Storing off-season clothing

As the seasons change, it’s time to switch out the clothes. It’s a labor-intensive process that not many people like, honestly, but some early preparation can make the process a bit smoother. In the northern hemisphere, we’re currently moving from warmer weather to cooler temperatures, but the following advice applies for those of you in the southern hemisphere moving into warmer months.

Before you buy any storage containers, plastic bags, or similar items, get your hands on a label maker. It’s the most useful tool for this project. We have one of these handheld models because its easy to carry around. When you get to the bin stage, you’ll want the label maker to label whose clothes are in which bin and to note the contents (“Jane’s winter clothes,” “Dave’s sweaters,” etc.).

My wife and I have tried two brands of vacuum bags, and neither have worked for us. Despite following the instructions to the letter, both brands began filling with air within a matter of weeks, defeating their purpose entirely. If you’ve had good luck with a particular brand, please let me know.

For us, the answer is large, plastic bins. You can find these at home supply stores, some hardware stores and big-brand DIY stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Make sure the lids seal tightly and that they’ll work with your storage method before buying (stackable, side-by-side and so on).

Before placing clothes inside, ensure that they’re thoroughly clean. Locking your shirts in a sealed bin with some insect larvae you didn’t notice in September means you’ve created an all-you-can-eat bug buffet for little critters. Check the bins themselves for the same thing. If you are using plastic bags, ensure that no moisture is inside and there’s no chance of condensation. Throw in a few cedar balls and/or natural herbal moth repellent sachets for a little more protection. Do not store clothes in thin plastic dry cleaning bags for long periods of time as the plastic can decay and ruin your items.

Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way: a hanger is not a good long-term solution. When I was living on my own as a bright-eyed 20 year old, I kept several sweaters hanging all summer. Once fall arrived, they all had hanger-induced bumps on the shoulders that would not go away. If you don’t have any other option, fold the items and hang them in their folded state over the straight bar of the hanger and then group the hangers inside a garment bag made to repel moths and other fabric-eating insects.

When stacking heavy objects like sweaters in a bin, put them at the bottom of the pile. That way they won’t crush lighter items, allow air flow, and prevent mustiness. Finally, check on your clothes once a month to make sure that none of the aforementioned problems have cropped up.

Digitize user manuals for less clutter, easy retrieval

User manuals are a necessary evil. When you bring home that new TV, blender, or printer, you set it up, try it out, and tuck its user manual away somewhere. Chances are you’ll never look at it again. But, you might, and that’s why you can’t throw it away. So, it gets tossed into a junk drawer or set on a shelf in the basement or crammed into the closet with all the other manuals you’ve stashed in there, just in case. These things are the definition of clutter. They sit around and do nothing for years and years. Wouldn’t it be great to store them completely out of sight yet have them instantly available, whenever you need them? Digitizing them is the answer. With a little bit of time and some free software — plus one very cool trick — you can achieve User Manual Nirvana. In this article, I’ll show you how to:

  1. Get manuals into your computer.
  2. Use the nearly ubiquitous Evernote to make your manuals accessible from your digital devices.
  3. Ensure that every manual is ready as soon as you need it with NO searching required (the cool trick).
  4. Reduce frustration and repair time around the house.

Get manuals

The first step, of course, is to find digital versions of your paper manuals and get them into your computer. There are several ways to do this, and I’ll cover three.

Go To The Source

You best bet is to look online, and your first stop should be the manufacturer’s website. For example, here’s a link to the manual for HP’s Officejet 6500 Wireless All-in-One Printer. If you can’t find the manual you’re after by visiting the manufacturer’s site, you’re not out of luck.

Check Third-Party Websites

User-manuals.com offers a large selection of user and service manuals, mostly for large appliances. The manuals on this site aren’t free, and will charge you about $8.99 per manual. The site’s search feature works well, and lets you narrow your inquiry by brand. Another option is theusermanualsite.com. It stores thousands of product manuals and a huge, searchable list of brands and products. What’s really nice is that theusermanualsite.com is supported by an active community of users who will respond to your requests. Theusermanualsite.com requires a free membership. There are other manual sites available, but I’ve had the best luck with these two.

Scan It Yourself

If the manual is not too long, scan it. Many are only long because they contain several languages. You can scan the two, three or four pages that are in your language and disregard the rest. If you don’t have a scanner, don’t worry! There’s a great iPhone app called Piikki that’s useful in this situation. It’s meant for taking photos of receipts, but really you can use it with any piece of paper. Piikki is very good at identifying the edges of paper and grabbing a readable, useful image. From there, send it to your computer.

