Did you forget about Valentine’s Day?

vday-bearMy wife and I never observe the whole Valentine’s Day thing. Partly because we have an important anniversary date around mid-February and partly because we don’t really find the whole holiday very romantic. That’s just us. To each his own. If you’d like to shower your loved one with romance and terms of endearment go right ahead, but don’t let February 14th give you the excuse to go out and buy anything red just to make it look like you made an effort.

If you don’t put any thought into what you are giving your significant other, then that probably leaves you scrambling to find something at the last minute. That may lead you to purchasing something like the teddy bear pictured with this post. Convenience stores and gas stations love to display this stuff prominently this time of year. If you would like some ideas on what gift to give, check out our Gift Giving Guides. Although most of the posts were intended for the Christmas season, they can still be used for any gift giving occasion.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

This Valentine’s day, make a change

As we talked about in the post Ask Unclutterer: How can I change someone into an unclutterer?” we get many emails asking how unclutterers can live with clutterers. It reminds me of one of those light bulb jokes: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.

Our clutterful light bulbs — our roommates, significant others — may not want to change. But, there is something that we can change, ourselves.

If you’re up for the challenge, what small unclutterer change or efficiency enhancer are you willing to make? If you’re stumped, think about your partner’s pet peeves. Some examples I’ve seen with couples are:

  • Dropping a jacket on the floor when arriving home
  • Leaving dishes about the house
  • Losing keys frequently

These things may not bug you, but we’re talking about our partners here — the things that bother them. As I got to thinking about Valentine’s Day this year, and realizing that gifts themselves can just contribute to clutter, I thought: how about changing something I do? I ran the idea past my significant other and we agreed it was a good idea. We decided that I will work on keeping the house better stocked with groceries. I’ll make a template with a specific list of items to regularly have on hand (in addition to the staples). It’s the little things that make a difference.

Forming a New Habit

Some experts suggest that takes 21 days to form a new habit. I like to use 30 day blocks, however, to be sure the habit gets locked in.

Start Small: Pick just one daily, do-able thing that you’ll take on for 30 days. For example, you commit to putting your clothes in the hamper before bed for the next 30 days. Selecting one thing will put all of your focus there, rather than trying to tackle several habits at once.

Be Clear: Be sure that you know clearly whether you’ve accomplished the task or not. For example, is your goal to file paper in your home office for 10 minutes each day or is it to file 1/2 an inch of paper each day? Near dinner time each day, mine task will be to check off food items that need to be purchased this week.

Track Progress: Use a calendar, goal-setting software such as Lifetick or create a spreadsheet with 30 boxes to track your progress. A check mark or gold star means you did the task. Leaving the box blank of course means you didn’t do it.

Keep It Visible: Have your document pop up on your screensaver, set reminders in your electronic calendar or place in another visible place, such as on the refrigerator. As you’re forming a new habit, you’ll need prompts.

Be Consistent: When possible, do the task at the same time every day. This will make the action a routine and, in time, you’ll be pulled to complete it automatically. For instance, pop your jacket into the closet right away when you arrive home each day.

Begin: The hardest part is to begin. Pick a start day. Today is a good idea so that you don’t build up resistance to change. And, why wait to surprise your partner with a clean family room or an uncluttered car?

I think creating a productive habit will give you more mileage than your standard Valentine’s Day gifts.

Up for the challenge? What habit do you want to take on for 30 days? Let us know in the comments. And, if you choose to go a more traditional route, check out Matt’s post from last week on uncluttered Valentine’s day gifts.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Valentine’s day gift ideas

vdayValentine’s day is just around the corner and some of us are probably scrambling to find that perfect gift for their loved one. Don’t let your desperation lead you to your local retailer in search of a gift just for the sake of paying attention to the calendar. We highly recommend consumables as gifts. For example, food, tickets to a performance, or an experience gift.

If you need some ideas, here area few that should make the day a little more memorable:

Dinner for two (prepared by you): If you don’t usually cook, do yourself a favor and figure out how to make one dish very well. You can surprise your significant other with an unexpected meal — freshly made and ready to eat.

Movie night: Find and rent the first movie that you watched together, no matter how bad it was. It will bring back some memories and if it was a really bad film it will probably make you laugh.

Be creative: If you are the creative type, create a collage of photos and mementos or write a poem. If you don’t consider yourself creative, give it a try — you may be surprised at your hidden talent.

