Uncluttered cleaning supplies

In the comment section of my post “10 suggestions for where to begin uncluttering” reader Anna asked the following question:

I’m in the process of decluttering and streamlining my utility closets and cabinets. I’ve searched the web high and low for a minimalist list of cleaning supplies to use as a loose guideline. I’ve used the search function on this blog to find old articles but I’m coming up empty. I’d appreciate a link if an article comes to mind. Thanks!

Another reader chimed in with a helpful response, but I wanted to chime in with my thoughts in a broader sense. Especially as the Washington Toxics Coalition says: “There are hundreds of cleaning products vying for your dollar. However, you don’t always need a special purpose cleaner for every dirty dilemma.” Since many of us have a number of such special purpose cleaners, there are certainly some uncluttering possibilities.

As with almost any uncluttering situation, there’s no one right answer — no single list of products we should all have. But I’ll present some strategies to consider, with pointers to additional resources.

Strategy 1: Eliminate toxins

The ingredients used in many cleaning products have potential risks; some people will want to avoid products with these ingredients. The Environmental Working Group has extensive information about such toxins and their possible dangers, and it rates a large number of commercially available products on a scale of A to F.

Another list of potentially hazardous chemicals in our cleaning products, in an easy-to-read format, comes from the David Suzuki Foundation. Anna mentioned in another comment that she makes her own, so this first strategy is more for the big-picture perspective.

Strategy 2: Make your own

Many online sources — and a number of books — explain how you can use a limited number of common products to make your own cleaning solutions. As Martha Stewart says: “Many people are conditioned to believe a house is not clean unless it smells of chemicals. In fact, the opposite is true. You can make your house sparkle with just a few simple supplies, many of which are already in your cupboards.”

How few? Kelly A. Smith writes about cleaning her whole home using only vinegar and baking soda. Clean: the humble art of zen-cleansing goes a bit further, but still says you really only need five ingredients: baking soda, borax, lemon, salt, and white vinegar. And the website Wabi Sabi Baby has recipes with only six ingredients — and since one of those is water, it’s really only five.

Many sites include essential oils, such as lavender oil and tea tree oil, in their recipes for homemade cleaners. However, the Environmental Working Group points out that these have some potential risks, too — so you’ll need to consider whether or not you feel OK about using them.

With make-your-own cleaners, you don’t have to make a lot at once. With a little practice you can simply make up what you need for one cleaning and then store the un-mixed ingredients.

Strategy 3: Consider whether you really need antibacterial cleaners

An article in Scientific American challenges the need for antibacterial products in most households, while noting that people with weakened immune systems may have good reason for “targeted use” of such cleaners.

The Environmental Working Group and the Washington Toxics Coalition also argue that such cleaners are usually unnecessary.

Strategy 4: Start with a list from Martha Stewart or Real Simple

With some searching, I’ve found some decent lists of minimum products that you can then customize to your own circumstances and preferences.

Martha Stewart says: “For routine cleaning, less is more. You actually need very few products to clean any given room.” She then provides a universal cleaning list with only six items — but this excludes items such as brooms. Stewart also has other, more comprehensive, lists: a kitchen cleaning kit with 15 items and a window-washing kit with seven items.

And Real Simple has a house-cleaning kit checklist with only 20 items. It includes white vinegar, baking soda, and an all-purpose cleaner — but also microfiber cloths, a toilet brush, a dust mop, and other such items.

Comparing video streaming services

The way we watch TV and movies is changing. So-called “time-shifted” television and on-demand movies make it possible to see just the programs we’re interested in when we have the time to watch. I love this practice because it lets me get work and family activities completed first, and save TV watching for when my schedule allows it.

There are many ways to access on-demand movies and television shows. Each has its own pros and cons. In this article, I’ll look at some of the most popular options, describing the benefits and drawbacks of each.


Netflix

Netflix started out as a way to rent DVDs through the mail, and today it provides streaming television and movies to millions of users. I’ve been a customer for about two years and I enjoy the service quite a bit.

