Uncluttering by selecting containers and setting limits

How much space in your home are you willing to give to books? To memorabilia? To food storage containers?

One way to determine these answers is to select the storage containers and/or areas you’re willing to dedicate to each category of stuff.

Books

I have a number of bookshelves, and if I ever have more books than will fit on these shelves, I will need to do some pruning. It’s not as much of an issue now — I’m shedding more books than I’m buying. But, in the past, I have indeed had to go through the shelves and find the books I was okay with passing along because I have a rule to only have as many books as fit onto the shelves I own.

Memorabilia

I have a box that holds the letters and cards I want to keep — the ones from family and friends with handwritten, heart-felt notes. If I ever get to the point where the letters and cards won’t fit in that box, I’ll need to get rid of some; the box defines how much space I’m willing to give to this type of memorabilia.

I’ve currently got an entire shelf in a closet dedicated to slide wheels, holding photos from a number of wonderful vacations. I was okay giving that shelf to the slides in the past, but now I’m reconsidering. This means I need to sort through the slides and scan the keepers (or use a scanning service to do it for me).

Food storage containers

I have a drawer that holds my food storage containers for leftovers but other people may want more space and perhaps have a cabinet for them. But setting some limit — only as much as easily fits in a specific defined space — makes sense.

Papers

I remember a time when I considered buying another file cabinet, because the ones I had were pretty much full. Then I came to my senses and just got rid of some papers. I didn’t need another container; I needed to unclutter. Which is a good thing, because I didn’t really have room for another file cabinet.

Clothes

Containers for clothes include dressers, closets, clothes trees, and hooks. If our clothes overflow our containers for storing them, we either need fewer clothes or more containers.

Supplies for crafts and hobbies

I knew someone who had a serious quilting hobby, and she chose to dedicate a whole room in her home to her quilting. She had shelves and other storage pieces inside of a larger container: the room itself. This meant she had less space for other things, but it was a trade-off that made sense for her.

The sum of our possessions

At a higher level, our homes are the containers that set the limits on how much we can own. Sometimes a person or family will have another container that extends that limit: an offsite storage unit. But, if all our stuff doesn’t fit comfortably into our spaces, something has to give or we have to move. In many cases, uncluttering will be the better choice.

3-D printing: For better or for worse?

You may remember Erin mentioning that I recently attended a Star Trek Convention. One thing I enjoy about Star Trek is that it provides an interesting view into the future. For example, on the original series (1966-1969) the crew of the Enterprise used communicators that resembled cell phones of the mid-1990s. The Enterprise crew of The Next Generation (1987-1994) used tablets that resemble iPads (2010).

On Star Trek, because of the limitations in deep space travel, food and other items such as clothing and tools were created using a device called a “replicator”. Replicators use recycled items and transforms them into new items. Today, this technology is available to us in a limited form — the 3-D printer.

3-D printers are very useful. Dentists can create crowns for teeth without the need for dental moulds. Custom orthotics can be created faster and more easily. 3-D printing allows developing countries to produce everyday items we take for granted using recycled materials readily available, thereby avoiding the costs of production and shipping.

Over the next decade, the cost of 3-D printers will steadily decline and become affordable for the average North American. Owning a 3-D printer could be beneficial as it would be easy to create replacement parts for objects that have broken. This could lead to fewer items being sent to landfill, as it would be easy to make repairs. Also, items could be customized to function better for your specific situation. For example, if you cannot find a shelf at the store to fit your uniquely sized space, a customized shelf could be built with a 3-D printer and that would allow you to become better organized.

However, 3-D printing is a double-edged sword. The cost for raw material is relatively low. Would consumers spend time building items that would create even more clutter in their homes and offices? (Custom bobble-head doll anyone?) Would even more items end up in landfills because it will be too easy for people to create items they don’t really need?

In the Star Trek series Voyager, Captain Janeway refused to share replicator technology with certain alien species because she felt they were not ready to use it wisely. Are we ready to use 3-D printing to reduce clutter and improve our lives?

