NeighborGoods helps you find specific items to rent or borrow

Borrow or rent equipment, tools, and reusable goods from your neighbors through the new NeighborGoods site. Instead of buying a specialized item, first check to see if you can save your money (and storage space) and get it on loan from a neighbor.

Since the NeighborGoods site is new, there might not be many items yet available in your community. If you’re interested in building up your community, don’t be shy about spreading the word to your friends and neighbors. The more people using the system increases the likelihood that you’ll find what you need.

Columbus gets creative with clutter recycling program

Anyone who has ever lived in a college town knows that the end of the school year is a trash scavenger’s dream. When students move out of their dorms and apartments, they put on the curb and in large dumpsters anything they don’t wish to take with them to the next chapter of their lives. Anything that isn’t looted, is piled into trash trucks and taken to the city dump.

A lot of these trashed items are in good working order and could be used by someone else. However, after partying it up in celebration of the end of finals, the last thing anyone wants to do is find good homes for their unwanted things.

The Ohio State University has a program that not only helps students responsibly get rid of their clutter at the end of the semester, but it is also available for residents of the Columbus area to use. The program is called “Dump and Run” and The Columbus Dispatch says that the donated items are evaluated, priced, and then sold at the beginning of the semester in a huge yard sale.

For the past six years, dump volunteers have collected hand-me-downs and sold them at thrifty prices to students and bargain-hungry adults in the greater Columbus area. “It’s a great way to reduce waste in landfills, and it has a lot of appeal for students and Columbus residents,” said Podrasky, a junior majoring in environmental policy and management.

Sue Kelly, 54, and husband, Scott Dagenfield, 56, donated her late father’s wooden office desk to make room for a new recliner in her mother’s home.

Nearly 30 years old, the desk is in mint condition.

To encourage students to donate, dump organizers placed bins in each of the college’s residence halls May14. That collection runs until Friday.

Last year, students collected nearly 7 tons of items, said Rachel Gapa, program co-chairwoman.

Thanks to reader Mary for letting us know about this program. Hopefully spreading the word about it will help other college towns learn about this terrific clutter-recycling program.

Hoarding: Why forced cleanouts are unsuccessful

The A&E channel ran a Memorial Day marathon of the first season of its television show Hoarders. After showing all of the original broadcasts, A&E aired a new episode that showed the progress — or, rather lack of progress — of a handful of the show’s participants. Four of the five of the people featured in the new “Where are they one year later?” episode had fully returned to their hoarding ways.

I didn’t watch the new episode and actually heard about it through a blog post on Entertainment Weekly’s website. Learning about it this way was a solid reminder that the show is created for entertainment, and not necessarily to help the participants on the show or teach the audience about the mental disorder. I know from people who have worked with the show that behind the scenes they do try to help the participants, but so much of that isn’t transmitted to the audience. The scary music and the shock and awe storytelling dehumanize the participants, in my opinion.

In the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by hoarding specialists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, the authors say that this recidivist behavior is the norm and should have been expected by the Hoarders production staff. From pages 96 and 97 of the book:

One of the worst experiences for someone with a hoarding problem occurs when another person or crew arrives to clear out the home, usually at the order of the public health department or a frustrated family member … These scenarios almost always leave the hoarder feeling as if his or her most valued possessions have been taken away, which in fact may be the case. Beyond this, most hoarders have a sense of where things are amid the clutter. When someone else moves or discards even a portion of it, this sense of “order” is destroyed. We know of several cases in which hoarders have committed suicide following a forced cleanout.

The time, expense, and trauma of a forced cleanout are not worth the effort if any other alternatives are possible. Although conditions in the home may improve temporarily, the behavior leading to those conditions will not have changed. Moreover, the likelihood of obtaining any future cooperation after such trauma is slim. One Massachusetts town in our survey of health departments conducted a forced cleanout costing $16,000 (most of the town’s health department budget). Just over a year later, the cluttered home was worse than ever.

I continue to have very mixed emotions about the television show Hoarders. I like that the show raises awareness about hoarding, but I don’t feel that it’s necessarily helpful and compassionate information that is being distributed. Did any of you catch the marathon and the “Where are they one year later?” episode? I’m interested in reading your thoughts in the comments.

Again, if you or someone you know is a hoarder, please seek treatment from a licensed medical practitioner. The disorder can be dangerous and treatment has been shown successful for those seeking help.

The following organizations have “find a therapist” functions on their websites that list therapists specifically trained to treat hoarding:

Cleaning your home’s gutters

One of my resolutions for the second quarter of 2010 is to “accomplish all 67 tasks on the ‘Spring Cleaning for the Overachiever’ list on pages 189 and 190 of Unclutter Your Life in One Week.” Since I live in a house that doesn’t have exterior gutters, we swept our house’s flat roof instead of tackling list item number four: “Clean leaves and debris out of gutters.” Sweeping a roof is a comparatively easier chore than cleaning gutters, and I have a lot of sympathy for folks who have to climb up on ladders twice a year to de-muck their gutters.

