Ask Unclutterer: Creating categories

Reader Eza recently noted the following concern in the comment section of the post “How to get started organizing”:

I have huge problems figuring out how to categorise the items I want to keep and how to put them away. I have lots of empty drawers and shelves because I can’t figure out what to put where.

Eza, you’re not alone in this regard. And there’s no one right answer — different categories will work for different people in different situations.

Certainly there are some general principles about what to place where, such as storing frequently used items as close as possible to where they will be used, and using the most easily accessible space for the things used most often. The things you use only once a year can go in those top cabinets that are hard to reach — or in a storage room, storage closet, or garage — while the things you use every day are kept right at hand.

However, there will be plenty of individual variation in how people categorize. Let’s take the example of a kitchen. Some of the common categories people will have are silverware, cooking utensils, food storage containers, dishes, glasses, serving pieces, pots and pans, spices and herbs, food items in various subgroups (if not kept in a separate pantry), etc.

Sometimes people will create categories such as “morning coffee supplies” or “school/office lunch-making supplies” to make commonly performed activities easier. “Lunch-making supplies” may include food storage containers, napkins, and nonperishable food items — things that would normally be in three different categories.

Another example: If two people share a kitchen but tend to use different things, creating categories of “Person 1’s stuff” and “Person 2’s stuff” can make sense. If Person 1 likes certain teas or cooks with certain spices, it might work best to keep them separate from Person 2’s very different teas and spices.

Going beyond the kitchen, let’s turn to the clothes closet. Clothes can be categorized by type of garment (pants, jacket, shirt/blouse, etc.), use (work, casual, formal/party, etc.), season, or color — or by any combination of those. Generally, the fewer the items you have, the fewer categories you need. Someone who only owns seven pairs of pants will have different needs than someone with 50.

Whatever type of things you are organizing, remember that categories are intended to make you life easier. You may want to keep all spare light bulbs together in one category — but if certain bulbs are only used in one room, you may want to store them there rather than with all the rest. A pair of scissors may be part of your office supplies or your giftwrapping supplies — and if you use scissors often for both office work and wrapping, you may want two pairs so you can store them as part of both categories. While keeping like items together is a good general principle, there are times when it makes sense to separate them.

And the following are two suggestions about implementation of any categorization scheme:

  1. When you first set up your storage, you may want to label the outside of the drawers for a while, until you get used to what’s being stored where.
  2. As you begin your organizing, don’t worry about defining your categories and their locations perfectly. Whatever you choose doesn’t have to be final. You can always try something for a while, see what works well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly.

Thank you, Eza, for asking such as good question.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field or put your inquiry in the comments to a post. If you send an email, please list the subject of your email as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

How to get started organizing

As we begin each new year, many people resolve that this is the year they’re going to get organized. It’s a great goal, but it can also be intimidating. How do you begin? The following are seven tips:

Set realistic expectations

No one’s home looks like those featured in glossy magazines. Instead of aiming for that look, set your “organized enough” goals. For example, your goals might include being able to find things when you need them, having room to park your car in your garage, getting rid of the clothes your children have outgrown and the toys they no longer use, etc.

Decide on a schedule that works for you

If you have a major uncluttering/organizing project to do, you could do it short bursts of 15 minutes per day. Or you could decide to at least jump-start the project with a dedicated day where you just focus on your project. There’s no one right answer, so figure out what works best for your personality and what fits with your other time demands.

Unclutter first, then organize

There’s no point in putting things nicely into bins if they are things you don’t really want or need to keep. Do the uncluttering first, and then organize what’s left. If you do things in the reverse order, you may find you’ve bought containers that you don’t need, which then become container clutter.

Don’t get held up by the tough stuff

If you’re sorting through things making keep-or-not decisions and come upon something you’re conflicted about, it’s okay to just keep that item for now and move on. People often unclutter in phases, doing the more obvious things first.

Ask yourself good questions

“Have I used this in the past year?” isn’t always the most helpful question. Some other ones to consider are:

  • Would I buy this again today?
  • For clothes: Would this ever be my first choice of something to wear?
  • For reference books and papers: If I needed to know something about this, would I pull out this book (or these papers) or would I just search online?

