Reader suggestion: Storing and disposing used paint

Paint CansReader Mike sent us the following tip that he adapted from an episode of Clean Sweep that aired a number of years ago:

Paint cans in my garage tend to reproduce and grow. Pretty quickly after various projects there is a collection of 1 gallon paint cans taking up huge amounts of space. When my wife and I went to finish painting a room, we discovered our less than half filled paint cans also thickened a little over time.

To put and end to this, I purchased a few 1 quart cans and poured the paint out of the gallon containers into these little guys. In the end, I wound up throwing away a very small amount of paint, but a very large amount of paint containers.

He added the following tip:

Paint in its liquid form is hazardous waste, however, as a solid it is safe to throw away. I combined all my left over paint into a single one gallon container, capped it, and saved it with the used light bulbs for hazardous waste disposal. The rest of the [empty 1 gallon] cans were left outside in the sunlight to dry, then they were simply tossed.

Our readers may want to also consider the quarter-pint (125mL) cans for smaller amounts of paint required for touch ups. Mason jars with tight fitting lids are a good alternative but store them in the dark as exposure to light can change the color of the paint.

Thank you, Mike, for the great tip!

 

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

Simple steps for organizing a home office

Today we welcome guest blogger Jason Womack, a workplace effectiveness and productivity consultant. You can find him on his corporate website at womackcompany.com.

If you’ve decided to quit your commute and work from home, one of your big challenges may be maintaining the sanctity of your work area. When your office is disorganized, it can easily become a magnet for bills, toys, receipts, homework papers and even dirty laundry. This clutter can quickly bring your productivity to a screaming halt.

In order to stay one step ahead of the chaos, keep your workspace as productive as you are. Here some ideas to keep a clean desk and a clean path to productivity:

  • Make processing a priority: Processing your inboxes (voicemail, email, paper, and files) clears the deck for your life and work. Every five days, you need to make processing your focus. This weekly overview will enable you to create the space you need in order to work the way you would like.
  • Get it: Take everything out of your briefcase or bag and put it on your desk to tackle.
  • Supply it: Go through your travel and business supplies and replace or restock anything that is low. Also purge and restock an area or two on your desk (fill printer with paper, stapler with staples, water a plant, check the electric plugs by the floor to make sure they are in contact, etc.)
  • Gather it: Put any as-yet-unprocessed notes into the in-basket. These can be from anywhere – meeting notes, Post-its, business cards you have picked up, email messages, or other mail.
  • Update it: Review any papers in your “pending” file to make sure their status is up to date. Also open and review your current project folders.
  • Find it: Check your calendar and your to-do list. On your calendar, look two weeks back and four weeks ahead. If you have any reminders in there, add them to your to-do list. Add to your to-do list by going through the notes in your inbox or other reminders you have. Check off anything you have completed.
  • Assess it: Finally, take an overview of your outcomes and inventory your incomplete goals. Reassess your commitment and decide if there is an action that can be added to your to-do list in order to reach that goal.

If you undergo this weekly assessment of your workspace, you can spend a lot more of your time on your actual work in your home office.

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

Yearbooks: Worth keeping or clutter?

About once a month, a reader writes to us asking what to do with his or her large stash of yearbooks. Whenever this question comes to me, I’m always at a loss for what kind of advice to give. I have all of my old yearbooks — a spiral bound paper one from elementary school, two paper ones stapled together from middle school, four traditional ones from high school, and two traditional ones from college — and my husband has five of his. They take up a cube on our bookshelf and sit beneath our reference books.

In a way, I think of these books as reference materials. If a person I don’t remember makes a request to connect to me on Facebook or LinkedIn, and the request states that I went to school with the person, I’ll head to my yearbooks hoping that a picture of the person will spark my memory. I also look through the portraits before heading to class reunions, but those are pretty much the only times I look at them.

However, the idea of getting rid of them sort of makes me nauseated. Maybe a part of me is fearful that one day I’ll lose my memory and need them to recreate my past? Maybe I hope that my children will be interested in them and want to better understand who I was when I was their age? Even though I can’t exactly identify why I keep them, I have carved out a place for them in my home.

My advice is that if you want to keep them, then it’s okay to keep them. Store them in a place that is safe (not in a cardboard box in a mildewy basement) and scan any pages that you would be crushed to lose if your home were destroyed by a natural disaster. Remember to backup your hard drive at an off-site location so that you won’t lose your data in an emergency.

