Organizing suggestions found in the media

My eye is always drawn to anything I see in newspapers, magazines, and such that has anything to do with organizing, even tangentially. I just sometimes wish that the messages were a bit more nuanced. The following are a few examples.

Buying organizing supplies = getting organized

Each week RedPlum advertising mailers arrive at my home, and there’s always an “organize your home” ad with photos of bedroom closet systems and garage cabinets. And while these kinds of products can certainly be useful, buying items like this would be the final step in getting organized, after any uncluttering and sorting. It’s hard to get a storage system configured properly if you don’t know what you’re going to store!

And, of course, many people can be organized just fine without buying something like a closet system.

Note for those who are certain to ask: Yes, I finally went to the RedPlum website to opt out of the company’s mailings.

There’s one right way to organize your stuff

Ayn-Monique Klahre wrote on The Kitchn website that she was advised that her “dream spice cabinet” with lovely identical spice containers was a bad way to organize those spices. I certainly agree that buying such spice containers and transferring all your spices from the bottles they came in to those new containers can be a waste of time and money, and it’s probably a poor idea for most people. But if someone has the time and money to spend and gets joy out of looking at the spices in their nice containers, I see nothing wrong with that.

The article goes on to say that organizing spices alphabetically is also a bad idea — which is a surprise to me, since that’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years. Organizing by use (cooking vs. baking) or by cuisine (Mexican, Italian, etc.) can also work for some people, but I’m fine with alphabetic.

While there are often best practices that work for most people, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t organize things in a totally different way that works for the way you think and live. I imagine the experts consulted for this article would agree, and that some qualifying comments were lost along the way.

Style your bookcases to refresh your home decor

Bonnie McCarthy wrote an article titled 12 tips to styling your bookcases like a pro, which ran in the Los Angeles Times. I had mixed reactions to this one. While McCarthy writes about “creating bookshelf displays that are both functional and decorative” in the introduction, the specific tips are heavy on the decorative portion.

If your goal is to have pretty bookcases with art and accessories along with the books, her advice seems quite good. But I was sad to see no real acknowledgement that books on bookcases are (in most cases) primarily there to be read and enjoyed, and making them easy to find and replace should be a critical factor to consider when doing the styling.

One of her suggestions, removing the dust jackets from the books and arranging them by color, would only work if you’re someone who visualizes books by color — and someone who doesn’t find dust jackets interesting and informative.

But I do like the advice she gave that applies to any organizing situation: “Don’t expect perfection on the first try; it may take a few attempts before everything falls into place.” And if you’re going to intersperse decorative pieces among the books, I would echo this advice: “Don’t crowd. Placing fewer items among your books allows them to shine.”

There was also one interesting tip that did indeed focus on both the practical and the decorative: “Curate a small collection and intersperse the pieces among the books on the shelves. Bonus points for displaying with books on the topic of the collection, i.e. sea shells and jars of sand with books about surfing and the Pacific.” That’s a creative organizing idea that would make those books easy to find while also creating an eye-catching look.

Rid your shower of bottle clutter

Your shower should be a serene place where you can escape the outside world for a short time each day. You shouldn’t be distracted by a multitude of containers all over the walls and/or floor of your shower. The Better Living Dispenser Classic IV eliminates the need for the bottles that get in your way.

Let’s face it, those bottles are designed to fall over easily and scare the heck out of your loved ones in the next room. The bottles I recently knocked over are nearly empty, so they need to be perfectly balanced on their heads to get the last of the liquid out. (We are frugal and the need to use every last drop of shampoo is a must.) This dispenser eliminates the bottles, the balancing act, and the false alarm of a shower disaster. If you need more storage space, The Better Living Ulti-Mate Dispenser includes a soap tray, mirror, and hooks to store your razor.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

A donation resource list for harder-to-donate items

Back in May 2014 I wrote a list of places to donate furniture, fur coats, musical instruments, and more. I’ve since found additional donation alternatives that I’d like to share. These are mostly places that take harder-to-donate items. Others just caught my eye because their missions might appeal to some donors — and many of us find it easier to unclutter when we know our items are going to good new homes.

