A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2009

  • An uncluttered liquor cabinet in time for New Year’s Eve
    Similar to traditional food pantries and linen closets, most liquor cabinets have a bad habit of things going into them faster than items coming out. Before you know it, you’ll find you have three open bottles of vermouth, two dripping bottles of Rose’s lime juice and another of the grenadine, and five bottles of the exact same type of gin. (Well, at least this is what I found lingering in my liquor cabinet.)

Happy Holidays!

We’re taking the rest of the week off for vacation, but we still wanted to wish you all a very happy holidays! We are so thankful for all of our readers. You are incredible!! See you back here next week.

A tidy method for wrapping gifts

“Will you wrap this gift for me? Just don’t look inside. It’s for you.”

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve spoken this sentence. More than once.

There are many things I can do in this world. For example, I can set up a wireless printer and play the ukulele. But until recently, I could not wrap a present well. And it is all thanks to Japan.

A few days ago I was spread out on the floor with boxes, paper, tape and bows surrounding me. Despite my sustained concentration, I was turning out one lousy gift-wrap job after another. Frustrated, I turned to YouTube. A search for “gift wrapping easy” eventually led me to the “Japanese method” of wrapping a gift.

I’ve never been to Japan and don’t know if this is how most Japanese people wrap gifts, but in any case, this method is fascinating. By placing your package on a piece of paper cut just bigger that the box meant to be wrapped, slightly off center, sets you up for this unique method. The whole thing is a few, precise, neat folds to memorize and execute. With a bit of practice it shouldn’t be too hard.

This “diagonal” gift wrapping can be done quite quickly once you’ve got the hang of it and only requires three pieces of tape. I’ve even seen it done with a beautiful cloth instead of paper, which looked fantastic.

Have you tried this method? Is there another clever, atypical and ultimately effective gift-wrapping method I should know about? Please share, because I need all the help I can get.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2009

Gift giving to collectors

Many people have some sort of collection, and I’m one of them. The collection began after I moved into my house, many years ago, and found that the pond in my front yard attracted some very vocal frogs. Now I look forward to the time each year when their croaking fills my nights.

Along the way, I began to acquire some art and décor pieces with a frog theme — along with a couple sweatshirts. I now have about a dozen frog-related items in the house. But that doesn’t mean I want gifts of even more frogs. I’m not totally opposed to additional frogs, but I don’t want the house to be overwhelmed with them, either. And I’m fussy about my frogs.

My brother, sister-in-law, and I were recently in Florida for my dad’s birthday, and one morning we did some window-shopping in an area filled with interesting stores. My sister-in-law kept pointing out the frog-themed items — fortunately, she was just teasing me.

So take this as a reminder that not everyone with a collection will want gifts that add to that collection. Some will appreciate well-chosen additions, but others prefer to do the collecting themselves, and some are looking only for very particular items. Erin, for example, limits her collection of Mold-A-Rama animals by only buying them herself.

To avoid unwanted gifts, some people with collections just don’t tell anyone about that collection. (That works well for collections that are not on public display in the home.) I’ve been told that one organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area told people she collected warthogs because that discouraged collection-minded gift-givers. But that was before the time when you could find almost anything for sale on the Internet!

But for the right person, an addition to the collection can be a welcome gift. Someone who collects Christmas ornaments, for example, might be glad to get a special one you’ve made yourself, found on a trip or at a craft fair, etc. Joyce Walder wrote in The New York Times about Bonnie Mackay and her 3,000 ornaments. (Each year, she places as many as she can on her very large tree.)

That Raggedy Andy on the tree is the first ornament a friend gave her; she had lost tracks of the friend, but the ornament kept his memory alive, and a few years ago, using the Internet, she was able to find him in Hawaii. It’s interesting, she says: no friend has ever given her an ornament she has not loved.

I had a neighbor who collected stamps and I frequently bought him additions to his collection. Not all stamp collectors would appreciate my random choices, but he did!

If you are at all in doubt, just ask your friends or relatives with collections how they feel about gifts that add to those collections. That way you’ll be able to give a gift that will be welcome, rather than one that’s just clutter.

Last day for bonus chapter and a non-unitasker on Unitasker Wednesday

In lieu of our regular Unitasker Wednesday post, I have a couple other items on tap today. First, I have a reminder to share and second, I have an almost-unitasker that managed to save itself from unitaskerdom.

