Collections: If you’re going to have one, organize and protect it

About two years ago, I got into board games in a serious way. This hobby creates hours of fun and huge storage needs for me. I recently wrote about keeping board games stored and organized, and today I’ll take a look at doing the same with collectible game cards. Like other hobbies and collections, if you’re going to pursue them, it can be a good idea to keep associated items organized and protected for ease of use, less mess, and longevity of the items. Similar principles apply to storing many items, so although this article is about collectible cards it is meant to inspire ideas about storing whatever it is you have decided to collect. Whether you’re into wax Mold-o-Rama figures like Erin or something else entirely, hopefully there are some insights here you can apply to your collections.

A little background for those of you not into card games: there are a huge number of collectible card games in production. Game enthusiast website Board Game Geek lists 47 pages of game titles. Many cards are of a standard playing-card size, but you can find examples that are larger and smaller than a deck you use to play poker. For the sake of this article, I’ll focus on the most common size.

There are three categories of cards: those you actively play with (like you would in a game of Bridge), those you don’t play with but are willing to trade (collectible card games often include trading), and valuable cards that are kept locked away (I’ll explain more about these below).

The Cards You Use

Deck Box

I keep the cards I’m actively using in a single box. If the cards won’t fit in the box, I don’t bring them into the house (following the concept: a place for everything and everything in its place). My current game of choice is Magic: The Gathering. It requires players to build a custom deck to play against their opponents. After testing several brands and types, I like the Ultra Pro Satin Tower (pictured above). It holds up to 100 sleeves of cards (more on sleeves in a minute) and has an additional, snap-off compartment for holding dice, counters or other accouterment that the game requires. With the lid removed, your cards are easily accessible and it looks great. Plus, the lid fits snugly enough that you don’t have to worry about it accidentally opening up and making a mess.

Sleeves

Putting your cards into sleeves is divisive. Casual players spend little on cards and just want the fun of competition and spending time with friends. But with resale value in mind, I’m somewhat more than a casual player. I definitely play the cards I buy, and I want them to look nice for as long as possible. To protect them, I put them in sleeves. The best sleeves I’ve found are from Demkar’s Dragon Shield.

Willing to Trade

Binders

A big part of collectible card games is trading with friends. Binders are a great way to show off your collection and let a friend browse through it easily. This could apply to a number of hobbies and collections where sharing it with others is part of the fun of collecting. For cards specifically, there are several manufacturers out there, but I suggest you pick up one from Ultra Pro or Monster.

The Ultra Pro sleeves can accommodate two cards (though I suggest putting one card per pocket) and it carries up to 360 sleeved cards in total. Additional pages can be purchased for about $0.20 each, and the piece of elastic that surrounds the cover ensures that your cards won’t fall out during storage or transport.

Monster makes a smaller binder that has four pockets per sheet instead of nine. They’re much more portable and have a nice-looking matte finish cover (the Ultra Pro’s is shiny). The build quality is a bit better, and they’re more expensive. Whichever you use, remember that the sheets are not acid-free, so you want to first place your cards into acid-free sleeves, like the Dragon Shields.

Whatever you’re collecting, try your best to store it in a way that doesn’t damage your collection.

Investment Cards

I realize it might seem silly to some to keep a playing card tucked away as an investment. I tend to play with the cards I buy. However, I also realize that there’s a real market for some of these items and that many people treat them as an investment. And, there are other types of collections beyond cards where people do buy items hoping to make money on their sale.

The best advice I can give here comes from Mao Zedong: “The best defense is a good offense.” Meaning, take precautionary steps to protect your darlings. I recommend double-sleeving these cards, putting them into a lock-seal bag that’s as free of air as possible, and then placing that into a fireproof safe. Excessive? Yes. But, if you’ve got cards (or whatever it is you’re hoping to sell for profit) that are worth a significant amount of money, you’ve got good reason to protect them.

The good news is that, with a little thought, you can enjoy your card games and keep them looking great for years to come. If decorative plates are your thing, don’t pile them up in a stack at the bottom of a closet where they can be broken — display them on your wall with secure plate hangers to organize, protect, and display them. If signed baseballs are what you collect, get a UV-protected glass display chest and show them off. Organize, protect, and share your collection so it’s obvious you value it and don’t think of it as clutter. If you want it in your life, take care of it.

Six steps to establishing order in your home after an inevitable dip into chaos

This week has been one of those weeks where I never found my rhythm. You’ll notice that Tuesday’s post ran on Wednesday and then there wasn’t a Unitasker Wednesday post. I forgot my son’s weekly swimming lesson, which has been at the same date and time this entire year. All day yesterday, I kept making plans for today as if it were Sunday. There are a handful of other examples, all proving that my head has not been attached to my shoulders this week.

As is the case for most people, as my mental space has become chaotic, so has my physical space. Mt. Laundry has erupted in my laundry room. I’ve been rushed, so things haven’t been put away as I’ve used them. It has also affected my kids, since I’m not giving them time to clean up before we run to the next activity. TMZ could do an expose with intense music and tell-all photographs with the headline “And she calls herself the Unclutterer!”

