Organizing for disasters: your emergency preparedness supplies

What goes into an emergency preparedness kit? As Erin has noted before, FEMA can help you with this and the American Red Cross can help, too.

If you’re interested in creating your own kit, the following are three specific things to think about as you assemble it.

Food and water

You may have heard advice like: “A good rule of thumb is to have supplies for about 3 days, or 72 hours.” That advice comes from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. Both ready.gov and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have repeated that advice, recommending at least a three-day supply of water per person.

Other sources indicate that 72 hours worth of supplies is a bare minimum. The Southern California Earthquake Center, in its brochure “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Territory,” recommends that you have enough food and water for “at least 3 days and ideally for 2 weeks.”

FEMA’s guide entitled Food and Water in an Emergency (PDF) advocates for more supplies, too.

If an earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or other disaster strikes your community, you might not have access to food, water, and electricity for days or even weeks. … Store at least one gallon per person, per day. Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.

The American Red Cross has made a distinction between the supplies you need if you’re evacuating versus the supplies you need if you’re staying where you are. They recommend a “3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home.”

Emergency lighting

I’ve had clients tell me they were holding onto candles as an emergency supply — but that’s a really poor idea. As the CDC has indicated:

Home fires are a threat after a natural disaster and fire trucks may have trouble getting to your home. If the power is out, use flashlights or other battery-powered lights if possible, instead of candles. If you must use them, place candles in safe holders away from anything that could catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended.

I’ve heard people suggest getting a headlamp, so you can walk around with your hands free, which sounds like a good suggestion to me.

Landlines with corded phones

In day-to-day use, many of us rely on our cell phones, and many people are getting rid of their landlines. If you’re lacking power, a landline using copper wire, in conjunction with a corded phone, may work when no other phone will. Tara Siegal Bernard wrote in The New York Times about this in more detail. She noted that 911 services works better when the calls come through on a landline rather than a cell phone.

There are additional advantages to having a landline during an emergency. If your local cell phone network is overloaded after an earthquake, your landline calls might still go through. If you need to evacuate your home and you have a landline with an answering machine, you may be able to call home to find out if your power is back on; if the answering machine picks up and your home is still standing, your electricity is back.

Being an organized voter

Having just voted in California’s primary election June 3, I’ve got voting on my mind. It can be easy to skip voting if you feel overwhelmed by the process. Being organized can help alleviate that anxiety and get you to the polls prepared and on time.

Get registered, if you’re not already

USA.gov provides information on how to register, how to change your registration information, as well as registration deadlines for each state. The United States Election Assistance Commission will also direct you to election-related information specific to your state.

Be sure to re-register if you’ve changed your name, your address, or if you want to change your party affiliation.

Decide when you’re going to vote

Do you quality for (and need) an absentee ballot? If so, be sure to apply for one within the given time limits.

Does your state provide the option of vote-by-mail ballots? If so, you may want to apply for that option and avoid lines at the polls. Simply request and then mail in your completed ballot by the required dates. In many places, you can still turn in your vote-by-mail ballot at your polling station on election day if you change your mind, which is what I almost always do.

If you’re not going to vote by mail, be sure to know your polling location. And, know when you can vote; some states have early in-person voting, while others are restricted to a single election day. Be sure you know the hours your polling place is open, too.

Decide how to vote

People go about deciding how to vote in a number of ways. Sometimes we don’t need to do any specific research; by election day, we’ve been inundated with information about most high-profile candidates.

But, what about the candidates and issues that aren’t so high-profile? I just had to vote on superior court justices, my county coroner, and two competing propositions regarding a bridge in my city that needs to be repaired or replaced. Information about local and state-wide issues is often more work to obtain — you have to be proactive.

