Instructions for uncluttering your home (in less than 500 words)

One of the most frequent questions I ever get asked about organizing is the process. How do you make the decisions to get rid of things? While there are many tips and tricks you can use to ease the streamlining process, it all comes down to 5 easy steps:

  1. Set yourself a goal “I am going to sort half this room before bed” or “I am going to streamline the contents of this one box.”
  2. Figure out broad categories and where you are going sort each category into.
  3. Sort your stuff, moving systemically through the space, and not bouncing back and forth.
  4. Purge what you don’t want.
  5. Stop when you’ve reached your goal.

Use the sorting time to reminisce about the objects — don’t make any decisions at this point. Allow the emotions to come up and clear themselves out so that when it comes to the streamlining stage you are free from the emotional ties and can make more objective decisions about them.

If the idea of sorting overwhelms you, give yourself some early victories and do a walk-through of the space, choosing to remove a few large things that will open up the space quickly.

After sorting:

  • Take one category and if you can, move it out of the space in which you are working, and into a clear space (like the dining room). This allows you to concentrate on the one category and not have to face the rest all at once.
  • Ask yourself two questions: Need it? Love it? If you can’t say yes to either then get rid of it. Life is too short to fill out our spaces with things we’re indifferent to.
  • Take the things you are not going to keep out of the house as quickly as possible. The longer they stay the more likely they will come back into the house.
  • Give yourself rewards – for example out of fifty childhood books you’ve never reread but have kept for sentimental reasons, keep five and store them in a place of honor where you can see them and appreciate the memories associated with them.

There are two instances in which you stop for the day even if you are not done:

  1. If you find yourself hitting a “brain fog” where nothing makes sense or you find yourself holding on to everything you are reviewing.
  2. If you have hit a manic state and start tossing everything without looking at it.

Simple, yes? So now tell us, what are you going to streamline this week?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Organizing light bulbs

Good lighting in our homes is essential. We need light to read books, work on projects, and perform basic household tasks. The brightness and hue of the lighting we choose can change the look and feel of our home.

When I was growing up, most homes had incandescent light bulbs sometimes kitchens and workshops had fluorescent ones. Our choice of light bulbs was fairly limited. Today, however, there are many options including LEDs, compact fluorescent (CFL), halogen, and ‘smart’ bulbs that can change colors and turn on and off with voice commands.

Lowes Hardware has a great explanation of wattage, light output (lumens), and temperature (Kelvin) of light bulbs and a guide for choosing the correct lighting in your home. We encourage you to read their articles if you are unsure of what type of lighting and lightbulbs you need.

Personally, I prefer LED bulbs. They are energy efficient and are cool to touch. They do not contain mercury like fluorescent/CFL bulbs so they are easier to dispose of. With LED smart bulbs, you can dim or change the colour/hue. This is helpful because with the smart bulbs, one lamp can serve many purposes. You can increase the brightness and change the colour to cool white to easily see your sewing project then turn the brightness down and the colour to warm enjoy a relaxed ambience.

LED bulbs are expensive (especially the smart bulbs) compared to many other options however, if you gradually replace your regular bulbs with LED bulbs over time, the financial impact will be reduced. Because LED bulbs last for many years, you won’t need to replace them very often!

Unclutter light bulbs

Go around the house and collect all of the light bulbs you may have stashed in various closets and cupboards. Dispose of any lightbulbs that are broken, damaged, or no longer work. You may need to test some of them in a lamp. Remember that fluorescent and CFL bulbs contain mercury so you cannot throw them in the trash. The Environmental Protection Agency has advice on how to dispose of them responsibly and where to find local disposal facilities.

Separate the remaining light bulbs into categories. For bulbs of all the same size and shape, you could separate them by brightness and hue (wattage, lumens, temperature). You may have specific bulbs for specific fixtures so they could be in a separate category.

Store light bulbs

Light bulbs can be easily stored in the package they come in. If they ship from the warehouse to the consumer without breaking, that package is sturdy enough. Be sure to label the box with the type of light bulb and where it is used, for example, LED 60W soft white for ceiling fixtures in living room, hallways, bedrooms.

If you have uniquely shaped bulbs, such as those for outdoor floodlights or chandeliers, you could wrap them in packing paper and write on the paper the type of bulb and what it is for.

