Sunday, January 29, 2012

more moving tips - how to save a fortune on packing supplies

Trying to move without spending money on packing supplies is hard. We've been in our new place for almost a week now and finally totaled it all up. We spent a mere SIX dollars on packing supplies. Six! here's how we did it:

1. Start a month or two in advance. Cardboard boxes are easy to find, but it takes time to gather them all up.

2. Get friendly with your local liquor store. They have lots of liquor boxes that they're happy to give away for free.

3. Stop by the copier and printer at the office. Any big office goes through paper like water. That means there are plenty of boxes left too.

4. Learn where the cardboard recycling areas area in your building or town. Online shopping is more popular than ever, which means people are discarding large boxes pretty frequently. This is a great place to find TV boxes, which are sturdy and have hand-holds.

5. Use your clothes instead of bubble-wrap. It's much more eco-friendly to sandwich your pot lids, dishes and wedding photos between bath towels than to spend $20 on a huge roll of bubble wrap that you'll only use once. Stuff mugs into multiple layers of socks. Use t-shirts that are destined for the "rags" pile for the glassware. You wouldn't want to find glass shards in your shorts!

6. Use your suitcases and backpacks. They're sturdy and are easy to transport. Fill them up!

7. Don't buy more packing tape than you need, but do buy the biggest roll you can find. We only went through two rolls (huge ones of super thick tape, $3 each). This way you aren't left with a huge multi-pack that you have to store.

And as you'll see in the next post, we had a LOT to pack...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Minimalist and missing the point?

I've been quite absent on the blog lately. I'll be back in full decluttering force one we close on our condo on Monday. Until then, take a look at this New York Times article about a designer who took minimalism to the aboslute core: everything in his house is white.

What do you think? Minimalism sacrificed for aesthetics? Or pure efficiency?

I appreciate the aestetic beauty and I'm glad it works for him. But I'm glad that minimalism is a flexible ideal. I prefer to appreciate books for what's in between the covers. And I hate cleaning dirt off of white surfaces.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday focus: organizing cords, cables, and headphones

Small electronics may be the fastest-growing category of stuff that Americans acquire. Those gadgets come with a lot of cords, cables, cases, and headsets you may not use anymore.This Friday's decluttering focus is on the stuff that comes along with your electronic devices: cords, cables, and headphones.

How much do you find? They're sneaky little buggers, hiding in drawers you didn't expect...some of the the plugs might even still live in outlets! Here's the mess that I found:

First, we purge:

Then we organize.

Here are some of my favorite tips for organizing cables and cords:

  • Used, cleaned ziploc baggies are great for storing cords and cables. Small jewelry gift boxes can also work.
  • Winding the cords up is an important to keep them from tangling themselves.
  • Use rubber bands, binder clips, hair ties, or old bread bag ties to tie them up.
  • Keep them all in one place!

Careful with the binder clips. If they're too small they'll damage the cords.

And voila! Instantly organized peripherals drawer. Now I just have to make myself put them back in the baggies when I'm done.

Seven more items gone and my cords 'n cables drawer is much neater!

The Reckoning

Items 52, 53, and 54: a computer charger, three cellphone chargers, one USB cable, and two cell phone headsets.

Cost: I probably spent about $20 on the headsets and about $30 on the chargers. The USB cable likely came with an old camera so I won't count it. The laptop cable came with the laptop so we'll call it free too.

Why did I get rid of them? They were duplicates, or they only worked on phones I don't have anymore.

Fate: The local thrift shop. If you can't donate them to a thrift shop, Verizon will recycle them. You can also try selling them on I took the laptop cable into work and donated it to our IT department.

Total money wasted on junk: $258. I could've bought a scalped Taylor Swift concert ticket with that money. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My new decluttering and anti-hoarding habit: get rid of expired goods! (tip #10)

FYI, this post isn't for the faint of heart.

I grew up thinking that food was the only thing that needed to get thrown out when it expired. Normal people also throw out cosmetics, lotions, pantry items, and medicines when they expire.

Why is this important? Because *this* is what happens when you have eczema and you put years-old hand cream on your hands.

I am never, ever keeping any cosmetics past their expiration date again. I don't care how much I spent on them.

Ask the medical librarian: Why did this happen?

Joanna the Medical Librarian says: In a nutshell, bacteria and fungi grow in cosmetics. Bacteria and fungi play a role in eczema. The chemicals in cosmetics also break down into other chemicals that aren't always great for the skin. For more info, see the FDA's page on expiration dates on cosmetics.

What caused this? Item 50, an old tub of moisturizer.

While I was at it, I found item 51, some blush samples...

From 1993. GAAAAHHHH!!!

The Reckoning

The blush samples were free. The cream probably cost about $5. The Total Money Wasted on Junk total is now $213. I am absolutely okay with tossing those five bucks in the trash.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Forget the soap!

