Letting a corner of clutter slide

The more attuned I am to practicing simple living, the fewer places in my home have hidden corners of clutter. There are some places, though, where disorder thrives and I realize that I am completely okay with it. In fact, these areas serve as little humbling reminders that I am human and am far from perfect.

Case in point: My sock drawer.

Did I just hear you gasp? Are you completely horrified? Are the hairs standing up on the back of your neck as you compose an e-mail to me offering to organize my sock drawer for me? Take a deep breath and move your fingers off the keyboard. It is going to be okay.

You should know that all of the other drawers in my dresser are beautifully organized (imagine the successful use of separators) and contain little to no disarray. It really is just my sock drawer that looks hideous. My husband’s sock drawer is ordered by type of sock (dress or sport) and color coordinated (a helpful activity for those who are color blind), which is strange since I’m the one who often folds and puts away his laundry. My sock drawer is messy, however, and the whole world has not collapsed around me.

I’m mentioning my sock drawer because people can have the misconception that being organized means that every single minute aspect of one’s life is in pristine order. Order is a goal, yes — but so is sanity. Being organized and living simply is about removing distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life. Right now, my sock drawer is not a hindrance to the life I want to lead. Maybe one day it will be, and I will buy some dividers and establish order in my sock drawer. Until then, it is one of a small handful of places where disorder exists in my home, and that’s okay. Really, it is.

Do you have a space where disorder reigns, but the whole of your organization system isn’t collapsing as a result? Feel welcome to tell us about it in the comments. Get it off your chest. You are, after all, only human.

 

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

Second favorite organization tool: The labelmaker

I have written in the past about the ScanSnap, my favorite organization tool. Today, I want to talk about the item that runs a very close second on my favorite’s list, which is the labelmaker.

I’m actually a little surprised that I haven’t written more about it on Unclutterer. Any storage box in my home that isn’t clear gets labeled. Same applies to every file folder in my filing cabinet, the recycling bins, containers in the bathroom, and about 1,000 other items in my home.

Until I had one, I didn’t know what I was missing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to say about the labelmaker because it is such a straightforward device. Maybe its simplicity has something to do with why it’s so high on my list of favorite organization tools.

 

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

Getting the most out of your storage closets

I have often written about my office closet on Unclutterer. In fact, the last time I mentioned it, I received an email from a reader doubting its existence. “How big is your office closet? You write about it like it’s Mary Poppins’ purse.”

My office closet is in fact real, and it is quite large. It’s 10′ wide, 8′ tall, and 2.5′ deep, which gives me 200 cubic feet of storage. The space is accessible by two sets of panel doors and takes up the whole of the west wall of my office. Here’s a peek into half of the closet:

The second half of the closet looks quite similar to this one, but with the addition of a hanging bar for out of season coats and wrapping supplies. Most everything in the closet sits two rows deep and the shelves are Elfa brand. My husband and I built the closet, gladly sacrificing the 25 sq. feet of floor space on that side of the room.

Items are located on shelves in the closet based on how often they are accessed and their weight. You’ll notice, too, that like things are grouped together:

Office supplies, business documents, and my yarn and fiber are at waist or eye level because I open the closet for these items on a daily basis. Games, which usually are only played on weekends, are a little higher and more difficult to reach, but well labeled. Our comics are at waist level because they weigh a lot and would be difficult to access at a different height, and the same applies to our records. We only pull our photographs and albums out of storage 10 to 15 times a year, so they’re the most hard to reach items in the closet. And, to be perfectly honest, my hope is to have the majority of these digitally scanned this year, which will free up a good chunk of this space.

When organizing your closets, ask yourself the following questions: Do you have sufficient closet space or do you need to build your dream closet? Are you using all of the space in the closet effectively? Could a shelving system, like the Elfa system, improve your functionality? Are items grouped together by type (games with games, photographs with photographs)? Are items most regularly accessed at waist or eye level? Are the heaviest items at waist level or lower? Are boxes well labeled or clear so you don’t waste time hunting for specific items? Do you have a small step stool nearby to conveniently access the hard-to-reach spaces (we have a kik step, which reminds us of our elementary school libraries)? Are you faithful about returning items to their proper place in your organized closet?

