Do you maintain a clutter preserve?

Earlier this week I was reading a nice series of posts at Organized Home on “Decluttering 101.” It’s always good to brush up on the basics. The author, Cynthia Ewer, shared some good advice, as well as a concept I found quite interesting: the “clutter preserve.” I’ll let her explain it.

“Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries. In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it’s thrown on the chair.”

A part of me shivers when I read this. If I create a clutter preserve — even one that’s out of the way — I fear it will foster others. As if it is tacit permission to make a tiny, obscure stack here, an unobtrusive pile there, and so on.

I see the logic in it, too. As Cynthia says, no one is squeaky-clean all the time. “Even the tidiest among us tosses clothes on the floor from time to time.” I can even relate this to email processing. Sure, it would be amazing to read and respond to every message every day, but for many of us that is not possible.

Now I want to ask you: do you maintain a clutter preserve, or maybe more than one? If so, do you attack it on a regular basis or is it there to offer sanity-saving permission to not be 100% perfect? Sound off in the comments, I’m eager to read what you think.

Knowing when to change

150714-room2Our driveway turns in from the road, runs along the western side of our property and ends near the rear of the house. Upon exiting the car, the walk to the back door is shorter than the stroll to the front. As a result, all traffic — and in and out — happens through the back door.

This wasn’t always the case.

When we purchased the house in 2000, the driveway didn’t exist. Cars were parked in front, and I hung a series of hooks by the front door. It made perfect sense: walk in, hang your keys on the hook. That is, it made sense until we stopped using the front door.

I’m a real proponent of “A place for everything and everything in its place,” because my sieve-like brain will forget where I’ve placed the keys (or the wallet or the kids’ snacks…or the kids) if they’re not in their designated home. So I’ve been insisting that keys go on the front-door hooks like a stubborn mule.

I’d find keys on the butcher block, which is quite near the back door, and grumble to myself as I carried them across the house to the front door. Sometimes I’d find them on the kitchen table, an act that was loathsome to me. “Ugh, who put these here?” I’d cry, shaking my fist as if I’d witness an unimaginable injustice. “The keys go on the key hooks!”

The problem wasn’t people ignoring the “rule.” The problem was that the rule no longer made sense.

I learned to let go and succumb to what the situation was trying to tell me when we repurposed the back room. There’s now an old dresser by the back door, onto which I’ve placed a small leather box that is the new home of keys. We’ve regained the enter-and-drop ease of the old days and more importantly, I’ve learned to listen to the situation.

It’s possible to become blindly dedicated to an organizational system. I insisted that we employ a strategy that was no longer effective, simply because I was afraid I’d be lost — or more accurately, my keys would be lost if that system was abandoned. It wasn’t until I stepped back and observed how the situation had changed that I realized the solution should change too.

The point is to look around at the solutions you’re using at home and at work. Are they still the best, most effective answer to a clutter issue? Has a situation changed that should prompt a solution change as well? Perhaps that one thing that drives you crazy — a constantly cluttered kitchen counter, the jam-packed junk drawer, phones and tablets piling up to be charged — is simply a symptom of a broken system. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

How to buy a filing cabinet

blue filing cabinetLast week I brought a filing cabinet to the dump. I was very happy to see it go.

I bought that cabinet on a whim. It was cheap, small and seemed perfect for what I needed. Less than a year later, it had one drawer that wouldn’t close and four others that had become junk drawers. I hated it, ignored it and used its top to stack papers. It had to go and, more importantly, it taught me how to properly buy a filing cabinet.

Today, I know what makes a perfect filing cabinet for me. Here’s what I found.

First and foremost, it must fit all of the documents I wish to file and fit into the allotted space in my home office. My work space is a small, second-floor room in a house with dormers, so there’s not a lot of wall space available. Therefore, a traditional vertical cabinet is for me. Perhaps a horizontal cabinet will work best in your space. This really is a crucial first step, so make this decision your starting point.

