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.

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.

Uses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.