Book review: IKEAHACKERS.NET 25 Biggest and Best Projects

201712_ikeahackers_bookI quite enjoy the website IKEAHACKERS.NET. If you’re not familiar with it, the site shows modifications on and re-purposing (“hacks”) of IKEA products. Innovative and skilled people from around the world submit their ideas, designs, and creations to IKEAHACKERS.NET. Photos and instructions are published to inspire and motivate the rest of us.

The modifications may be as simple as painting a piece or parts thereof, or adding embellishments with a glue gun. Some modifications require disassembling the furniture and using your skills with power tools. Many of the IKEA products are rebuilt to serve a new purpose.

Their new book, IKEAHACKERS.NET 25 Biggest and Best Projects presents some of the most creative and popular and contributions to their website since they started in 2006. There are gorgeous photos of the projects which makes it a lovely coffee table book but, there are also detailed instructions that appear much more detailed and easy to follow than original IKEA instructions!

This book has a bit of everything. There’s a half-wall lamp with a little shelf that would be ideal for small spaces, a window bench with storage that makes excellent use of otherwise wasted space, and a disguised laundry hamper that keeps visual clutter to a minimum.

The skill level of the projects varies. The Double Murphy Bed is a bit complicated for a new do-it-yourself-er, but the String Sided Cabinet would make a great project for a family with school-aged children.

If you’re looking for some projects to occupy your time and you’ve got some unused or underemployed IKEA furniture sitting around, grab, IKEAHACKERS.NET 25 Biggest and Best Projects get your creative energy flowing!

Book Review: Crucial Conversations

One of the most difficult tasks when it comes to organizing the home is talking about it with other family members. It’s far too easy for conversations to deteriorate into arguments and suggestions about clutter to turn into accusations and attacks. In the end, the one wanting to unclutter becomes extreme wanting to throw everything out and the one resisting begins to hold onto to every little piece of paper saying that it’s all vitally important. No one’s happy and the clutter problem isn’t just still there, it’s grown into the focus of a battle of wills that can’t be won.

Fortunately, there exists a solution, and it comes in book format. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, 2nd Edition, is a book that helps people to prepare for delicate conversations, to transform anger and hurt feelings into dialogue, and to make any situation safe enough for all parties to freely discuss any topic.

My background is Anglo-Canadian, and so I come from a culture where delicate conversations were never held. I never learned how to initiate and participate in (possibly) anger-producing discussions; we would just avoid them. So, for me, finding this book has been a lifesaver both at work and at home.

Just looking at the table of contents provides a plan for tackling delicate situations:

  • Ch 1: What is a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares?
  • Ch 2: Mastering Crucial Conversations: The Power of Dialogue
  • Ch 3: Start with the Heart: How to Stay Focused on What Your Really Want
  • Ch 4: Learn to Look: How to Notice When Safety is at Risk
  • Ch 5: Make It Safe: How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything
  • Ch 6: Master My Stories: How to Stay in Dialogue When You’re Angry, Scared or Hurt
  • Ch 7: State my Path: How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively
  • Ch 8: Explore Others’ Paths: How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up
  • Ch 9: Move to Action: How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results
  • Ch 10: Yeah, But: Advice for Tough Cases
  • Ch 11: Putting it All Together: Tools for Preparing and Learning

At the beginning of the book, there is a quiz to help you determine what challenges you face in particular when it comes to the issue, and suggests which chapters should receive your special attention.

How has this book helped me?

Well, at work, I have to evaluate staff and sometimes provide feedback that no one wants to hear about themselves. Previously, I would have softened the message so much that no one was ever sure I was critiquing them. Now, however, I have a framework to use that doesn’t attack the listener, but allows me to express my concerns about their job performance.

And at home, instead of never saying anything because I did not want to upset my partner, I can now open up and create a safe space for discussing pretty much anything.

