Organize the bedroom once and for all

“Clean your room!”

Those three words have haunted kids and teenagers almost for as long as there have been kids and teenagers. Even as an adult, I don’t always have time to keep my bedroom neat and tidy. If you’re in the same boat, here are some tips on maintaining a tidy, organized bedroom once and for all.

The power of ten minutes

You can accomplish quite a bit in ten minutes! If you’re like me and busy with kids, work, and family life, something as simple as making your bed regularly falls by the wayside. Here’s how to keep on top of things in just ten minutes.

  1. Understand that this will not be a deep clean, and give yourself permission for that to be okay. We are simply going to tidy up.
  2. Grab a garbage bag, some surface cleaner, a rag, and some window cleaner.
  3. As you do a quick dusting on flat surfaces, move items that are not where they belong.
  4. If there’s no designated place for a certain item, put it in a “homeless items” pile.
  5. Make your bed and clean windows.
  6. Go back and find a home for the “homeless items” you collected earlier.

Making this routine a habit will prevent the pile up of misplaced items — and dust.

Next, I want to discuss furniture arrangement. Most bedrooms are rather small and that determines what can be placed in the bedroom, and how it is arranged. Still, thoughtful planning can result in a more consistently tidy room, particularly by eliminating invitations to clutter.

Be mindful of your laundry area

Dedicate the smallest amount of bedroom real estate to laundry as you can get away with. In my experience, a laundry pile grows to accommodate the space allotted for it. Find a small, unobtrusive area for a compact basket. You could also consider a door-hanging model like the Laundry Hook. Keeping dirty laundry up and out of the way can eliminate the temptation to let a sock or two spill onto the floor.

An industrial coat rack

My wife and I bought two commercial-grade rolling garment racks a few years ago and we love them. They tuck into a closet or corner when not in use, and are easily rolled around when needed.

Hidden storage

When shopping for the bedroom, look for furniture with hidden storage. Under-bed storage is great (as long as you keep it tidy), but also look for something as simple as an ottoman with an internal compartment. It offers double-duty as a seat and an out-of-sight storage unit. It’s a great place to hide extra blankets, off-season clothing, etc. A bedside table with storage can be used to hide slippers or your CPAP machine.

Drawer organization

Use clothing organizers to keep drawers neat and tidy. They are great for your socks and underwear. Non-slip drawer liner placed in the bottom of drawers will help keep loose items from rolling around.

Keep the top of the dresser organized, too. Personally, I don’t put anything on my dresser top, as I know that, for me, one item will become two, then three, then the whole thing is covered. By maintaining a clean surface, I don’t stray from the system I use inside the drawers.

Rotate seasonally

Move off-season items somewhere else. Buy some bins, add labels, and move the summer clothes (or winter, depending on the season) to a long-term storage area such as your basement or guest closet.

Keep shoes elsewhere

I live and die by this rule: no shoes in the bedroom. It might sound a little crazy, but shoes tend to pile up, get strewn about, trip me in the middle of the night, and otherwise make a nuisance of themselves as soon as they leave my feet. Instead, they stay by the door on a boot mat.

There you have some quick tips for maintaining a tidy bedroom all year long. Now, when someone tells you, “Clean your room,” you can answer, “I’m way ahead of you.”

Storing leftovers

As the holidays approach many of us will be cooking more than we typically do. Some will serve elaborate meals to their families and guests. Much food will be consumed, but not all — and that means leftovers.

We’ve written about leftover storage before, as well as tips for eliminating food waste but today I want to share a product I’ve been using for about a year with great success: the “Brilliance” containers by Rubbermaid.

When my wife first brought these home, I became nostalgic for the great glass containers from Pyrex that my mother used. The Brilliance containers are about the same size in shape, but made of plastic with a tightly-sealing lid. They stack nicely and offer a few great advantages while in the refrigerator.

First, they are completely transparent, so you needn’t play that fun guessing game, “What’s In This One?” A quick glance answers that question. Because they are made of BPA-free plastic, it makes them lighter than glass containers and less likely to break when dropped.

What really sets these apart from their vintage counterparts is the tight locking lid. There is a strip of sealant that runs along the inside of the lid, which has two strong clips, one on each side. To secure the lid, simply push it into place and click down the two clips. Voilà, it’s closed. In the year that we’ve been using these, we’ve never had a leak, even when I used one to bring soup to work in a lunch box that got jostled around. When not in use the nest for easy storage.

