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Andrew Mellen

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Scientists discover "clutter" gene, clinical trials begin this month

Doctors at Johns Hopkins University have identified what they are calling the "clutter" gene and have sought and received expedited approval from the FDA to begin clinical trials later this month on a drug they believe will cure clutter and disorganization for good.

Dr. Samuel Beinstock said at a press conference this morning, "It seems we've identified the source of clutter. We have been chasing the cause of this pandemic for years and we've finally found the rascal.

Everyone at Johns Hopkins is thrilled at this discovery, no one more than Miriam our receptionist.

She's been buried under post-its and notepads and random office supplies for more than 15 years and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Clinical trials will begin at their Wolfe Street facility in Baltimore on April 16.

Manhattan Mini-Storage and a coalition of other self-storage facilities along with the producers of Hoarders, Hoarders: Buried Alive and Hoarders: Beyond Buried Alive have begun an aggressive lobbying campaign with Congress to stop trials until they have the opportunity to rebrand.

Tammi Smythe, spokesperson for the Self-Storage Association declared, "This is un-American. The accumulation and storage of surplus and potentially useless items is our birthright as citizens. What's next? A gene to curb shopping? They're taking this too far!"

If you think you qualify for this study, visit this link to learn more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ask The Organizer: Processing mail, including which receipts to keep

Dear Andrew,

I've listened to the mail section over 5 times and cannot problem solve  the following:

I have 6 baskets however the categories of each basket you've outlined do not match up with my needs which are the following:

1) I never keep catalogs and if I do, it's one page maybe 3 times a year.

2) I do have a lot of coupons which are time sensitive for the most part.

3) What do I do with receipts?

4) What do you do with anything that relates to taxes regarding my LLC and full time job or personal mail from city state or federal tax?

5) Sometimes I cannot pay a bill immediately?

I would appreciate your advice on the above, please.

Thank you!

W.R., New York

Dear W.R.,

Thank you for listening to Unstuff Your Life! and for your questions. Here are my suggestions:
COUPONS go into a clear plastic envelope that you carry in your bag (or car) with you — that’s their home. The only way you’ll use coupons is to have them with you when shopping. The key is getting all coupons into the envelope instead of leaving them lying around.

Regardless of where coupons come from — snail mail, email, a store — they are added to the clear envelope.

RECEIPTS have nothing to do with mail, even if they arrive by mail. You will need a container/basket for receipts as you empty your pockets, bags, etc.

Receipts that affect your tax filings are entered into Quicken or Quickbooks, Microsoft Money, a spreadsheet — however you track your expenses — and then they get filed. Receipts for personal expenses that have no tax consequences do not need to be saved UNLESS you are tracking ALL of your spending —personal and professional. 

As a rule, there are only six (6) kinds of receipts that you need to keep:

1) Capital improvements to a piece of real estate you own. 

These may be added to your cost basis when selling to reduce any taxable profit you may show.

2) Major purchases, such as appliances, equipment, etc.  

If you ever want to call the manufacturer for technical support, go online within the first 30 days of ownership and register your purchase. They may demand proof of purchase when you first call in and if you haven't registered, you may need to fax or email them your receipt at that time. Online registration often cures this potential future complication.

3) Service and repairs to either your home or vehicle. 

A full record of service performed demonstrates your thoughtfulness and thoroughness when selling these kinds of assets. You will be in a better position to negotiate if you can show the care with which you've maintained these assets while in your possession.

4) Tax-deductible expenses. 

These are expenses that will be reflected on your tax return, either on a Schedule C or other form.

5) Reimbursable expenses. 

These are purchases that you made on behalf of someone else or are otherwise entitled to submit to an employer, client or friend to recapture your expenses.

6) Items you are not yet committed to keeping and may return to the store. 

After the window has closed for these purchases to BE returned, unless the item also falls under one of the above categories, shred it—because you now own the item. 

Tax docs are no different from any other doc that needs to be filed — WHEN you file, they just live together in a TAXES 20XX file and then you scan them or copy them and send them to your accountant. Throughout the year, any receipts FOR CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS ONLY would be placed in this folder.

Other receipts, regardless of how they impact your taxes, are stored with receipts as above.

Whether you can pay a bill or not doesn’t matter — bills live in the BILLS basket UNTIL they get paid. ONCE THEY GET PAID, they are transferred to the TO BE FILED basket — and not until.

If you don’t keep catalogs, you don’t need a basket for them — just take the one page you tear out and drop it into ACTION ITEMS since it seems you’re actually going to purchase the item. HENCE take an ACTION.

Overall, if you don’t need a category of MAIL, you’re not obligated to have a basket assigned to that category.

Hope that helps!


