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.

How good are you at letting others help you?

I’m not. Not at all, in fact. Whenever someone offers to help me with anything, my immediate reaction is, “No, I can do it!” As if I were a five year old in front of an adult who questions my ability to do something.

It’s a terrible affliction this need to be so independent. And to be quite honest, it’s rather selfish on my part, too.

In an article in Psychology Today, the author talks about how letting others help you is a gift you give them. Most of us feel the desire to help whenever loved ones need it and helping them makes us feel better.

Just last night a friend was saying how her vacation plans fell through because of a mix-up with the online vacation reseller. We automatically offered our place in La Rioja – at least they would be able to get away from home for a week and they both love wine and sun. While it’s not the 5-star hotel they had hoped for, at least it’s a change of pace and scenery.

She said she couldn’t possibly and I countered with, “If the roles were reversed, would you offer us your place?” When she said, “Of course!” half-offended that I would imply otherwise, she realized how incongruent she was being and added, “Fine, I’ll think about it.”

When it comes to clutter, disorganization, or a lack to time deal with all of your responsibilities, can you ask for help, or are you like my friend who is horrified at imposing on others?

If you are like my friend (and to be honest, like me) and don’t like asking for help, these five tips from the “Savvy Psychologist” Ellen Hendrikson, PhD, may just help you:

  1. I don’t want to be a burden. As I’ve said already, people love to help. To get over this feeling, try asking for something small and very specific. Ask your best friend over and say, “Can you help me go through my closet? I want to get rid of some clothes, and I need an objective eye.” (Offering wine while you do it might help soothe your feelings of imposing.)
  2. I can’t admit that I need help. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Being a human being means being part of a community, and in communities, people help each other. Try depersonalizing the problem. Instead of saying, “I can’t get the bathroom cabinets under control.” say, “The bathroom cabinets are about to explode (and it has nothing to do with me as a person; it’s external to who I am).”
  3. I don’t want to feel indebted. Helping isn’t a barter system. People don’t help in order to be able to call in the favour later (at least people with a healthy understanding of relationships don’t). Try feeling gratitude. Say, “Thank you, I really appreciate this.” No need to offer reciprocal help in that moment. No one is going to present you with a bill (unless you’ve hired yourself a Professional Organizer, of course).
  4. I can’t show my weakness. This is my issue. I’m independent. I can do it! I don’t need anyone! Whenever I find myself acting like this I give myself a good shake and say, “Oh, please, you’re not a toddler and you’re not some macho alpha who always has to be strong. No one is always strong.” Or, you can take this as an opportunity to learn something new, especially if you consult with an expert (again, perhaps a Professional Organizer).
  5. I might get rejected. People have their own situations to deal with and this might not be the right moment for them to help you. Don’t take it as rejection of you or your problems. Thank them anyway and find someone else to ask. Not everyone is going to be too busy to help. And if they are, as I’ve repeated several times now, you can always turn to professionals.

If you have trouble asking for help, which one (or ones) of these five reactions do you feel when considering asking for help? Do you think the tips are good ones for getting over each reaction? Have others worked for you?

And if you want a book to help you ask for help, why not check out Kickstarter-star Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking?

10 Places to find hidden clutter

Just because something has a place in your home doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for that object. In fact, just because you have space to store an object doesn’t mean that you should.

If you want to have a home where everything is in its best place, here are 10 places to start looking for hidden clutter:

  1. Under beds. When I was in junior high, my mom found a “tennis ball” under my bed while she was replacing my mattress. Except it wasn’t a tennis ball, it was a furry, rotten apple. The space under people’s beds can be scary. Clear out the clutter (and the bad apples) from under your bed.
  2. Closets. If you’re like most people, you have sheets, towels, board games, coats, scarves, umbrellas, scrap-booking supplies, exercise videos, outdated spices, shoes, empty boxes, and hundreds of other items that you never use cluttering up your closets. Linen closets, coat closets, pantries, and wardrobes are full of clutter that you can get rid of now.
  3. Your basement. Spiders aren’t the only things lurking in your basement. Holiday decorations, boxes you never unpacked from your last move, and broken electronics that you have convinced yourself you will one day fix are all looming down there. I know it’s frightening, but you really should go through these things and deal with them in a proper manner.
  4. Self-storage facilities. You know how kids sometimes put their hands over their ears, close their eyes, and scream, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you”? Imagine me doing that right now. If you rent one of these spaces, read this article. Then, do everything in your power to get rid of your need to use a self-storage facility.
  5. Garages. Are there a pair of Rollerblades somewhere in your garage? Was 1998 the last time you wore them? Unused sports equipment, camping gear, and things that didn’t sell in your last garage sale don’t belong in your garage. Wouldn’t it be nice next winter to actually be able to park your car inside your garage?
  6. Your attic. See #3 above, substituting the word “attic” for “basement.”
  7. High cupboards in the kitchen. Waffle makers, popcorn poppers, china, silver, and griddles have a way of making it into your kitchen, never to be seen again. Consider what I said in my previous post about either using what you already own or getting rid of it.
  8. Guest rooms. I have a friend, who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, who has two “guest rooms” in her home. One has a bed, dresser, and empty closet. The other is filled with boxes and boxes of every piece of clothing her children have ever worn and every toy they have ever owned. Her children are married and live in their own homes. Yet, my friend continues to keep her children’s things and will not reclaim her guest room. If you have a guest room hiding things that you do not need, think about my friend and how you don’t want to end up like her.
  9. Desk drawers and filing cabinets. Your desk is a place that should facilitate productivity, creativity, and work. None of these things can happen if your desk is a disaster. If you’re having trouble with out-of-control papers, read posts in our category of organizing paper. If you’re having trouble opening your desk drawers, take a deep breath, disconnect the phone and the internet for a few hours, and focus on clearing the clutter from your work space.
  10. Your car’s glove box and armrest. As far as I am aware, there is not a competition to see how much stuff you can cram inside your glove box. I’m just letting you know.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Weekend project idea: Clear clutter from your medicine chest

wall mount medicine chestFirst, before I get into the depths of this post, I want to say that you shouldn’t be storing medicines in your bathroom. Humidity is bad for your medicines, and most in-wall cabinets don’t have locks on them and can be accessed by little ones. So, you should begin your weekend project by getting a lockable chest that you can store in a closet or another dry place in your home for your medicines. This modern-style medicine chest with locking glass door mounts on the wall. If you’re worried about losing keys, a portable chest with combination lock is a good alternative.

Next, get rid of all drugs that have passed their expiration dates. Return medications, both prescription and over-the-counter types, to your pharmacy for safe disposal. You can also read our tips on disposing of unused medications.

combo lock medicine chestThird, clear out all items that are not actually medicine-related from your medicine chest and find proper homes for these items.

Fourth, evaluate your medicine chest for duplicates and missing items. You should have at least one thermometer, but not four (like I just found … how in the world do I have four thermometers?).

Finally, lock up your medicine chest and enjoy the rest of your weekend knowing that you helped restore sanity in at least one aspect of your life.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Clutter-free patio furniture ideas

My house has a front porch that runs the full length of the front of the house. The view from inside the house is terrific and uncluttered when there isn’t any patio furniture clogging up the porch. However, there are times when I entertain when having furniture out there would be nice.

Faced with this problem of only sort-of wanting patio furniture, I eventually decided to buy two types of furniture for my porch. The first is what I call indoor-outdoor furniture: pieces that I can use inside my house 99 percent of the time, but that I can take outside without fear of damage from the elements. The second type is what I call temporary furniture: pieces that are inflatable, totally kitsch, and easy to store.

The dual-purpose seating I purchased (which is very easy to clean) helps me both inside with much needed seating and outside during social gatherings. The inflatable furniture easily stores flat when not in use on a utility closet shelf, and also has the bonus of being a great conversation starter.

When looking for outdoor furniture, consider keeping your yard or porch typically clutter free by only using outdoor-indoor furniture and temporary, inflatable pieces.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Weekend project: Tackle newspaper and magazine clutter

If you’re looking for an uncluttering project for this weekend, consider organizing your newspapers and magazines.

