More than 15 ways to handle recurrent clutter

There are three areas in my home that are on a recurrent cycle of being cluttered and cause me stress: the kitchen, the family room, and the dirty clothes hamper in the bedroom.

I have taken many steps to try to get my laundry problem under control, but I continue to wrestle with it. The kitchen is a similar stress aggravated by the fact that my husband and I eat three meals a day at home. Then, there is the family room where things come in and never leave.

These three areas have one thing in common: they have a constant supply of input. Every night I deposit clothes into the hamper. Every day I sit and knit or read or watch TV or whatever I’m doing to relax in my family room. Every meal I dirty pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups, and every week I bring in more food to repeat the cycle.

I’ve been working diligently recently to keep these areas clutter free in my own home, and can share a few tips and advice. I hope that you find at least one or more helpful.

Laundry

  • If you haven’t already read it, start by going to my previous post on dealing with laundry clutter. Following these tips have made my laundry situation bearable.
  • Additionally, I recommend making your laundry room as welcoming, cheerful, and serene as possible. A laundry room that is pleasant to be in makes doing the laundry much less of an annoyance. A dark, dreary basement with bare concrete walls isn’t inviting. Spruce up your space so that being in it is a reward, not a punishment.

Family Room

  • Institute a “no food” rule for your family room. No food outside the kitchen or dining room is a good general house rule, too.
  • Assess the amount of furniture in your family room. Do you really need four end tables and two coffee tables? I find that the more tables I have in a room, the more stuff I set on the tables.
  • Every time a person leaves the room, have them put something away. If everything is properly in its place, celebrate.
  • Have a vacuum cleaner/broom easily accessible to the room. I find that I need to vacuum the carpet in this room twice as often as in the rest of the house. Having the ability to use it with very little effort is essential.
  • Have a place for everything in the room: a knitting basket with a lid, a storage system for your video games, a chest for children’s toys, a bin for piano music, a CD and DVD solution, etc.

Kitchen

  • My first suggestion for the kitchen is to get your hands on Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook. The kitchen section in the book is really good and I learned a great deal from reading it. I reference it a handful of times a month.
  • Put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher. No plates or cups should ever sit dirty on the counter.
  • Own dishwasher-safe stainless steel cookware and other kitchen items. If you have to wash it by hand it is likely to sit cluttered on the counter.
  • Avoid unitasker appliances and utensils. Based on your cooking style, a few may creep into your home, but it’s best to try to keep these numbers small.
  • Monitor what small appliances and entertaining dishes you use, and get rid of those you don’t. I’ve used our reader-suggested dot system for my monitoring with great success.
  • If you must store small appliances on your counter, only have out those you use often. My toaster, coffee pot, vacuum sealer, and mixer sit out all the time. I use all of these daily or almost daily.
  • Organize your kitchen so that what you use is stored next to where it is used. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but things like pots and pans should be next to the stove and leftover storage containers next to the refrigerator.
  • If you’re like me, don’t use a bread box. I put bread in there, forget about it, and then discover it weeks later all moldy. I currently store aluminum foil, wax paper, ziplock bags, and such in my bread box instead. I set my bread on top of the bread box.

Please feel welcome to add suggestions in the comments section. There are so many effective strategies out there that I couldn’t possibly name them all in this post. So, let us know what works for you!

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

Four organizing lessons from Hamilton

I was lucky enough to see a performance of Hamilton last weekend, which was marvelous. How does this relate to organizing? The following are four organizing-related messages I took away from my theater experience and from my post-performance reading about the show.

Experiences are some of the best gifts.

I was lucky enough to receive my ticket as a gift. On Unclutterer we often write about how experiences make some of the best gifts, and this was a great example. That ticket was definitely one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

Uncluttering is always important.

The book Hamilton: The Revolution provides some of the back story regarding the creation of the musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail didn’t cut many songs from Hamilton as it evolved, but there were a few songs that did get removed. As the book noted, “The most common reason for putting a song aside was to keep the audience focused on the story that Lin and Tommy were trying to tell.” For example, a cabinet battle song about slavery “didn’t shed new light on the characters … so the song had to go.”

And on Twitter, Lin-Manuel explained that he cut a song about Washington’s death “because we sing a whole song about him saying goodbye and even though the moment gave us feels, it was redundant.”

