The case for keeping (some) documents

A few weeks ago, we wrote about retention schedules, a list of the documents you have and how long to keep them.

Recently, I was required to complete a background check/security screening for an upcoming contract job. Not only did I have to provide a list of addresses covering the previous five years, I had to provide proof that I actually lived there. Examples of proof could be a lease/rental agreement stating that I was an occupant, or a utility bill or bank statement with my name and address on it for each year I claimed I lived at that address.

Fortunately, I have records dating back five previous years as the Canada Revenue Agency requires that income tax documents (which state my name and address) be kept for six years. However, many people, including young adults, may not have these documents available.

If you’re a young person just starting out on your own, make sure you have a rental contract/lease or at least one bill with your own name on it coming to the address at which you live (not your parents’ home which would be considered a mailing address while you were away at school). Your college/university should be able to give you a copy of a contract if you’re living in a residence/dorm that states your room assignment. If you are sharing off-campus accommodations with a roommate make sure both of your names are on the lease/rental agreement, or that your name is on one of the utility bills.

You could create a file (paper and/or electronic) containing these documents along with a spreadsheet listing your previous addresses. Keep a copy of these documents for at least five years, or at least 10 years if you are considering employment in an industry requiring “TOP SECRET” security clearance.

Having all of these documents handy will make the job application process much faster and easier and you’ll look like a prepared professional when you’re able to submit all the required documentation almost immediately.

Preparing for back to school

As August becomes September, it’s time to prepare for the upcoming school year. I know, there are plenty of beach days between now and then and I don’t want to detract from your summer. However, the earlier you get a jump on back-to-school preparations, the less stressful September will be.

Of course there’s a lot to buy from clothing to gadgets to the list of supplies your school provided. That’s important, but today I want to focus an aspect we think of less often, but is just as important — getting the kids back on a school year schedule.

You’ll be met with resistance if you try to move bedtime ahead by 90 minutes the first night. I recommend starting several weeks early. If you’ve got younger kids, get them into bed 5 or 10 minutes early each night for couple of weeks. They’ll barely notice the difference. If your children are older, start to remind them few weeks out: “It’s time to get back on a school schedule. Head to bed a few minutes early tonight.”

It’s also important to review what the morning routine will be. While my wife and I discuss it among ourselves, it’s important to bring the kids into that conversation too, and the sooner the better. Talk about when the day will start, any after-school activities, who can be expected to pick up/drop off (and where), carpool details if applicable, etc. People like predictability.

Next, create a landing area for their school stuff. Find the best spot for them to place bags, coats, important papers, etc. and encourage them to use it. Otherwise — if your kids are like mine — you’ll find a trail of hats, gloves, backpacks, and so on that leads from the door to wherever junior decided to plop himself as he entered the house.

Finally, get yourself a good calendar. I swear by the oversize wall calendar, much like this one. Perhaps you love a digital calendar. That’s cool too. The important thing here is to make your choice, and get it in place, before the school year begins.

There’s more to do to prepare for school, of course, but these tips should get you up and running. Good luck.

Organizing your dorm room

College dorm life can be rather trying. Here is some advice to share on how to handle life in these tight living quarters.

We agree that it is difficult to keep the small dorm rooms organized and in an uncluttered state. Here are some tips and products to help achieve the nearly impossible task:

  • One of the worst things about dorm life is taking a shower. You have to gather up all of your things and take the walk down the hall to the shower facility. Make sure you have all your products in a basket that you can carry with you. You don’t want to forget anything and have to make that walk again.
  • Next on the list is doing your laundry. Again, you must walk somewhere to do your laundry and you have to make sure you have everything you need to clean your clothes. A tall, plastic laundry basket will hold all your dirty clothes without taking up much floor space and you can easily disinfect it between loads with sanitizing wipes. Use a small basket to carry your laundry soap, fabric softener and the sanitizing wipes.
  • Closet space is at a premium and you can’t really install anything into your space, so go for the hanging organizer that adds six shelves to your tiny closet. Also, try and put normally unused space to use. An overdoor shoe rack with hanging hooks can do the trick behind your door.
  • Under bed storage bags can come in handy. Put them to use by storing out-of-season clothing, extra blankets, and school supplies.
  • Dairy crates are great for storing and stacking books, media, and whatever else you can think of. They also come in handy when you are moving to and from school.
  • Try and pack the bare minimum when you first move into your dorm room. The less you have the better. If you find that you need something, go ahead and have the parents bring it when they come and visit or pick them up when you’re home for a break.

