When chaos is king

Last week, I wrote about organized chaos and how to work around it. Recently, however, my boss and I were discussing how we always seem to be putting out fires and going from one challenge to another. No matter what we do, we always feel disorganized. We just never have the time to move projects forward or plan events in advance or do anything that an organized successful business should do.

And yet we are an organized successful business.

Every year we grow. We have a reputation of being one of the city’s best companies in the sector to work in. And the ratio of happy to complaining clients is overwhelmingly positive. So, we are doing something right, but despite all the processes and automated solutions we have implemented, we just never seem to have time to do more.

It’s not that we are disorganized. In fact, we are much more organized than most other businesses in our sector. There are just so many last minute issues to resolve that it feels we move forward only by chance.

In looking for a solution to this problem, I found a great article about the impact of being disorganized at work. Unfortunately, we do every single one of these best practices and we still operate in last-minute chaos. Here are some of the good suggestions the article includes:

Time block and leave space for last minute issues: We do that but when a “challenge” absorbs half the day, the rest of the day gets eaten up by daily tasks.

Use task lists: I actually have blocked out all the major and most of the minor tasks that have to happen each year, and yet I miss deadlines all the time and have to scramble to catch up.

Reschedule tasks when you don’t get them done in the assigned block: We also do this, but at some point the task needs to be completed and can’t be rescheduled anymore, which means delaying and rescheduling other tasks.

Plan the whole week on Monday: However, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, three different crises arise and the nothing gets accomplished.

Hold yourself accountable: We are all accountable to each other at the office but are all in the same challenge-to-challenge mode.

Develop processes for the things that need to be done regularly: I am the king of processes and without them nothing would happen ever. We continue to be successful despite the chaos because of the many processes that have been implemented

The article has more points, but as you can see, the daily challenges seem impossible to conquer. This year we even added a new position to deal with a lot of the crises and yet they still occupy too much time in our calendars.

I don’t yet have a solution and to be honest, I think if I did, I’d become a millionaire because this is a problem that most businesses, especially small service-based ones, face. Small companies can’t throw staff at problems the way large ones can.

There are steps we can and will take to minimize the problem, but sometimes you just have to accept that chaos and disorganization are part of your reality and you have to learn to work around both of them.

What do you do when it seems that due to circumstances beyond your control chaos and disorganization do their best to keep you from achieving your goals?

O Magazine focuses on uncluttering

The March 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine just hit newsstands and it is dedicated to the theme “De-Clutter Your Life!” The uncluttering articles begin on page 142, but most of the content in the rest of the magazine is tangentially related to the topic.

If you turn to page 158 of the issue, and search diligently, you can even spot a quote from me (hunting for it is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo?). This was my first time being quoted in O, and I was thrilled they thought of me for their big “De-Clutter Your Life!” issue.

For one of the uncluttering stories, Oprah let camera crews into her closet to see how much clutter she had stored on her rods and shelves. Her closet seemed to me to be in decent shape, but she talked frankly about her decisions to keep and purge items with Adam Glassman, O‘s creative director:

OPRAH: “I bought a lot of little bags when I thought I was going to be a ‘lady who lunches.’ I’ve never been one, but I’ve always liked the idea and longed for that life. There’s something about dressing up and being ladies–it’s like playing house.”
ADAM: “Fashion can help you create an image, but be honest about your lifestyle. Do you really need yachting clothes when you never set foot on a boat? When buying an item, if you can answer ‘Where am I going in this?’ with at least four legitimate places, you have my blessing.”

One of my favorite features in the issue is a chart on page 153 “The 10 Habits of Highly Organized People.” From the list:

9. FORSEE (AND AVOID) PROBLEMS. You wouldn’t leave the house on a gray day without an umbrella, right? People who appear to sail through life unruffled apply this thinking to every scenario, says [Dorthy] Breininger [president of the Delphi Center for Organization]. Have a cabinet packed with leaning towers of Tupperware? Organized folks will take a few minutes to short-circuit an avalanche before it happens. (In other words, rearranging that cupboard now is easier than chasing after wayward lids as they scatter underneath the fridge.)

There are many great tips to be garnered from the March issue of O. Also, the items that Oprah decided to pitch from her closet are being auctioned on eBay starting March 1, and proceeds with benefit her Leadership Academy.

Unclutterer goes shopping with The New York Times

When I started writing for Unclutterer, I didn’t have many expectations. I simply wanted to share the information I had learned about uncluttering and organizing with people who were seeking it. I knew how stressed and overwhelmed clutter and disorganization had made me feel, and thought I might be able to help a few people discover a more calm and enjoyable life.

Let me tell you what I didn’t expect:

A feature in The New York Times — “Ending the Reign of Chaos

When the reporter contacted me and said she wanted to do a feature, I thought one of my friends was playing a joke on me. After a few Google searches, it became obvious that Julie Scelfo was the real thing. She wasn’t kidding. She really wanted to fly to D.C. to spend a day with me.

