Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 2

In the previous post in this bedroom series, I talked about simplifying your room so that it serves its purpose as a place for rest and rejuvenation, and not an extension of your home or work life. Once you’ve got everything out of your bedroom that doesn’t belong, what should you be left with?

Ideally, the answer is nothing more than your bed, bedside stands, maybe a chair and some soft light source. If you can, avoid clunky bedside tables which encourage clutter collection. Connie Cox and Chris Evatt in 30 Days to a Simpler Life advise us to consider small wall-mounted night-stands. They don’t take up much space and they are easy to vacuum under. If you need a dresser because storage space is a concern, choose one that is not too ornate or distracting and make sure the drawers can shut completely keeping their contents out of sight.

Under-bed storage is a debatable proposition since some claim “it will block the flow of chi.” I say, do whatever feels right to you. Personally, I don’t think having a few containers under my bed as I sleep will affect me one bit. But if you’re going to worry about the possibility, maybe the extra storage is not worth the stress. That said, if you do opt to use the space under your bed for storage, avoid using it for storing things you will need frequently. Don’t put your art supplies or shoes down there if you will be crouching down every other day. Instead, use the space to store your out-of-season wardrobe and linens.

Superman had his Fortress of Solitude (which, as I remember from the movies, was a modernist and sparsely decorated affair) where he went to “get away from it all.” It’s not so hard for you to have your own.

 

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

Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 1

Simple living shouldn’t be about deprivation, but about avoiding the stress that often comes from too many possessions. One of the best examples of how this philosophy can be applied is in the bedroom.

Ideally, your bedroom is a place for sleeping. That is, it’s a place for rest and relaxation. Anything in your room that doesn’t contribute to the relaxation will likely only keep you from recharging your batteries. A TV will keep you up all night. Piles of books and work will only remind you of things you have to do or read. Clothes strewn about will evoke bad feelings about undone housework.

The first step toward this goal is to take everything out that doesn’t have to do with sleep or sex. Work desk with a computer? Find another room for it. Overflowing hamper? Put it in a closet or other space. For those of us who live in small urban apartments this might not be possible so placing a room dividing screen between the bed and the home office can help. Another tip that might help is taking all those photos off the walls and replacing them with a single big art piece, or maybe nothing at all?

Some great tips to make a bedroom a stress-free sanctuary include getting rid of extra linens. You only really need two sets (one to use while the other is being washed). That’ll cut on clutter beyond the bedroom. I suggest that when it comes to the two linen sets you do have you go for luxury. Most people spend at least eight hours in bed every day, and those eight hours have a big impact on how the rest of your day goes well. Why not outfit your bed with the most comfortable accoutrements you can find?

And don’t go pillow crazy. You only need a pillow or two for each person. A dozen little pillows are only dust-collecting fluffy clutter that you have to shuffle around every day. Avoid it.

 

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

Turn your brain off and get to sleep

Unclutterer reader Jade recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenge:

But my biggest issue is getting to bed earlier. I know sleep is important, and when I get enough I am amazingly productive. The problem is getting enough. Not easy to go to bed early when you are a natural night owl waking up at 5 am for work … No, I’m not getting a new job, I love it too much to do that. But the sleep deprivation is killing me.

I get home and I’m too exhausted to do anything, until bedtime, and then by brain won’t shut off!

Meanwhile, Lynn shared a similar concern:

Also I’m also a night owl and don’t get enough sleep which causes me to feel tired and not want to tidy up.

Here’s a problem with having a brain in your skull: human minds are like motors. A motor that loves to run and run and resists shutting down. My wife and I have both dealt with this problem of our minds wanting to go, go, go. We’re in bed, trying to fall asleep, but the motor keeps running and trying to process the week’s school activities, bills, work, and so on. It can be very aggravating.

My first piece of advice is to build some wind-down time into your evening. I’m a night owl (it’s 9:00 p.m. as I type this) and as such I feel productive and energetic after the sun sets. I know this means if I don’t take steps to help me get to sleep, I’ll be up until at least 11:00 p.m., if not later. Knowing my personality, I start my wind-down routine around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. I’ll read a bit or do another task that requires little thought. This gives me time to slow down.

I also have a nighttime routine. I started this after remembering back when my kids were babies. We got them ready for bed the same way every night: bath, stories, bed. This gave them time to wind down and the process itself helped their bodies and minds shift into sleep mode. I do the same with myself and it works: get changed, brush teeth, find clothes for the morning, and read by my little reading lamp. Same thing, every night if possible.

