Archives for Home Organization
Last week, I joined several hundred professional organizers in New Orleans for the Annual Conference and Organizing Exposition hosted by the National Association of Professional Organizers. In addition to the educational programming, one of the things I always look forward to is visiting the conference vendors who tend to debut their “latest and the greatest” organizing products — items that are new to their line or not yet on the market. In today’s post, I’m sharing the ones that caught my attention and that I think can help you stay organized at home. (Note: this is NOT a sponsored post and I haven’t received any payment from any of the manufacturers.)
I have to say that I was very impressed with the Staples Better® Binder with Removable FileRings™. Why would you want to remove the FileRings™? So that you can put the contents in archival storage when they are no longer needed on a daily basis. If you prefer filing physical papers (instead of digitizing them), this can be a great option for keeping important project documents or for storing business or household papers.
The spine of the file ring has a designated space for a label as well as extended ends that fit on the rails of most standard file drawers or boxes. Once you file the contents, you can replace the removable ring and reuse the binder. This means you’ll need less space since you’ll only purchase (and store) the FileRings™ (instead of storing several bulky binders). This one-inch binder holds up to 275 sheets of paper.
If you prefer to digitally store information and documents that you need for your home, you may be interested in HomeZada.com. It is technically not a product, but I found it so helpful that I had to include it. HomeZada is a web-based app that lets you manage your home’s product manuals, maintenance costs, and home improvement projects. For example, if you’re remodeling a room in your home, you can use HomeZada to track your budget, needed supplies, and specific purchases. HomeZada also provides you with a library of specific home maintenance tasks (you’ll get automatic reminders) and you can use it for multiple homes (rental property, vacation home). By keeping all your important documents and tasks in one location, you’ll always know where to go to find what you need and save a bit of time.
Another helpful feature is the ability to inventory the items in your home as well as the value of your belongings. In the event of an emergency (like a burglary, fire, natural disaster), having this information at your fingertips will be invaluable, especially when requested by your insurance company. Simply enter your address and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in your home, the app will assign typical spaces (family room, living room, office, etc.) and items to each room. You can revise the spaces and items to better match your home’s layout and then upload and tag photos of your things along with the approximate date of purchase.
When you think of Bankers Box®, you probably think about storing paper files, but the newest Bankers Box® is meant for storing clothing or other household items. The boxes are stackable and have a viewing window so you can easily see what’s inside. When the boxes are not in use, they can be folded and stored flat. And, unlike their office counterparts, these boxes have a more stylish design and come in three sizes (small, medium, and large). There’s also an underbed and ornament storage box.
Rubbermaid is known for great storage products (my personal favorite are the Easy Find Lids food storage set) and their new All Access™ storage containers are also stackable and have a clear viewing panel that acts as drop down door. That way, when the containers are stacked, you don’t have to remove the one on top to get to items in the bottom container. The All Access™ boxes can be used as a nightstand or side table and can store a number things like toys, craft supplies, laundry items, books, and more.
Only order magazines you really want
Why would people subscribe to magazines they don’t want? Well, have you ever been approached by a child asking you to buy some magazine subscriptions to support the school band? It can be hard to turn down this type of request, but here are two ways to do it:
- Ask if you can just make a direct donation to the cause, rather than buying the subscription.
- See if you can buy a gift subscription that goes to a local library — after making sure the library would indeed appreciate this gift.
Don’t subscribe to a magazine just because you’re getting a deeply discounted price
J.D. Roth got those discounted subscriptions, and then discovered he was “paying $150/year for the added mental stress of having too many magazines around the house.” It’s never a deal to spend any money on something you don’t really want.
Be aware of what you’re subscribing to
Do you really want the magazines that come along with some memberships, like the Costco Connection and the magazine that comes from your auto insurance company?
In The New York Times, Bob Tedeschi writes about his “64 half-read New Yorker magazines” which he is “collecting as part of an extended experiment in self-delusion.” And in the Guardian, Tom Cox writes: “I keep on subscribing to The New Yorker magazine in the expectation of a lengthy, debilitating illness that will allow me to catch up on 15 years’ worth of issues I have hardly skimmed.”
Yes, The New Yorker has some wonderful articles, but it comes every week. Is a magazine like this going to be enjoyable to you, or just a source of when-am-I-going-to-read-this stress? A monthly magazine might be more your speed.
Cancel subscriptions to magazines you no longer enjoy
You don’t need to wait until the subscription expires to cancel a magazine; you can do it any time you wish — and maybe get a refund check! Magazines will have information on how to cancel in each issue, although it may be buried and in some pretty small type. Sometimes it’s as easy as filling out a form online, as with the Costco Connection.
But if you’d prefer to just let the subscription lapse, remember that some magazines do an automatic renewal — and be sure to respond to any notification that your subscription is about to renew.
Decide what to do with your magazines once you’ve read them
The answer here could be to donate them to others or to recycle them. You may have a good reason to keep some, too. You might want to scan selected pages, as Erin does, and then give them away or recycle them.
If you actually read the magazines you subscribe to, you still might want to stop the printed version from coming into your home. Some magazines are now available on DVD. For example, you can get 123 years of National Geographic on CD — and annual updates are available. Some other examples of magazines on DVD are Fine Woodworking and Threads. This might influence your decision on what to keep — or what to subscribe to in the first place.
Also, if you have a tablet or electronic reading device (like an iPad or Kindle), you can subscribe to many magazines digitally. Amazon, iTunes, and Zinio have subscription services for these devices. (Zinio is Erin’s favorite, but the other services are fine, too.)
Today we welcome Jeri Dansky to our Unclutterer content team. She’ll have a weekly post full of uncluttering and organizing advice that is guided by her many successful years as a professional organizer.
