Let’s talk about keys

Years go by, technology improves yet many of us continue to carry a huge collection of keys. Throw in a few fancy keychains, customer loyalty cards, and next thing you know, you look like an old-time jailer walking around. I even knew someone who damaged the ignition system of her car by having a heavy keychain pulling down on the steering column for months and months. The following are a few ideas for getting an out-of-control key collection under control.

First and foremost: separate your keys into logical groups. Put work keys on their own ring, home on another. Perhaps the garage and the shed can live on their own as well. I keep the shed and basement keys separate from the car keys.

While you’re at it, make it easy to find the key you need at a glance. Your local hardware store probably has decorative blank keys that they’ll use to make copies for you. Use, say, a beach-scene key for the shed. Or, order up a custom key tag (or even a humorous one) that you’ll recognize in an instant.

You might want to consider an alternative to a traditional keychain. The Keysmart is a clever device we looked at in 2015, as is the Keyport. (If you’d rather go the DIY route, you can find a clever tutorial on Reddit.)

Lastly, and this goes without saying, ditch any keys you no longer use. The same goes for customer loyalty cards. If you don’t frequent a store anymore, or if a given promotion is over, you don’t need that card anymore. Smartphone owners can use an app like Keyring (available for iPhone and Android) and keep a digital version of the card and skip putting on your physical keyring completely.

Get those keys under control! Your pocket — and your car — will appreciate it.

A tidy and useful tech bag

A messy tech bag is a nasty thing indeed. You’ve got expensive gadgets bumping around and cables getting tangled, knocked about, and covered in who-knows-what. But there’s no need to fret — you have several options for keeping your tech bags nice and tidy, as well as a few setups for various purposes.

Before I delve into what to put inside a tech bag and how, let’s consider the bag itself. Of course, there are limitless options to make the decision-making process confusing. To limit the field, I prefer something simple with no more little pockets and compartments than I’m going to need. (Less temptation to fill them with clutter.) Where pockets are concerned, it boils down to:

  1. A place for my laptop
  2. Two pockets — one for my laptop’s power cable and a charger for my phone
  3. A spot for headphones
  4. A pocket for a mouse

Envision your bag like a small home: where there is a place for everything and everything has a place.

Comfort is your next consideration, and I love a good shoulder strap. That way I can keep both hands free while I’m moving about.

A quick note! Before I look at individual bags, I’ve got to mention an item that deserves a spot in every setup: cable wraps. Cables love to get tangled up, and for some reason they see the inside of a bag as the prime opportunity to do so. It’s as if they say, “We’re in a bag! Quick, form an impossible rat’s nest!” These simple Velcro models are inexpensive and reusable. I know Erin is also a fan of the Grid-It Organizer, which is different but provides the same results.

The student bag

Students have more to carry around then tech goodies, but the gadgets are often essential. To manage the weight of a laptop and books, I recommend a large and well-made backpack-style laptop bag. Look for one with a padded laptop sleeve.

The traveler

Again, a backpack-style laptop bag is a good choice for travelers, but often you won’t need something as big or bulky as what a college student might use. Ogio’s Covert Shoulder Bag for 13-Inch Tablet/Netbook fits the bill, as it’s tidy, small, and easily carried from bus to plane to train. Add a laptop, charger, map and tickets and you’re all set.

The conference attendee

I love this post from iMore’s Serenity Caldwell, which details exactly what, how, and why she packs for an extended stay at a tech conference. Not only is it an interesting look at how a tech journalist preps for work, it’s a useful description of why.

The remote worker

I occasionally get to work remotely, and it’s great. In my laptop bag I include the usual stuff, but also: some money for the coffee shop, a power strip for sharing an outlet, water for hydration, and a “trash pocket,” usually big zip-to-close plastic bag, for wrappers, etc. should I not find a bin.

There you have a few options for a tidy and useful tech bag. Keep your expensive gadgets safe and organized, folks. And don’t forget one of the most important step in all of this: clean out your bag immediately, every day, upon returning home.

