Happy birthday to us! Unclutterer turns ten!

On January 6, 2007, we published our first blog post with our manifesto of simple living. We’re thrilled that over the past ten years we’ve been able to provide tips, tricks, and inspiration to help people unclutter and stay organized and productive.

Here are some highlights from our first decade:

We would like to thank all of the regular and guest writers that have contributed to Unclutterer but most of all, we’d like to thank YOU, our readers, for your continued comments, ideas, and support and encouragement.

Here’s to another ten years of simple living!

Uncluttering with the three r’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle

Reduce, reuse, and recycle has been a mantra of the environmental movement for many years. It’s also really good advice for anyone serious about uncluttering.

Reduce

You don’t need to remove clutter if you don’t let it enter your home or office in the first place. The following are some ways “reduce” might apply to your space:

  • Get off mailing lists. Registering with the DMAchoice mail preference service will help eliminate junk mail, while registering your opt-out preferences with OptOutPreScreen.com will help eliminate credit card offers. To get rid of mail from organizations I’ve done business with in the past, I call the catalog companies and charities that send me solicitations, but you could also use a service such as 41pounds.org or Catalog Choice.
  • Consider borrowing or renting things you use only rarely or need for just a short time. For example, my neighbor and I share the use of my high-quality hole punch. Neither of us needs this very often, so it would be silly for us both to own one. I also see requests to borrow things on my freecycle group, and that often works out. (Nextdoor or Facebook groups might also help with this.) Another example: Your library can provide an alternative to buying books, and you can still buy any that you really want to own after reading the library copy.
  • Consider whether your current magazine subscriptions still make sense.
  • When you’re shopping, be a careful purchaser and minimize the number of purchases you later come to regret.
  • Don’t take every free item that you’re offered.

Reuse

When you no longer need or want an item, you can often find it a good new home with someone who does need or want it. You might:

  • Sell it using a local or online consignment store, eBay, Craigslist, a garage sale, etc.
  • Donate it to a charity, which may give you a tax deduction. That charity might be a large organization like Goodwill, a local charity-run thrift store, a pet rescue/adoption agency that can use old towels, a church that gives things away to the needy, etc. Some organizations will pick things up, which is handy when you have big, bulky items. You can also ship off certain donations for free using Give Back Box. You might want to create a list of local donation sites, noting what types of things they accept, so it’s easy to do the donating when the time comes.
  • Give it away to a friend or family member (if you’re sure the person wants it) or pass it along using freecycle, Nextdoor, a Facebook group, etc.

Recycle

If things can’t reasonably be reused, perhaps they can be recycled. Each locale handles recycling differently, so you’ll want to ensure you know how recycling works where you live. My city has curbside recycling, but there are also less convenient organizations that take things my local garbage company does not. When I had a friend getting rid of hundreds of home-recorded VCR tapes, I drove my very full car to a recycling center that takes them.

You’ll also want to know how your locale handles electronic and toxic waste, prescription medications, and medical sharps. These often require special disposal methods.

When the three r’s don’t work

Sometimes things really do need to just go in the trash. If you’ve carefully considered your options and can’t find another reasonable way to discard something, you don’t need to feel bad about just tossing it. And sometimes, even if there are other options, you may be under time pressure or have other constraints that mean you need to be less conscientious about how things get discarded. That’s okay. The three r’s are an ideal, not something that must be followed under every circumstance.

Unitasker Wednesday: Pancake Bot

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

We’ve written about pancake unitaskers previously. The Snap Jack Pancake Cutter can easily be replaced by a knife you already own and the Perfect Pancake Pan was described as, “the poster child for all unitaskers.”

Well, move over Perfect Pancake Pan and make room for PancakeBot – the world’s first 3D pancake printer. It automatically dispenses pancake batter directly onto a griddle in any shape designed by the cook.

But wait – don’t open that bottle of maple syrup yet! First you need to install the (included) software on your computer and learn how to use it before you can design your own pancakes. Once your composition is complete, you need to upload it into the PancakeBot, prepare the pancake batter and fill the dispenser. Only then will the machine deliver the batter onto the non-stick griddle in the shape you designed.

I suspect, by watching the video, that only certain types of pancake batters can be used in this machine. For example, vegan oatmeal pancake batter would be too thick to dispense. I’m not sure that I could successfully flip the Eiffel Tower pancake and have it stay in one piece but maybe there are some people who can coordinate two spatulas at a time.

The PancakeBot promotes itself by “helping kids and adults explore technology through food” but there are better ways to learn food science for much less than PancakeBot’s $300 price tag.

