Unitasker Wednesday: Why buy a unitasker?

Most Wednesdays, we poke fun at unitaskers, products that serve only one purpose. However, there are several reasons that these products could be useful. It all depends on your lifestyle. Are you wondering whether or not to spend money on a unitasker? Here are some reasons to help you justify your purchase.

Safety

fire extinguisherThere are several unitaskers that we may never use but they make our lives safer such as fire extinguishers and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. An emergency escape ladder would be very useful unitasker unless you lived on the ground floor, then it would be a waste of money.

I felt it was safer for my children to cut their fruit using an fruit slicer rather than a sharp knife. We also had toast tongs so they wouldn’t burn themselves when getting their toast from the toaster oven. Using glass cutter to cut broken glass into smaller pieces for disposal is safer than using a hammer to shatter the glass and having shards all over that your pets could step on.

If the unitaskers only job is to keep you safe, then it is probably worth purchasing.

Effort

If the unitasker will save me significant effort, I will consider buying it. For example, with my small hands, I have difficulty opening wine bottles with a normal corkscrew. An electric wine bottle opener would save me (and anyone with arthritis), a lot of work.

We have several banana savers which I believe should be renamed to, “Saver of effort of cleaning mashed banana from the insides of backpacks and lunchboxes.”

Last year, we poked fun at the Staybowlizer. However, a family friend who had a stroke and lost the use of one hand, would have found the Staybowlizer a very useful unitasker.

Time

grape tomato slicerIf the unitasker saves me time, I’m all for it. If I have to grate cheese, I could use my multi-tasker food processor which requires assembly, disassembly, and hand washing of 6 different parts or I could use my unitasker cheese grater that I can put in the dishwasher. (This also counts for saving me effort.)

I wish I had known about the grape and cherry tomato slicer when my children were toddlers. They loved grapes and I seem to remember spending hours cutting them in half because whole grapes are a choking hazard. (This also counts as a safety reason.)

Money

When I was young, our family spend the weekends and holidays at our cottage. Friday after work mother would put most of the food in our fridge into a cooler to transport to the cottage. Often, some of the eggs in the cardboard container would break even if my mother wrapped the container in a towel. The egg dispenser would have saved us running to the “tourist” grocery store and spending three times the normal amount to replace our broken eggs.

When you consider it, unitaskers that save you time, effort, and keep you safe, also save you money in the long run.

So, by all means, go ahead and purchase unitaskers that you can justify, but we’re going keep poking fun at them. Please feel welcome to agree/disagree with us in the comment section! 😀

Three little helpers

Here are three little tools that help me do what I need to do, better and faster.

Card holder for smartphones

iphone_card_holderWhenever I go for a walk, I always take my iPhone to listen to music or a podcast, an ID card (in case of emergency) and occasionally my bank card because I’ll stop at the store on my way home. Women’s fitness clothing very rarely has pockets and I do not want to carry a purse with me, so I end up carrying my phone in one hand and tucking my ID and bank card in my sock or other article of clothing. More than once I’ve almost lost my cards because they have fallen out of my makeshift pocket.

The Adhesive Credit Card Holder allows me to carry my cards safely stuck to my phone. I’ve tried everything to “accidentally” remove the cards from this holder. I shook the phone upside down and wiggled and jiggled the pocket but the cards remained stuck until I opened the pocket and removed the cards.

I’ve started keeping my ID card and my bank card in my phone all the time. Because I use the GroceryGadget app to manage my shopping lists, I only need my phone with the card holder to do my shopping. I no longer need to carry a bulky purse around the store! Also, I save time getting ready for a fitness session because I can just simply grab my phone and go.

China markers

When I worked in a food chemistry lab, we used china markers (also known as grease pencils) all the time. We used them to label beakers and flasks in experiments. We used them to write on plastic, glass, and cardboard food containers we stored in the fridges and freezers.

At home I use china markers for writing names on cups at children’s parties (or wine glasses at adult parties) as well as dates and descriptions on containers of food in the fridge and freezer.

China markers are convenient. They do not “dry out” like regular markers nor do they need to be sharpened like pencils. The markings are water resistant and do not fade over time but they are removed easily from non-porous surfaces by wiping with a dry paper towel.

Hoof pick

If anyone asks me if I grew up in a barn, the answer is yes. I spent many years working with horses – and I still do. In the stables, an essential tool that keeps horses’ hooves free from stones, mud and other debris is a hoof pick.

