Organizing food storage wraps

If you’re not lucky enough to have a designated drawer for food storage wraps in your kitchen, you probably have to sacrifice space in your pantry or cupboards for plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, plastic sandwich bags, freezer paper, cellophane bags, reusable shopping bags, and reusable produce bags. I have to store these items in my pantry, too, and I have been considering the following items to help better organize my space:

Right now, the wrap shelves and the bag holder are what I think I’m going to buy. What do you use to organize your food storage wraps in your kitchen? Or, are you one of the lucky ones with a designated drawer? Tell us about your food storage wrap situation in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Never again

It is a wise person who can learn as much from failure as success. I try my best to gain what I can from mistakes and botched attempts, but there are times when it takes me more than once to learn a lesson.

Until last week, it never crossed my mind that I could track these failures and learn from them in a more systematic approach. Then, I saw this unique file folder:

The actual paper folder is unnecessary, but the fundamental idea behind it is brilliant. After seeing it, I created a folder on my computer called “Never Again.” Then, inside that folder, I made a series of plain text documents: Restaurants, Books, Websites, Ideas, Hotels, Vacations, Wines, and Gifts. In these documents I recorded important notes to myself about mistakes I’ve made in the past.

An excerpt from my “Never Again: Gifts” file —

  1. Anything with nuts in it for Mary (allergic)
  2. Massage gift certificate for Katie
  3. Scented candles for anyone
  4. Lilies for Dana (allergic)
  5. Smoking items for David (quit September 2008)

The documents I put inside my “Never Again” file are on subjects that I instantly knew I had information to record. I’m sure that in a couple weeks I’ll have even more documents. Learning from mistakes helps improve productivity, saves time, and keeps us from spinning our wheels. Tracking our mistakes in an organized manner can help us to learn (probably best not to buy anyone a gift with nuts in it) and to free space in our mind to think of something else.

If you’re worried about someone gaining access to your “Never Again” file on your computer, make the file password protected. A simple password will keep your mistakes from becoming public information.

What “Never Again” documents would you create? Do you think this is a way that could help you learn from your mistakes and save you time in the future?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Ask Unclutterer: Exhausted after work

Reader Juliana submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do you stay on top of your chores if both members of the household work demanding jobs all day? There’s no way we can afford a housekeeper and we are both exhausted at the end of the day. By the weekend, things have piled up to an overwhelming level and I feel like it’s too much to handle. Help!

Oh, Juliana, I know exactly how you’re feeling, and I’m sure a number of our readers do, too. After a long day of work the last thing you want to do are chores, and when the weekend arrives you want to do something more remarkable than clean. There have been many times when I have wished for a housekeeper.

  • My first piece of advice is to set aside one weekend to simply catch up with all of the stuff around your house. In the days leading up to this weekend, tell everyone that you’re going out of town, stock up on groceries, and clear your entire schedule. Then, wake up early on Saturday morning and get down to business. Clean your place from top-to-bottom, inside-and-out, and do all of the big stuff that just has to get done. On Sunday evening, celebrate your efforts by going out to a dinner where someone else is responsible for doing the dishes.
  • Once you have this clean slate, then you can get started on a daily maintenance routine that takes little effort and leaves your weekends free for your remarkable life.
  • Your routine first needs to include a landing strip. You need an area where you can come in after a long day at work and immediately process items. Put a trash can and recycle bin/paper shredder in this space so that mail and paperwork are immediately handled (especially since you don’t want to sacrifice weekend time doing this). Have hooks for coats and hats, and designated spaces for your keys, bags, etc. Put all of your charging equipment for your cell phone in this space, and plug in your phone the minute you walk in the door. The landing strip provides a space for your things, and also makes it a breeze to leave your house in the morning for work.
  • Next up, commit to doing exactly 30 minutes of cleanup a night. You may do best if you do this 30 minutes right when you get home, or it may work for you right after dinner. Yes, you’re exhausted, but if you remind yourself that 30 minutes now will save you two whole weekend days, it’s pretty easy to keep moving. I have a “cleaning” mix on my iPod that is 30 minutes of fast tempo songs. I play it while I clean to motivate me.
  • Designate specific rooms for specific days, such as Mondays = Kitchen, Tuesdays = Bathrooms, Wednesdays = Bedroom, Thursdays = Living Room, and Fridays = Living/Family Room. Do a general 10 minute pick up around the house, but then spend 20 minutes really focusing on just one room. With both of you working together, you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish. You’ll also reap the benefit of having your weekends free of chores.
  • If you watch television as a way to relax, invest in a DVR. You can do the cleaning while a favorite show is recording, and then start it half-way into the program and watch the show without commercials.
  • Finally, here are more time-saving tips and suggestions for establishing routines. And, remember to get ready for bed half-an-hour or an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Your clothes are more likely to hit the hamper, and shoes/belts/jackets are more likely to get put away properly.

