Understanding how you process information to help you get organized, part 2

Now that you’ve taken the quiz to determine if you are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic/tactile acquirer of information, it’s time for the next step in the process: taking action.

Knowing yourself and your information processing preferences can help you create an organization system that works best for you. Obviously, we can’t cover every possible solution, but these suggestions will hopefully get you headed in the right direction.

Visual processor:

  • Scheduling programs like Google Calendar might work well for you so that you can input and then see all of your appointments on your agenda.
  • In your closet, you’ll want to have a lot of space and only the current season’s clothing on hangers. A hook on the back of a door can be good for displaying your next day’s outfit. You might also benefit from having your folded clothes on a shelf instead of hidden in a dresser drawer.
  • Try your best to have an office with a door. You’re likely to go batty in cubicle land — especially in cubicle land with only waist-high walls.
  • Carry a small digital camera or a cell phone with a camera in it with you at all times so that you can take images of things you need to remember. You may want to use Evernote to process this information.

Auditory processor:

  • Consider setting timers or audio reminders on your computer to help alert you of meetings and other scheduled events.
  • Carry a small recording device with you so that when you have an idea you can record a message to yourself. Most smartphones also have this ability.
  • If you need to share an office, try to get an office with someone who works while wearing earphones. When you talk to yourself, he or she won’t be distracted when you need to talk through ideas.
  • Keep all of your files in alphabetical order to help you find them more quickly.
  • Have a headset for your telephone since you interact more reliably with people over the phone than you do by email.

Kinesthetic/Tactile processor:

  • Feel comfortable pushing your office furniture against the walls so that you have space to move when you need to.
  • Explore non-traditional desks when looking for office furniture. A drafting table or adjustable height table might work better for you than something that has a fixed height and angle.
  • Keep a space for a small fan on your desk and a space heater under your desk.
  • Exercise before going to work in the morning.
  • Have as few objects on your desk as possible so that you’re not tempted to pick them up when you need to concentrate. However, you should also have a stress ball quickly available to squeeze when mulling over ideas or talking on the phone.
  • You probably like to try on different outfits before choosing the best one to wear, so be diligent about returning the non-selected items back to their proper home.

What organization tips and tricks do you employ in your home and office that are crafted toward you information processing style? Please share your insights in the comments!


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

Understanding how you process information to help you get organized, part I

When you read a book or newspaper article, do you instantly commit it to memory? Or, are you someone who likes to pace the floor when you’re thinking? Maybe you are someone who can hear a lecture and have no need to take a single note?

How you process information has a strong correlation to how you may want to organize your home and office. Strategies that work well for an audible processor might fall flat on someone who prefers to intake information visually. Knowing yourself and your preferences can make a difference in how successful you are at creating an organization system. The two posts in our “understanding how you process information to help you get organized” series will hopefully aid you in creating your profile.

The first step is to begin by identifying what type of an information processor you are: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic/tactile. Take the following quiz to help identify where you fall in the information processing spectrum:

Directions: Add one point to your score for each statement that strongly applies to you. The category with the most points is your dominant processing style. You may have strengths in more than one category.

Visual processor:

  1. I can remember that I need to do something if I write it down.
  2. I need to visualize myself wearing something to make a decision about what I want to wear.
  3. I take copious notes during meetings and often can remember what the page of notes looks like before I remember what the notes say.
  4. I need to look at a person when they’re speaking.
  5. It has to be quiet for me to be able to complete my work.
  6. Seeing data displayed in a graph is vital to me understanding numerical information.
  7. I am horrible at remembering jokes.
  8. I can remember phone numbers if I can visualize typing them on a phone’s key pad.

Auditory processor:

  1. I prefer to listen to books on tape or to read books aloud.
  2. The more I discuss a problem with my co-workers, the easier it is for me to find its solution.
  3. In school, I only needed to attend class lectures to perform fine on the tests.
  4. I remember what people have said before I remember who said it.
  5. I like to complete one task before starting a new one.
  6. A train could be passing through my living room and I would still be able to hold a good conversation with my Aunt Sally on the phone.
  7. When I forget how to spell a word, I sound it out.
  8. At the grocery store, I repeat my list either in my head or aloud.

