Instructions for uncluttering your home (in less than 500 words)

One of the most frequent questions I ever get asked about organizing is the process. How do you make the decisions to get rid of things? While there are many tips and tricks you can use to ease the streamlining process, it all comes down to 5 easy steps:

  1. Set yourself a goal “I am going to sort half this room before bed” or “I am going to streamline the contents of this one box.”
  2. Figure out broad categories and where you are going sort each category into.
  3. Sort your stuff, moving systemically through the space, and not bouncing back and forth.
  4. Purge what you don’t want.
  5. Stop when you’ve reached your goal.

Use the sorting time to reminisce about the objects — don’t make any decisions at this point. Allow the emotions to come up and clear themselves out so that when it comes to the streamlining stage you are free from the emotional ties and can make more objective decisions about them.

If the idea of sorting overwhelms you, give yourself some early victories and do a walk-through of the space, choosing to remove a few large things that will open up the space quickly.

After sorting:

  • Take one category and if you can, move it out of the space in which you are working, and into a clear space (like the dining room). This allows you to concentrate on the one category and not have to face the rest all at once.
  • Ask yourself two questions: Need it? Love it? If you can’t say yes to either then get rid of it. Life is too short to fill out our spaces with things we’re indifferent to.
  • Take the things you are not going to keep out of the house as quickly as possible. The longer they stay the more likely they will come back into the house.
  • Give yourself rewards – for example out of fifty childhood books you’ve never reread but have kept for sentimental reasons, keep five and store them in a place of honor where you can see them and appreciate the memories associated with them.

There are two instances in which you stop for the day even if you are not done:

  1. If you find yourself hitting a “brain fog” where nothing makes sense or you find yourself holding on to everything you are reviewing.
  2. If you have hit a manic state and start tossing everything without looking at it.

Simple, yes? So now tell us, what are you going to streamline this week?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

This Valentine’s day, make a change

As we talked about in the post Ask Unclutterer: How can I change someone into an unclutterer?” we get many emails asking how unclutterers can live with clutterers. It reminds me of one of those light bulb jokes: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.

Our clutterful light bulbs — our roommates, significant others — may not want to change. But, there is something that we can change, ourselves.

If you’re up for the challenge, what small unclutterer change or efficiency enhancer are you willing to make? If you’re stumped, think about your partner’s pet peeves. Some examples I’ve seen with couples are:

  • Dropping a jacket on the floor when arriving home
  • Leaving dishes about the house
  • Losing keys frequently

These things may not bug you, but we’re talking about our partners here — the things that bother them. As I got to thinking about Valentine’s Day this year, and realizing that gifts themselves can just contribute to clutter, I thought: how about changing something I do? I ran the idea past my significant other and we agreed it was a good idea. We decided that I will work on keeping the house better stocked with groceries. I’ll make a template with a specific list of items to regularly have on hand (in addition to the staples). It’s the little things that make a difference.

Forming a New Habit

Some experts suggest that takes 21 days to form a new habit. I like to use 30 day blocks, however, to be sure the habit gets locked in.

Start Small: Pick just one daily, do-able thing that you’ll take on for 30 days. For example, you commit to putting your clothes in the hamper before bed for the next 30 days. Selecting one thing will put all of your focus there, rather than trying to tackle several habits at once.

Be Clear: Be sure that you know clearly whether you’ve accomplished the task or not. For example, is your goal to file paper in your home office for 10 minutes each day or is it to file 1/2 an inch of paper each day? Near dinner time each day, mine task will be to check off food items that need to be purchased this week.

Track Progress: Use a calendar, goal-setting software such as Lifetick or create a spreadsheet with 30 boxes to track your progress. A check mark or gold star means you did the task. Leaving the box blank of course means you didn’t do it.

Keep It Visible: Have your document pop up on your screensaver, set reminders in your electronic calendar or place in another visible place, such as on the refrigerator. As you’re forming a new habit, you’ll need prompts.

Be Consistent: When possible, do the task at the same time every day. This will make the action a routine and, in time, you’ll be pulled to complete it automatically. For instance, pop your jacket into the closet right away when you arrive home each day.

Begin: The hardest part is to begin. Pick a start day. Today is a good idea so that you don’t build up resistance to change. And, why wait to surprise your partner with a clean family room or an uncluttered car?

I think creating a productive habit will give you more mileage than your standard Valentine’s Day gifts.

Up for the challenge? What habit do you want to take on for 30 days? Let us know in the comments. And, if you choose to go a more traditional route, check out Matt’s post from last week on uncluttered Valentine’s day gifts.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Casualties of the format wars

Throwback Thursday

While looking through pasts post, I came across this one from 11 years ago and I had to smile. Format wars were going on long before HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray. As a member of the Generation X cohort, I remember when we were told 8-track tapes for music, and laser discs for movies were the way of the future. Even 11 years ago, it was hard to imagine that music and movies are now distributed via streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Unlimited Music. It will be interesting to see what the future holds. In the meantime enjoy a bit of the past.

