Five things to keep in your car

A few years ago we published an article about keeping your car organized. We stand by that advice, but want to expand on it. Instead of just ways to keep your car organized, consider these five things you might wish to keep in the car. Some will keep you organized, others keep you on the road, while one item may be able to save your life.

First aid kit

First aid kits are fairly inexpensive and readily available. If you don’t want one that is premade, consider a DIY setup. Get ahold of something like a fishing tackle box and fill it with items the Red Cross recommends.

It’s not a bad idea to take CPR/first aid classes, either.

A window smasher

Unless you’re a Hollywood action hero, the glass used in car windows is very hard to break. Keep a window smasher in the glove box or center console. Find one with a built-in seatbelt cutter, like one by LifeHammer or GOOACC. Again, make sure it’s stored within reach of the driver’s seat (it’s useless in the trunk) and that all potential drivers know how to use it.

Emergency road assistance kit

Breaking down is always a bummer, but if you do it’s nice to be prepared. A good kit from AAA includes a flashlight, batteries, booster cables, and more. Toss in a blanket in case you break down in cold weather and some road flares and you’re good. Also, ensure your car has a charger for your phone, because for some reason trouble loves to happen just as your cell phone battery dies.

Bonus item: If you have room in the trunk of your car, a portable floor jack is a useful device. They are so much faster, effective, and easier to operate than the flimsy jacks that ship with most cars.

Shoe organizer

To keep items off seats and the car floor, consider hooking a small shoe organizer over the back of the front passenger’s seat to hold snacks, water, maps, tissues, napkins, or whatever else you regularly store in the cab of your car.

The manual

If you’re like me, you gave your car’s manual a look on the day you brought your car home, tossed it in the glove box, and erased its existence from your mind entirely. It’s really full of useful stuff like how to connect your Bluetooth devices, what the light on the dashboard means, and which kind of oil to use — all advice that can save you time and energy in the future.

Now, these things are bulky and heavy, so keep that in mind. Still, if you can make it work, do it. They’re awesome.

Now that your car is tidy, add the essentials and happy motoring.

Organize a staycation

A regular weekend or an extended one can be a great time to have a staycation — a vacation where you enjoy the sights and activities that are found in and around your hometown. If this sounds like something you’d like to try, the following post describes how to organize for a great staycation and includes several ideas to get you started.

Make a list of what not to do on your staycation

First and foremost, you’ll want to make your staycation feel like a vacation as much as possible. While it’s true that a staycation isn’t the same as a zero-responsibility stay in a remote hotel, it can be a restorative and enjoyable time. To that end, you’ll want to limit your typical day-to-day responsibilities as much as possible, including:

  1. TV
  2. Time spent staring at phones
  3. Laundry
  4. Worrying about this and that
  5. Cooking
  6. Excessive cleaning

Create a list or a set of rules as to what you won’t do on your staycation to help you better define what you will be doing. Having this reminder will be exceptionally important if you will have other people participating in the staycation.

Plan activities

Since you’ll be staying at home, you might be tempted to think you can pull off a nice staycation without planning. “We live here, I know what’s around.” But time spent planning what you’ll do, how much money you’ll need, acquiring tickets, etc. will pay off in the long run and help you to feel more like you’re on a real vacation.

If you have kids and they’re old enough to have opinions, get them in on the planning discussion. If the ideas are really flowing, write them on strips of paper and stick them in a jar. Then draw one (or more) to determine what you’ll do each day. Create a staycation calendar to hang up or distribute, so everyone will know the plan.

Plan meals

It’s a staycation after all, so make necessary reservations and go out to dinner. If going out isn’t your style, gather menus from favorite spots or places that deliver. If you’re not interested in eating out, prepare freezer meals ahead of time that can be prepared with minimum effort and mess during your staycation.

Take care of small details

In the days leading up to your staycation, make sure laundry is caught up, outstanding school projects are done, and the house is tidy, so you can enjoy your staycation without those burdens. Be sure to mark these on the calendar so you actually get these things done ahead of time.

Staycation ideas

One activity my 11 year old came up with is an ice cream tour. Each day, we’ll drive to a new spot, try out what they’ve got and take photos as well as our reviews of what we try. Not the most healthful staycation idea, but definitely one everyone in our family would enjoy.

