The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking

As fall nears and the weather cools, I start looking forward to a good bowl of chili while watching my favorite football team play on a Sunday afternoon. My thoughts of chili then progress into musings of stews and soups and all the wonderful things that can be made in my slow cooker.

I like using a slow cooker because it means that I dirty it and no other pots or pans during meal preparation. There are a few exceptions when an additional pan is needed to brown or sear meat, but these instances are rare. After the meal has been served, cleanup is as simple as moving the empty crock from the slow cooker to the dishwasher. The slow cooker is definitely an uncluttered kitchen solution.

If you don’t currently own a slow cooker, there are really only two features that I see as essential components. The first necessary feature is a separate, removable inner crock. The second feature is a temperature indicator that has at least three settings: Off, Low, and High. I have never found use for any of the other slow cooker features currently on the market. A crock pot with these two features also has the benefit of usually costing less than $30 and will last you many years.

The majority of the recipes I make in my slow cooker are in my head. However, I took a trip recently to my local bookstore and saw that there are now dozens of slow cooker recipe books in publication for people seeking printed recipes. Also, an internet search for “slow cooker recipe” yielded thousands of recipes from online sources. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the slow cooker cookbooks on the market:

Enjoy your uncluttered cooking experience!

 

This post has been updated since it was originally published in September 2007.

Thinking ahead about simplifying the holidays

As the days get shorter here in the Northern Hemisphere and the nights get chillier, I start thinking about the upcoming holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. And this inspired me go to my bookshelf and take another look at the book entitled Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays, by Elaine St. James.

This is a type of book that often doesn’t appeal to me: a smaller size (for easy grabbing at the bookstore cash register) and the 100-ways format. But this is one I liked, because it puts forth a range of suggestions so you’re quite likely to find at least a few that inspire you to approach things a bit differently. The author isn’t proposing any one-size-fits-all solution.

On a re-read, the chapter that most caught my attention was entitled Stop Trying to Get Organized. Her point is that a long organized holiday to-do list — with tasks starting weeks or months before Christmas — means you’re still doing a whole lot of things. Simplifying, so the long list isn’t so long, would often be a better approach. It reminded me of the standard organizing approach where we unclutter first and then organize what’s left, so we aren’t organizing things we don’t really want or need.

The author emphasizes the importance of identifying what’s special and meaningful to you and your family about the holidays and focusing on those items. This made me think about my own special holiday memories. I remember standing on a friend’s porch in Florida on a warm Christmas Eve, looking at the lights, drinking wine, and singing every Christmas carol we could remember. I remember being lucky enough to spend a Christmas with friends in Germany, who had invited many family members and friends to spend the holiday with them. They opened gifts on Christmas Eve, but the number of gifts and their cost were both much less than what I often see at home. I have amazing memories of a Christmas Eve spent answering calls on an AIDS hotline, many years ago. I love pulling together my Christmas music playlist every December, and buying gifts for my adopted seniors from their wish lists has been part of my holidays for years.

So music, friends, and caring for those less fortunate than me are key parts of my holidays. These all add joy to my life, don’t involve excessive spending, and don’t cause me any stress.

St. James addresses many aspects of holiday celebrations: cards, gift giving, the Christmas tree and other decorations, holiday meals, the office Christmas party, etc. Now, before we’re actually swept up in the holiday season, might be a good time to ponder how you’d like to handle all of this in the coming months. Many of her thoughts about Christmas could apply to other holidays equally well.

And now I’m going to freecycle this book, passing it along so someone else can be inspired to have the holiday celebrations they really want.

Words to keep you motivated

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

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

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

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Did you get the most out of summer?

For those of you with kids, summer can be a crazy time. The are very few routines and the kids are off doing some activity or another while you continue working. Or perhaps you had some time off and managed to get away or had a supposedly relaxing stay-cation.

The big question, however, is: Did you have fun? Did the kids have fun?

We don’t have kids, but my holidays are always in August each year, so while I don’t have others relying on me to plan and deliver on fun times, I always reach September and ask myself whether I took advantage of the time off I had, or whether I could have gotten more out of the time away from work.

In July before finishing work, I came up with a list of possible things to do in August. With thirty-one days to fill, I wanted to have something to do every single day if we felt like it. Of course, we allowed ourselves to say “no way, not today!” and spend the day in bed, by the pool or reading a book in a nice patch of sun, but what I didn’t want to happen was what has happened all too often when we both have time off together.