When I say “it must fit,” I mean both physically and within my workflow. Vertical and horizontal cabinets are used differently. A vertical cabinet is most traditional and features two to five drawers. Contents run front to back and face the user. There’s a lot of internal space, but files aren’t easy to get at. A vertical cabinet is a good choice for archival or reference files you don’t look at often.

A horizontal cabinet takes up more wall space and offers more interior space than vertical models. The benefit is their contents are much easier to access, so if you’ve got to get at files several times per day, a horizontal cabinet is a great choice.

Finally, I make sure my cabinet is within “swivel distance” of my desk. Human beings tend to follow the path of least resistance, so I make it as easy as possible to put something in my filing cabinet: just swivel my chair.

Next, a cabinet must be durable. That is to say, I don’t want to be stuck with that one drawer that won’t open unless you yank on it (or shut unless you slam it), the wonky wheel or busted handle. Much of this depends on what the cabinet is made of. The most common materials are metal and wood.

A metal cabinet can stand up to years of use and still look good. They are also easy to maintain and come in colors other than the plain beige you’re probably envisioning right now. They’re also easy to paint, so feel free to make it your own. When shopping for a metal cabinet, make sure it has a protective coating to prevent rust and double-walled steel sides for durability. No, metal filing cabinets are not flashy, but they do their job well.

Wooden cabinets look great and come in a huge variety of styles. They’re less durable than their steel counterparts, but if you’re in a low-volume office or a home setting, you’ll have it for years before it shows signs of wear. For a high-volume setting, where you’re in and out of drawers all day, go with a metal model.

If your chosen filing cabinet sits directly on the floor, consider placing it on a wheeled caddy. This can be very helpful when you need to move the cabinet to clean behind it or rescue your favorite pen.

Safety is another consideration. First, I want to keep my documents safe. If you’ll be filing important documents, like a birth certificate or social security card, consider a fire proof cabinet or one that locks (or both). I like to keep these things off-site in a safe deposit box, but if you must store them at home, make sure they’re safe.

I also want to be sure that anyone who uses the cabinet is safe. Look for interlocking drawers that will prevent tipping when multiple drawers are open at once. Additionally, cabinets with ball-bearing suspension systems will open reliably for years, so no wonky drawers that you yank open in frustration, risking injury.

Style, structure and safety are very important when looking for a filing cabinet, but easily overlooked. Like any tool you introduce to your workflow, a filing cabinet should be taken seriously. Happy shopping and let us know what you end up with.

The power of an organized daily routine

After working from home for seven years, I know what determines success more than anything else:

An organized routine.

There’s no project management app, list-making strategy or careful balance of work and home life that can top a proven routine for getting things done. In fact, the absence of a good routine hinders those things. Here’s how you can make a strong, organized routine to depend on. Let’s get started.

But first…

First, a note. The word “routine” implies rigidity. “This is the way it is and that’s that.” Well, no. A structured, organized daily routine is not divorced from flexibility. There will be times when, for whatever reason, things don’t pan out as planned:

  • The internet is down
  • Someone is sick
  • A last-minute cancellation
  • The car decides, “Eh, I think I won’t run today.”

When these things happen, and they will, it’s important not to spiral. Something might have to get moved around, postponed or abandoned entirely. A deadline might come and go. It’s always OK to re-work things a bit. Just be aware of that when the time comes. With that said, on with the show.

Let’s build an organized daily routine

Getting started with a routine that’s going to work is easy. It starts with what I call a “mind dump.” It’s a great way to list everything that’s on your mind, but it’s also a fantastic starting point for establishing a new routine, if you ask the right questions. Get a pen and paper, and answer the following:

“What must I get done each day for (work/school/volunteering/etc.)?”
“How much energy do I have at the start/middle/end of each day?”
“Which days offer more free time? Which ones offer less?”
“What are the errands that must be done daily or weekly?”
“What are the chores that must be completed?”

Don’t censor yourself at this stage. Nothing is too big (paint the mud room) or too small (brush teeth). As you go, you might generate your own questions. Perhaps getting prepped for work each morning or ushering the kids out the door for school.

