Tools for an organized sewing kit

Doing your own sewing repairs can save you some money and you’ll always be able to leave the house looking neat and tidy. You don’t need to be a seamstress or tailor or need a bunch of expensive equipment. This list outlines basic essentials. If you have some talent or training in sewing you may want to invest in more tools, but these are the minimal items necessary for most DIY repairs. If you prefer, you can buy a sewing kit that contains all of the basics. I would rather build my own kit, as I prefer left-handed scissors and I like to select my own colours of thread.

Scissors
Invest in quality scissors to be used only for sewing. I recommend two pairs: Dressmakers shears with 8″ (200mm) blades for cutting fabric and embroidery scissors that have blades about 3″ or 4″ (90mm) long for precision cutting and trimming. If you’re left-handed, buy left-handed shears. It will make sewing tasks much easier.

Using sewing scissors for paper and plastic will quickly dull the blades making it difficult to cut fabric. Use a marker or label to indicate that these scissors are to be used for sewing only.

Needles and Pins
Purchase a variety of needles in a one-at-a-time dispensing pack. You’ll have the needles you need and they’ll be organised too!

Pins should be straight and sharp with colourful heads that do not melt if you iron over them. Store the pins in a small plastic box or in a pincushion. Magnetised pin holders are handy for picking pins up from the floor but they do not protect your fingers from getting stabbed.

Safety pins, in a variety of sizes can be used for pinning things together that you may not have time to sew. They can also be used to help feed elastic or cord through waistbands and cuffs. You can hook them together into a long strand to keep them organized if you don’t have a storage container.

Thread
Purchase quality poly-cotton blend thread in a variety of colours that match the majority of your clothing. You should also buy an olive drab colour because it can be used on almost any dark material (blues, blacks, browns). There is a reason the army calls this colour “camouflage!” Good quality thread should have a smooth finish; fuzzy thread will tend to get caught while sewing and break easily if pulled too hard.

Seam Ripper
This is a tool with a sharp point, a blunt point and a sharp blade in the middle. If you stitch something in the wrong place, use a seam ripper to cut the stitches without cutting the fabric. It can also be used to remove buttons that are half hanging off and for cutting thread in areas that scissors won’t reach.

Measuring Tape
You should have a flexible measuring tape at least 150cm (60″) long with imperial measurements on one side and metric on the other. Fabric tape measures stretch slightly with heavy use so if yours is older, you may wish to replace it so that you have accurate measurements.

Iron, Ironing Board
Ironing removes the wrinkles and seams and presses folds neat and sharp making fabrics easier to sew. If you don’t have the space to store a full-sized ironing board, invest in an ironing pad. Also use a pressing cloth when ironing delicate items that might be damaged or those that have a special surface such as sequins or glitter. There is no need to purchase a special store bought pressing cloth, a lightweight cotton or linen dishtowel will do as long as it is clean, stain-free, and white as colours and stains may transfer to your fabric.

Hem Tape
Fusible hem tape is used with an iron to quickly hem skirts and pants. It is ideal if you don’t have matching thread available or if you’re in a hurry. Be careful when you iron as you might scorch delicate fabrics. It may lose its adhesiveness after multiple washings so stitching can reinforce it.

Buttons
Keep a variety of buttons handy in assorted colours and sizes to match the majority of your clothing. Keep them in a small, divided, plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Often the clothes you purchase will come with little packet of extra buttons so this little container is a great place to store those extra buttons.

Lighter
It never fails that in the rush to school and work in the morning, someone has a nylon backpack strap or shoelace that is unravelling. A quick flick of the lighter will melt the ends of synthetic straps so they won’t unravel. And if someone misplaces the lighter used for the birthday candles, you’ve always got a spare one in your sewing kit.

Container
Sewing tools need to be cared for just like any other tools. Keep them free from dirt and do not drop them. Store your sewing tools in a plastic bin or decorative basket. It can be plain or fancy, with or without handles. It should however, have a sturdy latch.

A funeral for riding boots

Maybe it’s because I keep my possessions to a minimum that I sometimes have difficulty parting with objects that have been a significant part of my life.

A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to a pair of riding boots. I’ve been an avid equestrienne for the better part of 30 years and I bought my first pair of REAL riding boots in 1986. I wore these boots in horse shows around the province and in clinics with Olympians. The boots helped me ride at various equestrian centres in nine different cities in four different provinces.

