A place for everything and everything in its place, well, for the most part

At Unclutterer, we usually support the organizing standard of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” However, there are occasions when adhering to this motto is inefficient and might best be put on hold.

For example, most of the year our family eats meals in the dining room. During the financial year-end though, the dining room table turns into a horizontal filing cabinet for a couple of days while I prepare our income tax returns. During these few days, our family eats in the kitchen or in the living room on TV trays while the paperwork stays out on the table. This is a minor inconvenience for our family compared to the time-consuming task of packing up all of the paper work and re-filing it into the filing cabinet everyday. All of this paperwork does have a long-term place, but for this period of time it has a short-term place on the dining table.

You may decide there are other times when the standard of “a place for everything and everything in its place” should be temporarily ignored or when a short-term home should be established for specific items.

From time-to-time, your children may take on projects with their toys that are too much fun to go away after just a single play session. If your child is building a space station with blocks, confine the construction to a certain area of the room and let the building continue for a few days. A doll’s excessive wardrobe and shoe collection could be out for a few days and then sent to the “dry cleaners” (cardboard box) that can be easily moved so that housekeeping can be done. If you notice the projects haven’t been worked on in awhile, that is a good indication that the toys are ready to be returned to their permanent homes.

Rather than trying to obtain one those picture perfect houses from the magazines, think about how to manage your projects efficiently. When is it a good idea for you to ignore the “a place for everything and everything in its place” motto?

Small tips to save time and effort

As far as organizing tips are concerned, these are hardly the most revolutionary. However, implementing simple tricks and devices like these you can ultimately save yourself time, effort, and frustration over the longterm.

Window Clings

Use transparent Window Clings to attach parking pass stickers to your car windows. This will save you time from having to later scrape them off. If your jurisdiction requires permanent car licence or registration stickers, please abide by those requirements. Colourful Window Clings can be used to stick to the bathroom mirror to remind children to wash their hands or brush their teeth.

Iron-On Nametags

Schools, daycares, and camps often require that children’s clothing be labeled with their names. Rather than order pre-printed, iron-on labels and wait for them to arrive by post, make your own with iron-on tags from Avery. You can even add a small picture beside the name for children just learning to read. They also pull-off nicely when it’s time to donate your child’s clothing to charity or to use as a rag.

Address Labels

Pre-print address labels and use them for anything that has to be repetitively labeled, such as:

  • Envelopes of lunch money and other correspondence for the children’s teachers
  • Envelopes for babysitter’s payment
  • School/work notebooks with your name and phone number
  • Anyone to whom you regularly send correspondence: parents, children, bill payments.

When you print them at home, you also determine what information you wish to provide on the label. Besides your address, you may want to have your name and email address only or name and cell phone number.

Receipts and Warranties

If you buy an item that has a warranty, staple the purchase receipt inside the front cover of the instruction booklet. If you need to return the item, you will be able to find the original receipt. Also, write the model and serial number of your item on the inside of the cover of the instruction book. Store your instruction/warranty booklets in your filing cabinet or a filing box or a magazine file. If your items are ever stolen or damaged (fire, flood), you will have proof of ownership for your insurance company if you also take a scan of this information or a digital image with your smart phone and have an online backup.

Business Cards

If your doctor sends you for tests at a private clinic, always get a business card from the clinic. On the back of the business card write the type of exam that you had and the date of the exam. Keep the business card in your Health file in your filing cabinet. You will always be able to request the necessary information if another doctor asks for it. You can do the same with other businesses and service providers, as well.

Label Leftovers

Purchase a package of small removable stickers and clip them to your fridge. Whenever you put leftovers in the fridge, write the date on a sticker and stick it onto the container of leftovers. This way, everyone in the family will know how long the container has been in the fridge and when it should be thrown out. Check out Still Tasty to learn about the best way to store leftovers and how long they should be kept.

Are there any simple tips and tricks you’ve developed to save time, effort, and frustration? Share them with Unclutterer readers in the comments.

Being organized about charitable giving

We’ve often talked on the site about donating things you’ve uncluttered, but what about supporting charities in other ways? The following is an organized approach to making other donations, if you feel so inclined.

Decide how much to give

Include charitable giving in any financial budgeting process you have. If you want to donate your time, make sure that time commitment fits into your time “budget,” too.

