What’s in your junk drawer?

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

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

True junk

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

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

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

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

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

Random useful stuff

As commenter Nicole wrote on Be More With Less:

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

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

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

Memorabilia

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

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

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

Other people mentioned cards and candles, too.

Odds and ends

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

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

Your individual junk drawers

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

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

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

Kids’ backpack essentials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncluttering toiletries: the shelf life of shampoo, sunscreen, and more

Unclutterer has written about makeup expiration, but what about all those other toiletries that tend to accumulate? Shampoos, lotions, and other products can also clutter up a bathroom.

Expiration date labels

You may find expiration dates on beauty and body care products to help you make a keep-or-toss decision — but not all products have such requirements.

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, writing in the Chicago Tribune, summarized the requirements in the U.S:

The Food and Drug Administration requires that expiration dates be printed on all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but not on cosmetics — unless the cosmetics are also considered drugs, such as toothpaste with fluoride, anything with sunscreen, anti-dandruff shampoo and antiperspirant. But even then, over-the-counter drugs without dose limitations don’t have to carry expiration dates if tests have proven they’re stable for at least three years, which is why one sunscreen may have a date while another won’t.

Things are different in the European Union, where cosmetic products with a shelf life of 30 months or more must have a Period-After-Opening symbol indicating how many months the product can be used “without any harm to the consumer” after it’s been opened. (Products with a shorter shelf life are labeled with a “best before” date.) Some American products have decided to use this same symbol, but that is voluntary.

Of course, if you’re going to rely on a PAO guideline, you’ll need to remember when you opened the product. You may want to write that date on the product with a permanent marker, or add a label with the date.

Shampoo (non-dandruff)

Real Simple reported shampoo is good for about three years; Jyl Craven Hair Design suggests “no more than three years and an opened bottle for at most 18 months.” Jyl goes on to say that some products — those that avoid using additives and preservatives — might go bad more quickly.

You can also rely on the smell and the feel of a product to alert you if it has gone bad. Amy Corbett Storch wrote:

How can you tell that shampoo is bad? Usually by the smell. An expired bottle of Pureology, for example, smells straight up like wet dog. Other signs: the shampoo appears separated or extra runny when you squirt some into your hands, and a lack of good lather.

How you store your shampoo can make a difference, too. Aubrey Organics said, discussing skin and body care products: “Long-term exposure of products to sunlight and/or heat should be avoided because the resulting oxidation may affect freshness.”

Sunscreen

Real Simple explained: The Food and Drug Administration requires that all sunscreens maintain their optimal strength for at least three years, but you should also check the printed expiration date on the bottom or the side of the product.

But again, you’ll want to pay attention to how the product appears. Real Simple goes on to quote Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist in High Point, North Carolina: “Most commonly, a foul odor indicates that the preservative has failed.”

And Dr. Lawrence Gibson wrote on the Mayo Clinic website, “Discard sunscreen that is more than 3 years old, has been exposed to high temperatures or has obvious changes in color or consistency.”

Toothpaste

Proctor and Gamble explained about the expiration date on toothpaste with fluoride:

Toothpaste past its expiration date may be less effective — some fluoride won’t bind with tooth enamel, reducing the toothpaste’s ability to strengthen teeth and defend them against cavities. Another result may be viscosity issues, such as toothpaste that is more difficult to squeeze through the tube.

Dr. Joel H. Berg, chairman of pediatric dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, explained the binding problem and a bit more in The New York Times.

He said depending how long and at what temperatures the tube was stored, the goo inside could separate, meaning less or more fluoride in each squeeze, and less or more flavoring agent, which could be mintily disconcerting.

Some toothpastes provide recommended storage temperatures. I’ve seen two — AquaFresh and Sensodyne — that say they should be stored below 86ºF, while another says below 77ºF.

Lip balm

Real Simple suggested lip balm can be kept unopened for five years, and opened for one to five years.

For more guidance, you might check with the individual company and see what information it provides. For example, Hurraw! Balm: “We recommend using your tube of Hurraw! Balm within a year of opening (fyi, stability tests place expiration at 3 years ‘on the shelf’) and storing it between 40-72F (4-22C).”