I get information from a number of sources:

  • The Smart Voter website, provided by the League of Women Voters. This gives me the candidates’ official statements, and links to their websites, which are often helpful.
  • The information mailed out by the secretary of state. This gives me the text of all propositions, the impartial analysis from the legislative analyst’s office, and the official arguments for and against those propositions. (Some of this, but not all of it, is also available at Smart Voter.)
  • Newspaper editorials, found online. Here I’m looking for sites that provide the reason why they were endorsing a candidate or a position, so I can decide whether or not their logic makes sense to me. I read at least two endorsements in this past election that helped convince me to vote in the opposite direction from what was being recommended. I like to read a number of editorials, not just one. I have a list of newspapers whose websites I usually check.
  • Knowledgeable people. How much do I know about my local water district and the members of its governing board? I know a bit, but I know someone whose opinions I respect who knows a lot. So I asked him for his recommendation on that election, last fall.
  • Endorsements: Again, when i research endorsements, I’m looking for those who might have specific expertise about issues and candidates that I don’t have. When looking at the candidates for superior court judges, I looked at the endorsements from the existing superior court judges, especially those I know and respect.

Finally, weighing all of the information I’ve gathered, I make my decision and mark my ballot.

A funeral for riding boots

Maybe it’s because I keep my possessions to a minimum that I sometimes have difficulty parting with objects that have been a significant part of my life.

A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to a pair of riding boots. I’ve been an avid equestrienne for the better part of 30 years and I bought my first pair of REAL riding boots in 1986. I wore these boots in horse shows around the province and in clinics with Olympians. The boots helped me ride at various equestrian centres in nine different cities in four different provinces.

Finally, in June 2010, they broke beyond repair while in service at a local horse show. It was a difficult moment for me, realizing that I would have to say goodbye to these boots that had served me so well for so long.

In order to cope with the loss, I decided to have a funeral for the boots. I set up a Facebook event and invited my friends, many of whom I have ridden with over the years. At first I thought that they would think that I was crazy (and they may have a point) but most of my friends helped me make the event memorable. One of my friends quoted a poem from Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume 54, December 1876:

Farewell, old boots! a tender last farewell!
Inanimate, but mourned as if with souls
Instead of soles: I’ll find for you some dell
Where, though no bell for your requiem tolls.

I had a few other friends weigh in and admit that this event encouraged them to retire various objects: dance shoes, army boots, and paint brushes. One colleague wrote that it was “time to lay to rest ‘Wedding Glass’, the last surviving member of a set of glasses that outlived ‘Marriage’ by 21 years”. Of course there is always one clown in the bunch and he thanked me for the “booty call”!

All in all, it made me feel much better that I had given a public tribute to my riding boots that had served me so well in the past. I wrapped them tightly in a plastic bag and they were taken away in the “hearse” (garbage truck).

If you have items that you have difficulty parting with, try having a funeral or a tea party or even writing a letter to the item, explaining its importance in your life. Save the letters with pictures of the items either on your computer or in a scrap book. It helps to let your friends in on the deal. They can comfort you and make you laugh like no inanimate object ever could.

Know when to fold ‘em

It is generally accepted that persistence is essential for success and happiness. However, in their research, two scientists found that the persistence of unattainable goals in certain cases can be a detriment to health and well-being, especially for adolescents.

What does this mean for parents? If you are pushing your children to continue an activity that they do not like or in which they are not interested, you are likely increasing their stress levels — and yours too!

Sometimes all it takes is for parents to assist their child in setting new goals. This may help the child re-engage in the activity with a renewed definition of success. However, if goal redefinition isn’t working, consider quitting the activity if:

  • the child complains constantly before, during, and after the activity;
  • the child is not advancing as fast as his/her peers and is frustrated;
  • you must constantly push the child to practice the activity;
  • the child does not speak about the activity with pride or excitement.

What about the money invested in the activity?

If you have paid for a session, you may want to finish it and explain to your child about obligations and commitment, especially if the child is playing on a team such as soccer or basketball and other people are depending upon your child. If you have paid in advance, whether or not you continue with the activity, your money is already spent. The question is, do you want to spend your time pushing your child to participate in an activity he or she doesn’t like? Your time and your health and those of your child are usually worth more than money. Review the situation, ask questions, and bail without guilt if that is what is right for you and/or your child.

Remember that saying “no” to something you don’t really enjoy means you’ll be able to say “yes” to something that you may really enjoy.

