Choosing organizing products

I’m always interested in new organizing-related products, so I read a number of blogs often feature this kind of thing.

As I browse through these listings, I’ll frequently see something like the Alessi Blow Up wall clock. Whether or not you like the look, I’m concerned about how well it serves its purpose. When I’m looking for a clock I want a time management tool that readily tells me the current time, and this clock would make it hard for me to do that. I like an interesting organizing product as much as anyone, but my first priority is functionality.

Sometimes what’s functional for one person wouldn’t work for someone else. For example, the Kikkerland wood cube alarm clock has an interesting interface — it stays dark, looking like a simple wood cube, until you clap. But that interface wouldn’t work at all for those who need to wake up before their light-sleeping partners. And it has no snooze function, which many people would find essential. But neither of those drawbacks would be a concern for me, if I were in the market for an alarm clock.

Other products fall down in legibility, especially for those with aging eyes. There’s a lot to like about the Life.doc organizer, but I found some forms were somewhat hard to read. My eyes just didn’t do well with the forms that have dark orange type on a lighter orange background. Another product I just came across is a wall clock with hour indicators (dots, not numbers) that are hard to see because of the lack of contrast.

Sometimes a product seems great at first, but not as good with a bit more consideration. Products like the Readers Nest bookshelf seem practical, but I’d be afraid that leaving a book open on the top would not be good for the spine. But if you want to use that top space for magazines that you’ll be recycling after you read then, the concern evaporates.

If you take some time to consider your requirements when picking an organizing product you’re likely to wind up with a product that works well for you — not just one that impresses you because it looks cool. For example, if you were choosing an alarm clock you might care about the following:

  • Size of the numbers
  • Ease of setting the alarm
  • Length and loudness of the alarm
  • Number of alarms that can be set at once
  • The alarm sound (which you may want to be pleasant or annoying)
  • Battery life, if it runs on batteries
  • Noise during non-alarm run time: ticking, etc.
  • Amount of light it puts into the room, if you sleep best in total darkness

With a bit of searching, there’s a good chance you can find a product that’s functional and has a look you enjoy.

How to remember future to-do tasks

While you may have a system for tracking normal to-do items, how do you remember to-dos that are many years in the future? The following are a few examples:

  • I recently read a FEMA document (PDF) that said smoke alarms should be replaced ten years from the date of manufacture. How do you remember to do that?
  • I just updated my will and trust, ten years after I first created them. How do you remember to review these documents and make updates as necessary?
  • I had hip replacement surgery in May 2016. All’s well, and now I don’t need to see my surgeon again for a follow-up until May 2020. How do I remember to make that appointment?

Sometimes a reminder comes indirectly. When one of the people I had named as an executor of my will moved out of the area, it reminded me that I needed to update my legal documents. While I was removing her name, I found other updates I wanted to make, too.

And in some cases, you’re likely to get a reminder from the related service provider. My lawyer sends me annual reminders to review my legal documents, and my surgeon’s office will remind me I need to schedule an appointment with him. But these follow-up systems are fallible, and I like to have my own reminders in place.

Since I use an online calendar that goes out for many years, my first inclination is always to put critical future events such as the doctor appointment on my calendar as soon as I become aware of the need. I have an item on April 15, 2020 to schedule that appointment for mid-May. When I get the smoke detector down from the ceiling to see when it was made, I’ll add the replacement date to my calendar. I also added a recurring annual item to review my legal documents.

Alternatively, there are all sorts of reminder apps you can use. While people usually add reminders for items in the near future (pick up dry cleaning, etc.) there’s no reason they couldn’t be used for to-dos that are many years out.

If you use a paper planner, you’re probably not going to be able to add something to your calendar for 10 years out. But if you use a binder-style planner such as Day-Timer or Circa you could use a to-do list (or just a blank note page) to capture all these future to-dos and carry that list forward, year after year. At the beginning of each year, you could add any relevant items from that list to the upcoming year’s calendar.

