What’s a kitchen for?

Today’s kitchens are used for more than just preparing food. They are often playrooms, offices, mail centers, and TV rooms. When you mix up so many purposes for the same space (or even the same countertop), you’re not going to get good results. Something as simple as making a ham and cheese sandwich is impossible when your countertops are covered with bills and other papers. Instead of succumbing to this fate, set up different spaces for different tasks.

Ideally, your kitchen should only be for cooking, but realistically that’s not going to be the case–especially since kitchens tend to be the center of family activity. Designate some countertop space that’s off-limits to anything but cooking or eating, and make it a point to keep it clear when it’s not being used. That way, when you’re ready to use it again, it’s ready for you.

If you must bring mail and bill-paying paraphernalia into the kitchen, set up a space for just that activity and don’t let it spread out of that area. (A desktop organizer or mini-shelf is a perfect solution.) Even if you can’t dedicate surfaces to specific activities like bill-paying, storage in the kitchen can help. For example, when you finish eating at the kitchen table, you take away the dishes to wash and store in the cupboard. Why not do the same with everything else? If you pay bills, do homework, or play games at the kitchen table, make sure to clean up when you’re done. Keeping a drawer or cupboard for each activity will make it as easy and second-nature to put away your stuff.


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

Reader question: Curbing golf club clutter?

A reader who identified herself as elrj sent us this question:

“My husband and I live in a charming one bedroom apartment in a converted historic townhouse. At first, it was a squeeze because the place doesn’t have much storage/closet space at all. But, with some re-arranging and advice from blogs like this, we have massaged our little home into a wonderfully live-able and entertain-able space. Then I bought a bike. Combined with his, they take up the entire hallway, and when you add the golf clubs (previously stored in the trunk of our car) we’ve got quite the sports-themed house. We have no yard/outside to chain them to, and we use them regularly. What do you do with such things in an efficiency?”

Storing sporting equipment in an efficiency can be a headache. When my husband and I first moved in together in our 850 sq. foot one bedroom, our lack of space was almost enough to convince me drop sports all together. I know your pain and understand it.

As far as your bikes are concerned, we’ve already published a couple posts on this topic on the site. The posts themselves have some strong ideas, but be sure to read the comments where many of our readers offer up terrific alternatives: Single hook bike solution and Bike storage solutions.

We’ve never discussed golf clubs on the site, though, so I want to spend the remainder of this post addressing that topic.

The first thing you’ll want to consider when looking to save space is getting new golf bags. My husband and I downsized from our behemoth traditional staff/cart style bags to new feather-weight backpack styles (similar to these: Mine, His) and have never looked back. My empty bag weighs less than four pounds and is about half of the footprint as my old bag. All of my clubs and materials fit easily in the bag, and it has the added bonus of being able to be hung up on a strong, wooden hanger in my closet. (I bungee cord the straps together to make certain they don’t slip off the hanger.)

Another idea is to contact the course where you play most often and see if they have on-site storage lockers. You’ll have to shell out a little money per month, but it gets your bags out of your house and you don’t have to worry about transporting your bag from home to course should you decide to ride your bike. If you don’t play golf more than a few times a year, though, this suggestion won’t be practical for you.

In fact, if you only play golf two or three times a year, I suggest that you get rid of the clubs. Renting a set of clubs for the few times you do play will be less stressful in the long run. With the money you get from selling your clubs, you can pay for three or four rentals. Again, I’m only making this suggestion if you rarely play and are just holding onto the clubs because of a sunk-cost fallacy.

If you do play often, can’t rent space at your course, and don’t have space in your closets to hang your clubs, you may want to consider: A wall-mounted golf bag and shoe organizer (pictured above) or a freestanding wood bag organizer. The wall-mounted system could turn your golf bags into a piece of interesting art, and the standing organizer could at least provide a permanent home for your bags.

I hope one of these ideas is helpful. Good luck!


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

Quickly unclutter any room in your house

It’s January, but here at Chez Dave we’re already thinking about storing the winter clothes (hats, gloves, etc.), and tools (shovels, ice scrapers, etc.) and pulling out the spring items. It’s an unenviable task but one that can’t be avoided. It’s also a good time to take stock of what we own and identify what can stay and what should go. That process is made so much easier by asking one simple question: If I went shopping today, would I buy this?

