Eliminating mid-station clutter

As I write this, there is an overflowing laundry basket behind me. I can’t see it. I can’t hear it or (for now, at least) smell it. But I can sense it. I know it’s there. It’s always there, eyeing me with its passive-aggressive glance. “Dave,” it says. “Daaaave! Look at all this laundry.”

No, I’m not going crazy, nor am I having a conversation with the laundry basket. I am, however, aware of what the laundry basket really is: a mid-station.

What is a mid-station?

Think of a train that leaves Boston for New York City but first stops in Hartford, Connecticut. Partway between its departure point and its final destination. That is the mid-station stop. If you wanted to, you could get off the train at Hartford, have some lunch, do some shopping, and then eventually continue to New York City.

The laundry basket is a mid-station stop — holding the dirty clothes before they get to the washing machine. The trouble is, laundry often gets stuck in the basket. Days go by and the pile gets higher and higher. It’s annoying, and this prompted me to find other mid-stations in my home and I found several.

The dish drainer is a classic mid-station. I’ll clean up after a meal, wash the dishes, and put them in the rack. A couple of days later, we’re all using the rack as if it were the cabinet.

We also have a collection of keys, backpacks, and lunch boxes that come in from work and school every day. In this case, the mid-station is the mudroom. The coats and backpacks have hooks and the keys have a small basket, yet these items often languish on the first flat surface inside the door, or on the floor itself.

What can be done about mid-stations?

Adopt new habits. I live with three other people and laundry builds up quickly. After just 72 hours there’s a mountain piled up. The solution that works for us is to do at least one load per day. If we do this, the clothes don’t pile up as much. Doing one load per day, is manageable, and a lot better than spending three or four hours on the weekend getting caught up.

As for the dishes, diligence is the answer here, too. Simply make it a part of the daily routine to empty the drainer and put the dishes, glasses, and utensils, away.

Continually reminding the guilty parties results in getting the coats and backpacks hung up properly in the mud room.

Eliminating mid-stations. I’ve read about people who’ve addressed mid-stations by eliminating them. In other words, laundry won’t pile up in baskets if there are no baskets. Likewise, there’s no “Leaning Tower of Dishes” to admire without a dish drainer to serve as the foundation. This is true but not often practical. When I was a kid, we didn’t have laundry baskets because my parents’ house had a laundry chute. We tossed the dirty clothes through a little door in the wall and they fell downstairs to the laundry room itself. Most homes don’t have laundry chutes these days.

If you can get away with eliminating a mid-station, give it a try. I don’t think I could do it.

The other point I want to make here is delegation. My kids, my wife and I all share chores. Many hands make for short work, as the saying goes.

If you’ve identified any mid-stations in your home, share your solution (or struggle) in the comments below. Let’s see what we can do about this common problem.

Pack and organize for a convention

Taking the time to prepare for a conference – either for work or fun – will significantly affect what you get out of it. Here are a few tips to make sure you enjoy the big show.

A single point of failure

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people sit down at very expensive conferences with only one pen. If it breaks or runs out of ink, you are out of luck. When I was an IT professional, we called this a “single point of failure,” and it’s not good. Identify the potential points of failure in your conference supplies and double up on:

  • Pens and paper
  • Phone/tablet charger and cables
  • Money

I have a good reason for keeping cash on hand at a convention. A few years ago I was in San Francisco for a conference and needed some quick cash for a last-minute event. I sprinted to the only ATM I could see only to find it was out of service. Right then, I wished that I had stuffed fifty dollars in my wallet before leaving home.

What to wear

Professional conferences often require more formal attire than a show attended for fun. For example, you’ll need business casual outfits for the workshops in your field, while the Star Trek T-shirt you’ve had since the 90s is perfectly appropriate for the science fiction convention.

Regardless of the type of convention, comfortable shoes are essential. You’re going to be on your feet, maybe for hours. If I’m at a fun, casual event, I’ll wear sneakers. Otherwise, I wear my beloved OluKai shoes, as they’re the most comfortable pair I’ve ever owned. Plus they slip on and off, which is great for getting through security at the airport.

