Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Plush Baby Seal I No Longer Own

Large plush baby seal with large black cat

I have a long history with the plush baby seal in the photo above, shown with my Moonshadow cat.

It first was intended as a gift for a friend in England, but the package got lost on its way to her. So I bought a second one and sent it off — and then the first package got returned to me.

So what to do with seal #1? I thought maybe my mom would like it, so I gave it to her — and it was a huge hit. So much so that when Mom died, I couldn't quite give the seal away. For years, it sat on my dryer — the best place I could find for it, but not really a good place. I didn't have a good place for it.

Until last week, that is. Last week, I had house guests from France — including two boys, age 10. They glommed onto the seal at first sight, and it spent a week sharing a double bed with them.

So as they got ready to leave, I gave them the seal. It got squished into a suitcase for a flight to New York, and will soon be going to its new home in Brittany.

And I couldn't be happier.

So sometimes we declutter because a possession finds its perfect new home, when we least expect it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Not Every Book is Worth Finishing

Cat with a book
Photo by Documentally / Christian Payne, found on Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons.

Life is too short to finish crappy books. — Amber Naslund

A bad book may be one the critics panned or one they adored — but if you're forcing yourself to keep going rather than enjoying the read, it's a bad book by your own personal criteria. So here's a permission slip to put that book down. Set it aside for another time if you think it's really just a timing issue, or give it away if it's just not your thing.

Want more than just my word that it's really OK to give up on a book? A number of authors will tell you that, too. Most of the quotes here come from longer pieces, and I recommend following the links to read more.

Let's start with an interview with Neil Gaiman, where he addressed this in some detail, saying in part:
I remember the first book I didn’t finish. ... I bought Mistress of Mistresses and abandoned it a third of the way through. It was gloriously liberating, the idea that I didn’t have to finish every book.
And author John Scalzi said on Twitter:
I put down books the instant they bore me.
Philip McIntosh, also known as The Write Dude, has written for trade journals, scientific journals, and popular science magazines. He has a whole blog post about when to stop reading a book, which includes this suggestion:
When to stop reading a book once it’s started? The obvious answer is of course “when it starts to suck.” Sometimes this is obviously on page 1. ... In other cases it’s not exactly clear when the suck button should be pressed, but it seems only fair to give it a fighting chance. I have a rule of thumb of my own here to share. It’s called “The Page 80 Test."  
I give a book until page 80 to get me hooked. If I am not into it by then, I pull the plug.
And here's Mike Salisbury, who works in the publishing industry. He's written a blog post entitled Stop Reading Bad Books, reminding us that:
Books demand our time, of which we have so very little. In return, they give us entertainment, knowledge, humor, etc. ... Bad books won't give you back anything but regret. While you were wasting your time finishing, you could've been discovering something better.
Let me leave you with these words from Tim Parks, in The New York Review of Books:
The more bad books you finish, the fewer good ones you’ll have time to start.

Related Posts:
Book Lovers: Stop Reading Books You Don't Like
It's OK to Give Up on a Book

Monday, July 16, 2012


book cover image - Enough, by Patrick Rhone

Books on minimalism abound, but what about a book with a somewhat different take? Here's how Patrick Rhone begins his book:
I'm convinced that a successful life is largely driven by balance and moderation. Not too much of anything Not too little, either.

Just enough.
And I liked that. I also liked this idea, just a bit further down on the first page:
Enough is a very personal metric.
This is a short book and a quick read, and I found a few parts that really resonated with me. For example, here are some of the questions he challenges us to ask ourselves:
What if I did not have this?
Is this enough for me?
Would having more make it easier?
Would having less make it easier?
I also really enjoyed the chapter on sacred spaces. After a brief discussion of churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and meeting houses, Rhone talks about our offices and our homes:
If one treats the space where they work as sacred then, in kind, all of the items in that space should be there to support the purpose at hand. ... If one treats the place they rest as sacred, one should remove and not allow anything that does not support that purpose.
Both here and in another chapter, Rhone extends that idea of sacred space to our email inboxes, saying:
Treat your email inbox as sacredly as you do anything else that requires the high value un-replenishable resource that is your time and attention. Do not allow things in that are not worth it. Unsubscribe from newsletters you do not read. Opt out of merchant promotions and special offers. Or use rules and filters to automatically file these away for later reading. ...

