Take a load off your summertime travel plans

Today we welcome the phenomenal Monica Ricci as a guest author on Unclutterer.  A professional organizer hailing from Atlanta, we’re happy to have her share her uncluttering wisdom with our readers.

With the escalating cost of jet fuel, airlines have had to make service cuts and are trying desperately to improve the bottom line wherever they can. Unfortunately, to this end, most airlines are now charging for every checked bag. I’ve had a long-standing policy of not checking bags anyway, so this new rule doesn’t affect me, but if you’re reluctant to pay the extra baggage fee, here are some tips I find handy for packing light.

Use a consistent packing checklist. I have used hand-written lists in the past, as well as the LobotoME Pack-Me List (pictured). Your packing checklist should be a standard template, not a fresh list each time. This helps you standardize your packing, which means less thinking and fewer on-the-spot decisions.

Plan your wardrobe around a limited color scheme and choose your neutral first. I typically choose either black or brown, and then plan the rest of my clothing around two other colors such as blue and tan. This way I can mix, match, layer and create a bunch of different outfits without needing a ton of items.

Use your shoes as containers. I can get three pairs of socks and my sports bra into my sneakers! Men’s dress shoes are roomy too, as are some ladies shoes. Plus when your shoes are stuffed it keeps them from getting crushed. Bonus!

Call your hotel ahead of time to see what they offer in the way of conveniences to save space in your luggage. I never need to haul a hair dryer, steamer, or iron because most hotels will provide them at no charge if you ask.

Leave home any inessential toiletries. Airlines restrict the liquids and gels you can carry on, pack only the toiletries that are unique to your situation and leave shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash behind. Most hotels are providing those items as standard now (and usually good brands at that!). You can also pick up travel sizes at a local shop at your destination.

Get yourself a couple of Pack-It Folders! These folders keep your clothing in a nice tight bundle, reducing movement thereby reducing wrinkling.

If you carry a purse, don’t make it your second carry-on bag. Change out your purse to a small one just for the trip, and bring only the bare essentials in it. Then stuff the whole thing inside a larger carry-on bag or your laptop bag. Poof. No checked baggage.

If you just have to have that second pair of shoes, suit jacket, or your workout clothes and they just won’t fit into your carry-on luggage, ship them to yourself in advance.

Bring shoes that will serve more than one purpose rather than a specific pair for each outfit. Ladies’ shoes with a low to medium heel can usually serve multiple functions and are a great compromise because they can dress up or down depending on the outfit. This saves you a ton of space in your luggage. The same goes for a comfortable pair of men’s leather lace ups.

Keep your travel size toiletries full and packed at all times. Refill any travel size containers as soon as you get home from a trip. This way, you’re already good to go for your next trip, and you won’t risk forgetting something important.

These are some of my favorite tips for traveling light. Be sure to check out Unclutterer’s post on the One bag travel website for folding help. How do you travel super light and avoid checking luggage? Do you have any great tips or secrets to share?

 

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

College Life: Making your dorm room livable

Most everyone, college student or not, has periods in life when we have more stuff than space. Beyond the obvious solution of vastly reducing the amount of stuff you have, here are more ideas for making do with the space you have.

Shelving: Most dorm rooms don’t come with shelving, and with a minimal amount of floor space to work with you want to utilize as much vertical space as possible. Most colleges do not allow you to put nail holes in your walls, so I suggest a tall, cheap bookshelf, and use it for everything from books to files to your shower caddy. If you can’t afford a cheap bookshelf, never underestimate the power of the classic plank-and-brick construction.

Raise Your Bed: Some colleges provide beds that have built in storage spaces underneath. However, if they do not, putting risers under your bed is another great way to maximize space in your dorm room.

Store Information Digitally: Most colleges encourage students to have laptops, and digitally storing your information is a great way to combat clutter of all kinds. Invest in an external hard drive. And, no matter what, make sure you back up your files.

Feel welcome to read and add more space-saving advice in the comments.

 

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

Make your kitchen magnetic

When talking about kitchen magnets, most people think of those plastic alphabets we had when we were kids. But magnets can do more in your kitchen than spell “dog” and “cat.” Magnets, when used wisely, can help you free up valuable counter space, and keep all your most used kitchen tools close at hand.

Spice it up

One of the most common magnetic tool these days are magnetic spice tins, which are simply metal or plastic containers with clear lids. Some come with a special board that sits on your counter or attaches to the wall (like these), but you can also buy them individually and stick them to the side of your fridge. Some spice enthusiasts eschew these because they let light in which can damage delicate herbs, so pick a metal surface that doesn’t sit in direct light. Alternatively, choose these spice containers that come with labels which cover the transparent lid.

