Create your own home maintenance manual

Recently I recommended becoming your family’s technology manager. With a little forethought, you can be on top of backups, passwords, and your devices. This week, I’m expanding that notion to include general home maintenance by creating a DIY Home Owner’s Manual that will save you time and money.

The first project

I started my Home Owner’s Manual while repairing an old clothes dryer. Its drum had stopped turning, leaving a pile of warm, damp clothes. I grabbed the toolbox, unplugged the machine, and got to work.

After removing the rear panel, I saw its simple mechanics. A thin belt ran between the motor and the large drum. That belt had snapped in half, leaving the motor to chug along without disturbing the drum full of wet clothes. “Ha!” I thought. “I can fix this.”

I Googled the model number to find the right part, which I bought from the hardware store. At home, I took notes while making the repair.

I sketched the dryer, noting the screws that held the rear panel. I drew the interior, labeling the components. Next, I noted the model number and part number, and sketched out the process of replacing the rear panel. In a matter of minutes, the dryer was back in the clothes-drying business.

I’ve since made pages about replacing the furnace filter, changing the lawn mower’s oil, and wiring our smoke detectors. Today, I have a fantastic reference to our home, written by me, that’s fully annotated, and you can do the same.

Take your manual digital

You can very easily go digital with your manual, and make it tremendously easy to find just the page you need. First, get yourself an Evernote account, if you don’t already have one. Make photo notes of your manual, tagging the images as appropriate. Now, you’ve got a ubiquitous, digital home owner’s manual you can reference on your mobile device. But there’s one more cool trick you can pull off as part of this digitizing process.

You can create QR codes for one-tap retrieval of the project page you want. Every Evernote note has a unique URL. To find it, simply open the note in your Evernote app and select Copy Note Link from the Note menu. Then, make a QR Code with that URL, using a free QR Code generator like KAYWA QR Code Generator. Once that’s done, print the page on sticker paper, cut out the code and stick it to the side or back of your dryer, lawn mower, whatever. (You could also tape a regular sheet of paper to the device with a piece of packing tape.)

Whenever you need your notes for that device, all you need to do is scan the QR code and presto! Evernote will launch and open the exact manual pages for you.

A DIY Home Owner’s Manual can be an invaluable tool, and organizing one is easy. Take the time whenever you perform a home improvement or maintenance project to create the pages you’ll want again in the future. You’re creating a great reference that you can even pass on to others in your home or future homeowners if you sell your place.

Organizing summer with a professional organizer

“Disorganization is a delayed decision.”

That was the most valuable quote and pervasive theme of my conversation with Heidi Solomon, the woman behind P.O.S.H., or Professional Organizing Systems by Heidi. Now 10 years into her organization business, Heidi took some time to sit with me to discuss best practices and creating a summer organization system that will last well beyond the warm weather.

After a little New Englander bonding (Heidi is in Boston), I asked about her definition of an organized person. “A big part of [being organized] is deciding where does something go, do I actually need it, etc. early and often. But truly, the systems you employ are irrelevant.”

“I’m an organized person” means life can erupt and not cause an immense amount of stress to reset your space.

Summer is starting, so we discussed strategies for being organized after coming home from a vacation or a trip. When you already have established locations for all the things you own, unpacking and returning to normal can be accomplished in a couple of hours, as opposed to living with suitcases for a few days.

My summer kicks off for real on Wednesday, as that’s when my kids will be out of school. The end of the school year, Heidi says, is a perfect time to evaluate the systems you’ve got in place. “Kids’ interests and developmental and physical changes are rapid. A system that worked six months ago might be breaking down as these changes occur. Take this time to look at what’s working and what isn’t. Are there clothes that no longer fit? A play area or toys that are no longer appropriate/receiving attention?”

“Plan along the natural calendar schedule of the school year,” she advises. “In August, set aside a day or two to go through belongings and identify what’s no longer relevant. As the year progresses, for example, they outgrow boots or hats. Have a bin that’s a destination for these things — again, we’re back to making decisions early. Christmas and summer are also great opportunities for a check-in.”

To me, summer means using a lot of towels. We live on a lake and that means the back porch is continually draped with towels. And bottles of sunscreen. Plus a few swim masks, beach toys…you get the idea. For many, summer introduces a unique mass of stuff. How, I asked, can we create a system for “summer stuff” that will last beyond August 31? She said it starts with what’s available to you.

