Tips for a low-maintenance garden

In the book The Low-Maintenance Garden: A Complete Guide to Designs, Plants and Techniques for Easy-care Gardens by Susan Berry, there are many tips on how to prepare your yard for a low maintenance garden. The most important being the design of your garden. A well-designed garden will go a long way in keeping it low maintenance.

Here are two of my favorite tips from the book:

… planting can be much easier to look after if you plan it carefully. Evergreens are generally easier to look after than deciduous plants (less pruning, no sweeping up of leaves). Shrub borders and ground-covering perennials are the easiest options but it is vital that you choose plants that are appropriate for the climate and soil conditions, so that they thrive when left largely to their own devices. To this end, you also need to choose plants that are not too invasive or too fast-growing …

… you can turn a portion of your garden into either rough grass or semi-wild planting, which will not only benefit nature but ease the work in a larger garden. If you have only a very small area — such as a patio — you will need to find ways to make container planting less time-consuming by choosing plants that require less watering-one of the major time-consuming elements in any container-dominated garden …

Keep on posting!

The response to our Unclutterer flickr group has been terrific. Currently, more than 115 people have joined the group and there are 39 pictures of uncluttered workspaces on the website. If you haven’t checked out the group recently, it’s worth a peek. Also, if you haven’t uploaded your office pictures yet, feel welcome to contribute to the group. We love seeing everyone’s uncluttered workspaces!

This week, I want to give a shout-out to KariAnn and her husband’s dual home office. There are close-ups of her workspace and her husband’s in the flickr group, as well. One wall of a room is used to support two home offices — it’s efficient, well organized, and stylish. The desk system would be especially nice in a room that doubles as a spare bedroom. KariAnn, your space is inspiring!

Detach yourself from stuff

One of the major reasons people hold on to stuff is the emotional attachment they assign to an object. I have a t-shirt that I’ve had since 1992. It is a Baylor University t-shirt and I purchased it when I was in high school for 50 cents. I still have it and it has survived many moves and donations to Goodwill.

I never attended Baylor University and I don’t have any association with Baylor. It was just a purchase I made because I liked the colors of the shirt. So why do I still own this shirt? Well, I guess because it has been with me so long and it conjures up memories for me. The t-shirt didn’t play a pivotal role in anything I did it just happened to be on my body here and there. The memories were not created by my Baylor t-shirt they were created by myself and the people around me.

The shirt itself is barely holding together and I only wear it when I’m doing work around the house or kayaking down the river. It has a giant bleach mark on the front of it and holes have started to widen on the shoulder areas. I’ve decided to throw it out even though I should have trashed this thing years ago. Yeah, it doesn’t take up much space, but the fact that I’ve held on to this shirt for so long is an example of how I assigned emotions to a clothing item. I am not throwing away the memories that I associate with this shirt, I’m just throwing away a shirt.

Goodbye, Baylor shirt. You won’t be missed because you’re just a shirt.

Unitasker Wednesday: Monogrammed steak brand

Do you consider yourself a grill master? If so, how do you put your mark on a nice juicy steak? Well, Williams-Sonoma has a way for you to make every steak a real masterpiece by adding your monogram to the prepared beef. Now all your friends and family will know who prepared their steak by reading the monogram before they dig in.

Williams-Sonoma has stepped up to the plate and furnished the grill master with a product that no one was clamoring for. I know I enjoy monogrammed food much more than non-monogrammed food. Is there an untapped market for monogrammed food? If there is, Williams-Sonoma is at the forefront of this market with the Monogrammed Steak Brand. For those of you who live in Hawaii or Alaska you are out of luck. Williams-Sonoma does not ship this item to you.

**Unitasker Wednesday posts humorously poke fun at the single-use items that seem to find their way into our homes.

Birthday cards and reminder systems

I love my birthday. Honestly, it’s more of a birth-week celebration to me than an actual day. I schedule pomp and circumstance, and gather groups of people together. Knowing this about me, you would be surprised to learn that I am horrible about remembering other people’s birthdays. I have a friend I have known for more than 30 years and all I can recall is that her birthday is sometime in September. Sep. 15? Sep. 21? Your guess is as good as mine.

To solve my birthday forgetfulness issue, I opened a Plaxo account and requested that my friends update their contact and birthday information through it. There are a number of services out there similar to Plaxo (like Birthday Alarm), and all notify you of upcoming birthdays by sending you reminder e-mails. I chose Plaxo because it integrates easily with my computer’s address book program. With help from an online service, you’ll never be left apologizing for your disorganization.

