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.

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.

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.

Reader question: How do I recycle broken toys and books?

Reader Angie sends in this question:

I have lots of toys (mostly plastic) that cannot be donated or passed down. They either broken or missing parts. How do I recycle them? Can I just put them in the recycling bin? What about children’s books that are either ripped, missing covers, or stained. Can I put them in the recycling bin as well? One more question: What is a good way to store books for a long time to be passed down?

Many parents struggle with these questions Angie so thank you for asking!

Toy disposal

Before we look at recycling, there are other ways to keep toys out of the waste stream. Many people take toys and parts of toys and create new toys and various types of art. Check out:

I’m not suggesting that you become an artist in your spare time but consider listing the pile of broken toys on Craigslist or Freecycle and see if a creative-type person or artistic group wants them.

One of the more complicated parts about recycling is that every municipality has a different recycling program. The best thing to do is to visit your city’s website and find the information about recycling. Cities may have more recycling options if you are able to drop off at their depot. Earth911 does a great job of explaining the mystery of why toys are so difficult to recycle.

Another option for recycling toys is to contact TerraCycle and purchase a Zero Waste Toy Box. TerraCycle will ship you an empty box, you fill it with broken toys then ship the box back using the pre-paid shipping label. TerraCycle will separate the toy’s components and ensure they get into the correct recycling stream.

The Zero Waste Boxes are expensive ($95 USD for the small toys box) so you may want to collaborate with other parents in your neighbourhood, community centre, school, or house of worship. After all, saving the planet is a good cause.

Book disposal

Most untreated paper can be recycled. Many books — especially children’s books cannot because they have been treated with wax, glues, or plastic coating. Investigate your municipality’s recycling website to see what the options are for recycling books. Earth911 explains the mysteries of book recycling and has some great suggestions for used books including books in “less than prime” condition. TerraCycle also has a Zero Waste Book Box which might be an option for your school or local library.

Book preservation

Reading with children is a great way to form a lasting bond. I kept many of our children’s favourite books including the entire Franklin the Turtle series. To tell the truth, I think I kept them more for me than for my kids. Should I be blessed with grandchildren someday, I would love to share these books with them.

In addition to our best tips on how to store treasured books, I would suggest to do a gentle cleaning of children’s books. Use an old, clean and soft toothbrush to remove any caked-on food or playdough. If the books have been on a shelf for a while, vacuum the edges with a soft brush using the lowest suction setting. Blot any greasy spots with an absorbent cloth. Ensure books are dry before storing.

Thanks for your great question Angie. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Ask Unclutterer: How can I change someone into an unclutterer?

Since we started asking for submissions to the Ask Unclutterer column, we have received many, many, many questions on the following theme:

I am uncluttered and organized, but my partner/spouse/roommate/sibling/child is not. It drives me crazy! Please tell me how I can change/fix him/her/them.

Each time I see one of these messages, my heart goes out to the people involved. I used to be the partner/spouse/roommate/sibling/child who was making messes and not picking up after myself. My college roommates used to yell at me, my parents hired someone to clean my bedroom, and my husband had to have a serious talk with me that bordered on being an intervention. Although many of you may not believe me, the reality is that being a clutterer living with an unclutterer isn’t the easiest of lives, either.

People can change from clutterbugs into unclutterers — I’m living proof of that — but wanting the change to happen doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. Here are some tips that may help to improve your situation:

