Storage can be a clutter safety net

The house in which I currently reside has a ton of storage space. The basement alone is about 900 square feet (83m2). You would assume that a lot of storage space is a great thing, right? Well, it is a good selling point for would-be buyers, but a lot of storage space provides you with an easy way to keep stuff that you should not be keeping.

We realized this when we cleared out our basement and closets in preparation for a yard sale. The amount of stuff that we accumulated was staggering and we still didn’t even come close to using all of the storage space that we have. The clutter safety net is what I like to call the storage in our home. If we never had an easy way of storing all of this stuff, then it would have been gone long ago.

Some people don’t have the “luxury” of a lot of storage space on their premises so they opt for the local self storage business. Again, make sure you actually need the stuff that you are paying extra to store. Do not let the self-storage industry convince you that you need a clutter safety net! People tend to get rid of things because they don’t have the room for them anymore. Available storage space should not be the only factor when deciding whether or not you get rid of something. Storage space is always be available either in your own home or at a self-storage facility but you should not justify keeping something just because the space is available.

 

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

Creative ways to get rid of clutter

Two of my dear friends moved from Washington DC to California. At their going away party, they gave gifts to all of the attendees — literal parting gifts.

In the parking lot of their apartment complex after the party, my husband and I decided to open our gifts. Both boxes were filled to the brim with ephemera. My box included: 3 yen, a knitted mitten Christmas tree ornament, 4 ticket stubs, a scratched CD, a bright pink magnet in the shape of a button, and about a pound more stuff. My husband’s box held: a broken Palm Pilot, a cracked copy of Microsoft Excel, a sticker that said “I used to be punk rock,” and two handfuls of other random trinkets.

The next day, I called my friends to find out about these special packages. They explained that as they were packing their lives for the move, there were items in their apartment that they knew they should throw out but couldn’t get themselves to do it.

“We had bizarre emotional attachments to all of the objects in the boxes,” one of the two explained. “We couldn’t throw the stuff away, so we wrapped it up to give to you and the others.”

“You know we all just tossed or recycled the stuff in the boxes, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “But giving the stuff away as gifts was the only way we could get rid of it.”

“I get it,” I said, not really getting it at all.

A few days later, the idea started to resonate with me. Whatever it took to get the clutter out of their future home was a good idea to me. Seeing as I had no attachment to any of the objects in my gift box, I tossed and recycled the stuff immediately. A few conversations with other friends from the party, and I found that they did the same. The stuff had been dealt with and was out of my moving friends’ lives. The process of uncluttering was unconventional, but effective.

Have you encountered or tried a non-traditional uncluttering method? What do you think of my friends’ ephemera boxes as a method of getting rid of clutter — especially clutter with a misplaced emotional pull to keep? Any suggestions for how to say goodbye to clutter in a creative way? We would love to read your ideas in the comments!

 

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

10 tips to beat clutter in less than five minutes

I’m happy to have Gretchen Rubin, the fabulous author of The Happiness Project, join us with a guest post today on Unclutterer. There just aren’t enough kind words in the English language to say about her. Welcome, Gretchen!

Having a clutter-filled house can make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Everywhere you look, you see little chores that should be done. No single task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big mess. Pretty quickly, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem.

Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that.

  1. Make your bed each morning.
  2. Throw away the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet.
  3. Follow the “one-minute rule” — push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.
  4. Identify an organization or person to whom you can give things you no longer need. It’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the local charity thrift store. When the shelf is full, we drop off the books.
  5. Pause for a moment before you “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.
  6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law — if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.
  8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.
  9. Hang up your coat.
  10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.

Say goodbye to perfume clutter

I like the idea of perfume, but have never really supported the whole “signature scent” concept. Wearing the same fragrance day after day isn’t my style, so I usually just go without perfume because it costs a lot to have many options. I also don’t want a whole dresser top full of large glass bottles tempting my cats. I find, too, that after a year or two the perfume goes stale and loses its oomph!

Reader Amanda sent us a terrific idea for men and women wanting to get rid of large bottle cologne and perfume clutter. Similar to the Use it up! advice reader Elena sent us for shampoo, Amanda’s suggestion is to only purchase perfume in very small amounts through websites like LuckyScent and ThePerfumedCourt:

“This keeps the price low, I can try different perfumes (some not available locally), and I hide them in a box in a dresser drawer, freeing (uncluttering) the top of my dresser.”

