An organized way to bring a new gadget into use

Whenever you receive a new goodie, like a new phone or tablet, it’s an exciting time. But don’t just tear into the box! There’s an organized way to bring a new gadget into your life, and the following is advice for making that transition as smooth as possible.

Carefully open the packaging

This might sound ridiculously obvious to you or it might seem just ridiculous. “Dave, it’s the box. Who cares?” There are several reasons to care, and the first is the gadget’s future resale value. I upgrade my iPhone every two years. I always sell my current model to help pay for the new one. Having the pristine original box helps with shipping and final asking price. Also, if you aggressively tear into a box, you could affect the contents. You don’t want to scratch a screen or case before you even turn on the device. Finally, think of returns. There’s always the possibility that your new doo-dad won’t work as advertised. A UPC code, the security tags, and intact contents are essential when trying to make a return.

Take your time, keep things neat and store that box in a safe place if you might return or resell the item.

Read the manual

If you’re not going to read it, at least skim the manual. Some gadgets come with a “quick start” guide. I always review those. Yes, you probably know how this works, but maybe not. Read/skim the manual and then store it in a safe place for future reference. I also recommend making a digital copy after some time has passed and if you’re not planning to return or resell the item.

Register the item

This is the step that nearly everyone skips. I always spend a few minutes registering my products, especially pricey electronics. It will make service easier should you need it someday. Additionally, if there’s an update or other notification that owners need, like a recall, you’re more likely to receive that information if your product has been registered.

Buy an extra power cord

If your device charges up with a cable, buy an extra one. I keep one in my laptop bag at all times. You might bring an extra to work or simply keep it around for when the first one gets frayed or otherwise stops working. You might want to somehow identify it as your own. My kids love to steal iPhone cables, so I make sure we all know which is mine.

Scan the receipt

Finally, scan the receipt and store it digitally in a place you can easily retrieve it if necessary.

Dig into the product

Now that all this preparation work has been handled, take the product out of the box and use it. Transfer data from your previous gadget and set up preferences.

A straightforward seven-step process to achieve your goals

This coming weekend will mark a first for me: I’m competing in a sprint triathlon. As with any activity requiring preparation (moving, changing jobs, going away to school), there has been a great deal of planning and organizing involved to get ready for the race. When I made the decision to work toward this goal back in January, I felt like a project manager as I tried to figure out how to get to where I am today. Ultimately, I decided to use a basic, seven-step process to reach my goal.

To give you an idea of where I was before I decided to take on this project, I didn’t know how to swim. I could float around and not drown, but I didn’t know how to swim laps or do any proper strokes. I’d also never been on a racing bike, and the only bike in my garage was my two-year-old daughter’s, complete with training wheels. I couldn’t run a mile continuously and the idea of swimming, biking, and running back-to-back-to-back genuinely terrified me. I needed skills, gear, training, and confidence.

The first step in the planning process for this triathlon was the same as it is for any project: research and gather information. I read The Triathlete’s Training Bible, Triathlon Anatomy, and a couple more books. I jumped on YouTube and watched videos from races. I learned about all the equipment I’d need (swim goggles, a racing bike, fast-drying triathlon clothing, gym membership, running shoes …) and put together a rough estimate of how much it would cost and how much race expenses would be (hotel, travel, race registration). I extensively studied dietary needs for athletes. This is also the point where I saw my doctor for a physical and underwent other forms of athletic testing (anaerobic threshold, body fat and lean mass analysis, etc.) with a triathlon coach to learn as much as I could about my body.

The second step in the planning process was to evaluate the gathered information and decide if I wanted to proceed toward the goal as anticipated. In a typical project, this step might include changing the goal or moving the completion date or deciding if you need to bring in additional resources before continuing. You look at the information gathered and analyze it to see if you can achieve your goal. For me, the decision was much more personal in nature. I have a genetic disorder that makes competing in triathlons not the best idea I’ve ever had. My disability doesn’t prohibit me from doing a triathlon, but it certainly makes things more complicated. So, I had to decide if I wanted to continue knowing the risks and my limitations. I decided to continue, but I also had to agree to do everything I possibly could to reduce my risk of injury and complications.

