Survey your home for clutter accumulation areas

A quick walk around my house and it is pretty easy to figure out where the clutter accumulates. Problem areas include my desk, the kitchen counter, and a landing strip that borders our kitchen and dining area. The clutter seems to collect like dust and it seems like an unwinnable war.

Take a stroll around your home and identify your perpetually cluttered zones.

Once you figure out which areas of your home are the problem areas, the next step is to do something to remedy the accumulation process. First you have to identify what is in all that mess and where it belongs. Do some of the items belong in the trash? Do they simply not make it back where they officially live? Is some kind of storage solution needed?

Laying out everything that makes up a clutter problem area is a good way to determine where things need to go and whether or not you need to create a new storage solution. If most of the items are simply there for no other reason than they haven’t made it back to their proper places (or to the trash/recycle bins), then you probably should make a conscious effort to not let things form a pile. Either that, or evaluate if its home is really the best and most convenient place for that object.

My desk has been a problem area for quite some time. I accumulate items on my desk that have no business being there. I have become much better in the past year, but as I type this I can see a three-hole punch that I never use sitting behind my display screen. It’s time for me to put the hole punch back where it belongs and ramp up my commitment to keeping my desk organized.

After you take care of the problem areas, keep a watch over them the next few weeks. See if you can identify how and when things accumulate and work on stopping those clutter-prone habits.

 

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

Reader inspired charging station

Reader Geek Novice sent us the following photographs:

A detailed explanation can be found on his blog here. His blog is written in Slovene, though, so we were happy that he kindly emailed us a few translations. In short, he purchased two meters (about six and a half feet) of pipe insulation from his local hardware store for about a dollar. He cut the foam tubing to his desired length, inserted a second slice, piled in the cords, and called it an uncluttered day.

We love this innovative, inexpensive, charging station. Thank you, Geek Novice, for sharing it with us!

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Personalized peanut butter spoon

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

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personalized peanut butter spoon when you eat peanut butter right out of the jar? No longer will you have to use a regular, everyday spoon for such an exalted task!

This custom-made spoon is hand stamped one letter at a time and made with non-toxic ink. (We would certainly hope the ink is non-toxic!). The vendor suggests that if you choose to use your spoon you should wash it the dishwasher to avoid abrasive hand scrubbing to prevent the ink from wearing off.

I’m not sure why you would buy a spoon if you do not plan on using it. Maybe at $25 (plus $10 shipping) you would want to keep it pristine, as a decorative item mounted on the wall with a souvenir spoon collection — but then again, with Comic Sans typeface, maybe not.

Thank you to professional organizer, Hazel Thornton for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

Book review: The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life

In The Minimalist Home, author Joshua Becker suggests that one of the problems affecting many of us is that we are living in homes that mass marketers want to sell us instead of the homes that our hearts and souls crave. Even the highly publicized “minimalism home” with white-washed walls and stark rooms with the occasional piece of expensive (and probably uncomfortable) furniture, is not what we truly need. Becker states, ” Successful family living was never about the size of a house. So, make more of the people within your household, and make less of the house itself.”

The Minimalist Home helps readers define their vision and set goals for how they want to live in their space, whether that space is an apartment, house, cottage, houseboat, or mobile home. Becker gives readers practical advice on how to engage and motivate family members to create the ideal home for everyone. He believes that with less stuff occupying your home, there will be fewer worries on your mind and you will appreciate and make better use of what you do own. You can then focus on your family and enjoy activities together. I appreciated this particular quote:

The goal of minimalism is not just to own less stuff. The goal is to unburden our lives so we can accomplish more.

In The Minimalist Home, each room has a dedicated chapter, from family rooms to bedrooms, from outdoor spaces to hobby spaces, and even spaces dealing with family pets. Within each chapter there are sections on defining the vision and goals for the space, implementing a step-by-step plan, and reflecting on possessions to include items that tell your family’s story. There is a “minimizing checklist” at the end of the chapter so readers can ensure they have reached their goal. The Minimalist Home also includes maintenance guides — from daily maintenance like putting away the mail and dishes, to yearly maintenance such as spring cleaning and filing income taxes.

This book has no glossy photos nor examples of the latest home décor trends. As a matter of fact, Becker does not propose rules on how much of each item to keep or toss. He encourages the reader to analyse his/her lifestyle and minimize to that level. It is a very nice change because so many books about minimalism make the readers feel that they are keeping too much or shaming them for feeling sentimental about souvenirs or heirlooms.

