Ask Unclutterer: Hiding a workspace in a studio apartment

In reference to our posts on Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 1 and part 2, reader Eric wrote in to ask,

Could you expand the article to address studio apartments? What would be the best way to isolate a workspace from the living space? I guess I could use a divider like you show in the first article to isolate the bed/sleeping space from the rest of the apartment.

Thanks for your question Eric. We would be happy to expand on our answer.

There are several ways other than a folding room divider to section off different areas of the apartment. The first one we suggest is a curtain divider. Curtains are great because they can be closed for privacy and opened to make the space larger. They are washable and generally easy to install. There are many styles and colours available.

Tension rods are ideal if you have brick or plaster walls because you do not have to use a drill or screws for installation. They work best in smaller openings with lighter weight curtains. Also, if you have cats or small children who might pull on, or attempt to climb the curtains, the rod may fall down. If you are sectioning off a bedroom, I suggest that you use room darkening curtains to improve sleep quality.

If you do not have walls on which to mount a tension rod, then you might consider the ceiling track system. There are 90º and 45º corners available so you can make more than one wall out of curtains if required. You have to bolt/screw the track into the ceiling and that might be difficult if you are a renter or there is any trace of asbestos in the ceiling.

Some people use bookshelves to separate spaces in a studio apartment. I do not recommend this unless the shelving units are anchored into the ceilings and floors. IKEA’s Elvarli system bolts into floors and ceilings. With various configurations available it will allow you to divide your living space and create extra storage.

Another option to hide a workspace in a studio apartment, is to use an armoire or cabinet. There are various styles available depending on your needs. Some companies who design kitchen cabinets may also be able to design one to your specifications. If you are looking for simply a computer workstation, a folding wall-mounted desk is a space-saving option.

When living in a studio, loft, or other open-concept designed home, always look for furniture that can do double-duty such as hidden filing cabinets and storage ottomans.

Thanks for your great question Eric. 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.”

Reader Question: How to unclutter some possibly valuable odds and ends

Reader Alice recently sent us the following question:

I inherited a rather big plastic bin of items that are not junk but would need specialized attention to sell. For example, there is a messy but large stamp collection, a reprint of a newspaper from the day after Lincoln’s assassination, and a beautiful pair of felt baby booties from the late 1800s.

There isn’t enough stuff for an estate sale. I don’t know if an auction will take it and I’m skeptical about the value I would receive. I am worried I will need to take every item to a different place to sell it. I also don’t want to be taken advantage of. I know some things have some value, but don’t want to be given $20 for something worth $2000.

What is a fair way to approach this random collection of stuff? Is there a method of selling I am missing? Should I just forget the “value” and put more of a premium on getting my space back?

Thanks Alice for a really great question and one that I’m sure many readers can relate to. It isn’t easy to know what to do odds and ends especially when you are not sure of their monetary value.

The first step is to research the approximate monetary value of each item. Whether you are selling through an auction house or via private sale, the first thing someone will ask is, “How much do you want for it?” You need to have at least a minimum price in mind.

The internet is a great resource but it can be overwhelming and time consuming to search for the value of certain things. The Collector’s Marketing Resource Center has built an amazing guide called, “How to use the Internet to research the value of your antiques.” It has links to multiple websites and search engines specifically for antiques, collectibles, and vintage items.

Stamporama has a great article on what to do with an inherited stamp collection. The site provides three options for the collection; keep, donate, or sell. It states that most collections are not worth very much money but you should have a dealer evaluate the collection to confirm especially if you have no experience in stamp collecting yourself. You can find dealers through the American Philatelic Society.

Kovels has an article specifically on Lincoln’s assassination newspaper. Unfortunately, reprints do not have a high monetary value. However, they may be valuable to someone so you may be able to sell it on a site like eBay if you’re willing to take the time.

As you mentioned, you could send the items to auction — if an auction house would accept it. Some auctioneers only do full estate sales. Others will include lots from several estates in one auction if each individual estate does not have enough or compile the items from many estates or businesses together and sell them in theme auctions such as “tools and farm equipment” or “restaurant equipment.” Most auctioneers will give you an appraisal of your items but the value they provide will likely be what they could fetch at auction, not necessarily the value you would get if you sold each item privately. They will take a commission from the sale so ensure you inquire about that percentage.