Wipe it up

Also very handy – a magnetic paper towel holder. If you don’t have much counter space, one of those freestanding ones can be a hassle. But with a magnet, it’s right on your fridge door, and you can just tear one off when your milk spills.

Hang it up

Next time you’re at the hardware store, see if they have inexpensive magnetic hooks. They are perfect for hanging spoons next to the stove or keeping potholders out where you need them. Hooks are one way to get commonly used items out of drawers and within easy reach.

Cut it up

My absolute favorite – a magnetic knife rack. Knife blocks are huge counter space hogs, and keeping sharp pointy things in a drawer can be dangerous for the clumsy-inclined like me. With a magnetic strip, the knives are always handy and out of the way. The magnets are powerful enough to resist a slight bump of the elbow, but pull off without too much force.

The only thing with magnets is that you’re somewhat limited by the number of metal surfaces you have in the kitchen. If you want to add more, try getting a few extra knife racks, or a magnetic memo  strip that can be mounted to the backsplash or any other wall in your kitchen.

What else do you hang in your kitchen?

 

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

All-in-one washer/dryer

LG may have created the ultimate space saving laundry solution in the All-In-One Washer and Dryer. From LG’s site:

The ideal solution when you are short on space, LG’s washer dryer combinations offer a powerful yet compact and space-saving alternative to a traditional side-by-side washer and dryer. Washer dryer combos from LG are designed to make your life easier.

Since it doesn’t need to be vented outside and it washes and dries your clothes, it appears to be a great small-space appliance. Both LG and Kenmore have units available on Amazon and there are a few similar options from other companies. The load capacities seem ridiculously small by North American standards, and I’m curious about its drying capabilities. Has anyone had the chance to do a load of laundry in one of these units? I’m interested in finding out how well it works.

 

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

College Life: Back-to-school basics

As students everywhere start preparing to head to college this fall, I want to talk about the art of small-space living. College students are a demographic that have particular stock in simple living, as does anyone with more possessions than space. Whether it be a 500 square foot downtown studio apartment or a shared room with a sibling, it can be difficult to live in a space the size of a dorm room.

Most students arrive at campus for the first time, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with a minivan containing all of their worldly possessions. This is great until they are affronted with a dorm room approximately the size of a large closet.

If this sounds like it could be you, here are a few basics for maximizing your living space. I want to begin with an obvious tip:

Reassess your stuff.

The best way to fit your stuff into an itty-bitty space is to have less stuff. Only take the essentials with you. You shouldn’t abandon all of your trinkets at your parents’ place, either. Photograph and get rid of the napkin from prom and donate those t-shirts from your middle school musical to a local charity.

If your dorm room is a suite and has a kitchen, do you really need that mini-fridge, toaster oven, and microwave? Are any of your roommates bringing those items? There is no sense in having three blenders, even if you really like smoothies.

Take advantage of movie and music streaming services and let go of your CD and DVD collections.

Unless you are in the business school, do you need that suit?

Do you really need that commemorative Coors Light bobble-head, under any circumstance?

Even if you follow this advice, be prepared to bring a lot of things home for Thanksgiving break. Good luck to everyone heading off to school in the fall and stay tuned for more back-to-school tips.

Guest room clothing storage

If you have a small guest bedroom in which you host friends and family, storage for your guests’ clothing may be an issue if they are staying for an extended period of time. Rather than have a dresser that takes up so much space and hardly ever gets used, hang a 6-Shelf Canvas Sweater Organizer in the closet.

The shelves have ample storage space for the shirts, sweaters, and trousers a guest might bring with them. Consider adding a couple of matching drawers to the hanging organizer. It will help keep your guests’ smaller items (i.e. socks and underwear) tidy.

The bonus part of this system is that when it is not being used it collapses down into a fraction of its size for easy storage.

 

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

Ask Unclutterer: Hiding a workspace in a studio apartment

In reference to our posts on Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 1 and part 2, reader Eric wrote in to ask,

Could you expand the article to address studio apartments? What would be the best way to isolate a workspace from the living space? I guess I could use a divider like you show in the first article to isolate the bed/sleeping space from the rest of the apartment.

Thanks for your question Eric. We would be happy to expand on our answer.

There are several ways other than a folding room divider to section off different areas of the apartment. The first one we suggest is a curtain divider. Curtains are great because they can be closed for privacy and opened to make the space larger. They are washable and generally easy to install. There are many styles and colours available.