In addition to a birthday reminder system, I also purchased a card organizer. At the start of the year, I print out a birthday list from Plaxo, buy cards for all of my family and friends in a single trip to the card store, and organize the cards in my organizer. I also purchase other types of cards for the year while on my trip to the store. Here is a list of what I usually buy:

  • Birthday cards for family and friends on my Plaxo list
  • Five extra birthday cards with one specific to a young child
  • Five blank interior, thinking-of-you cards
  • Three sympathy cards
  • Five baby cards appropriate for showers and arrivals
  • Five wedding cards appropriate for showers and wedding day
  • Three anniversary cards
  • Three get well cards
  • Two graduation cards
  • Five non-specific congratulations cards
  • Three boxes of 10-count thank you cards

Your needs are likely different than mine, so if you’re interested in setting up a similar system be sure to make necessary adjustments. You also might consider giving a fully stocked organizer to a home-bound family member as a birthday or holiday present.

These organization systems prevent me from having to run to the store at the last minute, and I don’t have to worry about forgetting anyone’s special day. If your cards are disorganized, this or a similar system might be for you.

Streamline your security check point routine

If you travel quite a bit you have probably adjusted to the security screening process in the airport. The annoying routine has to get on one’s nerves, but if you prepare yourself in advance the whole process can be less of a headache. Here are some tips to make your security check easier:

Wear slip on shoes. Although I have been able to walk through some security screenings without removing my shoes, more often than not you must remove your shoes. Wearing shoes that easily slip off saves you time.

Follow the 3-1-1 guide. If you are traveling with a carry-on make sure to check out the TSA’s 3-1-1 for liquids and aerosols.

Prepare before entering. Rather than getting everything prepared while you snake through the line, get everything in order and then enter the roped labyrinth. Turn on your laptop, have your ID and boarding pass ready, throw unauthorized liquids away, etc.

Give yourself time. Rather than stressing about catching your flight while you wait in the security line, show up early if possible and don’t lose your cool.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comments section.

Reader pics: Charles Smith’s uncluttered nursery

Having a baby can really test your ability to keep a tidy and uncluttered home. You can either give into the disarray and let your home descend into a constant state of clutter or you can make a conscience effort to straighten up your home.

Our daughter was quite active once she started crawling and pulling her self up. Her ability to grab anything and everything definitely contributed to my wife and I keeping our home less cluttered. We got rid of tons of items that were definitely clutter, but resided in our home for one reason or the other.

We also try to keep our daughter’s nursery in an uncluttered state. It isn’t easy and the room still gets a bit disastrous here and there, but it never really gets out of hand. Our daughter hasn’t reached the age where she can run around room like a tiny tornado wreaking havoc where ever she goes, but we are constantly trying to teach her that everything has its place.

That brings me to a reader’s submission about their nursery. Charles writes in his email:


Extreme minimalism Monday: Shoes are clutter

I went jogging this past weekend with the extreme minimalist.

He’s been exercising regularly over the past month. He’s actually lost a considerable amount of weight lately, which probably has nothing to do with his new diet.

By now I should really know not to be surprised by any of his newly-acquired eccentricities, but I still did a Danny Thomas spit-take after we met up on the trail and I saw that he wasn’t wearing shoes.

At first I figured I should probably just ignore it. Questioning him about such things only seems to encourage this type of behavior.

Twenty minutes into the run I saw him charge right through some dog shit someone had inconsiderately failed to remove from the trail. I figured this might be a good opportunity to gently remind him of the obvious benefits of footwear. I should have followed my initial instinct, as he began to lecture me on the issue.

  • I learned that Abebe Bikila and Tegla Loroupe set world marathon records without barefoot, so you obviously don’t need expensive sport shoes to be a good runner.
  • I learned that wearing shoes contributes to weakening of the feet.
  • I learned that I’m complicit in Chinese human rights violations by purchasing shoes made there.
  • I learned the I can find out more about going barefoot by visiting the site of the Society for Barefoot Living

After a few minutes I realized he hasn’t just stopped wearing shoes while exercising. He stopped wearing shoes entirely.

I’m worried this might be progressive and he’s going to slowly become a nudist one article of clothing at a time.

Downsizing our home

Our house is going to go on the market at the beginning of September and that is the primary reason we recently had a yard sale. The size and upkeep of our 2800 square foot Victorian home is just too much for us. We’re ready to decrease our living space and live a simpler life in a smaller home.

