Ask Unclutterer: Dual desks

Reader Cory submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

What are some good solutions for a two workstation/desk in a apartment? I will soon be moving in with someone sharing a one-bedroom apartment and we are looking for an elegant way for us to both have a small desk/laptop workspace in the new place. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

There are various setups available that are similar to what you’ve described. The following are images I’ve collected over the years of two-person desks that I like. You can click on the images to learn more about the desks. I encourage our readers to add their finds in the comments section and hopefully our collective responses will lead you to a solution.

Thank you, Cory, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your email as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

 

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

Ask Unclutterer: Corner kitchen cabinets

Reader Marnie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Our house has corner kitchen cabinets with lots of wasted space. Is a lazy susan the way to go? I feel like there is a decent amount of unused space when they are used. Do you have any recommendations?

Marnie, I love this question because I had been struggling with the same problem in my kitchen and recently found a solution. The answer we discovered are storage systems that use the descriptive phrase “blind corner” in their names. Some are called “blind corner tracks” or “blind corner cabinet systems” or some version of all of those words.

They are regular cabinet shelves that sit on a sliding hinge and pivot mechanism. The unit pulls out into the room so that you can have easy access to everything on the shelves. When it is not in use, it folds back into the cupboard and occupies every nook and cranny.

blind cabinet shelves

There is also a blind-corner pull-out system. It is comprised of two large shelves that swing out of the cupboard door on a large pivot. The shelves can be pulled out one at a time so you can easily access the contents. You can purchase either a left-hand or right-hand opening depending on the design of your kitchen.

Unfortunately for corner cupboards, the only system seems to be a Lazy Susan. You can use wedge-shaped bins and half-shelves that will help you maximize your storage space.

Thank you, Marnie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

 

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

Saying “no”

One of the reasons people frequently claim that their home lives are in disarray and extremely stressful is because they are never home. They would get to the mess in their garages if they just had more time or they would go through their stacks of mail if there were more hours in the day.

If the person is currently the primary caregiver for a sick child, parent, or spouse, I can see his or her point of view. That person is needed in a life-sustaining way and uncluttering the garage may really be an impossible task.

In the majority of cases, however, the “never home” and “not enough time” claims are just excuses. The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough time in a day, the problem is that they can’t say “no.”

Do you really need to be on five civic committees? Does your child have to be involved in every after school enrichment activity? Is there another job out there that is as fulfilling and financially rewarding as your current job, but without the insane work hours or horrendous commute?

Serving on one civic committee allows you to focus your time and efforts more effectively. One music lesson, one team sport, and valuable time with the family will be more rewarding for your child than endless after school activities that reduce family time. Changing jobs to improve your work-life balance is a worthwhile endeavor, especially when it means that you get to keep your sanity and happiness intact.

There are respectful ways to say “no” and then there are disrespectful ways. Obviously, I’m suggesting respectful, thoughtful, considerate ways of expressing regret:

  • I really appreciate the offer to chair X committee at church, but I wouldn’t be able to devote the time and level of interest that you’re seeking to do an effective, mindful job. At this time, I will have to decline.
  • Sally enjoyed being a Girl Scout last year, but this year she has decided to go out for the basketball team instead.
  • I realize that this sounds like passing the buck, and in a sense it is, but have you talked yet to Brian about his interest in project X? He and I had a discussion a few weeks ago about how he is looking to get more involved with your division and this might be a good way for him to learn more about your work.

Living a busy life can give us the sense of being needed and popular. Eventually, though, being the one to always say “yes” can become exhausting and stressful. Never being home in a relaxed state denies you the ability to re-energize and recuperate. Your home life will remain a mess until you take the time to be at home and give it proper attention. Learning to say “no” respectfully and in appropriate situations will help to put things back on track.

 

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

Universal cell phone charger by 2012

Throwback Thursday: I had to laugh when I pulled this one out of the archives. Back in 2009, we expected all smartphones to charge with only one type of charger by 2012. That did not happen. And to increase confusion, in 2012 Apple ditched the 30-pin iPhone cable introduced the lightning cable to charge its newest iPhone 5 making some households even more cluttered.

Here in the future of 2019, more and more devices are being charged using wireless charging stations. It isn’t the cable-free technology as we had hoped for in our post below, but it is a step to uncluttering cables. Enjoy this peek into the past and let your imagination dream of a clutter-free cordless future.

 

News hit Tuesday that 17 phone manufacturers have agreed to use Micro-USB chargers on all phones by 2012. According to ZDNet, “Companies signed up to the initiative include Nokia, Motorola, Orange, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, T-Mobile, 3, Telefónica and Vodafone. HTC was not on the list of compliant companies in the announcement, but an HTC spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the manufacturer will participate in the scheme.”

