Unexpected benefits of uncluttering: An interview with editor Erin Doland

Sue Brenner, PCC, PMP, and author of The Naked Desk, sat down with Unclutterer editor Erin Doland to learn about her path to simple living, and decided to let you in on the conversation that took place back in 2008.

Clearing out the excess clutter in your life has parallel benefits, sometimes unexpected. Just as each gotten-rid-of item is one less thing in your physical way, it is also one less thing to occupy your thoughts and emotions. You are freed up to focus on the subjects that matter to you without the weight of all that excess stuff getting in the way.

Erin, Editor-at-Large at Unclutterer says she wasn’t born with the orderly gene. (Me either. I didn’t begin to adopt that habit until well into my 20s.) But when the weight of “too much stuff” got too great, Erin was forced to learn how to lighten her load and create order — now she experiences a more enriching life as a result. Here’s her story:

When Erin was in her 20s, she could pack everything she owned except her mattress into her 2-door hatchback. But when the dreaded call from her mom came telling her, “All of your stuff in my house has to go,” Erin suddenly found herself with boxes filled with childhood memorabilia and college life, along with a desire to hang on to it all.

Not ready to let any of it go, she packed it all with her when she moved to Washington, D.C. Later, when she and her husband moved in together, they blended their lives and their things into an even smaller urban apartment. Every room spilled over with so much stuff they had no room to move.

Concerned, Erin’s husband sat her down. “I can’t even take one step,” he said. “We can’t live our lives together this way.”

Looking at all their stuff, Erin couldn’t imagine how they could organize it, and she couldn’t even think about letting any of it go. Just the thought of dealing with any of it stressed her out, but she agreed with her husband that living this way wasn’t an option.

Out of desperation, Erin had become interested in getting organized to set her married life off on the right foot. But with no built-in, natural propensity for organization or lightening her load, Erin had no idea where to begin.

“I could organize an argument for a paper and that was the extent of it,” she pondered, “but I didn’t know how to apply that idea to my home.”

So, Erin decided to do some research and find out. “That’s where my daily inspiration for Unclutterer comes from,” she explained. “I had to learn and I pass on what I learned to others. After Unclutterer, came my books, Unclutter Your Life in One Week (2010) and Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter (2016).”

Erin’s first step was to begin to assess what everything was that was cluttering up her home. As she’s written about in previous posts, Erin had kept every note from high school and middle school. Like a mouse collecting morsels, she had kept every trinket that came her way, such as various key chains and t-shirts she had been given at fraternity parties. So much stuff that she had no use for but had packed away at the time because the things seemed worth saving.

“Who knows what I thought I was going to do with all that stuff,” she said. Since it was tough to completely let go of all those memories, she decided to photograph a lot of the stuff — a great strategy for hanging onto the sentiment the thing represented without having to store the thing itself. Erin also realized that she was more likely to go through a photo album on a trip down memory lane than she was to ever go through boxes of stuff.

As Erin’s process continued, she came up with some rules to help her purge things: “If I couldn’t even remember where it came from, it was gone.”

Erin realized that letting stuff go wasn’t just lightening her physical load, but she was also beginning to feel lighter; she realized letting go of the past was allowing her to better move forward with her life. She hadn’t realized how much all that stuff was weighing her down as if she was dragging it all around like a ball and chain around her ankle. She explained: “All that stuff represented my past. I’m now focused on the present and the future with my husband.”

Yes, it was a lot of work — it took Erin about six months to fully unclutter her new dwelling — but as the days progressed into weeks and then months, Erin got better and better at purging all that stuff and began to feel more and more invigorated the closer she got to her goal.

“I have peace of mind now,” she said. “I don’t have that old dread when I leave the house that I will have to come home to that. All that weight is gone. Now my home is a place of relaxation and order; When I come home I get to rejuvenate. There’s a sense of calm.”

That is peace of mind. And confidence too, I’d add. A real sense of accomplishment that feeds all the other areas of your life.

So how has getting uncluttered influenced other areas of your life?

 

Editors note: Erin’s pursuit of simple living continues as she shares her adventures traveling across North American in an even smaller residence — a motor home! Find out more at her website Tumbleweed.Life and check out the amazing photos on her Instagram feed.

Reader suggestion: Cleaning ornaments

It is a great idea to clean and dry ornaments before putting them away for the season. In most cases, a damp cloth will be enough to remove any dust that has accumulated during the season. For ornaments that can’t be washed with water, reader Kerry wrote to us with this tip for cleaning ornaments.

When I take the ornaments off the tree, I hang them on my indoor clothes drying rack which is placed over a towel. Then, I use compressed air to clean the ornaments so they are ready for next year!

Great idea, Kerry!

If you have any ornament cleaning tips you would like to share, let us know in the comments below.

