Be organized after an auto accident

I have a friend who was unfortunately involved in two car accidents a few years ago. When the accidents occurred, she was obviously disoriented and under a great deal of anxiety. Days later, after being able to think about what had happened, she wished that she would have been more organized during the events. After both accidents, she realized that she had forgotten to write down important information like the license plate numbers of the other cars.

Wanting not to be caught off guard again, she created a worksheet to keep in the glove compartment of her car in the same folder as her insurance card and registration. (If you do not have Adobe Reader, you can download it here.) This is a situation when being organized can help you greatly.

At the time she had her accidents, she recommended carrying a small, digital camera to photograph the accident scene. Today, most people have smartphones that will not only take high quality photos, but video as well. Just remember to keep your phone charged!

Now, let us hope that you never have to use this worksheet! If you do, however, rest assured that you’ll be organized and you won’t forget to gather any important information.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Keyless entry = fewer keys

Reader Ralph writes in with a tip that may well belong in a Extreme Minimalism Monday post. He writes,

I hated carrying around my keys so I installed combination door lock deadbolts on my house doors. ”Look ma! No more keys!” … There’s also no need to give spare/emergency keys to family, they just know the code.

He points us to this keyless lock solution from Codelock. There are also fingerprint and Bluetooth enabled deadbolt locks which allow you to unlock your front door if you “knock” on your smartphone — even if your phone is in your pocket.

Not sure keys bother me that much, but if they bother you, pair this with keyless entry in your car and you’re home free.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Unitasker Wednesday: Handheld dishwashing machine

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

When I first saw the photo of the handheld dishwashing machine, I thought it might possibly be useful for those who had limited use of their hands and did not have a dishwasher. It is referred to as a “robotic arm” after all.

I was wrong. You need two hands to get the dishes in the device and one hand to hold the thing while it washes.

The description on this device says you don’t have to get your hands dirty but you need both hands to put the dirty plate in it — unless you enjoy washing clean dishes like they do in the video (which makes my highly suspicious of its efficacy).

The site also states, “Environmental protection, beauty, simple, good cleaning effect.” But I fail to see how a plastic, robot-arm filled with electronics and a rechargeable battery protects the environment. The gadget reminds me of an extra-terrestrial insect from a sci-fi movie so maybe it is only beautiful to entomologists.

If you have enough space for the handheld dishwashing machine, why not just buy a countertop dishwasher? It would work better and your hands would stay cleaner.

Save your money. Save the environment. Avoid nightmares about green insects from outer space. Pass on this unitasker.

Minimalism vs. just in case

One rainy Friday before a long weekend, we laundered our bed sheets. After washing them, we discovered our dryer was broken. It did not heat. We were not prepared to pay for appliance servicing during a long weekend so we hung our wet sheets in the basement with a fan blowing on them. They were still not dry by nightfall. Fortunately, I had a second set of sheets stored in the linen closet.

As much as I strive to be a minimalist, I was glad I had the extra set of sheets “just in case.” Some minimalists argue that you need only one set of sheets per bed — you simply wash the set and put it back on the bed immediately. If I had followed that suggestion, we would have been sleeping in wet sheets!

Storing and maintaining an extra set of sheets took almost no effort and it saved us having to run out to a laundromat on a Friday evening. Mr. Justin Case saved us!

Balancing minimalism with “just in case” isn’t always easy. You have to calculate the probability that you will actually urgently need the item with the expense of owning (storage and maintenance) the item. You might also want to factor in the original purchase price and the cost and hassle of renting or replacing the item.

There are plenty of things I have been thankful I have kept “just in case” including spare batteries for the smoke detectors, light bulbs, an extra set of headphones, and an extra dog leash and collar.

On the other hand, we don’t own a table saw “just in case.” For our family, a table saw is used in a planned project and can be easily borrowed or rented. However, my friends who live on a horse farm own a table saw just in case they need to repair a stall a horse has kicked through — which happens more frequently than one would think.

How are you balancing minimalism with just in case? What items can you honestly let go of?

Make your kitchen magnetic

When talking about kitchen magnets, most people think of those plastic alphabets we had when we were kids. But magnets can do more in your kitchen than spell “dog” and “cat.” Magnets, when used wisely, can help you free up valuable counter space, and keep all your most used kitchen tools close at hand.