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Spaghetti Fork
    It’s usually extremely obvious to me what the inventor of a unitasker was attempting to achieve with his or her product. Even though I don’t have a need for their thing-a-ma-bobs, I at least get what they’re trying to do. This week’s unitasker doesn’t fit into that mold.

2011

  • Super storage closets
    A well-organized storage closet can be a beneficial attribute in any home or office. You can easily find what you need, when you need it, and have an exact space to return an object when you’re finished.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Meatballer
    Little did I know, but there is a kitchen gadget especially for the purpose of making meatballs. The Meatballer.

2010

2009

Inspiration Friday: Spice storage

It’s Friday morning and my brain is already convinced it’s the weekend. As a result, I’m just going to throw a little inspiration your way and set off to find some pie (it is Pi day, after all: 3/14).

Today’s inspiration comes from The Wall Street Journal, which includes a profile of chef Nick Kokonas’s home in the article “A High-Powered Home Kitchen in Chicago.” Gastronomy aficionados will enjoy the article, and anyone with a home kitchen will drool over the corresponding photographic slideshow.

By far, my favorite part of the profile is the peek into Kokonas’s spice storage cupboards:

Image by Callie Lipkin for The Wall Street Journal.

How do you store your spices? I’m thinking I need to completely redo my spice storage this weekend. It looks nothing like this. Sigh. Thanks to chef Kokonas for having such an inspiring kitchen.

Avoiding clutter from unnecessary online purchases

Sometimes clutter problems begin with shopping problems.

I have clients who know they have shopping issues, and are working to control them. One of my clients, after her last eBay splurge, is now returning the items she can — and planning to close her eBay account after she’s done. “It’s addictive,” she said.

I’d read books about the psychology of shopping, but they were focused on shopping in stores, so I went looking for other resources to learn more about the psychology of online shopping.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology, wrote about compulsive online shopping in Psychology Today. She said that eBay does indeed have many features that lead to compulsive shopping. One of these is that “emotional selling preys on nostalgia,” and eBay is just full of people selling collectibles, often from people’s childhoods. Whitbourne provided the examples “your favorite Malibu Barbie that your mother tossed out during a move” and “your cherished baseball cards.”

There are a number of psychological effects that the auction element of eBay encourages people to spend more than they might otherwise. “When you see others willing to pay more for an item, you begin to think that the item is actually worth more and so up goes your bid.”

Martin Lindstrom, who has written a book about why we buy, was quoted in a New York Times blog about another issue that makes online shopping such an issue:

“At a retail store you have to pick up the item, put it in the cart, take it to the register, take out your card, and put it through the scanner to make your purchase,” Mr. Lindstrom said. “But online you don’t have all those road blocks. You just click three times.”

The same New York Times blog post explained that, just as with store design, marketers use website design to trigger our brains in ways that encourage shopping. They use colors that are associated with specific emotions; they’ll add a $300 item (which they might not even care about selling) to a page that has one for $200 and one for $250, because listing that $300 item increases the chance a customer will buy the $250 one.

For those who feel a need to control their online purchases, Whitbourne has six suggestions, including:

Decide ahead of time on an item’s value and set that as your maximum (including shipping costs). … If necessary, write that amount down on a post-it note and put it on your monitor. Don’t go above that total.

Don’t go on eBay when you are in an altered state of mind. … If you’re having a little après dinner libation, your inhibitions are likely to become looser, and you will more easily lose control of the situation. By the same token, if you’re feeling sad or frustrated about other problems in your life, stay away from any site in which an expensive mistake can’t be undone.

Lindstrom has his own recommendations:

Determine your online shopping budget, and stick to it. Mr. Lindstrom suggests going so far as spending online only what you literally have in your wallet. “It’s a mental barrier,” he said. “… If people were to follow that single piece of advice, nine out of 10 purchases would not happen.”

