Including instructions for handling your online identity in your “In case of …” file

One of my former students died a few years ago, yet her Facebook page remains. Her page has turned into a shrine, and her friends come and leave messages every once in awhile, whenever they miss her.

I’m not sure if her parents left the page up on purpose, or if they didn’t know it existed. For a teenager, though, the Facebook shrine seems appropriate, especially since all of her friends grew up using the service.

However, if something were to happen to me in an accident, I don’t want my Facebook page to stay active. Same applies to my personal Twitter account and Google+ account. Without someone regularly monitoring these pages, they could easily be hacked and the hacked content could be very upsetting to the people who are close to me.

As part of my August resolution to create an “In case of …” file, I’ve decided to include specific instructions on what to do with my social online presence. I really, really, really have not enjoyed thinking about all of this, but I’m putting on my big girl pants and bucking through it. And, my hope is that no one ever has to look at this file.

My friend Craig and I were talking about this subject recently, and he explained to me what he plans to do. Before I get too deep into his explanation, you should know Craig is in his 20s, single, no children, doesn’t own property, and doesn’t necessarily trust his family to carry out his “In case of …” plans exactly as he wishes (although he wholeheartedly trusts many of his friends to do so). He and I are in two very different stages of our lives, which speaks to why our solutions are so varied. Craig doesn’t have an “In case of …” file, but he has something that is close enough. He uses the service Dead Man’s Switch.

The way Dead Man’s Switch works is every few months they send you an email asking you to click on a link. If you click on the link, you’re verifying that you’re alive. If you don’t click on the link, they’ll send you a second email and then a third. If you don’t respond to any of the emails (you choose how much time lapses between the initial and follow-up emails), the service assumes you are dead. At that point, emails will be distributed to people of your choosing with specific instructions on how to carry out your post-death requests. In Craig’s case, he wrote all of the emails in one afternoon and then encrypted them before passing them along to Dead Man’s Switch. He said they are mostly related to shutting down his online presence.

As we were talking, Craig made some very good points about shutting down one’s online identity, which apply to “In case of …” files and services like Dead Man’s Switch:

  • The people reading your file or your email need to be receptive to what you’re saying. If you’re making any kind of requests about how you would like your things handled, it’s important that the recipients be people who are likely to honor your requests.
  • You then have to have a couple of awkward conversations telling folks you will want them to read your file or to wait for an email after you die. It’s a very bad idea to not tell someone, unless you want to scare them with unexpected email from beyond the grave. Thankfully, these conversations are only a quick unpleasantness.
  • Updating passwords and logins in your file or emails is crucial. This information can’t ever be out of date. Personally, I [Craig] have a number of websites up, and there’s at least one that I’d like to think should stay up if I were to die tomorrow. People need to have the ability to log into my hosting accounts and renew domains. People need access to my email. People need access to my Twitter and Facebook accounts, either to take them down entirely or at least update them to reflect my new status. Essentially, any login I have needs to be passed on to someone. If you use something like a password manager, giving the main password needed to access that might be a good way to deal with all of the passwords and logins at once.

Have you thought about your online identity and including instructions for dealing with it in your “In case of …” file? Would a service like Dead Man’s Switch work for you? Are you excited for August to come to an end so you can stop reading such morbid topics on this site?

Unitasker Wednesday: CorkHaus

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

Who’s in the haus? Cork is in the haus!

I’m usually gung-ho about organizing devices. And, the CorkHaus does keep wine corks orderly and off your kitchen cabinet top. I’m more bothered by the idea of keeping old wine corks at all. Unless you’re part of the super elite who regularly purchases $10,000 bottles of wine, do you actually need proof that you drank some alcohol? Do you keep mementos of every soda, beer, or cup of water you consume?

Oh wait, maybe it’s like a game of Connect Four?! Now I get it. You pound back a bottle of wine to play a cork. Interesting …

Instead of hoarding wine corks, consider recycling the ones you already have and getting a Wine Journal that allows you to write information about wine, the date a bottle was consumed, and has room to include a picture of you and your friends drinking it or a label. The whole thing can fit in your pocket, and it’s much more valuable information than a winery stamp on a piece of cork. Plus, you can take it with you the next time you go wine shopping to remind you what wines you like, and what ones you definitely don’t. Pulling the CorkHaus off the wall each time you head to the store seems a little cumbersome.

Thanks to reader K who sent us the link to this wine-cork prison unitasker.