Spice it up

One of the most common magnetic tool these days are magnetic spice tins, which are simply metal or plastic containers with clear lids. Some come with a special board that sits on your counter or attaches to the wall (like these), but you can also buy them individually and stick them to the side of your fridge. Some spice enthusiasts eschew these because they let light in which can damage delicate herbs, so pick a metal surface that doesn’t sit in direct light. Alternatively, choose these spice containers that come with labels which cover the transparent lid.

Wipe it up

Also very handy – a magnetic paper towel holder. If you don’t have much counter space, one of those freestanding ones can be a hassle. But with a magnet, it’s right on your fridge door, and you can just tear one off when your milk spills.

Hang it up

Next time you’re at the hardware store, see if they have inexpensive magnetic hooks. They are perfect for hanging spoons next to the stove or keeping potholders out where you need them. Hooks are one way to get commonly used items out of drawers and within easy reach.

Cut it up

My absolute favorite – a magnetic knife rack. Knife blocks are huge counter space hogs, and keeping sharp pointy things in a drawer can be dangerous for the clumsy-inclined like me. With a magnetic strip, the knives are always handy and out of the way. The magnets are powerful enough to resist a slight bump of the elbow, but pull off without too much force.

The only thing with magnets is that you’re somewhat limited by the number of metal surfaces you have in the kitchen. If you want to add more, try getting a few extra knife racks, or a magnetic memo  strip that can be mounted to the backsplash or any other wall in your kitchen.

What else do you hang in your kitchen?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Lay it all out

I’ve been putting off getting rid of a bunch of my clothes for quite some time and I finally did something about it. My clothes used to reside in two different places in my home, a dresser in the laundry room and a closet in a completely different room. There was no need for two different storage spaces so I decided to lay out all of my clothes and take stock.

Once my clothes were all laid out I was amazed at how much clothing I actually had. I didn’t think I had that much, but to my surprise I had a lot of items I never wear anymore. I ended up cutting my clothing inventory by half right off the bat. Then, when I started to put all of my clothes back into the one closet I made a second pile of rejects. Overall, I think I cut my clothing inventory by about 60%.

Laying out all of your clothes is a great way to put things in perspective. Once everything is laid out you realize how much stuff you actually have. This obviously doesn’t have to be limited to your clothing. It also can be used for anything else you want to scale down. Try it with a closet that is in desperate need of cleaning or a junk drawer that no longer closes. You also may want to edit your collection of books, DVDs, CDs, or shoes. Laying them all out may enlighten you to the fact that you have much more junk than you first thought.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Reader question: Move or store furniture?

Reader Lisa emailed us the following question:

I am moving across the country (probably just for a few years), and would like to take just the essentials. However, I have three large pieces of antique furniture bequeathed by my grandmother that I can definitely see wanting to have in a more permanent house when I move back in the future. So… what do I do with them for the next few years? (Or am I deluding myself — will I ever want them?)

Lisa, your question brings up a number of different issues, so bear with me while I take a few twists and turns to get to a definitive answer.

To start, you seem more uncertain about life than you do about a few pieces of furniture. You use the phrase “probably just for a few years,” which speaks volumes about why this decision is difficult for you. Stop thinking about a possible future, and focus on right now. Are you moving across country? Yes. Do you want to take this furniture with you? No.

Since you don’t want to move the furniture across country, you need to decide what to do with it. Is there someone else in your family who could use the furniture now? What would the repercussions be in your family if you sold the furniture to an antique dealer and used the money to set up your new home on the other coast? If someone would be upset that you sold the furniture, are they willing to take it off your hands? (If not, do not allow them to guilt you into keeping it.)

Maybe you love the furniture, and are considering storing it in self-storage? The reality is that you would likely pay $100 a month to put the three pieces of furniture into a storage locker. If you stay on the other coast for three years, then you’ll have spent at least $3,600 in rent for unused furniture. Would you pay that amount to buy this furniture if you saw it in a store? Could you even insure the furniture for that amount? The possibility also exists that you’ll love the other coast and decide to stay out there permanently. If this happens, then you’ll either continue to pay to store the furniture or you’ll have to pay to have it shipped across country. Whatever way you look at it, using a public storage facility will cost you … and it will probably cost you stress and worry in addition to the price tag.

The future is uncertain, but the present isn’t. If I were you, I’d give the pieces to someone in the family who wants them more than you do. You can admire the furniture every time you visit that family member, and know that it is being useful. And, remember, it’s just furniture, it’s not your grandmother.

