Organizing for disasters: your emergency preparedness supplies

What goes into an emergency preparedness kit? As Erin has noted before, FEMA can help you with this and the American Red Cross can help, too.

If you’re interested in creating your own kit, the following are three specific things to think about as you assemble it.

Food and water

You may have heard advice like: “A good rule of thumb is to have supplies for about 3 days, or 72 hours.” That advice comes from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. Both ready.gov and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have repeated that advice, recommending at least a three-day supply of water per person.

Other sources indicate that 72 hours worth of supplies is a bare minimum. The Southern California Earthquake Center, in its brochure “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Territory,” recommends that you have enough food and water for “at least 3 days and ideally for 2 weeks.”

FEMA’s guide entitled Food and Water in an Emergency (PDF) advocates for more supplies, too.

If an earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or other disaster strikes your community, you might not have access to food, water, and electricity for days or even weeks. … Store at least one gallon per person, per day. Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.

The American Red Cross has made a distinction between the supplies you need if you’re evacuating versus the supplies you need if you’re staying where you are. They recommend a “3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home.”

Emergency lighting

I’ve had clients tell me they were holding onto candles as an emergency supply — but that’s a really poor idea. As the CDC has indicated:

Home fires are a threat after a natural disaster and fire trucks may have trouble getting to your home. If the power is out, use flashlights or other battery-powered lights if possible, instead of candles. If you must use them, place candles in safe holders away from anything that could catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended.

I’ve heard people suggest getting a headlamp, so you can walk around with your hands free, which sounds like a good suggestion to me.

Landlines with corded phones

In day-to-day use, many of us rely on our cell phones, and many people are getting rid of their landlines. If you’re lacking power, a landline using copper wire, in conjunction with a corded phone, may work when no other phone will. Tara Siegal Bernard wrote in The New York Times about this in more detail. She noted that 911 services works better when the calls come through on a landline rather than a cell phone.

There are additional advantages to having a landline during an emergency. If your local cell phone network is overloaded after an earthquake, your landline calls might still go through. If you need to evacuate your home and you have a landline with an answering machine, you may be able to call home to find out if your power is back on; if the answering machine picks up and your home is still standing, your electricity is back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Tug of War Rope
    This week’s unitasker is not just a 30-foot piece of abaca rope for $60. No, this is 30′ of rope for $60 with a knot in the middle of it, which is totally different.

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday, er, Tuesday: Toastie Knife
    This week’s selection comes to us from across the pond and could easily have been one of the reasons our fore fathers seceded from British rule. (I jest.) It’s the perfect tool for those of you with consistently torn toast from spreading too cold butter. HOW TRAGIC! Introducing, the Toastie Knife.

2011

2009

Cleaning up your email inbox

Even the most organized among us get behind on basic maintenance tasks at times. One place I’ve recently fallen behind was in clearing out my email inbox. I had been glancing at everything, and dealing with all the most important emails, but was leaving the less-important items to clutter up my email inbox.

On Tuesday, I finally processed and deleted over 800 messages in about six hours, and the following is an explanation of how I did it.

Sort by date

Sorting my emails by date helped me find the obvious items to delete: messages about events that happened months ago, or sales that have long been over.

Sort by sender

Sorting by sender grouped together a few sets of newsletters that I had procrastinated reading, as well as some notifications from a LinkedIn group where people post links to interesting stuff. (I know many people set up rules to move these kinds of messages out of the inbox, but if I did that I’d neglect them forever. At least in my inbox, I kept being reminded they needed my attention.)

Once I started skimming through the newsletters and reviewing the LinkedIn updates, I got into decision-making mode: Was there anything in all this material that I wanted to save for reference or act upon it now? In my case, yes, there was — but not that much.

In the act-upon now category, I found reviews of two books that I might want to read; I downloaded their ebook samples. In another case, a book I wanted was only available in paper format, and I ordered it from the author’s website. Note that these were all quick actions. If an email had triggered a more time-consuming action, I would have just added it to my to-do list.