If you don’t have any desire to keep them, then scan individual pages you want to keep digitally and recycle the books. You might e-mail your former classmates and see if any of them are interested in the books if you don’t want to toss them straight into the recycling bin. You also could contact your school’s historical society and see if they would want them, or if a current journalism teacher at the school might have use for them.

How have you handled your yearbooks? Do you have additional advice for what to do with yearbooks? Your ideas are welcome in the comments.

 

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

Reader inspired charging station

Reader Geek Novice sent us the following photographs:

A detailed explanation can be found on his blog here. His blog is written in Slovene, though, so we were happy that he kindly emailed us a few translations. In short, he purchased two meters (about six and a half feet) of pipe insulation from his local hardware store for about a dollar. He cut the foam tubing to his desired length, inserted a second slice, piled in the cords, and called it an uncluttered day.

We love this innovative, inexpensive, charging station. Thank you, Geek Novice, for sharing it with us!

 

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

Are the paths to your goals paved or cluttered?

Once upon a time, I conducted a one-question internet survey about what blocks people’s success in reaching their goals. The question I asked is: What is the single, biggest obstacle to achieving your goals? The responses were intriguing.

“Lack of Organization/Too Much Clutter” made it to the Top 5 on the list and it continues to rank as the #5 obstacle to goal success.

Speaking of goals, the National Association of Professional Organizers has reported that “getting organized” is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions year after year.

If getting organized makes it to your list of resolutions in the upcoming year, it could have a positive ripple effect. When people clear out clutter, it paves the way for other goals too.

Why does clutter get in the way of goals?

When there’s clutter on our desks and we have to step over the jackets, the laptop case and shoes strewn about the hallway, it’s harder to think and we often forget things. How can you remember a priority project when it’s buried beneath a pile of paper as high as your office chair?

For me, an organized workspace (and house for that matter) allows me clarity of thought and gives me a motivational lift. It’s about progress, not perfection, by the way.

For example, when the surfaces of my workspace are clutter free — yet I still have the tools at hand that I need — I am more productive, have increased focus, and I feel better at the end of the day. That’s because productivity equals satisfaction. I like to work hard on my priorities.

When things are in the way — mentally or physically — we get slowed down, distracted and derailed. It’s no fun at year’s end to open a mysterious Word document that reminds you that you were going to lose 10 pounds and you haven’t made it to the gym all year.

Here are four tips to clear out clutter so that you can remove at least one obstacle to goal success.

Step Back

Assess the space you want to organize, whether it’s your cubicle, garage, or kitchen. Take five minutes to picture what you’d like the space to look like. Do you envision a transformation or just a few tweaks?

Create a Big Goal

The big goal represents your organizing ideal. For the garage, maybe that means hiring a company to build storage shelving and hooks to hang tools. Consider the benefits: peace of mind and clarity.

Do the Tough Thing First

Spot the thing that you dread most. When you look at the file cabinet bursting with 15 years of taxes, tackle it. Doing the hardest thing first will build momentum and inspire you to move on to more uncluttering.

Set a Small Goal, Too

You’ve made progress by facing the tough thing first. Do another small goal immediately. For instance, sort through two boxes or put all gardening equipment in one area.

Team up with one or more person to help make the process fun. With focus and dedication, all 4 steps are do-able.

Taking a moment to step back will give you a snapshot of what you want before you start. From there, you’ll have the ingredients for your first big goal. Doing the tough thing first allows you to get going fast and sets the stage for overcoming resistance of the things you don’t want to do. Keep going with a series of small goals. As you make progress, you’ll be more organized, and you’ll have more clarity and confidence to maintain your organized life.

What strategies have you used to set and achieve your uncluttering goals?

 

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

Creating a personal strategic plan

Setting goals, working on projects, and tackling action items are three things I do on a regular basis to keep my work and personal life afloat. They’re the backbone of what I refer to as the Daily Grind.

The Daily Grind doesn’t happen by accident, though. I’m not a person who sits around and lets things fall into her lap or wish for the perfect opportunity to open up to me. I try to have purpose to my actions and am proactive in my dealings. Because of my desire to live with purpose, guiding my Daily Grind is a personal Strategic Plan. Much like a Strategic Plan that guides a business, my plan guides who I want to be. It keeps me on track, helps me reach my goals, and keeps me from feeling like I’m in a rut or walking through life as a zombie.

Similar to how a business creates a Strategic Plan, I created a plan for myself. In the book How Organizations Work by Alan Brache, strategy is defined as “the framework of choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization.” If you replace the words “an organization” with “my life” you get a solid idea of a personal Strategic Plan.