When that’s done, it’s time for “triage.” Much like the triage nurse at the ER, you’re going to decide who (your tasks) get addressed when. In question two, you identified your energy levels throughout the day. Put the most labor-intensive tasks when you’re ready to tackle them, reserving the rest for later.

For example, I’m at my best in the early morning and afternoon. That’s when I write reports or articles, brainstorm new ideas for upcoming projects, work on the podcasts and so on. Meanwhile, I schedule other tasks, like responding to email, at the end of the day when I don’t want to think anymore.

Next, identify where you can do yourself favors. Before bed, I prep for the next morning: lunch ready for work, kids outfits ready for school, a list of my most important to-dos in front of my keyboard. Maybe you can bring a mission-critical paper out to the car so you won’t forget. Making this prep time a part of your daily routine is a huge time-saver (and headache reducer).

Give your brain a chance to do its thing

Your brain is good at solving problems. Make sure your routine includes a chance for it to do so. Most of the people we’d consider geniuses in their fields adhered to a daily routine that included a walk. According to Harvard Business Review:

“Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks every afternoon — and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Tchaikovsky made do with a two-hour walk, but wouldn’t return a moment early, convinced that cheating himself of the full 120 minutes would make him ill. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck.”

Taking a walk can help your brain function well. That deserves a slot in your routine, no?

I hope this was helpful. A good routine will make your life so much easier. Just remember to be flexible. If plays change on the fly, it’s OK! Go with it and adjust tomorrow. Good luck.

Tech for winter storm preparedness

As September gives way to October, we enter the heart of hurricane season. We’ve written about organizing your storm supplies before, and today I’ll focus on tech to help you weather a storm. If you haven’t organized your preparedness kit yet, there’s still time.

Stay informed

When a storm hits, it’s important to receive information from authorities. The American Cross ZoneGuard Weather Radio is great for this. It finds and delivers alerts for your area, flashes color-coded warnings and tunes into AM, FM and NOAA digital radio stations. It runs off of AC power or AA batteries.

A good hand-crank radio is also great to have, like this one from Esky. Just 60 seconds of cranking 20 minutes of use. There’s a solar charing option as well, but stormy days aren’t usually very sunny.

Your smartphone

If you own a smartphone, you’ve got a tiny computer that can be tremendously useful in an emergency. When your home’s power goes out, Wi-Fi goes with it. So grab your phone and rely on cell connectivity.

There are several great apps available, including The Red Cross, which offers apps specific to certain disasters, text alerts and first aid information. Of course, none of that matters when your phone’s battery dies. Keep it going with an Eton Boost Turbine. As you may have guessed, it’s a hand-crank charger for your phone and other USB devices. Just plug it in and get cranking.

Of course, don’t forget a good old corded phone. When cell/internet service goes down, or when your your power goes out, a corded landline phone will let you call out.

Shine some light

Finally, I have to identify my favorite flashlight of all time, the Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. LED flashlights are brighter than those with traditional bulbs, and the HP1 shines a powerful beam indeed. It takes rechargeable batteries, is water resistant, impact resistant, compact and feels great.

There’s a lot more you should do to prepare for a storm. Today we’ve pointed out a few bits of tech that you can rely on. We hope this was helpful. Be careful out there.

Being more productive by hiring some help

Unclutterer received an email from a reader who had a number of questions, many of which related to hiring people to help with various tasks. There are many reasons you might want to hire some help:

  • You may need to hire help to do things you physically can’t do yourself. I had this situation when I first came home after my hip surgery and had many movement restrictions. I needed someone to come in weekly to do the laundry, vacuum the floors, and run some errands.
  • You may need to hire help with specific expertise that you don’t have. For example, many people hire someone to do their tax returns.
  • You may want to offload time-consuming tasks that you don’t enjoy to free up time for other things that are more important to you.

And sometimes you may want to hire someone for more than one of these reasons. The only ongoing help I have is with my yard. My gardener knows much more about plant care than I do. She can readily climb a ladder to trim tall plants while that would make me uncomfortable. And I just don’t enjoy most gardening work and tend to put it off until it becomes problematic.