Before putting something into storage or taking it out, just pause. Hold an item up and honestly ask the question. If you were standing in a store with that item right now, would you pay full price to bring it home? If the answer is yes, then you’ve found a keeper. If not, then you have a reason to consider your relationship with that item. Is it actually something you want or need?

You can apply this simple technique to any room of the house and nearly every item (not the pets, please):


  • Tools (any unitaskers there?)
  • Plates
  • Flatware
  • Serving bowls
  • Dish towels


  • Tape measure
  • Stud finder
  • Hammer
  • Wrenches

You get the idea. If any items are non-functional, obsolete, rarely used, etc., put them aside and consider if they really have a place in your home. Good luck and happy purging.

Organize your medicine chest

Last year we shared some advice on organizing a medicine chest. Now that cold and flu season is upon us, I want to revisit the topic with a few more best-practice tips and tricks.

As Erin previously stated, don’t store medicine in the bathroom. Humidity isn’t good for many medicines and unlocked cabinets can be an invitation to curious kids (or nosy house guests). Instead, invest in a lockable cabinet that can be mounted in a closet or somewhere similar. You’ll find the rest of Erin’s great tips here.

In this post, I’d like to offer some tips on how to organize the items within your medicine cabinet.

First, round up those little cylinders that love to fall over, roll around, and make a general nuisance of themselves. I’m talking about lip balm, sunscreen, and the like. Clear acrylic canisters will keep them tidy and easily identified.

Next, round up small metallic items like bobby pins and tweezers and stick them to a bit of adhesive magnetic strip. It will save you hours of hunting around trying to find them.

Move “leftovers” into smaller containers. You don’t need to store the last four bandages in that gigantic cardboard box that is already falling apart! Move them into something like a zipper lock bag or coupon organizer. The same goes for cotton balls, cotton swabs, etc.

If you keep cosmetics in the medicine chest, consider these stick-on mini-shelves for the inside of the door to keep them organized and separate from medication.

Lastly, give the cabinet a good cleaning. Remove everything, wipe down the entire interior with sanitizing wipes, and properly dispose of anything that is expired or no longer needed. When that is done, re-arrange the contents based on how you live. Put oft-used items front and center while moving the stuff you rarely use on a top shelf. You’ll spend less time digging around.

This is tangentially related, but I keep a dopp kit ready to go at all times, with the following inside:

  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Shampoo
  • Mouthwash
  • Deodorant
  • Disposable razor
  • Shaving cream

That way I don’t need to tear the medicine chest apart to find these things in an emergency or when I’m packing for a trip.

Take-out menu filer

Ever wanted to order in something other than pizza, but you can’t think of anything other than the usual Chinese place? Something I’ve done for quite a while is file take-out menus in an Itoya portfolio that I keep on a bookshelf for easy access. Whenever I come home to find a Mexican, Salvadoran, Kabob, or whatever menu slipped under my door, I stick it in my portfolio. I use one pocket for each type of cuisine–all the Chinese menus go together, same goes for the pizza menus, etc.

When we feel like ordering in, we just flip through the pages and pick a cuisine. Then pull out the menus and make our choice. The key here is always dropping in menus when you get them in the mail or with your order, and throwing out obsolete ones when you find them. This beats piling them on a table by a phone, sticking them to your fridge, or cramming them in a drawer. And if you prefer, here’s a binder designed just for menus.


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

Organize a fun game night

The holidays are over and many of us are settling in for winter — hunkering down, closing the blinds and staying warm. It’s a classic time to play some board games.

Don’t think of board games as simply a way to pass the time until you can get outdoors for recreation. With proper preparation, a “game night” party can be a lot of fun for friends and family alike. For many, it’s a unique way to spend time together and socialize.

Gaming has many benefits. It is a chance to bond as a family or group of friends; an opportunity to teach young kids how to win and lose graciously (the lessons of sportsmanship aren’t unique to organized sports); to pull people away from digital screens and yes, a chance to indulge in some serious organization.