You can create your own lightbulb storage by gluing plastic or foam cups to cardboard sheets and stacking them in a bin. Professional organizer Linda Chu from Vancouver demonstrated this technique for storing Christmas ornaments but it would work equally well for lightbulbs. Re-purposing a cardboard bottle tote is an option too.

We store light bulbs in a small Rubbermaid tote, either in the original packaging so it is easy to see what the bulb is, or we wrap the bulbs in fruit net wrap that the local grocery store was going to throw in the garbage anyway.

Designate one spot in your home for light bulb storage. It could be in a basement or linen closet. When you remove the last bulb of a specific type from your storage box, remember to add that type of light bulb to your shopping list.

If you have any light bulb organizing tips to share with our readers, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Ask Unclutterer: Corner kitchen cabinets

Reader Marnie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Our house has corner kitchen cabinets with lots of wasted space. Is a lazy susan the way to go? I feel like there is a decent amount of unused space when they are used. Do you have any recommendations?

Marnie, I love this question because I had been struggling with the same problem in my kitchen and recently found a solution. The answer we discovered are storage systems that use the descriptive phrase “blind corner” in their names. Some are called “blind corner tracks” or “blind corner cabinet systems” or some version of all of those words.

They are regular cabinet shelves that sit on a sliding hinge and pivot mechanism. The unit pulls out into the room so that you can have easy access to everything on the shelves. When it is not in use, it folds back into the cupboard and occupies every nook and cranny.

blind cabinet shelves

There is also a blind-corner pull-out system. It is comprised of two large shelves that swing out of the cupboard door on a large pivot. The shelves can be pulled out one at a time so you can easily access the contents. You can purchase either a left-hand or right-hand opening depending on the design of your kitchen.

Unfortunately for corner cupboards, the only system seems to be a Lazy Susan. You can use wedge-shaped bins and half-shelves that will help you maximize your storage space.

Thank you, Marnie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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

 

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

Get organized on a shoestring

Shelving systems, storage boxes, and drawer organizers are convenient, but they also cost money. When you take on an organizing project, sometimes what is convenient isn’t always in the budget. Here are some tips to help cut costs and become a little more organized:

Boxes: Whether they are cereal boxes, shoe boxes, moving boxes, or mystery boxes from long, long ago, you can make use of them in storing just about anything. You can spruce them up with contact paper or wrapping paper to make them more aesthetically pleasing. Make sure you label them accordingly so you know what is inside. You can also use cut larger boxes to a smaller size or use smaller boxes for drawer dividers. By making use of jewelry boxes, shoe boxes, or any other small box you can keep your drawers organized on the cheap.

Shelving: We made use of some old doors for shelving purposes in our basement. They are large, sturdy, and serve the purpose of makeshift shelving. Light-duty shelving units are relatively inexpensive, but taking a look around your home to see what you could repurpose before you head out to shop. In my opinion, basement or garage shelving should be utilitarian. Scrap wood and cinder blocks made sense in college for an entertainment system, surely it can make due as a place for your paint cans and bins of holiday decorations.

Thrift stores: They are a treasure trove of storage possibilities. An old chest of drawers can be used for tools and painting supplies. You can often find discounted desk sets, file storage solutions, and more.

Unclutter first, store later: Take stock of everything you want to organize. You may be surprised at the amount of stuff you don’t actually need. This may cut down on the storage solutions that you may need.

I know our insightful readers have some great ideas to add to this post. Let’s see them in the comments section.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Organizing food storage wraps

If you’re not lucky enough to have a designated drawer for food storage wraps in your kitchen, you probably have to sacrifice space in your pantry or cupboards for plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, plastic sandwich bags, freezer paper, cellophane bags, reusable shopping bags, and reusable produce bags. I have to store these items in my pantry, too, and I have been considering the following items to help better organize my space:

Right now, the wrap shelves and the bag holder are what I think I’m going to buy. What do you use to organize your food storage wraps in your kitchen? Or, are you one of the lucky ones with a designated drawer? Tell us about your food storage wrap situation in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Storing board games and puzzles

Storing board games and puzzles can be an unnecessarily cumbersome task. The cardboard boxes are easily damaged and there isn’t a standard size to make stacking simple.