  • Gather together all of your newspapers and magazines and set them on a flat work surface.
  • Toss into the recycling bin all of your newspapers that are more than a day old.
  • Recycle immediately any magazine that you know you will never get around to reading.
  • If you have read and flagged articles in any of your magazines, either scan them so that you have a digital copy or see if you can find an online copy and save it to your digital notebook (e.g. Evernote). Then, recycle the magazine.
  • Any magazine you haven’t read that you still want to read, write a due date, on the cover of the magazine with a magic marker. If you haven’t read it by the due date, recycle it on the spot.
  • Put the magazines you intend to read in a location where you’ll see them and read them. Then, as time permits, pick them up and enjoy the publications.
  • Finally, remove the unwanted newspapers and magazines from your home.

Although we use the word “recycle” in this article, we don’t necessarily mean sending magazines and newspapers into the waste stream. There are other options for these items. For example:

  • Animal shelters can often use old newspapers to line cages.
  • Charity shops may appreciate newspapers to pack fragile items for customers.
  • Waiting rooms in medical centers, seniors’ centers, and other care homes may appreciate recent magazines in relatively good condition.

Ask around in your community to see if there is a place to donate your newspapers and magazines.

If your newspapers and magazines are already in order, check out our list of other weekend project ideas.

 

This post was originally published in May 2008.

Two unusual types of uncluttering

When you think about uncluttering, you probably think about the stuff or the papers in your home or office. You may also think about uncluttering your calendar or your relationships.

But here are two different types of uncluttering I’ve read and thought about recently.

Uncluttering your hotel room

Designer Karim Rashid was recently quoted as follows in an article that Mark Ellwood wrote for Bloomberg:

The hotel industry loves to fill rooms up with things, which comes from the idea that a hotel room is an extension of your home. But for me, it’s too much stuff, too much clutter. If I’m going to spend three days in there, I need to be really free and able to think. I take every piece of paper, every note or book, and put it in drawers to hide them. I don’t like visual clutter. And in the bathroom, too — there’s a crazy amount of stuff they shove in there.

I read this and thought about how I do almost the same thing when I’m in a hotel room with such amenities. Everything I won’t need — the TV remote, the magazines, and most other hotel literature — gets put away somewhere so I won’t see it in the coming days. I stash away the excess pillows, too.

Uncluttering the meals you’re cooking


Ailbhe Malone wrote on the BuzzFeed website, “The secret to making a good pasta dish is to respect your ingredients. I know this sounds a bit cheffy, but that basically means: Don’t throw the kitchen sink in.”

You’ll find countless lists of 5-ingredient recipes, which can certainly make preparation easier. Also, limiting the ingredients may mean that you buy fewer ingredients that get used in one recipe and never again, so they sit around just taking up space.

But Malone seems to be thinking more along the lines of food writer Christopher Hirst, who stated in the Independent, “My favourite food involves the least possible culinary intervention — dishes where the quality of the ingredients is allowed to speak for itself.” Uncluttered dishes have benefits beyond saving time, money, and storage space — they often taste wonderful.

As noted chef José Andrés says, “Simple ingredients, treated with respect … put them together and you will always have a great dish.” I took a brief look at his tapas cookbook, and I saw many recipes that adhered to this principle.

The writers advocating for these uncluttered recipes aren’t saying that more complicated recipes don’t have their place, but rather than simple ones can be outstanding, too. When I think back to some of my most memorable meals, it’s often the ones with a few high-quality ingredients, well prepared, that come to mind.

Do you unclutter your hotel rooms? Do you like uncluttered recipes? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Hanging coats

If you don’t have a closet near the front door to your home, a free-standing coat rack might be a good way to keep jackets, scarves, backpacks, and umbrellas from ending up on the back of every couch and chair in the adjacent room. Here are a few different options.

The Frenchi Furniture Black Metal Coat Rack has 12 hooks at two different heights. This would be great for hanging purses or for younger people who can’t reach the top hooks. Although umbrellas could hang on the lower hooks, if wet, they would drip all over the floor.

 

Monarch Specialties’ Contemporary Coat Rack in silver finish has a sleek look for modern designs. There are no lower hooks on this rack so it might not be a great option for a home with young children.

 

The LCH Standing Coat Rack made from solid rubber wood has a more natural look. Hooks at multiple heights would be an easy reach for kids and ideal for hanging purses and umbrellas.