LuckyScent has an option at the bottom of every page of perfume that gives you the choice to purchase a sample (0.7mL.). They even offer sample packs; groups of popular or seasonal fragrances.

And, ThePerfumedCourt only sells trial sizes:

“What we do is spray, pour, or use sterile pipettes to take perfume from its original large bottle and repackage it in a smaller bottle (we only use brand new sterile glass bottles) so that the consumer can try as many fragrances as they desire before buying a full bottle.”

Thank you, Amanda, for such a terrifically simple idea for men and women who choose to wear a fragrance!

Follow-up: Should it stay or should it go

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to chime in and help me decide if my collection of organizing products should stay or go. I read and appreciated every one of the comments and the messages that were sent directly.

Some readers suggested I let everything go and start again when I moved to the next house. Others, suggested I evaluate the difficulty and expense of replacing items in determining whether or not I let them go. Many recommended that I keep only what would fit in one large bin. Almost everyone told me to get rid of the gum and mint containers as these are easily replaceable.

As we are new to this city, one of my neighbours told me about the semi-annual Giveaway Weekends. During the assigned weekend, residents can place unwanted, reusable household items at the curb in front of their house (apartment units usually have a designated area in their parking lots) with a “FREE” sign on the items. Residents drive around and pick up any items they want during the two days. The city website also provides a list of charities where leftover items can be donated and explains how to either take your item to the landfill or schedule a large item waste pick-up.

This Giveaway Weekend helped me with my decision-making process. Here is what I decided.

The items stayed if:

Everything else (plastic filing cabinet, car cup gum containers, Altoids tins, various sizes of plastic baskets) would go out on my curb for the fall Giveaway Weekend. Whatever did not “disappear” by Sunday evening, would go to charity.

Of course, the day after I made my decision, my daughter took an Altoids tin and turned it into a sewing kit to have in her dorm room at college. Therefore, I decided to keep one each — and only one each — mint and gum container.

Next year, we will know where we are moving a few months before the spring Giveaway Weekend. This will give me the opportunity to go through my stash again and make decisions on what stays and what goes.

Thank you, dear readers, for all your help!

Lay it all out

I’ve been putting off getting rid of a bunch of my clothes for quite some time and I finally did something about it. My clothes used to reside in two different places in my home, a dresser in the laundry room and a closet in a completely different room. There was no need for two different storage spaces so I decided to lay out all of my clothes and take stock.

Once my clothes were all laid out I was amazed at how much clothing I actually had. I didn’t think I had that much, but to my surprise I had a lot of items I never wear anymore. I ended up cutting my clothing inventory by half right off the bat. Then, when I started to put all of my clothes back into the one closet I made a second pile of rejects. Overall, I think I cut my clothing inventory by about 60%.

Laying out all of your clothes is a great way to put things in perspective. Once everything is laid out you realize how much stuff you actually have. This obviously doesn’t have to be limited to your clothing. It also can be used for anything else you want to scale down. Try it with a closet that is in desperate need of cleaning or a junk drawer that no longer closes. You also may want to edit your collection of books, DVDs, CDs, or shoes. Laying them all out may enlighten you to the fact that you have much more junk than you first thought.

 

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

Try giving your refrigerator a facelift

My refrigerator is not magnetic. I have no idea what the previous owners of my house did to it to make it that way, but that is its fate. I learned this the hard way, too, sticking magnet after magnet onto it and watching them fall to the floor. I was mesmerized. How could a magnet not stick to the refrigerator? What kind of a person would want a non-magnetic refrigerator?

Now that I’ve been in my house for many years, I’ve come to appreciate the refrigerator and its plain front. Most notably, I value it because there isn’t any clutter on it — no softball schedules from last season, no warped photos, no magnets with unknown real estate agents’ faces staring back at me. Its clean front actually helps to keep my stress level at bay when I’m in the kitchen. The previous owners of my home were more wise than I had given them credit.

If someone would have ever suggested that I could live without magnets on my refrigerator, I would have thought them batty. So, I will not be surprised if in the comments section people write about my sanity (or, rather, lack of sanity). I am making that very suggestion to you, though. Try clearing off the front of your refrigerator and develop other, less cluttered alternatives to distributing information in your home.