Organize: Surprise your loved one by organizing a particular problem area of your home. Try to choose an area that really gets under their skin.

Tickets: Print out a set of redeemable tickets for back rubs, foot rubs, or chores that your partner usually takes upon themselves. Whatever you can think of can be printed onto these redeemable tickets.

These are just a handful of ideas, feel free to add your own in the comments section.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Wrap Up

This post summarizes our 12th Annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. We hope this tradition has inspired you to give uncluttered presents this season and throughout the coming year.

For more inspiration, visit our previous Gift Giving Guides: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

From the Unclutterer staff, we wish you a relaxing and clutter-free holiday season!

Free pass to return or re-gift presents

Gift giving is an art. Some people have an amazing talent at picking out the perfect something. I, however, am not blessed with such a skill. Every now and again I’ll hit one out of the park, but those occasions are rare. I think that it’s my disdain for crowded shopping centers that fuels my ineptitude.

Regardless of the reason, my gifts are often received with a strange facial expression and the question, “What is it?” I’ll never forget the gift I got for my sister-in-law that drew the response, “This is such an interesting … uh … watering can?” It was a purse.

When I give a gift, I want the gift to be exactly what the recipient wants. I want it to be loved. I also want the gift to not end up as clutter or to cause stress. To avoid giving the imperfect gift or to cause stress, I’ve decided to follow David Seah’s suggestion in his post “Print Your Own ‘Re-Gift Receipts’” and create my own re-gift receipts to accompany my future gifts.

I’m not going to write mine up exactly like he has, but the principle is the same: a guilt-free return policy. It seems to be such a nice way to let people know that you will in no way be offended if they decide to return your gift.

Be sure to check out Seah’s template at the bottom of the post to save yourself time creating your re-gift receipts.

 

This post has been updated since its publication in 2008.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Online giving

Many people live far away from family and friends and may not have the chance to get together over the holidays. Even if people do travel, they are likely limited in the baggage they can carry. This is why online giving might be the perfect gift option. Here are some online gift suggestions.

Amazon Prime

If you know someone who would like to order from Amazon but cannot justify the shipping charges, give the gift of Amazon Prime. Not only will they enjoy free two-day shipping on millions of items, they will have access to thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Video, be able to stream millions of songs, and get free Kindle e-books. You have the choice of purchasing a 3-month or 12-month subscription.

Audible

Audio books are a great gift for commuters or anyone that would like a hands-free reading option. An Audible subscription allows the user 30 days of free membership. Afterwards, the user can choose three audiobooks each month two of which are Audible Originals. Books can be switched out at any time and if the membership expires, the user gets to keep the audiobooks forever.

Magazines

Print magazines can pile up quickly. Consider these Kindle options as gifts:

There magazines for everyone on your gift list whether they have an interest in quilting, car racing, home and garden, or business and finance.

Newspapers

Most national and international newspapers have their top stories free online but in-depth stories and editorials often requires a subscription. A subscription to the LA Times might be appreciated by someone from the west coast now living in the east. The Washington Post offers two options, a regular subscription which provides unlimited access to the newspaper, and a premium subscription which includes unlimited downloads of top-rated e-books authored by their journalists. Many regional and local newspapers offer online or digital subscriptions as well.

Online Services

Gift Cards

When you live far away from friends and family and do not see them frequently, it can be difficult to know their preferences. This is where gift cards can come in handy. Amazon offers a selection of gift cards for anything on Amazon or for specific items such as travel services to pet care to electronics.

If you have received online gifts, what were your favourites? Share your experiences to inspire our readers.

 

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: The big gift

Some families draw names for the holidays and each person receives one “big” gift instead of many smaller gifts from different people. If this describes your family, consider some of these pricier organizing items.

Back in 2007, we suggested that the Fujitsu ScanSnap would be an ideal gift for someone who struggles with paper clutter. We still stand behind that statement. Technology has improved over the last 11 years. The ScanSnap iX500 model will work with both Mac and PC and connect via wi-fi to tablets and smartphones. You can create searchable multi-page PDFs and sort your files into appropriate folders based on relevant keywords. The duplex function allows both sides of the page to be scanned quickly. This might be the ultimate organizational gift for someone who needs to scan business cards, photos, documents, or hand-written notes.

In 2008, our ultimate gift idea was the Kindle. We still believe that for any book lover, it is an excellent gift. Couple your Kindle selection with a subscription to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and your recipient will have access to thousands of books for free.

