Innovative organizers to carry your gear

Every once in a while, we feature organizing items in development. Here are a few that help you transport your gear from one place to another effectively and efficiently.

E-Hive

The E-Hive is a sturdy carrier similar to a briefcase that can store and charge up to four phones and three tablets at the same time. It is lockable but lightweight with a comfortable handle. The no-slip elastic straps inside the E-Hive keep your devices secure and prevent damaged screens. One of the best things about the E-Hive is that you do not have dozens of cords strung all over the place.
e-hive transportable charging station
I have travelled a lot with my family of four so that meant 4 phones, 4 sets of earbuds, and a few other devices. We each dragged along USB chargers and cords and crawled under furniture in each hotel room trying to find enough available outlets. How I wish we could have had the E-Hive. We wouldn’t have forgotten the charger we had plugged in behind the curtains. We could have locked our devices when the hotel housekeepers came into our room.

I have a feeling it only works on the North American power grid (110V/60Hz) but it would be great if it was able to work anywhere in the world.

The Mommy Bag

backpack diaper bagMy children are adults now but I still remember struggling with various types of diaper bags when they were babies. I think The Mommy Bag is the best diaper bag I have seen in quite some time. For one thing, the front part of the bag opens fully so when you hang the bag on a hook, you have full access to what you need to change a diaper — including a changing pad. The neatest part of this bag is that the small side pocket has a slit so you can pull diaper wipes out one by one! The other side pocket is insulated to keep milk/formula cold. The Mommy Bag has 20 interior compartments so nothing gets buried in a big mess at the bottom of the bag. It also has a compartment for a 15-inch laptop so when baby falls asleep you can get some work done without having to haul around a separate bag.

It would be a great gift for any parent or caregiver. The only disappointing part is the name –“The Mommy Bag” doesn’t make it sound inviting for fathers, grandparents, or other caregivers.

SideKick: The Ultimate Gym Fitness Bag

Finally, people have put some thought into creating a gym bag that is not just a large, formless sack with a strap! Sidekick has three compartments — one main compartment and two separate compartments at each end. The end compartments have wide openings so it is easy to get a pair of shoes in and out, and they have ventilation holes to prevent moisture build-up. Sidekick also comes with a mesh laundry bag you can toss directly into your wash. The interior is lined with elastic strapping to keep your water bottles upright and your gear organized. Sidekick has detachable backpack straps to convert it from duffle bag to a backpack. It is extremely durable with heavy-duty, snag-free zippers and magnetic snaps instead of Velcro. But my favourite thing about the Sidekick bag is that it has an interior support structure so it stays upright making it much easier to find everything inside.

ultimate gym bag sidekick

Travel Bag Buddy

The Travel Bag Buddy secures a bag or purse on top of a rolling suitcase with an adjustable elastic strap and extra sturdy buckle. It sounds familiar but this item also holds your essential travel documents, phone, cash, cards, and a few other items to give you quick, convenient access when you need them. The Travel Bag Buddy works with almost all bag sizes and handle combinations. The bag strap can stay attached to your secondary bag and reattach to the handle in seconds so it will never get lost. Travel Bag Buddy folds flat so you can store it in your purse to keep your travel information organized and RFID protected.

Travel Bag Buddy - RFID Protected Travel Organizer and Secondary Bag Strap

I have seen many people (myself included) fumble with purses, bags, passports, boarding passes, and electronic devices while going through airport security. It is frustrating and time consuming. If everyone had a Travel Bag Buddy maybe we would all get through security checkpoints faster and in better humour.

 

What do you think of these designs? Would you invest in these products? Do you have any suggestions to make them better?

Reader Question: Moving to New Zealand

Reader Charlee writes in with this question:

I’m having difficulty finding helpful information on moving overseas permanently. Most articles are about temporary moves and what you should store in the US or take with you depending on the length of your stay. The majority of those are for military families.

My husband is from New Zealand. We’re planning to move there within the next 2-3 years. We’ve been hard core uncluttering our home of 15 years, and are planning an enormous sale soon of stuff we don’t want now, then another shortly before the move to get rid of the remainder — the stuff we’ll use until we move. Do you have any advice about moving permanently to the other side of the planet?

This is a great question Charlee — not just for moving from one side of the planet to the other but even across the continent.

The first step is to investigate the country you’re moving to. Your husband is from New Zealand so I would assume that you have visited there a few times over the course of your marriage and are probably very familiar with how people live, what their homes are like, and what the cost of living is. If you don’t know, check out websites written by expats. Social media sites can also be a good resource. You can learn a lot from following journalists, businesses, and social services (health care, police, etc.) on Twitter.