Finally, if you use a tickler file (such as the Smead desk organizer/sorter) you could put reminders for all future-year items in your December file, and then move them to the appropriate months at the start of the next year (or keep them in December if they apply to a future year).

What clutter looks like

What image comes to your mind when someone mentions clutter? For many people, that image might be a severely cluttered home — like one of those pictured at the higher levels of Randy Frost’s Clutter Image Rating Scale. Or you might think of the common clutter so many people have: overstuffed closets, etc.

But clutter can also look like part of this pegboard at the back of my garage. This is an old photo from 2004, and many of the things shown aren’t there any more. But those hula-hoops on the far left were there until earlier this week, when I gave them away on my local freecycle group.

The hula-hoops had a place, and I didn’t particularly need to free up that space for anything else. But I hadn’t used them since that photo was taken — I think I got them for a party. I couldn’t see using them in the foreseeable future, either, and I certainly had no sentimental attachment to them. So now they’ve gone to someone who will use them, and they are no longer useless-item clutter in my garage.

Clutter can also look like this table and chairs, which I gave away last week. I was about to have someone repair the table for me, but then I paused to give that idea some thought. While the chairs are comfortable and the ensemble looked nice in my front yard, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used them. So now they too have gone to a freecycler who will actually use them.

We can get so accustomed to seeing something in our environment that we don’t stop to question whether the item is still serving us well. I might never have thought about giving away that table and chairs if the table hadn’t needed repair.

One way to become more conscious of what’s in your space is to create some sort of home inventory for insurance purposes. You might just take photos of everything, including the contents of all the closets and cabinets. Those photos give you a new way of seeing your space.

I did my home inventory some years ago as a combination of a spreadsheet and photos, and listing everything I owned certainly did make me think about why I owned all those items. Most of them had good purposes, but some were remnants of past relationships, things I thought I should have as a homeowner but never used, and other items that weren’t helpful in any way. They soon became deleted lines on that spreadsheet as I found new homes for them. But somehow I missed those hula-hoops! Maybe I thought back then that I’d still use them, while now I’m more realistic.

Will your stuff fit into your space?

Many years ago I did a consultation with a person who was looking for suggestions regarding how to store things in her kitchen and pantry, where she was running out of space. An avid cook, she was not interested in getting rid of any of her kitchen utensils, which really did get used.

As we’ve noted before on Unclutterer, in March and June 2015, there are many ways to make the most of a small space. But in this particular situation, I couldn’t see anything to recommend — the available space was being well used. There was just too much stuff to fit into the space, no matter how beautifully organized it was.

When there’s too much stuff for too little space, there are a few obvious options you can consider if you want to keep the stuff:

  • Move to a bigger home.
  • Add onto the house, if you own it.
  • Rent storage space.

Any of these can be a reasonable strategy under the right circumstances. But in this case, the items taking up all the extra space weren’t valuable items that would justify such an investment. They were mostly bulk purchases of paper goods and food items from warehouse clubs like Costco or packaged foods bought on sale at local grocery stores.

Large-quantity purchases are appealing because they can save you money as well as shopping time — and sometimes those savings will indeed be the most important consideration. Also, some of those bulk purchases might fulfill your need for disaster preparedness supplies.

But if bulk or on-sale purchases intrude on your living space and make your home more cluttered than you find comfortable, it may be time to re-evaluate your purchasing strategy. What trade-offs of savings vs. storage challenges make sense in your situation? As with many types of items people own the question becomes: How much space (and which specific space) in your home are you willing to dedicate to this category of thing?

Of course, large-quantity purchasing is not an all-or-nothing situation. You can choose some selected items to buy in bulk and pass on the rest. I buy a couple things in bulk from Amazon, including my floss picks, because I can’t find the specific products I want at local stores. But I do indeed have designated storage spaces for those items — and, of course, packages of floss picks don’t take much space.

And there are degrees of bulk and on-sale purchasing. For example, consider just how many rolls of toilet paper you really want to buy: 25 or 50, maybe? You probably don’t need 500, no matter how good the price.