Another site to check is the online auction site MaxSold. They do online estate sales across North America. It is interesting to note that similar items sell for different prices in different cities so the value of your items might depend on your location should you chose to use a local auction house to liquidate your goods.

Once you have an approximate monetary value of the items in your bin, you need to ask yourself whether it is worth your time and effort to sell these items. Take into consideration the value of your time (i.e. what you would do with your time if you did not have to sell them), the value of the space in your home, and the peace of mind that you will have once you are no longer worrying about these things and this task.

Some people may decide to just donate everything. Others may decide to take the time and sell each piece individually. There will also be people who choose to sell the more valuable items and donate the rest. Each person who reads this column may come up with a different answer because it is all based on how they value their space, time, and the “mental load” of worrying about all of this.

Thanks for your great question Alice. 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: Shower storage and organization

Unclutterer reader Derek commented on our post about storage ideas for bathrooms:

At our house, the problem in our bathroom is the shower. With 4 people using this shower, the number of product bottles is overwhelming. We’ve put up a hanging caddy that hooks onto the shower head. The problem is that it only holds a certain amount of product and it can be a pain to get stuff out of. Not sure what the solution is!

This is a great question Derek, one that I’ve struggled with because we have a family of four, all using the same shower. It was okay when our children were young and they both used the same baby shampoo and mild soap but once they became teenagers, we had shampoos for detangling long hair and unfrizzing curly hair. Plus, there were soaps that smelled like ocean breeze, ylang ylang, peach blossoms, and tropical islands. Add to that a myriad of conditioners, exfoliants, and shaving creams — our shower looked like an over-stocked beauty supply store!

There are several solutions to this problem, some may work for you, some may not.

Buy a bigger house?

Years ago, I mentioned this issue with a colleague and he suggested that we just move to a bigger house so that everyone can have his/her own bathroom. This is not a solution that many people would find feasible. Besides, cleaning four bathrooms is even more work.

Simplify first

Separate the products into groups according to who uses which products. If there are any un-owned products, remove them from the shower area and make a plan to either use them up or dispose of them.

Next, see if family members are able to and willing to share products. Perhaps everyone could agree on using only one type of soap. If that’s the case, then use up what you’ve got and only buy that particular soap going forward.

Baskets

Assign each person his/her own basket full of the products they use. The baskets could be stored in each person’s bedroom or on hooks on the bathroom wall or door. It’s a good option for teenagers because it will get them into the habit of like living in a dorm. It’s a little inconvenient if you’re already in the shower and realize you’ve forgotten your basket.

Mini Bottles

Purchase easy-to-refill travel sized bottles, a different colour for each family member. You can keep the larger bottles in a cupboard and fill up the smaller bottles weekly. This may not minimize the number of bottles in the shower but the bottles will take up less space. The disadvantage is having to refill the smaller bottles often especially for those with long hair who use shampoo at a greater rate. Also, the pre-printed labels on the bottles are quite small which makes them difficult to see.

Dispenser

shower dispenserInstalling a dispenser system in your shower is an alternative. I like this model because you can either attach it to the shower wall or hang it over the shower head (ideal if you rent your home). The dispenser holds three times more than the travel bottles so it won’t need to be refilled quite so often. However, it only holds four different products so you may need to have two (or more) dispensers for your family’s needs.

Shower head caddy

You mentioned that you had a caddy that hung over the shower head but was difficult to use. There are several different designs available. This model designed similar to a wine rack holds the bottles sideways at an angle making it easy to get them in and out. By placing the bottles with the lid towards the floor, you could also get every last drop of shampoo. As with most shower head caddies, small children might have trouble reaching what they need.

Over the door/curtain caddy

An over the shower door caddy would be helpful for corralling your bottles but only if you had a shower door. Shower curtain caddies are a popular option but they work best if your shower curtain rod is permanently fixed to the wall.

Shelving

If you have a shower stall, consider the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Corner Standing Shower Caddy. It has non-slip, adjustable feet so it won’t wobble on uneven floors. The shelves can be removed for easy cleaning.

