Collapsible gardening container

Collapsible Garden ContainerFor those of you who have spring fever and are itching to get outside and clean up your yard, here is a nice 30 gallon gardening container that may interest you. It is completely collapsible, and when it is not in use it can be stored nicely out of the way.

It is a great time of the year to get a jump on getting your yard in order. The winter weather is behind us (fingers crossed), so get all those branches, leaves, and dead plants out of your yard. Feel welcome to explore our different strategies to keep yard maintenance to minimum so you aren’t spending too much time with upkeep during the warmer seasons.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

House Hunting Trip, part 2

In House hunting trip, part 1, we discussed how to prepare before you leave your current home. Here are a few more tips.

Before you leave home

Take measurements of furniture that will be moving with you. Ensure you know how big your credenza, chesterfield, and large screen TV are. If you’re moving appliances, measure those as well. Keep this information on a spreadsheet either on paper or on your laptop. You don’t want to buy a house that your furniture won’t fit into.

Pack a tape measure in your suitcase. You’ll want to be able to measure room sizes and spaces to fit appliances. Most real estate websites only list approximate sizes for rooms. For example, they will state that a room is 10ft by 12ft when really it is 9ft 10 inches by 11ft 11 inches. Those few inches might make a big difference when trying to fit a large piece of furniture. You may also need to measure the width of doors and windows.

You might also want to take a laser measure for determining the size of large spaces like open basements, garages, and even fenced in back yards. They are also handy for measuring smaller rooms because sometimes people’s furniture is placed so you cannot accurately use a tape measure.

Note taking equipment (pen, paper, clipboard, etc.) is essential on a house hunting trip. You will likely look at so many homes you won’t remember which house has which features. It is helpful to print out the real estate listing with the address and a photo of the house and write details about the house on the reverse side.

A camera is also an essential tool but be organized in taking photos and videos. Think of how they make a movie. At the start of filming, they use a clapperboard to show the name of the upcoming scene. When you are house hunting, take a photo of a piece of paper with the address of the house. Then, take photos of outside, and inside the house. At the end of the showing, take a photo of something completely different (yourself, your car or even just blank paper) to indicate the end of that set of photos/videos. It will be much easier to separate one set of house photos from another — especially if many of the houses are similar in colour and design.

On arrival

On the first few days of your trip, visit as many houses as time allows. Don’t hesitate to cancel a showing if you know right away a house will not meet your requirements. (One time, we arrived at a showing and realized the house was directly below the flight path to an international airport. After we heard the noise of the airplane overhead, we didn’t even bother going inside the house.)

Here are a few things that you might want to think about to narrow down your choices before you call in a home inspector who can inform you of structural issues with your potential new home.

Location

What is the noise level like? Are you close to train tracks? Are you underneath a flight path? Is there a busy thoroughfare for emergency vehicles (loud sirens) nearby? If you’re moving into a multi-unit building, what is the soundproofing like?

What smells? Are you downwind from a farm or a local dump? Are there any factories nearby that might create smells from time to time? If you are looking at a multi-unit building, can you smell your neighbours cooking dinner?

What can you see when you look out windows? Are you looking at factories, rail yards, or derelict empty lots? Who could look back and see in your windows? Remember to think about what you will see when the trees lose their leaves or if they have to be cut down for any reason.

Traffic

Are you near a bar, restaurant, or event centre (theatre, concert hall) that becomes boisterous in the evening? If your house is on a route between a bar/restaurant and major public transit stop there may be people walking past or heavy traffic making lots of noise after the venue closes.

Will a nearby school create traffic problems that make it impossible to get out of your driveway at school start and finish times? If your house is on a route from a school to other community services (recreation centre, shopping area, playgrounds) it might mean kids marching past your house all afternoon.

House orientation

An east facing master bedroom window will let in a lot of light first thing in the morning — not ideal if you like to sleep late. Avid gardeners will want to ensure that the yard gets sunlight during peak growing season. Those in snowy climates will want to check wind direction to ensure that they won’t have to shovel deep snow drifts right in front of the garage door. Don’t hesitate to use the compass app on your smartphone to help you figure things out. Try to visit the house on a sunny day and a cloudy day to check light levels inside and outside the house.

Household chores

If you are going to be living in this new home, you are going to have to clean it. You might not like that gorgeous chandelier over the large, open stairwell if you have to rent a scaffold to clean it every few months. A yard with lots of shade trees is nice until you spend every autumn weekend raking leaves. Likewise, that sloping driveway might add a touch of class and elegance until the first ice storm turns it into an Olympic-like bobsled track.

Watch for home staging tricks

Staged homes may be so uncluttered that they seem incredibly open and spacious but remind yourself that real life never looks like this. Think about how small the living room would look with your large sectional and several toy boxes.

