Turn your brain off and get to sleep

Unclutterer reader Jade recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenge:

But my biggest issue is getting to bed earlier. I know sleep is important, and when I get enough I am amazingly productive. The problem is getting enough. Not easy to go to bed early when you are a natural night owl waking up at 5 am for work … No, I’m not getting a new job, I love it too much to do that. But the sleep deprivation is killing me.

I get home and I’m too exhausted to do anything, until bedtime, and then by brain won’t shut off!

Meanwhile, Lynn shared a similar concern:

Also I’m also a night owl and don’t get enough sleep which causes me to feel tired and not want to tidy up.

Here’s a problem with having a brain in your skull: human minds are like motors. A motor that loves to run and run and resists shutting down. My wife and I have both dealt with this problem of our minds wanting to go, go, go. We’re in bed, trying to fall asleep, but the motor keeps running and trying to process the week’s school activities, bills, work, and so on. It can be very aggravating.

My first piece of advice is to build some wind-down time into your evening. I’m a night owl (it’s 9:00 p.m. as I type this) and as such I feel productive and energetic after the sun sets. I know this means if I don’t take steps to help me get to sleep, I’ll be up until at least 11:00 p.m., if not later. Knowing my personality, I start my wind-down routine around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. I’ll read a bit or do another task that requires little thought. This gives me time to slow down.

I also have a nighttime routine. I started this after remembering back when my kids were babies. We got them ready for bed the same way every night: bath, stories, bed. This gave them time to wind down and the process itself helped their bodies and minds shift into sleep mode. I do the same with myself and it works: get changed, brush teeth, find clothes for the morning, and read by my little reading lamp. Same thing, every night if possible.

A few years ago I adopted a productivity routine that had a nice side effect of helping me get to sleep. Namely, before I leave my desk at the end of the day, I write down the things I must accomplish the next day. I like the organization, and my brain likes knowing that these important things have been parked where I’ll see them in the morning.

Lastly, here’s a trick I learned while studying as a college student: your bed isn’t the place for work. When I was in the dorm, space was at a premium and I’d often end up doing homework on my bed. That wasn’t a good idea, as I started to associate that area with work, when the bed is for sleep. Sit on the couch with your laptop, not your bed, if you want to be comfortable.

One final note: If this becomes a persistent problem, talk to your doctor or perhaps a specialist in behavioral sleep medicine. The above advice is obviously for the common human motor of a brain.

Storing the CPAP machine (and other ugly but frequently used stuff)

We recently asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering and organizing hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

Unclutterer reader Mary asked:

C-Pap Machines for sleep apnea … used every nite … sitting on a small table by my husband’s side of the bed and most visible from adjoining living room … long hose and face piece at end of hose … so ugly but so necessary … storage ideas but still convenient?

Mary, there are a number of approaches you might use to address this challenge. While I’m going to list some specific solutions for CPAP machines, the strategies I’ve included could apply to any ugly-but-useful items we need to keep close at hand.

Make the equipment less ugly

Your options here will depend on what CPAP machine you use and how crafty you are. There are some commercial products, but you could also try a do-it-yourself approach. On the commercial side:

The ResMed S9 Autoset comes in pink, which some people think looks less clinical (and therefore more attractive) than the basic machine.

If you use a ResMed S9 device you can also get a skin (a vinyl decal) for it. Skinit has a program where you provide the image and the company turns it into a custom skin.

You can also find a few Skinit ready-made skins (products the company has discontinued) on eBay and other sites.

Cover it up

Building off the idea of the teapot cover called a cozy, some people have created CPAP machine and mask cozies. I’m not finding anyone who sells a CPAP cozy commercially, but you could either make one yourself or have one made for you.

You can buy hose covers, which serve a functional purpose. But a cover also “makes the CPAP look less clinical,” as one Amazon buyer noted.

Place it somewhere handy but less conspicuous

The CPAP machine doesn’t have to live on top of the nightstand in order to be handy. The Bedside CPAP Table keeps the CPAP close by the bed but off the nightstand, freeing up that nightstand space for other things. (This table is also useful for travel to places where there might not be a nightstand next to the bed.)

