Monday, June 28, 2021

Decluttering: All the Usual Suspects

cat in a box from Amazon Photo entitled Muffin 9 by Flickr user George Boyce, licensed under Creative Commons

After years of helping people with their decluttering, I’ve noticed certain categories of things show up time and again. So I grin when I see the same categories of stuff coming up in tweets, in a BuzzFeed article, and on other online sites.

New Yorker magazines

Friends, because of a twirling daughter/juice mishap, my pile of unread “New Yorker”s that I was totally going to read one of these days (nb I have not had a subscription for years) has had to be discarded. Please respect my privacy in this difficult time. — Daniel Summers, MD
I wish the New Yorker offered “every other issue subscriptions”, because every issue is too many and I just end up throwing them out. — Chuck B.
The New Yorker is filled with interesting articles — and as Chuck notes, it comes every darn week. If you’ve got a big pile of these (as so many people do) you may want to emulate Chuck in recognizing these just aren’t going to get read and putting them in the recycling bin.

Also, if you’re OK with reading things online, consider shifting to a digital-only subscription (which is my personal solution).


Pretty sure I have every box of every Apple product my family has owned dating back at least a decade - even ones for devices I no longer own. Planning on starting a museum one day. — Seth Mnookin
Do You Or Somebody You Know Suffer From KYAPBFTL (Keeping Your Apple Product Boxes For Too Long?) — Samir Mezrahi on BuzzFeed
Some Apple boxes are worth keeping, of course. Boxes for currently-owned iMacs and cinema displays are useful if you’re going to be moving or if you might need to take the product in for repair. But what purpose do the other boxes serve?

And it’s not just Apple boxes. You may have a truly good purpose for saving certain boxes: for a move, for the cat, for planned mailings to friends and family, etc. But be sure you know why you’re saving those boxes! Also, make sure the ones you save are in good condition — and not so flimsy that they're useless.

Cables, Cords and Keys

The contents of my house appear to be 95% cords to things I don’t have anymore. — Susan Orlean
Ben has his box of random cords to go through, I have my stash of random keys. So far I know what exactly 2 of these are for. — cat
The boxes of unidentified, long-unused cables and cords and the collection of unidentified, long-unused keys are decluttering clichés. You'll also plenty of posts from folks saying they actually wound up using something from the cord box (or could have used something they tossed).

But for many of us, those cords are never ever going to get used. The ones that say Samsung when you no longer own anything made by Samsung (feel free to replace Samsung with your brand name of choice) might be the easiest to part with.

Too Many of the Same Thing (and some much better than others)

What mundane object have you weirdly acquired too many of, personally or as a household? For me, it’s black cotton hoodies and for the household, nail clippers.— Erika Hall
“Where is the good knife?” If you’re looking for your good X, you have bad Xs. Throw those out. — from 100 Tips For a Better Life, on LessWrong
If you store things (such as nail clippers) in multiple places, sometimes for good reason, it’s easy to lose track of how many you have. For example, I know someone who will never again need to buy Scotch Magic Tape.

And it’s easy to fall into the habit of keeping the bad X just in case the good X breaks, gets lost, etc. In some cases that might be a reasonable choice, but in many cases it would serve us better to just get rid of the bad X (and perhaps buy a second good X if it’s an essential item and replacing it might be difficult or excessively time-consuming). One good X vs. bad X example in my own household was flashlights; the bad ones are gone now, so I have only good ones at hand every place I might need one.

Things We “Might Need Someday”

God I would love to throw away some of these decade-old t-shirts that are getting holes and don’t fit me anymore but what if I wind up having to paint for 80 straight days at some point — Twitter user nomchompsky
I’ve been in the same house for 20 years and I’m doing a full clean out for reasons. It’s amazing how much useless shit you can accumulate simply by believing it might come in handy one day. — Tim Burga
People say not to throw things out because someday you might need them. I’m at the Someday age now and see I needed none of it. —Richard Kramer

Here’s a personal example: My cat Moonshadow died in November of last year. He liked fish-flavored cat food; my other cat, Sunshine, does not like any kind of seafood flavors. I was keeping some of his fish-flavored food because “what if there's an earthquake” and “what if I get another cat?”

