Sunday, April 20, 2014

Storing Other People's Stuff: 3 Perspectives

man holding up an egg-shaped rug with a bunny on it
Mike Mozart's bunny rug from his childhood — not stored at his parent’s home! Photo from Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Lots of people wind up storing things that aren’t their own. I know people holding onto things that are their children’s — which might make some sense if the children were in college or in their first small apartments, but these children are now 38 and 40.

In Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever, Barbara Hemphill and Maggie Bedrosian summarize the problem:
Some of your clutter accumulates because you are putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. You let your kids store stuff in your garage, because their apartment is so small. You keep the boxes of archives for the community history project. ...

When such choices are made freely and space is abundant, these may be wise and generous gestures. When they intrude on your own flexibility or peace-of-mind you have every right to say “No!” You do not owe square footage to anyone else. You do not need to agree to store anything for anyone.

Peter Walsh says something similar in It’s All Too Much:
Being prepared to look after things for someone else is a great and generous gesture, but … it’s a question of balance. If your home is bursting at the seams with things that belong to others, there are two obvious questions that you need to ask:

If this thing is so important to someone else, why is it sitting in my basement?

Whose life am I living here — my own, surrounded with the thing I love and cherish, or someone else’s, cluttered with the things they cannot or will not remove from my space?

So what do you do about it? Erica Sofrina asked Karen Kingston, author of Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui, to address this problem. Here’s part of what Karen wrote:
We’ve all heard of empty nest syndrome that some parents experience when their children grow up and leave home. But in many cases, cluttered nest syndrome would be a more exact description, because the children leave home but often their stuff does not. ...

In just about all cases, if and when the children ever do come to reclaim their stuff, their lives have usually changed so much since leaving home that a good percentage of it turns out to be of no use or interest to them any more. 
If you are a parent in this situation, and much time has elapsed with no prospect of any change on the horizon, here’s something you can try:

Each week, photograph a few items your child has left in your care in their eternally rent-free family storage facility, and send the images to them by email. Include a message explaining that you need the space, and you will be disposing of these items by the end of the week unless they can give you a date in the not-too-distant future when they will come home and collect them. 
If you do not hear back from them by the end of the week, jettison them in any way you see fit. … Then go ahead and send another batch of photos, and keep going, week after week, so they get the message that you really are serious about this.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Collections Done Well Are Not Clutter

Dr. Abraham Chachoua with his elephant collection; photo by Kate Bornstein
Abraham Chachoua, oncologist, NYU Langone Medical Center. Photo by Kate Bornstein, used with her permission. Kate says: Real good guy, beloved by patients, nurses, docs.

I don't have the collecting instinct myself, but a lot of people do. In her book Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need, written in 2004, Pamela Danziger says that “collecting is a passion for over 40 percent of U.S. households” — and that “the typical collecting household maintains more than three separate collections.”

She says the most popular collections include:
  • Coins, collected by an estimated 27 million Americans
  • Figurines and sculpture, 20 million
  • Trading cards, 18 million
  • Dolls, 16 million
  • Christmas items, 15 million
  • Plush/bean bag toys, 14 million
  • Crystal figurines, 12 million
  • Die-cast cars and models, 12 million
  • Art prints and lithographs, 10 million
  • Miniatures, 10 million
The joys of collecting

Allan Gurganus tells of meeting a woman who collected ancient shoe buckles. He was 16; she was much older.
She whispered, “Care to know the secret of happiness, young man?”

Born acquisitive, I nodded.

“Collect something,” she said.
Some people obviously get a lot of pleasure from their collections. For example, there’s a story in The New York Times about Bonnie Mackay and her collection of 3,000 or so Christmas ornaments. And each ornament has a story.
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. She has a great feeling of peace looking at her tree.
And when asked about the coolest things in their homes, people will mention their collections. One person noted the wall of mugs collected from her family’s travels. Mike in Brooklyn has a very personal collection:
Figurines of characters I have performed on stage. They run a gambit from Charlie Brown to Papageno to Old Deuteronomy … just to name a few.

The cautions about collecting

If you enjoy collecting, take a look at Jacki Hollywood Brown’s post on Unclutterer about what makes for a good collection. For example:
Your collection does not take up so much space that it impairs the normal functioning of your home. Because your collection reflects your life, you’ve taken the time to arrange the pieces to complement the beauty of your home.