What would happen if you became seriously ill and a family member or friend had to make sure you and your household were properly taken care of?
Of course, it’s wise to have a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care or the equivalents. (The specific documents you need will depend on where you live.) You’ll also want a financial power of attorney or whatever legal document provides a similar ability to manage your money on your behalf. Consider consulting with an estate attorney to make sure you’re prepared in this regard.
Even with these legal documents in place, you still have some preparation to do. Think of all the things someone would need to know in order to run your life on your behalf. Here are just a few:
- What medicines are you taking? Do you have any allergies? What immunizations have you had? What are the major events in your medical history: surgeries, etc.?
- If you have pets, what do they get fed, and when? Are they taking any medications? If so, where are those medications and how do they get taken?
- What’s the password to pick up your voice mail messages? How would someone check your email?
- Where is your calendar — and if it’s online, how does it get accessed? Are there any standing appointments that should be cancelled?
- Where is your address book — and again, how does it get accessed if it’s online? Who should be notified if there’s a serious problem?
- Do you have a post office box where mail should be checked? Where’s the key for the box?
- What regular bills get paid automatically, and which ones need to get paid manually? Will someone need access to your online bill paying systems? Will someone need the PIN for your ATM card?
- Is there a home alarm system? If so, how does it work?
- Are there any quirks about your home that someone should know about? For example, in my home, the switch for the garbage disposal is hard to find.
It may seem, at first, that pulling this information together only matters if you’re single — but actually, everyone could benefit by gathering this information and sharing it with trusted people. Sometimes, one spouse or life partner doesn’t know everything the other one does. And, there are scenarios where both spouses or partners would need help at the same time.
It’s natural to avoid thinking about the chance of anything bad happening to us — but it’s a real kindness to your friends and family to take the time to pull this information together, just in case it’s needed. I remember being in the emergency room with my mom, filling out the hospital admission forms and trying desperately to remember if it was her left hip or her right that got replaced some years ago. When Mom had surgery and was away from home for weeks, I was glad I knew all the little things to do, such as canceling her weekly appointment at the beauty salon. While it wouldn’t have been a tragedy if I didn’t cancel that appointment, it was a nice courtesy. It also comforted my mom to know I’d be taking care of such things for her.
Several weeks ago, we were contacted by Staples about running a series of sponsored posts on their office products. Because Staples sells so many different products in their stores, we agreed, provided the arrangement would allow us to be free to review products we already use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Since both David and I purchased, have been using, and have even been recommending the Staples’ Arc Notebook system, we thought we would start there. So, the following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. These sponsored posts will be infrequent, and they will help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.
I’m a notebook junkie. I can’t resist buying them. Even as the guy with an iPhone and an iPad, I still love writing on paper. There’s a pocket-sized notebook in my pocket at all times and I keep a larger notebook on my desk. For years I’ve used Moleskines, but in February I purchased an Arc Notebook from Staples and I’m in love. It’s highly customizable, folds neatly in half, lays flat when open, looks great, and suits my needs wonderfully.
The Arc is similar to the Circa notebook system by Levenger, but much less expensive. (A basic leather Circa notebook for 5.5″ x 8.5″ paper is $80, and the same size basic leather Arc is $15.) It consists of various styles of paper (lined notebook, calendar, to-do, project manager, and more), pocket and divider inserts, and covers in poly, fabric, and leather that are bound together by a series of discs. The notebook also is available in two sizes — one for 8.5″ x 11″ paper and one for 5.5″ x 8.5″. An optional hole puncher lets you add your own papers to the system. In short, you can create a custom notebook with exactly the information and pages you want in exactly the amount and even order that you want. The line also includes adhesive notes, sheet protectors, page flags, business card holders, a built-in pen holder, and other accessories.
The pages are cut so that you can slide them on and off of the disks easily, yet they remain securely intact while in place. There are so many options available, that each setup will be unique. With that in mind, here’s how I’ve set up my Arc.
The very first item in my Arc is the adhesive flags. I resisted using these for a long time, as I disliked the way they protruded from the edge of whatever they happened to be stuck to. However, I’ve grown to love them. Today I use them for quick reference to something that doesn’t warrant a whole tab divided separator.
Next is a flowchart that describes the basic of the Getting Things Done system I download from DIY Planner. It’s a super, at-a-glance reference that reminds me of the GTD process.
After that, I’ve got five pages I’ve printed from my calendar, Monday through Friday. I print one day at a time, so I can remove each as that day passes.
Several copies of David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner come next. This document has been one of my favorite tools for years. I use it to list the priority tasks I’ll complete in a given day, record how long each task takes, record what I’m doing from hour to hour and capture ideas, tasks and more that need processing at the end of the day. It’s invaluable. You can print the Emergent Task Planner from David’s site, or order a pre-printed pad from Amazon.
Next is a plastic tabbed divider. I’ve added a label marked “Notes” with my labeler. The divider precedes about 60 notebook-style pages. These are the heavy pages that came with my basic Arc and I use them for scribbling all manner of information.
Those are followed by another tabbed divider labeled “Projects” and half a dozen Task Project Trackers, again from David Seah. I use these to identify an open project, all the steps that are required before I can mark that project as “Done,” time how long each step takes and finally scribble related notes. I also could have purchased the project manager pages from Staples, which are similar, just not what I have been accustom to using.
And, that’s it. The hole puncher is an added expense ($40) but worth it if you want the benefits of creating your own custom setup.
Spring has arrived here in the northern hemisphere (at least on the calendar) and that means yard work is about to begin in earnest. Here are a few simple steps that you can perform now so that you’ll be ready when the weather really warms.
