Organizing tips from outer space

I just finished reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield and found that it contained some great tips from outer space that we can use to be organized right here on Earth.

The pen just floated away

In space, if you don’t hang on to them, things like spoons, pencils, scissors and test tubes simply drift away, only to turn up a week later, clinging to the filter covering an air intact duct. That’s why there’s Velcro on the back of just about every imaginable item: so it will stay put on a Velco wall.

Things on Earth don’t exactly “float away,” although sometimes it feels like they do! There are several strategies that we can use to help things stay put! Consider using Velcro to stick markers and an eraser to a whiteboard. A Grid-It organizer can be placed in a drawer, backpack, or briefcase to stop smaller items from disappearing to the bottom of a bag.

A pegboard won’t stop items from floating away, but it clearly identifies where items belong. Pegboards are ideal for tools, craft supplies, and even accessories such as jewellery, belts, and purses.

The most useful thing to do

During a mission on the International Space Station, when Commander Hadfield asked, “What’s the most useful thing we could be doing right now?” the answer was “an inventory of the inside of every single locker in the Russian cargo block.”

Previously on Unclutterer, we’ve discussed creating a home inventory. Inventories are important because they indicate how much homeowners insurance you should carry and also help identify items that may be missing or damaged if your home suffers from theft or other disaster.

Inventories done on a regular basis help ensure your items aren’t past their due dates (e.g. fire extinguishers, canned food) or have become obsolete (Do you need to keep the baby gates if your children are teenagers?). Regular inventories help you figure out how much of certain items you are using so you can prevent product shortages and keep just enough inventory on hand without having too much.

I can imagine that an accurate inventory is even more important for the astronauts and cosmonauts since the nearest convenience store is 205 miles away. Items must be ordered in a timely manner so they arrive when needed and there are only a limited number of items that can be sent on each flight to the space station. Planning in advance is essential.

Although being organized may not give you the opportunity to go to the International Space Station, it can certainly help you enjoy your space right here on Earth.

Small living design inspiration from actor Vincent Kartheiser

We wrote about actor Vincent Kartheiser and his obsession with minimalism in our 2010 article “Celebrity minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser.” Back then, he was just beginning construction on his new home and admitted to using his neighbor’s bathroom because he threw out his toilet.

Three years later, construction on Kartheiser’s space is complete and the beautiful renovations are featured in the article “The Tiny Hollywood Home of Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser” in Dwell magazine’s November 2013 issue.

In the article’s accompanying slideshow, it is this picture of Kartheiser pulling his bed down from the ceiling that took my breath away:

Image credit: Dwell’s Joe Pugliese

The bed on pulleys with 300 pound counterweights is sheer genius, and the headboard (a large piece of redwood) is on a lever so it can fold down during the day to serve as a desk or sideboard. Another small-space idea that caught my attention in the article is his outdoor coffee table that is also a fire pit. The sliding closet doors that become a privacy wall for the bathroom is a nice touch, too.

Technically a one-room cabin at just 500 sq feet, Kartheiser remade the home and outdoor courtyard with builder Funn Roberts. It doesn’t say it directly, but the article seems to imply Kartheiser even shares this tiny space with his fiancée, actress Alexis Bledel.

Do your spaces reflect what matters most to you?

My friend Brittany (whom I’ve mentioned so many times on this site that I’m starting to think I need to add her to our About page) sent me a link to the following video, which I’ve found to be incredibly inspiring. As an unclutterer, there are numerous things that caught my attention with this piece and I want you to see it, too. This is a video that fashion icon Anna Dello Russo recently made for the clothing store H&M:

Dello Russo’s home is a perfect example of what I refer to when I say, “it’s important to clear the clutter so you can focus on what is important to you.” What is important to Anna Dello Russo? Fashion and, specifically accessories. Her place has a lot of accessories — more than I’ve ever seen in an individual collection — yet her home is completely uncluttered, simple, elegant. She doesn’t have anything in her home that detracts from her passion for accessories. Even the books on her bookshelf exist to provide her inspiration for new accessories and outfits. And, she is truly organized. Everything has a place, and everything is in its place.

Did you notice the descriptions she has written on her shoe boxes? Did you see how she keeps the packaging for her tights and carefully returns each pair to that packaging when she’s finished wearing them? Did you see how few clothes she actually owns? My guess is that she is a loyal follower of the one-in-one-out rule for her garments. Her purses and clutches are lined up in beautiful rows, and it’s obvious she knows exactly where each piece of jewelry is located in her home.