Uncluttering your smartphone apps

“You only really use three apps on your phone.” That was the headline on an article I read a few weeks ago, written by Dan Frommer on the Quartz website. As Frommer goes on to explain, “The average American spends 50% of their app time in their most-used app, and almost 80% in their top three apps, according to comScore.”

Reading that article made me think about my own collection of smartphone apps, so I decided to take a look. And I wound up doing a fair amount of uncluttering after I did. Here’s what I wound up deleting:

Shopping-related apps

I had a number of apps designed to help me buy from companies whose actions align with my values. Similarly, I had an app to help me select seafood that isn’t being overharvested. While this all sounds useful, I realized I never used these apps.

I tend to do any research before I go shopping, and therefore I don’t need an app on my phone. And if I buy the same things repeatedly (the same brand of toilet paper, etc.) I don’t need to research each individual purchase. Also, some of the apps were just too complex to be helpful.

Writing-related apps

Having used a smartphone for a number of years, I realized I just don’t take notes or write documents on my phone, so there’s no need to keep an assortment of apps for this purpose.

Reading-related apps

I tend to get my news from a few specific sources, and I kept the apps that I use for that purpose. But I had six apps from newspapers, magazines, and news-focused websites that I never looked at, so they are gone now. I also don’t read books on my small-screen smartphone — I save that for my tablet — so I deleted the book-reading apps, too.

Multiple apps for the same purpose

Instapaper and Pocket are both apps for saving things from the web to read later, so I didn’t need both. Since I happened to start using Pocket and was satisfied with it, I deleted Instapaper.

I also noticed I had two apps that seemed to serve a similar purpose, but when I investigated I found one was intended for California residents and one was intended for residents of a different state. Since I live in California, that’s the one I kept.

I do have two apps for the weather, but even though they are similar I use both of them at different times, so I kept both.

Outdated apps

One app I had was related to a conference I went to about nine months ago. I sure don’t need that app any more.

Mystery apps

I had two apps that I didn’t even recognize. One wound up being an exercise app and one was a news/social media app. I’m sure they sounded good at some point in time! But I’ll never use either one, so I deleted them.

The results: Once my apps were cleaned up, it was easier to organize them on my phone, just as it’s easier to organize all sorts of things in our homes and offices once the clutter is gone. I notice the difference every day, so I’m glad I took a bit of time to do the cleanup. If you do a similar uncluttering, you may see the same benefit.

I’m also saving space on my phone, which leaves me room to add things I might want — more music or podcasts, for example — in the future. Again, this is like eliminating other clutter: It makes room for new things to enter your space (if you so desire) that align with your current needs and tastes.

How returnable purchases can lead to clutter

The things you buy and intend to return — but never do — are an all-too-common type of clutter. A recent research study gives some interesting insight into the psychology of return policies and provides one reason why some people wind up with those unreturned items. Somewhat unintuitively, a longer return policy can lead to fewer returns.

As Sarah Halzack wrote in The Washington Post:

Ryan Freling, who conducted the research alongside Narayan Janakiraman and Holly Syrdal, said that this is perhaps a result of what’s known as “endowment effect.”

“That would say that the longer a customer has a product in their hands, the more attached they feel to it,” Freling said.

Plus, the long time frame creates less urgency around the decision over whether or not to take it back.

“Since they don’t feel pressure to take it right back to the store, they kind of sit with it and live with it and say, ‘Well it’s not that bad,'” Freling said.

(If you’ve ever found a blouse lurking in the back of your closet with the tags on it months after you bought it, this is probably a familiar feeling.)

So if you’re not sure whether or not to keep a purchase, it might be a good idea to give yourself a decision-making deadline that comes well before the store’s return deadline if that deadline is quite far out, like 90 days. Putting the return deadline on your calendar will help you remember to make that decision and handle any returns.

