Six great uses for old CDs and CD cases

Like a phoenix from the ashes, the lowly CD and its storage case are again ready for work.

While I was working on last week’s scouting leadership post, my wife asked if I wanted to see how she keeps her girls’ patches organized. As you may know, scouts can earn patches and badges to show that they’ve mastered a skill, participated in an event or otherwise done something deserving formal recognition. Keeping track of who has earned what can be daunting, especially when you’ve got a large group.

When I saw the wall of CD sleeves above, one per girl, I knew I had to share it with the Unclutterer readers.

What you see here is a series of soft plastic CD sleeves, like for a small CD binder, attached to a big piece of foam core board. Each girl’s name has been written in permanent black magic marker at the bottom of “her” sleeve, and there are even two extra sleeves for holding supplies. It’s effective, portable, and very inexpensive. I can see this working in classrooms, garages, kids’ bedrooms, and more.

Inspired, I took to the Internet to see how other people are using this nearly extinct technology. The following items are the best of what I discovered.

  1. Recipe card holder. I wish I had thought of this years ago. Typically, I tape a new recipe to the oven hood or stick it to refrigerator door and then have to worry about removing adhesive residue later. An old hard CD case makes perfect sense as a way to protect recipes from spills without any need for tape or Goo Gone.
  2. Cable storage. In this example, spindle cases that once held CD-Rs are repurposed for cables. I’ve got so many cables in my basement work area, and many are in bins I can’t see into. This solution puts the contents front-and-center. Love it.
  3. Mosaic photo collage. To use a plastic CD case as a photo frame is kind of a no-brainer, but this mosaic takes the idea and runs with it. Instructables has the detailed how-to for building an impressive wall display out of something you’d otherwise purge.
  4. Mini dry erase board. This idea is fantastic because it’s so simple — all you do is cut a piece of white paper and insert it into the plastic case. Boom, you’re done. A dry erase marker will wipe clean from the plastic. I’d use this as a last-chance prompt for that one thing I’ve got to remember to do. It could also work in classrooms where kids are writing down answers and then holding them up for their teachers to see.
  5. Closet divider. OK, this hack uses a CD, not the case, but it’s still a fun recycling idea. After carefully measuring the circumference of the rod in the closet, adjust the CD’s central hole as necessary and then apply a label. Slide the result onto the rod and you’re all set to organize your closet like in a department store.

I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed, but these are five good ones that I’d actually use. Do you use old CD cases for storage? If you feel like sharing, let us know about your recycling solutions in the comments.

Breaking the organizing stalemate

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that you couldn’t organize your bedroom until the laundry room is organized, but you couldn’t organize the laundry room until the bedroom is organized? This is a deadlock or stalemate situation — one in which several actions are waiting for the other to finish, and thus none of them ever is completed.

There are two basic ways to break a stalemate, one is by diplomacy and the other is by imposing military might.

Diplomatic method

The diplomatic method creates the least amount of disruption, however it does take a lot more time to complete the organizing process. It involves working a little at a time in each space, alternating back and forth. In the above example between the laundry room and the bedroom, you may choose to spend 15 minutes in each space each day organizing. You may repeatedly need to transfer clothing between rooms. You may decide to do a few loads of laundry every day. Additionally you would cart away clothing that is no longer suited to your lifestyle. Slowly, over the course of time, both rooms would become organized.

Military might method

The military might method may cause intense disruption for a short period of time, but the end result can be achieved more quickly than with the diplomatic method. The military might strategy involves clearing a full day in your calendar to complete the entire task and clearing everything from the space all at once. In the laundry room and bedroom example, you would gather up all of the clothing from both the bedroom and the laundry room and dump it in the living room where there is enough space to do a sort and purge. Once that is completed in the living room, your clothing would be returned to its appropriate storage area and the living room would be clear.

You may have to employ a combination of strategies, using both diplomacy and military might. There are no rules in love (of a tidy home) and war (on disorganization). The important thing is to get started and choose the method that works best for you and your situation.

