Ask Unclutterer: If something is multifunctional is it always uncluttered?

Reader Bethany emailed this morning, and although it’s not a traditional Ask Unclutterer question I thought it made for a great discussion:

I’m a reader of the Swiss-Miss blog and like her style. In her Friday Link Pack today, she had an item for “It’s a desk. It’s a bed.” When I saw it I thought it was the opposite of a Unitasker and wanted to make sure you saw it. I think it’s a horrible idea, but wondered what you thought of it since it’s a multitasker?

Live-Work Desk images from StudioNL

Oh my word, that is depressing, Bethany! You’re right that it is multifunctional, certainly not a unitasker, but it’s also one of the saddest pieces of furniture I’ve ever seen.

I like the general concept of one piece of furniture having many functions. And, to be fair, this does appear to be a well-made piece of multifunctioning furniture. It has nice lines. But, I don’t like the idea of literally sleeping in your desk. I think there should be a clear division between sleeping and work. Maybe — and this is a really weak maybe — I could see a medical resident who is on call having a need for a desk like this since he or she has to stay at the hospital for ridiculous hours on a regular basis. But for the rest of us normal folks, this feels dismal.

I believe that people should be productive when at work not so they can transform themselves into robotic corporate drones, but so they can really relax when they’re not at work. Work happens between set hours and work stays at work. When not at work, one’s mind should be free to dwell on things other than to-do items and projects that need to be completed at the office. You get more done at the office to enjoy non-work time more fully. This desk doesn’t provide for that at all — it promotes an end to non-work time. We’re humans, not worker bees.

What do the rest of you think about this Live-Work Desk? Are Bethany and I off base thinking it’s a dreary addition to an office? Share your reactions in the comments. And, thank you, Bethany, for inadvertently submitting your question to our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Three desks that help you control cable clutter

If you have gadgets in your home or office, chances are that you have (at one point or another) encountered a tangle of cables and wires that were difficult to decipher. Sure, you can go wireless to avoid the problem altogether, but for those of you with wired devices, there are several products you can use to corral your cords. You can also use a desk that has special features to help you keep your cables from cluttering your space, like the Cable Guy Desk created by Ingland Designs (the same designer who made the Mealbox, dining table and chairs in a box).

Cable Guy Desk

At first glance, it’s not very obvious how this desk keeps your cables in order. Give it a closer look and you’ll notice the track for storing your cords inside the legs of the desk. There’s also human-shaped grommet on the surface of the table for your cables to drop through.

Image credits: Igland Design

You can get the desk in large sizes to accommodate several people. This can work well in a meeting room or if you need to share a desk with another person. You can also get the optional ball speakers (with accompanying grommets).

Image credit: Igland Design

StudioDesk

The StudioDesk by Bluelounge (you might be familiar with another of their products, the Cable Drop) has a slot on one end for your cords to flow through as well as a hidden storage area that’s large enough to house power strips, USB hubs, external hard drives, and a MacMini server.

Image credits: Bluelounge

The StudioDesk comes in two sizes (standard and extra large) and doesn’t appear to have drawers or any other bells and whistles. It is, however, very easy to assemble. Simply add the legs once you receive it.

Image credit: Bluelounge

OneLessDesk

OneLessDesk, though it has a small footprint, this desk has two parts — an upper and lower deck — the latter of which can be used for your keyboard, laptop, or as a flat surface for writing. The upper deck can be used for storing your primary (or secondary) monitor or keeping the items you need to access on a regular basis.

Image credits: Heckler Design

It also has a rear-facing shelf for your peripherals or power strip. Adding labels or tags will help you figure out items match each cable. Though each desk has its own unique way handling cables, they all have a simple design that is intended to help you keep cords and wires from cluttering your desk.

Image credit: Heckler Design

Control desktop clutter with the Homework Desk

For the last two months, I’ve challenged myself with the goal of walking every day. I’ve been spending more time with my treadmill and, as a result, I’ve also been doing quite a bit more reading on my iPad while I walk. I’m thrilled that I now have scheduled reading time and that I actually find interesting articles that help make the time pass relatively quickly. During one of my walking and reading sessions, I came across a blog post that asked if having a messy desk is such a terrible thing. My first thought, even before I read the post, was that I wouldn’t be as productive as I am if my desk were cluttered. In fact, I would probably feel compelled to organize it before I started working.

But, I also know that sometimes while I’m working, things can get a little, er, out of control. I like keeping my favorite pen, sticky notes, and notebook on my desk. And, I also have my water bottle and iPad. If there’s something that I don’t want to forget to do, it will probably be on my desk, too. The problem is that when there are too many things strewn about, it affects how well I can get things accomplished. But, if I had the Homework Desk, I might be able to have the best of both worlds — a clear desk and needed items within reach.