Thank you, Juliana, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope we helped a little to solve your problem.

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

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Unitasker Wednesday: The unitasker debate

After so many years of Unclutterer, you might think we would run out of unitaskers to make fun of but sadly that is not the case. Our Unitasker Wednesday series is still going strong.

In our first unitasker post, we defined a unitasker as something that:

  • It takes up space in your home and your life but does not give much in return.
  • It only does one thing, and usually that thing is really unnecessary or superfluous.

In order to fulfill the definition of unitasker both of the above criteria must be met for the owner/user of the item.

Let’s take the waffle maker as an example, Unclutterer Matt, insists that a waffle maker is a unitasker. It takes up a lot of cupboard space. It only makes waffles. It is used only a few times a year. Unclutterer’s editor-at-large, Erin disagrees because she uses a waffle maker to make other foods and she enjoys using it. Erin gets lots in return for the item that takes up space in her cupboard! Erin also loves her ice-cream maker even though Matt believes that it too, is a unitasker.

The Banana Saver was declared a unitasker, but I heartily disagree. I gladly sacrifice the space a in the cupboard for the Banana Saver because it allows me to avoid cleaning smashed banana in the children’s backpacks and lunchboxes.

Unclutterer Jeri mentioned that some multi-purpose items may not be as effective as unitaskers. We have mentioned that when unitaskers keep you safe, save you time, effort, and money they can be valuable.

Every week readers chime in and declare their love for the unitaskers we feature. Sometimes it is because their children will only eat tacos in the TriceraTaco taco holder, or the 60 second salad maker really does save them time, or the Flying Screaming Monkey brings them joy. Whatever the reason, if you use it and you love it then for you it is not a unitasker.

We plan to continue with our poking fun at items in Unitasker Wednesday posts and we appreciate each and every comment even if they respectfully disagree with us. Diversity enhances innovation and creativity. It is our strength.

Reader question: How do I recycle broken toys and books?

Reader Angie sends in this question:

I have lots of toys (mostly plastic) that cannot be donated or passed down. They either broken or missing parts. How do I recycle them? Can I just put them in the recycling bin? What about children’s books that are either ripped, missing covers, or stained. Can I put them in the recycling bin as well? One more question: What is a good way to store books for a long time to be passed down?

Many parents struggle with these questions Angie so thank you for asking!

Toy disposal

Before we look at recycling, there are other ways to keep toys out of the waste stream. Many people take toys and parts of toys and create new toys and various types of art. Check out:

I’m not suggesting that you become an artist in your spare time but consider listing the pile of broken toys on Craigslist or Freecycle and see if a creative-type person or artistic group wants them.

One of the more complicated parts about recycling is that every municipality has a different recycling program. The best thing to do is to visit your city’s website and find the information about recycling. Cities may have more recycling options if you are able to drop off at their depot. Earth911 does a great job of explaining the mystery of why toys are so difficult to recycle.

Another option for recycling toys is to contact TerraCycle and purchase a Zero Waste Toy Box. TerraCycle will ship you an empty box, you fill it with broken toys then ship the box back using the pre-paid shipping label. TerraCycle will separate the toy’s components and ensure they get into the correct recycling stream.

The Zero Waste Boxes are expensive ($95 USD for the small toys box) so you may want to collaborate with other parents in your neighbourhood, community centre, school, or house of worship. After all, saving the planet is a good cause.

Book disposal

Most untreated paper can be recycled. Many books — especially children’s books cannot because they have been treated with wax, glues, or plastic coating. Investigate your municipality’s recycling website to see what the options are for recycling books. Earth911 explains the mysteries of book recycling and has some great suggestions for used books including books in “less than prime” condition. TerraCycle also has a Zero Waste Book Box which might be an option for your school or local library.