The Lawn Mower
Hopefully you didn’t let the mower sit all winter with gas in the tank. Right? If you did, remember to let it run until it’s empty this autumn (or add a stabilizer), and hope it will start this year.
You’ll also want to change the spark plug and put in a new air filter, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s also a good idea to keep the blade sharp, so remove it and sharpen it. Again, the manufacturer likely supplied instructions for this, too. If not, hop online and search for digital copies of those instructions from the manufacturer. Finally, make sure the wheels are on securely and moving freely, and inspect the rope pull (if it has one). Eventually, it will wear and snap in your hand. That’s not fun.
The Gas Trimmer
Again, hopefully you added gas stabilizer or ran it until empty last year if you have a gas-powered one. During your inspection, replace the spark plug and ensure that you’ve got enough trim cable on the trimmer, as well as an extra. Getting part way through the yard only to run out is a hassle (it always happens to me after the hardware store has closed).
As you did with the mower, make sure the moving parts are operating as expected. Adjust the handle, for example, to see that it moves smoothly. If there’s dried grass and who-knows-what caked underneath the guard from last season, clean it off per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Many other lawn tools don’t require much maintenance, but now is the time to check on them anyway. Things like shovels, trowels, and rakes require only a quick once-over. I also confirm that my extension cords are working and not torn, as well as the garden hose. Finally, move tools that you won’t be using, like snow shovels, out of the way and store them for the warmer months. I move mine from the shed to the basement for the spring and summer.
Last year my wheelbarrow had a flat tire, so I filled it with air. It was flat again within a week, so I simply replaced it with a solid tire, much like this one from True Temper. Now a flat tire is no longer an issue. Speaking of the wheelbarrow, this is the time to hit it with some rust-proof paint if you find it needs it.
I don’t know about you, but my outdoor furniture takes a beating. Between the blazing sun, occasional rain and — worst of all — my children, those cushions start showing their age after just a few seasons. A discount big box store is a good place to find replacements if yours are in need of an updating. Also, keep that can of rust-proof paint and/or a scrub brush handy.
So much has been written about spring lawn prep. This tutorial from Lowe’s is similar to what I do. I think the most important take-aways are to clean up any debris that was deposited during the winter, cut everything nice and short, and then note any problem areas like bald spots. Next, aerate it. You can likely rent one of these for a day or even a few hours from a local hardware or home improvement store or a garden nursery. This breaks up the soil and lets water and beneficial nutrients get down in there. Plus, lawn aerators are just fun to use.
Those are the basics. If you have something like an outdoor shower or in-ground irrigation system, wait for it to warm up a bit before turning them on. Then test each zone to ensure proper working order. With as cold as it has been so far this spring in the northeast, I’m also waiting to turn on my outdoor water spigots.
Do you have any springtime yard rituals? Share your routines in the comments.
Six years ago, I took a photo of the things I carry around in my pockets every day. I hadn’t thought of that picture in ages, and was surprised when I found it while browsing old photos. Today, some things have changed, others haven’t. To satisfy my curiosity, I compared that photo to what I carry with me today. Here’s what I found:
In 2007, I carried:
- Keys with a LEGO Chewbacca keychain
- A 512MB flash storage
- Pilot G2 05
- Pocket sized Moleskine notebook
- Original iPhone with earbuds (fitted with Griffin Earjams, which are no longer available, unfortunately)
Compare that to what I carry today:
It’s interesting to note what’s missing, and what’s been replaced. For example, online storage offered by services like Dropbox, Box.net and Apple’s iCloud have replaced the flash drive. When I carried that in 2007, “the cloud” didn’t exist as we know it today. Moving files between computers or locations often meant physically carrying it from place to place.
I now work from home, so if I have my keys with me they are usually in the car’s ignition.
I’ve also replaced the Pilot pen for the space pen. Sometimes I must quickly write something down, and the nearest flat surface is a wall or something else that’s not parallel to the ground. Or, I’m out in the rain and the pages are a little wet. Since the Fisher’s ink is in a pressurized capsule, it doesn’t rely on gravity and can write in any position and on almost any surface. Plus it’s smaller, more durable than the Pilot and easier to carry around.
While I love Moleskine notebooks, I replaced it with Field Notes because the Moleskines are too bulky and the hard cover makes them uncomfortable in a back pocket. Yes, there are soft cover Moleskines and they’re great, but at $9.99 for a three pack, the Filed Notes are very affordable.
I’ve also replaced some other things that you can’t see, and I think those are the most interesting:
- Photos of loved ones. Like countless parents before me, I kept photos of the kids in my wallet. Now my iPhone handles that job.
- Maps. Again, my iPhone has replaced the need for pocket-sized travel guides and maps.
- Phone cards. Before mobile phones were as prevalent as they are today, I kept an emergency calling card in my wallet for pay phones and long-distance calls. That’s not necessary anymore.
- Cash. This is the most fascinating one. I rarely carry cash. In fact, I sometimes wonder if paper money really exists anymore. When I get paid, it’s via direct deposit. I never see a check, a bill or a coin. I physically receive no money of any sort. When I purchase something, I swipe a debit card. I hand no money to the cashier and s/he hands nothing back to me other than a slip of paper.
- Consumer loyalty cards. Granted, I never carried many of these in the first place, but Apple’s Passbook lets me pay at Starbucks with my phone.
How about you, readers? What do you carry around, and how has the list changed over the last few years? Has technology had an impact? Please share in the comments. Thanks.
And as for Chewbacca, he’s officially been retired.
Reader Cassie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I’m uncluttered, but messy. Everything I own has a “proper storage place,” like you recommend in your book, but stuff doesn’t always make it back to its storage place after I use it. How much mess is too much mess? Is there any hope for me to be less messy and [be] better about returning things to their proper storage place?
