Archives for November 2009
Tonight is the premiere of the second season of the A&E television show Hoarders at 10/9c. We’ve written a few times about the first season of the show, and even heard from people who have been featured on the program in our comments section. I continue to have mixed feelings about it — I love that it is bringing a human face to this mental health issue and raising awareness, but I wish that there was less shock and awe factor in what is broadcast.
We’ve heard from a number of people associated with the show that the second season is going to talk more about treatment options and look more closely at the psychological aspects of the disorder than was the case in season one. I truly hope this is accurate because I believe the hoarders on the show deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I’m not saying that they weren’t in season one — I know from first-hand accounts that they were given excellent help behind the scenes during the filming of the episodes — but what translated onto the screen didn’t always reflect the entire process. I’m looking forward to tonight’s episode and seeing how the changes are implemented.
After the episode airs, feel welcome to jump onto our Unclutterer Forums and talk about it in our second season Hoarders thread. If you don’t get A&E, check out the official Hoarders website in a couple days where they will post the full episode online.
In our fifth installment of Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide we’re discussing charitable giving.
In our 2007 Guide, we suggested charities that you could donate to in someone’s honor. We continue to love this idea and suggest checking out Charity Navigator and Charity Watch to learn about legitimate charitable organizations. Giving to charities is nice because it’s completely clutter-free for the person honored through the gift.
This year, though, we want to focus on giving in a different way. As you enjoy this holiday season, consider giving a gift to someone you don’t know. It’s a way to experience the giving spirit without knowing who will benefit from your generosity. And, in some cases, you can clear things you don’t use out of your home. A handful of ideas:
- Join the bone marrow registry.
- Give blood.
- Donate clothes and household items to charity.
- Cut off your ponytail and donate it to Locks of Love.
- Donate needed items to a food pantry.
- Volunteer your organizing talents to a group in need.
In what ways do you plan to donate to people you don’t know? We’d love to read about your ideas in the comments. Also, don’t forget to check out our Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide Index Page for a listing of all the articles as we publish them.
- Easily limit e-mail access while on vacation
If someone believes that they can’t wait until you return from your vacation to get into touch with you, they can use AwayFind to get an emergency message to you.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Sweater dryer
Now you can speed up the dry time by up to 75% with the Sweater Dryer with Fan.
- Thanksgiving wishes
Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers!
- Workspace of the Week: The ottoman office
This week’s Workspace of the Week is Bullismaureen’s super secret office in an ottoman.
- Rolling along with my Zuca Bag
While mailing a few holiday packages earlier in the week, I spotted these small recycling bags at my local US Post Office:
If you have small consumer electronics cluttering up a drawer or cupboard in your home, you can send them off to be recycled at no charge through the USPS in these postage-paid mailers. From the USPS website:
Mail it back with USPS! In select Post Offices, customers can get free mail-back envelopes for recycling inkjet cartridges, cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras and other small electronics.
If you’re heading to the Post Office to mail holiday presents, you might as well get some small electronics clutter out of your home and safely recycled for free. If your local Post Office doesn’t currently carry the bags, be sure to request them at the counter.
In our fourth installment of Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide we’re discussing the ultimate gift of our Guide.
In 2008, our ultimate gift selection was the Kindle (now also available with a 9.7″ display). In 2007, it was the Fujitsu ScanSnap (PC and Mac). For 2009, we’re proclaiming *Ta Da* Unclutter Your Life in One Week as the ultimate uncluttered gift. (Seriously, did you expect me to choose something else?! Nope, you’re bright. You probably predicted this the second I announced I was writing it.)
Being serious for a moment, compared to the price tags on the previously selected ultimate items, Unclutter Your Life in One Week is a steal at less than $15 through Amazon. If you purchase the Kindle version, it’s even less expensive at just under $10. Also, I truly believe it’s an amazing gift to share this holiday season, even if it was blatantly obvious that I was going to pick it.
When I wrote this book, it was with the sincere desire that it would help people to get a handle on their clutter and start pursing the remarkable life they desire. It’s straightforward. It’s not full of clutter. It simply lays out a plan for becoming clutter-free and getting organized. For these reasons, I believe it is the ultimate gift for a current or future unclutterer. (Check out this review on The Simple Dollar.)
