All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
Like many home cooks heading into the holiday baking season, I am a fan of using silicone coated baking mats. Instead of greasing cookie sheets or lining them with parchment paper, I use the silicone mat. It’s reusable and versatile. In addition to keeping cookies and pastries from sticking to a pan, it’s also perfect for making melted sugar and chocolate embellishments for desserts — they pop right off when they have cooled — and as a pan liner when baking fish. I predominantly use half cookie sheets when baking (they fit in my dishwasher since they’re only 18″ x 13″), and the half-sheet silicone mat works exactly as I need it to.
Reader Mary Ann appears to be on the same page as I am in regard to the versatility of standard silicone mats. As a result, when she came across this week’s highly specialized item, she said she just “HAD to share” it with us. It’s called the Baker’s 13 baking mat, but I’m going to call it a unitasker:
To be fair, nothing is stopping a person from using this mat for other baking purposes. The cookie police likely wouldn’t hunt you down if you tossed a salmon down on it. However, the designers certainly intended for it to be used for cookies.
And — here’s my biggest issue with it and what makes it a unitasker — it doesn’t actually ensure that you’ll have perfectly shaped cookies like the product is advertised to do. From the product description: “Baker’s 13 Ultimate Baking Mats turn out perfectly-shaped cookies every time” But, all it actually ensures is that you evenly space cookies out on a sheet so they probably won’t bump into each other.
To have a perfectly shaped cookie, you would need to use a cookie cutter or bake the cookies in forms. But, this sheet assumes you are using the blob, spooned-out-dough method, which doesn’t make perfectly shaped cookies. Just because there is a perfectly round bullseye on this mat doesn’t mean your blobs of dough will grow to that perfectly round shape as they bake. Also, the mat doesn’t account for the height of your blob of dough, which is a key factor in determining the final size of the baked cookie more so than its pre-baked width. It also doesn’t account for dough consistency, as some cookie doughs spread more than others when heated. (The higher the fat content in the dough, the more they usually spread when cooking.) So, even if you perfectly blobbed your dough onto the smaller target, your cookie still might grow to be larger than the larger target and end up touching a neighboring cookie.
As a silicone mat, I’m sure it’s lovely and the inventors of the mat look like awesome guys and if you have issues with figuring out how to space cookies on a cookie sheet so they don’t run into each other this mat most likely could help you (but so would a multitasking ruler and an understanding of the fat content in your dough). Unfortunately, if you’re looking to buy it to make perfectly shaped cookies as it is advertised, this mat isn’t going to help you achieve that goal.
- What to do with old toys
How to bust toy clutter before the winter holidays.
- Holiday season perfect time to sell or donate items
Gift giving items are in high demand on Craigslist and eBary right now if you’re looking to get rid of lightly used items not being used in your home.
- 2010 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Ultimate generosity
This year’s ultimate generosity uncluttered gift are the Intellishred crosscut paper shredders from Fellowes.
- 2009 Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids
In our seventh installment of Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide we’re discussing gifts for children.
- An author’s minimalist home of the future
In 1952, Popular Mechanics magazine ran an article about science fiction author
Robert Heinlein‘s then-new 1,150-square-foot minimalist home. Titled “A House To Make Life Easy,” the article written by Thomas E. Stimson, Jr., explores the “house that’s called extreme today but may become conventional before the 20th century has run its course.”
It’s December and that means the holiday travel season is fully upon us. It’s great to reunite with family and friends, see new places (or old ones) and enjoy some time away. That experience can be more organized when you plan and record your adventures with a portable, neatly organized journal.
I started keeping travel journals when I visited Paris for the first (and only) time about five years ago. Reading those old entries and looking at the tiny keepsakes brings back memories I might not have otherwise, and keeps all my memorabilia from the trip limited to one book. It could be done digitally, but as I’ve admitted before, I’m a big fan of physical journals. (Though, digital journaling fans can find helpful links toward the bottom of this post.)
Moleskine City Notebooks. This is the notebook that got me started with using a journal for travel. Moleskine produces a pocket-sized, hardcover notebook for several cities around the world (Paris, Madrid, Tokyo, Seattle). Each features lots of blank pages for you to fill, but also includes subway maps, unit conversion charts, street maps, and an alphabetical street index. My favorite feature is the transparent, peel-and-stick sheets of plastic that can be placed over a map. Mark it up with points of interest, phone numbers or anything else that relates to the area in question. It’s very handy and the hard cover means it is up for rough-and-tumble travel.