Cassie, you have two great questions here. Let’s start with your first: “How much mess is too much mess?”
The answer to your question depends on a few variables. Do you live alone or with other people? How much stress and anxiety is your mess causing you? Are you just messy or are you also dirty (by “dirty” I mean are there messes that can attract bugs and pests, like half-eaten bowls of cereal abandoned on the end table in your living room)?
If you live alone, you pretty much get to be the sole decider in how much mess is too much mess. Assuming your mess isn’t violating any laws, neighborhood association rules, or rental agreements, you set the rules for what is okay and what isn’t. However, if you live with other people, you all need to come to an agreement as to what amount of mess is okay and what is unacceptable. There are lots of ways you can reach this agreement, but I recommend meeting in a public place (like a restaurant or coffee shop) and discussing it there. Write down the standards if that suits you, or simply come to a very clear verbal agreement. Remember, too, you can always revisit the standards you set at a later time if they turn out to be too strict or too lenient.
If your mess isn’t causing you any stress or anxiety, it is likely you have found your appropriate tolerance level and are functioning well. We are all a bit messy, especially while working on projects or dealing with more pressing issues and responsibilities. As long as things make it back to their homes eventually, a little mess is fine. But, since you wrote in asking about your mess, my guess is that it’s causing you some stress. In this case, you’ll want to create routines for regularly dealing with your messes so they aren’t a source of anxiety for you. I’ll give some tips for creating these routines in a couple paragraphs.
Next, you’ll just want to be sure that your mess doesn’t include anything that could be labeled as “dirty.” Anything that could invite bugs or pests into your home should be cleaned up right away. For example, an overflowing kitty litter box has to be cleaned now, but a stray pair of socks on the floor can sit until morning if they aren’t causing you any frustration. (Remember, the reason you want to be uncluttered is to get rid of distractions that are getting in the way of the life you desire — and stress, anxiety, frustration, bugs, and pests all qualify as distractions.)
To address your second question, “Is there any hope for me to be less messy and [be] better about returning things to their proper storage place?”
Yes, there is hope that you can be less messy if that is what you want to do. The easiest thing you can do is to create a new daily pickup routine for yourself. Choose a time that works best for you and when you have a good amount of energy: in the morning before work, immediately after work, after dinner, or an hour before bed. Set aside 15 minutes — and only 15 minutes, as you don’t want to make it too daunting — to speed through your living space taking care of all the little messes. Use a timer to help keep you on track or an upbeat music playlist to encourage you to move.
Finally, work on changing your mindset about how activities are finished. When you think about doing things, constantly remind yourself that you’re actually not done with something until all items are put away. For example, dinner isn’t finished until all dishes are in the dishwasher and the counter has been wiped down (as opposed to thinking dinner is over when you finish eating). Or that watching your favorite television show isn’t over when the credits roll, but rather after you turn off the television and return the remote control to its storage basket. With months of practice, you’ll train yourself to make fewer messes and this will reduce the time you need for your daily pickup routine.
Thank you, Cassie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Be sure to check the comments for even more insights from our readers.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
I’ve been working from my home office exclusively since 2009. In those four years, I’ve learned a lot about managing home and work life, staying productive while cozy at home, avoiding distractions, and more. Based on these experiences, the following are my ten tips that keep my work on track when I’m at home.
Before I delve into my list, I should define “home worker.” It certainly includes telecommuters, freelancers, and those running a business from home, but that is not where the definition ends. Anyone who runs a household definitely works from home. Also, the number of people who spend 9–5 in an office, school, or at an off-site job, but then take additional tasks home to work on, is increasing. When I was young, I knew one family who had an “office” in their home, and I thought it was the oddest thing. Today, it’s pretty much the norm.
Now that we’ve got that sorted, on with the tips.
- Define a workspace. You needn’t have a dedicated room to be a productive home worker. A corner of the kitchen, back porch, or garage will do, as long as it accommodates the tools and space you need. I have an IKEA desk in my bedroom that is my office. Occasionally, I want a change of scenery, so I’ll move my laptop to another part of the house. Other times I’m forced out entirely, which brings me to …
- Have an emergency backup office. There will be times when the power is out or your internet connection is down. Or, perhaps, a construction crew is working on The World’s Loudest Project right outside your window. When this happens, you’ll need a backup site to go to. My default remote office is the public library. It’s clean, well-lit, quiet, and has free Wi-Fi. The employees don’t care how long I stay and there are electrical outlets everywhere. Good thing I travel light.
- Define a lightweight office-to-go. Figure out the bare minimum of tools you can get away with and remain productive. Something you can fling into a bag and go. Will your computer do? An iPad? A camera? Figuring this out ahead of time will save you a lot of aggravation when you need to vacate your home office pronto.
- Make your home office efficient but also pleasing. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your office, so make it a pleasant place to be. I have LEGO projects on my desk, Star Wars toys, and a pencil holder that my daughter made for me. Since I am at home, I need not comply to corporate decorating policies, and neither do you. Find things that you love and make you feel good and add a little style to your space.
- Adopt a system you trust. Unless you’re in business with your spouse, partner, or housemate, you likely don’t live with a co-worker or superior. That means that you are both the worker and the supervisor. Conquer the latter role by devising a system you trust. I follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done system and, in effect, that system is my supervisor. Trust is the critical factor here, as that’s the only way your brain will stop nagging about all of your undone tasks.