Book preservation

Reading with children is a great way to form a lasting bond. I kept many of our children’s favourite books including the entire Franklin the Turtle series. To tell the truth, I think I kept them more for me than for my kids. Should I be blessed with grandchildren someday, I would love to share these books with them.

In addition to our best tips on how to store treasured books, I would suggest to do a gentle cleaning of children’s books. Use an old, clean and soft toothbrush to remove any caked-on food or playdough. If the books have been on a shelf for a while, vacuum the edges with a soft brush using the lowest suction setting. Blot any greasy spots with an absorbent cloth. Ensure books are dry before storing.

Thanks for your great question Angie. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Storing board games and puzzles

Storing board games and puzzles can be an unnecessarily cumbersome task. The cardboard boxes are easily damaged and there isn’t a standard size to make stacking simple.

If board game and puzzle organization has you stumped, here are some suggestions for getting your games in order:

  • When acquiring new board games, consider purchasing games in “library” or “book” style boxes. They easily fit on a bookshelf and their standardized sizes make cupboard storage convenient, too. Hasbro has numerous classic games in its library series (Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry, Clue, Stratego, Life, Jenga, Memory, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi, Ho! Cherry-O). And, many of the Rio Grande games also come in bookshelf-friendly boxes, like Carcassonne and Puerto Rico.
  • To avoid losing pieces, bundle everything but the game board and box into zip-top bags when the game is not in use. It’s a lot easier to find a bag of men, dice, and cards than it is to find a single piece.
  • Use gallon size zip-top bags for puzzle pieces if the puzzle box is damaged. Take a picture of the puzzle box top and put it in with the pieces in the bag. Or, if you’re up for a challenge, just write the name of the puzzle on the bag with a permanent marker and don’t have a picture to follow.
  • If your child is a fan of wood puzzles, the Wire Puzzle Rack can hold more than 10 wooden puzzles of varying sizes.
  • A puzzle mat is good for storing puzzles when you need to put it away but aren’t yet finished working on it.
  • If the box for a game becomes so damaged that it is no longer containing a game, these plastic project boxes hold the pieces and most boards.

How do you store board games and puzzles in your home? Let us know your suggestions in the comments!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Power strips that work well with wall warts

Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a few alternatives to traditional power strips that alleviate or reduce the space-hogging AC adapters (commonly called wall wart) problem:

First up is a surge protector that swivels. This one is good for extra wide wall warts.

 

Next is the pyramid power adapter. You can outfit it with many wall warts and it also has USB charging ports.

For those who like the traditional power-bar look, EZO makes one that has outlets that swivel.

The pivot surge protector can handle several adapters and circle around the leg of your desk to save space.

Remember, for safety’s sake, block off all unused outlets with plug covers to keep little fingers (and sometimes little cat claws) from going where they don’t belong.

Let us know of additional wall wart space hogging solutions in the comments!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Ask Unclutterer: How can I change someone into an unclutterer?

Since we started asking for submissions to the Ask Unclutterer column, we have received many, many, many questions on the following theme:

I am uncluttered and organized, but my partner/spouse/roommate/sibling/child is not. It drives me crazy! Please tell me how I can change/fix him/her/them.

Each time I see one of these messages, my heart goes out to the people involved. I used to be the partner/spouse/roommate/sibling/child who was making messes and not picking up after myself. My college roommates used to yell at me, my parents hired someone to clean my bedroom, and my husband had to have a serious talk with me that bordered on being an intervention. Although many of you may not believe me, the reality is that being a clutterer living with an unclutterer isn’t the easiest of lives, either.