For other people, the problem may simply be making the time to handle the return, especially if it involves going to a store that’s not nearby. And some people have a “returning-things” anxiety which makes any return difficult, even if the item is defective. If you know you’re not going to do the return, for whatever reason, it’s best to get rid of the item (by donating it or whatever) as soon as you determine it’s not going to work for you. Keeping it around just takes up space and reminds you of the wasted money, neither of which is helpful.

Are you curious about what happens to things you do return? If you decide to return something you bought online, there’s a good chance it goes to a liquidator, not the company you bought it from or the manufacturer. Davey Alba wrote in Wired about what she learned from one such company, Shorewood Liquidators.

Major retailers can’t resell returned items, even if they’re still brand new, says Shorewood’s Ringelsten. “You don’t know where the product went after it left your store, so you can’t put it back on your shelf.”

More to the point, people most often return things because they are defective. Retailers simply don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the suppliers. “It would be very expensive for a company like Amazon to handle returns,” Ringelsten says. “They would have to sort it out — and there are a million manufacturers out there.” What’s more, he says, manufacturers usually supply items to retailers like Amazon through a contract where it’s understood that items that may be returned will simply be liquidated.

If the items can’t be sold or recycled for a profit, they simply go to landfill. About 10 percent of what Shorewood handles falls into that category. That’s a lot, but less than you might expect given that so many returns are defective items. So go ahead and do those returns, knowing that many items will be resold at bargain prices — which might help someone who could really use a bargain purchase. That’s certainly better than having the items stashed in the back of a closet, unused.

Banish the Mess and Restore Order in Almost Every Room Right Now: An excerpt from NEVER TOO BUSY TO CURE CLUTTER

Never Too Busy to Cure ClutterThe following is an excerpt from my latest home organizing book Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter. If you buy it between now and February 16, fill out this fancy form, and I will send you a FREE audiobook copy of my first book Unclutter Your Life in One Week. So, if you want to tackle clutter, mess, or grime in any room, this is a good way to start. Choose a task based on how much time you have available and get to work.

From pages 68-71:

The following are basic actions you can complete in almost every room of your home. Some of these tasks seem incredibly obvious, but it’s often the simplest and most conspicuous tasks that form the foundation of your cleaning routine. A few of the following tasks are equally important but only need doing at certain times of the year. Pick and choose your way to a clean, uncluttered, and organized home.

When working in any room of your home, ask yourself: Where is clutter accumulating? Is there a reason things are piling up in one (or more) area(s)? What would prevent clutter from being left in this space? What small act would greatly improve this room?


  • Dust one of the following: a single shelf, a picture frame or two, the top of a doorjamb, a lamp, or a light fixture.
  • Wipe down a tabletop or other flat surface.
  • Gather wayward pens and pencils and return them to their storage spot.
  • Clean a doorknob with a disinfecting wipe.
  • Replace a burned-out lightbulb (preferable with an LED bulb, so you won’t have to replace it again for years and will save on energy costs).


  • Find two items that aren’t where they belong and return them to where they do.
  • Clean a mirror, window, the glass front on a cabinet, or picture frame.
  • Dust a ceiling light/fan fixture, crown molding, baseboards, or a corner of a room with a telescoping duster.
  • Check your toilet paper and facial tissue inventory throughout the house and replace as necessary.
  • Change your perspective: Lie on the ground or stand on a step stool to see if you can spot hidden clutter.


  • Empty the trash cans and/or recycling bins in a room.
  • Round up dirty clothes to start a load of laundry.
  • Check the batteries in a device. Replace them if necessary.
  • Move a piece of furniture and sweep or vacuum under it, or vacuum al the air vents in a room.
  • Fill a basket with wayward items and return those items to the permanent storage locations.


  • Vacuum or sweep the floor of a room.
  • Fill a bucket with 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1 gallon water, and mop the uncarpeted floor in a room.
  • Remove all the fabric curtains in a room from their rods and put them in a bag to bring to your dry cleaner.
  • Move furniture off a throw rug or hall runner and take the rug outside. Shake it out and then drape it over something (like a railing) and hit it with a broom handle. Return the rug and replace the furniture.
  • Inspect furniture for damage and wear. Schedule any appointments necessary to have damaged and/or worn items repaired or set aside a block of time to shop for a replacement.

