Do you need to toss those old items in your pantry?

In the U.S., there’s no federal law regarding food product dating, except for infant formula where an expiration date is required because the nutrients decline over time. Some states have additional requirements for products such as milk and eggs.

But most commercially produced food items, including shelf-stable items such canned corn, jars of mustard, and packages of pasta, also have date labels: sell by, consume by, use by, best by, best if used before, enjoy by, etc. And sometimes there’s just a date, with no label at all to indicate what the date means.

All of this can be confusing and can lead to food waste. As NPR explained:

Companies use the labels to protect the reputation of their products — they want consumers to see and consume their food in as fresh a state as possible. But those dates often have the perverse effect of convincing over-cautious consumers to throw perfectly good food into the trash.

Now two major trade associations, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have suggested that manufacturers and retailers use just two labels (unless laws require otherwise):

  • Best If Used By: Describes product quality, where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume.
  • Use By: Applies to the few products that are highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package – and disposed of after that date.

The FMI and GMA press releases on Feb. 15 summed up the situation nicely:

“Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error,” said Jack Jeffers, Vice President of Quality at Dean Foods, which led GMA’s work on this issue. “It’s much better that these products stay in the kitchen — and out of landfills.”

These are voluntary standards, and you won’t see the new labels immediately, but it’s a move that should (over time) help everyone make more informed keep-or-toss decisions. In the meantime, you can still recognize that a best-by type of date on a non-perishable food item is a flavor indicator, not a food safety indicator. The cans to toss for safety’s sake are those that are bulging or leaking, those that have deep dents, especially if the dents affect the seams, or those with rust along the seams.

If you want to consider donating the items, check with your local food bank or other food donation center as to its rules. My local social services agency accepts non-perishable food up to one year past the “best by” date.

Another note: According to the FDA, that bottled water you’ve stocked up on as a critical part of your emergency supplies will still be safe past any labeled expiration date, as long as it’s in an unopened, properly sealed container. It might have an off-odor or taste, though.

Making time to read

In the past I’ve sometimes dedicated a blog post to a book I’ve read that I thought would interest Unclutterer readers. But this time I’d like to recommend a reasonably short article in the Harvard Business Review:8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year,” by Neil Pasricha.

This isn’t dry academic theory — it’s what Pasricha actually did to increase his annual book-reading rate from five books a year to 50 books last year and probably around 100 books in 2017. And as I read through his list of eight strategies, I could see how the ideas behind them could be applied to forming other new habits and reaching other goals.

The following are a few of the ideas he shared:

Set up the house so it’s easy to grab a book and hard to fall into mindless TV watching

Instead of relying on will power to switch from TV watching to book reading, Pasricha set up his environment to support his goal.

Last year my wife and I moved our sole TV into our dark, unfinished basement and got a bookshelf installed on the wall beside our front door. Now we see it, walk by it, and touch it dozens of times a day. And the TV sits dormant unless the Toronto Blue Jays are in the playoffs or Netflix drops a new season of House of Cards.

Write ongoing short book reviews to share with others

If you write reviews on Goodreads or send out monthly reviews to an email list, you’re making a public commitment to reading — your friends will notice if you stop. To me, this sounds better than just publicly proclaiming on January 1 that you’re going to read a certain number of books that year, because such claims are easily ignored. This is a way of continually celebrating that you’re living up to your personal commitment. And you get to share some cool books with others!

Have no compunctions about quitting a book before you finish it

Pasricha explained his mindset this way:

It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.”

He also suggested looking at another article: “The Tail End” by Tim Urban. Urban looked at measuring his remaining life in terms of activities and events, figuring he might have about 60 Super Bowls left to watch and 300 books left to read, excluding books he read for work. That 300 figure (or whatever the number is for you) can make it easier to give up on a dud.

Make use of all those little bits of time that are easy to overlook

As Pasricha explained:

In a way, it’s like the 10,000 steps rule. Walk around the grocery store, park at the back of the lot, chase your kids around the house, and bam — 10,000 steps.

It’s the same with reading.

When did I read those five books a year for most of my life? On holidays or during long flights. … When do I read now? All the time. A few pages here. A few pages there.

Nothing that Pasricha did was all that unusual, and much of it is standard advice for anyone trying to build a new habit: make it as easy as possible to do the right thing, make a public commitment, celebrate your successes, etc.