 

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

The post-holiday tear down

christmas-treeI inevitably spot one every year — a house with Christmas decorations still displayed in mid-March. Granted, taking down decorations isn’t nearly as much fun as putting them up, but delaying the inevitable doesn’t make the process more entertaining later in the year.

Outdoor decorations can be a little more tricky to take down because of foul weather conditions in cold climates, but there really isn’t any excuse for keeping indoor decorations up through the spring. Here are some tips for making the tearing down of holiday decorations go more smoothly:

Lights: Gather up all of the lights in a systematic fashion. If you have misplaced the original packaging, wrap the cords around a flat square of cardboard or an extension cord wrap to keep them tangle-free.

Inspect and repair: As you put away your items, inspect each piece to make sure that it is in its best working order and doesn’t pose any safety threats.

Keep all your holiday decorations together: Label all your storage boxes and keep them together in your storage space. It can be a good habit to limit yourself to a set number of boxes (in our house it is three). If you can’t fit all of your decorations into a limited space, it’s time to purge some of your items.

Donate: If you need to lighten your decoration load, take the lightly used ones to a consignment shop or charity. Nursing homes also can use some festive decorations. Regardless of the charity, be sure to call before you make your donation and make sure the group is interested and able to handle your gift.

What tips would you add to the list? Join in the conversation in the comments.

 

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

After Christmas shopping

My wife is rather thrifty. I figured this out long ago, but one of the things she is accustomed to doing is heading out to local retailers the days after Christmas to purchase deeply discounted holiday storage products.

In the past, she has scored a couple of ornament boxes, a wrapping paper storage case, and she always comes back with a few new ornaments and decorations to replace ones that didn’t survive the season.

If you’re heading out to shop and take advantage of the sales here are some tips:

  • Plan out a list before going to keep you from impulsively buying items you don’t need.
  • Try to stay true to the one-in, one-out policy. If you do find a great deal, make sure to get rid of its replacement item.
  • Before you take to the stores (if you go at all), check out our list of tough questions to ask of new acquisitions.

 

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

Apartment Therapy’s small space round-up

at-small-spacesApartment Therapy is one of the sites that we enjoy reading here at Unclutterer. Their small space solutions are a helpful resource for those of us who live in tiny apartments and more “compact” homes.

Their budget-friendly tips are great for those just starting out on their own or living in more expensive cities. Read through The Big List to get great ideas on how to maximize space in homes of any size.

There are tons of solutions, photos, resources, and storage ideas. Get inspired by taking a look at some of the ideas and products that they highlight in their year-end review.

(photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy)

 

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

Displaying holiday greeting cards

My wife found an easy and creative way to display holiday cards using ribbon and a hole punch. In our current home, we don’t have mantle space for the cards we receive, so, rather than cluttering up a table or other flat surface, my wife decided to implement an idea she found in a magazine. (The picture to the right is the result.)

Apartment Therapy posted a question from one of their readers about displaying holiday cards. They feature a couple of options from Pottery Barn (no longer available) that cost $50! My wife’s solution cost under $6.

There are a few Christmas specific holiday card holders available at a relatively reasonable cost of about $20. If you have the space to store them, it could be an option. For those that are looking for something they can use all year-round, then consider a display that holds photographs most of the year and holiday cards during holiday seasons.

The option my wife implemented displays the cards while keeping them out of the way. It is also cheap and, most importantly, simple.

How do you display holiday cards in your home? Feel free to add your ideas in the comments.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Battery powered latte art pen

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Do you have FOMO (fear of missing out) because you can’t post photos of your coffee on #latteart on Instagram? Now you can join in with this easy-to-use battery powered latte art pen!

Don’t worry about this gadget being constructed of plastic and non-recyclable electronics because it dispenses natural, wholesome powder compatible with foods such as cocoa, cinnamon, and other spices.

Just open the pen and pour in your cinnamon or cocoa powder. You must pour very carefully because the battery compartment is exposed when you open the cover. Any powder spilled in the compartment may interfere with or corrode the connections.

When you push the little button, the pen vibrates and the powder is supposed to flow out the tip. Once you figure out how to clear the consistent clogging, you too will be able design amazing art on your coffee and post photos of your food to all your favourite social media sites.

Thank you to reader Olivia for bringing this unitasker to our attention — and for letting us know you saw the ad for it on (where else) Instagram.

Generation Z

generation zMy Generation Z children are home from college for the holidays. We’ve had some good conversations about life when I was in college compared to their life now. Many things have changed. While they are lamenting the slow Wi-Fi on campus, I told them how I bought a 40MB internal hard drive for my 286 computer to run the statistics program for my thesis.

