The 5-, 10-, and 15-minute unclutterer

When it’s hard to carve out an hour or two (or more) to complete an unclutter mission, sometimes we forgo organizing at all.

That’s where the speed unclutterer comes in handy. When your boss is about to drop by your cube or friends have called to say they’re coming right over, uncluttering has to take on velocity. I have found that this works best when you close off all distractions, focus solely on the targeted area, set the timer for 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments and unclutter until the timer dings.

What you do in your 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments depends, of course, on the degree of disarray in the area you plan to unclutter and the system you use. Here are some ideas to get you started. Adjust them according to your situation.

The 5-minute Unclutterer

To know where to begin on a 5-minute uncluttering project, asking yourself questions will sharpen your focus. As I wrote on page 20 in The Naked Desk:

If you have limited time to organize, ask yourself, “What single action would make the greatest impact right now?” Or, “What can I do in five minutes that will make the biggest difference?” Scan the office and choose the area that is calling out for order the most. Then take action!

These questions will help you quickly home in on the area that if you unclutter it, will bring you the greatest relief, serenity or beauty. Overwhelmed? Put a bull’s eye on one corner of the table to get started, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing.

Zen Habits also has a great list of 5-minute uncluttering actions in the article 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.

I love Leo’s tip #6:

Pick up 5 things, and find places for them. These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.

Make a mental note of the new spots for items so you can retrieve them when you need them.

The 10-minute Unclutterer

You can power through a small uncluttering task in 10 minutes or make progress on a larger project.

Admittedly, the morning dishes in our home sometimes get left unwashed as family members dash out the door for work and school. I set the timer daily for 10-minute dish washing blasts — instant sink and counter uncluttering. Other things you can knock out in 10 minutes include:

  • File one inch of paper
  • Organize a book shelf
  • Start a load of laundry

From home to work, there are many 10-minute uncluttering opportunities. For example, you can reserve the last 10 minutes of the day to unclutter your desk to start fresh and clear the next day.

To fend off return-from-home clutter piles, make it a habit to use your first 10 minutes through the door to put things away, such as your umbrella in the umbrella holder, your jacket in the closet and your keys on the landing strip.

The 15-minute Unclutterer

With all that you can accomplish in five or 10 minutes, 15 minutes can make an even bigger dent in clutter. You won’t streamline a bedraggled garage, but you can clear out one box.

When you find yourself with an unexpected block of 15 minutes, you can use the time to clear out clutter from your home or office. For example, you’ve arrived 15 minutes early for a lunch appointment — unclutter your car. Additional ideas:

  • Remove all broken or obsolete items from a junk drawer
  • Clear out your purse or wallet
  • Organize your monthly receipts

To unclutter and clean, check out About.com’s Sarah Aguirre article”15 Minute Cleanups.” The article provides cleaning checklists for six different rooms, from the kitchen to a kid’s room.

I put the Bedroom Cleanup checklist to the test one evening from 8:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. As I followed each of Aguierre’s steps (except I substituted vacuuming with dusting), the room took on an extra sparkle. (Earrings that had collected on my dresser got returned to their home. I also unpacked my husband’s suitcase from last week’s business trip.) It was fast and easy to run through someone else’s pre-made to-do list. I’m glad I did it and will try her suggestions for other rooms.

Some cluttering projects do take hours, days, or months to finish. But, starting with 5-, 10- or 15-minute uncluttering bursts can give you instant progress. These timed uncluttering sprints are also useful for daily maintenance.

What are you able to get done in 5-, 10- or 15-minute unclutter sprints? Let us know your regular routines in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Survey your home for clutter accumulation areas

A quick walk around my house and it is pretty easy to figure out where the clutter accumulates. Problem areas include my desk, the kitchen counter, and a landing strip that borders our kitchen and dining area. The clutter seems to collect like dust and it seems like an unwinnable war.

Take a stroll around your home and identify your perpetually cluttered zones.

Once you figure out which areas of your home are the problem areas, the next step is to do something to remedy the accumulation process. First you have to identify what is in all that mess and where it belongs. Do some of the items belong in the trash? Do they simply not make it back where they officially live? Is some kind of storage solution needed?