What did seem unusual was how he combined all eight strategies to reach his goal. It’s a good reminder that forming new habits often isn’t easy, so it’s helpful to look at multiple ways to support those new-habit efforts.

One critical time management technique: saying no

As I noted when writing about the pitfalls of time management, some time management strategies are truly helpful. One of those is learning to say “no” at the right time.

Andy Orin at the Lifehacker website asked Jason Fried, the CEO of the software company Basecamp, about his best time-saving shortcut or life hack, and he replied:

Saying no. Techniques and hacks are all about managing what happens when you say yes to too many things.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying yes to too many things. If you find yourself overcommitting on a regular basic, you could use the technique that Ana Menendez wrote about for confronting her mistakes when she was a reporter. When she made a mistake that got into a published story, she was required to complete a form that included this information:

The error:
The correction:
How the error happened:
How I will prevent it from happening again:

When you find yourself overcommitting yet again, reflecting on why this happened and how you’ll prevent it from happening again, could be useful.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders wrote an article entitled “Quitting as a Productivity Tactic” where she recommended dropping some things from your to-do list. I like the two questions she suggested asking yourself: “Does this make me happy? Do I need to do this?”

Some tasks you’ll need to do even if they don’t make you happy, such as filing your tax returns. But you might realize you’re participating in some activities because they were enjoyable in the past, but no longer are. Or you may find things that you started doing because you thought they were important, but now you can see they really aren’t.

But sometimes you may need to make some difficult choices and eliminate things that you really do enjoy. As Leo Babauta explained on his blog, Zen Habits:

You might have to say No to certain work projects, or community groups, or committees or boards or parent-teacher organizations or coaching sports or some other worthwhile activity.

I know, it seems horrible to say No when these are very worthy things to do. It kills you to say No.

But the alternative is that you’re going to do a bad job at each one, and be stressed beyond your limits, and not be able to focus on any one. …

Saying No to worthwhile projects, and letting go of the idea that we can do everything, is very difficult. But it’s not more difficult than trying to do everything and not getting enough sleep and being overly stressed out. Saying No is hard, but it means you say Yes to focus and sanity.

When you’re organizing stuff, you’re aware of the physical limitations. There’s only so much that can be fit into a closet, cabinet, or garage. If there’s too much stuff for the given space, it’s time to unclutter. Similarly, you can’t fit 28 hours of activities into a 24-hour day. So you may need to unclutter your schedule and to-do list by saying no to some things. As with any uncluttering, that can be challenging — but you’ll almost certainly feel much better when you’re done.

Receipts: What to keep and what to toss

When I help people organize their paperwork, we usually come across stacks of receipts. Which ones are worth keeping? The following guidance applies to the U.S., but similar guidelines may apply elsewhere, too.

Receipts for small cash purchases

If you bought a coffee at Starbucks, there’s no need to hold onto that receipt. You don’t even need to shred the receipt since it contains no personally identifying information that could cause problems if someone else saw it.

Receipts for credit/debit card purchases

You may want to keep those until you get your credit card bill/bank statement and can confirm the charges on the bill/statement match up to your receipts.

Receipts for high-value items

These receipts can be useful for insurance purposes if you are unfortunate enough to have a theft, a fire, or other loss. Because paper records would get lost in a fire along with the items on the receipt, it’s good to keep these receipts electronically (with an offsite backup), in a safe deposit box, or in a fireproof safe in your home.

Receipts for items you might want to return

If you’re not sure you want to keep something or if it’s an item under warranty, keeping the receipt until the end of the allowed return time or the end of the warranty period might be useful.

Receipts for tax purposes

If you itemize your deductions, you’ll want to keep receipts for any expenses you can deduct. And if you’re self-employed, there are many receipts that may be important. Check with your tax preparer (or review the information on the IRS website) to identify exactly which expenses are deductible and how long they should be kept. The Cohan rule may help you out if you lack receipts, allowing expenses to be estimated, but life will be much easier if you do have the receipts.

If you own your home, keep the receipts for all home improvements. When you sell your home, the cost of those improvements will reduce your taxable gain. I have friends who are selling their house this year and didn’t keep good records for their many improvements, and now they need to scramble to pull the information together. That’s no fun.

Miscellaneous tips regarding receipts

Cash register receipts printed on thermal paper fade over time. If you have some of those, scan them or make a photocopy as soon as possible, while the receipt is still legible. You may be able to scan such receipts and darken them after they’ve faded, but creating and saving legible copies right away will save you that bother.