Well, she won’t eat that food even if there's an earthquake, I have plenty of food she will eat, and by the time I get another cat (assuming I ever do) the cans I have will likely be past their best-by date. I just gave them away; they’ll be going to people who need them now. And I’ve cleared up some storage space for things it actually makes sense to keep.

Knife Storage, Revisited, Part 3: Four Solutions for the Space-Challenged

knife storage that installs under a kitchen cabinet; magnets hold the knives in place I originally thought Part 3 of this series would cover drawer storage for knives; after all, that’s my personal choice. But I’m not seeing anything beyond the options you can readily find at places like The Container Store.

So instead, let’s look at some knife storage solutions which go beyond the ones you usually see — and which might work well for the space-challenged. The photo above is The Drop Block, for under-cabinet storage. It comes in six different colors and a few different sizes.

wood knife rack attached to the side of a refrigerator At first glance, this item might look like a normal wall-mounted knife rack. But no: It’s magnetized and intended for the side of refigerators (excluding those that don't work with magnets, of course). JB’s Wood Turning has three different models. I was also delighted to learn that the creator, Joe, is a retired shop teacher.

white knife rack mounted on a cabinet The Camco Knife Safe might also look like a normal not-so-beautiful wall-mounted knife rack. But Camco makes these for RVs, and they are intended for storage inside a cabinet. There’s also another model which holds two knives with larger blades.

black leather knife roll, unrolled Knife bags and knife rolls are mostly intended for mobile storage, but they could be used as a space-saving storage mechanism, too. (They probably wouldn’t be my first choice, though, since it’s somewhat more cumbersome to get to your knives when you want them.)

But look how gorgeous this knife bag from Nesmuk is! (Somehow I always seem to find — and admire — the expensive stuff.) Unlike many knife rolls, the knives “lie on a magnetic knife rest that is cut-resistant and wrapped in a Kevlar fabric. This ensures that the blades remain permanently scratch-free.”

blue leather knife roll, unrolled Of course, there are many less-expensive options. This lovely knife roll from LeatherPage sells for about 1/10 the price of the Nesmuk knife bag.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Book: Steal Like an Artist

book cover: Steal Like an Artist During the past year, as I stayed home, I bought a number of books — many from authors who participated in the online Quarantine Book Club. I didn’t do such a great job of actually reading those books, though. Now that I finally am making my way through them, I thought I’d share any organizing-related gems I find.

Steal Like an Artist is mostly directed at people such as musicians, illustrators and authors — and the message that all art builds on prior works is one I’ve heard before. But there’s a lot more than just that message, and this one point seemed especially relevant to almost everyone:
... you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.

You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Knife Storage, Revisited, Part 2: Wall-Mounted Knife Racks

tiger maple wall-mounted knife rack with two knives hanging on it If you don’t have room on your countertop for a knife block, a wall-mounted rack might be a good option. And there are so many cool ones to choose from! (Of course, there are purely utilitarian ones, too. You don’t need my help to find those.)

This one comes from Norden Designs, which makes knife racks in various lengths and various woods. Like most wall-mounted racks, it uses strong embedded magnets to hold the knives in place.

Five wall-mounted knife racks, in different woods and size. The two longest ones each have a knife hanging on them. Unsurprisingly, some of the companies that make nice knife blocks also make nice knife racks. These come from Arbol Cuisine.

large, tall walnut knife rack with seven knives hanging on it And this one comes from Make Me Something Special. At 10 inches tall, it’s substantially taller than most wall-mounted knife racks, thus keeping the entire knife blade on the rack.

Dark wood knife rack with two magnets in each knife postion. There are three knives, one pair of scissors, and one more item hanging on the rack; three positions are empty so you can see the magnets. While most magnetic knife blocks hide the magnets, the knife grabbers from Peg and Awl, sold by Food52, make the magnets part of the design. The knife grabbers are all made from reclaimed wood.

four wall-mounted magnetic wooden circles, each with a knfie hanging on it Yet another magnetic option is what Zernin Handcrafted calls Magic Circles.

stainless steel wall-mounted knife rack, holding four knives so the blades face the wall The stainless steel Magneto knife rack from Eva Solo isn’t new, but I haven’t yet written about here. It’s a very different design which keeps the knife blades pointed inward; that might be better from a safety perspective. It also fits more knives into a given amount of space. 2Modern is a US-based source for this rack.

birdseye maple wall-mounted knife rack with four knives inserted into the slot along the top Not all wall-mounted knife racks use magnets; Cattails Woodwork makes ones with a long slot for inserting the knives. These knife racks come in three different woods, and each wood is available in two lengths.

