Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for clutter-prone rooms

2016 gift giving guideThe holidays are a time to gather with loved ones, feel a deep sense of gratitude, and receive presents! I kid of course…kind of. We all have a list of things we would love to have but we would never buy for ourselves. In this article, I’m going to point out several such items for the areas of the home that are very prone to clutter: the home office, the kitchen and the shed or garage. These items will delight the unclutterer on your list.

For the home office

There are many fantastic digital organization tools available. Still, there is nothing like a paper planner, and my favorite by far is the Hobonichi Techo. This Japanese brand day planner/notebook has been on my desk for years. It features thin yet remarkably durable paper that resists ink bleed-through. It can be used as a notebook, planner, journal or sketchbook. The spine features lay-flat binding, which I love, and it is sized for travel. There are cool covers available too, if you want to go all out.

field notes notebookJust like the Hobonichi Techo, I have a fierce loyalty to Field Notes notebooks. While the Techo sits on my desk, the Field Notes notebook is in my back pocket, all day, every day. It is a durable tool that’s ready for work. Anything I need to capture in the moment – an appointment, an idea, a request or a task to add to a project – is written in my notebook. At work, people simply say to me, “…put it in your notebook,” because they know that’s just what I’m going to do. Field Notes are stylish, sturdy, and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. I’m literally never without one.

You’ll need a pen for all that writing, and you can’t go wrong with a Fisher Space Pen. (And yes, it did go into space.) This rugged, compact pen can write at any angle (for the times when the only flat surface is a vertical wall) and on almost any material – including wet paper! It’s the perfect companion to the Field Notes notebook.

For the kitchen

11212016_dishrackCan a dish rack be beautiful? If you’re thinking of the Polder KTH–615 Advantage Dish Rack, the answer is “yes.” The Polder is strong and stable with a small footprint. It’s also got a huge utensil rack that can hold an impressive collection of forks, knives and spoons without falling off. For those days when you’ve got more dishes than usual, the slide-out tray will accommodate them all.

The bakers on your list will love the Joseph Joseph 20085 Adjustable Rolling Pin. Here’s what’s really cool about this rolling pin: with a simple adjustment, you can ensure that you’re flattening your dough to a specific, uniform thickness. Baking demands precision and this tool lets you achieve just that. No more worrying if the dough is too thin.

For the garage/shed

11212016_toolboxNothing beats a good set of tools, except the container you use to store them all. While big metal toolboxes are nice, I love the Jobsite Work Box by Milwaukee. The great feature here is that the Jobsite Work Box stores tools vertically in slots, completely eliminating the jumbled pile of tools that nearly every other toolbox contains. It’s lightweight, portable and very durable. There are other boxes that offer vertical storage, and most are much more expensive than the Milwaukee.

There you have it. If you know someone that would like one of these items but wouldn’t go out and buy it him/herself, go ahead and purchase it for that person. Demonstrate what an insightful gift-giver you are this holiday season.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Organizing dresser drawers

Last week was Intimate Apparel Week in the United States, and I want to acknowledge the event with something that’s intensely personal: your dresser drawers.

I’m a 45-year-old man but I still organize my clothes according to how I was taught as a child. There’s really no logic in place, like perhaps frequently-worn items in the top drawers, etc. Yet to me, it makes perfect sense. In fact, this system is so deeply ingrained that I can’t even entertain the idea of doing it any other way. Here’s how I organize my dresser drawers. I’d love to know what your method is.

In the top drawer I place sleepwear, socks and underwear. There’s no question about the very top drawer. It has been and forever shall be “the pajamas, socks, and underwear drawer.” I roll up each of these items like a burrito to maximize space used.

The second drawer is for t-shirts and only t-shirts. I have a lot of t-shirts, so many in fact, that my wife has issued several temporary buying freezes. I fold t-shirts in thirds lengthwise (arms and sides together) and then in half and in half again. This way I can fit several into a single drawer.

