101 Questions to Ask the Clutterologist Nancy Miller
The “Interview Questions” section consists of basic questions that can be used in all interviews. The remaining “Q&A” sections are grouped by category. A whole interview can focus on a specific category or several categories. You may pick and choose questions from one or several categories, and let the interview “flow” from there.
1. What is Clutterology?
2. What inspired you to become a Clutterologist?
3. What is clutter?
4. Is there a difference between neat and organized?
5. Why is it hard for people to get organized – and stay organized?
6. What are the most common clutter problems you encounter with your clients?
7. What can clients expect when they hire you? What is involved in a typical Clutterology session?
8. What is the 4-box system used in Clutterology?
Answer: Toss, fix, store, another room
9. How long does it take to get organized?
10. I’m ready to organize a room, how do I proceed?
Answer: Start at the door, proceed clockwise, go quickly, set a time limit, give yourself 5-10 minutes to clean up/pick up, do it a second time.
11. How do you stay organized?
12. Besides homes, what else do you help clients de-clutter and/or organize?
13. What products and/or services do you offer clients?
14. How can our listeners contact you?
Kitchen Clutter Questions
15. What would be a fast way to clean out the kitchen?
Answer: Store it in boxes, take out what you need.
16. How do I organize the recipes I clip from the newspapers, magazines, and the internet?
Answer: This is a two step process. First get sheet protectors and label them Appetizers, Main Course, and Desserts. This is for the untried recipes. When you try it decide if you like it. If yes, file them.
17. What do I do about all those cookbooks in my kitchen?
Answer: Why do you have them? Do you read them? Do you collect them? Do you refer to them? If you collect them, get them out of the kitchen. If you refer to them, have a couple of basics that “serve” you well. If you like to read them, put them where you read them!
18. I’m ready to start on my cupboards, how do I organize my cupboards?
Answer: Put those items that you use most often where they are easy to reach. Those items less used, a little higher/a little lower. Those items used once a year somewhere out of the way.
19. How does the coffee cups vs. mugs exercise work?
Answer: Decide which type do you use and get rid of the other. Or store them somewhere very out of the way. Do you like coffee cups or coffee mugs? If you like mugs and not cups get, rid of the cups. Just because you have them doesn’t mean that you have to keep them. How many mugs do you use before you wash dishes again? That is how many mugs to keep around.
20. How do I organize the food on the shelf?
Answer: First in first out or last in first out. For two weeks, don’t buy any food, see how creative you can be with the food you have in the house!
21. How many items can I have on the counter top?
Answer: If the counter is used to prepare food, remove everything and keep it as free of items as possible. If you don’t use the kitchen then put decorative items on the counter.
22. Where should I place the fondue pot sitting in my kitchen?
Answer: Are you talking about that unused item gotten as a gift, that is still in the box? If you haven’t used it in a year, donate it.
Bathroom & Laundry Clutter Questions
23. My clothes hamper is always full – any suggestions?
Answer: Get a larger container and think non-traditional. A trash can is much studier and durable than laundry baskets or hampers.
24. I have heard rumors that all this makeup that I have been keeping, might not be such a good idea. Why?
Answer: Makeup has a very short shelf-life (most from six-months to two-years). Makeup near the eye has the shortest duration. Once the makeup is opened, continue using it until it’s used up.
25. What is the best way to organize my towels?
Answer: Many people store their towels in the hall. If you need the towel in the bath room, store them in the bath room.
26. What is the easiest way to organize the medicine cabinet?
Answer: Smallest place to start. Putting medicine in the medicine cabinet is not a good place to store them because of heat and humidity. Medicines do have expiration dates. Start by getting rid of anything with an expired date.
Office Clutter Questions
27. Is it true that people with a clean desk get promoted more often than those with disorganized work areas?
28. What suggestions do you have for organizing my office?
Answer: Look at ways to create systems in your office. What are you doing more than once? Technology can automate it, but write it down so that you remember how to do it the second time, six-months from now.
29. How should I file my papers?
Answer: Before you file a piece of paper ask yourself: Is it information that I already have in another file? If so, don’t file it a second time (i.e. hard drive and hard copy). Can I obtain it elsewhere? If someone else has a backup, don’t create yet another file. What would happen if it were lost? If you can’t find it when you need it, you might as well toss it now and save yourself the time, aggravation of looking for it.