Here are a few things that might not be so evident to our readers.

Vehicles

In New Zealand, they drive right-hand drive vehicles on the left-hand side of the road. A North American vehicle would probably need modifications to meet New Zealand’s auto standards. You would likely need special auto insurance and/or special licencing. Additionally, it would be very difficult to sell your vehicle (even for parts) when the time came. You might not even want a car in your new location if you are living downtown in a large city and auto fuel and parking fees are more expensive than a bus pass.

Recommendation: Sell the car before you leave even if you have to use a rental a car for a month before you move.

Electrical items

The electrical power grid in New Zealand is 230/240V and 50Hz. In North America, it is 110V and 60Hz. You can get a “step-up” transformer however, they are designed for short-term use and will cause your electrical devices to wear out very quickly. However, some lamps and lighting can be re-wired so if you have an antique or very expensive lamp, ask an electrician if it would be possible and feasible to re-wire. Computers, laptops, tablets, and phones can work on both 110V and 240V. Check your systems. You might only need to purchase a new power converter.

Recommendation: Sell or give away anything that plugs in and does not work on 240V/50Hz power.

Cost of the move

I am assuming that you will be paying for your own move (as opposed to an employer paying for it). If this is the case, calculate the cost of the move. Most moving companies use volume to calculate the cost. For example, it might cost $6,000 USD to move 1000 cubic feet (a small 3-bedroom house). This works out to $6 USD per cubic foot. If that old sofa in your basement takes up 65 cubic feet, it costs $390 USD to move. (Check out this household goods volume calculator.) Is that old sofa worth $390 USD? Would it be better to buy a new sofa on arrival? Consider that you will have to pay import duties on the current value of all imported items.

Recommendation: Do not pay more to move goods than the goods are worth — with the exception of sentimental items.

Import restrictions

Depending on the country to which you are moving, some items are not allowed to be imported. Usually these consist of hunting trophies, food and agricultural products, unfinished wood, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition. Some children’s toys, furniture, and craft items may not be permitted if they do not meet the country’s safety standards. Medications that are over-the-counter in one country, may be restricted because they require a prescription in another country.

Recommendation: Check importation restrictions via Customs Services of the country you are moving to. Consider selling or giving away restricted items before you move. If you are keeping restricted items, start the process for ensuring these can be imported when the time comes.

Documentation

Managing your “stuff” is pretty straight-forward compared to the amount of documentation you have to keep track of for an international move.

Vital Records

Ensure you have original copies of all your important documents including birth certificates (long form with birth location and parents’ names), marriage licences, divorce decrees, passports, wills, powers of attorney, etc. It will be difficult to get them replaced once you move. Carry these documents with you but make a copy of each and store them in a secure cloud location.

Insurance and licencing

Contact your auto and home insurance companies. Ask them to provide proof of insurance for as far back as you can go. You may need to contact previous insurance companies as well. Try to get at least 10 years of positive history. This will help you get insurance in your new country.

Obtain a driving licence abstract from your State. This will show how long you have been a licenced driver and your past driving infractions. Getting 10 years of history will help with your auto insurance. Depending on your new country, you still might be required to pass a driving test.

Health records

Contact all of your medical, dental, and other health providers and obtain a complete health record. Often it will be provided on a password-protected CD. If it is on paper, scan it, and keep a copy in secure cloud storage. Check the vaccination requirements of your new country and get your shots before you go as it might take a while before you can access their health care system. This is especially important for children who may require specific vaccinations before they can attend school.

Pay for legal and financial advice

I cannot stress this enough — pay for professional advice from a lawyer and an international tax accountant (not your Cousin Vinny who “knows a guy”). There are legal and tax ramifications when moving money from one country to another. The laws are complex and depend on your specific situation (citizen, resident, immigrant, visa holder, etc.). The last thing you want is to get arrested at the airport by the IRS for tax evasion when you return to the US for a family reunion! These will be initially expensive appointments but you will sleep better at night knowing that you are operating within the law.

Your wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., although valid when created in the US, should be re-done in the new country to adhere to their laws. Should anything unfortunate happen, you will not waste time in courts to be able to access finances or determining a proper care plan.

There is much more we could add about document management and moving in general so check out these other Unclutterer posts that might be helpful.

We hope that we’ve given you some good information here Charlee and our readers often chime in with incredibly useful advice so please keep your eye on the comments section.

10 tips to beat clutter in less than five minutes

I’m happy to have Gretchen Rubin, the fabulous author of The Happiness Project, join us with a guest post today on Unclutterer. There just aren’t enough kind words in the English language to say about her. Welcome, Gretchen!

