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

Organized meetings: agendas and minutes

I spent two years as the secretary of an organization whose board met monthly, and during that time I thought a lot about agendas and minutes. Based on this experience, the following are suggestions for creating agendas and minutes that are organized and both easy to write and easy for others to read and use. With an agenda, your meetings will be shorter and have a defined purpose for all the attendees.

Using a template

Use a template where you can just fill in the spaces. I used Microsoft Word with a series of tables and there are also Microsoft designed ones you can customize. There are many advantages of using a template, saving time and remembering recurring agenda points among them.

Creating an agenda

Not every agenda will need these specific items, but consider including:

  1. Logistics: This section often includes the meeting location along with the meeting date and time. Because WiFi access was an issue for my group, which used hotel meeting rooms, I always noted if WiFi would be available in the room. If WiFi was available, I’d also list the price.
  2. Attendees: This is a simple list of people expected to be in the meeting, and their titles.
  3. Meeting preparation: If meeting participants are expected to do anything before the meeting, these items can be noted in this section. In our case, there were always documents that needed to be reviewed before the meeting.
  4. Agenda items: These are the points to be discussed or have action taken upon them at the meeting. Each of these items should have the name of the person leading that part of the discussion and the anticipated start time for that part of the agenda. Noting the time allotted to each item was critical to our group for ensuring we stayed on schedule. In the meeting, we sometimes chose to run overtime on one item, but we realized that meant something else would need to run shorter, or be cut entirely.
  5. Open to-do items from the prior meeting: Review of these items should be an agenda item if you have any previous or unfinished business.

Email the agenda to people a number of days before the meeting, so everyone has time to prepare. Include attachments along with the agenda for items that will be distributed so that members don’t waste time reading the materials during the meeting.

Writing meeting minutes

Your minutes may include the following sections:

  1. All items from the agenda, with updates: The attendee list notes who actually made it to the meeting. The agenda is adjusted to show the actual time each item started. Also, update the to-do item status (more on to-do items below).
  2. Decisions that involve formal motions and votes: This includes motions and the number of people voting yes and no (as well as how many abstain). Not all decisions require an official motion and a vote, but record those that do.
  3. Other decisions: This section notes anything that is decided that doesn’t need to be put forth for an official vote. I often just captured the decision itself; in some cases, it was useful to also capture the reasoning behind the decision.
  4. To-do items from the current meeting: This includes the item, the owner, and the due date. To-do items without an owner and a due date tend to not get done, so be sure to clarify these points during the meeting.
  5. Critical information that is shared: Relating to our group, as our annual conference was being planned, I might have noted the venue, the date, the keynote speaker, the price, and the registration period as each of these points were finalized and reported by the head of the conference committee. If something was important enough that our members would want to know about it, I captured it in this section.

One thing I did not include in my meeting minutes was all the deliberation that went on in the meeting. If someone prefers to organize minutes around agenda items, and capture more of the discussion, I’d suggest still specifically calling out the decisions and the to-dos, and making them easy to find by using something like bold text for the words “decision” and “to-do.”

Family calendars

When we had young children, it was important for us to have a large calendar on the wall so that everyone could see and prepare for upcoming engagements. It was a good teaching tool for the kids. They learned the days of the week and they learned to count down days until a big event.

We had the calendar posted on the wall in our dining room. This allowed us to see the upcoming day during breakfast, and at dinner we would discuss upcoming events plan for the following days. We used Command picture strips to mount the calendar on the wall. We also had a decorative wall-hanging the same size as the calendar. Whenever we had adult guests for dinner, the calendar came down and the decorative wall hanging went up.

We used a 60-day perpetual calendar. Everyone could see two months. When one month was done, we could add the next month so we would not miss things as one month rolled over to the next. It also allowed us to do longer-term planning.

Before the children could read, I used the computer to print various clip-art drawings for things like dentist and doctor appointments and holidays. I printed the clip-art drawings on removable stickers.

We assigned each person in the family a different colour for his or her events. We decided that because our last name is Brown, we would use a brown marker for events involving the whole family. Using the computer, we printed each person’s repeating events on removable coloured stickers in their assigned colours to save time writing each event over and over.