Unitasker Wednesday: Trellie

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

Imagine for a moment you’re at a hospital cafeteria having lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in years. This friend is a doctor and currently on call. Your doctor friend sits down at the table with you and asks if she can leave her cell phone on the table, in case an emergency arises and she has to run upstairs to save a patient’s life. You say, “that’s cool,” and don’t mind at all because this friend is responsible for the survival of humans, is on call, you’re at her workplace, and your friend asked you if it was okay.

Now, imagine a second scenario where you are out at dinner with your friends. All of your friends have kids and those kids are currently being supervised by babysitters. You don’t see your friends’ phones, but you’re pretty sure they have them in their pockets with their call notifications set to vibrate. At some point, a friend excuses herself from the table to go to the restroom. You don’t know it, but her phone vibrated in her pocket and so she went to the bathroom to make sure the incoming call from the babysitter wasn’t some kind of emergency. The call wasn’t an emergency, so your friend quickly answered the babysitter’s question, washed her hands, returned to the table, and stuck her phone back in her pocket.

Okay, imagine a third situation where you are alone in your apartment and not doing anything extremely important. Your phone rings, you want to talk to the person on the other end, and you answer the call.

The above scenarios are examples of polite phone etiquette. The example of the doctor shows the rare situation where a cell phone is appropriate to leave out on a table during a meal. The second scenario shows how a phone’s vibrate function silently alerts people they are receiving a call. The third situation explains how a phone’s ringer works and what you do when you have an incoming call you want to answer.

The above scenarios also explain why no one has a need for a call notification Trellie charm for a handbag, necklace, or keychain:

Unless your phone doesn’t ring or vibrate, the Trellie doesn’t do anything your phone doesn’t already do except for deplete your battery power quickly because it operates via Bluetooth. Also, since it flashes a light when you get a call, it alerts everyone near you that you’re getting a phone call, which is just as inconsiderate as your phone ringing in a silent movie theater.

What is so difficult about setting a phone to vibrate and discretely checking it when it vibrates? Nothing is difficult about that. Nothing at all.

I remember a time before cell phones when people could go for hours without knowing if they got a non-emergency phone call — and people SURVIVED! True story.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2011

2010

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Specialized steak branding irons
    When March rolls onto the calendar, I begin preparations for the coming months filled with warmer weather. I plant seedlings for my garden, wipe down the patio furniture, and clean up the grill. Additionally, I bring out my vast collection of specialized steak branding irons.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Putting away laundry
    Your advice on doing the laundry is fantastic. I’ve employed several tips with great success. In particular, I’m a fan of clothing items that need little care (e.g. no ironing, dry cleaning, etc.). However, I’m unable to find usable suggestions on HOW TO PUT THE LAUNDRY AWAY.

2009

Hobonichi Techo is my new favorite notebook

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” — Han Solo

Han Solo accidentally gave great productivity advice when he made the statement above in the film Star Wars. Google “productivity” and you’ll find a seemingly endless supply of methods, systems (the “hokey religions”), tools, and gadgets (the “ancient weapons”) seemingly required to help you. Han understood that while those things have their place, they can’t compare to a tool that is reliable, tried, and true. In my case, my blaster is a Hobonichi Techo notebook.

I love working with paper and I’ve used plenty of notebooks over the years. Currently I’m in love with the Hobonichi Techo. This pocket-sized book is so pleasant that I find myself making excuses to write in it. It’s my planner, scratch work area, journal, and scrapbook. It even has an interesting history.

It’s a popular notebook/planner from Japan. The company, Hobonichi, began selling an English-language version in 2012. Each year, Hobonichi asks its customers for ideas and feedback that influences the next year’s production model, which is pretty neat.

It’s available in several sizes. I use A6, which is slightly larger than my hand. This is a good choice for me, as it’s large enough to write in comfortably, yet small enough to fit into the back pocket of my jeans.

The Techo is divided into several sections. First is a yearly overview, followed by eight pages of monthly overview (two months per page). Next you’ll find several pages that look like a typical wall calendar, two pages for each month. What follows is the heart of the Techo.