The Journey Journal. Here’s a very clever idea from Etsy’s Cracked Designs. Inside you’ll find 13 pages to recored your experiences — perfect for short holiday visits -– plus a pocket for stashing souvenirs. But, what’s really cool is the cover. The notebook comes with six pins and a length of string that can be used to plot your journey on the notebook’s cover. Several maps are available.
Smythson’s Travel and Experiences notebook. As far as journals go, this one is definitely fancy. With the the gilded pages and a lambskin cover, you’ll want to keep the Smythson around for a long while. And why not? Some adventures deserve such fine preservation. It’s available in three colors and has a Moleskine-like ribbon bookmark.
The Scratch Map. This isn’t a journal per se, but I absolutely love it. When you make it back home from a trip, you can scratch the thin material away from the area you just visited. Three maps are available: The world, the USA, and Europe. Since it looks great hanging on a wall, it’s a relatively clutter-free way to remember your travels.
The Scratch Travel Journal. If you like the idea of the Scratch Map but really want a notebook, consider the Scratch Travel Journal. It combines scratch-able maps with blank diary pages, a packing checklist, and pockets for memorabilia storage. Plus, it looks great.
Mosey for iPhone. OK, I had to add one electronic journal. While I love Rego for keeping track of specific points of interest, I use Mosey for chronicling my journeys. It’s a really fun and great-looking app that doesn’t take up any physical space in your home. When you arrive at a given destination, you begin taking photos. Those shots are gathered into a single adventure, or “Mosey.” You can note locations, cauterize and tag for easy review later and even review adventures posted by other users if you choose. And no, you needn’t visit Timbuktu to get something out of it. A day with the family is a valid and worthwhile use case.
If you plan to travel for the holidays, consider planning and recording your journeys in an organized fashion. Have fun, and if you use something I haven’t listed here, let me know in the comments section. Be sure to check out our other posts on organized travel in our archives to find tips on packing, planning, and even returning to work afterward.
I’m a big fan of labels. Labels tell everyone where things belong. Labels indicate that only items of a certain type belong in a certain place. Labels help you remember where you put stuff.
There are many different types of labels that can be used and each type has advantages and disadvantages. The following are things to consider when choosing labels for your next organizing project.
Permanent or Removable
Permanent labels are intended for one time use. Peeling off a permanent label will generally destroy the label or the object to which it is attached, or both. Address labels on paper envelopes are a good example of permanent labels.
Removable labels are made with a special adhesive that, rather than sticking to the surface of the object, sticks to the label, and leaves the surface clean. Removable labels do not damage the object to which they are attached and can often be re-used. Post-It Notes are a good example of removable labels.
The object to which a label is attached and the conditions in which it is used can influence whether or not the label is permanent or not. For example, an address label that is designed to be permanently attached to a paper envelope may be easily removed from a plastic bin. It may not even stick to the plastic bin if the conditions are cold or damp. Sometimes removable labels may end up permanently adhered to surfaces if they are left on for a long time or exposed to excessive heat or pressure.
Always evaluate the type of material that you need to adhere the label to prior to purchasing the labels. Consider how long the label will be left in place and what the storage conditions will be.
Handwritten or Computer Printed
If you’ve got terrible handwriting, it may be better to use a computer or label maker to create labels because then everyone can read it. However, it takes time to make labels on a computer but it is easy to print many copies of the same label. Some labels are meant to be only for laser printers and some for only inkjet printers so always confirm that you’ve got the right labels for your printer. Some types of printer ink runs in damp conditions or fades in bright light. In these harsh conditions, it may be better to use a plasticized label.
Label makers print clear, easy-to-read labels that can be used in a variety of conditions. However, they tend to be limited in the sizes and colours of labels. Most label makers do not have a wide variety of fonts.
If the label is permanent on the container but the contents change, dry erase or chalkboard labels might be the best to use for your needs. They are a good choice if you are creative and enjoy making handwritten labels. An alternative is the Identa-label system. It is comprised of transparent plastic pockets that hold index cards. You can use a computer to print the index cards or they can be hand written.