The Amazon Echo with added “smart” light bulb might an appreciated gift. I have one in my home and when my hands are full, it is really nice to shout, “Please turn on the basement lights!” Some people may not find any organizational benefit to having these devices and they could pose a security risk to your home. Consider including expert set-up services with the gift to ensure the security risks are minimized.

Maybe not as much fun as an electronic device, a stylish filing cabinet might be a great organizational gift for someone who needs a place to keep documents in order and secure. Add some multi-colour, hanging file folders to help the recipient get started.

We would be remiss in our duties if we did not at least mention a label maker. This Brady BBP37 Industrial Colour Sign and Label Printer is the ultimate in big gifts and at a whopping $3000, the ultimate in big price tags. However, if you need long-lasting, industrial grade labels to withstand harsh outdoor conditions, this is the label maker to get. But seriously, for everyday use, the Brother Compact Labeler with Carrying Case is a much better (and more reasonably priced) choice. Consider adding a package of labels in assorted colours too.

What has been the best organizing gift you have received? Share with our readers to provide some holiday inspiration.

 

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Stocking stuffer edition

Are you looking for inexpensive gifts to stuff into stockings, give to family, friends, co-workers, or teachers? Here is a list of affordable items that can help people stay organized.

Neon luggage tags are durable, highly visible on your baggage, and make it easy to update your contact details. Add one inside the suitcase with your travel details and contact information in case the airline barcode tag gets ripped off the suitcase handle.

Measure conversion wall art vinyl decals stick to any smooth surface. Decorative and useful for anyone who loves cooking (or who, like me, grew up learning only the metric system). Apply them to walls, or outside or inside kitchen cupboard doors.

This set of 126 chalkboard labels come with chalk markers. They are great for bottles, jars, drawers, or bins.

Small clear containers and small woven baskets are ideal to organize drawers, desktops, or just about anywhere. There are at least 50 ways to use a basket.

Hooks in the shape of dog tails are a cute way to make sure your pets’ leashes and collars stay in one place. They are available in pink, blue, and green.

To help cyclists stay organized, this storage container in the shape of a water bottle holds tools or snacks and fits neatly in a water bottle holder eliminating the need to install a saddle bag.

Whether surfboarding or snowboarding, this waterproof pouch will keep your keys and wallet dry and secure.

This weekly/monthly agenda is undated so you can start planning any time of the year not just on January 1st.

Besides jewellery, this 32-pocket hanging organizer could also be used to keep all sorts of toys, trinkets, or coins in order.

Craft and office supplies, jewellery, nails, screws, and other hardware can be sorted and stored in these lidded boxes with built-in, adjustable dividers.

This expandable mini filing pouch can organize and store coupons, receipts, business cards, and even bandages.

These bold, colourful, pre-printed stickers are easy to add to any calendar. They help remind parents of appointments, school holidays, etc. — and no more writing the same thing over and over again!

The gift of organization is always appreciated but it doesn’t have to be expensive. We hope this list has given our readers some inspiration. Feel welcome to share your best and least expensive organizing gift ideas.

 

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Experience gifts

The memories created by unique experiences are gifts treasured for the rest of your life.

If you are planning on giving an experience gift, don’t just put cash in an envelope and write, “Treat yourself to [experience gift] on me!” Do some research on your recipient’s preferences and the company you will be purchasing from. Take the time to purchase the gift card/certificate and enclose it in a nice card. Some companies will even prepare the card and mail it on your behalf especially if you do not live in the area.

Here are some things to think about when buying an experience gift.

  • Does the company have a good reputation for health, safety, business management? You don’t want to find out that the salon where you purchased the pedicure gift certificate will go out of business in the next few months.
  • Will the recipient incur extra expenses in order to use the gift certificate such as high-cost parking fees, hotel, or other travel costs?
  • Is there an expiry date on the coupon or voucher? Can the recipient exchange the voucher for another service offered?
  • If the recipient has limitations, will the company be able to adapt their services? For example, can the restaurant hosting a cooking course adapt to someone with nut allergies?

To help you choose which type of experience gift to invest in, we’ve separated them into different categories.

Self-care: Gift certificate for a facial, massage, pedicure or manicure. Consultation with personal stylist.

Outings: Wine tasting evening, dinner at a restaurant, concert tickets, museum or art gallery special showings.

Adventures: Stunt driving, whale watching, flying lessons, white-water rafting, birdwatching tour.

