Uncluttering before the holidays

I just got word that Coastside Hope, my local social services agency, is collecting items for its annual Thanksgiving turkey and warm clothing distribution. Donations of coats, jackets, and such — and used toys — are being accepted now through Nov. 20. I’ve spread the word to my book club and to some of my organizing clients who are motivated by events such as this.

For anyone else who would like similar motivation, there are numerous other collection events around the holidays. The following are a few examples:

  • Giving Back, Linda’s Legacy runs a Christmas Drive to Help the Homeless, delivering clothing to homeless shelters in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, DC right around Christmas. Besides clothing, the organization is collecting new or gently used toys, linens, and blankets — and travel sized toiletries (like those people take from hotel rooms and never use).
  • One Warm Coat collects gently used coats at drop-off locations throughout much of the United States. I found 33 collection sites within 25 miles of my home, with collections generally beginning in October or early November and running through mid-November to late December.
  • Wrap Up London will be collecting coats from Nov. 9-15. The coats go to 110 organizations that serve the homeless, women fleeing from domestic violence, and more.
  • In parts of British Columbia, Canada, you can donate to the REALTORS Care Blanket Drive from Nov. 14-21. Along with gently used blankets, the drive also accepts sleeping bags, coats, and other warm clothing in good condition.
  • Halloween costumes in good condition can be donated to ‘Ween Dream in Louisiana — and it will gladly take ones you mail in if you don’t live locally. In my own area, I just learned that the County of San Mateo Children’s Fund accepts costume donations, too.
  • Many toy drives focus on new toys, but Play it Forward Pittsburgh is a gently used toy donation drive. Donations can be dropped off Dec. 11-14. The drive collects toys (but no stuffed animals) for children ages 0-16.

If you look around your own area, you may well find similar holiday donation drives.

This is also a good time of year to donate holiday decorations that you no longer use to one of the many thrift stores whose proceeds benefit good causes. They probably won’t want your decorations in January, but they’ll be happy to take them as the holidays approach.


And if you need to unclutter your pantry, consider donating to your local food bank. While holiday season food drives often focus on turkeys, food banks can use a wide range of other items at all times of the year. Check the organization’s website to see what’s on its wish list. If you’re really inspired, you could coordinate a holiday food-and-fund drive to encourage co-workers or others to join you. Most food banks, such as this one in Santa Cruz County, California, have materials available to help you run a successful food drive.

Backups aren’t just for computers

I’ve written prior posts urging you to have good computer back-ups, and I’ll take this opportunity to do so one more time. Here’s a reminder that fits the Halloween season:

đź‘»OOOOOooooooOOOOOOO
The ghost of future hard drive failure reminds you to back up your data
oooooOOOOOOooooooo
— Hannah A. Brazeau

But what I mostly want to discuss are two other kinds of backups you may need.

Backups of important paper documents

Some documents you might keep tucked away in a safe deposit box or a home safe, but there are also important papers that you might use regularly and need to keep close at hand. And those papers are susceptible to being lost or damaged.

Author Susan Orlean wrote about the following problem:

Had a small flood in my office. Some handwritten notes are now abstract watercolors. Fortunately I’d typed them up, but yikes.

And then there’s this sad story from Gene Young, who wrote about his Day-Timer:

I accidentally left my little book in my shirt pocket and it got washed and dried but good. My schedules were all in little bitty pieces.

Do you have any similar papers, where losing them would be a significant problem? One way to give yourself a backup for such papers would be to take photos of the important pages or to scan them, perhaps with a scanner app on your smartphone.

Backups for critical technology

Vince Dixon wrote for Eater about a problem that happened last May:

A Square service outage … lasting roughly two hours forced restaurants, coffee shops, and food carts around the country to turn away customers and lose sales, bringing into question whether relying solely on new technology and software to make business transactions is a good idea.

Nate Snell, the owner of one such business, learned his lesson:

He has emergency plans for greasy spills and fires, but was caught off guard by the technical glitch. “I don’t think we realized that the entire Square system nationwide would go down,” Snell says. “I immediately got on Amazon and ordered an old-fashioned [credit card] swiper.”

While this type of contingency planning is critical for businesses, it might also apply beyond the typical business environment.

