Thursday, May 10, 2012

Small Changes Making a BIG Difference

Have you ever made a really small change that paid HUGE dividends in terms of making your life easier? Well, I've stumbled upon a few recently, so I thought I'd share my discoveries.

This first one is thanks to Diane over at Living Simply On Purpose. She recently did a post on de-cluttering the bedroom that sort of got me to thinking. I've gotten rid of the vast majority of the junk from my bedroom, but it still feels cluttered. At this point the problem isn't really too much stuff, it's too much indecision!

If you happen to be crazy enough to read my blog regularly, you might remember that I generally don't wash my clothes until they are genuinely dirty. While this habit saves TONS of time and energy doing laundry, it also means that I end up in indecision land when it comes to determining if something qualifies as dirty or not.

The result is generally that I end up with a pile of not quite clean and not quite dirty cloths on top of the bedroom dresser.

But somehow Diane's post got me to thinking, and it occurred to me that what I really needed was to designate a space where the "transitional" stuff could live. I totally can't believe that it's taken me forty-some-odd years to figure this one out, but I simply cleared out a drawer (got rid of a pile more T-shirts that I never wear) and designated it as the place for the "not ready for hamper time players."

And now my bedroom dresser looks like this:

It's a tiny change in the overall scheme of things, but the difference it's making in my mental state is HUGE!

So there's been a similar transformation in the kitchen. Even though I've had a dishwasher the whole time I've lived in this house, I've always had a dish drainer on the kitchen counter. It was used for hand washables and for a place to dry things that didn't get dry in my old dishwasher (since I didn't use the drying feature because of energy waste and melted plastic.)

But, as you might expect, the thing just always became a place where homeless kitchen clutter ended up. (Note the random lids and other assorted stuff that has taken up residence in this photo.)

Anyhow, I had to clear the counter for the installation of the new dishwasher, and since the beautiful new Bosch dries with no energy - and cleans things that I couldn't put into the old dishwasher - I discovered that I don't need the drainer anymore. When I do need to wash something by hand, I either dry it by hand immediately, or just put it out on a dish towel to dry.

But since there's no dish drying rack living there permanently, when things are dry, the towel gets hung up and I get my kitchen counter back!

It's totally AMAZING!!! I can't believe how much easier it is to cook & clean when you've got a bit more counter space. Once again, it's really a tiny change, but I can't believe how much less stress I feel about my kitchen now.

Anyhow - those are my exciting revelations. Now I just have to figure out how to apply this principle to the rest of the house!

So tell me... does anybody out there have any other similar suggestions for me? If anybody can tell me how to keep the piles from taking root on my desk I'd be grateful!


  1. Thanks for sharing these tips! I fear that I have both of those clutter 'afflictions', check that all three (including the desk thing)... and I now know how to fix the first two as well! Great ideas! I sit eagerly, perched at the edge of my seat waiting to find out how to deal with the desk thing...


    1. Well... I wouldn't hold your breath on the desk one. Paper clutter is my downfall!

  2. Am I indecisive? Maybe.

    I do have a copy of 'Clear your Clutter with Feng Shui." sometimes I'll read a bit of it to try and get motivated. It's not the clearing up, it's the getting started that's hard. And then I ger half done before I have to quit, so I'm left with the mess scattered around instead of contained in one spot. Last time I had a Friday off, I started out with Clean All The Things!' and end up with 'Eat All The Fritos!' I like the One Thing At A Time idea much better.

    1. Oh dear... I didn't realize they still made Fritos. But I totally agree. Trying to "Clean All The Things" generally leads to trouble in my experience.

  3. It all comes down to that whole "A [good] place for everything and everything in its place" thing.

    For desk things, I tried an in-box for things I couldn't decide on right away. Not good! I ended up tossing things in there that I could have decided on right away but didn't feel like it. Same problem with junk drawers. But I do like having a box for all those little things that are extra (well-labeled extra parts like screws and buttons) and that are found (little things you don't know what they are, but you might realize what they are later when you're trying to fix something). I know exactly where to look for those kinds of things now.

    Another strategy I like is putting things in the most handy place even if it seems wrong. Example: all my life, the cleaning supplies have gone under the sink. Maybe because pipes leak and that doesn't hurt plastic bottles of cleaning supplies. But now I have a plate rack under there full of those tall things that won't fit anywhere else in my kitchen--cookie sheets, pizza pans, cutting boards. And my cleaning supplies are at the bottom of my pantry at the far end of the kitchen. (Except for a container of dish soap and one of hand soap on the counter next to the sink.) It's much more important to have a cutting board handy than to have a refill of dish soap handy.

    When I was younger, I'd never seen a clean microwave that wasn't new. But of course it turns out that if you prevent most messes (with lids/plates/covers) and clean up the other messes right away, it's very easy to have a clean microwave. By checking my car every time I go inside, I also always have a clutter-free car. So just not letting things build up is a very helpful strategy for me. It's sooo much easier to let things slide than to keep up with them, but then things get overwhelming and depressing. You can go too far with putting things away mid-project, but I am in little danger of erring in that particular direction!