The third step is mostly complete after the research stage, but it’s important to create an official budget for the project. No matter the project, be sure to build in a line item for unexpected expenses. Then, maybe, triple that line item. (I forgot I’d have to pay for childcare, for example.)

The fourth step is a lot of people’s favorite step: create timelines and to-do lists. This is the point where you identify what needs to get done, by whom, and when. As I previously mentioned, I needed to take lessons on how to swim and how to ride a racing bike. I had to weight train and build endurance. I also needed to overhaul my diet so I wouldn’t do damage to my body, which meant months of meal planning. I created milestones and points where I would check-in with my coach (for a work project, this would be where you check in with your client) and points to evaluate how my training was going so I could make changes, if necessary, as I progressed. Be specific during this step — swim 30 laps, pack two boxes, sort through one dresser drawer, write 1,500 words — so that it is clear to you each day when you look at your calendar exactly what you need to do.

The fifth step is the hardest and (typically) the longest: do the work every day. Once everything is in place, it’s time to get your hands dirty. This is when you crank the widgets. I joined a gym with a pool. I bought a racing bike. Some days I was up at 5:00 a.m. for swim classes. Other days it was raining or freezing or extremely hot and training was the last thing I wanted to do, but if I wanted to reach my goal I had to do it. You write the code or build the house or pack all your belongings into boxes.

The sixth step I have yet to complete on this project, but it’s my favorite step in the process: complete your goal. For me, this will be Saturday when I (hopefully) cross the finish line.

The seventh step is the final one and often the most overlooked: evaluate your performance. Once a project is finished, it is tempting to move on to the next project without taking the time to identify what went right, what didn’t, and your final expenses and time sheets. But doing so will help you in the future — the next time you move or build a website for a client or compete in a triathlon. This information will be a valuable resource to you in the future, so take the time to complete this step and help your future self. You won’t regret it.

All of these steps are intuitive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to rush ahead to start with step four before doing steps one through three. Or be so happy to be finished with step six that you skip step seven. Do all of these steps and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals. Taking on a large project also can create anxiety, but breaking it down and going through this process will help you to see that your goal can be reached.

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.

Gadgets to make yard work effective and fun

One trick I learned years ago is that a fun toy, gadget, or tool can make a task I dislike more pleasant to do. My FitBit encourages me to walk, for instance. Likewise, a beautiful ledger helps me work on my family’s budget. With this in mind, I decided to tackle another chore I typically avoid: Yard work.

Yard work isn’t so bad in the spring and fall, when the weather is nice and it’s pleasant to be outdoors. But in the summer, ugh. Heat, humidity, and the ever-present, thin layer of sweat prompt me to procrastinate and then grumble the entire time I finally do it. To get past this frustration, I discovered three tools that I enjoy so much, I’m eagerly willing to push my way through the humidity and heat and do a little yard work.

An expandable hose is the first item. I’ll admit it, I thought this was a goofy gimmick. My sister sent me one of these as a Father’s Day gift. It was thoughtful, as the hose I had been using for many years had died. “Well,” I thought, “this thing looks weird but I’ll try it out.”

After one use I was a complete convert. This lightweight hose does in fact expand at an impressive rate, without sacrificing durability. It feels well-made. When you’re done, simply spray out any remaining water and watch it grow smaller and smaller. The result is lightweight and flexible enough to be stored away with ease.

The second item is The Handy Camel, which is a Chip Clip on steroids. I do a lot of planting, and I’m often hauling heavy bags of soil around. They’re awkward, floppy, and love to spill. Enter the Handy Camel. This thing does in fact behave like a Chip Clip. Just snap it over the opening of a 40-pound bag and use the handle to carry it around like a suitcase.

The third item puts an end to spilling gasoline when trying to fill your gas-powered lawn mower. The Surecan stops that mess. They’re made of sturdy plastic and the brilliant inverted design lets you fill a small-engine tank with the ease of a trigger. No more smelling like gas for the rest of the day or worse, accidentally splashing gas on hot parts of the mower.

