Unitasker Wednesday: The CTA Digital Pedestal Stand for iPad with Roll Holder

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

First things first, this week’s unitasker selection is obviously a multi-tasker. (It holds your toilet paper AND your iPad!) And, if there were some sort of strict rules to how we select unitaskers, it likely wouldn’t qualify. But, since our only criteria for picking unitaskers is: “Does it make us laugh?” It, technically, qualifies … because we cannot stop laughing at the CTA Digital Pedestal Stand for iPad with Roll Holder:

It appears we have devolved so greatly as a society that we cannot use the toilet without also using a mobile device. Ew, ew, ew! Just ew! But, also, hahahaha!

Thank you, reader Adele, for sharing this with us and giving us all a good laugh.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

2009

Uncluttered Valentine’s Day gift ideas

We’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in two days. Haven’t bought your loved ones anything yet? Don’t panic. OK, maybe a little panic. You’ve got 48 hours! The following are some nice gift ideas that will express your feelings and keep you out of the dog house, all without creating a pile of clutter that must be dealt with at some point:

  1. Create an unexpected playlist. Many Gen-X’ers out there remember the labor-intensive, excruciating process of creating a mix tape for a loved one. The careful selection of exactly the right songs, placed in precisely the proper order to create a crescendo of meaning and feeling. Only the right mix of sentiment, fun, humor, and truth would do. And it all had to fit perfectly on a 60-minute cassette. The harder you worked, the more your recipient meant to you.

    Today, the process is less labor intensive (raise your hand if you remember holding a tape recorder up to the radio to capture a song), but just as meaningful. If your loved one has an Mp3 player like an iPod, sneak into his or her iTunes account and create a playlist of songs that speak to your relationship. Give it a fun name and sync the results to her device. Her commute to work, etc. just got that much more pleasant.

  2. Get the car detailed. My wife did this for me last year and I was elated. I keep my car tidy but I can’t get it anywhere near as nice-looking as a well-equipped professional can. Some detailers will even travel to you for on-site cleaning. While the kids did eventually track sand and Goldfish crackers into the car again, it was a nice few weeks before they did and extremely appreciated.
  3. Gather favorite photos. I admit that I still like looking at paper photos more than their digital counterparts. Holding a picture in my hand is nicer than sitting in front of a screen or even holding a tablet or a smartphone. That might be a function of my age, but I suspect some of you feel that, too. It’s also nice to browse a well-ordered album, and there are several companies that produce great-looking photo books. Shutterfly does a great job, as does Apple, if you use its iPhoto software. I’ve ordered several photo books from Apple and they look great.
  4. Get a landscaping consultation. I love “fiddling in the yard” as I call it but I’ll admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Last summer, I spent about an hour talking with some folks at a local nursery and learned so much. Most landscaping companies offer free consultations, so consider that if your better half enjoys gardening or landscaping. Also, check with local colleges, universities, or adult education organizations for classes in landscaping or really anything that will encourage an interest or hobby.
  5. Re-live a first date. In 1986, I took my very first date to see Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I’m not eager to see that movie again, but I suspect it’d bring back some pleasant memories if I did. It’d be great fun to take your significant other back to the restaurant, theatre, hot dog stand (etc.) that marked the beginning of your relationship.
  6. Digitize home movies. This one will take some planning, but it’ll be worth it. Many people have boxes of 8mm movies sitting around or old VHS tapes. The simplest method of digitizing them is to set up the projector (many rental stores will have one if you don’t) and a digital camera. Roll the film, record with your digital camera and then import it into your computer.

    When recording, keep these tips in mind. Make sure the room is as dark as possible. Position your digital camera on a tripod and keep it as close to the reel-to-reel projector as possible, so that the angle is nearly identical. Zoom into the projected image as closely as possible. Finally, manually set the camera’s focus, as the auto focus could have trouble in this scenario.

Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!

Simple steps you can take to reduce food waste

Food waste has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Reading the report Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, recently published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, has fueled my desire to get a better handle on the amount of food my family discards. The NRDC report paints a grim picture of food waste in America:

40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills …

One of my first actions after reading the report was to start using Avery Dry Erase Decals on our refrigerator. We write our grocery list on them and use them to track what’s inside our fridge:

My husband and I have noticed a dramatic reduction in the amount of food we discard and we’ve become much better at cooking the foods we buy. There were days when our enthusiasm for cooking and freezing meals for future use got the better of us and we’d make much more than our freezer could store. Now that we’re consistently tracking the food that we make (and buy, too), we’ve figured out the best times to do batch cooking. We’re also better at using up our freezer stash so that nothing gets lost in there.