Get your email organized in 2017

We closed last week with a post about how to get a jump-start on uncluttering and organizing. Today, I’m going to look at how to get email sorted out in 2017. From cleaning out your inbox to setting up best practices, this is how to tame the email dragon for the new year.

Clean out your inbox

I’ll never forget an experience I had several years ago when a co-worker wanted to show me a certain email message and I stood by her desk while she scrolled through literally 5,000 messages. The experience was a time-wasting exercise in frustration. If you’ve been using your email inbox as a filing cabinet (a practice I rallied against in my first post for Unclutterer in 2012), follow these steps.

First, create a new folder called “2016,” and then sort your existing messages by date. Place any emails from 2016 into this new folder. You aren’t deleting or archiving anything yet, just getting them out of the way. You can then sort them later, when it is more convenient for you.

With that done, take control of what actually arrives in your inbox with SaneBox. I wrote about SaneBox before and in 2017 I will gladly renew my membership. SaneBox learns what you consider high-priority messages and automatically moves the rest to a folder called SaneLater. Once a week you can review those results, and correct any instances of important email being moved to SaneLater (Sanebox remembers this correction for the future). I save literally hours per month thanks to SaneBox and sing its praises at every turn.

Deal with unwanted newsletters

While you’re sorting through email, take the time to unsubscribe from all of those unwanted newsletters, digital catalogs and other mailings that sounded good at the time. As they come in over the next month or so, look for the “Unsubscribe” link. It’s usually at the bottom of the message and deliberately hard to find, so take a minute to scroll through and click on that unsubscribe link.

If you’re using SaneBox, you can train it to move certain messages to a folder called “SaneBlackHole,” never to be seen again. Goodbye, persistent spam!

Best practices for 2017

Now, let’s adopt a new practice to prevent a cluttered accumulation of email in 2017. When a new message arrives, ask yourself the question, “What do I need to do with this?”

There are three possible answers:

  • It requires action. Put the action items on your to-do list. I use Todoist but there are a number of good project management tools available.
  • It is reference material. No action is necessary, but it is useful information. I keep these emails in what I call, “cold storage.” Evernote works for me but you may wish to save it on your hard drive.
  • It is trash. Unsubscribe (if necessary) and delete the email.

If you can, you may delete original emails but be aware that your job, and/or legal requirements may prevent you from doing so.

With these practices in place, you’ll have a tidy, clutter-free inbox for 2017.

How to get started when you don’t feel like it

Unclutterer readers are the get-things-done type when it comes to productivity and uncluttering except when they don’t want to be.

Occasionally, we all feel like getting exactly nothing done. Sometimes that’s fine. I love a lazy Saturday as much as the next guy. But other times the urge to relax out comes at the worst time. What do we do in that situation? First of all, recognize that you’re not the first person to feel this way. Next, understand that there is something you can do.

Here’s how to get started on a project when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Let’s start with two simple steps.

First, give yourself permission to do a bad job. The tendency to want everything to be great hindered my writing for a long time. I changed my thinking and would say to myself, “Today, I give myself permission to write a terrible first draft.” When I wrote a sentence that I knew was complete garbage, I was able to continue because I knew I would go back and fix it another time.

The same goes for uncluttering and organizing. Tell yourself it’s OK if your first attempt doesn’t generate the ideal result. Just get started.

Next, and this is a big one, completely disconnect from the internet. No Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or online games. There isn’t a bigger time waster on the planet. Avoid it and you’ll be more productive.

Of course there’s more to it than those basic tips. For example, getting in the right mindset is crucial. It can be as simple as clothing and as complex as a daily routine.

In his book “ Getting Things Done,” author David Allen states, “I don’t feel like exercising until I put my exercise clothes on.” Author James Clear expanded on this idea:

“If you look at top performers in any field, you’ll see similar patterns all over the place. NBA players who do the same thing before every free throw shot. Comedians who recite the same words before they step onto stage. Corporate executives who follow the same meditation sequence every morning.

Do you think these people always feel motivated? No way. There are some days when the most talented people in the world wake up feeling like sluggish lard bombs.

But they use their pre–game routines to pull them into the right mental state, regardless of how they feel. You can use this same process to overcome your motivation threshold and consistently exercise, study, write, speak, or perform any other task that is important to you.”

James outlines just how to create a routine that will work. Paraphrasing, it is:

  1. Start with something too easy to avoid.
  2. Get physically moving.
  3. Keep it consistent.

Often times, we procrastinate in the face of feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes we just don’t know where to begin. I combat this by each night by writing down the three tasks I must complete during the following day. That little note sits on my keyboard and answers the question, “Where do I start?”.

Good luck with your new projects in 2017. Here’s hoping you accomplish all you set out to do and more.