Pros:

  1. Compatibility. Netflix is available on the iPad, Android devices, the Nook, Kindle Fire, the web, iPhone, Nintendo Wii and more. If you’ve got a connected smart device, it just might run Netflix.
  2. Original programming. Netflix has produced at least two high-quality original TV shows. Lilyhammer starting Steve Van Zant of The Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band was a delightful fish-out-of-water story that put a New York City mob boss in Lilyhammer, Norway, via a witness protection program. Meanwhile, House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey takes a look at the hard-scrabble world of D.C. politics. Netflix is also working to revive Arrested Development, which Fox shut down in 2006.
  3. Navigation. Using Netflix is easy. The company has released several updates to its web app and device-specific applications. It’s clear the team is determined to produce a high-quality product.
  4. The queue. You can identify shows or movies you’d like to see and store them in a queue. When you’re ready to watch, simply open your queue and make a choice from among those you’ve saved.

Cons:

  1. Mediocre selection. Overall, Netflix’s selection is mediocre. The TV selection is better than the movies. Once you’ve seen the ones you’ve heard of, you’re left with obscure documentaries and other films that didn’t make a splash at the box office. Now, many of them are quite good, but be aware that you might not find the latest summer smash in Netflix for quite some time.
  2. Cost. It’s not expensive, but at $7.99 for access to streaming content (DVD rentals are more), it adds up over time.
  3. Search isn’t great. It can take a while to find a title you’d like to see from among the many thousands on offer.
  4. Not very kid-friendly. Netflix features a “kid mode” that only presents child-appropriate content, but anyone can defeat it with two taps, no password required.

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus is the paid version of Hulu, the online streaming service that works in a web browser, iPad, iPhone and more.

Pros:

  1. Kid mode done right. Unlike Netflix, Hulu Plus requires a password to exit its kid-safe mode.
  2. Fantastic TV selection. Hulu often gets episodes of popular television shows the day after they run, so you don’t wait. TV really is Hulu’s main strong point.
  3. Wide device support. Hulu Plus is available on many devices, from the Xbox to the iPad to Android tablets and phones.
  4. Nice image quality. I’ve watched several programs on my 27″ display and my HD television (via Apple TV) and they always look great.
  5. Picking up where you left off. You can start a program on, say, your iPad and pick up where you left off on your computer (to be fair, other services do this, too).

Cons:

  1. Abysmal movie selection. This is a sticking point for most streaming services but it seems to be a real issue for Hulu. I can often find something to watch on Netflix. On Hulu, I stick with TV. The movie selection is not to my liking at all.
  2. Cost. Just like Netflix, Hulu Plus will run you $7.99 per month. Not a lot on its own, but it adds up when purchased along side other streaming services.

PBS

The PBS app for iPhone and iPad is very nice. Here are a few things I like about it.

Pros:

  1. The scheduling feature is quite helpful. Tell the app your home location to browse a full programming calendar. You can even create reminders to catch upcoming shows.
  2. Favorites. After creating a free account, you can monitor your favorite shows and receive notifications of relevant information.
  3. Great navigation. This app is beautifully laid out and easy to use.
  4. It’s free!

Cons:

  1. Restricted to PBS programming. That’s not a bad thing, especially for PBS fans, but the drawback is obvious: you can’t watch anything other than PBS shows.
  2. Some series are incomplete. For example, I was able to find Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs, but not The French Chef (which I prefer).

iTunes

Apple’s media behemoth iTunes is a great choice for people who want access to current TV and movies in HD.

Pros:

  1. TV shows are current and movies often hit iTunes when they’re released on DVD.
  2. 720p and 1080p HD programs are available.
  3. The iTunes software is available for Macs and Windows PCs.
  4. Renting is less expensive than buying.
  5. The iTunes Store is updated weekly, so content is always fresh.
  6. Apple’s iCloud lets you store iTunes purchases on Apple’s servers for playback on any approved, compatible device.