Organizing your thoughts

As you may have guessed, the first step for organizing your thoughts is writing them down. (Especially thoughts related to things you need to do.) It’s not hyperbole to say that writing things down can change your life. It helps clear your mind for important work, offers a record of the past, and can foster a sense of achievement. But even beyond that, having things written down, even when the resulting list is huge, can help you feel like you’re on top of things. But simply making a list isn’t all you need.

For optimal thought organization, consider taking these additional steps. First, and this is the most critical piece in the process, perform a good core dump. Get everything — and I mean everything — out of your mind. When everything is out of your mind, it can stop pestering you about what needs to be done. Your mind is more of a problem solver than a filing cabinet.

Next, find the tool that’s going to work for you for capturing those tasks/ideas and working from them. Notebook? (A Moleskine, a Little List, an Emergent Task Planner) An app? (Evernote, ToDoist, Wunderlist) Desktop software? (OmniFocus, Fantastical, Toodledo) It really doesn’t matter. Just identify the tool that is best for you (a.k.a. that you will actually use over the longterm). One that helps you to prioritize your work and integrates (even manually) with your calendar are also good ideas.

Finally, identify the best time of the day to do the work or tasks you need to accomplish so they stop weighing on you. For years, I was the type who liked to work at night. When the kids were in bed, I could retreat to my home office and work for a few hours. Today, that’s not the case. I find that I like being with my family in the evening and then prepping for the next day in other ways, like making sure backpacks are full, my outfit is ready for the next day, lunches are made, and so on. Instead, I’ve begun doing thoughtful work in the morning, before the rest of the house wakes up and starts their day. The point is: notice what works for you and stick with it.

If you’re looking for ideas for ways to do your core dump, my favorite way is to brainstorm with a mind map. It’s a great way to have a powerful brainstorming session without resulting in a mess that must be sorted before you can get on with the rest of your work.

Now, take the time to find the time and tools that are most amenable for you and enjoy productive thought organization.

Everything in its place with MOOP

MOOP is an acronym I learned recently, from an essay by Tarin Towers, which immediately caught my attention because of its organizing implications. She wrote:

MOOP is a term coined by hikers and other ecology-minded people who use phrases like “pack it in, pack it out” and “leave no trace.” It stands for Matter Out of Place. In a state park, it might refer to a bottle cap on a forest floor, a cigarette butt on a footpath, a tent peg neglected when the tent got packed up. In a house, it might be a wet towel on a bedroom floor, a coffee mug on top of the TV.

This is a wonderfully useful term for organizing, since it encompasses two key concepts:

  • Everything has a place where it belongs
  • To stay organized, you need to ensure things get put back in those defined places

I had my own experience with MOOP a few weeks ago. My main credit card usually lives in a specific slot in my wallet, but I had pulled it out and put it in my jeans pocket one day when I wanted to make an online donation. But I didn’t put it back in my wallet right away, and somehow it fell out of that pocket. It took me two days to find the card, hidden under a sofa cushion. I knew it was in my house somewhere, so there was no financial risk, but it was still frustrating.

So how do you avoid MOOP? By doing the boring task of ongoing maintenance.

Organizing expert Peter Walsh offered the following advice in the Los Angeles Times:

Eliminate the word “later” from your vocabulary, as in, “I’ll put this away later, I’ll fold this later….” The way to stop clutter from accumulating is to accept the fact that now is the new later.

The Asian Efficiency website uses the term “clear to neutral” to describe all post-activity work, such as cleaning the dishes after a meal and putting supplies away after a craft project. Besides eliminating MOOP, this clear-to-neutral process makes it easier to do the next activity — prepare the next meal, do the next craft project — because everything is ready to go.