Having a clutter-filled house can make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Everywhere you look, you see little chores that should be done. No single task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big mess. Pretty quickly, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem.

Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that.

  1. Make your bed each morning.
  2. Throw away the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet.
  3. Follow the “one-minute rule” — push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.
  4. Identify an organization or person to whom you can give things you no longer need. It’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the local charity thrift store. When the shelf is full, we drop off the books.
  5. Pause for a moment before you “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.
  6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law — if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.
  8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.
  9. Hang up your coat.
  10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.

Minimalism vs. just in case

One rainy Friday before a long weekend, we laundered our bed sheets. After washing them, we discovered our dryer was broken. It did not heat. We were not prepared to pay for appliance servicing during a long weekend so we hung our wet sheets in the basement with a fan blowing on them. They were still not dry by nightfall. Fortunately, I had a second set of sheets stored in the linen closet.

As much as I strive to be a minimalist, I was glad I had the extra set of sheets “just in case.” Some minimalists argue that you need only one set of sheets per bed — you simply wash the set and put it back on the bed immediately. If I had followed that suggestion, we would have been sleeping in wet sheets!

Storing and maintaining an extra set of sheets took almost no effort and it saved us having to run out to a laundromat on a Friday evening. Mr. Justin Case saved us!

Balancing minimalism with “just in case” isn’t always easy. You have to calculate the probability that you will actually urgently need the item with the expense of owning (storage and maintenance) the item. You might also want to factor in the original purchase price and the cost and hassle of renting or replacing the item.

There are plenty of things I have been thankful I have kept “just in case” including spare batteries for the smoke detectors, light bulbs, an extra set of headphones, and an extra dog leash and collar.

On the other hand, we don’t own a table saw “just in case.” For our family, a table saw is used in a planned project and can be easily borrowed or rented. However, my friends who live on a horse farm own a table saw just in case they need to repair a stall a horse has kicked through — which happens more frequently than one would think.

How are you balancing minimalism with just in case? What items can you honestly let go of?

Family heirlooms: Give them away at milestone celebrations

The distribution of family heirlooms is a little creepy in my book: someone dies and I get a present. I like presents, don’t misunderstand, I just wish that a family member didn’t have to die for me to get it.

My grandmother is aware of my aversion to these inheritance practices, and so gave me her set of silver as a wedding present. When she gave it to me, she told me the story about the silver and how she worked to make money to buy it, piece by piece, during the 1930s. Had she waited to give it to me after her death, I likely would have had another set already and would have never known the delightful story of how she purchased it. Now, when I use it, I think about her, that wonderful day, and her generous gift.

My advice is to give family heirlooms away at appropriate milestone celebrations. Grandfather’s college ring should be given to a grandchild on his or her graduation with a note about it and a photo of grandfather wearing it. The rocking chair you used in your daughter’s nursery should be passed on to her the day she brings her first child home. When you give her the chair, include a page from your diary when you talked about rocking her to sleep in it and a photo of her in your arms. Don’t hoard your treasured heirlooms, instead give them away at appropriate times with heart-felt explanations of why they are valued.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Book review: Faster Than Normal

Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain by Peter Shankman is a valuable book if you have ADHD. It is packed full of useful, easy-to-implement tips and tricks on how to maximize productivity. Even if you do not have ADD/ADHD, you will find the advice is very helpful.

Mr. Shankman starts out by explaining that ADHD is like having a race car brain while everyone else is on a tricycle. He also indicates that it takes skill and practice to drive a race car; to channel, harness, and use the power. He suggests that ADHD medications are useful (and in many cases essential) but people also need to develop practical life skills to manage their ADHD. The book Faster Than Normal, does just that.

Rituals

We’ve mentioned the benefits of rituals and routines many times on Unclutterer. Rituals and routines, after being practiced, become automatic because your brain becomes comfortable with the associated feelings. Mr. Shankman advises that those with ADHD should concentrate on the “great feeling” or reward and work backwards to create the ritual. For example, if you like the way you feel and you perform your best after you’ve eaten a health breakfast, focus on that aspect when you set your alarm earlier in the morning rather than stressing about waking up earlier.

Exercise

Exercise is important for those with ADHD. Mr. Shankman is an Ironman triathlete who wakes up long before dawn to get in a training session before his day starts. His ritual won’t work for everyone. However, there are many things people can do to build in more exercise into their day such as taking the stairs and walking around the neighbourhood at lunch hour or during coffee breaks. He also advocates getting outdoors as much as possible.

