Buying vs. using

buying and using craft supplies are two separate hobbiesI have seen this meme floating around the internet for a while now. It made me stop and think about the definition of a crafter: a person whose occupation requires skill with the hands. If this is true, then buying craft supplies is indeed, a separate hobby from using those supplies to create art.

If you are uncluttering, you may want to take a look at your hobby supplies and equipment. Owning craft supplies does not make you a crafter; using the supplies does. Likewise, owning musical instruments does not make you a musician. You must regularly play the instruments to be considered a musician. You don’t need to be a virtuoso, you just need to enjoy playing regularly.

There are reasons why you may wish to keep certain things but make sure they are legitimate. When we moved to England, we kept our ice skates. There were no rinks in our area but we knew we would skate once we returned to Canada. However, my husband decided he would do recreational skating only so he donated all of his hockey equipment.

A friend of mine found that playing her clarinet while she was pregnant made her nauseous. She vowed that after the birth of her child she would pick up the instrument again. She started playing again when her youngest turned two years old and after a year or so, joined a small orchestra that accompanies a local theatre group.

Consider giving yourself a deadline for uncluttering unused equipment and supplies. For example, if you have not played your musical instrument or used your ham radio in over one year, you might wish to sell it. Put a moratorium on purchasing new hobby supplies and whatever you have not used in six months could be donated to a community centre.

Hobbies and pastimes are great but make sure you’re practicing the right one — using your equipment and supplies, not just buying and storing them.

Get more use out of a convertible crib

Our daughter used her crib for less than two years. It started to lose its usefulness when she began to climb out of it. We also decided to move her into a “big girl’s bed” when we moved into our new home. If we had gone with a convertible crib, we could have easily doubled the time she used her crib. Convertible cribs, for those who don’t know, are cribs that convert into smaller beds. This makes the transition to a regular bed a bit easier for some children, and definitely easier for parents.

The crib pictured is the Davinci Emily Convertible Crib. The large rail on the back of the crib can eventually be used for a headboard for a full-size bed, as shown. The day bed conversion rail kit, full size headboard and footboard are included with this and most convertible cribs. There are many different makes and models of convertible cribs, so make sure you shop around. Looking for cribs on craigslist or garage sales can save you a lot of money but be sure that the crib meets today’s safety standards.

 

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

Yard sale preparation

My wife and I have decided to put our house on the market. Our current home is too large and we would like to downsize. To get our home into order we have decided to have a yard sale. You don’t realize how much stuff you accumulate until you take an inventory. It is a bit overwhelming.

We are having the yard sale at my parent’s house because our home in the city isn’t conducive to a yard sale, so we are going to transport all of our items there. This is definitely a step I would skip if at all possible. Here are the things we have done in the last few days in preparation:

  • Browsing: Go through every room of your home and browse for things that you don’t use or don’t need.
  • Sorting: After doing the first walk through of your home separate everything into logical categories; kitchen, bathroom, baby clothes, baby toys, back to school college items, and then box them up for easy transport.
  • Trashing: You will inevitably come across some items that no one would ever buy. Don’t waste your time by including them in your sale, so get the trash bags ready.
  • Pricing: It is a yard sale, so price everything very reasonably. Nothing we priced is more than $5. Some furniture items will most likely be priced higher, but we marked those as “make an offer.”
  • Consultation: Try and get some pointers from a yard sale veteran in your neighborhood. We have the expertise of my mother-in-law who has had many garage/yard sales under her belt. She also frequents the yard sale circuit and is familiar with what people want and how things are priced.

Here are some additional tips from our experienced consultant:

  1. Start an hour earlier than other yard/garage sales. Since most start at 8am, start yours at 7am.
  2. Put an ad in the classified section of your local paper, Facebook Marketplace, and other online classified ad services such as Craigslist, to run the day before the sale.
  3. Be sure to mention key items in your ads, such as collectibles, antiques, maternity, furniture, baby clothes, electronics, etc. Those are the most looked after items.
  4. Directly after the your sale, make arrangements with a friend or family member with a truck to pick up the unsold items to take directly to a donation center.