The piece that ran today in the print edition is marvelous — even helpful to readers — and I am so flattered to have been profiled. Unimaginably flattered. For more information on establishing a family information center in your home, check out the section on Reception Stations in the Monday chapter of Unclutter Your Life in One Week.

(Image by Michael Temchine for The New York Times.)

House Beautiful: What’s in your junk drawer?

Recently, I received a fun request from House Beautiful magazine to share a photo of my home’s junk drawer with their readers.

Somewhere in every home there’s the bottomless, fascinating, slightly terrifying junk drawer. It’s like a little attic.

Truth be told, I don’t have a junk drawer in my house. I have just two built-in drawers in my entire place, and they’re in the kitchen. One of the drawers holds eating utensils and the other holds food preparation utensils. Which, unfortunately, I believe made me the least fun of the 8 “brave souls” featured in the article.

I’m honored that House Beautiful reporter Shax Riegler still included me in her entertaining article in the May issue. If you missed it while it was on newsstands, check it out online. (I am still giddy that my drawer is pictured next to Karim Rashid’s. I may be his biggest fan.)


Karim Rashid’s:

Organizing from A to Z

Unclutterer and Erin are mentioned numerous times in the June 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine in the article “Get Organized. Stay Organized. How to control the clutter for good” by Liz Welch.

The article works through the letters of the alphabet, giving organized suggestions for everything from artwork to grills and propane tanks to zippers and sewing items.

The most efficient way to store recipes is to “scan them, then organize them with a software system, like eChef recipe software,” says Doland. The program, which also lets you save recipes found online, has an easy-to-use search function: Type in “asparagus” and find every one of your recipes that calls for it.

The June 2009 issue of Real Simple is currently available on newsstands. Unfortunately, only the products mentioned in the article that you can buy are online. However, once June 1 rolls around, I expect the full text of the article to be available digitally.

Unclutterer editor appears in Ready Made magazine

Is your closet busting at its seams? Have you been looking for ways to get a little more functionality out of your wardrobe? Are you searching for a good magazine to read while on vacation?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions (or even if you didn’t), you should check out the latest issue of Ready Made magazine for my article “Easily Arranged: 10 ways to achieve the ultimate in closet organization” on pages 40 and 41:

As the title suggests, the article has 10 ideas for how to curb clutter and maintain order in your closet. Also, my picture and a short autobiography appear on page 86 of the magazine. I had Comic-Con on my mind when I wrote my autobiography, so it’s a little on the wacky side. The superpower I mention having, by the way, is completely true.

If you don’t already have a subscription, you can pick up Ready Made at your local bookstore or newsstand. I’m interested in hearing what you think of the suggestions!

Interview on The Happiness Project

Yesterday, I was interviewed by the wonderful Gretchen Rubin who writes the inspiring blog The Happiness Project. Gretchen spent a year auditioning every major “principle, tip, theory, and scientific study [she] could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah” to see which ones worked, which ones didn’t, and how she could use them to help her be happy. She has a book coming out in late 2009 chronicling the year she test-drove all of the theories, and her blog also details these experiences. You may recognize Gretchen’s blog because she also is a member of the LifeRemix network and writes a column for Real Simple’s Simply Stated community in the Life section.

When Gretchen asked if I would sit for an interview, I dropped everything to do it. The topic of the interview isn’t directly related to getting rid of physical clutter, but it definitely touches on the bigger-picture idea of mental clutter that can prohibit a person from being happy. Check out the article if you’re interested!

Unclutterer on the fEmpowerment podcast

Yesterday, I spoke with the lovely Sandy Shepard and recorded an episode of her fEmpowerment podcast titled “How Not to Get Divorced Before You Get Married – Decluttering and Moving In Together.” We discuss:

  • How the Unclutterer Got Started, including all about Mazes of Stuff and the Bud Lite Bottle rising from the Dead/Rubbermaid Coffin (cue scary music);
  • How to terrorize soon-to-be-husbands (N.B.: Mazes of stuff will do it);
  • Dealing kindly with a Packrat;
  • How to start the decluttering process, be dispassionate, and communicate;
  • Two great ways to diminish the “mine v. yours” struggle;
  • How to discuss what “Simple Living” means to each of you and how to imagine living together as one;
  • Your Toaster or Mine: How to deal when the space won’t hold it all (especially two of everything);
  • Who are You, Really: What new and exciting thoughts you could entertain about decluttering and how not to drag the anchor of the Old You, along with all of her dead/post energy and stories, into your new life; and
  • A whole lot more!