Of course, you can also take a photo with Evernote and get it right in your database that way. More on Evernote later in this post.

A quick note before I move on to the next section. Don’t overlook “homemade” manuals and similar supplements. A few years ago, I had to replace the belt on our clothes dryer that turns the drum. While I had the machine apart, I sketched how it came apart, where the parts belong, and how it all fits back together. Today, I’ve got a scan of that drawing for future reference (and yes, I got it back together again).

Now that you’ve got your digital user manuals, store them in a fantastic, nearly ubiquitous digital database called Evernote.

Evernote can be your digital database

We’ve written about Evernote before and for good reason. It’s a dead-simple way to store just about anything that’s digital, from manuals to ideas, from music to packing lists. Best of all, it’s nearly ubiquitous. There’s a version for just about any device you own, as well as the web. I treat Evernote as my digital filing cabinet. Evernote stores information in what it calls “notes.” Similar notes can be grouped into a “notebook.” In our case, one note will be one user manual, and all of those notes will be gathered into a single notebook called, you guessed it, “Manuals.” Here’s how to set things up.

Create a Notebook

First, create a notebook. Fortunately, the process couldn’t be simpler. On the left-hand side of your browser window, right-click (that’s Control-click for you Mac users) on the grey area where it says “Notebooks” and select “New Notebook.” Name it “Manuals” and you’re all set.

Create a Note

The exact steps required to create a note depend on the device you’re using (iPhone vs. Mac vs. Android device, etc.). I’ll review how to do it in a web browser, as that’s the same for everyone, and leave you to suss out the (similar) process on your computer/tablet/smartphone of choice.

  1. Navigate to Evernote.com and log in.
  2. Tap “+ New Note”.
  3. The note creation screen appears. Enter a name for you note (like “DVD Player Manual”).
  4. Click “Show details” and enter “manuals” as the tag. This is important as you’ll see.
  5. Click the attachment icon (it resembles a paperclip), navigate to your manual and attach it to the note.
  6. Select “Manuals” from the Notebooks drop-down menu to put it in the proper notebook.
  7. Click “Done”.

That’s it. Repeat the process with all of your manuals. Once you’ve done this on one device, those notes will be available on every other device that you have that runs Evernote. Adding them can be boring, but now for the fun stuff.

Find manuals when you need them

I promised to teach you a cool trick. This isn’t it, though it’s still pretty nifty. You can search for a term in Evernote and then save that search so you don’t have to type it over and over again. Plus, Evernote is smart enough to update the results for you.

In the Evernote app for the desktop, enter “manuals” in the search field and hit Return. Look at the results to make sure they’re accurate, then click on the File menu, and then choose File and then Save Search. Give it a nice name (I suggest “Manuals”) and you’re all done. From now on, all you need to do is click the search field and “Manuals” will appear there for you. Just give it a click.

Here’s another cool bit: saved searches sync across devices. That means, once you’ve created the saved search on your computer, it will be available on your smartphone as well.

OK, here’s the super-cool trick I’ve been promising you.

Access manuals from the appliances themselves

While doing research for this article, I came across this brilliant idea from author Jamie Todd Rubin. His idea is to use QR codes, Evernote, and sticky paper to create almost immediate, no-search access to your digital user manuals.

QR Codes are those funky, square-shaped boxes of scanner code you might have seen, similar to the one at right. A QR Code reader (like this free one for the iPhone), can read the information it contains and perform a resulting action, most often opening a web page.

You can make your own QR Codes for free with a tool like this one at KAYAW QR Code by providing the link you’d like it to point to. Every Evernote note has a unique URL. To find it, simply open the note in your Evernote app and select Copy Note Link from the Note menu. Then make a QR Code with that URL, using the free QR Code generator linked above. Once that’s done, print the page, cut out the code and stick it to the side or back of your printer, blender, DVD player, what have you.

Now, whenever you need the manual for that device, all you need to do is scan it with a free QR reader app and presto! Evernote launches and opens that exact manual for you. No searching, no typing. Ingenious. If you don’t want to use the Note URL from the Evernote app, open the target note in a browser and copy its URL. That will work, too.