Eat well

Your ADHD race car brain needs functions best with race car fuel. Foods high in nutritional value will help keep you running at peak performance levels. Mr. Shankman suggests meal planning, and not keeping junk foods in your desk or cupboards.

Sleep Well

Mr. Shankman found by experience that improving his sleep significantly improved the quality of his performance and his productivity — something that we’ve talked about on Unclutterer before. Some of his suggestions include creating rituals around bedtime, reducing screen time in the evening hours, and using a sunrise/sunset simulation light.

Simplify

For many with ADHD a chaotic environment at home or at work is detrimental. Uncluttering (the fewer squirrels you can see, the less often you’ll be distracted) and eliminating choice (the fewer shiny things to choose from, the easier it is to choose) will help you be more productive.

Reduce triggers

Mr. Shankman talks about triggers that can set off ADHD. These triggers are like potholes in the road of life. Hitting one while riding a tricycle is no big deal but when you are driving your ADHD race car brain, it may cause you to spin out. Triggers vary by person but can include things like a messy house or office, excessive noise, or proximity to bad vices such as alcohol, tobacco or gambling, etc.

It is important to determine what your triggers are because, “Understanding why you make bad decisions, and how it feels when you do, is a great step in changing your habits to avoid them in the future.”

Employ tools

Mr. Shankman is a big fan of outsourcing tasks such as hiring a personal assistant, housekeeper, professional organizer, travel agent, etc. This may not be an option for everyone and he offers several suggestions for getting the work done when you can’t afford to hire someone.

There are many time management techniques described in Faster Than Normal. These include scheduling meetings for only one day per week, planning mini-tasks for short-burst downtimes (e.g., waiting in the dentist office), and planning out projects by creating deadlines for them.

Many digital tools to help manage ADHD are suggested such as password managers, document and software backup systems, and cloud storage. Mr. Shankman also recommends apps that span a large range from to-do lists to health trackers and explains how to use them with your ADHD to maximize productivity.

Non- ADHD people

At the end of the book, there is a great chapter for those who have a close relationship with someone with ADHD. It explains how we can support our ADHD loved ones in their efforts to be effective and productive by assisting them in their weak areas and helping them recognize their strengths.

If you have read this book, please add a comment letting us know how it affected your ability to unclutter, organize and stay productive. If you have ADD/ADHD or are close to someone who does, feel free to share your tips and tricks with our readers.

Ask Unclutterer: Hiding a workspace in a studio apartment

In reference to our posts on Bedrooms are for sleeping, part 1 and part 2, reader Eric wrote in to ask,

Could you expand the article to address studio apartments? What would be the best way to isolate a workspace from the living space? I guess I could use a divider like you show in the first article to isolate the bed/sleeping space from the rest of the apartment.

Thanks for your question Eric. We would be happy to expand on our answer.

There are several ways other than a folding room divider to section off different areas of the apartment. The first one we suggest is a curtain divider. Curtains are great because they can be closed for privacy and opened to make the space larger. They are washable and generally easy to install. There are many styles and colours available.

Tension rods are ideal if you have brick or plaster walls because you do not have to use a drill or screws for installation. They work best in smaller openings with lighter weight curtains. Also, if you have cats or small children who might pull on, or attempt to climb the curtains, the rod may fall down. If you are sectioning off a bedroom, I suggest that you use room darkening curtains to improve sleep quality.

If you do not have walls on which to mount a tension rod, then you might consider the ceiling track system. There are 90º and 45º corners available so you can make more than one wall out of curtains if required. You have to bolt/screw the track into the ceiling and that might be difficult if you are a renter or there is any trace of asbestos in the ceiling.

Some people use bookshelves to separate spaces in a studio apartment. I do not recommend this unless the shelving units are anchored into the ceilings and floors. IKEA’s Elvarli system bolts into floors and ceilings. With various configurations available it will allow you to divide your living space and create extra storage.

Another option to hide a workspace in a studio apartment, is to use an armoire or cabinet. There are various styles available depending on your needs. Some companies who design kitchen cabinets may also be able to design one to your specifications. If you are looking for simply a computer workstation, a folding wall-mounted desk is a space-saving option.

When living in a studio, loft, or other open-concept designed home, always look for furniture that can do double-duty such as hidden filing cabinets and storage ottomans.

Thanks for your great question Eric. 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.”

