Ice Box Art

It isn’t often that I get Christmas gifts that reduce clutter, but this year my mom gave my family a gift that will help keep our kids’ artwork under control, and since I’d read some questions in the forums on the topic, I wanted to share the idea with you.

The first part of the gift is a simple acrylic sign holder with magnetic tape on the back. There are many ways that you can decorate this, or if your kids are a little older, have them decorate it themselves. Maybe create a decorative border, or include the child’s name. This gives them their own special place on the fridge, which is especially important if you have more than one child, and also helps you teach PEEP (a Place for Everything, Everything in its Place).

The other part of the gift is an album to be used when artwork comes off of the fridge. The album can include pages that hold the actual artwork, or just photographs of the artwork if your kids are very productive and you need to fit more in the album.

My son isn’t even one year old yet, but I can’t wait to start displaying his artwork on the fridge with this uncluttered and fun system!

Multipurpose games

Winter is having its way with the midwest again, and for many families that means indoor activities such as board and card games. But as we all know, with board games comes clutter.

We’ve written before about ways to store board games. You can get rid of the packaging, or even use the board game as artwork.

Another possibility is to buy games that serve multiple purposes.

A simple deck of cards is the most versatile piece of gaming equipment ever. There are hundreds of card games that you can play with a standard deck of 52 cards. Avoid specialty cards by playing Crazy Eights with your kids instead of Uno, then remove the queen of clubs to play a game of Old Maid.

You can also expand your indoor activity alternatives with a multipurpose game board that utilizes the same board and pieces for many different games. This certainly won’t replace classic favorites like Monopoly, but it’s a good way to supplement without buying dozens of board games that you’ll play once. A high quality board can even serve as decor.

Workspace of the Week: Honoring Mementos

This week’s Workspace of the Week is fun9us’s fun work room:

This workspace is a great example of how to honor one’s mementos. fun9us features his collection of Japanese toys as the focal point for a fun and inspiring workspace. The collection is well organized, contained, and creates an inspiring work environment.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Build your own recyclable furniture with Grid Beam

Over the years, I’ve moved at least a dozen times. Assembling, disassembling and reassembling desks, bed frames, and bookshelves–most of which was never meant to be disassembled. Frequent relocation like this isn’t uncommon, especially for younger people moving out on their own for the first time.

Entire businesses have been built around selling furniture that people assemble themselves, and only expect to use for a few years. Sure, you may take it with you to your next apartment. It might even survive two moves. But eventually, you’ll replace it with either another inexpensive piece, or something more permanent. The dumpsters in the alley behind my apartment usually have a couple discarded tables or bookshelves.

But there may be a more economical way.

The idea has been around since the 70’s, but seems to be gaining more popularity now. The concept is that you use a few standard modular components that can be assembled, disassembled, and reconfigured in numerous ways to create whatever structure you need at the moment. When you’re finished with the item, you take it apart and easily store, give away, or construct something else with the pieces. An erector set on a human scale.

There are numerous possibilities. Everything from temporary furniture to animatronic holiday decorations, and just about any other temporary structure you can think of.

If you have younger kids, you can help them build a fort in the back yard. A teenager going off to college or getting a first apartment can easily construct a portable bed, desk, or shelving unit. A young couple buying a first house can quickly and inexpensively furnish several rooms with pieces to be replaced with nicer furniture over time.

Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out the Gridbeamers website, or the book, How to Build with Grid Beam.

James Jamerson’s Uncluttered Bass Rig

I’ve written before about my constant battle with an affliction called Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). It’s an almost compulsive need to purchase new equipment in the firm belief that the new item, be it a guitar, amp, or effect pedal, will be the spark that ignites stale monotony into inspired genius. Sometimes it works, but I find that more often, buying new equipment is just a substitute for doing the hard work required to be creative.

This isn’t unique to musicians. Most hobbies require some type of equipment, and therefore present the temptation to acquire more or better gear. We’ve covered the topic of breaking up with a hobby, but an alternative is to simply try to do more with less.

Over the weekend I happened to watch a fascinating documentary called Standing in the Shadows of Motown and I was inspired by the minimal amount of equipment that James Jamerson used. His bass playing on hit songs such as “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” helped define the Motown sound, and completely revolutionized the role of bass in popular music. Jamerson’s influence permeates so much of modern music that it would be nearly impossible to list it all, yet his bass rig was very minimalist. Just an upright acoustic bass, and later his 1962 Fender Precision Bass were all he used for most of his studio recordings. The bass was simply plugged directly into the mixing console.

One of my resolutions for 2010 is to buy less hobby-related equipment. Instead, I’m going to try to follow Jamerson’s example, and look for ways to do more with less.

Three year end tasks to take the edge off tax time

Now that 2009 is over, don’t wait until April to start getting your taxes in order. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Terry Savage suggests three tasks that you can do now if you plan to itemize your deductions.

If you don’t currently have a system, don’t worry. All you need are a few plastic sandwich bags and a shoebox:

  • Put all those deductible receipts in separate baggies — taxi receipts, dues and subscriptions, unreimbursed business expense receipts, and the letters you’ll receive certifying your charitable donations.
  • If you’re banking online, print out your check register. Or download the year’s banking into a Quicken file. Take all your monthly statements, put an elastic band around them and throw them in the shoebox as well. If you’re still using a paper check register, ask your bank for a new one to start 2010. Put the old one in the shoebox.
  • Prepare a file for your year-end investment statements, which will start arriving in January. The ones from your 40l(k) or IRA won’t have an impact on your taxes, but it’s nice to keep them all together. That’s also where you’ll stash your W-2 from work, and any 1099 forms that arrive in January, showing interest or dividends or capital gains.

