Workspace of the Week: Stand up and store

This week’s Workspace of the Week is BMeunier’s collapsible standing work desk:

When you live in a small space, you do what you can to make areas serve different purposes and still meet all of your needs. A flat-screen television might also be a computer monitor and an art display. A coffee table might also be a storage unit. In BMeunier’s home, his standing work desk can collapse and simply be part of the wall or it can also be a counter space for making morning coffee. Since it has been hung at standing height, no desk chair is required — saving even more floor space. I like the practicality this collapsible desk brings to this small space. Thank you, BMeunier, for sharing your workspace with us.

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.

Creative, space-saving furniture for almost any room

When you live in a small space, you typically need to keep only the items that you use the most and that have high sentimental value. Of course, you can use hooks, glide out shelves, and other ease-of-use items to help you keep things stored well. Though you might think that you’ll lose out on style in a small home, you can find functional furniture that is both compact and aesthetically pleasing.

This desk by designer, Yoon-Zee Kim, can also be also used as a bookshelf. Depending on your needs, you might choose to use it as seating. It appears to be a concept design but you may be able to create something similar.

Image source: Yanko Design

Using vertical space to store items usually means that you’re making use of walls and doors to mount items. Doing this reduces footprint of those items so that you have more floor space to walk. Furniture that is raised off the floor can help you achieve similar results.

Boxetti, a transformable furniture series by Lativan desinger, Rolands Landsbergs, starts out looking like a cube but doubles as a table (when not in use) and couch. The Boxetti Lounge also integrates several elements needed in a living room, including a three-seat sofa and side tables.

Image source: Boxetti

This coffee table by Resource Furniture lifts up to reveal a small storage area. Once raised, it can be used as a desk or eating area in front of a couch or chair.

Image source: Resource Furniture

Many companies, including La-Z-Boy, now make similar lift-style tables.

Unitasker Wednesday: Personal Fondue Mugs, set of 2

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

Fondue is one of those things that when you eat it you feel like it’s the ’70s and you’re in France. Ooh la la! Oui! Right on! It’s a communal experience. It’s a chance to wield a sharp fork in close proximity to your friends and family. It’s one of the rare times you can stuff your face with gobs of saturated fat in the form of hot cheese and chocolate and no one judges you harshly because you’re sharing a fancy meal.

However, this week’s unitasker selection takes all of those awesome things about fondue and destroys them. Introducing the Personal Fondue Mugs:

Nothing about these mugs is a throwback to the ’70s or France. Mugs with candles in them screams, “21st century America!” It also screams, “Danger! Danger! Watch out for the tipsy lady walking around the party with molten hot cheese and an open flame!”

These mugs kill the communal, shared experience of fondue. They even kill the awesome long sharp fork and the ability to wield them near those you love. These mugs ruin fondue fun.

I also can’t come up with another situation in which you could use these. You certainly can’t drink out of any container with an open flame. I imagine doing so would drip candle wax (and eventually the whole candle) right down the front of your shirt — which, let’s all agree, is just patently unsafe. And, for $15 and another $5 in shipping and handling, you only get 2 mugs. To use these at a dinner party, you would want more than 2, and end up spending a good chunk of change to be able to offer a mug to each of your guests.

… and now I want fondue and to find a way to work, “can you dig it,” into a conversation … I shake my fist at you, unitasker fondue mugs!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

  • Ask Unclutterer: Coat control
    I live in Brooklyn on the top floor of a Brownstone and have NO coat closet, which is killing me this winter because our coats just end up all over the kitchen table. Do you have any ideas/suggestions for coat/hat/gloves/boot storage for a small apartment?
  • Uncluttered and inexpensive storage designs from CB2
    Since it’s probably safe to assume that you don’t eventually want to end up watching the buildings around you burn while the Frank Black sings “Where Is My Mind?”, consider CB2 next time you’re about to make the drive to IKEA.

2009

Front-load important information in your communication

A friend recently reposted the following job listing on his Facebook wall, hoping his friends would refer qualified candidates for the position:

Government affairs firm seeks administrative/executive assistant for firm’s Senior Partner. Main responsibilities will include organizing travel and schedule for Senior Partner, managing correspondence on his behalf, and other as-needed tasks at his request. Other responsibilities will be related to office management and will involve simple bookkeeping. The ideal candidate will be detail-oriented with strong communication and computer skills. Knowledge of Capitol Hill preferable. Spanish fluency required. Please send cover letter and resume to…

As I read through the post, several names immediately came to mind…at least until I made my way to the penultimate sentence which indicated the position required fluency in Spanish. That job requirement obviously restricts the pool of qualified applicants considerably.