  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes. Living a cluttered life is not full of puppies and rainbows. You walk around with the stress of your crap and disorganization on your mind all the time. You want to be organized, but don’t have the knowledge and/or energy to make it happen. If you had enough money to pay someone to clean up after you, you would hire someone in a heartbeat just to get rid of the anxiety. You know that you’re upsetting other people, but something is stopping you from changing your ways.
  • Stop nagging and have a conversation. The worst thing you can do is nag the clutterbug. Nagging sends the message that you have no respect for the person. Instead, have a conversation about the state of your home. Go to a public place (most people don’t yell in public spaces) like a restaurant, coffee shop, or bar, and really get to the heart of the matter.
  • Be honest about what you do around the house. Most people overestimate their contributions to work done around the house. It’s because we focus on just what we’re doing, attach a sense of worth to it, and assume what the other person is doing isn’t as valuable. Keep a list of all that you do and ask your house mate to do the same. They might not know how much you actually do, and vice versa.
  • Plan together. Walk through your home and talk about what you imagine for each space. Have everyone input their ideas equally. How do you envision yourself living together in those rooms? What storage exists? How do you use the space and what do you need to do to keep these areas maintained?
  • Create responsibility lists. Sit down and set a clear plan of action for the future. Divide up chores and layout guidelines for who is responsible for what. Make action items and be realistic with time limits. Consider asking a professional organizer to join you if you want some help with brainstorming. Also, create a daily routine list, similar to what was discussed our “exhausted after work” column. Set clear expectations so that there is no grey area. Do this together — don’t make a list and hand it to your house mate.
  • Avoid criticism in the early weeks. It may take some time for everyone to figure out the nuances of the new responsibilities. Ask if the other person needs help instead of being critical about how the work is completed. Organizing and uncluttering are things we learn, and not everyone is perfect at a task the first time they try it.
  • Use gentle reminders. Turn on music when you clean so that there is an audible cue for cleaning. Or, use the same set of songs in a playlist for cleaning time if you typically have music playing in you’re home. Make it obvious that you are tackling the items on your list. Honestly, this is a more effective encouragement tool to get someone to do their chores than nagging them to help you.
  • Positive speech. It’s important to focus on the end results of your organizing and uncluttering activities. The payoffs one gains from being organized are usually more valuable than the payoffs the person gains from being lazy.

Be sure to check out our post “What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t” for additional tips and tricks.

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 Question: Help for an artist in a small apartment

Reader Heather sends in this question:

I have a one-bedroom apartment that is very full. I’m trying to figure out how I can keep visual reference materials, and how to manage and organize multiple paintings/projects at once. I manage to accumulate many, many, magazine photos and clippings. If I had a bigger space, I could just put them in a filing cabinet. But I don’t think I have enough room for one. And large canvases, etc. can’t go in a filing cabinet. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

Magazine and photo clippings

The best thing to do reduce the physical space of your magazine clippings is to digitize them. Read our article on scanning magazine clippings for some tips on how to do this.

Going forward, just take photos of your paper-based inspirations. A friend of mine takes photos of crafting patterns. She takes a photo of the item then photos of the instructions. To indicate the end of the project, she takes a photo of complete blackness (i.e. she puts her phone flat on the table and takes a photo of the table). This makes it easier to group the photo with the correct instructions on your computer or cloud drive.

Remember that many magazines have digital versions that allow you to save the photos and articles automatically to sites such as Evernote and Pinterest so consider those options as well.

Paintings and canvases

Because you live in a small apartment, take advantage of vertical space. Use the full height of the wall as much as possible.

For painting, consider a wall easel. They can be expensive but require no floor space. This model allows you to pull out the easel base up to a 70° angle to paint, and it has space to attach an easel lamp.

You may wish to install STAS picture rails and sets to many of your walls. They can hold paintings you have finished, those you have partly finished, as well as blank canvases. Because the hooks and holders on the STAS picture rails are easily adjustable, they can accommodate canvases of various sizes allowing you to maximize wall space.

Another option is a photo ledge wall shelf. They may be much sturdier for your canvases but, because they are fixed on the wall, they cannot be adjusted easily. For reference, the Command photo ledge wall shelf holds up to five pounds, requires no tools to install, and does no damage to walls.

In some cases, canvases must lay flat to dry. A folding laundry drying rack will allow you to lay your canvases flat and when they are finished, you can fold up the rack so it won’t take up any space. The drying rack is useful because it can also be used to dry clothes. Although you should cover it with an old sheet before you put paintings on it to keep it clean for your clothes.

