Who are you?

That’s the question the Caterpillar asks Alice and she is unsure what to say. In a very short time from the moment she falls down the rabbit hole Alice has been many things: tall, small, assertive, passive, one of many animals, an outsider in an unfamiliar world.

On the Internet, you can find any number of personality quizzes, and if you dig a little bit, you can find a whole bunch of quizzes related to organization and clutter. Are you a collector? Are you a minimalist? A visual person? A logical person?

Forget the quizzes. The answer to the Caterpillar’s question is:

You are you.

You can be organized, disorganized, visual, logical, kinetic, frenetic, calm, and overwhelmed.

When I worked one-on-one with my organizing clients, I never tried to pigeon-hole them. I took them at face-value with the situation they were dealing with at the moment. People are never the same at any point. Over a bridge in Toronto, there’s a paraphrased quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “This river I step in is not the river I stand in.” Who we are changes constantly because our circumstances change constantly. If we are tired or stressed we aren’t going to be able to organize ourselves well (unless of course, you are one of those who deals with stress by organizing).

Recently, Unclutterer re-posted an article by Erin Doland from back in 2007 in which she asked What causes clutter in your life? In the list of circumstances she includes, nothing is fixed — each point can change, and depending on how much of one or the other is affecting you, your ability to get and stay organized will change.

Instead of boxing yourself into a corner with the question “Who am I?” ask yourself “Who am I at this moment?”

If the Caterpillar had asked Alice that question, she wouldn’t have had such a tough time answering him.

Attack your junk drawer

We all have at least one drawer in our house that has turned into what can be called a junk drawer. It has no real purpose other than being a hodge-podge of items that don’t have any where else to go. The best way to attack a junk drawer is by following these easy steps:

  1. Dump it. The junk drawer is in constant disarray so you have to start with a drastic measure. Simply dump the drawer out onto a flat surface and start going through the miscellaneous debris.
  2. Pitch it. There is bound to be a ton of stuff in there that serves no purpose for you. Go ahead and trash it.
  3. Sort it. Start to separate everything into categories. Office supplies, tools, batteries, pens and pencils, old bills, and old receipts (most likely these need to be thrown away too.)
  4. Divide it. Buy or build your own drawer organizer and keep each pile of stuff separated into its own section.

Now make sure to keep the drawer in a orderly fashion and don’t just throw random items into it.

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

What decorating books say about clutter

I’m in the midst of another evaluation of my many books, and this time I’m eliminating the home decorating books that I haven’t looked at in ages. But as I was reviewing those books, I noticed that a number of the authors weighed in on clutter and organizing. The following is some of their advice.

In Meditations on Design, John Wheatman wrote:

Some of my most satisfying projects have not involved the purchase of any additional furnishings. I always begin by editing what is already in place. I help people discard the items don’t work and organize the ones that remain so that everything comes together and makes sense — functionally, visually, and financially. …

Weed out unnecessary possessions. Give fresh life to the furnishings you’re tired of by moving them around.

And in his book entitled A Good House is Never Done Wheatman wrote about being creative with storage containers (and he has a number of photos to illustrate his point):

Where do you put a sponge, a scrubbing brush, or a kitchen tool? … There is no need to restrict your choice of storage containers to what you find in the kitchen department of a home decor store. Expand your horizons to embrace antique shops, yard sales, and second-hand shops.

As a firm believer in using spare coffee mugs as pen and pencil holders and as toothbrush holders, I totally agree with Wheatman when it comes to thinking creatively about containers.

Wheatman also wrote about something that I often encounter:

I have yet to hear a good reason why the handsome table in your dining room can’t double as a desk during the day.

I’ve worked with people who thought they had to use their designated office space and the desk in that space for office-type activities, when their natural inclination was to work on the kitchen or dining room table in a more spacious and attractive room, sometimes with a lovely view. Unless you’re doing extended computer work that calls for an ergonomic set-up that the table may not provide, I agree with Wheatman. Go ahead and use that table, as long as you have an easy way to put things away when you want to use the table for eating.

Danny Seo has a clever anonymous quote in his book Conscious Style Home: Eco-Friendly Living for the 21st Century:

A clean desk is the sign of a cluttered desk drawer.