If board game and puzzle organization has you stumped, here are some suggestions for getting your games in order:

  • When acquiring new board games, consider purchasing games in “library” or “book” style boxes. They easily fit on a bookshelf and their standardized sizes make cupboard storage convenient, too. Hasbro has numerous classic games in its library series (Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry, Clue, Stratego, Life, Jenga, Memory, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi, Ho! Cherry-O). And, many of the Rio Grande games also come in bookshelf-friendly boxes, like Carcassonne and Puerto Rico.
  • To avoid losing pieces, bundle everything but the game board and box into zip-top bags when the game is not in use. It’s a lot easier to find a bag of men, dice, and cards than it is to find a single piece.
  • Use gallon size zip-top bags for puzzle pieces if the puzzle box is damaged. Take a picture of the puzzle box top and put it in with the pieces in the bag. Or, if you’re up for a challenge, just write the name of the puzzle on the bag with a permanent marker and don’t have a picture to follow.
  • If your child is a fan of wood puzzles, the Wire Puzzle Rack can hold more than 10 wooden puzzles of varying sizes.
  • A puzzle mat is good for storing puzzles when you need to put it away but aren’t yet finished working on it.
  • If the box for a game becomes so damaged that it is no longer containing a game, these plastic project boxes hold the pieces and most boards.

How do you store board games and puzzles in your home? Let us know your suggestions in the comments!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Techniques for taming pet fur tumbleweeds

Reader Jim sent us the following question:

OK, so I like your 30 minutes per day cleaning model…however, with a dog (big chocolate lab) that is constantly shedding, what tools, cleaning devises, ideas, etc., might I use to keep up with the seemingly endless dog-hair dust bunnies? Vacuuming works, but takes time to drag out the vacuum, and the broom just seems to move the hair around.

In my house, we call these gifts from our two cats “tumbleweeds.” I like your use of the word “bunnies,” though, since they do feel as if they are forever multiplying. I completely empathize with your situation and hope that I can help.

Here are a handful of strategies for dealing with pet fur tumbleweeds:

  1. Once a day, armed with a couple slightly damp paper towels, walk through your house and capture the worst offenders. If they’re large enough that you would see them and be stressed or embarrassed if a house guest were to immediately notice them, just scoop them up with the paper towel. This isn’t deep cleaning, this is just peace of mind. At most, this process should take you five minutes and is a great chore for a younger child.
  2. Bathe your pets regularly. When you bathe a pet, a good chunk of loose hair and dander goes down the drain with the water. Now, granted, this task is a bit more difficult with a cat. You have to start bathing the cat when it’s a kitten or you’ll never be able to give it a bath as an adult. We’ve been bathing our cats twice a month since they were first adopted from the shelter and now they just climb into the water. Use a pet-friendly shampoo (not human shampoo) and ask your vet for tips and breed-specific bathing frequency recommendations if you’re new to the pet-washing adventure.
  3. Keep a pet brush handy. When your pet curls up at your feet and wants some snuggles, give him a brush at least once a day. You’ll capture the fur before it can become a tumbleweed.
  4. Install reliable air filters in your heating/air conditioning system and replace them seasonally.
  5. If your pet routinely uses a bed, drape its bed with a fleece blanket. If there is a favorite spot where he likes to curl up, lay a fleece blanket in that location. Fleece blankets act like giant magnets for pet hair because of their inherent static nature. Roll up the blanket and throw it in the washer once a week, and for extra pull, dry it without a dryer sheet.
  6. Although you hate to do it, you should run the vacuum at least once a week. Don’t forget to vacuum under the couch, along baseboards, every stair, and closet floors where pet fur tumbleweeds like to hide.
  7. Feed your pet high-quality food. The healthier your pet’s diet, the healthier your pet and his coat. Talk to your vet about the best diet for your pet. Sometimes, switching to a healthier pet food will greatly reduce the amount your pet sheds.

Good luck! And, if ever in doubt about a technique, just ask your vet. He or she will be able to tell you if something is safe for your pet.

Photograph accompanying this post taken by Matt Niemi.

 

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

Review: Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Over the last few days, I watched the entire season of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. After years of watching home organizing shows (in three different countries in two different languages), Tidying Up ranks very high on my preference list. There are a few issues I have with the KonMari method though. Here is my perspective about the show.

