A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

2011

2010

  • George Washington: Simplicity seeker
    George Washington’s biography is a nice reminder that the problems and aggravations we face currently, and our desire for a more simple life, are often very similar to those experienced by the people who lived before us.

2009

Essential gear for traveling with young children

This year holds a great amount of travel for my family and me, so I’ve been trying out dependable and useful gear to make it more manageable. With two kids — one being an infant — I have a lot of needs that go beyond a regular suitcase when we’re on the road.

For starters, I continue to be a huge fan of the ZÜCA Pro suitcase. I’ve been using it since 2008 and it’s the bag I use every time I travel, when I’m alone or with the whole family. It fits into overhead bins on all but the smallest airplanes and it is rugged. The frame allows weary travelers a place to sit, the wheels make it incredibly simple to maneuver, and my MacBook Air fits easily into the side pocket.

I also travel wearing a Scottevest women’s trench coat. I use it instead of a purse unless my destination is super cold. A ridiculous amount of stuff — phone, wallet, keys, Kindle, water bottle, passport, earphones, pens/pencils, tissues, snack food, bottle, zip-top bag of formula, pacifier, burp cloth, diapers — fits in it. It’s incredibly convenient, especially when traveling with kids, because it keeps both of my hands free.

Last year, Eagle Creek contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing any of their products. I’d been using a Pack-It toiletry travel bag and really liked it, so I thought it would be nice to see what else they offered and if any of their products worked for our needs.

Two of the items they sent have become staples in our family’s travel gear.

The first items are their Compression Sacs. I had always liked the idea of vacuum compression bags but never could figure out how to get my hands on a vacuum for the return trip home. A hotel room might have a vacuum in the closet, but in all my years of travel I never found one with a hose attachment. I had been using large Ziplock XL bags, but after a couple trips the bags were getting ratty and didn’t really compress all that much. I’m still a fan of them and use them around the house for items in longterm storage, but they just don’t hold up for our travel demands.

Conversely, Eagle Creek’s Compression Sacs are extremely durable, made of a reinforced nylon, and are actually useful. After four trips, they are showing no sign of wear. Best of all, they don’t require a vacuum to get out the air, so they work both coming and going on a trip. You just roll the air out of them, and compress down a bunch of bulky clothes. They are awesome for things like coats and baby clothes. They really do save space. We also used them on a travel day to hold wet swimsuits because they’re waterproof and kept the suits from making everything else in our luggage soggy. There is a video on the manufacturer’s site that demonstrates how they work.

The second item they sent that we have found indispensable is the Digi Hauler Backpack. As its name implies, it holds a laptop easily in a hidden, padded compartment that sits directly next to your back. Since we usually travel with two computers, this second compartment holds my husband’s laptop and my son’s Kindle. The shoulder straps are very nicely padded, so it’s comfortable to wear for long periods of time. And the part of the pack that rests next to your back is also very well padded, so nothing pokes you. And, like the trench coat, it keeps my arms free to wrangle kids as we walk through an airport or train station. It has a waist belt for added stability, which is good since it’s usually stuffed to its gills. The zippers also lock, making it less desirable of a target for pickpocketing. It has handles and a shoulder strap if for some reason you want to carry it like a duffel and the backpack straps fold away, but I’ve never had use for that feature. The main compartment has huge storage capacity. In combination with the Compression Sacs, we’ve been able to fit a ridiculous amount of stuff into it. I love this bag.

With the ZÜCA Pro, the trench coat, Compression Sacs, and the Digi Hauler backpack, I can travel easily with two kids and not have to check a single bag. I wear my daughter in a Beco Carrier on my front, pull the ZÜCA with one hand, and have my other hand free to hold my son’s hand. If my husband is traveling with us, we’ve got an extra set of hands and no need for additional luggage. This setup is also great for taking public transportation once we’re at our destination. It’s so nice to be able to travel easily and in an organized manner with two young kids — finally!

Managing the digital to-read pile

How do you deal with all the interesting information we now have available to us on the Internet, from international news to updates on the lives of an acquaintance’s children? There are numerous ways to tackle this flow of information you want to consume in a way so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Chris Miller explored this topic:

Sooner or later you have to sit down and say:

  1. My time and attention are the most valuable things I posses.
  2. There is too much stuff on the Internet for me ever to read it all.
  3. Therefore, I’m going to be super-choosy about what I read and what I do.

Where are the places you may want to be super-choosy?

Social media

Are you trying to be active on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter? Maybe it would help to focus on just a few that best meet your business and/or personal needs.

