Workspace of the Week: A fun-filled office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Chic and Co.’s Vancouver view office:

There are so many things to love about this home office, and the most obvious is its view of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. During the day, you can rest your eyes by looking at the hustle and bustle of the streets below, and at night the lights can be inspiring. A great view is a productivity benefit to any office. I’m also impressed by the hardware setup in this space. There is a good amount of equipment here, and all of it has a place that works for the user’s needs. The cable management is also nicely done. Another favorite piece in this office is the display shelving for the action figures and collectible toys in the cupboard. Nothing is crowded, the glass doors reduce the need for dusting, and the bottom of the cupboard is highly functional for storing office supplies. Thank you, Chic and Co., for adding your office to our Flickr pool and also for granting us permission to post your image on our site.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Manage secure passwords for all your online endeavors

Tomorrow is National Computer Security Day, 2012. This day was first recognized in 1988 and still serves as a reminder for all computer users to be safe and smart. Computer security is a huge topic, but I’ll use this post to focus on a single topic: online passwords.

Entirely too many people use easily-guessed passwords or even the same one over and over again. Neither practice is a good idea. In this post I’ll share one app I use to generate secure passwords without requiring me to memorize a single one. I’ll also share a few tips for people to keep in mind. Let’s get started.

1Password

I’ve been using 1Password from Agile Bits for a few years. I like it so much that I recommend it to everyone who uses online passwords. There’s so much to like about this software and almost everyone can use it: Mac owners, Windows users and even iPhone, iPad and Android users can get in on the security and piece of mind that 1Password offers. It has several great features, and the first is tipped off by the name.

One Password to Rule Them All

On your computer, 1Password has two components. The first is the app itself. This is the main repository for your passwords and more. You’ll use the application to enter information, change information and review it.

The other component lives in your web browser. This simple button lets you log into sites for which you’ve saved a password and username, as well as create new ones.

Of all the magic that 1Password performs, its greatest trick is that it only requires you to remember one password. This master password offers access to all the others. Once you’ve entered it, you can log into services like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and just about anything else you can think of with a click. As long as you can remember the master password, there’s no need to memorize any of the others.

1Password also generates secure passwords. What do I mean by that? You pet’s name is not a secure password. Neither are your kids’ initials or your spouse’s birthday. Skip the name of the town you grew up in, too. In fact, almost anything you can pronounce and/or find in a dictionary is risky. Fortunately, 1Password can generate a secure password all on its own.

For example, say you’re visiting a new site that requires a password. Once you create an account with a username and password, 1Password’s browser add-on will notice what you’ve done and offer to generate a long password with numbers, letters and symbols (you tell it how long you want it to be, too). Let it do so and save the result by typing the master password. Presto! Your new account is in place with a password that isn’t easily guessed.

Sync across devices

1Password works on your Mac or Windows machine, and mobile apps are available for the iPhone, iPad and several Android devices. What’s great is that over-the-air sync keeps them continually up-to-date. If you create a new or updated password on your Mac, for example, that change will be reflected on your iPhone or Android device.

And, finally, it should go without saying, but no one was compensated to recommend this program. I’m seriously a user who likes the product.

More Than Passwords

1Password holds more than passwords and username. The desktop application can store account information, like iTunes or Google, notes you want to keep secure software registration information and even financial records and the like. It can even store your credit card information for easy completion on retail sites. It’s all secure and very handy.

Finally, one other benefit of using iPassword is that it eliminates the tendency to use the same password over and over.

Additional Tricks

I promise a couple of additional tricks for people who don’t want to use 1Password, and here we go. To create a reasonably secure password that you’ll be able to remember, shift your hands on the keyboard. Those of us who took a typing course remember the home keys: ASDFJKL;. Simply shift your hands one key to the right and start at SDFGKL;’. Now, type a long word or phrase that you’ll remember easily. Toss in a number or two and presto. You’ve got a password that looks like gobbledygook but is easy to recall.

Finally, here’s one for iPhone owners. You might know that you can type special characters by pressing and holding on certain keys. For example, press and hold on “o” to produce “ô”, “ö” or “ò”, among others. Use one or more of those when setting up your passcode to help ensure no one will ever guess it.