DIYlife.com’s recent article “Spring Maintenance: Clean Gutters and Downspouts” is a wonderful step-by-step guide on how to get the debris out of your gutters so that your home is ready for spring rains. I particularly appreciated the final tip of the article:

It’s not often that you’re up close and personal with your gutters so take this opportunity to inspect them for damage as well. Dents, holes and cracks may have surfaced over the winter months and should be repaired as soon as possible.

In addition to the advice that appears in the article, I would recommend doing this chore on a clear morning. It’s nice to get it out of the way first thing and avoid racing the setting sun to get it finished. This isn’t a chore you want to hurry through and risk your safety.

ThredUP clothing exchange service

Do you have clothes in your closet that have been there for months with their price tags still attached? Are there great clothes in your closet that you just never have occasion to wear? Are you ready to clear out some “like new” items that don’t fit you right to make way for pieces that do?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might be interested in joining ThredUP. ThredUP is a clothes exchange service that helps you get new and like-new clothes you don’t wear out of your closet and clothes you would like to wear into your closet. From their website:

1. Tell us exactly what you like. We shop other people’s closets to find you hidden gems in your size that we think you’ll love.

2. Let us know the great items you’re no longer wearing. We find thredUP members who are interested in items like these.

3. We manage the peer-to-peer exchange. You send and receive items using our pre-paid envelopes [three envelopes for $12.50] — no trips to the Post Office, ever!

The company was started last year by three men who dislike spending lots of money on clothes and quickly grow bored of what they do buy. I like the program’s Golden Rule: “Send only what you’d be willing to receive.” And, I like that it gets rid of the clothes that you don’t wear that are taking up space in your closets. On the downside, it’s only available to U.S. residents.

Learn more about ThredUP on their FAQ page. Also, they plan to launch a ThredUP KIDS section in the near future. As a parent with a son who never fit into the newborn size, I could have definitely used this service to pass along an entire box of never-worn newborn clothes. (Thankfully, my friend is pregnant with a boy and she was very happy to take the box of clothes from me.)

Recycle small electronics for free through the USPS

While mailing a few holiday packages earlier in the week, I spotted these small recycling bags at my local US Post Office:

If you have small consumer electronics cluttering up a drawer or cupboard in your home, you can send them off to be recycled at no charge through the USPS in these postage-paid mailers. From the USPS website:

Mail it back with USPS! In select Post Offices, customers can get free mail-back envelopes for recycling inkjet cartridges, cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras and other small electronics.

If you’re heading to the Post Office to mail holiday presents, you might as well get some small electronics clutter out of your home and safely recycled for free. If your local Post Office doesn’t currently carry the bags, be sure to request them at the counter.

Guest beds and a new community over on RealSimple.com

RealSimple.com, the website for Real Simple magazine, has two great things going on that I want to bring to your attention. First, the article “6 Great Guest Beds” features some wonderful options in guest accommodations.

My favorite is the one pictured here, the Fold-Up Sleeper Ottoman by plowhearth.com.

The second item I want to bring to your attention is the new community features on RealSimple.com. You can find it immediately to the right of the Real Simple logo near the top of the page.

By creating a username and password, you can save recipes, articles, and other online items to your account for easy retrieval. There are also discussion groups and other community features, but it’s the recipe saving that is my favorite aspect of the community so far. I’m a bit addicted to the current Cookie Recipe of the Day feature.

Organizing medical billings and paperwork

Professional organizer Julie Bestry speaks from personal experience on how to organize medical billings and paperwork to avoid bankruptcy in her article “Don’t Let Hospital Billing Errors Bleed You Dry“:

Harvard University research indicates that approximately 62% of U.S. personal bankruptcies are caused by unaffordable medical bills. Given that, it’s vital to keep track of medical billing, particularly hospital billing, to make sure you are being charged a fair and accurate amount. In fact, some medical billing experts believe that up to 80% of all hospital and medical bills contain at least one error, underlining the importance of vigilance in scrutinizing your medical billing paperwork.

She discusses how to detect errors in your bills and also has a wonderful guide to how to organize this paperwork:

These five posts are a fantastic resource. Again, this is a time when I hope that you won’t ever have to use this information.

Organizing the events after a loss of life

No one likes to think about losing loved ones, but unfortunately it can be a reality. The website About.com has an extremely helpful set of downloadable PDF files that you can print to aid in organizing all of the events after a loved one has passed.

The Death, Dying, and Bereavement Guides include six forms to help plan the events after a death: compare funeral/burial/cremation options, information for writing a eulogy, data needed for an obituary and death notices, and flowers and donations thank you note wording suggestions.

This is one of those times when I hope that you never have to use this information from our website.

