Renting vs Owning a Home: The Eternal Debate

Back in 2006 when I left Canada, I sold my house and thought I’d never buy another one again. The place had been a fixer-upper and my father and I had invested a lot of time and money into it (nine years to be exact) — just in time to sell it.

I know that home-ownership is supposed to be the holy grail of the (North) American Dream, but I really wasn’t sure I wanted to ever get back into the cycle of renovations, repairs, and mortgages. It took a bit of an attitude change because as a simple search on Amazon suggests, mortgage-free home-ownership is what we are all supposed to aim for.

But I knew couples who had been renting for over twenty years and they had more disposable income than I’d ever had. When something went wrong in their place, it was the building owners, not the renters, who had to pay for it. Renters also knew exactly how much they needed to pay every month without any sort of surprise costs like a new roof or plumbing repairs.

That sounded good to me.

Generations ago in Ireland, my father’s family were renters. Yes, they owned property, but they never lived where they owned. They used the extra income from renting out the place to rent something better for themselves. And while they had those emergency expenses that any homeowner had, they considered it as a part of running a business, rather than intruding on their lives directly.

When I settled in the Basque Country, I was convinced that renting was for me. Although it irritated me a little bit that I couldn’t do up the place exactly as I would like, I was pleased to no longer have the temptation to enter into constant rounds of renovations like my parents did. They cycled through the house I grew up in, redoing one room a year, and I can’t count the number of times they completely remodeled the garden.

When my parents died a few months apart from each other then eight months after that my mother-in-law passed away, my husband and I found ourselves with a chunk of money. Given the volatile nature of the markets at that moment, investing did not seem like a good plan.

So, we got back into the home-ownership market, not just once but twice, buying a flat where we live full-time plus a second one in a sunny part of Spain. However, this second time around, owning a home is different from the first time.

  • We chose to live in a tower instead of a detached home, meaning emergency expenses are shared by the whole building and in a recent case, spread out over three years.
  • Our flat is half the size of the (small) house I had in Toronto, and is just the size we need.
  • Renovations happened quickly, before we moved in.
  • Mortgage payments are less than the monthly rent we were paying.

The second flat we bought (mortgage-free) has a double purpose, one as a weekend and summer retreat, and the other as a retirement emergency fund in case one or both of us needs to go into a nursing/retirement home. While medical costs are covered here in Spain, there is a big difference between public and private retirement residences. With the money from selling off the second flat, we will be able to live out our final years in comfort.

My siblings, however, took other routes: my sister invested in a large rambling country home and my brother sold his house and sunk the money into his girlfriend’s place, turning home-ownership into a type of romantic commitment.

When deciding if renting or owning is for you, just as with any project you undertake, it’s imperative you consider your priorities. In this case, the questions that can help you decide which option is better for you include:

  • What type of financial situation do you want to be in? Fixed or variable costs?
  • How important is it to you to put your personal stamp on the space you live in?
  • How much space do you really need? How much do you want to maintain?

The New York Times, has a good rent vs. buy calculator. I plugged in the original numbers for our primary residence and the results confirmed that buying was the right option financially, as we would be paying about three times the amount in rent each month as we do with the mortgage.

Are you a renter or a homeowner? Do you know which is the better option for you financially? Or are there other factors (emotional, familial, etc…) that led you to choose?

Sock Purge: Getting rid of mismatched socks

Hate matching up sock pairs while folding laundry? One way to save you time is to have all socks of the exact same color and style.

Every so often (when most of your socks are worn out), throw away all of your white sports socks and replace them with six pairs of new, identical white sports socks. Be sure to alternate the style or brand between purges so if an old sock accidentally doesn’t get purged, you can identify it when it tries to sneak back in to your drawer. All of your socks will have the same amount of wear, they all will match, and it will save you time during folding.

If you’re a man who works in an office, do the same with black and brown dress socks. Three styles are faster to sort than 18 pairs of different styles.

For your children with similar sized feet, you could buy a dozen pairs of the same sock and split them between the kids. Alternatively, you could buy each child a different brand/style/color of sock. For example, your daughter could have white socks, and your son could have white and grey socks.

