How do you deal with slips in your projects?

One of the main goals of Unclutterer, apart from helping readers lead a more organized and streamlined life, is to help you create long-lasting change in your routines, habits, and life. Many of our articles revisit similar themes so that you can keep moving forward with your goals, revising what you are doing well, and identify when you need a course correction.

In my case, I am trying to merge my work and home life personalities. At work, I am decisive, productive, proactive, and passionate. At home, I never make decisions, ignore projects, react before thinking, and live with neither ups nor downs.

As regular readers know, I’ve been using the Bullet Journal system to transfer my work personality to my home one. And while the system has helped me keep my head above water during a stressful period at work, I’ve let my passivity to life stay in control and have pretty much converted my Bullet Journal into a solely work-related tracking system.

So, something needs to be done, and I think I’ve found the trick: the Moleskine app for my iPad Pro. One of the reasons I’ve let the personal life slide is because the work list was taking up a full page, leaving me with no room to add personal stuff and I refused to have a single day in two different pages in my Moleskine notebook. Sure it’s an excuse, but it was enough to derail me.

However, with the Moleskine app (available for iOS) I can have multiple notebooks and yet have only one item to carry. The app is free if you want the basic notebooks of Weekly Planner, Plain Paper, Lined Paper, and Grid Paper. You can buy other notebooks for Photos, Recipe Tracker, Travel Journal, and Wine Journal, but for now I have no interest in those ones. If you are an avid cook, travel writer, or wine lover, these journals might come in handy for organizing your thoughts.

By using the app, I’ve created five different journals:

  • Weekly Planner: to schedule my days and know what’s coming up. This planner looks into the future and includes both work and home.
  • Work Journal: to organize all my work-related tasks. I love the color and pen thickness options in the app and can keep track of all my tasks and priorities in a vibrant, colorful way.
  • Home Journal: to keep my personal-related actions, desires, and ideas front and center. This journal is copied from my work one and will hopefully, over time, instill my home personality with the more active traits from my work personality.
  • Connection Journal: to remind myself to connect with my social circles. As an introvert, I could easily go through a week only talking with work mates, but friends and family need to be taken care of or they won’t be there when my introverted self decides it wants company.
  • Time Tracker: to make sure I take time for myself each day. I can easily be busy, busy, busy, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep without taking even 15 minutes to read, write some fiction, or just stare at the ceiling. This journal looks at what has actually happened each day and serves as a good reminder that without personal time, I will burn out completely and start cutting myself off from the rest of the world, which is the exact opposite of my goal.

Wait a second… Five different journals? Isn’t that a lot of work?

Yes, it is, but the changes I want to make in my life are big and doing any less has proved too easy for my (nearly) 50 years of habits to take control and derail my plans.

I love my iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil — it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a digital notebook, and now that I can use my favorite notebooks in digital format, I couldn’t be happier. Productivity and perseverance thanks to technology.

What changes are you trying to make in your life? Are you aware of any slips? What are you doing to correct them and maintain momentum?

 

Uncluttering before the holidays

I just got word that Coastside Hope, my local social services agency, is collecting items for its annual Thanksgiving turkey and warm clothing distribution. Donations of coats, jackets, and such — and used toys — are being accepted now through Nov. 20. I’ve spread the word to my book club and to some of my organizing clients who are motivated by events such as this.

For anyone else who would like similar motivation, there are numerous other collection events around the holidays. The following are a few examples:

  • Giving Back, Linda’s Legacy runs a Christmas Drive to Help the Homeless, delivering clothing to homeless shelters in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, DC right around Christmas. Besides clothing, the organization is collecting new or gently used toys, linens, and blankets — and travel sized toiletries (like those people take from hotel rooms and never use).
  • One Warm Coat collects gently used coats at drop-off locations throughout much of the United States. I found 33 collection sites within 25 miles of my home, with collections generally beginning in October or early November and running through mid-November to late December.
  • Wrap Up London will be collecting coats from Nov. 9-15. The coats go to 110 organizations that serve the homeless, women fleeing from domestic violence, and more.
  • In parts of British Columbia, Canada, you can donate to the REALTORS Care Blanket Drive from Nov. 14-21. Along with gently used blankets, the drive also accepts sleeping bags, coats, and other warm clothing in good condition.
  • Halloween costumes in good condition can be donated to ‘Ween Dream in Louisiana — and it will gladly take ones you mail in if you don’t live locally. In my own area, I just learned that the County of San Mateo Children’s Fund accepts costume donations, too.
  • Many toy drives focus on new toys, but Play it Forward Pittsburgh is a gently used toy donation drive. Donations can be dropped off Dec. 11-14. The drive collects toys (but no stuffed animals) for children ages 0-16.

If you look around your own area, you may well find similar holiday donation drives.

This is also a good time of year to donate holiday decorations that you no longer use to one of the many thrift stores whose proceeds benefit good causes. They probably won’t want your decorations in January, but they’ll be happy to take them as the holidays approach.


And if you need to unclutter your pantry, consider donating to your local food bank. While holiday season food drives often focus on turkeys, food banks can use a wide range of other items at all times of the year. Check the organization’s website to see what’s on its wish list. If you’re really inspired, you could coordinate a holiday food-and-fund drive to encourage co-workers or others to join you. Most food banks, such as this one in Santa Cruz County, California, have materials available to help you run a successful food drive.

Get organized to help in an emergency

As Florida and Houston deal with the aftermath of devastating storms, I’ve seen messages from good-hearted people on social media opening their homes to those who have been displaced. Countless people are affected by these disasters, and will be for weeks and months to come.

It’s a fantastic act of selfless generosity to open one’s home to someone in need. It also takes a lot of planning and organization. If you plan to have friends and/or family stay with you for an indeterminate amount of time — especially when they’ve lost so much — there are steps you can take to make the experience better for yourself and for them.

First, ensure how many people you can safely and comfortably accommodate. Everyone will need space to sleep, so count up bedrooms as well as couches, air mattresses, cots or sleeping bags. If using the latter, make sure that there’s an opportunity for privacy for all. Not everyone wants to sleep on the living room couch. Maybe you can make a rotating schedule. While you’re at it, make sure there is ample room for the belongings they will bring with them.

If you plan on accepting many people, you might even want to check with your municipality for advice on how many people can safely occupy your home.

Next, stock up on supplies. More people means more food, water, toiletries, etc. If you have time, buy these supplies before your guests’ arrival and designate a tidy an accessible place for storage.

Guests forget stuff at the best of times, and in this instance, they might not have the opportunity to grab essentials. Buy extra toothbrushes, disposable razors, extra towels and so forth and make them available.

Your guests will also have clothing to launder. Providing a few mini pop-up laundry baskets will allow guests to keep their dirty clothes out of their suitcases and transport them to and from the laundry area with ease.

Also make sure you’ve got a first-aid kit on hand, as well as some common over-the-counter medications, even pet food if your guests will be bringing a dog or cat with them.

Have phone chargers for various models available, as theirs may be gone, as well as a mini charging station. Make your Wi-Fi password available if you have one (you should). A crank-powered radio is also useful, especially if your own home is in or near a danger zone.

If you’re opening your home to people in need, our hat is off to you. If you don’t have that opportunity but still want to help, contact the Red Cross.

Choosing organizing products

I’m always interested in new organizing-related products, so I read a number of blogs often feature this kind of thing.

As I browse through these listings, I’ll frequently see something like the Alessi Blow Up wall clock. Whether or not you like the look, I’m concerned about how well it serves its purpose. When I’m looking for a clock I want a time management tool that readily tells me the current time, and this clock would make it hard for me to do that. I like an interesting organizing product as much as anyone, but my first priority is functionality.

Sometimes what’s functional for one person wouldn’t work for someone else. For example, the Kikkerland wood cube alarm clock has an interesting interface — it stays dark, looking like a simple wood cube, until you clap. But that interface wouldn’t work at all for those who need to wake up before their light-sleeping partners. And it has no snooze function, which many people would find essential. But neither of those drawbacks would be a concern for me, if I were in the market for an alarm clock.

