Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: The ultimate uncluttered gift

Each year in our Gift Giving Guide, we choose one gift that we find to be on the extravagant side and present it as our ultimate gift. We’ve featured things like scanners and hiring a professional organizer and my book and even a closet organizing system.

This year, we are returning to a gift we featured in 2008. However, since that time, it has been so greatly transformed that we feel compelled to return to it in its newest iteration. Introducing the 2014 ultimate gift selection, the Kindle.

I’m partial to the Kindle Paperwhite because I’m a voracious reader and the eink of the Paperwhite display is fantastic on my eyes. If you are younger and/or have perfect vision, the Kindle Fire might be more your speed with the LCD HD screen. (We have both the Paperwhite and the Fire, and our son uses the Fire to access educational materials through FreeTime. FreeTime is a convenient service for developing readers who go through books faster than you can drive to the library.)

The Kindle Voyage has recently hit the market, but unless button controls are extremely important to you, I’m not sure there is much benefit over the Paperwhite to justify the additional expense. (It’s $100 more.)

At this point, eReaders are such popular devices that you likely don’t need me to wax poetic about their benefits. However, since this is an uncluttering and organizing site, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least a few benefits of the device. Such as how easy it is to search and retrieve information from digital books (including comments you make to the text), especially in comparison to their physical counterparts. Additionally, how digital books require virtually no physical space to be stored in your home. Also, the efficiency with which you can acquire texts and the (usually) lower price of digital books. Over the longterm, a Kindle can save you time, energy, money, frustration, and space in your home. I’m also quite fond of traveling with it since it takes up so little space in my luggage.

If you’re looking to give or request an extremely organized and uncluttered gift this holiday season, the Amazon Kindle might be the perfect present.

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Oh, before I forget! If you love reading about simple living and habits that encourage a life free of entanglements, let me recommend to you the latest book project from Leo Babauta — Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change. Funding his book is another great gift idea this holiday season.

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Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Experience Gifts

Experience gifts, when well-chosen, can provide a lot of delight with zero clutter. But because some people like to provide a tangible item to their gift recipients, I’m going to suggest some books you could pair with these experience gifts, too.

The specific experience gifts that follow are all located in selected cities in the U.S., but you may well find similar offerings wherever you live. Some of these ideas are on the expensive side, and best suited if a group of people can go together to purchase the gift.

Focus on the arts

For children or adults, give a class in one of many art forms. Depending on the person’s age and interests, this could involve glassblowing, stained glass, mosaics, cartooning, origami, etc. Some art museums offer fun-sounding classes, such as My Very First Art Class for preschoolers (and a whole lot more for older children) at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Alternatively, you could provide a gift certificate for drop-in studio time. Or get a membership in an art museum with hands-on programs, such as the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco.

In this category, it’s easy to find some wonderful books to pair with the classes or studio time, if you so desire. For children, I’m fond of the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series: Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Andy Warhol and more. But the options are endless. A couple books that caught my eye are One Watercolor A Day and The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas.

Focus on animals

For animal lovers of all sorts, experience gifts abound. You could get a gift certificate for a whale-watching trip, and pair it with anything from Moby-Dick to the children’s book If You Want to See a Whale.

Some zoos offer the chance to shadow a zookeeper or a veterinarian for a day. Books to go along with this could include Wild About Reading for young children and The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients for older gift recipients.

After-hours events such as an aquarium sleepover can be fun, too. This experience would pair nicely with the children’s book About Fish.

Focus on plants

A membership in a botanic garden or a Japanese garden could be a welcome gift. You might also consider various local tours with a plant or garden focus. Horticultural classes are another possibility. If you wanted to include a book, consider The Curious Garden (for children) and From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden (for adults).

Focus on the skies

Give a gift certificate for a helicopter ride, a hot air balloon ride, or a biplane ride. I’ve given a couple of these gifts myself, and they were huge hits. A book that appeals to me because of the wonderful illustrations is Hot Air Balloons: History, Evolution and Great Adventures.