That being said, you do have to be a little, um, sensitive with giving a gift like this. You can’t hand the book to someone and say, “You need this.” You should use a little finesse. Say that you’re a fan of the website, that you read the book and liked it, and that it’s great preparatory reading for anyone with “Get Organized” at the top of their New Year’s resolution list. Maybe give another book or two along with it, something funny. You can even say that you’re thanked in the Acknowledgments section (Unclutterer readers are thanked first, so it’s totally true). You’ll figure out a way to make it work.
The Unclutterer staff would like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving! On our list of what we’re thankful for again this year is you, our Unclutterer readers. You’re truly amazing! Check back tomorrow for another installment of our Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide. If you’re not in the U.S. and not enjoying a day off from work, jump into the Forums and join the conversation. Happy Thanksgiving!
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
To get us all into the Thanksgiving spirit (and those of you outside the U.S., feel welcome to laugh along), I present to you synthetic Lucky Break Wishbones in packs of 4, 5, 8, or 10!
Now you don’t have to prepare five turkeys just so all your guests can participate in wishbone-breaking fun! I think we’re all in agreement that gathering together with family and friends, sharing in good conversation, and eating an amazing meal is an unfulfilling experience without the wishbone. With the Lucky Break Wishbones your guests won’t have to worry about how they’re going to get lucky!
In our third installment of Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide we’re discussing gifts of knowledge.
Does someone in your life love to learn? If so, consider the following options as uncluttered gifts this holiday season:
- Give a classic digital education. The History of the English Language, Physics, and Calculus are just three of hundreds of courses offered digitally by The Teaching Company. Lectures from the best professors in the world are perfect for anyone who wishes she paid more attention in high school or college. When I was commuting for an hour a day, Teaching Company courses kept me sane. I greatly enjoyed doing something productive with my time on the road.
- Take a class together. Has your wife been nagging you to go out dancing more often? Register for a ballroom dancing class together and get her a CD of practice music recommended by the instructor or a pair of required shoes to unwrap announcing the gift. Have you and your friends been talking about taking a cooking class together for ages? Sign up for a class at your local culinary school, favorite restaurant (if they do such things) or cooking store and enjoy the time with your pals.
- Give the gift of language. You may not be able to fund an entire vacation to France for someone you love, but you can get him prepared for his dream vacation with French lessons from Rosetta Stone. They’re expensive, but incredibly effective. With more than 30 languages to choose from, you can help your gift recipient experience the world.
- Give the gift of music. Find a local music teacher and pay for someone you love to take music lessons. If you don’t know anyone locally who teaches the instrument or your gift recipient has an already busy schedule, check out sites like Homespun Music Instruction that sell exceptional training DVDs. My husband has the Great Mandolin Lessons DVD and it is phenomenal.
- Fund a semester. If you can swing it, help a student pay for books, housing, or tuition for a semester. The recipient will always remember your generosity.
Have you given an educational gift in the past or are you planning one for this year? Give us your suggestions in the comments. Also, don’t forget to check out our Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide Index Page for a listing of all the articles as we publish them.
- The Kindle saves space, but can it save you money
A ZDNet article explores the answer to the question if a Kindle device saves money for college students and average readers.
- Black Friday: Tips for staying organized
My wife and mother-in-law have a tradition of waking up at an absurdly early hour the day after Thanksgiving to brave the crowds for the best deals of the season.
- The Puj Tub
I was intrigued by the Puj Tub as a solution to small space baby bathing.
- Increase productivity by learning a lesson the first time
To help overcome my inability to learn lessons the first time, I have devised a new series of questions to ask myself at the end of the work day.
- Workspace of the Week: Student office
Natasha’s office is a studying retreat.
- 2007 Gift Giving Guide: Ultimate generosity
Consider giving the Fujitsu ScanSnap this year as the ultimate organization gift.
Some great new discussions are underway on the new Unclutterer Forums:
- Need Help with Desk Clutter
- Uncluttering Your Cookbooks and Recipe Stash
- Automatic Document Feed/Photo Scanner?
Be sure to check it out and add your thoughts to the mix. Remember, you can start your own thread (which our system calls a “topic”) by clicking the “Add New” link under Latest Discussions on the Forum homepage.
In our second installment of Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide we’re discussing gifts that reflect your personal priorities and desires. Initially, this may appear to be a little self-serving (and, well, it is a little bit), but keep reading before you dismiss the idea entirely.
