Words to keep you motivated

Listed below are the most common pieces of advice I give to people on the topic of uncluttering. With a three-day weekend on the horizon for those of us in the States, I thought that some encouragement might be appropriate. Have a great holiday, everyone!

  1. You don’t have to unclutter in one fell swoop. Many projects, spread out over weeks and months, will get you the same results as if you had tackled it all at once.
  2. Benefits of uncluttering can include being better organized, less stressed, and having fewer things to clean. When you walk into a room, you’re able to relax because there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  3. Your motivations and visions for your uncluttered life are your guiding star when taking on uncluttering projects. Keep your eyes on your goals and you’ll find that uncluttering has less to do about the stuff and more about the life you want to lead.
  4. You can do it!
  5. You don’t have to unclutter alone. Seek out friends, family, or organizational professionals to help with motivation and keep you focused on your uncluttering goals.
  6. Keep things in perspective. If you relapse and get bogged down, don’t become frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Start again tomorrow. This is home and office organization, it’s not brain surgery. There are worse things in the world than not succeeding your first time with an uncluttering project.
  7. The person with the most amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award.
  8. The person with the least amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award, either. Living an uncluttered life doesn’t mean that you have to live an ascetic life. Simple living is about getting rid of distractions that prevent you from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

What advice, motivations, or thoughts have helped you to be more organized? Let us know what has influenced you!

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Garage storage

Most garages are cluttered near the walls with just enough room to park the cars and let the passengers maneuver through a tiny path to and from the car. There just isn’t enough space to store what you need to store when you take into consideration the space the vehicles occupy. The garage is one of the most common areas for clutter. So take stock of your garage situation and be sure to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose in your home.

Here are some garage storage solutions for you to consider:

HyLoft 45-by-45-Inch Overhead Storage System (pictured): The unit attaches to the ceiling of your garage and adds much more storage for things that you use on a limited basis. Our first home had a very small garage that could have definitely used one of these storage systems. Of course, this storage solution shouldn’t be used to store clutter that you need to get rid of in the first place.

Hanging items on the wall is key to keeping your garage uncluttered. The Rubbermaid FastTrack System helps keep your wall in order. Installing a few of these rails with ball racks, baskets, and shelves around your garage will keep your high traffic areas clear of tools, extension cords, and step ladders.

If you have quite a few long handled tools in your garage you may want keep them all in one organized rack. The Suncast Portable Long Handle Tool Rack is equipped with wheels so it can be moved more easily if need be. Or if you just have a few long handled tools this may be right for you.

The most organized garages seem to always be equipped with peg board and a series of hooks for storage of larger tools. If you’d like to mount some peg board to your garage wall you should probably head to your local hardware store. Although, this galvanized pegboard may be more sturdy.

If you have a bike or bikes to stow away check this post out for some bike storage solutions.

 

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

An idea for inherited china

Since the 1880s, when a woman in my family has raised her children and finds herself getting along in years she has picked up a small paint brush and signed her full name and birth date to the bottom of her china’s tea cups and saucers. Then, as she sees fit, she distributes the tea cups and matching saucers to her family and friends.

My mother has a collection of seven tea cups and saucers on a shelf in her dining room’s china cabinet. As a child, I would ask about the tea cups and my mother would pull them out and tell me the stories of the people to whom they had belonged. Not all of the tea cups and saucers were signed, those had come from my paternal line where signing the china hadn’t been the tradition. My mother had collected the unsigned pieces from my father’s family members so that when she one day passes on the collection to me that I will have a set including pieces from more than her family.

It seems a bit cluttered to collect seven different tea cups and saucers to store on a shelf of a china cabinet, but in comparison to keeping seven complete sets of china it is quite uncluttered. Also, with the sentimentality of past generations being passed on in tea cups, it means that other, more clutter-prone objects, are eliminated guilt-free from the inheritance process.

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Reader question: How should I store my fabric stash?