That last part is important, because a number of people indicate that lip balm will often go bad — developing clumps and texture problems — if it gets too hot or too cold, because the emulsification of the materials gets broken.

Conclusion

The more careful we are about how we store our toiletries, the longer they’ll last, and the less we’ll have to toss. But careful storage still doesn’t mean the products last forever.

Tools for an organized sewing kit

Doing your own sewing repairs can save you some money and you’ll always be able to leave the house looking neat and tidy. You don’t need to be a seamstress or tailor or need a bunch of expensive equipment. This list outlines basic essentials. If you have some talent or training in sewing you may want to invest in more tools, but these are the minimal items necessary for most DIY repairs. If you prefer, you can buy a sewing kit that contains all of the basics. I would rather build my own kit, as I prefer left-handed scissors and I like to select my own colours of thread.

Scissors
Invest in quality scissors to be used only for sewing. I recommend two pairs: Dressmakers shears with 8″ (200mm) blades for cutting fabric and embroidery scissors that have blades about 3″ or 4″ (90mm) long for precision cutting and trimming. If you’re left-handed, buy left-handed shears. It will make sewing tasks much easier.

Using sewing scissors for paper and plastic will quickly dull the blades making it difficult to cut fabric. Use a marker or label to indicate that these scissors are to be used for sewing only.

Needles and Pins
Purchase a variety of needles in a one-at-a-time dispensing pack. You’ll have the needles you need and they’ll be organised too!

Pins should be straight and sharp with colourful heads that do not melt if you iron over them. Store the pins in a small plastic box or in a pincushion. Magnetised pin holders are handy for picking pins up from the floor but they do not protect your fingers from getting stabbed.

Safety pins, in a variety of sizes can be used for pinning things together that you may not have time to sew. They can also be used to help feed elastic or cord through waistbands and cuffs. You can hook them together into a long strand to keep them organized if you don’t have a storage container.

Thread
Purchase quality poly-cotton blend thread in a variety of colours that match the majority of your clothing. You should also buy an olive drab colour because it can be used on almost any dark material (blues, blacks, browns). There is a reason the army calls this colour “camouflage!” Good quality thread should have a smooth finish; fuzzy thread will tend to get caught while sewing and break easily if pulled too hard.

Seam Ripper
This is a tool with a sharp point, a blunt point and a sharp blade in the middle. If you stitch something in the wrong place, use a seam ripper to cut the stitches without cutting the fabric. It can also be used to remove buttons that are half hanging off and for cutting thread in areas that scissors won’t reach.

Measuring Tape
You should have a flexible measuring tape at least 150cm (60″) long with imperial measurements on one side and metric on the other. Fabric tape measures stretch slightly with heavy use so if yours is older, you may wish to replace it so that you have accurate measurements.

Iron, Ironing Board
Ironing removes the wrinkles and seams and presses folds neat and sharp making fabrics easier to sew. If you don’t have the space to store a full-sized ironing board, invest in an ironing pad. Also use a pressing cloth when ironing delicate items that might be damaged or those that have a special surface such as sequins or glitter. There is no need to purchase a special store bought pressing cloth, a lightweight cotton or linen dishtowel will do as long as it is clean, stain-free, and white as colours and stains may transfer to your fabric.

Hem Tape
Fusible hem tape is used with an iron to quickly hem skirts and pants. It is ideal if you don’t have matching thread available or if you’re in a hurry. Be careful when you iron as you might scorch delicate fabrics. It may lose its adhesiveness after multiple washings so stitching can reinforce it.

Buttons
Keep a variety of buttons handy in assorted colours and sizes to match the majority of your clothing. Keep them in a small, divided, plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Often the clothes you purchase will come with little packet of extra buttons so this little container is a great place to store those extra buttons.

Lighter
It never fails that in the rush to school and work in the morning, someone has a nylon backpack strap or shoelace that is unravelling. A quick flick of the lighter will melt the ends of synthetic straps so they won’t unravel. And if someone misplaces the lighter used for the birthday candles, you’ve always got a spare one in your sewing kit.