In the save-for-reference category, Brooks Duncan’s DocumentSnap newsletter provided me with three useful articles about going paperless, and I bookmarked those articles. All three are things I anticipate using with clients or referring to in future writings.

I also watched two short videos that the members of my LinkedIn group highly recommended, and both were well worth my time. One of them was a lovely piece from The New York Times called Love and Stuff, about a daughter dealing with her mother’s possessions after her mother’s death. I also bookmarked the article so I can readily find it again.

Sort by subject

I’m a member of a few email discussion groups, and sorting by the subject line allowed me to quickly see all the messages related to each discussion topic. Some entire conversations could be quickly deleted: those dealing with software tools I don’t use, for example. Others dealt with topics I do care about — for example, there was a discussion about the many ways people use cameras as note-taking tools — and I filed those away for future reference.

Sort by size

Sorting emails by size led me to messages with large attachments. In many cases, I could save the attachment (outside of email) and get rid of the message; in some cases, I didn’t need either the email or the attachment.

Commit to making decisions

Organizers often say that clutter represents deferred decisions, and that was certainly true with my email. All these messages had piled up because I hadn’t taken the time to make decisions about them. I was finally able to get through them because I committed to making decisions about each message in my inbox.

Final note

Based on your employer, you may not be able to delete emails except for obvious spam. If this is the case for your company’s policies, where I mention deleting above you may just archive the messages. Be sure to follow your company’s regulations and best practices.

Unitasker Wednesday: Yellow Pages Booster Seat

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Once upon a time, if you were too short to see over your steering wheel in your car or you simply needed to be taller when sitting down at a table, you would place a giant Yellow Pages between your tush and a chair. Now, you don’t need to sacrifice that never referenced book and you can duplicate its only purpose using a plastic Yellow Pages Booster Seat instead:

Your real Yellow Pages will now be free to take up space in your recycling bin just as it has for tall people since the invention of Google.

WAIT! Don’t recycle that Yellow Pages just yet! Sadly, this item appears to be out of stock and currently unavailable on Amazon. Please try to contain your tears so they don’t drip down your face and onto your keyboard.

Thanks again to Unclutterer Dave for tracking down this redundant device for us.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Pet Highchair
    Someone at Pet Gear had to have asked, “Are we sure we want to do this?” What would you have said when a co-worker threw out the bone-headed idea for The Pet Gear Clip-On Pet High Chair.
  • Finish it! Erin’s third set of 2010 resolutions
    How are you doing with your 2010 resolutions? Even if you don’t keep resolutions, could you spend the next three months finishing all of the unfinished projects in your life? If so, join me on my adventure. My goal is to head into the fourth quarter of 2010 with more energy and less stress.
  • If it’s not important to you, don’t consume it
    When I read the book Voluntary Simplicity seven or eight years ago, I interpreted the focus of the book to be about reducing one’s impact on the environment. However, Trent Hamm of TheSimpleDollar.com points out in his review of the book that there is a larger theme beyond responsible environmental behavior that speaks to the heart of simple, uncluttered living.
  • Ask Unclutterer: What to do with diplomas
    Reader Kathy asks: “What do people do with their diplomas? I have my high school, undergraduate, and graduate diplomas. They’re sitting in my closet because I don’t know what to do with them.”

2009

The simplicity of alphabetical filing

As the final installment of my exploration of alternative filling systems, I want to look at the simple system that is often overlooked: alphabetical filing.

When I became highly interested in productivity a few years ago, I noticed that my routines grew slowly, but steadily, more complex. On the digital side, I added rules to incoming email messages and later introduced tags, color coding, special mailboxes, and more. On the analog side, I made subfolders, employed more color-coding, and eventually had unique file bins for varying categories of documentation. I thought I was a filing ninja, until I read this old post by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits that’s all about the simplicity of alphabetical filing.