- Don’t be too informal. This one applies mostly to those who are earning their living from home. Since you are in the house, it’s easy to adopt a casual attitude about your day. In my experience, adding a bit of formality helps draw a line between work time and leisure time. I always shower, shave and put on nice clothes. I make a cup of tea and begin the day in the same routine one might in a traditional office. When I’m done with work for the day, I turn my computer off, kick off my shoes and join the family downstairs. That routine also helps me feel like I’m truly “off the clock” when the workday ends.
- Get your own inbox. This simple tip has vastly improved my marriage. My wife and I shared an “inbox” (an end table by the front door) for years and it made both of us crazy. My stuff mingled with hers, she liked to store things one way and I another. Now, I have an inbox on my desk and she has one on the end table. I process my inbox items on my schedule and according to my system, and my wife does the same her own way. I cannot recommend splitting this up strongly enough if you live with other people.
- Take Breaks.I alternate between work time and break time all day. A great Mac app called Breaktime lets me alternate between 25-minute work times and 5-minute breaks all day. This practice helps me maintain a productive streak and is also a luxury I wouldn’t have in an office.
- Take advantage of working from home. You work at home and that means you’re at home! Take advantage of this opportunity that many aren’t able to experience. Sit on the porch, eat lunch in your own kitchen, and never miss an event at your kid’s school.
- Be flexible. This lesson was the hardest for me to learn. I’d make a plan for my day, only to see it fall apart thanks to a sick kid, malfunctioning computer, flooding basement, and more. Understand this might happen, and don’t get too stressed when it does. Try again tomorrow.
There’s a wonderful discussion happening on the Unclutterer Forums. The topic: Building a new house. Quite honestly, it has me feeling a little envious. Building a custom home has got to be an exciting experience. At the same time, I suspect that it also can be a little overwhelming because there are so many things to consider and decisions to be made.
The process can go smoothly and with fewer hiccups if you do a bit of planning ahead of time. A key step would be to get everything out of your head and to organize all the necessary information in an easy to use system.
Think about changes you’d like to make
Start thinking about the home you presently live in. What seems to be working well? You’ll want to make sure those elements are present in your new home. What are some things that need to be improved upon? Do you have particular solutions in mind? Walk through each room in your current home and record the things that you would like to change.
Keep a list of “must-haves”
Once you’ve walked through each area in your home, you’ll have a better idea of the features that are most important to you. Create a list or chart of each room with the specific features you would like to have (hidden storage areas, extra outlets). Be specific about the things that you think would make each room function better based on your current lifestyle, and include any elements that you would find it difficult to live without. Your list will likely start out as a wish list and then get refined once you begin working with your contractor.
Collect important information in one central location
Speaking of contractors, consider using a binder (with tabbed pages) or a digital notebook (like Evernote or Springpad) to keep track of builders and other professionals (architects, designers) that you want to contact or who have given you proposals. Your binder, digital notebook, or a website like Houzz.com is also a great place to keep track of your ideas. Be sure to also include a copy of your budget in your notebook. That way, you’ll be able to find it easily and see the budgeted dollar amounts as you think about features you want to include in your new home.
Plan your next move
It’s never too early to start preparing you current home for your departure. You will get a timeline for completion from the builders, so you can schedule time to unclutter your current space. Then, when it’s time to pack, you’ll only be handling the things that you will be taking with you. To help you stay on track, consider using a moving checklist.
Building a custom home can be fun and managed without feelings of stress. With a solid plan and understanding of the process, you can successfully see your plans come to life. Keep in mind that you can always get more information before you make any final decisions. There are lots of articles (like 10 Things to Consider when Building a Home) and books (check out Building Your Own Home For Dummies) on building your home from scratch — as well as the mistakes to avoid — that can be great resources for you.
If you were to build your dream home, what uncluttered features would you include in the space?
Now that the winter months are in full swing, this is a great time to sort through some of your winter gear. There’s likely to be a few items that you use a lot along with others that you hardly use anymore. Get everyone who lives in your home involved (if possible) so that they can select their favorites and identify items that can be donated to charity.
As you go through each area of you home, remember to look inside closets, under bed storage bins, the attic, the basement, your garage or shed, and any other areas that the following items may be hiding:
- Coats and jackets. Chances are, you reach for the same one or two pieces of outerwear all the time. And, that’s okay. We all have our favorites. Consider donating the ones that no longer fit (or that you don’t like) to One Warm Coat or a local homeless shelter or another charity wanting outerwear. Winter is the best time to donate these items so they can be used.
- Hats, scarves, and gloves. If they don’t fit you anymore (whether in size or style), it’s time to pass on your hats and other winter accessories to others who will put them to good use. Check for winter clothing drives hosted by schools, community centers, or houses of worship in your neighborhood.
- Footwear. Consider donating the boots you no longer wear to Goodwill or Soles4Souls. Both organizations will accept shoes that are new or gently worn. If you have athletic shoes that are in disrepair, send them off to the Nike ReUse a Shoe program to be recycled.
- Sporting gear. If you have winter sports gear that you no longer want, participate in a ski swap to let go of your old winter sport gear (contact the ski resort you go to or local sporting goods shop). Your skis, sleds, snow boards, goggles, helmets, and other winter sport stuff that you no longer use can also be repurposed or recylced. Check out the recycling program at Snow Sport Industries of America, where items are disassembled and repurposed by other industries. Or, you can let Green Mountain Ski Furniture help you transform your old skis into something new, like tables, adirondack chairs, coat racks, and more. This might be a good option for junior skis.
- Blankets and sheets. You probably have a few blankets and flannel sheets that don’t fit the beds in your home that you can donate to a homeless, family, or pet shelter. Art for Humanity, located in Virginia, will allow you to drop off or mail used sheets (as well as towels and shoes) that are in good condition.
- Pet gear. Does your dog really love wearing that winter coat and matching boots? And, do you have enough room to store them? Check with your local veterinarian, SPCA, or animal rescue to see if they have a need for those items and other unused pet supplies.
