Utilitarian tools: the pocket knife

Yesterday Jacki wrote a post about five of her favorite organizing tools. Her post inspired me to look at the tools I depend on daily, and one really stood out as having very high utility: my pocket knife. I have two, in fact. One is the Swiss Victorinix Centurion, which I always take camping, fishing, and occasionally use for jobs around the house. It’s great, but a little big for day-to-day-carry. That’s why the tiny little Swiss Classic SD is the knife I love.

I have one of these on my car’s keychain, so it’s almost always with me. I’ve been carrying it around for about five years, and proper maintenance has kept it in tip-top shape. Swiss Army knives are the ultimate “anti-unitasker.” Even with only got five features, mine is super useful:

  • Blade
  • File
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Toothpick

Just today, I’ve used my knife to open a package, cut rope and string, remove tags from clothing (it sails through those annoy plastic rings!), tighten/loosen a screw, and open letters. It’s also helpful outside the home.

If you decide to buy a pocket knife, you’ll find them at nearly every outdoor store and online. There are several styles to choose from, and I’ll cover just a few here. The first distinction is a knife with a locking blade versus a slipjoint. Simply, when the blade of a lock blade knife is open, it locks open. The Centurion I own is a lock blade knife. To put the blade away, you press a little tab to release it. Meanwhile, the Classic SD has a blade that does not lock in the open position. Which should you pick? It depends on the work you’ll typically do. For light work — opening packages, envelopes, and the like — a slipjoint knife is fine. More intense work, like you might do while camping or fishing, is best done with a blade that won’t move once opened.

Also consider the type of knife you might buy. I’m a big fan of multi-purpose knives, which house several blades and other tools.

When I was younger, my grandfather had a pocket knife on his person all the time. I can remember seeing him produce it seemingly out of nowhere, just in time to cut some string, tighten a screw, remove a stubborn thumbtack, or what-have-you. I thought it was a magical thing, but today I realize it wasn’t magic and recognize it as a tremendously useful tool.

Similar to a pocket knife, Erin has great admiration for the Leatherman MultiTool (one that flips out, not slides out) she received for her high school graduation. She also sings the praises of a good set of kitchen knives because they eliminate the need for so many larger unitaskers. Now, let’s turn it to you. What utilitarian tools — real multitaskers — do you rely on in your life?

Five favourite organizing tools

In the past 20 years, I’ve lived in eight different homes. Over this time period, I’ve come to realize there are some essential tools I have used in every home to get organized. The following are five of my favourites.

Expandable half-shelves. Many homes in which we have lived did not have adjustable shelving in the kitchen cupboards. Expandable half-shelves have allowed us to store more dishes in the cupboards and be able to access them easily. We also have used expandable half-shelves in bathroom cupboards to organize toiletries and cleaning supplies. I’ve even used a half-shelf behind my computer to save space by storing the external hard drive above the power bar.

Drawer organizers. We have dozens of drawer organizers and we use them everywhere. Most of the houses in which we live have odd-sized kitchen drawers that do not fit a standard cutlery tray. We use drawer organizers to keep our cutlery in order. We also use drawer organizers in bathroom and nightstand drawers. Drawer organizers help keep our office supplies in order and we also use them in our large toolbox so we can find what we need easily.

Plastic shoeboxes. I use these boxes to organize my shoes in my closet. I really like these boxes. They are transparent so I can immediately see the contents. They have tight fitting lids and they stack easily. They are useful for storing and organizing so many things beyond shoes, too. I’ve grouped all my sewing and craft supplies into these boxes so I can easily find them. We use one for our first-aid kit, one for holding our medications, and another for dental care supplies. Our electronics and gaming gear are also stored in these shoeboxes.

Plastic drawer cart. We’ve lived in houses that have not had any storage space in the bathroom. These carts have been extremely useful to store hairbrushes, cosmetics, shaving supplies, and extra rolls of toilet paper. Because they are plastic, they are not susceptible to water damage like wood or metal storage units. We have used these carts in other areas of the house to organize toys, art supplies, and office supplies. They also function well in entryways to keep mittens, toques, and scarves in order.

Rubbermaid 14 gallon (55L) Roughneck Tote. There are several reasons I really like this particular bin. I find it easy to carry safely even when it is quite heavy. The handles are well designed allowing for a good solid grip, my arms are a comfortable distance apart, and I can keep the tote close to my waist. We store off-season clothing, sports equipment, toys, paperwork, and holiday decorations in these totes. Another reason I like these totes is they are made from plastic that doesn’t get brittle and crack or break in cold temperatures. This is essential for storing items in cold Canadian attics, garages, and non-climate controlled storage units.

