The 5-, 10-, and 15-minute unclutterer

When it’s hard to carve out an hour or two (or more) to complete an unclutter mission, sometimes we forgo organizing at all.

That’s where the speed unclutterer comes in handy. When your boss is about to drop by your cube or friends have called to say they’re coming right over, uncluttering has to take on velocity. I have found that this works best when you close off all distractions, focus solely on the targeted area, set the timer for 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments and unclutter until the timer dings.

What you do in your 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments depends, of course, on the degree of disarray in the area you plan to unclutter and the system you use. Here are some ideas to get you started. Adjust them according to your situation.

The 5-minute Unclutterer

To know where to begin on a 5-minute uncluttering project, asking yourself questions will sharpen your focus. As I wrote on page 20 in The Naked Desk:

If you have limited time to organize, ask yourself, “What single action would make the greatest impact right now?” Or, “What can I do in five minutes that will make the biggest difference?” Scan the office and choose the area that is calling out for order the most. Then take action!

These questions will help you quickly home in on the area that if you unclutter it, will bring you the greatest relief, serenity or beauty. Overwhelmed? Put a bull’s eye on one corner of the table to get started, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing.

Zen Habits also has a great list of 5-minute uncluttering actions in the article 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.

I love Leo’s tip #6:

Pick up 5 things, and find places for them. These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.

Make a mental note of the new spots for items so you can retrieve them when you need them.

The 10-minute Unclutterer

You can power through a small uncluttering task in 10 minutes or make progress on a larger project.

Admittedly, the morning dishes in our home sometimes get left unwashed as family members dash out the door for work and school. I set the timer daily for 10-minute dish washing blasts — instant sink and counter uncluttering. Other things you can knock out in 10 minutes include:

  • File one inch of paper
  • Organize a book shelf
  • Start a load of laundry

From home to work, there are many 10-minute uncluttering opportunities. For example, you can reserve the last 10 minutes of the day to unclutter your desk to start fresh and clear the next day.

To fend off return-from-home clutter piles, make it a habit to use your first 10 minutes through the door to put things away, such as your umbrella in the umbrella holder, your jacket in the closet and your keys on the landing strip.

The 15-minute Unclutterer

With all that you can accomplish in five or 10 minutes, 15 minutes can make an even bigger dent in clutter. You won’t streamline a bedraggled garage, but you can clear out one box.

When you find yourself with an unexpected block of 15 minutes, you can use the time to clear out clutter from your home or office. For example, you’ve arrived 15 minutes early for a lunch appointment — unclutter your car. Additional ideas:

  • Remove all broken or obsolete items from a junk drawer
  • Clear out your purse or wallet
  • Organize your monthly receipts

To unclutter and clean, check out About.com’s Sarah Aguirre article”15 Minute Cleanups.” The article provides cleaning checklists for six different rooms, from the kitchen to a kid’s room.

I put the Bedroom Cleanup checklist to the test one evening from 8:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. As I followed each of Aguierre’s steps (except I substituted vacuuming with dusting), the room took on an extra sparkle. (Earrings that had collected on my dresser got returned to their home. I also unpacked my husband’s suitcase from last week’s business trip.) It was fast and easy to run through someone else’s pre-made to-do list. I’m glad I did it and will try her suggestions for other rooms.

Some cluttering projects do take hours, days, or months to finish. But, starting with 5-, 10- or 15-minute uncluttering bursts can give you instant progress. These timed uncluttering sprints are also useful for daily maintenance.

What are you able to get done in 5-, 10- or 15-minute unclutter sprints? Let us know your regular routines in the comments.

 

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

Book review: The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life

In The Minimalist Home, author Joshua Becker suggests that one of the problems affecting many of us is that we are living in homes that mass marketers want to sell us instead of the homes that our hearts and souls crave. Even the highly publicized “minimalism home” with white-washed walls and stark rooms with the occasional piece of expensive (and probably uncomfortable) furniture, is not what we truly need. Becker states, ” Successful family living was never about the size of a house. So, make more of the people within your household, and make less of the house itself.”

