On Cleaning & Organizing

Cleaning & organizing is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. As I indicated in this Fallible Ideas list post, things were so bad I’d literally trip over objects in my apartment regularly.

I recently put some effort into fixing this problem (with a focus on the organizing part of cleaning and organizing) and I have had some success. The purposes of this post are 1) to discuss some of the thoughts I had and things I figured out during this process, and 2) to share some links to useful products I discovered along the way.

Previous Failures

This is not the first time I’ve put some effort into cleaning and organizing. So the next few sections will be about what’s been going wrong and what went differently this time.

Bad Attitude Issues

One thing that I figured out was the importance of my attitude towards organizing. Being overwhelmed is a common complaint for people dealing with messiness. I think I had some of that. I also thought I was a “messy person” as some sort of character attribute. I didn’t have any argument this was some sort of inherent characteristic, but I do think I considered it part of my identity.

I also had some direct personal exposure to people who would use excessive cleaning as a time-waster in order to avoid addressing the real problems in their life. I think this experience contributed to a negative attitude towards the topic.

In order to change my attitude, I had to focus on the very concrete benefits of getting more clean and organized, and do so repeatedly over time. So I had to regularly pay conscious attention to the benefits of finding stuff more easily, not tripping over stuff, etc. I also had to keep in mind the idea that messiness is a lifestyle, not an inherent attribute.

Not Checking Premises

One big issue I had was not questioning existing uses of space enough. I wasn’t checking my premises.

As an example, I was not questioning whether a certain kitchen cabinet necessarily had to be the place where I store my baking ingredients, and instead just took it as a given. This attitude is especially weird given my space wasn’t organized as part of any rational plan. My existing organization had developed in a haphazard way — dealing with the mess of the moment — and was proving inadequate.

Yet I was respecting these haphazard and inadequate uses of space as if they were inviolable commandments (“And the lord said: the spreads shall be in the rightmost lower pantry shelf.”) This is part of what lead to ongoing cycles of repeated cleaning followed by a return of messiness. Since I wasn’t really reconsidering how I was using my space, the undesirable cycle just kept repeating.

I find that now I often have various reorganization ideas “simmering” on my mind’s back burner and that I often wind up pursuing these ideas with great energy once they become clear to me. This is very different than my previous attitude!

Mental Attention

Another mistake I made is that I wanted cleaning and organizing to be a mental autopilot, low attention task. I don’t think this is unreasonable per se — cleaning often can legitimately be a task that one does while thinking about other things (similar to walking or various other low attention activities). But it is unreasonable to try to do cleaning on autopilot if has ongoing problems with cleaning! Ongoing problems means there is a need for ongoing mental attention to the issue — the autopilot level effort isn’t doing the job!

Opportunities to clean and reorganize stuff is now something I’m actively looking for. I’m paying way more mental attention. I also prioritize it more. I will now take 5 minutes to do a bit of reorganizing or wipe something down if I see an opportunity, instead of putting it off for later.

Not Respecting the Problem

I had a kind of disrespect for the whole topic of cleaning and organizing. I didn’t want to pay attention to cleaning and organizing because I didn’t think it warranted attention. I considered it a dumb/annoying topic. So I disrespected the problem and didn’t put forth the amount of energy/thought/attention/effort it would take to solve it, and so of course it didn’t get solved.

Focusing on the practical benefits of a clean and organized house helped here. Another thing that helped was breaking down my issue more precisely into two aspects. There is cleaning, which is mostly kind of tedious, and there is organizing, which is a more interesting conceptual/abstract problem that can actually be fun. So I focused on the organizing aspect more, and for the cleaning aspect I just tried to reduce the friction as much as possible.

This helped in a few ways.

First, being able to find any aspect of the problem interesting — whereas before I had found the whole subject matter tedious — was a big help in terms of being able to get my mind actively engaged in thinking about the issue.

Second, getting more organized actually helps make it easier to clean! E.g. by doing cable management and replacing some surge protectors with desk-clamping models (see below for details), I was able to get a bunch of corded mess off my floor, which makes it easier to vacuum.

Third, separating out the (less interesting) cleaning aspect from the organizing aspect, and approaching it in terms of friction-minimization, let me formulate a plan of action with regards to cleaning. So in terms of friction-minimization actions, I’ve done stuff like strategically deployed disposable cleaning wipes at locations where I know I will need them, and purchased a cordless vacuum that is easier for me to use.

