Dishwashing safe products can save time

In her book The Simple Living Guide, Janet Luhrs suggests that people wash their dishes by hand. I like Janet Luhrs and agree with most things that she says, but when I read this piece of advice I laughed aloud. I grew up in a house without a mechanical dishwasher, and my daily chore was to wash the dishes by hand. Every night, for more than 10 years, as I stood with my hands immersed in soapy water, I dreamed of owning a dishwasher. I pledged that in my adulthood I would never wash my dishes by hand.

In the present, if I didn’t have a dishwasher, I cannot imagine how disorganized and dirty my kitchen would be. One of the things about committing to a dishwasher lifestyle, though, is that it limits what I can buy for my kitchen. The everyday plates and cups are almost always dishwasher safe, but many items beyond the basics typically are not recommended for the dishwasher.

If you’re just starting out or are a fan of the dishwasher like me, here are a few dishwasher-friendly, beyond-the-basics, kitchen products that I have found and use:

Stemless stemware. These wine glasses and champagne flutes have no stems so they easily fit in the top drawer of a dishwasher. They also save space in the cupboard.

All-Clad Stainless Cookware. The all-stainless version of this cookware is the only type that can go into the dishwasher. I registered for this when I got married and a kind family member bought it for me. It has held up wonderfully with constant dishwashing.

White Bone China. Surprisingly, plain-white china can be safely cleaned in the dishwasher. It’s durable and can easily be dressed up or down. I use my set all the time, and pair it with colorful chargers when entertaining. There’s no need to have two sets of dishes with one set as convenient and versatile as these.

Unfortunately, I do not have a knife set to recommend. I currently have a Henckels set and put the knives in the dishwasher against the suggestion of the manufacturer. I have been throwing them into the dishwasher for more than five years and the handles haven’t split. However, I expect to need to replace them earlier than they would have needed to be had I been washing them by hand all these years. If someone has a suggestion for a dishwasher-friendly knife set, please feel welcome to leave it in the comments. I’ve read the packaging on many stainless handle knives and found that they also suggest being washed by hand (Kitchen Aid, Ginsu, etc.).

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Saying farewell to a hobby, part two

In the original “Saying farewell to a hobby” post, I talked about how to decide if you’re not really into your hobby. Letting go of a no-longer-active hobby can be difficult, especially if part of your identity is wrapped up in that activity. (I know I still think of myself as a tennis player even though I haven’t touched a tennis racket in more than 10 years because of a rotator cuff injury.) But, if you make the hard decision to break up with the stuff for a hobby you’re no longer doing, getting rid of the supplies can be emotionally difficult.

The following are five ways to let go of hobby supplies to make the purging process less traumatic:

  1. Call up local enthusiasts whom you know are still into the hobby and let them take what they want from your house. They are more likely to use the materials than you are, and they will truly appreciate your generosity. Plus, as you pass along your supplies you can tell them stories and talk about how and when you acquired or used the items. You’ll get another happy moment sharing the history with your friends.
  2. Sell the supplies on a website whose community is dedicated to the hobby. For instance, if you’re a knitter or crocheter looking to de-stash your yarn, the website Ravelry has a marketplace forum that is perfect for you. Be sure to include shipping costs in the price of your goods, though, so that you don’t go broke getting rid of your items.
  3. Have a yard sale, but be very specific in your advertising to point out what types of things you are selling. “Woodworking Supplies Yard Sale” “Sailing Supplies Yard Sale” If you place an advertisement for your sale, use similar language and target publications people interested in these hobbies would read.
  4. Often stores that sell new supplies for a hobby also will sell “gently used” items on consignment. Call your local stores and ask about their policies. If they won’t sell them, usually they know who will or clubs related to the activity that could use the supplies.
  5. Programs and/or schools that teach the hobby — rock climbing schools, your local YMCA or community center, the high school down the street, a day care center (for adults or children) or seniors’ center — typically need supplies to help teach others about the activity. Make a few phone calls and you’ll probably find a program that is elated to take the discount or free supplies off your hands.

Sites like eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle are great for getting rid of items, but I’ve found that it’s harder for me to use these sites for hobby supplies that I have some sort of bizarre sentimental attachment to. Even though I’m no longer using the stuff, I still want to know that it’s going to someone who is enthusiastically going to use it. This is probably true for whomever buys or picks up the item from one of these three websites, but my mind doesn’t process it that way. Weird, right?

