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.

Organizing in a small apartment that lacks storage space

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

I just moved from a 2-bedroom, 1200-square-foot apartment into a 1-bedroom, 784-square-foot apartment. I LOVE my new place but to say “lack of storage” is an UNDERSTATEMENT. I have adequate space in the kitchen but I literally have NO linen closet, nowhere medicine cabinet, place for sheets, towels, just STUFF. I have a hall closet (which is where I have put my broom, mop, etc.) and placed a basket up top for sheets to try and organize, and a closet for the washer and dryer (yet another basket system for cleaning supplies, meds, and odds and ends) but I KNOW there has to be a better way!!!

Tami, this is a problem you share with many others. On Unclutterer, we’ve written before about strategies that often work in small spaces, but the following are some more suggestions that may work for you.

Re-evaluate what you own

When you’re in a small space, everything you own really has to earn a place in your home due to how functional it is or how much you care for it, aesthetically or sentimentally. There may be no room for anything that’s just “okay” or “perfectly good” if it isn’t something you need or love.

For example, how many bed linens do you really need? Many people get by with two sets: one on the bed and one spare. (And the same principle might apply to other linens, such as towels.) If you have a number of specialized cleaning products, could you move toward multipurpose cleaners?

Look beyond the (non-existent) closet shelves

You’ll want to be sure you’re storing things safely, where small children and pets can’t get to them (if that’s a concern in your living situation). And remember that medications are often best stored away from the humidity of a bathroom. The following are some alternatives to consider:

Use the backs of doors

Shoe pockets hung over a door can be used to store all sorts of things. Parent Hacks has a great list of ways this versatile product can be used. Elfa also has some door racks that might be worth a look.

You can use the backs of cabinet doors, too, adding baskets or trays.

Use the walls

Your lease may limit your options here, since it may preclude you from adding anything that would put a hole in the wall.

But even then, you have some options. For example, Perch attaches to many walls with damage-free Command Strips. If your lease doesn’t limit you, you can look into shelves and pegboards.

Consider different ways to store linens and towels

I’m assuming that you don’t have space to add a storage piece such as a cabinet, trunk, cart, or shelving unit. If you do have space, that’s one alternative, but certainly not the only one.

Some people store an extra set of linens between the mattress and the box springs. Some linens, such as tablecloths, can be stored on hangers. Placemats can be hung from hangers with clips.

Towels are a different challenge. Perhaps you could store them in an empty suitcase. (An under-the-bed storage box could work, too.) You could also add a towel rack that mounts in the door hinges to store extra towels.

Organizing for aging in place

Unclutterer reader Liz recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenges:

My organizing or decluttering issue is the garden — I need to make the gardens a bit easier to manage as I get older. Some of it will be resolved by switching to services to do the work. In other places, it will be to simplify what I do.

For my home, it is also about decluttering, organizing and getting ready for “aging in place.” I want my home to be easier to handle if I get a medical problem. For example, if I am going to update my kitchen or bathroom, am I making the right changes for an elderly person?

Of course, in some cases, this advanced-age thinking does make it easier to get rid of things.

Liz, it sounds like you’ve already got a good plan in place for the garden. But I do have the following organizing-related suggestions regarding aging in place. Many of these ideas could benefit a lot of people, not just the elderly, but they become increasingly important as someone gets older.

Unclutter first

From your comments, Liz, I think you are well aware of this. But it bears repeating because this step so often gets ignored. I recently read something about aging-in-place solutions that jumped right to installing closet organizers. Yes, that can be important — but the first step is uncluttering what’s in those closets. Once that’s done, you’re ready to consider those closet organizers.

Look for accessible storage options

To make things easy to reach, you’ll want storage that’s not too high and not too close to the floor. If you’re able to remodel your kitchen, the AARP suggests that you:

  • Hang your upper cabinets 12 to 15 inches above the countertop instead of the normal 18 inches
  • Place your lower cabinets six inches above the floor.