Medical equipment: Donating lightly used items such as walkers and hospital beds used in home care can be a challenge. Med-Eq matches donors with charities that need what the donors are offering. You fill out a simple online form, and the staff at Med-Eq will choose a recipient. The receiving party covers any costs, such as mailing expenses for smaller items. (Larger items would be picked up.) My thanks to organizer Adonna Braly, who recently reminded me of this one.

Diabetes supplies: Nicole Kofman and Kelly Close wrote about a number of places to donate these often-expensive items on the website diaTribe. While you’ll incur some expense in mailing these items off, you’ll have the reward of knowing you’ve helped someone in need. I learned about this from organizer Julie Bestry, so she gets a big thank-you, too.

Wigs: EBeauty Community has a wig exchange program providing free wigs to women experiencing hair loss due to chemotherapy.

Musical instruments: Although I’ve covered instruments before, I recently discovered another resource: Instruments in the Cloud, which allows donors to connect with local teachers who are looking for instruments.

Postage stamps: You may want to sell these, but if you prefer to donate them the American Philatelic Society will gladly take them. The society says, “Most common material is used for youth and educational programs.” Those programs need several hundred pounds of stamps every year! Supplies such as glassine envelopes that are in good condition are welcome, too. Of course, you could also check with a local stamp club, if you have one. And some teachers might find these useful, too.

Homemade blankets: Do you enjoy quilting, knitting or crocheting and wind up making more quilts or afghans than you, your family, and your friends can ever use? Project Linus will be glad to take them to give to seriously ill or traumatized children ages 0-18. Materials that can be used to make blankets can also be donated, if you want to reduce your stash. You can drop off donations with local chapters or mail them in. Thanks to quilter Louise Hornor for reminding me about Project Linus. Note: These must come from smoke-free environments for allergy reasons.

Beanie Babies: Operation Gratitude sends care packages to deployed troops, and all those care packages include Beanie Babies or other small plush toys. Gently used ones are accepted.

Reader question: An abundance of clothing

Reader Olympia wrote us to say,

I have an abundance of clothes… 3 closets full of clothes plus a room full of clothing. I recently lost a lot of weight so it was easy to get rid of the larger-sized clothes but I have saved all of my smaller-sized clothing (20 years’ worth) that I love, fits me, and looks great on me. I know I can’t keep everything but I just don’t know what to get rid of and how to organize it better. Also, over 100 pairs of shoes… Crazy! I would welcome any input.

I’m sure Olympia isn’t our only reader with an abundance of clothing especially since the clothing industry is designed to make us feel out of fashion within weeks. Here are some suggestions to reduce the quantity of clothing in your closets.

First of all, read Erin’s post, Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet. This will help you determine your preferred style. There is no point in keeping a dozen lacy, frilly blouses if you’re not a lacy, frilly person. Paying attention to the way clothes fit you is important too. Jeri discusses the importance of proper style and fit in her post, Managing your wardrobe: award shows vs. real life.

What about your lifestyle? Has it changed in the past twenty years?  Back then, I was a stay-at-home parent with two children under 5 years old. The clothes I was wearing at that time still fit me and look good on me but very few pieces suit my age or current lifestyle.

If you’re having difficulty determining your style or evaluating fit, Erin’s post, Get rid of the clutter in your clothes closet has some great ideas to help you. You can look through photos of yourself and decide if the clothes really flatter you. You could ask a spouse or friend to toss any clothing of yours that he/she hates to see you wear. It might help to set a “past due” date on your clothes. For example, anything not worn in the past 24 months is automatically removed from your closets — no ifs, ands, or buts.

To help you build a good wardrobe foundation, check out Erin’s post, Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the female closet. Gentleman, please refer to Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the male closet and an Organized wardrobe for men in their 40s. We’ve also answered a question about managing a wardrobe of many sizes and discussed the benefits of uniforms.

One of the things that helped me simplify my wardrobe was living in a hotel for six weeks during our trans-Atlantic moves. I had two large suitcases in which to pack everything I would wear to carry out my normal day-to-day home and working life. Imagine if your employer sent you to work at another location across the country for two months. What would you take assuming you could not return home for anything or buy anything new?

