Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Tech Gadgets

Holiday shopping time is here, and with it comes the opportunity to buy cool tools! Here are our picks for super-cool gadgets that the tech-friendly unclutterers on your list will love.

The iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit contains unique and essential tools for most electronics repairs like screen and battery replacements. It’s also useful for repairing other electronics and household appliances. It has a great little carrying case with designated spots for each tool so you know where everything belongs and can easily see when something is missing. If there’s a tinkerer on your list, or someone who wants to save money by doing repairs at home, this toolkit is a great gift.

The Automatic Pro is a small device that plugs into a port that most contemporary cars have. Once in place, it provides a whole host of useful information to the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android), including:

  • Diagnostics of engine warning lights
  • Parking tracking
  • Expense tracking for business travel
  • Crash detection and response

There’s even cool collaboration with existing apps and services. For example, have your Hue Lights turn on as you pull into the driveway, set your Nest thermostat to turn the heat down as you pull away or log trip distances onto a Google document automatically.

The KBAR USB charger looks like a power strip but don’t let that fool you. This charger has eight USB ports that intelligently charge up to eight high-power mobile devices like iPads, Android tablets, and full-sized smartphones simultaneously. I say “intelligently” because the KBAR recognizes all of these devices and charges them at their maximum designed speed. Plus, the built-in surge protection helps keep them safe during a electrical power fluctuations.

Finally, I want to mention the PIXNOR 7-piece tweezers set. I seem to always have trouble finding a pair of tweezers when I need them, let alone the right tweezers. This kit offers a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. Whether it’s removing a sliver from your finger or performing a precision repair, this kit has precisely what you need. At a little under ten dollars, it’s a super deal.

There you have our recommendations for gadget gifts for the organized. Happy shopping. Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Box Sets and Special Editions

Christmas is a popular time for the release of box sets and special editions of books, CDs, and TV and movie franchises. As a minimalist, I always thought them to be a waste of time and money, often considering them pure moneymakers for publishers. And I’m not the only one. The Canadian band Barenaked Ladies takes a good poke at the topic with the song Box Set.

But then I married a music collector and over time my attitude has changed. My husband grew up loving British pop music in a time when it was next to impossible for him to get CDs or vinyls delivered to him in Spain. Now, twenty years later musicians like Bananarama, George Michael, and the production trio Stock Aiken and Waterman are re-releasing special editions with extra material, detailed liner notes and remastered versions of the original songs. And he’s over the moon! Instead of grainy-sounding copies of the music of his youth, he has crisp, clean sounding versions with all the information the music addict in him could want, and more!

Before buying your loved ones a box set or special edition of something, there are some things you’ll want to consider:

Does the gift contain enough extras to be worth the cost? For example, the George Michael special edition has extra CDs and a DVD. But if your George Michael fan never plays DVD concerts at home, there’s no real point in getting it.

Is the series complete? At the end of every season, Game of Thrones releases another combined box set (take a look at seasons 1-6 versus seasons 1-7). Knowing, however, that the series just has one season left (although we are going to have to wait until 2019 to see it), buying the current box sets will just create clutter, especially for a die-hard fan who will want the complete series when it comes out.

Will the box set be used or will it just sit on a shelf looking pretty? Box set and special editions are excellent gifts for my husband because he will spend hours pouring over the liner notes, discussing the differences in production quality from the original to the new versions, and going into detail with me about how when and where the extra tracks were created and why they didn’t appear in the original. However, for all that I’m a mega-fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, buying me the 18-book set of the series would just mean having to find shelf space to display them. Someone with a large library, though, may be thrilled to get the 8-book Outlander series.

Finally, is the format on its way out? I know people who still hold onto VHS movie box sets, even though they no longer have a VHS player in the house. It’s the same with DVD. As BluRay and the new Ultra HD BluRay formats take over, buying a DVD box set of the Harry Potter franchise might be like giving someone a set of stone tablets instead of a book.

With all that in mind, here are some suggestions for box sets and special editions that might just be the perfect gift this holiday season.