Treat others' inboxes as sacred, too. ... Get to the point quickly. Keep it as short as possible. Respect your reader's time.
Another subject that was dear to my heart, as a Twitter addict, was Rhone's discuss about the fear of "missing out." How does an information junkie deal with this? Rhone suggests:
Possibly, it is simply by admitting that we will miss out. We do already. All the time. We can't read every tweet. We can't see every photo. We can't watch every news story.
Rhone also encourages us to limit the number of people we "follow" or "friend" on social media sites, so that we can actually have "meaningful connections."

And what did I do immediately after finishing this book? I unsubscribed from one email newsletter that I only rarely find useful, and I stopped following about 35 people on Twitter. I'm at 491 right this minute — way more than Rhone's 230, but moving toward a less-overwhelming Twitter feed than I've had in the past.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hoarding Gets a Human Face: one clarification

I've added this note to my original post, but I wanted to make sure everyone saw this. At least one reader saw my prior post as homophobic, which horrifies me. I apologize for my poor choice of words.

Update: Just to make things clear, I'm personally a proud adherent to many San Francisco values, including the city's support of its gay / LGBT community. 

Hoarding Gets a Human Face

logo of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco

However you feel about "San Francisco values," here's one I hope you can rejoice in: providing a wide range of free services to people with compulsive hoarding issues.

I knew the Mental Health Association of San Francisco was a leader in this arena, with a long-running annual conference and a range of services — but until last night, I didn't realize the full extent of the services offered. I attended a meeting of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO-SFBA), and heard from the project coordinator for the Peer-Led Hoarding Response Team, as well as three of the peer responders.

I'm fairly well educated about hoarding issues, but there's nothing quite like listening to peer responders telling you their own stories. One woman told us how her daughters did a clean-out of her home, with her consent — but it was a shock when she came back home, because the clean-out team removed much more than she was expecting, including her good china and all her flatware. And within a year or so, her home was back in the same condition it was before the clean-out. She told us how she saw a show on Oprah, and finally realized she was not alone.

Things are much better for her now, although she says "I try to tell myself that I'm a work in progress." (And aren't we all, in some manner? I just loved that sentiment.)

John Franklin, the project coordinator, told us that the team often talks in terms of problems related to collecting and discarding, rather than using the term hoarding. So you'll read — on a flyer entitled Got Too Much Stuff? — that peer responders "self-identify as peers who have personal experience with collecting and difficulty in discarding objects."

John also mentioned that a city-mandated clean-out can cost $8,000 to $10,000 — and if the underlying issues aren't addressed, the problem will be back in a year, just as the peer responder said happened in her situation. He also said that 2-4% of the population is estimated to have hoarding issues — the same percentage as has Alzheimer's.

So hurrah for peer responders, who can help those ready to make a change, and connect with them in a way that no one else can.

Related Post:
Good Book: Digging Out

Update: Just to make things clear, I'm personally a proud adherent to many San Francisco values, including the city's support of its gay / LGBT community. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Storing the Plunger in Semi-Plain Sight

plunger with striped handle and green base
Plunger from Alice Supply Co.

Trust me (because, unfortunately, I know) it is mortifying to experience a clogged toilet as a guest at, say, your boyfriend's parents' house and then to find no plunger anywhere. Much worse than being visually reminded of reality by a plunger is to be unprepared when reality inevitably strikes. —Graefix, on Apartment Therapy

Most of us (at least in the U.S.) own a plunger — and sometimes storing it can be a challenge, especially if you want to keep it close at hand in the bathroom. My last post provided one idea; let me give you a few more.

The most common storage option I'm seeing is something along the lines of this one from Simple Human: a plunger that comes with a "housing to neatly hide the plunger out of sight." You can find similar products from OXO, and there's also the Waxman Hide-a-Plunger. Some products will hold both a plunger and a toilet brush, like this one from Polder. While many of these come with a plunger, Interdesign has a plunger house that comes without a plunger; it's a good option if you already have a good plunger, and don't really want a new one that might not work as well for you.

housing for a plunger

If you're willing to wait a bit, the Nautilus plunger from Quirky, which comes with a base, is going into production.

birdhouse-shaped boxes store a plunger

And take a look at Plungees, "the pretty plunger in a box." There are a number of designs: metallic, mirrored, and more. And then there's the custom line, which includes these birdhouse designs. The birdhouses are pricey, at $199 each, but some of the other designs are much less costly. Note: I was seeing problems with the online shopping cart, so you might want to just call the vendor if you're interested in any of these.

