What are your organizing priorities?

The other day, a new topic was posted in the Unclutterer Forums asking what people store on their kitchen counters. That got me thinking about when we renovated our apartment and how we really worked hard to get the space organized right before the construction began. So we looked at our priorities and worked from there.

First priority: We have an open-concept kitchen and it’s almost the first thing you see upon entering, so anything that is merely functional and not decorative needed to be stored away.

Second priority: We are addicted to our Thermomix (for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s like a blender, food processor and cooking tool all in one, but so much more!). We use it at least twice a day — more than any other appliance in the house. It therefore needed its own counter space in the center of the kitchen, but not too obvious because while incredibly functional, it’s not the most beautiful machine in the world.

Third priority: We entertain frequently and have a lot of dishes, plus we keep a wide variety of foods and gadgets on hand for when a cooking whim strikes us (like making sushi from scratch or blow-torching a crême brulé). Easily accessible storage space was imperative. We opted for lower cabinet drawers rather than non-moving shelves so that nothing ever “disappears” in the back of a cupboard. It’s all visible and at hand. For the areas where we could not install drawers, we opted for sliding stainless steel baskets.

Fourth priority: We listened to the professionals, but trusted our intuition. We took our initial plans to a kitchen design shop and they made some really good suggestions such as installing tower-based fridge and oven/microwave units. But, we also knew what we wanted and stood our ground on some issues (such as sacrificing space between the peninsula and the wall in order to keep the full-size peninsula). Coming up with the ideas was based on hours and hours of looking at kitchen designs (mainly through photos posted in the Houzz app).

In the end, the kitchen was the most expensive part of our back-to-the-walls renovation, but given how much time we spend there, we consider it money very well spent.

Organizing isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Your home (or work space) won’t stay organized if it doesn’t mesh with your priorities and if you don’t know what those are, you might only get your space “right” by accident. So the next time you’re going to do a major re-organization or renovation, take some time to think about what’s important to you and how you want to use the space before diving into the project.

A tale of two extremes

There’s a TV show in the UK that has recently made its way to Spain and it has quite a different take on the clutter/declutter reality TV market. The Spanish title translates to You get dirty and I’ll clean it up which is much more expressive than the original UK title of Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.

The idea behind the show is that people who spend a large portion of their day cleaning their houses and getting rid of germs, go into houses that haven’t been cleaned in years.

At the end of each episode the narrator tells us what each person has learned from the experience, and more often than not, the cleaners say that they have relaxed their cleaning regime at home and the ones whose house was organized and cleaned say that they have learned the value in keeping their house visitor-presentable.

I’m not going to get into the perception of either side of the equation that the show generates as there is quite a bit of controversy over both sets of images. That’s not what today’s article is about.

No, what I find fascinating is the learning from each other part. I’ve already talked about this in my post about the concept of good enough but I wanted to explore it further.

At work, my former boss was all about the details and I’m a big-picture person. We often clashed (although that’s too harsh a word as conversations were always pleasant with her) about the number of details that needed to be considered before making a decision, as well as what, and how much of something should be kept, and for how long.

We learned a lot from each other. She learned that sometimes details only confused issues and I learned that they also allowed us to make well-informed decisions and gave a sense of history to what we do at work.

On the personal side of things, I come from a family where there’s always a silver-lining to any cloud and so planning wasn’t as important because there’s an opportunity for fun in every situation. My husband believes that more fun can be had if things are planned fully and that plan is kept. We’ve each learned to move a bit more towards the center. I have admitted that a great plan makes for a great day, and he allows that a plan not followed doesn’t mean total disaster.

Those are just two situations where some sort of relationship with an opposite personality type enriches my life.

How about you? How has a relationship of two extremes helped you?

Is good enough the real enemy of good?

Pareto Principle: the 80-20 ruleWhen it comes to productivity, you’ll often see people quote the aphorism often attributed to Voltaire: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” If we worry about being perfect, we won’t get anything done because perfection is impossible to achieve and we will never move on to other projects.