If a tax-related receipt doesn’t identify exactly what was purchased, writing that information on the receipt at the time of purchase will save you frustration in the future, as I have found from sad experience.

Some stores offer the option of emailed receipts rather than printed receipts. If you deal well with electronic records, this can reduce the paper clutter. My grocery store offers emailed receipts, and I definitely prefer them to paper.

The pitfalls of time management

Is time management an idea that’s been oversold? Oliver Burkeman recently wrote an article in The Guardian entitled “Why time management is ruining our lives,” which raised a number of interesting points.

Burkeman doesn’t seem to be writing about all time management strategies, but rather the obsession with productivity and getting as much done as possible in any given day, week, month, or year. One problem: When you get incredibly efficient, cramming ever more things into each day, you lose the slack time which allows new, creative ideas to emerge.

Slack time also allows you to respond to unanticipated demands on your time. Burkeman wrote about how this plays out in the workplace and the doctor’s office (where that doctor’s focus on efficiency may cause you to wait way past your appointment time when an earlier appointment runs long). But the same need to deal with the unexpected can happen to any of us. I recently had a dear friend who was facing some medical issues, and I was glad that my schedule was not fully booked so I could readily be there to help her.

Burkeman used the Inbox Zero approach to dealing with email as a specific example of a time management strategy that doesn’t always help the people who implement it. He wrote:

My own dismaying experience with Inbox Zero was that becoming hyper-efficient at processing email meant I ended up getting more email: after all, it’s often the case that replying to a message generates a reply to that reply, and so on. (By contrast, negligent emailers often discover that forgetting to reply brings certain advantages: people find alternative solutions to the problems they were nagging you to solve, or the looming crisis they were emailing about never occurs.)

For another critique of Inbox Zero, Burkeman pointed to an article by Sara Stewart in the New York Post, which begins as follows:

It’s happened to me more than once lately: A friend sees the glaring red number on my iPhone’s email icon (2,052, if you must know) and their eyes do that cartoon thing where they bungee out of their sockets. “How do you live?” they’ll ask in a horrified whisper. “I could never stand to see that every day.”

Really? Because to me, that little number represents the freedom I feel from the compulsion to check and erase, check and erase, like a rat in a lab experiment, all day, every day. …

I’d like to suggest an alternative: Inbox Whatever. As in, who cares?

But more than anything, these sentences in Burkeman’s article are what resonated with me:

We might try to get more comfortable with not being as efficient as possible — with declining certain opportunities, disappointing certain people, and letting certain tasks go undone. Plenty of unpleasant chores are essential to survival. But others are not — we have just been conditioned to assume that they are. It isn’t compulsory to earn more money, achieve more goals, realise our potential on every dimension, or fit more in.

I certainly want to be reasonably productive so I earn a decent living, serve my clients well, maintain key friendships, give back to my community, etc. But I’ve also decided that I’m not going to try to be a super-achiever, so I can also have time for things like lazing around in bed with my cats on a stormy winter day.

At times we may all need to be that super-achiever for various reasons, and get as much done as possible. But it’s worth stepping back every once in a while to make sure we’re still making time management choices that work well for us.

Uncluttering old computers and phones

I recently got rid of two old laptop computers and I’m very happy to have them gone. I had originally kept them to serve as backups if my current computer — an essential business tool — needed repairs and was unavailable to me for multiple days. But now that I have a tablet, I realized I could get by okay for any repair period just using that tablet.

The following are the steps I followed to dispose of my old computers. Similar steps could work for smart phones, too.

1. Decide whether to sell, give away, or recycle the computers.

I didn’t have anyone in my circle of family and friends who was interested in either of my computers, so I knew I wanted to sell them if possible, and recycle them if not.

2. If selling, recycling or donating, choose your service provider.

While selling the computers on eBay or some similar marketplace would probably have provided more money, I was more interested in having a hassle-free experience. One computer was nine years old, and the other one was five years old and had some problems — so neither was going to be worth much, anyway.

Since these were old Apple laptops I started out looking at Apple’s Renew program. (This program handles PCs and various brands of smartphones, too, not just Apple products.) The older computer wasn’t worth anything but would be accepted for free recycling. I was offered a small sum for the newer one, payable in an Apple gift card. I was fine with the offer, so I didn’t investigate further.