We’re looking forward to this uncluttering opportunity and the extra money will come in handy too.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

How a home office should function

Reader Amanda recently contacted us with the following question:

Could you write on the idea of how a home office should function?

It seems like an innocuous question at first. Obviously a home office should be used for, um, home office, uh, stuff …

But, it turns out, it’s not such a simple question. Identifying all of the reasons why a person might have a home office and then all of the possibilities for how that home office should function are quite extensive tasks. The specific requirements a single, graduate student, working on his dissertation might have are far different than those of an active family with four children where both parents work outside the home.

It is possible, however, to write about over-arching ideals that should be present in a home office. Here are the big picture goals I believe all home offices can strive to achieve:

  1. Welcoming. Strive to create the most comfortable, productive, inspiring, and organized environment that you can for your work space. You want this area to make boring tasks like filing home owners association documents as pleasant as possible. If your stress level rises when you walk past this space, you’re not going to use it.
  2. Flexible. The demands that you put on this space can change from year-to-year, or even day-to-day. You want your space to be able to adapt to your needs. This means that you need to have room on a shelf and in a drawer to grow — at all times. If your space is completely full, then it becomes a museum or library instead of a functional office. You want your files to be able to accept new entries and your desk to be ready to handle your next big idea.
  3. Consistent. The more consistent your office systems are, the more likely you will be to maintain them. Save files on your computer and in your filing cabinet using names and categorizations that makes retrieval quick and possible. Keep the learning curve low and let it reflect the way you think and work. Additionally, be consistent about putting objects away when you’re finished using them so that you will be able to find them the next time you need them.

Regardless of what type of work you need to do in your office, having a welcoming, flexible, and consistent environment will make it a functional space. The better your office can work for you, the better work you can accomplish in your home office.

How does your office measure up to these standards? Let us know in the comments.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Canadian Breath Spray

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

G’day eh? I sees this ‘ere product, Canadian Breath Spray, and I wonders if it’ll make anyone sound Canadian if they use it, eh? Lard tunderin’ if it did b’y we’d have youse all pronouncing Newfoundland (noo-fn-LAND) correctly.

I’d bet you a Loonie or a Toonie that you’d be drinking double-doubles at Timmies while wearing toques. Of course, you could stay at the cottage and mix your mickey with pop while sitting on the chesterfield eating ketchup chips.

We know the keeners will give’er by calling the last letter of the alphabet ZED. Any Americans using this product will put the letter U in words like favour, colour, and labour while the British will have to spell words like organize, patronize, and itemize with a Z not an S.

Nous avons deux langues officielles au Canada. C’est possible, en utilisant ce produit vous parlerez français.

There is no need to put on your runners and queue up for this product. It doesn’t really work — SORRY!

Editor question: Should it stay or should it go?

Normally, a reader asks a question about uncluttering and organizing that our writers answer with amazing input by fellow Unclutterer readers. Today, I have a question that I’m hoping readers can help me answer.

We’re a military family. We’ve lived in 13 different homes in the past 28 years. Each house has been different. Some have basements, others have garages. Some homes had three bedrooms and one bathroom, others had four bedrooms and four bathrooms. We lived in houses with very little closet and cupboard storage, others with walk-in closets and walls lined with cupboards.

Because the houses have been so different and we have moved so often, I have accumulated a large stockpile of organizing products. This includes:

  • A slat-wall system with various hooks and baskets. It has been used in garages in previous homes to store garden tools and bicycles. Our current home has a shed that won’t support the use of the slat-wall system.
  • A plastic filing cabinet with broken locks and missing wheels. The cabinet was rather expensive. It is sturdy and in great shape so it could be used for storing something. It is currently empty.
  • I have probably two dozen fabric drawer organizers. I’ve used these to organize clothes in drawers and items on shelves in various houses over the years.
  • There are lots empty totes. I’m not sure what was in them at previous houses. They are all in great shape and have matching lids.
  • I have a few shelf extenders. Our current home has adjustable shelves in the kitchen cabinets. Almost none of our previous homes did.
  • I save car cup gum containers and Altoids tins because they are great for storing office supplies, cotton balls, cotton swabs, and other small items. There lots of each type of container in my stash because they might come in handy.
  • There is a tower of plastic drawers that I’m sure could come in handy for something but it is currently empty.
  • There are at least 50 ways to use a basket so I have baskets of all sizes in my stash. This includes a bunch of kitchen drawer organizers.

