Organizing your Twitter stream

Like some people, I use Twitter to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. I also use Twitter to keep up with news, current events, and exciting changes in the world of technology and sci-fi. I hope to think that now (after the changes I describe in this post) I use it wisely and in such a way that doesn’t clutter up my time.

I had already taken some steps to declutter my Twitter stream, but I felt I hadn’t maximized Twitter’s full potential and that I was missing out on some really great information from fellow users and getting stuff I didn’t always want. I created lists but found it frustrating to go through all of the people I was following one by one, look at their profiles, determine if they were still active Twitter users, then finally add them to a specific list. It didn’t seem like a very good use of my time and I started looking for other ways to make the process more effective.

First, I used the service justunfollow. This helped me identify who was not tweeting regularly any longer. I decided I would unfollow anyone who hadn’t tweeted in more than three months. Then, I looked at who was following me and decided whether or not I should follow them in return. I decided out of my followers, I would not follow anyone who only tweeted spam or sales pitches. I chose not to follow anyone with protected tweets and users without photographs or biographies.

There were some people I was following who were not following me back. I guess I don’t really expect Leonard Nimoy or Sir Patrick Stewart to follow me, but I’m going to keep following them because I’m a fan.

Once I had determined who to follow, I created a few new lists based on area of expertise of Twitter users. I also created some lists based on geographical area. My lists include:

  • Family and friends
  • Business builders
  • Technology experts
  • Organizing and productivity experts
  • Cool people from different areas in which I have lived
  • The famous and the infamous

I used TwitList Manager to find who was not already on a list. It allowed me to add users to specific lists in seconds. I could see who was on more than one list and easily move people to my preferred list. Overall, it took me less than an hour to completely re-organize my Twitter stream. By using justunfollow and Twitlist Manager every few weeks, I’m able to easily maintain this level of organization and get all the information I want in a timely, uncluttered manner.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you use Twitter, consider following us at @Unclutterer.

Uncluttering old cell phones

A recent survey conducted by Kelton Research for ecoATM reported that 57 percent of American device owners have idle cell phones in their homes, and 39 percent have at least two cell phones collecting dust at home.

If you (or someone you know) has an unused cell phone, the following is a simple, two-step process for getting rid of it:

Step 1: Remove all the data

You don’t want the next owner to get all the data stored on your phone: addresses and phone numbers, calendar appointments, messages, etc. After you’ve backed up all that data, you’ll want to remove it from your phone. You can find out how to remove it –

Step 2: Determine where you want to sell, donate, or recycle the phone

Newer phones can often be sold, even if they are broken or cracked. If your phone can’t be sold, it can certainly be recycled. You have a lot of choices, including:

  • Sell or give away to a friend or relative.
  • Sell in a general marketplace, such as eBay or craigslist.
  • Sell to one of the many online companies buying cell phones for a set price. You may not make as much money as you would selling in eBay, but it’s less hassle. I’ve used both GreenCitizen and Gazelle, and both worked out fine. (Suggestion: Don’t send Gazelle two phones in the same prepaid box, as I once did; it’s too easy for the paperwork to get mixed up.)
  • Sell at an ecoATM.
  • Use the trade-in/buyback program from your cell phone manufacturer or service provider: Apple, AT&T, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc. Note that these will give you gift cards (or billing credits) for their own products and services, rather than cash.
  • Use the Amazon.com Trade-In Store.
  • Donate to one of the many groups that collect phones for good causes. These groups usually don’t give the phones away; rather, the phones are sold to a third party for reuse or recycling, and the proceeds are used to support the organization’s work. For example, Cell Phones for Soldiers says: “The money received from the recycling of cell phones is used to purchase international calling cards for active-duty military deployed overseas to connect with their friends and family back home.”
  • Donate to Goodwill
  • Recycle with cell phone manufacturers, cell phone service providers, retail outlets, etc. Most (if not all) of these will accept any phones for recycling, not just their own. You can find recycling sites through Call2Recycle, which has signed the e-Steward Pledge not to export e-waste to developing countries.

