Where do you stand on digital books?

Since it’s the day after a holiday, I’m thinking maybe a conversation instead of straightforward advice will help us ease back into the week. Today, I’m putting a little mental energy into figuring out where I stand on digital books.

As far as I am concerned, digital books and the devices that we use to read them — smartphones, Kindles, Nooks and other digital readers — are super convenient and reduce physical clutter significantly. A personal library can exist on a device that is 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″, in the case of the Kindle Paperwhite. Digital books are usually less expensive (and the author may get a higher percentage of each sale), don’t take up anything but virtual space in your home, and don’t require a trip to a bookstore to purchase. Instead of a nightstand full of books to read, you have a few files on a device that you can re-read and reference whenever you wish.

Software features and other services increase the appeal of digital books. For example, both the Nook and Kindle let customers share books with others who have the same device — all you need is the other user’s email address. Some libraries have devised a way to loan out digital books, and services like Oyster and Kindle Unlimited let customers read all the digital books they want for less than $10 per month. That is serious convenience and clutter reduction.

Of course, there are reasons people may want to keep a few physical books around the house — kids books, first editions of rare books, and reference books might be some of those reasons. Also, there are books that are extremely expensive and you might worry that EPUB and other formats won’t be viable for your entire life. Additionally, there’s something nice about having books around, despite the bulk and tendency to stack.

So, where do you stand on digital books? Do your uncluttering preferences win out and are you primarily digital? Or, do you tend to collect the physical kind? There isn’t a right answer, but from an organizing and uncluttering perspective my guess is that most of our readers tend toward the digital type. What say you, readers? What is your preference?

The ins-and-outs of using a self-storage unit

Using a storage unit to house clutter is not recommended because it is a waste of money and is only a way to delay making a decision about what to do with the stuff you no longer need. However, storage units can be a useful temporary storage solution when staging your house to sell it or moving for a few years overseas — especially when those units are well organized and you know exactly when you will cease using the unit.

If you fall into the category of someone who temporarily needs a storage unit, the following tips for choosing a storage facility and preparing your goods for storage may be helpful to you.

Create a complete inventory of everything you wish to place into storage. You should also take photographs and/or videos of the items. List the approximate current value of all items and you may also want to list the approximate replacement value (i.e. the cost of buying the item brand new).

Using your inventory as a guide, decide how much storage space you need. Many self-storage companies will provide a guideline of how much “stuff” fits into their storage units. If you are storing items such as wine, wood or leather furniture, artwork, musical instruments, paperwork or photographs you should choose climate-controlled storage.

Obtain insurance quotes. Some self-storage companies will provide insurance with the cost of rental but it may be expensive and not adequate for your needs. Your homeowners’ insurance policy may provide coverage at a better rate. Some insurance policies have specific minimum requirements for the storage facility security system. Some policies require that the owner or owner’s representative verify the contents on a regular basis. It is important to read the fine print of your insurance policy.

Examine the cost of storage and insurance. Decide if there are items that are not worth storing for the intended period of time. For example, when we moved to Britain we had the option of leaving items in storage in Canada for the three years that we are in England. Since our appliances were over 7 years old before our move, we opted to sell them rather than return to Canada and have 10-year-old appliances that may or may not work after being in storage. You should only store items that you will use in the future, and only if it’s less expensive to store them than to replace them.

You should visit two or three different facilities in order to find out which is the best for you. Look for customer reviews of each facility on various websites such as Yelp and the Better Business Bureau.

Additional points to take into consideration:

Price

  • Is the price reasonable after any “move-in promotional discounts” have expired?
  • Are there any hidden add-on fees such as accessing the unit outside normal business hours, multiple daily visits, or move in/out charges?
  • What happens if you miss a payment?
  • What happens if you cause damage to your unit? (E.g. furniture scraping walls.)

Communications

  • How and when does the facility contact you if there is a problem with your storage unit?
  • How do they proceed if you are not available?
  • How and when can you contact the facility?
  • Is there communication to the site manager directly or are calls routed through a call centre?

