Ways to put lonely socks to good (uncluttered) use

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, is a self-described “unique and charming” museum that displays well over 10,000 shoes and hosts podcasts about “one fantastic shoe” every month. And, shoes aren’t the only thing on display. The museum also held an art exhibit featuring socks and the history of their humble beginnings.

The curious thing about socks is that they often lose their mates and become a source of clutter. Unlike those featured at the Bata, the ones in your home can end up under your bed and in between the sofa cushions. They are also often relegated to the dark recesses of shopping bags when Justin Case comes for a visit.

“I’ll keep this sock, just in case its mate turns up.”

Does that sound familiar? When we misplace an item from a matching set, we tend to hang on to them for a while, especially when the items cannot be used without each other (such as a gadget and its power cord). We probably keep lonely socks because we still see some value in them, even though they are now orphaned and we may not want them anymore. Fortunately, there are uncluttered alternatives to keeping mateless socks:

  1. Wear them! This may not seem as obvious (or maybe it’s so obvious that it’s often overlooked), but you can still wear them. You can make a pair using another lonely sock and wear them around the house.
  2. Use them as padding in your packages. Clean socks can be used inside packages to protect the items that you’re mailing. This is a good way to keep the contents of your package safe, but you should let the recipient know that the socks can be discarded.
  3. Use them to protect holiday decorations. You can store some of your holiday decorations (like ornaments) inside the socks before packing them away.
  4. Dust with them. I’m not a fan of dusting, so this is my least favorite option, but you can add mateless socks to your cleaning supplies. Just be sure to keep a specific number of sock dusters so that you don’t end up cramming more and more of them in with your supplies.
  5. Use them in craft projects. This is perhaps the most fun way to repurpose socks (especially for children). From sock puppets to doll accessories, get creative and make something new. Looking for inspiration? Check out the book The Lonely Sock Club: One Sock, Tons of Cool Projects!.
  6. Make a pet toy. If you have pets, you can make a cool tug-of-war toy for them. Have a look at this tutorial from Real Simple on how to make one. If you have a cat, you can stuff a little cat nip inside it, close it up, and watch your cat go nuts. You may also want to check with your local animal shelter to find out if they have a need for them.

The next time you end up with orphaned socks, be sure that they don’t overstay their welcome and turn into another source of clutter. You can use one of the suggestions above to breathe new life into them, but remember that it really is okay to let them go if you have no use for them.

2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Ultimate uncluttered gift

Since we began putting together our annual gift-giving guides in 2007, we have always included an ultimate gift in our series. The idea of the ultimate gift is focused on uncluttering and/or organizing and it is sometimes at the high end of the price spectrum for our gift guides. It’s a gift you might give to a loved one, but it also might be an item you add to your wish list.

In 2007, we recommended the Fujitsu ScanSnap (PC and Mac). In 2008, we chose the Kindle. In 2009, it was my book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week (now also in audio format). In 2010, we went with the Intellishred paper shredder (now called the Powershred). And, in 2011, we went off script a little and recommended hiring a professional organizer with a list of recommendations.

After much thought and deliberation, we have decided to return to the world of the physical and suggest a tangible item. Like last year, though, it’s a bit unorthodox. It’s not necessarily something you can unwrap, but I’m sure if you are creative you could find a way to put something wrapable under the tree (like a screw or small piece of it).

The 2012 Ultimate Gift is a closet makeover.

Over the past few months, we’ve become fans of Rubbermaid’s Configurations system for its price (much lower than Elfa’s) and quality. The arrangement options and sizes are numerous, and we believe a well organized closet is a thing of beauty. In addition to bedroom closets and office closets, don’t forget your pantry, coat closet, and supply closets in your garage and/or basement. When uncluttered and organized, these areas can increase functionality significantly, such as with my old “Mary Poppins” closet in our previous house:

Also, the system has attachments like pull-out baskets, chests of drawers, tie and belt valets, angled shoe shelves, sliding pant racks, as well as preassembled kits for your pantry and clothing closets.

This is a gift you would want to consult with the recipient before giving, but I think in many cases it would be very well received. As I mentioned before, it is a non-traditional gift, but non-traditional doesn’t mean bad. A beautiful, new, organized closet would be a truly wonderful way to start the new year.

The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

Insight (and shoe inspiration) in an uncluttered wardrobe

In an effort to unclutter my wardrobe, I made the decision a few years ago to streamline everything and stop buying printed clothing. Three years later, and except for five pieces, I’ve achieved this goal. My pants, tops, coats, dresses, suits, and skirts are now solid colors and are also in a very limited color scheme: navy blue, white, gray, black, brown, red, and teal.