In the professional organizing industry, we refer to these times as “falling off the wagon.” It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I have to find a way to chase down the wagon and get back on. The following steps are what I do to keep the chaos short lived:

  1. Cut yourself a break. Everyone, even professional organizers, find themselves in a cluttered state occasionally. It’s inevitable because life isn’t predictable. Don’t beat yourself up over the chaotic times or feel guilty about them. Rather, simply recognize you’re off course and then reroute yourself at the first possible opportunity.
  2. Invite people over. When things are in disarray, my usual response is to invite people to my house. This gives me a set deadline for when things need to be back together. Fewer things get me as motivated to clean, organize, and unclutter as knowing my friends will be stepping foot in my house.
  3. Tackle one room at a time. I like checklists, and the floor plan of my house often operates as one. (I do this mentally, I don’t have an actual printed floor plan, but you could if you like.) Kitchen, dining room, living room, office … I work through each room and mark it off as I go. I always start with the common places, where guests will certainly see, and then finish with my bedroom. This is convenient, too, because I’m usually ready for a nap after a whole-house reordering project.
  4. Get rid of stuff. One of the reasons I can do a whole-house reordering project in a couple hours is because I don’t have a lot of stuff and our house is relatively small (<1,300 sq ft). Less stuff equals less mess. As I clean and organize, I also get rid of stuff. If it's out of place, it might be because it doesn't have a permanent storage place. Things without permanent storage places are usually purged (recycled, donated, trashed, etc.) so they don't keep making a mess. If I don't purge it, I find a permanent home for it, no exceptions. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  5. Take a picture. My eyes tend to gloss over things that have been out of place for awhile. I call this clutter numbness. If I take a picture of a room and study the image, however, all that clutter catches my attention. I do this after I’ve had my nap and I almost always find entire patches of stuff I missed on the first pass.
  6. Call in reinforcements. Whenever things get chaotic, I call in a professional cleaning service to scrub my floors, counters, and bathrooms. They also dust and do any other deep-cleaning work that needs to get done. I schedule them for after I’ve done the whole-house reordering project but before my friends’ arrival. This is my reward to myself for razing Mt. Laundry and getting the house back on track. It’s not an everyday thing, but a couple times a year it’s nice to have someone else clean the toilets.

After these six steps are complete, it’s a lot easier to get my head back on my shoulders. Similar to how mental chaos can lead to physical chaos, physical order can encourage mental order. What do you do to establish order in your home after you’ve fallen off the proverbial organizing wagon? Feel welcome to share your process in the comments so others in our community can get even more ideas.

A simple solution to digital photo management

I recently had a bit of a meltdown regarding the state of my digital photo management. Fortunately, a photographer friend set me straight with advice so obvious I never saw it. First, let me describe my meltdown.

I became unhappy when a photo management service that I loved, that I went all-in on, shut its doors. When I retrieved the 14,000 photos I had uploaded to it, I found that all of the EXIF data had been stripped (EXIF data includes metadata and tags that make images searchable), and I had been left with the digital equivalent of a box full of 14,000 photos in random order.

Like I said, I was not happy.

But really, the problem wasn’t with someone’s failed business. The issue was (and continues to be) the sheer number of photos we take. When I was younger, we had up to 32 opportunities to get a decent picture with a single roll of film. I emphasize decent because that dictated the care with which we shot photos. We didn’t want to waste a single frame.

Today, I’ll take the kids to the park and shoot 150 pictures in less than three hours.

This behavior spawns two problems. The first problem is digital clutter. How many of those 150 photos are worth keeping? Maybe a dozen, if I’m lucky. The second problem is backups. What is the best way to preserve the photographs worth keeping? These are modern problems with, I’ve learned, an old-school solution.

My friend CJ Chilvers is a very talented photographer and, I must say, an insightful guy. He responded to my rant (warning: there’s one mildly not-safe-for-work word in my rant) with a brilliant solution: books.

“The best solution I’ve found for all this is the humble book. Making a collection of photos into a book (even if it’s just a year book of miscellaneous shots) solves several problems,” he said. He went on to list the benefits of the good old photo book:

It’s archival. Nothing digital is archival. Even some photographic prints are not archival. But a well-made book will last for as long as anyone could possibly care about your photos and then some … It tells a better story. Instead of relying on fleeting metadata, in a book, you can actually write about what’s going on in the picture … A book doesn’t care if you took your photos with a phone or a DSLR. The resolution of the photo need only be enough for the size you’d like it printed in the book.

Photo books also solve our problem of backing up the keepers, as they’re the ones that make the cut into the photo book.

There are several companies that let you make great-looking, inexpensive photo books. A handful:

Also, books aren’t going to crash, go out of business, run out of battery life, or otherwise be inaccessible. CJ’s final point is probably my favorite: “Fun. It’s more fun holding a book of your own art, than opening a database. That should be enough reason alone.”

Printing books isn’t for everyone, but it’s the organized and archival solution that we have found works for us. I also like handing someone a book of pictures instead of seating them in front of my computer to share in our experiences.

