Your car’s glove compartment, revisited

About a year ago, I wrote an article on what you ought to keep in your car’s glove compartment. Looking back, I think there was some solid advice there, including proof of auto insurance and registration (as well as a protective sleeve for each), and a list of medications that family members are taking.

Let’s revisit the glove compartment from the perspective of organization. A glove compartment is a small space, and an inconvenient one. It’s at an awkward angle, often poorly lit and if we’re being honest, not user-friendly at all. Here are some tips to help keep everything organized and accessible.

Take every thing out and move it to a flat surface. Your car’s front seat is not the place to be sorting this stuff so I suggest using a tabletop in your garage. If you need to, put everything in one large box and take it into the house to organize.

As I so often do when organizing and purging, I’m going to suggest that you make three piles. Specifically: keep, toss, and relocate. This step is pretty self-explanatory. All of those ketchup packets and napkins can be tossed. The receipts from years ago can be relocated or tossed (depending on your needs), and shred expired registrations and out-of-date insurance cards.

Next, grab the owners’ manual. You know, it’s that thick book the dealer gave you back in 2008 when the car was new. You glanced at it once before deciding to give it the silent treatment for the past nine years. It can be your friend, if you set it up right.

Get yourself some page markers, open up the manual and mark pages for things like:

  • Setting the clock
  • Tuning in radio stations
  • Changing a tire
  • What type of tires your car takes and what the ideal tire pressure is
  • What those weird dashboard lights mean
  • Whatever else you’ve looked up more than once in the past

Now the users’ manual is actually, usable!

Next, make use of the other little cubbies and hideaways in the car to store things that don’t need to be in the glove compartment. The small pockets in the doors and the center console can be used for compact umbrellas, ice scrapers, and window wipes.

Before you put a single thing back inside the glove compartment, give the interior a good cleaning. If the interior is vinyl or plastic, a simple solution of soap and water will do.

Your car’s glove compartment is one of those oft-overlooked, out-of-sight, out-of-mind locations that loves to accumulate clutter. A spare fifteen minutes is all that stands between a chaotic abyss and a user-friendly glove compartment.

Garage storage

Most garages are cluttered near the walls with just enough room to park the cars and let the passengers maneuver through a tiny path to and from the car. There just isn’t enough space to store what you need to store when you take into consideration the space the vehicles occupy. The garage is one of the most common areas for clutter. So take stock of your garage situation and be sure to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose in your home.

Here are some garage storage solutions for you to consider:

HyLoft 45-by-45-Inch Overhead Storage System (pictured): The unit attaches to the ceiling of your garage and adds much more storage for things that you use on a limited basis. Our first home had a very small garage that could have definitely used one of these storage systems. Of course, this storage solution shouldn’t be used to store clutter that you need to get rid of in the first place.

Hanging items on the wall is key to keeping your garage uncluttered. The Rubbermaid FastTrack System helps keep your wall in order. Installing a few of these rails with ball racks, baskets, and shelves around your garage will keep your high traffic areas clear of tools, extension cords, and step ladders.

If you have quite a few long handled tools in your garage you may want keep them all in one organized rack. The Suncast Portable Long Handle Tool Rack is equipped with wheels so it can be moved more easily if need be. Or if you just have a few long handled tools this may be right for you.

The most organized garages seem to always be equipped with peg board and a series of hooks for storage of larger tools. If you’d like to mount some peg board to your garage wall you should probably head to your local hardware store. Although, this galvanized pegboard may be more sturdy.

If you have a bike or bikes to stow away check this post out for some bike storage solutions.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in August 2007.

Reader Question: What to do with unwanted handyman tools

A reader recently wrote to ask, what should I do with unwanted handyman tools? It’s a good question. Many people have found themselves with a pile of tools that aren’t going to get used. Perhaps a loved one passed on, a work situation changed or a hobby goes by the wayside. In any case, it’s a shame to let something as useful as handyman tools become clutter. Here are several suggestions for unwanted or unneeded handyman tools.