Shop owner Brenda Watts writes about the woods she uses in her products: “Some pieces are crafted using fine cabinet woods such as black walnut, cherry and mahogany, from sustainable sources and managed plantations, many pieces are crafted from local woods that are from trees that may have fallen during storms or ones that have been cut for various reasons. I also love to recycle wood from old furniture, houses, old wooden barns.”

wall-mounted translucent blue resin knife rack with four knives inserted into the slot along the top Stuermer Studios uses the same slotted design but uses a “translucent FDA-food approved resin slab” rather than wood; it’s available in three colors. The company notes that these racks are intended for knives “that have a flat transition of the handle to the blade.”

wood knife rack mounted to the wall verticaly, holding six knives Finally, this knife rack from DMS-Design, which does use magnets, has individual slots and can be hung horizontally or vertically — so it can fit into spots too narrow for other knife racks.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Knife Storage, Revisited, Part 1: Knife Blocks

knife block in walnut, holding knives at a 45 degree angle A friend was recently asking around for knife block recommendations, which made me realize I hadn’t written about knife storage since 2016. When I did some searching, I was delighted to find many products that are new to me — so many that they wouldn’t fit into a single post. So let’s start out with just the countertop knife blocks.

When you hear the words “knife block” you probably think of those big chunky wood things with a bunch of slots. And of course you can still find plenty of those — but you have many other options, too.

knife block in cherry, with knives in it, held at a 45 degree angle For example, look at these lovely knife blocks from Arbol Cuisine, sold on the company website or via Etsy. They’re available in three different woods, and maker Stéphane Dumont says that “a small magnet inserted between each slot ensures that each knife stays in place.” He’s based in Quebec, and he uses woods which are indigenous to North America: maple, cherry and black walnut.

knife block with three magnetized wood slabs at a 45 degree angle Magnets play a part in many modern knife blocks. This one from Arte Legno doesn’t even have slots; the magnets keep the knives in place. I first found it at Milk Street, although other sites sell it, too. And you can also get it in a larger size. Milk Street says that the magnets “firmly hold blades in place without making them difficult to remove” — and also says that Arte Legno uses sustainably sourced wood.

one large pieces of magnetized walnut, upright at a slight angle, holdiing knives Here’s another magnetic style you’ll see quite frequently; I think this personalized oak one from Make Me Something Special in the UK is one of the loveliest I’ve found. It’s available in three sizes.

With an old-style knife block you might have had to remember which slot held which knife; with this type of product there’s no such issue. But if you have knives that you don’t think look nice on display, even though they work well, this would not be the product for you.

magnetized wood, upright, with an acrylic shield in front of the wood holding the knives The knife blocks from Schmidt Brothers, with an acrylic safety cover, seem to be very popular at the moment; you can find them at Sur la Table, Williams Sonoma, and Crate and Barrel.

a six-sided piece of wood, magnetized on all sides to hold knives. It also has slots on the top for inserting some knives. And here's yet another magnetic design: The 360 knife block and the 360 Max, from Design Trifecta.

wooden knife block filled with black plastic rods Not all univeral knife blacks — the ones without slots — are magnetic. I’ve written about the ones from Kapoosh before, but they are worth a re-mention.

knife block and plastic-rod insert shown side by side At first glance, the Dice knife block from Kapoosh may look like an old-fashioned knife block. But it has no slots; instead, it’s filled with food-grade plastic “flex rods” which allow you to insert any knife anywhere. The rods can be removed and washed in a dishwasher’s top rack.