Pedestal sinks make bathrooms look larger but then storage and usability are a challenge. How easy would it be to shave, do your hair, and put on make-up in the morning with no counter space?

Other tricks for giving the illusion of space include strategically placing mirrors, using smaller sized furniture, arranging furniture diagonally in a room, and removing closet doors and doors between rooms. Always measure, measure, measure so you ensure that your belongings will fit comfortably in your new home.

Some dubious tricks have been used by home stagers as well. These include strategically placing rugs and carpeting to hide damaged flooring, hanging unique art pieces to divert your attention from leaks or cracks in walls or ceilings, or hanging curtains to hide old or rotting window sills. Take a moment to look a little deeper and if you see any of these issues, bring them to the attention of your home inspector.

How it flows

Imagine your typical day living in the home. If you and your partner are using the walk-in closet at the same time, is there enough room? Do you need to assist children with their brushing hair and teeth? If so, can two or three people fit in the bathroom at the same time?

Do you and your family members cook meals together? Make sure you can all work comfortably in the kitchen. Ask your real estate agent to pretend to load the dishwasher while you pretend to get a roast out of the oven. Then see if there is still room to have someone chop vegetables at the counter at the same time.

Is there enough space in the entryway? It might be summer when you visit a home but think about winter coats, snowsuits, and muddy boots. Will there be enough room to store everyone’s things? Consider the design of the home. Will you have to track through a snowy, muddy entryway to go from one area of the home to another?

Is the laundry area convenient? If hidden away in a dark, dank corner of the basement, it might be difficult to motivate yourself to get the job done especially if you have to carry heavy laundry baskets up and down two flights of stairs.

If you have children or pets, take into consideration their safety requirements such as doors at the tops of stairways (or the ability to easily install safety gates), spacing between banister rails in older homes, secure fencing in the yard, etc.

Outlets and vents

Take a moment to note the locations of power outlets and heating/air conditioning vents. Are there enough power outlets and are they at the right locations? You might want to ensure you can plug in both your coffee maker and toaster in an accessible area in the kitchen. Likewise, you may wish to ensure there are power outlets in locations where you normally charge your electronic devices. Note locations for phone, cable, and internet connections as well.

If there is only one living room wall long enough to put your wall unit, make sure there isn’t a heating vent there. It is expensive to relocate ventilation ducts. Likewise, make sure you check the bed placement in relation to vents so that you won’t blocked a vent with a bed or end up with air from a vent blowing on you all night.

Rank your choices

Now that you’ve accumulated all of this information, you’ll be able to rank your home choices. Return to your top three or four choices for a closer look. Re-rank your choices if required and provide this information to your realtor and home inspector and proceed with the next steps in home buying (or renting if that’s what you’ve chosen).

Finding the home of your dreams in a short period of time doesn’t have to be stressful if you’re prepared and organized.

Readers are more than welcome to chime in with other tips and tricks they have for finding a home.

Being organized: A learned behavior

Reasons people give for being disorganized usually align with being too busy or a life changing event (new baby, death of a loved one) or general laziness. These are reasonable explanations and are obstacles that can be overcome.

Every once in a while, however, someone will try to explain to me that they are disorganized because of their genetic makeup. They use phrases such as, “I come from messy people” or “I couldn’t be organized if I wanted to.” Yes, some families are pack rats over the course of multiple generations, but those are learned behaviors. There is not a gene as far as any scientist has found that predetermines a person’s affinity for organization.*

Can growing up in a household of highly disorganized people affect your perceptions and habits? You bet. But does it sentence you to a lifetime of clutter? No!

As with any life skill — time management, cooking, walking — those necessary to maintain an organized life can be learned. You may need to practice these skills, the same way you practice a musical instrument, but you can eventually work to a level of mastery.

I haven’t always been organized. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I used to be the type of person who held onto every object I deemed sentimental. I eventually realized that holding onto so much stuff came with a lot of stress, worry, and financial expense, and that I wanted a different way of life. So, I learned organization skills, practiced them, and implemented them throughout my life. You can learn them, too.

If you’ve convinced yourself that you are destined to a life of disorganization, try changing that attitude! Put in the time, effort, and practice necessary to become the more organized person you desire. No need to go overboard, just find the best level of organization for you that allows you to live the remarkable life you desire.

*I want to note that there is something actually called a Disorganization Gene, but it has nothing to do with clutter. It’s about birth defects and cellular mutations involving the actual genetic code of an animal becoming disorganized. || Image courtesy of wikipedia.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

House Hunting Trip, part 1

Being a military family, we have been through several relocations (12 so far) in our 27 years. Prior to each move, we are allotted between 5 and 7 days to find a new home — our “house hunting trip”. If you’re moving soon, here are a few tips that can help make your house hunting trip a little less stressful.