Finally, in June 2010, they broke beyond repair while in service at a local horse show. It was a difficult moment for me, realizing that I would have to say goodbye to these boots that had served me so well for so long.

In order to cope with the loss, I decided to have a funeral for the boots. I set up a Facebook event and invited my friends, many of whom I have ridden with over the years. At first I thought that they would think that I was crazy (and they may have a point) but most of my friends helped me make the event memorable. One of my friends quoted a poem from Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume 54, December 1876:

Farewell, old boots! a tender last farewell!
Inanimate, but mourned as if with souls
Instead of soles: I’ll find for you some dell
Where, though no bell for your requiem tolls.

I had a few other friends weigh in and admit that this event encouraged them to retire various objects: dance shoes, army boots, and paint brushes. One colleague wrote that it was “time to lay to rest ‘Wedding Glass’, the last surviving member of a set of glasses that outlived ‘Marriage’ by 21 years”. Of course there is always one clown in the bunch and he thanked me for the “booty call”!

All in all, it made me feel much better that I had given a public tribute to my riding boots that had served me so well in the past. I wrapped them tightly in a plastic bag and they were taken away in the “hearse” (garbage truck).

If you have items that you have difficulty parting with, try having a funeral or a tea party or even writing a letter to the item, explaining its importance in your life. Save the letters with pictures of the items either on your computer or in a scrap book. It helps to let your friends in on the deal. They can comfort you and make you laugh like no inanimate object ever could.

Know when to fold ’em

It is generally accepted that persistence is essential for success and happiness. However, in their research, two scientists found that the persistence of unattainable goals in certain cases can be a detriment to health and well-being, especially for adolescents.

What does this mean for parents? If you are pushing your children to continue an activity that they do not like or in which they are not interested, you are likely increasing their stress levels — and yours too!

Sometimes all it takes is for parents to assist their child in setting new goals. This may help the child re-engage in the activity with a renewed definition of success. However, if goal redefinition isn’t working, consider quitting the activity if:

  • the child complains constantly before, during, and after the activity;
  • the child is not advancing as fast as his/her peers and is frustrated;
  • you must constantly push the child to practice the activity;
  • the child does not speak about the activity with pride or excitement.

What about the money invested in the activity?

If you have paid for a session, you may want to finish it and explain to your child about obligations and commitment, especially if the child is playing on a team such as soccer or basketball and other people are depending upon your child. If you have paid in advance, whether or not you continue with the activity, your money is already spent. The question is, do you want to spend your time pushing your child to participate in an activity he or she doesn’t like? Your time and your health and those of your child are usually worth more than money. Review the situation, ask questions, and bail without guilt if that is what is right for you and/or your child.

Remember that saying “no” to something you don’t really enjoy means you’ll be able to say “yes” to something that you may really enjoy.

Store and organize board games

I love board games, especially those with lots of great-looking components. It’s fun to gather around the table, set everything up and have a great time with family and friends. What’s not fun about playing board gams is cleaning up.

A few years ago, we shared some tips for storing your board games and puzzles. Today, I’m going to expand on that post and share ideas on storing pieces to component-heavy roll playing games. Games in this category often ship with several decks of cards, many dice, miniatures and “bits” as I call them, referring to the small game pieces that don’t fit into any of the preceding categories.

Plan Ahead

Opening a new game for the first time can be fun. My kids and I love to see what we got in each new box. Enjoy that excitement, but make mental notes at the same time. For instance, many games arrive with components that need to be punched out before play. They won’t lay nice and flat after you do that. Also, note if there’s a lot of one type of component: cards, dice, figures, bits. This will help you decided on what to use when it’s time to pack up.

Finally, consider the insert(s). Will all your stuff fit back in the box neatly or is there real potential for a jumbled pile? Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to pick a re-packing strategy.

Solutions

Card bags. These are sold in a variety of sizes to accommodate cards from nearly any game. Bags Unlimited sells several varieties, from bags meant to hold a single card to those sized for whole sets. Several colors are available, too, which might help you remember which cards go with which game. Amazon also sells large sets very inexpensively. Also, using protective bags is a good idea for paper items if you store your games in a damp basement.

Zip-top Bags This one’s pretty obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway. Larger Ziplock bags can be used to store all sorts of components. Push the air out before resealing to reduce the amount of space they consume in the box.