Kinesthetic/Tactile processor:

  1. When I take on a project, I want to start doing instead of planning.
  2. When I need to take a break from working, I have to get up and move around my office.
  3. I can work effectively in a coffee shop or in an airport waiting area — I don’t need to be at my desk to do work.
  4. I can remember a client’s name better if I shake her hand.
  5. I would like to ride my bike to work, if I don’t already.
  6. I think more clearly throughout the day if I exercise before work.
  7. I am often aware of the temperature in my office.
  8. When I pick up something as ordinary as my stapler, my mind drifts to memories somehow associated with a stapler.

Which category best represented your processing style? I am visual processor with a relatively high score also in kinesthetic.

The second post in the series will provide suggestions for how you can take this information you have learned about yourself and apply it to your organization systems. Stay tuned!


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

Happy New Year 2019

happy 2019

Before we launch into a brand-new year, here are our most popular posts from 2018.

Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits

Ask Unclutterer: Where can I donate stuffed animals?

What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t

Ten things to do in 10 minutes

10 tips to beat clutter in less than five minutes

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

Understanding how you process information to help you get organized, part I

All-in-one washer/dryer

No more wire hangers!

Organizing is knowing what you want

We wish all of our readers the happiest, most organized and productive 2019.

Want to be organized? Know thyself.

One of the best ways to create an effective organizing system is to know who you are. If you don’t know your strengths and weaknesses, you can’t build a system that reflects your abilities.

Someone who is easily distracted shouldn’t have an intricate paper filing system based on numbers and codes. Someone who takes his shoes off at the front door shouldn’t have a shoe organizing system in his bedroom. The more a system reflects how you live and your preferences, the more likely it is to work for you.

  • Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic processor? Find out in “Understanding how you process information to help you get organized” and then learn how to take action on those strengths.
  • What time of day can you focus at your best and when are you easily distracted? Keep a log and then “Plan and execute a productive work schedule” that best reflects your energy waves throughout the day.
  • How long can you effectively focus on something? Scientists have concluded that 40 minutes is the average time span for most people. Check out the Science Daily article “Are you really paying attention” to learn more.
  • What do you really like? I don’t mean what are you supposed to like, but what do you sincerely enjoy? Is there a way to integrate these passions into your organizing systems? If you love watching television, can you find a way to watch television and straighten up the house during commercials? If you love birds, can you use bird labels on files in your filing cabinet so that doing filing is more joyful for you?
  • What do you despise? If you can’t stand putting away laundry, can you swap the chore with someone in your house and take over a chore she can’t stand but that doesn’t bother you? Can you hire someone to take over this organizing task for you?
  • Do you know why you want to be organized?

There are hundreds of questions you can ask yourself to learn about who you are and what are your preferences. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can build an organizing system that will be easy for you to maintain and help keep your life less chaotic.

A year ago on Unclutterer



A fond farewell to 2008

The Unclutterer staff wants to send off 2008 with a list of our favorite posts from this year. These aren’t necessarily the posts that were the most read or the most commented, but are the ones we treasured for some reason we can’t explain. Most of all, we hope you enjoyed them!

Sue’s favorite posts:

Matt’s favorite posts and unitaskers:

Erin’s favorite posts:

Do you have a favorite post? We would love to know which posts bookmarked a place in your hearts in 2008!

May wrap up

Let’s take a few moments to remember some of the things that made May 2008 a great month at Unclutterer.com.

May’s most popular posts:

Additional highlights:

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.

Building a custom home: Four steps to help you stay organized

There’s a wonderful discussion happening on the Unclutterer Forums. The topic: Building a new house. Quite honestly, it has me feeling a little envious. Building a custom home has got to be an exciting experience. At the same time, I suspect that it also can be a little overwhelming because there are so many things to consider and decisions to be made.