Making the time to learn new skills

Does your to-do list — or your project list or someday/maybe list, if you follow the Getting Things Done methodology — have things like learning to play golf, learning French, or learning to play an instrument? You may have been intimidated by the frequently quoted statistic that it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something.

But as Josh Kaufman points out in his informative and entertaining TEDx Talk, that 10,000-hour rule only applies if you want to become an expert in a highly competitive field: a star athlete, a world-class musician, etc. If you just want to be reasonably good, he says, you can learn a new skill with just 20 hours of practice — a number that’s a lot less intimidating.

Kaufman has a book which elaborates on the TEDx talk, but you can get the gist of his thinking from that talk, from his conversation with Jonathan Fields on the Good Life Project website, from his document entitled The First 20 Hours: Secrets of Rapid Skill Acquisition (PDF) on ChangeThis.com, and from the information on his own website.

Kaufman recommends that you follow these steps to learn any new skill:

Deconstruct the skill

Decide exactly what you want to be able to do, and set a target performance level. Then break the skill down into smaller pieces. That’s the same advice you’ll see for tackling any large project.

Listening to Kaufman talk about having a well-defined target made me think about how I approached learning French some years ago. My goal in learning French was to know enough to perform basic tourist activities: reserve a hotel room, buy a train ticket, order a meal in a restaurant, etc. Having that focused goal kept me from being overwhelmed — especially since language skills don’t come easily to me. When Kaufman discussed his work on Good Life Project website, he gave an example very similar to this.

Kaufman’s ChangeThis document has a nice example of deconstructing a skill you’ve chosen as your goal:

Take golf for example — in the course of a single game, you do many different things: driving off the tee, selecting clubs, chipping out of bunkers, and putting on the green. Each of those activities is a skill in itself.

Learn enough to self-correct

It’s easy to get caught up in theoretical learning, from books and other resources, rather than actually practicing the skill. Kaufman urges you to learn just enough of the basic concepts that you can self-correct when you’re doing your practice. Beyond this, focusing on learning rather than jumping in and practicing is just a way of procrastinating, he says.

Remove the barriers to practice

You can easily get derailed from practicing a new skill, especially at the beginning when you’re no good at something. So set up your environment to minimize distractions, and make it as easy as possible to do the practicing. On the Good Life Project, Kaufman talks about keeping that guitar you want to learn to play close at hand, not buried away in a closet where it’s difficult to access.

Practice at least 20 hours

Pre-commit to those 20 hours — twice a day for 20 minutes for one month will do it. In his book (and on the Good Life Project) Kaufman recommends setting a timer for those 20 minutes, because we tend to be horrible at estimating how long we’ve been doing something.

And as he says in his ChangeThis document:

If you’re not willing to commit to at least 20 hours of practice, then drop the project and learn something else. Life is short.

It’s perfectly okay to give up on a book

When is it okay to give up on a book? I’ve seen a couple articles on the web addressing this question, but my answer is shorter than those I’ve seen: It’s always okay to give up on a book. Of course there are a few exceptions: if you’re in school and the book is required reading, if your boss is asking everyone to read a specific book, etc. But unless the book is mandatory reading for some reason, you can give up on it any time you like.

You may have some personal guidelines about how many pages you want to read before abandoning a book. But as I’ve noted before, even authors give up on books they don’t enjoy — sometimes very quickly.

Sadie Trombetta wrote an article for the Bustle website entitled 10 Signs You Should Give Up On A Book You’re In The Middle Of (No, Really, It’s OK) and it made me smile because the first reason she lists — you hate the main characters — is exactly why I stopped reading the last selection from my book club. By page two I knew I despised the main character’s best friend, and that meant I didn’t think much of the main character, either. I quit right then, while other members forced themselves to finish the book. Only one person in our book club really enjoyed it. One other person didn’t finish, and she felt guilty about it. But she said she understood, for the first time, my feeling about not wasting time on a book I don’t like.

We all have limited time in our lives for reading, so it makes sense to be judicious in our choices. I don’t mean you have to read serious books — I just mean it makes sense to focus on well-written books that meet your own personal selection criteria. That could include books that amuse you, books that inform you, etc.