If you’re uncluttering your home or office, you can take inspiration from Hamilton and look for items that don’t support what you want to accomplish in your space and items that are superfluous.

You always need tools with you to capture your thoughts.

One of the points that David Allen makes in Getting Things Done is that you never know when you’re going to have an idea worth remembering, and our minds aren’t the best of tools for storing these random thoughts. So you need some kind of tools (paper or electronic) for capturing those thoughts.

I thought about that when reading an article by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker about one of the Hamilton songs:

The refrain of Aaron Burr’s signature song, “Wait for It,” came to him fully formed one evening on the subway. “I was going to a friend’s birthday party in Dumbo,” he says. “I sang the melody into the iPhone, then I went to the guy’s party for fifteen minutes, and wrote the rest of the song on the train back home.”

Making time for both work and family is never easy.

One constant theme in Hamilton is the man’s devotion to his work (and the amazing amount of important work he got done) at the expense of spending time with his family. As Elizabeth Logan wrote on the HuffPost website about the song One Last Time:

Washington tells Hamilton, hey, sometimes it’s good to give up power and go home and be with your family. And Hamilton is like what why would anyone do that.

On the other hand, there’s Hamilton’s wife Eliza, who sings in Non-Stop, “And if your wife could share a fraction of your time …”

Many people struggle to find enough time for both their work and their personal lives. Hamilton doesn’t provide any answers to this dilemma, but it does bring it to your attention in a new way.

5,4,3,2,1: Creating clothing capsules

Today’s guest post is by Geralin Thomas, Author, Career Coach for Professional Organizers, Home Organization and Decluttering Consultant, and Capsule Wardrobe Fanatic.

It seems like everyone is talking, blogging, or photographing clothing capsules. Basically, a capsule wardrobe is comprised of several pieces of curated clothing and accessories that are versatile and coordinate with each other.

It might seem like an impossible goal, but creating a clothing capsule is not really difficult. And it has many benefits, the primary one being eliminating the “what am I going to wear” syndrome and keeping only garments and accessories that go together effortlessly. Clothing capsule enthusiasts dress with ease every day.

So how do you go about creating your own capsule wardrobe? There’s no one right way to do it, but most people who want to create a clothing capsule start by detoxing their current wardrobes and editing everything that doesn’t fit their body, lifestyle, and personality like a glove. They keep items whose fabric weight, colors, and mood are all similar.

For inspiration, think about certain celebrities who have a very distinct style. Public figures like Ellen, Martha Stewart, Kate Hudson, Wendy Williams, or Cher wear clothes that look like them and fit their lifestyle and personality.

One of the goals when building a capsule of clothing, is to aim for pieces that fit your current lifestyle, not a lifestyle you aspire to live. Each and every garment should fit and flatter and make you feel fabulous, not frumpy or costume-y when you get dressed. Each garment should mix and match so that you can reach into your closet and know that everything in it goes together.

The majority of my clients are looking for a system or starting point with capsule wardrobes, so I created a basic formula I call 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

My basic business wear/girls’ night out/date night clothing capsule formula is: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 but remember, it doesn’t matter how many pieces are in your capsule wardrobe, as long as all of them go there and you’re pleased with it.

  • 5 tops
  • 4 bottoms
  • 3 toppers
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 yours-truly accessory

I suggest picking one or two base colors for the bottoms. Three examples of base colors for the bottoms:

  • navy + whiskey
  • black + gray
  • chocolate brown + olive

One or two accent colors for the tops that coordinate with the base colors. For example:

If the base is: The accent colors could be:
navy + whiskey coral + teal
black + gray red + white
chocolate brown + olive marigold + paprika

 

The “toppers” can be blazers, cardigans, ponchos, or vests in base, in a third color or a variation of the base or accent color.

The dresses can be every-day, around-town dresses or something fancier depending on your lifestyle. They can be in your base, accent, or a third color.

The “yours-truly” accessory can be a handbag, necklace, scarf or whatever you’d like as long as it is uniquely you. That does not mean it has to be expensive. It typically means you are going to wear it every day and keep wearing it for years (a watch, a necklace, a handbag, earrings).

