Techniques for taming pet fur tumbleweeds

Reader Jim sent us the following question:

OK, so I like your 30 minutes per day cleaning model…however, with a dog (big chocolate lab) that is constantly shedding, what tools, cleaning devises, ideas, etc., might I use to keep up with the seemingly endless dog-hair dust bunnies? Vacuuming works, but takes time to drag out the vacuum, and the broom just seems to move the hair around.

In my house, we call these gifts from our two cats “tumbleweeds.” I like your use of the word “bunnies,” though, since they do feel as if they are forever multiplying. I completely empathize with your situation and hope that I can help.

Here are a handful of strategies for dealing with pet fur tumbleweeds:

  1. Once a day, armed with a couple slightly damp paper towels, walk through your house and capture the worst offenders. If they’re large enough that you would see them and be stressed or embarrassed if a house guest were to immediately notice them, just scoop them up with the paper towel. This isn’t deep cleaning, this is just peace of mind. At most, this process should take you five minutes and is a great chore for a younger child.
  2. Bathe your pets regularly. When you bathe a pet, a good chunk of loose hair and dander goes down the drain with the water. Now, granted, this task is a bit more difficult with a cat. You have to start bathing the cat when it’s a kitten or you’ll never be able to give it a bath as an adult. We’ve been bathing our cats twice a month since they were first adopted from the shelter and now they just climb into the water. Use a pet-friendly shampoo (not human shampoo) and ask your vet for tips and breed-specific bathing frequency recommendations if you’re new to the pet-washing adventure.
  3. Keep a pet brush handy. When your pet curls up at your feet and wants some snuggles, give him a brush at least once a day. You’ll capture the fur before it can become a tumbleweed.
  4. Install reliable air filters in your heating/air conditioning system and replace them seasonally.
  5. If your pet routinely uses a bed, drape its bed with a fleece blanket. If there is a favorite spot where he likes to curl up, lay a fleece blanket in that location. Fleece blankets act like giant magnets for pet hair because of their inherent static nature. Roll up the blanket and throw it in the washer once a week, and for extra pull, dry it without a dryer sheet.
  6. Although you hate to do it, you should run the vacuum at least once a week. Don’t forget to vacuum under the couch, along baseboards, every stair, and closet floors where pet fur tumbleweeds like to hide.
  7. Feed your pet high-quality food. The healthier your pet’s diet, the healthier your pet and his coat. Talk to your vet about the best diet for your pet. Sometimes, switching to a healthier pet food will greatly reduce the amount your pet sheds.

Good luck! And, if ever in doubt about a technique, just ask your vet. He or she will be able to tell you if something is safe for your pet.

Photograph accompanying this post taken by Matt Niemi.

 

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

Productivity and organizing insights found in Lean systems

In October 2008, The Wall Street Journal ran the article “Neatness Counts at Kyocera and at Others in the 5S Club.” The article explores a typical day for Kyocera employee Jay Scovie, whose job it is to patrol offices to make sure they are sorted, straightened, shined, standardized and sustained masterpieces of uncluttered glory:

Kyocera’s version of 5S, which it calls “Perfect 5S,” not only calls for organization in the workplace, but aesthetic uniformity. Sweaters can’t hang on the backs of chairs, personal items can’t be stowed beneath desks and the only decorations allowed on cabinets are official company plaques or certificates.

One thing that bugs me about the article is that it doesn’t explain that the rigid aesthetic standards Kyocera implements are not part of the 5S system. Rules prohibiting a sweater on the back of a chair are unique to Kyocera’s “Perfect” 5S processes and not the standard 5S efficiency program.

As an unclutterer and a fan of productivity improving methods, I’m always disheartened when I see extreme examples of efficiency improvement systems discussed as if they are the norm instead of the exception. Programs that strive to increase productivity in the workplace are usually worthwhile systems that increase morale and creative thinking, instead of stifle it. This 2014 article in Harvard Business Review indicates that employees perform better when they can control their space.

If you work for a company with more than 150 employees, you probably are already familiar with at least one Lean system (“Lean” is the buzzword in the business world to mean a program that trims the fat — unnecessary and wasteful processes, methods, systems, etc.). If you’re unfamiliar with Lean systems on the whole, or are only familiar with one specific program, you might be interested in learning more about them. Even if you don’t implement the full systems, simply knowing about their methods can help to improve the way you do your work. I have definitely gained many helpful tips and tricks studying their processes.