You could also install pull-down shelving into existing upper cabinets. For lower cabinets, adding rollout shelves (or replacing the cabinets with drawers) can make things much more accessible. Anne-Marie Brunet on Next Avenue provides numerous examples of how lower cabinets can be replaced or redesigned.

When it comes to the clothes closets, storage solutions that get the shoes off the floor are generally a good idea since bending becomes harder with age. Pull-down closet rods can make clothes easier to reach in closets where the rods are fairly high.

And then there’s the bathroom. I never thought about adding a shower niche at shower-seat level until I saw that feature in one design.

Some of the fanciest products I’ve seen are the Closet Carousel and the various offerings from StorageMotion: AutoPantry, ShoeSelect, etc. Most people will be satisfied with far simpler solutions, but it’s still interesting to see the innovative storage products that are available to keep things within easy reach.

Improve the closet lighting

The Livable Design National Demonstration Home includes good lighting in both bedroom closets. In the master bedroom walk-in closet, a solar tube is used to add lighting. In the second bedroom, the website notes: “Typically, standard linear closets do not include lighting. This bedroom closet has LED lighting on a switch so it’s easier to pick an outfit in the morning.”

Consult an expert

If you’re making a significant investment in remodeling your home, you may want to work with someone who has special expertise in universal design and/or aging in place. For example, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry has a Universal Design Certified Professional Program.

Organizing in a shared living space

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

My husband insists on keeping various things by his recliner, on a small table, in the living room. Things like scissors, nail file, pens and pencils, two pair of glasses, toothpicks, nail clippers, bottle of water, Kleenex, TV remotes, files he is working on (self-employed), electric razor, vitamins, crossword puzzles, scratch paper, his laptop, current book he is reading … need I say more?

Actually it is an old TV stand that he has repurposed and it has a shelf where he slides the laptop into. And there is some organization to all of the things mentioned. Some aspects of the clutter can be removed easily when company comes over as they are in plastic shoe boxes. Do other women have this problem and what do they do?!

Mary, the living room is a shared space, so it’s important to look for solutions that work for both of you. The following suggestions might help you find some common ground.

Negotiate which items get kept by the recliner

It’s often wise to store things where they are used. So keeping some things by the recliner can be a good strategy for someone who regularly uses that chair to read, work on the computer, do crossword puzzles, watch TV, etc. But I’d suggest you negotiate some limits, based on what activities are appropriately done from the recliner.

Unless your husband has a disability and getting out of the chair is a significant issue, I would think that personal grooming is better done elsewhere. So maybe a book, some scratch paper, a few pens, eyeglasses, and such stay by the recliner, while things like the electric razor do not.

Get better storage tools

Once you’ve agreed which things are reasonably kept beside the recliner, consider whether it makes sense to invest in better ways to keep those items close at hand.

You might want to replace the old TV stand with an end table that provides storage, such as this one from Levenger.

You could also add a storage ottoman. There are many choices, at various price points — the one above comes from Crate and Barrel.

Another approach would be to make that entire furniture piece mobile, so it can be rolled away when company comes. For example, something like the above utility cart from Ikea could work.

It might also help to add a storage product that goes over the arm of the recliner, such as the above remote control pocket from Ikea.

Agree on a maintenance plan

It’s easy for a well-used place in your home to become cluttered, so work with your husband to develop a plan to keep things under control. For example, you might agree that at the end of the day, your husband will:

  • Dispose of all trash.
  • Place any book that’s been finished either on the bookshelf (if it’s a keeper) or in whatever place you’ve defined for things being given away or sold.
  • If anything has accumulated near the recliner besides the things you have agreed belong there, put those items away in their normal storage places.
  • Put everything that does belong near the recliner in its designated storage area: in the drawers or containers on the side table, etc.

An alternative: Follow Marie Kondo’s advice

Marie Kondo, who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, would say that all your husband’s things should be kept in one place, not scattered around where they are used. If you want to follow her advice, I would suggest (as she would) that you begin by making sure your own things are in order and showing by example how well her approach can work.

A place for everything — but where?

