Simple solution for small packets in your kitchen pantry

Card FileHere’s a simple solution for packets of dry goods in your pantry: Store them together in an index card file.

I store packets of yeast in a 3×5 card file and larger packets of taco and stew seasonings in a 4×6 card file. These card files keep small packets from getting lost behind boxes of pasta and cereal and they make inventory simple when creating grocery lists.

An index card file is just a simple, inexpensive way to keep clutter at bay in your pantry!

 

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

Organize for the inevitable with Swedish Death Cleaning

Twelve years ago my parents moved from the Pennsylvania home of my childhood to a smaller, single-floor residence in sunny Florida. A part of that process was scaling down their property to what was essential. A lot of stuff was sold, donated, given away, or just tossed. It was a time-consuming process that would have been avoided entirely with a little “Döstädning” or Swedish Death Cleaning.

No, I don’t mean scrubbing the house while blasting “The Eagle Flies Alone” by ARCH ENEMY on the stereo. Instead, Swedish Death Cleaning refers to the conscious, methodical reduction of clutter over time, typically starting at age 50, and going until the end takes you. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually a very thoughtful thing to do.

In her book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter,” Margareta Magnusson reveals what she calls the “secrets” to effective death cleaning, including:

  1. Speak about it always. Tell others what you’re doing, she says, so they can hold you accountable.
  2. Don’t fear the process. It’s not about the ever-present inevitability of death, she says, but about life itself. It’s about your memories. “The good ones you keep,” she writes. “The bad you expunge.”
  3. Reward your efforts with life-affirming activities. See a movie, attend a concert, enjoy a fantastic meal.

Of course, you need not be in your 50’s — or contemplating mortality — to reap benefits from the mindful reduction of stuff. Fewer possessions mean less worry, less maintenance, and greater ease if and when you have to move (Magnusson notes that she has moved house 17 times). Plus, it puts the focus on one’s most meaningful life events on memories, not the stuff acquired along the way.

I like the idea of Swedish Death Cleaning and I’m going to give it a try. Perhaps I’ll have an update for you all in a few months. Now excuse me while I fire up some ARCH ENEMY on the stereo.

Stair step baskets can help control clutter

I am not a basket person. I’ve never thought that a room in my home could be improved in some way by bowl shaped, woven wood with a handle. My mother, Queen of Baskets, disagrees with me strongly on this point. She believes that baskets make everything better. Everything.

In her home, if you want to blow your nose, you get your tissue from a basket. Toilet paper? Basket. Magazine? Basket. Silverware? Basket. Television remote? Basket. Flour? Sugar? Q-tip? That’s right, baskets. Her house is extremely organized, and its organization system revolves primarily around baskets.

As I said in the beginning, baskets are not my forte. However, amid all of my mother’s baskets, one of them makes complete sense to me: The stair step basket.

This basket sits on the bottom two steps in her house and throughout the day she fills it with items that belong upstairs. When she heads upstairs at some point, she takes it and returns the items in the basket to their proper places. Then, she sets the basket on the top two stairs and fills it with items that belong downstairs as she comes across them. The cycle repeats each time the basket is full. The basket collects out of place items and keeps them from creating clutter. Her system of using the basket is a brilliant clutter-busting and time-saving solution.

Her specific stair step basket is no longer made but it is very similar to this one. Honestly, though, any storage container that is easy to carry would work and could serve the same function. I think this is a wonderful idea for anyone in a multiple-storey home.

 

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

Your car’s glove compartment, revisited

About a year ago, I wrote an article on what you ought to keep in your car’s glove compartment. Looking back, I think there was some solid advice there, including proof of auto insurance and registration (as well as a protective sleeve for each), and a list of medications that family members are taking.

Let’s revisit the glove compartment from the perspective of organization. A glove compartment is a small space, and an inconvenient one. It’s at an awkward angle, often poorly lit and if we’re being honest, not user-friendly at all. Here are some tips to help keep everything organized and accessible.

Take every thing out and move it to a flat surface. Your car’s front seat is not the place to be sorting this stuff so I suggest using a tabletop in your garage. If you need to, put everything in one large box and take it into the house to organize.

As I so often do when organizing and purging, I’m going to suggest that you make three piles. Specifically: keep, toss, and relocate. This step is pretty self-explanatory. All of those ketchup packets and napkins can be tossed. The receipts from years ago can be relocated or tossed (depending on your needs), and shred expired registrations and out-of-date insurance cards.