There are numerous Lean systems, and each has a different area of expertise. Some can be used together, some are branches of pre-existing systems, while others are stand-alone programs. Different programs fall in and out of fashion, and these are a number of the current heavy hitters and resources that decently explain them:

What are your thoughts on Lean systems? Do you find that they contain useful productivity and organizing insights?

 

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

Book review: The Power of Less

Editor’s note: Although this post was originally published in 2009, we felt that information in The Power of Less is still relevant today.

Leo Babauta, who writes the inspiring blog ZenHabits, took his productivity and efficiency advice to the printed page in his book The Power of Less. Published in 2009, it is a 170-page guide to shedding the non-essential elements from your life and work so that you can do and achieve more.

His advice is based on six principles, two of which are initially discussed on pages 5 and 6 of his book:

Principle 1: By setting limitations, we must choose the essential. So in everything you do, learn to set limitations.

Principle 2: By choosing the essential, we create great impact with minimal resources. Always choose the essential to maximize your time and energy.

He uses the analogy of the haiku to illustrate these principles:

The haiku, as you may know, is usually a nature-related poem of just seventeen syllables, written in three lines (five syllables, then seven, then five). A poet writing a haiku must work with those limitations, must express an entire idea or image in only that number of syllables … He can quickly whip out seventeen syllables and have a completed haiku in a short amount of time; or he can carefully choose only the essential words and images needed to convey his idea. And this second choice is what creates some of the most powerful poetry in such a limited form — choosing only the essential.

He has four other principles, but these first two are really the heart of his system. In my opinion, he accurately explains that if you are going to be productive and efficient in all that you do, you have to make choices. You cannot do everything that comes your way, and you have to make difficult decisions about what filters into your life and what doesn’t.

On page 23 he aptly summarizes why you would want to adopt his system:

Simplifying isn’t meant to leave your life empty — it’s meant to leave space in your life for what you really want to do.

I completely agree with his message, and I think it will resonate well with most Unclutterer readers. If you are looking for sound advice on how to improve your productivity, The Power of Less will help you to be more efficient in all your dealings.

You can also check out Leo’s guest post on Unclutterer “Creating a minimalist workspace.”

 

January is Get Organized and Be Productive Month

The National Association of Professional Organizers has once again declared January Get Organized and Be Productive Month!

We love the idea of starting off the year on the right foot, and we hope that you get in on the organizing spirit. NAPO has many events scheduled across the country as part of their Get Organized and Be Productive Month.

Also, Amazon is interested in helping you get organized in January with a number of good deals on storage solutions and organizing books.

Do you have plans to get organized in January? Let us know about your plans in the comments. You can help inspire all of us.

 

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Reader suggestion: Cleaning ornaments

It is a great idea to clean and dry ornaments before putting them away for the season. In most cases, a damp cloth will be enough to remove any dust that has accumulated during the season. For ornaments that can’t be washed with water, reader Kerry wrote to us with this tip for cleaning ornaments.

When I take the ornaments off the tree, I hang them on my indoor clothes drying rack which is placed over a towel. Then, I use compressed air to clean the ornaments so they are ready for next year!

Great idea, Kerry!

If you have any ornament cleaning tips you would like to share, let us know in the comments below.

 

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

Uncluttering your schedule to keep clear of unnecessary stress

Being human can be difficult some days. I most often notice the difficulties when I’m stressed, full of anxiety, things are chaotic, and/or under pressure. Little problems that are usually dealt with easily turn into big issues because my abilities to see the whole picture or keep my cool are gone.

One time, I completely unhinged in front of one of my colleagues. I was quietly working at my desk one minute, and the next minute I threw a tantrum because a project we were working on took a turn I didn’t expect. Instead of reacting like a normal person, I chose the path of awful person. I used my “outside voice” for at least a full minute before I realized I was being a complete idiot. Thankfully, my colleague burst into laughter (instead of yelling back or quitting) and asked if my outburst helped me feel better.

It took me two hours to calm down and figure out what had happened. Many elements in my life were to blame:

Stress + Anxiety + Disappointment + Poor Planning = Awful Erin.

As full disclosure, one of these elements was completely out of my hands. I had no way to control the event that happened that triggered my disappointment. No matter what the day or how prepared I possibly could have been, I still would have been disappointed.

The other elements were all my fault, however. My poor planning resulted in stresses and anxieties that were wholly unnecessary, and which made me blow the incident with my co-worker completely out of proportion. If I had planned appropriately, I would have been able to move with the ebbs and flows of the day and not let the stress and anxiety overwhelm me. More precisely, I wouldn’t have been experiencing stress and anxiety — at least not at the level I was.