I’m not usually one to recommend buying more stuff to stay productive, but if a tool or gadget makes a task so much more enjoyable that you actually do it and don’t hate it, I’m all for it. Simple living is about living free of distractions — and loathing an activity is certainly a distraction.

Ways to take advantage of digital photography advancements and still stay organized

Digital photography is changing the hobby of photography in interesting ways. The most obvious change is the ease with which we can fire off 300 photos in a matter of minutes. As a result, we’ve got bulging digital photo libraries that have tech companies struggling to organize for us. Additionally, The Next Web reminded me of the emerging changes that we’re still working to understand. The following are explanations of some of the changes taking place and possible solutions to issues those changes might create.

Photos as short-term memory

When I park my car in a huge public lot, I always take a shot of my parking space (“5F” for example) to help me remember where I parked. I do the same when driving a rental car, so I don’t forget which car in the lot is mine. And before driving out of the rental lot, I capture all the angles of the car to have proof of pre-existing scratches or issues that existed before I rented the car.

More recently, I took a photo of a poster advertising a walking tour that looked like fun. As with the shot in the garage, the intention wasn’t to capture a moment, it was to capture information.

Photos as file sharing

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from my wife who was at work. “Can you go into my bag and find [Paper X]? I need you to send me a photo of it.” In this situation, she needed the information on a paper she left at home, and a photo of said paper — while not ideal — was the easiest way to get her the information she needed.

Photos as shopping list

I take images of specific shopping items a lot. If I need to buy a special lightbulb or odd battery for something at home, a quick picture of that product saves me from having to lug it with me to the store.

Often times I’m out shopping with my wife when she expresses interest in something that I think will make a great gift. I’ll covertly take a photo of it to remind myself when the time comes to give her something. It’s really handy when, months later, I’m trying to remember exactly which scarf she meant.

How to manage these types of photos?

As Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten noted in his article on The Next Web, an ideal situation would feature apps that recognize when we’ve taken a throw-away photo or an image that’s meant for short-term memory, and act accordingly. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Until our phones get smarter about digital photo management, we must be proactive.

First, if you’re backing up your photos to a cloud service like Dropbox, Google, or Apple’s iCloud, save yourself some space and don’t back up these shots. I use an app called Camera+. It allows me to shoot photos that aren’t sent to my phone’s camera roll where they’re automatically synchronized with my remote backup. Temporary photos I take exclusively with this app.

Next, remember to delete those one-offs. This isn’t the best tip, I know, but it will save you storage space as well as those “Why did I take a picture of this?” moments in the future.

Of course, you can turn to dedicated apps to help you manage these photos. Evernote is fantastic for long-term storage and supports photo notes beautifully. Gift Planner (free, iPhone) and Gifty (Android) will let you keep track of presents you’d like to buy. Lastly, Tiny Scanner for iPhone (free) and Smart Receipts (Android) will let you “scan” legible images of receipts and more.

How to organize a beer tasting

It’s Monday and the weather is turning nice here in the northern hemisphere, so I thought it would be fun to talk about an organizing project that isn’t super serious. Specifically, if you’re someone who enjoys spending time with friends over a good beer, this post is for you. With a little preparation you can have an entertaining, informative, and laid-back beer tasting at home.

My love affair with beer started with the yellow American lagers we all know. After these traditional American beers, I ventured out to other styles. The beer that really caught my attention early on was a Bass Pale Ale. What an experience that was: sometimes beer is brown! And bitter! What else is out there?

Today I enjoy porters and stouts, IPAs and bitters, Witbier, and Scotch ale. And that’s part of the fun of beer. It’s varied yet accessible. Casual yet complex. While wine can be intimidating, beer never is. That’s part of the fun of a beer tasting, and having an organized beer tasting is easy.

What to buy

Before you run out to your favorite store to buy beer, you must know your audience. Remember, the idea here is to introduce and try novel styles, but you don’t want to make that an unpleasant experience for your guests.

If your guests typically enjoy the aforementioned traditional American lager, consider lighter styles for your tasting. A lager like Hoponius Union is a great choice. Likewise, you’ll do well with a golden ale like Ipswich Summer Ale or a Born Yesterday Pale Ale from Lagunitas. The idea is that these “crossover” beers, as they’re called, are similar to what your guests like so as not to be a total turn-off, yet different enough to be compelling and interesting.