A hoof pick is also useful around our house too. We have one just outside our front door. When our rugby player comes home, she uses the hoof pick to remove the caked-on mud and turf from her cleats. The stiff brush removes any bits of dirt still remaining. Hoof picks can clean up children’s muddy rain boots and dig out ice and snow from winter boots too. It also means there is much less dirt in the house for me to clean!

Reader question: Organizing Broadway playbills

Unclutterer reader Jackie (great name by the way) wrote in to ask:

What does one do with old pictures of actors, and Broadway programs and playbills?

This is a great question and it also encompasses programs and photos from other cultural events such as posters from special museum exhibits, sporting event programs, and photos from themed conventions (e.g., Comic-Con, etc.).

The first question to ask yourself is, “Do I still want to keep these items?” If you decide that you want to part with some or all of these items, then here are a few ways to do that.

  • Friends/family: Pass items along to friends or family members who show an interest. Include a brief description of the item’s history; how you got it and why you kept it.
  • Aficionados: If you belong to a group of theatre-goers or a fan-club, other members of the group may be interested in your items. If you’re not a member of a fan group, you could contact a local club and let them know what items you have to sell or donate. Some businesses might be interested too. For example, a small café near your local theatre might wish to use Broadway programs as part of their décor.
  • Local theatre, historical group, or archives: Photos, pictures, and playbills from a local theatre may be of value to your community archives. Consider contacting these groups to make a donation.
  • Online selling: Using online auctions sites (eBay) or classified ads sites (Craigslist, kijiji, Gumtree, etc.) will allow you to find buyers from outside your local area.
  • Disposal: Paper items whose condition is too poor to sell can be recycled. Photos, posters, and other non-recyclables could be donated to a community group to be dismantled for a craft project or placed directly into the garbage.

For those items you wish to keep, here are some ways to organize and conserve them.

An archival 3-Ring Binder Box with heavy-weight, archival sheet protectors would be ideal to store and organize programs and playbills. You could slip a little acid-free index card in the pocket to record the date you saw the show, with whom you saw it, and a brief review. Labelled tabbed dividers can help further organize your playbills into subcategories. You could subdivide by year or by genre – whatever makes the most sense to you.

Dirt and oils on your fingers can degrade paper and photos, so always handle the items carefully with clean, dry hands. When you’re organizing, avoid areas with food and drinks. If the kitchen or dining table is your only organizational space, cover the table with a clean cotton cloth before you start to protect your collection while you work.

If your materials contain staples, remove them carefully and replace them with archival thread. However, closures such as sealing wax, ribbons, stitches, and unusual metal fasteners may enhance the value so when in doubt, leave these items in place.

Temperature, humidity, and light will affect items in storage. Ensure that you store your collection in a suitable climate. Archivists recommend no higher than 21°C (70°F) and a relative humidity between 30% and 50%.

You may decide to frame some posters or photos that have great meaning to you. We suggest that you use acid-free materials and UV-resistant glass when mounting your items. Hang your work out of direct sunlight to ensure it retains its beauty.

Good luck with your collection Jackie. For more information on conserving these types of documents, check out the Northeast Document Conservation Center website.

Choosing food storage containers

Re-organizing your kitchen and putting all of your baking supplies such as flour, sugar, cocoa, etc., into canisters will make it much easier to find what you need when you need it.

Here are a few recommendations on selecting the right type of canister:

  • Square shaped canisters take up less room in your cupboards because they use all of the available space.
  • Transparent canisters let you easily see when you’re running low on supplies.
  • Over time, canisters made from certain plastics can absorb food odours so those made from stainless steel or glass may be preferred.
  • Containers should have an airtight seal.
  • The opening of the canister should be large enough allow you to easily scoop or pour the contents.

Choosing the right size

Canisters are sized in volume units such as ounces or millilitres, and baking supplies are measured in weight units like pounds or kilograms. Here are some tips to help you choose the right size of containers.

  1. Determine how much of each item you will be storing. Do you buy flour in 10-pound bags because you bake lots of bread, or do you only buy a one pound bag, just enough to make the occasional Béchamel sauce?
  2. Convert the weight amount of the item into a volume amount. The OnlineConversion website can convert weight to volume for many types of foods in US, UK, and metric units.
  3. Ask yourself how much of an item you have left before you buy more. Do you wait until you have absolutely none left, or is there some remaining? Whatever amount remains, add it to the quantity that you regularly buy. For example, if you usually have a cup (0.25L) of flour left over and you normally buy a 2.5kg (4.74L) bag, you will need to purchase a canister that will hold about 5L in order to accommodate all of the flour you have on hand.