But he goes on to emphasize the importance of uncluttering:

What you’ll begin to notice as clutter is banished from your house is that treasured objects … suddenly reappear once the clutter is gone.

Overaccessorized rooms are too busy, distracting, and unnerving to spend time in. Psychologically, clutter makes us feel weighed down or even overwhelmed. The message is unmistakable: Keep it simple.

5,4,3,2,1: Creating clothing capsules

Today’s guest post is by Geralin Thomas, Author, Career Coach for Professional Organizers, Home Organization and Decluttering Consultant, and Capsule Wardrobe Fanatic.

It seems like everyone is talking, blogging, or photographing clothing capsules. Basically, a capsule wardrobe is comprised of several pieces of curated clothing and accessories that are versatile and coordinate with each other.

It might seem like an impossible goal, but creating a clothing capsule is not really difficult. And it has many benefits, the primary one being eliminating the “what am I going to wear” syndrome and keeping only garments and accessories that go together effortlessly. Clothing capsule enthusiasts dress with ease every day.

So how do you go about creating your own capsule wardrobe? There’s no one right way to do it, but most people who want to create a clothing capsule start by detoxing their current wardrobes and editing everything that doesn’t fit their body, lifestyle, and personality like a glove. They keep items whose fabric weight, colors, and mood are all similar.

For inspiration, think about certain celebrities who have a very distinct style. Public figures like Ellen, Martha Stewart, Kate Hudson, Wendy Williams, or Cher wear clothes that look like them and fit their lifestyle and personality.

One of the goals when building a capsule of clothing, is to aim for pieces that fit your current lifestyle, not a lifestyle you aspire to live. Each and every garment should fit and flatter and make you feel fabulous, not frumpy or costume-y when you get dressed. Each garment should mix and match so that you can reach into your closet and know that everything in it goes together.

The majority of my clients are looking for a system or starting point with capsule wardrobes, so I created a basic formula I call 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

My basic business wear/girls’ night out/date night clothing capsule formula is: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 but remember, it doesn’t matter how many pieces are in your capsule wardrobe, as long as all of them go there and you’re pleased with it.

  • 5 tops
  • 4 bottoms
  • 3 toppers
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 yours-truly accessory

I suggest picking one or two base colors for the bottoms. Three examples of base colors for the bottoms:

  • navy + whiskey
  • black + gray
  • chocolate brown + olive

One or two accent colors for the tops that coordinate with the base colors. For example:

If the base is: The accent colors could be:
navy + whiskey coral + teal
black + gray red + white
chocolate brown + olive marigold + paprika

 

The “toppers” can be blazers, cardigans, ponchos, or vests in base, in a third color or a variation of the base or accent color.

The dresses can be every-day, around-town dresses or something fancier depending on your lifestyle. They can be in your base, accent, or a third color.

The “yours-truly” accessory can be a handbag, necklace, scarf or whatever you’d like as long as it is uniquely you. That does not mean it has to be expensive. It typically means you are going to wear it every day and keep wearing it for years (a watch, a necklace, a handbag, earrings).

Hints about colors: Try to select colors that flatter your complexion (warm or cool) and your eye color. If you can’t figure out if you’re warm or cool, have a look at my Pinterest boards, color analysis and clothing capsules how-to.

Finally, if that doesn’t help ask a hair stylist or make-up artist to analyze your complexion as they are usually very good at this.

For most of the women I work with, creating very specific capsules for very specific occasions is another favorite starting place. I call these “Occasion Capsules” A few options include:

  • funerals
  • weddings (daytime and evening)
  • resort wear (skiing, cruises, etc.)
  • sports (yoga, swimming, golf)
  • girls’ night out
  • date night
  • public speaking
  • errands around town

Please note that in no way am I’m suggesting that a funeral or wedding capsule have 15 pieces. Instead, for those capsules you would want to make sure you have everything you need from head-to-toe and from inner to outer including undergarments, handbag, shoes, jewelry and coat, umbrella or whatever else might be appropriate.

To help plan your very own capsules, download my free Capsule Wardrobe Planning Worksheets or watch videos of me talking about decluttering, clothing, closets and capsule wardrobes.