Reader Zora sent us the following question:

I sew my own clothing; I also quilt, make lace, crochet, etc. I have a 20 year accumulation of cloth, scraps, and supplies that is exquisitely organized (labeled boxes, labeled plastic drawers). If I had a dedicated sewing room, it would all fit nicely there. But I don’t. It’s all neatly stacked in the spare room, which I must clear out so I can rent it. Advice for fabriholics?

Zora, I understand the stash and hopefully can provide you with some help on this matter. I, too, sew and have a fabric stash. Fabric, yarn, fiber, thread, and canvas hoarding, along with pattern and supply accumulation is a common problem among fiber artists. (The most unbelievable stash I’ve ever seen photographed is showcased here. It’s a yarn stash, but the hoarding concept is the same.) The advice that I’m giving can be applied to anyone wanting to get his or her stash in order.

Mindset: There is not a limited supply of fabric in the world. Plants continue to produce cotton, worms spin silk, sheep have wool, and there are fabric manufacturers and retailers willing to produce and sell you gorgeous fabrics. If any of these processes cease to exist, you will have larger concerns than obtaining fabric.

That being said, it is ridiculous to assume that a serious artist will have no stash. A friend may appear at your door with a batik fabric from a trip to India. If you can’t think of a project to start immediately, you now have a stash on your hands.

Therefore, I suggest that your stash be a limited size. Determine the size of your stash based on two factors: 1. How much you can sew in a set time period (I suggest having no more than six months or a year of projects), and 2. How much you can carry in one load. If you cannot carry the whole of your stash, then it is too big. You would never be able to save it in an emergency if you couldn’t carry it, so why have more than you could reasonably save?

Future buying: Buy fabric for specific projects. Don’t buy fabric unless you know the exact length, style, and type that you need for a project that you will make in the next six months or year. I carry a list of my fabric and supply needs in a small moleskine notebook in my purse with me at all times. Resist all other types of personal fabric purchases. This is the hardest step in the process.

Organizing your stash: When I bring new fabric into my home, I immediately put it into a large Ziploc Storage bag. The pattern, thread, and all other necessary supplies for the project go into the bag, as well. I write the name of the project and the date the fabric was purchased on the exterior of the bag with a permanent black marker.

I measure fabric that is given to me as a gift and then put it into a Ziploc bag. On the bag’s exterior, I label the size of the fabric, its fiber content, who gave me the fabric, where it was purchased, and the date of the gift. I then actively seek out projects for that fabric.

Organizing your non-fabric supplies: I have two additional storage containers in addition to my fabric stash. The first is a thread organizer and the second is a tackle box for all of my other sewing supplies. I keep manuals and pattern books on my bookshelf and my cutting mat leans against the back wall of my office closet.

Getting rid of fabric: If you haven’t sewn a project in a year, evaluate if you’re actually going to make the project. If the answer is yes, it goes back in the bin with a re-evaluation date written on the bag. If the answer is no, get rid of the project in full.

After a project is complete, immediately get rid of scraps. You don’t have to throw the scraps in the trash (you may have more than a yard of scraps), but you need to get them out of your house. Scraps are clutter.

Here are suggestions for ways to de-stash projects, scraps, or large amounts of fabric–

  • Set up a Pay Pal account and sell it on your blog
  • List it on Craigslist or Ebay
  • Have a yard sale where you specifically mention that you’re getting rid of fabric
  • Freecycle it
  • Contact your local high school and see if the Home Economics department could use it
  • Donate it to charity
  • Let your sewing friends go through it and take what they want

 

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

Choosing organizing products

I’m always interested in new organizing-related products, so I read a number of blogs often feature this kind of thing.

As I browse through these listings, I’ll frequently see something like the Alessi Blow Up wall clock. Whether or not you like the look, I’m concerned about how well it serves its purpose. When I’m looking for a clock I want a time management tool that readily tells me the current time, and this clock would make it hard for me to do that. I like an interesting organizing product as much as anyone, but my first priority is functionality.

Sometimes what’s functional for one person wouldn’t work for someone else. For example, the Kikkerland wood cube alarm clock has an interesting interface — it stays dark, looking like a simple wood cube, until you clap. But that interface wouldn’t work at all for those who need to wake up before their light-sleeping partners. And it has no snooze function, which many people would find essential. But neither of those drawbacks would be a concern for me, if I were in the market for an alarm clock.

