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.

What causes clutter in your life?

One of the important aspects of getting clutter under control in your life is to discover why your home and life are cluttered. Spending as few as 15 minutes in quiet reflection often can help you to discover the root of your problem.

Is your home and life cluttered because of:

  • Emotional avoidance? (Are you holding onto your past because you fear the present and future? Are you afraid that you’ll lose the memories of someone from your past if you get rid of a physical object of his/hers?)
  • Physical exhaustion or limitation? (Have you been injured and cannot pick up objects as easily as you once could? Would you benefit from the help of a hired hand?)
  • Mental exhaustion? (Are you emotionally overwhelmed because of a work or social situation?)
  • Lack of time? (Are you working too many hours or traveling too often to keep your home well maintained?)
  • Feeling overwhelmed? (Is there so much stuff in your home that you don’t know where to begin organizing and/or cleaning? Are you over-committed to clubs and activities outside of your home to give your life its proper attention?)
  • Laziness? (Do you just not want to take care of things right now?)
  • Compulsive shopping? (Are you buying more than you can use and need? Are you constantly buying things to make yourself feel better?)
  • Procrastination? (Do you want to have your clutter disappear but would rather sit and watch television instead of deal with it?)

Once you identify the cause(s) of clutter in your life, you can work to keep clutter from reappearing in your home. The causation of your clutter might be able to be solved by simply changing your attitude (like with laziness) or hiring a professional organizer to get you started. Solving your time crunch problem might mean something more drastic like changing your job. In some cases, you might even consider consulting a counselor or life coach to help solve the root of your problem. In all cases, though, identifying the cause(s) of your clutter and working to solve it can help to keep your life clutter free in the future.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Reader question: Which linens stay and which ones go?

Reader Pamela sent us the following question:

I have a question/problem I think you folks might be able to help with. I have been trying for the past few months to trim down – unclutter my home – since I had a roommate move in a few months back. So, far, I have been proud of how I am doing. However, I am still struggling with a few problems spots in the house — linens and books. You recently addressed dealing with books on your site. Would you consider dealing with the linen issue? Right now I have a TON of bed sheets and various quilts and blankets. I know I need to get rid of some of it. Thanks.

Linens, which for the purposes of this post I will define as sheets, blankets, towels, and washcloths, are often concealed clutter in homes because they have a designated space (like a linen closet) where they can hide. If you’re like me, though, you have a habit of putting linens into the closet, but never taking worn-out ones out of circulation.

The following tips can help you to know which linens are good and which linens are clutter in your home.

Sheets: I live in a four-season climate, so I support having two sets of warm-weather sheets (cotton) and two sets of cool-weather sheets (flannel or jersey) for your bed. This means one set on the bed, one waiting to be switched to on laundry day, and two in a sealed storage container for the alternate season.

Good sheets should

  1. appropriately fit the bed even after many washings
  2. have properly functioning elastic
  3. be hole and stain free
  4. be made of a soft and durable single-ply cotton with a thread count between 200 and 400 (see a buying guide to sheets here)
  5. allow you to be comfortable so that you can sleep soundly.

Blankets: In addition to the comforter on your bed, I suggest that you should have at least three additional blankets — one for curling up with on the couch, one for overnight guests, and a “work” blanket in the trunk of your car for spontaneous picnics and for warmth if you have car trouble in the winter. You may find that you need more blankets for your home, especially if you have children, but three blankets are all we use.

Quilts and bedspreads: If you have a quilt that is a family heirloom or was handmade by a close friend, it will likely be difficult to get rid of it for emotional reasons. Therefore, I believe quilts are made to be loved and either used or displayed, not stored. Read more about vintage quilts and bedspreads here.

Bathroom towels and washcloths: Like sheets, I suggest having two sets of bathroom linens per person. One in use, and one to be switched to on laundry day. If you have a guest bathroom, usually one set of guest towels is appropriate. Old and unnecessary towels and washcloths should be moved to the garage to be used as rags or donated to the local animal shelter.