Laying out everything that makes up a clutter problem area is a good way to determine where things need to go and whether or not you need to create a new storage solution. If most of the items are simply there for no other reason than they haven’t made it back to their proper places (or to the trash/recycle bins), then you probably should make a conscious effort to not let things form a pile. Either that, or evaluate if its home is really the best and most convenient place for that object.

My desk has been a problem area for quite some time. I accumulate items on my desk that have no business being there. I have become much better in the past year, but as I type this I can see a three-hole punch that I never use sitting behind my display screen. It’s time for me to put the hole punch back where it belongs and ramp up my commitment to keeping my desk organized.

After you take care of the problem areas, keep a watch over them the next few weeks. See if you can identify how and when things accumulate and work on stopping those clutter-prone habits.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Organize for the inevitable with Swedish Death Cleaning

Twelve years ago my parents moved from the Pennsylvania home of my childhood to a smaller, single-floor residence in sunny Florida. A part of that process was scaling down their property to what was essential. A lot of stuff was sold, donated, given away, or just tossed. It was a time-consuming process that would have been avoided entirely with a little “Döstädning” or Swedish Death Cleaning.

No, I don’t mean scrubbing the house while blasting “The Eagle Flies Alone” by ARCH ENEMY on the stereo. Instead, Swedish Death Cleaning refers to the conscious, methodical reduction of clutter over time, typically starting at age 50, and going until the end takes you. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually a very thoughtful thing to do.

In her book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter,” Margareta Magnusson reveals what she calls the “secrets” to effective death cleaning, including:

  1. Speak about it always. Tell others what you’re doing, she says, so they can hold you accountable.
  2. Don’t fear the process. It’s not about the ever-present inevitability of death, she says, but about life itself. It’s about your memories. “The good ones you keep,” she writes. “The bad you expunge.”
  3. Reward your efforts with life-affirming activities. See a movie, attend a concert, enjoy a fantastic meal.

Of course, you need not be in your 50’s — or contemplating mortality — to reap benefits from the mindful reduction of stuff. Fewer possessions mean less worry, less maintenance, and greater ease if and when you have to move (Magnusson notes that she has moved house 17 times). Plus, it puts the focus on one’s most meaningful life events on memories, not the stuff acquired along the way.

I like the idea of Swedish Death Cleaning and I’m going to give it a try. Perhaps I’ll have an update for you all in a few months. Now excuse me while I fire up some ARCH ENEMY on the stereo.

Reader Question: What to do with unwanted handyman tools

A reader recently wrote to ask, what should I do with unwanted handyman tools? It’s a good question. Many people have found themselves with a pile of tools that aren’t going to get used. Perhaps a loved one passed on, a work situation changed or a hobby goes by the wayside. In any case, it’s a shame to let something as useful as handyman tools become clutter. Here are several suggestions for unwanted or unneeded handyman tools.

The best advice I can give is to get them into working hands. Perhaps there’s a friend or family member who’d love to have some, if not all, of your cache. You can contact your local Scouts groups or tech school. Maybe a public school in your area has a wood or metal shop that has a need. If not, consider some of these more formal options.

Vietnam Veterans Association. Pickup Please is an organization that gives charitable donations to all veterans, not just those who served in Vietnam. The process is simple: contact the organization (link above), pack your donations in clearly-labeled boxes and wait for pick-up.

Habitat for Humanity. This great group builds homes for those in need. The build crews are all volunteers, and of course they would welcome a donation of tools in good working order. You can find out more here.

Goodwill. These folks have been doing great work for decades. They have some specific donation guidelines, which you can find here.

Tools for Self-Reliance – UK. Here’s one for our readers in the UK. Started in 1979, Tools for Self-Reliance works with local organizations in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. Hundreds of volunteers deliver tools to people in these areas so that they can learn a skills, get ahead, and become self-reliant. “Teach a man to fish…” and all that. It’s a great organization.

Toolbox Initiative. Of course, “tools” doesn’t simply refer to what’s in the red metal toolbox in the basement. The Toolbox Initiative collects donations of tools used in metalworking and jewelry making. Much like Tools for Self-Reliance, the Toolbox Initiative gets tools into the hands of workers and allows them to become more self-reliant and successful.

