A case for baskets

Today’s guest post is by Amanda Scudder, Organizing Consultant with the company Abundance Organizing. Please give her a nice welcome.

Are you a basket case in the making? If you have a spot where clutter tends to collect — the table by the front door, the kitchen counter, the foot of the bed — you are! And I’m going to make the case that a basket, properly managed, can be just the solution you are seeking.

Clutter hotspots are a leading cause of aggravation for just about everyone. I recently worked with a client who lamented that a basket on her counter constantly filled up with clutter that didn’t belong there — sun screen, library books, art supplies, children’s toys and the like. She had tried removing the basket, but the items still landed on the counter. And without the basket to contain things, it looked even messier. What she didn’t realize was that the problem wasn’t the basket. In fact, she’d intuitively set up a clutter-management strategy that can be very effective. A basket gives you a place to contain things that are not convenient to put away in the heat of the moment, as you are running out the door, emptying book bags at the end of a busy day, or otherwise trying to get on with life. The trick to turning it from a clutter problem into a clutter solution is to establish a routine for emptying it on a regular basis.

In my house, we use an “up-and-down” basket on the table at the foot of the stairs — in it go things I’ve picked up off the kitchen counter, living room floor, end tables, and other clutter-collecting surfaces. Like the dishtowels that need to be washed, the hairbrush dropped by my daughter in her mad dash out the door, socks found under the couch, books, and toys. When I go upstairs, I grab the basket, put the laundry in the hamper, the brush on the dresser, and the books next to the bed for nighttime reading. When the basket is empty, I use it to collect things that belong downstairs and it goes with me the next time I go downstairs.

To set up your own basket system, find an attractive, portable container to hold the clutter. You probably have a basket or tote around the house that you can press into service for this purpose. Reusing things you already have saves you time, money, and space. But if not, there are lots of options available for purchase, like this classic, eco-friendly collapsible bamboo-jute basket from Crate & Barrel:

Or this market basket:

Whatever container you choose, the next step is to put it in the spot where clutter seems to collect. Then, set a time each day to empty the container by returning everything that is in it to its proper home. Some people enjoy the routine of a few minutes every morning or just before bed to take on this chore. Other people use the basket itself as a visual cue — when it is full, it is time to empty it. Just make sure you don’t get a basket that is too big, as you want to be able to empty it pretty quickly on a regular basis.

Think about your clutter hotspot — will a basket strategy work for you?

Cutting cleaning supply clutter

Today’s guest post is by Amanda Scudder, Organizing Consultant with the company Abundance Organizing. Please give her a nice welcome.

Have you heard the song “The 3 Rs,” the incredibly catchy Jack Johnson tune:

Three it’s a magic number. Yes it is, it’s a magic number …
We’ve got to learn to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle …

This seemingly straightforward ditty holds a profound truth: three little words — reduce, reuse, recycle — are magic. There are endless ways you can apply them to your life — fun, creative ways that can cut clutter while benefitting your health, your budget, and your planet.

Today, I want to apply them to an often-unrecognized source of clutter: cleaning products. An unofficial survey of my Facebook friends revealed that the average American home has somewhere between a bajillion and a gazillion cleaning products stashed in cupboards, under the sink, and in other prime storage areas. Not only do these products create physical clutter, they also create chemical clutter, which can pose significant risks to your health.

The EPA reports that the air inside our homes can be five to ten times more toxic than the air outdoors, containing as many as 150 different pollutants, many of which come from petrochemical cleaners.

Let’s turn to the three Rs to tackle this problem.

Reduce — There are some easy ways to reduce the number of cleaning products you have to store and, more importantly, reduce the number of toxic chemicals in your home.

  • Switch to an environmentally friendly multi-purpose cleaner. There are many on the market, some greener than others, so read the label and beware of green-washing (clever marketing phrases used to make a product appear more eco-friendly than they really are). For Consumer Report’s recommendations, visit GreenerChoices.org’s article “Can one cleaner do it all?”
  • Another great resource is GoodGuide, an online tool to help you find safe, healthy, green and ethical products or to find out how your favorite brands rank.
  • Make your own multi-purpose cleaners using three basic household ingredients: baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice

Unfamiliar with how to use these three ingredients to clean?