Use good tools

You don’t want to be fighting with your frequently used tools. If you’re going to be doing a decent amount of shredding, invest in a good quality shredder. (I wasted a lot of time dealing with paper jams before I got a better shredder.) If you like filing papers in binders and you need to hole-punch papers for that, a good quality hole punch will save you a lot of effort.

Identify places to donate those things you don’t want

If you have items in good condition, there’s probably a place that would be glad to have them. Identify the organizations in your area that take donations, and then be sure you know the hours they accept donations and exactly which items they want. You may also want to consider using the free section of Craigslist or participating in your local freecycle group. (Search for your city name and the word freecycle in your favorite search engine to find one.)

Eliminate unwanted email subscriptions

One of the things I love to do in January is to unsubscribe from unwanted email lists, newsletters, digital sales fliers, and so on. After spending 11 months ignoring them whenever they show up, it’s time to get rid of them entirely. In this post I’ll explain a few ways to purge electronic mail lists from your email inbox, from one-at-a-time to bulk action.

It’s my fault for subscribing in the first place, of course. Often when I do, my intentions are good. I’ll find a new site or service that I’m interested in and think, “Yes, I do want to keep up to date with this company’s stuff.” Once I’ve done that a dozen times, I’m in trouble. Digital clutter is just as insidious as its real-world counterpart, so it’s time to make a change.

Identify likely candidates

I’m not opposed to email subscriptions. There are many that are quite useful (like the Unclutterer email subscriptions, obviously). Therefore, the first step in this process is to identify the ones you’ll get rid of in your purge versus the ones you wish to keep. I do this via a week of mindful email reading. Each day, I’ll make a mental note of the subscriptions I simply delete without reading. If you like, create a folder for these, mark them with a flag or otherwise tag them for future reference. When I did it, I just wrote a list on a piece of paper.

Let the culling begin!

There are a few ways to unsubscribe from unwanted email. If you’ve only got a few to jettison, you could go the manual route. If you look closely in the footer of the email you receive, you’ll see something along the lines of “click to unsubscribe” or simply “unsubscribe.” You might have to look closely, as it’s sometimes hard to find. The message’s sender wants to keep your attention, after all. Clicking this link will bring you to a webpage that likely has further instructions. Many will unsubscribe you then and there, while others will have you jump through additional hoops. It’s kind of a hassle, but worth it when the result is less junk mail. Of course, this method is too time-consuming if you’ve got a long list of unwanted subscriptions. In that case, consider one of the following:

Unroll.me. Not only does Unroll.me help you kill unwanted subscriptions, it makes the keepers more manageable by presenting them in a single, daily digest email. You can even roll things like messages from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube into that single message. Tidy!

Mailstrom. This is another service that lets you cull hundreds or thousands of messages at once and send them all to the big, virtual trash bin in the sky, while keeping the messages you want to see intact. Plus, it works with the email solution you’re probably already using, as it’s compatible with Gmail, Google Apps Email, Outlook, Apple, Aol, and Exchange IMAP.

A tip for Gmail users. If you’re using Gmail, take a close look at the top of a message. You’ll likely see an “Unsubscribe” link. Google has made this a uniform location for this link, which is great, as it saves you from scouring a message’s footer for the hard-to-find default link.

Unlistr. Finally, this is a service that does the dirty work for you. Simply identify the email senders you don’t want to hear from anymore, and Unlistr does the rest, unsubscribing for you. Thanks, Jeeves!

Apps to track your fitness

Improving fitness and health is a popular New Year’s resolution. And scientists who study such things have found that keeping track of your workouts can help with reaching your goals. Tracking helps you monitor your progress and that is beneficial because increased strength and endurance are often hard to perceive. Also, it is much easier to remember your workouts when you see them rather than trying to remember what exercises you need to do or what weights you need to use.

Pen, paper, and notebooks are ideal for recording and monitoring your progress. You can record as date, time, workout description, weight levels, repetitions with as much or as little information as you wish. There is no special technology required and it is very cost effective. However, your notebook may be too bulky to carry with you back and forth to the gym and it may be time consuming to re-write the same information over and over again. It isn’t easy to see the information in a graphical format either, which is why I recommend apps you can access on your smartphone, tablet, or other digital devices.

