can really creep up on you, even when you have your list in hand as you’re shopping. The tricky little buggers appeal to your sensitive nature and convince you to leave the store with them immediately (because they’re special and just right for you). If you don’t get them straight away, who knows what catastrophes might happen?!

Rather than making an impulsive purchase, regain some emotional (and wallet) control by focusing on your list and waiting 24 to 48 hours before buying “that thing.” You could stretch that timeframe to 30 days, if you wish. Usually, after a bit of time to to think it through, you’ll come to a better decision about whether or not to buy it. That doesn’t mean you won’t go back to the store to collect that special item. It simply means you’ll give yourself adequate time to think it through before taking it home with you. This can save you some time and another trip to the store if you decide that you don’t want/need it afterall.

Use the “one in, one out” rule

Another way to limit those impulse buys is to think about the one thing you currently own that you’ll let go of when/if you bring the new item home. This also gives you some time to consider if you truly love (and need) the new item. If you’re working on uncluttering, you might even use the “one in, two out” rule to raise the stakes a bit.

Use lists/checklists

Without a list, you will be lost. Yes, I know there are people who can keep entire novels in their heads and remember every detail. Most of us are not like that, so why rely on your memory when you can just write things down (or do some smart phone data entry)? Lists are great for capturing just about anything and can help you remember things you don’t do on a regular basis, or you might otherwise forget because you’re feeling stressed or rushing around a lot.

Two of the most common ways people use lists is to record their to do’s and needed grocery items. But, you can also use them to keep track of:

  • Favorite travel supplies
  • Places you’d like to visit
  • Seasonal maintenance activies
  • New processes (like a new filing system or steps to completing a new project)
  • Ingredients for a new recipe
  • Home improvement ideas
  • Your bucket list
  • Things you’re going to donate

When leaving a room, always take something with you

One of the things I often ask my clients to do after an organizing session is to maintain the order that has been created in the space we worked in. The goal is to keep the momemtum going and encourage organizing activities so these actions can become part of the client’s regular routine. A fairly easy way to maintain an area is to leave it better than how you found it. Before leaving a room, take something with you that doesn’t belong (like glasses from the coffee table to the kitchen, mail on the kitchen counter to the mail processing station). These small steps can go a very long way to helping you keep things looking and feeling the way you want them to.

Use vertical space

Organizing products can save you from having stuff strewn about your home, office, and car. But, sometimes those products can have big footprints and take up a quite a bit of floor space. “Going up” or using vertical space (walls, backs of doors) removes that hinderance and gives you another option to store your stuff. You can still mount products without permanently installing them by using adhesive-backed products (like Command Hooks by 3M).

Workspace of the Week: Composing work and music

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Patrick’s all-in-one home office and DJ sound mixing setup.

The home office:

That transforms into a music mixing station:

I really appreciate how Patrick has hidden the music equipment in the pull-out drawer usually reserved for a typing keyboard. Putting the MacBook Pro up on a stand, adding a third level, greatly improves the functionality of the space. Thank you, Patrick, for your submission to our Unclutterer Flick pool. You have an impressive desk for achieving multiple purposes.

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.

Unsubscriber and Unroll.me: Two programs that help you clean up inbox clutter

How many unprocessed messages are in your inbox right now? Is getting to inbox zero one of your daily goals? I’ve heard of some (brave) people who declare email bankruptcy (deleting everything) because of how time consuming it would be to process every message. That might seem a bit extreme, but it’s easy to understand why someone would want to start from scratch.

Sifting through emails can be tedious, especially if you don’t have strategies for processing all your messages. It doesn’t have to be difficult, though, and you can use technology to help to keep your inbox from getting out of control. Take, for instance, The E-mail Game. It turns your inbox into a game and you get points each time you read, delete, boomerang, or reply to a message. You’re also timed, so you need to make a decision about what to do with each message pretty quickly (usually a three to five minute window). I’ve played it many times (and still do) to keep personal inbox uncluttered.

Recently, I’ve found two free web-based programs that remove email clutter that help me to pay attention to priority messages: Unsubscriber by OtherInbox and Unroll.me. Both let you unsubscribe from unwanted emails (like newsletters you signed up for but you don’t want anymore) and redirect specific messages from your inbox so that you can keep the important ones more visible.