Organizing for emergencies

September is National Preparedness Month in the U.S. Obviously, you can’t plan for emergencies, but you can be organised and prepared for emergencies. And, unfortunately, a few summers ago, I spent quite a bit of time in hospital waiting rooms and I came up with some organisational tips that will help keep you prepared for these unplanned events.

Keep your first aid kit up to date. Ensure your antibiotic creams have not expired. Make sure your supply of bandages is replenished regularly. Keep an assortment of bandages on hand such as those for knuckles, fingertips and large scrapes. You can use clean feminine protection products or diapers to stop the bleeding of larger wounds so consider keeping a few of each in your first aid kit.

Are your first aid techniques up-to-date, too? While you may not need to know how to put on a tourniquet, you should be able to give correct treatment for cuts, scrapes, burns, strains, sprains, fractures, and animal bites. St. John’s Ambulance and the Red Cross offer first aid courses, and classes may also be available through a local community center or department of health.

Keep your pantry stocked with ingredients for healthy meals you can make in less than 30 minutes. These things can include:

  • frozen casseroles;
  • frozen or canned vegetables;
  • frozen or canned fruits;
  • spaghetti (an all time favourite);
  • chicken strips;
  • fish sticks.

Keep a stash of healthy snacks you can quickly toss in a bag and take with you such as:

  • juice or milk in tetra pacs;
  • frozen muffins;
  • granola or cereal bars;
  • bite-sized cereals (wheat squares, oat rings, etc);
  • raw vegetables (mini carrots, cauliflower, broccoli);
  • fruits (bananas, apples, pears, grapes);

You may want to keep a small cutlery set in your purse or backpack just in case you need to cut things into pieces.

Keep a few ice packs in the freezer for applying to injuries and for stuffing in a bag to cool your snacks during the long wait at an Emergency Room and/or Walk-in Clinic.

Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you because you may sitting at the hospital with sick people.

Have an “entertainment pack” ready to go. Items that can be included are:

  • a deck of cards;
  • portable gaming devices and their chargers;
  • some books;
  • a pack of crayons and colouring books;
  • a favourite stuffed animal or blankie.

Make sure you know whom to contact at your spouse’s/partner’s office should he/she be injured.

Have a friend or neighbour you can call on in a crisis to come and mind the kids in the middle of the night. Offer to return the favour.

Make sure your car has enough gas to handle an emergency, such as driving to the hospital in the middle of the night. Keep at least $20 cash in small bills in a secret place in your wallet or in your car in case you have to pay for a taxi or for parking in a cash-only car park.

Do laundry regularly so you have clean clothes handy. If you’ve been called to the emergency room, take a change of clean clothes for the injured person. The emergency room nurses may have had to cut the injured person’s clothing to remove it.

Ensure parents and caregivers have copies of heath services registration numbers and health insurance numbers. Store this information in a secure file in your smartphone or carry a copy in your wallet. Children should also know where to find copies of this information and, if they are old enough, have a copy stored on their smartphones. Keep your cell phone charged in case you are out and need to call 911. Program an emergency contact number into your cell phone so someone can dial that number if you can’t do it yourself. Label it “!Emergency!” so it is on the top of your contact list and “In Case of Emergency” since that is another contact someone might look for on your phone.

If you go for a run or bike ride, take your health insurance information and identification with you. Print business cards with contact information on them (names, address, phone number and email address) to put in every backpack and wallet, including the kids’ bags and backpacks. Consider registering with ROAD ID. It is an easy way to carry identification and medical information with you at all times. Anywhere in the world, first responders can access your medical information and emergency contacts.

Road ID Anklet

Although I hope you never have to go through a crisis, by following these organisational steps, you’ll be able to survive with much less stress.

What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing for next year’s summer events

Summertime is perfect for catching up on outdoor chores, but having fun is probably what everyone (mostly) thinks about. For those of us in the United States, Labor Day (this year it falls on Sept. 3) gives us an opportunity for one final summer celebration before cooler temperatures are ushered in with the start of fall. Many people try their hand at being a grill master for the day and test out new recipes and grilling techniques. Some take road trips or one last visit to the beach.