Fitbit is a bracelet that tracks your steps, calories burned, and distance travelled. It syncs with your smartphone and provides a daily report of how active you are. There are several models of bracelets. The most basic models track steps, calories burned, and distance. The more advanced models track heart rate, sleep quality, and have a built in GPS tracking system. With the Fitbit website you can set goals, earn badges for reaching your goals, and connect with other Fitbit users to create a support network.

Abvio is a software company that makes three easy-to-use apps for your smartphone that can be used to track your workouts: Cyclemeter, Runmeter, and Walkmeter. All three apps allow you to record splits, intervals, and laps. They also have maps, graphs, announcements, and built-in training plans. These apps will sync with different types of sport watches that monitor heart rates. Cyclemeter can connect to some types of bicycle computers to record cadence as well. Abvio does not have its own website, but the data from the apps can be exported and uploaded into various other social fitness sites.

Those who participate in different types of sports such as yoga, martial arts, or horseback riding, may wish to consider The Athlete’s Diary. It is a multisport computer log, available for both computers and smartphones. It has a special-purpose database program designed for athletes and keeps track of the date, sport, category (training, interval, or race), distance, time, pace, route/workout, and has an area for comments. The Athlete’s Diary syncs with your computer and smartphone through Dropbox so you can use either device to enter your fitness data.

Virtual Trainer Pro is a really unique app for your smartphone. It is a database of hundreds of exercises, each demonstrated in a video by a fitness expert. You can create your own routines easily by dragging and dropping the exercises into the order you wish to follow or you can use one of thousands of ready-to-use workouts. Tracking your score and earning points and medals will help to keep you motivated.

There are many other apps available for monitoring fitness progress. Some are sport specific, others also allow you to track caloric intake and nutritional information. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or you’re a serious fitness pro, being organized and tracking your fitness information will help you to reach your fitness goals.

A different kind of uncluttering

As we approach the end of the year, I know many people who are uncluttering their homes and offices to start the new year fresh. But there’s another kind of uncluttering you may want to consider: old relationships.

Friendships

There’s someone I knew 30 years ago who I used to keep in touch with through periodic phone calls, at least on her birthday. A few years ago I stopped making the calls, because I realized this was mostly just a habit, and maintaining the relationship (even in this minor way) simply wasn’t important to me any more.

How do you know when it might be time to let a friendship fade away? As organizer Monica Ricci wrote:

Ask yourself, “If I met this person TODAY would they be someone I would choose to engage in a friendship or other relationship with?”

We change over time, so it’s not surprising that our friendships might change, too. Some old friendships endure, while others may not.

Our social time is limited, and choosing who we want to spend our time with may be one of the most important choices we make. I’m willing to have some relationships end so I have more time to spend with those people whose presence in my life I truly treasure.

Social media relationships

I often see people complaining about the things their Facebook friends write, which makes me wonder why they keep these people as Facebook friends. You’re under no obligation to stay connected on Facebook (or any other social media) with people whose words only make you angry on a regular basis. So go ahead and unfriend on Facebook or unfollow on Twitter when that makes sense.

For close family members who you feel an obligation to befriend on social media, things are more complicated. You could unfollow them (Facebook) or mute them (Twitter) so you don’t see their posts — they won’t be notified that you’ve done that, and you’ll no longer see their aggravating comments. But this type of action does bring the risk of missing some important news which they are assuming you’d see.

Business relationships

Have you been using the same service providers (doctor, lawyer, accountant, auto mechanic, veterinarian, barber or hair stylist, etc.) for a long time? Sometimes it’s because the service you receive continues to be outstanding, as with the contractor I’ve used since I bought my house 25 years ago. But other times things change in ways that degrade that service. Businesses change hands, lose key employees, move to new locations that aren’t convenient, and so on. If there’s a key service provider you’re using who you’re not enthusiastic about, consider asking for recommendations for someone new.

Groups of people

As with individuals, the groups of people you fill your life with might need to change over time. Such groups would include spiritual communities, book clubs, professional groups, charitable groups where you volunteer, and more. Such communities always change members over time. If you’re a member of one that is no longer feeling right for you, it may be time to part ways and make space for a new community. You may also feel you’re overcommitted as a member of too many groups, and it’s time to pull back.

An organized ending to a trip

On Unclutterer, we’ve written about how to prepare for a trip, with packing lists and more. But professional organizer Julie Bestry and I were recently discussing a related concern: How do you end your trip in an organized manner? The following are some suggestions that might work for you.

