A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Safe storage
    Being well organized also gives you the opportunity to be more safe in your home. Storing items securely and safely can help to prevent accidents.

2012

2011

2009

In praise of the digital calendar

Dave has declared his love of the wall calendar, and I agree with the points he made. I also know plenty of other people who work well with either paper wall calendars or planners they carry with them. But a digital calendar works best for me, so I thought I’d provide the other perspective.

I have the advantage of being self-employed (so I have no employer-mandated calendar tools) and there are no other family members that I need to share a calendar with, so I have total freedom to select the calendar that works best for me. I happen to use Apple’s built-in calendar app, but there are many options for those who don’t use Apple products or who don’t like that particular app. Google Calendar, for example, is one that has a lot of fans, partly because it allows you to share a calendar with others.

Why I love my digital calendar

  • Since I can sync my desktop calendar to my smartphone, I always have an up-to-date calendar with me. If a client wants to book a next appointment, I know when I’m free. If the dentist needs to book another appointment, I can do that with confidence, too.
  • It’s always backed up. My normal computer backup tools capture my calendar, so I never need to worry about it being lost (because I left it behind somewhere) or having it destroyed in some kind of disaster.
  • I can do searches on it. If I want to know when I last had my car maintenance done, for example, I can find that out in a matter of seconds. If I want to know when my book club read a specific book, I can find that out, too.
  • I can add more notes than I’d have room for on a paper calendar. For example, I can add airline, hotel, and rental car reservation numbers when I’m traveling. And I can include the URL for an event (even if the URL is very long), letting me link to additional information.
  • I can do color-coding without having to worry about having specially colored pens or highlighters sitting around. For example, I use different colors for work appointments vs. personal appointments, and I find that helpful. I also use different colors for FYI items (such as community events that will cause traffic problems) and events I might want to attend but haven’t committed to.
  • Data entry is simplified. All birthdays are added automatically from my address book. I can add repeating events, such as monthly meetings, so I don’t have to enter them individually. And I can easily move an appointment from one day to another if it gets rescheduled.
  • If I enter the address of an appointment, my calendar will link to the Maps app, making it easy to determine the commute time and to navigate to where I’m going.
  • My printing is pretty good, but I never have to worry about whether or not I can read my writing on a digital calendar. I can also cut and paste information, reducing the chance that I’ll make a mistake.

So consider the pros and cons of both types of calendars, and select the one that works best for you.

Unitasker Wednesday: Beer Briefcase

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

My husband is a homebrewer and sometimes when we go to friends’ houses for dinner we bring his beer instead of a bottle of wine or champagne or an orchid as a hostess gift. When we do this, we bring the bottles of his homebrew in a cardboard six-pack case you get for free at the store when you buy beer. We simply save a few of those cardboard cases — maybe four or five a year — and reuse them. (Yay! Reuse! It is Earth Day, after all.) Reusing the containers is super easy, especially since they fold flat so when we store them it doesn’t take up much room in the pantry. One thing we’ve never had need for or even considered wanting is a Beer Briefcase:

That’s right, it’s a briefcase for your bottles of beer. And, no, that isn’t some type of fancy cooling mechanism around those bottles, it’s regular foam. All it does is protect your bottles from clanging together, not chill them for drinking. Even if you were a beer distributor and wanted to bring samples of beers for your clients to taste, this would be less helpful for you than a small cooler.

So. Um. Yeah. Definitely a unitasker.

Thanks to Unclutterer Jacki for finding this gem for us. And, speaking of Jacki, I am sad to report that her last regular post with us will be next Monday, April 27. She’s retiring from online writing and our Unclutterer family isn’t going to be the same without her. We will miss all her Canadian and British spellings, her non-US insights, and especially her knowledge of uncluttering, organizing, and the manufacturing industry.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

Sorting through sentimental keepsakes

Last week, we asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

An Unclutterer reader asked:

My mother in law recently moved out of her house and into a small place with medical care and more services than her home could provide. In her process of downsizing, many many items were earmarked for my husband and I. In the spirit of not hurting any feelings, we got a U-Haul and took all the items back to our house. Now, my husband is dealing with guilt and doesn’t want to get rid of hardly anything from his mom’s house. Is there a delicate way to handle this? I’d like to encourage my husband to keep a few choice items and ditch the rest, but its a delicate subject.