The last two chapters in the book are particularly interesting. Becker discusses the advantages of downsizing, not just when the kids have left for college or at retirement, but at your current stage of life, whatever it is. He raises points such as it takes less time to clean and maintain a smaller house, and mortgage payments and utility bills will be lower too. The dollar-value calculations he shows, reinforce his reasoning. Becker also recounts the stories of several people who minimized and downsized and then were able to pursue their passions — from travelling to volunteering for various causes. He states:

…minimalism doesn’t guarantee that you can find meaning and significance in life. But it does, almost always, open your eyes wider to these issues and create a context where you can think through them better.

If you are looking for help to define your vision and set goals, to work together as a family to create a welcoming home that is your ideal of comfort, that nurtures your passions, The Minimalist Home is the book you need.

Are the paths to your goals paved or cluttered?

Once upon a time, I conducted a one-question internet survey about what blocks people’s success in reaching their goals. The question I asked is: What is the single, biggest obstacle to achieving your goals? The responses were intriguing.

“Lack of Organization/Too Much Clutter” made it to the Top 5 on the list and it continues to rank as the #5 obstacle to goal success.

Speaking of goals, the National Association of Professional Organizers has reported that “getting organized” is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions year after year.

If getting organized makes it to your list of resolutions in the upcoming year, it could have a positive ripple effect. When people clear out clutter, it paves the way for other goals too.

Why does clutter get in the way of goals?

When there’s clutter on our desks and we have to step over the jackets, the laptop case and shoes strewn about the hallway, it’s harder to think and we often forget things. How can you remember a priority project when it’s buried beneath a pile of paper as high as your office chair?

For me, an organized workspace (and house for that matter) allows me clarity of thought and gives me a motivational lift. It’s about progress, not perfection, by the way.

For example, when the surfaces of my workspace are clutter free — yet I still have the tools at hand that I need — I am more productive, have increased focus, and I feel better at the end of the day. That’s because productivity equals satisfaction. I like to work hard on my priorities.

When things are in the way — mentally or physically — we get slowed down, distracted and derailed. It’s no fun at year’s end to open a mysterious Word document that reminds you that you were going to lose 10 pounds and you haven’t made it to the gym all year.

Here are four tips to clear out clutter so that you can remove at least one obstacle to goal success.

Step Back

Assess the space you want to organize, whether it’s your cubicle, garage, or kitchen. Take five minutes to picture what you’d like the space to look like. Do you envision a transformation or just a few tweaks?

Create a Big Goal

The big goal represents your organizing ideal. For the garage, maybe that means hiring a company to build storage shelving and hooks to hang tools. Consider the benefits: peace of mind and clarity.

Do the Tough Thing First

Spot the thing that you dread most. When you look at the file cabinet bursting with 15 years of taxes, tackle it. Doing the hardest thing first will build momentum and inspire you to move on to more uncluttering.

Set a Small Goal, Too

You’ve made progress by facing the tough thing first. Do another small goal immediately. For instance, sort through two boxes or put all gardening equipment in one area.

Team up with one or more person to help make the process fun. With focus and dedication, all 4 steps are do-able.

Taking a moment to step back will give you a snapshot of what you want before you start. From there, you’ll have the ingredients for your first big goal. Doing the tough thing first allows you to get going fast and sets the stage for overcoming resistance of the things you don’t want to do. Keep going with a series of small goals. As you make progress, you’ll be more organized, and you’ll have more clarity and confidence to maintain your organized life.

What strategies have you used to set and achieve your uncluttering goals?

 

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

Creating a personal strategic plan

Setting goals, working on projects, and tackling action items are three things I do on a regular basis to keep my work and personal life afloat. They’re the backbone of what I refer to as the Daily Grind.

The Daily Grind doesn’t happen by accident, though. I’m not a person who sits around and lets things fall into her lap or wish for the perfect opportunity to open up to me. I try to have purpose to my actions and am proactive in my dealings. Because of my desire to live with purpose, guiding my Daily Grind is a personal Strategic Plan. Much like a Strategic Plan that guides a business, my plan guides who I want to be. It keeps me on track, helps me reach my goals, and keeps me from feeling like I’m in a rut or walking through life as a zombie.

Similar to how a business creates a Strategic Plan, I created a plan for myself. In the book How Organizations Work by Alan Brache, strategy is defined as “the framework of choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization.” If you replace the words “an organization” with “my life” you get a solid idea of a personal Strategic Plan.

Brache continues in his book to discuss how to create an effective Strategic Plan for a business. Building on his ideas, but with a bent toward the personal, I created the following process for how to create my plan and how you can create a plan, too.