35mm Film Canisters Remember these? They’re insanely useful once you’ve removed the film. Use a canister to store bits, dice, or other small and easily-lost pieces. Label the lid for easy reference.

Nuts and Bolts Drawers These storage drawers offer many little drawers for components (there are 25 on this one) that are easily labeled with a label maker. Consider keeping it out if you have a dedicated gaming area, or pack it away with the rest of your game materials. Go for one with see-through drawers for additional ease of use.

Custom Foam Board The interior of many game boxes store pieces perfectly in their shipping state. That often changes once you’ve played. You can buy some inexpensive foam board from a craft store and cut it to make custom compartments inside the game box. It’s easiest to trace the box on a piece of paper first, layout the components and figure out how it would work. Then measure, cut and insert! Your box is now perfectly capable of storing everything neatly.

Small Tupperware with Lids Get those little bowls you used for snacks when the kids were small out of the kitchen drawer and repurpose them for game pieces. I even use these during gameplay to keep bits from getting strewn across the table. When my son and I play The Legend of Drizzt, we store the tiny hit point tokens and other small items in these bowls on the table. That way they’re easy to find and grab as needed. Volitive candle holders work for tabletop storage, too.

There are several suggestions to keep your game pieces organized and neat. Not only that, it saves on wear and tear of the pieces. Components that don’t jostle around stay looking nice longer. Some of these games are expensive, and pieces are difficult or impossible to replace.

Now if you’re really ambitious, check out this custom solution built entirely of LEGO. I am blown away.

Ask Unclutterer: Storing hockey equipment in a condo

Reader Jen submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My boyfriend and I live in a small-ish condo in Toronto. I’m working very hard on decluttering our home, but one thing I have no idea what to do with is his hockey equipment. Half of our spare room is full of hockey gear, and I’m not sure where to put it. We have no available closet or storage space. Have you seen any creative ideas on how to store hockey gear in small apartments?

Every once in a while, a question comes into my inbox that stumps me completely. I know nothing about hockey or what equipment it requires beyond a stick and a puck and skates. My initial thoughts are that going vertical, and using wall space would be very helpful … but I’m only guessing.

This is one of those times I want to let the readers with experience give advice for how to store hockey gear in an organized fashion. Please, fill the comments with your helpful insights. I’m extremely interested in reading your advice, too.

Thank you, Jen, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I’m hopeful our readers will be able to help.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing for next year’s summer events

Summertime is perfect for catching up on outdoor chores, but having fun is probably what everyone (mostly) thinks about. For those of us in the United States, Labor Day (this year it falls on Sept. 3) gives us an opportunity for one final summer celebration before cooler temperatures are ushered in with the start of fall. Many people try their hand at being a grill master for the day and test out new recipes and grilling techniques. Some take road trips or one last visit to the beach.

No matter the activity, by putting things in order at the end of this season, you’ll find everything you need when warmer temperatures arrive next year. Focus on some basic rules of thumb so you can avoid hour-long searches to find your stuff, like …

Keep similar items together

You’ve heard this one before and there’s a reason you hear it so often. It’s perhaps the one rule that, if you stick to it, will help you save time so you can get on with the business of having fun. When everything you need for a specific activity (bike, helmet, knee pads, tire gauge, and pump together; grill cleaning brush, tongs, and skewers together) is in one location, you will find what you want quickly and see what things are broken and need fixing or replacing. Once you’ve gathered all your supplies together, they should be kept in the same location all the time (just like you always keep your keys, wallet, and mobile phone in the same spot). Labeling storage spaces can help, too.

Replace needed items immediately

Those broken items or the ones that just don’t work the way you would like them to? Replace them now if you regularly use the items. If you wait until next year, you’re likely to be suprised (not pleasantly) when it’s time to use them. Keep a running list of things you need to buy and take it with you on your next shopping trip. Stick to your list so you don’t overbuy. Try not to give in to the temptation of getting things that you’re not certain you’ll actually use (is it possible your plans just might change?). Wait on those items and come up with a game plan first. And, donate/recycle/trash the items that you no longer want.

Remember to replenish your first-aid kits as well. Not only will you need them year-round (in your car and in several rooms in your home), but you’ll also want to have a kit ready in the bags you use for your summer events (picnics, trips to the zoo, sporting events, etc.). Don’t forget to stock up on first-aid supplies for your pets, too.

