A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Corn Desilker
    In all of my years of shucking, cooking, and eating a ridiculous amount of corn, I have never once thought I needed a device to remove the silk from an ear. However, someone out there apparently thinks I am wrong and believes a special tool is necessary for doing a very simple task that your hands can do. Exhibit A: The Corn Desilker.
  • Breaking projects down into simple, achievable steps
    When you break projects down into simple, achievable steps, you set yourself up for success. You are more likely to complete a project when the steps to “done” are clear.

2011

  • Organizing advice from classical Greeks
    More than 2,000 years ago, famous Greek philosopher Socrates and a man named Isomachus were having a discussion about how Isomachus wished his wife would run their home (the conversation is recorded by Xenophon in chapter eight of his writing Oeconomicus). Isomachus told Socrates he had asked his wife to keep house by finding a place for everything and having everything in its place.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Coffee Grinder Brush
    Sadly, this specialized brush can’t do the job of getting particulates out of your grinder any better than a pastry brush (which you probably already own if you’re grinding your own coffee and spices).
  • Searching for inspiration for a multipurpose guest room
    I’m looking for ways to make our guest room into a fabulous guest room and a practical hobby room in one. The solution will have to include storage for the hobby supplies that can be completely closed up when guests are present and using it for their retreat. And, I want it to be extremely practical as a hobby room when guests aren’t visiting.

2010

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

2009

  • The Uniform Project
    We’ve recently stumbled upon The Uniform Project and are amazed at the variety Sheena Matheiken is getting from a single dress and a lot of accessories.

Trello is a free, effective, family organizer

A couple years ago, my wife and I succumbed to the fact that individual paper planners weren’t doing it for us. As much as I love jotting things down on paper and carrying a notebook of lists in my back pocket, it’s no good when two people are trying to coordinate Cub Scouts and ballet and play practice and Girl Scouts and chorus and homework, etc.

In other words, our Family, Inc., needed an appropriate tool. For us, it’s Trello.

Trello is a web-based collaboration tool that’s meant for teams, but it’s perfect for families. It runs in a browser so it doesn’t matter if you’re using a Mac or a PC, and it allows you to create “boards” that hold the tasks, assignments, reference materials, and so forth for a given project.

We have a board for each of the kids, as well as for ourselves. In addition to who needs to be where, we add things like what needs to go where (pack the script and change of ballet clothes for Tuesday drop-off) as well as who’s going to do each.

Trello’s emphasis is on speed and no-fuss teamwork. Essentially, a board holds several cards. Each card contains one item in the list of information that becomes the support material for a project. Each board (“William”) holds several boards (“Cub Scouts”). Here’s how we use Trello at Chez Caolo.

The need for quick capture of ideas and news

Items added to Trello from one device show up on another. For example, my wife can update a card on her iPhone and that edit shows up on mine. Likewise, I can make a note from my computer and it shows up on both phones. As we go about our days, it’s comforting and useful to know that we’re in touch and up to date, even on those days when we barley see each other between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Perhaps you know how that goes?)

As I said, Trello works great in a modern web browser. There are apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, too. But, honestly, the website is smart enough to work and look great on a mobile device, so check it out before you install an app.

Trello is really meant to be used by business teams, but we’re getting a lot out of it as busy parents. In the end, we’re pretty happy with it. Trello is a near ubiquitous capture tool that is always in sync. Shortcuts make it fast and cloud sync lets me stay on top of things.

Unitasker Wednesday: Unplastic Tray

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

You are not going to believe this. So, get this. Get this! It’s a tray. For cookies. And it looks like it’s plastic. But, seriously, it’s NOT! Right? It looks like it’s cheap, but it’s expensive! Hahahaha! The joke is on whoever is eating the cookies out of what they think is a plastic tray. It’s an Unplastic Tray!

