Thursday, October 28, 2010

Triaging random stuff

There are days when stuff piles up.

In past, stuff on the table would get swept off into grocery bags and stashed, usually in preparation for guests. We weren't like artist Andy Warhol, who swept the ephemera of his life into 610 boxes as an artistic gesture.

No. We just didn't want to deal with our stuff. [Doesn't that sound like a statement one might make about an entire generation or country, and how that large group has dealt with the world?]

Anyway, I had a friend who had once worked as a professional organizer. She used to work for Don Aslett, author of Clutter's Last Stand.

My friend taught me the triage technique they would use to sort through stuff.

1) Separate the items on the table into three piles: keepers, trash, and "Don't know."

2) Throw away the trash. Put away the keepers.

3) Sort the "Don't know" pile into three piles: keepers, trash, and "Don't know."

4) Throw away the trash. Put away the keepers.

5) Sort the "Don't know" pile into two piles: keepers, trash.

6) Throw away the trash. Put away the keepers.

That was it.

You may modify as you wish to add recycle and/or donate boxes to contain those items you want to move out "responsibly," but the basic method is the same.

Here's my table part way through triage: A bin of my stuff to be put away, a jar of pens and stuff to be put away, a pile of papers to go through (scanner on and recycle/shred bins handy), and a small pile of my husband's game-related items he needs for an ongoing auction.

All we need to do is invite some guests over, to make sure we finish the process...

Letting go (and making money)

My beloved has performed a major purge of his games. I was surprised, if gratified, at the number of games he was willing to let go.

Many games went free to charity and local friends. A few games even got trashed (gasp).

We were left with a large pile of games (164 to be exact) that he would only bequeath to fellow gamers. Thirty-four games were donated to a local game club that maintains a library.

And the remaining 130 games are being offered for auction at Board Game Geek.

Before the auction ends on 31 October, go to and check out what Santa was giving folks for Christmas this year...

If nothing else, it's an education in what people are willing to pay for the stuff we're willing to let go.

How to minimize new paper

My 300 boxes have sensitized me to the impact of keeping stuff, particularly paper. In honor of World Paper Free Day, let me share my tips to reduce printing and copying.

1) Don't keep a printer plugged into your computer. Make it a hassle to print a page.

2) Rotate your LCD monitor to portrait orientation. This lets you read the majority of "pages" in the layout you'd get with a printed copy. [Google to find out how to do this - and don't do this to office colleagues on April 1st...]

3) Set the default printer to "Adobe PDF." [This is one way to make printing a minor hassle]

4) When reading pdf files, type CTRL-L. This will get rid of all the menus and show you just the page - works really great on a rotated monitor.

5) Save pdfs to a folder on your desktop - then drag this folder over to your e-reader on a regular basis. Then you have your documents wherever you go.

6) Keep a scanner plugged into your computer, to convert paper other people give you into pdfs.

If you've got a willing friend, have a contest to see who can produce the least paper...

Happy World Paper Free Day!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Paper Free Day - 28 October 2010

Paper is overwhelming us. Not just us, my family. Not just US, my country. But us, the world.

For one day, let's not create new paper - here are tips from the video, along with my suggestions:

1) Do not print or copy documents unless absolutely required.

[Meg's idea - open a text document and write down "why" each time you do print/copy something]

2) Use document scanners to convert paper to electronic format, then shred the paper.

[Meg's idea - keep a box for documents to shred and take it at the end of the day to a place that will shred by weight (often $2/pound), then give yourself a gift equal in value to the cost of the shredding]

3) Use Web 2.0 technologies like wikis and blogs for internal communication and collaboration.

[Meg's idea - blog/tweet/e-mail about world paper free day, and include the instruction that they MUST NOT PRINT out what you send]

4) Keep [put] all your documents requiring review and refinement into a single electronic place.

[Meg's idea - do this for all documents associated with at least one project you really care about]

5) Use web interfaces and forms for online applications and order placement, replace paper forms with eForms.

[Meg's idea - you know that gift you get to give yourself because of the shredding? Make that "gift" a download - buy it online using an online form. Bonus if you also e-mail a company that doesn't allow their product to be downloaded and tell them lack of electronic option is why you didn't buy something from them today]

6) Sign up for e-bill delivery or online billing rather than paper statements, and pay your bills electronically.

[Couldn't say it better. Bonus if you switch from an account that doesn't offer paperless statements to one that does (and tell them why they lost your business)]

7) Learn about electronic signatures and how they work in your environment.

[Meg's idea - send someone an electronically-signed e-mail today and forward the url for the World Paper Free Day video: ]

8) Map, design, and manage all you business processes electronically.

[Meg's idea - disconnect a computer from the printer today and see how much you can do without hooking up the cable]

Happy Paper Free Day!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making a Double-deep Box Shelf

So here I am with my 300 boxes, and I figured out what to do with them (storage-wise). I can't just stack them one atop the others. It isn't stable, it is impossible to get to any boxes that have other boxes on top of them, and the boxes on the bottom will collapse in time. The answer is three 8-foot wide 7-box tall double-deep box shelves, each of which will hold ~100 boxes (98 to be exact).

I create these box shelves from 2x3s, which are strong enough to bear the weight of even a paper-filled bankers box (15 pounds) without sagging unacceptably. It's true. Check out the "Shelf Sag Calculator" aka "The Sagulator" if you doubt me.

Here's a picture showing the frame at the back of the box shelf:

The horizontal 2x3s are separated by 12" uprights, placed so that two boxes will fit on either "wing" with three boxes in the center of each shelf.