What is your area known for? So often we don’t do the fun, “touristy” things in our own back yards. For example, I lived on Cape Cod, Massachusetts for 21 years before taking a seal tour. I’d wager there are fun, tourist destinations to see or do in your hometown that you’ve never tried.

Visit a National Park (or two). National Parks are educational and set up to entertain all sorts of visitors. For additional fun, get a National Parks Passport that you can fill with stamps during your visit.

Find a minor league sporting event to attend. These are often less expensive than their major league counterparts and in smaller venues, so you can get closer to the action. I love minor league baseball, for example, and have had a great time seeing the Pawtucket Red Sox play.

Create an outdoor family film festival. Let everyone pick a favorite movie, set up a simple outdoor theatre, and settle in for fun.

Lastly, I’ll suggest looking for a local festival. These are typically a short drive away, inexpensive, and a lot of fun. In my neighborhood, we look forward to the Cranberry Festival, Oyster Festival and Scallop Festival. They’re always a good time.

Most importantly, just try to enjoy your time with the other people participating in your staycation. It’s a great opportunity to connect and bond. Relax, laugh, and do something a little different.

Last-minute tax day tasks

April 15 is almost here. Are those of you in the U.S. ready to file your income taxes? If not, break out that shoebox full of receipts, because Uncle Sam is waiting. The following are suggestions for ways you can get organized for tax time, relatively painlessly.

Gather up obvious tax documents

I half-jokingly mentioned the shoebox previously because having all of your documents in one place is extremely convenient. Before you sit down to work out your taxes, gather all your relevant tax documents into a folder or bin labeled for “Income taxes.” In addition to your employer-issued forms, don’t forget to print or otherwise assemble any deduction documents you’re going to need. (Go ahead and start a folder now for next year, as your future-self will thank you.) It’s so much easier than fishing around for that one piece of paper you need but just can’t find or, worse yet, having to request a duplicate copy from your employer or contract work site.

Note contributions

They’re easy to forget, so take extra effort to find your end-of-year statements regarding contributions you made to a 401(k), Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, and/or SEP. Have these numbers quickly accessible, too.

Recall the previous year’s experience

Take the time to write down answers to the questions you’ll likely be asked by an accountant or on a tax form, like did you make any charitable donations or perform energy-saving improvements to your home? Is there a home office you can take into consideration? Did you pay for any child care? Again, the 10 minutes you take to do this now will be a big time-saver later.

Schedule a couple hours between now and Friday to DO IT

You’ve procrastinated long enough. Give yourself two or three hours to sit down and take care of this responsibility. The IRS help lines are swarmed this time of year, but if you really get stuck give them a call or set up an appointment with a major tax preparer (if you can somehow get an appointment). Friday is the big day, so do what you need to do right away.

Good luck, and don’t spend that refund all in one place.

Have a family technology manager

Keeping your tech gadgets in working order is an aspect of general home maintenance. Just like you make sure the refrigerator is running well and the rain gutters are clean, many contemporary home owners must maintain a family’s digital life. To that end, it’s helpful to designate a “family IT manager.”

I want to differentiate this role from that tech-savvy family member who begrudgingly answers computer questions over the holidays. While it’s nice to tap into that person’s knowledge, he or she isn’t a long-term fix for ongoing needs. Plus, it’s easier than you think to adopt this role yourself by focusing on three main areas: passwords, backups, and updates

Family passwords

For many, password management is a bag of hurt. You’ve got yours, your spouse has others, and the kids have theirs. Managing multiple databases is a nightmare, especially when you’re standing in the hotel lobby and the password you need is on a 3×5 index card in a drawer back home. The best thing you can do is get everyone’s passwords and usernames in a centralized, secure, and accessible location.

1Password Family is what I recommend. For $5 per month, a family of five gets an accessible, shared repository of passwords and other critical information. Safely store information like passwords, credit card information, secure notes, and more, including 1GB of secure document storage. Plus, the online tool is so easy to use, and there’s an app for nearly every operating system.