Kondo respects the families and their home. At the beginning of each episode, she “greets the house” by kneeling on the floor for a few minutes. Personally, I find it a bit daft but this gives her clients time to focus on their vision of what they want their new organized life to be. This centres them and prepares them for the upcoming tasks.

During the show, the clients do everything themselves. There does not appear to be a team or crew of organizers to help. The families sort through their own stuff. They decide what to keep (things that “spark joy”) what and what goes (things that don’t “spark joy”). We see them taking their own stuff to donation centres too.

One of my favourite things about Tidying Up is that there is no “stuff shaming.” Kondo does not make the family members cry because they have too much stuff or they are not treating their stuff well-enough. She just keeps smiling and reminds them of their end goal. When the clients are unsure about keeping an item, Kondo does not judge. She tells them to keep it because they can always look at it later and change their mind. All of the professional organizers I know work this way with their clients.

Tidying Up also has realistic timelines. In one episode, the final reveal was on Day 42 — six weeks after Kondo’s first visit. This allows families to carefully evaluate their decisions about which items truly “spark joy.” This is much more representative of the work that professional organizers do.

I admit that I was pleasantly surprised when, in one episode, Kondo brought in an empty shoebox — a plain old shoebox — and told children to use it to organize their clothes. Because, she said, that when they were ready to buy a dresser, they would know how much space they needed. No shopping for containers and bins. No expensive furniture brought in by the show’s sponsors. Just respect for the clients, their needs, and their budget.

The big reveal at the end of each show is the closest to reality TV that I’ve seen. There were mismatched hangers in closets. Shoeboxes on shelves holding (nicely) folded clothes. No renovations, no painting, no staging — just families proud of the work they accomplished.

Where Kondo sparks joy: Clothes

tshirts folded Konmari methodKondo’s method for folding clothes is amazing. I’ve used her method with my own clothes. Everything looks beautiful. The clothes take up much less space. I think it is a bit corny to “communicate my affection” to my clothes by running my hands over each item. However, it removes all the wrinkles and helps me notice if there are stains or damage to the clothing.

Where Kondo sparks controversy: Books

Unclutterer’s Twitter timeline was abuzz with bibliophiles stressed out that Kondo was telling everyone to get rid of any books that did not “spark joy.” She may have said that. She also said, “Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values.” She wants people to ask, “Will having these books be beneficial to your life going forward?”

In other words, Kondo thinks people should keep books that they have enjoyed and still want to enjoy, and they should keep books that they have found useful and will likely still find useful in the future.

Where Kondo fizzles out: Paper

I find Kondo’s method of sorting paper too simplistic. She says there are three categories:

  • Pending — Documents to act on such as bills and correspondence.
  • Important — Documents to keep permanently such as contracts and insurance forms.
  • Miscellaneous — Documents that you refer to often such as recipes from a magazine.

In the short-term this is a quick way to separate what you need to deal with now, and what can be stored for later. In the long-term, this is a formula for cluttered, over-stuffed filing cabinets.

There are many important documents that you need to keep for an extended period of time but do not need to keep permanently. People need to develop a routine for dealing with their papers on a regular basis. See the Unclutterer series on Records and Information Management to get not only your paperwork, but your electronic documents sorted, uncluttered, and organized once and for all.

 

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo does not reveal any new or unique organizing techniques. However, it is an enjoyable show to watch. Kondo’s cheerful attitude and positive energy spreads to the families she helps.

We would love our readers to share their thoughts about the show. Chime in with a comment and let us know what you think.

Hiring a professional organizer


Since January is the National Association of Professional Organizer’s Get Organized and Be Productive Month, I’ve asked Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing in Cary, North Carolina, to share her insights with us on how to hire a professional organizer. For many of us, having someone coach us through the uncluttering process can be very beneficial.

If you decide to hire a professional organizer, start by looking for someone who is diplomatic, empathetic, willing to listen, non-judgmental, creative, patient, and trustworthy. Also, to ensure that the professional organizer follows ethical business practices, check your local Better Business Bureau reports and look for someone who is involved a professional organization like the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) in the US. For professional organizing associations in other parts of the world, check the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA).