Then I had to figure out where the studs were in the wall. I know there is a purpose-designed magnet stud-finder thing you can buy. I even think I have one, somewhere in one of the boxes... Lacking the stud-finder, I used powerful magnets we'd been using on our fridge:

Back-most frame attached to the wall, I created two more frames, effectively identical to the frame in the back. The challenge now was to attach the three frames so they will support both the boxes in back and the boxes in front. Each box is 16" deep, so two boxes is 32" deep. 2x3s are 2.5 inches wide, so the three of them use up 7.5 inches, leaving me 24.5 inches of space. Divided by two.

I cut a handful of studs into 12.25" lengths, and used them to space the three frames the proper distance apart:

And on the "public" side, I used three angle-cut 32" pieces of 1x3 at top, middle, and bottom to brace the piece and maintain the spacing:

And, voila! Behold the finished frame for the double-deep box shelf:

What to do with hangers?

Part of the challenge of getting rid of things is knowing *how* to get rid of things. Though these hangers hadn't yet filled a box, they were clogging up our closets.

They don't look like much in this picture, because this hanger rack stores them so neatly, but that's 109 hangers. Picture them with the paper and foam and stuff from the dry cleaners, and they took up a lot more space.

I was able to cut through the paper-covering on the hangers and quickly pull the paper off each end. For the hangers with cardboard (ones used for pants or folded sweaters) it was an easy matter to pop off the cardboard.

As for the wire hangers covered with foam [for hanging dresses/shirts/sweaters that might slide off] I've kept the foam. I understand you can re-use the foam on plastic hangers (recommended because they help clothes keep their shape better than wire hangers.

So there's one box prevented from ever coming into being in the first place. Hooray!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why I'm actually doing this: Part 2 - Aquaponics

While I was researching the life associated with Tiny Homes, I came across the Windowfarms Project, a New York City-based initiative to encourage urban dwellers to grow some of their own food inside year-round. And I came across Backyard Aquaponics, an Australian website/magazine talking about the combination of hydroponics (soil-less gardening) and aquaculture (fish farming). Other Australian resources are ecofilms Australia, and Murray Hallam's great website.

So cool. Makes me want to move to Australia.

Why is aquaponics trendy in Australia? It started with this 2006 TV spot of Joel Malcolm in his backyard aquaponic garden:

Since I don't have a suitable backyard for an outdoor system (townhome covenants...) and I didn't yet have space for a substantial indoor system (300 boxes, remember?) I began dabbling in aquaponic windowfarms. Below is a video from July 14th, showing my daughter's windowfarm fed by a fish tank and a simple raft aquaponics system:

Fun though it is to have a window full of green stuff, it doesn't come close to providing a substantial portion of the family diet. Plus the system isn't robust - my modifications to include fish in the basic windowfarm design sometimes gets clogged. The fish are still alive, but plants in an aquaponic system don't do too well when they're left dry for a few days (business trips...).

So I dream of the time when I have enough free space to have the lowest level of my townhome free of random junk and instead have a nice garden [along with a nice guest space and laundry/utility/storage].

So there it is. After years of could-have-would-have-should-have self-flagellation, it took the dream of aquaponics to get me going.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why I'm actually doing this: Part 1 - Tiny homes

I write. I'm not an author - yet. But I write, and I hang with writers.

A frequent topic of discussion amongst us writers is how it might be possible to go full-time. A lot of that has to do with minimizing outgoing expenses. The discussion the past year and more has become more practical because of the economy, with some of us "giving up" our day jobs before we might have wished.

The Tiny Home movement has become a loving topic of conversation. My favorites are the homes from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

I like to daydream about living in a tiny home. Alas, I have people and things I am not willing to jettison just so I can live in a 100 square foot house in the woods powered by solar and wind energy.

Actually, my three-story townhome is downright itty compared to what many of my friends and colleagues own. But itty can be more than enough space if we get rid of all the extra stuff.

I've often joked that I want to die penniless (the first one to get rid of all their pennies wins). It's not that I actually want to die without anything to leave to my family and causes, just a desire to reduce the jangling change in my pockets.

It isn't a joke, though, if I die and leave a bunch of junk for my heirs to deal with. I want the precious to be obvious and catalogued and easy to handle, with the non-precious easy to dispose of, if there's any at all.

If my junk would be a burden for my heirs after I die, why shouldn't I recognize what a burden it is for us while I'm still alive?

And so I dream about the life I could lead if I had only that which would fit in a tiny home (and the tiny housekeeping duties that go with it). Bit by bit I organize and box and discard the thousands of pounds of stuff that prevent us from living that simpler life, the tons of meaningless, demanding stuff that will steal the nights and weekends we could spend enjoying the rest of our lives together.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

And the results are...

So now we know what the boxes contain.

Dang, that's a lot of paper!!! At 15 pounds per box, that's 1650 pounds of paper for the miscellaneous paper-filled boxes alone.

I'm so glad I decided to box the stuff up and label it without trying to do each box as I came to it. Boxes of random stuff and/or boxes of books I can deal with. But those boxes of paper would have stopped me in my tracks without fail.

If you're noticing the dates on my posts, let me explain the several-week break. Two things interrupted progress since August: other person A and other person B.

Other person A is a friend who needed a place to stay. That was actually cool - getting the clutter organized and boxed has freed up space so we can help folks out that way. It's been a bit more involved than merely cutting an extra copy of a key, but in the end I'd rather have spent that time helping someone than plowing through boxes.

Other person B is a family member who saw the expanse of empty space and filled it with game boxes. That's not been all bad, though, because person B was inspired to sort the games into:

1) trash,
2) give away,
3) sell,
4) archive, and
5) display for easy access.

The total volume of games is going from ~200 cubic feet to ~75 cubic feet, with many people the happy recipients of new-to-them games. There are several piles of game boxes yet, but the selling/donating process is actively continuing.

Next time I'll post a bit about the dream that keeps me motivated to keep moving forward on this decluttering journey.