Dishwashing safe products can save time

In her book The Simple Living Guide, Janet Luhrs suggests that people wash their dishes by hand. I like Janet Luhrs and agree with most things that she says, but when I read this piece of advice I laughed aloud. I grew up in a house without a mechanical dishwasher, and my daily chore was to wash the dishes by hand. Every night, for more than 10 years, as I stood with my hands immersed in soapy water, I dreamed of owning a dishwasher. I pledged that in my adulthood I would never wash my dishes by hand.

In the present, if I didn’t have a dishwasher, I cannot imagine how disorganized and dirty my kitchen would be. One of the things about committing to a dishwasher lifestyle, though, is that it limits what I can buy for my kitchen. The everyday plates and cups are almost always dishwasher safe, but many items beyond the basics typically are not recommended for the dishwasher.

If you’re just starting out or are a fan of the dishwasher like me, here are a few dishwasher-friendly, beyond-the-basics, kitchen products that I have found and use:

Stemless stemware. These wine glasses and champagne flutes have no stems so they easily fit in the top drawer of a dishwasher. They also save space in the cupboard.

All-Clad Stainless Cookware. The all-stainless version of this cookware is the only type that can go into the dishwasher. I registered for this when I got married and a kind family member bought it for me. It has held up wonderfully with constant dishwashing.

White Bone China. Surprisingly, plain-white china can be safely cleaned in the dishwasher. It’s durable and can easily be dressed up or down. I use my set all the time, and pair it with colorful chargers when entertaining. There’s no need to have two sets of dishes with one set as convenient and versatile as these.

Unfortunately, I do not have a knife set to recommend. I currently have a Henckels set and put the knives in the dishwasher against the suggestion of the manufacturer. I have been throwing them into the dishwasher for more than five years and the handles haven’t split. However, I expect to need to replace them earlier than they would have needed to be had I been washing them by hand all these years. If someone has a suggestion for a dishwasher-friendly knife set, please feel welcome to leave it in the comments. I’ve read the packaging on many stainless handle knives and found that they also suggest being washed by hand (Kitchen Aid, Ginsu, etc.).

 

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

Saying farewell to a hobby

There are hundreds of books and resources available on the topic of breaking up with a love interest. There are even ones exploring the topic of breaking off a toxic friendship and dumping bad business relationships. But, I have yet to find anything out in the ether on how to kick a hobby to the curb. Noting that, I proclaim this Unclutterer entry as the authoritative work on breaking up with a hobby. I call it:

You’re Just Not That Into Your Hobby

Do you consider yourself a tennis player, but the last time you touched your racket was 25 years ago? Do you like the idea of being a scrapbooker but have never made a complete scrapbook? Are you keeping canvases for masterpieces you may one day paint, yet all of your paints are dried and your brushes deteriorating? Is your guitar missing strings and in a case at the back of a closet? Do you have areas of your home set aside or filled with stuff related to a hobby that you spend less than 10 hours on a year?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you are just not that into your hobby.

It can be difficult to admit, but if you’re not averaging at least an hour a month pursuing a hobby, it’s time to let it go. The space you’re sacrificing in your home is too valuable to store things you don’t use. If you don’t have storage issues, it’s still worthwhile to get rid of your unused hobby stuff. Every time you walk past it I bet you think, “I wish I had more time to do X.” You don’t need that stress and guilt. If it were really important to you, you would pursue it.

Five steps for deciding if now is the time to ditch your hobby:

  1. Identify all of your hobbies and all of the things associated with them in your home, garage, and office. You may benefit by collecting these items and laying them all out in your front yard or an open space in your home to see how much space you’re sacrificing.
  2. List all of these hobbies and then estimate how much time you’ve spent pursuing each of them in the last 12 months. Be honest with yourself.
  3. Any hobby with an estimation of 10 hours or less should immediately be moved out of your home. Pack up the equipment and head to a used sports equipment store or an appropriate charity. If the hobby stuff is valuable, photograph it and list it for sale on a site like ebay or craigslist.
  4. Any hobby with an estimation of 24 hours or less should be carefully reviewed. If you went camping one day last year, you would reach the 24-hour mark for camping as a hobby. However, is one day of camping worth all of the space used to store your tent, sleeping bag, and all other accoutrements? On the flip side, if you spent one Friday night a month last year playing Bridge with friends and averaged about two hours of playing time a sitting, it’s probably worthwhile to hold onto a deck of cards.
  5. Any hobby with an estimation of more than 24 hours also should be considered for review. You may realize that you’re spending so much time and space on your hobby that you’re neglecting things more important in your life, like time with your spouse or children. It’s okay to break up with these hobbies, too. In most cases, however, you probably have a healthy relationship with your active hobbies and you’ll decide to keep up with them. You still will want to evaluate how much stuff you have for them. If you have more supplies than you could use in a lifetime associated with that hobby, it’s time to weed through the collection of stuff. My rule of thumb is that you should never have more than one year’s worth of supplies for an intense hobby — and less than that if you can manage.

There is a caveat to my assumption that you’re just not that into your hobby that I feel I should mention as a footnote. The truth may be that you really like your hobby, but somewhere along the way you misappropriated your time and let it fall by the wayside. Instead of making chairs in your woodworking studio, you’ve been watching television. If this is the case, make new priorities and recommit to your hobby. Turn off the t.v. and head to your studio. Decide to re-evaluate that hobby in six months. If in six months, however, you’re still watching t.v., then it’s time to admit that watching t.v. is your hobby not woodworking.

 

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

An argument against multi-tasking

I should start this discussion by noting that I am not 100 percent against multi-tasking. I am in favor of reading a book while waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles and listening to music or a podcast while grocery shopping. These tasks can be considered low-functioning activities because your primary level of productivity is not affected by the presence of a second task.

I am, however, against multi-tasking when doing more higher-functioning activities. Most projects, when worked on in a focused manner, will be completed more quickly when they are the only task in front of you. The fewer interruptions you have, the more efficient your productivity.

Mono-tasking is especially important while organizing. If you decide to overhaul your digital filing system and organize your data, it’s best not to have your instant messaging or email apps tempting you with greetings from friends. One message from a friend can set you back 10 to 20 minutes.

Mono-tasking also is good for making sure that objects are returned to their proper places at the end of an activity. If you take the five minutes to concentrate on putting away belongings immediately after you are finished with them, you will avoid a disorganized living space. Push yourself to finish one project before you start your next endeavor.

I have found that mono-tasking has positive outcomes in areas beyond organization and productivity. If you focus on listening to a person when they are speaking with you, they will feel appreciated and respected. Driving without distractions improves your safety record, and rarely do others complain when you finish what you start.

Try designating your time by a single activity and see how it affects your overall productivity. I’m interested in hearing from you about your experiences with multi- and mono-tasking in the comments section.

 

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

Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 2

In the previous post in this bedroom series, I talked about simplifying your room so that it serves its purpose as a place for rest and rejuvenation, and not an extension of your home or work life. Once you’ve got everything out of your bedroom that doesn’t belong, what should you be left with?

Ideally, the answer is nothing more than your bed, bedside stands, maybe a chair and some soft light source. If you can, avoid clunky bedside tables which encourage clutter collection. Connie Cox and Chris Evatt in 30 Days to a Simpler Life advise us to consider small wall-mounted night-stands. They don’t take up much space and they are easy to vacuum under. If you need a dresser because storage space is a concern, choose one that is not too ornate or distracting and make sure the drawers can shut completely keeping their contents out of sight.

Under-bed storage is a debatable proposition since some claim “it will block the flow of chi.” I say, do whatever feels right to you. Personally, I don’t think having a few containers under my bed as I sleep will affect me one bit. But if you’re going to worry about the possibility, maybe the extra storage is not worth the stress. That said, if you do opt to use the space under your bed for storage, avoid using it for storing things you will need frequently. Don’t put your art supplies or shoes down there if you will be crouching down every other day. Instead, use the space to store your out-of-season wardrobe and linens.

Superman had his Fortress of Solitude (which, as I remember from the movies, was a modernist and sparsely decorated affair) where he went to “get away from it all.” It’s not so hard for you to have your own.

