Thursday, July 31, 2008

Keeping the Memories vs. Keeping the Things

two dessert plates with floral pattern

As one woman said,
In my fourth move in four years, when I was packing up my grandmother's six sets of dessert plates once again, I knew I'd never used any of them, ever. It hit me that I didn't even like most of them very much, couldn't put them in the dishwasher, and had felt obligated to keep them so I would remember her. But I didn't get anything out of having them. When I sat down and thought about it, I realized that I would remember my grandmother with those plates or without. And I was happier getting rid of them instead of hauling them to another house.
From Dematerializing: Taming the Power of Possessions, by Jane Hammerslough

[Photo from Stacy's Shabby Shoppe]

A Personal Uniform Isn't For Everyone

organized clothes closet

A great example of how different people need different organizing solutions: In response to yesterday's post, Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing sent me this picture of her own closet (posted with her permission). Geralin is not a minimalist when it comes to clothes - and if you've ever met Geralin, you'll know she always looks wonderful.

Geralin has the space for a wide variety of shoes and clothes, and the variety gives her a lot of pleasure - so why not?

Geralin tells me the shoe boxes are from Closet Fetish; the garment dividers are from The Clutter Diet, and the hangers are from TJ Maxx.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Personal Uniform Fights Clothing Clutter

clothes in closet

One way to avoid clothing clutter is to simplify your whole approach to clothing. I first read about this strategy from The Thoughtful Consumer, but in the last few days a few folks have blogged about very similar approaches.

Crazy Aunt Purl writes, in part: "My basic wardrobe is very simple -- I don't want to waste time each day worrying about what to wear for work, what's appropriate for the dress code, what matches, what is business professional enough, etc., so all my work clothes are based on one color scheme (black) and I have a limited but good quality selection of work clothes. Instead of buying 37 cheap tops and 19 pairs of inexpensive bottoms, I invested in eight really quality pairs of trousers and ten or so high-quality tops. I have two skirts (I don't wear skirts often at all) and a few jackets and that's it. Also hanging in the closet are some tops for nights out and jeans and so on. My work wardrobe is probably boring but I don't lose sleep over it. I realize this automated method of dressing for work makes the more fashion-minded folks in my circle break out in hives, but it really works awesome for me and I never have to wonder what to wear to my job." [Thanks to organizer Janine Adams for pointing me to Crazy Aunt Purl.]

On Simplicity pointed me to the Abundance Blog's post on creating closet bliss, which includes this suggestion: "Consider dressing in a personal uniform. That is, find a look that suits you and stick to it.

A few, well-selected quality items that look good on you will go much farther than owning a lot of clothes, none of which seem to fit right. Figure out which style slacks are the most flattering, which line of skirts suits your build, which length of jacket looks best on you, and so on. Many well-dressed men and women who find a suit or other piece of clothing that they like, buy it in several different colors because the cut and fit complements their build and the different colors make the outfit appear different."

Michele also wrote about her simplified wardrobe: "I buy almost everything I wear at Old Navy, so shopping is easy and not very expensive. Because I am meticulous about fit, everything in my closet looks good on me. I deliberately buy my clothes so that almost everything can be worn together."

Going back in time, you can read more about this idea on Unclutterer, starting out with the Steve Jobs jeans and black mock turtleneck look and moving on to other people's approaches to personal uniforms of sorts.

And over on Garbo Writes, there's this: "I used to have an artist friend who pitched out all her clothes and bought seven white oxford shirts and four pairs of blue jeans. She wanted to have time to do her art all the time and if she wore identical clothes, she spent no time sorting and matching and deciding. Plus she looked like an artist."

[photo from Rubbermaid]

The Opposite of Hoarding

full dumpster

True hoarding is a serious problem. It's gotten a lot of attention lately, with Oprah shows on the subject. (For more information, see Children of Compulsive Hoarders, The National Study Group of Chronic Disorganization, Helping Hoarders, and the book Buried in Treasures.)

But I just now read a query from someone asking for help with the opposite problem. "I am a purger. How do I stop throwing away so many things and start collecting?"

The questioner goes on to explain: "For example, I read a lot. I'd like to have a book collection so I can reference previously-read books, show people who visit my house what I'm interested in, etc. Despite reading hundreds of books in my lifetime, my current collection is a mere ten books... and even those are in danger! I'm sorely tempted to sell them for cash/trade value. They're just sitting around! It bugs me. It feels wasteful, and it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to not get rid of them."