My favorite thing about this space is how it represents her love for accessories and that love is directly reflected in the decor of each room. She has some artwork on the walls, but mostly she lets the bracelets and hats and other items be the artwork. This is a woman who knows exactly what matters to her and doesn’t let anything distract her from her passion.

What matters most to you? Have you made room in your life for whatever it is you love? Have you cleared the clutter, the distractions, so you can spend more time focused on what matters to you? Do your spaces reflect who you are and what you love as well as Anna Dello Russo’s do?

Knowing what you need clears a path for an uncluttered life

Back on September 1, 2009, the ABC News program Nightline aired the segment “Antivirus Software Pioneer John McAfee Gets Dose of Reality.” The segment discussed how McAfee lost close to $90 million that year, and how it changed his understanding of possessions.

McAfee’s net worth dropped from within the ballpark of $100 million to less than $10 million, he told ABC News. But instead of feeling a sense of loss, he says he feels free.

“I feel a sense of freedom,” he said. “People think that it’s a joy to own things. But it really isn’t.”

The article continues:

“I feel freer. I have less responsibility and obligations. And I have enough money left to feed myself,” he said.

After 65 years, his attitude about money, he says, is forever changed.

“I think most people don’t sit down and ask, ‘What do I need?” not “What do I want?” Because we all want everything,” he explained. “But what do we need? We don’t need very much. We really don’t … The things we want and the things we need are two different things.”

The perspective is a good one, even for a man with $10 million still left in his pockets. Knowing what you need is an essential component of an uncluttered life. When you can tell the difference between the things that are important, and those that are not, you can clear the clutter and pursue a life focused on what really matters to you.

The full article.

Image from Quorumex, McAfee’s new company based in Belize.

Casting call for Enough Already! with Peter Walsh

I’m not one to usually pass along casting calls for television shows, but this one is so much fun I couldn’t resist. If you live in the Los Angeles area and want your home organized for FREE by Peter Walsh, check this out:

Enough Already! with Peter Walsh — a series for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network — is looking for participants who are finally ready to say goodbye to chaos and clutter, and hello to an organized and healthy way of living.


  1. Live within a 30 mile radius of the Los Angeles area.
  2. Available to participate for one week sometime between mid-April to late June 2011.

To be considered, please provide the following information.


  • Name
  • Contact information
  • City
  • Description of your clutter and situation (250 words or less)
  • Please email everything to: [email protected]

All information is confidential and will only be shared with the program producers.

Like me, if you don’t live in the Los Angeles area, feel welcome to pass this information along to someone who does. Those of us in other parts of the country and world will just have to watch his organizing and uncluttering genius on season two.

Pack rats in fiction: Through the Looking Glass

Many months ago, reader John directed me to re-read the Alice adventure Through the Looking Glass. John said there was a terrific example of a pack rat contained in the book, and I discovered it exactly as he said I would. In chapter eight of the tale “It’s My Own Invention,” Alice encounters the White Knight, a man with a nasty manifestation of Just-in Case syndrome.

The White Knight’s character description begins on page 122 of the book — a book you can access for free on Google Books, since the book is in the public domain. An example of his pack-rat ways:

“You see,” [the White Knight] went on after a pause, “it’s as well to be provided for everything. That’s the reason the horse has all those anklets round his feet.”

“But what are they for?” Alice asked in a tone of great curiosity.

“To guard against the bites of sharks,” the Knight replied. “It’s an invention of my own. And now help me on. I’ll go with you to the end of the wood — What’s that dish for?”

“It’s meant for plum-cake,” said Alice.

“We’d better take it with us,” the Knight said. “It’ll come in handy if we find any plum-cake. Help me to get it into this bag.”

This took a long time to manage, though Alice held the bag open very carefully, because the Knight was so very awkward in putting in the dish; the first two or three times that he tried he fell in himself instead. “It’s rather a tight fit, you see,” he said, as they got it in at last; “there are so many candlesticks in the bag.” And he hung it to the saddle, which was already loaded with bunches of carrots, and fire-irons, and many other things.

The White Knight has “so many things hung round the horse” that he falls off the horse every few feet. Most every time he falls from the horse he hits his head on the ground. His clutter and irrational collection of Just-in Case items keeps him from living the life he desires (certainly one where he is an amazing horse rider).

Are you keeping things you don’t need, like the White Knight, just in case you might one day need them? You probably aren’t falling or hitting your head because of these items, but is storing them causing problems in other ways? Are you wasting money on a self-storage unit? Are you sacrificing storage space in your home or office that could be used in other ways for purposes you value more? Would letting some of these items go improve the quality of your space? Only you know if you would see the White Knight if you looked in a mirror.