If you can’t erase the data

If you don’t have the charger for your phone, and can’t power it up to remove the data, you may want to go to your cell phone provider and see if that company can help.

Otherwise, you could use a service that will handle that for you, for a fee. For example, I’ve used GreenCitizen, located in the San Francisco Bay Area; I see that Green Tech Recycling does the same thing in Cleveland.

Dropbox gets serious about digital photos

I’ve written about Dropbox before on Unclutterer and how to use it to keep your digital data more organized and safe. It’s a company that offers web-based or “cloud” storage that is nearly ubiquitous. Now, the company is getting serious about your digital photos and, in my opinion, that is a very good thing.

About Dropbox

Dropbox is a storage service that lets you store files online easily and securely. There’s an app for almost every platform — Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Linux — plus a browser-based web app for data transfer. You can also mark your favorite or other important files for offline access.

By default, you start off with 2 GB of storage for free. A pro level bumps the limit up to 100 GB for $9.99 per month, and a business account gives you as much space as you want for $15 per user (minimum five users). For many home users, the free level is sufficient.

Using Dropbox

The various Dropbox applications work seamlessly with your device’s operating system, so much so that it feels like it’s been there all along. On the Mac and Windows machines, it acts like any other folder on your computer. Move items in and out and the app automatically makes a copy on Dropbox’s remote servers. You can create as many files, folders, and nested folders that your plan can handle. If local storage is an issue, Dropbox has you covered. You can tell the application to back up certain folders and not others. Things are even easier as far as photos are concerned.

Grabbing photos from your smartphone

The Dropbox app for iPhone and Android features an option called “Auto Upload.” Once enabled (it’s set to off by default), it sends a copy of each photo you shoot to the “Photos” folder in your Dropbox account. You can opt to restrict photo upload to when Wi-Fi is available, if you’re concerned about data usage, or just let it run. Either way, the process is totally hands-off, and you can shoot knowing that a backup of every photo you shoot is being made instantly.

How do you view these photos? Well, that’s been the problem. Rooting through a folder of photos is less than ideal since it has been going into an everything bucket, where all the pictures are thrown in a heap. I do not like everything buckets. Fortunately, the company has recently gone all in on photos. As of a few weeks ago, Dropbox sorts your photos and video by creation date. You can even make custom albums, and share them with family and friends.

They’ve also introduced Carousel, a free mobile app for the iPhone and Android. It saves your images in full resolution and sorts them by date and location taken. Your photos are very easy to share and you can start a conversation of comments around an image, similar to how services like Instagram work.

What I like with Dropbox’s changes are the automatic backup and the really convenient Carousel app. Managing and backing up digital photos can be a real bear. Dropbox is working to make it a little bit easier.

An April Fools’ Day reminder: backup your digital data

World Backup Day was yesterday, and the day’s motto is: “Don’t be an April Fool. Be prepared. Back up your files on March 31.”

This is good advice, but, of course, you should back up your files all year round, not just on March 31. Hard drives fail. Computers (and smartphones and tablets) get stolen. Phones get dropped into water and become unusable.

If I lost everything on my computer, I’d be awfully unhappy about that. My computer has precious photos, lots of contact information, my calendar, a monstrous collection of website bookmarks, lots of documents I’ve scanned and shredded, etc. But I’m not worried about losing these valuable items, because I’m protected.

The following is what I do for backup, just to give you some ideas about how you might want to backup your digital life.

Incidental backups

My contacts and calendar are synched to my smartphone and tablet, so I have a backup of sorts there. I have some photos on Flickr, but these are just a select few I’ve chosen to share publicly. I also have some files in Dropbox, so I can access them from everywhere. While these are all fine duplications, I also wanted some true backup solutions.

Backups to hard drives

I have a MacBook, and I use SuperDuper to create a bootable hard drive with all my files. This is a Mac-only solution, and for Mac users I think it’s terrific. I’ve restored my entire computer from a SuperDuper backup, when Apple needed to replace a bad hard drive, and everything went just fine. There are plenty of other backup programs for both the Mac and the PC, but I don’t know if they provide quite the same functionality. If you’re a PC user, please leave a comment about your favorite SuperDuper equivalent.