Soap is one of many things I used to buy a lot of when it was on sale. My parents always have a stash of it. But do we need to stockpile soap? No. In fact, I'm realizing I need fewer bottles of soap in the house than I first thought.

Take a look at how much hand washing soap you have and consolidate what you can. Donate the ones you don't like to a local homeless shelter.

As part of my home inventory I found that we have four bottles of the stuff. We should never need more than three, one for each bathroom and one for the kitchen. One was nearly empty so I consolidated them and we're finally down to three.

Where can you get by without a bottle of hand soap? I think we can get by with just two in the whole condo, one for each bathroom. In the kitchen I would prefer to use a soap that doubles for both dish and hands if I can find one. Anyone know of one?

I'm leaning towards making my own dish soap like Annienygma does for so very little money. But this will mean I'll have to keep a separate bottle of hand soap at the kitchen. I have terrible eczema on my hands and I can't use a homemade dish soap for regular hand washing without getting rashes. Maybe I'm stuck with two bottles forever on the kitchen counter.

What soaps do you use? What "double duty" soaps do you like? Do you make your own?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What do you love more, stuff or long weekends?

Easy answer, right? Everyone's going to pick long weekends. But does the state of our homes reflect that?

In the past my long weekends were spent neatening up my space. I had so much stuff and was so careless with it that I needed all three days to get my space tidy enough to make it presentable. No wonder I felt like I never had a day off! No wonder my parents are so stressed out. That can't be good for their hearts.

How many long weekends or days off have we lost to tidying up our junk? I don't know about you, but I'm not losing this weekend to my clutter.

When you start decluttering you'll feel and see the difference very quickly. Maybe it won't be a huge difference. Last night we were comfortable having company over with only 2 hours of tidying and cleaning up before. So much better than needing an entire weekend!

See the difference for yourself this weekend by focusing on the things that you really want to do with your time. Remember how good this felt the next time you look into closet and see that it's stuffed to the gills. This is why we want to change.

You may see another post this weekend...but only if my clutter can drag me away from my husband and my guitar!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is your home a computer graveyard?

Mine is!

Is yours?

Today's decluttering challenge for you: Find and recycle the dead or surely dying computers and computer peripherals.

After you've wiped your hard drive, go rid yourself of them. If you're not married to a computer geek, PC World has instructions for completely erasing a hard drive. You can look up a recycling center near you at

My six-year-old laptop bit the dust on Sunday. Even though the husband built his own desktop and is something of an IT genius he couldn't figure out how to fix it. I tried to use the old macbook I've had since college but it only boots up long enough to grab a few files before it chokes. Two computers dead in a weekend. Argh.

At least I can get another decluttered item out of this. On to...

The Reckoning!

Decluttered item 49: my Dell laptop.

Cost: Gifted to me when I took my first telework job in 2009. It was three years old then and had been beat on by medical students all during that time.

Why I decided to get rid of it: Four words: blue screen of death. I have a desktop, so no need to keep the laptop and no need to replace it either.

Fate: Best Buy recycling immediately after we wiped the hard drive. If you are getting rid of a laptop, don't forget to do this!!

Money lost on junk: Still $208.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Grief and clutter series introduction

"I kept his shoes. He would need them, if he was to come back."

Joan Didion, "The Year of Magical Thinking"

My grandmother, circa 1945

When we lose a loved one we are only left with three things: our memories of them, the ways they changed our lives for the better, and the stuff they left behind.

The stuff they left behind is the only tangible thing on this list. This is what makes "grief clutter" so difficult to part with. It is the most emotional kind of clutter there is.

I'm very much still learning to deal with grief clutter. I was closer to my grandmother than I am to my father. She passed away over two years ago and yet I still have a terrible time bringing myself to even think about getting rid of many of Gram's things.

I'm going to spend more than one post on this topic because hoarding is a coping mechanism in my family. Gram was very involved in all of our lives and nothing we've had to cope with in the last few years has been as difficult as her death. I know this event plays a role in my mother's clutter-related behavior and mine. But whether or not you are a hoarder or the child of hoarders, losing a loved one is hard. Parting with their belongings is not easy.

Over the coming weeks I'll be writing posts about dealing with clutter following the loss of a loved one. Some will be about strategies for parting with this "grief clutter," and some will be about hoarding as a coping mechanism for grief and other stresses. Hopefully this series won't be depressing but instead will help us realize that the truly important things our loved ones leave us with are the intangible ones.

What objects have you held onto from family and friends you've lost? What have you gotten rid of? Why those objects?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Boldly GONE!

I'm turning bright red in embarassment as I say this: when I was a kid I went to Star Trek conventions. Let the mocking begin!

I could say I've grown out of it, except I'm writing this post while watching Deep Space Nine...but, admitting I have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? Throwing things out is even better!


