Minimalist packing for a weekend trip

As I write this, I’m on a bus making its way from New York City to Boston. I managed the whole thing — booking, clothing, toiletries, navigation, and recording memories — with a tiny backpack and no paper. A little planning and minimal equipment allowed me to enjoy a stress-free weekend away without clutter.

Packing

I’m a huge fan of rolling my clothes when packing. It saves a decent amount of space in almost any bag. Since I was attending an event in New York, I rolled up two black shirts, one pair of dark jeans, and something for bed. (Why two dark shirts? To avoid having a single point of failure.)

Next, I tossed in my pre-packed Dopp kit. Having one of these ready to go at all times is so helpful.

Digital

My smartphone (an iPhone) was my best digital friend on this trip. In the days before I left, I took several steps to get it ready.

I purchased my bus tickets and opted for digital delivery. After getting the QR Code that would be my ticket via email, I saved the QR code to Evernote (so I could access it online or from the Evernote app) and took a screenshot of each ticket, which I saved to my phone’s photo album. Again, I made sure the ticket information was in three places (email, Evernote, photo album) to account for the possibility that one of those storage solutions wouldn’t work.

Next, I opened my Maps app, found the places I intended to visit and marked them as favorites (saving them as points of interest in my navigation app). Again, this saved huge amounts of time later and eliminated that awkward moment of standing in the middle of a sidewalk, trying to find something. Plus, when I needed to travel from venue A to venue B, I didn’t have to search or type in an addresses. A simple tap was all I needed.

When I travel like this, I depend on my smartphone a lot. In fact, its battery is not ready for what I’ve got planned for it. Therefore, an external battery case is a must. These can be expensive depending on the make and model of your phone. If you travel often, it’s an investment that’s totally worth it. Mine adds a full charge to my iPhone, which means I can let the phone’s battery drop to 10 percent, switch on the external battery case and get it back up to 100 percent. I highly recommend these types of cases.

I also brought a set of headphones, my iPhone charger cable, and an AC adapter for the USB charger cable. Everything fits in a lightweight backpack that was simple to store on the bus and left my hands free when I was walking around wearing it.

Planning for your next trip well in advance of when you leave, identifying the bare minimum of what you need, and packing with a mind toward efficiency will go a long way in keeping your trip uncluttered and well organized. Good luck on your next adventure.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

2013

2012

2011

  • Clean and organize your refrigerator
    Tomorrow, November 15, is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day in the U.S. If your home and/or office refrigerators haven’t been tended to in many months, these tips can get your icebox cleaned and organized in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

2010

  • Wrap it up in silver
    One of the things I discovered during my uncluttering process is that silver wrapping paper works for every gift-giving occasion — weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers, housewarming, etc. — and when you only have a few tubes of wrapping paper to store, it takes up very little space in a closet.

2009

Uncluttering social media frustrations

Over the past few months I’ve seen various people complaining about social media interactions, with comments such as the following:

  • My Facebook (or Twitter) timeline is filled with people saying horrible things.
  • My aunt (or co-worker, college friend, etc.) shared an article that’s factually wrong.
  • Someone is continually saying things I find abhorrent.

What can you do in such situations? There are a number of choices:

Take the time to respond with reliable information or a well-reasoned argument

This can be time-consuming, so I’d recommend limiting this response to situations where the other person is likely to be influenced by what you write. For example, when people fall for a story that has been debunked by Snopes.com, they often appreciated being directed to accurate information. But if the subject involves long-held political or religious beliefs, you are unlikely to sway them to your point of view.

Just ignore it

As the xkcd comic says, people are wrong on the Internet all the time — wrong according to your view of the world, at any rate. So in many cases, just ignoring what someone has written is the easiest way to avoid frustration. For example, you don’t need to read a relative’s entire 500-word post supporting a political candidate you dislike. You can see it, shake your head, and move on. That will save you time and limit the annoyance factor.

Similarly, if many people in your social media circle are discussing a topic that always gets you angry, that may be a good time to ignore Facebook, Twitter, or other such networks for a while.

Hide updates you don’t want to see

Ignoring something can be hard, so it may be better to unclutter your timeline and just not see certain posts in the first place. Twitter readers such as TweetDeck, Tweetbot, and Twitterrific allow you to mute text strings. If you don’t want to read anything about a certain person, organization, or event, you can just mute the relevant name or hashtag. That’s not foolproof, because variations on the name might still make it through your filter, but it will catch a lot of the aggravating posts.

