Car accessories that are worth the investment

Frugality is a big part of the uncluttered lifestyle. When I say “frugal,” I mean thrifty and never wasteful. That said, there are certain things I’m willing to spend a little extra money on. While changing a flat tire in the snow last week, a few automotive options came to mind. Here’s a list of auto accessories that I think are worth the expense.

Jack

A compact, portable floor jack is worth the cost. This aluminum, 1.5 ton model from Pittsburgh Automotive could be just what you need. For starters, it’s so much easier to use than the scissor jack that probably shipped with your car. Consider that you’ll have to turn the nut on the scissor model 25–30 times before your car is elevated to an adequate height, while a floor jack will get in there in about five pumps. Likewise, a floor jack will slowly and safely lower your car within a few seconds, while the scissor jack requires 25–30 more twists, this time counter-clockwise.

There are some cons to consider as well. First, it’s heavy. At 31 pounds it’s heavier than your scissor jack. It’s also big; the compact model I’m suggesting is 23 x 10 x 7 inches (the handle can be removed so it’ll fit in your trunk). Lastly, it’s more expensive than the “free” jack that comes with the car.

I fell in love with the portable floor jack the night I was struggling to lift our Mazda. After many minutes of effortful turning, the jack itself slipped and the car came down upon it, crushing it. I called AAA and a worker arrived with a portable floor jack. He had my car raised and the tire off in about 90 seconds. That’s when I was sold.

Spare tire

Speaking of tires, I like to have a full-sized spare. Here in North America, it’s a good purchase decision. But that isn’t the case everywhere. I know that in Europe, for example, many cars don’t come with spares at all – not even a “donut” (half-sized spare) because there are service centers all over the place. In that case I would recommend paying extra for the donut.

Here in the States we get the half-sized spare, or donut. It’s meant to be a temporary fix that gets you to a service station. You shouldn’t exceed 45 m.p.h. with those things and they really aren’t the safest. Since a flat can strike at any time, and service stations are often few and far between here in the U.S., you could be stuck with the donut for several days. I recommend getting a spare rim for your car (find a local junk yard to save some money) and a good quality tire. Your local tire shop will gladly put the tire on the rim for you. Yes, it takes up more room than the donut, is heavier and expensive, but as far as safety and convenience are concerned, it’s well worth it.

Floor mats

Next, I’ll recommend heavy-duty floor mats, if you live in the right region. Here in New England, we have Sand Season, Snow Season and Slush Season. They’d be overkill in Texas, for example but if you experience winter, read on.

Several years ago I purchased these Weather Tech mats for our little Volvo and I love them. Unlike other heavy-duty mats, these are designed for the specific make, model and production year of various vehicles, so they absolutely fit and stay in place. Ours endure summer beach sand, autumn mud and frozen winter nastiness easily. To clean, simply snap them out and hose them off. They aren’t cheap – you’ll pay about a hundred dollars – but I’ve had the same set in my car since 2008 and they look great.

Other suggestions

Here are a few more quickies. An auto-dimming rear-view mirror is a nice upgrade, especially now that so many cars seem to have those weird blue headlights that seek out your retinas and burn them to cinders. This “car cup” charger for long road trips when everyone wants to be fully juiced.

I’ve debated recommending factory-installed GPS with myself and I still don’t have a definitive answer. That’s mostly because I’ve never experienced it. I just used my phone, which is portable and reliable. I bring it into a rental car, for example. Of course, not everyone has a smartphone with GPS capability, so I’ll leave this one hanging. Perhaps some testing is in order.

Lastly, let’s talk about road-side assistance services like AAA, CAA National, OnStar, etc. They day you need help (especially when you’re far from home) is the day you’ll recognize their value.

Remember, “frugal” doesn’t mean “cheap.” It means nothing is wasted, including your money. While these add-ons are expensive, I think they’re worthwhile investments. Let me know if you agree.

Get organized for winter home maintenance

Winter brings its own list of required tasks. I’m not talking about shoveling and salting, though that must be done, too. The colder months are a great time to get the following maintenance done so that you’ll be prepared for the harsh weather and ready for the infamous “spring cleaning.”