If you’re getting ready to combine your household with someone else’s — a new roommate, a new spouse, a new child, an older parent coming to live in your established home — then you hopefully will find some advice in this episode for how to handle the transition smoothly. Or, if you’ve already combined a household with someone and it isn’t going the way you imagined, you might also want to give this episode a listen. Sandy and I laugh through a good portion of the interview, so you may even just want to give it a listen if you want to smile. And, hopefully, I don’t scare all of you with my story of how I became an Unclutterer.

To listen, follow the link to the article and then click on the red play button at the bottom of the page. A giant thank you, too, to Sandy for picking such a relevant topic and being such a terrific hostess.

A little Unclutterer love for The New York Times

On Thursday, Unclutterer was mentioned in The New York Times article “Organize Your Life, It’s Your Civic Duty.” The article follows reporter Michelle Slatalla for a day as she waits to be called for jury duty. She decides to spend her time learning as much as she can from personal productivity websites:

My plan was to read and follow the suggestions posted on all the gazillion online productivity blogs — Unclutterer.com, 43folders.com, Dumblittleman.com and Lifehack.org, for example — that offer eclectic advice on how to spend time fruitfully.

Thank you, Michelle, for thinking of us, and welcome to any new readers who may have found us from the article!


A couple weeks ago, Matt was interviewed by Rachel Mosteller for the article “Chasing Utopia, Family Imagines No Possessions” that ran in the May 17 issue of The New York Times. During the interview, he was questioned about his family’s decision to downsize to a smaller home. He didn’t end up being directly quoted in the article, but he and the rest of us at Unclutterer certainly enjoyed seeing voluntary simplicity getting good press in a major paper:

Though it may not be the stuff of the typical American dream, the voluntary simplicity movement, which traces its inception to 1980s Seattle, is drawing a great deal of renewed interest, some experts say.

“If you think about some of the shifts we’re having economically — shifts in oil and energy — it may be the right time,” said Mary E. Grigsby, associate professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri and the author of “Buying Time and Getting By: The Voluntary Simplicity Movement.”

“The idea in the movement was ‘everything you own owns you,’ ” said Dr. Grigsby, who sees roots of the philosophy in the lives of the Puritans. “You have to care for it, store it. It becomes an appendage, I think. If it enhances your life and helps you do the things you want to do, great. If you are burdened by these things and they become the center of what you have to do to live, is that really positive?”

Parts of the article are a little more “off the grid” than my personal commitment to simple living, but overall it is filled with wonderful perspective and I recommend reading it if you haven’t already.

Part two of the Unclutterer Precision Change podcasts

Live now is the second half of the interview with Precision Change I recorded titled What is Your Clutter Costing You? You can download the 21 minute podcast or listen to it by clicking on the “Play Now” link at the beginning of the article.

In this episode, I talk about:

  • Which books to definitely get rid of first, and which to hold on to.
  • Two sexy ebook readers worth considering.
  • Why you might find it important to not have a job that makes you want to poke your eye out with a hot metal pipe.
  • How being aware of the cost of clutter and procrastination can help you to live the life you desire.
  • How uncluttering and mindfulness of the Earth’s limited resources are interconnected.
  • What uncluttering is all about—living the life you want, doing more of what is most important to you.

After you listen to it, come back and let us know what you think of it in the comments. I hope that you enjoy the conversation!

If you missed the first installment of the series, you can listen to it here.

Unclutterer on the Precision Change podcast

Live now is an episode for Precision Change I recorded titled Tired of the Crap? Become an Unclutterer! with the wonderful Duff McDuffee. You can download the 22 minute podcast or listen to it by clicking on the “Play Now” link at the beginning of the article.

In the conversation, I talk about:

  • How clutter doesn’t always start out as clutter.
  • Why if you are in a constant state of disorganization now, you absolutely can change.
  • What exactly to start on to begin uncluttering your life.
  • Why getting a storage unit is almost always a bad idea.
  • The machine that will finally give you a paperless office.
  • A simple way to clear out kitchen clutter.
  • Why uncluttering is really just about finding what makes you happy and what really matters to you.

I look forward to reading your thoughts about the podcast! This is the first time I’ve been a part of a podcast and I must admit that it was a lot of fun.

ADDitude, Unclutterer, and chronic disorganization

Unclutterer was mentioned this month in ADDitude Magazine in an article titled Best Web Resources for Getting Organized. ADDitude Magazine is a publication for people living with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and AADD (Adult ADD). We would like to thank the magazine for thinking of us and mentioning Unclutterer as a resource!

For those of you who aren’t personally familiar with ADHD, chronic disorganization is a common outward expression of the disorder. As a result, publications, research, and websites focused on helping people with ADHD have terrific information for anyone looking for organization strategies. For the most part, the advice is very practical and creative, and leaves me saying “I can use that.” ADDitude Magazine has a wonderful resource page if you’re interested in exploring these publications.