Other products fall down in legibility, especially for those with aging eyes. There’s a lot to like about the Life.doc organizer, but I found some forms were somewhat hard to read. My eyes just didn’t do well with the forms that have dark orange type on a lighter orange background. Another product I just came across is a wall clock with hour indicators (dots, not numbers) that are hard to see because of the lack of contrast.

Sometimes a product seems great at first, but not as good with a bit more consideration. Products like the Readers Nest bookshelf seem practical, but I’d be afraid that leaving a book open on the top would not be good for the spine. But if you want to use that top space for magazines that you’ll be recycling after you read then, the concern evaporates.

If you take some time to consider your requirements when picking an organizing product you’re likely to wind up with a product that works well for you — not just one that impresses you because it looks cool. For example, if you were choosing an alarm clock you might care about the following:

  • Size of the numbers
  • Ease of setting the alarm
  • Length and loudness of the alarm
  • Number of alarms that can be set at once
  • The alarm sound (which you may want to be pleasant or annoying)
  • Battery life, if it runs on batteries
  • Noise during non-alarm run time: ticking, etc.
  • Amount of light it puts into the room, if you sleep best in total darkness

With a bit of searching, there’s a good chance you can find a product that’s functional and has a look you enjoy.

Multi-purpose furniture

When you live in a small home, having multi-purpose furniture is essential. Most people are familiar with sofa beds as multi-functional pieces however, many are uncomfortable as beds and not very stylish as sofas.

Vancouver company, Expand Furniture aims to change the way we look at multi-purpose items by providing high quality, stylish furniture that saves space and puts the fun back in functional.

My favourite unit is the Compatto, a three-in-one; queen-sized wall bed, revolving bookcase, and table (probably because it makes me think that this would be something that Batgirl used in the 1960s TV show Batman). This is a real space-saving versatile package. The attached dining table would comfortably fit 4-6 people and a 6-inch deep, queen-sized mattress would allow guests to have a good night’s sleep. Watch the video to see how easily this piece converts from one layout to another.

I also like the Trojan console dining table with four hidden chairs. This item would be great if you lived alone and only needed a larger dining table some of the time. It would also be useful in a small office. You could wheel it out only on those occasions when you needed a large work surface or had meetings with several people. The rest of the time, it would be out of the way leaving more room in the office. The video shows how quickly this console becomes a table.

 

If you have a small space but occasionally have overnight guests, for example your grandchildren, the Murphy Bunk Bed system would be ideal. It includes two mattresses and the rail ladder. It is well-built and sturdy enough for adults to sleep in yet easy enough for young people to set-up and fold away. Also, the top bunk tilts downwards so you don’t have to climb over the mattress to make the bed. When collapsed, the bunks only stick out about ten inches from the wall. The video demonstrates all the features of this Murphy bed system.

Public clutter: whose responsibility is it?

Two weeks ago my husband and I went out for dinner and a movie with friends, young friends, so we ended up going to Burger King. The place was full of teenagers and apart from the incredible amount of noise they produced, they also produced a horrifying amount of garbage. Half-eaten food on the floor stepped on and smeared across the tiles, drinks spilt across the table, and bags and wrappers strewn everywhere.

When they finished, they got up and walked away.

Then last week we went to Pamplona for its famous festival, and although it’s more known for running with the bulls, the festival itself is really an opportunity to drink obscene amounts of alcohol in public and let loose. The broken plastic cups, plastic bags and bottles of all sorts made walking a challenge and each morning the city’s garbage crews spent hours and hours sweeping up the plastics disaster.

Often, when people are asked why they care so little about public clutter like this, they answer “that’s why the city hires street sweepers” as if they have no responsibility in maintaining the streets litter-free.

I was reminded of a photo I saw once posted online by Canada’s environmental fighter David Suzuki. The photo showed the sea of plastic that was left in a public park after a fundraising concert for the environment. The anti-consumerist website Make Wealth History talks about this problem providing details about the garbage collected one year after the supposedly environmental-friendly Glastonbury Festival:

Glastonbury picked up 6,500 sleeping bags, 5,500 tents, 3,500 airbeds, 2,200 chairs, 950 rolled mats and 400 gazebos.

