Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Wrap up

Today marks the end of Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide and we thought a final list of all our posts might be a helpful way to end the series:

In the comments to this post, feel welcome to share your favorite uncluttered gifts that you’ve received or given over the years — or even something you’re planning to give this year. We are always on the lookout for ideas of what to give that won’t clutter up a recipient’s home.

Finally, 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: 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.

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.

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!

Unitasker Wednesday: TheSelfie

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

This is one of those products where I’m tempted not to write a critique of it because it is so obviously a unitasker that there isn’t really anything to discuss. Introducing TheSelfie:

For starters, this device only works with Apple products (sorry not to tempt you, Droid owners). Second, you still have to hold the iPhone to take a selfie. And, as all iPhone owners are aware, to take a picture with an iPhone all you have to do is touch one of the volume controls. Which, since you’re holding your phone, are literally right beneath your fingers. So … I have no idea how TheSelfie is in anyway useful. In fact, it looks like an additional pain because you have to coordinate everything in such a way as to not get the cord in your picture (like the kids have done in the image above).

Edit: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this, so kudos to reader Darrell who brought it up in the comments, but you can even use the iPhone’s headphones (which ship with every iPhone) in exactly the same way as TheSelfie. To learn how, check out Lifehacker’s article “Use your iPhone’s headset to take pictures from afar.” Another reminder to always read the manual.

Unitasker Wednesday: Snow cone and shave ice machines

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

We all have snippets of good memories from our youth that occasionally bubble up and bring smiles to our faces. While watching some of the World Series the other night, I had a flash of memories from being a kid and getting ready for bed while listening to Kansas City Royals games on the AM radio. The pops and and crinkles of the AM broadcast mixed with the sound of the ball making contact with the bat were front and center in my mind and I’m pretty sure I smiled the entire next day. I’ve since been listening to the games on the radio instead of watching them on tv because it makes me so incredibly happy.

My husband has a similar intensely joyful memory about eating snow cones at a town festival. As a result, whenever we find ourselves at a summer festival, we seek out snow cones (also sno cones, shaved ice, and shave ice). We gobble them up and show each other our colorful tongues and reminisce about the carefree days of childhood. What we don’t do, however, is buy an insanely large snow cone machine for our house, like the Old Fashioned Snow Cone Maker or the Electric Shaved Ice Machine:

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good Hawaiian shave ice (especially the root beer float ones with a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the bottom of the cup and root beer float syrup over the ice). But, like any treat, it’s not something you want every day. Once, maybe twice a year at a festival does the job and feeds the nostalgic happy memory.

These two unitaskers take up a huge amount of space and, if you live in a four-season part of the world, you’re likely not interested in using them for 3/4 of the year. They also don’t make anything other than snow cones. And, since in a pinch you can always put some ice in a zip-top bag and whack at it with a meat tenderizer hammer for a few minutes, you don’t really need a special machine to make a snow cone at home if you have the rare craving.

Are these fun? Sure. Are they unitaskers? You betcha. We’ll stick to getting our treats of nostalgia at summer festivals.

And, obviously, go Royals!

Unitasker Wednesday: Infant Whirlpool Bubbling Spa

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

Regular readers of the site know that I’m a mom with a five-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter. If I were to compare myself to most moms in the US, I’d describe myself as fairly typical when it comes to buying baby supplies and such. I never went over the top with buying gadgets, but certainly spent some money on tools that made being a parent to a baby more convenient (e.g. we own a fancy diaper pail but not a self-rocking bassinet).

As a typical parent, I was surprised that this week’s unitasker selection made me roll my eyes. Most ridiculous baby things I can find a reason why someone might need them for their kid. Heck, even the self-rocking bassinet I mentioned previously I could understand buying if it was the only way to get my kid to sleep through the night. No judgments from me on that choice.

However, I do not understand why a baby could ever need his own whirlpool bubbling spa.

