Simple solution for small packets in your kitchen pantry

Card FileHere’s a simple solution for packets of dry goods in your pantry: Store them together in an index card file.

I store packets of yeast in a 3×5 card file and larger packets of taco and stew seasonings in a 4×6 card file. These card files keep small packets from getting lost behind boxes of pasta and cereal and they make inventory simple when creating grocery lists.

An index card file is just a simple, inexpensive way to keep clutter at bay in your pantry!

 

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

Stair step baskets can help control clutter

I am not a basket person. I’ve never thought that a room in my home could be improved in some way by bowl shaped, woven wood with a handle. My mother, Queen of Baskets, disagrees with me strongly on this point. She believes that baskets make everything better. Everything.

In her home, if you want to blow your nose, you get your tissue from a basket. Toilet paper? Basket. Magazine? Basket. Silverware? Basket. Television remote? Basket. Flour? Sugar? Q-tip? That’s right, baskets. Her house is extremely organized, and its organization system revolves primarily around baskets.

As I said in the beginning, baskets are not my forte. However, amid all of my mother’s baskets, one of them makes complete sense to me: The stair step basket.

This basket sits on the bottom two steps in her house and throughout the day she fills it with items that belong upstairs. When she heads upstairs at some point, she takes it and returns the items in the basket to their proper places. Then, she sets the basket on the top two stairs and fills it with items that belong downstairs as she comes across them. The cycle repeats each time the basket is full. The basket collects out of place items and keeps them from creating clutter. Her system of using the basket is a brilliant clutter-busting and time-saving solution.

Her specific stair step basket is no longer made but it is very similar to this one. Honestly, though, any storage container that is easy to carry would work and could serve the same function. I think this is a wonderful idea for anyone in a multiple-storey home.

 

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

Establish a zone in a room with vinyl wall decals

Living in an apartment or dorm room can have some disadvantages. One of the biggest disadvantage, in my opinion, is that you have limited decorating options. Most landlords won’t allow you to paint the walls, and many won’t let you use nails to hang artwork.

This bleak canvas might be appealing to minimalists, but I think that most people enjoy looking at something other than plain, white walls. Additionally, visually identifying where a room begins and ends, or where a zone of a room exists, can help a space feel more put together and less cluttered.

Vinyl wall decals with low-tack adhesive are one way to create interest on a wall without having to pick up a paintbrush or hammer a nail. I also think that these are great solutions for children’s rooms where interests change quickly with age. (Dump trucks were so two weeks ago!) I’m considering using them in my three-story stairwell, and I even have the luxury of being able to paint my walls.

You could opt for wall-sized murals. Various quotations are available. You can even create your own decal with a favorite quote. Holiday themed decals allow you to change decor with ease. Glow-in-the-dark decals will allow you to shed a little bit of light in dark corners — ideal for keeping monsters away in a little one’s room.

A google search for vinyl wall decals or decorations will yield many links. I’ve collected a list of some of what I believe to be the most innovative producers:

  • Acte Deco has numerous designs based on nature and sports themes.
  • Domestic has many interesting cartoons and doilies from French designers (“Shall We Dance” is my favorite).
  • Apple Pie Design has many silhouette options.
  • Blik has Charles and Ray Eames decals that make my heart go pitter patter.

If you’re having trouble creating zones in your home, consider vinyl wall decals as a temporary or permanent option.

The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking

As fall nears and the weather cools, I start looking forward to a good bowl of chili while watching my favorite football team play on a Sunday afternoon. My thoughts of chili then progress into musings of stews and soups and all the wonderful things that can be made in my slow cooker.

I like using a slow cooker because it means that I dirty it and no other pots or pans during meal preparation. There are a few exceptions when an additional pan is needed to brown or sear meat, but these instances are rare. After the meal has been served, cleanup is as simple as moving the empty crock from the slow cooker to the dishwasher. The slow cooker is definitely an uncluttered kitchen solution.

If you don’t currently own a slow cooker, there are really only two features that I see as essential components. The first necessary feature is a separate, removable inner crock. The second feature is a temperature indicator that has at least three settings: Off, Low, and High. I have never found use for any of the other slow cooker features currently on the market. A crock pot with these two features also has the benefit of usually costing less than $30 and will last you many years.