I only store short-sleeved shirts this way. Long-sleeved shirts are hung on hangers, as are my button-down shirts. I’ll admit that sweaters kind of exist in a no-man’s land for me. You can’t hang them as the hangers produce ugly “bumps” in the shoulders, and they’re too bulky to store in drawers. During sweater season, I usually place them on top of the dresser.

Drawer three is for jeans or shorts, depending on the season. Again, they’re folded up nice and small for efficient use of space. Finally, the last drawer is for what I call “dress pants.” I almost never go in this drawer (I can wear jeans to work), unless there’s a wedding, funeral or job interview I must attend.

Tangential items like belts and hats hang on nearby hooks.

Like I said, there’s no rhyme or reason here. I spend a lot of time organizing, uncluttering and making my systems work efficiently. But here’s an example of something that comes down to “…because I said so, that’s why.” It works for me, so why fix it?

Do you have a system for dresser drawers? Speak up.

How to store Halloween decorations and costumes

As Halloween ends, two tasks stand before us. We’ve mentioned what to do with all that candy and in this post we’ll discuss organizing and storing Halloween decorations and costumes. Careful planning will keep your favorites in good shape for years of reuse.

For me, holiday decorations symbolize more than festivities. Many of the pumpkins, ghosts and black cats that we display each October have been with me since childhood. There’s the plastic pumpkin from the 1970’s that I distinctly remember putting on display as a child, long ago. The “mummy” that frightened my 11-year-old when he was a toddler now elicits a laugh whenever we remember his request to turn it to face the wall.

Is it crazy to have a emotional connection to a plastic pumpkin? Maybe. But there it is.

Protect your memories and traditions by following these steps:

  1. Use a durable, clearly-labeled bin with a lid, like these 14-gallon totes. The label makes the decoration bin easy to find next year. The lid keeps out dust, moisture, insects, humidity, light, and critters: all threats to the decorations you love.
  2. Put a laminated list of contents on the lid. If you’ve got enough stuff to occupy more than one bin, type out a list of what is in each, laminate it, and use some Velcro strips to affix it to the lid.
  3. Wrap breakable items in bubble wrap. When I was young, people used old newspaper to protect fragile decorations that were going into storage. Often, the result was shattered shards neatly wrapped in newspaper. Get some bubble wrap from the post office or a packaging store for added protection.

Aside from the decorations, consider keeping some of those costumes. Yes, some can be donated, but others are great for dress-up or can be re-used as paint smocks and so on.

Younger trick-or-treaters love playing dress-up. Get your money’s worth out of that costume by adding it to their play bins. Find a bin to store them or install some hooks in the play area. Plastics masks might not last long, but cloth outfits will provide lots of fun pretend play.

Other costumes – kids or adults – that you want to reuse can be hung in a closet with other clothes. Rubber masks are easily popped in boxes and kept on a closet shelf away from light and humidity.

If you lack the closet space, consider a vacuum-sealed bag. Items that can’t lay flat can be wrapped up in acid-free tissue paper, as that will help them keep their shape. Just remember to launder costumes and wipe masks clean before putting them away.

Like many things, decorations and costumes represent an investment. For many of us, their value is beyond the monetary. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep them around for years.

Unclutter the bathroom with these clever tricks

If you were to ask me which room is hardest to keep tidy, I’d say the bathroom. It is home to lots of small items that are used too often to be tucked away. Even the most diligent unclutterer’s sink or vanity can become a mess in no time as an endless parade of toothpaste, brushes, deodorant, razors, and floss makes its way into your home.

Fortunately, there is hope.

I spent a lot of time searching the internet for the best bathroom organization solutions. I don’t mean cutesy stuff that’s more clever style than substance. Instead, I’ve tracked down several useful ideas that you’ll actually want to put in place.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Let’s start with several items that love to congregate on vanities everywhere: toothbrushes and toothpaste. A cutlery sorting tray can keep these items separated and out if sight. I suggest using a plastic tray that is easily removed, as you’ll want to clean and sanitize it periodically.