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Clearing and Sharing Space for Intimacy—A guest post

The final frontier. That’s how I refer to the matter of long term, successful, intimate partnership with another human being. It’s hard enough negotiating this world as an adult and dealing with our stuff. But what happens when you co-mingle your stuff? What if one of you is neat and the other a slob? What if one of you prefers silence and the other likes music blaring? And what about the matter of the heart? How do we make space there for the other?

Chances are the person we choose to spend our life with is not our first love. And if we meet someone in our later years, after marriage, children and divorce, we’ll have a lot more to clear away. Some of it we may not even be aware of until it rears its head in the middle of a conflict and gets in the way of real intimacy.

So the first step in forming a loving partnership is to take responsibility for our own side of things, investigate our habitual patterns of relating, and become willing to negotiate, change and allow differences to exist. This is a never-ending process. First there’s you. Then there’s the other. Then there’s what I like to call the We of Us, the life that forms that includes some but not all of each of you and takes on a life of its own.

A key element to creating success with your partner and forging deeper into the challenging, enriching and wonderful world of intimacy, into the We of Us, is the first tool in the Imperfect Partners tool bag: Three C’s: Communication, communication, communication. This is the King/Queen of them all. Communicating regularly with our partners in an open, loving, honest and vulnerable way will open a path to nurturing, growing and sustaining a deep understanding and love in our relationship.

Communication. Yup, it’s that simple. But it’s not easy.

In order to communicate well and to be heard by our partner, we first have to learn to listen. Think of it as a circular rather than a linear process. Let’s say we hear our inner voice say: “if only our partner did or didn’t do such and such, we’d be so much happier.” In other words, if they change and conform to our needs, this relationship will work better. Before communicating this, pause and listen deeply and compassionately to where this is coming from inside you. Has this been a refrain of yours in other relationships? How important is it? Are you holding on to some resentment from a previous interaction that didn’t resolve itself lovingly? Does this need have anything to do with present circumstances?

If you don’t know, then don’t say. Wait until you are able to clear away the stuff that does not belong to this moment. And then you will be able to approach a difficult subject with more clarity, compassion and vulnerability. Or maybe you will discover with deep listening that the issue has nothing to do with your partner, it simply triggered some old baggage that you have to take care of.

It’s a pretty messy and scary adventure this thing called love. But if we are willing to do the work and take risks, we will experience the boundless gifts of our own true nature and a true connection with others. I wish you a perfectly imperfect journey.

Nancy O’Hara is a meditation coach and author of six books including the bestselling Find a Quiet Corner. She has also recently published One Hand Killing, the first in the Alex Sullivan Zen Mystery series. Nancy and her husband, Michael Levine, founded Imperfect Partners: Making it Work, group workshops and private coaching for couples. Their next workshop is scheduled in NYC beginning March 17. Connect with Nancy at

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get telemarketers to stop calling you

I'm guessing even telemarketers hate telemarketing ... but they're glad to have a job.

I don't wish anyone unemployment but I do want them to stop calling me.

And I hold a vision of better, more compassionate and loving ways to make a living beyond calling people who don't want to be called asking for money. May they find that work now.

If you want to stop them calling your phone, visit this website and register your phone numbers:


call this number from the phone number you want to register:


You must be calling from the number you're registering or the system won't be able to process your request.

NEVER give any personal information to anyone claiming to be calling from the Do Not Call Registry and NEVER pay anyone to help you sign up.

If you live in the U.S., your Congressperson's office should have more information on their website. They can't seem to do much these days, but perhaps they can at least help us from being harassed on the phone!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stuff discordant couples and a happy ending—A guest post

Stuff discordance is a perfect term to describe the situation my partner Twilight and I found ourselves facing last year when we decided to take our relationship to the next level and shack up together.

For the better part of the last decade I've worked as a professional travel writer, a job that's kept me moving around the globe and largely free of material possessions. Outside of a bicycle and a few boxes containing books and childhood mementos stored neatly in my sister's basement, I'd held as a point of pride for years the fact that the material contents of my life could follow me on an international flightsans baggage fee. 

After a year in Portland I'd become somewhat less dematerialized, but could still easily fit all the stuff from my one-bedroom bachelor pad in the smallest u-haul van when it came time to move into our shared space. If not for the bed a rented hatchback would have sufficed.

It was only on moving day that I realized how much greater than my own my partner's spatial needs in our shared home were going to be.  Whereas my passion & profession over the last decade has been travel, Twilight's has been fabric crafting, creating custom knitwear, handbags, hats and even puppets.  The spinning wheels, drum carder, sewing machines and multiple bins containing what seemed to be a metric ton of cloth, yarn, fabric scraps and other assorted items pertinent to her trade. 

What had fit innocuously in the space of the 2,500 square foot suburban house (complete with the attached fiber studio she'd shared with her equally crafty housemates) now loomed large stacked floor-to-ceiling in the living room of our two-bedroom apartment.