Part of me wants to keep all of these items because we will be moving again in less than one year. I have no idea where we will be moving or what our next house will be like. I might need the organizing supplies because they are useful and I just love having lots of organizing products.

Another part of me wants to just donate all of the stuff and only buy what I need when we move into our new house because I just love buying new organizing products.

So, I will ask fellow Unclutterers as the classic song by The Clash repeats in my head…

Readers, you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?
If you say “keep,” because it’s mine
It’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?

College Life: Back-to-school basics

As students everywhere start preparing to head to college this fall, I want to talk about the art of small-space living. College students are a demographic that have particular stock in simple living, as does anyone with more possessions than space. Whether it be a 500 square foot downtown studio apartment or a shared room with a sibling, it can be difficult to live in a space the size of a dorm room.

Most students arrive at campus for the first time, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with a minivan containing all of their worldly possessions. This is great until they are affronted with a dorm room approximately the size of a large closet.

If this sounds like it could be you, here are a few basics for maximizing your living space. I want to begin with an obvious tip:

Reassess your stuff.

The best way to fit your stuff into an itty-bitty space is to have less stuff. Only take the essentials with you. You shouldn’t abandon all of your trinkets at your parents’ place, either. Photograph and get rid of the napkin from prom and donate those t-shirts from your middle school musical to a local charity.

If your dorm room is a suite and has a kitchen, do you really need that mini-fridge, toaster oven, and microwave? Are any of your roommates bringing those items? There is no sense in having three blenders, even if you really like smoothies.

Take advantage of movie and music streaming services and let go of your CD and DVD collections.

Unless you are in the business school, do you need that suit?

Do you really need that commemorative Coors Light bobble-head, under any circumstance?

Even if you follow this advice, be prepared to bring a lot of things home for Thanksgiving break. Good luck to everyone heading off to school in the fall and stay tuned for more back-to-school tips.

Work life creeping into personal life? Try a battery-only weekend

I want to start this post by professing my love for the Internet, my computer, and my job. I love the digital age, and shiver with fear at the thought of living without Internet access.

That being said, I spend a significant amount of time on my computer beyond normal work hours doing non-critical work things. It’s a safe estimate that on a weekday I’ll spend one to two hours behind my laptop in the evenings. On a weekend day, bump that number up to three or four hours. Seeing as I officially work somewhere between nine and twelve hours a weekday, I’m surprised I want anything to do with a computer or work in my free time — let alone hours more.

I decided that I was going to take a break from my laptop and from work for a three-day holiday weekend. Unfortunately, I had a few small tasks I needed to do over the weekend, so I knew I couldn’t completely disconnect. I decided instead to unplug my computer at the end of the workday on Thursday and not plug my computer back in until showing up for work Monday morning.

I would survive the holiday only using my laptop’s battery power and nothing else.

I was able to finish the majority of my work on Friday morning and was confident that I would be able to get through the weekend fine. I opened up my laptop a few times throughout the rest of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it since the battery percentages were in the 70s, then the 60s, then the 50s. Saturday morning, however, when I checked my work email, I noticed I only had 35 percent power left!

I was a little stunned that my Saturday morning number was 35 percent. My first thought was that I must have a lame battery. A good battery wouldn’t be on 35 percent in just a day! Except, when I stopped to calculate my usage on Friday, I realized I had easily spent three hours on my laptop. My battery was working fine, it was user consumption that was to blame.