Have a look:

Image credit: Tomas Kral

This simple desk (aluminum placed between two slabs of wood) designed by Tomas Kral has no bells and whistles and no drawers. Instead, it has trench-like storage around it’s perimeter (Kral refers to it as a toolbox) to hold papers, pens, books, or documents that you need to have on hand. This leaves you with the entire expanse of the desk to do your work. The photo below shows a cable coming from the back of the desk, so it seems there may be built-in grommets.

Image credit: Thomas Kral

If you like this style but prefer having drawers, here’s a similar model, called my writing desk, designed by Inesa Malafej. It also has open slots on two corners for cables to run through.

Image credit: Design Boom

The drawers are slim but big enough to hold some essentials (like business cards, pens).

Image credit: Design Boom

This desk also has removable legs which would make moving it to a different location relatively easy. Of course, with both models, you’ll need to make sure you don’t clutter your table gutters with rubbish and items you don’t use.

Image credit: Design Boom

Creative, space-saving furniture for almost any room

When you live in a small space, you typically need to keep only the items that you use the most and that have high sentimental value. Of course, you can use hooks, glide out shelves, and other ease-of-use items to help you keep things stored well. Though you might think that you’ll lose out on style in a small home, you can find functional furniture that is both compact and aesthetically pleasing.

This desk by designer, Yoon-Zee Kim, can also be also used as a bookshelf. Depending on your needs, you might choose to use it as seating. It appears to be a concept design but you may be able to create something similar.

Image source: Yanko Design

Using vertical space to store items usually means that you’re making use of walls and doors to mount items. Doing this reduces footprint of those items so that you have more floor space to walk. Furniture that is raised off the floor can help you achieve similar results.

Boxetti, a transformable furniture series by Lativan desinger, Rolands Landsbergs, starts out looking like a cube but doubles as a table (when not in use) and couch. The Boxetti Lounge also integrates several elements needed in a living room, including a three-seat sofa and side tables.

Image source: Boxetti

This coffee table by Resource Furniture lifts up to reveal a small storage area. Once raised, it can be used as a desk or eating area in front of a couch or chair.

Image source: Resource Furniture

Many companies, including La-Z-Boy, now make similar lift-style tables.

Inexpensive and industrial-chic shelving from shipping pallets

We were seriously impressed by this shelving built for a tasting room at Olabisi wines. As you can see, it’s just a stack of shipping pallets.

130104-pallet_storage

It’s amazing how in the right environment, something as rough and unfinished as a stack of shipping pallets can look modern and expensive.

Table and chairs disappear inside bookcase for easy storage

This design concept from Orla Reynolds Furniture seems like one of the most efficient uses of space that we’ve ever seen. Watch how the four colorful chairs and a table hide inside the panels of a 16-compartment modular bookcase:

My only concern would be scratching the chairs and table when sliding them away into the cabinet.

The Tambour Table: A work space with a simple design and hidden storage

Furniture that can do more than one thing usually is a great find, especially when the features help you to get on with the business of being productive. The Tambour Table by Michael Bambino is such a find. On the surface, it looks like a regular table, but when you push aside the tabletop, you’ll find a hidden area for storing pens, your notebook, tablet, cables, or the important things you need to have at your fingertips.

The Tambour also hides an outlet and a USB hub. The simplicity of the design makes it very easy to use.

The table in action:

Thanks to Swiss-Miss for giving us a head’s up about this table.

Ask Unclutterer: Designing a new space that prevents clutter and reduces cleaning time

Reader Howard submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Do you have any tips for remodeling or building a house that would help prevent clutter or reduce cleaning maintenance in the design of the space?

This is a really fun question, Howard, and I’m so glad you asked it. You have a terrific opportunity in front of you to build a space that can help you achieve and maintain an uncluttered lifestyle.

First things first, thoroughly unclutter your existing possessions so your new space is free of things you don’t want in it. Check out “Start a full-room organizing project with a blank canvas” for tips on uncluttering in this style, but apply it to your entire home.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, I highly recommend designing the space with ample storage that can easily be reconfigured. Use elfa shelving (or the competing product from Rubbermaid) in closets and pantries so shelf heights can be adjusted or clothing rods installed or drawers can be added as necessary. Your needs for storage change over time, and your storage solutions should be able to adapt. If they can’t adapt, at some point they will cease to be helpful.