KMS Tools For the World. Lastly, here’s one for our friends in western Canada. KMS Tools For The World delivers tools to those who need them to thrive.

If a tool were to briefly gain the ability to speak (stay with me here), it would say, “I want to work!” Fulfill every hammer’s dream and put it in the hand of an eager craftsperson, carpenter, or worker. You’ll feel good, the worker will be grateful and the tool’s very soul will sing.

What have you learned about yourself while uncluttering?

You can learn a lot about yourself while uncluttering. What’s more, that lesson changes over time based on your circumstances, age, and stage of life. Pay attention as you organize and clean, and you’ll see a bit of who you are.

A thread on the Unclutterer Forums brought this to my attention. Initiated in 2010 by reader AJ, the posting has several insightful and interesting comments from Unclutterer readers like “toberead,” who writes:

Your uncluttering strategy depends a lot on your circumstances. Six months ago I moved into an apartment that has a washing machine, the first time in 18 years that I’ve had my own. And it has made me rethink my wardrobe. When I had to spend 3-4 hours in a noisy laundromat every time I wanted to wash a load of clothes, it made sense to have at least 3 weeks worth of clothes, and I made that work in the most uncluttered way possible. But now I can see much more clearly which clothes I really love, and which ones I wore just because it was better than going to the laundromat.

I had a similar experience when moving from an apartment and into my home. I was able to get rid of a lot of the stuff that I considered temporary, like kitchenware that had seen better days.

Meanwhile, reader “Sky” writes about the appeal of eliminating unwanted stuff:

Decluttering my home has made me look at ‘things’ differently. The more I get rid of, the more I want less and less. I love having space in drawers and closets. I even have some empty drawers!

I’ve realized how few things I really want beyond what’s necessary. No more collecting, storing and shopping. It is freeing beyond belief.

I love throwing stuff away. The house just feels “lighter” once I’ve eliminated a big pile of stuff that I haven’t touched in ages. It’s a mental boost, too, as a tidy, uncluttered work space can actually improve productivity.

Finally, reader “nelliesb” writes, “I am realizing how little most things mean to me.” I really got this lesson in 2012 when my dog chewed a commemorative baseball I had received while visiting Fenway Park barely 24 hours prior:

The ball itself isn’t what was important. All of the memories I relayed in this article I conjured up without it. The ball is now in the trash bin; the memories and emotions of that day are in me. When I realize the ball is chewed, or my life is short, I’m reminded every moment with it was precious.

Yes, a moment can trigger a memory. But it’s the memory we’re after, right? Not the thing. I’ve been able to part with many things because they aren’t what’s meaningful to me. It’s the event, the person or the time and place that brought me to that thing in the first place.

There’s so much more to this topic. Perhaps uncluttering teaches you about your shopping habits, your interests, your habits at large. As you’ve tidied and organized, what have you learned about yourself? Share here or over on our forum.

Eliminating mid-station clutter

As I write this, there is an overflowing laundry basket behind me. I can’t see it. I can’t hear it or (for now, at least) smell it. But I can sense it. I know it’s there. It’s always there, eyeing me with its passive-aggressive glance. “Dave,” it says. “Daaaave! Look at all this laundry.”

No, I’m not going crazy, nor am I having a conversation with the laundry basket. I am, however, aware of what the laundry basket really is: a mid-station.

What is a mid-station?

Think of a train that leaves Boston for New York City but first stops in Hartford, Connecticut. Partway between its departure point and its final destination. That is the mid-station stop. If you wanted to, you could get off the train at Hartford, have some lunch, do some shopping, and then eventually continue to New York City.

The laundry basket is a mid-station stop — holding the dirty clothes before they get to the washing machine. The trouble is, laundry often gets stuck in the basket. Days go by and the pile gets higher and higher. It’s annoying, and this prompted me to find other mid-stations in my home and I found several.

The dish drainer is a classic mid-station. I’ll clean up after a meal, wash the dishes, and put them in the rack. A couple of days later, we’re all using the rack as if it were the cabinet.

We also have a collection of keys, backpacks, and lunch boxes that come in from work and school every day. In this case, the mid-station is the mudroom. The coats and backpacks have hooks and the keys have a small basket, yet these items often languish on the first flat surface inside the door, or on the floor itself.