There you have it: digitize your user manuals to greatly reduce clutter, keep them close at hand on a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and use QR code stickers on your devices to let THEM retrieve your manuals for you. Have fun.

Unclutter your storage spaces with “a thing a day”

Many people new to uncluttering will begin the process with a simple technique called “a thing a day.” (I learned about the method a few years ago in the Unclutterer Forum.) There are a couple of positive aspects to using this simple method in an effort to clear clutter. First, it’s not overwhelming. If you choose to focus on one thing, it’s likely to be a lot easier and quicker to complete every day. Second, it’s also a momentum builder. By doing one uncluttering activity each day, you get an opportunity to practice creating order, so that it feels like a typical part of your life, rather than a chore that you dread doing. And, as your space becomes free of unwanted items, you’ll be able to create a plan to keep it organized.

Another benefit of using ATAD is you can begin the process wherever you’d like. Your one daily thing can be retrieved from any room of your home. As this becomes a regular part of your routine, you might look for one thing in several or all rooms, though based on a recent study done by IKEA, you may want to start with your clothes closet. The results showed that despite the fact that the average person owns 88 pieces of clothing, only 25 percent of them are actually worn. This may be because most people are reaching for their favorite (or most comfortable) items frequently and leaving other pieces for another time.

If you find yourself in this situation, you can likely free up a bit of space by selecting specific articles of clothing that you hardly reach for as your first items in your ATAD journey. Sure, you’ll have some things that you may only wear on special (infrequent) occasions, but you may want to take a look in your closet for specific items that you haven’t worn in two seasons or more. You might want to focus on removing one thing every day over the course of several weeks so that you can systematically go through each piece of clothing.

Would you be surprised to learn that the same study also found that a large number of Americans say that having a laundry room is high on their wish list? As it turns out, that’s not the only room that they covet — just about any room with added storage capacity seems to be highly desired.

When looking for new homes, a whopping 93% of Americans want a laundry room, 90% want linen closets in their bathrooms, and 85% want a walk-in pantry.

That’s probably no surprise as many people often feel that a lack of storage is the root cause of overstuffed and cluttered spaces.

While changing the size of your closet (or adding more storage) can be a huge undertaking, selecting one thing that you can part with will be much less daunting. As you start thinking about how you might include ATAD in your day-to-day life, have a look at the rest of the IKEA findings.

Image credit: IKEA

Store and organize board games

I love board games, especially those with lots of great-looking components. It’s fun to gather around the table, set everything up and have a great time with family and friends. What’s not fun about playing board gams is cleaning up.

A few years ago, we shared some tips for storing your board games and puzzles. Today, I’m going to expand on that post and share ideas on storing pieces to component-heavy roll playing games. Games in this category often ship with several decks of cards, many dice, miniatures and “bits” as I call them, referring to the small game pieces that don’t fit into any of the preceding categories.

Plan Ahead

Opening a new game for the first time can be fun. My kids and I love to see what we got in each new box. Enjoy that excitement, but make mental notes at the same time. For instance, many games arrive with components that need to be punched out before play. They won’t lay nice and flat after you do that. Also, note if there’s a lot of one type of component: cards, dice, figures, bits. This will help you decided on what to use when it’s time to pack up.

Finally, consider the insert(s). Will all your stuff fit back in the box neatly or is there real potential for a jumbled pile? Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to pick a re-packing strategy.

Solutions

Card bags. These are sold in a variety of sizes to accommodate cards from nearly any game. Bags Unlimited sells several varieties, from bags meant to hold a single card to those sized for whole sets. Several colors are available, too, which might help you remember which cards go with which game. Amazon also sells large sets very inexpensively. Also, using protective bags is a good idea for paper items if you store your games in a damp basement.

Zip-top Bags This one’s pretty obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway. Larger Ziplock bags can be used to store all sorts of components. Push the air out before resealing to reduce the amount of space they consume in the box.

35mm Film Canisters Remember these? They’re insanely useful once you’ve removed the film. Use a canister to store bits, dice, or other small and easily-lost pieces. Label the lid for easy reference.

Nuts and Bolts Drawers These storage drawers offer many little drawers for components (there are 25 on this one) that are easily labeled with a label maker. Consider keeping it out if you have a dedicated gaming area, or pack it away with the rest of your game materials. Go for one with see-through drawers for additional ease of use.