However, I have observed that after a year of use the formerly crystal-clear plastic has gotten a bit cloudy. I’m sure the many passes through the dishwasher had something to do with that. Not overly cloudy — you can still see the contents easily — but they’re not as brilliant as they once were. Of course, that does not affect functionality in the slightest. I really love these containers and I expect to use them for many years.

Now my question to you: how do you store leftovers? Have a favorite container or routine for avoiding the “science experiments” that happen when leftovers sit around to long? Please share in the comments below.

How to store hats, gloves, and boots

Unsure of how to store hats, gloves, scarves, and boots for a clutter-free winter? It’s challenging to find the perfect solution as it needs to accommodates wet and muddy items, and items in the process of drying out. It also has to be accessible and preferably not an eyesore. Jackets and boots are bulky, while loose hats, mittens, and scarves are always getting lost. My kids typically lose a mitten or a glove, which magically returns only after I’ve purchased a replacement pair. If you’re struggling with storage of winter outerwear, check out this handy three-step solution.

Sort and purge

The sort stage features several steps. First, separate items by owner. Last week I opened up the bench that serves as our off-season, out-of-sight storage for these items, and sorted everything into four piles: one per person. With that done, everyone examined their pile and identified what they wanted to keep. What didn’t fit was donated and items that were worn out were turned into rags or tossed.

It’s helpful to keep a running list of what’s needed. I like to have two of everything so if, for example, one hat is too wet to wear, there is a dry one waiting. Make a list of who needs new gear while you sort.

Next, sort by type. That is, gloves together, hats together, etc. Now when I need my work gloves vs. my snow-shoveling gloves, I can get right to them. The same applies to all family members.

Find a storage area

Once the keepers have been sorted, the unwanted has been trashed or donated, and any outstanding purchases have been made, it’s time to find a place for it all to live. This isn’t as simple as buying a few labeled bins. Like I said, many of these items will spend time dirty and/or wet. So carefully consider your storage system.

First, find a spot as close to the door as possible. You don’t want snow-covered kids trotting halfway across the house before disrobing. This prevents a large, snowy mess as well as the likelihood that something will get lost.

Next, get a boot tray(s) to keep wet boots together and off of the floor. You can even use these for wet gloves/mittens and hats. Just lay them flat to dry. Here’s a trick: buy a pool noodle, cut it in half and place it inside tall boots to keep them upright.

If you’ve got floor space a mitten-boot dryer is a helpful addition to an entryway. An over-the-door towel bar can also provide a place for wet items to dry without taking up floor space. These hanger clips makes it easy to pin mittens and hats to the towel bar.

It’s also nice to have a place to sit, as that makes it easier to remove bulky items. A folding stool is handy as it can easily slide inside a closet when not being used.

Set rules and stick to them

It takes time to form a new habit. If your family is used to plopping winter outerwear wherever, don’t expect them to adhere to the new system right away. Instead, label storage areas for a gentle but persistent reminder, and have people get into the habit of removing those items in the designated spot.

It’s getting cold outside but winter hasn’t officially arrived yet. Take this weekend to get your winter storage strategy in place and by the time the snow starts to fall, you’ll be ready.

Organize for holiday house guests

As November gives way to December, it’s time to prepare for holiday guests. You’ll be ready in no time by systematically going through each room/area of your house or apartment. Here’s a simple plan for organizing the house in time to welcome holiday guests.

The front door

Let’s begin right at the front door. This is where guests will want to remove coats, hats, boots, and so on. When I was a kid, visiting grandma meant piling coats on her bed until we were ready to leave. That’s fine for a quick visit, but not when a guests stay for several days. Get the front entrance closet ready by finding a new, temporary home for the many coats, jackets, vacuum bags, flashlights, etc. that live in there so that guests may comfortably store their own items inside.

Some guests will have their hands full with luggage or housewarming gifts so make sure there is plenty of designated room for all of these things. Ideally you would have:

  1. A coat rack or some decent hangers if you have a closet.
  2. A designated surface to receive items like housewarming gifts, potluck dishes, or anything that needs a temporary landing spot.
  3. A spot for boots, hats, gloves, and other wet items that won’t make it into your house proper. I have one of these boot trays and I love it, as it’s an obvious place to put wet, muddy footwear and quite durable.
  4. A space to receive bulky luggage, or a clear path from the door to each bag’s home for the duration of your guest’s visit.