The majority of the recipes I make in my slow cooker are in my head. However, I took a trip recently to my local bookstore and saw that there are now dozens of slow cooker recipe books in publication for people seeking printed recipes. Also, an internet search for “slow cooker recipe” yielded thousands of recipes from online sources. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the slow cooker cookbooks on the market:

Enjoy your uncluttered cooking experience!

 

This post has been updated since it was originally published in September 2007.

Words to keep you motivated

Listed below are the most common pieces of advice I give to people on the topic of uncluttering. With a three-day weekend on the horizon for those of us in the States, I thought that some encouragement might be appropriate. Have a great holiday, everyone!

  1. You don’t have to unclutter in one fell swoop. Many projects, spread out over weeks and months, will get you the same results as if you had tackled it all at once.
  2. Benefits of uncluttering can include being better organized, less stressed, and having fewer things to clean. When you walk into a room, you’re able to relax because there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  3. Your motivations and visions for your uncluttered life are your guiding star when taking on uncluttering projects. Keep your eyes on your goals and you’ll find that uncluttering has less to do about the stuff and more about the life you want to lead.
  4. You can do it!
  5. You don’t have to unclutter alone. Seek out friends, family, or organizational professionals to help with motivation and keep you focused on your uncluttering goals.
  6. Keep things in perspective. If you relapse and get bogged down, don’t become frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Start again tomorrow. This is home and office organization, it’s not brain surgery. There are worse things in the world than not succeeding your first time with an uncluttering project.
  7. The person with the most amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award.
  8. The person with the least amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award, either. Living an uncluttered life doesn’t mean that you have to live an ascetic life. Simple living is about getting rid of distractions that prevent you from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

What advice, motivations, or thoughts have helped you to be more organized? Let us know what has influenced you!

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

An idea for inherited china

Since the 1880s, when a woman in my family has raised her children and finds herself getting along in years she has picked up a small paint brush and signed her full name and birth date to the bottom of her china’s tea cups and saucers. Then, as she sees fit, she distributes the tea cups and matching saucers to her family and friends.

My mother has a collection of seven tea cups and saucers on a shelf in her dining room’s china cabinet. As a child, I would ask about the tea cups and my mother would pull them out and tell me the stories of the people to whom they had belonged. Not all of the tea cups and saucers were signed, those had come from my paternal line where signing the china hadn’t been the tradition. My mother had collected the unsigned pieces from my father’s family members so that when she one day passes on the collection to me that I will have a set including pieces from more than her family.

It seems a bit cluttered to collect seven different tea cups and saucers to store on a shelf of a china cabinet, but in comparison to keeping seven complete sets of china it is quite uncluttered. Also, with the sentimentality of past generations being passed on in tea cups, it means that other, more clutter-prone objects, are eliminated guilt-free from the inheritance process.

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Reader question: How should I store my fabric stash?

Reader Zora sent us the following question:

I sew my own clothing; I also quilt, make lace, crochet, etc. I have a 20 year accumulation of cloth, scraps, and supplies that is exquisitely organized (labeled boxes, labeled plastic drawers). If I had a dedicated sewing room, it would all fit nicely there. But I don’t. It’s all neatly stacked in the spare room, which I must clear out so I can rent it. Advice for fabriholics?

Zora, I understand the stash and hopefully can provide you with some help on this matter. I, too, sew and have a fabric stash. Fabric, yarn, fiber, thread, and canvas hoarding, along with pattern and supply accumulation is a common problem among fiber artists. (The most unbelievable stash I’ve ever seen photographed is showcased here. It’s a yarn stash, but the hoarding concept is the same.) The advice that I’m giving can be applied to anyone wanting to get his or her stash in order.

Mindset: There is not a limited supply of fabric in the world. Plants continue to produce cotton, worms spin silk, sheep have wool, and there are fabric manufacturers and retailers willing to produce and sell you gorgeous fabrics. If any of these processes cease to exist, you will have larger concerns than obtaining fabric.

