The organized tool box: eight tools you need

My grandfather’s garage was like a wizard’s lair.

When I was a boy I knew that I could ride by bike to my grandparent’s house at any time and get something fixed. I’d hop off my bike at the base of the stairs, bound up to the porch, open the door and stride in like I owned the place (families don’t need to knock). After my grandmother gave me some warm 7Up in a tiny can, which I didn’t like but drank out of respect, I’d ask for my grandfather, who was in one of two places: the basement or the garage.

The basement was an uninteresting place, full of the things that basements are full of. The garage, however, was something different entirely.

Garlic hung drying from the ceiling. Toys my father had played with decades before dotted the walls, dusty and forgotten. It was quiet and dark as under-powered lightbulbs did the best they could. Along the far wall there was a pegboard on which hung every tool you could think of.

That’s what I was after.

The tools were neatly arranged, a magic marker outlining each space’s occupant. Nothing on the wall was new. Instead, this army of stalwarts had earned their spots on the pegboard through years of reliable service.

Trouble with my bike? Fixed. Skateboard acting up? Fixed. Nuclear-powered rocket capable of reaching Earth orbit?

OK not that, but my little-boy imagination thought it was possible.

As I got older, the inevitable started to happen. What once appeared larger than life seemed to “shrink” and become more manageable, more real. Think of the time you returned to your old elementary school gym as an adult, or even a favorite public playground. “How did I ever think this place was big?” Eventually I learned that the massive collection of tools was really a set of nine useful, effective pieces of hardware that allowed granddad fix or repair almost anything.

Today, those are the same nine tools I keep on hand. You might have project- or profession-specific additions, and that’s fine. For example, this list overlooks woodworking, an electrician’s tools and more. But as for a basic set of tools, you can’t go wrong with this collection. New home owners, college students in their first apartments or anyone looking to adopt a “handy” lifestyle, this is for you.

A reliable hammer. A hammer can be used to drive nails, remove nails and start small demolition projects. Go for a 16-ounce model, as they’re the most versatile. While my grandfather had a hammer with a wooden handle, I’ve since opted for steel, as wood can split. The Estwing E3–16C is a fantastic choice for around twenty bucks.

Screwdrivers. I bet you guessed that screwdriver would follow hammer. Phillips screwdrivers have been around since 1936, and their companion flatheads are also very much still in use. I also use the flatheads to open cans of paint, but I know that makes some people cringe. If that’s you, get one of these. In my experience, Wiha makes nice, precision-made screwdrivers with comfortable handles and fantastic overall build quality. The 30295 Screwdriver Set is a good one to own.

You can get away with one Phillips and one flathead if budgeting is a concern, but you’ll be glad you have a selection of sizes if you can swing it.

A tape measure. “Measure twice, cut once” is the adage that old-timers have passed down for generations. Since I’m better at the former, I make sure I have a good tape measure around to help me with the latter. I’m partial to the classic Stanley 25’ PowerLock because it’s the one my grandfather and I have seen take a lot of abuse like drops, falls, being smacked with a hammer…all without affecting performance. Plus, it gives a very satisfying “SNAP” when retracted.

A crescent wrench. I have a love-hate relationship with crescent wrenches. On one hand, they replace a slew of other wrenches. On the other, I’ve experienced wobbly jaws that won’t hold their shape to the point of driving me crazy. I use a Channellock 8WCB WideAzz Adjustable Wrench. The lower jaw does not wobble around and, unlike many other models, it’s got a nice, comfortable handle. That’s precisely what you need when you’re wrenching down on a stubborn nut.

And yes, you can use a wrench to drive in small nails, but please don’t.

A cordless drill. Sure, you’ve got those nice screwdrivers but a drill can add/remove screws quickly and efficiently, as well as perform a whole number of additional tasks. Find one with multiple speeds and a reverse function. While you’re at it, pick up an extra battery that you can keep in the charger. It’s no fun to pick up the drill and discover that your only battery is dead, delaying your project by a couple of hours. I’m a Porter-Cable man myself, and the PCC606LA 20-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-Ion Drill is a very nice drill.

A level. I know there are level apps for the iPhone and Android. I can almost see my grandfather rolling his eyes at those. Go out and get yourself a good, 24″ level. Remember the whole “measure twice, cut once” thing? This will help with that.