Do you have any technology you use all the time that could cause a significant problem if it malfunctioned or became unavailable? I rely on my computer and its internet connection for a few things — sometimes a smart phone isn’t enough — and I once lost that connection for a couple days when someone drove into and destroyed a major piece of phone company equipment. Fortunately, my backup plan was as simple as taking my laptop to a local coffee shop — and making regular food and beverage purchases to compensate for using its WiFi. But if I had a desktop computer rather than a laptop, finding a backup solution would have been much harder.

If you rely on a mapping program to provide driving instructions, what would you do if that service went down halfway though your drive? Would you have another way to find your destination?

If you assume any technology might fail at any time, and then plan for working around any significant problems that could cause, you may save yourself some panicked moments in the future.

Organizing for disasters: thoughts after the recent fires in California

The horrendous fires in California aren’t close enough to my city to put me in any danger. But they sure got me thinking, yet again, about how we can be prepared if a disaster sadly comes our way. My latest musings are as follows:

Preparing with pets in mind

Julia Whitty just wrote about getting ready to evacuate if need be. She began her article with the following: “I’m waiting about 10 miles from the nearest fire front with bags packed, my cat carrier ready, and my cat locked inside with me.”

I hope Julia doesn’t need to evacuate — but if she does, I’m glad she’s prepared for both herself and her pet. I was heartbroken to read about someone who left her big Maine Coon cat behind when she evacuated from a hurricane because she didn’t have a carrier. And much sadder still are the stories of people who died going back to their homes to save their pets.

Gary’s article about evacuating when his apartment building caught fire had some good advice about keeping cat carriers close at hand. (He also inspired me to finally order some of those Pet Inside stickers for my home.) And Ileana Paules-Bronet wrote some good advice about evacuating with pets. I know people with multiple cats and just one cat carrier, used for taking a single cat to the vet. That won’t work in an evacuation situation.

Sheltering in place vs. evacuating

Because earthquakes are always a threat where I live, I think a lot about what I’d need if my community were isolated for a while, perhaps without running water or electricity. So I stock up on bottled water, nonperishable food, cat food and litter, etc.

But being prepared to evacuate is a whole different scenario — and the scenario also changes depending on whether it’s a localized problem (a single building fire, for example) or a larger one. If I had to leave immediately, I’d be happy to just get my cats and myself out safely. But if I had a bit more time, what would I want to take? There’s the practical stuff: medicines, food, water, laptop computer, a change of clothes, etc. Would I have room for any irreplaceable art and memorabilia? I think I’ll make myself a checklist so I won’t have to think about it if I ever find myself in the midst of an emergency situation.

And I’m going to re-evaluate the supplies I keep in my car. They were chosen in case I found myself stranded away from home during an earthquake, but it might make sense to add some things I’d want during an evacuation (such as some cat food) just to save precious seconds.

I was also grateful to find a home evacuation checklist with a number of good suggestions that were new to me, such as leaving interior and exterior house lights on to make it easier for firefighters to see your home in smoky conditions or at night.

Staying informed

Making sure you know when to evacuate (or otherwise prepare for an emergencies such as storms) is critical. While TV, radio, and social media can be helpful, it’s also useful to sign up for any emergency notification system your community offers. You can search for the name of your city plus the word “alert” to find what’s available, or you could ask your local officials. Fortunately, the text alerts I’ve received from my own local alert system have only covered major road closures, but I know I’ll be warned if anything more serious happens.

Procrastination and deadlines

Do any of the following words sound familiar to you?

  • Me every time: “Should I spend ten minutes completing this task now or stress about it for four days first? The latter seems good.” — Kelly Ellis
  • My most reliable hobby is spending an hour putting off a task that will take two minutes to complete. — Josh Gondelman
  • An hour is amateur. I’ve gone months. Years. — Helen Rosner, replying to Gondelman

I just cleaned my cat fountain, a task that just takes a few minutes but which I’ve been putting off for weeks. I finally did it because I knew I was writing this blog post.

For me, the most useful way to avoid procrastination on tasks of all sizes is to have a deadline or make a public declaration of intent. Last week I wrote about figuring out which of my keys are the ones I need, so this week I finally went to The UPS Store and determined which one opened the store’s front door. I’m in a book club, which gives me a deadline for reading at least 12 books per year. I just volunteered to host the next book club meeting, so I will definitely give the house a good cleaning before then.