Imagine the amount of time collectively wasted by thousands of non-Spanish-speaking job seekers reading almost the entire listing before realizing they were unqualified for the position.

If the person who wrote the listing had included any non-negotiable requirements in the first or second sentence, then it would have given any unqualified job seekers an immediate cue that they could stop and skip directly to the next post. Here is how a revised listing might have read:

Government affairs firm seeks administrative/executive assistant fluent in Spanish for firm’s Senior Partner. Main responsibilities will include organizing travel and schedule for Senior Partner, managing correspondence on his behalf, and other as-needed tasks at his request. Other responsibilities will be related to office management and will involve simple bookkeeping. The ideal candidate will be detail-oriented with strong communication and computer skills. Knowledge of Capitol Hill preferable. Please send cover letter and resume to…

By front-loading important information — whatever it may be — you show respect for other people’s time by giving them the ability to make an early exit. Unless you’re M. Night Shyamalan, this principle can probably be applied to all your writing. It can also be applied to voicemails, where if the person didn’t get your telephone number upon first listen he can go back and only listen to the first few seconds of it again to retrieve what he needs.

Will having less stuff make you happier?

Can you be too neat and organized? Is it possible that you could be so good at uncluterring that your life becomes devoid of things that are meaningful to you? These are the questions that first popped into my mind as I started listening to an NPR story about Lisa Perry, a woman who decided to sell, in her words, “virtually everything I own.”

As she described her reasons for making this very big change in her life, I began to understand why she (or anyone else) might pursue this possession-less path. Her decision to let go of almost all her belongings was really about taking a journey, about embarking on a process that would allow her focus her gaze forward.

She explained:

… it’s not about getting rid of things that I don’t want or I don’t like or [that] remind me of bad things. It’s really about who do I want to be and what makes me happy, and keeping the things with me that will allow me to do that. And, right now, it’s moving forward and looking forward, rather than looking back at what I’ve done … where do I want to go and what do I want to be.

Perry began this process by identifying her primary goal: to be happy. She came to this realization and was inspired to make changes after reading two books, The Art of Happiness and The Pathfinder. The latter, in particular, helped her to see that as the number of things she accumulated increased, her life — her vitality — became smaller.

Selling everything one owns on eBay may seem a bit extreme and you certainly don’t have to follow in Perry’s footsteps. However, if you see happiness as an end goal and desire a more fulfilled life, it might be a helpful exercise to think about what specifically would make you truly happy, and to decide on the necessary action steps. You don’t need to part with items that resonate with you nor do you have to live in museum-like home. However, if having a welcoming and more uncluttered abode would contribute to your happiness, begin developing a step-by-step outline that will help you to accomplish that. Instead of randomly keeping or acquiring things, first consider their true value to you. Figure out if you’re holding on to things because you “might need them someday” or because you feel obligated to keep them because a loved one gave them to you. Be more mindful of the items that you allow to co-exist with you. Consider specific actions you can take that will foster happy feelings (and banish negative ones) in your day-to-day life, no matter how small. Perhaps most importantly, figure out why you feel the need to make changes. Doing this will give your plan purpose and help you to stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way. If you start to notice that your goals need a bit of fine tuning, take the time to polish them. It’s also likely that you will need to seek out others who can help you bring your plan to life, so don’t be shy about asking for help. And, as I mentioned before, as you go through any uncluttering project, stay focused on the reasons you want to make changes in the first place.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

2009

Ask Unclutterer: Products for processing paper

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me if I still stand by the information in our extremely popular 2007 series “Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter” and the three other articles in the paper-begone series. Basically, he wanted to know if I would write the series the same way now that I did then.

Would the fundamental premise of the articles be the same today as it was then? Yes. Would a few specific details change? Definitely.

The most obvious thing I would change is the equipment used to scan and shred the papers we don’t need to retain in physical form. I still love the Fujitsu ScanSnap, but the technology referenced in the article is now about six years old. The ScanSnap line has come a long way since then. Also, I’ve come to adore shredders on wheels because they can be moved around a room to wherever you need them.

The latest model in the ScanSnap desktop line is the iX500 and it’s an impressive machine. I’ve been test driving one the past two weeks (thank you, ScanSnap!) and it’s amazing — it doesn’t require a desktop computer to launch, it will scan straight to a mobile device or an online storage location over Wifi (so I can save straight to Dropbox), it’s noticeably faster than the S1500M model we own, and I’ve been able to customize it to send scans automatically to whatever program I want, so items like photographs now import straight into iPhoto. I won’t upgrade permanently from the S1500M we already have, but if we didn’t have a scanner I would save up for this one. If you’re in the market for one, the list price is $495. They’re expensive, but they’re really nice. (Full iX500 product details.)