I use LaCie rugged hard discs (with a Firewire connection) for my backups, and I’ve been happy with them, but there are certainly many other choices. I like the LaCie products because I often carry a hard drive in my purse, and so I appreciate the external protection built into these hard drives. It’s also one of the drives tested for compatibility with SuperDuper. I rotate through three different drives, so if one of these fails, I’m still protected.

Why carry one in my purse? It’s a form of off-site backup, and it’s easier to put one in my purse than to take one over to my safe deposit box. If my house were robbed, or if there were a fire, I wouldn’t want to lose both my computer and my back-up. (Yes, I know this may be a bit over the top.)

Backup to the cloud

I also wanted automated, all-the-time backups — and I believe in what organizer Margaret Lukens calls the “belt and suspenders” approach of having multiple types of backups, so you know you’re covered.

My choice for cloud backups is CrashPlan, but, again, there are many such services to choose from. I picked CrashPlan because people I knew used it and successfully restored files when they needed to, and they were very happy with the service.

CrashPlan and other cloud backups are great in that they run continually, and they provide off-site storage. But, if I needed to restore a computer drive quickly, my cloud backup wouldn’t be nearly as useful as my SuperDuper backup.

What about you? If you’re not doing backups, I highly recommend you start — you don’t want to be an April Fool and lose your valuable data. If you are backing up your data, I’d be interested in hearing your backup strategy in the comments.

Cloud storage makes new computer setup simple and organized

Earlier this week, I set up a new computer and it wasn’t completely horrible, thanks to “cloud storage.” Nearly all of my important information — contacts, photos, music, and more — isn’t stored on my computer. Therefore, once I got the new laptop connected to the Internet, all I had to do was log into the various services I subscribe to and I was back in business.

Years ago, buying a new computer was a bittersweet process. It’s always exciting to get a shiny, new machine, but the process of transferring your data from the old one to the new one was painful. I can remember emailing stuff to myself, using a USB flash drive over and over and even connecting two computers with a cable. Not to mention the hours and hours of time spent waiting for huge collections of photos and music to transfer, and the stress of getting emails and contacts in place.

Today, things have changed.

Photos

For me, the answer is Flickr. I love that it has:

  1. A terabyte of storage for free. If you’re shooting 7 megapixel photos, that’s 499,000 individual, full-resolution shots.
  2. Privacy. It’s easy to determine who gets access to which photo.
  3. Browse and share photos in full resolution.
  4. Mobile apps. There’s a Flickr app for the iPhone and Google Play. I haven’t used the Google Play app, but the iPhone version features auto-upload, meaning every photo you shoot is sent to Flickr automatically (and set to private by default). It’s instant, hands-off backup.

Contacts

Who you stay in touch with is another extremely important set of data. I use Apple’s iCloud for storing all of my contact information. Whenever I add, update, or organize information for a person or business, it’s backed up to Apple’s servers. (And shares that information with all of my Apple iCloud-connected devices.) When I get a new computer, I simply log in and it’s downloaded instantly. If you don’t use Mac products, you can have similar functionality with Google’s Gmail, Yahoo mail, and others.

Calendars

Again, this is mission-critical data that can’t be lost. I can’t imagine the horror of having my calendar information deleted. Fortunately, I needn’t perform any data transfer dark magic because everything lives on Google Calendar. Google Calendar, or Gcal as I call it, works with my Mac and iPhone seamlessly. It’s super easy to share information with others and integrates with other apps that I love. Gcal works on all major operating systems.

Documents

There are several ways to keep almost every other kind of document off your computer and in the cloud. Dropbox is an obvious choice (this is what Erin uses). The company offers 2 GB of online storage for free, and more if you’re interested in paying for it. It works with Macs, Windows machines, iOS, Android and nearly any modern web browser.

Box.net is another popular choice, with much the same functionality. I rely heavily on iCloud again here. Most of my writing is done in a Mac app called Byword, which will automatically upload any document I write to iCloud. When I set up my new computer, all I had to do was install Byword, launch it, sign in, and all of my documents were ready to go.