I’m sure our readers have some great ideas too so I welcome them to chime in with suggestions on how to pare down clothing.

 

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Three organizing products in development

From time to time we see organizing products in development on crowd-funding sites. Here are three interesting ones we’d like to share with our readers.

Gather desk organizer

Designed by Ugmonk, Gather is a sleek, elegant organizer constructed from solid wood and polished thermoplastic. It can be configured in many different ways so that it adapts to wherever it is being used (desk, countertop, dresser, etc.) and to whomever is using it. Because Gather is so versatile, you can make sure that all of the tools you need are always at your fingertips.


Grow modular furniture system

Designed in Paris and manufactured in Germany, the Grow modular furniture system allows you to easily create and re-create functional and stylish living and work areas. Grow is made from high-performance plastic foam, is 100% recyclable and is even approved for food use. The best part is that each piece weighs only 300g (10oz)! This would be ideal for mobile work spaces, trade show booths, student apartments, etc. Check out the video to see how Grow works.

SlotPack auto organizer

SlotPack is a car organizer for the passenger seat. Designed by Jens-Christian Lang in Germany, this product solves many of the problems drivers encounter: inability to find items and items rolling out of reach or falling down onto the floor. It has many practical and functional compartments allowing drivers to easily access items without diverting attention from driving. SlotPack is designed to buckle into the existing seatbelt so there are no extra straps and buckles to worry about —meaning it is easy to install and remove.

Although the video shows the SlotPack being used in a passenger seat by a driver, I believe it would be great in the back seat on long family trips so children would be able to access their snacks, drinks, and toys.

What have you learned about yourself while uncluttering?

You can learn a lot about yourself while uncluttering. What’s more, that lesson changes over time based on your circumstances, age, and stage of life. Pay attention as you organize and clean, and you’ll see a bit of who you are.

A thread on the Unclutterer Forums brought this to my attention. Initiated in 2010 by reader AJ, the posting has several insightful and interesting comments from Unclutterer readers like “toberead,” who writes:

Your uncluttering strategy depends a lot on your circumstances. Six months ago I moved into an apartment that has a washing machine, the first time in 18 years that I’ve had my own. And it has made me rethink my wardrobe. When I had to spend 3-4 hours in a noisy laundromat every time I wanted to wash a load of clothes, it made sense to have at least 3 weeks worth of clothes, and I made that work in the most uncluttered way possible. But now I can see much more clearly which clothes I really love, and which ones I wore just because it was better than going to the laundromat.

I had a similar experience when moving from an apartment and into my home. I was able to get rid of a lot of the stuff that I considered temporary, like kitchenware that had seen better days.

Meanwhile, reader “Sky” writes about the appeal of eliminating unwanted stuff:

Decluttering my home has made me look at ‘things’ differently. The more I get rid of, the more I want less and less. I love having space in drawers and closets. I even have some empty drawers!

I’ve realized how few things I really want beyond what’s necessary. No more collecting, storing and shopping. It is freeing beyond belief.

I love throwing stuff away. The house just feels “lighter” once I’ve eliminated a big pile of stuff that I haven’t touched in ages. It’s a mental boost, too, as a tidy, uncluttered work space can actually improve productivity.

Finally, reader “nelliesb” writes, “I am realizing how little most things mean to me.” I really got this lesson in 2012 when my dog chewed a commemorative baseball I had received while visiting Fenway Park barely 24 hours prior:

The ball itself isn’t what was important. All of the memories I relayed in this article I conjured up without it. The ball is now in the trash bin; the memories and emotions of that day are in me. When I realize the ball is chewed, or my life is short, I’m reminded every moment with it was precious.

Yes, a moment can trigger a memory. But it’s the memory we’re after, right? Not the thing. I’ve been able to part with many things because they aren’t what’s meaningful to me. It’s the event, the person or the time and place that brought me to that thing in the first place.

There’s so much more to this topic. Perhaps uncluttering teaches you about your shopping habits, your interests, your habits at large. As you’ve tidied and organized, what have you learned about yourself? Share here or over on our forum.

How good are you at letting others help you?

I’m not. Not at all, in fact. Whenever someone offers to help me with anything, my immediate reaction is, “No, I can do it!” As if I were a five year old in front of an adult who questions my ability to do something.