Creating an “In case of …” file

My resolution for the month of August is to get my “In case of …” file updated. It’s not a difficult task in terms of time and skill, but it is difficult to muster up the motivation to want to work on it. I don’t particularly enjoy thinking about my mortality, and creating an “In case of …” file makes me do exactly that.

To get me through the process, I’ve been repeating the phrase:

This file is proof I love my family.

I have been updating a few contacts and pieces of information each day in the file to keep the load light. Last week, though, I realized that there was one major flaw with my file — it assumes my husband is the one reading it. Obviously, if something were to happen to me, I would hope my husband would be the one to go through the file. Since I spend close to 24 hours a day with my husband, however, there is a better than decent chance that if something happens to me that it will likely happen to him, too. (Again, not a thought I really want to have, but I am trying to be mature and responsible.)

In addition to updating my current file, I realized I need to make a second file to seal up and give to someone else — like my lawyer or parents or both. If something awful were to happen to both my husband and me, I most certainly would want there to be an “In case of …” file appropriate for someone other than my spouse to read. The information in this second file will need to be more precise, and include specific details I don’t have to explain to my husband since he knows so many details about my life.

Let me be clear, this information I’m collecting for the “In case of …” file is in addition to a Last Will and Testament. These files aren’t about asset distribution or anything of massive importance. The contents of these files are things like the Netflix account cancellation information and the telephone numbers for my alumni associations. If something awful were to happen, I don’t want the people in my life to be stressed trying to take care of the little details.

If you haven’t created this type of file before, start by paying attention to the mail you receive, the calls you make, and the bills you pay. Do you receive any magazine subscriptions? Do you get any newsletters? Do you make donations to charities? Who is your daughter’s violin teacher? Are you a member of any clubs? What company picks up your trash? Do you use a snow removal service? Are you part of a CSA delivery? Do you deliver meals to the elderly once a week? It might take you a month to collect a valuable set of data, but it’s definitely worth it.

Another strategy to consider when making these lists is to pretend to be a stranger trying to take over your life. What would this person have to learn and understand to succeed?

The final point I want to make about all of this is protecting this information. You do not want this file to end up in the wrong hands, so be extremely careful with it. Storing the document in a waterproof safe that is bolted to the floor is an excellent idea. Hiding it under a false name in a filing cabinet, but giving the file name to a few trusted loved ones might even be all it takes (criminals tend to look for paper files like “Passwords” and “Vital Docs,” not “Cat Vet Bills — Paid”). Criminals also tend to take entire laptops and computers instead of specific files, so intensely password protect and encrypt any data files you may store on your computer. And, as someone who had her files stolen in a very bizarre case of corporate espionage more than a decade ago, I can personally attest to your office NOT being a good place to store personal documents.

Do you have an “In case of …” file put together yet? What is keeping you from putting one together? Do you need to create two — one for your significant other and one for someone you trust completely, but who lives outside your home?

Four sanity restoring strategies for the over-committed

If you’re constantly pressed for time, it could be because you think you have more time in your day than actually exists or you can’t stop saying, “yes,” to every commitment that comes your way. If you’re being pulled in more directions than you want to be, now is a great time to start putting the breaks on the constant agreements and start being more selective with your time commitments.

None of the following ideas is revolutionary, and you have likely heard them before today. However, they’re good reminders for all of us, especially those who fall into the realm of the over-committed.

  1. “Let me get back to you,” should be the first thing you say in response to any request that comes your way. A little time between you and the request can give you some perspective.
  2. Make rules for your agreements — If the request is from someone very dear to you and the request is for her well-being, you will very likely accept the request. If the request is from an organization you find morally questionable, and you don’t want to do the work, you’ll say, “no.” Length of commitment, obligations outside of meetings, and the person or organization making the request should all be considered when creating your rules.
  3. Keep your attention focused on what matters most to you. (If you aren’t clear about what matters most to you, check out “Make a list, check it twice.”) Keep your eye on the big prize.
  4. Reframe your perspective. Saying, “no,” to a less-important action gives you the opportunity to say, “yes,” when a request you really want to accept comes your way.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

2009

2008

Ask Unclutterer: Secure password managers

Reader Nutro submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Since my father passed away recently, I’ve had to take care of almost all kinds of family accounts (bills, insurance, car titles, house deeds, etc). Not only is this new to me (I’m really young), my mother never learned how to take care of these things since her English is bad. It helps to do most of it online, but I have to keep track of different usernames, account numbers, and passwords. I can remember my own account information easily but what is the best way to keep track of the others? I thought of writing it down, but was worried of someone finding and taking it since I have to access it quite often. Currently, I have some of the information on a private blog, but worried about what will happen if someone hacked either my computer or the blog. Is there a better, safer way to organize private information that needs to be accessed regularly?