Take charge of backups

Some day you will need to restore something from a backup. It’s going to happen, so be prepared. I talked with Peter Cohen about this, technology writer at Backblaze who also has experience working with Mac users in a retail setting. “My customers generally broke into three categories,” he told me. “Never backed up, never thought it was important; backed up once, a while ago, and then for whatever reason stopped; or came in with a backup ready to go. Of those three customers, only the last one typically walked away happy.”

Peter recommended a two-tiered backup approach. “Back up locally with an external hard drive and an app like Apple’s Time Machine, paired with offsite backup through a cloud service like Backblaze (starting at $5/month) or CrashPlan (free starter plan, as well as paid options). It’s twice the effort but it also eliminates any single point of failure that will keep you from accessing vital data.” Eliminating a single point of failure is something I’ve discussed on Unclutterer before.

If you have lighter backup needs, consider Arq. For a one-time fee of $40, you can backup to your own cloud storage (Dropbox, Amazon web services, etc.).

At the very least, use a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net as your computer’s “Documents” folder. That way, when your hard drive on your computer dies (and it will), you need only to log into Dropbox for its replacement.

Maintaining the hardware and software

Finally, you’ll need to contend with hardware and software updates. The former is pretty easy, as it becomes obvious when a computer, phone, gaming console, or TV needs to be replaced. I go for a new computer every six or seven years, and I’ll replace a TV, well…when smoke comes out of it. I tend to hang on to TVs.

Likewise, your computer or mobile device will prompt you when an update is available. Designate a person to be in charge of running these updates, either the device’s owner or the family IT manager.

I want to make a special note about Apple’s auto-update feature for iPhones, iPads, and Macs. When enabled, a device can download and install updates on its own. It’s convenient, hands-off, but potentially problematic, as it’s possible to auto-install an update that breaks something. I recommend enabling auto-updates with caveats.

I discussed this topic with Mike Rose, Solution Engineer at Salesforce and a former colleague of mine. Mike noted that if a device is more than four years old, do not enable auto update. Gadgets like iPads, iPhones, and Macs have a ceiling for operating systems. It’s possible for a piece of software to receive an update that renders it unusable. If your device is only a couple of years old, go ahead and enable auto updates. I completely agree with this advice.

I hope this was helpful. Another aspect of this job could be supporting remote family members, like those in another town or state. But that’s another post entirely.

Prepare for spring cleaning

It’s time to get organized for spring (or fall, if you’re in the southern hemisphere), no matter what the thermometer says. So before you put those snow shovels back in the shed, consider doing a bit to prepare for spring now.

A good spring cleaning is a topic for another post. Today, I’ll share a few things I do that will make that process easier when the time comes to embark on it. I’m here to give you a leg up, if you will.

Purge, purge, purge

Winter is the season of accumulation: gifts, clothing (hats, mittens), ice scrapers for the car — all sorts of new stuff arrives between December and the winter thaw. To begin with your purge, pick a room and get started. Those gloves with the holes? Gone. The packets of duck sauce in the refrigerator from the Reagan administration? Toss them. Even gifts you won’t use can be upcycled, donated, or tagged for next year’s Secret Santa at work.

Speaking of the gloves with the holes, perhaps they can be mended? Select an area/box/bin for clothing that can be fixed. The most important thing in this process is to be sure to actually follow through on you commitment to fix those clothes. Put it on your calendar and do it!

Make a playlist

Music makes work easier, at least for me. If I know I’ve got a time-consuming task ahead of me, I’ll make a playlist of songs that always put me in a good mood. Perhaps an audio book is more your speed, or a favorite podcast? In any case, have your favorites queued up and ready to go.

Ensure you’ve got the right supplies

It is no fun to start any project and realize you’re missing something that’s key to its completion. Make a list of what you’ll need and buy the lot well before you begin. Trash bags? Cleaning chemicals? Sponges? Paper towels?

Schedule the time

“Busy” is the American way and it can be tricky to find a full Saturday with nothing to do. Look at the calendar and find a set of hours you can dedicate to the task. You can do 15 minutes one night and an hour the next if you don’t have a full day to dedicate to the process. In fact, you might prefer to do a little at a time even if you have a full day you could devote to it.

A little preparation goes a long way. Spring cleaning is a big task, so be sure you’ve got everything you need before getting started. Just think, in a few weeks the cold weather will be behind us and a clean home will under our feet.