I know that ABC filing isn’t exactly an “alternative” system. But for many of us, especially the folks who enjoy the pursuit of clutter-free, efficient organization, it can get overlooked as being too simplistic. Leo makes a great case for the opposite.

“I believe that most people only need one drawer for filing. Now, I’ll admit that there are some jobs that require much more than this, but for the average employee (or self-employed person), one drawer is all you need. And if you limit yourself to one drawer, you force yourself to toss out unnecessary files when the drawer gets full. Don’t overthink this. Just create a file, and file it alphabetically. Keep it simple.”

I like this idea a lot, as it’s incredibly intuitive. For example, say you purchase a new vacuum cleaner: you simply grab the manual, open your file drawer, and place the manual in the “V” folder (“V” for vacuum). No over-thinking, no deliberation, no searching for the right spot. Searching for the manual ends up being just as easy. Everything is in one place and easily found.

Now, a caveat. Many of us have home office situations or, more likely, work requirements, that prevent a simple ABC system. A medical office, for example, couldn’t file all patients whose last names begin with T all in the same T file. This basic system just isn’t for you.

But if the work you do doesn’t need to be subdivided, consider it. I recently bought a simple file box and several manilla envelopes. I labeled each one A through Z and placed them inside the file box. For a few weeks, I’ve been filing according to this system and loving it. One note: make sure your filing box or cabinet is within “swivel distance.” Swivel distance is the distance you can reach without getting up from your chair. Why? Because humans tend toward the path of least resistance. If it’s easier to stack folders than to walk over to the cabinet, you’ll be tempted to stack. And as Leo explained, stacking is not ideal:

[Stacks pile] up and then the pile gets a little intimidating and then before you know it you’ve got a huge pile that you never want to go through. Then you can’t find anything when you need it, and now you no longer have a filing system. I know some people think that their piles are organized into a kind of system, but piles are inefficient (if you’re not working on them at this moment) because you constantly have to re-factor what pile is for what and which documents are in each pile, and when you need a document, it takes too long to find it. Plus, it clutters up your desk, distracting you from your work.

Finally, if you’re going to try this, make sure you have plenty of fresh materials ready to go. A stack of folders, fresh batteries and ink for your label maker, a new marker, and so on. That way you won’t be tempted to “just put this down” until you get said materials from the store.

Small tips to save time and effort

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

Window Clings

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

Iron-On Nametags

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

Address Labels

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

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

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

Receipts and Warranties

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

Business Cards

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

Label Leftovers

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

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

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Potato Grilling Rack
    It’s summer! (Well, at least it is for those of us in the northern hemisphere.) It’s grilling season! It is also apparently time to buy stuff to use on your grill that you don’t need!

2012

2011

  • Love your laundry room
    A clean, uncluttered, organized laundry room is welcoming and makes doing laundry much more enjoyable. Additionally, an organized room speeds up the process so you spend less time doing what you may not enjoy.If your laundry space could use some attention, try these 10 steps to get it in order.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Taco Proper
    Tipping tacos are a tragedy. A contemptible calamity. An ignominious injustice. A monstrous misfortune.

2010

  • Organizing to foster creativity
    Creative personalities have the stereotype of being messy, disorganized people. When, in reality, the incredibly successful creative people of the world are often profoundly organized — they have to be to manage their work and schedules, so they can be ready when inspiration strikes.

2009

Twitter accounts to follow for summer travel

For many of us, summer means travel. Those with a smartphone have a real advantage when it comes to keeping your travel plans organized. There are apps available for smartphones that include a tour guide, language translator, travel service, camera, and so much more in your pocket. Additionally, one way to receive wonderful travel tips and advice, information and inspiration is from helpful Twitter accounts. By installing a Twitter app on your phone, you can have a wealth of information available, no matter where you are.

From airlines to travel bloggers to services, the following are some of my favorite travel-related Twitter accounts to follow:

Airlines

Summer storms can disrupt your travel, and spending the night on the floor of an airport is no fun. A great way to stay on top of the latest alerts, changes, and notices from the major airlines is to subscribe to their Twitter accounts.

