A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Uncluttering the sounds in our lives
    Being an unclutterer doesn’t mean depriving ourselves of things that significantly enhance our lives, like pleasant sounds or elimination of unpleasant ones.




  • We’ve got the technology
    Having the right tools to do a job can increase productivity and greatly improve your overall experience working on a project.


Being considerate when donating

Many of us try our best to keep things out of landfills and find new homes for those items that may still be useful to others. However, please consider the following three points when making donations:

Only donate things the organization has said it can use

My local nonprofit thrift store has a handout with an extensive list of what it accepts and what it will not accept. Small appliances are okay, but not coffee pots. Lamps are okay, if they don’t take halogen bulbs. The store also says this: “All items must be clean and in good working condition. We have no facilities to clean clothing.”

Organizations that accept books often provide guidance about the condition of the books they accept. For example, Housing Works says it won’t accept books with “markings, heavy wear, water damage, missing pages or covers, mildew, or strong odors.”

Many other organizations that depend on donations are equally explicit on their websites — and if you’re not certain about what the group takes, you can always call or send an email to inquire. If you donated to an organization in the past, but not recently, I’d recommend doing a quick check of its current policies about donations, because things change.

Donating something that cannot be used just causes extra work for the organization getting the donation. Furthermore, such items might wind up in the dumpster, causing the group to incur an extra expenditure if it gets too many unacceptable donations and an additional pickup is required — and defeating the whole purpose of donating.

You also don’t want to drive to a donation place only to have your donations turned away because they aren’t accepted, as happened to me when I forgot to check the website for my local Goodwill and found it didn’t accept the skis I had. (Fortunately, another nearby charity was glad to take them.)

If you cannot find a place to donate something that you think might still have value to others, you can always try giving it away on freecycle or the free section of craigslist. If it’s permitted where you live, you can also leave things at the curb.

Disaster relief groups usually need money, not stuff

Jessica Alexander was in the Philippines after the 2004 tsunami, and saw what happened when unwanted clothes got shipped there:

Heaps of them were left lying on the side of the road. Cattle began picking at them and getting sick. Civil servants had to divert their limited time to eliminating the unwanted clothes. Sri Lankans and Indonesians found it degrading to be shipped people’s hand-me-downs.

… Someone has to unload those donations, someone needs to sort through them for customs, someone needs to truck them to affected areas which are hard to reach anyway and where there’s a limited supply of fuel. When old shoes and clothes are sent from the U.S., they just waste people’s time and slow down getting lifesaving medicines and food to affected people.

Alexander encourages all good-hearted people to give money — “not teddy bears, not old shoes” — to agencies that know what’s needed and how to get it to the people in need. If such an agency asks for specific items, that’s the only time you should look at donating stuff.

Protect your items when dropping off donations

I recently dropped off some books for an annual book sale in my city. The church that holds the sale has waterproof plastic bins sitting outside to accept donations. But I saw cardboard boxes filled with books sitting out next to those bins — and some of those boxes had no lids. That’s a problem, because we often get heavy fog and mist overnight, and the books sitting out with no covering are likely to get damaged.

Unless an organization specifically permits it (and has donation receptacles in place), you won’t want to donate after hours. Perfectly fine donations can get ruined not just by the weather, but also by raccoons and other wildlife.

Fragile items should obviously be wrapped to protect them, so you don’t wind up with broken glassware or china. Also, be very careful when donating anything sharp — knives, sewing needles, etc. — to ensure no one gets hurt.

Unitasker Wednesday: Perfect Pancake Pan

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

There is no need for me to discuss the unitaskerness of this device because it is so over-the-top unitaskery it could be the poster child for all unitaskers. Introducing the Perfect Pancake Pan:

A pan. Just for pancakes. For people who have apparently never heard of griddles.

Griddles, people! GRIDDLES! They’re amazing and extremely useful and you can make pancakes AND sausages, hash browns, eggs, bacon, and most everything else you want for breakfast on just a single griddle.

Thankfully, there is an infomercial full of people who don’t know how to make pancakes for us to enjoy (and mock) as a consolation prize:

A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Where do you stand on digital books?
    Since it’s the day after a holiday, I’m thinking maybe a conversation instead of straightforward advice will help us ease back into the week. Today, I’m putting a little mental energy into figuring out where I stand on digital books.



  • Letting go of sentimental clutter
    Eight tips from The Arizona Republic newspaper to help you decide what of your emotional clutter needs to go and what isn’t clutter and should be displayed.

Computer desktop clutter

There are two types of people in the world — those who are okay with this, and those who aren’t:

Computers have been a part of my daily life since about 1994. The machines and technologies we used back then would be almost unrecognizable today, with one exception: files saved on the desktop. When Apple released the first Macintosh in 1984, it featured what we think of as the desktop today, with files, a trash can, a clock, and little program icons.