You might be able to sell a few pieces for a profit but you’re not counting on it for your retirement savings plan.

The story behind the elephant collection

Curious about Dr. Chachoua’s elephants? I certainly was, and I found the answer in the The Forest and the Trees: The Cancer Institute at NYU Langone, 2012/2103 Report (PDF):

Dr. Chachoua’s office was once sparse, he explains, until years ago when a patient placed a small elephant statuette on his desk, assuring him it would bring good luck. Another patient showed up later with an elephant to put next to the first. A third patient who noticed the first two brought one back from a trip. Patients kept bringing more elephants, crowding Dr. Chachoua’s desk and shelves so that he had to build a new set of shelves to contain the spillover, followed by yet another set.  
Today, Dr. Chachoua explains, the elephants are an element of the care his patients receive, however small. “It gives them a chance to talk about something other than cancer for a few minutes,” he says.
Now there’s a benefit from collecting that’s unlike any other.

Related Posts:
Reader Question: Controlling and Displaying the Collection
Collections on Display: Shells and More
Organizing and Displaying the Collection: Thimbles

Monday, March 31, 2014

World Backup Day: Today, and Every Day

Magnets: World Backup Day March 31st

There are 2 types of people; those who back-up their computers & those that’ve never had a hard drive fail. — Jacki Hollywood Brown, quoting Marc Brown

World Backup Day is March 31 — and wow, do we need the reminder. Tom Coughlin writes:
In various surveys (including some I have run) it seems 20-35% of respondents either don’t back up or don’t back up very frequently, leaving themselves vulnerable to data loss.
Marc Brown is right; if you’ve ever had a hard drive fail, you’re probably very good about doing backups now. If you haven’t had a hard drive fail, it’s just a matter of time. Here’s the word from Lifehacker:
When your computer’s hard drive fails, it can be gut-wrenching. At best, maybe you lost a really important presentation you were working on. At worst, maybe you’ve lost every photo of your kid’s childhood. Sometimes, you can recover that data yourself — but often, it’s gone forever (unless you want to pay a lot of money to get it back).

Every hard drive fails one day. Backup service Backblaze says 50% fail after only four years. Save yourself the trouble and start backing up your computer now.
What's at stake? Davide De Vellis, who almost lost all this files, makes it clear:
I thought of the impact of losing all of the work I done on the countless documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and oh my, all my contact lists. 
Then it really hit me. I realized all of the personal stuff I have on my devices. Photos and videos of the most important people in my life. My family, some of which had recently passed. My nieces and nephews as they were growing up. All the time, and money, it had taken to download and organize my music collections.
Personally, I do two types of computer backups. I use Crashplan for my automated cloud backups, and SuperDuper (a Mac-only program) for my backups to external hard drives. But there are lots of options; if you haven't done so already, please pick one and get your backups going!

And while we often talk about backing up our computers, please be sure to also backup your smartphone — so you’re covered if you lose yours, if it falls in the toilet, etc.

Related Posts:
Sleep Well at Night: Have a Good Backup Strategy
One More Reason You Need Computer Backups
Computer Backups: The Critical Step You May Be Missing

Photo: World Backup Day magnets

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Toolboxes and Tool Bags: Totally Cool

metal tool box, blue

Toolboxes might not sounds all that intriguing — until you see some of the products out there! And, of course, a toolbox could always be used for many things beyond just tools, depending on your storage needs. The one above is the Trusco toolbox, imported from Japan and sold by CB2 and Field. It has removable dividers to help organize the interior to fit your needs.

metal tool box, orange
metal tool box, orange, interior view

This is the Heco toolbox from Racquer, sold by Monapart Living; it comes in four colors. Monapart Living says, “It has three compartments, two plastic folding trays ... and adjustable separations every 5 cm in the drawers.”

lockable toolbox

If you need a toolbox that locks, head on over to Vaultz.

red metal toolbox with front-open drawer

And here’s a neat idea: a toolbox with a front-loading drawer, from Best Made Company. As with more traditional toolboxes, you can still lift the top, which takes you to the tray — but you don’t have to deal with that if you want to get to things stored in the section below the tray. [via The Garage Journal and swissmiss]

leather toolbox

Of course, toolboxes don't have to be metal. This is the leather toolbox sold by Kauffman Mercantile, designed and produced by Andrew McAteer. Kaufmann Mercantiles says, “The interior holds a standard hammer, pliers, wrench and a full set of screwdrivers.”

leather toolcase

Here’s another leather tool case — this one from Germany, and sold by Labour and Wait.

leather tool bag
leather tool tote

And finally, Klein Tools has four leather tool bags to choose from: a standard bag in three sizes, and an open tote bag.

