Dry erase boards for the 21st century

When my brother and I were teenagers, my parents had a dry erase board hanging next to the door we used as our main entry point to the house. All of us, parents included, were to write where we were going and what time we expected to return on the board as we left the house. We didn’t have cell phones and we didn’t get an answering machine until my senior year of high school, so this dry erase board was our way of keeping track of everyone.

If we changed our plans, we either had to first come by the house and write it on the board or call and hopefully reach someone at home to change the information on the board for us. We also kept appointment reminders (Dentist Tues. 2:00) and notes to ourselves (Don’t forget Kara’s math notes!) to help with the flow of life in the house.

Now, in my own home, I find that there are times when I still wish I had a dry erase board next to my door — even with cell phones, voice mail and the like. I’ll write messages on Post-It notes and stick them to the door as reminders for things I shouldn’t forget (Bank!). The Post-It people must have been listening because it has come to my attention that I can have a giant dry erase board next to my door without having an unsightly dry erase board hanging there.

I can now buy dry erase whiteboard film! It is like self-adhesive, dry erase wallpaper except it’s removable! It is rather expensive but I don’t have to worry about drilling holes in my walls and it can be cut to fit the exact space I want.

In my situation, I think it would be great for by our door, but it could be used in kids’ rooms, offices, classrooms, kitchens, and conference rooms. As an organizational tool, I think this is a wonderful idea.

 

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

Tool for change

When I set goals for myself, I start by writing them down and then imagining how I want things to look in the future. I often have done this activity by writing myself a letter that I schedule to open on a future date — sometimes two weeks, two months, or even two years in the future.

The other day I stumbled upon a link to the website FutureMe.org. FutureMe is similar to what I was describing above, but instead of writing a tangible letter you create an email. I really like the idea of a future email because you can’t lose it and you don’t have to worry about a physical letter cluttering up your desk. You can set the letter as “private” so that only you receive the message, or “public but anonymous” for all to view.

Consider writing yourself a future email through FutureMe.org as a way to help you keep on track with your uncluttering goals.

 

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

More kitchen tips

Here are a few kitchen tips from an article in The Telegraph in 2007:

  • Uncluttering tips: A time study revealed that most people use the same four pots and pans over and over again. Take an objective look at the other seldom used items. Consider eliminating them or storing them elsewhere.
  • Recipes: A three-ring binder with magnetic photo pages can be used to store recipes collected from family and friends, magazines, newspapers, and the internet. Avoid those that require ingredients you will never buy. If your family doesn’t find a recipe to be a hit, then toss it out. Discard unused recipes yearly. It takes only minutes to do this. Consider displaying special cookbooks on your bookshelf or coffee table as a conversation piece.
  • Paper and mail: It’s best to open mail right beside a recycling bin or trashcan. Don’t put it in a pile to “sort later.” This delay tactic only wastes time, as you’ll have to review the mail a second time. It takes seconds to pitch junk mail and unwanted advertisements now. If you can’t get your magazines read, do not renew your subscription, instead use the library, or pick up an occasional copy at the grocery store.

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

Keep kids’ POV in mind

In February 2007, Arizona Republic had some great organization tips for parents. My favorites are the kitchen tips which keep in mind the children’s point of view.

Establish a pantry snack shelf at the hand level of little tykes.
Why it works: Children and their friends can serve themselves without having to climb on chairs or interrupt parents to ask. What you need: Matching clear, stackable containers.

Arrange a continental breakfast nook.
Why it works: Little ones can serve themselves in an expedited fashion since bowls, cereal, sugar, fruit, muffins and any other breakfast foods and utensils are kept in the same space. What you need: An hour to rearrange the pantry and cabinets and possibly resize shelving to accommodate cereal boxes.

Are there any tips you can share with other readers on how to make things easier for children?

 

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

What’s a kitchen for?

Today’s kitchens are used for more than just preparing food. They are often playrooms, offices, mail centers, and TV rooms. When you mix up so many purposes for the same space (or even the same countertop), you’re not going to get good results. Something as simple as making a ham and cheese sandwich is impossible when your countertops are covered with bills and other papers. Instead of succumbing to this fate, set up different spaces for different tasks.

Ideally, your kitchen should only be for cooking, but realistically that’s not going to be the case–especially since kitchens tend to be the center of family activity. Designate some countertop space that’s off-limits to anything but cooking or eating, and make it a point to keep it clear when it’s not being used. That way, when you’re ready to use it again, it’s ready for you.

If you must bring mail and bill-paying paraphernalia into the kitchen, set up a space for just that activity and don’t let it spread out of that area. (A desktop organizer or mini-shelf is a perfect solution.) Even if you can’t dedicate surfaces to specific activities like bill-paying, storage in the kitchen can help. For example, when you finish eating at the kitchen table, you take away the dishes to wash and store in the cupboard. Why not do the same with everything else? If you pay bills, do homework, or play games at the kitchen table, make sure to clean up when you’re done. Keeping a drawer or cupboard for each activity will make it as easy and second-nature to put away your stuff.