The reminder: Today is the last day to sign up for a FREE bonus chapter when you pre-order my next book Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter. You can find out more about the giveaway in our previous post “The ultimate uncluttered gift,” or you can simply go straight to the form to register your purchase. (I’m emailing the chapters manually, so expect it to take a few hours for me to send it to you after you register. I mangled my attempt at writing a script to automatically send the PDF.)

Thank you to everyone who has already pre-ordered my book and/or will purchase it in the future. Thank you, thank you!

The almost-unitasker: My friend Zac is a wee-bit obsessed with his fur child, a dog named Kaylee. (She’s cute, so I can’t really blame him for his adoration.) Zac regularly posts pictures of her to his Facebook feed, and over the years I’ve watched the puppy grow into a dog and go on many adventures (mostly to the vet and dog park).

Yesterday, Zac posted a picture of a greeting card he got the dog for her birthday. My first thought was, UNITASKER! The dog can’t read!! And I was all set to use the line of dog greeting cards as this week’s Unitasker Wednesday feature. But then I went to the link he posted and realized the cards are made of raw hide and the dog can eat the card — should eat the card — and I immediately changed my mind:

If only more manufacturers were this creative and utilitarian in their designs. It’d be nice if all holiday cards had alternate purposes — such as the ones you can plant because there are seeds in the biodegradable paper. Oh! Or they could be temporary tattoos so all your friends could wear your face on their biceps for a few days. (I totally need to do this next year.) Anyway, good on Crunchkins for thinking outside the envelope.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

  • Organizing a home gym
    If you’re someone who is looking to workout more in the new year, the following are tips on how to get your fitness equipment in order so you can begin your workouts in a comfortable, organized space.

2013

2010

  • Getting organized for the new year
    At the start of every year, I get a new notebook and copy all of my lists from the old notebook into the new. The lists help keep me organized, but the process is a terrific way to prepare for the next year.

2009

  • Uncluttering isn’t for everyone
    As much as your uncluttering strategies and techniques have made a positive change in your life, don’t think about your way of living as being better than how other people choose to live their lives. Think of an uncluttered life as being easier for you.

Is organizing email into folders a waste of time?

Recent research conducted by IBM Research [PDF] suggests that people who searched their inboxes found emails slightly faster than those who had filed them by folder. Email management is something I struggle with every day, so this study grabbed my attention. Even after reading it, I don’t know how to feel.

Many years ago I was meeting with a supervisor who wanted me to see an email she had received. “Just a minute,” she said, and opened up her email software. For the next few minutes, I watched as she scrolled through thousands of messages, looking for the one I needed to see. It was frustrating for both of us, and at that moment I swore I’d never be in that position. In the very first post I ever wrote for Unclutterer, I described my reasoning for never storing messages in my email software. But was that the right move?

This study looked at the behavior of 345 subjects. Noting that email “critically affects productivity,” the authors state that “…despite people’s reliance on email, fundamental aspects of its usage are still poorly understood.” They looked at people who simply use their email software’s search function to find what they’re after vs. those who set up folders by topic. The results, surprisingly, were in favor of the former:

“People who create complex folders indeed rely on these for retrieval, but these preparatory behaviors are inefficient and do not improve retrieval success. In contrast, both search and threading promote more effective finding.”

In other words, the time spent setting up folders did not improve retrieval. People instead found that they now had multiple inboxes to go through and worse, started using their email software as a to-do manager. That’s definitely a bad idea (calendars, project management programs, and to-do list are more effective).

At work, I receive an obscene amount of email. To combat this, I stated creating topic-specific folders. As of now, I’ve got nearly three dozen folders. Is that helpful? I’m too sure. On one hand, I know where everything is. On the other, I do spend a lot of time working through the various folders. Conversely, Erin reads messages and then files everything into a giant Archive folder that she then uses the search functionality in her email program to look for specific key words, senders, subject lines, dates, attachments, etc. when she needs to retrieve an email. She calls this the “bucket method.” (It all goes into a metaphorical bucket.) The only exception to this are emails about potential unitaskers, which she files in a Unitasker Ideas folder.

I ask you, readers, which method do you use in email? Folders? No folders? Simple search? Something else entirely? Share what you do and how effective you think your method is in the comments. Email is a beast that we all must battle daily, and so far I’ve not found the perfect weapon.

Organize for outdoor winter exercise

It’s easy to let an exercise routine slide during the winter months. The weather gets unpleasant, there’s so much to do, and those holiday treats just won’t be denied. While we’re not opposed to a little holiday indulgence, we also know that a little forethought can keep you exercising, even outdoors.