Next, grab the owners’ manual. You know, it’s that thick book the dealer gave you back in 2008 when the car was new. You glanced at it once before deciding to give it the silent treatment for the past nine years. It can be your friend, if you set it up right.

Get yourself some page markers, open up the manual and mark pages for things like:

  • Setting the clock
  • Tuning in radio stations
  • Changing a tire
  • What type of tires your car takes and what the ideal tire pressure is
  • What those weird dashboard lights mean
  • Whatever else you’ve looked up more than once in the past

Now the users’ manual is actually, usable!

Next, make use of the other little cubbies and hideaways in the car to store things that don’t need to be in the glove compartment. The small pockets in the doors and the center console can be used for compact umbrellas, ice scrapers, and window wipes.

Before you put a single thing back inside the glove compartment, give the interior a good cleaning. If the interior is vinyl or plastic, a simple solution of soap and water will do.

Your car’s glove compartment is one of those oft-overlooked, out-of-sight, out-of-mind locations that loves to accumulate clutter. A spare fifteen minutes is all that stands between a chaotic abyss and a user-friendly glove compartment.

Establish a zone in a room with vinyl wall decals

Living in an apartment or dorm room can have some disadvantages. One of the biggest disadvantage, in my opinion, is that you have limited decorating options. Most landlords won’t allow you to paint the walls, and many won’t let you use nails to hang artwork.

This bleak canvas might be appealing to minimalists, but I think that most people enjoy looking at something other than plain, white walls. Additionally, visually identifying where a room begins and ends, or where a zone of a room exists, can help a space feel more put together and less cluttered.

Vinyl wall decals with low-tack adhesive are one way to create interest on a wall without having to pick up a paintbrush or hammer a nail. I also think that these are great solutions for children’s rooms where interests change quickly with age. (Dump trucks were so two weeks ago!) I’m considering using them in my three-story stairwell, and I even have the luxury of being able to paint my walls.

You could opt for wall-sized murals. Various quotations are available. You can even create your own decal with a favorite quote. Holiday themed decals allow you to change decor with ease. Glow-in-the-dark decals will allow you to shed a little bit of light in dark corners — ideal for keeping monsters away in a little one’s room.

A google search for vinyl wall decals or decorations will yield many links. I’ve collected a list of some of what I believe to be the most innovative producers:

  • Acte Deco has numerous designs based on nature and sports themes.
  • Domestic has many interesting cartoons and doilies from French designers (“Shall We Dance” is my favorite).
  • Apple Pie Design has many silhouette options.
  • Blik has Charles and Ray Eames decals that make my heart go pitter patter.

If you’re having trouble creating zones in your home, consider vinyl wall decals as a temporary or permanent option.

More unconventional organizing solutions

Alex’s post on unconventional organizing solutions inspired me to share some of my creativity with Unclutterer readers.

Organizing bandages

bandages in coupon organizerOur first-aid kit had several half-filled boxes of bandages. They took up a lot of space and made it difficult to find specialty bandages such as those for fingertips and knuckles. To solve this problem, I used a coupon organizer.

Of course, you can use a coupon organizer to keep coupons, receipts, or business cards in order, but it works very well for bandages too.

Paper management

portable file foldersWe had several portable document holders lying around the house (leftovers from children’s school projects) so I decided to put them to work.

Using two folders, I sorted out all of the types of paper we use in our printer — various sizes and types of photo paper, card stock (assorted colours), address labels, business cards, etc. Now we can find exactly what we need when we need it.

In another folder, I sorted our sandpaper. It was always getting bent and torn in the bottom of the tool box. Having the sandpaper rubbing against the tools was neither good for the tools nor the sandpaper. Now that it is organized in the document holder, it’s easy to grab what we need to quickly finish a project.

challenge coin collection

Challenge Coin Collection

Being in the military, my husband has a some challenge coins. We had a display case for his collection but the first time we moved, we had to remove all of the coins from the case, wrap them individually then put them back in the case at our new house (very time consuming). During one move, the display case was broken so we were left with a box of wrapped coins. We needed a way for my husband to quickly see what he had in his collection, yet be able to move the collection quickly and easily. We used a pocket hanging jewelry organizer. The jewelry organizer isn’t really used for display purposes as it hangs in a closet, but it does make it easy for my husband to view his collection and it rolls easily to keep all the coins safe when we move. When he retires and we stop moving every few years, we’ll get a proper display case but until then, we’ll stick with the jewelry organizer.