If you must use the front of your refrigerator for this purpose, then use something like a perpetual dry-erase calendar hung with Command poster strips. Command also makes refrigerator clips specially designed for hanging papers (like children’s artwork). These could also be used on other kitchen surfaces such as hanging a recipe on a ceramic tile backsplash. Lulalu makes a weekly calendar pad block that cling sticks to smooth surfaces such as stainless steel fridges, mirrors, and school lockers. Also, you could buy a few easy-change artwork frames and swap out your children’s artwork and well-executed homework on your wall instead of on your refrigerator. Honor their good work instead of losing it in a mish-mash of refrigerator madness. Give a magnet-free refrigerator a try and see how it improves the feel of your kitchen.

 

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

Recycling bins don’t have to be messy

Reader Jameselee drew our attention to the June article “How to Hide Recycling Bins in Your Kitchen” from Popular Mechanics magazine.

It makes sense to find convenient and attractive ways to cope with the typical household’s revolving collection of cans, glass bottles and newspapers, since recycling has become an everyday reality.

Whether you’re planning from scratch or improving an existing setup, the first decision is what room to use for storing the stuff. The kitchen is ideal, given that it’s where most glass and plastic containers get used, but kitchen space is often at a premium. Other options are the pantry, garage, laundry room or mudroom.

The article provides a number of ideas for visible and hidden storage, even though the word “hide” is in the title. I particularly enjoyed the following drawing from the article:

The company simplehuman has quite a few stylish trash/recycle bin combinations. Some can be hidden in a cupboard, others can be placed on the floor. A ClosetMaid four drawer basket kit could be hidden inside a closet.

Do you disguise or hide recycling in your home? What techniques do you use? How do you keep this area from looking cluttered and out of control?

 

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

Buying vs. using

buying and using craft supplies are two separate hobbiesI have seen this meme floating around the internet for a while now. It made me stop and think about the definition of a crafter: a person whose occupation requires skill with the hands. If this is true, then buying craft supplies is indeed, a separate hobby from using those supplies to create art.

If you are uncluttering, you may want to take a look at your hobby supplies and equipment. Owning craft supplies does not make you a crafter; using the supplies does. Likewise, owning musical instruments does not make you a musician. You must regularly play the instruments to be considered a musician. You don’t need to be a virtuoso, you just need to enjoy playing regularly.

There are reasons why you may wish to keep certain things but make sure they are legitimate. When we moved to England, we kept our ice skates. There were no rinks in our area but we knew we would skate once we returned to Canada. However, my husband decided he would do recreational skating only so he donated all of his hockey equipment.

A friend of mine found that playing her clarinet while she was pregnant made her nauseous. She vowed that after the birth of her child she would pick up the instrument again. She started playing again when her youngest turned two years old and after a year or so, joined a small orchestra that accompanies a local theatre group.

Consider giving yourself a deadline for uncluttering unused equipment and supplies. For example, if you have not played your musical instrument or used your ham radio in over one year, you might wish to sell it. Put a moratorium on purchasing new hobby supplies and whatever you have not used in six months could be donated to a community centre.

Hobbies and pastimes are great but make sure you’re practicing the right one — using your equipment and supplies, not just buying and storing them.

Yard sale preparation

My wife and I have decided to put our house on the market. Our current home is too large and we would like to downsize. To get our home into order we have decided to have a yard sale. You don’t realize how much stuff you accumulate until you take an inventory. It is a bit overwhelming.

We are having the yard sale at my parent’s house because our home in the city isn’t conducive to a yard sale, so we are going to transport all of our items there. This is definitely a step I would skip if at all possible. Here are the things we have done in the last few days in preparation:

  • Browsing: Go through every room of your home and browse for things that you don’t use or don’t need.
  • Sorting: After doing the first walk through of your home separate everything into logical categories; kitchen, bathroom, baby clothes, baby toys, back to school college items, and then box them up for easy transport.
  • Trashing: You will inevitably come across some items that no one would ever buy. Don’t waste your time by including them in your sale, so get the trash bags ready.
  • Pricing: It is a yard sale, so price everything very reasonably. Nothing we priced is more than $5. Some furniture items will most likely be priced higher, but we marked those as “make an offer.”
  • Consultation: Try and get some pointers from a yard sale veteran in your neighborhood. We have the expertise of my mother-in-law who has had many garage/yard sales under her belt. She also frequents the yard sale circuit and is familiar with what people want and how things are priced.