That being said, it is ridiculous to assume that a serious artist will have no stash. A friend may appear at your door with a batik fabric from a trip to India. If you can’t think of a project to start immediately, you now have a stash on your hands.

Therefore, I suggest that your stash be a limited size. Determine the size of your stash based on two factors: 1. How much you can sew in a set time period (I suggest having no more than six months or a year of projects), and 2. How much you can carry in one load. If you cannot carry the whole of your stash, then it is too big. You would never be able to save it in an emergency if you couldn’t carry it, so why have more than you could reasonably save?

Future buying: Buy fabric for specific projects. Don’t buy fabric unless you know the exact length, style, and type that you need for a project that you will make in the next six months or year. I carry a list of my fabric and supply needs in a small moleskine notebook in my purse with me at all times. Resist all other types of personal fabric purchases. This is the hardest step in the process.

Organizing your stash: When I bring new fabric into my home, I immediately put it into a large Ziploc Storage bag. The pattern, thread, and all other necessary supplies for the project go into the bag, as well. I write the name of the project and the date the fabric was purchased on the exterior of the bag with a permanent black marker.

I measure fabric that is given to me as a gift and then put it into a Ziploc bag. On the bag’s exterior, I label the size of the fabric, its fiber content, who gave me the fabric, where it was purchased, and the date of the gift. I then actively seek out projects for that fabric.

Organizing your non-fabric supplies: I have two additional storage containers in addition to my fabric stash. The first is a thread organizer and the second is a tackle box for all of my other sewing supplies. I keep manuals and pattern books on my bookshelf and my cutting mat leans against the back wall of my office closet.

Getting rid of fabric: If you haven’t sewn a project in a year, evaluate if you’re actually going to make the project. If the answer is yes, it goes back in the bin with a re-evaluation date written on the bag. If the answer is no, get rid of the project in full.

After a project is complete, immediately get rid of scraps. You don’t have to throw the scraps in the trash (you may have more than a yard of scraps), but you need to get them out of your house. Scraps are clutter.

Here are suggestions for ways to de-stash projects, scraps, or large amounts of fabric–

  • Set up a Pay Pal account and sell it on your blog
  • List it on Craigslist or Ebay
  • Have a yard sale where you specifically mention that you’re getting rid of fabric
  • Freecycle it
  • Contact your local high school and see if the Home Economics department could use it
  • Donate it to charity
  • Let your sewing friends go through it and take what they want

 

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

Reader question: End table filing cabinets?

Reader Sarah asked us the following question:

I’m preparing to move from a large suburban home into a small urban apartment for one year, and I want to take a minimum of files with me. Ideally I’d find an attractive lidded file basket or box that could do double duty as an end table in my living room. Any suggestions?

In smaller spaces, multi-functional furniture is a great way to maximize storage. My favorite, multi-purpose filing cabinet is the Woodboro Media End Table. It stores hanging files in letter and legal sizes, it has built in storage for your laptop, hidden, built-in AC and USB outlets and serves as an end table. This is one valuable piece of furniture if you’re limited on space and do not have a traditional home office.

There are many different types of end table filing cabinets, some of which could also function as a night stand beside your bed or a guest bed. You might also want to consider one of the many styles of ottoman filing cabinets.

I hope that this helps, and good luck with the move!

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Wall mounted system for storing fishing poles

Like to fish? Have plans to clean and organize your garage? I ran across this storage device and thought it was sleek and efficient. Upon inspection of the product, I discovered that it also could work as a way to store fencing foils and billiards/pool cues. I love the way the garage door is used as a storage space!

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Reader question: How to dispose of unused medications

A reader sent us the following question:

“A family member is taking medications for a long term illness. Periodically, the medication is changed. We have ended up with many partial bottles of medications and empty bottles. The prescription bottles have info on it that you wouldn’t necessarily want to get in the wrong hands if you just threw it in the trash as well as old meds. What is a good way to dispose of these?”

When I was younger, I dumped old medicines down the toilet and flushed them. Just so we’re clear, this was the WRONG thing to do. I had no idea that medications (prescription and over-the-counter drugs) are hazardous waste, which they are, and I was just polluting the environment unwittingly. Shame on me.

