Accidents in Uncluttering

A few years ago, Unclutterer’s editor-in-chief Erin Doland described her regret at accidentally disposing of vital documents when uncluttering. While we would all like to have instant clutter-free lives, it is important to take your time to properly sort items before you dispose or donate them. When uncluttering and organizing, think of the process as more like a marathon than a sprint. The following are a few tips to help you avoid accidents when you’re uncluttering.

Take your time and examine every item before disposing it. Often money is forgotten in old purses and coat pockets or between the pages of a Bible. Sometimes expensive jewellery can be mixed in with costume jewellery. Occasionally, a toddler will have a hidden cache of useful items between the sofa cushions or tossed valuables in with Lego bricks. People with dementia or mental health issues may hide money, expensive items, or important documents in places that may not seem logical, such as inside mattresses. Last month, a thrift shop in Nova Scotia turned over to police thousands of dollars in cash that they found in donated curtains.

When organizing paperwork, you do not need to read every scrap of paper, but it is important to scan documents to determine their significance. Tax accountants and lawyers can provide important information regarding which documents are important to keep for legal and tax purposes. Obtaining advice from these professionals is especially important if you are helping someone unclutter whose personal business you’re not familiar with, such as aging family members.

Consult with family members and friends about sentimental items, documents, and photographs. You might feel that an object has very little value, but it may hold powerful memories for another family member. If your family and friends live far away, it might be difficult for them to stop by the house to view items. Consider setting up a website or a Facebook group to share photos and descriptions of items you wish to pass along to family and friends.

When uncluttering, clearly separate the garbage from the donations. Use only black or dark green bags for trash and transparent bags or cardboard boxes for donations. If different bags or boxes are going to different charities, clearly label them on both sides of the bag or box. Astronaut Chris Hadfield had intended that a box of memorabilia from his time in space be donated to a science centre but last week his flight suit was found for sale at a Toronto thrift shop due to a mix up with donation boxes during a move.

Get an expert opinion before you dispose or donate items with which you are not familiar. You may be able to determine the approximate value of items by looking online at sites like eBay or specialized sites for specific collectibles. You may not find a comic book that will pay your mortgage but you may be able to earn a few extra dollars. If you don’t even know what the items are, check out our tips on how to deal with UFOs (unidentified found objects) before you dispose of them.

Have you ever found an expensive item stashed in a strange place while uncluttering? Have you accidentally donated or disposed of something you wish you hadn’t? Help fellow unclutterers by sharing your stories in the comments section.

Organizing a small space

People who live in small spaces have unique organizing challenges. There may be limited storage space (small closets and no garage, attic, or basement) and limited living space (small rooms used for multiple purposes).

The following are some suggestions for organizing in this kind of small space. The same ideas could be used in any space, but they are more important when space is at a premium.

Unclutter

Assuming you’re planning to live in the same tiny space for a number of years, it’s time to be extremely selective about what you let into that space. You probably don’t have room for stuff that’s just okay — as much as feasible, limit yourself to things you love. You’ll want to avoid (or limit) those unitaskers, too.

Remember the wise words of Peter Walsh in his book It’s all Too Much, where he recommends you begin your uncluttering/organizing project this way: “Imagine the life you want to live.” If you’re holding onto things that don’t fit with your current reality or your realistic imaginings, it may be time to bid them farewell. (You may want to take some photos of special items before you part with them.)

You’ll also want to give thought to how many of any one thing you need. How many sets of sheets? How many T-shirts?

Go vertical

If you have limited floor space, look to the walls. Can you use shelving (freestanding or wall-mounted)? What about hooks and/or wall pockets? Would a hammock for the stuffed animals make sense?

Consider vertical versions of standard storage pieces, too. For example, a shoe tree may work better than a horizontal shoe rack.

Try smaller versions of standard items

Many shelving units are 12-18 inches deep; for example, the Kallax system from Ikea (which replaced the very popular Expedit) is 15 3/8 inches deep. If you don’t need that depth, you could get a shelving system that’s only 10.3 inches deep.

Look for other situations where a smaller product will meet your needs, saving precious space.