“Features” of the Unplastic Tray:

  1. It’s made of hand-blown glass and is super delicate because it’s thin, like plastic
  2. It has to be hand washed
  3. You have to remove store-bought cookies from a plastic container and then put them in the glass container
  4. No one looking at your table assumes you did anything other than set the plastic tray the store-bought cookies came in onto the table because it looks just like a plastic tray
  5. If you make homemade cookies to put into it, people then think you didn’t make them and instead bought cookies or they wonder why you put homemade cookies into a recycled store-bought cookie tray
  6. Rarely do people touch the tray when grabbing cookies, so hardly anyone will even realize you have a fancy Unplastic Tray

Oh, and if you want to be confused even more, read the comments on the product’s Amazon page. Half of them have nothing to do with the tray at all. Even the reviews are clutter!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

2011

2010

2009

Stop should-ing yourself

You see, I believe that should is one of the most damaging words in our language. Every time we use should, we are, in effect, saying “wrong.” Either we are wrong or we were wrong or we are going to be wrong. I don’t think we need more wrong in our life. — Louise Hay, quoted by Jim Hughes

When we go to make organizing decisions, we often know, deep down, what’s right for us. But then sometimes we listen to the “shoulds” — from other people or from ourselves — and veer away from those right-for-us decisions.

I need to keep these books because I should read them

Unless you’re in school, you can probably let go of this “should.” If you have absolutely no interest in reading some of the classics, you can give the books away; you really don’t have to read them. You only have so much reading time available in your life, so why not use that time to read the things you truly want to read?

I should convert from my paper planner, address book, or to-do list to a digital system

Digital tools certainly have their advantages — but if paper works for you, there’s really no need to change. You may want to look at how you could back up these physical copies just in case they get lost or damaged, but there’s no reason you need to switch from what’s working well.

I should keep this sentimental thing

Well, perhaps you should keep it. Is it actually sentimental to you or is it the kind of thing most people find sentimental? I got rid of all but a few pages of my high school yearbook because I just didn’t care about it, even thought this act would horrify other people.

Alison Hodgson wrote about the collection of love letters from her husband that she held onto because, when she asked her siblings for their advice, two of the three said she should. Here’s what came next:

I tucked the letters back into their box, and there they remained, untouched, until the day they burned in a house fire. And I have never given them a second thought.

Looking back I can see I really wanted to get rid of them but didn’t think I ought to — that was the tension. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, it was that what I wished to do conflicted with what I thought I should.

I should never check email in the morning; that’s what Julie Morgenstern says

That’s advice that works for many people, but not for everyone. If you give it a try and it’s interfering with your workflow or just doesn’t suit your personality, it’s fine to ignore this suggestion. The same goes for the advice from any organizing expert. What is most important is finding the productivity system that works best for you.

So take a minute to ponder: Are you holding onto something or making any other organizing decision just because it’s what you think you should do? If so, maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Four simple steps for coping with significant life changes

Recently, I found out that someone I know lost his job. He described being shocked when he learned he was being let go, and that he had to accept that he needed to shift gears and move into job-search mode. He also said something else I found very interesting:

I found that I have so much that I should and want to do, that it has proved to be almost more difficult to accomplish things than when I was spending eight-plus hours in the office every day. Each day so far, without a schedule as tight as I had been maintaining while employed, seems to be flying by! More time is actually less time.

It’s the paradox of that last statement that gave me pause. Theoretically, it would seem that not having to commute and spend several hours at an office would equate to having more time to work on anything you want — in his case, job search activities. I think a couple of things are happening here. First, he’s dealing with a change — and not just any change, a major one that came as somewhat of a surprise. Second, his routine is not his routine anymore. Even though he has systems that work for him, they may not necessarily fit his current situation. And, now that he has less structure built in to his day, it can be easy for time to just slip away and for him to become frustrated.

Change, unwelcome or unexpected, doesn’t have to have a negative spin. Auriela McCarthy, author of The Power of the Possible said:

People think of change as something dangerous. But it helps to remember all the ways your life has been altered in the past and realize that not only did you not keel over and die, things often turned out for the better.