While copper labels would look lovely in the garden, they would not be appropriate in a home with small children or pets. Labels can be detached and chewed on or swallowed. Some types of key ring labels may contain parts that could injure children and animals, too. Tag labels with string can be wound around tiny fingers and paws and cause injury.
Colours and Sizes
Once you have taken the above information into consideration, the colour and sizes of labels seems to be limited only by your imagination.
Full page stickers allow you to print your own design or create multiple stickers of any shape, size, or colour.
Tamper-evident hologram warranty void stickers can be placed on bins or boxes to ensure they have not been tampered with. This would be ideal for valuable items sent via mail or courier service. They could also be placed on boxes of paperwork containing sensitive information during a move or in a storage facility.
Iron-on name-tags for clothing are great for identifying children’s clothing for school and camp but they can also be used for labeling the tablecloths you take to the family potluck dinners.
You can purchase pre-printed magnetic labels for toolboxes or create your own with dry-erase magnetic tape. Speaking of toolboxes, “Eye-Saver” big typeface socket labels have imperial and metric stickers in different colours so it is easy to tell which sockets are which.
TrueBlock labels completely hide everything they cover. They are great if you like to reuse shipping and file storage boxes. When you need to get people’s attention, high visibility labels would work well. If you need to see the label in the dark, Epson makes glow-in-the-dark labels for its label makers. You can write on glow in the dark tape to make your own labels.
Plant pot labels can be used to tell your house sitter how and when to water your plants during your vacation.
For holiday parties, reusable cup labels allow each child to have his or her own cup. If all goes as planned, there won’t be any sharing of germs. Adding allergy information to the cup label is a good idea, too. For the grown-ups, there are wine glass labels.
Labels are a wonderful thing, but when they have to be removed, label sticker remover comes in handy.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Automatic Wine Opener and Foil Cutter
The Automatic Wine Opener and Foil Cutter should appear in the dictionary next to the word OVERKILL.
- 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: The kitchen
Knives and other resources in the kitchen can greatly improve safety and reduce stress in the daily life of people on your holiday gift giving list.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Puzzle Sorters Puzzling Made EZ
The Puzzle Sorters Puzzling Made EZ trays allow you to do the exact same thing the table beneath the trays does.
- 2011 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Light and power
Extremely practical gifts like LED light bulbs, motion sensor switches, very slowly depleting rechargeable batteries, and a deplete, refresh, charge and test battery charger make it into this year’s uncluttered gift giving suggestions.
- 2010 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Organized gifts for kids
A list of practical gifts for kids that they can unwrap, which help to keep their lives more organized.
- 2009 Gift Giving Guide: The Six O’Clock Scramble
If you or anyone you know struggles to figure out what is for dinner, a Scramble subscription might be a welcome gift this holiday season.
In case you missed any of our posts along the way, the following is a complete listing of the gift-giving ideas included in Unclutterer’s 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide:
- Tech for organization
- Ultimate Pick for an extravagant organized gift
- Utilitarian unitaskers
- Gifts for helping kids be organized
- Gift ideas from professional organizers
If you’re looking for even more inspiration, check out our previous Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guides:
From those of us at Unclutterer, we wish you a calm and clutter-free holiday season!
- Five ways to stop food waste
Keep your food waste to a minimum by using these five tips.
- 2009 Gift Giving Guide: The gift of education
In our third installment of Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide we’re discussing gifts of knowledge.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Plastic wishbones
To get us all into the Thanksgiving holiday 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 wishbones!
Whatever holidays you celebrate — at this time of year, or any other time — you may choose to include decorating as part of the festivities. Here are some ideas about holiday decorations that might resonate with you.
Choosing decorations as gifts
One of the best holiday gifts I’ve given was a small wooden armadillo, which became part of someone’s Christmas crèche. I knew the recipient well, and knew she had a beloved crèche with an eclectic collection of animals in attendance.
Holiday decorating styles vary wildly; some people do minimal decorations, or none at all, while other go all out. Some use a color theme, and others have a wild mixture of items they’ve collected over the years — each item bringing back memories of people or places. So for the right people, a thoughtful addition to their holiday decorations may be a welcome gift.