Constant tension corner shower shelves can be installed with no tools. The shelf heights can be adjusted to fit all bottle heights. This model also has hooks for hanging razors, combs, and wash cloths. It is easy to clean and rust-resistant.

Other suggestions

sport bottle holderDepending on how much room you have in your shower/tub area, sport bottle holders designed for your kitchen cupboards, could hold your shampoo bottles. A wall-mounted wine rack could also hold bottles when they are not being used in the shower.

Thanks for your great question Derek. We hope 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.”

Reader question: Should I sell my stuff in storage?

Reader Tonie wrote in with this question:

I’m living overseas and I have items in storage such as china plates, crystal glasses, and Charles Babb paintings (about 12 of them). Everything else I sold — all my furniture, my car — but I’m having a hard time getting rid of these items. It has been a year and a half and I’ll be here another year and a half. Should I just sell everything?

This is a great question Tonie. Our family had to make similar decisions when we moved from Canada to England for three years. It’s not always easy to decide what to keep and what to let go. Here are some things that helped us make our decisions.

The first step is to determine what is not worth keeping. (You obviously did that and decided to sell your furniture and car.) In our situation, our appliances were about six years old. After three years of storage, that meant nine-year-old appliances — almost at the age we would want to replace them anyway. At six years old, they could still fetch a pretty good price in the used appliance market so we let them go.

We decided to part with many children’s items as well. After three years abroad, we knew our children would be too old for many of their toys and games and definitely too big for their heavy winter clothes (essential for Canadian winters but not at all needed in England). Many items went to charity, others were sold.

Once you have eliminated the non-essentials, take a look at the items you’ve decided to keep and determine their value. Check auction website such as eBay to determine how much the item is worth used, — how much you could sell your items for right now. For antiques or artwork, you may wish to contact a dealer and get a quote. You should also determine replacement value — the amount it would cost to buy the item (or one very similar to it) brand-new if you needed it.

Next, calculate the cost of storage for the period of time you’re abroad. Remember to include insurance costs and any other incidental fees relating to storage.

If the cost of storage is more than the replacement value of your items, you may decide it is a better option to sell all of the goods. This means it would be less expensive to sell your goods now and buy new later, than to put them into storage.

It is very difficult to put a dollar amount on the sentimental value of an item but that too must be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, we at Unclutterer cannot do that for you. You’ll have to make that determination yourself.

So, back to your issue Tonie — you have about 18 months left before you return to your items in storage. Here are my suggestions:

  • If you honestly do not want the items, and you are coming back to visit family and friends anyway, then go ahead and sell the items during your visit home.
  • If you do not want the items and have not planned on coming back, but a trip back will cost less than the storage fees, then consider returning to sell the items.
  • If you are unsure but can afford the storage fees until your return, wait until you get back to liquidate the items you do not want.
  • If you are not coming back for a visit and cannot afford the storage fees, find a reputable liquidator, or friend/family member you can trust, to sell the items on your behalf.

The above suggestions are based on a financial perspective. Please take a few moments to listen to your heart and take the sentimental value into consideration when you are making your final decision.

Thanks for your great question Tonie. 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.”

Reader question: Keeping track of vendors

Reader Jean wrote to us with this question:

How do you keep track of your vendor information? If you are a home owner, it is necessary to keep track of who you bought products and services from. It is important to keep information about the performance of the vendor and service contractors. What is the best way to keep this information?

That’s a great question. It’s always a good idea to keep track of who you do business with and not only if you’re a home owner. Renters may need to have their own appliances serviced and they may wish to report to the owners detailed information about the quality of the work provided by repair persons. You certainly want to continue hiring good contractors and purchasing from the best vendors. There are several ways to keep track of this information. I’ll provide a few examples below.

Paper based methods

Some people may think paper-based methods are old fashioned but they are effective. If you already have your user manuals and bills of sales filed in your filing cabinet, you can store your service contracts in the same files. For example, if the documentation for your large appliances is stored in one file folder, store any bills for repairs or servicing there as well. You can note the quality of service on the back of the bill or on another paper stapled to the bill or service contract. This method is great because when you phone for repairs, you’ll also have the make, model, and serial number of your appliance in the same file.

