Recycling made easy


I was lucky enough to be in France recently, and I was pleased to see garbage cans in public places that had two sections: one for recyclables and one for pure trash. This led me to reflect on how much easier basic recycling has become over the years, with public recycling containers in many venues, curbside recycling for homes in many U.S. cities, etc.

Root Solutions notes that making a recycling initiative (or any behavioral change) easy can be critical for its success, and that involves making things physically easy and cognitively easy. Making something physically easy involves three things, per Root Solutions:

  • Reduce the number of steps
  • Make each step as simple and convenient as possible
  • Keep the distance, time, and effort required to a minimum

For example, Root Solutions cited a study showing that giving employees individual recycling bins rather than relying on a centrally located unit increased the recycling rate from 28 percent to 98 percent. It’s a nice reminder to provide sufficient recycling containers within the home, too (assuming you live somewhere where it’s reasonably easy to recycle).

On the cognitive side, it helps to provide easy-to-use reminders as to what can be recycled, and which bin is used for which recyclables. As Joe Franses wrote in The Guardian, “When in doubt, materials tend to be discarded rather than recycled.” Recycle Across America has a wide range of labels that can be used on recycling bins — a nice complement to more detailed information that might be available on flyers or websites.

A few weeks ago, at my local grocery store, I found a new super-easy recycling option: The Crayon Initiative. This program takes unwanted crayons, recycles them into new ones, and donates these new crayons to hospitals that care for kids.

I’d heard about the program before — through a video — but it seemed focused on collecting crayons at restaurants that hand them out to children. I was delighted to see the program expanding, making it simple for parents and kids to drop off excess crayons, including those that are broken (and therefore not easily donated elsewhere).

Crayon Collection is another program that collects crayons, but it doesn’t remanufacture them; it just distributes them to schools. And as Dave has mentioned, Crazy Crayons (in conjunction with the Crayon Recycle Program) also collects crayons. But it’s so much easier to do the recycling when there’s a handy bin at a store you go to regularly.


Another extremely easy recycling/re-use idea doesn’t require you to leave home at all and doesn’t require any crafting skills. If you have a dog — and you have old blankets, towels, or clothes — you can get a Molly Mutt dog bed duvet and stuff it with those items. (If you’re craftier than I am and have the time to spare, you could make a duvet like that yourself.)

Have you found any ways to make recycling easy? If so, please share them in the comments.

Unitasker Wednesday: Spiders in your toilet vinyl decal

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

Like millions of people, I am an arachnophobe. I’ve had bad experiences with spiders, such as one crawling on my face while I was driving, so I feel that my fears are somewhat justified (albeit irrational seeing as a spider has never actually harmed me in any way). And I know we don’t usually mention decorations as unitaskers because they’re folly and no one thinks otherwise. HOWEVER, this week’s selection qualifies as the world’s worst unitasker because it’s a decoration that is straight up mean. Cruel. The most horrible thing ever.

Introducing the spiders in your toilet vinyl decal for your toilet seat lid:

Just in time for Halloween, you can give all your house guests with arachnophobia severe panic attacks. And, if you live in a mansion, you can buy a package of 12 decals for just $34 and spider-up all your toilets! No toilet will be safe! Panic attacks for everyone!

Seriously, if I went to a party and this decal were on a toilet, I would leave the party. Even if I didn’t need to use the restroom, I would leave upon learning about the decals. So, I guess the moral of this story is if you don’t want me to come to your party, buy and use these unitaskers on your toilet seat lids.

Happy Halloween, everyone! Stay safe and make good choices on Saturday.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

2009

  • Excerpt: Eight strategies to stop procrastinating
    Try these strategies for improving your productivity when you don’t really want to work.
  • Excerpt: Participating in Meetings
    You might not realize it, but meeting attendees have some control over how quickly a meeting runs and they certainly impact the quality of the discussion.
  • Making exceptions to your uncluttered standards
    Making exceptions to uncluttered standards can become a slippery slope. If we don’t keep a watchful eye on our stuff, eventually our entire homes and offices are filled with clutter again. This is especially true in places where clutter can easily hide — closets, cupboards, and toy bins.
    As a result, I have created a new uncluttered standard for my exceptions. It states: “If getting rid of the object causes more distraction than having the object, I keep it.”

