Keeping essential home work supplies on hand

As spring approaches and winter thaws (it will eventually thaw, right?), my family and I have found ourselves in that dreaded time of the elementary school year: projects. It’s like a perfect storm, when everyone’s energy levels are low, the cold and dark days have all of us down, no one feels like completing anything requiring a great deal of mental effort, and certainly no one wants to doing anything that involves creative depths, pasteboard, stencils, or Papier-mâché.

This is also the time of year that supplies start to run low around the house. None of the pencils have sharp points or erasers. Lined paper is at a minimum, and I assure you the teacher won’t accept a paragraph written on the envelope from the water bill, no matter how neatly it’s written. With that in mind, the following is a list of items you can grab to restock, organize, and survive the second-half of the school year.

Pencils. My kids, at nine and eleven, are not yet to be trusted to complete homework in pen. So, we buy pencils in bulk and store then in mason jars right at their desks. Doing this sure beats the nightly search for a pencil. Speaking of…

An electric pencil sharpener. Spend some money on a heavy-duty sharpener that’s going to last a long time. Remember that hand-crank job that was probably screwed into the wall of your elementary school classroom? Don’t put that nightmare in your house because it will only cause a mess. And please avoid those little handheld jobs that deposit pencil shaving all over the floor. Instead, look for an electric sharpener with a heavy base for one-handed sharpening. We have a Bostitch model at home and it’s dependable.

Erasers. By now, all of our pencil erasers have been worn to mere shadows of their former existence. A large box of pink erasers is a great alternate when erasers detach from their pencils. Divvy them up among your kids’ work spaces and never hear “Does anyone have a pencil with an eraser?” again. Similar to pencils, erasers can be stored in jars, and inside desk drawers in a drawer organizer.

Index cards. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I still think index cards are fantastic homework aides. I use them as flash cards, of course, but their usefulness extends way beyond that. For example, I have the kids use them as to-do lists for larger projects. When attached to all related papers with an office clip, you get a handy, mobile reference packet. They’re also good for scratch paper when working out math problems or outlines. They’re a high utility tool for all offices. Wrap the index cards in a rubber band and store them on top of the spare paper and notebooks mentioned in the next item.

Lined paper and notebooks. We’ve been in the situation in our house where the only available paper is a sketch pad, and that doesn’t pass muster with a teacher. Keep the paper and notebooks (and the index cards mentioned above) in a traditional office desk inbox to keep them organized.

A designated homework zone. A space dedicated to doing homework will help prevent papers, supplies, and assignments from migrating to the kitchen table. And, as is the case in our house, the kitchen table is where homework quickly transforms into clutter.

With these essentials on hand and organized so they’re at the ready, you’re prepared to take on any big, winter projects teachers assign.

Sleep and productivity

Yesterday, Jacki Hollywood Brown’s article explored the relationship between music and productivity. Today, I want to continue with another productivity booster, which has been called the “third pillar of health,” sleep.

The relationship between sleep and productivity seems obvious: adequate sleep means you’ll have enough energy and focus for the coming day. While that’s true, there is much more to it than that.

A 1999 study discussed at 2013’s Corporate Sleep Health Summit demonstrates that a lack of sleep can affect not only productivity, but innovation. After losing just one night’s sleep, subjects experienced “…particular impairment to tasks requiring flexible thinking and the updating of plans in the light of new information.” While most people don’t regularly lose an entire night’s sleep, consider that many driven business people and entrepreneurs wear their four and five hours of sleep like a badge of honor.

Meanwhile, a BBC study suggests that deep sleep “makes room” in your brain for the next day. “One of the main things the brain is doing [during deep sleep] is moving memories from short-term storage into long-term storage,” the study claims, “allowing us more short-term memory space for the next day. If you don’t get adequate deep sleep then these memories will be lost.” Ever forget some crucial information for that big meeting? An extra hour of sleep could be the remedy.

Now that I’ve described just some of the benefits of a restful night’s sleep, I want to point out some technology that will help you hit the hay.