Focus on chocolate

Rather than just giving some wonderful chocolates, you could give the chocolate-lover on your list a chocolate walking tour. Or you could give a chocolate class, which teaches you about chocolate or allows you to make your own small batch. If you want to include a book, options are plentiful — one choice could be The Great Book of Chocolate.

Considerations regarding experience gifts

Some experience gifts (from massages to tours) come with the expectation of a tip. And, in some places, parking might be limited and expensive. If you don’t want the gift recipient to have to pay to use your gift, consider pre-paying any of these added expenses (if possible) or including a bit of cash to cover the expense.

Also, as with any gift, consider the recipients. Do they have any food allergies? Any physical limitations? A fear of heights? If you’re considering a gift certificate that’s only good for a specific day, are you sure the recipient can attend the event? You can probably find a good experience gift for most people, as long as you choose wisely.

Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Utilitarian unitaskers as gifts
    Here at Unclutterer, we make weekly jokes about unitaskers — items with only one purpose and very little utility tied to that purpose. However, there are useful unitaskers, single-purpose items with high utility, that can make great gifts for the right people. The following are ideas to take into consideration.

2012

2010

2009

  • Unitasker Wednesday: USB-Powered Hamster Wheel
  • The list of unitaskers available for your computer’s USB ports just got a little bit longer thanks to the extremely necessary USB-powered Hamster Wheel.
  • A simple Thanksgiving solution
    Until yesterday, I had no idea that chalk wrote easily on matte-finish oilcloth. The concept is so basic, yet its implications have my head spinning. I’m no longer trying to think of ways to decorate my Thanksgiving table, entertain the kids during mealtime, or am worried about a centerpiece — I have my solution.

Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids

Each year Erin is kind enough to let me write the gift guide for kids. I have such a good time, and often have to whittle my ideas down to the best selections. That’s what I’ve done again this year. In the following post you’ll find great suggestions for little and big kids.

Younger tykes

The POWER A Skylanders SWAP Force Tackle Box. Skylanders is a game for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo 3DS that encourages kids to buy a vast collection of figurines, which become playable characters. Even a small collection can be unwieldily, and if you think stepping on a LEGO brick is bad, try putting your bare foot down on Drobot. This storage box holds up to 20 figures, is stackable, has a lit that latches shut and is transparent. Plus, Jr. can use it to carry his minions to a friend’s house. (It also works with Disney Infinity characters, if your kid is into that one.)

The LEGO Swoop Bag. I mentioned this last year, and I’ve brought it back for 2014 because LEGOS just won’t go away. Between the LEGO Movie, Star Wars tie-ins that are bolstered by a new TV series, those ever-present bricks will be popular again this season. The Swoop Bag holds a huge collection of LEGOs and spreads out during play time, and easily scoops and stores the lot when play is finished. A few other fun ways to keep LEGOS organized:

  1. The LEGO Storage Head offers a fun way to keep LEGOS organized, and gifts should be fun, right? I’d recommend this for smaller collections.
  2. The LEGO ZipBin 1000 Brick Storage Box and Playmat. I love it because it stores 1,000 bricks, comes with a playmat, and features a brick remover! This all-important tool will keep you from using your teeth to separate stubborn bricks. That thing is like gold, so keep it safe.
  3. The Brick Rack Wall Display for LEGO minifigs. As kids get older, they may want to display their favorite LEGOS. This interesting system mounts to the wall and lets kids slide minifigs in and out. The best part is they aren’t in there permanently, so if they want to take a few down to play with them, they can.

Melissa and Doug Trunki Terrance Rolling Kids Luggage. This beautiful little suit case is perfect for the younger child who travels — or doesn’t! For travelers, it’s carry-on sized and features wheels plus handles and a shoulder strap. At home, it’s a cute and sturdy (holds up to 75 lbs) storage container that you won’t mind looking at. It’s available in several colors and patterns, so you can find one that works for you.