Now it’s your turn. What other uses can you find for a coupon organizer, portable document holder, or a hanging jewelry organizer? Share your ideas in the comments section or in the Forum.

Unconventional organizing solutions

Years ago for her birthday, my mother wanted an ice cream cone dispenser. Her pantry had no cupboard doors and given the Victorian style of the house, a big ugly cardboard box just didn’t suit. So, I bought her one.

However, before giving it to her, it sat for a few days on my kitchen counter, waiting to get wrapped. One of those days, an fellow organizer came over for dinner and we got chatting about the dispenser, specifically how else it might be used.

Our favorite solution was as a panty dispenser for women wear small, lightweight underwear. Other ideas were cotton ball dispenser in the bathroom, microfiber cloth dispenser in the garage or workshop, and cloth scraps dispenser for those who are into patchwork or other fabric arts.

My father, who had a workshop the envy of master carpenters, bought an antique printer’s cabinet and used the flat drawers with their small dividers to hold screws, nails, nuts and bolts of all sorts of sizes and shapes.

There are a million organizing solutions out there, often very specific to one particular need. However, sometimes these items can be expensive, or may not live up to their promise once you get them home.

In today’s post, we going to have some fun. I am going to give you some common household items and give you one or two out of the box organizing ideas, then it’s up to you to come up with more to share with other Unclutterer readers in the comments or in the Forum.

Also, we’d love to hear about your own unconventional organizing solutions. What have you re-purposed for home or office organizing whose original design had nothing to do with the solution?

Right, let’s get started.

A wine rack:

  • Lay them on their back, put one on top of the other and you have a way to keep rolls of paper (wrapping paper, architectural drawings, etc.) organized.
  • If you weave, sew, or knit a lot and have large spools of thread or yarn, use the wine rack to store them.
  • Put it in a kitchen cupboard, or on the counter even, and stack glass containers with rice, lentils, etc… (with the labels on the lids instead of the bottles themselves)
  • Store rolled up towels in a guest bedroom or bathroom

A hanging shoe bag:

  • A doll sorter in a child’s bedroom
  • Storage for bottles of cleaners and brushes in the laundry room
  • First aid storage (in a shoe bag with transparent pockets)
  • Apartment Therapy also suggested a way of keeping camping items sorted and off the ground

Now it’s your turn.

What other uses can you think of for an ice cream cone dispenser, a wine rack, and a shoe bag? Are there any other unconventional organizing solutions you could suggest?

Weekend project: organize the closet

sweater storage boxClosets, like junk drawers, tend to attract all manner of clutter. I think that’s because their contents are largely out of sight and easily shut away. Is that untidy closet stressing you out? Shut the door and walk away. There!

That’s a bit flippant, I admit, and also not the whole story. Many people resist organizing a closet because they assume that means researching and purchasing additional storage solutions. While it’s possible that an untidy closet could be greatly improved with some labeled bins, that’s not the only way to get on top of an untidy project. You can make huge gains in a weekend without spending a thing. Let’s begin with the obvious: uncluttering.

Unclutter the closet

Inside my closet is a dresser with a nice, flat surface. It calls to me when I open the door: “Dave, just plop that sweatshirt right here. Oh and those sweaters? Just pile them up right here.” If I analyze this behavior in myself, I realized that when I place items on top of the dresser vs. inside its drawers not just because I am feeling a little lazy, but because the drawers are often full. Time to unclutter.

Seasonal clothes should be removed and stored properly. What remains is sorted into three categories: what fits right now, what I want to wear, and what projects my desired image (as a guy closer to 50 than 40, I’m making a concerted effort to dress like an adult). You’ll find more on this in our article “Discover your style and keep clutter out of your closet.”

Anything that doesn’t fit into one those categories can be donated or handed down.

Plan out your closet space

Now that you’ve uncluttered, plan out the most effective use of the liberated space. Use a tape measure and confirm all of the dimensions, from top to bottom. If and when you do buy additional storage solutions, you’ll know exactly what will fit and what won’t. Also, plan to put your most frequently used items in the most accessible locations. I’ve organized my dresser the exact same way for years, and I suspect many of you have, too.

Make sure everything works well

Repair that squeaky drawer, busted light bulb and the tie rack that’s just not quite right. It’s possible to live with these minor irritations from day to day, but it’s also very annoying. While you’re at it this weekend, bust out the tool box and fix those problems once and for all.