On Sunday, I opened my laptop and saw 8 percent. About half an hour into checking my email and other little site tasks, I got a message on my screen announcing that my computer was operating on reserve power. I immediately closed my laptop and decided to save the last bits of remaining energy in case of a work emergency.

The only problem is that it takes energy to power-up a laptop after its lid has been closed. I discovered this truth after lunch, when I thought I could sqeeze out a few seconds of power just to see if the website was doing okay. But, all I got was a blank screen.

My computer officially died with 20 hours to go before work started on Monday.

I don’t like the idea that I used all of my computer’s battery power before the three-day weekend had come to a close. What I took from it is that I’m having difficulty drawing the line between work and free time. I think about work constantly and would like to be able to turn those thoughts off and relax at least once in a while.

So, for the duration of the month, I’m going to have battery-powered laptop weekends. Work matters a great deal to me, but so does taking advantage of my free time. I hope that this process helps me to better prioritize my time away from work and relax and rejuvenate to make my official work time more productive. Clutter comes in all forms, and, right now, it’s in the form of working through my weekends. If you’re in a similar position, consider joining me in the battery-powered challenge.

 

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

Unclutter worries from your mind

Even though I’m a faithful user of David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system, I still find that I will sometimes worry about one or two of my next actions. I don’t worry about how I will complete the item, rather I worry about ridiculous things I cannot control (like if my cold will be over by the time I need to make a presentation).

Experience has taught me that when my thoughts become cluttered my effectiveness decreases. Then, to add insult to injury, I get even more frustrated when a task I know should only take five minutes takes me half an hour. It’s a downward spiral that is best addressed earlier instead of later.

When I find my thoughts are a mess, I answer the following five questions to unclutter my mind.

1. What is my worry? Many times, simply naming my worry is all that I need to do to quell my racing mind.

2. Is my worry rational, illogical, emotional, something I cannot control, or just noise? Identifying what type of worry I’m having can help me to find a solution to stop the cluttered thoughts. A rational fear might be solved with the creation of an action item. A worry about if it might rain is just noise because there is already an umbrella in my car.

3. Am I afraid of failure? When this worry creeps into my mind I remember a quote I found a year ago by a woman named Martha Mangelsdorf: “What would I do if I were not afraid?” The quote inspires me to imagine how I would behave differently in a given situation if I weren’t afraid of failing. Doing so has never failed to relieve me of this type of fear.

4. What good will come from my worrying? The answer to this question is often “no good.” If this is the answer, then squashing the worry in a swift manner is the only solution to uncluttering my mind.

5. How much additional time should I devote to worrying about this issue? There are times when a fear is rationally grounded and deserves my attention. I will schedule the proper amount of time to devote to the worry (five minutes to five hours) and then address the issue and only that issue during that time. I will sit down with a cup of coffee and a notepad and work out a solution. When my scheduled time is completed, I create action items or I wash my hands of the worry. I try not to be consumed with the worry before the scheduled time, as well as afterward. A focused time to worry keeps the worry from slowing me down during times when my mind needs to be working on something else.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Unitasker Wednesday: S’mores caddy

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

Summer is here and with it comes camping, camp fires, and of course, s’mores. Over the years, we’ve featured various s’more makers in our unitasker series including a barbeque s’mores maker, an old fashioned s’mores maker, a microwaveable s’mores maker, and even s’more s’more makers.

This summer is no exception. A big thank-you to reader Gabrielle who sent us a link to the Hershey’s S’mores Caddy. It is a plastic box designed to hold all the ingredients to make s’mores.

IT IS AN EMPTY BOX!

That’s right. For $10 USD, you get a plastic box. You have to buy the ingredients separately. And, it is designed to hold only a specific size of Hershey chocolate bar and a specific size of graham cracker. I guess if these are your favourite brands, that would be fine but if not, you’ve just wasted your money.

However, if wasting money is your goal, you can spend $16 USD and get the SUMPRI Smores Caddy because it has a place to store extra candy and SUMPRI roasting sticks neither of which are included.

