Workspace of the Week: Puppy-owner paradise

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Chad T.’s home office:

Anyone who has ever had a pet and a home office knows that if you don’t have good cable management, you’re destined for trouble. Chad T’s office, though full of equipment, has such wonderfully uncluttered cables that his adorable Shiba Inu can play underneath the desk without causing chaos. The setup on the desk is nicely done, too, with the task lighting being able to be easily moved and the shared keyboard and monitor in the middle of everything. And, although it’s not my design style, the whiteboard in the window acts as a very useful privacy shade. There are many things to appreciate and admire in this office, and we would like to thank Chad T. for sharing his space with our Flickr pool.

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.

Capture ideas quickly with index cards

I recently wrote a post about effective inbox management that came down to this: use as many inboxes as you need and can check reliably, and no more. One reader, “Erika in VA,” left a comment requesting more information on how I used index cards to capture information for my physical inboxes:

Loved the post, but could you explain what you normally write on the 3×5 cards? My typical physical in-box item is paper, so I’m having a hard time imagining how I might use 3×5 cards to help process “stuff.” Thanks!

Paper is Technology

Even as a technology-savvy person, I love paper and use it daily. In my experience, nothing is more flexible. Paper is pure potential. You can jot down a shopping list or solve a complex financial crisis with a pencil. In fact, paper is an example of technology, it’s “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry. Or machinery and equipment developed from such scientific knowledge.”

I’ve been using index cards for years. There’s always a stack on my desk. I use them for several purposes, but most frequently to capture ideas, tasks, reminders, figures and so on for later reference. Here’s how and why I love using index cards.

Capture

How many times have you said, “I’ve got to remember to …”? When I have those thoughts, I know that if I don’t write them down right then and there, I’ll forget them. I must capture this “stuff.” I use the term capture to mean to create a record of that idea, thought, or bit of information that I know I’ll review later. That last bit is crucially important.

When I’m away from my desk I’ll use a notebook and pen to capture stuff. I like Fieldnotes Brand notebooks and the Fisher Space Pen, but really anything you like will do. When I’m in the car, I use my iPhone and record voice memos with Apple’s Siri.

But when I’m at my desk, it’s all about the index cards.

There’s a simple inbox on my desk that I bought at Staples. It contains a stack of unused index cards, plus any that I’ve written on during the day. When I’m working and I think of something that I want to capture, I grab a blank card and write a few words down. Just enough to trigger my memory later. For example, there’s a card in my inbox as I write this that says, “Make ‘Tally’ next week’s app.” I know that means I must review an app called “Tally” for next week.

When I’m done writing, I toss the card back into the inbox. The whole capture process takes just a few seconds, and that’s important. The more time I spend off task, the harder it will be to get back on task. Since I can jot something down in just a few seconds, I can return to whatever I was doing prior to making that note easily.

Review

At the end of the day, I process the index card notes I’ve made. This is simple to do. Just pick up each card, read it and decide:

  1. What is it?
  2. What must be done (if anything)?

Do

The first question typically has three possible answers:

  1. An action step. Something that must be done, either by me or by someone else.
  2. Reference material. This is information that doesn’t require action but could be useful in the future. Move it to your long-term storage solution.
  3. Date- or time-specific to-do item, or what I’d call a “reminder.” Add to your calendar.

That’s it. I move through each card in turn, following these steps. It’s pretty simple, but there is one important rule: go in order. It’s tempting to pass over a card that’s boring or seemingly too-much-to-think-about-right-now. If you put it back once, unprocessed, you’re likely to pass over it a second time. And a third. So, you are not allowed to put a card back and you may not alter the order.

A Matter of Trust

Earlier I mentioned that I know I’ll review my index cards at the end of the day. In other words, I trust my system. This is critically important. When my brain knows, “Yeah, he’ll look at this later. I trust him,” it stops pestering me. Imagine that you promise yourself, “I”m going to clean the basement.” Every time you walk past that basement door, your brain says, ”We ought to be cleaning the basement, you know.“ But if you make an appointment to clean the basement on Saturday at 10:00 a.m., your brain will give you a pass. “She’s put it on the calendar. We’re good.” I know in my bones that I’ll review my index cards, so no more remembering to change the furnace filter when I’m driving on Rte. 3 and can’t do a thing about it.