Have a look …

Unsubscriber by OtherInbox

After signing up, you’ll need to give Unsubscriber permission to access your email account. The app then checks your messages and looks for the ones it thinks you may want to unsubscribe from. You can also select the ones you really don’t want.

The app also adds an “Unsubscriber” folder to your inbox. To stop getting unwanted emails, drag and drop them to that folder. Unsubscriber then tells the sender of those unwanted messages that you want to stop receiving them. While that’s being worked on, all new mail from that sender is routed to the Unsubscriber folder. Note that this folder is not for spam (you already have a folder for that). This app can be used with Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo mail.

Unroll.me

Unroll.me, though similiar to Unsubscriber, is slightly different. Once you sign up and give access to your e-mail account (Gmail and Google Apps users only), the app scans your mail for subscriptions and then adds them to a “rollup,” or daily digest that is sent to you once per day. New subscriptions are automatically added to your rollup. A nice feature is that Unroll.me organizes your email into specific categories (Unsubscriber has a similar feature with it’s sister app, Organizer).

You still have control over your messages and can edit your rollup by returning some emails to your inbox or permanently unsubscribing. As you can see, I have 149 messages that have been filtered to my rollup, some of which I will probably delete permanently. Not having to scroll through them in order to get to the messages I really need to see makes processing email a lot quicker. The key, of course, is to check your rollup once daily and maintain it so it doesn’t become a repository for junk messages.

Both apps are easy to use and help you to keep your eye on your most important messages. This means you’ll be able to respond to messages more quickly without having to weed through less time-sensitive emails. And, you just might get a bit closer to inbox zero.

Unitasker Wednesday: Easy 2 Pick Luggage Locator

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

This week’s unitasker is one that at first pass seems kind of reasonable. My initial thought was it could be helpful for a blind or visually impaired traveler. The more I read about it, though, the less reasonable and helpful it seems. Let’s take a look at the Easy 2 Pick Luggage Locator:

In theory, you attach the large luggage tag to your bag and the round piece to yourself or your keychain. When you check your luggage at the ticket counter at the airport, you turn the device on. Then, when you reach your destination and are standing at baggage claim, the round piece will sound an alarm — flashing, sound notification, and vibrating — when your bag is within 90 feet of you.

Like me, you’re probably thinking this seems like it would be helpful for the visually impaired or blind. Except, the flashing, sound notification, and vibrating don’t increase in intensity the closer you get to your bag. You’re simply made aware that somewhere, within 90 feet of you, is what you’re searching for. (A wee bit cruel, if you ask me, especially if the bag is on the baggage claim carousel.) And, since the tag lights up, it also notifies other people that you’re looking for your bag … which is great if you’re surrounded by friendly people wanting to help you, but not so great if there are thieves.

The device is marketed to the regular traveler, however, and not someone with vision impairment. In which case, if your bag is within 90 feet of you, seeing it usually isn’t an issue. If you have a common looking bag and are worried about grabbing someone else’s bag, you still have to check the luggage tag because someone else could also have an Easy 2 Pick luggage tag on their bag. (And you have to show the bag name match from the sticker on the bag to your ID to leave many baggage claim areas, anyway.) Alternatively, putting a simple and inexpensive colorful strip of duct tape on both sides of your ordinary luggage can help you identify your bag visually much better than a notification device will from a distance.

My last thought on this item is since most airlines charge to check luggage now, how common is it to only check one piece of luggage? If someone only has one piece, don’t they try to make it a carry-on to avoid the fee? Most people I see checking bags these days are families traveling with numerous pieces of luggage, which would require numerous devices. At $19 a set, it seems like an expensive way to find your luggage that is within 90 feet of you.

Thanks to reader Pat, a constant traveler, for finding this unitaskery doohickey for us.

Insight (and shoe inspiration) in an uncluttered wardrobe

In an effort to unclutter my wardrobe, I made the decision a few years ago to streamline everything and stop buying printed clothing. Three years later, and except for five pieces, I’ve achieved this goal. My pants, tops, coats, dresses, suits, and skirts are now solid colors and are also in a very limited color scheme: navy blue, white, gray, black, brown, red, and teal.