You could also create a binder with all of the information. Copy useful information (make, model, serial number, etc.) of each item onto a sheet of paper to keep in the binder. Note where you store the instruction/guarantee booklet so it is easy to find if you need it (then you don’t have to store the bulky booklets in the binder itself). If you wish, attach bills of sale to 3-hole paper and add them to the binder too. It gives you space to write details about the quality of the store/salesperson where you bought the item. Add repair bills or service contracts to the binder as they occur. You can also staple business cards of sales/service personnel to the pages so their contact information is at your fingertips.

Electronic Methods

Electronic methods work better for some people — especially if much of the information to be stored is already in digital format. A basic spreadsheet can list contact information, dates items were purchased or work was done, as well as the quality of the vendor or service provider. Spreadsheets are nice because you can sort the information by date, appliance name, or by vendor service quality. If your user manuals are in digital format, you can link to them directly. If not, you can note the place where they are stored (e.g. filing cabinet).

You can also track this information in home inventory software. This is a type of database that will allow you to store information such as make, model, serial number, purchase price, etc. You can also store a picture of the item as well as receipts and other documents. You can even keep this information in the cloud so that should you ever need to make an insurance claim, you can access it from anywhere. The Balance has a great summary of home inventory software that is available for both Mac and Windows.

Thanks again for your great question Jean. We hope this post gives you the answers you were looking for. Our fellow unclutterers are also a great source of ideas so keep checking the comments for more tips.

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.”

Reader question: What about old pantyhose?

Reader Joan wrote in with this question:

What does one do with old pantyhose that is no longer wearable because of holes, etc.? Is there a way to recycle this material?

That’s a great question. The short answer is no. Most pantyhose is made from nylon and it is a difficult material to recycle — and it can take up to 30 to 40 years for it to decompose in a landfill. A few years ago, an American pantyhose manufacturer had a recycling program but it is now discontinued.

Since a recycling program is not available, let’s take a look at the other two Rs, reduce and reuse.

Reduce

Deciding not to wear pantyhose ever again is an option but it might not be possible to change the dress code at your office or that of a specific event. So, let’s look at some ways to reduce the amount of pantyhose used.

It might seem obvious, but buy higher quality pantyhose. The cheap ones might seem like a deal but if you tear them when putting them on for the first time, you’ve wasted money.

Take some time to find a brand that fits you properly. Some brands are more generous in the seat and thigh area, other brands are great for people with longer legs. Once you find a brand that you like, stick with it.

Look at your wardrobe and see if you can reduce the types and colours of hosiery you need. You may find that you only need black to coordinate with your winter wardrobe and sheer to coordinate with your summer wardrobe. Also, the colour of “sheer” varies drastically so find a brand that makes a colour that matches your skin tone.

Careful treatment of pantyhose helps them last longer. Before putting them on, ensure your finger and toenails have no snags and do not wear jewellery. Hand wash your hosiery in cold water or put it in a mesh bag and wash it in the machine on the delicate cycle. Lay them flat to dry, preferably on a towel (hanging causes them to stretch out of shape). Do not use detergent with bleach as that breaks down the fibres.

Store your pantyhose so it won’t get snagged on any other clothing. You can store it in your drawer in a mesh bag. Some people prefer to store their panty hose in their closet in a hanging pocket organizer.

Reuse

My grandmother was raised in the Great Depression and was frugal her whole life. If one leg of her pantyhose was damaged, she cut it off. If she had two of the same pair with one leg each, she wore both pairs at the same time — both of her legs were covered and she had extra tummy control.

Besides wearing two half-pairs at a time, there are many other ways to reuse pantyhose. Bright Life Direct has one of the best list of ideas. It includes:

  • Deodorize up to three or four months. Chop a handful of any pleasant-smelling herb from your garden then add a box of baking soda. Mix and tie up in fresh smelling sachet balls of nylon. Place under sinks, in cabinets, drawers or storage areas.
  • Hold gauze or bandaging in place. Cut a circular strip from the part of the leg with similar size, like the ankle circumference used for the mid arm to keep bandages from sliding. Plus, it allows “breathing”.
  • Store onions or flower bulbs in a stocking leg.
  • Store rolls of gift wrap, wallpaper, posters in a stocking leg to help protect them from damage.
  • Place pantyhose over growing vegetables such as squash to reduce damage from bugs. You can also hang some vine vegetables in this way to keep them off the ground.