Consider collapsible and folding items

You can get collapsible versions of many kitchen items: colanders, whisks, scales, dish drainers, etc. Another example: Gateleg tables fold up into a small space when not in use.

Look for hidden storage spaces

Not everyone likes to store things under the bed, but if this doesn’t concern you, consider getting bed risers to provide more under-bed storage space. Paper towel holders can be mounted on the bottom of the upper kitchen cabinets. Shower curtains can have storage pockets. These are just a few of the ways to make use of every bit of space you have.

Consider dual-purpose furniture

I’ve visited friends who have no kitchen or dining table in their small home, but their coffee table has an adjustable height and it converts into a dining table quite easily. Some of this dual-purpose furniture is on the expensive side, though.

Go digital

If you’re comfortable with digital solutions, you can save a lot of space that used to hold papers, books, CDs, DVDs, etc.

Avoid most bulk purchases

Even if it saves money, you’ll probably have to pass on many bulk purchases because you simply won’t have room to store what you’ve bought. Some people manage to find space for a few high-priority bulk purchases (toilet paper, paper towels, cat food cans, etc.) but forego the rest.

Unitasker Wednesday: Willy Wonka Chocolate Bar Wrapper with Golden Ticket Replica with No Chocolate Included

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

On Tuesday, Disney announced it had tapped Tim Burton to direct a live-action remake of Dumbo. After reading this news, I instantly remembered another Tim-Burton-related unitasker I saw at a white elephant gift exchange a couple years ago. It’s linked to Burton’s 2010 remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and it is a cruel unitasker that is sure to upset every candy lover who comes into contact with it. Introducing the Willy Wonka Chocolate Bar Wrapper with Golden Ticket Replica with No Chocolate Included:

Seriously, how twisted of a person must you be to give someone a faux candy bar? “Hey! I know you love chocolate so I got you a replica of a candy bar! There’s absolutely no chocolate in it at all. Enjoy!”

You might as well get some fake bacon for the bacon lover in your life or a model of a salad! As strange as Tim Burton’s movies are, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s behind the no-chocolate candy bar …

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

2011

2009

Efficient travel tips from an airline pilot

My sister has been a commercial airline pilot for more than a decade. Whenever I’m taking to the skies for travel, I hit her up for tips. (Because who knows more about efficient airline travel than pilot, right?) The following is some of the organized travel advice I’ve garnered from her over the years.

First, if an overhead bag fits perpendicular to the airplane and baggage overhead bin, place it with its wheels out. The bag will fit in deeper in the overhead bin when its wheels are pointing toward the aisle. Throw your coat on top of that bag if you can. While you’re packing, prepare a small bag to be kept under the seat for things you may need during the flight. Your small, under-seat bag might include electronic devices, chargers (many seats have outlets), any medicine, travel docs (passport, etc.), wallet (you may want to buy inboard food or order Direct TV), packed sandwich or snacks (bananas, apples, granola bars) and your own bottle of water that you purchased once inside security. Also consider bringing your own headset if you want to watch TV without using the painful coach headsets, a neck pillow, and something light to throw over yourself in case it is chilly.

It seems easiest to pack your zip-top bag of liquids into the aforementioned small bag, so only one bag has to be opened at security. This also prevents your liquids from getting crushed/squeezed in the larger bag.

When it comes to avoiding delays, taking the first flight of the day can be very helpful. The first flight out is ideal since MOST airplanes have been at the airport overnight and there is less of a chance you’ll encounter delays related to late inbound aircraft. You’ll also have less of a chance of other flights getting canceled and rebooked on a morning flight, there are typically smaller security lines, smaller crowds in the terminal, and fewer weather delays as early weather tends to be less intense than it is later in the day.

While enroute, look at the airline magazine in the seat back pocket. These magazines contain airport diagrams for major airports. This helps give you an idea about where you’ll be when you get off the airplane. It helps you to anticipate where to exit the airport for pickup (arrivals is typically on the baggage claim level) and where to transfer to your next departure gate when continuing on to a connecting flight. Feel free to ring the overhead bell to call a flight attendant and ask for the anticipated gate arrival number. The crew typically knows the gate assignment 30 minutes prior to landing.