3-D printing: For better or for worse?

You may remember Erin mentioning that I recently attended a Star Trek Convention. One thing I enjoy about Star Trek is that it provides an interesting view into the future. For example, on the original series (1966-1969) the crew of the Enterprise used communicators that resembled cell phones of the mid-1990s. The Enterprise crew of The Next Generation (1987-1994) used tablets that resemble iPads (2010).

On Star Trek, because of the limitations in deep space travel, food and other items such as clothing and tools were created using a device called a “replicator”. Replicators use recycled items and transforms them into new items. Today, this technology is available to us in a limited form — the 3-D printer.

3-D printers are very useful. Dentists can create crowns for teeth without the need for dental moulds. Custom orthotics can be created faster and more easily. 3-D printing allows developing countries to produce everyday items we take for granted using recycled materials readily available, thereby avoiding the costs of production and shipping.

Over the next decade, the cost of 3-D printers will steadily decline and become affordable for the average North American. Owning a 3-D printer could be beneficial as it would be easy to create replacement parts for objects that have broken. This could lead to fewer items being sent to landfill, as it would be easy to make repairs. Also, items could be customized to function better for your specific situation. For example, if you cannot find a shelf at the store to fit your uniquely sized space, a customized shelf could be built with a 3-D printer and that would allow you to become better organized.

However, 3-D printing is a double-edged sword. The cost for raw material is relatively low. Would consumers spend time building items that would create even more clutter in their homes and offices? (Custom bobble-head doll anyone?) Would even more items end up in landfills because it will be too easy for people to create items they don’t really need?

In the Star Trek series Voyager, Captain Janeway refused to share replicator technology with certain alien species because she felt they were not ready to use it wisely. Are we ready to use 3-D printing to reduce clutter and improve our lives?

Unclutter your tech with the Rule of One

From time-to-time, I’ll think about this post I read on Apartment Therapy back in 2010. For whatever reason, the post stuck with me. The advice in the post espouses The Rule of One, which breaks down like this:

Keep the things you own (especially technology) down to only one.

I like the idea, but am still trying to figure out if I can apply it to everything in my life. I certainly need to have more than one shirt, for instance. But, in other areas, could it make sense for me? I especially like this insight:

Listening to music? One iPod. One speaker set … Hold on to that one item for as long as possible.

Like I said, it’s impractical for me to apply the Rule of One to all aspects of my possessions. I have several baseball hats and I like to wear them all, so I don’t imagine I’ll ever get rid of all but one of them. But, a quick glance at my iPhone reveals a problem. I have seven weather applications. I’ve also got four note-taking apps and four camera apps. Yes, each does something unique, but honestly none of them is markedly different than the other. I don’t need all four camera apps, for instance, and should decide on one “keeper.” The rest are clutter in that they consume precious storage space on my iPhone and clutter my mind, as I must stop and choose one every time I want to take a picture.

I also like Nguyen’s advice to “hold on to that item for as long as possible.” My Internet buddy Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac has written about this topic several times. In an article called “The Season of Stuff,” he gives good, pre-emptive uncluttering advice for the holiday season:

You can pledge to get rid of an amount of stuff equal to the amount you receive. You can let those who love you know that you do not want more stuff but want something less tangible instead (breakfast in bed, money for a favorite charity, etc.). Ask for specific stuff you really truly need that will add years of value to your life on a daily basis.

Now, if you have superfluous tech that you’d like to get rid of, don’t just bring it to the dump. There are several ways to recycle it responsibly:

  • Donation. Is there a group, organization or school nearby that would love to have it? Give them a call.
  • Best Buy. This American big box store will accept three electronic items per household per day for responsible recycling. It’s free, and no-questions-asked. You didn’t have to buy the item there to recycle it there.
  • Seek a local alternative. For example, Free Geek is an Oregon-based service that takes your electronics, similar to Best Buy’s program. Search around to find something similar in your area.

Look at the tech you use every day and decide, is any of this superfluous? Can I follow the Rule of One in this area of my life? If so, unclutter the extraneous items and enjoy having fewer distractions.

