How much of your mortgage is going toward clutter storage?

If there is a room in your home that is off limits because of clutter in that space, you are not only wasting space but also wasting money. An article from 2008 explores the findings of a study by IKEA on the costs associated with cluttered rooms. From the article:

In a survey of UK homes, Ikea found 77% of us have a big problem with clutter, which contributes to wasting a whole room.

Squandering that space but paying for it over the years on our mortgages costs us on average an eye-watering £38,246 [about $50,000 USD] in Middlesbrough.

Research by another company, junk clearance business Any Junk?, confirmed the “wasted room” evidence and put it at only a slightly lower cost. It estimated on average householders waste around £32,000 [about $42,000 USD] worth of space – in Middlesbrough the figure is about £14,870 [$19,500 USD].

In the past 10 years, these costs have only increased. It can be important to take stock of what you own. If your possessions are filling up a room in your home, then it is probably a good time to clear it out and purge the items that are wasting an entire room. Downsizing or finding a more utilitarian way to use the space may help you out financially over the long term.

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

Reader question: How to store earrings?

Reader Laure sent us the following question:

Do you or any of your readers have a suggestion for storing earrings so that they are (preferably) not visible at all (i.e., in a dresser drawer or someplace else) or at least displayed elegantly in a way that takes up minimal space and doesn’t add to a visual sense of clutter? Thanks!

This is a great question, Laure! A 40-compartment tray would be great for earrings and the matching trays for your other jewelry would work well too. I use a tool chest as my jewelry box and the trays would sit in the drawers nicely.

I think that egg cartons or ice cube trays could serve the same function. You could line the egg carton or ice cube tray with fabric if you wanted to protect your jewelry and make the trays look more sophisticated.

I think it is best to put your jewelry in a drawer for protection. It’s a lot more difficult to lose a valuable earring if it’s not out where someone could accidentally bump it.

Thank you, Laure, for your question. I hope our answer was helpful!

 

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

How high should you go?

I instinctively follow this rule when stacking things in my home:

If items are alike in every way, stack as high as the shelving and item itself safely allow. If items are different, stack only three high.

Dinner plates, towels, and rolls of toilet paper get stacked as high as the cabinets in my home will let me. (Dinner plates=8, towels=5, toilet paper=4) If I need any of these items, I just grab from the top of the stack because they’re all the same.

Pots and pans, board games, and sweaters, on the other hand, stop at three in a stack. I do this because I know that if I remove the lowest item I will take the time to properly replace the two on top of it. If there are five varied items in a stack and I need the fourth item, I may put everything back in order a few times, but inevitably the stack will become a mess.

I don’t know why this is the case, or how I came to make this realization about myself, but it’s the way of my world. To some people it may be obvious, but it may be a helpful tip to others. Take a look around your house and see if you tend to have a mess erupt in one location. Is a stack of items to blame? If so, you may want to consider reducing the size of the stack if the objects in it are different.

 

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

Reader suggestion: Storing and disposing used paint

Paint CansReader Mike sent us the following tip that he adapted from an episode of Clean Sweep that aired a number of years ago:

Paint cans in my garage tend to reproduce and grow. Pretty quickly after various projects there is a collection of 1 gallon paint cans taking up huge amounts of space. When my wife and I went to finish painting a room, we discovered our less than half filled paint cans also thickened a little over time.

To put and end to this, I purchased a few 1 quart cans and poured the paint out of the gallon containers into these little guys. In the end, I wound up throwing away a very small amount of paint, but a very large amount of paint containers.

He added the following tip:

Paint in its liquid form is hazardous waste, however, as a solid it is safe to throw away. I combined all my left over paint into a single one gallon container, capped it, and saved it with the used light bulbs for hazardous waste disposal. The rest of the [empty 1 gallon] cans were left outside in the sunlight to dry, then they were simply tossed.

Our readers may want to also consider the quarter-pint (125mL) cans for smaller amounts of paint required for touch ups. Mason jars with tight fitting lids are a good alternative but store them in the dark as exposure to light can change the color of the paint.

Thank you, Mike, for the great tip!

 

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

Yearbooks: Worth keeping or clutter?