Saying farewell to a hobby

There are hundreds of books and resources available on the topic of breaking up with a love interest. There are even ones exploring the topic of breaking off a toxic friendship and dumping bad business relationships. But, I have yet to find anything out in the ether on how to kick a hobby to the curb. Noting that, I proclaim this Unclutterer entry as the authoritative work on breaking up with a hobby. I call it:

You’re Just Not That Into Your Hobby

Do you consider yourself a tennis player, but the last time you touched your racket was 25 years ago? Do you like the idea of being a scrapbooker but have never made a complete scrapbook? Are you keeping canvases for masterpieces you may one day paint, yet all of your paints are dried and your brushes deteriorating? Is your guitar missing strings and in a case at the back of a closet? Do you have areas of your home set aside or filled with stuff related to a hobby that you spend less than 10 hours on a year?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you are just not that into your hobby.

It can be difficult to admit, but if you’re not averaging at least an hour a month pursuing a hobby, it’s time to let it go. The space you’re sacrificing in your home is too valuable to store things you don’t use. If you don’t have storage issues, it’s still worthwhile to get rid of your unused hobby stuff. Every time you walk past it I bet you think, “I wish I had more time to do X.” You don’t need that stress and guilt. If it were really important to you, you would pursue it.

Five steps for deciding if now is the time to ditch your hobby:

  1. Identify all of your hobbies and all of the things associated with them in your home, garage, and office. You may benefit by collecting these items and laying them all out in your front yard or an open space in your home to see how much space you’re sacrificing.
  2. List all of these hobbies and then estimate how much time you’ve spent pursuing each of them in the last 12 months. Be honest with yourself.
  3. Any hobby with an estimation of 10 hours or less should immediately be moved out of your home. Pack up the equipment and head to a used sports equipment store or an appropriate charity. If the hobby stuff is valuable, photograph it and list it for sale on a site like ebay or craigslist.
  4. Any hobby with an estimation of 24 hours or less should be carefully reviewed. If you went camping one day last year, you would reach the 24-hour mark for camping as a hobby. However, is one day of camping worth all of the space used to store your tent, sleeping bag, and all other accoutrements? On the flip side, if you spent one Friday night a month last year playing Bridge with friends and averaged about two hours of playing time a sitting, it’s probably worthwhile to hold onto a deck of cards.
  5. Any hobby with an estimation of more than 24 hours also should be considered for review. You may realize that you’re spending so much time and space on your hobby that you’re neglecting things more important in your life, like time with your spouse or children. It’s okay to break up with these hobbies, too. In most cases, however, you probably have a healthy relationship with your active hobbies and you’ll decide to keep up with them. You still will want to evaluate how much stuff you have for them. If you have more supplies than you could use in a lifetime associated with that hobby, it’s time to weed through the collection of stuff. My rule of thumb is that you should never have more than one year’s worth of supplies for an intense hobby — and less than that if you can manage.

There is a caveat to my assumption that you’re just not that into your hobby that I feel I should mention as a footnote. The truth may be that you really like your hobby, but somewhere along the way you misappropriated your time and let it fall by the wayside. Instead of making chairs in your woodworking studio, you’ve been watching television. If this is the case, make new priorities and recommit to your hobby. Turn off the t.v. and head to your studio. Decide to re-evaluate that hobby in six months. If in six months, however, you’re still watching t.v., then it’s time to admit that watching t.v. is your hobby not woodworking.

 

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

House Hunting Trip, part 2

In House hunting trip, part 1, we discussed how to prepare before you leave your current home. Here are a few more tips.

Before you leave home

Take measurements of furniture that will be moving with you. Ensure you know how big your credenza, chesterfield, and large screen TV are. If you’re moving appliances, measure those as well. Keep this information on a spreadsheet either on paper or on your laptop. You don’t want to buy a house that your furniture won’t fit into.

Pack a tape measure in your suitcase. You’ll want to be able to measure room sizes and spaces to fit appliances. Most real estate websites only list approximate sizes for rooms. For example, they will state that a room is 10ft by 12ft when really it is 9ft 10 inches by 11ft 11 inches. Those few inches might make a big difference when trying to fit a large piece of furniture. You may also need to measure the width of doors and windows.

You might also want to take a laser measure for determining the size of large spaces like open basements, garages, and even fenced in back yards. They are also handy for measuring smaller rooms because sometimes people’s furniture is placed so you cannot accurately use a tape measure.

Note taking equipment (pen, paper, clipboard, etc.) is essential on a house hunting trip. You will likely look at so many homes you won’t remember which house has which features. It is helpful to print out the real estate listing with the address and a photo of the house and write details about the house on the reverse side.