It’s a terrible affliction this need to be so independent. And to be quite honest, it’s rather selfish on my part, too.

In an article in Psychology Today, the author talks about how letting others help you is a gift you give them. Most of us feel the desire to help whenever loved ones need it and helping them makes us feel better.

Just last night a friend was saying how her vacation plans fell through because of a mix-up with the online vacation reseller. We automatically offered our place in La Rioja – at least they would be able to get away from home for a week and they both love wine and sun. While it’s not the 5-star hotel they had hoped for, at least it’s a change of pace and scenery.

She said she couldn’t possibly and I countered with, “If the roles were reversed, would you offer us your place?” When she said, “Of course!” half-offended that I would imply otherwise, she realized how incongruent she was being and added, “Fine, I’ll think about it.”

When it comes to clutter, disorganization, or a lack to time deal with all of your responsibilities, can you ask for help, or are you like my friend who is horrified at imposing on others?

If you are like my friend (and to be honest, like me) and don’t like asking for help, these five tips from the “Savvy Psychologist” Ellen Hendrikson, PhD, may just help you:

  1. I don’t want to be a burden. As I’ve said already, people love to help. To get over this feeling, try asking for something small and very specific. Ask your best friend over and say, “Can you help me go through my closet? I want to get rid of some clothes, and I need an objective eye.” (Offering wine while you do it might help soothe your feelings of imposing.)
  2. I can’t admit that I need help. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Being a human being means being part of a community, and in communities, people help each other. Try depersonalizing the problem. Instead of saying, “I can’t get the bathroom cabinets under control.” say, “The bathroom cabinets are about to explode (and it has nothing to do with me as a person; it’s external to who I am).”
  3. I don’t want to feel indebted. Helping isn’t a barter system. People don’t help in order to be able to call in the favour later (at least people with a healthy understanding of relationships don’t). Try feeling gratitude. Say, “Thank you, I really appreciate this.” No need to offer reciprocal help in that moment. No one is going to present you with a bill (unless you’ve hired yourself a Professional Organizer, of course).
  4. I can’t show my weakness. This is my issue. I’m independent. I can do it! I don’t need anyone! Whenever I find myself acting like this I give myself a good shake and say, “Oh, please, you’re not a toddler and you’re not some macho alpha who always has to be strong. No one is always strong.” Or, you can take this as an opportunity to learn something new, especially if you consult with an expert (again, perhaps a Professional Organizer).
  5. I might get rejected. People have their own situations to deal with and this might not be the right moment for them to help you. Don’t take it as rejection of you or your problems. Thank them anyway and find someone else to ask. Not everyone is going to be too busy to help. And if they are, as I’ve repeated several times now, you can always turn to professionals.

If you have trouble asking for help, which one (or ones) of these five reactions do you feel when considering asking for help? Do you think the tips are good ones for getting over each reaction? Have others worked for you?

And if you want a book to help you ask for help, why not check out Kickstarter-star Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking?

When is it all right to be disorganized?

Earlier this week I woke up sick. My stomach was doing acrobatics while simultaneously in a knot. I had no appetite and even the idea of sipping tea made me gag. Luckily, I never did end up in the bathroom, but I did sleep for two days straight.

Fortunately, I have a husband who wasn’t working and so he took care of me. But what if you’re sick at home alone (either because you live alone or because everyone else is out of the house for whatever reason)?

I know what you should do: accept that you’re sick and you aren’t going to be able to maintain any level of organization at home. Use the energy you have to take care of yourself and let the tissues, the dishes, and the clothes collect. It’s okay to let it go for a short while.

An Apartment Therapy post back in 2012 puts it well:

No, I’m just sick, this is highly temporary, and it will all go back to normal in a couple of days. There’s no need to hold yourself to your normal housekeeping standards — be gentle on yourself.

That, for me, is the trick to getting better quickly. Forget all the responsibilities you can, delegate whenever possible to coworkers, family members and if possible friends, then turn inward and focus 100% on yourself.

Learn to let go: if you spend all your energy fighting how sick you are, you won’t have any energy left to get better. Accept it and relax. Learn to stare at the ceiling without any guilt.