Use baking soda to:

  • Deodorize pretty much anything from cat boxes to carpets
  • Clean your shower
  • Scour your sinks
  • Remove grease stains
  • Polish silver or your teeth

Use vinegar to:

  • Wash windows and floors
  • Remove product buildup from your hair
  • Clean the microwave
  • Clean the coffee pot
  • Trap fruit flies

Use lemon juice to:

  • Sanitize cutting boards
  • Boost the effectiveness of dish soap
  • Deodorize drains
  • Remove stains
  • Clean toilet bowls

Reuse — Because you are mixing your own cleaning combinations, you can reuse spray bottles and buckets, cutting down on the amount of plastic heading to landfills. Mild solutions of water and vinegar or lemon juice left over after cleaning can be used to water acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. Stronger solutions can be poured on weeds you would like to eliminate.

Recycle — Turn old sheets, single socks, or stained towels and t-shirts into rags and use them instead of paper towels for cleaning. You can even tuck a dry or damp rag around one of those long handled floor dusters instead of using expensive disposable pads. Wash them and reuse them again the next time. Repurpose a plastic bag holder as a rag dispenser — pull them out through the opening in the bottom and, after they are washed, put them in the top.

So your challenge for today: find one cleaning recipe to try and see if you can eliminate at least two ready-made cleaning products from your cabinets. Be sure to dispose of any toxic products safely (check your local government’s website for where to dispose of hazardous materials in your community).

What to do when one person abhors clutter and the other attracts it

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage “opposites attract.” In my experience with home organizing, I’ve found that opposites do attract more often than not. One person is usually a neatnik — thrilled by clear surfaces and closet organization. The other is a pack rat — inspired by the endless potential of stuff, glorious stuff! When these two extremes live together, sooner or later, conflicts arise. How can you make it work? Surprisingly, it has very little to do with the stuff itself and a lot to do with mindset.

The first trick is to realize that neatniks and pack rats are two completely different species, so to make living together harmonious, you need to think about habitats. A bird and a fish may be able to live comfortably in the same house, but not in the same container. Put the bird in the bowl and she’ll drown. Put the fish in the cage and she’ll asphxiate. To make it work, both parties must agree on a standard for common areas and carve out a place where one can sing and the other can swim.

Nine steps to create a co-habitable household:

  1. Agree to the acceptable uses for shared areas. For example, you might agree that the living room is to be used for watching TV, reading, and playing games.
  2. Remove anything that is not associated with those activities from the shared area. In the example of the living room, this would mean no craft supplies, dishes, laundry, or egg incubators.
  3. Create specific homes for everything that belongs in the shared room — a bookcase for books, a drawer for videos, a cabinet for games. Labeling makes it easier for visual people to remember what goes where.
  4. Return each item to its home after each use. If it doesn’t have a home, it can’t stay.
  5. Make a sign to hang at the entrance of the room:

    THIS ROOM IS FOR WATCHING TV, READING, AND PLAYING GAMES
    Anything not used for these purposes must stay away!

  6. Anyone breaking the rule can be fined. Use the money to hire a cleaner or go out to dinner.
  7. Set aside a few minutes each day to patrol the room. Use a hamper or basket to collect items that don’t belong. If something has a home elsewhere, put it back. If not, hold an “auction” to give household members a chance to bid on it. If they buy it, they have to find a home for it.
  8. Anything not bid on is going … going … gone! Same for anything that repeatedly ends up back in the basket. Take these items to a local charity and feel good about having fewer items to take care of.
  9. Find at least one place in the home for neatniks to live unfettered by clutter and one place for pack rats to stash their collections. Respect these separate spaces!