I’ve also taken an added step of labeling what’s inside the fridge. I’ve discovered that a sticky note with the contents and the date on an item makes food easier to find in the fridge (and therefore get eaten). Once an item is consumed, it’s crossed off or erased from the list. In the beginning, this was a tedious step. But, now that it’s a regular part of our routine, we can easily find what’s in the fridge without rummaging or having to open the container to figure out what’s inside. You might not find this step to be necessary, but for us, it’s well worth it. We’ve also become more creative with our leftovers. When we get bored with eating food as originally cooked, we combine it with one or two new ingredients. Making the effort to use food labels has really encouraged us to eat what we have instead of piling more in the fridge and increasing the likelihood of older food spoiling.

As you begin to think about ways to reduce food waste in your household, it does help, of course, to keep your fridge uncluttered. You might also want to consider weighing the food you’re going to throw out. The chefs at Mario Batali’s restaurant, Lupa Osteria Romana in New York, provided me with a strategy to try. They agreed to put food that was not deemed consumable (expired, spoiled, trim waste, or overcooked) on a scale with special software that calculated its value. By doing this, they discovered that they were able to make adjustments to reduce the volume of food that ended up in the trash can:

Once we begin reducing food waste, we are spending less money on food because we’re not buying food to waste it; we’re spending less money on labor; we’re spending less money on energy to keep that food cold and heat it up; we’re spending less on waste disposal.

This extra step in food preparation can help you determine how much food is actually wasted. As the restaurant staff at Lupa discovered, you probably don’t need to weigh onion skins and other things that you wouldn’t eat anyway. And, you likely wouldn’t need special software to tell you how much food you might be wasting. Even if you didn’t weigh your food and simply kept a journal for a few weeks about the amount of food you threw away, you’d have a good idea of how much food went into your garbage can as well as how much money went with it.

When compared to buying a pricey smart fridge that reminds you what’s inside, tracking your food consumption, adding labels to food containers, and weighing your food are perhaps minor inconveniences. But, these are not the only actions you can take. In addition to using (and sticking to) a grocery list each time you shop, you can also make sure that your fridge is in good working order. Make sure the seals are working well and that it’s set to the proper temperature (between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit) to slow the growth of bacteria. You can also make sure that older food is visible and not blocked by newer purchases.

Keeping your computer desktop tidy

When I think of avoiding clutter, I often think of my physical surroundings: the car, the office, my kitchen and my kids’ playroom. However, my computer’s screen — or desktop — also gets pretty messy on a regular basis. What’s more, that clutter can be just as distracting as a physical mess, and hinder my willingness to sit down and work. Fortunately, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Here’s how I manage digital clutter on my virtual desktop.

Make a Mess As You Work

Much like a potter who goes home with clay on his jeans, I get messy while I work. The time you spend meeting obligations, making ends meet, and fulfilling the 9-to–5 is not the time to get fastidious about the location of every file and folder. Do your job, fling clay, and get stuff done.

At the end of my work day, I’ve typically got screenshots and other images, snippets of text, installers and more all over the desktop. This is perfectly acceptable. Leaving them there for all eternity — or worse, treating the desktop as a filing cabinet — is not.

Process As An Inbox

Most of us have several inboxes in our lives. There’s the physical in tray on your desk, but also email, voice mail, notes from school, and so on. When I sit down to go through those things, I follow the same process each time. Specifically, I ask myself what is this item, what needs to be done about it (if anything) and am I the person to do it? Sorting through the files and folders on my computer desktop requires the same process. Some stuff can be thrown away, others spawn ideas or join existing projects, while others go into long-term storage as reference material. Here’s how I separate the three types:

Trash

  1. Screenshots. At work I write, edit and take a lot of screenshots. All of these can go into the trash.
  2. Text snippets. I also paste bits of text into Apple’s Text Edit as a temporary placeholder. These also get trashed.
  3. Installers. Occasionally, I install new software, often for testing purposes. Those installers are unnecessary after a piece of software has been properly installed, and they love to pile up. Off to the trash they go.

In Progress
Occasionally I’ll come across a website that I want to return to, an article I’d like to read during down time, an idea that could spawn or improve a new project or something I’d like to share.