I hope these tips help out. Now let’s just hope your roommate lives an uncluttered lifestyle. Good luck on that one.

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

The organized tool box: eight tools you need

My grandfather’s garage was like a wizard’s lair.

When I was a boy I knew that I could ride by bike to my grandparent’s house at any time and get something fixed. I’d hop off my bike at the base of the stairs, bound up to the porch, open the door and stride in like I owned the place (families don’t need to knock). After my grandmother gave me some warm 7Up in a tiny can, which I didn’t like but drank out of respect, I’d ask for my grandfather, who was in one of two places: the basement or the garage.

The basement was an uninteresting place, full of the things that basements are full of. The garage, however, was something different entirely.

Garlic hung drying from the ceiling. Toys my father had played with decades before dotted the walls, dusty and forgotten. It was quiet and dark as under-powered lightbulbs did the best they could. Along the far wall there was a pegboard on which hung every tool you could think of.

That’s what I was after.

The tools were neatly arranged, a magic marker outlining each space’s occupant. Nothing on the wall was new. Instead, this army of stalwarts had earned their spots on the pegboard through years of reliable service.

Trouble with my bike? Fixed. Skateboard acting up? Fixed. Nuclear-powered rocket capable of reaching Earth orbit?

OK not that, but my little-boy imagination thought it was possible.

As I got older, the inevitable started to happen. What once appeared larger than life seemed to “shrink” and become more manageable, more real. Think of the time you returned to your old elementary school gym as an adult, or even a favorite public playground. “How did I ever think this place was big?” Eventually I learned that the massive collection of tools was really a set of nine useful, effective pieces of hardware that allowed granddad fix or repair almost anything.

Today, those are the same nine tools I keep on hand. You might have project- or profession-specific additions, and that’s fine. For example, this list overlooks woodworking, an electrician’s tools and more. But as for a basic set of tools, you can’t go wrong with this collection. New home owners, college students in their first apartments or anyone looking to adopt a “handy” lifestyle, this is for you.

A reliable hammer. A hammer can be used to drive nails, remove nails and start small demolition projects. Go for a 16-ounce model, as they’re the most versatile. While my grandfather had a hammer with a wooden handle, I’ve since opted for steel, as wood can split. The Estwing E3–16C is a fantastic choice for around twenty bucks.

Screwdrivers. I bet you guessed that screwdriver would follow hammer. Phillips screwdrivers have been around since 1936, and their companion flatheads are also very much still in use. I also use the flatheads to open cans of paint, but I know that makes some people cringe. If that’s you, get one of these. In my experience, Wiha makes nice, precision-made screwdrivers with comfortable handles and fantastic overall build quality. The 30295 Screwdriver Set is a good one to own.

You can get away with one Phillips and one flathead if budgeting is a concern, but you’ll be glad you have a selection of sizes if you can swing it.

A tape measure. “Measure twice, cut once” is the adage that old-timers have passed down for generations. Since I’m better at the former, I make sure I have a good tape measure around to help me with the latter. I’m partial to the classic Stanley 25’ PowerLock because it’s the one my grandfather and I have seen take a lot of abuse like drops, falls, being smacked with a hammer…all without affecting performance. Plus, it gives a very satisfying “SNAP” when retracted.

A crescent wrench. I have a love-hate relationship with crescent wrenches. On one hand, they replace a slew of other wrenches. On the other, I’ve experienced wobbly jaws that won’t hold their shape to the point of driving me crazy. I use a Channellock 8WCB WideAzz Adjustable Wrench. The lower jaw does not wobble around and, unlike many other models, it’s got a nice, comfortable handle. That’s precisely what you need when you’re wrenching down on a stubborn nut.

