Can someone be a collector and be uncluttered?

The quick answer to the question posed in the headline is yes. Being uncluttered and being a collector are not mutually exclusive states.

I will be the first to admit, however, that being an uncluttered collector is not an easy task. The temptation to collect beyond one’s reasonable limits is high, and can thwart even someone with the best of intentions.

An uncluttered collector, by definition, takes pride in his or her collection and displays it fully and respectfully. A collector wants to enjoy his or her collection and share it with others. Conversely, a collection is clutter when it’s stored out of sight, in a disrespectful manner, and for no other reason than just to have more stuff.

So what does an uncluttered collection look like? Unclutterer Jerry wrote about PlasmicSteve’s memorabilia office in our Workspace of the Week feature. I see this office as a perfect example of how someone can be an uncluttered collector and honor the things he or she chooses to collect:

Are you a collector? How do you display fully and respectfully your collection? Or, are you storing your “collection” in boxes in your attic in less-than-desirable conditions?

 

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

Uncluttering and firearms

Editor’s Note: Regardless if you are for or against the possession of firearms, there may be an occasion where you may run across them while uncluttering and organizing. Generally, this would be when you are cleaning out a space that does not belong to you, for example a deceased relative. In this situation, we should always expect to discover the unexpected, and a firearm might be one of those unexpected things.

To provide some guidance on what to do when you come across firearms, we welcome today’s guest, Monica Ricci. She is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, author, blogger and firearms instructor. She enjoys cooking, travel, music, photography and competitive shooting.

 

After 20 years in the organizing and productivity business, you can imagine I have seen nearly everything there is to see in a person’s home, from dirty diapers under the sofa to “adult novelty products” in the bedside table drawer. For most organizers, finding these items is no big deal. We remain unfazed, letting professionalism and discretion prevail in what might otherwise be an awkward situation.

However, as prepared as most of us are for the aforementioned items, stumbling upon a firearm is a different story for someone who is not accustomed to dealing with them. As an experienced shooter and firearms instructor, I am not personally unnerved by the presence of a firearm, however I’m also not cavalier about it. Finding a gun when you don’t expect to can be a surprise for everyone.

The good news is that firearms aren’t magic. They don’t “just go off” by themselves. They are mechanical devices which require human interaction to work, which means as long as you follow some basic rules of firearms safety, you can prevent an accident.

Rule # 1: A gun is always loaded. Never — and I mean NEVER EVER — take the word of another person who says, “It’s not loaded.” First of all, unless you see them physically check the gun in front of you, they are guessing or assuming and you never guess or assume when it comes to firearms. Secondly, even if they check the gun while standing in front of you, please do not take their word for it. They may know enough to drop a magazine out of a pistol but there may be a round in the chamber and they may not know to check for it. If neither you nor the others you are with have the skill to check the status of the gun, do not attempt it. But always assume every gun is loaded.

Rule # 2: Always keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction. This is more difficult than it sounds because by default it has to point somewhere. But for our purposes, that means do not put yourself or another person in front of the muzzle and never allow another person to “sweep” the muzzle of a firearm past you. In the case of finding a firearm while uncluttering and organizing, take note of which way it is pointing when you find it and stay behind it (the handle side) at all times. If you or someone else picks up the gun, always ensure that it is pointing away from people and in a safe direction. Outdoors, a safe direction might be the ground, but in a home, unless you’re in a basement, pointing the gun at the floor may not be a safe direction because there may be someone below you. Sometimes you have to choose what you perceive as the safest option such as pointing it at the floor, and this is why the four rules always work together to prevent accidents. So that even if you must point a gun in what could be construed as a potentially unsafe direction, if you follow the other three rules, you shouldn’t have an accident or injury.

Rule # 3: Keep your finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard and OFF the trigger. When you hear someone say, “It just went off!” what they failed to also say is that someone had their finger (or another object) inside the trigger guard which moved the trigger. Rest assured that a gun in working order does not “just go off.”

Rule # 4: Know your target and what’s behind it. This typically pertains to when you’ve actually chosen to fire the gun. It’s important to know not only what you’re shooting at, but what is beyond it. The reason for this rule is because bullets can penetrate walls, floors, windows, furniture, and lots of other things!

Getting back to the scenario in which you happen across a firearm in the course of uncluttering and organizing…

First, remain calm and let everyone you’re working with know you’ve discovered a firearm. Next, determine if there is a space in the home to store the firearm so no one else will have access to it — preferably with a door (or box with a lid) that is lockable. Ensure everyone knows where the firearm will be stored until proper gun storage can be arranged.