30. I have a pile of papers to file, any quick tips?
Answer: Have two trays. One labeled A-M the second O-Z then put the paper in the appropriate tray. This simple trick will help speed up your filing—especially if you have more than one drawer or file cabinet.
31. I have metal file drawers in my office and I hate the way the look?
Answer: The magnetic business cards that are found at the office supply store can provide a solution for creative individuals. Create labels for the drawer’s contents or even your motivational or goal cards. Use magnetic photo frames with pictures on the file.
32. Do you have suggestions for backing up my files?
Answer: You have all heard the horror stories about computer files not being backed up. If you are backing up your files, you might want to rehearse a re-install before your computer takes a crash. Just knowing the steps and procedures that you will need to do will help to smoothly reestablish the system. Also, you might find out that what you thought was backing up wasn’t.
33. How can I de-clutter my Date Book System?
Answer: If you are currently using a Franklin Planner, Day Timer or Day Runner take a look at the additional sections that they provide. If you don’t use them, remove them from your planner.
34. What’s the best way to clean out my file cabinets?
Answer: On January 1st, take all your files from your file cabinets and box them in storage boxes. The first 3-4 weeks [months] you will be in the boxes more frequently. Re-file them in the file cabinet. You’d be surprised how often you don’t refer back to the boxes.
35. What’s the easiest way to use the in basket on my desk? I’m having trouble with it.
Answer: A quick suggestion, make sure that any stacking trays that you use open the long way rather than the short way. It is amazing how much easier it is to use them.
36. I can’t seem to get to the bottom of the pile in my in basket – any suggestions?
Answer: Easy trick, every day, flip the pile over. That means that you are working the bottom every other day and the stuff at the bottom doesn’t get buried.
37. At the office I am always putting out fires, what can I do?
Answer: Putting out fires is the world’s way of talking to you—listen. Ask yourself how did this fire start? Fix the problem. Also, keep a log/list of your incoming phone calls, do they ask the same questions; design a system so you don’t have to answer the question.
38. What are some tips for cleaning out desk drawers?
Answer: When cleaning out your desk drawers; match all your parts to its pieces. It is amazing the number of staples we collect for staplers that we don’t have any more or fondue forks for the missing fondue pot. Or typewriter ribbons to typewriters that were donated. It only takes a few minutes.
40. How long do I keep documents?
Answer: It depends, but in general, the purpose for filing is that you are going to use/refer to the material again. A file cabinet is not a black hole; it should be cleaned out once a year.
Technology Clutter Questions
41. Do you have tips for remembering to change the clock for Day Light Savings Time?
Answer: Create a set of instructions and tape it to the appliance (DVD, microwave, etc.) so that you will never have to remember how to change the clock again.
42. What’s the correct way to store audiotapes, CD, DVD, and videotapes?
Answer: Keep the tapes airtight. Keep the tapes as dry as possible. Keep the temperature under 100 degrees and as consistent as possible. Store in a dry cool location. The media can start to break down within 5-7 years. If you want to keep tapes, you might need to transfer them every 10 years to another tape or DVD.
Mail Clutter Questions
43. How can I get rid of junk mail?
Answer: In my book, Clutterology, there is a list of 22 different database companies. However, the most important company is the DMA www.DMAChoice.org.
44. I use mail order catalogs a lot; I don't want to stop them from arriving in my mail box. I don't have to give them up do I?
Answer: No you don’t, but they do share (rent) your name to other companies. You can also request that they decrease the number of mailings that they send to you.
45. How long will it take for my name to be removed from catalog mailing lists?
Answer: Up to 9 months.
46. What do I do with the hundreds, if not thousands, of address labels I receive from organizations?
Answer: Do you put a return address (label) on your bills? Why? Do you think that the utility company or your credit card company put the wrong address on the envelope?
47. Do I really have to put a return label on an envelope?
Answer: No, but let’s do an exercise. What is the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t put a return label on an envelope? You forget the stamp. The post office will open the envelope and mail it back to you (with a note stating that they opened the mail). Perhaps you are 30 days late with a payment. If you have a regular payment history this once is no big deal. MAKES YOU STOP AND THINK!