Shopping is certainly easier — in fact, all of my casual tops are one of two styles of basic t-shirts (this one and this one), just in different colors. When one of the t-shirts is damaged or worn, I hop online and order the exact shirt to replace it. My dresses all come from two designers (this one and this one) who have outlet stores near my home and almost exclusively design in solid colors. Three of the dresses I own are even the same dress in black, gray, and white. Since these items fit me exactly how I prefer, it’s nice to have the color variety (and getting them at discount at the outlet stores is nice, too).

The idea of having a classic, basic, streamlined wardrobe seems boring or lacking in creativity to a lot of people, but the way I see it is my clothing is like a canvas. My shoes and accessories are where I let my personality speak. A headband and coordinating pair of shoes stand out when they’re not also competing for visual attention with a shirt and skirt. I’ve also found shoes and accessories are significantly less expensive than well constructed, quality clothing. As trends change, replacing a scarf is easier than replacing an entire wardrobe. And, until I point it out to people, no one ever notices I have a basic wardrobe of solid colors in a limited color range.

Recently, I came upon a design concept that is so in line with my uncluttered wardrobe system I was saddened to learn the concept isn’t in production. I’m mentioning it, though, because it’s where I would like to see fashion trend. I’d like to see more uncluttered ideas become mainstream.

Israeli industrial designer Daniela Bekerman started with a basic flat shoe and then created accessories for the shoe that dramatically alter its simple appearance. The Ze O Ze shoe:

I see my clothing as the basic flat shoe that is enhanced with the heel accessories, or, in my case, simply accessories.

Keeping clutter out of your wardrobe can be difficult, and how you choose to do it will reflect your style and personality. In my case, a streamlined wardrobe of solid color, well constructed pieces in classic designs and a limited color palette work best for me. This system works because all of the pieces fit me well and are complimented nicely by my fun, trendy shoes and accessories. There are obviously different ways, but this is how I achieve an uncluttered wardrobe.

Shoe design found via Design-Milk.

How to receive gifts when you’re uncluttering

Who doesn’t love receiving gifts? If you’re like me, you tear them open enthusiastically to see the fantastic things that await you. Gifts can be tangible reminders that someone was thinking of us or wanted to help us celebrate a special occasion. In fact, the person giving the gift likely gains a good dose of positive feelings by the act of giving. It’s hard to think of a downside to getting a present.

…except perhaps when your space is limited. And, when you’re uncluttering. If you’re focused on reducing your stash of stuff and having “a place for everything and everything in it’s place,” you might find yourself reluctant to bring something new into your home. On the other hand, refusing (even if you do so graciously) can result in the gift-giver (and you) having hurt feelings. To better navigate these delicate situations and to avoid mistunderstandings, first…

Talk about your uncluttering plans

…with everyone. When you decide to make a change in your life, like eating healthier, you probably tend to tell those closest to you. That way, they’re not surprised when you decide to eat in or order healthier fare from the menu. A nice side effect of telling the people in your life about your plans is that they can help motivate you and try to help you reach your goal.

Why not do the same when you’re uncluttering? Let your friends, family members, and colleagues know you’re being very purposeful (or even ruthless) about the types and number of things that you will keep. They genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed. So, rather than stop them from giving you a gift, tell them you’re minimizing the tangible things you purchase and receive, and instead …

Suggest experience gifts

Have you been meaning to go to the new play that opened a few months ago? Or, perhaps you really want to see your favorite musical group the next time they come to town? Or, maybe you’d like to get in one last road trip with friends before the summer comes to a final close? If there’s a special event or new experience that you’d like to try (like driving your dream car or riding in a hot air balloon), don’t keep it a secret. These types of gifts still let the important people in your life celebrate special moments with you, and you won’t have to carve out storage space for something new.

Ask for a gift for others in need

Knowing that you’re helping someone without getting anything in return can often be very rewarding. In lieu of receiving a physical gift, ask friends and family members to donate to a charity you love. You could also spend some time together volunteering to help others in need (local meal center/food bank, animal shelter). This would be an opportunity to do something good for someone else and spend time with each other.