A camera is also an essential tool but be organized in taking photos and videos. Think of how they make a movie. At the start of filming, they use a clapperboard to show the name of the upcoming scene. When you are house hunting, take a photo of a piece of paper with the address of the house. Then, take photos of outside, and inside the house. At the end of the showing, take a photo of something completely different (yourself, your car or even just blank paper) to indicate the end of that set of photos/videos. It will be much easier to separate one set of house photos from another — especially if many of the houses are similar in colour and design.

On arrival

On the first few days of your trip, visit as many houses as time allows. Don’t hesitate to cancel a showing if you know right away a house will not meet your requirements. (One time, we arrived at a showing and realized the house was directly below the flight path to an international airport. After we heard the noise of the airplane overhead, we didn’t even bother going inside the house.)

Here are a few things that you might want to think about to narrow down your choices before you call in a home inspector who can inform you of structural issues with your potential new home.

Location

What is the noise level like? Are you close to train tracks? Are you underneath a flight path? Is there a busy thoroughfare for emergency vehicles (loud sirens) nearby? If you’re moving into a multi-unit building, what is the soundproofing like?

What smells? Are you downwind from a farm or a local dump? Are there any factories nearby that might create smells from time to time? If you are looking at a multi-unit building, can you smell your neighbours cooking dinner?

What can you see when you look out windows? Are you looking at factories, rail yards, or derelict empty lots? Who could look back and see in your windows? Remember to think about what you will see when the trees lose their leaves or if they have to be cut down for any reason.

Traffic

Are you near a bar, restaurant, or event centre (theatre, concert hall) that becomes boisterous in the evening? If your house is on a route between a bar/restaurant and major public transit stop there may be people walking past or heavy traffic making lots of noise after the venue closes.

Will a nearby school create traffic problems that make it impossible to get out of your driveway at school start and finish times? If your house is on a route from a school to other community services (recreation centre, shopping area, playgrounds) it might mean kids marching past your house all afternoon.

House orientation

An east facing master bedroom window will let in a lot of light first thing in the morning — not ideal if you like to sleep late. Avid gardeners will want to ensure that the yard gets sunlight during peak growing season. Those in snowy climates will want to check wind direction to ensure that they won’t have to shovel deep snow drifts right in front of the garage door. Don’t hesitate to use the compass app on your smartphone to help you figure things out. Try to visit the house on a sunny day and a cloudy day to check light levels inside and outside the house.

Household chores

If you are going to be living in this new home, you are going to have to clean it. You might not like that gorgeous chandelier over the large, open stairwell if you have to rent a scaffold to clean it every few months. A yard with lots of shade trees is nice until you spend every autumn weekend raking leaves. Likewise, that sloping driveway might add a touch of class and elegance until the first ice storm turns it into an Olympic-like bobsled track.

Watch for home staging tricks

Staged homes may be so uncluttered that they seem incredibly open and spacious but remind yourself that real life never looks like this. Think about how small the living room would look with your large sectional and several toy boxes.

Pedestal sinks make bathrooms look larger but then storage and usability are a challenge. How easy would it be to shave, do your hair, and put on make-up in the morning with no counter space?

Other tricks for giving the illusion of space include strategically placing mirrors, using smaller sized furniture, arranging furniture diagonally in a room, and removing closet doors and doors between rooms. Always measure, measure, measure so you ensure that your belongings will fit comfortably in your new home.

Some dubious tricks have been used by home stagers as well. These include strategically placing rugs and carpeting to hide damaged flooring, hanging unique art pieces to divert your attention from leaks or cracks in walls or ceilings, or hanging curtains to hide old or rotting window sills. Take a moment to look a little deeper and if you see any of these issues, bring them to the attention of your home inspector.

How it flows

Imagine your typical day living in the home. If you and your partner are using the walk-in closet at the same time, is there enough room? Do you need to assist children with their brushing hair and teeth? If so, can two or three people fit in the bathroom at the same time?

Do you and your family members cook meals together? Make sure you can all work comfortably in the kitchen. Ask your real estate agent to pretend to load the dishwasher while you pretend to get a roast out of the oven. Then see if there is still room to have someone chop vegetables at the counter at the same time.

Is there enough space in the entryway? It might be summer when you visit a home but think about winter coats, snowsuits, and muddy boots. Will there be enough room to store everyone’s things? Consider the design of the home. Will you have to track through a snowy, muddy entryway to go from one area of the home to another?

Is the laundry area convenient? If hidden away in a dark, dank corner of the basement, it might be difficult to motivate yourself to get the job done especially if you have to carry heavy laundry baskets up and down two flights of stairs.

If you have children or pets, take into consideration their safety requirements such as doors at the tops of stairways (or the ability to easily install safety gates), spacing between banister rails in older homes, secure fencing in the yard, etc.