I included many things on my calendar that fellow Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky, suggests including community events, school events, and when to water and fertilize the houseplants. I also write garbage and recycle collection days on my calendar as well as household hazardous waste and electronics collection events.

As the children grew older, they were encouraged to write their events on the calendar themselves. They learned about budgeting time as well as coordinating with other family members.

I used a paper-based purse-sized planner that mirrored the wall calendar. On Sunday evenings, I would ensure that I had transferred the upcoming weeks events from my planner to the family wall calendar and visa versa. I used the printed removable stickers to quickly and easily put repeating events in my paper planner.

As technology improved and the children got older, our family moved to a shared, online calendar. Because we have Mac computers and iPhones, we decided to use the Mac Calendar app through iCloud. We subscribe to each other’s calendars and have given each other permission to add events to our calendars. Google Calendar is a good alternative. (Mashable has an article on how to set up Google Calendar for your family if you wish to learn more.)

There are several benefits of using an online calendar. Repeating events are easy to add. Any family member can add events to the calendar of other family members anywhere at any time. For example, if one of the children has an appointment and I am not able to take the child, I can add the appointment to my husband’s calendar so he knows he will be busy at that time.

Additional information can be added to an event. If you have a meeting scheduled, you can add the contact information of the person you’re supposed to meet, the address of the meeting venue and a list of documents required for the meeting. Events can have alerts and alarms to remind people where they need to be and when. This is important for teenagers whose eyes never seem to leave their phones.

Using a calendar to which the whole family has access is important in keeping everyone organized and on track. It doesn’t matter if it is a paper-based or electronic system, simply choose what works best for your family.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Grillion
    My friend uses an onion on the end of a barbecue fork to clean the grate of his barbecue grill. I use a metal grill brush. Neither of us turn to the Grillion to melt plastic onto our grills while we clean.

2011

2010

Being organized about charitable giving

We’ve often talked on the site about donating things you’ve uncluttered, but what about supporting charities in other ways? The following is an organized approach to making other donations, if you feel so inclined.

Decide how much to give

Include charitable giving in any financial budgeting process you have. If you want to donate your time, make sure that time commitment fits into your time “budget,” too.

Decide where to give

I’ve selected a few charities I give to every year, and I sometimes support friends I know doing a charitable walk, run, climb, or bike ride.

Having made this decision, I don’t waste time evaluating all the solicitations that come my way in the mail; they go straight into shredding and recycling. They may be for good causes, but I can’t personally support them all.

When deciding what charities to give to, you may want to look at Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to learn more about the organizations you are considering. All three of these organizations agree on what’s important in selecting a charity, as they say in a joint statement:

The percent of charity expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs — commonly referred to as “overhead” — is a poor measure of a charity’s performance.

We ask you to pay attention to other factors of nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership, and results…

That is not to say that overhead has no role in ensuring charity accountability. At the extremes the overhead ratio can offer insight: it can be a valid data point for rooting out fraud and poor financial management. In most cases, however, focusing on overhead without considering other critical dimensions of a charity’s financial and organizational performance does more damage than good.

Decide when to give

You may want to spread your donations out over the year, or you may prefer to sit down once a year to do all your donations.

You might also want to consider making ongoing automatic monthly donations. Charities love these because they have a revenue stream they can count on — and probably because people seldom change or cancel these donations. If you go this route, make sure you know how to adjust your donation, and don’t hesitate to do so if your financial situation or your donation priorities change. I have one such donation, and I recently called and reduced the amount; it wasn’t difficult at all.

Keep track of your donations

If you itemize deductions on your U.S. individual tax return, you can deduct qualified donations. If you do this, make sure you have proper records of your giving. Those records can include cancelled checks, credit card statements, and acknowledgement letters from the organizations that received your donations. If you give small donations at the along with your purchases from grocery stores or places like PetSmart, be sure to keep those receipts, too. A simple manila file folder, envelope, or even a gallon-size zip-top bag labeled with the calendar year on it can suffice for keeping all your receipts in one location.

Did you make a donation via text message? The IRS says “a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.”

Also remember that you can deduct “any unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses, such as the cost of gas and oil, directly related to the use of your car in giving services to a charitable organization.” If you’re donating your time and this involves the use of your car, you’ll want to keep the appropriate records to claim that deduction.