Bottles

These things amass themselves incredibly quickly. Spice racks mounted to the wall will hold hair spray, lotion, mouthwash and more that would otherwise clutter up the vanity.

Bobby pins, tweezers and other metal tools

It’s tempting to toss these into a drawer (or, if you’re my daughter, anywhere at all). Adhesive magnetic strips attached to the inside of a drawer or cabinet door will corral these small, easily lost items.

Hair dryers and other bulky items

Now we’ll move from small items to larger ones. Here’s a fantastic idea for storing bulky hair dryers and curling irons. Some PVC cut perfectly and stuck to the inside of a door keeps them out of site yet at hand.

Of course, there’s no “miracle fix” for bathroom clutter other than diligence. Hopefully one of these projects will inspire you to tacking a particular cluttered area.

Do you maintain a clutter preserve?

Earlier this week I was reading a nice series of posts at Organized Home on “Decluttering 101.” It’s always good to brush up on the basics. The author, Cynthia Ewer, shared some good advice, as well as a concept I found quite interesting: the “clutter preserve.” I’ll let her explain it.

“Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries. In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it’s thrown on the chair.”

A part of me shivers when I read this. If I create a clutter preserve — even one that’s out of the way — I fear it will foster others. As if it is tacit permission to make a tiny, obscure stack here, an unobtrusive pile there, and so on.

I see the logic in it, too. As Cynthia says, no one is squeaky-clean all the time. “Even the tidiest among us tosses clothes on the floor from time to time.” I can even relate this to email processing. Sure, it would be amazing to read and respond to every message every day, but for many of us that is not possible.

Now I want to ask you: do you maintain a clutter preserve, or maybe more than one? If so, do you attack it on a regular basis or is it there to offer sanity-saving permission to not be 100% perfect? Sound off in the comments, I’m eager to read what you think.

Knowing when to change

150714-room2Our driveway turns in from the road, runs along the western side of our property and ends near the rear of the house. Upon exiting the car, the walk to the back door is shorter than the stroll to the front. As a result, all traffic — and in and out — happens through the back door.

This wasn’t always the case.

When we purchased the house in 2000, the driveway didn’t exist. Cars were parked in front, and I hung a series of hooks by the front door. It made perfect sense: walk in, hang your keys on the hook. That is, it made sense until we stopped using the front door.

I’m a real proponent of “A place for everything and everything in its place,” because my sieve-like brain will forget where I’ve placed the keys (or the wallet or the kids’ snacks…or the kids) if they’re not in their designated home. So I’ve been insisting that keys go on the front-door hooks like a stubborn mule.

I’d find keys on the butcher block, which is quite near the back door, and grumble to myself as I carried them across the house to the front door. Sometimes I’d find them on the kitchen table, an act that was loathsome to me. “Ugh, who put these here?” I’d cry, shaking my fist as if I’d witness an unimaginable injustice. “The keys go on the key hooks!”

The problem wasn’t people ignoring the “rule.” The problem was that the rule no longer made sense.

I learned to let go and succumb to what the situation was trying to tell me when we repurposed the back room. There’s now an old dresser by the back door, onto which I’ve placed a small leather box that is the new home of keys. We’ve regained the enter-and-drop ease of the old days and more importantly, I’ve learned to listen to the situation.

It’s possible to become blindly dedicated to an organizational system. I insisted that we employ a strategy that was no longer effective, simply because I was afraid I’d be lost — or more accurately, my keys would be lost if that system was abandoned. It wasn’t until I stepped back and observed how the situation had changed that I realized the solution should change too.

The point is to look around at the solutions you’re using at home and at work. Are they still the best, most effective answer to a clutter issue? Has a situation changed that should prompt a solution change as well? Perhaps that one thing that drives you crazy — a constantly cluttered kitchen counter, the jam-packed junk drawer, phones and tablets piling up to be charged — is simply a symptom of a broken system. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

How to buy a filing cabinet

blue filing cabinetLast week I brought a filing cabinet to the dump. I was very happy to see it go.