Uncluttering old cell phones

A recent survey conducted by Kelton Research for ecoATM reported that 57 percent of American device owners have idle cell phones in their homes, and 39 percent have at least two cell phones collecting dust at home.

If you (or someone you know) has an unused cell phone, the following is a simple, two-step process for getting rid of it:

Step 1: Remove all the data

You don’t want the next owner to get all the data stored on your phone: addresses and phone numbers, calendar appointments, messages, etc. After you’ve backed up all that data, you’ll want to remove it from your phone. You can find out how to remove it —

Step 2: Determine where you want to sell, donate, or recycle the phone

Newer phones can often be sold, even if they are broken or cracked. If your phone can’t be sold, it can certainly be recycled. You have a lot of choices, including:

  • Sell or give away to a friend or relative.
  • Sell in a general marketplace, such as eBay or craigslist.
  • Sell to one of the many online companies buying cell phones for a set price. You may not make as much money as you would selling in eBay, but it’s less hassle. I’ve used both GreenCitizen and Gazelle, and both worked out fine. (Suggestion: Don’t send Gazelle two phones in the same prepaid box, as I once did; it’s too easy for the paperwork to get mixed up.)
  • Sell at an ecoATM.
  • Use the trade-in/buyback program from your cell phone manufacturer or service provider: Apple, AT&T, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc. Note that these will give you gift cards (or billing credits) for their own products and services, rather than cash.
  • Use the Amazon.com Trade-In Store.
  • Donate to one of the many groups that collect phones for good causes. These groups usually don’t give the phones away; rather, the phones are sold to a third party for reuse or recycling, and the proceeds are used to support the organization’s work. For example, Cell Phones for Soldiers says: “The money received from the recycling of cell phones is used to purchase international calling cards for active-duty military deployed overseas to connect with their friends and family back home.”
  • Donate to Goodwill
  • Recycle with cell phone manufacturers, cell phone service providers, retail outlets, etc. Most (if not all) of these will accept any phones for recycling, not just their own. You can find recycling sites through Call2Recycle, which has signed the e-Steward Pledge not to export e-waste to developing countries.

If you can’t erase the data

If you don’t have the charger for your phone, and can’t power it up to remove the data, you may want to go to your cell phone provider and see if that company can help.

Otherwise, you could use a service that will handle that for you, for a fee. For example, I’ve used GreenCitizen, located in the San Francisco Bay Area; I see that Green Tech Recycling does the same thing in Cleveland.

The annual uncluttering of the file cabinet

At least once a year I do a clean-up of my file cabinets, and I just finished my latest round. Every time I do this, I’m amazed at the stuff I have kept that I really don’t need.

For your amusement (and inspiration), the following is what I got rid of this time:

Travel information

I tossed a lot of papers in this category, including:

  • Train schedules from 10 years ago
  • Clippings about recommended hotels and restaurants — from the 1990s
  • Brochures I picked up while visiting an area that I’ll probably never return to — and the brochures weren’t even that enticing

Inspirational and sentimental stuff

I worked for Hewlett-Packard Company for many years; the founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, are still two of the people I admire most. I had a lot of information about them, and I narrowed it down to the few things that were especially meaningful to me. I scanned many of those, and got rid of the paper.

Advice from Miss Manners

I really enjoy the Miss Manners columns, and I’d clipped a number of them. The ones I still found useful — maybe a quarter of the one I had saved — got scanned, and all the clippings were recycled.

Medical information

I’m talking here about general information, not my personal health information. Even though I’d discarded much of this before because medical information changes so quickly and so much is available online, I still found a few papers I had kept for no good reason. I really don’t need the newsletter from a local hospital, from 2004, talking about mini-incision hip replacement!

Song lyrics

Why in the world did I keep printouts of song lyrics? I’m not even talking about the nice inserts from old LPs, just computer printouts.

Writing tips

I had kept tips on good writing, which included things I’ve long ago absorbed. So, out went the April 1995 article on using quotes in articles.

Old information about the San Francisco Bay Area

There is a lot being written lately about high-tech companies and their employees ruining San Francisco (or not, depending on your perspective) and about these employees driving up housing prices in the area. These were good for a laugh, before they hit the recycling bin:

  • Three articles about dot-com companies and their employees ruining San Francisco — from 1999
  • An article showing examples of Silicon Valley houses available at the then-current median price, also from 1999

Miscellaneous oddities

Here are some of the other papers I found, and discarded:

  • A clipping from 2003 about how house sizes increased from 1900 to 2000
  • Printouts of documents I have on my computer — things that I probably printed some time ago for easier reading, but that I certainly don’t need in paper form any more
  • The manual for Norton AntiVirus 9.0, from 2004
  • A clothing catalog from Spring 2010, with something I was considering purchasing but never did

In summary, I’m getting rid of everything in my filing cabinet that is out of date, no longer interesting or useful, or readily replaced with online information.

What have you cleared out of your file cabinet lately? Please share your discoveries in the comments.

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.