Pantyhose can also be used to tie bundles of clothes, blankets, or fabric together. It also great for straining paint.

There are so many craft projects that use pantyhose. You can stretch them over a coat hanger to make angel or fairy wings or braid them together to create a rug. An internet search will generate over a million websites with great ideas.

Thanks again for your great question Joan. We hope this post gives you the answers you were looking for. Our fellow unclutterers are also a great source of ideas so keep checking the comments for more tips.

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.”

Reader question: the organized shift worker

In a comment to my post about working hard, not a lot, Kenneth in Virginia asked what the information in the post meant for someone who like his father drove a truck for a living. It’s an excellent question, because to be honest, few of us have the luxury of choosing how much we work. Most jobs have a fixed schedule, and require a physical presence during that period.

There’s no working better or faster to reduce the workload and no putting in extra hours to advance. A truck driver has to go from Point A to Point B, a cashier has to ring up purchases, and a factory worker has to run the machine for the entire eight hour shift.

This is completely different from someone who works in an office and has projects to fulfill or objectives to achieve. The previous post was addressed to these latter people, and in looking around at the literature, most business organizing books focus almost exclusively on them as well.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the former group can’t be organized or reduce their workload through efficiencies.

My husband is a factory worker, and one of the most organized people I know. Over the years, I’ve seen him develop a sort of set of rules that help him in whatever position he has.

  • Pay attention. Repetitive jobs can become mind-numbing, and if you’re not careful mistakes can start slipping in if you do not focus on each detail. You might choose the wrong lot of a product to add to a mixture. Or you might let quality slip, which may cause a serious problem for the company, with perhaps long-term negative consequences for you.
  • Don’t make more work for others. In many time-based jobs, workers operate in a sort of vacuum. They may be part of a team, but only are aware of their own part of the process. Take for example someone who works in a supermarket in the meat section. Part of her job may be to add the labels to packages of meat for sale. If the label isn’t applied flat, the scanner at the checkout won’t read it and the cashier has to either enter the barcode in manually or call someone to come give him the correct code.
  • Take your time, but not too much. The proverb haste not waste applies here. The best way to be organized and to make the time pass quickly in any job is to work consistently and carefully. No matter the pressure from above to work faster and produce more, sure and steady wins the race (to use another famous proverb). Speed produces errors which often means having to go back and doing it again. Or in the case of a truck driver, speed literally can kill you. On the other end of the spectrum, however, working more slowly than necessary relates back to the previous point: the less you work, the more someone else will have to.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any other “rules” to add to these three for shift-based work? If you work by hours, what tricks and tips can you offer others to make sure you are working efficiently and effectively?

Ask Unclutterer: Dealing with a prolific gift-giver

A reader who goes by the name of Overwhelmed wrote in with this dilemma.

I am newly married and my mother-in-law and I have a strained relationship. She tends to show her affection by buying things and she goes way overboard. If I tell her specifically not to buy me something, she will buy it anyway.

She buys new clothes for my husband every time she is at the store. (He has several plastic bins full of clothes he has never worn). We do not have space for a dining table because the entire dining room is full of boxes of stuff she bought for my husband that he doesn’t need/want.

My mother-in-law kept telling me that for Christmas she was going to buy me something from our wedding registry that hadn’t already been purchased. I told her it was unnecessary because we were inundated with stuff and had already purchased the extra items we needed. She asked me if I wanted a convection oven that I had listed on our registry. I specifically told her that I no longer wanted it because it would not work in our current apartment.

So, she surprised me by buying the convection oven as a Christmas gift. This item is huge and very expensive which makes me uncomfortable. We have no space for it at all in our apartment.

I want to be grateful for the gifts but I feel disrespected that she didn’t listen to me. What is the polite thing to do with this oven (and all the other gifts) and how can I get through to her to listen to me when I tell her no?