Sleepy Fan ($1.99, iPhone). When I was a kid, I spent summer nights falling asleep to the sound of a large box fan, not unlike this one. I fell in love with is steady hum, and today I use the Sleepy Fan app in its place. It offers three fan types to choose from, and even lets you adjust the sound itself.

The FitBit has a feature that lets you track your sleep. When paired with a smartphone app, it lets you view data on your previous night’s rest, including restful moments and when you were fidgeting.

The Philips Wake-up Light is a nice alternative for those who dislike being jarred awake by a screeching alarm. Over a period of 30 minutes, the Wake-up Light gradually brightens itself from dark to a custom illumination level (up to 250 lux) and provides pleasant audio.

You can get a good night’s sleep, listen to music appropriate to your task at hand, and enjoy a satisfyingly productive day.

Where’s Wallet can help you keep track of your wallet

I’ve been part of the Unclutterer writing team for a few years now. In that time, I’ve come to realize that with every post in some ways I’m “preaching to the choir.” That is to say, my posts are read in part by people who already have adopted a clutter-free mindset. That’s awesome for those people, and I’m so happy they come to the site to learn even more ways to live simply. However, I realize there are also members of the readership who are still working on uncluttering and simplifying. Which, admittedly, part of me is, too. For the collection of us who haven’t yet achieved full “uncluttered enlightenment,” this post is for you.

Last week I pointed out a Kickstarter campaign that caught my attention. Today, I’m back at it. This time I want you to check out Where’s Wallet, a clever wallet/companion app from Daniel Eckler. It’s not a digital wallet or a place to electronically store your credit card information, banking details, and so on. Instead, Where’s Wallet is a way to keep track of your wallet’s physical location and be prompted if you leave home (or a restaurant or anywhere) without it. Here’s how it works:

As you can see in the video above, each Where’s Wallet (they produce three models) contains a sensor that connects to an iPhone app. All you need to do is download the app and let it “discover” the wallet. Next, you tell the app to send you a message if you stray farther than you prefer from your wallet. (You set the distance.) There’s an option that lets you set how far away you’re allowed to get before the alarm goes off. I love it.

I also assume if you have misplaced your wallet in your home, you could reset the length of the tether to a small distance and then walk around until the app stops beeping. At that point you would know you were within close proximity to the wallet’s location, although there would still be a little searching. This wouldn’t be as convenient as a Tile Tag for this specific purpose, but it would certainly get the job done as long as you were in the same house as your wallet.

Years ago, my wife would tell people, “Dave’s hobbies include board games, music, and losing his wallet.” I was very good at it. A product like this would have saved me some frustration and prevented my wife from making this humbling –- but entirely accurate –- joke at my expense.

As of this writing, Where’s Wallet is has about $10,000 to go in its campaign with 33 days left. If this is something that you (or your spouse) can use, consider becoming a backer.

What personal collectors can learn from museums

Having a collection can add joy to your life, but a collection can also get out of hand and take over your home and your bank account. Museums have Collections Management Policies (PDF), and some of the topics discussed in these policies could also apply to anyone building and maintaining a collection. You may not need a written policy, but considering the following items may be useful:

Defining the scope of the collection

Have you thought about exactly what kind of thing you’re collecting? For example, a stamp collector might want to focus on first day covers or, alternatively, may have no interest in those covers. You may start out with a wide scope and decide to narrow it over time.

Adding to the collection

What are your priorities for adding to your collection? Do you have some holes in your collection that you want to fill? What’s your budget?

Museums have policies for “unsolicited donations,” and you may want a policy about gifts from well-meaning friends who notice your collection. Do you want to discourage them from buying you gifts to add to that collection, or are you happy to receive such gifts?

Removing items from the collection

When do items get removed from your collection? Museums sometimes remove items if they are redundant with others in the collection or if they are “of lesser quality than other objects of the same type in the collection.” They may also remove items that are “unduly difficult or impossible to care for or store properly.” Items may also get damaged to a degree where they no longer fit within the scope of the collection, and those items would be removed.