The process can go smoothly and with fewer hiccups if you do a bit of planning ahead of time. A key step would be to get everything out of your head and to organize all the necessary information in an easy to use system.

Think about changes you’d like to make

Start thinking about the home you presently live in. What seems to be working well? You’ll want to make sure those elements are present in your new home. What are some things that need to be improved upon? Do you have particular solutions in mind? Walk through each room in your current home and record the things that you would like to change.

Keep a list of “must-haves”

Once you’ve walked through each area in your home, you’ll have a better idea of the features that are most important to you. Create a list or chart of each room with the specific features you would like to have (hidden storage areas, extra outlets). Be specific about the things that you think would make each room function better based on your current lifestyle, and include any elements that you would find it difficult to live without. Your list will likely start out as a wish list and then get refined once you begin working with your contractor.

Collect important information in one central location

Speaking of contractors, consider using a binder (with tabbed pages) or a digital notebook (like Evernote or Springpad) to keep track of builders and other professionals (architects, designers) that you want to contact or who have given you proposals. Your binder, digital notebook, or a website like Houzz.com is also a great place to keep track of your ideas. Be sure to also include a copy of your budget in your notebook. That way, you’ll be able to find it easily and see the budgeted dollar amounts as you think about features you want to include in your new home.

Plan your next move

It’s never too early to start preparing you current home for your departure. You will get a timeline for completion from the builders, so you can schedule time to unclutter your current space. Then, when it’s time to pack, you’ll only be handling the things that you will be taking with you. To help you stay on track, consider using a moving checklist.

Building a custom home can be fun and managed without feelings of stress. With a solid plan and understanding of the process, you can successfully see your plans come to life. Keep in mind that you can always get more information before you make any final decisions. There are lots of articles (like 10 Things to Consider when Building a Home) and books (check out Building Your Own Home For Dummies) on building your home from scratch — as well as the mistakes to avoid — that can be great resources for you.

If you were to build your dream home, what uncluttered features would you include in the space?

Stay productive during the winter months

Those of us in the United States (except Hawaii and Arizona) turned the clock back one hour over the weekend to reclaim the 60 minutes we lost when Day Light Saving Time started. Originally, Day Light Saving Time was instituted to save energy, not necessarily to capture time. But, the change in time during the winter (verses the spring), though a seemingly good one (most of us crave an extra hour to sleep), can still take some getting used to.

If the new change disrupts your usual way of doing things or your sleep schedule, you’re probably not going to be very productive. And, since the days are a bit shorter during the winter, you may want to make a few adjustments. The key to staying on top of things and ensuring that your productivity doesn’t slip might be to:

Stick to your regular nightly routine

Getting enough sleep will have an impact on how much you can accomplish on a consistent basis. Now that you have an extra hour to play with, you might think it’s a good idea to go to bed much later. Instead, consider going to sleep at your usual time and get up when you would normally for a few days and then gradually make slight adjustments. Try turning in for the night about 15-20 minutes later and slowly increase that to 60 minutes over a week or two to get your body (and mind) accustom to the change. If you have children, you can use the same strategy to help them get acclimated as well.

Get more sunlight

A recent article in the Columbian discussed the importance of getting out during the light hours. “In general, darkness stimulates our body to want to sleep. Chemicals in our brains actually get triggered because of the darkness. That can lead to fatigue …”

This will likely be the case during the winter as it’s probably dark when you leave for work and also when it’s time to head back home. This means you’ll get less exposure to sunlight, unless you sit by a window during working hours (or use a light box), be sure to spend some time outdoors to soak up some rays (perhaps during your lunch break). Include a brisk walk or a light jog around the block and you’ll likely increase your energy level, improve your ability to get things done, and have a better chance at having a good night’s sleep.