Home maintenance

Buying a house is the biggest expense many people make. In order to keep the property’s value from depreciating, regular upkeep is important. Even if you do not own your own home, you may be required to perform specific maintenance tasks as part of your rental agreement.

If you have recently moved to a new area, you may find that some tasks that you may have done in your previous home may not be applicable in the new home or may need to be done at a different time of the year. There also may be tasks you’ve never done that you now have to complete.

The former owners of your home or your landlord may be able to provide you with a list of required maintenance. The staff at your local hardware store may also be able to provide you with beneficial information since they know the area and materials. Your municipality or town council will often provide details on outdoor maintenance such as maximum heights of trees and hedges and during what periods of the year these plants should be trimmed.

Neighbours who have homes of similar age and design can be a valuable resource, too. For example, in one town where we lived, our neighbour told us that we needed to clear leaves and debris to ensure water would flow freely through the culvert under our driveway because if the water started to accumulate, it would cause flooding in our basement. We were very grateful for this information.

It can be hard to keep track of maintenance tasks because many of them are done only once per year. Checklists can help ensure these important jobs are completed. Both Microsoft and The Art of Manliness offer thorough home maintenance checklist templates. You will probably need to modify these checklists for your climate and to suit the type of home you have.

If you need to hire a professional trades person to perform specific services, such as furnace or chimney cleaning, you may find that during certain times of the year it can be almost impossible to get an appointment. Lifehacker provides a Google calendar to which you can subscribe and get reminders of what needs to be done and when. With the Google calendar, you can also add in reminders to book service personnel.

Home appliances, including lawn mowers, snow blowers, barbeques, and automatic garage door openers need maintenance, too. Most instruction/warranty books for your appliances will explain routine maintenance tasks that you can add to your spreadsheet. If you do not have the instruction/warranty book you can usually download it from the manufacturer’s website. It’s also very nice to keep these maintenance records in perpetuity for reference, remembering who serviced items if you used a company and if you were happy with that service, budget planning, and to eventually pass along to the next owner of your home.

Remember to include routine safety and security maintenance to your schedules. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency escape ladder, and your home alarm system.

Schedule time to schedule your time

As a part of my 2014 personal audit, I revamped my daily routine. I scheduled time for everything I’ve got my hands in, both professional and personal. Writing for Unclutterer, writing for TUAW, work on the Home Work podcast and Board Games Weekly, attending to the kids, and other family matters (like leading Cub Scouts, various pick-ups and drop-offs, even evening blocks of time to spend with the family). After all this scheduling you’d think I’m squeaky clean, right? Well, almost. I failed to schedule time to schedule time.

It sounds silly, but it’s crucial. In the course of a day, several things happen. I complete tasks. I gain new ones. “Stuff” comes in that I must attend to, like dates to remember, papers to review, emails … you get the picture. All of it must be dealt with, even if that simply amounts do deciding what’s trash and what must be done with the rest. I built a great system during my personal audit, minus the time to react to the ever-changing demands of modern professional and personal life. The following is how I’m fixing this oversight.

What?

The “what” here is a combination of new information that arrives during the day, as well as progress on existing projects and actions. A regular review of how I’ve organized and categorized my stuff is quite beneficial, too.

I’m not suggesting you obsess over your lists, as that’s counter productive. But regular mini reviews are helpful to determine where you stand.

When?

For me, early in the morning is not the right time to create an updated schedule. It seems tempting to sit down and say, “All right, let’s see what we’ve got today.” I get overwhelmed or distracted in that situation, and the next thing I know it’s 9:00 and I’m still fiddling with what I should be doing instead of working. Instead, I update the schedule for the following day at the end of my work day. For example:

Evening

After dinner on weeknights, my wife and I complete the same tasks. Review the kids’ backpacks. Make sure papers are signed/reviewed, etc. Next, we have the kids make snacks for the next day and pick out what they’ll wear to school. Mornings are stressful enough without having to run around the house trying to find clean socks. Again. For the hundredth time. Sigh. So, getting these tasks done in the evening is a huge stress reliever.

The same goes for work. In the evening, I identify and list what I’m going to do the next day. I rest easier and can get right to work in the morning.