What can be done about mid-stations?

Adopt new habits. I live with three other people and laundry builds up quickly. After just 72 hours there’s a mountain piled up. The solution that works for us is to do at least one load per day. If we do this, the clothes don’t pile up as much. Doing one load per day, is manageable, and a lot better than spending three or four hours on the weekend getting caught up.

As for the dishes, diligence is the answer here, too. Simply make it a part of the daily routine to empty the drainer and put the dishes, glasses, and utensils, away.

Continually reminding the guilty parties results in getting the coats and backpacks hung up properly in the mud room.

Eliminating mid-stations. I’ve read about people who’ve addressed mid-stations by eliminating them. In other words, laundry won’t pile up in baskets if there are no baskets. Likewise, there’s no “Leaning Tower of Dishes” to admire without a dish drainer to serve as the foundation. This is true but not often practical. When I was a kid, we didn’t have laundry baskets because my parents’ house had a laundry chute. We tossed the dirty clothes through a little door in the wall and they fell downstairs to the laundry room itself. Most homes don’t have laundry chutes these days.

If you can get away with eliminating a mid-station, give it a try. I don’t think I could do it.

The other point I want to make here is delegation. My kids, my wife and I all share chores. Many hands make for short work, as the saying goes.

If you’ve identified any mid-stations in your home, share your solution (or struggle) in the comments below. Let’s see what we can do about this common problem.

Active meditation, or why I love ironing

Whenever I tell people that I love ironing, especially large items like sheets and duvet covers, I get the strangest looks, like I had just told them I scrub my floors with a toothbrush.

“Your sheets?!?” they say aghast.

Yes, my sheets, and dishtowels, along with all my shirts and any trousers that aren’t denim.

Why do I love it so much? Apart from the oddly comforting vision of wrinkle-free fabric, when I’m ironing, I don’t think about anything else. It’s just me, the fabric and the steam-iron, putting order to my inner and outer world.

And it’s not just ironing that I love. Sweeping and doing the dishes create the same sense of tranquility for me. In fact, if I owned a store, whenever I didn’t have clients, I’d probably be outside sweeping the sidewalk and humming to myself.

This type of imposed order on chaos could be compared to the creation of a Japanese Zen garden. Just as a Zen priest rakes the gravel into near-perfect abstract patterns to help focus his thoughts and reach a deeper level of meditation, my household chores help me disconnect from the stresses of work, family, and daily life.

I’ve tried seated meditation in the past and it doesn’t work for me. I have poor posture (too many years at a desk job) and a very active brain. Between the pain of trying to maintain a sitting position for more than a minute and the million and one thoughts that pass through my mind, meditation just doesn’t happen.

In the 1970s, a new term for active meditation – Dynamic Meditation – was popularized by the Indian mystic Osho, although now the term is used to describe any sort of meditation that includes movement. The idea behind it is that since it’s difficult for modern people to sit still, the body can be in movement while the brain and spirit go on the meditative journey.

Here is how I meditate dynamically while getting my household chores done:

  1. Put on music – It doesn’t have to be soothing music. In fact, the other day, I listened to a selection of Greatest Hits by the rather out-there Army of Lovers. The point of the music is to create some background noise that reminds me of the existence of the outside world.
  2. Organize what I’m going to iron – It sounds silly, but to invoke the right frame of mind, I have an order to my ironing:
    • Handkerchiefs, tea-towels, cloth napkins: These small quick achievements make me happy and begin to disconnect me from any stress I might be feeling.
    • Trousers and shirts: These are the tricky things, and as they need the deep concentration if I’m not going to miss a part or burn the cloth, I am forced to pay full attention to the task at hand.
    • Sheets and duvet covers: At this point when I’m relaxed and highly attuned to the movement of cloth and machine, I can take my time and let my thoughts drift while my hands do the work.
  3. Admire the results – One of the rewards of raking gravel in a Zen garden is later sitting and looking at it, so if you don’t admire the neatly folded pile of sheets and crisp shirts on hangers then you are getting only half the benefit of the active meditation.