Keep doing what works

Of course, if you’re using a strategies that have been working well for you (tackling important projects when you’re most alert, delegating some tasks, staying hydrated throughout the day, using a “done” list or a timer, etc.), you should keep up with them. If you haven’t found strategies successfully that fit your process style, this is a great opportunity to start investigating uncluttering, time management, or productivity routines that would best suit you.

Though it may be challenging to stay productive during the winter months, you can still find ways to keep your energy high and stay on top of all you need to do. As I often mention, not every tip will be a good fit for everyone, but try one or two of the suggestions above to see how well they work for you.

Clean and organize your refrigerator

Tomorrow, November 15, is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day in the U.S. I’m not really sure who decided to declare such a day, but my guess is a refrigerator manufacturer or food producer had something to do with it. I only know about it because of Hallmark’s Ultimate Holiday Site, which tracks the most absurd holidays. (Case in point, today is National Guacamole and Pickle Day.) Although zany, Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day makes a teensy bit of sense being so close to Thanksgiving — it is a good idea to make room in your refrigerator for all the food that will be needing space in the coming days.

When cleaning out a refrigerator that hasn’t been tended to in many months, I like to tackle it in the following manner:

  • Gather supplies. Two large trash bags nested one inside the other (food is heavy and a broken bag makes a huge mess) is a must. You’ll also want a bucket with fresh, warm (not hot) water and mild dish detergent with a sponge. Also, a roll of paper towels or a few clean hand towels are good to have with you to dry the shelves when you’re finished wiping them down, especially for the freezer. Finally, I recommend having a notepad and pen handy so you can create a shopping list as you work.
  • Purge all food past its prime. Working from top to bottom, clear out all food from your refrigerator that is expired, rotten, and not good for eating. If you don’t know if something is edible, check StillTasty.com. If a food is in a jar or bottle and you can’t find its expiration date, visit the company’s website. Many websites have sections where you can enter the item’s bar code and learn its shelf life information.
  • Wipe it down. Give all the walls and shelves of your refrigerator a firm but gentle scrubbing. Clean up all spills, leaks, and general yuckiness that can dirty up the inside of your refrigerator.
  • Organize. In addition to putting like items with like items (making it easier to retrieve foods, as well as remembering what items you have), consider employing some advanced organizing techniques. Add stackable, removable shelves or under shelf baskets to better separate items. Use shelf liners to make it easier to clean up future messes and to keep round foods from rolling. If your crisper is where foods go to mold, try removing your drawers so you won’t forget about your produce (if you’re a visual processor, this may really help you). Also, learn what the recommended cooling temperatures for your food are so you know where the best place is inside your refrigerator to store each item.
  • Clean the containers. Now is a great time to wash all the reusable food containers that may have been hiding storing rotted items.

While you’re working, it’s also nice to inspect the seals on your refrigerator. Are they letting air escape? If they are, you can likely replace them yourself for not very much money or effort. Check your manufacturer’s website for exact information on the replacement seal required for your specific refrigerator model.

If your workplace refrigerator is in need of a good cleaning, you still have time to organize a clean-up project for tomorrow. You may want to add rubber gloves to your list of supplies, though. You never know what science experiments are happening in the back of those shelves.

Random note: November 15 is also Sadie Hawkins Day, so if you are female you can ask a male to help you clean out your refrigerator and celebrate two bizarre holidays at once.

Ask Unclutterer: Organizing and uncluttering strategies for people with ADHD and visual processors

Reader Shannon submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Do you have any tips for people with ADHD that go beyond the stuff you see or hear all the time in other publications? Work is pretty okay except for the whole “getting started” part, but my home is the tough area. I am one of those people who has to see something to remember I have it but that keeps things cluttered.

Based on the information you provided in your email, it is very likely that you’re a visual processor. I’m one, so I empathize with your need to see your belongings.

After years of working with students who have different forms and ranges of severity of ADHD, I’ve come to realize that there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution for staying organized. This is true for the non-ADHD afflicted as well, but for some reason unknown to me, it’s much more widely accepted in the general population than for those with ADHD. So, I’m going to provide a number of different strategies and I suggest you try the ones that speak to you. These same strategies might also work for other visual processors, with or without ADHD.