There are many great ways to capture web site addresses for future reference. Pinterest is a popular service, but my favorite is Pinboard. It’s definitely no-frills, and that’s what I like about it. Pinboard costs about $10 to sign up for the service, and offers a place to store your bookmarks that is aways accessible. Multiple computers, smartphones and tablets can all log into your Pinboard account and have access to your saved sites. You can organize your collection with tags, and optionally share select finds with others. Again, I use Pinboard for sites I’ll refer to often.

That collection is different than articles I’d like to read in my free time. There are several great services that offer a super “read-it-later” experience, and my favorites are Instapaper and Pocket. Both store your saved articles for later viewing on a computer, smartphone or tablet. They also strip out the images, ads and so on so that all you get is the article you’re after. Honestly, I like them both and believe you’d be happy with either.

The next category is new ideas and/or information that pertains to a project in progress. This is also where the article takes a geeky turn, though I’ll ease into it slowly.

I like to store ideas, thoughts worth follow-up, etc. in a file format called plain text. Why? My Internet buddy David Sparks explains it beautifully at his site, Mac Sparky:

Text files are easy to read on any computer running any operating system and don’t require any proprietary word processor to interpret. Even more important, text files can be read by humans. Keeping your writings in text makes them digitally immortal.

Moreover, text is internet friendly. The files are small and can jump among connected devices with poor connections like hopped up Disney faeries. It is really easy to work with your text files on any device from anywhere.

Your computer can read and create plain text files right out of the box. There’s nothing to fiddle with or buy. It just works. Plain text files also act as a nice half-way point before going into your formal project manager. So a folder full of plain text files does it for me.

That’s the non-geek version.

Ideas that require developement go into a piece of Mac software that I love called nvALT. I love nvALT because it’s insanely fast, supports keyboard shortcuts so I don’t have to move my hand to the mouse very often, saving time, and has powerful search capabilities. It syncs to my iPhone and iPad almost instantly, thanks to Dropbox and another app called Simplenote.

Storage

Finally, when it comes to long-term storage of reference material, I’m a loyalist to one product. This is information that does not require an action but might be useful in the future (a local theatre’s summer schedule, for example). This goes into Evernote.

Conclusion

First, don’t get distracted by trying to stay neat while you work. That’s counterproductive and will leave you frustrated. At the end of the day, process the stuff that has accumulated on your computer’s screen as you would any other inbox. Decided what a file is, what must be done with it (incubate, throw away, delegate or save for later), and then act accordingly by moving that item to the proper location. You’ll be glad you did.

Unitasker Wednesday: Automotive French Fry Holder

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

This week’s unitasker comes to us from our very own Dave Caolo. He emailed me a picture with the subject line, “Unitasker?” And I responded, why yes, Dave, I do believe it is a unitasker! Introducing the Automotive French Fry Holder:

Since eating while driving doubles the risk of having a car crash and causes an enormous percentage of all accidents, I think we can all agree that the best holder for your fries is the bag they came in — that is until you arrive at your destination and can safely consume them.

The Automotive French Fry Holder is not only a unitasker, but it promotes unsafe driving — a double whammy!

Donate winter gear you’re not using to those in need

Now that the winter months are in full swing, this is a great time to sort through some of your winter gear. There’s likely to be a few items that you use a lot along with others that you hardly use anymore. Get everyone who lives in your home involved (if possible) so that they can select their favorites and identify items that can be donated to charity.

As you go through each area of you home, remember to look inside closets, under bed storage bins, the attic, the basement, your garage or shed, and any other areas that the following items may be hiding:

  • Coats and jackets. Chances are, you reach for the same one or two pieces of outerwear all the time. And, that’s okay. We all have our favorites. Consider donating the ones that no longer fit (or that you don’t like) to One Warm Coat or a local homeless shelter or another charity wanting outerwear. Winter is the best time to donate these items so they can be used.
  • Hats, scarves, and gloves. If they don’t fit you anymore (whether in size or style), it’s time to pass on your hats and other winter accessories to others who will put them to good use. Check for winter clothing drives hosted by schools, community centers, or houses of worship in your neighborhood.
  • Footwear. Consider donating the boots you no longer wear to Goodwill or Soles4Souls. Both organizations will accept shoes that are new or gently worn. If you have athletic shoes that are in disrepair, send them off to the Nike ReUse a Shoe program to be recycled.
  • Sporting gear. If you have winter sports gear that you no longer want, participate in a ski swap to let go of your old winter sport gear (contact the ski resort you go to or local sporting goods shop). Your skis, sleds, snow boards, goggles, helmets, and other winter sport stuff that you no longer use can also be repurposed or recylced. Check out the recycling program at Snow Sport Industries of America, where items are disassembled and repurposed by other industries. Or, you can let Green Mountain Ski Furniture help you transform your old skis into something new, like tables, adirondack chairs, coat racks, and more. This might be a good option for junior skis.
  • Blankets and sheets. You probably have a few blankets and flannel sheets that don’t fit the beds in your home that you can donate to a homeless, family, or pet shelter. Art for Humanity, located in Virginia, will allow you to drop off or mail used sheets (as well as towels and shoes) that are in good condition.
  • Pet gear. Does your dog really love wearing that winter coat and matching boots? And, do you have enough room to store them? Check with your local veterinarian, SPCA, or animal rescue to see if they have a need for those items and other unused pet supplies.

Should you keep a family heirloom or donate it?

A nice result of uncluttering is that you can sometimes find things you’ve been looking for or that you forgot you had, and you’ll get a welcome surprise when you happen upon the items. You might also come across things that have high historical value. They may be items that have great historical significance, a family heirloom, or perhaps an artifact. These items represent “the museum of you” and if they are not properly cared for (a box in the basement or attic will not suffice), they can degrade and lose their value.

You can certainly take on the responsibility of caring for these valuable pieces yourself, but you’ll likely need some help, like the book, Saving Stuff: How to Care For and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions written by Senior Conservator of the Smithsonian, Don Williams. Williams gives detailed, step-by-step instructions about how to keep your prized belongings in good condition.

Of course, before you can start the preservation process, you’ll need to decide which things to keep and which things not to keep. Taking stock of everything you have and making an inventory list is a great starting point. Then, you can use a Pro vs Con list to help you decide which items you’ll maintain yourself and which ones would be best cared for by a museum or special interest group. As you go through this process, think about:

  • How meaningful each item is to you
  • The amount of time and effort required to keep the item(s) in good condition
  • The type of equipment needed to maintain the item(s) in a pristine state

Williams suggests that you also think about whether or not you’ll be able to preserve an item “without changing its character.”

Fundamental to preserving your stuff is keeping it as it should be for as long as possible without changing what it is.

This is an important point, as changing the items will likely affect its value. If the item needs repairing, this means you will probably need to restore it and then follow up with protective measures to prevent any future damage. Depending on each item, the types of things you may need to do to preserve an heirloom might be numerous, taxing, and require specific actions. Unless you have the time to devote to keeping special items protected, you might want to hand over ownership to a museum or historical society. Doing this will help you to potentially honor the family members to whom the items belonged and reclaim your space for items that you use regularly. It can also be a way to keep those items out of harm’s way from the normal hustle and bustle of your home, particularly if you have pets or children.

Should you decide to donate an item to a museum or historical society, consider having it appraised so that you have an accurate understanding of its monetary value. Then, start looking for a specific institution that handles your particular items and what the donation requirements are.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

2011

2010

  • Evaluate your household routines
    Do you have a routine chart for household chores? Is everyone in the house taking responsibility for and completing their duties? Do you need to evaluate your routines to make sure they’re meeting the demands of your home and fit with your schedule? With the start of the new month, now might be a good time to make sure you have a functioning system in place.

2009

  • Baby safety clutter
    After browsing through an unsolicited baby product magazine that I received in the mail, I am now aware of the products that over protective parents just can’t live without.

Workspace of the Week: A ‘make it your own’ home office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Erich’s homemade home office:

This week’s selection includes a homemade desk perfectly sized for its owners office space. When looking to save money or get exactly the piece you want, a custom desk can be a terrific solution. In addition to the custom desk, I like the cable management in the Blue Lounge CableBox below the desk along the back wall. The filing cabinet is practical, where it is used, and covered with fun stickers and magnets that might otherwise not have a place to live in the house. The plant is a nice touch and same goes for the Batman action figure, which personalize the space without adding clutter or obstructing valuable working area. I can’t tell if the framed item on the wall to the left of the desk is a chalkboard or artwork, but if it’s a chalkboard that is a good place to capture ideas, reminders, and schedules. The trash can is out of the way and not easily kicked over since it’s on the other side of the table support. Even the printer placement is in an easily reachable position should Erich need to use it. This is a great home workspace, and we thank Erich for sharing it with us.

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.