I bought that cabinet on a whim. It was cheap, small and seemed perfect for what I needed. Less than a year later, it had one drawer that wouldn’t close and four others that had become junk drawers. I hated it, ignored it and used its top to stack papers. It had to go and, more importantly, it taught me how to properly buy a filing cabinet.

Today, I know what makes a perfect filing cabinet for me. Here’s what I found.

First and foremost, it must fit all of the documents I wish to file and fit into the allotted space in my home office. My work space is a small, second-floor room in a house with dormers, so there’s not a lot of wall space available. Therefore, a traditional vertical cabinet is for me. Perhaps a horizontal cabinet will work best in your space. This really is a crucial first step, so make this decision your starting point.

When I say “it must fit,” I mean both physically and within my workflow. Vertical and horizontal cabinets are used differently. A vertical cabinet is most traditional and features two to five drawers. Contents run front to back and face the user. There’s a lot of internal space, but files aren’t easy to get at. A vertical cabinet is a good choice for archival or reference files you don’t look at often.

A horizontal cabinet takes up more wall space and offers more interior space than vertical models. The benefit is their contents are much easier to access, so if you’ve got to get at files several times per day, a horizontal cabinet is a great choice.

Finally, I make sure my cabinet is within “swivel distance” of my desk. Human beings tend to follow the path of least resistance, so I make it as easy as possible to put something in my filing cabinet: just swivel my chair.

Next, a cabinet must be durable. That is to say, I don’t want to be stuck with that one drawer that won’t open unless you yank on it (or shut unless you slam it), the wonky wheel or busted handle. Much of this depends on what the cabinet is made of. The most common materials are metal and wood.

A metal cabinet can stand up to years of use and still look good. They are also easy to maintain and come in colors other than the plain beige you’re probably envisioning right now. They’re also easy to paint, so feel free to make it your own. When shopping for a metal cabinet, make sure it has a protective coating to prevent rust and double-walled steel sides for durability. No, metal filing cabinets are not flashy, but they do their job well.

Wooden cabinets look great and come in a huge variety of styles. They’re less durable than their steel counterparts, but if you’re in a low-volume office or a home setting, you’ll have it for years before it shows signs of wear. For a high-volume setting, where you’re in and out of drawers all day, go with a metal model.

If your chosen filing cabinet sits directly on the floor, consider placing it on a wheeled caddy. This can be very helpful when you need to move the cabinet to clean behind it or rescue your favorite pen.

Safety is another consideration. First, I want to keep my documents safe. If you’ll be filing important documents, like a birth certificate or social security card, consider a fire proof cabinet or one that locks (or both). I like to keep these things off-site in a safe deposit box, but if you must store them at home, make sure they’re safe.

I also want to be sure that anyone who uses the cabinet is safe. Look for interlocking drawers that will prevent tipping when multiple drawers are open at once. Additionally, cabinets with ball-bearing suspension systems will open reliably for years, so no wonky drawers that you yank open in frustration, risking injury.

Style, structure and safety are very important when looking for a filing cabinet, but easily overlooked. Like any tool you introduce to your workflow, a filing cabinet should be taken seriously. Happy shopping and let us know what you end up with.

The power of an organized daily routine

After working from home for seven years, I know what determines success more than anything else:

An organized routine.

There’s no project management app, list-making strategy or careful balance of work and home life that can top a proven routine for getting things done. In fact, the absence of a good routine hinders those things. Here’s how you can make a strong, organized routine to depend on. Let’s get started.

But first…

First, a note. The word “routine” implies rigidity. “This is the way it is and that’s that.” Well, no. A structured, organized daily routine is not divorced from flexibility. There will be times when, for whatever reason, things don’t pan out as planned:

  • The internet is down
  • Someone is sick
  • A last-minute cancellation
  • The car decides, “Eh, I think I won’t run today.”