Accept gifts you receive

It’s not likely that you’ll never again receive a physical gift. When those occasions arise, graciously accept the gift, send a thank you note, and then take some time to decide how useful the item is to you. You may need to create a “deciding space” in your home to store gifts so you can figure out if you will keep them (perhaps in a well frequented closet so that you don’t forget about them). At first, you might not think that you’d find the gifts helpful, but they could end up being just what you needed. If, after a second look, the gift really doesn’t suit you or your current lifestyle, donate the gift to a charitable organization or regift it to someone you believe would really use it (letting that person know they’re welcome to pass it along if they don’t need it).

If you do receive gifts as you’re purging and uncluttering, remember that gift-giving is an emotional experience. The person giving is probably excited about giving you a present and has the best of intentions. He/she is not trying to thwart your plans to simplify, and just might not know that you’re doing things a little differently. Start by having conversation with those in your inner circle about your uncluttering plans. Over time, they will likely adjust to a new way of sharing special moments and experiences with you.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

2009

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Itzbeen
    It’s called the Itzbeen because it is a timer that tracks how long “it has been” since you last fed, changed, or put your child down for a nap. You know, in case your screaming live human infant isn’t a clue that you are neglecting him, or if it isn’t extremely obvious that the breathing lump of flesh next to you is your napping child.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Too much storage space
    What should I do with empty kitchen drawers?

2008

Ask Unclutterer: Is my desire to recycle an excuse to keep stuff?

Reader Sky submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I know I should recycle, and I donate unwanted things to a local charity on a regular basis. Sometimes just tossing something in the garbage is easier, but I feel guilty doing that. So clutter “hangs around” until I can dispose of it “correctly.” Can you help? I feel like I’m using my desire to recycle as an excuse to keep stuff.

Deciding exactly how to purge your clutter can be a difficult process. Do you trash it, recycle it at a recycling center, recycle it by repurposing it into something more useful, sell it, or donate the item to charity or to someone you know who wants it? And, like you suggested in your question, recycling, repurposing, donating, and selling items can be an excuse to hold onto clutter if you’re never actually following through and recycling, repurposing, donating, or selling the items.

I try to use the following guidelines when purging items:

  • Trash the trash. If something is trash, it should be trashed. You can compost the environmentally friendly items, but if a product needs to go to the dump, by all means take it to the dump. And, if something is a hazardous material, be sure to take it to your county’s hazardous waste facility. Trash is clutter and you shouldn’t hold onto it a minute longer than necessary.
  • Recycle what can be recycled, but do it now. People who live in city’s with curbside recycling pick up have it the easiest — put your recycling on the curb and be done with your aluminum, glass, paper, and plastic products. If you don’t have curbside pickup in your area (or have larger items, like steel beams) you’ll need to drive to the closest recycling center to make deposits. I recommend incorporating this errand into your weekly schedule so the recycling never builds up beyond seven days. For other recyclable items that aren’t accepted at most recycling centers — eye glasses, electronics, clothing for rags — only recycle these items IF you’ll recycle them in the next seven days. If a week passes and the items are still lingering, trash them. Schedule the recycling action items on your calendar (research to find where you can recycle the item, boxing and shipping of the item or dropping it off), as well as the deadline for trashing the item if you fail to recycle it.
  • Only sell, repurpose, or give an item to a friend if you do it now. You can sell, repurpose, or give an item to a friend, but only do this if you’re actually going to follow through on the action. Similar to recycling, schedule the action items on your calendar and a deadline (I give myself two weeks) for when it will be out of your house. If it has been two weeks and you still haven’t rid your home of the objects, trash them.
  • Only give good items to charity. As Peter Walsh so aptly stated in his book It’s All Too Much:

    Goodwill receives a billion pounds of clothing every year. Ultimately, they use less than half of the clothes they get. Clothing is cheap, and the cost of sorting, cleaning, storing, and transporting the clothes is higher than their value. If you wouldn’t give an article to a family member, it’s probably not good enough for charity. Sure, it’s great to get the tax deduction and it makes you feel like you didn’t waste money buying the clothes, but if you’re truly charitable, be sensitive to the needs of the organization. Charities aren’t dumping grounds for your trash.

    Like the two items before this one, set a specific time on your calendar to take your good items to charity (maybe make a regular errand for charity donations on the 1 and 15 of each month). If the charitable donations are still lingering around your house two weeks later, throw them in the trash.