 

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

Reader question: Curbing golf club clutter?

A reader who identified herself as elrj sent us this question:

“My husband and I live in a charming one bedroom apartment in a converted historic townhouse. At first, it was a squeeze because the place doesn’t have much storage/closet space at all. But, with some re-arranging and advice from blogs like this, we have massaged our little home into a wonderfully live-able and entertain-able space. Then I bought a bike. Combined with his, they take up the entire hallway, and when you add the golf clubs (previously stored in the trunk of our car) we’ve got quite the sports-themed house. We have no yard/outside to chain them to, and we use them regularly. What do you do with such things in an efficiency?”

Storing sporting equipment in an efficiency can be a headache. When my husband and I first moved in together in our 850 sq. foot one bedroom, our lack of space was almost enough to convince me drop sports all together. I know your pain and understand it.

As far as your bikes are concerned, we’ve already published a couple posts on this topic on the site. The posts themselves have some strong ideas, but be sure to read the comments where many of our readers offer up terrific alternatives: Single hook bike solution and Bike storage solutions.

We’ve never discussed golf clubs on the site, though, so I want to spend the remainder of this post addressing that topic.

The first thing you’ll want to consider when looking to save space is getting new golf bags. My husband and I downsized from our behemoth traditional staff/cart style bags to new feather-weight backpack styles (similar to these: Mine, His) and have never looked back. My empty bag weighs less than four pounds and is about half of the footprint as my old bag. All of my clubs and materials fit easily in the bag, and it has the added bonus of being able to be hung up on a strong, wooden hanger in my closet. (I bungee cord the straps together to make certain they don’t slip off the hanger.)

Another idea is to contact the course where you play most often and see if they have on-site storage lockers. You’ll have to shell out a little money per month, but it gets your bags out of your house and you don’t have to worry about transporting your bag from home to course should you decide to ride your bike. If you don’t play golf more than a few times a year, though, this suggestion won’t be practical for you.

In fact, if you only play golf two or three times a year, I suggest that you get rid of the clubs. Renting a set of clubs for the few times you do play will be less stressful in the long run. With the money you get from selling your clubs, you can pay for three or four rentals. Again, I’m only making this suggestion if you rarely play and are just holding onto the clubs because of a sunk-cost fallacy.

If you do play often, can’t rent space at your course, and don’t have space in your closets to hang your clubs, you may want to consider: A wall-mounted golf bag and shoe organizer (pictured above) or a freestanding wood bag organizer. The wall-mounted system could turn your golf bags into a piece of interesting art, and the standing organizer could at least provide a permanent home for your bags.

I hope one of these ideas is helpful. Good luck!

 

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

Conquer kid clutter

Having a 20-month old is a bit like taking care of a drunk friend. They don’t really know what they are doing, but they are having fun while they do it. My daughter is getting into the “terrible twos” a bit early, so hopefully they’ll end early.

One thing that seems to get worse as she gets older is the toy accumulation. I’ve mentioned this problem in some prior posts and I must say that my wife and I continue to struggle with it. I’m always on the lookout for new ways of curbing clutter that is kid specific. Years ago I read an article in the Detroit News that had a long list of kid specific clutter tips such as:

  • Divide and conquer:
    Big toy boxes make it too easy for toys to get jumbled together. Better: a bin for Lego, another for action figures, another for dollhouse furniture, etc.
  • Toss the flimsy crayon boxes:
    Same goes for the marker and colored-pencil boxes. Instead, put drawing tools into lidded boxes or bins. And don’t bother saving every free crayon you’ve collected from restaurant visits. Teachers say most younger kids just grab the top two or three anyway.
  • Craft supplies:
    Keep a vinyl tablecloth with the art supplies. It’ll be on hand to protect the table or rug (skip disposable ones: not sturdy enough).

These tips aren’t earth shattering, but they are helpful. The accumulation of toys is the hardest thing to get under control, in my opinion. Forces beyond our control are at work. These forces, often grandparents, are unrelenting. Be vigilant in your removal of old and unused toys, and your toy clutter will stay manageable.

 

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

Routines: Are you for or against?

Do you like having a routine? Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with them. I see the usefulness in them, and when I follow a routine I’m more productive and don’t forget things as often as when I don’t have a routine.

However, I’m a bit like my mother. She loved routines, in theory, but after three or four days of following a routine she would find herself getting dizzy, as if her brain couldn’t cope with being so ordered. While a routine doesn’t make me dizzy, I do find myself looking for excuses to get distracted.