How to stay positive when the going gets tough:

No matter how successful you are at establishing shared and separate zones, you are still likely to run into differences of opinion about both. Before becoming combative over any stuff-related arguments, remember why you are together — love, money, you lost the key to the handcuffs, whatever. The point is, there is a reason you are living together. Remembering that reason may help you calm down when you are feeling frustrated. Try the practice of gratitude, in which you intentionally focus on the blessings in your life, no matter how small. This makes less room in your head and heart for the negative voices and can improve your patience and sense of well-being. When you are in a good place, you are less likely to say snarky things that will get the other person’s defenses up. Let me assure you, once the defenses are up, change is just not going to happen.

Lastly, consider the fact that objects are like ink blots. Rarely do two people see the same thing and what they do see depends largely on past experiences and perspective. The overflow of crafting supplies looks like crazy-making chaos to one person, but is a beautiful harmony of endless potential to another. The clear counter-tops that make one partner hum with contentment remind the other of a sterile hospital stay when no one came to visit. So you must be patient with each other. Say what you see and ask the other person to do the same. Try to see the space through each other’s eyes, and, please, keep your sense of humor. If you need an outside perspective, ask a neutral third party or hire a home organizer or other professional to be your mediator.

With large doses of patience and humor, you will be able to see the other’s sleek scales or resplendent plumage and recognize how truly glorious our differences make us.

It is important to note that if the health and safety of household members is compromised by behavior at either end of the spectrum, the above strategies are not enough. Please consult a professional with licensed credentials in these extreme circumstances.

A too-small house?

Today’s guest post is by Amanda Scudder, Organizing Consultant with the company Abundance Organizing. Please give her a nice welcome.

There is a Yiddish folktale about a man whose house is too small and noisy. Seeking a solution, he consults the wise woman of the village. She advises him to bring a chicken into his house. He does, but it makes his house seem even smaller and louder, so he again seeks her council. She tells him to add a goat. Not surprisingly, the goat makes the situation worse, not better. Each time he returns to complain, she tells him to bring another animal into the house. Finally, in exasperation, he returns to the wise woman and tells her that he can’t stand another minute of living in this increasingly cramped, cluttered, and noisy house. She smiles and tells him to go home and let all the animals out. He does so and as he shoos the last goat and chicken out the door he looks around at his now spacious dwelling and savors the calm quiet that surrounds him.

Not unlike this man, many of us find ourselves living in a space that feels cramped and chaotic. Our closets are overflowing, our children’s toys are everywhere, and our basements are jam-packed. So we add more — bigger closets, a larger house with a playroom, a storage unit to hold the overflow. But the more we add, the more chaotic things seem to get. Take a minute to think about the “animals” that have come into your home over the years, be they more stuffed animals than there are days in the year, clothes that no longer fit or flatter, gadgets that sounded good on TV but now sit in a corner collecting dust, equipment from hobbies long forgotten, or more activities and commitments than you can reasonably accomplish. Some of the “animals” might even be day planners or organizing products you’ve brought home hoping they would make your life less busy and cluttered.

I suggest that today is the day to start shooing those animals out. You don’t need to evict all of them at once. Even a few less chickens and goats will make a big difference. Where to start? Pick a number — any number — and find that many items in your home to let go. You make the rules — it could be 23 things from the junk drawer (bread ties count) or 8 unused condiments from your refrigerator or 16 items of clothing or 5 things from under your sink. The trick is just to do it. I’m willing to bet that when you are done, your drawer or refrigerator or cabinet will seem a little bit bigger. You will feel a little bit lighter. Commit to repeating this exercise on a regular basis and you will soon find that your house is calmer and less cluttered. You might even discover that you don’t need a bigger closet, house, or storage unit once the excess has been removed.

When you first start practicing this exercise, you may worry you will regret giving some of your “animals” the boot. If so, here is a strategy to help: Put the items you are evicting into a bag or box marked with the date. Put the bag or box in a closet, basement, garage, under the bed, or any other out of the way place. On your calendar, mark a date one to three months down the road. If, by that date, you haven’t needed anything in the bag or box, commit to letting it go without looking in it. You may even have forgotten what is in there.