Unitasker Wednesday: Magical Ostrich Pillow

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

Most weeks, I feel inspired by the unitasker to write something funny about it. This week, words escape me. Words may not even be necessary. I think all the Magical Ostrich Pillow needs are pictures, as they speak a thousand words:

Thanks to reader Amie for introducing us to this, um, special unitasker.

A year ago on Unclutterer



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    I use iTunes and have burned all my CDs to iTunes. I also have a huge box in my basement of all the hardcopy CDs. Is there any reason I would need to keep them (computer crash or something), or am I safe to start giving them away?


Happy Halloween!

How to hold on to sentimental items and let go of clutter

In Gretchen Rubin’s recent article in The New York Times, she said:

While we’re constantly bombarded with messages of “More!” and “Buy now!” we’re also offered the tantalizing promise “You’ll be happier with less!”

She goes on to say that achieving simplicity is not as cut and dry as it may seem. Like some relationships, it can be complex. And, it can get especially complicated when you have to let go of things that have high sentimental value.

Rubin also suggests that we need to keep things that are precious to us. Striking the right balance between how much to keep and how much to let go of can be difficult if everything is (seemingly) dear to you. How do you decide what stays and what goes? It’s this part of the process that can stop you in your tracks. And, there are times when you’re forced to make a decision, like when you’re moving to a smaller home (or office) or if you have to sort through the belongings of a loved one who has passed away.

Though you may not know what to do with everything, there are some steps you can take until the time comes for you make a decision.

  1. Pack them away. When your emotions get the best of you, it can be difficult to make a final decision about what to purge and what to keep. You might find yourself changing your mind many times. This can add to any stress you’re feeling, so you may want to put those items in a box to review later. But, before you put that box in the garage or the top shelf in your closet, add a label with the contents and an expiration date. Choose a reasonable timeframe that you think will give you enough time to figure out what to do. And, if/when that time comes and you still haven’t decided what to do with them, give yourself permission to let go of the box and everything in it.
  2. Capture the moment. One of the reasons we hold on to documents is because we want the information that on them. The same can be true for sentimental objects. Sometimes, it’s not the object but the memory that the item conjures up for us that we wish to save. Consider writing down (or recording) your memories and feelings associated with those cherished items. A paper journal may be all you need, but you also can create a digital scrapbook (and include photographs) or start a blog to capture all your memories. This way, you’re still honoring the objects without having to keep them.
  3. Pick the best. As you try to decide what to keep, select the things that mean the most to you or that are in the best condition. Then, put them in a spot in your home or office that you can easily see them. Over time, your feelings for them might wane. By then, you will have enjoyed them and be ready to pass them on.

Making a decision about an emotionally charged object is a tricky endeavor. But, you don’t have to have all the answers right away or to decide what to do immediately. And, if you keep in mind that you likely can’t keep everything, you’ll be able to part with items that are truly clutter and keep the ones that mean the most to you.

5 more organizing (and practical) principles to help you stave off clutter

To help keep clutter at bay, it can be helpful to keep a few tried and true organizing principles in mind. When you weave them into your day-to-day life, you’ll have a path to follow so that you can keep your spaces organized and feel less stressed when things get a bit overwhelming.

Last month, I shared six organizing concepts and today, I have five more for you to review.

To maintain order, start thinking about your lifestyle and then …

Create habits and routines that work for you

“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle

Being able to keep things in order is hinged on routines. If those routines fit your lifestyle, are easy to follow, and you (or others you delegate to) keep up with them regularly, you’ll have a greater chance of kicking clutter in the arse. Organizing strategies are not one-size-fits-all, so be sure to test a few to find the ones that mesh well with your current lifestyle.

Everything must have a home

When the items in our homes and offices don’t have a designated space to live, you may find them scattered about in several areas. You might also be tempted to throw them all in a box to review later. In reality, though, when the time comes to sort through them, they’ll probably continue residing in that box if there’s still no specific place for them to permanently go. The good news is that once they have a home, you’ll be able to put them back where they belong (instead of putting them down) and find them easily when you need them.

Keep frequently used items easily accessible

It can be extremely frustrating if you always have to move other things to get access to the items you use often. You’ll also end up wasting a bit of time and chances are, you probably won’t put anything back in place because of how difficult it is to reach them. Instead, put the things you use frequently close by and in the same place all the time (your favorite pen and notebook on your desk, your keys on the hook by the door, your earbuds in the gadget box). Put the other things that you don’t use all the time on a high shelf (or behind your frequently used items).