Fortunately, most of that material could be donated to refugee sites, but what about the rest of the garbage? If attendees left all this behind, how much plastic did they not bother taking away with them?

All of this got me thinking. Whose responsibility is public clutter? Those of you who are parents, what do you do to ensure that your children clutter the world as little as possible?

Reader question: Which linens stay and which ones go?

Reader Pamela sent us the following question:

I have a question/problem I think you folks might be able to help with. I have been trying for the past few months to trim down – unclutter my home – since I had a roommate move in a few months back. So, far, I have been proud of how I am doing. However, I am still struggling with a few problems spots in the house — linens and books. You recently addressed dealing with books on your site. Would you consider dealing with the linen issue? Right now I have a TON of bed sheets and various quilts and blankets. I know I need to get rid of some of it. Thanks.

Linens, which for the purposes of this post I will define as sheets, blankets, towels, and washcloths, are often concealed clutter in homes because they have a designated space (like a linen closet) where they can hide. If you’re like me, though, you have a habit of putting linens into the closet, but never taking worn-out ones out of circulation.

The following tips can help you to know which linens are good and which linens are clutter in your home.

Sheets: I live in a four-season climate, so I support having two sets of warm-weather sheets (cotton) and two sets of cool-weather sheets (flannel or jersey) for your bed. This means one set on the bed, one waiting to be switched to on laundry day, and two in a sealed storage container for the alternate season.

Good sheets should

  1. appropriately fit the bed even after many washings
  2. have properly functioning elastic
  3. be hole and stain free
  4. be made of a soft and durable single-ply cotton with a thread count between 200 and 400 (see a buying guide to sheets here)
  5. allow you to be comfortable so that you can sleep soundly.

Blankets: In addition to the comforter on your bed, I suggest that you should have at least three additional blankets — one for curling up with on the couch, one for overnight guests, and a “work” blanket in the trunk of your car for spontaneous picnics and for warmth if you have car trouble in the winter. You may find that you need more blankets for your home, especially if you have children, but three blankets are all we use.

Quilts and bedspreads: If you have a quilt that is a family heirloom or was handmade by a close friend, it will likely be difficult to get rid of it for emotional reasons. Therefore, I believe quilts are made to be loved and either used or displayed, not stored. Read more about vintage quilts and bedspreads here.

Bathroom towels and washcloths: Like sheets, I suggest having two sets of bathroom linens per person. One in use, and one to be switched to on laundry day. If you have a guest bathroom, usually one set of guest towels is appropriate. Old and unnecessary towels and washcloths should be moved to the garage to be used as rags or donated to the local animal shelter.

Good bathroom towels and washcloths should

  1. keep their shape and color after many washings
  2. be hole, snag, and stain free
  3. be made of a soft, durable cotton that look like thousands of strings (instead of loops)
  4. be good at drying you

Kitchen towels and washcloths: The rules here are similar to bath towels, except you don’t need two kitchen towels per person in your house. Most kitchens can get by on three towels and three to six dishcloths.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

When is it all right to be disorganized?

Earlier this week I woke up sick. My stomach was doing acrobatics while simultaneously in a knot. I had no appetite and even the idea of sipping tea made me gag. Luckily, I never did end up in the bathroom, but I did sleep for two days straight.

Fortunately, I have a husband who wasn’t working and so he took care of me. But what if you’re sick at home alone (either because you live alone or because everyone else is out of the house for whatever reason)?

I know what you should do: accept that you’re sick and you aren’t going to be able to maintain any level of organization at home. Use the energy you have to take care of yourself and let the tissues, the dishes, and the clothes collect. It’s okay to let it go for a short while.

An Apartment Therapy post back in 2012 puts it well:

No, I’m just sick, this is highly temporary, and it will all go back to normal in a couple of days. There’s no need to hold yourself to your normal housekeeping standards — be gentle on yourself.