Tony Kushner, the playwright, was recently interviewed by Tim Teeman for The Daily Beast website. He said:

I love that line in The Normal Heart (that Felix says to Ned about his books): ‘I think you’re going to have to face the fact you won’t be able to read them all before you die.’

That pairs nicely with something Eric Roston wrote on Twitter:

God, grant me the serenity to accept there’s things I’ve no time to read, time to read the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes you may pick up a book and then decide it’s just not what you want to read right now, and set it aside for later. But if it’s a book that is never going to excite you, feel free to unclutter your bookshelf and your reading list — and move on to another book that you’ll enjoy more.

Will your heirs really want your stuff?

Saddleback Leather makes some lovely products. As Alan Henry on the Lifehacker website pointed out, the company’s tag line is “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”

Similarly, designer Jonathan Adler told Valeriya Safronova of The New York Times, “I make tons of stuff, but my life motto is, ‘If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.'”

But despite claims like this, many times the heirs do not want many of the items being left behind — even those of outstanding quality. Maybe that Jonathan Adler zebra bath mat just isn’t their style, or doesn’t fit the color scheme of their bathroom.

There are many reasons that an item that’s valued by one person might be of no interest to another:

  • Different tastes. Sometimes that’s generational — for example, certain furniture styles are out of fashion right now. But often it’s a matter of personal preferences.
  • Different lifestyles. Someone living in a small apartment isn’t likely to want large furniture pieces. Those who don’t entertain much at home may not want a 12-piece place setting. China or glasses that can’t go in the dishwasher may be of little interest to others. And depending on a person’s job, that person may have little need for a fantastic briefcase.
  • Homes that are already furnished. For example, those who already have a nice toaster are unlikely to want another one.

So what does this mean for seniors who are thinking about the future of their possessions — and those who eventually inherit those items?

To me, the most important thing to keep in mind was summarized by Tyler Whitmore, who was quoted in The Washington Post. “It’s not that they don’t love you. They don’t love your furniture.”

If something isn’t right for the inheritor, I believe getting it back into use by someone who will value it honors the prior owner more than letting the item sit hidden away in a closet. This exchange on Twitter captured that sentiment perfectly:

From Peter Nickeas: ebay is flooded with guys who inherit hand tools and have no idea what they do, no appreciation for craft.

Reply from Bill Savage: better the tools get sold to and used by people who do know and respect the craft. Otherwise? Clutter.

Another point worth considering is that sets of china, glassware and such don’t have to be treated in an all-or-nothing manner when it comes to giving them away.

Cynthia Broze wrote in reply to an article on Forbes:

My family had large Christmas gatherings every year at my grandparents house. My grandmother used her china, that she saved hard for, at these gatherings. When she died she left it to me and I kept it for 30 years … I emailed to all nieces, her great grandkids, cousins, etc., saying … Hey remember that china? I split it up between many who were happy to take a plate, cup or setting.

Another anecdote along the same lines: When my stepmother died, my father asked my brother and me what we would like to take from the many household furnishings. I took two cut glass wine goblets that aren’t my style (so I had no desire for the full set) but that bring back many happy memories.

And if items are going to be sold, it’s important to be realistic about their value — which is often much less than what the items originally cost and much less than what you might have expected. If seeing items get sold for low prices is difficult emotionally, you may find it easier and more emotionally rewarding to donate them.

Wayne Jordan, a licensed auctioneer and certified personal property appraiser, wrote about what can happen when those who are downsizing aren’t realistic about their possessions:

More than once, I’ve heard from the children of Boomers about parents who put their treasures into storage because the kids didn’t want them and they “weren’t going to sell them for pennies.” Then, they paid storage fees until they passed away or until the contents of the storage unit mildewed. Ultimately, these items ended up in an auction or in a landfill anyway.

That’s not the type of uncluttering any of us wants to see happen.