You can also take the CPAP machine (and the hoses and mask) off the nightstand by putting everything into the nightstand. Perdue Woodworks makes a nightstand specifically for this purpose, but if you’ve got another nightstand where you’re willing to cut holes in the sides, you might be able to create your own.

Denny Allen Cabinets has a different design, with a side-opening drawer, which could also work well.

When you’re dealing with anything that’s unsightly yet useful, you may find a similar creative way to disguise or hide the item.

Want to be more productive? Get more sleep.

Do you find that it’s difficult to keep still and do nothing? Even when you’re supposed to be relaxing (and though your body may not be moving), your mind might be running though your task list and the many things that you need to get done. Or, perhaps you decide to stay later at work a few days per week in an effort to “catch up.” Though you may be in the mindset of trying to get things done, if you don’t get enough sleep, this can decrease how much you actually get done and increase your stress. And, when you’re stressed, you won’t sleep very well. This is a vicious cycle.

The fact of the matter is that if you want to get more done, you need to be well rested. Lack of sleep or not enough of it can really hamper how productive you can be. The The New York Times recently reported:

Spending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance. In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

This connection between sleep and productivity seems to affect you no matter what your job function is. The article goes on to say that when basketball players slept 10 hours per night, “their free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.”

So, how can you get more sleep — the type of rest that will help you feel energized and well prepared to tackle each workday? To get started:

Stop hitting the snooze button

Though it’s intended to be helpful, the snooze button on your alarm can interrupt your sleep cycle which will in turn make you feel more tired and groggy (this is known as sleep inertia). You’ll feel this way because your body may not be ready to be awake (depending on the stage of the sleep cycle that it’s in) when the alarm sounds. This can translate into poor performance during the day. Instead, implement a consistent sleep schedule so that you are not dependent on the snooze button. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day so that you create a pattern of restorative sleep (you can even use a sleep cycle app on your phone to help).

Schedule recovery time during the workday

Recovery time can include planned breaks from working on your projects. It can also mean taking power naps during the day (whenever possible), particularly if you didn’t sleep well the night before. You’ll want to take relatively short naps so that when you wake up, you’ll feel more alert and energized. Though napping longer than 20 minutes has benefits (like better decision making and being able to recall directions more easily), if you get into a very deep sleep, you may wake up feeling more tired. Consider experimenting with shorter or longer nap times to find the right amount of time that will help you to recover.

Schedule time for energizing movement

While everyone needs downtime, exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on how well you sleep. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “just 10 minutes of exercise a day could make a difference in the duration and quality of sleep.” The good news is that you don’t have to carve out several hours to exercise, but rather build in a short stints of energetic movement throughout your day to reap the benefits at night.

Keep your sleep space uncluttererd

When there’s clutter build-up in a room, there’s likely to be a good deal of stress felt when you’re in that particular area. So, set the stage for a restful night by uncluttering your space. Put away clothing and keep your nightstands neat and organized. Be sure that you don’t keep receipts, mail, or any other (non-sleep) related items hanging about. One thing you can keep on your nightstand: a sleep journal. Use the journal to track how well you’re sleeping, how much sleep you need to function optimally, as well as specific things (soft music, completely dark room, bath before bed) that help you achieve restorative sleep.

Do less: Practice single-tasking

So, this isn’t a sleep tip specifically, but it’s good to put it into practice as it can have big results. Though I’m suggesting that you should do less, please don’t throw your to-do list out the window! Doing less doesn’t mean that you should ignore your responsibilities. It simply means that you should focus on one thing at a time, instead of trying to wrap your mind around several tasks and projects simultaneously. This can be tricky at first, but after a bit of practice, you’ll begin to notice that you can get more done and, perhaps more importantly, you’ll have a greater chance of getting things done more completely (and with less stress, too).

