Ask Unclutterer: Document scanning services

Reader Jacqueline submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I am a fairly organized person and nearly 80 years old. I have no close relatives, and have asked kind friends to manage things after I die. I want to make things as easy for them as possible. The idea of scanning all my records appeals to me but the time needed to spend scanning five years of income tax records in addition to everything else is more than daunting. I have one plastic bin with the income tax stuff filed in large ziplock bags for each year, and another bin for the other records. Is there an easier way?

Are you doing your taxes yourself or do you have an accountant? If you have an accountant, ask him/her to store your documents for you. If your accountant says no, ask your lawyer if he/she can do it. My grandmother is 100 and her lawyer has been keeping her tax documents for the past 10 years, so I know it’s not an uncommon request.

There are also services that will scan papers for you, like Office Drop. You load up a pre-paid envelope or box, ship it off to the scanning company, and then they send you back the papers and a disc with the data. You can also choose to have them simply upload your documents online so you have an additional backup accessible from anywhere. After the papers are returned to you, you can shred them and be done with the process. It’s obviously more expensive than doing it yourself, but it will save you considerable time.

Honestly, since you say you’re “fairly organized,” I don’t know if you need to digitize your documents. Once a year, review your files with your friends and/or estate lawyer, and see if they have any questions about where important documents are located. Make a photocopy of the most valuable papers and put them in a safety deposit box at your bank. Give a copy of the key to your lawyer or friend in case of emergency (and notify the bank of this), and don’t worry about it any more. It sounds like you have been great at keeping clutter out of your files, which will be extremely helpful to anyone who may need to access your files in the future.

Thank you, Jacqueline, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Check the comments for additional suggestions from our readers.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Workspace of the Week: Outdoor office retreat

This week’s Workspace of the Week is NomadJim’s tropical paradise:

Did you miss the office? I did the first couple times I looked at the picture. Here, I’ll help you find it:

Gorgeous! If I could actually concentrate enough in this beautiful scenery to do work, I can think of fewer places more visually inspiring to get a job done. NomadJim is one lucky individual. I can’t tell if there is a laptop tray for the computer, but I would add one if there isn’t (especially one that allows for airflow under the battery and processor — don’t want to broil your legs on the patio). Otherwise, this setup looks like perfection. Now, if you’ll all please excuse me, I’m going to close my eyes and daydream for a couple minutes.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

On the Forums: minimalist travel, digitizing books, and the Neil Armstrong approach

Some great discussions are currently underway on the Unclutterer Forums:

Be sure to check it out and add your thoughts to the mix. Remember, you can start your own thread (which our system calls a “topic”) by clicking the “Add New” link under Latest Discussions on the Forum homepage.

If you use an RSS reader to follow your favorite blogs, you can easily keep track of what’s going on in our new forums. Add the feed for latest topics or all the latest posts. You can even follow specific topics using the RSS link just below each topic’s title, or create an RSS feed of your own by adding topics as favorites.

Video: Peter Walsh discusses office organizing and answers an Unclutterer’s question

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oprah’s go-to organizer, the organizing star of Clean Sweep, and all-around fantastic gentleman Peter Walsh. We talked about office organizing and his new line of products he designed for Office Max — you.organized. At the end of the interview, I posed him a question from Unclutterer readers Klyla, Jackie Pettus, and Lose That Girl (their questions were on a similar theme, so I merged them into one mega question). As always, his tips and answers were insightful and incredibly helpful:

After the interview, he e-mailed MORE organizing tips:

  • To-Do Lists: When writing a to-do list, group alike tasks together such as making calls or running errands to increase efficiency. But avoid getting overwhelmed with your workload by breaking it into small, manageable tasks. Write to-do list items on individual sticky notes and put them on a wall calendar. Rearrange them as your priorities change. At the end of the day, review your checklist and cross off completed items. Move any pending items to a fresh list for tomorrow.
  • Calendars: You might feel like multiple schedules lead to more confusion. For a little planning relief, combine home and work calendars. Simply choose various colors to mark important dates: one for professional tasks and meetings, one for personal appointments, one for social engagements, one for your children’s activities, and so on.
  • Closing Thoughts: Remember that your desk sends a clear signal about who you are and how you approach your work. You should have an organized desk at the start and finish of every day.

He also included an closeup image of the vertical storage system from the video:

Thanks again to Peter for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with Unclutterer, Office Max for setting up the interview, and Klyla, Jackie Pettus, and Lose That Girl for asking such a terrific question. I must admit, it was nice to know that his systems fall apart from time-to-time, too! A great reminder that we’re all human.

Unitasker Wednesday: Reel Roaster

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

You know what goes great together? Young children, sharp toys used to stab things, sugary foods, and open flames!

The Reel Roaster is guaranteed to make any child a plaintiff in a personal injury class action suit. From Amazon’s product description:

… crank the handle on the fishing reel. This rotates the skewer and ensures that the marshmallow or hot dog is cooked to perfection. Reel ’em and roast ’em! Go for a slow turn for a slow roast. Or you can crank up the speed for a faster rotation. Either way, it’s going to be a hot and delicious treat.

A big thanks to reader Sarah for introducing us to this poorly conceived unitasker!

How much living space do you need?

After watching the YouTube video of Gary Chang’s 344-square-foot apartment, writing about Japan’s hotel “capsule” housing and reading’s blog post “The Optimal Amount of Living Space,” I’ve been wondering: “How much dwelling space do humans require to be happy and safe?”

