A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

  • Unclutterer updates
    This week has been incredibly exciting in our Unclutterer world and I’m eager to share the details: a new book is in the works and Erin is featured in the August issue of Real Simple Magazine.

2013

2012

  • Study: Physical possessions and U.S. families
    According to a recent study released by the UCLA Center on the Everyday Lives of Families, U.S. families have reached “material saturation.” The back areas of our homes (closets, basements, attics, cupboards) are so stuffed with possessions that our things spill out into our front areas (table tops, floors, furniture) and create more visible clutter than ever before in the history of the world. We’re no longer enjoying leisure activities and our children’s stuff is at the top of the clutter pile.
  • Backsliding can help you fine tune your routines
    Backsliding happens to the best of us. Follow these three suggestions to help you get back on track.

2010

  • Repercussions of uncluttering and organizing
    We often talk about the benefits of uncluttering and organizing, but we rarely even hint of their being downsides. Today, I thought we’d break that trend and discuss all the work that — at least in the short term — uncluttering and organizing create.

2009

  • Corralling lids
    The August 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine (pg. 36) has a great tip for maintaining order in the kitchen.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Is something put away if it’s in cardboard?
    In your situation, one of you believes that the cardboard box is in its place against the wall and that the stuff inside of the box is in its place, too. The other of you believes that the cardboard box and the stuff inside of it are all out of place and they need new places to live.
  • Book review: The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook
    Published in 2006, this gem is essential reading for anyone who finds themselves in a cluttered kitchen of any size.

Uncluttering: Moving past the “what if” questions

I’m in the process of cleaning out my garage — going through the cabinets and getting rid of things I no longer need or want.

In many cases, the decision-making has been easy. For example, I don’t remember how I wound up with 15 packages of wood screws, but I sure don’t need them now. I freecycled them, so they’ve moved along to someone who does have a use for them.

But other times I found myself asking “what if” questions, just as so many people trying to unclutter do. But when I really considered my answers, I wound up getting rid of almost everything I questioned. The following are some examples — I hope this will help others who fall into the “what if” trap.

Item #1: Skunk odor remover
I got this when I had an indoor/outdoor cat, but both of my current cats are indoor-only. But what if a skunk sprayed me while I was out walking at night?

What I decided: That’s never happened in the 25 years I’ve lived in my house. If for some reason it did, I could always use the hydrogen peroxide/baking soda/dish soap mixture that so many authorities recommend. So I gave the bottled product away to someone with a dog that gets skunked every so often.

Item #2: Various organizing products
I had a collection of random organizing-type products. Some were given to me as samples, some were leftovers from a specific project, and some I can’t even remember how I came to own. I could certainly give them away, but what if I have a client in the future who could use them?

What I decided: There are a small number of products I specifically keep on hand because so many clients find them useful. But these other items were all products I hadn’t found a use for in many years. And some of them, such as the legal-sized file pockets, would only appeal to a limited number of people. I freecycled the file pockets (which went to a legal office) and one other item, and donated the rest.

Item #3: Phone bell
I have a phone bell that serves as a replacement ringer for my landline phone, and I really like it. But somehow I wound up with a second one of these. I have no immediate use for it, but what if my current one broke?

What I decided: The phone bell I have seems unlikely to break; it’s not a fragile kind of thing. And if it does break, it wouldn’t be a big deal, since I could just turn the normal phone ringer back on. I get fewer calls on the landline then I did when I bought this product years ago, given how many other ways we have to communicate now, so the annoying phone ringer wouldn’t be something I’d hear all that often. Therefore, I gave the extra phone bell away to someone who can use it now, rather than leaving it sitting on a shelf.

Item #4: Heart-shaped glass bowl
I got this intending to use it as a gift many years ago — so long ago that I don’t remember who it was intended for and why it never was given away. But what if I could use it as a gift for someone else?

What I decided: While this is a beautiful piece, I can’t think of anyone for whom it seems like a perfect gift. (If I did know someone, I’d gladly give it to that person right now!) And I don’t like keeping generic gifts around to give to someone, someday — I prefer to choose something specifically for each recipient. So this item will be given away, too. It would be a shame to keep it sitting in my cabinet any longer when it could be used and appreciated by someone else, right now.