When these things happen, and they will, it’s important not to spiral. Something might have to get moved around, postponed or abandoned entirely. A deadline might come and go. It’s always OK to re-work things a bit. Just be aware of that when the time comes. With that said, on with the show.

Let’s build an organized daily routine

Getting started with a routine that’s going to work is easy. It starts with what I call a “mind dump.” It’s a great way to list everything that’s on your mind, but it’s also a fantastic starting point for establishing a new routine, if you ask the right questions. Get a pen and paper, and answer the following:

“What must I get done each day for (work/school/volunteering/etc.)?”
“How much energy do I have at the start/middle/end of each day?”
“Which days offer more free time? Which ones offer less?”
“What are the errands that must be done daily or weekly?”
“What are the chores that must be completed?”

Don’t censor yourself at this stage. Nothing is too big (paint the mud room) or too small (brush teeth). As you go, you might generate your own questions. Perhaps getting prepped for work each morning or ushering the kids out the door for school.

When that’s done, it’s time for “triage.” Much like the triage nurse at the ER, you’re going to decide who (your tasks) get addressed when. In question two, you identified your energy levels throughout the day. Put the most labor-intensive tasks when you’re ready to tackle them, reserving the rest for later.

For example, I’m at my best in the early morning and afternoon. That’s when I write reports or articles, brainstorm new ideas for upcoming projects, work on the podcasts and so on. Meanwhile, I schedule other tasks, like responding to email, at the end of the day when I don’t want to think anymore.

Next, identify where you can do yourself favors. Before bed, I prep for the next morning: lunch ready for work, kids outfits ready for school, a list of my most important to-dos in front of my keyboard. Maybe you can bring a mission-critical paper out to the car so you won’t forget. Making this prep time a part of your daily routine is a huge time-saver (and headache reducer).

Give your brain a chance to do its thing

Your brain is good at solving problems. Make sure your routine includes a chance for it to do so. Most of the people we’d consider geniuses in their fields adhered to a daily routine that included a walk. According to Harvard Business Review:

“Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks every afternoon — and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Tchaikovsky made do with a two-hour walk, but wouldn’t return a moment early, convinced that cheating himself of the full 120 minutes would make him ill. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck.”

Taking a walk can help your brain function well. That deserves a slot in your routine, no?

I hope this was helpful. A good routine will make your life so much easier. Just remember to be flexible. If plays change on the fly, it’s OK! Go with it and adjust tomorrow. Good luck.

Tech for winter storm preparedness

As September gives way to October, we enter the heart of hurricane season. We’ve written about organizing your storm supplies before, and today I’ll focus on tech to help you weather a storm. If you haven’t organized your preparedness kit yet, there’s still time.

Stay informed

When a storm hits, it’s important to receive information from authorities. The American Cross ZoneGuard Weather Radio is great for this. It finds and delivers alerts for your area, flashes color-coded warnings and tunes into AM, FM and NOAA digital radio stations. It runs off of AC power or AA batteries.

A good hand-crank radio is also great to have, like this one from Esky. Just 60 seconds of cranking 20 minutes of use. There’s a solar charing option as well, but stormy days aren’t usually very sunny.

Your smartphone

If you own a smartphone, you’ve got a tiny computer that can be tremendously useful in an emergency. When your home’s power goes out, Wi-Fi goes with it. So grab your phone and rely on cell connectivity.

There are several great apps available, including The Red Cross, which offers apps specific to certain disasters, text alerts and first aid information. Of course, none of that matters when your phone’s battery dies. Keep it going with an Eton Boost Turbine. As you may have guessed, it’s a hand-crank charger for your phone and other USB devices. Just plug it in and get cranking.

Of course, don’t forget a good old corded phone. When cell/internet service goes down, or when your your power goes out, a corded landline phone will let you call out.