Or alternatively, we fall victim to the Nirvana fallacy, not starting anything because we know it will never be perfect.

One of the supposed cures for perfectionism is to ascribe to a belief in good enough. For most of my life, I’ve been a huge fan of the Pareto Principle, that 80% of the result from 20% of the effort is good enough. For the most part, it has worked too. I’m productive, I clear away to-do lists quickly, and my house is livable.

Then I met my husband. He’s not at all a good enough person. But neither is he a perfectionist. He’s a “do the job well until it’s finished” person. Yes, he does have perfectionist tendencies and believes that everything can always be improved upon, but he doesn’t let his perfectionist ideas get in the way of getting things done.

When facing most household and work projects, I used to get to 80% and say to myself: “Wow, what a difference. It’s mostly functional and much better than before.” And I’d stop. My husband, on the other hand, keeps going until he gets to 95% and everyone who comes into the house says: “Wow! That’s impressive!”

If I’m going to be honest with myself, impressive is much better than mostly functional.

This got me thinking. Why am I really a good enough person? Is it because I want to be productive? That I don’t want to fall into the never finishing or never starting traps? Not in the slightest. It’s because I’m lazy. Saying that good enough is a decent place to stop, allowed me to quit working on something. I didn’t need to put in more effort because I wasn’t really interested in great, only in good enough. And, having made this confession to myself, I realized that perfect is not the enemy of good. The true enemy is good enough.

  • At work, when preparing emails to clients, I’ve had to send out the email a few times because of errors in the mail merge fields.
  • In the kitchen, the plastic containers were mostly accessible, but getting that one we use only rarely was a real pain to reach.
  • On the bookshelf, everything fit but it wasn’t as visually appealing as it could have been.

Since adopting a good (or great) approach to projects instead of the borderline good enough, my productivity is even higher at work, my kitchen is much more usable, and my house always generates a “wow” any time someone new visits.

How about you? Which for you is the bigger enemy of good? Perfect or good enough?

Retailers’ tricks contribute to clutter

We’ve talked before about how to avoid clutter by careful purchasing. It isn’t always easy and sometimes it is downright difficult! Recently, I watched an episode of CBC Television’s Marketplace entitled, Retail tricks: How stores make you spend more which exposed some psychological tricks that retailers use to entice consumers to buy more and to increase their impulse purchases. Many of these persuasion tactics act on the consumer’s subconscious to coax them to buy at emotional level, bypassing logical, rational, decision-making process leading to increased spending.

One of the strategies used to encourage spending is the Gruen effect. This is when consumers enter a shopping mall or store with an intentionally confusing design. They lose track of their original intentions and are more susceptible to making impulse buys. I’m sure anyone who has shopped in a large, wholesale-type store knows the feeling.

The ambiance of the store also influences consumer purchases. “Easy-listening” music, free samples, wide and welcoming spaces all encourage consumers to slow their pace because spending more time in the store directly relates to spending more money in the store.

Other tricks the retailers use:

  • Larger shopping carts and baskets encourage customers to buy more.
  • Placing staples and lower cost items at the back of the store (e.g., milk in grocery stores) forces consumers to walk through many other aisles increasing their likelihood of purchasing premium products.
  • Grouping items together at a marginally lower price such as 3 for $5 instead of $1.75 each influences consumers to buy three instead of just one.
  • Limiting the number of items (for example, “limit of 6 per customer”) creates the illusion of scarcity and consumers tend to buy up to the limit.

One of the most important ways to combat these tricks is to be aware of them. Learn to shop consciously. Avoid shopping when you’re tired, hungry, or pressed for time. Stick to your list and avoid those last-minute sales.

If you’re interested in the psychology behind these retail tricks, watch the Marketplace episode.

Review of the S.P.A.C.E. program

Tomorrow, January 14, is Organize Your Home Day. The first book I ever read about home organization was back in 1999 while I was pregnant for baby #2. The book was Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. The book is as valuable now as it was 17 years ago.

