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.

Being an organized appliance purchaser

My washing machine started leaking about a week ago, and after 30 years I had to admit it was time to buy a new one. I’m very pleased with what I now have, and that’s partly due to the process I followed. Even though I wanted a new machine as soon as possible, I took some time to evaluate my options.

I asked trusted people for recommendations

Both my plumber and my contractor recommended the same appliance store, and I can see why. The place has an informative website, a large selection, and salespeople who were helpful both on the phone and in person.

I got clear on my priorities

My washing needs are pretty simple, so I didn’t need or want complex controls. I had two priorities: size and quality. I have a relatively small alcove for my washer and dryer, so I needed something that would fit that space — even though most washers today are larger than my old one was. I measured a couple times to ensure the machine I was ordering would fit in the washing machine pan I already had.

And I wanted a washing machine that was likely to be trouble-free and last a long time.

I read online recommendations from reliable sources

I read The Sweethome’s recommendations and bought a one-month digital subscription to Consumer Reports so I could read about its selections. Although I didn’t wind up with the machines they recommended, they both helped me understand my choices. For example, I chose a top-loading machine rather than a front-loading machine because of what they wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of both.

I went to the store and saw the machine in person

After doing my research I was fairly sure what I wanted, and I could have just ordered it online. But while I’m often fine with online buying, for something this significant I wanted to put my hands on the machine, not just examine it on a website. The immediate positive reaction I had to the washer when I saw it in the store made me sure about my choice. As much as a washing machine can, this one sparked joy, to use a Marie Kondo phrase.

Once I had the washer, I actually read the manual

Since I went for simple controls, this might have seemed unnecessary. How hard can it be to pick water temperature, load size, and one of four types of wash cycles? But it helped to read how the gentle cycle and “eco” cycle work so I could use those appropriately.

And when I was done, I filed the manual away and recycled the one from my old washing machine. (I know you can get most manuals online, but this is one case where I prefer the paper version.)

Minimizing packaging clutter

Clutter doesn’t just come from things you buy (or are given) — it can also come from the associated packaging that sometimes winds up sitting around your home or office. That might be the manufacturer’s packaging or the packaging added by a company like Amazon.

Excess packaging is part of the problem. Sandy Barker wrote abut this on her blog, Off the Beaten Track: “My eye cream comes in an even more ridiculous array of packaging: inside a jar, inside a plastic shell, inside a box, inside shrunk-wrapped plastic.”

The following are some strategies for limiting the packaging debris that comes into your space and dealing with it when it’s unavoidable.

Choose products that minimize packaging

Amazon’s frustration-free packaging initiative began in 2008, and since then many more products have been added to this category. These products are easy to unwrap and the materials are fully recyclable. Toys, electronics, and such don’t need to come in those hard-to-open and non-recyclable plastic clamshells. An added benefit of buying a product with easy-to-open packaging is you’re less likely to procrastinate in putting it into use because getting at the product isn’t a struggle.

You can tell when a product, such as this Belkin surge protector, is part of Amazon’s program because the description says it ships in easy-to-open packaging, and you may be given the option of standard vs. frustration-free packaging.

Amazon also has its Ships in Own Container program, where the product ships in the box from the manufacturer, without putting that box inside an Amazon box. You can tell a product is part of this program when the product page says: “This item’s packaging will indicate what is inside. To cover it, select Ship in Amazon box on the checkout page.”

I buy my cases of toilet paper from Amazon because my local store doesn’t carry the product I want, and I appreciate that Amazon ships it without a second box that I have to break down and put in my recycling bin.

Of course, you can look for products with minimal packaging when buying from places other than Amazon. If you’re shopping at a local store, you can choose to buy products with less packaging than others. And you can look for companies like Green Toys, where “all products are packaged in 100% recyclable cardboard — no additives like blister packs, twist ties, or cellophane wrappers.”

You can also avoid packaging altogether if you buy from bulk bins using a refillable container. There are some stores that specialize in bulk purchases for things like cleaning supplies and shower gels, and many grocery stores have some bulk food bins.