Hints about colors: Try to select colors that flatter your complexion (warm or cool) and your eye color. If you can’t figure out if you’re warm or cool, have a look at my Pinterest boards, color analysis and clothing capsules how-to.

Finally, if that doesn’t help ask a hair stylist or make-up artist to analyze your complexion as they are usually very good at this.

For most of the women I work with, creating very specific capsules for very specific occasions is another favorite starting place. I call these “Occasion Capsules” A few options include:

  • funerals
  • weddings (daytime and evening)
  • resort wear (skiing, cruises, etc.)
  • sports (yoga, swimming, golf)
  • girls’ night out
  • date night
  • public speaking
  • errands around town

Please note that in no way am I’m suggesting that a funeral or wedding capsule have 15 pieces. Instead, for those capsules you would want to make sure you have everything you need from head-to-toe and from inner to outer including undergarments, handbag, shoes, jewelry and coat, umbrella or whatever else might be appropriate.

To help plan your very own capsules, download my free Capsule Wardrobe Planning Worksheets or watch videos of me talking about decluttering, clothing, closets and capsule wardrobes.

Interested in taking things a step further? Record your exact measurements and figure out your body type using my Wardrobe Wisdom Workbook.

Reader question: Ending laundry chaos

A reader sent us the following question:

Your site is uber-rad. I would really appreciate an article on how to get my LAUNDRY out of chaos mode. Thoughts on that one???

You had me at “uber-rad.”

I see laundry as the worst form of lazy clutter. I understand your pain and stress. I was once a degenerate who let laundry pile up around her until it seemed an impossible foe. The dark side, however, is behind me, and I offer you more than 20 tips to help you keep your laundry chaos to a minimum:

  • First and foremost, establish a laundry routine. We do laundry every Monday and Thursday in our household. I suggest that if there are one or two people in your house that you follow in my footsteps. If you have three or four people in your home, you probably need to do laundry every other day. If there are five or more people in your house, you should do a load of laundry (or more) every day. You can’t let laundry pile up or it instantly becomes chaotic.
  • Exclusively use sturdy laundry baskets (20 gal. or smaller). Keep one in the bedroom(s), and a smaller one in the bathroom, and laundry room. Don’t buy one with fabric sides because it will inevitably malfunction and turn into a mess instead of a hamper. If you have a laundry chute, only have laundry baskets in your laundry room to transport clean and folded clothes. Some people might think that having three baskets per room – one for darks, lights, and delicates – is a step saving measure because it keeps you from having to sort clothes on laundry day. I’ve found through experience, however, that three baskets per room results in more chaos because there’s more space for clothes to pile up, less floor space for things you value more than dirty laundry, and more trips carrying dirty clothes to the laundry room (at least three instead of one).
  • Have fewer clothes. The fewer clothes you have, the fewer clothes you have to wash. In a series of upcoming posts, I’ll discuss specific ways to do this.
  • Don’t have more clothes than you can store properly in your dresser drawers and closet. If you can’t put all of your clothes away, you’ll always have a reason to have dirty clothes.
  • Only buy non-iron clothes to keep clean shirts from stacking up in a “needs ironing” pile.
  • When moving, look for a place that has a laundry room on the same floor as your closet. If you’re a DIY person, consider building a closet with the washer and dryer right inside of it.
  • Have a designated dry cleaner bag next to your hamper. If you keep it in your car, clothes that need to go to the dry cleaner will certainly pile up on the floor and cause clutter. Be sure to drop your dry cleaning bag off every Friday and pick it up every Monday — routines are important for dry cleaning clothes, too.
  • Keep a stack of delicate bags next to your hamper. When you take off delicates, you can put them straight into a delicates bag and then just throw them into the hamper. This way your delicates won’t accidentally get lost in your dirty clothes mess.
  • Change into pajamas at least an hour before bedtime so that you have enough energy to do more than throw your dirty clothes on the floor.
  • Before buying anything in a color that bleeds (like red), ask yourself if you will want to take the time to sort it out every time you launder it.
  • Think about wearing only one color so that you never have to sort your laundry into lights and darks. These people have done it.
  • Get a job in an office that allows casual dress so that you stop wearing two sets of clothes on most days.
  • Have a stick of Tide To-Go in your closet so if a shirt is stained you can spot clean it before putting it into the hamper.
  • Only have two sets of bed sheets — one on your bed and one waiting on deck. The same can apply to towels, but I suggest three because the rate of replacement is higher for towels.
  • By the age of 12 your children should have their own laundry routines.
  • Clean out pockets when taking off clothing to avoid having to do it during sorting. I suggest having a small trash can in your closet for just this purpose.
  • If something is permanently stained or riddled with holes, get rid of it.
  • Keep hangers in your laundry room so that you can immediately hang up the clothes that you don’t fold.
  • Replace your washer and dryer with large capacity units so that you can do two to three traditional loads at a time.
  • Have a table in your laundry room so that you can have a space to immediately fold clothes as they come out of the dryer. Do NOT allow it to become a clutter table — keep it clean and only use it for folding.
  • Have a designated bag or box in your laundry room to put clothes in that you want to donate to charity. When they come out of the dryer, fold them, and stick them into the bag.