Decide where to give

I’ve selected a few charities I give to every year, and I sometimes support friends I know doing a charitable walk, run, climb, or bike ride.

Having made this decision, I don’t waste time evaluating all the solicitations that come my way in the mail; they go straight into shredding and recycling. They may be for good causes, but I can’t personally support them all.

When deciding what charities to give to, you may want to look at Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to learn more about the organizations you are considering. All three of these organizations agree on what’s important in selecting a charity, as they say in a joint statement:

The percent of charity expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs — commonly referred to as “overhead” — is a poor measure of a charity’s performance.

We ask you to pay attention to other factors of nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership, and results…

That is not to say that overhead has no role in ensuring charity accountability. At the extremes the overhead ratio can offer insight: it can be a valid data point for rooting out fraud and poor financial management. In most cases, however, focusing on overhead without considering other critical dimensions of a charity’s financial and organizational performance does more damage than good.

Decide when to give

You may want to spread your donations out over the year, or you may prefer to sit down once a year to do all your donations.

You might also want to consider making ongoing automatic monthly donations. Charities love these because they have a revenue stream they can count on — and probably because people seldom change or cancel these donations. If you go this route, make sure you know how to adjust your donation, and don’t hesitate to do so if your financial situation or your donation priorities change. I have one such donation, and I recently called and reduced the amount; it wasn’t difficult at all.

Keep track of your donations

If you itemize deductions on your U.S. individual tax return, you can deduct qualified donations. If you do this, make sure you have proper records of your giving. Those records can include cancelled checks, credit card statements, and acknowledgement letters from the organizations that received your donations. If you give small donations at the along with your purchases from grocery stores or places like PetSmart, be sure to keep those receipts, too. A simple manila file folder, envelope, or even a gallon-size zip-top bag labeled with the calendar year on it can suffice for keeping all your receipts in one location.

Did you make a donation via text message? The IRS says “a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.”

Also remember that you can deduct “any unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses, such as the cost of gas and oil, directly related to the use of your car in giving services to a charitable organization.” If you’re donating your time and this involves the use of your car, you’ll want to keep the appropriate records to claim that deduction.

The Pile of Index Cards (PoIC) system

Two weeks ago, I started an exploration of lesser-know filing systems with the Noguchi system. This method, devised by Japanese economist Noguchi Yukio, utilizes manilla envelopes and the frequency with which you work on certain projects to organize your projects. Today, I want to delve into a system close to my heart, a system that uses index cards.

Image credit: Hawk Sugano

Hawk Sugano (you’ll find him on Flickr as “hawkexpress”) has devised a system he calls Pile of Index Cards (PoIC). It’s a combination of a “brain dump” (emptying one’s mind of all important information by writing it down), long-term storage for reference, and David Allen’s GTD method. It’s all managed by a “dock” of 3×5 index cards, and the result is tidy and searchable. The following are instructions for how to set up and use the system.

What you’ll need

The list is a short one. Get some index cards, which you can find almost anywhere (or grab some fancy ones here), a favorite pen, and a storage box with customizable tabs. That is all you need to be ready to use the method.

How it works

Hawk describes four types of cards in his system:

  1. The Record Card. He describes it as “a diary, note, account, health, weather, cook, any kind of records about us belongs to this class.” I’d say this is the incoming “stuff” of the day: appointments, notes to follow up on, etc.
  2. The Discover Card. Hawk describes the Discover Card as “Things from my brain, mind, spirit, anything emerge from inside me, are classified into this class.” This is the result of a mind dump. Don’t worry about classifying when filling out a Discover Card. Just get whatever is on your mind out and onto paper.
  3. The GTD Card. Here he combines the title of a project and several actions that pertain to it (here’s a look at the template in English). This reminds me of the “Hipstper PDA Template” I used religiously about 10 years ago.
  4. The Cite Card captures other people’s ideas that warrant attention. He says, “Important here is distinguishing ‘your idea (Discovery Card)’ and ‘someone else’s idea (Cite Card).’ Source of the information must be included in the Cite Card. A book, for example, author, year, page(s) are recorded for later use.”

Each card is stored in a box, or “dock.” Note that Hawk makes a mark on the top of each card. It’s position indicates the type of card, so you can easily identify each one while it’s in the dock. Finally, he uses the tabs to keep the types of cards sorted.