Recycle what you can

Many packaging materials are readily recyclable: cardboard boxes, glass containers, etc. Some may take a bit more effort to recycle, such as packing peanuts. My local UPS Store takes these, and if yours doesn’t you may find another shipping and packaging store that will. And as we’ve noted on Unclutterer before, a number of cosmetics companies, such as Aveda, will take back any packaging (and accessories) that aren’t accepted by your local curbside recycling program.

You can also try offering packing materials (boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, etc.) for free on places like Craigslist or freecycle, since people who sell on eBay or have other reasons to need packing materials may want them.

You may want to save some for your own reuse, perhaps for shipping off gifts. But be realistic about how much of this stuff you’ll really use.

If there’s no other good option, use the trash can

Have you ever bought a meal kit from Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, or one of the many other such companies? If so, you’ll be familiar with the freezer packs that come with these kits. Blue Apron will allow you to mail them back for free, but in other cases you’re stuck with them.

And there’s really no good use for the multitude of packs you can acquire if you use such services regularly. As Kiera Butler wrote in Mother Jones, the companies are no help:

Many blithely suggest that customers store old gel packs in their freezers for future use. Unless you happen to have your own meat locker, that’s wildly impractical. I tried it, and in less than a month the packs — which are roughly the size of a photo album — had crowded practically everything else out of my freezer. …

As Nathanael Johnson at Grist points out, Blue Apron has also suggested that customers donate used freezer packs to the Boy Scouts or other organizations. I asked my local Boy Scouts council whether they wanted my old meal-kit freezer packs. “What would we do with all those ice packs?” wondered the puzzled council executive.

I know many people are loath to throw things like this in the trash, but that’s a better option than having them just sit around your house, unused and taking up space.

Using wedding registries to avoid gift-related clutter

I have mixed emotions about wedding registries. On one hand, I tend to agree with Miss Manners, who recently wrote:

Registries are never proper, not for weddings, not for baby showers and not for birthdays. Not for christenings, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, sweet sixteens, graduations, engagements, coming out, announcing gender, changing gender, getting a job, losing a job, buying a house, divorcing, retiring or dying.

It is simply never polite to ask someone to buy you a present. Everyone is just going to have to go through life’s milestones without the explicit intention of reaping material rewards.

However, the practical part of me knows people are going to create registries, and they do help avoid couples getting gifts that get shoved to the back of a closet. If you’re going to create a wedding registry on Amazon or elsewhere, consider the following to help ensure the gifts you receive won’t become clutter.

You won’t develop a whole new personality after the wedding.

If you’re an introvert and throwing a fancy dinner party for 12 makes you shudder, it won’t suddenly sound appealing after you get married. If you tend to eat take-out meals and easy-to-prepare foods, you’re unlikely to become interested in gourmet cooking in the near future. So select items that match the person you actually are, not the person the registry checklists might presume you are. If your tastes and interests evolve later — as they certainly can, in unpredictable ways — you can get what you need for future-you when that time comes.

Consider the other members of your household.

I have cats who eat cut flowers, so vases would never go on my list. And any quilts and other such bedding needs to be machine washable, because hairballs happen. Consider what items may or not be appropriate given your specific family members. Do you need to avoid easily broken items? Are there medical conditions to take into account?

You still need to store the stuff.

Make sure everything you’re asking for will have an appropriate storage place in your home. And if you’re considering things you’d use once or twice a year — sports gear, Thanksgiving dinner kitchenware, etc. — consider whether or not you’d be better off renting or borrowing these items rather than owning them.

Consider items beyond the traditional housewares.

Your registry can incorporate consumables (such as wine) and experiences (such as museum memberships). Another option: Ask for donations to a charity of your choice. Rather than looking for cash donations, some couples have created registries of things they will turn around and give to local homeless shelters or other nonprofit organizations — making it clear to the gift-givers that this is their intention.

Add items to your registry as carefully as you would choose them if you were buying them yourself.

Are the items on your list things that you’ll love having in your space? Alternatively, are they just really practical items you need to have? (I once got a couple the paper shredder that was on their registry.) If not, consider whether they really belong on your list.