Within each community, are you engaged with too many people? Are you friends with people on Facebook who you can’t even place? Are you following thousands of people on Twitter? Maybe it’s time to prune the lists.

Have you used whatever filtering tools are available? For example, I use TweetDeck to read Twitter, and I have filters set up to hide any tweets mentioning specific TV shows that tend to get mentioned a lot, and which I just don’t care about.

People who do this type of cleanup often comment on how much better they felt afterward. Kelly O. Sullivan recently wrote: “Unfriended someone on Facebook who was adding no value to my life. Feels good.” And Dennis K. Berman wrote a whole blog post titled “The Purge: I Unfollowed 390 People on Twitter, and I Feel Great.

RSS feeds

If you use RSS to read blogs and other news sources, have you evaluated what you’re reading lately? Maybe it’s time to delete some of those subscriptions.

I just deleted a subscription to the blog of an acclaimed writer, whose articles I found myself skipping over when they appeared in my list. He may indeed be writing wonderful stuff, but it just wasn’t stuff I felt like reading. I had to get over my own case of the “shoulds” — the internal voices telling me I should read his work — and decide it was perfectly okay to decide not to read it.

Email newsletters

Do you tend to ignore these when they hit your inbox? Have you created an email rule to move them to their own mail folder — where they languish, unread? Maybe it’s time to do some unsubscribing.

News and magazine apps

Did you download a bunch of these at some point — only to find you don’t use most of them? This is another area where you might do some cleanup.

Pocket, Instapaper, and other read-it-later tools

Kevin Fox commented on Twitter: “My Instapaper button would be more accurately titled ‘Read it Never.'”

Are you like Kevin? Do you have lots of articles you’ve saved to read later — that you never seem to get to? You may want to review that reading list and see which ones you still want to make time to read, and which you can just delete.

But some people are fine with a long list, and you might be, too. Om Malik spoke to Nate Weiner of Pocket, who noted that people go back to read 10-70 percent of the articles they put into Pocket, with the average being 50 percent. But Weiner went on to add:

The key is to think of it like a Netflix queue. You are never overwhelmed or concerned about the number of items in your Netflix queue. You just keep putting things in there because you know that when you have the time to view something, you can guarantee you’ll have something great in there that you’ve been meaning to check out.

Maybe you don’t need to clean up your saved-for-later reading list — or your RSS feeds, your email newsletters, or your apps. Or maybe you just want to do some limited cleanup. Do you like having a large number of items to choose from when you have some reading time, or does having such a large collection overwhelm you? The answer to that question will help you determine your strategy.

But whether you keep your reading list short, or keep it long (knowing you’ll never read it all), you’ll still need to be super-choosy about what you eventually spend time reading. Because this wish from M.S. Bellows, Jr. probably isn’t going to come true: “I want to be reincarnated in a way that preserves all my bookmarks, pockets, and favorites, so I can spend 80 years simply reading.”

Unitasker Wednesday: Toast Tongs

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

I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about posting this week’s unitasker selection. Last time I mentioned a toast-related unitasker, we got more than 80 comments defending the item. It was then I learned that Unclutterer readers are very serious about their toast.

Today’s selection is such a perfect contender for a unitasker, though, that I have decided to move forward with it. I’ll admit, if I worked in a restaurant that specialized in artisanal toast, this doodad might have a need if I didn’t want to wear sanitary gloves. But, for the daily home toaster, the Toast Tongs are overkill (well, unless you’re using a supervolcano to toast your toast):

If you are worried about your toast being a little toasty, you can let it sit in the toaster for a few seconds to cool before touching it. Five seconds is usually all it takes, though I have been known to grab toast directly from the toaster and live to tell the tale — as I’m sure we all have. Yes, the toast is warm, but it’s not so warm as to need a special device to handle it. Plus, if you wish to spread something on the toast, you’re going to have to use your hands anyway because these tongs won’t be of much use to you during that task. And, if you’re regularly having issue with large items getting stuck in your toaster, it’s time to get rid of the toaster and get a toaster oven. Toaster ovens are beautiful multi-taskers.

Back to the point: Toast Tongs are one more thing to wash, one more thing to store, one more thing to forget you own, and one more thing to eventually put into a yard sale or donate to charity.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

2009

Kids’ backpack essentials

Clutter has a way of accumulating in unexpected places, and my kids’ backpacks are one such surprising place.

This past weekend, I went into my daughter’s bag to find a study guide and pulled out all sorts of interesting things: random pencils, a penguin eraser, box tops, and more. After prompting her to clean it out, I mentally compiled a list of what should be in there, and what shouldn’t.

