Reader Question: What’s with republishing posts?

Unclutterer fan Kristen wrote to ask,

Just curious, what’s with all the reposts? I don’t mind them, they’re helpful, but I’m curious if the site is in some kind of transition.

Thanks for asking a great question Kristen!

Unclutterer has published a substantial amount about uncluttering, organizing, and productivity over the past ten years. We felt that republishing certain previous posts, usually two or three times per week, may be helpful to our newer readers.

Additionally, many readers contact us and ask us to provide updated information on previous posts, especially those that are related to changing technologies. Sometimes products that we have discussed on previous posts are no longer available on Amazon. By republishing, we are able to modernize our facts and figures and ensure our hyperlinks are directing readers to the correct resources.

Our Unclutterer team, Jeri, David, Alex, and I (Jacki), as well as our guest authors, still continue to publish new information Mondays through Fridays with the exception of certain holidays.

Thank you for your question Kristen. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

 

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

Reader question: An abundance of clothing

Reader Olympia wrote us to say,

I have an abundance of clothes… 3 closets full of clothes plus a room full of clothing. I recently lost a lot of weight so it was easy to get rid of the larger-sized clothes but I have saved all of my smaller-sized clothing (20 years’ worth) that I love, fits me, and looks great on me. I know I can’t keep everything but I just don’t know what to get rid of and how to organize it better. Also, over 100 pairs of shoes… Crazy! I would welcome any input.

I’m sure Olympia isn’t our only reader with an abundance of clothing especially since the clothing industry is designed to make us feel out of fashion within weeks. Here are some suggestions to reduce the quantity of clothing in your closets.

First of all, read Erin’s post, Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet. This will help you determine your preferred style. There is no point in keeping a dozen lacy, frilly blouses if you’re not a lacy, frilly person. Paying attention to the way clothes fit you is important too. Jeri discusses the importance of proper style and fit in her post, Managing your wardrobe: award shows vs. real life.

What about your lifestyle? Has it changed in the past twenty years?  Back then, I was a stay-at-home parent with two children under 5 years old. The clothes I was wearing at that time still fit me and look good on me but very few pieces suit my age or current lifestyle.

If you’re having difficulty determining your style or evaluating fit, Erin’s post, Get rid of the clutter in your clothes closet has some great ideas to help you. You can look through photos of yourself and decide if the clothes really flatter you. You could ask a spouse or friend to toss any clothing of yours that he/she hates to see you wear. It might help to set a “past due” date on your clothes. For example, anything not worn in the past 24 months is automatically removed from your closets — no ifs, ands, or buts.

To help you build a good wardrobe foundation, check out Erin’s post, Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the female closet. Gentleman, please refer to Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the male closet and an Organized wardrobe for men in their 40s. We’ve also answered a question about managing a wardrobe of many sizes and discussed the benefits of uniforms.

One of the things that helped me simplify my wardrobe was living in a hotel for six weeks during our trans-Atlantic moves. I had two large suitcases in which to pack everything I would wear to carry out my normal day-to-day home and working life. Imagine if your employer sent you to work at another location across the country for two months. What would you take assuming you could not return home for anything or buy anything new?

I’m sure our readers have some great ideas too so I welcome them to chime in with suggestions on how to pare down clothing.

 

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

Reader question: How do you fold clothes to save space?

Reader Josephine recently sent us the following question:

I don’t own a lot of clothes, but yet my drawers are always out of control. What are some ways to fold and store clothes to best use the space that you have?

That’s a great question Josephine. Maximizing storage space depends on many factors including the amount and types of clothes that you have as well as the design of the space in which you store them.

Our writers each lead different lifestyles so I asked each of them this question and compiled their reports.

Jeri

With any clothes storage effort, the first step is always to unclutter. There’s no point in figuring out how to store clothes you’re not going to wear.

But let’s assume you’ve done that. There are products designed to help you fold things neatly and make the most of your drawer space, such as the Pliio clothes folders. I know people who use these and think they are terrific. And in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo presents her own folding technique for clothes, including socks. Many people won’t have the patience to do that careful folding — but if it works for you, that’s great. You can find numerous online videos showing folding techniques, if you prefer visual instructions.