TuneUp your iTunes collection

I use iTunes to organize my digital music collection and, for the most part, it suits my needs. I say “for the most part” because similar to the problem I’ve been having with the photographs that I had scanned, not all of my music has correct information associated with it. Fortunately for my music, though, I don’t have to go through my entire iTunes collection song-by-song to straighten out the missing and incorrect data. I have found a program that simply corrects my data — TuneUp.

Based on algorithms and other technical things I don’t fully understand (kind of like the iPhone app Shazam), TuneUp picks up where iTunes leaves off at properly identifying the music in my collection. I no longer have seven Track 03s on my playlists. All I have to do is drag the misidentified song into the “cleaner” and TuneUp pulls up possible matches. (The cleaner function is displayed at right.)

In addition to identifying songs, it also fixes formatting, finds rarer cover art, matches artist names, and even gives information about the songs in your collection sort of like VH1′s old Pop-Up Videos.

There are other programs out there similar to TuneUp, I just happened to find this program first and since it worked for me I didn’t try the others. If you have tried other programs and had success, please tell us about your experiences in the comments. TuneUp is free for a “limited-access” download, and is around $20 for an “unlimited” version.

If only I could find a program to clean up my digital photographs as easily …

(Image from TuneUp’s website … I fear if I show my music collection you all will make strange — but probably correct — assumptions about me! And, it should go without saying, but I wasn’t paid to write this review.)

Create intuitive and reliable Amazon URLs on the fly with AtTheBigRiver.com

Dancing Mammoth, the company that owns Unclutterer, is always working on new products and services to help people save time and use the web more effectively. In the past, we’ve introduced Nest Unclutterer and Fix My HTML.

Today we’re introducing a new service, called AtTheBigRiver.com.

AtTheBigRiver.com is a convenient way to link to your favorite content at Amazon.com. It allows you to create intuitive, functional, and humane URLs on the fly, without interrupting the flow of your writing to stop and find the “correct” URL. AtTheBigRiver.com’s intelligent technology always sends your users to a sensible location. Just take the name of the artist, author, book or other product you want to link to at Amazon, change spaces to hyphens, and append “.atthebigriver.com” to it.

Examples

AtTheBigRiver.com works best with popular authors and artists. Suppose you want to link to The Beatles’ “official” page at Amazon.com. Finding the URL of the page is a hassle, and when you do find it, it looks like this:

Instead, you can simply use this URL:

AtTheBigRiver.com knows where the “official” Beatles page is, and will automatically redirect users to it.

The same thing works with popular authors. Compare the “official” Neil Gaiman link on Amazon.com:

To this:

If AtTheBigRiver.com doesn’t have a term in its database, it automatically redirects users to the Amazon search page for that search term. Try links like this:

Constructing URLs

The rules for constructing AtTheBigRiver.com URLs are simple. Simply take the name of the artist, author, book or other item you want to link to, change spaces to hyphens, and append “.atthebigriver.com” to it. Our intelligent redirection technology is very forgiving. Underscores are automatically converted to hyphens, and non-alphanumeric characters are stripped out.

So these URLs are both equivalent and functional:

AtTheBigRiver.com also works with Amazon.com referrer codes. Put your referrer code at the end of the URL and 90 percent of the time when that link is clicked on we’ll pass your affiliate code along to Amazon. The other 10 percent of the time we’ll substitute our code to help cover the costs of providing this service. If you don’t include a referrer code, we’ll use our affiliate code 100 percent of the time.

For example, if your affiliate code is affiliate123, then you add the referrer code like this:

Electronic invitations save time and money

Love them or loathe them, electronic party invitations are very convenient. To me, they are what you use when a paper invitation is too formal for the event (drinks with friends, coworker’s birthday celebration in the conference room), but you want people to know that you put some level of planning into it (ordered an ice cream cake, spent all day Saturday cleaning the bathrooms in your apartment). They save you time from having to pick up the phone and call every one of your friends.

E-vite has been the standard electronic invitation system that people adopted. There are a lot of color and theme options, people feel comfortable clicking on an e-vite link from their e-mail, and it doesn’t take a computer programmer to figure out how to use the service. But, I’ve never looked at an e-vite and been impressed from a design perspective:

It’s busy. Everything on the page is competing for my attention. (Although, I do like this new Clothing Swap Party invitation template. A great idea for a party.)

A new player has jumped into the electronic invitation market, and it is MyPunchbowl. It has all the same features as Evite, and the added benefit of the invitations actually looking like invitations.

There is less clutter on the invitation page, it’s obvious where to find information about the party, and it integrates with a number of electronic calendar systems. There are other features, like potluck planning and gift registry information, that are nice. But, to be honest, I just like the uncluttered look of the invitations. (And no, I didn’t really have a botox party.)

Both Evite and MyPunchbowl can save you time and money when you want to invite people to a casual event.

(Thanks to Erin Kane at RealSimple.com for introducing me to MyPunchbowl.)