Interested in taking things a step further? Record your exact measurements and figure out your body type using my Wardrobe Wisdom Workbook.

Keeping the memory but not the possession

antique green teapotNew research recently published in the Journal of Marketing, showed that people who were encouraged to find a way to preserve memories found it easier to part with the sentimental items.

This study was originally initiated to help increase the flow of goods to charity shops (e.g., Goodwill). The “supply chain” of goods to these shops depends solely on people’s willingness to donate. The researchers looked at ways to help people let go of unneeded, yet sentimental items.

Researcher Rebecca Reczek of Ohio State University, states that when we give up sentimental items, we often feel like we’re giving up a piece of our own identity — part of who we are. This is what makes it so difficult to let go of certain objects.

The study showed that when people were encouraged to take photos of items and preserve the memories, donations to non-profit charity shops increased. Additionally, those that took a photo of the item, reported less “identity loss” compared to those who did not take a photo.

Reczek indicated that although these memory preservation strategies will probably work for most items, they may not work for items with high sentimental value such as the baptismal gown your grandmother handmade for your child.

We’ve written a few posts on sentimental clutter over the years, so please feel free to check out Unclutterer’s advice on how to capture memories and let go of some of these items.

If you need some support and encouragement in dealing with bouts of nostalgia while uncluttering, visit our forum on Sentimental Clutter.

 

P.S. The photo shows my great-grandmother’s green teapot in which she served green tea. I still use it to serve green tea.

Reader question: Ending laundry chaos

A reader sent us the following question:

Your site is uber-rad. I would really appreciate an article on how to get my LAUNDRY out of chaos mode. Thoughts on that one???

You had me at “uber-rad.”

I see laundry as the worst form of lazy clutter. I understand your pain and stress. I was once a degenerate who let laundry pile up around her until it seemed an impossible foe. The dark side, however, is behind me, and I offer you more than 20 tips to help you keep your laundry chaos to a minimum:

  • First and foremost, establish a laundry routine. We do laundry every Monday and Thursday in our household. I suggest that if there are one or two people in your house that you follow in my footsteps. If you have three or four people in your home, you probably need to do laundry every other day. If there are five or more people in your house, you should do a load of laundry (or more) every day. You can’t let laundry pile up or it instantly becomes chaotic.
  • Exclusively use sturdy laundry baskets (20 gal. or smaller). Keep one in the bedroom(s), and a smaller one in the bathroom, and laundry room. Don’t buy one with fabric sides because it will inevitably malfunction and turn into a mess instead of a hamper. If you have a laundry chute, only have laundry baskets in your laundry room to transport clean and folded clothes. Some people might think that having three baskets per room – one for darks, lights, and delicates – is a step saving measure because it keeps you from having to sort clothes on laundry day. I’ve found through experience, however, that three baskets per room results in more chaos because there’s more space for clothes to pile up, less floor space for things you value more than dirty laundry, and more trips carrying dirty clothes to the laundry room (at least three instead of one).
  • Have fewer clothes. The fewer clothes you have, the fewer clothes you have to wash. In a series of upcoming posts, I’ll discuss specific ways to do this.
  • Don’t have more clothes than you can store properly in your dresser drawers and closet. If you can’t put all of your clothes away, you’ll always have a reason to have dirty clothes.
  • Only buy non-iron clothes to keep clean shirts from stacking up in a “needs ironing” pile.
  • When moving, look for a place that has a laundry room on the same floor as your closet. If you’re a DIY person, consider building a closet with the washer and dryer right inside of it.
  • Have a designated dry cleaner bag next to your hamper. If you keep it in your car, clothes that need to go to the dry cleaner will certainly pile up on the floor and cause clutter. Be sure to drop your dry cleaning bag off every Friday and pick it up every Monday — routines are important for dry cleaning clothes, too.
  • Keep a stack of delicate bags next to your hamper. When you take off delicates, you can put them straight into a delicates bag and then just throw them into the hamper. This way your delicates won’t accidentally get lost in your dirty clothes mess.
  • Change into pajamas at least an hour before bedtime so that you have enough energy to do more than throw your dirty clothes on the floor.
  • Before buying anything in a color that bleeds (like red), ask yourself if you will want to take the time to sort it out every time you launder it.
  • Think about wearing only one color so that you never have to sort your laundry into lights and darks. These people have done it.
  • Get a job in an office that allows casual dress so that you stop wearing two sets of clothes on most days.
  • Have a stick of Tide To-Go in your closet so if a shirt is stained you can spot clean it before putting it into the hamper.
  • Only have two sets of bed sheets — one on your bed and one waiting on deck. The same can apply to towels, but I suggest three because the rate of replacement is higher for towels.
  • By the age of 12 your children should have their own laundry routines.
  • Clean out pockets when taking off clothing to avoid having to do it during sorting. I suggest having a small trash can in your closet for just this purpose.
  • If something is permanently stained or riddled with holes, get rid of it.
  • Keep hangers in your laundry room so that you can immediately hang up the clothes that you don’t fold.
  • Replace your washer and dryer with large capacity units so that you can do two to three traditional loads at a time.
  • Have a table in your laundry room so that you can have a space to immediately fold clothes as they come out of the dryer. Do NOT allow it to become a clutter table — keep it clean and only use it for folding.
  • Have a designated bag or box in your laundry room to put clothes in that you want to donate to charity. When they come out of the dryer, fold them, and stick them into the bag.