Five steps to living with a personal Strategic Plan

  1. Collect data and analyze your current situation. What are your strengths? (The book Now, Discover Your Strengths can help you answer this question.) How do you process information? What in your life do you love? What activities in your life do you look forward to or wish you had more time to complete? What are the activities you loathe and want to get out of your life completely or reduce dramatically? What competes for your attention? What are your core beliefs and how does your life reflect those ideals? Do you like the things you say you like, or is habit guiding your behavior?
  2. Make the tough choices. How far into the future are you willing to work with this Strategy? (I recommend no more than three years.) Review the data you collected and analyzed in the first stage, and put into words your core beliefs that under no circumstance are you willing to break. State what obligations in your life you must fulfill. State your strengths and which of these should continually be highlighted in your life. What stands out the most in your life as being the positive force for your actions? More than anything else, what makes you happy?
  3. Communicate (draft) your personal Strategic Plan. Put into words the plan that will guide your Daily Grind. Write it in words that you understand and trigger memories of why and how you chose your plan. Your Strategic Plan isn’t a mission statement, it can fill more than one sentence of text. It probably won’t be a 20+ page document like many businesses create, but it should be at least a page or two containing the gist of your vision. Be realistic and let the document wholly reflect who you are and who you want to be. This is just for you, not anyone else, so let it speak to and for you.
  4. Work with your Strategic Plan as your guide. Make decisions about how you spend your time and all aspects of your Daily Grind under the guidance of your plan. Try your best to keep from straying outside the bounds of your Strategic Plan. Live with purpose.
  5. Monitor and maintain your Strategic Plan. Sometimes life throws us a wrench when we were looking for puppies and rainbows. Or, something even better than you ever imagined can happen. Update and monitor these changes and see if your Strategic Plan needs to be altered as a result. If no major change has taken place, evaluate your performance within your plan and check to see if you’re getting lazy and letting things slide. Maybe you realize that your plan wasn’t broad enough, or maybe it was too specific. It’s your plan, so work to keep it healthy.

Ideas and Suggestions

What you choose to put into your plan is a deeply personal choice and how your plan looks is as unique as your finger print. If you’re looking for ideas or suggestions to get you started, consider the following:

  • Your relationship with your children, spouse, parents, siblings, friends.
  • Your spiritual and philosophical beliefs, how you practice those beliefs, and how you incorporate them into your daily life.
  • Your career goals and how much energy and focus you choose to commit to these achievements.
  • Your time and how you choose to spend it.
  • Your health and your objectives regarding your health.

Your strategic plan shouldn’t be a list of goals about these topics, but rather the guiding philosophies behind those goals. For instance, if in your Daily Grind you have action items about losing five pounds, those action items might reflect your Strategic Plan: “I enjoy the time and active relationship I have with my growing children. Staying healthy and in good physical condition allows me to have energy for this time with my children and allows me to work when I’m at work. Good health also is one way that I can work to have more years with those I love. It is important to me that I make healthy choices with regard to nutrition and exercise.”

Do you have a Strategic Plan? Does it help to keep clutter — especially time and mental clutter — from getting out of control? If you haven’t written a personal Strategic Plan before, do you think this is a tool that can help you?

 

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

Tools of the Trade

Do you keep a stapler on your desk? How often do you use it?

What about the other objects taking up real estate on your desk? How many items could live in desk drawers or cupboards instead of on your work surface?

If the top of your desk is cluttered, start by looking at all of the equipment, peripherals, and doo-dads occupying space and decide if some of the objects could find better homes someplace else.

I started this post by mentioning the stapler because most people don’t use them on a regular basis. Paper clips, photocopiers that staple documents automatically, and double-sided printing have reduced the amount of stapling people do at their desks. Clearing the stapler — or broken printer or obsolete Rolodex or whatever you are not using on a daily basis — off of your desk and storing it in a desk drawer is a simple way to give yourself more work space. Except the broken printer… feel free to get rid of that altogether!

You don’t have to make your desk sparse and uninviting, but giving yourself room to move can help boost your productivity by clearing distractions and frustrations from your line of sight. Are there objects on your desk that don’t belong to you? Do you have a small collection of dirty coffee cups and used utensils? What can you do right now to clear the clutter and create a more useful work environment?

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Snap-on bedding labels

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

Today’s unitasker is Snap-on bedding labels. These simple to attach, snap-on labels that tell you the size of bed sheets. For about $16 USD, you get four labels. I’m assuming one for each of the flat sheet, fitted sheet and both pillow cases.

You do not need spend $16 USD on this item if:

  • You buy different colours of sheet sets for different sizes of beds in your home and put a colour-code chart in your linen closet to remind people which colour of sheets are which size.
  • You only have one size of bed. All of the sheets would be the same size regardless of colour.
  • You use the same colour of sheets for all the beds but launder the sets of sheets on different days and store the sheets for the bed in the room in which the bed is located so they don’t get mixed up in the linen closet.
  • You use the same colour of sheets for all the beds but you own a Sharpie permanent marker and decide to write a small letter in the corner of each sheet/pillowcase indicating what size it is.