Site visit

  • Is the unit clean and dry?
  • Are there water or mildew stains on the walls or floor?
  • Are there any “off” odours? Strong smells of bleach or vanilla may indicate the facility is trying to cover the odour of something else.
  • If you’re looking at climate-controlled storage, does each unit have its own climate monitor? Will the company allow you to view the data to see the fluctuations?
  • Is there any overhead ductwork or piping in the unit? Broken pipes could cause damage to your items. Ductwork allows pests (insects and rodents) to travel between units.
  • Is there a pest control system in place? Have there been any pest problems in the past? If so, what measures were taken?
  • Are there any items that are not permitted in storage? Most self-storage units have restrictions on tires, small engines (lawn mowers, motorcycles), firewood, propane tanks, medical or pharmaceutical supplies, perishable products (food, pet food), construction equipment, firearms, ammunition, hazardous household products (cleaners) and explosives.
  • Does the door to the unit close securely? Have someone (partner/ friend) shut you inside the unit. You should not see any light around the door or through the walls or ceiling.
  • Do customers supply their own locks? What type of locks are permitted/recommended?
  • Are there plenty of security cameras surveying the area? Are they live-monitored? Is the feed recorded?
  • Are there alarms on individual units to know the date/time a unit is accessed?
  • What type of background checks/training do the employees receive?
  • Have there been any burglaries at this facility? (You may wish to ask the local police for any incident reports regarding this facility.)
  • Are there hallway intercoms? Could you easily contact security personnel if you were in distress?
  • Is the lighting adequate (indoors and outdoors)? Are there any dark corners or hallways? If you might access your items at night, consider visiting the unit late in the evening (Don’t go alone!) to ensure you are comfortable with the level of security.

Preparing your stuff for storage

It’s a good idea to thoroughly clean your items before they go into storage. After cleaning, appliances should be rinsed with bleach to prevent mould and mildew growth. Drain and flush washing machines and dishwashers. Antifreeze may be required if they are in climate-controlled storage. Prop open appliance doors so air can circulate. A small container of baking soda or DampRid will help keep odours at a minimum.

Ideally, upholstered furniture and mattresses should be wrapped in plastic to keep them clean and pest-free during storage. If you’re moving items from a cold, damp environment to a warm environment, condensation may form. If possible, allow them to become acclimatized to the new environment before wrapping with plastic to avoid mould and mildew build-up.

Storing items on pallets is preferable. It allows for air circulation. Also, if there is ever a spill or minor flooding, your items will be protected.

So that you can easily find your items in storage, but potential thieves cannot, label the boxes with numbers instead of words. You can have a list of all the items in each box or using the inventory list of your items, write down in which box each item is stored. Keep your list in a safe place and leave a copy with a friend or family member, just in case. You can also keep an electronic version in Dropbox or iCloud.

Remember to pack heavy items, such as books, in smaller boxes so they are easy to carry. Lighter, bulky items such as pillows can be packed in smaller boxes. When stacking boxes, put the heavier ones on the bottom, lighter on the top. You may wish to label the boxes with words such as “HEAVY” and “FRAGILE”.

Consider wrapping pallets or individual boxes with stretch film. This will help keep things clean, dry and pest free, and it will let you know if anyone has disturbed the contents of your storage unit.

When filling your storage unit, think about how often you will access certain items. Arrange frequently accessed items near the front. Keep valuable items such as televisions, and other electronics towards the back. You never know who will be looking over your shoulder when you access your goods.

Ensure there is space to move around inside the unit. Consider creating an aisle down middle or a path around the outside. If you plan to stack boxes to the ceiling, ensure the aisle/path is wide enough to fit a ladder.

By keeping in mind these tips, you should have a successful self-storage experience.

Do you have any self-storage tips or tricks? Please share them with our readers in the comments.

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Five tips for storing your treasured books

Even with the popularity of e-books, many of us still have collections of treasured physical books. But do we treat those books like the valued possessions we say they are? The following five tips will help you preserve the books you wish to keep.

Pay attention to heat, humidity, and light

In regard to storing books, the Art Institute of Chicago states: “Ideal levels are 68-72° F, with 40-50% relative humidity. Monitor temperature and humidity levels. Excessive fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity can be particularly damaging.” There’s no perfect agreement on the best humidity level, though. The British Library recommends 45-55 percent relative humidity and the Library of Congress recommends 35 percent. The State Archives of Florida provides this commonsense advice: “A good rule of thumb is, if you are hot and sticky, your books are, too.”

Why do temperature and humidity matter so much? As Cornerstone Book Publishers explains, “Hot and dry conditions will desiccate and embrittle leather and paper; damp conditions will encourage mold growth.” And the State Archives of Florida notes that changes in temperature and humidity cause paper and bindings to swell and contract at different rates, which causes warping.

All of this means you probably don’t want to store books in a garage or an attic, unless you have temperature and humidity controls in those spaces. You also want to keep them away from fireplaces, radiators, clothes dryers, and other sources of indoor heat. Bookshelves are best placed away from windows and outer walls because these are the indoor areas most prone to temperature and humidity fluctuations. And, keep books away from heat and air conditioning vents.