My condolences to you on losing your father. You’re also very kind to help out your mother during this time.

As far as username and password storage is concerned, I strongly recommend the program 1Password. It interfaces with all the major browsers on both the Mac and Windows platforms, and it stores unlimited passwords. It is also great at generating passwords that are very difficult to hack. If you have an iPhone or an Android, it also syncs with these smart phones, too. It is a one-time charge of $40, and it is completely worth the price in terms of providing you and your mom safety online. There is a 30 day free trial if you want to give it a spin before purchasing it.

There are other programs that are similar to 1Password, although I do not have experience with them. SplashID, RoboForm, and KeePass are usually the best reviewed of the alternatives.

Secure password manager programs are a safe and excellent way to store usernames and passwords — certainly better than writing them down and much more convenient than trying to keep everything stored in your head. Even if someone hacks your computer, they’re likely not going to get into your secure password manager since you’ll be able to create a very difficult password for the program since it will be the only password you have to memorize.

Thank you, Nutro, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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: Vertical venue

This week’s Workspace of the Week is JustS’ space to work and play:

My favorite part of this office is its use of vertical space. This is a pretty narrow room, yet it has a full desk and bike storage in it. The file holders on the wall are also great for getting paperwork off the desktop when it’s not needed. The shelf behind the laptop and the task lighting is nice, too. Between the two pictures, the printer appears to move from the left side of the desk and into the corner (replacing a cat bed). Both options are nice and work well for this space, since that big corner of the desk is rather difficult to reach from the desk chair. Thank you, JustS, for submitting your office to our Flickr pool.

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.

Routines can make even the most unsavory tasks easy

Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, in her guest post today reminds us that the more routine a chore is, the less we have to think about it. Welcome back, Janine!

Good habits are important, but routines are golden. When you string more than one habit together to create a routine, you go on autopilot. You start getting things done without even thinking about it.

There are certain things in life we have to do even though we don’t love doing them. And, typically, the more frequently we do them, the easier they are to do. Take cleaning the bathroom, for instance. You can wipe down the bathroom surfaces (sink, faucet, toilet) every day. I do this after I floss my teeth. It’s easy and takes just seconds, because the fixtures never get disgusting since I do a little work on them every day.

It took me awhile to figure out that I could apply this principle to one of the most distasteful jobs I have to do as a pet owner. I adore my dog and my cat. But, I don’t love dealing with their waste. As a responsible pet owner, I don’t really have a choice, though.

I’ve always been diligent about cleaning up after my dogs on a walk. I never forget to take bags with me and I always pick up. I tried to be really diligent with the litter box as well. We have an automatic litter box for Joe, our orange tabby cat, but you still have to empty the container the waste is automatically raked into. And in recent years, Joe has let us know that he prefers having two litter boxes, so there are two to clean. (The second one isn’t automatic.) I’d try to do it daily, but it would sometimes slip my mind.

The back yard, though, was another matter. In my almost 20 years of dog ownership, I had a tendency to clean up the back yard after the dog only when it got so bad I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was such a loathsome task that I’d put it off as long as possible.

Then on the last day of 2010, I had an epiphany. The day got warm and the snow melted, revealing disgusting piles that had to be dealt with. As I picked up the loads of poo, I thought to myself that there must be a better way. How could I get myself to perform this distasteful task on a daily basis, when there would be only one or two piles to contend with?

I started thinking about the other routines I’d created, like the aforementioned wiping down of the bathroom surfaces. I realized that the key to my success was to link the new habit with an already engrained habit. In the case of the bathroom, I had linked wiping down the surfaces to brushing and flossing my teeth.

What else did I do every day that would logically form a routine with cleaning the cat box and scooping the back yard? Walking my standard poodle, Kirby! I decided that I’d finish my daily dog walk by scooping. It made sense, because I’d already be wearing weather-appropriate clothing and have poop bags on my person. I got really excited to try it.

I started January 1 and now do it every day. I come home from walking Kirby, make a beeline to Joe’s box, scoop it into a poop bag, proceed to the backyard and pick up there, using the same bag for the waste. I tie it up, put it in the dumpster behind my house, and the deed is done.

The great thing about this is that because it’s done so frequently, there’s little waste to deal with and it takes almost no time. Sheer quantity doesn’t make the task any more disgusting than it already is.