A handsaw. My grandfather’s handsaw was like one of those that people play with a bow. They’re great, but I struggle with saws that cut on the “push” stroke. Maybe it’s my technique, but I always get hung up on the material being cut. The Shark 15″ Carpentry Saw cuts on the pull stroke, and I like it much better. It’s faster and more comfortable for the way I use a saw.

Vise Grip. Behold, your extra set of hands. When you need both hands to work on something but a third to hold it still, the vise grips come into play.

Here’s a quick note before you go out and assemble your collection. Don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars on quality tools. I’ve thrown away more junky screwdrivers than I care to admit. Also, Rome wasn’t built in a day so feel free to buy quality hardware a bit at a time, here and there. Soon enough you’ll have a pegboard worthy of a grandchild’s bike or skateboard.

Or rocketship.

Expand Evernote’s usefulness with the Web Clipper

Here at Unclutterer, we love Evernote. I’ve often called it “my external brain,” and consider it just that. I’ve used it to create a digital journal, manage recipes, and Erin has used it to organize her busy family life. Today I’ll talk about an oft-overlooked feature: the web clipper.

Evernote’s web clipper can be added on to your web browser to act as a useful go-between from the internet and Evernote. That is to say, it lets you quickly move information — links, articles, quotes, etc. — from a web browser to Evernote without requiring you to open the software. It’s fast and saves a lot of time. Today, I’ll show you the basics of using the Evernote web clipper.

Installation

Go to evernote.com/webclipper to download the version your browser needs. You’ll be guided through the simple process. From there you’re ready to go. To do what, exactly? Let me explain.

Use

I’m using Safari for Mac in this article. While there will be slight variations across browsers and operating systems, everything will be largely the same.

I often use Evernote to save online articles I’d like to read later. I can save the URL, open Evernote, find the appropriate notebook, create a new note and paste in the URL, but that’s too many steps. The web clipper makes it much easier.

Once installed, just click the little elephant icon that launches the web clipper (the installation process will put the icon front-and-center on your browser for you). When you do that, a new window appears (right) with five options:

  1. Article – Save the entire article as you see it.
  2. Simplified Article – Save just the text, stripping out ads and other non-essential images.
  3. Full Page – Grabs everything you see on that web page.
  4. Bookmark – Only grabs the URL.
  5. Screenshot – Takes a screenshot of the web page (or a portion thereof).

Below that you’ll find the “Organize” section. From the drop-down menu, select the notebook you’d like to use as a destination. You can add tags and even “remarks” (brief notes to yourself) for future reference and context. It all takes a fraction of the time you’d spend by launching the software itself.

Grab only the text you want

This is a super cool feature. As soon as you click the little elephant, you may notice a little yellow square next to your cursor. This is the highlighter, and it lets you grab just a portion of the the text on a page. Simply click and drag to highlight it in yellow, then click Save on the Web Clipper.

Share your clips

Once you’ve grabbed a clip, you might want to share it. After clicking Save as described above, you’ll be presented with a new window that offers to share what you’ve just saved. Click the drop-down menu for several options, including email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and more. This is useful if you’re coordinating information for a family trip, group work project, and so on.

This was just a brief overview and I hope it prompts you to check out this often-forgotten feature. It saves me a lot of time and lets me save a lot of great info I might otherwise forget.

Tips for cleaning and organizing the car

Winter always prompts me to clean and organize the car. I’ll add a good scraper for the snow and ice, a pair of gloves, a blanket and the next thing you know I’ve given it a complete overhaul. Here’s how I keep the cars tidy and uncluttered.

I know this isn’t possible for many of you, but I like to keep the rear seats folded down. If you’ve got kids, this might not be an option. My wife drives a mini van that’s typically used to haul our offspring around, so my little two-door car is usually free of that duty.

I keep the rear seats folded down for two reasons. First, it saves on wear and tear on the seats. Next, it expands the tiny “trunk” area (I have a hatchback, technically a trunk). That way if I have several bags of groceries or other space-hogging cargo to haul around, I can just put it inside without having to lower the seats first.

Speaking of the trunk, those of you who actually have one, might want to invest in an organizer like this one from High Road Organizers. The compartments will keep most cargo from moving around as you drive, and the Velcro on the bottom keeps the organizer in place. If you don’t need it, the whole thing folds up and can be set aside.

I also keep emergency equipment in the trunk. A nice kit like this contains flares, jumper cables, rain gear and more. It’s easy to overlook these kits but they are an important investment.

