Book Review: Minimalist Parenting

As someone without children, I’m always in awe of the many parents I see raising remarkable children — and dealing with the added stresses that parenting can bring to already busy lives. Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest is a book filled with advice intended to help alleviate some of that stress.

While “minimalist” often brings up images of Spartan surroundings, that’s not what the authors are advocating. Rather, they focus on “editing out the unnecessary” — whatever that is for you and your family — in “physical items, activities, expectations and maybe even a few people” so you can focus on the things that are most meaningful.

The book is comprehensive, covering daily routines, meal planning, uncluttering the toys, managing the holidays, and much more. It’s showered with examples from the authors’ lives and from the lives of other parents who’ve commented on their websites. (Both authors have sites that deal with parenting: Boston Mamas from Koh and Parent Hacks from Dornfest.) It has a friendly voice and was easy to read.

While much of the advice in this book is similar to that you’ll find in other books and on websites such as Unclutterer, I still found much to admire. I was delighted to see the emphasis on finding solutions that fit with each family’s values and the personalities of the individual family members. There were some “everyone needs to do this” parts — for example, everyone needs a shared, portable family calendar and a to-do list — but these were kept to a minimum. The authors also emphasized the need to follow your gut feelings, which they referred to as your “inner bus driver.”

I also noted and appreciated the continual emphasis on working toward making children self-sufficient through assigning age-appropriate chores, having kids use an alarm clock, letting them do homework independently, etc. This doesn’t mean children are left to flounder — with homework, for example, you would be available to consult and guide your children, but “the plan is to gradually remove yourself from the process.”

Sometimes there were ideas that I hadn’t heard before, such as the secondhand baby shower. One of the authors found herself pregnant with her second child after giving away all her baby things, and when friends wanted to throw a shower she asked that everything be secondhand. This allowed her friends, who almost all had young children themselves, to unload things they no longer needed and wanted to pass along, anyway. Those who didn’t have little kids and hand-me-downs were welcome to just come and hang out or to bring diapers or gift cards.

The authors continually emphasized that “course correction beats perfection.” Looking for perfect solutions is a waste of time, they say, since perfect solutions simply don’t exist. (The author who spent ages researching cribs found they all had something that made them less than perfect. She could have saved time by just finding three cribs that were highly recommended from reliable sources and then picking one of those.) They recommend you go with something good and adjust as necessary — tweaking new routines, for example, or adjusting a family spending plan. This sounds like solid advice to me.

The one disappointing aspect of this book is that while it’s called Minimalist Parenting, the book is definitely geared toward mothers. Much of the advice applies to any parent, but many of examples are mother-focused. I especially noticed this in the section on self-care. Adding some voices from fathers would have made a good book much stronger.

Unitasker Wednesday: Steel Wine Bottle and Glass Holder

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

You know ALL those times you’re camping, when you’re drinking wine in super-breakable-and-hard-to-pack wine glasses, but you’re soooooooo drunk that holding a wine glass is just too much? Well, FINALLY, there is a solution for at least one of your problems — the Steel Wine Bottle and Glass Holder:

Because if there is anything someone who is too drunk to hold a glass should have, it is access to five pointy steel rods, glass glasses, and wine that is sure to stain!

Come on, drunk wine-drinking campers, have you never heard about insulated sippy cups? Now there is a safer solution to one of your problems.

A year ago on Unclutterer




  • Review: Essential Travel Jacket by Scottevest
    Ordinarily, garments with an extreme number of pockets tend to make the wearer look like either Walter Sobchak or a pro bass fisherman. This jacket is both fashionably simple and inconspicuous.


Mobile apps for smart, organized travel

A good vacation, like so many other things in life, will be more successful with ample planning. If you have one, your smartphone is more than up to the task of helping you in this area. There are smartphone apps that can help you back up important information about your trip, pack your things in an orderly way, and finally find tickets for a plane, a train, or bus if you plans change mid-journey.

