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?

Resisting the call of clutter

Here’s the book I didn’t buy last weekend. Neat, eh? It’s a copy of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual Hardcover from 1979, written by the late Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. I first played “D&D” in 7th grade with my friend Dave. Today, I still play with a guy named Dave, though it’s a different Dave.

When I found this in the antique store, the nostalgia soaked my whole being. I was immediately transported to Dave’s kitchen table (the original Dave, whom we’ll call “Dave Prime”). Dave Prime introduced me to the game and I instantly fell in love. I wanted to play constantly, and did.

Holding the book last weekend, I recalled all of those amazing memories. I also thought of bringing it to “Current Dave’s” kitchen table and passing it around. I knew that gang would appreciate it and enjoy the same feelings of nostalgia.

But then what?

Well, I’d take it home. I’d show it to my kids, who’d feign interest long enough to get dad to go away, then I’d show it to my wife, who would not offer the same courtesy. Finally it would go onto a shelf or in a drawer where it would sit — for years — doing nothing.

That, my friends, is the definition of clutter.

I certainly have purpose-free items around the house, most of which are part of collections. We’ve written before about identifying a collection and this D&D book did not meet the criteria for being part of any of my collections.

Maintaining and adding to my stamp collection is an active pursuit that helps me relax, and as a bonus I meet new people at the philatelist meetings. My collection of board games provide fun family time.

That book, well, I just knew it would get ignored after an initial week or so of entertainment. Recognizing that fact helped me resist buying it and in turn, kept my home clear of clutter. So I ask the readers, are there any tricks you use to fight purchasing nostalgic items?

Saying goodbye to musical instruments, part two

Last week, I shared the story of my inability to let it go of my drum set during our big basement clear out. I had succumbed to sentiment! After much deliberation, I’ve made a decision — the drum set stays — for now. There’s a deal in place, which I’ll describe in a bit.

First off, I’m going to refurbish them. They need new heads, a good tuning, some cleaning, and maybe some new hardware. (The bass pedal is older than my marriage.) Once the upgrades are done, I’m going to play a bit and see how it feels. I’ll adopt a regular practice schedule and see if I can stick to it while working off the years of rust. Perhaps my kids will express an interest. If so, I’ll provide lessons.

Now here’s the deal. If, at the end of one year, the drum set is still satisfying the definition of clutter (an item that is unused and without purpose), then away it goes. What will happen to it? There are several options for an unwanted musical instrument:

  1. Selling is the most obvious choice. These drums are very old and not worth a lot, so I’d give them to a young musician who is looking for his or her very first set. It would be nice to see them inspire a student they way they once inspired me.
  2. Donation is also an option (and I can get a tax write-off too). I’m sure a local community center, church, or school would gladly take a free drum set.

I could get real fancy and turn them into art, but that’s a bit beyond me.

Parting with sentimental clutter is never easy, but it’s something we must do eventually. Memories are more important than the things themselves and great memories are never clutter. Additionally, here’s a good opportunity to practice the concept of non-attachment. It reminds me of this little parable, the origin of which I do not know.

There was a man who kept a glass on his bedside table. He loved the glass and would look at it and think, “How lovely this glass is. When it catches the light it looks so beautiful. When it’s full of water, how lovely it appears. If I tap it with my finger, what a pretty note it plays.”

“But if I bump the table and the glass crashes on the floor, I may think, ‘Oh, of course.’ Or, I can realize the glass is already broken. Then every moment with it is precious.”

In a way, my drum set is already gone. Some day it will fall apart, or be in the dump, or reside in somebody else’s basement, or I’ll be too old or frail to play it. And that’s OK, because every moment I’ve had with it has been precious.

An exercise in uncluttering: books and magazines

Some people expect that since I’m a professional organizer my home will be somewhat like that of minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn, and it’s not at all. I get a lot of pleasure from having carefully selected art work on my walls and selected horizontal surfaces. My cats like having a lot of good places to curl up, so my house has lots of baskets, blankets, and plush mats strategically placed for them.

And then there are the books. After writing about minimalism yesterday, I decided it was time to take a look at the bookcase in my home office, because I wasn’t at all sure the books on those shelves still enhanced my life in any way. Sure enough, I found myself freecycling 24 of them right away, with more to come. And one went into my recycling bin when I decided the extensive technology-related information was too dated to be useful to anyone.

None of these books were bad purchases — they served me well when I first bought them. But I no longer need a huge collection of books about organizing, even if I think the books are excellent. I have a few favorites that I do pull out at times, and there are some with specialized information that come in particularly handy. But most of them just sit there, year after year. I had a lot of marketing-related books that never got looked at, too. No more!

It’s easy to get accustomed to having things in your space and to stop really noticing them. In The Organizing Sourcebook, Kathy Waddill wrote about going through your home with the eyes of a stranger, looking at everything as if you’ve never seen any of it before. An exercise like that can get you to question things like those books I had in my office.

As I went through the organizing books, I looked at what I had highlighted in each one. If a sentence or two particularly resonated with me, I typed the sentences into a text file for future reference. One of those books I was passing along is Order From Chaos by Liz Davenport, and I noted this line: “If you have more than a three-inch pile of things to read, what you have is a stack of guilt.”

Reading that made me think about the pile of magazines in my bedroom — which was only 2.5 inches tall, but still felt like a stack of guilt. The pile consisted of multiple issues of a single magazine, and that same magazine had recently sent me numerous renewal notices that had piled up in my in box. I decided it was past time to make some decisions here, so I looked through the entire pile and realized that as much as I had enjoyed the magazine in the past, there was nothing in the current issues that I wanted to read. So they went into recycling (being a bit too specialized to be donated to doctors’ offices or such) and the renewal notices will get discarded.

So now I have less guilt and a bunch of spare space on my previously stuffed-to-the-limit bookcase — not bad for a few hours of work! This exercise was a nice example of how even a small uncluttering project can make a noticeable difference.