No matter the activity, by putting things in order at the end of this season, you’ll find everything you need when warmer temperatures arrive next year. Focus on some basic rules of thumb so you can avoid hour-long searches to find your stuff, like …

Keep similar items together

You’ve heard this one before and there’s a reason you hear it so often. It’s perhaps the one rule that, if you stick to it, will help you save time so you can get on with the business of having fun. When everything you need for a specific activity (bike, helmet, knee pads, tire gauge, and pump together; grill cleaning brush, tongs, and skewers together) is in one location, you will find what you want quickly and see what things are broken and need fixing or replacing. Once you’ve gathered all your supplies together, they should be kept in the same location all the time (just like you always keep your keys, wallet, and mobile phone in the same spot). Labeling storage spaces can help, too.

Replace needed items immediately

Those broken items or the ones that just don’t work the way you would like them to? Replace them now if you regularly use the items. If you wait until next year, you’re likely to be suprised (not pleasantly) when it’s time to use them. Keep a running list of things you need to buy and take it with you on your next shopping trip. Stick to your list so you don’t overbuy. Try not to give in to the temptation of getting things that you’re not certain you’ll actually use (is it possible your plans just might change?). Wait on those items and come up with a game plan first. And, donate/recycle/trash the items that you no longer want.

Remember to replenish your first-aid kits as well. Not only will you need them year-round (in your car and in several rooms in your home), but you’ll also want to have a kit ready in the bags you use for your summer events (picnics, trips to the zoo, sporting events, etc.). Don’t forget to stock up on first-aid supplies for your pets, too.

Use checklists to help you remember

Create an “end of summer” list to remind you of all the things you need to do to wrap up the season and get ready for the next. Group your tasks by category (camping, gardening, marathon/race) so you can focus easily on each section before moving on to the next. For example, if hiking is on your list, it might include:

  • Clean hiking boots
  • Put boots with other hiking gear
  • Purchase new socks and liners
  • Create a communication plan
  • Start training routine to prepare for trip (add start date)

What you put on your checklist will be specific to you and the things you like doing. It should include all the gear you need (what’s a trip to the park without your favorite frisbee or a picnic with a half empty basket or a lawn concert without a comfy chair?) as well as any special requirements (season pass to the water park, parking pass for the football game). After creating your checklist, keep it with the items it belongs with or in a “summer activities” (paper or electronic) file so you can keep using it each year.

Put special events on your calendar now

Get ready for next year’s events by entering on your calendar those that you attend annually or new ones that you want to go to (or host). Doing this will help plan your activities and to narrow down the things you can realistically do based on your available time and budget. You’ll also see if you need to enlist the help of others.

Planning and organizing fun summer activities can give you something to look forward to next year without the hassle and pain of never-ending searches for the things you need. And, there’s still time to take care of many of this summer’s chores that you haven’t gotten to yet. Take a look at our tips on how to organize your:

Unclutterer now appearing on Women and Co.

Last month, I started writing articles for the financial advice website Women and Co. I’m not one of their regular bloggers (they have a full-time staff), but someone who will have featured articles from time-to-time on their site’s homepage. The focus of my writing is to provide tips on how being organized and uncluttered may help to improve your money management.

Once the technical aspects are settled, we’ll put a widget in the middle column of our homepage linking to my articles as they appear on the Women and Co. site. In the meantime, these are the articles I’ve written so far:

How to Create Emergency Binders
In this piece, I provide directions for making two binders — a Basic Emergency Binder and a Worst-Case Scenario Emergency Binder. There are checklists for what to include so your loved ones can find all the important documents and information needed to help you and your family in all types of emergency situations.

Make Some Extra Spending Money: De-Clutter Your Home
Without much effort, you can likely find some cash in your clutter — and not just an unexpected $5 in the pocket of your old coat. In this article, I provide detailed steps for how and where to sell your clutter.

How to Pack a Cooler (and Save Money) for Your Next Road Trip
If wanderlust has set in and you’re looking to hit the open road, this post may help you save some money when you head out of your driveway. Even though gas prices are high, it doesn’t mean you have to skip out on some of the treats that make road trips fun.