I also dress in layers, as it’s almost impossible to predict how warm or cold a convention center or hotel ball room might be.

Gear

No matter what kind of show I’m attending, I always have a battery case for my phone. When I’m at a show I’m taking photos, communicating with colleagues, and sharing on social media. After several hours, my phone is ready to give out. Mophie makes a huge variety of battery cases for several models. I’ve used them for years and have only good things to say.

If the show you’re attending has an official convention app, install it. These often contain itineraries, maps, a description of events, and so on. With that said, also grab a paper program if you can. Remember that whole “single point of failure” thing?

Lastly, I always bring a bag. If the show is a more professional one, I bring a nice-looking messenger bag. If not, I’ll throw on a backpack. It’s nice to be able to throw a bag over your shoulder so you have both hands free to shake hands with colleagues, pick up corporate literature, or take photos of your favorite celebrities.

Many venues restrict certain items (e.g. professional cameras, pocket knives, etc.) so always check the policies before attending. There will often be a bag check upon entry, so factor that time into your day.

Meetings with friends and colleagues

One of the best things about many conventions, is that you get a chance to see people from across the country and from around the world. Before you leave home, connect with as many friends and colleagues as you can and schedule meetings, lunches, and dinners. Add these events your calendar. Conventions tend to be crowded. You may need to connect with your colleagues to designate a specific meeting place so include their contact information in your meeting reminders.

Good luck and have fun.

Organize big and little tasks at work

I recently started a new job in a field that I left about 20 years ago. It’s been like getting back on a (rusty) bike. I know how to do what I need to do, but it’s been a while since I’ve done it. Today, I’m about five months in and finally enjoying some job satisfaction, much of which comes from managing the big projects and the little tasks.

The big projects are easy, because they become little tasks. That is, the right kind of little tasks. For example, let’s say I have to write a proposal. If I were to concentrate on “write a proposal,” I’d get stressed. There’s a lot to do. However, when the project is broken down into small, easy-to-manage chunks it becomes much easier. Day one becomes “Research one aspect of the proposal.” Sure, I can do that!

These little tasks that you define, control, and push towards a goal are gratifying. However, I want to talk today about the annoying tasks — the repetitive, inefficient, inescapable tasks. Those tasks can be annoying, yet when well-managed, they can significantly increase job satisfaction.

The first step is to get organized. List the little tasks and administrative duties that must be done. Perhaps it’s daily email triage or short summary reports that are due every Friday. I like to move important information out of email and into Todoist. Whatever those tasks are for you, keep listing until you’ve got all the tasks written down.

Next, set aside the right time to devote to them. I say the right time because that’s important. Some of my tasks don’t take a lot of time or energy so I reserve them for the end of the work day, when I’m running low on both. This way I reserve my creative energy earlier in the day for dealing with the big stuff.

But the biggest benefit is that I can complete many of these small tasks in a short period of time. It’s tremendously rewarding to mark something as complete. These tasks are quick and easy, so you get the joy of four, five, even ten in a row! It’s a great feeling and can help increase your overall job satisfaction.

Try to identify the minor hassles in your day-to-day work, and set aside a block of time that’s dedicated to addressing them. You’ll find it is a very rewarding practice.

The organized nightstand

Over the years we’ve written many articles about maintaining an organized bedroom. Today I’ll talk about the faithful nightstand. Other than your bed, the nightstand is likely the piece of bedroom furniture you’ll use most often. Everything from your phone to your current novel rests on this little table, and it can get cluttered. Here’s how to pick a nightstand that’s going to work for you, and keep it tidy in the process.

Drawer or no drawer?

I’m anti-drawer fan when it comes to nightstands. I had a nice old desk next to my bed for years. It had a drawer that I filled with appropriate things: tissues for when I was feeling sick, a book, wallet and keys, and so on. Then I started to put other things in there such as greeting cards, books of stamps, little notebooks, batteries, headphones, small paperback books, and so on.