Is PoIC for you?

I’ll admit that this method is a bit labor-intensive. For example, Hawk does not throw any cards away. Instead, he buys another dock. One person took steps to improve upon this by adding what he calls the “43 Tabs” system. Basically, older cards that are no longer pertinent are moved to the back of the dock, while those still in action are moved to the front.

Being organized when requesting tech support

Since it’s 2014 and you’re reading this on a digital device, I’m assuming you are aware that technology can help keep your work and personal life organized. Occasionally, however, technology can be a problem and prevent you from getting to your organizational tools and resources. When you find yourself in need of tech support and turn to a friend, relative, or technology professional, you’ll be more successful at getting your problem solved (and solved more quickly) if you first do some planning.

The following information is extremely helpful if you can gather it together before requesting tech support. The more you have, the better.

  1. Write out problem in detail. What exactly were you doing when the problem occurred? Composing an email? Visiting a web site? Updating a piece of software? Which one? Be as specific as you can.
  2. Learn to take a screenshot. Often times, problems are accompanied by error messages, which can be cryptic and hard to recall. Getting a screenshot is a great way to preserve the message itself. Here’s how to grab a screenshot: On a Mac, hold down the Shift key, the Command key and the 3 key simultaneously. On a Windows PC, just press the Print Screen key. Windows 7 and above have a program called Snipping Tool that will grab a screenshot for you. Just click Start and begin typing “Snipping Tool.” It’s got options for full screen, the active selection and the active window. If you aren’t comfortable taking a screen shot, write down the error message you received.
  3. Have any relevant passwords, user names or login information on hand. Often times, work cannot continue until this information has been retrieved. To this end, I recommend a piece of software called 1Password. Its job is to create, store, and remember secure passwords for you. It’s fantastic. If you prefer to go old school, get a paper notebook specifically for this purpose. Be sure to keep it in a secure place and do not lose it.
  4. Identify what system and version you are using. Are you on Windows 7 or Mavericks? What hardware and what is the make and model? It’s possible that an issue that exists in version x.0 was corrected in version x.1.
  5. Can you reproduce the error? This is typically the first step a tech support person will do: try to re-create the trouble you experienced. If you can make it happen reliably and consistently, note the steps that trigger the problem.
  6. What have you already done, if anything, to troubleshoot this issue? You could save a lot of time by listing anything you’ve already tried.

Once the work has begun, consider:

  1. Making notes of what IT support says. It may save you a headache in the future.
  2. Keeping an open mind. The answer you receive might not be what you were wishing for or expecting. Try not to be discouraged.

Of course, you might be able to find the answer yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of a good online search or simply turning your device off and turning it back on.

Thanks to Jacki Hollywood Brown and Damien Barrett for contributing to this article.

The Noguchi filing system

I’ve said this before, and so has fellow Unclutterer writer Jacki Hollywood Brown: I’m always willing to try a new system if it might turn out to be better than the one I’m using. I was reminded of this earlier when reminiscing about my old job and the Noguchi filing system. It was devised by Japanese economist Noguchi Yukio, and for about a year I used it extensively.

The Premise

Years ago, I worked in the IT department of a residential school. There was a lot to manage, from help desk requests to purchasing, maintenance, networking issues, and other administrative tasks. I typically had several projects ongoing at once, large and small. Nearly all of them had support files that needed to be referenced or updated regularly. This is where the Noguchi system was brilliant, as it moves frequently-used files together while creating an archive of seldom used files.

The Setup

Image: Dave Gray, Communicationnation.blogspot.com

Instead of a filing cabinet or set of drawers, you’ll need an open shelf and several 9″ x 12″ (or larger) envelopes. Using scissors, cut the flap off the top of the envelope, as shown above. You cut the top off to make it super easy to get at the envelope’s contents. Next, write the date and title along the side of the envelope. Again, see the image at above for a reference. Make one envelope per project and place the envelopes next to each other on the shelf, with the date and title side facing outward.