The many ways to categorize your stuff

How do you choose to group things when you’re putting them on shelves, in cabinets, in closets, etc.?

I recently watched a video from the Field Museum’s Brain Scoop series with Emily Graslie where she dives into taxonomy: “a totally complicated, really interesting field of science responsible for the naming and classification of things.”

To do this, she had four taxonomists, who usually deal with things like beetles, discussing the taxonomy of candy.

And the taxonomists had fun with it. Olivier Rieppel said, “Organisms you classify according to their evolutionary relationships. With candy or office furniture or whatever you classify according to similarities.” So they wound up suggesting classification based on contents (chocolate covered or not, for example), by shape, by size, and by color.

Margaret Thayer didn’t think much of using color, though. She said, “That would be like taking a whole bunch of different red birds and putting them all together because they’re red, but one of them is a cardinal and one is some kind of duck.”

But Larry Heaney, who suggested grouping by color, said, “That’s the thing about candy. You can put it together, you can group them any way you want.”

Besides making me crave some candy, the Brain Scoop video made me think about the many ways you might choose to group things in your home of office. Just as with candy, you can use any groupings you want, as long as they work for you.

For example, books can be classified using the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress classification system, or by any other method you like, including:

  • Genre (science fiction, historical fiction, history, art, etc.)
  • Alphabetical order by author
  • Size
  • Color
  • Chronological order, especially for series or any books by a single author
  • Status: read vs. not yet read
  • Owned vs. borrowed: library books, books borrowed from friends, and books you own
  • Language, if you have books in multiple languages
  • Owner, in a multi-person household

These classifications can be nested (by author within a genre, for example) and combined. Sometimes you might need to compromise from your ideal grouping to accommodate the storage space you have, especially when it comes to oversized books.

While some may question your choices — as with the candy, some people mock those who group books by color — whatever helps you find the right book when you want it is the right system for you.

Similarly, clothes might be classified by:

  • Type: pants, T-shirts, coats, etc.
  • Use: work vs. non-work, for example
  • Color (which can make a lot of sense in this situation)
  • Season (winter vs. summer clothes)
  • Fabric (because some fabrics may require different storage solutions)
  • Size (for those whose size tends to fluctuate, or for children’s clothing when you have clothes for both the current size and the next ones, or if you’re storing clothes for a second child)
  • Length (to accommodate items needing a long-hang area)
  • Freshly washed vs. worn but still clean

If the groupings you’re currently using for your books, clothes or other items aren’t working for you, think about what might work better and give it a try.

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?”

Five household hacks to save you time and energy

When I was young, my friend Mike excelled at things that everyone else did marginally well. Like Hacky Sack, that little ball you’d kick once or twice before it went careening through the air. Mike was like a magician with that thing. Ditto juggling, Yo-yo tricks, all the stuff I thought was cool.

Today, I feel like Mike every time I use plastic wrap and while completing other assorted hacks around the house.

Plastic wrap tabs

I’m a calm guy normally, but using plastic wrap can make me homicidal. “We can put a man on the moon,” I’d say, waving the box around as if it were the very worst thing on the planet, “but we can’t design a usable box of plastic wrap.” You know the drill: draw out a length of plastic and the whole roll leaves the box, either as you’re pulling or when you attempt to tear it off.

A careful inspection of the box reveals the hidden solution. On each end of the long box, you’ll find a little perforated tab. These are the lock tabs. Push each one into the box, punching out the perforated edges, and they lock the roll into place. It’ll never leap out of the box again.

Laundry tag iconography: Solved

Take a look at this amazing chart from the American Cleaning Institute.

This thorough guide to fabric care symbols has helped me immensely. Many of the little icons convey their meaning instantly, but what the heck is a square surrounding a circle with three dots in the middle? Or a square with three black lines? I want to clean my shirt, not decipher cryptic code.

Print that out, laminate it if you wish, and hang it up near you laundry station.

Shoe tying

“I learned to tie my shoes when I was a kid. I know what I’m doing.” Well, maybe.

Unless you’re tying your shoe like Professor Shoelace, you might be taking way too long to tie your shoes:

The ghost’s toilet

A poltergeist is a “noisy ghost,” known for tossing objects around a room and making a general mess. But what about the ghost who likes to randomly flush the toilet?