With Facebook, you can choose to hide a specific story that appears in your newsfeed. That means you’ll still have seen it once, but you don’t have to keep seeing it as people respond.

Disengage with selected people

Sometimes it works better to hide posts from selected people than to hide posts based on the topic. While you may certainly want to read posts from people who disagree with you, some people’s posts may be so frustrating that seeing them doesn’t serve you well.

You may feel obligated to friend your relatives on Facebook, but you can still unfollow them — which means you’ll stay connected but you won’t see anything they post. (Alternatively, you can choose to just see fewer updates from these people.) If you don’t feel any obligation to be connected to a specific person, you can just unfriend someone whose posts continually annoy you. On Twitter, you can unfollow someone (the equivalent of unfriending on Facebook) or just mute the person.

Unitasker Wednesday: Clip-on man bun

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

My friend David has long-ish hair. It brushes the top of his shoulders and he usually wears it down. When he wears it up, though, he wears it in a man bun (like in the popular style a million famous male actors, models, and professional sports players seem to be donning lately).

Recently, David was considering cutting off his hair, but hasn’t yet gone through with it because he’s not ready to part with his man bun styling option. And then yesterday, I came across the perfect solution for his “problem.” It appears his love affair with his man bun doesn’t have to end if he cuts off his hair! All he needs is a $10 clip-on man bun:

I’m just looking out for my friend David and all the rest of you man-bun wanters.

Heh.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

  • Towel management
    Tips for keeping towels from overwhelming your linen closet and laundry baskets.

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.

Get the most out of Netflix streaming by being organized

Like many of you, I love Netflix. For just a few bucks a month, I can watch a slew of TV shows and movies on demand, across devices. Identifying what I want to watch is easy. So easy that my “queue” of videos gets out of control quickly. Perhaps this sounds familiar? Fortunately, there are things you can do to organize and take control of your Netflix account.

My kids watch shows on Netflix as do I. That’s fine until Netflix starts suggesting I watch Pokemon and Uncle Grandpa. No thanks, Netflix. The solution to keeping what you watch separate from what others in your house watch is to create a specific profile for each person. Thankfully, profiles are pretty easy to create.

In the upper right-hand corner of your screen, you’ll see a link for “manage profiles.” When you click it, a new window will appear with the option to “Add Profile.” Give everyone in your house an icon and a name and you’re good. The new profile will join your list and you can even edit restrictions for kids, which I recommend doing.

If you don’t have kids, or if you’re the only one watching Netflix, you can still make use of profiles. You can make up to five per account, so set them up for genres you like. Comedies, horror, documentaries, etc. That way, you’ll get great genre-specific recommendations … which leads me to my next point.

Rate what you watch. Netflix’s algorithm is pretty good at learning what you like — and dislike — and making recommendations based on those preferences. The best way to improve those results is to rate everything you watch accurately. You can do this in the Netflix viewing app or through their website, if you wish to bulk rate things you have watched in the past.

Next, I recommend using a third-party website to find what you want to watch. Sure, you can scroll through Netflix’s suggestions, but it’s faster to make use of a website that’s designed to help you find something decent. For example, What Is On Netflix lets you browse titles that are top rated by Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and more. Instawatcher is another good choice, as it lists what’s popular as well as each title’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you plan on watching on your computer, learn some keyboard shortcuts. They can save a lot of time:

Enter/Spacebar: Toggle pause/play
Left Arrow: Rewind
Right Arrow: Fast Forward
Up Arrow: Volume Up
Down Arrow: Volume Down
M: Mute

Streaming video services can be quite convenient. I enjoy Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Streaming, and others. (So does Erin, she doesn’t even have a cable television subscription any longer.) With a little effort and organizing, the experience gets even better.

Build a time buffer into your schedule

Under-scheduling your day — even by just 30 minutes — can be an effective method for keeping to your schedule all day.

I’ve been working from home, in one capacity or another, since 2009. Six years’ experience has allowed me to come up with many great organizational and productivity tricks, and one of the most effective strategies is essentially accounting for the unpredictable.