And yes, you can use a wrench to drive in small nails, but please don’t.

A cordless drill. Sure, you’ve got those nice screwdrivers but a drill can add/remove screws quickly and efficiently, as well as perform a whole number of additional tasks. Find one with multiple speeds and a reverse function. While you’re at it, pick up an extra battery that you can keep in the charger. It’s no fun to pick up the drill and discover that your only battery is dead, delaying your project by a couple of hours. I’m a Porter-Cable man myself, and the PCC606LA 20-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-Ion Drill is a very nice drill.

A level. I know there are level apps for the iPhone and Android. I can almost see my grandfather rolling his eyes at those. Go out and get yourself a good, 24″ level. Remember the whole “measure twice, cut once” thing? This will help with that.

A handsaw. My grandfather’s handsaw was like one of those that people play with a bow. They’re great, but I struggle with saws that cut on the “push” stroke. Maybe it’s my technique, but I always get hung up on the material being cut. The Shark 15″ Carpentry Saw cuts on the pull stroke, and I like it much better. It’s faster and more comfortable for the way I use a saw.

Vise Grip. Behold, your extra set of hands. When you need both hands to work on something but a third to hold it still, the vise grips come into play.

Here’s a quick note before you go out and assemble your collection. Don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars on quality tools. I’ve thrown away more junky screwdrivers than I care to admit. Also, Rome wasn’t built in a day so feel free to buy quality hardware a bit at a time, here and there. Soon enough you’ll have a pegboard worthy of a grandchild’s bike or skateboard.

Or rocketship.

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Buying a laptop for school

2016 gift giving guideWhen I was a high school and college student, computers only existed in the school’s library or in the computer lab. Today, they’re as ubiquitous as group projects and starchy cafeteria meals. Elementary school students will be introduced to computers, and by the time they’re in junior high, kids will receive, complete and turn in homework assignments digitally. As such, a laptop makes a great gift for many students. In this article, I’ll go over how to approach this shopping task. The first thing to determine is what type of computer they’re going to need. The best source for an answer is the school itself.

Ask the school

My first bit of advice applies to buying any school supplies: check with the school. The IT department at your student’s school — junior high, high school or university — has probably published minimum requirement guidelines. For example, something like these recommendations from my alma mater. They’ll include the preferred operating system, hardware requirements, security concerns and so on.

You’ll notice that the guidelines I linked above are for architecture students. Those studying different disciplines will have their own requirements. Again, checking with the IT department is the best way to start. For example, my kids’ school uses Google Classroom extensively, and therefore suggests that students use Chromebooks.

The specifics

The school’s guidelines are a good starting point, but there is always a little leeway. If the school is suggesting a Chromebook but you would prefer to buy a Windows machine or a Mac, you may be able to do so.

Consider how your student will use his or her machine. For instance, should you buy a bigger/heavier or smaller/lighter machine? Will it be carried from class to class or sit in a cart between assignments? Perhaps it will stay home and not travel to school at all.

Next, look at internal storage. A solid state drive (SSD) will perform much better than a traditional, mechanical hard drive because it is fast with super snappy search and retrieval. But if the student will mostly do word processing, a less expensive hard drive is just fine.

Lastly, look at peripherals that you’ll need. A sturdy, ergonomic mouse is a good idea, as is a good laptop stand. A simple bag is useful as well, especially if the computer will be traveling to and from class.

What to buy

With all that said, here are my picks — one of each operating system.

Chromebook

11282016_delll13chromebook

 

The Dell Chromebook 13 is a fantastic little computer. At $430, it feels like a laptop that cost hundreds more. It’s got a fantastic keyboard, a solid, quality trackpad and enough “oomph” to get kids through their assignments with ease. The eleven-hour battery life is a bonus, as is the 16 GB solid state drive and 4 GB of RAM. This is the Chromebook I would buy if I were in the market.

PC

11282016_dellwindowslaptop

If you prefer a Windows operating system, consider the DELL XPS 13.3″ Ultrabook. It offers a great-looking display and has small, portable body. It’s perfect for any coursework assignment. The aluminum body will take minor bumps and scrapes (let’s face it, kids aren’t always kind to their things).