Books:

Or pretty much any series that you might want.

TV Series and Movies:

Or, again, any series or movie franchise you could imagine.

Music:

And check out box sets or special editions in Amazon for anything else that might tickle your fancy.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids

Buying organization-minded gifts for kids and teenagers is always a challenge. Being young, they often want fun gifts over practical. With that in mind, we’ve worked to assemble a list of gift ideas that satisfy both the desire for something fun and cool as well as something that is practical and useful. Here’s our uncluttered holiday gift guide for kids.

The Lay N Go bag/play mat is made of durable materials. Its clever design results in a play mat that is also a super convenient storage bag. It is perfect for the kids who play with LEGO bricks, Matchbox cars, or anything else that is a collection of small, easy-to-lose pieces. Place it down and spread out for play time, and then cinch it closed for easy storage when play time is over. Additionally, if you’re going to travel with children and some of their stuff, this is a great way to transport it all.

My high school-aged daughter is just starting to explore makeup. Before her collection overtakes her desk, we got her a decent desktop makeup organizer, much like this one. It is big enough to hold all of her cosmetics (I recently learned what a “palette” is), yet not so massive that it covers her entire desk. Plus, she thinks it’s pretty sophisticated.

I think this Brick Building Play Mat is pretty nifty. It’s similar to the Lay N Go, though it’s more for play that storage. Unroll it and it serves as a base for LEGO or DUPLO bricks. Again, this is great for travel and anytime an impromptu play surface is called for. When not in use, it simply rolls up for easy storage.

While we’re taking about LEGO bricks, grab a Brick Popper for the fan on your list. They’re extremely handy for releasing those stubborn bricks that just don’t want to let go once secured to a surface.

For older kids who play sports, consider the Wet Gear-Hockey Equipment Dryer Rack. It’s a great way to store gear in one place and dry it out between games (to avoid that “used sports equipment” odor). While designed for hockey gear, it would work just as well for football, soccer, lacrosse gear and more.

OK, the Baby Keepsake Library isn’t technically for the baby, but it is pretty great. This collapsible collection of keepsake boxes is the perfect way to preserve records of baby’s many “firsts.” It’s all made of acid-free paper for careful preservation of these initial treasures. It comes with 50+ labels, nine drawers, eight vertical files and options for customization.

There you have several options for gifts for the kids (and one for mom and dad). Happy shopping! In the meantime, feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Consumables

A consumable item — selected with care for the recipient’s tastes, dietary restrictions, scent sensitivity, and other needs and preferences — can be a lovely gift that doesn’t require any long-term storage. The following are just a few such items.

Edible delights

Wine, chocolate, cheese, and similar items can always be good gifts, if well chosen. For example, you would want to know if the person you’re getting chocolates for prefers dark chocolate or milk chocolate.

This year I’d like to suggest wines from Sonoma or Napa counties to support the communities ravaged by wildfires in October. Sparkling wines always seem festive, so a few choices might be Mumm’s Napa brut rose sparkling wine or the J Cuvee sparkling wine from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma.

The possibilities within this category are enormous, though. A few examples:

Personal care products

Some personal care products, such as shampoo, seem hard to buy for someone else — people tend to have favorite brands that work for them. But one fun item for those who use bar soaps could be one of the periodic table soaps. If you want something more traditional, you might consider the soaps from Nesti Dante, including its cypress soap.

And a nice lip balm might be a fine stocking stuffer. Some specific products that I’ve seen people rave about are the Tokyo Milk dark salted caramel lip elixer, the Dr. Hauschka Lip Care Stick, Palmer’s cocoa butter swivel stick, and Crazy Rumors lip balms in a variety of flavors such as spiced chai and orange bergamot.

One more option would be Girl Scout lip smackers in all the flavors you’d expect, including thin mint.