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

“A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Our problem is the first part of this rule: Finding out where or what that place should be for any given item is an almost insurmountable task. And that is the reason why we still have a lot of clutter in our home.

Ebbe, the following suggestions might help you find good places for your items.

General principles

Usually, you’ll want to keep things you use frequently close at hand, near where you’ll be using them. And you would normally want to keep things that are used together in the same general area. So, if you use a coffee maker every day, it might make sense to leave it out on your kitchen counter and store your coffee mugs in a nearby cabinet.

Things you use less frequently can be stored further away from where they’ll be used. You wouldn’t want to dedicate prime storage space (any space within easy reach) to things you only use once or twice a year. Seldom-used items can go in places such as the kitchen cabinets over the refrigerator or in an attic, basement, or garage if your home has those spaces. You may want to keep a list of what you’ve stored where, since it could be easy to forget.

You’ll normally want to keep like with like. For example, if you have a number of vases, you would probably keep them in one spot. But sometimes, based on the “keep it close to where you’ll use it” principle, it makes sense to store things in two or more places. For example, I keep flashlights in a number of places, so if I lose power at night I’ll always have one close at hand.

When feasible, try not to fight your family’s ingrained habits. For example, if mail always gets dropped on a kitchen table or countertop, maybe that’s the best place for an “inbox” type of container.

When creating homes for frequently used things, make those homes as easy to use as possible. That might mean getting a closet double-hang rod to keep clothes handy for younger children, using hooks rather than hangers in some situations, using a laundry hamper without a lid to make it easier to put dirty clothes away, etc.

Be sure that the storage places you’ve selected are safe. You’ll want to ensure that small children and pets can’t get to things like medicines, laundry detergent pods, toxic pest control products, or sharp things such as knives. It’s usually best to avoid storing heavy things and fragile glass items up high, so you don’t need to worry about hurting yourself or breaking something when you go to retrieve it.

Be careful not to store items that are sensitive to heat, cold, humidity, or bugs in places that face those hazards. That means being careful about what gets stored in places such as attics, basements, and garages.

And finally, don’t expect to get everything right the first time. Try giving things assigned places, and then adjust as you learn more about what works well and what doesn’t.

Dealing with limited storage space

I know people who live in old houses with very small closets. If you have a similar situation, you may need to get creative about adding storage. That could involve buying furniture such as a wardrobe, but it could also involve less expensive (and less space-consuming) ideas such as hanging some shoe pockets on some doors — they can store much more than just shoes. There are many products that make use of wall and back-of-the-door space, as well as under-the-bed space.

And the answer might be that some things get stored at the store. Buying large quantities and huge sizes of things may not work if your home has limited space.

If there are things you use infrequently, maybe the answer involves getting rid of those things and borrowing or renting them when the need arises. This could be something to consider for rarely used tools, for example.

And if you’ve been as creative as you can be in finding storage places, and you still can’t find a place for everything, you’ll need to decide whether you want to invest in renting a storage unit (which is a reasonable choice in some very specific situations) or whether it makes more sense to just own less.

Accepting imperfect solutions

Sometimes there’s no great place to store something. I have that problem with my bulky Bosu balance trainer. I use it in my living room, which is the only room I have with sufficient space for exercising. But there’s no place to hide the Bosu away in the living room and it didn’t look good just sitting out, so I recently moved it to the guest bedroom (which isn’t far away). Now I just bring it out when I want to use it. There was no ideal place for it, so I settled for an adequate one.

Digital recipe organizing solutions to love

Elaine recently asked Unclutterer:

I have a specific need related to paper management — recipes. I’d like to take all the scraps of paper with notes about recipes I have in books, torn out newspaper clippings, torn out magazine clippings, recipes from the inside of product packaging (like recipes on the inside of the cream cheese box) and get them organized digitally. It needs to be searchable, which is why I haven’t just done some sort of scanning thing … what thoughts/recommendations do people have?