Apart from ironing, sweeping, and doing the dishes, other household chores that I’ve turned into active meditation include: weeding the garden, shoveling snow off the driveway, raking leaves, and even painting the house.

The next time you groan at the thought of the pile of ironing waiting for you to get around to, or the latest snowstorm demanding your attention, try looking at it as a chance to meditate and free yourself from the stresses and cares that have been building up inside you.

Tips for cleaning and organizing the car

Winter always prompts me to clean and organize the car. I’ll add a good scraper for the snow and ice, a pair of gloves, a blanket and the next thing you know I’ve given it a complete overhaul. Here’s how I keep the cars tidy and uncluttered.

I know this isn’t possible for many of you, but I like to keep the rear seats folded down. If you’ve got kids, this might not be an option. My wife drives a mini van that’s typically used to haul our offspring around, so my little two-door car is usually free of that duty.

I keep the rear seats folded down for two reasons. First, it saves on wear and tear on the seats. Next, it expands the tiny “trunk” area (I have a hatchback, technically a trunk). That way if I have several bags of groceries or other space-hogging cargo to haul around, I can just put it inside without having to lower the seats first.

Speaking of the trunk, those of you who actually have one, might want to invest in an organizer like this one from High Road Organizers. The compartments will keep most cargo from moving around as you drive, and the Velcro on the bottom keeps the organizer in place. If you don’t need it, the whole thing folds up and can be set aside.

I also keep emergency equipment in the trunk. A nice kit like this contains flares, jumper cables, rain gear and more. It’s easy to overlook these kits but they are an important investment.

With the trunk sorted, let’s move towards the front of the car. Those with kids will probably need a container of some sort for snacks, books, tissues, and so on. A portable shower organizer will work, as it can fit between seats. Some will suggest hanging an organizer on the back of the front seat, but I find that it just gets in the way of rear-seat passengers.

My favorite piece of car-organizing hardware is the humble carabiner. Get yourself a big, chunky one like this and behold the myriad of uses:

  1. Hang clothing (or your purse, if you carry one)
  2. Hold umbrellas
  3. Clip on re-usable grocery bags
  4. Bring home dry cleaning
  5. Anchor down large cargo

I have one on each side of the car and I use them much more often than I thought I would. It is well worth the $10.

Now, a few little tips to help you keep the car in tip-top shape.

  1. When you get gas, take a minute to toss trash.
  2. Empty tissue boxes make great car-sized trash bins.
  3. Put important papers like registration, service history, etc., in a small accordion binder.
  4. Keep a stash of zip-seal bags for cleaning up any number of things.

It’s relatively easy to keep the car neat and tidy. For more on the topic, check out our articles on organizing the glove compartment and five things to keep in the car.

Five uncluttering and organizing tasks you can do every day

The following are five simple things you can do every day to stay on top of your clutter-free home.

Make the bed

When my sisters and I were young, and our clothes or hair were a mess, my mother would tell us, “You look like an unmade bed.” Aside from looking messy, a bed piled with sheets and blankets is no fun to get into at night. It is, however, inviting to the dog, who will gladly deposit his fur on your sheets. Spending the three minutes it takes to make the bed will make things easier on the eyes and more pleasant at night, all while foiling the dog. You can always air out your sheets while you shower, and make the bed afterward if you’re worried about your sheets getting stagnate.

Do a load of laundry

Laundry can pile up very quickly. Miss a day and it feels like you’ve got a mountain on your hands. I’ve taken to putting a load in each morning and moving from washer to drier after work and folding it after dinner. It only takes a few minutes, and it keeps me from wasting an entire Saturday afternoon on conquering Mount Laundry.

Process the mail and papers

What piles up faster than laundry? The incessant onslaught of mail, papers, permission slips, advertisements, and so on that enter my home. Instead of piling it up in a heap, deal with it immediately (if possible). Keep a trash can, recycling bin, shredder, pen, and physical inbox in a convenient location to your main entrance so you get rid of the junk and trash immediately, and get the important paperwork identified and processed.

Prepare for tomorrow

If you adopt only one suggestion from this list, let it be this one. Each evening I ask, “What’s needed for tomorrow?” Kids lunches, umbrellas because it’s supposed to rain, gas in the car, permission form signed, what everyone is going to wear, etc. This allows me to avoid the last-minute scramble to do these things in the morning, teaches the kids to do the same, and lets me enjoy my evening knowing that nothing is going to blow up in the morning (probably).