48. In the mail, I get these mailing labels from the American Veterans. Is that a legitimate organization?
Answer: I’m not sure, but any product that you receive in the mail without requesting it is yours to keep without paying for them. Go to www.CharityWatch.org or www.CharityNavigator.org
49. All that stuff in a bill drives me nuts, is there anything I can do about it?
Answer: Contact the organization and ask that only the bill/invoice be sent to you—many (but not all) organization can comply.
Shopping Clutter Questions
50. Does shopping at discount stores create more clutter [e.g. Costco]?
Answer: Shopping At Discount Stores? Do you find that by shopping at the discount stores that you are actually a) buying more than you wanted b) creating more waste of the product because you have more of it c) not consuming it all because you get tired of it d) spending more money because it cost less in volume? If you answer yes to any of these, maybe the discount stores are not a wise use of your money.
51. I bought expensive items that I never used. I can’t return them – what should I do?
Answer: What’s The Difference Between—buying something expensive but it doesn’t work for you and tossing it? There is no difference. If you have no intentions of return the software, the pair of shoes, the office gadget, the fact that it was expensive will not bring up your property value. The purchase has already been made. You have learned your lesson (if there was a lesson to be learned). Don’t mourn over the money because you have already spent it.
52. Now I have a shirt with nothing to go with it. Should I go shopping?
Answer: No. Donate it and get the donation credit on your income taxes.
Holiday & Events Clutter Questions
53. What is the best way to store holiday lights?
Answer: As you are taking down your holiday lights, consider storing them in zip-lock plastic bags. Storing them in plastic bags makes them easier to use next year because they won’t be tangled and raved with the other light sets.
54. How should I pack holiday ornaments?
Answer: Use zip-lock bags. Place your ornaments in a plastic bag, add a little air in them and then close them. The air pocket will help protect the ornament.
55. Where should I place my good tablecloth and napkins, so I am not scrambling to find them when my family comes over during the holidays?
Answer: Take a picture of the tablecloth and the napkins. Then, when someone asks to help you, show them the picture so they can go and find it. This works great with digital cameras. Print it out on your computer (in color), and put it in a sheet protector.
56. We are about to have a big event (wedding, graduation, etc.) and I need to buy some new serving platters, etc. Do you have a suggestion of where the cheapest place to purchase is?
Answer: Rental and thrift stores.
Car & Travel Clutter Questions
57. My car always seems to be a mess, what to do?
Answer: If it a mess because of trash from fast food drive-through, then change your environment to work for you? Get a bigger garbage can or perhaps put plastic trash bags in the car. Or have a trash can where you park your car.
58. What do I do about keys I can’t identify?
Answer: Put the keys in an envelope for a year. Date the envelope with the date you put the keys in the envelope. If in the next year you don’t use them, toss them out.
59. How can I keep up with my extra keys?
Answer: Take a picture of the object—the filing cabinet, the car door, the car trunk, the swimming pool gate—and then tape the key to the back of the picture. Put the picture/key in a recipe box.
60. I travel a lot. Is it a good idea to keep luggage keys on a key ring?
Answer: Take a safety pin and put the key in the suitcase or take a rubber band and attach the key to the rubber band and the secure the rubber band to the handle.
Gift Clutter Questions
61. What should I do with gifts?
Answer: Thank the giver. If the giver comes over to your home, place the gift where the object is seen when entering the home, pointing it out to the giver and thanking the person again for the gift. The second time the giver visits the home, move the object to a new location (less noticeable). The third time the giver visits the home, move the object to an almost hidden spot. Next time, remove it from the home (donating it to your favorite charity).
62. I have all those [gift] baskets that people have given me for presents, what do I do with them?
Answer: Put on wall.
63. What can I do with gifts I don’t like, and don’t want to throw away?
Answer: Recycle gifts. If you give recycle gifts, as gifts to other people, here is a tip from a famous media person. If she were recycling a gift, she doubles the value compared to what she would have purchase. For instance, if you are buying a wedding present and you plan to spend $10. However, if you are recycling the gift, the value of the gift is $20. Or you might consider “something old, something new.” Instead of just a recycled gift, purchase another little gift to go along with the recycled gift.
Reading Clutter Questions
64. The magazines in my office are piling up, what can I do?
Answer: If they are piling up, they might not be getting read. Donate the subscription to the library.