About once a month, a reader writes to us asking what to do with his or her large stash of yearbooks. Whenever this question comes to me, I’m always at a loss for what kind of advice to give. I have all of my old yearbooks — a spiral bound paper one from elementary school, two paper ones stapled together from middle school, four traditional ones from high school, and two traditional ones from college — and my husband has five of his. They take up a cube on our bookshelf and sit beneath our reference books.

In a way, I think of these books as reference materials. If a person I don’t remember makes a request to connect to me on Facebook or LinkedIn, and the request states that I went to school with the person, I’ll head to my yearbooks hoping that a picture of the person will spark my memory. I also look through the portraits before heading to class reunions, but those are pretty much the only times I look at them.

However, the idea of getting rid of them sort of makes me nauseated. Maybe a part of me is fearful that one day I’ll lose my memory and need them to recreate my past? Maybe I hope that my children will be interested in them and want to better understand who I was when I was their age? Even though I can’t exactly identify why I keep them, I have carved out a place for them in my home.

My advice is that if you want to keep them, then it’s okay to keep them. Store them in a place that is safe (not in a cardboard box in a mildewy basement) and scan any pages that you would be crushed to lose if your home were destroyed by a natural disaster. Remember to backup your hard drive at an off-site location so that you won’t lose your data in an emergency.

If you don’t have any desire to keep them, then scan individual pages you want to keep digitally and recycle the books. You might e-mail your former classmates and see if any of them are interested in the books if you don’t want to toss them straight into the recycling bin. You also could contact your school’s historical society and see if they would want them, or if a current journalism teacher at the school might have use for them.

How have you handled your yearbooks? Do you have additional advice for what to do with yearbooks? Your ideas are welcome in the comments.

 

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

Reader Question: What to do with partially used toiletries

Unclutterer reader Joan sent us an email with this question:

What should I do with toiletries and similar items that were tried but we do not use? I have a number of products I purchased but did not care for. Also, I was an cosmetics rep for over 20 years, and that was many years ago. I have a large number of products stored in my basement and I would like to find them a new home.

This is such a great question. There are many reasons why we may have unused or partly used toiletries lying about, including:

  • You purchased an item and it does not work for your hair/skin type.
  • Guests (including children who have gone off to college) left items at your place.
  • You are moving and the moving company will not take any liquids.
  • You received items as a gift and will never use them.

The first step is to check if the products are expired. Some cosmetics/toiletry company websites will allow you to look up the lot number and see how old the product is. You can also inquire by email or use the website’s contact form. Two great independent websites for checking products are Check Fresh and Check Cosmetic. Both of these sites list lot numbers and expiry dates of most major brands.

If the product has expired unfortunately, the only thing you can do is dispose of the product and recycle the container. It seems like a waste but when the products degrade, they may do more harm than good. They may be contaminated with bacteria, as they breakdown they could irritate your skin/hair. Some products (specifically sunscreen) are no longer effective past their expiry date.

For products that have not yet expired, here are some uncluttering options:

  • Contact local charities and ask if they accept partial bottles as donations. Do not be surprised if they say no. Due to health/sanitary concerns, many charities will only take new, unopened products.
  • Have an Uncluttering Party and invite your friends or neighbours in for a “swap meet.” You might be able to unclutter your items and get items you would actually use.
  • If your workplace allows, leave items in a common area for fellow co-workers. (Always check with your human resources department first!)
  • List your items on Freecycle, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or other type of online classified ad site.
  • Offer items in your neighbourhood groups such as Nextdoor, or Facebook neighbourhood groups if you belong to any. My neighbourhood has a ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group that has been very successful in helping people get rid of what they don’t want while helping others get what they do want.

Thanks for your great question Joan. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Junk drawer wars

Admit it. You have at least one junk drawer in your home. My family has one in our kitchen. It holds batteries, scissors, a flashlight, glue, and quite a bit of miscellany.

For some people, the junk drawer grows and grows until it eventually becomes a catch-all for everything in its vicinity. Before too long, one junk drawer overflows into another, and then you find yourself going from drawer to drawer looking for a postage stamp.