The first and probably most important thing is to know how your body reacts to exercise in cold weather. For me, if I’m running or even walking fast when the air is below 50ºF, my lungs get quite uncomfortable. It’s a “burning” feeling that prompts me to end my workout early. To combat this tendency, I bought a neck warmer that goes around my mouth and nose. That way I’m breathing in warmer air.

The point here is to notice what your body says while you’re out there and make accommodations as best you can. Perhaps you feel cold when others don’t, or vice versa.

Gear to consider: neck warmer

Next, consider the shorter days. It gets dark quite quickly here in the northern hemisphere during the winter. In my Massachusetts neighborhood, December means it’s pitch dark by 5:00 p.m. Consider an earlier workout time. Many towns have community centers with lots of options for working out, too. Those who can’t change the hour they spend working out could use these facilities.

Gear to consider: head lamp

Consider the environment. This is winter, so expect rain, snow, and cold air. You’ll likely want to dress in layers and having a winter “workout kit” ready to go will keep you motivated. I know that I often don’t feel like working out…until I don my workout clothes. For an outer layer, consider something that’s lightweight, allows for freedom of movement and will dutifully stand between yourself and the elements.

Gear to consider: Sport-Tek Colorblock Hooded Raglan Jacket

Keep a gear bag. A single bag to hold all your winter exercise stuff will help you stay organized and never leave you wondering where your things are. Just be sure to repack it every time you return home and/or do laundry. One with a compartment for shoes might be perfect for you if you do a sport requiring specialized footwear.

Gear to consider: sports bag

Finally, make sure you’ve got your ID and a phone on yourself. If something goes wrong — a slip and fall — you’ll want to be able to get help. Since you’ll be out in inclement weather, a weatherproof phone case is a good idea.

Gear to consider: weatherproof phone case from Otterbox

With a little preparation and organization, you can successfully exercise outdoors this winter. Just keep your eyes open for ice or fallen branches and go slow if you must.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

  • 2011 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Ultimate generosity
    Instead of tangible gifts, which have been the focus of our Guide in 2011, we are recommending a service as the ultimate gift of generosity. We suggest getting your favorite unclutterer a few hours of consultation, uncluttering, and organizing with a professional organizer.

2010

Re-gifting done right

I’ve been a fan of re-gifting ever since I received a well intentioned, expensive, but off-the-mark gift: a large serving bowl. I don’t do the type of entertaining that would require such a bowl and it would have taken a lot of storage space. Just as I was pondering what to do with it — donate it, probably — a dear friend mentioned she was attending the wedding of a relative she wasn’t close to, and she was trying to decide what to bring as a gift. Suddenly, both of our problems were solved.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be like the very embarrassed Tim Gunn, who needed a last-minute present and re-gifted a Tiffany pen he’d been given after judging a design competition. Unfortunately, he didn’t take a good look at the pen, which he learned (when the gift was opened) was inscribed, “Best wishes from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”

But done with care, re-gifting can work just fine. If you feel any guilt about it, let Miss Manners put your mind to rest. In Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior she wrote that returning, donating to charity, and re-gifting are not rude “if the rule is strictly observed about protecting the donor from knowing. This requires fresh wrappings and logs of who gave what, and a ban on yard sales and re-gifting anywhere near the donor.” (If the gift-giver has specifically told you returning or re-gifting is fine, that’s a different situation.)

Paul Michael, writing on the Wise Bread blog, has listed a couple additional cautions:

  • If you suspect the item you got is already a re-gift, you can’t take the risk of re-gifting it again. (I think you could still re-gift if you were giving to someone in an entirely different social circle.)
  • Don’t give outdated items. If you’re going to re-gift things like electronics and clothing, do it while the electronics are still current models and the clothing is still in style. As Michael wrote, “The older the brand new item becomes, the more obvious it becomes that this is a re-gift.”

And you’ll want to match the gift to the recipient just as carefully as you would if you were buying something new. Even for a Secret Santa type of gift situation, where you may not know the recipient well, you want to give something the receiver has a decent chance of appreciating. As Genevieve Shaw Brown wrote for ABC News, “Never re-gift ugly.” (But if you are giving to a white elephant gift exchange, ugly is just fine.)

One final caveat: Don’t keep things around for ages thinking you’ll eventually re-gift them — you don’t need that clutter! If no person or occasion comes to mind within a month or two, you’re probably better off returning, donating, or selling the item.