Outlets and vents

Take a moment to note the locations of power outlets and heating/air conditioning vents. Are there enough power outlets and are they at the right locations? You might want to ensure you can plug in both your coffee maker and toaster in an accessible area in the kitchen. Likewise, you may wish to ensure there are power outlets in locations where you normally charge your electronic devices. Note locations for phone, cable, and internet connections as well.

If there is only one living room wall long enough to put your wall unit, make sure there isn’t a heating vent there. It is expensive to relocate ventilation ducts. Likewise, make sure you check the bed placement in relation to vents so that you won’t blocked a vent with a bed or end up with air from a vent blowing on you all night.

Rank your choices

Now that you’ve accumulated all of this information, you’ll be able to rank your home choices. Return to your top three or four choices for a closer look. Re-rank your choices if required and provide this information to your realtor and home inspector and proceed with the next steps in home buying (or renting if that’s what you’ve chosen).

Finding the home of your dreams in a short period of time doesn’t have to be stressful if you’re prepared and organized.

Readers are more than welcome to chime in with other tips and tricks they have for finding a home.

Preparing for tomorrow’s work day

Years ago, when I was in my first year of teaching, I was in constant fear of getting sick. Kids would cough near me in the hallway, and I would rush to my desk to apply hand sanitizer. I wasn’t afraid of germs, instead I was afraid of missing work.

Missing a day of school for a teacher is actually a lot of work. If you’re a decent teacher, you prepare lesson plans so that teaching and learning can still take place in your absence. Getting ready for a substitute teacher can take a good chunk of time, and doing this while running a 101 degree fever isn’t fun.

I poured out my fears of getting sick one afternoon to a veteran teacher and she offered me advice that has proven to be valuable even in my professional life since teaching.

She suggested that at the end of the work day I do two things. First, I should clear my desk. Papers should be filed, my stapler stored in a drawer, coffee cup cleaned and returned to the kitchen, etc. Then, for my second task, I should make a stack of all of my photocopied handouts, materials, and lessons for the next day and put them where no one could miss them. By doing these two simple things, which usually took me no more than five minutes, I only had to call in my absence and then fall back to sleep.

Even though I’ve been out of the classroom for years, I continue to follow this procedure. At the end of the work day, I clean off my desk and then I organize everything that I need for the next day. For example, if I were to have a morning meeting, I’d have my agendas photocopied and in a labeled folder at the center of my desk. This way, if I were to be stuck in traffic or sick and attend the meeting over the phone, it’s easy for someone else in the office to grab the agendas and pass them out in my absence.

A clean desk and organized materials also are worthwhile if you do make it to work on time and healthy. This preparation allows you to hit the ground running when you arrive at work. Five to 10 minutes of organization at the end of the work day will have you on your best footing tomorrow morning.

 

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

Hidden benefits of uncluttering

Here at Unclutterer we espouse the clutter-free lifestyle. The reasons are mostly obvious: a clean, tidy home means less time is spent searching for things, knowing what you actually own, etc.

In this post, I want to look at the less obvious benefits of uncluttering. These less obvious advantages are just as powerful as those listed above. Let’s get started with time. Time, not money, is the only valuable commodity we have. Would you rather lose ten dollars or ten years? Without time, nothing else has value, so the wise person treats it as precious.

Finish small tasks right away. Schedule time to spend on big tasks and stick to it. Clean as you go. Adopt a calendar/planner that fits your lifestyle and use a productivity system you trust. You’ll spend less time on household chores, and more time with family and friends.

Next, and this is a rather specific example but bear with me. Being uncluttered means that unexpected visitors do not elicit a stressful frenzy of straightening up. It might not happen often, but when that unannounced guest is en route to your door, a few minutes of tidying is all that is needed to make the house presentable. Compare that to the frenzy of straightening a cluttered house.

Before I continue, an important note. A working home is not a museum. As I said in 2015:

“These are the years spent in the trenches. The years where my wife and I argue over who gets to be the one to grocery shop, because grocery shopping means you get 25 minutes to yourself. If guests arrive and there’s a stack of papers on a table somewhere or library books strewn about or if our dear visitors have to witness a round of my favorite 7:38 a.m. game, ‘Where Are Your Clean Socks And Why Must We Go Through This Every Blessed Day?’, Fine.

The people who are nice enough to travel and spend money just to be in our company understand where we are at this stage in our lives. They love us, and know that transferring the breakfast cereal into labeled Tupperware containers is just under ‘jewel-encrusted, heated driveway’ on our list of current priorities.”