That’s my index card system: capture, review, do. Nice and simple. It’s quick, I trust it, and it works. I hope this answers your question, Erika!

Unitasker Wednesday: Cheese Curler

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

When I turned 21, I started straightening my hair. I’m sure I started doing it because I had been brainwashed into believing that curls were unprofessional or curls made me look younger or some other such nonsense. Irrespective of the misguided reason, it wasn’t until two months ago I stopped to think about how much time (and money) over almost two decades I had wasted making my locks look like straw. I will never get back all that time in the chair at the hair salon and that time in front of the bathroom mirror at home — wasted, wasted time.

I know I can’t do anything about the past, but I have chosen to stop cluttering up my time straightening my hair in the future. And so, for eight weeks now, I’ve been transitioning back into a curly girl. (For a visual: Processed hair 2010 Erin, and naturally curly 1991 Erin.) Uncluttering one’s hair of straightening chemicals and products is not an overnight event, and so I have been thinking quite a bit about curly hair during this transition. I’m so excited to have my curly hair return!

As regular readers of the site also know, my thoughts are often obsessed with cheese. So, as someone who can’t stop thinking about curly hair or cheese, I was unbelievably excited when I received an email last week with “Cheese Curler” as the subject line from reader ALH. Cheese! And curls! And thought-congruence brilliance!

Except, the Cheese Curler was not brilliant. The Cheese Curler was unitaskery:

First, this thing does not curl cheese, it waves cheese. The product should have been named the Cheese Waver.

Second, this device to make wavy cheese only works on cheese that is shaped like a cylinder.

Third, this device only waves hard cheese.

Fourth, this device only waves hard, cylindrical cheese that has the exact circumference of this device or smaller. A giant wheel of parmesan is not working with this doodad.

Fifth, except for the inventor of this device, has anyone anywhere ever thought, “You know, waves would make this cheese more enjoyable”??? Maybe, but I’m doubting those numbers are incredibly high.

I think the lessons this so-called “Cheese Curler” can teach us are that cheese is good, curly hair is good, but a cheese curler is a genuine unitasker.

Ways to put lonely socks to good (uncluttered) use

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, is a self-described “unique and charming” museum that displays well over 10,000 shoes and hosts podcasts about “one fantastic shoe” every month. And, shoes aren’t the only thing on display. The museum also held an art exhibit featuring socks and the history of their humble beginnings.

The curious thing about socks is that they often lose their mates and become a source of clutter. Unlike those featured at the Bata, the ones in your home can end up under your bed and in between the sofa cushions. They are also often relegated to the dark recesses of shopping bags when Justin Case comes for a visit.

“I’ll keep this sock, just in case its mate turns up.”

Does that sound familiar? When we misplace an item from a matching set, we tend to hang on to them for a while, especially when the items cannot be used without each other (such as a gadget and its power cord). We probably keep lonely socks because we still see some value in them, even though they are now orphaned and we may not want them anymore. Fortunately, there are uncluttered alternatives to keeping mateless socks:

  1. Wear them! This may not seem as obvious (or maybe it’s so obvious that it’s often overlooked), but you can still wear them. You can make a pair using another lonely sock and wear them around the house.
  2. Use them as padding in your packages. Clean socks can be used inside packages to protect the items that you’re mailing. This is a good way to keep the contents of your package safe, but you should let the recipient know that the socks can be discarded.
  3. Use them to protect holiday decorations. You can store some of your holiday decorations (like ornaments) inside the socks before packing them away.
  4. Dust with them. I’m not a fan of dusting, so this is my least favorite option, but you can add mateless socks to your cleaning supplies. Just be sure to keep a specific number of sock dusters so that you don’t end up cramming more and more of them in with your supplies.
  5. Use them in craft projects. This is perhaps the most fun way to repurpose socks (especially for children). From sock puppets to doll accessories, get creative and make something new. Looking for inspiration? Check out the book The Lonely Sock Club: One Sock, Tons of Cool Projects!.
  6. Make a pet toy. If you have pets, you can make a cool tug-of-war toy for them. Have a look at this tutorial from Real Simple on how to make one. If you have a cat, you can stuff a little cat nip inside it, close it up, and watch your cat go nuts. You may also want to check with your local animal shelter to find out if they have a need for them.