Art supplies

This category is filled with cool choices for kids of all ages — and adults, too. Some that caught my eye are the Color Splash liquid watercolor paints, the Rainy Dayz gel crayons, and the Jolly colored pencils. Copic markers come in various sizes to fit various budgets: six pieces (Ciao or sketch sets), 36 pieces, etc. For serious artists, the Daniel Smith watercolors look intriguing — the only problem would be choosing from the many colors.

And then there’s washi tape, available in value packs with lots of designs — or in smaller, more focused collections. There are also some pretty spectacular individual rolls.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Some organizing products in development

From time to time we see organizing products in development on crowd-funding sites. Here are three interesting ones that might be of benefit to our readers.

Mac Caddy

The Mac Caddy is a 16-inch storage container that hangs on top of an iMac. Although it is designed for an iMac, I believe it would also hang on the back of the extra monitor I have for my laptop. I like the design because it gets everything off the desk and out of the way. It’s ideal for things you need during the day, but don’t need frequently. I especially like the slots in the sides so you can store items that are charging such as your phone or an extra battery pack.

Tuck Personal Organizer

The Tuck Personal Organizer is a desktop and/or wall organizer that holds items that you tuck into it. It would be ideal for pens, pencils on a desk, holding cosmetics brushes in the bathroom, or keys, sunglasses, and ID cards by the front door. The video shows that it will hold items even if turned upside-down. This would be handy for me as I tend to be rather clumsy.

Ninja Box Custom Foam Organizing System

The Ninja Box foam system allows people to create a custom protective foam organizer in their own toolbox or storage bin. It requires a bit of work for the user to create the foam mold. However, if I owned expensive, delicate equipment, I would certainly put in the effort to protect it. Ninja Box uses high strength, resilient automotive-grade foam and a high stretch film to protect, secure, and display what matters to you.

Unitasker Wednesday: Everyday Objects

Flowers in a can. Simplistic and minimalistic — something that many of us here at Unclutterer appreciate.

You too can get this contemporary look for your home with items from the Everyday Objects collection from Tiffany & Co. For a mere $1500, this sterling silver coffee can (coffee not included) can display the daisies you hand-picked while you were skipping through an open field in joyful bliss. You could spend about $30 to buy a coffee can (coffee included) and some silver spray paint but it won’t be exactly the same.

If the coffee can doesn’t interest you, placing a sterling silver crazy straw into a bone china paper cup would add a touch of elegance and whimsy to your kitchen for only $345. You just wouldn’t get that same feeling from the $22 you pay for the stainless steel straws (that you can actually use), stuck into robin’s egg blue paper cups.

So, if you’re looking for the ultimate gift to give someone who already has a lot of everyday objects, check out Tiffany & Co. Everyday Objects collection which transforms utilitarian items into handcrafted works of art while simultaneously draining your wallet.

 

Thanks to Unclutterer’s Editor-at-Large, Erin Doland for this wonderful unitasker suggestion.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Stocking Stuffers

For me, the best part of giving at the holiday season is stuffing a stocking with small, unexpected, useful items. The kind that surprise and delight the recipient. If you feel the same way, check out our suggestions for those on your list who love to be organized.

A good pocket knife

You cannot go wrong with a good pocket knife. They are immensely useful, convenient, and inexpensive. You can go crazy pouring over every option, but I rely on the Swiss Classic SD as my main carry. I’ve got two, in fact: one on my set of car keys and other on my wife’s. I’ve used mine to open packages, cut rope and string, remove tags from clothing (It easily slices through those annoy plastic rings!), tighten/loosen screws, and open letters.

If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, I recommend the Leatherman Wave, as it has a great mix of tools, is solidly built, and has a nice ergonomic design.

A Grid-It organizer

The Grid-It’s tagline of “the ultimate organizer” may be hyperbole, but not by much. This unassuming little tool comes in several sizes and can hold everything from business cards to cellphones, cables, pens, Altoids tins, and more. It’s secure and reliable. Keep it in a bag, use it for travel, or organize a junk drawer once and for all. They are also great for students who have limited storage space in dorm rooms.