Selecting holiday decorations
And what about your own decorations? One idea I’ve read for simplifying things — if that’s what you want to do — is to go big. Barbara Tako writes: “Would you rather dust around a clutter of small decorations on an end table or admire a large wall hanging, decorative runner, or table cloth? Large decorations can create impact without the same maintenance hassle as small knick-knacks.”
And a note of caution: When selecting holiday décor for yourself or others, please be sure to be child-safe and pet-safe. The Pet Poison Helpline will help you avoid plants that are dangerous to cats and dogs. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a publication, in PDF format, listing holiday decoration safety tips.
Remembering the good ideas
Did you do really like the way you arranged certain decorations this year? Be sure to take some photos, so you can easily replicate the arrangement in the future.
Going the rental route
For those who like “real” Christmas trees, but not the time it takes to go cut your own (or the fire hazards of trees that dry out too quickly), you might choose to rent a tree. There’s a place in San Jose, Calif., that leases living Christmas trees; you can even get the same tree year after year. Another place rents trees in San Diego, Los Angeles County, and Marin County. There may be a similar place near you.
Eliminating decoration clutter
If you have holiday decorations sitting around that you aren’t overly fond of, passing them on to someone else usually works best when done before the holiday. I’ve just freecycled a large number of Christmas items — wreaths, ornaments, hand towels, lights, and figurines — that I’d have a much harder time placing in January. This would also be a good time to donate such items to a thrift store that benefits a good cause. And a fun idea I just read about is to have an ornament exchange party.
So as you’re pulling decorations out of storage, consider taking some time to pass along those you’re no longer excited about putting on display.
Erin said, “We have had this shelving unit for almost a decade and it hasn’t aged a day. The color is consistent, even though it has sat next to large sliding glass doors the entire time. Not a single shelf sags. Most importantly, it can be configured to fit your space and it’s fun. We use it in our living room, but we’re giving a unit to our son for toy storage in his room. I truly love furniture and organizing products that stand the test of time and also look amazing.”
Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing, LLC in Cary, NC, is a fan of supplemental battery power for her smartphone. She would love to receive an Everpurse this holiday season. The Everpurse is a purse that charges your smartphone. Leave your purse on its charging mat all night and it will keep your smartphone charged all day. Geralin loves also the Purse Perfector purse organizer she received as a gift and keeps it in the centre console of her car to keep everything in its place.
Julie Bestry of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, recommended Grid-it by Cocoon to organize and maintain cables, chargers, ear buds, pens, small tools, flash drives, and just about anything that would otherwise be lost in the bottom of backpacks and purses. Julie would love to receive the Cocoon Backpack with its ability to hold a 17” laptop and its multi-pocketed organized interior and ergonomically designed shoulder harness.
For those who want to have their files accessible from anywhere, but don’t feel comfortable hosting them in the cloud. Brooks Duncan of DocumentSnap in Vancouver, Canada, recommended the Transporter Sync. It lets you turn your external hard drive into a secure, connected, cloud device that is in your control.
Some people have small homes and it can be hard to accommodate Christmas trees in the living room during the festive season and in storage spaces the rest of the year. If this is the case with your friends or family, Soraiya Kara of POSabilities Personal Organizing in Vancouver, Canada, suggested giving ornament display stands. These stands come in a variety of styles and a range of prices and allow people to display their beautiful, sentimental ornaments.
Nanette Duffy of Organized Instincts in Atlanta, GA, wants Cyber Clean as a gift! Nanette said, “The product is practical and effective, but the bright neon green slime feels like a toy! A slick consistency makes cleaning your tech gadgets just plain old fun. I have been told that recipients seek out dirty and gross gadgets like remotes, computer mice and tech devices just to keep playing with the neon green slime. Cyber Clean is not gender specific and can be used at home or work, so it’s a great office gift exchange gift idea. The small packet or bottle makes it an easy, low cost gift to ship. When you have used up Cyber Clean’s cleaning powers, the colour changes letting you how it’s time to toss it out. This mean no “gift clutter” to accumulate.”