This year, we’re getting my brother a Netbook for Christmas. We found a Compaq Netbook with Windows XP for $179.00 through BestBuy’s Black Friday Deals, and decided it was the right gift for the right price.
How does a gift like this reflect what matters most to me? My family is my largest priority and being in solid communication with them comes ahead of most everything in my life. Part of this includes my son growing up talking at least once a week with his uncle, and this Netbook will make that possible across the miles (my brother lives more than 1,000 miles away). The Netbook has a webcam built into the monitor and works wonderfully with Skype, and also accesses the internet so that he can see family pictures and videos we upload to Flickr. My brother doesn’t currently have a home computer or a webcam, and so this little Netbook will make it possible for my son and brother to develop a more meaningful relationship.
(As a quick note, we considered getting him a Skype Video Phone, but the price was so similar to the Netbook that we decided to go with the device that has multiple functions. For someone like my 100-year-old grandmother, though, a single-use device may have made more sense.)
If spending time with your family is also a priority, gifts like airline tickets are nice so that the recipient can come to visit you. Create a “redeemable for one free trip to see me” coupon and then buy the ticket in the person’s name when you and the recipient figure out the best travel date. If the family member lives within driving distance, give a gasoline gift card in an amount to cover the expense of fuel for the trip. The recipient gets a vacation and you both get to spend time with someone you love.
What is on your list of what matters most? Can you find gifts for other people this season that reflect these priorities? The reasons that you use for living a clutter-free life can also help you find inspired, caring, uncluttered gifts for the people you love. Here are a couple more ideas that may work for you:
- Monthly reservations. Do you have a friend you would like to see more often? Choose 12 restaurants you’ve been wanting to try and make reservations for once-a-month dining in advance. Give your friend a calendar with the plans already marked on the dates. Offer to pay for one or more of the dinners (Your birthday month is on me!). You can always reschedule the reservations if something pops up or you decide you want to try a different place, but if there isn’t a conflict you’re set for the entire year.
- New adventures. For my sister-in-law’s birthday last year, we bought her a robot kit and a bottle of wine. We also bought two robot kits for ourselves. We then set a date for when we could all get together and spend the afternoon building our little creatures. A few weeks later we pretended to be engineers (sober engineers, I might add — we discovered wine did not go well with hundreds of itty bitty pieces in our kits). She had never built a robot and loved the idea of building one, and we hadn’t ever built them and loved the idea, too. Plus, we laughed our way through the entire adventure. We got to spend the day with someone we love doing something we’ve always wanted to try, and the same was true for my sister-in-law. Are there new adventures you could share with someone you love?
As we continue to post more ideas for the Guide, check out the Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide Index Page for a listing of all the posts.
Yesterday we came across this amazing YouTube video of a Good Morning America segment profiling Kathy Spencer, who runs How to Shop for Free. By using a few techniques highlighted in the video, she manages to feed her family of six for less money than you probably have in your sofa cushions right now.
Here at Unclutterer, we were wondering how much of Kathy Spencer’s shopping involves buying unneeded items just because of the savings, so we did a little digging and found this an eHow article by Spencer in which she addresses that particular issue:
People always say why get something if you don’t need it, or say I don’t need 10 jars of peanut butter. My answer to that is if you don’t need it someone else will. I did not need the 6 diabetes monitors that I picked up at CVS while shopping with Inside Edition but I got them because I will be donating them to my local Council on Aging, a lot of people have diabetes and don’t test regularly because they can’t afford the meter.
If you’re willing to actually make an effort to find a good home for such “deals,” then it’s probably not a bad thing. If not, you should probably be much more critical about whether you really need something that’s on special.
It’s actually quite surprising to see how much money you can save with a little planning and effort. We tried out some of Spencer’s tips yesterday at our local Harris Teeter and managed to save about 30% off our total bill.
And if you need a way to organize your coupons, check out this Unclutterer post from March on repurposing brag books.
Today we kick off Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Over the next few weeks, you can expect to read posts in the Guide about giving gifts that hopefully won’t become clutter in their recipients’ homes. Some of these Guides are for experiences, charitable giving, kids’ items, consumables, utilitarian objects, and even a deal or two just for Unclutterer readers. We’ve created an index page for the 2009 Guide, and we hope that it will be a resource for you during the holiday season and any time throughout the year you wish to give a gift.