IKEA cable management set

This cable management set from IKEA made my heart skip a beat. Get those cables under control and out of the way. Even if the people on your list have modest cable organization needs, they will appreciate getting them neatly arranged.

A portable scanner

A scanner can be such a boon to organization. Whether the goal is to go paperless or get documents quickly organized in the cloud, a scanner will get the job done. Since we’re discussing stocking stuffers here, we recommend the Doxie Go SE. It’s portable, wireless, and connects to cloud services like Dropbox, Evernote, and Apple’s iCloud. You can expand its memory with an SD card and when connected to Wi-Fi, it can even scan without a computer!

Instant Bag Hanger

The Instant Bag Hanger is a little metal ring which, when opened, lets you hang nearly any bag that weights up to 30 pounds from a counter top, table, cubicle, bathroom door, stroller handles etc. If you’ve ever had that moment of “What do I do with my bag?”, here is the answer. Plus, there is no need to search for it when you need it: simply clip it to the exterior of the bag for easy retrieval. This is one of those gifts that I end up buying twice: once for my recipient, and again for me.

Amazon home cleaning services

You might not know this, but Amazon can hook you up with a house cleaner. Depending on where you live, you may have access to Amazon Home Services (click to confirm availability in your area). Simply provide some information like the size of your house, the type of cleaning you’d like completed, and the number of worker hours you expect. It could be quite nice to receive a post-holiday clean up.

Personal library kit

Finally, here is one for anyone who likes to loan novels, cookbooks or even tabletop games. The Personal Library Kit uses old-fashioned library lending techniques for an organized bit of nostalgic fun. Lend your items with confidence that they will be returned.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Experience Gifts

Today begins our annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Between now and November 27, we will share numerous articles on uncluttered giving that can be used this season. Most of these ideas also will apply to gift giving throughout the year, irrespective of the occasion.

Every year, experience gifts are some of our most popular suggestions as they don’t take up space, give the gift-recipient something he or she likely would never do for themselves, and can often be accompanied by something like a book or a post-experience photo album to keep the gift in mind forever.

There are some things to consider, however, before giving an experience gift.

Will your gift be used?

Our friends and family know that we love to travel and love to dine out, so we have often received experience gifts for nights in a hotel, or a romantic dinner out. Several times, however, the gift certificate has almost expired for two reasons:

  • A hotel means leaving the city, which requires organizing a weekend (or a weekday as some gift packs don’t accept weekend reservations – it’s a good idea to check).
  • Leaving the city means spending more money in travel costs and unless the destination is a “wow!” for the gift-receiver, that money spent may feel like an obligation.

Are the choices interesting?

Before you give an experience gift, check out the options of where it can be redeemed. A night in a hotel might sound good, but what if the practical options only include hotels that no one would actually want stay at?

If your experience gift is a membership to a museum or cultural venue, really consider how likely that membership is going to be used. I love museums, but not so much that I would visit the local one more than once or twice a year.

Is the experience something the recipient would actually do?

On another note, the experience gift should be something that the recipient would actually follow through on. Be careful with people who talk a lot. For example, I’ve always been curious about a tranquility tank session, but honestly, I doubt I will ever follow through on that.

Taking all of the above into consideration, here are some ideas that might just be the perfect uncluttered gift for those you love.

A day at the spa: a massage or beauty treatment is something that few people buy for themselves, but almost everyone loves.

A night out: most dinner and a movie (plus an offer of babysitting if the gift-receiver has children).

Adventure gifts: if you choose something like a hot air balloon ride or a skydiving trip, don’t forget to make sure that no one suffers from vertigo.

A course: an amateur chef might love a cooking course, someone who loves hugs might appreciate a massage course, or someone who loves taking pictures might get a lot out of a photography course. Again, however, make sure that the person enjoys taking courses, or it may be a gift that never gets redeemed.