Tim Urban did a TED talk on procrastination where he says that even though he’s a master procrastinator, things work out for him. As deadlines approach, his “panic monster” shows up, frightens off the “instant gratification monkey” in his brain, and he meets those deadlines. It’s not a pretty system, but it works. The problem comes with things that don’t have deadlines, so the panic monster never appears.

I wondered if maybe that panic monster can be activated for good even when there’s not a deadline. Those of us in earthquake territory, watching the news about the horrible hurricanes lately, might get inspired to begin creating or updating our stash of emergency supplies since we have no idea when the next major quake will strike.

Eric Jaffe, writing for Co.Design, says that some studies indicate that self-imposed deadlines don’t work to overcome procrastination, and this matches the thinking of scholars in the subject.

Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University, one of the leading scholars of procrastination, isn’t surprised that self-imposed deadlines don’t resolve undesirable delays. Procrastinators may need the tension of a looming deadline to get motivated, but when that deadline is self-imposed its authority is corrupted and the motivation never materializes. “The deadline isn’t real, and self-deception is a big part of procrastination,” he tells Co.Design.

Jaffe goes on to say that Pyschyl and other researchers think procrastination isn’t actually a time management issue. Rather, the problem is the following: “Procrastinators delay a task because they’re not in the mood to do it and deceive themselves into thinking they will be later on.”

I’m not sure that’s why I procrastinate, but I do know that private self-imposed deadlines frequently don’t work for me. If I find I’m procrastinating on something important that has no hard deadline, I might need to create one by making that commitment known to someone else.

Common clutter items: unidentified keys and cords

As a cat lover, I’m fond of the smartphone game called Neko Atsume, where you get various cats to visit you and leave behind some treasures. The treasure that one cat leaves is “a small toy key” — but “no one knows where it goes to.”

Seeing this reminded me of all the keys so many people have stashed away — and they, too, have no idea what many of the keys were ever intended to unlock. I just looked at my own key collection and noticed I have a few of these, also. I carry a limited number of keys with me daily: house key, car key fob, my neighbor’s house key, and the key to my UPS Store mailbox. In my box of other keys should be one for my brother’s house, my safe deposit box, my two lockboxes, and the door to The UPS Store. And there should be a couple spare house keys for my own home.

But I don’t know which key is my brother’s and which goes to The UPS Store — and I have three extra keys that are total mysteries. Furthermore, I’m almost positive that one of the keys in the box is the key to a good friend’s old house, before she moved out of the area. So my to-do list for October includes identifying the useful keys, using colored key caps (with an associated list) so I know which is which, and tossing the mystery keys. In some places such keys can be recycled as scrap metal, which is better than sending them to landfill if you have that option.

And in the future, I’ll make life easier on myself by immediately tossing any keys I don’t need — for example, my current copy of my brother’s house key if he ever changes the locks — and labeling any new ones.

A similar problem happens with cables and cords, where almost everyone I know has a box or a drawer (or maybe multiple boxes and drawers) filled with unidentified items. If all the electronic equipment you have is working fine with the cords you already have in place — and you have found the cords to any electronics you plan to sell, donate, or give away — you may be able to let all those other cords go. In some cases you may want spare cords: for travel, for replacing ones the cat chews through, etc. But many people also have a bunch of cords that go to electronics they haven’t owned in years. Along with the cords you may also have old remotes and charging devices.

Those whose hobbies involve tinkering with computers and electronics may want to keep an array of cords and cables for purposes as yet unknown. But those of us who just want to use our devices don’t need the cords to old computers, monitors, printers, etc. These cords qualify as e-waste, and you can usually find a place to recycle them without too much trouble. For example, in the U.S., they can be dropped off at Best Buy stores, in the recycling kiosks that are just inside the front doors.

Thinking ahead about simplifying the holidays

As the days get shorter here in the Northern Hemisphere and the nights get chillier, I start thinking about the upcoming holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. And this inspired me go to my bookshelf and take another look at the book entitled Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays, by Elaine St. James.

This is a type of book that often doesn’t appeal to me: a smaller size (for easy grabbing at the bookstore cash register) and the 100-ways format. But this is one I liked, because it puts forth a range of suggestions so you’re quite likely to find at least a few that inspire you to approach things a bit differently. The author isn’t proposing any one-size-fits-all solution.