With the trunk sorted, let’s move towards the front of the car. Those with kids will probably need a container of some sort for snacks, books, tissues, and so on. A portable shower organizer will work, as it can fit between seats. Some will suggest hanging an organizer on the back of the front seat, but I find that it just gets in the way of rear-seat passengers.

My favorite piece of car-organizing hardware is the humble carabiner. Get yourself a big, chunky one like this and behold the myriad of uses:

  1. Hang clothing (or your purse, if you carry one)
  2. Hold umbrellas
  3. Clip on re-usable grocery bags
  4. Bring home dry cleaning
  5. Anchor down large cargo

I have one on each side of the car and I use them much more often than I thought I would. It is well worth the $10.

Now, a few little tips to help you keep the car in tip-top shape.

  1. When you get gas, take a minute to toss trash.
  2. Empty tissue boxes make great car-sized trash bins.
  3. Put important papers like registration, service history, etc., in a small accordion binder.
  4. Keep a stash of zip-seal bags for cleaning up any number of things.

It’s relatively easy to keep the car neat and tidy. For more on the topic, check out our articles on organizing the glove compartment and five things to keep in the car.

Reduce key chain clutter with Key Ring

In the world of retail, customer loyalty programs are designed to keep shoppers going back to the same store over and over. They often employ those little plastic “loyalty cards” that many of us have dangling from our key chains and cluttering up our wallets and purses. While the rewards can be nice, the cards are just one more thing to keep track of, carry around, or simply lose — unless you make them digital.

Key Ring is an app for iPhone and Android devices that lets you store all of your loyalty cards on your phone. I’ve been using it on my Pixel and I have to say, it’s pretty darn handy. Plus, it let me seriously reduce the amount of clutter on my key chain and in my wallet, which I appreciate very much. Here’s a look at this clever little app.

I’ve been using Key Ring on an Android device. The iPhone version, while generally the same, might have slight variations in functioning that are unique to iOS.

Setup

Setup is simple. After installing the app, you’ll be prompted to create an account by adding your email address and a password. That’s it. From there, you can start adding loyalty card information.

Adding a new card is just as easy. You’ll find a “+” at the top of the screen. Tap it, give the app permission to access your phone’s camera and take a picture of the bar code on your card. The app will recognize it right away and it’s ready to go.

My hesitation with solutions like this is always the same. I’m always afraid that when asked for a loyalty card and I present my phone, I’ll get a confused look from the cashier. Or, the equipment the cashier has access to won’t accept a bar code that’s on my phone’s display. Fortunately, that has not been the case. I’ve had success at the grocery store, electronics store and elsewhere.

More than loyalty cards

Key Ring offers even more benefits than just storing cards and reducing key chain/wallet/purse clutter. If you allow the app to have access to your location, it can find sales in the area, let you identify favorite sales for later reference, and even create shopping lists. You can browse store coupons and even have the cashier scan them, right from your phone. There’s no need to fumble with flyers and slips of paper.

In the weeks that I’ve been using Key Ring, I’ve grown to love it. It’s well laid-out, simple and effective. Plus, it does exactly what it says on the label. My key chain can attest to that.

How do you remind yourself to do something?

As I sat down to write this week’s Unclutterer articles, my smartphone beeped a reminder, “Grace ballet at 12:00.” I was glad to receive the prompt and reflected on how crucial my smartphone has become when it comes to reminding me of what I need to do and where I need to be.

Smartphones didn’t become commonplace until about ten years ago. However, I existed back then and I can’t recall the reminder system I used in the “dark days” before pocket-sized computers.

I realize that not everyone favors electronic reminders that vibrate, beep and flash and that got me wondering. How do you remind yourself of what needs to be done?

We’ve discussed many reminder systems over the last ten years . In 2010 we described a system that uses Google Calendar to prompt future action, and two years ago we pointed out a few ways to get things done while avoiding lists and reminders entirely. There are fantastic apps out there, too, like Due.

I’d be lost without my smartphone when it comes to reminders. I’m curious, what is your chosen reminders system? Sound off!

Can a digital assistant help you stay organized?

There comes a point in your life when you think, “I could really use an assistant.” School, work, kids, and a myriad of other things demand more and more of your attention. I don’t know about you, but the luxury of a personal assistant is not in my budget. With that in mind (and my wallet firmly in my pocket), I turn to artificial intelligence like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant .

These technologies, and others, are the so-called “digital assistants” that their respective creators hope will become the hub of our future lives. Today they’re good at streaming music, setting kitchen timers, and performing a few other mediocre tricks, but can a digital assistant help you stay organized?