It’s completely unreasonable, in my opinion, to live in a clutter-free home 24/7/365. That’s not what I’m proposing. Just make an effort to tidy as you go to save some stress.

Next, your family will catch the uncluttering bug. I know, that sounds crazy. I have two teenagers whose favorite activities include sleeping, eating and playing video games. (Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario.) If the house is routinely tidy, they won’t like it when it isn’t. In fact, they’ll start to organize to keep things on an even, tidy keel. I’ve seen it happen and it’s glorious.

When the tidying starts to happen consistently, you’ll feel more creative. This one is backed by science. Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute demonstrated that a cluttered environment restricts one’s ability to focus. Having trouble finishing that novel or getting some work done? A cluttered desk or office could be a contributing factor.

Lastly, you’ll likely get more sleep. A sleep study conducted in 2015 showed that people who routinely sleep in cluttered rooms are more likely to have sleep disturbances and get less restful sleep than counterparts in tidy rooms. Who doesn’t want better sleep? I sure do.

There you have a few less obvious benefits to pursuing the uncluttered lifestyle. If you’ve discovered any hidden benefits to being uncluttered, please share them with readers in the comments below.

Does this wardrobe suit me? Reviewing my closet

Last February, here on Unclutterer, Dave took at look at his closet and made some wardrobe suggestions for men over 40. In a few months, I’ll be one year away from 50. In the past two years, I’ve moved up in my day job and have become upper management. And in my personal life, I much prefer going out for a nice dinner or having friends over than going out clubbing until dawn.

All these things have meant a change in my dressing habits. However, I don’t feel almost 50 years old and most of my friends are younger than me so I have no interest in looking stereotypically middle aged.

In reviewing what I have, I’ve noticed that over the past few years I have actually been moving towards a more mature style. I have fewer t-shirts and more button-ups. None of my jeans have holes in them, I don’t do “skinny” anything, and my collection of dress trousers has more than doubled.

My shoe choices have also matured, fewer sneakers and more currently in-style brogues.

It’s good to know that I don’t need to make any major changes to my wardrobe choices. I do, however, need to pare down a bit. I have more than enough shirts for a whole month, the same with t-shirts and about half that number in trousers. My shoe collection has increased from my previous two or three to more than ten. Clothing is the one area of my life that I am most definitely not a minimalist.

On the positive side, I have a walk-in closet so I more or less have the space to store it all, but I have to ask myself if I honestly wear it all.

In doing so, I’ve taken Dave’s guidelines from last year as a baseline.

  • A suit — one that fits and looks good. Suits! I haven’t mentioned suits. I have several because I don’t believe that one is enough. If a woman had a single dress for any formal situation, people would be shocked, and yet we think it’s perfectly fine that men repeat the same suit consistently.
  • A nice hat. I have a few nice alpaca caps for winter and a baseball cap for the beach.
  • Decent lounge wear. I’m a pyjama guy. When I lived in Toronto with central heating, I was in the habit of sleeping in very little (or nothing). Without central heating now, however, I have several pairs of pyjamas which also serves as lounge wear. For yoga class, I have some baggy t-shirts and a pair of short sweatpants.
  • Dress shirts — somewhere between three and six of them depending on your lifestyle. This is where I need to cut back, but in looking at my closet, I realized that I actually wear more than 20 of my nearly 35 shirts.
  • Shoes. Have a brown pair and a black pair, something casual and something dressy. Sneakers are for kids. In this I also don’t agree with Dave. Stylish sneakers look good with a suit and I often combine my dress trousers with them as well. Besides, I have ankle tendon issues and, unless I want to look like a grandfather, dress shoes are not the best for my poor feet.
  • Pants — have at least one decent pair of jeans and a few pairs of casual pants in your regular rotation. Here is another category I could cut back. I don’t wear quite a few of my trousers, so will lighten my wardrobe by getting rid of them. I also need to seriously review my collection of shorts as most of them are too young for me.
  • Socks and accessories. My rule for these is that if they fit into a drawer, I don’t need to worry about them. I replace them as they wear out.

Being fashion-minded and working with teens and young adults, I also have a t-shirt collection, as well as stylish sweaters and a couple of sweatshirts. Looking at the teetering pile I have of those, these are three more categories I can also pare down on.

Although, to be honest, I doubt I’ll get rid of much. As I’ve already said, despite having a lot of clothes, I wear almost everything. I’m just going to have to find a better way of organizing it all and commit to regular maintenance of the piles.

How about you? How often do you review your wardrobe?

And of course, if you need help, there are any number of books that can help you with your wardrobe choices.