Our family has subscribed to this process for many years and we love the simplicity it brings to our laundry days.

Wedding gifts we still use 16 years later

Way back in the year 2000, my then girlfriend and I decided to get married. We created a gift registry, as so many engaged couples to do. As a pair of young people with very little in the way of “real world” possessions, we asked for many things we thought we’d use for years. Fortunately many of our friends and family obliged and a year later we found ourselves happily married with a pile of new stuff.

Sixteen years later, there are items from that registry that we still use every day and others that were donated/tossed/given away long ago. Here’s a list of the few keepers that still see active duty.

Dishes

The first item we registered for was a set of dinnerware from local potter Steve Kemp. We loved Steve’s work and thought, “What the heck. Maybe someone will buy us a setting or two.” We ended up with full service and those very plates and bowls are still in daily use at our house. Yes, I’ve broken a few but that’s what anniversary gifts are for, right?

Flatware

My mother was raised in Oneida, New York, home to Oneida flatware and, before that, The Oneida Community (I’ve been inside the fabled “Mansion House” many times). My maternal grandfather worked for Oneida, designing flatware. Of course, I had to have a set, which we asked for and received.

For the first few years, I kept those utensils tucked away until Christmas other other “special” occasion. Eventually I decided that that was silly and now we use the Oneida flatware every day.

We didn’t ask for things like knifes or pots and pans, as we inherited sets of each, which we’ve since replaced.

Bed

As two single people we had, of course, two twin beds. As a gift we received a queen sized bed with some nifty storage compartments and it’s still in use.

Stuff we asked for, have, and never use.

Wine glasses. My wife and I drink wine maybe once a year. Yet we requested and received a set of wine glasses, figuring we’d be entertaining wine-loving friends. That hasn’t happened yet, and to this day a set of pristine wine glasses sit idle in a cabinet. The same goes for the blender. Again, we’ve used this maybe a dozen times over the past 16 years. The thought of fresh fruit smoothies every morning sounds great until you have to make them and then clean the blender.

Items we no longer own

First things first, if you’re reading this and you’re the person(s) who gave us any of the following, I’m sorry! We tried, honest. Let’s start with the bread machine. At the time when we got married, these things were very popular. Toss the ingredients inside, hit a switch and presto, you’ve got bread. The bread machine we owned was huge and took up a massive amount of counter space. So it sat in the basement until we decided that we wanted to use it. That day never came. The same goes for the ice cream maker. Oh, how charmingly naive young couples are. “We’ll make ice cream! It will be great.” Add a few kids to the mix and you realize there’s no time for that. Away it went.

What I wish we’d asked for

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to the year 2000 and ask for the following:

A decent, basic set of tools. You can get a way with cheap tools for a while, or skipping some essentials entirely, but starting off with a high-quality starter set is well worth the investment.

A rice cooker. We didn’t buy a rice cooker until a few years ago and we’re amazed at how useful, compact and efficient it is. Everybody should own one.

A full set of Pyrex: 1 cup, 2 cup and quart measuring cups; 8×8 cake pan; 2qt, 3 qt and 4 qt baking dishes. You can’t kill these things. They last forever.

If you’re getting married soon, consider creating your wedding gift registry with Amazon. They have a vast selection of gifts at various prices. Your guests will know exactly what you want and your guests will appreciate that the gifts can be automatically delivered to you.

When shopping for wedding gifts, consider giving something that the couple likely wouldn’t buy themselves. Personally, I lean towards the practical. It’s kind of boring, but let’s be honest. There’s no time for making ice cream.

When was the last time you re-organized?

When we moved into our apartment, we had completely renovated the place, right back to the exterior walls. Being two organized people, we took the time to think through our designs and make sure everything had a place, and we didn’t fill up the house with too much stuff.

Fast forward two years…

The spacious walk-in closet feels cramped. There are expired packages of food in kitchen drawers and cupboards. We can’t see the floor under the sink in the bathroom. CDs have found their way off their shelves and onto various surfaces throughout the house, and random computer cables have snaked their way over the spare bedroom/office.

How could this have happened? We tidy up and clean our flat every week and we both adore being organized!

