How to start organizing by setting yourself up for success

According to Statistics Brain, “Getting Organized” is the second most popular New Year’s resolution. If you’ve decided to be better organized in 2015, the following are tips that may help you accomplish your goal.

Check with your municipality to see what types of items they recycle. If your municipality offers special collection dates for pick up of large items, electronics, or household hazardous waste, mark these dates in your calendar. Also, schedule an hour or so the day prior to the special collection date to go through your home and collect all of the items designated for disposal. Place them at the curb or load them into your car to make disposal easy. Knowing when these special dates are makes uncluttering even easier.

Set up a disposal station (i.e. garbage and recycling bins) in the room that you are uncluttering. The work will go much faster if you do not have to walk through the house with each piece of rubbish. If your municipality requires you to separate paper from plastics and metals for recycling, set up two bins in the room, clearly labeling each one. The bins do not have to be fancy, a simple trash bag or a cardboard box will do. The important thing is making it easy to toss the trash.

As mentioned by fellow Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky, check local organizations to see what items they accept for donations. You can set up a central location in the house and have a separate bin for each group that accepts donations or you can set up one bin in each room for items that are destined for donations. Again, the bins do not have to be fancy, a cardboard box will do. The important thing is making it easy to clear the unwanted and unused objects from the room.

Set up a UFO (unidentified found objects) box to keep the items in one place until all family members have had a chance to confirm that the objects can be disposed or donated.

Start uncluttering the easy stuff first — the things you already know you wish to purge. You will see results immediately and it will provide positive encouragement to keep working away until the job is done. Two pasts Unclutterer posts, Things you probably have duplicates of that you can donate and Duplicates that you can donate or trash will help you identify the items easiest to unclutter.

How to get started organizing

As we begin each new year, many people resolve that this is the year they’re going to get organized. It’s a great goal, but it can also be intimidating. How do you begin? The following are seven tips:

Set realistic expectations

No one’s home looks like those featured in glossy magazines. Instead of aiming for that look, set your “organized enough” goals. For example, your goals might include being able to find things when you need them, having room to park your car in your garage, getting rid of the clothes your children have outgrown and the toys they no longer use, etc.

Decide on a schedule that works for you

If you have a major uncluttering/organizing project to do, you could do it short bursts of 15 minutes per day. Or you could decide to at least jump-start the project with a dedicated day where you just focus on your project. There’s no one right answer, so figure out what works best for your personality and what fits with your other time demands.

Unclutter first, then organize

There’s no point in putting things nicely into bins if they are things you don’t really want or need to keep. Do the uncluttering first, and then organize what’s left. If you do things in the reverse order, you may find you’ve bought containers that you don’t need, which then become container clutter.

Don’t get held up by the tough stuff

If you’re sorting through things making keep-or-not decisions and come upon something you’re conflicted about, it’s okay to just keep that item for now and move on. People often unclutter in phases, doing the more obvious things first.

Ask yourself good questions

“Have I used this in the past year?” isn’t always the most helpful question. Some other ones to consider are:

  • Would I buy this again today?
  • For clothes: Would this ever be my first choice of something to wear?
  • For reference books and papers: If I needed to know something about this, would I pull out this book (or these papers) or would I just search online?

Use good tools

You don’t want to be fighting with your frequently used tools. If you’re going to be doing a decent amount of shredding, invest in a good quality shredder. (I wasted a lot of time dealing with paper jams before I got a better shredder.) If you like filing papers in binders and you need to hole-punch papers for that, a good quality hole punch will save you a lot of effort.

Identify places to donate those things you don’t want

If you have items in good condition, there’s probably a place that would be glad to have them. Identify the organizations in your area that take donations, and then be sure you know the hours they accept donations and exactly which items they want. You may also want to consider using the free section of Craigslist or participating in your local freecycle group. (Search for your city name and the word freecycle in your favorite search engine to find one.)

Last minute stocking stuffer ideas

If you are someone who celebrates Christmas and are hunting for last-minute stocking stuffer ideas, we have a few ideas to help the people on your list to get organized:

Command poster strip value packs are great for kids and students who love to stick photos and posters to the walls. Command picture hanging strips are great for heavier pictures. The black ones are ideal for dark coloured picture frames.

Command decorative wall hooks can be used to hang coats or towels and the mini wire hooks can be used to hang keys or kitchen utensils.