If you do not do any of the above, and have not read our article on how to best store your sheets, feel free to purchase the Snap-on bedding labels.

We’d like to thank reader Ann J. for alerting us to this unitasker!

Book Review: The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room: And How To Keep It That Way

At first glance, The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room is like many other organizing books. It has information about uncluttering and some nice glossy pictures.

BUT…

This book is much more than that. It provides great advice on how to pare down your possessions and create not only a functional home, but a stylish one too. My favourite quote is:

A streamlined home is like a symphony with pieces that work together. Instead of assigning items specific roles and hoarding junk in a drawer, imagine that your home is a boutique where everything works together.

The uncluttering and organizing instruction they give is relatively standard — group your items together, decide what stays, and eliminate what you no longer want or need. They furnish a great list of options on where to donate most items. I like their suggestion of labelling bags of raggedy clothes as “unsuitable for resale” so charities can sell them directly to textile recycling without wasting time sorting through them.

The Real Simple Method suggests that readers practice small, simple habits that make a big difference in the look and functionality of the home. This way they only spend a few minutes each day doing housework rather than spending most of the weekend moving things from one pile to another. There is plenty of useful advice on how to get family members involved in a positive and productive way (no bribery or coercion involved!).

Throughout the book there are beautiful, glossy, eye-pleasing photos — and they are realistic. The closets and drawers are full of clothes. The rooms have a typical amount of normal-sized furniture and there are colours! So many home décor magazines I have seen use scaled-down furniture, have only a few items of clothing in each closet or drawer, and the colours range from white to beige. The Real Simple Method is a nice change!

In the book, each room is assigned its own chapter. Within each chapter there are suggestions about how to make the room functional. For example, the experts suggest that the most efficient way to organize is to make sure the room is arranged to allow you to move through it freely without crisscrossing. This will help you perform tasks in an orderly manner.

Each chapter contains a list of the tools (furniture, stylish storage items, etc.) for the suggested look and functionality of the room. There is also a section within each chapter that gives alternatives for small spaces — great for those who live in apartments and small homes. The experts also include a checklist for tidying if you have five minutes, 15 minutes, one hour, or a whole weekend and provide time-saving tricks on to how to keep the room organized and clean with minimal effort.

For each room, they take one clutter problem area that most readers have difficulty with such as the junk drawer (kitchen), handbag (bedroom), or shelving (living room), and do an in-depth exposé into how to conquer the chaos and create a functional stylish space once and for all. There is a guide for hanging wall art, a list of ways to set your table incorporating colour and style elements, and suggestions on how to store your fine dinnerware and stemware dust-free so you can be ready to entertain in minutes.

From indoor spaces to outdoor spaces, from kid spaces to pet spaces, this book covers it all. If you are looking for a book that not only provides useful organizing advice but helps you create and highlight your own style, all while doing less housework, check out The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room.

Storage can be a clutter safety net

The house in which I currently reside has a ton of storage space. The basement alone is about 900 square feet (83m2). You would assume that a lot of storage space is a great thing, right? Well, it is a good selling point for would-be buyers, but a lot of storage space provides you with an easy way to keep stuff that you should not be keeping.

We realized this when we cleared out our basement and closets in preparation for a yard sale. The amount of stuff that we accumulated was staggering and we still didn’t even come close to using all of the storage space that we have. The clutter safety net is what I like to call the storage in our home. If we never had an easy way of storing all of this stuff, then it would have been gone long ago.

Some people don’t have the “luxury” of a lot of storage space on their premises so they opt for the local self storage business. Again, make sure you actually need the stuff that you are paying extra to store. Do not let the self-storage industry convince you that you need a clutter safety net! People tend to get rid of things because they don’t have the room for them anymore. Available storage space should not be the only factor when deciding whether or not you get rid of something. Storage space is always be available either in your own home or at a self-storage facility but you should not justify keeping something just because the space is available.

 

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

How can you use a freezer to help with meal planning?

This is the second in a two-part series on how you can use a deep freezer to help with meal planning.

As I mentioned yesterday, we see meal planning as the best process for planning healthy meals, creating a simple shopping list, and avoiding the stressful “what’s for dinner” moment in front of the open refrigerator. A meal plan helps to keep clutter out of your body, and streamlines your at-home eating.

