Staying safe while uncluttering

Sometimes the spaces we want to unclutter aren’t the safest of work environments. Please stay safe while uncluttering, and watch out for these potential hazards.

Note: The following information is just a starting point, to get you thinking about your personal safety; please check with medical professionals and other experts for more detailed, specific advice for your particular situation.

Rodent droppings and hantavirus

Certain rodents carry hantavirus, which can be very serious when transmitted to humans through the rodents’ droppings, urine, or saliva. The CDC — Centers for Disease Control — has information on how to clean up after rodents. Of course, you’ll also want to do all you reasonably can to prevent a future infestation, too.

Insect and spider bites

Watch where you put your hands; don’t reach into areas you can’t see. If you’re working in an area likely to have spider problems, the Mayo Clinic suggests wearing gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and boots, and an insect repellant. In The ICD Guide to Challenging Disorganization, organizer Victoria Roberts says: “Bright lights drive spiders out. Just don’t be in their way. Keep Benadryl in your first aid kit.”

Cuts and Puncture Wounds

Anything from a thumbtack to a sewing needle to a rusty nail can cause an injury. Again, watch where you put your hands, consider wearing gloves, wear appropriate shoes, and have a First Aid Kit nearby. And make sure your tetanus vaccination is up-to-date — always a good idea, anyway.


If you find mold, see the CDC’s information on cleaning up mold and preventing it from recurring. The Washington State Department of Health also has good information. Note that some moldy items may need to be discarded.


Even simple dust can cause problems. Dr. Anthony Komaroff of the Harvard Medical School says: “People with respiratory allergies should consider wearing a mask that filters out dust when they clean.” The Mayo Clinic has suggestions on how best to clean dusty areas: “Use a damp or oiled mop or rag rather than dry materials to clean up dust. This prevents dust from becoming airborne and resettling.”

Slips, falls, and strains

Make sure you can safely reach any area where you’re working. Use a sturdy step stool or ladder to reach higher places. Watch for slippery surfaces and wear shoes that provide good traction. Also watch out for common tripping hazards: throw rugs, electrical cords, and pets that can get underfoot.

Paper cuts

Working with lots of papers? According to members of MetaFilter, using finger cots or latex-free finger tips can protect against these cuts, as can archivist’s gloves. Members also recommended using specific hand creams or lotions to keep your hands moisturized, making it less likely that you’ll get paper cuts.

Final Note: If the potential hazards in any cluttered space feel too intimidating to handle on your own, consider hiring help. Try searching for terms such as rodent cleanup services, mold cleanup services, or mold remediation services — or get a referral from a trusted real estate agent or other trusted source.

Running Errands

One of my least favourite tasks is running errands. In the winter, the heavy snow and below-freezing temperatures make driving difficult. In the summer, there are always delays and detours due to construction. Errands are time consuming, and if you’ve got lots of errands to run, you can feel like you’re on the go all the time.

To simplify the errand process, make a list before you start of all the places you need to visit: hardware store, dry cleaner, grocery store, etc. Check the websites for business hours. Pre-order items either using the website or calling the shop to make sure they have the items in stock. Sometimes checking the shop’s social media sites such as Facebook or FourSquare can provide you with valuable tips such as the closest car park to the shop.

It can be helpful to choose one day per week and do all of your errands. I used this method when I lived in Montréal. I did not schedule clients on Tuesday mornings and I did all my errands at once. When I moved to Ontario I had a corporate client and was in the office from Monday to Friday. I tried to batch my errands for Saturday mornings but the activities of our two busy teenagers often interfered with my errand-running routine. So, I changed the way I did things and started doing one errand per day on the way to or from work. I planned out 4-5 different routes taking me past various spots such as post office, dry cleaners, and grocery stores. I was only home from work a few minutes later or I had to leave for work slightly earlier, but the result was that I only had to leave the house once per day. I also tried to plan different routes to and from children’s routine activities so that we could quickly pop in and drop something off or pick something up.

It is even more frustrating trying to run errands in a new city when you don’t know where the shops are and you don’t understand the traffic flow. When I first arrived in Montréal, I used a satellite navigation system (GPS or Sat-Nav) to get around town. It kept telling me to make left turns, but in Montréal left turns are not permitted at most intersections. I gave up on the GPS and started using a paper map to plot routes that avoided left turns. This saved me quite a bit of time and made driving easier.

Now there are some great apps, programs, and websites to help you plan your routes to save time and save fuel.