The next time you end up with orphaned socks, be sure that they don’t overstay their welcome and turn into another source of clutter. You can use one of the suggestions above to breathe new life into them, but remember that it really is okay to let them go if you have no use for them.

Six things that suck the life out of your productivity

When I taught pre-school children (way back when), I would have the kids jump up and down to “shake the wigglies out” before working on projects that required their sustained attention. This allowed them to have a bit of fun before starting to work, and they were ultimately able to focus and complete their projects more easily. Though I should probably be jumping up and down more (exercising) myself, I’ve noticed that my productivity doesn’t get up to full speed until after I’ve done a few non-essential tasks. Though they’re not specifically related to tasks on my to-do list, doing them helps me get into a productive mindset. And, while I’m working, I subscribe to the “silence is golden” rule. I have a better chance of completing tasks efficiently when there’s very little noise and few interruptions.

While it helps to identify the strategies that help you do what you do consistently well, you probably need to figure out the things that cramp your productivity style, too. Are there particular things that throw you off track? A recent article on Mashable suggested that there five things that you should stay away from so that you can get more done (like not sleeping enough), and I’m sharing six more that you should consider kicking out of your regular routine.

Having poor eating habits

This one goes along with not exercising enough (or exercising too much), not drinking enough water, and not taking regular breaks. Lest you start thinking that I sound a bit like your mother, there are some statistics to back up this suggestion. A study published by Population Health Management found that …

Employees with an unhealthy diet were 66 percent more likely to report having experienced a loss in productivity than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Employees who exercised only occasionally were 50 percent more likely to report having lower levels of productivity than employees who were regular exercisers.

So, in order to be at your best, take care of yourself and refrain from…

Moving at the speed of light

There are many benefits of slowing down and keeping your pace at a speed that doesn’t make your head spin. Taking your time means that you’ll likely be better at deciding what your priorities are. You’ll also be able to give your full attention to your most important tasks without feeling frazzled.

Trying every productivity strategy

There are many strategies that can motivate you to get stuff done, but not all of them will be the right fit for you. For example, if you know deep down you’re a paper person, use a paper calendar, a notebook, and handwrite your to do list instead of investigating digital options. Gadgets and digital solutions may seem bright and shiny for a moment, but if they don’t suit you, they won’t really help you in the long run. The same is true for how you set up your environment. If you get tons done when you have music playing, go for it. But, if you prefer silence, then keep the music off.

Once you find “the one,” stick to it. Yes, you may need to use a new technique when your life changes, but when you find a system that works well with your learning and work styles, don’t spend any unnecessary time checking out other things.

Working only on other people’s stuff

Sometimes it may seem that you’re getting a lot accomplished, but are those tasks that you’re checking off your to-do list yours? Or do they belong to someone else? It’s nice to help your colleagues, but not at the expense of your own responsibilities. Set aside time to assist others but ensure that you’re giving priority to your own projects. You also need to be careful so you’re not …

Taking on too much

In the spirit of being helpful and wanting to be a team player, you may say yes to any or all opportunities that are offered to you. (Can you really take that board position and coach the basketball team?) Instead, be more selective about what you choose to take on and figure out if accepting something new will negatively impact your life in other ways. Think about the time commitment and, before you say yes, take a look at your calendar and task list to see if you really can accept new projects. Your stock response when other people make requests of your time should be, “let me check my calendar and get back to you.” Save the “yes” responses only for those rare times when you know your boss will be very upset if you don’t jump right in.

Having no way to keep yourself accountable

Whether you’re working on personal or work-related goals, you will need to find a way to hold yourself accountable so that you can meet those goals. If you have no way of tracking your progress, you probably won’t accomplish the necessary tasks. An easy way to work toward completing your goals/projects is to set deadlines and/or milestones. Add due dates and milestones to your calendar (or project management program) and use “naked planning” to your benefit by scheduling regular check-in meetings others involved in the project.

If you can avoid these six productivity traps, you should be able to get things done on time and done well.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

2009

  • iPhone alarm clocks
    My husband and I need a new alarm clock and, after many deliberations, we have decided to go with a unit that works in conjunction with our iPhones. Since the units are all multi-functional (they’re all chargers, and all but the first include speakers), I thought I would share with you our finalists.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: USB-powered eyelash curler
    Why should I safely curl my eyelashes in front of a mirror when I could do it blindly in front of my laptop with 5V current?