Do a thorough unpacking

You may choose to keep some items in your luggage permanently — a toiletry case or a spare charger, for example — especially if you travel a lot. Beside these items, unpack everything else right away, being sure to look in all the pockets of your luggage.

Earlier this year, I thought I’d lost my favorite business card holder when it was actually just hidden in my luggage. Finding it when I packed for a recent trip was a pleasant surprise, but it would have been even nicer to have not misplaced it for six months.

Note anything that needs to be replenished or repaired

Did you use up your travel-size toothpaste, or something similar? Make a note on your to-do list to replace depleted items. Another example: On my latest trip, I realized the wheels on my suitcase squeak quite horribly. Getting that fixed is going onto my to-do list now.

Capture anything you learned that would help in future travels

Did you pack something that wound up being useless? Did you wish you’d packed something you didn’t? Did something you packed work out especially well? If you keep a packing list, update that list to reflect what you learned.

Other things can be worth noting, too. For example, I’ve learned things about rental cars that I’ve put into a file (and others might choose to put into Evernote) for future reference: which models of cars I’ve liked and disliked, what things to make sure I understand about any car before I drive away from the rental office, etc. (I once had a car which hid the headlight controls in an unusual place, and it took pulling off the road and doing some searching to find them.) This is a file I might well want to update after any trip that involves a rental car.

Write reviews, if you so choose

If you had a notably good or bad experience, you may want to write a review for a site like TripAdvisor. If that’s something you want to do, it’s best to do the writing while your memories are still fresh.

Go through your photos

It’s easy to believe we’ll never forget where we were when we took our photos, but all too often, we do forget detailed information. Name the photos or tag them while your memory is fresh. And while you’re doing that, take a few moments to delete the photos that just aren’t worth keeping: out-of-focus photos, duplicate shots, etc.

Write thank-you notes

If you were hosted by friends or business associates, take the time to write thank-you notes expressing your gratitude for their hospitality.

Stop telling people you’re gone

If you use an email auto-responder, remember to cancel it. I’ve received numerous messages telling me someone was out of the office until a specific date, many days after the date in question. Similarly, if you customize your voicemail greeting while you’re gone, remember to change it once you’ve returned.

Holly jolly clutter

While it’s such a fantastic privilege to be able to share gifts with friends and family this time of year, this privilege often comes with the side-effect of discovering clutter in your home. I’ve found several options for dealing with holiday clutter, some of which come from Unclutterer readers, and I’d like to share them with you.

Way back in 2007, we suggested you use the “one for one” rule. That is to say, if you receive a coffee maker, get rid of the old one. Love that new pair of jeans? Eliminate an existing tattered pair. For many items this rule is a good one to follow, but it’s not always practical. For instance, you can’t swap out consumables, like one-of-a-kind homemade items or cards.

Speaking of cards, readers Jan and Kate have shared some awesome suggestions for processing greeting cards. Jan cuts the front of cards off and reuses the colorful cover as a post card. Kate massacres (her word) the cards to use their images as gift tags. Those are both good ideas.

While you’re at it, this is also a good time to do a general purge of the items and decorations you typically only see once a year. If something is worn beyond repair or no longer working correctly, get rid of it. Decorations that are faded or looking a little long in the tooth should go, too. Resist the urge to just pack them away and get them out of sight until next year. And, if you have ornaments or decorations that need to be repaired, do that work now so you can enjoy the items this season.

If there are any items you didn’t unpack this year and left in the holiday decorations box, it might be a sign that it’s time to get rid of those things. Items you simply don’t like any longer can always be donated to charities and organizations that decorate for the holidays. You’ll enjoy freeing up some space and the eventual recipients will have the benefit of your generosity.

Gift giving is a tricky business and you may receive some items you appreciate but aren’t interested in keeping. If you’re thinking of re-gifting the item, check out Clementine Daily’s interview “Regifting: Yay or Nay?” with a modern manners and etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. She provides tips for doing this in such a way as to be considerate to everyone involved.

I’m sure several of you also have inventive and effective ways to manage holiday clutter. So, share your favorites with everyone in the comments below. How do you deal with the holly jolly clutter?