Finishing tasks: The key to less mess in your home

In a rare moment of solitude a few weeks ago, I found myself stomping through my house being extremely frustrated. Wood puzzle pieces were strewn across the living room floor where my two-year-old daughter had been playing earlier. Dirty clothes and a wet towel were next to the hamper in my six-year-old son’s bathroom. A lone plate sat on the table in the kitchen from a snack my husband had eaten earlier. And MY makeup was left out on the bathroom counter from that morning. I was annoyed with the mess, and I was as much responsible for it as everyone else in my house.

After I calmed my inner-Hulk down to a constructive level, I immediately identified the problem. No one in the house was properly finishing anything they were doing:

  • Taking a shower isn’t finished until the towel is on the towel bar, the wash cloth is wrung out and hanging on its clip to dry, dirty clothes are in the hamper, the bathroom lights are turned off, in addition to all the other obvious post-shower activities like getting dressed and brushing teeth. For a shower to be finished, everything has to be reset and ready to go for the next time someone comes in to use the bathroom.
  • A snack or dinner isn’t over until all the dirty dishes are loaded into the dishwasher or washed and put away, cupboards are closed and ingredients properly stored, the table and counters have been wiped down, the floor has been swept, all leftovers have been put into the refrigerator, and there are no signs that anyone had eaten a meal there except for maybe a lingering smell. Dinner isn’t over when you stop eating.
  • Playtime isn’t over until all toys are put away in their proper storage areas. This one is tricky because it requires continuous planning — time has to be set aside for picking up before going to the next activity. Until a child’s age is in double digits (and maybe even after that), it may require an adult to give a five-minute warning to allow time for toys to be put away. Or, in the case of small children like in our family, adults may need to participate in the five-minute pick up process.
  • And, obviously, I’m not finished getting ready in the morning until my makeup is back into its storage container and my hair dryer is stored beneath the sink.
  • It seems so obvious, but making sure tasks are finished greatly reduces messes in your home. It’s not rocket science, but the simple shift in perspective results in much less stress and a less messy home.

    Struggling with keeping a journal

    Two things I constantly fail at are keeping a journal and coffee.

    I don’t like coffee. I simply dislike the taste. Oh, I’ll drink a cappa-frappa-pumpkin whatever with whipped cream and more calories than a bacon cheeseburger, but that’s not coffee. That’s a dessert masquerading as coffee. It’s the hot water filtered through ground beans that I just don’t like.

    As someone who’s coffee-averse, I often feel like I’m missing out on a major social activity. People enjoy spending time together over a cup of coffee. Every few years I’ll try it again, hoping my tastes have changed, and every year the results are the same: I can’t finish one cup.

    I have the same relationship with journaling.

    I’ve read many articles and had several conversations with people, colleagues and those who’ve built careers around productivity and personal organization. They all say the same thing: It’s hugely beneficial to keep a journal. They’re not wrong, either.

    A Huffington Post article earlier this year outlined 10 benefits of keeping a journal, including:

    1. Promotes progress toward goals
    2. Boosts memory and comprehension
    3. Strengthens one’s self-discipline

    Academics agree, too. The University of Rochester Mental Health Center published an article on the practice of journaling and mental health, citing additional benefits. And writing down what you eat in your journal can even help you lose weight (if that’s something you want to do).

    I believe in the benefits, yet there’s a disconnect. Each time I try to maintain a journal in earnest, I fizzle out.

    Thinking the issue might be the tools, I’ve purchased very nice paper journals and top-rated software. I even got a special pen and designated a time of day for sitting down to record a journal entry. Despite these best efforts, a few things happened.

    1. I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say. “Drove the kids to ballet and soccer practice” is boring and, as far as I’m concerned, hardly worth putting in writing.
    2. I felt self-conscious, like a teenager keeping a diary.
    3. I decided to skip it because of either reason number one or two. Then I skipped another day, and another and soon enough I’m failing at journaling.

    In many ways, a to-do list and calendar can be similar to a journal. They certainly record what I’m doing and my commitment levels. But it’s not the same. In fact, keeping a journal feels like one more thing cluttering up my to-do list.