Google Maps is an all-round great tool for plotting a route from Point A to Point B. You can adjust your route by clicking on the highlighted route and dragging it to a different street. Google Maps will tell you the distance traveled in miles or kilometers as well as the time it takes. Google’s Street View lets you see the place you’re going to visit. You’ll be able to familiarize yourself with the area before you even get there.

Driving Route Planner will let you choose multiple stops and optimize routes for you to choose from — shortest, fastest, or as entered. It will print driving directions and maps, email you the route, or save it as a GPX file to load into your own satellite navigation system. You can even add durations to stops so you know how long the total trip will take including stops.

When I was driving back and forth from university to my parent’s home, I had a CB radio in my car (I blame the Dukes of Hazzard). The CB was great because I could listen to other drivers and be able to avoid accidents and traffic jams. Needless to say, one of the most fun driving apps I’ve seen in a long time is Waze, a social networking, traffic and navigation app. Similar to Driving Route Planner, it can optimize your route for you and because it is interactive, taking input from fellow drivers, Waze will instantly update your route to avoid traffic jams. Waze will also learn your preferred routes to different places. Please dear readers, be VERY careful when using Waze because you should be 100 percent focused on driving. Check your local/state/provincial laws regarding handheld devices in vehicles, as the fines can be hefty. It’s best to have a passenger along to help you at least while you’re learning the route. Saving time and fuel is important but keeping the roads safe is even more important.

A year ago on Unclutterer


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Ask Unclutterer: Finding a reputable charity when donating your unwanted goods

Reader Len submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Reading through the recent posting of Freecycle, I saw many notes on the negatives of Freecycle. Also notes on the fact that Goodwill is bad since items do not go to people who need them but rather to employees who then sell them on Ebay. Any truth to the latter? I am alway concerned about the many charities who call about having a truck in our area soon and do we have anything to contribute. Are there any reputable charities out there?

I’m pretty much of the opinion that even if the rumors are true and Goodwill employees take donations and sell them on eBay, it happens because the person taking the stuff really needs the money. It is not as if working for Goodwill is a million dollar a year job. In fact, Goodwill is currently under scrutiny for paying less than a minimum wage to their employees.

I see it as I’m making a donation of items to Goodwill because I didn’t want whatever I’m donating. I wanted my things to go to someone who needed them. So, if it actually happens, if people are taking these items to use or sell on eBay, I simply don’t care. They have a need for the stuff or the cash, I have a need to get rid of my stuff, and the interaction successfully brings the two of us together. Again, IF it happens.

However, I empathize with your desire to give to a charity that will get the things you’re donating into the hands of someone who needs the items the way the charity has promised. As a result, I try my best to research before giving to any group.

When considering donating to any charity, I start by learning about them on Charity Navigator. Not all charities are rated by the site, but an impressive number are. If the charity isn’t rated, check to see if it has an unrated listing (which they likely do) and also checkout the article “Evaluating Charities Not Currently Rated by Charity Navigator.” (The “Tips and Resources” section in the left-hand sidebar of that page is also helpful.) I really appreciate and recommend the Charity Navigator site.

Forbes magazine also does an annual U.S. Charities review that is very informative. The magazine typically updates it each November. Right now, you can find information about The Largest U.S. Charities for 2012. The List of Charities is extremely helpful for doing side-by-side comparisons and the “Filter by category” drop-down menu in the left-hand column is perfect for identifying specific types of charities to match with your goods.

Beware, though, that you can easily clutter up your time trying to find the exact right charity for your specific donation. Sometimes, stuff just needs to get out of your house now. In those cases, stop thinking about the ideal, and donate to the charity that is the most convenient for you and is accepting donations. The next time you make a donation you can aim for an exemplary match. To misquote Voltaire, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Thank you, Len, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I think it is a very important topic, especially for those of us who are in the process of uncluttering our homes. Please also check out the comments for more advice from our readership.

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.

Uncluttering books: What to let go

Earlier this month, the post “Books: To donate or not to donate?” provided insider information on donating books to libraries. Many of us love our books, so pruning the collection can be difficult. Still, it’s sometimes useful to do a little discarding and donate books to your local Friends of the Library or other group — such as when you want to make room for new books. And, you’ll likely have a good feeling when you let go books that no longer serve you.

In my latest round of bookshelf clearing, I found 25 books I really didn’t have any reason to keep. Maybe you have similar books taking up space on your shelves:

Books you won’t read again

I really enjoyed reading The To-Do List, but I’m never going to re-read it; someone else may as well enjoy it! I’ll never re-read The Poisonwood Bible or The Tipping Point, either.