 

Busy families may decide to use a garment rack instead of a coat rack. The HOMFA Fashion heavy-duty garment rack has space for coats, scarves, umbrellas, and the shelves provide a convenient place to store backpacks and shoes.

Check out ten more inspirational coat rack designs over at Remodelista.

 

This post was originally published May 2009.

Where to start organizing your home

Many people are overwhelmed by the idea of organizing their homes. When there is so much to do, it can be difficult to know where to begin. If you’re in such a state, let me suggest four ways you can get started. Hopefully one of the methods will be a perfect match for you!

  1. Start by organizing the area you first see in the morning. If your first activity is to walk into your closet to pick out your clothes, then choose to organize your closet. If you get coffee, organize your kitchen. If you hop into the shower, then tackle your bathroom. The idea is that the first thing you see in the morning can set your mood for the whole day, so you should at least start with a sense of calm and order.
  2. Start by organizing the area you first see when you come home after work. Your home should be an area of rejuvenation and relaxation. If the first thing you see when you get home from a long day at work makes you stressed out, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Is there a mess in the driveway that could be cleared? Do you pull into your garage and curse because you can barely get out of your car? Is your home’s entrance in complete chaos? Whatever is the first place that causes you stress when you come home, start by clearing clutter there.
  3. Start with the area of your home that makes you seethe. Without putting too much thought into it, what is the one area of your home that you avoid because of its mess? Your instincts will quickly call to mind the one space that drives you nuts more than any other area of your home. Get started in that space to get the worst of the worst cleaned first.
  4. Start at the top and work your way down. In the same way that you dust before you sweep, tackle the areas up high in a room and then work your way toward the floor. Think of your work as if you’re completing an archeological dig.

As you’re working, keep in mind that even the smallest steps help your space to be more organized than it was previously and that there is no reason to be overwhelmed by the task in front of you. Good luck with your organization endeavors!

 

This post was originally published in May 2008.

Preparing an organized “summer basket”

As summer approaches, we’re getting ready to spend the season at home with the kids and occasionally welcoming out-of-town guests. It’s also time to round up the accoutrements that allow us to enjoy nice weather and time spent outdoors. Sunscreen, beach towels, snorkels, and so on get a lot of use between June and August, which means these items also have the opportunity to become misplaced or just plain lost. Rather than have this stuff lying around like a bunch of clutter, we’ve devised a simple solution. We place a very big basket right next to the back door of our house — a large, wicker basket. Inside we store all sorts of summer goodies:

  • Sunscreen
  • Snorkels
  • Swim masks
  • Towels
  • Sandals
  • Bug spray
  • and a few dollars for the ice cream truck (it is summer after all)

It all works pretty well, but it can be improved. This summer I want to make some changes to our “summer basket.” Let me know what you think.

First, it is convenient that all of the items are in one place instead of spread all over the house. However, once you get a certain amount of stuff in the basket, finding what you want requires a bit of searching around. My solution for this problem takes inspiration from my hobby: board games.

Many of the games I love come with a lot of components and little pieces, which I keep organized with foam core inserts. While you can buy fancy wooden ones like this one from Broken Token, I prefer to make my own out of foam core. For the summer basket, I think four large pieces will divide the contents into specific categories very nicely.

Next, I want to make some “go bags,” one for each activity (beach, park, car, etc.). It will save time when departing — just grab the one bag that you need. I’m considering sorting go bags by child. That way, we won’t have to go on a hunt for our son’s swim mask or our daughter’s goggles, etc. But I’m not sold on that idea, sorting by activity might be most effective.

Now I’ll ask you, dear readers. Do you have a similar setup in place and, if so, how do you keep it all sorted? Happy summer!

Book review: Unf*ck Your Habitat

Note: Some of you may take offense at the title of this book, in which case this is not the book for you. But if you’re fine with the title, you may enjoy the book and find it useful.

When people talk about their messy homes, they’re often talking about two related challenges: organizing and cleaning. Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman deals with both of these as part of the ongoing process of creating a pleasant home.