DIY lightbox for easy, clutter-free artwork photos

Photographing the kids’ artwork is a great way to keep from having to save everything junior creates in a physical form. Photographs save the memories without sacrificing storage space. Digital images are easy to organize, but getting decent shots of the kids’ work can be difficult. Creating a DIY lightbox can be a cheap, inexpensive solution for getting great, memorable shots.

A couple of years ago, I suggested a few strategies for organizing your kids’ artwork. Once you’ve picked out your favorites, it’s nice to frame them for a home gallery or to create an album, like those from Shutterfly or Apple.

But like I mentioned earlier, taking a good photo of Jr.’s art project isn’t always easy. Lighting and a “noisy” background can be troublesome. Fortunately, the solution is simple, effective, and inexpensive. The following instructions are how I made a simple light box out of materials I (mostly) already had at home.

What is a light box?

A light box, as I’m describing it, is a box that’s open on one end and has light-diffusing material on the sides and top, that lets you take nearly shadow-free photographs of objects. Professional photographers use them to get gorgeous product shots. You can use them for a variety of items. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A large-ish cardboard box
  2. White tissue paper
  3. Tape
  4. A box cutter
  5. At least two light sources
  6. White poster board
  7. A ruler

Building your light box

To get started, cut the flaps off of the box’s top and then place it on its side. Next, use a ruler to mark one inch from the edge on the side of the box. Then use a strait edge to mark off lines one inch away from the edge. Use the box cutter to cut out that inner square section of cardboard. (You’re making the sides look like three cardboard picture frames attached to the bottom and one side of the box. See the image above.) Repeat that process on two other sides, leaving the bottom intact.

Next, add your light-diffusing material: tissue paper. Cut a sheet of plain white tissue paper so that it’ll cover the three sides of the box that you cut. Tape it into place. Now for the poster board.

This part is a little bit tricky. Cut a piece of poster board that’s as wide as the opening to your box but twice as long. Slide it into the box and up the back so that it’s touching the top. Make sure not to crease the poster board. If you do, that crease will really show up in your photos. The idea is to make an “infinite” background of white.

Test it out

That’s it! The box has been constructed. Now you need two light sources. I’m using two tabletop gooseneck lamps. Position one on each side, aimed directly at the tissue paper. Finally, put your camera on a tripod, stack of books, table, or whatever will keep it still. Finally, position your subject and shoot.

You’ll have to play around a bit to see if you need more tissue paper, to re-position the camera and so on. But really, you’ll see great results right away. When you’re done, upload the photos to your favorite service, do what you want with the digital image, and enjoy your great-looking archive of the kids’ beautiful art.

Additional tips: Above, I photographed a little clay sculpture. If you’re doing something flat like a painting, carefully remove the top piece of tissue paper and shoot down. Also, you can add more light buy putting another source pointing into the box from the top.

This whole project cost me less than twenty dollars (I bought two lamps) and I’m thrilled with the results. Also, if you’re not the DIY type, you can buy a premade lightbox for around $40.

Uncluttering by selecting containers and setting limits

How much space in your home are you willing to give to books? To memorabilia? To food storage containers?

One way to determine these answers is to select the storage containers and/or areas you’re willing to dedicate to each category of stuff.

Books

I have a number of bookshelves, and if I ever have more books than will fit on these shelves, I will need to do some pruning. It’s not as much of an issue now — I’m shedding more books than I’m buying. But, in the past, I have indeed had to go through the shelves and find the books I was okay with passing along because I have a rule to only have as many books as fit onto the shelves I own.

Memorabilia

I have a box that holds the letters and cards I want to keep — the ones from family and friends with handwritten, heart-felt notes. If I ever get to the point where the letters and cards won’t fit in that box, I’ll need to get rid of some; the box defines how much space I’m willing to give to this type of memorabilia.

I’ve currently got an entire shelf in a closet dedicated to slide wheels, holding photos from a number of wonderful vacations. I was okay giving that shelf to the slides in the past, but now I’m reconsidering. This means I need to sort through the slides and scan the keepers (or use a scanning service to do it for me).