Define your needs and wants

We always make two lists when we are searching for a home — one list with the absolute minimum we will accept and another one with some features that we would really appreciate. For example, our bicycles are an essential mode of transportation for us so we need secure outdoor storage. We need at least a large garden shed or a one-car garage. We would really appreciate a two-car garage.

Other questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you want an older home with character and potentially higher maintenance costs or a newer home with modern design and lower maintenance costs?
  • Do you need to be close to a specific school for your children?
  • Do you need to be on a direct public transit route to work/school?
  • Do you want to be close to fitness centres, cycling/hiking trails, dog parks, grocery stores?

Remember to speak to your financial advisor to determine what kind of mortgage payment you can manage and factor that in to your needs and wants list.

Research homes and neighbourhoods

Real estate websites have detailed listings of homes that are available but check Google Maps and Street View to get an idea of what the neighbourhoods are like.

Contact a real estate agent as soon as you know you’ll be moving into the area. They know the area very well and they know the market. Provide your list of needs and wants as well as your budget and a timeline of when you plan on moving into the new home. Your agent can put together a list of potential properties based on the requirements you provide.

Research other information such as tax rates, schools, and crime statistics. You might also want to verify costs for services such as electricity, water, heating fuel, internet accessibility and other municipal services such as public transit and garbage/recycling collection.

Following the Twitter accounts for public transit, city services, local traffic, and local police will also give you some good information about the city as will listening to live-streaming of local news radio stations.

If you’re lucky enough to know people who live in your new city, reach out to them for advice. They might be able to connect you to Facebook or LinkedIn pages and groups that can provide information about your new area.

Consider renting

Your house-hunting trip may only be a week long and you may have a limited selection of homes to choose from. Rather than invest money in a house you may not be happy with, consider renting. While you are residing in a rental property, you will have the opportunity to get to know your new city, its neighbourhoods, traffic patterns, and amenities. You’ll have to move again (out of your rental and into your own home) but that hassle might be worth it if you can take the time to find your dream home in your preferred neighbourhood.

Indicate to your real estate agent that you are open to renting if you don’t see what you want to buy. Do a bit of research into the landlord-tenant regulations and standard leases in your new area to ensure you are comfortable with the terms of a rent or lease agreement (for example, how much notice must you give before you move out, are there penalties for moving out early, etc.).

Prepare before you go

Most realtors will be able to send you a list of potential homes before you arrive. Go through the list and eliminate any homes that do not meet your minimum requirements. Have your realtor make viewing appointments for any homes you do want to visit.

Ask if your realtor will be chauffeuring you around or whether you will be driving the realtor around. If it is the latter, take a few moments to enter the addresses of the homes you’ll be visiting into your car’s navigation system — if you’ll be using your own car. If you’ll be using a rental car you can use your own GPS or app on your phone.

Check your cell phone plan to ensure you will have phone/text/data coverage in your new area. Your phone company might offer a data roaming add-on for a discounted rate. This is especially important if you are using your phone as a navigation system.

Purchase a paper map of your new city. They have the advantage of allow you to view a much larger area and it is easy to see in one glance the location of all important landmarks and features (e.g., shopping centres, parks, etc.) near each home.

Book a hotel nearest to the neighbourhood where you’re looking for homes. There’s nothing worse to waste your time than being stuck in downtown traffic when you’re trying to get out to the suburbs on the far side of town. It’s also nice to be able to return to your hotel for a bit of a break and to freshen up between showings.

Finding a new home and moving can be stress inducing but when you are prepared ahead of time, you will find it much easier to make a home-buying decision.

Possessed by possessions

PossessedThe documentary Possessed is a fascinating look into four different individuals and their struggles with hoarding. If you have 20 minutes to spare, take the time to watch this short documentary. Hoarding is a terrible psychological affliction that can render someone trapped in a extremely cluttered home. Martin Hampton does a great job in documenting the extremes of these four individuals.

To see these people talking about their problem puts a personal perspective on this condition. The subjects of this documentary obviously know they have a problem, but find themselves powerless to overcome their addiction to accumulation.

For more information about hoarding and advice to help a hoarder you may know, here are some great books:

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Can someone be a collector and be uncluttered?

The quick answer to the question posed in the headline is yes. Being uncluttered and being a collector are not mutually exclusive states.

I will be the first to admit, however, that being an uncluttered collector is not an easy task. The temptation to collect beyond one’s reasonable limits is high, and can thwart even someone with the best of intentions.

An uncluttered collector, by definition, takes pride in his or her collection and displays it fully and respectfully. A collector wants to enjoy his or her collection and share it with others. Conversely, a collection is clutter when it’s stored out of sight, in a disrespectful manner, and for no other reason than just to have more stuff.