Well, life happened. Familiarity bred blindness. And so, bit by bit, the house has lost its shiny-new look and feel.

It doesn’t have to stay that way, however.

Some things are simple to re-organize, like the CDs and computer cables. We’ve added them to our weekly cleanup tasks and they no longer threaten to invade spaces not specifically assigned to them.

As for the rest, it’s required a series of weekend projects (or in our case, a series of mid-week projects as we like to keep our weekends free for fun activities).

To start with, my husband tackled the walk-in closet paring down our clothes and reorganizing what we had left. It’s something that needs to be done periodically as clothes come in and out of fashion, our weight goes up and down, and more obviously, the seasons change, requiring different sorts of outfits.

He then cleared out what was below the bathroom sink. It turns out that when we moved in, we put a bunch of things that we weren’t quite sure what to do with down there in baskets and then forgot about them. And in the manner of all disorganized spaces, the clutter attracted more clutter. To find space for what was there, he reorganized the drawers in the bathroom and managed to carve out room for everything else and make it all more accessible in the process.

Our next task is the kitchen. In our house, it’s probably the most used room as we both love to cook. You’d think that would mean that it’s the most organized space, but no. I’m not sure if we’ll attack it one drawer at a time, or go all out and reorganize and clean everything at once. Given how much better the first two spaces turned out, it’s not something we’re going to let slide much longer.

And now you say: “Great, thanks for the personal story, Alex, but what does it have to do with me?”

Well, how long have you lived in your current abode? How long since you’ve taken a look at the various places where things get stored? Can you access everything easily and do you even know what’s there? Because if you’ve forgotten you have something, you might as well not own it.

So tell me, what mini re-organizing project are you going to take on?

Living as paperless as possible

In my post about conference handouts, a reader asked me how I manage to live/work without a filing cabinet.

The easy answer is that I’ve organized both my work and personal life in a way that I don’t need to keep papers.

At home, everything I need to hold onto fits into about half a dresser drawer:

  • The deed, mortgage, our wills, and insurance papers (kept in a small fireproof safe)
  • One year of utility bills

And that’s it. Seriously. We don’t have children, so no need for filing report cards, badges, artwork and such. The Spanish medical system is centralized and efficiently run, so I don’t need to keep any of my own medical records. Apart from this writing gig, I don’t run my own business so don’t need to hold onto any receipts or the like. And since I’m rather anti-paper, I recycle almost everything that comes into the house. Finally, taxes are all done online and are accessible throughout the year, meaning I have no need to keep previous years’ tax forms.

At work, my role as Academic Director is about as paperless as a job can be. All my written communication with staff is done through email or WhatsApp. Student reports are stored in Google Drive spreadsheets and sent to parents monthly. The paper reports the teachers fill out are kept in one of three inbox trays (one per trimester), and in June they are all shredded.

And as I have no part in the administrative/financial side of the business, I don’t have any legal requirements to hold onto anything.

When I still lived in Canada, however, and ran my professional organizing business, I had to hold onto more paper, but I still didn’t have a filing cabinet, or even a drawer. Instead, every year, I bought myself a plastic multi-pocketed folder with an elastic closure. On the tabs for each pocket, I put the expense/income category and every day of the week, I would take five minutes to update my accounting program with anything new and store the piece of paper in its corresponding category.

The folder lived on top of my desk, beside the computer, easily accessible, portable and tidy. When the tax-year finished, the folder would go in an airtight plastic bin in the basement, and I would buy myself a new multi-pocketed folder.

I had such a simple filing system because I am a horribly disorganized person. I studied library science and records management but almost never worked in the field because I could never decide on just one set of stable categories. When asked, “where should I file this?” my brain would come up with at least 10 different options depending on the context of the potential future search.

Through many years of trial and error, I discovered the best way to be organized is to have as little as possible, and in more recent years, have as little legal responsibility as possible.

Now it’s time to turn the question to all of you: at home and at work, what papers do you honestly and truly NEED to keep and what are you keeping out of habit?

And once you’ve figured that out, check out Jacki’s article about organizing documents at home or the Office Organization archive for tips at work.