It’s definitely a delicate subject, and a familiar one for many people. A few years ago, my family was in a similar situation when my grandfather, who had been living alone for several years, had to move into a place that could properly care for his increasing medical needs. To make the process even more difficult, we had to sell his house as well. He passed away shortly thereafter, and we were left with a lot of stuff.

I can remember my extended family sitting in my aunt’s house surrounded by so much stuff and trying to decide, “Now what?” It seemed like an impossible task. At last I asked myself, “What did grandpa mean to me?” The answer came, “He was an artist.” At that point I knew what I would do.

For years, my grandfather had designed flatware and more for Oneida. He was also an accomplished artist in other mediums, like wood and charcoals. I found some items that represented my overarching impression of my grandfather: a sketch I had long admired, a spoon sample, some early product photos taken for the company, and a sketch.

The sketch, entitled “Winter’s First Snow,” is framed and hangs behind my desk. The spoon, photos, and sketches I had professionally mounted in a shadow box that now hangs on the wall in our bedroom. Both look great and are nice reminders of someone I loved.

We wrote about parting with sentimental clutter a few years ago, and that advice is still very good:

  • Only keep items you’ll display and/or use
  • If you insist on not displaying or using the items, limit items to a number that can fit inside a designated space, like a single chest or keepsake box
  • Remember that items don’t have magical properties, memories do — getting rid of something your loved one owned isn’t getting rid of that person

I’ll add this: identify a specific number of items that best represent your fondest feelings of your loved one and treat those items with the respect and love that those memories deserve. By giving the items a place of honor, you’ll feel that you’ve done right by the fond memories you have.

It’s also important to remember that you can’t force your spouse to get rid of his mother’s things, but you can show him what you think might be a nice alternative to keeping everything. This is also a big adjustment for your husband and it may take time before he can let go of some of the items he doesn’t want to keep. So, with a little time and suggestions from you, you both should be able to come to the right solution for your family.

And, you can remind him that a box in the basement full of items you rarely, if ever, look at is not a fitting tribute to an important person from your life. Two or three items tastefully and beautifully displayed or used in your home, however, shows that you care for, respect, and value the relationship.

What important documents to keep and how to organize them

Now that income tax season is past, it’s a good opportunity to organize important personal documents, determine how they should be stored, and how long they need to be kept.

Keep: Vital documents

Vital records are documents issued by the government that prove you exist and indicate your status. These documents include birth certificates, marriage licences, divorce decrees, death certificates, adoption certificates, citizenship and immigration papers, military enrollment and discharge papers, criminal records and pardons, passports, and social security number.

Keep: Legal documents

Legal documents explain types of contractual agreements between you and someone else or grant specific rights for someone to act on your behalf. These types of documents include wills, powers of attorney, living wills, custody agreements, and spousal support agreements. They also include deeds or land titles, patents, affidavits, and articles of incorporation for a business.

It is important to keep vital records as long as you are alive. Certain legal documents can be destroyed when superseded.

Both vital records and legal documents should be stored in a safe and secure location such as a safety deposit box or a fireproof safe. You should also keep a scanned copy encrypted on a secure cloud drive in case the documents are lost, damaged, or stolen.

Keep: Financial documents

Financial documents are a formal record of your financial activities. These include your income taxes, bank account and investment statements, stocks and bonds certificates, loan contracts, utilities, and all other types of bills. This type of information should be kept secure in a filing cabinet, although you may wish to keep some documents such as stocks and bonds certificates in a safety deposit box or fireproof safe.

The required length of time to keep financial documents depends on the country in which you live (different countries have different taxation laws), the state or province within that country, the type of document, as well as your particular financial situation. For example, if you are claiming a portion of your home electric bill as part of your business, you may be required to keep your electric bills for as long as required by income tax legislation for your business. If you don’t have a home business, you may simply wish to scan a copy of it and shred it immediately or even receive the bill electronically and save it to a folder on your computer. It is very important that you verify with your accountant, tax attorney, and/or financial advisor about document retention for your specific situation.

Keep: Licences and Insurance

The licence and insurance category includes licences such as driving, flying, and boating, and all types of insurance (life, home, auto). Generally, these documents can be kept until superseded or until they expire or are cancelled.

Insurance companies often provide discounts if you can prove you have been continually insured for an extended period of time and have minimal claims. If you are changing insurance companies, perhaps because you will be moving house soon, contact your current insurance company and ask them to provide a letter showing your customer status. Insurance discounts can be offered to drivers who have clean driving records, so before you move, contact your state/province and request a driving history. Keep the insurance letters and driving history records for as long as you hold insurance and a drivers’ licence.