The notebook has one page per day of the year. Each contains the date, day, moon phase, and an anecdote. Of course, there’s plenty of room to write on color-coded grid paper (one color per month). Also, there are five slots for to-do actions at the top of each page. I’ve been using these pages to outline articles, record to-dos, capture incoming stuff like “schedule that appointment” and jot down fun stuff the kids have done. This book has become a real companion.

In the back there are several completely blank pages, followed by sections to recored special dates to remember; restaurants, movies, music or stores that you love or want to visit/see; measurement conversion charts, and other random information.

I love devices that can handle more than one task and the Techo does so gracefully. I’m not as artistic as these folks, but I’m getting a lot done and that is good enough for me.

Are you a paper planner person, too? If so, what is your favorite and why? Finally, just to be transparent, I wasn’t paid or provided with any product in exchange for this review. It is genuinely what I use and spend my own money to buy.

Duplicates you can donate or trash

It is amazing how quickly certain items can accumulate. You are blind to realize how many of an item you have until you have too many.

Office

  • Report covers: A few years ago we had 65 of them — yes 65! I ended up keeping eight of them for children’s reports for school and donated the rest.
  • Pencil cases: You only need one per child and one spare.
  • Pens: It drives me crazy if pens are one colour on the outside (e.g. red) but write another colour (e.g. black). I try not to even bring them into the house.
  • Staples, elastics, paperclips and pushpins: Keep one small container of each and donate the rest.

Consider donating office supplies to charities. They often work on very tight budgets and may not have extra money for supplies for their own offices. Libraries, schools, and community centres may also appreciate the donation.

Kitchen

  • Plastic cutlery, paper plates, and take-out trays: If you regularly use these disposable items for school/work lunches, keep a week’s worth handy and let go of the rest. You can use the “one-in, one-out” rule. As soon as you get a new one, toss an old one. If you may need them for picnics or parties later in the year, store them in a less frequently used area of the kitchen.
  • Plastic Cups: Recycle plastic cups from amusement parks or sporting events. You really don’t need to save them to make a Beer Snake at the next cricket match.
  • Food storage containers: Get rid of any that are stained, broken, or have missing or ill-fitting lids. About a dozen 500mL containers are enough for the average family of four. Choose identical containers with identical lids to keep things simple.
  • Reusable shopping bags: Keep as many as you need for groceries. You may choose to use a few for carting around hobby and sports equipment. Charity shops, schools, or your local library would likely appreciate any bags that you are not using.

Laundry

  • Hangers: If you’re practicing “one-in, one-out”, there is no need for extra hangers in your closets. Keep a few for guests’ clothing and coats and maybe a few for your laundry room. Charity shops usually accept all types of hangers and many dry cleaners accept wire hangers. I always keep one wire hanger in my toolbox because at some point something valuable will roll under the refrigerator and I’ll need to undo a wire hanger to get it.
  • Towels: Keep only the best ones and keep only those you use. The old ones can be cut into rags or donated to an animal shelter.
  • T-shirts: It’s time to say good-bye to the worn out shirts with sports’ team logos and your favourite T-shirt from high school. Keep the best, let go of the rest.

Bathroom

  • Cosmetic bags: A free cosmetic bag with every cosmetics purchase adds up to clutter. Keep one for the suitcase, one for your gym bag, and maybe a spare one. Donate the rest.
  • Razors: Old, rusty, and broken razors should go directly to the trash. Say good-bye to any razor handles for which you no longer wish to replace the blades.
  • Hair Accessories: Broken hairbrushes and combs that you’re no longer using can go directly into the garbage. Other hair accessories in good condition can be donated after they have been cleaned and sanitized.

Remember that if the item is not in good enough condition to give to a friend, it is best not to donate it to charity. Always check with the recipient charity to ensure they will benefit from the items you would like to donate. Keep clutter out of your space and look for even more items you can donate.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Disposable Plane Sheets
    Are you healthy with a functioning immune system, yet still afraid of your pants touching the same place as someone else’s pants? If so, this unnecessary obsessive product might be for you!