First, attend to your best friend during the winter months: the furnace. You really ought to have annual maintenance performed by a pro, and the start of winter is a great time to get that done. With that sorted, there are other tasks you can easily perform yourself:

  1. Change the filter monthly. On mine, it’s a big square filter that easily slides in and out. My local hardware store carries just the size I need. If you’re unsure, ask your service pro or even the nice folks at your hardware store. I use Google Calendar to remind me to change the furnace filter monthly. In the reminder notes, I jotted down the size of the furnace filter so that it’s easy to look up when I get to the hardware store.
  2. Adjust the ducts/dampers. My house uses forced hot air for heating and cooling. Each winter, I adjust the dampers a bit to ensure that hot air is forced to the bedrooms. Just be sure not to close off air completely to any level or room.

Next, step outside, grab the ladder and prepare to clean the gutters. No, it’s not an enviable job but winter storms will fill them with debris from nearby trees quickly. Additionally, heavy show and ice could cause them to pull away from their mountings and fall from the house entirely. While unpleasant, it’s an simple chore to complete:

  1. Wear long sleeves and gloves
  2. Use a good, reliable ladder. When I worked as a custodian I was introduced to the Werner 6 ft. Fiberglass Step Ladder, and I loved it. It is lightweight, reliable, and steady as a rock.
  3. Throw down a plastic tarp or a drop cloth to catch what you clear out. It’s much easier to clear away like that.
  4. Use a scoop. You can buy one if you like, or just use the kids’ beach shovel. They won’t be needing them for weeks.

If you have a fireplace, get the chimney inspected. Flammable creosote builds up and must be removed. Your local chimney sweep can take care of that for you. (When I was a teenager my father had me clean our family’s chimney. It wasn’t pretty. Don’t be like my dad. Hire a professional.)

Finally, clean vents that lead outdoors: the hood above the stove, the clothes dryer, etc. Also, when it does snow and you’re clearing the walkway, make sure to free these openings, too.

Regular home maintenance saves you money in the long run, teaches valuable skills, familiarizes you with how your home works, and helps prevent big issues down the road. Put these things on your calendar and rest easier every winter.

Hold the mail

On our post Becoming a more organized traveler, Maria, one of our readers, wrote us to say that she always has her postal mail delivery suspended when she goes on vacation. This is a great idea because if mail piles up in your mailbox advertising that you’re not home, it makes you a target for theft and identity fraud.

Even when you’re at home, the “hold mail” option from your postal service can also help keep you organized during short-term events when mail would overflow your home mail centre. These events include:

Stay-cations. On a stay-cation you spend your days zooming around to attractions, restaurants, and treating your house like a hotel. Rather than have important mail get lost in all of the shuffle, have the post office hold it for you until guests have departed and you have returned to your regular mail processing routine.

Special Occasions. Weddings, anniversary parties, and family reunions take time and effort to plan, attend, and especially host. Consider having mail delivery suspended from a few days before, until a few days after the event. When the event is over, you’ll have time to sort through your mail properly and you won’t accidentally send your payment for the electric bill enclosed in a thank-you card.

Home Renovations. The house is being torn apart and work crews are everywhere. Mail can be easily lost (or stolen) in the tumult. Suspending mail delivery during this time may save you from losing important bills and payments. You can always pop-in to the post office and pick up your mail weekly if the renovations are over an extended period.

Some people who travel regularly choose to rent a post office box and have all of their personal mail delivered there. They pick it up every week or so and process it all at the same time. Even if you don’t travel, this option might work for you depending on the quantity of mail you receive and the ease of visiting your post office box.

Have you ever used a “hold-mail” service other than when going away on vacation? We’d love to hear how it worked for you.

How do you remind yourself to do something?

As I sat down to write this week’s Unclutterer articles, my smartphone beeped a reminder, “Grace ballet at 12:00.” I was glad to receive the prompt and reflected on how crucial my smartphone has become when it comes to reminding me of what I need to do and where I need to be.