Shopping is certainly easier — in fact, all of my casual tops are one of two styles of basic t-shirts (this one and this one), just in different colors. When one of the t-shirts is damaged or worn, I hop online and order the exact shirt to replace it. My dresses all come from two designers (this one and this one) who have outlet stores near my home and almost exclusively design in solid colors. Three of the dresses I own are even the same dress in black, gray, and white. Since these items fit me exactly how I prefer, it’s nice to have the color variety (and getting them at discount at the outlet stores is nice, too).

The idea of having a classic, basic, streamlined wardrobe seems boring or lacking in creativity to a lot of people, but the way I see it is my clothing is like a canvas. My shoes and accessories are where I let my personality speak. A headband and coordinating pair of shoes stand out when they’re not also competing for visual attention with a shirt and skirt. I’ve also found shoes and accessories are significantly less expensive than well constructed, quality clothing. As trends change, replacing a scarf is easier than replacing an entire wardrobe. And, until I point it out to people, no one ever notices I have a basic wardrobe of solid colors in a limited color range.

Recently, I came upon a design concept that is so in line with my uncluttered wardrobe system I was saddened to learn the concept isn’t in production. I’m mentioning it, though, because it’s where I would like to see fashion trend. I’d like to see more uncluttered ideas become mainstream.

Israeli industrial designer Daniela Bekerman started with a basic flat shoe and then created accessories for the shoe that dramatically alter its simple appearance. The Ze O Ze shoe:

I see my clothing as the basic flat shoe that is enhanced with the heel accessories, or, in my case, simply accessories.

Keeping clutter out of your wardrobe can be difficult, and how you choose to do it will reflect your style and personality. In my case, a streamlined wardrobe of solid color, well constructed pieces in classic designs and a limited color palette work best for me. This system works because all of the pieces fit me well and are complimented nicely by my fun, trendy shoes and accessories. There are obviously different ways, but this is how I achieve an uncluttered wardrobe.

Shoe design found via Design-Milk.

What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing your closet

Sorting, categorizing, and purging clothing are not activities just for springtime. If your goal is to simplify, unclutter, and to keep only the things you need and use, summer is an opportune time to reveiw and edit what’s in your closet. A new season gives us a reason to check if our style and tastes are still the same as the year before, to see if we have duplicates, and to organize things in a way that helps us find what we want when we want it. You will also get a good idea of the colors you tend to stock up on so you can find ways to introduce others that flatter you (or to streamline your options). And, if you read Erin’s recent post on “material saturation,” you would have learned that our closets (as well as a few other places) are bursting at the seams, so this is just a good a time as any to figure out:

How much clothing you have

This is typically the first step in the clothing review process. You can’t really know what you’re going to keep or donate until you find out exactly what and how much you have. If you have clothes in several places, gather them together so that you can really see how large (or small) your stash is. Sometimes we forget where we store things, so check on high shelves, under the bed, in the guest room (in the closet and under the bed in there, too, if you have a guest room), basement, attic, outdoor storage units, and the laundry area. Once you have them all together, use a flat surface like a table or your bed as a staging area for sorting and categorizing.

Now comes the hard(er) part, making decisions about what gets the boot and what gets lovingly placed back inside your closet.

How many clothes do you really need?

So, how often do you really wear all your clothing? Frequency of use can be used as a benchmark when you’re deciding what you’ll keep. Some things may only be worn once in a while (e.g. for special events) while others are not worn because you no longer like them or because you haven’t seen them. If the latter statement refers to you, give them until the end of this season to see if you reach for them. If you don’t, they are probably good candidates for your favorite charitable organization. Do the same for clothes that you just don’t fancy anymore.

Are you still holding on to clothing that you used to love?

You don’t have to get rid of everything in your closet and there’s nothing wrong with keeping a few items because they have high sentimental value. But, if your closet is filled with many clothes that you used to love but don’t wear anymore, it’s time to look at things a little differently. And, don’t just buy something because it’s on sale. It has to “make your heart sing,” so says Stylist, Stacy London. You might also want to think about which item will leave your closet so that your new purchase can move in.

Do your clothes still fit and flatter you?

Look with a critical eye at each article of clothing. Are they flattering to you now at your current size? Try them on to see how you look and feel in them, especially while you’re still at the store. It will take a little more time to do this, but consider the time you’ll save by leaving something unflattering at the store instead taking it home only to return it later.

Do your clothes still fit your current lifestyle?