Husband: What do you want to do today?

Me: I don’t know. How about you?

Husband: No idea.

(We both go back to our smartphones and surf around social media.)

Me (an hour later): So what are we going to do?

Husband (looking at the time): We have to go grocery shopping and then there’s that pile of laundry over there…

And nothing fun happens. It’s just another day.

So, to avoid this issue, I came up with thirty-five different things we could do. Some were one-off events, others were repeatable depending on how much we liked them, the weather, and who we were with.

We knew who would be visiting us when and who might invite us out on day-trips or weekends.

I thrilled to tell you that it was a total success. We’ve never had a better summer and it was a sort of stay-cation. Normally we go away on some big trip where we exhaust ourselves squeezing fun and sun out of every second, but this year we divided our time between our two apartments. We went to the beach, took bike rides, put on the rollerblades that have been collecting dust for the past ten years, and visited little towns that we’ve been talking about for ages about seeing. We also made time for friends, including those we rarely get to see except when everyone has time off.

Most importantly, we relaxed with intention. That is, we made the conscious decision to do nothing some days. Rather than falling into a lazy day by accident and feeling like we were missing out on the summer.

And now, I’m ready to go back to work and routines refueled and refreshed.

How about you? What sort of summer have you had?

Reader question: End table filing cabinets?

Reader Sarah asked us the following question:

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

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

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

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

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

5,4,3,2,1: Creating clothing capsules

Today’s guest post is by Geralin Thomas, Author, Career Coach for Professional Organizers, Home Organization and Decluttering Consultant, and Capsule Wardrobe Fanatic.

It seems like everyone is talking, blogging, or photographing clothing capsules. Basically, a capsule wardrobe is comprised of several pieces of curated clothing and accessories that are versatile and coordinate with each other.

It might seem like an impossible goal, but creating a clothing capsule is not really difficult. And it has many benefits, the primary one being eliminating the “what am I going to wear” syndrome and keeping only garments and accessories that go together effortlessly. Clothing capsule enthusiasts dress with ease every day.

So how do you go about creating your own capsule wardrobe? There’s no one right way to do it, but most people who want to create a clothing capsule start by detoxing their current wardrobes and editing everything that doesn’t fit their body, lifestyle, and personality like a glove. They keep items whose fabric weight, colors, and mood are all similar.

For inspiration, think about certain celebrities who have a very distinct style. Public figures like Ellen, Martha Stewart, Kate Hudson, Wendy Williams, or Cher wear clothes that look like them and fit their lifestyle and personality.

One of the goals when building a capsule of clothing, is to aim for pieces that fit your current lifestyle, not a lifestyle you aspire to live. Each and every garment should fit and flatter and make you feel fabulous, not frumpy or costume-y when you get dressed. Each garment should mix and match so that you can reach into your closet and know that everything in it goes together.

The majority of my clients are looking for a system or starting point with capsule wardrobes, so I created a basic formula I call 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

My basic business wear/girls’ night out/date night clothing capsule formula is: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 but remember, it doesn’t matter how many pieces are in your capsule wardrobe, as long as all of them go there and you’re pleased with it.

  • 5 tops
  • 4 bottoms
  • 3 toppers
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 yours-truly accessory

I suggest picking one or two base colors for the bottoms. Three examples of base colors for the bottoms:

  • navy + whiskey
  • black + gray
  • chocolate brown + olive

One or two accent colors for the tops that coordinate with the base colors. For example:

If the base is: The accent colors could be:
navy + whiskey coral + teal
black + gray red + white
chocolate brown + olive marigold + paprika

 

The “toppers” can be blazers, cardigans, ponchos, or vests in base, in a third color or a variation of the base or accent color.

The dresses can be every-day, around-town dresses or something fancier depending on your lifestyle. They can be in your base, accent, or a third color.

The “yours-truly” accessory can be a handbag, necklace, scarf or whatever you’d like as long as it is uniquely you. That does not mean it has to be expensive. It typically means you are going to wear it every day and keep wearing it for years (a watch, a necklace, a handbag, earrings).

Hints about colors: Try to select colors that flatter your complexion (warm or cool) and your eye color. If you can’t figure out if you’re warm or cool, have a look at my Pinterest boards, color analysis and clothing capsules how-to.

Finally, if that doesn’t help ask a hair stylist or make-up artist to analyze your complexion as they are usually very good at this.