How do you best go about hiring the help you need? The following are some suggestions.

Define exactly what you want the person to do

Make sure your expectations are as clear as possible. This will mean writing things down, spending time explaining things verbally, or both. All the things you do by second nature will need to be specified. For example, when I hired household help I had to tell the person how my washing machine worked, what settings I used, how much detergent I used, etc.

Also determine what things you don’t care about. My home helper asked how I wanted my non-slip socks paired up and put away, and I told her to do it any way she liked.

If you make tasks as easy as possible for your helper, things will go more smoothly. When I sent my helper grocery shopping (with a list that included brand names and package sizes), it helped when I could tell her where in the store things were located, especially those that weren’t obvious. I also made sure she had my cell phone number so she could send me a text if she had any questions. If someone is going to unload your dishwasher, put away laundry, or otherwise tidy up, you may want to label the cabinets and closets indicating what goes where.

If someone is working on a project for you, make sure your communication expectations are clear. What kind of status updates do you want, and how often should they be provided? How quick of a response do you expect to calls, texts, or emails?

When relevant, be sure you’re clear about what supplies you’ll provide vs. what supplies the helper will provide. If the helper is providing things like cleaning supplies, do you have any restrictions on what products are used?

And be sure you’re clear about pricing and billing. If there’s an hourly or weekly rate, what’s included and what’s extra? Billing surprises are no fun for anyone!

Sometimes you may not know the specifics of what you need done, since you are hiring help to fill in for your lack of expertise. But even then you probably have some expectations you can define. For example, my gardener knows that I need to keep all plants from touching my house to minimize the risk of termites.

Consider your hiring options

Nolo has a helpful article about hiring household help. As the article explains, you can hire a company, hire a worker through an agency, or hire an individual. I got my home helpers through a company, while I hired my gardener directly.

And be sure you understand the legal aspects of your hiring decisions, including tax and insurance issues. Again, Nolo explains the basics, and you can consult a lawyer for more information.

Don’t be afraid to make course corrections

If you failed to specify some of your expectations (which can easily happen when you first set about hiring help) and now the work isn’t being done as you would like, talk with your helper about making changes. Sometimes just a tiny change can make a big difference.

If the change is too significant and you realize you and your helper are a mismatch, you may want to find someone better suited to your redefined needs. An ongoing mismatch may well make both you and your helper miserable, so ending the relationship can be best for all concerned.

Five uncluttering and organizing tasks you can do every day

The following are five simple things you can do every day to stay on top of your clutter-free home.

Make the bed

When my sisters and I were young, and our clothes or hair were a mess, my mother would tell us, “You look like an unmade bed.” Aside from looking messy, a bed piled with sheets and blankets is no fun to get into at night. It is, however, inviting to the dog, who will gladly deposit his fur on your sheets. Spending the three minutes it takes to make the bed will make things easier on the eyes and more pleasant at night, all while foiling the dog. You can always air out your sheets while you shower, and make the bed afterward if you’re worried about your sheets getting stagnate.

Do a load of laundry

Laundry can pile up very quickly. Miss a day and it feels like you’ve got a mountain on your hands. I’ve taken to putting a load in each morning and moving from washer to drier after work and folding it after dinner. It only takes a few minutes, and it keeps me from wasting an entire Saturday afternoon on conquering Mount Laundry.

Process the mail and papers

What piles up faster than laundry? The incessant onslaught of mail, papers, permission slips, advertisements, and so on that enter my home. Instead of piling it up in a heap, deal with it immediately (if possible). Keep a trash can, recycling bin, shredder, pen, and physical inbox in a convenient location to your main entrance so you get rid of the junk and trash immediately, and get the important paperwork identified and processed.

Prepare for tomorrow

If you adopt only one suggestion from this list, let it be this one. Each evening I ask, “What’s needed for tomorrow?” Kids lunches, umbrellas because it’s supposed to rain, gas in the car, permission form signed, what everyone is going to wear, etc. This allows me to avoid the last-minute scramble to do these things in the morning, teaches the kids to do the same, and lets me enjoy my evening knowing that nothing is going to blow up in the morning (probably).