Getting enough rest should be at the top of your list if you want to improve your ability to be productive. If after trying some of today’s suggestions you find that there has been no improvement to the quality of your sleep, consider talking with your doctor to see if there are other things that could be having an impact (like certain medications) on your performance.

Casa Kids: Space-saving children’s furniture for small-space living

The November 2012 issue of Dwell magazine (content not yet online) introduced me to Casa Kids, a Brooklyn-based children’s bedroom furniture company led by designer Roberto Gil. What amazes me about the furniture is how it is perfectly designed for small-space living. In addition to being very well made, almost all of the furniture also increases the function of a room — something that is so important in tight living quarters.

A few of my favorite space-saving pieces:

The Dumbo Loft Bed with Closet, which includes a desk and a closet in the first level and even has a hamper drawer for dirty clothes:

The Dumbo Storage Bed, which would significantly increase the amount of storage in any room. (Note, those are shelves on the front of the unit. There is a ladder that goes on the front left like in the picture above but that isn’t in this image.):

The Dumbo Folding Bunk Bed, which would be terrific in a room that serves as both an office and a guest room.:

You can check out the furniture online or in person at their showroom at 106 Ferris Street in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Most of the large pieces of installed furniture hover in the $4,000 price range, but smaller items are significantly less expensive.

Searching for inspiration for a multipurpose guest room

Our new house has a guest room, which is something completely alien to us. Not really knowing what to do with the space, my husband and I bought a bed and nightstand, hung some artwork, and then closed the door to keep out the cat. (The image at right is the catalog staging of the bed and nightstand we have. Obviously, if our guest room already looked this amazing, I wouldn’t be writing this post.)

Since we moved in March, the room has only been used by guests a few times. The Karen Bussen-inspired entertainer in me loves this idea of having a relaxing room just for guests — make the room like a $400 a night resort hotel room where visitors can truly feel as if they are on a rejuvenating vacation. Conversely, the practical part of me thinks the room should have more utility than a place for visitors to sleep once every couple months.

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching ways to satisfy both of my desires for the space. I’m looking for ways to make it a fabulous guest room and a practical hobby room in one. The solution will have to include storage for the hobby supplies that can be completely closed up when guests are present and using it for their retreat. And, I want it to be extremely practical as a hobby room when guests aren’t visiting.

Here are some of the images I’ve been using as inspiration for what to do with this room:

Have you seen a beautiful guest room that serves more than one purpose? Share a link or describe a solution you’ve seen in the comments. How did someone create a space that effectively met both needs?

Storing bed sheets

If your linen closet is cluttered and overflowing with bed sheets, it might be time to unclutter and organize your collection.

Start by sorting through your sheets and pulling out any that don’t match, are stained, damaged, or shouldn’t be in circulation. I live in a four-season climate, so my goal is to only have two warm weather sets of cotton sheets and two cold weather sets of flannel sheets. The idea is that there are two sets in circulation for six months of the year, with one of the sets being on the mattress and the other set ready to go when you want to change the sheets. (Sheets you wish to purge from your collection usually can be donated to a local animal shelter. Be sure to give the shelter a call before dropping off your donation to make sure they have a current need.)

Once the number of linens for each bed is down to a manageable amount, you’ll need to decide where to store the sheets. I’m of the opinion that bed sheets should be stored in the room where they are used. (Store it where you use it.) If your home has a linen closet located near all of the bedrooms, you might choose to go ahead and use it if bedroom closet space is limited.

After you have identified where you want to store your sheets, you’ll then have to decide how you want to store them. If you live in a constant climate and only need two sets of sheets, you won’t have much issue with simply keeping your sheets on a shelf. I like Martha Stewart’s recommendation to store the top and bottom sheets and one pillow case inside the second pillow case. This method keeps everything together and doesn’t make a mess of your closet.

If you’re like me and prefer four sets of sheets, you’ll want to have a box with a lid to hold the two sets not in circulation. This will keep the sheets from collecting dust and make sure they’re ready to use when temperatures change. I use a clear plastic storage box made for sweaters, but any protective container could work.