Next year will be a busy year for our family. My husband and I will be moving wherever the military sends us. The oldest will be finishing college and moving to wherever a new job takes her. The youngest will be moving out of the dorm and into her own small apartment. While talking about all of these moves, we got into a discussion about stuff, uncluttering, and what the Generation Z wants and doesn’t want.

Here are highlights of our conversations.

Home-ownership may not be a goal. The 3,000 square foot home with a 30-year mortgage may be a ball-and-chain for some Gen-Zers. Many want small, low-maintenance apartments or condos and would rather spend money on travel and adventure experiences. These kids have seen their parents spend holidays and weekends doing home renovations and believe that mowing the lawn is a “soul-crushing timesuck.”

Make it digital. Gen-Zers have no use for DVDs and CDs. They use streaming services like Amazon Video. They might want hard copies of select reference books or storybooks they read as children, but they would rather use a Kindle e-reader for everything else. An ideal holiday/birthday/wedding gift would be digital copies of home movies and family photos.

Less housework is better. Dusting and polishing silver takes effort, but Gen-Zers will do the work if they value and can use the items. They have no use for the figurines and silver-plated coin-banks I received for them at baby showers. Nor are they interested in Grandma’s good china that is neither microwave nor dishwasher-safe. However, they would value one or two serving pieces like the sugar bowl/creamer set, the gravy boat, or serving platters.

Only ‘my’ memorabilia. Gen-Zers have no use for the lobster trap their parents brought home from New England or the sequined sombreros from Mexico. They will keep items that are significant to them or that have important family history such as military medals, specific jewellery pieces, and artwork.

Functional furniture. Large antique dressers with drawers that don’t open easily and oversized sectionals do not fit into the Gen-Zers lifestyle. They want smaller-scale, furniture that can serve more than one purpose such as end tables with storage and ottomans that double as filing cabinets.

What does this all mean for the parents of Generation Z? Keep things because you love them and want them. If you are not enjoying certain things, ask your children if they want them now or will want them in the future (assuming they are old enough to make those decisions). If the children are able to take the items now, let them go. If not, make sure your final wishes are clear to avoid family disputes.

If you are in the Generation Z cohort or have Generation Z children, chime in with your opinions in the comments.

Uncluttering your schedule to keep clear of unnecessary stress

Being human can be difficult some days. I most often notice the difficulties when I’m stressed, full of anxiety, things are chaotic, and/or under pressure. Little problems that are usually dealt with easily turn into big issues because my abilities to see the whole picture or keep my cool are gone.

One time, I completely unhinged in front of one of my colleagues. I was quietly working at my desk one minute, and the next minute I threw a tantrum because a project we were working on took a turn I didn’t expect. Instead of reacting like a normal person, I chose the path of awful person. I used my “outside voice” for at least a full minute before I realized I was being a complete idiot. Thankfully, my colleague burst into laughter (instead of yelling back or quitting) and asked if my outburst helped me feel better.

It took me two hours to calm down and figure out what had happened. Many elements in my life were to blame:

Stress + Anxiety + Disappointment + Poor Planning = Awful Erin.

As full disclosure, one of these elements was completely out of my hands. I had no way to control the event that happened that triggered my disappointment. No matter what the day or how prepared I possibly could have been, I still would have been disappointed.

The other elements were all my fault, however. My poor planning resulted in stresses and anxieties that were wholly unnecessary, and which made me blow the incident with my co-worker completely out of proportion. If I had planned appropriately, I would have been able to move with the ebbs and flows of the day and not let the stress and anxiety overwhelm me. More precisely, I wouldn’t have been experiencing stress and anxiety — at least not at the level I was.

Later that afternoon, I made a heartfelt apology to my colleague, we had a good laugh, and then I went home to re-evaluate my schedule. I needed to be realistic about my abilities.

I revisited my initial estimations and doubled them. What I thought would take one hour, I doubled to two. What I thought would take a day, I scheduled to two days. I made phone calls and adjusted others’ expectations of my timeline accordingly.

With all things in life, the more stress and anxiety you feel, the less able you are to think and respond to the best of your abilities. Proper planning — being honest with yourself about how long it will take to complete action items, setting a schedule, and having the diligence to keep to that schedule — will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and in control of the things you can control.

After my tantrum and retooling of my schedule, I noticed a significant decrease in my stress and anxiety levels. I am not super human, and my new schedule was realistic and maintainable. Unfortunately, it took making a fool out of myself to realize I needed a change. How do you organize your time to keep stress and anxiety at bay, and how do you avoid potential stress meltdowns?

 

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

Sharing space and dealing with moments of chaos

There are many wonderful things about living with others, but dealing with their clutter is most certainly not one of them. Living with my husband (and before that roommates) has always been a special challenge during times of emotional stress.