“If you have a closet that can accommodate these things in clear, labeled containers, great,” she told me. “If not, a door hanger works so well. Put the kids’ stuff at the lower level. That way everyone can just grab and go (and replace!) with ease.” Why clear containers? To help the young ones see what goes where.

“For many of the younger set,” Heidi said, “items are out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Simply being told the sunscreen goes on the back of the door might not be as effective as it would with an adult. Using clear storage lets them see what is where, and fosters recall of where it goes when not in use.”

As far as creating a sustainable system that will work for everyone, a little conversation goes a long way. “Not everyone organizes in the same way. It’s based on the way you learn, which is, in part, a function of how you process information. Ensure [to use] each ‘user’s’ preferences and learning style. Kids are often visual learners, so the see-through containers help them.”

With a little thought, frequent re-evaluation and consideration for everyone in your organizing system, you can get through the busy summer — or any season — with solutions that work effectively. Big thanks to Heidi for taking time to chat with me.

Simple tools to help you organize a laundry room

I recently added a basic table next to our washer and dryer and it has been tremendously useful. From holding clean clothes while I find a basket to letting those “lay flat to dry” sweaters do their thing, I’ve fallen in love with this simple addition to our laundry room. Since I started experiencing the benefits of this table, I’ve become obsessed with maxing out the laundry room’s efficiency and usefulness, and I want to share the best of what I’ve found with you.

A table or shelf

I should note that when I say laundry room, I really mean a corner of our basement. That proves an important point: you don’t need a dedicated room to have a functional laundry area. Likewise, a simple table or shelf will work wonders in this space, as I’ve described. Find something inexpensive and you’ll find a hundred and one uses for it. (Just don’t let it become a place for clutter to accumulate.)

Room-specific baskets

With four people living in our home, everyone is responsible for putting their own laundry away. A simple shelving unit with labeled laundry baskets solves the issue. Fold, sort and hand them off to the right person for putting away.

A place for pocket finds

We’ve got two kids and we’re often finding odd things in their pockets. These have a tendency to get piled up on top of the dryer, but all that does is clutter up the space. Instead of the entire top of the dryer, I brought in a small container just for these objects. Now I can put the bobby pins, coins, LEGO figures, and who knows what into a nice, portable bowl for redistribution.

Designated space for air dry items

Some items can’t go in the dryer. Those that must lay flat to dry can do so on the table or shelf. For the rest, an inexpensive garment rack can do the trick (and the one I linked to and is pictured above it features two bars for hanging clothes and is fully adjustable, which is great). Plus, if you get one on wheels, you can push it out of the way when you’re done.

What does it mean to be organized?

I’ve read many good definitions of what “organized” looks like, but I recently came across one from organizer Matt Baier, which read in part:

My definition of organizing is “taking the less important stuff out of the way, so that you can get to the most important stuff.”

To me, organizing isn’t effective, if there isn’t a process of prioritization. … Furthermore, I believe subtraction always has to be part of the process. By saying “out of the way,” I don’t mean just discard and donate, but also sell, store, and archive. You can still keep things, but when you free up the most space for just the most important items, it is easiest to STAY organized. Of course, taking the less important things out of the way, must be done in such a way, that you can always TRUST that you can find what you want, when you want it, in storage and archives too.

This definition really resonated with me because of my own situation this past month. I had hip replacement surgery, and I knew I’d have a lot of movement restrictions when I came home. So I really needed to put this definition of organizing into practice.

Since I wouldn’t be able to bend down very far, I needed to prioritize what sat on my counters, within easy reach. So down came the food processor, since cooking just wasn’t going to happen for a while, and up came the paper plates for serving the Chinese food I could get delivered. In the closet that serves as my pantry, down came the staples for cooking (tomato sauce and such) and up came things like the bran cereal.

Because of my movement limitations, I wound up working with a home services agency to get someone to come in weekly to do light housekeeping and laundry, and to run errands for me. Fortunately, my garage storage is organized, so I was able to tell her just where to find things like a new toothbrush.

And yes, there was definitely some subtraction. One example: I knew I needed to find a place to stash the Bosu balance trainer which took up valuable floor space I would need when using a walker. I certainly wouldn’t be using the Bosu for a while! But then it dawned on me that this was a piece of equipment I probably wouldn’t want to use at all in the future (for fear of losing my balance and coming down in a way that damaged my new hip) and I gave it away on freecycle.