Travel gifts: many of this type of experience gifts require getting to and from the location, but if the person is a dedicated traveller, it might be the perfect complement to an already planned trip.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Uncluttering and supporting veterans

A few years ago, we talked about organizing and donating military memorabilia. This year, in honour of Remembrance Day, we’d like to discuss a few other ways you can unclutter and support the proud veterans that have served their country.

Cell Phones for Soldiers accepts ALL makes, models, and conditions of cell phones and smart phones including new, used, broken, or cracked.

You can donate an RV, boat, motorcycle, or other vehicle to Wounded Warriors Canada. The vehicle will either be recycled or sold at auction depending on its condition and location. The funds go directly to Wounded Warriors Canada and the donor is provided a tax receipt. In the U.S., Vehicles for Veterans offers a similar program.

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) will pick up used clothes and household goods at your convenience and use them to support veterans’ programs. Simply visit their website to schedule a pick-up.

Unclutter all those hotel and travel points you collected and will likely never use before they expire. Donate the points to support veterans! In the United States, Fisher House Hero Miles Program provides round-trip airline tickets to service members (and their families) who are undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center. They also accept points from various hotel chains. In Canada, the Veterans Transition Network can use your Aeroplan miles help veterans in remote areas get to the services they need.

We have recently learned that the U.S. Military Combat Camera History & Stories Museum is in the process of collecting donations of items such as paintings, drawings, film and still cameras, and video cameras from combat camera soldiers of the United States and NATO countries. If you have these items to unclutter, please connect with them.

If you’re busy uncluttering this weekend, please take a silent two minute break and remember those who served. Je me souviens.

Tools to make organizing a little bit easier

All sorts of physical challenges can make organizing more difficult. Some of the more common challenges are being on the shorter side (like me, at 5 foot 2 inches) and being unable to bend and get down on the floor easily, often as someone ages or has to deal with post-surgical restrictions. Other common issues include declining eyesight and manual dexterity as we get older.

The following are some tools that can help make organizing easier. This is far from a comprehensive list — there are many tools to help people with a wide range of physical limitations. These are unspecialized tools that might help with some of the most common concerns.

Step stools

For people around my height, a step stool is a crucial tool for reaching things on the top shelves of closets, garages, etc. The E-Z Foldz step stool and others that fold take very little storage space. If saving space isn’t an issue, the Stand ‘N Store step stool from Flambeau might be of interest. And for those who feel unsteady getting up or down, there are step stools with handles. Another advantage, for users with trouble bending: These stools can be moved from place to place using the handle.

Reacher grabbers

These simple tools have numerous uses. For example, they can allow you to take something fairly lightweight (boxes of tea, for example) off a top shelf and put it back without using a step stool. You can use one to clean up a cluttered floor, one thing at a time, without sitting on the floor or doing a lot of bending. You can avoid clutter build-up (and misplaced items) by picking up things that are dropped and might otherwise be hard to reach.

The right label makers

Label makers can be useful tools, but some people will find the small keys on most of them too difficult to use due to dexterity or vision issues (or simply because some of the required key combinations are confusing). An alternative might be the P-Touch Cube, which works in combination with Brother’s free app running on a smart phone. With this set-up, a person can use the dictation function to create the text. And even those not using dictation say it’s easier to create labels using the app compared to typing them on a label-maker keyboard. I haven’t tried this label maker myself, but some other professional organizers have used it and are fans.

Roll-out kitchen shelves

Converting the shelves in kitchen base cabinets to roll-out shelving makes access much easier, especially for things in the back. Companies such as ShelfGenie can make that conversion.

But you can also mount pull-out organizers on your existing shelves. This approach won’t make quite as good use of the space, but it’s almost certainly less expensive. Companies such as Rev-a-Shelf and simplehuman have pull-out organizers for various cabinet sizes.

Organizing and storing cords and cables

Jeri recently wrote about how cords and cables can be a source of clutter. Reader Juli commented and asked how best to label and store useful cords.

There are many different answers to that and it really depends on what types of cords you have, how you use them, and available storage space.