I should note that my kids are in a public elementary school. An older or younger student might carry around different things. And, a child in an alternative learning environment might have different supplies. Think of the following list as a starting point and adapt as necessary for you or your child’s specific needs.

Both of my kids are now carrying a small pack of tissues in their bags. The weather is still brutally cold here in the northeast, and that means runny noses. Their classrooms have tissues, of course, but they could run out or need one while on the bus. As any parent knows, a kid’s go-to tissue alternative is the sleeve.

A daily calendar is also a good idea. We’re fortunate in that our school provides the kids with an organizer at the beginning of the school year. It’s sorted by subject, and the teachers require the students to write down any assignments that are due in each subject’s slot. I love that they can look at that and know, at a glance, what they’ve got to do each night for homework or review.

If you’re shopping for a planner not issued by the school, bring Jr. along. I tried giving one of my beloved Field Notes notebooks to the kids, but they didn’t take. However, my daughter fell in love with One Direction-themed school supplies. If they love it, they’ll use it.

A good pencil case is another fine idea. My kids have plenty of pencils and erasers, but they were swimming around on the bottom of the bag.

You may or may not want to put emergency information in your child’s bag. For example, if Jr. carries an Epi-Pen, a short note regarding its use might be helpful to those who don’t know your child well, like substitute teachers or field trip chaperones. A non-specific Gmail address you’ve created for the family might be good to write inside the backpack in case it is lost.

Many students keep a refillable water bottle in their school bags, but we found out the hard way how that is not always a good idea. If your child’s bag has an exterior pocket, this might be the safer storage place than in the actual backpack.

Finally, school books and homework storage are all your children likely need. Since Trapper Keepers aren’t cool any longer, nice sturdy pocket folders are great for ensuring work makes it back to the teacher in a decent condition.

Children’s book review: Franklin is Messy

There are books available for adults on the whys and wherefores of getting organized but there are not that many for young children.

Franklin the Turtle is a Canadian book series that first appeared in the mid-1980s. I love this entire series of books. Franklin is amiable, cheerful, and enjoys playing with his many friends. These wonderfully illustrated books are written to engage beginning readers.

Specifically, Franklin is Messy recounts how Franklin misses opportunities to play with his friends because he can’t find his costumes or toys. Franklin gets exasperated at not being able to find what he needs as he attempts to do some tidying himself. His parents offer assistance and together they create storage solutions adapted to Franklin’s needs. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing Franklin’s perspective on his organized and tidy room!

When I organized families, younger children would often be intimidated and nervous that a professional organizer was going to overhaul the house, and possibly throw out all of their treasures. I felt that Franklin is Messy was so well written that I took it with me whenever a client had children under eight years old. I would have the kids help me clear a space on the floor and I would sit with them and either read the book to them or have them read the book to me. Often, I would tell the pre-teens to sit with us too — so their younger brothers and sisters would have familiar company.

Usually, as soon as we finished the book, the children would start organizing on their own. Sometimes it was because they wanted to find lost treasures like Franklin and other times it was because they understood that a tidy room meant more time playing with friends.

Franklin is Messy has been translated into over 30 languages and views the benefits of getting organized in a brilliant, well written way that children can relate to in their own lives.

For those who prefer to watch rather than read, the books were adapted for television in the mid-1990s. In this Youtube video, the Franklin is Messy story starts at 11:40.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Puppy Tweets
    What is a Puppy Tweets? It’s a device your dog wears around its neck that transmits messages to your computer so your dog can tweet you. Because, um, tweeting is something you really want your dog to do?

2011

  • Curing clutter problems in under-sink cabinets
    Cabinets under sinks in kitchens and bathrooms are common places to find clutter. Following these steps can help you to get rid of clutter for good from these spaces.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Shoe Bibs
    Are you a messy eater? I mean, a really messy eater? Are you constantly having to replace your shoes because you can’t find your mouth? If so, then you must be the target market for Shoe Bibs!

2010

  • Why we hold on to sentimental clutter
    Sentimental clutter plagues our attics, basements, closets, garages, and desks. These sentimental trinkets can keep us from moving forward with our lives physically and emotionally. If there is so much of the past taking up space in the present, there isn’t room to grow.
  • Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet
    I like to think of my wardrobe as being an exclusive club that only the best of the best can get into. I’m the bouncer, and I get to decide what items make it past the red velvet rope, and what items don’t.

2009

What was in Unclutterer’s third Quarterly mailing?

All over the world, subscribers to the Unclutterer shipment from Quarterly have received their third mailing from us. If you didn’t subscribe to the third mailing, but were curious as to what we sent, I’ve detailed the contents below.