Container
Sewing tools need to be cared for just like any other tools. Keep them free from dirt and do not drop them. Store your sewing tools in a plastic bin or decorative basket. It can be plain or fancy, with or without handles. It should however, have a sturdy latch.

Benefits of being organized

Every day at Unclutterer, we share tips, tricks, thoughts, and strategies for a clutter-free lifestyle. As 2014 begins, I want to step back and see the proverbial forest instead of the trees. Just what are the benefits of being organized? It’s potentially a long list, but I’ve narrowed it down to what has affected me the most. Read on for what I consider the benefits of an organized life, at home and at work.

  1. Less stress. Above anything else, this is the number one reason I burn calories to stay on top of things. Here’s a great example: This year, I’m making a concerted effort to keep my office neat and tidy (I work from home and my office is also my bedroom). I added a bulletin board and have designated a home for everything: inbox, keys, wallet, office supplies, charger cables, and more. Now, when I need something, I know exactly where it is. This fact reduces stress and allows me to …
  2. Relax more. I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Organized people are just too lazy to search for stuff.” That’s cute, but I’d rather be the “lazy” one mentioned in the punchline. Less time spent running around means more time. Just, more time to do what I want to do, like …
  3. Spend time with my family. Getting clean and clear professionally and personally means I’ve got more time to spend with the kids and my wife. For example, my workday ends at 2:00, just as I drive to the school bus. I know that I’ll be spending the next six hours with my family. That’s easy to do when I took care of all my work stuff before then.
  4. I’m ready for a curveball. I’m sure you know how this goes: life throws a kink into the works that interrupts your plans in a major way. Being prepared ahead of time lessens the impact. For example, I have a designated “emergency” office and ultra-portable setup ready. That way, if my Internet connection goes down at home, or a construction crew sets up outside my window, I already know where I’m going to go to work and what I need to bring.
  5. The overwhelming seems manageable. I never would have believed this if I hadn’t experienced it myself. I don’t care if you’re talking about work, the kids, or home management, but it’s a great feeling to have every project defined, and every action step that stands between you and “done” clearly identified. When I do this, I can look at a daunting to-do list and feel like I’m on top of it and capable of doing what needs to be done.
  6. Improved health. The stress I mentioned earlier, which I feel when things start to get out of control, does not promote good health. There are numerous studies that demonstrate a link between sustained high levels of stress and a variety of health problems.
  7. I’m a better example for my kids. There was a time when I spent most of my time behind my computer, working on this or that. I felt productive, sure, but I also worried about the message I was sending to the kids. Adults work all the time? My job is more important than them? I want my kids to become productive, contributing adults, of course, but I want them to enjoy life, too, and that absolutely includes time spent not working.
  8. Fewer little jobs. There are four people in my house. If we miss a day or two of laundry, we’re behind. That means that, some day this week, someone has to spend an inordinate amount of time digging out from Mt. Clothing in the basement. However, just turning over a single load per day makes all the difference. Little things like making sure the kids put their hats and boots away each day after school improves our family’s ability to easily function.
  9. Greater productivity. When you know where things are, what your goals are, and take care of the piddley busy work as it appears, you’ve got significantly more time and energy for the big goals in life.

An organized life takes some doing, and you’re going to slip up. No one is clean and clear all day, every day! But when you strive to do the best you can, you’ll experience the benefits listed above … and more. Here’s to an organized and rewarding 2014, unclutterers! May you experience the best of an organized life.

Seven organizing strategies for a home renovation project

Organizing a home renovation is no easy task. Coordinating with contractors, applying for building permits, and keeping track of all of the bills, invoices, and receipts can be quite time consuming. The following seven tips are things to consider prior to starting a renovation project so it runs more smoothly.

Unclutter. Keep only items used on a daily basis in the space you are renovating. For example, during a summer time kitchen renovation, pack away Christmas dishes and place them in storage. If the renovation is scheduled for your bedroom, place off-season and seldom worn clothing in another area of the house.