These same types of considerations could easily apply to your personal collection. And if the scope of your collection has changed over the years, you may find items that no longer seem to fit.

Taking care of the collection

Museums only display part of their collection at any time, rotating the items on display. Therefore, a museum’s policies will need to deal with caring for items currently on display and those in storage for future display. You may need to consider both situations, too.

Just as a museum would, you will want to consider whether items in your collection need to be kept at any specific range of temperatures and humidity. Depending on what items you collect, you may need to plan for pest control. You’ll also want to think about how to keep fragile items from being broken when on display and when being stored.

Making loans

Would you ever consider loaning out items in your collection? If so, think about whom you might make a loan to and how you’d want to handle any such transactions.

Maintaining an inventory and documentation

If you have a large collection, not all on display, having an inventory will help you remember what’s being kept where. An inventory will also keep you from buying duplicate items by mistake.

At some point, your collection will move on to others. You may choose to sell some items or give them to friends and family members, or others may inherit them from you. If you’re selling an item, the buyer may want evidence of authenticity, so you’d want to have a plan for storing any documents you have that address this. If items are being inherited, the recipients will often enjoy knowing the stories behind the items — when and where you got them, and why are they meaningful to you.

Getting insurance and appraisals

If your collection includes items of significant value, you may need specific insurance to cover the collection, which might involve getting appraisals done. That proof of authenticity mentioned previously may also affect the appraisal. In case of a loss (due to theft, fire, flood, etc.), the inventory list previously mentioned would be extremely helpful when making a claim to your insurance company.

Left-handed organizing

Tools are extensions of your hands. When you use proper tools, you decrease the possibility of injury, pain, and fatigue because they require less continuous force and can be used without awkward postures. The correct tool also reduce clutter because you have the best tool for a job and aren’t constantly purchasing the same item repeatedly in search of the ideal tool for you. How you complete processes is similar, too, because when you work in the best way suited for you work times are reduced, you’re more organized, and more comfortable.

When fellow Unclutterer, Dave talked about the value of his utility knife, I had to agree with him. However my utility knife is different from Dave’s because mine is a left-handed utility knife.

If you’re a southpaw or live or work with one, the following are some productivity and organizing tips that might be beneficial for you.

Buy good quality left-handed tools. As stated earlier, the proper tool for the job is essential. It will lead to increased productivity, less fatigue, and fewer injuries. Start with the tools used most often such as scissors, can openers, vegetable peelers and even manicure scissors. Consider purchasing other left-handed equipment that can make certain tasks easier, such as gardening shears and sewing scissors.

Set up your personal space. On the desk of a lefty, the pen caddy would be placed on the left side and the telephone on the right side. Because lefties sit facing the right side of the desk, the desk lamp should be placed on the right side as well. Professional organizer Julie Bestry has a great post about left-handed notebooks that might help lefties increase productivity.

Set up shared spaces together. When lefties and righties share space, it can be a bit more difficult to be organized and productive.

Sometimes shared spaces can be set up ambidextrous, for example, putting the telephone in the centre of the desk so it can be answered with either hand. Alternatively determine who uses the space for a greater period of time and set it up according to that person’s hand preference.

Research indicates that individuals show a preference for the use of one hand, and it is not always the same hand for two different tasks. This suggests that right- or left-handers are not general categories, but rather are defined as a function of the tasks. For example, many lefties prefer to use their computer mouse with their right hand so a shared computer would have the mouse on the right hand side. This means when people work together to organize a space they can develop solutions that will allow all users of the space to be productive.

For a great overview on left-handedness you may wish to read, “Why are some people left-handed? An evolutionary perspective.

For left-handed shopping try:

Favorite organizing tools for containerizing

Jacki has written about her favorite organizing tools, and Dave has written about his favorite multitasking, utilitarian tool. So I thought I’d chime in and share some of my favorite tools — the ones I find myself recommending continually. The following list skips things like scanners and shredders and focuses on containers.