Excess light can also damage books. Sunlight and fluorescent light are the biggest culprits when it comes to fading, because of their high UV component. UV coatings for windows are one way to help protect your books.

Watch out for pests

Lots of pests are attracted to books. Keep your books away from any area that gets rats or mice, heeding the words of the Cornell University Library: “Both rats and mice use paper to make their nests, and many fine books have lost chunks of text through their jagged gnawing.”

Insects such as silverfish and carpet beetles are also attracted to books. Silverfish like warm, moist areas — one more reason to avoid such storage areas. Keeping book storage areas clean helps prevent insect problems.

Use good bookshelves

Which bookshelves are best? The Art Institute of Chicago provides this advice: “Book collections should be stored on bookshelves made from metal or sealed wood. Unsealed wood releases damaging acidic vapors into the environment and can accelerate the deterioration of books.”

Also, make sure the bookshelves are deep enough for your books, since books that overhang can warp.

Keep books upright, or in short stacks

In general, books are best stored upright — using bookends, if necessary, to avoid angling. Oversize books might need to be stacked, but keep the stack reasonably short because a tall stack can damage the spines of the books on the bottom. Cornerstone Book Publishers and the Yale University Library (PDF) both recommend a stack of no more than three books. Nora O’Neill, writing on The Bookshop Blog, suggests the stack be no more than 12 inches tall.

Pack books properly

If you have books you are keeping in storage boxes rather than on bookshelves, make sure you’re using boxes that won’t damage the books. Cardboard boxes should be acid-free and lignin-free (though pests can easily eat through cardboard, so keep this in mind). Certain plastics — polyester, polypropylene and polyethylene — are also safe for books. The Library of Congress recommends packing the books flat, with the largest ones on the bottom, or packing them with the spine down.

Once the books have been packed, consider this additional advice from Cornerstone Book Publishers about storing the boxes: “Always allow at least four inches of space between the boxes and the walls, ceilings, and floors (lift the boxes up on wooden pallets).”

Unitasker Wednesday: Snack Spout

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

Do you like snacks? Do you like buying snacks in really large quantities from big box stores like Costco? Then, do you feel it is too much trouble to unscrew the lids on those snacks and scoop or pour those snacks into a bowl or onto a plate? Do you love to drop your snacks onto the floor as they fall from between your fingers? Do you love to get the bacteria off your hands onto your snacks and then eat the contaminated candy? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then we have a unitasker for you! The Snack Spout:

The Snack Spout wants to make eating junk food even easier … because apparently it was too hard to eat junk food before now! For people who buy snacks in bulk, they can attach the large container to this device and then use their hands to repeatedly access the snacks. The product description claims it’s more sanitary to use your hands to get the snacks from this device, but I personally think it’s more sanitary to use a scoop and bowl when eating snacks (and hey, look at that, science agrees with me).

Sure this thing is kind of cute, but thinking about the amount of bacteria on this dispenser also makes my tummy a little queasy. Blergh.

Thanks to reader DK for helping us find this unitasker.

A year ago on Unclutterer

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  • Cut the clutter
    Knowing how to properly use a knife can save you time, money, and space.
  • Downloading digital sheet music
    While at her local Nordstrom’s Department Store, my friend spotted the piano player using a MusicPad Pro for his sheet music. It’s a digital device, much like a Kindle, that can hook to a special music stand or be carted around like a single piece of sheet music.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Extreme Bug Vacuum
    If only there were clutter vacuums to suck up the absurd bug vacuum!
  • Link week
    My first link of the day is to a book review professional organizer Julie Bestry wrote about “Everything I Know About Perfectionism I Learned from My Breasts.” This book, written by the talented organizer Debbie Jordan Kravitz, has been on my to-read list for months but I haven’t yet reached it in the pile. Julie’s review of Debbie’s book, however, has convinced me to jump it ahead on my list. And, since it persuaded me to read the book, I thought it was a review you might wish to read as well.
  • Alternative uses for colanders
    Not only does knowing how to properly use your kitchen utensils save you time, space, and money, but knowing additional uses for your utensils can have the same effect.

Sugru lets you fix, improve and avoid clutter

A few weeks ago I wrote to Erin and said, “I’d like to review Sugru for Unclutterer.” She was intrigued, so I ordered a set, and after weeks of using the product I wanted to share the results of my test-drive with you.