Books you won’t ever read

There were a number of books I realized I’m just not going to read. I’m sure Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 is a wonderful book (it won a Pulitzer Prize), but given how long it’s been on my bookshelf, I thought it was time to admit I’m just not going to read it. I had a few other history books in the same category: good books that deserve to have an owner who will read them.

Books that just don’t work for you

The Synonym Finder was recommended to me as an alternative to a thesaurus. While it sounds like a book that a writer would find quite useful, I only tried using it twice in all the years I owned it — and it didn’t really help me. Different tools work for different people, and this was a tool that didn’t work for me.

Books with information you can find online

I had two books related to green cleaning. After writing about uncluttering your cleaning supplies, I realized I can easily find equivalent information on the Web.

What-were-you-thinking books

These are books that are good, but just not right for me — and I should have realized that before I ever bought them. Home Comforts got rave reviews, but I’m just not the type of person who needs or wants an 837-page book on “the art and science of keeping house.” I’m much more casual about housekeeping than the author is. But, I’m sure someone will love this book, so I’m glad to let it go.

Travel-related books

I had some really nice books about places I’ve been — with the kind of information you don’t easily find online. But, I’m highly unlikely to ever go back to those places or refer back to these books (which are likely outdated). Even through they served me well at the time, there’s no reason to keep them now.

Next steps: After I identified the books I was happy to remove from my shelves, I sold some to a local used bookstore and freecycled others. The remainder went to a local charity that is about to have its annual book sale — I’ll get a small itemized tax deduction for that donation.

Unitasker Wednesday: Sling2Go

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

I am a dog person. We don’t currently share our home with a dog, but if I had my way we would have a dachshund (or two) hanging out with us. And, by hanging, I don’t mean it literally. However, I’m not sure the inventors of Sling2Go Pet Sling get that:

This is a dog harness that allows you to hook a strap onto it to actually let your dog hang out with you.

His little paws just dangle. There isn’t any place for him to rest his head. He has no protection if you run into something. Slam! His ribs just glide straight into the doorframe.

For older or injured dogs, I understand traditional pet slings where dogs can curl up next to you and be transported in a protective covering to dog parks or the vet. Regular pet slings make sense because the elderly or injured dogs are supported physically and completely by the sling. They can also slide down into the sling and fall asleep if they want to. But in the Sling2Go … dogs can’t do that. What it actually appears to do is to turn your dog into a purse.

A year ago on Unclutterer




A clipboard as my work-from-home supervisor

As a telecommuter, I don’t have the benefit of a boss keeping tabs on me and making sure I do what I need to do. You might think that freedom sounds nice, and it is, but it also means I must be the worker and the supervisor. Ultimately, it’s up to me to sit down and do what needs to be done. My best trick in that regard happens at night. I think of what must be completed the following day and write it down. That way, I’m ready to go when I hit my desk the next morning. Recently, I’ve added a clipboard and some special forms to the mix.

Each night, I list the tasks I must complete the following morning on an Emergent Task Planner (EPT). Persnickety? Yes. But it works. I’ve also taken to keeping my EPT on a clipboard. Behind the EPT are several other forms that let me track what’s going on throughout the day and the week. An inexpensive clipboard keeps everything tidy and portable. Here’s what I’ve got clipped together on my desk every day.

Top sheet — the Emergent Task Planner

On the left hand side, I list what will happen from hour to hour, in 15-minute increments. On the upper right, I list the tasks that must be completed before the day’s end. There’s no particular order to this list. The only important thing is that each item be completed. There’s a notes section on the lower right that I tweak a bit. Specifically, I divide it in half. On top I list what I consider “minor” tasks. These could be completed by day’s end, but the world won’t end of they’re delayed. Below that is the “running commentary.”

The running commentary contains anything: thoughts on the day, ideas, accomplishments, what I did during scheduled breaks (“strawberry patch looks great”), etc. Anything can go there. I created the running commentary section to give my wandering mind an outlet and to give myself an empirical list of the day’s accomplishments. It sure feels good to review the major and minor achievements from the day.

Center sheet — Resource Tracker

This two-parter is fantastic. It lists the major deliverables that will represent progress on a major task, as well as the smaller steps that lead to each deliverable’s completion. I staple both forms together (one lays over the top 1/4 of the other in a clever way) as well as any support files (for instance, I’m using the Fast Book Outliner to prep my next book project). Now, I can flip to each major project and see what needs to be done, my estimate for completion time (as well as actual time spent working), tasks to complete, as well as outstanding (and completed) milestones. Fantastic in a hugely nerdy, paper-centric way.