A woman in uniform: Angelina Jolie

Los Angeles-based professional organizer John Trosko tipped us off to an interview with actress Angelina Jolie in the December issue of Vogue. In the article, “The Other Angelina,” Jolie talks about the monochromatic nature of her wardrobe and how this helps to keep it small:

“As Brad’ll tell you — and my kids — apparently Mommy only wears black,” [Jolie] says. Because she was a Goth, right? No, she says, it’s utilitarian, it’s practical: “I like to get up so every pair of pants goes with every top, every dress goes with every shoe. I’ve a very tiny closet. Brad’s always laughing at me. Some days, yes, I have the nightgown that looks like a dress that I can sleep in and pick the kids up at school. And maybe take a meeting if I switch into heels.”

I don’t know if all four of her closets are small (the article mentions she has four homes around the world), or just the one in L.A., but knowing at least one female celebrity is capable of keeping clutter out of her closet is inspiring. I also don’t know what nightgown can be worn around town without people knowing you’re wearing a nightgown in public, but I think it’s a wonderfully minimalistic idea if it does exist.

Regardless of how many small closets she has or what designer has created a day-to-nightgown, Jolie’s overall strategy for keeping clutter out of your closet makes sense: A wardrobe of all coordinating, multi-functioning pieces is helpful when maintaining a small wardrobe.

Would you pay more for less?

Scott Adams, the artist behind the Dilbert cartoon, wrote on his blog back in August about his desire to live in a more simple world — a world without so many options that he can stop wasting time and energy trying to make a decision. He rants about too many choices when booking travel reservations, too many features on his digital watch, and movie theaters with special seats and meals. From his post “The Less Feature,” discussing his travel preparations:

Over the next several hours [trying to find an airline ticket on Orbitz] I tried sorting by flight time, shortest route, and price. Then I tried JetBlue’s site because it’s not included in Orbitz. Then I tried United Airlines’ site because I didn’t know if they would have extra options, and I needed to check my miles. The flight I picked had all sorts of seating options and levels of travel that I needed to research. Then I needed to arrange the rental car, the hotel, and the airport pickup. Then I took all of the information and reformatted it in a way I could read. At some point in the process I crossed a line: The time to plan and book the trip took longer than it will take to fly across the entire country.

Adams continues on to talk about Apple, and how he believes they’re one company that is more in-line with his “Less Feature” desire:

Apple often gets the less features thing right. The iPad didn’t add a fast boot-up speed, it subtracted a hard disk. It didn’t add a touch screen, it subtracted a keyboard. You want to print? Forget it. The iPad is awesome precisely because it has fewer options. If I want more complexity I can purchase apps.

With an endless supply of applications you can download from their app store and the numerous models of computers, I’m not so certain Apple has the “Less Feature” perfected. However, I agree that they’re better at uncluttering their product lines than many other companies.

Where do you stand? Do you believe that too many options clutters up your daily experience? Would you prefer fewer options, or do more options mean you are able to find exactly what you need for your clutter-free life?

Thanks to MinimalMac for leading us to this interesting Scott Adams blog post.

Assorted links for October 18, 2010

Interesting articles and services relating to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living:

  • Patrick at Minimal Mac asks “A Most Important Question.” If you don’t know where something belongs, it may “… not have a place in your home, in your relationships, in your job, or or in your life,” and, “perhaps it should not be there.”
  • Alton Brown, the celebrity chef who is the inspiration behind our Unitasker Wednesday posts, wrote a diary about his (bizarre?) minimalist eating practices when he travels in last week’s New York magazine: “Alton Brown Makes His Own Avocado Ice Cream, Does Shots With John Hodgman.”
  • Learning Express Library is an online resource for practice tests on hundreds of topics. The free and digital tests range from the U.S. Citizenship exam to college entrance tests. Save your money and some trees with these helpful resources.
  • Lose the equipment and your gym membership, and get an uncluttered workout using only your body weight. From Nerd Fitness, “Beginner Body Weight Workout.”
  • The Art of Manliness has a tribute to all things minimalist in “Go Small Or Go Home: In Praise of Minimalism.”
  • Clean up your iTunes digital music collection with Tagalicious — a simple and easy to use application that gets rid of all of those “Track 01” files you have in your directory.
  • Are you on Twitter? Does it bother you when someone attends a conference and floods your stream with messages that don’t interest you in the least? Use DeClutter to remove specific keywords from your timeline. (via Swiss-Miss)

Assorted links for September 16, 2010

A handful of interesting links related to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living from this week’s news:

Advice from Sebastian Junger on achieving a remarkable life

The September issue of Outside magazine has an inspiring interview with author-documentarian-bar-owner Sebastian Junger that speaks directly to an uncluttered pursuit of a remarkable life. Junger, most famous for The Perfect Storm, was once an extreme minimalist who slept on the floor until he was 40, and he continues to live quite simply in New York City with his wife.