Cons:

  1. Unless you’re using iTunes on a Windows machine, you must have an Apple device to view rentals and/or purchases. There’s no Android support here.
  2. A la carte pricing. This sounds good, but it’s a lot less economical than the all-you-can-eat flat fee of services like Netflix and Hulu. Every time you want to watch anything, you must pay for it (unless you’ve bought it outright, of course).

Amazon Prime Streaming

Prime is Amazon’s service that includes two-day shipping on qualifying items plus access to its library of streaming video. It’s a good deal for those who shop with Amazon and love streaming video.

Pros:

  1. Cost. At $79 per year, Amazon is much cheaper than the other services listed here (save PBS). That works out to about $6.58 per month, and includes the shipping benefit.
  2. Prime members with an Amazon Kindle can “borrow” books as well, essentially turning Amazon into a lending library.

Cons:

  1. Selection. It’s not good. The movie section is especially lacking. You’ll find some hits that are around 20 years old, but other than that you have to dig.

Vdio

There’s also a newcomer to the group. As of yesterday, audio streaming service Rdio has added streaming video to is business: Vdio. It’s only available to Rdio Unlimited subscribers in the US and UK for now. In the few hours I spent looking at it, I found the selection to be small in number but big in names. Recent hits like Lincoln, Les Mis, The Hobbit and Life of Pi are available right now. Vdio is young but definitely a service to watch. (Sorry for that pun).

So there’s a look at the more popular video streaming services. There are more, of course, but this post is already long enough. It’s really nice when you can schedule TV viewing on your own terms. The whole process becomes more efficient with less time wasted. Have fun watching TV in “the cloud!”

Microhomes: A lesson in simple living

Microhomes and creatively built small spaces are becoming more popular in recent times, particularly in places like Japan, Germany, British Columbia, and Poland. Some are as large as 300 square feet, but others are considerably smaller, as tiny as 46 square feet.

Remember the story NPR ran about the Keret House, a very cozy home (by American standards) wedged between two other buildings? The project has been completed (and was built off site as the space was too narrow for construction):

Image credit: Yahoo Homes

Extremely small homes along with compact work spaces seem to be cropping up in New York City, as well. Interior designer, Kittie Lonsdale, not only lives in tiny home, but also specializes in designing them for others. Here, she is in her kitchen, which comes equipped with a slide-out hot plate and refrigerator that’s 19 inches wide:

Image credit: New York Post

You might think that microhomes wouldn’t be as popular as they are because choices for storing things inside them are so significantly limited. However, small spaces may appeal to one’s creative sensibilities and a desire to simplify. Though the majority of us don’t live in tiny homes, we can use some of the small-home concepts to maximize the spaces where we do live.

You don’t have to live in a microhome to creatively store and easily access your most prized (or used) items. You probably wouldn’t have to use every available spot for storage, but you can be more purposeful about keeping your belongings to a reasonable number. Leaving things hanging about (like laundry or paper files) could quickly get out of control in a tiny home or office, so you’re more likely to put things away as a regular practice. Why not keep that same mindset in a larger space?

I suspect that living in a tiny home would make it a bit trickier to entertain, too. On the flip side, not having a large living space would also mean having less stuff (glassware, party supplies) to store and maintain. How many cocktail napkins and special silverware do you really need? And, while a glide out stove may not be necessary, glide out shelves in your kitchen, bathroom, or closet can help you easily reach the things you need when you need them. You can take the DIY route and install them yourself (check out the roll-out cabinet drawers at the Container Store) or have them professionally put in by a company like Shelf Genie.

Image credit: Container Store

While living in a microhome is not for everyone (myself included), the practice of keeping and using what you need and have room for may help you maintain your home more efficiently so you can spend time doing the things you love.

Creating uncluttering and organizing routines: A typical Tuesday

A reader recently emailed asking if I could put together a detail of what my day looks like and how I stay on top of uncluttering and organizing tasks. I’ve written something like this before, but I’ve become a mom since writing the original article, so I thought I’d put together an updated routine. This one-day example shows how a little bit of effort each day can keep most people’s homes in good condition.