If someone in your group says they are comfortable moving the firearm then let them do so BUT, be mindful that they may not know the rules of gun safety. This is the time for you to stay alert. Tell them that you will stay behind them as they do so. Keep your eye on them to be sure they keep their finger out of the trigger guard as they pick up the gun and transfer it to the designated storage area.

If no one is comfortable moving it, leave it where it is (remember it will not go off by itself as long as nothing touches the trigger) and shift your attention to work in another area, or leave the building until someone arrives who can handle the gun safely (e.g. police officer, firearms dealer, or other firearms expert).

Be mindful that in some countries, if you find a firearm, you must, by law report it to authorities (usually the police) who will take the firearm for safekeeping until proper ownership and safe storage is arranged.

Although many people own firearms, the odds are fairly slim that you’ll find one just lying around in the course of your work. However, it is still a good idea to consider what you would do, so if it ever happens you’ll be able to be prepared.

Functional furniture: Sobro coffee and side tables

We’ve talked about multi-purpose functional furniture in several other posts. The most recent piece I’ve seen is the Sobro Coffee Table. It has a refrigerated drawer perfect for keeping cool beverages handy. It has built-in Bluetooth speakers, LED lighting, and outlets to charge your devices. It has two other drawers where you can stash all of your charging cables and the remote controls for your television. Plus, it’s sleek modern design will make you think you’re on a live-action movie set for The Jetsons!

The Sobro Side Table is currently in development. It has many of the same features as the coffee table — fridge drawer, charging station, and built-in Bluetooth speakers. However, the LED light can be set to automatically turn on when you walk past so you can use it as a nightlight. The non-refrigerated drawer is lockable which is ideal for dorm rooms or shared living spaces.

Both of these pieces are rather expensive but in urban centres like Vancouver and New York City where living space is at a premium, multi-functional furniture is more a necessity than a luxury.

Reader question: Keeping track of vendors

Reader Jean wrote to us with this question:

How do you keep track of your vendor information? If you are a home owner, it is necessary to keep track of who you bought products and services from. It is important to keep information about the performance of the vendor and service contractors. What is the best way to keep this information?

That’s a great question. It’s always a good idea to keep track of who you do business with and not only if you’re a home owner. Renters may need to have their own appliances serviced and they may wish to report to the owners detailed information about the quality of the work provided by repair persons. You certainly want to continue hiring good contractors and purchasing from the best vendors. There are several ways to keep track of this information. I’ll provide a few examples below.

Paper based methods

Some people may think paper-based methods are old fashioned but they are effective. If you already have your user manuals and bills of sales filed in your filing cabinet, you can store your service contracts in the same files. For example, if the documentation for your large appliances is stored in one file folder, store any bills for repairs or servicing there as well. You can note the quality of service on the back of the bill or on another paper stapled to the bill or service contract. This method is great because when you phone for repairs, you’ll also have the make, model, and serial number of your appliance in the same file.

You could also create a binder with all of the information. Copy useful information (make, model, serial number, etc.) of each item onto a sheet of paper to keep in the binder. Note where you store the instruction/guarantee booklet so it is easy to find if you need it (then you don’t have to store the bulky booklets in the binder itself). If you wish, attach bills of sale to 3-hole paper and add them to the binder too. It gives you space to write details about the quality of the store/salesperson where you bought the item. Add repair bills or service contracts to the binder as they occur. You can also staple business cards of sales/service personnel to the pages so their contact information is at your fingertips.

Electronic Methods

Electronic methods work better for some people — especially if much of the information to be stored is already in digital format. A basic spreadsheet can list contact information, dates items were purchased or work was done, as well as the quality of the vendor or service provider. Spreadsheets are nice because you can sort the information by date, appliance name, or by vendor service quality. If your user manuals are in digital format, you can link to them directly. If not, you can note the place where they are stored (e.g. filing cabinet).

You can also track this information in home inventory software. This is a type of database that will allow you to store information such as make, model, serial number, purchase price, etc. You can also store a picture of the item as well as receipts and other documents. You can even keep this information in the cloud so that should you ever need to make an insurance claim, you can access it from anywhere. The Balance has a great summary of home inventory software that is available for both Mac and Windows.

Thanks again for your great question Jean. We hope this post gives you the answers you were looking for. Our fellow unclutterers are also a great source of ideas so keep checking the comments for more tips.

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.”

Is ‘trading up’ your space worth it?