I love the idea of a single charger being able to power multiple devices, but I worry that this announcement is a little too late. In three years’ time, devices like mobile phones might best be charged with cable-free technology, like “WITricity” or Powermats.

Another unsettling point is that many of the smart phone makers didn’t sign onto this agreement. Palm, Blackberry, and Apple aren’t among those on the participation list. I don’t see Apple changing their docking systems to Micro-USB in three years.

I definitely believe that this is a move in the right direction. A single power cord is a brilliant idea. However, I worry that Micro-USB may be an irrelevant standard in three-years’ times.

(Note: An astute reader pointed out that the image is a Mini-USB port instead of a Micro-USB port. Sorry for the confusion! There are so many standards, even I got confused. Ugh!!)

Do organized people have a bad reputation?

I received an interesting email message the other day:

Why should I bother getting rid of my clutter if my clutter doesn’t bother me? It only seems to be a problem for other people.

I receive dozens of emails like this a month. They are messages from people who stumble upon the website and feel a need to defend their messy way of life. The incorrect assumption is always that since we talk about home and office organizing on Unclutterer, we believe that we’re better than messy people.

At a networking event last year, a woman I had just met told me she hated people like me. She said that she hates organized, tightly wound people who look down their noses at messy people. She made these comments after I said only the words, “Hi, I’m Erin. I’m editor-at-large of a website called Unclutterer.com.”

I haven’t quite figured out why, but there does seem to be the misconception that organized people spend a great amount of time looking down on people who are messy. How did this inaccurate stereotype develop? Why is pursuing an organized life considered to be one full of judgment?

The reality (or, at least my reality) is that I barely have the time to do the things I want to do. I want to help people who want my help to be more organized and live more simply. I want to be a good friend to my friends, and a good family member to my family. I want to be happy. I don’t have the time or desire to judge people because they are messy. And, since I used to be completely disorganized, I would have to look down on my past self — and I don’t have the time to do that, either.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think organized people get a bad rap? More importantly, what can all of us do to put these inaccurate and judgmental stereotypes to rest? Or, am I off base, and are most organized people standing around thinking bad thoughts about messy people? I’m interested in reading your opinions in the comments.

 

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

Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old journals?

Reader Kelly submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

When I was a teenager and a young 20-something, I often kept journals – not daily, but more in bursts. I haven’t kept one since I was about 26 or 27, and have no interest in reading these now and keep moving them in a box with me everywhere I go (I’ve had a few moves). I don’t get rid of them because I feel I *may* want to look at them when I’m older (say 20 or 30 years from now), just as I recall my grandparents looking back on their own items with great affection and sentiment. However, I really would never want anyone else (i.e. my spouse or children or other relatives) to read them since they were the angst-filled musings of a young person. I’ve told my husband of my concern about the journals, and to please throw them out if something happens to me, but they still cause me unease!

So, what do you think… keep or dump?

This is a question that I have struggled with myself, but not for the same reasons you are. I don’t care if someone finds them and reads them, but I’m more concerned about the amount of space three decades of journals takes to store. (Trust me, someone would be bored silly reading my third grade journal that is full of daily rantings on how I don’t want to practice the violin. The horror!)

Ultimately, your decision to keep or dump your journals should be based on your answer to the following question:

Why did I write the journals?

Once you figure out why you wrote in the journals, you should easily be able to decide what to do with them in the future. Here are some examples:

  • If you wrote them for therapeutic reasons, as a way to work through problems in your life, then go ahead and burn or shred and recycle them.
  • If you wrote them as messages to your future self, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them as a record that you were alive in that moment, then keep them.
  • If you wrote them to vent your frustrations, then burn or shred and recycle them.

There are hundreds of reasons why you may have kept them, but once you identify why you did, the next step should be clear.

I have written in journals for all but five years of my life because I wanted to keep a record of what life felt like at a specific age. I wanted help to remember who I was and how much I’ve grown. Which means that I have chosen to keep them.

If you choose to burn them, throw yourself a party. Read some of your favorite entries. Then, toss them in the fire and don’t look back. You could throw yourself a lovely party if you shred and recycle them too but it might not be quite as dramatic as tossing them into the flames.

If you choose to keep them, put them on a shelf in a low-traffic area of your home and read them when the mood strikes. Don’t keep them in an inaccessible box like in a museum. Choosing to keep an object means that you’re choosing to have the object be a part of your life.