For most of the women I work with, creating very specific capsules for very specific occasions is another favorite starting place. I call these “Occasion Capsules” A few options include:

  • funerals
  • weddings (daytime and evening)
  • resort wear (skiing, cruises, etc.)
  • sports (yoga, swimming, golf)
  • girls’ night out
  • date night
  • public speaking
  • errands around town

Please note that in no way am I’m suggesting that a funeral or wedding capsule have 15 pieces. Instead, for those capsules you would want to make sure you have everything you need from head-to-toe and from inner to outer including undergarments, handbag, shoes, jewelry and coat, umbrella or whatever else might be appropriate.

To help plan your very own capsules, download my free Capsule Wardrobe Planning Worksheets or watch videos of me talking about decluttering, clothing, closets and capsule wardrobes.

Interested in taking things a step further? Record your exact measurements and figure out your body type using my Wardrobe Wisdom Workbook.

What causes clutter in your life?

One of the important aspects of getting clutter under control in your life is to discover why your home and life are cluttered. Spending as few as 15 minutes in quiet reflection often can help you to discover the root of your problem.

Is your home and life cluttered because of:

  • Emotional avoidance? (Are you holding onto your past because you fear the present and future? Are you afraid that you’ll lose the memories of someone from your past if you get rid of a physical object of his/hers?)
  • Physical exhaustion or limitation? (Have you been injured and cannot pick up objects as easily as you once could? Would you benefit from the help of a hired hand?)
  • Mental exhaustion? (Are you emotionally overwhelmed because of a work or social situation?)
  • Lack of time? (Are you working too many hours or traveling too often to keep your home well maintained?)
  • Feeling overwhelmed? (Is there so much stuff in your home that you don’t know where to begin organizing and/or cleaning? Are you over-committed to clubs and activities outside of your home to give your life its proper attention?)
  • Laziness? (Do you just not want to take care of things right now?)
  • Compulsive shopping? (Are you buying more than you can use and need? Are you constantly buying things to make yourself feel better?)
  • Procrastination? (Do you want to have your clutter disappear but would rather sit and watch television instead of deal with it?)

Once you identify the cause(s) of clutter in your life, you can work to keep clutter from reappearing in your home. The causation of your clutter might be able to be solved by simply changing your attitude (like with laziness) or hiring a professional organizer to get you started. Solving your time crunch problem might mean something more drastic like changing your job. In some cases, you might even consider consulting a counselor or life coach to help solve the root of your problem. In all cases, though, identifying the cause(s) of your clutter and working to solve it can help to keep your life clutter free in the future.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Reader question: Which linens stay and which ones go?

Reader Pamela sent us the following question:

I have a question/problem I think you folks might be able to help with. I have been trying for the past few months to trim down – unclutter my home – since I had a roommate move in a few months back. So, far, I have been proud of how I am doing. However, I am still struggling with a few problems spots in the house — linens and books. You recently addressed dealing with books on your site. Would you consider dealing with the linen issue? Right now I have a TON of bed sheets and various quilts and blankets. I know I need to get rid of some of it. Thanks.

Linens, which for the purposes of this post I will define as sheets, blankets, towels, and washcloths, are often concealed clutter in homes because they have a designated space (like a linen closet) where they can hide. If you’re like me, though, you have a habit of putting linens into the closet, but never taking worn-out ones out of circulation.

The following tips can help you to know which linens are good and which linens are clutter in your home.

Sheets: I live in a four-season climate, so I support having two sets of warm-weather sheets (cotton) and two sets of cool-weather sheets (flannel or jersey) for your bed. This means one set on the bed, one waiting to be switched to on laundry day, and two in a sealed storage container for the alternate season.

Good sheets should

  1. appropriately fit the bed even after many washings
  2. have properly functioning elastic
  3. be hole and stain free
  4. be made of a soft and durable single-ply cotton with a thread count between 200 and 400 (see a buying guide to sheets here)
  5. allow you to be comfortable so that you can sleep soundly.

Blankets: In addition to the comforter on your bed, I suggest that you should have at least three additional blankets — one for curling up with on the couch, one for overnight guests, and a “work” blanket in the trunk of your car for spontaneous picnics and for warmth if you have car trouble in the winter. You may find that you need more blankets for your home, especially if you have children, but three blankets are all we use.

Quilts and bedspreads: If you have a quilt that is a family heirloom or was handmade by a close friend, it will likely be difficult to get rid of it for emotional reasons. Therefore, I believe quilts are made to be loved and either used or displayed, not stored. Read more about vintage quilts and bedspreads here.