This process may be a bit tedious for some. For those who would like a short-cut, Tupperware has created weight-to-volume charts for its Modular Mate container sets in both US measurements and metric units. The USA Emergency Supply website has a weight-to-volume chart for larger quantities of food items.

Reader Question: Storing someone else’s clutter

Reader Christopher wrote in to ask us this:

A former co-worker, “Robert” stored stuff in my basement. He promised to pay, but 6 months later I haven’t received any money. The only time I see him is when he wants to crash on my couch overnight. I’m getting ready to renovate my basement and I need his stuff gone! What can I do?

Thanks for a great question Christopher. It is nice to be able to help out a friend in need but there comes a point when you feel a friend is taking advantage of your good nature and in this case taking advantage of your storage space. I’m sure you’re very frustrated. It is difficult enough to deal with our own possessions but having to deal with someone else’s clutter is rather unfair especially when he should be able to manage on his own.

What you legally can and cannot do with someone’s stuff stored in your home varies by jurisdiction. It is also based on the relationship of the people in question. For example, former spouses are treated differently from landlord/tenant relationships. The actual items in storage may also influence what you can legally do with them. For example, cars and high value items like jewelry may be treated differently from clothing and low value household goods.

Do not act hastily to dispose of Robert’s stuff. You could be sued or accused of theft. It is unfortunate that this could be the case especially since you were trying to do Robert a favour.

The best thing you can do is speak with a legal advisor on this issue. If you cannot afford a consultation with a lawyer/notary, you may be able to find a free legal clinic in your area that can provide some advice. Often there are free online help centers. Ensure you contact one that is in your local area so the advice you receive is relevant to your jurisdiction.

Before you visit or speak to a legal advisor, I suggest that you write down very clearly the events/conversations that led up to your agreement to store Robert’s stuff.

  • Did you offer to store the items or did he ask?
  • Did you suggest payment, or did he?
  • Was there a verbal or written agreement about the
    • amount of storage space;
    • duration of storage;
    • conditions of storage area;
    • rate of payment?
  • Provide a list of dates of when you contacted Robert for payment or when Robert stopped by for a “visit” and include details of your conversations on those dates.
  • If you have records of your communications on the subject of the items in storage (text messages, emails, etc.) keep secure copies either by printing or by saving them as PDFs. Make sure they are dated.
  • If you have records of other moneys you have spent on the storage of Robert things (a portion of your utilities, a portion of your rent/mortgage) keep those too.

You will be able to provide all of this information to your legal advisor if he/she asks. You will also have records to look back on should Robert’s recollection of events differ from yours.

In the meantime, keep trying to connect with Robert and let him know there is a deadline for collecting his belongings.

I wish you all the best of luck with your situation. I hope you are able to get things resolved to your satisfaction.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Reader Question: What to do with digitized CDs and DVDs

Recently, reader Sarah asked us this:

I don’t know if it’s still true, but it certainly was the law in the USA that if you own a music CD and rip it to create mp3 files (or similar), you had to continue to physically possess the CDs from which you did the ripping, otherwise it was considered illegal use. Perhaps someone can update me on that?

That’s a great question – and yes, it still is the law. Copyright law protects the work of artists. If you make unauthorized copies, you are taking the artists’ works without providing payment. This type of theft is called piracy. You may have seen the FBI anti-piracy warning shield on movies you have watched. Although audio recordings may not have a warning label, they are still subject to the same copyright laws. Thanks to the internet, piracy is a world-wide problem and law enforcement agencies in many countries are working together to protect intellectual property.

The Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA) has a great summary of the different actions that are considered music piracy but they also applies to movies. Piracy can include uploading and downloading unauthorized versions of copyrighted music/movies from peer-to-peer networks as well as ripping CDs/DVDs to your own computer and selling the originals at a garage sale.

What does this mean for uncluttering and organizing if you can’t dispose of the original CDs/DVDs once you’ve converted them to a space-saving digital format?

First of all, you can sell or give away the original CD/DVD, but only as long as you no longer have any copies of the music/movies in any format. Once our children were older, we donated all of the DVDs and CDs that they were no longer interested in. It didn’t take long after that (mere minutes, in fact) for me to delete every digital copy as well. Bye-bye Barney and Friends!

Go through your collection. Are there any movies you will no longer watch or any music you won’t listen to anymore? Delete the digital copies and let the originals go.

DVDs and CDs tend to take up space because of their bulky, and rather breakable “jewel” cases. You could take the disks out of their case and put them into classy storage albums. This type of album also has storage for lyrics sheets or movie notes. It will take up much less space on shelving and allow your disks to be easily accessed whenever you need them.

