A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Seed-Out
    Warning: This week’s product manufacturer states in all of their marketing materials that their plastic device “will blow your mind with its simplicity and effectiveness!” So if your mind blows out of your head, we want you to know that we are not liable but that we will miss your readership. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
  • Three tips and apps that have improved my productivity
    Dave explores strategies and apps that ensure he can get his work done when it needs to get done — and let him sleep soundly at night.

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Coffee unitaskers continue
    For this week’s unitasker selection, I wanted to keep with the April theme of coffee-inspired unitaskers. And, when looking for such unitaskers, my kitchen seemed like the perfect spot to find candidates.

2011

2010

2009

  • Chalk it up!
    Chalkboards to keep you on track with your goals.

Estate planning for your digital assets

Earlier this week, we published a post on estate organizing to help others after you’ve passed. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but an important one that we would like to explore a little more. Today, I want to point out how this applies to your digital life — photos, music, and a variety of documents that we store digitally have sentimental value, monetary value, or significant meaning to surviving family or friends. Who will gain access to them after you’re gone? And how?

Leave your logins

The most obvious thing you can do is also among the most important: leave a list of your login information in a secure location. A simple list of passwords and usernames stored in a safety deposit box, for example, could save your surviving family, friends and colleagues a lot of headache. If you’re like me and change this information regularly, make sure your list is up to date. If you use a program like 1Password, as Jeri recommended Tuesday, be sure your contact person knows how to use this service and won’t be surprised to find only one master password on your list.

Make sure your information will be accessible

You’ll want to “future proof” this list of online credentials. That is to say, ensure (as best you can) that it’ll still be readable in the future. The easiest way to do this, of course, is with a good old pen and a piece of paper.

Plain Text format is a good way to go. As David Sparks explained on his website MacSparky, “There’s something to be said for the use of plain text files. Text is simple. Text files are easy to read on any computer running any operating system and don’t require any proprietary word processor to interpret. Even more important, text files can be read by humans. Keeping your writings in text makes them digitally immortal.” That’s serious future proofing.

Online services

Beyond that, there are services to help you estate plan your digital life. As The New York Times pointed out, Google has a service called the Inactive Account Manager. In short, it monitors your account for inactivity over a custom period of time. You tell Google how long your account must be inactive before the service triggers (Three months? Twelve?) and who should receive a message from Google once the criteria has been met (you can ID up to 10 people). Once Google is satisfied that your account is truly inactive, it lets your recipients know how they can download your images, videos, documents, or other data.

You may also consider a digital “safety deposit box.” SecureSafe lets you store 50 passwords, 10 megabytes of files, and name one beneficiary for free.

You certainly don’t want to put that information in a will. Why? Alexandra Gerson, a lawyer at Helsell Fetterman in Seattle, told The New York Times, “Don’t put user names and passwords in your will, though, as it becomes a public record when you die.”

Regarding your beneficiary or other representative, you’ll want to make sure she or he is tech savvy. This person should have no trouble accessing your information, once provided with the necessary credentials. Also, make sure that she or he understands that digital assets can be just as valuable or meaningful as those in the brick-and-mortar world.

Finally, many digital purchases can be accessed by several authorized devices. For example, Apple lets up to five computers run the same iTunes account and Amazon will let family members use the same ID. Likewise, the Kindle app running on an authorized iPad or iPhone will give your surviving family members access to your books and other relevant purchases.

I hope these two posts help with the organization of your assets, and consideration of who will be in charge of them once you’re gone. It’s not the cheeriest subject in the world, but it will make things a bit easier for your loved ones when you’re gone or unable to care for your affairs.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Avoiding magazine clutter
    How do you keep from being overwhelmed by magazines coming into your home? Jeri offers tips for keeping magazines from becoming clutter.

2011

  • Staying organized during an office move
    With an office move, your entire office needs to be put away instantly or you could suffer negative repercussions, like losing productivity, clients, income, or even your job.

2010

2009

  • The deep drawer problem
    The deep drawer is a depository for just about every tool in the kitchen. It contains everything from a whisk to a rolling pin.

Being organized about logins and passwords

I’ve been changing a lot of passwords this week because of the major computer security problem known as Heartbleed. While going through this exercise was no fun, there were some good things that happened as a result, too.

Managing passwords

Most importantly, I’m managing passwords better. As I change them, I enter them into 1Password. It’s one of the many password management tools around — and the one Dave recommended a while ago.