Also, when it comes to storage, think outside the closet. Have drawers set into the risers of your stairs, recess shelving between the studs of your walls, have window seats double as storage cubes, furnish with ottomans that have interior storage, or whatever fits your design style. The idea here is be creative with the elements you use in the space to improve storage instead of hinder it.

Beyond having ample, reconfigurable and creative storage, there are numerous cosmetic things you can do to help with cleaning and preventing clutter. None of these is a perfect solution, but they’re certainly things I do in my homes when I’m not renting:

Paint the walls with washable flat latex interior paint that contains ceramic microspheres. (You can find these in the washable paint section at most home improvement stores. Check the ingredients on the paint cans. The ceramic microspheres are usually in the higher-end washable paints.) Even if you don’t have pets or young children, it’s still very easy to get marks on your walls. With washable paint that has ceramic microspheres mixed into it, these stray marks come off like you’re washing tile instead of your painted walls.

Lay hardwood floors and use throw rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially if you have pets. Cleaning and maintaining hardwood floors is exponentially easier, and it’s much less expensive to replace a throw rug than an entire room of carpeting.

If money is no object, install smart glass windows. You’ll never have to clean blinds again. (But, I guess if you can afford smart glass windows, you could probably also afford a cleaning crew to wash you blinds …)

Finally, I’ve never had one, but I’ve always thought a central home vacuum system would speed up cleaning time. Some of the systems have horizontal intakes (I think they’re technically called “sweep inlets”) so in addition to using the vacuum hose, you can also sweep directly into the suction area and not have to use a dustpan.

Thank you, Howard, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. And, like I mentioned earlier, be sure to check the comments for suggestions from our readers on designing spaces to prevent clutter and reduce cleaning time.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Return of the console television

This week, Ikea announced that it will be selling a new television with an attached cabinet that has DVD and BlueRay players and stereo speakers built into it. It’s called the Uppleva:

The purpose of the Uppleva is to get rid of the cable mess and lack of visual uniformity that often comes with televisions and components today. The cabinet also can be configured to include additional space for more components, like a digital cable box. And, it comes with a universal remote.

The new television has been referred to as “groundbreaking” and an “amazing all-in-one television” since the announcement, but I’m going to shy away from both of those phrases. To me, it’s simply the reintroduction of the console television with modern components. It’s attractive and effectively hides all the cable mess and visual distractions. It’s certainly an uncluttered entertainment center and it’s nice to see companies creating streamlined products.

According to Reuters, the system will be “in five European cities in June, throughout seven European countries this autumn, and in its remaining markets [such as the USA] in the summer of 2013.” The electronics were designed specifically for Ikea by China’s TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings (they create the brands TCL, ROWA, Thomson, and RCA). Prices for the Uppleva system have not yet been announced.

What do you think of the Uppleva?

A sleek and streamlined multipurpose piano

For as long as we have been married, I’ve told my husband I want a piano. We haven’t purchased one because pianos take up a lot of space, and when you live a relatively minimalist lifestyle, space is limited. Pianos also require professional movers to transport, have to be tuned annually (or more often, based on the model), upset your neighbors when you practice if you share a wall/floor/ceiling, and they don’t fit through all doorways. Even though I regularly said I wanted a piano, I didn’t really want one — at least not a traditional piano.

Then came along our tenth wedding anniversary and my amazing husband found the perfect gift for a minimalist who constantly said she wanted a piano.

This is the Roland DP-990. It is a digital piano with 88 full-size, weighted keys that folds up to be a narrow (less than 14″ deep) side table.

These pictures do not properly illustrate how inconspicuous this piano is. It isn’t obvious it is a piano when it is closed up and used as a side table. In addition to its powers of transformation, it doesn’t require professional movers to relocate. My husband and I easily carried it into the house and assembled it. Since it is digital, it doesn’t have to be tuned. You can turn down the volume or plug headphones into its jack so that no one else can hear you while you practice. It even comes with clips on the back of the unit that hide the two cables so it’s not obvious it is a digital piano. It’s sleek, practical, beautiful, and so much more convenient than a regular piano.

My husband purchased an adjustable piano bench that folds flat for storing in our coat closet when we want the piano to be used as a table. This makes the piano even more small-space friendly (and kid friendly, since my son and I are significantly different heights). The lid that covers the keys also has a slow-drop mechanism, perfect for not squashing a toddler’s fingers.

If you’ve been looking for a piano to work with your streamlined and/or uncluttered lifestyle, I recommend considering a piano like the Roland DP-990. I really like the way it sounds and the way it fits into our home and lifestyle. I’m also thankful to my husband for being such a conscientious anniversary gift giver and finding exactly the right gift for this Unclutterer. (He also got it on sale through one of our local piano stores because there is a newer model than this one now available — the DP-990F — so be sure to check for discounts and special offers.)