Related Posts:
Wonderful Storage in Wood (Gerstner tool chests)
Beyond Basic Red: 3 Toolboxes

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fabric Bins and Canvas Buckets

toile storage bin, cotton-canvas

Fabric storage bins can be both decorative and practical (in many situations); the lack of a lid makes it super easy to put things away in them. They come in so many patterns and sizes that there's something for everyone.

The bin above comes from Livette La Suissette; they come in three sizes and a number of patterns. You can also find them at YadaYada in Switzerland, and ABC Carpet & Home in the U.S.

small fabric storage bin with bird image

Over on Etsy, you can find this delightful small fabric storage bin at Bags of a Feather. The shop owner, Wendy, specializes in rare bird and parrot fabrics.

canvas buckets with feather images

Coral & Tusk has some interesting canvas buckets.

fabric bin holding yarn and knitting needles

Fluf makes “floor bins” which you can find at Land of Nod (and many other places). [via Apartment Therapy]

bread bag

Finally, the bread bags from Moln, available in four sizes, can certainly be used for more than just bread! [via From Europe]

Related Posts:
Fabric Buckets, Boxes and Bins
Five Fabric Buckets to Store Your Stuff
Storage with Flair: Five Fabric Baskets
Non-Boring Storage: Fabric Baskets, Bins and Bowls

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Food Storage Containers, for Those Avoiding Plastics

glass food storage containers with cork stoppers

How safe are plastics for food storage? It’s far from clear, but some scientists have expressed concern in the past — and some recent reports might cause more concern. As Mother Jones reports, a study published in 2011 showed the chemicals having estrogenic activity (EA) are more widely found than previously thought. The report says:
Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled — independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source — leached chemicals having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than did BPA-containing products.
Exactly which plastics leached synthetic estrogens? Mother Jones summarizes it for us.

I’ve only read the summary of this study, and I’m certainly not qualified to evaluate it. But if you’d like to minimize your use of plastic food storage products, you have a lot of nice alternatives. I’ve mentioned many of them before — see the related posts at the end — but I’ve also found a number of other options.

Let’s start with those made from glass. The one at the top of this post is the Earl Storage Jar Set from Mode. I haven’t seen any others with cork stoppers!

glass food storage containers

Surprisingly (at least to me), you can get glass food storage containers from Rubbermaid. The bases all nest inside each other, and the lids snap on the bottom, so these are also good for conserving storage space in the cabinets.

glass bowl with lid, for food storage

And yet another glass option is Luminarc.

porcelain food storage container

Moving beyond glass, you might choose the CLOC porcelain storage containers from Neoflam. You can get them in white from Williams-Sonoma.

ceramic food storage containers with silicone lids

And finally, here’s the Wrap Bowl from +d — a ceramic dish with a flexible silicone lid. Those of you in Europe could also buy it here.

Related Posts:
Plastic Food Storage: OK or Not?
Reader Question: Glass Food Storage
The Latest on Plastic Food Storage - And Alternatives
Another Scary Thing, as We Approach Halloween: BPA
Food Storage: Alternatives to Plastic
3 Innovative Food Storage Products

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

C. G. P. Grey Talks About Clutter, Email and Time Management

stick-figure drawing of a man at his desk, working on his computer
Grey's self-portrait, from his Subbable page.

If you don't know C. G. P. Grey, you may want to go watch his best-known video: The Difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained. I’m not usually a fan of YouTube videos, but I really enjoy Grey’s; they're both educational and entertaining, and it's obvious a lot of care has gone into producing them.

So I was intrigued when Grey announced he was doing a new podcast with Brady Haran called Hello Internet, and I decided to listen. Again, I'm not a fan of most podcasts that have a couple people talking to each other, but I’m really enjoying these. And I was surprised to keep hearing bits of organizing-related insight.