What’s in your digital junk drawer?

Earlier this week, Jeri asked about the junk drawer that’s probably in your home (it’s okay, almost all of us have one). But junk drawers exist in places beyond your cabinets. There’s another one that’s even more covert, and it’s your computer. There’s all sorts of stuff in there, and much of it can be safely tossed away. I’ll reveal what junk is on mine and give you suggestions for how to deal with similar junk on your machine.

Junk

There’s a of stuff that is, in the strictest sense, junk on my computer. These items can be thrown away with no negative consequences.

What is it?

  • Old software installers
  • Links to web pages I’ve lost interest in
  • Notes on projects long past

Where is it?

For me, most of the junk is in my “Downloads” folder. That’s where my web browser places items I’ve downloaded. For many of you, the folder is probably on your desktop. For me, it’s a folder in my Home folder. To see where your browser is placing downloads, look at its settings or preferences. Then, get in there, go through what you find and delete anything that’s absolutely unnecessary.

I found some true junk in my email software, too. Now I know that many of you like or even have to keep archival email. Still, instructions to the restaurant you visited three years ago is probably safe to throw away (especially if it was a lousy restaurant). Use you own good judgment when making this decision.

Reference material

Here’s a very popular category for a junk-drawer. I’m talking about information that doesn’t require you to do anything, but might be useful in the future.

What is it?

Almost anything:

  • A summer schedule for the local community theatre
  • Operating instructions for that new radio
  • Information from Jr.’s school
  • Material for a meeting

Where is it?

For most people, this reference material is in your email. I know that a huge number of you use your email software as a filing cabinet. I think this is a bad idea, as I explained in my very first post for Unclutterer (was that really two years ago?). If that’s you and you’re happy – perhaps you’ve got a folder system or a method of archiving/search that works – great. For me, Evernote is my digital filing system. It’s where all of my reference material lives, including user manuals.

Memorabilia

Yes, memorabilia can be digital, too. I’ve got quite a bit stashed here and there.

What is it?

  • Photos
  • Pleasant emails
  • Quick videos
  • Scanned sketches from the kids

Where is it?

For me, almost all of the clutter in this category lives in my photo software. You’re probably thinking, “But Dave, that’s what it’s for!” You’re right, and bravo for not piling photos on the desktop or who knows where. But, if you take as many photos as I do, your library will grow unwieldy quickly.

You can keep on top of it by archiving your work. Most computers can burn discs or DVDs and it’s a nice idea to make an archive as the year ends, to be stored away. Just understand that data stored on a CD or DVD won’t last forever, so consider digital storage, too.

An external drive is a good idea, as is a service like Flickr, which gives customers one terabyte of storage. A terabyte can hold a lot of photos. Flickr also lets you tag, categorize, sort and organize to your heart’s content, so that one image you need is easily found.

… and the rest

There’s likely other stuff hanging out your computer that’s prime for more organized storage or outright disposal. Duplicates of files are certainly up for deletion. Occasionally, I’ll find a piece of software I haven’t used in ages, little notes I made while working on an article, images I no longer need and so on. It’s helpful to take an hour or so once in a while to identify and purge this temporary stuff.

Now that you’ve tackled the junk drawer in the kitchen, turn you attention to the one on you’re computer. You’ll be glad you did.

Managing the digital to-read pile

How do you deal with all the interesting information we now have available to us on the Internet, from international news to updates on the lives of an acquaintance’s children? There are numerous ways to tackle this flow of information you want to consume in a way so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Chris Miller explored this topic:

Sooner or later you have to sit down and say:

  1. My time and attention are the most valuable things I posses.
  2. There is too much stuff on the Internet for me ever to read it all.
  3. Therefore, I’m going to be super-choosy about what I read and what I do.

Where are the places you may want to be super-choosy?

Social media

Are you trying to be active on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter? Maybe it would help to focus on just a few that best meet your business and/or personal needs.

Within each community, are you engaged with too many people? Are you friends with people on Facebook who you can’t even place? Are you following thousands of people on Twitter? Maybe it’s time to prune the lists.