With all of this in mind, here’s how to organize a game night for your friends, family or a combination of both. I’ll describe some equipment to buy, steps to take before guests arrive to ensure a good time, and more.

A successful game night is an organized game night. A sure way to dampen the fun is to invite five or six people over to stare at each other and ask, “So, what are we going to play?” Here’s how to ensure a fun evening for everyone.

Consider who will be attending

I typically use the term “tabletop games” instead of “board games” because there’s such a wide range of gaming experiences available, from simple card games to board games many of us grew up with like Clue and Monopoly. You’ll also find mind-bending Euro-style games and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. When picking games to play, know your audience.

You might be excited to get Settlers of Catan to the table, but that won’t work with a Monopoly crowd. If you group is mixed, have two separate play areas so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the type of gaming they like.

In short, ask yourself:

  • How many people can comfortably fit in your space?
  • How many people can play the games you want to play?
  • What kind of group do you want to have?

Sometimes a game just doesn’t work so it’s great to have back up games.  Have something fun that is easily learned just in case.

Share information ahead of time

It’s a good idea to share instructions or rules before your get-together, as that can cut down on time spent teaching and learning. Board Game Geek has digital rule books for countless games that you can download for free. Share them with your guests via a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net so they can familiarize themselves with potential games, or even decide on what they’d like to play.

Get set up

If a small group is coming, the kitchen table will probably suffice. If you have a large group on the way, (Good for you!) you’ll need tables and chairs to accommodate the extra company.

I’ve used these flexible folding chairs many times and they’re great. Lightweight and comfortable, they won’t leave you sore after a few hours of use and fold neatly away when not needed. As for a table, this folding camp table has also served me well for years.

Consider Snacks

People like refreshments at parties and game night is no exception. When planning snacks, consider what can be eaten utensil-free without being too messy.

I love these drink holders. They clip onto the edge of a table and go a long way towards preventing spills. You and your guests will be constantly reaching across the table to move game pieces, grab snacks or gesticulate wildly with each dramatic move. It’s easy to overlook a bevy of beverages, so get them out of the way.

Have a schedule

As a host, take control of game night. Guests won’t appreciate an evening that ends too early or drags on too long. Here’s a good formula to follow:

  1. Start time, about 30-45 minutes. Have drinks and snacks ready to get people warmed up and ready to spend time together.
  2. Break time. A built-in and obvious break time lets people use the bathroom, get something to eat or excuse themselves.
  3. Ending time. Let people know when the evening will end, to eliminate fears of an endless night.

Set a goal for the party

This one might seem silly but it’s essential. Have goal for the evening. “To play games” is not adequate. Maybe you’ll choose something like:

  • To laugh a lot
  • To try out a new game we’ve been itching to play
  • To welcome new neighbors
  • To get to know people better and bond a little
  • To try something new and expand horizons

When you’ve selected a goal, express it in your invitation:

Saturday at my place, let’s get together to play hilarious party games! We’ll have snacks starting at 7:00 and then break open two super fun party games: Telestrations and Wits and Wagers. We’ll wrap up by 10:30. See you then!

The day of your party

It’s game night! Now that you’ve selected appropriate games, distributed rules or other pertinent information to your guests, and set up a gaming space(s), it’s finally time to play.

Have the chosen games on display for guests to view. Let people mingle, get a snack and/or a drink and settle in. Again, take control as host and announce when it’s time to start playing, as well as the chosen games and a brief description of each. Lastly, as host, play! You might be tempted to tend to the drinks, snacks, and other guest needs. That’s noble, but your guests will appreciate it more if you play with them.

Have fun and enjoy an organized game night. You might even pick up a new hobby.

Getting started with getting organized

If you want to unclutter your space and get organized, I recommend 30 Days to a Simpler Life, by Cris Evatt and Connie Cox. It’s chock full of tips and it will inspire you to get started simplifying. At times the book can be a bit too new-agey for my taste (for example, they recommend that you “say the names of things you see” to become “fully present,” and to eat with your left hand if you’re right-handed so that you eat more slowly and thus better savor your meal), but those parts can be easily overlooked if you don’t care for them. The rest is very good.