In Podcast #1, Grey lists all the things he got wrong in the U.K. video I mentioned above. Which brings us to this quote from the podcast:
I want the videos to be perfect, but ... the cost of perfection is infinite in terms of time and in terms of resources.
Grey says that if YouTube allowed you to replace a video with a new version, and keep the same link, he'd only have one video up instead of the 38 explanatory videos he does have up; he'd keep finding little things in that U.K. video that needed to be improved. So constraints can sometimes help us fight perfectionism!

Work/Life Balance

In Podcast #3, the main topic is work/life balance. Grey talks about his four-lightbulb imperfect analogy for managing time. He pictures these four bulbs: family, friends, health and work. You have enough energy to put out 100 watts of power, and these are all 100-watt lightbulbs. So what do you do? Run them all, dimly, at 25 watts? Focus mostly on one? But this involves “making harsh, uncomfortable decisions about where you're going to cut.”

Grey acknowledges that as he moved into self-employment, he consciously chose to put zero of his energy into health, a tiny amount into friends, and about 20% into family (his wife); the work lightbulb got about 80% of his energy. He's just now making changes and giving some energy to health. He wasn't happy about ignoring other parts of his life, but decided not to feel guilty about it; the choices were just what he needed to do, for some period of time, to be successful in a new work venture.

Brady raises a different work/life balance issue: Can he ever switch off the work lightbulb entirely, and be totally focused on family or friends? Grey concurs: For example, it's hard to watch TV with his wife without having his mind going to ideas for new videos.

Our Relationship with Stuff

Podcast #5 was fascinating, because the two men have such different attitudes to stuff. Brady’s office is full of memorabilia: a teddy bear from his childhood, an old-fashioned telescope, a bunch of stones collected from places around the world, etc. He sees a person's home as “a museum of you.”

And that horrifies Grey, who says, “I feel like every object that is in my visual sweep acts like a tiny burden on the mind.” (In Podcast #6 he says he’s not the minimalist some of us perceived him to be; he’s a functionalist.) Grey enjoys moving, because, he says, it’s “a great excuse to purge as many physical items from my life as I possibly can.” He encourages people to not give him gifts for birthdays and such, saying “the best gift you can give me is nothing.”

This podcast even includes a shout-out to the TV show Hoarders! Grey goes on to say that while hoarders have a hard time letting go, his wife says he’s the opposite of a hoarder — he has too easy a time letting go.


Brady and Grey both get a lot of email, and have very different approaches for handling it, as described in Podcast #6. Grey checks email twice a day; Brady checks it about every 15 minutes. Grey goes through his email messages rapidly; each message is either responded to immediately, flagged for follow-up later, or archived. (Most messages just get archived.) The ones flagged for follow-up are those that need a reply, but not right now; he may deal with those once a week (as he did when he was a teacher) or after he finishes his current project (now that he’s self-employed), but he always deals with them in batches. Brady doesn’t have such a structured process.

Questions to Ponder

What’s nice about these podcasts is they bring up issues that relate to organizing, but there’s no definitive answer — just two smart people sharing their perspectives. And this lets each of us ponder how we feel about these topics. Do we swing too far into perfectionism? What kind of work/life trade-offs are we making, consciously or not, and how do we feel about them? Would we personally prefer Grey’s somewhat minimalist home, or Brady’s office — and why? Do we have a way of handling email that works for us?

If you’re at all intrigued, check out the podcasts! They cover much more than these organizing tidbits, including stories of being wrong on the internet (and in print) in Podcast #1, and a discussion of copyright issues in Podcast #2.

Friday, March 7, 2014

De-Cluttering and Organizing the Cookbooks

kitchen with built-in space for books, from Harrell Remodeling
Designed and remodeled by: Harrell Remodeling, Inc. Photo used with permission.

I’ve just done some more decluttering of my own cookbooks; as I mentioned on Unclutterer, I got rid of eight of them in this round.

This latest pass, and the great photo above which I stumbled upon recently, made me think about the types of cookbooks we keep.

1. The go-to cookbooks, which we use all the time.
These are ones we’d want to store close at hand — maybe even in the kitchen. None of the others would need to be kept in such a convenient location, although they certainly could be if you had the space. There are some considerations related to grease and steam when storing books in a kitchen, so you’d want to consider where in the kitchen you were storing them, and how concerned you are about keeping them pristine. (The book nook in the photo is nicely placed to minimize such problems.)