  • Less is best. Too much stuff in a space likely bothers you immensely. If a drawer or closet gets too full, you may stop opening it and decide to ignore its existence. The fewer items you have in your home competing for your attention, the less you’ll feel overwhelmed by all of the visual stimuli. Just because you can own 25 shirts doesn’t mean you should own 25 shirts. (I own about 20 shirts, but 8 of them are the exact same shirt, just in a different color.) The first step to finding sanity is to get rid of as much clutter as possible — you don’t have to be a minimalist, but a minimalist-influenced space will work well for you. Remember: It is hard to be messy when you don’t have a lot of stuff to get messy.
  • Think outside the closet. A traditional hanging rod for clothes might be a great idea for people who are auditory processors, but they’re likely a bad idea for you. Consider getting an Expedit bookshelf (or something similar) for your closet where you can group outfits together in cubbies. Then, hang a picture of yourself in each outfit on the lip of the cubby hole so you can “see yourself” in the outfit when making decisions about what to wear. (This also helps when returning clothes to your closet.) If cubbies aren’t for you, consider installing valet rods so your clothes can face you. Give your clothes as much room as possible so you can see each item well.
  • Use an accountability partner. I mentioned this earlier in the week, and I think it’s ideal for someone with ADHD. Have a friend come over and sit on the couch and keep you company while you unclutter and organize. The person doesn’t need to lift a finger, his or her presence is usually enough to help keep you on track.
  • Consider duplicates. Although I just suggested you have as few things as possible, it will probably work to your advantage to have duplicates of the things you do use. For example, keep a pair of scissors in the same container as your wrapping paper and another pair in your kitchen and another pair in your desk drawer. The scissors are much more likely to be returned to the wrapping paper storage container after you finish wrapping a present then they are to be returned to your desk drawer in the other room. I have multiple battery rechargers in the house because I don’t remember to recharge batteries otherwise.
  • Shelves are better than drawers. Whenever possible, use shelving for storage instead of cabinets with doors. In your kitchen, consider removing your cabinet doors or having glass doors installed. It’s a lot easier to find things when you can see them. This is true for bookshelves, too. You may prefer to use shelves with outward facing books instead of traditional spine-only displays.
  • Routines, routines, routines. You probably operate very productively when running on auto-pilot. As a result, try to create routines for the repetitive actions of your life — load and unload the dishwasher every Monday and Thursday, do laundry every Tuesday night, take out the trash every Wednesday, etc. It probably takes three or four months for things to become routine for you, so don’t be too hard on yourself as you’re establishing these routines. If you’re consistent, they’ll eventually stop being things you have to remember and become things you just do.
  • Label simply. If you need to make it out the door every morning with your briefcase, car keys, and phone, mark these objects with the letters A, B, and C. Put a luggage tag with the letter A on it on your briefcase. Put a keychain on your keys with the letter B. Adhere a sticker to your cell phone or get a decorative cell phone case with a big letter C on it. Then, every time you leave your house or leave work you only have to remember A, B, and C. You can do a quick check to make sure you have those things, and be on your way. These simple labeling strategies are great for using with kids, too.
  • Use beautiful things. Plain things may feel invisible to you. I can only use manilla file folders for archived papers (like tax returns) because I can’t “see” the files. For active files, I use ones with designs on them — birds, patterns, funny sayings — because the designs help me to remember what is inside them. My desk calendar is designed by Jonathan Adler with bright colors and little designs throughout it. If it’s not pretty, I’ll lose it or forget it. If I like looking at it, chances are I won’t forget about it. If you don’t own many things (see the first “Less is best” point), these beautiful things stand out in your space and tempt you to use them.

Thank you, Shannon, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please be sure to check the comments for even more suggestions from our ADHD and visual processing readers. Good luck on your uncluttering and organizing journey!

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.