Security. There will be times when your home will not be secure, such as when workers are transporting materials in and out or if windows are being replaced. Consider placing valuable jewelry and vital documents (birth certificates, social security cards, etc.) in a safety deposit box for the duration of the renovation. Other sensitive documents, such as receipts and bank statements should be stored in a locked filing cabinet. Sentimental items such as photos, souvenirs, and memorabilia should also be packed away so they will not be damaged.

Safety. Remember that a renovation is a construction site. There may be electrical wires exposed and places where you can slip, trip, or fall. Discuss the risks with the contractor and consider installing barrier gates to keep children and pets out of the area. Small pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits can get into holes and get sealed in. Cats may get curious and get stuck in places they shouldn’t. Dogs may get slivers in their paws from walking through broken bits of wood. Consider having your four-legged friends stay with family, friends, or pet daycare if you cannot be home to supervise them during the renovation process.

Review routines. Before the renovations begin, examine all of the ways the project will interrupt your regular routines. For example, if you have to shower in the guest bathroom in the mornings, will you be able to walk through the house in your bathrobe? You may need to plan extra time the night before to bring your clothes to the guest bathroom. If you will be using another entryway for access into the house, you may need to move the car keys, cell phone charger, and children’s backpacks. Ensure you have a place for incoming mail so that bills still get paid and important documents get filed. If you can’t get to your filing cabinet, invest in a small accordion-filing folder to use during the renovation process.

Create swing space. If furniture must be removed from certain rooms during the renovation process, it should be placed in a way that doesn’t interfere with household operations. You just can’t cook a decent meal with a sectional sofa in the middle of the kitchen. You may wish to clear your garage or basement or consider putting some furniture temporarily into storage during the renovation.

Plan for the unplanned. You should have a back up plan in case of emergencies, such as a busted water pipe or heating/air-conditioning system shutdown. Have a list of local hotels handy in case you need to make a last-minute reservation. It is also helpful to have a list of local restaurants that offer take-out and delivery for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Keep a stash of coins and a large mesh bag in your car in case you need to use the local Laundromat.

Think positive. As my mother is fond of saying, “This too shall pass.” Renovations are a temporary state. Once completed, you’ll be able to enjoy your new space, and look back and smile at your renovation adventure.

Buy, organize, and store household batteries wisely

Modern life is jam-packed with two things: cables and batteries. So many things must be plugged in or charged up regularly that it’s hard to keep up. Rechargeable batteries are especially burdensome because you’ve got to keep track of which are charged, which aren’t, where the charger is, and so on. Isn’t technology supposed to make life easier?

Last year I wrote about organizing, storing and buying cables wisely, and today I’m going to look at batteries. Let’s begin by looking at the different types and the best use for each, as outlined by Michael Bluejay.

Battery types and their best uses

Two are two main categories of household batteries: rechargeable and disposable. Each category has four main types. Let’s begin with rechargeable batteries, as they’re becoming more prevalent, both as a source of power and clutter.

Rechargeable Batteries

  1. Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH). These are good for most applications, but don’t have the longest shelf life.
  2. LSD (low self discharge) NiMH. Again, good for general use, with the added benefit of longer shelf life than non-LSD NiMH. Meaning that, once out of the charger and sitting on a shelf, they hold their charge longer.
  3. Nickel-Zinc (NiZn). Use these with devices that will benefit from extra voltage like a digital camera. Note that with devices that don’t need the extra juice (say a Bluetooth computer mouse or keyboard), you should stay away from NiZn. Also, this group of batteries has a short shelf life.
  4. Rechargeable Alkaline. Now we’re talking about the longest shelf life of any rechargeable battery, including LSD NiMH. Use with devices whose batteries aren’t replaced often, like radios or clocks.

If rechargeables aren’t your thing, good old disposables are still around.

Disposable Batteries

  1. Alkaline. These are the inexpensive batteries that you see everywhere. Reserve for low-drain devices like remote controls.
  2. High-Drain Alkaline. These are disposables meant for high-drain devices like a digital camera. Seriously though, it’s much more economical to use a rechargeable battery in this situation.
  3. Lithium. These are powerful little batteries but, of course, you can’t recharge them. However, they are good for smoke detectors as the small amount of drain the detectors put on them means they’ll last a long time (but change your smoke detectors batteries twice a year, okay?).
  4. Carbon Zinc, Zinc Chloride. Often the least expensive, these are good for low-drain devices. That tiny night light in Jr.’s bedroom? Here you go.