The prioritization process also applied to my to-do list. I considered what things had to be done pre-surgery and was comfortable deferring everything else.

Of course, Matt’s advice about prioritization works for everyday situations, too. There were many things I didn’t need to change, because my prior organizing efforts meant the most important things were already identified and readily accessible. But one side benefit of preparing for surgery was taking some time to re-evaluate what was important, and making some changes that will benefit me even after I’m fully recovered from the surgery.

Organizing the end of the school year

June is upon us and if your kids (or you) aren’t already out of school then the last days of school are right around the corner. It’s time to say goodbye to homework and celebrate an end to the 2015-16 school year.

With a little prep you can wrap up the school year with a tidy bow and prepare for next year now. Imagine staring the summer knowing that some of the work for back-to-school 2016-17 is already sorted. The following will help you get started.

End of the school year

I’m all about avoiding clutter, so identify what we won’t need over the summer and put it away — now. The items on this list will depend on the age of your student(s).

Young kids:

If your student attends a school that requires a uniform, make sure it’s properly stored away for the summer. (Be sure to properly store off-season clothes.) Before you store it away, however, consider if your kid will likely wear that size next fall. Will it fit in September or will the uniform requirements change when the kid goes back? If it’s not going to work, see if your school accepts donations of gently used uniforms or uniform components (vest, skirt, etc.).

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself bemoaning the fact that I’ve got to buy a new batch of pencils, erasers, sharpeners, and so on each year. Chances are there are some good, perfectly useable options in Jr.’s bag. Set them aside for the “First Day Back Box,” which I’ll explain in a bit. They’ll be easy to find and save you a few bucks.

It’s also a good time to sort through the bin of artwork and papers from the year and only store the best of the best items. Everything else can be photographed and some can be shipped off to grandma or an aunt or someone who would love to have one of your kid’s creations.

Older kids:

For high school students and college kids, the list is certainly different. Sort through papers and materials and get rid of anything that won’t be reused or needed in the next school year.

College students may find some textbooks invading their spaces. If the textbook is one you’ll need in the future for reference material, find a convenient but out-of-the-way location for it. If you’ll never have use for that Art History book again, sell it back to the bookstore or an online retailer (if you haven’t already).

Special topic: Bags

School bags can be used all year. A backpack, for instance, can follow a younger student to camp or family outings, like hikes. For older students, a shoulder bag could be useful at a summer job. Store these, however, if you don’t foresee a need.

Teachers

Let’s not forget the teachers when it comes to end-of-school! You folks work hard all year and now that those 180 long days are gone, it’s time to enjoy the summer sun. First, get organized from the year and prep for September.

Teacher gifts:

It’s always heartwarming to receive gifts from students and families you served over the last several months. If you’re a veteran teacher, however, they tend to accumulate. Have a plan for where these gifts are going to go if you choose to keep them. I know one teacher who uses a bit of hot glue and some wire to turn smaller gifts into tree ornaments. Her “teacher tree” is quite the sight each year. Others can be re-gifted (be honest, it happens). Just don’t let them take over your space.

Purge:

For some reason, teaching generates huge libraries of stuff, some of which never gets used. That draw of toilet paper tubes from the late ’90s? It might be time for them to go. Have a good, honest go-round in your classroom and ditch, donate, or hand-off to another teacher anything you probably won’t use.

Take a photo:

It’s likely that the custodial staff will give your classroom a good cleaning over the summer. You might return to find the furniture neatly stacked in the center of the room in September. Today, take a photo that shows how your room — each area — is set up. That way, you’ll have a reliable reference when you’re setting back up. Speaking of….

The “First Day Back Box”

This is a clearly-labeled, accessible box that will be the first thing you open when you’re getting ready for school to resume in the fall, be you a teacher or a student (any grade level).

Fill it with the most essential items that you’ll need for the start of school next year. That might include scissors, a stapler, paper clips, pen and paper, or thumbtacks. Maybe you’ll need some cash for a week of lunches, or pocket-sized tissues.

High school students might add a USB flash drive or binders. Perhaps a college student will need an ID or course catalog. In any case, take the time before hitting the beach to think of the must-have items that will make your first day a breeze, collect them all, and create your (labeled) First Day Back Box. Finally, keep the box accessible as you will likely get a list of items necessary for the next school year during the summer, and you can easily add those items to the box.

