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.

Say goodbye to perfume clutter

I like the idea of perfume, but have never really supported the whole “signature scent” concept. Wearing the same fragrance day after day isn’t my style, so I usually just go without perfume because it costs a lot to have many options. I also don’t want a whole dresser top full of large glass bottles tempting my cats. I find, too, that after a year or two the perfume goes stale and loses its oomph!

Reader Amanda sent us a terrific idea for men and women wanting to get rid of large bottle cologne and perfume clutter. Similar to the Use it up! advice reader Elena sent us for shampoo, Amanda’s suggestion is to only purchase perfume in very small amounts through websites like LuckyScent and ThePerfumedCourt:

“This keeps the price low, I can try different perfumes (some not available locally), and I hide them in a box in a dresser drawer, freeing (uncluttering) the top of my dresser.”

LuckyScent has an option at the bottom of every page of perfume that gives you the choice to purchase a sample (0.7mL.). They even offer sample packs; groups of popular or seasonal fragrances.

And, ThePerfumedCourt only sells trial sizes:

“What we do is spray, pour, or use sterile pipettes to take perfume from its original large bottle and repackage it in a smaller bottle (we only use brand new sterile glass bottles) so that the consumer can try as many fragrances as they desire before buying a full bottle.”

Thank you, Amanda, for such a terrifically simple idea for men and women who choose to wear a fragrance!

Take a load off your summertime travel plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

College Life: Making your dorm room livable

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Be organized after an auto accident

I have a friend who was unfortunately involved in two car accidents a few years ago. When the accidents occurred, she was obviously disoriented and under a great deal of anxiety. Days later, after being able to think about what had happened, she wished that she would have been more organized during the events. After both accidents, she realized that she had forgotten to write down important information like the license plate numbers of the other cars.

Wanting not to be caught off guard again, she created a worksheet to keep in the glove compartment of her car in the same folder as her insurance card and registration. (If you do not have Adobe Reader, you can download it here.) This is a situation when being organized can help you greatly.

At the time she had her accidents, she recommended carrying a small, digital camera to photograph the accident scene. Today, most people have smartphones that will not only take high quality photos, but video as well. Just remember to keep your phone charged!

Now, let us hope that you never have to use this worksheet! If you do, however, rest assured that you’ll be organized and you won’t forget to gather any important information.

 

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

Keyless entry = fewer keys

Reader Ralph writes in with a tip that may well belong in a Extreme Minimalism Monday post. He writes,

I hated carrying around my keys so I installed combination door lock deadbolts on my house doors. ”Look ma! No more keys!” … There’s also no need to give spare/emergency keys to family, they just know the code.

He points us to this keyless lock solution. There are also fingerprint and Bluetooth enabled deadbolt locks which allow you to unlock your front door if you “knock” on your smartphone — even if your phone is in your pocket.

Not sure keys bother me that much, but if they bother you, pair this with keyless entry in your car and you’re home free.

 

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

Reader question: Move or store furniture?

Reader Lisa emailed us the following question:

I am moving across the country (probably just for a few years), and would like to take just the essentials. However, I have three large pieces of antique furniture bequeathed by my grandmother that I can definitely see wanting to have in a more permanent house when I move back in the future. So… what do I do with them for the next few years? (Or am I deluding myself — will I ever want them?)

Lisa, your question brings up a number of different issues, so bear with me while I take a few twists and turns to get to a definitive answer.

To start, you seem more uncertain about life than you do about a few pieces of furniture. You use the phrase “probably just for a few years,” which speaks volumes about why this decision is difficult for you. Stop thinking about a possible future, and focus on right now. Are you moving across country? Yes. Do you want to take this furniture with you? No.

Since you don’t want to move the furniture across country, you need to decide what to do with it. Is there someone else in your family who could use the furniture now? What would the repercussions be in your family if you sold the furniture to an antique dealer and used the money to set up your new home on the other coast? If someone would be upset that you sold the furniture, are they willing to take it off your hands? (If not, do not allow them to guilt you into keeping it.)

Maybe you love the furniture, and are considering storing it in self-storage? The reality is that you would likely pay $100 a month to put the three pieces of furniture into a storage locker. If you stay on the other coast for three years, then you’ll have spent at least $3,600 in rent for unused furniture. Would you pay that amount to buy this furniture if you saw it in a store? Could you even insure the furniture for that amount? The possibility also exists that you’ll love the other coast and decide to stay out there permanently. If this happens, then you’ll either continue to pay to store the furniture or you’ll have to pay to have it shipped across country. Whatever way you look at it, using a public storage facility will cost you … and it will probably cost you stress and worry in addition to the price tag.

The future is uncertain, but the present isn’t. If I were you, I’d give the pieces to someone in the family who wants them more than you do. You can admire the furniture every time you visit that family member, and know that it is being useful. And, remember, it’s just furniture, it’s not your grandmother.

 

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

Try giving your refrigerator a facelift

My refrigerator is not magnetic. I have no idea what the previous owners of my house did to it to make it that way, but that is its fate. I learned this the hard way, too, sticking magnet after magnet onto it and watching them fall to the floor. I was mesmerized. How could a magnet not stick to the refrigerator? What kind of a person would want a non-magnetic refrigerator?

Now that I’ve been in my house for many years, I’ve come to appreciate the refrigerator and its plain front. Most notably, I value it because there isn’t any clutter on it — no softball schedules from last season, no warped photos, no magnets with unknown real estate agents’ faces staring back at me. Its clean front actually helps to keep my stress level at bay when I’m in the kitchen. The previous owners of my home were more wise than I had given them credit.

If someone would have ever suggested that I could live without magnets on my refrigerator, I would have thought them batty. So, I will not be surprised if in the comments section people write about my sanity (or, rather, lack of sanity). I am making that very suggestion to you, though. Try clearing off the front of your refrigerator and develop other, less cluttered alternatives to distributing information in your home.

If you must use the front of your refrigerator for this purpose, then use something like a perpetual dry-erase calendar hung with Command poster strips. Command also makes refrigerator clips specially designed for hanging papers (like children’s artwork). These could also be used on other kitchen surfaces such as hanging a recipe on a ceramic tile backsplash. Lulalu makes a weekly calendar pad block that cling sticks to smooth surfaces such as stainless steel fridges, mirrors, and school lockers. Also, you could buy a few easy-change artwork frames and swap out your children’s artwork and well-executed homework on your wall instead of on your refrigerator. Honor their good work instead of losing it in a mish-mash of refrigerator madness. Give a magnet-free refrigerator a try and see how it improves the feel of your kitchen.

 

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

Recycling bins don’t have to be messy

Reader Jameselee drew our attention to the June article “How to Hide Recycling Bins in Your Kitchen” from Popular Mechanics magazine.

It makes sense to find convenient and attractive ways to cope with the typical household’s revolving collection of cans, glass bottles and newspapers, since recycling has become an everyday reality.

Whether you’re planning from scratch or improving an existing setup, the first decision is what room to use for storing the stuff. The kitchen is ideal, given that it’s where most glass and plastic containers get used, but kitchen space is often at a premium. Other options are the pantry, garage, laundry room or mudroom.

The article provides a number of ideas for visible and hidden storage, even though the word “hide” is in the title. I particularly enjoyed the following drawing from the article:

The company simplehuman has quite a few stylish trash/recycle bin combinations. Some can be hidden in a cupboard, others can be placed on the floor. A ClosetMaid four drawer basket kit could be hidden inside a closet.

Do you disguise or hide recycling in your home? What techniques do you use? How do you keep this area from looking cluttered and out of control?

 

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

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.

College Life: Back-to-school basics

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

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

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

Reassess your stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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