In summary: I realized all my “what if” scenarios were unlikely to happen. And even if they did, I’d cope just fine. I didn’t need to keep things around indefinitely, “just in case.” I could let them go on to new owners, who would make use of them right away, and reclaim my storage space.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

2013

2011

  • The Simple Meal
    Over the years, my husband and I have come to rely on The Simple Meal when we’re stressed and don’t want to make a production out of dinner. This meal consists of a protein, a vegetable, and a drink.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Preparing for a major life change
    Reader Sarah wants to know how much preparation she needs to put into setting up a nursery for a future child.

2010

  • Blog to watch: UN v2.0
    Alec Farmer, a graduate student in Glasgow, Scotland, is spending a year living in a micro-structure and is blogging about his experience on the new UN v2.0 site. The UN in the blog title is an abbreviation for urban nomad, and it aptly describes Farmer’s interesting project in small-space living.

2009

  • Organized tool kits
    Kits are great to assemble or purchase because all of the tools you need for a project are in one location and usually everything has a fixed home within the kit.

Repurposing a room

Organizing and uncluttering are ongoing projects because the needs you have and your goals change with time. In my case, a room in my home that was once very useful has stopped being so, and my wife and I have decided to transform it.

First, a little background: When my wife and I moved into our home, it had a tidy room just off of the back door that we turned into a dining room. We set it up with a small table, a few chairs and we were good. Later, the kids came along and the table was replaced with IKEA bins for toys, and later still, it took on coats and backpacks. We’ve called the room “the playroom” for the last 12 years. But a few weeks ago, we noticed something odd: No one ever plays in it.

In fact, the room was almost completely unused. The kids would hang their coats, hats, and backpacks there, walk into the house proper, and not return until the next time they left the house. In addition to being the drop-off point for these items, it also housed our our wall calendar and some seldom-used toys. We didn’t spend much time in there at all and it was time for a change.

Now, if you ever find yourself in this situation, you might personally want to consider our advice from 2007: buy a smaller house. But, if you’re like me and moving isn’t a possibility or a desire, I recommend considering how else the room can be used. Do so by observing how the room is being used, and build upon that.

We started the repurposing by removing what we no longer wanted in this space:

  1. The IKEA cabinets went upstairs to hold my own collection of board games.
  2. A large IKEA table went to the laundry room as a perfect surface for folding clean clothes.
  3. Toys that the kids no longer played with went to charity or to the trash (if not in good enough condition to donate).

Then, we kept those useful aspects of it (landing space for items coming and going) and added to the room what we needed (like seating and working spaces). We kept a small cabinet in the corner that houses the games we play most often and turned it into the following:

It felt great to rework this room, and it only took a single weekend to get the job done. It isn’t always obvious when something like this needs to change, but try to recognize that feeling when it comes. With a little elbow grease, you can turn an “eh” room into something working that you’ll love.

Dealing with house paint in an organized manner

The specks of white on my arms can only mean one thing: I’ve been painting. Summer revitalization around our house has become a little out of hand this year, as my wife and I have decided to re-paint three rooms in our home. When we’re done it’ll look great, but we’ll have some paint left over that we’ll need to handle.

For years, I’d simply toss unused paint containers into the basement until I either needed them again or our town offered a hazardous waste pick-up day. That was fine until I needed to do a touch-up, remember which paint was used where or order something I ran out of long ago. Today, instead of quickly banishing partially used paint cans haphazardly to the basement, I take a few additional steps.

With a permanent marker, I’ll write on the lid:

  1. Where I bought the paint
  2. The date of purchase
  3. The room(s) where it was used

I’ll also put a dab of paint on the lid. This works quite well unless I get rid of the can. So, I started a notebook of this information as well. Each page has a swatch of the paint plus the information listed above the swatch. Now I can tell you that we used “Pale Celery” in our bedroom when we lasted painted it 13 years ago.

Other bits and bobs

While we’re on the subject of paint, the following are a few other things I do to make the painting process less messy:

  1. Use a hammer and nail to poke a few holes around the rim on the paint can. That way, the excess you wipe off of your brush will drip back into the can.
  2. Wrap your roller with plastic when you take a break. I’ve seen plastic containers designed to prevent a wet roller from drying out during a lunch break. That will work, sure, but so will (much cheaper) cling wrap or a zip-to-close bag.
  3. Finally, ditch that paint tray. Those things love to tip over and — I don’t know how they do this — end up right underneath your feet. The alternative? My beloved five-gallon bucket. Get yourself a paint grid, hang it inside the bucket and enjoy a day of painting with fewer breaks to refill and fewer spills. It’s not easy to kick over a bucket this big.