I’d purge the drawer and start again, only to get the same result. The nightstand drawer became my go-to destination for those “Where do I put this?” items. So, I eliminated the nightstand with the drawer and I haven’t looked back.

Incidentally, if you’re looking to reclaim a junk drawer, we’ve got you covered.

Light source

This is one area I still need to update. Currently I’ve got a small desk lamp on my nightstand. It’s great but the base takes up a too much space. A clip-on model would save space and every little bit counts.

Containers

Many of the items on my nightstand are small, like my keys, pocket flashlight, pocket knife, notebook, wallet, and pens (my Everyday Carry). To keep these bits and bobs from making a mess I use a Sturdy Brothers Catch All. It looks great and keeps all of that stuff together.

Everything else

What else is permitted on my nightstand? My Kindle is there, and my phone, which I use as an alarm clock. Often times I’ll put a bottle of water there as I like to take a drink when I first wake up but that’s it.

I realize that different needs will necessitate more or less on a person’s nightstand, as well as the features of the furniture itself. Please chime in. How do you keep your nightstand organized?

Clutter and productivity

A few years ago, we pointed out a study conducted by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute which demonstrates how a cluttered environment can negatively affect productivity:

“Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”

In other words, having lots of “stuff” in your visual field can make it difficult to achieve the focus needed for meaningful work.

It’s a compelling finding and one that I relate to. How often have I delayed the start of a project because my desk is a mess? Many. This is anecdotal of course, but I don’t believe that’s always a function of procrastination. After tidying up, I feel like, “Ahh, now I can work.”

Of course, I don’t want to work in a spartan, decor-free room, either. So what do I keep around my work space? Here’s a quick tour of the few items that I allow in my immediate work space.

Desk

On my desk you’ll find the expected. A computer, keyboard and mouse. There’s a coffee mug fill of pens. The mug has sentimental value to me, as I bought it while on a family vacation. Seeing it makes me smile. Next you’ll find a stack of 3×5 index cards and a desktop “inbox,” much like this one.

Lastly, there’s a coaster for the odd drink (tea, etc.). Notably absent: photos. I know many people feel motivated or happy when looking at photos of loved ones. I understand that, but those images make me wish I was with them and not at work! So no family photos for me.

Wall

To the left of my desk is a bulletin board with quick-reference material. I’ve written about my love of bulletin boards before. Mine stores phone numbers I need to know, policies that must be public and a few other similar items.

Computer screen

I like a tidy computer desktop as well. For me, that means the wallpaper must be either a solid color or depicting a simple image. Also, I can’t handle a screen littered with icons. I know that many people like to keep icons representing oft-used documents and applications on the desktop, and I can respect that. I just prefer folders.

There’s a quick look. For me, visual clutter definitely interferes with my ability to focus on work. With that in mind, these are the few items I’m glad to have around. How about you?

Unitasker Wednesday: Boot Sandals

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

The classic American TV commercial celebrated the accidental combination of chocolate and peanut butter. The result was “two great things that taste great together.”

That’s not what happens when you combine boots and sandals.

Redneck Boot Sandals combine cowboy boots and sandals into a single article of footwear. On their own, sandals are great. Cowboy boots are very nice as well. Together, however, we have a problem.

Let me note that I am not a fashion guru. I throw on some jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap and call it a day. It’s even worse where footwear is concerned. I’ve got sneakers, a pair of shoes for work, and winter boots. So take my fashion advice with a grain of salt.

While boot sandals are cute as a novelty, I won’t be buying a pair. How about you?

Car accessories that are worth the investment

Frugality is a big part of the uncluttered lifestyle. When I say “frugal,” I mean thrifty and never wasteful. That said, there are certain things I’m willing to spend a little extra money on. While changing a flat tire in the snow last week, a few automotive options came to mind. Here’s a list of auto accessories that I think are worth the expense.