    Back to desk things. I use file folders for some things. Not just the usual like medical records but also weird things like maps (one for city maps and one for printed directions to places in town), take-out menus, things to do in town, and recipes I might want to try some day (several files). I have notebooks for some things (favorite tested recipes, renovation ideas, photos/travel journals). I have a shoe box for envelope-sized things like the car title, the city's estimate of my house value, utilities bills I still get by mail, and tax forms I get at the beginning of the year. This shoe box has no lid and lives in a desk drawer, so it's handy. Another box full of old tax forms and their supporting documents is in the closet under some other boxes since I only pull it out once a year.

    Another strategy is reducing paper by doing things more things online--electronic billing, auto bill pay, online calendars and reminders, etc., and reducing subscriptions to magazines and catalogs.

    What I need the most help with is the "garden" (aka yard of weeds). I like to be humane and open minded, but when the paper mulberry can drop a hundred seedlings in a single square foot, that's not fair. How about all those millions of beautiful white flowers that turn out to be called beggar's lice (because they make millions of burrs)? I have to be a vicious killer if I don't want my entire yard taken over by one of the weeds. Yes, you can dig everything up and lay down black cloth (thus blocking honey bees from your earth), but the weeds grow through that, too. You can dig everything up and cover it with black plastic in the 100-degree summer. That kills everything except at the edges where the wind keeps yanking it up, and then only the most insidious plants that expand underground or via runners grow there. My current best plan is planting powerful native plants to duke it out with the evil infiltrators.

    1. Hi Debbie,

      Thanks so much for your wonderful comment!

      As a life long slob, I am in awe of your clean it up as you go strategy. I'm sure some of this comes from my other bad habit of hurrying through life... especially hurrying through anything that I think might be disagreeable!

      I think a big part of my problem with the desk is that I fear throwing away something that might be important. So I end up with piles and piles of utility bills, receipts, etc all "waiting to be filed". I HATE filing things... not sure why... Perhaps it's because it's such a pain to squat down to the bottom drawer of the file cabinet where most of it lives. Maybe I should try swapping drawers, so the files that I have to access the most are on the top rather than the bottom. Hmm...

      My other desk problem is that I suffer from an "out of sight out of mind" syndrome. So if something needs my attention, I always leave it out on the desk so I don't forget to deal with it. But inevitably it gets buried and then it never gets dealt with because it's buried! Oy!!!

      I have most of my bills on autopay, and have gone paperless with most things, which REALLY helps, but it's been a few years since I set it all up, so perhaps I should revisit that and see if I can go further in that direction.

      I share the yard of weeds issue... Here it's thistles and bindweed. UG.... I actually have a post in the works on this topic, which is rather laughable if you could see the state of my front yard... but I'm slowly trying to convert it to native low water plants that can choke out the invaders.... not holding my breath for a miracle cure though!

      Thanks for your tips on the desk, I'm seriously mulling over the idea of swapping file cabinet drawers...

    2. Wow, you made my comment famous! And it actually inspired a helpful idea, yea!

      In situations where I'm not good at keeping up with things, I have a back-up system. Like at the end of every month, I double-check that I've paid all my bills (though I try to pay them as they come in). Actually, that's my only back-up system.

      My clean it up as I go strategy is only being applied to some things--microwave, laundry, car, cooking ingredients, mail (mostly), books and movies and games. I am trying to apply it to more and more things--dishes (want dishwasher!!), recipes and other good ideas I want to try, and photos.

    3. The desk clean out continues... I'll probably write a post about it soon, although I fear I was too ashamed to take many "before" photos! But you made me realize that things tend to pile up on my desk because they don't have a good home, and so much of my "prime real estate" (like the easily accessible desk drawers) were totally filled with crap that doesn't need to be there! I'm currently dealing with the big desk drawer that I seriously hadn't opened in years except to try to cram in the odd piece of bubble wrap or something that I felt too guilty to toss. In the back I found phone books from 2007! OY!

  4. Hey there! Your bedroom dresser looks GREAT!! Good for you :)
    I hear you about the dish rack... I have a old dishwasher that we haven't used in about 2 years now, so there is always a dish rack on my counter as well. For the longest time I hated seeing it every day and it ALWAYS has something in it. I think now I've just learned to NOT see it. I'm not sure it would be worth the amount of retraining of boys it would take to get them to wash AND dry dishes that they use. I think I'm going to try putting the rack away for a week or so and see what happens. It makes my whole day brighten when I can pass through the kitchen and it is clean, tidy and clutter free.
    If I knew how to deal with paper and my desk, I would write a post on it. But alas, I think I will eventually die under a pile of paper...
    (thanks for the blog mention, by the way!)

    1. Good luck with the dish drying thing... training myself to do something different is difficult enough, I sort of can't imagine trying to train 2 teenagers as well!

      Don't know if this would help you... I sorta doubt it, but just in case. Not sure if you're not using the dishwasher because it's broken or to save energy or because of sub-par performance or what, but I just discovered that using the right dishwasher detergent makes a WORLD of difference. I'm gonna write a post about it but Finish Powerball Packs have changed my life!

      I'm working on the desk... I'm re-visiting paperless statements and finding that I can go a lot further in that direction than was possible a few years ago when I first started trying to automate that sort of thing. I'm not holding my breath for a clean desk, but hopefully I can at least make it less dreadful!


I welcome your thoughts so please leave me a comment and I promise I will respond.

On older posts I've had to enable comment moderation to prevent spammers, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up right away - unless you're just commenting for the sake of embedding a link, in which case I really wish you wouldn't waste your time or mine because I'll just delete it.

Thanks, and have a fabulous day!