Before, I had a few critical passwords in 1Password as an estate organization tool; I could give my executor (and the person with my financial power of attorney) the passwords to my computer and to 1Password, and he had everything he needed to manage my digital life. I also had a file (innocuously named without “password” in the title) with a list of hints and reminders in it to help me remember the passwords I had chosen. As it happened, though, I didn’t always remember the passwords based on the reminders I had created for myself.

As of now, I’m not using all of 1Password’s functionality. I don’t yet use it to login, and I don’t sync it across devices. But even with my limited use, it’s been a big help.

Evaluating accounts

As I went through my list of websites where I had logins and passwords, I found some that I just don’t need any more. For example, I had a login to IFTTT — which is a very useful tool for some people, but not anything I’ve found I need. So instead of changing the password and adding it to 1Password, I just closed the account.

Points of confusion

I found some notes in my password hints file that were confusing, including my notes about Etsy. It winds up I had created two accounts, which I used interchangeably. Since each one has some purchase history, I’m leaving both in place — but now I have two entries in 1Password so I won’t get confused again.

Notes about complicated passwords

I changed my email passwords, and I thought I had updated my computer and my cell phone appropriately — until I found out that I could receive email on my phone, but not send it. I figured out what I had missed, and now I have a note in 1Password reminding me to make this additional update whenever I change passwords again.

Remembering master passwords

Since my password for 1Password is a long, complicated collection of letters and numbers, I do have it written down and tucked away somewhere — a place no one is going to find it. However, I’ve been going into 1Password enough lately that I don’t even need to pull out my reminder any longer.

What about you? Have you taken steps to better password management lately? If so, please share in the comments!

Estate organization

No one likes to think about dying, but disorganization and lack of planning while you’re alive can lead to family disputes and large tax payments after you’ve passed away. The following are a few tips to help you get organized in case of an emergency.

List what you own

Create a home inventory listing everything you own. Most lawyers suggest you include everything with a value greater than $100. However, if there are sentimental items valued less than $100, list those as well. Non-physical items should also be inventoried. This would include digital music and movie collections and computer software applications.

Include other assets in the inventory such as savings accounts, life insurance policies, investments, and pension plans at various past places of employment.

List what you owe

List all of your debts including car loans, mortgage, and outstanding balances on credit cards. Create a list of any institutions or organizations you pay on a regular basis, for example your monthly payment to your gym or annual donations to a favourite charity. Include on this list any places that may have your credit card information on file such as your iTunes or Netflix accounts.

Simplify and unclutter

Once you’ve completed your inventory, you may decide that it is better to liquidate some of your assets while you’re still alive and well. You will be able to see the joy in people’s faces as you pass along some of your treasured items that you are no longer interested in keeping. If you have a certain collection, (e.g. Star Wars collectibles) ask your family members who would most appreciate receiving it on your death. You don’t want to burden your family members with something they would consider clutter. If you can’t find anyone, consider leaving instructions for selling it.

Get professional financial and legal advice

Each jurisdiction has its own laws, rules and regulations regarding estate planning, so it is extremely important to get professional advice. Lawyers and estate and financial planners can tell you which accounts should be made joint and which ones “transfer-on-death.” They can also provide advice on which accounts beneficiaries need to be listed. These professionals will provide information on what your executor would be expected to do when you pass away and what options are available for beneficiaries.

Choose an executor (estate administrator)

An executor is someone who administers your estate after you’ve passed. This person (or people) is responsible for locating and probating your will, making your funeral arrangements, paying taxes owed by your estate, and distributing your assets to beneficiaries. This can be a daunting task for many people so it is important to choose your executor carefully. Discuss your estate with potential executors. You may decide to choose co-executors, such asa family member and a lawyer.

Ideally, the executor should have enough free time to complete all of the tasks. (It can take up to three years to completely settle an estate). The executor should be organized and be able to keep complete and accurate records of all transactions pertaining to the estate. If you have assets outside of the country, your executor may have to obtain a passport and visas to deal with those assets. If you spend much of your time online (banking and investing), consider choosing an executor who is tech-savvy.

Getting it all organized

All necessary documents should be accessible by your executor when you pass away. I am the executor to my aunt’s estate and she has a folder in her filing cabinet labeled, “What to do when I’m dead (or almost).” I know that I should look in this folder should anything happen to my aunt. This folder contains important information such as:

  • The key for the safety deposit box where the legal documents are stored (Will, Power of Attorney, deeds, passport, birth certificate, etc.)
  • Names and contact information of lawyers, financial advisors, banks.
  • Home inventory list
  • List of people to notify of death (friends and neighbours)
  • Funeral arrangement details and contact information for funeral home

A file folder is a good option if the management of the estate is fairly straightforward, but if your estate is larger and more complicated there are a couple of organizational alternatives.