65. What should I do with the piles of magazines that I have are for work?
Answer: First, establish how many back issues you need—typically 1-2 years with the changes in technology. Photocopy the index, put the photocopy in a 3-ring notebook. This makes it easy to find the article you are looking for.
66. I have a pile of unread reading material that may be important or informative. Should I hold on to it or toss out the unread material?
Answer: The road to ruin is paved with good intentions. Toss your unread material and start fresh! Just this one time.
67. I have a pile of reading to do, what should I do?
Answer: Tear out articles, label, keep for 30 days, and then toss.
68. Where do I put my ____ directory?
Answer: Most people will put the _____ directory on the bookshelf—across the room. It is not handy there, but that is the closest bookshelf. Instead take out the rod in your hanging file and slip that rod between the pages of the _____ directory (the closer to the center the better) and now your directory can be stored in your file drawer—right at your fingertips.
69. Do you have a suggestion for a place to donate items?
Answer: On my web site Clutterology.com I have a list of charities that have special requests for items.
70. What do you suggest I do with my dictionaries and encyclopedias?
Answer: Have you looked at the copyright date of your reference books recently? Dictionaries should have a copyright date within the past 10 years. If you are hanging onto that set of encyclopedias for your children’s children—perhaps you should donate them to Goodwill now. Pluto is no longer a planet, it’s been demoted.
71. What do I do with the novels and books are no longer want?
Answer: Most of your local libraries have a most wanted list of books that they need for their shelves. If you are an avid reader of romance novel or science fiction and are the type of person who runs out and buys the latest and greatest as soon as it is released, contact your local library (or perhaps 2 or 3 local libraries). Ask what new releases they are in need of. Your new donation would be greatly appreciated.
72. Can I donate Christmas Cards?
Answer: St. Jude’s Ranch for Children accepts the fronts of Christmas cards and other greeting cards and uses the pictures to decorate new cards, which they sell as nonprofit fund raiser.
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children
ATTN: Donor Office
P.O. Box 60100
Boulder City, NV 89006-0100
73. I would like to give away the stuffed animals I have around the house – any suggestions?
Answer: Contact your local children’s hospital. Frequently donated stuffed animals are sent home with the child after a hospital stay. Do you need to clean your stuffed animals? Talk to your local cleaners. They might be able to clean them.
74. I received a call from a local charity for a donation. Is it a good idea to give a donation?
Answer: It is always a good idea to donate to charities. However, remember that a fund raising organization, which gets a large percentage of the funds collected, puts on any fund raising efforts. If you want the maximum use of your dollar for the charity, contribute during non-fundraising activities. www.CharityWatch.org or www.CharityNavigator.org
75. Are some charities better than others?
Answer: No, however, you might want to check out the charity. There are sound alike organizations that are not legitimate charities.
76. Any tips on donating old cell phones?
Answer: There are many programs now: local schools, libraries, electronic stores, phone stores.
Odds & Ends
77. I have this thing that I don’t know what it is, what should I do?
Answer: Save it 1 year, and if you still haven’t identified it, toss it.
78. I’m ready to de-clutter my house, where do I start?
Answer: Bath room (the smallest room of the house) or where people first enter the house (halo effect).
79. I see the shows on TV about hoarders? Am I a hoarder?
80. Is there an easy and effective way to “stage” items that I am planning to donate?
Answer: Label a box, “Donate to ____ [insert name of favorite charity] ____ [1 year from today]” Put in this box items that are on the fence. If in the next year, you need the item in the box, go retrieve it. A year from today, take the box and donate it. Don’t look in the box!
81. Are garage sales a good way of getting rid of my clutter?
Answer: They take a lot of time, sometime net little money
82. I suffer from “I might need it someday.” Can you help me?
Answer: Ask 3 questions, Why? Why? Why?
83. I have heard, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” What does this mean, and how do I find that place?
Answer: Where are you when you need it? Not when you are putting it away, is it?
84. Do you have any suggestions for supplies to purchase?
Answer: Find the Japanese super stores in your neighbor, Teacher supply stores (Lakeshore Learning), ReallyGoodStuff.com. StacksAndStacks.com, Home Depot
85. What are the 3 true costs of an item?
Answer: Replacement, storage and energy.