Last page — Concrete Goals Tracker

Here’s an important one. The Concrete Goals Tracker lets me “score” the tasks I’ve completed on a scale that reflects my working toward goals. For example, “signing a new sponsor” is worth 10 points, “published an article” is worth five points, “new social development” is worth two and “maintaining a relationship” is worth one. At the end of each day, I score anything that meets these criteria, and tally the grand total at the week’s end. If I score higher than I did during the previous week, I know it’s going well. It sounds a bit silly, but the CGT also provides empirical, measurable evidence of progress toward life-sustaining goals.

In this way, my clipboard functions as the manager. It’s pretty handy. Try this: write down the three tasks that must get done by the end of work tomorrow before you go to bed tonight. After 7 days, let me know how it goes.

Moving: Working with a professional moving company, part two

This is part two of a two-part series on this topic.

It’s exciting to move into a new home and have a crew unload and unpack your household goods. As far as employment perks go, it’s a very nice perk. If you want to make settling into your home even easier, keep some of these tips in mind.

As with any move, plan to arrive a day or two before your household goods. Complete the deal with the real estate agents and lawyers, and clean the house if required. It is much easier to clean an empty house.

Designate a special spot for incoming paperwork and mail so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of boxes and wrappings. Ideally, you should have a small portable filing box to keep the papers organized. You could store the box in your car during the move-in or designate a special spot in your new home. Make everyone aware of the location of the box and encourage everyone to put important papers in that box.

Set up disposal systems. Place a garbage bin in every room in a spot as close as possible to where the garbage bin will permanently live in that room. If garbage bins are not available, use Painter’s Tape to attach a garbage bag to the wall.

Decide where you would like to place the big pieces of furniture such as beds and sofas. You only want to move the heavy items once. There are some online tools you can use to easily plan and design your space: Icovia Room Planner and Roomsketcher.

When the unloading crew arrives, show them around the house and let them know where the furniture should be placed. Placing signs on the doors of the room with a sketch of the furniture layout will help the crew know where to put the furniture. (Again, Painter’s Tape is good for this task.)

Watch as the crew opens truck doors and examine the load to see if it shifted in transit. If so, take photos so you can include them if you decide to make a claim for damages.

The unloading crew will provide a list of tag numbers as all of the items were tagged prior to loading onto the truck. As each item, box or piece of furniture leaves the truck, cross off the tag number. Note beside the tag number if a box is damaged (scuffed, dented, torn or crushed). Sometimes tags fall off the item or get stuck to the wrappings so an item may be missing its tag. On a separate sheet of paper or the back of the list, write down the piece of furniture or the size of the box. At the end of the unloading session, crosscheck the “no tag” items with your tag list. You should find that all the tag numbers are crossed off. Note in detail any items that are missing.

Unpacking generally takes place the following day. However if you do not have much stuff, it may take place the same day. Most unpacking services are “flat surface” unpacks. This means the unpacking crew will unpack the boxes and place the contents on any flat surfaces (including the floor). Normally the crew will not place items on shelving units or in cupboards in case the shelving unit tips over or the shelves break. If that happens, your items may not be covered by insurance.

It is helpful if you can work side-by side with the unpacking crew and place items in their “homes” after the crew member places them on the flat surfaces. This is important in the kitchen where there are usually more dishes than counter space.

As the crew is unpacking, note any broken or damaged items. Take pictures.

One other tip: Unfold and lay flat all of the packing paper prior to it being removed from your property to ensure that all small items are taken out, such as the lid from the sugar bowl or the remote control for the TV.

Once the crew has departed with the boxes and packing material, you’ll be able to enjoy setting up and organising your new home.

Workspace of the Week: Shipping department

This week’s Workspace of the Week is My_OCD’s standing desk:

There are so many things I love about this office setup that I am downright giddy. I’ll start with the Macbook Pro mounted to be standing height, which is genius. Workers in this space are on their feet when they’re working. I’m assuming they use the computer to mark orders as received, filled, and shipped, so it makes sense for the computer to be located next to where they are working but in a way that is suitable for their workflow. Secondly, the mount brings the computer up off the table that is used for wrapping, so it won’t easily get damaged or lost in packing materials. A really terrific idea. Third, and what made my heart swoon, are the shelves and shelves of well labeled and stored supplies in the back right section of the office photograph. There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. When an order comes in, the people who work here know exactly where to find the items to fill the order.

Thank you, My_OCD, you and Spencer Aircraft are doing things beautifully. We truly appreciate you sharing your images 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.