A big part of accommodating your visitor’s stuff is getting your own things out of the way. Prior to receiving company, clear away any family members’ shoes that are not being worn regularly by storing extras in their owners’ bedroom closets while guests are visiting.

Guest room

First, clear out anything that’s yours, like spare change, jewelry, bathrobes, and so on. Next, I like to make a small guest basket of little things they might need but forget, or items that can’t be carried easily on an airplane. For example, travel-sized toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and shower gel, pain reliever, toothpaste, lotion, makeup-removing wipes, mouthwash, disposable razors, and dental floss. You can tuck these into a basket or caddy that can easily be carried in and out of the bathroom.

Bathroom

Keep bathroom essentials in plain sight. You don’t want anyone to get “stuck” when they can’t find a roll of toilet paper! While you might ordinarily keep these items tucked away, move them into an obvious, accessible location during your guests’ stay. Also, make sure there are plenty of towels and wash cloths available and accessible.

Living room

A few years ago my wife and I started writing out exactly how to use our electronics, like the TV. While we’ve got the routine memorized — use the grey remote to turn the TV on, then hit the red button before picking up the black remote — it’s a mystery to visitors. A set of clear, concise instructions for the television, stereo, etc. makes guests very happy. You might want to share your Wi-Fi password as well, or even create a temporary one for guests.

We also have a collection of take-out menus that we also set out for guests, as well as descriptions of local points of interest, directions to nearby bank machines and gas stations.

Unfortunately the holidays can be stressful. However, with a little planning, you can make this time of year more enjoyable for you and your guests.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Tech Gadgets

Holiday shopping time is here, and with it comes the opportunity to buy cool tools! Here are our picks for super-cool gadgets that the tech-friendly unclutterers on your list will love.

The iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit contains unique and essential tools for most electronics repairs like screen and battery replacements. It’s also useful for repairing other electronics and household appliances. It has a great little carrying case with designated spots for each tool so you know where everything belongs and can easily see when something is missing. If there’s a tinkerer on your list, or someone who wants to save money by doing repairs at home, this toolkit is a great gift.

The Automatic Pro is a small device that plugs into a port that most contemporary cars have. Once in place, it provides a whole host of useful information to the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android), including:

  • Diagnostics of engine warning lights
  • Parking tracking
  • Expense tracking for business travel
  • Crash detection and response

There’s even cool collaboration with existing apps and services. For example, have your Hue Lights turn on as you pull into the driveway, set your Nest thermostat to turn the heat down as you pull away or log trip distances onto a Google document automatically.

The KBAR USB charger looks like a power strip but don’t let that fool you. This charger has eight USB ports that intelligently charge up to eight high-power mobile devices like iPads, Android tablets, and full-sized smartphones simultaneously. I say “intelligently” because the KBAR recognizes all of these devices and charges them at their maximum designed speed. Plus, the built-in surge protection helps keep them safe during a electrical power fluctuations.

Finally, I want to mention the PIXNOR 7-piece tweezers set. I seem to always have trouble finding a pair of tweezers when I need them, let alone the right tweezers. This kit offers a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. Whether it’s removing a sliver from your finger or performing a precision repair, this kit has precisely what you need. At a little under ten dollars, it’s a super deal.

There you have our recommendations for gadget gifts for the organized. Happy shopping. Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids

Buying organization-minded gifts for kids and teenagers is always a challenge. Being young, they often want fun gifts over practical. With that in mind, we’ve worked to assemble a list of gift ideas that satisfy both the desire for something fun and cool as well as something that is practical and useful. Here’s our uncluttered holiday gift guide for kids.

The Lay N Go bag/play mat is made of durable materials. Its clever design results in a play mat that is also a super convenient storage bag. It is perfect for the kids who play with LEGO bricks, Matchbox cars, or anything else that is a collection of small, easy-to-lose pieces. Place it down and spread out for play time, and then cinch it closed for easy storage when play time is over. Additionally, if you’re going to travel with children and some of their stuff, this is a great way to transport it all.

My high school-aged daughter is just starting to explore makeup. Before her collection overtakes her desk, we got her a decent desktop makeup organizer, much like this one. It is big enough to hold all of her cosmetics (I recently learned what a “palette” is), yet not so massive that it covers her entire desk. Plus, she thinks it’s pretty sophisticated.