Elaine, I know this problem well. When I was a kid, my mother used what I called the “fly paper method” of organizing her recipe clippings. If you had opened any cabinet door in our kitchen, you would have found soup can labels, magazine pages, newspaper clippings, hand-written index cards, and more, all taped to the inside of the doors. While convenient in that they were all in the kitchen, searchability was a nightmare. There must be a better way. And, in fact, there are several. The following are some digital options to consider.

Paprika. I’m tempted to start and end my list right here, because the Paprika app is such a nice solution. First of all, it’s available on many platforms: Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire, and Nook Color. (Prices vary based on the platform, but it’s just a one-time cost of $4.99 for iPhone to give you an idea of what to expect.) Also, the features are fantastic. It syncs via the cloud, so all of your devices can hold the same information. Entering a recipe manually is easy, and you can download recipes you find online with a single tap. It will generate a shopping list for you, and even sort it by aisle in your grocery store. Finally, the interactive recipe feature allows you to swipe an ingredient to cross it off when you’re done with it, and tap to highlight the current step you’re working on in the recipe. I’m sure you’ll love it (I do). But, for the sake of options, let’s explore a few more.

Plan to Eat. Plan to Eat is an app that focuses on what you’ll cook when, but also stores your recipes and shares them across devices. To get started, you enter your recipes manually. Then, you plan you week’s meals by dragging and dropping the dishes you’d like to make onto a calendar. Plan to Eat then makes a shopping list for you that appears on your phone. Plan to Eat is free for 30 days, then $4.95 per month or $39 per year.

Basil for iPad. I’m not sure what device(s) you’re using, which is why I shared two platform-agnostic solutions so far. However, I’ll go out on a limb and say, if you have an iPad, consider Basil. Not only does it store your recipes beautifully and offer a very capable search function, Basil understands that you might not use it forever. Therefore, it lets you export all of your recipes as plain text. They’re your recipes, after all. It also features timers and easy unit conversion.

Evernote. Not meant specifically for recipes, Evernote is a good candidate because it excels at two things: storage and search. Scan a recipe, add the appropriate tags, and, presto, you’ve got an excellent digital recipe book.

Coping with overwhelming inherited possessions

In April, we asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering and organizing hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

Unclutterer reader nana2much asked:

I have also “inherited” my parents’ possessions. I have 5 siblings who have already taken what they want. They have helped some but they all live quite far away.

My mother lived with us so everything ended up here. It isn’t just sentimental objects, but very old photos, some books with family history, many old Bibles, (my father was a pastor) some with family obituaries pasted in or notes written in them. So many letters and “artifacts” saved since my parents’ childhoods…some 90 years old. Many “sermons” my father wrote for individual funerals and memorial services. It is overwhelming. Glass figurines, vases etc. etc.

My father died 5 years ago and my mom 2 years ago. I have given away, donated, sold and even threw out so much but I am finding it difficult to figure out what to do with what remains.

I feel like I’m supposed to be the caretaker of all this stuff. Very torn about it all. Any suggestions on how to continue this process?

Nana2much, I’m sorry to read about your loss. Dealing with a parent’s death is never easy, and you’ve had to cope with two in a short time.

But let me reassure you: You do not need to be the caretaker of all this stuff. It is not disrespectful to the memory of your parents to keep the things that you really want and dispose of the rest.

It sounds like you are ready to deal with the remaining stuff. But if you find some things you can’t quite cope with right now, that’s fine; set them aside and just work with the things that don’t make you upset.

How do you continue? Here are some suggestions:

Decide which things are the keepers

Of the many things you have from your parents, which ones do you really want to hold onto? These are very personal choices. Don’t worry about what you “should” want to keep, but focus on which items really speak to you. Ideally, most of these will be things that are either practical or decorative — things you’ll use, not things you’ll stash in the back of a closet.

How much family history do you want to retain? Again, this is a very personal decision, and only you will know what feels right. You didn’t mention whether or not you have children. If you do, saving items related to family history may be more important than if you don’t. But in any case, saving a sample of things like memorial sermons may work better for you than saving all of them.

When going through photos, you can make some easy choices to eliminate photos that are poor quality (out of focus, heads cut off, etc.) and photos of scenery, flowers, and such. Since going through photos can be very time-consuming, you may want to leave any detailed review to the end of this project, so you don’t get bogged down.