Bathroom towels and washcloths: Like sheets, I suggest having two sets of bathroom linens per person. One in use, and one to be switched to on laundry day. If you have a guest bathroom, usually one set of guest towels is appropriate. Old and unnecessary towels and washcloths should be moved to the garage to be used as rags or donated to the local animal shelter.

Good bathroom towels and washcloths should

  1. keep their shape and color after many washings
  2. be hole, snag, and stain free
  3. be made of a soft, durable cotton that look like thousands of strings (instead of loops)
  4. be good at drying you

Kitchen towels and washcloths: The rules here are similar to bath towels, except you don’t need two kitchen towels per person in your house. Most kitchens can get by on three towels and three to six dishcloths.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

How good are you at letting others help you?

I’m not. Not at all, in fact. Whenever someone offers to help me with anything, my immediate reaction is, “No, I can do it!” As if I were a five year old in front of an adult who questions my ability to do something.

It’s a terrible affliction this need to be so independent. And to be quite honest, it’s rather selfish on my part, too.

In an article in Psychology Today, the author talks about how letting others help you is a gift you give them. Most of us feel the desire to help whenever loved ones need it and helping them makes us feel better.

Just last night a friend was saying how her vacation plans fell through because of a mix-up with the online vacation reseller. We automatically offered our place in La Rioja – at least they would be able to get away from home for a week and they both love wine and sun. While it’s not the 5-star hotel they had hoped for, at least it’s a change of pace and scenery.

She said she couldn’t possibly and I countered with, “If the roles were reversed, would you offer us your place?” When she said, “Of course!” half-offended that I would imply otherwise, she realized how incongruent she was being and added, “Fine, I’ll think about it.”

When it comes to clutter, disorganization, or a lack to time deal with all of your responsibilities, can you ask for help, or are you like my friend who is horrified at imposing on others?

If you are like my friend (and to be honest, like me) and don’t like asking for help, these five tips from the “Savvy Psychologist” Ellen Hendrikson, PhD, may just help you:

  1. I don’t want to be a burden. As I’ve said already, people love to help. To get over this feeling, try asking for something small and very specific. Ask your best friend over and say, “Can you help me go through my closet? I want to get rid of some clothes, and I need an objective eye.” (Offering wine while you do it might help soothe your feelings of imposing.)
  2. I can’t admit that I need help. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Being a human being means being part of a community, and in communities, people help each other. Try depersonalizing the problem. Instead of saying, “I can’t get the bathroom cabinets under control.” say, “The bathroom cabinets are about to explode (and it has nothing to do with me as a person; it’s external to who I am).”
  3. I don’t want to feel indebted. Helping isn’t a barter system. People don’t help in order to be able to call in the favour later (at least people with a healthy understanding of relationships don’t). Try feeling gratitude. Say, “Thank you, I really appreciate this.” No need to offer reciprocal help in that moment. No one is going to present you with a bill (unless you’ve hired yourself a Professional Organizer, of course).
  4. I can’t show my weakness. This is my issue. I’m independent. I can do it! I don’t need anyone! Whenever I find myself acting like this I give myself a good shake and say, “Oh, please, you’re not a toddler and you’re not some macho alpha who always has to be strong. No one is always strong.” Or, you can take this as an opportunity to learn something new, especially if you consult with an expert (again, perhaps a Professional Organizer).
  5. I might get rejected. People have their own situations to deal with and this might not be the right moment for them to help you. Don’t take it as rejection of you or your problems. Thank them anyway and find someone else to ask. Not everyone is going to be too busy to help. And if they are, as I’ve repeated several times now, you can always turn to professionals.

If you have trouble asking for help, which one (or ones) of these five reactions do you feel when considering asking for help? Do you think the tips are good ones for getting over each reaction? Have others worked for you?

And if you want a book to help you ask for help, why not check out Kickstarter-star Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking?

10 Places to find hidden clutter

Just because something has a place in your home doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for that object. In fact, just because you have space to store an object doesn’t mean that you should.