With this book, Morgenstern organizes the approach to organizing. Her acronym S.P.A.C.E. (sort, purge, assign, containerize, and equalize) helps people (including me!) develop a systematic method for uncluttering quickly and easily. Let’s look at each step in a little more depth.

Sort

Group similar items together using common characteristics. You might decide to group clothing by putting all “tops” in one pile, and “bottoms” in another pile. Or you could sort by “work clothes” and “weekend clothes.” The way you group items together may be different from someone else but sort them in a way that makes sense to you.

Purge

Once items are sorted, you can see exactly what you have. Now is the time to physically remove items from the home. Keep only what you love, what you need, and what you use. Reduce the number of unitaskers you own. Consider renting, borrowing, or sharing items you do not use often.

Assign a home

Designate a spot in your home where specific items will “live.” My stapler lives in the second drawer of the cabinet beside my desk. Items that are not used all year-round may need a “vacation home.” For example, the duvet lives on the bed from November to March, then it moves to its vacation home in a zippered bag in the linen closet from April to October.

Containerize

Only after the first three steps have been completed should you choose containers appropriate to the item and the item’s home. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of buying bins large enough to hold my items but they would not fit on the shelves where the items were being stored! Always measure twice so you only have to buy once. You may wish to consider using inexpensive baskets or even cardboard boxes at first. Once you’ve determined that the “home” for the item is in the correct spot, then spend the extra money for high quality containers.

Equalize

The last step is often overlooked but you will need to schedule maintenance time during which you put things back in their homes. You can schedule daily, weekly, and seasonal maintenance. If the maintenance seems to be more work than originally anticipated, consider changing homes for certain items. Keep refining your system until it works well for you.

Morgenstern’s S.P.A.C.E. program won’t get you on a Journey to Mars but it will help you make your home on planet Earth a lot more enjoyable.

Organizing resolution jump-start

We know that many people have chosen “getting organized” as a New Year’s resolution – and some of those people want to get started now! Here is a short-list of Unclutterer posts that can help you get a jump-start.

Setting Organizing Goals

Overwhelmed?

How to Start

Uncluttering

Keeping Motivated

Happy New Year from the Unclutterer Team and all the best to you in your organizing efforts.

Organizing during grief

Everyone goes through periods of grief or bereavement at some point in life. This intense sorrow is often caused by the death of a loved one. However grief can be caused by many other events. Some of these events include:

  • The loss of anyone with whom you have a close bond, including pets.
  • The ending of a close relationship such as estrangement from spouse, sibling, parent, friend or even a business partner.
  • Physical, mental, emotional, and/or behavioural changes of a close family member or friend (such as a parent diagnosed with dementia or family member struggling with addiction).
  • Moving away from a long-time home, even if the change is due to a happy event like a new job or marriage.
  • A military deployment of a family member, even if the deployment is not to a hostile area.
  • The realization that a lifetime goal will never be achieved for example you did not get an anticipated job promotion or not accepted into a certain school.
  • For some people, the loss of certain possessions can trigger grief such as having to part with your first car or losing your wedding ring.

Grief causes stress and stress creates physiological changes in the body and brain. This may cause you to feel and act differently compared to non-stress situations. Although everyone feels grief differently, it is common to experience fatigue and irritability much more quickly. It may also be more difficult to concentrate, make decisions and solve problems.

Sometimes during periods of grief you may be expected to remain productive or even do some major organizing. Here are a few tips to help you through this difficult time.