Jack

A compact, portable floor jack is worth the cost. This aluminum, 1.5 ton model from Pittsburgh Automotive could be just what you need. For starters, it’s so much easier to use than the scissor jack that probably shipped with your car. Consider that you’ll have to turn the nut on the scissor model 25–30 times before your car is elevated to an adequate height, while a floor jack will get in there in about five pumps. Likewise, a floor jack will slowly and safely lower your car within a few seconds, while the scissor jack requires 25–30 more twists, this time counter-clockwise.

There are some cons to consider as well. First, it’s heavy. At 31 pounds it’s heavier than your scissor jack. It’s also big; the compact model I’m suggesting is 23 x 10 x 7 inches (the handle can be removed so it’ll fit in your trunk). Lastly, it’s more expensive than the “free” jack that comes with the car.

I fell in love with the portable floor jack the night I was struggling to lift our Mazda. After many minutes of effortful turning, the jack itself slipped and the car came down upon it, crushing it. I called AAA and a worker arrived with a portable floor jack. He had my car raised and the tire off in about 90 seconds. That’s when I was sold.

Spare tire

Speaking of tires, I like to have a full-sized spare. Here in North America, it’s a good purchase decision. But that isn’t the case everywhere. I know that in Europe, for example, many cars don’t come with spares at all – not even a “donut” (half-sized spare) because there are service centers all over the place. In that case I would recommend paying extra for the donut.

Here in the States we get the half-sized spare, or donut. It’s meant to be a temporary fix that gets you to a service station. You shouldn’t exceed 45 m.p.h. with those things and they really aren’t the safest. Since a flat can strike at any time, and service stations are often few and far between here in the U.S., you could be stuck with the donut for several days. I recommend getting a spare rim for your car (find a local junk yard to save some money) and a good quality tire. Your local tire shop will gladly put the tire on the rim for you. Yes, it takes up more room than the donut, is heavier and expensive, but as far as safety and convenience are concerned, it’s well worth it.

Floor mats

Next, I’ll recommend heavy-duty floor mats, if you live in the right region. Here in New England, we have Sand Season, Snow Season and Slush Season. They’d be overkill in Texas, for example but if you experience winter, read on.

Several years ago I purchased these Weather Tech mats for our little Volvo and I love them. Unlike other heavy-duty mats, these are designed for the specific make, model and production year of various vehicles, so they absolutely fit and stay in place. Ours endure summer beach sand, autumn mud and frozen winter nastiness easily. To clean, simply snap them out and hose them off. They aren’t cheap – you’ll pay about a hundred dollars – but I’ve had the same set in my car since 2008 and they look great.

Other suggestions

Here are a few more quickies. An auto-dimming rear-view mirror is a nice upgrade, especially now that so many cars seem to have those weird blue headlights that seek out your retinas and burn them to cinders. This “car cup” charger for long road trips when everyone wants to be fully juiced.

I’ve debated recommending factory-installed GPS with myself and I still don’t have a definitive answer. That’s mostly because I’ve never experienced it. I just used my phone, which is portable and reliable. I bring it into a rental car, for example. Of course, not everyone has a smartphone with GPS capability, so I’ll leave this one hanging. Perhaps some testing is in order.

Lastly, let’s talk about road-side assistance services like AAA, CAA National, OnStar, etc. They day you need help (especially when you’re far from home) is the day you’ll recognize their value.

Remember, “frugal” doesn’t mean “cheap.” It means nothing is wasted, including your money. While these add-ons are expensive, I think they’re worthwhile investments. Let me know if you agree.

Organizing pet clutter

I have two dogs that I love dearly, Batgirl and The Bug. But boy, do they bring on the clutter — toys, leashes, food, treat bags, beds, shredded toys, slobbery tennis balls, and my favorite, fur — lots and lots of fur. If you’re a pet lover, I suspect this sounds familiar. Fear not! Your furry friend need not be a source of incessant clutter. In this article, I’ll share tips for keeping pet clutter under control and out of sight.