Think about your current lifestyle while you’re in decision-making mode. Do you need to attend a variety of diverse events that require several types of clothing, or can you wear some of the same outfits? Has your style evolved over time? If the prospect of searching for clothing that will make you look your best is a bit daunting, you can use an in-store stylist to help you select a few core pieces. Many stores, like Nordstrom, offer this service (for both men and women) free of charge. This doesn’t mean that you have carte blanche to buy any and everything. But, you may get advice that will help you make wiser purchases and help keep your closet from being filled with things that you will never wear.

How will you put everything back?

Before putting everything back in your closet, first figure out if any of your items need to be laundered or taken to the dry cleaners. Some things, even though you may have already worn them once or twice, can go directly in your closet. A recent article in the Star Tribune noted that it’s okay to wash your jeans “intermittently” but jackets and blazers can be worn up to six times before needing to be cleaned. You can also take a look at Real Simple’s The When-to-Wash-It-Handbook for “when to wash” tips on various items, including delicates and everyday wear.

As you return things to your closet…

  • Group like items together (e.g., all the pants together, all the shirts together, all the dresses together, and so on) and keep in mind that not every item should be put on a hanger. Sweaters, for instance, keep their shape best when they are folded (find more clothing tips in Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook).
  • Color coordinating (i.e., keeping similar hues together) the clothing in each category will help you to find what you’re looking for more quickly and see the colors you tend to gravitate toward.
  • Consider using hangers of the same type and color to give your closet a neat and orderly look. By maintaining a uniform look, you’ll be more likely to things back where they belong.
  • Keep donation basket or bag in your closet or laundry room for clothing that you haven’t worn in awhile or simply don’t like anymore.

No matter what structured elements you decide to include in your closet, put things back in a way that makes sense to you. Avoid creating a system that is too complicated to keep up with and the next time you decide to organize your closet, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier the task will be.

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?

The Cubby: An uncluttered coat hook

Well designed, superior quality, visually appealing, utilitarian goods that make life more organized and less complicated are the types of products I look for when shopping for housewares and office supplies. I try to only have things in my spaces that, as William Morris so aptly identified as his ownership goals, are beautiful and useful. When I no longer feel inspired by an item or find it helpful, I get rid of it.

I recently stumbled upon a Kickstarter project for a simple device that meets all of my qualifications for making life more organized and less complicated. The Cubby makes traditional coat hooks look like they’re not living up to their potential:

Key ring, phone, gloves, sunglasses, and/or wallet fit right inside the pouch, and a purse, scarf, laptop bag, and/or coat on the exterior of the pouch. It’s made with some recycled materials and is fully recyclable. It’s easy to use, attractive in a modern space, and would be perfect for a reception station near the primary entry to your home or office.

Have you come across a better mouse trap? Do you know anyone who is designing or has designed a high-quality, visually appealing, utilitarian good that helps to make life more organized and less complicated? Share your finds in the comments.

And, again, I have no affiliation with this product and am not benefitting in any way from talking about it. I simply think it’s an uncluttered and useful product.

What aren’t you using this winter?

While the chilly winds blow (at least on those of us in the northern hemisphere), now is a great time to go through your home and see what winter-related items you haven’t used this year and donate the excess to charity. You’ll free up space in your home, and possibly help someone in need make it through the winter more comfortably.

Check out your:

  • Blankets. Are there heavy blankets lingering in your closet that you haven’t used this year or last year or the year before that?
  • Sweaters. If you haven’t worn the sweater by now, are you ever going to wear it again?
  • Hats, gloves, scarves. If you have children, do all the hats and gloves in your closet still fit someone in your home?
  • Coats. Similar to your sweaters, if any of your winter coats haven’t been worn this season, are you ever going to wear them?
  • Boots. If they’re in good condition, someone in need could really benefit from any boots you’re not wearing.
  • Outdoor recreation items. Sleds, toboggans, and skis won’t help someone in need, but if you’re no longer using them, they still shouldn’t be taking up space in your garage.
  • Outdoor care items. Snow shovels, snow blowers, and other outdoor care items should be replaced if they’re broken or unsafe to use. Don’t donate unusable items to charity, but recycle and/or trash pieces as appropriate.
  • Decorations. Any holiday or winter decorations you didn’t put out this year could easily be sold on eBay, Craigslist, or given away through Freecycle. Check with local doctors’ offices, day care centers, and schools to see if they have any interest in the items you didn’t use this year.

Those of you basking in the summer sun in the southern hemisphere, consider doing a similar sweep for unused warm-weather items. If you haven’t used something yet, it’s likely just taking up space in your home unnecessarily.