Brache continues in his book to discuss how to create an effective Strategic Plan for a business. Building on his ideas, but with a bent toward the personal, I created the following process for how to create my plan and how you can create a plan, too.

Five steps to living with a personal Strategic Plan

  1. Collect data and analyze your current situation. What are your strengths? (The book Now, Discover Your Strengths can help you answer this question.) How do you process information? What in your life do you love? What activities in your life do you look forward to or wish you had more time to complete? What are the activities you loathe and want to get out of your life completely or reduce dramatically? What competes for your attention? What are your core beliefs and how does your life reflect those ideals? Do you like the things you say you like, or is habit guiding your behavior?
  2. Make the tough choices. How far into the future are you willing to work with this Strategy? (I recommend no more than three years.) Review the data you collected and analyzed in the first stage, and put into words your core beliefs that under no circumstance are you willing to break. State what obligations in your life you must fulfill. State your strengths and which of these should continually be highlighted in your life. What stands out the most in your life as being the positive force for your actions? More than anything else, what makes you happy?
  3. Communicate (draft) your personal Strategic Plan. Put into words the plan that will guide your Daily Grind. Write it in words that you understand and trigger memories of why and how you chose your plan. Your Strategic Plan isn’t a mission statement, it can fill more than one sentence of text. It probably won’t be a 20+ page document like many businesses create, but it should be at least a page or two containing the gist of your vision. Be realistic and let the document wholly reflect who you are and who you want to be. This is just for you, not anyone else, so let it speak to and for you.
  4. Work with your Strategic Plan as your guide. Make decisions about how you spend your time and all aspects of your Daily Grind under the guidance of your plan. Try your best to keep from straying outside the bounds of your Strategic Plan. Live with purpose.
  5. Monitor and maintain your Strategic Plan. Sometimes life throws us a wrench when we were looking for puppies and rainbows. Or, something even better than you ever imagined can happen. Update and monitor these changes and see if your Strategic Plan needs to be altered as a result. If no major change has taken place, evaluate your performance within your plan and check to see if you’re getting lazy and letting things slide. Maybe you realize that your plan wasn’t broad enough, or maybe it was too specific. It’s your plan, so work to keep it healthy.

Ideas and Suggestions

What you choose to put into your plan is a deeply personal choice and how your plan looks is as unique as your finger print. If you’re looking for ideas or suggestions to get you started, consider the following:

  • Your relationship with your children, spouse, parents, siblings, friends.
  • Your spiritual and philosophical beliefs, how you practice those beliefs, and how you incorporate them into your daily life.
  • Your career goals and how much energy and focus you choose to commit to these achievements.
  • Your time and how you choose to spend it.
  • Your health and your objectives regarding your health.

Your strategic plan shouldn’t be a list of goals about these topics, but rather the guiding philosophies behind those goals. For instance, if in your Daily Grind you have action items about losing five pounds, those action items might reflect your Strategic Plan: “I enjoy the time and active relationship I have with my growing children. Staying healthy and in good physical condition allows me to have energy for this time with my children and allows me to work when I’m at work. Good health also is one way that I can work to have more years with those I love. It is important to me that I make healthy choices with regard to nutrition and exercise.”

Do you have a Strategic Plan? Does it help to keep clutter — especially time and mental clutter — from getting out of control? If you haven’t written a personal Strategic Plan before, do you think this is a tool that can help you?

 

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

Tools of the Trade

Do you keep a stapler on your desk? How often do you use it?

What about the other objects taking up real estate on your desk? How many items could live in desk drawers or cupboards instead of on your work surface?

If the top of your desk is cluttered, start by looking at all of the equipment, peripherals, and doo-dads occupying space and decide if some of the objects could find better homes someplace else.

I started this post by mentioning the stapler because most people don’t use them on a regular basis. Paper clips, photocopiers that staple documents automatically, and double-sided printing have reduced the amount of stapling people do at their desks. Clearing the stapler — or broken printer or obsolete Rolodex or whatever you are not using on a daily basis — off of your desk and storing it in a desk drawer is a simple way to give yourself more work space. Except the broken printer… feel free to get rid of that altogether!

You don’t have to make your desk sparse and uninviting, but giving yourself room to move can help boost your productivity by clearing distractions and frustrations from your line of sight. Are there objects on your desk that don’t belong to you? Do you have a small collection of dirty coffee cups and used utensils? What can you do right now to clear the clutter and create a more useful work environment?

 

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

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!