Food storage containers

I have a drawer that holds my food storage containers for leftovers but other people may want more space and perhaps have a cabinet for them. But setting some limit — only as much as easily fits in a specific defined space — makes sense.

Papers

I remember a time when I considered buying another file cabinet, because the ones I had were pretty much full. Then I came to my senses and just got rid of some papers. I didn’t need another container; I needed to unclutter. Which is a good thing, because I didn’t really have room for another file cabinet.

Clothes

Containers for clothes include dressers, closets, clothes trees, and hooks. If our clothes overflow our containers for storing them, we either need fewer clothes or more containers.

Supplies for crafts and hobbies

I knew someone who had a serious quilting hobby, and she chose to dedicate a whole room in her home to her quilting. She had shelves and other storage pieces inside of a larger container: the room itself. This meant she had less space for other things, but it was a trade-off that made sense for her.

The sum of our possessions

At a higher level, our homes are the containers that set the limits on how much we can own. Sometimes a person or family will have another container that extends that limit: an offsite storage unit. But, if all our stuff doesn’t fit comfortably into our spaces, something has to give or we have to move. In many cases, uncluttering will be the better choice.

Duplicates you can donate or trash

It is amazing how quickly certain items can accumulate. You are blind to realize how many of an item you have until you have too many.

Office

  • Report covers: A few years ago we had 65 of them — yes 65! I ended up keeping eight of them for children’s reports for school and donated the rest.
  • Pencil cases: You only need one per child and one spare.
  • Pens: It drives me crazy if pens are one colour on the outside (e.g. red) but write another colour (e.g. black). I try not to even bring them into the house.
  • Staples, elastics, paperclips and pushpins: Keep one small container of each and donate the rest.

Consider donating office supplies to charities. They often work on very tight budgets and may not have extra money for supplies for their own offices. Libraries, schools, and community centres may also appreciate the donation.

Kitchen

  • Plastic cutlery, paper plates, and take-out trays: If you regularly use these disposable items for school/work lunches, keep a week’s worth handy and let go of the rest. You can use the “one-in, one-out” rule. As soon as you get a new one, toss an old one. If you may need them for picnics or parties later in the year, store them in a less frequently used area of the kitchen.
  • Plastic Cups: Recycle plastic cups from amusement parks or sporting events. You really don’t need to save them to make a Beer Snake at the next cricket match.
  • Food storage containers: Get rid of any that are stained, broken, or have missing or ill-fitting lids. About a dozen 500mL containers are enough for the average family of four. Choose identical containers with identical lids to keep things simple.
  • Reusable shopping bags: Keep as many as you need for groceries. You may choose to use a few for carting around hobby and sports equipment. Charity shops, schools, or your local library would likely appreciate any bags that you are not using.

Laundry

  • Hangers: If you’re practicing “one-in, one-out”, there is no need for extra hangers in your closets. Keep a few for guests’ clothing and coats and maybe a few for your laundry room. Charity shops usually accept all types of hangers and many dry cleaners accept wire hangers. I always keep one wire hanger in my toolbox because at some point something valuable will roll under the refrigerator and I’ll need to undo a wire hanger to get it.
  • Towels: Keep only the best ones and keep only those you use. The old ones can be cut into rags or donated to an animal shelter.
  • T-shirts: It’s time to say good-bye to the worn out shirts with sports’ team logos and your favourite T-shirt from high school. Keep the best, let go of the rest.

Bathroom

  • Cosmetic bags: A free cosmetic bag with every cosmetics purchase adds up to clutter. Keep one for the suitcase, one for your gym bag, and maybe a spare one. Donate the rest.
  • Razors: Old, rusty, and broken razors should go directly to the trash. Say good-bye to any razor handles for which you no longer wish to replace the blades.
  • Hair Accessories: Broken hairbrushes and combs that you’re no longer using can go directly into the garbage. Other hair accessories in good condition can be donated after they have been cleaned and sanitized.