Two unusual types of uncluttering

When you think about uncluttering, you probably think about the stuff or the papers in your home or office. You may also think about uncluttering your calendar or your relationships.

But here are two different types of uncluttering I’ve read and thought about recently.

Uncluttering your hotel room

Designer Karim Rashid was recently quoted as follows in an article that Mark Ellwood wrote for Bloomberg:

The hotel industry loves to fill rooms up with things, which comes from the idea that a hotel room is an extension of your home. But for me, it’s too much stuff, too much clutter. If I’m going to spend three days in there, I need to be really free and able to think. I take every piece of paper, every note or book, and put it in drawers to hide them. I don’t like visual clutter. And in the bathroom, too — there’s a crazy amount of stuff they shove in there.

I read this and thought about how I do almost the same thing when I’m in a hotel room with such amenities. Everything I won’t need — the TV remote, the magazines, and most other hotel literature — gets put away somewhere so I won’t see it in the coming days. I stash away the excess pillows, too.

Uncluttering the meals you’re cooking


Ailbhe Malone wrote on the BuzzFeed website, “The secret to making a good pasta dish is to respect your ingredients. I know this sounds a bit cheffy, but that basically means: Don’t throw the kitchen sink in.”

You’ll find countless lists of 5-ingredient recipes, which can certainly make preparation easier. Also, limiting the ingredients may mean that you buy fewer ingredients that get used in one recipe and never again, so they sit around just taking up space.

But Malone seems to be thinking more along the lines of food writer Christopher Hirst, who stated in the Independent, “My favourite food involves the least possible culinary intervention — dishes where the quality of the ingredients is allowed to speak for itself.” Uncluttered dishes have benefits beyond saving time, money, and storage space — they often taste wonderful.

As noted chef José Andrés says, “Simple ingredients, treated with respect … put them together and you will always have a great dish.” I took a brief look at his tapas cookbook, and I saw many recipes that adhered to this principle.

The writers advocating for these uncluttered recipes aren’t saying that more complicated recipes don’t have their place, but rather than simple ones can be outstanding, too. When I think back to some of my most memorable meals, it’s often the ones with a few high-quality ingredients, well prepared, that come to mind.

Do you unclutter your hotel rooms? Do you like uncluttered recipes? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Amazon Echo and Google Home: Best thing ever or just clutter?

I’m a member of a Yahoo group that discusses digital management and lifestyle tools, including paperless management approaches. Lately there has been a lot of discussion about voice-activated home assistants such as the Amazon Echo (powered by Alexa) and Google Home (powered by Google Assistant). Both of these have a lot of fans. And while I understand the appeal to other people, I realized that for me, right now, a device like this would just be clutter.

The following are some of things the devices can do, and why they don’t have me running to buy one.

Control “smart home” devices

If you have smart home devices, such as the Philips Hue smart light bulbs, something like the Echo could certainly have some appeal. As Grant Clauser wrote in The Wirecutter:

Imagine walking into your home in the evening with your arms overflowing with groceries. To turn the lights on you’d need to put the bags down, pull out your phone, unlock it, open the app, find the control for the lights you want and then tap the icon. With Alexa you simply speak the words “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.” Presto! the lights come on.

But I don’t have any such smart devices. I turn on my lights with a light switch. I adjust my thermostat manually. I use a key to unlock my front door. All of these work fine for me. If I had a larger home, if my life involved more travel, or if I had certain physical limitations I might want some smart home devices, but right now there’s no problem they would be solving.

Play music, podcasts, or audio books

Unlike a lot of people, I only listen to music or podcasts in the car. When I’m home, I almost always prefer silence. And as much as I like to read, I never developed an interest in audio books.

If I did want to listen to music or podcasts, the smartphone in my pocket could take of that just fine. I wouldn’t need another device.

Respond to voice commands to provide information

You can ask these devices to tell you the temperature or how long a commute you’re facing. You can ask it to pull up information from Wikipedia. You can ask a variety of straightforward questions and get answers. And some people find this really useful.