Since then, people have taken to saving digital files to the desktop, much as one does with a physical desk. We’ll call these people the “desktop group.” Others prefer to keep things sorted by folders tucked inside the hard drive itself, not visible from the desktop. We’ll call this second group of people the “folders group.”

I have a strong opinion on this, but first let me share both sides. The desktop group would claim that their method keeps everything within sight and within reach. Files that are necessary for the task at hand are right there, as are reference materials that will be useful in the future. This is how Erin works: she has all her files for her current project’s work saved to her desktop and then at the end of a project she carefully organizes everything into folders in her Documents area of her computer. For long-term projects, she makes alias folders on her desktop from her Documents area so that she can save directly to her desktop and access the folders from her desktop, but the files aren’t actually stored there. She says that working from the desktop saves her time during the work day but also allows her to delete temporary files easily so that they don’t clutter up her well-organized Documents area of her computer.

The folder group would assert that the desktop group’s method is cluttered, the icons strewn across the desktop a complete mess that can slow down the memory on the computer, and that a series of clearly-labeled folders is the way to go, despite taking a little navigation to reach them.

Unlike Erin, I fall squarely with the folders group. I really dislike the visual clutter of a desktop strewn with icons and must have my desktop free of as much clutter as my computer will allow. It barely takes me any time at all to save information to well-organized folders and it saves me time later from having to go back and clean up everything.

So, which method do you espouse and why? Let’s see what we can learn from each other.

10 things you can do right now to be more organized

Here at Unclutterer we often focus on long-term solutions for clutter problems. But this week, I want to focus on the short term. The following are 10 things you can do within the next 10 minutes to help yourself be more organized.

  1. Lay out tomorrow’s outfit tonight. Last week, we wrote about what I think of as doing a favor for your future self. Unless you’re going the Steve Jobs route and wearing the same outfit every day, you probably spend a few minutes each morning staring at the dresser or closet in an early morning fog and the longer you stand there the more you run the risk of being late for work or school or wherever you need to go. Reclaim that time from your morning by doing it the night before. It’s a great feeling to pop out of bed and find your outfit ready to go.
  2. Update the calendar. Once a week I ensure that our family calendar is up-to-date. This is especially crucial now that the new school year is starting. It only takes a few minutes to ensure that every appointment that’s scheduled for the next seven days has been properly recorded. If you live with other people–kids, roommate, spouse, whomever–have everyone participate in this activity to be sure everything is included on the calendar.
  3. Plan the week’s menu. Years ago, I supervised a group home of students with autism and other developmental delays. Something that my staff and I had to do was prepare nightly meals for everyone. Every night we cooked for seven students and five teachers. That was when I learned to keep a weekly menu up on the refrigerator; a habit I continue today. It’s much nicer to see what I’ve planned to prepare, as opposed to wondering, “What can I make tonight?”
  4. Find a pen and some scrap paper. Prep a stack of index cards and a small collection of pens and you’ll be ready the next time you need to jot something down while on the phone, at your computer, or wherever ideas come to you. If note cards won’t work for you, get a small notebook and carry it with you in your pocket so you can capture ideas before putting them down in a more permanent way (like on a to-do list or calendar).
  5. Round up extra batteries. Instead of searching your home for wayward batteries whenever you need them, put together a package of each type — AA, AAA, and so on — in an obvious place. If you don’t have any extra batteries of a type you typically need, consider getting reusable ones and storing those.
  6. End the missing sock nightmare. There are four people in my house. For years, sorting socks was a nightmare. They all ended up in the same laundry basket, and we played Rock Paper Scissors to identify the poor soul who had to sort them. Today, everyone has a mesh laundry bag for socks. Put the socks in the bag, tie it up, and put the bag in the washer. Socks come out clean and more importantly, sorted.
  7. Employ a tray. Not long ago, we abandoned the key hooks we used for hang car keys. Keys then cluttered up the kitchen table until I put a small, unassuming tray right beside the door. Now that there is a key tray it’s where the keys land, without making a cluttered mess. Even a tray full of haphazard contents appears sorted and tidy simply by being a container.
  8. Tidy your work area. The dissonance of visual clutter is real and can adversely affect your work day. Take just 10 minutes to tidy a desk and you’ll feel better and maybe even be more productive.
  9. Label your cables. Raise your hand if you’ve played the “unplug this to find out what it’s connected to” game. It’s no fun. A simple set of cable labels can eliminate that nonsense.
  10. Take 10 minutes to just be. There’s so much going on each day: Work and maybe kids, home life and friends, the constant firehose of social media. Find 10 minutes in each day that you can use to walk in the yard, listen to quiet music, or simply sit and experience the moment. This might sound a little hippy dippy, but it’s a great practice to get into for keeping the rest of your day organized. An organized mind helps a great deal in having an organized life.