Perform a backup

This next bit of advice isn’t about an app, but it is vitally important for organized traveling: before you leave for vacation (or on a trip for work), back up your smartphone. It’s likely that you won’t be able to do so while you’re away, and possible that your phone could be lost, stolen, or damaged on the road. While most mobile app purchases can be replaced for free, your pictures, home videos, and certain app data cannot. Performing a backup before you leave means you’ll be able to perform a clean restoration, if necessary, when you return home. Refer to your device’s instructions for making a backup.

It’s also a good idea to export your contacts to a separate file (like a .csv to your desktop or the cloud), just to be safe. For example, the utility called Easy Backup (free) can export your iPhone contacts as a .csv (.csv stands for comma separated value and is easily read by Excel).

Create a packing list

Few things are as satisfying as scratching something off a list. Your smartphone lets you ditch the pencil and create an electronic list to use on the go. There are many list apps available, and I encourage you to conduct a search with the terms “List” and “Packing.”

I’m a fan of the Kayak app (free, and pictured above) because in addition to booking transportation and hotels, Kayak lets you create shopping and packing lists. Its approach is unique: list templates are populated with items you might take on one of several types of trips, family, business, romantic and general. It has pre-populated lists and you can create your own lists. Erin is fond of PackingPro ($3), which is good because it allows different groups of lists and is sharable for families.

Make travel arrangements

I’ll admit I love finding and tracking flights with my smartphone. I can remember the hours I used to spend on the phone and even in front of my computer trying to find a flight. Not to mention scrambling to find my gate and read the information displays at the airport. Now I do all of it with the pocket-sized computer I keep in my pocket.

Again, I primarily use Kayak to look for air travel. The app polls several top travel sites and airlines for flights that match your criteria. The results can be filtered by airline, number of stops, airport, price and duration. You can also sort by cost, duration and departure time (leaving soonest). You can use the app even if you booked your flight with another site.

Individual airlines have apps, too, which may be helpful to you if you are a loyalty member on a specific carrier. A little research before you purchase your tickets can let you know if booking through the airline’s app will get you a better price.

Land travel

Of course, traveling doesn’t always mean flying. I often travel between Boston and New York City by train. Once again, the smartphone replaces time spent at a desk or on the phone with several handy apps. For train travel, I use the Amtrack app (Free), which allows you to
buy tickets, track a train, browse schedules, share your status with waiting family and friends, and more. Some stations in the US are even testing paperless check-in with smartphone customers through the app.

Bus travel is a little less organized right now, so it’s best to do a Google search to find all the carriers in the area where you’ll be visiting and then find their specific apps. Many have mobile apps as robust as the Amtrack one. Same goes for hired cars (like Uber and Lyft), local taxi services, and metropolitan bus and subway systems.

How to be a tidy, organized house guest

As I write this post, I’m visiting my parents in sunny Florida. It’s nice to be here just as the air at my Massachusetts home is starting to dip in the 50s at night. As I sit here in my makeshift bedroom, I’m considering how I make myself a tidy houseguest who’s likely to be asked to return. (Granted, they are my parents so they’re likely to ask me back, but I was thinking more in a general sense.) The following are ways to keep your life from overtaking that of your host when you travel.

Prepare a Dopp kit

“Dopp kit” is a fancy way of saying “bag of toiletries.” I keep it stocked with travel-sized, airline-friendly products at all times. That way, it’s ready to go when I am. Inside I’ll pack the usuals:

  1. Toothpaste
  2. Toothbrush
  3. Shampoo
  4. Mouthwash
  5. Deodorant
  6. Disposable razor
  7. Shaving cream

I also include items you might not expect. Specifically, things I might need that my host might not have on hand. Rather then trouble them with a request or even a drive to the drug store, I keep these things on hand:

  1. Tissues
  2. Mini sewing kit
  3. Eyeglasses repair kit
  4. Earplugs (you never know when you’ll be bunking with an Olympic-class snorer)
  5. Lip balm
  6. Sunscreen

All of these items are available in travel sizes and will easy fit inside a nice bag.