With a little forethought and elbow grease, you’ll have organized you stuff from the current school year and prepped for the fall.

Quickly measure a room with Roomscan Pro

Last week, I spoke with Jacki Hollywood Brown, former Unclutterer contributor. During that conversation, she brought a great app to my attention called RoomScan Pro by Locometric.

“Being a military family,” Jacki told me, “we move a lot. Presently we’re on our tenth move in 25 years.” With each new move, the military allows them do a “house hunting trip” of about 5-7 days, during which they can choose a new home prior to their actual move.

This preparation requires some careful calculation. The following is how it works. There is a maximum house size limitation that is based on number of family members. The calculation for the maximum house size only includes actual living space such as living room, kitchen, bedrooms, bedroom closets, and bathrooms. It does not include stairways, hallways, storage areas, utility rooms, or laundry rooms. Most of the time, rental agencies and real estate agents provide the square footage of the entire house. They may include room sizes (e.g. bedroom = 12′ x 11′). All this means that Jacki must quickly calculate the actual living space to determine if the house they are looking at meets the maximum limits.

“In the past,” she told me, “we’ve carried a large measuring tape and measured each wall. We also used a laser measurer.” That’s a time-consuming practice. RoomScan Pro makes things easier.

Instead of lugging a tape measure around and making measurements, you simply launch the app, place your phone on each wall in the room and watch as it creates a floor plan, complete with wall measurements. (RoomScan Pro in action.)

You can use it to draw the floor plan of one room in less than a minute. You can add windows and doors to your rooms too. In order to place the windows and doors in the correct places on the walls, you do need to measure the distance from one edge of the window/door to the edge of the wall.

You can add another room beyond any doorway you create in order to do the plan of an entire house. The length of the walls can also be manually edited if you so choose, for example compensate for thick baseboard trim.

Jacki notes that she and her husband were able to measure a 2000 square foot apartment in about an hour. The resulting plan will allow them to figure out what furniture will go where or whether or not it’s even worth it to move certain pieces of furniture from their current home.

I highly recommend this app to realtors, professional organizers, interior designers, and decorators who need a fast and easy way to create a floor plan. There is also an in-app purchase option that allows you to download the floor plan in various formats, including those that can be imported to a CAD program. It’s just not for those who routinely move, but anyone who needs a reliable floor plan quickly and easily. If that’s you, check it out.

Organizing with an ADHD mind

Today we welcome guest post author Ryan McRae, who is the founder of the website TheADHDnerd (a blog dedicated to helping people with ADHD be more productive). If you’re interested in learning more, he has a free book for download, Conquering Your Calendar and Getting More Done.

I’ve had ADHD all of my life and I never had the natural ability to organize; I distinctly remember my third grade teacher dumping my desk out when I couldn’t find something. I remember misplacing my wallet constantly and having clutter surrounding me most of my days.

The amount of time I have wasted letting my ADHD run my organizational life could have earned me a Ph.D.

No more. The following are the strategies I use to get my ADHD to cooperate with my need to have my life in order.

Pick your battles

If you are looking to clean your house, your ADHD mind will quickly attempt to deter you from this enormous project. You have to break it down into manageable pieces and if your ADHD still pressures you to catch up on your Netflix queue, break it down into smaller bits and pieces.

Instead of “cleaning the bathroom” decide to simply tidy up the sink and throw out old, empty containers. Once you do that, you’ll find one more task to do and then do that. Set that strategy on “repeat” and you’ll find you cleaned the entire place without firing up “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Double duty

One task I absolutely detest doing is laundry. The entire spectrum of the task from loading the washer to putting away the folded t-shirts puts me into a fit.

So what I do is put on a movie I’ve seen before or a podcast and listen to it while I do this abhorrent task. If there is ever a Kickstarter project that eliminates this task, I’ll put a lot of money behind it.

If you can couple something you love with something you don’t quite enjoy, you’ll be much better off. As Mary Poppins said, “A little This American Life makes the laundry get put away…”

Develop routines

When I used to get home from work, I’d change out of my work clothes, flop down on the couch, and think about what dinner was going to be. Many times I didn’t get up from the couch. I noticed that the next day I couldn’t remember what I did with my keys and where my shoes were. My mornings didn’t start off great and left me no time for coffee. And who has two thumbs and loves coffee? This guy.