Not only is it an extravagance that would likely be completely lost on an infant (running water into a tub or sink would probably entertain the kid just as much), but it’s not particularly sanitary. Whirlpools have an incredibly high risk for bacteria growth, and I can’t imagine voluntarily subjecting a child to such an unnecessary risk.

Plus, you have to store this thing and power it (plug it in? put batteries in it?) somehow, which is something you don’t have to do with your kitchen sink or bathtub. It seems to me that in every scenario this device is far more hassle than it’s worth. It seems like a product a manufacturer created without any parent wanting such an item.

There is also a part of me that is convinced this is a foot spa that someone slapped a baby sticker on its side. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn a marketing person pitched the idea to increase sales: “New parents will buy anything! Like, lets call our foot spa a baby whirlpool! A baby will totally fit in there.”

Not a unitasker: The waffle maker

Back in July, the editor of Waffleizer.com messaged me and asked if I wanted an advanced copy of his new book. I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” And then, in August, Will it Waffle? arrived.

Ever since, I’ve been trying out different recipes from Daniel Shumski’s book, and am now a devoted fan. My family loves the meals I’ve made from it, too, which says a great deal because they’re a bunch of picky eaters. The Zucchini-Parmesean Fritters are their favorite. (Its paperback list price is $14.95, but Amazon has it for less than $12 right now and the Kindle edition is less than $10.)

The premise of the cookbook is that when used only for waffles, your waffle maker is a unitasker, and people should typically avoid unitaskers. But, since a waffle maker is the only way to make fresh waffles at home, Shumski sought out ways to turn it into a multi-tasking appliance. His was a noble quest, and it’s refreshing that he succeeded. The cookbook contains more than 50 recipes to create on a waffle iron.

As you might expect, there are a handful of sandwich recipes in the book. A waffle maker and a panini press are quite similar, so this section of recipes is to be expected. (Not to say they’re boring recipes, because they are quite delicious. Family favorites are the ham and cheese melt with maple butter and the Cuban sandwich.)

What’s most impressive to me about the book are the recipes that you wouldn’t expect — for example, chicken fingers, wontons, crispy kale, tamale pie, pizza, soft cell crab, and steak. And, unlike in other preparations, most of these recipes don’t require consistent monitoring. You put the item on the waffle iron, set the timer, and simply wait until the item is done cooking. You’re free to make sauces or side dishes or set the table in the meantime.

Based on your model of waffle iron, cleanup afterward is also extremely convenient if your waffle iron has removable plates that can go in the dishwasher or a non-stick coating you can wipe down with a damp cloth and be done with it. I like easy, and all of the recipes I’ve tried and their cleanup were a breeze.

One of my favorite sections of the cookbook is about creating your own recipes for the waffle maker and, specifically, the listing of what won’t waffle. Foods requiring a lot of moisture, like rice, won’t work in a waffle maker and neither will things that have a lot of butter, like shortbread cookies. Then, obviously, foods like soup are out of the question. But, I was surprised by how much is able to be waffled and am glad Shumski provides this encouragement for creativity.

If you have a waffle maker and you’re interested in transforming it from a unitasker into a multi-tasker, check out Shumski’s book Will it Waffle? Then, start thinking about the other small appliances in your home and how you can put them to use in multiple ways.

What was in Unclutterer’s fifth Quarterly mailing?

All over the world, subscribers to the Unclutterer shipment from Quarterly have received their fifth mailing from us. If you didn’t subscribe to the fifth mailing, but were curious as to what we sent, I’ve detailed the kit below.

Each box is sent with a letter from our team, and I penned the fifth one. This time we focused on safety, since September (when the boxes arrived) was National Emergency Preparedness Month. What was in the box?

A box!

Okay, more accurately, it was an ANSI standard portable first aid kid with almost everything you could possibly need to administer first aid.

As with our previous mailings, if you missed out on this one and are interested in buying the contents now, a few will be made available through the Best of Quarterly Shop in the coming weeks.