There you have it! Computer security is a huge topic, and using an app like 1Password is a small but crucial step in ensuring a safer web browsing experience.

Unitasker Wednesday: Automatic Wine Opener and Foil Cutter

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

As I’ve mentioned before, I like wine. I like the farming, science, and technical aspects of creating it. I am fascinated by the marketing, sales, and distribution of it. I like talking to wine makers and sommeliers and distributors and retailers. I like reading articles about the wine industry and reviews. And, obviously, I like drinking it.

One product I have never heard a single industry insider discuss, though, is this giant Automatic Wine Opener and Foil Cutter. In addition to being massive in size, it also requires being plugged in to charge it before each use:

Want to know what doesn’t require being charged or taking up a ton of space? A $10 corkscrew that works very, very well.

And, since you can just pull the foil off the top of a bottle of wine, you don’t even need a foil cutter.

The exception to all of this would be if you have hand issues and opening a bottle of wine is difficult for you. But, even if this is the case, a smaller, $20 battery operated wine opener is still a better option than this monstrosity you have to plug into your wall.

The Automatic Wine Opener and Foil Cutter should appear in the dictionary next to the word OVERKILL. If you want a few more giggles, I recommend clicking on the product link and looking at the pictures of it being used. The device appears to be bigger than some of the bottles of wine being opened.

Thanks to reader Clayton for leading us to this unitasker.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

2010

  • Being organized before a doctor’s visit
    Doctors can be intimidating, even those with amazing bedside manners. It can be easy to be anxious and/or timid around them — especially when they’re wearing those impersonal white lab coats. A little organizing can help reduce these anxieties.
  • Review: Five Books
    What are the five books you should read to learn as much as possible about a specific subject? Five Books has the answer.
  • 2010 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Pampered grooming gifts for him
    There aren’t many gifts more practical than grooming items. All of these items are utilitarian and functional, but are luxurious enough that they’re likely not something a man in your life will routinely buy for himself. You can pamper him, and know the gift won’t clutter up his space.
  • 2010 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Kits
    A kit can be an extremely practical gift, one that could make a real difference in an emergency situation.

2009

2008

2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Wrap up

As the last post in our 2012 Holiday Gift Guide, we wanted to do a round up of all of our posts in this year’s guide. Our hope is that the 2012 Guide has inspired you to give uncluttered presents this season and throughout the coming year:

If you’re looking for even more inspiration, check out our previous guides:

And, from all of us at Unclutterer, we hope you have a sane and clutter-free holiday season!

Five ways to stop food waste

Over the weeked, I watched The Big Waste, a Food Network program featuring some well known chefs like Bobby Flay. The chefs were challenged to make gourmet meals using food that was ready for the dumpster. In my work experience, I’ve noticed that food is often wasted in households where there is no meal planning or system for keeping track of food that has been purchased.

Food that is hidden or not stored in an organized way will languish in refrigerators and pantries because it’s difficult to see what you have. When this happens, you’ll likely go shopping for those items and increase your stash. Instead, consider using the five tips below to keep food from perishing or stop it from turning into clutter. You probably use one or more of these tips already, but when combined you’ll make better purchasing decisions and have a greater chance of consuming more of your food instead of throwing it away.

Meal plan

We’ve talked about this numerous times on Unclutterer, so I won’t go into detail. (A good place to start is with our article “Creating a weekly meal plan.”) Just remember that meal planning keeps you from asking “What’s for dinner?” because you know what is on the schedule. If coming up with meal plans is difficult for you because of time constraints, check out services like The Six O’Clock Scramble, which is a program we love so much we have become users and affiliates for it.

Always use a shopping list

Using a shopping list will keep you from making spur of the moment purchases. That’s not to say that you won’t ever try something new (and put it on your list), but when you buy things that you wouldn’t normally buy, you may forget about them, particularly if you make multiple impulse purchases. So, before your next shopping trip, create a list of things that you intend to purchase and stick to it.

Track your stash with an inventory list

An inventory list placed in a very visible area of your kitchen (or on your pantry door) will help you remember what you have so that you can avoid making duplicate purchases. Record each item along with the quantity on your list or use a dry erase board so that you can easily make updates — and don’t forget your leftovers. If you tend to buy the same items, save a digital copy so you can print it as needed. Check out the Pantry Staples List created by Real Simple if you’re having difficulty getting started.