Organizing resolution jump-start

We know that many people have chosen “getting organized” as a New Year’s resolution – and some of those people want to get started now! Here is a short-list of Unclutterer posts that can help you get a jump-start.

Setting Organizing Goals

Overwhelmed?

How to Start

Uncluttering

Keeping Motivated

Happy New Year from the Unclutterer Team and all the best to you in your organizing efforts.

Three tips for New Year’s resolutions

Many people make New Year’s resolutions related to uncluttering, organizing and managing their time — and you may be among them. The following tips might help you stick to your resolutions this year.

1. You don’t have to begin on January 1.

January 1 might be a difficult time to start, coming right after the hectic holiday season. But you can choose to start at a different time, such as Epiphany (Jan. 6) or Groundhog Day (Feb. 2). Or maybe you’d like to start resolutions on your birthday. There’s no one right time, so choose whatever seems best for you.

2. If you tried something last year and it didn’t work, try something a bit different this year.

You may have resolved to get organized in the past, perhaps using books as guidance, and not achieved the results you wanted. If you tried doing it all alone, maybe it would help to include someone else to cheer you on, provide advice, etc.

There are many ways to do that:

  • The Unclutterer Forum is our online discussion section where fellow unclutterers post their challenges and successes as well as tips, tricks, and tools that they use to stay organized.
  • Many people like FlyLady, with her free daily emails (while others think it’s too much). There’s now an iOS app, too.
  • The Apartment Therapy website runs a free group project called January Cure with “one-manageable-step-at-a-time assignments” which are “designed to help you create a cleaner, more organized and peaceful home.” You can sign up now for the emails.
  • You could work with a friend who has a similar goal. But be sure to pick a friend who will provide the encouragement you need, not one who will push you to make choices that make you uncomfortable.
  • If you’re willing to spend a bit of money, Clutter Diet memberships give you access to videos and tutorials as well as access to virtual consulting services from a team of professional organizers.
  • If finances allow, you can hire a professional organizer to work with you in your home, either to jump-start your organizing efforts or to work with you until you’ve accomplished your goals.

3. Consider how you might incorporate helping others into your resolutions.

I just read an article by Paul Sassone on the Chicago Tribune website where he mentioned how self-centered most of our resolutions tend to be. He lists some common resolutions (such as losing weight) and notes:

What’s missing from this list are resolutions to help other people. There are millions of people who are homeless, abused, poor, hungry, sick, infirm. …

It would be nice if at least one of the actions we contemplate doing in the new year was helping to better someone else’s life.

Organizing-related resolutions can have a charitable component, too:

  • Uncluttering can lead to donations of still-good items to local charities (social services agencies, charity-run thrift stores, or even neighbors in need via freecycle or Nextdoor).
  • More thoughtful buying leads to less clutter — but it may also allow you to donate, to the good cause of your choice, some of the money you are no longer spending.
  • Better time management may free up some time to volunteer for one of the many organizations that could use your help.

Maybe that component will give you extra motivation to stick with your resolutions!

Unitasker Wednesday: Talking Toilet Paper Spindle

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

Perhaps it’s from parenting young children, but when I go into the bathroom, I appreciate the peace and quiet – and the privacy. Now, lo and behold, with the Talking Toilet Paper Spindle, the toilet paper will talk to me. I can’t think of another thing that would be so disturbing as someone leaving me a message via the toilet roll.

This talking toilet paper spindle allows you to record a 9-second message that will play when the user pulls the toilet paper. Then the user can record a rebuttal right after. As if texting in the bathroom wasn’t bad enough, now you can have a verbal conversation via the toilet paper.

I could expect something like this if I was visiting a fraternity or a joke shop but I couldn’t imagine having this in my home.

Family tech support

Happy holidays! Everyone at Unclutterer hopes you’re enjoying some time off work, to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends – and for many of you, helping them figure out how to use a new gadget. Nothing says “holiday” like family tech support. With a little planning and organization, it can be a pleasure to help family members and friends enjoy their new electronic devices or answer questions they’ve compiled since the last get together. Here’s how to prepare for family holiday tech support.

The list

password notebookMaintain a list of pertinent information regarding your family’s devices. You can create a simple text document, enter the information in a spreadsheet, or use a notebook dedicated for this purpose.

Information about the devices should include make, model and year of release. For example, if dad owns an iPhone 5, you will know where to look for troubleshooting tips, help with updates, etc.

You should also include details about any services they’re using such as iCloud, Office 365, Dropbox and so on. You should also be aware of their backup systems. This makes it easy to retrieve something if you need to do a restoration.