The best part about doing this now is that it serves two purposes. First, when April rolls around, you’ll be prepared. Second, you can start 2010 with drawers free of receipts.

Follow the Unclutterer Forums with RSS

If you use an RSS reader to follow your favorite blogs, you can easily keep track of what’s going on in our new forums. Add the feed for latest topics or all the latest posts. You can even follow specific topics using the RSS link just below each topic’s title, or create an RSS feed of your own by adding topics as favorites.

After you add Unclutterer’s forum feeds to your RSS reader, jump in and join one of the following new discussions:

Or start one of your own.

O’Reilly wants to help with your computer book clutter

cover-scalaAs one of the programmers here at Unclutterer, I spend quite a bit of time educating myself on new technologies. My bookshelf is pretty crowded, mostly with books that I’ve already read, and now only need to refer to once in awhile.

I’ve been looking for a good way to unclutter my programming bookshelf, so I was excited to find out that O’Reilly, one of the foremost publishers of technology books, is currently running a promotion to allow owners of paper versions of their books to buy ebook versions at a substantial discount of only $4.99 per book.

While many people prefer paper versions of books for readability, ebook versions have a few notable advantages that make them particularly useful when it comes to technology books.

  • Tech books are typically big and take up a lot of shelf space. Ebook versions are quite a bit smaller, and take up approximately zero shelf space.
  • Code samples cannot be cut and pasted from paper books. Some books include an additional DVD, or link to a website, that contains sample code. This is unnecessary with an ebook, and can save a lot of time when trying to learn new concepts quickly.
  • Ebook text can be searched much more easily than paper text. Especially across multiple books at once.
  • Ebooks make it possible to take your bookshelf with you on the road, and nobody wants to be anchored to an office just because that’s where his books are.

To take advantage of this offer:

  • Visit oreilly.com and log in to your account, or create a new one.
  • Register each book you own using its 13 digit ISBN number.
  • Find one of your registered books in the O’Reilly store and add the ebook version to your shopping cart.
  • Enter the discount code 499UP during checkout.

The promotion runs through the month of October.

Sheetseat eco-friendly and ultra-storable folding chair

With the theme of Thursday’s Blog Action Day being climate change, we’ve been thinking more about green organizing and uncluttering. Even just rethinking everyday items can make a small difference, like the Lunch Skins that Erin posted about on Tuesday.

I’m always a big fan of new solutions to old problems, so I was impressed with Ufuk Keskin’s unique take on portable seating with his Sheetseat folding chair:

Folding chairs are certainly not a new concept — the idea dates back around 4000 years to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt — but Keskin’s Sheetseat is the first I’ve seen that collapses down to a thickness of a mere thee quarters of an inch.

The simplicity of this design and the use of little more than a small sheet of plywood make the Sheetseet quite environmentally friendly. And the fact that you can easily store seating for six friends inconspicuously behind a curtain or couch, or under a bed, is about as uncluttered as you can get.

Keep notes close with a pocket briefcase

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of using 3×5 cards to capture and organize tasks and ideas, but they can be somewhat inconvenient to use. Various cases and Hipster PDAs attempt to make note cards easily accessible, but they rely on carrying around yet another item in your pocket.

Last year, I picked up a Pocket Briefcase, which has now become one of my favorite organizational tools. Instead of carrying around a wallet and a stack of note cards, I’m able to carry just a wallet, because the cards fit inside. This particular briefcase has a pocket for cash, slots for a few debit and ID cards, and two pockets to organize used cards. I recently went on a trip out of the US and discovered that my Pocket Briefcase will even fit my passport.

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This works for me because even when I don’t want to carry a notebook, I’m always carrying my wallet, so I’m never without a pen and paper. If you use note cards with your personal information on them, then you’re carrying business cards too!

Levenger’s pocket briefcase isn’t cheap, so if you want to see if this kind of tool will work for you without spending a lot of money, you can find similar items in many stores that carry office supplies.

DIY everyday camera bag

The primary disadvantage of DSLR cameras is the inconvenience of trying to carry them everywhere. In searching for the perfect everyday camera bag, I found that bags for cameras are designed to carry only camera equipment. Some backpacks will fit a laptop and a few personal items, but if you prefer a messenger bag, there really isn’t any middle ground.

But it turns out that Timbuk2’s new Commute 2.0 bag is just the right size for adding a single insert to carry a DSLR. Two inserts that seem to be the right size are the Billingham 12-21 Superflex insert and the Domke FA-211 insert. I didn’t really feel like paying $30 for this experiment, so I constructed one myself from some foam and duct tape, then attached it to the inside of the bag with industrial strength Velcro. I’ve been using it for a couple of months now, and it has held up nicely.

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As you can see, there is plenty of room for my camera, along with the other items that I like to carry with me. If i need to bring my laptop, there’s a zipper compartment on the outside of the bag so that the laptop doesn’t take up interior space.

How I keep project clutter under control

I’m a project guy. It’s rare that I don’t have four or five small projects going on at once, and since I’m not a neat person by nature, it’s very easy for me to let clutter get out of control.

About six months ago, I replaced the shelf that I was storing my printers on with Elfa drawers. This created the opportunity for a whole new project organization system.

Several of the drawers on the left serve as storage for office supplies. Most of the drawers on the right are for my photo printer paper. And the drawers in the center are individual projects.

Each drawer slides all the way out, so when I want to work on a particular project, I can bring the whole drawer to my desk. When I’m finished, the entire project slides back into the cabinet. I never feel like I’m actually cleaning up, but everything remains much more organized than it would otherwise be.

The whole thing is on casters, so I can roll it out away from the wall when I’m printing with really large paper, or I can store unfinished paintings against the wall behind it.