Midday

I also added “fiddle time” to my schedule around midday. During this time I check off items I completed in the morning (a terrific feeling), review any incoming stuff that arrived since the morning, and finally review how I’ve categorized/organized existing items. It only takes a few minutes and now that I’ve scheduled daily time for it, I get it done and feel much more relaxed going into the afternoon.

Finally, repeat these steps when your work day is almost over and you’re energy reserves are running low. Then, schedule tomorrow.

Why?

Because reviewing an organized list of to-do actions and projects can reduce a lot of stress. Even when I feel I’ve got an overwhelming amount of stuff to do, the knowledge that I’ve got it categorized, sorted, and into my trusted system gives me a very real sense of being on top of things.

It’s great to have an effective to-do system that you love — just don’t forget to take the time to attend to it. You’ll be glad you did.

Ask Unclutterer: Creating categories

Reader Eza recently noted the following concern in the comment section of the post “How to get started organizing”:

I have huge problems figuring out how to categorise the items I want to keep and how to put them away. I have lots of empty drawers and shelves because I can’t figure out what to put where.

Eza, you’re not alone in this regard. And there’s no one right answer — different categories will work for different people in different situations.

Certainly there are some general principles about what to place where, such as storing frequently used items as close as possible to where they will be used, and using the most easily accessible space for the things used most often. The things you use only once a year can go in those top cabinets that are hard to reach — or in a storage room, storage closet, or garage — while the things you use every day are kept right at hand.

However, there will be plenty of individual variation in how people categorize. Let’s take the example of a kitchen. Some of the common categories people will have are silverware, cooking utensils, food storage containers, dishes, glasses, serving pieces, pots and pans, spices and herbs, food items in various subgroups (if not kept in a separate pantry), etc.

Sometimes people will create categories such as “morning coffee supplies” or “school/office lunch-making supplies” to make commonly performed activities easier. “Lunch-making supplies” may include food storage containers, napkins, and nonperishable food items — things that would normally be in three different categories.

Another example: If two people share a kitchen but tend to use different things, creating categories of “Person 1’s stuff” and “Person 2’s stuff” can make sense. If Person 1 likes certain teas or cooks with certain spices, it might work best to keep them separate from Person 2’s very different teas and spices.

Going beyond the kitchen, let’s turn to the clothes closet. Clothes can be categorized by type of garment (pants, jacket, shirt/blouse, etc.), use (work, casual, formal/party, etc.), season, or color — or by any combination of those. Generally, the fewer the items you have, the fewer categories you need. Someone who only owns seven pairs of pants will have different needs than someone with 50.

Whatever type of things you are organizing, remember that categories are intended to make you life easier. You may want to keep all spare light bulbs together in one category — but if certain bulbs are only used in one room, you may want to store them there rather than with all the rest. A pair of scissors may be part of your office supplies or your giftwrapping supplies — and if you use scissors often for both office work and wrapping, you may want two pairs so you can store them as part of both categories. While keeping like items together is a good general principle, there are times when it makes sense to separate them.

And the following are two suggestions about implementation of any categorization scheme:

  1. When you first set up your storage, you may want to label the outside of the drawers for a while, until you get used to what’s being stored where.
  2. As you begin your organizing, don’t worry about defining your categories and their locations perfectly. Whatever you choose doesn’t have to be final. You can always try something for a while, see what works well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly.

Thank you, Eza, for asking such as good question.

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

Storing Christmas decorations

If you celebrated Christmas this year, you’re likely ready to take down your decorations (if you haven’t already). The following are suggestions for how you can do that chore and be organized in the process.

Trees

Artificial trees must be broken down and stored, and there are numerous storage solutions available to you. In our house, we use tree bags by Vickerman. They easily hold a tree and its stand. The handles on the bag are nice and wide, so you can get a good hold of it while crawling into the eaves of the house (where we store ours). The bag’s material is sturdy, too, and after years of use there’s not a tear or a puncture to be had. Plus, they fold up to be quite small when the trees are out and on display.

If you have a real tree that is ready to go, you have a few options. Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s will often take your trees, as will local Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups. Alternatively, call your local municipality, as many governments have erosion programs that utilize old Christmas trees.

Lights

It’s tempting to toss these into a bag and figure you’ll deal with the mess in 11 months. Again, there are several options here, but my favorite is the good old coat hanger. Just wrap them on, hook them into place and hang as you would an article of clothing.