Of course, there are different types of routines to consider. There are regular practice routines, such as exercise, writing, or meditation. And then there are daily routines such as:

  • 7:00 Get up and have breakfast
  • 8:00 Go to the pool
  • 9:00 Write an article for Unclutterer
  • 10:00 Clean one area of the house
  • 10:30 Do some quilting and watch an episode of favourite TV show
  • 11:30 Go for a coffee and do some creative writing
  • 12:30 Prep lunch and tidy the house
  • 13:30 Eat lunch
  • 14:00 Leave for work

The first type of routine works for me. It focuses my mind. It creates momentum. It’s self-motivating. The second type of routine, however, while on paper seems like a great idea, always ends up depressing me, for two reasons: there’s never enough time to get everything I want done and it feels like being in the military or in a super-strict boarding school. Life is not so orderly — it’s spontaneous and unpredictable. Trying to squeeze it into a rigid plan just creates stress when the plan can’t be completed.

That’s why I like using the Bullet Journal system. It focuses more on the idea of regular practice and there’s no pressure to do everything in a single day. By having the “permission” to move tasks forward with a simple arrow takes away the stress of having too many tasks in the to-do list.

But when it comes to deciding how you feel about routines, don’t just take my opinion. Check out the book Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, with contributions from Unclutterer’s Editor-at-Large, Erin Rooney Doland, as well as Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Gretchin Rubin, and 17 other experts in the field.

How to organize your books

If you have a substantial number of physical books you intend to keep, how do you organize them on your bookshelves? There’s no one best approach, but the following are some possibilities to consider:

By genre and/or author

These are the most common approaches, and they are often combined. For example, you might put all science fiction together, organized by author. It’s up to you to define genres (and sub-genres) as you wish, depending on how you classify books in your mind and how many books you have. You could also use one of the library classification systems: the Dewey Decimal Classification or the Library of Congress system.

I tend to organize by genre and I keep all books by any one author together. However, that’s as detailed as I get — I don’t organize authors or titles alphabetically. But some people find alphabetizing to be helpful, and some will add a chronological component: organizing books by each author in the order they were released, organizing history books from oldest time period to the most recent, etc.

By color

While this can create an interesting look, does it interfere with finding a specific book when you want it? Not always, since some people remember book covers and colors. You could also choose this approach for the books in just one space — it doesn’t have to be the approach taken for all your books.

By height

This is often a compromise from a genre/author approach, when some books just won’t fit with the others. Or it could be a second-tier organizing strategy, where books within a genre get organized by height.

But you might also choose to organize by height — especially for really tall or really short books — to make the best use of limited bookshelf space. This works best when you can adjust the shelves to just the right height. I have one shelf that’s a collection of super-short books.

And as with books organized by color, some people just like the look of books organized by size, and use it as their primary sort.

By read vs. unread

This would be an approach to use in combination with another one, where all the to-be-reads are kept together (and organized however you wish). All the ones you’ve read and are saving would be kept separately (and also organized however you wish).

By how much you love them

Some readers like to keep all their favorites together, and then use whatever other system they want for the rest. This especially makes sense if you tend to re-read these favorites frequently, or if you often loan them to friends. If you have a guest bedroom, you might want to put some favorites in there.

By language

If you have books in multiple languages, your first sort might be by language. Within each language you could then organize by author/genre or whatever other approach appeals to you.

By personal chronology

I’d never heard of this approach until I saw what James Reynolds wrote about how he organizes books: “by date I got them. simple that way. new books just get added to the end. in this way, you get to trace the story of yr entire reading life – in chronological order.”

Randomly

Some folks know that simply getting books off the floor and onto the shelves is as much as they’re likely to do, so they don’t set up organizational systems they know they’ll never maintain. And other people just enjoy the randomness. For example, Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, said:

What I like about that disorder is that it allows that element of surprise and serendipity. When I’m looking over my shelves, trying to figure out what I’m going to read next, I don’t know where everything is and that enables me to be surprised.

And a note about shelving techniques: There’s been some recent attention to the practice of shelving books backward, with the spines inward and pages outward. While I’ve seen many people deride this, it winds up that some neurodiverse people find this a much less stressful look. I had never considered this, and I’m thankful to C. L. McCollum for sharing that perspective.

Making your resolutions a reality

On either the last day of the old year or the first day of the new year, many of us created lists of resolutions. If you’re like me, getting organized appeared in some fashion on this list. For example my specific resolution back in 2008 was to get my laundry mess under control.

Generating the resolution and committing it to paper or a hard drive is a terrific way to start the process. Unfortunately, though, the resolution won’t become a reality unless more work is done. (Wouldn’t it be great if just writing it down was really all it took?!)