I’m a big fan of routine and scheduling. I know when I’m going to work on a given project or area of focus. Before I go to bed at night, I review what must be done the next day. That’s a great way to eliminate the dreaded “what should I work on first/now?” questions. By the time you sit at your desk, you should be ready to go.

But that’s not my favorite trick. I schedule nothing — not a single task — for the last hour of the day. This “time buffer” is handy in so many ways. A last-second appointment come up? No problem. Kids need to be picked up from school? Got it. Even if nothing comes up, you’ve now got to time to process email, work up your schedule for tomorrow, maybe even relax a bit and decompress for the day.

It’s easy to schedule every minute of the day, and even over-schedule. Try building in a time buffer each day for a week to see if it’s beneficial to your effectiveness and productivity. I suspect it will be.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

2011

  • A single sweater, 12 ways
    Donna Karen New York produces a sweater for women that is an unclutterer’s ideal multipurpose garment.

2010

2009

  • Video tour of Jay Shafer’s 96-square-foot house
    Take a video tour of a house smaller than some people’s closets.
  • Let go of the past from your wardrobe
    In Unclutter Your Life in One Week, I talk about setting guidelines for your wardrobe to help you decide what can stay and what should go. The eighth item on this list is “You should have an occasion in the next year to wear it.” Thankfully, none of the clothes I’m getting rid of meet this definition.

Children and age-appropriate chores

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t give me any household chores. My mother, who handled most of the household activities, hoped I would see her doing housework and offer to help. Being a fairly normal child, I was oblivious and never offered.

As an adult, I look back and think assigning chores to me would have been a much better strategy. I would have learned more about maintaining a home, and my mother would have had some help in keeping the house organized. Everyone would have been better served.

But what chores are appropriate for what ages? I’m not a parent myself, so I went looking for resources to help answer that question. I found some lists in a brochure I bought years ago entitled Ages and Stages of Getting Children Organized (available in PDF format) by organizer Marcia Ramsland. The following is part of what Ramsland recommends (with ages added when needed to make comparisons easier):

Toddler, ages 1-3

  • Pick up toys in a small area (floor, shelf, table) and put them away
  • Put books on shelves, clothes in hamper

Preschool/kindergarten (3-5 years)

  • Make bed daily with help
  • Carry belongings to and from car
  • Help set table and clear dishes

Primary grades (1-3rd grades, which would be 6-8 years)

  • Make bed before breakfast/school
  • Put away own things (backpack, lunch box, coat)
  • Empty dishwasher

Upper grades (4-5th grades, which would be 9-10 years)

  • Put clean laundry away
  • Keep room neat

Middle school

  • Be more self-reliant with homework, activities, carpool rides
  • Clean bathroom, closet, and drawers
  • Vacuum and dust

Organizer Geralin Thomas included the following suggestions (and more) in her book Decluttering Your Home: Tips, Techniques & Trade Secrets:

3 to 5 year olds:

  • Sort laundry by color
  • Pick up dirty clothes from around the house
  • Carry newspapers/old schoolwork/magazines to the recycling bin

5 to 8 year olds:

  • Make the bed
  • Help with folding laundry by matching socks

8 to 11 year olds:

  • Clear the table after meals
  • Load the dishwasher
  • Put dishes away
  • Wheel the trash bin to the curb
  • Do a load of laundry

Jessica Lahey, who wrote The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, suggests that younger children can often do more than we might expect. The following are some of the items on her lists:

Toddlers:

  • Put their dirty clothes in a basket or hamper
  • Fold simple items of clothing or linens such as pillowcases or washcloths
  • Put their clothes away in drawers
  • Throw trash and recycling away in the proper place
  • Put toys away in tubs and baskets when they are done playing with them

Kids between ages 3 and 5:

  • Make their bed
  • Straighten their room
  • Sort and categorize items, such as utensils in a drawer or socks in the laundry
  • Clear their place at the table

Between the ages of 6 and 11:

  • Laundry — all of it, from sorting to putting it away
  • Replacing the toilet paper when it’s gone
  • Setting and clearing the table
  • Vacuuming and mopping floors
  • Helping to plan and prepare grocery lists and meals

Suggestions like these can help you develop a chore list that’s right for your family. As you’re deciding what chores you want your children to take on, be sure the scope of each task is clear. Something like “straighten the room” needs to be broken down into specifics, so your children understand exactly what that means.