Group like items together

By now, this rule of thumb is probably permanently etched in your mind. I say this tongue in cheek, but I couldn’t leave it off the list because it works extremely well. When you gather all the similar items in your home or office, you immediately know how big your stash is and you avoid buying duplicates. Which also means you’ll be saving a bit of money and add a few minutes to your day because you won’t be searching high and low for your stuff.

Don’t buy something simply because it’s on sale

…or because you have lots of coupons. Getting a great deal on something you’ve had your eye on can make you feel happy, almost triumphant, especially when that thing is something that you need and will use. But, sometimes sales can tempt us to buy things that we don’t use or even like. The result can be an overgrown pile of things that gather dust and take up space that could be used for things that you actually use. Before opening your wallet, think about how much you and your family will realistically use the product you’re about to buy. If you won’t really use it, why not share the deal (or coupon) with someone who really needs it?

A year ago on Unclutterer



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  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Egg Cuber
    I think that this week’s unitasker may actually be a non-tasker. Ever since reader Penni sent this Egg Cuber to me, I have tried to imagine why someone would want square eggs — and I have yet to come up with a reason.


Ask Unclutterer: Other people’s stuff cluttering up our space

Reader Mip submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I checked the archives, but couldn’t find anything quite like this. My boyfriend and I are moving into a room in an apartment that has two other roommates. Despite the consolidating of two people’s stuff into one room, we have a problem: my boyfriend has three siblings, and they’ve accidentally left a lot of their stuff.

There’s very little chance that they’re going to come by and pick stuff up since one’s deployed with the Navy, and the other two live a minimum eight hours away, and are extremely busy. A lot of this stuff is just not useable to us — for example, they left us a guitar that neither of us can play. It’s taken up the whole room, and it’s just a mess. What’s the best way to store this stuff so that we can have a room of our own, but still keep all of their stuff out of the way?

This is one of those times when I will give advice and the majority of the commenters to the post will strongly disagree with me. Mip, you may even have a negative reaction to my response. However, please know I’m not an insensitive troll. I understand how this sort of thing happens, but it’s hard enough to deal with our personal clutter. Voluntarily taking on another person’s (or, in your case people’s) clutter — when that person is alive and well and of sound mind and physical ability to care for his or her own belongings — it is completely unfair, in my opinion.

So what is the advice you’re likely to deem heartless? I believe your boyfriend should contact his siblings and let them know that if the stuff isn’t picked up by X date, he’ll sell the stuff and send them the money minus a small fee for handling the sales. The date he chooses should probably be two months in the future, so his siblings have a realistic amount of time to retrieve the items. And, with the holidays coming up on the calendar, it is more likely their paths will cross in that timeframe.

For the two not in the Navy, if they really want the stuff, they’ll ask him to send it to them (at their expense) or come and pick up the stuff in person. If they don’t retrieve the stuff, they do not want it, irrespective of what they say. No one “accidentally” leaves a bunch of stuff at someone’s house and then makes no effort to get that important stuff back. It is not a priority for them if they cannot figure out a way to get their things or to pay for them to be shipped in a two-month period. (Again, I’m assuming they are mentally and physically healthy and are fully functioning adults. Different standards would apply if one of them were in the hospital or a rehabilitation facility, for example.)

The sibling who is in the Navy is a bit more difficult of a situation, but if he/she is on active duty, it will be years before he/she will likely have room to store the items. The items should be sold or the sibling needs to start paying for a storage facility for the items. Living in the Washington, D.C., area, I know numerous active duty members of the Navy at various ranks and types of enlistment, and all of them use storage units when they are deployed. When my father was on active duty in the Navy, he had one trunk of stuff at his parents’ house — but his parents lived in a giant farm house, and not a single room. If the person in the Navy is responsible enough to protect the people of our nation, he or she is responsible enough to take care of his or her personal possessions in such a way that it doesn’t burden his sibling.

Also, it’s not hard or all that expensive to ship a guitar (usually under $100) to the sibling who left this with your boyfriend. There are numerous sites on the Web that detail how to ship musical instruments safely, if your boyfriend is unaware of how to make this happen.

Simply stated, your home is not a place for other people’s clutter. His siblings are being disrespectful and if the stuff really mattered to them, they already would have it with them or in a storage unit.

Thank you, Mip, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please check the comments for more insights from our readers, as they will very likely be different opinions than mine, and certainly worth considering their viewpoints.

