Get your dot on

Alex Fayle offered the following tip in the comments section on one our posts. It was such a good suggestion, we thought we would bring it to your attention:

A simple way of knowing if you actually use things is to get removable coloured dots and stick one to each of your small appliances and kitchen gadgets. As you use your things, take off the dot (hence why you want to get removable dots).

After six months look at all the things still with dots and decide if you actually want to keep them or not (some things only get used rarely but are totally worth their storage space).

You could just as easily use this approach in other areas of your home or office. Here’s a link to suitable 1/2″ removable colored dots at Amazon.com.

 

This post was originally published in May 2007.

RIM: Part one, Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles

Back in 2007, Erin wrote a series of posts on reducing paper clutter. In the past 10 years, there have been many changes. In some cases, the rules and regulations regarding the access and storage of paper and digital documents have changed. Technology itself has changed, and since more and more information is coming to us in electronic format, many of us are now overwhelmed by paper and digital clutter.

So, let’s look at this subject from the “managing information” point of view.

In the business world, organizing paper and electronic documents is commonly referred to as records and information management (RIM). Businesses have (or should have) systems set up to create, store, archive, and dispose their documents according to rules and regulations pertaining to their specific industries. Our homes are not businesses but there are several similarities. We have records related to income and expenses (receipts, pay statements). We have documents that prove we exist (birth certificates, social security cards) and that we have done things (school report cards, employment reviews).

We can adapt RIM theory to our households. ARMA International has developed Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles® (GARP). Let’s see how these principles can be applied to our personal and household recordkeeping.

Accountability: Someone in your household needs to be responsible for managing paper and electronic documents and information. If information management is to be a shared duty, ensure all of those who participate in the process know which tasks need to be done and how they should be done.

Integrity: Your paper and electronic documents need to be authentic and reliable. Ensure you have the original documents where required. If you transfer your paper documents to electronic format (or vice versa), ensure it is done properly. We will cover how to do this in an upcoming post.

Protection: Your records need to be safe. Paper documents, especially vital records and legal documents, should be kept in a locked safe or filing cabinet. Electronic records should be backed-up in at least two different places and password protected.

Compliance: You need to adhere to all laws and regulations pertaining to your information. If you have a home business, you might be required to keep different information from someone who does not. Those with unique financial or medical situations may be required to comply with other rules and directives. We’ll cover more about this in an upcoming post.

Availability: This is a key point for most people. You need to be able to access records easily and in a timely manner. Knowing which documents are paper and which are electronic, as well as where, and how they are stored is essential. We’ll review paper and electronic filing systems.

Retention: It is important to keep records for the required period. For example, the United States Internal Revenue Service requires that you keep your income tax records for three years after filing (and up to 7 years in certain circumstances). The Canada Revenue Agency requires six years. If you have receipts that were submitted for income taxes for both countries, you must keep records for the longer of the two. We’ll discuss a retention schedule that will help you develop an organized filing system.

Disposition: Most records need to be destroyed at the end of their lifecycle either by physical destruction such as shredding paper or destroying CDs, or by securely erasing/reformatting computer drives. Eliminating unneeded records saves space in your filing cabinet, saves time because you don’t have to manage so much stuff, and reduces your risk of identity theft because unneeded information is destroyed. However, you may wish to keep some records for your archives (e.g. stub from your first pay check, ownership papers from your first car, etc.)

Transparency: Finally, it is important that your system understandable to certain other people. Of course, if you’re sharing these duties with a spouse/partner, you both need to understand the system. You also need to be able to explain it to an auditor (should the tax man ever visit) and the executor of your estate should be able to easily understand how you process your documents as well.

We’ll dive deeper into all of these topics over the next few weeks. By the time we’re through, you’ll have an excellent, easy-to-manage filing system.

Organize a first aid kit for the car

A first aid kit isn’t one of those things you think about until you need it and when you do, boy do you need it! You can avoid making a stressful time even more difficult by planning and buying a roadside first aid kit now. They’re inexpensive, easy to maintain, and compact. Here is what every driver should have tucked away in the car.