So what does an uncluttered collection look like? Unclutterer Jerry wrote about PlasmicSteve’s memorabilia office in our Workspace of the Week feature. I see this office as a perfect example of how someone can be an uncluttered collector and honor the things he or she chooses to collect:

Are you a collector? How do you display fully and respectfully your collection? Or, are you storing your “collection” in boxes in your attic in less-than-desirable conditions?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Reader question: Should I sell my stuff in storage?

Reader Tonie wrote in with this question:

I’m living overseas and I have items in storage such as china plates, crystal glasses, and Charles Babb paintings (about 12 of them). Everything else I sold — all my furniture, my car — but I’m having a hard time getting rid of these items. It has been a year and a half and I’ll be here another year and a half. Should I just sell everything?

This is a great question Tonie. Our family had to make similar decisions when we moved from Canada to England for three years. It’s not always easy to decide what to keep and what to let go. Here are some things that helped us make our decisions.

The first step is to determine what is not worth keeping. (You obviously did that and decided to sell your furniture and car.) In our situation, our appliances were about six years old. After three years of storage, that meant nine-year-old appliances — almost at the age we would want to replace them anyway. At six years old, they could still fetch a pretty good price in the used appliance market so we let them go.

We decided to part with many children’s items as well. After three years abroad, we knew our children would be too old for many of their toys and games and definitely too big for their heavy winter clothes (essential for Canadian winters but not at all needed in England). Many items went to charity, others were sold.

Once you have eliminated the non-essentials, take a look at the items you’ve decided to keep and determine their value. Check auction website such as eBay to determine how much the item is worth used, — how much you could sell your items for right now. For antiques or artwork, you may wish to contact a dealer and get a quote. You should also determine replacement value — the amount it would cost to buy the item (or one very similar to it) brand-new if you needed it.

Next, calculate the cost of storage for the period of time you’re abroad. Remember to include insurance costs and any other incidental fees relating to storage.

If the cost of storage is more than the replacement value of your items, you may decide it is a better option to sell all of the goods. This means it would be less expensive to sell your goods now and buy new later, than to put them into storage.

It is very difficult to put a dollar amount on the sentimental value of an item but that too must be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, we at Unclutterer cannot do that for you. You’ll have to make that determination yourself.

So, back to your issue Tonie — you have about 18 months left before you return to your items in storage. Here are my suggestions:

  • If you honestly do not want the items, and you are coming back to visit family and friends anyway, then go ahead and sell the items during your visit home.
  • If you do not want the items and have not planned on coming back, but a trip back will cost less than the storage fees, then consider returning to sell the items.
  • If you are unsure but can afford the storage fees until your return, wait until you get back to liquidate the items you do not want.
  • If you are not coming back for a visit and cannot afford the storage fees, find a reputable liquidator, or friend/family member you can trust, to sell the items on your behalf.

The above suggestions are based on a financial perspective. Please take a few moments to listen to your heart and take the sentimental value into consideration when you are making your final decision.

Thanks for your great question Tonie. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

 

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Reader suggestion: Use it up!

Reader Elena sent us a terrific tip on our contact page that I wanted to share with you:

I sometimes impose on myself a “Use it Up” challenge where I find a stockpile of something (e.g. body wash) and do not allow myself to buy more of that type of item until I use it up. That way, I don’t end up with a huge supply of stuff I don’t need.

Elena’s advice is a great way to get started on the one-in-one-out rule. I find this especially helpful with bathroom items, like she mentioned. Shampoo, body wash, perfume, and lotion have a way of multiplying with very little effort.

Although it usually isn’t the best bargain, I’ve found that buying smaller bottles of these items works best for me. Yes, a gallon jug of shampoo may be the most cost effective option, but after six months of using the exact same shampoo I get bored, buy alternatives, and then have three bottles of shampoo in my shower. If I buy smaller bottles instead, I will use up all of the product before I tire of it. And, with items like lotion, I need an extra strength one in the winter and a light one in the summer. Instead of storing two bottles, I buy the smaller size and use it up during its appropriate season.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Uncluttering and firearms

Editor’s Note: Regardless if you are for or against the possession of firearms, there may be an occasion where you may run across them while uncluttering and organizing. Generally, this would be when you are cleaning out a space that does not belong to you, for example a deceased relative. In this situation, we should always expect to discover the unexpected, and a firearm might be one of those unexpected things.

To provide some guidance on what to do when you come across firearms, we welcome today’s guest, Monica Ricci. She is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, author, blogger and firearms instructor. She enjoys cooking, travel, music, photography and competitive shooting.