  1. Get help with the grief. The most important thing is to get help to manage the feelings of grief. Confide in a friend or family member. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or mental health professional. Look for community support groups in your area.
  2. Adjust your expectations. Now that you know grief interferes with your ability to organize and make decisions, accept that during this period you probably won’t be at the top of your game. Relax and don’t be so hard on yourself.
  3. Prioritize. Our previous posts, Managing the overwhelmed feeling and Seven ways to cope with stress offer some great advice on prioritizing.
  4. Reduce the number of decisions. Some people try to reduce uncluttering to one decision – either keep everything or keep nothing. It could be that neither of these options is the best. Yet, deliberating over each individual item is frustrating and time-consuming. Instead, make some overarching decisions. For example, if you’re uncluttering books, you may decide to keep only those that were signed by the author and let the rest go to charity.
  5. Reduce the time, increase the frequency. If you’re having trouble concentrating on one task, try changing tasks. You could unclutter or organize during the commercial breaks of your favourite TV show. You could alternately read one chapter of a book then organize for a while. There is power in just 15-30 minutes a day.
  6. Hire a professional organizer. Members of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) are skilled in helping people who are having difficulty with organizing and productivity. They are also caring, compassionate, and discrete.

If you have tips for our readers on how to stay organized and productive during periods of grief and bereavement, please share them in the comments.

Do you maintain a clutter preserve?

Earlier this week I was reading a nice series of posts at Organized Home on “Decluttering 101.” It’s always good to brush up on the basics. The author, Cynthia Ewer, shared some good advice, as well as a concept I found quite interesting: the “clutter preserve.” I’ll let her explain it.

“Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries. In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it’s thrown on the chair.”

A part of me shivers when I read this. If I create a clutter preserve — even one that’s out of the way — I fear it will foster others. As if it is tacit permission to make a tiny, obscure stack here, an unobtrusive pile there, and so on.

I see the logic in it, too. As Cynthia says, no one is squeaky-clean all the time. “Even the tidiest among us tosses clothes on the floor from time to time.” I can even relate this to email processing. Sure, it would be amazing to read and respond to every message every day, but for many of us that is not possible.

Now I want to ask you: do you maintain a clutter preserve, or maybe more than one? If so, do you attack it on a regular basis or is it there to offer sanity-saving permission to not be 100% perfect? Sound off in the comments, I’m eager to read what you think.

The least glamorous part of organizing

A significant uncluttering and organizing project can be exhilarating. You can see huge progress, and things that bothered you for a long time can find solutions.

But then there’s the ongoing maintenance: putting the toys back in place, dealing with the mail, etc. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this part of the organizing process, but it’s critical. Sadly, there is no magical organizing fairy who can complete the maintenance work with a wave of her wand. Given that, the following are some suggestions for tackling maintenance activities.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Getting behind on maintenance happens to everyone I know at times, including myself and other fellow organizers.

Minimize the amount of maintenance required

If dealing with mail is overwhelming, you might invest some time in getting off mailing lists so there won’t be as much incoming mail. You can also look into going paperless for bank statements, bills, etc.

Reconsider who is doing the maintenance work

If you share your household with a spouse, domestic partner, children, or roommates, look at how the maintenance work is divided and see if there might be a better way to split up that work.

And if your budget accommodates it, consider paying someone to do certain tasks that are time-consuming or especially annoying.

Make the maintenance easier

Sometimes little adjustments, such as adding (or repositioning) a wastebasket, recycling bin, or laundry hamper can make a big difference. Using hooks instead of hangers can make it easier for some people to put away their coats, bathrobes, and such.

If your closets and other storage spaces are already quite full, minimizing new purchases (or instituting a one-in, one-out rule) will make it easier to ensure everything has an appropriate storage space, so it’s easy to put things away.

Determine what schedule works best for you

Do you do best with a short amount of maintenance work daily, or a larger chunk of time once/week — or some other schedule? Experiment and find a routine that feels comfortable for you.

Create holding places for items in between maintenance sessions

An inbox for mail, receipts, and other scraps of paper will keep them from being misplaced until you go through them to toss/recycle, shred, scan, or file. Maybe you’ll want a bin for things left laying around the living room (or other spaces) until your next scheduled time for putting all those things away.