A few highlights from Junger’s interview “The Path of Most Resistance,” which will be online when the October issue hits newsstands:

The things in life that aren’t exciting, if they’re a hassle, I just don’t do ’em. Like, I could go out and buy a shaving mirror, or I could use the back of a CD.

Everything I do, I just assume I’m going to fail. It all seems impossible. But I’m very scared of failure — you know, everyone is — and that sense of impossibility gets me to crank up the turbines. Everything mentally and physically at my disposal I pour into a project.

The people I know personally who cannot sit down and chill out for a while are people who have not really come to terms with their emotional, inner story. They’re staying a step ahead of it. I did that through my twenties and thirties. In my forties, I stopped working so hard for a bit and confronted a certain amount of stuff about myself. I think that one of the impetuses for working outrageously hard and traveling constantly and always being on deadline is that your personality can’t catch up with you.

Also in the magazine, tangentially related to Junger’s interview, is advice from Eric Greitens about how he manages to get everything done. Greitens is a former Navy SEAL commander, Rhodes scholar, has a Ph.D., and a laundry list of additional accomplishments and activities. Speaking about how he does it all, from page 24:

It’s all about energy. Whether you’re leading a nonprofit organization, running a private company, doing something outdoors, or conducting military operations — you have to build habits that keep your energy high. This is my formula: (1) Vigorous exercise: Six days a week, I walk out of a gym, a dojo, or off a track pouring with sweat … (2) Good fuel: When I eat clean, quality food during the day, my energy never sags. (3) Good partners: Working with a team of positive people keeps your spirits up. (4) Balance: I pray every day, and I also laugh, a lot. You won’t have focus without balance. (5) A goal: A worthy challenge will take care of your motivation for you.

Unclutterer interviews host of Clean House, Niecy Nash

I had the amazing pleasure to interview the beautiful, funny, and Emmy-award-winning Niecy Nash on Friday about the latest season of Clean House and the work she’s doing with Clorox and the World Toilet Organization’s Ode to the Commode campaign. She’s a woman who takes time management to a new level — she was on the Clean House set when we spoke — and had a great deal to share in just a few minutes of her time.

Here is the inside scoop she gave me about Clean House:

Clean House has been on the air since the fall of 2003, and the ninth season of the show started in July with The Nelson Family. When new episodes of the season air, they’re on Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET/9:00 p.m. CT on the Style Network. (I don’t believe there is a new episode this week, but there are numerous reruns. Next week looks to have a new episode with The Ryan Family.)

The crew will be at a house for a week, and cameras roll with Niecy typically three of those days. There are between 50 to 100 people responsible for producing a single episode — from writing scripts, lighting the rooms, filming, and helping with the uncluttering, garage sale, designing, decorating, and organizing.

I asked Niecy what is the most valuable thing she has learned while hosting the show. She said, “We have a responsibility to each other. I’ve learned that I’m my brother’s keeper.” When she said this, it was obvious that she takes her work on the show very seriously. Although she’s all laughs and smiles in front of the camera, she genuinely feels committed to helping the people who have been selected to appear on the show.

The inside scoop on her work with Dancing with the Stars:

In addition to her work on Clean House and her daily appearances on CBS’ The Insider, Niecy was also a contestant last season on Dancing with the Stars. She ended up in an impressive fifth place and said that dancing live in front of more than 20 million viewers while wearing a leotard was the hardest thing she’s ever done, “definitely harder than taking on the messiest homes in America.”

The inside scoop on her work with the World Toilet Organization:

Niecy is also the national spokesperson for Clorox’s Ode to the Commode campaign, which supports the World Toilet Organization. “Nearly 2 billion of the world’s population does not have access to clean toilets and basic sanitation,” Niecy said. She went on to explain that every day water-related diseases claim the lives of 5,000 children under the age of five.

She said that on Clean House she and the crew work to improve the lives of people who need help, but not the kind of severe help others in the world need. This campaign helps the WTO make toilets accessible and affordable for people who need basic and working sanitation.

Niecy said that you can help, too, by going online to and flush the virtual toilet for free. For every flush, Clorox donates $1.00 to the WTO.

The inside scoop on all things Niecy Nash:

As I was wrapping up the interview, I asked Niecy, who is also a mother of three, how she manages all of her commitments. She laughed, paused for a moment, and then recited the famous Warren Zevon line, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”