On a re-read, the chapter that most caught my attention was entitled Stop Trying to Get Organized. Her point is that a long organized holiday to-do list — with tasks starting weeks or months before Christmas — means you’re still doing a whole lot of things. Simplifying, so the long list isn’t so long, would often be a better approach. It reminded me of the standard organizing approach where we unclutter first and then organize what’s left, so we aren’t organizing things we don’t really want or need.

The author emphasizes the importance of identifying what’s special and meaningful to you and your family about the holidays and focusing on those items. This made me think about my own special holiday memories. I remember standing on a friend’s porch in Florida on a warm Christmas Eve, looking at the lights, drinking wine, and singing every Christmas carol we could remember. I remember being lucky enough to spend a Christmas with friends in Germany, who had invited many family members and friends to spend the holiday with them. They opened gifts on Christmas Eve, but the number of gifts and their cost were both much less than what I often see at home. I have amazing memories of a Christmas Eve spent answering calls on an AIDS hotline, many years ago. I love pulling together my Christmas music playlist every December, and buying gifts for my adopted seniors from their wish lists has been part of my holidays for years.

So music, friends, and caring for those less fortunate than me are key parts of my holidays. These all add joy to my life, don’t involve excessive spending, and don’t cause me any stress.

St. James addresses many aspects of holiday celebrations: cards, gift giving, the Christmas tree and other decorations, holiday meals, the office Christmas party, etc. Now, before we’re actually swept up in the holiday season, might be a good time to ponder how you’d like to handle all of this in the coming months. Many of her thoughts about Christmas could apply to other holidays equally well.

And now I’m going to freecycle this book, passing it along so someone else can be inspired to have the holiday celebrations they really want.

More ways to sell and donate your stuff

Once you’ve done your uncluttering, the final step is to get the unwanted things out of your home or workplace. I’ve written before about the many ways you might do this, and Dave has provided suggestions, too. But now I’d like to mention a few additional resources. One of these is only available in a limited area, and all are based in the U.S., but you might find similar services in your area.

Note: I have no personal experience with any of these companies, so this isn’t an endorsement — just a reminder that there may be more ways than you expected to dispose of things that are no longer serving you. If you’re interested in any of these specific services, please do your own research before choosing them.

Remoov (San Francisco Bay Area)

Remoov will come to your place with a truck and take away your stuff. You pay for the portion of the truck you are using. But then Remoov will sell what it can, donate what it can (that doesn’t sell), and “responsibly discard” the rest. You receive 50% of the sale proceeds and a donation receipt. If items must be discarded, you’ll be charged a disposal fee that covers Remoov’s costs.

There’s a free consultation up front, so you will have a good idea of what to expect. Items must be packed up before the Remoov truck arrives.

Prices start at $199 and go up from there, depending on how much truck space you need and where you fit within Remoov’s territory. So this seems like a useful service for someone like the Yelp user who wrote, “I needed to clear out a bunch of junk from my place this week (elliptical, queen size bed, old dining set, a set of cabinets.” Another good fit: the Yelp user who wrote, “We are moving out of the country and needed to get rid of all our furniture.”

MaxSold

MaxSold conducts online estate sales auctions. You identify which things are to be sold, and then MaxSold catalogs the items, taking pictures and writing descriptions. MaxSold does the auction, and afterward successful bidders come to your home to pick up items during a pre-defined time window. MaxSold takes a commission on each lot of 30% or $10, whichever is greater.

MaxSold is often used to clear out a house at the end of a move. The company says, “On average, 98% of everything in your house can be sold via MaxSold.” Ordinary clothes are one of the few things the company doesn’t handle.

Using MaxSold allows you to have the equivalent of an estate sale in places where such sales might not be allowed. It can also work for those who don’t have enough of value for other estate sales or auction services to be cost-effective.

One drawback noted by some users is that everything must remain in place for two weeks until the auction is complete and the purchasers have taken their items.

Mighty Good Things

Mighty Good Things describes itself as “a nonprofit turning millions of previously-loved possessions into funding for other nonprofits.” You gather up your items and ship them off using a pre-paid FedEx label. (If you’re in San Francisco, items will be picked up.) Mighty Good Things then sells them on places like eBay and Amazon and donates 100 percent of the net proceeds to the nonprofit of your choice. You get an itemized donation receipt for tax purposes.