 

This post was originally published in May 2007.

What causes clutter in your life?

One of the important aspects of getting clutter under control in your life is to discover why your home and life are cluttered. Spending as few as 15 minutes in quiet reflection often can help you to discover the root of your problem.

Is your home and life cluttered because of:

  • Emotional avoidance? (Are you holding onto your past because you fear the present and future? Are you afraid that you’ll lose the memories of someone from your past if you get rid of a physical object of his/hers?)
  • Physical exhaustion or limitation? (Have you been injured and cannot pick up objects as easily as you once could? Would you benefit from the help of a hired hand?)
  • Mental exhaustion? (Are you emotionally overwhelmed because of a work or social situation?)
  • Lack of time? (Are you working too many hours or traveling too often to keep your home well maintained?)
  • Feeling overwhelmed? (Is there so much stuff in your home that you don’t know where to begin organizing and/or cleaning? Are you over-committed to clubs and activities outside of your home to give your life its proper attention?)
  • Laziness? (Do you just not want to take care of things right now?)
  • Compulsive shopping? (Are you buying more than you can use and need? Are you constantly buying things to make yourself feel better?)
  • Procrastination? (Do you want to have your clutter disappear but would rather sit and watch television instead of deal with it?)

Once you identify the cause(s) of clutter in your life, you can work to keep clutter from reappearing in your home. The causation of your clutter might be able to be solved by simply changing your attitude (like with laziness) or hiring a professional organizer to get you started. Solving your time crunch problem might mean something more drastic like changing your job. In some cases, you might even consider consulting a counselor or life coach to help solve the root of your problem. In all cases, though, identifying the cause(s) of your clutter and working to solve it can help to keep your life clutter free in the future.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Reader question: Which linens stay and which ones go?

Reader Pamela sent us the following question:

I have a question/problem I think you folks might be able to help with. I have been trying for the past few months to trim down – unclutter my home – since I had a roommate move in a few months back. So, far, I have been proud of how I am doing. However, I am still struggling with a few problems spots in the house — linens and books. You recently addressed dealing with books on your site. Would you consider dealing with the linen issue? Right now I have a TON of bed sheets and various quilts and blankets. I know I need to get rid of some of it. Thanks.

Linens, which for the purposes of this post I will define as sheets, blankets, towels, and washcloths, are often concealed clutter in homes because they have a designated space (like a linen closet) where they can hide. If you’re like me, though, you have a habit of putting linens into the closet, but never taking worn-out ones out of circulation.

The following tips can help you to know which linens are good and which linens are clutter in your home.

Sheets: I live in a four-season climate, so I support having two sets of warm-weather sheets (cotton) and two sets of cool-weather sheets (flannel or jersey) for your bed. This means one set on the bed, one waiting to be switched to on laundry day, and two in a sealed storage container for the alternate season.

Good sheets should

  1. appropriately fit the bed even after many washings
  2. have properly functioning elastic
  3. be hole and stain free
  4. be made of a soft and durable single-ply cotton with a thread count between 200 and 400 (see a buying guide to sheets here)
  5. allow you to be comfortable so that you can sleep soundly.

Blankets: In addition to the comforter on your bed, I suggest that you should have at least three additional blankets — one for curling up with on the couch, one for overnight guests, and a “work” blanket in the trunk of your car for spontaneous picnics and for warmth if you have car trouble in the winter. You may find that you need more blankets for your home, especially if you have children, but three blankets are all we use.