For me, the answer is a qualified “no.” Before I explain that qualifier, let’s look at the “big three” of digital assistants.

Siri

Apple purchased the digital assistant “Siri” in 2010, and has since integrated the service with its iPhones, Apple TVs, and Macintosh computers. As for productivity and organization, Siri is great at setting calendar events, creating to-dos, and reading and composing texts and emails. When connected to smart home devices like Wemo Switch wall sockets and Hue lights, Siri offers a bit of control over household products as well.

Google Assistant

Google’s Assistant, made a splash last year as the marquee feature on the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Today, Assistant can be found on Google Home and elsewhere. It’s helpful for many of the same tasks that Siri handles.

Alexa

Amazon’s Alexa currently resides on the Amazon Echo and Dot. While very useful, it is restricted to your home. Alexa can play music, play games, set timers, read off your calendar, provide news updates, control “smart” devices like Hue lights and so on. Unfortunately, Alexa can’t find you a hotel or help you drive to your Aunt Tilley’s house. She can — and this should not be a surprise — buy products from Amazon.

It’s not as fun as the computer on Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise, but it’s still fun.

And brings me to the qualified “no.” All of these technologies have nailed one aspect of artificial intelligence in our daily lives: fun. It’s cool to talk to a gadget in your home or your phone and have it follow your commands. My kids are delighted every time they use our Echo to add an item to a shopping list or to turn the kitchen lights on.

Fun yes, but “helpful” is pushing it.

I can usually complete the same task with my computer or smartphone, and often faster. But that’s not the real hang-up here. When you look at these three, really look, you see them for what they are – middle-men.

Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant don’t really get things done for you, they provide information that helps you get things done. That’s helpful in its own way, but it is also what prevents me from recommending these technologies as true organizers. Siri can locate a hotel on a map, for example, but it won’t make reservations. Alexa can read my calendar, but it won’t tell people attending my 2:00 meeting that I’m going to be late.

Speaking of calendars, here’s my next point.

To use digital assistants effectively, you’ve got to hand over a lot of information including your calendar, contacts, and certain preferences. Some people may be uncomfortable sharing all of that. All of this leads me to my favorite digital assistant, and it doesn’t even talk!

Google Now

Google Now (or “Google” as the iPhone app is called) doesn’t have a personality like the others. It offers no jokes or quips like its companions. However, backed by the power of Google, it excels at providing information.

On my phone, Google Now notices where I am (I’ve enabled location services) and it lets me know when to start driving to appointments, what local traffic is like, where to find good restaurants, where the car is parked, and so much more. It has me saying, “Wow,” much more often than the others do.

None of these are truly “assistants,” but they’re on the right track. In a few years voice-controlled assistants will be true organizers. For for the time being, stick with Google Now.

Organize and maintain essential tools

Today I want talk about how to organize, assess and maintain the essential gear you use all year long including, fire extinguishers, and tools like flashlights, smoke alarms, hammers, and wallets. We depend on these tools to work well yet we often take them for granted.

I recommend the following procedure to deal with the essential tools you depend on. Ask yourself the following questions about each item:

  • Does it work as it should?
  • Is it still safe to operate?
  • Is it damaged in some way?
  • Can it be repaired?

Then, sort the items into one of these categories: replace, fix, or maintain.

  • If there is a tool that is broken beyond repair, replace it now. This way you won’t find out halfway through a home improvement project that you don’t have the tool you need.
  • If repairs are possible, arrange to have them done. Mark a specific time and date on your calendar to repair it yourself or to take it to a repair shop.
  • Perform routine maintenance on all other items to help keep them functioning well.

Below I’ve shared maintenance routines for may popular household items. January is a great time to perform each of these tasks.

Flashlights

Check the batteries. How old are they? Replace them if necessary. If you’re using alkaline batteries, consider switching to rechargeable lithium ion batteries, as alkaline batteries can leak. Perform some basic maintenance by cleaning the exterior, wiping the lens and finally applying some silicone grease to the threads. These simple steps will keep your flashlight shining brightly for years to come. Incidentally, my favorite flashlight is the Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED.

Hardware tools

Keeping simple hand tools clean and functional is easy: just wipe them down after use, and store them in a dry location. Thrown in a few silica gel packs for added protection.

Power tools should be stored in the plastic containers they ship in, while garden tools should be hung and not left on the floor, where moisture can invite rust.

