Ask Unclutterer: An art student’s dilemma

Unclutterer reader Jaclyn recently asked for suggestions regarding her particular artwork situation:

I have a bachelors degree in fine arts. Even though I graduated what seems like a lifetime ago, many of my old drawings, paintings, and prints lurk in a basement closet. I recently framed a pair of lithographs to hang over the couch, and they are a delight. However, I live in a relatively small house and have no desire to upsize any time soon, so even if everything felt worthy of public display, I wouldn’t have space for it. Some of my paintings are so big, I’m not sure I know anyone with a large enough home to accommodate them.

I’m interested to know what other former art students have done, and what suggestions you may have.

Jaclyn, I found an informal online poll on DeviantArt, a social network for artists and art enthusiasts, that might pertain to your dilemma. The majority of the responders kept all their old drawings and sketchbooks for various reasons: to see how their work has improved and evolved, to provide inspiration for new work, etc. For some, all this artwork serves the same function that diaries or journals might provide for other people — it’s an extremely sentimental record of their life.

The right answer for you would depend in part on your answers to the following questions, noting that you might have different answers for different pieces of art:

Why do you want to keep them?

If you’d like to display at least some of them, perhaps you can have more of them framed and rotate them out. For smaller pieces you could consider the dynamicFRAMES mentioned here on Unclutterer a number of years ago.

If you want them for the reasons those other artists listed, you could look for good storage tools that allow you to easily look through those items whenever you wish. For large drawings, you might want a flat file, a mobile trolley, or something similar. For canvases and framed artwork, you could use a rack that keeps those pieces upright. I’ve listed a number of other options for storing large pieces on the Core77 website.

If you want the personal history but feel less attached to the pieces, you might be okay with scanning or photographing your artwork and then letting the originals go. Scanning or photographing your favorite pieces might make sense even if you keep the originals, as this helps ensure you don’t lose the entire record of your work in case of fire, theft, water damage to your home, etc.

If you have smaller pieces you enjoy looking at but wouldn’t necessarily want to display, you could put some of these on the inside of cabinet or closet doors. I’ve done that with various pieces of art (not my own), and it makes me smile every time I open one of the doors.

How do you feel about giving away some pieces?

I don’t know if these are anything you could sell (or would want to sell), but someone I know who was in a similar situation sold some of her work on Etsy.

There are also a variety of ways you might give them away, beyond just offering them to those who’ve expressed an interest in specific pieces in the past. For example, if you’re on Facebook, you could post photos and ask your friends if they’d like any of them.

And if you’re okay with strangers owning some of them, you could try offering them on your local freecycle or Nextdoor group. I’ve successfully freecycled artwork in the past, although not specifically student drawings, and the prior owners have been happy to know the art is going to be displayed and enjoyed rather than tucked away in storage and never seen.

A note for those who are not art students: Similar questions can help when dealing with a whole range of things. There are many times when it makes sense to ask yourself:

  • Why am I keeping this item: for practical use, for decoration, for sentimental reasons, or something else?
  • What’s the best way to store it, to ensure it serves that purpose?
  • Would keeping a scan or a photo work as well as keeping the physical object?
  • What ways of selling, donating, or giving away something I decide not to keep would make me happy?

Get the most out of an older iPad

It’s amazing to think that Apple’s iPad turns five years old this year. It’s so ubiquitous in 2015 that it seems like it has been around for a lot longer. Even old models are still in use, which brings me to my motivation for writing this article.

I own an iPad 2. It was released in March of 2011 and it’s still alive and kicking. Apple has even noted that the next update to its operating system, dubbed “iOS 9”, will run on the aging device. Still, it’s not as zippy as its younger siblings.

If you’ve got an older iPad around and have been wondering about its usefulness, let me point out these great ways to keep it useful and in service. The following are four ways to use an older iPad.