Personally, I’m not someone who likes to fold. So, it works out well that my home has very little drawer or shelf space for folded items. The only things in drawers are a few knit items (which are folded), pajama bottoms (folded, but not carefully), socks, and underwear (which just get tossed into the drawer). Everything else is on hangers or hooks. I don’t own many clothes, so it’s easy to keep the closet and the drawers about 20 percent empty, making it easy to put things away and take them out.

Sock storage becomes easier if you buy multiple pairs of the same sock. For example, you might buy just one type of black dress sock, one type of white sports sock, etc. Then you don’t need to worry about rolling socks, folding them into pairs, or otherwise matching them up — the pairings are obvious. You might still want to fold them as a space-saving technique, though, if space is a concern.

One more space-usage tip: Sometimes I see people with some sentimental clothes items in their closets or dresser drawers. Since these are not being kept to be worn, they can be stored somewhere else, freeing up limited closet or dresser space.

Dave

Last year I taught a group of Cub Scouts how to unpack, set up, and then store a tent. They were very interested in getting it out of the bag and set up as quickly as possible. Later when it was time to put the tent away, I quizzed them while they worked.

“What’s the most important aspect of using a tent?” They offered answers with enthusiasm: “Finding a good spot,” “Proper staking,” and so on.  I told them that the most important part is actually putting it away. By taking the time to put the tent away properly now, you save yourself time and headache later.

It’s the same with storing clothes.

When I was a college student, “storing clothes” meant “somewhere in this room.” As I matured, I recognized that a drawer stuffed with T-shirts only makes more work for me so I developed a new way to store my clothing – a system I’ve been using since I left school.

  • Top drawer: Sleepwear, socks and underwear. I roll up each like a burrito to maximize space used.
  • Second drawer: T-shirts only. Each is folded thirds lengthwise (arms and sides together) and then in half and in half again. This way I can fit several into a single drawer.
  • Drawer three: Jeans or shorts, depending on the season, folded up in thirds.
  • Drawer four: This last drawer is for what I call “dress pants.” I almost never go in this drawer (I can wear jeans to work), unless there’s a wedding, funeral or job interview I must attend.

Long-sleeved and button-down shirts are hung on hangers.

Sweaters are never hung, as they get those “bumps” in the shoulders. They usually live on top of my dresser during sweater season and in the off-season, in labelled bins on a shelf in my closet.

Alex

Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how I fold my clothes, but then after two years of living in our apartment, my husband decided to give our walk-in closet an overhaul. We ended up having several discussions about the pros and cons of folding clothes in certain ways, and although at first, I thought the conversations were bordering on absurd, but we realized that how the clothes are folded can make a real difference in how they are stored.

My husband has more clothes than I do, so has five shallow shelves to my two deep ones. While he has one full shelf each for t-shirts, trousers, sweaters, pyjamas, and scarves and such, I have a pile for each. How we store our clothes therefore has to be different.

Let’s look at trousers, for example. He folds his in four and has several piles of no more than five. I fold mine in three and have all of them in a single pile.

My t-shirts and sweaters need to be folded much more narrowly than his, again taking advantage of depth and height to compensate for the lack of width.

The one area of clothing that I outdo him on is dress shirts. For me, the trick has been to use the same type of hanger for all of my shirts, to iron them as soon as they come off the clothesline, and to do up at least the top button on the hanger. Everything hangs at the same level and being ironed, the shirts don’t bunch up or twist at the collar, and by being buttoned, they lay flat against each other.

After the overhaul, we now leave the closet door open a lot more because it’s actually a joy to see everything so nicely folded and hanging straight.

Jacki

I purchased drawer organizer cubes for my dresser to store my clothes. Here’s how they are organized.

Socks and undergarments

Like Jeri, I don’t fold these items, just put each type of clothing into cubes; socks cube, panties cube, hosiery cube. I do however, neatly roll my hosiery because it is less likely to get snags and runs. For bras, straps are folded into the cups and they are all lined up in a rectangular shaped drawer cube.