Use checklists to help you remember

Create an “end of summer” list to remind you of all the things you need to do to wrap up the season and get ready for the next. Group your tasks by category (camping, gardening, marathon/race) so you can focus easily on each section before moving on to the next. For example, if hiking is on your list, it might include:

  • Clean hiking boots
  • Put boots with other hiking gear
  • Purchase new socks and liners
  • Create a communication plan
  • Start training routine to prepare for trip (add start date)

What you put on your checklist will be specific to you and the things you like doing. It should include all the gear you need (what’s a trip to the park without your favorite frisbee or a picnic with a half empty basket or a lawn concert without a comfy chair?) as well as any special requirements (season pass to the water park, parking pass for the football game). After creating your checklist, keep it with the items it belongs with or in a “summer activities” (paper or electronic) file so you can keep using it each year.

Put special events on your calendar now

Get ready for next year’s events by entering on your calendar those that you attend annually or new ones that you want to go to (or host). Doing this will help plan your activities and to narrow down the things you can realistically do based on your available time and budget. You’ll also see if you need to enlist the help of others.

Planning and organizing fun summer activities can give you something to look forward to next year without the hassle and pain of never-ending searches for the things you need. And, there’s still time to take care of many of this summer’s chores that you haven’t gotten to yet. Take a look at our tips on how to organize your:

Getting a handle on your craft supplies

Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, in her guest post today shares her seasoned, practical advice for keeping hobby supplies from taking over your home. Welcome, Janine!

Let’s face it, a lot of the fun of doing a craft and/or hobby is buying the supplies. But, if you spend more time buying supplies than actually creating things with them, you can have a storage and organization problem on your hands. (Supplies can even pile up on the most diligent crafter.)

If your craft area becomes overwhelmingly cluttered, it can do a number on your creative spirit. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can try this approach to gain control of your craft space–and create space to craft.

  • Contemplate categories: The key to organizing your craft space, in my experience, is to store everything in categories that make sense to you. Think of your favorite craft store. How do they organize their products? Perhaps you can replicate that category system in your own home. For example, I’m a knitter and I organize my yarn by weight, except certain yarn that I organize by fiber. (It makes sense to me and might not make sense to others, but that doesn’t really matter.)
  • Sort everything: Once you’ve decided on your categories, start sorting your supplies into those categories. You may end up modifying your categories a little, and that’s okay. If you run into unfinished projects, you can create a category for those, too. But do give some thought as to whether you’ll actually ever finish them. Why did you run out of steam on a certain project in the first place? If you don’t realistically think you’ll ever finish a project, perhaps you can deconstruct it and sort the components into their appropriate categories?
  • Weed mercilessly: You’ll have more space to craft if you have fewer supplies to store. Are there some supplies lurking there that no longer appeal to you? Perhaps your tastes have changed? Heck, there may be whole categories of crafts that you no longer do. Consider letting them go so they can be used by others.
  • Decide on containers: It’s so tempting to buy containers right away, but if you do it before the sorting and weeding process, you might end up with less-than-optimal storage solutions. Don’t limit your search to organizing and craft stores. You might find storage ideas at a sporting-goods store (I store my circular knitting needles in a tackle binder used for fishing, for instance), an office-supply store or a housewares store. IKEA is full of possibilities. Pinterest can be a great place to find innovative storage solutions. Also, check out the Creative Organizing blog of my friend and fellow professional organizer, Aby Garvey, co-author of the fabulous book The Organized and Inspired Scrapbooker.
  • Shop at home: Now that you have an organized craft space, you can save money and effort by using what you have, rather than going to the craft store. All that thought you gave to your categories can really come in handy when you shop your stash!

Small spaces: Custom closet using Ikea bookshelves

One of my favorite places for small living inspiration is Ikea Hackers. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a collection of reader-submitted modifications to pieces of furniture from Ikea. The hacks range from relatively small (like adding paint to a Lack table) to extremely involved (like turning a Spar butcher block into an electric guitar). The site has been around since 2006 and is teeming with ways to personalize Ikea furniture.