One tip for organized travel: leave extra time

Getting to your travel destination can be a frustrating experience, especially during busy times of the year when lots of other people are traveling and joining you on the roads or at the airport. There are lots of apps, websites, and Twitter accounts that can help make travel easier, but my primary travel strategy is simply to leave plenty of spare time, whenever possible. This gives me the best chance of arriving at my destination unfrazzled and ready to go.

Leaving extra time when driving

I live in an area where the two roads out of town are both twisty ones with a single lane in each direction. If there’s an accident on either one, traffic is horrible. On top of that, the area can get ground-hugging fog that makes it difficult to see. Therefore, I learned long ago to leave plenty of extra time if I need to get somewhere by a specific time.

Other people might not have quite the road situation I have, but anyone can be delayed by bad traffic or bad weather. Leaving some contingency time helps ensure those delays don’t cause problems.

Leaving extra time when flying

I get to airports early, partly because I’ve left plenty of spare driving time to allow for problems that usually don’t materialize. But I also like to be prepared for things going wrong at the airport, especially the extra long lines that you sometimes encounter when going through security.

I also like to book connections that aren’t too tight, because flights do get delayed. I check the on-time performance of my possible flights and try to choose those least likely to be delayed, but there’s never any guarantee.

And, when possible, I try to book flights that get me to my destination somewhat earlier than necessary (if there’s a specific event that I’m attending) so that if a flight is delayed or a connection missed, I have a chance to rebook and still get to the event on time.

Using extra airport time productively

As an adult traveling without children, I have it easy. Many airports have free WiFi, so if I have a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone with me, there’s always plenty to do. Sometimes I’ll just use the time for reading: a magazine, a book, or an e-book. Without any of the distractions of home (cats demanding attention, laundry to be done, etc.). I can have a bit of focused time to do some work or enjoy some leisure.

I know others who use spare airport time for exercise, making sure they get their 10,000 steps (or whatever their personal goals are) for the day.

And some airports actually have interesting attractions you can visit. For example, the San Francisco airport has its own museum, with exhibits at every terminal.

For those traveling with children, extra airport time might be used to just move around before the enforced airplane sitting begins. Some airports have play areas to help younger children pass the time.

And, of course, there’s food. I’ll often grab a meal at the airport, or pick up something tasty (and not stinky) to eat on the plane. I’ve used the GateGuru app to help me choose an eatery at an unfamiliar airport.

Uncluttering for the holidays

For many, this time of year is associated with gift giving. And gift giving is usually associated with gift receiving, which can mean new things coming into your home. Therefore, this is a great time of year to do some uncluttering. Donating or giving away items that are no longer useful to you might make someone else’s holidays brighter. If you’re having guests for the holidays, you have another incentive to unclutter, especially if you’ve been using the guest room as a storage space.

The following are suggestions for what you might want to unclutter right now.

Holiday decorations

Do you have seasonal holiday decorations that you’re no longer using? Maybe you’ve grown tired of some items, or you’ve accumulated more than you have room to store, or you’ve just decided to simplify your decorating over the years. You might also have things such as holiday cookie cutters and wrapping supplies that just aren’t getting used.

This is a great time of year to donate or freecycle all of these items. I keep a box in my garage that says “freecycle at Christmas,” because things that are hard to place in May get claimed quickly in early December.

Warm clothing

Do you have warm clothing that isn’t getting worn any more? If you’re in the United States or Canada, you might check to see if there’s a One Warm Coat drive going on in your area. Despite the name, these drives also accept other outerwear that helps keep people warm: sweaters, sweatshirts, scarves, hats, mittens, etc.

Toys

Since toys are such a popular holiday gift, it makes sense to clear out any that have been outgrown or gone out of favor. Some popular toy-focused charities such as Toys for Tots only accept new toys, but other charities will take used ones that are in good condition and not missing any parts. Consider organizations that work with foster children (such as the Foster Care Support Foundation in Georgia) and daycare centers (such as Helping Hands Childcare in California). Organizations such as Goodwill often accept toys, too — you can check to see if your local Goodwill is one that does, like mine.

Intended gifts that were never given

If you have items you picked up years ago, thinking they would surely be a good gift for someone, it may be time to donate them if you still have no specific recipients in mind.