Single socks and how they can help you learn to process what-if clutter

It is rare for all our socks to have mates after we finish folding the laundry. Sometimes a sock will hide inside a fitted sheet and we won’t notice it during folding, but we discover the errant sock when we put the sheet on the bed a few days later. Other times, a sock will have been stuck inside a shirt sleeve or a pant leg. Rarely is the missing sock lost forever, though, so we keep a small basket in the laundry room for single socks and when the mate shows up we immediately know where to find its match.

Even though mates are usually found, invariably one sock will hang out in the lost-mate basket for many months, its mate gone forever. (After seeing Gnomeo and Juliet, I’ve been blaming lawn gnomes for this phenomenon.) If a sock hangs out in the lost-sock basket for more than three months, the sock is moved to the rag pile and recycled for dusting.

I explained our lost-sock basket to a room full of people at a conference recently, and a woman raised her hand and asked, “But what if you find the other sock after you start using its mate as a rag?”

I replied, “It has only happened once, and we just made the newly found sock into a rag, too.”

The woman then let out an audible gasp, almost as if my suggestion had caused her physical pain. My guess is that, like many people, she struggles with making decisions about “what if” items, and these “what if” objects likely cause her difficulty when dealing with clutter.

What if I get rid of this empty yogurt tub and then someone comes over for dinner and I want to send her home with leftovers?

What if I get rid of this piece of wood and then two months from now I need to fix something and this exact piece of wood would have been the perfect solution?

What if I give this coat to charity and then wish I hadn’t?

If you’re someone who regularly plays the “what if” scenario in your mind, try giving this simple lost-sock basket a try in your home. Recycle any sock that remains in the basket for more than three months. Since you know the worst that can happen is you might end up recycling two socks, it’s a relative inexpensive way to practice making these types of uncluttering decisions. You don’t need a single sock hanging around your house for years waiting for a mate.

The more practice you get, the easier it will become to part with things that you do not need that are cluttering up your space. You learn to trust that even if you end up needing an item that you purged that you will be able to buy a replacement or borrow one from a family member or that you will be creative enough to find an alternate solution.

And, if you do find the lost sock in less than three months, you’ll at least know quickly where to find its mate.

A single sweater, 12 ways

While at my local outlet mall a few months ago, I picked up a Long Sleeve Classic Cozy from the Donna Karen New York (DKNY) shop. I was instantly drawn to it because of its versatility, and over the past few months have truly fallen in love with this cashmere and silk sweater:

In theory, I can get 12 looks from the sweater. I’ve only been wearing it for 5 of the looks, however. Even wearing it just 5 ways, I feel like I got a wonderfully uncluttered deal with 5 looks from 1 sweater (and at the outlet store, I paid only $70 for it). It’s also ideal for travel and bringing to the office. Its instructions say to dry clean, but I’ve been very carefully washing it by hand with a little Soak Wash and laying it flat to dry. It’s my new favorite piece of clothing — flexible and fancy.

There are videos for how to create all 12 looks and even a smart phone app. I’ve donated a number of my other sweaters to charity since I haven’t been wearing them. I love this multiple-look addition to my wardrobe.

Ask Unclutterer: Storing large brim hats

Reader Joanna submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

As I was cleaning this weekend I was completely stumped when I tried to figure out how to store the three hats my husband and I own. Not baseball caps or winter hats, but two cowboy hats and my wide-brimmed sunhat. We use these regularly and don’t want to get rid of them. None of our drawers are tall and wide enough, and none of the hats have loops for hanging them on the wall. Any suggestions?

Like you, I have a similar large hat storage requirement. Everyone in our house has at least two cowboy hats (summer and winter), my son has a hard plastic fireman’s hat, and I own two large sun hats. Currently, we each have a large hat box where these hats live in our closets. I covered my hat box with contact paper for fun, but you could easily skip this step and keep the box plain. And, for good measure, I throw some cedar chips into all of the boxes as a precaution against pests.

If you want daily or even weekly access to your hats, you might be interested in a rack that is more suitable for a location beyond your closet.

I like the idea of a countertop hat display, like what you might see in a retail store, and one costs less than $30:

In an entryway, you could hang a piece of pegboard, paint it to match your wall color, and then attach hat brackets to the pegboard for less than $2 a piece:

In our previous house, we had an Eames Hang-It-All that was great for hats — but it retails for $200, so you’ll probably want to go with a less expensive option:

Finally, if you’re artistic, maybe a few styrofoam mannequin heads ($10 each) could work with your decor:

Be sure to check the comments for even more hat storage ideas from our readers. Thank you, Joanna, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Get rid of the clutter in your clothes closet

Even if you’re not a student or don’t have students in your house, the start of the school year is a terrific time to sort through your wardrobe and purge the clutter. We recently went through this process in our home, and used some new strategies as we sorted.