Smartphones didn’t become commonplace until about ten years ago. However, I existed back then and I can’t recall the reminder system I used in the “dark days” before pocket-sized computers.

I realize that not everyone favors electronic reminders that vibrate, beep and flash and that got me wondering. How do you remind yourself of what needs to be done?

We’ve discussed many reminder systems over the last ten years . In 2010 we described a system that uses Google Calendar to prompt future action, and two years ago we pointed out a few ways to get things done while avoiding lists and reminders entirely. There are fantastic apps out there, too, like Due.

I’d be lost without my smartphone when it comes to reminders. I’m curious, what is your chosen reminders system? Sound off!

Review of the S.P.A.C.E. program

Tomorrow, January 14, is Organize Your Home Day. The first book I ever read about home organization was back in 1999 while I was pregnant for baby #2. The book was Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. The book is as valuable now as it was 17 years ago.

With this book, Morgenstern organizes the approach to organizing. Her acronym S.P.A.C.E. (sort, purge, assign, containerize, and equalize) helps people (including me!) develop a systematic method for uncluttering quickly and easily. Let’s look at each step in a little more depth.

Sort

Group similar items together using common characteristics. You might decide to group clothing by putting all “tops” in one pile, and “bottoms” in another pile. Or you could sort by “work clothes” and “weekend clothes.” The way you group items together may be different from someone else but sort them in a way that makes sense to you.

Purge

Once items are sorted, you can see exactly what you have. Now is the time to physically remove items from the home. Keep only what you love, what you need, and what you use. Reduce the number of unitaskers you own. Consider renting, borrowing, or sharing items you do not use often.

Assign a home

Designate a spot in your home where specific items will “live.” My stapler lives in the second drawer of the cabinet beside my desk. Items that are not used all year-round may need a “vacation home.” For example, the duvet lives on the bed from November to March, then it moves to its vacation home in a zippered bag in the linen closet from April to October.

Containerize

Only after the first three steps have been completed should you choose containers appropriate to the item and the item’s home. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of buying bins large enough to hold my items but they would not fit on the shelves where the items were being stored! Always measure twice so you only have to buy once. You may wish to consider using inexpensive baskets or even cardboard boxes at first. Once you’ve determined that the “home” for the item is in the correct spot, then spend the extra money for high quality containers.

Equalize

The last step is often overlooked but you will need to schedule maintenance time during which you put things back in their homes. You can schedule daily, weekly, and seasonal maintenance. If the maintenance seems to be more work than originally anticipated, consider changing homes for certain items. Keep refining your system until it works well for you.

Morgenstern’s S.P.A.C.E. program won’t get you on a Journey to Mars but it will help you make your home on planet Earth a lot more enjoyable.

Organize and maintain essential tools

Today I want talk about how to organize, assess and maintain the essential gear you use all year long including, fire extinguishers, and tools like flashlights, smoke alarms, hammers, and wallets. We depend on these tools to work well yet we often take them for granted.

I recommend the following procedure to deal with the essential tools you depend on. Ask yourself the following questions about each item:

  • Does it work as it should?
  • Is it still safe to operate?
  • Is it damaged in some way?
  • Can it be repaired?

Then, sort the items into one of these categories: replace, fix, or maintain.

  • If there is a tool that is broken beyond repair, replace it now. This way you won’t find out halfway through a home improvement project that you don’t have the tool you need.
  • If repairs are possible, arrange to have them done. Mark a specific time and date on your calendar to repair it yourself or to take it to a repair shop.
  • Perform routine maintenance on all other items to help keep them functioning well.

Below I’ve shared maintenance routines for may popular household items. January is a great time to perform each of these tasks.

Flashlights

Check the batteries. How old are they? Replace them if necessary. If you’re using alkaline batteries, consider switching to rechargeable lithium ion batteries, as alkaline batteries can leak. Perform some basic maintenance by cleaning the exterior, wiping the lens and finally applying some silicone grease to the threads. These simple steps will keep your flashlight shining brightly for years to come. Incidentally, my favorite flashlight is the Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED.

Hardware tools

Keeping simple hand tools clean and functional is easy: just wipe them down after use, and store them in a dry location. Thrown in a few silica gel packs for added protection.