    Like so many things in life, keeping a journal requires motivation. So, if you maintain a journal, what keeps you motivated? Have any of you struggled to do the same, perhaps for similar reasons? Last, is it simply that journaling is not for me, and I should move on?

    Perhaps we can discuss it over coffee.

    A year ago on Unclutterer

    2014

    2013

    • Storing off-season clothing
      Store your out-of-season clothing safely and in an organized manner to protect it until you’re ready to wear it again.

    2012

    2009

    • Space-saving cheese grater
      The Joseph Joseph brand cheese grater folds flat for storage and up for use. It’s sturdy and comes in a handful of colors. It’s great for small-space living.

    Saving stuff for possible future use

    Are you holding onto a bunch of things that you think might be useful in the future, for you or others? You may want to reevaluate which of those things are really worth keeping. The following are some factors to take into consideration.

    Saved things need to be stored properly

    I’ve seen heat-sensitive items stored in attics with no insulation and various items (clothes, books, etc.) stored in containers that allowed mice and other critters to get to them. I’ve also seen fragile Christmas ornaments stored without proper packaging, so they broke.

    If you’re going to save things for the future, make sure you have a good place to keep them and the proper storage materials to keep them from getting harmed. If not, it makes sense to sell them or give them away before they get ruined.

    Many saved things could be readily replaced

    I recently read an online query where someone was asking for advice about storing moving boxes. He had a two-year lease, and wasn’t sure whether or not it made sense to store the boxes. He was in a small apartment and would be putting the boxes under the bed and in the closets.

    Almost everyone replying recommended he dispose of the boxes, which would be taking up a lot of room in a small space. Many such boxes can attract insects such as silverfish. And it’s frequently pretty simple to get new boxes at little or no cost when the time comes. For example, I see moving boxes being offered up on freecycle all the time.

    The same thing can apply to children’s clothes and toys. It’s often easy to get these from other parents whose children have outgrown them.

    Other people can use your things right now

    You may be holding onto stuff for your own potential future use (such as those moving boxes) or for your children’s or grandchildren’s use. But many times the things parents save for their children never get used by them.

    Items that have sentimental value to you may not have that same value to your children. Also, your children (and their partners) may not have the same tastes in furniture and décor that you do. They may also live in spaces that don’t accommodate large furniture pieces, family heirlooms or not.

    And I’ve known people who saved lots of clothes and toys for their grandkids, only to realize at some point that they probably weren’t going to have grandkids. (Would all those 30-year-old items even be welcome, if grandkids did come along? Some clothes are timeless, but others get dated.)

    So if you’re saving things for others, be sure to check with them and ensure that you are keeping things they would want you to keep.

    And remember that there are almost certainly people who can use these things right now. You could make someone’s day by giving something away on Craigslist, Nextdoor, or freecycle. Or you could help out some favorite charities by donating things they can use.

    Unitasker Wednesday: Rotisserie

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

    My fourteenth wedding anniversary is in a few weeks and my husband keeps asking me what I want. I know exactly what I want, but the problem is that it’s a total unitasker. I want a ridiculously large Rotisserie:

    Thanks to Michael Ruhlman’s fabulously educational cookbook Twenty, I know how to roast a beautiful chicken in my oven. It’s easy and there’s not much mess and the bird is delicious … BUT I STILL WANT THE ROTISSERIE!

    It’s not logical. The thing is enormous. (On the plus side, most of it is dishwasher safe.) I have no need for it, though. But I want it, want it, want it!

    Sigh.

    The next time you’re contemplating buying a unitasker, just know you’re not alone. Even the Unclutterer longs to add unitaskers to her home.

    A year ago on Unclutterer

    2011

    2010

    2009

    A clean-slate office

    Having recently started a new job, I’ve come into a real treat: a brand new workspace. A complete blank slate. It’s a rarity and a treat.

    My first thought, of course, was to populate it with the tech and tools that I’ll need to get my work done. I started making a list when it dawned on me to stop, throw the list away and take an altogether different approach. Let experience dictate what I add. It’s been quite an eye-opening experience.

    I started with the bare minimum: pens, some index cards, and a calendar. Big items like a computer and printer were supplied by my employer. Everything else I’ve added only when I’ve needed something.