The best advice I can give is to get them into working hands. Perhaps there’s a friend or family member who’d love to have some, if not all, of your cache. You can contact your local Scouts groups or tech school. Maybe a public school in your area has a wood or metal shop that has a need. If not, consider some of these more formal options.

Vietnam Veterans Association. Pickup Please is an organization that gives charitable donations to all veterans, not just those who served in Vietnam. The process is simple: contact the organization (link above), pack your donations in clearly-labeled boxes and wait for pick-up.

Habitat for Humanity. This great group builds homes for those in need. The build crews are all volunteers, and of course they would welcome a donation of tools in good working order. You can find out more here.

Goodwill. These folks have been doing great work for decades. They have some specific donation guidelines, which you can find here.

Tools for Self-Reliance – UK. Here’s one for our readers in the UK. Started in 1979, Tools for Self-Reliance works with local organizations in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. Hundreds of volunteers deliver tools to people in these areas so that they can learn a skills, get ahead, and become self-reliant. “Teach a man to fish…” and all that. It’s a great organization.

Toolbox Initiative. Of course, “tools” doesn’t simply refer to what’s in the red metal toolbox in the basement. The Toolbox Initiative collects donations of tools used in metalworking and jewelry making. Much like Tools for Self-Reliance, the Toolbox Initiative gets tools into the hands of workers and allows them to become more self-reliant and successful.

KMS Tools For the World. Lastly, here’s one for our friends in western Canada. KMS Tools For The World delivers tools to those who need them to thrive.

If a tool were to briefly gain the ability to speak (stay with me here), it would say, “I want to work!” Fulfill every hammer’s dream and put it in the hand of an eager craftsperson, carpenter, or worker. You’ll feel good, the worker will be grateful and the tool’s very soul will sing.

Car accessories that are worth the investment

Frugality is a big part of the uncluttered lifestyle. When I say “frugal,” I mean thrifty and never wasteful. That said, there are certain things I’m willing to spend a little extra money on. While changing a flat tire in the snow last week, a few automotive options came to mind. Here’s a list of auto accessories that I think are worth the expense.

Jack

A compact, portable floor jack is worth the cost. This aluminum, 1.5 ton model from Pittsburgh Automotive could be just what you need. For starters, it’s so much easier to use than the scissor jack that probably shipped with your car. Consider that you’ll have to turn the nut on the scissor model 25–30 times before your car is elevated to an adequate height, while a floor jack will get in there in about five pumps. Likewise, a floor jack will slowly and safely lower your car within a few seconds, while the scissor jack requires 25–30 more twists, this time counter-clockwise.

There are some cons to consider as well. First, it’s heavy. At 31 pounds it’s heavier than your scissor jack. It’s also big; the compact model I’m suggesting is 23 x 10 x 7 inches (the handle can be removed so it’ll fit in your trunk). Lastly, it’s more expensive than the “free” jack that comes with the car.

I fell in love with the portable floor jack the night I was struggling to lift our Mazda. After many minutes of effortful turning, the jack itself slipped and the car came down upon it, crushing it. I called AAA and a worker arrived with a portable floor jack. He had my car raised and the tire off in about 90 seconds. That’s when I was sold.

Spare tire

Speaking of tires, I like to have a full-sized spare. Here in North America, it’s a good purchase decision. But that isn’t the case everywhere. I know that in Europe, for example, many cars don’t come with spares at all – not even a “donut” (half-sized spare) because there are service centers all over the place. In that case I would recommend paying extra for the donut.

Here in the States we get the half-sized spare, or donut. It’s meant to be a temporary fix that gets you to a service station. You shouldn’t exceed 45 m.p.h. with those things and they really aren’t the safest. Since a flat can strike at any time, and service stations are often few and far between here in the U.S., you could be stuck with the donut for several days. I recommend getting a spare rim for your car (find a local junk yard to save some money) and a good quality tire. Your local tire shop will gladly put the tire on the rim for you. Yes, it takes up more room than the donut, is heavier and expensive, but as far as safety and convenience are concerned, it’s well worth it.