The perfect souvenir

A while ago I was visiting the site GoThreeTwentyFour. It was created by Stephanie and her goal is to visit all 324 (now 325) countries on the Travellers’ Century Club list.

In one of her blog posts, she recounts how she was in Cyprus on the beach where the mythical Greek goddess Aphrodite emerged from the sea. Stephanie’s first thought was to take one of the small, smooth stones as a souvenir but she did not. It was one of her biggest regrets about her visit to Cyprus. It was this experience that got her thinking about the traits of the “perfect souvenir.”

Stephanie indicates that a souvenir should have at least four of the following characteristics.

  • Useful – You need to use the item you purchase. Eat the candies. Display the artwork.
  • Collectible – Consider purchasing the same or similar item in every location but make sure you are clear on how to develop the collection.
  • Personal – This should be something you identify with on a personal level, not just a fridge magnet with your name on it.
  • Local – There should be something about the item that you can’t find anywhere else.
  • Connective – The item should be a reminder of the place and the people you met along the way.
  • Practical – It should be affordable and easy to take back home.
  • Unique – Don’t shop at the same chain stores as you have at home. Get something that has its own story.
  • Quality – Make sure the souvenir is durable enough for you to enjoy for a long time.

These tips can be applied when you’re buying souvenirs for friends and family too.

Stephanie says a rock from the beach in Cyprus would have had at least five of the characteristics of a perfect souvenir. She feels that the important characteristics for a souvenir might be different for each trip and different people might give the qualities varying degrees of importance.

Here is a quote from Stephanie, an idea that we at Unclutterer approve of:

“The goal is to skip buying something that will be a waste of money and recognize when you totally need to grab the rock on the beach.”

We would like to thank Stephanie for allowing us to share her infographic with our readers. Please visit her site, GoThreeTwentyFour for more details on the “Perfect Souvenir.”

 

perfect souvenir

The ease of a non-junky junk drawer

In the 45 years I’ve spend on this planet, I’ve been in many homes. From my humble childhood home in Pennsylvania to the elaborate dwellings of well-off friends, all homes seem to have one thing in common: a junk drawer.

I think a junk drawer is a good thing to have. It’s a place for oft-used items like pens and note paper, as well as those piddly little things that don’t fit anywhere else: bobby pins, rubber bands, scissors, a ruler. As a storage option, it’s fine, as all those items need a home. In execution, however, there’s often a problem.

The casual nature of a junk drawer fosters an overall lenient attitude. It is very easy to have a mess on your hands. Once it becomes difficult to find what you want, it’s time for an intervention.

First, pull out the drawer (if that’s possible) and move it to a large work surface like a table or counter. Next, remove everything from the drawer and lay it flat on the work surface. Then, while the drawer is empty, give it a good cleaning.

Next, turn your attention to uncluttering your drawer’s contents and answer a few questions about the objects:

  1. Is there somewhere else this should be? I mentioned bobby pins before, and perhaps they should be returned to the hair care supplies in your bathroom. Likewise, maybe the rubber bands and ruler would be easier to find if stored with office supplies in your home office.
  2. Do I need this? Any true examples of junk in your junk drawer should be treated as such. Throw them out.
  3. Does this still function? Pens with no ink, miniature pencils with no erasers, and so on need to go.
  4. Is this a duplicate? Do you need five Chip Clips in the drawer in addition to the four in use?

Once uncluttered, focus on organizing the drawer. Would an in-drawer organizer or small boxes (like those your checks came in) help you to keep objects in a specific place? (If you want to make recycled objects appear coordinated, you can always wrap boxes in washi tape or printed duct tape.)

Finally: Why did you wait so long to organize this space? I know that I often procrastinate on a project if, deep down, I don’t think I can successfully do it. But that’s not the case here. The junk drawer seems so low-priority, so informal, that I tend to ignore it until the day I realize I’ve got to pull it completely out to find anything.

To combat that tendency, I’ve put a six-month reminder on my calendar to get in there and have a good sort. It only takes fifteen minutes, costs nothing, and results in a storage area that’s easier to use — and that’s time well spent.