Charger cables

I always pack the cables and wall chargers I need, so I don’t end up begging to use someone else’s. If you travel often, acquire a second set of your usual cables so your travel bag is always ready to go and you won’t have to worry about forgetting to pack what you need.

Bring a small gift

This is more of a manners item than an organizing tip, but a small host gift is always appreciated, especially when it’s useful. The gift need not be anything extravagant, but a small thank-you for the hospitality your hosts are showing you is always a good idea.

Aside from items I bring, there are a few things I always do when staying in someone’s home.

Keep your sleeping area neat

In addition to being polite, being organized during your stay also helps you when it’s time to head home. You’re less likely to leave something at a host’s home when you’re tidy than when things are strewn about. Keep your toiletries in your bag and not sprawled across the sink, make your bed every morning and strip the sheets just before you leave, put all your dirty clothes in a hamper or laundry bag, etc. Be sure to give yourself a full hour to pack up when leaving someone’s home, even if you only need 15 or 20 minutes. The extra time will keep you from rushing and allow you to take care of everything you need to do.

A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Organizing for two or more
    There are many different ways to be organized, and two people sharing a home or office may not share organizing styles. Communicating about preferences can ensure efficiency and effectiveness with maintaining the organizing systems.



  • Can mise en place make your cooking more organized?
    I don’t typically measure out all of my ingredients or get them out of the cupboard before starting the cooking process. This step, referred to as mise en place, has always seemed to me to be unnecessary. I also think measuring thins ahead of time dirties a ridiculous number of bowls. Or, rather, I thought it was ridiculous until reading Michael Ruhlman‘s newest cookbook Twenty.


  • Creating a mail center in your home
    One of the easiest ways to keep paper clutter from overwhelming your space is to set up a mail processing center immediately inside the door by your mailbox.


Organizing for traffic jams

I live in a small coastal city with only a couple two-lane roads leading into town. On a nice weekend day, traffic on those roads can get very heavy as people head to and from the beach (or the pumpkin farms, in October). And sadly, both of those roads are somewhat twisty and prone to frequent accidents. Even a minor accident with no injuries can cause huge traffic problems.

So I’ve learned to organize for traffic jams, in the following ways:

Plan trips to minimize travel at peak times
Avoiding problems is always nicer than coping with them. I know when traffic will usually be at its worst and plan any discretionary trips to avoid those times.

Leave plenty of time
Sometimes I need to make a trip during a heavy traffic time. Other times there’s roadwork or an accident that makes traffic worse than normal. I check traffic conditions online before I leave home so I can adjust my route if need be. But I also leave lots of extra time if I need to be somewhere at a specific time, so I won’t be stressed out by any unexpected traffic problems. Since this means I often arrive early for a flight, an appointment, or a reservation, I make sure I have a book to read or something else I want to do while I wait.

Have plenty of gas
As part of my emergency preparedness, I aim to always have at least a half tank of gas. This also ensures I’ll be okay if I need to take a more roundabout way home.

Pack the essentials
I always have a water bottle and some energy bars with me so I don’t need to worry about getting thirsty or hungry. And I have a backlog of podcasts loaded to my smartphone to keep me happily occupied while traffic is slow (or stopped). Other people may prefer music, language lessons, or audio books in either CD or digital format.

Use the restroom before heading out
This is self-explanatory.

Have critical phone numbers readily available
I make sure my smartphone has the numbers of everyone I might need to call (while pulled off the road, not while driving) if I’m delayed.

Keep the smartphone fully charged
Since I rely on my phone for communication and entertainment, I need to ensure I don’t run down the battery. I usually leave home with my phone close to 100 percent charged, and I leave it on a charging cable while I’m driving.

Slap on some sunscreen
I’m not as good about this as I should be, but for many daytime car rides it’s wise to put on sunscreen. If the ride is likely to be extended because of traffic, the sunscreen is even more important.