Mac

11282016_macbookair

For most students, a MacBook Air will serve their needs. I recommend an Apple-certified refurbished model like this one. The Air is ultra portable, features startup times that are incredibly fast and has access to Apple’s ecosystem of apps and services. Plus, Apple laptops retain their resale value very well.

A laptop makes a very nice gift indeed, and hopefully this guide helps you choose the very right one. Happy shopping.

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

Uncluttered tips for back-to-school shopping

Whether your child’s school year begins today or not for another month, August is when local and national retailers have their back-to-school deals. Before taking advantage of potential savings, there are a few best practices to follow before hitting your favorite supply store.

First and foremost, check the list of required supplies issued by the school/your child’s teacher. Often you’ll be able to find a list of suggested supplies on your school’s website, or perhaps a flyer was sent through the mail. Make sure you’ve got that in hand before you buy things you don’t need, or miss others you do.

Next, shop in your home before hitting the store. Are there any supplies lingering around your house that you can use: pencils, pens, notebooks and so on that meet the required items? If so, gather them up and keep them in a designated spot so they’ll be easily found when your child needs them.

Take this home “shopping” opportunity to round-up all the school supplies you have and put them into a single location. Your child will likely need a fully stocked homework station this year, so get that organized now. If you have significantly more items than your child could possibly use or supplies that are no longer age appropriate — I’m looking at you, large crayons — donate them to the school for classes where they are still needed.

If you have time, do your research on pricing. Gather flyers, compare prices online, and collect coupons (digital or not) that will save you a few bucks.

As much as your kid might fight it, it is a good idea to take him/her with you on any clothing and/or shoe buying trips. Having your kid present will ensure you get clothes and shoes that actually fit (or are a tiny bit too big, as is my buying custom for school wear) so you’re not having to make multiple trips to a store to return ill-fitting items.

Finally, don’t stress if you can’t get that last item by the first day (no sense in cluttering up your mental health, too). It’s very unlikely that the one item you have yet to acquire will be used on the very first day of school. Simply have it for your kid on the second day or the third. Two weeks into the school year you’ll be so swamped with activities, neither your child nor your child’s teacher will even remember you sent Elmer’s Glue on the second day of school.

Organizing the end of the school year

June is upon us and if your kids (or you) aren’t already out of school then the last days of school are right around the corner. It’s time to say goodbye to homework and celebrate an end to the 2015-16 school year.

With a little prep you can wrap up the school year with a tidy bow and prepare for next year now. Imagine staring the summer knowing that some of the work for back-to-school 2016-17 is already sorted. The following will help you get started.

End of the school year

I’m all about avoiding clutter, so identify what we won’t need over the summer and put it away — now. The items on this list will depend on the age of your student(s).

Young kids:

If your student attends a school that requires a uniform, make sure it’s properly stored away for the summer. (Be sure to properly store off-season clothes.) Before you store it away, however, consider if your kid will likely wear that size next fall. Will it fit in September or will the uniform requirements change when the kid goes back? If it’s not going to work, see if your school accepts donations of gently used uniforms or uniform components (vest, skirt, etc.).

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself bemoaning the fact that I’ve got to buy a new batch of pencils, erasers, sharpeners, and so on each year. Chances are there are some good, perfectly useable options in Jr.’s bag. Set them aside for the “First Day Back Box,” which I’ll explain in a bit. They’ll be easy to find and save you a few bucks.

It’s also a good time to sort through the bin of artwork and papers from the year and only store the best of the best items. Everything else can be photographed and some can be shipped off to grandma or an aunt or someone who would love to have one of your kid’s creations.

Older kids:

For high school students and college kids, the list is certainly different. Sort through papers and materials and get rid of anything that won’t be reused or needed in the next school year.

College students may find some textbooks invading their spaces. If the textbook is one you’ll need in the future for reference material, find a convenient but out-of-the-way location for it. If you’ll never have use for that Art History book again, sell it back to the bookstore or an online retailer (if you haven’t already).