In short, if clutter sits in your home for more than a week or two after you’ve decided to purge it, you should trash the item. It seems like a harsh statement, but the short deadline is usually enough motivation to get you to handle the items quickly and in the preferred manner (recycle, repurpose, donate to charity, etc.). If you know you’ve set a firm deadline for yourself, clutter won’t hang out in your space because you’ll actually deal with it.

Thank you, Sky, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers, and 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.

Create a landing area for your kid’s school stuff

A new school year has begun here in the US and that means parents will be chasing the kids down for forgotten homework, crumpled permission slips and library books that were due weeks ago. Not to mention the trail of shoes, hats, jackets and backpacks, which, in my house at least, lead to the refrigerator. Save yourself some frustration — and teach the kids responsibility at the same time — by creating a “landing area” for all their stuff.

When I was young, my sisters and I were often late for school because we spent too much time in the morning running around like headless chickens who can’t find their Trapper Keepers. Such drama is easily avoided with a little planning and practice. It begins with picking the right spot for a landing area in your home.

Pick The Perfect Spot

Your kid’s landing area won’t be effective if it isn’t in the right spot. Finding that spot isn’t as easy as it sounds. The key is to identify an area of your home that’s in the arrival traffic pattern, preferably the very beginning. It’s tempting to consider a beautiful desk or cubby that’s far from the door. (Or even Jr.’s bedroom.) But, if Jr. is anything like my kids, he’ll either create a path between the door and his room, or lose his stuff somewhere in between.

My wife and I have identified a small cabinet just inside the back door to our house (no one uses the front door unless they’re selling something). Now, the kids enter and just as they’re tempted to shed their backpacks, hats, gloves and coats like molting snakes, they see the table right in their path.

Set It Up

When setting it all up, consider what you’ve got to capture. The list will likely change as the seasons do, so keep that in mind. If you live in an area that experiences the highs and lows of the four seasons, leave room for bulky winter clothing. Here’s the list of items we’ve accommodated for, and where each one goes.

  1. Backpacks. The young student’s staple. We bought a small, child-sized coat tree from a discount department store to hold two backpacks. It works great and, since the backpacks are all that the tree holds, it handles their bulk easily.
  2. Clothing. We went Shaker-style here and I put two rows of wooden pegs on the wall, one above the other. There’s plenty of room for hats, coats, gloves and scarves.
  3. An “inbox” for school-to-home communication. This one is a biggie. If my 9-year-old were a super hero, her power would be losing papers, permission slips and notes in a single bound. A simple plastic in-tray from an office supply store fits the bill here. Now when she and her brother arrive home, they move papers, etc. from their backpacks to the inbox (more on encouraging this behavior later).
  4. An “outbox” for home-to-school communication. As you know, some forms must be returned to school. Place them in “Out,” and have Jr. check it at night before going to bed.
  5. A snack/lunch bag area. I’d love to say that I make lunches and snacks the night before and keep them in the ’fridge, but that’s called lying. After hastily putting these items together at 7:00 AM, I plop them in the bag area on the table. The kids then toss them into their backpacks.
  6. Library books. After receiving a few threatening letters from school librarians last year, I’ve designated a spot for library books. The rule is, if you see one there, place it in your backpack.

Encourage Use

A landing area is all well and good only if it gets used. You can help that happen with a little behavior motivation. Prior to my career as a professional geek, I worked as a special needs teacher. We used the Applied Behavior Analysis model of instruction, and today I use some of the same techniques in my parenting. In this case, a contract system will work wonders. Here’s how to set it up.

Explain the landing area to the kids and let them see it. Tell them how it works and why you’re going to use it. Then, set up the contract. For example, I have a simple dry erase board that onto which I’ve drawn two rows of five squares. For every day that the kids put away their stuff and empty their backpacks before descending upon the house, they get a star in a block. If there are five stars at the end of the week, they receive a small treat.

Note: it’s important to pair praise and affection with the treat. That way, you can eventually stop using the contract and reward (that is the goal, after all) as your hugs and appreciation will be enough to maintain the behavior.

That’s it! Good luck setting up your landing area. Understand that it won’t work perfectly every day, or even every week, but keep at it and save yourself and your kids some frustration. You’ll probably be very glad you did.