Handled baskets. Yes, I know that not everyone likes plastic. I often choose to avoid it, too. However, I’ve found these specific baskets come in extremely handy in many situations. The handles make them easy to pull off a shelf, especially one that’s a bit overhead. I’ve used these baskets in kitchens and pantries, in closets where toiletries are being kept, and in garage cabinets. The sides are higher than on many other such baskets, and they are pretty sturdy. They come in both white and clear.

Photo boxes. While many of our photos are digital now, you may still have photos from your pre-digital days that need to be stored carefully, especially if there are no plans to have them scanned. When it comes to storing precious photos, I want to keep them in a container that has passed the Photographic Activity Test, so I know that the photos are well protected. For those who don’t want to fuss with creating photo albums, or who don’t have the space that photo albums require, these photo boxes can work well. They hold up to 1,700 photos that are 4″x6″ or smaller. The envelopes allow you to divide the photos into categories.

Excess coffee mugs. Almost everyone has more coffee mugs than needed for drinking coffee. But these coffee mugs make great desktop pencil cups, and they also work nicely to hold toothpaste and toothbrushes in the bathroom. The mug above is the pencil cup in my own home office.

Anything that makes you happy. Storage containers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, materials, and prices — there’s something for everyone. You can use conventional storage pieces or choose something as unusual as the frog in my office, which is meant to be a planter but works fine as a combination trip memento, piece of art, and storage piece for various electronics.

5 more of my favourite organizing tools

Last Monday, I wrote about my “Five favorite organizing tools” that have been essential in the various homes in which we have lived. My list of favorites doesn’t stop there. The following are five more of my favourites.

Heavy-duty plastic shelving. Shelves are great because they allow you to use vertical space without piling items on top of each other. These shelves can be assembled and disassembled in minutes. Each shelf holds over 55kg (125lbs) of stuff and because they are made of plastic, they do not rust or mildew and they are not susceptible to water damage. They are ideal for garden sheds, garages, and basements.

Vacuum storage totes. These totes are useful for storing off-season clothing. We have several that store extra curtains that don’t fit the house in which we currently live, but may fit the next house we move to (as a military family, we move around so much they’re worthwhile to keep). Besides keeping textiles clean and dust-free, the totes stack nicely in closets and storage areas, whereas bags do not stack well.

Plastic filing boxes. Filing cabinets are handy for frequently accessed paperwork but for long term storage, filing boxes are great. They are plastic so they keep papers dry and dust free. They are easy to lift and stack. And each person in our family has one for souvenirs such as report cards, certificates, letters of reference, performance reviews, etc. One of their disadvantages, however, is they are not lockable. When moving houses, I tape them shut and sign and date the tape.

Collapsible fabric boxes. These boxes come in many pretty colours that will coordinate with any room. In various different houses we’ve use these boxes in entryways to store hats and mittens. In clothing closets they’ve held purses, sweaters, and other clothes. We’ve also used them to store hand towels and face cloths in linen closets as well as table clothes and napkins in the dining room. The thing I like about these boxes as opposed to baskets is that if you don’t need them they fold flat to save space.

Cordless power tools. In my opinion cordless power tools are the best things since sliced bread. There is no more hunting around for electrical outlets or searching for and tripping over extension cords. Many brands such as Ryobi, DeWalt and Makita sell cordless tool kits that come with extra batteries and a handy carrying case so you have everything you need in one nice, easy-to-store kit. Cordless tools work internationally as well. When we moved from Canada to the UK, all we needed to do was to buy a battery charging station that worked on the UK power grid and all of our power tools were ready to go.

Utilitarian tools: the pocket knife

Yesterday Jacki wrote a post about five of her favorite organizing tools. Her post inspired me to look at the tools I depend on daily, and one really stood out as having very high utility: my pocket knife. I have two, in fact. One is the Swiss Victorinix Centurion, which I always take camping, fishing, and occasionally use for jobs around the house. It’s great, but a little big for day-to-day-carry. That’s why the tiny little Swiss Classic SD is the knife I love.