The issue of a spontaneously flushing toilet isn’t supernatural in origin. What’s likely happening is that water is leaking from the tank into the bowl. When it reaches a certain level, the toilet flushes. You can fix this by replacing a part called the flapper for about five bucks.

Folding a fitted sheet

This last tip was as mind-blowing for me as the plastic wrap thing. For years, I “folded” a fitted bed sheet by crumpling it into a ball and then shoving it in a drawer, where no one could see that I had crumpled it into a ball. Turns out, that’s not the prettiest way to do it.

This great tip from Jill Cooper at Living on a Dime is perfect. Not only will you save storage space with a properly folded sheet, you’ll have an easier time finding the sheet you need.

As with the shoelaces, this one is better seen than described:

I Murdered My Library: A Kindle Short review

Author Linda Grant needed to downsize her personal library when she moved from a place with all sort of nooks and crannies for books — plus some specially installed bookshelves — to a flat with much less space. (Also, her real estate agent saw her huge number of books and told her something had to be done in order for the house to sell.) She wrote a Kindle Short entitled I Murdered My Library about the experience, which perfectly captured the mixed feelings so many people have when they consider downsizing their book collections.

On the one hand, there was a lot of sadness about giving up a library she’d been building since she was a little girl. Since the author is British, American readers may not recognize some of the specific authors and titles she collected back then, but the passion for books is definitely recognizable.

However, there were certainly some issues with that book collection. Some were books she had no need for, such as multiple copies of her own novels, sent to her by her publisher. She had those books in various translations, too. She also mentions the “books I did not particularly care for, but kept anyway” and the “non-fiction which I kept in the era before the internet” in case she ever needed specific nuggets of information.

And then there was the problem with the too-small type:

No-one told me. No-one said, “In the future, you will squint and screw up your face and try to decipher those words you once read so easily. Not because you are going blind, but because in the middle of you life your eyes have betrayed you. They are no longer fit for the purpose of reading.”

Grant is no technophobe, and she embraced her Kindle as a way around the print-size problem. And she reveled in how much easier it was to carry the Kindle than a 900-page book, and how nice it was to have “a library in my pocket.” But while new releases are available in digital format, a lot of backlist books (and much of her collection) are not available yet. And then there was the problem when her Kindle died at the start of a four-hour flight, leaving her with only the airline magazine to read.

Grant also realized that keeping all her many books didn’t make sense, if she was being logical about it all. As she noted:

I’m not going to re-read these books before I die. I am just bequeathing my nephew and his wife the heavy task of removing them at a later date.

What did she do with the books she decided wouldn’t make it to her new home? She gave the multiple copies of her own books to reading groups, charging just for the price of postage. She gave the translated books to libraries. As she noted, “Polish speakers in the London Borough of Haringey now have a choice of books: by me, or by me.” And the rest got donated to an Oxfam shop, where the sale benefits the charity.

But still, the empty shelves bothered her.

In my fear of not having enough room in my new flat for my books, I had got rid of far too many. The truth was, I now had empty shelves. Fewer books than space for them. …

There are not enough books here. The sight of the bare shelves shames me. What have I done?

At just 28 pages, this is a quick read and one that many people struggling with overflowing bookshelves will appreciate.

Let’s talk about keys

Years go by, technology improves yet many of us continue to carry a huge collection of keys. Throw in a few fancy keychains, customer loyalty cards, and next thing you know, you look like an old-time jailer walking around. I even knew someone who damaged the ignition system of her car by having a heavy keychain pulling down on the steering column for months and months. The following are a few ideas for getting an out-of-control key collection under control.

First and foremost: separate your keys into logical groups. Put work keys on their own ring, home on another. Perhaps the garage and the shed can live on their own as well. I keep the shed and basement keys separate from the car keys.

While you’re at it, make it easy to find the key you need at a glance. Your local hardware store probably has decorative blank keys that they’ll use to make copies for you. Use, say, a beach-scene key for the shed. Or, order up a custom key tag (or even a humorous one) that you’ll recognize in an instant.

You might want to consider an alternative to a traditional keychain. The Keysmart is a clever device we looked at in 2015, as is the Keyport. (If you’d rather go the DIY route, you can find a clever tutorial on Reddit.)