Four organizing lessons from Hamilton

I was lucky enough to see a performance of Hamilton last weekend, which was marvelous. How does this relate to organizing? The following are four organizing-related messages I took away from my theater experience and from my post-performance reading about the show.

Experiences are some of the best gifts.

I was lucky enough to receive my ticket as a gift. On Unclutterer we often write about how experiences make some of the best gifts, and this was a great example. That ticket was definitely one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

Uncluttering is always important.

The book Hamilton: The Revolution provides some of the back story regarding the creation of the musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail didn’t cut many songs from Hamilton as it evolved, but there were a few songs that did get removed. As the book noted, “The most common reason for putting a song aside was to keep the audience focused on the story that Lin and Tommy were trying to tell.” For example, a cabinet battle song about slavery “didn’t shed new light on the characters … so the song had to go.”

And on Twitter, Lin-Manuel explained that he cut a song about Washington’s death “because we sing a whole song about him saying goodbye and even though the moment gave us feels, it was redundant.”

If you’re uncluttering your home or office, you can take inspiration from Hamilton and look for items that don’t support what you want to accomplish in your space and items that are superfluous.

You always need tools with you to capture your thoughts.

One of the points that David Allen makes in Getting Things Done is that you never know when you’re going to have an idea worth remembering, and our minds aren’t the best of tools for storing these random thoughts. So you need some kind of tools (paper or electronic) for capturing those thoughts.

I thought about that when reading an article by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker about one of the Hamilton songs:

The refrain of Aaron Burr’s signature song, “Wait for It,” came to him fully formed one evening on the subway. “I was going to a friend’s birthday party in Dumbo,” he says. “I sang the melody into the iPhone, then I went to the guy’s party for fifteen minutes, and wrote the rest of the song on the train back home.”

Making time for both work and family is never easy.

One constant theme in Hamilton is the man’s devotion to his work (and the amazing amount of important work he got done) at the expense of spending time with his family. As Elizabeth Logan wrote on the HuffPost website about the song One Last Time:

Washington tells Hamilton, hey, sometimes it’s good to give up power and go home and be with your family. And Hamilton is like what why would anyone do that.

On the other hand, there’s Hamilton’s wife Eliza, who sings in Non-Stop, “And if your wife could share a fraction of your time …”

Many people struggle to find enough time for both their work and their personal lives. Hamilton doesn’t provide any answers to this dilemma, but it does bring it to your attention in a new way.

What decorating books say about clutter

I’m in the midst of another evaluation of my many books, and this time I’m eliminating the home decorating books that I haven’t looked at in ages. But as I was reviewing those books, I noticed that a number of the authors weighed in on clutter and organizing. The following is some of their advice.

In Meditations on Design, John Wheatman wrote:

Some of my most satisfying projects have not involved the purchase of any additional furnishings. I always begin by editing what is already in place. I help people discard the items don’t work and organize the ones that remain so that everything comes together and makes sense — functionally, visually, and financially. …

Weed out unnecessary possessions. Give fresh life to the furnishings you’re tired of by moving them around.

And in his book entitled A Good House is Never Done Wheatman wrote about being creative with storage containers (and he has a number of photos to illustrate his point):

Where do you put a sponge, a scrubbing brush, or a kitchen tool? … There is no need to restrict your choice of storage containers to what you find in the kitchen department of a home decor store. Expand your horizons to embrace antique shops, yard sales, and second-hand shops.

As a firm believer in using spare coffee mugs as pen and pencil holders and as toothbrush holders, I totally agree with Wheatman when it comes to thinking creatively about containers.

Wheatman also wrote about something that I often encounter:

I have yet to hear a good reason why the handsome table in your dining room can’t double as a desk during the day.

I’ve worked with people who thought they had to use their designated office space and the desk in that space for office-type activities, when their natural inclination was to work on the kitchen or dining room table in a more spacious and attractive room, sometimes with a lovely view. Unless you’re doing extended computer work that calls for an ergonomic set-up that the table may not provide, I agree with Wheatman. Go ahead and use that table, as long as you have an easy way to put things away when you want to use the table for eating.