As a cable-free TV

I’ll admit it, I use my iPad 2 to watch TV shows and movies quite often. More often than my actual TV, in fact. There are a slew of apps out there that make this happen, including:

  • Netflix: TV, movies and great original content
  • Hulu: A stronger focus on TV than Netflix, but it has movies, too
  • Crackle: Sony’s streaming service has plenty of movies
  • HBO Go/HBO Now: The former is a free add-on for HBO subscribers, while the latter is a stand-alone subscription at $14.99 per month, and both allow you access to HBO programming
  • Amazon Instant Video: A video streaming service that’s included with the company’s Prime membership at $99 per year
  • Your cable provider: If you have cable television or internet, your service may have an app that lets you stream television to your iPad

As a remote control

Don’t want to cut the cable cord? Or maybe perhaps you prefer to enjoy TV and movies on your actual television? No problem. Most TV manufacturers offer universal remote apps. Additionally, if you use the Apple TV, there’s a free Remote app ready to go.

It might not fit into your “Remote Boat,” but the iPad does a good job of controlling your TV. And it reduces clutter by limiting you to one remote instead of a pile.

Weather Station

A friend of mine has this super-cool wireless weather station at his house that I really like. Realizing that an app is cheaper than a whole new piece of hardware, I went looking for a compatible app and found WunderStation. This great-looking app provides a wealth of weather information that you can browse in real time. You can also customize its presentation so that it’s displayed just how you want. Add a handy wall mount and you’ve got a very cool weather station.

Kitchen Helper

I’ve been using my iPad in the kitchen pretty much from day one. Of course it’s great for storing recipes and keeping them handy for when you want to cook. But you can increase its usefulness with a kitchen-friendly stand. I use a ‘fridge mount from Belkin to keep my iPad 2 away from messy spills while I’m cooking.

Alternatively, you can use a Chef Sleeve or go low-tech (but just as effective) with a zip-top kitchen bag.

It’s funny to think of something that’s only five years old as near the end of its usefulness, but such is the nature of tech. However, I think the iPad is an exception. The usefulness for this device has certainly exceeded its cost at this point, and I plan to use it for many more years to come.

Scanning the family photo collection

Unclutterer reader Mary recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenge:

I have boxes and boxes of family photos (some from the 1920s) I’d like to scan in and put on CDs (is that a good way to save them?) and also put on a website where family members can access them and print out what they’d like to keep. How do I even get started? How do I organize the project? I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it. Do I need a special scanner? What’s the fastest and best quality scanner? Can I save the photos on the cloud? Is there a way to record information I have about the photo with the scan? A lot was written on the back of photos — can both sides be scanned at once? Should I get rid of duplicates or bad photos to start off? It’s hard to throw away photos. Any suggestions, including new tech solutions, would be appreciated.

Mary, dealing with photos can be overwhelming. But it’s a very rewarding project, and you can break it down into smaller pieces so it’s not so intimidating. The following are some ideas about how to approach this project, looking at each decision you’ll need to make.

Decide which photos to keep

You won’t want to spend time or money scanning photos you don’t even think are worth keeping, so unclutter first. Photos to consider tossing are:

  • Duplicates. If you have family or friends who would like the duplicate prints, you can certainly pass them along. But why keep duplicates yourself?
  • Bad photos. This would include photos that are out of focus, photos that cut off someone’s head, and photos that are unflattering. You may want to keep some of these if there’s something else especially notable about the photo, but in most cases these are good riddance.
  • Photos of scenery. This is a personal choice, but many times the photos people take of the places they visit just aren’t that remarkable. My parents went to Hawaii years ago and took many photos, but I can find much better photos of those places online. The photos I cherish are the ones of my parents in Hawaii, not the ones of Hawaii itself.

You might think of this as going on a treasure hunt, finding the real gems among the many photos. If you can’t bring yourself to throw away any photos right now, you might simply create two categories of photos: the best ones (which you’ll scan) and all the rest.