 

It is always a risky decision to make when competing formats are at each other’s throats for market dominance, but what if your early adoption choice is on the wrong end of the format wars? If you don’t know what I’m referring to here, you probably haven’t made a choice between Blu-Ray or HD DVD. Recent developments have basically put the nail in HD DVD’s coffin.

What should one do with the HD DVD player and discs that are basically going to become relics of the latest format wars of home entertainment? Well, you could try and return all of your HD DVD merchandise if you have the receipts and are within the return date cut off. But, what if that ship has sailed? Are you supposed to hold on to this dying format only to pull it out in 20 years to impress your technophile friends with this short-lived format?

Should you resort to listing it on eBay or Craigslist? It seems that a lot of people already have that idea. Could you use the discs as coasters for your drinks? Not really a great idea either. Unfortunately, I think you just admit that it’s time to move on and buy a replacement Blu-Ray player. If you choose to dispose of your old player, be sure to read our post on disposing electronics first.

I’m going to hold off buying a new DVD player for a while and rely on digital distribution for my HD movie viewing pleasure. Services like Amazon’s Prime Video and my cable provider’s On Demand make this relatively simple. It is definitely the most uncluttered of all the options, and I’m in no hurry.

For those of you who have all the hardware needed to convert HD DVDs to Blu-Ray, Wired has a tutorial on how to do just that.

Of wants and needs

In the first installment in our series of getting started getting organized we went over the steps to uncluttering, which can be summarized as keep the things you use all the time, throw out what you don’t, and “practice living without” the things you’re ambivalent about, as Connie Cox and Cris Evatt, the authors of 30 Days to a Simpler Life, say. Today we’re going to cover the next step in the process, which is avoiding clutter in the first place.

Clutter happens when you have too much stuff. We’re all guilty of acquiring more possessions than we need simply because we can. Sometimes a deal is just too good to pass up. Sometimes we buy something to make us feel better. And sometimes that new knick-knack just seemed like a very good idea at the time, but in retrospect, what were you thinking?

Cox and Evatt share a simple maxim that was a revelation when I first read it. Never let anything cross the threshold of your home unless it’s something that you know you need or that you know you will love and cherish for a long time to come. That bobble-head you got for free for filing up your gas tank doesn’t count. Neither do pasta, bread or ice cream makers in most cases. Before you buy anything, ask yourself, do you really need it? Is it a replacement for something you’re throwing out? Is it another black sweater? Or is it something you don’t already have?

If you’re just buying yourself a treat to reward yourself or cheer yourself up, consider a consumable, like a nice meal. Or, if you’re watching your figure, how about a movie or a concert. How about downloading some music or getting a massage or manicure. You get the picture. The idea is to not let anything into your home that won’t serve a purpose while not leading a monastic life. It takes some conscious effort, but it’s rewarding when you come home to a serene space.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Storing board games and puzzles

Storing board games and puzzles can be an unnecessarily cumbersome task. The cardboard boxes are easily damaged and there isn’t a standard size to make stacking simple.

If board game and puzzle organization has you stumped, here are some suggestions for getting your games in order:

  • When acquiring new board games, consider purchasing games in “library” or “book” style boxes. They easily fit on a bookshelf and their standardized sizes make cupboard storage convenient, too. Hasbro has numerous classic games in its library series (Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry, Clue, Stratego, Life, Jenga, Memory, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi, Ho! Cherry-O). And, many of the Rio Grande games also come in bookshelf-friendly boxes, like Carcassonne and Puerto Rico.
  • To avoid losing pieces, bundle everything but the game board and box into zip-top bags when the game is not in use. It’s a lot easier to find a bag of men, dice, and cards than it is to find a single piece.
  • Use gallon size zip-top bags for puzzle pieces if the puzzle box is damaged. Take a picture of the puzzle box top and put it in with the pieces in the bag. Or, if you’re up for a challenge, just write the name of the puzzle on the bag with a permanent marker and don’t have a picture to follow.
  • If your child is a fan of wood puzzles, the Wire Puzzle Rack can hold more than 10 wooden puzzles of varying sizes.
  • A puzzle mat is good for storing puzzles when you need to put it away but aren’t yet finished working on it.
  • If the box for a game becomes so damaged that it is no longer containing a game, these plastic project boxes hold the pieces and most boards.

How do you store board games and puzzles in your home? Let us know your suggestions in the comments!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Hiring a professional organizer


Since January is the National Association of Professional Organizer’s Get Organized and Be Productive Month, I’ve asked Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing in Cary, North Carolina, to share her insights with us on how to hire a professional organizer. For many of us, having someone coach us through the uncluttering process can be very beneficial.