tall lidded storage for a plunger

There are other designs, too — like these taller receptacles from Taymor, where the plunger is attached to the lid. There's a stainless steel version and coated oil rubbed bronze version, both of which get mixed reviews on

tall storage container, with lid, for a plunger

A somewhat-similar product is the Sani-Plunge: an 18-inch tall receptacle that holds the plunger that comes with it. In this product, the lid is not attached to the plunger.

plunger in-wall storage cabinet

The Hy-Dit takes a totally different approach; it's an in-wall toilet plunger storage cabinet. You can buy it many places, including

Don't want to buy a plunger-specific product? You could also use something like a decorative planter, as Crystal Ray suggests.

plunger that comes out of toilet use with no water or other mess

And if you want to minimize the yuckiness factor, you could consider the Rubbermaid Clean and Dry Plunger; see the review from Unclutterer.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Here... Somewhere

Book cover - It's Here Somewhere

I have a huge collection of organizing-related books, and I've decided it's time to give some of them away. They did a fine job of educating me over the years — but after many years as an organizer, I don't need them the way I did when starting out.

But as I clear these books out and move them along to new homes, I thought I'd share some of the wisdom they contain — starting with the gems I found in It's Here... Somewhere, by Alice Fulton and Pauline Hatch. This is an older book, published in 1985 and 1991, but many organizing ideas are pretty timeless.

Let's start with the authors' definition of clutter:
Clutter is the fish food sitting on the kitchen windowsill for the fish that have been dead for three months. ... Clutter is the stack of Better Homes and Gardens magazines, standing in the corner of some room, ... that you intend to go through someday, to cut out all of the "good stuff." ... Clutter is, indeed, all the things in your home that don't matter.
While the book is full of good ideas for how to tackle the clutter and store the good stuff, I particularly loved this little suggestion:
There's nothing sacred about the length of a plunger handle. If yours has a long handle, saw four or five inches off; then it will fit nicely under any sink.
And I really relate to this idea:
You may not really need a linen closet for extra bed linens. ... Keep only what is currently on the beds, plus an extra set laid flat between box spring and mattress.
Those extra sheets are only intended as back-up for emergencies; normally you'd just launder the sheets and put them back on. The authors acknowledge that perhaps the sheets will wear out a bit quicker, but feel the space saving is worth it. And here's how they reply to a second concern:
"But that's boring. I like a variety of sheets." ...

We just can't relate. We'd rather have clear, uncluttered space than a variety of sheets. The choice is yours.
For my own home, I'm with Fulton and Hatch; my linen closet has become my pantry. If you don't need a pantry, the authors have many more suggestions on how a linen closet could be repurposed — as a sewing closet, an arts and crafts supplies center, a toy center, etc. But, of course, some people really do want the variety, and have the room to store more sheets — and keeping more sheets can be a fine choice, too. It's all about making conscious choices as to what serves you best!

Today's Top 10 Piggy Banks

piggy bank made of cardboard

Got some spare change? If you're looking for a place to stash the coins when you get home, a piggy bank can be a fun answer. (Of course, something as simple as a spare coffee mug can work just fine, too.) Londji makes this piggy bank from recycled cardboard! You can find it at Wannekes and at Hus & Hem. [via swissmiss] Update on A[ril 17, 2019: I'm no longer finding this product anywhere.

felt coin bank shaped like an elephant

And here's another piggy bank — OK, an elephant — made from an unusual material: felt. This one comes to us from Én Gry & Sif; you can purchase it from Clockwork Mouse or And yes, it has "a zipped opening to take the coins out." Update on April 17, 2019: website has disappeared and I'm no longer finding this for sale anywhere.

elephant-shaped piggy bank

Staying with elephants, let's admire the Moneyphant from Georg Jensen. You can buy directly from Georg Jensen, or from the Finnish Design Shop. [via Switched On Set]

wood bank shaped like an elephant, with a little girl

Pearhead has a series of "fun friends" wood banks, including an elephant, a giraffe, an alligator, a bird, a whale, a bunny and a pig.

stoneware piggy bank

Want a real piggy bank? Here's a lovely stoneware piggy bank by Sandra McKenzie, sold by Sawbridge Studio. [via Apartment Therapy] Update on April 17, 2019: Sawbridge Studio no longer has any of her products.

money box shaped like a badger

Quail Ceramics makes quite a range of money boxes, some of which you can buy through Liberty. There's a pig, of course — but also three different cats, a guinea pig and a badger.