T-shirts, sportswear, sleepwear

T-shirts are folded lengthwise in thirds then rolled from the collar to the bottom of the shirt.

Athletic wear very slippery and doesn’t stay folded, so it is rolled similar to the t-shirts. However, after the shirts are folded, I add a pair of folded sports shorts, sports bra, panties, and sports socks then roll the whole thing up like a burrito. All I have to do is grab a roll of sportswear and I have everything I need to go to the gym.

Pyjamas are folded/rolled the same way as sportswear, bottoms rolled up inside the tops.

Spending most of my life in cold climates (I’m Canadian), I have one drawer specifically for long underwear. It is stored in rolls the same way I store pyjamas.

Hanging clothes and shoes

Blouses are hung on hangers, trousers are hung on a pants hanger. I use skirt hangers for separates and combo hangers for business suits.

We’ve lived in several different houses. In some houses sweaters have been stored on shelves with the help of dividers. In closets with more hanging space I’ve used a set of hanging shelves to store sweaters.

Shoes are stored in plastic shoe boxes, sometimes piled on the floor below the hanging clothing, sometimes stacked on shelving.

 

Thanks for your great question Josephine. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

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

Reader question: Organizing Broadway playbills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader Question: Storing someone else’s clutter

Reader Christopher wrote in to ask us this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader Question: What to do with digitized CDs and DVDs

Recently, reader Sarah asked us this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader question: Scanning old airmail letters

Reader Sam wrote in to ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader Question: Vintage bedspreads

Reader Delia recently sent us the following question:

What does one do with old, vintage sentimental bed spreads?

If the bedspreads have sentimental value but you no longer wish to keep them, consider asking family members or friends if they would like them. Send an email or letter describing the history of the bedspreads and include a few photos.

If the bedspreads are in good condition, a museum or local historical society may be interested, especially if the quilts handmade by local artisans or citizens of local importance. It always helps if you can provide historical context around the item being donated such as the life of the artisan(s) and the creation of the quilt itself. Occasionally theatre or reenactment groups may need quilts made during a specific time period. They may be willing to accept your donation.

Storing and displaying vintage quilts and bedspreads can be laborious. Antique fabric in general is difficult to handle because it is easily damaged. If you do not have the confidence or ability to manage a project like this, consult a local museum or historical society. They may be able to refer you to someone in your area who can take on your project.

The Great Lakes Quilt Centre provides quite a bit of information on how to clean, store and display antique quilts.

  • Washing can enlarge holes and bunch up batting. Wringing and pulling can break seams and damage fibres, especially when they are wet so do not put quilts in a washing machine or hang them on a clothesline. Dry cleaning should also be avoided.
  • A gentle vacuuming with low suction through a fiberglass screen is recommended to remove dust.
  • In storage, quilts should be folded as few times as possible. Every few months, refold them along different lines to avoid permanent creases. Stuffing the folds with acid-free paper or unbleached muslin can help avoid fold lines.
  • Wood, cardboard and plastic can emit chemicals that cause fabric to break down. Store quilts in unbleached, 100% cotton pillowcases or sheets to protect them from light and dust. Acid-free storage boxes are ideal for storing these types of textiles. Quilts can also be rolled onto acid-free tubes and covered with a cotton or muslin sheath to protect them from dust.
  • Store quilts in an area that is not subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Ideal conditions are slightly cooler than room temperature and around 50% relative humidity. Avoid light (sunlight and artificial light) because it can damage fibres as well as cause fading.
  • To capture historic details of the quilt, iron a piece of muslin to a piece of freezer paper and use a typewriter or laser printer to print the historical information about the quilt. Peel the fabric label from the paper and hand stitch the fabric carefully onto the back of the quilt. You could also use indelible ink to write the information on the muslin by hand and stitch it onto the quilt. It can be helpful to create a muslin pocket to hold other important information such as photos of those who made the quilt or a family tree diagram showing the relationship between the quilt maker and the quilt owner.