2008

  • 2008 Gift Giving Guide: Useful gifts under $35
    If you’re going to buy something tangible, we suggest getting gifts that work with our motto: A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  • Built NY lunch bag for kids
    The Munchler is a lunch bag that can also be carried like a backpack. It also unzips into a placemat for easy use. Made from polypropylene, it will insulate your child’s food.

Ask Unclutterer: How do we avoid occasional chaos?

Reader Anthony submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Single dad. Two kids: one in middle, one in high school. We keep things tidy and organized most of the time. I like schedules, the kids work better on schedules, so we follow a tight schedule. We go along at a good clip for about three months, and then everything falls apart for a week or two. We end up wasting a full Sunday cleaning and getting back in the game. Three months or so are good, and then we devolve into chaos again. How do we not spiral into chaos? How do we end this cycle?

Anthony — Unless you have a full-time housekeeper whose job it is to keep your home continuously running smoothly, I think the situation you’ve described is pretty normal for an active, uncluttered, and organized family. We all encounter chaos in our homes occasionally. I don’t know if it’s every three months and for a week or two in all cases, but disorder happens over the course of the year, even to me. Life can be messy, so it’s not too surprising that mess eventually creeps into our homes.

In other words, if you’re only “devolv[ing] into chaos” 2 out of 12 months each year, I think you’re doing fine.

In our home, chaos tends to erupt when a kink is thrown into our schedule. One of us might travel for work or we’ll all go on vacation, and two weeks later the house will look like it was hit by a miniature tornado and mealtime resembles feral cats hunting for dinner. Another thing that throws us off is illness — if one or more of us get sick, disorder almost always follows (especially if it’s one of the adults who is under the weather). Exhaustion and stress can be culprits, too. The other trigger for us is being spread too thin, which is chaos of our own making because we voluntarily agreed to do too many things.

As I mentioned earlier, life is messy and at some point your home will reflect that. You can’t alleviate it completely, but there are a small handful of things you might be able to do to reduce its frequency.

  • Identify the disruptions. This seems obvious, but it is incredibly easy to live in denial and pretend like the disruption isn’t happening. Instead of ignoring the problem, name it as quickly as you notice it and take responsibility for it. “Whoa! Half of our chores didn’t get done today because we’re all exhausted.” When you know what is wrong and why (in this example, probably too much stuff on the schedule for one day), you can address fixing it tomorrow, not two weeks from tomorrow.
  • Tomorrow is a new day. Don’t let the one day of mess provide you with an excuse to abandon your schedule the next day. All hope is not lost. Wake up and face the new day with a positive attitude. Move throughout the day as you normally would, simply compensating for what went awry the previous day when you can. Dishes left on the counter last night? Put breakfast dishes into the dishwasher along with last night’s dinner dishes, don’t set the breakfast dishes on the counter. You know something went wrong yesterday, so fix it today.
  • Have schedules in place. This sounds like something you’re already doing. However, there might be people reading this article who don’t, so I want to discuss it briefly. Have you ever had a boss who waits to do things at the last minute and then thrives on the adrenaline rush? The reason this happens is because the boss has learned that she can get things done well at the last minute. As humans, we like to do things in ways where we know we’ll likely be successful, and the boss feels her chances of success are improved if she waits for the adrenaline to kick in. We are creatures of habit. If that boss knew she could also be successful not waiting until the last minute, she would be a boss who didn’t wait until the last minute. The same is true in our homes. If your family doesn’t know it can operate in an uncluttered and organized way on a schedule, it will primarily operate in a state of chaos — even if that state of living is to everyone’s disadvantage. When there is a regular schedule in place and everyone in the home has practiced the routine and enjoyed its benefits, it can become the standard operating procedure. It will become the way your household prefers because it will be comfortable and rewarding.
  • Rebounding is easier with less stuff. I’m not advocating asceticism. I’m just reminding you that when you have less stuff, you have less mess. There is less to be out of place and messy when you have less stuff to be out of place and messy. It takes less time to put out-of-place things away when there aren’t many things to put away. There is less laundry to do when there are fewer clothes in the house. Again, I’m not saying you should live like a monk without any possessions, I’m simply pointing out that managing less stuff is easier than managing more stuff. YOU get to define what less and more mean for you and your family.
  • Learn from your mistakes. We all make mistakes, but the most important thing is that you learn from them and try your best not to repeat them. Are piano lessons, tennis lessons, playing on the basketball team, singing in the city choir, and dancing in the Nutcracker too much for your daughter to do in addition to school in December? Well, you’ve learned this year that she can’t do it all, so next year you can help her be more selective about which activities she chooses to do. I have this year’s and next year’s calendars in my planner and continuously make notes for future me on next year’s calendar. In this example, I would write in September something like, “Auditions for the Nutcracker are this month. If Molly tries out this year, what activity will she NOT do in December so our lives aren’t insane like last year.”
  • Don’t beat yourself up. As I mentioned previously, life is messy. If you get sick, you get sick, and you need to focus on getting better. When you’re better, you’ll re-establish order in your home. There is no need to clutter up your emotions with guilt when you have no rational reason to feel guilty.