coin bank shaped like a house

Of course, a coin bank doesn't have to be shaped like an animal. Zach Medler makes coin banks shaped like houses.

money boxes shaped like cupcakes
money boxes shaped like ladybugs - and a turtle

And the Cupcake Lady makes money boxes shaped like cupcakes, of course — as well slices of pie, penguins, ladybugs, turtles and much more. Update on Oct. 17, 2014: I'm no longer finding the Cupcake Lady.

hen-shaped soft toy money box

And let's end with one more animal, because the Ophélie money box from Lilliputiens makes me grin. Update on April 17, 2019: I'm no longer seeing this money box at Lilliputiens, but the Wolf Nicolas money box is also quite nice!

Related Posts:
Conquering the Coin Clutter
A Piggy Bank Menagerie
Helping You Save: Coin Banks and Money Boxes
What a Pig! Piggy Banks and Money Boxes Worth a Look
June 2010 Organizing Tips and More: Product of the Month
6 Splendid Banks: Piggies and More
Beyond the Piggy Bank: Tzedkah Boxes
Piggy Banks and Money Boxes: Homes for the Spare Change

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Should You Be a Costco Shopper?

toilet paper at Costco

Today I took a field trip to Costco. I'd never been to a Costco before, and I felt it was time to see what all the fuss was about. I walked past the furniture, cell phones, and such; what I was curious about were the food items and the household goods like toilet paper.

And I can certainly see the appeal of shopping at Coastco. If you're shopping for a party — or if you have a large household, lots of storage, or both — Costco might make sense for you.

paper towels at Costco

But if you're someone like me — with a small household and modest storage — you'll need to be really careful in your shopping, or you're likely to wind up with items desperately in search of a place to be stashed away. Where would I put all those paper towels? Or all that toilet paper?

watermelon at Costco

While there were some things that came in reasonable quantities that could work for anyone — a single watermelon, individual bottles of wine — I was amazed at how many things only came in large sizes. And it wasn't just the packages of TP and paper towels.

packages of sausage at Costco

Tastes of various types of Aidells sausage were being handed out, and they were pretty good. But the packages at Costco each had 15 sausages; unless I was having a party, I'd never want to buy a package of 15. My local grocery has packages of 4; that's going to work much better for me. Yes, I could freeze them, as the salesman pointed out when I complained about the package size — but I have very limited freezer space, and I don't want to use that space for 11 sausages, all the same variety.

large bottle of steak sauce at Costco

And why would I ever need a 33-oz bottle of steak sauce?

2-pack of aluminum foil at Costco

Even aluminum foil came in a 2-pack. I never need more than one roll of aluminum foil at a time.

About the only thing I'd want to buy in Costco-sized quantities is bottled water, which I need as an earthquake supply.

Now, I'm using Costco here just as an example — you can just as easily overstock at any other warehouse store, or even at a sale at a regular grocery store. Saving money (and saving on trips) by buying in volume can be great — but only if you're buying stuff you'll really use, and if you won't be tripping over the stuff for the next six months.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Whiteboards: Keeping To-Dos Visible

whiteboard to-do vinyl wall decals - set of three

Figured out what I need as my ultimate To-Do manager. Whiteboard on the wall. Job done. — Richard Barley

Richard isn't the only one who finds a whiteboard (or a dry erase board in a color other than white) the best tool for keeping a to-do list. If a dry erase board seems like it might be the right tool for you, and you want something beyond the basic whiteboard, I've got some suggestions.

Some whiteboards come in the form of vinyl wall decals, like the "To Do" boards above, from Lulukuku.

vinyl decal dry erase board

Write on Walls has a couple dry erase decals that caught my eye: this one, and another one shaped like a page torn out of a notebook.

ferret-shaped dry erase board

Some whiteboards will only appeal to a select few — such as this ferret-shaped dry erase board from Isabella Gucci.

magnetic whiteboard with a Mondrian look

And some whiteboards are also magnetic boards, such as this Mondrian-inspired dry erase board from Kikkerland.  [via Cerentha Harris at Herman Miller]

Twitter bird dry erase board

But as an avid Twitter user, I'm especially enamored of the Tweet Bird Notice Board, from Signs for Homes. It's made of powdercoated steel. (Twitter users might realize that this looks more like the old Twitter logo than the new one rolled out in early June.)

Related Posts:
Dry Erase Boards - Not Just Your Basic Whiteboard Any More