Conversely, if you’ve got some adventuresome palates on your guest list, adjust your shopping list accordingly. Find something really special to share. Or, maybe go with a themed tasting like “Oktoberfest” or “Refreshing Summer.”

Remember, too, that you don’t want to overwhelm your guests with too many flavors. Four or five options should be all you need.

Serving

Make sure there’s plenty of room in the refrigerator. Most beer likes to be upright and stored at about 45ºF, though there are exceptions. Unless you’re serving serious beer snobs, don’t worry too much about that. Just make sure the beer is cold by serving time.

Glassware can be important, depending on how much you want to get into it. It’s believed that certain glassware can enhance the experience of drinking various styles of beer, by trapping aromas and such. If you want to go for it, go for it. You’ll add to the fun. Honestly, for most beers and the people drinking it, plain old pint glasses will do fine. If you can, avoid paper or plastic cups.

Tasting

I recommend starting with the beer with the lowest percentage of alcohol by volume and moving toward the highest. Additionally, put your hoppiest beers toward the end, as they’re typically strong in flavor and can affect your ability to enjoy more subtle and nuanced offerings earlier in the tasting.

Lastly, have some food on hand. Bread and popcorn will help “cleanse the palate” between brews. Cheese goes well with beer, so a variety of cheeses might be a good idea, too.

Getting home safely

This may be obvious, but you are inviting people to travel to your home and drink alcohol. I recommend finding designated driver(s) and rewarding them with a gift of some sort. This way everyone is safe and the people who do the shuttling are rewarded for their part.

A beer tasting can be a lot of fun and educational. Expand you horizons a bit and try something you typically wouldn’t. Learn about the styles of beer and where they’re from. Finally, understand that a “beer expert” is simply a beer drinker with an opinion.

Organizing video games

I really enjoy video games. My favorite one is, “Where am I going to put all this bulky junk?” Wait, that’s real life and it’s far from being a fun game. Along with playing video games comes games boxes, consoles, controllers and more cables than you’d ever want to see spread like locust around the TV, the entertainment center, and the house at large. If you’re a gamer, the following advice may help you to tame the swarm and organize your video games and accessories.

Game boxes

Games sold on physical media (that is to say, not games downloaded from a digital app store) typically come in decorative plastic boxes. They’re stackable, uniform in size, and clearly labeled with the game’s title. Still, finding the one game you want can be a hassle. Here’s what we do at home to keep things straight.

  1. Put all game discs in their proper boxes. It’s so easy to grab a disc and pop it into the nearest box, saying, “Eh, I’ll put it in the right box later.” In my experience, “later” never comes. Take the extra few seconds to store the game properly. Make sure you eject any disc in your console/computer before you begin this task.
  2. Spread out all of the boxes on a large table or even the floor.
  3. Sort alphabetically. Put all games starting with “A” in one pile, “B” in another and so on. And then again within each pile, “Marvel Nemesis” precedes “Medal of Honor.”
  4. Find a home for the alphabetized lot. In our house, we line them up on a shelf like books, but you might find it easier to put them in a box or drawer based on your space.

Those with a lot of games may want to sort by category. For example, after step two above, sort games by type: shooter, racing, educational, etc. Then do the ABC sort. Next, make labels for wherever you store the boxes so you can jump right to the category you’re searching and so it’s easier to put the discs away after use.

Game controllers and accessories

This is most likely where things get messy in your home, at least it’s that way in mine. Controllers are bulky and vary quite a bit. Some have wires, some don’t. Many have replaceable batteries, others don’t. Certain models must be charged regularly and/or require protective cases.

Storage

Video games are often played by kids, so a kid-friendly shelf is a good way to go if this is the situation in your home. An easily accessible shelf puts devices within reach and also out of the way. (A basic, no-frills option on Amazon, if you’re interested.) I also like wall-mounted models, as they’re one less thing on the floor and can hide cords more successfully than a shelf.