Organizationally challenged

In our post on helping kids develop organizing skills, reader Vicki asked for suggestions to help a developmentally challenged person get organized and be able to maintain the level of organization.

Here are a few resources that can help.

Not everyone thinks the same way (it would be a very boring world if we did) so an obvious solution a caregiver would put into action, might not be intuitive to the person using the system. One of the most enlightening books I’ve read on this subject is Conquering Chronic Disorganization which provides new perspectives on organizing systems. Many of the tools used are the same, such as filing folders and labels, but how they are used and perceived is different. For example, a typical way to organize a filing cabinet would be to put the files into categories such as Medical, Car, Banking. An atypical solution would be to use categories like:

  • Head (thought requiring activities like finances)
  • Heart (things deeply felt like home, family, charity work)
  • Hands (information about objects and projects such as car, tools)
  • Health (medical, dental, etc.)

When helping someone get organized, adapt the system to them and the way they think and exist in the world, rather than having them use a system that they cannot relate to.

Another great book for people with ADD, ADHD, and everyone else is ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life: Strategies that Work from an Acclaimed Professional Organizer and a Renowned ADD Clinician. It is packed full of basic and straight-forward suggestions that work for any age group from toddlers to grand-parents. When I was doing hands-on client work, it was one of my “go-to” books for easy-to-implement ideas.

Judith Kohlberg, who wrote both books listed above, also authored, Getting Organized in the Era of Endless: What To Do When Information, Interruption, Work and Stuff are Endless But Time is Not! I had the privilege of seeing her present a seminar on digital disorganization at a NAPO Conference. She provided excellent information applicable to people with organizing skills of all levels. This book expands on that topic to help you manage your time and your life when everything, everywhere is always “switched on.”

Some people manage just fine using electronics such as digital calendars and various apps to stay organized. Other people prefer paper-based calendars and planners. There is no right or wrong way. It is a personal preference so do not try and force a person to use something that does not resonate with them.

One of my all-time favourite resources for uncluttering and organizing information, is Unclutterer readers. Everyone is unique. Different ideas and perspectives enrich our community. Thank you to those of you who comment on our posts and participate in our forum. To all other readers, please be sure to read the comments to find more great advice and if you have an idea, you are welcome to add it.

Gallery hanging systems can solve artwork clutter

When we lived in England, our home had picture rails mounted on every wall in the lounge (living room) and dining room and on at least one wall in each bedroom. At first, I thought it was odd. But, the walls were made of concrete covered with layers of plaster so when I tried to hang a picture by drilling a hole and sinking a plug, I almost broke the masonry bit, the plaster kept chipping off, and it was a big mess.

I purchased some equipment to hang my pictures from the rail at my local hardware store and hung my artwork. It was the easiest thing ever!

The following post (updated since it was originally published in 2007) talks about the ease and versatility of the picture rail system, something that I will install in our next home.

 

My father is a wildlife photographer. As his daughter, I have free access to his always expanding portfolio. I do not, however, have an always expanding supply of wall space to display my collection of his work.

To solve my conundrum and to keep my collection from getting out of control, I decided to turn the walls of the first floor of my house into an art gallery.

I started the project by installing an art gallery hanging system along the top of my walls. Cables slide into the tracks, and pictures hang from hooks that attach to the cables. I can hang multiple photographs on the wall at once, in any configuration, without having to hammer a single nail.

I currently have enough of his photographs that I can change the artwork on the first floor of my house three times a year. It does take some time to switch out the frames–I only have one set of frames that I use–but on the whole it is a pretty quick process. When the photos are not hanging on the walls, I store them in glassine envelopes inside an archival storage box. Having a limited number of pictures out at a time and the others stored safely in a small storage container keeps my collection of my father’s artwork uncluttered.

If you’re someone in a small space or who has a large artwork collection, you might want to consider installing an art gallery hanging system in your home. The system certainly worked for me.