Shoes and accessories

I don’t have very many accessories. There are a few ties, a few pocket squares, and a couple of belts. I use the top drawer for all of these. That way I know where they are and can see them all at one glance. Organize yours in a dedicated “accessories-only” location that’s easy to access.

From there, you’re done, and it only took a couple of hours. Now if you want to invest some storage solutions, you’re better equipped to make the right purchase decisions. Good luck.

Hole in the bucket organizing

When I was a little girl grandmother and aunt taught me Harry Bellefonte’s Hole in the Bucket song and of course I remember watching the classic Sesame Street performance on TV.

 

The Hole in the Bucket is a classic endless loop dilemma that at we all get stuck in at some point. If you’re stuck in an endless loop in your computer program you can simply press CTRL +ALT +DEL to break the cycle. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t have CTRL +ALT +DEL buttons so you’ll need to look for another way to exit the endless loop.

The first step is to recognize that you’re in an endless loop. If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, write down the list of tasks you need to complete to achieve your goal. If you’ve written a task more than once, you’re likely in an endless loop. In the song, Henry’s problem was the hole in his bucket.

Change focus. Henry was focused on getting a whole bucket of water. If he had focused on another part of his task list, for example sharpening his axe, he would have realized that a small cup would have carried enough water to wet his stone. If you’re trying to organize your home and you keep focusing on the kitchen, consider focusing on the dining room instead. An organized dining room may free up enough space to allow you to easily organize the kitchen.

Working with new people can help escape an endless loop. Henry was working with Liza who was offering no real solutions and seemed to be perpetuating the loop. If Henry had spoken with a neighbour, he could have borrowed a bucket or an axe and had his problem solved. Talking to a friend, family member, or hiring a professional organizer can provide new and insightful clues to resolve your organizational problems.

Using your wildest imagination could provide unique solutions. If buckets didn’t exist, how would Henry get water? What would buckets be made of so they would never get holes? In your own situation, what if you could just wave a magic wand and have the clutter disappear? If you had unlimited funds, how could you solve the problem? Even if the answers are outlandish, they just might just lead to a solution you may not have previously considered.

Have you ever been stuck in an endless loop? What helped you escape? Please share with our readers in the comments.

Tackling office desk clutter

Recently I moved into a new office at work, much to my former office mate’s delight. With two desks, two bookshelves, a filing cabinet and a large printer/scanner all crammed into a small room, he and I felt like we were always in each other’s way. My moving out gave us some breathing room as well as the opportunity to assess what should go where.

My first task stepping into a new, solo office was to figure out what I needed in hardware and systems. I came up with four categories:

  • Inboxes
  • Working areas
  • Storage points
  • Exit points

Inboxes

I made this plural after careful consideration. The idea is to have as many inboxes you need, but no more. Right now, my inboxes are:

  1. A box labeled “In” on my desk
  2. The notebook I carry in my pocket at all times
  3. My email inbox

These three pieces of hardware allow me to capture everything I typically see in a day. Papers, forms, and documents from staff and co-workers are placed in the inbox tray. The notebook captures what I come across during the day, like requests, questions, and ideas I need to follow through on. The email inbox, well…that’s its own thing. Here’s an article on how I handle that particular job.

Working areas

This is obvious but I need to get work done while in my office. That means an adequately-sized, flat surface where I can process all those inboxes and get down to tasks and projects. For me, that’s my desk, which I keep completely free of clutter. The only items allowed to live there long term are:

  1. Computer
  2. Inbox
  3. Outbox
  4. Pens
  5. 3×5 index cards, for jotting down items that need follow-up (These are tossed into the inbox for later processing.)

That’s it. When I’m working on something, the related files come out and are placed on the work surface. When I’m done with that particular project, all related materials go away. Which brings me to…

Storage areas

I’ve got two types of storage: analog and digital.

Analog storage is a good, old-fashioned filing cabinet. Hanging folders don’t work for me as I always knock them off the tracks. I prefer labeled, standard file folders. Sorting by simple alphabetical order is best for me as I can find anything.

Digitally, I use Evernote. It holds information that may be useful in the future, but doesn’t require any action such as policies and procedures, etc.

Exit points

Just like the inbox, the outbox sits on my desk. Anything that isn’t digital and must travel from me to someone else, begins its journey in the outbox.

None of this is new technology or technique, but it works for me. It’s also clutter-free and efficient. While the office I describe here is at work, this setup would benefit a home office, student’s desk, or homework area. See if you can reduce your office system down to what’s necessary and see your efficiency and productivity rise.