Save photos instead of things

You can take photos of anything you don’t really want to keep but which still has a sentimental pull. For example, that might include taking photos of selected pages of some of the bibles, if you don’t want to keep them all.

Consider who might appreciate receiving your parents’ things

Since you’ve already consulted with your siblings, consider who else might want some of these things. Would members of your father’s congregation want some things to remember him by? Would the church want anything? A local historical society? Any of your parents’ friends? A more distant relative who is into genealogy?

But please don’t feel like you need to put tremendous effort into this. Do as much as feels right to you. Some people really enjoy playing matchmaker between things and people, and can do it without getting bogged down. Others won’t want to bother. It’s yet another personal choice.

Decide whether to sell or donate the rest

Things like vases and figurines can be donated or sold. If they are donated to Goodwill, a charity thrift store, or some other worthwhile nonprofit, they are helping others. That might be something that would have pleased your parents.

Selling might be a bit traumatic — are you willing to listen to people barter over the price of your parents’ things? If not, go the donation route or find someone who can do the selling for you, for a commission. If your finances allow, you might like to donate some of the proceeds to a nonprofit in memory of your parents.

Welcome to the factory floor

In April, we asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering and organizing hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

Unclutterer reader Judy asked:

My judgmental brother and sister in law are coming mid September. I have stuff, mostly papers everywhere. Also, I have some sentimental stuff I want to get rid of but feel guilty about. I’m employed full time and it feels overwhelming.

I hear ya, Judy. I always know when we’re getting house guests because the cleaning goes into overdrive. Wait, cleaning is too subtle a word. We give our home a nuke it from space blast of organization and cleaning before people come to visit. Or as I call it, creating the “lie house.”

Why “lie house?” Because the sterile state we create is not how our house actually exists day-to-day.

As part of our preparation for out-of-town guests, we clean the house from top to bottom. I suspect you do the same. It’s not only a matter of pride, but a display of respect for your guests. You want everything to look nice for the people who bothered to travel and spend money just for the pleasure of your company. It makes perfect sense.

And, usually, we go EXTREME.

Vacuuming begets dusting, which begets tidying up the knick-knacks, which leads to reorganizing the living room, buying flowers for vases, scrubbing the floor, dusting the dog, washing the soap, combing the lawn, power-washing the brick fireplace, constructing an altar to the gods and goddesses of cleanliness and preparing to sacrifice the most well-groomed chicken you’ve ever seen.

But lately we’ve stopped and asked ourselves, “Wait, what are we doing?”

The chicken is relieved.

Here’s the fact of the matter. Right now, this is a working house. It’s the factory floor and production is at its peak. We have two adults living here, each with a full-time job. There is a dog whose hobbies include disemboweling her squeaky toys and spreading the nylon innards across the rug. We’ve got three kids in this house, ranging in age from 10 to 13, who spend their time (and ours) on:

  • Girl Scouts
  • Cub Scouts
  • Ballet
  • Soccer
  • After-school science club
  • After-school comedy club (seriously)
  • Friends, playdates, homework, and so on

These are the years spent in the trenches. The years where my wife and I argue over who gets to be the one to grocery shop, because grocery shopping means you get 25 minutes to yourself. If guests arrive and there’s a stack of papers on a table somewhere or library books strewn about or if our dear visitors have to witness a round of my favorite 7:38 a.m. game, “Where Are Your Clean Socks And Why Must We Go Through This Every Blessed Day?” Well, you know what? Fine.

The people who are nice enough to travel and spend money just to be in our company understand where we are at this stage in our lives. They love us, and know that transferring the breakfast cereal into labeled Tupperware containers is just under “jewel-encrusted, heated driveway” on our list of current priorities.

Now, I’m not saying that the active family lifestyle is permission to live in a dumpster, but it is permission to let some things go, even if just for a bit. If I have a choice between creating a pristine library of the kids’ books or planning a fun weekend with the family and our guests, I’ll choose the latter. The books will always be there; my kids’ childhood and this visit won’t.

