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

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

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

Visual processor:

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

Auditory processor:

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

Kinesthetic/Tactile processor:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visual processor:

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

Auditory processor:

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

Kinesthetic/Tactile processor:

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

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

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

 

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

Dishwashing safe products can save time

In her book The Simple Living Guide, Janet Luhrs suggests that people wash their dishes by hand. I like Janet Luhrs and agree with most things that she says, but when I read this piece of advice I laughed aloud. I grew up in a house without a mechanical dishwasher, and my daily chore was to wash the dishes by hand. Every night, for more than 10 years, as I stood with my hands immersed in soapy water, I dreamed of owning a dishwasher. I pledged that in my adulthood I would never wash my dishes by hand.

In the present, if I didn’t have a dishwasher, I cannot imagine how disorganized and dirty my kitchen would be. One of the things about committing to a dishwasher lifestyle, though, is that it limits what I can buy for my kitchen. The everyday plates and cups are almost always dishwasher safe, but many items beyond the basics typically are not recommended for the dishwasher.

If you’re just starting out or are a fan of the dishwasher like me, here are a few dishwasher-friendly, beyond-the-basics, kitchen products that I have found and use:

Stemless stemware. These wine glasses and champagne flutes have no stems so they easily fit in the top drawer of a dishwasher. They also save space in the cupboard.

All-Clad Stainless Cookware. The all-stainless version of this cookware is the only type that can go into the dishwasher. I registered for this when I got married and a kind family member bought it for me. It has held up wonderfully with constant dishwashing.

White Bone China. Surprisingly, plain-white china can be safely cleaned in the dishwasher. It’s durable and can easily be dressed up or down. I use my set all the time, and pair it with colorful chargers when entertaining. There’s no need to have two sets of dishes with one set as convenient and versatile as these.

Unfortunately, I do not have a knife set to recommend. I currently have a Henckels set and put the knives in the dishwasher against the suggestion of the manufacturer. I have been throwing them into the dishwasher for more than five years and the handles haven’t split. However, I expect to need to replace them earlier than they would have needed to be had I been washing them by hand all these years. If someone has a suggestion for a dishwasher-friendly knife set, please feel welcome to leave it in the comments. I’ve read the packaging on many stainless handle knives and found that they also suggest being washed by hand (Kitchen Aid, Ginsu, etc.).

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Saying farewell to a hobby, part two

In the original “Saying farewell to a hobby” post, I talked about how to decide if you’re not really into your hobby. Letting go of a no-longer-active hobby can be difficult, especially if part of your identity is wrapped up in that activity. (I know I still think of myself as a tennis player even though I haven’t touched a tennis racket in more than 10 years because of a rotator cuff injury.) But, if you make the hard decision to break up with the stuff for a hobby you’re no longer doing, getting rid of the supplies can be emotionally difficult.

The following are five ways to let go of hobby supplies to make the purging process less traumatic:

  1. Call up local enthusiasts whom you know are still into the hobby and let them take what they want from your house. They are more likely to use the materials than you are, and they will truly appreciate your generosity. Plus, as you pass along your supplies you can tell them stories and talk about how and when you acquired or used the items. You’ll get another happy moment sharing the history with your friends.
  2. Sell the supplies on a website whose community is dedicated to the hobby. For instance, if you’re a knitter or crocheter looking to de-stash your yarn, the website Ravelry has a marketplace forum that is perfect for you. Be sure to include shipping costs in the price of your goods, though, so that you don’t go broke getting rid of your items.
  3. Have a yard sale, but be very specific in your advertising to point out what types of things you are selling. “Woodworking Supplies Yard Sale” “Sailing Supplies Yard Sale” If you place an advertisement for your sale, use similar language and target publications people interested in these hobbies would read.
  4. Often stores that sell new supplies for a hobby also will sell “gently used” items on consignment. Call your local stores and ask about their policies. If they won’t sell them, usually they know who will or clubs related to the activity that could use the supplies.
  5. Programs and/or schools that teach the hobby — rock climbing schools, your local YMCA or community center, the high school down the street, a day care center (for adults or children) or seniors’ center — typically need supplies to help teach others about the activity. Make a few phone calls and you’ll probably find a program that is elated to take the discount or free supplies off your hands.