Are you in constant pursuit of a bigger, better home? Do you think that more space will solve your problems or alleviate the stress of storing all your stuff? Are your eyes set on the biggest house you can afford?

If you answered affirmatively to any of the above questions, you may want to take a few minutes to read Daniel McGinn’s article originally published in Newsweek in 2008, “Extreme Downsizing: How moving from a 6,000-square-foot custom home to a 370-square-foot recreational vehicle helped quell one family’s ‘House Lust.’

The family featured in the article was getting ready to buy a home on land and give up their RV after two years on the road. They learned a number of valuable lessons over the two years, but this one stuck out to me:

“Debbie makes it clear that their next home, while smaller, will still be nicely appointed. It’s not as if she’s forsaken the American dream altogether; she has just realized that the endless cycle of ‘trading up’ to nicer homes isn’t very fulfilling. ‘It was this constant “This will be the answer.” Then you’d come up empty at the end,’ she says. ‘It was this searching thing, and I think I’m done with the search.'”

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

Weekend Project: Clear clutter from under furniture

I read an organizing book many years ago that suggested hiding random possessions like magazines and children’s toys under the couch. It was such a bizarre suggestion to me. How is cramming something under a couch an organized solution? Yes, it may get it out of the pathway and out of sight, but is that the best place for those items? Magazines belong in a magazine caddy or on bookshelves, and children’s toys belong in toy chests or bins. I read the suggestion as a way to create clutter, not curb it.

This weekend, tackle the spaces under furniture in your home. Are you hiding things under dressers or beds? Under table skirts? Under your couch? Pull out items and find them a better home that shows that you honor and respect your belongings. If under furniture is the only place you have for storage, then use storage bags or bins. Dust mites and other yucky things don’t belong on your possessions.

If the areas under your furniture are clear of clutter, check the spaces behind your furniture. Have books, pens, or other items fallen out of sight? Has a water cup rolled back behind your headboard?

Good luck unearthing the clutter from under your furniture!

 

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

A place for everything. Seriously.

Once you unclutter, the next step in getting organized is, well, getting organized. The key to personal organization, in my experience, is developing processes that take the thinking out of organization and sticking to those processes. What this means is that getting organized once — tidying up everything — won’t do unless you can keep it organized.

We’ve all had the experience of letting our spaces get so cluttered and messy that we had to stop and put everything away, throw out useless items, and make the space clean. This tells us a couple of things. For one, the mind can only take so much messiness in its environment before it rebels and says, “I can’t think until this place is cleaned up!”

Without organization, you can’t be productive. Suppose you’re working on a project that requires certain tools, such as paper, pens, a ruler, scissors. If you have to stop every minute to think were the scissors or pens are in your mess, several things happen. First, and most obvious, you’ll waste time (as the scientific management school showed us). Second, you’ll never get into a productive flow that will allow for creativity.

Organization is having a place for everything and making sure everything is in its place. I know that cliche sounds trite, but think about it. When you cleaned up, where did you put things? You put them in their place, right? That means most things have “their place” (not an objective universal place, just a place you’ve decided is where they belong). Why did you put them in their place? Because you want to be able to — unthinkingly — find them when you need them without interrupting your flow or creativity.

The other thing that has to be unthinking is putting things back in their place after you’ve used them. First, you have to have a place for everything. If you don’t have a drawer or shelf for DVDs, then when you finish watching one, you’re likely to leave it on the coffee table. Some places are better than others, and I hope to get into this in future posts, but for now just make sure you have a place. Also, remember we’re talking about things after you’ve uncluttered, so hopefully all that is left are things that are useful or enjoyable. Second, you need a process for staying organized. Having a place for everything does no good unless you regularly put everything in its place.

Processes can be as simple as a commitment to throw out clutter and put everything in its place in your work area before you leave for the day. When you come in the next day, everything will be calm and you’ll be ready to start the day smoothly without a jarring messy desk looking at you first thing in the morning. What makes this a process, however, is making it a habit and doing it regularly. In the posts to come I hope to look at good places and good processes.

 

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

What to throw out around the house

One of the reasons clutter accumulates is our unwillingness to throw things away — or difficulty identifying what should stay and what should go. To get you started, here’s a quick list that you can use in almost any room of the house or even at work.

First, find things that no longer work. This would likely include pens, batteries, remote controls, paperclips that are bent out of shape, or that items that have been in the “someday repair” pile for weeks or months. Gather them up and toss/recycle as necessary.