Not every Tuesday works exactly like what I have listed here, but this is a fairly accurate representation of how I move throughout my day. All of the chores I share with my husband, so where the schedule says “load the dishwasher” or “take son to school,” it might be either of us who does this activity.

One thing to note is most weekdays I work until 5:00 p.m. The “After-Work Errand Routine” is special just to Tuesdays and allows me to grocery shop and run errands at a time when the stores and streets aren’t crowded. As a result, most Tuesdays I go back to work from 8:45 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. instead of relaxing during that time.

A Typical Tuesday

Morning Home Routine:
6:30 a.m. Wake up, brush teeth, wash face, put on workout clothes, and make bed.
6:40 a.m. Unload dishwasher, make coffee, feed pets, assemble son’s lunch, get breakfast on the table.
7:00 a.m. Sit and do nothing for 10 or 15 minutes with a cup of coffee.
7:15 a.m. Wake up son, everyone eats breakfast.
7:45 a.m. Load dishwasher, sweep floor.
7:50 a.m. Supervise son getting dressed, teeth brushed and flossed, his face cleaned, and backpack loaded.
8:05 a.m. Take son to school.

Morning Work Routine:
8:30 a.m. Work on most important writing/client project.
9:45 a.m. Check email, social media, and administrative work.
10:00 a.m. Work on second most important writing/client project.
11:15 a.m. Check email, social media, and administrative work.

Mid-day Routine:
11:30 a.m. Make and eat lunch, load dishwasher.
12:00 p.m. Exercise or do yard work (like mowing).
12:45 p.m. Shower and get ready.

Afternoon Work Routine:
1:00 p.m. Work on third most important writing/client project.
2:00 p.m. Make another cup of coffee, check email, social media, and administrative work.
2:15 p.m. Wrap up writing/client projects for the day.
2:30 p.m. End-of-day routine for work: set phone to do not disturb, clear desk, set writing agenda for next day, have everything set and ready to go for tomorow.

After-Work Errand Routine: (Tuesdays only)
2:45 p.m. Pick up son from school.
3:05 p.m. Run errands to grocery store (made shopping list on Sunday), post office, dry cleaner, etc.

Evening Home Routine:
4:00 p.m. Return home and sort and shred mail, put away groceries, scan and shred receipts, unload son’s lunchbox and other items from backpack, load lunchbox items into dishwasher.
4:05 p.m. Spend time with son.
5:20 p.m. Put load of son’s laundry into washer.
5:30 p.m. Make dinner and get son’s lunch ready for tomorrow so it only has to be assembled in the morning. Everyone eats dinner.
6:30 p.m. Load dishwasher, run dishwasher, sweep floor.
6:35 p.m. Move son’s clothes to dryer. Everyone does 20 to 30 minutes of general house clean up with special focus on bathrooms. (Other special focus areas: Mondays are kitchen and dining room; Wednesdays are bedrooms; Thursdays are living rooms; Fridays are remaining spaces like hallways, entryways, and garages; and Sundays are meal planning.)
7:00 p.m. Spend time with family.
8:00 p.m. Bathe son and put him to bed.
8:30 p.m. Fold son’s clothes (will put away tomorrow morning after breakfast), get self ready for bed, brush and floss teeth, feed pets.
8:45 p.m. Hang out with husband or do more writing/editing work.
10:30 p.m. Go to bed.

On pages 98 and 99 of my book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week, there is a routine schedule that covers the full week. We’ve made a few additions to the schedule now that we’re parents, but it is still very similar to what we do in our home. It has worked well for us for many years and keeps our weekends free to have as much fun as we desire.

Also, twice a year we spend a weekend doing major uncluttering work throughout the entire house. Even with daily maintenance, we find we still need to give everything we own a good review every six months. Usually our major uncluttering weekends are held the weekends preceding our fall and spring cleaning weekends. We like to get rid of clutter before doing the spring and fall cleanings so there is less to clean and maintain. You can find our cleaning guides in my book on pages 100 and 185. We usually do the “Dedicated Cleaner” plan.