The right container

There are a lot of pre-made first aid kits available. Most are great, but I recommend building your own from scratch. Why? You’re more likely to know exactly what is inside a homemade first aid kit as you think about, buy, and place each item. You might glance at a pre-made kit’s contents, but the steps required for building your own force you to really think about what is inside.

Also, when you build your own kit you have more control over the container. Find something that has clear compartments, so you can see where items are. Also, if you can find something waterproof, that is ideal. This MTM Dry Box is a great example, as it’s durable, brightly-colored, and water resistant. Plus it’s small enough and study enough to live in the car’s trunk for a long time.

Supplies

When it comes to supplies, I defer to the professionals at the Red Cross. This comprehensive list, entitled “Anatomy of a First Aid Kit,” includes:

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)

There is a lot more, and I’ll let you read their full recommendations. If you’ve got a baby or kids who travel with you, make sure you have children’s versions of the listed medications.

You might also consider adding a basic first aid manual. Again, I look to our friends at the Red Cross for this. Lastly, consider things like a flashlight, blanket, tool to break a window, Here’s a look at what else to keep in your car.

As I said, a first aid kit is often overlooked. Take some time this weekend to get one organized. I hope you never need it!

Organizing your dorm room

College dorm life can be rather trying. Here is some advice to share on how to handle life in these tight living quarters.

We agree that it is difficult to keep the small dorm rooms organized and in an uncluttered state. Here are some tips and products to help achieve the nearly impossible task:

  • One of the worst things about dorm life is taking a shower. You have to gather up all of your things and take the walk down the hall to the shower facility. Make sure you have all your products in a basket that you can carry with you. You don’t want to forget anything and have to make that walk again.
  • Next on the list is doing your laundry. Again, you must walk somewhere to do your laundry and you have to make sure you have everything you need to clean your clothes. A tall, plastic laundry basket will hold all your dirty clothes without taking up much floor space and you can easily disinfect it between loads with sanitizing wipes. Use a small basket to carry your laundry soap, fabric softener and the sanitizing wipes.
  • Closet space is at a premium and you can’t really install anything into your space, so go for the hanging organizer that adds six shelves to your tiny closet. Also, try and put normally unused space to use. An overdoor shoe rack with hanging hooks can do the trick behind your door.
  • Under bed storage bags can come in handy. Put them to use by storing out-of-season clothing, extra blankets, and school supplies.
  • Dairy crates are great for storing and stacking books, media, and whatever else you can think of. They also come in handy when you are moving to and from school.
  • Try and pack the bare minimum when you first move into your dorm room. The less you have the better. If you find that you need something, go ahead and have the parents bring it when they come and visit or pick them up when you’re home for a break.

I hope these tips help out. Now let’s just hope your roommate lives an uncluttered lifestyle. Good luck on that one.

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

Bullet Journals: an experiment in productivity

As I head into my vacations, I’m getting myself organized for the new year and for me, that starts in September. I would like to find ways to avoid both the organized disorganization and crisis-inspired chaos that always kills my best intentions to stay on top of my daily tasks and move my various pet projects forward.

Recently, a reader asked about bullet journals, so I investigated the Bullet Journal website created by the digital product designer Ryder Carroll. After poking around, I decided that I’m going to give this system a try. It’s going to be a challenge for me because there seems to be lots of parts to it and various stages. However, I’m going to go in with a good attitude.

First off, I will set myself up on the system before I go away on holiday so that I know exactly what I need to do the day I get back in order to hit the ground running.

My first task is to choose myself a notebook. At work, we have spiral-bound notebooks that have been branded with the company’s image, but I don’t think I will use one of those. The Bullet Journal website also sells their own book, but it’s a bit too expensive for me. Instead, I think I will go for my favorite writing notebook, the Moleskine Journal. It’s a good size, opens flat on the desktop well, and is about the same size as my iPad so can go into the iPad’s slipcover for easy transport.

While it might take me a while to get used to the various ways bullet points are expressed through rapid logging (there seem to be so many!), I rather like the idea of putting an ever-growing index at the beginning of the journal. Always in the past, I’ve made to-do lists and then once I’ve crossed off or migrated the task, I’ve forgotten about it, making it a challenge to remember the repetitive tasks that I do every year, every month, or even every week. By having an index that I can refer to at a glance, I’ll be able to remind myself of what sorts of things I need to be thinking about.