Colourful Velcro cable ties are great for keeping cables behind computers or sound systems in order. They also can be used to keep the electrical cords of small appliances from getting tangled in the kitchen cupboards.

A lipstick sized portable battery can give your phone or camera an extra bit of charge while you’re out touring the town. This is a must for those who use their phone as a GPS or teens who text constantly.

GoToob travel bottles (pictured above) are approved for airplane carryon baggage. They have a wide opening so they can be filled easily and are made from silicone so you can squeeze them until you get every last drop out. Consider using them to unclutter your home shower and then store the mega-bottle of shampoo in the closet.

Rubbermaid’s mini food storage containers are ideal for storing spice mixes, sauces, and dips. They are also perfect for preparing portion-sized snacks in lunch boxes.

Handle holder hooks will keep brooms, mops, and garden tools organized and they will also work with ski poles, hockey sticks and other sports gear.

A 5-Pockets Coupon and Personal Check Size Expanding File can be used for organizing receipts and business cards from business trips, coupons, postage stamps, or collectors cards (e.g. Pokemon).

Labels of all sorts make great stocking stuffers. Check out our past post on an in-depth look at labels to find the perfect gift.

Organizing a home gym

One of the more common New Year’s resolutions is to get fit and those who are prepared to follow through on their resolutions prior to the start of January are more likely to be successful. If you’re someone who is looking to workout more in the new year, the following are tips on how to get your fitness equipment in order so you can begin your workouts in a comfortable, organized space.

Designate an area for fitness. Bedrooms, living rooms, basements, and even garages can be used for a home gym. You should ensure that there is enough space to safely do your workouts and store your fitness gear in the space you choose. There also should be adequate lighting. Natural sunlight from windows is ideal, but if you’re doing your workouts in the early mornings or late nights in a room that faces a busy street, you may wish to install some heavy curtains.

Safety is important. If you have children or pets, consider keeping doors closed or install barriers (baby gates) around fitness equipment. Even a small dumbbell can break a little toe or paw if it were to fall over. Machinery such as treadmills and rowers can pinch small fingers and catch tails. You may need to unplug fitness machines after use to ensure they cannot be accidentally started.

Multi-tasking fitness equipment. A treadmill laptop desk is ideal if you wish to work, read, or watch videos during your workouts. A stability ball can make a good substitute for an office chair but it does have a tendency to roll away. Keep the chair in its place using a stability ball stacker when you’re not using it. Use your regular bicycle indoors as a stationary bicycle by using a bicycle stand. To save space, the bicycle stand folds up and can slide under a sofa or bed when not in use.

Organizing fitness equipment. Six or eight sets of regular dumbbells take up considerable space, but you can get 12 to 16 sets of dumbbell weights in one set of adjustable dumbbells. Consider using adjustable dumbbells such as those by Powerblock or Bowflex for your home gym, if space is a concern. Smaller dumbbells can be mounted on a wall rack (pictured above), which could be hidden behind a curtain or hanging tapestry.

Yoga mats, blocks, and foam rollers could hang on a wall or in your closet in a Simply Stashed Boot Organizer or they could be stored under a bed or sofa in an under-bed storage bin.

Consider wall mounted or over-the-door hooks to hang jump ropes and resistance bands. GearPockets can be used to hold ankle/wrist weights, handgrips, weight clamps, and other miscellaneous fitness equipment.

For those who prefer to workout at a gym, having your “go-bag” prepared and stored in a convenient location will make it easier to get to your fitness class on time.

Todoist is a task manager with two cool tricks

We’ve covered some nice productivity software over the years, like TeuxDeux and Due. Today, I want to point out Todoist, not only because it’s nearly ubiquitous, attractive, and effective, but because it has two features I think are really great. The following reasons are why Todoist is the digital project manager that has my attention these days.

It’s everywhere

Okay, so this isn’t one of the cool tricks but it’s something very much worth mentioning. Todoist boasts that it’s available on 13 platforms and devices. I’ve been using it on my Mac and iPhone, but you’ll also find options for Android and Windows, plus extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Outlook, Gmail and more. In my experience, synchronization between my computer and phone is lightning fast.

Import and export

Todoist lets you make color-coded projects and tasks, complete with tags, due dates, repeating events and so much more. It’s great-looking and effective. What’s really cool is its ability to import and export templates.