Me? I generally prefer written or visual information. When I’m checking my commute before leaving home, I like looking at the map from my local traffic agency that shows me where any slowdowns or accidents are located. If I want information from Wikipedia, I want to read it, not have paragraphs of information spoken to me.

I’d be fine with voice responses to simple questions such as “What’s the score in the Giants game?” or “What is 20 cm in inches?” but I don’t often feel the need to ask this kind of question. And I could just pull out my iPhone and ask Siri the question if I didn’t want to type it into a search engine. (After many years with iPhones, I just tried asking Siri some questions for the first time, so you can see how much I care about this functionality.)

Add items to your calendar or lists

The Amazon Echo works with various calendars, but not the one I use — and Google Home requires using Google’s calendar, which I don’t. So that’s not a feature I could use.

The Echo lets you add things to a shopping or to-do list, which then show up in the Alexa app on your smartphone. (Google Home has something similar.) This feature appeals to me more than any other, but I don’t really have a problem with how I handle these lists today, without an extra device.

I’ve seen people mention how cool it is to be shopping and see something pop up on their shopping list that another family member has added. But my only other household members are my cats, and I don’t they’ll be adding items to my shopping list.

Generally make life easier or more fun

I’ve seen numerous rave reviews like these:

And other people just enjoy the features that aren’t all that useful or interesting to me. These devices make other people’s lives easier and more productive, and I think that’s great.

This goes to show that one person’s clutter can be another person’s invaluable item. We all have different needs and preferences and will make different purchasing choices.

Being organized about protecting your computer (and your smartphone)

You’ve probably heard about the ransomware attack that hit numerous computers earlier this month, with hospitals in the U.K. being some of the major victims. When computers became infected with the malware, their files were locked unless a ransom was paid to unlock them.

While this specific attack probably didn’t affect you, it’s a good reminder that you can take an organized approach to protecting yourself from future attacks by following a couple simple strategies. These won’t protect you from all malicious attacks, but they are critical parts any strategy for keeping your computer files safe.

Keep your software up to date

The computers that got infected this time were those that had not installed the relevant security update from Microsoft, which was released two months prior to the attack. And some of computers were running Windows XP, a version so out of date that patches weren’t even being released unless special support contracts were in place. (Microsoft later made the necessary patch available to everyone.)

Whether or not you enable automatic updates of your computer’s software, it’s important to install any security patches promptly. This is not a time to procrastinate! Besides the operating system (Windows, OS X, macOS, etc.) you may need to install security updates to software such as your web browser — I just did an update to Safari. Adobe Flash Player is another bit of software that gets frequent security updates.

While updates can be complicated in corporate and industrial settings — think about operating systems embedded in things like MRI machines — in most cases it’s much simpler for those of us with our personal computers.

Keep your smartphone updated, too

Smartphones and tablets can also need software updates for security purposes, so don’t overlook those. The phones that get security updates the fastest are Apple’s iPhones and the Android phones that come directly from Google rather than from a third party vendor. As Kate Conger explained on the TechCrunch website back in March:

Google has spent the past year working with third-party manufacturers and phone carriers to improve its update system for Android, which is often criticized for not being fast enough to protect users from known vulnerabilities. And while Google says it has made some progress in this area — Android issued security updates to 735 million devices from more than 200 manufacturers in 2016 — about half of Android users still aren’t receiving important security patches. ….

While Google-manufactured Pixel and Nexus phones and tablets receive automatic updates, hundreds of manufacturers that run Android on their devices don’t push security updates to their customers immediately. This practice can leave customers waiting for months to get updates, and their devices are vulnerable in the meantime.

Also be aware that some older phones may no longer have guaranteed security updates, so you may need to replace your phone to keep it secure. As Google notes for Nexus phones (with a similar statement for Pixel phones):

Nexus devices get security updates for at least 3 years from when the device first became available on the Google Store, or at least 18 months from when the Google Store last sold the device, whichever is longer. After that, we can’t guarantee additional updates.