Good bathroom towels and washcloths should

  1. keep their shape and color after many washings
  2. be hole, snag, and stain free
  3. be made of a soft, durable cotton that look like thousands of strings (instead of loops)
  4. be good at drying you

Kitchen towels and washcloths: The rules here are similar to bath towels, except you don’t need two kitchen towels per person in your house. Most kitchens can get by on three towels and three to six dishcloths.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Weekend project: Tackle the area beneath your kitchen sink

I have to admit that I never think about the area under my sink. Even when I reach inside of it to grab the dish-washing detergent, I keep my eye on the soap and nothing else. It’s a dark pit and can be a scary place if left unattended.

This weekend, I want you to tackle the area beneath your kitchen sink. Would a pull-out drawer or shelving system help you to better organize the space? (I love ours, which is pictured, but I don’t know where the previous homeowner purchased it.) Are there things down there that can be thrown out or relocated to a more appropriate space? Are you accidentally hoarding sponges because you forgot you have already purchased two dozen of them?

Remember, too, that I’m not a fan of having your trashcan beneath your sink. I understand that if you have dogs, small children, or an incredibly small space that you may have no other choice. But, if your trash could be moved someplace else, maybe now is the time to consider that option.

If the area beneath your kitchen sink is organized, what about the area beneath your bathroom sinks? Can those areas be straightened or the space more efficiently arranged?

These areas are best to keep clear of clutter because of the damage that can result if a pipe bursts or your drain starts leaking. Plus, it’s good to be able to tell if your pipe or drain is leaking — something that is difficult to do if you have too much stuff in this place. It’s best to keep valuables out of these spaces and the area easily accessible for a plumber. The last thing you want to do is have to waste time clearing a path for someone who is about to cost you a hundred or more dollars an hour.

 

This post was originally published in February 2008.

10 Places to find hidden clutter

Just because something has a place in your home doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for that object. In fact, just because you have space to store an object doesn’t mean that you should.

If you want to have a home where everything is in its best place, here are 10 places to start looking for hidden clutter:

  1. Under beds. When I was in junior high, my mom found a “tennis ball” under my bed while she was replacing my mattress. Except it wasn’t a tennis ball, it was a furry, rotten apple. The space under people’s beds can be scary. Clear out the clutter (and the bad apples) from under your bed.
  2. Closets. If you’re like most people, you have sheets, towels, board games, coats, scarves, umbrellas, scrap-booking supplies, exercise videos, outdated spices, shoes, empty boxes, and hundreds of other items that you never use cluttering up your closets. Linen closets, coat closets, pantries, and wardrobes are full of clutter that you can get rid of now.
  3. Your basement. Spiders aren’t the only things lurking in your basement. Holiday decorations, boxes you never unpacked from your last move, and broken electronics that you have convinced yourself you will one day fix are all looming down there. I know it’s frightening, but you really should go through these things and deal with them in a proper manner.
  4. Self-storage facilities. You know how kids sometimes put their hands over their ears, close their eyes, and scream, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you”? Imagine me doing that right now. If you rent one of these spaces, read this article. Then, do everything in your power to get rid of your need to use a self-storage facility.
  5. Garages. Are there a pair of Rollerblades somewhere in your garage? Was 1998 the last time you wore them? Unused sports equipment, camping gear, and things that didn’t sell in your last garage sale don’t belong in your garage. Wouldn’t it be nice next winter to actually be able to park your car inside your garage?
  6. Your attic. See #3 above, substituting the word “attic” for “basement.”
  7. High cupboards in the kitchen. Waffle makers, popcorn poppers, china, silver, and griddles have a way of making it into your kitchen, never to be seen again. Consider what I said in my previous post about either using what you already own or getting rid of it.
  8. Guest rooms. I have a friend, who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, who has two “guest rooms” in her home. One has a bed, dresser, and empty closet. The other is filled with boxes and boxes of every piece of clothing her children have ever worn and every toy they have ever owned. Her children are married and live in their own homes. Yet, my friend continues to keep her children’s things and will not reclaim her guest room. If you have a guest room hiding things that you do not need, think about my friend and how you don’t want to end up like her.
  9. Desk drawers and filing cabinets. Your desk is a place that should facilitate productivity, creativity, and work. None of these things can happen if your desk is a disaster. If you’re having trouble with out-of-control papers, read posts in our category of organizing paper. If you’re having trouble opening your desk drawers, take a deep breath, disconnect the phone and the internet for a few hours, and focus on clearing the clutter from your work space.
  10. Your car’s glove box and armrest. As far as I am aware, there is not a competition to see how much stuff you can cram inside your glove box. I’m just letting you know.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Using what you already own