Floor mats

Next, I’ll recommend heavy-duty floor mats, if you live in the right region. Here in New England, we have Sand Season, Snow Season and Slush Season. They’d be overkill in Texas, for example but if you experience winter, read on.

Several years ago I purchased these Weather Tech mats for our little Volvo and I love them. Unlike other heavy-duty mats, these are designed for the specific make, model and production year of various vehicles, so they absolutely fit and stay in place. Ours endure summer beach sand, autumn mud and frozen winter nastiness easily. To clean, simply snap them out and hose them off. They aren’t cheap – you’ll pay about a hundred dollars – but I’ve had the same set in my car since 2008 and they look great.

Other suggestions

Here are a few more quickies. An auto-dimming rear-view mirror is a nice upgrade, especially now that so many cars seem to have those weird blue headlights that seek out your retinas and burn them to cinders. This “car cup” charger for long road trips when everyone wants to be fully juiced.

I’ve debated recommending factory-installed GPS with myself and I still don’t have a definitive answer. That’s mostly because I’ve never experienced it. I just used my phone, which is portable and reliable. I bring it into a rental car, for example. Of course, not everyone has a smartphone with GPS capability, so I’ll leave this one hanging. Perhaps some testing is in order.

Lastly, let’s talk about road-side assistance services like AAA, CAA National, OnStar, etc. They day you need help (especially when you’re far from home) is the day you’ll recognize their value.

Remember, “frugal” doesn’t mean “cheap.” It means nothing is wasted, including your money. While these add-ons are expensive, I think they’re worthwhile investments. Let me know if you agree.

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.

Organizing gardening tools

I spent the past weekend doing some serious weeding, planting, replanting, and general work in the yard. It looks great and that’s in part due to the tools I’ve organized for outdoors. It’s nothing fancy, but I thought I’d share with you the solutions I created. The following are what you can do in just a few minutes to make your gardening and yard care more efficient and organized.

The most important tool I have for use and organizing outdoors is the five-gallon bucket. My love affair with this incredible tool is well-documented. You can buy one for very little money at your local big-box home improvement store.

I improve the usefulness of my buckets with a TEHO Garden Organizer Caddy, which can be had for about 12 dollars. It fits snugly on a five-gallon bucket, so it’s not flopping around. The Garden Organizer also adds a little padding to the handle, which is nice, as well as pockets galore.

Speaking of pockets, I fill them with the tools I use most often:

  1. Shears
  2. Small handheld pruners
  3. Gloves
  4. A hat
  5. Sunscreen
  6. Spade
  7. Small weeding rake

I love that I can store my tools and tote them around with the same product. It’s quite convenient.

Some reviewers on Amazon have complained of the Garden Organizer not lining up with the handle on their buckets. That’s not been my experience, and I’ve used it on buckets I purchased at Home Depot as well as those from my local corner store.

The only complaint that I do have is that the liner pretty much negates the buckets use as a container for anything other than your tools. If you’re weeding, for example, you’ll want another receptacle for those weeds you’ve pulled. But really, the organizer is so useful otherwise, I’m willing to let that go.

If you’d rather not use a bucket, a carpenter’s belt will work fine (though hold fewer tools) or a good gardening tote.

Finally, get fun and practical with storage by filling a terra-cotta pot with builder’s sand that you’ve dampened with mineral oil. As Real Simple points out, the combination of sand and oil will prevent the tools from rusting.

Five things to keep in your car

A few years ago we published an article about keeping your car organized. We stand by that advice, but want to expand on it. Instead of just ways to keep your car organized, consider these five things you might wish to keep in the car. Some will keep you organized, others keep you on the road, while one item may be able to save your life.

First aid kit

First aid kits are fairly inexpensive and readily available. If you don’t want one that is premade, consider a DIY setup. Get ahold of something like a fishing tackle box and fill it with items the Red Cross recommends.