Often the owner’s manual will list specific maintenance tips for each tool. You can also check online for maintenance advice.

Pocket knives

The best thing you can do for a knife is keep it nice and sharp. A dull knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp one, as you’re more likely to push too hard with a dull blade, slip and cut yourself.

For sharpening, I use the AccuSharp 001, as several commercial fishermen I know swear by it.

Smoke alarms

Each January I replace the batteries in my home’s smoke alarms. I also give them a good cleaning with the vacuum cleaner remove any dust, cobwebs, etc. that may have accumulated.

Fire extinguisher

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests you take the following steps to maintain a home fire extinguisher:

  1. Ensure accessibility. Store it where it’s visible and easy to access.
  2. Inspect the seals. Make sure that tamper and safety seals are intact.
  3. Check the pressure. If your fire extinguisher has a pressure gauge, be sure that the gauge’s needle indicates proper pressure. If the fire extinguisher has a test indicator, press it to make sure the pressure reading is within the correct range.
  4. Look for damage. Any visible signs of damage mean it’s time to replace the extinguisher.
  5. Document your inspection. Keep track of your extinguisher’s monthly checks and maintenance.

Leather wallets and bags

Leather wallets, bags, and briefcases are prone to drying out. Cleaning them with some leather soap and applying leather care oil regularly will keep them supple for years.

Certainly take the time to organize the big things this year, but not at the cost of the little things that we depend on day in and day out. A little time and attention at the start of the new year will keep your tools working all year long.

Get your email organized in 2017

We closed last week with a post about how to get a jump-start on uncluttering and organizing. Today, I’m going to look at how to get email sorted out in 2017. From cleaning out your inbox to setting up best practices, this is how to tame the email dragon for the new year.

Clean out your inbox

I’ll never forget an experience I had several years ago when a co-worker wanted to show me a certain email message and I stood by her desk while she scrolled through literally 5,000 messages. The experience was a time-wasting exercise in frustration. If you’ve been using your email inbox as a filing cabinet (a practice I rallied against in my first post for Unclutterer in 2012), follow these steps.

First, create a new folder called “2016,” and then sort your existing messages by date. Place any emails from 2016 into this new folder. You aren’t deleting or archiving anything yet, just getting them out of the way. You can then sort them later, when it is more convenient for you.

With that done, take control of what actually arrives in your inbox with SaneBox. I wrote about SaneBox before and in 2017 I will gladly renew my membership. SaneBox learns what you consider high-priority messages and automatically moves the rest to a folder called SaneLater. Once a week you can review those results, and correct any instances of important email being moved to SaneLater (Sanebox remembers this correction for the future). I save literally hours per month thanks to SaneBox and sing its praises at every turn.

Deal with unwanted newsletters

While you’re sorting through email, take the time to unsubscribe from all of those unwanted newsletters, digital catalogs and other mailings that sounded good at the time. As they come in over the next month or so, look for the “Unsubscribe” link. It’s usually at the bottom of the message and deliberately hard to find, so take a minute to scroll through and click on that unsubscribe link.

If you’re using SaneBox, you can train it to move certain messages to a folder called “SaneBlackHole,” never to be seen again. Goodbye, persistent spam!

Best practices for 2017

Now, let’s adopt a new practice to prevent a cluttered accumulation of email in 2017. When a new message arrives, ask yourself the question, “What do I need to do with this?”

There are three possible answers:

  • It requires action. Put the action items on your to-do list. I use Todoist but there are a number of good project management tools available.
  • It is reference material. No action is necessary, but it is useful information. I keep these emails in what I call, “cold storage.” Evernote works for me but you may wish to save it on your hard drive.
  • It is trash. Unsubscribe (if necessary) and delete the email.

If you can, you may delete original emails but be aware that your job, and/or legal requirements may prevent you from doing so.

With these practices in place, you’ll have a tidy, clutter-free inbox for 2017.

How to get started when you don’t feel like it

Unclutterer readers are the get-things-done type when it comes to productivity and uncluttering except when they don’t want to be.

Occasionally, we all feel like getting exactly nothing done. Sometimes that’s fine. I love a lazy Saturday as much as the next guy. But other times the urge to relax out comes at the worst time. What do we do in that situation? First of all, recognize that you’re not the first person to feel this way. Next, understand that there is something you can do.

Here’s how to get started on a project when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Let’s start with two simple steps.