At this point, you’ve identified the type(s) of battery you need and now it’s time to store them. Perhaps you know how much fun it is to go on a hunting expedition for a working battery, or take batteries out of one device just so you can add them to another. My personal favorite is picking up a rechargeable and thinking, “Hm, is this charged? I don’t know.” Let’s eliminate all of that nonsense.

Super battery storage solutions

The Range Kleen organizer is pretty nice. I like this because it accommodates all sizes of household batteries and presents them so you can see instantly what is available. It also comes with a built-in tester, so you can know how “good” a battery is before installing it. It’s a little big, which is its only real downside.

Arts and crafts bins also work well and often have the benefit of a lid, are semi-opaque, and stackable. A few minutes with your label maker helps a lot, too.

If you’d rather save a few bucks and go DIY, consider those disposable deli containers. They don’t hold as many batteries as the larger cases, but cost a lot less. You can even get crafty and use vintage coin purses and labels, if you’d prefer not to see a big, ugly plastic bin of batteries. Chunky diner mugs work well, too.

Ninja level battery management

When you’re ready for world-class battery organization, read insights from Quentin Stafford-Fraser. Quentin recommends you do five things:

  1. Spend some money on an initial cache of batteries. You’ll eliminate that last-second hunt that keeps everybody waiting.
  2. Dedicate space for battery storage. Quentin uses a series of hardware bins with labels like “AAA Flat” and “AAA Charged” for easy reference. When the “flat” bins get full, he begins recharging.
  3. Invest in good batteries. Quentin recommends the Sanyo Eneloop. Incidentally, that’s the same brand of battery that Apple ships with its own charger. I can attest to the fact that they last a long time. Erin uses the Amazon Basics rechargeables, which many users believe to be rebranded second-generation Eneloops.
  4. Buy a decent charger. I’ve fiddled with chargers from brands you’d recognize that failed to perform to my expectations. Get yourself a good one. Again, Erin has a personal recommendation here, and suggests the La Crosse Technology recharger for AAs and AAAs.
  5. Get a good tester. The Range Kleen I mentioned above ships with a tester. A stand-alone model like the ZTS MBT–1 Pulse Load Multi Battery Tester will set you back a few bucks but last a good, long time.

Disposing of old batteries properly

Even the best batteries will eventually give up the ghost. Unfortunately, there’s no single solution for getting rid of them. The process depends on the type.

According to Duracell, common alkaline batteries can be tossed into your household trash. The company notes that it hasn’t used mercury in its batteries since 1993, which is a good thing. Check with your preferred manufacturer to see how the’ve addressed concerns over their products’ chemistry.

Rechargeable, lithium, and zinc batteries should be recycled. You can find a compatible recycling center in your area via the Battery Recycling Corporation’s Call2Recycle program. You can also check the website for your local county and/or municipality’s hazardous waste program. These governmental jurisdictions almost always have a program just for battery collection.

With some planning, proper storage, and knowledge of what you need, you can eliminate a lot of battery hassles and reduce the clutter they produce at the same time.

50 ways to use a basket

“My stuff is all over the place”, she said to me.
The answer is easy, organizationally.
I’d like to help you in your desire to be neat,
There must be fifty ways to use a basket.

Organizing doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Small baskets can be purchased at discount stores and can be used in many ways. Put them in drawers to group similar items together. Put them on counters to stop clutter from spreading. The following is a list with 50 ways to use a small basket.