Hoffman focuses on creating a “functional and livable home that you aren’t ashamed of or stressed out by, “not one of the “picture-perfect” homes you often see in magazines. And her advice applies to someone living in a dorm room or renting a room in someone else’s home, not just those with their own apartments or houses.

You won’t find any radically new organizing advice here, although the advice provided is good. Some examples:

  • We’re disorganized primarily because we have more stuff than storage. There are two solutions: less stuff or more storage. Less stuff is almost always the better option.
  • Your everyday items should live someplace where it’s just as easy to put them away as it is to leave them out.
  • When you’re getting rid of stuff, don’t make it someone else’s problem. … If something is broken, outdated, or no longer useful, you’re just passing the buck on ending its life cycle when you know good and well that it was time for it to get tossed or recycled.

Hoffman advocates doing your organizing and cleaning in a series of 20/10s, one or more per day, where a 20/10 is twenty minutes of work followed by a 10-minute mandatory break. But here’s something I really liked: She says that if 20/10 doesn’t seem right for you, go ahead and make it 45/15 or whatever works better. If you have energy limitations, she suggests that 5/15 may work better. And if your physical limitations mean that 5/rest-of-the-day is all you can handle, that’s okay, too.

Hoffman is a compassionate realist. She admits that cleaning is not fun and that “there’s no magic solution to the problem of disorganization.” She expects you might backslide into messy ways, because forming the new habits needed to keep your home in decent shape is hard. She writes, “The only way to really succeed is to not give up at the first setback (or the second or fifth or tenth), and to keep trying until it sticks.”

There’s a useful chapter on dealing with roommates, spouses, and significant others who don’t share your cleaning and organizing goals. And the chapter entitled “Emergency Unf*cking” gives a practical plan on how to respond when you need to make your place presentable, fast.

Unf*ck Your Habitat is a quick and easy read. It won’t give you lots of detailed advice regarding how to organize your clothes, your files, etc. But it just might inspire you get going, even when your home feels like a total disaster.

When was the last time you re-organized?

When we moved into our apartment, we had completely renovated the place, right back to the exterior walls. Being two organized people, we took the time to think through our designs and make sure everything had a place, and we didn’t fill up the house with too much stuff.

Fast forward two years…

The spacious walk-in closet feels cramped. There are expired packages of food in kitchen drawers and cupboards. We can’t see the floor under the sink in the bathroom. CDs have found their way off their shelves and onto various surfaces throughout the house, and random computer cables have snaked their way over the spare bedroom/office.

How could this have happened? We tidy up and clean our flat every week and we both adore being organized!

Well, life happened. Familiarity bred blindness. And so, bit by bit, the house has lost its shiny-new look and feel.

It doesn’t have to stay that way, however.

Some things are simple to re-organize, like the CDs and computer cables. We’ve added them to our weekly cleanup tasks and they no longer threaten to invade spaces not specifically assigned to them.

As for the rest, it’s required a series of weekend projects (or in our case, a series of mid-week projects as we like to keep our weekends free for fun activities).

To start with, my husband tackled the walk-in closet paring down our clothes and reorganizing what we had left. It’s something that needs to be done periodically as clothes come in and out of fashion, our weight goes up and down, and more obviously, the seasons change, requiring different sorts of outfits.

He then cleared out what was below the bathroom sink. It turns out that when we moved in, we put a bunch of things that we weren’t quite sure what to do with down there in baskets and then forgot about them. And in the manner of all disorganized spaces, the clutter attracted more clutter. To find space for what was there, he reorganized the drawers in the bathroom and managed to carve out room for everything else and make it all more accessible in the process.

Our next task is the kitchen. In our house, it’s probably the most used room as we both love to cook. You’d think that would mean that it’s the most organized space, but no. I’m not sure if we’ll attack it one drawer at a time, or go all out and reorganize and clean everything at once. Given how much better the first two spaces turned out, it’s not something we’re going to let slide much longer.

And now you say: “Great, thanks for the personal story, Alex, but what does it have to do with me?”

Well, how long have you lived in your current abode? How long since you’ve taken a look at the various places where things get stored? Can you access everything easily and do you even know what’s there? Because if you’ve forgotten you have something, you might as well not own it.

So tell me, what mini re-organizing project are you going to take on?