Extension cords

This is one of my favorite tricks for storing outdoor extension cords, so often used for outdoor lights. Don’t wrap it around your arm or wad it into a ball. Instead, braid it. By putting the two ends together, making a loop, pulling the length through to make another loop, repeating until you have a perfect braid that can be hung in the garage or basement. The best part is that the next time you use it, you only need to “unbraid” the length that you need.

Ornaments

Some of our ornaments have a strong sentimental value and deserve a little extra protection. An archival storage box does the trick. For the rest, we use significantly less expensive containers that are sturdy and easy to store. What I like here is that the wing-top folds completely out of the way, making it easy to get items and hands in and out.

Wreath

For storing wreaths, we use a wreath-shaped storage containers with a handle. My wife made a pair of artificial wreaths a few years ago that fit nicely in these containers, which keep them protected throughout the year. I will admit that after a few years of use, the latches aren’t as trust-worthy as they’ve been, so I’ve supplemented with a little bungie cord. Other that that, they’re fine and easy to transport.

What are your strategies? Let us know in the comments.

How to start organizing by setting yourself up for success

According to Statistics Brain, “Getting Organized” is the second most popular New Year’s resolution. If you’ve decided to be better organized in 2015, the following are tips that may help you accomplish your goal.

Check with your municipality to see what types of items they recycle. If your municipality offers special collection dates for pick up of large items, electronics, or household hazardous waste, mark these dates in your calendar. Also, schedule an hour or so the day prior to the special collection date to go through your home and collect all of the items designated for disposal. Place them at the curb or load them into your car to make disposal easy. Knowing when these special dates are makes uncluttering even easier.

Set up a disposal station (i.e. garbage and recycling bins) in the room that you are uncluttering. The work will go much faster if you do not have to walk through the house with each piece of rubbish. If your municipality requires you to separate paper from plastics and metals for recycling, set up two bins in the room, clearly labeling each one. The bins do not have to be fancy, a simple trash bag or a cardboard box will do. The important thing is making it easy to toss the trash.

As mentioned by fellow Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky, check local organizations to see what items they accept for donations. You can set up a central location in the house and have a separate bin for each group that accepts donations or you can set up one bin in each room for items that are destined for donations. Again, the bins do not have to be fancy, a cardboard box will do. The important thing is making it easy to clear the unwanted and unused objects from the room.

Set up a UFO (unidentified found objects) box to keep the items in one place until all family members have had a chance to confirm that the objects can be disposed or donated.

Start uncluttering the easy stuff first — the things you already know you wish to purge. You will see results immediately and it will provide positive encouragement to keep working away until the job is done. Two pasts Unclutterer posts, Things you probably have duplicates of that you can donate and Duplicates that you can donate or trash will help you identify the items easiest to unclutter.

How to get started organizing

As we begin each new year, many people resolve that this is the year they’re going to get organized. It’s a great goal, but it can also be intimidating. How do you begin? The following are seven tips:

Set realistic expectations

No one’s home looks like those featured in glossy magazines. Instead of aiming for that look, set your “organized enough” goals. For example, your goals might include being able to find things when you need them, having room to park your car in your garage, getting rid of the clothes your children have outgrown and the toys they no longer use, etc.

Decide on a schedule that works for you

If you have a major uncluttering/organizing project to do, you could do it short bursts of 15 minutes per day. Or you could decide to at least jump-start the project with a dedicated day where you just focus on your project. There’s no one right answer, so figure out what works best for your personality and what fits with your other time demands.

Unclutter first, then organize

There’s no point in putting things nicely into bins if they are things you don’t really want or need to keep. Do the uncluttering first, and then organize what’s left. If you do things in the reverse order, you may find you’ve bought containers that you don’t need, which then become container clutter.

Don’t get held up by the tough stuff

If you’re sorting through things making keep-or-not decisions and come upon something you’re conflicted about, it’s okay to just keep that item for now and move on. People often unclutter in phases, doing the more obvious things first.

Ask yourself good questions

“Have I used this in the past year?” isn’t always the most helpful question. Some other ones to consider are:

  • Would I buy this again today?
  • For clothes: Would this ever be my first choice of something to wear?
  • For reference books and papers: If I needed to know something about this, would I pull out this book (or these papers) or would I just search online?

Use good tools

You don’t want to be fighting with your frequently used tools. If you’re going to be doing a decent amount of shredding, invest in a good quality shredder. (I wasted a lot of time dealing with paper jams before I got a better shredder.) If you like filing papers in binders and you need to hole-punch papers for that, a good quality hole punch will save you a lot of effort.