Lastly, and this goes without saying, ditch any keys you no longer use. The same goes for customer loyalty cards. If you don’t frequent a store anymore, or if a given promotion is over, you don’t need that card anymore. Smartphone owners can use an app like Keyring (available for iPhone and Android) and keep a digital version of the card and skip putting on your physical keyring completely.

Get those keys under control! Your pocket — and your car — will appreciate it.

Organize a game night

Entertaining at home is a great way to spend time with family and friends, and is often a less expensive option than meeting at a restaurant. One suggestion for what to do is to host a game night. With a little preparation and careful game selection, you’ll have a fun event.

Make a plan

Whenever you invite guests to your home for something beyond “let’s hang out,” it’s good to make a plan for your evening in your head. In the case of a game night, decide in advance if you’ll serve food, what games you’ll offer to play, how long you’ll spend playing games, what activities you’ll provide beyond playing games, etc. You don’t need to write anything down or tell your guests your plan, but take at least some time to organize the flow of the night and how you can make it a good experience for everyone.

Snacks

A party means snacks and with games involved, this area needs some extra attention. Stick with non-messy options. You don’t want gunky fingers all over your game pieces. Dry snacks like plain popcorn, nuts, sliced cheese, hard candies, and crackers are a great option. Napkins are good to provide, even if you provide snacks on the clean side.

Location of your snacks is another consideration. If you’re going to have snacks and games on the same table, make sure there’s enough room for each. Smaller serving bowls/plates are good to have in multiple locations to reduce having to pass items. Or, pull up a smaller table next to the game table to be the snack center. Even a card table with a nice tablecloth will do the trick.

Keep it small, at least at first

While it’s tempting to bring a crowd over for that hilarious party game, keep the party small, at least at first. I’d recommend four or five, that way everyone can play the same game. Otherwise, you risk breaking the gang up into two groups, which is fine until you’re running back and forth trying to teach two games at once or refilling snack items.

Select a variety of game options

Game selection is important and can make or break your event. Plan on having several titles ready to go, but not so many that you overwhelm guests. You’ll also want to have several types of game available, to accommodate tastes and skill levels. Lastly, make sure you know how to play each game you’ve selected, so you can teach them easily.

Party games

This genre of games are obviously great for a party, as the emphasis is on getting everyone laughing rather than identifying a winner. They’re even better toward the end of the evening after a couple bottles of wine have been opened.

Telestrations. Think telephone meets Pictionary. One person draws an image, the next guesses what it is, the next draw’s that guess….on and on. Always hilarious.

Wits and Wagers. A trivia game that asks questions you feel like you should know the answer to, but almost no one does. Like, how wide (not long) is a NFL football field? How many days in a school year?

Card games

Cards are familiar, even if the game isn’t. The following are two options that are easy to learn and a lot of fun.

Love Letter. In this fun, fast-paced deduction game, you’re trying to pass a letter to the princess, while your rivals try to prevent that from happening.

Sushi Go!. This is a set-collection game, similar to rummy, but with super-cute sushi. The premise is that you’re in a sushi restaurant, watching all of the delicious choices go past. Score points by making sets (most dumplings, rolls, etc.) and gain other bonuses. A round of play goes pretty quickly.

Strategy games

Ready to level up? The following are a couple of games with a little more “meat” to them.

King of New York. In this game, there’s a little more going on than in other titles. Each player is a B-movie style monster rampaging through the Big Apple. You must damage the city and each other, while conquering the five boroughs and avoiding that pesky army trying to take you down. It’s a great-looking game with big, chunky dice to roll. Who doesn’t love that?

Seven Wonders. You lead one of seven great cities of the ancient world in this game. Gather and manage resources to build the seven wonders of the world.

Wind-down

Finally, recognize that some guests may be tired of playing board games after only a couple rounds. Have a dessert or coffee ready, so everyone can chat and unwind a bit before the evening ends.

For me, playing tabletop games is a tremendous way to spend time, get to know people, build memories, and laugh. Even if you haven’t played a board game since the first time you ID’d Colonel Mustard in the study with the candlestick, consider giving an organized game night a try.

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.