Quilts and bedspreads: If you have a quilt that is a family heirloom or was handmade by a close friend, it will likely be difficult to get rid of it for emotional reasons. Therefore, I believe quilts are made to be loved and either used or displayed, not stored. Read more about vintage quilts and bedspreads here.

Bathroom towels and washcloths: Like sheets, I suggest having two sets of bathroom linens per person. One in use, and one to be switched to on laundry day. If you have a guest bathroom, usually one set of guest towels is appropriate. Old and unnecessary towels and washcloths should be moved to the garage to be used as rags or donated to the local animal shelter.

Good bathroom towels and washcloths should

  1. keep their shape and color after many washings
  2. be hole, snag, and stain free
  3. be made of a soft, durable cotton that look like thousands of strings (instead of loops)
  4. be good at drying you

Kitchen towels and washcloths: The rules here are similar to bath towels, except you don’t need two kitchen towels per person in your house. Most kitchens can get by on three towels and three to six dishcloths.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Organizing suggestions found in the media

My eye is always drawn to anything I see in newspapers, magazines, and such that has anything to do with organizing, even tangentially. I just sometimes wish that the messages were a bit more nuanced. The following are a few examples.

Buying organizing supplies = getting organized

Each week RedPlum advertising mailers arrive at my home, and there’s always an “organize your home” ad with photos of bedroom closet systems and garage cabinets. And while these kinds of products can certainly be useful, buying items like this would be the final step in getting organized, after any uncluttering and sorting. It’s hard to get a storage system configured properly if you don’t know what you’re going to store!

And, of course, many people can be organized just fine without buying something like a closet system.

Note for those who are certain to ask: Yes, I finally went to the RedPlum website to opt out of the company’s mailings.

There’s one right way to organize your stuff

Ayn-Monique Klahre wrote on The Kitchn website that she was advised that her “dream spice cabinet” with lovely identical spice containers was a bad way to organize those spices. I certainly agree that buying such spice containers and transferring all your spices from the bottles they came in to those new containers can be a waste of time and money, and it’s probably a poor idea for most people. But if someone has the time and money to spend and gets joy out of looking at the spices in their nice containers, I see nothing wrong with that.

The article goes on to say that organizing spices alphabetically is also a bad idea — which is a surprise to me, since that’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years. Organizing by use (cooking vs. baking) or by cuisine (Mexican, Italian, etc.) can also work for some people, but I’m fine with alphabetic.

While there are often best practices that work for most people, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t organize things in a totally different way that works for the way you think and live. I imagine the experts consulted for this article would agree, and that some qualifying comments were lost along the way.

Style your bookcases to refresh your home decor

Bonnie McCarthy wrote an article titled 12 tips to styling your bookcases like a pro, which ran in the Los Angeles Times. I had mixed reactions to this one. While McCarthy writes about “creating bookshelf displays that are both functional and decorative” in the introduction, the specific tips are heavy on the decorative portion.

If your goal is to have pretty bookcases with art and accessories along with the books, her advice seems quite good. But I was sad to see no real acknowledgement that books on bookcases are (in most cases) primarily there to be read and enjoyed, and making them easy to find and replace should be a critical factor to consider when doing the styling.

One of her suggestions, removing the dust jackets from the books and arranging them by color, would only work if you’re someone who visualizes books by color — and someone who doesn’t find dust jackets interesting and informative.

But I do like the advice she gave that applies to any organizing situation: “Don’t expect perfection on the first try; it may take a few attempts before everything falls into place.” And if you’re going to intersperse decorative pieces among the books, I would echo this advice: “Don’t crowd. Placing fewer items among your books allows them to shine.”

There was also one interesting tip that did indeed focus on both the practical and the decorative: “Curate a small collection and intersperse the pieces among the books on the shelves. Bonus points for displaying with books on the topic of the collection, i.e. sea shells and jars of sand with books about surfing and the Pacific.” That’s a creative organizing idea that would make those books easy to find while also creating an eye-catching look.

How good are you at letting others help you?

I’m not. Not at all, in fact. Whenever someone offers to help me with anything, my immediate reaction is, “No, I can do it!” As if I were a five year old in front of an adult who questions my ability to do something.