Power tools should be stored in the plastic containers they ship in, while garden tools should be hung and not left on the floor, where moisture can invite rust.

Often the owner’s manual will list specific maintenance tips for each tool. You can also check online for maintenance advice.

Pocket knives

The best thing you can do for a knife is keep it nice and sharp. A dull knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp one, as you’re more likely to push too hard with a dull blade, slip and cut yourself.

For sharpening, I use the AccuSharp 001, as several commercial fishermen I know swear by it.

Smoke alarms

Each January I replace the batteries in my home’s smoke alarms. I also give them a good cleaning with the vacuum cleaner remove any dust, cobwebs, etc. that may have accumulated.

Fire extinguisher

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests you take the following steps to maintain a home fire extinguisher:

  1. Ensure accessibility. Store it where it’s visible and easy to access.
  2. Inspect the seals. Make sure that tamper and safety seals are intact.
  3. Check the pressure. If your fire extinguisher has a pressure gauge, be sure that the gauge’s needle indicates proper pressure. If the fire extinguisher has a test indicator, press it to make sure the pressure reading is within the correct range.
  4. Look for damage. Any visible signs of damage mean it’s time to replace the extinguisher.
  5. Document your inspection. Keep track of your extinguisher’s monthly checks and maintenance.

Leather wallets and bags

Leather wallets, bags, and briefcases are prone to drying out. Cleaning them with some leather soap and applying leather care oil regularly will keep them supple for years.

Certainly take the time to organize the big things this year, but not at the cost of the little things that we depend on day in and day out. A little time and attention at the start of the new year will keep your tools working all year long.

How to get started when you don’t feel like it

Unclutterer readers are the get-things-done type when it comes to productivity and uncluttering except when they don’t want to be.

Occasionally, we all feel like getting exactly nothing done. Sometimes that’s fine. I love a lazy Saturday as much as the next guy. But other times the urge to relax out comes at the worst time. What do we do in that situation? First of all, recognize that you’re not the first person to feel this way. Next, understand that there is something you can do.

Here’s how to get started on a project when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Let’s start with two simple steps.

First, give yourself permission to do a bad job. The tendency to want everything to be great hindered my writing for a long time. I changed my thinking and would say to myself, “Today, I give myself permission to write a terrible first draft.” When I wrote a sentence that I knew was complete garbage, I was able to continue because I knew I would go back and fix it another time.

The same goes for uncluttering and organizing. Tell yourself it’s OK if your first attempt doesn’t generate the ideal result. Just get started.

Next, and this is a big one, completely disconnect from the internet. No Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or online games. There isn’t a bigger time waster on the planet. Avoid it and you’ll be more productive.

Of course there’s more to it than those basic tips. For example, getting in the right mindset is crucial. It can be as simple as clothing and as complex as a daily routine.

In his book “ Getting Things Done,” author David Allen states, “I don’t feel like exercising until I put my exercise clothes on.” Author James Clear expanded on this idea:

“If you look at top performers in any field, you’ll see similar patterns all over the place. NBA players who do the same thing before every free throw shot. Comedians who recite the same words before they step onto stage. Corporate executives who follow the same meditation sequence every morning.

Do you think these people always feel motivated? No way. There are some days when the most talented people in the world wake up feeling like sluggish lard bombs.

But they use their pre–game routines to pull them into the right mental state, regardless of how they feel. You can use this same process to overcome your motivation threshold and consistently exercise, study, write, speak, or perform any other task that is important to you.”

James outlines just how to create a routine that will work. Paraphrasing, it is:

  1. Start with something too easy to avoid.
  2. Get physically moving.
  3. Keep it consistent.

Often times, we procrastinate in the face of feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes we just don’t know where to begin. I combat this by each night by writing down the three tasks I must complete during the following day. That little note sits on my keyboard and answers the question, “Where do I start?”.

Good luck with your new projects in 2017. Here’s hoping you accomplish all you set out to do and more.