All of the images are from Roland. The ones I took in our house didn’t come out well at all.

Searching for inspiration for a multipurpose guest room

Our new house has a guest room, which is something completely alien to us. Not really knowing what to do with the space, my husband and I bought a bed and nightstand, hung some artwork, and then closed the door to keep out the cat. (The image at right is the catalog staging of the bed and nightstand we have. Obviously, if our guest room already looked this amazing, I wouldn’t be writing this post.)

Since we moved in March, the room has only been used by guests a few times. The Karen Bussen-inspired entertainer in me loves this idea of having a relaxing room just for guests — make the room like a $400 a night resort hotel room where visitors can truly feel as if they are on a rejuvenating vacation. Conversely, the practical part of me thinks the room should have more utility than a place for visitors to sleep once every couple months.

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching ways to satisfy both of my desires for the space. I’m looking for ways to make it a fabulous guest room and a practical hobby room in one. The solution will have to include storage for the hobby supplies that can be completely closed up when guests are present and using it for their retreat. And, I want it to be extremely practical as a hobby room when guests aren’t visiting.

Here are some of the images I’ve been using as inspiration for what to do with this room:

Have you seen a beautiful guest room that serves more than one purpose? Share a link or describe a solution you’ve seen in the comments. How did someone create a space that effectively met both needs?

Strategies for keeping clutter off your dining table

If your home functions anything like mine, your dining table isn’t used just for eating. In addition to providing a dining space, our table is used for meal preparation, my son’s coloring surface, an alternate work station if my husband or I need a change of pace from our desks, a hang out spot to sit and read, and dozens of other purposes. Keeping clutter off the table so it’s ready for eating or whatever chore we want to throw at it can be a challenge, and these are some of the strategies we use to keep it clear:

  • Have a mail processing station by the main entrance. First and foremost, the dining table is not a place for mail. Create a mail processing station by your main entrance where you can sort, shred, trash, recycle, and properly handle all of your mail.
  • Install hooks for coats and bags by the main entrance. Similar to the previous point, the dining table is not a place for coats, hats, bags, and briefcases. Hang hooks for coats and bags near your main entrance so these items don’t end up on the table.
  • Keep a trash can near your dining table. If you have a formal dining room, you likely don’t have a trash can in this space. Find a way to hide one in a buffet or side table, or keep one very close by in another room that you can easily pick up and move into this space. You’ll be amazed by how useful a simple trash can will be for keeping clutter off your table. Earn an additional point if you can hide a recycling bin in the room, too.
  • Organize your buffet or sideboard to meet the needs of the space. So often sideboards and buffets are full of china that is rarely used or silver service you pull out just once a year. If you want these special event items, store them someplace more remote (the high shelves of kitchen cupboards are usually good locations) and use your sideboard or buffet for things you actually use in your dining room. In addition to storing place mats and napkins, our sideboard holds crayons and coloring books, a pair of scissors, an extra set of my reading glasses, table cleaning supplies, a few pens and pencils, a spare power cable that works with all the laptops in the house, an extension cord, and a radio.
  • Set the table as the first step of meal preparation. If you don’t plan to use the table while you’re making the meal, set it with plates, cups, silverware, etc., as your first meal preparation step. This way, when housemates come through the dining room, they won’t deposit items not related to the meal on the table. Setting the table is also a wonderful chore for any child three or older.
  • Don’t pick up and drop stuff someplace else. Although it is incredibly easy to just scoop up what is on the table and set it on another surface, try your best to properly sort through items when you remove them. Throw out the trash, put toys away, shred the credit card applications, and file papers that need to be filed. The top of the sideboard or buffet is as bad a location to hold this clutter as the table was.
  • Wipe down the table and sweep the floor after every meal. To keep from getting ants, this step is imperative with a toddler in the house. However, it might not be such an obvious step if the people dining at your table aren’t in the habit of dropping half their food on the floor. Completely cleaning off the table after every meal makes it a welcoming space for the next meal or whatever other use you need. This is also a great thing to do after every alternate use, too.
  • Avoid having a catch-all container that lives on the table. In some homes the catch-all container is a circular rotating tray, in others it might be a decorative plate or bamboo platter. Devices that are made to hold salt, pepper, sugar, napkins, and condiments are great for containing small items — but they’ll end up holding other non-meal related small items if the tray isn’t removed from the table after every meal. Have a place in the kitchen for this service to live in between meal times.

What steps do you take to keep clutter off the table? Share your additional strategies in the comments.