In the kitchen:

  • to group spice jars together
  • to hold packets of sauce mixes
  • to hold lids for reusable food plastic storage containers
  • to group small, sharp knives together in the drawer
  • to group measuring spoons in the drawer
  • to hold all the parts for the food processor
  • to hold re-usable wine corks
  • to hold twist ties
  • on the counter to hold the plugs for the kitchen sink and the pot scrubber

In the fridge:

  • to group together small round cheeses, cheese slices and cheese sticks
  • to hold mini yogurt containers
  • to contain single use soy sauce, mustard, and ketchup packets for lunches

In the office desk drawer for:

  • paper clips and staples
  • tape, hole punch
  • erasers and correction fluid
  • highlighters, markers
  • pens, pencils
  • batteries and small screwdrivers
  • postage stamps and envelopes

In the bathroom to contain:

  • eye glass cleaning accessories
  • contact lens accessories
  • hair elastics, barrettes, etc.
  • make up and accessories
  • nail polish and nail care accessories
  • razors, shaving accessories
  • bandages, antibiotic cream
  • dental supplies (toothpaste, floss, etc.)
  • feminine hygiene supplies

In the bedroom:

  • to group jewelry on the dresser
  • to hold coins found in pockets
  • beside the bed to hold lip balm, hand cream, etc.

At the front entry to hold:

  • spare change from pockets
  • wallet, keys
  • cell phone and Blackberry
  • shoe polish and rags

In the toolbox for:

  • small screwdrivers
  • drill bits
  • sockets for socket wrench
  • router bits
  • hooks, nails, screws
  • clips and clamps

To contain children’s:

  • paints, brushes
  • beads and thread
  • yarn and knitting needles
  • crayons
  • doll clothes and shoes
  • blocks
  • small parts for board games
  • playing cards

In the car’s glove box to contain:

  • mini measuring tape, pen, cell phone recharging cord, sunglasses

Preparing for house guests

For those of us who celebrate, the holidays mean that you’re likely to have house guests. Some will stay for a day, while others will be in it for the long haul. My wife and I play host to several far-flung relatives every year, many who stay for a week or more. It’s great to be around everybody, and a little planning makes it even better. The following are a few organized ideas you can employ to make the whole experience better for everyone.

Pre-visit

Before the gang shows up, there’s some preparation that needs to be done. I suggest you begin by delegating. There’s a lot to be done, and taking it all on by yourself is a bad idea. First, write down what needs to be done before everyone arrives. Next, divvy up who’s going to do what. Not only that, but set a start date and deadline for each task. That way, projects like “ensure that all bath towels are clean and available” and “wash all bed linens” not only have a due date, but a person in charge. Make this list public to everyone in your home so that accountability isn’t a mystery to anyone.

Next, prioritize. The lists you generate while working on the above will probably contain many items that must be done, as well as some that would just be nice to get done. From there, I suggest making three lists:

  • Priority A: Do or die, must be done.
  • Priority B: It would be nice if these things happened.
  • Priority C: Aspirational goals. Everyone will have a great time, even if these items are not completed.

After making this list, you’ll have a real good handle on what must be completed to pull off a successful and relatively stress-free hosting, and what’s nice but not crucial. Then, act accordingly.

During the visit

My family is not content with sitting around. They like to go, see, and do. This is a lot easier when the going, seeing, and doing have been defined ahead of time. Make a note of who’s “on point” for a given activity well before the guests arrive. Who will drive to caroling in town? Who’s in charge of dinner? Having those questions (and more) answered ahead of time will benefit everybody.

When my extended family goes on summer vacations together, we create sign-up sheets for determining who wants to do what. It might sound overly formal, but it helps the 13 of us stay on top of things without a doubt.

It’s also important to be flexible. The schedule isn’t the end-all and be-all of your time together. It’s merely a formalized suggestion. There will be times when plans change. Go with it. You’ll have a much better time than trying to stick, unyieldingly, to the itinerary.

Finally, don’t forget the little things or the regular routine. Who’s going to make breakfasts? Or take the dog out? Run to the dump or turn the laundry over? Answering these questions ahead of time is a good idea.

Odds and ends

Here are a few tricks that my wife and I have used at home with great success. First, we put a folder full of take-out menus in our guests’ bedrooms. That way, they know what’s around and can make their own plans if they like. Also, make a “Boredom Jar” like the one I described earlier this year. To make one, print many answers to “What can I do?” onto thin strips of paper. Next, glue them to popsicle sticks and stick them into a jar. Now, when the kids ask, “What can I do?” just point them to the jar.