I’m sure Overwhelmed is not the only reader with this dilemma. There are probably many people out there looking at piles of Christmas or birthday gifts asking, “How can I get this to stop?”

Because this is your husband’s mother, the first person you need to have a conversation with is your husband. I mentioned your situation to Unclutterer writer Alex and he strongly recommended the book he reviewed, Crucial Conversations. You may want to read it before you speak with your husband or read it with your husband before you speak with your mother-in-law. Regardless of if or when you read the book, it is important that you and your husband agree on how and when to approach your mother-in-law with your decisions on what to do with the all of the gifts you have received to date, as well as what to do with any future gifts you do not want.

Many people give gifts because they love the recipients. For whatever reason, gift-giving may be the only way the giver knows how to express that love. In the eyes of the giver, asking him/her not to give gifts would be like asking them not to love you anymore — an almost impossible task for many mothers.

Your mother-in-law is facing an empty nest now that you have moved out and is probably trying her best to keep a connection to you and her son even if she is going about it in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Perhaps you could try and build a connection with her that doesn’t involve material possessions. You could have regular “Sunday Roast,” (a British tradition where extended family gathers together for a mid-day meal) or schedule an outing to a museum or theatre. There may be a leisure activity you might be interested in starting such as yoga or ceramics. You could ask your mother-in-law to join you. You might find that working together at community service/charity events works best for you. This would allow you to show that you appreciate her presence (as opposed to her presents).

After you have made your wishes about gifting known to your mother-in-law, you can start disposing of the things you no longer want. Your mother-in-law will likely ask about certain items and I know it may feel awkward at first, but, with loving kindness, reiterate the decisions you and your husband have made regarding gifts and reassure her that you appreciate and value her thought, effort, love, and generosity.

Note: If you have received an heirloom item and you’re not sure of its significance, ask your mother-in-law to provide a detailed history (written or verbal). It will help you decide if the item is worth keeping or passing along (possibly to another family member).

It’s your home and you can decide what stays and what goes even if it was a gift. Remember that the gift is not only about the recipient but also about the giver, so always show your gratitude then move on.

Thanks for your great question Overwhelmed. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for and all the best of luck with your situation.

 

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.”

Reader question: Emptying storage unit from across the country

Reader Lenore recently sent us the following question:

We had to leave our home in Nebraska to go to New York to deal with a family medical situation. After a few months in New York, I went back to Nebraska to pack and store our furniture, belongings, clothes, etc. It has now been nearly three years and I’m still paying for storage in Nebraska, and renting furniture in New York. I wasn’t sure we were going to stay in New York once the medical situation was sorted out, but I have a job here and the kids are in school and doing well. I don’t want to uproot the family again. I need to know the most economical way to sell the majority of our furniture and transport our sentimental things, some clothes, etc. to New York. I do not have the finances to let this insanity go on for much longer.

Since I am only able to take four days away from work so I would have to do it all in one trip, I can’t imagine how I would unload the locker, show and sell the furniture, and drive it back here myself. I hope you can provide me with some information and/or companies that you believe could guide me.

First of all, let me say that I’m glad your family was able to pull through the medical situation and is happily settled in New York. I can imagine it was a stressful situation for you.

Unfortunately, Unclutterer is unable to recommend specific companies but we can provide you with some advice that we hope will help.

We recommend that you contact a NAPO member in Nebraska. Select a professional organizer with experience in relocations. Some who are experienced in Seniors’ move management may be willing to take you on as a client even if you are not a senior so please consider contacting those organizers as well.

Most professional organizers would be able to communicate with you via email during the process so, if you were not able to return to Nebraska, you wouldn’t necessarily have to. They are also trained in separating sentimental and high value items from those that you wish to sell. Many professional organizers have networks that include local auctioneers that can help you liquidate the items you do not want to transport to New York. They are quite capable of organizing an estate/garage sale if they feel that would work better in your situation and they have connections with charities who could accept items that are not sold.