If you want a museum experience, the MFA is just up the road. Otherwise, our family experience welcomes you. Come on in.

If you’re truly overwhelmed, Judy, give yourself permission to let some of the stress go. Do what you can, use the impending visit as motivation if that is what you need to reach your organizing and uncluttering goals, but also remember that your visitors are going to love you irrespective of your papers and sentimental items. Feeling anxious isn’t good for anyone, especially for four months as you prepare for the visit. Your home can be a museum, but it doesn’t have to be.

Storing the CPAP machine (and other ugly but frequently used stuff)

We recently asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering and organizing hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

Unclutterer reader Mary asked:

C-Pap Machines for sleep apnea … used every nite … sitting on a small table by my husband’s side of the bed and most visible from adjoining living room … long hose and face piece at end of hose … so ugly but so necessary … storage ideas but still convenient?

Mary, there are a number of approaches you might use to address this challenge. While I’m going to list some specific solutions for CPAP machines, the strategies I’ve included could apply to any ugly-but-useful items we need to keep close at hand.

Make the equipment less ugly

Your options here will depend on what CPAP machine you use and how crafty you are. There are some commercial products, but you could also try a do-it-yourself approach. On the commercial side:

The ResMed S9 Autoset comes in pink, which some people think looks less clinical (and therefore more attractive) than the basic machine.

If you use a ResMed S9 device you can also get a skin (a vinyl decal) for it. Skinit has a program where you provide the image and the company turns it into a custom skin.

You can also find a few Skinit ready-made skins (products the company has discontinued) on eBay and other sites.

Cover it up

Building off the idea of the teapot cover called a cozy, some people have created CPAP machine and mask cozies. I’m not finding anyone who sells a CPAP cozy commercially, but you could either make one yourself or have one made for you.

You can buy hose covers, which serve a functional purpose. But a cover also “makes the CPAP look less clinical,” as one Amazon buyer noted.

Place it somewhere handy but less conspicuous

The CPAP machine doesn’t have to live on top of the nightstand in order to be handy. The Bedside CPAP Table keeps the CPAP close by the bed but off the nightstand, freeing up that nightstand space for other things. (This table is also useful for travel to places where there might not be a nightstand next to the bed.)

You can also take the CPAP machine (and the hoses and mask) off the nightstand by putting everything into the nightstand. Perdue Woodworks makes a nightstand specifically for this purpose, but if you’ve got another nightstand where you’re willing to cut holes in the sides, you might be able to create your own.

Denny Allen Cabinets has a different design, with a side-opening drawer, which could also work well.

When you’re dealing with anything that’s unsightly yet useful, you may find a similar creative way to disguise or hide the item.

Tech clutter and cleaning vs. exhaustion

On the 14th, we asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

Today I’ll be looking at two questions: tech clutter and the sheer exhaustion of staying on top of it all. Let’s start with the gadgets.

Bailey asked:

…Since [our kitchen] is by the back door [it has become a] landing pad for the cell phones and their chargers, especially for folks who are visual and need the reminder to take it with them…laptops and tablets end up all over the house, becoming visual clutter in the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?

This drives me crazy, too. With four of us living under one roof, I find phones, the iPad, and our laptops all over the place. When we have houseguests it gets even worse, as cables and devices seem to dangle from every available outlet. To combat this issue, I’ve hit everyone where it hurts: battery life.

We have designated charging areas in our house: a so-called “telephone table” (it used to hold our land-line phone back when we had one) and the bedrooms. That’s it. If a device is not in a designated area, it does not get recharged, as moving cables from outlets is not allowed. The threat of a dead battery is enough to keep the digital clutter confined to one area. Smart planning will go a long way, too.

As human beings, we tend toward the path of least resistance. Use this to your advantage when defining a designated charge zone for your electronic goodies. If people like to enter the house through the kitchen and plop their devices down there, choose that location. There are several great options for DIY charging stations that can accommodate several devices and look great in the process. If you’re willing to sacrifice a drawer, you can make a hidden charging station that:

  1. Is where they like to plop stuff down anyway, so the habit change is minimal,
  2. keeps everything completely out of sight,
  3. is easy to access, and
  4. is very inexpensive and easy to set up.