Unitasker Wednesday: Tomato Holder 5140

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

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen a device on Amazon before that has multiple reviews and every one of those reviews is a single star. Every poorly reviewed product I’ve seen has at least one outstanding review that reads like the manufacturer had a friend jump online and post a glowing review actually written by someone in the product’s PR department. But, in this case, no one even did that. This product has straight one star reviews down the line.

The Tomato Holder 5140:

To use the device, you hold a tomato in this contraption with your non-dominant hand while you slice through the tomato with a knife wielded in your dominant hand. The bottom piece on the device under the tomato is curved, so you can’t let go of the device with your non-dominant hand. If the bottom were flat, I could see the device being beneficial to someone with only one arm or with arthritis. But, a curved bottom means you have to be able to hold the tomato steady at all times so you don’t injure yourself during cutting of the tomato.

And, if all of the negative reviews are to be believed, you may not be injured while using this device but your knives definitely will be mangled. Every single review mentions that the device ruined a perfectly good knife in the process of slicing the tomato.

So, if you’re looking to ruin your knives and own a completely worthless product that takes up space in your kitchen cabinet, this device is perfect for you! For most of the rest of us, I think we can slice our tomatoes the traditional way.

Things you probably have duplicates of that you can donate

Having multiples of certain items in your home (plates) or office (reams of paper) can be very helpful. If we use those items often, we simply need to find a way to store them for easy access. But, sometimes, multiples can double and begin to take up valuable space in our homes and offices. Don’t let those “every day” items get out of control. Consider donating these five items that you probably have duplicates of:

  • Paper shopping bags. How many shopping bags do you own? The bags we get from shopping at certain stores can be very sturdy and attractive. And, they’re useful, right? You can use them to take your lunch to work or to hold something you wish to give to a friend. Their value seems unending and it’s easy to accumulate them since you get one each time you make a purchase. Now that reusable grocery bags are being encouraged, you might find yourself with an influx of old paper shopping bags. If you have several that you no longer need, consider giving them to charities that could benefit from their use. (Some charities bag up meals, clothes, supplies, or purchases and are always looking for bag donations.)
  • Hotel toiletries. If you’re a frequent traveler, chances are you’ve returned home with these travel-size toiletry bottles and packets. If you don’t use them when you get home (offer them to guests, pour shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and liquid soaps into your larger bottles, use shower caps as food container covers), they can override and clutter your space. When your collection has become too large, donate them to a local shelter or reduce clutter altogether by leaving them at the hotel.
  • Pens, pencils, and markers. How many times have you made it back home with a pen that you borrowed and forgot to return? That happens to me all the time, especially with Sharpies. If you take a look around your home, you probably have a few pens and markers (or even highlighters and markers, particularly if someone in your family is in school) hanging about in more than one room. It’s impossible to use them all, so donating them is a great option.

    First, check your stash and remove the ones that no longer work. Then, select a handful (or two) that write well and consider giving them to schools and community centers in your neighborhood or to the Pencil Project. Store the ones that you’re keeping in the places that you tend to use them the most (nightstand, home office, by telephones). Of course, if you’ve discovered too many pens in your office, simply return them to the supply room or share with your officemate.

  • Sheets. The number of linens you need can depend on how often you do laundry. If you change your sheets every week (or every two weeks), you likely won’t need more than two or three sets. Sometimes we still have sheets of varying sizes that used to fit beds we no longer have. Or, perhaps they need repairing and you haven’t gotten around to fixing them yet? Whether they’re the wrong size or need mending, consider giving them to an animal shelter, but if they’re still in good shape, many local charities will accept them.
  • Mugs. When I was in college, I collected mugs and I’d get them as gifts, too. When I moved into my first apartment, I still kept all my mugs and then I realized that I often reached for the same one, leaving the others untouched for long stretches of time. Even if I had coffee several times during the day, I wouldn’t be able to use every mug I had. If you find yourself in a similar position, pass them on to a charity like Goodwill (or to the student in your life who’s away at college or in a new apartment).

You may not realize that you have duplicates unless you’re actively uncluttering. Take a look inside your storage areas and start putting like items together so that you can get a better sense of the volume and multiples of things you have. And, using the suggestions above, pinpoint items that are great candidates for donation. You’ll gain more space for your important items and help others in the process.