Create an errands list

Let’s say on Monday you realize that the TV remote needs batteries, you’re almost out of toothpaste, and the car’s state inspection is due in 10 days. These all need to be taken care of, but they’re exactly the type of thing that will slip through the cracks of your memory if you don’t capture this information and get it on your to-do list or calendar. Have a reliable, simple way to collect these things — an app, a dry erase board on the refrigerator, whatever — that you can review. Then, the next time you’re in the car, you’ll know exactly where you need to go.

Staying on top of these things is easy. Just take on a few simple new habits and you’ll notice your life moving in a smoother manner.

Should you buy a commercial or a residential vacuum?

Over the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of commercial cleaning. I’m using powerful chemicals and exceptional hardware, like vacuum cleaners and shop-vacs that are built to endure lots of use. This made me think: should I use commercial cleaning products at home? They’re effective and built to last forever. But are they appropriate for domestic cleaning?

The short answer is no, as commercial cleaners and domestic products are built to perform different jobs in different environments. A perfect illustration of this is the vacuum cleaner.

Should I buy a commercial [insert product you’re considering] for my home?

In the case of a commercial vacuum cleaner, it’s an attractive idea, isn’t it? Commercial vacuums are built to last and take more abuse than their residential counterparts. Let’s attack this question by looking at some pros and cons.

The pros

I struggled with putting cost in the pro vs. con column, but eventually pro won out. Yes, a commercial vacuum is expensive. For example, I’ve been using a Sebo 370 at work, which retails around $870. That’s not cheap, but Dyson makes home models that are in the same range. The idea here is that a commercial model will have a longer life than a residential machine, thereby costing less in the long run.

Readily-available parts. Big-box stores will infrequently stock parts for residential vacuums. If there’s an authorized retailer in your neighborhood you’re in luck (for example, I’m lucky enough to live near a Miele dealer). And you can often pick up parts for commercial units directly from the manufacturer or even a local distributor. So long as you’ve got that brand nearby, it isn’t an issue. If you don’t, this would move to the con column.

As I noted earlier, commercial vacuum cleaners are built to last and withstand abuse. They’re built of high-quality components and often have longer cords and heavier bodies. They’re designed with superior structural integrity to help them endure daily use as well as getting banged around a bit.

Lastly, they’re often more powerful than residential units. The first time I used a commercial machine I was amazed at what it picked up with a single pass.

The cons

They’re less comfortable. The Sebo I use at work is heavy. While it feels substantial and solid while pushing around, just haul it up a flight of stairs a few times and the bloom starts to come off the rose.

In general, home vacuums are designed to be lightweight and comfortable, while commercial units are meant to get a job done. This means a heavier machine, yes, but it also means that convenience items are missing like power control levels, that cool retractable cord, and tools for above-the-floor cleaning.

In addition, many commercial units have a reusable cloth bag instead of the disposable units your home machine has. No fun. You have to clean that bag.

I mentioned the power earlier and that sounds like a good thing, unless you have a delicate carpet. A commercial machine cares not about your precious carpets! It merely wants to get the job done. In fact, it can be too harsh for what you’ve got on the floor. Remember, these are meant for hotels, schools, and restaurants. In other words: industrial carpeting.

Lastly, they’re loud. As in, you turn it on and reflexively say, “Wow, that is loud.” Pets will run, birds will leap from the trees, and bunnies will cover their big, floppy ears.

Ultimately, when deciding between purchasing a commercial unit and a residential unit, it’s worth the time to weigh the actual pros and cons of the item before assuming the commercial unit is better for YOU. It might not actually be what you want, and you can end up creating clutter in your home and wasting money.

What you might want to store in your car’s glove compartment

Your car’s glove compartment, also called the glove box or “glovie,” was initially invented to store the driver’s gloves, as you’ve probably guessed. Years ago, when cars were new and open to the air, drivers wore gloves to keep their hands clean and to prevent them from going numb with cold.