I have one of these on my car’s keychain, so it’s almost always with me. I’ve been carrying it around for about five years, and proper maintenance has kept it in tip-top shape. Swiss Army knives are the ultimate “anti-unitasker.” Even with only got five features, mine is super useful:

  • Blade
  • File
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Toothpick

Just today, I’ve used my knife to open a package, cut rope and string, remove tags from clothing (it sails through those annoy plastic rings!), tighten/loosen a screw, and open letters. It’s also helpful outside the home.

If you decide to buy a pocket knife, you’ll find them at nearly every outdoor store and online. There are several styles to choose from, and I’ll cover just a few here. The first distinction is a knife with a locking blade versus a slipjoint. Simply, when the blade of a lock blade knife is open, it locks open. The Centurion I own is a lock blade knife. To put the blade away, you press a little tab to release it. Meanwhile, the Classic SD has a blade that does not lock in the open position. Which should you pick? It depends on the work you’ll typically do. For light work — opening packages, envelopes, and the like — a slipjoint knife is fine. More intense work, like you might do while camping or fishing, is best done with a blade that won’t move once opened.

Also consider the type of knife you might buy. I’m a big fan of multi-purpose knives, which house several blades and other tools.

When I was younger, my grandfather had a pocket knife on his person all the time. I can remember seeing him produce it seemingly out of nowhere, just in time to cut some string, tighten a screw, remove a stubborn thumbtack, or what-have-you. I thought it was a magical thing, but today I realize it wasn’t magic and recognize it as a tremendously useful tool.

Similar to a pocket knife, Erin has great admiration for the Leatherman MultiTool (one that flips out, not slides out) she received for her high school graduation. She also sings the praises of a good set of kitchen knives because they eliminate the need for so many larger unitaskers. Now, let’s turn it to you. What utilitarian tools — real multitaskers — do you rely on in your life?

Five favourite organizing tools

In the past 20 years, I’ve lived in eight different homes. Over this time period, I’ve come to realize there are some essential tools I have used in every home to get organized. The following are five of my favourites.

Expandable half-shelves. Many homes in which we have lived did not have adjustable shelving in the kitchen cupboards. Expandable half-shelves have allowed us to store more dishes in the cupboards and be able to access them easily. We also have used expandable half-shelves in bathroom cupboards to organize toiletries and cleaning supplies. I’ve even used a half-shelf behind my computer to save space by storing the external hard drive above the power bar.

Drawer organizers. We have dozens of drawer organizers and we use them everywhere. Most of the houses in which we live have odd-sized kitchen drawers that do not fit a standard cutlery tray. We use drawer organizers to keep our cutlery in order. We also use drawer organizers in bathroom and nightstand drawers. Drawer organizers help keep our office supplies in order and we also use them in our large toolbox so we can find what we need easily.

Plastic shoeboxes. I use these boxes to organize my shoes in my closet. I really like these boxes. They are transparent so I can immediately see the contents. They have tight fitting lids and they stack easily. They are useful for storing and organizing so many things beyond shoes, too. I’ve grouped all my sewing and craft supplies into these boxes so I can easily find them. We use one for our first-aid kit, one for holding our medications, and another for dental care supplies. Our electronics and gaming gear are also stored in these shoeboxes.

Plastic drawer cart. We’ve lived in houses that have not had any storage space in the bathroom. These carts have been extremely useful to store hairbrushes, cosmetics, shaving supplies, and extra rolls of toilet paper. Because they are plastic, they are not susceptible to water damage like wood or metal storage units. We have used these carts in other areas of the house to organize toys, art supplies, and office supplies. They also function well in entryways to keep mittens, toques, and scarves in order.