And Florence King writes that "Articles about OCD fill me with hungry glee because I have the opposite neurosis: obsessive-compulsive spartanism (OCS)." Update on Nov. 13, 2017: I can't find the Florence King article any more.

[photo by ja_macd / Jenn]

Note: I'm in Florida visiting family; my postings for the next week will likely be sporadic.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Furniture for Storage: Chimney Cupboards or Cabinets

chimney cupboard

Sometimes finding the right storage piece is a matter of knowing the vocabulary. If you need something for a tall, narrow space, consider a chimney cabinet (or cupboard). The chimney cupboard above is 19.5 inches wide and 75 inches tall.

2-door chimney cupboard - top door is glass

Leo Sharkey Fine Woodworking would be glad to make you a chimney cupboard like this one, which is solid cherry. It's 16 inches wide and 84 inches tall.

chimney cupboard, red, shown open and closed

This Shaker chimney cupboard comes in a number of different finishes; it's 20 inches wide and 78 inches tall. (For another Shaker chimney cupboards, look here.)

Amish chimney cabinet, 3 different versions, one with pictures of fish on the doors

This Amish chimney cabinet is available on a number of web sites, including Bear Hollow Furniture. (For other Amish chimney cupboard, look here.)

chimney cupboard

And here's a chimney cupboard made from "barn wood over 100 years old." It measures 20 inches wide and 60 inches tall.

chimney cupboard with Tiffany-style door

Here's one of the chimney cupboards available from Cody Road Workshops. It's 24 inches wide, 72 inches tall.

ornate chimney cabinet

And for something completely different, there's this chimney cabinet by David Pohl, measuring 24 inches wide and 85 inches tall.

chimney cabinet, with second picture showing detail of the door

Finally, for another artistic option, there's this chimney cabinet by David Marsh, measuring 14 inches wide (plus four more for the molding) and 76 inches tall.

Related Post:
Furniture with Storage: The Gossip or Telephone Bench

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Remembering (and Honoring) Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch (known for The Last Lecture) died on Friday, and I've been reading the tributes and watching yet more videos - and crying.

But I thought he'd rather we listen to what he wanted to teach us, so here's one more bit of Randy wisdom, from his interviews with Diane Sawyer:
I've never found anger to make a situation better. And right now, I've got a finite amount of time and I can spend that time angry or I can spend that time doing something productive and worthwhile, and having fun.
So let's all go do something worthwhile, and have some fun, in remembrance of Randy.

(Also worth noting, from the Carnegie Mellon University web site: "The family requests that donations on his behalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon's Randy Pausch Memorial Fund, which the university will use primarily to support continued work on the Alice project.")

Related Posts:
Randy Pausch Teaches Us about Time Management
Randy Pausch Teaches Us about Decluttering

Friday, July 25, 2008

Green Useless Stuff is Still Clutter

coffee mug

From today's San Francisco Chronicle, by the excellent writer Ilana DeBare:
Is green swag an oxymoron?

Some folks would say yes. They'd argue that promotional products - those ubiquitous logo-branded pens, baseball caps and so on - are inherently wasteful and unnecessary.

But not John Borg. A longtime brand marketing expert in San Francisco, Borg has started a green promotional products company called Eco Imprints.

"Unfortunately a lot of promotional products end up in the landfill," said Borg, whose company opened its doors in November. "We are trying a fresh approach, to get people to think about the products they use, and what happens when their useful life is over."
Some of the stuff at Eco Imprints is clever - a mug made from recycled electronics, for example, as shown above - but I still don't need yet another mug. I don't need another key chain or another pen, either.

Some items they sell might be useful to some people, but not others - a common problem in any one-gift-for-all situation. (Another organizer I know actually likes and uses those pens I said I don't want.) But as I glance through the company's on-line catalog, I see that almost everything listed is something I'd decline if it were offered to me.

What about you, readers? Are there any promotional products you've received that you actually use or love?

Related Posts:
Who Needs Another Coffee Mug? Pen? Free Calendar?
Get Your Free Valentine's Day Teddy Bear!

Tantalizing Toy Boxes and Bins

toy bins - one with a cow, one with a turtle

So many toys, so many toy storage options! Here are three that caught my eye lately.

Tracey Hanmer Karl of Creative Expressions:Kids makes these hand painted toy bins - there are over fifty themes available. Update on Feb. 26, 2012: I'm no longer finding Tracey's website.