There are personalized game controller tubs on Etsy, which are cool, and look great while keeping unwieldy controllers in one place. Additionally, Instructables has a tutorial for wall-hanging your controllers, which is well done.

Charging

As nice as these solutions are, they don’t account for devices that need to be charged. A hidden drawer is a great way to go, as you can charge up the devices without having to look at them in the meantime. You may need to drill a hole in the back of the drawer for cables, if there isn’t enough space to run the cables currently. A converted storage box is another great-looking and effective option.

Game consoles

Xboxes, Playstations, Wiis, and other gaming towers are usually bulky and are stored on a shelf of the media center. There aren’t many options when it comes to disguising them while keeping them useful, however, there are some things you can do to keep them from being an eye sore.

First, keep them clean. A game console is just a powerful computer, and as such they give off a lot of heat. Make sure they’re stored so that all vents are unblocked. Additionally, dust them periodically as a build-up will hinder heat dispersion.

Keep cords in the rear separate. Twist-ties work very well here, and labeled ties are even better for keeping your cables organized.

Try to keep them clear of areas with heavy foot traffic or bounding pets. Gaming systems really don’t like to be suddenly flung onto the floor.

Really, the best thing to do is to get all of the gamers in your house into the habit of cleaning up after saving the universe, offing a zombie, or rescuing the princess. It only takes a minute and is a lot more fun than playing “Now Where Did I Put That?”

How to organize a book sale

I can still remember the very first book I bought with my own money. It was Stephen King’s Thinner, which I paid for with money from my paper route. Since then — and that was quite a while ago — I’ve continued to acquire books at an alarming rate.

Today, I buy both paper and digital books and enjoy them all. The former can take up a lot of room, though, and I shudder at the thought of throwing a book away unless it’s significantly damaged. As a result, I end up selling or giving away most of the books I’m never going to read again so they don’t clutter up my shelves. (And we’ve talked about giving away books numerous times on the site, so today I just want to focus on selling them in a book sale.)

Like many people, I have a difficult time letting go of books. Some books are like old friends. Have you ever come across a title you read years ago, and find yourself suddenly smiling and reminiscing? I sure have. That sentimental connection has the possibility of making the parting that much harder, but, instead of letting it, I use it as motivation for purging. I recognize that a lthe next person who has the book will experience that same feeling. Knowing I’m sharing that emotional response with someone else makes the parting easier.

Next, sort the books you have that you plan to sell: author, genre, etc. At this stage it can be fun to invite others to participate, like neighbors, family, or friends. A joint book sale or a large donation can be a lot of fun.

Pricing the books is your next activity. There are a few things to keep in mind here, like condition, paperback vs. hardcover, and original price. Grab yourself some pricing stickers, or simply make a sign that covers what you’ve got, like, “Hardcovers $2, paperbacks $1.” Looking on Amazon.com at the used book prices from non-Amazon sellers can also give you a good idea of how much people are willing to pay for specific titles.

Displaying your wares offers more challenges than you might think. People want to get a good look at what you’ve got, so if you stack your books neatly, expect potential customers to root around and mess them up. Lay them out on a table so the cover can be seen and the book easily picked up. Also, think like a book store and put your best options aside with a label like “Our Picks” to draw attention to them.

Will you offer volume discounts? I recently attended a book sale at my local library, where I found several old Star Trek paperbacks for $2 each. I offered to take the lot, which got the price down to a buck a book. If you goal is to offload a large number of books, this could be the way to go.

Finally, have a plan for the leftovers and the money you make. Many libraries will take book donations for their own book sales. Also, you may decide you want to donate the profits from your sale to your local library or another good cause to help you fight the urge to spend your profits on even more books to fill your shelves. Good luck with your book sale or giveaway and remember, you’re giving the next person the opportunity to fall in love with that title, too.

Storing a casual comic book collection

My 10-year-old has taken to comic books in a big way. I never had more than a passing interest as a kid, but my son is a fan. What was once a very small collection of a few issues on his dresser has become a full-on collection that needs organizing attention.