Create an errands list

Let’s say on Monday you realize that the TV remote needs batteries, you’re almost out of toothpaste, and the car’s state inspection is due in 10 days. These all need to be taken care of, but they’re exactly the type of thing that will slip through the cracks of your memory if you don’t capture this information and get it on your to-do list or calendar. Have a reliable, simple way to collect these things — an app, a dry erase board on the refrigerator, whatever — that you can review. Then, the next time you’re in the car, you’ll know exactly where you need to go.

Staying on top of these things is easy. Just take on a few simple new habits and you’ll notice your life moving in a smoother manner.

Cleaning forgotten clutter zones

Our dog “Batgirl,” a middle-aged Boston Terrier, has a habit of holding a toy in her mouth as she looks out the window. If someone is walking down the street, she’ll grab a tennis ball and give them a good stare. If a car is parking at the neighbor’s house, she’ll welcome them with a squirrel chew toy and a mild growl. Her behavior is a sign that she’s protecting the family and showing off her favorite goodies in the process. The only problem with her scheme comes when she barks.

Inevitably, the tennis ball will fall from her jaws and tumble behind the couch. Mr. Squirrel sometimes suffers a similar fate. So, one of us has to pull out the couch to retrieve those objects, and usually discovers a whole menagerie of lost and forgotten things.

Items I’ve found behind the couch: Pencils, erasers, notebooks, action figures, hand sanitizer, and a water bottle I’d been missing for ages. After cleaning behind the couch, I typically turn to other forgotten places in my house that love to accumulate junk:

  • The top of the washing machine. We often find little bits and bobs in pockets while doing laundry. Designate a small, portable basket to capture/redistribute these treasures, and then return objects to their proper homes ever couple weeks.
  • Under beds. The classic “out of sight, out of mind” storage solution is a magnet for clutter. Get some low-profile, open containers on wheels to help keep these areas stay organized and useful.
  • The junk drawer. I’ve written about this before. Make an appointment to dig in there every few months or so to keep clutter from getting out of control.
  • That one closet. You know the one. For us, it’s right behind the front door, and houses the vacuum cleaner, a mop, and other cleaning items. The problem is that lone shelf that loves to gather anything and everything. Labeled bins can help organize this space.
  • Your home’s primary entrance. People love to drop shoes, backpacks, umbrellas, and clutter right at the door. Give this potential problem area some TLC once a week.

Those are the big offenders here at Chez Caolo. What are the forgotten clutter zones in your home? What’s it like under your kitchen sink? Sound off, and let us know how you keep hidden clutter areas under control.

Organize a home recycling station

When I deliver our recyclables to the town transfer station, I must root through my bins. I’d like to just dump them in the proper receptacles, but the kids sometimes put glass in the paper, or plastic in the glass, and so on. The sorting was annoying enough that it inspired me to create a home recycling center that worked for all the members of my family and consistently remained organized and uncluttered.

Getting started

If you’re interested in doing the same, the first thing to consider is if your county/city/recycling service supports single-stream recycling (also called “single-sort” recycling). If so, things will be quite easy for you, as you’ll need only two bins: one for recyclables and one for trash. If not, you’ll need as many bins as types of materials you’ll need to sort.

Where will the recycling be stored?

Your answer to this question will depend on your home. Do you want your recycle bins hidden away or can they be in plain sight? Tucking them away reduces visual clutter, but they’re more convenient when in the open. If you dislike the look of your bins or if you only need that one (you lucky, single-streamers!), then find a spot that’s away, like a pantry, enclosed porch, or garage. Just ensure that the location isn’t too inconveniently placed or the temptation to toss that plastic bottle into the trash will be larger. Also, if you choose a garage, porch, or other semi-outdoor location, ensure that critters cannot get at your bins.

At home, I opted for multiple white bins in the kitchen. We have the floor space for it, the bins look nice as long as they’re clean, and they’re terribly convenient in the kitchen.