When a significant change occurs in your life, you might find yourself consumed by stress or even fear, but there are several things you can to do to stay positive and keep moving forward:

  1. Take a look at what has worked in the past. If you find that you’re feeling frustrated about your new circumstances, you can take hold of your emotions by thinking about the strategies that have previously been successful. Can those techniques be incorporated in your new routine? What adjustments would you have to make?
  2. Consider new strategies. While you can rely on tried and true action steps, this might be a good time to explore other options that might help you more easily manage your current circumstances. You can talk with friends and family members to find out what strategies worked for them to help you decide the ones you’ll try. Be sure not to get stuck at this stage as it can delay how quickly you can focus on your next steps.
  3. Create a new plan. Once you’ve reviewed all your options, you’ll need to craft a plan. Select specific tactics you’ll employ consistently so you can successfully transition to your new routine.
  4. Put your new plan to the test. Of course, there’s no point in having a plan if you don’t implement it. Keep in mind not every day will go as you intend and you may need to make some adjustments. If you encounter hiccups along the way, you can again talk with someone you trust (perhaps a long-time advisor or mentor) to give you objective opinions or make necessary changes.

Whether it’s changing jobs or doing a whole house uncluttering project, being organized with your process is a great way to stay on track and move forward when undergoing a significant life change.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

  • ‘Self-control is an exhaustible resource’
    “Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. And I don’t mean self-control only in the sense of turning down cookies or alcohol, I mean a broader sense of self-supervision—any time you’re paying close attention to your actions, like when you’re having a tough conversation or trying to stay focused on a paper you’re writing. This helps to explain why, after a long hard day at the office, we’re more likely to snap at our spouses or have one drink too many—we’ve depleted our self-control.”

Workspace of the Week: Basic and beautiful office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Dion’s work table:

Dion’s new office setup is relaxing, expansive, and perfectly suited for his needs. The light colored wood against the dark wall gives the office a sleek, modern feel. The dark wall also makes it easier to focus on the monitor by offering no distractions and a clear view of the content on the screen. The side-by-side chairs allow for two workers to collaborate or one user to have a nice area to spread out during the midst of a work day. I also like the wireless keyboard and wireless trackpad, which reduce the number of cables on the desk and allow for greater flexibility in placement. Thank you, Dion, for sharing your office space 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.

4 questions for preventing information overload

I’m more selective about the information I put in my body than what food I consume. — Robert Reid

If you have wide-ranging interests or just a huge sense of curiosity, you may be like me — someone who could happily spend days just reading things online or in newspapers or magazines.

But, of course, we also want to do other things with our lives: earn a living, get exercise, see friends, pursue our hobbies, etc. So how do we cope with the never-ending flow of interesting information?

When I’m making my decisions about what to read, I focus on four questions.

Why do I want to know about this subject or read this article?

If it’s information related to my profession, it might change how I do my work. Since I do editing work, updates from Associated Press about changes to the AP Stylebook matter to me. As an organizer, sometimes there is a new product or an explanation of a specific technique or even just a cool way of wording a familiar concept that might really help a client.

News about what’s going on in the lives of family members and close friends matters to me, because I care about these people. So yes — I do use Facebook to follow the lives of the relatives and close friends who use Facebook for that kind of sharing.

Sometimes there’s information I need in order to take action. For example, if there’s an election coming up, I need to get informed about the candidates and the ballot issues. And I may want to learn more about a specific cause to decide if I want to get involved.

Irrespective of the reason, it is a good idea to be aware of why you want to know about a topic before you take to reading about it (even if it’s a simple reason like I want to smile at cute kitten photographs to lighten my mood).

How much do I need to know?

Do I need an in-depth knowledge of a topic? Often, I don’t. Sometimes just a headline is enough. Sometimes one thoughtful article by a trusted source is enough; I can read one article instead of 20.

Is this a source of information I want to pursue?

Many people write about the topics I care about. Over time, I’ve found which ones tend to provide the most useful information, so I can ignore the rest. I’ve also found which people tend to refer me to articles I want to read; if they share something, I know it’s likely to be worth my time.

Do I need to know now?

If the article relates to something I may do in the future — travel to a place, buying a product — I can just file the information away, often in the form of a bookmark to the article or others might save the link to Evernote. All I need is a very quick skim to determine if it’s likely to be useful; I’ll read it more carefully when the time comes (such as when I’m waiting for an appointment or relaxing on a Saturday afternoon).

Asking myself these questions allows me to skim through a huge amount of possible information and pick the few things I really want to read. It’s still a challenge — I’m an information junkie at heart — but these questions at least set me going along a path away from information overload.