A bakeware storage rack is another option for storing canvases. This model is expandable so it can hold several canvases between each set of rods. The rods are only six inches high so that might not be adequate for extra-large canvases. This rack, although not adjustable, has taller dividers and quite large spacing that may be suitable for bigger canvases.

Thanks for your great question Heather. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Ask Unclutterer: Sell or donate?

Reader Amy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I’d love to see some advice on what to donate vs. what to sell when clearing out the clutter!

Amy, this is a great request. Here is the following method I suggest for deciding what to do with home and office items once you determine they no longer belong in your possession:

Step 1: Visit some online auction sites like eBay, MaxSold, or other online classifieds and find out how much money a similar item recently sold for on the site. Look at the closing bids will give you a better idea of the final sale price.

Step 2: If the item sold for an amount that you believe is worth your time and effort to sell (for me, this number is $50+), then sell the item. Websites such as eBay and Craigslist (and kijiji in Canada) are perfect for online sales, and local consignment or pawn shops are wonderful brick and mortar alternatives. Garage sales are also good options.

Step 3: If the item sold for an amount less than your time and effort to sell number (for me this is less than $50), but is greater than zero, consider donating the object to charity or posting it on Freecycle or a neighborhood Buy Nothing site.

Step 4: If you cannot find a similar item for sale online and you think the item is junk, recycle, or trash the item. A good rule of thumb is that you should not give to charity any item that no one is willing to pay money to buy. Charities are not depositories for junk.

Note: Some of our readers have been successful uncluttering by listing items for free that they thought were scrap. For example, a wooden bed frame was picked up by a carpenter (to repurpose the wood), a contractor took away a pile of steel rebar and angle iron, and non-functioning electronics were scooped up by an adult learning center/trade school. If you choose to do this, and no one claims the items after a certain period of time (e.g., two weeks) then recycle or trash the items.

Thank you, Amy, for submitting the first 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 Question: I accidentally tossed my partner’s sentimental item. Help!

Unclutterer reader Rebecca wrote in with this dilemma:

I just read your post on Uncluttering and other people’s things as I was frantically googling how to ask for forgiveness when I’ve done just that. I just cleaned and uncluttered the house I share with my boyfriend. He was aware that I was doing a big overhaul, but I just realized that I tossed a red sheet that apparently belonged to his grandfather. I thought it was just an old sheet without the rest of the set. I am now dreading when he comes home and I have to tell him that I can’t find it. I will check the trash and stop at the charity shop tomorrow.

I am now very worried that this may create a rift in our relationship when it was truly an accident — one that I now know not to repeat! I was careless in my mission to clean house and clearly not thinking that I shouldn’t toss out any items without seeking permission. I am anxiety ridden! How do I ask for forgiveness in this instance?

Thanks for writing Rebecca. I can imagine how you feel right now. Believe me, I have been in your place before. A few years after my husband and I were married (almost 30 years ago now) I tossed out a few sentimental items of his. Like you, I had no idea the items were important. To me, they looked like clutter. Also, like you, my goal was to create a happy, relaxed, minimalist home.

Other people have made similar mistakes. See our posts about Accidents in Uncluttering and Regrets and Legacy Items. This recent news article about $50,000 in jewels being accidentally donated is eye-opening as well.

In my situation, I was very honest about what I had done and expressed my deepest regrets. If I had known, I never would have tossed the beloved items. I also explained what I had learned from the whole episode — never to toss anything unless given express permission. And in future, I would ensure that my partner had a chance to view items I accumulated before they went to trash/charity. Additionally, we created Legacy Boxes. Any items that we really wanted to keep, we put into our Legacy Boxes.

All the best of luck to you in this sticky situation. Remember, honesty is the best policy.

Editor’s note: Just before publication we heard back from Rebecca.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful and helpful reply! Luckily, I recovered the sheet, still a hard lesson was learned.

Have any of our readers encountered this problem? How did you handle it?