Special topic: Bags

School bags can be used all year. A backpack, for instance, can follow a younger student to camp or family outings, like hikes. For older students, a shoulder bag could be useful at a summer job. Store these, however, if you don’t foresee a need.

Teachers

Let’s not forget the teachers when it comes to end-of-school! You folks work hard all year and now that those 180 long days are gone, it’s time to enjoy the summer sun. First, get organized from the year and prep for September.

Teacher gifts:

It’s always heartwarming to receive gifts from students and families you served over the last several months. If you’re a veteran teacher, however, they tend to accumulate. Have a plan for where these gifts are going to go if you choose to keep them. I know one teacher who uses a bit of hot glue and some wire to turn smaller gifts into tree ornaments. Her “teacher tree” is quite the sight each year. Others can be re-gifted (be honest, it happens). Just don’t let them take over your space.

Purge:

For some reason, teaching generates huge libraries of stuff, some of which never gets used. That draw of toilet paper tubes from the late ’90s? It might be time for them to go. Have a good, honest go-round in your classroom and ditch, donate, or hand-off to another teacher anything you probably won’t use.

Take a photo:

It’s likely that the custodial staff will give your classroom a good cleaning over the summer. You might return to find the furniture neatly stacked in the center of the room in September. Today, take a photo that shows how your room — each area — is set up. That way, you’ll have a reliable reference when you’re setting back up. Speaking of….

The “First Day Back Box”

This is a clearly-labeled, accessible box that will be the first thing you open when you’re getting ready for school to resume in the fall, be you a teacher or a student (any grade level).

Fill it with the most essential items that you’ll need for the start of school next year. That might include scissors, a stapler, paper clips, pen and paper, or thumbtacks. Maybe you’ll need some cash for a week of lunches, or pocket-sized tissues.

High school students might add a USB flash drive or binders. Perhaps a college student will need an ID or course catalog. In any case, take the time before hitting the beach to think of the must-have items that will make your first day a breeze, collect them all, and create your (labeled) First Day Back Box. Finally, keep the box accessible as you will likely get a list of items necessary for the next school year during the summer, and you can easily add those items to the box.

With a little forethought and elbow grease, you’ll have organized you stuff from the current school year and prepped for the fall.

Protecting and organizing your digital data, the collegiate edition

This fall, my son will be attending university back in Canada (we still live in Britain) and there are number of things we have to do to get him ready. One of those things is to get his electronic gear ready for the transition. Many of the things we are doing to help him get ready are things we can all do to keep our digital information protected and organized.

1Password

On Unclutterer, we’ve talked about using 1Password for estate management by sending your master password to your executor. In the case of my son, he will send us his master password just in case his computer is ever lost or stolen.

1Password is great because users can save their password recovery questions, as well as secure information such as health card, social insurance, and passport numbers. 1Password will also save software registration information. We will also make sure our son has the 1Password app for his iPhone and sync the passwords through iCloud or Dropbox so he has his secure information available when he needs it.

Find my iPhone

As a family, we share our Apple ID information. This allows us to find each other’s iPhones and computers should they be lost or stolen. We’ve also enabled Send Last Location which sends the last known location of the iPhone to Apple when the battery becomes critically low.

Online Banking

Our son already manages his personal finances. iBank is our family’s preferred software system because it works with banks outside of Canada and the US.

Unclutter Computer Files

As we will do with paper files, we will remove digital files from my son’s computer before he goes to university that contain private information someone else might find valuable. Additionally, clearing all clutter will free up space on the drive to save new work. I doubt he’ll need a copy of his 9th Grade history project in digital format.

Backup System

While he is at school, we’ll set up an online back up system for our son through either Dropbox or iCloud so he won’t lose his homework. Fortunately, all of the work he does on the university’s servers will be automatically backed up.

Part 2: An uncluttered back-to-school transition

Wake the kids and tell them to grab their backpacks: it’s time to go back to school. This can be a stressful time for kids and parents, but a little preparation goes a long way. In Part 2 of our back-to-school series, I’ll highlight some ways technology can ease the transition from summer.

