Unitasker Wednesday: How to ruin the fun of 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!

Just the other day, I was sitting around thinking about how s’mores are way too much fun for their own good. They involve sticks and gooey marshmallows and an open flame and it is all more happiness than I can handle. When I want to make s’mores, I want a totally dull and boring experience. Therefore, you can imagine my contained excitement when fellow Unclutterer Dave Caolo emailed me about the Charcoal Companion SS Smores Roasting Rack CC3112:

This thing is such a fun-killer that even its name is boring. Jackpot!

Sadly, this clinical s’mores maker is just one in a long line of fun-killing s’mores makers. We shall not forget the Old Fashioned S’mores Maker, the S’mores Maker, the Microwavable S’mores Maker, the S’more To Love STL-600, or the Reel Roaster (though, this last one does look to be mildly entertaining), all of which we have featured in the past in our Unitasker Wednesday column. Ruining s’mores is quite the trend these days. Poor, s’mores.

Finally, I couldn’t stop laughing about the product description on Amazon, which lists the Charcoal Companion’s sales ranking in its category:

Pet Supplies? I … I … I … I don’t want to know how this is in any way related to a pet …

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

2011

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2009

2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Experiences

Today begins our annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Between now and November 26, we will share numerous articles on uncluttered giving that can be used this season. Most of these ideas also will apply to gift giving throughout the year, irrespective of the occasion.

Giving an experience gift ensures there’s nothing for the recipient to unclutter, and it’s a great kind of gift to give to someone who really doesn’t need or want any more stuff. I have a friend who said one of the best gifts she ever got was an annual membership to a local museum.

Last year, Erin provided suggestions for many types of experience gifts — and here are some more ideas. My examples will be U.S.-based, but similar items can probably be found in many other parts of the world.

City tours

Here are a few of the tours available in San Francisco; your area may well have equally interesting options.

  • Food-related tours: Gourmet Walks, San Francisco Food Tours, Foodie Adventures
  • Neighborhood-related tours: All About Chinatown, Chinatown Alleyway Tours
  • Architecture-related tours: San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour, Victorian Home Walk
  • Novelty vehicle tours: Fire Engine Tours — I know a little boy who would have loved this!
  • Golf

    If you’ve got a golfer on your gift list, you might choose a gift card good at over 4,000 golf courses nationwide.

    Adventures

    Here’s just one possibility: a zip line experience. You can find these in many places; two examples are Zipline New York and Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge, Georgia.

    Spa experiences: massages, facials, pedicures, etc.

    Treat someone to some pampering and relaxation! Almost any business offering these services will have a gift certificate available, and sometimes you can buy them online.

    Here are just a few examples: Massage LA (which serves Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon); Queen Jane Day Spa (which serves New York City); and Nirvana Holistic Spa (which serves Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon).

    Consultations with specialists

    If you know the recipient would appreciate such a consultation, it could be a great gift. Give someone a consultation with an image consultant, a garden coach, etc.

    Combination gifts: books plus experiences

    This can work well for those who don’t want to give a purely intangible gift. Here are a few examples to get you thinking.

  • Give a gift certificate for a Segway tour, along with the book Reinventing the Wheel: A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition.
  • Give the book Pug Hill, where the protagonist is an art restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — along with a membership to that museum.
  • Give a child (or an adult) a membership to your local zoo, along with a related book. There are many choices, from the board book Touch and Feel Zoo to the intriguing-sounding The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and their Patients.
  • Give the gift of a stock car ride along, and bundle it with the book The Physics of NASCAR: How to Make Steel + Gas + Rubber = Speed
  • Want more gift-giving ideas? Explore Unclutterer’s full 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

    Organizing military memorabilia

    November 11 is the time when we pause and remember the service men and women who serve their country. Over the course of their military careers, they may have accumulated some items that are personally and historically significant and when organising these items you’ll need to decide what to keep, how to store what you keep, what to part with, and where donations and sales of items you’re getting rid of can be made.

    Military memorabilia, often referred to as militaria, can include any and all aspects of military life including:

    • Medals and ribbons
    • Uniforms, including rank insignia, buttons, lapel pins, etc.
    • Hats and helmets
    • Weapons (swords, bayonets, firearms)
    • Inert Ordnance (empty shell casings, etc.)
    • Equipment (compass, binoculars, canteen, etc.)
    • Books and training manuals
    • Photographs
    • Flags
    • Currency (both notes and coins)
    • Documents such as:
      • Identity badges and papers
      • Certificates of completed training
      • Maps
      • Journals
      • Charts
      • Posters
      • Letters and post cards
      • Postage stamps
      • Invitations and programs to official military functions

    It is important to understand the significance and importance of items before deciding whether or not to keep and preserve them, donate them, or relegate them to the trash.