However, it may not always be practical to put everything away immediately, although certain things (keys, credit cards, leftover food, etc.) should certainly be dealt with promptly. But if the laundry sits for a day or the suitcase doesn’t get unpacked as soon as you return from a trip, it’s probably not as serious. And it usually makes sense to accumulate donations when you realize some things are “out of place” by being in your home or office at all. (You can think of the donation bag or box as the short-term “place” for such things.)

If you can’t put everything in its place immediately, consider what your plan will be. Will you (and your other family members) spend 15 minutes every night putting things away? Will you do a major cleanup on the weekend? When will you do that trip to drop off donations?

Here’s wishing everyone a MOOP-free (or almost MOOP-free) 2016!

Keeping your organizing resolutions

It’s only January 7, and already I’ve seen people commenting that they’ve broken their New Year’s resolutions. This reminded me of some good advice I heard in a recent podcast regarding making any major change, whether it’s done as part of a resolution or not. CGP Grey said:

I think with anything like health … any kind of long-term change that you want to make I find it very helpful to think about it not in terms of “Oh, I’m doing this thing and I’m going to make a change and then if I fail then that’s bad.”

I think it’s best to focus on it in terms of “getting back on the wagon” is actually the skill that you need to develop. That you should expect that many times, especially when you start something new, you are going to fall off the wagon and the thing that matters is the getting back on. It’s not the falling off.

He went on to say how important it is for people to learn what their own “failure conditions” are: “the kinds of things that cause them to fall off the wagon.”

The following are some common failure conditions for getting organized — things that might derail your efforts:


Your uncluttering process may result in a large number of things you’re happy to give away. In such situations, some people then try to find the perfect new home for everything — the best charity, the out-of-state friend, etc. This might make sense for some very special items, but for most of them it usually makes more sense to find a convenient place to donate it all: Goodwill, a local charity-run thrift store, etc.

Another example: While it’s important to have tools that you enjoy using and that fit your personality, you can spend forever investigating every to-do app to find the perfect one, rather than just picking one that meets your needs (after a focused investigation) and then getting on with doing things.

Lack of a viable maintenance schedule

Being organized is an ongoing process. Things get used and need to get put away. New things (such as mail) come into your space and need to be properly handled. Not everything needs to be dealt with immediately, but if you go too long without doing this maintenance work, things can get out of control.

Unrealistic time estimates

Getting organized may take longer than you expected. Can you organize your garage (or similar space) on one weekend day? It will depend on many things: how much is stored there, what kind of things are stored there (since papers and sentimental items will be more time-consuming to deal with), how quickly you make decisions, etc.

If you are going to be going through a lot of papers, you may want to time yourself going through one representative stack of a measured size. This will give you a data point for estimating how long the rest will take.

Also, be realistic about how much time it takes to sell things using eBay, craigslist, a garage sale, etc. For valuable things it can be time well spent, but for items of lower value it may make more sense to just donate them. If you find your “to sell” pile sits around month after month, it’s probably time to reconsider the sell-vs.-donate decision.

Life events

Illness (yours or a family member’s) and vacation will temporarily disrupt almost anyone’s efforts to get and stay organized. This is a time to be gentle with yourself. Focus on the most important things first (paying bills, etc.) and get to the rest when you can.

Winter cleaning and why we keep stuff

Now that January is here, I’ve begun the unenviable task of storing away the holiday decorations. Each year, this ritual propels me into a little winter-time “spring cleaning.” This process is more of a purge really, as the practice of packing and storing so much stuff often reveals those little things here there that I’ve been overlooking for months now.

As I found and trashed things I’m not using and don’t need, I considered what caused me to hang on to items like these in the first place. Perhaps understanding that aspect better would help me keep from accumulating hidden caches in the first place.

Some of the things I tossed:

Wrapping paper scraps. I saved larger pieces, but some were too small to be useful. Out they went to the recycling bin.

Old greeting cards. This one can be tricky, as it’s quite possible for a card to have great sentimental value. But not every card from every person has to be saved. We’ve written about parting with sentimental keepsakes before, and I used this advice to guide me.