Finally, we try our best to put things away after we use them and to have a permanent storage space for everything we own. These two simple actions aid us significantly in keeping our home uncluttered and organized.

Insight (and shoe inspiration) in an uncluttered wardrobe

In an effort to unclutter my wardrobe, I made the decision a few years ago to streamline everything and stop buying printed clothing. Three years later, and except for five pieces, I’ve achieved this goal. My pants, tops, coats, dresses, suits, and skirts are now solid colors and are also in a very limited color scheme: navy blue, white, gray, black, brown, red, and teal.

Shopping is certainly easier — in fact, all of my casual tops are one of two styles of basic t-shirts (this one and this one), just in different colors. When one of the t-shirts is damaged or worn, I hop online and order the exact shirt to replace it. My dresses all come from two designers (this one and this one) who have outlet stores near my home and almost exclusively design in solid colors. Three of the dresses I own are even the same dress in black, gray, and white. Since these items fit me exactly how I prefer, it’s nice to have the color variety (and getting them at discount at the outlet stores is nice, too).

The idea of having a classic, basic, streamlined wardrobe seems boring or lacking in creativity to a lot of people, but the way I see it is my clothing is like a canvas. My shoes and accessories are where I let my personality speak. A headband and coordinating pair of shoes stand out when they’re not also competing for visual attention with a shirt and skirt. I’ve also found shoes and accessories are significantly less expensive than well constructed, quality clothing. As trends change, replacing a scarf is easier than replacing an entire wardrobe. And, until I point it out to people, no one ever notices I have a basic wardrobe of solid colors in a limited color range.

Recently, I came upon a design concept that is so in line with my uncluttered wardrobe system I was saddened to learn the concept isn’t in production. I’m mentioning it, though, because it’s where I would like to see fashion trend. I’d like to see more uncluttered ideas become mainstream.

Israeli industrial designer Daniela Bekerman started with a basic flat shoe and then created accessories for the shoe that dramatically alter its simple appearance. The Ze O Ze shoe:

I see my clothing as the basic flat shoe that is enhanced with the heel accessories, or, in my case, simply accessories.

Keeping clutter out of your wardrobe can be difficult, and how you choose to do it will reflect your style and personality. In my case, a streamlined wardrobe of solid color, well constructed pieces in classic designs and a limited color palette work best for me. This system works because all of the pieces fit me well and are complimented nicely by my fun, trendy shoes and accessories. There are obviously different ways, but this is how I achieve an uncluttered wardrobe.

Shoe design found via Design-Milk.

Ask Unclutterer: Designing a new space that prevents clutter and reduces cleaning time

Reader Howard submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Do you have any tips for remodeling or building a house that would help prevent clutter or reduce cleaning maintenance in the design of the space?

This is a really fun question, Howard, and I’m so glad you asked it. You have a terrific opportunity in front of you to build a space that can help you achieve and maintain an uncluttered lifestyle.

First things first, thoroughly unclutter your existing possessions so your new space is free of things you don’t want in it. Check out “Start a full-room organizing project with a blank canvas” for tips on uncluttering in this style, but apply it to your entire home.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, I highly recommend designing the space with ample storage that can easily be reconfigured. Use elfa shelving (or the competing product from Rubbermaid) in closets and pantries so shelf heights can be adjusted or clothing rods installed or drawers can be added as necessary. Your needs for storage change over time, and your storage solutions should be able to adapt. If they can’t adapt, at some point they will cease to be helpful.

Also, when it comes to storage, think outside the closet. Have drawers set into the risers of your stairs, recess shelving between the studs of your walls, have window seats double as storage cubes, furnish with ottomans that have interior storage, or whatever fits your design style. The idea here is be creative with the elements you use in the space to improve storage instead of hinder it.

Beyond having ample, reconfigurable and creative storage, there are numerous cosmetic things you can do to help with cleaning and preventing clutter. None of these is a perfect solution, but they’re certainly things I do in my homes when I’m not renting:

Paint the walls with washable flat latex interior paint that contains ceramic microspheres. (You can find these in the washable paint section at most home improvement stores. Check the ingredients on the paint cans. The ceramic microspheres are usually in the higher-end washable paints.) Even if you don’t have pets or young children, it’s still very easy to get marks on your walls. With washable paint that has ceramic microspheres mixed into it, these stray marks come off like you’re washing tile instead of your painted walls.