You might prefer the window seat for the view, but put a bit more thought into where you’re going to sit. Window seats are good for sleeping. Choose a seat near the wing if your body does not like to fly and you have tendency to have air sickness. Choose a seat near the front of the coach section, near an exit door or in economy plus/business/first class for a quick exit on and off. If you’ll be on a 50-seat regional jet, choose the single first three seats to (usually) have more personal space on a smaller aircraft.

Step into your seat and let passengers pass until you see a break in the boarding passengers to step out and find an overhead bin for your bag. Seating in the front of coach aids in getting first dibs on overhead space, so you never have to search. Some airlines board by zones … look for zone one first for the same bags reason.

Additional tips to make your experience more pleasant:

  1. Pack lightly. Take advantage of laundry service or a washer and dryer at your destination if you’re staying more than four days.
  2. Anything you bring with you can be lost or forgotten. “Do I really need it with me?” should be your mantra.
  3. Keep certain items packed at all times in your luggage.

Finally, follow these considerations for getting through security: wear slip-on shoes, don’t wear a belt, and avoid wearing large jewelry. Travel can be a hassle, but a little effort and some organizing can make all the difference.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

  • Organizing solutions for renters
    A common disadvantage of renting is most landlords prohibit structural changes to their properties. As a result, organizing can be trickier in a rental property than in a home you own. Creativity is a must when seeking out these uncommon solutions. The following ideas and products might be of use to renters looking to reconfigure storage options, and hopefully they also get your creativity flowing.

2011

  • When whimsy and utility collide
    Even though I bought a Kik-Step for nostalgic reasons, it has surprisingly turned out to be one of the most useful objects in our home.

2010

2009

Getting work done using time blocking techniques

If you’re having trouble getting work done — because you procrastinate, because you lose focus, or because of your perfectionistic tendencies — a time blocking approach to managing your time might help. The Pomodoro Technique, developed back in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, is the best-known approach but certainly not the only one.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique has you work on a specific task for a 25-minute block, called a Pomodoro, with no interruptions. You set a timer to let you know when each Pomodoro is done. After each Pomodoro, you put a check mark on your log sheet and take a 5-minute break. (You also note how many times you were tempted to break the Pomodoro.) After four Pomodoros, you take a longer break, around 20-30 minutes.

The 5-minute breaks are not meant for anything requiring a lot of brainpower. Getting up and walking around is recommended. You could also do desk exercises or start a load of laundry (if you work at home). The idea is to give your mind a rest.

One thing I really like about this technique is how it gets you to understand how long a task takes, which is very helpful for anything you do repeatedly. Is something a one-Pomodoro task, a two-Pomodoro task, etc.? You may also choose to limit yourself, only allowing a specific number of Pomodoros to complete a task, and thus keeping perfectionistic tendencies at bay.

Fans note that this technique helps them get going on a dreaded task, since deciding to do just one Pomodoro isn’t so intimidating. It helps them stay focused, since they know that doing something like checking social media is off the table until the Pomodoro is done.

Shared Pomodoros

For those working in teams that require a lot of interaction, Pomodoros can be a problem unless everyone starts in unison. If they don’t, team members may never be free at the same time to have discussions. As Ben Northrup wrote, what’s needed in this situation is a “shared Pomodoro.” His project team solved this problem by having two shared Power Hours per day, when everyone agreed to do focused work.

The Rule of 52 and 17

Julia Gifford looked at the data in a time-tracking and productivity app and found that the most productive 10 percent of users worked on average for 52 minutes at a time, and then took a 17-minute break before getting back to work. So if you like the idea of Pomodoros, you may want to play with the times and see what works best for you.

90-minute blocks of work

As Tony Schwartz noted in The New York Times, a study of elite performers (musicians, athletes, chess players, etc.) found they practiced in uninterrupted sessions of no more than 90 minutes. They took breaks between these sessions, and seldom worked for more than four and a half hours every day.

Schwartz said he changed his own writing practice to work in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions. He found that he finished writing his books in less than half the time he took for his previous books, when he worked for 10 hours a day.