In Practice

Don’t attempt to organize, classify, or otherwise sort the envelopes. It will be tempting to do so, but the beauty here is that the system takes care of organizing for you. As you take a folder off the shelf to use it, return it to the far left. Over time, three things happen:

  1. The folders you use most often appear on the left hand side. Because you access them regularly, you always know where they are. With time, the project you work on most often will be in the leftmost envelope. Then the next project in the second left position, and then the next, all the way down the line.
  2. Files you use less frequently will migrate to the middle and right. You know how hard it can be to find a paper or file you seldom use? With the Noguchi system it’s easy because you know it’s not on the left.
  3. The files you never access make it to the far right. These “holy files,” as the system calls them, can be removed from the shelf and safely archived away or purged, thereby preventing the shelf from getting cluttered with countless envelopes.

You can color code your envelopes if you want. This is most useful when archiving, as you can quickly find what you need in that pile, or sort them by color once they’re off the shelf. Finally, since you needn’t spend time organizing the envelopes on the shelf, you save a lot of time.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. It can take a couple of weeks to set it up (moving everything into an envelope) and kick in (as you move files right and left and on and off the shelf), but it’s a nice system for managing multiple projects once you get it established.

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.

Organize a personal board of directors

A few years ago I learned two important lessons from a business class. First: I have the natural business sense of a potato. Second: it’s a great idea to organize and maintain a personal board of directors. Years later, I’ve realized this strategy is applicable to much more than business. Home organization, parenting, and, yes, career decisions can all be advised by a qualified team of your own choosing.

When the school I worked for closed in 2009, I found myself jobless in an economy that was not friendly to the unemployed. After failing to quickly find a new job, I decided to peddle my skills and go to work for myself. A friend suggested that I take a class offered by a small business development firm in my neighborhood. It was the best advice I got that year.

This group helped me devise a plan, identify my marketable skills, and refine what I had to offer. It all culminated in making a presentation to a small board of professionals: which I bombed. It was humbling. After the smoke cleared, the group’s leader pulled me aside. “You just need some focus,” she said. “I think I can help.”

She and I spoke a few times and that one-on-one help was terrific. I went on to meet other people who were doing what I wanted to do, both in person and online. Five years later, I have a group of five or six people I can call on when I need guidance. Each excels in an area that’s troublesome for me. Most importantly, they’re not afraid to tell me, “Dave, that’s a very bad idea.” You do not want “yes men” on your personal board. You want honest, intelligent people who’ve got your interests in mind.

Now as I said, this needn’t be restricted to business. As it relates to organizing your home, office, or life, hire a professional organizer or look for groups that meet up with some regularity (meetup.com is a great way to do this) or even find a friend who has an extremely good set of organizing skills to help you. Ask questions, discuss your troubled areas, brainstorm, and then try out the suggestions. Search through old posts here on Unclutterer and see if we can spark some ideas to discuss with your organizing board.

Maybe you want to discuss parenting, personal productivity, or whatever section of your life is causing you stress. Calling on your personal board of directors is a great way to go to learn what they’re doing and what strategies they think may be able to help you. Perhaps you’ll even fill that role for someone else and return the favor.

Alternatives to lists and reminders

My memory is terrible. To cope with this, I used to write myself many lists and pages of reminders. Then, I had so many lists and reminders that I had to make a list of the lists to remind me what was on each list. It was a little ridiculous.

Another problem was that I didn’t always have easy access to my lists, especially when we were moving houses. I saved my lists in a notebook and the notebook was packed in a box. I started keeping my lists on the computer and then the computer was packed in a box.

I decided to get some information off of my lists and put it where I needed it. Not only has this reduced the number of lists I have, other people can do certain jobs without asking me for information.

Rotating mattresses

Some mattresses need to be rotated or flipped every few months; others do not. I was losing track of which mattresses needed to be in which positions at which times. Additionally, every time we moved, we would have to look on “the list” to see which position the mattresses should be in.

To solve this problem, I took a Sharpie and wrote right on the mattress the first letters of each month. (A M J = April, May, June). These letters should be on the top of the mattress under the pillows for the duration of these months. At the end of June, the mattress gets flipped/rotated until “J A S” (July, August, September) is at the head of the bed. For mattresses that are only rotated twice per year, I wrote “Jan-Jun” and “Jul-Dec” on the ends.

Now, everyone in the family knows how and when to rotate or flip the mattresses that require flipping.