Good luck with the final step in purging your no-longer-active hobby supplies. And, most of all, enjoy the space for whatever new will take — or not take — its place.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Saying farewell to a hobby

There are hundreds of books and resources available on the topic of breaking up with a love interest. There are even ones exploring the topic of breaking off a toxic friendship and dumping bad business relationships. But, I have yet to find anything out in the ether on how to kick a hobby to the curb. Noting that, I proclaim this Unclutterer entry as the authoritative work on breaking up with a hobby. I call it:

You’re Just Not That Into Your Hobby

Do you consider yourself a tennis player, but the last time you touched your racket was 25 years ago? Do you like the idea of being a scrapbooker but have never made a complete scrapbook? Are you keeping canvases for masterpieces you may one day paint, yet all of your paints are dried and your brushes deteriorating? Is your guitar missing strings and in a case at the back of a closet? Do you have areas of your home set aside or filled with stuff related to a hobby that you spend less than 10 hours on a year?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you are just not that into your hobby.

It can be difficult to admit, but if you’re not averaging at least an hour a month pursuing a hobby, it’s time to let it go. The space you’re sacrificing in your home is too valuable to store things you don’t use. If you don’t have storage issues, it’s still worthwhile to get rid of your unused hobby stuff. Every time you walk past it I bet you think, “I wish I had more time to do X.” You don’t need that stress and guilt. If it were really important to you, you would pursue it.

Five steps for deciding if now is the time to ditch your hobby:

  1. Identify all of your hobbies and all of the things associated with them in your home, garage, and office. You may benefit by collecting these items and laying them all out in your front yard or an open space in your home to see how much space you’re sacrificing.
  2. List all of these hobbies and then estimate how much time you’ve spent pursuing each of them in the last 12 months. Be honest with yourself.
  3. Any hobby with an estimation of 10 hours or less should immediately be moved out of your home. Pack up the equipment and head to a used sports equipment store or an appropriate charity. If the hobby stuff is valuable, photograph it and list it for sale on a site like ebay or craigslist.
  4. Any hobby with an estimation of 24 hours or less should be carefully reviewed. If you went camping one day last year, you would reach the 24-hour mark for camping as a hobby. However, is one day of camping worth all of the space used to store your tent, sleeping bag, and all other accoutrements? On the flip side, if you spent one Friday night a month last year playing Bridge with friends and averaged about two hours of playing time a sitting, it’s probably worthwhile to hold onto a deck of cards.
  5. Any hobby with an estimation of more than 24 hours also should be considered for review. You may realize that you’re spending so much time and space on your hobby that you’re neglecting things more important in your life, like time with your spouse or children. It’s okay to break up with these hobbies, too. In most cases, however, you probably have a healthy relationship with your active hobbies and you’ll decide to keep up with them. You still will want to evaluate how much stuff you have for them. If you have more supplies than you could use in a lifetime associated with that hobby, it’s time to weed through the collection of stuff. My rule of thumb is that you should never have more than one year’s worth of supplies for an intense hobby — and less than that if you can manage.

There is a caveat to my assumption that you’re just not that into your hobby that I feel I should mention as a footnote. The truth may be that you really like your hobby, but somewhere along the way you misappropriated your time and let it fall by the wayside. Instead of making chairs in your woodworking studio, you’ve been watching television. If this is the case, make new priorities and recommit to your hobby. Turn off the t.v. and head to your studio. Decide to re-evaluate that hobby in six months. If in six months, however, you’re still watching t.v., then it’s time to admit that watching t.v. is your hobby not woodworking.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 2

In the previous post in this bedroom series, I talked about simplifying your room so that it serves its purpose as a place for rest and rejuvenation, and not an extension of your home or work life. Once you’ve got everything out of your bedroom that doesn’t belong, what should you be left with?

Ideally, the answer is nothing more than your bed, bedside stands, maybe a chair and some soft light source. If you can, avoid clunky bedside tables which encourage clutter collection. Connie Cox and Chris Evatt in 30 Days to a Simpler Life advise us to consider small wall-mounted night-stands. They don’t take up much space and they are easy to vacuum under. If you need a dresser because storage space is a concern, choose one that is not too ornate or distracting and make sure the drawers can shut completely keeping their contents out of sight.

Under-bed storage is a debatable proposition since some claim “it will block the flow of chi.” I say, do whatever feels right to you. Personally, I don’t think having a few containers under my bed as I sleep will affect me one bit. But if you’re going to worry about the possibility, maybe the extra storage is not worth the stress. That said, if you do opt to use the space under your bed for storage, avoid using it for storing things you will need frequently. Don’t put your art supplies or shoes down there if you will be crouching down every other day. Instead, use the space to store your out-of-season wardrobe and linens.