People can change from clutterbugs into unclutterers — I’m living proof of that — but wanting the change to happen doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. Here are some tips that may help to improve your situation:

  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes. Living a cluttered life is not full of puppies and rainbows. You walk around with the stress of your crap and disorganization on your mind all the time. You want to be organized, but don’t have the knowledge and/or energy to make it happen. If you had enough money to pay someone to clean up after you, you would hire someone in a heartbeat just to get rid of the anxiety. You know that you’re upsetting other people, but something is stopping you from changing your ways.
  • Stop nagging and have a conversation. The worst thing you can do is nag the clutterbug. Nagging sends the message that you have no respect for the person. Instead, have a conversation about the state of your home. Go to a public place (most people don’t yell in public spaces) like a restaurant, coffee shop, or bar, and really get to the heart of the matter.
  • Be honest about what you do around the house. Most people overestimate their contributions to work done around the house. It’s because we focus on just what we’re doing, attach a sense of worth to it, and assume what the other person is doing isn’t as valuable. Keep a list of all that you do and ask your house mate to do the same. They might not know how much you actually do, and vice versa.
  • Plan together. Walk through your home and talk about what you imagine for each space. Have everyone input their ideas equally. How do you envision yourself living together in those rooms? What storage exists? How do you use the space and what do you need to do to keep these areas maintained?
  • Create responsibility lists. Sit down and set a clear plan of action for the future. Divide up chores and layout guidelines for who is responsible for what. Make action items and be realistic with time limits. Consider asking a professional organizer to join you if you want some help with brainstorming. Also, create a daily routine list, similar to what was discussed our “exhausted after work” column. Set clear expectations so that there is no grey area. Do this together — don’t make a list and hand it to your house mate.
  • Avoid criticism in the early weeks. It may take some time for everyone to figure out the nuances of the new responsibilities. Ask if the other person needs help instead of being critical about how the work is completed. Organizing and uncluttering are things we learn, and not everyone is perfect at a task the first time they try it.
  • Use gentle reminders. Turn on music when you clean so that there is an audible cue for cleaning. Or, use the same set of songs in a playlist for cleaning time if you typically have music playing in you’re home. Make it obvious that you are tackling the items on your list. Honestly, this is a more effective encouragement tool to get someone to do their chores than nagging them to help you.
  • Positive speech. It’s important to focus on the end results of your organizing and uncluttering activities. The payoffs one gains from being organized are usually more valuable than the payoffs the person gains from being lazy.

Be sure to check out our post “What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t” for additional tips and tricks.

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

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Unitasker Wednesday: Plastic Egg Mold

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

Today we’d like to introduce another eggsquisite unitasker, the plastic egg mold. Made of rubber, these molds squish hard-boiled eggs into rabbit or bear faces.

To use these molds, simply boil the eggs. Peel the shell off the eggs when they are very hot. Drop the hot eggs into the mold and close the lid. Submerse the closed mold in cold water for 10 minutes and your eggs will be shaped.

Personally, I am not interested in peeling hot, hard-boiled eggs. The eggs turn out better when they are cooled then peeled anyway. I am also not interested in yet another “hand-wash only” item. I prefer everything to be dishwasher-safe.

I suppose an item like this would amuse children and maybe get them to eat more eggs — maybe. Or we could just save money, space in our cupboards, and stop unitasker from ending up in the landfill if we taught kids to eat non-decorative foods.

Reader Question: Help for an artist in a small apartment

Reader Heather sends in this question:

I have a one-bedroom apartment that is very full. I’m trying to figure out how I can keep visual reference materials, and how to manage and organize multiple paintings/projects at once. I manage to accumulate many, many, magazine photos and clippings. If I had a bigger space, I could just put them in a filing cabinet. But I don’t think I have enough room for one. And large canvases, etc. can’t go in a filing cabinet. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

Magazine and photo clippings

The best thing to do reduce the physical space of your magazine clippings is to digitize them. Read our article on scanning magazine clippings for some tips on how to do this.

Going forward, just take photos of your paper-based inspirations. A friend of mine takes photos of crafting patterns. She takes a photo of the item then photos of the instructions. To indicate the end of the project, she takes a photo of complete blackness (i.e. she puts her phone flat on the table and takes a photo of the table). This makes it easier to group the photo with the correct instructions on your computer or cloud drive.

Remember that many magazines have digital versions that allow you to save the photos and articles automatically to sites such as Evernote and Pinterest so consider those options as well.

Paintings and canvases

Because you live in a small apartment, take advantage of vertical space. Use the full height of the wall as much as possible.

For painting, consider a wall easel. They can be expensive but require no floor space. This model allows you to pull out the easel base up to a 70° angle to paint, and it has space to attach an easel lamp.