Of course, children will need to be taught how to do these tasks, and this might well mean repeated lessons. Written how-to reminders will often be helpful. Regarding the laundry, Lahey suggested: “Post a list on the washing machine and dryer after you’ve conducted the requisite one-on-one lessons in order to provide reminders for all the steps. One mom pointed out that dry-erase markers write and erase well on the side of washers and dryers, so she simply writes instructions on the appliance itself.”

Another thing to consider: Leave your children as much latitude as feasible in how tasks get done, as long as the end results are fine. They may approach something a bit differently than you would, but that’s not necessarily a problem!

Unitasker Wednesday: Pros/Cons notepad

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 love cutie stationery and have more notebooks, note cards, and sticky notes than the average bear. However, when Jeri emailed me a link to this notepad I had to laugh. If ever there was a reason not to have a specialty pad of paper, this obvious unitasker is certainly it. The Pros/Cons Notepad:

I guess this highly specialized notepad is for all those times you forget how to draw a straight line down the middle of a sheet of paper? Which, if you can write, I’m assuming is never.

Also, how often do people actually make handwritten Pros/Cons lists? Besides seniors in high school trying to determine what to do with their lives after graduation or as plot devices in novels, are Pros/Cons lists really something people make? And, with such frequency as to need a designated pad of paper to do so?

Oooooh! I know! Let’s make a Pros/Cons list about buying this pad of paper!

Pros: It’s mildly entertaining for about four seconds.
Cons: Its purpose can be recreated without it, it’s rarely needed, and it costs $8 that could be spent on things more useful and/or more entertaining.

Hey, look at that, I made a Pros/Cons list without the specialty paper and my problem was solved!

A year ago on Unclutterer

2014

2012

2010

2009

  • Final reminder: Unclutter Your Life in One Week special bonus
    I can hardly believe that my book will officially be available tomorrow! Before time runs out on the offer, I just wanted to remind everyone about the special bonus available to Unclutterer readers that ends tonight.
  • Official release: Unclutter Your Life in One Week
    If you buy the book or request it at the library or borrow it from a friend, I hope you enjoy reading it and find it helpful and motivating. I tried my best to write the book I needed when I was overwhelmed with clutter, and I hope it speaks to you wherever you are on your uncluttering journey.

Organize for a sick day at home

Autumn is that dastardly time of year that gives way to cold and flu season. Sick days can be disruptive, no matter who you are. However, there are a few steps you can take now, while everyone’s feeling fine, to prepare your home for a day on the couch with some tissues and a movie.

For the kids

Keep a list of telephone numbers on your phone but also in a handy binder or taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet or on the refrigerator for their pediatrician and the local pharmacy. You’ll also want the number for their school’s attendance call line and any child care providers. (For adults, it’s also good to have your doctor’s number and your boss’ number in the same location so it’s just as simple to retrieve.)

Be prepared to record information a doctor or nurse might need for your child. Years ago when I worked at a residential school, my colleagues and I were taught to monitor a fever by writing down the patient’s temperature and time it was taken. It’s a good practice to get into, because doctors or nurses will find it quite useful when you’re on the phone or at the clinic. I simply use index cards and a pen.

Regularly check and record your child’s weight. Many medications for children base dosage amounts on this information.

For everyone

Ensure you’ve got a working thermometer in the house. If you use an electric one, it’s a good practice to test the battery twice a year. Daylight Savings Time switches are a good reminder for this.

Multiple boxes of tissues around the house in convenient locations are great to stock up on now. I also love those small, travel-sized packs of tissues. They’re less obtrusive than standard boxes, and easily fit in small spaces (like the car, a bag, and a drawer of the nightstand).

Afterward

When everyone is feeling better, the work isn’t done. The following are some things to help spreading the germs around the house.

  1. A few spare toothbrushes so it’s easy to replace the sick person’s toothbrush when he/she is feeling better (especially with things like strep throat)
  2. Disinfect surfaces like doorknobs, the TV remote, cell phone, refrigerator door handle, light switches and so forth
  3. Wash the sick person’s bed sheets and blankets alone in hot, hot water.

Finally, consider making a “sick kit.” Tuck it away and save it for a stuffy, achy, rainy day.