Let’s start with something simple: food. This will be easy or difficult to stash away, depending on the pet. A small container of fish food, for example, is easier to store out of sight than a ten pound bag of dog food. For that reason, I’ll focus on the latter.

While Bug loves his food, I don’t love the unsightly bag that his kibble comes in. To keep it stored away yet accessible, I needed a nice looking bin. The answer was one of these “half barrels” as it fits my home’s decor and is something I don’t mind looking at. It easily accommodates a large bag of dog food plus a bag or two of treats. If you have a spare cabinet that you’re willing to dedicate to pet food, even better. Just make sure it’s convenient for you, but not your pet, to access.

With that sorted, let’s move on to toys. My dogs are worse than toddlers when it comes to carpeting the floor with a huge mass of toys in various states of ruin. Pets are super cute and we love buying toys for them but the more they have, the more we must pick up, so we limit the number of toys they have. We have a small basket that sits on the floor that holds the half-dozen toys they have access to. Occasionally we go through the collection of toys and get rid of anything that’s badly damaged or potentially harmful. For example, that stiff rubber chew toy can get quite misshapen and potentially scratch their gums. Throw those toys away.

Leashes and harnesses are the next thing on the list. I bought a dedicated hook to hold these items and I installed it on the wall right next to the back door. That way it’s out of sight yet very convenient when I need it. You don’t want a dog who needs to “go” waiting around while you hunt for the leash, trust me.

Now, a controversial subject — pet clothes. I don’t like them. Yes, Fido looks super adorable in that little sweater. Perhaps he’s prone to cold and genuinely needs that doggie argyle. In that case, I understand. Keep him comfortable and warm. But the goofy outfit that’s meant only to delight Fido’s human is not my cup of tea. If your pet actually requires clothing, find a convenient, safe place to store it. Preferably near the leash.

Finally, the items you don’t use daily like a carrier, shampoo, outdoor toys, and so on could all live in one location. Perhaps a large plastic storage bin, or a shelf in the basement or garage, clearly labeled.

Pets are members of the family with all that entails, including the clutter. It doesn’t take much to gain control of it, and it’s just as easy to let it get out of hand. Set up a few stations, buy some nice storage containers, and enjoy your pets even more.

Organized wardrobe for men in their 40s

As 2017 begins I find myself closer to 50 than 40, and that means change. I pay closer attention to my diet, my children are becoming teenagers and words like “investments” have entered my vocabulary. Lately I’ve also been taking a good look at something else — my wardrobe.

I’ve always been a “jeans and T-shirt” kind of guy. A baseball hat and a pair of sneakers have rounded out the look that has been my unofficial uniform since I was in high school. It’s casual and comfortable, but there is one little problem — I’m not in high school anymore.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:11, it’s time to put childish things behind me. In this case, the wardrobe of my youth. In this article, I’ll describe how to organize a respectable wardrobe for a man in his 40s. I’m not an expert in the world of fashion or style (see the previous paragraph for proof), so I scoured the internet for some direction, which I’ll share with you here.

Edit

Step one is to edit the wardrobe. I suggest actually laying everything out on the bed to get a good overview of what you’ve got. First, note items that you haven’t worn regularly because of size, condition or style, and set them aside. Next, ID the items that you’ve kept around for their sentimental value but stopped wearing long ago. Finally, anything that’s simply worn out – those old sneakers, for example – go in yet another pile. With that done, it’s time to say goodbye.

You’ve got several options here. Items in good condition can be donated to local charities. Clothing that someone wouldn’t buy in their current condition should be re-purposed as rags, dress-ups for the kids or even “work clothes” for painting, gardening, engine repair, etc. Additionally, some Goodwill stores recycle these well-worn clothes to be used again, but in a different form.

As for the sentimental T-shirts, here are a few ides for dealing with those. A few years ago, my wife took several of mine and made them into a beautiful quilt that I keep on the bed each winter.