Superman had his Fortress of Solitude (which, as I remember from the movies, was a modernist and sparsely decorated affair) where he went to “get away from it all.” It’s not so hard for you to have your own.

 

This post has been updated since its previous publication in 2007.

Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 1

Simple living shouldn’t be about deprivation, but about avoiding the stress that often comes from too many possessions. One of the best examples of how this philosophy can be applied is in the bedroom.

Ideally, your bedroom is a place for sleeping. That is, it’s a place for rest and relaxation. Anything in your room that doesn’t contribute to the relaxation will likely only keep you from recharging your batteries. A TV will keep you up all night. Piles of books and work will only remind you of things you have to do or read. Clothes strewn about will evoke bad feelings about undone housework.

The first step toward this goal is to take everything out that doesn’t have to do with sleep or sex. Work desk with a computer? Find another room for it. Overflowing hamper? Put it in a closet or other space. For those of us who live in small urban apartments this might not be possible so placing a room dividing screen between the bed and the home office can help. Another tip that might help is taking all those photos off the walls and replacing them with a single big art piece, or maybe nothing at all?

Some great tips to make a bedroom a stress-free sanctuary include getting rid of extra linens. You only really need two sets (one to use while the other is being washed). That’ll cut on clutter beyond the bedroom. I suggest that when it comes to the two linen sets you do have you go for luxury. Most people spend at least eight hours in bed every day, and those eight hours have a big impact on how the rest of your day goes well. Why not outfit your bed with the most comfortable accoutrements you can find?

And don’t go pillow crazy. You only need a pillow or two for each person. A dozen little pillows are only dust-collecting fluffy clutter that you have to shuffle around every day. Avoid it.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Charity, Repair, Switch, and Store

sweater storage bagOne of the responsibilities that comes with keeping an uncluttered life is spring cleaning. When warm weather sets in, I turn to two books in my personal library for help: Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook (pgs. 27-29) and Better Homes and Gardens’ Making a Home: Housekeeping for Real Life (pgs. 56-60). Both books have lists of chores and maintenance that, when done semi-annually, can end up saving a lot of time, money, and stress.

Before beginning any spring cleaning routines, I like to have what I call a Charity, Repair, Switch, and Store Party. I open my closet and identify the winter clothes that I didn’t wear over the last six months or that have gone dreadfully out of style and I put those in a charity pile. I gather together all clothing that needs to be repaired or altered and put those clothes in a bag to take to the tailor. Next, I identify all of my clothing that contains wool or cashmere, fold it up, and put it in vinyl storage bags with cedar chips. Finally, I pull my warmer weather clothes out of storage (I keep these contained in large plastic containers under my bed) and swap out the contents of my closet.

I do a similar task with my shoes: one pile for charity, one pile for the cobbler, and switch my summer shoes to the top of the shoe stack. I also do the same with the front hall closet: charity, tailor, moth proofing, and switch the winter coats, hats, and gloves with jackets and umbrellas. If I had children who stored sporting equipment in the garage, I would have them take on the same type of task there: charity, repair, switch, and store.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Tough questions for your things

I like to think of myself as a person who is unattached to physical objects. Truth be told, however, this might not necessarily be the case. My lifestyle, being more minimalist than average, means that I make a conscience decision to bring something into my home. Each object exists in my space for a reason, and a chunk of time, planning, and research was dedicated to its acquisition, and there are further evaluations to let it stay. I make an investment of myself in every object, and that is why it’s hard for me to say that I’m not attached to these objects.

I likely will never resolve this quandary, but I think that the acquisition and evaluation process that I put into every object — and I do mean every object — is a valuable one. If I bring a non-essential item into my home, it ultimately will become clutter, and I am more interested in keeping a clutter-free lifestyle than one full of knickknacks and pointless objects.

I have two set lists of questions that I ask myself about every object in my home. These lists have changed a bit with time, and I expect them to go through some adjustments as my family grows, so feel welcome to adapt these lists for your own use and adjust as you see fit. The first list is directed toward new acquisitions and the second is for objects that are already inside my house.

Questions for New Acquisitions:

  1. Do I have something like this already that fulfills the same purpose?
  2. If I own something like this, am I ready to get rid of the older item since this newer item will have to replace it?
  3. Will this item make my life easier/save me time/save me money/fulfill an essential need?
  4. Where will this object live in our house?
  5. Is this the best price for this object, is this the best quality that I can get for the money, and is this object in its best possible condition?
  6. Do I need to do more research about this object before I make this purchase/bring it into my home?
  7. If this is a perishable item (like food), when will I use it and what will I do if I don’t use all of it?
  8. Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to live?