A few years ago I adopted a productivity routine that had a nice side effect of helping me get to sleep. Namely, before I leave my desk at the end of the day, I write down the things I must accomplish the next day. I like the organization, and my brain likes knowing that these important things have been parked where I’ll see them in the morning.

Lastly, here’s a trick I learned while studying as a college student: your bed isn’t the place for work. When I was in the dorm, space was at a premium and I’d often end up doing homework on my bed. That wasn’t a good idea, as I started to associate that area with work, when the bed is for sleep. Sit on the couch with your laptop, not your bed, if you want to be comfortable.

One final note: If this becomes a persistent problem, talk to your doctor or perhaps a specialist in behavioral sleep medicine. The above advice is obviously for the common human motor of a brain.

Sleep and productivity

Yesterday, Jacki Hollywood Brown’s article explored the relationship between music and productivity. Today, I want to continue with another productivity booster, which has been called the “third pillar of health,” sleep.

The relationship between sleep and productivity seems obvious: adequate sleep means you’ll have enough energy and focus for the coming day. While that’s true, there is much more to it than that.

A 1999 study discussed at 2013’s Corporate Sleep Health Summit demonstrates that a lack of sleep can affect not only productivity, but innovation. After losing just one night’s sleep, subjects experienced “…particular impairment to tasks requiring flexible thinking and the updating of plans in the light of new information.” While most people don’t regularly lose an entire night’s sleep, consider that many driven business people and entrepreneurs wear their four and five hours of sleep like a badge of honor.

Meanwhile, a BBC study suggests that deep sleep “makes room” in your brain for the next day. “One of the main things the brain is doing [during deep sleep] is moving memories from short-term storage into long-term storage,” the study claims, “allowing us more short-term memory space for the next day. If you don’t get adequate deep sleep then these memories will be lost.” Ever forget some crucial information for that big meeting? An extra hour of sleep could be the remedy.

Now that I’ve described just some of the benefits of a restful night’s sleep, I want to point out some technology that will help you hit the hay.

Sleepy Fan ($1.99, iPhone). When I was a kid, I spent summer nights falling asleep to the sound of a large box fan, not unlike this one. I fell in love with is steady hum, and today I use the Sleepy Fan app in its place. It offers three fan types to choose from, and even lets you adjust the sound itself.

The FitBit has a feature that lets you track your sleep. When paired with a smartphone app, it lets you view data on your previous night’s rest, including restful moments and when you were fidgeting.

The Philips Wake-up Light is a nice alternative for those who dislike being jarred awake by a screeching alarm. Over a period of 30 minutes, the Wake-up Light gradually brightens itself from dark to a custom illumination level (up to 250 lux) and provides pleasant audio.

You can get a good night’s sleep, listen to music appropriate to your task at hand, and enjoy a satisfyingly productive day.

Time management: making sleep a priority

With all the things we want to do (and need to do) with our days, sometimes sleep gets shorted. I’m not talking about a household with a new baby — I’m talking about a household like my own where I’m balancing commitments related to work, family, friends, pets, household maintenance, exercise, etc. So many of us sometimes skip on sleep, but the more I read, the more that seems like a really bad idea.

If you have regular problems with insomnia, you might look into sleep hygiene techniques; you might also want to see a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders.

But some of us who don’t have babies, don’t have insomnia, and don’t have other reasons why we can’t dedicate enough time to sleep, we simply don’t make sleep a priority. The following information is encouraging me to make sure I do get enough sleep.

Tricia Salinero pointed me to an NPR report about a recent study on mice, and what it may mean to us.

“While the brain sleeps, it clears out harmful toxins, a process that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, researchers say.”

The Guardian reports that some scientists are skeptical of the study, but it certainly is intriguing, if in no way conclusive.

Rachel Hills pointed me to the BBC website, where Michael Mosley reported on what happens during both deep sleep and REM sleep, and why it’s important to get enough of both.

“We get more REM sleep in the last half of the night. Which means that if you are woken unexpectedly, your brain may not have dealt with all your emotions — which could leave you stressed and anxious.”

On the Personal Health blog of The New York Times website, there’s an article by Jane E. Brody that begins:

Think you do just fine on five or six hours of shut-eye? Chances are, you are among the many millions who unwittingly shortchange themselves on sleep.

Research shows that most people require seven or eight hours of sleep to function optimally. Failing to get enough sleep night after night can compromise your health and may even shorten your life. From infancy to old age, the effects of inadequate sleep can profoundly affect memory, learning, creativity, productivity and emotional stability, as well as your physical health.