86. How many books [insert name of any object] are too many?
Answer: Establish a limit.
87. How does one set limits on the number of books [insert name of any object to display?
Answer: Let your environment tell you and your habits. When the bookshelf is full, you decide which books to keep and which to donate. Don’t buy more bookshelves.
88. What is the fastest way to organize a drawer?
Answer: Dump it out.
89. I travel a lot, and I want to reduce the amount of luggage I carry. What is a good alternative to buying accessory bags for my jewelry, health products and makeup?
Answer: Let me just say a word—plastic bags! In fact those Ziploc plastic bags are good for all kinds of things.
90. I clean the house once a week, where should I store the supplies?
Answer: A. Where you use them. B. In a central location.
91. I like perfumes, do I organize them?
Answer: Perfumes, once opened, start to lose their perfume “smell.” So only have 1 or 2 perfumes. Use the bottle to the end before beginning a new bottle. So there really aren’t any systems for organizing perfumes. If you have gotten a perfume from your husband/honey that you really don’t like, put it on once a week. After a while, you will have used it up. One day out of seven isn’t a tremendous burden to show appreciation of a gift.
92. What’s the easiest thing to clean?
Answer: Nothing. The irony is that the more things you have, the less you use them.
93. Do you have any sage advice about the items we consume?
Answer: Use it to the end. A game you can play is between now and December 31st, is how many bottles can you use up in the bathroom (and not replace). If you really, really miss it, then go out and buy it.
94. How many sheets should I have, and where should they be stored?
Answer: As many as you need. One on the bed, one in the laundry/shelf.
95. Any suggestions on organizing jewelry?
Answer: Use what you have. Plastic bags, office drawer organizers, mug organizers, or behind the door plastic shoe organizers. Repurpose what you have in the house.
96. I went to a seminar to get organized, and the seminar leader told me to color code my files. Is this a good approach?
Answer: Only if that works for you. Don’t over complicate the system, good for children, ADHD.
97. I have kids and I don’t know what to do with their projects that they have made. Any ideas?
Answer: Get a storage box for each year in school and store in the banker box. I box per grade. At about 6th grade, sort through the previous five years, do you still want to keep it—just because you kept it once, doesn’t mean that you need to keep it now!
98. My vacuum cleaner is a bear, any suggestions?
Answer: Just like people, a vacuum cleaner should have an annual checkup. It helps your performance.
99. What can I do about my husband’s stuff?
Answer: Leave it alone, work with him, and develop the trust.
100. I can’t get organized alone. What can I do?
Answer: Get a friend, sometimes just having a friend helps to let go of some of the “funny” stuff or hire a professional organizer.
101. What is the fastest way to start de-cluttering a space?
Answer: Move quickly, try to get as much work done in as little time as possible, don’t make this a big deal.
102. I have this basket and I don’t know what to do with it?
Answer: Get rid of it, don’t create work for yourself.
103. My closet is full. How do I start cleaning it out?
Answer: 4-box system (toss, re-locate, fix, donate).
104. What should I do with photographs?
Answer: Why are you keeping the photographs? To organize them the key point, identify the people. I like the phrase: who, what, where, when, how, what age and ?. If you didn’t know the person when the picture was taken, generations from now, people will go crazy trying to figure out who the person was.
105. Telemarketers are annoying. How do I stop them?
Answer: I get the e-mail that my cell phone number is going to be released. www.DoNotCall.gov and then any future calls do not call list.
106. What should I do with all these black ink pens and blue ink pens?
Answer: If you like one over the other, get rid of the ones you don’t like as well. We are a society of overchoice.
Interesting Facts & Tips
107. Approximately, how much time do people lose daily looking for lost items?
108. How Do You Extend the Life—of a rubber band?
Answer: Store it in the refrigerator.
109. Clothing Expense—America’s Annual Average Clothing Expense is $1715 or 5% of income. Women, if you need a dress for an evening activity, look into renting it.
110. What Lurks in Your Cupboards? Did you know that spices start to lose their potency after six months? So if you have spices in your cupboard that are many years old, you may need to add a little more to get its flavor in your next recipe.
111. How do I find time to organize?
Answer: Use a timer 55 minutes a day (2-3 times a week); backlog of e-mails 15 minutes.