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.

Clean up your digital clutter

If you find yourself struggling under mountains of paper piles, you might also be yearning for the day when those piles are replaced by digital files that are easily searchable. That will mean less time sifting through documents and you’ll be able to find what you need quickly.

But, though it may seem that clutter is only attracted to the physical things you own, it can also creep into your computers and make a mess of your digital files. As Leo Babauta put it, “there are costs to such packrattery.” Whether you’re storing lots of photos, music, or documents on your devices, if you don’t have a system for easy retrieval (just like with your paper files), you’ll likely spend more time than necessary looking for the items you need. And, if you have an influx of files that you don’t use anymore, they will take up a lot of space and make your processor seem like it’s running on molasses.

To begin the digital clean up process, start by …

Purging duplicate files

Have you ever bought something only to discover that you already had it? Most likely, you just didn’t see the original or know where to find it, so you went ahead and got another one to replace it. Duplicate files can be like that, too. When you can’t find the file you want, it might seem easier to just download, recreate, purchase or somehow duplicate what you already have. You will then end up with multiple copies of the same thing, which can make using your laptop or PC more complicated than it needs to be. And, like unnecessary multiples of anything, they will consume space that could be put to better use.

Immediate actions:

  • If you find documents with the same name followed by numbers in parenthesis, like XYZ.doc(1) and XYZ.doc(2), they’re likely to be the same document that you’ve downloaded several times. Use Duplicate Cleaner, Easy Duplicate Finder, Double Killer, or Tidy Up (for Mac) to remove multiple copies of the same files.
  • Schedule purging sessions at regular intervals (once/month, once/quarter) to remove your duplicates.
  • Start tagging your files with names that are easy for you to remember, and consider using the same structure (e.g. YearMonthDay_filename.extension, 20121024_digital.jpg). Before downloading or saving a new file, use the search feature on your PC or mobile device to ensure you don’t already have it.

Remove programs on your mobile devices you no longer use

Grab your smart phone or tablet. How many apps are on the home screen? How many do you use on a regular basis? If there are apps that you no longer use or like, it’s time to give them the boot. Keeping them on your device eats up space, may slow down your device, and stop your phone from being backed up. In my case, I had too many pictures (along with some apps I didn’t use anymore) stored on my iPhone and iCloud declined to run the backup. After reducing them, the backups resumed.

Immediate actions:

  • Starting with your home screens, remove your unused apps.
  • After purging, take a few minutes to arrange the apps in a way that makes sense to you.
  • iPhone and Android users (with Apps Organizer) can group similar apps together in one folder (music, finance, games, productivity, etc).

Organize your contacts

Digital contacts, like business cards, can linger around long after they’re useful. This is another area that duplicates can creep in, so look through your contacts list to remove them.

Immediate actions:

  • Delete duplicates and update contacts with current information.
  • When possible, separate your personal and business contacts.
  • Keep your address book organized with programs like Google Goggles or Evernote Hello.

Cleaning up the clutter on all your devices may take a bit of time up front, but once you begin the process, maintenance will be easier. You’ll also immediately notice how much easier it is to locate specific information and you’ll have more room for the programs and files you need.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Chop Stir

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

Yesterday morning, my son declared he wanted tacos for dinner. He’s not much of a meat eater, so I eagerly agreed to his demand. I picked up all the necessary ingredients at the store and when dinner time rolled around it was Taco Tuesday here at the Doland house.

In a classic toddler move, he took one bite of his taco and asked for a completely different dinner. I asked him what was wrong: Is it too spicy? Do you want more cheese? Is it possible you thought tacos were some other food and you were confused?

He said it’s because the ground beef wasn’t chopped into small enough pieces (okay, so he didn’t really say that) and that he would have continued eating his meal had I used the Chop Stir to break up the ground beef better (he didn’t say that either):

Had I used the Chop Stir instead of the head of a spatula (or a fork or my fingers), my dinner wouldn’t have been a failure (completely not true, it was actually a delicious meal). Woe is me. Oh, woe is me.

Thanks to reader Jessica for bringing this strange device to our attention.

Casa Kids: Space-saving children’s furniture for small-space living

The November 2012 issue of Dwell magazine (content not yet online) introduced me to Casa Kids, a Brooklyn-based children’s bedroom furniture company led by designer Roberto Gil. What amazes me about the furniture is how it is perfectly designed for small-space living. In addition to being very well made, almost all of the furniture also increases the function of a room — something that is so important in tight living quarters.