Have any painting tips and tricks? Please share your tips in the comments.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

  • Making Mondays — and your week — more productive
    Mondays are opportunities to start new habits and the day to begin a productive path for the week. While others grumble about Mondays, I try to think of them like the first day of school or the first day of a new job. The possibilities for success, fulfillment, creativity, and all the reasons you do what you do are open for you to experience.

2009

  • Ask Unclutterer: Having it all
    Reader April asks: How do you have time for all of this – running a blog, writing a book, all of these musical activities & all the other stuff you seem to do?

Organizing for pet owners

As someone with two cats, I know that having pets is a joy, but it’s also a responsibility. Part of that responsibility involves organizing with them in mind. The following list shows what that can involve.

Unclutter their stuff

Do you have some pet food that your pets refused to eat? You may be able to return it to the store where you bought it — my local pet store lets me return opened bags of kibble. If not, you can give it away to other pet owners.

You’ll also want to pass along any toys your pets never liked and dispose of any that were so well loved that they’re now in tatters. Other items to unclutter include pet beds they never used and clothes that didn’t work out.

Unclutter things that could be dangerous to them

There are a number of things you’ll want to remove from your pet’s environment because they are dangerous. Just as with children, you’ll want to protect pets from medicines and household toxins, including many cleaning supplies and insecticides. Make sure these aren’t anything your pets can get into.

Also, consider your plants: cut flowers, indoor plants, and yard plants if your pets go outside. A significant number of these are poisonous to cats and dogs. Some human foods are also hazardous to pets, so make sure you store the chocolate, grapes, raisins, and other toxic foods where they can’t get to them.

I know someone who recently spent a lot of money on pet surgery when her cat swallowed some kind of string. So make sure your cats aren’t playing with string unless you’re around to make sure they aren’t eating it. And keep their environment clear of floss, ribbon, rubber bands, etc. The Preventive Vet website provides more information on the problems these items cause and what to do to avoid those problems.

Organize everything you’re keeping

You’ll want to have defined places to keep any food, treats, toys, clothes, leashes, medications, cleaning supplies, etc. As with any other category of stuff, it’s usually best to keep like items together and to store them as close as feasible to where they’ll be used.

Keep good medical records

Jacki wrote about maintaining pet health records and why it’s so important. I handle most of this by scanning all the paperwork from my vet — including any lab work, where I always ask for copies. I keep the scanned documents in Dropbox, while others might prefer Evernote or another such tool. Of course, paper records can work fine, too.

Include them in your disaster plans

Consider what you’d need if you had to shelter in place for a week or so, as well as what you’d need if you had to evacuate.

When I look at what I need to stock in case of emergency, I include cat food and litter. I also ensure that when I decide how much water to store I consider my cats’ needs as well as my own. I also have a carrier for each cat (even though I normally only use one at a time) because I’d need these if we needed to evacuate.

Write up care instructions

When I go on a business trip or on vacation, I have someone come into my home to care for my cats rather than boarding them. If you do something similar, write up any instructions your pet care provider would need. Such instructions can also be useful in case of an emergency, when someone needs to care for your pets unexpectedly. Save these instructions so you don’t have to recreate them any time they might be necessary, and remember to update them as circumstances change.

Unitasker Wednesday: Butter Buttons

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

My friend Maeve messaged me the other day to let me know that she’d found a unitasker in the wild. (Wild = Marshall’s) Like a space explorer searching for intelligent life, she “discovered” the incredible unitasker Butter Buttons:

Instead of using a knife to directly put butter on your corn, now you can use a knife to cut butter off its stick and then put the butter onto a Butter Button and THEN butter your corn! It’s so much fun to add extra and unnecessary steps to your eating experience.

But wait, there’s MORE! Button Buttons give you MORE to clean! MORE to buy! And MORE to store in your kitchen drawers! These little bits of plastic take up your time, space, and money!!