Apartment Therapy had a helpful post that motivated me to organize our junk drawer. The post suggests easy steps for getting this drawer into tip-top condition. I particularly liked the first three suggestions:

Sort: First, you have to know what’s in it. Find a space to dump it out and sort it. There’s stuff that should go in there (in ours: extra batteries, spare keys, friend’s keys, parking permits, a small accordion file for museum membership cards and takeout menus) and stuff that shouldn’t (screws, tools).

Return: stuff that should go elsewhere should go elsewhere. Put the screws and tools back in the toolbox, the working pens in their place, the broken pencils in the garbage, donate the old eyeglasses.

Rethink: for items that should go elsewhere, make sure there’s a place for them so similar items don’t end up here a few months hence. For example, have a place to put items you need to keep for your taxes so old movie ticket stubs don’t end up here again.

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

How can you use a freezer to help with meal planning?

This is the second in a two-part series on how you can use a deep freezer to help with meal planning.

As I mentioned yesterday, we see meal planning as the best process for planning healthy meals, creating a simple shopping list, and avoiding the stressful “what’s for dinner” moment in front of the open refrigerator. A meal plan helps to keep clutter out of your body, and streamlines your at-home eating.

One of the ways you can use a freezer to help with meal planning is by vacuum sealing foods you buy in bulk. If you don’t own a product like a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, using freezer-safe zip-top bags and squeezing out as much air as possible can work as well. To get the air out of a zip-top bag, close the bag except for an inch at one of the corners. Submerge the exterior of the bag in water almost to the top of the bag. Let the pressure of the water release air from around your food, and then quickly close the last inch at the top of the bag. Be careful not to let any of the water into the bag and onto your food.

The way we use our FoodSaver is pretty straightforward. We start by buying fish filets, beef filets, chicken breasts, roasts, ground turkey, some pork cuts, and usually one or two other meat items based on what is freshest at our butcher’s shop. (If you buy half a cow from a CSA or another animal in larger portion, ask to have the meat butchered for you. My butcher does the vacuum sealing for his customers for a small fee.) Then, we head to our farmer’s market or grocery store and pick up some lettuces and other vegetables that are in season. We buy what we know we like and will use in the next three months.

After shopping, we go home and divide everything up into meal-size portions (we’ll put two fish filets in one vacuum bag, for example). We seal up the storage bags, adhere a piece of masking tape with the date written on it, and throw them all in the freezer. Well, except for the vegetables we want to eat fresh and the lettuces. Lettuces should never be frozen — you don’t want to freeze vegetables with high water content. When you put meat into their bags, you also can add marinades in with the food and they can absorb flavors during the time in the freezer.

When I create my meal plan, I “go shopping” in my freezer and see what I have and what meals I can create from the food in the freezer. I write down what meat I need to pull out of the freezer and transfer it into the refrigerator to thaw two days in advance. (Never thaw meat or fish on the counter.) Vegetables I usually don’t thaw ahead of time.

How do you use your freezer to keep meal planning simple? I’m looking forward to getting our deep freezer and having the convenience of being able to buy more in bulk than we already do.

 

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

Reader question: Clothes closet organization

Reader Lisa Z. sent us the following question:

I am OCD, and I thrive on order. I have crazy organization of my closet, which includes organizing all my shirts first by sleeve length (all sleeveless shirts together, all regular-sleeved shirts together, all 3/4 and long-sleeved shirts together, and all t-shirts together), then by color (1st white, then light grey, then to darker grey, then starting with lightest red going to darkest red through the colors of the rainbow). I have four sets of rainbows in my closet, although I have gone back and forth between one rainbow sorted by sleeve length (which didn’t last long). I have 14 pairs of blue jean pants. I know; the first thing you’re going to tell me is that I shouldn’t have THAT MANY pairs of jeans. That is in addition to the number of skirts, shorts, and other-colored pants I own. But I sort even my jeans in order from lightest shade of blue to darkest shade of blue. The question: Do you think this is a waste of time, or do you recommend sorting clothes this way to find exactly what you’re looking for in a snap? It has always worked for me, but I am just barely starting to catch on to the possibility that this might be a waste of time… Thanks so much and keep up the great work on the blog!

Lisa, I don’t have OCD, and I organize my closet in a very similar manner. My exception to this is that I store my jeans and t-shirts folded in a dresser instead of hanging in my closet. My t-shirts are in piles of tank tops, short sleeves, and long sleeves in my drawer.