If you decide to return to Nebraska to clear the storage area yourself, you could contact moving companies to see if they would be willing to take a partial load from Nebraska to New York. (Our family did this twice, shipping only an heirloom piano across the country and back.) Moving companies would much rather put two or three clients on one truck and transport a full load. The only downside is that you may have to move your items when the moving company is available rather than when you want to. Once you have shipped out the items that you want to keep, you could simply walk hire an auctioneer to liquidate the rest of the contents of your storage locker.

You may wish to combine these two options, hiring a professional organizer to start clearing the storage area before you arrive and work with you when you are there so it goes faster. Then you could drive the load yourself from Nebraska to New York. Alternatively, the professional organizer may be able to meet a moving company at your storage unit so you do not have to wait around in Nebraska.

We suggest that you call several businesses and discuss your situation and get quotes. Prices (and personalities) can vary widely and it is important that you work with someone who you get along with and who understands your situation — both emotionally and financially.

All the best of luck to you and we thank you so much Lenore for sharing your situation with us. 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.”

Reader question: Helping mom unclutter

Reader Misty sent us this question:

I want to help my mom do some uncluttering. The entire house is in need of some help. My sister passed away three years ago — she was a collector and many collections there are! Do you have any ideas on how to deal with packed closets and chests of drawers, etc.? In order to clean, one must have a place to put things away. The answer might be simple, except that mom isn’t ready to do a major cleansing of clothing, shoes, etc. Do you have any ideas on beginning with baby steps? Mom has lost great deal of her vision and has had three strokes. I’m the one to help her clear out and make safe where she is walking.

First of all Misty, thank you for being willing to help your mom with such a project. It’s obvious that you are concerned about her safety and well-being and it is important to emphasize this when you start your project. It will be a challenge for both of you but working together to make your mother comfortable can bring you closer.

We’ve written before about strategies to use when helping someone else unclutter and this advice may be useful to you as you proceed. Remember that forced clean-outs are rarely successful and can create a lot of resentment between family members.

Her health issues indicate that she may not be as mobile and active as she used to be. She may feel that removing items from her home amplifies her belief that her world, and her ability to influence it, is shrinking. She may struggle against this loss of power by refusing to let things go. Remind her that you are not uncluttering to “get rid of her stuff,” you are uncluttering to keep her safe and independent for as long as possible.

Consider doing many mini-projects. Even just one drawer, cupboard, or surface per day may be enough. Choose a time of day that works best for your mom, when she has the most mental and physical energy — maybe first thing in the morning or perhaps just after lunch. Keep your sessions short and always end the project on a positive note sharing your successes over a cup of tea or some fancy chocolates.

Keepsakes will be important to your mother. While many of us may select certain aesthetic features when keeping and displaying memorabilia, these may not be practical for those who are visually impaired. Objects with bright and/or contrasting colours and those that have a unique, distinctive structure that can be felt rather than seen, may be a better choice. Consider keeping one or two items from your collections that meet these criteria and let the rest go.

When it comes to clothing, help your mother decide on easy-wear/easy-care pieces. Build a colour coordinating wardrobe that will make it easy for her to be independent.

All the best of luck to you Misty as you work together on this project. For more helpful tips on whole house organizing, check out our Organizing Jumpstart.

 

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.”

Reader Question: Where should I store stuff?

Reader Peter wrote in with the following question:

My biggest source of clutter is random, one-off, or novel items that don’t correspond to a clear category and that I don’t use often for example, a box of push-pins I use for routing cable, a spare 12V battery, the replacement cleats for my soccer shoes, the replacement blades for my rotary cutter, an extra travel toothbrush (because they come two-to-a-pack but I only need one when I travel), the spare house-key I sometimes give out to guests, or my vacation light timers. We’ve all heard the phrase “A place for everything and everything in its place” so I want to be able to specify what the correct place is for such items so that 9 months from now I’ll be able to find them again. I’m afraid if I put them “away” I’ll forget where I put them. Are there underlying principles that one should use to decide where to store something?

This is a really good question. Let’s start by discussing categories.

The purpose of putting objects into categories is so they can be identified and distinguished from each other. The classical view of categorization, suggests that categories should be clearly defined and mutually exclusive — there should be no similarities between items in each category. Items belong distinctly in one category or another.