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Ask Unclutterer: Dealing with gift-giving grandparents

Reader Sarah submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

We have a 3-month-old child who is just delightful. He has everything he could need or want at this young age! We had a conversation with both sets of his grandparents prior to Christmas explaining that he has everything he could want, but if they felt the need to buy for him then a book or two or some clothes would be sufficient. However, both sets of grandparents bought a heap of toys and clothes and books! It was very generous of them, but this is not something I want to see become a habit. We have trouble with storage as it is, so I would really only prefer one or two items to be given at holidays and birthdays. How do I have this conversation with our loved ones?

Thanks for a great question Sarah. You mention that you already had a conversation with the grandparents and they didn’t seem to understand your request. You are not alone in your dilemma. At this time of year, Unclutterer receives several inquiries about dealing with generous extended family members.

The short answer, is that I do not know how you should have this conversation with your loved ones. I do not know them or your relationship with them. I will provide several suggestions below perhaps one will work for you in this situation.

If you are having trouble knowing how and where to start a conversation you may wish to read Crucial Conversations. Unclutterer Alex reviewed the book and says it is a must read for anyone who is intimidated by discussing potentially sensitive topics. The book may also help you communicate your wishes without the conversation becoming emotionally charged.

Read Editor-at-Large, Erin Doland’s post on receiving unwanted gifts. You may find that it is easier emotionally and on family relationships to re-gift and donate than it is to keep having the same conversation every year.

Unclutterer Jeri has some great tips for dealing with unwanted gifts. Although the post deals mainly with gifts from friends, her advice applies to gifts from family members as well.

As Erin mentioned in her post, grandparents want to give. Rather than saying “no gifts” consider providing alternatives. For example, babies and toddlers don’t need a lot of “things” but eventually, that child might need tuition for college. Asking the grandparents to contribute to a college fund might be an option for your family. (Investing $100/year for 17 years can result in $3000). Grandparents could write a special memory or life advice in a card each year and the cards could be presented on the child’s first day of college.

We would love to hear our readers’ suggestions on how they deal with this issue. Please feel free to leave advice for Sarah in the comments below.

Thanks for your contribution Sarah. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Ask Unclutterer: Why is it so hard to let go?

Reader Trish sends in this question:

I grew up with a table with a center post. It came with extra leaves so we could expand it. We bought it second-hand and I have had for 40 years. Over the years, the legs have had to be screwed, or glued back on. I have been looking at center post tables for a while but couldn’t afford one. My son received a beautiful one and since he needs to move, he has offered it to me. I would love it! However, in order to get it, I have to throw my current table with its one loose leg into the garbage. Suddenly, that 40-year-old table is very beautiful and I have great sadness at the thought of tossing it out and have the garbage truck crush it to death. I am almost ready to back out of the deal. His wood center post table is beautiful and would be a great opportunity lost if I can’t detach my heart from my old broken table. HELP!!! I don’t understand why it so hard to let go.

That is a great question Trish. Many of us have a hard time letting go of things. A number of years ago, scientist examined the brains of hoarders and non-hoarders. Researchers found greater activity in a certain part of the brain when hoarders were faced with a decision to dispose of their belongings.1 This same part of the brain is also associated with maintaining a sense of “me.”2

This is not to suggest that you, or any of our readers who have trouble disposing items are hoarders. But, I wonder… if we own an item for a long period of time, will we have conditioned our minds to believe the item is part of us? It certainly seems that way sometimes.

From your submission, it sounds like your table, or parts thereof, could still be put to good use. Have you considered hiring a carpenter to build something from the salvageable parts of the table? Perhaps you could turn the table top into picture frames. Collect a series of photos showing your family around the table at birthdays, holidays, or special events and put them in the frames. You might consider building a shelf or serving trays from the table as well.

If you decide to build something new from the old table, set a time limit. If you have not moved forward with the project in six months, then give yourself permission to let the table go. If you are resistant to having it go in the garbage, consider donating it to a trade school or wood working club where the wood could be re-purposed. You might be able to find someone in a Freecycle or Buy Nothing group that would be happy to have the table and you would know it is going to someone who will appreciate it.