Identify places to donate those things you don’t want

If you have items in good condition, there’s probably a place that would be glad to have them. Identify the organizations in your area that take donations, and then be sure you know the hours they accept donations and exactly which items they want. You may also want to consider using the free section of Craigslist or participating in your local freecycle group. (Search for your city name and the word freecycle in your favorite search engine to find one.)

Last minute stocking stuffer ideas

If you are someone who celebrates Christmas and are hunting for last-minute stocking stuffer ideas, we have a few ideas to help the people on your list to get organized:

Command poster strip value packs are great for kids and students who love to stick photos and posters to the walls. Command picture hanging strips are great for heavier pictures. The black ones are ideal for dark coloured picture frames.

Command decorative wall hooks can be used to hang coats or towels and the mini wire hooks can be used to hang keys or kitchen utensils.

Colourful Velcro cable ties are great for keeping cables behind computers or sound systems in order. They also can be used to keep the electrical cords of small appliances from getting tangled in the kitchen cupboards.

A lipstick sized portable battery can give your phone or camera an extra bit of charge while you’re out touring the town. This is a must for those who use their phone as a GPS or teens who text constantly.

GoToob travel bottles (pictured above) are approved for airplane carryon baggage. They have a wide opening so they can be filled easily and are made from silicone so you can squeeze them until you get every last drop out. Consider using them to unclutter your home shower and then store the mega-bottle of shampoo in the closet.

Rubbermaid’s mini food storage containers are ideal for storing spice mixes, sauces, and dips. They are also perfect for preparing portion-sized snacks in lunch boxes.

Handle holder hooks will keep brooms, mops, and garden tools organized and they will also work with ski poles, hockey sticks and other sports gear.

A 5-Pockets Coupon and Personal Check Size Expanding File can be used for organizing receipts and business cards from business trips, coupons, postage stamps, or collectors cards (e.g. Pokemon).

Labels of all sorts make great stocking stuffers. Check out our past post on an in-depth look at labels to find the perfect gift.

Organizing a home gym

One of the more common New Year’s resolutions is to get fit and those who are prepared to follow through on their resolutions prior to the start of January are more likely to be successful. If you’re someone who is looking to workout more in the new year, the following are tips on how to get your fitness equipment in order so you can begin your workouts in a comfortable, organized space.

Designate an area for fitness. Bedrooms, living rooms, basements, and even garages can be used for a home gym. You should ensure that there is enough space to safely do your workouts and store your fitness gear in the space you choose. There also should be adequate lighting. Natural sunlight from windows is ideal, but if you’re doing your workouts in the early mornings or late nights in a room that faces a busy street, you may wish to install some heavy curtains.

Safety is important. If you have children or pets, consider keeping doors closed or install barriers (baby gates) around fitness equipment. Even a small dumbbell can break a little toe or paw if it were to fall over. Machinery such as treadmills and rowers can pinch small fingers and catch tails. You may need to unplug fitness machines after use to ensure they cannot be accidentally started.

Multi-tasking fitness equipment. A treadmill laptop desk is ideal if you wish to work, read, or watch videos during your workouts. A stability ball can make a good substitute for an office chair but it does have a tendency to roll away. Keep the chair in its place using a stability ball stacker when you’re not using it. Use your regular bicycle indoors as a stationary bicycle by using a bicycle stand. To save space, the bicycle stand folds up and can slide under a sofa or bed when not in use.

Organizing fitness equipment. Six or eight sets of regular dumbbells take up considerable space, but you can get 12 to 16 sets of dumbbell weights in one set of adjustable dumbbells. Consider using adjustable dumbbells such as those by Powerblock or Bowflex for your home gym, if space is a concern. Smaller dumbbells can be mounted on a wall rack (pictured above), which could be hidden behind a curtain or hanging tapestry.

Yoga mats, blocks, and foam rollers could hang on a wall or in your closet in a Simply Stashed Boot Organizer or they could be stored under a bed or sofa in an under-bed storage bin.

Consider wall mounted or over-the-door hooks to hang jump ropes and resistance bands. GearPockets can be used to hold ankle/wrist weights, handgrips, weight clamps, and other miscellaneous fitness equipment.

For those who prefer to workout at a gym, having your “go-bag” prepared and stored in a convenient location will make it easier to get to your fitness class on time.

Todoist is a task manager with two cool tricks

We’ve covered some nice productivity software over the years, like TeuxDeux and Due. Today, I want to point out Todoist, not only because it’s nearly ubiquitous, attractive, and effective, but because it has two features I think are really great. The following reasons are why Todoist is the digital project manager that has my attention these days.