 

This post has been updated since its previous publication in 2007.

Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 1

Simple living shouldn’t be about deprivation, but about avoiding the stress that often comes from too many possessions. One of the best examples of how this philosophy can be applied is in the bedroom.

Ideally, your bedroom is a place for sleeping. That is, it’s a place for rest and relaxation. Anything in your room that doesn’t contribute to the relaxation will likely only keep you from recharging your batteries. A TV will keep you up all night. Piles of books and work will only remind you of things you have to do or read. Clothes strewn about will evoke bad feelings about undone housework.

The first step toward this goal is to take everything out that doesn’t have to do with sleep or sex. Work desk with a computer? Find another room for it. Overflowing hamper? Put it in a closet or other space. For those of us who live in small urban apartments this might not be possible so placing a room dividing screen between the bed and the home office can help. Another tip that might help is taking all those photos off the walls and replacing them with a single big art piece, or maybe nothing at all?

Some great tips to make a bedroom a stress-free sanctuary include getting rid of extra linens. You only really need two sets (one to use while the other is being washed). That’ll cut on clutter beyond the bedroom. I suggest that when it comes to the two linen sets you do have you go for luxury. Most people spend at least eight hours in bed every day, and those eight hours have a big impact on how the rest of your day goes well. Why not outfit your bed with the most comfortable accoutrements you can find?

And don’t go pillow crazy. You only need a pillow or two for each person. A dozen little pillows are only dust-collecting fluffy clutter that you have to shuffle around every day. Avoid it.

 

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

Tough questions for your things

I like to think of myself as a person who is unattached to physical objects. Truth be told, however, this might not necessarily be the case. My lifestyle, being more minimalist than average, means that I make a conscience decision to bring something into my home. Each object exists in my space for a reason, and a chunk of time, planning, and research was dedicated to its acquisition, and there are further evaluations to let it stay. I make an investment of myself in every object, and that is why it’s hard for me to say that I’m not attached to these objects.

I likely will never resolve this quandary, but I think that the acquisition and evaluation process that I put into every object — and I do mean every object — is a valuable one. If I bring a non-essential item into my home, it ultimately will become clutter, and I am more interested in keeping a clutter-free lifestyle than one full of knickknacks and pointless objects.

I have two set lists of questions that I ask myself about every object in my home. These lists have changed a bit with time, and I expect them to go through some adjustments as my family grows, so feel welcome to adapt these lists for your own use and adjust as you see fit. The first list is directed toward new acquisitions and the second is for objects that are already inside my house.

Questions for New Acquisitions:

  1. Do I have something like this already that fulfills the same purpose?
  2. If I own something like this, am I ready to get rid of the older item since this newer item will have to replace it?
  3. Will this item make my life easier/save me time/save me money/fulfill an essential need?
  4. Where will this object live in our house?
  5. Is this the best price for this object, is this the best quality that I can get for the money, and is this object in its best possible condition?
  6. Do I need to do more research about this object before I make this purchase/bring it into my home?
  7. If this is a perishable item (like food), when will I use it and what will I do if I don’t use all of it?
  8. Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to live?

Questions for Items Already in My Home:

  1. Do I have something else like this that fulfills the same purpose?
  2. If this is a duplicate item, which of these items is in the best condition, of the best quality, and will last me the longest?
  3. Is this item in disrepair and need to be replaced or fixed?
  4. Does this item make my life easier/save me time/save me money/fulfill an essential need?
  5. Why does this object live in our house and is this the best place for this object?
  6. Do I need to do more research to know if this is the best object to fulfill its essential need?
  7. If this is a perishable item, has its expiration date passed?
  8. Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to live?

I’m interested in knowing if others have additional or alternative questions that they pose before acquiring or retaining objects for their homes. Please feel welcome to use the comments for this post to discuss your decision-making process!

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

No more wire hangers!

The next time you head to your dry cleaner, take all of your unused wire hangers with you. Most dry cleaners recycle hangers and actually appreciate you returning them because it saves them money. You get rid of clutter in your closet and help keep landfills free of hangers.