You may wish to install STAS picture rails and sets to many of your walls. They can hold paintings you have finished, those you have partly finished, as well as blank canvases. Because the hooks and holders on the STAS picture rails are easily adjustable, they can accommodate canvases of various sizes allowing you to maximize wall space.

Another option is a photo ledge wall shelf. They may be much sturdier for your canvases but, because they are fixed on the wall, they cannot be adjusted easily. For reference, the Command photo ledge wall shelf holds up to five pounds, requires no tools to install, and does no damage to walls.

In some cases, canvases must lay flat to dry. A folding laundry drying rack will allow you to lay your canvases flat and when they are finished, you can fold up the rack so it won’t take up any space. The drying rack is useful because it can also be used to dry clothes. Although you should cover it with an old sheet before you put paintings on it to keep it clean for your clothes.

A bakeware storage rack is another option for storing canvases. This model is expandable so it can hold several canvases between each set of rods. The rods are only six inches high so that might not be adequate for extra-large canvases. This rack, although not adjustable, has taller dividers and quite large spacing that may be suitable for bigger canvases.

Thanks for your great question Heather. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Ask Unclutterer: Sell or donate?

Reader Amy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I’d love to see some advice on what to donate vs. what to sell when clearing out the clutter!

Amy, this is a great request. Here is the following method I suggest for deciding what to do with home and office items once you determine they no longer belong in your possession:

Step 1: Visit some online auction sites like eBay, MaxSold, or other online classifieds and find out how much money a similar item recently sold for on the site. Look at the closing bids will give you a better idea of the final sale price.

Step 2: If the item sold for an amount that you believe is worth your time and effort to sell (for me, this number is $50+), then sell the item. Websites such as eBay and Craigslist (and kijiji in Canada) are perfect for online sales, and local consignment or pawn shops are wonderful brick and mortar alternatives. Garage sales are also good options.

Step 3: If the item sold for an amount less than your time and effort to sell number (for me this is less than $50), but is greater than zero, consider donating the object to charity or posting it on Freecycle or a neighborhood Buy Nothing site.

Step 4: If you cannot find a similar item for sale online and you think the item is junk, recycle, or trash the item. A good rule of thumb is that you should not give to charity any item that no one is willing to pay money to buy. Charities are not depositories for junk.

Note: Some of our readers have been successful uncluttering by listing items for free that they thought were scrap. For example, a wooden bed frame was picked up by a carpenter (to repurpose the wood), a contractor took away a pile of steel rebar and angle iron, and non-functioning electronics were scooped up by an adult learning center/trade school. If you choose to do this, and no one claims the items after a certain period of time (e.g., two weeks) then recycle or trash the items.

Thank you, Amy, for submitting the first question for our Ask Unclutterer column!

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

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Kick the procrastination habit

A November article in Scientific American magazine explored the topic of procrastination in its controversial article “Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit.” The article concludes, as the subtitle of the article aptly states, “although biology is partly to blame for foot-dragging, anyone can learn to quit.”

The most promising advice it gives to getting past the procrastination habit is to plan time-specific actions into your schedule:

Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer of New York University and the University of Konstanz in Germany advises creating “implementation intentions,” which specify where and when you will perform a specific behavior. So rather than setting a vague goal such as “I will get healthy,” set one with its implementation, including timing, built in—say, “I will go to the health club at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.”

Setting such specific prescriptions does appear to inhibit the tendency to procrastinate. In 2008 psychologist Shane Owens and his colleagues at Hofstra University demonstrated that procrastinators who formed implementation intentions were nearly eight times as likely to follow through on a commitment than were those who did not create them. “You have to make a specific commitment to a time and place at which to act beforehand,” Owens says. “That will make you more likely to follow through.”

The article also includes some startling information about the percentage of adults who regularly put off tasks:

Almost everyone occasionally procrastinates, which University of Calgary economist Piers Steel defines as voluntarily delaying an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay. But like Raymond [an attorney who is a self-proclaimed procrastinator], a worrisome 15 to 20 percent of adults, the “mañana procrastinators,” routinely put off activities that would be better accomplished ASAP. And according to a 2007 meta-analysis by Steel, procrastination plagues a whopping 80 to 95 percent of college students, whose packed academic schedules and frat-party-style distractions put them at particular risk.

What strategies do you invoke to keep from procrastinating? Share your tips in the comments.

 

This article has been updated since its original publication in 2009.