Book Reviews: Five new releases on simple living and productivity

Five really terrific books have been published in the past few weeks that might be of interest to our readers:

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do
by Chris Guillebeau

Living an uncluttered life isn’t always about stuff. It’s also about clearing clutter from aspects of your life that keep you from doing what you would rather be doing. Chris’ book is perfect for anyone looking to unclutter a bad job or career from your life to do exactly what you should be doing. This isn’t a “dream big” book that leaves you inspired but without steps and tools to achieve what you want. This book is full of every tool you will need to make your job and/or career change happen. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Chris. One of those reasons is because his advice is based on years of research and includes examples from actual people who have taken his advice and found success with it. If you’re unhappy or disgruntled with your work, his book is exactly what you’ll want to read to move productively in a new direction.

90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more)
by Felice Cohen

A few years ago, we wrote about Felice because she lived such a full life in such an itty-bitty NYC studio apartment. Since that time, she has sat down and written an entire book exploring her strategies for occupying such a tiny place. You don’t have to live in an extremely small space to benefit from the advice in her book, though. I found her text easy to read — it’s mostly lists that are direct and simple to follow. There are 90 “lessons” in the book to go with the 90 square feet theme. If you know any graduates heading to college or a big city with a tiny space, this book would be perfect for him or her.

Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids
by Asha Dornfest

Asha has been writing the ParentHacks website for more than 10 years, and her latest book is a cultivation of all the best advice she’s seen during this time. The book is illustrated and in full color and every page is packed with useful tips to make parenting easier. My favorite thing about this book is how often it transforms objects that on the surface seem to be unitaskers but shows you how they’re really multi-taskers. (16 uses for a baby wipe tub, 13 uses for non-slip shelf liner, 8 uses for a baby bath tub, etc.) If you’re a parent, you will want this book. If you have a friend or family member who is becoming a parent, they will want this book. This book is my new go-to gift for anyone who announces she’s pregnant or becoming a parent in another awesome way. There are so many real-world tips in this book that almost every page contains a piece of advice you can use to make life with kids easier.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
by Joshua Becker

Today is the release of Joshua’s book and it’s perfect for anyone who is coming to uncluttering with the hope of having a more fulfilling life. His book explores the topic of simple living in a much more philosophical manner than what we usually delve into here on Unclutterer. And this minimalist philosophy speaks to a lot of people, so if that sounds like you, pick up this extremely resourceful and guiding text. The advice is solid and practical. It’s not an organizing book — it’s a live with less stuff book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking for a step-by-step guide to minimalism.

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer
by Helene Segura

I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Helene’s book and have been eagerly awaiting its release so I could recommend it to you. If you struggle with productivity and time management, THIS is the book for you. The review I emailed to Helene immediately after finishing reading it sums up my opinions about the helpful text: “The Inefficiency Assassin is a concise, straightforward, and comprehensive plan that provides realistically attainable tactics to solve every major productivity problem. It details precisely how to eliminate these issues so you can have the professional and personal life you desire. With Helene Segura’s help, you can say farewell to guilt and exhaustion and to being overworked and overwhelmed.”

Organize a staycation

A regular weekend or an extended one can be a great time to have a staycation — a vacation where you enjoy the sights and activities that are found in and around your hometown. If this sounds like something you’d like to try, the following post describes how to organize for a great staycation and includes several ideas to get you started.

Make a list of what not to do on your staycation

First and foremost, you’ll want to make your staycation feel like a vacation as much as possible. While it’s true that a staycation isn’t the same as a zero-responsibility stay in a remote hotel, it can be a restorative and enjoyable time. To that end, you’ll want to limit your typical day-to-day responsibilities as much as possible, including:

  1. TV
  2. Time spent staring at phones
  3. Laundry
  4. Worrying about this and that
  5. Cooking
  6. Excessive cleaning

Create a list or a set of rules as to what you won’t do on your staycation to help you better define what you will be doing. Having this reminder will be exceptionally important if you will have other people participating in the staycation.

Plan activities

Since you’ll be staying at home, you might be tempted to think you can pull off a nice staycation without planning. “We live here, I know what’s around.” But time spent planning what you’ll do, how much money you’ll need, acquiring tickets, etc. will pay off in the long run and help you to feel more like you’re on a real vacation.