Portavault is a binder that holds hundreds of pages of documents in easily identifiable categories. It comes with a water-resistant case and lockable zipper that makes it secure and easy to transport in case of emergency. It comes with a list of handy tips and tricks to help you organize your documents.

For those who prefer a non-paper-based solution, The Doc Safe allows you to keep copies of your documents online. The advantage of a cloud-based system is that it is accessible from anywhere there is an Internet connection. If your executor is computer-savvy, this might be the best option to choose. However, you need to ensure your executor can access the system and is comfortable with it while your still alive.

Regardless of which system you choose, an organized estate may be the best legacy you can leave your beneficiaries.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Pour some iced coffee on me
    There are special trays to make frozen coffee cubes and special coffeemakers to make only iced coffee. Seriously. These things exists. I’m not making them up. They’re real.
  • Using timers to improve productivity
    Timers help you to stay focused and complete tasks — specifically the not-so-fun ones and the ones that have to get done — in reasonable amounts of time.

2011

2010

Three organizing lessons I learned 30 years ago

I’m not one of those people who obsessively organized her books, clothes, or toys as a child — but I do thank my family, and one of my first bosses, for teaching me some valuable lessons as a child and a young adult. The following are important life lessons they taught me, years before I became a professional organizer:

Perfectionism often doesn’t pay

I have distinct perfectionist tendencies, but over the years I’ve learned that they don’t always serve me well. The story that really highlights this happened when I was in middle school.

I had a homework assignment that involved listing the rivers found in a number of the 50 states. I sat at my desk with a big atlas, and wrote down every single river in those states. There are a lot of rivers, and this was a very time-consuming task.

My parents insisted that the teacher really just wanted the biggest rivers and that I was going overboard — which, in retrospect, I certainly was. But there was no convincing me, and I missed an annual family outing to the local cider mill — something I looked forward to every year — so I could complete the assignment to my ridiculous level of detail. I gave up delicious cider and fresh-cooked doughnuts, and no one cared about my very complete list of rivers except me.

I didn’t learn my lesson back in grade school, but the story has since become my touchstone when I find myself veering back into unnecessary perfectionism. “Are you doing the river thing again?” I’ll ask myself.

Keep up on maintenance

My family lived in Michigan, and I had a beloved aunt, uncle, and three cousins who lived in Florida. Much to my delight as a grade-school kid — and much to my mother’s horror — these relatives would sometimes take road trips, which included coming to visit us with almost zero notice.

I remember getting a phone call from my aunt telling me that all five of them were at a certain intersection, and asking how to get to our house from there. She was about a five-minute drive away.

As I grew older, I understood why my mother went into a tizzy when she got such calls. And the lesson I took away was to always be ready for unexpected (but very welcome) company.

While I’m far from being a neat freak, I do want to keep my life and my home organized enough — no perfectionism here — that I would always be delighted to get a call like the one from my aunt. It requires doing maintenance tasks (like putting things back in their homes) on a regular basis.

Focus on one thing at a time

I remember a day in one of my first jobs when I was feeling totally overwhelmed. My boss came by and coached me through it. “What’s the first thing you need to do?” he asked. Then he had me ignore everything else, and only work on getting that one thing done. Then I moved on to the next thing and the next, until it all got done.

The same strategy can apply to other situations, like an overwhelming backlog of papers to sort. You pick up just one piece of paper and decide what to do with it. And then the next and the next — and after a while, the paperwork is complete.

Unitasker Wednesday: Mystical creature meat

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Try your best not to think too intently about if this week’s unitasker selection is truly a unitasker. If you do, you’ll realize it’s in the same realm as the stuffed animals in your child’s room, and the utility of those items is either very high or very low based on an exact moment in time. But, these are funny and don’t hold much purpose beyond keeping us all entertained through this post.

Introducing Canned Unicorn Meat:

Canned Unicorn Meat

and Canned Dragon Meat:

Canned Dragon Meat

You dislodge the bottom of the container to discover a disarticulated stuffed animal inside:

Stuffed Unicorn Carcass

“Magic in every bite!” Heh.

And, speaking of unicorns, this inflatable unicorn horn for your cat is sure to upset your cat for days to come. (The look on the cat’s face in the image at the destination of that link says it all.)

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2011

  • Teaching toddlers about organizing
    Young children are eager to be independent, and helping your child learn skills that foster this independence as well as acquire valuable organizing concepts are a great place to start the teaching process.