Finally, if you still have a sentimental attachment to your quilts and bedspreads but do not feel that it is worth the efforts to properly store them, consider taking photos of the entire quilt and close-up shots of specific fabrics. Write the story of the quilt-maker, how the quilt was made and how it came into your possession. “Publish” the story on your own and share it with your family and friends. Donate the quilt itself to charity or to an animal shelter.

Ask Unclutterer: Donating vs. freecycling

Reader Happy Mum asked the following question in the comment section of my prior post, The power of 15-30 minutes per day:

What are considerations re: offering via freecycle vs. donating to charity shop?

For those unfamiliar with freecycle groups, they are local online communities whose members offer things to each other, for free.

Happy Mum, while you got many good responses from other readers, I thought I’d share a list of questions to ask yourself when making the donate-vs.-freecycle decision.

Which method is most meaningful to you?

I’m often donating on behalf of clients, some of whom are interested in the tax credit for making a donation. Some are happy to support the charity running the thrift store, too. But others prefer knowing their items are going to someone who can use the item, right now, and they enjoy seeing the thank you notes from freecyclers who get their items.

What is convenient?

I happen to have a good freecycle group in my neighborhood. (I’m biased, since I’m one of the group owners.) I also have a charity thrift shop very close by, with hours that work well for me. There’s also another charity that does curbside pickups of donations every month or two. But not everyone will have all these choices, and sometimes picking the easiest method is the best.

Is it worth a little extra effort to donate to a specific charity?

There’s a group in my area called Be a Dear and Donate a Brassiere, where the bras it collects go to women in homeless shelters. I keep a donation bag going and drop it off when I happen to be driving near a drop-off site. My neighborhood also has an annual charity book sale on Labor Day weekend and accepts donations throughout August, so if it’s getting close to August I might set aside books to be donated there. Another example: If you have a functional but unused activity tracker, you might like to send it off to RecycleHealth.

What items does the charity shop take?

Mine will not take toys, electrical items, large furniture, etc. But it’s a great place to donate clothing and kitchen items such as glassware and serving pieces.

What items go well on freecycle?

This will be location-dependent, but I know that craft items, non-fiction books, and pet supplies are some of the things that go quickly on my group. Women’s clothes can be challenging to freecycle due to fit issues, so I almost always donate those.

Freecycle can be useful for getting rid of things most thrift stores won’t take. For example, my own group has recently found new homes for moving boxes, amaryllis bulbs, cans of coconut water, a frozen turkey, and a console (missing the back panel) with a non-functioning tube radio and a record player. Freecycle is also good for getting rid of bulky items that are hard to move (and often not accepted at charity stores), such as file cabinets and exercise equipment.

To find your local freecycle group, simply do an online search for the word freecyle and the name of your city. Freecycle.org lists many groups, but some excellent freecycle groups chose not to be part of this network. For local giveaway alternatives, you can also look into Nextdoor or the free section of craigslist. In the U.K., you might look at Freegle. And in some neighborhoods, just putting something at the curb with a “free” sign is a good way to give things away.

Ask Unclutterer: An art student’s dilemma

Unclutterer reader Jaclyn recently asked for suggestions regarding her particular artwork situation:

I have a bachelors degree in fine arts. Even though I graduated what seems like a lifetime ago, many of my old drawings, paintings, and prints lurk in a basement closet. I recently framed a pair of lithographs to hang over the couch, and they are a delight. However, I live in a relatively small house and have no desire to upsize any time soon, so even if everything felt worthy of public display, I wouldn’t have space for it. Some of my paintings are so big, I’m not sure I know anyone with a large enough home to accommodate them.

I’m interested to know what other former art students have done, and what suggestions you may have.

Jaclyn, I found an informal online poll on DeviantArt, a social network for artists and art enthusiasts, that might pertain to your dilemma. The majority of the responders kept all their old drawings and sketchbooks for various reasons: to see how their work has improved and evolved, to provide inspiration for new work, etc. For some, all this artwork serves the same function that diaries or journals might provide for other people — it’s an extremely sentimental record of their life.