Feeling as if I'd stepped into a particularly art-themed episode of the TV show Hoarders, I had a brief panic attack.  But relationships are about compromise, and if any time in particular calls for keeping cool, it's on the first day of a 12-month lease co-signed with someone you love.

After the dust had settled (and the dozen or so friends Twilight had bribed to helped her move with the promise of gluten-free pizza had gone), we devised a plan to tame the stuff discordance our cohabitation had wrought.

Since we both work from home, we'd already agreed that one of us would take the spare bedroom while the other would claim 1/3 of the living room as a personal workspace. My spatial needs were clearly less than hers (desk, chair, shelves and two laptops), so I claimed the spare bedroom (which is still gloriously minimalist), while Twi set about making the other space her new Portland fiber arts studio.

Using the various tables, spinning wheels and her drum carder, all of which were roughly rectangular in shape, fairly long but none too wide, we were able to delineate the fiber arts studio from the living room. This allowed us to keep the space and flow of the living room (which, luckily, is fairly large, even by Portland standards) while still giving Twilight enough space to work. A genuine wooden spinning wheel is a surprisingly interesting conversation piece, as is a yarn ball winder.

The question of what to do with the two dozen or so storage bins containing fabric, yarn and other fiber art material was a bit tricky. Over the course of the next few days, Twi went through the bins and divided the contents into material by likelihood of her using it in the next half-year. Though time consuming, the result was worth it: 70% of the material fell into the probably not going to need for a while category. This material was put into storage bins that went into the balcony closet, out of sight and very much out of my mind.

The rest of the materialsthe fabric, yarn, zippers, buttons and velcro destined to be turned into the bags, puppets & hats sold on Etsy in 2014went into long storage drawers that fit nicely up against the wall of her fiber studio. A couple of multi-purpose furniture items (such as a wheeled kitchen island with folding side-arms and under-counter baskets that double as her measuring/cutting table) provide additional storage and work space.

The end result has been a harmonious and productive home for two, one in which we each have our own work space and plenty of shared living space for a couple, a cat and a very large dog.  


Joshua Samuel Brown is author of thirteen Lonely Planet guides and two books of short stories. His most recent book, My Parents are Little People: (Travel Tales of Madness),  comes out this spring.  Visit him online at

Twilight Kallisti is a fiber artist who has shown her work extensively in New Mexico. She knits, spins, weaves and sews fiber of all forms into everything from fine art pieces to whimsical monsters. Her work can be found at

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Installing a wall bed, Part 2

It took a bit longer than Clark expected. At the end of Wednesday, it looked like this:

We both took Thursday off as we each had other commitments.

By the end of Friday, All the scribing had been done and everything was installed, although a few mechanical things still needed some work. This is where the project was at:

Monday would be punch list and touch-up day. Clark worked another 7 hours tweaking and touching up everything until we were both satisfied. It is a blessing and a curse to have a trained eye for detail. But Clark was a good sport and addressed every blemish and imperfection until it looked great.

Here's the bed closed with the desk down:

And here's the bed closed with things on the shelves:

Finally, here's the bed open with the lights on.

All the lights are LED—the three overhead are on a dimmer and the two reading lights work independently of the overhead lights AND each other. The reading lights are a great find. Easy to operate, bright enough to read by and a tight enough beam of light to not disturb your bedmate.

It took 3 days longer to install than expected but it was worth it. I've gained almost 30% of my apartment back when the bed is up and added a work station for my assistant.

It's increased the value of my apartment by at least 15K, which is almost twice the cost of the bed.

And it looks pretty good to boot.

When I was on Wasted Spaces for DIY Network, we had some clever ways of maximizing space back then ... but this is like Wasted Spaces on Steroids.

For anyone living in a studio apartment who isn't using a sleeper sofa, a wall bed is an excellent way to maximize your space and tidy up at the same time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Installing a wall bed, Part 1

Every home renovation project involves decisions, adjustments and compromises. If you're not prepared for these, you're likely to be frustrated and disappointed.

Throughout the design process, there were critical decisions to make:

What kind of headboard?

How about a desk?

Should there be a retractable shelf?

What about lighting?

And everything takes longer than promised—sometimes out of incompetence, wishful thinking or an outright lie, but most often simply out of the transition from theory to practical application.

If you know this going in, you're less likely to be upset or surprised when it happens to you.

Clark and his assistant Erik showed up Tuesday, January 14 at 9am. It took them several trips to bring all the pieces in, which resembled a life-size puzzle 3-D.

Very soon this:

Looked like this:

The plan was that installation would be finished by the end of the day ... with the slight possibility that Clark would need to do some touch ups the next morning.

This is what it looked like at 4pm when they left.

Today, Wednesday, January 15, they're at it again ... and hope to be finished by 3:45pm today when they have to pack up and leave the building.

We'll see.