This is intended for “high value, reasonably small items” such as smartphones, small appliances, or a nice pair of shoes in great condition.

If you’d like to share other companies providing interesting ways to sell or donate your items, please leave a comment!

Organizing for disasters: supplies that work and some that don’t

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been devastating to so many, and my heart goes out to anyone affected by these storms. My dad lives in Florida, so I followed Irma-related news pretty closely. (Thankfully, my dad is fine.)

I got many of my updates on Twitter, and I noticed two themes that might help anyone who wants to be prepared for potential disasters in the future.

Candles are not your friend.

Lots of people noted they were lighting up their candles as they lost power. But both public safety organizations and other experts kept saying, over and over again, that candles are a bad idea. The following are just some of the warnings:

  • The American Red Cross, South Florida Region:
    Use flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles.
  • Florida State Emergency Response Team:
    If there is loss of power, do not use candles or open flames as a light source.
  • City of Tallahassee:
    Flashlights, headlamps, etc. are better options for light if you lose power.
  • Miami-Dade police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, likelihood of a fire increases.
  • Dr. Rick Knabb, hurricane expert at The Weather Channel:
    Millions expected to lose power. Don’t run generators indoors – carbon monoxide kills. Don’t light candles and risk a fire.
  • Florida Department of Health:
    If the power goes out, don’t light candles in your home. It’s a fire hazard that can be avoided by using battery operated lights.
  • Plantation Fire Department:
    #SafetyReminder If your power goes out, utilize FLASHLIGHTS instead of CANDLES!
  • Oviedo, Florida police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, the likelihood of a fire increases
  • Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator, now in Gainesville, Florida:
    Hurricane #Irma, don’t use candles / open flames during the storm when the power goes out. The Fire Department doesn’t need more emergencies.

And the Miami Herald has a list of 7 stupid things we do during a hurricane that can get us killed and using candles is on that list.

So forgo the candles, and load up on some combination of flashlights, headlamps, battery-powered lanterns, and plenty of spare batteries. Some people like to include glowsticks in their emergency supplies, too.

A corded phone just might be your friend.

Key West lost most of its connectivity (cell phones and internet) after Irma, but reporter David Ovalle found a way to get the news out:

My savior. Patricia on Eaton St in Key West had a relic landline that worked after the storm, allowing me to call story after storm

Firefighters also used line to call their families. Her friends chided her for years. She has no cell, still uses an answering machine!

And someone else got good news via landline: “Random woman in Key West that still has a working landline just called me to let me know my parents are ok. #Irma This woman is my hero”

As Consumer Reports wrote, “A phone with a corded base can work during a power outage, as long as it’s connected to a conventional landline or VoIP service with battery backup.”

My internet service provider bundles a phone line with my internet service, and I’m glad to have it. Corded phones are relatively inexpensive, too. You might want to join me in having a corded phone in addition to a cell phone, just in case.

Donating to help needy animals

A friend recently told me that a local wildlife center welcomed donations of Beanie Babies and other such small stuffed animals because baby raccoons and other small animals like to cuddle with them.

Your local humane society, animal shelter, or wildlife rescue organization may be able to use many things you might be looking to unclutter.

Many such organizations take blankets (especially fleece) and bath towels, but always check with your local organization before bringing in donations. Many do not want sheets, but some do. Other obvious potential donations, depending on each organization’s policy, are pet care items in good condition: food, food bowls, grooming supplies, cat trees, laser toys, catnip, cat litter, pet carriers, etc. The SPCA of Solano County wants cardboard flats or beer trays to use as disposable litter boxes.

A lot of these organizations also need office supplies, which many people have in excess. Pens, highlighters, copy paper, staplers, rubber bands, and Post-its are just some of the items I’ve seen on numerous wish lists. The San Diego Humane Society has surge protectors and calculators on its wish list, and I’ve seen many homes with unused calculators sitting around.

Cleaning supplies are also on many organizations’ lists: laundry detergent, bleach, hand sanitizer, trash bags, dish soap, hand soap, etc. Humane Animal Rescue specifically wanted Original Dawn liquid dish soap, but many organizations don’t care about the brand.