Certainly continue to work toward those far-reaching goals, but don’t overlook the power of 10 minutes in the meantime.

A year ago on Unclutterer





  • Link week
    My first link of the day is to a book review professional organizer Julie Bestry wrote about “Everything I Know About Perfectionism I Learned from My Breasts.” This book, written by the talented organizer Debbie Jordan Kravitz, has been on my to-read list for months but I haven’t yet reached it in the pile. Julie’s review of Debbie’s book, however, has convinced me to jump it ahead on my list. And, since it persuaded me to read the book, I thought it was a review you might wish to read as well.
  • Alternative uses for colanders
    Not only does knowing how to properly use your kitchen utensils save you time, space, and money, but knowing additional uses for your utensils can have the same effect.

Five reasons why you need to backup your files

Part of being organized is being prepared for when things go wrong — and with your computer, tablet, and smartphone things can go horribly wrong. That’s when you’ll be glad you’re doing backups.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written about how to backup your computer and the photos on your phone, but the following five scenarios illustrate just why these backups are so important.

Hard drives go bad

The hard drive that stores all the data on your computer won’t last forever. As John Gruber wrote:

Hard drives are fragile. … Every hard drive in the world will eventually fail. Assume that yours are all on the cusp of failure at all times. It’s good to be spooked about how long your hard drives will last.

And you may have no indication that your hard drive is failing until it’s too late, as Lorie Marrero found out:

I have always thought that you would have a little warning when a hard drive was going out — things would be slower, sluggish, acting strange. But this was here one second, gone the next!

Sometimes data can be recovered from a hard drive that has crashed, but that can be time consuming, expensive, or both. And file recovery is never a sure thing.

When your hard drive fails, you don’t want to be sharing a story like this one from journalist Andy Patrizio, on ITworld:

After two days of agony, I lost some downloaded files, nothing I can’t live without, and my entire Outlook contact list. Years of building up contacts, all gone.

Computers, tablets, and phones get lost or stolen

A Rutgers PhD student had his computer stolen, and it had five years worth of research data. A family dining in San Francisco had a laptop stolen from their car — the laptop had irreplaceable family photos. People leave their computers and phones behind on airplanes and may not ever get them returned. You can read sad stories like this all the time. Without backups, the files on those devices are gone forever.

Devices get lost in disasters

Joshua Peltz lost his cell phone, with all his movies of his 2-year-old daughter, when US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River in 2009.

Most of you will never be in such a horrific situation, and I hope you never experience a loss due to fire, tornado, or any other such disaster. But if such a tragedy were to occur, you wouldn’t want the situation to be made even worse because you lost all your digital photos and other precious files.

People delete files by mistake

I’ve seen people lose files with no idea what happened to cause the problem. Other times you do know — sometimes just seconds after pressing the wrong keys. I happen to use CrashPlan for my backup, and on Twitter I often see the company sharing tweets like this one from July: “So relieved I use CrashPlan. Folder of all wife’s photos accidentally deleted in April and only just noticed. Now restoring from backup!!”

Computers get infected with malware

Lincoln Spector of PC World wrote about this scenario:

A malicious program infects your PC and makes your documents and other important files inaccessible, then it pops up a message demanding money to get the files back. You’ve got a ransomware infection, and that isn’t good.

How do you get the files back without paying for them? That’s simple: Restore them from a backup. That is, of course, if you’ve been backing up daily.

Otherwise, this is going to take some work.

Recovering from a malware infection is more complex than I can get into, but having backups of your files would certainly reduce the panic level if you ever incur such a problem.

Unitasker Wednesday: Knock on Wood Stickers

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

Are you highly superstitious? Do you believe in jinxes? Do you follow up statements like “knock on wood” by actually knocking on wood? Do you ever have to hunt for hours to actually find a piece of wood to knock upon because you live somewhere without trees? Well, search for wood to knock upon no longer! With Knock on Wood portable adhesive real-wood stickers you’ll never be in the lurch:

Phew! Now superstitious people who live in barren deserts will never be without their jinx protection.

A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Organizing tips from outer space
    Although being organized may not give you the opportunity to go to the International Space Station, it can certainly help you enjoy your space right here on Earth.




  • Cut the clutter
    Knowing how to properly use a knife can save you time, money, and space.
  • Downloading digital sheet music
    While at her local Nordstrom’s Department Store, my friend spotted the piano player using a MusicPad Pro for his sheet music. It’s a digital device, much like a Kindle, that can hook to a special music stand or be carted around like a single piece of sheet music.