Remember that if the item is not in good enough condition to give to a friend, it is best not to donate it to charity. Always check with the recipient charity to ensure they will benefit from the items you would like to donate. Keep clutter out of your space and look for even more items you can donate.

Unclutter your tech with the Rule of One

From time-to-time, I’ll think about this post I read on Apartment Therapy back in 2010. For whatever reason, the post stuck with me. The advice in the post espouses The Rule of One, which breaks down like this:

Keep the things you own (especially technology) down to only one.

I like the idea, but am still trying to figure out if I can apply it to everything in my life. I certainly need to have more than one shirt, for instance. But, in other areas, could it make sense for me? I especially like this insight:

Listening to music? One iPod. One speaker set … Hold on to that one item for as long as possible.

Like I said, it’s impractical for me to apply the Rule of One to all aspects of my possessions. I have several baseball hats and I like to wear them all, so I don’t imagine I’ll ever get rid of all but one of them. But, a quick glance at my iPhone reveals a problem. I have seven weather applications. I’ve also got four note-taking apps and four camera apps. Yes, each does something unique, but honestly none of them is markedly different than the other. I don’t need all four camera apps, for instance, and should decide on one “keeper.” The rest are clutter in that they consume precious storage space on my iPhone and clutter my mind, as I must stop and choose one every time I want to take a picture.

I also like Nguyen’s advice to “hold on to that item for as long as possible.” My Internet buddy Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac has written about this topic several times. In an article called “The Season of Stuff,” he gives good, pre-emptive uncluttering advice for the holiday season:

You can pledge to get rid of an amount of stuff equal to the amount you receive. You can let those who love you know that you do not want more stuff but want something less tangible instead (breakfast in bed, money for a favorite charity, etc.). Ask for specific stuff you really truly need that will add years of value to your life on a daily basis.

Now, if you have superfluous tech that you’d like to get rid of, don’t just bring it to the dump. There are several ways to recycle it responsibly:

  • Donation. Is there a group, organization or school nearby that would love to have it? Give them a call.
  • Best Buy. This American big box store will accept three electronic items per household per day for responsible recycling. It’s free, and no-questions-asked. You didn’t have to buy the item there to recycle it there.
  • Seek a local alternative. For example, Free Geek is an Oregon-based service that takes your electronics, similar to Best Buy’s program. Search around to find something similar in your area.

Look at the tech you use every day and decide, is any of this superfluous? Can I follow the Rule of One in this area of my life? If so, unclutter the extraneous items and enjoy having fewer distractions.

Even professional organizers need to unclutter

People sometimes assume that professional organizers are 100 percent organized and uncluttered, at all times. But every organizer I know has a few problem areas that pop up occasionally. Organizers face the same challenges that everyone faces: unexpected events disrupt our plans, we fall out of our routines, etc. And, sometimes it helps all of us, organizers included, to take another look around our homes to see what no longer serves us.

I’m going to share what I’ve uncluttered this past week, in the hope that it may inspire some of you in your own uncluttering efforts.

Eight cookbooks

These were all good cookbooks, but they weren’t ones I used. The recipes were too complex for how I cook, or they duplicate the kinds of recipes I have in other books that I prefer to regularly use. For example, I have my go-to author for Indian recipes, and I didn’t need another book by another author.

Two books about making presentations

These were both great books: Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design. It’s always a bit hard to give up a great book. But, I don’t do many presentations, and the ones I do are pretty informal, so the books weren’t serving any purpose in my home. I was delighted to see them go to someone who can really benefit from them.

One organizing-related book

I’m working through my collection a bit at a time, figuring out which of the 80+ books I own are worth keeping. They were all worth reading, once upon a time, but that doesn’t mean I still need all of them on my bookshelves.

This happens to a lot of us: We acquire books when we’re learning about a subject, but after some time we know enough that the books aren’t really helpful anymore.

My email

I’m not going to tell you how many emails I have in my inbox, but I can tell you it’s about 40 percent less than it was a week ago.