Rather than recycling your newspaper, you might give it to a shelter or rescue organization that asks for it, as many do. Some also want shredded paper. There might be some restrictions — for example, Humane Animal Rescue specifically notes the shredded paper should not include shiny ads. The Humane Society of Missouri can use long-cut shredded paper, but not confetti-like crosscut shred.

I’ve also seen a number of organizations, such as Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter and the SPCA of Solano County requesting gardening tools: hoes, shovels, rakes, garden gloves, garden hoses, etc. Flashlights and batteries are popular wish list items, too. ASH Animal Rescue in the U.K. also wanted general tools to be used in maintenance: screwdrivers, drills, hammers, pliers, etc.

Some of these organizations, such as the Peninsula Humane Society and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, run thrift stores whose profits support their work. These stores can be a great place to donate a wide range of items in good condition.

Then there are the requests that are more unusual:

So if you’re in an uncluttering mood, you might check with your local animal shelter or rescue organization and see what’s on its wish list.

Creating your own unique organizing system

One of the most popular time management systems is Getting Things Done, by David Allen. GTD has a lot of strategies, and some people thrive on following the entire system exactly as Allen described it.

But in his August 29 newsletter, he wrote:

I’ve said for years, doing any part of GTD will give you benefit. It’s not an all-or-nothing approach. (I know some people who have only implemented the two-minute rule and it changed their life!).

I was delighted to see Allen write this, because many people do tend to think of GTD as an all-or-nothing system. But when I read this book, or any other book describing an organizing system, I see a collection of ideas from which I will pick the ones that work for me (or for my clients).

The two-minute rule says that if a task can be done in two minutes of less, just do it now rather than putting it on a to-do list. If that concept that works well for you, terrific — go for it! But you could ignore this rule (or shrug your shoulders because you’re already doing this) and still find other parts of GTD that are helpful to you.

Another example is Marie Kondo’s KonMari method, as explained in her books. (I’ve just read the first one, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.) Someone asked me this week if I like her work, and I said I did — because I found many interesting and helpful ideas in her book. For example, I’m never going to fold my clothes her way or unpack my purse every night, but I think “Does this spark joy?” can be a useful question to ask about items you own while you’re uncluttering.

Yet another system that tends to have passionate followers is Merlin Mann’s inbox zero. I do not even attempt to keep my email inbox at zero, but I still find a lot of value in the ideas in this series of blog posts.

Other systems that often influence people are things like “how mom or dad did it” or “how my organized friend does it” or “how we did it at my old office.” Those systems may work for you, too, but they probably will need at least some tweaking to fit your specific needs and preferences. Or they may not work for you at all — and that’s okay, too.

So gather as many ideas as you like — from this site, from organizing books, etc. And then keep the ideas that work for you, combining them into your own personal system, and merrily discard the rest.

Disaster response is not a time for uncluttering

The tragic hurricane and flooding in Texas filled the news in the U.S. this week. And because so many of us want to help however we can, it’s a good time to remember that generally the best thing you can give is money, in whatever amount works for you.

Yes, sometimes relief organization will ask for specific donations, and if you’re in the area that might indeed help, if done well. As Kelly Phillips Erb noted in an article for Forbes:

Check with the organization first. While most organizations prefer cash, there are some soliciting in-kind donations. … Those wish lists may change as needs are assessed and storage for items may be limited. Check with the organization before you send or drop off anything.

I’ve gathered some examples of the wish lists I’ve seen lately regarding efforts to provide relief from the storms in Texas.

When Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio’s mayor, announced some donation collection sites, he was clear about what was wanted:

Nirenberg said that the city council offices will be used as additional drop off locations for donations. They will be collecting any food, new clothes, diapers, pet food and other supplies. The mayor wanted to emphasize that no used clothing will be accepted.

In another example, one of the shelters noted the donations they were seeking as of Tuesday morning:

As of 9:45 a.m., here is an updated list of items needed at the GRB shelter:

  • Toiletries – travel size shampoo, conditioner, soap
  • Wheelchairs
  • Bottled water
  • Individually packaged food
  • Pillows

We do not need additional clothing donations at this time.

KENS 5 TV noted the following wish lists:

Trusted World is looking for the following supplies: New underwear and socks (all sizes), non-perishable food, toiletries, feminine hygiene products, baby diapers, wipes and formula.