Taking the time to plan your storage closets will really improve their functionality and effectiveness in your home. If you have questions or want to share tips about your storage closets, feel welcome to discuss them in the comments.

 

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

Dry erase boards for the 21st century

When my brother and I were teenagers, my parents had a dry erase board hanging next to the door we used as our main entry point to the house. All of us, parents included, were to write where we were going and what time we expected to return on the board as we left the house. We didn’t have cell phones and we didn’t get an answering machine until my senior year of high school, so this dry erase board was our way of keeping track of everyone.

If we changed our plans, we either had to first come by the house and write it on the board or call and hopefully reach someone at home to change the information on the board for us. We also kept appointment reminders (Dentist Tues. 2:00) and notes to ourselves (Don’t forget Kara’s math notes!) to help with the flow of life in the house.

Now, in my own home, I find that there are times when I still wish I had a dry erase board next to my door — even with cell phones, voice mail and the like. I’ll write messages on Post-It notes and stick them to the door as reminders for things I shouldn’t forget (Bank!). The Post-It people must have been listening because it has come to my attention that I can have a giant dry erase board next to my door without having an unsightly dry erase board hanging there.

I can now buy dry erase whiteboard film! It is like self-adhesive, dry erase wallpaper except it’s removable! It is rather expensive but I don’t have to worry about drilling holes in my walls and it can be cut to fit the exact space I want.

In my situation, I think it would be great for by our door, but it could be used in kids’ rooms, offices, classrooms, kitchens, and conference rooms. As an organizational tool, I think this is a wonderful idea.

 

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

Tool for change

When I set goals for myself, I start by writing them down and then imagining how I want things to look in the future. I often have done this activity by writing myself a letter that I schedule to open on a future date — sometimes two weeks, two months, or even two years in the future.

The other day I stumbled upon a link to the website FutureMe.org. FutureMe is similar to what I was describing above, but instead of writing a tangible letter you create an email. I really like the idea of a future email because you can’t lose it and you don’t have to worry about a physical letter cluttering up your desk. You can set the letter as “private” so that only you receive the message, or “public but anonymous” for all to view.

Consider writing yourself a future email through FutureMe.org as a way to help you keep on track with your uncluttering goals.

 

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

Reader question: Curbing golf club clutter?

A reader who identified herself as elrj sent us this question:

“My husband and I live in a charming one bedroom apartment in a converted historic townhouse. At first, it was a squeeze because the place doesn’t have much storage/closet space at all. But, with some re-arranging and advice from blogs like this, we have massaged our little home into a wonderfully live-able and entertain-able space. Then I bought a bike. Combined with his, they take up the entire hallway, and when you add the golf clubs (previously stored in the trunk of our car) we’ve got quite the sports-themed house. We have no yard/outside to chain them to, and we use them regularly. What do you do with such things in an efficiency?”

Storing sporting equipment in an efficiency can be a headache. When my husband and I first moved in together in our 850 sq. foot one bedroom, our lack of space was almost enough to convince me drop sports all together. I know your pain and understand it.

As far as your bikes are concerned, we’ve already published a couple posts on this topic on the site. The posts themselves have some strong ideas, but be sure to read the comments where many of our readers offer up terrific alternatives: Single hook bike solution and Bike storage solutions.

We’ve never discussed golf clubs on the site, though, so I want to spend the remainder of this post addressing that topic.

The first thing you’ll want to consider when looking to save space is getting new golf bags. My husband and I downsized from our behemoth traditional staff/cart style bags to new feather-weight backpack styles (similar to these: Mine, His) and have never looked back. My empty bag weighs less than four pounds and is about half of the footprint as my old bag. All of my clubs and materials fit easily in the bag, and it has the added bonus of being able to be hung up on a strong, wooden hanger in my closet. (I bungee cord the straps together to make certain they don’t slip off the hanger.)

Another idea is to contact the course where you play most often and see if they have on-site storage lockers. You’ll have to shell out a little money per month, but it gets your bags out of your house and you don’t have to worry about transporting your bag from home to course should you decide to ride your bike. If you don’t play golf more than a few times a year, though, this suggestion won’t be practical for you.