 

After 20 years in the organizing and productivity business, you can imagine I have seen nearly everything there is to see in a person’s home, from dirty diapers under the sofa to “adult novelty products” in the bedside table drawer. For most organizers, finding these items is no big deal. We remain unfazed, letting professionalism and discretion prevail in what might otherwise be an awkward situation.

However, as prepared as most of us are for the aforementioned items, stumbling upon a firearm is a different story for someone who is not accustomed to dealing with them. As an experienced shooter and firearms instructor, I am not personally unnerved by the presence of a firearm, however I’m also not cavalier about it. Finding a gun when you don’t expect to can be a surprise for everyone.

The good news is that firearms aren’t magic. They don’t “just go off” by themselves. They are mechanical devices which require human interaction to work, which means as long as you follow some basic rules of firearms safety, you can prevent an accident.

Rule # 1: A gun is always loaded. Never — and I mean NEVER EVER — take the word of another person who says, “It’s not loaded.” First of all, unless you see them physically check the gun in front of you, they are guessing or assuming and you never guess or assume when it comes to firearms. Secondly, even if they check the gun while standing in front of you, please do not take their word for it. They may know enough to drop a magazine out of a pistol but there may be a round in the chamber and they may not know to check for it. If neither you nor the others you are with have the skill to check the status of the gun, do not attempt it. But always assume every gun is loaded.

Rule # 2: Always keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction. This is more difficult than it sounds because by default it has to point somewhere. But for our purposes, that means do not put yourself or another person in front of the muzzle and never allow another person to “sweep” the muzzle of a firearm past you. In the case of finding a firearm while uncluttering and organizing, take note of which way it is pointing when you find it and stay behind it (the handle side) at all times. If you or someone else picks up the gun, always ensure that it is pointing away from people and in a safe direction. Outdoors, a safe direction might be the ground, but in a home, unless you’re in a basement, pointing the gun at the floor may not be a safe direction because there may be someone below you. Sometimes you have to choose what you perceive as the safest option such as pointing it at the floor, and this is why the four rules always work together to prevent accidents. So that even if you must point a gun in what could be construed as a potentially unsafe direction, if you follow the other three rules, you shouldn’t have an accident or injury.

Rule # 3: Keep your finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard and OFF the trigger. When you hear someone say, “It just went off!” what they failed to also say is that someone had their finger (or another object) inside the trigger guard which moved the trigger. Rest assured that a gun in working order does not “just go off.”

Rule # 4: Know your target and what’s behind it. This typically pertains to when you’ve actually chosen to fire the gun. It’s important to know not only what you’re shooting at, but what is beyond it. The reason for this rule is because bullets can penetrate walls, floors, windows, furniture, and lots of other things!

Getting back to the scenario in which you happen across a firearm in the course of uncluttering and organizing…

First, remain calm and let everyone you’re working with know you’ve discovered a firearm. Next, determine if there is a space in the home to store the firearm so no one else will have access to it — preferably with a door (or box with a lid) that is lockable. Ensure everyone knows where the firearm will be stored until proper gun storage can be arranged.

If someone in your group says they are comfortable moving the firearm then let them do so BUT, be mindful that they may not know the rules of gun safety. This is the time for you to stay alert. Tell them that you will stay behind them as they do so. Keep your eye on them to be sure they keep their finger out of the trigger guard as they pick up the gun and transfer it to the designated storage area.

If no one is comfortable moving it, leave it where it is (remember it will not go off by itself as long as nothing touches the trigger) and shift your attention to work in another area, or leave the building until someone arrives who can handle the gun safely (e.g. police officer, firearms dealer, or other firearms expert).

Be mindful that in some countries, if you find a firearm, you must, by law report it to authorities (usually the police) who will take the firearm for safekeeping until proper ownership and safe storage is arranged.

Although many people own firearms, the odds are fairly slim that you’ll find one just lying around in the course of your work. However, it is still a good idea to consider what you would do, so if it ever happens you’ll be able to be prepared.

Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits

We are delighted to have Leo Babauta of Zen Habits as a guest columnist today. Please give him a warm welcome and check out his awe-inspiring website afterward.

How minimalist is your workspace? An uncluttered workspace is a thing of beauty.

I write a lot about minimalism on Zen Habits, including guides to creating a minimalist home, minimalist housework, and beating clutter entropy.

On Unclutterer, my favorite feature is the Workspace of the Week, with its cool setups.

Today, I thought I’d share my pretty minimalist workspace, and share some thoughts on how to go about creating one of your own.

What’s a minimalist workspace?

That question will have different answers for each person. There can be no single definition. The ultimate minimalist workspace, I think, would be to have no desk or papers or computer or anything of the kind — just yourself. You’d think, and talk, and maybe sit on the floor.
Of course, that won’t work for most of us, so it’s more useful to look at our minimum requirements, and focus on creating a workspace that addresses these essentials and nothing more.