And, if you’re struggling with folding sheets, check out our post on how to fold a fitted sheet.

What to do with clothes you’ve worn once but want to wear again?

Back on November 3, there was a fun comment thread on Reddit discussing “Where the h*ll do you put clothes you’ve already worn but plan on wearing again??” Many of the commenters agreed that they use:

ks50: the floor.

DJgiantboydetective: my system is even more involved. I’ve got the “worn once but totally good to go” area, and the “kind of questionable but OK if you’re just going to the store” area. the two areas are very clear in my head, but if you looked at them, you’d think my place just got robbed.

VladimirKal: My floordrobe is organised in pretty much the same way. People can never seem to believe that there is actually an organised mess rather than just a mess.

electrostate: FLOORDROBE. You sir are a genius.

I think the “floordrobe” is where a lot of people’s want-to-wear-again clothes end up landing. It’s especially common when the clothes are casual — jeans, t-shirts, shorts — and when their isn’t a system in place to handle these clothes.

Even t-shirts, jeans, and shorts cost money, though. Walking on your clothes and making them susceptible to more dust, dirt, mites, and dander than they would get in a more protective environment significantly shortens the life of your clothing. When you throw your clothes on the floor, you’re wasting money. I guess if you have a never-ending revenue stream, having to buy new clothes earlier than you otherwise would isn’t such a big deal. However, I think most people want their clothing to last them as long as possible, and throwing your clothes on the floor isn’t a way to make that happen.

To avoid using a “floordrobe,” consider the following suggestions:

  1. Get ready for bed an hour before you plan to go to sleep. This way, you have enough energy to put your clothes where they actually belong.
  2. Always hang up expensive clothes on hangers, especially when you plan to wear the item again — suits, ties, dress shirts. If you’re worried about these previously worn items “contaminating” your other clothes, hang them up at one end of your closet with a separator (a robe? a suit bag?) in between the two types of clothes.
  3. Create a permanent storage area for your casual want-to-wear-again clothing. This storage solution might be a separate hamper in a different style than your dirty clothes hamper, a suit valet, an S hook, a hanging shelf/drawer unit, wall hooks, back of door hooks, or even an empty dresser drawer. Invest in whatever solution you will actually use.

Do you use a “floordrobe”? Could one of these alternatives work for you?

Organizing eyeglasses

My husband and I have five pairs of eyeglasses between us. Since we have a toddler who loves to pull glasses off your face without a moment’s notice, the multiple pairs have become necessary. (When my son was five months old, we learned the hard way that having a backup pair is a very good idea.)

As a result, we’ve been looking for an organized way to store our multiple pairs of glasses. We have decided to get a display stand that one might usually see on a counter in an eyeglasses shop:

We’re setting the display on our bedroom dresser so we will also have a place to safely store our glasses overnight and make them easy to find first thing in the morning.

Because glasses are much less expensive than they used to be (thank you, Internet!) it’s becoming more common for people to have multiple styles of frames, the way they might have a few belts or purses. If you’re in this group of owning multiple pairs of glasses, an eyeglass shop display stand might be a good organizing tool for you, too.

Do you use a different organizing method for storing your eyeglasses? Give us your tips in the comments.

Are you getting the Zzzzzzzzzzzz’s you need?

When your sleep schedule is disrupted and you don’t get the amount of sleep you need to function properly, you will instantly experience a drop in productivity and mental processing. If this sleep deprivation continues, you might experience something like this:

In case you can’t read my handwriting:
Lethargy and a decrease of energy leads to a loss of will power, which leads to poor food choices, which leads to stopping or reducing your daily exercise, which causes clutter to pile up at home and the office, which ultimately leads to complete disorganization.

In addition to tanking productivity, fatigue causes high blood pressure, reduced reaction times, a weakened immune system, and a slew of other nasty things that put one’s health in danger.

If you’re looking to be more productive at work and continue to have energy even after you get home in the evenings, sleep is a key component to making this happen. When you’re well rested, you’re also more likely to exercise and eat right, which help to give you more energy.