One note before I get too heavily into this topic: my son’s comic book collection bears no resemblance to the investment libraries that many older collectors have amassed over a longer period of time. For those folks, specialty materials and practices are required. In this article, I’m talking about a casual collection that’s maintained for fun. I’m not talking about a super rare Batman comic that’s worth a pile of dough. In my case, these are low-cost comic books that a kid wants to read and show off to friends. A few steps will keep them enjoyable for years to come.

Bags and boards

Even for casual collections, I recommend keeping your comics in protective bags. These thin, plastic coverings will keep books safe from spills, dirt, and grimy “kid hands.” The three most common materials for bags are mylar, polyethylene, and polypropylene. For my uses, polyethylene bags are fine. Reserve mylar bags for your more costly comics ($30+).

Boards slip into a bag with the comics themselves and help prevent bending and corner wear. Just like with the bags, there are several types of boards. For a casual collection, I’d recommend .24 millimeter basic boards. They’re inexpensive and will do the job. Again, if the comic is more valuable, use a better grade of cardboard.

Boxes for storage

Find some good, acid-free storage boxes and be careful about where you store them. A damp basement is a bad idea for storing cardboard. If you can find a storage spot that’s a moderate temperature with low humidity, you’ll be good. Also, make sure the box does not rest directly on the floor. Put it on a shelf, but not a high one. And don’t forget to mark the exterior of the box to list what’s inside.

Organizing systems

How the comics are organized inside the box is up to the user, but instilling a system will definitely save its user time retrieving and returning comics to the storage box. A trip to a few comic book stores might provide ideas for how to organize the issues. Could easily organize by publisher and then subdivide by series and issue number. If the collection is small, could organize by year or series only. And, in addition to bags and boxes, you can also buy dividers and label them to make the organizing system obvious.

Favorites

If you or your kid likes to haul a handful of favorite comics around to enjoy or share with friends, you might wish to invest in a comic notebook. The harder cover helps to protect the comics inside of it. This is also a great option for people who only have a few comics and wish to store them on a bookshelf.

Open vs. hidden storage

I recently saw a video where Adam Savage from Mythbusters shared his homemade tool storage rack. Savage is someone who needs open storage. As he said:

I tend to find that … drawers are where things go to die. Drawers are evil.

Toolboxes, drawers — you put something in there, something else gets on top of them, and you never see it again. Or in the case of drawers, it goes back to the back of the thing, and it’s just gone.

He’s far from alone — many people work best with open storage. If you’re one of them, the following are examples of tools that may work better than drawers.

Pegboards

Of course pegboards work nicely in the garage for tools. If there’s no wall to put one on, you can use a pegboard cart.

Pegboards can work nicely in other rooms, too. Julia Child famously had one for her pots and pans. But they can also hold craft supplies, kitchen tools, and much more.

Magnetic options

Magnetic knife racks are one way to use magnets for open storage. But magnetic racks (or dots) can also be used to hold tools.

Joseph Joseph makes magnetic measuring spoons that can be kept out on a refrigerator or other metal surface.

Magnetic clips can also be helpful. The Endo clips can hold up to a pound, allowing all sorts of things to be stored on a metal surface.

Miscellaneous wall-mounted storage tools

Uten.silo and the smaller Uten.silo II are great (if expensive) examples of wall-mounted organizers. But you can find less expensive options, such as products from Urbio.

Another option is something like the Strap from Droog: an elastic belt that keeps things in place and very visible. Loopits is a similar product.

In the kitchen, rail systems can work nicely.

Shelves and cubbies

For some people, dresser drawers just don’t work. If hangers aren’t an option, shelves or cubbies can be used for clothes storage.

Office organizers

Instead of using a pencil drawer, you might choose one of the many neat desktop organizers available for holding pencils, pens, scissors, etc.

And a filing cart may work better than a filing cabinet.

Gift giving to collectors

Many people have some sort of collection, and I’m one of them. The collection began after I moved into my house, many years ago, and found that the pond in my front yard attracted some very vocal frogs. Now I look forward to the time each year when their croaking fills my nights.