That, for me, is the trick to getting better quickly. Forget all the responsibilities you can, delegate whenever possible to coworkers, family members and if possible friends, then turn inward and focus 100% on yourself.

Learn to let go: if you spend all your energy fighting how sick you are, you won’t have any energy left to get better. Accept it and relax. Learn to stare at the ceiling without any guilt.

See it as a chance to catch up on sleep: I don’t know about you, but with all the things I have to do and the thoughts running around in my head every day all day, I never seem to get enough sleep. In being sick, I found the silver lining and have caught up on all my missed sleep. And if you can’t sleep during the day because of light coming into the room, try a sleep mask, but get one that can be heated or cooled to refresh or relax you at the same time.

Don’t go back to your regular routine too soon: Unfortunately not everyone can take time off work when sick, but if you have a job that allows for decent recovery time, take it. How many times have you gone back to work too soon and ended up prolonging your illness? (Or gifting it to unappreciative coworkers?)

Being organized and living an organized life is not a 24/7 activity. We don’t have to be organized all the time. It’s okay to let it slide every once in a while.

Apart from being sick (or taking care of sick family members), when else do you think it’s okay to let the household organization slip?

Reader question: How do you fold clothes to save space?

Reader Josephine recently sent us the following question:

I don’t own a lot of clothes, but yet my drawers are always out of control. What are some ways to fold and store clothes to best use the space that you have?

That’s a great question Josephine. Maximizing storage space depends on many factors including the amount and types of clothes that you have as well as the design of the space in which you store them.

Our writers each lead different lifestyles so I asked each of them this question and compiled their reports.

Jeri

With any clothes storage effort, the first step is always to unclutter. There’s no point in figuring out how to store clothes you’re not going to wear.

But let’s assume you’ve done that. There are products designed to help you fold things neatly and make the most of your drawer space, such as the Pliio clothes folders. I know people who use these and think they are terrific. And in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo presents her own folding technique for clothes, including socks. Many people won’t have the patience to do that careful folding — but if it works for you, that’s great. You can find numerous online videos showing folding techniques, if you prefer visual instructions.

Personally, I’m not someone who likes to fold. So, it works out well that my home has very little drawer or shelf space for folded items. The only things in drawers are a few knit items (which are folded), pajama bottoms (folded, but not carefully), socks, and underwear (which just get tossed into the drawer). Everything else is on hangers or hooks. I don’t own many clothes, so it’s easy to keep the closet and the drawers about 20 percent empty, making it easy to put things away and take them out.

Sock storage becomes easier if you buy multiple pairs of the same sock. For example, you might buy just one type of black dress sock, one type of white sports sock, etc. Then you don’t need to worry about rolling socks, folding them into pairs, or otherwise matching them up — the pairings are obvious. You might still want to fold them as a space-saving technique, though, if space is a concern.

One more space-usage tip: Sometimes I see people with some sentimental clothes items in their closets or dresser drawers. Since these are not being kept to be worn, they can be stored somewhere else, freeing up limited closet or dresser space.

Dave

Last year I taught a group of Cub Scouts how to unpack, set up, and then store a tent. They were very interested in getting it out of the bag and set up as quickly as possible. Later when it was time to put the tent away, I quizzed them while they worked.

“What’s the most important aspect of using a tent?” They offered answers with enthusiasm: “Finding a good spot,” “Proper staking,” and so on.  I told them that the most important part is actually putting it away. By taking the time to put the tent away properly now, you save yourself time and headache later.

It’s the same with storing clothes.

When I was a college student, “storing clothes” meant “somewhere in this room.” As I matured, I recognized that a drawer stuffed with T-shirts only makes more work for me so I developed a new way to store my clothing – a system I’ve been using since I left school.

  • Top drawer: Sleepwear, socks and underwear. I roll up each like a burrito to maximize space used.
  • Second drawer: T-shirts only. Each is folded thirds lengthwise (arms and sides together) and then in half and in half again. This way I can fit several into a single drawer.
  • Drawer three: Jeans or shorts, depending on the season, folded up in thirds.
  • Drawer four: This last drawer is for what I call “dress pants.” I almost never go in this drawer (I can wear jeans to work), unless there’s a wedding, funeral or job interview I must attend.