Later that afternoon, I made a heartfelt apology to my colleague, we had a good laugh, and then I went home to re-evaluate my schedule. I needed to be realistic about my abilities.

I revisited my initial estimations and doubled them. What I thought would take one hour, I doubled to two. What I thought would take a day, I scheduled to two days. I made phone calls and adjusted others’ expectations of my timeline accordingly.

With all things in life, the more stress and anxiety you feel, the less able you are to think and respond to the best of your abilities. Proper planning — being honest with yourself about how long it will take to complete action items, setting a schedule, and having the diligence to keep to that schedule — will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and in control of the things you can control.

After my tantrum and retooling of my schedule, I noticed a significant decrease in my stress and anxiety levels. I am not super human, and my new schedule was realistic and maintainable. Unfortunately, it took making a fool out of myself to realize I needed a change. How do you organize your time to keep stress and anxiety at bay, and how do you avoid potential stress meltdowns?

 

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

Preparing your car for a road trip

Today we welcome John Walton, author of the British travel blog Voyagers, to give us incredibly useful tips for auto travel. Welcome, John!

This holiday season, with prices at the pumps lower but airline prices not really dropping, many of us are taking to the road instead of to the skies. But is your car, truck, or SUV ready for the trip over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house?

If you’re like me, your car is normally pretty clean, but this time of year there’s stuff in it that you don’t need. (I live at Land’s End in Cornwall. That free tourist map of Scotland isn’t much use, so I can take a digital picture of it and throw the paper version away.)

Loose objects in your car can be more than just an eyesore. They’re potentially lethal projectiles if you have to stop suddenly. So use those little nets, compartments, and pockets wisely. Embarrassing holiday incidents shouldn’t include a coffee flask to the back of the head.

Often, a messy car results from not having anywhere to put things away. When I downsized to a smart in 2008 it took me a while to figure out where to put my iPhone, water, and coffee. My tiny car doesn’t really have enough nooks and crannies, so I buckled a daypack-sized backpack into the passenger’s side seat belt so my stuff isn’t going anywhere if I have to slam on the brakes.

Take a look around your local auto supply store for things that would be helpful. Beware the temptation to acquire things just because they are  unique, though! You almost certainly don’t need a Purple Petal Mirror Muff, but one of those four-port USB chargers  could be a great investment.

If you’re going far, make sure that everybody in the car has something to keep them entertained. Before you leave on your trip is the time to load your gadgets with your favorite music or that thirteen-hour set of The Lord of the Rings.

Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, be sure your vehicle is mechanically prepared for the season — whether you’re below freezing in Norway or Nebraska or sunning yourself in Argentina or Australia. Make sure you are comfortable driving in the weather conditions. Invest in a car emergency kit. Check your local automobile association’s website for tips appropriate to your region — and remember to check for your destination too, if you’re traveling!

Happy travels and happy holidays!

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

Reader suggestion: Storing a George Foreman Grill

Reader Liz sent us the following solution for storing the removable plates and body of her George Foreman Grill:

I got the wonderful George Foreman grill with the changeable plates for Christmas a few years ago. I have since been struggling with how to store the 5 grill plates since they don’t stack conveniently and can get easily scratched. I live in an apartment, so storage space is hard to come by. After several disappointing online searches, I decided to create my own [storage solution]. I used a vertical, metal sorter (similar to this one) placed on top of a locker shelf (similar to this one) so I can store my Foreman grill underneath the plates. The file sorter that is holding the grill plates is coated in plastic so it won’t scratch the plates, which is vital!

In addition to being a great solution for a George Foreman Grill, it would be wonderful for waffle iron plates, lids for reusable storage containers, lids for pots and pans, and even baking pans and cookie sheets. Thank you for such a terrific suggestion, Liz!

 

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

Rolling along with my ZÜCA bag

A few years ago, an employee at ZÜCA, Inc., e-mailed me and asked if I had ever heard of their line of luggage. I hadn’t.

At that time, I was in a hate-hate relationship with my overnight bag. It was a multiple-pocket duffle bag that had the worst strap configuration known to man on it. When I got it, the bag was empty, and I had no idea how much pain the strap could inflict on my shoulder with even the smallest amount of weight in it.

I decided to check out a ZÜCA bag and see if it might be a nice alternative. I’m glad that I did, because the ZÜCA bag is my new best friend for when I need to travel for a week or less.