Sites like eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle are great for getting rid of items, but I’ve found that it’s harder for me to use these sites for hobby supplies that I have some sort of bizarre sentimental attachment to. Even though I’m no longer using the stuff, I still want to know that it’s going to someone who is enthusiastically going to use it. This is probably true for whomever buys or picks up the item from one of these three websites, but my mind doesn’t process it that way. Weird, right?

Good luck with the final step in purging your no-longer-active hobby supplies. And, most of all, enjoy the space for whatever new will take — or not take — its place.

 

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

Saying farewell to a hobby

There are hundreds of books and resources available on the topic of breaking up with a love interest. There are even ones exploring the topic of breaking off a toxic friendship and dumping bad business relationships. But, I have yet to find anything out in the ether on how to kick a hobby to the curb. Noting that, I proclaim this Unclutterer entry as the authoritative work on breaking up with a hobby. I call it:

You’re Just Not That Into Your Hobby

Do you consider yourself a tennis player, but the last time you touched your racket was 25 years ago? Do you like the idea of being a scrapbooker but have never made a complete scrapbook? Are you keeping canvases for masterpieces you may one day paint, yet all of your paints are dried and your brushes deteriorating? Is your guitar missing strings and in a case at the back of a closet? Do you have areas of your home set aside or filled with stuff related to a hobby that you spend less than 10 hours on a year?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you are just not that into your hobby.

It can be difficult to admit, but if you’re not averaging at least an hour a month pursuing a hobby, it’s time to let it go. The space you’re sacrificing in your home is too valuable to store things you don’t use. If you don’t have storage issues, it’s still worthwhile to get rid of your unused hobby stuff. Every time you walk past it I bet you think, “I wish I had more time to do X.” You don’t need that stress and guilt. If it were really important to you, you would pursue it.

Five steps for deciding if now is the time to ditch your hobby:

  1. Identify all of your hobbies and all of the things associated with them in your home, garage, and office. You may benefit by collecting these items and laying them all out in your front yard or an open space in your home to see how much space you’re sacrificing.
  2. List all of these hobbies and then estimate how much time you’ve spent pursuing each of them in the last 12 months. Be honest with yourself.
  3. Any hobby with an estimation of 10 hours or less should immediately be moved out of your home. Pack up the equipment and head to a used sports equipment store or an appropriate charity. If the hobby stuff is valuable, photograph it and list it for sale on a site like ebay or craigslist.
  4. Any hobby with an estimation of 24 hours or less should be carefully reviewed. If you went camping one day last year, you would reach the 24-hour mark for camping as a hobby. However, is one day of camping worth all of the space used to store your tent, sleeping bag, and all other accoutrements? On the flip side, if you spent one Friday night a month last year playing Bridge with friends and averaged about two hours of playing time a sitting, it’s probably worthwhile to hold onto a deck of cards.
  5. Any hobby with an estimation of more than 24 hours also should be considered for review. You may realize that you’re spending so much time and space on your hobby that you’re neglecting things more important in your life, like time with your spouse or children. It’s okay to break up with these hobbies, too. In most cases, however, you probably have a healthy relationship with your active hobbies and you’ll decide to keep up with them. You still will want to evaluate how much stuff you have for them. If you have more supplies than you could use in a lifetime associated with that hobby, it’s time to weed through the collection of stuff. My rule of thumb is that you should never have more than one year’s worth of supplies for an intense hobby — and less than that if you can manage.

There is a caveat to my assumption that you’re just not that into your hobby that I feel I should mention as a footnote. The truth may be that you really like your hobby, but somewhere along the way you misappropriated your time and let it fall by the wayside. Instead of making chairs in your woodworking studio, you’ve been watching television. If this is the case, make new priorities and recommit to your hobby. Turn off the t.v. and head to your studio. Decide to re-evaluate that hobby in six months. If in six months, however, you’re still watching t.v., then it’s time to admit that watching t.v. is your hobby not woodworking.

 

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

An argument against multi-tasking

I should start this discussion by noting that I am not 100 percent against multi-tasking. I am in favor of reading a book while waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles and listening to music or a podcast while grocery shopping. These tasks can be considered low-functioning activities because your primary level of productivity is not affected by the presence of a second task.

I am, however, against multi-tasking when doing more higher-functioning activities. Most projects, when worked on in a focused manner, will be completed more quickly when they are the only task in front of you. The fewer interruptions you have, the more efficient your productivity.

Mono-tasking is especially important while organizing. If you decide to overhaul your digital filing system and organize your data, it’s best not to have your instant messaging or email apps tempting you with greetings from friends. One message from a friend can set you back 10 to 20 minutes.