Have you used whatever filtering tools are available? For example, I use TweetDeck to read Twitter, and I have filters set up to hide any tweets mentioning specific TV shows that tend to get mentioned a lot, and which I just don’t care about.

People who do this type of cleanup often comment on how much better they felt afterward. Kelly O. Sullivan recently wrote: “Unfriended someone on Facebook who was adding no value to my life. Feels good.” And Dennis K. Berman wrote a whole blog post titled “The Purge: I Unfollowed 390 People on Twitter, and I Feel Great.

RSS feeds

If you use RSS to read blogs and other news sources, have you evaluated what you’re reading lately? Maybe it’s time to delete some of those subscriptions.

I just deleted a subscription to the blog of an acclaimed writer, whose articles I found myself skipping over when they appeared in my list. He may indeed be writing wonderful stuff, but it just wasn’t stuff I felt like reading. I had to get over my own case of the “shoulds” — the internal voices telling me I should read his work — and decide it was perfectly okay to decide not to read it.

Email newsletters

Do you tend to ignore these when they hit your inbox? Have you created an email rule to move them to their own mail folder — where they languish, unread? Maybe it’s time to do some unsubscribing.

News and magazine apps

Did you download a bunch of these at some point — only to find you don’t use most of them? This is another area where you might do some cleanup.

Pocket, Instapaper, and other read-it-later tools

Kevin Fox commented on Twitter: “My Instapaper button would be more accurately titled ‘Read it Never.’”

Are you like Kevin? Do you have lots of articles you’ve saved to read later — that you never seem to get to? You may want to review that reading list and see which ones you still want to make time to read, and which you can just delete.

But some people are fine with a long list, and you might be, too. Om Malik spoke to Nate Weiner of Pocket, who noted that people go back to read 10-70 percent of the articles they put into Pocket, with the average being 50 percent. But Weiner went on to add:

The key is to think of it like a Netflix queue. You are never overwhelmed or concerned about the number of items in your Netflix queue. You just keep putting things in there because you know that when you have the time to view something, you can guarantee you’ll have something great in there that you’ve been meaning to check out.

Maybe you don’t need to clean up your saved-for-later reading list — or your RSS feeds, your email newsletters, or your apps. Or maybe you just want to do some limited cleanup. Do you like having a large number of items to choose from when you have some reading time, or does having such a large collection overwhelm you? The answer to that question will help you determine your strategy.

But whether you keep your reading list short, or keep it long (knowing you’ll never read it all), you’ll still need to be super-choosy about what you eventually spend time reading. Because this wish from M.S. Bellows, Jr. probably isn’t going to come true: “I want to be reincarnated in a way that preserves all my bookmarks, pockets, and favorites, so I can spend 80 years simply reading.”

Improve your productivity by reading the manual

I recently saw a comment online that read something like, “All I use the iPhone’s Home button is for is taking screenshots. What else is it for?” Here at Unclutterer, we believe that knowing what your gear is capable of doing improves your productivity and helps to keep you organized. In short, we think you should always read the manual so you get the most of your technology and don’t waste your time and money. With that in mind, the following is a list of the things that simple little Home button can do for iPhone and iPad owners, as described in the products’ manuals.

  1. Go home. This is the most important feature. No matter where you are, you can get back to home screen with a tap. If he gets frustrated or lost, it’s comforting to know that a single tap of the Home button is the way out. He can start over.
  2. Take screenshots. Yes, it does this and it’s quite useful. Hold down to Home button and the power button (top of the device) for just a second to take a screenshot. You’ll hear a “camera shutter” noise and find the image in your Camera Roll
  3. Multi-Task Bar. A double-tap reveals the apps you’ve opened most recently, in order. Tap any one to jump right to it. Or, swipe the image of the app screen up and it will close the app.
  4. Wake. Tap the Home button to wake your iPhone’s display.
  5. Reset. Force a misbehaving iPhone to shut down by holding down the Home button and power button simultaneously until the screen goes dark. When you see an Apple logo, let go. Note that you only have to do this if your phone is seriously misbehaving.
  6. Siri. Press and hold the Home button to get the attention of Siri, Apple’s automated assistant.
  7. Accessibility functions. The Home button can perform one of five accessibility functions: toggle VoiceOver, switch the display to white-on-black, toggle zoom, toggle AssistiveTouch and ask which function should be performed. You can set this up in the Accessibility Settings.
  8. Exit “Jiggle Mode.” Jiggle Mode refers to the state your iPhone is in when you’re rearranging or removing app icons. To enter Jiggle Mode, tap and hold on any app icon. When you’re done, tap the Home button to resume normal functioning.