Toy box with harbor scene

Over in the UK, Heidi Alexander-Sleap makes some pretty wonderful hand painted toy boxes. (Note: Big toy boxes can work well for dress-up clothes or other larger items; they aren't so good for smaller toys.)

pirate ship toy box

And then there's this pirate ship toy box; the same gentleman also makes a fire engine toy box. Update on August 24, 2011: Sadly, the site that sold these has disappeared.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taming the Tub: 8 Bath Toy Organizers

girl in bathtub with pelican pouch bath toy organizer

Children's toys are always an organizing challenge - and then there are the bath toys. Here are some of the options out there. Caution: There are sometimes complaints about organizers that rely on suction cups not sticking to the wall properly.

1. Let's start the animal parade of bath toy organizers with Peli's Play Pouch. It comes from EduShape in Israel, but it's widely available on the internet - at least for those in the USA.

frog bath toy organizer

2. Then there's the frog - the Boon Frog Pod.

bath toy organizer shaped like a fish

3. Sassy has two sizes of tub toy organizers - there's this larger fish; in the smaller size there's a frog and a penguin. Update on March 1, 2013: I'm only finding the fish now, and the current fish is not as cute as this one.

trap door bath toy bin, white, made of coated wire, full of toys

4. Moving past the animals, we have the functional-rather-than-cute trap door toy bin from Better Bath.

bath toy vinyl bag with blue polka dots

5. Another option is a bath toy bag with a mesh bottom for drainage, like this one.

tub toy organizer bag with multi-colored polka dots

6. One Step Ahead also has a tub toy organizer bag. E. Harmon wrote a review noting that the suction cups didn't work well, but that the organizer could also be "hung on the tub or shower faucet."

lion bath bag toy organizer

7. A different type of bath bag comes from Baby Moov. There's an elephant version as well as this lion. Baby Moov's products are available in many countries (but not the USA); I found them through an Australian site, Metro Mum. Update on March 1, 2013: Now I'm finding a sea lion, rather than an elephant or a lion. I'm no longer finding this at Metro Mum, but it's on

nesting buckets for bath toy storage; inner one 0 the scopper - has drain holes

8. Finally, there's this pair of nesting buckets, called the Bath Toy Store, from Kuster. (UK version here.) [via Cool Mom Picks]

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Be Your Own Professional Organizer, Part 4: Decide Where to Store Stuff

wrenches hanging from pegboard

Wow, I've really been remiss in finishing this series. But here we go again!

Each situation is different, but here are some general guidelines on where to store the things you've decided to keep.

1. Store it safely. Things that can be dangerous to children or pets need to be kept somewhere they can't get at them. If you live in earthquake territory, be sure to consider that when deciding where to store things.

2. Store it where it will be used. Keep things you'll use when you're out shopping in your car (assuming you go to the stores in your car, as many of us must do). Keep current reading materials near where you read - in bed, by a comfy chair, etc. Keep exercise equipment close to where you exercise. You get the idea!

3. Keep the things you use most often closest at hand; things you use less often can be kept further away. For example, in your office, the things you use most often are best stored where you can reach them without getting up from your desk. Things used a bit less often might be stored in other parts of the room. Things you must keep but might never use, like old tax records, could be kept quite a ways from where you normally work.

4. Don't fight human nature. For example, most people plop their mail down somewhere close to where they come in the house - so put a container for it there. Don't insist it get taken to a distant spot; that's unlikely to happen!

5. Use out-of-easy-reach storage spots with care. If you need to store items you use with some frequency up higher than you can easily reach, be sure to have tools handy (a step stool, a reacher, a high reach hook) to help you get them without hurting yourself.

6. Be cautious about what gets stored in the attic, the basement, or the garage. To quote the Library of Congress, "The most important thing you can do to safe guard your treasures is to store them in a stable, cool, and dry environment. Spaces with high temperatures and dampness or fluctuating conditions, like most attics and basements, are unsuitable for long-term safekeeping." Apparently some people have learned the hard way not to store candles in the attic.

7. Store similar things together. For example, in your garage there may be a place for garden equipment, one for tools, another for sports equipment, and yet another for those Costco bulk purchases.