Lay hardwood floors and use throw rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially if you have pets. Cleaning and maintaining hardwood floors is exponentially easier, and it’s much less expensive to replace a throw rug than an entire room of carpeting.

If money is no object, install smart glass windows. You’ll never have to clean blinds again. (But, I guess if you can afford smart glass windows, you could probably also afford a cleaning crew to wash you blinds …)

Finally, I’ve never had one, but I’ve always thought a central home vacuum system would speed up cleaning time. Some of the systems have horizontal intakes (I think they’re technically called “sweep inlets”) so in addition to using the vacuum hose, you can also sweep directly into the suction area and not have to use a dustpan.

Thank you, Howard, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. And, like I mentioned earlier, be sure to check the comments for suggestions from our readers on designing spaces to prevent clutter and reduce cleaning time.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Popular road in Britain reworked to be clutter free

Today’s edition of Britain’s Daily Mail includes an article, photo gallery, and impressive infographic describing London’s newest clutter-free street, which officially opened earlier today. The piece “No kerbs, pavements or nanny-state signs: Britain’s longest clutter-free street is unveiled to make things SAFER” explains the initiative to improve safety on this stretch of road by removing visual distractions:

Britain’s longest ‘clutter-free’ street was opened today with the aim of making cars and people co-exist harmoniously — without the need for hectoring signs and protective steel barriers.

Indeed, the newly revamped Exhibition Road in the heart of London’s museum quarter in Kensington, visited by millions of people from around Britain and the world, doesn’t even have kerbs or pavements.

The idea underlining the project is that when nannying rules and orders — in the form of countless signs, traffic signals and barriers — are removed, motorists take more personal responsibility for their own actions and drive more attentively, making more eye contact with pedestrians.

In addition to taking on projects in London, two years ago national officials in Britain formally began encouraging city council leaders to decrease road signage to improve road safety. This specific decision to rework Exhibition Road came in 2003 and is based on popular urban design and engineering concepts from Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. Monderman’s engineering ideas are implemented in many areas of Europe and Asia and are referred to as “shared space” planning design.

More about the clutter-free road from the Daily Mail article:

Councillor Daniel Moylan, deputy chairman of Transport for London (TfL), said: “… The psychology of this scheme is fascinating. Experience seems to show that when you dedicate space to traffic and control it with signs and green traffic lights, motorists develop a claim on it. It becomes ‘my space.’ Drivers become annoyed if people move into it.

They get angry if a mother pushing a buggy moves across the crossing just as the lights are about to change.

This new scheme is more like the behaviour in a supermarket car park. Drivers know there are people around pushing shopping trolleys and so drive more cautiously. They are looking out.

They don’t feel that pedestrians are invading their space. They don’t therefore get annoyed.”

Image from Britain’s Daily Mail. Thanks to reader Samantha for bringing this post idea to our attention.

Making resolutions and creating a 2012 Resolution Action Plan

According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, the phrase “get organized” is one of the top 10 resolutions people make every year. I’m not really sure how to validate this information, but my guess is that some version of “get organized” falls on the majority of resolution lists (“get the basement organized” or “have better time management”). If you add uncluttering into the “get organized” category, it’s likely a top 5 resolution.

If you fall into the group of resolution makers who wants to be better organized in 2012, the first thing to do is specifically identify why you want to be organized. Being organized isn’t usually a goal. Being organized is merely a path to achieving another goal. For instance, you might want to be better organized with your time after work so you finally get your business idea off the ground. You might want to be more organized with meal planning so you have less stress surrounding mealtimes with your family. Knowing why you want to be organized will help you with the remaining steps of the resolution-making process and with ultimately achieving your goals.