Here’s how this time-saving feature works:
When you create a new project, it’ll probably have several steps that must be ticked off before the thing can be marked as done. You can be really thorough, like me, and add due dates, contexts, color coding and more. Sometimes there will be a project that you’ll do over and over. A good example is the podcast I run at 5by5. Each week I go through the exact same steps, from scheduling to research and publication. I could add those steps to a project week after week, or I could just use a template.

Once a project is set up exactly how you like it, select “Export template” from within Todoist. It converts all those steps into a simple text file, with all my customization intact. I can store it wherever I want, and opting to import it sets up that project all over again, and all I had to do was click a single command.

There’s a great post on the Todoist blog that features several templates that are ready to import and use, including holiday gift shopping, pre-Christmas organizing, a holiday party plan, and even one for travel. I’m using the Christmas organization one now, and have saved the travel template for the future. This feature saves me so much time.

Karma points

I promised you two tricks, and the second one is something I should not like as much as I do. As you complete tasks, Todoist awards you with “karma points.” The more you use the app, the more points you receive. There are several ranks to earn and a pretty chart. Ignore the app or fail to complete tasks on time, and you’ll start to lose points. Yes, it’s 100 percent gimmicky and silly, but I totally get excited when I see my point total climb.

There are a huge number of project management apps available, and Todoist is only one of them. But I love its clean looks, near ubiquitous access and fantastic templates. You can use Todoist for free as long as you like, or upgrade to the premium version for $29 per year. I’ve found it to be definitely worth the expense.

My humble shoebox museum

Last year, I received a subscription to Birchbox as a Christmas gift. Birchbox is a nice little subscription service; every month, you receive a box full of sample-size health and beauty aid products. So, in addition to my new collection of shaving creams and such, I also have 12 sturdy little cardboard boxes.

The boxes that were used to ship products to customers are great — they’re made of sturdy cardboard and feature a slide-out drawer. I haven’t thrown a single one away, as they seem so darn useful. Yet, until very recently, they were still stacked on my dresser, unused. In other words, they were clutter. I didn’t like that I was keeping them around only for their potential, so I came up with a useful idea for what I could actually do with them.

For many years, I’ve been a fan of David Seah. He’s a designer and developer whose productivity tools I use regularly. Recently David wrote on his blog about what he called “Project Shoebox,” and it struck me as the perfect application for my collection of boxes.

David recalls an excerpt from Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. In the book she explains that when she begins a new endeavor, she puts all of the inspirational, related material into a big box. Could this practice be applied to productivity or personal organization?

After ordering several boxes and a shelving unit, David began filling the boxes. However, he didn’t simply create the categories you might expect, like “electronics,” “photos” or “office supplies.” Instead, he took a different approach. Hey explained:

“I started with a heap of old boxes filled with gew-gaws and trinkets, and just started moving similar things into the new boxes. It took about three hours to collect everything, box, then label with Post-It® notes. I didn’t think too hard about the categories, making them up based on my own sense of whimsy.”

Sound haphazard? I tried it myself, and was pleased with the results. My boxes now contain things like travel treasures, notebooks, stamps, other desktop paper goods, and things that remind me of the kids. I even have a box labeled “flying things” that contains a tiny RC helicopter, its repair kit, a wind-up duck, and a balsa wood plane kit.

Like David, I’m happy to have a place to keep my “gadgets and gizmos in one place.” My stack of boxes reside in my office so they’re not cluttering up the house. Most importantly, they allow me to keep the personal things that I love off my desk and taking up room, yet still organized and accessible. While going through what I put together my daughter remarked, “It’s like a dad museum!” I thought that was sweet, and entirely accurate.

I’m glad to finally be putting my Birchbox boxes to use. Some folks are more clever with these things than I am, but that’s okay. I think my new filing/storage system/personal museum is going to work out fine.

Staying organized during a deployment or long-term absence

Many types of employment involve travelling and some jobs require extended stays away from home. For a family that is left behind, extended absences can be very difficult. There is an emotional cycle experienced by the spouse/partner that can be nerve-wracking, especially when the emotional distress of children (even pets) is added.

As a military family, we’ve lived through numerous periods when my husband was deployed for several months at a time. The following are a number of ways our family has managed over the years that can be helpful to others in similar situations to stay organized before, during, and after a separation.