I have learned my lesson, however, and can offer some advice to you on this issue:

  • DO NOT flush unused medications down the toilet or wash them down the sink.
  • Many pharmacies and doctor’s offices have pharmaceutical take-back programs. Call before you go, but this is a simple option if you’re headed to the pharmacy anyway to pick up a new prescription.
  • The EPA suggests that you black out with a permanent marker your personal information and your doctor’s information on the container, and then take your unused medications to your local hazardous waste facility. To find your local facility, check out the search tool on the Earth911 website.
  • Look at the printed material accompanying your medications to see if there are special disposal instructions. In some cases, the FDA advises what procedure to use. The list of special drugs can be found on this page if you have inadvertently discarded your original printed materials.

I hope that this advice is helpful. This is also a good opportunity to remind everyone to regularly clean out your medicine chest for health, safety and uncluttering reasons!

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

More than 15 ways to handle recurrent clutter

There are three areas in my home that are on a recurrent cycle of being cluttered and cause me stress: the kitchen, the family room, and the dirty clothes hamper in the bedroom.

I have taken many steps to try to get my laundry problem under control, but I continue to wrestle with it. The kitchen is a similar stress aggravated by the fact that my husband and I eat three meals a day at home. Then, there is the family room where things come in and never leave.

These three areas have one thing in common: they have a constant supply of input. Every night I deposit clothes into the hamper. Every day I sit and knit or read or watch TV or whatever I’m doing to relax in my family room. Every meal I dirty pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups, and every week I bring in more food to repeat the cycle.

I’ve been working diligently recently to keep these areas clutter free in my own home, and can share a few tips and advice. I hope that you find at least one or more helpful.

Laundry

  • If you haven’t already read it, start by going to my previous post on dealing with laundry clutter. Following these tips have made my laundry situation bearable.
  • Additionally, I recommend making your laundry room as welcoming, cheerful, and serene as possible. A laundry room that is pleasant to be in makes doing the laundry much less of an annoyance. A dark, dreary basement with bare concrete walls isn’t inviting. Spruce up your space so that being in it is a reward, not a punishment.

Family Room

  • Institute a “no food” rule for your family room. No food outside the kitchen or dining room is a good general house rule, too.
  • Assess the amount of furniture in your family room. Do you really need four end tables and two coffee tables? I find that the more tables I have in a room, the more stuff I set on the tables.
  • Every time a person leaves the room, have them put something away. If everything is properly in its place, celebrate.
  • Have a vacuum cleaner/broom easily accessible to the room. I find that I need to vacuum the carpet in this room twice as often as in the rest of the house. Having the ability to use it with very little effort is essential.
  • Have a place for everything in the room: a knitting basket with a lid, a storage system for your video games, a chest for children’s toys, a bin for piano music, a CD and DVD solution, etc.

Kitchen

  • My first suggestion for the kitchen is to get your hands on Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook. The kitchen section in the book is really good and I learned a great deal from reading it. I reference it a handful of times a month.
  • Put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher. No plates or cups should ever sit dirty on the counter.
  • Own dishwasher-safe stainless steel cookware and other kitchen items. If you have to wash it by hand it is likely to sit cluttered on the counter.
  • Avoid unitasker appliances and utensils. Based on your cooking style, a few may creep into your home, but it’s best to try to keep these numbers small.
  • Monitor what small appliances and entertaining dishes you use, and get rid of those you don’t. I’ve used our reader-suggested dot system for my monitoring with great success.
  • If you must store small appliances on your counter, only have out those you use often. My toaster, coffee pot, vacuum sealer, and mixer sit out all the time. I use all of these daily or almost daily.
  • Organize your kitchen so that what you use is stored next to where it is used. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but things like pots and pans should be next to the stove and leftover storage containers next to the refrigerator.
  • If you’re like me, don’t use a bread box. I put bread in there, forget about it, and then discover it weeks later all moldy. I currently store aluminum foil, wax paper, ziplock bags, and such in my bread box instead. I set my bread on top of the bread box.