If I had read this book back when I was organizing professionally, it would have helped my business immensely. Often organizing clients feel ashamed or attacked when anyone speaks to them about their clutter and conversations slide into defensive, emotionally-charged situations. When family members are involved, these conversations can become full-blown arguments.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for everyone, but most definitely it needs to be read by anyone who finds that delicate conversations either don’t happen or become arguments that harm their relationships when the goal is only to help those around them.

Crucial Conversations is available in print or in e-book and has a follow-up title called Crucial Accountability (previously titled Crucial Confrontations), also available in print or e-book (I have not read this latter book yet, but if it’s anywhere as useful as the first book, it’s a must-read as well). And if you like your books bundled, the two come as an e-bundle offer, as well.

Thinking ahead about simplifying the holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What decorating books say about clutter

I’m in the midst of another evaluation of my many books, and this time I’m eliminating the home decorating books that I haven’t looked at in ages. But as I was reviewing those books, I noticed that a number of the authors weighed in on clutter and organizing. The following is some of their advice.

In Meditations on Design, John Wheatman wrote:

Some of my most satisfying projects have not involved the purchase of any additional furnishings. I always begin by editing what is already in place. I help people discard the items don’t work and organize the ones that remain so that everything comes together and makes sense — functionally, visually, and financially. …

Weed out unnecessary possessions. Give fresh life to the furnishings you’re tired of by moving them around.

And in his book entitled A Good House is Never Done Wheatman wrote about being creative with storage containers (and he has a number of photos to illustrate his point):

Where do you put a sponge, a scrubbing brush, or a kitchen tool? … There is no need to restrict your choice of storage containers to what you find in the kitchen department of a home decor store. Expand your horizons to embrace antique shops, yard sales, and second-hand shops.

As a firm believer in using spare coffee mugs as pen and pencil holders and as toothbrush holders, I totally agree with Wheatman when it comes to thinking creatively about containers.

Wheatman also wrote about something that I often encounter:

I have yet to hear a good reason why the handsome table in your dining room can’t double as a desk during the day.

I’ve worked with people who thought they had to use their designated office space and the desk in that space for office-type activities, when their natural inclination was to work on the kitchen or dining room table in a more spacious and attractive room, sometimes with a lovely view. Unless you’re doing extended computer work that calls for an ergonomic set-up that the table may not provide, I agree with Wheatman. Go ahead and use that table, as long as you have an easy way to put things away when you want to use the table for eating.

Danny Seo has a clever anonymous quote in his book Conscious Style Home: Eco-Friendly Living for the 21st Century:

A clean desk is the sign of a cluttered desk drawer.

But he goes on to emphasize the importance of uncluttering:

What you’ll begin to notice as clutter is banished from your house is that treasured objects … suddenly reappear once the clutter is gone.

Overaccessorized rooms are too busy, distracting, and unnerving to spend time in. Psychologically, clutter makes us feel weighed down or even overwhelmed. The message is unmistakable: Keep it simple.

What to do with old textbooks

As the school year ends, many college students will return home for the summer with new knowledge, and likely a lot of laundry, in tow. Some will also have a stack of used textbooks. The question then becomes, “What do I do with these?” Here are a few ideas.

I’d say that, right off the bat, you’ve got two obvious options. First, sell them back to the school’s book store. That’s what I did back in the day when times were tight. I also bought used books for the same reason (I loved that little yellow “used” tag). If you feel you’re done with a book, sell it back, get some cash and feel good that next year someone will get that volume for less than retail price.

Conversely, you can keep your books, as they do contain a lot of valuable information. Some age more gracefully than others. For example, in 15 years a French textbook will be more useful than a science volume for example – so keep that in mind, too. If you decide to keep a book, be sure you’ll actually get some use out of it, or it will just be clutter in a few years.

Depending on the education level a book us aimed at, you can reach out to a local homeschooling association to see if they have a need your textbooks. The HSLDA can help you find homeschoolers in, or near your town.

Lastly, an organization like Better World Books buys textbooks, resells them online, and then sends some of the proceeds to literacy initiatives.

There’s a few options for you. I hope one fits. If none of these ideas appeal to you, you can always make a secret compartment. But that’s another post entirely.