Decide whether to scan them yourself or use a scanning service

Many people have happily used scanning services. Erin used ScanMyPhotos, as did a recent commenter, L. Charles. The company takes your prints, negatives and/or slides, does the scanning, and ships you back a DVD with those scans (along with your originals). If mailing off your photos makes you nervous, you may be able to find a company that does the work locally. Using a scanning service will save you a lot of time. I doubt the service will scan the backs of the photos, though.

If you prefer to scan your photos yourself, you’re going to be best off with a scanner that doesn’t require you to put the photos through a paper feed. That’s because every once in a while a photo might get damaged going through that feed. However, if you already have something like a ScanSnap iX500 you may be willing to take that risk. I know people who have used similar scanners with no problems.

If you already have a flatbed scanner as part of an all-in-one printer, that might be all you need. But what if you don’t have an appropriate scanner and want to buy one? I’m not an expert regarding scanners so I can’t tell you which scanner is best, but I can point you to some alternatives.

There are some scanning devices designed specifically for photos, which can sound appealing. But Consumer Reports wasn’t thrilled with the pass-through photo scanners it tested, even though it acknowledged that they have some distinct advantages.

Another option is a flatbed scanner, especially one that’s designed to handle photos, negatives, and slides. I know someone who’s happy with the Canon CanoScan 9000F MKII Color Image Scanner, but there are many other scanners to consider. If any readers have experience with specific photo scanners, I hope they’ll add their comments.

If you’re scanning photos yourself, you can scan the backs of the photos to capture the writing. (If you have a duplex scanner, you can probably scan both at once.) You could even use a scanning service for the photos, and then go through and scan the backs of the photos yourself once the prints are returned to you.

Next week, I’ll address the issue of storing the photos once you have them scanned.

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.


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.

What personal collectors can learn from museums

Having a collection can add joy to your life, but a collection can also get out of hand and take over your home and your bank account. Museums have Collections Management Policies (PDF), and some of the topics discussed in these policies could also apply to anyone building and maintaining a collection. You may not need a written policy, but considering the following items may be useful:

Defining the scope of the collection

Have you thought about exactly what kind of thing you’re collecting? For example, a stamp collector might want to focus on first day covers or, alternatively, may have no interest in those covers. You may start out with a wide scope and decide to narrow it over time.

Adding to the collection

What are your priorities for adding to your collection? Do you have some holes in your collection that you want to fill? What’s your budget?

Museums have policies for “unsolicited donations,” and you may want a policy about gifts from well-meaning friends who notice your collection. Do you want to discourage them from buying you gifts to add to that collection, or are you happy to receive such gifts?

Removing items from the collection

When do items get removed from your collection? Museums sometimes remove items if they are redundant with others in the collection or if they are “of lesser quality than other objects of the same type in the collection.” They may also remove items that are “unduly difficult or impossible to care for or store properly.” Items may also get damaged to a degree where they no longer fit within the scope of the collection, and those items would be removed.

These same types of considerations could easily apply to your personal collection. And if the scope of your collection has changed over the years, you may find items that no longer seem to fit.

Taking care of the collection

Museums only display part of their collection at any time, rotating the items on display. Therefore, a museum’s policies will need to deal with caring for items currently on display and those in storage for future display. You may need to consider both situations, too.

Just as a museum would, you will want to consider whether items in your collection need to be kept at any specific range of temperatures and humidity. Depending on what items you collect, you may need to plan for pest control. You’ll also want to think about how to keep fragile items from being broken when on display and when being stored.

Making loans

Would you ever consider loaning out items in your collection? If so, think about whom you might make a loan to and how you’d want to handle any such transactions.

Maintaining an inventory and documentation

If you have a large collection, not all on display, having an inventory will help you remember what’s being kept where. An inventory will also keep you from buying duplicate items by mistake.

At some point, your collection will move on to others. You may choose to sell some items or give them to friends and family members, or others may inherit them from you. If you’re selling an item, the buyer may want evidence of authenticity, so you’d want to have a plan for storing any documents you have that address this. If items are being inherited, the recipients will often enjoy knowing the stories behind the items — when and where you got them, and why are they meaningful to you.