Education: Pottery classes, art lessons, music lessons, consultation with expert (e.g. landscaper, interior designer, antique appraiser, etc.)

Perfect Day Experiences operates only in Canada but their list of experience gifts is impressive! It will inspire your imagination so check out their website for some great ideas.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for children

Every year we get parents asking us how to stop the excessive gift giving of well-meaning family members. It is a challenge! Here are some tips.

If you have babies, create a baby gift registry if you haven’t already done so. Babies grow quickly and there is always an ongoing need for diapers, wipes, and larger sized sleepers. Refer relatives to your registry for gift ideas.

Older children like to have a gift to open but talk to family members about uncluttered gifts and suggest the following:

  • Gift passes to local attractions such as the zoo, science centre, or museum.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical theatre production, or other show.
  • Pay for art, music, or sports lessons.
  • Pay for driving lessons or contribute to a teen’s car insurance or car maintenance.

Another option is to have relatives with special expertise offer to share their skills with your children. Sewing, knitting, and cooking are all great hobbies as well as practical life skills, as are woodworking, metalsmithing, and jewellery making. Create coupons for “Sewing Lessons with Grandma” or “Learn to BBQ with Uncle David.”

Children do not need a lot of stuff when they are young but when they are older, they will need college tuition. Rather than spend money on piles of clutter creating presents, encourage family members to contribute to an education savings fund. Malcolm X said it best, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Your family members could purchase a small gift representing scientists, doctors, or astronauts to show children how an education leads to success.

If you have tried any of these solutions in the past, how has that worked for your family? Share with fellow Unclutterers in the comments.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Consumable gifts

Consumable gifts when done correctly, can be some of the most appreciated presents we receive. When poorly executed, it can actually lead to more clutter. Here are some tips to choosing the best consumable gifts for the people on your list.

Food is first on the list when people think of consumables. After all, everyone eats — we just don’t all eat the same things. Consider the following:

  • Some food allergies are severe. Your intended recipient may not be allergic but if any of their family members have allergies, the item may never be consumed.
  • Dietary Restrictions. Low salt, low sugar, low fat, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan… Some are medical restrictions, some are faith-based restrictions, others are by choice. Whatever the reason, respect the limitations in your gift-giving.

Always read the label and the list of ingredients before purchasing and when in doubt, ask!

You might want to opt for specialty foods that your recipients would not normally purchase themselves. I always get my husband imported lemon curd for the holidays. It is something his British granny used to make every year and try as I might, I have never mastered the recipe.

Students starting out on their own may appreciate a spice starter kit with free refills for five years. For the coffee lover, perhaps a three month coffee sampler subscription would be appreciated. The gourmet chef on your list might enjoy pure Spanish saffron. There are many gourmet international food options to choose from.

Although not nearly so glamourous as international gourmet food, other consumables that might be well received include:

Take the time to get to know your recipient’s preferences and use your imagination to create the perfect consumable (and clutter free) gift.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

2018 Gift Giving Guide: Charitable gifts

Today begins our annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Over the next few days, we will share numerous articles on uncluttered giving that can be used this season. Most of these ideas also will apply to gift giving throughout the year, irrespective of the occasion.

In an article in the New York Times, Peter Post, great-grandson of etiquette expert Emily Post, states that donating to a charity in lieu of a tangible gift can be very meaningful — if it is done the right way. It is important to always think of the recipient instead of yourself when making the donation to a charity. What one person may consider a worthy cause might not resonate with someone else. A charitable donation gift should not be a way for the giver to advocate their ideals.

Two great websites that can help you choose a charity that will resonate with the recipient are Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. They both list organizations that funnel the majority of their donations into programs instead of administration.

Other local charities include:

  • Food banks
  • Hospital foundations
  • Library foundations
  • Homeless shelters
  • Art centres
  • Theatre groups
  • Historical society archives
  • Multi-cultural groups

Donations to charities as gifts may not suit family festivities, but your business could donate to a charity instead of sending clients the usual box of chocolates. Workplaces could skip the “Secret Santa” gift exchange and ask everyone to donate a bag of groceries to the local food bank instead.

If you do choose to donate to a charity, take the time to send or give the recipient a card. I like these blank greeting cards where I add my own holiday design and the logo of the charity as well as write a personalized note inside the card.

Have you donated to a charity in someone’s name? Would you do it again? Have the gifts been well received? Share your experiences in the comments.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.