What I like about this book is that Evatt and Cox recognize that simplifying has two separate parts: first you unclutter, then you organize. If you just organize, all you’ll accomplish will be neatly stacking piles of garbage — rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic, to be dramatic about it. Evatt and Cox propose a three-step method to eliminating clutter that makes so much sense that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. It certainly helped me pare down my cluttered spaces.

Three piles

The first thing you do is that you pick an area you want to unclutter. Don’t try to do too much at once; focus on what’s causing you the most stress. (Let’s say it’s your closet, but it could be your files, or your kitchen, or anything else.) Schedule ample time to dedicate to the task and go through every item in your cluttered space. Place each item into one of three piles: the “love and use” pile, the “recycle” pile, and the “ambivalence” pile.

  1. The “love and use” pile requires little thought because it’s for those things that you immediately know are essential to you and that you use a lot. A pair of jeans that you wear at least once a week would certainly go in there.
  2. The “recycle” pile should also be simple. It’s for those items you immediately know you should get rid of. You’ll ask yourself why you still have the thing. A big elbow-padded sweater from the 80s would be a good example. Anything you haven’t worn or used once in the past year should certainly go in there. It’s called a recycle pile because you can often donate these things or give them to a friend who might be able to use them. For me, however, it’s often just a “garbage” pile. If you don’t want it, what are the chances someone else will? And you won’t believe how satisfying and liberating it is to walk to the garbage chute with a big bag of stuff from your stress area knowing you’ll never have to worry about these things again.
  3. The last pile is the trickiest, but the key to the system. Into the “ambivalence” pile go things that you don’t love, that you don’t use very often, but that you can’t bring yourself for whatever reason to throw away. Many people never wear a particular garment but won’t get rid of it because it was a gift from a loved one. That goes in the ambivalence pile. You’re not going to throw away anything in this pile, so don’t be afraid to be generous with your ambivalence.

Practice living without it

The stuff in your “love and use” pile can go back into the closet or whatever other area you’re organizing. Of course, you’ll use good quality hangers and other thoughtful organizers, but those are posts for another day. The stuff in your “ambivalence” pile, however, you fold neatly and place into attractive storage boxes. Seal up those boxes, label them, and put them in an out of the way storage space where they won’t be clutter. If a month later you realize you want to use or wear one of the things you put away, you know where to find it; no need to worry. However, after six months, or a year, or whatever short period makes you comfortable, take the ambivalence boxes with everything that’s still left in them (which is very often everything you first put into them) and throw them down the chute. You won’t feel bad, I promise. The reason is that, as Evatt and Cox say, you have practiced living without these things and you’ve effectively already thrown them out in your head. Practicing living without things is a great way to transition from a cluttered to an uncluttered space. After a year or six months, if you haven’t used something, you likely never will.

Design systems

The last step is to design simple systems that will keep you from getting cluttered again. This is the part where, once you’ve uncluttered, you can begin to get (and stay) organized. Sharing many of these little systems is much of what I hope Unclutterer does.

When you’re done with these steps, and your ambivalence boxes are tucked away, you will find that your closet is now incredibly simplified. You won’t have such a hard time picking out what to wear because all your favorite things will be readily visible. And you won’t believe how much space you’ll have. The best feeling, though, is the feeling of lightness that comes from getting rid of stuff that just doesn’t belong in your life anymore, combined with the security that it’s all there if you really do need it again. So go nuts doing this with your drawers, your living room, and every other nook.


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

The minimalist and the maximalist

When I lived alone, my minimalist tendencies could flourish. Each surface in the house was either bare or had one or two items on it. I regularly went through the house and pared down anything that had found its way onto a shelf or table without a conscious decision to put it there.

I lived this way because I am a naturally disorganized person. The more I have, the less organized I am, and the less I clean. Wiping the dust off a shelf that has two carefully placed items is much easier and faster than removing the ten knick-knacks, wiping them all down, and then placing them back where they are supposed to be.