Getting insurance and appraisals

If your collection includes items of significant value, you may need specific insurance to cover the collection, which might involve getting appraisals done. That proof of authenticity mentioned previously may also affect the appraisal. In case of a loss (due to theft, fire, flood, etc.), the inventory list previously mentioned would be extremely helpful when making a claim to your insurance company.

Organizing a home gym

One of the more common New Year’s resolutions is to get fit and those who are prepared to follow through on their resolutions prior to the start of January are more likely to be successful. If you’re someone who is looking to workout more in the new year, the following are tips on how to get your fitness equipment in order so you can begin your workouts in a comfortable, organized space.

Designate an area for fitness. Bedrooms, living rooms, basements, and even garages can be used for a home gym. You should ensure that there is enough space to safely do your workouts and store your fitness gear in the space you choose. There also should be adequate lighting. Natural sunlight from windows is ideal, but if you’re doing your workouts in the early mornings or late nights in a room that faces a busy street, you may wish to install some heavy curtains.

Safety is important. If you have children or pets, consider keeping doors closed or install barriers (baby gates) around fitness equipment. Even a small dumbbell can break a little toe or paw if it were to fall over. Machinery such as treadmills and rowers can pinch small fingers and catch tails. You may need to unplug fitness machines after use to ensure they cannot be accidentally started.

Multi-tasking fitness equipment. A treadmill laptop desk is ideal if you wish to work, read, or watch videos during your workouts. A stability ball can make a good substitute for an office chair but it does have a tendency to roll away. Keep the chair in its place using a stability ball stacker when you’re not using it. Use your regular bicycle indoors as a stationary bicycle by using a bicycle stand. To save space, the bicycle stand folds up and can slide under a sofa or bed when not in use.

Organizing fitness equipment. Six or eight sets of regular dumbbells take up considerable space, but you can get 12 to 16 sets of dumbbell weights in one set of adjustable dumbbells. Consider using adjustable dumbbells such as those by Powerblock or Bowflex for your home gym, if space is a concern. Smaller dumbbells can be mounted on a wall rack (pictured above), which could be hidden behind a curtain or hanging tapestry.

Yoga mats, blocks, and foam rollers could hang on a wall or in your closet in a Simply Stashed Boot Organizer or they could be stored under a bed or sofa in an under-bed storage bin.

Consider wall mounted or over-the-door hooks to hang jump ropes and resistance bands. GearPockets can be used to hold ankle/wrist weights, handgrips, weight clamps, and other miscellaneous fitness equipment.

For those who prefer to workout at a gym, having your “go-bag” prepared and stored in a convenient location will make it easier to get to your fitness class on time.

A Kickstarter project to help music-makers get organized

Today, our parent company launched an exciting Kickstarter campaign for an online platform for music education, practice, and collaboration.

It’s called and it’s designed to help people keep all aspects of their musical lives organized.

There’s a second video on the Kickstarter page that shows a detailed demo of how the site will work.

If you think you might find this useful, please consider backing the project. And please share it with any music students, teachers or performers you know who could benefit from a suite of online organization and collaboration tools like this.

Collections: If you’re going to have one, organize and protect it

About two years ago, I got into board games in a serious way. This hobby creates hours of fun and huge storage needs for me. I recently wrote about keeping board games stored and organized, and today I’ll take a look at doing the same with collectible game cards. Like other hobbies and collections, if you’re going to pursue them, it can be a good idea to keep associated items organized and protected for ease of use, less mess, and longevity of the items. Similar principles apply to storing many items, so although this article is about collectible cards it is meant to inspire ideas about storing whatever it is you have decided to collect. Whether you’re into wax Mold-o-Rama figures like Erin or something else entirely, hopefully there are some insights here you can apply to your collections.