Sugru is a “self-setting rubber” invented by Ireland’s Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh. It feels like Play-Doh when initially removed from its package and then hardens, yet remains flexible, after being exposed to air for about a day. People are doing all sorts of creative and useful things with it, and that’s why I wanted to review it.

For me, part of being an unclutterer means a commitment to frugality, and I use the New England definition of frugal: nothing is wasted. Since Sugru lets you repair or improve on a huge number of devices in and around your home, it prevents those things from becoming clutter.

Packaging

The Sugru packaging includes a list you can populate with future projects, instructions, many photos, use ideas, and a super handy color chart. I received four colors (other combinations are available), and the chart explains how to combine them to produce a variety of hues, so that you can match whatever you’re trying to fix or improve. The Sugru itself comes in sliver, 0.17-ounce packages that resemble the condiment packs you might find at a fast food restaurant.

Use

My goal was to both fix something and improve something; both were met easily. As mentioned earlier Sugru is nice and soft out of the package, with that “I just want to squish it forever” feel. (Note: that the color does come off onto your fingers. Not a lot, and it’s easily removed with a wet wipe, but still worth noting.) Its consistency made it an obvious choice for my two projects.

The first thing I did was to fashion a DIY iPhone cable holder out of a LEGO minifig. I put a bit of black Sugru on his back, pressed him to an inconspicuous area of my bed’s headboard* and the next morning he was ready for cable-holding duty:

The second project was the “fix.” I have an Amazon Fire TV that runs a little hot. So, I decided to add some feet. After molding some black Sugru into little balls and sticking them on the bottom, the device now has a nice cushion of air between itself and the surface it occupies.

At this point, I had the bug. There’s a cabinet in our house that never stays shut. It’s old, the latch is misaligned and the humidity of summer makes things even worse. There’s a perma-gap that lets the door swing freely. Sugru to the rescue! I applied enough white to fill the gap, let it harden and now the door stays shut and only opens when we want it to. Wonderful.

The only caveat I found was that, once a pack is opened, you best use all it contains. I was unable to re-seal a pack and even putting it in a tiny zip-top bag — with as much air pushed out as I could manage — didn’t prevent the leftover from hardening into a solid, unusable slab. Fortunately, each pack contains just 1/17th of an ounce, so it’s easy to use the whole thing.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s great stuff. It’s occasionally obvious that you’ve used Sugru, so if a clean look is what you’re after you might be a bit bothered by the homemade look of your fix. Color matching helps, as long as you have the colors required to mix your target color. I like it, though, because it can help prevent slightly broken things from becoming clutter. Be sure to check out the Sugru gallery for more ideas for how the product can be useful around your home and office.

*My wife’s insistence. Really.

Organizing tips from outer space

I just finished reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield and found that it contained some great tips from outer space that we can use to be organized right here on Earth.

The pen just floated away

In space, if you don’t hang on to them, things like spoons, pencils, scissors and test tubes simply drift away, only to turn up a week later, clinging to the filter covering an air intact duct. That’s why there’s Velcro on the back of just about every imaginable item: so it will stay put on a Velco wall.

Things on Earth don’t exactly “float away,” although sometimes it feels like they do! There are several strategies that we can use to help things stay put! Consider using Velcro to stick markers and an eraser to a whiteboard. A Grid-It organizer can be placed in a drawer, backpack, or briefcase to stop smaller items from disappearing to the bottom of a bag.

A pegboard won’t stop items from floating away, but it clearly identifies where items belong. Pegboards are ideal for tools, craft supplies, and even accessories such as jewellery, belts, and purses.

The most useful thing to do

During a mission on the International Space Station, when Commander Hadfield asked, “What’s the most useful thing we could be doing right now?” the answer was “an inventory of the inside of every single locker in the Russian cargo block.”

Previously on Unclutterer, we’ve discussed creating a home inventory. Inventories are important because they indicate how much homeowners insurance you should carry and also help identify items that may be missing or damaged if your home suffers from theft or other disaster.

Inventories done on a regular basis help ensure your items aren’t past their due dates (e.g. fire extinguishers, canned food) or have become obsolete (Do you need to keep the baby gates if your children are teenagers?). Regular inventories help you figure out how much of certain items you are using so you can prevent product shortages and keep just enough inventory on hand without having too much.

I can imagine that an accurate inventory is even more important for the astronauts and cosmonauts since the nearest convenience store is 205 miles away. Items must be ordered in a timely manner so they arrive when needed and there are only a limited number of items that can be sent on each flight to the space station. Planning in advance is essential.