It’s not a bad idea to take CPR/first aid classes, either.

A window smasher

Unless you’re a Hollywood action hero, the glass used in car windows is very hard to break. Keep a window smasher in the glove box or center console. Find one with a built-in seatbelt cutter, like one by LifeHammer or GOOACC. Again, make sure it’s stored within reach of the driver’s seat (it’s useless in the trunk) and that all potential drivers know how to use it.

Emergency road assistance kit

Breaking down is always a bummer, but if you do it’s nice to be prepared. A good kit from AAA includes a flashlight, batteries, booster cables, and more. Toss in a blanket in case you break down in cold weather and some road flares and you’re good. Also, ensure your car has a charger for your phone, because for some reason trouble loves to happen just as your cell phone battery dies.

Bonus item: If you have room in the trunk of your car, a portable floor jack is a useful device. They are so much faster, effective, and easier to operate than the flimsy jacks that ship with most cars.

Shoe organizer

To keep items off seats and the car floor, consider hooking a small shoe organizer over the back of the front passenger’s seat to hold snacks, water, maps, tissues, napkins, or whatever else you regularly store in the cab of your car.

The manual

If you’re like me, you gave your car’s manual a look on the day you brought your car home, tossed it in the glove box, and erased its existence from your mind entirely. It’s really full of useful stuff like how to connect your Bluetooth devices, what the light on the dashboard means, and which kind of oil to use — all advice that can save you time and energy in the future.

Now, these things are bulky and heavy, so keep that in mind. Still, if you can make it work, do it. They’re awesome.

Now that your car is tidy, add the essentials and happy motoring.

Get lawn equipment ready for winter

I know it’s only September and the leaves have just begun to display their autumn colors for those of us in the northern hemisphere, but it’s time to prep the yard equipment for winter. Or, at the very least, plan to do so.

This is the time of year when people begin to think about the winter tools, like snow blowers and shovels. It’s great to plan for winter, but don’t forget the equipment that you’ll ignore for the next several months. Your mower, trimmer, and so on need a little prep before they go into hibernation. Being organized about things end of season also helps things to be organized come spring. The following steps are how I get my summer yard equipment ready for winter storage.

Gas-powered tools

It’s important to drain the oil out of a mower before you put it away for the winter. Old oil gets nasty as it sits and gross oil will make your mower run poorly next year. You’ll find a little stopper underneath the engine; pull it out to drain the oil into a container.

Here’s a pro tip: I put a piece of duct tape on the oil cap so that next spring I remember not to try to start it without any oil in the engine.

Additionally, let the mower run until all you’ve used all of the gas that’s in the tank. Old gas can do serious damage to an engine that requires costly repairs. The same goes for the trimmer and other gas-powered tools.

Alternatively, you can pour an additive into the tank that will allow that gas to keep for about six months. If you’ve got some unused, unleaded gas left over in the tank, funnel it into the car and add fresh gas to your tank in the spring.

Right before I put these tools away, I take a look at the spark plugs. These get dirty with use, and it’s easier to clean/replace them now instead of rushing out next spring when you want to use the thing. A wire brush will clean off dirty plugs. If they’re a real mess, just replace them for about five bucks.

Hand tools

Equipment like rakes, trimmers, and such require less TLC, but still appreciate a bit of attention. I like to lubricate moving parts like hedge trimmers (see manufacturer’s instructions) before putting these things away, and give them a good cleaning. Again, you’re doing your future self a favor here and ensuring an easy transition back to spring.

Find a winter storage spot

When the sun is warm I keep the mower, trimmer, wheel barrel, and hand tools right near the door of our shed. During the winter, I take the time to re-arrange things in the shed so that summer items are stored well in the back. That way, I can fit the winter tools right up from where I’ll need them.

Whatever storage spot you choose, make sure your equipment will be protected from the worst of winter weather, like ice, snow, and water.