Mono-tasking also is good for making sure that objects are returned to their proper places at the end of an activity. If you take the five minutes to concentrate on putting away belongings immediately after you are finished with them, you will avoid a disorganized living space. Push yourself to finish one project before you start your next endeavor.

I have found that mono-tasking has positive outcomes in areas beyond organization and productivity. If you focus on listening to a person when they are speaking with you, they will feel appreciated and respected. Driving without distractions improves your safety record, and rarely do others complain when you finish what you start.

Try designating your time by a single activity and see how it affects your overall productivity. I’m interested in hearing from you about your experiences with multi- and mono-tasking in the comments section.

 

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

Charity, Repair, Switch, and Store

sweater storage bagOne of the responsibilities that comes with keeping an uncluttered life is spring cleaning. When warm weather sets in, I turn to two books in my personal library for help: Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook (pgs. 27-29) and Better Homes and Gardens’ Making a Home: Housekeeping for Real Life (pgs. 56-60). Both books have lists of chores and maintenance that, when done semi-annually, can end up saving a lot of time, money, and stress.

Before beginning any spring cleaning routines, I like to have what I call a Charity, Repair, Switch, and Store Party. I open my closet and identify the winter clothes that I didn’t wear over the last six months or that have gone dreadfully out of style and I put those in a charity pile. I gather together all clothing that needs to be repaired or altered and put those clothes in a bag to take to the tailor. Next, I identify all of my clothing that contains wool or cashmere, fold it up, and put it in vinyl storage bags with cedar chips. Finally, I pull my warmer weather clothes out of storage (I keep these contained in large plastic containers under my bed) and swap out the contents of my closet.

I do a similar task with my shoes: one pile for charity, one pile for the cobbler, and switch my summer shoes to the top of the shoe stack. I also do the same with the front hall closet: charity, tailor, moth proofing, and switch the winter coats, hats, and gloves with jackets and umbrellas. If I had children who stored sporting equipment in the garage, I would have them take on the same type of task there: charity, repair, switch, and store.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Tough questions for your things

I like to think of myself as a person who is unattached to physical objects. Truth be told, however, this might not necessarily be the case. My lifestyle, being more minimalist than average, means that I make a conscience decision to bring something into my home. Each object exists in my space for a reason, and a chunk of time, planning, and research was dedicated to its acquisition, and there are further evaluations to let it stay. I make an investment of myself in every object, and that is why it’s hard for me to say that I’m not attached to these objects.

I likely will never resolve this quandary, but I think that the acquisition and evaluation process that I put into every object — and I do mean every object — is a valuable one. If I bring a non-essential item into my home, it ultimately will become clutter, and I am more interested in keeping a clutter-free lifestyle than one full of knickknacks and pointless objects.

I have two set lists of questions that I ask myself about every object in my home. These lists have changed a bit with time, and I expect them to go through some adjustments as my family grows, so feel welcome to adapt these lists for your own use and adjust as you see fit. The first list is directed toward new acquisitions and the second is for objects that are already inside my house.

Questions for New Acquisitions:

  1. Do I have something like this already that fulfills the same purpose?
  2. If I own something like this, am I ready to get rid of the older item since this newer item will have to replace it?
  3. Will this item make my life easier/save me time/save me money/fulfill an essential need?
  4. Where will this object live in our house?
  5. Is this the best price for this object, is this the best quality that I can get for the money, and is this object in its best possible condition?
  6. Do I need to do more research about this object before I make this purchase/bring it into my home?
  7. If this is a perishable item (like food), when will I use it and what will I do if I don’t use all of it?
  8. Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to live?

Questions for Items Already in My Home:

  1. Do I have something else like this that fulfills the same purpose?
  2. If this is a duplicate item, which of these items is in the best condition, of the best quality, and will last me the longest?
  3. Is this item in disrepair and need to be replaced or fixed?
  4. Does this item make my life easier/save me time/save me money/fulfill an essential need?
  5. Why does this object live in our house and is this the best place for this object?
  6. Do I need to do more research to know if this is the best object to fulfill its essential need?
  7. If this is a perishable item, has its expiration date passed?
  8. Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to live?

I’m interested in knowing if others have additional or alternative questions that they pose before acquiring or retaining objects for their homes. Please feel welcome to use the comments for this post to discuss your decision-making process!