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Karate Lettuce Chopper
    I can’t stop smiling when I see this week’s selection, and my guess is you’ll have a similar positive response when you cast your gaze upon the Gama-Go Karate Lettuce Chopper, too.
  • Organizing solutions for renters
    A common disadvantage of renting is most landlords prohibit structural changes to their properties. As a result, organizing can be trickier in a rental property than in a home you own. Creativity is a must when seeking out these uncommon solutions. The following ideas and products might be of use to renters looking to reconfigure storage options, and hopefully they also get your creativity flowing.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Routines on a constantly varying schedule
    Reader Cat works non-traditional hours that are always changing. She wants help with establishing routines in her crazy schedule.

2011

2010

2009

Unclutter your tech with the Rule of One

From time-to-time, I’ll think about this post I read on Apartment Therapy back in 2010. For whatever reason, the post stuck with me. The advice in the post espouses The Rule of One, which breaks down like this:

Keep the things you own (especially technology) down to only one.

I like the idea, but am still trying to figure out if I can apply it to everything in my life. I certainly need to have more than one shirt, for instance. But, in other areas, could it make sense for me? I especially like this insight:

Listening to music? One iPod. One speaker set … Hold on to that one item for as long as possible.

Like I said, it’s impractical for me to apply the Rule of One to all aspects of my possessions. I have several baseball hats and I like to wear them all, so I don’t imagine I’ll ever get rid of all but one of them. But, a quick glance at my iPhone reveals a problem. I have seven weather applications. I’ve also got four note-taking apps and four camera apps. Yes, each does something unique, but honestly none of them is markedly different than the other. I don’t need all four camera apps, for instance, and should decide on one “keeper.” The rest are clutter in that they consume precious storage space on my iPhone and clutter my mind, as I must stop and choose one every time I want to take a picture.

I also like Nguyen’s advice to “hold on to that item for as long as possible.” My Internet buddy Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac has written about this topic several times. In an article called “The Season of Stuff,” he gives good, pre-emptive uncluttering advice for the holiday season:

You can pledge to get rid of an amount of stuff equal to the amount you receive. You can let those who love you know that you do not want more stuff but want something less tangible instead (breakfast in bed, money for a favorite charity, etc.). Ask for specific stuff you really truly need that will add years of value to your life on a daily basis.

Now, if you have superfluous tech that you’d like to get rid of, don’t just bring it to the dump. There are several ways to recycle it responsibly:

  • Donation. Is there a group, organization or school nearby that would love to have it? Give them a call.
  • Best Buy. This American big box store will accept three electronic items per household per day for responsible recycling. It’s free, and no-questions-asked. You didn’t have to buy the item there to recycle it there.
  • Seek a local alternative. For example, Free Geek is an Oregon-based service that takes your electronics, similar to Best Buy’s program. Search around to find something similar in your area.

Look at the tech you use every day and decide, is any of this superfluous? Can I follow the Rule of One in this area of my life? If so, unclutter the extraneous items and enjoy having fewer distractions.

Unitasker Wednesday: Magic Wand Remote Control

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

Abracadabra! Hocus pocus! Put on ESPN!

Because you don’t already have enough remotes to control your television, DVR, DVD player, cable box, and stereo receiver, the Magic Wand Remote Control is eager to clutter up your vast collection even more:

I have no doubts that this remote works. I have no doubts about it being fun. But I also have no doubts that it will be clutter in most every reader’s home.

It can only be programmed with 13 control codes, so it can’t act as a helpful universal remote and replace all of your other remotes. It can only replicate 13 actions of one remote (only your cable box or only your television set, not both). Also, you have to learn 13 magical wand wielding gestures to control your electronics because the wand doesn’t have any buttons — four or five gestures would be easy, but 13 seems like a hassle. If you have kids, the magic wand is likely to never be in the same room as the electronics it controls, and if you have pets, it’s likely to be a chew toy. It also requires that only people who are trained on it can be remote master, putting babysitters and house guests at a disadvantage.

Now, if this magic wand could do laundry and vacuum and load the dishwasher, I’d be its biggest fan. But, sadly, it’s just another remote requiring batteries that does something another remote you already own already does.