A few of my favorite space-saving pieces:

The Dumbo Loft Bed with Closet, which includes a desk and a closet in the first level and even has a hamper drawer for dirty clothes:

The Dumbo Storage Bed, which would significantly increase the amount of storage in any room. (Note, those are shelves on the front of the unit. There is a ladder that goes on the front left like in the picture above but that isn’t in this image.):

The Dumbo Folding Bunk Bed, which would be terrific in a room that serves as both an office and a guest room.:

You can check out the furniture online or in person at their showroom at 106 Ferris Street in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Most of the large pieces of installed furniture hover in the $4,000 price range, but smaller items are significantly less expensive.

Four strategies to use when helping someone unclutter

When you need to unclutter, getting help from someone else can make the task seem less daunting. Sometimes, all you might need is another person who can be in the room with you while you actually do the sorting and categorizing of your items, which in the industry we refer to as an accountability partner. You might even be very willing to assist when you’re called upon to help a friend, family member, or colleague with getting more organized. Though it’s helpful to keep rules of thumb in mind, you’ll also want to remember that organizing another person’s items is not exactly the same as sorting through your own belongings.

To give yourself the chance to offer the best help possible, first …

Establish goals

Before embarking on any uncluttering project, you likely come up with one or two goals and then figure out the steps needed to achieve them. When you’re helping someone else unclutter, you will also want to establish goals — not yours, but theirs. Having a goal (or goals) gives you both direction and a path to follow. Since you are there to be supportive, you first need to know what the desired result is (clear the floor around my bed, get rid of paper clutter from my desk and create a desktop filing system, get my car back in the garage).

Helpful strategies:

  • Get a clear picture of what they want to accomplish and consider having a quick meeting over the phone or in person to discuss it. Talking it through can help you both make a solid and reasonable plan of attack.
  • Find out if he/she has a deadline in mind. This will help you understand how much needs to be done and figure out if indeed you have the time to help.

Understand that uncluttering can be an emotional process

When you’re organizing your things, there are times that you probably find yourself feeling motivated, surprised, productive, overwhelmed, and everything in between. You can go through a range of emotions at varying points in the process. Chances are, the friend or family member you’re helping will also take a ride on the same emotional roller coaster. And, those feelings may be heightened because they now have another person (you) present. Yes, they know you care about them, but by sharing the experience with you, it can feel as if they’re exposing their deepest, darkest secret (and perhaps they are).

Helpful strategies:

  • If the person you’re helping begins to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, reassure them you’re not judging them and you genuinely want to help.
  • If emotions start to run high, stop and take a break so you can both regroup. Before jumping back in, re-focus on the goal(s) that were established. Pause after a reasonable amount of time so you can see which action items you’ve completed and which ones you will move to next.

Be patient as you facilitate the process

When you’re working with someone else, you’ll likely want to exercise more patience than you’re expecting to, particularly if the process doesn’t move along as quickly as you would like. For example, although you may know the person you’re helping very well, you’ll still need to ask if you can throw things away, even if those items seem like trash to you. To help keep yourself from immediately acting on items, think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed and someone else (seemingly) took ownership of your belongings. That’s not the impression you intend to give, but that may be how it is perceived.

Helpful strategies:

  • Before you be being working, come up with ground rules that you both can follow (all magazines prior to August 2012 can be recycled). This will help speed up the process a bit and be in line with the parameters you both agreed to.
  • Be aware of how you’re feeling and take breaks when you need to so that any frustration you may be feeling isn’t conveyed in your actions or words.

Remember that backsliding is possible

Keep in mind that organizing is a process, not an end point. Systems may be created to keep things in order, but they have to be kept up with on a regular basis to make sure that clutter doesn’t return. It will take some practice to do things differently and there’s a possibility that there may be some backsliding. This is not unusual or necessarily a reflection of something you did or didn’t do.

Helpful strategies:

  • If you intend to continue helping, don’t be discouraged. It’s possible that backsliding is situational (something traumatic or dramatic happened) or that they need more time to practice a new way of doing things.
  • Consider using mantras to help you both stay motivated and in a positive state of mind.

Helping someone else unclutter is a very thoughtful thing to do. With a bit of planning before you begin working, patience, and reasonable expectations, you’ll likely end up with more organized space while keeping your relationship intact.

A year ago on Unclutterer