An ode to the high utility of the five-gallon bucket

Every Wednesday, we highlight a unitasker on Unclutterer. These humorous posts point out a product that does a single thing, and for the majority of people has little utility. Today’s post is about the opposite, a multitasker with high utility: the five-gallon plastic bucket.

I have dozens of these, and I’d gladly take a few more. This unassuming little tool is about the most useful thing I have around my house. I believe every homeowner can find uses for several. They’re inexpensive, durable, and infinitely useful. The following are ways I use my buckets around the house for cleaning and organizing.

Uses

Toting things around. Moving and holding things is a bucket’s obvious and primary function. Since buckets are highly durable, you can haul all sorts of things easily.

  • Weeding. I always use a bucket when weeding the yard. The bucket is light enough to carry around and capacious enough to hold a lot of weeds, which allows me to spend more time weeding and less time running to empty the bucket.
  • Painting. The buckets hold a lot of paint and have accompanied me on many jobs.
  • Washing the car. This seems rather obvious, but they work great for holding sudsy water.
  • Transporting small things. Small rocks, collections of toys the kids have strewn about the house, pretty much anything you need to move from point A to point B.

Fire safety. We have a fire pit in the back yard. Whenever we use it, I have five gallons of water and five gallons of sand standing by in buckets. Should there be an emergency, I’m ready. This safety precaution also makes it quite easy to extinguish any hot embers as the night ends; much easier than fiddling with the hose in the dark. If you have an indoor, wood fireplace, metal buckets are great for holding ashes for a few days after a fire to allow the ashes to properly cool before disposal.

DIY bird feeder. The kids and I line up a few buckets upside-down and pour a bit of bird seed on each bucket bottom. The birds love it and we have a great time watching the birds.

Mixing. There’s no better mixer for calc, cement, sealant, and so on. Best of all, it’s got a handle, so it can come along with you.

Camp seat/storage. My family goes camping a couple times a year, and our bucket “Sit Upons” always make the trip. They’re super simple to make: get some polyester stuffing, attach it to the bucket’s lid with decorative Duck Tape, and you’ve got a lightweight, portable seat that also carries your favorite camp items.

Organizing your supplies. Add a few simple inserts into your bucket or pockets for the exterior and you’ve got a fantastic portable organizer. You can make a craft supply bucket or purchase tool supply pockets to fit on the exterior of your bucket.

The sky is the limit. Be creative. If you’re really handy, you can apparently make a portable air conditioner that is perfect for a shed, workshop, and so on. You can even grow plants in them, like tomatoes.

The point is, you can spend less than ten dollars and get a tool that you’ll have for years, is nearly indestructible, and is incredibly versatile. Don’t overlook the humble five-gallon bucket.

Organizing a shed, garage, or basement

Few things seem to collect clutter like a garage, basement, or backyard shed. Since their contents are typically out of sight, it’s easy to stuff something in there and forget about it. To make things worse, the clutter in question is often large: broken lawn mowers, unused tools, old trash bins, rakes, and shovels, partially used cans of paint, and other things deemed not appropriate for storing inside the house. When I need to stop thinking about something bulky, I often think, “Oh, I’ll put it in the shed.” This works until I can’t open the door anymore.

If this sounds familiar to you, check out my favorite organizing tips for these spaces:

First, get rid of the actual clutter. You can trash, recycle, and/or donate the items you no longer need or want. Once the clutter is gone you can work to organize the things you wish to keep. You may find you’ve decided to keep more than you have space to store and may need to go through the uncluttering process a second time.

Next, make use of the ceiling for storage. I bought several large screw hooks and put them along the ceiling rafters in our backyard shed. They’re perfect for hanging beach chairs, small tools, and bikes. I even keep the huge wreath that decorates our home’s front door in December on a hook. It frees up floor space and, if your shed is outdoors in a rural area like mine, foils any resident mice.