Earlier this month, the site featured Regina’s amazing closet for her itty bitty Swedish apartment. Under what I think is her lofted bed, she has five modified Expedit bookcases (in the 2×2 configuration) that she added a piece of wood to the base and then attached four casters to the bottom of the piece of wood. In the U.S., these Expedit shelving units are just $40 a piece and the Besta casters are $10 for two, so the whole system probably cost less than $350 to create, which isn’t bad for a custom closet that could easily cost four times this price. Visuals from the article:

The rolling bookcases not only hold her clothes, but also her hobby supplies (such as the sewing machine and fabric stash pictured above) and other necessities for her apartment. I like that she can roll the sewing Expedit directly to her sewing table, and then roll it all back into the closet when she’s done. The storage system is ideal for this small space, and I think could easily be utilized in other homes — small or large.

Note: There are casters that are specifically made to hold the Expedit bookcase, but they stick out beyond the base of the bookshelf, so you can’t nest the shelves directly next to each other. They’re also $5 more for two casters, which adds $50 to the cost of casters, but gets rid of the need to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of each bookcase. If you don’t need the items to nest next to each other, the Expedit casters might be a good alternative for you.

If you are unfamiliar with Ikea Hackers, spend some time perusing it for even more ideas. Most of the hacks are inexpensive and easy to do.

Images by Regina as posted to IkeaHackers, and thanks to reader Shalin for bringing this closet to our attention.

Unfinished business

The inbox on my desk is currently overflowing. I returned from traveling two weeks ago, dumped a stack of must-complete paperwork out of my briefcase and into the inbox, and immediately started to ignore the mess I’d made. The inbox ceased to be an inbox and became a Black Hole of Forgotten Items.

The situation with my inbox is similar to how most messes begin in our house and in my work. When a mess occurs it is usually because:

  1. I’m in the process of doing something and am interrupted before I can finish the action. For example, I’ll be sorting through the mail, the phone will ring, I’ll set the mail down when I go to answer the phone, and a week later I’ll find a stack of old mail sitting in whatever strange location I dumped it.
  2. I don’t take the time to do something properly because I don’t really want to work on the entire task. I’ll do the enjoyable or easy part (dump all the paperwork into the inbox), but stop short of taking care of the problem (processing the paperwork).
  3. I start a task when it’s impossible to finish the task because of time limitations or situation. For example, I’ll check my voicemail when I’m sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office — I might be able to listen to one or two messages before the nurse calls me out of the waiting room, but I certainly don’t have time nor is it appropriate for me to return any of the calls right then.

Once a mess has started, I’ll either become immune to it (stepping over the unpacked luggage each time I go to the washing machine) or feel stress and anxiety about it (I have so much to do! Did I remember to write down that I have to call Margaret back?). My space is cluttered and my thoughts are often cluttered, too, simply because I didn’t finish what I had started.

Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with most of these messes before they happen. A few sneak up from time-to-time, as has happened with my inbox this January, but I tend to have fewer messes in my life because the mess never gets started. Here are many of the things I do to prevent the mess:

  • Limit interruptions. It is impossible to prevent all interruptions, but you can reduce them. Turn off the ringer on your phone or set it to “Do Not Disturb.” Turn off new message notification sounds on your computer and mobile devices. Put a sign on your office door or hang a sign in an obvious place of your cubical requesting that you not be disturbed except for emergencies for a limited time period. If corporate culture permits, wear earphones even if you aren’t listening to music. Hire a babysitter for a few hours to watch your children while you tackle a project that requires focus at home.
  • At work and at home, create standardized to-do lists and routines. In case you have to abandon a project, you’ll at least cycle back through it the following day and finish it then. Also, get in the habit of writing everything down in a central location — on your mobile phone or in a day planner or a notebook.
  • Before starting any important task, ask yourself, “Do I have enough time and is the situation appropriate for me to complete this task?” If you don’t have enough time to finish a project, ask yourself, “Do I at least have enough time to do what I can and clean up before moving onto something else and leave things so the project does get finished?” If you answer “no” to both these questions, don’t start working on something.
  • If you can do something right now, do it. When returning home from vacation, immediately unload your dirty clothes directly into the washing machine and unpack the rest of your luggage within minutes of walking in the door. If you can file a piece of paperwork as quickly as it would take you to drop it into your inbox, simply file the piece of paperwork.
  • Avoid having catch-all drawers, bins, and bags. If you’re going to need something from the catch-all container, it’s best to have the items organized in a way so that dumping all the contents onto the floor isn’t the easiest way to find something. Large toy chests are horrible because kids have to dump out all the toys to find the one item they want.
  • Create kits. Kits can sometimes lead to duplicate items (you may end up owning four pairs of scissors), but they’re extremely useful in that all of the things you need to accomplish a task are easily accessed and easily stored after use. Sewing kits, gift wrapping kits, scrapbooking kits, house-cleaning kits, car-cleaning kits, etc., make doing certain tasks more efficient and less messy.