Magazines. There are clever ways to avoid magazine clutter, but I wasn’t keeping up with those. Out with the old magazines I’ll never read to the recycling bin.

There’s more of course, but I’ll spare you further details. As I said, this purge prompted me to consider the “why” of it all. I think there are three factors at work here:

  1. Balking at the work involved. I’m talking about small items, but there was a lot of it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of energy a good purge like this will require — realistic and/or imagined.
  2. Panic at the thought of throwing away something necessary. What if I did need that raffle ticket stub? Are the receipts in my wallet important? This concern has prompted me to keep more than a few items unnecessarily.
  3. It’s embarrassing to ask for help. Even though many of us have these hidden caches of stuff, it’s still unpleasant to introduce someone to it, even if the intention is to go through and throw things away.

Perhaps there are more, but these were the reasons that stood out to me. And based on these reasons, my take away from the experience was to consider:

  1. Is the situation as big as I’m making it to be in my head?
  2. What do I actually need?
  3. What can be safely thrown away?
  4. Can’t I just get over myself and ask others to help?
  5. What’s the most common factor that has allowed this stuff to build up?

Related to the last: is if you successfully identify what that is, is there a way to address it?

Answering these questions will go a long way toward staying on top of these often unseen collections of clutter in the future. Happy winter-time spring cleaning!

Offloading unwanted stuff

Receiving gifts at the holidays is fun, but it also means there’s now more stuff in your home. A few years ago, we outlined what to do with unwanted toys, including donation, repurposing, and selling. This time, we’ll look at options for moving your unwanted items of all kinds out of your home.


The premise is simple: “Post a pic of your unused stuff and swap it for what you want.” Take a nice photo of an item you no longer need (a tutorial on taking great product photos from the folks at Ebay will serve you well). Next, post your photos to Yerdle with a brief description. When someone likes what you have, they’ll request it. The folks at Yerdle will send you a shipping label (as long as your package is under 10 pounds). You then earn “Yerdle Bucks” that you can spend on items that you want.


Another option is Gone. The goal with Gone is to make the offloading process as easy as possible. In fact, once you’ve listed what you’ve got for sale, the folks at Gone find the best possible price for your item for you, as well as providing shipping labels and getting you paid via check, PayPal, or Amazon.com Gift Card.


OfferUp focuses on what’s available to you locally. It’s got more of a focus on buying than selling (the site looks like store), but you can definitely offload items to OfferUp.

Selling/donating older phones and tablets

Many people use the December holidays as the opportunity to upgrade their smartphones and tablets. While you can find a new role for your old tablet or phone, you’ve also got the option to sell or donate it.

Be sure to prepare a smartphone or table for resale or donation, including:

  1. Removing all data, and
  2. Finding the vendor you’ll use to sell or donate your phone

Companies like Apple, AT&T and Sprint (among others) have buy-back programs, while groups like Cell Phones for Soldiers and Goodwill will accept your donations.

As for choosing a vendor, you have several options if you wish to sell your device. Gazelle and GreenCitizen will both buy your devices if they meet their guidelines.

Old standbys

Of course, you can’t deny old favorites like Ebay and Craigslist. Additionally, a few years ago we looked at four ways to sell unwanted stuff, like yard sales and and consignment shops. Finally, we know it can be hard to part with sentimental items, and we addressed that issue in 2010.

The take-away here is to make room for the wonderful new things that will enter your home this holiday season.

Re-gifting done right

I’ve been a fan of re-gifting ever since I received a well intentioned, expensive, but off-the-mark gift: a large serving bowl. I don’t do the type of entertaining that would require such a bowl and it would have taken a lot of storage space. Just as I was pondering what to do with it — donate it, probably — a dear friend mentioned she was attending the wedding of a relative she wasn’t close to, and she was trying to decide what to bring as a gift. Suddenly, both of our problems were solved.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be like the very embarrassed Tim Gunn, who needed a last-minute present and re-gifted a Tiffany pen he’d been given after judging a design competition. Unfortunately, he didn’t take a good look at the pen, which he learned (when the gift was opened) was inscribed, “Best wishes from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”

But done with care, re-gifting can work just fine. If you feel any guilt about it, let Miss Manners put your mind to rest. In Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior she wrote that returning, donating to charity, and re-gifting are not rude “if the rule is strictly observed about protecting the donor from knowing. This requires fresh wrappings and logs of who gave what, and a ban on yard sales and re-gifting anywhere near the donor.” (If the gift-giver has specifically told you returning or re-gifting is fine, that’s a different situation.)