Book Review: A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos

Like many of our readers, I find one of the most daunting projects is organizing and digitizing our family photos. Fortunately, when I was at the recent NAPO conference, I had the opportunity to speak with Mollie Bartelt, co-founder of Pixologie and author of A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos. She gave me a copy of her book to review.

If you’ve inherited family photos or you just want to get your own photos organized and digitized, this book is for you. It is well written and easy to read. It provides advice on many different scenarios (family photos, a professional photographer’s collection, etc.). As well, the book explains how to incorporate physical photos and digital photos into one organized collection.

In the first part of the book, Bartelt explains how to get started. She describes the time, space, tools, and equipment needed manage this type of project. I was rather confused when I saw dental floss on the list of required tools. However, Bartelt goes on to explain that dental floss can used to remove photos that are stuck in old-fashioned “magnetic” photo albums. Sliding the floss carefully underneath the photos will unstick them without having them curl up at the corners. This makes it much easier to scan them.

Bartelt also recommends which photos to keep and which to let go. For example, to remember your family’s trip to the zoo, you can keep a photo of your children in front of the elephant enclosure. There is no need to keep a dozen pictures of the elephant itself.

Prior to organizing your photos, Bartelt suggests building an age chart for family members to help determine what year photos were taken. For example, if Charles was born in 2010, the photo of him beside a cake with six candles (his sixth birthday) would be from 2016, and we would know that he was in the first grade that year. Anne would have been four years old and in preschool.

When sorting photos, Bartelt provides suggestions on how to choose major categories and how to divide the major categories into sub-categories. She discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each method and provides real-life examples of projects that have used each method.

When it comes to digitizing photos, it is important to determine a file name methodology before the process begins. Bartelt has several suggestions but her preferred file name system is YYYY-MM-DD-description; where the description can be the event or people in the photograph.

Bartelt explains that for the digitizing process, all-in-one printer scanners can produce good quality digitized photos. However, using the flatbed option is very time consuming if you have a lot of photos to scan. Some scanners have an auto-feed function but this may damage photos because they are forced to bend around rollers before they are scanned. Pixologie, the company Bartelt co-founded, offers photo organizing and digitizing services. They use an E-Z Photo Scan’s Kodak PS80 Photo Scanner. This is a high-speed, straight-feed scanner that produces scans of very good quality. It is very useful for scanning many photos very quickly.

A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos provides valuable information on recommended settings for scanning photos. Most family photos are scanned at 300-600 dpi as superior quality JPGs. Historians and professional photographers should scan at 600-1200 dpi as TIFF. She also describes how to store digital photos both on- and off-site and how to incorporate a digital photo collection into a recently digitized collection of physical photos.

If you’re considering a photo organizing project, whether it be your family photos or the portfolio of a professional photographer, I highly recommend reading A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos before you start. You will save yourself a lot of time and effort by taking the advice offered by Bartelt.

What makes you switch your ways?

For a business course I’ve been taking on change management, I’ve recently read the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It was published back in 2010 and Erin talks about it briefly in relation to a video interview with one of the authors.

Although the book is seven years old, its content is 100% current and presented me with a whole new way of creating change — not just at work but also in my life in general.

The Heath brothers tell us to forget about the reward-punishment dichotomy of the carrot-stick approach to change.

For real lasting change to occur, it needs to be appealing on three levels:

  • It needs to make sense.
  • It needs to resonate emotionally.
  • And it needs to be clearly articulated and have easy-to-implement steps.

They talk about these three points using the analogy of trying to ride an elephant. Logic (the Rider) can only go so far in directing the change. Emotion (the Elephant) is a much stronger element and can’t be forced to go where it doesn’t want to. And finally, if the path isn’t easy, neither the Rider nor the Elephant are going to want to make the change in direction.

As I said, the book opened my eyes to a new way of managing and encouraging change, but as with all methods, you need to take into account your audience. In a work situation, I didn’t do that and had to twist and turn to avoid a staffing disaster.