2. The special-occasion cookbooks.
These are ones we might reference for holiday recipes, when we’re cooking for a special event, etc.

3. The aspirational cookbooks — the ones we’d like to try, in order to expand our repertoire.
Maybe you’d like to try cooking a particular cuisine that’s new to you, and you’ve got cookbooks to help with that.

4. The reference cookbooks.
These are the ones that describe cooking techniques and such, often with useful illustrations. We may not use them all that frequently, but they’re sometimes really useful.

5. The ones that are memorabilia, not just cookbooks.
I’ve got cookbooks I’ve picked up on travels that bring back such good memories that I want to keep them, even if I never cook from them. But other cookbooks I picked up while traveling don’t speak to me the same way, and I’ve let them go. Sometimes books in this category have beautiful illustrations, but not always. Cookbooks that were handed down from other family members could also fit into this category.

These categories don't need to be exclusive; for example, you could have a go-to cookbook that was also memorabilia.

If you want to de-clutter your cookbooks, understanding what kinds you’ve got might help in deciding which ones to keep. For example, the special-occasion cookbooks that haven’t gotten much use might be replaced by online recipes, as the need arises. And maybe some of those aspirational cookbooks don't have the same appeal they once did.

What categories of cookbooks do you have? Do you have some categories to add to my list?

Related Post:
Decluttering the Cookbooks

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

3 Innovative Food Storage Products

nesting food storage containers for leftovers, etc.

Finding good food storage containers is always a challenge. How do you store them without having them take over the kitchen? What if you prefer glass to plastic, but are concerned about using glass with children? Two new products are designed to address the first concern; another product that’s a couple years old addresses the second.

For those concerned about storage space, there’s the brand-new Nest Storage from Joseph Joseph — where both the containers and the lids are nested. There are 4-piece and 6-piece sets available.

nesting and stacking food storage containers, mounted on a cabinet door

Another new product, Stackerware, has just launched in Kickstarter. Here containers are nested, and both containers and lids are stacked on specially-designed bases. The bowls come in three sizes, and the same lids fit all of them. They can be stored in a drawer, or the bases can be mounted on the back of a cabinet door, under a cabinet or shelf, etc.

four food storage containers, in different colors

Both the Nest Storage and the Stackerware are made from BPA-free plastics, and are said to be microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe. But what if you’d prefer glass, especially for containers which may be used in the microwave?

Then take a look at Frego, which came out in 2012. Frego is a glass container in a silicone sleeve, which makes it easier to grip and helps avoid burns. With the lid on, Frego is supposed to be “virtually spill proof and incredibly break resistant.” It only comes in one size, so it may not meet all your needs — but it could become a valuable part of your food storage container collection. (And maybe you can get rid of some other containers that don’t work so well for you.)

Related Posts:
Plastic Food Storage: OK or Not?
Reader Question: Glass Food Storage
The Latest on Plastic Food Storage - And Alternatives
Another Scary Thing, as We Approach Halloween: BPA
Food Storage: Alternatives to Plastic

Monday, February 24, 2014

4 Recipe Boxes, 4 Very Different Looks

wood recipe box, 3 drawers

Do you still use paper recipe cards? While many people have gone to digital solutions, others still prefer to keep their recipes on paper, and the recipe card still has its fans. And recipe boxes don’t always need to be used for recipes; I’ve seen them used as address boxes, too.

Some of the most stunning recipe boxes I’ve seen come from Timber Territory. This is the three-drawer box; there’s also a one-drawer version. Update just after publication: Timber Territory told me this product didn't sell, so it's been discontinued. How sad!

recipe box with William Morris floral design

The William Morris recipe box from Gallison is also stunning, in a totally different way.

pink recipe box

This recipe box from Sugar Paper with its hot pink lacquer provides quite the splash of color.

recipe box tin, with small polka dots

And for something more sedate, there’s a polka dot recipe tin from Rifle Paper Co., also sold by See Jane Work.

Related Posts:
Five Recipe Boxes with Flair
10 Recipe Boxes to Treasure
Recipe Boxes: The Woodworker Edition
5 Recipe Boxes to Jazz Up Any Kitchen