It is okay to interview different organizing and productivity professionals to get a feel for who matches best with your personality. Below is a menu of questions you might consider asking when hiring someone:

  1. What are your areas of expertise? (Some possible answers may include: garages, clients with ADHD, time management, wardrobes and closets, financial matters, computer-related challenges, speaking, coaching, writing, estate liquidation, downsizing for seniors, home staging, relocation, etc.)
  2. Are you certified? Insured? (Certification is optional and not required. NAPO has many well-qualified organizers that are not certified for a variety of reasons.)
  3. Do you attend conferences or teleclasses to stay abreast of current organizing trends and techniques?
  4. Do you have local references?
  5. Do you belong to any professional organizations? (I would not hire a professional organizer who is not involved in some type of professional group or organization. To me, a professional affiliation demonstrates not only a commitment to the field but an additional way to check out that person among other business-minded individuals.)
  6. How long have you been in business? How many clients / hours have you worked?
  7. What hours do you work? What days of the week are you available? (Make sure that this person’s availability is a good match for your availability.)
  8. Do you bring the necessary supplies, or do I purchase them separately?
  9. If you purchase supplies or materials at a discount, do you “up charge” or charge an hourly shopping fee?
  10. Do you make arrangements to take away donations, consignments, and trash? If so, do you charge a fee for this service?
  11. Do you work alone or do you have a team of employees or subcontractors, if necessary?
  12. Do you have advertising on your car? (Ask this only if you do not want co-workers or neighbors to know you are hiring a professional organizer.)
  13. Do you take photographs? Will they be on your website?
  14. What is your cancellation policy?
  15. How do you charge? Of course, I don’t need to tell you to inquire about fees but there are many options available, including hourly, by the project, or bulk rates. There may be a minimum number of hours required per booking, too, so ask about that.

Remember that professional organizers and productivity consultants are not housekeepers, therapists, decorators, or nurses unless they specifically tell you that their credentials include these jobs.

NAPO defines Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant as follows:

Professional Organizer: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around objects, space, and data; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding function, order, and clarity.

Productivity Consultant: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around time, energy, and resources; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding goals, effectiveness, and priorities.

If you have ADHD or any other type of chronic organizing challenge, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization is the place to find a qualified organizer.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

January is Get Organized and Be Productive Month

The National Association of Professional Organizers has once again declared January Get Organized and Be Productive Month!

We love the idea of starting off the year on the right foot, and we hope that you get in on the organizing spirit. NAPO has many events scheduled across the country as part of their Get Organized and Be Productive Month.

Also, Amazon is interested in helping you get organized in January with a number of good deals on storage solutions and organizing books.

Do you have plans to get organized in January? Let us know about your plans in the comments. You can help inspire all of us.

 

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Reader suggestion: Cleaning ornaments

It is a great idea to clean and dry ornaments before putting them away for the season. In most cases, a damp cloth will be enough to remove any dust that has accumulated during the season. For ornaments that can’t be washed with water, reader Kerry wrote to us with this tip for cleaning ornaments.

When I take the ornaments off the tree, I hang them on my indoor clothes drying rack which is placed over a towel. Then, I use compressed air to clean the ornaments so they are ready for next year!

Great idea, Kerry!

If you have any ornament cleaning tips you would like to share, let us know in the comments below.

 

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

Too many flower vases

As I was looking for something in my kitchen, I came across a cupboard that was filled with multiple flower vases. Over the years, my wife and I have received a fair amount of mail ordered flowers and with every order there is always a glass vase included. Apparently, these vases all found their way into the same cupboard and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with them.

My first thought was to take them down to my local charity shop. However, I always remembered seeing an abundance of vases at thrift stores so I decided against that. I called a local florist to see if they would be interested in reusing some flower vases for their deliveries. They were not very receptive to the idea. Maybe they thought I would return them with some sort of flower killing disease.

I tried to figure out what I could use them for around the house other than storing loose change. I could use them for their purpose and display beautiful flowers each and every day, but buying flowers every week, especially in the colder seasons isn’t going to happen. I’d have to purchase quite a few bouquets just to put all the vases to use.

Dear readers, what can I do with all of these vases? Please leave some suggestions in the comments. I’m sure other readers have the same issue of flower vases taking up way too much storage space. Let’s get a collection of ideas brewing in the comments section.

 

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