After we downloaded our music onto our computer, we stored our entire CD collection in “cake boxes,” the spindle-type containers in which you can buy a stack of computer CDs. These are easily stored in the back of the drawer of our filing cabinet. The disadvantages of storing CDs in cake boxes include difficulty finding and accessing a CD if you need it again and lack of storage for movie notes or lyric sheets.CD storage box

Storage boxes like this one, can hold over 300 CDs/DVDs. The advantage of the storage box is that you can store movie notes or lyric sheets with the disks. It’s a good idea to put disks in sleeves to protect them — just in case the box gets tipped over onto the floor. Accidents can happen.

Regardless of how you organize your CDs/DVDs, you should also create an inventory and store it separately from the collection. You may wish to take photos of the disks and original packaging and include a copy of the sales slip. This information would be useful if your collection was ever damaged or stolen.

Unitasker Wednesday: Smartduvet

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

Smartduvet is non-permanent insert that attaches to your existing duvet and slips inside your duvet cover. Once activated using your smartphone app, it will make your bed for you.

I must admit, this is a pretty cool piece of technology. I agree with the manufacturers that it would be very useful for those who have mobility challenges but beyond that, do people today really need an app to make their own beds?

Considering how much time my own teenagers spend staring at their phones, it’s a possibility. However, I do not think Smartduvet is the answer for them because every morning the duvets are on the floor. On the weekends duvets are often dragged out to the living room so the teens can continue sleeping on the sofa.

But, I ask this philosophical question, “If a bed is unmade when no one is home to see it, does it really matter?”

Thanks to reader Llynn for pointing this unitasker out to us.

Reader question: Scanning old airmail letters

Reader Sam wrote in to ask:

“I have been sorting things and found a suitcase full of old airmail letters from my parents. I want to scan and save them as they go back to the 1950s. What is the best way to scan, organize, and sometimes translate them into English? Any advice is welcome as I want to start the project soon. Is it best to scan all of them first or organise them one-by-one?”

Thank you for this great question Sam. How exciting to find your parents’ airmail letters! It is a wonderful portion of your family history that deserves to be preserved. Paper, especially airmail paper, ages quickly and can become brittle so you are wise to embark on this conservation project.

I would suggest that you first organize the letters and then scan them. This way you will know exactly what you have before beginning the scanning process. Because airmail paper is delicate, you should handle it with cotton gloves to prevent oil or dirt from your fingers damaging the letters.

It is probably easiest to sort the letters by date. Don’t be too fastidious on your first sort through. You can do a first run by separating the letters by year and then second sort by separating each year by month.

Store the letters in acid-free boxes, preferably unfolded. Be very careful in unfolding the letters and straightening the creases. You do not want to damage the paper. Do not use tape or glue to fix torn letters. If you are worried about a letter falling apart, place it in an acid-free sheet protector. By storing the letters in the acid-free boxes, you are keeping them protected while waiting to be scanned.

Scanning can be a rather long process and there are a few things to think about before you start.

Use a flatbed scanner. Scanners with auto-feed could very easily rip or tear your letters beyond repair.

You want the electronic version of the letter to retain the quality of the original document yet be of a reasonable file size. You may need to scan one letter at several different quality levels (colour or greyscale; 200, 400, 600 dpi; JPG, TIFF or PDF) to determine what the right balance is.

Once you’ve found the correct settings, scan one letter and note the file size. Multiply the file size by the number of letters you have and add about 20%. This will be the amount of space the files take on your hard drive. Should you need to, purchase an external hard drive on which to store your files.

Once you have determined the scanning parameters, decide on a file name format. Personally, I prefer a combination of date and name. For example, 19580214_Mom2Dad.pdf would be a letter sent on February 14th, 1958 from your mother to your father. By using the format YYYYMMDD_name, all of the files will stay in chronological order on your hard drive.

Now you can begin your scanning process. Remember to handle the letters carefully and wear the cotton gloves. Once scanned, you can return the letter to its acid-free storage box. You can leave an index card between two letters as a bookmark in case you don’t get finished scanning the entire box in one sitting. Do not use paperclips or staples as they can warp or rip the paper.

When you’ve completed scanning, send the electronic files for translation and keep your original documents preserved. You can name the electronic translation as YYYYMMDD_name_translated

If you’d like to keep a paper copy of the translation with the original letter, use an archival pen to write the translation on archival paper. Home printers do not have archival quality ink and the ink may do damage to your airmail letters if they are stored together.