These are the reasons why I think the ZÜCA bag is great:

  • The wheels. They maneuver better than any luggage with wheels that I’ve ever test driven. Plus, you can order customized ones that look like roller skate or skateboard wheels.
  • The built-in chair. The aluminum frame on the bag allows you to be able to use the piece of luggage as a chair. Often times, at the airport, I find myself waiting in lines. Now, I just sit while I wait.
  • The TSA-compliant zipper pouch. The pouch has a specialized pocket right inside the bag so that I can easily grab it when heading through security and then pop it back into place after putting on my shoes.
  • The laptop pocket. Actually, I’m pretty sure ZÜCA didn’t imagine the side pocket to be a laptop pocket, but mine fits right inside of it. When going through security at the airport, I just slide it out of the pocket without having to unzip or unsnap anything. I have to be careful, however, if I store my bag in the overhead compartment to either take my laptop out of the pocket or store my bag laptop-side on top.
  • The insert bags. I don’t always use each and every one of the insert bags, but I use most of them. I put my shoes and belts in one, my shirts in another, etc. They keep shoe crud from getting on my clothing.
  • The washable exterior. If the ZÜCA bag gets dirty, you can remove the bag from the frame and wash it. It’s also water resistant, so if it rains, your stuff is nice and dry inside. Also, if you decide you want something snazzy, you can change the bag to a different pattern the company sells.

My only problem with the bag is that I have yet to find a way to store a suit coat without it getting wrinkled. My assumption is that this is a failing of mine, and not a problem with the bag design. However, if the bag had a suit pouch that would wrap around the insert bags, I wouldn’t have a concern at all.

Also, the bag isn’t cheap. It retails for close to $300. A quick search through some other luggage websites finds that the price is comparable to similar bags of its size. I believe the price is worth it, though, especially for people who travel a lot for business. If you’re in the market for a new piece of carry-on luggage that holds up to a week’s worth of clothes in an incredibly organized manner, you definitely need to check out the ZÜCA bag.

 

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

Free pass to return or re-gift presents

Gift giving is an art. Some people have an amazing talent at picking out the perfect something. I, however, am not blessed with such a skill. Every now and again I’ll hit one out of the park, but those occasions are rare. I think that it’s my disdain for crowded shopping centers that fuels my ineptitude.

Regardless of the reason, my gifts are often received with a strange facial expression and the question, “What is it?” I’ll never forget the gift I got for my sister-in-law that drew the response, “This is such an interesting … uh … watering can?” It was a purse.

When I give a gift, I want the gift to be exactly what the recipient wants. I want it to be loved. I also want the gift to not end up as clutter or to cause stress. To avoid giving the imperfect gift or to cause stress, I’ve decided to follow David Seah’s suggestion in his post “Print Your Own ‘Re-Gift Receipts’” and create my own re-gift receipts to accompany my future gifts.

I’m not going to write mine up exactly like he has, but the principle is the same: a guilt-free return policy. It seems to be such a nice way to let people know that you will in no way be offended if they decide to return your gift.

Be sure to check out Seah’s template at the bottom of the post to save yourself time creating your re-gift receipts.

 

This post has been updated since its publication in 2008.

What to do with pajamas during the day?

I have never known what to do with my pajamas in the morning. They usually end up being folded and set on top of my dresser. The dresser location is functional, but it’s cluttered. Years of living with clothes strewn on my dresser left me wishing I had a place where my pajamas could live that wasn’t on top of a flat surface.

After a recent trip to the hardware store, I came home armed with a “S” hook to solve my problem. The hook fits over my closet’s clothing rod and provides an instant place for my pajamas during the day. I also have enough space in my closet that my pajamas don’t touch any of my clean clothes. My pajamas are out of sight, off a flat surface, and behind the closed door of my closet.

If I had children, I think that I would install more permanent hooks that screwed into the closet wall at a height convenient for them. This way, they would be able to hang up their own pajamas even if they couldn’t reach their clothing rod in their closet.

I know that some people will likely comment that pajamas should be stored either under your pillow or in your pillow case. I just can’t do this. I think about how I sweat on my pajamas during the night and am not comfortable with then storing them next to where I put my face when I sleep. The reality may be that it is more hygienic than I am imagining, but I can’t do it. It gives me the willies. For me, the “S” hook works perfectly.

 

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

Learn to safely wrap cords, cables, and hoses

The magazine Fine Homebuilding has an informative and season-appropriate tutorial on its website “Wrapping cords and hoses: Learn how to avoid twists and kinks that can cause damage.”

This advice is perfect for garden and air hoses and extension cords that are ready to be stored for the cold months. There are three methods described in the article: a looped bundle, a loose chain, and a reverse coil.

If the pictures in the article don’t provide you with enough information, check out the instructional video that accompanies the article.

 

 

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