Go social

When I was in school, we huddled around the radio on snowy mornings, eager for a closing announcement. Today, many school districts share this information via the web and social media. Get yourself in the loop this school year and visit your district’s website to find the following information:

  • Your school’s and/or district’s Twitter feed
  • Any associated Facebook accounts
  • Classroom-specific websites
  • Classroom Blackboard accounts and mobile applications
  • Teacher blogs

Of course, some schools will embrace social technology more completely than others. Colleges and universities seem to be the most aggressive, but even elementary schools are using the technologies available to them. If your school/district/child’s teacher is using websites, be sure to bookmark the sites and/or add them to an RSS feed so you can easily access the information for future reference.

Subscribe to a school calendar

Most schools publish a calendar for parents and students to review, and many offer the opportunity to subscribe electronically for immediate updates. The Salt Lake City School District is a great example of a digital calendar, with instructions for subscribing to it with Apple’s Calendar, Google Calendar, and Outlook and Yahoo Calendar. Once you’re subscribed, you needn’t depend on the monthly printed calendars you likely have hanging on the refrigerator.

Make custom notifications

I’ve written about IFTTT before on Unclutterer, and the start of the school year is another time to use this program. IFTT is an online service that lets you create actions, or recipes, to accomplish tasks for you, including custom notifications.

For example, let’s say your district or teacher always uses adds a certain hashtag when composing tweets related to your child’s school or class. You could create a recipe that sends you a text message or an email whenever such a tweet is published. Or, you can have all of those tweets pushed to a Google document for a daily review.

On the other side of the desk, IFTTT is a terrific resource for teachers and schools. Communications with students and parents can easily be automated.

Here’s hoping you have a successful school year. There’s more to do to get ready, of course, but these technology tips are a good place to start.


Part 1 of the series

Organizing references and bibliographies

Research papers are the backbone of most every course of study at university and also important in many workplaces. Keeping these projects organized can be tricky, but will significantly help the paper’s reader comprehension and also save the writer time.

Providing a list of references for your project shows that you have done research on the topic. It provides a way for others to easily find the materials you examined. Proper citations also give credit to those who had the original idea and those who did additional research on the topic.

As you are gathering information, it can be difficult to know which details are important to record. Do you need to provide the date a pamphlet was published? What about the date you accessed a website? How do you keep all of this information organized?

EasyBib and CiteThisForMe are two great (and free) websites that let you effortlessly create properly formatted references. You can save projects into folders, easily collaborate with coworkers or classmates, and share references with the public. (I made one for this post so you can see how it works.) The sites are nice for projects such as a presentation at work, a workshop to promote your small business, or a college class you’re taking to upgrade your skills.

If you’re a full-time student or researcher, you may wish to use more powerful reference management software. According to Wikipedia (which you wouldn’t want to cite in a research paper, but is great for this specific purpose), there are over 30 different reference management software applications available. The choice of software should be based on several factors:

  • Style: Humanities and Sciences use different citation styles and within these domains there are also different styles. Companies also have specific needs and might have style preferences. Be sure you know the standard to ensure you select a program that has the correct style for your work.
  • Cost: Some programs are free but have limitations on number of citations or amount of storage space. Some have small monthly or yearly fees. Choose the lowest cost for your basic needs with the ability to upgrade later if required. Also, if you’re a student, talk to your professors or the librarians at your college/university to see if may have free access for a specific program with your student account.
  • Operating system: Be sure the software you want will install on your type of operating system (Mac, PC, etc.). You may wish to select a program that can be used on a mobile device (tablet or smartphone).
  • Availability: Do you need to access your references from anywhere? Will there be an Internet connection everywhere you do research? Does the information need to sync across various computers?
  • Database Connection: Some programs will connect directly to various databases, such as the MEDLINE (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online) database that would be helpful to students and professionals in medical fields.
  • Ease of use: It is important that the system you pick is easy to use. Is it simple to transfer citations from the program to your favourite word processor? Is it easy to collaborate with other students/coworkers and share citations on group projects? Explore two or three options and see how they work for you.