While brainstorming resolutions and the reasons you wish to make your resolutions, keep in mind that change is difficult and that research has found that it is easiest to achieve a goal when you’re only focusing on one at a time. This means you need to have 12 or fewer personal resolutions for 2012, giving yourself at least one month to focus on each resolution. If you have a resolution such as weight loss, and you want to be better organized with your meal planning to help you achieve that resolution, consider making your weight-loss resolution a six month or even an entire year-long resolution. You can focus on each step to help you achieve the weight loss each month — research and doctor’s visit in January, journaling food consumed and daily weight in February, meal planning in March, twice-a-week workouts with a personal trainer in April, four-times-a-week workouts on your own in May, etc.

After you have identified why you want to be more organized and have a rough idea of the resolutions you wish to achieve, your next step is to create a detailed plan of action. This Resolution Action Plan should include very specific language and planning. You need to identify exactly what you want to do in concrete terms and then the exact steps of how you plan to achieve these steps. Create milestones — small goals — for each resolution and rewards you will give to yourself when you reach each milestone.

Similar to last year, I will be taking on 12 monthly resolutions in 2012. Some of the resolutions are organizing and uncluttering related, but most are personal in nature, so I won’t be writing about them the way I did in 2011. I will check in with you over the course of the year, however, to see how you are doing with your resolutions and to provide tips for making and keeping your 2012 Resolution Action Plan. What resolutions do you have on your Plan for 2012? Good luck, and I wish you great resolution success in the coming year.

October resolution wrap up and introduction of November’s goal

October’s resolution was focused on improving my posture. After reading the book Willpower and learning that something as simple as reminding yourself to stand up straight can increase self-control and resolve in other areas of life, I decided to try it. My posture was awful and my willpower could have used a boost.

Willpower is an essential component of living an uncluttered life. You have to be able to avoid the distractions so you can focus on what matters most to you.

I started the month by implementing some simple strategies to help improve my posture (seeSimple strategies for changing a bad habit“). I’m glad to report that my posture has significantly improved and I’m fairly certain I’ll be standing up straighter in the future.

However, I’m disappointed to report that I didn’t notice much of a change in my willpower levels. To be fair, I started the month with a good amount of willpower already in my skill set. On a scale of 1 to 10, I was probably looking for an improvement from an 8 to a 9. The posture trick might be better suited to helping people who want to move from a 2 or a 3 up to a 5 or a 6. I’m interested in hearing from others who also worked on their posture this month to see if they experienced a boost in willpower.

In the end, I have better posture, and that is okay with me. Still a decent resolution, as far as I’m concerned.

For November my goal is to take one complete day off from work. I have not taken a day off from work since August 2008. I even worked for about two hours the day my son joined our family. Whether I’ve been writing, editing, jumping on a conference call, consulting with a client, deleting spam comments from the forum, checking load times, invoicing, responding to reader emails, or whatever it is that needs to get done, I’ve done at least some work every day for the past three years.

My friend Patrick Rhone so aptly tweeted yesterday: “The danger of being able to work from any where at any time is that we will always work every place all the time.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I haven’t yet decided when my day away from work will be, but I’m committed to making it happen. Honestly, I think the hardest part will be not thinking about work on my day off from work. Uncluttering my mind is going to be a struggle. As simple as this resolution appears on the surface, I’m extremely fearful that this may be the one resolution this year I do not achieve. I’m not sure I can actually “log off” from my career for an entire day. Do you need a day off from work? If so, join me on my November resolution adventure. If you don’t need a day off from work, what resolution are you working on in November?


Erin’s 2011 monthly resolutions: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October.

‘A nice little home out of a garbage can’

California-based artist Gregory Kloehn likes to recycle used metal into sculptures of familiar objects, people, and animals. His work is usually quite whimsical, with a dash of social commentary.

Recently, Kloehn spoke with video blogger Kim Aronson about his decision to study housing and what constitutes a home. Beyond providing basic shelter from the elements, Kloehn concluded a home also includes a place to cook a meal, a bathroom, and a safe place to sleep. Once he narrowed down the qualities, he sought to find something metal he could recycle to make a bare-necessities home.