Questions for Items Already in My Home:

  1. Do I have something else like this that fulfills the same purpose?
  2. If this is a duplicate item, which of these items is in the best condition, of the best quality, and will last me the longest?
  3. Is this item in disrepair and need to be replaced or fixed?
  4. Does this item make my life easier/save me time/save me money/fulfill an essential need?
  5. Why does this object live in our house and is this the best place for this object?
  6. Do I need to do more research to know if this is the best object to fulfill its essential need?
  7. If this is a perishable item, has its expiration date passed?
  8. Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to live?

I’m interested in knowing if others have additional or alternative questions that they pose before acquiring or retaining objects for their homes. Please feel welcome to use the comments for this post to discuss your decision-making process!

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

No more wire hangers!

The next time you head to your dry cleaner, take all of your unused wire hangers with you. Most dry cleaners recycle hangers and actually appreciate you returning them because it saves them money. You get rid of clutter in your closet and help keep landfills free of hangers.

Also, unless you have a need for the plastic bags they wrap around your clothing, you can ask for the dry cleaner to keep the bags off of your clothes. It keeps you from having to toss the bag when you get home, and again saves the dry cleaner money. Men’s dress shirts also can be folded instead of put on a hanger so that you don’t have to take a hanger home with you at all.

When you go to pick up your clothes at the dry cleaners, take reusable high quality hangers and garment bags with you just like taking reusable shopping bags with you when grocery shopping. That way you don’t even need to take their wire hangers and plastic bags home.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Collapsible gardening container

Collapsible Garden ContainerFor those of you who have spring fever and are itching to get outside and clean up your yard, here is a nice 30 gallon gardening container that may interest you. It is completely collapsible, and when it is not in use it can be stored nicely out of the way.

It is a great time of the year to get a jump on getting your yard in order. The winter weather is behind us (fingers crossed), so get all those branches, leaves, and dead plants out of your yard. Feel welcome to explore our different strategies to keep yard maintenance to minimum so you aren’t spending too much time with upkeep during the warmer seasons.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Being organized: A learned behavior

Reasons people give for being disorganized usually align with being too busy or a life changing event (new baby, death of a loved one) or general laziness. These are reasonable explanations and are obstacles that can be overcome.

Every once in a while, however, someone will try to explain to me that they are disorganized because of their genetic makeup. They use phrases such as, “I come from messy people” or “I couldn’t be organized if I wanted to.” Yes, some families are pack rats over the course of multiple generations, but those are learned behaviors. There is not a gene as far as any scientist has found that predetermines a person’s affinity for organization.*

Can growing up in a household of highly disorganized people affect your perceptions and habits? You bet. But does it sentence you to a lifetime of clutter? No!

As with any life skill — time management, cooking, walking — those necessary to maintain an organized life can be learned. You may need to practice these skills, the same way you practice a musical instrument, but you can eventually work to a level of mastery.

I haven’t always been organized. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I used to be the type of person who held onto every object I deemed sentimental. I eventually realized that holding onto so much stuff came with a lot of stress, worry, and financial expense, and that I wanted a different way of life. So, I learned organization skills, practiced them, and implemented them throughout my life. You can learn them, too.

If you’ve convinced yourself that you are destined to a life of disorganization, try changing that attitude! Put in the time, effort, and practice necessary to become the more organized person you desire. No need to go overboard, just find the best level of organization for you that allows you to live the remarkable life you desire.

*I want to note that there is something actually called a Disorganization Gene, but it has nothing to do with clutter. It’s about birth defects and cellular mutations involving the actual genetic code of an animal becoming disorganized. || Image courtesy of wikipedia.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Can someone be a collector and be uncluttered?

The quick answer to the question posed in the headline is yes. Being uncluttered and being a collector are not mutually exclusive states.

I will be the first to admit, however, that being an uncluttered collector is not an easy task. The temptation to collect beyond one’s reasonable limits is high, and can thwart even someone with the best of intentions.

An uncluttered collector, by definition, takes pride in his or her collection and displays it fully and respectfully. A collector wants to enjoy his or her collection and share it with others. Conversely, a collection is clutter when it’s stored out of sight, in a disrespectful manner, and for no other reason than just to have more stuff.

