What we have been reading

I feel like I have been unintentionally collecting links to great articles recently. I’ll spot something clutter/organizing/productivity-related in the news, immediately think it would make such a terrific topic for an Unclutterer post, save the link to a text file of post ideas, and then do nothing further. Apparently, I want ALL the links for myself. All of them. Mine.

Since this is ridiculous and there is no good reason for me to be collecting all these links and not sharing them, I thought an ol’ fashion link roundup post was in order. Please enjoy all of these links that have been catching our attention:

  • Why aren’t hoarders bothered by all that junk? Scientists find a clue
    This article from NBC looks at a recent brain study by psychologist David Tolin that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. According to the research, clinically diagnosed hoarders’ brains respond differently to physical stuff than the brains of the general population. As a result, their ability to make decisions is significantly limited.
  • Three habits that drive down productivity
    I’m still trying to decide what I think about this article from the Memphis Business Journal. The article references a study that analyzes the work product and attendance records of employees with very different lifestyles at three large corporations. The article concludes that healthier people are more productive workers and it specifically names smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise as productivity killers.
  • Plan of Work for a Small Servantless House (3 or 4 in family)
    After the war in Britain, many homes and estates that once had servants found themselves unable to afford any servants in the house. To help women learn how to keep house, someone (the British government?) published this guide for how a woman should spend her time. My friend Julie introduced me to this page from the I Love Charts tumblr, and I think it is a fabulous look back in time. I’m still confused as to how a woman with one or two children only seems to attend to them for an hour and a half each day “if necessary,” but maybe “servantless” doesn’t include nannies?
  • Re:Re:Fw:Re: Workers Spend 650 Hours a Year on Email
    This article from The Atlantic confirms that most people with desk jobs (referred to as an “office stiff” in the text) spend “13 hours a week, or 28 percent of our office time, on email.” A quarter of one’s job is consumed with reading and answering email. The article also reports that time spent on tasks specific to one’s role at the company only consumes 39 percent of one’s time at work.
  • You Probably Have Too Much Stuff
    This short piece from The New York Times looks at the burdens of being “over-prepared.” I like the use of the phrase “over-prepared” in the article because it so aptly reflects the “I might need this one day” mentality.

As you also know, I’ve been doing some writing for the Women and Co. website lately. Most of what I’ve been writing continues to be about home and office organizing, but they’ve been letting me branch out a bit and pick up some other topics. It reminds me of the days I wrote the Sunday news for the local commercial radio station in Lawrence, Kansas, so very, very, very long ago …

Anyway, this is what I wrote in July:

Small spaces: Custom closet using Ikea bookshelves

One of my favorite places for small living inspiration is Ikea Hackers. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a collection of reader-submitted modifications to pieces of furniture from Ikea. The hacks range from relatively small (like adding paint to a Lack table) to extremely involved (like turning a Spar butcher block into an electric guitar). The site has been around since 2006 and is teeming with ways to personalize Ikea furniture.

Earlier this month, the site featured Regina’s amazing closet for her itty bitty Swedish apartment. Under what I think is her lofted bed, she has five modified Expedit bookcases (in the 2×2 configuration) that she added a piece of wood to the base and then attached four casters to the bottom of the piece of wood. In the U.S., these Expedit shelving units are just $40 a piece and the Besta casters are $10 for two, so the whole system probably cost less than $350 to create, which isn’t bad for a custom closet that could easily cost four times this price. Visuals from the article:

The rolling bookcases not only hold her clothes, but also her hobby supplies (such as the sewing machine and fabric stash pictured above) and other necessities for her apartment. I like that she can roll the sewing Expedit directly to her sewing table, and then roll it all back into the closet when she’s done. The storage system is ideal for this small space, and I think could easily be utilized in other homes — small or large.

Note: There are casters that are specifically made to hold the Expedit bookcase, but they stick out beyond the base of the bookshelf, so you can’t nest the shelves directly next to each other. They’re also $5 more for two casters, which adds $50 to the cost of casters, but gets rid of the need to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of each bookcase. If you don’t need the items to nest next to each other, the Expedit casters might be a good alternative for you.

If you are unfamiliar with Ikea Hackers, spend some time perusing it for even more ideas. Most of the hacks are inexpensive and easy to do.

Images by Regina as posted to IkeaHackers, and thanks to reader Shalin for bringing this closet to our attention.