Low Standards

My standards for what counted as clean and organized even when I did occasionally put in some effort were very low. Roughly, I would do something closer to organizing a mess into piles instead of getting rid of the piles themselves (by finding a permanent home for things, throwing things out, whatever). Organizing piles helps some, but it is more of an intermediate step than a complete solution.

One very concrete example of implementing higher standards is this: at one point I was thinking about getting a Roomba. So I tried to see if I could get my floors “Roomba ready”, which meant getting them way cleaner and more organized and not having loose stuff on them. I wound up not getting a Roomba, but having way less messy, organized floors is helpful for even regular vacuuming. Having the “Roomba ready” goal to organize around gave me a concrete standard to shoot for, and that was helpful.

Useful Products

I’m now going to go through some products I discovered that helped me to get more organized.

Magnet Hooks

I am a big fan of magnet hooks.

They let you hang things from places where there is metal, which can be very useful.

Here’s a link to some examples of how I’ve used them.

Some thoughts on magnets:

The stronger ones can be nicer because you can put more weight on them. Stronger magnets are more expensive.

I particularly like kind that has a bigger swivel hook (this is an example, though I haven’t bought this specific brand), cuz I find it easier to hang various sorts of things from them. However, you have to be careful with the actual hook park, since I have found that the big swiveling hooks tend to detach more easily than the fixed short ones.

You need to be careful with magnets, and especially careful when initially removing them from the box they came in. They might pack two magnets with just a thin amount of material between them, and it’s easy to accidentally get magnets stuck together. It can be really hard to unstick them.

Over the Door Things

There are tons of different things you can get that hang over the door and can help you organize better.

Some options include  baskets, shoe racks, and hooks. I am using all of these.

I find the shoe racks especially helpful cuz shoes can really take up lots of space otherwise.

If you’re considering one of these, make sure it will fit your door. If it’s a big thing like a shoe rack or long basket, you may have issues with the door handle, particularly if it’s the lever style (as opposed to knob style) which is more popular these days.

Also be aware that some over the door things can rattle on doors a bit when opening/closing the doors if they aren’t secured against the door somehow.

Bins

Bins come in all shapes and sizes and are great for organizing things. Stackable bins can be particularly useful.

You can find bins from Amazon, your local dollar store, or places like the Container Store. I have a variety of bins from all these places. I won’t go into lots of detail here cuz there is such a variety and your needs will vary a lot. I will mention that I especially like these White Stackable Bins from The Container Store because they have joiners that hold the stack together with more stability than lots of other stackable bins.

Carts

Carts can be really great for organizing things.

I’ve got three of these Seville Classics brand carts from Amazon.

They’ve got tons of storage capacity, are cheap, and are very easy to set up.

Since the whole thing is lightweight and the drawers are plastic, it’s not great for storing heavy items. But for fairly lightweight things it’s very useful.

I also got one of these craft cabinets to put on top of one of the carts. It’s great for storing little things like screwdriver bits.

Cable Management

Learning to deal with cable management better helped me a bunch. My main computer desk used to be a rat’s nest of snaking, interlocking wires and surge protectors. Now it’s tidy and organized! 😀

The cheapest and simplest way to get some order to your cables is to just use plastic twist ties, e.g. something like these. They’re cheap and can be used to to hold together extra unneeded cord length on your desk so that those cords aren’t loosely flopping around and getting twisted up with other stuff.

Another useful thing are something like these cord organizers. They have a top that holds cords and a sticky bottom that holds the thing in place. These are good for routing cords in a specific path around your desk.

Rubber twist ties are an upgrade from the plastic ones. Because they are stronger, they can hold together bigger/thicker cords, and can be used in other ways (like tying an object to a shelf, or hanging off a magnet hook so you can hang something from the hook that you normally wouldn’t be able to).

One thing I found very useful in freeing up desk space was my discovery of surge protectors with a clamp. Not only do they free up space and improve orderliness directly by moving your surge protectors from the desk (or floor) to the side or back of your desk, but they also help with cable management, since they kinda serve as an anchor that helps draw cables away from the areas you don’t want them to be in. The specific model I linked also has built in USB charging ports, which was helpful for me because it meant I needed to have fewer USB charging plugs out.

Helpful Tip: Think of Your Use Case

There is lots of helpful advice out there for organizing and it can be very helpful. But I think to succeed, you really have to think of your own use cases and organize around that. Other people’s organizational systems are great inspiration that you should borrow from, but you have to make them your own.

One example: I have a bunch of electronics I need to charge regularly. And I wanted them to be in the same place so I wouldn’t forget to bring one of them when going out for the day. So I used a small Ikea table and some cable management to help set up a charging station for my various small electronics, and it has worked nicely.