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

No more wire hangers!

The next time you head to your dry cleaner, take all of your unused wire hangers with you. Most dry cleaners recycle hangers and actually appreciate you returning them because it saves them money. You get rid of clutter in your closet and help keep landfills free of hangers.

Also, unless you have a need for the plastic bags they wrap around your clothing, you can ask for the dry cleaner to keep the bags off of your clothes. It keeps you from having to toss the bag when you get home, and again saves the dry cleaner money. Men’s dress shirts also can be folded instead of put on a hanger so that you don’t have to take a hanger home with you at all.

When you go to pick up your clothes at the dry cleaners, take reusable high quality hangers and garment bags with you just like taking reusable shopping bags with you when grocery shopping. That way you don’t even need to take their wire hangers and plastic bags home.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Being organized: A learned behavior

Reasons people give for being disorganized usually align with being too busy or a life changing event (new baby, death of a loved one) or general laziness. These are reasonable explanations and are obstacles that can be overcome.

Every once in a while, however, someone will try to explain to me that they are disorganized because of their genetic makeup. They use phrases such as, “I come from messy people” or “I couldn’t be organized if I wanted to.” Yes, some families are pack rats over the course of multiple generations, but those are learned behaviors. There is not a gene as far as any scientist has found that predetermines a person’s affinity for organization.*

Can growing up in a household of highly disorganized people affect your perceptions and habits? You bet. But does it sentence you to a lifetime of clutter? No!

As with any life skill — time management, cooking, walking — those necessary to maintain an organized life can be learned. You may need to practice these skills, the same way you practice a musical instrument, but you can eventually work to a level of mastery.

I haven’t always been organized. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I used to be the type of person who held onto every object I deemed sentimental. I eventually realized that holding onto so much stuff came with a lot of stress, worry, and financial expense, and that I wanted a different way of life. So, I learned organization skills, practiced them, and implemented them throughout my life. You can learn them, too.

If you’ve convinced yourself that you are destined to a life of disorganization, try changing that attitude! Put in the time, effort, and practice necessary to become the more organized person you desire. No need to go overboard, just find the best level of organization for you that allows you to live the remarkable life you desire.

*I want to note that there is something actually called a Disorganization Gene, but it has nothing to do with clutter. It’s about birth defects and cellular mutations involving the actual genetic code of an animal becoming disorganized. || Image courtesy of wikipedia.

 

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

Can someone be a collector and be uncluttered?

The quick answer to the question posed in the headline is yes. Being uncluttered and being a collector are not mutually exclusive states.

I will be the first to admit, however, that being an uncluttered collector is not an easy task. The temptation to collect beyond one’s reasonable limits is high, and can thwart even someone with the best of intentions.

An uncluttered collector, by definition, takes pride in his or her collection and displays it fully and respectfully. A collector wants to enjoy his or her collection and share it with others. Conversely, a collection is clutter when it’s stored out of sight, in a disrespectful manner, and for no other reason than just to have more stuff.

So what does an uncluttered collection look like? Unclutterer Jerry wrote about PlasmicSteve’s memorabilia office in our Workspace of the Week feature. I see this office as a perfect example of how someone can be an uncluttered collector and honor the things he or she chooses to collect:

Are you a collector? How do you display fully and respectfully your collection? Or, are you storing your “collection” in boxes in your attic in less-than-desirable conditions?

 

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

Reader suggestion: Use it up!

Reader Elena sent us a terrific tip on our contact page that I wanted to share with you:

I sometimes impose on myself a “Use it Up” challenge where I find a stockpile of something (e.g. body wash) and do not allow myself to buy more of that type of item until I use it up. That way, I don’t end up with a huge supply of stuff I don’t need.

Elena’s advice is a great way to get started on the one-in-one-out rule. I find this especially helpful with bathroom items, like she mentioned. Shampoo, body wash, perfume, and lotion have a way of multiplying with very little effort.

Although it usually isn’t the best bargain, I’ve found that buying smaller bottles of these items works best for me. Yes, a gallon jug of shampoo may be the most cost effective option, but after six months of using the exact same shampoo I get bored, buy alternatives, and then have three bottles of shampoo in my shower. If I buy smaller bottles instead, I will use up all of the product before I tire of it. And, with items like lotion, I need an extra strength one in the winter and a light one in the summer. Instead of storing two bottles, I buy the smaller size and use it up during its appropriate season.

 

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