You can also dispose of anything that has expired. In the kitchen you might find expired condiments, cereal, crackers, etc. Check out StillTasty.com to learn more about how long food items last. Plastic storage containers with no lids (I promise, you’ll never find the lids) should get recycled as well. Plastic cutlery can go too unless you eat on the go regularly.

There are plenty of toss-able items in the closet, too. Mismatched socks are prime examples. You might find the missing mates, so put a small container in the closet and use it to collect the stray socks. If their partners don’t show up within a month, say goodbye to those orphaned socks.

The accessories you never wear can be donated. Shoes that no longer fit can be donated here.

Elsewhere around the house, you can safely get rid of:

  1. Takeout menus if you have not ordered from that restaurant within the past month.
  2. Old prescriptions and medications. See our post on how to dispose of these items here.
  3. Old cosmetics including sunblock as its effectiveness decreases over time.
  4. Old magazines and newspapers. See our tips on how to effectively do that here.

Have fun getting rid of this unnecessary clutter.

Storage ideas for bathrooms

We’ve rented several different houses that had bathrooms with no storage space — just a pedestal sink, a toilet, and bathtub. Here are some storage solutions I’ve used over the past.

We thought it was odd that one older house we lived in did not have a toilet roll holder already installed. Nor did it have a place to hang a towel by the sink. Rather than drill into the plaster/concrete walls, we opted for an over-the-tank toilet roll holder. We also installed a Command towel bar. Command, the experts in damage-free hanging items, has a large selection of products for bathrooms such as a wall and cabinet organizer, hair dryer holder, accessory organizer, and soap dish. They are amazing products, especially for renters who may not want to drill holes in walls when moving in or fill holes and repaint when moving out.

While we opted for a plastic rolling cart (similar to this one) for storage under our pedestal sink, a neighbour used pedestal sink shelves with a collection of little baskets to keep her things in order. I like this narrow cabinet with pull out shelves. It would be handy in a small space, but being made of wood, it would easily suffer from water damage if a toilet or sink overflowed. A standing corner shelf might be better option.

I’m not a fan of storage over the toilet. I’ve had the misfortune of smacking my head on cupboard doors left open and losing my hairbrush and cosmetics in the toilet. Also, some cabinets are installed so low that they must be removed if the toilet has to be repaired. That being said, storage over the toilet can be a great space for items not accessed frequently such as extra towels, toilet paper, tissues, etc. Perhaps a cabinet with sliding doors would be a better option for this space.

For more tips on bathroom organizing, check out our posts on towel management and storage as well as how to corral bath toys.

Getting the most out of your storage closets

I have often written about my office closet on Unclutterer. In fact, the last time I mentioned it, I received an email from a reader doubting its existence. “How big is your office closet? You write about it like it’s Mary Poppins’ purse.”

My office closet is in fact real, and it is quite large. It’s 10′ wide, 8′ tall, and 2.5′ deep, which gives me 200 cubic feet of storage. The space is accessible by two sets of panel doors and takes up the whole of the west wall of my office. Here’s a peek into half of the closet:

The second half of the closet looks quite similar to this one, but with the addition of a hanging bar for out of season coats and wrapping supplies. Most everything in the closet sits two rows deep and the shelves are Elfa brand. My husband and I built the closet, gladly sacrificing the 25 sq. feet of floor space on that side of the room.

Items are located on shelves in the closet based on how often they are accessed and their weight. You’ll notice, too, that like things are grouped together:

Office supplies, business documents, and my yarn and fiber are at waist or eye level because I open the closet for these items on a daily basis. Games, which usually are only played on weekends, are a little higher and more difficult to reach, but well labeled. Our comics are at waist level because they weigh a lot and would be difficult to access at a different height, and the same applies to our records. We only pull our photographs and albums out of storage 10 to 15 times a year, so they’re the most hard to reach items in the closet. And, to be perfectly honest, my hope is to have the majority of these digitally scanned this year, which will free up a good chunk of this space.

When organizing your closets, ask yourself the following questions: Do you have sufficient closet space or do you need to build your dream closet? Are you using all of the space in the closet effectively? Could a shelving system, like the Elfa system, improve your functionality? Are items grouped together by type (games with games, photographs with photographs)? Are items most regularly accessed at waist or eye level? Are the heaviest items at waist level or lower? Are boxes well labeled or clear so you don’t waste time hunting for specific items? Do you have a small step stool nearby to conveniently access the hard-to-reach spaces (we have a kik step, which reminds us of our elementary school libraries)? Are you faithful about returning items to their proper place in your organized closet?

