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.

Work life creeping into personal life? Try a battery-only weekend

I want to start this post by professing my love for the Internet, my computer, and my job. I love the digital age, and shiver with fear at the thought of living without Internet access.

That being said, I spend a significant amount of time on my computer beyond normal work hours doing non-critical work things. It’s a safe estimate that on a weekday I’ll spend one to two hours behind my laptop in the evenings. On a weekend day, bump that number up to three or four hours. Seeing as I officially work somewhere between nine and twelve hours a weekday, I’m surprised I want anything to do with a computer or work in my free time — let alone hours more.

I decided that I was going to take a break from my laptop and from work for a three-day holiday weekend. Unfortunately, I had a few small tasks I needed to do over the weekend, so I knew I couldn’t completely disconnect. I decided instead to unplug my computer at the end of the workday on Thursday and not plug my computer back in until showing up for work Monday morning.

I would survive the holiday only using my laptop’s battery power and nothing else.

I was able to finish the majority of my work on Friday morning and was confident that I would be able to get through the weekend fine. I opened up my laptop a few times throughout the rest of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it since the battery percentages were in the 70s, then the 60s, then the 50s. Saturday morning, however, when I checked my work email, I noticed I only had 35 percent power left!

I was a little stunned that my Saturday morning number was 35 percent. My first thought was that I must have a lame battery. A good battery wouldn’t be on 35 percent in just a day! Except, when I stopped to calculate my usage on Friday, I realized I had easily spent three hours on my laptop. My battery was working fine, it was user consumption that was to blame.

On Sunday, I opened my laptop and saw 8 percent. About half an hour into checking my email and other little site tasks, I got a message on my screen announcing that my computer was operating on reserve power. I immediately closed my laptop and decided to save the last bits of remaining energy in case of a work emergency.

The only problem is that it takes energy to power-up a laptop after its lid has been closed. I discovered this truth after lunch, when I thought I could sqeeze out a few seconds of power just to see if the website was doing okay. But, all I got was a blank screen.

My computer officially died with 20 hours to go before work started on Monday.

I don’t like the idea that I used all of my computer’s battery power before the three-day weekend had come to a close. What I took from it is that I’m having difficulty drawing the line between work and free time. I think about work constantly and would like to be able to turn those thoughts off and relax at least once in a while.

So, for the duration of the month, I’m going to have battery-powered laptop weekends. Work matters a great deal to me, but so does taking advantage of my free time. I hope that this process helps me to better prioritize my time away from work and relax and rejuvenate to make my official work time more productive. Clutter comes in all forms, and, right now, it’s in the form of working through my weekends. If you’re in a similar position, consider joining me in the battery-powered challenge.

 

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

Unclutter worries from your mind

Even though I’m a faithful user of David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system, I still find that I will sometimes worry about one or two of my next actions. I don’t worry about how I will complete the item, rather I worry about ridiculous things I cannot control (like if my cold will be over by the time I need to make a presentation).

Experience has taught me that when my thoughts become cluttered my effectiveness decreases. Then, to add insult to injury, I get even more frustrated when a task I know should only take five minutes takes me half an hour. It’s a downward spiral that is best addressed earlier instead of later.

When I find my thoughts are a mess, I answer the following five questions to unclutter my mind.

1. What is my worry? Many times, simply naming my worry is all that I need to do to quell my racing mind.

2. Is my worry rational, illogical, emotional, something I cannot control, or just noise? Identifying what type of worry I’m having can help me to find a solution to stop the cluttered thoughts. A rational fear might be solved with the creation of an action item. A worry about if it might rain is just noise because there is already an umbrella in my car.

3. Am I afraid of failure? When this worry creeps into my mind I remember a quote I found a year ago by a woman named Martha Mangelsdorf: “What would I do if I were not afraid?” The quote inspires me to imagine how I would behave differently in a given situation if I weren’t afraid of failing. Doing so has never failed to relieve me of this type of fear.

4. What good will come from my worrying? The answer to this question is often “no good.” If this is the answer, then squashing the worry in a swift manner is the only solution to uncluttering my mind.

5. How much additional time should I devote to worrying about this issue? There are times when a fear is rationally grounded and deserves my attention. I will schedule the proper amount of time to devote to the worry (five minutes to five hours) and then address the issue and only that issue during that time. I will sit down with a cup of coffee and a notepad and work out a solution. When my scheduled time is completed, I create action items or I wash my hands of the worry. I try not to be consumed with the worry before the scheduled time, as well as afterward. A focused time to worry keeps the worry from slowing me down during times when my mind needs to be working on something else.

 

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

Free-up space in your bathroom by getting rid of nail polish

My mother has the most beautiful finger nails a woman could ever dream of having. They’re strong and straight and no one believes her when she says that they’re real. She doesn’t have professional manicures and, even though you won’t believe me, she doesn’t wear finger nail polish.

To let you in on a secret: My nails are not as beautiful as my mother’s, and I don’t wear finger nail polish either. I wouldn’t even know how to put it on if someone gave me a bottle.

I trim and file and put lotion on my cuticles so that my nails always look healthy, clean, and well-maintained. My mom might even buff hers a bit to make hers shiny. But, open up our bathroom cabinets, and you won’t find finger nail polish anywhere.

In my experience, people only notice someone else’s nails when they are dirty, unkempt, or have chipped paint on them. If you’re looking to free up some space in your bathroom cabinets, you might think about getting rid of your finger nail polish supply. In addition to giving you some space, it also has the bonus of saving you money on polish and polish remover. I also don’t experience stress about chipping my finger nail polish right before an important meeting.