Things on a local charity’s wish list

Homeless shelters and many other charities have wish lists on their websites, or you can call and ask what they need. A charity near me that helps homeless families has an extensive wish list, including arts and crafts supplies, backpacks, clothes for all ages, linens and bedding, and household items like lamps, alarm clocks, and flashlights. You could identify a specific charity and see how many items on its list you could provide from things you’re no longer using.

Be sure to pay attention to which items must be new in order to be accepted. Also, please respect an organization’s wishes when it asks for items that are “gently used” or “like new.”

Staying organized during a deployment or long-term absence

Many types of employment involve travelling and some jobs require extended stays away from home. For a family that is left behind, extended absences can be very difficult. There is an emotional cycle experienced by the spouse/partner that can be nerve-wracking, especially when the emotional distress of children (even pets) is added.

As a military family, we’ve lived through numerous periods when my husband was deployed for several months at a time. The following are a number of ways our family has managed over the years that can be helpful to others in similar situations to stay organized before, during, and after a separation.

Pre-separation

Task assignment: Work together and determine the priority tasks during the separation and who will accomplish these tasks. For example, if the departing partner always ensured the car was serviced, the task may be rescheduled so that it occurs before or after the separation or it could be assigned to the staying-home partner. Contractors could be hired for some tasks such as gardening, pool maintenance, and snow removal.

Contingency plan: Establish plans in case an emergency arises such as an accident or medical emergency. The plan should list whom to call to mind the children or look after pets and how to contact the departing partner. Inform trusted friends, neighbours, and the children’s school of the contingency plan.

Departure

Clear the calendar: A few weeks prior to the separation there may be extra shopping trips to buy last minute items, medical appointments, or business meetings. Avoid taking on additional responsibilities at this time. Examine your calendar and see what non-priority items can be cancelled or rescheduled until after the departure.

Separate stuff: Keep items needed for the departing person separate from the rest of the household goods. This may require the departing person to take over an entire room to ensure all the required items are packed. Keep receipts for any items purchased for the separation in a clearly labelled file. You may be able to claim some expenses through your employer or on your income taxes.

Acknowledge your feelings: During this particularly chaotic time, there may be a lack of organization and a build up of clutter. Recognize this is normal and, as my mother is fond of saying, “This too shall pass.”

Separation

Disorganization: For the staying-home partner, feelings of relief, guilt, and being overwhelmed are common. This emotional turmoil often results in disorganization because decision-making is difficult when feeling these intense emotions. Recognize that these feelings are normal and take steps to get your life back into control. It may be beneficial to call a friend, extended family member, or professional organizer to help you banish the disorganization.

Keep the clutter: The staying-home partner may be very tempted to take advantage of the separation and eliminate the clutter of the travelling partner. DO NOT DO THIS! The staying-home partner has been entrusted with the care and protection of the travelling partner’s goods. To dispose of those goods will undermine the long-term trust of the partnership. If the clutter is truly impairing the effective functioning of the home, communicate with the travelling partner that you will carefully box and label the items and put them in storage. The travelling partner can review and make decisions on the items on his/her return.

Homecoming

Clear the calendar: Just as during the departure preparations, clear time on your calendar for the homecoming preparations. Cancel or reschedule some events to give the travelling partner time to integrate back into the routine. If the travelling partner will be suffering from jet lag, allow him/her at a few days to be fully functional. The returning partner may be required to schedule health appointments or have a few extra business meetings, so allow time for this.

Make a space: The returning partner will need some space to unpack on arrival. Returning items should be cleaned and properly stored or re-integrated into the household. If there is no need for certain items in the foreseeable future, make plans to sell or donate these items. This process may take several weeks. Patience is important.

Task re-assignment: Work together to determine who will accomplish certain tasks now that the partnership has been re-established. Perhaps the travelling partner realized a love of gardening and wishes to continue with that task. The travelling partner may have a renewed interest in preparing foreign cuisine.

Review the clutter: If the staying-home partner packed away items of the travelling partner during the separation, these items should be reviewed. It is best to wait until the travelling partner has had time to adjust to being home and new routines have been established before taking on this task.

The absence of a partner can be stressful, however, by understanding the emotional cycle — and a little bit of planning and organization — the stress can be minimized.

Introducing the 2014 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Starting Monday and going through the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we will be running our annual Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Each post will focus on uncluttered, useful, and/or organized gifts that you might want to consider giving to others this season.