What do you do to prevent messes from starting in your home and office? How do you always finish what you start? Share your strategies in the comments.

How to preserve photographs worth keeping in three simple steps

Today’s post is written by Sally Jacobs, the Practical Archivist. She has worked on archival collections at the Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division, the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives and American Girl. Thank you, Sally, for agreeing to share your amazing, in-depth knowledge of archival procedures with us.

Before I start talking about preserving heirloom photographs so they last as long as possible, I want to state the obvious: Every photograph in your collection is not an heirloom. In fact, some (most?) of them are photo clutter. If you’re in the process of sorting through your pictures to determine which ones are keepers and which ones aren’t, I recommend checking out the YouTube video I made to help free people from the myth that every print is a treasure. Now, on with the discussion of what to do with the pictures you want to keep …

Ancestor photos are less likely be photo clutter in your home, in part because they are more scarce then modern snapshots. Photography used to be much more expensive than it is today, which means Great Aunt Estelle didn’t have many throwaway shots. Perhaps your collection only includes one portrait of Great Great Uncle Milton — as a soldier or in his wedding suit — but even if it’s just one, you probably want to treat it well. (If you don’t want to keep the old ones, consider passing them along to a genealogist or DeadFred.com.) In addition to these older photographs, you may also have a handful of newer portraits you want to preserve, and this is the best way to keep all of them safe:

Three Simple Things You Can Do to Extend the Life of Your Heirloom Photographs

1. Handle your photos carefully and safely.

Ever wonder why archivists wear white gloves? I use mine so often I wash them and store them in my underwear drawer. Human hands contain oils and salts that can damage photographs, and cotton gloves are an easy barrier to protect photographs. If you’ve seen as many 19th century photos as I have, you’d never forget that a fingerprint that’s invisible today will eventually become an impossible-to-ignore brown stain in the future. White cotton gloves are a simple and inexpensive solution. You can buy them online from suppliers like Uline.com.

If you truly can’t stand to wear gloves while you work on your photographs, I have an alternate suggestion. Wash your hands with soap before you start working, and be sure to wash them again after you take any break. Also, don’t put on hand lotion until you’re finished working with your photos for the day. Other than that, be careful where you place your fingers and try to hold prints by the edges only.

2. Store them in the right spot.

I’ll skip the long boring lecture about temperature and relative humidity and cut to the chase. Like Goldilocks, you want a spot that’s not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, and not too dry. High temperatures speed up the chemical processes that cause damage. Here’s a sobering thought: The rate of decay doubles with each increase of 18ºF. Doubles! High humidity like you find in basements and attics encourages mold and mildew, which can permanently stain and destroy photographs. Fluctuating humidity can cause the photos to crack because the paper backing and the emulsion absorb moisture at different rates. Basements and attics are also at high risk for flooding, and we all know flooding is bad news for any kind of treasure.

So, what’s the right spot? An interior closet in a house that’s cooled in summer and heated in winter is a safe bet. Guest bedrooms and linen closets under stairs work for many of my clients. Under the bed can be a great location, as long as you aren’t putting your photo treasures next to a heating vent.

3. Choose high quality boxes for a longer life

Controlling temperature and humidity levels to a specific zone can be difficult and expensive to accomplish. Fortunately, you can offset what’s going on in a room by putting your photo treasures in archival boxes. This creates a micro-environment that offers protection from UV light damage, dust, and discourages pests. You can even use silica gel to remove excess moisture from the “micro-environment” of your box. Boxing up anything that is loose also protects your photos from folding, crimping, and collecting scratches that happen when a corner of one photo nicks off emulsion from a nearby print.

When I say better boxes, do I mean archival boxes? Well, yes and no…

Yes, in the sense that you want to use the kind of boxes used by professional archivists. But, also no, because the term archival is unregulated and therefore meaningless. Finding a product sold as archival tells you very little about whether it’s a safe environment for your photo treasures. You probably know already that acids will damage paper and photographs. However, a true archival box is both acid free and lignin free. Lignins are a by-product of the paper-making process, and if they aren’t removed they will cause the paper to become acidic over time, even if it’s acid free today.