You could also choose to sell through sites like Gazelle (which I’ve used successfully to sell old phones) or do trade-ins at places like Best Buy, where you get a gift card in exchange for your phone, tablet, computer, or gaming hardware. And other manufacturers, such as Dell, have programs similar to Apple’s.

If you’re donating or recycling, there are many options to choose from. One easy-to-use choice is Goodwill, since many Goodwill locations accept old electronics, working or not, for either refurbishment or recycling.

3. Back up your data and then erase it.

Apple provides pretty clear instructions on how to prepare to sell or give away a Mac, and I followed those instructions. Note that you may need to deactivate some services before you erase your data.

I didn’t need to do a backup of my old computers, since all the data had been migrated from computer to computer as I got new ones — and my current computer is backed up both to a cloud service and to a series of external hard drives.

But I did need to erase my data. Again, Apple provides instructions for doing this, and those worked fine for the newer of my two computers, but not the older one. So I took that older one to an Apple Store and had the staff there do the erasing for me — and they took care of the recycling, too. Erasing the data took about seven hours using the most secure option, but it was worth it to me.

Other vendors may provide similar instructions. For example, Microsoft tells you how to remove information from a computer, phone or gaming device.

4. Ship off or drop off the computer or other electronics.

Now I was ready to actually get the computers out of my home!

When I filled out the online form and got my tentative quote (subject to evaluation when the computer arrived), I also received a shipping label. I took the label and the computer to the closest FedEx store and the staff boxed it up and shipped it off at no cost to me. Gazelle’s service works similarly, using FedEx’s packing services for some items and the U.S. postal service (along with a free shipping box, which is sent to you) for others.

And now I can enjoy having a closet that doesn’t waste space holding old computers I never used.

Uncluttering with the three r’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle

Reduce, reuse, and recycle has been a mantra of the environmental movement for many years. It’s also really good advice for anyone serious about uncluttering.

Reduce

You don’t need to remove clutter if you don’t let it enter your home or office in the first place. The following are some ways “reduce” might apply to your space:

  • Get off mailing lists. Registering with the DMAchoice mail preference service will help eliminate junk mail, while registering your opt-out preferences with OptOutPreScreen.com will help eliminate credit card offers. To get rid of mail from organizations I’ve done business with in the past, I call the catalog companies and charities that send me solicitations, but you could also use a service such as 41pounds.org or Catalog Choice.
  • Consider borrowing or renting things you use only rarely or need for just a short time. For example, my neighbor and I share the use of my high-quality hole punch. Neither of us needs this very often, so it would be silly for us both to own one. I also see requests to borrow things on my freecycle group, and that often works out. (Nextdoor or Facebook groups might also help with this.) Another example: Your library can provide an alternative to buying books, and you can still buy any that you really want to own after reading the library copy.
  • Consider whether your current magazine subscriptions still make sense.
  • When you’re shopping, be a careful purchaser and minimize the number of purchases you later come to regret.
  • Don’t take every free item that you’re offered.

Reuse

When you no longer need or want an item, you can often find it a good new home with someone who does need or want it. You might:

  • Sell it using a local or online consignment store, eBay, Craigslist, a garage sale, etc.
  • Donate it to a charity, which may give you a tax deduction. That charity might be a large organization like Goodwill, a local charity-run thrift store, a pet rescue/adoption agency that can use old towels, a church that gives things away to the needy, etc. Some organizations will pick things up, which is handy when you have big, bulky items. You can also ship off certain donations for free using Give Back Box. You might want to create a list of local donation sites, noting what types of things they accept, so it’s easy to do the donating when the time comes.
  • Give it away to a friend or family member (if you’re sure the person wants it) or pass it along using freecycle, Nextdoor, a Facebook group, etc.

Recycle

If things can’t reasonably be reused, perhaps they can be recycled. Each locale handles recycling differently, so you’ll want to ensure you know how recycling works where you live. My city has curbside recycling, but there are also less convenient organizations that take things my local garbage company does not. When I had a friend getting rid of hundreds of home-recorded VCR tapes, I drove my very full car to a recycling center that takes them.

You’ll also want to know how your locale handles electronic and toxic waste, prescription medications, and medical sharps. These often require special disposal methods.