Do your backups

We’ve written about the importance of backups here on Unclutterer in the past, and ransomware attacks are just one more reason these matter so much. Backups won’t protect your computer from being infected with malware — but if you have good backups in place, you could use them to recover from any such attack.

Organizing the recipes: choosing categories

Thanks to Neven Mrgan, I recently discovered the cookbook Made in India: Recipes From an Indian Family Kitchen and its three ways of organizing recipes.

  • Standard table of contents, with entries such as starters and snacks, vegetables, meat, fish, sides, breads, desserts, etc.
  • Standard index, with entries such as cauliflower and cinnamon, followed by the recipes using those ingredients
  • Alternative contents, with categories such as midweek meals (30 minutes or so), cooking in advance, party food, and low-fat.

This got me thinking about all the many ways you might want to categorize recipes, including:

  • By meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack
  • By meal course or type of dish: appetizer, main course, soup, salad, dessert, etc.
  • By main ingredient: chicken, fish, eggs, etc.
  • By dietary restrictions: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, nut-free, etc.
  • By holiday: Christmas, Lunar New Year, Passover, Thanksgiving, etc.
  • By preparation time: quick recipes vs. time-consuming ones
  • By status: untested vs. old favorites
  • By cooking method: outdoor grill, slow cooker, etc.
  • By source, such as your grandmother or Bon Appétit magazine
  • By part of the world outside of your own: Indian, Italian, Korean, Thai, etc.

And of course, you might want to subdivide these. Desserts might be subdivided into cakes, pies, etc. Indian recipes might be split by region within India. And you might want to know which recipes use a specific ingredient even if it isn’t the major one.

So how do you ensure you can find the recipes you want when they could be filed so many different ways? This is fairly easy if your recipes are stored on your computer, tablet, or smartphone — perhaps in an app such as Paprika or Evernote. Depending on the software you’re using, you can either add multiple tags or place the recipe into multiple categories. If you’re setting up your own categories or tags, it helps to consciously create a master list so you don’t wind up with unintended duplicates. Also, a master list can help ensure you don’t overlook a categorization you’re going to wish you had later.

Alternatively, your digital solution may just involve using the search function to find the recipes you want, such as the ones that use a specific ingredient that you happen to have on hand or all the gluten-free appetizers. Just be sure that each individual recipe includes the key words you’ll be using when you do your searches.

If you’re organizing in binders or recipe file boxes, though, you’ll need to choose a primary organizational scheme that serves you best, day to day. You can certainly combine two or more — for example, you may have one binder for untested recipes and one for those you know you like, with each binder having the same categories inside.

I concur with the contributor on the Chowhound website who wrote, in reply to a question about organizing recipes:

It really depends on how you think. I arranged my binder according to how I categorized each individual recipe in my head. For instance, my Chinese food section has all sorts of stuff that would otherwise cross several different categories (vegetable, main dish, pork, chicken, et al), but since I think of all those recipes as “Chinese”, then that’s where they go.

And for the secondary categories, you could decide to emulate the Made in India cookbook and create lists of recipes that fit into the secondary categories that are important to you. You could also make copies of a recipe page or card and file it in multiple places, but that can get cumbersome. For example, if you wanted to note something you changed when making a recipe, you’d need to note it in multiple places.

Finally, no matter how you categorize your recipes, you can always re-organize them if the categories you create don’t quite work for you. As with most organizing solutions, we often don’t get it exactly right on the first pass.

Book review: Unf*ck Your Habitat

Note: Some of you may take offense at the title of this book, in which case this is not the book for you. But if you’re fine with the title, you may enjoy the book and find it useful.

When people talk about their messy homes, they’re often talking about two related challenges: organizing and cleaning. Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman deals with both of these as part of the ongoing process of creating a pleasant home.

Hoffman focuses on creating a “functional and livable home that you aren’t ashamed of or stressed out by, “not one of the “picture-perfect” homes you often see in magazines. And her advice applies to someone living in a dorm room or renting a room in someone else’s home, not just those with their own apartments or houses.