By reading the manual we discovered this one button can do eight separate things.

Think about all of the devices you own and all of the buttons on those devices. Do you know what every single one of those buttons does? Can it perform more than one function? If you have technology in your home or office and you don’t know all that it can do, take a few minutes now to read the manual to save you time and money in the future.

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.

Tech to help keep those New Year’s resolutions

I don’t have a failsafe solution for meeting your 2014 resolutions, but I have a few suggestions for tech gadgets and online resources to help you stay organized while trying to achieve your goals.

The following is a list of common New Year’s resolutions and related gadgets or Internet tools to help you track and/or be organized in your pursuit to achieve each one:

  1. Get fit and/or lose weight. Gym managers around the world await January 1 with great anticipation, as that is when newly-determined customers show up to buy memberships. With or without a gym membership, you can track your day-to-day march toward better health with a Fitbit. It tracks your movement, records your stats, and helps to chart your progress toward fitness goals. Compared to wearing a pedometer and heart monitor and logging and charting your daily steps and constantly fluctuating heart rate by hand, the device is extremely convenient.
  2. Drink less alcohol. If you’re a social drinker who wants to cut down a bit, check out some of the tips at Drinkaware. In addition to helpful articles, the site offers a browser-based app to let you keep track your intake and notice trends.
  3. Learn something new. There are so many great options for this resolution. I love the site Instructables, which has tutorials on making everything from a hockey jersey to a garden bench to an outdoor fire pit. Monkeysee is a similar site with a focus on video tutorials. If you’re keen to learn a foreign language, consider the Rosetta Stone system (I used an extended trial of Japanese and loved it) or any of the tools from Innovative Language Learning (again, I used it with much success for Japanese).
  4. Improved work/life balance. As a person who works from home, I’m very familiar with this daily dance. Something I’ve used is FocusBooster. This browser-based tool lets you set timed, alternating work and break periods. Set it up and when the timer sounds, take a break. After the break period ends, get back to work. It’s similar to the Pomodoro Technique. But in my experience, the best thing to do is commit to work hours and that’s that.
  5. Volunteer. This is definitely a worthwhile resolution, but can be hard to find opportunities in your area. VolunteerMatch.org is a great place to start if you don’t already have a specific project or organization in mind. Enter your location and the type of volunteer work you like to do, and the service will present you the best matches it can find.
  6. Save money. How many times have you said, “That’s it, this year I’m going to increase my savings by [x]”? I’ve said it quite a bit. You Need A Budget has helped me. It’s more than software, though that is a big part of the product. “YNAB,” as it’s called, is a budget-focused software management application for your computer or mobile device. The company also has a very informative blog and hosts frequent webcasts, which I’ve found helpful.
  7. Get organized. My first instinct is to say, “Read Unclutterer,” but you knew that. Since the site is deep with archives, you can find help for organizing pretty much every area of your life. Specifically, one of my favorite data organizing tools is Evernote, which I use as an electronic filing cabinet; a filing cabinet that is almost always available, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. There are many gadgets that work with Evernote, extending its usefulness. To get the most out of the service, check out this ebook, Evernote Essentials.
  8. Read More. My first suggestion is to consider an electronic book reader to help keep book clutter at bay. The current Kindle Paperwhite is a fantastic little device that makes it easy to get books and carry them around. Also consider Scribd, which is described as “Netflix for books.” For less than nine bucks a month, you can read unlimited digital books on your computer or mobile device.

Good luck with whatever New Year’s resolutions you set for 2014.