    You may have the opportunity to work with a veteran to make these decisions. Be aware that certain objects may represent very powerful memories. It is important to respect the veteran’s desire to discuss, or not discuss, the items and the associated memories. Be very patient and understand that you may not be given an explanation of why the veteran wishes to keep a particular object, but respect his/her wishes.

    If you do not have the chance to work with the owner of the militaria, there are other ways to determine the value and significance of the artifacts.

    The Government and its Armed Forces: Many governments and armed forces have sections of their websites that deal specifically with military history. You will find information about medals and decorations, uniforms, as well as weapons and even vehicles. This is a great place to start for general information.

    Veterans Associations: A veterans association may be able to provide you with details about your treasures including how they were used during military service and what those items meant to the serviceman/woman.

    Local Historical Societies: Some historical societies have an interest in militaria. They may be able to provide some information about your items and how they related to the history of the local area. For example, your uncle who was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal may have been the only one in his county to receive one.

    Online Auctions: EBay is a great place to get an idea of the monetary value of your collection. There are also military-specific online auctions sites, some dedicated to the militaria of specific countries or specific periods in history.

    Collectors and Traders Groups: There are many military collector groups around the world. They hold shows and fairs where people can bring in their items for evaluation. Some members of these groups will also provide appraisals via email or videoconference.

    Antique Dealers and Appraisers: If you have visited some online auctions and feel that your pieces may be worth quite a bit of money, it is best to pay for a professional appraisal. Search the American Society of Appraisers or a similar society in your country for an appraiser near you and remember to ask for references.

    If you decide to keep your military memorabilia, it is important to properly preserve the items. Displaying military memorabilia can be a way to honour the men and women who proudly served their country and to help transfer family history from one generation to the next.

    Here are a few examples of the way that military memorabilia can be displayed.

    If you’ve decided to part with your militaria, adding letters, journals, and photos to the objects will contribute their relevance and credibility.

    While museums may not be able to accept your donations, there are other groups that might be interested such as:

    • Local libraries
    • History or Military Studies departments of colleges and universities
    • Historical societies
    • Community Centres
    • Military Unit, Corps or Regimental museums
    • Veterans groups

    Reenactment groups and theatre troupes may be interested in certain items, too. They may not take entire uniforms but the rank insignia, buttons, and pins may be helpful to them in re-creating period costumes.

    A Note about Weapons

    Many collections of military memorabilia contain weapons such as swords, knives, bayonets, and firearms. These may be antiques but they are still dangerous. Please seek out expert assistance when dealing with weapons and obey all laws and regulations.

    Display swords, knives, and bayonets in locked display cases. A professional firearms expert should deactivate firearms prior to them being stored in a locked display cabinet.

    If you decide to sell or donate these items, ensure you follow all laws and regulations for sale and transport. Be aware that you may have to pay extra fees for customs clearance and may be required to alert law enforcement officials that you are transporting weapons.

    A year ago on Unclutterer

    2012

    • Unitasker Wednesday: The Ham Dogger
      Yippee! The election is over and your candidate won/lost. That must feel great/awful. Now is the time to celebrate/mourn with a hamburger in the shape of a hot dog from the Ham Dogger.
    • Effective inbox management
      Dave provides advice on how to manage numerous inboxes — the tools you use to capture all your stuff that needs to be processed.

    2011

    2010

    2009

    • The fictional extreme-minimalist future
      I’m interested in knowing if you wish the extreme-minimalist future in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and THX 1138 would have become a reality, or if you think these depictions went too far.
    • Soda bottle outdoor bird feeder converter kit
      Being able to reuse things that would otherwise be trash is obviously good for the environment and keeps clutter out of your home, but it can also lead to some inspired, uncluttered design. Recently, I spotted the Soda Bottle Bird Feeder Converter and was impressed by its simplicity.

    Dyeing to love my clothes again

    Today’s guest post is from my hometown friend Rebecca Bealmear. Lawyer by day and aspiring minimalist by night, she writes about her adventures in simple living, bicycling, and whatever captivates her attention on her personal blog Seven2seven8.com. She currently lives in St. Louis, Missouri. A big welcome to the lovely Rebecca. — Erin

    For the past three years, I’ve joined up with the women on my husband’s side of the family for a once-a-year shopping trip. We often time it in the fall, to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday, and to get a head start on holiday shopping. And so, I found myself with my in-laws, at the Osage Beach outlets in Missouri this past October 26. This time, however, I didn’t feel like buying anything.