I think this Brick Building Play Mat is pretty nifty. It’s similar to the Lay N Go, though it’s more for play that storage. Unroll it and it serves as a base for LEGO or DUPLO bricks. Again, this is great for travel and anytime an impromptu play surface is called for. When not in use, it simply rolls up for easy storage.

While we’re taking about LEGO bricks, grab a Brick Popper for the fan on your list. They’re extremely handy for releasing those stubborn bricks that just don’t want to let go once secured to a surface.

For older kids who play sports, consider the Wet Gear-Hockey Equipment Dryer Rack. It’s a great way to store gear in one place and dry it out between games (to avoid that “used sports equipment” odor). While designed for hockey gear, it would work just as well for football, soccer, lacrosse gear and more.

OK, the Baby Keepsake Library isn’t technically for the baby, but it is pretty great. This collapsible collection of keepsake boxes is the perfect way to preserve records of baby’s many “firsts.” It’s all made of acid-free paper for careful preservation of these initial treasures. It comes with 50+ labels, nine drawers, eight vertical files and options for customization.

There you have several options for gifts for the kids (and one for mom and dad). Happy shopping! In the meantime, feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Stocking stuffers

For me, the best part of giving at the holiday season is stuffing a stocking with small, unexpected, useful items. The kind that surprise and delight the recipient. If you feel the same way, check out our suggestions for those on your list who love to be organized.

A good pocket knife

You cannot go wrong with a good pocket knife. They are immensely useful, convenient, and inexpensive. You can go crazy pouring over every option, but I rely on the Swiss Classic SD as my main carry. I’ve got two, in fact: one on my set of car keys and other on my wife’s. I’ve used mine to open packages, cut rope and string, remove tags from clothing (It easily slices through those annoy plastic rings!), tighten/loosen screws, and open letters.

If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, I recommend the Leatherman Wave, as it has a great mix of tools, is solidly built, and has a nice ergonomic design.

A Grid-It organizer

The Grid-It’s tagline of “the ultimate organizer” may be hyperbole, but not by much. This unassuming little tool comes in several sizes and can hold everything from business cards to cellphones, cables, pens, Altoids tins, and more. It’s secure and reliable. Keep it in a bag, use it for travel, or organize a junk drawer once and for all. They are also great for students who have limited storage space in dorm rooms.

IKEA cable management set

This cable management set from IKEA made my heart skip a beat. Get those cables under control and out of the way. Even if the people on your list have modest cable organization needs, they will appreciate getting them neatly arranged.

A portable scanner

A scanner can be such a boon to organization. Whether the goal is to go paperless or get documents quickly organized in the cloud, a scanner will get the job done. Since we’re discussing stocking stuffers here, we recommend the Doxie Go SE. It’s portable, wireless, and connects to cloud services like Dropbox, Evernote, and Apple’s iCloud. You can expand its memory with an SD card and when connected to Wi-Fi, it can even scan without a computer!

Instant Bag Hanger

The Instant Bag Hanger is a little metal ring which, when opened, lets you hang nearly any bag that weights up to 30 pounds from a counter top, table, cubicle, bathroom door, stroller handles etc. If you’ve ever had that moment of “What do I do with my bag?”, here is the answer. Plus, there is no need to search for it when you need it: simply clip it to the exterior of the bag for easy retrieval. This is one of those gifts that I end up buying twice: once for my recipient, and again for me.

Amazon home cleaning services

You might not know this, but Amazon can hook you up with a house cleaner. Depending on where you live, you may have access to Amazon Home Services (click to confirm availability in your area). Simply provide some information like the size of your house, the type of cleaning you’d like completed, and the number of worker hours you expect. It could be quite nice to receive a post-holiday clean up.

Personal library kit

Finally, here is one for anyone who likes to loan novels, cookbooks or even tabletop games. The Personal Library Kit uses old-fashioned library lending techniques for an organized bit of nostalgic fun. Lend your items with confidence that they will be returned.

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

Organizing bathroom towels

The bathroom is one of the hardest-working rooms in your home, and that’s why proper organization is crucial. I’ll leave the medicine cabinet, cleaning supplies, etc. for another time. In this article, I want to look at towels.

In my house, we have three types of towels:

  • Bath towels
  • Hand towels
  • Beach towels

What to buy

When purchasing towels — and this may sound counter-intuitive — ignore your experience with in-store softness. Wise manufacturers add softeners to their products for a great, but temporary, feel. Instead, check the label for 100% water-loving combed cotton. The combing process removes the shorter strands, resulting in a towel of longer fibers that will absorb lots of water and resist pilling.