It’s everywhere

Okay, so this isn’t one of the cool tricks but it’s something very much worth mentioning. Todoist boasts that it’s available on 13 platforms and devices. I’ve been using it on my Mac and iPhone, but you’ll also find options for Android and Windows, plus extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Outlook, Gmail and more. In my experience, synchronization between my computer and phone is lightning fast.

Import and export

Todoist lets you make color-coded projects and tasks, complete with tags, due dates, repeating events and so much more. It’s great-looking and effective. What’s really cool is its ability to import and export templates.

Here’s how this time-saving feature works:
When you create a new project, it’ll probably have several steps that must be ticked off before the thing can be marked as done. You can be really thorough, like me, and add due dates, contexts, color coding and more. Sometimes there will be a project that you’ll do over and over. A good example is the podcast I run at 5by5. Each week I go through the exact same steps, from scheduling to research and publication. I could add those steps to a project week after week, or I could just use a template.

Once a project is set up exactly how you like it, select “Export template” from within Todoist. It converts all those steps into a simple text file, with all my customization intact. I can store it wherever I want, and opting to import it sets up that project all over again, and all I had to do was click a single command.

There’s a great post on the Todoist blog that features several templates that are ready to import and use, including holiday gift shopping, pre-Christmas organizing, a holiday party plan, and even one for travel. I’m using the Christmas organization one now, and have saved the travel template for the future. This feature saves me so much time.

Karma points

I promised you two tricks, and the second one is something I should not like as much as I do. As you complete tasks, Todoist awards you with “karma points.” The more you use the app, the more points you receive. There are several ranks to earn and a pretty chart. Ignore the app or fail to complete tasks on time, and you’ll start to lose points. Yes, it’s 100 percent gimmicky and silly, but I totally get excited when I see my point total climb.

There are a huge number of project management apps available, and Todoist is only one of them. But I love its clean looks, near ubiquitous access and fantastic templates. You can use Todoist for free as long as you like, or upgrade to the premium version for $29 per year. I’ve found it to be definitely worth the expense.

My humble shoebox museum

Last year, I received a subscription to Birchbox as a Christmas gift. Birchbox is a nice little subscription service; every month, you receive a box full of sample-size health and beauty aid products. So, in addition to my new collection of shaving creams and such, I also have 12 sturdy little cardboard boxes.

The boxes that were used to ship products to customers are great — they’re made of sturdy cardboard and feature a slide-out drawer. I haven’t thrown a single one away, as they seem so darn useful. Yet, until very recently, they were still stacked on my dresser, unused. In other words, they were clutter. I didn’t like that I was keeping them around only for their potential, so I came up with a useful idea for what I could actually do with them.

For many years, I’ve been a fan of David Seah. He’s a designer and developer whose productivity tools I use regularly. Recently David wrote on his blog about what he called “Project Shoebox,” and it struck me as the perfect application for my collection of boxes.

David recalls an excerpt from Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. In the book she explains that when she begins a new endeavor, she puts all of the inspirational, related material into a big box. Could this practice be applied to productivity or personal organization?

After ordering several boxes and a shelving unit, David began filling the boxes. However, he didn’t simply create the categories you might expect, like “electronics,” “photos” or “office supplies.” Instead, he took a different approach. Hey explained:

“I started with a heap of old boxes filled with gew-gaws and trinkets, and just started moving similar things into the new boxes. It took about three hours to collect everything, box, then label with Post-It® notes. I didn’t think too hard about the categories, making them up based on my own sense of whimsy.”

Sound haphazard? I tried it myself, and was pleased with the results. My boxes now contain things like travel treasures, notebooks, stamps, other desktop paper goods, and things that remind me of the kids. I even have a box labeled “flying things” that contains a tiny RC helicopter, its repair kit, a wind-up duck, and a balsa wood plane kit.

Like David, I’m happy to have a place to keep my “gadgets and gizmos in one place.” My stack of boxes reside in my office so they’re not cluttering up the house. Most importantly, they allow me to keep the personal things that I love off my desk and taking up room, yet still organized and accessible. While going through what I put together my daughter remarked, “It’s like a dad museum!” I thought that was sweet, and entirely accurate.

I’m glad to finally be putting my Birchbox boxes to use. Some folks are more clever with these things than I am, but that’s okay. I think my new filing/storage system/personal museum is going to work out fine.