Pre-separation

Task assignment: Work together and determine the priority tasks during the separation and who will accomplish these tasks. For example, if the departing partner always ensured the car was serviced, the task may be rescheduled so that it occurs before or after the separation or it could be assigned to the staying-home partner. Contractors could be hired for some tasks such as gardening, pool maintenance, and snow removal.

Contingency plan: Establish plans in case an emergency arises such as an accident or medical emergency. The plan should list whom to call to mind the children or look after pets and how to contact the departing partner. Inform trusted friends, neighbours, and the children’s school of the contingency plan.

Departure

Clear the calendar: A few weeks prior to the separation there may be extra shopping trips to buy last minute items, medical appointments, or business meetings. Avoid taking on additional responsibilities at this time. Examine your calendar and see what non-priority items can be cancelled or rescheduled until after the departure.

Separate stuff: Keep items needed for the departing person separate from the rest of the household goods. This may require the departing person to take over an entire room to ensure all the required items are packed. Keep receipts for any items purchased for the separation in a clearly labelled file. You may be able to claim some expenses through your employer or on your income taxes.

Acknowledge your feelings: During this particularly chaotic time, there may be a lack of organization and a build up of clutter. Recognize this is normal and, as my mother is fond of saying, “This too shall pass.”

Separation

Disorganization: For the staying-home partner, feelings of relief, guilt, and being overwhelmed are common. This emotional turmoil often results in disorganization because decision-making is difficult when feeling these intense emotions. Recognize that these feelings are normal and take steps to get your life back into control. It may be beneficial to call a friend, extended family member, or professional organizer to help you banish the disorganization.

Keep the clutter: The staying-home partner may be very tempted to take advantage of the separation and eliminate the clutter of the travelling partner. DO NOT DO THIS! The staying-home partner has been entrusted with the care and protection of the travelling partner’s goods. To dispose of those goods will undermine the long-term trust of the partnership. If the clutter is truly impairing the effective functioning of the home, communicate with the travelling partner that you will carefully box and label the items and put them in storage. The travelling partner can review and make decisions on the items on his/her return.

Homecoming

Clear the calendar: Just as during the departure preparations, clear time on your calendar for the homecoming preparations. Cancel or reschedule some events to give the travelling partner time to integrate back into the routine. If the travelling partner will be suffering from jet lag, allow him/her at a few days to be fully functional. The returning partner may be required to schedule health appointments or have a few extra business meetings, so allow time for this.

Make a space: The returning partner will need some space to unpack on arrival. Returning items should be cleaned and properly stored or re-integrated into the household. If there is no need for certain items in the foreseeable future, make plans to sell or donate these items. This process may take several weeks. Patience is important.

Task re-assignment: Work together to determine who will accomplish certain tasks now that the partnership has been re-established. Perhaps the travelling partner realized a love of gardening and wishes to continue with that task. The travelling partner may have a renewed interest in preparing foreign cuisine.

Review the clutter: If the staying-home partner packed away items of the travelling partner during the separation, these items should be reviewed. It is best to wait until the travelling partner has had time to adjust to being home and new routines have been established before taking on this task.

The absence of a partner can be stressful, however, by understanding the emotional cycle — and a little bit of planning and organization — the stress can be minimized.

Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids

Each year Erin is kind enough to let me write the gift guide for kids. I have such a good time, and often have to whittle my ideas down to the best selections. That’s what I’ve done again this year. In the following post you’ll find great suggestions for little and big kids.

Younger tykes

The POWER A Skylanders SWAP Force Tackle Box. Skylanders is a game for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo 3DS that encourages kids to buy a vast collection of figurines, which become playable characters. Even a small collection can be unwieldily, and if you think stepping on a LEGO brick is bad, try putting your bare foot down on Drobot. This storage box holds up to 20 figures, is stackable, has a lit that latches shut and is transparent. Plus, Jr. can use it to carry his minions to a friend’s house. (It also works with Disney Infinity characters, if your kid is into that one.)