Give your potential purchase a good visual inspection, too. If you can see the towel’s surface through the fibers, put it back and move on. You’re looking for a dense collection of fibers. Also, pick it up. A great towel will feel heavier than it looks. Finally, look for towels with double stitching on the edges. This will reduce fraying and help ensure a long life.

Most of this applies to buying beach towels, with two exceptions. First, look for selvage edging instead of double stitching. Selvage resists unraveling, which is important as beach towels are subjected to rougher treatment than those used in the bathroom. Also, look for a yarn-dyed pattern, meaning each individual loop is dyed through. It will be less likely to fade.

When you’re choosing towels, consider simplifying your laundry routine as well. As color-saturated towels should be washed separately, consider choosing towels of the same color, or in the same color family.

How many to buy

We suggest three towels per person (one in use, one for the linen closet, and one for the laundry). Although, people who do laundry frequently may just need two (one in use, and one for the laundry). You should also buy two bath and hand towels for each guest, plus two washcloths daily.

Where to store them

I like to keep towels highly visible and accessible. The greatest trick I’ve seen in a while is to use shelf dividers. You’ll easily fit three or four folded towels between brackets and up to six if the towels are rolled.

There needs to be a place to dry towels. I have a peg rack on the back of the door that is a good spot for wet towels to dry off. Our beach towels dry outside.

How to determine what to replace

When towels get frayed, snagged, or begin to fall apart, it’s time to get rid of them. Washcloths can become rags for the household or garage, while larger towels can be donated to an animal shelter.

You can easily stay on top of this area with a little planning and careful shopping. You can check out our other post on managing towels and if you have any tips to share with fellow readers, please add them in the comments below.

Easily save and sort Gmail with G-Save

This is no surprise, but Unclutterer readers are a productive, clever bunch. Recently, a reader wrote in with a project that further reinforced this fact. Kate shared a great Google Chrome extension that she and some co-workers created called “G-Save,” which makes the company’s Gmail service just a little more pleasant to use.

Google Chrome Extensions are “…small software programs that can modify and enhance the functionality of the Chrome browser.” Chrome extensions often make a certain website or service easier to use, by adding additional or alternate functionality, etc. There are many extensions available across multiple categories, including productivity-enhancing gems like Papier, which lets you quickly jot down notes and random thoughts, and Taco, which lets you easily enter tasks and other information into the project managers Wunderlist, Evernote, Asana, Basecamp and Trello.

Installation

Kate’s G-Save has a sharper focus. Specifically, it lets you quickly and easily save emails and their attachments to some location outside of you email client, like Google Drive, Drop Box, Outlook…really anywhere you what.

Setup is so minimal it’s barely worth a mention. First, open the Chrome browser on your computer and navigate to G-Save’s home. Next, click the “Add to Chrome” button in the upper-right. You’ll get a confirmation window. Click “Add extension.” That’s it. You’re done. A small, red Gmail icon appears on the right-hand side of your browser’s toolbar.

G-Save is platform-agnostic, so it doesn’t care if you’re using a PC or a Mac. Here’s how to use it.

Use

With installation complete, it’s time to try this out. Open Gmail in Chrome and you’ll see a new button labeled “Save Email” beneath the familiar “Compose” button. To save a message, simply select it in the list and then click Save Email. The message and any attachments it contains are saved in a universal EML file, with any email client can read.

This appealed to me because I’m a huge opponent of using your email client as a filing cabinet/to-do list. G-Save lets you move messages out of Gmail and into relevant folders, be they for a project, reference storage and so on.

When a new email message arrives, you must ask yourself, “What is this?” It sounds silly but it’s crucial. There are three possible answers:

  1. It’s garbage
  2. It’s something I need to do
  3. It’s something I might refer to later

That’s it. Every message you will ever receive will fall into these three categories.

The first one is simple. Spam, advertising you aren’t interested in, messages from old mailing lists you’ve lost interest in, etc. It’s all in the garbage category, so trash it — immediately.

The next category is the action category. These messages require someone — typically you — to do something. For instance, “Call Jane about the committee meeting,” “Forward the presentation to Frank,” or “Ask Faith about the camping trip next week.” Once you’ve identified what the required action is, make note of it in the appropriate place (on your to-do list or calendar) and then delete the message. Unless your company requires you to retain your email for legal reasons, then move it to an archive folder.