I hope this helps. After a couple weeks of gentle reminders and some careful consideration, I think you’ll have a solution that everyone can use.

Next, reader Kat asked:

But at the end of [my 12-hour day]…I am utterly pooped. I hire someone to do the dusting and bathrooms and floors, but that creates pressure to have the house decluttered before she comes each week. I have boxes still unpacked in the garage from when we moved 3 years ago, and we can barely get into the garage if we need something from them. I have dealt with high pressure decluttering situations by piling high a laundry basket and hiding it in my walk-in closet – now no one can get into the closet. All the usual culprits — junk drawers, bathroom cupboards, closets, sheds, become repositories of clutter.
While I feel we are coping with day-to-day life flow, I just cannot find a way to break this cycle and find the energy to tackle the big projects like the garage or closets.

I think everyone can empathize with this situation in some way. I’ve been meaning to organize our basement for years. There comes a point when a little project becomes a big one, and a big one becomes an insurmountable monster. The answer for me has been to re-define your definition of a “project.”

“Clean the garage” is a project. But at this point, it has become so intimidating that it’s super easy to avoid. Instead of avoiding it, I’ve broken it down into much smaller projects that are achievable. Perhaps this weekend you can find 30 minutes to sit with a pen and paper and list the categories of items you expect to find in the garage, like yard tools, holiday decorations, sports equipment, etc. When you’re done with that, you’re done. You’ve successfully made progress on the garage.

Next time you have a fifteen minute block of time, plan out what your’e going to do with stuff that you aren’t going to keep. Will you donate it, sell it, give it away, take it to a consignment shop, the town dump, etc.? Again, getting those decisions made is another project completed.

The week after that, dedicate just fifteen minutes to sorting through one type of category of your stuff in the garage (ONLY yard tools or ONLY holiday decorations). Find items that will be thrown away, for example, and then donate/sell/recycle/trash the items that need to be purged. Put the items you wish to keep in a pile or box out of the way for you to organize on another day. After fifteen minutes, you’re done. Another win.

Do this with all your categories of items and then repeat it with organizing and putting away what you’ve planned to keep. It will take you many weeks, maybe months, to get the garage to your ideal, but you will get there. A little work at a time results in an uncluttered and organized garage, which is better than the chaos that is frustrating you now. Baby steps to success.

This is how I deal with the craziness. My wife and I work full time and we’re raising two kids along with Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, ballet, soccer, homework, and on and on. Even in the house, I break things down. “Today I’ll tidy up the mudroom area.” These small victories compound and I get stuff done without exhausting myself even further.

Answers to a reader’s four questions

On the 14th, we asked our readers to share their biggest uncluttering hurdles and they responded. Now, we’re going through the comments to see what we can do to help.

An Unclutterer reader wrote in and talked about her four main struggles.

1. Finding pockets of time in the day to do large projects when you have small kids around. For example, I am trying to stain our wooden fence on our own, but I have two children under 3 years old. How can I approach this messy process strategically?

I’ve been in this situation before. I had two young children and my husband was deployed for six months straight with the Canadian Forces. One suggestion would be to find some teenagers you can hire. You can ask around to neighbours and friends or visit the local secondary school or community centre if you don’t know any personally. Some teens would appreciate getting paid for a few hours of work per week painting your fence or keeping your children occupied while you work on the household chores.

Another suggestion might be if you have friends with young children, you can do an exchange. One grown-up looks after all of the children and the other grown-up works on a project. The next time, you switch.

Before engaging someone to assist you, it’s always best to have a plan of what you can accomplish during the time you have. Here are some tips I’ve learned from experience:

  • Always underestimate the amount of work you’ll get done in the time that you have. If you think it will take you two hours to paint the fence, it may really take you four hours. Remember to include set-up and cleanup times in your estimate.
  • Always have a Plan B. If you’ve booked a sitter so you can paint the fence, have an alternative project to work on (e.g. sewing curtains) in case it rains that day.
  • Don’t fret if you’re not making as much progress as you’d like. Remember that slow and steady wins the race.