If you want to have a home where everything is in its best place, here are 10 places to start looking for hidden clutter:

  1. Under beds. When I was in junior high, my mom found a “tennis ball” under my bed while she was replacing my mattress. Except it wasn’t a tennis ball, it was a furry, rotten apple. The space under people’s beds can be scary. Clear out the clutter (and the bad apples) from under your bed.
  2. Closets. If you’re like most people, you have sheets, towels, board games, coats, scarves, umbrellas, scrap-booking supplies, exercise videos, outdated spices, shoes, empty boxes, and hundreds of other items that you never use cluttering up your closets. Linen closets, coat closets, pantries, and wardrobes are full of clutter that you can get rid of now.
  3. Your basement. Spiders aren’t the only things lurking in your basement. Holiday decorations, boxes you never unpacked from your last move, and broken electronics that you have convinced yourself you will one day fix are all looming down there. I know it’s frightening, but you really should go through these things and deal with them in a proper manner.
  4. Self-storage facilities. You know how kids sometimes put their hands over their ears, close their eyes, and scream, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you”? Imagine me doing that right now. If you rent one of these spaces, read this article. Then, do everything in your power to get rid of your need to use a self-storage facility.
  5. Garages. Are there a pair of Rollerblades somewhere in your garage? Was 1998 the last time you wore them? Unused sports equipment, camping gear, and things that didn’t sell in your last garage sale don’t belong in your garage. Wouldn’t it be nice next winter to actually be able to park your car inside your garage?
  6. Your attic. See #3 above, substituting the word “attic” for “basement.”
  7. High cupboards in the kitchen. Waffle makers, popcorn poppers, china, silver, and griddles have a way of making it into your kitchen, never to be seen again. Consider what I said in my previous post about either using what you already own or getting rid of it.
  8. Guest rooms. I have a friend, who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, who has two “guest rooms” in her home. One has a bed, dresser, and empty closet. The other is filled with boxes and boxes of every piece of clothing her children have ever worn and every toy they have ever owned. Her children are married and live in their own homes. Yet, my friend continues to keep her children’s things and will not reclaim her guest room. If you have a guest room hiding things that you do not need, think about my friend and how you don’t want to end up like her.
  9. Desk drawers and filing cabinets. Your desk is a place that should facilitate productivity, creativity, and work. None of these things can happen if your desk is a disaster. If you’re having trouble with out-of-control papers, read posts in our category of organizing paper. If you’re having trouble opening your desk drawers, take a deep breath, disconnect the phone and the internet for a few hours, and focus on clearing the clutter from your work space.
  10. Your car’s glove box and armrest. As far as I am aware, there is not a competition to see how much stuff you can cram inside your glove box. I’m just letting you know.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Using what you already own

In preparation for a dinner party I threw the other night, I brought down my sugar bowl off the high shelf of my cupboard. The bowl was a wedding gift, and it hasn’t received much use over the years. It’s attractive, though, and durable. I held it in my hands for a few seconds, and then decided that after the dinner I would store it in the same, easily accessible space in my cupboard as the salt and pepper shakers. Since then, I’ve reached into the sugar bowl for my morning coffee’s sugar instead of into the big sugar storage canister as I had been doing.

Reclaiming my sugar bowl started me thinking about other items in my house that I already own and store, but that I don’t use. I like to think of myself as someone who leads an uncluttered life, but I was shocked to find many things I store and don’t regularly use — things I could be using, and want to use.

What’s the point of having good china if it is never used?

I found a beautiful crystal vase in a corner of the cabinet under my sink. I don’t put out cut flowers often because my cats eat them and then puke them up all over the house. Dinner guests often bring flowers as hostess gifts, however, so the vase gets some use but not as much as I would like. The vase’s lines are simple and stunning. It, too, was a wedding gift. When I look at the vase I think of the person who gave it to us and smile. My solution? I went to my local craft shop and bought a gorgeous spray of silk flowers. Fake flowers, I should note, are not what they used to be. Unless you touch these flowers, you have no idea that they’re not real. Now, the vase that I love is out of the cupboard and being used.

I moved a chair out of the bedroom, where it was never utilized, and into the living room. A guitar that I had stored under the bed is now out and on a stand so that it can be picked up and played. I reconfigured my desk so that my sewing machine has a permanent place where I can use it without any effort. And, I also took to my local charity a number of items that I was just apparently storing for the sake of storing.

Are there items in your home that need to be reclaimed? Are you storing anything just to store it? Are you hiding things that you love? An uncluttered home means that there is a place for everything that you own, and that everything is in its place. What I learned from my sugar bowl is that some of the things that I own weren’t in their best places. Spend some time over the next few days evaluating your things and identifying if they are in their best place and if you’re using what you already own.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.