See it as a chance to catch up on sleep: I don’t know about you, but with all the things I have to do and the thoughts running around in my head every day all day, I never seem to get enough sleep. In being sick, I found the silver lining and have caught up on all my missed sleep. And if you can’t sleep during the day because of light coming into the room, try a sleep mask, but get one that can be heated or cooled to refresh or relax you at the same time.

Don’t go back to your regular routine too soon: Unfortunately not everyone can take time off work when sick, but if you have a job that allows for decent recovery time, take it. How many times have you gone back to work too soon and ended up prolonging your illness? (Or gifting it to unappreciative coworkers?)

Being organized and living an organized life is not a 24/7 activity. We don’t have to be organized all the time. It’s okay to let it slide every once in a while.

Apart from being sick (or taking care of sick family members), when else do you think it’s okay to let the household organization slip?

Weekend project: Tackle the area beneath your kitchen sink

I have to admit that I never think about the area under my sink. Even when I reach inside of it to grab the dish-washing detergent, I keep my eye on the soap and nothing else. It’s a dark pit and can be a scary place if left unattended.

This weekend, I want you to tackle the area beneath your kitchen sink. Would a pull-out drawer or shelving system help you to better organize the space? (I love ours, which is pictured, but I don’t know where the previous homeowner purchased it.) Are there things down there that can be thrown out or relocated to a more appropriate space? Are you accidentally hoarding sponges because you forgot you have already purchased two dozen of them?

Remember, too, that I’m not a fan of having your trashcan beneath your sink. I understand that if you have dogs, small children, or an incredibly small space that you may have no other choice. But, if your trash could be moved someplace else, maybe now is the time to consider that option.

If the area beneath your kitchen sink is organized, what about the area beneath your bathroom sinks? Can those areas be straightened or the space more efficiently arranged?

These areas are best to keep clear of clutter because of the damage that can result if a pipe bursts or your drain starts leaking. Plus, it’s good to be able to tell if your pipe or drain is leaking — something that is difficult to do if you have too much stuff in this place. It’s best to keep valuables out of these spaces and the area easily accessible for a plumber. The last thing you want to do is have to waste time clearing a path for someone who is about to cost you a hundred or more dollars an hour.

 

This post was originally published in February 2008.

Being an organized appliance purchaser

My washing machine started leaking about a week ago, and after 30 years I had to admit it was time to buy a new one. I’m very pleased with what I now have, and that’s partly due to the process I followed. Even though I wanted a new machine as soon as possible, I took some time to evaluate my options.

I asked trusted people for recommendations

Both my plumber and my contractor recommended the same appliance store, and I can see why. The place has an informative website, a large selection, and salespeople who were helpful both on the phone and in person.

I got clear on my priorities

My washing needs are pretty simple, so I didn’t need or want complex controls. I had two priorities: size and quality. I have a relatively small alcove for my washer and dryer, so I needed something that would fit that space — even though most washers today are larger than my old one was. I measured a couple times to ensure the machine I was ordering would fit in the washing machine pan I already had.

And I wanted a washing machine that was likely to be trouble-free and last a long time.

I read online recommendations from reliable sources

I read The Sweethome’s recommendations and bought a one-month digital subscription to Consumer Reports so I could read about its selections. Although I didn’t wind up with the machines they recommended, they both helped me understand my choices. For example, I chose a top-loading machine rather than a front-loading machine because of what they wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of both.

I went to the store and saw the machine in person

After doing my research I was fairly sure what I wanted, and I could have just ordered it online. But while I’m often fine with online buying, for something this significant I wanted to put my hands on the machine, not just examine it on a website. The immediate positive reaction I had to the washer when I saw it in the store made me sure about my choice. As much as a washing machine can, this one sparked joy, to use a Marie Kondo phrase.

Once I had the washer, I actually read the manual

Since I went for simple controls, this might have seemed unnecessary. How hard can it be to pick water temperature, load size, and one of four types of wash cycles? But it helped to read how the gentle cycle and “eco” cycle work so I could use those appropriately.

And when I was done, I filed the manual away and recycled the one from my old washing machine. (I know you can get most manuals online, but this is one case where I prefer the paper version.)