The Minimalist Home helps readers define their vision and set goals for how they want to live in their space, whether that space is an apartment, house, cottage, houseboat, or mobile home. Becker gives readers practical advice on how to engage and motivate family members to create the ideal home for everyone. He believes that with less stuff occupying your home, there will be fewer worries on your mind and you will appreciate and make better use of what you do own. You can then focus on your family and enjoy activities together. I appreciated this particular quote:

The goal of minimalism is not just to own less stuff. The goal is to unburden our lives so we can accomplish more.

In The Minimalist Home, each room has a dedicated chapter, from family rooms to bedrooms, from outdoor spaces to hobby spaces, and even spaces dealing with family pets. Within each chapter there are sections on defining the vision and goals for the space, implementing a step-by-step plan, and reflecting on possessions to include items that tell your family’s story. There is a “minimizing checklist” at the end of the chapter so readers can ensure they have reached their goal. The Minimalist Home also includes maintenance guides — from daily maintenance like putting away the mail and dishes, to yearly maintenance such as spring cleaning and filing income taxes.

This book has no glossy photos nor examples of the latest home décor trends. As a matter of fact, Becker does not propose rules on how much of each item to keep or toss. He encourages the reader to analyse his/her lifestyle and minimize to that level. It is a very nice change because so many books about minimalism make the readers feel that they are keeping too much or shaming them for feeling sentimental about souvenirs or heirlooms.

The last two chapters in the book are particularly interesting. Becker discusses the advantages of downsizing, not just when the kids have left for college or at retirement, but at your current stage of life, whatever it is. He raises points such as it takes less time to clean and maintain a smaller house, and mortgage payments and utility bills will be lower too. The dollar-value calculations he shows, reinforce his reasoning. Becker also recounts the stories of several people who minimized and downsized and then were able to pursue their passions — from travelling to volunteering for various causes. He states:

…minimalism doesn’t guarantee that you can find meaning and significance in life. But it does, almost always, open your eyes wider to these issues and create a context where you can think through them better.

If you are looking for help to define your vision and set goals, to work together as a family to create a welcoming home that is your ideal of comfort, that nurtures your passions, The Minimalist Home is the book you need.

Creating a personal strategic plan

Setting goals, working on projects, and tackling action items are three things I do on a regular basis to keep my work and personal life afloat. They’re the backbone of what I refer to as the Daily Grind.

The Daily Grind doesn’t happen by accident, though. I’m not a person who sits around and lets things fall into her lap or wish for the perfect opportunity to open up to me. I try to have purpose to my actions and am proactive in my dealings. Because of my desire to live with purpose, guiding my Daily Grind is a personal Strategic Plan. Much like a Strategic Plan that guides a business, my plan guides who I want to be. It keeps me on track, helps me reach my goals, and keeps me from feeling like I’m in a rut or walking through life as a zombie.

Similar to how a business creates a Strategic Plan, I created a plan for myself. In the book How Organizations Work by Alan Brache, strategy is defined as “the framework of choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization.” If you replace the words “an organization” with “my life” you get a solid idea of a personal Strategic Plan.

Brache continues in his book to discuss how to create an effective Strategic Plan for a business. Building on his ideas, but with a bent toward the personal, I created the following process for how to create my plan and how you can create a plan, too.