I’ve been trying to convince staff to adopt a new program, and was facing resistance. After reading Switch, I realized I was neither appealing to the Elephant nor making the path easy. So, armed with a hugely motivating presentation, I held a staff meeting where I was going to do a bang-up job of getting staff excited about the program before diving into the details of how we could all work together to make the transition easier and better for everyone.

Unfortunately, one staff member hates emotional appeals — I mean, despises them! He sees red whenever anything “motivational” floats before his eyes. From the first slide in the presentation, he turned confrontational and spent the rest of the hour-long meeting arguing against something that logically he and I have agreed upon as necessary and practical.

The next day, he and I spoke and we agreed that in the future, any time that I plan on motivating staff, he will be excused from the meeting and I will send him an email logically extolling the virtues of whatever change I am proposing to the rest of the staff.

Although it was an intensely frustrating hour, I learned a great deal from the confrontation, the main point of which is that when you are discussing change with anyone, you need to know what will best appeal to them.

If you want to change teenage behaviour at home, for example, neither logical nor emotional appeals will likely work very well. You need to make the change easier than not changing at all.

No matter your approach, however, if you are looking to make any sort of change in your personal or work life, I highly recommend reading Switch before embarking on the journey.

Organizing the recipes: choosing categories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book review: Unf*ck Your Habitat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Downsizing the Family Home

A few weeks ago, Alex wrote about dealing with the clutter of previous generations. It took me back to my childhood when my extended family pulled together to sell my great-grandfather’s farm. That was back in the day where you hired an auctioneer, put ads in local newspapers, and all the neighbours in the county showed up to bid on items the family had dragged out onto the lawn.

Times have certainly changed. Family members live all over the country, neighbours don’t necessarily know one another, and online auctions are the norm. Marni Jameson’s book Downsizing the Family Home is very helpful to those of us in the modern world dealing with liquidating a family estate.

I expected this book to be rather dry; a “how-to” book full of instructions and checklists. Instead, this book was a warm and compassionate recounting of the author’s own experience as she cleared out and sold her childhood home, and helped her parents transition to a retirement centre. She writes like she’s talking to her friends. I chuckled to myself when Jameson recounted how she found “bundles of Christmas cards saved by year going back to William the Conqueror” as well as, “…enough baskets to re-create the miracle of the loaves and fishes.” Many families have similar collections that have to be sorted and disposed of.

However, this isn’t a novel. Jameson shares the information she learned from the experts she consulted and provides many hints and tips throughout the book. It is full of useful information on how to dispose of items — whether to sell, recycle, donate, or just take to the dump. There are several chapters dedicated to helping readers find resources to determine the value of antiques, artwork, and other family heirlooms.

One useful thing I learned was that in most families the stories surrounding family heirlooms are often wrong. For example, though generations have been told the story of great-grandma’s Tiffany® lamp, it may actually be just a replica. Some items may not be as valuable as expected but if it is a piece you love and has significant sentimental value, it doesn’t matter what its re-sale value would be.

The book also provides advice and suggestions on preparing and selling a home and tips on dealing with real estate agents and the challenges that occur when the adult children live across the country. One of those challenges being the emotional anguish of letting go of your childhood home.

Downsizing the Family Home was an enjoyable book to read. If there is a downsizing process looming in your future, you’ll find this book extremely helpful.

An exercise in uncluttering: books and magazines

Some people expect that since I’m a professional organizer my home will be somewhat like that of minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn, and it’s not at all. I get a lot of pleasure from having carefully selected art work on my walls and selected horizontal surfaces. My cats like having a lot of good places to curl up, so my house has lots of baskets, blankets, and plush mats strategically placed for them.

And then there are the books. After writing about minimalism yesterday, I decided it was time to take a look at the bookcase in my home office, because I wasn’t at all sure the books on those shelves still enhanced my life in any way. Sure enough, I found myself freecycling 24 of them right away, with more to come. And one went into my recycling bin when I decided the extensive technology-related information was too dated to be useful to anyone.