As far as shredders go, I’d recommend the Fellowes PowerShred 79Ci now. The thing is a monster at chewing up stuff you want to shred. And, as I referenced earlier, it’s on wheels, which makes it convenient to use and store. It’s also expensive, but the thing will last you a decade or more if you treat it well. Our PowerShred PS-77Cs is still rocking after seven years of service, and we use it daily. Unlike less expensive shredders, the PowerShred line is built to last.

The list of things to shred and not to shred is still accurate, though a lot of people greatly dislike my advice to destroy old passports. I probably should have written more clearly about waiting to shred the old passport until after you get a new one. Submitting your old one does speed up the renewal process. However, once you get the old one back, if you don’t need it for any legal reason, it’s safe to shred (just be sure to pop out the RFID chip first). My last passport, though used many times, didn’t even have a single stamp in it because so many countries have stopped stamping and my old visa had to be relinquished when I left the country that required me to have the visa. If you want to keep old passports, especially if they have stamps in them, do it but please keep it in a safe or safe-deposit box so it doesn’t end up in the hands of identity thieves.

I still use DevonThink to organize my digital documents and FreedomFiler for my paper files (though, I’ve added a ridiculous number of my own files to the FreedomFiler system in the past six years that resemble what I discuss in my book). Those two products have suited me well all this time.

Even with all of these products and systems, paper continues to be something we have to deal with daily in our home. We’ve unsubscribed from as much junk mail as possible, yet we still get some from businesses and services we use. The shredder, trash can, and recycling bin by our main entrance are essential in dealing with the junk immediately and not letting it come deep inside the house. But, the stuff we let in voluntarily — the bank statements, the receipts, the pay stubs, the contracts — still feels overwhelming at times. We’ve gone so far as to unsubscribe from all print magazines and now subscribe to these publications digitally over Zinio. The only way we’ve been able to keep from being overwhelmed by paper is to clear our desks each day as part of our end-of-day work routines. All papers filed, junk shred, receipts reconciled, documents scanned, etc. It only takes five or ten minutes, but it’s still a chore. I’m looking forward to the day when I only have to spend five or ten minutes a week (or less) dealing with paper clutter.

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.

Tech tools to help with your New Year’s resolutions

This past December, we shared some advice on Unclutterer about creating New Year’s resolutions. When deciding on a resolution(s) for the new year, keep three things in mind: acknowledge your feelings, have a plan, and take your time. As we mentioned, your plan don’t need to be rock solid by January 1.

Once you’ve decided on goals to work toward, you can focus on these five tips for success:

  1. Stay positive
  2. Lean on a support team
  3. Choose goals wisely
  4. Take on one goal at a time
  5. Focus on more ambitious goals over the long term

Today, I’ll share some software that will help you realize your annual goals, focusing on the most common resolutions, according to USA.gov:

  • Drink less alcohol
  • Eat healthy food
  • Get a better education
  • Get a better job
  • Get fit
  • Lose weight
  • Manage debt
  • Manage stress
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Save money
  • Take a trip
  • Volunteer to help others

Many of these are similar, and I’ve combined those to create this master list:

  • Get healthy
  • Earn more money
  • Become a better citizen
  • Travel

Here are some examples of hardware and software to help you achieve each of those goals.

Get Healthy

Every January, millions of people vow to improve their health by either losing weight, adopting a healthier diet, or exercising regularly. It’s a great goal, as a heathy body and mind often means a longer, more enjoyable life. The health and fitness market is full of gadgets. Here are a few to get you started.

Bodyweight Training: You Are Your Own Gym for iPhone and iPad ($2.99). This app is remarkable in how comprehensive it is. It features over 200 videos demonstrating exercises that can all be performed with equipment you already have at home. There’s no need to buy an expensive gym membership. You’ll find guided exercise programs for all fitness levels, as well as timers to keep you on track. It’s great for when your traveling, too.

Nike+ Fuel Band ($149). The Nike+ line of fitness products are all connected to the Internet, for easy tracking of your performance and sharing with your friends. The Fuel Band is a bracelet with an accelerometer that tracks the number of steps you take and calories you burn each day. Set a goal and see how close you come. You can track and share your progress with friends via a browser or the optional iPhone app. There are even fun challenges to aim for, called “Missions,” presented as a sort of game.

MyFitnessPal (Free) MyFitnessPal offers a free calorie counter for the iPhone, iPad, Android smartphones, Blackberrys and Windows phone. It’s got a massive database of foods and drinks that let you track exactly how many calories you take in per day. You can also network with friends who are using the program, which helps to provide you with a community of support. Plus, it looks good.