The LEGO Swoop Bag. I mentioned this last year, and I’ve brought it back for 2014 because LEGOS just won’t go away. Between the LEGO Movie, Star Wars tie-ins that are bolstered by a new TV series, those ever-present bricks will be popular again this season. The Swoop Bag holds a huge collection of LEGOs and spreads out during play time, and easily scoops and stores the lot when play is finished. A few other fun ways to keep LEGOS organized:

  1. The LEGO Storage Head offers a fun way to keep LEGOS organized, and gifts should be fun, right? I’d recommend this for smaller collections.
  2. The LEGO ZipBin 1000 Brick Storage Box and Playmat. I love it because it stores 1,000 bricks, comes with a playmat, and features a brick remover! This all-important tool will keep you from using your teeth to separate stubborn bricks. That thing is like gold, so keep it safe.
  3. The Brick Rack Wall Display for LEGO minifigs. As kids get older, they may want to display their favorite LEGOS. This interesting system mounts to the wall and lets kids slide minifigs in and out. The best part is they aren’t in there permanently, so if they want to take a few down to play with them, they can.

Melissa and Doug Trunki Terrance Rolling Kids Luggage. This beautiful little suit case is perfect for the younger child who travels — or doesn’t! For travelers, it’s carry-on sized and features wheels plus handles and a shoulder strap. At home, it’s a cute and sturdy (holds up to 75 lbs) storage container that you won’t mind looking at. It’s available in several colors and patterns, so you can find one that works for you.

The Hot Wheels Basic Car 50-Pack. Perhaps it’s my nostalgia talking, but Hot Wheels are awesome. This set contains 50 vehicles, each individually wrapped, with no duplicates. Plus, it all ships in a cute cardboard storage box. It’s a great way to create an instant Hot Wheels collection or add on to an existing one AND keep them stored nicely when not in use.

Older kids/teens

Gear Pockets. These wall-hanging units feature mesh pockets and straps for storing all sorts of items: sports equipment, hunting supplies, helmets, boots and more. Put one in the garage or your teenager’s room and they’ll have at-a-glance access to their most important gear.

Multi-Device Charging Station. This great-looking bamboo charging station can accommodate three phones/music players of various makes, an iPad, and a laptop computer. There are hidden hook-ups for everything, keeping them charged in a tidy, nice-looking package.

Finally, this one’s a little abstract, but I’d recommend an Evernote Premium subscription for any college students on your list. I’ve sung Evernote’s praises several times on Unclutterer. It really is my external brain. College is a time to run around like a chicken minus its academic head, and Evernote will help students keep everything they need together and accessible.

If you’re like me, you find time spent shopping for kids almost as much fun as watching them open their gifts. I hope there were a few items here that are prefect for the young ones on your list. Have a great holiday season, everybody!

Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Seven ways to manage laundry

If you struggle to keep up with the laundry, you’re not alone. People have different approaches to laundry based on their number of family members, the convenience of laundry facilities, and their personal preferences — but feeling overwhelmed by laundry is common to all types of households. The following suggestions may help make laundry less onerous.

  1. Wear clothes multiple times between washes, assuming they didn’t get dirty and they don’t smell bad. Real Simple has some suggestions on how many times you might wear an item before washing it, as does Consumer Reports. Besides saving time, less frequent washing also saves on water, power, and detergent.

    Steve Boorstein, who wrote a book on clothing care, recommends washing white clothes after each wearing because body oils and time-released stains (such as perfumes) can make even a clean-looking white item begin to turn yellow. But that’s not a concern with dark clothes, which will fade less quickly when washed less frequently.

  2. Consider washing each person’s clothes separately. Doing so avoids the post-laundry sorting problem. (If all family members do their own laundry, this is already how things work.)
  3. Examine your laundry process to see where you get stalled. One person noticed she was always dealing with her young son’s clothes after he was asleep, so the clothes piled up since she didn’t want to enter his room and possibly wake him. As a work-around, she started storing his clothes in the guest bedroom, and the problem disappeared.
  4. If folding is the part that slows you down, minimize the folding. If possible, arrange your storage so you can hang clothes rather than fold them. Many things that don’t get hung will still be fine without any folding. I fold my cloth napkins and my towels, but that’s about it. T-shirts are hung; underwear is tossed in a drawer with no folding. I worked with one person where we stored all her sweatshirts in a large lidded basket — no folding required.
  5. If ironing is the task you despise, you could join Erin and me in giving away our irons. I generally buy clothes that don’t require ironing. The very few that do need ironing get handled at the dry cleaner.
  6. It’s been said before, but it’s worth reiterating: Make sure you have plenty of room to store your clothes. If your closets and dressers are overly full, it will always be a challenge to put clothes away. Either eliminate some clothes or add storage pieces.
  7. To the extent you’re able to do so, have tools that work well for you and that you enjoy using. That would include laundry bags, baskets, hampers, or sorters. It could be a great iron, if you do ironing — The SweetHome recommends the T-fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4495. If you have your own home and your budget allows, it could mean a superb washer and dryer.