It wasn’t as though important emails were being neglected. Rather, my inbox was full of newsletters I hadn’t read, emails from discussion lists, and similar items. Some messages I deleted without a second thought and removed myself from the distribution lists so similar messages won’t clog my email inbox in the future. Others, I’ve reviewed and decided what’s worth reading — and next I’ll be doing that reading. Some of the emails are worth keeping for reference, but many are hitting my electronic trash can.

This is a project where I’m committed to making daily progress. Some days I make much more progress than others, but every day I see the count go down.

Old magazines

I only get three magazines, which should be a very manageable number, but my stack of unread magazines was getting too tall for my comfort. Going through my stack, I discovered one magazine from December 2011. It was the first to get a quick look-through and then hit the recycling bin. With five more gone, I’m currently down to 12 magazines, none of them more than nine months old. Now, I’m inspired to reduce the stack even more, maybe going through one magazine a day.

Next up on my list: Uncluttering my many boxes of slides by scanning the ones I want to save. I’ll finish the email and magazine projects first. Bit by bit, day by day, things are getting better. And that’s how uncluttering tends to go for a professional organizer.

Have an uncluttering party

One of the fun things I’ve done a few times with friends is to have a clothing swap party. During the party, people exchange articles of clothing that are still in good condition but that they no longer use. It gives participants a chance to unclutter their closets, socialize with friends, and pick up a few items that they really will use and enjoy. Although donating can be accomplished through charity drop-offs and services like Freecycle, the Swap Party is a good excuse to get together with friends.

It is fairly straightforward to organize a Swap Party. Send an invitation to your friends indicating the date, time, and location of the party (send it electronically and you won’t even have to worry about the clutter of invitations). You should also lay out the Swap Party rules in the invitation. Here are the rules that I used for my last clothing swap party:

  1. Bring unwanted women’s clothing; clean and in good condition.
  2. Feel free to bring shoes, purses, scarves, jewelry and other accessories.
  3. No arguing over the clothes — remember we are friends!
  4. You may take home as many or as few clothes as you like.
  5. Don’t feel bad if nothing fits you and you don’t get to take home anything. There will always be a next time.
  6. Don’t feel bad if no one takes the clothes you brought. There will always be a next time.
  7. You may return home with the clothes you brought or you can leave them with the hostess to take to a local charity.

Before the party, ensure you have an area that can be used as a changing room. Make sure it has good lighting and good curtains. Ideally, you should set up a full-length mirror in the room. When the party is over, arrange to deliver the leftover clothing to charity.

While women’s clothing swap parties seem to be the most common, there are other types of swap parties you can organize with your friends and neighbours.

Holiday decorations: You can limit this to one specific holiday such as a Christmas Ornament exchange or include all sorts of holidays.

Baby/toddler items: Swap parties of baby and toddler clothes, furniture, and accessories are popular with the parent-tot crowd.

Toiletries: The hairspray you don’t use since you got your hair cut, the hand cream that Aunt Bertha got you for your birthday, and those other personal care products cluttering your cupboards might be of value to your friends.

Pet products: Your pet-loving friends may enjoy a get-together to swap pet clothing, unused pet shampoo, and toys. It could be a chance for the pets to socialize too!

Cleaning products: There is no point storing a can of oven cleaner if you have a self-cleaning oven or carpet shampoo if you have hardwood floors. Prior to spring-cleaning, consider gathering for a neighbourhood cleaning product exchange.

Sports: Sport specific clothing and equipment, especially children’s sizes, as well as specialized cleaning products and accessories, can be swapped within your sports team or club. You could also invite the teams in your league to participate for some pre-season socializing.

Office supplies: Fellow entrepreneurs can get together and trade supplies to get what they need: pens, markers, report covers, binders, even computers.

Hardware: If you have friends who are into building, have a hardware swap. Eliminate the nails, screws, hardware, lumber, and paint cluttering your garage or garden shed. You may get the items you need for that fix-it project.

Hobbies: Whether your hobby is rebuilding cars or scrapbooking, find a group of fellow enthusiasts and “swap ’till ya drop”!