So the first step is for you to consider your requirements for working, and what’s essential to your workflow. If possible, streamline and simplify that workflow and those requirements. Then, once you’ve got that down to a minimum, see what the minimum setup would be for those essentials and your workflow. Eliminate everything unnecessary.

What are your requirements?

It’s interesting to note that what you think your requirements are might not be the minimum. They might just be what you’re used to doing.

Taking myself as an example: I used to work with tons of paper, files, sticky notes, and all the usual office tools (pens, pencils, notebooks, pads, stapler, hole puncher, whiteout, calendar, personal organizer, etc.). But then I realized that it’s possible to work without paper, and I’ve eliminated the need for all that stuff. In fact, as I’ve eliminated paper, I’ve eliminated the need for drawers.

Now, you might not have that luxury, and I’m not saying you need to go that extreme. Your needs may be different than mine — but the point is to see if it’s possible to change the way you work, so that you still get the essentials done, without all the same requirements. It’s worth some thought at least — and if you make changes, as I did, you might find that changing things in small increments is better. I didn’t do away with paper altogether. I did it in steps, eliminating different needs for paper one at a time.

My Minimalist Setup

Basically, I have an iMac and a table. No need for papers, files, drawers, other tools.

I work from home these days, and I do everything online. I do have a phone (elsewhere in my house, so it doesn’t disturb me) and a cell phone (also elsewhere), but I don’t have a PDA, an iPod, a printer (though my wife has ordered one for her needs), a scanner, a fax machine, or anything like that. I don’t print anything and I don’t use fax (an outdated technology).

On my computer, I mostly just use Firefox, as I do nearly everything online. I also use text programs for writing (TextEdit, WriteRoom mostly) and a couple other utilities such as CyberDuck for uploading files, Quicksilver for everything, and GIMP for photo editing.

All my organizing needs are taken care of on the computer: Address Book, Gmail, text files for to-do lists and errands and ideas and projects, Gcal for scheduling.

Tips for Creating Your Own Minimalist Workspace

You won’t need to have my setup, but once you’ve determined your minimum needs, here are some tips for making your workspace as minimalist as possible. Not all tips will work for you, so pick and choose which ones will work best for your workflow.

  1. Have one inbox. If paper is a part of your life, keep an inbox tray on top of your desk and make sure ALL papers, including phone messages and sticky notes, go into this tray. You might have to train your co-workers if they’re not already used to this. Don’t leave papers scattered all over your desk, unless you’re actually working on them at this moment. You might also have a “working file” folder for papers you’re working on but not at this moment, but put this working file in a drawer, so that it’s out of the way. Clear out your inbox each day — nothing should go back in there after you process them. It’s not a storage bin, but an inbox. Read more on clearing your inbox.
  2. Clear your desktop. Aside from your computer, your inbox tray, your phone, and maybe a nice photo of a loved one, there should be nothing on top of your desk. No papers (again, unless you’re working on them), no notes, no stapler or pens or other junk. Clear as much of it off as humanly possible. If you want to include a couple other essentials, you should, but be sure they absolutely must be there. Keep it as clear as possible, as a clear desk is a relaxing workspace.
  3. Get rid of knick-knacks. This goes with the above item, but many people don’t even think about all the little trinkets they have on top of their desk. They’re usually unnecessary. Toss ’em!
  4. Clear the walls. Many people have all kinds of stuff posted on their walls. It creates visual clutter. Get them off your walls. If it’s a reference guide, put it on your computer and set up a hotkey so you can call the guide up with a keystroke when needed.
  5. Clear your computer desktop. Many people also have tons of icons on their computer desktop. It’s the same principle as a real desktop — clear it of everything unnecessary, so you can have a nice simple workspace. Keeping icons on your desktop is usually inefficient. It’s hard to find them among a jumble of files. If they’re necessary to open many times a day, file them away and use a hotkey to call them up. Quicksilver for Mac or Autohotkey for Windows are my favorite programs for this.
  6. Re-examine your paper needs. I started doing this a little over a year ago, and one by one, I realized I could eliminate my different needs for paper. I stopped printing stuff out to read (duh!) and just kept it on the computer. Yeah, that’s obvious. I also stopped keeping paper copies of files I had on the computer, as they just took up more space. Also fairly obvious, perhaps. I also asked people to stop faxing me stuff, and to email it instead. That should be obvious, but I think a lot of people ignore this step. I also asked people to stop sending me paper memos, and use email instead. Stop circulating documents by paper. I stopped bills and notices coming in by paper that I could get online. I stopped catalogs and newsletters coming in by mail. I still get some mail, but for the most part I toss it. You might not be able to eliminate paper, but you can probably reduce it.
  7. Eliminate unnecessary tools. Think about each tool you have in your desk, in your work area, and even in your office. Do you need a stapler and hole puncher? Do you need all those pens? Do you really need a fax machine? Or a scanner? You might not have control over all these types of tools, but if you do, eliminate the ones you don’t really need, maybe one at a time.
  8. Simplify your filing. As mentioned above, it’s unnecessary to keep paper copies of files you have on your computer or can access online. Back stuff up online if you’re worried about losing them. Having stuff digitally makes them searchable, which is much better than filing. Just archive, and search when necessary. If you do need paper files, keep them alphabetically and file immediately, so that you don’t have a huge “to be filed” pile. Once every few months, weed out unnecessary files.
  9. Go through each drawer. One drawer at a time, take out all the contents and eliminate everything you don’t need. It’s much nicer to use drawers if you can open them and see order. Have a designated spot for each item and make sure to put those items back in that spot immediately, every time.
  10. Use a minimalisk desk. As mentioned above, I just use a table, as I don’t need drawers. While you might not want to go to that extreme, you can find desks without too many drawers or contraptions or designs. Simple as possible is best.
  11. Clear the floor. There should be nothing on your floor but your desk and chair. No files, no boxes. Keep it clear!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