Long-sleeved and button-down shirts are hung on hangers.

Sweaters are never hung, as they get those “bumps” in the shoulders. They usually live on top of my dresser during sweater season and in the off-season, in labelled bins on a shelf in my closet.

Alex

Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how I fold my clothes, but then after two years of living in our apartment, my husband decided to give our walk-in closet an overhaul. We ended up having several discussions about the pros and cons of folding clothes in certain ways, and although at first, I thought the conversations were bordering on absurd, but we realized that how the clothes are folded can make a real difference in how they are stored.

My husband has more clothes than I do, so has five shallow shelves to my two deep ones. While he has one full shelf each for t-shirts, trousers, sweaters, pyjamas, and scarves and such, I have a pile for each. How we store our clothes therefore has to be different.

Let’s look at trousers, for example. He folds his in four and has several piles of no more than five. I fold mine in three and have all of them in a single pile.

My t-shirts and sweaters need to be folded much more narrowly than his, again taking advantage of depth and height to compensate for the lack of width.

The one area of clothing that I outdo him on is dress shirts. For me, the trick has been to use the same type of hanger for all of my shirts, to iron them as soon as they come off the clothesline, and to do up at least the top button on the hanger. Everything hangs at the same level and being ironed, the shirts don’t bunch up or twist at the collar, and by being buttoned, they lay flat against each other.

After the overhaul, we now leave the closet door open a lot more because it’s actually a joy to see everything so nicely folded and hanging straight.

Jacki

I purchased drawer organizer cubes for my dresser to store my clothes. Here’s how they are organized.

Socks and undergarments

Like Jeri, I don’t fold these items, just put each type of clothing into cubes; socks cube, panties cube, hosiery cube. I do however, neatly roll my hosiery because it is less likely to get snags and runs. For bras, straps are folded into the cups and they are all lined up in a rectangular shaped drawer cube.

T-shirts, sportswear, sleepwear

T-shirts are folded lengthwise in thirds then rolled from the collar to the bottom of the shirt.

Athletic wear very slippery and doesn’t stay folded, so it is rolled similar to the t-shirts. However, after the shirts are folded, I add a pair of folded sports shorts, sports bra, panties, and sports socks then roll the whole thing up like a burrito. All I have to do is grab a roll of sportswear and I have everything I need to go to the gym.

Pyjamas are folded/rolled the same way as sportswear, bottoms rolled up inside the tops.

Spending most of my life in cold climates (I’m Canadian), I have one drawer specifically for long underwear. It is stored in rolls the same way I store pyjamas.

Hanging clothes and shoes

Blouses are hung on hangers, trousers are hung on a pants hanger. I use skirt hangers for separates and combo hangers for business suits.

We’ve lived in several different houses. In some houses sweaters have been stored on shelves with the help of dividers. In closets with more hanging space I’ve used a set of hanging shelves to store sweaters.

Shoes are stored in plastic shoe boxes, sometimes piled on the floor below the hanging clothing, sometimes stacked on shelving.

 

Thanks for your great question Josephine. 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.”

Are you able to disconnect?

Here in Spain, today is Labor Day. At this particular moment, instead of being at my desk, I’m in our apartment in La Rioja, Spain’s wine country, recovering from having eaten too much yesterday at a home-style restaurant that keeps serving food until you’re ready to explode — and then they bring out dessert.

But forget about my bout of over-eating; the thing to focus on here is the fact that I’m in the process of completely disconnecting from work and having a bunch of laughs with friends.

Sometimes that disconnection is difficult for me. I love my job and often find myself thinking about it outside of work hours — in the shower, while falling asleep, while watching a movie, when I’m out for dinner. And when I’m not working, I am thinking about articles for Unclutterer, or thinking about how I could squeeze more out of each day.