Custom Foam Board The interior of many game boxes store pieces perfectly in their shipping state. That often changes once you’ve played. You can buy some inexpensive foam board from a craft store and cut it to make custom compartments inside the game box. It’s easiest to trace the box on a piece of paper first, layout the components and figure out how it would work. Then measure, cut and insert! Your box is now perfectly capable of storing everything neatly.

Small Tupperware with Lids Get those little bowls you used for snacks when the kids were small out of the kitchen drawer and repurpose them for game pieces. I even use these during gameplay to keep bits from getting strewn across the table. When my son and I play The Legend of Drizzt, we store the tiny hit point tokens and other small items in these bowls on the table. That way they’re easy to find and grab as needed. Volitive candle holders work for tabletop storage, too.

There are several suggestions to keep your game pieces organized and neat. Not only that, it saves on wear and tear of the pieces. Components that don’t jostle around stay looking nice longer. Some of these games are expensive, and pieces are difficult or impossible to replace.

Now if you’re really ambitious, check out this custom solution built entirely of LEGO. I am blown away.

Reclaim your junk drawer: Five steps to get it organized

A junk drawer can seem like a helpful storage space, but in reality it’s usually not. That is probably because all drawers with the “junk drawer” moniker house a lot of the stuff that doesn’t have a proper storage space or is clutter. Lots of miscellaneous things get added to the drawer, and because you can close the drawer, it’s easy to to leave it cluttered — until you start frantically searching for something that you need. Sadly, this poor experience doesn’t improve your life or home in any way.

When free of clutter and organized well, though, junk drawers can be the one of the most useful, non-junky storage areas in your home. They can transform from junk drawers into utility drawers. These drawers can hold things that are used frequently (pens, notepads) or items that you need at specific moments (picture hanging kit), and do so in a way that adds utility to your space. Don’t let your junk drawers languish. Unclutter them. Reclaim them. Turn them into areas that let you easily find what you need.

Follow these five steps to get started:

  1. Determine what’s inside your junk drawer. The first step will be to see exactly what is living in there. Sometimes, there is such a huge variety of things stored in the drawer that you may not know where to begin. So, try starting with an easy step. Remove things that are obviously trash or don’t belong. When you start with things that are easily trash, the uncluttering process will seem less daunting.
  2. Categorize your items. Dump all the non-obviously-trash items out of the drawer onto a flat surface, like a table. Next, group your items into categories (tools, office supplies, keys, etc.) by putting like objects together. If you have multiples of items, can you get rid of any duplicates? You may want to keep multiple pens, for example, but those without ink or that are dried out can be tossed in the trash.
  3. Decide what will be kept in the drawer. This is a great time to think about the things you do want to keep in the drawer. What you put inside will depend on the items you need to have available near where the drawer resides. For each of us, this can be different. There are no right or wrong items to keep, however, they should be things you need and they should be easy to access. You shouldn’t have to dig through the drawer to get what you need.
  4. Use dividers and containers. Just as you sorted like items together when you were uncluttering unnecessary objects from your drawer, you’ll want to keep these items together in your new utility drawer. Drawer organizers (like these from Rubbermaid) can work well, but you probably already have containers that you can use, like ice cube trays, resealable bags, plasticware, or even baby food jars.
  5. Don’t put anything in the uncluttered drawer that doesn’t belong. Once the drawer is organized, you’ll have to stick with the plan and not put anything into the utility drawer that doesn’t belong in there. Be ruthless. Unless there’s a section of the drawer designated for a specific item(s), don’t put clutter into your drawer. It’s also a good idea to check the drawer every couple of months to make sure that it’s still organized and that no stray things made their way inside your utility drawer.

Ikea hack for toy storage

The older your child gets, the more important it is to find great ideas for toy storage. It is always important to get rid of toys that your child doesn’t want or play with any longer to keep the toy inventory manageable. It also is important to find a storage solution that is easy for you and your child to use. Enter this idea from Ikea Hacker:

The hack uses the Ikea Pax wardrobe and Trofast storage boxes, which fit perfectly in the slots. This hack stores an incredible about of toys and is simple to create. I’m not sure if my daughter has enough toys to fill a full Pax wardrobe, but I’m sure we will be able to find use for all of the drawers.