Garage owners might not want to screw hooks into the ceiling, but that space is still an option. Overhead shelving is a great way to get seldom-used items (like seasonal ones) off the floor and out of sight: when the garage door is open, the shelving unit is hidden. You could get the unit built in a weekend. If you’re not the DIY type, pre-made shelves are available at stores like Home Depot — all you have to do is install them.

I can’t count how many times I’ve walked into the basement and thought, “Now, where is [x]?” Storing like items together is the practice that eliminates the random search. After buying a few simple shelving units from IKEA, we now have a home for camping equipment, beach stuff, tools, old paint, and more. Now, if someone wants to borrow our Coleman stove, I know exactly where it is.

This is a little off subject, but here’s a quick tip about paint: buy a box of large, white stickers and place them on the lid of each can you open the first time. Next, write the following on the sticker with a permanent marker:

  1. Date purchased
  2. Purchase location
  3. Where in the house you used this paint
  4. Date paint job was finished

If you need to touch up the closet trim in your kid’s room, you’ll know exactly which can to open.

I mentioned shelving earlier because the walls in a garage, basement, or shed are great for storage, too. I found this brilliant re-purposing of a wooden pallet that has me inspired. By removing a few select slats and affixing the unit to the wall, you’ve got a slim, useful storage container that consumes very little space. I’m planning to make one of these for our space.

Of course, you needn’t buy shelves. Some bungie cord will store sports balls beautifully. Again, those who would rather buy than build will find all softs of wall-mounted storage options available. Peg strips are excellent and very useful.

A few final tips: First, put a trash can in each location. This makes it easier than carrying stuff inside your house only to bring it out again on trash day. Next, try your best to throw away things you don’t need as they appear. Check with your local town dump, recycling station, local government center, or fire station to see when they have designated days for collecting hazardous materials, like motor oil. Be sure to write these dates down on your calendar.

Finally, you would be amazed what a little paint can do. A few years ago, I painted our basement floor and added a few rubber work mats and was amazed at how much better the place looked. It’s easier to spend time putting things away in a place that you don’t hate visiting.

Organizing for cycling season

Now that warmer weather is arriving in the northern hemisphere, it is a great time to organize your outdoor spaces and garage/shed. Additionally, you may have a number of bicycles and bicycle equipment that could use some orderly attention.

Annual bicycle maintenance

If your bicycle has been in hiding all winter, it is best to take it to a certified bicycle mechanic for annual maintenance. Your bicycle will be safer and more comfortable to ride after a good tuning. Annual maintenance usually includes:

  • Replacement of brake and gear cables
  • Brake adjustment and brake pad replacement (if required)
  • Chain and gear lubrication and adjustment
  • Wheel alignment
  • Tire wear verification (tire replacement if required)
  • Tire pressure adjustment

Bicycle fitting

Children grow quickly and it is important to ensure their bicycles fit them correctly so they can ride safely. If you’re unsure how to do this, a bicycle mechanic can be of great help. Adults can benefit from a proper bicycle fitting as well. A properly sized bicycle makes it easier to ride and also reduces fatigue and muscle soreness.

Bicycle accessories

Verify that all reflectors are clean and in their proper places. Replace the batteries in headlights and taillights and your cycle computer, if you have one. Check that the clips that hold your phone or GPS to your handlebars are secure before you head out on the road — you don’t want expensive electronic equipment smashing on the pavement. It is a good idea to test your bike lock, too, just to make sure you remember the combination or that the key still works. Check the lock for cracks, splits or other damage. Add a bit of lubricant if necessary to keep it working smoothly.

Bicycle clothing

Verify that all of your bicycle apparel — helmet, shoes, shorts — still fits. Replace any worn or ill-fitting clothing. Helmets must be replaced after a crash and many have expiration dates that indicate when the helmet material starts to break down and reduce protection. Helmets should fitted properly to protect you while riding.

Organizing cycling equipment

Whether you’re an avid cyclist or you just do short weekend rides with your family, having your cycling gear organized will allow you to spend more time riding.