(On a side note, it has suddenly occurred to me that I should probably include personal topics in this journal as I’m notorious for forgetting things and thus leave organizing family events to the last minute, or not at all.)

I also like the next section of a monthly calendar with events to record (before and after) as well as a page for tasks in the month. This section will be extremely useful next July when I am organizing the 2018-2019 year. It does, however, take up a lot of space in the notebook, making me wonder if perhaps I’ve chosen a book with not enough pages.

Then again, when reading about the daily task lists, I won’t be using a full page each day. So as to not waste paper, each day’s list is created the night before, meaning I won’t need over three hundred pages to cover the whole year.

The notebook is now set up and ready to use. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I fear that it’s going to take some dedication to stick to the system, but in having organized the notebook, I can already see how it is going to help me. And most surprisingly, I believe it’s going to be more helpful in my personal life than at work.

I’ll let you all know how it goes. Have any of you had a good or bad experience using the Bullet Journal system?

It’s perfectly okay to give up on a book

When is it okay to give up on a book? I’ve seen a couple articles on the web addressing this question, but my answer is shorter than those I’ve seen: It’s always okay to give up on a book. Of course there are a few exceptions: if you’re in school and the book is required reading, if your boss is asking everyone to read a specific book, etc. But unless the book is mandatory reading for some reason, you can give up on it any time you like.

You may have some personal guidelines about how many pages you want to read before abandoning a book. But as I’ve noted before, even authors give up on books they don’t enjoy — sometimes very quickly.

Sadie Trombetta wrote an article for the Bustle website entitled 10 Signs You Should Give Up On A Book You’re In The Middle Of (No, Really, It’s OK) and it made me smile because the first reason she lists — you hate the main characters — is exactly why I stopped reading the last selection from my book club. By page two I knew I despised the main character’s best friend, and that meant I didn’t think much of the main character, either. I quit right then, while other members forced themselves to finish the book. Only one person in our book club really enjoyed it. One other person didn’t finish, and she felt guilty about it. But she said she understood, for the first time, my feeling about not wasting time on a book I don’t like.

We all have limited time in our lives for reading, so it makes sense to be judicious in our choices. I don’t mean you have to read serious books — I just mean it makes sense to focus on well-written books that meet your own personal selection criteria. That could include books that amuse you, books that inform you, etc.

Tony Kushner, the playwright, was recently interviewed by Tim Teeman for The Daily Beast website. He said:

I love that line in The Normal Heart (that Felix says to Ned about his books): ‘I think you’re going to have to face the fact you won’t be able to read them all before you die.’

That pairs nicely with something Eric Roston wrote on Twitter:

God, grant me the serenity to accept there’s things I’ve no time to read, time to read the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes you may pick up a book and then decide it’s just not what you want to read right now, and set it aside for later. But if it’s a book that is never going to excite you, feel free to unclutter your bookshelf and your reading list — and move on to another book that you’ll enjoy more.

More than 15 ways to handle recurrent clutter

There are three areas in my home that are on a recurrent cycle of being cluttered and cause me stress: the kitchen, the family room, and the dirty clothes hamper in the bedroom.

I have taken many steps to try to get my laundry problem under control, but I continue to wrestle with it. The kitchen is a similar stress aggravated by the fact that my husband and I eat three meals a day at home. Then, there is the family room where things come in and never leave.

These three areas have one thing in common: they have a constant supply of input. Every night I deposit clothes into the hamper. Every day I sit and knit or read or watch TV or whatever I’m doing to relax in my family room. Every meal I dirty pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups, and every week I bring in more food to repeat the cycle.

I’ve been working diligently recently to keep these areas clutter free in my own home, and can share a few tips and advice. I hope that you find at least one or more helpful.

Laundry

  • If you haven’t already read it, start by going to my previous post on dealing with laundry clutter. Following these tips have made my laundry situation bearable.
  • Additionally, I recommend making your laundry room as welcoming, cheerful, and serene as possible. A laundry room that is pleasant to be in makes doing the laundry much less of an annoyance. A dark, dreary basement with bare concrete walls isn’t inviting. Spruce up your space so that being in it is a reward, not a punishment.