The Hot Wheels Basic Car 50-Pack. Perhaps it’s my nostalgia talking, but Hot Wheels are awesome. This set contains 50 vehicles, each individually wrapped, with no duplicates. Plus, it all ships in a cute cardboard storage box. It’s a great way to create an instant Hot Wheels collection or add on to an existing one AND keep them stored nicely when not in use.

Older kids/teens

Gear Pockets. These wall-hanging units feature mesh pockets and straps for storing all sorts of items: sports equipment, hunting supplies, helmets, boots and more. Put one in the garage or your teenager’s room and they’ll have at-a-glance access to their most important gear.

Multi-Device Charging Station. This great-looking bamboo charging station can accommodate three phones/music players of various makes, an iPad, and a laptop computer. There are hidden hook-ups for everything, keeping them charged in a tidy, nice-looking package.

Finally, this one’s a little abstract, but I’d recommend an Evernote Premium subscription for any college students on your list. I’ve sung Evernote’s praises several times on Unclutterer. It really is my external brain. College is a time to run around like a chicken minus its academic head, and Evernote will help students keep everything they need together and accessible.

If you’re like me, you find time spent shopping for kids almost as much fun as watching them open their gifts. I hope there were a few items here that are prefect for the young ones on your list. Have a great holiday season, everybody!

Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Organizing gifts for the kitchen and bathroom

If someone on your gift list this year would appreciate a little organizing help, there are numerous ways to provide gifts to help in his or her pursuits. Seeing as organizing gifts are too many to count, we decided this year to narrow down suggestions to only the kitchen and bathroom. If these two rooms aren’t of concern to your recipient, they still may be able to provide inspiration for gifts applicable to other rooms.

The kitchen is probably the busiest room in the home. Some kitchens have limited counter space and some have limited cupboard space. The following are a few tools that may be of interest to chefs to help them keep the kitchen organized.

  • Free up kitchen counter space with a folding dish rack. The linked model allows dishes to dry quickly and funnels water directly to the sink. It comes apart for easy cleaning and it has a slim profile that makes it easy to store in a cupboard when not in use.
  • Kitchen scales are an essential tool for anyone who enjoys baking but most models take up lots of counter or cupboard space. The Joseph Joseph TriScale Compact Folding Digital Scale is an ideal space saver to that folds up and fits in a drawer. It has an easy to read display and measures in both Imperial and metric. I received one of these last year for Christmas and I love it!

  • I also love my Nest utensil set. It has the five tools that I use most often, all in a compact, self-supporting design. It takes up very little space on the small counter next to my stove and it adds a dash of colour to the kitchen.
  • Any chef with a small kitchen would enjoy receiving a colourful collapsible measuring cup and spoon set or a collapsible silicone colander that can also double as a food steamer. The 4-in-1 box grater by Joseph Joseph folds flat and fits easily in a drawer or cupboard. It comes with a protective cover for safety. It’s dishwasher safe, too.

The bathroom is a close second for the busiest-room-in-the-house designation. Many bathrooms have very little storage or counter space. The following are a few tools that can help keep the bathroom in order.

  • A stainless steel power lock suction basket is designed to keep your soap and shampoo organized in your shower, but it could also be used next to your kitchen sink to keep your dishwashing tools in order.
  • For bathrooms with very little drawer space, a rolling cart is useful for storing items. Plastic is recommended as it does not rust and it can be easily cleaned.
  • Keep cosmetics organized with an expandable organizer for the vanity. Alternatively, a drawer organizer could be used to corral cosmetics.
  • Keep hairstyling tools organized in this handy caddy. It can hang on a towel bar or on a cupboard door or it can be placed in a drawer. Styling tools can be stored on the counter with a hairstyle tool organizer. It also has a place to store hairspray, gel, and hair accessories.
  • For students who transport their toiletries from their dorm room to the bathroom, a new shower tote may be a useful gift.

Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

2011

2010

  • Wrap it up in silver
    One of the things I discovered during my uncluttering process is that silver wrapping paper works for every gift-giving occasion — weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers, housewarming, etc. — and when you only have a few tubes of wrapping paper to store, it takes up very little space in a closet.

2009

Introducing the 2014 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Starting Monday and going through the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we will be running our annual Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Each post will focus on uncluttered, useful, and/or organized gifts that you might want to consider giving to others this season.

The holidays are a time when we can easily feel overwhelmed with responsibilities, as well as by stuff. With our Guide, we hope to inspire you to think outside the traditional gift-giving process or to be more aware of how you proceed within its regular bounds.

The next seven weeks, however, aren’t only about gifts. You’ll likely be invited to parties and have special work or school obligations. You may be the host of this year’s Thanksgiving gathering. And you may find yourself packing up a suitcase or two or three and heading across the country to see far-flung friends and family.

So, how do you keep yourself from going mad?

  • Make a plan now. Create a to-do-list of everything that needs to be accomplished. Then, set specific deadlines for shopping and preparations or whatever it is you have to do in the next seven weeks. Mark these on your calendar with blocks of time to work on meeting your deadlines. If playing host for a holiday meal, consult a guide that lists day-by-day and hour-by-hour suggestions for getting food on the table.
  • Take a break. You don’t have to constantly be on the go until the New Year. When scheduling all the things you need to do on your calendar, be sure to include time for reflection and rejuvenation. You’re likely to go bonkers, otherwise. Also try not to be afraid of saying “no” if you feel that your schedule is becoming too much to reasonably handle.
  • Keep it simple. Whether it’s with your decorations, your gift giving, or any other task that could complicate this time, try your best to keep things simple. You don’t have to put out every snow man you own. You don’t have to serve every dish your grandmother did at Thanksgiving. You don’t have to give New Year’s guests four choices of champagne. Have a signature cocktail and make a pitcher of it instead of standing behind a bar all night making custom orders. Santa Claus can bring the kids a single, larger gift instead of 40 little ones. Don’t be overly complicated about things unless you have to.

Stay focused on enjoying time with family and friends and you should be fine this holiday season.

If you’re eager to get started planning your gift giving this season, feel welcome to check out our past Guides for ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Seven ways to manage laundry

If you struggle to keep up with the laundry, you’re not alone. People have different approaches to laundry based on their number of family members, the convenience of laundry facilities, and their personal preferences — but feeling overwhelmed by laundry is common to all types of households. The following suggestions may help make laundry less onerous.

  1. Wear clothes multiple times between washes, assuming they didn’t get dirty and they don’t smell bad. Real Simple has some suggestions on how many times you might wear an item before washing it, as does Consumer Reports. Besides saving time, less frequent washing also saves on water, power, and detergent.

    Steve Boorstein, who wrote a book on clothing care, recommends washing white clothes after each wearing because body oils and time-released stains (such as perfumes) can make even a clean-looking white item begin to turn yellow. But that’s not a concern with dark clothes, which will fade less quickly when washed less frequently.

  2. Consider washing each person’s clothes separately. Doing so avoids the post-laundry sorting problem. (If all family members do their own laundry, this is already how things work.)
  3. Examine your laundry process to see where you get stalled. One person noticed she was always dealing with her young son’s clothes after he was asleep, so the clothes piled up since she didn’t want to enter his room and possibly wake him. As a work-around, she started storing his clothes in the guest bedroom, and the problem disappeared.
  4. If folding is the part that slows you down, minimize the folding. If possible, arrange your storage so you can hang clothes rather than fold them. Many things that don’t get hung will still be fine without any folding. I fold my cloth napkins and my towels, but that’s about it. T-shirts are hung; underwear is tossed in a drawer with no folding. I worked with one person where we stored all her sweatshirts in a large lidded basket — no folding required.
  5. If ironing is the task you despise, you could join Erin and me in giving away our irons. I generally buy clothes that don’t require ironing. The very few that do need ironing get handled at the dry cleaner.
  6. It’s been said before, but it’s worth reiterating: Make sure you have plenty of room to store your clothes. If your closets and dressers are overly full, it will always be a challenge to put clothes away. Either eliminate some clothes or add storage pieces.
  7. To the extent you’re able to do so, have tools that work well for you and that you enjoy using. That would include laundry bags, baskets, hampers, or sorters. It could be a great iron, if you do ironing — The SweetHome recommends the T-fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4495. If you have your own home and your budget allows, it could mean a superb washer and dryer.