Remember, it should be good stuff, good friends, and good fun at your party. With the extra items going to charity, it is also good for the community and the environment.

Unclutter those little monthly bills

Most of us have two types of monthly bills — the big stuff and the little stuff. For the purposes of this post, I’m not talking about the big ones. I don’t mean the mortgage/rent, car payments, insurance, and so on. Those things are there and you pay them as part of your life responsibilities. No, in this case I mean the little costs, the automatic payments that are so easy to forget and that pile up quickly. You know, that $2.99 a month subscription fee or the $5.00 monthly rental fee. If we remember these at all, the temptation is to say, “Eh, it’s three bucks. I’ll deal with it next month.” Meanwhile, three becomes nine and then 12 and by the end of the year 36 — but for dozens of little things so the total is in the hundreds.

Once a year, I sit down and unclutter these little payments to decide what stays and what goes. If you’re interested, the following is advice on how you can do it, too.

Write it down

The easiest way to get look at what you’re spending is to write it all down. When I do this review, I chart it up on a piece of paper:

There are four columns:

  1. Name: The title of the company or service
  2. Cost: What I’m paying out
  3. Description: A plain-English description of exactly what I’m getting for my money
  4. Stay? After reviewing the information in the three previous column, I decide: “Does it stay?” If yes, I enter a “Y” in the last column. If not, it’s “N.”

In the example above, I’ve entered two services. First is Netflix. It costs me $7.99 per month to stream all the TV shows and movies I want. Is it worth it? For me, yes. My family and I spend more time watching videos on Netflix than we do on cable. For us, it’s worth it. Netflix stays.

Next is Blizzard. Blizzard is a game company that lets me play World of Warcraft online for $14.99 per month. Is it worth it? Well, a few months ago, I was meeting up with several friends so that we could all play together. That was great fun, but it has fizzled out. I don’t enjoy playing solo as much. So, I nixed it. That just saved me $179.88 per year! Hooray!

Why did I sign up for this?

Before you decide if a service stays or goes, concentrate on brainstorming so you get them all down. It’s possible that you’ve completely forgotten about one (or even more). Do you have a transponder in your car that comes with a monthly fee? Do you have a safety deposit box at the bank? Does your bank charge you a monthly fee if your balance falls below a certain dollar limit? Are you renting any large pieces of equipment? Do you subscribe to magazines?

Once you’ve remembered all your little costs, add up the total amount spent. It might be surprising. Once you’ve nixed the services you no longer want, you’ll feel really good about saving that money.

Hold onto your list

Although it’s a little morbid to think about, having all of these subscription services written down in one place would allow for someone else to help close your accounts or suspend them in case of an emergency. Store your list in an “In case of …” file so a loved one can find it. Also, you can reference it in six months or a year to help you brainstorm all the little bills you’re paying each month. You can then replace the old list (shred it) with the new list in the file.

As I said, these small monthly fees are easy to forget and tempting to overlook. This post is your prompt to unclutter them! In less than 30 minutes, you’ll have a good overview of what you’re spending, feel more on top of things, and perhaps save a little money for your trouble.

What’s in your junk drawer?

Many people seem to have a kitchen junk drawer, and these drawers hold a wide variety of stuff. If not in the kitchen, the drawer full of random stuff might be in a utility room or a hallway or a desk. Usually, they’re filled with a few things you need but those things could be surrounded with clutter.

Most items found in junk drawers can be classified into a few categories:

True junk

Becky Harris at Houzz.com wrote that she got rid of these things recently from her junk drawer:

  • Eyeglasses with hideous frames from about 20 prescriptions ago
  • Hardened Liquid Paper (I don’t even have any use for Liquid Paper anymore)
  • 5 sets of Delta Airlines headsets
  • 6 inches of carpet tape, which is perhaps enough to use on a dollhouse area rug.
  • Packaging and headphones for every iPhone and iPod I have ever owned, including some that are no longer in my possession.