Unitasker Wednesday: Egg and Spoon Race

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

Once upon a time, I was a child who had backyard birthday parties. At these birthday parties, we would play games many kids love to play. There was always the water balloon toss, the three-legged race, and the egg on a spoon race. My parents would decorate the backyard with streamers and balloons and everyone would have simple fun.

With my son’s birthday on the horizon, I thought about throwing a similar party for him and went online to look for streamers and balloons. I then made the mistake of scrolling through the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section on one of the Amazon pages to see if I was inadvertently leaving anything out of my order. It was then I realized one of my favorite childhood birthday games had been ruined (RUINED I SAY) — Egg and Spoon Race:

Gone are the days of using actual spoons from your kitchen drawer and hard boiled eggs from real chickens for the egg on a spoon race. Now, there are plastic spoons, plastic eggs, and bean bag “yolks.” You can’t even eat the plastic egg after you drop it like you can the hard boiled egg!

Farewell, fun and easy childhood birthday parties. Sigh.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

  • Are you ready for an uncluttered career?
    Cluttered jobs lend themselves to creating frustration, unproductive stress, and disappointment. Like all other forms of clutter, is now the right time for you to clear the clutter and get on the path to a happier work life? Chris Guillebeau’s new book The $100 Startup might be the book to help you get started on your new uncluttered career.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Salt and pepper shaker holder
    This week’s unitasker selection is a device that holds your salt and pepper shakers, but doesn’t hold salt or pepper or dispense salt or pepper — it’s for the shakers only.
  • Your email inbox is not a filing cabinet
    Consider the paper mail that reaches your mailbox: you don’t leave it in there. You bring it indoors, you sort it, and you process it. The same rules should apply to your email inbox, too.

2011

2010

  • Hoarding: Why forced cleanouts are unsuccessful
    On Memorial Day, A&E aired a new episode of Hoarders that showed the progress — or, rather lack of progress — of a handful of the first season of the show’s participants. Four of the five of the people featured in the new “Where are they one year later?” episode had fully returned to their hoarding ways.

2009

How do you deal with refrigerator door clutter?

When Scottish physician, chemist and agriculturalist Willilam Cullen first demonstrated artificial refrigeration at the University of Glasgow in 1748, one has to wonder if his young son had already pasted his drawings to the door of the new device.

Two hundred and sixty-five years later, home refrigerators let us preserve food and collect lots and lots of clutter. Many refrigerator doors put the junk drawer to shame. I’m certainly guilty, and I need help.

At any give time, my refrigerator door holds any combination of the following:

  1. Elementary school art
  2. Tests
  3. Hand-outs
  4. A calendar
  5. Photos
  6. Commemorative magnets
  7. Supermarket flyers
  8. School photos
  9. Phone numbers
  10. Tickets

What started as a toddler art gallery has morphed, Kafka-style, into a horrific creature. To-do lists, permission slips and class photos fade into a single, unworkable mass. How did this happen?

Alternatives to the vertical stack

I’m looking to you, Unclutterer readers. I’ve tried several solutions, but none seem to work. My first was technological. I own an iPad, and I have dreams of it becoming the ultimate kitchen tool. I bought a great refrigerator iPad mount from Belkin with the best intentions. It holds the iPad in place brilliantly. It’s right at eye level and offers my calendar, email, Facebook, project software and even Netflix for when I want to watch junky TV while cooking.

Yet, all I do is end up pushing the paper aside to reach the Belkin holder.

Next, I bought several magnetic baskets from the local craft store. For a while, this worked well. One was for pens, one for scissors and a few others – neatly labeled – for school papers and the like. That is, until the magnets started to fail and they slowly slid down along the door. Down, down, down.

A behavioral change

I realize that no piece of equipment will help me if the core behavior remains intact. There’s a part of me that still believes if these items are in my face, every day, I’ll know where they are and act on them in an appropirate and timely manner. However, the fact is this: the larger and more unruly the refrigerator door becomes, the more I resist going near it. So here are my questions to you:

  1. Do you hang stuff on the refrigerator?
  2. Do you you actively avoid putting stuff on the refrigerator door?
  3. If you don’t use the door as a secretary, how do you keep track of those little items (like permission slips) that need action, in short order?

I’d love to hear about your experiences, good and not so good. To quote Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”