I really think that the key to my success here was making this daily habit part of a routine. I don’t have to remember to do it; it happens automatically after the walk. The other thing that has worked out so well is that I used logic in pairing the tasks to create a routine. When I added wiping the bathroom to my morning routine, I linked it to tasks I was already doing in the bathroom (brushing and flossing). In this case, I’ve linked two habits (walking the dog and dealing with animal waste) that are related.

It’s such a relief to have come up with a way to make this crappy, but necessary, chore less unsavory.

Unitasker Wednesday: S’more s’mores!

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

Today is National S’Mores Day, and so I decided to go searching for yet another s’moresrelated unitasker. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I was going to find one. Since we have featured four already, there couldn’t be s’more unitaskers out there, right? Wrong.

These are all the s’more unitaskers I found just on Amazon. If you find more, share your finds in the comments, and celebrate with us on this National Day of the S’more!

The dignified Casa Moda “S’mores” Maker:

Another attempt at putting s’mores in a s’more prison with the Rome’s #62 Original S’more Maker:

Hershey’s official Campfire S’mores Maker without the campfire — oh, great irony:

And this S’mores Maker, also from Hershey’s but with a popcorn maker attachment, sincerely terrifies me:

Finally, the Micro S’mores 80-1764, which squishes your s’more as it heats it up in the microwave:

Seriously, whatever happened to sticks and campfires?

Planning a vacation in an orderly fashion

I’m a little strange in that I almost get as much enjoyment out of planning a vacation as taking one. I start researching the place usually six months before the trip. I’ll read travel guides, review sites created by locals, and novels based in the city I’ll be visiting. I take notes, a lot of notes, and learn as much as I can.

My research always begins with a search of the area on Google maps. Then, I delve into the reading. For a place like Paris, France, I’ll organize all the data I collect by arrondissements. Once I have the items grouped by neighborhood, I’ll subdivide the notes into categories like museums, restaurants, and cheese shops. This way, if we choose to go shopping in St. Germain or buy armagnac at Ryst-Dupeyron, I know we also can pop into the amazing taxidermy shop Deyrolle while we’re in the 7th arrondissement.

If the destination is in the U.S., I’ll save all relevant vacation documents to Evernote — maps, Google street images, webpages, hotel reservation numbers, PDFs I’ve made of notes, etc. I can access Evernote on my laptop and smart phone, so everything I need is with me (and I password protect my phone for safety, in case a pickpocket takes off with my phone).

If I’m traveling overseas, my smart phone service can be less reliable. On a trip to Iceland, I might decide to pay a few extra bucks for international cell and data service. On a trip to Shanghai, China, I would still save all the documents to Evernote, but I would print all the documents before traveling and carry them with me in a folder. (Web access can be tricky in China.)

Services like Tripit are great alternatives, if Evernote isn’t your cup of tea. However, you still can have issues using the service when traveling internationally.

How do you plan a vacation? What method and services do you use? Those of you who do a lot of traveling in parts of the world with interesting data and cell coverage, how do you store your travel plans? I’m interested in reading everyone’s advice in the comments.

Want to be organized? Know thyself.

One of the best ways to create an effective organizing system is to know who you are. If you don’t know your strengths and weaknesses, you can’t build a system that reflects your abilities.

Someone who is easily distracted shouldn’t have an intricate paper filing system based on numbers and codes. Someone who takes his shoes off at the front door shouldn’t have a shoe organizing system in his bedroom. The more a system reflects how you live and your preferences, the more likely it is to work for you.

  • Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic processor? Find out in “Understanding how you process information to help you get organized” and then learn how to take action on those strengths.
  • What time of day can you focus at your best and when are you easily distracted? Keep a log and then “Plan and execute a productive work schedule” that best reflects your energy waves throughout the day.
  • How long can you effectively focus on something? Scientists have concluded that 40 minutes is the average time span for most people. Check out the Science Daily article “Are you really paying attention” to learn more.
  • What do you really like? I don’t mean what are you supposed to like, but what do you sincerely enjoy? Is there a way to integrate these passions into your organizing systems? If you love watching television, can you find a way to watch television and straighten up the house during commercials? If you love birds, can you use bird labels on files in your filing cabinet so that doing filing is more joyful for you?
  • What do you despise? If you can’t stand putting away laundry, can you swap the chore with someone in your house and take over a chore she can’t stand but that doesn’t bother you? Can you hire someone to take over this organizing task for you?
  • Do you know why you want to be organized?

There are hundreds of questions you can ask yourself to learn about who you are and what are your preferences. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can build an organizing system that will be easy for you to maintain and help keep your life less chaotic.