When you assist your family members, you will most likely need them to enter their passwords to authorize software installations or on certain websites. You should encourage people to keep track of their own passwords and ensure they have access to the passwords during their “tech support visit.” To help my parents, I gave them a notebook designed for recording their passwords. It is easy to use and lets us avoid the frustrating experience of trying to remember usernames and passwords before we can start to solve a problem.

The sit-down

When mom and dad visit, we find a few hours of quiet time to sit down with their iPhones, iPads or computers and go through questions they’ve noted over the past year. Some require a quick fix while others take some time to figure out. The list I compiled earlier makes this a lot easier, as do the following tools I always have with me:

  • A notebook and a pen. Sure, we troubleshooting tech gadgets but you can’t beat a notebook and a pen for jotting things down. I use it as my short-term memory when I need to quickly store a password, setting or URL.
  • An internet-connected device of my own. When I come across a problem that I can’t solve on my own. I rely on an internet search for answers.

With these tools in place, I’m ready to tackle almost any problem. It’s satisfying and I’m happy to do it. With the list of questions complete, I move on to my own to-check list, which follows.

Updates

One thing I always do is make sure their devices are running the most recent version of the appropriate operating system. I’ll also check to make sure that apps and software are up-to-date or at least running the most appropriate version for their device. For example, an iPhone 4 probably shouldn’t run the latest version of iOS. This is why creating a list of hardware make, model, and year is so important. Many devices “max out” at a certain version of an operating system and function best with that version.

Backing up

It is crucial is to ensure that the software, apps, and documents on their devices are being backed up regularly and successfully. I recommend a “set-it-and-forget-it” system such as Backblaze. For just a few dollars per month, you get everything on your computer backed up without having to lift a finger. If you need to retrieve something, it’s there.

I also recommend people keep certain documents in a Cloud storage service such as a Dropbox folder or Google Docs. Photos can be stored via Apple’s iCloud or Google Photos. iPhones and many Android phones have built-in backup solutions that, once set up, do their job without any prompting.

It’s easy to bemoan the responsibility of family tech-support manager, but taking the time to prepare and organize information ahead of time will remove much if not all of the headache. And remember, when you finally resolve that one annoying problem, you’re the hero of the holiday!

Five ideas for post-holiday organization

Good day, Unclutterers. We hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one. Now is the time to enjoy the time off from work, the company of friends and family, and the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Additionally, December 26 is the perfect time for a little post-holiday organization. Nothing too taxing, we want you to enjoy your holiday. With that in mind, here are five simple, effective things you can do today to stay on top of things.

  1. Prepare for ornament storage. It’s common to feel sentimental about the things we own. Holiday ornaments often fall into that category. Protect the decorations that mean something to you with safe, secure storage. A specialized bin like this one will do the job, but really you can make one nearly as effective with a plastic bin and some styrofoam cups. In either case, prepare your solution now so that it will be ready when you’re putting the decorations away.
  2. Organize a wrapping station. A gift-wrapping station will serve you well through the years. Perhaps you struggled a bit this season. If so, take an hour or so to sort that out . A hanging gift wrap organizer keeps things tidy and accessible. Take a quick inventory of the supplies you currently have. If required, take advantage of post-Christmas sales and pick up any supplies you may need.
  3. Figure out how you’ll store those lights. The coat hanger trick is a good one, as are storage reels. A piece of cardboard works perfectly for me.
  4. Unclutter unwanted items. For many, an influx of new toys will raise the question of what to do with the old ones. Here are many options, from donation to re-use.
  5. Make thank-you cards. If there are kids in the house, use scraps of colorful wrapping paper to make thank-you cards. Find pieces you like, cut into festive shapes and affix to plain thank-you cards. Grandma, grandpa, aunties, uncles, etc. will love to receive these.

When you put the decorations away should be based on your schedule or perhaps family tradition. Some do it right away while others may wait until January 6, the Christian celebration of Epiphany. In either case, a little preparation will make that process easier.

Reader Question: Vintage bedspreads

Reader Delia recently sent us the following question:

What does one do with old, vintage sentimental bed spreads?

If the bedspreads have sentimental value but you no longer wish to keep them, consider asking family members or friends if they would like them. Send an email or letter describing the history of the bedspreads and include a few photos.

If the bedspreads are in good condition, a museum or local historical society may be interested, especially if the quilts handmade by local artisans or citizens of local importance. It always helps if you can provide historical context around the item being donated such as the life of the artisan(s) and the creation of the quilt itself. Occasionally theatre or reenactment groups may need quilts made during a specific time period. They may be willing to accept your donation.