First, we started by looking at photo albums from before my husband and I were married (11+ years ago). If we spotted any items of clothing still in our wardrobes that we were wearing in the old pictures, those items of clothing immediately left the closet. I had just two pairs of shoes that met this standard, so I decided to increase the scope by looking at pictures from before I turned 30 (7+ years ago). This strategy yielded better results — getting rid of a fifth to a quarter of my stuff. Items I couldn’t see in pictures but that I remembered had been around this long (many old socks were part of this category), went into the purge pile.

Second, I got rid of all of my summer clothes that I didn’t put on a single time this summer. This isn’t a new strategy, but it’s a good one for this time of year. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, this process would work for your winter clothing.

Third, and this new strategy turned out better than expected, my husband and I gave each other permission to purge the two items we least liked from each other’s wardrobe. He got rid of two pairs of my yoga pants that were what I wore whenever I was sick. He was right, they needed to go. I got rid of two of his shirts that weren’t flattering on him, and he agreed they should go. If you don’t live with someone, you can implement this same strategy with a close friend or family member. Remember, though, to make it about the clothes, not about the person.

Implementing our old strategies also helped a great deal to purge even more clutter from our closets. We kept to our styles and didn’t let any clothes stay that don’t meet our current style. We limited our wardrobes to items that fit right now, things we want to wear, and clothes that project our desired image. Check out our article “Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet” if you’re looking for more tips on what to keep in your wardrobe and what to purge.

Remember: Most clothing (except for previously worn underwear and socks) can be donated to local charities. However, clothes that someone wouldn’t buy in their current condition should be bundled up and labeled as rags. Groups like Goodwill recycle these well-worn clothes to be used again, but in a different form. Be sure to contact your favorite local charity before making any donations to be sure that they are currently accepting clothing donations.

Love your laundry room

Laundry rooms are often dark corners of basements or narrow closets with barely enough space to fit stacked machines or odd hallways leading to the garage. Rarely are they beautiful rooms that entice us to keep up with the tedious chore.

However, a clean, uncluttered, organized laundry room is welcoming and makes doing laundry much more enjoyable. Additionally, an organized room speeds up the process so you spend less time doing what you may not enjoy.

If your laundry space could use some attention, try these 10 steps to get it in order:

  • Clean it up. Start by removing everything from the space that isn’t attached to the walls. Ironing boards, detergent, hampers — whatever you have in this area needs to be temporarily removed. Once everything is gone, sweep and mop the floors, wipe down the walls, dust, and get the room looking like new. Paint the walls if necessary. Even clean underneath and behind your washing machine and dryer, but be careful not to disconnect your water, drainage, power, and/or gas lines.
  • Sort it. Before returning a single item to the laundry area, decide if it really belongs in the space and if the item meets your needs. You probably don’t need motor oil in your laundry room and you certainly don’t need a bottle of spray starch that is more than a decade old. Get rid of anything you haven’t touched in at least a year and only keep the things you actually use.
  • Be inspired. Head to Google images and do a search for “inspiring laundry rooms.” Pages of gorgeous rooms will appear to give you a laundry list of ideas.
  • Identify your needs. A laundry room that handles the clothes loads of just one person will have different needs than a laundry room for a family of six. Do you need room to fold clothes? Do you need cubbies for each person in the house? Do you need a bag for dry cleaning items that accidentally slipped into the dirty clothes hamper?
  • Make adjustments. If you need a shelf above your washing machine, now is the time to add these fixtures to the room. If you want an ironing board and iron holder that fits on the back of your door, install it. If you have been dreaming about having a clothesline or rolling garment rack, add them now. Make structural additions to the space that will help you on the days you do laundry.
  • Wipe it down. Now is also a good time to wipe down any items that will be returning into the laundry area. Remove the dust and gunk that builds up over time.
  • Store items where you use them. As you begin to return items to the laundry room, be sure to put things where you use them. Detergent and stain treatment products should be within an arm’s extension of the washing machine. A rolling garment rack and extra hangers should be immediately next to your folding area or the dryer. Your iron should be with your ironing board.
  • Label locations. If you aren’t the only person who uses the laundry room, label shelves and cupboards well so everyone can know where to find products and where to return them when they’re finished.
  • Don’t forget donations. Every laundry room should have a box or a bin where you can easily deposit items of clothing that are ready to be donated to charity. Make it as simple as possible to get the unwanted items out of your wardrobe and ready to be passed along to someone else.
  • Use it. Take advantage of your clean, uncluttered, and organized laundry space by keeping on top of your laundry chores. Have set days on the schedule for when you will tackle the wash.