    First, I realized I needed my smartphone and a charging cable for it. Rather than schlep a charging cable back and forth every day between my home and office, I bought a cable to live at my desk. Next, once I knew for certain that wearing headphones was acceptable when working, I added a set of earbuds go my supplies. Nothing says, “Can’t talk, I’m working,” like a pair of headphones. Plus, I’m more productive and happy when listening to music.

    (More on keeping wired earbuds under control.)

    Next, I added software I wanted as I needed it. Unfortunately, there are strict policies on getting software approved for a corporate computer, so this process wasn’t instantaneous. Eventually, I received approval to to get all of the software I depend on, and they’re all browser-based cloud services. Namely:

    Not only can I get to work with my preferred tools, all of my documents, preferences, etc. are in place.

    It’s nice to start new and not have any software or equipment cluttering up my work. Instead of assuming I’ll need something, waiting until I actually need it has kept things to an appreciated minimum.

    Of course, you don’t have to accept a new job to approach your office or workspace with a clean slate. Take a week or two and notice what you use and what you don’t. Write down what you need but don’t have, and finally observe what you have but never use. Then make adjustments. You just might end up with a tidier, more efficient and more productive work space.

    Uncluttering and organizing odds and ends

    Sometimes we have suggestions for uncluttering and organizing random things in your life, but those tips don’t warrant a full post on their own. When that happens, we save them up for an odds and ends post and dump them all together.

    Fall and winter sports

    My son’s soccer league is in full swing, and I suspect some of you have kids in basketball, hockey, football, and/or ballet, too. Sports means equipment, and equipment needs organizing. It’s no fun scrambling to find a dirty jersey an hour before you need to leave the house.

    In our home, we’ve instituted the “soccer basket.” It’s a medium-sized wicker basket that lives by the back door to our house and stores shin guards, shorts, sweat pants, sweatshirt, cleats, jersey, and anything else soccer related. Once clean, all soccer gear lives in the basket. (The items stored here return to their long-term storage homes during the off season.)

    For more on keeping sports equipment organized and handy, the following might be helpful to you:

    Create Evernote templates

    I attend a lot of meetings at my non-Unclutterer job, and that means taking notes. My preferred app for this task is Evernote, which we’ve discussed extensively here at Unclutterer. However, I only recently found this trick for making reusable templates.

    Typically when I’m in a meeting, I set up my notes the same way: The top of the page is labeled NOTES in bold, 18-point font, and below that, ACTIONS, is set up the same way. It only takes a minute to create this, but I’ve found an easier way.

    As Document Snap describes, I can use the Copy to Notebook command to make a copy of my setup, complete with the styling and tags I want. I love it and it saves me a good amount of time over the course of a week.

    Keyboard shortcuts

    I recently received a nice, new Windows laptop to use at work. Which sounds nice, except I’ve never used a Windows computer before.

    All the wonderful keyboard shortcuts I’ve committed to muscle memory over the last 20 years are suddenly useless to me when I’m on this machine. Fortunately, a list of Mac OS and Windows shortcut equivalents exists. I’ve since printed it and hung it up by my desk.

    For more on keyboard shortcuts:

    Increase your productivity with keyboard shortcuts

    Never underestimate the power of a tray

    We all have that one surface — countertop, dresser, end table — that loves to accumulate clutter. You’ve tried to extinguish the behavior of piling up to no avail. If you can beat ’em, join ’em…with a tray.

    A simple tray in the troublesome spot provides a clearly-defined landing area for whatever likes to accumulate. Plus, it’s self-limiting. If something won’t fit, move on and find it a new home. When the tray is full, put everything on it back to its official storage space. When guests come unexpectedly, hide it. It’s not a long-term solution, but it works better than nothing at all.

    Are there any decluttering and organizing odds and ends you’ve been working out lately? Share your quick tips in the comments.

    A year ago on Unclutterer

    2014

    • Keeping things simple
      Sometimes we get bogged down when uncluttering or organizing because we make things too complicated. The following are some examples of ways to avoid complexity and get things done.

    2013

    2012

    2011

    2009

    • Ask Unclutterer: Overwhelmed with clutter
      My daughter’s birthday is in two days and I’ll have grandparents in my house doing that heavy sigh “at least they seem happy” thing … I guess I am looking for a band aid before the transfusion that is your book.