Off-season linen storage

All my off-season sheets and blankets, as well as any less frequently used guest linens, are stored in vacuum-sealed boxes. From one year to the next, I could never remember how to fold the blankets so that they fit nicely into the vacuum-seal boxes. One fall, I carefully removed a nicely folded blanket and slowly unfolded it. Then, I took a sheet of paper approximately the same dimensions as the blanket, (A4 or 8 ½ x 11) and folded it the same way I had folded the blanket. I leave the piece of paper in the vacuum seal box so I always know where it is. Every spring I use the folded paper as a guide to remind myself how to fold the blankets quickly and easily.

Disassemble and reassemble

Being a military family, we move frequently, but not frequently enough that I remember how to disassemble and reassemble all of our furniture and equipment. The following are things I’ve done to help me remember what to do:

  • Save assembly instructions and copy them to online storage (like Evernote) to be able to access them on my smartphone in case the paper copy is not accessible.
  • Write matching numbers on bits of furniture that go together.
  • Write directly on the equipment what size of socket or hex key is required.

These tricks have reduced the stress on my memory as well as reduced the number of lists and reminders that I keep. What tips and tricks do you use to save time and energy? Feel welcome to share your solutions with other readers in the comments.

Preparing for an organized and fun summer

A friend of mine teaches in a small Kansas town and the school where she works starts summer break today. The school is having major reconstruction done to it, so instead of subjecting the kids and faculty to a dangerous work zone, they put in longer days to get in the required hours this year and ended the school year early.

Our kids don’t begin summer break until the last week of June where I live in the D.C. area. But, irrespective of when it begins for you and/or your family, now is a great time to organize your summer plans (if you haven’t already).

Set a budget

Our first step in summer preparation is to set a budget. Once we know how much money we can spend, we then make decisions about vacations, camps for the kids, concerts, dinners, and other adventures. Working on percentages, we may decide to spend something like 40 percent of our summer fun budget on family vacations, 40 percent on camps, 5 percent on special projects, and the remaining 15 percent on everything else (movie tickets, ice cream, dinners with friends).

Create a plan

In April, we created a large calendar of the months May, June, July, August, and September and hung the pages up on the wall in the hallway by our bedrooms. We used sheets of reusable vinyl whiteboard to make the calendar because it’s easy to move around and stores nicely when not in use. Then, as we have made plans, we have been writing them onto the calendar along with locations and times: camps, weddings, festivals, vacations, etc.

We highlight activities based upon their attendance — who is involved (one person or everyone) and importance (something we could do vs. something we are doing). We also have a plain sheet of vinyl whiteboard where we note things we would like to do but haven’t yet scheduled.

Keep a project jar

This idea came to our family from fellow-Unclutterer contributor Dave Caolo in his post “Charting summer vacation success.” However, instead of calling ours a boredom jar, we’ve made three jars and named ours Project Jars (one jar for each person in the family who can read). We have a dozen or so special projects we all want to accomplish this summer. Mine includes sticks for things like making my daughter’s baby book and sewing a dress for me to wear to my sister-in-law’s wedding. If we owned our home, I’d most certainly have building a firepit in the backyard as one of my items.

Whether a project jar or a boredom jar, both are helpful for answering the question “what can I/we do?”

Make special summer routines

Keeping routines will help you to feel like you have accomplished things at the end of summer — you won’t feel as if the opportunities that come with warmer months simply pass you by. Obviously, keep up with your chores and morning hygiene routines, etc. What I’m mostly suggesting is that you put other routines in place to help you do the fun things of summer — every Friday meet friends for drinks or have another family over for dinner, attend the weekly free concert series provided by your local parks department, go for a run every morning, play basketball with your kids every day after work, take a family walk each night after dinner, etc.

List it, schedule it, and reserve it

Whether packing lists or lists for activity bags, you can get started now making lists of stuff you’ll need to have with you. It’s also a good time to reserve rental cars, make dinner plans, and schedule back-to-school doctor appointments for the kids. If something on your summer schedule requires prep work, you might as well do it now.

I save most of these items to Evernote so I can access them from home or when we’re on the road. I also use the To-do app on my phone that is part of the phone’s standard operating system — it’s nothing fancy, easy to use, and I can email lists to my husband.

Have fun organizing your summer plans and let us know in the comments about the steps you take to have a chaos-free summer.