The final category is reference material. These messages do not require action, but they do hold information that could be useful someday. Identify what that information is, (sewing patterns, recipes, etc.) store it in the appropriate place and then delete the email. Yes, delete it. G-Save makes this simple.

Do what must be done

This step is a biggie. Just as you don’t pull a hot turkey out of the oven without first knowing where you’re going to set it down, you should’t delete that email message until you’ve identified a trusted place to put its important information. This is what David Allen calls a “trusted system.” Essentially, it’s an obvious, reliable stake in the ground that holds your information.

Congratulations to Kate and her colleagues for creating such a useful tool. Thanks for sharing and I hope you, dear reader, find a place for G-Save on your computer, too. I know it’s on mine.

Uncluttering your digital junk drawers

The proliferation of inexpensive cloud services offer near-ubiquitous access to your files as well as something rather insidious: an out-of-sight, digital junk drawer. That drawer in your kitchen with the pens, receipts, batteries, fortune cookies from the 90’s, and who knows what else, is in your face every day. Its presence is a constant prompt to clean, sort, and organize. You tend to it because you see it.

Your Evernote account, however is hidden, just like your Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, or iCloud account. Digital files like documents, photos, music, and electronic receipts add up slowly but surely, and soon enough you’ve got a mountain of forgotten stuff just hanging out, taking up storage space.

Typically you’ll know it’s time to organize a digital junk drawer by observing how much time you spend searching for what you need. Instead of finding it right away, you scroll and scroll or use the search function, which may or may not be especially helpful. Suddenly that convenient storage solution is wasting time because it takes too long to find things and wasting money, as the cost of storage increases once you exceed your storage threshold.

The good news is it’s easy to clean out a digital junk drawer, as well as ensure it doesn’t get to a sorry state again. Here’s what we recommend.

Use the delete key

It’s time to get to know the delete key. Do not fear it. Instead, embrace its power and banish unwanted files to the Land of Wind and Ghosts.

I recently started to poke around my Dropbox folders. I found many documents I had not touched in months or years — parts of old projects long abandoned, screenshots I had no need for, old software I no longer wanted, unfinished articles that would never get written, etc. There was so much such stuff just sitting there, acting as clutter, hindering searches, and taking up precious space.

I took the time to go through each document, identify it, and if I no longer needed it, I deleted it. It felt great.

It is possible you’ll find documents that have been stored for a long time that you still need. That’s the difference between “reference” and “junk.” For example, the schedule for my local theatre is reference. It holds information that doesn’t require action, but might be useful in the future. User manuals and some receipts fall into this category, too.

Junk, on the other hand, has no value. That screenshot I took simply to post as a joke on Twitter? I don’t need that anymore so into the trash it goes.

A quick way to identify seldom-touched files is to sort a folder’s contents by “Date last opened” or “Date added.” Doing so gives you a clear picture of which files you use and which are collecting digital dust.

Be ruthless. Find a file, ask what it is, and act accordingly. When that’s done, it’s time to prevent it from happening again.

What’s in a name? Structure.

Many years ago, I came across a fantastic article from PC Magazine that tackled this topic beautifully. It’s about intelligent and purposeful naming. It suggests that file names meet the following criteria:

  • unique
  • indicative of what the file contains
  • in line with how you (or your business) thinks about information
  • “scannable”  (with the human eye) according to how you (or your employees) find information
  • naturally ordered alphabetically (or numerically)
  • consistent

I’ll let you read the whole article — you really should — but I’ll point out a couple of ideas here. First, the second item on the list, “indicative of what the file contains.” Photos are the biggest culprit here. Your camera or smartphone will give images names like “img5468.jpg.” That means nothing when your scanning through a list of files (more on that in a minute). Instead, use something like “201710WineTour.jpg.” That way you know exactly what it is from the title, and sorting is so much easier.

I touched on “scannable” above, but it’s worth repeating. Instead of scrolling while muttering to yourself, “Hold on, it’s in here somewhere,” you can see exactly what you want in an instant.

Also, consistency is key. It may take more time to rename files prior to storing them but it’s worth it when you consider the time saved on the other end.

This weekend, spend a little time with your digital junk drawers, be they a cloud service or even your computer’s own hard drive. It takes time to get sorted, yes, but it’s completely worth it.