    The funny thing about our tradition (and the point at which I became part of it), is that it coincides with the time I started to question all of the belongings I was holding onto in my home “just in case” they became useful or somehow morphed into what I really wanted or needed. This was especially true in my clothing closet — my tiny, circa-1939, approximately 10 square foot closet.

    It was then my clothing projects began. I donated, but then I replaced more than I donated. I tried storing just a quarter of my huge wardrobe (full of inexpensive and trendy items) in my closet, with the remainder hanging on racks in my basement. And this worked, well, not at all. Then, it took a turn for the worse when I was bitten on the hip in February 2012 by a brown recluse spider that moved into a pair of pants I had been storing downstairs.

    Suddenly, donating clothing I was not consistently wearing became so much easier.

    Fast forward to today, and my wardrobe is easily a quarter (a sixth? an eighth?) the size it was a couple of years ago, and I have found a wardrobe system that really helps me evaluate the remaining items.

    In February of 2013, I decided to try Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I tailored the challenge to the size of my current wardrobe, so I could reasonably cycle through almost all of my clothing in a year’s time (by dividing six rounds of 33 items across two months each). I have now completed four of my six rounds, and I am hooked, and I am changed.

    I can no longer tolerate excess in my wardrobe or home, though I am still negotiating for myself what is “enough” and what is “excess.” I am simultaneously surprised, relieved, and horrified by the volume of items I have donated to charity organizations, and by the lack of sustainability I have learned is inherent in our fast-fashion culture. I struggle with ethical concerns raised by the toll rampant consumerism has taken on the lives of garment manufacturing factory employees in places like Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh, where the April collapse of a building (costing the lives of thousands of workers) has resulted in almost no improvement in conditions for workers — those who make the clothing we often wear just once or twice before discarding it for the next great deal.

    This is how I found myself uninterested in purchasing clothing on my recent shopping trip with my in-laws, and strangely attached to some clothing in my own closet — specifically, four items that had disappointed me over various rounds of Project 333: (1) a white t-shirt, too sheer and becoming discolored; (2) a white button-up tunic, stained with bicycle-basket oil; (3) a white blouse with a lace panel, discolored from overuse; and (4) a chevron-striped blue skirt in a color I found difficult to wear and weirdly cheap-looking.

    My solution? They had to dye.

    Armed with one box of Rit Dye in Denim Blue, a large stockpot, and the four items to dye, I set out to improve the items in my closet. These are the items before:

    And these are the items after dyeing, rinsing, washing, and drying:

    I am pleased with the results. The practical life of each garment has been extended, and they each have a different personality in the new blue versus the original shade. And, if I ultimately donate a garment, it might actually find its way into another person’s closet now, instead of landing in a rag heap or landfill – a much better fate than the tops would have met, had I donated them in their stained or discolored states.

    The box of Rit Dye cost about $3 and since I already owned the clothing, it was free. I’d recommend getting some rubber gloves to protect your hands. I simply followed the provided instructions, which were very well-written. I dyed the skirt first for 20 minutes, then all three shirts together for another 20. Once finished, I rinsed the clothing well, and ran them, alone, through a heavy-duty wash cycle with a generous amount of detergent, then dried them.

    No shopping, no landfills, no waste. I’ve deemed it a success!

    Useful book to help you care for and preserve prized possessions

    Do you have some precious heirlooms — things with great value, sentimental or monetary — you want to preserve and pass down to other family members?

    If you do, it’s well worth the effort to make sure these items are taken care of properly. And, whenever I get questions about how best to do it — for art, books, textiles, etc. — I pull out my copy of Saving Stuff. I’ve owned the book since 2008, when it first came out, and it’s a reference I always keep close at hand.

    As Deb Lee mentioned before, Saving Stuff encourages you to be selective about what you keep. But once you’ve decided something is a keeper, it teaches you how to make sure you’re taking good care of it.

    Saving Stuff was written by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar. Williams is a senior conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, so I trust his advice. Pair him up with a professional writer like Jaggar, and you’ve got a winning combination.

    Jaggar got interested in the subject when she had a flood in her basement, and lost many items she treasured: old scrapbooks, photos, her daughter’s art projects, and more. She shared the story with her friend, Williams, and asked for advice. I loved this bit from The Christian Science Monitor’s interview with Jaggar:

    “He helped save the Wright Brothers’ airplane, and he’s helped save Archie Bunker’s chair,” she says. “And I’m sitting there asking, ‘How do you save the macaroni art that my daughter made?'”