A single sweater, 12 ways

While at my local outlet mall a few months ago, I picked up a Long Sleeve Classic Cozy from the Donna Karen New York (DKNY) shop. I was instantly drawn to it because of its versatility, and over the past few months have truly fallen in love with this cashmere and silk sweater:

In theory, I can get 12 looks from the sweater. I’ve only been wearing it for 5 of the looks, however. Even wearing it just 5 ways, I feel like I got a wonderfully uncluttered deal with 5 looks from 1 sweater (and at the outlet store, I paid only $70 for it). It’s also ideal for travel and bringing to the office. Its instructions say to dry clean, but I’ve been very carefully washing it by hand with a little Soak Wash and laying it flat to dry. It’s my new favorite piece of clothing — flexible and fancy.

There are videos for how to create all 12 looks and even a smart phone app. I’ve donated a number of my other sweaters to charity since I haven’t been wearing them. I love this multiple-look addition to my wardrobe.

Big living in a small space

We continue to be fascinated with people who live big in incredibly small spaces. Thanks to reader Leah, we now know about Christian Schallert in Barcelona, Spain, who has fashioned a beautiful home in a mere 258 square feet.

Check out “Lego-style apartment transforms into infinite spaces” to see the adorable Schallert and his “Lego” home in action:

Personally, I love the shower storage areas as well as the bed being stored under the balcony. I never would have thought to use such non-traditional storage solutions. I also enjoyed in the video when he admitted his tiny space forces him “not to be chaotic” and every time he comes home “it’s nice and organized.”

Ask Unclutterer: Can a tchochke-free home be warm and inviting?

Reader Helen submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

In the process of getting rid of dust collectors around the house, I find that it can start to somewhat lack personality. I don’t really like having photos around and quite like having bare walls – I could quite easily become a minimalist. I have a couple of prints but these do look rather mass-produced. I’d love some suggestions for adding warmth and humanity to my home without adding clutterful tchochkes.

I’ve been in some minimalist homes that feel warm and inviting, so I’ve never been convinced that tchochkes are a requirement for comfort. Furniture size and materials play a larger role in creating an inviting environment than ceramic kittens.

As long as your furniture is appropriately scaled for the room, or slightly over-sized, you usually won’t feel like a space is bare or cold. If your furniture is right for the room but you still feel that the space is uninviting, a floor covering might be a better alternative for you than hanging artwork on the wall. A textured carpet could be all you need to warm up the space.

Personally, I’m against the idea of having tchochkes for the sake of having tchochkes. If you have a gewgaw or a decoration in your home, it should be because you love it and find it inspiring or entertaining or treasure it deeply. Your home is your refuge from the outside world, and everything in it should be there because you have consciously chosen it to be a part of your sanctuary.

Also, consider playing with paint color on your walls. A white with a hint of gray in it can feel clean but a little warmer than a bright white. Different shades of white in squares painted directly on a bright white background wall could be interesting, like Kazimir Malevich’s famous suprematist painting. Or, paint one wall in a room an intense, non-white color and keep the other walls white in sharp contrast. In our previous home, we had the walls painted like a Mondrian painting. Most walls were white, but if there was a small wall, we painted it in a primary color.

I hope I was of some help, Helen. Please check the comments for even more suggestions from our readers. Thank you for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, 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 of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Start an instrument-free band

We’re pretty late to the game on this one, but on the slim chance you haven’t seen it — check out Atomic Tom performing their song “Take Me Out” on a New York Subway car:

The band’s “stolen instruments” claim is just a concept for the video — their instruments weren’t actually stolen. However, what they show is that a band can produce decent music simply using iPhone apps. (The video was even shot using three iPhone 4s.)

To create your own iPhone band, all you’ll need is $11, some practice, and the following apps:

Assorted links for October 18, 2010

Interesting articles and services relating to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living:

  • Patrick at Minimal Mac asks “A Most Important Question.” If you don’t know where something belongs, it may “… not have a place in your home, in your relationships, in your job, or or in your life,” and, “perhaps it should not be there.”
  • Alton Brown, the celebrity chef who is the inspiration behind our Unitasker Wednesday posts, wrote a diary about his (bizarre?) minimalist eating practices when he travels in last week’s New York magazine: “Alton Brown Makes His Own Avocado Ice Cream, Does Shots With John Hodgman.”
  • Learning Express Library is an online resource for practice tests on hundreds of topics. The free and digital tests range from the U.S. Citizenship exam to college entrance tests. Save your money and some trees with these helpful resources.
  • Lose the equipment and your gym membership, and get an uncluttered workout using only your body weight. From Nerd Fitness, “Beginner Body Weight Workout.”
  • The Art of Manliness has a tribute to all things minimalist in “Go Small Or Go Home: In Praise of Minimalism.”
  • Clean up your iTunes digital music collection with Tagalicious — a simple and easy to use application that gets rid of all of those “Track 01” files you have in your directory.
  • Are you on Twitter? Does it bother you when someone attends a conference and floods your stream with messages that don’t interest you in the least? Use DeClutter to remove specific keywords from your timeline. (via Swiss-Miss)

Trend spotting: Tech-savvy minimalism

On Monday, the BBC published the article “Cult of less: Living out of a hard drive” about a group of 20-something hipsters who claim digital technologies have replaced all but a few of their possessions.

One of the men interviewed for the article says he only owns “his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a ‘few’ articles of clothing and bed sheets.” Another says he only has “a backpack full of designer clothing, a laptop, an external hard drive, a small piano keyboard and a bicycle – an armful of goods that totals over $3,000 (£1,890) in value.”

Owning just a few electronics and pieces of fabric is an interesting take on extreme minimalism. In contrast to most ascetics who eschew the conveniences of the modern world, it’s current technologies that make these hyper-digital ascetics’ lifestyles possible.

[Kelly Sutton of Brooklyn, New York] … says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.

“I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact,” said Mr Sutton.

The tech-savvy Los Angeles “transplant” credits his external hard drives and online services like iTunes, Hulu, Flickr, Facebook, Skype and Google Maps for allowing him to lead a minimalist life.

However, the tech-savvy minimalists are quick to point out that their decisions have made some aspects of their lives difficult:

Mr Klein says the lifestyle can become loathsome because “you never know where you will sleep”. And Mr Yurista says he frequently worries he may lose his new digital life to a hard drive crash or downed server.

What do you think of these modern minimalists? Discuss your reactions in the comments.

With perspective, it’s normal to feel an emotional attachment to your possessions

Many years ago, a friend of mine tore her favorite jeans and cried. My friend is an extreme minimalist, and I was surprised by her disappointment regarding a physical possession. When I told my husband about the incident a few hours later, I’m ashamed to admit that the two of us had a hearty laugh about my friend’s misfortune.

“Real tears,” I mocked. “Over jeans!”

As the years passed and I went through my personal uncluttering process, I began to understand the tears my friend had shed. When you don’t own many things, and you are conscientious of all of your purchases and your budget, it’s hard not to become emotionally tied to the things you own. You’ve invested time, energy, and great thought deciding if you should let something in your life. What you’ve chosen to keep is the best of the best, and bidding it farewell isn’t always easy.

I’m not saying you should or will cry over your things when they wear out or are used up, but you certainly take notice of their parting. Saying goodbye to one of a handful of things is usually more difficult than saying goodbye to one of thousands.

Instead of beating myself up over feeling a tinge of loss about a physical possession, I simply take note of it. Acknowledging my disappointment is usually enough to keep things in perspective. My internal dialogue might be something like:

“Huh. Look at that. I’m actually sad to see [X] run out/damaged/wear out. I didn’t realize how I’d come to depend on [X]. I’ll wait a week and check back in to see how I feel. This might be something I’ll need to replace.”

I keep a list of things I’m considering purchasing (it’s similar to a grocery list), so I add the item to the list. When I’m determining my budget for the month, I’ll review the list and decide if buying it continues to be a priority. It it remains a priority, I’ll budget money for the item. Sometimes, though, after the initial sting of losing the item, I realize I don’t need to replace it. Over the course of days or weeks, the emotional attachment simply wanes. Time helps put emotional attachments to physical objects in perspective.

Less stuff, more adventure

Today’s guest post is from Sean Ogle a location independent writer and entrepreneur who is currently based out of Bangkok, Thailand. Welcome, Sean!

For years I’ve strived to live a simple lifestyle. And, up until four months ago, I had failed miserably at it. I’ve always been a pack rat, and the amount of meaningless stuff I’d acquired would make a pawn shop owner blush.

So how have I chosen to go about uncluttering my life? I quit my job, sold my car, and am working while traveling throughout southeast Asia. Oh, and I’m doing it all with nothing but a backpack the size of one an eighth grader might use.