Clearly mark each bin

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a crucial step. At first I tried keeping bins in a particular order: paper, glass, metal, and plastic. People forgot which was which. Next, I wrote labels on the lids with permanent marker in big, unmistakeable block letters. That’s been much more effective.

Effective, but not the prettiest solution. Fortunately there are many ways to improve the aesthetics. The Open IDEO has several great suggestions if you want to check out more attractive options.

Keep the area clean

A messy recycling center is like an irresistible party invitation for ants and other pests. Thoroughly rinse all containers for recycling before storing them, and occasionally clean out the bins themselves (I hit them with the hose as needed). If for some reason you miss a week’s pick up/drop off, either find a spot to keep what didn’t get picked up until next time (like a shed) or find an alternate drop-off site.

Lastly, line your bins. Your town might have guidelines for this, or even special liner bags that must be used. I just use brown paper bags from the grocery store. They keep mess out of my bins themselves, they’re free, and recyclable.

With a little time and attention, you can have a home recycle center that works. It’s relatively inexpensive and will save you time sorting.

The internet of things and home organization

Last week, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the world wide web (launched August 23, 1991). The phenomenal convenience — and distraction — we know today has evolved tremendously since then, from massive computers to the gadgets in our pockets. So what’s next? Engineers and computer scientists think it’s the “internet of things.”

What is the internet of things, or “IoT”? For our purposes, a working definition is:

“Every day objects with internet connectivity that are able to send and receive data.”

In other words, objects in your home that can grab information from the internet. It’s a compelling idea that has already spawned several interesting devices. But, will it help or hinder home organization? I looked at a few of the more popular IoT products to find an answer.

The Amazon Echo

Amazon’s voice-controlled, internet-connected speaker is part music box, part storefront, and a Siri-like personal assistant. Once plugged in and set up, the Amazon Echo cylinder knows when you’re talking to it and can provide, among other things, streaming music, weather, news, and the opportunity to buy from How does it fare as an organizational device?

The benefit is the growing collection of services that are available in one place. You’ll get the news stories and streaming music that I mentioned before, but the Echo can also check your Google calendar, read audio books from Audible, even order you a pizza from Dominos. Mostly, it’s about efficiency and convenience. If you like using and want to talk to a device instead of type, it could save you time and be of assistance. If not, the phone in your pocket most likely already does similar things.

Key Finder Tags

Bluetooth-powered key finder tags like the Tile, the Chipolo and the Duet are cute, unobtrusive little doodads (not a technical term) that you connect to items you’re likely to misplace: keys, purses, backpacks, etc. Once paired with our smartphone via the accompanying app, it helps you find where your times have gone.

These get a ringing endorsement from me for their time-saving capabilities. I include “misplacing things I need” among my hobbies. It’s an annoying hobby, but also all too real. Key finder tags greatly reduce the time I spend stomping around the house in frustration.

Smart Lights

There are many Wi-Fi ready, “smart” lighting systems to choose from, each with varying degrees of functioning. The Switchmate, for example, is a tiny piece of hardware that fits over your existing light switch. Installation is as simple as taking the Switchmate out of the box and placing it over a switch. Install the app and it’s ready to use. From there, you can turn lights on and off with the tap of an app.

Meanwhile, the Philips Hue adds more functionality. These smart bulbs can be controlled by a mobile app to turn on and off when you like, notice when you’re home, and so on. They’ll also change the very hue of the light they put out and let you save the various combinations of reds, blues, etc. to meet your mood.

Perhaps I’m a crotchety old man, but my first impulse is, “Can’t I just hit a switch?” In part this seems like a solution looking for a problem. But I see how it could be handy to have your house illuminate as you approach, or turn lights on and off while you’re out, to make would-be intruders think there’s someone at home. In short, I think smart lighting systems are a fun convenience, but not a massive help. At this point, they seem like one more thing to break or go wrong, especially if your home WiFi is out.

Digital notes to manage kids’ activities

Digital note apps are fantastic for easily taking information with you. I use Evernote as my cold storage for reference material. (That is, information that doesn’t require action, but might be useful in the future.) This has been my primary use for digital tools for years … until I had kids.