A little background for those of you not into card games: there are a huge number of collectible card games in production. Game enthusiast website Board Game Geek lists 47 pages of game titles. Many cards are of a standard playing-card size, but you can find examples that are larger and smaller than a deck you use to play poker. For the sake of this article, I’ll focus on the most common size.

There are three categories of cards: those you actively play with (like you would in a game of Bridge), those you don’t play with but are willing to trade (collectible card games often include trading), and valuable cards that are kept locked away (I’ll explain more about these below).

The Cards You Use

Deck Box

I keep the cards I’m actively using in a single box. If the cards won’t fit in the box, I don’t bring them into the house (following the concept: a place for everything and everything in its place). My current game of choice is Magic: The Gathering. It requires players to build a custom deck to play against their opponents. After testing several brands and types, I like the Ultra Pro Satin Tower (pictured above). It holds up to 100 sleeves of cards (more on sleeves in a minute) and has an additional, snap-off compartment for holding dice, counters or other accouterment that the game requires. With the lid removed, your cards are easily accessible and it looks great. Plus, the lid fits snugly enough that you don’t have to worry about it accidentally opening up and making a mess.


Putting your cards into sleeves is divisive. Casual players spend little on cards and just want the fun of competition and spending time with friends. But with resale value in mind, I’m somewhat more than a casual player. I definitely play the cards I buy, and I want them to look nice for as long as possible. To protect them, I put them in sleeves. The best sleeves I’ve found are from Demkar’s Dragon Shield.

Willing to Trade


A big part of collectible card games is trading with friends. Binders are a great way to show off your collection and let a friend browse through it easily. This could apply to a number of hobbies and collections where sharing it with others is part of the fun of collecting. For cards specifically, there are several manufacturers out there, but I suggest you pick up one from Ultra Pro or Monster.

The Ultra Pro sleeves can accommodate two cards (though I suggest putting one card per pocket) and it carries up to 360 sleeved cards in total. Additional pages can be purchased for about $0.20 each, and the piece of elastic that surrounds the cover ensures that your cards won’t fall out during storage or transport.

Monster makes a smaller binder that has four pockets per sheet instead of nine. They’re much more portable and have a nice-looking matte finish cover (the Ultra Pro’s is shiny). The build quality is a bit better, and they’re more expensive. Whichever you use, remember that the sheets are not acid-free, so you want to first place your cards into acid-free sleeves, like the Dragon Shields.

Whatever you’re collecting, try your best to store it in a way that doesn’t damage your collection.

Investment Cards

I realize it might seem silly to some to keep a playing card tucked away as an investment. I tend to play with the cards I buy. However, I also realize that there’s a real market for some of these items and that many people treat them as an investment. And, there are other types of collections beyond cards where people do buy items hoping to make money on their sale.

The best advice I can give here comes from Mao Zedong: “The best defense is a good offense.” Meaning, take precautionary steps to protect your darlings. I recommend double-sleeving these cards, putting them into a lock-seal bag that’s as free of air as possible, and then placing that into a fireproof safe. Excessive? Yes. But, if you’ve got cards (or whatever it is you’re hoping to sell for profit) that are worth a significant amount of money, you’ve got good reason to protect them.

The good news is that, with a little thought, you can enjoy your card games and keep them looking great for years to come. If decorative plates are your thing, don’t pile them up in a stack at the bottom of a closet where they can be broken — display them on your wall with secure plate hangers to organize, protect, and display them. If signed baseballs are what you collect, get a UV-protected glass display chest and show them off. Organize, protect, and share your collection so it’s obvious you value it and don’t think of it as clutter. If you want it in your life, take care of it.

A simple solution to digital photo management

I recently had a bit of a meltdown regarding the state of my digital photo management. Fortunately, a photographer friend set me straight with advice so obvious I never saw it. First, let me describe my meltdown.