So I had to develop a routine that I would launch into as soon as I went home so I knew where my stuff was as well as leave me room for my beloved nectar, my best friend, coffee.

When I get home now, I simply do the following:

  • Grab the mail and go through it and only take in the house what I need to process. Throw out the rest.
  • Empty my pockets in the container by my front door immediately.
  • Change out of work shirt and evaluate if it can be worn again: hamper or hang it.
  • Wash hands
  • Fix Dinner

I do this every time. This way I know where everything goes and I don’t have to sweat getting my evening going. I’ve built a great morning routine and before-bed routine as well. This minimizes my stress and headaches searching and wondering what I’m doing next.

Maintenance day

I stole this idea from Chris Bailey in The Productivity Project. Having one day, a maintenance day, to do all of your low energy tasks is much wiser than alternating between something that takes a lot of time (cleaning out the garage) and then trying to do something simple (dusting the living room). Batch all of your simple tasks together.

He calls these “low-return” tasks. Instead of doing them throughout the week, depleting some willpower throughout the week, just knock them out all in one day.

For example:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Clean house and office
  • Do laundry
  • Water plants
  • Clear out the inboxes

Since my Thursday is my maintenance day, I will get up early, and attempt to get all these little tasks done before 1:00 p.m. It’s my own personal competition — this way they are cleared out for the week and I can set my mind on other larger projects.

Simplify

ADHD can trick me into being collectors of all kinds of things. My weakness is t-shirts. My t-shirt collection grows due to sales and convention swag every year. I can’t get enough t-shirts.

It becomes a storage issue quite quickly. So I have my own personal Hunger Games when it comes to my t-shirts. Once I can’t fit the folded shirts in the drawer, it’s elimination time.

I use my ADHD to quickly assess which t-shirts will remain and which will be donated to the local thrift store. I simply sort them and if they don’t grab my attention, they must go. If I try it on and it’s a bit of a stretch, it is soon eliminated.

Scan, store, or shred

Paperwork can grow like this overwhelming kudzu, filling the desk and creeping into every bare surface in the house. When it comes to paperwork, there are only three choices.

Paperwork I know that I need in a moment’s notice, I’ll scan using my smartphone. I save everything on Evernote and make sure it’s secure. Examples of what I scan are: travel itineraries, passport information, and my car insurance card.

When I need to store something larger, I have a file folder system — this is for manuals, workbooks, etc.

Otherwise, I shred it and don’t look back.

How to organize a beer tasting

It’s Monday and the weather is turning nice here in the northern hemisphere, so I thought it would be fun to talk about an organizing project that isn’t super serious. Specifically, if you’re someone who enjoys spending time with friends over a good beer, this post is for you. With a little preparation you can have an entertaining, informative, and laid-back beer tasting at home.

My love affair with beer started with the yellow American lagers we all know. After these traditional American beers, I ventured out to other styles. The beer that really caught my attention early on was a Bass Pale Ale. What an experience that was: sometimes beer is brown! And bitter! What else is out there?

Today I enjoy porters and stouts, IPAs and bitters, Witbier, and Scotch ale. And that’s part of the fun of beer. It’s varied yet accessible. Casual yet complex. While wine can be intimidating, beer never is. That’s part of the fun of a beer tasting, and having an organized beer tasting is easy.

What to buy

Before you run out to your favorite store to buy beer, you must know your audience. Remember, the idea here is to introduce and try novel styles, but you don’t want to make that an unpleasant experience for your guests.

If your guests typically enjoy the aforementioned traditional American lager, consider lighter styles for your tasting. A lager like Hoponius Union is a great choice. Likewise, you’ll do well with a golden ale like Ipswich Summer Ale or a Born Yesterday Pale Ale from Lagunitas. The idea is that these “crossover” beers, as they’re called, are similar to what your guests like so as not to be a total turn-off, yet different enough to be compelling and interesting.

Conversely, if you’ve got some adventuresome palates on your guest list, adjust your shopping list accordingly. Find something really special to share. Or, maybe go with a themed tasting like “Oktoberfest” or “Refreshing Summer.”

Remember, too, that you don’t want to overwhelm your guests with too many flavors. Four or five options should be all you need.