Other products fall down in legibility, especially for those with aging eyes. There’s a lot to like about the Life.doc organizer, but I found some forms were somewhat hard to read. My eyes just didn’t do well with the forms that have dark orange type on a lighter orange background. Another product I just came across is a wall clock with hour indicators (dots, not numbers) that are hard to see because of the lack of contrast.

Sometimes a product seems great at first, but not as good with a bit more consideration. Products like the Readers Nest bookshelf seem practical, but I’d be afraid that leaving a book open on the top would not be good for the spine. But if you want to use that top space for magazines that you’ll be recycling after you read then, the concern evaporates.

If you take some time to consider your requirements when picking an organizing product you’re likely to wind up with a product that works well for you — not just one that impresses you because it looks cool. For example, if you were choosing an alarm clock you might care about the following:

  • Size of the numbers
  • Ease of setting the alarm
  • Length and loudness of the alarm
  • Number of alarms that can be set at once
  • The alarm sound (which you may want to be pleasant or annoying)
  • Battery life, if it runs on batteries
  • Noise during non-alarm run time: ticking, etc.
  • Amount of light it puts into the room, if you sleep best in total darkness

With a bit of searching, there’s a good chance you can find a product that’s functional and has a look you enjoy.

Preparing for back to school

As August becomes September, it’s time to prepare for the upcoming school year. I know, there are plenty of beach days between now and then and I don’t want to detract from your summer. However, the earlier you get a jump on back-to-school preparations, the less stressful September will be.

Of course there’s a lot to buy from clothing to gadgets to the list of supplies your school provided. That’s important, but today I want to focus an aspect we think of less often, but is just as important — getting the kids back on a school year schedule.

You’ll be met with resistance if you try to move bedtime ahead by 90 minutes the first night. I recommend starting several weeks early. If you’ve got younger kids, get them into bed 5 or 10 minutes early each night for couple of weeks. They’ll barely notice the difference. If your children are older, start to remind them few weeks out: “It’s time to get back on a school schedule. Head to bed a few minutes early tonight.”

It’s also important to review what the morning routine will be. While my wife and I discuss it among ourselves, it’s important to bring the kids into that conversation too, and the sooner the better. Talk about when the day will start, any after-school activities, who can be expected to pick up/drop off (and where), carpool details if applicable, etc. People like predictability.

Next, create a landing area for their school stuff. Find the best spot for them to place bags, coats, important papers, etc. and encourage them to use it. Otherwise — if your kids are like mine — you’ll find a trail of hats, gloves, backpacks, and so on that leads from the door to wherever junior decided to plop himself as he entered the house.

Finally, get yourself a good calendar. I swear by the oversize wall calendar, much like this one. Perhaps you love a digital calendar. That’s cool too. The important thing here is to make your choice, and get it in place, before the school year begins.

There’s more to do to prepare for school, of course, but these tips should get you up and running. Good luck.

Reader question: End table filing cabinets?

Reader Sarah asked us the following question:

I’m preparing to move from a large suburban home into a small urban apartment for one year, and I want to take a minimum of files with me. Ideally I’d find an attractive lidded file basket or box that could do double duty as an end table in my living room. Any suggestions?

In smaller spaces, multi-functional furniture is a great way to maximize storage. My favorite, multi-purpose filing cabinet is the Woodboro Media End Table. It stores hanging files in letter and legal sizes, it has built in storage for your laptop, hidden, built-in AC and USB outlets and serves as an end table. This is one valuable piece of furniture if you’re limited on space and do not have a traditional home office.

There are many different types of end table filing cabinets, some of which could also function as a night stand beside your bed or a guest bed. You might also want to consider one of the many styles of ottoman filing cabinets.

I hope that this helps, and good luck with the move!