Shine some light

Finally, I have to identify my favorite flashlight of all time, the Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. LED flashlights are brighter than those with traditional bulbs, and the HP1 shines a powerful beam indeed. It takes rechargeable batteries, is water resistant, impact resistant, compact and feels great.

There’s a lot more you should do to prepare for a storm. Today we’ve pointed out a few bits of tech that you can rely on. We hope this was helpful. Be careful out there.

Being more productive by hiring some help

Unclutterer received an email from a reader who had a number of questions, many of which related to hiring people to help with various tasks. There are many reasons you might want to hire some help:

  • You may need to hire help to do things you physically can’t do yourself. I had this situation when I first came home after my hip surgery and had many movement restrictions. I needed someone to come in weekly to do the laundry, vacuum the floors, and run some errands.
  • You may need to hire help with specific expertise that you don’t have. For example, many people hire someone to do their tax returns.
  • You may want to offload time-consuming tasks that you don’t enjoy to free up time for other things that are more important to you.

And sometimes you may want to hire someone for more than one of these reasons. The only ongoing help I have is with my yard. My gardener knows much more about plant care than I do. She can readily climb a ladder to trim tall plants while that would make me uncomfortable. And I just don’t enjoy most gardening work and tend to put it off until it becomes problematic.

How do you best go about hiring the help you need? The following are some suggestions.

Define exactly what you want the person to do

Make sure your expectations are as clear as possible. This will mean writing things down, spending time explaining things verbally, or both. All the things you do by second nature will need to be specified. For example, when I hired household help I had to tell the person how my washing machine worked, what settings I used, how much detergent I used, etc.

Also determine what things you don’t care about. My home helper asked how I wanted my non-slip socks paired up and put away, and I told her to do it any way she liked.

If you make tasks as easy as possible for your helper, things will go more smoothly. When I sent my helper grocery shopping (with a list that included brand names and package sizes), it helped when I could tell her where in the store things were located, especially those that weren’t obvious. I also made sure she had my cell phone number so she could send me a text if she had any questions. If someone is going to unload your dishwasher, put away laundry, or otherwise tidy up, you may want to label the cabinets and closets indicating what goes where.

If someone is working on a project for you, make sure your communication expectations are clear. What kind of status updates do you want, and how often should they be provided? How quick of a response do you expect to calls, texts, or emails?

When relevant, be sure you’re clear about what supplies you’ll provide vs. what supplies the helper will provide. If the helper is providing things like cleaning supplies, do you have any restrictions on what products are used?

And be sure you’re clear about pricing and billing. If there’s an hourly or weekly rate, what’s included and what’s extra? Billing surprises are no fun for anyone!

Sometimes you may not know the specifics of what you need done, since you are hiring help to fill in for your lack of expertise. But even then you probably have some expectations you can define. For example, my gardener knows that I need to keep all plants from touching my house to minimize the risk of termites.

Consider your hiring options

Nolo has a helpful article about hiring household help. As the article explains, you can hire a company, hire a worker through an agency, or hire an individual. I got my home helpers through a company, while I hired my gardener directly.

And be sure you understand the legal aspects of your hiring decisions, including tax and insurance issues. Again, Nolo explains the basics, and you can consult a lawyer for more information.

Don’t be afraid to make course corrections

If you failed to specify some of your expectations (which can easily happen when you first set about hiring help) and now the work isn’t being done as you would like, talk with your helper about making changes. Sometimes just a tiny change can make a big difference.

If the change is too significant and you realize you and your helper are a mismatch, you may want to find someone better suited to your redefined needs. An ongoing mismatch may well make both you and your helper miserable, so ending the relationship can be best for all concerned.

Five uncluttering and organizing tasks you can do every day

The following are five simple things you can do every day to stay on top of your clutter-free home.