The Reckoning!

Decluttered items 46, 47, and 48

Cost: I recall these being a couple bucks each, so let's call it $6 for the set.

Why I decided to get rid of it: They sit there on my junk shelf. And they don't even look pretty.

Fate: The Original Series card was autographed by Nichelle Nichols so I sold it on eBay for $1. The other ones didn't sell so they went in the recycling bin.

Money lost on junk: Minus what I sold it for, $5 this time for a total of $208.

Decluttering tip #9: reduce your financial account clutter, and I don't mean the paper kind


When most people think about financial clutter they think about the piles of paperwork that come with financial accounts. So we read blogs and books and websites about how many years of statements to keep, whether we should digitize or laminate our tax returns, whether we should go out and buy fireproof safes to keep all of it secure. We don't think about the source of the clutter.

Have you considered reducing the number of accounts you have? I really mean 'accounts' -- not just credit cards.

Add up the number of financial accounts you have: savings accounts, checking accounts, money market accounts, IRAs, TSPs, 401ks, 529 plans, CDs, mutual funds, stock purchases, bonds, etc., and of course loans and credit cards. How many are there?

Why reduce the number of accounts you have?

Reducing the accounts automatically reduces the amount of statements you receive. It  makes it easier to keep your statements straight and you're less likely to make mistakes that will land you with fees when you know where your money is.

It's also easier to quickly add up your assets when you need to. And boy, does it make the taxes easier come April 15th.

Large purchases are another reason to cut down financial clutter. My husband and I just bought a condo. If you're going to be in the market to purchase a home anytime soon, you should know that you will need to provide two months' documentation for every single financial account you plan to use for the purchase. That can be an awful lot of statements. We had nearly 20 accounts (and only four of them were credit cards). That's 40  statements. Forty.

Additionally, when you can see more of your money in one place you avoid the 'silo' effect. Keeping your money in 'silos' (eg. one savings account for the house, one money market account for the kids' college, one for the Disney trip next year, one for the Europe trip, etc.) means that you may not have much in any one account. Banks often give better interest and return offers when you can invest a larger amount of money at one time.

Don't suddenly get rid of all of your accounts, though.

Talk with a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor before closing a number of accounts. Closing certain kinds of accounts can affect your credit rating. Not to mention, it's a lot to deal with all at once.

If you're making a large purchase where you will need to prove the sources of your cash, you don't want to close accounts just yet. You might be asked to provide not just statements for those accounts, but documentation that you closed them.

My 'virtual' decluttered item for today is three financial accounts (all with the same bank): two CDs and a savings account. We need them to pay for the condo and we won't be reopening them. But alas, they're not tangible, so I won't be adding them to my 365-item tally.

Have you decluttered your financial world? What's worked? What's been a mistake?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

goodbye flashlight + where to recycle batteries

How many flashlights do you own?

Of those,

how many would you need in an emergency?

of those,

how many work?

After doing that math, I only found one! Just one! Hooray, something I haven't stockpiled! On to the trash can with item 45, a flashlight.

But before we go to the reckoning, let's talk about something that goes with flashlights: batteries.

Cut Your Clutter By Switching to Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries  mean that you no longer need to keep huge packages of batteries lying around anymore. You just need a couple spare rechargeables and a charger. This saves money, space, and helps the environment. Get rid of your dead disposable batteries, use up the good ones and then switch to rechargeables. You'll have much more space in your battery drawer!

Battery Recycling

Remember that batteries can be recycled if there is no other option, but it really is best to recycle them. I visited a landfill in college and saw that liquid leaks through the bottom no matter how good the collection system is. It's really best to recycle batteries unless it's dangerous to get the battery out of the device.

You can search for places to recycle batteries on and You can also ask your workplace if they collect batteries. Many will accept batteries from home and work.

The Reckoning

Cost:Free. Another damned freebie taking up space in my life.

Why I decided to get rid of it: It doesn't work.

Fate: The trash can. Normally I would recycle the battery but this one was badly corroded it was too dangerous to try to remove it. I tested my remaining disposbles and took five into the recycling bin at work.

Money lost on junk: Again, nothing this time. Freebies are evil. Pure evil. Total this year: $203.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Decluttering tip #8: get organized by repurposing your old tupperware

Like everyone else I'm buried in tupperware. My husband has a set, I have a set, and we got third completely different set for our wedding. Then I bought tupperwares that I thought would be good for homemade ice cream but they didn't work well. Now I have a drawer of much more tupperware than I could ever use.

Repurposing tupperware (and not replacing it) is a great way to empty out your tupperware drawer and get more organized at the same time!

You can use tupperware for storing food of course. I keep some of my dry food staples in my old set.

 Don't forget that things other than food store very nicely in tupperware. Add in a label maker, or make your own labels and voila! Instantly organized sock drawer. For this I used all of the tupperwares I bought to use for homemade ice cream. This only took me a few minutes to set up this weekend and it's already saving me time in the morning.