Hopefully something here will work for you. Good luck and have a great holiday season.

Tech tips for the holidays

The season for giving is here and that means there is a lot to do. Fortunately, the gadgets are here to help. That’s what they’re supposed to do, right? Make life easier? And, there are several examples of apps that can work for you.

Reaching around to the back of the Christmas tree is a hassle. I’ve knocked ornaments off several times, much to my wife’s chagrin, and even forgotten to turn the thing off at night. The solution is automation, and the easiest way to get started is with the Belkin WeMo switch. It’s a Wi-Fi capable switch that plugs into a wall socket and lets you turn anything plugged into it from almost anywhere. After some easy initial setup, grab the free WeMo app for your iPhone or Android phone and you’re all set. Give it a tap, and the tree is on. Tap again and it’s off. You can keep using it when the holidays are over, of course, for things like televisions, lights, and so on. Plus, you can create schedules with the free apps that will turn devices on and off for you.

My wife and I started to receive Christmas cards this week. If you’re still waiting to send holiday greetings, fear not. There’s still time to make and send great-looking cards from home. Shutterfly is what we use. It’s super easy to put a card together and have it delivered. Or, buy a some labels so you can print labels for them at home. Speaking of labels, Mac users can check out tutorials on creating great-looking address labels with Apple’s Contacts and Pages applications.

No time to wait for physical cards? Then consider this tutorial from Instructables on making and sending ecards with your smartphone. They used an iPhone in the article, but an Android phone will work just as well.

Many of us will travel between now and New Year’s Eve. There are so many great travel apps available, that I could write a whole stand-alone post on the topic. In the interest of time, I’ve picked a few of my favorites.

Kayak has been my top travel app for a long time, as it’s a one-stop shop. It does everything from creating a packing list to finding deals on flights and hotels. Plus, its mobile apps are just beautiful and often dispense flight information faster than the airport. I use it almost every time I travel. It’s so tidy as it keeps everything you need in one app.

If you’ll be road tripping, check out Waze. This service offers turn-by-turn navigation, as many do, but what makes it unique is the crowd-sourced information. As other users travel, they report on time-consuming accidents, road conditions, and map accuracy. If there’s an accident along your route, you’ll be notified in real time, allowing you to make time- and money-saving adjustments. The app even lets you know where you’ll find the cheapest gas along your route.

I assume you’ll be traveling to familiar territory, but just in case you aren’t, check out Field Trip from Google. It’s available for the iPhone and Android. As you move about, it points out interesting things in your vicinity.

Here’s one more quick tip: If you’re traveling with an Apple laptop, here is the best way to pack the power supply and cord.

Last but not least, don’t forget about the far-flung relatives and loved ones who can’t join the festivities in person. Set up a video call and wish them the best while you’re face-to-face. Apple’s Facetime lets you send and receive video calls to and from a Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, while Skype covers just about every other device.

I hope these tips help you enjoy your holiday more thoroughly. Have a great time, everyone.

Uncluttering during the holiday season

Holiday parties, festivities, and gift giving can generate clutter. One of the ways to reduce the clutter build-up is to have effective clean up and disposal systems in place before the big holiday rush begins.

Parties and Festivities

At banquets in hotels and restaurants, they often have tables in the corners of the room on which guests can place their used dishes and cocktail napkins. Set up a similar system at your home party. You may choose to clear a section of kitchen counter near the sink or place a festive tray in each room. As a host, you can see when the trays are filling up and remove the dirty dishes quickly and easily.

Having a small garbage bin near the dirty dish collection point will allow your guests to drop in their soiled napkins. You may wish to have a separate bin for soda cans/bottles for recycling. Most guests are happy to put trash in its place if bins are accessible and clearly labeled.

If you decide you do not want to keep party decorations and holiday flowers, they could be donated to local hospitals and nursing homes if they are still in good condition. Please call ahead and see if they would appreciate your donations prior to dropping them off.