Related Posts:
Part 1: Decide What to Keep
Part 2: Containerize
Part 3: Label

[photo by britany.g / Britany Gibbs]

Friday, July 18, 2008

3 Kitchen Utensil Holders with Personality

utensil holder with image of bullgrog

I love finding great handmade items! Jim and Gina Mahoney of Hummingbird Studio Pottery over on Etsy have an incredible selection of stoneware utensil holders; it was hard to choose which one to include here. This bullfrog was the first one I saw, so I decided to go with it - but there are also chickdees, woodpeckers, owls, a cat face, and a dragonfly. Both this shape and a wider version are available.

utensil holder with images of herbs

And this lovely stoneware utensil holder, with herb imprints, comes from Botanicraft, another Etsy shop.

mug with Gandhi's face, serving as utensil holder

And this one comes from my kitchen! It's a mug I bought years ago at a crafts fair, and I've used it as my utensil holder ever since. It's plain blue in the back.

Related post:
15 Kitchen Utensil Holders

Find a Special Home for a Special Toy

child in hospital with stuffed animal

What do do with those very special children's toys - the ones they are ready to give up, but you're hesitating because they are special to you? Some professional organizers were discussing this recently, and organizer Heather Ahern of The FUNctional Home shared this suggestion. I thought it was wonderful, and got her permission to share it with you.
I try to get my clients who have those very special things to find very special uses for them. ... I know a two year old who is back in the hospital for yet another round of chemo. This time with a stem cell transplant, so this means weeks of confinement away from friends and even family.

In every city there are boys and girls of every age who could use something special to help cheer them up or fight boredom as they spend time in hospitals. Their parents would love to buy them special things but often they are losing days at work and have the extra bills that come with trying to save a child’s life. If you contact any pediatric cancer hospital in your city, there will be a nurse who can match your "gift" to a child.

The feeling you get from doing something special, with something you love, is tremendous.

[photo by lakerae]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My E-Mail Inbox is Finally Empty!

empty e-mail inbox for Jeri Dansky

I've read a lot about keeping your inbox empty - both your electronic inbox and your physical inbox. (Some of the best online reading: Inbox Zero, Chris Brogan, and StellaCommute.)

However, I've not been so great about actually getting my e-mail inbox emptied. Most of the 75-or-so older messages that sat in my e-mail inbox were ones where I hadn't taken the time to decide what to do about them. Did I need to reply? Take some action? Save the information? The longer the messages sat, the more embarrassing it was if I did want to follow up with the sender.

But I finally looked through each one, made my decision, and moved on. What a relief!

I think keeping it empty will be easier than getting it empty was. I often get over 100 messages daily, but many of those (such as most messages from my local Freecycle group) can be tossed pretty quickly. I just need to make sure I deal with those messages that require a bit more thought - by doing the thinking!

Now, on to my physical in-box, which isn't empty, either. But it will be, soon. (For those who follow Mark Forster, it's my Current Initiative.) Report to follow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Organizing the Medications

pill boxes, different color for each day of the week, four compartments per day

Taking a double dosage of your pills is no fun - ask my friend who did this a couple weeks ago. Fortunately, while she felt pretty ill for a day or so, there were no more serious effects.

Consumer Reports just reminded me that they have a guide to managing multiple medications. They emphasize making sure all the medications are really needed, and then provide these suggestions (among others):
- Keep a written schedule of the pills you take, how often to take them, and any special directions. Update the record as your prescriptions change.

- Take medicines at the same time each day, and, if necessary, use calendars, timers, or pillboxes that remind you which drugs to take and when.

- Keep medicines where you’ll notice them. But don’t store them in bathroom medicine cabinets where they’re exposed to damaging humidity and heat.

- Know what to do if you miss a dose or inadvertently take an extra one.

- Order refills in time to avoid treatment gaps and lapses. has a more detailed list of medication management suggestions that are well worth a read.

There's a huge range of pill cases (and other reminders) available to help manage medications - the pill boxes above, with four compartments per day, was the one that worked well for my mom.

wood pill box

If you want a truly beautiful one, take a look at the 7-day medication minders from Pascoe's wood art. They're available in a number of different woods.

Related Post: Medical Records at Your Fingertips

Furniture with Storage: The Gossip or Telephone Bench

black gossip bench

My vocabulary expanded when I became a professional organizer, as I started learning about all the various storage options out there. The gossip bench (also called a telephone bench) was a new one to me! The black gossip bench above comes from SEI, and the company makes a white version, too.

upholstered gossip bench

For something more flamboyant, there's this gossip bench from Design Toscano.

telephone bench

And here's a telephone bench, made from pine, with yet another look.

oak telephone bench

Moving to the other side of the ocean, you can find this solid oak telephone bench (or something very similar) from a number of sources in the UK, some of which indicate it's made (at least in part) from reclaimed wood. See Konteaki furniture, Medina Home, and Whitehall Garden Center.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Great Read: Decluttering for Geeks

box with cables and other computer junk

Are you a geek? Do you live with a geek? Or do you just know a lot of geeks? In any of these cases, you'll probably enjoy Decluttering for Geeks, by Evan Goer.