Rubbermaid 14 gallon (55L) Roughneck Tote. There are several reasons I really like this particular bin. I find it easy to carry safely even when it is quite heavy. The handles are well designed allowing for a good solid grip, my arms are a comfortable distance apart, and I can keep the tote close to my waist. We store off-season clothing, sports equipment, toys, paperwork, and holiday decorations in these totes. Another reason I like these totes is they are made from plastic that doesn’t get brittle and crack or break in cold temperatures. This is essential for storing items in cold Canadian attics, garages, and non-climate controlled storage units.

Home maintenance

Buying a house is the biggest expense many people make. In order to keep the property’s value from depreciating, regular upkeep is important. Even if you do not own your own home, you may be required to perform specific maintenance tasks as part of your rental agreement.

If you have recently moved to a new area, you may find that some tasks that you may have done in your previous home may not be applicable in the new home or may need to be done at a different time of the year. There also may be tasks you’ve never done that you now have to complete.

The former owners of your home or your landlord may be able to provide you with a list of required maintenance. The staff at your local hardware store may also be able to provide you with beneficial information since they know the area and materials. Your municipality or town council will often provide details on outdoor maintenance such as maximum heights of trees and hedges and during what periods of the year these plants should be trimmed.

Neighbours who have homes of similar age and design can be a valuable resource, too. For example, in one town where we lived, our neighbour told us that we needed to clear leaves and debris to ensure water would flow freely through the culvert under our driveway because if the water started to accumulate, it would cause flooding in our basement. We were very grateful for this information.

It can be hard to keep track of maintenance tasks because many of them are done only once per year. Checklists can help ensure these important jobs are completed. Both Microsoft and The Art of Manliness offer thorough home maintenance checklist templates. You will probably need to modify these checklists for your climate and to suit the type of home you have.

If you need to hire a professional trades person to perform specific services, such as furnace or chimney cleaning, you may find that during certain times of the year it can be almost impossible to get an appointment. Lifehacker provides a Google calendar to which you can subscribe and get reminders of what needs to be done and when. With the Google calendar, you can also add in reminders to book service personnel.

Home appliances, including lawn mowers, snow blowers, barbeques, and automatic garage door openers need maintenance, too. Most instruction/warranty books for your appliances will explain routine maintenance tasks that you can add to your spreadsheet. If you do not have the instruction/warranty book you can usually download it from the manufacturer’s website. It’s also very nice to keep these maintenance records in perpetuity for reference, remembering who serviced items if you used a company and if you were happy with that service, budget planning, and to eventually pass along to the next owner of your home.

Remember to include routine safety and security maintenance to your schedules. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency escape ladder, and your home alarm system.

Schedule time to schedule your time

As a part of my 2014 personal audit, I revamped my daily routine. I scheduled time for everything I’ve got my hands in, both professional and personal. Writing for Unclutterer, writing for TUAW, work on the Home Work podcast and Board Games Weekly, attending to the kids, and other family matters (like leading Cub Scouts, various pick-ups and drop-offs, even evening blocks of time to spend with the family). After all this scheduling you’d think I’m squeaky clean, right? Well, almost. I failed to schedule time to schedule time.

It sounds silly, but it’s crucial. In the course of a day, several things happen. I complete tasks. I gain new ones. “Stuff” comes in that I must attend to, like dates to remember, papers to review, emails … you get the picture. All of it must be dealt with, even if that simply amounts do deciding what’s trash and what must be done with the rest. I built a great system during my personal audit, minus the time to react to the ever-changing demands of modern professional and personal life. The following is how I’m fixing this oversight.

What?

The “what” here is a combination of new information that arrives during the day, as well as progress on existing projects and actions. A regular review of how I’ve organized and categorized my stuff is quite beneficial, too.

I’m not suggesting you obsess over your lists, as that’s counter productive. But regular mini reviews are helpful to determine where you stand.

When?