In these situations, being connected to your airline on Twitter can offer more than simple news delivery. In 2011, brutal winter storms left hundreds of thousands of people without a flight. Many stranded travelers who shared their predicament with their airline via Twitter (along with the reservation number) were rebooked faster than those who waited in the customer service line or called the 800 number. The following is a list of Twitter accounts as used by several major airlines:

Choose a Twitter app for your smartphone that supports notifications (I use Twitterrific, but there are many others available). A day before you travel, enable notifications for mentions. That way, if you send a message to your airline’s account, your phone will let you know when you’ve received a reply.

Travel Bloggers

Who better to offer travel advice than someone who is constantly on the move? There are many travel bloggers online, and the following are some of my favorites. They all offer tips, ideas, photos and more, but each with his or her unique spin:

  • Nomadicchick: Jeannie Mark is a travel writer and the blogger behind NomadChick.com. Her Twitter account is full of beautiful photos and videos, as well as links to her insightful articles. You an search her Twitter stream and her site for information on your destination.
  • Adventurevida. This account is for the adventurer traveler. You’ll also see tweets on gear and, of course, beautiful photos.
  • Heather_Poole. Heather Poole is a former flight attended and author of The New York Times bestseller, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers. Follow her Twitter account for, among other things, hilarious stories from the flight deck.
  • GaryLeff. For those of you who are serious air travelers and who are always on the lookout for the best point deals, Gary Leff’s Twitter account and his travel column ViewFromTheWing are an enormous resource of information.

Travel Services

I’m continually amazed by the variety of travel services there are to help you get organized and moving before, during, and after a trip. The following are three I love:

  • TravelEditor. The official Twitter account of The Independent Traveler routinely shares great travel tips.
  • FlightView. FlightView, based out of Boston, is not associated with any airline but offers real-time travel information. As the service’s description says, it offers “real-time flight information you can act on.”
  • Budgettravel. Budget Travel offers super tips for getting where you need to go without spending a lot of money. You’ll also see area-specific deals and destination suggestions like these five classic American drives.

Happy traveling!

Unitasker Wednesday: The Beer Holster

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

There was a time when I owned a sweatshirt with an insulated pouch in it to hold a bottle of beer. I lived in a college town and tailgating before football games was a nearly weekly event. When that phase of my life ended, I got rid of the sweatshirt and simply relied on my Sküüzi. (Just kidding, though the Sküüzi still makes me laugh.)

In the same tipsy and unitaskery spirit, I present this week’s selection — the Beer Holster:

Strap the Beer Holster to your leg, and you’re ready to do whatever it is you do with a beer strapped to your leg. Which, I guess, only includes standing? You can’t really do much else or you’ll spill your beer. So, strap it on and stand! (At least with the sweatshirt and Sküüzi you can sit down … this thing is somehow even less functional than those unitaskers …)

If you want to get all fancy, you can even get a monogramed beer holster from Red Envelope. Oooh, la la!

And, if you like to drink beer from cans, you’re in luck! You can buy a camouflage fanny pack that holds SIX cans. (The camouflage fabric is obviously necessary to keep deer from stealing your brew.)

Thanks to Unclutterer Dave for finding the Beer Holster unitasker for us.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

  • Unitasker Wednesday: The can grip
    Some weeks, I need to write a great amount of exposition about our featured unitasker because some folks might not be aware of how a product lacks utility. This is not one of those weeks.
  • Office upgrade: An extraordinary project for Wired magazine
    I was standing in author Steven Levy’s office holding a trash bag and asking him if I could throw away a crumpled business card I’d found at the back of his closet. Turned out, the card belonged to a current executive at a major tech firm, but was from a time when the guy was a nobody at another company. I told myself that if Levy decided to trash the card, I’d slip it into my pocket instead.

2009