The less I had also meant the less I bought. I didn’t need to buy anything because I had all I needed. When I travelled I almost never brought back souvenirs and my holiday decorations never grew because I had just the right amount in the exact style I was looking for.

My husband, however, is not like me at all. He believes that if there is a surface free, it needs to be covered with something. He loves reminders of places we’ve been. And he’s an incredibly organized person. He adores organizing in a way that boggles my mind. In fact, he’ll spend an hour moving things about a shelf until he gets the just-right arrangement.

His attention to detail exhausts me, although I have to admit that I love how the place looks, even with all the bits and bobs that I would never have on display if I were living alone. If he were to read Apartment Therapy’s 10 Signs you might be a maximalist, he would agree with almost every point.

So, how do a minimalist and a maximalist live together? By applying the basics. We compromise, we communicate, and we encourage yet moderate each other’s natural tendencies.

For example, in December my husband goes nuts with all the new holiday decorations that come out. If he had more space and money, he would fill shopping carts with cute, stylish, and fun decorations. I, on the other hand, will go out of my way to avoid going into stores at this time of year. Our compromise is this: I promise to show enthusiasm for the few things that really do catch my fancy, even if there is no need to buy them, while he recognizes that finding a few choice pieces increases the likelihood of using and appreciating each item rather than buying everything and using nothing.

And when it comes to cleaning, I focus on the daily surface tasks, while he will do the occasional deep-cleaning and reorganizing that is required with a bookshelf full of books, knick-knacks, and keepsakes.

Whether you are a minimalist or a maximalist, the key is to not to go to extremes. If you are embarrassed to have someone over, perhaps your maximalist tendencies have left you knee-deep in clutter. Or if people ask you if anyone actually lives in your home, perhaps you need to create a sort of moderate minimalism in your life.

Post-holiday cleanup, part 3

We linked to an article in Post-holiday cleanup, part 1, which described ways to dispose of a real Christmas tree. Storing an artificial tree, however, can be a task that worries even the most uncluttered of us.

In my home, we collapse the tree and keep it in its original packaging when not in use. If you didn’t hold onto your original box, or if it’s impossible to fit the tree back inside of it once it has been used, here are some storage alternatives:

  • Artificial Tree Storage Bag — With a reasonable price tag, this appears to be a cost effective option with the benefit of having a handle for transporting the tree in and out of storage.
  • Artificial Christmas Tree Box — This option is more expensive, but because it is flat you can stack things on top of the box the other 11 months out of the year
  • If you aren’t seeking something aesthetically pleasing, large leaf and lawn bags could work nicely.

Check out our other posts in this series:


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

Does this wardrobe suit me? Reviewing my closet

Last February, here on Unclutterer, Dave took at look at his closet and made some wardrobe suggestions for men over 40. In a few months, I’ll be one year away from 50. In the past two years, I’ve moved up in my day job and have become upper management. And in my personal life, I much prefer going out for a nice dinner or having friends over than going out clubbing until dawn.

All these things have meant a change in my dressing habits. However, I don’t feel almost 50 years old and most of my friends are younger than me so I have no interest in looking stereotypically middle aged.

In reviewing what I have, I’ve noticed that over the past few years I have actually been moving towards a more mature style. I have fewer t-shirts and more button-ups. None of my jeans have holes in them, I don’t do “skinny” anything, and my collection of dress trousers has more than doubled.

My shoe choices have also matured, fewer sneakers and more currently in-style brogues.

It’s good to know that I don’t need to make any major changes to my wardrobe choices. I do, however, need to pare down a bit. I have more than enough shirts for a whole month, the same with t-shirts and about half that number in trousers. My shoe collection has increased from my previous two or three to more than ten. Clothing is the one area of my life that I am most definitely not a minimalist.

On the positive side, I have a walk-in closet so I more or less have the space to store it all, but I have to ask myself if I honestly wear it all.

In doing so, I’ve taken Dave’s guidelines from last year as a baseline.