When it comes to storing photographic prints and film (as opposed to letters and printed material) there is another factor you should consider for your storage materials. The safest boxes for storing photographs have passed the Photographic Activity Test, or PAT. This test is an independent third party test that uses accelerated aging to discover whether the box or envelope will interact with the photographs in any way. You can read more about the PAT in “What Archival Really Means,” an article/rant on my personal blog.

Where can you find PAT-passed materials? Probably not at your neighborhood stationery store or scrapbooking supplier. You can find boxes, envelopes and folders that have passed the PAT in a dizzying array of sizes from archival suppliers such as Gaylord.com, HollingerMetalEdge.com and TalasOnline.com. I also sell an entire kit on my website, if you don’t want to track down individual pieces. (Note from Erin: It’s a nice kit, it’s actually why I asked Sally if she wanted to write a guest post for us. I saw it and thought, “I could really use that.”) If you do right by your photographs, they’ll be around for future generations to enjoy.

And, since this week is Thanksgiving in the U.S., I recommend bringing along copies of your old photos to family gatherings — you can ask relatives to help you identify any unknown people and also enjoy looking at the images.

Safely store guitars and other stringed instruments with a Guitar-Stor

We have a number of musical instruments in our house. Due to humidity concerns, we like to keep them stored in their cases year-round. What then, to do with the big, clunky cases?

Rather than hiding them under a bed, which would be inconvenient since we actually play the instruments regularly, we keep them rested on a Guitar-Stor rack where they are easily within reach. It keeps the cases from scratching the walls and it looks nice in our living room where we practice.

The other really nice thing about the unit is that you can rest guitars directly on it without their cases. This is convenient when you’re practicing, or when you have a number of friends over to pick. And, even if you leave a guitar on the Guitar-Stor rack for an extended period of time, you don’t have to worry about the foam padding marring the finish, as the manufacturer uses a custom-formulated EPDM/neoprene synthetic blend for the padding that touches the instrument (this is important because open cell and and/or organic materials such as those found in natural rubber and surgical tubing are susceptible to outgassing, which can damage guitar finishes)

The racks come in several styles and finishes. We opted for the basic MDF model in black, for a more contemporary look. In this configuration, the Guitar-Stor is priced at $475. The company also offers more elaborate models in both cherry and walnut finishes with hardwood construction.

The manufacturer’s website only shows guitars on the Guitar-Stor rack, but you can see from the photo taken in our house that we have no trouble storing cases for both mandolins and violins on the rack.

These Guitar-Stor racks are not an inexpensive solution, but they are very well-built. We think it’s a small price to pay if you have expensive guitars that you want to keep safely out of the way when not in use.

Don’t let maybe-one-day items become clutter in your home

Reusing objects is a tricky matter for people, like myself, who struggle with clutter. Our initial instinct is to save an item so we can reuse it (I’m being frugal! I’m helping the environment!). However, if the object is never repurposed, it becomes clutter. The most common examples of this are plastic tubs for food stuffs like cottage cheese, sour cream, and margarine. We save the tubs thinking we’ll reuse them to send leftovers home with dinner guests. And, there may be one or two times in our lives when a tub is used for such a situation, but mostly these tubs make a mess of a kitchen drawer or cabinet for years or even decades.

I’m thoroughly impressed by people who save items planning to reuse them, and then actually reuse the item creatively and within a reasonable amount of time. When done in this manner, reuse can be a wonderfully uncluttered, frugal, and environmentally friendly way to live.

The article “22 Ways to Reuse an Altoids Tin” on The Art of Manliness website is an inspiring look at all the ways an empty Altoids tin can cease being clutter. If you’ve been holding onto a tin thinking you’re going to reuse it one day, maybe a survival kit or pocket tackle box or morse code oscillator is in your future:

If Altoids tins aren’t filling up your drawers, maybe you are looking for a way to turn a cigar box into a guitar or wanting to find another purpose for those margarine tubs? Old coffee cans have numerous uses and so do used corks.

Don’t let maybe-one-day items clutter up your space. Either drop them in the recycling bin right now, or get started on a reuse project that will keep the item from being clutter in your home.