The problem arises when distinctive features belonging to only some items of a given category are the same as those belonging items in a different category. For example, if we say birds fly and lay eggs, we have to make exceptions because reptiles also lay eggs and neither ostriches nor penguins can fly. The classical view of categorization then becomes very complicated!

The prototype theory of categorization can help. In this theory, “the task of the category systems is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort” (Cognition and Categorization). This suggests that some aspects of a category are more important than others. For example, if I was shown a picture of an American robin, I’m not going to examine the minute details of its anatomy and physiology to put it into the genus Turdus. I’d say it has feathers, wings, and a beak, so it would go into the “bird” category.

In other words, you need to establish what specific cues or features must an item have in order to fit into a specific category. The cues that you use may be different from someone else’s cues so you’re welcome to create your own categories that are logical to you. This may seem like a daunting task but there is no need to reinvent the wheel. You could use a set of cues that have already been established and that make sense to you.

Consider your favourite department store. All of the personal care items are located on shelves in the same area of the shop. Creating an area in your bathroom, even just a small bin under the sink, for extra toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss would prompt you to “shop” in your bathroom for those items when you need them.

If it makes sense to you, you could store the push-pins for your routing cable in your home office area with your pens, paper and other office supplies. But if they are special push-pins specific for cables, you could include them in an “electronics” area in a closet or on a shelf to store all of your equipment for that specific purpose. A set of plastic drawers is ideal for keeping all of these items organized.

In a designated “home improvement” area, perhaps in your basement, garage, or hallway closet, you could store items such as tools, electrical items (extension cords, light timers), light bulbs, batteries, etc. A “sports and leisure” section of your home could be created wherever you store your sports gear, in a bedroom closet, hallway closet, or laundry room.

Remember there are no hard and fast rules for how to categorize your stuff. You’re welcome to store things where they make sense to you. You can change the location of items at any time if you’re not happy with the original location where they were stored. However, frequent re-arranging may lead to more chaos so give yourself a bit of time to get used to the new layout before you make extensive changes.

For more advice, check out Jeri’s great post about the many ways to categorize your stuff to see how scientists categorized candy.

Thanks for your great question Peter. 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.”

Reader question: Hat storage

Unclutterer reader Kim wrote in with this question:

I have 120 women’s dress hats, some with wide brims. Right now, I store them in boxes. Too many boxes. I would like another way to store them so them remain intact. They are expensive. I already have some stored on the shelf in my closet.

This is a great question Kim. As with all organizing projects, we start with sorting and purging. Are there any hats you can get rid of? If yes, this would be the time. However, we’re going to assume that you curated your collection before you wrote to us and you have 120 women’s dress hats that you love and want to keep.

First of all, it is important to store hats correctly as they are shaped in a certain way to fit properly on your head. Bending, folding, or improperly hanging or storing a hat can ruin it.

On the Houzz website, Ben Goorin, of Goorin Bros., suggested storing hats upside down because the crown is stiffer and stronger than the brim. Alternatively, you could raise the hat up so it is not resting on the brim by making a big ball of tissue paper and setting the hat on that instead.

Most websites we researched indicate the best way to store a hat is inside a hat box in your closet out of direct light. If you have vintage hats, you may wish to consider using an archival quality storage box and acid-free tissue paper for storage. You can take a photograph of the hat and attach it to the outside of the box. This will allow you to quickly determine which hat is stored in which box.

Multiple hats could be stored inside the same box as long as you stack hats of lightweight fabrics (straw, linen, cotton) on the top and hats of heavier fabrics (wool, leather, angora) on the bottom. (See Goorin Hat Care Tips for great info on cleaning and removing stains from hats.)

Square boxes are easier to pack into a closet than round boxes because you can maximize space by stacking. Storing the hats in round decorative boxes can be a design element in a room.

For frequently worn hats, a hat rack with round supports may be useful. You should avoid hat racks and hooks with pointy ends as they can deform the hat quickly.

Finally, consider storing off-season hats off-site. If you have the space in your basement or attic, you could keep some hats there providing they are in sealed containers to protect them from damage due to moisture and pests.

Thanks for your great question Kim. 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.”