Five steps to living with a personal Strategic Plan

  1. Collect data and analyze your current situation. What are your strengths? (The book Now, Discover Your Strengths can help you answer this question.) How do you process information? What in your life do you love? What activities in your life do you look forward to or wish you had more time to complete? What are the activities you loathe and want to get out of your life completely or reduce dramatically? What competes for your attention? What are your core beliefs and how does your life reflect those ideals? Do you like the things you say you like, or is habit guiding your behavior?
  2. Make the tough choices. How far into the future are you willing to work with this Strategy? (I recommend no more than three years.) Review the data you collected and analyzed in the first stage, and put into words your core beliefs that under no circumstance are you willing to break. State what obligations in your life you must fulfill. State your strengths and which of these should continually be highlighted in your life. What stands out the most in your life as being the positive force for your actions? More than anything else, what makes you happy?
  3. Communicate (draft) your personal Strategic Plan. Put into words the plan that will guide your Daily Grind. Write it in words that you understand and trigger memories of why and how you chose your plan. Your Strategic Plan isn’t a mission statement, it can fill more than one sentence of text. It probably won’t be a 20+ page document like many businesses create, but it should be at least a page or two containing the gist of your vision. Be realistic and let the document wholly reflect who you are and who you want to be. This is just for you, not anyone else, so let it speak to and for you.
  4. Work with your Strategic Plan as your guide. Make decisions about how you spend your time and all aspects of your Daily Grind under the guidance of your plan. Try your best to keep from straying outside the bounds of your Strategic Plan. Live with purpose.
  5. Monitor and maintain your Strategic Plan. Sometimes life throws us a wrench when we were looking for puppies and rainbows. Or, something even better than you ever imagined can happen. Update and monitor these changes and see if your Strategic Plan needs to be altered as a result. If no major change has taken place, evaluate your performance within your plan and check to see if you’re getting lazy and letting things slide. Maybe you realize that your plan wasn’t broad enough, or maybe it was too specific. It’s your plan, so work to keep it healthy.

Ideas and Suggestions

What you choose to put into your plan is a deeply personal choice and how your plan looks is as unique as your finger print. If you’re looking for ideas or suggestions to get you started, consider the following:

  • Your relationship with your children, spouse, parents, siblings, friends.
  • Your spiritual and philosophical beliefs, how you practice those beliefs, and how you incorporate them into your daily life.
  • Your career goals and how much energy and focus you choose to commit to these achievements.
  • Your time and how you choose to spend it.
  • Your health and your objectives regarding your health.

Your strategic plan shouldn’t be a list of goals about these topics, but rather the guiding philosophies behind those goals. For instance, if in your Daily Grind you have action items about losing five pounds, those action items might reflect your Strategic Plan: “I enjoy the time and active relationship I have with my growing children. Staying healthy and in good physical condition allows me to have energy for this time with my children and allows me to work when I’m at work. Good health also is one way that I can work to have more years with those I love. It is important to me that I make healthy choices with regard to nutrition and exercise.”

Do you have a Strategic Plan? Does it help to keep clutter — especially time and mental clutter — from getting out of control? If you haven’t written a personal Strategic Plan before, do you think this is a tool that can help you?

 

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

Book Review: The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room: And How To Keep It That Way

At first glance, The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room is like many other organizing books. It has information about uncluttering and some nice glossy pictures.

BUT…

This book is much more than that. It provides great advice on how to pare down your possessions and create not only a functional home, but a stylish one too. My favourite quote is:

A streamlined home is like a symphony with pieces that work together. Instead of assigning items specific roles and hoarding junk in a drawer, imagine that your home is a boutique where everything works together.

The uncluttering and organizing instruction they give is relatively standard — group your items together, decide what stays, and eliminate what you no longer want or need. They furnish a great list of options on where to donate most items. I like their suggestion of labelling bags of raggedy clothes as “unsuitable for resale” so charities can sell them directly to textile recycling without wasting time sorting through them.

The Real Simple Method suggests that readers practice small, simple habits that make a big difference in the look and functionality of the home. This way they only spend a few minutes each day doing housework rather than spending most of the weekend moving things from one pile to another. There is plenty of useful advice on how to get family members involved in a positive and productive way (no bribery or coercion involved!).

Throughout the book there are beautiful, glossy, eye-pleasing photos — and they are realistic. The closets and drawers are full of clothes. The rooms have a typical amount of normal-sized furniture and there are colours! So many home décor magazines I have seen use scaled-down furniture, have only a few items of clothing in each closet or drawer, and the colours range from white to beige. The Real Simple Method is a nice change!

In the book, each room is assigned its own chapter. Within each chapter there are suggestions about how to make the room functional. For example, the experts suggest that the most efficient way to organize is to make sure the room is arranged to allow you to move through it freely without crisscrossing. This will help you perform tasks in an orderly manner.