    If you’re going to be folding, try to have a large table at a comfortable height. Anita Perr, an occupational therapist, suggests it should be about waist high. Also consider standing on an anti-fatigue mat.

Unitasker Wednesday: Tummy Tats

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

Internet, we need to have a talk. THE talk. The one about birds and bees and babies and … pregnant belly tattoos called Tummy Tats:

You know what, now that I’ve thought about it for more than a second, maybe we don’t need to have that talk. Forget I said anything. Especially the part about fake tattoos for a woman’s pregnant belly. We don’t ever need to discuss that topic again. For the love of all that is good and decent in this world, let’s agree to never even think about such things again. And I implore you NOT to follow the product link to look at the additional pictures of Tummy Tats on Amazon because you won’t ever be able to unsee those images. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

“Under Construction” Gah!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Organizing military memorabilia
    November 11 is the time when we pause and remember the service men and women who serve their country. Over the course of their military careers, they may have accumulated some items that are personally and historically significant and when organising these items you’ll need to decide what to keep, how to store what you keep, what to part with, and where donations and sales of items you’re getting rid of can be made.

2011

2010

2009

Digital organizing and productivity tools

I’ve been working with a few tech tools lately to improve my organization and productivity. Some are proving themselves to be quite useful, while I’m on the fence with others. Here’s a look at what I’m using lately, both the good and the could-be-good.

Photo management

I’m still years into my search for the perfect digital photo management solution. Today we can take 400 photos as easily as breathing, but the technology for organizing it all has not kept up. My search for the current something that meets my needs has led to Dropbox’s Carousel. When matched with a Dropbox account, the Carousel app automatically uploads your photos to your storage. It’s pretty nice and, in my experience, the uploads are fast. I have the app installed on my phone and on my wife’s phone, so all of the photos we take end up in the same account — no more remembering to text or email photos to each other.

Picturelife is another solution I’m working with. It does auto-upload, too, and offers some unique tools. For one, I love the “Memories” feature. Each morning, I get an email prompting me to review photos I’ve taken on this day from years ago (you can opt out of this if you’re not interested). I find it is a lot of fun to peruse those memories. In fact, Picturelife makes it very easy to find old photos, which is no easy task when you have a contemporary digital library.

Productivity

Bartender is a great little Mac utility that keeps my computer’s menu bar very well organized. The Apple menu bar displays icons that allow quick access to certain applications and utilities. The problem is, I’ve got a lot of those apps installed, and the menu bar becomes a cluttered mess. Bartender lets me display those I use most often, and hide the rest. It’s a great way to keep things tidy and accessible.

Google’s new invite-only email application for iOS and Android devices is named Inbox and it is … interesting. I’ve been using it for about a week and I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon my existing email software. It has some interesting features, like a “pin” that keeps certain messages at the top of your box, and defer options that I’m growing to like. I can tell the app to put a message in front of me on another day or time, when I suspect I’ll have more time or energy to deal with it. The app’s looks aren’t the most straight-forward, and so far that’s the biggest struggle for me. But, it’s still early in its life cycle, so that could change.

Kids

My daughter has been blessed with the same sieve-like brain her father enjoys. Now that she’s in junior high, the casual forgetfulness that she’s gotten away with is becoming increasingly detrimental. So, I’m trying to introduce her to a couple of strategies.