An online discussion at Chow.com of junk drawer contents inspired someone else to do a cleanout. She got rid of these items, among others:

  • Halloween cookie cutters (I never really make shaped cookies)?
  • a blunt breadknife with a melted handle

If you take the time to remove the pure junk, you can then consider giving your junk drawer a new name. Laura Gaskill suggested the “really useful stuff” drawer in a post she wrote for Houzz, organizer Monica Ricci calls it the utility drawer, and Becky Harris calls it the catch-all drawer.

Random useful stuff

As commenter Nicole wrote on Be More With Less:

I organized my former junk drawer a few years ago and now it’s the useful drawer. I keep markers, scissors, tape, little screwdrivers, chip clips, that rubber thing you use to open jars, and the manuals for my small appliances (rice cooker, for instance) in there.

Other common things include batteries, binder clips, coins, coupons, gum, hair elastics, matches, postage stamps, reading glasses, receipts being held onto until it’s clear the items won’t need to be returned, rubber bands, sticky notes, and a tape measure.

Some of that random useful stuff might better be kept somewhere else — you probably shouldn’t keep any papers in the junk drawer, for example — but that’s a personal choice.

Memorabilia

The Junk Drawer Project asks participants: “What is your fondest memory surrounding an object in your junk drawer?” The answers show that many people choose to keep bits of memorabilia in their junk drawers.

Marie Irma Matutina said: “I have a bunch of new and used birthday candles, some with glitter, some are alphabets or numbers and they remind me of all the great parties, get togethers and gatherings I’ve had over the years with really great friends.”

And Leah Jackson said: “A birthday card from my mom that I can’t seem to get rid of.”

Other people mentioned cards and candles, too.

Odds and ends

I relate to Michelle W., who said this in another discussion of junk drawer contents: “My junk drawer is full of things I am hiding from the cats — rubber bands, bread bag ties, hairbands, etc.”

And then there’s Randy, who said the oldest thing in his junk drawer is a harmonica. “It just feels wrong to get rid of a harmonica, so it sits there mocking me because I never learned to play it.”

Your individual junk drawers

Erin Thompson, who maintains The Junk Drawer Project, was interviewed by Jillian Steinhauer about the project:

I started asking my friends about their junk drawers and quickly realized that the way that people curated their own junk drawer totally made sense for their personalities. I am finding that you can learn a lot about a person by way of their junk drawer.

What might your junk drawer say about you? If you don’t like the answer — or if your junk drawer just isn’t working right for you any more — maybe it’s worth spending a bit of time to make a change.

Managing the digital to-read pile

How do you deal with all the interesting information we now have available to us on the Internet, from international news to updates on the lives of an acquaintance’s children? There are numerous ways to tackle this flow of information you want to consume in a way so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Chris Miller explored this topic:

Sooner or later you have to sit down and say:

  1. My time and attention are the most valuable things I posses.
  2. There is too much stuff on the Internet for me ever to read it all.
  3. Therefore, I’m going to be super-choosy about what I read and what I do.

Where are the places you may want to be super-choosy?

Social media

Are you trying to be active on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter? Maybe it would help to focus on just a few that best meet your business and/or personal needs.

Within each community, are you engaged with too many people? Are you friends with people on Facebook who you can’t even place? Are you following thousands of people on Twitter? Maybe it’s time to prune the lists.

Have you used whatever filtering tools are available? For example, I use TweetDeck to read Twitter, and I have filters set up to hide any tweets mentioning specific TV shows that tend to get mentioned a lot, and which I just don’t care about.

People who do this type of cleanup often comment on how much better they felt afterward. Kelly O. Sullivan recently wrote: “Unfriended someone on Facebook who was adding no value to my life. Feels good.” And Dennis K. Berman wrote a whole blog post titled “The Purge: I Unfollowed 390 People on Twitter, and I Feel Great.

RSS feeds

If you use RSS to read blogs and other news sources, have you evaluated what you’re reading lately? Maybe it’s time to delete some of those subscriptions.

I just deleted a subscription to the blog of an acclaimed writer, whose articles I found myself skipping over when they appeared in my list. He may indeed be writing wonderful stuff, but it just wasn’t stuff I felt like reading. I had to get over my own case of the “shoulds” — the internal voices telling me I should read his work — and decide it was perfectly okay to decide not to read it.