When the three r’s don’t work

Sometimes things really do need to just go in the trash. If you’ve carefully considered your options and can’t find another reasonable way to discard something, you don’t need to feel bad about just tossing it. And sometimes, even if there are other options, you may be under time pressure or have other constraints that mean you need to be less conscientious about how things get discarded. That’s okay. The three r’s are an ideal, not something that must be followed under every circumstance.

Three tips for New Year’s resolutions

Many people make New Year’s resolutions related to uncluttering, organizing and managing their time — and you may be among them. The following tips might help you stick to your resolutions this year.

1. You don’t have to begin on January 1.

January 1 might be a difficult time to start, coming right after the hectic holiday season. But you can choose to start at a different time, such as Epiphany (Jan. 6) or Groundhog Day (Feb. 2). Or maybe you’d like to start resolutions on your birthday. There’s no one right time, so choose whatever seems best for you.

2. If you tried something last year and it didn’t work, try something a bit different this year.

You may have resolved to get organized in the past, perhaps using books as guidance, and not achieved the results you wanted. If you tried doing it all alone, maybe it would help to include someone else to cheer you on, provide advice, etc.

There are many ways to do that:

  • The Unclutterer Forum is our online discussion section where fellow unclutterers post their challenges and successes as well as tips, tricks, and tools that they use to stay organized.
  • Many people like FlyLady, with her free daily emails (while others think it’s too much). There’s now an iOS app, too.
  • The Apartment Therapy website runs a free group project called January Cure with “one-manageable-step-at-a-time assignments” which are “designed to help you create a cleaner, more organized and peaceful home.” You can sign up now for the emails.
  • You could work with a friend who has a similar goal. But be sure to pick a friend who will provide the encouragement you need, not one who will push you to make choices that make you uncomfortable.
  • If you’re willing to spend a bit of money, Clutter Diet memberships give you access to videos and tutorials as well as access to virtual consulting services from a team of professional organizers.
  • If finances allow, you can hire a professional organizer to work with you in your home, either to jump-start your organizing efforts or to work with you until you’ve accomplished your goals.

3. Consider how you might incorporate helping others into your resolutions.

I just read an article by Paul Sassone on the Chicago Tribune website where he mentioned how self-centered most of our resolutions tend to be. He lists some common resolutions (such as losing weight) and notes:

What’s missing from this list are resolutions to help other people. There are millions of people who are homeless, abused, poor, hungry, sick, infirm. …

It would be nice if at least one of the actions we contemplate doing in the new year was helping to better someone else’s life.

Organizing-related resolutions can have a charitable component, too:

  • Uncluttering can lead to donations of still-good items to local charities (social services agencies, charity-run thrift stores, or even neighbors in need via freecycle or Nextdoor).
  • More thoughtful buying leads to less clutter — but it may also allow you to donate, to the good cause of your choice, some of the money you are no longer spending.
  • Better time management may free up some time to volunteer for one of the many organizations that could use your help.

Maybe that component will give you extra motivation to stick with your resolutions!

The opposite of a unitasker

Each Wednesday, Unclutterer features a unitasker: something that serves a single purpose that could be handled just as easily with a multi-purpose product. These unitaskers are always good for a laugh.

But many single-purpose products are designed to do a single thing very well, and there’s no reason to avoid them. Love to make a wonderful cup of coffee first thing in the morning? You’ll probably want a good coffee maker.

In other situations, dual-purpose products can work well and save space. For example, I have a Switchit silicone spatula that I find quite useful.

But sometimes owning a dual-purpose (or triple-purpose) item means you have something that serves two or three purposes, but doesn’t handle any of them particularly well. I thought about this when listening to a podcast that ridiculed the Nostalgia Family-Size Breakfast Station.

In this case, it seems that the product was simply a poor match for the podcaster’s situation. Many purchasers on Amazon.com seemed to really like the breakfast station for use in campers, dorm rooms, etc. But it’s not the right product for someone who is focused on getting a really good toaster.

The distinction between expert (or demanding) users vs. more amateur users seems to be a key when picking some multi-use vs. single-use products. Australian Hardware Journal has an interesting article on how this plays out in the hand tool and power tool markets. The article notes that there have always been combination tools such as the Leatherman multi-tool and the Swiss army knife, but now manufacturers are also developing power multi-tools.