    If you’re going to be folding, try to have a large table at a comfortable height. Anita Perr, an occupational therapist, suggests it should be about waist high. Also consider standing on an anti-fatigue mat.

Digital organizing and productivity tools

I’ve been working with a few tech tools lately to improve my organization and productivity. Some are proving themselves to be quite useful, while I’m on the fence with others. Here’s a look at what I’m using lately, both the good and the could-be-good.

Photo management

I’m still years into my search for the perfect digital photo management solution. Today we can take 400 photos as easily as breathing, but the technology for organizing it all has not kept up. My search for the current something that meets my needs has led to Dropbox’s Carousel. When matched with a Dropbox account, the Carousel app automatically uploads your photos to your storage. It’s pretty nice and, in my experience, the uploads are fast. I have the app installed on my phone and on my wife’s phone, so all of the photos we take end up in the same account — no more remembering to text or email photos to each other.

Picturelife is another solution I’m working with. It does auto-upload, too, and offers some unique tools. For one, I love the “Memories” feature. Each morning, I get an email prompting me to review photos I’ve taken on this day from years ago (you can opt out of this if you’re not interested). I find it is a lot of fun to peruse those memories. In fact, Picturelife makes it very easy to find old photos, which is no easy task when you have a contemporary digital library.

Productivity

Bartender is a great little Mac utility that keeps my computer’s menu bar very well organized. The Apple menu bar displays icons that allow quick access to certain applications and utilities. The problem is, I’ve got a lot of those apps installed, and the menu bar becomes a cluttered mess. Bartender lets me display those I use most often, and hide the rest. It’s a great way to keep things tidy and accessible.

Google’s new invite-only email application for iOS and Android devices is named Inbox and it is … interesting. I’ve been using it for about a week and I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon my existing email software. It has some interesting features, like a “pin” that keeps certain messages at the top of your box, and defer options that I’m growing to like. I can tell the app to put a message in front of me on another day or time, when I suspect I’ll have more time or energy to deal with it. The app’s looks aren’t the most straight-forward, and so far that’s the biggest struggle for me. But, it’s still early in its life cycle, so that could change.

Kids

My daughter has been blessed with the same sieve-like brain her father enjoys. Now that she’s in junior high, the casual forgetfulness that she’s gotten away with is becoming increasingly detrimental. So, I’m trying to introduce her to a couple of strategies.

One is a good old notebook. I’m a huge fan, as regular readers know, and I’ve given her one of my beloved Field Notes Brand notebooks and pen to carry around. She’s using it all right, but I wonder if the novelty will wear off. The more you love a tool, the more likely you’ll use it. With that in mind, I turned her to an iPad mini and an app for it.

Remember The Milk is a no-frills, straight-forward task manager that’s compatible with just about every platform you can conceive. I know that she loves that iPad and is highly motivated to play with it, so an app may be her long-lasting solution. A habit takes time to build, and attractive tools will make that more likely.

Are you using any interesting organizing and/or productivity tools lately? Have a suggestion for any of the above categories? Let us know in the comments.

Towel management

A friend of mine, who has a family of six, mentioned that she launders loads of bath towels every day. She stated that most of the time, towels are used only once then placed in the hamper for laundering. The damp towels sit in the hamper and, if not washed right away, they start to get a mildew smell. This friend asked me for suggestions on how to get organized and reduce the amount of laundry she had to do.

Start with clean towels. Launder all the towels. Generally people use too much laundry soap which can actually cause towels to take longer to dry. Follow good laundry tips to get fresh, fluffy towels.

Fold and sort the towels into groups once they are clean:

  • Bath Sheet (35” x 60” or 90cm x 150cm): For drying off after a shower. These towels are large enough to wrap around an adult.
  • Bath Towel (27” x 52” or 70cm x 130cm): For drying off or wrapping up long hair after a shower. These towels are large enough to wrap around a child.
  • Hand Towel (16” x 28” or 40cm x 70cm): For drying hands after washing. Can be used to wrap child’s long hair.
  • Washcloth (13” x 13” or 30cm x 30cm): These can be used for washing the face at the sink or in the shower for washing the body.