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Porch and patio storage

If you have an outdoor area where you spend a fair amount of time, there are sure to be items that permanently reside outside. Our back patio has a table and chairs. The chairs have cushions and we prefer to store them when not in use. The Suncast Deck Box is an easy solution that can handle quite a bit of storage. The cushions from our chairs take up quite a bit of space in our larger unit, but we still have room for our modest garden tool and barbecue utensil sets. If you don’t have seat cushions to store, you can select the smaller option.

In the event that you have more people than available seating this garden bench deck box gives you the option of extra seating plus a generous amount of storage space.

The Storage Table/Serving Cart would be a very useful addition to any patio or deck. It can serve as a prep station for your barbecue or become an outdoor wine bar (or soft drink bar — depending on the age of your dinner guests). It has wheels, lockable storage, and even a paper towel roll holder!

When you’re having a fancy outdoor party the last thing you want to be looking at are unsightly trash bins. Investing in a small storage shed will hide the bins from view as well as keep them protected from unwanted pests such as raccoons, possums, squirrels, etc.

With these convenient storage solutions, you’ll be able to enjoy your time outside with family and friends.

 

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Wall mounted system for storing fishing poles

Like to fish? Have plans to clean and organize your garage? I ran across this storage device and thought it was sleek and efficient. Upon inspection of the product, I discovered that it also could work as a way to store fencing foils and billiards/pool cues. I love the way the garage door is used as a storage space!

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Weekend project: Organize under the bed

Many home projects can be completed in under 30 minutes, yet have a big impact on your day-to-day life. With that in mind, I like to tackle a good Weekend Project. Anything from organizing the tool shed to creating a daily routine is well worth the time and effort. Today we’re going to take a peek somewhere that most people avoid: under the bed.

Feng Shui practitioners know that nothing should be stored underneath one’s bed. My practice is lacking then, as I keep a lot of stuff under there. I suspect many of you do, too. If that’s the case, here’s a look at how you can take an afternoon this weekend to get control over what’s stored underneath your bed. The first step is identifying what’s down there in the first place.

Dare to explore

The area underneath one’s bed is often a dark and scary place, full of hidden surprises, and I don’t mean just the dust bunnies. A great way to start is to pull everything out. For each item, decide to put it in either the “keep” pile, the “donate” pile or the “toss” pile. This won’t take long as there’s only so much stuff that can fit underneath your average bed. When that’s done, send anything in “donate” or “toss” to the appropriate destination and turn back to the “keep” pile.

Proper, convenient storage

First, make sure everything is in a labeled bin, with the label facing out. In my experience, anything tossed under there loosely will gravitate to the center, never to be seen again. You’ll probably need several transparent or semi-transparent containers with lids. If you can, find some that also have casters or wheels, even better (this one from Sterilite is ideal).

Before you buy any, take measurements of the space underneath your bed. Write it down somewhere so you can refer to it while at the store.

What to put under the bed

I’ve got a few solutions, depending on whose bed we’re talking about:

  1. Your own — Out-of-season clothing, shoes, and extra linens are a great choice.
  2. The kids — Their books, board games, puzzles, and so on.
  3. The guest room — Guest linens, extra blankets (make sure they’re freshly washed before guess arrive). We also keep gift wrapping supplies under there.

Yes, it’s a drag to haul everything out from under there and sort it. But it’s worth the effort believe me. Feng Shui or not, you’ll be glad you spent some time organizing underneath the bed.

Organize a first aid kit for the car

A first aid kit isn’t one of those things you think about until you need it and when you do, boy do you need it! You can avoid making a stressful time even more difficult by planning and buying a roadside first aid kit now. They’re inexpensive, easy to maintain, and compact. Here is what every driver should have tucked away in the car.

The right container

There are a lot of pre-made first aid kits available. Most are great, but I recommend building your own from scratch. Why? You’re more likely to know exactly what is inside a homemade first aid kit as you think about, buy, and place each item. You might glance at a pre-made kit’s contents, but the steps required for building your own force you to really think about what is inside.

Also, when you build your own kit you have more control over the container. Find something that has clear compartments, so you can see where items are. Also, if you can find something waterproof, that is ideal. This MTM Dry Box is a great example, as it’s durable, brightly-colored, and water resistant. Plus it’s small enough and study enough to live in the car’s trunk for a long time.