Each chapter contains a list of the tools (furniture, stylish storage items, etc.) for the suggested look and functionality of the room. There is also a section within each chapter that gives alternatives for small spaces — great for those who live in apartments and small homes. The experts also include a checklist for tidying if you have five minutes, 15 minutes, one hour, or a whole weekend and provide time-saving tricks on to how to keep the room organized and clean with minimal effort.

For each room, they take one clutter problem area that most readers have difficulty with such as the junk drawer (kitchen), handbag (bedroom), or shelving (living room), and do an in-depth exposé into how to conquer the chaos and create a functional stylish space once and for all. There is a guide for hanging wall art, a list of ways to set your table incorporating colour and style elements, and suggestions on how to store your fine dinnerware and stemware dust-free so you can be ready to entertain in minutes.

From indoor spaces to outdoor spaces, from kid spaces to pet spaces, this book covers it all. If you are looking for a book that not only provides useful organizing advice but helps you create and highlight your own style, all while doing less housework, check out The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room.

10 tips to beat clutter in less than five minutes

I’m happy to have Gretchen Rubin, the fabulous author of The Happiness Project, join us with a guest post today on Unclutterer. There just aren’t enough kind words in the English language to say about her. Welcome, Gretchen!

Having a clutter-filled house can make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Everywhere you look, you see little chores that should be done. No single task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big mess. Pretty quickly, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem.

Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that.

  1. Make your bed each morning.
  2. Throw away the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet.
  3. Follow the “one-minute rule” — push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.
  4. Identify an organization or person to whom you can give things you no longer need. It’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the local charity thrift store. When the shelf is full, we drop off the books.
  5. Pause for a moment before you “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.
  6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law — if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.
  8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.
  9. Hang up your coat.
  10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.

Minimalism vs. just in case

One rainy Friday before a long weekend, we laundered our bed sheets. After washing them, we discovered our dryer was broken. It did not heat. We were not prepared to pay for appliance servicing during a long weekend so we hung our wet sheets in the basement with a fan blowing on them. They were still not dry by nightfall. Fortunately, I had a second set of sheets stored in the linen closet.

As much as I strive to be a minimalist, I was glad I had the extra set of sheets “just in case.” Some minimalists argue that you need only one set of sheets per bed — you simply wash the set and put it back on the bed immediately. If I had followed that suggestion, we would have been sleeping in wet sheets!

Storing and maintaining an extra set of sheets took almost no effort and it saved us having to run out to a laundromat on a Friday evening. Mr. Justin Case saved us!

Balancing minimalism with “just in case” isn’t always easy. You have to calculate the probability that you will actually urgently need the item with the expense of owning (storage and maintenance) the item. You might also want to factor in the original purchase price and the cost and hassle of renting or replacing the item.

There are plenty of things I have been thankful I have kept “just in case” including spare batteries for the smoke detectors, light bulbs, an extra set of headphones, and an extra dog leash and collar.

On the other hand, we don’t own a table saw “just in case.” For our family, a table saw is used in a planned project and can be easily borrowed or rented. However, my friends who live on a horse farm own a table saw just in case they need to repair a stall a horse has kicked through — which happens more frequently than one would think.

How are you balancing minimalism with just in case? What items can you honestly let go of?

The BIFL philosophy

Those who practice the BIFL (Buy It For Life) philosophy believe that you should purchase only items of high quality so they will last for your entire life and preferably beyond so you can pass them down to your heirs.

BIFL was a very common practice up until the early part of the 20th century. Afterwards, consumer goods became more affordable and technology changed at a rapid rate. This, coupled with the driving forces of consumerism caused a decline in the BIFL philosophy. And, at the same time, our homes gradually filled with more and more stuff.

Today, BIFL seems to be making a come-back. People are aware the effect of mass consumerism, from poorly paid workers in unsafe conditions, to the environmental damage caused by production and disposal of items we are driven to purchase. They also want to live in less cluttered homes.

If you’re considering becoming a Buy It For Lifer, here are some things to consider.

Buy the highest quality you can afford

If a pair of $150 boots will last you three winters and a $60 pair will last only one winter, the more expensive boot would be the better option — not only for your pocketbook but for the environment as well. Buy the highest quality (in this case the most durable) that you can afford.