It’s a terrible affliction this need to be so independent. And to be quite honest, it’s rather selfish on my part, too.

In an article in Psychology Today, the author talks about how letting others help you is a gift you give them. Most of us feel the desire to help whenever loved ones need it and helping them makes us feel better.

Just last night a friend was saying how her vacation plans fell through because of a mix-up with the online vacation reseller. We automatically offered our place in La Rioja – at least they would be able to get away from home for a week and they both love wine and sun. While it’s not the 5-star hotel they had hoped for, at least it’s a change of pace and scenery.

She said she couldn’t possibly and I countered with, “If the roles were reversed, would you offer us your place?” When she said, “Of course!” half-offended that I would imply otherwise, she realized how incongruent she was being and added, “Fine, I’ll think about it.”

When it comes to clutter, disorganization, or a lack to time deal with all of your responsibilities, can you ask for help, or are you like my friend who is horrified at imposing on others?

If you are like my friend (and to be honest, like me) and don’t like asking for help, these five tips from the “Savvy Psychologist” Ellen Hendrikson, PhD, may just help you:

  1. I don’t want to be a burden. As I’ve said already, people love to help. To get over this feeling, try asking for something small and very specific. Ask your best friend over and say, “Can you help me go through my closet? I want to get rid of some clothes, and I need an objective eye.” (Offering wine while you do it might help soothe your feelings of imposing.)
  2. I can’t admit that I need help. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Being a human being means being part of a community, and in communities, people help each other. Try depersonalizing the problem. Instead of saying, “I can’t get the bathroom cabinets under control.” say, “The bathroom cabinets are about to explode (and it has nothing to do with me as a person; it’s external to who I am).”
  3. I don’t want to feel indebted. Helping isn’t a barter system. People don’t help in order to be able to call in the favour later (at least people with a healthy understanding of relationships don’t). Try feeling gratitude. Say, “Thank you, I really appreciate this.” No need to offer reciprocal help in that moment. No one is going to present you with a bill (unless you’ve hired yourself a Professional Organizer, of course).
  4. I can’t show my weakness. This is my issue. I’m independent. I can do it! I don’t need anyone! Whenever I find myself acting like this I give myself a good shake and say, “Oh, please, you’re not a toddler and you’re not some macho alpha who always has to be strong. No one is always strong.” Or, you can take this as an opportunity to learn something new, especially if you consult with an expert (again, perhaps a Professional Organizer).
  5. I might get rejected. People have their own situations to deal with and this might not be the right moment for them to help you. Don’t take it as rejection of you or your problems. Thank them anyway and find someone else to ask. Not everyone is going to be too busy to help. And if they are, as I’ve repeated several times now, you can always turn to professionals.

If you have trouble asking for help, which one (or ones) of these five reactions do you feel when considering asking for help? Do you think the tips are good ones for getting over each reaction? Have others worked for you?

And if you want a book to help you ask for help, why not check out Kickstarter-star Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking?

Being an organized appliance purchaser

My washing machine started leaking about a week ago, and after 30 years I had to admit it was time to buy a new one. I’m very pleased with what I now have, and that’s partly due to the process I followed. Even though I wanted a new machine as soon as possible, I took some time to evaluate my options.

I asked trusted people for recommendations

Both my plumber and my contractor recommended the same appliance store, and I can see why. The place has an informative website, a large selection, and salespeople who were helpful both on the phone and in person.

I got clear on my priorities

My washing needs are pretty simple, so I didn’t need or want complex controls. I had two priorities: size and quality. I have a relatively small alcove for my washer and dryer, so I needed something that would fit that space — even though most washers today are larger than my old one was. I measured a couple times to ensure the machine I was ordering would fit in the washing machine pan I already had.

And I wanted a washing machine that was likely to be trouble-free and last a long time.

I read online recommendations from reliable sources

I read The Sweethome’s recommendations and bought a one-month digital subscription to Consumer Reports so I could read about its selections. Although I didn’t wind up with the machines they recommended, they both helped me understand my choices. For example, I chose a top-loading machine rather than a front-loading machine because of what they wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of both.