Since safety and happiness are major concerns in U.S. prisons (“happiness” in the sense of keeping rioting, violence, and suicide rates at a minimum), I expected minimum square footage per inmate mandates to exist. Turns out, the federal government does not define how many square feet a prisoner is required to have for conditions to be considered something better than “cruel or unusual.” As a result, inmates are given anywhere between 35 square feet (common when two prisoners share a 70 square foot cell) to 100 square feet (quite uncommon, but more likely to be found in solitary-confinement situations where prisoners never leave their cells). And, research about the penal system shows that rates of riots, violence, and suicide don’t appear to be directly correlated to cell size (much like job satisfaction isn’t based on office size).

The amount of space humans need to be happy and safe, therefore, is quite minimal (based on how it’s configured, it could be difficult for most people to even lie down in 35 square feet). So the question isn’t really one of need, but one of want.

Many factors go into answering the question: “How much space do I want to be happy and safe?” Location of property, floor plan, cultural norms, rent/mortgage, amenities, storage, air quality, and aesthetics are all considerations that weigh into an individual’s want response.

Have you ever stopped to consider how much space you want? What factors are guiding your answer? Are you letting your stuff dictate your response? I’m eager to read your thoughts on this issue in the comments.

The price of using self storage

A friend recently sent me the following confession in an e-mail:

I just cleaned out my storage unit that I have had for 7 years. (I think I opened it when I moved from the townhouse to my apartment.) What a bunch of crap! I saved a couple boxes of books I’d been missing, and some high school stuff I pulled out — medals, trophies and plaques.

So, I did the calculations on what this storage unit cost me. 7 years = 84 months times approximately $120 a month = over $10,000!!!!! I am flabbergasted I spent so much on storing what was basically crap. It’s just so easy when it’s $120 a month. Think of what I could have done with $10,000! That’s a costly uncluttering lesson!

I think that self storage is a good idea when used temporarily, such as for a few months when settling someone’s estate or if you’ve sold your house and are staying in a hotel while you’re waiting to settle on a new house. Once the word years is involved, though, it’s no longer temporary and uncluttering is in order.

Had she tossed out all of what was in her self storage unit seven years ago, my friend could have repurchased the box of books and even commissioned someone to remake her medals, trophies and plaques, and still had more than $9,000 left in her bank account. (I doubt my friend would have had someone remake her medals, though, I’m just saying she could have and it still would have been far less expensive.)

If you have a self-storage unit, consider taking the time to clear it out and save yourself a good amount of money. If the idea of cleaning out the space overwhelms you, hire a professional organizer to help you. The fee you’ll pay to the professional organizer will be less than what you would pay to continue storing your stuff.

More facts about self-storage:

  1. The state of self-storage in the U.S.
  2. Organization facts from Mother Jones

Video: Erin on Monday’s Rachael Ray Show

This week seems to be all about videos here on Unclutterer (don’t forget our upcoming Ask Peter Walsh anything!), and I’m excited to be part of the collection. For anyone who doesn’t have a television, lives outside the U.S. or Canada, or missed Saturday’s announcement, you can now see my appearance on yesterday’s Rachael Ray Show online:

The clip is just a little over three minutes long, and I’m really happy with how it went. I had a great time on set, and Rachael and her staff were incredibly kind. I also love how Michael Buffer says my name — Erin Roooooooooooooney Dolaaaaaaaand! I hope you enjoy the clip and the closet organizing tips, too.

Five things that are bound to clutter up your day

  1. Oversleeping. Waking up just 10 minutes late has the ability to throw your entire day off schedule. Use a timer for a week and determine how long it actually takes you to get ready in the morning, commute to your office, and start working on valuable action items. Are you waking up early enough to get everything done?
  2. Getting involved in office gossip and/or office politics. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again — these negative behaviors are pure clutter.
  3. Tossing junk mail somewhere other than the trash or into a shredder. Don’t let junk mail accumulate on your dining table, desk, or anywhere else it doesn’t belong. Immediately process your mail the first time you touch it.
  4. Losing your charge. How many times have you been on a cell phone call when your phone has died? How many times have you needed a flashlight during a blackout, only to find one that is out of batteries? Create a charging station for all of your portable electronic devices that is in a place you will use it. When doing spring and fall cleaning chores, include battery tests for all items you might need in an emergency. (Go ahead and check the charge on your fire extinguisher, too.)
  5. Throwing your dirty clothes on the floor. Get ready for bed before you are tired so you have enough energy to put your clothes in the hamper or put them up on a hanger. If you throw your clothes on the floor, you’re just creating more work for yourself in the future and a possible hazard in case you need to get up in the middle of the night.

What stumbling blocks have you found that are guaranteed to clutter up your day? Add to the comments any problems you’ve encountered and the solutions you’ve discovered.

Unclutterer on the Rachael Ray Show

Set your TiVOs, DVRs, or tune in Monday morning, April 26, to the Rachael Ray Daytime Talk Show. I’m on the episode giving advice on how to organize your closet, just in time for warmer weather.

I filmed my segment for this episode back in January, and I can’t believe I was able to keep it a secret until now while I’ve been waiting for it to air. I had an amazing time on set, and Rachael was incredibly nice to me. Michael Buffer (famous for his “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” tagline) was on set the same day and I was able to meet his adorable dogs and daughter. Buffer announces the whole episode, and even announced me! In the same episode, RuPaul teaches the audience how to put on fake eyelashes (and, wow, RuPaul is tall — I had no idea), and veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward shows viewers how to safely trim their pets’ nails. There are even more experts giving advice in the episode, but you’ll have to watch to learn more.

My appearance on the show is a little bittersweet, as it was the last time I wore high heel shoes. After my accident, I may never be able to wear high heels again. I know it’s not the most important thing in the world, and my podiatrist assures me my feet will appreciate the change, but it’s still a little sad. Feel welcome to join me in waving goodbye to my high heels at the end of the segment.

For clarification, I’m on Rachael’s daytime talk show, not her 30-Minute Meals show. Check your local listings for when the show airs in your region. I hope you enjoy the tips!