Tension rods are ideal if you have brick or plaster walls because you do not have to use a drill or screws for installation. They work best in smaller openings with lighter weight curtains. Also, if you have cats or small children who might pull on, or attempt to climb the curtains, the rod may fall down. If you are sectioning off a bedroom, I suggest that you use room darkening curtains to improve sleep quality.

If you do not have walls on which to mount a tension rod, then you might consider the ceiling track system. There are 90º and 45º corners available so you can make more than one wall out of curtains if required. You have to bolt/screw the track into the ceiling and that might be difficult if you are a renter or there is any trace of asbestos in the ceiling.

Some people use bookshelves to separate spaces in a studio apartment. I do not recommend this unless the shelving units are anchored into the ceilings and floors. IKEA’s Elvarli system bolts into floors and ceilings. With various configurations available it will allow you to divide your living space and create extra storage.

Another option to hide a workspace in a studio apartment, is to use an armoire or cabinet. There are various styles available depending on your needs. Some companies who design kitchen cabinets may also be able to design one to your specifications. If you are looking for simply a computer workstation, a folding wall-mounted desk is a space-saving option.

When living in a studio, loft, or other open-concept designed home, always look for furniture that can do double-duty such as hidden filing cabinets and storage ottomans.

Thanks for your great question Eric. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

 

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Collapsible gardening container

Collapsible Garden ContainerFor those of you who have spring fever and are itching to get outside and clean up your yard, here is a nice 30 gallon gardening container that may interest you. It is completely collapsible, and when it is not in use it can be stored nicely out of the way.

It is a great time of the year to get a jump on getting your yard in order. The winter weather is behind us (fingers crossed), so get all those branches, leaves, and dead plants out of your yard. Feel welcome to explore our different strategies to keep yard maintenance to minimum so you aren’t spending too much time with upkeep during the warmer seasons.

 

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

Is ‘trading up’ your space worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

Creating extra storage and counter space in a small kitchen

You’ve been a good unclutterer and gone through your cabinets and discarded the items you never use. You’ve put away the rarely used appliances that sat on your countertop. For those with a good size kitchen, you’re done. Your kitchen is uncluttered. But what about the rest of us?

If you’re like me and you rent an apartment or own a condo with a tiny kitchen, your counter space still doesn’t offer enough room to cook a complete meal. I have size and poor design to deal with in my kitchen. I can clear my counters completely and still have a difficult time finding space to cut vegetables. To work around this dilemma, I have found a solution: A kitchen cart.

I used to think kitchen carts were silly. That is, until I had a real use for one. Now, I can’t exist without it.

My cart won’t fit inside the kitchen, so I have to store it against the wall across from the kitchen entrance. When it’s time to cook, I just wheel the cart over to the kitchen and, suddenly, I have all the counter space I need. It also blocks off the entrance, keeping my husband and the dog out of my cooking space.

Here is what to look for in a kitchen cart:

  • Sturdy – You need to be able to chop things on it, so go for something that won’t rock or cause you to slice your fingers.
  • Wheels – You should be able to move it where you need to use it.
  • Wire Racks – This feature is great for holding mixing bowls and other items used for cooking.
  • Hooks – If you’re also short on drawer space, the hooks are nice for utensils.

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.

How to organize holiday gift bags

Holiday gift bags are more popular now then when I was young, and unlike wrapping paper, they’re reusable. This year we received quite a few of them and I’ve been thinking about good ways to store them. Here are a few ways to store holiday gift bags to keep them in good condition for reuse.

Magazine holders are my favorite method of organizing gift bags. You can get about two dozen bags into a single magazine holder, and the write-on label makes it easy to categorize and retrieve the one you want.

You can also use a large, handled gift bag and put the smaller gift bags inside. Once folded, sort them by size or occasion. The larger bag becomes a sort of mobile filing cabinet that you can pull out at the next gift-giving occasion. It’s easy to store, simply hang it on a hook in a closet.

An expandable accordion-style file folder is another great method, provided that your bags are relatively small. Don’t expect larger bags to fit without protruding from the top of the folder.

A hanging organizer might be useful. However if hung on a door, it may prevent it from opening all the way or bang against the door whenever it’s opened or closed. It would be great if hung on a rod in a closet though.

If the bags are not suitable for re-use, you can cut them into gift tags, use them for arts-and-crafts projects, donate them to an elementary school teacher, after-school club, or toss them into the recycling bin. In any case, have fun organizing — or saying goodbye — your holiday gift bags.