Also, unless you have a need for the plastic bags they wrap around your clothing, you can ask for the dry cleaner to keep the bags off of your clothes. It keeps you from having to toss the bag when you get home, and again saves the dry cleaner money. Men’s dress shirts also can be folded instead of put on a hanger so that you don’t have to take a hanger home with you at all.

When you go to pick up your clothes at the dry cleaners, take reusable high quality hangers and garment bags with you just like taking reusable shopping bags with you when grocery shopping. That way you don’t even need to take their wire hangers and plastic bags home.

 

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

Is ‘trading up’ your space worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

A place for everything. Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Letting a corner of clutter slide

The more attuned I am to practicing simple living, the fewer places in my home have hidden corners of clutter. There are some places, though, where disorder thrives and I realize that I am completely okay with it. In fact, these areas serve as little humbling reminders that I am human and am far from perfect.

Case in point: My sock drawer.

Did I just hear you gasp? Are you completely horrified? Are the hairs standing up on the back of your neck as you compose an e-mail to me offering to organize my sock drawer for me? Take a deep breath and move your fingers off the keyboard. It is going to be okay.

You should know that all of the other drawers in my dresser are beautifully organized (imagine the successful use of separators) and contain little to no disarray. It really is just my sock drawer that looks hideous. My husband’s sock drawer is ordered by type of sock (dress or sport) and color coordinated (a helpful activity for those who are color blind), which is strange since I’m the one who often folds and puts away his laundry. My sock drawer is messy, however, and the whole world has not collapsed around me.

I’m mentioning my sock drawer because people can have the misconception that being organized means that every single minute aspect of one’s life is in pristine order. Order is a goal, yes — but so is sanity. Being organized and living simply is about removing distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life. Right now, my sock drawer is not a hindrance to the life I want to lead. Maybe one day it will be, and I will buy some dividers and establish order in my sock drawer. Until then, it is one of a small handful of places where disorder exists in my home, and that’s okay. Really, it is.

Do you have a space where disorder reigns, but the whole of your organization system isn’t collapsing as a result? Feel welcome to tell us about it in the comments. Get it off your chest. You are, after all, only human.

 

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

Living more simply through eBay

Here’s one way to live more simply: sell all your possessions on eBay. That’s what John Freyer did in 2002. As he was getting ready to leave grad school in Iowa for New York City, he decided to sell everything he owned on eBay and on his site, allmylifeforsale.com. He sold everything, from used socks, to a can of Chunky Soup from his pantry, from his Planet of the Apes LP, to a bag of small, roasted cuttlefish. The result is a book that catalogues his project, which is described on the site as an “explor[ation of] our relationship to the objects around us, their role in the concept of identity, as well as the emerging commercial systems of the Internet.”

You don’t need to be as hip and PoMo as Freyer to see the benefit of eBay as a tool for turning clutter into cash. I saw an article in New York Times back in 2007 about how teens trying to get quick cash are a great source for cheap electronics on eBay and Craigslist. Especially when you’re about to make a life change, like moving to another city, selling a lot of your stuff, instead of packing it up and paying to ship it, can be a great organization strategy.

There’s a moral here for you even if like most of your possessions, thank you very much. Whenever you are uncluttering and you don’t think you can bring yourself to part with some knick-knack, just think of John Freyer and his Star Wars bed sheets.

 

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

Keep kids’ POV in mind

In February 2007, Arizona Republic had some great organization tips for parents. My favorites are the kitchen tips which keep in mind the children’s point of view.

Establish a pantry snack shelf at the hand level of little tykes.
Why it works: Children and their friends can serve themselves without having to climb on chairs or interrupt parents to ask. What you need: Matching clear, stackable containers.

Arrange a continental breakfast nook.
Why it works: Little ones can serve themselves in an expedited fashion since bowls, cereal, sugar, fruit, muffins and any other breakfast foods and utensils are kept in the same space. What you need: An hour to rearrange the pantry and cabinets and possibly resize shelving to accommodate cereal boxes.

Are there any tips you can share with other readers on how to make things easier for children?

 

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