Magic eraser

I’ve liked Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for cleaning my white walls and some other stuff.

Vacuum

I recently purchased a Dyson V8 Animal+ Cordless Stick Vacuum from Costco. I’ve barely used it so far since I just got it, but I like it so far.

I had a more conventional corded vacuum but dealing with the cord annoyed me a bunch so I wound up not using it much. I can definitely see myself using this Dyson vacuum much more. It’s light and easy to move around and has various attachments that seem useful.

One issue with cordless vacuums in general is they have a relatively short run time. The one I got has 40 minutes of runtime at the normal settings and 7 minutes on maximum suction. 40 minutes seems plenty for my use case, which is a fairly small apartment.

One issue with this particular model is that it doesn’t come with a hardwood floor-specific cleaning head (you have to upgrade a model tier to “V8 Absolute” or buy it separately). I read reviews online which said the included Direct Drive Cleaner Head is fine for both hardwood and carpet, and it seems fine to me on my hardwood so far.

Justin’s Calorie Counting Guide 🤔🗯🍔📝

The purpose of this post is to discuss how I count calories.

The audience is someone who is interested in a perspective on how to count calories for weight loss purposes.

The post is not a general weight loss guide. It is focused on issues related to coming up with accurate calorie counts.

Some background: I used to be around 300lbs. I’m now ~180lbs. There were a lot of ideas that went into my successful weight loss, but a reality-focused and honest approach to calorie counting was key IMHO. So if this is a topic of interest to you, maybe you can learn from my experience.

Honesty

The absolutely most important, totally non-negotiable factor for successful calorie counting is honesty.

There are various ways you can be dishonest with calorie counting.

You can intentionally not log food “cuz its just a little tiny bit.”

You can “forget” to log food.

You can give a too-low estimate of the calorie content of food you ate.

To succeed, you’ve gotta dump the dishonesty.

If you want to successfully count calories, you need to be energetically and enthusiastically figuring out ways to make your calorie counting more accurate.

If you don’t have that kinda attitude, you won’t succeed.

Some people make a half-hearted attempt to count calories so that they can convince themselves they “tried” and claim helplessness regarding being too fat. If that’s your goal, then this guide isn’t for you, cuz my purpose here is to give you some tips on how to actually succeed.

Get an app

You need a way to track your calories if you’re going to succeed at calorie counting.

You don’t strictly need a specialized app. You could just make a list of what you ate or something like that. The Notes app on iPhone could theoretically work.

But specialized apps have a ton of advantages, such as:

a. big databases of food pre-loaded in that you can search (like you can just type “apple” and get the nutritional information for an apple, or “mcdonald’s cheeseburger” and get the info for that)
b. nifty things like barcode scanners that can make calorie counting and getting other nutritional data for many things as trivial as pointing your phone’s camera at the food box
c. ability to set weight loss goals and see what your calorie budget should be
d. cool graphs and charts showing how you are doing as far as your goals this day/week, how you’re doing on your weight loss journey, etc etc

So get an app. They’re cool, useful, and cheap/free.

i’ve tried a few. I use MyNetDiary, mostly cuz I’ve been using it a long time and know how to get it to do what I want. There might be a better app out there, but I haven’t seen one yet that was clearly better enough and also worth figuring out how to use in the way I use MyNetDiary. Lots of what I say to do should work with tons of apps, though.

Get a kitchen scale (or two)

If you wanna know how many calories you eat, it’s very useful to know how much your food weighs.

A kitchen scale will help you tremendously.

Here’s an example kitchen scale.

(This one is water resistant)

When I say you should weigh your food, you may think there is a separate food weighing step and then a food preparing step. This is not necessarily the case. We can be efficient about this!

For example, say you are making a sandwich.

Basically every kitchen scale has a “Tare” button. This lets you reset the measured weight to 0 with some weight already on the scale.

So you can place the plate on the scale, then hit Tare.

Then put the bread† on the plate. Weigh it, log the calories in your app, hit Tare.

Put your deli meat on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

Put your cheese on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

Put your condiment on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

You’ve logged your food and now you have a sandwich on a plate ready to go 😀

Note that if you have the same thing a lot in the same amount, you may want to make a recipe out of it so you can skip the steps above. MyNetDiary (and I’d guess other apps) lets you save a set of ingredients as a recipe. But if you’re going to do that, make sure that you actually make it the same way, or alternatively, make sure you log the new ingredients in addition to your “base” recipe. E.g. if you saved a recipe for a cheesy omelette without bacon in an app, and then you make the omelette with bacon, don’t just log your cheesy omelette recipe; log the bacon!