 

This post has been updated since its original post in 2008.

Unitasker Wednesday: Body odour detector

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

We all know that bad body odour is bad manners — especially if you are living or working in crowded quarters. To cope with this, the company Tanita is marketing a gadget that detects how bad your body odour is.

The Tanita-ES100 costs about $125 USD and is about the size of an antique pocket pager. It works on the same principles as a breathalyzer for detecting blood alcohol content based on a breath sample. The ES100’s replaceable sensor is good for 2000 uses, or about a year for the average person.

The device is easy to use, simply turn it on, flip out the sensor and point it to a part of your body you think might be emitting too much odour. After about 10 seconds, the display will show your smell level on a scale of 0 (no smell) to 10 (extremely smelly). The device suggests that anything above Level 5 requires “smell care.”

The nice thing about the device is that it will also tell you if you have applied too much aftershave or perfume. However, there are a few unpleasant odours that it is not programmed to detect.

I can see this device as being helpful for those who may have lost their sense of smell due to injury or illness. I’m not too sure if it would be useful for anyone else though. Perhaps if I lived in a crowded city in a hot climate I’d think differently. I’ll leave it up to Unclutterer readers to decide.

The BIFL philosophy

Those who practice the BIFL (Buy It For Life) philosophy believe that you should purchase only items of high quality so they will last for your entire life and preferably beyond so you can pass them down to your heirs.

BIFL was a very common practice up until the early part of the 20th century. Afterwards, consumer goods became more affordable and technology changed at a rapid rate. This, coupled with the driving forces of consumerism caused a decline in the BIFL philosophy. And, at the same time, our homes gradually filled with more and more stuff.

Today, BIFL seems to be making a come-back. People are aware the effect of mass consumerism, from poorly paid workers in unsafe conditions, to the environmental damage caused by production and disposal of items we are driven to purchase. They also want to live in less cluttered homes.

If you’re considering becoming a Buy It For Lifer, here are some things to consider.

Buy the highest quality you can afford

If a pair of $150 boots will last you three winters and a $60 pair will last only one winter, the more expensive boot would be the better option — not only for your pocketbook but for the environment as well. Buy the highest quality (in this case the most durable) that you can afford.

A disadvantage of BIFL is that often people get convinced to pay for more ‘quality’ than needed. For example, if you never play computer games, there is no point in paying extra for a high-quality graphics card on your new computer.

Define exactly what you need the product to do and the type of performance you expect. Do some research on the internet, check product review sites, and ask your friends and family for opinions. Don’t overspend on high-end products when you can get ‘good enough’ products at much lower prices.

Choose classic styling and neutral colours

Professional Organizer Julie Bestry cleared-out a client’s closet recently and posted a photo of a classically tailored man’s suit on Facebook. She asked her friends to guess what era the suit was from. The answers spanned from the 1950s to the 1990s — an indication that time-honoured fashion transcends fad styling.

Classic styling does not just apply to clothing. Simple and elegant home furnishings stand the test of time as well. White kitchen appliances may wax and wane in popularity but they certainly outlasted those of avocado green and harvest gold. Plain dinnerware and flatware sets can be dressed up for any occasion with fancy napkins and tablecloths. A beige sofa can be jazzed up with a colourful throw and decorative cushions.

Is it repairable, replaceable, upgradeable?

When you are considering purchasing an item, inquire whether it is possible to repair it if it breaks and what the repair costs would be. Often the owner’s manual will contain a list of available replacement parts. If it doesn’t, then it may not be easily repaired.

For large items such as appliances, televisions, etc., it might be helpful to talk to local repair shops and find out which makes and models to avoid. When I took my vacuum cleaner in for repairs, I learned that certain brands should be avoided because they are almost impossible to fix while other brands can be inexpensively repaired and outperform newer models even after 20 years.

Check for a Repair Café in your city. At a Repair Café, visitors bring in their broken item and working with volunteer repair specialists, they can make repairs to their items right in the café with the tools and materials available. (Coffee and snacks are also available!) If the volunteer specialists can’t fix it, they can give you advice on whether or not your broken item is worth repairing and where the local repair shops are located.

If you have a set of items and one of the set breaks or gets lost, can it be replaced? and CorningWare offers replacement lids, and Tupperware has an almost lifetime guarantee on most of its products. Most dinnerware and flatware will sell items individually however, some patterns may be discontinued.