Family Room

  • Institute a “no food” rule for your family room. No food outside the kitchen or dining room is a good general house rule, too.
  • Assess the amount of furniture in your family room. Do you really need four end tables and two coffee tables? I find that the more tables I have in a room, the more stuff I set on the tables.
  • Every time a person leaves the room, have them put something away. If everything is properly in its place, celebrate.
  • Have a vacuum cleaner/broom easily accessible to the room. I find that I need to vacuum the carpet in this room twice as often as in the rest of the house. Having the ability to use it with very little effort is essential.
  • Have a place for everything in the room: a knitting basket with a lid, a storage system for your video games, a chest for children’s toys, a bin for piano music, a CD and DVD solution, etc.

Kitchen

  • My first suggestion for the kitchen is to get your hands on Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook. The kitchen section in the book is really good and I learned a great deal from reading it. I reference it a handful of times a month.
  • Put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher. No plates or cups should ever sit dirty on the counter.
  • Own dishwasher-safe stainless steel cookware and other kitchen items. If you have to wash it by hand it is likely to sit cluttered on the counter.
  • Avoid unitasker appliances and utensils. Based on your cooking style, a few may creep into your home, but it’s best to try to keep these numbers small.
  • Monitor what small appliances and entertaining dishes you use, and get rid of those you don’t. I’ve used our reader-suggested dot system for my monitoring with great success.
  • If you must store small appliances on your counter, only have out those you use often. My toaster, coffee pot, vacuum sealer, and mixer sit out all the time. I use all of these daily or almost daily.
  • Organize your kitchen so that what you use is stored next to where it is used. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but things like pots and pans should be next to the stove and leftover storage containers next to the refrigerator.
  • If you’re like me, don’t use a bread box. I put bread in there, forget about it, and then discover it weeks later all moldy. I currently store aluminum foil, wax paper, ziplock bags, and such in my bread box instead. I set my bread on top of the bread box.

Please feel welcome to add suggestions in the comments section. There are so many effective strategies out there that I couldn’t possibly name them all in this post. So, let us know what works for you!

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

Will your heirs really want your stuff?

Saddleback Leather makes some lovely products. As Alan Henry on the Lifehacker website pointed out, the company’s tag line is “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”

Similarly, designer Jonathan Adler told Valeriya Safronova of The New York Times, “I make tons of stuff, but my life motto is, ‘If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.'”

But despite claims like this, many times the heirs do not want many of the items being left behind — even those of outstanding quality. Maybe that Jonathan Adler zebra bath mat just isn’t their style, or doesn’t fit the color scheme of their bathroom.

There are many reasons that an item that’s valued by one person might be of no interest to another:

  • Different tastes. Sometimes that’s generational — for example, certain furniture styles are out of fashion right now. But often it’s a matter of personal preferences.
  • Different lifestyles. Someone living in a small apartment isn’t likely to want large furniture pieces. Those who don’t entertain much at home may not want a 12-piece place setting. China or glasses that can’t go in the dishwasher may be of little interest to others. And depending on a person’s job, that person may have little need for a fantastic briefcase.
  • Homes that are already furnished. For example, those who already have a nice toaster are unlikely to want another one.

So what does this mean for seniors who are thinking about the future of their possessions — and those who eventually inherit those items?

To me, the most important thing to keep in mind was summarized by Tyler Whitmore, who was quoted in The Washington Post. “It’s not that they don’t love you. They don’t love your furniture.”

If something isn’t right for the inheritor, I believe getting it back into use by someone who will value it honors the prior owner more than letting the item sit hidden away in a closet. This exchange on Twitter captured that sentiment perfectly:

From Peter Nickeas: ebay is flooded with guys who inherit hand tools and have no idea what they do, no appreciation for craft.

Reply from Bill Savage: better the tools get sold to and used by people who do know and respect the craft. Otherwise? Clutter.