If you decide to get rid of your finger nail polish, be sure to dispose of it properly. Remove the nail polish cap and allow it to become a solid (do this in a well-ventilated area, like on your front porch). Once it is a solid, it is safe to throw away in the trash. If you have an extensive finger nail polish collection, then take all of your polish to your local hazardous waste disposal facility. It is unsafe to dispose of liquid polish in your trash. Nail polish remover should also be disposed of at your local hazardous waste disposal facility.

 

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

Ten things to do in 10 minutes

I get frustrated when I work for eight hours straight and then finish the day feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything. It is as if I have been a hamster in a wheel, running nowhere. It’s times like these when I seek out small tasks that I can finish quickly to feel some sense of productivity. Often, too, small tasks are all that I can handle because I’m exhausted.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, feel welcome to tackle one (or more) of the following 10 uncluttering tasks you can do in 10 minutes:

  • Organize your sock drawer. Get rid of socks that are hole-ridden, stained, or without mates.
  • Clean out the cupboard under your kitchen sink. I’m not sure why, but in my home this is where all of my “I don’t want to deal with this right now” kitchen items land.
  • Round up all of your pet’s toys. My cats like to swat their toys under dressers and into closets. Once a week, I walk around the house with a yard stick, retrieve all of their toys, and return them to their toy basket.
  • Sort through your magazines. Decide which ones can stay and which ones should go.
  • Clear out your “to be watched” list. Check your favorites list on your Amazon Video, Netflix, and other streaming services accounts. Delete the movies and TV series you’ll never watch.
  • Start a load of laundry. Laundry and I are in a constant battle, and usually Laundry is winning.
  • Sit in silence and do nothing. I often forget to take time out of my day just to sit, collect my thoughts, and relax. Uncluttering my mind is just as important as uncluttering my home.
  • Straighten out the trunk of your car. Right now, there is a stack of wood in the trunk of my car. I remember how it got there six months ago, but I don’t know why it is still in there. It needs to find a different home.
  • Pull all of the extra hangers out of your closets. Hangers are like tribbles. They seem to appear out of thin air. I put mine in a grocery sack, toss the sack into my car, and then drop them off at the dry cleaner’s the next time I’m running errands.
  • Post a Freecycle ad. Find one thing you’ve been meaning to get rid of in your home, and create a Freecycle post for it.

Feel welcome to drop suggestions for 10 minute projects into the comments section–we would love to hear your ideas.

 

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

Transforming inherited jewelry

In doing research for posts on inherited clutter, I discovered an artist who takes old costume jewelry that people never wear, modernizes and reworks it, and creates stylish, fashionable, new pieces of jewelry. Since outdated, costume jewelry is the majority of what I inherited when my maternal grandmother passed away, I find this process brilliant.

I wanted to learn more, so I contacted Sara Bradstreet, the artist I discovered who most deeply captivated my attention, for an interview. Thank you, Sara, for talking with me. (The necklace pictured on the right is a brooch she transformed.)

Unclutterer: What inspired you to become an artist who brings new life to old jewelry?

Sara: I wanted to create art with little waste and satisfy my desire to sniff out the diamond in the rough. With jewelry, there is little waste. I use most elements of the piece. Sometimes, I will buy a not-so-attractive necklace just for the clasp, or a bag of buttons for the few rhinestone buttons at the bottom — even things as random as old silverware find their way into my collection. I find much beauty and integrity in old things and hate to see beautiful gems in a dumpster.

Unclutterer: What types of pieces are best for this type of transformation?

Sara: There is a lot of room for variety here. Sometimes the most random pieces, when re-oriented with others, make the most interesting. I look for pieces that, with a little manipulation and solder, can turn from a brooch into a pendant or cuff link into a clasp. I like to use only quality silver and gold–I’m not into green necks–and use my sense of touch to bend and scratch and, oddly enough, I will even smell it to see if it is metal or simply painted plastic. I am not afraid to alter a collector’s item and am often feared by collectors.

Unclutterer: What should people consider before having their older jewelry reinvented?

Sara: Well, the jewelry won’t be the same anymore. The good news is that it will be out of your jewelry box, or that random box under your bed, and hopefully, around your neck. I hesitate to use pieces that have extreme sentimental value and like clients to be somewhat detached from the brooch being simply a brooch, but an element of something larger that will be worn again. When creating custom pieces for clients, I like to have a variety of pieces, multiple chains, found objects, etc. I may not use all of the different elements, but the more I have to chose from, the merrier.

Unclutterer: Some of our readers might be distraught with the idea of repurposing their grandmother’s brooch. What would you say to people with such hesitations?

Sara: I believe that what I do helps people to remember and, in ways, celebrate those who have passed away.

I agree with Sara that wearing and getting use from your jewelry is much more worthwhile than hoarding it in a box where it doesn’t see daylight. Also, if you decide that you aren’t interested in reinventing your old jewelry, but are still looking for ways for it to cease being clutter in your home, consider donating your pieces to artists like Sara.

 

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

Everyday things: Are you buying quality or quantity?

In April 2005, the article “101 New Uses for Everyday Things” appeared on the Real Simple Magazine website. Although the article is old, its underlying premise is still valid: Items you already own can serve multiple purposes and save you from having to buy even more stuff.

For example, if you own olive oil, do you also need to own wood polish?

Knowing about the potential of what you already have on hand can keep you from acquiring even more things. What are some everyday things in your home that can serve double-duty? Let us hear your suggestions in the comments.

 

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