I became unhappy when a photo management service that I loved, that I went all-in on, shut its doors. When I retrieved the 14,000 photos I had uploaded to it, I found that all of the EXIF data had been stripped (EXIF data includes metadata and tags that make images searchable), and I had been left with the digital equivalent of a box full of 14,000 photos in random order.

Like I said, I was not happy.

But really, the problem wasn’t with someone’s failed business. The issue was (and continues to be) the sheer number of photos we take. When I was younger, we had up to 32 opportunities to get a decent picture with a single roll of film. I emphasize decent because that dictated the care with which we shot photos. We didn’t want to waste a single frame.

Today, I’ll take the kids to the park and shoot 150 pictures in less than three hours.

This behavior spawns two problems. The first problem is digital clutter. How many of those 150 photos are worth keeping? Maybe a dozen, if I’m lucky. The second problem is backups. What is the best way to preserve the photographs worth keeping? These are modern problems with, I’ve learned, an old-school solution.

My friend CJ Chilvers is a very talented photographer and, I must say, an insightful guy. He responded to my rant (warning: there’s one mildly not-safe-for-work word in my rant) with a brilliant solution: books.

“The best solution I’ve found for all this is the humble book. Making a collection of photos into a book (even if it’s just a year book of miscellaneous shots) solves several problems,” he said. He went on to list the benefits of the good old photo book:

It’s archival. Nothing digital is archival. Even some photographic prints are not archival. But a well-made book will last for as long as anyone could possibly care about your photos and then some … It tells a better story. Instead of relying on fleeting metadata, in a book, you can actually write about what’s going on in the picture … A book doesn’t care if you took your photos with a phone or a DSLR. The resolution of the photo need only be enough for the size you’d like it printed in the book.

Photo books also solve our problem of backing up the keepers, as they’re the ones that make the cut into the photo book.

There are several companies that let you make great-looking, inexpensive photo books. A handful:

Also, books aren’t going to crash, go out of business, run out of battery life, or otherwise be inaccessible. CJ’s final point is probably my favorite: “Fun. It’s more fun holding a book of your own art, than opening a database. That should be enough reason alone.”

Printing books isn’t for everyone, but it’s the organized and archival solution that we have found works for us. I also like handing someone a book of pictures instead of seating them in front of my computer to share in our experiences.

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.


There are many things I’ve learned about organizing because my husband is in the military. Soldiers keep certain equipment and clothing packed in their rucksacks at all times. If they ever have to “bug-out” (called to duty in an emergency) they just grab their rucksacks and go. In these circumstances, it takes them five minutes to leave the house. Soldiers are provided with a list of what to have in their rucksacks at all times so they have everything they need.

I’ve implemented this system in our household for non-military purposes. When my children were babies, I had a list of items that I always needed in the diaper bag. Every time we arrived at home after being out, I restocked the bag with diapers, wipes, and creams. Then, I quickly looked down the list before heading out the door the next time to ensure I had everything in the bag.

As my children have grown older and are participating in activities, we’ve created a “go-bag” for each activity. Their items for that activity remain always in that bag unless being used or cleaned. We prepared a list of items for the bag, and even used pictures of the items to help them when they were younger.

The list was printed on an index card and laminated. On the reverse side of the index card was emergency contact information (child’s name, parent’s name and phone number, allergy information, etc.). The card was kept in a pocket of the go-bag or sometimes, attached to one of the zippers on the outside of the bag.

On arrival home from swimming lessons, the swimsuit and towel would be washed, shampoo refilled if necessary and the bag stowed on its dedicated hook in the hallway. Once laundered, the swimsuit and towel were returned to the bag.

This system works with sports gear and arts and craft supplies – and even your briefcase for work!

We continue to have a number of “go-bags” hanging in our entryway and I find that being able to get out of the house quickly with all of the necessary equipment is worth it.

