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.)

Convenient dry goods delivery from Alice.com

A couple months ago, I was given the opportunity to be a beta-beta tester for Alice.com. (A gamma tester?) It’s a dry goods grocery delivery service where you place an order online and then have the items shipped directly to your home.

The prices are comparable to what you might find in a big box store like Costco or Sam’s Club, but the products are sized like what you would buy in a grocery store or pharmacy. All with the added convenience of not having to go to a store (and there is no charge for shipping). You can set up a shopping list and reminders, so that every few weeks or a couple times a year (you set the schedule) you receive a notification from Alice.com telling you that you might be getting low on toilet paper or deodorant or shampoo.

I’ve gone shopping on Alice, paid for my order, and received a shipment. For as much as I ordered, I was genuinely surprised at how little packaging they used. It all fit in a reasonably sized box and the box broke down easily to go into our recycling bin. Everything about the process was convenient.

And I think that is why I liked it so much. It’s convenient. I’m incredibly busy and the last thing I want to do is have to run to the store to pick up toilet paper when we inevitably run out at 10:00 at night. Now, I get a notice once a month asking me if I need toilet paper, and if my supplies are low, I order more. I make a few clicks with my mouse in less than a minute and toilet paper appears two days later.

Right now, since they’re still in beta, they’re only carrying the major brands. But, they’re in negotiations with smaller manufacturers to increase their inventory. They actually carried my favorite brand of all of the supplies I ordered, so I didn’t notice that anything was missing. During testing, though, I noted one or two types of products that weren’t on their inventory and poof! after I suggested the product it appeared on the list a few days later. So, I know they’re listening to consumer requests. The interface is easy to use, too, and these cute little cartoon people guide you through the site:

I think about my friends who have infants at home and barely have time to shower, and how nice it would be for them if diapers just appeared on their doorsteps. I think about my friends who live in downtown New York who have to take 20 minute train rides to get to the closest big box store, and how much time it would save them if their dry good items could simply be delivered. Since I buy the vast majority of my food through our local farmer’s market, Alice.com saves me from having to make a second shopping trip to the grocery store. It’s extremely convenient for busy people. It removes an errand/chore from my weekly schedule and allows me to spend that time doing something that matters more to me. It’s simple and uncluttered, for my life.

Granted, this service isn’t for everyone. If you like going to the grocery store and smelling products and first touching what you’re going to buy, then you won’t like getting your dry goods delivered. It also takes 15 to 20 minutes to put together your initial order (at least that is what it took me) which isn’t much of a time saver on that first trip. Subsequent trips are just seconds, however, since you have an established shopping list. Also, if you buy a lot of small production goods, it might take a while for those to become available as contracts are negotiated between Alice and those manufacturers.

What do you think about dry goods being delivered to your door? To me, it’s a lot like Netflix or Amazon, just with the specific grocery angle. If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, you can sign up for a free account and be a beta tester, too, at Alice.com. Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

35 luxury notebooks to organize your life

I’m a list keeper. I used to keep lists on stray pieces of paper around my office. Whatever was within reach would get a list on it — backs of envelopes, stray receipts, post-it notes. After I got the iPhone, my random paper list-making decreased significantly. The Notes application and I become fast friends.

However, I’ve once again found myself looking to good ol’ pen and paper to write down some of my ideas. Instead of turning to scraps of paper that will eventually clutter up my desk, I’ve decided to buy a notebook.

In my pursuit of finding the perfect notebook, I have discovered that there is a gigantic market of luxury notebooks out there. I honestly had no concept of how large it is. So, if you’re in the market for a good notebook to keep your ideas in one organized location, these are the brands to explore:

I made my decision about which to buy based on reviews I came across on a couple of notebook blogs. The blog Black Cover has pictures and reviews of some of the little black notebooks. And the website Notebook Stories has reviewed 19 different brands.

Are you a traditional notebook aficionado? Is there a brand or style that didn’t make my list? Please let us know about it in the comments!

Keep your Twitter account clean with the Nest Unclutterer

We love Twitter.

But we don’t like it when a tweetbot follows us just because we mentioned a particular word or brand name. We could protect our updates, but that would just make it more difficult for people we actually know to follow us.

We don’t like tweetspammers who follow so many people that they’re probably just trying to get people to follow them back. You can’t be really listening to what 2000 people have to say.

We don’t like having our friend list filled up with inactive users who never tweet anymore.

These are just a few of the reasons we have created the Nest Unclutterer. It uses Twitter’s excellent API to help you maintain a tidy Twitter account:

  • The Nest Unclutterer protects your privacy from marketers and businesses by blocking followers who are already following a user-specified number of people.
  • It removes followers who have been inactive for a user-specified period of time.
  • It helps create a whitelist of users exempt from any of these rule-based actions.

We hope you like it, and we would appreciate any suggestions for additional features.

Please, use my home for your clutter

for_rentThe other day, I stumbled upon the bizarre website Homstie. The purpose of the site is to list space in your home that you want to make available to strangers for clutter storage rental.

Off site storage does make sense in certain situations, especially for city parking. If your home comes with two parking spaces and you only use one, renting out the other space makes sense.

However, when it comes to putting someone else’s clutter in your home, the idea falls apart completely. First of all, if you have enough extra space that you can rent it out, maybe consider downsizing. Your mortgage and energy bills would certainly be smaller. Also, you don’t want your clutter in your home, why take on someone else’s? Finally, there is no telling what could be in those duffle bags that were dropped off by that strange guy who talks to squirrels in the park. All I can think of is the spooky case of John Robinson.

(via Lifehacker)

LendAround is a great alternative to buying

LendAround is a service that coordinates sharing items with your friends. The website is in beta, and currently there is a waiting list to join, but we think it’s worth the effort of signing up for the service now. From their about page:

LendAround is a project to encourage us all to stop hoarding stuff we own, and start lending it to each other.

LendAround is a free web tool that helps people to borrow things from their friends — starting with DVDs.

It lets you keep track of what you own, what you’ve borrowed, and who from.

You choose who you trust, and you choose what to list.

You’re in control all the time. If a friend asks to borrow something of yours, saying yes is always optional.

A website that helps people to keep fewer things in their homes is a pretty good service in Unclutterer’s view. Learn more by checking out LendAround’s tour.

(via Apartment Therapy)