2010

2009

Six great uses for old CDs and CD cases

Like a phoenix from the ashes, the lowly CD and its storage case are again ready for work.

While I was working on last week’s scouting leadership post, my wife asked if I wanted to see how she keeps her girls’ patches organized. As you may know, scouts can earn patches and badges to show that they’ve mastered a skill, participated in an event or otherwise done something deserving formal recognition. Keeping track of who has earned what can be daunting, especially when you’ve got a large group.

When I saw the wall of CD sleeves above, one per girl, I knew I had to share it with the Unclutterer readers.

What you see here is a series of soft plastic CD sleeves, like for a small CD binder, attached to a big piece of foam core board. Each girl’s name has been written in permanent black magic marker at the bottom of “her” sleeve, and there are even two extra sleeves for holding supplies. It’s effective, portable, and very inexpensive. I can see this working in classrooms, garages, kids’ bedrooms, and more.

Inspired, I took to the Internet to see how other people are using this nearly extinct technology. The following items are the best of what I discovered.

  1. Recipe card holder. I wish I had thought of this years ago. Typically, I tape a new recipe to the oven hood or stick it to refrigerator door and then have to worry about removing adhesive residue later. An old hard CD case makes perfect sense as a way to protect recipes from spills without any need for tape or Goo Gone.
  2. Cable storage. In this example, spindle cases that once held CD-Rs are repurposed for cables. I’ve got so many cables in my basement work area, and many are in bins I can’t see into. This solution puts the contents front-and-center. Love it.
  3. Mosaic photo collage. To use a plastic CD case as a photo frame is kind of a no-brainer, but this mosaic takes the idea and runs with it. Instructables has the detailed how-to for building an impressive wall display out of something you’d otherwise purge.
  4. Mini dry erase board. This idea is fantastic because it’s so simple — all you do is cut a piece of white paper and insert it into the plastic case. Boom, you’re done. A dry erase marker will wipe clean from the plastic. I’d use this as a last-chance prompt for that one thing I’ve got to remember to do. It could also work in classrooms where kids are writing down answers and then holding them up for their teachers to see.
  5. Closet divider. OK, this hack uses a CD, not the case, but it’s still a fun recycling idea. After carefully measuring the circumference of the rod in the closet, adjust the CD’s central hole as necessary and then apply a label. Slide the result onto the rod and you’re all set to organize your closet like in a department store.

I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed, but these are five good ones that I’d actually use. Do you use old CD cases for storage? If you feel like sharing, let us know about your recycling solutions in the comments.

Breaking the organizing stalemate

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that you couldn’t organize your bedroom until the laundry room is organized, but you couldn’t organize the laundry room until the bedroom is organized? This is a deadlock or stalemate situation — one in which several actions are waiting for the other to finish, and thus none of them ever is completed.

There are two basic ways to break a stalemate, one is by diplomacy and the other is by imposing military might.

Diplomatic method

The diplomatic method creates the least amount of disruption, however it does take a lot more time to complete the organizing process. It involves working a little at a time in each space, alternating back and forth. In the above example between the laundry room and the bedroom, you may choose to spend 15 minutes in each space each day organizing. You may repeatedly need to transfer clothing between rooms. You may decide to do a few loads of laundry every day. Additionally you would cart away clothing that is no longer suited to your lifestyle. Slowly, over the course of time, both rooms would become organized.

Military might method

The military might method may cause intense disruption for a short period of time, but the end result can be achieved more quickly than with the diplomatic method. The military might strategy involves clearing a full day in your calendar to complete the entire task and clearing everything from the space all at once. In the laundry room and bedroom example, you would gather up all of the clothing from both the bedroom and the laundry room and dump it in the living room where there is enough space to do a sort and purge. Once that is completed in the living room, your clothing would be returned to its appropriate storage area and the living room would be clear.

You may have to employ a combination of strategies, using both diplomacy and military might. There are no rules in love (of a tidy home) and war (on disorganization). The important thing is to get started and choose the method that works best for you and your situation.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Egg Dispenser
    One of the wonderful features about the container that comes with each purchase of a dozen eggs is that this container protects the eggs in your refrigerator. It’s like a force field keeping your eggs safe. Those eggs don’t need any extra protection — they already have it!

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Coffee Filter Separator Tool
    Want to know what is not a problem in search of a solution? Separating paper coffee filters. Want to know why it’s not a problem? Because a reusable coffee filter costs less than $1.50 and you have no need to use paper coffee filters or separate them from each other.

2011

2009