Being mindful: National Situational Awareness Day

Did you know that tomorrow is National Situational Awareness Day? September 26th was officially proclaimed in 2016 as the day that we should take a few minutes to really think about and be mindful of our surroundings.

What is situational awareness? According to Pretty Loaded, the organization that developed the day, it is:

Situational awareness is really just another way of being mindful of your surroundings. Developing this skill will make you more present in daily activities, which in turn helps you make better decisions in all aspects of life.

The concept was developed during World War I and focuses on personal safety, as does the site Pretty Loaded. However, situational awareness extends beyond security. We all practice situational awareness without thinking. For example, we don’t cross a busy street because we know that it’s highly likely that we will get hit by a car. Similarly, most people will think twice about walking down a dark alley in an unknown city.

Situational awareness can help you with your organizing challenges as well. Recently in the forums, someone asked how to get started in uncluttering, stating that decision paralysis was causing a block. Let’s take a look at this paralysis from the point of view of situational awareness.

We have in front of us a drawer full of who knows what. Many people who have trouble uncluttering state that what blocks them is the idea that everything they hold onto might come in handy at some point in the future.

First off, let’s forget about everything else in the house. We are focusing on just this current situation, the drawer. Nothing else exists. This helps take off the pressure. We’re not uncluttering the whole house, only one small piece of it.

Next, as we take each thing out of the drawer we ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. In what situation might this item be useful?
  2. What level of probability will this situation actually happen?

We then put the item in one of three piles:

  1. We can’t imagine using the item.
  2. We can imagine using the item, but we don’t think the situation will come to pass.
  3. We can imagine using the item and see a real possibility of the situation arising.

When we finish the drawer, items in pile A get donated or tossed out. Items in pile B get put in a box (with or without an inventory) and  dated six months in the future. If we don’t touch the box in those six months, the contents get donated or tossed out without any more decision agony. And finally, items in pile C go back in the drawer. Later, once everything in the room has been sorted, we can reorganize what’s left for better access.

By approaching uncluttering using the concept of situational awareness, we take a skill we all have (avoiding putting ourselves in front of moving vehicles, for example) and extend it to an area of our lives that causes us confusion and pain (getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose).

This same technique can be used for any area of organizing, from prioritizing our time to reorganizing the kitchen cupboards for ease of use. As mentioned above, situational awareness is really just another term for being mindful and present in the moment.

So, now over to you. How are you going to use situational awareness day to help you organize one part of your life?

Get organized to help in an emergency

As Florida and Houston deal with the aftermath of devastating storms, I’ve seen messages from good-hearted people on social media opening their homes to those who have been displaced. Countless people are affected by these disasters, and will be for weeks and months to come.

It’s a fantastic act of selfless generosity to open one’s home to someone in need. It also takes a lot of planning and organization. If you plan to have friends and/or family stay with you for an indeterminate amount of time — especially when they’ve lost so much — there are steps you can take to make the experience better for yourself and for them.

First, ensure how many people you can safely and comfortably accommodate. Everyone will need space to sleep, so count up bedrooms as well as couches, air mattresses, cots or sleeping bags. If using the latter, make sure that there’s an opportunity for privacy for all. Not everyone wants to sleep on the living room couch. Maybe you can make a rotating schedule. While you’re at it, make sure there is ample room for the belongings they will bring with them.

If you plan on accepting many people, you might even want to check with your municipality for advice on how many people can safely occupy your home.

Next, stock up on supplies. More people means more food, water, toiletries, etc. If you have time, buy these supplies before your guests’ arrival and designate a tidy an accessible place for storage.

Guests forget stuff at the best of times, and in this instance, they might not have the opportunity to grab essentials. Buy extra toothbrushes, disposable razors, extra towels and so forth and make them available.

Your guests will also have clothing to launder. Providing a few mini pop-up laundry baskets will allow guests to keep their dirty clothes out of their suitcases and transport them to and from the laundry area with ease.

Also make sure you’ve got a first-aid kit on hand, as well as some common over-the-counter medications, even pet food if your guests will be bringing a dog or cat with them.

Have phone chargers for various models available, as theirs may be gone, as well as a mini charging station. Make your Wi-Fi password available if you have one (you should). A crank-powered radio is also useful, especially if your own home is in or near a danger zone.

If you’re opening your home to people in need, our hat is off to you. If you don’t have that opportunity but still want to help, contact the Red Cross.