While many people can’t work for just four and a half hours each day, this approach may work for those who have more control of their time, especially those who are focusing on building their skills.

Do you use any time blocking technique? If so, please add a comment to let us know what you do and how it’s worked for you.

Unitasker Wednesday: Nose Shower Gel Dispenser

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

This week’s unitasker was picked because it has an “ewwww” factor of a million. Introducing the Nose Shower Gel Dispenser:

Putting on my Unclutterer hat for a moment, I think it’s completely unnecessary to transfer shower gel from its original packaging into a giant nose. It creates one more step to a simple process. (It’s a weak attempt at an explanation for why I think this is a unitasker, but at least I’m trying. I haven’t blown it altogether with this, right?)

However, if I take off that Unclutterer hat and replace it with my normal human hat, at face value, I think this device is plain ol’ icky! I’d probably stop taking showers with this in my bathroom.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

  • Even professional organizers need to unclutter
    People sometimes assume that professional organizers are 100 percent organized and uncluttered, at all times. But every organizer I know has a few problem areas that pop up occasionally. Organizers face the same challenges that everyone faces: unexpected events disrupt our plans, we fall out of our routines, etc. And, sometimes it helps all of us, organizers included, to take another look around our homes to see what no longer serves us.

2013

2010

  • A lesson on mental clutter from the book Zen Shorts
    Frustrations caused by occasional messes are usually not worth carrying around with you and cluttering up your mind, energy, and emotions.
  • Maybe you can take it with you…
    Why leave behind beautiful solid-wood furniture for your heirs to fight over when you can be buried in it?
  • Project Basement: Day 3
    Except for a couple hours this morning pulling out the washer and dryer, sweeping the floor where they had been, and doing a general cleanup in the laundry area of the basement, I’ve been sorting, scanning, and recycling a couple hundred pounds of paperwork.

Keeping essential home work supplies on hand

As spring approaches and winter thaws (it will eventually thaw, right?), my family and I have found ourselves in that dreaded time of the elementary school year: projects. It’s like a perfect storm, when everyone’s energy levels are low, the cold and dark days have all of us down, no one feels like completing anything requiring a great deal of mental effort, and certainly no one wants to doing anything that involves creative depths, pasteboard, stencils, or Papier-mâché.

This is also the time of year that supplies start to run low around the house. None of the pencils have sharp points or erasers. Lined paper is at a minimum, and I assure you the teacher won’t accept a paragraph written on the envelope from the water bill, no matter how neatly it’s written. With that in mind, the following is a list of items you can grab to restock, organize, and survive the second-half of the school year.

Pencils. My kids, at nine and eleven, are not yet to be trusted to complete homework in pen. So, we buy pencils in bulk and store then in mason jars right at their desks. Doing this sure beats the nightly search for a pencil. Speaking of…

An electric pencil sharpener. Spend some money on a heavy-duty sharpener that’s going to last a long time. Remember that hand-crank job that was probably screwed into the wall of your elementary school classroom? Don’t put that nightmare in your house because it will only cause a mess. And please avoid those little handheld jobs that deposit pencil shaving all over the floor. Instead, look for an electric sharpener with a heavy base for one-handed sharpening. We have a Bostitch model at home and it’s dependable.

Erasers. By now, all of our pencil erasers have been worn to mere shadows of their former existence. A large box of pink erasers is a great alternate when erasers detach from their pencils. Divvy them up among your kids’ work spaces and never hear “Does anyone have a pencil with an eraser?” again. Similar to pencils, erasers can be stored in jars, and inside desk drawers in a drawer organizer.

Index cards. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I still think index cards are fantastic homework aides. I use them as flash cards, of course, but their usefulness extends way beyond that. For example, I have the kids use them as to-do lists for larger projects. When attached to all related papers with an office clip, you get a handy, mobile reference packet. They’re also good for scratch paper when working out math problems or outlines. They’re a high utility tool for all offices. Wrap the index cards in a rubber band and store them on top of the spare paper and notebooks mentioned in the next item.