Here are some additional tips from our experienced consultant:

  1. Start an hour earlier than other yard/garage sales. Since most start at 8am, start yours at 7am.
  2. Put an ad in the classified section of your local paper, Facebook Marketplace, and other online classified ad services such as Craigslist, to run the day before the sale.
  3. Be sure to mention key items in your ads, such as collectibles, antiques, maternity, furniture, baby clothes, electronics, etc. Those are the most looked after items.
  4. Directly after the your sale, make arrangements with a friend or family member with a truck to pick up the unsold items to take directly to a donation center.

We’re looking forward to this uncluttering opportunity and the extra money will come in handy too.

 

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

Editor question: Should it stay or should it go?

Normally, a reader asks a question about uncluttering and organizing that our writers answer with amazing input by fellow Unclutterer readers. Today, I have a question that I’m hoping readers can help me answer.

We’re a military family. We’ve lived in 13 different homes in the past 28 years. Each house has been different. Some have basements, others have garages. Some homes had three bedrooms and one bathroom, others had four bedrooms and four bathrooms. We lived in houses with very little closet and cupboard storage, others with walk-in closets and walls lined with cupboards.

Because the houses have been so different and we have moved so often, I have accumulated a large stockpile of organizing products. This includes:

  • A slat-wall system with various hooks and baskets. It has been used in garages in previous homes to store garden tools and bicycles. Our current home has a shed that won’t support the use of the slat-wall system.
  • A plastic filing cabinet with broken locks and missing wheels. The cabinet was rather expensive. It is sturdy and in great shape so it could be used for storing something. It is currently empty.
  • I have probably two dozen fabric drawer organizers. I’ve used these to organize clothes in drawers and items on shelves in various houses over the years.
  • There are lots empty totes. I’m not sure what was in them at previous houses. They are all in great shape and have matching lids.
  • I have a few shelf extenders. Our current home has adjustable shelves in the kitchen cabinets. Almost none of our previous homes did.
  • I save car cup gum containers and Altoids tins because they are great for storing office supplies, cotton balls, cotton swabs, and other small items. There lots of each type of container in my stash because they might come in handy.
  • There is a tower of plastic drawers that I’m sure could come in handy for something but it is currently empty.
  • There are at least 50 ways to use a basket so I have baskets of all sizes in my stash. This includes a bunch of kitchen drawer organizers.

Part of me wants to keep all of these items because we will be moving again in less than one year. I have no idea where we will be moving or what our next house will be like. I might need the organizing supplies because they are useful and I just love having lots of organizing products.

Another part of me wants to just donate all of the stuff and only buy what I need when we move into our new house because I just love buying new organizing products.

So, I will ask fellow Unclutterers as the classic song by The Clash repeats in my head…

Readers, you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?
If you say “keep,” because it’s mine
It’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?

Unclutter worries from your mind

Even though I’m a faithful user of David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system, I still find that I will sometimes worry about one or two of my next actions. I don’t worry about how I will complete the item, rather I worry about ridiculous things I cannot control (like if my cold will be over by the time I need to make a presentation).

Experience has taught me that when my thoughts become cluttered my effectiveness decreases. Then, to add insult to injury, I get even more frustrated when a task I know should only take five minutes takes me half an hour. It’s a downward spiral that is best addressed earlier instead of later.

When I find my thoughts are a mess, I answer the following five questions to unclutter my mind.

1. What is my worry? Many times, simply naming my worry is all that I need to do to quell my racing mind.

2. Is my worry rational, illogical, emotional, something I cannot control, or just noise? Identifying what type of worry I’m having can help me to find a solution to stop the cluttered thoughts. A rational fear might be solved with the creation of an action item. A worry about if it might rain is just noise because there is already an umbrella in my car.

3. Am I afraid of failure? When this worry creeps into my mind I remember a quote I found a year ago by a woman named Martha Mangelsdorf: “What would I do if I were not afraid?” The quote inspires me to imagine how I would behave differently in a given situation if I weren’t afraid of failing. Doing so has never failed to relieve me of this type of fear.

4. What good will come from my worrying? The answer to this question is often “no good.” If this is the answer, then squashing the worry in a swift manner is the only solution to uncluttering my mind.

5. How much additional time should I devote to worrying about this issue? There are times when a fear is rationally grounded and deserves my attention. I will schedule the proper amount of time to devote to the worry (five minutes to five hours) and then address the issue and only that issue during that time. I will sit down with a cup of coffee and a notepad and work out a solution. When my scheduled time is completed, I create action items or I wash my hands of the worry. I try not to be consumed with the worry before the scheduled time, as well as afterward. A focused time to worry keeps the worry from slowing me down during times when my mind needs to be working on something else.

 

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