We each need different amounts of sleep to function at our best — I need nine hours of sleep, but my husband doesn’t require much more than seven — and these needs can change over time. Keep a sleep journal to learn how much sleep your body requires. Additionally, once you have the energy to unclutter and organize your space, your bedroom can be a great place to start. The less clutter in this room will improve your quality of sleep each night, giving you more energy to tackle other areas of your home and office.

Reader weigh-in: How do you organize your clothes dresser?

I prefer to organize my clothes in a five-drawer chest of drawers based on the order I put them on: undergarments in the top two drawers, then t-shirts, pants, and finally socks in the bottom drawer. Some clients I’ve worked with prefer to organize based on weight — light undergarments and socks in top drawers, and heavier pants and t-shirts in lower drawers.

If you had a chest of drawers that had drawers side-by-side, you could store clothing from left-to-right based on how you get dressed. Or, maybe you prefer to just stick clothes in whatever drawer has space at the time so that all of your clothes are mixed together.

How do you arrange clothes in your chest of drawers? What do you believe is the most efficient method for your lifestyle? We’re interested in learning how you arrange things in your home. Share your strategy in the comments.

Streamlining your morning routines

To know me is to know my love of coffee. My entire morning routine is structured around brewing the perfect cup and drinking it before the busy-ness of the day begins. Hanging on the bulletin board above my computer screen is my mantra: “When in doubt, drink more coffee.”

I’m not really addicted to caffeine, I’m more addicted to the routine of crafting an ideal cup of joe. If there were a caffeine-free drink I savored more, I would be consumed with making it. However, except for a glass of whole milk minutes after coming out of the cow or a Batida from Ceiba restaurant in downtown, D.C., there aren’t any other drinks that capture my attention so strongly.

Why am I telling you all of this? First, it’s a way for me to talk about another of my passions. Second, and this is more applicable to you, I want to share with you my strategies for organizing morning routines.

When we wake up after a night’s sleep (or day’s sleep if you work the night shift), we go through the same steps every time. For most of us, these steps include showering, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and possibly helping a small human go through similar steps. Your routine might vary a little bit, but for the majority of days you do the same things over and over and over again.

How many of the things you use during your morning routine, though, aren’t convenient to access? Are your breakfast items strewn in multiple cabinets across the kitchen, bathroom supplies in five different drawers and cabinets, and clothing kept in three different places across a bedroom?

Think about all of the things you access each and every morning, and reorganize these things to better meet your needs and make your routines more efficient. For example, if your family eats breakfast cereal, put all of your cereal boxes into a basket so that putting the boxes on the table each morning is one simple movement. If you have a shaving routine, store all of your supplies in one container that you can pull out of the drawer, set on the counter, and then return to the drawer all at once. In your bedroom, consider arranging your furniture so that your dresser is next to your closet. Store all of your coffee-making supplies together with your coffee cups, above or next to where you prepare your coffee.

Keep the things you use together, in containers that you can pull out and use in the most convenient location, and store them in the easiest place to access.

It’s also a good idea to time yourself to see how long it actually takes you to get ready in the morning. Many of us are under the delusion that we’re faster at getting ready for the day than we actually are — especially families with children. If you have difficulty getting out the door in the morning, I recommend that parents get completely ready before children (especially young children) wake up and always padding your get-ready time by 15 minutes.

The more streamlined your morning routine, the more likely you are to have a smooth, stress-free morning. And, the more time you’ll have to enjoy that beautiful, rich, amazing cup of coffee.

Transforming furniture

We’ve featured some transforming wall beds on the site before, and now we want to show you more of them in action. The New York company Resource Furniture has made a demonstration video of all of their amazing space-saving furniture:

Actually, they’ve made two videos, but the second one is produced in a way that kind of makes me motion sick. Regardless, if you live in a small home or have a room that serves multiple purposes, transforming furniture can be a wonderful way to make better use of your space.