How to reduce flat-surface clutter

What is it about flat surfaces that clutter loves so much? In our home, any horizontal plane is a potential landing area for keys, mail, hats, pens, and all manner of paper, receipts, permission slips, and flyers. I find myself plopping things down as often as I say, “Don’t just leave that there.” In this post I’ll try to unravel the siren song of flat surfaces and explore a few ways to keep them clear and clutter free.

The problem

Perhaps this is a familiar scenario: you come home from work or school, and plop your bag, computer, and keys down on the first open spot you see. “I’m glad to be free of that,” you think. Maybe you’ve also got some mail, a newspaper, or a flyer. It’s a lot of stuff and you know you’ll get to it later. So down it goes. No biggie.

Days go by and the pile grows. By the end of the week the original surface is no longer visible. You know you shouldn’t stack stuff there, but it still happens. Why? There are a myriad of potential reasons, of course, but I think there are two in particular that perpetuate this behavior in us.

Homeless stuff

I would wager that much of the stuff that ends up tossed onto any surface doesn’t have a designated “home,” or consistent landing area. At the end of the day, we’re tied of making decisions, the ease of simply placing something down beats the question, “Now where should I put this?” Decision fatigue is real, people.

To combat this in my own life, I bought a a small container for my keys, wallet, pocket notebook and pen, and took a few weeks to train myself on putting those items in that container. Today, this practice has become a habit I don’t even think about.

“A place for everything and everything in its place” offers not just be benefit of reducing random clutter, but it goes a long way towards eliminating those frenzied searches for keys, wallets, or the one phone charger that fits your phone. When you know exactly where it is, you know exactly where to look.

Clutter as prompt

The second likely scenario is that an item is left out to serve as a reminder. When I look at the remote, I remember that it needs batteries. The sight of these envelopes is my prompt to pay the bills, or run to the post office to buy stamps. I understand this — you’re afraid that if you put it away, you’ll forget about it and fail to perform the associated task. Here’s a quick way around that: do it right now. Putting batteries into a remote takes less than three minutes. Ditto paying the bills. If you can’t complete the task within say, two minutes, get it into a trusted system that you know you’ll look at.

If you must keep items out because of convenience, ease or some other reason, consider creating a dropbox — a small container meant to be a temporary holding bin for stuff — but I recommend you do so with caution. I’ve seen dropboxes set up with the best intentions devolve into junk boxes full of who-knows-what. If you adopt this strategy, make sure you 1) get a small container and 2) designate a day or time to empty it out, say every Sunday.

The next time you find yourself dropping items here and there, stop and ask yourself why. Knowing is half the battle, they say, and a little exploration may lead to a lasting solution. Good luck.

Organize for the inevitable with Swedish Death Cleaning

Twelve years ago my parents moved from the Pennsylvania home of my childhood to a smaller, single-floor residence in sunny Florida. A part of that process was scaling down their property to what was essential. A lot of stuff was sold, donated, given away, or just tossed. It was a time-consuming process that would have been avoided entirely with a little “Döstädning” or Swedish Death Cleaning.

No, I don’t mean scrubbing the house while blasting “The Eagle Flies Alone” by ARCH ENEMY on the stereo. Instead, Swedish Death Cleaning refers to the conscious, methodical reduction of clutter over time, typically starting at age 50, and going until the end takes you. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually a very thoughtful thing to do.

In her book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter,” Margareta Magnusson reveals what she calls the “secrets” to effective death cleaning, including:

  1. Speak about it always. Tell others what you’re doing, she says, so they can hold you accountable.
  2. Don’t fear the process. It’s not about the ever-present inevitability of death, she says, but about life itself. It’s about your memories. “The good ones you keep,” she writes. “The bad you expunge.”
  3. Reward your efforts with life-affirming activities. See a movie, attend a concert, enjoy a fantastic meal.

Of course, you need not be in your 50’s — or contemplating mortality — to reap benefits from the mindful reduction of stuff. Fewer possessions mean less worry, less maintenance, and greater ease if and when you have to move (Magnusson notes that she has moved house 17 times). Plus, it puts the focus on one’s most meaningful life events on memories, not the stuff acquired along the way.

I like the idea of Swedish Death Cleaning and I’m going to give it a try. Perhaps I’ll have an update for you all in a few months. Now excuse me while I fire up some ARCH ENEMY on the stereo.