Keep your pantry and refrigerator organized

To keep your food from getting lost in the refrigerator or pantry, group items by category (dairy, beverages, left overs) and place them in the same spot all the time. You’ll want make sure that you have access to your most reached for items and that they can be easily seen. Use containers (like the Clear Handled Storage Baskets) to keep your items organized.

Check food freshness with StillTasty.com

The website StillTasty.com can help you determine if certain foods are still good enough to eat. The site will also tell you the best spot in your refrigerator to store certain items. For example, to keep eggs and milk fresher longer, don’t store them in the refrigerator door as the temperature fluctuates each time the door is opened or closed. For a quick reference guide, check out Hella Wella’s infographic, How Long Food Really Lasts in the Fridge and sign up for food safety alerts from FoodSafety.gov to find out which foods have been recalled.

Unitasker Wednesday: Masterbuilt Butterball Professional Indoor Turkey Fryer

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

Gobble! Gobble!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and millions of Americans will be gathering with friends and family to enjoy turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie. I’m personally a fan of a dry brined roasted turkey, accompanied by very little family drama.

However, I’m well aware that my way is not the only way and there are people who like their drama turned up to 11 and their birds fried to a crisp. I’ll admit, frying the bird does add a dangerous element to what might otherwise be an adventure-free day. Heck, just this week I learned from watching an Allstate Insurance advertisement that 15 people burned their houses completely to the ground last year as a result of frying Thanksgiving turkeys — now that IS adventurous!

And, what better thing to do this holiday than bring that potentially deadly outdoor adventure indoors, near where all your family members are gathered! Introducing the Masterbuilt Butterball Professional Series Indoor Electric Turkey Fryer:

Frying a turkey indoors seems like a swell idea. I can’t think of a single thing that could possibly go wrong. Kids running around wouldn’t trip over any electrical cables, pulling scalding oil down on top of them. Great Aunt Martha who doesn’t have the best eyesight wouldn’t accidentally open it and burn the skin off her face. Nope. No risk of injury to anyone at your family gathering.

Plus, I bet this turkey frying contraption gets used ALL the time. It’s a Tuesday in June, why NOT fry a turkey?! And, I you could probably even fry a duck in it, too! And your neighbor’s pet rabbit! (Too far? Did I just go too far?)

For those of you who like to serve turkeys that have been taking steroids, the Masterbuilt Butterball Professional Series Indoor Electric Turkey Fryer also comes in X-Large! Sweet. Nothing says, “I love you, family,” than using extra hot oil to wound your guests and catch your home on fire.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bonus: Dozens of you sent me a link to the (riddled with curse words) “Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog” this week, and I am so thankful you shared it with me. If you’re not at work and haven’t yet seen this entertaining diatribe about the unitaskers featured in this year’s holiday catalog, you should go and enjoy the rant.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2009

  • 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.
  • As seen on Lifehacker
    This past week, I encountered two fantastic articles on Lifehacker I wanted to share with you.

2008

2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Software

It’s amazing how much organizing/productivity software there is. It’s even more incredible that software has become a valid gift option. When I was a kid, getting software for Christmas meant you got a game. Today, there’s an app for just about anything you want to do. Below is a list of can’t-miss apps to keep your family and loved ones organized and productive in the new year, or to add to your wish list:

  1. An Evernote Premium account. Evernote is my external brain. I use it for “cold storage” of reference material. That is, information that doesn’t require action but will be useful in the future. Evernote is great because it automatically syncs your information across almost any device with an Internet connection. It has very powerful search function, tagging, and more that makes it easy to find what you’re searching for in your stuff. The $45 premium account enables larger uploads, offline notebooks, improved upload speeds and collaboration with other users.
  2. Dropbox Pro account. Dropbox is so useful I almost think it should be installed on computers by default. The online storage solution is a fantastic way to backup important documents and share them with others. With Dropbox, you can access your stuff from nearly any Internet-connected computer. The pro account starts at $9.99 per month for 100 GB of online storage. I use it every single day.
  3. This Life pro account. I wrote about This Life earlier this year and I’m still enjoying it. This Life lets you organize and share your photos and videos easily and with a beautiful interface. Uploading photos is easy, as is creating “Stories.” This Life Stories collections of photos that you’d like to group together, like those of a certain person, trip, location, time period or whatever you desire. It’s browser-based so, like the other applications I’ve suggested to far, it doesn’t’ matter if you own a Mac or a Windows machine. There’s also a great app for the iPhone and iPad. The Family Plan lets you upload and share 50,000 photos or 25 hours of HD video (1080p) for $14.99 per month.
  4. Backup software. This is the gift that keeps on saving, not giving. As a Mac user I recommend Dolly Drive. Named for Dolly the cloned sheep (get it?), Dolly Drive uses Apple’s own Time Machine software to save your backup remotely, or “in the cloud.” I’ve been using it for years now and it’s always worked. Local backups are important – like a hard drive in your house or office – but remote backups are even more so. Dolly Drive puts your backup on their own server. That way, a laptop can back up anytime, even when it’s not in your home. Dolly Drive starts at just $3 per month. Windows users should consider Carbonite for similar, remote, automatic backups that start at $59/year. And, Erin swears by Backblaze. Irrespective of the program you choose, backup your computer and make sure your loved one’s computers are backed up, too.
  5. OmniFocus from The Omni Group. Forgive me while I recommend a Mac-only app here. OmniFocus is the big daddy of project management apps on the Mac. It’s so flexible and powerful that I can only touch the surface of its capabilities in this post. It was built with David Allen’s Getting Things Done system in mind, but you needn’t follow that method to use OmniFocus. Easily create projects and their associated tasks. Break them down by category, context or location. Keyboard support is extensive, so you can flip from one function to another easily. My favorite features let you focus on one project at a time, hiding everything else on the screen, while review mode let’s you see what’s outstanding at a glance. OmniFocus is $79.99.
  6. BreakTime and Focus Booster. I work best when I schedule in break times. BreakTime is the app I use for this purpose. It’s a Mac app that sits in your menu bar and counts down timed work sessions and break sessions. I work for 25 minutes and then take a break for five. Then, I repeat the process. It keeps me moving and allows for some time to “goof off,” walk around, etc. If you’re not a Mac user, consider Focus Booster. BreakTime costs $4.99 and Focus Booster is free.

I’ve got one bonus item that isn’t software, but it is a piece of technology:

I’m recommending the Emergent Task Planner notebook. I use one of these every day. It allows you to list the most important tasks you wish to accomplish, estimate how long they’ll take, recored how long they actually take and recored notes/incoming stuff or ideas that pop up while you work. There’s even a small, travel sized edition. I really do use this every day.

The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Helpful (and fun) products

Giving gifts can be lots of fun for both the recipient and the giver. And, although you can elect to give presents that are service related, there’s nothing like watching someone enthusiastically tear open a package you picked out just for them. If you have a tough time finding the right gift (one that will be liked and appreciated), I find that it helps to pick presents that match the recipient’s personality.

And, when possible, why not select something that’s helpful and fun? Not every present has to bring a smile to their face, but if it helps them get stuff done and makes them chuckle, they’re likely to use it often. Of course, you can buy yourself a whimsical and useful present, too. For a bit of inspiration, check out these interesting gifts that put the fun in functional.

For gadget lovers

  1. Coffee Cup Inverter with USB Charging Port. Who doesn’t charge their gadgets while they’re driving? This coffee cup fits in your car’s cup holder (though you have to remember this it’s not really a coffee cup) and it also comes with two power outlets.
  2. USB Hubman. The USB Hubman (or the USB Hubdog or the 4-legged Octopus) is fun way to add an extra port to connect your devices. It’s small (great stocking stuffer) and lightweight, so it can be the perfect gift for those on the go.
  3. Makey Makey Invention Kit. This is an inventors kit that almost anyone can use. It requires no tools and can be connected to everyday items to give commands to your computer (via a USB cable).

For cooking and entertaining

  1. Joseph Joseph Elevate 6-Piece Heat-Resistant Utensil Set. This six-piece set is colorful and weighted so that the business end is raised (and doesn’t touch the counter). Store them in a utensil drawer or purchase the Carousel Set.
  2. Joseph Joseph Rinse and chop Chopping Board and Colander. Another cool and colorful item from Joseph Joseph that the chefs in your life are bound to love because it serves two purposes: it’s a chopping board and a colander in one (folding hinges do the trick). And, because it can lay flat, it’s can be stored easily when not in use.