First, give yourself permission to do a bad job. The tendency to want everything to be great hindered my writing for a long time. I changed my thinking and would say to myself, “Today, I give myself permission to write a terrible first draft.” When I wrote a sentence that I knew was complete garbage, I was able to continue because I knew I would go back and fix it another time.

The same goes for uncluttering and organizing. Tell yourself it’s OK if your first attempt doesn’t generate the ideal result. Just get started.

Next, and this is a big one, completely disconnect from the internet. No Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or online games. There isn’t a bigger time waster on the planet. Avoid it and you’ll be more productive.

Of course there’s more to it than those basic tips. For example, getting in the right mindset is crucial. It can be as simple as clothing and as complex as a daily routine.

In his book “ Getting Things Done,” author David Allen states, “I don’t feel like exercising until I put my exercise clothes on.” Author James Clear expanded on this idea:

“If you look at top performers in any field, you’ll see similar patterns all over the place. NBA players who do the same thing before every free throw shot. Comedians who recite the same words before they step onto stage. Corporate executives who follow the same meditation sequence every morning.

Do you think these people always feel motivated? No way. There are some days when the most talented people in the world wake up feeling like sluggish lard bombs.

But they use their pre–game routines to pull them into the right mental state, regardless of how they feel. You can use this same process to overcome your motivation threshold and consistently exercise, study, write, speak, or perform any other task that is important to you.”

James outlines just how to create a routine that will work. Paraphrasing, it is:

  1. Start with something too easy to avoid.
  2. Get physically moving.
  3. Keep it consistent.

Often times, we procrastinate in the face of feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes we just don’t know where to begin. I combat this by each night by writing down the three tasks I must complete during the following day. That little note sits on my keyboard and answers the question, “Where do I start?”.

Good luck with your new projects in 2017. Here’s hoping you accomplish all you set out to do and more.

Family tech support

Happy holidays! Everyone at Unclutterer hopes you’re enjoying some time off work, to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends – and for many of you, helping them figure out how to use a new gadget. Nothing says “holiday” like family tech support. With a little planning and organization, it can be a pleasure to help family members and friends enjoy their new electronic devices or answer questions they’ve compiled since the last get together. Here’s how to prepare for family holiday tech support.

The list

password notebookMaintain a list of pertinent information regarding your family’s devices. You can create a simple text document, enter the information in a spreadsheet, or use a notebook dedicated for this purpose.

Information about the devices should include make, model and year of release. For example, if dad owns an iPhone 5, you will know where to look for troubleshooting tips, help with updates, etc.

You should also include details about any services they’re using such as iCloud, Office 365, Dropbox and so on. You should also be aware of their backup systems. This makes it easy to retrieve something if you need to do a restoration.

When you assist your family members, you will most likely need them to enter their passwords to authorize software installations or on certain websites. You should encourage people to keep track of their own passwords and ensure they have access to the passwords during their “tech support visit.” To help my parents, I gave them a notebook designed for recording their passwords. It is easy to use and lets us avoid the frustrating experience of trying to remember usernames and passwords before we can start to solve a problem.

The sit-down

When mom and dad visit, we find a few hours of quiet time to sit down with their iPhones, iPads or computers and go through questions they’ve noted over the past year. Some require a quick fix while others take some time to figure out. The list I compiled earlier makes this a lot easier, as do the following tools I always have with me:

  • A notebook and a pen. Sure, we troubleshooting tech gadgets but you can’t beat a notebook and a pen for jotting things down. I use it as my short-term memory when I need to quickly store a password, setting or URL.
  • An internet-connected device of my own. When I come across a problem that I can’t solve on my own. I rely on an internet search for answers.

With these tools in place, I’m ready to tackle almost any problem. It’s satisfying and I’m happy to do it. With the list of questions complete, I move on to my own to-check list, which follows.

Updates

One thing I always do is make sure their devices are running the most recent version of the appropriate operating system. I’ll also check to make sure that apps and software are up-to-date or at least running the most appropriate version for their device. For example, an iPhone 4 probably shouldn’t run the latest version of iOS. This is why creating a list of hardware make, model, and year is so important. Many devices “max out” at a certain version of an operating system and function best with that version.

Backing up

It is crucial is to ensure that the software, apps, and documents on their devices are being backed up regularly and successfully. I recommend a “set-it-and-forget-it” system such as Backblaze. For just a few dollars per month, you get everything on your computer backed up without having to lift a finger. If you need to retrieve something, it’s there.