If you have kids and they’re old enough to have opinions, get them in on the planning discussion. If the ideas are really flowing, write them on strips of paper and stick them in a jar. Then draw one (or more) to determine what you’ll do each day. Create a staycation calendar to hang up or distribute, so everyone will know the plan.

Plan meals

It’s a staycation after all, so make necessary reservations and go out to dinner. If going out isn’t your style, gather menus from favorite spots or places that deliver. If you’re not interested in eating out, prepare freezer meals ahead of time that can be prepared with minimum effort and mess during your staycation.

Take care of small details

In the days leading up to your staycation, make sure laundry is caught up, outstanding school projects are done, and the house is tidy, so you can enjoy your staycation without those burdens. Be sure to mark these on the calendar so you actually get these things done ahead of time.

Staycation ideas

One activity my 11 year old came up with is an ice cream tour. Each day, we’ll drive to a new spot, try out what they’ve got and take photos as well as our reviews of what we try. Not the most healthful staycation idea, but definitely one everyone in our family would enjoy.

What is your area known for? So often we don’t do the fun, “touristy” things in our own back yards. For example, I lived on Cape Cod, Massachusetts for 21 years before taking a seal tour. I’d wager there are fun, tourist destinations to see or do in your hometown that you’ve never tried.

Visit a National Park (or two). National Parks are educational and set up to entertain all sorts of visitors. For additional fun, get a National Parks Passport that you can fill with stamps during your visit.

Find a minor league sporting event to attend. These are often less expensive than their major league counterparts and in smaller venues, so you can get closer to the action. I love minor league baseball, for example, and have had a great time seeing the Pawtucket Red Sox play.

Create an outdoor family film festival. Let everyone pick a favorite movie, set up a simple outdoor theatre, and settle in for fun.

Lastly, I’ll suggest looking for a local festival. These are typically a short drive away, inexpensive, and a lot of fun. In my neighborhood, we look forward to the Cranberry Festival, Oyster Festival and Scallop Festival. They’re always a good time.

Most importantly, just try to enjoy your time with the other people participating in your staycation. It’s a great opportunity to connect and bond. Relax, laugh, and do something a little different.

What’s in your pocket?

Long before Samuel L. Jackson asked about the contents of your pocket, I started to document what I kept in my pockets each day. Since then, many people have taken up the practice, including myth buster Adam Savage. And, if you’re a curious person, learning what other people carry can be interesting.

What I carry

Today I’m looking back on what I used to carry in 2007, in 2010, and now in 2016. I’m glad to say that I’ve trimmed things down a bit, but not completely. First, let’s look at what I had on me in 2007.

Back then, I carried a Moleskine notebook, an original iPhone with headphones, a Pilot G2 pen, a wallet, keys, and a 512MB flash drive. The flash drive is especially hilarious today, not only because it had a capacity of 512MB, but because I schlepped it around in the first place. Today, with nearly ubiquitous internet and cloud services like Dropbox, I simply don’t need the flash drive anymore.

Field Notes Brand notebook, and the original iPhone became an iPhone 4. I ditched the earbuds because I only listen to the audio while in the car. The wallet and keys are exactly the same (minus Chewbacca), though the wallet contains fewer “Bonus Club” type cards than it used to.

Drafts, which accepts dictated notes via my Apple Watch. When you get over the embarrassment of talking to your arm in public, you realize how amazingly fast it is to say, “Remind me to buy milk” to the Apple Watch, knowing that your words will be transcribed to a note-taking app on the iPhone. I love it.

A newer model iPhone has replaced what I was using in 2010 and my wallet has become a bit smaller. I’m very pleased that I’ve gotten rid of the store loyalty cards, as they’re a hassle. Finally, Yoda has replaced Chewbacca. Noticed that, you did.

Where I carry it

What’s even more important than what I carry is where I carry it. Each item goes in the same pocket every single time. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Left front pants pocket
  3. Keys: Left front pants pocket

There other rules. I have a billfold wallet that folds in half. It always goes into my pocket with the “hinge” if you will facing up toward the sky. That’s because if I put it in with the hinge facing down, I’ll inevitably put the keys “inside” the wallet, so that I can’t pull it from my pocket without taking the keys with it.