If you decide to let your table go, consider the advice provided by Marie Kondo in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. Think of the lessons that the table taught you and all of the wonderful experiences you had while you owned it. Thank the table for its devoted service and send it on its way. I held a funeral for a pair of riding boots that I owned for 30 years. I know it sounds crazy, but it helped.

Allow yourself to feel all the feelings. You are human. It is just a “thing” but the memories around the thing are important so do not feel guilty for acknowledging that.

Thanks for your great question Trish. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

  1. Tolin, David F., et al. “Neural Mechanisms of Decision Making in Hoarding Disorder.” Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 69, no. 8, 2012, p. 832., doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.1980. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22868937
  2. McGonigal, Kelly. “Why It’s Hard to Let Go of Clutter.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Aug. 2012, psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-science-willpower/201208/why-it-s-hard-let-go-clutter.

Reader Question: Organizing medications

Reader Deborah wrote to us to ask for some help with her situation:

We are overrun with pill bottles and medicines of all kinds — bottles, jars, tubes, etc. of prescriptions, headache pills, cold pills, skin creams, vitamins, and more. Years ago, I got a new cabinet to put next to my sink and it’s now overflowing too. You pull out the bottle you want and others fall out too. How do you corral these?

Dealing with dozens of little bottles that fall over all the time can be frustrating! Here at Unclutterer we’ve got some advice on how to corral these small containers.

Step one is to unclutter. It’s time to dispose of all of the medications and toiletries you no longer need or use. Gather everything up and spread it out on your counter or dining table to see what you have. Collect all of the prescriptions that are no longer used and any expired over-the-counter-medications and vitamins. Ideally, place them into a sealed bag or bucket out of the reach of children and pets until you can dispose of them properly. Check your toiletries such as face creams and cosmetics for expiry dates and dispose of any that are expired.

Now it is time to organize what is left — the items that you are currently using.

You have not specified exactly where you would like to store your medications (pharmacists say that the bathroom medicine cabinet is one of the worst places to store medications) so there are several alternatives listed here.

If several people in your home are using prescription medications, you may want to store each person’s bottles in small, different coloured baskets. It will be very easy to see whose medications are whose. Unless the vials are full of liquid, lay them down flat. They are less likely to tip over and you will still be able to see the labels.

Another option is to use a three-drawer desk organizer. Assign each person their own drawer and lay the vials flat inside. This unit does take up some counter space but it could be easily put on a closet shelf — out of the reach of children.

If you have liquid medications, you could use a turntable. One with high sides and interior dividers will prevent the bottles from falling over when it spins. The dividers would keep everyone’s medication separated and you could easily label each section. You would need counter space or a shelf at least 12-inches deep for this item.

Stackable, transparent storage bins with hinged lids would work for storing vials containing both liquids and solids. Again, each person could have their own bin or you could arrange the medications by category such as, “headache & pain relief” and “cough & cold.” This type of container is nice. Because the lids are hinged, they won’t get separated from the containers and lost or end up in a big pile at the bottom of the cupboard.

If you are limited in counter and shelf space, spice racks can be mounted to walls or the interior of cupboard doors. They are ideal for holding small bottles and vials. A spice rack with several shelves would work if you have multiple bottles of the same height. If some bottles are taller, opt for single spice shelves so you can mount them further apart to accommodate the various sized bottles.

If you travel frequently, consider storing your medications in a transportable, lockable, travel bag. It will keep everything in its place when you are at home and you can just zipper it closed and put it in your suitcase when you are ready to leave.

If you are having difficulty keeping tubes of medication, cosmetics, or even toothpaste from getting lost and tossed around in your cupboard, check out this idea to keep tubes of paint organized. You need not use nails on a piece of plywood in your bathroom, just attach a binder clip to the end of the tube and hang it from a small Command hook on the wall or inside a cupboard door.

Thanks for your great question Deborah. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”