Today most people don’t wear driving gloves and those compartments have evolved to include locks, internal lights, and special compartments for things like manuals and pens. Fancier models are even temperature controlled. One thing they all have in common is the tendency to collect junk, like hair bands, receipts, ketchup packets, and used Starbucks gift cards. These spaces are useful storage compartments, though, so if you use them what would be efficient to have in your glove compartment?

Crucial items

The most obvious answer is proof of auto insurance and your current registration. Protect these crucial documents by keeping them in a protective plastic sleeve. Not only will they be safe from the ketchup, they’ll be easy to find.

Also important is a list of crucial medication family members are taking. If you’re ever in a situation when you can’t convey this information to rescue workers, it’ll be important to have this stored somewhere. While you’re at it, you can store medical information on your phone, too.

Your owner’s manual and schedule of regular maintenance should also be in this space. Many people buy a car, acknowledge the manual’s existence, and then ignore it for the rest of their car’s life. However, when you want to reset the clock, connect a Bluetooth phone or figure out what that weird light means, you’ll be glad you have it. I also tick off when I get my scheduled maintenance done, so that there’s no question at the garage.

Less-crucial items

A pen and a pocket-sized notebook in the glove compartment can often come in handy. I also store a small pocket knife in the glove box. It’s great for opening packages at the post office and quick-fixes like tightening a screw or popping open your car’s fuse panel.

A small flashlight is also a good idea of something to store if you have the space in your glove box. The Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight is hands-down my favorite portable flashlight. It’s small, durable, water resistant, and produces a bright light with no dark spots.

I also keep some travel wet wipes in the car’s glove box. The first time you spill gas on your hands while filling up your tank, you’ll be very glad they’re there.

Finally, if you really want to keep things like hair bands or fast food napkins in your glove box, find an organized way to do so. A small zip-top bag or plastic container can keep these items from cluttering up the space.

Toss the junk and keep only useful items in your glove box for happy motoring.

Investing in good tools

I’m about to buy a new vacuum cleaner, and it’s somewhat expensive.

When I first looked into buying this vacuum cleaner, I winced at the price. But the more I read reviews and thought about what to buy, I decided it was a wise purchase for two reasons:

  • It has the features I need. It will pick up cat hair, and it’s relatively quiet so my cats won’t freak out too much. Having a really good tool should mean I don’t procrastinate about vacuuming as I do now, which just makes the job worse when I do get around to it.
  • It should last much longer than cheaper vacuum cleaners, so I’ll spend less over the long term, and I won’t be sending broken appliances to a landfill. And I won’t need to go through the whole time-consuming what-to-buy decision process again in a couple years.

All of which made me think, once again, about how much good tools can help us be productive and make even tedious tasks more enjoyable. Sometimes all you need is a tool that performs really well, but sometimes “good” can also include aesthetics. Kevin Do is a designer at Grovemade, a company that makes desktop accessories (as well as other things). In a recent interview with website Core77 he said, “When your work space is beautiful you are much more inclined to work.”

One place I’ve found I appreciate some beauty is in my note-taking tools. While I use a digital calendar and address book, I prefer using pen and paper for taking notes when on the phone, when working with clients, etc. My on-the-go tool is a pocket briefcase, but I’ve been making do with basic notepads in my home office. I don’t enjoy using those, though, so I’m planning to indulge in a small splurge and get a really nice notebook.

Looking around my office I see lots of tools that work well for me, including my computer, my scanner, and my shredder, But there’s also my Camelbak Eddy water bottle, which someone once described to me as a sippy cup for adults. Because it’s so easy to take a few sips, I tend to drink more water throughout the day. It’s perfect to have sitting next to me when I’m working at my computer, because I’m not courting disaster as I would be with a normal glass or mug — and two cats who often jump onto the desk.

While I think investing in good tools is often a wise decision, some good tools don’t cost much at all. Moving beyond my office, a tool that works extremely well for me is a specific brand of floss picks. I’ve always found other flossing tools to be awkward to use. But with these it’s easy for me to floss, so I actually do it.

Good tools make us more efficient, help us tackle unpleasant tasks, and add a bit of joy to our daily lives. If there’s a tool you use frequently that isn’t working well for you, replacing it might be a wise choice if your finances allow you to do so.