The holidays are a time when we can easily feel overwhelmed with responsibilities, as well as by stuff. With our Guide, we hope to inspire you to think outside the traditional gift-giving process or to be more aware of how you proceed within its regular bounds.

The next seven weeks, however, aren’t only about gifts. You’ll likely be invited to parties and have special work or school obligations. You may be the host of this year’s Thanksgiving gathering. And you may find yourself packing up a suitcase or two or three and heading across the country to see far-flung friends and family.

So, how do you keep yourself from going mad?

  • Make a plan now. Create a to-do-list of everything that needs to be accomplished. Then, set specific deadlines for shopping and preparations or whatever it is you have to do in the next seven weeks. Mark these on your calendar with blocks of time to work on meeting your deadlines. If playing host for a holiday meal, consult a guide that lists day-by-day and hour-by-hour suggestions for getting food on the table.
  • Take a break. You don’t have to constantly be on the go until the New Year. When scheduling all the things you need to do on your calendar, be sure to include time for reflection and rejuvenation. You’re likely to go bonkers, otherwise. Also try not to be afraid of saying “no” if you feel that your schedule is becoming too much to reasonably handle.
  • Keep it simple. Whether it’s with your decorations, your gift giving, or any other task that could complicate this time, try your best to keep things simple. You don’t have to put out every snow man you own. You don’t have to serve every dish your grandmother did at Thanksgiving. You don’t have to give New Year’s guests four choices of champagne. Have a signature cocktail and make a pitcher of it instead of standing behind a bar all night making custom orders. Santa Claus can bring the kids a single, larger gift instead of 40 little ones. Don’t be overly complicated about things unless you have to.

Stay focused on enjoying time with family and friends and you should be fine this holiday season.

If you’re eager to get started planning your gift giving this season, feel welcome to check out our past Guides for ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Seven ways to manage laundry

If you struggle to keep up with the laundry, you’re not alone. People have different approaches to laundry based on their number of family members, the convenience of laundry facilities, and their personal preferences — but feeling overwhelmed by laundry is common to all types of households. The following suggestions may help make laundry less onerous.

  1. Wear clothes multiple times between washes, assuming they didn’t get dirty and they don’t smell bad. Real Simple has some suggestions on how many times you might wear an item before washing it, as does Consumer Reports. Besides saving time, less frequent washing also saves on water, power, and detergent.

    Steve Boorstein, who wrote a book on clothing care, recommends washing white clothes after each wearing because body oils and time-released stains (such as perfumes) can make even a clean-looking white item begin to turn yellow. But that’s not a concern with dark clothes, which will fade less quickly when washed less frequently.

  2. Consider washing each person’s clothes separately. Doing so avoids the post-laundry sorting problem. (If all family members do their own laundry, this is already how things work.)
  3. Examine your laundry process to see where you get stalled. One person noticed she was always dealing with her young son’s clothes after he was asleep, so the clothes piled up since she didn’t want to enter his room and possibly wake him. As a work-around, she started storing his clothes in the guest bedroom, and the problem disappeared.
  4. If folding is the part that slows you down, minimize the folding. If possible, arrange your storage so you can hang clothes rather than fold them. Many things that don’t get hung will still be fine without any folding. I fold my cloth napkins and my towels, but that’s about it. T-shirts are hung; underwear is tossed in a drawer with no folding. I worked with one person where we stored all her sweatshirts in a large lidded basket — no folding required.
  5. If ironing is the task you despise, you could join Erin and me in giving away our irons. I generally buy clothes that don’t require ironing. The very few that do need ironing get handled at the dry cleaner.
  6. It’s been said before, but it’s worth reiterating: Make sure you have plenty of room to store your clothes. If your closets and dressers are overly full, it will always be a challenge to put clothes away. Either eliminate some clothes or add storage pieces.
  7. To the extent you’re able to do so, have tools that work well for you and that you enjoy using. That would include laundry bags, baskets, hampers, or sorters. It could be a great iron, if you do ironing — The SweetHome recommends the T-fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4495. If you have your own home and your budget allows, it could mean a superb washer and dryer.

    If you’re going to be folding, try to have a large table at a comfortable height. Anita Perr, an occupational therapist, suggests it should be about waist high. Also consider standing on an anti-fatigue mat.