Shep Hyken, in an article in Forbes, says that working outside working hours is normal, especially the higher up you go. However, he also believes that everyone has the right to disconnect from work and even quotes the cheesy line: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

With smartphones and constant connectivity, it’s often hard to leave work at work, or any other passion, for that matter. So what can we do to truly disconnect from the need to be productive?

The Huffington Post offers several ways of organizing disconnection time:

  • Make time off a priority
  • Delegate tasks
  • Meditate mindfully
  • Use your smartphone to remind you to disconnect more
  • Write about your stress in order to release it

And SmartChic goes even further with ten disconnection ideas:

  • Prepare your next day before leaving work
  • Set limits and stick to them
  • Derail work thoughts when you are outside of work with fun distractions
  • Relax with a hot shower when getting home from work
  • Exercise
  • Get hobbies that are not productivity-related
  • Have non-work friends
  • Spend time with (chosen) family
  • Do something creative
  • Turn off electronics

These are all really good ideas, but to be honest, I’m exhausted just reading about all the ways to disconnect.

Let me give you my foolproof way of disconnecting. I learned how to do it when I went through a health crisis decades ago and was forced to do nothing.

Ready?

  1. Sit on the sofa or in a comfy chair
  2. Focus on a blank patch of the wall or the ceiling
  3. Let your mind wander with no judgement about any thoughts that may occur to you

And that’s it. No rules, no disconnection productivity tips, no processes to learn. Disconnecting is about disconnecting. Remember, as En Vogue sings, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.

More thoughts on managing kids’ screen time

I’m not a parent, so I’m always interested in how those who are parents deal with child-related organizing issues: handling school papers, assigning chores, etc. Dave’s recent take on managing screen time gave me one more bit of real-life insight.

It’s an interesting topic, partly because not everyone agrees about what’s best — and sometimes the recommendations change. The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend zero screen time for those under the age of 2, and that recommendation became widely known. Less widely known, perhaps, is that the group revised its recommendations a bit last October, so it now suggests the following:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

Some of this makes intuitive sense to me. For example, letting young children Skype or FaceTime with distant grandparents or travelling parents seems like a good thing. And making sure screen time doesn’t take over a child’s life seems like an obvious goal.

But I feel as though some of the limits are overly restrictive. No matter how much a parent might wish things were different, there are times when using a tablet or smartphone as a babysitter for a child age 5 or younger can be a lifesaver to a parent’s sanity and ability to get essential tasks done. Suzanne Janesse described on Babble.com how this works in her family. I’m sure many parents have their own similar tales.

As Athena Tsavliris wrote in Today’s Parent, “Reality sometimes calls for the iNanny.” This doesn’t mean that these parents let their children use electronic devices for hours on end, with no controls on the content. But insisting that all screen time with young children should involve co-viewing seems unrealistic in many family situations.

It’s also worth noting that our scientific knowledge regarding the effects of using apps with young children is still evolving. For example, Greg Toppo reported the following in USA Today in 2014:

A recent small-scale trial by New York University researcher Susan B. Neuman, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, found that giving a group of preschoolers the chance to play for just 15 minutes a day on a popular app called Learn with Homer improved their reading skills 74% in a six-week summer period — without the help of a teacher.

So, as with almost anything related to organizing, there are no absolutes that work for everyone. Just make thoughtful decisions about your family’s use of screen time, based on your individual family members’ needs, and adjust those decisions if they don’t seem to be working.

Unitasker Wednesday: Smartduvet

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

Smartduvet is non-permanent insert that attaches to your existing duvet and slips inside your duvet cover. Once activated using your smartphone app, it will make your bed for you.

I must admit, this is a pretty cool piece of technology. I agree with the manufacturers that it would be very useful for those who have mobility challenges but beyond that, do people today really need an app to make their own beds?

Considering how much time my own teenagers spend staring at their phones, it’s a possibility. However, I do not think Smartduvet is the answer for them because every morning the duvets are on the floor. On the weekends duvets are often dragged out to the living room so the teens can continue sleeping on the sofa.

But, I ask this philosophical question, “If a bed is unmade when no one is home to see it, does it really matter?”

Thanks to reader Llynn for pointing this unitasker out to us.