Keep your computer clean with digital decluttering

A few days ago I got a desperate call from a friend. “My computer says ‘disk full’ and basically won’t work. What do I do?” Her laptop’s hard drive was full to capacity. She tried deleting the contents of her downloads folder, some unwanted photos, old emails, and stray files on the desktop and it wasn’t enough. Albeit a good start, I told her, but it’s kind of like using an eyedropper to empty a swimming pool. For real digital de-cluttering, you’ve got to break out the big guns.

While photo and video libraries can take up a lot of storage space, as well as music, backups and more, there are other, space-hungry files on your machine that you can’t see. For keeping those in check, I recommend using a piece of software. I recommend Clean My Mac and Clean My PC by the folks at Macpaw. (Both pieces of software are $40.)

Before I explain why, let me quickly discuss memory vs. storage.

Computer memory vs. computer storage

In the 20 years that I’ve been working with computers professionally, I’ve found that memory vs. storage causes confusion for people more than anything else. One refers to how much your machine can physically hold; the other, how much it can do at once.

Here’s an analogy: Consider an office desk. It’s got a broad worktop and many drawers for storing all sorts of stuff. To work on something, you pull it from a drawer and place it on the work top. The drawers are your storage. The more drawers you have, or the more spacious they are, the more they can hold. A desk with six drawers can store more stuff than one with four (assuming the drawers are all the same size). The drawers are your computer’s internal hard drive. The larger it is, the more “stuff” — photos, videos, Word docs, music, etc. — it can physically hold. Back to the desk.

To work with something, you pull it from a drawer and place it on the work top. The bigger the top of your desk is, the more you can spread out and work on at once. The work top is your computer’s memory. The more memory your computer has, the more you can look at one time. There’s a little more to memory than that, but this is a good basic explanation.

Kill digital clutter

As I mentioned, there are big ‘ol files lurking on your machine that many people can’t easily find and drag to the trash. That’s why I recommend using a piece of software to help you find these. As a Mac user, I use Clean My Mac from Macpaw. Clean My PC has a reputation for doing an equally fantastic job on Windows machines. However, since I don’t have a PC, I can’t speak for it directly.

I like Clean My Mac for three reasons: It’s thorough, it’s clear on what’s happening, and it’s safe.


I cleaned my MacBook Pro earlier today, and Clean My Mac found outdated cache files amounting to nearly 2 GB, as well as iPhone updates that I no longer need. Additionally, much software is “localized” for several languages. I only need English, so Clean My Mac found the superfluous (for me) language files from my software and removed them — to the tune of 2.45 GB.


Whenever Clean My Mac conducts a scan, it identifies what it calls “Large & Old Files.” These files are not removed without your review and approval. You might find video projects in there, large audio files, and the like. For instance, the scan I recently conducted found several iMovie files that are quite large but not for deletion. Clean My Mac was smart enough to leave them intact for me.


This software’s help system is fantastic. Deleting files from your computer should not be taken lightly, even when you’re talking about known junk. The help section defines every term and process clearly and concisely, so you’ll know what’s going to happen. Additionally, the software’s main screen is quite legible and logically arranged.

It can be frustrating when your computer is cluttered. Fortunately, you can be safely proactive about it. Grab a good piece of software and stay on top of your digital decluttering before you end up with a virtual mess on your hands.

The power in 15 minutes

Uncluttering is a lifelong endeavor. Perfection is not the goal, especially in a working home, and time is often a rare commodity in a busy home. Recently, I’ve been working to see how much I can get done in a small amount of time, and how good I can feel about the results. I’ve found that 15 minutes is a perfect amount of time to be productive and not feeling overwhelmed by the time commitment.

I started this experiment by cleaning the closet for half an hour without pause. I went about this logically, as I wanted measurable results. I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes and got to it.

It went well, but two things happened. First, my interest started to wane around the 20 minute mark. Other tasks — tidying the kitchen or the laundry room — took less than the 30 minutes I set aside, so I either ended early or started a second project that put me over my 30-minute limit.

Next, I dropped it down to 20-minute intervals with a smilier effect. Ultimately, I dropped down to 15 minutes, and it has been exactly what I needed.

I’ve stuck with this number for a few reasons. First, it’s quite easy to work for 15 minutes without getting distracted by something else. Second, I’ve been amazed at how many tasks only take about 15 minutes. I’ve been able to completely organize my desk reducing visual clutter, get laundry folded and put away, organize the kids’ stuff for the next day, and so on.

I also found that 15 minutes is perfect for doing one of my favorite things: a mind dump. I take a pen, a piece of paper, and the time to simply write down everything that’s on my mind — it is so liberating and productive. Even an overwhelming list of to-do items can seem manageable when you’ve got it written down. There’s a sense of being “on top of it” that comes with performing a mind dump, all in 15 minutes.

Find a timer and discover what length of time is good for your for completing most projects. You might find that 10 minutes works for you, or 20. The point is that when you say, “I’m going to work on this and only this for [x] minutes,” you’ll be surprised at what you can get done.