Make the bed

When my sisters and I were young, and our clothes or hair were a mess, my mother would tell us, “You look like an unmade bed.” Aside from looking messy, a bed piled with sheets and blankets is no fun to get into at night. It is, however, inviting to the dog, who will gladly deposit his fur on your sheets. Spending the three minutes it takes to make the bed will make things easier on the eyes and more pleasant at night, all while foiling the dog. You can always air out your sheets while you shower, and make the bed afterward if you’re worried about your sheets getting stagnate.

Do a load of laundry

Laundry can pile up very quickly. Miss a day and it feels like you’ve got a mountain on your hands. I’ve taken to putting a load in each morning and moving from washer to drier after work and folding it after dinner. It only takes a few minutes, and it keeps me from wasting an entire Saturday afternoon on conquering Mount Laundry.

Process the mail and papers

What piles up faster than laundry? The incessant onslaught of mail, papers, permission slips, advertisements, and so on that enter my home. Instead of piling it up in a heap, deal with it immediately (if possible). Keep a trash can, recycling bin, shredder, pen, and physical inbox in a convenient location to your main entrance so you get rid of the junk and trash immediately, and get the important paperwork identified and processed.

Prepare for tomorrow

If you adopt only one suggestion from this list, let it be this one. Each evening I ask, “What’s needed for tomorrow?” Kids lunches, umbrellas because it’s supposed to rain, gas in the car, permission form signed, what everyone is going to wear, etc. This allows me to avoid the last-minute scramble to do these things in the morning, teaches the kids to do the same, and lets me enjoy my evening knowing that nothing is going to blow up in the morning (probably).

Create an errands list

Let’s say on Monday you realize that the TV remote needs batteries, you’re almost out of toothpaste, and the car’s state inspection is due in 10 days. These all need to be taken care of, but they’re exactly the type of thing that will slip through the cracks of your memory if you don’t capture this information and get it on your to-do list or calendar. Have a reliable, simple way to collect these things — an app, a dry erase board on the refrigerator, whatever — that you can review. Then, the next time you’re in the car, you’ll know exactly where you need to go.

Staying on top of these things is easy. Just take on a few simple new habits and you’ll notice your life moving in a smoother manner.

Cleaning forgotten clutter zones

Our dog “Batgirl,” a middle-aged Boston Terrier, has a habit of holding a toy in her mouth as she looks out the window. If someone is walking down the street, she’ll grab a tennis ball and give them a good stare. If a car is parking at the neighbor’s house, she’ll welcome them with a squirrel chew toy and a mild growl. Her behavior is a sign that she’s protecting the family and showing off her favorite goodies in the process. The only problem with her scheme comes when she barks.

Inevitably, the tennis ball will fall from her jaws and tumble behind the couch. Mr. Squirrel sometimes suffers a similar fate. So, one of us has to pull out the couch to retrieve those objects, and usually discovers a whole menagerie of lost and forgotten things.

Items I’ve found behind the couch: Pencils, erasers, notebooks, action figures, hand sanitizer, and a water bottle I’d been missing for ages. After cleaning behind the couch, I typically turn to other forgotten places in my house that love to accumulate junk:

  • The top of the washing machine. We often find little bits and bobs in pockets while doing laundry. Designate a small, portable basket to capture/redistribute these treasures, and then return objects to their proper homes ever couple weeks.
  • Under beds. The classic “out of sight, out of mind” storage solution is a magnet for clutter. Get some low-profile, open containers on wheels to help keep these areas stay organized and useful.
  • The junk drawer. I’ve written about this before. Make an appointment to dig in there every few months or so to keep clutter from getting out of control.
  • That one closet. You know the one. For us, it’s right behind the front door, and houses the vacuum cleaner, a mop, and other cleaning items. The problem is that lone shelf that loves to gather anything and everything. Labeled bins can help organize this space.
  • Your home’s primary entrance. People love to drop shoes, backpacks, umbrellas, and clutter right at the door. Give this potential problem area some TLC once a week.

Those are the big offenders here at Chez Caolo. What are the forgotten clutter zones in your home? What’s it like under your kitchen sink? Sound off, and let us know how you keep hidden clutter areas under control.