In fact, if you only play golf two or three times a year, I suggest that you get rid of the clubs. Renting a set of clubs for the few times you do play will be less stressful in the long run. With the money you get from selling your clubs, you can pay for three or four rentals. Again, I’m only making this suggestion if you rarely play and are just holding onto the clubs because of a sunk-cost fallacy.

If you do play often, can’t rent space at your course, and don’t have space in your closets to hang your clubs, you may want to consider: A wall-mounted golf bag and shoe organizer (pictured above) or a freestanding wood bag organizer. The wall-mounted system could turn your golf bags into a piece of interesting art, and the standing organizer could at least provide a permanent home for your bags.

I hope one of these ideas is helpful. Good luck!

 

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

Gadget ‘gas station’

Anthro, an office furniture company, has a product for sale that appeals to both my techie and minimalist sensibilities. The eNook is a “gas station for your gadgets that has channels for you to plug in and charge all your gear.”

Not only does this look like a fantastic docking station, but could easily be used as a fold-away desk. In its compact state, it sticks out only 7″ from the wall. In my mind, this would be perfect in a studio apartment for a traveling consultant or in a busy family’s kitchen.

 

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

Storing coffee

If you’re a coffee aficionado, take a few minutes today to evaluate your home coffee situation. Do you have an unnecessary number of mugs? Is counter space for food preparation being unreasonably sacrificed for your coffee supplies? Can you rearrange your current setup to be less cluttered and better contained? A few minutes is all this simple check should take.

While you’re giving your coffee situation some attention, don’t forget to evaluate how you’re storing your coffee beans. Are you using airtight canisters? Are you keeping them at room temperature? Coffee beans you aren’t going to grind and brew within two weeks can be kept in the freezer, but they should not be stored in the refrigerator. Moisture isn’t good for coffee, well, unless you’re actually in the process of brewing. Don’t believe me? Here are a few insights from people much more informed than I am on this issue:

  • From the Joy of Cooking: “The best way to store coffee beans, ground or whole, is in an opaque airtight canister at room temperature.”
  • From Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: “Once roasted, whole coffee beans keep reasonably well for a couple of weeks at room temperature, or a couple of months in the freezer, before becoming noticeably stale. One reason that whole beans keep as long as they do is that they’re filled with carbon dioxide, which helps exclude oxygen from the porous interior. Once the beans have been ground, room temperature shelf life is only a few days.”
  • From Coffee AM: “When to Refrigerate Coffee? Never, unless you are conducting a science experiment on how long it takes to ruin perfectly good coffee. The fridge is one of the absolute worst places to put coffee.”

When I looked in on my coffee supplies last week, I found that I had more than 20 mugs in my cupboard. I donated 12 of those to a local homeless shelter and now have enough space in my cupboard to store all of my coffee supplies. I hope your efforts produce similar positive results.

 

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

Making your resolutions a reality

On either the last day of the old year or the first day of the new year, many of us created lists of resolutions. If you’re like me, getting organized appeared in some fashion on this list. For example my specific resolution back in 2008 was to get my laundry mess under control.

Generating the resolution and committing it to paper or a hard drive is a terrific way to start the process. Unfortunately, though, the resolution won’t become a reality unless more work is done. (Wouldn’t it be great if just writing it down was really all it took?!)

If you don’t set a course of action and stick to it, then your resolution will be nothing more than words on paper. I want to walk through my process attack, which is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, to help you see how lofty goals can easily become experienced reality.