You could use tupperware to store your makeup, batteries, small tools, or sewing items. What other  items could you store in tupperware? Or do you already do this?

"it's cute" is NOT a good reason to keep something

My grandmother unloaded a bunch of her best friend's possessions on me after said best friend passed away. Grandmom couldn't bear to see the goods go to waste and I was too lazy to argue that donating goods to the Salvation Army isn't wasteful.

Besides, the bowls she offered me were beautiful. Clean lines, glass so you could see the food you were eating, and shaped just like the bowls you see in cereal ads on TV. Nevermind that I owned a half dozen bowls already.

As cute as these bowls are, I realized today that they're not actually that comfortable to eat out of. The shape means that I end up dumping cereal on myself far more than I do with other bowls I own. Pure asthetics were a poor reason to accept these bowls and no reason to keep them.

Items 43 and 44, two cereal bowls

And I'm not telling Grandmom. I don't even think she remembers she gave them to me.

The Reckoning

Cost: free

Why I decided to get rid of them: I didn't like using these bowls and I didn't even realize it. Huh.

Fate: The "free stuff" area in our apartment building's basement.

Money lost on junk: Again, nothing this time. Total this year: $203.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

January decluttering habit: stop stockpiling

I'm not a fan of resolutions because I feel like every day, every week, and every month is an opportunity to make ourselves better human beings.

Each month this year I'm going to look a different habit clutter-related habit.  Maybe it'll be a good habit that helps us live less cluttered lives. Maybe it'll be a bad habit that stands in the way of getting and staying decluttered. Either way, it will help us see where we need to change and prove to us that we can make that change happen. On to our first habit, stop stockpiling! Keep in mind though -- it's not stockpiling if you really do use it,  in a reasonable amount of time.

Stockpiling seems to be a trait that's woven deeply into the human psyche. Stockpiling resources when they were available helped cavemen survive famine. It helped our grandparents survive the great depression.

It does almost NOTHING to help us now.

Stockpiling often wastes more money than it saves. Buying more than you can use means you run the risk of any perishables you've purchased going bad. My father bought twenty bottles of vitamins about ten years ago. Last time I went home I saw about half of them still there, all expired. He might as well have bought half the bottles he did at full price.

Buying excessively amounts of goods makes it harder to find the goods you do need to use. This means that you may end up running out to the store because you can't find another product you need, and have somewhere...and wasting money.

Stockpiling ties up liquid assets in investments that depreciate. $50 in half-price shampoo means that you now have ~$47 less in your bank account than you would have had if you'd just bought the one or two bottles you need NOW. Stockpile dozens of different types of goods and you have hundreds or thousands of dollars just sitting on shelves, slowly decaying. It's money that you can't access if you need it.

Stockpiling in and of itself does not provide security. Maybe you're afraid of running out of food in an emergency. That's a reasonable fear. But do you really need a year's supply of tomato soup, or is a week's worth of canned goods enough? Ask yourself why you feel you need to keep long-term supplies of goods around. Can something less material provide the security you need? Perhaps better relationships with your neighbors would be more help in an emergency than that year's supply of toilet paper.

Maintaining a *reasonable* supply of disaster-preparedness items, however, is important, and this isn't stockpiling.  We keep three days worth of water (in our case, six gallons, per FEMA's recommendations at and canned food on hand. In my town I've seen the shelves completely bare when Snowpocalypse struck and grocery store trucks couldn't get in for over a week. So this is something reasonable to prepare for. But am I going to keep six months of food on hand in a 1200-square-foot apartment? No. If a disaster is bad enough that I need six months of food, I need to be finding a way out of our area. In that situation, a map and the camping gear we use for backpacking will do me more good than a six-month supply of food. Be reasonable, not paranoid and irrational.

Stockpiling adds to stress. It's not fun to have a pile of toilet paper rolls fall on your head when you open the linen closet (though it is funny). Why deal with cramped closets and overloaded drawers when you don't have to?

Moving stockpiled goods is a pain. You don't want to have to pack boxes of shampoo when you find a new apartment or house.

What would happen if we only kept enough goods around to keep us going until the next convenient shopping trip?

That's the core of this month's challenge. Let's try using up the items that we have stockpiled and only keeping enough around to reasonably get us until the next shopping trip.

Then tell me your experiences! Did you cut it too close with the toilet paper and have to run out to CVS in the middle of the night? Did your wife steal your chapstick and leave you hunting for the vaseline and contemplating divorce? Or did it work out well for you?

What have you stockpiled? I've stockpiled shampoo, toilet paper, light bulbs, hand cream, pretty notebooks, medicine, pasta, name it. Guess I'm going to be eating a lot of spaghetti this month. Hooray for a lower grocery bill!