I went to the store and saw the machine in person

After doing my research I was fairly sure what I wanted, and I could have just ordered it online. But while I’m often fine with online buying, for something this significant I wanted to put my hands on the machine, not just examine it on a website. The immediate positive reaction I had to the washer when I saw it in the store made me sure about my choice. As much as a washing machine can, this one sparked joy, to use a Marie Kondo phrase.

Once I had the washer, I actually read the manual

Since I went for simple controls, this might have seemed unnecessary. How hard can it be to pick water temperature, load size, and one of four types of wash cycles? But it helped to read how the gentle cycle and “eco” cycle work so I could use those appropriately.

And when I was done, I filed the manual away and recycled the one from my old washing machine. (I know you can get most manuals online, but this is one case where I prefer the paper version.)

10 Places to find hidden clutter

Just because something has a place in your home doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for that object. In fact, just because you have space to store an object doesn’t mean that you should.

If you want to have a home where everything is in its best place, here are 10 places to start looking for hidden clutter:

  1. Under beds. When I was in junior high, my mom found a “tennis ball” under my bed while she was replacing my mattress. Except it wasn’t a tennis ball, it was a furry, rotten apple. The space under people’s beds can be scary. Clear out the clutter (and the bad apples) from under your bed.
  2. Closets. If you’re like most people, you have sheets, towels, board games, coats, scarves, umbrellas, scrap-booking supplies, exercise videos, outdated spices, shoes, empty boxes, and hundreds of other items that you never use cluttering up your closets. Linen closets, coat closets, pantries, and wardrobes are full of clutter that you can get rid of now.
  3. Your basement. Spiders aren’t the only things lurking in your basement. Holiday decorations, boxes you never unpacked from your last move, and broken electronics that you have convinced yourself you will one day fix are all looming down there. I know it’s frightening, but you really should go through these things and deal with them in a proper manner.
  4. Self-storage facilities. You know how kids sometimes put their hands over their ears, close their eyes, and scream, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you”? Imagine me doing that right now. If you rent one of these spaces, read this article. Then, do everything in your power to get rid of your need to use a self-storage facility.
  5. Garages. Are there a pair of Rollerblades somewhere in your garage? Was 1998 the last time you wore them? Unused sports equipment, camping gear, and things that didn’t sell in your last garage sale don’t belong in your garage. Wouldn’t it be nice next winter to actually be able to park your car inside your garage?
  6. Your attic. See #3 above, substituting the word “attic” for “basement.”
  7. High cupboards in the kitchen. Waffle makers, popcorn poppers, china, silver, and griddles have a way of making it into your kitchen, never to be seen again. Consider what I said in my previous post about either using what you already own or getting rid of it.
  8. Guest rooms. I have a friend, who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, who has two “guest rooms” in her home. One has a bed, dresser, and empty closet. The other is filled with boxes and boxes of every piece of clothing her children have ever worn and every toy they have ever owned. Her children are married and live in their own homes. Yet, my friend continues to keep her children’s things and will not reclaim her guest room. If you have a guest room hiding things that you do not need, think about my friend and how you don’t want to end up like her.
  9. Desk drawers and filing cabinets. Your desk is a place that should facilitate productivity, creativity, and work. None of these things can happen if your desk is a disaster. If you’re having trouble with out-of-control papers, read posts in our category of organizing paper. If you’re having trouble opening your desk drawers, take a deep breath, disconnect the phone and the internet for a few hours, and focus on clearing the clutter from your work space.
  10. Your car’s glove box and armrest. As far as I am aware, there is not a competition to see how much stuff you can cram inside your glove box. I’m just letting you know.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Weekend project idea: Clear clutter from your medicine chest

wall mount medicine chestFirst, before I get into the depths of this post, I want to say that you shouldn’t be storing medicines in your bathroom. Humidity is bad for your medicines, and most in-wall cabinets don’t have locks on them and can be accessed by little ones. So, you should begin your weekend project by getting a lockable chest that you can store in a closet or another dry place in your home for your medicines. This modern-style medicine chest with locking glass door mounts on the wall. If you’re worried about losing keys, a portable chest with combination lock is a good alternative.

Next, get rid of all drugs that have passed their expiration dates. Return medications, both prescription and over-the-counter types, to your pharmacy for safe disposal. You can also read our tips on disposing of unused medications.

combo lock medicine chestThird, clear out all items that are not actually medicine-related from your medicine chest and find proper homes for these items.