(via ohdeedoh)

Share and store files using Dropbox


Dropbox is an incredibly useful file sharing application that can be added to your Mac or PC (and even a Linux operating system). If you are looking for a way to share or store files on the web, and are averse to using Google Docs, this may be the application for you. It is incredibly easy to use and your files can be accessed from any computer via your Dropbox account. Here is a quick overview on the basics:

  • No complicated interfaces to learn. Dropbox runs in the background on your desktop.
  • Sync your files automatically to your computers and the web.
  • Sign in and access your files from any browser or mobile device.
  • Sharing files with your friends and family is just two clicks away.
  • View your photos in a gallery and share them easily with anyone.

This is what Apple’s iDisk should be, but isn’t. Dropbox offers a superior product that is easy to use and runs in the background. For a video tour of the application in action go to Dropbox and watch the informative presentation.

Use water bottles to store paint

One of the first things we did when we moved into our new home was paint. The old color scheme was more appropriate for a fast food restaurant than a living space.

Paint cans always seem to be left behind by previous owners and they tend to sit in a garage or basement for an eternity. So, when the previous owner asked if we would like her left over paint we told her, “no thanks,” and asked her to properly dispose of it.

What is one to do to with all the extra paint that is inevitably left over from one’s painting project? You can follow a few tips that we’ve listed in the past or check out Lowes’ tips for storage and disposal.

Another suggestion comes from Ron Hazelton, who suggests using water bottles for storage:

The key to paint storage is to minimize the amount of air in the container. So plastic water bottles of all different sizes are perfect for keeping leftover paint in good condition. Simply match the size of the bottle with the amount of leftover paint that you have.

Ron also suggests putting a couple of marbles in the bottles to make it easier to stir the paint (similar to a can of spray paint). I like the water bottle suggestion for getting rid of your mostly empty paint cans. It saves space and it will also save your paint.

In search of a nail care storage solution

My wife’s manicure bag (pictured below) is in complete disarray. She has had the bag since high school, and it serves as a storage bag for all of her nail manicuring needs. She has the terrible habit of putting things into it and then never taking anything out of it:

For years I have looked the other way and ignored it, until recently when the bag’s contents spilled onto our bathroom floor. The accident provided a perfect opportunity to talk to her about a new upgrade for her manicuring storage.

She is interested in cleaning it out and finding a better solution, but we are at a loss to find a decent replacement. Anyone out there with a recommendation? We’re eager to read your suggestions.

Futon with storage

When you hear the word “futon,” your back probably starts to ache a bit. I’ve spent the night on some rough futons in my day. My brother used to have one that felt like sleeping on a giant sack of potatoes. So when we downsized our home and looked for sleeping options for guests we wanted to find a futon that was comfortable and functional. My home office is now equipped with a futon from The Futon Shop. The Futon Shop is a California based franchise that has a wide range of futons. We decided to go with the futon pictured to the right and I must say that it is comfortable and highly functional.

Having slept on it a few times already, I can recommend it for comfort and ease of use. It is very sturdy and fits both myself and my wife. It is a bit snug if you are used to sleeping in a queen or king sized bed. The best feature of this futon is the hideaway storage that can hold all of the bedding that you use for the futon. It is very conveinent. When preparing the futon for a guest, set up is very easy. I have fought with some very stubborn futons, but this one can be folded out with one hand and all the bedding is right under the mattress. If you are in the market for a futon, but are weary of past futon experiences, you may want to consider this well built and functional option.

Make those giant speakers into storage

Instructables has a wealth of information and step-by-step instructions on how to make just about anything your heart desires (some things silly and some useful). One interesting item I came across is a way to recycle old floor standing speakers into storage units.

If you have a couple of old-school floor standing speakers taking up space in your basement or attic, you may want to consider retrofitting them into media storage cabinets. The easy to follow steps can be found here.

If you don’t have any speakers of your own to use, you can easily pick up some giant speakers at a consignment shop or gargage sale. The end result is rather unique and a fairly cheap alternative to your run-of-the-mill media storage currently available in stores.

Folding efficiently can save space

As I looked at the two sacks of sheets at the bottom of our closet, I realized it wasn’t the best use of space. I don’t fold well and to get around this I simply shove sheets into a pillowcase. The fitted sheet is always the one that makes the whole process aggravating. Real Simple has a how-to guide on efficient ways to fold just about anything. Here’s their step-by-step instructions on how to conquer the dreaded fitted sheet. The whole “How to Fold Anything” page can be found here.

Properly folding sheets, towels, or clothing can save you quite a bit of space. Whether you are packing for a trip or just putting things away in your dresser or closet. Take a little time to fold things well and the space you save will be worth the time.