Since I know I’m prepared for being in a traffic jam, I try to not let it bother me too much. There’s nothing I can do about the bad traffic — mentally screaming at it is unproductive, I’ve found — so I consciously get into a “I’ll get there when I get there” mindset.

Unitasker Wednesday: Bathroom Guest Book

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

Have you ever sat down on a toilet and wondered “who has peed here before”? Well, wonder no longer with the Bathroom Guest Book:

Yes, the Bathroom Guest Book takes the guess work out of wondering who has shared your commode. Who left the seat up? Let me check …

But that’s not all! Why stop at the bathroom when you can have guest books for your couch! And even your bed! (Oh my, that can’t end well.)

A year ago on Unclutterer




  • Exercise and focus
    A neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, Arthur Kramer, in “Ageing, Fitness and Neurocognitive Function” in Nature magazine, reports on another way to improve your ability to focus and brain cognition. The answer: Regularly participating in aerobic exercise.


Defining technology and increasing your productivity

Recently, my 10-year-old son reminded me that technology doesn’t have to be a collection of wires and software, but can be the simplest of devices and still wonderfully productive.

His teacher asked him to write about his favorite subject. He chose science, and broke his writing project into a few aspects of scientific study, including technology, which he defined as “a tool to help you do things better.”

“Well,” I thought, “that’s right.”

Years ago, when I worked as an IT director and had many computers — and computer users — it was quite the task to keep all my work and equipment all organized. It was around that time I discovered David Seah, a designer who often writes about his efforts to become more productive online. He makes lots of cool paper-based productivity tools, including the delightful Task Order Up sheets, which I used religiously. (And Erin loves the sticky version of his Emergent Task Planner, too.)

They were inspired by the order tickets you might see in a deli or restaurant where short-order cooks whip up pancakes, chowder, and slabs of meatloaf on a regular basis. Each sheet represents a single project, with fields for the project’s title and all of the actions that must be completed before the project can me marked as “done.”

There are also fields for marking down the amount of time you’ve spent on a given project, time spent on each action step, and the date. Best of all, they look like the tickets from a deli counter, so you can line them up at your desk and then pull then down as each “order” is completed. Dave even recommends using an order check rail for added authenticity.

Of course you can just use index cards if you like, but I believe that the tools we use can be useful, attractive AND fun. Technology really is any tool that helps you do things better.

Get your keys under control with Key Smart

Every now and then I come across a product that’s so cool and so in line with an uncluttered and organized lifestyle, I think, “I can’t wait to share this with the Unclutterer readers!” Today, that product is the Key Smart. Starting at $38.98), this device is a tidy, effective way to neatly store all of your keys. It’s made of aircraft aluminum, looks great, and easily swaps keys in and out.

I’ve managed to trim the number of keys I carry around to two, but a few years ago I looked like an old-time jailer with my house keys, shed key, various work keys, and keys for the car all in one obnoxious, noisy, and inefficient key ring. Finding what I needed meant a minute of standing and fiddling.

Now, I look at the Key Smart and wish I had had it back then. To attach a key, simply remove the two screws, place your key inside and then replace the screws and aluminum cover. When assembled, the Key Smart looks and operates much like a pocket knife (which I also love). Fold out the key you want, open your lock, and then fold it back into place. The whole unit slips into a pocket without becoming a jangle-y mess.

The manufacturers even sell add-on accessories, like a USB flash drive (by the way, if you have extra USB flash drives, consider ideas for what to do with them) and a quick-release clip if you like to keep your keys on your hip.

A year ago on Unclutterer






  • The Stash for organizing the small stuff
    Organizing small things, specifically small things you regularly need at your fingertips, can be frustrating. Most of the pre-made organizing products for small things aren’t very attractive and/or made exclusively for drawers. While searching for a way to organize my son’s bath supplies, I came across an attractive organizing system that is made specifically for small things that sit out on a counter or hang on the wall. The Stash by Boon.