Fourth, evaluate your medicine chest for duplicates and missing items. You should have at least one thermometer, but not four (like I just found … how in the world do I have four thermometers?).

Finally, lock up your medicine chest and enjoy the rest of your weekend knowing that you helped restore sanity in at least one aspect of your life.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

Minimizing packaging clutter

Clutter doesn’t just come from things you buy (or are given) — it can also come from the associated packaging that sometimes winds up sitting around your home or office. That might be the manufacturer’s packaging or the packaging added by a company like Amazon.

Excess packaging is part of the problem. Sandy Barker wrote abut this on her blog, Off the Beaten Track: “My eye cream comes in an even more ridiculous array of packaging: inside a jar, inside a plastic shell, inside a box, inside shrunk-wrapped plastic.”

The following are some strategies for limiting the packaging debris that comes into your space and dealing with it when it’s unavoidable.

Choose products that minimize packaging

Amazon’s frustration-free packaging initiative began in 2008, and since then many more products have been added to this category. These products are easy to unwrap and the materials are fully recyclable. Toys, electronics, and such don’t need to come in those hard-to-open and non-recyclable plastic clamshells. An added benefit of buying a product with easy-to-open packaging is you’re less likely to procrastinate in putting it into use because getting at the product isn’t a struggle.

You can tell when a product, such as this Belkin surge protector, is part of Amazon’s program because the description says it ships in easy-to-open packaging, and you may be given the option of standard vs. frustration-free packaging.

Amazon also has its Ships in Own Container program, where the product ships in the box from the manufacturer, without putting that box inside an Amazon box. You can tell a product is part of this program when the product page says: “This item’s packaging will indicate what is inside. To cover it, select Ship in Amazon box on the checkout page.”

I buy my cases of toilet paper from Amazon because my local store doesn’t carry the product I want, and I appreciate that Amazon ships it without a second box that I have to break down and put in my recycling bin.

Of course, you can look for products with minimal packaging when buying from places other than Amazon. If you’re shopping at a local store, you can choose to buy products with less packaging than others. And you can look for companies like Green Toys, where “all products are packaged in 100% recyclable cardboard — no additives like blister packs, twist ties, or cellophane wrappers.”

You can also avoid packaging altogether if you buy from bulk bins using a refillable container. There are some stores that specialize in bulk purchases for things like cleaning supplies and shower gels, and many grocery stores have some bulk food bins.

Recycle what you can

Many packaging materials are readily recyclable: cardboard boxes, glass containers, etc. Some may take a bit more effort to recycle, such as packing peanuts. My local UPS Store takes these, and if yours doesn’t you may find another shipping and packaging store that will. And as we’ve noted on Unclutterer before, a number of cosmetics companies, such as Aveda, will take back any packaging (and accessories) that aren’t accepted by your local curbside recycling program.

You can also try offering packing materials (boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, etc.) for free on places like Craigslist or freecycle, since people who sell on eBay or have other reasons to need packing materials may want them.

You may want to save some for your own reuse, perhaps for shipping off gifts. But be realistic about how much of this stuff you’ll really use.

If there’s no other good option, use the trash can

Have you ever bought a meal kit from Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, or one of the many other such companies? If so, you’ll be familiar with the freezer packs that come with these kits. Blue Apron will allow you to mail them back for free, but in other cases you’re stuck with them.

And there’s really no good use for the multitude of packs you can acquire if you use such services regularly. As Kiera Butler wrote in Mother Jones, the companies are no help:

Many blithely suggest that customers store old gel packs in their freezers for future use. Unless you happen to have your own meat locker, that’s wildly impractical. I tried it, and in less than a month the packs — which are roughly the size of a photo album — had crowded practically everything else out of my freezer. …

As Nathanael Johnson at Grist points out, Blue Apron has also suggested that customers donate used freezer packs to the Boy Scouts or other organizations. I asked my local Boy Scouts council whether they wanted my old meal-kit freezer packs. “What would we do with all those ice packs?” wondered the puzzled council executive.

I know many people are loath to throw things like this in the trash, but that’s a better option than having them just sit around your house, unused and taking up space.