A disadvantage of BIFL is that often people get convinced to pay for more ‘quality’ than needed. For example, if you never play computer games, there is no point in paying extra for a high-quality graphics card on your new computer.

Define exactly what you need the product to do and the type of performance you expect. Do some research on the internet, check product review sites, and ask your friends and family for opinions. Don’t overspend on high-end products when you can get ‘good enough’ products at much lower prices.

Choose classic styling and neutral colours

Professional Organizer Julie Bestry cleared-out a client’s closet recently and posted a photo of a classically tailored man’s suit on Facebook. She asked her friends to guess what era the suit was from. The answers spanned from the 1950s to the 1990s — an indication that time-honoured fashion transcends fad styling.

Classic styling does not just apply to clothing. Simple and elegant home furnishings stand the test of time as well. White kitchen appliances may wax and wane in popularity but they certainly outlasted those of avocado green and harvest gold. Plain dinnerware and flatware sets can be dressed up for any occasion with fancy napkins and tablecloths. A beige sofa can be jazzed up with a colourful throw and decorative cushions.

Is it repairable, replaceable, upgradeable?

When you are considering purchasing an item, inquire whether it is possible to repair it if it breaks and what the repair costs would be. Often the owner’s manual will contain a list of available replacement parts. If it doesn’t, then it may not be easily repaired.

For large items such as appliances, televisions, etc., it might be helpful to talk to local repair shops and find out which makes and models to avoid. When I took my vacuum cleaner in for repairs, I learned that certain brands should be avoided because they are almost impossible to fix while other brands can be inexpensively repaired and outperform newer models even after 20 years.

Check for a Repair Café in your city. At a Repair Café, visitors bring in their broken item and working with volunteer repair specialists, they can make repairs to their items right in the café with the tools and materials available. (Coffee and snacks are also available!) If the volunteer specialists can’t fix it, they can give you advice on whether or not your broken item is worth repairing and where the local repair shops are located.

If you have a set of items and one of the set breaks or gets lost, can it be replaced? and CorningWare offers replacement lids, and Tupperware has an almost lifetime guarantee on most of its products. Most dinnerware and flatware will sell items individually however, some patterns may be discontinued.

Technology is one area where BIFL may not make sense. Certainly keeping a computer or television for as long as possible is a good idea, but at some point the hardware will no longer accept new software updates. Look for manufacturers and retailers that offer upgrade or trade-in programs. They will accept your old technology and give you a credit towards your new product. Apple has both an upgrade program for iPhones (as do many cell phone carriers). It also has a trade-in program that gives users Apple Store credit towards the purchase of new Apple products.

Extended Warranties

Often sales people will offer extended warranties on goods and customers may be tempted especially if they are considering buying it for life. Many extended warranties are expensive and have a host of exclusions so may not be worth it for a particular product. I encourage our readers to check out the excellent advice on extended warranties by both Consumer Reports and the Toronto Star before they agree to buy.

 

Are you someone who buys it for life? Has it helped you stay uncluttered? Share with readers in the comments.

How a home office should function

Reader Amanda recently contacted us with the following question:

Could you write on the idea of how a home office should function?

It seems like an innocuous question at first. Obviously a home office should be used for, um, home office, uh, stuff …

But, it turns out, it’s not such a simple question. Identifying all of the reasons why a person might have a home office and then all of the possibilities for how that home office should function are quite extensive tasks. The specific requirements a single, graduate student, working on his dissertation might have are far different than those of an active family with four children where both parents work outside the home.

It is possible, however, to write about over-arching ideals that should be present in a home office. Here are the big picture goals I believe all home offices can strive to achieve:

  1. Welcoming. Strive to create the most comfortable, productive, inspiring, and organized environment that you can for your work space. You want this area to make boring tasks like filing home owners association documents as pleasant as possible. If your stress level rises when you walk past this space, you’re not going to use it.
  2. Flexible. The demands that you put on this space can change from year-to-year, or even day-to-day. You want your space to be able to adapt to your needs. This means that you need to have room on a shelf and in a drawer to grow — at all times. If your space is completely full, then it becomes a museum or library instead of a functional office. You want your files to be able to accept new entries and your desk to be ready to handle your next big idea.
  3. Consistent. The more consistent your office systems are, the more likely you will be to maintain them. Save files on your computer and in your filing cabinet using names and categorizations that makes retrieval quick and possible. Keep the learning curve low and let it reflect the way you think and work. Additionally, be consistent about putting objects away when you’re finished using them so that you will be able to find them the next time you need them.