 

This post was originally published in May 2007.

What causes clutter in your life?

One of the important aspects of getting clutter under control in your life is to discover why your home and life are cluttered. Spending as few as 15 minutes in quiet reflection often can help you to discover the root of your problem.

Is your home and life cluttered because of:

  • Emotional avoidance? (Are you holding onto your past because you fear the present and future? Are you afraid that you’ll lose the memories of someone from your past if you get rid of a physical object of his/hers?)
  • Physical exhaustion or limitation? (Have you been injured and cannot pick up objects as easily as you once could? Would you benefit from the help of a hired hand?)
  • Mental exhaustion? (Are you emotionally overwhelmed because of a work or social situation?)
  • Lack of time? (Are you working too many hours or traveling too often to keep your home well maintained?)
  • Feeling overwhelmed? (Is there so much stuff in your home that you don’t know where to begin organizing and/or cleaning? Are you over-committed to clubs and activities outside of your home to give your life its proper attention?)
  • Laziness? (Do you just not want to take care of things right now?)
  • Compulsive shopping? (Are you buying more than you can use and need? Are you constantly buying things to make yourself feel better?)
  • Procrastination? (Do you want to have your clutter disappear but would rather sit and watch television instead of deal with it?)

Once you identify the cause(s) of clutter in your life, you can work to keep clutter from reappearing in your home. The causation of your clutter might be able to be solved by simply changing your attitude (like with laziness) or hiring a professional organizer to get you started. Solving your time crunch problem might mean something more drastic like changing your job. In some cases, you might even consider consulting a counselor or life coach to help solve the root of your problem. In all cases, though, identifying the cause(s) of your clutter and working to solve it can help to keep your life clutter free in the future.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Reader Question: What to do with unwanted handyman tools

A reader recently wrote to ask, what should I do with unwanted handyman tools? It’s a good question. Many people have found themselves with a pile of tools that aren’t going to get used. Perhaps a loved one passed on, a work situation changed or a hobby goes by the wayside. In any case, it’s a shame to let something as useful as handyman tools become clutter. Here are several suggestions for unwanted or unneeded handyman tools.

The best advice I can give is to get them into working hands. Perhaps there’s a friend or family member who’d love to have some, if not all, of your cache. You can contact your local Scouts groups or tech school. Maybe a public school in your area has a wood or metal shop that has a need. If not, consider some of these more formal options.

Vietnam Veterans Association. Pickup Please is an organization that gives charitable donations to all veterans, not just those who served in Vietnam. The process is simple: contact the organization (link above), pack your donations in clearly-labeled boxes and wait for pick-up.

Habitat for Humanity. This great group builds homes for those in need. The build crews are all volunteers, and of course they would welcome a donation of tools in good working order. You can find out more here.

Goodwill. These folks have been doing great work for decades. They have some specific donation guidelines, which you can find here.