Plan for ongoing uncluttering, too

Even if you’ve done a complete uncluttering exercise, it’s worth revisiting your possessions periodically. Children outgrow clothes and toys. Adults find their interests change. And almost everyone makes a few purchases that don’t work out, resulting in items that should be returned, donated, etc.

Look for ways to make maintenance time more pleasant

Having good tools (a shredder that doesn’t jam, nice clothes hangers, etc.) will make the work less annoying. A pleasant workspace for handling the paperwork can make a big difference, too. Some people enjoy listening to music as they do the work. Others give themselves mini-rewards after the work gets done.

Getting motivated to unclutter and organize

Starting and completing an organizing project can be hard — it takes time and continued focus on your goals. Some people get motivated when their frustrations become overwhelming. They are tired of not being able to find things, of feeling embarrassed by their homes, etc.

Sometimes people find their motivation in something they’ve read. Although organizers often find a collection of unused organizing books on people’s bookshelves, sometimes reading just the right book (Erin’s latest book, Marie Kondo’s book, etc.) at the right time can provide the inspiration needed.

Other people get motivated by images of organized spaces they see in magazines or on Pinterest. While these photos are often unrealistic — I’ve never met anyone whose home looks as picture-perfect as those shown in magazines — they can still inspire some people to imagine what their homes might look like and start taking steps in that direction.

For other people, the best way to stay motivated is to have a deadline. That can be a self-imposed deadline or one that comes from others: the IRS, family members, etc. I’ve seen people who had talked about getting organized for years, with no success, who became successful once they had deadlines they had to meet.

The following are some deadlines I’ve seen work for people:

  • I’m going to adopt, and the agency is coming to do a home visit.
  • My parents are coming to visit, and I want my home to look good when they get here.
  • I need to file my tax returns, so I have to get my papers organized.
  • My boss gave me a month to get more organized.
  • I’m replacing my broken garage door in a few weeks, and I have to clear out my packed garage before then.
  • I’m moving in a month, and I can’t take everything with me.
  • I’m going to be getting a roommate, so I need to unclutter the room she will be renting from me.
  • I’ve made an appointment for next month with someone who may want to buy some of my stuff.
  • I’ve told the storage facility that I plan to give up one of my three units next month.
  • I committed to my therapist/coach that I’d get going on this project before our next visit.
  • I want to participate in our neighborhood garage sale.
  • I promised my sister-in-law that I would send her the clothes my kids have outgrown, because they’ll be just the right sizes for her kids.

Note that if you are setting your own deadline, you can make sure it’s a realistic one for you. If you have multiple storage lockers, you can set a deadline for clearing out one of them at a time. You can set deadlines that are a month out, not next week.

And finally, many people are motivated by seeing progress. If you can find something that motivates you to begin the uncluttering and organizing process, you may find it easier to stay motivated to continue.

Gadgets to make yard work effective and fun

One trick I learned years ago is that a fun toy, gadget, or tool can make a task I dislike more pleasant to do. My FitBit encourages me to walk, for instance. Likewise, a beautiful ledger helps me work on my family’s budget. With this in mind, I decided to tackle another chore I typically avoid: Yard work.

Yard work isn’t so bad in the spring and fall, when the weather is nice and it’s pleasant to be outdoors. But in the summer, ugh. Heat, humidity, and the ever-present, thin layer of sweat prompt me to procrastinate and then grumble the entire time I finally do it. To get past this frustration, I discovered three tools that I enjoy so much, I’m eagerly willing to push my way through the humidity and heat and do a little yard work.

An expandable hose is the first item. I’ll admit it, I thought this was a goofy gimmick. My sister sent me one of these as a Father’s Day gift. It was thoughtful, as the hose I had been using for many years had died. “Well,” I thought, “this thing looks weird but I’ll try it out.”

After one use I was a complete convert. This lightweight hose does in fact expand at an impressive rate, without sacrificing durability. It feels well-made. When you’re done, simply spray out any remaining water and watch it grow smaller and smaller. The result is lightweight and flexible enough to be stored away with ease.