A small carrying case works well for organizing smaller cords (like those for laptops and smart phones), and fits nicely in a desk drawer. It’s also easy to pull out and take with you when you travel, even if the only travelling you do is to the local coffee shop.

Reader Lucie suggested folding or rolling cords and placing them in cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls if the cords are longer. This is a great option for extension cords and larger cables that connect audio-visual equipment.

Johncanon commented that he stores cables on a rotating necktie organizer (probably similar to this one) that attaches under a closet shelf. He bent each of the 12 hooks upward to hold more cables so that in one square foot in a closet, he can store and quickly find over 100 cables. An under-shelf mug rack would also hold quite a few cables as would this sturdy necktie holder designed to hang on a closet rod.

For those that want to wrap or roll their cords, Velcro-type hook and loop tape straps are ideal for tying them up. These are also useful for keeping the cords for small appliances and power tools from getting tangled in drawers and toolboxes.

Reader Alex Q places cables in appropriately sized Ziploc bags. He labels each bag near the top so when the bags are placed in a box, it is almost like a filing cabinet — easy to flick through the sealed bags and to find the one needed.

For frequently used, long extension cords, a storage reel is ideal. It is easy to wind and unwind the cord whenever you need to use it. H-frame reels are great for strings of holiday lights.

There are several different options for labelling cords and cables. Reader Lucie suggested using the plastic tabs from bread bags or an address label folded over the cord and stuck to itself.

The Cord ID Pro system allows you to label and colour code your cables to match with your audio/visual equipment making it easy to set up your system. The Cord ID Pro parts can be reused if you wish. Another option is to use self-locking cable ties with built in label. They attach securely to the cables and are one-use only — ideal if you’re worried about losing a label.

Thanks for your comment Juli. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Organizing bathroom towels

The bathroom is one of the hardest-working rooms in your home, and that’s why proper organization is crucial. I’ll leave the medicine cabinet, cleaning supplies, etc. for another time. In this article, I want to look at towels.

In my house, we have three types of towels:

  • Bath towels
  • Hand towels
  • Beach towels

What to buy

When purchasing towels — and this may sound counter-intuitive — ignore your experience with in-store softness. Wise manufacturers add softeners to their products for a great, but temporary, feel. Instead, check the label for 100% water-loving combed cotton. The combing process removes the shorter strands, resulting in a towel of longer fibers that will absorb lots of water and resist pilling.

Give your potential purchase a good visual inspection, too. If you can see the towel’s surface through the fibers, put it back and move on. You’re looking for a dense collection of fibers. Also, pick it up. A great towel will feel heavier than it looks. Finally, look for towels with double stitching on the edges. This will reduce fraying and help ensure a long life.

Most of this applies to buying beach towels, with two exceptions. First, look for selvage edging instead of double stitching. Selvage resists unraveling, which is important as beach towels are subjected to rougher treatment than those used in the bathroom. Also, look for a yarn-dyed pattern, meaning each individual loop is dyed through. It will be less likely to fade.

When you’re choosing towels, consider simplifying your laundry routine as well. As color-saturated towels should be washed separately, consider choosing towels of the same color, or in the same color family.

How many to buy

We suggest three towels per person (one in use, one for the linen closet, and one for the laundry). Although, people who do laundry frequently may just need two (one in use, and one for the laundry). You should also buy two bath and hand towels for each guest, plus two washcloths daily.

Where to store them

I like to keep towels highly visible and accessible. The greatest trick I’ve seen in a while is to use shelf dividers. You’ll easily fit three or four folded towels between brackets and up to six if the towels are rolled.

There needs to be a place to dry towels. I have a peg rack on the back of the door that is a good spot for wet towels to dry off. Our beach towels dry outside.

How to determine what to replace

When towels get frayed, snagged, or begin to fall apart, it’s time to get rid of them. Washcloths can become rags for the household or garage, while larger towels can be donated to an animal shelter.

You can easily stay on top of this area with a little planning and careful shopping. You can check out our other post on managing towels and if you have any tips to share with fellow readers, please add them in the comments below.