Organizing resolution jump-start

We know that many people have chosen “getting organized” as a New Year’s resolution – and some of those people want to get started now! Here is a short-list of Unclutterer posts that can help you get a jump-start.

Setting Organizing Goals

Overwhelmed?

How to Start

Uncluttering

Keeping Motivated

Happy New Year from the Unclutterer Team and all the best to you in your organizing efforts.

Five ideas for post-holiday organization

Good day, Unclutterers. We hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one. Now is the time to enjoy the time off from work, the company of friends and family, and the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Additionally, December 26 is the perfect time for a little post-holiday organization. Nothing too taxing, we want you to enjoy your holiday. With that in mind, here are five simple, effective things you can do today to stay on top of things.

  1. Prepare for ornament storage. It’s common to feel sentimental about the things we own. Holiday ornaments often fall into that category. Protect the decorations that mean something to you with safe, secure storage. A specialized bin like this one will do the job, but really you can make one nearly as effective with a plastic bin and some styrofoam cups. In either case, prepare your solution now so that it will be ready when you’re putting the decorations away.
  2. Organize a wrapping station. A gift-wrapping station will serve you well through the years. Perhaps you struggled a bit this season. If so, take an hour or so to sort that out . A hanging gift wrap organizer keeps things tidy and accessible. Take a quick inventory of the supplies you currently have. If required, take advantage of post-Christmas sales and pick up any supplies you may need.
  3. Figure out how you’ll store those lights. The coat hanger trick is a good one, as are storage reels. A piece of cardboard works perfectly for me.
  4. Unclutter unwanted items. For many, an influx of new toys will raise the question of what to do with the old ones. Here are many options, from donation to re-use.
  5. Make thank-you cards. If there are kids in the house, use scraps of colorful wrapping paper to make thank-you cards. Find pieces you like, cut into festive shapes and affix to plain thank-you cards. Grandma, grandpa, aunties, uncles, etc. will love to receive these.

When you put the decorations away should be based on your schedule or perhaps family tradition. Some do it right away while others may wait until January 6, the Christian celebration of Epiphany. In either case, a little preparation will make that process easier.

Origami Rack

The process of getting organized often requires buying a set of shelves. Like many other people wanting to get organized, I would go to a department store and buy a heavy, flat-pack shelving unit, haul it into my house, and unpack it. Then, I would have to wait for my husband or children to come home because it always required at least two people to assemble the unit with pegs, screws, and nails — if all of the parts were included in the package.

These MDF/pressboard shelves often warped with the weight of books or other heavy items. We’re a military family and move house about every three years and often these shelving units broke or fell apart during a move. We sometimes disassembled and re-assembled them, but it was time consuming and the re-assembled units were never as sturdy as they were before they were taken apart. We ended up replacing many of them over the years — expensive for us and not good for the environment!

Now, I have finally found a solution to my shelving problems and hopefully to yours as well — Origami Rack.

Just like the traditional art of paper folding, Origami Racks assemble/disassemble by folding and unfolding. There are no tools required! Watch the video to see the 4-tier Garage Shelf set up in ten seconds. It is made from steel and can hold 250 pounds (110kg) per shelf!

 

Origami Rack has other products that are great for inside your home. The Easy Organizer 12-Cube holds 5.5 pounds (2.5kg) per shelf and would be ideal for storing shoes, sweaters, toys, linens, and more. It simply pops open fully assembled.

The Origami Computer Desk would be ideal for people who travel for work perhaps setting up at trade shows, or for students who live in small apartments and dorm rooms.

The Deco Tiered Display Rack can be used in a bedroom or living area as a stylish organizing solution or in the office as a classy printer stand.

The other thing I really like about Origami Racks is most of the products can be fitted with wheels. You only need one person to assemble and disassemble and move these items.

If you have a mobile component to your lifestyle, and you have a desire to be organized and productive, make it easy on yourself and consider Origami Rack.

How to store uniforms

Each week my son and I don our Boy Scouts of America uniforms and head to a meeting. Shirt, pants and hat come out of the closet and join us for a week of adventures, be it a lesson during a meeting or a few days at the camp site. Since these aren’t every day clothes we take care in storing them when the fun is over, which got me thinking about the care an storage of uniforms in general.