To learn more, I’m planning to read Dreamland, by David K. Randall. Here’s just one quote, courtesy of Brain Pickings:

Sleep is ingrained in our cultural ethos as something that can be put off, dosed with coffee, or ignored. And yet maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is now thought of as one of the best forms of preventative medicine.

But for now, I’m smiling as I read about Lucy Kellaway’s movement, called YAWNS, which I found on the Financial Times via Metafilter. YAWNs is an acronym for Yes A Wonderful Night’s Sleep, and it advocates “no more boasting about being awake. Anyone admitting in public to getting up at 4 a.m. would have to prove they went to sleep at 8 p.m. and were still getting eight hours.”

Editor’s note: For tips on how to get the sleep your body needs and organize your time and space to make it possible, check out “Want to be more productive? Get more sleep.” Also, consider keeping a sleep journal to track how much sleep you get each night and how you feel the next day. Each person has different sleep requirements, and these requirements can change as you age.

Want to be more productive? Get more sleep.

Do you find that it’s difficult to keep still and do nothing? Even when you’re supposed to be relaxing (and though your body may not be moving), your mind might be running though your task list and the many things that you need to get done. Or, perhaps you decide to stay later at work a few days per week in an effort to “catch up.” Though you may be in the mindset of trying to get things done, if you don’t get enough sleep, this can decrease how much you actually get done and increase your stress. And, when you’re stressed, you won’t sleep very well. This is a vicious cycle.

The fact of the matter is that if you want to get more done, you need to be well rested. Lack of sleep or not enough of it can really hamper how productive you can be. The The New York Times recently reported:

Spending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance. In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

This connection between sleep and productivity seems to affect you no matter what your job function is. The article goes on to say that when basketball players slept 10 hours per night, “their free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.”

So, how can you get more sleep — the type of rest that will help you feel energized and well prepared to tackle each workday? To get started:

Stop hitting the snooze button

Though it’s intended to be helpful, the snooze button on your alarm can interrupt your sleep cycle which will in turn make you feel more tired and groggy (this is known as sleep inertia). You’ll feel this way because your body may not be ready to be awake (depending on the stage of the sleep cycle that it’s in) when the alarm sounds. This can translate into poor performance during the day. Instead, implement a consistent sleep schedule so that you are not dependent on the snooze button. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day so that you create a pattern of restorative sleep (you can even use a sleep cycle app on your phone to help).

Schedule recovery time during the workday

Recovery time can include planned breaks from working on your projects. It can also mean taking power naps during the day (whenever possible), particularly if you didn’t sleep well the night before. You’ll want to take relatively short naps so that when you wake up, you’ll feel more alert and energized. Though napping longer than 20 minutes has benefits (like better decision making and being able to recall directions more easily), if you get into a very deep sleep, you may wake up feeling more tired. Consider experimenting with shorter or longer nap times to find the right amount of time that will help you to recover.

Schedule time for energizing movement

While everyone needs downtime, exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on how well you sleep. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “just 10 minutes of exercise a day could make a difference in the duration and quality of sleep.” The good news is that you don’t have to carve out several hours to exercise, but rather build in a short stints of energetic movement throughout your day to reap the benefits at night.

Keep your sleep space uncluttererd

When there’s clutter build-up in a room, there’s likely to be a good deal of stress felt when you’re in that particular area. So, set the stage for a restful night by uncluttering your space. Put away clothing and keep your nightstands neat and organized. Be sure that you don’t keep receipts, mail, or any other (non-sleep) related items hanging about. One thing you can keep on your nightstand: a sleep journal. Use the journal to track how well you’re sleeping, how much sleep you need to function optimally, as well as specific things (soft music, completely dark room, bath before bed) that help you achieve restorative sleep.

Do less: Practice single-tasking

So, this isn’t a sleep tip specifically, but it’s good to put it into practice as it can have big results. Though I’m suggesting that you should do less, please don’t throw your to-do list out the window! Doing less doesn’t mean that you should ignore your responsibilities. It simply means that you should focus on one thing at a time, instead of trying to wrap your mind around several tasks and projects simultaneously. This can be tricky at first, but after a bit of practice, you’ll begin to notice that you can get more done and, perhaps more importantly, you’ll have a greater chance of getting things done more completely (and with less stress, too).

Getting enough rest should be at the top of your list if you want to improve your ability to be productive. If after trying some of today’s suggestions you find that there has been no improvement to the quality of your sleep, consider talking with your doctor to see if there are other things that could be having an impact (like certain medications) on your performance.