Another point worth considering is that sets of china, glassware and such don’t have to be treated in an all-or-nothing manner when it comes to giving them away.

Cynthia Broze wrote in reply to an article on Forbes:

My family had large Christmas gatherings every year at my grandparents house. My grandmother used her china, that she saved hard for, at these gatherings. When she died she left it to me and I kept it for 30 years … I emailed to all nieces, her great grandkids, cousins, etc., saying … Hey remember that china? I split it up between many who were happy to take a plate, cup or setting.

Another anecdote along the same lines: When my stepmother died, my father asked my brother and me what we would like to take from the many household furnishings. I took two cut glass wine goblets that aren’t my style (so I had no desire for the full set) but that bring back many happy memories.

And if items are going to be sold, it’s important to be realistic about their value — which is often much less than what the items originally cost and much less than what you might have expected. If seeing items get sold for low prices is difficult emotionally, you may find it easier and more emotionally rewarding to donate them.

Wayne Jordan, a licensed auctioneer and certified personal property appraiser, wrote about what can happen when those who are downsizing aren’t realistic about their possessions:

More than once, I’ve heard from the children of Boomers about parents who put their treasures into storage because the kids didn’t want them and they “weren’t going to sell them for pennies.” Then, they paid storage fees until they passed away or until the contents of the storage unit mildewed. Ultimately, these items ended up in an auction or in a landfill anyway.

That’s not the type of uncluttering any of us wants to see happen.

Unitasker Wednesday: Nostalgia Bacon Express Crispy Bacon Grill

It seems we’re always looking for better ways to prepare bacon — more uniform cooking and less mess to clean up. The Nostalgia BCN6BK Bacon Express Crispy Bacon Grill touts itself as the best way to cook your favourite breakfast meat.

This electrically powered, 5.5-pound monstrosity sits on your counter-top and cooks up to six, strips of bacon (store-bought thickness only) in minutes. Because it cooks the bacon vertically, the grease drains away and the slide-out drip tray catches bacon grease.

Not only is this a unitasker because it cooks only bacon, it cooks only store-bought thickness bacon.

I think we’d be better off using the multi-purpose frying pan to cook bacon. Some frying pans are large enough to cook more than six pieces of bacon at a time. We can cook bacon of any thickness, shape, or size with a frying pan and we only have one thing to clean (the pan) instead of all the parts from the Bacon Express.

Multi-purpose furniture

When you live in a small home, having multi-purpose furniture is essential. Most people are familiar with sofa beds as multi-functional pieces however, many are uncomfortable as beds and not very stylish as sofas.

Vancouver company, Expand Furniture aims to change the way we look at multi-purpose items by providing high quality, stylish furniture that saves space and puts the fun back in functional.

My favourite unit is the Compatto, a three-in-one; queen-sized wall bed, revolving bookcase, and table (probably because it makes me think that this would be something that Batgirl used in the 1960s TV show Batman). This is a real space-saving versatile package. The attached dining table would comfortably fit 4-6 people and a 6-inch deep, queen-sized mattress would allow guests to have a good night’s sleep. Watch the video to see how easily this piece converts from one layout to another.

I also like the Trojan console dining table with four hidden chairs. This item would be great if you lived alone and only needed a larger dining table some of the time. It would also be useful in a small office. You could wheel it out only on those occasions when you needed a large work surface or had meetings with several people. The rest of the time, it would be out of the way leaving more room in the office. The video shows how quickly this console becomes a table.

 

If you have a small space but occasionally have overnight guests, for example your grandchildren, the Murphy Bunk Bed system would be ideal. It includes two mattresses and the rail ladder. It is well-built and sturdy enough for adults to sleep in yet easy enough for young people to set-up and fold away. Also, the top bunk tilts downwards so you don’t have to climb over the mattress to make the bed. When collapsed, the bunks only stick out about ten inches from the wall. The video demonstrates all the features of this Murphy bed system.

Software to help organize your thoughts

When I was young, a phone was a communication device attached to the kitchen wall. Curly wire, a rotary dial, that whole thing. If you were lucky, the wire was long enough to reach the closet for a private conversation (and create an annoying obstacle for everyone else in the house).