Taking the time to plan your storage closets will really improve their functionality and effectiveness in your home. If you have questions or want to share tips about your storage closets, feel welcome to discuss them in the comments.

 

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

Dry erase boards for the 21st century

When my brother and I were teenagers, my parents had a dry erase board hanging next to the door we used as our main entry point to the house. All of us, parents included, were to write where we were going and what time we expected to return on the board as we left the house. We didn’t have cell phones and we didn’t get an answering machine until my senior year of high school, so this dry erase board was our way of keeping track of everyone.

If we changed our plans, we either had to first come by the house and write it on the board or call and hopefully reach someone at home to change the information on the board for us. We also kept appointment reminders (Dentist Tues. 2:00) and notes to ourselves (Don’t forget Kara’s math notes!) to help with the flow of life in the house.

Now, in my own home, I find that there are times when I still wish I had a dry erase board next to my door — even with cell phones, voice mail and the like. I’ll write messages on Post-It notes and stick them to the door as reminders for things I shouldn’t forget (Bank!). The Post-It people must have been listening because it has come to my attention that I can have a giant dry erase board next to my door without having an unsightly dry erase board hanging there.

I can now buy dry erase whiteboard film! It is like self-adhesive, dry erase wallpaper except it’s removable! It is rather expensive but I don’t have to worry about drilling holes in my walls and it can be cut to fit the exact space I want.

In my situation, I think it would be great for by our door, but it could be used in kids’ rooms, offices, classrooms, kitchens, and conference rooms. As an organizational tool, I think this is a wonderful idea.

 

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

Hidden benefits of uncluttering

Here at Unclutterer we espouse the clutter-free lifestyle. The reasons are mostly obvious: a clean, tidy home means less time is spent searching for things, knowing what you actually own, etc.

In this post, I want to look at the less obvious benefits of uncluttering. These less obvious advantages are just as powerful as those listed above. Let’s get started with time. Time, not money, is the only valuable commodity we have. Would you rather lose ten dollars or ten years? Without time, nothing else has value, so the wise person treats it as precious.

Finish small tasks right away. Schedule time to spend on big tasks and stick to it. Clean as you go. Adopt a calendar/planner that fits your lifestyle and use a productivity system you trust. You’ll spend less time on household chores, and more time with family and friends.

Next, and this is a rather specific example but bear with me. Being uncluttered means that unexpected visitors do not elicit a stressful frenzy of straightening up. It might not happen often, but when that unannounced guest is en route to your door, a few minutes of tidying is all that is needed to make the house presentable. Compare that to the frenzy of straightening a cluttered house.

Before I continue, an important note. A working home is not a museum. As I said in 2015:

“These are the years spent in the trenches. The years where my wife and I argue over who gets to be the one to grocery shop, because grocery shopping means you get 25 minutes to yourself. If guests arrive and there’s a stack of papers on a table somewhere or library books strewn about or if our dear visitors have to witness a round of my favorite 7:38 a.m. game, ‘Where Are Your Clean Socks And Why Must We Go Through This Every Blessed Day?’, Fine.

The people who are nice enough to travel and spend money just to be in our company understand where we are at this stage in our lives. They love us, and know that transferring the breakfast cereal into labeled Tupperware containers is just under ‘jewel-encrusted, heated driveway’ on our list of current priorities.”

It’s completely unreasonable, in my opinion, to live in a clutter-free home 24/7/365. That’s not what I’m proposing. Just make an effort to tidy as you go to save some stress.

Next, your family will catch the uncluttering bug. I know, that sounds crazy. I have two teenagers whose favorite activities include sleeping, eating and playing video games. (Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario.) If the house is routinely tidy, they won’t like it when it isn’t. In fact, they’ll start to organize to keep things on an even, tidy keel. I’ve seen it happen and it’s glorious.

When the tidying starts to happen consistently, you’ll feel more creative. This one is backed by science. Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute demonstrated that a cluttered environment restricts one’s ability to focus. Having trouble finishing that novel or getting some work done? A cluttered desk or office could be a contributing factor.

Lastly, you’ll likely get more sleep. A sleep study conducted in 2015 showed that people who routinely sleep in cluttered rooms are more likely to have sleep disturbances and get less restful sleep than counterparts in tidy rooms. Who doesn’t want better sleep? I sure do.

There you have a few less obvious benefits to pursuing the uncluttered lifestyle. If you’ve discovered any hidden benefits to being uncluttered, please share them with readers in the comments below.