One of the ways you can use a freezer to help with meal planning is by vacuum sealing foods you buy in bulk. If you don’t own a product like a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, using freezer-safe zip-top bags and squeezing out as much air as possible can work as well. To get the air out of a zip-top bag, close the bag except for an inch at one of the corners. Submerge the exterior of the bag in water almost to the top of the bag. Let the pressure of the water release air from around your food, and then quickly close the last inch at the top of the bag. Be careful not to let any of the water into the bag and onto your food.

The way we use our FoodSaver is pretty straightforward. We start by buying fish filets, beef filets, chicken breasts, roasts, ground turkey, some pork cuts, and usually one or two other meat items based on what is freshest at our butcher’s shop. (If you buy half a cow from a CSA or another animal in larger portion, ask to have the meat butchered for you. My butcher does the vacuum sealing for his customers for a small fee.) Then, we head to our farmer’s market or grocery store and pick up some lettuces and other vegetables that are in season. We buy what we know we like and will use in the next three months.

After shopping, we go home and divide everything up into meal-size portions (we’ll put two fish filets in one vacuum bag, for example). We seal up the storage bags, adhere a piece of masking tape with the date written on it, and throw them all in the freezer. Well, except for the vegetables we want to eat fresh and the lettuces. Lettuces should never be frozen — you don’t want to freeze vegetables with high water content. When you put meat into their bags, you also can add marinades in with the food and they can absorb flavors during the time in the freezer.

When I create my meal plan, I “go shopping” in my freezer and see what I have and what meals I can create from the food in the freezer. I write down what meat I need to pull out of the freezer and transfer it into the refrigerator to thaw two days in advance. (Never thaw meat or fish on the counter.) Vegetables I usually don’t thaw ahead of time.

How do you use your freezer to keep meal planning simple? I’m looking forward to getting our deep freezer and having the convenience of being able to buy more in bulk than we already do.

 

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

Can a deep freezer save you money on meals?

This is the first in a two-part series on how you can use a deep freezer to help with meal planning.

Eating nutritious food is essential for my health. If I eat more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week it takes longer for me to heal after injury and my energy level plummets. For most of us, more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week also adds unwanted pounds and can mess with our hearts and arteries. The easiest way I’ve found to keep on track with healthy eating is to have the majority of my meals at home where I can control the ingredients.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written in the past about how to make eating at home easier with meal planning techniques. The process allows you to plan for healthy meals, create a simple shopping list, and avoid the stressful “what’s for dinner” moment in front of the open refrigerator.

Since our meal planning article initially ran, I’ve received dozens of emails asking if we use a deep freezer in addition to the refrigerator/freezer we have in our kitchen. We currently don’t have one, but it is something we discuss a couple times a month. One of the questions we’ve been trying to answer is if the expense of the deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we spend buying in smaller portions and driving more frequently to our butcher and local market.

Then, a PR guy from Frigidaire sent me a press release, and instantly I could ask someone all of my weird deep freezer questions. (I am certain this guy thinks I am one of the strangest contacts he’s ever made.)

So, to start off our brief series on using deep freezers for meal planning, I want to address my initial question of cost. Is it financially prudent to own and use a deep freezer?

Sticker shock?

The commonly purchased model chest style deep freezer is around $600. Upright freezers cost considerably more than chest freezers. If we were to buy one, we would go for a small chest freezer (under 10 cu. ft.), which has an MSRP of about $300.

Most freezers use between 100 and 400 W of power per day. This translates to roughly $175 of electricity per year depending on the size of freezer and your electricity rates. I would have a difficult time justifying the expense of a larger freezer solely based on convenience. But, if I lived in a rural area and shopped less frequently, had kids and more mouths to feed, then the increased costs would be reasonable.

The cost of food

To get a good comparison of food prices in bulk versus smaller portions, I want to look at the price of beef. I know not everyone eats beef, but I had to pick something to compare and beef figures are easily obtained.

I purchase my beef from an organic butcher who gets the majority of his stock from regional farms. In his butcher shop, I can order half a cow twice a year (butchered and vacuum sealed into meal-size portions) or I can make weekly trips into his shop to buy cuts of beef as I need them. Half a cow roughly translates to about $5 per pound, and beef I buy on a weekly basis usually starts at $5 per pound on sale and can be as much as $30 per pound for premium cuts. Without argument, it is cheaper to buy half a cow and freeze the bulk meat than it is to buy weekly.

Even if you don’t buy your meat from an organic butcher and pay grocery store prices, you’ll still spend more than $5 per pound for a cut of beef.

Final answer

Ultimately, the expense of a deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we’re currently wasting when we buy our food in smaller portions. My final answer is that it is financially prudent for us to purchase a deep freezer and buy in bulk.

 

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