Like the idea of the Kapoosh, but not the look? Williams Sonoma has taken a Kapoosh insert and surrounded it with various holders. There’s copper, walnut, marble and more.

knife block made of a dark wood with lots of light-colored bamboo skewers inside An alternative to using plastic rods is to use bamboo or other wood skewers; the Mikoto knife block from Ekoba (which is no longer available) used this approach. Now the only one I’m finding is this lovely knife block from Lirio, made to order.

oval knife block with an insert at the top to hold knives in place close-up of the insert used in the top of prior knife block The Leo knife block from Berghoff provides yet another universal approach, with a removable insert (gray on one side, pink of the other) which holds 6-8 knives. There’s no wood here; this is all polypropylene and rubber, so it’s less stunning but also less expensive. Berghoff says it has an anti-slip base.

short knife block that holds knives horizontally One final style I want to mention are those knife blocks that store the knives horizontally. Fine Crafts of Kentucky makes these in three sizes, and it seems they would be great for those who want to put a knife rack under some low-hanging kitchen cabinets. I’m not sure I like the look of having the knife blades stick out the back, but the shop notes this lets them dry in the air and ensures you know which knife is in which slot.

tall knife blocks, two sizes, that hold knives horizontallyAnd these blocks will be sold be Viva Terra starting in August, if all goes according to plan.

In Real Simple, Jeffrey Elliot (the executive chef for knife manufacturer Zwilling J. A. Henckel USA at the time the article was published) explains why he recommends this style of knife block over those with slots holding the knives vertically: “The slots should be horizontal so the knives slide in parallel to the counter rather than resting on the blade edges, which can dull over time.”

Monday, May 10, 2021

In Honor of My Mom: Organizing in Blue for 2021

magnet with a drawing of a kingfisher bird Fourteen years ago today, my mom died of pancreatic cancer. Her favorite color was blue, so this has become my annual tribute to her.

The kingfisher refrigerator magnet features the art of Matt Sewell and is sold to support Ashdown Forest in the UK; it’s printed on FSC wood. There are a number of other Sewell bird magnets which have some blue, but this is the one that really jumped out at me. Note: The image isn’t loading for me when I use Safari, but it’s fine in Firefox.

rectangular magnet, blue background, with bunny Miffy and two giraffes And here’s another magnet featuring Miffy and two giraffes.

owl-shaped money box with bright blue eyes How could I resist the eyes on this ceramic owl money box from Hannah Turner?

Birds ina Tree notice board, hanging above a desk; the background is blue This magnetic board from Beyond the Fridge, sold by Not On the High Street, has just enough blue to get included here.

teal blue steel notice board For a heavier dose of blue, there's the Myosotis magnetic notice board from Psalt. It’s also available in larger sizes (Grande and XL) and in a portrait orientation. This smaller one is also available from Not On the High Street. It comes in other colors, too, not that Mom would have cared.

fabric storage bin; duck egg blue with white flowers Helen Round calls the color on this linen fabric storage container “duck egg blue.”

basket made from a lot of blue and white felt balls The Bead Basket from Hay is made from hundreds of felt balls. It’s available with or without handles, and there are other color options. (The red, white and blue one is nice, too.)

blue tray with a leaf pattern in another shade of blue I’ve included many lovely trays in these posts in prior years, so let’s end with another one this time. This is the Granada tray from Serena & Lily, made from laminated birch. It’s available in three sizes.

Curious about my posts in prior years? Take a look at all of them.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Children and Their Hair Clips, Bows, Headbands and Scrunchies — Revisited

bow and headband holder — ribbons on a flower-patterned fabric backing Last month a reader asked me about some of the products in my 2008 post about hair bow storage, and I had to inform them that the products are no longer available. (I also noticed that I assumed that only little girls would care about such adornments; yikes!)

You certainly don’t need special products for these items; all sorts of random containers could work just fine. (I noted some ideas in the 2008 post.) But if you’d like something special, the good news is that I’m finding products I like better than those I listed last time.

You’ll notice that some of these bow and hair clip holders look like variations on French ribbon memo boards. Many of them include a rod at the bottom for headbands.