For the office

  1. Falling bookend. Bookends may sound boring, but this model by Artori will add a touch of drama to any bookshelf (check out the Portal 2 bookends, too).
  2. Gnome-Be-Gone Office Fisherman. This office gnome captures paper clips with his magnetic fishing rod and keeps a (neat) stash of business cards, too.
  3. There is one more that product I just couldn’t resist telling you about. Though the price is well beyond what I think is reasonable, it gets lots of cool points for doing it’s job in a unique way. Take a look at the QLOCKTWO. It’s a wall clock that has no hands and no numbers. Just words that tell you what time it is (“It’s a quarter past eight”). The QLOCKTWO comes in a variety of colors and supports twelve languages (the QLOCKTWO TOUCH has a snooze button).

The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

A year ago on Unclutterer

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.
  • A woman in uniform: Angelina Jolie
    Angelina Jolie admits to having a small closet, and her wardrobe of all coordinating, multi-functioning pieces is helpful to maintaining its small size.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Tiger Taco
    This week’s unitasker selection was guaranteed a spot in our feature simply because of its name: The Tiger Taco.

2009

Ask Unclutterer: Organizing under the kitchen sink

Reader Yasmeen submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I currently store all cleaning products in a cupboard underneath my kitchen sink. Products include polishes, all household detergents, sponges, laundry liquids, waste disposal bags, scourers etc. I cant seem to think through a convenient and neat way to store these given the depth and dimensions of this cupboard. Please help.

The area under the kitchen sink (or even a bathroom sink) is a weird area where supplies often go to get leaked upon. If your pipe bursts or drips, all of these products will be soaked. This isn’t such a bad thing for sponges, bags, and scourers, but can ruin detergents and polishes. Additionally, the easy access to this area makes it prime for visits from children and pets who can be poisoned or made very ill by toxic polishes and detergents or could be suffocated by a plastic bag. Even if you don’t have children or pets, there is a strong likelihood at some point in your life there will be one visiting your home.

Noting this, the first thing I recommend doing is sorting through everything under your sink. Make three piles: keep under the sink, store someplace else, and purge. Place items that can’t be ruined in the event of a leak and that are completely safe for children and pets in the pile of things to continue to store under the sink (sponges, scourers). Place items that are dangerous for children and pets (laundry detergent, plastic bags) in the pile of things to be stored someplace else. And then, purge anything that is expired, oozing, or has gone rancid.

The next step is to purge all the items that belong in the trash. If any of your items are hazardous materials, as some polishes are, be sure to follow your city/county/country’s laws for proper disposal.

After getting rid of the yucky stuff, it’s time to find homes for all of those items that don’t belong in storage under a sink. Polishes and laundry detergents belong on high shelves, preferably in locked rooms or locked cabinets. Regular dish detergent, which isn’t toxic in small doses, can probably just be stored on a higher shelf in your kitchen. If you are limited on space, maybe you’ll decided to continue to store these items under your sink, but if you do please get a childproof cabinet lock that you can put on the door whenever a child or pet comes into your home. However, a cabinet lock won’t protect these items if your water pipes ever leak or burst.

With the remaining items that you plan to continue to store under your kitchen sink, you’ll want a storage device that will be useful and won’t leave things hiding in far back corners of the space. I prefer to use cabinet organizers that have a couple levels to them, attach to the wall of the cabinet, and slide out so you can see everything in the organizer, such as one like this:

There are other styles (ones that don’t attach to the wall but serve the same function, ones that don’t slide but are shallow so nothing gets pushed to the back of your cabinet and that wrap around your pipes) if this particular one doesn’t exactly suit your needs. Just try to find an organizer that takes advantage of the height of the cabinet and makes it easy to access items stored in the space. And, as is the case when storing any items in a cupboard, group like items with like items (all sponges together) so it is visually obvious whenever you open the cabinet how much of any type of thing you have, as well as where it is and where to return it.

Thank you, Yasmeen, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please check the comments for even more ideas from our readers.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.