Personally, my favorite thing about them is that they come in a four pack so that you get FOUR unitaskers at once. Super fancy.

Again, thanks go to my friend Maeve for finding this unitasker and sharing it with us.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2009

Organizing a hat collection

I have a lot of hats. My hair began its exodus from my head when I was in my 30s, and now that I’m pushing 45, it’s all gone except for a few hangers-on that I shave down to nothing. I like the clean look actually, but I’ve also got a new enemy: the sun.

Get a sunburn on the top of your head just once and you’ll know a fun new experience of discomfort. A shower feels like tiny pins stabbing into your skull and forget trying to sleep with you head on a pillow. An even greater and more serious threat is skin cancer. The fair skin on the top of my head is an open invitation, now that the protective hair is gone. As a result, I own a lot of hats.

The following solutions are what I’ve done to corral them, as well as a few other ides you might consider for your own chapeau collection.

A hat in the car

I keep a neutral-colored baseball cap in each car. The color ensures it’ll go with whatever I’m wearing. Also, it’s kept neat and clean, so if I have to make a public appearance, I’ll look halfway decent. When storing things in your car, try your best to keep them in the trunk so they’re out of people’s way and if in an accident the item can’t become a projectile. A simple trunk organizer is a good way to keep the trunk of your car from being a mess, as a result.

The curtain/closet rod approach

Storing baseball hats on a simple curtain/closet rod works great. We’ve got a decent-sized closet in our bedroom. So, I put up two curtain rods spanning its length, and put a couple dozen shower curtain hooks on them. One hat hangs on each hook. (See image.) I love the temporary aspect of the hooks; since they’re not affixed, I can add/remove them as necessary. Plus, all of the hats are easy to see so I can grab exactly the one I want.

Storage

I’ve got several seasonal hats, like my beloved Stormy Kromer. I consider baseball caps to be all-season, but winter hats go into a plastic bin with a lid and a label. That way they’re out of sight yet easy to find when the seasons change.

While thinking about this post, I found a few other clever ideas I wanted to share. Here they are.

You can use a shoe rack on the back of a door. This solution is very clever, accessible, and tidy.

A “clothesline” of hats is pretty clever, as long as you have the room for it.

If a curtain rod will take up too much room, you can substitute a clothes hangar.

Organize your web bookmarks

As a person who writes online for a living, I’m constantly finding articles and other insights I want to read. I don’t, however, always have time to read what I find when I find it. So, I must save those articles and websites for later viewing.

Unfortunately, I’m really bad at it.

I’m a Mac user, and the Mac’s operating system will let you drag web addresses into the “Dock” at the bottom of the screen. The good news is that sites and pages saved this way are a click away once saved. The bad news is that if you’ve saved many (as I have), the result are a row of identical icons. The only way to determine where one is pointing is to mouse over it. It’s a cluttered mess. With this in mind, I went searching for alternatives and found the following.

Instapaper: This solution seems to have been made with me in mind. With a single click, I can save an article, site or page to the Instapaper service, which is accessible via a browser, iPhone, iPad, Android, or Kindle. I can leave notes on the articles I’ve saved and even read them when offline.

Historious: This is a searchable history of web pages you’ve marked. To get started, create an account and then drag the Historious bookmark to your browser bar. Then, when you’re on a site or page you want to read later, simply click the bookmark. When you want to find a page again, go to the Historious website and search for a term that was on that site, and it’ll find it for you.

Pinboard: Pinboard isn’t free at $11/year, but there are no ads and no frills. Just bookmark your favorite addresses and refer to them later. Since it works in a browser, it’s compatible with nearly anything you can throw at it. It will even sync with Instapaper if that’s something you want to use.

Ember: This Mac-only software lets you collect URLs but goes way beyond that. You can take snapshots of a web page, too, and annotate it. Everything you save to Ember can be gathered into collections, making it easy to organize by project, work vs. home, interests, what have you. It’s quite useful.

There you have several options for getting you web bookmarks organized. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have my reading and organizing work cut out for me.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

  • Ask Unclutterer: What to do with diplomas
    Reader Kathy asks: “What do people do with their diplomas? I have my high school, undergraduate, and graduate diplomas. They’re sitting in my closet because I don’t know what to do with them.”