I love board games, especially those with lots of great-looking components. It’s fun to gather around the table, set everything up and have a great time with family and friends. What’s not fun about playing board gams is cleaning up.
A few years ago, we shared some tips for storing your board games and puzzles. Today, I’m going to expand on that post and share ideas on storing pieces to component-heavy roll playing games. Games in this category often ship with several decks of cards, many dice, miniatures and “bits” as I call them, referring to the small game pieces that don’t fit into any of the preceding categories.
Opening a new game for the first time can be fun. My kids and I love to see what we got in each new box. Enjoy that excitement, but make mental notes at the same time. For instance, many games arrive with components that need to be punched out before play. They won’t lay nice and flat after you do that. Also, note if there’s a lot of one type of component: cards, dice, figures, bits. This will help you decided on what to use when it’s time to pack up.
Finally, consider the insert(s). Will all your stuff fit back in the box neatly or is there real potential for a jumbled pile? Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to pick a re-packing strategy.
Card bags. These are sold in a variety of sizes to accommodate cards from nearly any game. Bags Unlimited sells several varieties, from bags meant to hold a single card to those sized for whole sets. Several colors are available, too, which might help you remember which cards go with which game. Amazon also sells large sets very inexpensively. Also, using protective bags is a good idea for paper items if you store your games in a damp basement.
Zip-top Bags This one’s pretty obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway. Larger Ziplock bags can be used to store all sorts of components. Push the air out before resealing to reduce the amount of space they consume in the box.
35mm Film Canisters Remember these? They’re insanely useful once you’ve removed the film. Use a canister to store bits, dice, or other small and easily-lost pieces. Label the lid for easy reference.
Nuts and Bolts Drawers These storage drawers offer many little drawers for components (there are 25 on this one) that are easily labeled with a label maker. Consider keeping it out if you have a dedicated gaming area, or pack it away with the rest of your game materials. Go for one with see-through drawers for additional ease of use.
Custom Foam Board The interior of many game boxes store pieces perfectly in their shipping state. That often changes once you’ve played. You can buy some inexpensive foam board from a craft store and cut it to make custom compartments inside the game box. It’s easiest to trace the box on a piece of paper first, layout the components and figure out how it would work. Then measure, cut and insert! Your box is now perfectly capable of storing everything neatly.
Small Tupperware with Lids Get those little bowls you used for snacks when the kids were small out of the kitchen drawer and repurpose them for game pieces. I even use these during gameplay to keep bits from getting strewn across the table. When my son and I play The Legend of Drizzt, we store the tiny hit point tokens and other small items in these bowls on the table. That way they’re easy to find and grab as needed. Volitive candle holders work for tabletop storage, too.
There are several suggestions to keep your game pieces organized and neat. Not only that, it saves on wear and tear of the pieces. Components that don’t jostle around stay looking nice longer. Some of these games are expensive, and pieces are difficult or impossible to replace.
Now if you’re really ambitious, check out this custom solution built entirely of LEGO. I am blown away.
The personal computer industry supposedly went “wireless” several years ago. But you’d never know it by looking at the back of most desks. It seems like the convenience of every Wi-Fi enabled laptop, smartphone and printer is offset by a corresponding cable or wire elsewhere in the office. That’s not counting old cables that are no longer in use due to age, condition or obsolescence. If you’ve got a drawer full of cables, or if you’ve ever played “unplug it to see what turns off,” this post is for you. I’ll tell you how to organize the cables you use and store those you don’t, plus a few cool tips and tricks.
Step one: know your cables
There are a huge number of cables available. Each performs its own job, though there is some overlap. Here, I’ve presented some of the most common household cables. This is by no means exhaustive, but should cover most of what you have at home. Learning to identify them on sight will help you find what you need more quickly, and will make storage easier, as I’ll explain later. Pictured above are:
- USB to mini USB You’ll notice one end is a flat rectangle shape and the other is a small trapezoid shape. These are often used with digital cameras and often short, in the 1–3 foot range.
- FireWire 800 These feature a squared-off end with a plastic “bit” in the center. FireWire 800 cables are typically used on high-end external hard drives and some video equipment. They transfer large files between machines and drives quickly.
- Standard USB One end features a flat rectangle and the other a square with once side slightly rounded. Many printers uses these cables, as well as some external hard drives.
- FireWire 400 Which, is also called “1394 cable” in some circles. Also used for storage peripherals like hard drives and some older video cameras. Transfer speed is slightly slower than that of its sibling FireWire 800.
- DVI These cables end with a wide terminator with many pins and two screws to hold it in place. You’ll find that many computer monitors and projectors use these. Length can vary greatly, but most are around 3 feet long.
The following are less common than the others, but still popular enough that many of you may have them.
- Apple 30-pin connector These are used with many of Apple’s mobile products including the iPhone (models other than the iPhone 5), iPad (except the iPad mini and 4th generation iPad) and iPod touch (older models). Apple has recently replaced them, as you’ll see, but there are still millions in circulation.
- Thunderbolt These are pretty much exclusive to Apple right now, but those who’ve bought an iMac or MacBook Pro recently could have use for a Thunderbolt cable. They connect very high-speed external drives to a computer.
- Lightning Apple replaced the 30-pin connector cable with the Lightning cable. It can be identified by the tiny little “nubbin” end. It’s small, thin and, unlike the old connector, doesn’t care if you put it in upside-down or not. The iPhone 5, iPad mini, newest iPad and latest iPod touch use the Lightning connector.
- HDMI Used with your HD television, some displays and the Apple TV. Easily recognized by the roughly trapezoidal shape on each end.
