What’s a kitchen for?

Today’s kitchens are used for more than just preparing food. They are often playrooms, offices, mail centers, and TV rooms. When you mix up so many purposes for the same space (or even the same countertop), you’re not going to get good results. Something as simple as making a ham and cheese sandwich is impossible when your countertops are covered with bills and other papers. Instead of succumbing to this fate, set up different spaces for different tasks.

Ideally, your kitchen should only be for cooking, but realistically that’s not going to be the case–especially since kitchens tend to be the center of family activity. Designate some countertop space that’s off-limits to anything but cooking or eating, and make it a point to keep it clear when it’s not being used. That way, when you’re ready to use it again, it’s ready for you.

If you must bring mail and bill-paying paraphernalia into the kitchen, set up a space for just that activity and don’t let it spread out of that area. (A desktop organizer or mini-shelf is a perfect solution.) Even if you can’t dedicate surfaces to specific activities like bill-paying, storage in the kitchen can help. For example, when you finish eating at the kitchen table, you take away the dishes to wash and store in the cupboard. Why not do the same with everything else? If you pay bills, do homework, or play games at the kitchen table, make sure to clean up when you’re done. Keeping a drawer or cupboard for each activity will make it as easy and second-nature to put away your stuff.

 

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

Home office in a box

CI DeskIf you are strapped for space and you need a workspace for your house or apartment, you may want to check out the CI Desk from Creative Industrial Objects. Its small design and compact storage drawers offer a welcome alternative to a space-hogging desk.

The CI Desk looks a bit like a storage unit on wheels, but it is more than just a way to store your office supplies. The top flips out to supply you with a solid place for your laptop to rest, instead of using your lap. From Creative Industrial Objects:

A multi-functional home office on wheels, in its handy size and elegant shape, adapting to the flexible working habits of the individual at home or in the office. Through a 180-degree turn of its top, it unfolds into a small workstation for laptop users. The smooth contours of the desk cube in fact reveal the delicately inbuilt wooden drawers that open to the front and sides. CI desk provides mobility and a practical working space for any busy individual.

If one was to go this route in a home office, you would more than likely have to keep all clutter out of your streamlined desk. There just isn’t enough room for a junk drawer or desk top toys and trinkets … which is probably a good thing.

(via Apartment Therapy)

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

Getting started with getting organized

If you want to unclutter your space and get organized, I recommend 30 Days to a Simpler Life, by Cris Evatt and Connie Cox. It’s chock full of tips and it will inspire you to get started simplifying. At times the book can be a bit too new-agey for my taste (for example, they recommend that you “say the names of things you see” to become “fully present,” and to eat with your left hand if you’re right-handed so that you eat more slowly and thus better savor your meal), but those parts can be easily overlooked if you don’t care for them. The rest is very good.

What I like about this book is that Evatt and Cox recognize that simplifying has two separate parts: first you unclutter, then you organize. If you just organize, all you’ll accomplish will be neatly stacking piles of garbage — rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic, to be dramatic about it. Evatt and Cox propose a three-step method to eliminating clutter that makes so much sense that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. It certainly helped me pare down my cluttered spaces.

Three piles

The first thing you do is that you pick an area you want to unclutter. Don’t try to do too much at once; focus on what’s causing you the most stress. (Let’s say it’s your closet, but it could be your files, or your kitchen, or anything else.) Schedule ample time to dedicate to the task and go through every item in your cluttered space. Place each item into one of three piles: the “love and use” pile, the “recycle” pile, and the “ambivalence” pile.

  1. The “love and use” pile requires little thought because it’s for those things that you immediately know are essential to you and that you use a lot. A pair of jeans that you wear at least once a week would certainly go in there.
  2. The “recycle” pile should also be simple. It’s for those items you immediately know you should get rid of. You’ll ask yourself why you still have the thing. A big elbow-padded sweater from the 80s would be a good example. Anything you haven’t worn or used once in the past year should certainly go in there. It’s called a recycle pile because you can often donate these things or give them to a friend who might be able to use them. For me, however, it’s often just a “garbage” pile. If you don’t want it, what are the chances someone else will? And you won’t believe how satisfying and liberating it is to walk to the garbage chute with a big bag of stuff from your stress area knowing you’ll never have to worry about these things again.
  3. The last pile is the trickiest, but the key to the system. Into the “ambivalence” pile go things that you don’t love, that you don’t use very often, but that you can’t bring yourself for whatever reason to throw away. Many people never wear a particular garment but won’t get rid of it because it was a gift from a loved one. That goes in the ambivalence pile. You’re not going to throw away anything in this pile, so don’t be afraid to be generous with your ambivalence.

Practice living without it

The stuff in your “love and use” pile can go back into the closet or whatever other area you’re organizing. Of course, you’ll use good quality hangers and other thoughtful organizers, but those are posts for another day. The stuff in your “ambivalence” pile, however, you fold neatly and place into attractive storage boxes. Seal up those boxes, label them, and put them in an out of the way storage space where they won’t be clutter. If a month later you realize you want to use or wear one of the things you put away, you know where to find it; no need to worry. However, after six months, or a year, or whatever short period makes you comfortable, take the ambivalence boxes with everything that’s still left in them (which is very often everything you first put into them) and throw them down the chute. You won’t feel bad, I promise. The reason is that, as Evatt and Cox say, you have practiced living without these things and you’ve effectively already thrown them out in your head. Practicing living without things is a great way to transition from a cluttered to an uncluttered space. After a year or six months, if you haven’t used something, you likely never will.

Design systems

The last step is to design simple systems that will keep you from getting cluttered again. This is the part where, once you’ve uncluttered, you can begin to get (and stay) organized. Sharing many of these little systems is much of what I hope Unclutterer does.

When you’re done with these steps, and your ambivalence boxes are tucked away, you will find that your closet is now incredibly simplified. You won’t have such a hard time picking out what to wear because all your favorite things will be readily visible. And you won’t believe how much space you’ll have. The best feeling, though, is the feeling of lightness that comes from getting rid of stuff that just doesn’t belong in your life anymore, combined with the security that it’s all there if you really do need it again. So go nuts doing this with your drawers, your living room, and every other nook.

 

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

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.