Janet Barclay of Organized Assistant in Hamilton, Canada, suggested the book Time Management for Unmanageable People: The Guilt-Free Way to Organize, Energize, and Maximize Your Life by Anne McGee-Cooper as a gift for those creative types for whom time management may be a challenge. As a right-brained individual who has overcome traits of dyslexia, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder to become a successful author, lecturer, business consultant, creativity expert, and business owner, McGee-Cooper knows her subject matter well, and presents her information clearly and with a sense of humour.
Patience Oaktree organizing novels and books of short stories are fictional stories about the adventures of a professional organizer. Valentina Sgro of SGRO Consulting in Cleveland, OH, suggested these books as a gift because they don’t run the risk of implying, “Happy Holidays! You’re a mess!” And, organizing aside, they make entertaining reading for most anyone.
Want more gift-giving ideas? Explore Unclutterer’s full 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.
- Unitasker Wednesday: Masterbuilt Butterball Professional Indoor Turkey Fryer
This is truly one of the worst ideas for a product we’ve ever seen.
- How to preserve photographs worth keeping in three simple steps
Directions from professional archivist Sally Jacobs on how to preserve heirloom-quality photographs.
- 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.
- As seen on Lifehacker
This past week, I encountered two fantastic articles on Lifehacker I wanted to share with you.
- Is ‘user-friendly’ and ‘intuitive’ software really simpler?
Should software developers expect more from end-users?
This week’s Workspace of the Week is Elisabeth’s gorgeous graphic design space:
There are numerous things to love about Elisabeth’s space, but one of my favorite things is that the vast majority of storage is behind closed doors. If you have a job that requires a great amount of equipment, the equipment is likely not very attractive to have out on display. When you can put those items away (and, hopefully, you put them away in an organized manner) you reduce the number of visual distractions to bother you as you work. I also like the storage unit next to the desk that extends the work surface of the desk tops. This extension makes it easier to spread out all your necessary supplies and papers when in the process of working. Thank you, Elisabeth, for sharing your workspace with us.
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.
Consumables can make fine clutter-avoiding gifts for almost any budget. As with any gift, you’ll need to consider your recipient — not everyone drinks alcohol, some people have food allergies, etc. But match the right consumable to the right person, and you’ve got a winner.
Food and beverage
When it comes to wine, I have a fondness for fine champagne, which always seems so festive — and tastes so good. Chocolates also can be lovely; Tcho makes a Tcho-a-day package of dark chocolates, with a 30-day and a 90-day option. (You could even split these packages up into a bunch of stocking stuffers for numerous people.)
For non-alcoholic beverages, there’s always a good coffee or a special tea. A cook might appreciate a nice olive oil; David Lebovitz recommends Arbequina. But really, the possibilities are endless: fancy salts, a special peanut butter from the Netherlands, heirloom beans, and so much more.
Soaps, cosmetics and such
For people who like bar soap — and appreciate magnificent packaging — you might get the soaps from Leap Organics: eucalyptus, mint, and anise is one of their three options. Another interesting choice would be the soaps from Badger, sold by Soap Hope, which say: When you purchase any item from Soap Hope, we invest ALL profits — every single dollar — into programs that empower women to lift themselves from poverty.
All sorts of seemingly mundane products can be more fun than you might expect as a gift. Items like bacon bandages, Abraham Lincoln bandages, or Jane Austen bandages are fun for restocking a first-aid kit. You can get organic toothpaste from Denmark in a number of flavors, or cinnamon mint toothpaste from Italy. And you can even get interesting dental floss.
Alisa Bonsignore just tweeted that she is “much too old to be this entertained by my color-changing ‘mood’ nail polish” — which I’d never heard of, until she mentioned it. Maybe you know someone who’d be entertained by color-changing nail polish, too. Or, you might prefer some more traditional nail polishes, such as those from Butter London, with their “complete lack of the chemical nasties.”
Art supplies for children
I’m always amazed at the wonderful products available in this category; just make sure whatever you purchase is safe for the child’s age. Consider edible veggie sidewalk chalk, made with organic ingredients. Or, consider Snazaroo face paint, the Faber-Castell Young Artist Finger Painting Gift Set, and Glob natural botanical paints. And, there’s a fun-looking set of eco-crayons and an eco-art pad.
Want more gift-giving ideas? Explore Unclutterer’s full 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.