Regardless of what type of work you need to do in your office, having a welcoming, flexible, and consistent environment will make it a functional space. The better your office can work for you, the better work you can accomplish in your home office.

How does your office measure up to these standards? Let us know in the comments.

 

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

Work life creeping into personal life? Try a battery-only weekend

I want to start this post by professing my love for the Internet, my computer, and my job. I love the digital age, and shiver with fear at the thought of living without Internet access.

That being said, I spend a significant amount of time on my computer beyond normal work hours doing non-critical work things. It’s a safe estimate that on a weekday I’ll spend one to two hours behind my laptop in the evenings. On a weekend day, bump that number up to three or four hours. Seeing as I officially work somewhere between nine and twelve hours a weekday, I’m surprised I want anything to do with a computer or work in my free time — let alone hours more.

I decided that I was going to take a break from my laptop and from work for a three-day holiday weekend. Unfortunately, I had a few small tasks I needed to do over the weekend, so I knew I couldn’t completely disconnect. I decided instead to unplug my computer at the end of the workday on Thursday and not plug my computer back in until showing up for work Monday morning.

I would survive the holiday only using my laptop’s battery power and nothing else.

I was able to finish the majority of my work on Friday morning and was confident that I would be able to get through the weekend fine. I opened up my laptop a few times throughout the rest of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it since the battery percentages were in the 70s, then the 60s, then the 50s. Saturday morning, however, when I checked my work email, I noticed I only had 35 percent power left!

I was a little stunned that my Saturday morning number was 35 percent. My first thought was that I must have a lame battery. A good battery wouldn’t be on 35 percent in just a day! Except, when I stopped to calculate my usage on Friday, I realized I had easily spent three hours on my laptop. My battery was working fine, it was user consumption that was to blame.

On Sunday, I opened my laptop and saw 8 percent. About half an hour into checking my email and other little site tasks, I got a message on my screen announcing that my computer was operating on reserve power. I immediately closed my laptop and decided to save the last bits of remaining energy in case of a work emergency.

The only problem is that it takes energy to power-up a laptop after its lid has been closed. I discovered this truth after lunch, when I thought I could sqeeze out a few seconds of power just to see if the website was doing okay. But, all I got was a blank screen.

My computer officially died with 20 hours to go before work started on Monday.

I don’t like the idea that I used all of my computer’s battery power before the three-day weekend had come to a close. What I took from it is that I’m having difficulty drawing the line between work and free time. I think about work constantly and would like to be able to turn those thoughts off and relax at least once in a while.

So, for the duration of the month, I’m going to have battery-powered laptop weekends. Work matters a great deal to me, but so does taking advantage of my free time. I hope that this process helps me to better prioritize my time away from work and relax and rejuvenate to make my official work time more productive. Clutter comes in all forms, and, right now, it’s in the form of working through my weekends. If you’re in a similar position, consider joining me in the battery-powered challenge.

 

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

Organizationally challenged

In our post on helping kids develop organizing skills, reader Vicki asked for suggestions to help a developmentally challenged person get organized and be able to maintain the level of organization.

Here are a few resources that can help.

Not everyone thinks the same way (it would be a very boring world if we did) so an obvious solution a caregiver would put into action, might not be intuitive to the person using the system. One of the most enlightening books I’ve read on this subject is Conquering Chronic Disorganization which provides new perspectives on organizing systems. Many of the tools used are the same, such as filing folders and labels, but how they are used and perceived is different. For example, a typical way to organize a filing cabinet would be to put the files into categories such as Medical, Car, Banking. An atypical solution would be to use categories like:

  • Head (thought requiring activities like finances)
  • Heart (things deeply felt like home, family, charity work)
  • Hands (information about objects and projects such as car, tools)
  • Health (medical, dental, etc.)