Thank you, Anthony, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was helpful to you in my response. Please check out the comments for even more advice from our readers. — Erin

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.

How to plan for a stress-free return from your vacation

One way to beat stress is to regularly take time off from work, but returning to work after your vacation can often have the exact opposite effect — it can be a source of stress. How do you pick up where you left off so you can hit the ground running? With a bit of planning, you can actually come back ready to work and ease back into your typical routine without feeling discombobulated and anxious.

Add an extra day

If you’ve ever found yourself wishing for an additional day of vacation so you could recover from the days you spent away from work, it’s not a bad idea. Schedule your return home a day earlier so you have an extra day to the end of your vacation, which you can use to catch up on emails, get reacquainted with projects, and get settled in at home. Knowing what to expect before you head back to work the next day will give you a preview of what your week will be like as well as the opportunity to put some plans in place.

You might also want to think about adding an extra day before you leave to clean up at home (empty the garbage, wash the dishes, turn on the Roomba) or even get your clothing ready for the morning you’ll be returning to the office. That way, you won’t even need to think about these tasks when you get back.

Put your desk in order before you leave

Clearing your desk, putting away files, and leaving your office or cubicle in an organized state before you leave helps you in several ways. First, you won’t have to clean up when you get back so you can start working straight away (less time cleaning means more time being productive). And, not only will it be a welcome sight, but you will likely have a better chance of getting stuff done.

Schedule meetings several days after you get back

Before you leave, you’ll probably need to add meetings to your calendar. Be realistic about how much time you’ll have to prepare for those meetings, particularly if you need to share a report or take on the role of facilitator. Consider postponing meetings three to five days after returning (or longer, if possible).

Stay away from extra tasks

You’ll also want to refrain from participating in activities that were not planned prior to you leaving. Unless they are urgent and require your focus, unplanned tasks can increase your work load and be overwhelming. Instead, focus on your most important projects and then, as you get back in the swing of things, you can gradually add more to your plate.

Delegate some tasks

Before you leave, hand off a few or your to-dos to a colleague to manage while you’re away. That way, you don’t come back to a long laundry list of tasks and you can keep some of your projects moving along in your absence. At the very least, brief a colleague on where to find things in your office so he or she can locate them quickly while you’re gone and won’t have to call you while you’re spending time with family or sipping a fancy drink on a beach.

Unitasker Wednesday: Wannabe waffle makers

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

Since the release of the George Foreman Grill in 1994, small appliance manufacturers have been trying to get in on the profitable waffle-iron-as-stove-or-oven market. We started noticing this trend a couple years ago, and we featured the Mini Cupcake Maker unitasker at the beginning of the recent explosion. And since then, the market truly has errupted with [Insert Name of Food You Sometimes Eat] Makers and we feel it is our duty to introduce you to some of our new favorite wannabe waffle maker unitaskers …

… like the Brownie Bar Maker:

… and the Fortune Cookie Maker:

… and for dog lovers, there is the Dog Treat Maker:

… and the Corn Dog Maker:

… and last, but certainly not least, the Churros Maker:

Can you imagine how much storage space in your kitchen you would sacrifice if you had a George Forman Grill with five removable plates, a Brownie Bar Maker, a Fortune Cookie Maker, a Dog Treat Maker, a Corn Dog Maker, and a Churros Maker? You could have your own small appliance museum! My word.