I also recommend people keep certain documents in a Cloud storage service such as a Dropbox folder or Google Docs. Photos can be stored via Apple’s iCloud or Google Photos. iPhones and many Android phones have built-in backup solutions that, once set up, do their job without any prompting.

It’s easy to bemoan the responsibility of family tech-support manager, but taking the time to prepare and organize information ahead of time will remove much if not all of the headache. And remember, when you finally resolve that one annoying problem, you’re the hero of the holiday!

Five ideas for post-holiday organization

Good day, Unclutterers. We hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one. Now is the time to enjoy the time off from work, the company of friends and family, and the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Additionally, December 26 is the perfect time for a little post-holiday organization. Nothing too taxing, we want you to enjoy your holiday. With that in mind, here are five simple, effective things you can do today to stay on top of things.

  1. Prepare for ornament storage. It’s common to feel sentimental about the things we own. Holiday ornaments often fall into that category. Protect the decorations that mean something to you with safe, secure storage. A specialized bin like this one will do the job, but really you can make one nearly as effective with a plastic bin and some styrofoam cups. In either case, prepare your solution now so that it will be ready when you’re putting the decorations away.
  2. Organize a wrapping station. A gift-wrapping station will serve you well through the years. Perhaps you struggled a bit this season. If so, take an hour or so to sort that out . A hanging gift wrap organizer keeps things tidy and accessible. Take a quick inventory of the supplies you currently have. If required, take advantage of post-Christmas sales and pick up any supplies you may need.
  3. Figure out how you’ll store those lights. The coat hanger trick is a good one, as are storage reels. A piece of cardboard works perfectly for me.
  4. Unclutter unwanted items. For many, an influx of new toys will raise the question of what to do with the old ones. Here are many options, from donation to re-use.
  5. Make thank-you cards. If there are kids in the house, use scraps of colorful wrapping paper to make thank-you cards. Find pieces you like, cut into festive shapes and affix to plain thank-you cards. Grandma, grandpa, aunties, uncles, etc. will love to receive these.

When you put the decorations away should be based on your schedule or perhaps family tradition. Some do it right away while others may wait until January 6, the Christian celebration of Epiphany. In either case, a little preparation will make that process easier.

Last second holiday shopping: software

Many people love to receive tech-related gifts during the holidays. Phones, computers and tablets are sure to make the gadget-friendly name on your shopping list very happy, myself included. The neat thing is that in 2016, software is a valid gift option for techies and unclutterers alike. Here’s how to gift apps and software this holiday season.

Apple App Store

Gift cards

Apple’s App Store has been providing software to iPad and iPhone owners since July, 2008. Since then, it has delivered apps to customers more than 130 billion times. That’s a lot of software on a lot of devices.

If you’d like to give that perfect app as a gift, it’s easy to do. You’ve got two choices. The easiest is to simply buy a gift card that is redeemed by the recipient. You can send buy a physical card like the one linked above from Amazon or from your local grocery store.

The other method is to buy a digital gift card. It’s a little more involved, but still not difficult. Here’s what to do.

  1. Open the App Store either on your iOS device or Mac.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.
  3. Tap Send Gift.
  4. Enter your lucky recipient’s email address.
  5. Enter the amount you’d like to give.

By default, your gift is delivered immediately. However, you can opt to have it show up on a certain date. To make that happen, tap Today and then select your custom delivery date.

Gift specific apps

If you know the exact app you’d like to give as a gift, you can do that, too. Once you’ve found the app you’re after, tap the Share button (it looks like an arrow jumping out of a box) and then follow these steps:

  1. Tap Gift.
  2. Enter the recipient’s email address and if you’d like, a custom message.

Again, the app will be delivered by default. You can change that by tapping Today, and then selecting your own date.

Google Play Store

Let’s say the techie on your list uses an Android device. You can easily buy a Google Play gift card just about anywhere (grocery stores, shopping malls, etc.). You can also buy a digital gift card by following these simple steps.

First, visit the Google Play Store in any web browser, select the amount you’d like to gift, enter the details and off it goes. Unfortunately, as of this writing, you cannot gift individual apps from the Google Play store. It’s a bit disappointing but the recipient can use the gift cards to buy his/her favorite apps.

Some would argue that a gift card isn’t the most personal gift in the world, but because it lets someone choose precisely what he/she loves, gift cards are fine with me. Happy digital shopping.