Technology is one area where BIFL may not make sense. Certainly keeping a computer or television for as long as possible is a good idea, but at some point the hardware will no longer accept new software updates. Look for manufacturers and retailers that offer upgrade or trade-in programs. They will accept your old technology and give you a credit towards your new product. Apple has both an upgrade program for iPhones (as do many cell phone carriers). It also has a trade-in program that gives users Apple Store credit towards the purchase of new Apple products.

Extended Warranties

Often sales people will offer extended warranties on goods and customers may be tempted especially if they are considering buying it for life. Many extended warranties are expensive and have a host of exclusions so may not be worth it for a particular product. I encourage our readers to check out the excellent advice on extended warranties by both Consumer Reports and the Toronto Star before they agree to buy.

 

Are you someone who buys it for life? Has it helped you stay uncluttered? Share with readers in the comments.

Try giving your refrigerator a facelift

My refrigerator is not magnetic. I have no idea what the previous owners of my house did to it to make it that way, but that is its fate. I learned this the hard way, too, sticking magnet after magnet onto it and watching them fall to the floor. I was mesmerized. How could a magnet not stick to the refrigerator? What kind of a person would want a non-magnetic refrigerator?

Now that I’ve been in my house for many years, I’ve come to appreciate the refrigerator and its plain front. Most notably, I value it because there isn’t any clutter on it — no softball schedules from last season, no warped photos, no magnets with unknown real estate agents’ faces staring back at me. Its clean front actually helps to keep my stress level at bay when I’m in the kitchen. The previous owners of my home were more wise than I had given them credit.

If someone would have ever suggested that I could live without magnets on my refrigerator, I would have thought them batty. So, I will not be surprised if in the comments section people write about my sanity (or, rather, lack of sanity). I am making that very suggestion to you, though. Try clearing off the front of your refrigerator and develop other, less cluttered alternatives to distributing information in your home.

If you must use the front of your refrigerator for this purpose, then use something like a perpetual dry-erase calendar hung with Command poster strips. Command also makes refrigerator clips specially designed for hanging papers (like children’s artwork). These could also be used on other kitchen surfaces such as hanging a recipe on a ceramic tile backsplash. Lulalu makes a weekly calendar pad block that cling sticks to smooth surfaces such as stainless steel fridges, mirrors, and school lockers. Also, you could buy a few easy-change artwork frames and swap out your children’s artwork and well-executed homework on your wall instead of on your refrigerator. Honor their good work instead of losing it in a mish-mash of refrigerator madness. Give a magnet-free refrigerator a try and see how it improves the feel of your kitchen.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Recycling bins don’t have to be messy

Reader Jameselee drew our attention to the June article “How to Hide Recycling Bins in Your Kitchen” from Popular Mechanics magazine.

It makes sense to find convenient and attractive ways to cope with the typical household’s revolving collection of cans, glass bottles and newspapers, since recycling has become an everyday reality.

Whether you’re planning from scratch or improving an existing setup, the first decision is what room to use for storing the stuff. The kitchen is ideal, given that it’s where most glass and plastic containers get used, but kitchen space is often at a premium. Other options are the pantry, garage, laundry room or mudroom.

The article provides a number of ideas for visible and hidden storage, even though the word “hide” is in the title. I particularly enjoyed the following drawing from the article:

The company simplehuman has quite a few stylish trash/recycle bin combinations. Some can be hidden in a cupboard, others can be placed on the floor. A ClosetMaid four drawer basket kit could be hidden inside a closet.

Do you disguise or hide recycling in your home? What techniques do you use? How do you keep this area from looking cluttered and out of control?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

All-in-one washer/dryer

LG may have created the ultimate space saving laundry solution in the All-In-One Washer and Dryer. From LG’s site:

The ideal solution when you are short on space, LG’s washer dryer combinations offer a powerful yet compact and space-saving alternative to a traditional side-by-side washer and dryer. Washer dryer combos from LG are designed to make your life easier.

Since it doesn’t need to be vented outside and it washes and dries your clothes, it appears to be a great small-space appliance. Both LG and Kenmore have units available on Amazon and there are a few similar options from other companies. The load capacities seem ridiculously small by North American standards, and I’m curious about its drying capabilities. Has anyone had the chance to do a load of laundry in one of these units? I’m interested in finding out how well it works.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.