You won’t find any radically new organizing advice here, although the advice provided is good. Some examples:

  • We’re disorganized primarily because we have more stuff than storage. There are two solutions: less stuff or more storage. Less stuff is almost always the better option.
  • Your everyday items should live someplace where it’s just as easy to put them away as it is to leave them out.
  • When you’re getting rid of stuff, don’t make it someone else’s problem. … If something is broken, outdated, or no longer useful, you’re just passing the buck on ending its life cycle when you know good and well that it was time for it to get tossed or recycled.

Hoffman advocates doing your organizing and cleaning in a series of 20/10s, one or more per day, where a 20/10 is twenty minutes of work followed by a 10-minute mandatory break. But here’s something I really liked: She says that if 20/10 doesn’t seem right for you, go ahead and make it 45/15 or whatever works better. If you have energy limitations, she suggests that 5/15 may work better. And if your physical limitations mean that 5/rest-of-the-day is all you can handle, that’s okay, too.

Hoffman is a compassionate realist. She admits that cleaning is not fun and that “there’s no magic solution to the problem of disorganization.” She expects you might backslide into messy ways, because forming the new habits needed to keep your home in decent shape is hard. She writes, “The only way to really succeed is to not give up at the first setback (or the second or fifth or tenth), and to keep trying until it sticks.”

There’s a useful chapter on dealing with roommates, spouses, and significant others who don’t share your cleaning and organizing goals. And the chapter entitled “Emergency Unf*cking” gives a practical plan on how to respond when you need to make your place presentable, fast.

Unf*ck Your Habitat is a quick and easy read. It won’t give you lots of detailed advice regarding how to organize your clothes, your files, etc. But it just might inspire you get going, even when your home feels like a total disaster.

An organized approach to passwords for World Password Day

I’m not usually a big fan of business-sponsored special days, but World Password Day is an exception. The four recommendations provided on the website are all good ones, and they are presented clearly and succinctly.

Step 1. Create strong passwords.

Rich Shay of MIT, who was involved in Carnegie Mellon’s research into passwords, told The Washington Post, “There is no perfect password.” And while there are some guidelines that many experts recommend, some of Shay’s research (PDF) indicated that “participants generally wished to create strong passwords, at least for some accounts; they just did not always know how to do so.” In some cases, “weak passwords resulted from misconceptions, such as the belief that adding ‘!’ to the end of a password instantly makes it secure.”

The World Password Day guidance places an emphasis on password length, although other strategies are also noted. Many experts are now recommending long passwords, which can be based on a phrase (as long as it’s not something like a published poem or song lyric). The Washington Post gives the following example:

  • Bad password: J@ckal0pe3
  • Better password: boughtthejackalopeatwalldrugstoreinsouthdakota

Step 2. Use a different password for each account.

As I’ve noted before on Unclutterer, different passwords might not be necessary for accounts where you aren’t concerned about the security — if you happen to have any like that. But any website that has your medical or financial information or provides access to critical services such as your email should certainly have a unique password. That way if the passwords at one site get compromised your other accounts will still be secure.

Step 3: Get a password manager.

It’s a lot easier to comply with steps 1 and 2 if you’re using a password manager. Tools such as 1Password, LastPass, and KeePass are what people usually think of when it comes to a password manager, and they are the type of password manager that World Password Day has in mind. Besides storing your passwords, many of these tools can also generate random passwords for you — and some can do auto logins for you, too.

However, a piece of paper can also serve as a password manager, as explained on the Crash Override Network website:

You’ve likely read advice telling you to “never write down your passwords.” This is because we, as human beings, have a bad habit of leaving the password to a secure computer sitting on the desk next to the computer that is being secured. Physical copies of passwords can be kept secure just like any small, valuable item you own. Treat passwords in paper form the same as money, passports, legal documents, your great grandmother’s antique pearl earrings, the deed to old man Withers’ silver mine, and of course, the keys to your house. Don’t leave passwords on the desk at work or taped to your monitor.

The piece-of-paper approach doesn’t have the added features a digital password manager might have, and it’s something that could be lost in a disaster like a fire. Still, it might be the best solution for those who are uncomfortable with other tools.

Step 4: Turn on multi-factor authentication.