The right answer for you would depend in part on your answers to the following questions, noting that you might have different answers for different pieces of art:

Why do you want to keep them?

If you’d like to display at least some of them, perhaps you can have more of them framed and rotate them out. For smaller pieces you could consider the dynamicFRAMES mentioned here on Unclutterer a number of years ago.

If you want them for the reasons those other artists listed, you could look for good storage tools that allow you to easily look through those items whenever you wish. For large drawings, you might want a flat file, a mobile trolley, or something similar. For canvases and framed artwork, you could use a rack that keeps those pieces upright. I’ve listed a number of other options for storing large pieces on the Core77 website.

If you want the personal history but feel less attached to the pieces, you might be okay with scanning or photographing your artwork and then letting the originals go. Scanning or photographing your favorite pieces might make sense even if you keep the originals, as this helps ensure you don’t lose the entire record of your work in case of fire, theft, water damage to your home, etc.

If you have smaller pieces you enjoy looking at but wouldn’t necessarily want to display, you could put some of these on the inside of cabinet or closet doors. I’ve done that with various pieces of art (not my own), and it makes me smile every time I open one of the doors.

How do you feel about giving away some pieces?

I don’t know if these are anything you could sell (or would want to sell), but someone I know who was in a similar situation sold some of her work on Etsy.

There are also a variety of ways you might give them away, beyond just offering them to those who’ve expressed an interest in specific pieces in the past. For example, if you’re on Facebook, you could post photos and ask your friends if they’d like any of them.

And if you’re okay with strangers owning some of them, you could try offering them on your local freecycle or Nextdoor group. I’ve successfully freecycled artwork in the past, although not specifically student drawings, and the prior owners have been happy to know the art is going to be displayed and enjoyed rather than tucked away in storage and never seen.

A note for those who are not art students: Similar questions can help when dealing with a whole range of things. There are many times when it makes sense to ask yourself:

  • Why am I keeping this item: for practical use, for decoration, for sentimental reasons, or something else?
  • What’s the best way to store it, to ensure it serves that purpose?
  • Would keeping a scan or a photo work as well as keeping the physical object?
  • What ways of selling, donating, or giving away something I decide not to keep would make me happy?

Saving and sharing your photos, after they’re scanned

Unclutterer reader Mary wrote to us about her challenges regarding scanning and saving her family photos. Last week, I wrote about deciding which photos to scan and choosing a photo scanner or a scanning service.

Once the scanning has been done, there are a few more decisions to make.

Decide how to privately store the scanned photos

You’re not going to want to store those photos in a single place, because they are too valuable for that. So, if you use a scanning service and the photos are returned on a DVD, don’t keep them only on that DVD.

If you have a limited number of photos, and you have a good computer backup strategy in place, you may want to simply load the scanned photos onto your computer and rely on those backups.

But if you have a large photo collection, you may want to look at cloud storage options. Some new options are Yahoo’s Flickr 4.0 and Google Photos, both of which were announced in May. On The Verge, Casey Newton wrote a summary of photo storage options in April, along with updates for Flickr 4.0 and Google Photos. Both of these services provide tools to automatically upload photos and a huge amount of storage space. They also have tools to automatically detect what’s in the photos and then organize the photos for you.

Decide how to share the photos

Both Flickr and Google Photos have photo-sharing options, so you can easily take photos from your private storage and share them with others in a variety of ways, including exporting them to social networks such as Facebook or sharing via emailed links. Of course, you can share photos using social networks and email without using either of those tools, too.

You may also decide you want to print out some of the best photos to a photo book, as Dave suggested. You could also put selected photos on a digital photo frame.

Decide what to with the originals

Archivists will tell you to always save the originals, whether that means negatives, prints, or slides. The National Archives website states: “Do not throw away your original film and prints after you digitize them. Digitized images are not considered a replacement for originals. Data (i.e. your images) can be lost when the storage media deteriorates; and software and hardware technology become rapidly obsolete, in some cases making retrieval of the images difficult if not impossible.” Unclutterer reader Michael made a similar point in the comments to last week’s post.