What to do with old textbooks

As the school year ends, many college students will return home for the summer with new knowledge, and likely a lot of laundry, in tow. Some will also have a stack of used textbooks. The question then becomes, “What do I do with these?” Here are a few ideas.

I’d say that, right off the bat, you’ve got two obvious options. First, sell them back to the school’s book store. That’s what I did back in the day when times were tight. I also bought used books for the same reason (I loved that little yellow “used” tag). If you feel you’re done with a book, sell it back, get some cash and feel good that next year someone will get that volume for less than retail price.

Conversely, you can keep your books, as they do contain a lot of valuable information. Some age more gracefully than others. For example, in 15 years a French textbook will be more useful than a science volume for example – so keep that in mind, too. If you decide to keep a book, be sure you’ll actually get some use out of it, or it will just be clutter in a few years.

Depending on the education level a book us aimed at, you can reach out to a local homeschooling association to see if they have a need your textbooks. The HSLDA can help you find homeschoolers in, or near your town.

Lastly, an organization like Better World Books buys textbooks, resells them online, and then sends some of the proceeds to literacy initiatives.

There’s a few options for you. I hope one fits. If none of these ideas appeal to you, you can always make a secret compartment. But that’s another post entirely.

10 Places to find hidden clutter

Just because something has a place in your home doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for that object. In fact, just because you have space to store an object doesn’t mean that you should.

If you want to have a home where everything is in its best place, here are 10 places to start looking for hidden clutter:

  1. Under beds. When I was in junior high, my mom found a “tennis ball” under my bed while she was replacing my mattress. Except it wasn’t a tennis ball, it was a furry, rotten apple. The space under people’s beds can be scary. Clear out the clutter (and the bad apples) from under your bed.
  2. Closets. If you’re like most people, you have sheets, towels, board games, coats, scarves, umbrellas, scrap-booking supplies, exercise videos, outdated spices, shoes, empty boxes, and hundreds of other items that you never use cluttering up your closets. Linen closets, coat closets, pantries, and wardrobes are full of clutter that you can get rid of now.
  3. Your basement. Spiders aren’t the only things lurking in your basement. Holiday decorations, boxes you never unpacked from your last move, and broken electronics that you have convinced yourself you will one day fix are all looming down there. I know it’s frightening, but you really should go through these things and deal with them in a proper manner.
  4. Self-storage facilities. You know how kids sometimes put their hands over their ears, close their eyes, and scream, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you”? Imagine me doing that right now. If you rent one of these spaces, read this article. Then, do everything in your power to get rid of your need to use a self-storage facility.
  5. Garages. Are there a pair of Rollerblades somewhere in your garage? Was 1998 the last time you wore them? Unused sports equipment, camping gear, and things that didn’t sell in your last garage sale don’t belong in your garage. Wouldn’t it be nice next winter to actually be able to park your car inside your garage?
  6. Your attic. See #3 above, substituting the word “attic” for “basement.”
  7. High cupboards in the kitchen. Waffle makers, popcorn poppers, china, silver, and griddles have a way of making it into your kitchen, never to be seen again. Consider what I said in my previous post about either using what you already own or getting rid of it.
  8. Guest rooms. I have a friend, who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, who has two “guest rooms” in her home. One has a bed, dresser, and empty closet. The other is filled with boxes and boxes of every piece of clothing her children have ever worn and every toy they have ever owned. Her children are married and live in their own homes. Yet, my friend continues to keep her children’s things and will not reclaim her guest room. If you have a guest room hiding things that you do not need, think about my friend and how you don’t want to end up like her.
  9. Desk drawers and filing cabinets. Your desk is a place that should facilitate productivity, creativity, and work. None of these things can happen if your desk is a disaster. If you’re having trouble with out-of-control papers, read posts in our category of organizing paper. If you’re having trouble opening your desk drawers, take a deep breath, disconnect the phone and the internet for a few hours, and focus on clearing the clutter from your work space.
  10. Your car’s glove box and armrest. As far as I am aware, there is not a competition to see how much stuff you can cram inside your glove box. I’m just letting you know.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.