So what does an uncluttered collection look like? Unclutterer Jerry wrote about PlasmicSteve’s memorabilia office in our Workspace of the Week feature. I see this office as a perfect example of how someone can be an uncluttered collector and honor the things he or she chooses to collect:

Are you a collector? How do you display fully and respectfully your collection? Or, are you storing your “collection” in boxes in your attic in less-than-desirable conditions?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Uncluttering and firearms

Editor’s Note: Regardless if you are for or against the possession of firearms, there may be an occasion where you may run across them while uncluttering and organizing. Generally, this would be when you are cleaning out a space that does not belong to you, for example a deceased relative. In this situation, we should always expect to discover the unexpected, and a firearm might be one of those unexpected things.

To provide some guidance on what to do when you come across firearms, we welcome today’s guest, Monica Ricci. She is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, author, blogger and firearms instructor. She enjoys cooking, travel, music, photography and competitive shooting.

 

After 20 years in the organizing and productivity business, you can imagine I have seen nearly everything there is to see in a person’s home, from dirty diapers under the sofa to “adult novelty products” in the bedside table drawer. For most organizers, finding these items is no big deal. We remain unfazed, letting professionalism and discretion prevail in what might otherwise be an awkward situation.

However, as prepared as most of us are for the aforementioned items, stumbling upon a firearm is a different story for someone who is not accustomed to dealing with them. As an experienced shooter and firearms instructor, I am not personally unnerved by the presence of a firearm, however I’m also not cavalier about it. Finding a gun when you don’t expect to can be a surprise for everyone.

The good news is that firearms aren’t magic. They don’t “just go off” by themselves. They are mechanical devices which require human interaction to work, which means as long as you follow some basic rules of firearms safety, you can prevent an accident.

Rule # 1: A gun is always loaded. Never — and I mean NEVER EVER — take the word of another person who says, “It’s not loaded.” First of all, unless you see them physically check the gun in front of you, they are guessing or assuming and you never guess or assume when it comes to firearms. Secondly, even if they check the gun while standing in front of you, please do not take their word for it. They may know enough to drop a magazine out of a pistol but there may be a round in the chamber and they may not know to check for it. If neither you nor the others you are with have the skill to check the status of the gun, do not attempt it. But always assume every gun is loaded.

Rule # 2: Always keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction. This is more difficult than it sounds because by default it has to point somewhere. But for our purposes, that means do not put yourself or another person in front of the muzzle and never allow another person to “sweep” the muzzle of a firearm past you. In the case of finding a firearm while uncluttering and organizing, take note of which way it is pointing when you find it and stay behind it (the handle side) at all times. If you or someone else picks up the gun, always ensure that it is pointing away from people and in a safe direction. Outdoors, a safe direction might be the ground, but in a home, unless you’re in a basement, pointing the gun at the floor may not be a safe direction because there may be someone below you. Sometimes you have to choose what you perceive as the safest option such as pointing it at the floor, and this is why the four rules always work together to prevent accidents. So that even if you must point a gun in what could be construed as a potentially unsafe direction, if you follow the other three rules, you shouldn’t have an accident or injury.

Rule # 3: Keep your finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard and OFF the trigger. When you hear someone say, “It just went off!” what they failed to also say is that someone had their finger (or another object) inside the trigger guard which moved the trigger. Rest assured that a gun in working order does not “just go off.”

Rule # 4: Know your target and what’s behind it. This typically pertains to when you’ve actually chosen to fire the gun. It’s important to know not only what you’re shooting at, but what is beyond it. The reason for this rule is because bullets can penetrate walls, floors, windows, furniture, and lots of other things!

Getting back to the scenario in which you happen across a firearm in the course of uncluttering and organizing…

First, remain calm and let everyone you’re working with know you’ve discovered a firearm. Next, determine if there is a space in the home to store the firearm so no one else will have access to it — preferably with a door (or box with a lid) that is lockable. Ensure everyone knows where the firearm will be stored until proper gun storage can be arranged.

If someone in your group says they are comfortable moving the firearm then let them do so BUT, be mindful that they may not know the rules of gun safety. This is the time for you to stay alert. Tell them that you will stay behind them as they do so. Keep your eye on them to be sure they keep their finger out of the trigger guard as they pick up the gun and transfer it to the designated storage area.

If no one is comfortable moving it, leave it where it is (remember it will not go off by itself as long as nothing touches the trigger) and shift your attention to work in another area, or leave the building until someone arrives who can handle the gun safely (e.g. police officer, firearms dealer, or other firearms expert).

Be mindful that in some countries, if you find a firearm, you must, by law report it to authorities (usually the police) who will take the firearm for safekeeping until proper ownership and safe storage is arranged.

Although many people own firearms, the odds are fairly slim that you’ll find one just lying around in the course of your work. However, it is still a good idea to consider what you would do, so if it ever happens you’ll be able to be prepared.