Danny Seo has a clever anonymous quote in his book Conscious Style Home: Eco-Friendly Living for the 21st Century:

A clean desk is the sign of a cluttered desk drawer.

But he goes on to emphasize the importance of uncluttering:

What you’ll begin to notice as clutter is banished from your house is that treasured objects … suddenly reappear once the clutter is gone.

Overaccessorized rooms are too busy, distracting, and unnerving to spend time in. Psychologically, clutter makes us feel weighed down or even overwhelmed. The message is unmistakable: Keep it simple.

Ask Unclutterer: Opt-out resources to stop junk mail

Reader Sherry wrote in a comment on one of my recent posts:

Thanks for the RedPlum link! Have you all done an article collecting all of the opt-out resources?

Sherry, thank you for the good question! There are some excellent websites that already collect this information, so I don’t want to duplicate their work. Two of the best sites I’ve seen come from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition. That second one doesn’t have any information that’s specific to the San Francisco Bay Area — it would all apply throughout the U.S. Both of these sites provide both opt-out resources and suggestions about ways to avoid getting on mailing lists.

If you’re specifically concerned about junk mail from charities, you can refer back to my prior post on this subject.

There are also services you can use that will handle opt-out requests for you. One of these is Catalog Choice, a free non-profit service (which accepts donations). Despite the name, it handles more than just catalogs. It can remove you from quite a few political and charitable mailings, too, especially from larger organizations.

And the PaperKarma app is one more option. The app has new owners and was just relaunched this month as a subscription service. You take a photo of your junk mail and press send, and PaperKarma takes it from there.

You may have heard the suggestion, supposedly from the late Andy Rooney, to mail back unwanted junk mail in the postage paid envelopes some mailers provide. But as Snopes noted, there’s no proof this advice ever came from Andy Rooney, and it’s not a great way to tackle the junk mail problem, either.

Returning junk mail to direct mailers on their dime (by stuffing it back into their postage-paid return envelopes) may cost them some money and provide you with a bit of personal satisfaction, but it won’t cut down on the amount of junk mail you receive. In fact, it may actually increase your junk mail load, since the primary metric used to gauge the effectiveness of many direct mail campaigns is the number of responses received (even if those responses are negative).

All of the resources I’ve mentioned so far are focused on the U.S., but other countries also have services for helping their residents minimize junk mail. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Marketing Association has a Do Not Mail Service that sounds similar to what’s available through the Direct Mail Association in the United States. Canada Post has more suggestions on its website, too. More examples: The Hague published junk mail minimization advice for the Netherlands, and Clean Up Australia has advice for that country. Residents in the U.K. can visit the Royal Mail website for information on how to opt-out of junk mail delivery.

Organizing suggestions found in the media

My eye is always drawn to anything I see in newspapers, magazines, and such that has anything to do with organizing, even tangentially. I just sometimes wish that the messages were a bit more nuanced. The following are a few examples.

Buying organizing supplies = getting organized

Each week RedPlum advertising mailers arrive at my home, and there’s always an “organize your home” ad with photos of bedroom closet systems and garage cabinets. And while these kinds of products can certainly be useful, buying items like this would be the final step in getting organized, after any uncluttering and sorting. It’s hard to get a storage system configured properly if you don’t know what you’re going to store!

And, of course, many people can be organized just fine without buying something like a closet system.

Note for those who are certain to ask: Yes, I finally went to the RedPlum website to opt out of the company’s mailings.

There’s one right way to organize your stuff

Ayn-Monique Klahre wrote on The Kitchn website that she was advised that her “dream spice cabinet” with lovely identical spice containers was a bad way to organize those spices. I certainly agree that buying such spice containers and transferring all your spices from the bottles they came in to those new containers can be a waste of time and money, and it’s probably a poor idea for most people. But if someone has the time and money to spend and gets joy out of looking at the spices in their nice containers, I see nothing wrong with that.