Along the way, I began to acquire some art and décor pieces with a frog theme — along with a couple sweatshirts. I now have about a dozen frog-related items in the house. But that doesn’t mean I want gifts of even more frogs. I’m not totally opposed to additional frogs, but I don’t want the house to be overwhelmed with them, either. And I’m fussy about my frogs.

My brother, sister-in-law, and I were recently in Florida for my dad’s birthday, and one morning we did some window-shopping in an area filled with interesting stores. My sister-in-law kept pointing out the frog-themed items — fortunately, she was just teasing me.

So take this as a reminder that not everyone with a collection will want gifts that add to that collection. Some will appreciate well-chosen additions, but others prefer to do the collecting themselves, and some are looking only for very particular items. Erin, for example, limits her collection of Mold-A-Rama animals by only buying them herself.

To avoid unwanted gifts, some people with collections just don’t tell anyone about that collection. (That works well for collections that are not on public display in the home.) I’ve been told that one organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area told people she collected warthogs because that discouraged collection-minded gift-givers. But that was before the time when you could find almost anything for sale on the Internet!

But for the right person, an addition to the collection can be a welcome gift. Someone who collects Christmas ornaments, for example, might be glad to get a special one you’ve made yourself, found on a trip or at a craft fair, etc. Joyce Walder wrote in The New York Times about Bonnie Mackay and her 3,000 ornaments. (Each year, she places as many as she can on her very large tree.)

That Raggedy Andy on the tree is the first ornament a friend gave her; she had lost tracks of the friend, but the ornament kept his memory alive, and a few years ago, using the Internet, she was able to find him in Hawaii. It’s interesting, she says: no friend has ever given her an ornament she has not loved.

I had a neighbor who collected stamps and I frequently bought him additions to his collection. Not all stamp collectors would appreciate my random choices, but he did!

If you are at all in doubt, just ask your friends or relatives with collections how they feel about gifts that add to those collections. That way you’ll be able to give a gift that will be welcome, rather than one that’s just clutter.

Organize for outdoor winter exercise

It’s easy to let an exercise routine slide during the winter months. The weather gets unpleasant, there’s so much to do, and those holiday treats just won’t be denied. While we’re not opposed to a little holiday indulgence, we also know that a little forethought can keep you exercising, even outdoors.

The first and probably most important thing is to know how your body reacts to exercise in cold weather. For me, if I’m running or even walking fast when the air is below 50ºF, my lungs get quite uncomfortable. It’s a “burning” feeling that prompts me to end my workout early. To combat this tendency, I bought a neck warmer that goes around my mouth and nose. That way I’m breathing in warmer air.

The point here is to notice what your body says while you’re out there and make accommodations as best you can. Perhaps you feel cold when others don’t, or vice versa.

Gear to consider: neck warmer

Next, consider the shorter days. It gets dark quite quickly here in the northern hemisphere during the winter. In my Massachusetts neighborhood, December means it’s pitch dark by 5:00 p.m. Consider an earlier workout time. Many towns have community centers with lots of options for working out, too. Those who can’t change the hour they spend working out could use these facilities.

Gear to consider: head lamp

Consider the environment. This is winter, so expect rain, snow, and cold air. You’ll likely want to dress in layers and having a winter “workout kit” ready to go will keep you motivated. I know that I often don’t feel like working out…until I don my workout clothes. For an outer layer, consider something that’s lightweight, allows for freedom of movement and will dutifully stand between yourself and the elements.

Gear to consider: Sport-Tek Colorblock Hooded Raglan Jacket

Keep a gear bag. A single bag to hold all your winter exercise stuff will help you stay organized and never leave you wondering where your things are. Just be sure to repack it every time you return home and/or do laundry. One with a compartment for shoes might be perfect for you if you do a sport requiring specialized footwear.

Gear to consider: sports bag

Finally, make sure you’ve got your ID and a phone on yourself. If something goes wrong — a slip and fall — you’ll want to be able to get help. Since you’ll be out in inclement weather, a weatherproof phone case is a good idea.

Gear to consider: weatherproof phone case from Otterbox

With a little preparation and organization, you can successfully exercise outdoors this winter. Just keep your eyes open for ice or fallen branches and go slow if you must.