Only Part 1 (of a 4-part series) is available now; I'm so looking forward to the rest! Part 1 deals with decluttering computer components; here's an excerpt.
Most self-respecting geeks go through a phase of building their own computers. ...

But like mathematics and women's gymnastics, system building is a youngster's game. Although the truly hardcore might stick with this hobby for decades, the typical geek burns out around their 30th birthday. All of a sudden, debugging overheating problems and scouring the internet for updated drivers becomes... less fun. You've reached the magical age where time begins to > money. Maybe it's because you're making more money, or maybe it's because you feel the icy hand of death approaching. Either way, you sell out. You buy a Name Brand Computer, possibly a shiny silver one with a fruity logo. At first you feel guilty, dirty even. Then you get over it.

The end result is closets full of old, decaying systems, plus scads of individual components: Pentium II motherboards, PCI sound cards, and cables. Lots and lots of cables.
[Photo by Extra Ketchup / Michael Surran]

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Collapsible Storage Containers: Beyond the Cardboard Boxes

2 flower pattern collapsible fabric storage bins

Collapsible containers are obvious space-savers for those whose storage needs keep changing. Here's a quick tour of some of the options.

Collapsible fabric storage cubes / bins

The bins above come from Room It Up, which sells storage products in different patterns: stripes, plaids, polka dots, etc.

Update on April 11, 2009: I'm having some problems using the Room It Up web site, but seems to have the same bins. They measure 12" x 12" x 12".

pink collapsible crate with paw print

And then there are the Top Performance Collapsible Cubes.

Other options include:
- Magic Cubes from Whitney Design
- Whitmor Collapsible Cubes: sets of 2 or sets of 12
- KangaRoom Collapsible Open Shelf Storage Boxes
- ClosetMaid fabric drawers

Folding Mesh Cubes

The Container Store sells these in three sizes and four different colors.

Collapsible Crates

folding crates, many colors

The Tasket folding crate from Schiffmayer Plastics is one option; could also look at the ARMADA Collapsible Crate.

2 black mesh filing crates, stacked

A different type of collapsible crate are these stackable crates that will hold legal- or letter-sized files.

Crunch Can / Pop Up Hampers

crunch can, pale blue, with butterflies

Umbra crunch cans come in solid colors and patterns. Whitney Design also makes pop up hampers - including some cute ones for children which I wrote about before.

Collapsible Baskets / Market Totes

plastic collapsible baskets, 3 sizes, blue and purples

The Stacks and Stacks Clutter Control Freak blog pointed me to these plastic collapsible baskets.

collapsible market totes in 3 patterns

And you can get Reisenthel carrybags (patterned or solid color) from Sur La Table, where they are called Collapsible European Market Totes.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Piggy Banks: Beyond the Menagerie

computer key-shaped money boxes - save key and pound sign key

Yesterday I showed a piggy bank menagerie - but not all notable "piggy banks" or money boxes are shaped like animals.

Stylish Life sells this computer key money bank. My keyboard doesn't have a save key or a pound sign key - but I like these, anyway. The save key version is also sold by Uncommon Goods.

water tower-shaped bank

Or how about a bank shaped like a New York water tank? Update on March 4, 2010: This product is no longer available.

blue house-shaped bank

The Domus Build-It coin bank, shaped like a house, is "made of plastic, packed flat, and snaps together in seconds." You have four color options. Update on July 9, 2012: I'm no longer finding anyone selling this bank.

Having a Baby Fund cash can

Whether you're saving for a holiday, a baby, or new shoes - or a number of other options - there's a giant cash can designed specifically for you. Or you can put the money you used to spend on cigarettes into a special Turn Ash into Cash can.

Lionel train crossing shaped bank, over 4 feet tall, next to boy

Lionel makes banks shaped like railway cars - but then there's the Lionel Train Crossing Bank. To get the full kitschy experience, go to the LionelTV web site to see the ad. (Warning: It will start blasting the ad at you as soon as you go to the site.) Update on July 9, 2012: I'm no longer finding any place selling this bank.