I’m also a stickler about all of my shirts facing the same way on the hanger.

Organizing my closet this way allows me to quickly match outfits, easily get dressed in the dark, and my husband doesn’t complain about having to share a closet with me. It may be overkill, but it works.

How about our readership? How do you organize your clothes in your closet?

 

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

10 tips to beat clutter in less than five minutes

I’m happy to have Gretchen Rubin, the fabulous author of The Happiness Project, join us with a guest post today on Unclutterer. There just aren’t enough kind words in the English language to say about her. Welcome, Gretchen!

Having a clutter-filled house can make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Everywhere you look, you see little chores that should be done. No single task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big mess. Pretty quickly, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem.

Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that.

  1. Make your bed each morning.
  2. Throw away the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet.
  3. Follow the “one-minute rule” — push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.
  4. Identify an organization or person to whom you can give things you no longer need. It’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the local charity thrift store. When the shelf is full, we drop off the books.
  5. Pause for a moment before you “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.
  6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law — if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.
  8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.
  9. Hang up your coat.
  10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.

Say goodbye to perfume clutter

I like the idea of perfume, but have never really supported the whole “signature scent” concept. Wearing the same fragrance day after day isn’t my style, so I usually just go without perfume because it costs a lot to have many options. I also don’t want a whole dresser top full of large glass bottles tempting my cats. I find, too, that after a year or two the perfume goes stale and loses its oomph!

Reader Amanda sent us a terrific idea for men and women wanting to get rid of large bottle cologne and perfume clutter. Similar to the Use it up! advice reader Elena sent us for shampoo, Amanda’s suggestion is to only purchase perfume in very small amounts through websites like LuckyScent and ThePerfumedCourt:

“This keeps the price low, I can try different perfumes (some not available locally), and I hide them in a box in a dresser drawer, freeing (uncluttering) the top of my dresser.”

LuckyScent has an option at the bottom of every page of perfume that gives you the choice to purchase a sample (0.7mL.). They even offer sample packs; groups of popular or seasonal fragrances.

And, ThePerfumedCourt only sells trial sizes:

“What we do is spray, pour, or use sterile pipettes to take perfume from its original large bottle and repackage it in a smaller bottle (we only use brand new sterile glass bottles) so that the consumer can try as many fragrances as they desire before buying a full bottle.”

Thank you, Amanda, for such a terrifically simple idea for men and women who choose to wear a fragrance!

Make your kitchen magnetic

When talking about kitchen magnets, most people think of those plastic alphabets we had when we were kids. But magnets can do more in your kitchen than spell “dog” and “cat.” Magnets, when used wisely, can help you free up valuable counter space, and keep all your most used kitchen tools close at hand.

Spice it up

One of the most common magnetic tool these days are magnetic spice tins, which are simply metal or plastic containers with clear lids. Some come with a special board that sits on your counter or attaches to the wall (like these), but you can also buy them individually and stick them to the side of your fridge. Some spice enthusiasts eschew these because they let light in which can damage delicate herbs, so pick a metal surface that doesn’t sit in direct light. Alternatively, choose these spice containers that come with labels which cover the transparent lid.

Wipe it up

Also very handy – a magnetic paper towel holder. If you don’t have much counter space, one of those freestanding ones can be a hassle. But with a magnet, it’s right on your fridge door, and you can just tear one off when your milk spills.

Hang it up

Next time you’re at the hardware store, see if they have inexpensive magnetic hooks. They are perfect for hanging spoons next to the stove or keeping potholders out where you need them. Hooks are one way to get commonly used items out of drawers and within easy reach.

Cut it up

My absolute favorite – a magnetic knife rack. Knife blocks are huge counter space hogs, and keeping sharp pointy things in a drawer can be dangerous for the clumsy-inclined like me. With a magnetic strip, the knives are always handy and out of the way. The magnets are powerful enough to resist a slight bump of the elbow, but pull off without too much force.

The only thing with magnets is that you’re somewhat limited by the number of metal surfaces you have in the kitchen. If you want to add more, try getting a few extra knife racks, or a magnetic memo  strip that can be mounted to the backsplash or any other wall in your kitchen.

What else do you hang in your kitchen?

 

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