Thank you, Kelly, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

 

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

Reader suggestion: Staying organized with binder clips

Reader Christine, has a terrific little suggestion for staying on top of paperwork. A traditional tickler file didn’t work for her, so she found a system that did. After learning about her process, I asked if i could share her message to us in the form of a post. Thank you, Christine, for sharing your tip with us!

Like most people, I am constantly battling the paper monster. Though I am making strides in going digital, I had been struggling on how to organize the things I still receive as hard copies. Inevitably, there are things that need to be filed, paid, or acted upon in some way at some time that does not exactly coincide with the moment I first touch them. For me, letter sorters didn’t work — the papers would end up avalanching all over the place or would be sorted incorrectly. I had tried and failed to use a “to do” file folder; I personally benefit from visible reminders and would easily forget about them when I filed the papers.

After seeing small binder clips with “to do” and other similar words printed on them, I was inspired to create my own using regular large binder clips and a label maker. I printed labels on my label maker that read “To Do,” “To File,” and “To Pay,” placed them on the binder clips, and hung the clips on sleek aluminum pushpins on the inside of my coat closet door. The papers are out of sight when I want them to be, but serve as a visual reminder for all my “to dos” each time I open my closet door. The size of the clip also creates a limit to how long I can put off the inevitable.

This idea can be applied in various ways, of course. I can see it working on a bulletin board or wall in a home office, or inside of kitchen cabinets. (These colorful magnetic spring clips could be substituted on a chalk board or other magnetic surface.) You might want to have one by the front door for papers you must bring with you when you travel. This would also be a good way to organize kids’ homework or household information you need to frequently access (for that application, I could see laminated sheets on a ring, with the clips as identifiers). You could also use color-coding — either painting them yourself on regular black binder clips or by purchasing clips in various colors. No matter where, why, or how, it’s a cheap and easy idea that can help you be a little less paper-crazed.

 

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

Organizing food storage wraps

If you’re not lucky enough to have a designated drawer for food storage wraps in your kitchen, you probably have to sacrifice space in your pantry or cupboards for plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, plastic sandwich bags, freezer paper, cellophane bags, reusable shopping bags, and reusable produce bags. I have to store these items in my pantry, too, and I have been considering the following items to help better organize my space:

Right now, the wrap shelves and the bag holder are what I think I’m going to buy. What do you use to organize your food storage wraps in your kitchen? Or, are you one of the lucky ones with a designated drawer? Tell us about your food storage wrap situation in the comments.

 

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

Never again

It is a wise person who can learn as much from failure as success. I try my best to gain what I can from mistakes and botched attempts, but there are times when it takes me more than once to learn a lesson.

Until last week, it never crossed my mind that I could track these failures and learn from them in a more systematic approach. Then, I saw this unique file folder:

The actual paper folder is unnecessary, but the fundamental idea behind it is brilliant. After seeing it, I created a folder on my computer called “Never Again.” Then, inside that folder, I made a series of plain text documents: Restaurants, Books, Websites, Ideas, Hotels, Vacations, Wines, and Gifts. In these documents I recorded important notes to myself about mistakes I’ve made in the past.

An excerpt from my “Never Again: Gifts” file —

  1. Anything with nuts in it for Mary (allergic)
  2. Massage gift certificate for Katie
  3. Scented candles for anyone
  4. Lilies for Dana (allergic)
  5. Smoking items for David (quit September 2008)

The documents I put inside my “Never Again” file are on subjects that I instantly knew I had information to record. I’m sure that in a couple weeks I’ll have even more documents. Learning from mistakes helps improve productivity, saves time, and keeps us from spinning our wheels. Tracking our mistakes in an organized manner can help us to learn (probably best not to buy anyone a gift with nuts in it) and to free space in our mind to think of something else.

If you’re worried about someone gaining access to your “Never Again” file on your computer, make the file password protected. A simple password will keep your mistakes from becoming public information.

What “Never Again” documents would you create? Do you think this is a way that could help you learn from your mistakes and save you time in the future?

 

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

Ask Unclutterer: Exhausted after work

Reader Juliana submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do you stay on top of your chores if both members of the household work demanding jobs all day? There’s no way we can afford a housekeeper and we are both exhausted at the end of the day. By the weekend, things have piled up to an overwhelming level and I feel like it’s too much to handle. Help!

Oh, Juliana, I know exactly how you’re feeling, and I’m sure a number of our readers do, too. After a long day of work the last thing you want to do are chores, and when the weekend arrives you want to do something more remarkable than clean. There have been many times when I have wished for a housekeeper.