Multi-tools are getting better, too. Andrew Miller, new product development manager for the Apex Tool Group in Australia and New Zealand, said:

The successful multi-tool systems are able to add functionality without compromising on the performance of the primary task. Separate attachments which can be misplaced are a big negative so minimising attachments is the way forward.

But Miller also noted that unitaskers have their place. “Single purpose hand tools still dominate the market because more often than not, they perform the task in the most efficient way,” he said. And Jamie Costello, national sales manager for Einhell Australia, said, “Professionals are more likely to prefer a specialist tool.”

Consumer electronics is another arena where the multi-purpose vs. single-purpose choice arises. Do you want an e-reader like the Kindle or would you prefer a tablet like the iPad that lets you read books and do much more? It will depend on which reader you prefer, how much you’d use the device for more than just reading — and of course, the price. Do you want a point-and-shoot camera, or is the camera in your cell phone all you need? Reasonable people will come up with different answers.

So when considering the purchase of a well-designed unitasker vs. a multi-use product, consider your needs and pick what fits your situation. Picked poorly, both unitakers and multi-purpose tools can become clutter. Picked wisely, both can be valuable purchases.

Being productive with Nextdoor, for uncluttering and more

About a year ago I joined my local Nextdoor community. For those who aren’t aware of Nextdoor, it’s a “private social network for your neighborhood.” Nextdoor is currently available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

As a locally focused network, Nextdoor won’t have messages about national politics. The following are the kinds of messages I usually see:

  • Lost and found pets: dogs, cats, and chickens
  • Other lost and found items, including keys, phones, and jewelry
  • Items for sale (or items being given away for free)
  • Items people are looking for (usually free or inexpensive)
  • Requests for a good painter, plumber, handyperson, house cleaner, etc.
  • Notices about local events
  • Notices about local road closures

As with any such network, taking time to use it effectively will pay off. If you’re using Nextdoor (or considering such use in the future), please keep the following suggestions in mind.

Choose your notification options carefully

Nextdoor lets you choose to get emails about every post from your neighborhood (and top posts from nearby neighborhoods), no emails at all, or something in between. You can also choose to get a daily digest, and the contents of that digest can be customized a bit. You can also select which “nearby neighborhoods” you want to see messages from, whether that’s via email or on the Nextdoor website or mobile app.

You can also choose to get mobile alerts about urgent items: missing children, natural disasters, etc.

You may not be sure which messages you want to get at first, so just make your best guess and then adjust as necessary after you’ve been in the network for a while.

Use good subject lines

Just as with email, you will make everyone’s life a bit easier if the subject line makes it obvious what your message is about. I get a lot of Nextdoor emails every day, and I want to be able to quickly scan to see which ones may be of interest.

I saw a message this week with the subject line “Hi all” — which wound up being someone who was looking for a vacuum cleaner. A subject line saying “Wanted: vacuum cleaner” or “Need a vacuum cleaner” would have been a whole lot better.

Similarly, a lost and found message entitled “Lost bracelet at or around Farmers Market” is much better than one that just says “bracelet.”

Include good photos when relevant

Just as you would with Craigslist, be sure to include good photos if you’re offering something for sale (or even for free). Even if it’s something where the looks don’t matter (such as tickets to an event) or something pretty standard (like a Kindle), a photo can help because the message will look better in the online listings.

This is one area where I want to commend my neighbors, who have generally done a good job of this. One person even included a picture of the “free clean dirt” being offered — which got taken pretty quickly!

Also consider photos when posting about lost or found items or pets.

I haven’t yet used Nextdoor to give things away, since my local freecycle group usually works fine for that. But I have some china to get rid of, and I just might try selling it on Nextdoor.

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Black Friday

2016 gift giving guideYou may be someone who enjoys heading out to the stores on Black Friday. Maybe it’s a family tradition, and maybe some things on your list have great Black Friday prices. (If you’re not a Black Friday fan, it may console you to know that some people expect there will be better deals for many things in December.)

But whether you shop on Black Friday or on other days, the following are some thoughts to consider:

Try to avoid gifts that will become clutter. Over the past few days we’ve provided some suggestions that may help you out with that. But no matter how careful you are with your gift selections, once in a while a gift will not work well for the recipient. So take it in good spirits if a gift you gave winds up getting returned. Make things easy for your gift recipient by including a gift receipt when one is available.

Consider whether or not your gift recipient wants a gift at all. Recently I’ve noticed some people asking that any money that would have been spent on gifts for them be donated to charity instead, with a list of preferred charities being provided.