In a country where the average home size has increased from 1400 square foot in 1970 to a whopping 2330 square feet in 2004, it is a rarity for people to downsize. Everyone seems to want something bigger and better. While we definitely would like to find something better, we do not want anything bigger. The upkeep in our current home is too much and the energy costs are steep. Hopefully, with a smaller home, we will spend less on energy and less time cleaning.

I have really enjoyed living in our current home. It has tons of character and a lot of original features that are hard to find in houses these days, but the sheer size of the house proved to be too much for us.

Driving by some of the newer developments, I try to comprehend the need for some of the huge McMansions that pop up and I can’t figure out why people need so much space. It is their choice and they obviously prefer to live in a spacious house, but it just isn’t for my wife and me.

An alternative to a bulky double boiler

In my ever increasing quest for all things collapsible I came across an alternative to my wife’s bulky double boiler. This collapsible silicone double boiler looks to be just what a clutter-free kitchen needs. Of course, not everyone is in need of a double boiler, but my wife uses hers quite a bit. Especially, when she bakes her delicious holiday cookies.

The collapsible version is so much more practical than the one my wife uses. Hers is your typical two quart saucepan with the stainless steel insert. This silicone solution takes up much less space and it is collapsible when not in use. The amount of space it saves is quite substantial when you figure that a traditional double boiler adds a whole other saucepan to your cabinet.

If you are looking for a double boiler, you may want to check out this silicone collapsible alternative.

Reader question: Fireproof storage, part two

Yesterday, I started answering a question from one of our readers, Hunter, about fireproof boxes. Check out the first post in this two-part series to discover what documents and files should be stored in home fireproof boxes and on hard drives stored off-site.

Today, I want to address features to consider when purchasing and implementing the use of home fireproof boxes and off-site digital storage devices. Both storage methods are essential if you’re looking to be organized in times of emergency.

Features for a home fireproof box

To properly store paper documents, you need a fireproof box with a temperature UL rating of at least 350 for 60 minutes. A rating of 350 and 60 minutes means that the inside of the fireproof box will not rise above 350 degrees during a fire reaching temperatures of 1,700 degrees lasting 60 minutes. Paper burns at 451 degrees, so you want the 350 rating for paper protection. If you live in an urban area close to a fire station, you can probably get by with a 30-minute fireproof box. If you’re in a rural area that is far from a fire station, I would bump the rating up to 120 minutes.

You also want the fireproof box to be waterproof to protect from the gushing water emitted from firefighters’ hoses. Don’t get a box that is only water resistant.


Reader question: What should I store in a fireproof box?

Reader Hunter sent us the following question:

I know you’ve dealt a bit with managing paperwork and paper in general, but I haven’t seen anything about what to keep in a fireproof box. I’ve decided I need one (hopefully a small one) and want to be sure that I keep the most important (and only the most important) things in it. Any suggestions? Keep up the good work.

Hunter, this topic is larger than you might imagine. In an attempt to answer your question, I’m going to break my response into two separate posts: 1. Contents for a fireproof box, and 2. Purchasing literal and digital fireproof boxes.

First, let’s address what should be stored in a fireproof box. My recommendations are based on what will be the most beneficial to have immediately following a home fire or in an emergency. Most of the items on this list can actually be replaced, but having to replace them will cause you significant time and unnecessary stress.

As a second component to the home fireproof box, I also recommend having a hard-drive stored at an off-site location. In my next post on this topic, I’ll discuss the reasoning behind the second system.

Items I recommend you store in a home fireproof box:

  • Current passport
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Property titles
  • Insurance policies
  • A list of bank and credit card account numbers
  • Copies of prescriptions for life-supporting medications
  • Spare keys to your car

Items I recommend you store digitally on a hard drive at a secure, off-site location:

  • Scans of photo negatives and videos that you would be devastated to lose (like wedding photos and videos)
  • Scans of your titles and insurance policies
  • Scan of your Last Will and Testament
  • Scans of your passport, birth certificate, and social security card
  • Scans of prescriptions for your life-supporting medications
  • A text file containing your bank and credit card account numbers
  • A recent backup of important computer documents
  • Photos of the interior and exterior of your home taken within the last four months
  • Recent photos of your pets

Stay tuned for my second post in this series where I’ll discuss preferred ratings and features of fireproof boxes and off-site digital hard drive storage.