Being an organized leader of a kid’s club or scout troop

For more than three years now, my wife and I have both been scout troop leaders (Girl Scouts for her, Cub Scouts for me). The organizations offer a lot of fun for the kids and, let’s be honest, a lot of work for those of us adults who have stepped up to the plate to be leaders. It’s not without its rewards, though, and getting to spend time with our kids and their friends in a learning and creative situation is worth all the unpaid hours.

Depending on how many kids you’ve got in your club, den, troop, or group, you could feel like you’ve taken on a second job. (Especially when cases of cookies pack your house every winter.) One thing is for certain, the job won’t be fun for you if you’re stressing about running the group and keeping things organized. The following are a few techniques my wife and I have put together for staying sane while being a leader of our kids’ groups.

Who has earned what?

Not all clubs and groups are about earning awards, badges, or patches, but a lot of them are and it’s what many people think of when they consider scouting. And the kids do love earning them. Cub Scouts are actually required to move through several ranks before they become Boy Scouts, and to do so they must earn certain achievements. Of course, one boy will miss a meeting because of illness, another is out of town, and so on. To keep track of all their achievements, I use the following method for tracking who has earned what.

I bought several adhesive CD sleeves from Amazon, as well as a large piece of foam board. Then I labeled each sleeve with a boy’s name and stuck the lot to the board. When a boy earns an achievement, I place the name of it as well as the date into the CD sleeve. Now I have an at-a-glance record of who has done what and who hasn’t.

Run your meetings smoothly

When the kids first arrive for a meeting, they’re usually a little hopped up. At the same time, this is when their parents want to ask questions, hand in permission slips, etc. Unsupervised, riled-up, eight-year-old boys? That’s a bad idea. Instead of letting chaos rule, have a “gathering activity” ready. Each week I have something set up for the boys to do upon arrival, from a simple board game to a pile of Boy’s Life magazines to a diagram of a structure to create with LEGO bricks. If you can tie the gathering activity into the meeting’s main activity, even better. The important thing is to give them something fun, engaging, and cooperative to do while they (and the parents) settle in.

Another idea is to create a job board. I’ve printed each boy’s name on a strip of paper and glued it to a clothes pin. These pins get clipped onto a board with labels like: “Attendance,” “Flag Bearer,” “Den Flag Bearer,” “Assistant,” and “Closing Flag Ceremony.” (These are all regular parts of a Cub Scout meeting.) This lets the boys know what their jobs will be for each meeting. Quick tip: give your more antsy members the “Assistant” job, as you can call on them to help out with all sorts of things as his or her energy levels rise and fall.

Foster independence and leadership

My den only has six boys, but my wife’s Girl Scout troop has 14 girls. The entire troop is broken up into several informal units, each with a rotating peer leader, as selected by the girls. The units brainstorm ideas and report their findings, ideas, strategies, and so on to the troop as a whole via their selected leader. These peer leaders make managing a larger group easier on you and teach important skills to the kids.

Tap into the community

In the business world, we call this delegation. In organizations of volunteers, we call this accessing resources. And, since all the kids in your group have parents, these people are wonderful resources for you to rely on from time-to-time. Ask other about their professions and hobbies and see if they’d be willing to share some of what they know with the kids as the focus for a meeting. Same goes for adults in your child’s life — pediatrician, dentist, school teacher, local firefighter, your friends with cool jobs. And all those boxes of Girl Scout cookies don’t have to be sorted only by you — ask other parents and even club members to pitch in for the big jobs.

Don’t be nervous to reach out to the community, either. Community service is a big part of scouting and many clubs and organizations, and to get the kids involved in projects they’ll enjoy you have to make yourself and your group known. Call up local shelters, non-profits, parks departments, and nature organizations to see if there’s an opportunity for the kids to get involved in hands-on charity work. Chances are, there are many ways the kids can help.

Finally, don’t be afraid to look for help online. I’m starting to see more project ideas appear on Pinterest. And, I love, love, love Scouter The site has certainly given me creative ideas for several den meeting projects. What other resources do you use to things organized and operating smoothly for your child’s club or scouting troop?