SPCA of Texas is looking for the following supplies: cat litter, litter boxes, towels, blankets, large wire crates, toys, treats, pet beds, newspaper and gas gift cards.

You’ll notice that most of the requested things are new items — not (in general) the kind of things you would bundle up from cleaning out your closets. Of course, there are a few exceptions. For example, if you live locally and you can safely get to a shelter that wants toiletries — and you accumulate all those little hotel bottles — this might be a great time to unclutter.

If you want some good insight on why unsolicited donations of stuff is a bad idea, CBC Radio has a great explanatory article, which begins as follows:

It’s called “the second disaster” in emergency management circles — when kind-hearted outsiders send so much “help” to a disaster zone that it gets in the way.

Unwanted donations of physical goods can divert important resources as people on the ground must deal with them — sort and store, for example.

If you live outside the disaster area and you really want to donate something specific, not just send money, you can look for organizations that have Amazon wish lists (or other such lists) and then purchase exactly what’s needed, knowing it will be shipped to the right people to handle your donation.

But otherwise, you might want to heed this thought from Alexandra Erin: “Relief donation tip: money does not have to be cleaned, sorted, stored, or inspected and can be turned into whatever resource is needed.” If you decide to go this route, there are many lists of organizations that would appreciate your support, including one from Texas Monthly.

Organizing with cats: the litter box challenge

I have two cats, one of which is an 18-pound Maine Coon. And I’m lucky enough to have a space in my bathroom that’s just the right size for a large litter box.

But what if you don’t have such a space? Being organized involves having a home for everything, but sometimes finding a home for the litter box is a challenge. If you have to put the box out in the living room, a bedroom, or a similar space you may want one of the many furniture pieces used to conceal litter boxes. Erin wrote about one such product back in 2007, but now there are numerous options.

The following are just some of your many choices. If you have the right skills and tools, you might be able to make something yourself rather than buying a product, and this may give you some ideas.

The Meow Town litter box cabinet is an attractive piece that definitely does not shout “cat litter box.” The storage drawer might come in handy, although some purchasers chose not to install it to provide their cats with more headroom.

The drawback? It’s made with medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which can off-gas and which might not hold up well if you have a cat like mine that sometimes misses the box. (Some purchasers have chosen to line the cabinet with various materials to avoid this problem.) Also, this cabinet only allows you to put the door on the right-hand side, while some others give you the option of a right or left door.

The litter box from Way Basics is made from zBoard, which is in turn created from recycled paper. It doesn’t have the formaldehyde and the off-gassing that’s associated with MDF — but it would seem to be susceptible to the missing-the-pan problem.

The Litter Loo is made from ecoFLEX — a “non-toxic blend of recycled plastic and reclaimed wood” which does not absorb moisture. It comes in two sizes and four colors. It doesn’t look as lovely as some other choices, but it’s super practical.

If you have enough room for a bench, you might be able to store your spare litter in the bench along with the box, as with this Cat Washroom with its removable partition wall. Alternatively, it can fit larger cat boxes that don’t fit in some smaller cabinets. But yet again, it’s a piece you may want to line so a cat overshooting the litter box doesn’t ruin it.

There are a lot options beyond the various cabinet designs, too — and one of them may fit more naturally into your space. One is the Hidden Litter Box from Good Pet Stuff, designed to look like a plant in a clay pot. It’s made of polypropylene, so it’s easy to clean. A number of purchasers replaced the fake plant with others they liked better.

This cat scratcher carpeted box with its hidden litter box has melamine on the inside.

If your cat is okay with a top-entry litter box, this one from Modern Cat Designs might look nice enough to sit out without any disguise.

Maybe you’re not really worried about people knowing the cat box is indeed a cat box — you just don’t want something ugly sitting out in plain sight. In that case, the Kitty A GoGo litter box (available in six designs) might be easier to place than your average litter box.

You could also hide a lidded cat box with one of the box covers from KattySaks.

One final option for hiding the litter box is to use some sort of screen, such as this one from Kitty Planet.

Besides the cat box itself, you’ll need a storage space for whatever scoop you use. Some boxes have hooks for hanging a scoop, and you might be able to add one to a box that doesn’t have one. But another answer could be the scoop and base from Maison La Queue, which don’t look bad sitting out — and which remind me of some designs for human toilet bowl brushes.