Free up computer disk space

My main computer is a MacBook Air. I love it dearly. The thin little thing has traveled with me, and I wrote my books on it. It’s a super little machine. It’s got 128 GB of internal flash storage, which sounds like a lot, yet I get that “your startup disk is almost full” warning all the time. The fact that I photograph my kids all the time doesn’t help. I also love music, movies, and trying new software. Those are all space-hogging activities. What can I do?

If you’re in the same boat — irrespective if you’re on a Mac or PC — this post is for you. I’ve collected several tips for freeing up disk space on your computer. Put them into practice and reclaim a little bit of that precious storage space.

To the cloud!

First and foremost, take advantage of cloud storage. Flickr offers users one terabyte of storage for free. That’s huge. I use Everpix, which syncs photos taken with my iPhone and my wife’s iPhone automatically. Those shots aren’t stored on my Mac at all, saving me huge amounts of space.

Music is another opportunity to save space. For example, many people buy an external disk and move their music (like iTunes) library to it. That way your computer’s internal storage is free of your huge music library. Apple’s iCloud also lets you store music on their own servers which you can stream on demand, if you own a Mac.

Other stream-only services like Rdio, Spotify and Pandora let customers stream music to their devices for a monthly fee. I’ve been using Rdio for years and love it. I can listen to all the music I want without any of it living on my hard drive.

What about documents? Dropbox is great, but it stores local copies of all your flies. Actually, not all. In the app’s preferences, select “Selective Sync.” This lets you determine which of your Dropbox folders are copied to your computer.

Cleaning house

While researching this article, I came across this post from MacRumors. It lists several great options for freeing up disk space, including:

  1. Empty the trash. You’d be surprised how often I see digital trash cans that are bulging with files. The act of simply moving a file into the trash doesn’t get rid of it. Empty that virtual trash can. Individual applications (like iPhoto on my Mac and my email program) may also have separate Trash cans and Spam folders that should be emptied, too.
  2. Delete software and files you don’t use. I’m the guy who downloads software just to see what it does. That means I accumulate a lot of apps I don’t use. Trash them. AppZapper for the Mac is good at removing an app and all its related files, if you’re on a Mac. If you know of a similar PC product, please share that in the comments.

    It is also good to go through the files you have saved and trash all those you no longer need. The grocery list you made eight months ago can probably go, even if it’s not taking up a lot of room. All those little files are only cluttering up your computer’s hard drive.

  3. Empty your browser caches. Most web browsers will cache sites to improve their performance. These cache files can grow over time. You’ll find an option to clear your cache in your browser’s preferences.

It’s also a good idea to run software that’s designed to find and eliminate unnecessary files. I rely on Clean My Mac. It’s great at finding things like hidden iPhoto duplicates, language files that I don’t use, and a lot more. I’ve reclaimed several gigabytes of space thanks to Clean My Mac. Again, if you rely on a PC product, please share that in the comments. And, if you’re on a PC, don’t forget to defragment your drive after you delete programs to help it run more efficiently.

Add physical storage

You might have an option to add more physical storage to your computer. For example, the cool StorEDGE from PNY is a little flash storage module that fits inside an SDXC slot (provided that it has one, my Air does not) and adds either 64 GB or 128 GB of storage.

There you have a few strategies for reclaiming a little precious disk space. Try them out and de-clutter your computer.

Unitasker Wednesday: Morninghead

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

However you think this product might work, you’re wrong. And, based on its name, whatever you think the product might do, it isn’t that, either. Seriously, it is NOT that.

Upon reviewing its picture, this steering wheel cover looking device might at first make you think it’s something you sleep with over your hair to keep your hair from being disrupted, like a silk nightcap. But, that is not what the Morninghead is:

In short, the Morninghead is a microfiber towel inside a shower cap that you wet and then dump and rub on your head to get your hair wet. Yes, you can use a spray bottle with water to wet your hair. Yes, you can stick your head under the faucet to wet your hair. Yes, you can wet a towel and rub it on your head to wet your hair. Yes, you can take a shower or wet a comb or a million other things to get your hair wet without this device.

Would Morninghead even work on someone with long hair or thick hair? I have my doubts. All the people in the infomercial (Warning: there is innuendo in the video so don’t play it on speakers if you are at work) are males with fine, short hair. At least the guy who cries because he can’t wet his hair in the sink is a classic infomercial fool, so that is entertaining. Still, not enough reason to get me to buy one.

As far as unitaskers go, this one is small and doesn’t cost much, so it’s not the worst offender we’ve featured. It is just highly redundant compared to multi-tasking alternatives. It also is so poorly named. Oh my. Thank you, BC, for sharing this peculiar little unitasker with us.