If you can afford to do so, you may want to participate in a program that gives holiday gifts to low-income households. I really enjoyed shopping for the women I “adopted” this year, going through their wish lists and getting them everything from socks to sweatshirts to nail polish.

Remember that some gifts are best when not bought too far in advance. For example, most chocolates, such as these truffles from Sweet Mona’s, will last quite a while. (I called the store and spoke to Mona about their shelf life.) However, some chocolates need to be eaten fairly quickly: 14 days from shipment, 30 days from receipt, etc.

Look at shopping options beyond the malls and the online choices. I’ve found fine gifts for people on my list at local shops and at some of the many art and gift fairs that are held this time of year. And if you’ve got the time and skills for homemade gifts, they can be wonderful when given to the right people. I just received a handmade quilt, and it’s one of the best gifts ever.

Stock up on thank-you note cards (or general-purpose note cards you can use when writing those thank you notes). If you need help writing a thank-you note, the late Leslie Harpold has good advice.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Experience Gifts

2016 gift giving guideExperience gifts can be one good way to avoid clutter, although you still need to select them with care to match the recipients’ interests. The following list goes beyond the common gifts (such as a gift certificate for a massage) to give you some more food for thought. Although the examples come from selected U.S. cities, you may be able to find something similar in other areas.

Because some people want to give something tangible, I’ve also suggested books you could match with these experience gifts.

One reminder: If using your gift will cause the recipient to incur significant additional expenses (babysitting, parking, etc.) then consider including some cash to cover these expenses or arranging to have them pre-paid, when possible.

Visits to local attractions

There’s a saying about tourists seeing places that long-term residents never do, and that can certainly be true. In my area, the Winchester Mystery House is a well-known place that I’ve never visited in the 40+ years I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. The ticket prices always seemed a bit high, but I’d definitely go if someone got me a ticket. You may know of similar places your gift recipient would like to visit.

It’s always easier on the recipient if you can buy a gift certificate rather than tickets for a specific day. If the website doesn’t mention gift certificates, try calling. That’s what I did for the Winchester Mystery House, and I found out that gift certificates are indeed available.

If you’d like to include a book, one option is Side Walks — a journal that encourages readers to explore their cities.

Museum gift cards

We’ve mentioned museum memberships on Unclutterer in the past, but a gift card (or gift certificate) allows the recipient to purchase a range of things: admission (or a membership), classes, food and beverage at the museum café, etc.

Of course, the gift card can also be used at the museum gift shop, which will result in more stuff, but that’s the recipient’s choice.

These gifts can work for both adults and children. Just a few of the museums that offer gift cards are the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Appropriate books will depend on the type of museum and the age of the gift recipient. For adults interested in natural history museums, you might choose Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums. Children ages 8 to 12 might like Animalium: Welcome to the Museum, which has gorgeous illustrations.

Arboretum and state park gift cards

As with museum gift cards, these are an alternative to memberships or annual passes (which can also be great gifts). The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum notes that its gift cards (which can be used for admission, membership, classes, restaurant meals, etc.) never expire. The Morton Arboretum has a long list of things the cards can be used for, including chamber concert tickets, tram tours, and Mother’s Day brunch. They can be bought in any denomination, so you can spend the amount that works best for you.

Arizona State Parks gift cards can be used for day use, overnight camping, and cave tours (as well as gift shop purchases). Ohio State Parks gift cards and certificates can be used for camping, cabin or lodge rentals, six state park golf courses, boat and bike rentals, etc.

An interesting companion book might be Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails and Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness.

Ball park tours

Most of these tours require you to buy tickets for specific dates and times, but Wrigley Field tours are available via gift certificate. Others might offer gift certificates if you called and asked — if not, you would need to coordinate with your gift recipient. If you want the gift to be a surprise, you could always give a greeting card saying, “Good for a tour of the ball park. Let me know a good time for you and I’ll buy the ticket.”

One possible book to partner with this gift is the novel Bang the Drum Slowly. For children, books from the Ballpark Mystery series might be fun.

City art and architecture tours

There are all sorts of city tours available, many focused on food and beverages and others focused on the city’s history. But some of the most interesting-sounding tours are ones like these:

Of course, there are many wonderful books about art and architecture that could get paired with a gift certificate or tickets for such tours. One book to consider is The Architecture of Happiness.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.