Lined paper and notebooks. We’ve been in the situation in our house where the only available paper is a sketch pad, and that doesn’t pass muster with a teacher. Keep the paper and notebooks (and the index cards mentioned above) in a traditional office desk inbox to keep them organized.

A designated homework zone. A space dedicated to doing homework will help prevent papers, supplies, and assignments from migrating to the kitchen table. And, as is the case in our house, the kitchen table is where homework quickly transforms into clutter.

With these essentials on hand and organized so they’re at the ready, you’re prepared to take on any big, winter projects teachers assign.

One definition of project clutter

According to the 2007 article “Measuring Visual Clutter,” in the medical Journal of Vision, “clutter is the state in which excess items, or their representation or organization, lead to a degradation of performance at some task.”

This definition implies that clutter depends on a task being performed and is strongly tied to messes made while working on a project. Having too many items for a task will impede performance because the user has to sift through inessential items to obtain useful ones. Conversely, too few items may reduce productivity because the user has to go elsewhere for the items and the task takes more time than necessary.

Project clutter may also be dependent on a person’s level of skill at a particular task. Novices at a particular task may prefer to have only those objects necessary to perform the task from start to completion. Whereas experts at the same task may have items from several projects on their desks at the same time because they are familiar with the processes for each project.

Within families and offices, because project clutter depends upon the task and the users’ expertise, one person’s way of working and their tools may seem like clutter to someone else in the family or office and cause tension. Finding the answers to “How much stuff needs to be out to complete a project and for how long?” can go a long way in resolving these disputes.

Solving project clutter disputes

Begin by planning the project and defining the break points. If you have a large project to be completed that may disrupt normal household or office operations, divide the project into a series of tasks with logical points for taking breaks. For example, if you were making a quilt, cutting fabric into the correct shapes would be one task. If you were re-organizing an office filing system, categorizing the accounting files might be considered one task.

When examining your tasks, estimate the amount of time needed to complete the task and how long it will take you to return the workspace to its original state. For example, when I am preparing our quarterly submission for sales tax reimbursement, it is easier for me to remove the files from the filing cabinet in my husband’s office and stack them on the laundry room counter for the period of time I am working. The counter has lots of room for me to work and my office is beside the laundry room.

I love doing my quarterly tax claim on the spacious laundry room counter and it takes me several hours to complete the paperwork and return all the items to their regular storage area. I schedule this task on an evening when there is very little laundry to be washed or early on a Sunday morning before the counter is used for school homework projects.

It takes a bit of planning when using shared space but it will reduce clutter and improve everyone’s productivity. Talking about these issues with your family members or coworkers before you begin working will give everyone proper expectations and reduce tensions. Finally, working through this process with a child will help him/her to better understand time management, productivity, as well as putting away items when you’re finished using them.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

  • Shed some light on your organizing
    If you have a room that is dark and dreary, it’s going to work against you in your organizing efforts. You can’t see properly — and you may well find yourself avoiding the room, because it’s unpleasant.
  • Your keys to organizing
    Not a big post today, just some inspiration to get you thinking about where to keep your keys so you’re not searching for them when you need to leave your house.

2013

2012

  • The second pass
    Do you do a second pass on your uncluttering efforts to make sure that you didn’t accidentally leave clutter in your collections? If you haven’t been doing a second pass of the areas of your home and office you’ve uncluttered, I recommend you schedule it on your calendar for a few days or weeks after your first pass in your uncluttering process. My guess is you’ll find one or more items you’re now ready to purge from your bookshelves, or whatever area you’ve recently uncluttered.
  • Organizing your workspace based on function zones
    Whether you’re moving into a new office or simply uncluttering and organizing your current space, one of the easiest ways to get your desk in order is to focus on organizing zones according to purpose. When you deal with the items on your desk based on similar function, you can keep the most important items as the focus of your space and put the least important items out of the way.

2011

2010

  • Ask Unclutterer: Auto office
    My wife uses her mini van as an office for her process serving business, and a shuttle bus for taking our children to and from various events plus all the household shopping. What suggestions or gadgets have you come across for organizing a vehicle? Any suggestions would be appreciated.