The bow and headband holder at the top of this post comes from BenliBowtique, which has holders in various patterns and sizes.

bow and hairband holder — ribbons on a lavender and white damask print fabric backing This bow holder and hairband organizer comes from EverlastingsBySue, which also has many options to choose from.

hair clip organizer — ribbons on a dinosaur print fabric backing And here’s a hair clip organizer from XoXoAmour, with the same type of design but a very different vibe.

bow organizer and headband holder — wood frame with ribbons This bow organizer and headband holder from Wood Decor With Love is a nice variation on the same general approach as the three prior products. You can get these in different sizes and colors.

hanging bow holder - riboons hanging from dowels Nathan and Meg at Field Day Co explain how they came to make their minimalast hanging bow holders: “We are ... parents that found ourselves with too many bows and too little organization. The containers and bags of bows were getting out of control and left us frustrated while doing our daughter’s hair in the morning. We searched online for a solution that met our needs and personal style. We could not find what we were looking for so we designed and created our own. We also realized that other parents might like these too.”

 headbands and bow organizer - two rods with clips to hold the headbands and bows This headband and bow holder from MyEllieBeans, with its individual clips, makes it easy to grab the one you want — no need to tip all the others off the rod first to get to one in the middle. You can order the holder with two, three or four rods — and of course the name is personalized. (You can also choose this saying: There are too many bows — said no one ever.)

stuffed daschund dog,purple fabric, with scrunchies along its body Finally, I had to include this scrunchie holder, even though the store it comes from is currently on a break. Here’s hoping they do indeed come back from that break, because this is adorable — and not just for children.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Dish Drying Racks, Revisited

two-tier dish rack sitting on a counter

My friend Angela recently wrote, “I just washed some dishes just for the excitement of using my beautiful new dish drying rack.” Of course, I had to find out which rack that was; it’s the Yamazaki Tower, a two-tier customizable rack. That looks like a great drying rack: it’s attractive and it’s good for small spaces, like her Paris kitchen. The reviews are full of other extremely happy customers, too.

And that made me think: It’s been a long time since I last wrote about dish drying racks. A lot changes in the product world in 11 years! I updated that old blog post to fix broken links and such, but I have more suggestions now for those who want dish racks that fit small spaces or that are attractive enough to leave sitting out — or both.

dish rack with slots for plates, with a place for glasses in front and silverware behind

If you’d like something small but don't need the space of a two-tier product — or if you want something you could tuck away in a cabinet when not in use — you might like the compact dish drying rack from Brabantia, available in dark or light gray. It’s currently available from Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn.

a dish rack sitting in a sink — has slots for plates an a silverware holder up front

Another compact option comes from mDesign, which notes the rack can be used on a countertop or in the sink. Note that unlike the Brabantia rack, this one does not have a drip tray. So if you were planning to use it on a countertop you might want to get one of the company’s drying mats to put under it — or just use a towel. You could even place it on an attractive tray, as long as the tray was waterproof.

dish rack that rests over the sides of the sink, with the rack dipping down into the sink 

You can also save space by using an over-the-sink dish rack, like this one from Neat-O. It doesn’t have a silverware holder, though.

untensil drainer shaped like an elephant If you get a dish rack without a silverware compartment, you could always get a separate piece for this, if you feel you need one. The whimsical one from Peleg Design caught my eye.

dish rack that rests over the sides of the sink, with the rack rising up  above the sink Yamazaki also has an over-the-sink dish rack; this one goes up from the sink rather than down into it.

a full dish rack sitting in the sink dish rack, collpsed into a small rectangle Another type of space-saver is the madesmart collapsible dish rack. You could keep it, uncollapsed, in the sink — or stash it away somewhere else. It’s sold many places, including The Container Store.

a dish rack that's just a series of slats that rolls out over the sink But Surpahs roll-up over the sink dish drying rack must be the rack which takes up the least storage space!

a round dish rackDish racks are usually rectangular, but they certainly don’t need to be. The Chef'n Dishgarden is another compact dish rack that can fit in the sink, if you wish. The Wirecutter review says, “Though its circular shape might seem like a waste of countertop space, this rack actually holds more than other compact racks of a similar size because of the cup holders around its circumference.”

a round asymetrical dish rack A final option is to have a dish rack that you’re happy to have sitting out — and people who’ve bought Alessi’s (very expensive) A Tempo dish rack seem to be in that camp. It’s sold out many places, but for now it seems you can buy it at a few places, including, Didriks and Hive — for widely varying prices.