  • A suit — one that fits and looks good. Suits! I haven’t mentioned suits. I have several because I don’t believe that one is enough. If a woman had a single dress for any formal situation, people would be shocked, and yet we think it’s perfectly fine that men repeat the same suit consistently.
  • A nice hat. I have a few nice alpaca caps for winter and a baseball cap for the beach.
  • Decent lounge wear. I’m a pyjama guy. When I lived in Toronto with central heating, I was in the habit of sleeping in very little (or nothing). Without central heating now, however, I have several pairs of pyjamas which also serves as lounge wear. For yoga class, I have some baggy t-shirts and a pair of short sweatpants.
  • Dress shirts — somewhere between three and six of them depending on your lifestyle. This is where I need to cut back, but in looking at my closet, I realized that I actually wear more than 20 of my nearly 35 shirts.
  • Shoes. Have a brown pair and a black pair, something casual and something dressy. Sneakers are for kids. In this I also don’t agree with Dave. Stylish sneakers look good with a suit and I often combine my dress trousers with them as well. Besides, I have ankle tendon issues and, unless I want to look like a grandfather, dress shoes are not the best for my poor feet.
  • Pants — have at least one decent pair of jeans and a few pairs of casual pants in your regular rotation. Here is another category I could cut back. I don’t wear quite a few of my trousers, so will lighten my wardrobe by getting rid of them. I also need to seriously review my collection of shorts as most of them are too young for me.
  • Socks and accessories. My rule for these is that if they fit into a drawer, I don’t need to worry about them. I replace them as they wear out.

Being fashion-minded and working with teens and young adults, I also have a t-shirt collection, as well as stylish sweaters and a couple of sweatshirts. Looking at the teetering pile I have of those, these are three more categories I can also pare down on.

Although, to be honest, I doubt I’ll get rid of much. As I’ve already said, despite having a lot of clothes, I wear almost everything. I’m just going to have to find a better way of organizing it all and commit to regular maintenance of the piles.

How about you? How often do you review your wardrobe?

And of course, if you need help, there are any number of books that can help you with your wardrobe choices.

Post-holiday cleanup, part 2

Ornament StorageStoring ornaments throughout the year is a bit of a pain, but it is necessary if you own them. Ornament sets usually come in flimsy and not very user-friendly boxes.

A couple years ago, we finally ended up purchasing a few Christmas ornament storage boxes, very similar to the ones pictured at right. The boxes are easy to store and protect the ornaments well. The boxes are not fool proof. If you drop them, you will most likely shatter quite a few of your ornaments. So, if you have antique ornaments or fragile ones that you do not want to lose, you may want to upgrade to a container that has some padding that will protect your keepsakes a bit better.

Check out our other posts in this series:


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

Post-holiday cleanup, part 1

Over the course of the next few days, we’re going to explore that sad time after the holidays when decorations and gifts must find a place to be stored or disposed. Putting away a menorah or Christmas tree or New Year’s party hat is never as much fun as bringing it out of storage or buying it. And, for a number of us, it’s cold and cloudy outside and the temptation to procrastinate the whole affair is pretty strong. Our couches and blankets call to us to sit for a while longer and relax while digesting all of those holiday meals.

I want to provide you with some links that you can peruse from the comfort of your couch. No need to be called to action just yet. Consider this “research.”

  • Here is some advice from our readers on handling holiday cards: What to do with holiday cards? Recycle!
  • Jan. 6 is the traditional day for taking down your tree, and here are tips on how to get rid of your real tree: How to dispose of a Christmas tree
  • Want to make space for all of your child’s new toys? Here is some advice on that subject.
  • Too much gift candy sitting around your home tempting you? Freeze it in small zip-top bags and bring it out in small portions over the next few months.
  • Want to regift an item but wonder if it’s horribly tacky? Read these rules for regifting.
  • Need to return or exchange an item because of damage or ill fitting size? Start by doing a Google search of the brand name and the phrase “how to return and exchange an item.” In some cases, you’ll need a gift receipt and tags, so be sure to know what you need before taking on the crowds in the stores.
  • Wondering what to do with leftovers from all of your holiday meals? Wonder no more! Stilltasty.com has the most helpful advice.
  • Need to replenish your home bar after all of your festive parties? Here’s a great list of essentials.

Check out our other posts in this series:


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