Please feel welcome to add suggestions in the comments section. There are so many effective strategies out there that I couldn’t possibly name them all in this post. So, let us know what works for you!

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

Reader question: Ending laundry chaos

A reader sent us the following question:

Your site is uber-rad. I would really appreciate an article on how to get my LAUNDRY out of chaos mode. Thoughts on that one???

You had me at “uber-rad.”

I see laundry as the worst form of lazy clutter. I understand your pain and stress. I was once a degenerate who let laundry pile up around her until it seemed an impossible foe. The dark side, however, is behind me, and I offer you more than 20 tips to help you keep your laundry chaos to a minimum:

  • First and foremost, establish a laundry routine. We do laundry every Monday and Thursday in our household. I suggest that if there are one or two people in your house that you follow in my footsteps. If you have three or four people in your home, you probably need to do laundry every other day. If there are five or more people in your house, you should do a load of laundry (or more) every day. You can’t let laundry pile up or it instantly becomes chaotic.
  • Exclusively use sturdy laundry baskets (20 gal. or smaller). Keep one in the bedroom(s), and a smaller one in the bathroom, and laundry room. Don’t buy one with fabric sides because it will inevitably malfunction and turn into a mess instead of a hamper. If you have a laundry chute, only have laundry baskets in your laundry room to transport clean and folded clothes. Some people might think that having three baskets per room – one for darks, lights, and delicates – is a step saving measure because it keeps you from having to sort clothes on laundry day. I’ve found through experience, however, that three baskets per room results in more chaos because there’s more space for clothes to pile up, less floor space for things you value more than dirty laundry, and more trips carrying dirty clothes to the laundry room (at least three instead of one).
  • Have fewer clothes. The fewer clothes you have, the fewer clothes you have to wash. In a series of upcoming posts, I’ll discuss specific ways to do this.
  • Don’t have more clothes than you can store properly in your dresser drawers and closet. If you can’t put all of your clothes away, you’ll always have a reason to have dirty clothes.
  • Only buy non-iron clothes to keep clean shirts from stacking up in a “needs ironing” pile.
  • When moving, look for a place that has a laundry room on the same floor as your closet. If you’re a DIY person, consider building a closet with the washer and dryer right inside of it.
  • Have a designated dry cleaner bag next to your hamper. If you keep it in your car, clothes that need to go to the dry cleaner will certainly pile up on the floor and cause clutter. Be sure to drop your dry cleaning bag off every Friday and pick it up every Monday — routines are important for dry cleaning clothes, too.
  • Keep a stack of delicate bags next to your hamper. When you take off delicates, you can put them straight into a delicates bag and then just throw them into the hamper. This way your delicates won’t accidentally get lost in your dirty clothes mess.
  • Change into pajamas at least an hour before bedtime so that you have enough energy to do more than throw your dirty clothes on the floor.
  • Before buying anything in a color that bleeds (like red), ask yourself if you will want to take the time to sort it out every time you launder it.
  • Think about wearing only one color so that you never have to sort your laundry into lights and darks. These people have done it.
  • Get a job in an office that allows casual dress so that you stop wearing two sets of clothes on most days.
  • Have a stick of Tide To-Go in your closet so if a shirt is stained you can spot clean it before putting it into the hamper.
  • Only have two sets of bed sheets — one on your bed and one waiting on deck. The same can apply to towels, but I suggest three because the rate of replacement is higher for towels.
  • By the age of 12 your children should have their own laundry routines.
  • Clean out pockets when taking off clothing to avoid having to do it during sorting. I suggest having a small trash can in your closet for just this purpose.
  • If something is permanently stained or riddled with holes, get rid of it.
  • Keep hangers in your laundry room so that you can immediately hang up the clothes that you don’t fold.
  • Replace your washer and dryer with large capacity units so that you can do two to three traditional loads at a time.
  • Have a table in your laundry room so that you can have a space to immediately fold clothes as they come out of the dryer. Do NOT allow it to become a clutter table — keep it clean and only use it for folding.
  • Have a designated bag or box in your laundry room to put clothes in that you want to donate to charity. When they come out of the dryer, fold them, and stick them into the bag.

 

This post was originally published in May 2007.