Serving

Make sure there’s plenty of room in the refrigerator. Most beer likes to be upright and stored at about 45ºF, though there are exceptions. Unless you’re serving serious beer snobs, don’t worry too much about that. Just make sure the beer is cold by serving time.

Glassware can be important, depending on how much you want to get into it. It’s believed that certain glassware can enhance the experience of drinking various styles of beer, by trapping aromas and such. If you want to go for it, go for it. You’ll add to the fun. Honestly, for most beers and the people drinking it, plain old pint glasses will do fine. If you can, avoid paper or plastic cups.

Tasting

I recommend starting with the beer with the lowest percentage of alcohol by volume and moving toward the highest. Additionally, put your hoppiest beers toward the end, as they’re typically strong in flavor and can affect your ability to enjoy more subtle and nuanced offerings earlier in the tasting.

Lastly, have some food on hand. Bread and popcorn will help “cleanse the palate” between brews. Cheese goes well with beer, so a variety of cheeses might be a good idea, too.

Getting home safely

This may be obvious, but you are inviting people to travel to your home and drink alcohol. I recommend finding designated driver(s) and rewarding them with a gift of some sort. This way everyone is safe and the people who do the shuttling are rewarded for their part.

A beer tasting can be a lot of fun and educational. Expand you horizons a bit and try something you typically wouldn’t. Learn about the styles of beer and where they’re from. Finally, understand that a “beer expert” is simply a beer drinker with an opinion.

Simple, powerful organizing advice

Last week, I came across a helpful article from 2007 on Zen Habits about 27 simple organizing habits. Twenty-seven is a lot of habits, but one of them (a three-parter) really struck me as being essential for an uncluttered life. If you’re looking for straightforward and easy advice to follow, consider adding Leo’s #21 as basic habits to your every day routines:

  1. Write things down
  2. Execute
  3. Tidy up along the way

Write things down

The act of writing things down helps you remember details. Think of the notes you took in college or the shopping list you can “see” in you head. Today more and more people are producing digital notes, but research suggests that’s not the best method as far as recall is concerned.

In 2014, the Association for Psychological Science conducted a study on note-taking and recall. A group of students were told to take notes on a lecture. Half of the subjects used a laptop while the others used pen and paper. While both groups memorized the same number of facts, the pen-and-paper group outperformed their counterparts in tests on the material. Why? It could be because writing is slower.

A recent study by Scientific American suggests that, in a note-taking scenario, we can’t possibly write everything down verbatim. Instead, we must listen closely and record key words or concepts that represent what’s being said in a meaningful way. Conversely, speedy typing lets us “drone out” and record everything, as if simply taking dictation.

Execute

Procrastination is a vile, seductive monster. While beneficial procrastination is possible, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Stop procrastinating and take time to do what must be done and simply do it. I start each day with my three MITs, or Most Important Tasks. When they’re complete, everything else I tackle that day is a bonus.

Tidy up along the way

I recently revealed here on Unclutterer that the tidy life doesn’t come easy for me. As such, I really dislike the idea of an entire Saturday spent cleaning. That’s why I’ve adopted the habit of tidying up along the way. It requires almost no additional effort and is immensely helpful.

Walking upstairs? Grab that book that goes on the upstairs bookshelf. Going outside? Put the recycling on the curb. All of these tiny tasks add almost no time to what you’re already doing, are super simple, and have a huge impact on the state of things in your home and office.

Big thanks to Leo at Zen Habits for inspiring this post. Three simple ideas — write it down, execute, and tidy up — can have a massive improvement on your surroundings and your day. If you make them a part of your routine, you’ll enjoy the results.

Book Reviews: Five new releases on simple living and productivity

Five really terrific books have been published in the past few weeks that might be of interest to our readers:

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do
by Chris Guillebeau

Living an uncluttered life isn’t always about stuff. It’s also about clearing clutter from aspects of your life that keep you from doing what you would rather be doing. Chris’ book is perfect for anyone looking to unclutter a bad job or career from your life to do exactly what you should be doing. This isn’t a “dream big” book that leaves you inspired but without steps and tools to achieve what you want. This book is full of every tool you will need to make your job and/or career change happen. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Chris. One of those reasons is because his advice is based on years of research and includes examples from actual people who have taken his advice and found success with it. If you’re unhappy or disgruntled with your work, his book is exactly what you’ll want to read to move productively in a new direction.