The multitasking sleeper chair

The latest DWR catalog arrived in the mail yesterday, and the Soto sleeper chair instantly caught my attention:

After looking at the picture, I spotted the chair’s $3,300 price tag and quickly closed the catalog. No offense to the designers or the wonderful folks at DWR (it really is an attractive piece of furniture), but $3,300 is way above my price range.

Sleeper chairs are fantastic additions in small spaces because they work double duty as seating and guest accommodations. One of these multitaskers in a living room or office is perfect when you don’t have a guest room or space for a larger sofa sleeper. My husband and I have been considering getting one for my son’s bedroom so that when his cousins or friends spend the night they won’t have to sleep on the floor, and he’ll have a comfortable space to sit and read the rest of the time.

A little more in line with our price range are:

For $130, Target has a single sleeper:

For $20 more ($150), Target has a sleeper lounge chair:

JCPenny has the Sleepy sleeper chair for $500 that is available in nine different upholstery options:

If a modern style is your preference, Amazon has a love seat option for $378:

And, for $1,000, is the sleek Vincent twin sleeper from CB2:

You don’t have to spend $3,300 or add a spare room onto your home to increase the number of sleeping accommodations you have to offer guests — a sleeper chair might be all you need for your small space.

A good night’s sleep improves productivity

Failure to get a good night’s sleep can significantly alter your abilities to be productive, handle stress, and live an uncluttered life. I’m currently experiencing this phenomenon first hand since my son started teething. I have never in my life been this tired for such a continued amount of time, and I’m envious of parents whose children are seemingly unaffected by the teething process.

Actually, I’m envious of anyone who gets sleep, irrespective of if they have children. I may even be thinking mean thoughts about all of you and your well-rested state of being right now …

Where was I?

Oh yes, sleep deprivation.

We’ve talked in the past about how it is important to keep a sleep journal to determine the number of sleep hours you need to function at your best. Too little sleep and too much sleep can influence your behavior, so it’s best to know how much sleep you need. If you don’t know how to interpret the data you collect in your sleep journal, I recommend checking out the article “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” by the National Sleep Foundation.

Missing out on sleep affects motor skills, cognitive abilities, and other brain functions. Also, and this is the part that is most disturbing to me, being suddenly woken up (say, like by a crying baby) can have the same effects as sleep deprivation. A study by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that sleep inertia (being jarred awake) is the same as being deprived of sleep for 24 hours.

From an article about the study on Medical News Today:

The study showed test subjects had diminished short-term memory, counting skills and cognitive abilities during the groggy period upon awakening known as sleep inertia, said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Kenneth Wright, lead study author. The new study has implications for medical, safety and transportation workers who are often called upon to perform critical tasks immediately after waking, since cognitive deficiencies following 24 hours of sleep deprivation have previously been shown to be comparable to the effects of alcohol intoxication, he said.

In addition to tracking your sleep patterns, you might also want to try different methods of waking up. A blaring alarm clock might not be the safest way to wake you up from your beautiful, relaxing, glorious night of sleep.

Unitasker Wednesday: iSleep USB pillow

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

Taking a nap at one’s desk isn’t the easiest thing to do, but taking a quick desk nap just got easier with the iSleep USB pillow. To use, just plug this inflatable pillow into an available USB port on your computer. (That is if you have a USB port to spare.)

The inflatable USB pillow inflates when you shut your laptop and then deflates when you open the laptop back up. The days of using a bunched up sweater or coat for a pillow are long gone. You can now catch a snooze in style with this inflatable option. Nap time has never been so hi-tech.

Ask Unclutterer: Exhausted after work

Reader Juliana submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do you stay on top of your chores if both members of the household work demanding jobs all day? There’s no way we can afford a housekeeper and we are both exhausted at the end of the day. By the weekend, things have piled up to an overwhelming level and I feel like it’s too much to handle. Help!

Oh, Juliana, I know exactly how you’re feeling, and I’m sure a number of our readers do, too. After a long day of work the last thing you want to do are chores, and when the weekend arrives you want to do something more remarkable than clean. There have been many times when I have wished for a housekeeper.