Yes, it’s a drastic way to go about changing my life, but drastic times call for drastic measures. I wasn’t happy with my job as a financial analyst, and I knew that if I didn’t have my global adventure soon, my obligations would get the better of me. With the help of my trusty North Face Surge, I disposed of everything I owned, except that which I could fit inside my new pack.

I have no affiliation with North Face whatsoever, but I have to tell you, this is one of the most well designed and useful packs I’ve ever used. It’s much more flexible than a traditional laptop case, and has enough room for everything I’d hoped to bring on my six month trip. That’s saying something.

I’ve been on the move for about three months, and it’s incredible how simple my life has become. No longer do I worry about all of the details that seemed to be such a big deal. Does the car have enough gas to make it to work? Did I leave the coffee pot on? Am I going to get that big raise this year? Sure, I have my own set of concerns, as I’m now working for myself on a variety of web-based ventures, but those hold true for any entrepreneur; giving myself the freedom from overwhelming amounts of “stuff” has been well worth it.

I fully understand that this is an extreme way to reduce clutter in your life, and it is certainly not for everyone. However, for those looking to make a change, and perhaps experience a little adventure, living out of a backpack for a short (or long) period of time is the perfect way to figure out what is truly essential in your life.

Celebrity minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser

Actor Vincent Kartheiser plays the loathsome Pete Campbell on the hit television show Mad Men, and he does it extremely well. (In fact, he does it so well, I can’t watch the show because I truly disdain his character.) In addition to being a great actor, he also appears to be in the running for the most extreme minimalist celebrity in Hollywood. From an April 25 interview with the actor in The Guardian/Observer by Tim Adams:

Some of the ways that Kartheiser has chosen to [search for who he is] are unconventional, at least among Hollywood TV stars. He has, for example, in the city of cheap gas and freeways, given up on a car.

“I go on the bus, I walk. A friend left his car recently at my house and I took it out one day just for 15 minutes and it was terrible. You know why? I felt like I was back in LA again. Four or five years ago, when I had a car and I had been out of the city I wouldn’t feel I was back until I got in the car, you know. But now I feel off the grid. I feel that I am not part of the culture. And because I don’t have a car I don’t really go anywhere to buy things. In fact, I have been in a slow process of selling and giving away everything I own.”

He has? Like what?

“Like, I don’t have a toilet at the moment. My house is just a wooden box. I mean I am planning to get a toilet at some point. But for now I have to go to the neighbours. I threw it all out.”

(As he says this, I’m wondering whether this is just another of the parts Kartheiser might be trying on for size, but to prove the point he later takes me back to his house, which really is an empty wooden box, a small one-room bungalow on a nondescript Hollywood street and indeed it has no lavatory.) Is that a Buddhist thing, I wonder, or an early midlife crisis thing?

“It started a couple of years ago,” he says. “It was in response to going to these Golden Globe type events and they just give you stuff. You don’t want it. You don’t use it. And then Mad Men started to become a success on a popular level and people started sending me stuff, just boxes of shit. Gifts for every holiday, clothes. One day, I looked around and thought ‘I don’t want this stuff, I didn’t ask for it’. So I started giving it to friends or charity stores, or if it is still in its box I might sell it for a hundred bucks. I liked it so I didn’t stop.”

Does he have a bed?

“I do,” he concedes, “but that might go…”


“Actually, that was the big discussion today, when a friend came over: I was wondering, should I have a screen in my home? It seems like the next step. I haven’t had a mirror for six or seven years, though I admit that causes a lot of problems when I have to tie a bow tie. Or if I have to, you know, comb my hair for something. I’m forever looking in the mirrors of parked cars.”

It sounds a bit like an extreme reaction to the venal material desire of Mad Men (and Money [a forth-coming movie on BBC Two in Britain]). He’s not worried about this tendency at all?

He laughs. “I probably should be worried. Sometimes, I look around my house and think: is this normal, Vinny? I mean it’s a bit more than just a remodel…”

Giving up most everything you own — especially your bathroom — isn’t my preferred uncluttered style. (And, can you imagine how annoying it would be to be his neighbor?) However, I like knowing that there is at least one celebrity out there embracing the minimalist life (even if he seems a little wacky) and turning his back on the consumer-obsessed image of the celebrity that most often is represented in the media.

Thanks to all of the readers who sent us the article from the The Guardian/Observer. The image with this article is by Barry J. Holmes for The Observer.