†(Packaged bread typically comes pre-sliced with a given calorie amount per slice, so in that case you wouldn’t need to weigh the bread)

You may think scales are only useful if you cook at home. WRONG!

They can be useful on the go. I’ll talk about that more below, but for now know that portable kitchen scales are a thing, see e.g. this one.

Consider other ways to measure stuff

Scales aren’t the only way to measure stuff in a way that helps your calorie counting.

Volume measurements can be helpful.

E.g. these liquid measuring cups can be very useful.

I often put some milk in my coffee. Measuring e.g. an ounce of milk in a mini measuring cup is faster than turning on a scale, getting it set to the unit of measurement you want, Tare-ing it, and then weighing.

Make use of easily available information

Lots of the food you eat will have nutritional information already easily available for it. So use it!

Fast food places, fast casual places, and other big chain restaurants frequently have their nutritional information available in a variety of places, such as a) in calorie counter apps, b) on their websites, c) in their own proprietary apps, d) right on the menu.

Lots of the stuff you buy at the grocery store will also have nutritional information available in a variety of places as well, including right on the label. And as mentioned earlier, with a calorie counter app you can frequently scan the barcode and get the right information. Make sure you take serving size into consideration — like if you bar code scan a box of pasta in your calorie counter app, you will likely get the nutritional information for a single serving of pasta. So if you’re having two servings (or 1.5, or whatever), make sure you enter that.

BTW regarding correct serving sizes in calorie counter apps, you really need to be aware of the size of the item you are scanning. I have noticed errors of a particular kind sometimes which would throw your calories way off. This has come up with e.g. frozen meals and candy bars. Basically the issue is, when you scan an item, there may be an error where it gets the correct food but the wrong amount. An example: you scanned a 15oz stouffer’s lasagna and it gives you the calorie info for a 10oz box. Some solutions here could be a) just manually enter the correct amount of calories, as generic food calories, or 2) tell the app you ate 1.5 servings of a 10oz box 🙂

Another thing worth noting is that you should make sure you are looking at data for the actual configuration of food you are eating.

E.g. if you get a sandwich from Subway, and you get it with cheese, and you find an entry for the sandwich that reflects the calories without cheese, and you use that entry, you are faking reality. You ate cheese!!!

Sometimes there will be a nutrition calculator you can find online for a place, e.g. https://www.nutritionix.com/subway/nutrition-calculator or https://www.chipotle.com/nutrition-calculator. Other times you may have to reference a PDF file or something on the company’s website and figure it out yourself.

Proxies & Adjustments

Lots of people don’t always eat stuff they made at home, and don’t always go to some big chain place with easily available nutritional information.

What to do then?

One technique is to use some food with easily available nutritional information as a proxy for the food you are currently eating.

Here’s a practical example.

I sometimes eat at this no name mediocre pizzeria near work, and their kinda mediocre pizza seems roughly similar to me to a slice from Sbarro (of mall and airport fame).

So when I eat a pepperoni slice at Mediocre Pizzeria Place, i enter it as a Sbarro pepperoni slice.

There are perils here, both in terms of dishonesty and in terms of honest error.

In terms of honest errors, places make stuff differently, you might not remember what the proxy food is like super well, etc.

Also sometimes the first information you may find when researching is not good. For instance, literally as I was writing this and quickly looking something up, I discovered that my calorie counter app had an entry with a lowball estimate (by 70 calories) of Sbarro Pepperoni slices! This is the estimate I was using! Oops!

(Accuracy requires ongoing effort!)

If you have some information about the weight of a reasonable proxy food, one thing you can do is weigh the food you are eating now (perhaps using a portable scale like I mentioned earlier) and adjust for any differences in weight.

E.g. if some cheeseburger you are using as a proxy is 10ozs and the one you are eating right now is 14oz, then enter that you had 1.4 servings of the proxy cheeseburger.

Honesty is super important here. With kinda similar foods, some may have a higher percent of stuff that’s calorically dense (like meat and cheese). You wanna try and find a proxy that roughly matches the composition of the food you are trying to log. It’s fine if the proxy is kinda like a bigger or smaller version of what you are eating, but the composition should roughly match. E.g. some burgers are super meat heavy. If you are having one of those, don’t use a burger that’s heavy on bread and lettuce/pickles/tomatoes as your proxy!