The rules change if I’m wearing a coat:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Jacket inside pocket
  3. Keys: Right breast pocket

Moving the keys is important here, as a bulky coat typically makes it harder to get into jeans pockets, so the wallet and keys — the items I access most often — are made more accessible.

Why go through all this nonsense? Because when you know where things are, you save huge amounts of time. For me, it extends beyond my pockets. For example, when I park the car at the grocery store, I always park in the side lot to the far left of the store. When at the drug store, I park at the end near the dumpster. I never have to wander the lot wondering where my car is because I make parking in the same spot a habit.

What do you carry and where do you carry it? If you haven’t ever thought about your choices, maybe spend a few days taking notice of what you need and when you need it, and then streamline the process. Doing so will certainly help you save time and effort in the future.

What to do with an old toothbrush

Over the course of your life, you’ll buy things that are meant to last, like a home, and others that are frequently replaced, like the humble toothbrush. Speaking of the toothbrush, dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every three months. If you adopt that schedule, four of your toothbrushes will hit landfills every year. If you’re feeling resourceful, however, you can prolong your former toothbrush’s landfill trip by putting it to further use after you’re done using it on your teeth.

Note that you’ll want to give old brushes a good cleaning before taking on these projects. Just run them through the dishwasher and then rise them in a simple bleach solution (5mL bleach / L water or 1 tsp per 4 cups). After that, you’re good to go.

Make a robot!

I did this project with my son’s Cub Scout Troop last year and it was a bit hit. The result is a little buzzing “Bristle Bot” similar to a Hex Bug. All you need is an old toothbrush, some tape, a 1.5V button battery, and a tiny motor. Once it’s assembled, battle your bots for supremacy!

Get the dirt off veggies

Mushrooms often come with a bit of dirt, but they don’t like to be cleaned with water. A soft-bristle brush will let you remove dirt easily and effectively. Don’t stop at mushrooms, either. Other fruits and veggies can be cleaned just as thoroughly with a soft-bristle brush.

Cleaning pesky dishes and tile grout

The lids of sippy cups, stubborn Tupperware containers, and other hard-to-clean kitchen hardware are a perfect use for an old toothbrush. You can get right into the spots that a typical kitchen sponge can’t reach.

This next one is kind of a gimmie but it’s still worth mentioning: A toothbrush is wonderful for cleaning pesky kitchen grout.

Bicycle chains

We live on a dirt road and the chains on my kids’ bikes get dirty pretty quickly. A toothbrush is great for getting that dirt out before it causes problems or builds up excessively.

Working with crafts

A toothbrush can be used to apply paint, glue, polish, and all manner of arts-and-crafts materials. It is a brush, after all. Speaking of arts and crafts…

Make a bracelet

Finally, if your spent brush is of a particularly pretty plastic, and you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can turn it into a quite nice-looking piece of costume jewelry. Just don’t try this with an electric model toothbrush.

When your toothbrush is done cleaning your teeth, its life has only just begun.

Answers to a reader’s four questions

On the 14th, we asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

An Unclutterer reader wrote in and talked about her four main struggles.

1. Finding pockets of time in the day to do large projects when you have small kids around. For example, I am trying to stain our wooden fence on our own, but I have two children under 3 years old. How can I approach this messy process strategically?

I’ve been in this situation before. I had two young children and my husband was deployed for six months straight with the Canadian Forces. One suggestion would be to find some teenagers you can hire. You can ask around to neighbours and friends or visit the local secondary school or community centre if you don’t know any personally. Some teens would appreciate getting paid for a few hours of work per week painting your fence or keeping your children occupied while you work on the household chores.

Another suggestion might be if you have friends with young children, you can do an exchange. One grown-up looks after all of the children and the other grown-up works on a project. The next time, you switch.