Storing and displaying vintage quilts and bedspreads can be laborious. Antique fabric in general is difficult to handle because it is easily damaged. If you do not have the confidence or ability to manage a project like this, consult a local museum or historical society. They may be able to refer you to someone in your area who can take on your project.

The Great Lakes Quilt Centre provides quite a bit of information on how to clean, store and display antique quilts.

  • Washing can enlarge holes and bunch up batting. Wringing and pulling can break seams and damage fibres, especially when they are wet so do not put quilts in a washing machine or hang them on a clothesline. Dry cleaning should also be avoided.
  • A gentle vacuuming with low suction through a fiberglass screen is recommended to remove dust.
  • In storage, quilts should be folded as few times as possible. Every few months, refold them along different lines to avoid permanent creases. Stuffing the folds with acid-free paper or unbleached muslin can help avoid fold lines.
  • Wood, cardboard and plastic can emit chemicals that cause fabric to break down. Store quilts in unbleached, 100% cotton pillowcases or sheets to protect them from light and dust. Acid-free storage boxes are ideal for storing these types of textiles. Quilts can also be rolled onto acid-free tubes and covered with a cotton or muslin sheath to protect them from dust.
  • Store quilts in an area that is not subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Ideal conditions are slightly cooler than room temperature and around 50% relative humidity. Avoid light (sunlight and artificial light) because it can damage fibres as well as cause fading.
  • To capture historic details of the quilt, iron a piece of muslin to a piece of freezer paper and use a typewriter or laser printer to print the historical information about the quilt. Peel the fabric label from the paper and hand stitch the fabric carefully onto the back of the quilt. You could also use indelible ink to write the information on the muslin by hand and stitch it onto the quilt. It can be helpful to create a muslin pocket to hold other important information such as photos of those who made the quilt or a family tree diagram showing the relationship between the quilt maker and the quilt owner.

Finally, if you still have a sentimental attachment to your quilts and bedspreads but do not feel that it is worth the efforts to properly store them, consider taking photos of the entire quilt and close-up shots of specific fabrics. Write the story of the quilt-maker, how the quilt was made and how it came into your possession. “Publish” the story on your own and share it with your family and friends. Donate the quilt itself to charity or to an animal shelter.

The opposite of a unitasker

Each Wednesday, Unclutterer features a unitasker: something that serves a single purpose that could be handled just as easily with a multi-purpose product. These unitaskers are always good for a laugh.

But many single-purpose products are designed to do a single thing very well, and there’s no reason to avoid them. Love to make a wonderful cup of coffee first thing in the morning? You’ll probably want a good coffee maker.

In other situations, dual-purpose products can work well and save space. For example, I have a Switchit silicone spatula that I find quite useful.

But sometimes owning a dual-purpose (or triple-purpose) item means you have something that serves two or three purposes, but doesn’t handle any of them particularly well. I thought about this when listening to a podcast that ridiculed the Nostalgia Family-Size Breakfast Station.

In this case, it seems that the product was simply a poor match for the podcaster’s situation. Many purchasers on Amazon.com seemed to really like the breakfast station for use in campers, dorm rooms, etc. But it’s not the right product for someone who is focused on getting a really good toaster.

The distinction between expert (or demanding) users vs. more amateur users seems to be a key when picking some multi-use vs. single-use products. Australian Hardware Journal has an interesting article on how this plays out in the hand tool and power tool markets. The article notes that there have always been combination tools such as the Leatherman multi-tool and the Swiss army knife, but now manufacturers are also developing power multi-tools.

Multi-tools are getting better, too. Andrew Miller, new product development manager for the Apex Tool Group in Australia and New Zealand, said:

The successful multi-tool systems are able to add functionality without compromising on the performance of the primary task. Separate attachments which can be misplaced are a big negative so minimising attachments is the way forward.

But Miller also noted that unitaskers have their place. “Single purpose hand tools still dominate the market because more often than not, they perform the task in the most efficient way,” he said. And Jamie Costello, national sales manager for Einhell Australia, said, “Professionals are more likely to prefer a specialist tool.”

Consumer electronics is another arena where the multi-purpose vs. single-purpose choice arises. Do you want an e-reader like the Kindle or would you prefer a tablet like the iPad that lets you read books and do much more? It will depend on which reader you prefer, how much you’d use the device for more than just reading — and of course, the price. Do you want a point-and-shoot camera, or is the camera in your cell phone all you need? Reasonable people will come up with different answers.

So when considering the purchase of a well-designed unitasker vs. a multi-use product, consider your needs and pick what fits your situation. Picked poorly, both unitakers and multi-purpose tools can become clutter. Picked wisely, both can be valuable purchases.