The Real Cost of Financial Clutter on the Road to a Remarkable Life

This guest post comes from Trent Hamm, the author of The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams. Be sure to check out his blog, The Simple Dollar after reading this truly inspiring piece.

Every time you spend a dollar, you sacrifice a bit of your future.

Five years ago, I believed the above sentence was foolishness. I was 24 years old, working at a high paying job, and about to get married to a wonderful woman. I had just spent almost ten thousand dollars on a wedding ring and an exorbitant honeymoon in Europe, and I was actively shopping for a new vehicle because, well, my current ride just wasn’t quite good enough.

Roll forward three years. I had $17,000 in credit card debt and literally not enough money to pay my bills. A good chunk of the debt incurred for that honeymoon still sat on the credit cards. My wife, son, and I lived together in a tiny apartment, trying to figure out what we were going to do next.

Everywhere I looked around me in that apartment, I saw stuff I didn’t need. Video game consoles piled high under the television, along with a small mountain of games for the consoles. Over a thousand DVDs. A gigantic television set that dwarfed our living room, looking almost comically out of place. A huge collection of Magic: the Gathering cards. So many books that half of our child’s bedroom consisted of bookshelves. Two nearly-new cars sitting outside.

And yet I felt empty inside. I held my child close, thinking about all of the things I wanted to give to him, but instead I had chosen to spend all of my money on stuff

Every time you spend a dollar, you sacrifice a bit of your future.

Today, not only do I believe deeply in that sentence, it underlines every choice I make in life. I turned that disastrous ship around, realized that all of that stuff was standing in the way of my passions and dreams, and in just two short years, I found enough financial freedom to do what I’ve always wanted to do: quit my nine to five job, stay at home, and focus entirely on my family and on my passion for writing.

The name of this blog, Unclutterer, really underlines the entire idea. Clutter exists in all aspects of our life, not only in the way we arrange items in our office and in our home, but in how we manage our time and manage our money. Clutter is distraction from the big picture, in every way, shape, and form. Clutter can even blind you and choke you if it grows out of control.

Financial clutter is a particularly insidious form of clutter, because it winds through so many aspects of our life. Much of the clutter in our office and home has a financial cost to it, meaning that we actually spent some money to create that clutter. The cluttering of our time is also financial clutter – if we waste our time on things that drain our money or don’t earn as much as we potentially can, we’re draining our financial plans of a great deal of vitality.

Here are six great steps that you can do immediately to reduce the financial clutter in your life – and begin to open the path to a truly remarkable life.

Calculate the true value of your time. Figure up how much you earn in a year. Now, subtract from that the cost of transporting yourself to and from work, the cost of work clothes, the cost of income taxes, and any other costs that your job foists upon you (like entertaining coworkers, for example). Now, figure up how many hours you actually work in a year, and add to that the time spent transporting yourself to and from work, the “extra” time spent working when at home, the time spent buying work-related materials, the time spent schmoozing with coworkers, the time spent on business trips, the time you “need” to spend unwinding after work, and any other time investments you make at work. Then divide the calculated amount you make by the number of hours you work for the year. That’s how much you really value an hour of your life. Know that number. Remember that number. It’s important.