What resulted was his creation of a house inside a trash dumpster. From Aronson’s video interview:

Kloehn doesn’t live in this house, but he thinks it may be able to provide a place for someone who either doesn’t want the burden of a more traditional dwelling or someone in great need of shelter. I think it could work as a meditation cabin, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live in it full time.

Is a house nothing more than shelter from the elements, a place to cook a meal, a bathroom and a safe place to sleep? I don’t know if I agree with Kloehn’s conclusions — a house to me also includes a place to entertain friends and family — but I’m also not certain I completely disagree with him. A home doesn’t have to be gigantic to be a good (safe, sanitary) place to live. Maybe if the item he chose to recycle wasn’t a trash dumpster I would have less of an issue with the structure? I don’t know. He has certainly given us all something to ponder.

You can find more fine art from Gregory Kloehn on his website. (via Good)

Four sanity restoring strategies for the over-committed

If you’re constantly pressed for time, it could be because you think you have more time in your day than actually exists or you can’t stop saying, “yes,” to every commitment that comes your way. If you’re being pulled in more directions than you want to be, now is a great time to start putting the breaks on the constant agreements and start being more selective with your time commitments.

None of the following ideas is revolutionary, and you have likely heard them before today. However, they’re good reminders for all of us, especially those who fall into the realm of the over-committed.

  1. “Let me get back to you,” should be the first thing you say in response to any request that comes your way. A little time between you and the request can give you some perspective.
  2. Make rules for your agreements — If the request is from someone very dear to you and the request is for her well-being, you will very likely accept the request. If the request is from an organization you find morally questionable, and you don’t want to do the work, you’ll say, “no.” Length of commitment, obligations outside of meetings, and the person or organization making the request should all be considered when creating your rules.
  3. Keep your attention focused on what matters most to you. (If you aren’t clear about what matters most to you, check out “Make a list, check it twice.”) Keep your eye on the big prize.
  4. Reframe your perspective. Saying, “no,” to a less-important action gives you the opportunity to say, “yes,” when a request you really want to accept comes your way.

July resolution wrap up and introduction of August’s goal

I’m very likely the odd ball, but August is by far my favorite month of the year. August is celebrating my grandmother’s birthday (she’ll be 102 this year), it’s having a beer on the patio and watching the sun set, it’s long days, it’s cicadas singing, it’s getting ice cream and sitting on a bench with nothing else important to do. August is the perfect month to simply be.

My resolution for July was to evaluate and reconfigure our family’s routines, schedules, and goals. This happened without much stress or anxiety. One night my husband and I sat at our kitchen table and reviewed what routines we’d been following, identified which ones were no longer meeting our needs, and then created a new routine chart. So far, the new routines are working well and our house is back to running smoothly.

Our family routines include meal preparations, meal cleanup, meal planning, laundry, trash, yard work, exercising, getting ready for the day and bed time, general pick up around the house, room-by-room intense cleaning, paying bills, mail processing, pet care, and running errands to the grocery store, bank, and gas station. If you do not have routines in place for these recurrent activities, check out the article “Establishing routines” for some guidance.

We went through the same evaluation process with our work schedules and our family goals, and we’re back to feeling like we have a handle on our time. It’s nice to know where you want to go and how you plan to get there.

My goal for August is to get our “In case of …” files up to date. Since we moved, some of the information in my file is no longer accurate and it needs to be updated. Since no one, including me, likes to think about “in case of …” situations, it’s best that I do it during a month that I find especially cheerful.

If you do not have an “In case of …” file, let me recommend that you make one in August. If you have one, this month might be a good time to review the file’s contents to ensure they’re fully accurate. Your loved ones will feel more comfortable knowing this file exists, and so will you.

What are your resolutions and/or goals for August? How did you do with any resolutions or goals you made for July? If you have annual resolutions instead of monthly resolutions, how are these advancing? Are you on track to accomplish what you are hoping to by the year’s end? Share your experiences in the comments.


Erin’s 2011 monthly resolutions: January, February, March, April, May, June, and July.