Spring forward and tackle a few quick chores

In the wee early hours of this coming Sunday morning, most of the US will spring forward an hour to begin Daylight Savings Time. This change in the clock is also a great time to take on a few quick spring chores.

  • Check your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. In addition to replacing their batteries and testing their alarms, be sure to also check the units’ expiration dates. For the safety of you and your family, you want to make sure all of these devices are functioning at their best. If you can’t find expiration dates on your alarms and detectors, replace them every 10 years.
  • Recycle batteries. Since you’ll be removing old batteries from all your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and replacing them with new ones, now is a terrific time to recycle all the old batteries you’ve collected over the past six months, too. If your regular recycling program doesn’t accept batteries, remember that every Best Buy in the US does. They also accept all kinds of old electronics and some appliances, so check out what services your local store offers and recycle some other clutter while you’re at it.
  • Turn on the water. If you shut off the water to all your exterior water faucets in the fall, now is a great time to turn those faucets back on for the spring. Now, if you live in the far north where you’re likely to have another hard freeze before spring finally sets in, you may want to wait on this one. For those of us who already have blooming flowers and budding trees, however, it’s a lot less risky to turn them on now. If you need to bring out water hoses, pull them out of storage, too.

What other chores do you like to do when the clocks spring forward an hour? Share your suggestions in the comments.

Get organized in January with these quick uncluttering and organizing tips

January is Get Organized Month, or what the organizing community refers to as GO Month. It’s the time of year when home and office organizing supplies typically go on sale at major retailers and when people start acting on their organizing-themed resolutions. It’s also the time of year when professional organizers tend to hold public events in their communities talking about organizing and uncluttering strategies. Check your local papers to see if any of these events will be held in your area.

When organizing, it’s best to unclutter first. Pull everything out of a space and sort it into piles: keep, purge, and other. Keep obviously means that you plan to continue to store and/or use the item. Purge can mean that you intend to trash, shred, recycle, or donate the item to charity. Your other pile is for objects that need to be repaired, relocated, returned to a friend or family member, or some other special action needs to be taken. Once all of the objects from the space have been sorted, you need to deal with the purge and other items immediately. If you don’t, they’re likely to cause you much frustration in the coming days. Trash what needs to be trashed, donate the objects that can be donated, return items to friends, and drop off objects that need to be repaired at the repair shop.

Once all the purge and other items are handled, take a look at all the objects you have in your keep pile. Do you need to do another round of uncluttering? If you’re feeling more courageous about purging items, now is the time to do it. When you are satisfied with your keep pile, sort the objects into new piles of like items — pencils with pencils, envelopes with envelopes, jeans with jeans. When everything is in piles by type, examine what you have and compare it to your storage systems. It is only at that this point that you should consider going out and buying organizing systems. Before you do, though, look through your house or office to see if you already own something that could hold and organize your objects. If you do, you don’t have any need to go out in the cold to buy anything.

If you decide to buy organizing products, check out the sales going on this January. The Container Store has a 30 percent off sale on all its Elfa closet organizers. Home Depot has all their storage and organizing items on sale through January 29, including their Martha Stewart line and many Rubbermaid products. And don’t forget to check out your local retailers that might also have sales on organizing items.

Before putting objects away, be sure to clean the space where the items will be stored. Wipe down shelves, replace shelf liner if needed, and vacuum out all the dust and spider webs. Repair or replace any storage items that are damaged, and make the storage area inviting. You are more likely to use a storage system if you like it.

As you’re putting items back into their newly cleaned storage spaces, be sure to put the items you access most often in the most convenient locations. Objects you access less often can go into the less convenient locations — and the heaviest of these objects should be stored lower to the ground so you don’t hurt yourself when you retrieve them. Put lids on things that aren’t accessed enough that they might collect dust, but keep objects you access regularly open to speed up retrieval time. Try not to stack anything more than three objects deep. Most importantly, know yourself. If you’re someone who has difficulty putting items back where they belong, make it as simple as possible to put items back in their places. A four-step return action will mean you probably won’t ever return the item back to where it belongs — one-step and two-step return actions are the easiest. Keep things simple.