Earn More Money

I can’t start this section without thinking of those Sally Struthers ads from the ’90s. “Do you want to make more money? Sure, we all do.” Here’s some software to help you stay on top of your finances.

iTunes U (Free). When I was young I was taught that the key to a good-paying, enjoyable job was education. Now, Apple lets me take a course on almost anything right from iTunes. iTunes U is a collection of educational resources put out by some of the nation’s top schools. You’ll find courses on a huge variety of subjects, from business to cooking to the arts and literature, law, math and science. Download any to your iPad and get learning.

Mint.com (Free) Mint is a fantastic finance and budget management suite of software. It’s available for the iPhone, iPad, Android tablets and Mac. It also works right in your browser, so Windows users can use it, too. Mint helps you track spending, follow a budget, set financial goals and more. Connect it to your bank and add any account you have, loans, retirement savings and more. Plus, it’s beautiful and generates nice-looking reports.

Become a Better Citizen

This often gets overlooked, but it’s great for your community and sense of self-satisfaction. Here are a couple of solutions to help you create and track all sorts of goals.

Everest for iPhone (Free) “Everyone’s got their Everest. Climb yours.” That’s a great slogan for a clever app. Everest lets you create goals and, more importantly, break them down into a series of small, achievable steps. Each goal, or “dream” as the app calls them, features an inspirational image. There are many to choose from, and you can even upload your own.

Lifetick (Free or $20 per year for the premium service) This app is different in that it starts by helping you identify your core values. Next, you create goals that are in line with each one. It’s an interesting way to approach goal setting. From there you create tasks for each goal and a timeline to keep track of all of them. Plus the web app is really beautiful.

Travel

Kayak Hands down my favorite travel app. It’s is as close to a portable travel agent as you’re going to get. It handles everything, from finding a flight to hotels, car rentals, attractions, things to do, and much more. Kayak polls several top travel sites and airlines for flights that match your criteria. The results can be filtered by airline, number of stops, airport, price and duration. You can also sort by cost, duration and departure time (leaving soonest). There’s an app for the iPhone, iPad, Android phones, Windows phone and Kindle Fire.

There you have it. I hope there’s something here to inspire you to an exciting, fulfilling 2013. Good luck!

Unitasker Wednesday: Double Dip Bowl

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 is one of those items that when you see it your first thought is, “ingenious!” Then, you pause for a moment and remember you don’t own a restaurant that serves guests olives as appetizers. The Double Dip Bowl:

Let’s all agree that the name is confusing. The nesting bowls are designed so you can hide unsightly pits and shells into the lower, hidden bowl after you eat the yummy part of the nut or cherry or olive. There isn’t really anything dipping or double dipping about this in the least. It really should be called something like a Shell Shrouder Bowl or a Squirrel Away Bowl. The name is broken.

Let’s also agree that while it’s a neat idea, you would rarely (maybe never) use it. Instead of a useful bowl, it would be a dust collector. When sitting home alone with a bag of pistachios, you just put the shells in a regular bowl or straight into the trash. You don’t care if you see the remnants of your snack. This is one of those fancy bowls just for parties — and you probably don’t serve things with shells or pits at parties because those things are messy. Also, you know your guests will be shaking hands with each other, and no one wants to shake hands with someone who just had his hands in his mouth retrieving an olive pit.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

  • James Jamerson’s Uncluttered Bass Rig
    I’ve written before about my constant battle with an affliction called Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). It’s an almost compulsive need to purchase new equipment in the firm belief that the new item, be it a guitar, amp, or effect pedal, will be the spark that ignites stale monotony into inspired genius. Sometimes it works, but I find that more often, buying new equipment is just a substitute for doing the hard work required to be creative.
  • Build your own recyclable furniture with Grid Beam
    Grid Beam allows you to use a few standard modular and reusable components to create whatever structure you need at the moment.
  • Multipurpose games
    Avoid board game clutter by purchasing games that serve multiple purposes.

2009

  • Book review: The Power of Less
    If you are looking for sound advice on how to improve your productivity, The Power of Less may help you to be more efficient in all your dealings.

Modo modular desktop organizer on Kickstarter

The organizers of a new Kickstarter project got in touch with us yesterday because they thought our readers might be interested in the modular desktop organizer they’re trying to crowdfund. Watch the following video:

The design seems both simple and flexible. We’d love to see them produce the base in a variety of woods though. While sustainable, bamboo isn’t always our cup of tea.

At a pre-order price of $26, we’re still impressed.