Today, I’m constantly recording information into Evernote to help me manage everything related to my kids. For example, I need to remember the address for Jane’s mom’s/dad’s house, or the dance studio, all the soccer fields, and so on, and this recorded information helps me do it. If it weren’t for a digital notes app, I’d end up texting my wife for that information or asking the kids to text their friends and then share the answers with me — a total waste of time.

To keep things organized and to save me time, I use text documents in Evernote for each new piece of information. I’ve designed what I refer to as a “Kid Info Database.” Any text note I create includes all of the following relevant tags:

  • Daughter’s name
  • Son’s name
  • Friends
  • Address
  • Activity

That’s it. I can search any of those tags and bring up all the relevant notes. For example, “Jane Address Grace Friends” brings up the driving directions to Jane’s house as well as a live link to Google Maps. The same goes for dance, scouts, and sports. It’s easy to set up and is very useful.

I can add to the list at any time simply by adding one of the tags to the notes I create. The link to Google Maps is excellent too, as I can get turn-by-turn directions from any starting point. Leaving Jane’s mom’s house and heading to the dance studio? No problem.

Using Evernote in this way has been a real shift for me as, like I said, I’ve always considered apps like Evernote to be a digital filing cabinet. Now, it’s a dynamic database that I use daily. If you’re like me, give this a try. It’s better than constantly texting people, “What is Jane’s address again?”

Easily assemble a new product

I remember the specific look of dread that would cross my father’s face when he would see “some assembly required” on a toy or item we acquired as kids. And I’m pretty sure that look has crossed my face a time or two, as well. Who needs that stress, right? Not dad, not me, and not you. Fortunately, if you’re willing to spend a little extra time and adopt some persnickety behavior, you can say goodbye to the intimidation of “some assembly required” in the future.

The key to moving past “some assembly required” anxiety is organization. I follow (and recommend you do the same) these steps, in the same order, every time.

Step one is read the instructions completely before beginning. I mean from start to finish, before you lift a single screwdriver or hammer, read all the instructions. This way you’ll know what tools you’ll need, what techniques are expected of you, and how much space and time you’ll need to get things done. Will the kitchen table suffice? The living room floor or even the back yard? Figure that all out before you begin.

The second step is to gather the tools you’ll need. Go and grab the hammer, screwdriver, tape measure, or whatever is necessary. Now you’re almost be ready. In addition to those things, I regularly add the following:

  1. A plastic bowl. This is used to store screws, nuts, bolts, and any other small, easily lost parts while working. These small bits won’t roll away or disappear into the carpet when they’re safely contained.
  2. A designated trash bin. It’s annoying to have torn cardboard, plastic, and other trash in your work area. I always grab a trash can, trash bag, or box to be the designated spot for trash as I work.
  3. My smartphone. Occasionally the written instructions aren’t clear. When that happens, I search YouTube for a video that might help. Often I’ll find a clip of someone putting the very thing together and it’s very helpful. You might also want to snap a picture if you discover a broken part or want to keep a copy of any product information.

Step three is the persnickety bit I mentioned, so bear with me. In this step you’re going to confirm that all of the parts are present and functional, and get them ready to go.

  1. Identify each part against the assembly instructions. Is “Dial A” and “Pole B” in the box? Great. Remove each part from its packaging. Put the packaging in the trash bin.
  2. Inspect each part to ensure that it’s not broken. It’s better to make this discovery now, instead of when you’re halfway done.
  3. Lay out all of the parts in a neat, easily-accessed grid in your work area. This is the part that makes my kids roll their eyes. I put each part on my work surface in a neat little arrangement. This way I can see and grab exactly what I need instantly.

At last, it’s time to put the thing together, and you’re fully prepared. You know what the process entails, you’ve got the trash out of the way, the necessary tools are in place, and each part has been inspected, accounted for, and prepped.

This does take a few extra minutes and can seem nitpicky, but it’s worth it. I hope this helps and that you, too, can laugh in the face of “some assembly required” by being well organized as you work.