Keep: Health records

For most people, their family doctor keeps a record of their health information. However, you may wish to keep your own details, such as family history of chronic diseases and conditions, a list of your own vaccinations and immunizations, surgeries and procedures, and any allergies, adverse drug reactions, as well as a copy of your dental records. If you travel often, you may wish to store this information securely on your smartphone or in the cloud so you have access to it whenever you need it. Paper records can be stored in a filing cabinet.

TIP: When you visit a specialist, get one of their business cards and write the date and the name of the tests/procedures you had on the back of the card. Keep the card in your medical file. If you move to a new city, you will have the contact details of the clinic and can easily have the records shipped to your new doctor.

Keep: Education and employment records

Education and employment documents include transcripts, diplomas, certificates, performance reviews, letters of recommendation, and commendations. These should be kept as long as you are eligible for employment (see “Organizing your employment history“). You may not need your grade school report cards once you graduate from university, but they might be something you wish to share with your own children.

Keep: Religious documents

Religious records, such as baptismal certificates, may form an important part of your family history. They may also be required as proof of your faith should you wish to enroll in a faith-based educational institution or get married in a particular church. Keep these records in a filing cabinet.

One last word

After you’ve passed away, the executor of your estate and/or lawyer may need some of the documents described above, so ensure that this person or people know where and how to access them. If you are the executor to someone’s estate, ask the lawyer and tax accountant how long you need to keep this paperwork after a death and closing of the estate and ensure they are kept safe during the retention period.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Avoiding magazine clutter
    How do you keep from being overwhelmed by magazines coming into your home? Jeri offers tips for keeping magazines from becoming clutter.

2011

  • Mail sorting solutions
    The first goal is to put a sorting system in place so the mail has a place to go immediately upon entering the house.

2010

2009

  • Chalk it up!
    Chalkboards to keep you on track with your goals.

Getting Things Done: The 2015 revised edition

David Allen’s Getting Things Done was first published in 2001, and Allen released an updated version in March. So, what has changed?

Long-time fans on GTD will be glad to learn that the fundamentals are the same as they’ve ever been. If you have the original edition, there’s no need to rush to get the new one. However, if you’re buying the book for the first time, you’ll want this new version.

There are a number of small changes, all good:

  • Outdated references to phone slips, faxes, answering machines, Rolodexes, and VCRs are gone. Certainly some people still use these things, but they aren’t as central to most people’s lives as they once were. Now there are references to text messages, mobile devices, and scanners.
  • References to specific computer programs (Lotus Notes, etc.) which were used as examples have been removed.
  • U.S.-specific references have been replaced with more international wording. For example, a reference to U.S. K-1 tax forms has been replaced with the more generic “tax documents.” This K-1 change also illustrates the move away from examples that apply mostly to business executives — not everyone, even in the U.S., will know what a K-1 is. (It’s a form showing income from a partnership.)

But there are more substantial changes, too. There’s a new chapter about GTD and cognitive science, talking about studies that support the GTD methodology. However, I found this chapter to be a slog to read, and the connection to GTD seemed tenuous in some cases (although quite obvious in others).

There’s another new chapter entitled “The Path to GTD Mastery,” where Allen acknowledges that it can take some time for people to get proficient at the GTD basics, much less moving beyond that to his other two levels of proficiency. But here’s the part that caught my eye:

Even if a person has gleaned only a few concepts from this material, or has not implemented the system regularly, it can bring marked improvement. If you “get” nothing more than the two-minute rule, it will be worth its weight in gold.

The two-minute rule, by the way, says that if a task is going to take two minutes or less, you should just do it now rather than adding it to a list. And it was nice to see Allen say something I’ve long believed: You don’t need to do everything the GTD way to get some benefit from the methodology he proposes.

There is also a new glossary and much more discussion about how the GTD processes work in a world where information is increasingly found in digital forms, and where people may work from a coffee shop, not just an office.

But some of my favorite changes were random comments added throughout the book. For example, here’s the new quotation, from Mark Van Doren, which opens the book:

There is one thing we can do, and the happiest people are those who can do it to the limit of their ability. We can be completely present. We can be all here. We can give … our attention to the opportunity before us.

Of course, I noticed what Allen wrote about being organized:

Being organized means nothing more or less than where something is matches what it means to you. If you decide you want to keep something as reference and you put it where your reference material needs to be, that’s organized. If you think you need a reminder about a call you need to make, as long as you put that reminder where you want reminders of phone calls to make, you’re organized.