Recipes & Servings

If you make a big thing at home that you’re gonna be eating a number of servings of over time (like a lasagna, say) it can be useful to use the recipe feature of an app like MyNetDiary. This involves you entering the amounts for all the ingredients of the recipe, and then saving the whole thing as a recipe with a number of servings you determine. So if you say a lasagna has 8 servings, it’ll give 1/8 of the calories of the whole thing to each serving.

Again, honesty is important. If you actually wind up eating all the portions and your initial tally of all the ingredients was accurate, you should be fine. But one way you could mess up here is by having irregularly-sized portions, eating the bigger ones first, then tossing the smaller ones (cuz they went bad or whatever). So try and cut the portions regularly, and if you’re not sure or its the kinda thing where determining portion size visually is tricky, weigh the portions.

📚🤔 Justin’s Comments on William Godwin’s The Enquirer, Part I, Essay XI 📖📝

OF REASONING AND CONTENTION
Godwin has us imagine a parent who recently became convinced that their kids are rational beings. As a result of this, the parent tries to be less authoritarian, and encourages their kids to have rational discussions when there’s a disagreement as to what the kid should do.

If this mode of proceeding can ever be salutary, it must be to a real discussion that they are invited, and not to the humiliating scene of a mock discussion.


J’s Comment: The “humiliating scene of a mock discussion” is a thing that has come up with people trying to implement TCS and “common preference finding,” due to various misunderstandings. Like people sometimes think “common preference finding” means the process whereby you argue your child into exhaustion so that they’ll go along with what you want to do. So Godwin is sort of anticipating a problem from advanced parenting philosophy, though interestingly he frames the chapter as discussing “vice, frequently occurring in our treatment of those who depend upon us.”


A “real discussion”, according to Godwin, involves things like being impartial.

Godwin says that sometimes you’ll resolve the disagreement right away, and there’s no problem. But sometimes you won’t, even though both people are discussing in good faith.


J’s Comment: this is an important recognition of the fact that disagreements won’t always immediately get resolved. Sometimes people expect disagreements to get resolved very quickly, and when they don’t, they attribute this result to the ignorance/stupidity/bad faith of the person they are discussing with.


Godwin says that in that case, the child should be free to take the action he wants to take. But what commonly happens is that parents impose their will on the child. Godwin says that, looking at it from the child’s perspective, it’d be much better to just know you have to obey from the start than to have a whole fake rational discussion where you still have to obey at the end. He also says that the parent comes to the discussion with a pre-formed judgment that the child won’t have much chance of changing.

The terms of the debate therefore are, first, If you do not convince me, you must act as if I had convinced you. Secondly, I enter the lists with all the weight of long practice and all the pride of added years, and there is scarcely the shadow of a hope that you will convince me.

The result of such a system of proceeding will be extreme unhappiness.

Godwin says that if you’re not gonna treat someone as an equal, don’t pretend. Better to be an honest and mild slavemaster than a fake equal. People can endure being a slave, especially if the master isn’t too harsh. But having pretend-freedom while really being a slave is like torture.


J’s Comment: it can really bias people against better approaches too. If you think you have first hand experience of what more “liberal parenting” consists of — being given fake opportunities to argue for control over your own life which never go anywhere — why bother listening to its advocates or trying it?


Godwin seems to say that the way to avoid this issue is to figure out what your non-negotiable points are as a parent and make those clear. Godwin says this doesn’t necessarily take away from young people’s independence.

It is not necessary that in so doing we should really subtract any thing from the independence of youth. They should no doubt have a large portion of independence; it should be restricted only in cases of extraordinary emergency; but its boundaries should be clear, evident and unequivocal.


J’s Comment: if there’s any non-negotiable things, then independence is being encroached. And if the extraordinary situations are so important, isn’t it important to have good arguments to persuade your child about them? Is this like very contingent advice which assumes that the parent is already gonna be authoritarian anyways?


Godwin says parents shouldn’t cling to their past decisions; they should admit they are fallible. But they should be honest about what’s gonna be decided by authority from the get-go.

He concludes:

It were to be wished that no human creature were obliged to do any thing but from the dictates of his own understanding. But this seems to be, for the present at least, impracticable in the education of youth. If we cannot avoid some exercise of empire and despotism, all that remains for us is, that we take care that it be not exercised with asperity, and that we do not add an insulting familiarity or unnecessary contention, to the indispensible assertion of superiority.


J’s Comment: What precisely he means by impracticable is kinda unclear to me, but he does seem to want to maximize the liberty of children to the extent he thinks is possible, so that’s good.