    So how do you save stuff? Williams begins by explaining about perfect preservation:

    The best way to ensure that stuff lasts is to place all your collectibles in an Egyptian tomb and then seal them in — after leaving the prerequisite deadly curse on all who dare enter. Stuff lasts for a really long time in a cursed tomb. Why? No light, no humidity, no contaminants, no bugs, no furry friends, and no people.

    But since that’s not what anyone is going to do, he goes on to explain the major risk factors, and then tells us which ones are most relevant to different kinds of stuff we might be saving. The remaining chapters deal with the different forms of items we save: photos, newspapers, linens, old letters, sports memorabilia, etc.

    While there’s plenty of detail for the dedicated preservationist, there are also numbered lists of simple rules: seven rules for photographs, eight rules for preserving coins and stamps, 20 rules for preserving textiles, 22 rules for caring for stringed wooden instruments, etc.

    And the book sometimes gives you multiple ways to preserve a category of stuff. For example, for vintage books, there’s the “quick ’n’ dirty method,” the “middle road,” and “Pharaoh’s tomb” (the last one being for books you want to preserve forever).

    If you have stuff you want to be sure you’re saving properly, this may be a book to buy or to borrow from your library to help you protect the few cherished sentimental items you choose to keep.

    A year ago on Unclutterer

    2012

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    2009

    Selecting the right bulletin board for home or office

    I recently admitted that I need a bulletin board in my home office. They really are supremely handy. Bulletin boards can serve several purposes (often more than one at a time) and come in a variety of materials and sizes.

    The problem was that a quick online search resulted in several options that were, honestly, pretty ugly. Plain cork board and thin, one-inch plywood borders reminded me of the sad, half-abandoned classroom bulletin boards of my youth. I just didn’t want that hanging in my office, where I’d see it every day.

    But before we get to the design options, the first step is to identify what role a new bulletin board will play.

    Purpose

    I knew I couldn’t make a successful purchase until I clearly defined what I role I expected my board to play. I came up with several options:

    1. Decorative. My daughter has a small bulletin board in her bedroom, which she uses to display photos, mementos, and other paper-based keepsakes. It’s all fun and no business. Some “files” partially cover others and the contents don’t change very often. Occasionally something is added, but rarely anything is taken away.
    2. Reference. Unlike a decorative board, reference boards are more orderly and purposefully organized. The idea is to store oft-referenced material right out in the open for easy use.
    3. Communication hub. For many of us, I’d bet the family refrigerator fills this role. As I’ve said before, this is a tempting but ultimately ineffective practice. Still, I see the appeal of a public communication hub. When I was a college student, it was a common practice to put a dry erase board on the door to one’s dorm room (note: this was long before texting and smartphones existed). Today, it’s a great idea for busy families.
    4. Short-term memory. I maintain a form of this with 3″ x 5″ index cards. There’s always a stack on my desk and I’m always grabbing them throughout the day to jot down something I need to remember but can’t attend to when it arrives. Again, I see the appeal of a larger version of this hanging on a wall, especially when processing all of that incoming “stuff” at the end of the day.
    5. Combination. Of course, it’s quite possible for a bulletin board to meet any combination of the above listed needs. A communication hub with pictures from that summer at the lake? Sure. A reference board with a corner dedicated to quickie tasks? Absolutely.

    Knowing your needs can help you choose the type of board to buy, as some materials are better suited to one function over another.

    Types based on purpose

    1. Decorative. In this case, boards with felt straps are a great choice. The straps keep you from having to poke pin holes in treasured mementos. Find one that looks great, as looks are a big part of the experience here.
    2. Reference. Unlike a decorative bulletin board, this one has strictly utilitarian needs. Find something that will stand up to wear-and-tear as you’ll be moving things around a lot. It needn’t be ugly, of course, but aesthetics ins’t your primary concern.
    3. Communication hub. For this bulletin board to work, it’s got to be easy to use. Having a bulletin board with a dry erase board is a great option, as is a DIY chalkboard paint option. You might also want to consider a magnetic and push pin board, so kids can quickly attach notes from school to it, for example.
    4. Short-term memory. Dry erase or chalkboard paint combined with a heavy-duty push pin board is again the way to go here. This is for temporary storage of information that is captured quickly, and then purged when no longer necessary.

    And, of course, there are boards that combine all four. Find the one that best suits your plans and go for it. As for me, I want something that will give me an overview of what needs to be done for the week: articles due, school stuff for the kids, un-missable calendar events. A magnetic board will work, but I’m going with something that can accept push pins. My current plan is to buy large sections of cork board and cover it with old, decorative burlap sacks we have with vintage farming graphics. I’ll wrap the result in a nice, painted frame. That way I won’t feel badly about putting pins into it and it won’t look terrible on the wall.