And here’s his advice on uncluttering (or not):

People often mistake my advice as an advocacy for radical minimalism. On the contrary, if throwing something away is uncomfortable for you, you should keep it. Otherwise you would have attention on the fact that you now don’t have something you might want or need. …

You like having and keeping your twelve boxes of old journals and notes from college? You like keeping all kinds of nutty toys and artwork and gadgets around your office to spur creative thinking? No problem, as long as they are where you want them to be, in the form they’re in, and you have anything you want or need to do about that captured and processed in your system.

Note: There’s a footnote explaining this advice is not intended for those with a hoarding disorder.

While Getting Things Done is still a ponderous read in some places, I think there are enough good ideas that it remains my favorite book on time management.

Unitasker Wednesday: Snap-On Can Strainer

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

There’s not really much to write about this week’s selection because it’s so obviously a unitasker. The Snap-On Can Strainer:

Clearly the people who designed this device have never thought to use the lid of the can for this purpose. Or a colander. Or even your hand. There are probably a dozen other items that are already in your kitchen that you could use to strain the contents of a can that simply aren’t popping into my brain right now. Oh! A large fork could do it.

Even if you were someone with limited dexterity this device would be harder to use than a colander — lining up the lid and snapping it into place is more difficult than pouring the can’s contents into a strainer. I’m not sure who this device is marketed toward. People who have never opened cans? People who don’t cook? Now I wish I had their sales numbers to find out how much product them move and who buys this thing.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2011

  • A moment of reflection: Four years and 500,000 words
    The Unclutterer community is truly wonderful and supportive, and I love working for you. Thank you so much for a terrific four years, and I’m excited about reaching the five year mark and 2,000 posts by next March!
  • Staying organized during an office move
    With an office move, your entire office needs to be put away instantly or you could suffer negative repercussions, like losing productivity, clients, income, or even your job.

2010

2009

  • The deep drawer problem
    The deep drawer is a depository for just about every tool in the kitchen. It contains everything from a whisk to a rolling pin.

What’s giving you the most trouble right now?

I’ve been writing for Unclutterer for more than three years now. In that time, I’ve covered many aspects of leading a more organized, productive life, both at home and professionally. Often times, I’ll base an article on an experience or question I’ve had. Today, I want to turn that around.

Today I’m asking you: What is giving you the most trouble right now? What’s the aspect of organization or productivity that’s being a pain for you right now? Perhaps the thought of spring cleaning makes you wish we could just skip ahead to October. Maybe the kids’ bedrooms are a constant source of frustration. Maybe your digital photos are “scattered” everywhere, as it were.

Whatever your current sticking point is, describe it in the comments. I want to address your concerns directly in my upcoming posts. Spring is here, a new year is underway, the birds are chirping, and it’s a time for renewal. Fill the comments below with what’s bugging you and we’ll work it all out together, right here at Unclutterer.

Protecting and organizing your digital data, the collegiate edition

This fall, my son will be attending university back in Canada (we still live in Britain) and there are number of things we have to do to get him ready. One of those things is to get his electronic gear ready for the transition. Many of the things we are doing to help him get ready are things we can all do to keep our digital information protected and organized.

1Password

On Unclutterer, we’ve talked about using 1Password for estate management by sending your master password to your executor. In the case of my son, he will send us his master password just in case his computer is ever lost or stolen.

1Password is great because users can save their password recovery questions, as well as secure information such as health card, social insurance, and passport numbers. 1Password will also save software registration information. We will also make sure our son has the 1Password app for his iPhone and sync the passwords through iCloud or Dropbox so he has his secure information available when he needs it.

Find my iPhone

As a family, we share our Apple ID information. This allows us to find each other’s iPhones and computers should they be lost or stolen. We’ve also enabled Send Last Location which sends the last known location of the iPhone to Apple when the battery becomes critically low.

Online Banking

Our son already manages his personal finances. iBank is our family’s preferred software system because it works with banks outside of Canada and the US.

Unclutter Computer Files

As we will do with paper files, we will remove digital files from my son’s computer before he goes to university that contain private information someone else might find valuable. Additionally, clearing all clutter will free up space on the drive to save new work. I doubt he’ll need a copy of his 9th Grade history project in digital format.

Backup System

While he is at school, we’ll set up an online back up system for our son through either Dropbox or iCloud so he won’t lose his homework. Fortunately, all of the work he does on the university’s servers will be automatically backed up.