The World Password Day site states: “In 2017, our call to action … is to #LayerUp Your Login by enabling multifactor authentication. A password alone is no longer enough to protect online accounts.” You’ve probably seen news stories about people whose passwords were discovered, sometimes because they were tricked by a fake email message. With multi-factor authentication, your account stays secure even if your password becomes known.

What exactly is multi-factor authentication? Parker Higgins, writing on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, explained that there are three factors that can be used to authenticate your access to an account:

  • A knowledge factor, like a password or PIN. Something you know.
  • A possession factor, like a key or a hardware dongle. Something you have.
  • An inherence factor, like a fingerprint or an iris. Something you are.

The way this often works on a computer is that you enter your login and password (something you know) and then a code gets sent to your smartphone (something you own) in a text message. You enter that code into the computer, and you’re set.

Alternatively, for even safer verification, you could use authentication apps such as Google Authenticator or physical tokens such as Yubikeys if either of those options are available.

Not all sites allow for multi-factor (or two-factor) authentication — but many do, although it might go by a different name. As Gennie Gebhart wrote on the EFF website: “Different platforms sometimes call 2FA different things, making it hard to find: Facebook calls it ‘login approvals,’ Twitter ‘login verification,’ Bank of America ‘SafePass,’ and Google and others ‘2-step verification.'”

So if you want to be fully security-conscious, search for this option on the websites that provide it.

Avoiding “sorry for the late response” emails

If I didn’t email you back it means I set your note aside to consider more carefully later, then didn’t. — Michael Green, on Twitter

I read this tweet and smiled, because I’ve done the same thing, as have so many others. Marissa Miller once tweeted, “adulthood is emailing ‘sorry for the delayed response!’ back and forth until one of you dies” and her tweet got shared 27,000 times, so this obviously resonates with a lot of people.

Susanna Wolff recently wrote a humor column in The New Yorker entitled Sorry For the Delayed Response that is full of imagined way-too-late email responses, starting with the following one:

Sorry for the delayed response. I opened your e-mail on my phone while my date was in the bathroom, but then I saw that it required more than a “yes” or “no” reply, decided that was too much work, marked it as unread, and then forgot about it entirely until just now.

So how can we avoid the delayed response syndrome?

Suggestions for email senders

In an article entitled Let’s All Stop Apologizing for the Delayed Response in Our Emails, Melissa Dahl wrote about what she saw as the “real problem with replying to email”:

When … are you supposed to reply? Sometimes people make this clear, explicitly noting that they need an answer by the end of the day, or week, or whatever. But this doesn’t happen as often as it should.

So try helping your email recipients by making it clear just how urgently you need a reply: right now, tomorrow, by a specific future date, etc. You can also adopt the practice that Tsh Oxenreider describes on her blog, The Art of Simple: her friend Sarah ends some emails with “No need to reply!” Not every email requires a response, so it helps to make it explicit when no response is expected.

Also, make it easy for your recipients to see exactly what response is needed. A few days ago I got an email from my brother with five numbered questions, and it was extremely easy to respond quickly — and I knew he needed a quick response because he told me that. Each question was brief, including exactly the information I needed in order to answer. Did I want to go to either of two choral performances (with dates and location provided)? How did I feel about a potential family reunion at a specific place on a specific date? If only all my emails were that easy to handle!

Suggestions for email receivers

If it’s not clear when a response is needed, you can write back and ask. This will help you respond appropriately, and it might also train your correspondents to include this information in the future.

As we’ve discussed before on Unclutterer, you can create your reply faster by using a text expansion tool to handle frequently used text.

But the advice I read that I personally found the most meaningful came from Melissa Febos, writing in the Catapult online magazine and addressing her fellow writers: “Stop trying to get an A+ at anything but writing your best work.” The specific thing you’re trying to get an A+ in may be almost anything, but it probably isn’t email replies. Yes, work emails require professionalism and clarity. But I know I’ve sometimes spent way longer on an email response than was necessary. The latent perfectionist in me likes those A+’s, but I know that my time can often be spent more wisely.