  1. Commit your resolution to writing. It doesn’t matter if you write your resolution on an index card, in a Moleskine notebook, or in an virtual Evernote notebook. Formulating your idea into concrete words helps you define your purpose and gets you started on your path to change.
  2. Reflect on your resolution and identify your motivation for change and where you see yourself once the resolution is complete. If you can’t see where you’re headed or why you want to get there, your resolution is pretty much destined for failure. There is no need to establish any other form of reward system, because you’ll see yourself succeeding! In my case, I need to imagine the calm I will have from not having piles of laundry cluttering up the floor of my laundry room.
  3. Brainstorm methods for completing your resolution. Even if the ideas seem ridiculous, write them down anyway. What are all of the ways that you could possibly reach your goal? What steps could you take? What is currently standing in your way? What resources could you obtain to help you get what you want? Empty all of your thoughts on the matter onto a piece of paper.
  4. Evaluate your brainstormed ideas and create what Allen calls “keys” to organization. “Identify the significant pieces. Sort by (one or more): components, sequences, priorities. Detail to the required degree.” This is the stage where you create your plan.
  5. Once your plan is set, make decisions as to the exact steps you will follow to achieve your goal. Without these concrete steps, you won’t know how to move forward. For my laundry resolution, my exact steps involve a lot of removing current barriers to success. (Buy light bulbs on Saturday morning at the grocery store to replace burned out bulbs in the laundry room.) If you’ve never written an exact step, or what Allen names “next actions,” you may want to read the entry on this topic on Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders GTDwiki here.
  6. Start!

Good luck to everyone with their organization resolutions! Feel welcome to tell us about your process for success in the comments section to this post.

 

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

Post-holiday cleanup, part 3

We linked to an article in Post-holiday cleanup, part 1, which described ways to dispose of a real Christmas tree. Storing an artificial tree, however, can be a task that worries even the most uncluttered of us.

In my home, we collapse the tree and keep it in its original packaging when not in use. If you didn’t hold onto your original box, or if it’s impossible to fit the tree back inside of it once it has been used, here are some storage alternatives:

  • Artificial Tree Storage Bag — With a reasonable price tag, this appears to be a cost effective option with the benefit of having a handle for transporting the tree in and out of storage.
  • Artificial Christmas Tree Box — This option is more expensive, but because it is flat you can stack things on top of the box the other 11 months out of the year
  • If you aren’t seeking something aesthetically pleasing, large leaf and lawn bags could work nicely.

Check out our other posts in this series:

 

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

Post-holiday cleanup, part 1

Over the course of the next few days, we’re going to explore that sad time after the holidays when decorations and gifts must find a place to be stored or disposed. Putting away a menorah or Christmas tree or New Year’s party hat is never as much fun as bringing it out of storage or buying it. And, for a number of us, it’s cold and cloudy outside and the temptation to procrastinate the whole affair is pretty strong. Our couches and blankets call to us to sit for a while longer and relax while digesting all of those holiday meals.

I want to provide you with some links that you can peruse from the comfort of your couch. No need to be called to action just yet. Consider this “research.”

  • Here is some advice from our readers on handling holiday cards: What to do with holiday cards? Recycle!
  • Jan. 6 is the traditional day for taking down your tree, and here are tips on how to get rid of your real tree: How to dispose of a Christmas tree
  • Want to make space for all of your child’s new toys? Here is some advice on that subject.
  • Too much gift candy sitting around your home tempting you? Freeze it in small zip-top bags and bring it out in small portions over the next few months.
  • Want to regift an item but wonder if it’s horribly tacky? Read these rules for regifting.
  • Need to return or exchange an item because of damage or ill fitting size? Start by doing a Google search of the brand name and the phrase “how to return and exchange an item.” In some cases, you’ll need a gift receipt and tags, so be sure to know what you need before taking on the crowds in the stores.
  • Wondering what to do with leftovers from all of your holiday meals? Wonder no more! Stilltasty.com has the most helpful advice.
  • Need to replenish your home bar after all of your festive parties? Here’s a great list of essentials.

Check out our other posts in this series:

 

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

What to do with holiday cards? Recycle!

Two of our readers provided creative suggestions for how to recycle holiday cards in the comments section of our Holiday gifts: Out with the old in with the new post. Not wanting to have them lost in the shuffle, I wanted to pull them out to everyone’s attention.

From Jan:

I recycle my Christmas cards. They arrive in the mail, I read them, I cut the writing off the back, I turn them into a Christmas post card with a friend’s address, stamp and short message and repost immediately.

From Kate:

Once the holidays are over, I “massacre” [cards] into gift tags for next year using a pair of pinking shears.

For even more great ideas, check out the comments below and our other post on uncluttering holiday greeting cards.

 

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