2. Overcoming analysis paralysis … how do I restore my decision-making confidence and JUST DO IT? For example, hanging art on the wall: it feels like a permanent choice! So I delay!

We’ve written before about improving decision-making skills and how to make the process of decision making easier. Reviewing these posts might help you get over your “analysis-paralysis.”

As someone who has moved houses eight times in 23 years, I can say that nothing is “permanent,” some things might just take a little more effort to change than others. As far as hanging art on the walls, try GeckoTech Reusable Hooks. They are made with a unique synthetic rubber technology that allows them to be used again and again. 3M picture strips are also very handy for hanging artwork without damaging walls. You may also wish to consider the STAS cliprail pro Picture Hanging System.

Apartment Therapy has great tips for hanging artwork so go ahead and make your house a home.

3. Thinking long-term about home projects, while on a budget. We plan to stay in our home a long time, but it needs some love. But our wallets are thin! What should we prioritize: remodeling the kitchen, or taking control of the landscaping? New interior paint job or pressure washing and re-glazing the pebble driveway? What house projects are most important and have lasting impact?

Home renovations can make your home more comfortable, improve your living experience, and increase the value of the home. However, shoddy workmanship or too much “unique customization” may actually decrease the value of your home.

Start with the basics by keeping the home safe and livable. Consider projects that involve your home’s structure (roof, windows, doors, etc.) or mechanical systems (furnace, air conditioning, electrics, plumbing). These upgrades make your home more energy efficient and may actually pay for themselves during the time that you live in the home. Insurance companies may also decrease premiums when you improve wiring, install secure windows, or add an alarm system.

Next, think about making you home more livable. High-end countertops may look good in magazines but more cupboard space may be what your family needs right now. Discuss your ideas with a designer and talk to a few contractors to determine prices and see what fits with your budget. You may decide to do the work yourself, but talking about it with a professional is great for brewing ideas.

Try to build the most flexibility and long-term usefulness into your designs. Remember that children grow quickly, so envision the basement toy room becoming a games room and study area in a few years. Installing the required wiring now will save you time and money later, and may also add a selling feature if you decide to move.

You might be able to do some work yourself, such as painting or installing closet systems. However, because of permits and laws/regulations/codes, most people find it best to hire professionals for tasks requiring plumbing, electrical work, specialized carpentry, and work involving altering the structure of your home (supporting walls, roofs, staircases, etc.).

4. How can we encourage others in our life to take care of their clutter before they leave this earth and give all their clutter to us? This is especially a problem when they don’t think what they have is clutter!

Unfortunately, the value of an item is in the eye of the beholder. Items you might consider clutter, might be of significant value to someone else. It would be difficult to ask someone to part with items that are valuable to him or her. You can’t control another person’s desires, wishes, and attachments to their things.

However, there are some steps you can take to ensure that your family members’ items are appreciated once they pass on.

Envision what you want for your family. Are you minimalists? Do you prefer art-deco style furniture? Will you travel? What hobbies do you enjoy or do you wish to start a few new hobbies? It helps to write down the lifestyle you want to lead and then act according to these visions when the time comes.

Prepare a respectful “no thank-you” response now. Chances are you will be offered something you don’t want or you will be told that items are being kept for you. If the item will not fit into your envisioned lifestyle, you will be able to turn it down. For example:

I know [item] is very important to you and it means a lot that you want us to have it after you are gone. But [item] will never replace you or our memories of you. Let’s consider how [item] could best be used and appreciated. Perhaps we should:

  • Consider offering [item] to a [name friend or family member] who would truly appreciate it
  • Donate [item] to charity or museum, where it could be used or appreciated by even more people
  • Sell [item] and either enjoy or donate the money

Sometimes once people find they are no longer obligated to hold an item for you, they are more willing to let it go.