If you’re having difficulty deciding how to scan your letters, take a few to your local archive or a nearby college/university’s archives department. They should be able to provide recommendations. Some community archives will, for a fee, take on a private conservation project. If the archives cannot help you, they may be able to recommend a private company who would be able to convert your paper documents to electronic ones. If you choose to take this path, we recommend that you organize and properly store your letters first.

All the best of luck with your family heritage project Sam!

Unclutterer welcomes new writer Alex Fayle to the team

It gives me great pleasure to welcome a new writer to the Unclutterer team. — Alex Fayle. Alex is originally from Ontario, Canada. He has a Masters of Information Studies from University of Toronto. Alex ran an organizing business for several years and is a former president of Professional Organizers in Canada. In 2006 he moved to Europe and currently lives in the Basque region of Spain.

Welcome Alex!

Unitasker Wednesday: Wash and Drain dish tub

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

In my kitchen, I have two rather large stainless steel sinks. I can fit my biggest stock pot in either one. One of the great things about my kitchen sinks is that when I’m finished washing my dishes I simply pull the plug and the water goes down the drain. I clean my sinks regularly because they can harbour germs. Cleaning two functional and practical sinks clean takes time and effort so I cannot fathom why I would ever need another sink especially a very small, plastic, portable one.

wash and drain dish tub

The Joseph Joseph Wash and Drain dish tub is basically an expensive plastic washtub with handles and a drain. It is smaller than the average bar sink. I’m not sure even sure it would fit my smaller pots and pans. I would suggest that if you have a perfectly functional kitchen sink, the Wash and Drain dish tub would fall into the unitasker category and would probably not be something you would use.

However, If you do not have a functional kitchen sink, perhaps you’re camping, living in a dorm or RV, or undergoing home renovations, the Wash and Drain dish tub might come in handy.

Thanks to reader Melanie for pointing out this unitasker to us.

Organizing for hot desks

The terms “hot desks” and “hot desking” have nothing to do with temperature. It a business term used for shared office desks. Instead of assigning each employee a desk, offices will provide spaces with desks that are occupied as required. This is usually done for sales people and remote workers who only occasionally work at the office. A business can save money by implementing this practice because it doesn’t have to maintain unused space.

If you work in an office with hot desks, you’ll need to organize yourself and your belongings a bit differently. No longer can you leave piles of files stacked on the desk or sticky notes on the computer monitor as reminders of what tasks to work on. Alternative solutions include my favourite project managing system, On Top of Everything but you may prefer a combination of paper planners, digital calendars, and/or to-do lists.

In some hot desk offices, employees may have lockers where they can store their computers and a few personal belongings. If you do not have a locker, you should invest in a durable briefcase that is easy to carry around, holds all of your items, and can be locked when needed.

Here are a few things you might wish to carry in your briefcase:

Organizers: A Grid-it (or two) will help keep your computer cables and other items organized and easy to find. Even though your office may provide supplies, a plastic divided container is useful for keeping a small stash of paperclips, staples, etc., close at hand.

Sanitizing wipes: Clean the arms of the chair, telephone, and any other items touched frequently by multiple people. As a courtesy to the next person, use the wipes again before you leave the desk.

Temperature control: I’m always cold while working at my desk. I carry a pashmina type shawl with me to wrap around my shoulders. If you’re always warm, a portable fan may be useful.

Noise control: If you’re more productive when it is quiet, use earmuff-type noise cancelling headphones rather than the smaller ear buds. If your co-workers can see you’re wearing headphones, they will interrupt you only for important matters.

Name tag: Since employees change desks frequently, you may wish to get a simple nameplate to display at your hot desk so your co-workers will know where to find you.

If you have experience hot desking, please chime in with organizing tips for our readers.

Unitasker Wednesday: Flying screaming monkey

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 Flingshot Slingshot Flying Screaming Monkey can be launched like a slingshot. The arms are made of rubber tubing and the hands have slots where you can put your fingers. Just pull back the feet and tail and the monkey flies up to 15 metres (50ft). The included battery allows the monkey screams out like Tarzan when it flies.

I remember when I was a little girl and I saw the movie the Wizard of Oz for the first time. I loved Dorothy and Toto, and the magic of the Land of Oz but that green-faced witch was very scary. Even more frightening were the witch’s evil servants, the Winged Monkeys! I had nightmares about those things for weeks afterwards!

Fast-forward to the scenario of me at work, quietly typing away in my cubicle, looking up, and seeing a screaming monkey flying across the office. I’d definitely be having more nightmares.