The second item is The Handy Camel, which is a Chip Clip on steroids. I do a lot of planting, and I’m often hauling heavy bags of soil around. They’re awkward, floppy, and love to spill. Enter the Handy Camel. This thing does in fact behave like a Chip Clip. Just snap it over the opening of a 40-pound bag and use the handle to carry it around like a suitcase.

The third item puts an end to spilling gasoline when trying to fill your gas-powered lawn mower. The Surecan stops that mess. They’re made of sturdy plastic and the brilliant inverted design lets you fill a small-engine tank with the ease of a trigger. No more smelling like gas for the rest of the day or worse, accidentally splashing gas on hot parts of the mower.

I’m not usually one to recommend buying more stuff to stay productive, but if a tool or gadget makes a task so much more enjoyable that you actually do it and don’t hate it, I’m all for it. Simple living is about living free of distractions — and loathing an activity is certainly a distraction.

Should you buy a commercial or a residential vacuum?

Over the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of commercial cleaning. I’m using powerful chemicals and exceptional hardware, like vacuum cleaners and shop-vacs that are built to endure lots of use. This made me think: should I use commercial cleaning products at home? They’re effective and built to last forever. But are they appropriate for domestic cleaning?

The short answer is no, as commercial cleaners and domestic products are built to perform different jobs in different environments. A perfect illustration of this is the vacuum cleaner.

Should I buy a commercial [insert product you’re considering] for my home?

In the case of a commercial vacuum cleaner, it’s an attractive idea, isn’t it? Commercial vacuums are built to last and take more abuse than their residential counterparts. Let’s attack this question by looking at some pros and cons.

The pros

I struggled with putting cost in the pro vs. con column, but eventually pro won out. Yes, a commercial vacuum is expensive. For example, I’ve been using a Sebo 370 at work, which retails around $870. That’s not cheap, but Dyson makes home models that are in the same range. The idea here is that a commercial model will have a longer life than a residential machine, thereby costing less in the long run.

Readily-available parts. Big-box stores will infrequently stock parts for residential vacuums. If there’s an authorized retailer in your neighborhood you’re in luck (for example, I’m lucky enough to live near a Miele dealer). And you can often pick up parts for commercial units directly from the manufacturer or even a local distributor. So long as you’ve got that brand nearby, it isn’t an issue. If you don’t, this would move to the con column.

As I noted earlier, commercial vacuum cleaners are built to last and withstand abuse. They’re built of high-quality components and often have longer cords and heavier bodies. They’re designed with superior structural integrity to help them endure daily use as well as getting banged around a bit.

Lastly, they’re often more powerful than residential units. The first time I used a commercial machine I was amazed at what it picked up with a single pass.

The cons

They’re less comfortable. The Sebo I use at work is heavy. While it feels substantial and solid while pushing around, just haul it up a flight of stairs a few times and the bloom starts to come off the rose.

In general, home vacuums are designed to be lightweight and comfortable, while commercial units are meant to get a job done. This means a heavier machine, yes, but it also means that convenience items are missing like power control levels, that cool retractable cord, and tools for above-the-floor cleaning.

In addition, many commercial units have a reusable cloth bag instead of the disposable units your home machine has. No fun. You have to clean that bag.

I mentioned the power earlier and that sounds like a good thing, unless you have a delicate carpet. A commercial machine cares not about your precious carpets! It merely wants to get the job done. In fact, it can be too harsh for what you’ve got on the floor. Remember, these are meant for hotels, schools, and restaurants. In other words: industrial carpeting.

Lastly, they’re loud. As in, you turn it on and reflexively say, “Wow, that is loud.” Pets will run, birds will leap from the trees, and bunnies will cover their big, floppy ears.

Ultimately, when deciding between purchasing a commercial unit and a residential unit, it’s worth the time to weigh the actual pros and cons of the item before assuming the commercial unit is better for YOU. It might not actually be what you want, and you can end up creating clutter in your home and wasting money.