Lastly, consider handing down anything that’s still decent to your kids. My 13-year-old looks pretty cool in dad’s old Van Halen T-shirt.

Be honest about size

Well not size as the number printed on the clothing tag. I’m talking about how the item fits. I mentioned the fact that I’m not 18 anymore. Back then I played soccer and my shape was a bit different from what it is today. That said, I’ve bid goodbye to the slim-cut jeans, pants, and shirts that I wore long ago. Now, this doesn’t mean that I need to start going up in size. In some cases it means simply moving from a slim-fit to straight-leg style.

Items your closet should have

At this age, you want to be prepared for several eventualities, from a clothing perspective that is. Weekend events could bring anything from weddings to softball games. Here’s what you should have around so you’re not scrambling at the last second.

  1. A suit. One that fits and looks good.
  2. A nice hat. It might sound silly, but my wife is sick of the sweat-stained Red Sox hat that I love so much. I recently got one of those tweed caps and it looks a lot better.
  3. Decent loungewear. A 20-year-old can get away with brightly logoed boxers and a T-shirt on Saturday mornings. I have several pairs of what I call “lounge pants” (essentially flannel drawstring pants) and decent, solid-color tees. Just don’t wear your lounge pants out of the house. Ever.
  4. Dress shirts. Somewhere between three and six of them depending on your lifestyle.
  5. Shoes. Sneakers are for kids. Have a brown pair and a black pair, something casual and something dressy.
  6. Socks. Invest in a few pairs of quality black and brown dress socks that won’t slide down your legs and wrinkle up between your toes. Leave the white gym socks for the gym.
  7. Accessories. Get a brown and a black belt and a couple of good quality ties that coordinate with your dress shirts and suit.
  8. Pants. Have at least one decent pair of jeans and a few pairs of casual pants in your regular rotation.

As I said, I’m not fashion expert. But I do want to dress like an adult. With a little effort, you too can organize a respectable wardrobe. We “men of a certain age” have to stick together, and look like grown-ups while we do.

How to organize your Facebook backups

For better or worse, many of us share a lot of information via Facebook. Everything from weekend plans to photos of lunch get posted, shared, tagged, and shared again. After a year of use, that’s a whole lot of memories and data uploaded to Mark Zuckerberg’s little creation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a local backup, safe and sound? You can even organize regular Facebook backups and keep them stored nice and tidy on a drive of your own. It’s easy to do. Just follow these steps:

  1. Log into Facebook and go to the Settings page. You can find it by clicking the disclosure triangle on the far right of the page. A menu appears. You may have to scroll a bit to find Settings.
  2. On the left-hand side of the Settings page, make sure General Settings is selected. There’s a list on the right. At the very bottom, you’ll see “Download a copy of Facebook data.” Click that link.
  3. You’ll be taken to the download overview screen. Simply click “Start My Archive.”

What exactly is backed up? As Facebook explains it:

“Timeline info, posts you have shared, messages, photos and more. Additionally, it includes information that is not available simply by logging into your account, like the ads you have clicked on, data like the IP addresses that are logged when you log into or out of Facebook, and more.”

Like me, you might not want or need all of that information. Unfortunately, there is no way to pick and choose what is backed up, at least as of this writing. Also, there is potentially a lot of sensitive information in the resulting archive. Keep it in a safe location.

Once you click Start My Archive, Facebook will get busy creating your backup. Soon you’ll get an email with a link. Click it, and you’re taken back to Facebook one more time. At last you’ll have the opportunity to share the zipped (compressed) file to your computer. Navigate to that folder and explore the archive.

You’ll find a file labeled “index”. Open that file for a HTML page linking to all of the files you downloaded. Photos, for example, are in a folder called Photos, and sorted by album.

If you’d like to have an app take care of this for you – and grab data from several other social media services at the same time – consider digi.me. It offers free software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS that will back up posts from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and several other social media networks to your local drive.