For me, early in the morning is not the right time to create an updated schedule. It seems tempting to sit down and say, “All right, let’s see what we’ve got today.” I get overwhelmed or distracted in that situation, and the next thing I know it’s 9:00 and I’m still fiddling with what I should be doing instead of working. Instead, I update the schedule for the following day at the end of my work day. For example:

Evening

After dinner on weeknights, my wife and I complete the same tasks. Review the kids’ backpacks. Make sure papers are signed/reviewed, etc. Next, we have the kids make snacks for the next day and pick out what they’ll wear to school. Mornings are stressful enough without having to run around the house trying to find clean socks. Again. For the hundredth time. Sigh. So, getting these tasks done in the evening is a huge stress reliever.

The same goes for work. In the evening, I identify and list what I’m going to do the next day. I rest easier and can get right to work in the morning.

Midday

I also added “fiddle time” to my schedule around midday. During this time I check off items I completed in the morning (a terrific feeling), review any incoming stuff that arrived since the morning, and finally review how I’ve categorized/organized existing items. It only takes a few minutes and now that I’ve scheduled daily time for it, I get it done and feel much more relaxed going into the afternoon.

Finally, repeat these steps when your work day is almost over and you’re energy reserves are running low. Then, schedule tomorrow.

Why?

Because reviewing an organized list of to-do actions and projects can reduce a lot of stress. Even when I feel I’ve got an overwhelming amount of stuff to do, the knowledge that I’ve got it categorized, sorted, and into my trusted system gives me a very real sense of being on top of things.

It’s great to have an effective to-do system that you love — just don’t forget to take the time to attend to it. You’ll be glad you did.

Ask Unclutterer: Creating categories

Reader Eza recently noted the following concern in the comment section of the post “How to get started organizing”:

I have huge problems figuring out how to categorise the items I want to keep and how to put them away. I have lots of empty drawers and shelves because I can’t figure out what to put where.

Eza, you’re not alone in this regard. And there’s no one right answer — different categories will work for different people in different situations.

Certainly there are some general principles about what to place where, such as storing frequently used items as close as possible to where they will be used, and using the most easily accessible space for the things used most often. The things you use only once a year can go in those top cabinets that are hard to reach — or in a storage room, storage closet, or garage — while the things you use every day are kept right at hand.

However, there will be plenty of individual variation in how people categorize. Let’s take the example of a kitchen. Some of the common categories people will have are silverware, cooking utensils, food storage containers, dishes, glasses, serving pieces, pots and pans, spices and herbs, food items in various subgroups (if not kept in a separate pantry), etc.

Sometimes people will create categories such as “morning coffee supplies” or “school/office lunch-making supplies” to make commonly performed activities easier. “Lunch-making supplies” may include food storage containers, napkins, and nonperishable food items — things that would normally be in three different categories.

Another example: If two people share a kitchen but tend to use different things, creating categories of “Person 1’s stuff” and “Person 2’s stuff” can make sense. If Person 1 likes certain teas or cooks with certain spices, it might work best to keep them separate from Person 2’s very different teas and spices.

Going beyond the kitchen, let’s turn to the clothes closet. Clothes can be categorized by type of garment (pants, jacket, shirt/blouse, etc.), use (work, casual, formal/party, etc.), season, or color — or by any combination of those. Generally, the fewer the items you have, the fewer categories you need. Someone who only owns seven pairs of pants will have different needs than someone with 50.

Whatever type of things you are organizing, remember that categories are intended to make you life easier. You may want to keep all spare light bulbs together in one category — but if certain bulbs are only used in one room, you may want to store them there rather than with all the rest. A pair of scissors may be part of your office supplies or your giftwrapping supplies — and if you use scissors often for both office work and wrapping, you may want two pairs so you can store them as part of both categories. While keeping like items together is a good general principle, there are times when it makes sense to separate them.

And the following are two suggestions about implementation of any categorization scheme:

  1. When you first set up your storage, you may want to label the outside of the drawers for a while, until you get used to what’s being stored where.
  2. As you begin your organizing, don’t worry about defining your categories and their locations perfectly. Whatever you choose doesn’t have to be final. You can always try something for a while, see what works well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly.

Thank you, Eza, for asking such as good question.

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 or put your inquiry in the comments to a post. If you send an email, please list the subject of your email 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.