You may wish to store equipment such as bike lights, locks, pant clips/bands, and gloves, etc. in a pocket over-the-door hangar. This is a good option if each family member has his/her own bike as each person’s equipment would be stored separately and children can easily access their own equipment. Helmets can be stored on hooks on a wall. Alternatively, a set of hanging shelves in a closet can work well.

Helmets and battery powered cycling gear should not be exposed to extreme temperatures, so at the end of cycling season remove them from cold garages and sheds and store them in labelled bins in a warmer location.

Donate unused bicycles and bicycle parts

If you have older, unused bicycles or a box of miscellaneous bicycle parts taking up space in your garage or shed, consider donating these items to a local program that refurbishes used bicycles for those in need. Most bicycle repair shops can advise you on the best place to donate and some repair shops even run programs themselves. The International Bicycle Fund has an international list of organizations that collect and refurbish bicycles for people in developing nations.

Prepare the yard tools for spring

Spring has arrived here in the northern hemisphere (at least on the calendar) and that means yard work is about to begin in earnest. Here are a few simple steps that you can perform now so that you’ll be ready when the weather really warms.

The Lawn Mower

Hopefully you didn’t let the mower sit all winter with gas in the tank. Right? If you did, remember to let it run until it’s empty this autumn (or add a stabilizer), and hope it will start this year.

You’ll also want to change the spark plug and put in a new air filter, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s also a good idea to keep the blade sharp, so remove it and sharpen it. Again, the manufacturer likely supplied instructions for this, too. If not, hop online and search for digital copies of those instructions from the manufacturer. Finally, make sure the wheels are on securely and moving freely, and inspect the rope pull (if it has one). Eventually, it will wear and snap in your hand. That’s not fun.

The Gas Trimmer

Again, hopefully you added gas stabilizer or ran it until empty last year if you have a gas-powered one. During your inspection, replace the spark plug and ensure that you’ve got enough trim cable on the trimmer, as well as an extra. Getting part way through the yard only to run out is a hassle (it always happens to me after the hardware store has closed).

As you did with the mower, make sure the moving parts are operating as expected. Adjust the handle, for example, to see that it moves smoothly. If there’s dried grass and who-knows-what caked underneath the guard from last season, clean it off per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Other Tools

Many other lawn tools don’t require much maintenance, but now is the time to check on them anyway. Things like shovels, trowels, and rakes require only a quick once-over. I also confirm that my extension cords are working and not torn, as well as the garden hose. Finally, move tools that you won’t be using, like snow shovels, out of the way and store them for the warmer months. I move mine from the shed to the basement for the spring and summer.

Last year my wheelbarrow had a flat tire, so I filled it with air. It was flat again within a week, so I simply replaced it with a solid tire, much like this one from True Temper. Now a flat tire is no longer an issue. Speaking of the wheelbarrow, this is the time to hit it with some rust-proof paint if you find it needs it.

Outdoor Furniture

I don’t know about you, but my outdoor furniture takes a beating. Between the blazing sun, occasional rain and — worst of all — my children, those cushions start showing their age after just a few seasons. A discount big box store is a good place to find replacements if yours are in need of an updating. Also, keep that can of rust-proof paint and/or a scrub brush handy.

The Lawn

So much has been written about spring lawn prep. This tutorial from Lowe’s is similar to what I do. I think the most important take-aways are to clean up any debris that was deposited during the winter, cut everything nice and short, and then note any problem areas like bald spots. Next, aerate it. You can likely rent one of these for a day or even a few hours from a local hardware or home improvement store or a garden nursery. This breaks up the soil and lets water and beneficial nutrients get down in there. Plus, lawn aerators are just fun to use.

Those are the basics. If you have something like an outdoor shower or in-ground irrigation system, wait for it to warm up a bit before turning them on. Then test each zone to ensure proper working order. With as cold as it has been so far this spring in the northeast, I’m also waiting to turn on my outdoor water spigots.

Do you have any springtime yard rituals? Share your routines in the comments.