Supplies

When it comes to supplies, I defer to the professionals at the Red Cross. This comprehensive list, entitled “Anatomy of a First Aid Kit,” includes:

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)

There is a lot more, and I’ll let you read their full recommendations. If you’ve got a baby or kids who travel with you, make sure you have children’s versions of the listed medications.

You might also consider adding a basic first aid manual. Again, I look to our friends at the Red Cross for this. Lastly, consider things like a flashlight, blanket, tool to break a window, Here’s a look at what else to keep in your car.

As I said, a first aid kit is often overlooked. Take some time this weekend to get one organized. I hope you never need it!

More than 15 ways to handle recurrent clutter

There are three areas in my home that are on a recurrent cycle of being cluttered and cause me stress: the kitchen, the family room, and the dirty clothes hamper in the bedroom.

I have taken many steps to try to get my laundry problem under control, but I continue to wrestle with it. The kitchen is a similar stress aggravated by the fact that my husband and I eat three meals a day at home. Then, there is the family room where things come in and never leave.

These three areas have one thing in common: they have a constant supply of input. Every night I deposit clothes into the hamper. Every day I sit and knit or read or watch TV or whatever I’m doing to relax in my family room. Every meal I dirty pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups, and every week I bring in more food to repeat the cycle.

I’ve been working diligently recently to keep these areas clutter free in my own home, and can share a few tips and advice. I hope that you find at least one or more helpful.

Laundry

  • If you haven’t already read it, start by going to my previous post on dealing with laundry clutter. Following these tips have made my laundry situation bearable.
  • Additionally, I recommend making your laundry room as welcoming, cheerful, and serene as possible. A laundry room that is pleasant to be in makes doing the laundry much less of an annoyance. A dark, dreary basement with bare concrete walls isn’t inviting. Spruce up your space so that being in it is a reward, not a punishment.

Family Room

  • Institute a “no food” rule for your family room. No food outside the kitchen or dining room is a good general house rule, too.
  • Assess the amount of furniture in your family room. Do you really need four end tables and two coffee tables? I find that the more tables I have in a room, the more stuff I set on the tables.
  • Every time a person leaves the room, have them put something away. If everything is properly in its place, celebrate.
  • Have a vacuum cleaner/broom easily accessible to the room. I find that I need to vacuum the carpet in this room twice as often as in the rest of the house. Having the ability to use it with very little effort is essential.
  • Have a place for everything in the room: a knitting basket with a lid, a storage system for your video games, a chest for children’s toys, a bin for piano music, a CD and DVD solution, etc.

Kitchen

  • My first suggestion for the kitchen is to get your hands on Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook. The kitchen section in the book is really good and I learned a great deal from reading it. I reference it a handful of times a month.
  • Put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher. No plates or cups should ever sit dirty on the counter.
  • Own dishwasher-safe stainless steel cookware and other kitchen items. If you have to wash it by hand it is likely to sit cluttered on the counter.
  • Avoid unitasker appliances and utensils. Based on your cooking style, a few may creep into your home, but it’s best to try to keep these numbers small.
  • Monitor what small appliances and entertaining dishes you use, and get rid of those you don’t. I’ve used our reader-suggested dot system for my monitoring with great success.
  • If you must store small appliances on your counter, only have out those you use often. My toaster, coffee pot, vacuum sealer, and mixer sit out all the time. I use all of these daily or almost daily.
  • Organize your kitchen so that what you use is stored next to where it is used. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but things like pots and pans should be next to the stove and leftover storage containers next to the refrigerator.
  • If you’re like me, don’t use a bread box. I put bread in there, forget about it, and then discover it weeks later all moldy. I currently store aluminum foil, wax paper, ziplock bags, and such in my bread box instead. I set my bread on top of the bread box.

Please feel welcome to add suggestions in the comments section. There are so many effective strategies out there that I couldn’t possibly name them all in this post. So, let us know what works for you!

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.