None of these books were bad purchases — they served me well when I first bought them. But I no longer need a huge collection of books about organizing, even if I think the books are excellent. I have a few favorites that I do pull out at times, and there are some with specialized information that come in particularly handy. But most of them just sit there, year after year. I had a lot of marketing-related books that never got looked at, too. No more!

It’s easy to get accustomed to having things in your space and to stop really noticing them. In The Organizing Sourcebook, Kathy Waddill wrote about going through your home with the eyes of a stranger, looking at everything as if you’ve never seen any of it before. An exercise like that can get you to question things like those books I had in my office.

As I went through the organizing books, I looked at what I had highlighted in each one. If a sentence or two particularly resonated with me, I typed the sentences into a text file for future reference. One of those books I was passing along is Order From Chaos by Liz Davenport, and I noted this line: “If you have more than a three-inch pile of things to read, what you have is a stack of guilt.”

Reading that made me think about the pile of magazines in my bedroom — which was only 2.5 inches tall, but still felt like a stack of guilt. The pile consisted of multiple issues of a single magazine, and that same magazine had recently sent me numerous renewal notices that had piled up in my in box. I decided it was past time to make some decisions here, so I looked through the entire pile and realized that as much as I had enjoyed the magazine in the past, there was nothing in the current issues that I wanted to read. So they went into recycling (being a bit too specialized to be donated to doctors’ offices or such) and the renewal notices will get discarded.

So now I have less guilt and a bunch of spare space on my previously stuffed-to-the-limit bookcase — not bad for a few hours of work! This exercise was a nice example of how even a small uncluttering project can make a noticeable difference.

Organizing your reading effectively with Goodreads

Goodreads is the internet’s largest site for book discovery. Countless book lovers use it every day to find titles to read, talk with each other, post reviews, and interact with some of the authors they admire. That’s fun, but there’s so much more you can do with an Goodreads account. The following are suggestions for how to get the most of Goodreads.

Stats on books you’ve read

To visit your stats page, log in to your Goodreads account, then click My Books at the top of the page, and then Stats on the right. Here you’ll see all of the books that you’ve told Goodreads that you’ve read, sorted by year.

Click Pages to see the total number of pages you read in a given year, and hit Publication Year to see how often you read books published within a given year. Additionally, click Details next to each collection to see the specific titles you read as well as their ratings. Lastly, I like to click View Books From [year] for a list of those titles, and sort the result by rating, author and more to try and spot trends. Did I enjoy a certain author’s work? Was there a genre I went to more often than others? It’s a fun and very organized way to take a good look at your reading habits.

Barcode scan books you want to read

The practice of “showrooming” — visiting a brick-and-mortar store to do research before making an online purchase — is real. The Goodreads mobile apps for Android and iOS includes a barcode scanner that’s much more versatile.

Instead of making a purchase, you can use the app to quickly find reviews of a book you might buy right then and there. I’ve done that several times. If you do buy the book, you can add it to your “shelf” to share what you’re reading.

Join a reading challenge

Each year, Goodreads challenges users to read a certain number of books. It can be fun, and the 2016 challenge is underway. Once you’ve joined, your followers and friends can note your progress and cheer you on. Of course, this isn’t for people who don’t want to make reading a competition, but others can enjoy it.

Customize shelves

Goodreads lets you sort books into categories, or “shelves.” By default, you start with three: Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. You can create as many custom shelves as you want for additional organization.

To create a shelf, click My Books at the top of the page and then Add Shelf on the left. The rest is up to you: “vacation favorites,” “guilty pleasures,” “business and work,” “borrowed from friends” and so on. With a click you can see only the books that are on any shelf.

Get useful recommendations

Goodreads also will recommend books you might like based on your habits. You can improve its accuracy by liking and rating lots of books. Also, note the books you don’t like and lastly, keep sorting books into your custom shelves. You’ll notice your recommendations improve over time.

With a little time and organization, you can turn Goodreads into a very valuable organizing service. Spend an hour or so with these tricks and you’ll have a much more satisfying experience.