Now that we’ve got the cables identified, let’s look at a few ways to keep all of these things organized.
Call me picky, but a rat’s nest of unwieldy cables just makes my skin crawl. A beautiful workspace can be marred by a collection of cables flopping all over the place. Fortunately, solutions are plentiful and easy to come by.
- Cable management I use the Galant Cable Manager from IKEA. It screws to the underside of my desk and I run everything through it. That keeps the cables from hanging down and looking ugly (not to mention attracting the pets). Here’s a great idea from Michael Desmond at About.com. He ran several cables and an adapter into a nice-looking storage box, using standard office clips to keep the cables out of each other’s way. The box looks good and eliminates a mess on the floor. Speaking of binder clips, you can clip the large variety right to your desk to hold cables at the ready. Ingenious (and cheap!)
- Identification I love to label my cables. You can use color-coded twist-ties, bits of ribbon or even yard-sale tags. But I like Mark Brothers Cable Labels (pictured above). Aside from being cute, each features a spot that you can write on. That way, you know exactly where each one goes and what it powers. If they’re too cutesy for your taste, consider the Kableflags DIY variety. Much more utilitarian. Finally, consider color-coded tape. One piece on the device end, another down at the socket.
First, a quick rule: if it’s obsolete, worn or from a product you no longer own or use, throw it out! Unless you’re running a cable museum, or have a soft spot for wayward, abandoned wires, let them go. Remember: stuff that sits around serving no purpose is clutter. That SCSI cable from 1993 definitely counts.
I sort my cables by type into clear plastic bins. I use my label maker to create stickers that say “USB” or “Audio” and affix one to each bin. Before a cable enters the bin, I wrap it up with a rubber band. Now, I know what’s in each bin by reading the label and I can see how many of each type I have by peering through the clear bin. There’s no need to pull each out and open it to see inside the box.
When you wrap your cables up for storage, let each end stick out just a bit. That way, if you need it in the future for a job that doesn’t require its full length, you can access either end without pulling the whole thing apart.
I’m going suggest something that sounds pro-clutter, but I assure you it’s not. If you travel often, buy doubles of some of your cables. For instance, when I worked in an office I had an iPhone cable and wall charger that lived at my desk. Yes, that meant I had two to take care of but it also meant I could keep my phone charged during the day without having to remember to bring one cable back and forth. I did the same with the charger cable for my laptop.
When buying cables, skip the big box stores. You’ll typically find much better prices on sites like Amazon and Monoprice.com. I recently needed an DVI-to-HDMI adapter cable. A local big box electronics store wanted $50 for one. I found another online for under $3. It works perfectly.
Cool Tips and Tricks
OK, now for the fun stuff.
- The Cable Turtle is very cute and keeps a variety of cables tidy.
- Learn how to braid an extension cord. Technically it’s not a cable, but this is a fantastic trick. I store all of my extension cords this way.
- Likewise, there is a right way and a wrong way to wrap a video cable. Over/under is the right way.
- Instructables has posted a tutorial for inexpensive, under-desk cable management.
A junk drawer can seem like a helpful storage space, but in reality it’s usually not. That is probably because all drawers with the “junk drawer” moniker house a lot of the stuff that doesn’t have a proper storage space or is clutter. Lots of miscellaneous things get added to the drawer, and because you can close the drawer, it’s easy to to leave it cluttered — until you start frantically searching for something that you need. Sadly, this poor experience doesn’t improve your life or home in any way.
When free of clutter and organized well, though, junk drawers can be the one of the most useful, non-junky storage areas in your home. They can transform from junk drawers into utility drawers. These drawers can hold things that are used frequently (pens, notepads) or items that you need at specific moments (picture hanging kit), and do so in a way that adds utility to your space. Don’t let your junk drawers languish. Unclutter them. Reclaim them. Turn them into areas that let you easily find what you need.
Follow these five steps to get started:
- Determine what’s inside your junk drawer. The first step will be to see exactly what is living in there. Sometimes, there is such a huge variety of things stored in the drawer that you may not know where to begin. So, try starting with an easy step. Remove things that are obviously trash or don’t belong. When you start with things that are easily trash, the uncluttering process will seem less daunting.
- Categorize your items. Dump all the non-obviously-trash items out of the drawer onto a flat surface, like a table. Next, group your items into categories (tools, office supplies, keys, etc.) by putting like objects together. If you have multiples of items, can you get rid of any duplicates? You may want to keep multiple pens, for example, but those without ink or that are dried out can be tossed in the trash.
- Decide what will be kept in the drawer. This is a great time to think about the things you do want to keep in the drawer. What you put inside will depend on the items you need to have available near where the drawer resides. For each of us, this can be different. There are no right or wrong items to keep, however, they should be things you need and they should be easy to access. You shouldn’t have to dig through the drawer to get what you need.
- Use dividers and containers. Just as you sorted like items together when you were uncluttering unnecessary objects from your drawer, you’ll want to keep these items together in your new utility drawer. Drawer organizers (like these from Rubbermaid) can work well, but you probably already have containers that you can use, like ice cube trays, resealable bags, plasticware, or even baby food jars.
- Don’t put anything in the uncluttered drawer that doesn’t belong. Once the drawer is organized, you’ll have to stick with the plan and not put anything into the utility drawer that doesn’t belong in there. Be ruthless. Unless there’s a section of the drawer designated for a specific item(s), don’t put clutter into your drawer. It’s also a good idea to check the drawer every couple of months to make sure that it’s still organized and that no stray things made their way inside your utility drawer.
A few weeks ago, a reader asked me if I still stand by the information in our extremely popular 2007 series “Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter” and the three other articles in the paper-begone series. Basically, he wanted to know if I would write the series the same way now that I did then.