Regardless of the reference management application you choose, providing organized citations to your work will establish expertise and credibility to your project. Using bibliography/reference software will also help you to get all the information you need for your citations, keep you organized, save you time locating the information if you need to review it a second or third time, help other project members access the same information you did, and, ultimately, let your reader know how to get to the information. You’ll save yourself and everyone else time and energy.

Columbus gets creative with clutter recycling program

Anyone who has ever lived in a college town knows that the end of the school year is a trash scavenger’s dream. When students move out of their dorms and apartments, they put on the curb and in large dumpsters anything they don’t wish to take with them to the next chapter of their lives. Anything that isn’t looted, is piled into trash trucks and taken to the city dump.

A lot of these trashed items are in good working order and could be used by someone else. However, after partying it up in celebration of the end of finals, the last thing anyone wants to do is find good homes for their unwanted things.

The Ohio State University has a program that not only helps students responsibly get rid of their clutter at the end of the semester, but it is also available for residents of the Columbus area to use. The program is called “Dump and Run” and The Columbus Dispatch says that the donated items are evaluated, priced, and then sold at the beginning of the semester in a huge yard sale.

For the past six years, dump volunteers have collected hand-me-downs and sold them at thrifty prices to students and bargain-hungry adults in the greater Columbus area. “It’s a great way to reduce waste in landfills, and it has a lot of appeal for students and Columbus residents,” said Podrasky, a junior majoring in environmental policy and management.

Sue Kelly, 54, and husband, Scott Dagenfield, 56, donated her late father’s wooden office desk to make room for a new recliner in her mother’s home.

Nearly 30 years old, the desk is in mint condition.

To encourage students to donate, dump organizers placed bins in each of the college’s residence halls May14. That collection runs until Friday.

Last year, students collected nearly 7 tons of items, said Rachel Gapa, program co-chairwoman.

Thanks to reader Mary for letting us know about this program. Hopefully spreading the word about it will help other college towns learn about this terrific clutter-recycling program.

Combatting backpack clutter

Reader Lisa, a college student, wrote in to Unclutterer asking if we might be able to help her with her backpack woes:

Pens and pencils, chapstick, scissors, flash drives, cell phone, iPod, granola bars, random electronics cables, pens, calculators, flashcards, earrings, more pens … etc, etc. And not only do I wind up with all this unwanted stuff, when I do want something I can never find it! I most definitely need some help.

I thought about saving this question for Friday’s Ask Unclutterer column, but with school starting for so many students I thought earlier might be better than later.

The first thing you’ll want to do is assess what you need to carry with you each day. The list you gave is a good starting point, but you probably also carry notebooks, textbooks, paper, folders, keys, and a few other odds and ends with you. Whatever these things are, set them out on a table so that you can see them all at once.

Next, evaluate these things. Are you missing anything you regularly need? Do you have duplicate items? Are the items in good condition? Are the objects durable for constant travel? Get rid of anything you don’t need and get your hands on those things you do need for the school year.

When evaluating durability, you’ll want to be honest with yourself about how hard you are on things. When I was in school, I found that I couldn’t use paper folders. Three or four weeks into the semester they would be torn and tattered. I had to use three-ring binders for all of my notes and an aluminum portfolio for my artwork (I started college as a painting major). This also meant that I carried a small three-hole punch at the front of each binder so that I could immediately store all of the handouts. (I also loaded 100 or so loose-leaf sheets of notebook paper into each binder for taking class-specific notes.)

Be sure to use sturdy containers for food stuffs, like your granola bars. It’s never fun to find smooshed up food at the bottom of your bag. And, don’t forget to regularly clean this container.

You will also want a backpack organizer of some kind to give all of your tools a proper place to live. I prefer the pocket organizers like the one pictured, but you could easily get a pencil case and put all of your supplies into one zipper pouch.

Finally, set up a routine for when you get home to immediately process all of the contents of your backpack. Much like you would sort mail, you will want to recycle, trash, scan, file, wash, and deal with everything from your bag. Within five minutes of arriving home, your bag should be empty except for your tools stored in your backpack organizer.

Lisa, I hope this advice helps to get your backpack organized. Good luck at school!