When helping someone get organized, adapt the system to them and the way they think and exist in the world, rather than having them use a system that they cannot relate to.

Another great book for people with ADD, ADHD, and everyone else is ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life: Strategies that Work from an Acclaimed Professional Organizer and a Renowned ADD Clinician. It is packed full of basic and straight-forward suggestions that work for any age group from toddlers to grand-parents. When I was doing hands-on client work, it was one of my “go-to” books for easy-to-implement ideas.

Judith Kohlberg, who wrote both books listed above, also authored, Getting Organized in the Era of Endless: What To Do When Information, Interruption, Work and Stuff are Endless But Time is Not! I had the privilege of seeing her present a seminar on digital disorganization at a NAPO Conference. She provided excellent information applicable to people with organizing skills of all levels. This book expands on that topic to help you manage your time and your life when everything, everywhere is always “switched on.”

Some people manage just fine using electronics such as digital calendars and various apps to stay organized. Other people prefer paper-based calendars and planners. There is no right or wrong way. It is a personal preference so do not try and force a person to use something that does not resonate with them.

One of my all-time favourite resources for uncluttering and organizing information, is Unclutterer readers. Everyone is unique. Different ideas and perspectives enrich our community. Thank you to those of you who comment on our posts and participate in our forum. To all other readers, please be sure to read the comments to find more great advice and if you have an idea, you are welcome to add it.

Family heirlooms: Give them away at milestone celebrations

The distribution of family heirlooms is a little creepy in my book: someone dies and I get a present. I like presents, don’t misunderstand, I just wish that a family member didn’t have to die for me to get it.

My grandmother is aware of my aversion to these inheritance practices, and so gave me her set of silver as a wedding present. When she gave it to me, she told me the story about the silver and how she worked to make money to buy it, piece by piece, during the 1930s. Had she waited to give it to me after her death, I likely would have had another set already and would have never known the delightful story of how she purchased it. Now, when I use it, I think about her, that wonderful day, and her generous gift.

My advice is to give family heirlooms away at appropriate milestone celebrations. Grandfather’s college ring should be given to a grandchild on his or her graduation with a note about it and a photo of grandfather wearing it. The rocking chair you used in your daughter’s nursery should be passed on to her the day she brings her first child home. When you give her the chair, include a page from your diary when you talked about rocking her to sleep in it and a photo of her in your arms. Don’t hoard your treasured heirlooms, instead give them away at appropriate times with heart-felt explanations of why they are valued.

 

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

Depression-era mindset and clutter

My grandmother passed away in 2002. She was old enough to remember being a child in Pittsburgh during the Great Depression. She used to tell stories about her childhood to let us know how lucky we were to have all of the things that we were undoubtedly taking for granted. She remembered sharing what little clothing she had with her two sisters and squeezing her feet into shoes that no longer fit. One year, her Christmas gift consisted of crayons which she received as a joint gift with her sisters. I’m sure those crayons were used in the most judicious manner.

Flash forward to the years when my grandmother used to shove sugar and ketchup packets in her purse when we went to a restaurant and you could understand why she did such things. The abundance with which we are so accustomed is easily taken for granted because we really don’t have a frame of reference for the really tough times. My grandmother was also a “pack rat” (i.e. highly cluttered) which we didn’t fully realize until we had to empty her house.

She lived in her last home for over forty years, twenty six of those years she lived by herself. The clearing out of all of the stuff from her home was quite a chore. She kept everything that might one day be useful — for example, she had more than five non-working vacuums.

I understand why she behaved the way she did, and why others like her do the same. But the reality is that in today’s more prosperous economy it can actually cost a person more to hang on to broken things and store sugar packets. Real estate is expensive, and energy use to properly heat and cool a home in such a way as to keep mold and mildew off of belongings is pricey. If you’re keeping items in an off-site rented storage unit, you’re probably spending more in rent over time than you would if you had to repurchase what you’re storing. Our post on sunk costs also addresses an aspect of this issue.

Keep in mind the real expense of holding onto clutter and fight the urge to keep something just because you think one day it might be useful. In many cases, the expense of storage is greater than any cost you may at some point incur.

 

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