  • My first piece of advice is to set aside one weekend to simply catch up with all of the stuff around your house. In the days leading up to this weekend, tell everyone that you’re going out of town, stock up on groceries, and clear your entire schedule. Then, wake up early on Saturday morning and get down to business. Clean your place from top-to-bottom, inside-and-out, and do all of the big stuff that just has to get done. On Sunday evening, celebrate your efforts by going out to a dinner where someone else is responsible for doing the dishes.
  • Once you have this clean slate, then you can get started on a daily maintenance routine that takes little effort and leaves your weekends free for your remarkable life.
  • Your routine first needs to include a landing strip. You need an area where you can come in after a long day at work and immediately process items. Put a trash can and recycle bin/paper shredder in this space so that mail and paperwork are immediately handled (especially since you don’t want to sacrifice weekend time doing this). Have hooks for coats and hats, and designated spaces for your keys, bags, etc. Put all of your charging equipment for your cell phone in this space, and plug in your phone the minute you walk in the door. The landing strip provides a space for your things, and also makes it a breeze to leave your house in the morning for work.
  • Next up, commit to doing exactly 30 minutes of cleanup a night. You may do best if you do this 30 minutes right when you get home, or it may work for you right after dinner. Yes, you’re exhausted, but if you remind yourself that 30 minutes now will save you two whole weekend days, it’s pretty easy to keep moving. I have a “cleaning” mix on my iPod that is 30 minutes of fast tempo songs. I play it while I clean to motivate me.
  • Designate specific rooms for specific days, such as Mondays = Kitchen, Tuesdays = Bathrooms, Wednesdays = Bedroom, Thursdays = Living Room, and Fridays = Living/Family Room. Do a general 10 minute pick up around the house, but then spend 20 minutes really focusing on just one room. With both of you working together, you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish. You’ll also reap the benefit of having your weekends free of chores.
  • If you watch television as a way to relax, invest in a DVR. You can do the cleaning while a favorite show is recording, and then start it half-way into the program and watch the show without commercials.
  • Finally, here are more time-saving tips and suggestions for establishing routines. And, remember to get ready for bed half-an-hour or an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Your clothes are more likely to hit the hamper, and shoes/belts/jackets are more likely to get put away properly.

Thank you, Juliana, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope we helped a little to solve your problem.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

 

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

Storing board games and puzzles

Storing board games and puzzles can be an unnecessarily cumbersome task. The cardboard boxes are easily damaged and there isn’t a standard size to make stacking simple.

If board game and puzzle organization has you stumped, here are some suggestions for getting your games in order:

  • When acquiring new board games, consider purchasing games in “library” or “book” style boxes. They easily fit on a bookshelf and their standardized sizes make cupboard storage convenient, too. Hasbro has numerous classic games in its library series (Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry, Clue, Stratego, Life, Jenga, Memory, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi, Ho! Cherry-O). And, many of the Rio Grande games also come in bookshelf-friendly boxes, like Carcassonne and Puerto Rico.
  • To avoid losing pieces, bundle everything but the game board and box into zip-top bags when the game is not in use. It’s a lot easier to find a bag of men, dice, and cards than it is to find a single piece.
  • Use gallon size zip-top bags for puzzle pieces if the puzzle box is damaged. Take a picture of the puzzle box top and put it in with the pieces in the bag. Or, if you’re up for a challenge, just write the name of the puzzle on the bag with a permanent marker and don’t have a picture to follow.
  • If your child is a fan of wood puzzles, the Wire Puzzle Rack can hold more than 10 wooden puzzles of varying sizes.
  • A puzzle mat is good for storing puzzles when you need to put it away but aren’t yet finished working on it.
  • If the box for a game becomes so damaged that it is no longer containing a game, these plastic project boxes hold the pieces and most boards.

How do you store board games and puzzles in your home? Let us know your suggestions in the comments!

 

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

Power strips that work well with wall warts

Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a few alternatives to traditional power strips that alleviate or reduce the space-hogging AC adapters (commonly called wall wart) problem:

First up is a surge protector that swivels. This one is good for extra wide wall warts.

 

Next is the pyramid power adapter. You can outfit it with many wall warts and it also has USB charging ports.

For those who like the traditional power-bar look, EZO makes one that has outlets that swivel.

The pivot surge protector can handle several adapters and circle around the leg of your desk to save space.

Remember, for safety’s sake, block off all unused outlets with plug covers to keep little fingers (and sometimes little cat claws) from going where they don’t belong.

Let us know of additional wall wart space hogging solutions in the comments!

 

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