In preparation for a dinner party I threw the other night, I brought down my sugar bowl off the high shelf of my cupboard. The bowl was a wedding gift, and it hasn’t received much use over the years. It’s attractive, though, and durable. I held it in my hands for a few seconds, and then decided that after the dinner I would store it in the same, easily accessible space in my cupboard as the salt and pepper shakers. Since then, I’ve reached into the sugar bowl for my morning coffee’s sugar instead of into the big sugar storage canister as I had been doing.

Reclaiming my sugar bowl started me thinking about other items in my house that I already own and store, but that I don’t use. I like to think of myself as someone who leads an uncluttered life, but I was shocked to find many things I store and don’t regularly use — things I could be using, and want to use.

What’s the point of having good china if it is never used?

I found a beautiful crystal vase in a corner of the cabinet under my sink. I don’t put out cut flowers often because my cats eat them and then puke them up all over the house. Dinner guests often bring flowers as hostess gifts, however, so the vase gets some use but not as much as I would like. The vase’s lines are simple and stunning. It, too, was a wedding gift. When I look at the vase I think of the person who gave it to us and smile. My solution? I went to my local craft shop and bought a gorgeous spray of silk flowers. Fake flowers, I should note, are not what they used to be. Unless you touch these flowers, you have no idea that they’re not real. Now, the vase that I love is out of the cupboard and being used.

I moved a chair out of the bedroom, where it was never utilized, and into the living room. A guitar that I had stored under the bed is now out and on a stand so that it can be picked up and played. I reconfigured my desk so that my sewing machine has a permanent place where I can use it without any effort. And, I also took to my local charity a number of items that I was just apparently storing for the sake of storing.

Are there items in your home that need to be reclaimed? Are you storing anything just to store it? Are you hiding things that you love? An uncluttered home means that there is a place for everything that you own, and that everything is in its place. What I learned from my sugar bowl is that some of the things that I own weren’t in their best places. Spend some time over the next few days evaluating your things and identifying if they are in their best place and if you’re using what you already own.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Weekend project idea: Clear clutter from your medicine chest

wall mount medicine chestFirst, before I get into the depths of this post, I want to say that you shouldn’t be storing medicines in your bathroom. Humidity is bad for your medicines, and most in-wall cabinets don’t have locks on them and can be accessed by little ones. So, you should begin your weekend project by getting a lockable chest that you can store in a closet or another dry place in your home for your medicines. This modern-style medicine chest with locking glass door mounts on the wall. If you’re worried about losing keys, a portable chest with combination lock is a good alternative.

Next, get rid of all drugs that have passed their expiration dates. Return medications, both prescription and over-the-counter types, to your pharmacy for safe disposal. You can also read our tips on disposing of unused medications.

combo lock medicine chestThird, clear out all items that are not actually medicine-related from your medicine chest and find proper homes for these items.

Fourth, evaluate your medicine chest for duplicates and missing items. You should have at least one thermometer, but not four (like I just found … how in the world do I have four thermometers?).

Finally, lock up your medicine chest and enjoy the rest of your weekend knowing that you helped restore sanity in at least one aspect of your life.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Clutter-free patio furniture ideas

My house has a front porch that runs the full length of the front of the house. The view from inside the house is terrific and uncluttered when there isn’t any patio furniture clogging up the porch. However, there are times when I entertain when having furniture out there would be nice.