If you don’t set a course of action and stick to it, then your resolution will be nothing more than words on paper. I want to walk through my process attack, which is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, to help you see how lofty goals can easily become experienced reality.

  1. Commit your resolution to writing. It doesn’t matter if you write your resolution on an index card, in a Moleskine notebook, or in an virtual Evernote notebook. Formulating your idea into concrete words helps you define your purpose and gets you started on your path to change.
  2. Reflect on your resolution and identify your motivation for change and where you see yourself once the resolution is complete. If you can’t see where you’re headed or why you want to get there, your resolution is pretty much destined for failure. There is no need to establish any other form of reward system, because you’ll see yourself succeeding! In my case, I need to imagine the calm I will have from not having piles of laundry cluttering up the floor of my laundry room.
  3. Brainstorm methods for completing your resolution. Even if the ideas seem ridiculous, write them down anyway. What are all of the ways that you could possibly reach your goal? What steps could you take? What is currently standing in your way? What resources could you obtain to help you get what you want? Empty all of your thoughts on the matter onto a piece of paper.
  4. Evaluate your brainstormed ideas and create what Allen calls “keys” to organization. “Identify the significant pieces. Sort by (one or more): components, sequences, priorities. Detail to the required degree.” This is the stage where you create your plan.
  5. Once your plan is set, make decisions as to the exact steps you will follow to achieve your goal. Without these concrete steps, you won’t know how to move forward. For my laundry resolution, my exact steps involve a lot of removing current barriers to success. (Buy light bulbs on Saturday morning at the grocery store to replace burned out bulbs in the laundry room.) If you’ve never written an exact step, or what Allen names “next actions,” you may want to read the entry on this topic on Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders GTDwiki here.
  6. Start!

Good luck to everyone with their organization resolutions! Feel welcome to tell us about your process for success in the comments section to this post.

 

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

The only way past is through it

In a recent interview with Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project, author Greer Hendricks hit the nail on the head when it comes to overcoming procrastination. When faced with a task she doesn’t feel like doing she reminds herself that “the only way past is through it.”

This adage doesn’t apply to every task we’d rather not do. In fact, there are many times that the best way to overcome procrastination is to cross the task off your list altogether, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Instead, let’s focus on those tasks we dread but cannot avoid.

I have one of those coming up and if I want to do my day job well, there is no way to avoid it or cross it off my life. I have to face it and go through the experience no matter how unappetizing it feels.

At the beginning of February, I have a conference to go to. The sessions don’t really appeal to me and I have to leave the conference early due to other commitments at home. So, in a discussion with my boss, we decided that my objective for the conference is to meet as many people as possible in similar positions as me.

It’s pure networking and I hate it. When I ran my own business, it was the one thing that would make me want to stay in bed hiding under the covers. It was this weakness that limited the growth of my business. I’m not a meet-and-greeter. I don’t like and have a hard time doing small talk.

But in this case, what’s best for our company is that I get to know my peers in other parts of the country.

Being an introvert, the idea of putting myself in front of total strangers and interacting with them horrifies me. And yet, I know it’s what I need to do. Fortunately, there are many tools to help me. Apart from Rubin’s The Four Tendencies, there are a whole slew of books on being an introvert in an interactive world that can help me push through the dread and reach the other side where satisfaction and success wait.

How do you deal with tasks that you simply can’t put off?

The inefficiency of a cluttered car

We have given some tips on keeping your car uncluttered in the past. Recently, this aspect of clutter popped into my head again when I rode in a car that was unbelievably packed with anything and everything the driver had brought into the car over the years. I’m not exactly sure why some people feel the need to use their vehicle as a trash can, but the back seats of the vehicle I rode in were rendered useless by the amount of junk that was strewn about them.

In this 2007 article, Karen Youso of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune raises some valid concerns that extreme car clutter can cause for a vehicle:

“No matter the reason, however, operating a cluttermobile has some real drawbacks.

‘All that junk adds weight, and that affects fuel economy, especially in town, with its stop-and-go driving,’ said Bruce Jones, professor of automotive engineering technology at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The heavier a car is, the more force or torque is needed to get it going again once it’s stopped, he explained.

And, in turn, it takes more effort to stop a moving junk car. The brakes won’t last as long…

…More important, however, is safety. The stuff inside cars can become ‘weapons’ in a crash, and not just in a roll-over or a serious collision. Hitting something at 30 miles per hour might stop your car, but it doesn’t stop all the stuff inside from flying around. If anything strikes an occupant, it can severely injure and possibly kill them, Marose said.

In addition, when the airbag deploys, it comes out at about 200 miles per hour. Any object in its way is ejected at nearly the same speed, with the same consequences, he added.”

Whether you work out of your vehicle or you have a few children to tote around, make sure your vehicle is clutter free. The safety of yourself and your passengers may one day depend on it.

 

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