All of these tips could work for parties at any time during the year, too.

General Clutter-Busting Tips

This is the biggest shopping season of the year so more stuff than ever enters the house. Keeping donation boxes or bags in the closet or laundry room is a good idea to help you quickly get rid of any old stuff (like clothes) that will be replaced with new stuff. Once the donation bin is full, take it to your favourite drop-off location or arrange for pick-up from an appropriate charity.

Designate a place in the home for out-dated electronics. It could be a box or bin in your laundry area or office. If they are still functioning, you may be able to sell or donate them. Broken and non-functioning electronics can be sent to electronics recycling programs. Check your municipality’s website to see how electronics should be disposed.

Batteries are required for almost all electronics and many toys. But, many batteries contain materials that can leak into the environment when they are dumped into the trash. In order to protect the environment and keep dead batteries from cluttering up your home, consider creating “Dead Battery Bins.” Ideally there should be three small bins; one for alkaline batteries, one for button batteries, and one for rechargeable batteries. Used batteries may still have a bit of life left in them. Grouping used batteries together can bring these live batteries into contact with one another creating safety risks, so it is important not to accumulate a large amount of alkaline batteries. Small “dead battery bins” such as clean yogurt or margarine containers should minimize the risk and allow you to safely dispose of the batteries before you collect too many. Ensure the containers have tightly fitting lids and keep them out of reach of children and pets.

During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season sometimes the simplest things get forgotten, such as the day the waste bins need to be at the curb. Often municipalities will reschedule waste pickups so that they do not fall on statutory holidays. Check with your municipality to confirm the trash and recycling pickup dates and mark them on your calendar. If you need to have your bins out early in the morning, set a reminder for the day before.

A case for baskets

Today’s guest post is by Amanda Scudder, Organizing Consultant with the company Abundance Organizing. Please give her a nice welcome.

Are you a basket case in the making? If you have a spot where clutter tends to collect — the table by the front door, the kitchen counter, the foot of the bed — you are! And I’m going to make the case that a basket, properly managed, can be just the solution you are seeking.

Clutter hotspots are a leading cause of aggravation for just about everyone. I recently worked with a client who lamented that a basket on her counter constantly filled up with clutter that didn’t belong there — sun screen, library books, art supplies, children’s toys and the like. She had tried removing the basket, but the items still landed on the counter. And without the basket to contain things, it looked even messier. What she didn’t realize was that the problem wasn’t the basket. In fact, she’d intuitively set up a clutter-management strategy that can be very effective. A basket gives you a place to contain things that are not convenient to put away in the heat of the moment, as you are running out the door, emptying book bags at the end of a busy day, or otherwise trying to get on with life. The trick to turning it from a clutter problem into a clutter solution is to establish a routine for emptying it on a regular basis.

In my house, we use an “up-and-down” basket on the table at the foot of the stairs — in it go things I’ve picked up off the kitchen counter, living room floor, end tables, and other clutter-collecting surfaces. Like the dishtowels that need to be washed, the hairbrush dropped by my daughter in her mad dash out the door, socks found under the couch, books, and toys. When I go upstairs, I grab the basket, put the laundry in the hamper, the brush on the dresser, and the books next to the bed for nighttime reading. When the basket is empty, I use it to collect things that belong downstairs and it goes with me the next time I go downstairs.

To set up your own basket system, find an attractive, portable container to hold the clutter. You probably have a basket or tote around the house that you can press into service for this purpose. Reusing things you already have saves you time, money, and space. But if not, there are lots of options available for purchase, like this classic, eco-friendly collapsible bamboo-jute basket from Crate & Barrel:

Or this market basket:

Whatever container you choose, the next step is to put it in the spot where clutter seems to collect. Then, set a time each day to empty the container by returning everything that is in it to its proper home. Some people enjoy the routine of a few minutes every morning or just before bed to take on this chore. Other people use the basket itself as a visual cue — when it is full, it is time to empty it. Just make sure you don’t get a basket that is too big, as you want to be able to empty it pretty quickly on a regular basis.

Think about your clutter hotspot — will a basket strategy work for you?