  • My first piece of advice is to set aside one weekend to simply catch up with all of the stuff around your house. In the days leading up to this weekend, tell everyone that you’re going out of town, stock up on groceries, and clear your entire schedule. Then, wake up early on Saturday morning and get down to business. Clean your place from top-to-bottom, inside-and-out, and do all of the big stuff that just has to get done. On Sunday evening, celebrate your efforts by going out to a dinner where someone else is responsible for doing the dishes.
  • Once you have this clean slate, then you can get started on a daily maintenance routine that takes little effort and leaves your weekends free for your remarkable life.
  • Your routine first needs to include a landing strip. You need an area where you can come in after a long day at work and immediately process items. Put a trash can and recycle bin/paper shredder in this space so that mail and paperwork are immediately handled (especially since you don’t want to sacrifice weekend time doing this). Have hooks for coats and hats, and designated spaces for your keys, bags, etc. Put all of your charging equipment for your cell phone in this space, and plug in your phone the minute you walk in the door. The landing strip provides a space for your things, and also makes it a breeze to leave your house in the morning for work.
  • Next up, commit to doing exactly 30 minutes of cleanup a night. You may do best if you do this 30 minutes right when you get home, or it may work for you right after dinner. Yes, you’re exhausted, but if you remind yourself that 30 minutes now will save you two whole weekend days, it’s pretty easy to keep moving. I have a “cleaning” mix on my iPod that is 30 minutes of fast tempo songs. I play it while I clean to motivate me.
  • Designate specific rooms for specific days, such as Mondays = Kitchen, Tuesdays = Bathrooms, Wednesdays = Bedroom, Thursdays = Living Room, and Fridays = Living/Family Room. Do a general 10 minute pick up around the house, but then spend 20 minutes really focusing on just one room. With both of you working together, you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish. You’ll also reap the benefit of having your weekends free of chores.
  • If you watch television as a way to relax, invest in a DVR. You can do the cleaning while a favorite show is recording, and then start it half-way into the program and watch the show without commercials.
  • Finally, here are more time-saving tips and suggestions for establishing routines. And, remember to get ready for bed half-an-hour or an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Your clothes are more likely to hit the hamper, and shoes/belts/jackets are more likely to get put away properly.

Thank you, Juliana, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope we helped a little to solve your problem.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, 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 of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for children

Every year we get parents asking us how to stop the excessive gift giving of well-meaning family members. It is a challenge! Here are some tips.

If you have babies, create a baby gift registry if you haven’t already done so. Babies grow quickly and there is always an ongoing need for diapers, wipes, and larger sized sleepers. Refer relatives to your registry for gift ideas.

Older children like to have a gift to open but talk to family members about uncluttered gifts and suggest the following:

  • Gift passes to local attractions such as the zoo, science centre, or museum.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical theatre production, or other show.
  • Pay for art, music, or sports lessons.
  • Pay for driving lessons or contribute to a teen’s car insurance or car maintenance.

Another option is to have relatives with special expertise offer to share their skills with your children. Sewing, knitting, and cooking are all great hobbies as well as practical life skills, as are woodworking, metalsmithing, and jewellery making. Create coupons for “Sewing Lessons with Grandma” or “Learn to BBQ with Uncle David.”

Children do not need a lot of stuff when they are young but when they are older, they will need college tuition. Rather than spend money on piles of clutter creating presents, encourage family members to contribute to an education savings fund. Malcolm X said it best, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Your family members could purchase a small gift representing scientists, doctors, or astronauts to show children how an education leads to success.

If you have tried any of these solutions in the past, how has that worked for your family? Share with fellow Unclutterers in the comments.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

What to do with pajamas during the day?

I have never known what to do with my pajamas in the morning. They usually end up being folded and set on top of my dresser. The dresser location is functional, but it’s cluttered. Years of living with clothes strewn on my dresser left me wishing I had a place where my pajamas could live that wasn’t on top of a flat surface.

After a recent trip to the hardware store, I came home armed with a “S” hook to solve my problem. The hook fits over my closet’s clothing rod and provides an instant place for my pajamas during the day. I also have enough space in my closet that my pajamas don’t touch any of my clean clothes. My pajamas are out of sight, off a flat surface, and behind the closed door of my closet.

If I had children, I think that I would install more permanent hooks that screwed into the closet wall at a height convenient for them. This way, they would be able to hang up their own pajamas even if they couldn’t reach their clothing rod in their closet.

I know that some people will likely comment that pajamas should be stored either under your pillow or in your pillow case. I just can’t do this. I think about how I sweat on my pajamas during the night and am not comfortable with then storing them next to where I put my face when I sleep. The reality may be that it is more hygienic than I am imagining, but I can’t do it. It gives me the willies. For me, the “S” hook works perfectly.

 

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