The article goes on to say that organizing spices alphabetically is also a bad idea — which is a surprise to me, since that’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years. Organizing by use (cooking vs. baking) or by cuisine (Mexican, Italian, etc.) can also work for some people, but I’m fine with alphabetic.

While there are often best practices that work for most people, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t organize things in a totally different way that works for the way you think and live. I imagine the experts consulted for this article would agree, and that some qualifying comments were lost along the way.

Style your bookcases to refresh your home decor

Bonnie McCarthy wrote an article titled 12 tips to styling your bookcases like a pro, which ran in the Los Angeles Times. I had mixed reactions to this one. While McCarthy writes about “creating bookshelf displays that are both functional and decorative” in the introduction, the specific tips are heavy on the decorative portion.

If your goal is to have pretty bookcases with art and accessories along with the books, her advice seems quite good. But I was sad to see no real acknowledgement that books on bookcases are (in most cases) primarily there to be read and enjoyed, and making them easy to find and replace should be a critical factor to consider when doing the styling.

One of her suggestions, removing the dust jackets from the books and arranging them by color, would only work if you’re someone who visualizes books by color — and someone who doesn’t find dust jackets interesting and informative.

But I do like the advice she gave that applies to any organizing situation: “Don’t expect perfection on the first try; it may take a few attempts before everything falls into place.” And if you’re going to intersperse decorative pieces among the books, I would echo this advice: “Don’t crowd. Placing fewer items among your books allows them to shine.”

There was also one interesting tip that did indeed focus on both the practical and the decorative: “Curate a small collection and intersperse the pieces among the books on the shelves. Bonus points for displaying with books on the topic of the collection, i.e. sea shells and jars of sand with books about surfing and the Pacific.” That’s a creative organizing idea that would make those books easy to find while also creating an eye-catching look.

A donation resource list for harder-to-donate items

Back in May 2014 I wrote a list of places to donate furniture, fur coats, musical instruments, and more. I’ve since found additional donation alternatives that I’d like to share. These are mostly places that take harder-to-donate items. Others just caught my eye because their missions might appeal to some donors — and many of us find it easier to unclutter when we know our items are going to good new homes.

Medical equipment: Donating lightly used items such as walkers and hospital beds used in home care can be a challenge. Med-Eq matches donors with charities that need what the donors are offering. You fill out a simple online form, and the staff at Med-Eq will choose a recipient. The receiving party covers any costs, such as mailing expenses for smaller items. (Larger items would be picked up.) My thanks to organizer Adonna Braly, who recently reminded me of this one.

Diabetes supplies: Nicole Kofman and Kelly Close wrote about a number of places to donate these often-expensive items on the website diaTribe. While you’ll incur some expense in mailing these items off, you’ll have the reward of knowing you’ve helped someone in need. I learned about this from organizer Julie Bestry, so she gets a big thank-you, too.

Wigs: EBeauty Community has a wig exchange program providing free wigs to women experiencing hair loss due to chemotherapy.

Musical instruments: Although I’ve covered instruments before, I recently discovered another resource: Instruments in the Cloud, which allows donors to connect with local teachers who are looking for instruments.

Postage stamps: You may want to sell these, but if you prefer to donate them the American Philatelic Society will gladly take them. The society says, “Most common material is used for youth and educational programs.” Those programs need several hundred pounds of stamps every year! Supplies such as glassine envelopes that are in good condition are welcome, too. Of course, you could also check with a local stamp club, if you have one. And some teachers might find these useful, too.

Homemade blankets: Do you enjoy quilting, knitting or crocheting and wind up making more quilts or afghans than you, your family, and your friends can ever use? Project Linus will be glad to take them to give to seriously ill or traumatized children ages 0-18. Materials that can be used to make blankets can also be donated, if you want to reduce your stash. You can drop off donations with local chapters or mail them in. Thanks to quilter Louise Hornor for reminding me about Project Linus. Note: These must come from smoke-free environments for allergy reasons.

Beanie Babies: Operation Gratitude sends care packages to deployed troops, and all those care packages include Beanie Babies or other small plush toys. Gently used ones are accepted.