The thought of a compromised or hacked social account sends shivers down my spine. If you feel the same way, take the time to back up these services. You’ll be glad you did.

Get organized for winter home maintenance

Winter brings its own list of required tasks. I’m not talking about shoveling and salting, though that must be done, too. The colder months are a great time to get the following maintenance done so that you’ll be prepared for the harsh weather and ready for the infamous “spring cleaning.”

First, attend to your best friend during the winter months: the furnace. You really ought to have annual maintenance performed by a pro, and the start of winter is a great time to get that done. With that sorted, there are other tasks you can easily perform yourself:

  1. Change the filter monthly. On mine, it’s a big square filter that easily slides in and out. My local hardware store carries just the size I need. If you’re unsure, ask your service pro or even the nice folks at your hardware store. I use Google Calendar to remind me to change the furnace filter monthly. In the reminder notes, I jotted down the size of the furnace filter so that it’s easy to look up when I get to the hardware store.
  2. Adjust the ducts/dampers. My house uses forced hot air for heating and cooling. Each winter, I adjust the dampers a bit to ensure that hot air is forced to the bedrooms. Just be sure not to close off air completely to any level or room.

Next, step outside, grab the ladder and prepare to clean the gutters. No, it’s not an enviable job but winter storms will fill them with debris from nearby trees quickly. Additionally, heavy show and ice could cause them to pull away from their mountings and fall from the house entirely. While unpleasant, it’s an simple chore to complete:

  1. Wear long sleeves and gloves
  2. Use a good, reliable ladder. When I worked as a custodian I was introduced to the Werner 6 ft. Fiberglass Step Ladder, and I loved it. It is lightweight, reliable, and steady as a rock.
  3. Throw down a plastic tarp or a drop cloth to catch what you clear out. It’s much easier to clear away like that.
  4. Use a scoop. You can buy one if you like, or just use the kids’ beach shovel. They won’t be needing them for weeks.

If you have a fireplace, get the chimney inspected. Flammable creosote builds up and must be removed. Your local chimney sweep can take care of that for you. (When I was a teenager my father had me clean our family’s chimney. It wasn’t pretty. Don’t be like my dad. Hire a professional.)

Finally, clean vents that lead outdoors: the hood above the stove, the clothes dryer, etc. Also, when it does snow and you’re clearing the walkway, make sure to free these openings, too.

Regular home maintenance saves you money in the long run, teaches valuable skills, familiarizes you with how your home works, and helps prevent big issues down the road. Put these things on your calendar and rest easier every winter.

Apps to easily organize storage bins

Three years ago, I mentioned a fun trick in a post about digitizing user manuals. Basically, it works like this:

  1. Save the manual in an Evernote note.
  2. Use that note’s unique URL to create a QR Code.
  3. Print that code on adhesive-backed printer paper.
  4. Affix the code sticker to the washer, drill, etc., for instant access to its manual.

Bella Storage does a similar thing for storage totes but it reduces the number of steps and apps, and greatly enhances the result. The app, available for iPhones and Android, is the heart of the solution. When you’re putting items into a Bella storage bin, use it to note the contents, give the bin a name (“Halloween decorations,” “Summer clothes”, etc.) and give it a category, like “holiday” or “sports.” Lastly, add a location.

Later, when you’re looking for that one swimsuit, the jack-o-lantern carving tools, or the bike helmets, Bella tells you what bin it’s in and where it is located. It works in the other direction, too. Simply walk up to a bin, scan the code on the side and “see” exactly what’s inside. You don’t need to pull it down and lift the lid.

Of course, there are other solutions that offer something similar. Box Me Up works much the same, and has both a mobile-friendly, browser-based interface as well as an Android app. Another option is I.M Organized, which lets you inventory all of your stuff by simply scanning a bar code, and also generates QR Codes for you to affix to boxes or bins.

Finally, there’s the DIY method I mentioned earlier.

Good luck! Try out any of these apps for quick retrieval of your stuff. Happy storing!