Tools for Self-Reliance – UK. Here’s one for our readers in the UK. Started in 1979, Tools for Self-Reliance works with local organizations in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. Hundreds of volunteers deliver tools to people in these areas so that they can learn a skills, get ahead, and become self-reliant. “Teach a man to fish…” and all that. It’s a great organization.

Toolbox Initiative. Of course, “tools” doesn’t simply refer to what’s in the red metal toolbox in the basement. The Toolbox Initiative collects donations of tools used in metalworking and jewelry making. Much like Tools for Self-Reliance, the Toolbox Initiative gets tools into the hands of workers and allows them to become more self-reliant and successful.

KMS Tools For the World. Lastly, here’s one for our friends in western Canada. KMS Tools For The World delivers tools to those who need them to thrive.

If a tool were to briefly gain the ability to speak (stay with me here), it would say, “I want to work!” Fulfill every hammer’s dream and put it in the hand of an eager craftsperson, carpenter, or worker. You’ll feel good, the worker will be grateful and the tool’s very soul will sing.

Rid your shower of bottle clutter

Your shower should be a serene place where you can escape the outside world for a short time each day. You shouldn’t be distracted by a multitude of containers all over the walls and/or floor of your shower. The Better Living Dispenser Classic IV eliminates the need for the bottles that get in your way.

Let’s face it, those bottles are designed to fall over easily and scare the heck out of your loved ones in the next room. The bottles I recently knocked over are nearly empty, so they need to be perfectly balanced on their heads to get the last of the liquid out. (We are frugal and the need to use every last drop of shampoo is a must.) This dispenser eliminates the bottles, the balancing act, and the false alarm of a shower disaster. If you need more storage space, The Better Living Ulti-Mate Dispenser includes a soap tray, mirror, and hooks to store your razor.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

A donation resource list for harder-to-donate items

Back in May 2014 I wrote a list of places to donate furniture, fur coats, musical instruments, and more. I’ve since found additional donation alternatives that I’d like to share. These are mostly places that take harder-to-donate items. Others just caught my eye because their missions might appeal to some donors — and many of us find it easier to unclutter when we know our items are going to good new homes.

Medical equipment: Donating lightly used items such as walkers and hospital beds used in home care can be a challenge. Med-Eq matches donors with charities that need what the donors are offering. You fill out a simple online form, and the staff at Med-Eq will choose a recipient. The receiving party covers any costs, such as mailing expenses for smaller items. (Larger items would be picked up.) My thanks to organizer Adonna Braly, who recently reminded me of this one.

Diabetes supplies: Nicole Kofman and Kelly Close wrote about a number of places to donate these often-expensive items on the website diaTribe. While you’ll incur some expense in mailing these items off, you’ll have the reward of knowing you’ve helped someone in need. I learned about this from organizer Julie Bestry, so she gets a big thank-you, too.

Wigs: EBeauty Community has a wig exchange program providing free wigs to women experiencing hair loss due to chemotherapy.

Musical instruments: Although I’ve covered instruments before, I recently discovered another resource: Instruments in the Cloud, which allows donors to connect with local teachers who are looking for instruments.

Postage stamps: You may want to sell these, but if you prefer to donate them the American Philatelic Society will gladly take them. The society says, “Most common material is used for youth and educational programs.” Those programs need several hundred pounds of stamps every year! Supplies such as glassine envelopes that are in good condition are welcome, too. Of course, you could also check with a local stamp club, if you have one. And some teachers might find these useful, too.

Homemade blankets: Do you enjoy quilting, knitting or crocheting and wind up making more quilts or afghans than you, your family, and your friends can ever use? Project Linus will be glad to take them to give to seriously ill or traumatized children ages 0-18. Materials that can be used to make blankets can also be donated, if you want to reduce your stash. You can drop off donations with local chapters or mail them in. Thanks to quilter Louise Hornor for reminding me about Project Linus. Note: These must come from smoke-free environments for allergy reasons.

Beanie Babies: Operation Gratitude sends care packages to deployed troops, and all those care packages include Beanie Babies or other small plush toys. Gently used ones are accepted.

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.