Faced with this problem of only sort-of wanting patio furniture, I eventually decided to buy two types of furniture for my porch. The first is what I call indoor-outdoor furniture: pieces that I can use inside my house 99 percent of the time, but that I can take outside without fear of damage from the elements. The second type is what I call temporary furniture: pieces that are inflatable, totally kitsch, and easy to store.

The dual-purpose seating I purchased (which is very easy to clean) helps me both inside with much needed seating and outside during social gatherings. The inflatable furniture easily stores flat when not in use on a utility closet shelf, and also has the bonus of being a great conversation starter.

When looking for outdoor furniture, consider keeping your yard or porch typically clutter free by only using outdoor-indoor furniture and temporary, inflatable pieces.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Collapsible colanders save kitchen space

The colander is a utensil that finds its way into most kitchens. Unfortunately, many people sacrifice a great deal of cupboard space storing colanders. With diameters around 11″ and heights of more than 5″, the typical colander has a large footprint.

Regain some of that space by switching to a collapsible silicone colander. This colander, (similar to the one that I own), has a handle and is less than an inch flat when collapsed. There also is one on the market that doesn’t have a long handle and looks more like a traditional colander. It also is less than an inch flat when collapsed. This colander can also be used as a vegetable steamer!

If you like to have both hands free to pour from a heavy pot or to wash and peel vegetables, check out the colander with handles that stretch over the sink.

You can find all three types of colanders available in a package deal from Squish.

Let a collapsible colander bring more space and less clutter to your kitchen.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Weekend project: Tackle newspaper and magazine clutter

If you’re looking for an uncluttering project for this weekend, consider organizing your newspapers and magazines.

  • Gather together all of your newspapers and magazines and set them on a flat work surface.
  • Toss into the recycling bin all of your newspapers that are more than a day old.
  • Recycle immediately any magazine that you know you will never get around to reading.
  • If you have read and flagged articles in any of your magazines, either scan them so that you have a digital copy or see if you can find an online copy and save it to your digital notebook (e.g. Evernote). Then, recycle the magazine.
  • Any magazine you haven’t read that you still want to read, write a due date, on the cover of the magazine with a magic marker. If you haven’t read it by the due date, recycle it on the spot.
  • Put the magazines you intend to read in a location where you’ll see them and read them. Then, as time permits, pick them up and enjoy the publications.
  • Finally, remove the unwanted newspapers and magazines from your home.

Although we use the word “recycle” in this article, we don’t necessarily mean sending magazines and newspapers into the waste stream. There are other options for these items. For example:

  • Animal shelters can often use old newspapers to line cages.
  • Charity shops may appreciate newspapers to pack fragile items for customers.
  • Waiting rooms in medical centers, seniors’ centers, and other care homes may appreciate recent magazines in relatively good condition.

Ask around in your community to see if there is a place to donate your newspapers and magazines.

If your newspapers and magazines are already in order, check out our list of other weekend project ideas.

 

This post was originally published in May 2008.

Hanging coats

If you don’t have a closet near the front door to your home, a free-standing coat rack might be a good way to keep jackets, scarves, backpacks, and umbrellas from ending up on the back of every couch and chair in the adjacent room. Here are a few different options.

The Frenchi Furniture Black Metal Coat Rack has 12 hooks at two different heights. This would be great for hanging purses or for younger people who can’t reach the top hooks. Although umbrellas could hang on the lower hooks, if wet, they would drip all over the floor.

 

Monarch Specialties’ Contemporary Coat Rack in silver finish has a sleek look for modern designs. There are no lower hooks on this rack so it might not be a great option for a home with young children.

 

The LCH Standing Coat Rack made from solid rubber wood has a more natural look. Hooks at multiple heights would be an easy reach for kids and ideal for hanging purses and umbrellas.

 

Busy families may decide to use a garment rack instead of a coat rack. The HOMFA Fashion heavy-duty garment rack has space for coats, scarves, umbrellas, and the shelves provide a convenient place to store backpacks and shoes.

Check out ten more inspirational coat rack designs over at Remodelista.

 

This post was originally published May 2009.