Assign each person his/her towel set. Each person should have a bath towel, one or two hand towels and a few washcloths. Those with long hair may wish to have an extra towel or a hair towel wrap. You can assign each person their own colour of towels or sew name tags on towels. Remember to set aside at least two sets of towels for guests. Guest towels could be a unique colour or have a different pattern to differentiate them from the family towels.

Storing towels between uses. Storing towels in the bathroom is convenient. If the bathroom is large enough — or the family is small enough — towel racks or hooks can be mounted so that towels can easily hang to dry. Sometimes the bathroom is too small to store the family’s towels or too humid for the towels to dry properly. In this case, family members can store their towels on hooks in their bedrooms. Bedroom storage is a little inconvenient especially when you forget to bring your bath towel to the bathroom with you, but new routines can be learned quickly.

It doesn’t matter whether you store towels in the bathroom or in bedrooms, it is important that towels are hung up properly to allow airflow so that they dry quickly after every use.

Over-the-door towel racks are great because the towels hang flat and are out of the way. However, if the towels are squished between the door and the wall, they may not dry very quickly.

Radiator drying racks also can be useful. Not only can the towels hang on radiators, but they can also be used on some types of windowsills as well as balcony railings.

Freestanding towel racks (pictured above) take up floor space but they can hold multiple towels and can be placed over furnace vents or in front of radiators, windows or fans.

Set up laundry routines. Bath towels should be laundered after every 3 to 5 uses. Depending on the number of people in your home, the size of your washer and dryer and your available time, you may find that washing one or two sets of towels per day works best for you. Alternatively, you could wash all the towels once or twice per week. Pick a day to wash the towels and round ‘em up.

Storage of Extra Towels. You many or may not want to designate an extra set of towels for every person in the household. It depends on your laundry routine as well as your storage space. Towels should be stored in a dry environment, such as a linen closet. Extra sets of towels can be stored in bedroom closets or in an under-bed storage bin, if a linen closet is not available.

If have even more tips on how to manage towels, please share them with our readers in the comments.

More modified principles of sanitary design

I know it seems a little strange to apply food industry practices to one’s personal life, but it does make my life easier. Whenever we move to a new home, I apply all kinds of modified principles of facility design to arrangement and layout. It isn’t always easy because of the architecture of the house, but some simple modifications can be made so that things run smoothly and efficiently.

If you’re interested in doing the same, consider the following:

Create Distinct Zones. Maintaining separations between areas reduces the likelihood of transfer of material from one area to another. When items are kept where they belong, you can quickly and easily find what you need, when you need it. You may not be able to renovate your home to add walls, but a shelving unit could be used to separate a living room from a dining area. Screens or curtains could be used to designate distinct areas in a shared bedroom or to separate a home gym from the family room.

Control Process and Material Flows. Lack of adequate processes or poorly designed processes can cause clutter to build up. Identifying and repairing bad processes can help you save time and effort. Ensure you set up the processes so that the people in your home can move around easily without bumping into one another. For example, if someone is trying to pour his/her breakfast cereal at the same counter space where someone else is making coffee, you could consider relocating the coffee maker or the breakfast cereal. An alternative would be for the coffee drinkers to adjust their morning routines to vacate that particular counter space before the cereal eaters need to prepare their breakfast.

Easy Cleaning. When you are examining your processes, think about general housecleaning. Will the vacuum cleaner easily pass between pieces of furniture? Would the addition of garbage and/or recycling bins help keep clutter at bay in certain areas?

Environmental Control. Ensuring proper airflow in the home improves indoor air quality and makes the home more comfortable with respect to temperature and humidity. Do not block vents, radiators or windows with furniture. Vent deflectors can be used if furniture must be placed over vents. In the winter, temporary curtains can be installed to create a double doorway and prevent cold air from entering all over house.

Plan Exterior Elements. Putting mats and boot brushes at the entryway to the house can prevent dirt and mud from getting deeper into the house. A chair or bench by the door will allow you to set packages down in a clean, dry area while you unlock your door. Be sure to keep the area clean of leaves and dirt so rodents and insects don’t have a place to hide while they wait for you to open your front door.