Note: I would have included the Cake Pop Maker, except I honestly have no idea how you can make cake pops without the device. Round balls of cake mystify me.

Thanks to the dozens of Unclutterer readers who sent us links to all of these delightfully entertaining unitaskers.

A year ago on Unclutterer

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2009

What to do with old toys

The winter holidays are coming and, for those who celebrate and have kids, it typically means the acquisition of new toys. It’s great for the kids but becomes problematic when the new bounty is piled upon last year’s. And the year before that. Before long, you’ve got clutter on your hands. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce the mess, keep things tidy, and, best of all, keep the kids happy about it. If you’re looking to part with used toys, the following are several ideas for what you can do with older, outgrown or otherwise unused toys.

Donate

It’s always nice to donate a toy to someone who could use it and there are plenty of options. Here are a few that should be available in many communities for very lightly used toys:

  1. Toy drives. To find a toy drive in your area, contact a local church or chamber of commerce. Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts also organize drives, so seek them out in your neighborhood.
  2. S.A.F.E. Stuffed Animals for Emergencies. This organization delivers donated stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to hospitals, children’s services, homeless shelters and hospitals across the country. You can find a chapter in your area here.
  3. Goodwill. Goodwill works to foster employment training opportunities for those it serves. The vast majority of funds brought in through its stores serves that purpose.
  4. Local fire department. Firefighters and EMTs often keep stuffed animals around to give to children they must transport to the hospital. Call the department in your area to see if they have such a program.

Repurpose Old Toys

Repurposing is where it gets fun. You and your child can let your creativity run wild and think of fun and useful ways to repurpose old toys. It can soften the blow that comes with giving something away. Often children can have an emotional bond to a toy they haven’t touched in years. Tricks like these allow them to keep that toy around (or a part of it at least).

Repurposing helps kids (and parents) realize that making something can be more fun than buying. It fosters a real sense of ownership and accomplishment. Finally, you’re keeping a hunk of plastic out of the landfill in many cases. Here are some great ideas for re-purposing old toys.

Website Apartment Therapy has gathered 10 fantastic projects for old toys from around the web. My favorites include:

  1. Plastic toy as planter. This fantastic tutorial shows you how to turn a plastic dinosaur into a cute planter.
  2. Wooden block wall hangings. My wife and I bought so many wooden blocks for my children. At 7 and 9 years old, they’ve lost interest. This quick how-to from snug.studio shows how to turn them into wall hangings for book bags, hats, jackets and more. Very clever.
  3. Animal head toy coat rack. A very clever and useful project from Make: Craft uses the heads of discarded plastic animals to make a good-looking coat rack.
  4. Tree ornaments. When I was very young, my mother cut the plastic animals that hung from the mobile above my crib and turned them into Christmas tree ornaments. They’re still among my favorites (wooden peg puzzle pieces also make great ornaments).

I know that kids aren’t thrilled about receiving clothes as gifts, but it happens. Even I have a T-shirt collection that drives my wife a little crazy. Last year, she had several made into the quilt pictured below that has graced my bed ever since.

Honor the Memory

We often fail to part with things not because of the item itself, but with the memory or emotion it represents. This is especially true as kids grow up. One way to honor the memory without incurring clutter is with a shadow box like these from Lawrence Frames. Add an item or two and discard the rest. The memory is intact, and the clutter isn’t.

I also love this wall decoration made from small, unused toys. What a nice way to let Jr. keep some of the items he loves without letting them form a space-hogging pile.

Sell

You won’t be able to sell all of your old toys, of course. But some vintage toys and collectibles can attract buyers. Before you list your little treasures online, you’ll need to take some photos. A good photo can make or break a sale. Here’s a fantastic tutorial on how to photograph your items for the likes of ebay. And, Thomas train sets are very popular this time of year for sale on Craigslist.

There’s a lot that can be done with old toys. If you can, have your kids take part in the process you choose. They’ll feel a part of the decision and enjoy seeing the toy’s new role.