If you’re interested in subscribing to our four mailings a year, we have a sixth mailing coming out in the next quarter (and then a seventh and eighth …). I’m putting together our next one and we’re excited about how it is coming together. Sign up if you want to subscribe to the organizing shipments. If not, we’re totally cool with that, too.

Unitasker Wednesday: French Toast Stick Maker

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

This week’s selection is a quintessential example of a unitasker. It may very well be the Platonic Form of the unitasker. When discussing unitaskers in the future, it is the French Toast Stick Maker that I shall use as my example:

This is a stand-alone, 44 sq. in. appliance whose sole purpose is to make French toast sticks. Not plain French toast, but French toast sticks. A food you can make with a multipurpose pan and a multipurpose knife with less effort than with this machine. By owning this, you would obviously sacrifice space but you also would waste time — as the plates of the French Toast Stick Maker are not removable so you have to clean them by hand (whereas you can put the pan and knife in a dishwasher).

If this were a Taylor Swift song, she would summarize by pointing out the incontrovertible Truth: unitasker gonna unitask.

Unitasker Wednesday: Roll N Pour

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

My children probably have no idea what gallon milk containers look like because I don’t buy gallon milk containers. The kids can’t lift and pour a gallon yet, so I get 1/2 gallons that the oldest one can manipulate and the younger one eventually will. When we do make the switch to gallon containers, however, I can guarantee we won’t also be purchasing the Roll N Pour:

In the words of Skippyjon Jones, “Holy frijoles!” This plastic rocking chair for your gallon milk jugs is enormous! The product description says it’s “great for kids and seniors” but I don’t understand how — there is no way my 5 year old son or my husband’s 99 year old grandfather could even get this device AND the attached gallon container out of the refrigerator. Putting it back into the refrigerator would be just as disastrous. It adds weight and girth to the milk container, making it heavier and more cumbersome. And no one with limited or developing mobility needs or wants “heavier and more cumbersome.”

Okay, I’ll admit, there is something adorable about a gallon of milk rocking away the hours in the refrigerator. I imagine it would take up knitting and ask me to keep quiet during its stories. But, for the itty bitty amount of help it might give someone with pouring, those benefits would quickly be erased by the amount of storage space you’d have to sacrifice in your refrigerator and in the process of having to carry it in and out of the refrigerator every time you wanted a drink.

If handling large gallon containers is an issue for you or your family, do what we do and simply buy smaller, easier to carry and pour containers (which you’re likely already doing). Or, buy the larger container and have or provide assistance in pouring some of its contents into a more manageable small carafe. If handling gallon containers isn’t an issue for you or anyone in your family, this device is just downright ridiculous. I think we can chalk the Roll N Pour’s unitasker status up to over-engineering that intended to be helpful, but isn’t.

Unitasker Wednesday: BootSwag

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

ARB is a chain of stores in Australia that makes accessories specifically for 4X4 trucks. As opposed to most 4X4 owners in the US, it appears 4X4 owners in Australia occasionally take theirs off road. (Who knew?!)

One of the things ARB manufactures is tents that attach to 4X4s (by extending off the truck bed or the trunk or on the roof or in some other awesome manner) and regular ground tents for hikers who drive exciting places off road. But, lo! Their tenting doesn’t stop there! They also make a special cutie patootie itty bitty tent just for your boots. The ARB BootSwag:

We really aren’t pulling your leg with this. It is a real, genuine product. According to their website, “the ARB BootSwag provides a sheltered enclosure for storage of footwear and other items.”

Now, I would assume that one’s tent or enormous 4X4 would also provide this kind of shoe storage … but, apparently not?? I’d also think a large zip-top bag could do the same thing and keep snakes and spiders (or whatever deadly critters roam the Outback) out of one’s boots (this does not, as the bottom flap doesn’t close). But, what do I know? I drive an all-wheel vehicle and the only “off roading” I’ve ever done is in a busy Target parking lot after a big snow. And the closest I’ve come to camping in the last two decades was in a cabin with central air.

Thanks to reader Richelle for introducing us to this fun unitasker.