One is a good old notebook. I’m a huge fan, as regular readers know, and I’ve given her one of my beloved Field Notes Brand notebooks and pen to carry around. She’s using it all right, but I wonder if the novelty will wear off. The more you love a tool, the more likely you’ll use it. With that in mind, I turned her to an iPad mini and an app for it.

Remember The Milk is a no-frills, straight-forward task manager that’s compatible with just about every platform you can conceive. I know that she loves that iPad and is highly motivated to play with it, so an app may be her long-lasting solution. A habit takes time to build, and attractive tools will make that more likely.

Are you using any interesting organizing and/or productivity tools lately? Have a suggestion for any of the above categories? Let us know in the comments.

Towel management

A friend of mine, who has a family of six, mentioned that she launders loads of bath towels every day. She stated that most of the time, towels are used only once then placed in the hamper for laundering. The damp towels sit in the hamper and, if not washed right away, they start to get a mildew smell. This friend asked me for suggestions on how to get organized and reduce the amount of laundry she had to do.

Start with clean towels. Launder all the towels. Generally people use too much laundry soap which can actually cause towels to take longer to dry. Follow good laundry tips to get fresh, fluffy towels.

Fold and sort the towels into groups once they are clean:

  • Bath Sheet (35” x 60” or 90cm x 150cm): For drying off after a shower. These towels are large enough to wrap around an adult.
  • Bath Towel (27” x 52” or 70cm x 130cm): For drying off or wrapping up long hair after a shower. These towels are large enough to wrap around a child.
  • Hand Towel (16” x 28” or 40cm x 70cm): For drying hands after washing. Can be used to wrap child’s long hair.
  • Washcloth (13” x 13” or 30cm x 30cm): These can be used for washing the face at the sink or in the shower for washing the body.

Assign each person his/her towel set. Each person should have a bath towel, one or two hand towels and a few washcloths. Those with long hair may wish to have an extra towel or a hair towel wrap. You can assign each person their own colour of towels or sew name tags on towels. Remember to set aside at least two sets of towels for guests. Guest towels could be a unique colour or have a different pattern to differentiate them from the family towels.

Storing towels between uses. Storing towels in the bathroom is convenient. If the bathroom is large enough — or the family is small enough — towel racks or hooks can be mounted so that towels can easily hang to dry. Sometimes the bathroom is too small to store the family’s towels or too humid for the towels to dry properly. In this case, family members can store their towels on hooks in their bedrooms. Bedroom storage is a little inconvenient especially when you forget to bring your bath towel to the bathroom with you, but new routines can be learned quickly.

It doesn’t matter whether you store towels in the bathroom or in bedrooms, it is important that towels are hung up properly to allow airflow so that they dry quickly after every use.

Over-the-door towel racks are great because the towels hang flat and are out of the way. However, if the towels are squished between the door and the wall, they may not dry very quickly.

Radiator drying racks also can be useful. Not only can the towels hang on radiators, but they can also be used on some types of windowsills as well as balcony railings.

Freestanding towel racks (pictured above) take up floor space but they can hold multiple towels and can be placed over furnace vents or in front of radiators, windows or fans.

Set up laundry routines. Bath towels should be laundered after every 3 to 5 uses. Depending on the number of people in your home, the size of your washer and dryer and your available time, you may find that washing one or two sets of towels per day works best for you. Alternatively, you could wash all the towels once or twice per week. Pick a day to wash the towels and round ‘em up.

Storage of Extra Towels. You many or may not want to designate an extra set of towels for every person in the household. It depends on your laundry routine as well as your storage space. Towels should be stored in a dry environment, such as a linen closet. Extra sets of towels can be stored in bedroom closets or in an under-bed storage bin, if a linen closet is not available.

If have even more tips on how to manage towels, please share them with our readers in the comments.