Uniforms need special care, from those you need for work to the military uniforms worn by the men and women in the armed forces. What’s the best way to store them? Read on.

Military uniforms are a special case. If their owner is still active, they’re often stored in places (barrack boxes or rucksacks) in case of rapid deployment. That being said, there are seasonal variations in uniforms as well as uniforms for special occasions. The same storage and organizational rules apply here as for civilian clothing; have it laundered or dry cleaned right away, store the uniforms separately from civilian clothes and store uniform parts (tops/bottoms) together if possible.

Most military uniforms have “accoutrements” that are worn with the clothing: pins, medals, name and rank badges and patches that can’t be laundered and will move from today’s uniform to tomorrow’s uniform. It’s best to have a small basket to corral these items either wherever you disrobe or in the laundry area. Accoutrements for special occasion uniforms should not be stored on the uniform (e.g. metal pins can rust and stain) so a small jewelry organizer tied to the clothes hanger (and easily shoved into a suitcase for traveling) is ideal.

Long term storage for military uniforms (insect proof bins, out of dampness etc) is the same as for civilian clothes.

Military members have lots of boots and shoes. For long term storage, stuffing boots with acid-free paper helps keep shape and prevents damage. Parade shoes (super-high gloss) should be stored in a zippered cloth bag.

Let’s move on from military uniforms and look at other sorts. There are general rules that apply to all sorts of uniforms:

  1. Avoid hangers for uniforms that will remain unused in long-term storage. The seams could stretch if left hanging for a year or more.
  2. 100% acid-free boxes are a good way to go. They protect uniforms efficiently, let you avoid hangers and allow air to circulate.
  3. Avoid vacuum-sealing uniforms as you could find permanent wrinkles have set in if left for a long time.
  4. Avoid putting them in the smallest space possible. Allowing air to flow will help prevent mold growth.

These tips will keep your uniforms looking good for years to come. Preserve their usefulness, significance and memories with ease. You’ll be glad you did.

Practical stocking stuffers

My sister’s Amazon wish list is among the dullest you’ll ever see. Here’s a small sampling:

  1. Sensible shoes
  2. A hat
  3. Raincoat

You get the idea. Every year it’s similar and every year I roll my eyes. Where’s the fun? Where’s the splurge? Where’s the total resignation to unbridled avarice? Her list is so…practical.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Today I recognize that frugality is a part of the uncluttered lifestyle. Flamboyant gifts have their place and are a lot of fun, but I shouldn’t knock level-headed, useful alternatives. I’ve always defined frugal as “nothing is wasted,” but it’s also got a good dash of “simple, plain and useful.” I’ve written about many products that suit that description here, and today I’ll continue the tradition with practical stocking stuffers. Here are some good ideas for the “practical” loved one on your list.

  1. The Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. Hands down the best flashlight I’ve ever owned. Sturdy, reliable, well made and bright. Buy a few and and put one in your house, your car and your bag.
  2. The classic Victorinox Swiss Army Pocket Knife. I own two of these, and I keep one on the key chain of each of our cars. I use them several times per week, for everything from tightening loose screws to opening packages. And while you’re at it, why not add a pocket-sized sharpening stone?
  3. The Pocket Reference, 4th Edition. This little book contains just about everything you would ever want to know and it fits in your pocket. Plus you don’t need a full battery or a strong Wi-Fi signal to use it.
  4. The Accugage 60XGA Tire Gauge is one of the best in the industry. It is easy to read and reliable.
  5. A subscription to Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s. You’re going to buy razors and blades anyway, so just have them shipped to your house. I’ve been a happy Harry’s customer for years.
  6. Chargers, adapters and backup batteries. It’s no fun when a treasured gadget’s battery dies. An external battery pack like the Jackery Bolt will keep your devices running and running.
  7. Lastly, how about a magazine that speaks to the recipient’s interests or hobbies? Rolled up and tied with a bow, it’s a great addition to any stocking.

There you have it. Look beyond the extravagant to find the useful, practical gifts that people love. They’ll be glad you did.