Before engaging someone to assist you, it’s always best to have a plan of what you can accomplish during the time you have. Here are some tips I’ve learned from experience:

  • Always underestimate the amount of work you’ll get done in the time that you have. If you think it will take you two hours to paint the fence, it may really take you four hours. Remember to include set-up and cleanup times in your estimate.
  • Always have a Plan B. If you’ve booked a sitter so you can paint the fence, have an alternative project to work on (e.g. sewing curtains) in case it rains that day.
  • Don’t fret if you’re not making as much progress as you’d like. Remember that slow and steady wins the race.

2. Overcoming analysis paralysis … how do I restore my decision-making confidence and JUST DO IT? For example, hanging art on the wall: it feels like a permanent choice! So I delay!

We’ve written before about improving decision-making skills and how to make the process of decision making easier. Reviewing these posts might help you get over your “analysis-paralysis.”

As someone who has moved houses eight times in 23 years, I can say that nothing is “permanent,” some things might just take a little more effort to change than others. As far as hanging art on the walls, try GeckoTech Reusable Hooks. They are made with a unique synthetic rubber technology that allows them to be used again and again. 3M picture strips are also very handy for hanging artwork without damaging walls. You may also wish to consider the STAS cliprail pro Picture Hanging System.

Apartment Therapy has great tips for hanging artwork so go ahead and make your house a home.

3. Thinking long-term about home projects, while on a budget. We plan to stay in our home a long time, but it needs some love. But our wallets are thin! What should we prioritize: remodeling the kitchen, or taking control of the landscaping? New interior paint job or pressure washing and re-glazing the pebble driveway? What house projects are most important and have lasting impact?

Home renovations can make your home more comfortable, improve your living experience, and increase the value of the home. However, shoddy workmanship or too much “unique customization” may actually decrease the value of your home.

Start with the basics by keeping the home safe and livable. Consider projects that involve your home’s structure (roof, windows, doors, etc.) or mechanical systems (furnace, air conditioning, electrics, plumbing). These upgrades make your home more energy efficient and may actually pay for themselves during the time that you live in the home. Insurance companies may also decrease premiums when you improve wiring, install secure windows, or add an alarm system.

Next, think about making you home more livable. High-end countertops may look good in magazines but more cupboard space may be what your family needs right now. Discuss your ideas with a designer and talk to a few contractors to determine prices and see what fits with your budget. You may decide to do the work yourself, but talking about it with a professional is great for brewing ideas.

Try to build the most flexibility and long-term usefulness into your designs. Remember that children grow quickly, so envision the basement toy room becoming a games room and study area in a few years. Installing the required wiring now will save you time and money later, and may also add a selling feature if you decide to move.

You might be able to do some work yourself, such as painting or installing closet systems. However, because of permits and laws/regulations/codes, most people find it best to hire professionals for tasks requiring plumbing, electrical work, specialized carpentry, and work involving altering the structure of your home (supporting walls, roofs, staircases, etc.).

4. How can we encourage others in our life to take care of their clutter before they leave this earth and give all their clutter to us? This is especially a problem when they don’t think what they have is clutter!

Unfortunately, the value of an item is in the eye of the beholder. Items you might consider clutter, might be of significant value to someone else. It would be difficult to ask someone to part with items that are valuable to him or her. You can’t control another person’s desires, wishes, and attachments to their things.

However, there are some steps you can take to ensure that your family members’ items are appreciated once they pass on.

Envision what you want for your family. Are you minimalists? Do you prefer art-deco style furniture? Will you travel? What hobbies do you enjoy or do you wish to start a few new hobbies? It helps to write down the lifestyle you want to lead and then act according to these visions when the time comes.

Prepare a respectful “no thank-you” response now. Chances are you will be offered something you don’t want or you will be told that items are being kept for you. If the item will not fit into your envisioned lifestyle, you will be able to turn it down. For example:

I know [item] is very important to you and it means a lot that you want us to have it after you are gone. But [item] will never replace you or our memories of you. Let’s consider how [item] could best be used and appreciated. Perhaps we should:

  • Consider offering [item] to a [name friend or family member] who would truly appreciate it
  • Donate [item] to charity or museum, where it could be used or appreciated by even more people
  • Sell [item] and either enjoy or donate the money

Sometimes once people find they are no longer obligated to hold an item for you, they are more willing to let it go.