Paul Michael, writing on the Wise Bread blog, has listed a couple additional cautions:

  • If you suspect the item you got is already a re-gift, you can’t take the risk of re-gifting it again. (I think you could still re-gift if you were giving to someone in an entirely different social circle.)
  • Don’t give outdated items. If you’re going to re-gift things like electronics and clothing, do it while the electronics are still current models and the clothing is still in style. As Michael wrote, “The older the brand new item becomes, the more obvious it becomes that this is a re-gift.”

And you’ll want to match the gift to the recipient just as carefully as you would if you were buying something new. Even for a Secret Santa type of gift situation, where you may not know the recipient well, you want to give something the receiver has a decent chance of appreciating. As Genevieve Shaw Brown wrote for ABC News, “Never re-gift ugly.” (But if you are giving to a white elephant gift exchange, ugly is just fine.)

One final caveat: Don’t keep things around for ages thinking you’ll eventually re-gift them — you don’t need that clutter! If no person or occasion comes to mind within a month or two, you’re probably better off returning, donating, or selling the item.

Recycling made easy

I was lucky enough to be in France recently, and I was pleased to see garbage cans in public places that had two sections: one for recyclables and one for pure trash. This led me to reflect on how much easier basic recycling has become over the years, with public recycling containers in many venues, curbside recycling for homes in many U.S. cities, etc.

Root Solutions notes that making a recycling initiative (or any behavioral change) easy can be critical for its success, and that involves making things physically easy and cognitively easy. Making something physically easy involves three things, per Root Solutions:

  • Reduce the number of steps
  • Make each step as simple and convenient as possible
  • Keep the distance, time, and effort required to a minimum

For example, Root Solutions cited a study showing that giving employees individual recycling bins rather than relying on a centrally located unit increased the recycling rate from 28 percent to 98 percent. It’s a nice reminder to provide sufficient recycling containers within the home, too (assuming you live somewhere where it’s reasonably easy to recycle).

On the cognitive side, it helps to provide easy-to-use reminders as to what can be recycled, and which bin is used for which recyclables. As Joe Franses wrote in The Guardian, “When in doubt, materials tend to be discarded rather than recycled.” Recycle Across America has a wide range of labels that can be used on recycling bins — a nice complement to more detailed information that might be available on flyers or websites.

A few weeks ago, at my local grocery store, I found a new super-easy recycling option: The Crayon Initiative. This program takes unwanted crayons, recycles them into new ones, and donates these new crayons to hospitals that care for kids.

I’d heard about the program before — through a video — but it seemed focused on collecting crayons at restaurants that hand them out to children. I was delighted to see the program expanding, making it simple for parents and kids to drop off excess crayons, including those that are broken (and therefore not easily donated elsewhere).

Crayon Collection is another program that collects crayons, but it doesn’t remanufacture them; it just distributes them to schools. And as Dave has mentioned, Crazy Crayons (in conjunction with the Crayon Recycle Program) also collects crayons. But it’s so much easier to do the recycling when there’s a handy bin at a store you go to regularly.

Another extremely easy recycling/re-use idea doesn’t require you to leave home at all and doesn’t require any crafting skills. If you have a dog — and you have old blankets, towels, or clothes — you can get a Molly Mutt dog bed duvet and stuff it with those items. (If you’re craftier than I am and have the time to spare, you could make a duvet like that yourself.)

Have you found any ways to make recycling easy? If so, please share them in the comments.