A modern phone is more than just a glorified walkie-talkie. It is a camera, game station, note-taker and bane of many a parent’s existence, among other things. For now, let’s look at the phone as a note-taker.

I use my phone to jot down information that would have been relegated to paper a few years ago. My phone is always with me, making it convenient, and often a decent paper substitute. From creating a simple list to managing a full-on brainstorm, there’s an app for your note-taking needs. Here’s a look at some of my favorites.

When I want to brainstorm a new idea or project, I create a mind map. (I’ve written about mind mapping here before). It’s a more formal way to get the flood of ideas down, creating a nice visual that depicts the relationships between each thought. Yet, it’s still unstructured enough to not interfere with the process.

For me, the best option is MindNode. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the Mac and iPhone. If you use those platforms, go and grab this app. It syncs across devices almost instantly and is very easy to use. It also features easy import/export options, so getting your information out is as easy as getting it in.

If you’re an Android user, I recommend MindMeister. Like MindNode it’s easy to use, and makes collaboration easy, so members of your team/group/family can contribute.

Next up is Google Keep, which I’ve talked about it before. I’m happy to report that I still love it. Keep is lightning fast and feels streamlined and unclutterered. It syncs between the mobile app and a browser almost instantly and lets me jot things down nearly as quickly as I do with paper and pen. Plus you can categorize, tag, color-code, and share. It’s a real keeper.

Meanwhile, I know a lot of people who swear by Notebook by Zoho (available for iOS and Android), Notebook – Take Notes, Sync across devices on the App Store. What’s nice here is it lets you sort notes into “Notebooks” with custom titles and covers, making it very easy indeed to find what you’re after.

Dropbox Paper is a direct competitor to Google Docs, (which is in competition with Microsoft’s Office 3650. Like the others, Dropbox Paper goes well beyond simple note-taking and offers a suite of online productivity tools, aiming to be a way to create and share text documents.

It will be overkill for many, but if you’re looking for an alternative to those larger suites, give Dropbox Paper a try.

Is digital better? Yes and no. The near ubiquitous access is nice, and sharing is a lot easier. But I think paper is faster, plus it won’t crash or succumb to a dead battery or weak Wi-Fi connection. For more on the paper/digital debate, check out Reconciling paper and digital productivity and organizing tools.

Birthdays and gift-giving

My birthday is coming up and as always I’m getting asked what I want and as always, I don’t really know what to say. I have everything I need and most things that I want. Well, I never have a enough books, but since I read books via my Kindle, they aren’t an easy gift to give me.

I used to tell people that I wanted experiences. Those gift boxes for hotels or dinners or days at the spa, but then I almost always ended up using them at the last minute and only because they were about to expire.

A recent article in MoneySense magazine talks about the new middle class and how the younger generation wants gift cards so that they can buy themselves exactly what they want, when they want it. Personally, I’m against gift cards because they are impersonal and from my point of view, it means that the gift-card giver has to make very little effort to find a gift that fits with the person receiving the gift.

In fact, between receiving a gift card and not receiving a gift at all, I’d choose the latter. And don’t get me started on buying an acre of rain forest, adopting a wild animal or naming a star. If you want to make a donation to something, make the donation; don’t jazz it up saying that it’s a gift.

My mother had a good rule for birthday gifts: something the person would like but would never buy for themselves.

For example, for me that would be something like a virtual keyboard (I’m a bit of a tech geek) or a session in a tranquility tank (the movie Altered States and the show Fringe had a big impact on me). And, I’ll never say no to shoes or to fun kitchen tools (these days I’m dying for a decent marble rolling pin).

Speaking of the last category, one year a then-boyfriend bought me a rice cooker and I was thrilled! Friends were horrified and one even said that a rice cooker as a birthday present would be grounds for divorce in her house. But that’s what’s so amazing about really considering the person receiving the gift. What you might consider a relationship ender, for another person, might be the best, most awesome thing in the whole wide world!

How do you buy gifts? Are they obligations that you grab whatever comes to mind? Do you try to match the gift to the personality, maybe hoping to surprise the person? Or do you pick up something from a very specific list the person has provided you with?