If you decide to hire a professional organizer, start by looking for someone who is diplomatic, empathetic, willing to listen, non-judgmental, creative, patient, and trustworthy. Also, to ensure that the professional organizer follows ethical business practices, check your local Better Business Bureau reports and look for someone who is involved a professional organization like the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) in the US. For professional organizing associations in other parts of the world, check the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA).

It is okay to interview different organizing and productivity professionals to get a feel for who matches best with your personality. Below is a menu of questions you might consider asking when hiring someone:

  1. What are your areas of expertise? (Some possible answers may include: garages, clients with ADHD, time management, wardrobes and closets, financial matters, computer-related challenges, speaking, coaching, writing, estate liquidation, downsizing for seniors, home staging, relocation, etc.)
  2. Are you certified? Insured? (Certification is optional and not required. NAPO has many well-qualified organizers that are not certified for a variety of reasons.)
  3. Do you attend conferences or teleclasses to stay abreast of current organizing trends and techniques?
  4. Do you have local references?
  5. Do you belong to any professional organizations? (I would not hire a professional organizer who is not involved in some type of professional group or organization. To me, a professional affiliation demonstrates not only a commitment to the field but an additional way to check out that person among other business-minded individuals.)
  6. How long have you been in business? How many clients / hours have you worked?
  7. What hours do you work? What days of the week are you available? (Make sure that this person’s availability is a good match for your availability.)
  8. Do you bring the necessary supplies, or do I purchase them separately?
  9. If you purchase supplies or materials at a discount, do you “up charge” or charge an hourly shopping fee?
  10. Do you make arrangements to take away donations, consignments, and trash? If so, do you charge a fee for this service?
  11. Do you work alone or do you have a team of employees or subcontractors, if necessary?
  12. Do you have advertising on your car? (Ask this only if you do not want co-workers or neighbors to know you are hiring a professional organizer.)
  13. Do you take photographs? Will they be on your website?
  14. What is your cancellation policy?
  15. How do you charge? Of course, I don’t need to tell you to inquire about fees but there are many options available, including hourly, by the project, or bulk rates. There may be a minimum number of hours required per booking, too, so ask about that.

Remember that professional organizers and productivity consultants are not housekeepers, therapists, decorators, or nurses unless they specifically tell you that their credentials include these jobs.

NAPO defines Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant as follows:

Professional Organizer: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around objects, space, and data; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding function, order, and clarity.

Productivity Consultant: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around time, energy, and resources; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding goals, effectiveness, and priorities.

If you have ADHD or any other type of chronic organizing challenge, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization is the place to find a qualified organizer.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

January is Get Organized and Be Productive Month

The National Association of Professional Organizers has once again declared January Get Organized and Be Productive Month!

We love the idea of starting off the year on the right foot, and we hope that you get in on the organizing spirit. NAPO has many events scheduled across the country as part of their Get Organized and Be Productive Month.

Also, Amazon is interested in helping you get organized in January with a number of good deals on storage solutions and organizing books.

Do you have plans to get organized in January? Let us know about your plans in the comments. You can help inspire all of us.

 

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Sharing space and dealing with moments of chaos

There are many wonderful things about living with others, but dealing with their clutter is most certainly not one of them. Living with my husband (and before that roommates) has always been a special challenge during times of emotional stress.

You see, when I’m sailing through life, everything finds its way back to its place quickly because I put everything away as soon as I use it. However, when I’m feeling chaotic, you can’t see the bedroom floor and nothing goes back where it belongs. I nest using clothes and papers.

When I lived alone, it did not bother me. When I was feeling this way, I would just wade through the clothes to find the bed, knowing that I would get out of the funk and get things cleaned up sooner or later.

Now that I live with my husband in a tiny apartment, I can’t let the chaos take over too much.

We’re both human, though, and the chaos does hit, sometimes at the same time but usually at different moments (meaning one wants to clean while the other is in a nesting mode).

Living with others offers a challenge to staying organized because if one person is feeling chaotic, their clutter encourages others to let their own organizing slack off: “If his stuff is all over the place, why should I clean up mine?”

Say you are in a chaotic moment and your spouse/partner starts ranting at you about the mess you are leaving around. What would you do? In my case, my inner teenager comes out and I want to make the mess even worse just to get back at the unfair authority-figure ranting.

Let’s say however, that you are more mature than I am, and recognize the ranting is not an attack on your intrinsic goodness. Instead, you use it to move yourself out of the chaos, dealing with the physical side first and letting the emotional clutter clear itself out. How wonderful, no?

But what happens if it’s your companion(s) that let the clutter take over? How do you deal with it?

Here are three Definitely Don’t and three Possibly Do actions.