What projects do you have planned for GO month? Share your plans in the comments.

Links for April 21, 2011

These items caught my attention over the past couple weeks, and I wanted to share them with you. They weren’t large enough to stand on their own as full posts, so I gathered them together in a link roundup:

  • The company Electrolux sponsored nine teams at the Domus Academy in Milan to design the kitchen of the future. The concepts are pretty impressive, especially for small space and storage design. Electrolux ReSource.
  • The show Clean House is looking for cluttered homes to be made over for future episodes. The show is filming next season in the greater Los Angeles and New York City areas, and to be considered you must own your home and at least two adults must live in the place. If you want to be on the show, email your name, address, phone number, list of everyone in the house and relationship to them, photos or videos of three rooms in your home that are messy, and a brief explanation for why you want to be on the show to Rose at rosecastingcleanhouse@gmail.com for LA consideration and Amy at assistant@mendenhallmedia.com for NYC consideration. You must submit your email by tomorrow, April 22, 2011.
  • SwissMiss featured a great little product that bands your writing utensils to your favorite notebook, clipboard, or book. The pencil holders are called Clever Hands and they’re made by an artist on Etsy. I think these would be a great organizing tool for students.
  • A website, hysterically named BookshelfPorn, features daily pictures of (usually) organized bookshelves from amazing libraries around the world. After our post earlier this month about keeping clutter off your bookshelf, I thought you all might enjoy seeing these (mostly) amazing solutions.
  • My friend Julie Bestry, a professional organizer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently wrote a post for the Metropolitan Organizing website on how to become a Certified Professional Organizer. If you’ve ever thought about a career as a professional organizer or are already a professional organizer and want to be a CPO, I highly recommend checking out her post.
  • Another professional organizer friend of mine, Allison Carter based in the Atlanta area, has a quick post on uncluttered gift ideas for moms for this upcoming Mother’s Day.
  • Last August, NPR featured a 40-minute segment on Fresh Air exploring “Digital Overload.” It’s a long segment, but it’s interesting as it looks at people’s addiction to multi-tasking.

Casting call for Enough Already! with Peter Walsh

I’m not one to usually pass along casting calls for television shows, but this one is so much fun I couldn’t resist. If you live in the Los Angeles area and want your home organized for FREE by Peter Walsh, check this out:

Enough Already! with Peter Walsh — a series for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network — is looking for participants who are finally ready to say goodbye to chaos and clutter, and hello to an organized and healthy way of living.

APPLICANTS MUST MEET THE FOLLOWING CRITERIA:

  1. Live within a 30 mile radius of the Los Angeles area.
  2. Available to participate for one week sometime between mid-April to late June 2011.

To be considered, please provide the following information.

Include:

  • Name
  • Contact information
  • City
  • Description of your clutter and situation (250 words or less)
  • Please email everything to: bigfishcasting@mac.com

All information is confidential and will only be shared with the program producers.

Like me, if you don’t live in the Los Angeles area, feel welcome to pass this information along to someone who does. Those of us in other parts of the country and world will just have to watch his organizing and uncluttering genius on season two.

And the three winners in our ScanSnap S1100 birthday giveaway are …

Thank you to EVERYONE (all 12,855 of you!) who are now following @Unclutterer on Twitter and who have participated in our Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 birthday giveaway. We have greatly enjoyed this giveaway and Fujitsu’s generosity! Now, let’s get on to the good stuff …

At 10:00 a.m. EST, the random generator picked the following winners:

@bobt6464
@runwithtweezers
@andrea317

I have direct messaged the three winners of the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 and they have 24 hours to respond.

Even though the birthday giveaway is over, you can still sign up to follow @Unclutterer on Twitter. Also, sign up to follow @ScanSnapIT for tips and tricks about reducing your paper clutter. Again, we want to give BIG, AMAZING, GIGANTIC thanks to Fujitsu for doing such a generous giveaway for our birthday celebration and our Twitter followers!