Physically unclutter your living space. Go through all of your possessions and ask yourself whether you actually use it or not. Is it something that has honestly provided value for your life? Look for books you’ve not read, DVDs you’ve only watched a time or two, unplayed games, unlistened music, collections of things that you no longer feel passionate about, and so on. Gather up all of this stuff and estimate how much you’ve spent on it. Then divide it by the value of your time that you calculated above, and if you want to, divide that by 40 (so you can see this in terms of weeks). That’s how much of your life you spent working so you could have this stuff. When I first did this, I estimated that I had spent two years of work accumulating stuff I barely use.

The next step is to get rid of all of this stuff and make a clean break. Eliminate the stuff that you’re not using, haven’t used, and likely won’t use again. Get some degree of financial return out of this stuff in any way you can. Don’t worry about maximizing your return – you rarely will be able to make back the value of your time by seeking out a slightly higher return for the stuff. Then take that money and put it into the bank – it’s now your emergency fund so you don’t have to turn to credit cards when something bad happens.

Set some big goals – and remind yourself of them all the time. This is an effective way to unclutter your mind. Sit down and figure out what your true big goals are. My goals were to spend more time with my children and write for a living – that’s what I really wanted to do more than anything else. Your goals may differ, but spend some time really searching within yourself to know what they are. Focus in on just one, two, or perhaps three goals that really speak to the core of your life.

Once you’ve figured out what you’re really shooting for, let most of the other stuff in your life melt away. If you’re focused on becoming a full-time writer, don’t burden yourself with chasing promotions at work. If you’re focused on being a great parent, don’t spend your mental energy worrying about social obligations in the neighborhood. Focus in on your goal and use all of your energy to reach that goal.

The best way I’ve found of keeping on focus with the goal is to put visual reminders of the goal all over the place. My desktop wallpaper is a picture of my children, and I keep pictures of them everywhere. I also keep notepads everywhere to make it easy for me to jot down thoughts – and also to remind myself of my writing dreams.

Use the true value of your time – and those visual reminders of your big dreams – every time you consider making a purchase. Let’s say the true value of your time came out to be $5 an hour (it can easily be this low, even at a “good” job). You’re at the store and you’re lusting after buying a Nintendo Wii — it’s $270 after taxes. That’s 54 hours of your life spent working for someone else so you can buy something else to clutter up your home. Even better, that’s $270 (or 54 hours) taken away from your big dream.

This works well for small purchases, too. Is that latte worth an actual hour of your life spent working? Is one latte a week for a year worth 52 hours of your life — more than an entire work week? Might that $270 not go better helping you save to make that dream come true, perhaps by helping you build up the financial cushion you need to quit your job and follow that crazy dream?

Go through every. single. monthly. bill. Many of the bills you receive every month have some sort of extra fee in it. Look at your cell phone bill, for instance. Are all of those features something you really need to pay for, every single month? Figure out what you don’t need – what’s just cluttering up your bill – then ring up your cell phone company and get those “features” dropped. Look at your credit card bill. Is that finance charge ridiculously high? Call up your credit card company and request a rate reduction. If the first person you talk to says no, ask to talk to a supervisor.

Even better are bills you can eliminate entirely. We used to subscribe to Netflix, but we were scarcely watching two movies a month, so we cancelled the service. Now, if we get the itch to watch a movie, we just go rent one or download one — it’s far cheaper than the Netflix grind. We used to be members at a gym, but now we get most of our exercise at home or by jogging around the block, so there goes another substantial chunk of financial clutter.

Unclutter your debt. Make a list of every single debt you have — credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgages, and anything else you have. Write down the total amount you owe and the interest rate you’re paying on that debt. Order them by interest rate. Then, each month, make the minimum payment on each of them, then make a substantial extra payment on the highest interest debt. When that debt disappears, move on to the next one on the list until they’re all gone.

The best way to do this is to create a “virtual bill” for you to pay each month. Figure out an amount that you can afford without too much hassle – say, $200 – and then each month give yourself a bill for that amount. That bill is payable to whichever debt is on top of the list.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Functional furniture: Sobro coffee and side tables

We’ve talked about multi-purpose functional furniture in several other posts. The most recent piece I’ve seen is the Sobro Coffee Table. It has a refrigerated drawer perfect for keeping cool beverages handy. It has built-in Bluetooth speakers, LED lighting, and outlets to charge your devices. It has two other drawers where you can stash all of your charging cables and the remote controls for your television. Plus, it’s sleek modern design will make you think you’re on a live-action movie set for The Jetsons!

The Sobro Side Table is currently in development. It has many of the same features as the coffee table — fridge drawer, charging station, and built-in Bluetooth speakers. However, the LED light can be set to automatically turn on when you walk past so you can use it as a nightlight. The non-refrigerated drawer is lockable which is ideal for dorm rooms or shared living spaces.

Both of these pieces are rather expensive but in urban centres like Vancouver and New York City where living space is at a premium, multi-functional furniture is more a necessity than a luxury.