Definitely Don’t:

  1. Don’t nag. It will just bring out the inner teenager and they might rebel and do things on purpose just to annoy you.
  2. Don’t get judgmental. People in a negative state don’t need negative reinforcement. Besides, it’s not like you have never had moments of clutter, hmmm???
  3. You can re-order the place yourself, but don’t do it with a “how great am I?” nor with a martyr attitude. Do it because you want to or not at all. A superiority complex will only cause more problems in the end.

Possibly Do:

  1. Live with the chaos and hope that the person will snap out of it soon. After all, you go through chaotic periods too, I’m sure.
  2. Suggest an order the house day and make it a big fun event. Put on music, dress up in housekeeper outfits (or at least tie funny colored scarves on your head) and do a re-ordering.
  3. Re-order the place on your own and hope that the calm space will bring calm to the other person/people.

Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with the clutter in the home caused by multiple people experiencing the ups and downs of life at different rates.

 

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

Dealing with teenager’s clutter

As a father of a toddler, I can easily clean up the toys that she plays with and eventually leaves strewn about the room. I am not looking forward to her teenage years, however, if she turns out to be as messy during that stage as I was. I’m not exactly sure how I will deal with it, but maybe some of our readers can give me some pointers?

The reason I bring up teenagers and clutter is an old article I stumbled upon from Kevin Duggan of The Coloradoan. An excerpt:

Clutter is as natural to teens as acne and mood swings; it’s as aggravating to parents as gray hair and hearing loss. There lies the conflict.

My home is not immune to this problem. A tour at any time through my daughters’ bedrooms (and nearby rooms, for that matter) will reveal all manner of clothes worn or tried on in recent days strewn about the floor like so many pine needles in the forest.

There’s no telling which clothes are dirty and which were recently washed but never put away. Included in the ground cover are food wrappers, CDs, papers, books and every shoe they own. Prized possessions are mixed in with trash.

So do we have any readers who deal with teenagers and their inevitable clutter? Would any parents be willing to brag about strategies for helping to raise a clutter-free teen? Trust me, I’m all ears!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Reader suggestion: Storing a George Foreman Grill

Reader Liz sent us the following solution for storing the removable plates and body of her George Foreman Grill:

I got the wonderful George Foreman grill with the changeable plates for Christmas a few years ago. I have since been struggling with how to store the 5 grill plates since they don’t stack conveniently and can get easily scratched. I live in an apartment, so storage space is hard to come by. After several disappointing online searches, I decided to create my own [storage solution]. I used a vertical, metal sorter (similar to this one) placed on top of a locker shelf (similar to this one) so I can store my Foreman grill underneath the plates. The file sorter that is holding the grill plates is coated in plastic so it won’t scratch the plates, which is vital!

In addition to being a great solution for a George Foreman Grill, it would be wonderful for waffle iron plates, lids for reusable storage containers, lids for pots and pans, and even baking pans and cookie sheets. Thank you for such a terrific suggestion, Liz!

 

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

Free pass to return or re-gift presents

Gift giving is an art. Some people have an amazing talent at picking out the perfect something. I, however, am not blessed with such a skill. Every now and again I’ll hit one out of the park, but those occasions are rare. I think that it’s my disdain for crowded shopping centers that fuels my ineptitude.

Regardless of the reason, my gifts are often received with a strange facial expression and the question, “What is it?” I’ll never forget the gift I got for my sister-in-law that drew the response, “This is such an interesting … uh … watering can?” It was a purse.

When I give a gift, I want the gift to be exactly what the recipient wants. I want it to be loved. I also want the gift to not end up as clutter or to cause stress. To avoid giving the imperfect gift or to cause stress, I’ve decided to follow David Seah’s suggestion in his post “Print Your Own ‘Re-Gift Receipts’” and create my own re-gift receipts to accompany my future gifts.

I’m not going to write mine up exactly like he has, but the principle is the same: a guilt-free return policy. It seems to be such a nice way to let people know that you will in no way be offended if they decide to return your gift.

Be sure to check out Seah’s template at the bottom of the post to save yourself time creating your re-gift receipts.

 

This post has been updated since its publication in 2008.

Unclutter your refrigerator before Thanksgiving

If you host Thanksgiving at your home, then now is the time to start making room for all of the dishes that need to be stored in your refrigerator. Use up the items that are currently taking up space. My wife calls the process of clearing out the ingredients available in the refrigerator as “creative cooking.” It consists of not shopping for groceries for a week while concocting dishes from the ingredients that remain in the refrigerator and cupboards. Creative cooking also takes place at our house prior to long vacations.

While you clear out the space in your refrigerator it is freeing up valuable real estate for the turkey along with the side dishes that will reside in there while they wait to be prepared. This also allows for room in your refrigerator for the all important leftovers.

With just a little more than a week to go, clear out your fridge and give it a good cleaning. Let us know about some of your favorite “creative cooking” recipes in the comments. One of my favorites is a good old fashion stew using up meat and savory vegetables.

 

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