    A funeral for riding boots

    Maybe it’s because I keep my possessions to a minimum that I sometimes have difficulty parting with objects that have been a significant part of my life.

    A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to a pair of riding boots. I’ve been an avid equestrienne for the better part of 30 years and I bought my first pair of REAL riding boots in 1986. I wore these boots in horse shows around the province and in clinics with Olympians. The boots helped me ride at various equestrian centres in nine different cities in four different provinces.

    Finally, in June 2010, they broke beyond repair while in service at a local horse show. It was a difficult moment for me, realizing that I would have to say goodbye to these boots that had served me so well for so long.

    In order to cope with the loss, I decided to have a funeral for the boots. I set up a Facebook event and invited my friends, many of whom I have ridden with over the years. At first I thought that they would think that I was crazy (and they may have a point) but most of my friends helped me make the event memorable. One of my friends quoted a poem from Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume 54, December 1876:

    Farewell, old boots! a tender last farewell!
    Inanimate, but mourned as if with souls
    Instead of soles: I’ll find for you some dell
    Where, though no bell for your requiem tolls.

    I had a few other friends weigh in and admit that this event encouraged them to retire various objects: dance shoes, army boots, and paint brushes. One colleague wrote that it was “time to lay to rest ‘Wedding Glass’, the last surviving member of a set of glasses that outlived ‘Marriage’ by 21 years”. Of course there is always one clown in the bunch and he thanked me for the “booty call”!

    All in all, it made me feel much better that I had given a public tribute to my riding boots that had served me so well in the past. I wrapped them tightly in a plastic bag and they were taken away in the “hearse” (garbage truck).

    If you have items that you have difficulty parting with, try having a funeral or a tea party or even writing a letter to the item, explaining its importance in your life. Save the letters with pictures of the items either on your computer or in a scrap book. It helps to let your friends in on the deal. They can comfort you and make you laugh like no inanimate object ever could.

    Avoiding impulse buys: mandatory waiting times and a Possible Purchases file

    You’ve gone to a store to buy something specific and then something you had no intention of buying catches your eye. Or, you’re online, and read about something that sounds useful. Maybe you’re talking to some friends, and they recommend books they’ve just read. What do you do?

    Here’s what I do. Sometimes, the item under consideration is something I can tell immediately I need or love, and it fits within my budget. That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I just make the purchase right then.

    But more often, I make a note of the item — by writing a reminder or taking a photo — and add it to my Possible Purchases file when I get home.

    I actually have three Possible Purchases files. Right now, I have a physical file for things I’ve clipped out of the few catalogs I get, a collection of online bookmarks (also called favorites, depending on what browser you use), and a list of books at Amazon.com. I may buy the books elsewhere, if I ever wind up buying them, but it’s easy to quickly note them in an Amazon.com wish list.

    There are many other ways to collect such information, too. For example, some people would choose to use Evernote and some might use Pinterest. Various sites, not just Amazon.com, provide wish list capabilities.

    What kinds of things make it into my Possible Purchases file? Lots of cat-related stuff, for starters. I also have gift ideas, t-shirts, towels, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and whimsical stuff like a Lava Lite night light.

    My Possible Purchases file fits well with the approach, recommended by many people, of creating some sort of mandatory waiting period before buying anything except your standard purchases of groceries and necessities.

    On The Christian Science Monitor website, Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar said:

    Whenever I’m considering making a purchase of any kind, I simply stop for ten seconds and ask myself whether this is really a worthwhile purchase. … I don’t watch the clock on this or anything – I just do it for roughly ten seconds or so.

    At the end of those ten seconds, if I’m still convinced that making this purchase is the best idea, then I’ll go ahead and buy it without guilt or remorse. However, I’ve come to find that the ten-second rule frees me from making a lot of unnecessary purchases.

    On the Psychology Today website, Kelly McGonigal mentioned the benefits of a somewhat longer pause:

    Neuroscientists have found that having to wait even ten minutes for a reward dramatically reduces the brain’s response to it. If you can walk out of a store, or switch to a different website, for just 10 minutes, you’ll see the “value” of that purchase more clearly.

    And over on Mint.com, Mary Hiers recommended an even longer waiting period:

    If you see an item that captures your interest, sleep on it. Make it a rule that if you see something you want that you didn’t specifically go shopping for, you’ll wait 48 hours before buying it.

    For a slightly different approach, Dustin Senos quoted Larry Wall: “Don’t buy something until you’ve wanted it 3 times.”

    Different strategies will work for different people — but finding one that works for you will save you money and help minimize clutter.