You see, when I’m sailing through life, everything finds its way back to its place quickly because I put everything away as soon as I use it. However, when I’m feeling chaotic, you can’t see the bedroom floor and nothing goes back where it belongs. I nest using clothes and papers.

When I lived alone, it did not bother me. When I was feeling this way, I would just wade through the clothes to find the bed, knowing that I would get out of the funk and get things cleaned up sooner or later.

Now that I live with my husband in a tiny apartment, I can’t let the chaos take over too much.

We’re both human, though, and the chaos does hit, sometimes at the same time but usually at different moments (meaning one wants to clean while the other is in a nesting mode).

Living with others offers a challenge to staying organized because if one person is feeling chaotic, their clutter encourages others to let their own organizing slack off: “If his stuff is all over the place, why should I clean up mine?”

Say you are in a chaotic moment and your spouse/partner starts ranting at you about the mess you are leaving around. What would you do? In my case, my inner teenager comes out and I want to make the mess even worse just to get back at the unfair authority-figure ranting.

Let’s say however, that you are more mature than I am, and recognize the ranting is not an attack on your intrinsic goodness. Instead, you use it to move yourself out of the chaos, dealing with the physical side first and letting the emotional clutter clear itself out. How wonderful, no?

But what happens if it’s your companion(s) that let the clutter take over? How do you deal with it?

Here are three Definitely Don’t and three Possibly Do actions.

Definitely Don’t:

  1. Don’t nag. It will just bring out the inner teenager and they might rebel and do things on purpose just to annoy you.
  2. Don’t get judgmental. People in a negative state don’t need negative reinforcement. Besides, it’s not like you have never had moments of clutter, hmmm???
  3. You can re-order the place yourself, but don’t do it with a “how great am I?” nor with a martyr attitude. Do it because you want to or not at all. A superiority complex will only cause more problems in the end.

Possibly Do:

  1. Live with the chaos and hope that the person will snap out of it soon. After all, you go through chaotic periods too, I’m sure.
  2. Suggest an order the house day and make it a big fun event. Put on music, dress up in housekeeper outfits (or at least tie funny colored scarves on your head) and do a re-ordering.
  3. Re-order the place on your own and hope that the calm space will bring calm to the other person/people.

Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with the clutter in the home caused by multiple people experiencing the ups and downs of life at different rates.

 

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

Pet hair gets everywhere

Photo by Mircea Iancu from Pexels

My home has been cat free for eight months now. It wasn’t by choice. Our two cats passed away within a year of each other and we are waiting until our daughter is a bit older to get a new kitten. I definitely miss having a cat, but one thing I don’t miss is cleaning up cat hair all the time. It is a never-ending task!

We are currently awaiting the possibility of cat-sitting for my in-laws when they travel to Florida for the winter. My daughter will absolutely be thrilled with this, and I must admit that I’m excited to have a cat in the house again. After my initial excitement, the next thing I thought of was the return of cat hair. It is definitely a negative aspect of owning a pet. Dogs aren’t much better in this regard, so I’ll include them in this post. My mom spent many hours vacuuming up black hair from her carpets from the Labrador they had years ago.

Here are some tips I came across recently when looking for solutions:

Grooming: Brushing your pet regularly will decrease the amount of hair that ends up on the floor and furniture. You may also look into a corner comb.

Furniture and Floors: Vacuuming regularly is a must. It doesn’t matter if you groom regularly, the hair will find its way to the floor and furniture. You may want to instill a no furniture rule for your pet to curb furniture fur.

Clothing: The lint roller is a necessary evil if you plan to exit the house hair free. Also, don’t leave clothes out  on the floor. Most cats love to lie on clothing left on the floor.

Erin’s post on Taming pet fur tumbleweeds. The Furminator de-shedding tool will definitely be something we purchase.

How about you? What do you do to keep pet hair from taking over your home?

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Chef vs. Gadget

A big thank you to reader Celeste who sent us this video where a chef competes against unitasker gadgets.

The video shows that a chef knife wins spectacularly over the unitaskery avocado cutter and corn cob peeler. There was a tie between the chef knife and herb cutter (only for the green onions). If you already have a knife, sharpen up your cutting skills and skip buying the herb cutter?

The rapid egg cooker and the microwave pasta cooker, both unitaskers, won against the chef. How did they do that? They saved time — and likely saved energy. The rapid egg cooker does not require an entire pot of water to be boiled on the stove. The pasta cooker uses the microwave to boil water which is much faster and more energy efficient than the stove top. Both the pasta cooker and rapid egg cooker might be useful for students living in dorms who only have access to a microwave and an electrical outlet.

Thanks again Celeste! It’s a great video.

 

Note: Our post links to a microwave pasta cooker with higher Amazon reviews than the one shown in the video.