Although being organized may not give you the opportunity to go to the International Space Station, it can certainly help you enjoy your space right here on Earth.

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  • Ask Unclutterer: Organizing hair styling doo-dads
    I have a 9-yr-old girl with long hair. She has zillions of barrettes, headbands, clips, bobby pins, etc. and I need some good ideas how to organize these! Any suggestions??
  • To-Do Tattoos
    You can be sure your child makes it wherever he needs to go with everything on his list. It’s novel, and I like when organizing can be fun.

The power of checklists

In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande made a strong case for the power of checklists to help us “get things right” — including a checklist’s power to save lives when used by surgeons and airline pilots. But checklists can be useful tools for all of us, in many situations.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written about checklists for moving, packing for travel, preparing for a trip, and requesting tech support. We’ve also provided a how-to guide for having a yard sale, which is basically a large checklist. The following four examples may give you ideas of other types of checklists you’d like to create and use.

Choosing a house or an apartment — or buying almost anything

Many years ago, I almost bought a house with a key flaw: the house had very few walls without windows or doors, and there would have been no good place to put any bookshelves. After that experience, I created a checklist with everything I could think of that mattered to me in a house. I could still choose to buy a home that didn’t have everything I wanted, but at least it would be a conscious choice.

If you want to create your own home checklist, you could use the wishlist and the checklist (PDFs) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a starting point.

The same basic type of checklist could be created for any major purchase: selecting a school or a camp, buying a car, etc. When I was buying a car four years ago, my checklist included price, reliability, miles/gallon, length, turning radius, acceleration, and the opinion of trusted reviewers.

Fixing things

Back in 1993, I read a column by Bill Husted that provided his rules for fixing anything, from a computer file to a motorcycle. I can’t find the article online, but here are his first six rules:

  • Make a carbon copy. As Husted explains, that “copy” could take many forms: a backup of a file, a drawing of some wiring, etc.
  • Take things one at a time.
  • Be lazy. Take a lot of breaks.
  • Try the easiest and most obvious first.
  • Clean up as you go.
  • Keep a diary.
  • All these years later, this still seems like a good checklist to me.

    Packing for frequent activities

    This is the packing list concept applied beyond trips and suitcases: for going to the beach, for attending a class, etc. Even if you keep a packed bag at the ready for such activities, having a checklist is usually a good idea, too. With that checklist, you can quickly confirm the bag has everything on that list so you can replace anything that got used up or misplaced.

    The same type of what-to-pack checklist could be created for diaper bags, school backpacks, first aid kits, etc.

    Visiting a doctor

    It’s easy to forget everything you need to tell a doctor, or everything you’ll want to ask. Organizer Ramona Creel has a checklist to help patients prepare for a visit, so they do remember everything they want to discuss. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also has a checklist (PDF) of questions to ask a healthcare provider, which could certainly be used by patients who aren’t veterans, too. While not all items listed will apply to all visits, the checklist helps to ensure you don’t forget anything important.

    Unitasker Wednesday: DestapaBanana

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

    This is one of the more bizarre unitaskers we have encountered here at Unclutterer. Dave possibly described it best when he said, “if this isn’t a unitasker, I don’t know what is.” He was right in that this may be the most unitaskery unitasker of all time. Introducing the DestapaBanana from Argentina:

    In case the images didn’t give you enough information, I’ll explain the device in a bit more detail. The DestapaBanana bores a hole through the length of your banana and then you pour a sweet filling (like caramel, chocolate, or strawberry sauce) into the reservoir. Once sauced, you can eat the banana right away or you can put it in the freezer and eat it frozen later.

    For starters, this device does nothing else and won’t work with bananas that have a lot of curve to them. Additionally, I think a straw would do the same thing if you really are fond of this idea. Or, you could dip the banana in a sauce and not waste part of your banana. And, finally, let’s not forget the most obvious thing here that injecting sauce into a banana transforms it from a health food into a tube of pure sugar.

    Anyone else craving a banana split now?

    A year ago on Unclutterer

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    • Unitasker Wednesday: The bananarama continues
      We’ve written in the past about the Banana Saver and the Banana Slicer, but did you know you could also get your hands on so many more banana unitaskers?
    • Simplifying packed lunches
      Reader Jon wrote to us asking if we had any tips for preparing lunches at home that he can take to eat at work. He has been spending $100 a week on eating out at restaurants, and is hoping to become someone who brings his lunches to work. Since students are already back in the classroom in many states, and other students are getting ready to go, I thought now would be a great time to discuss the humble brown bag lunch.

    2009