Each box is sent with a letter from our team, and I penned the third one. This time I focused on kitchen clutter and space-saving storage solutions. What was in the box?

  • IMCG Fridge Monkey is a simple device for storing round items like bottles and cans. It can be used in the refrigerator or on a pantry shelf. We are using ours in the pantry to store cans of beans.
  • Squish Colander is a collapsible colander that stores flat and then flips open to a 4-quart strainer. It’s also convenient in that like other collapsible colanders it doesn’t collapse when you set it down.
  • Squish Measuring Cups are like the colander but measuring cups. They, too, are BPA-free and save space in kitchen drawers when not in use.
  • Madesmart Expandable Shelf Organizer is a tiered storage device that keeps small items from getting lost at the back of your pantry shelves. We use two in our kitchen — one in our cupboard for spices and one in our pantry for snacks.

If you’re interested, we have a fourth mailing coming out in the next quarter (and then a fifth and a sixth …). Dave Caolo is putting together our next one and we’re excited about how it is coming together. Sign up if you want to subscribe to the organizing shipments. If not, we’re totally cool with that, too.

Improve your productivity by reading the manual

I recently saw a comment online that read something like, “All I use the iPhone’s Home button is for is taking screenshots. What else is it for?” Here at Unclutterer, we believe that knowing what your gear is capable of doing improves your productivity and helps to keep you organized. In short, we think you should always read the manual so you get the most of your technology and don’t waste your time and money. With that in mind, the following is a list of the things that simple little Home button can do for iPhone and iPad owners, as described in the products’ manuals.

  1. Go home. This is the most important feature. No matter where you are, you can get back to home screen with a tap. If he gets frustrated or lost, it’s comforting to know that a single tap of the Home button is the way out. He can start over.
  2. Take screenshots. Yes, it does this and it’s quite useful. Hold down to Home button and the power button (top of the device) for just a second to take a screenshot. You’ll hear a “camera shutter” noise and find the image in your Camera Roll
  3. Multi-Task Bar. A double-tap reveals the apps you’ve opened most recently, in order. Tap any one to jump right to it. Or, swipe the image of the app screen up and it will close the app.
  4. Wake. Tap the Home button to wake your iPhone’s display.
  5. Reset. Force a misbehaving iPhone to shut down by holding down the Home button and power button simultaneously until the screen goes dark. When you see an Apple logo, let go. Note that you only have to do this if your phone is seriously misbehaving.
  6. Siri. Press and hold the Home button to get the attention of Siri, Apple’s automated assistant.
  7. Accessibility functions. The Home button can perform one of five accessibility functions: toggle VoiceOver, switch the display to white-on-black, toggle zoom, toggle AssistiveTouch and ask which function should be performed. You can set this up in the Accessibility Settings.
  8. Exit “Jiggle Mode.” Jiggle Mode refers to the state your iPhone is in when you’re rearranging or removing app icons. To enter Jiggle Mode, tap and hold on any app icon. When you’re done, tap the Home button to resume normal functioning.

By reading the manual we discovered this one button can do eight separate things.

Think about all of the devices you own and all of the buttons on those devices. Do you know what every single one of those buttons does? Can it perform more than one function? If you have technology in your home or office and you don’t know all that it can do, take a few minutes now to read the manual to save you time and money in the future.

Unitasker Wednesday: Hygienic Dishcloth Store

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 selection comes to us from Britain. Since I have never been to the Isles (only the neighboring continent), I must assume that this device exists in Britain because they do not have washing machines or microwaves. It must be a land lost in time and technological development, and therefore have need for the Hygienic Dishcloth Store:

Though, Unclutterer writer Jacki Hollywood Brown who lives in Britain swears to me they do have washing machines and microwaves. In fact, she says she tosses her dishcloths and sponges into them all the time to clean and disinfect them. She even said it takes the exact same amount of time as it does in the US! She puts a wet sponge or dishcloth in the microwave for two minutes, waits for it to cool, and then uses it to clean because it’s free of mold, mildew, and 99.9 percent of bacteria. Just like I do! There’s an ocean between us, yet we can both kill germs the same way … allegedly.

Inspecting the product description a little more closely, we were both bummed to read that the device requires a “sterilising tablet” to work. So, in addition to the £9.99 price tag for the unit, you also have the ongoing expense of buying tablets to go with it.

However, I was quite intrigued to learn the Hygienic Dishcloth Store is freezer safe. Why? Why does it need to be freezer safe? What is it about Britain that a dishcloth sanitizing unit should be freezable? In this case, being a Canadian by birth, Jacki was not British enough to know what that reason might be. We may never know …

A year ago on Unclutterer

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