We’re starting off this year’s Guide talking about stocking stuffers. As a child, Santa filled my stocking with cans of black olives and my brother found cans of sardines in his. We couldn’t have been happier because these were exactly the items we begged Santa to bring to us when we wrote him letters every year. (Little known fact: Santa Claus loves to give salty food stuffs.) Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, not everyone on our holiday shopping list allows us to intercept letters they have written to Santa Claus detailing exactly what they want in their stockings. We have to hunt for small items that can fit in a stocking and still be useful or enjoyed by the recipient.
Gift cards are great stocking stuffers because they are small, allow the recipient to choose exactly what they want, and are easy to carry home if the recipient has to travel. I recommend Amazon Gift Cards or Visa Gift Cards because they can be used on almost anything the recipient might need. (They’re also perfect for teacher gifts if you give such things.)
If you want the gift recipient to be able to unwrap an item, I recommend things that have high utility. The following three gift ideas are useful and extremely accessible since they perform a function and attach to your keychain:
What small, useful gifts do you recommend for stocking stuffers?
I recently came across this blog post from 2007 comparing the quality of documents typeset with Microsoft Word, OpenOffice.org Writer, and LaTeX. Although the post is long, it’s definitely worth reading in its entirety. As a longtime user of LaTeX, I wasn’t at all surprised to see it best the competition in terms of the quality of typesetting.
There are a number of things I like about LaTeX, not the least of which is that it’s nice to be able to use a lightweight text editor with a smaller CPU and memory footprint to edit my documents. But LaTeX isn’t for everyone. Most people are far too accustomed to using WYSIWYG word processors to even consider learning how to format documents by marking up raw text with seemingly arcane commands.
Of course, most people don’t really know how to use their current word processing application effectively either. The software industry has placed so much emphasis on designing software to be “user-friendly” and “intuitive” that we now have a large class of users who are content to ham-handedly grope around contextual menus looking for what they think they want. These people have been conditioned to believe that it’s a usability fault in the software if they can’t figure something out in thirty seconds without referring to the documentation.
During college I worked in an office where all word processing was still done on a DOS version of WordPerfect. It definitely placed more demands on the end-user than the office productivity software of today. You really couldn’t get around needing to understand what the function keys did. Despite (or because of?) the steeper learning curve, the people I worked with in that office were much more efficient and productive using WordPerfect than many of my current colleagues are with Microsoft Word 2007. Almost everything becomes much easier when you spend a little time and effort learning how to do it properly first.
Is it better to have “intuitive” software that allows us to accomplish tasks more slowly, but without ever needing to review documentation or feel the frustration that can accompany a learning process? Or would we benefit more by using tools that require more upfront investment in learning but offer to save us substantially more time and effort in the long run?
- Save time and effort with a personal shopper
You can greatly improve your shopping experience with the help of a store’s personal shopper.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Piercey the egg piercer
Piercey will make your hard boiled egg preparation easy and friendly.
- Oprah’s Clean Your Messy House Tour
A slideshow on Oprah’s site has some great tips to get you started decluttering quickly.
- Learn to safely wrap cords, cables, and hoses
The magazine Fine Homebuilding has an informative and season-appropriate tutorial on its website for how to properly wrap cables, cords, and hoses.
- Workspace of the Week: A makeshift space
This week’s workspace is Stuart’s emergency and temporary office, which proves you can work just about anywhere.
- Preparing for holiday house guests
The following tips will give you some simple ways to get yourself prepared before your home is invaded for the holidays.
- More project management application reviews
SmashingMagazine has a review of 15 great project management tools.
- Gift guide for the 2007 holiday season
Presenting Unclutterer’s 2007 Gift Giving Guide!
- Eye-Fi eliminates the need for USB wires
- 2007 Gift Giving Guide: Charitable giving
What do you give the person who has everything? You don’t.
- Hide your desk’s power strip
Step-by-step instructions for how to hide your desk’s power strip.
- 2007 Gift Giving Guide: Buying for children
The holiday season is upon us and now is the time when grandparents overindulge and spoil their grandkids by purchasing everything that they think looks cute.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Caramel apple dipper
If you have a sweet tooth and you like to indulge in compulsive purchases, then the Caramel Apple Dipper is probably right up your alley.
- Thanksgiving wishes
We wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.