Email newsletters

Do you tend to ignore these when they hit your inbox? Have you created an email rule to move them to their own mail folder — where they languish, unread? Maybe it’s time to do some unsubscribing.

News and magazine apps

Did you download a bunch of these at some point — only to find you don’t use most of them? This is another area where you might do some cleanup.

Pocket, Instapaper, and other read-it-later tools

Kevin Fox commented on Twitter: “My Instapaper button would be more accurately titled ‘Read it Never.’”

Are you like Kevin? Do you have lots of articles you’ve saved to read later — that you never seem to get to? You may want to review that reading list and see which ones you still want to make time to read, and which you can just delete.

But some people are fine with a long list, and you might be, too. Om Malik spoke to Nate Weiner of Pocket, who noted that people go back to read 10-70 percent of the articles they put into Pocket, with the average being 50 percent. But Weiner went on to add:

The key is to think of it like a Netflix queue. You are never overwhelmed or concerned about the number of items in your Netflix queue. You just keep putting things in there because you know that when you have the time to view something, you can guarantee you’ll have something great in there that you’ve been meaning to check out.

Maybe you don’t need to clean up your saved-for-later reading list — or your RSS feeds, your email newsletters, or your apps. Or maybe you just want to do some limited cleanup. Do you like having a large number of items to choose from when you have some reading time, or does having such a large collection overwhelm you? The answer to that question will help you determine your strategy.

But whether you keep your reading list short, or keep it long (knowing you’ll never read it all), you’ll still need to be super-choosy about what you eventually spend time reading. Because this wish from M.S. Bellows, Jr. probably isn’t going to come true: “I want to be reincarnated in a way that preserves all my bookmarks, pockets, and favorites, so I can spend 80 years simply reading.”

Kids’ backpack essentials

Clutter has a way of accumulating in unexpected places, and my kids’ backpacks are one such surprising place.

This past weekend, I went into my daughter’s bag to find a study guide and pulled out all sorts of interesting things: random pencils, a penguin eraser, box tops, and more. After prompting her to clean it out, I mentally compiled a list of what should be in there, and what shouldn’t.

I should note that my kids are in a public elementary school. An older or younger student might carry around different things. And, a child in an alternative learning environment might have different supplies. Think of the following list as a starting point and adapt as necessary for you or your child’s specific needs.

Both of my kids are now carrying a small pack of tissues in their bags. The weather is still brutally cold here in the northeast, and that means runny noses. Their classrooms have tissues, of course, but they could run out or need one while on the bus. As any parent knows, a kid’s go-to tissue alternative is the sleeve.

A daily calendar is also a good idea. We’re fortunate in that our school provides the kids with an organizer at the beginning of the school year. It’s sorted by subject, and the teachers require the students to write down any assignments that are due in each subject’s slot. I love that they can look at that and know, at a glance, what they’ve got to do each night for homework or review.

If you’re shopping for a planner not issued by the school, bring Jr. along. I tried giving one of my beloved Field Notes notebooks to the kids, but they didn’t take. However, my daughter fell in love with One Direction-themed school supplies. If they love it, they’ll use it.

A good pencil case is another fine idea. My kids have plenty of pencils and erasers, but they were swimming around on the bottom of the bag.

You may or may not want to put emergency information in your child’s bag. For example, if Jr. carries an Epi-Pen, a short note regarding its use might be helpful to those who don’t know your child well, like substitute teachers or field trip chaperones. A non-specific Gmail address you’ve created for the family might be good to write inside the backpack in case it is lost.

Many students keep a refillable water bottle in their school bags, but we found out the hard way how that is not always a good idea. If your child’s bag has an exterior pocket, this might be the safer storage place than in the actual backpack.

Finally, school books and homework storage are all your children likely need. Since Trapper Keepers aren’t cool any longer, nice sturdy pocket folders are great for ensuring work makes it back to the teacher in a decent condition.