Would the fundamental premise of the articles be the same today as it was then? Yes. Would a few specific details change? Definitely.
The most obvious thing I would change is the equipment used to scan and shred the papers we don’t need to retain in physical form. I still love the Fujitsu ScanSnap, but the technology referenced in the article is now about six years old. The ScanSnap line has come a long way since then. Also, I’ve come to adore shredders on wheels because they can be moved around a room to wherever you need them.
The latest model in the ScanSnap desktop line is the iX500 and it’s an impressive machine. I’ve been test driving one the past two weeks (thank you, ScanSnap!) and it’s amazing — it doesn’t require a desktop computer to launch, it will scan straight to a mobile device or an online storage location over Wifi (so I can save straight to Dropbox), it’s noticeably faster than the S1500M model we own, and I’ve been able to customize it to send scans automatically to whatever program I want, so items like photographs now import straight into iPhoto. I won’t upgrade permanently from the S1500M we already have, but if we didn’t have a scanner I would save up for this one. If you’re in the market for one, the list price is $495. They’re expensive, but they’re really nice. (Full iX500 product details.)
As far as shredders go, I’d recommend the Fellowes PowerShred 79Ci now. The thing is a monster at chewing up stuff you want to shred. And, as I referenced earlier, it’s on wheels, which makes it convenient to use and store. It’s also expensive, but the thing will last you a decade or more if you treat it well. Our PowerShred PS-77Cs is still rocking after seven years of service, and we use it daily. Unlike less expensive shredders, the PowerShred line is built to last.
The list of things to shred and not to shred is still accurate, though a lot of people greatly dislike my advice to destroy old passports. I probably should have written more clearly about waiting to shred the old passport until after you get a new one. Submitting your old one does speed up the renewal process. However, once you get the old one back, if you don’t need it for any legal reason, it’s safe to shred (just be sure to pop out the RFID chip first). My last passport, though used many times, didn’t even have a single stamp in it because so many countries have stopped stamping and my old visa had to be relinquished when I left the country that required me to have the visa. If you want to keep old passports, especially if they have stamps in them, do it but please keep it in a safe or safe-deposit box so it doesn’t end up in the hands of identity thieves.
I still use DevonThink to organize my digital documents and FreedomFiler for my paper files (though, I’ve added a ridiculous number of my own files to the FreedomFiler system in the past six years that resemble what I discuss in my book). Those two products have suited me well all this time.
Even with all of these products and systems, paper continues to be something we have to deal with daily in our home. We’ve unsubscribed from as much junk mail as possible, yet we still get some from businesses and services we use. The shredder, trash can, and recycling bin by our main entrance are essential in dealing with the junk immediately and not letting it come deep inside the house. But, the stuff we let in voluntarily — the bank statements, the receipts, the pay stubs, the contracts — still feels overwhelming at times. We’ve gone so far as to unsubscribe from all print magazines and now subscribe to these publications digitally over Zinio. The only way we’ve been able to keep from being overwhelmed by paper is to clear our desks each day as part of our end-of-day work routines. All papers filed, junk shred, receipts reconciled, documents scanned, etc. It only takes five or ten minutes, but it’s still a chore. I’m looking forward to the day when I only have to spend five or ten minutes a week (or less) dealing with paper clutter.
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Do you use a “down time” list? I used one often when I worked in the corporate world. It was a list of things I could work on when I finished my usual responsibilities. Now, several years later, I use a similar list, though it usually has things that I can do in five minutes or less.
One of the challenges many people often face is finding the time to unclutter. Everyone’s busy and has full schedules as well as other things they’d rather be doing. To combat the dread you might be feeling when it’s time to get things in order or to stop the mad dash when you’re looking for something, create a list of things you can get done in just a few short minutes until they become regular habits. To help you get started, consider adding these 10 things that you can do in 300 seconds to your daily or weekly routine.
- Use hooks. Hooks take very little time to install and they can be used just as quickly. Instead of putting your clothes on a chair (or other flat surface), hang them on a hook.
- Purge your hanger stash. Hangers that are laying on the closet floor are not being put to good use. Remove them to free up your space and refuse them when they are offered to you at the store. Most dry cleaners have hanger recycling bins, so give your local dry cleaners a call to see if you can drop off your extras there.
- Delete unnecessary duplicates. Where can you check for multiples of the same thing? Your smart phone (contacts, apps), pantry, spice cabinet, and closet are great places to look for duplicates you can delete (or donate).
- Gather your stuff the night before. Put everything you need to have for the next day (keys, wallet, mobile phone, ID badge, glasses, etc.) all in one spot so that you can find them easily.
- Remove junk mail before it gets inside your house. When you remove junk mail before it gets inside your home or office, you can spend your time focusing on the important items. Keep a recycling bin and shredder near the main entryway of your home for easy junk-mail disposal.
- Take something with you. Whether you’re in your car or in your home, before you leave an area, take something that doesn’t belong with you and put it away.
- Organize your wallet. Take a look in your wallet and remove anything that you don’t need to frequently access.
- Unsubscribe from unwanted junk email. The beauty of unsubscribing is that it takes very little time to have your name removed from emailing lists. Simply click on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the junk emails you no longer wish to receive.
- Say no to freebies. Unless that free item (like a gift you get when you make a purchase) is something that you or someone in your family uses regularly, it will likely end up cluttering your space. Of everything on this list, saying “no” to freebies is perhaps the quickest thing you can do.
- Keep a donation box in your home. A great place for a donation bag or box is inside your closet or laundry area for clothing that no longer fit or flatter you. Donation boxes can work well for other things, like toys, so pick a room, and take five minutes to select things you can give away.