However, this is a personal risk management decision, and you may decide to ignore that professional advice. Remember that photos need to be stored properly if they are going to be preserved — you can’t just throw them in the attic. If you do decide to keep them, you’ll want to use storage materials that pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). There are boxes designed specifically for negatives, as well as boxes for prints.

In the past, Erin has suggested offering the originals to friends and relatives as a way to get them out of your home without destroying them.

Scanning the family photo collection

Unclutterer reader Mary recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenge:

I have boxes and boxes of family photos (some from the 1920s) I’d like to scan in and put on CDs (is that a good way to save them?) and also put on a website where family members can access them and print out what they’d like to keep. How do I even get started? How do I organize the project? I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it. Do I need a special scanner? What’s the fastest and best quality scanner? Can I save the photos on the cloud? Is there a way to record information I have about the photo with the scan? A lot was written on the back of photos — can both sides be scanned at once? Should I get rid of duplicates or bad photos to start off? It’s hard to throw away photos. Any suggestions, including new tech solutions, would be appreciated.

Mary, dealing with photos can be overwhelming. But it’s a very rewarding project, and you can break it down into smaller pieces so it’s not so intimidating. The following are some ideas about how to approach this project, looking at each decision you’ll need to make.

Decide which photos to keep

You won’t want to spend time or money scanning photos you don’t even think are worth keeping, so unclutter first. Photos to consider tossing are:

  • Duplicates. If you have family or friends who would like the duplicate prints, you can certainly pass them along. But why keep duplicates yourself?
  • Bad photos. This would include photos that are out of focus, photos that cut off someone’s head, and photos that are unflattering. You may want to keep some of these if there’s something else especially notable about the photo, but in most cases these are good riddance.
  • Photos of scenery. This is a personal choice, but many times the photos people take of the places they visit just aren’t that remarkable. My parents went to Hawaii years ago and took many photos, but I can find much better photos of those places online. The photos I cherish are the ones of my parents in Hawaii, not the ones of Hawaii itself.

You might think of this as going on a treasure hunt, finding the real gems among the many photos. If you can’t bring yourself to throw away any photos right now, you might simply create two categories of photos: the best ones (which you’ll scan) and all the rest.

Decide whether to scan them yourself or use a scanning service

Many people have happily used scanning services. Erin used ScanMyPhotos, as did a recent commenter, L. Charles. The company takes your prints, negatives and/or slides, does the scanning, and ships you back a DVD with those scans (along with your originals). If mailing off your photos makes you nervous, you may be able to find a company that does the work locally. Using a scanning service will save you a lot of time. I doubt the service will scan the backs of the photos, though.

If you prefer to scan your photos yourself, you’re going to be best off with a scanner that doesn’t require you to put the photos through a paper feed. That’s because every once in a while a photo might get damaged going through that feed. However, if you already have something like a ScanSnap iX500 you may be willing to take that risk. I know people who have used similar scanners with no problems.

If you already have a flatbed scanner as part of an all-in-one printer, that might be all you need. But what if you don’t have an appropriate scanner and want to buy one? I’m not an expert regarding scanners so I can’t tell you which scanner is best, but I can point you to some alternatives.

There are some scanning devices designed specifically for photos, which can sound appealing. But Consumer Reports wasn’t thrilled with the pass-through photo scanners it tested, even though it acknowledged that they have some distinct advantages.

Another option is a flatbed scanner, especially one that’s designed to handle photos, negatives, and slides. I know someone who’s happy with the Canon CanoScan 9000F MKII Color Image Scanner, but there are many other scanners to consider. If any readers have experience with specific photo scanners, I hope they’ll add their comments.

If you’re scanning photos yourself, you can scan the backs of the photos to capture the writing. (If you have a duplex scanner, you can probably scan both at once.) You could even use a scanning service for the photos, and then go through and scan the backs of the photos yourself once the prints are returned to you.

Next week, I’ll address the issue of storing the photos once you have them scanned.