90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more)
by Felice Cohen

A few years ago, we wrote about Felice because she lived such a full life in such an itty-bitty NYC studio apartment. Since that time, she has sat down and written an entire book exploring her strategies for occupying such a tiny place. You don’t have to live in an extremely small space to benefit from the advice in her book, though. I found her text easy to read — it’s mostly lists that are direct and simple to follow. There are 90 “lessons” in the book to go with the 90 square feet theme. If you know any graduates heading to college or a big city with a tiny space, this book would be perfect for him or her.

Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids
by Asha Dornfest

Asha has been writing the ParentHacks website for more than 10 years, and her latest book is a cultivation of all the best advice she’s seen during this time. The book is illustrated and in full color and every page is packed with useful tips to make parenting easier. My favorite thing about this book is how often it transforms objects that on the surface seem to be unitaskers but shows you how they’re really multi-taskers. (16 uses for a baby wipe tub, 13 uses for non-slip shelf liner, 8 uses for a baby bath tub, etc.) If you’re a parent, you will want this book. If you have a friend or family member who is becoming a parent, they will want this book. This book is my new go-to gift for anyone who announces she’s pregnant or becoming a parent in another awesome way. There are so many real-world tips in this book that almost every page contains a piece of advice you can use to make life with kids easier.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
by Joshua Becker

Today is the release of Joshua’s book and it’s perfect for anyone who is coming to uncluttering with the hope of having a more fulfilling life. His book explores the topic of simple living in a much more philosophical manner than what we usually delve into here on Unclutterer. And this minimalist philosophy speaks to a lot of people, so if that sounds like you, pick up this extremely resourceful and guiding text. The advice is solid and practical. It’s not an organizing book — it’s a live with less stuff book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking for a step-by-step guide to minimalism.

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer
by Helene Segura

I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Helene’s book and have been eagerly awaiting its release so I could recommend it to you. If you struggle with productivity and time management, THIS is the book for you. The review I emailed to Helene immediately after finishing reading it sums up my opinions about the helpful text: “The Inefficiency Assassin is a concise, straightforward, and comprehensive plan that provides realistically attainable tactics to solve every major productivity problem. It details precisely how to eliminate these issues so you can have the professional and personal life you desire. With Helene Segura’s help, you can say farewell to guilt and exhaustion and to being overworked and overwhelmed.”

When neat and sloppy live together

A big part of why I write for Unclutterer is because an uncluttered life doesn’t come easily to me. I have to work at avoiding stacks of books, piles of clothes, and misplaced lists. Sharing victories and insights with you helps me discover and reinforce my own best practices.

While my default mode is “deal with it later,” my better half likes things neat, tidy, and sensible. I would’t say we’re Oscar and Felix, but my mess threshold is certainly higher than hers and over the years it has caused some friction in our relationship.

Differences in levels of tidiness can be problematic in a relationship, especially if the neat-adverse member is vilified by the tidy one or when the tidy party performs a disproportionate amount of the housework. Tina Tessina, a marriage and family therapist, told the Today Show that one in three couples she sees struggles with this issue, and that it’s most prevalent in young couples.

So what is a couple to do? If you’re one of those young couples and not yet living together, consider the advice from clinical psychologist and marital therapist Sam R. Hamburg: “The earlier you face up to differences like this and talk frankly about them, the better off you are.” In other words, talk about your expectations regarding tidiness before living together.

If you’re already living with someone and you have different levels of tidiness:

Compromise

I know there’s a saying that, “a good compromise leaves nobody happy,” but in this case it’s not necessarily true. One one hand, a drinking glass or two left on the coffee table isn’t the end of the world. Meanwhile, a mountainous pile of laundry on the floor isn’t acceptable. Both parties can learn to give a little. Instead of it being your-way-or-the-highway, discuss what is okay to leave as a little mess and what is absolutely not okay.

Designate messy and clean zones

I’m not suggesting you let one room devolve into the town recycling center, but not every room in your home needs to have the same level of tidiness expectations. The front room and kitchen might be your “always clean” zones and your garage workshop, sewing room, or game room can receive a little leeway and be a “messy” zone.

Motivate

My family has instituted the “hour of clean,” a time dedicated to giving the house a good once-over. Everyone knows when it’s scheduled and can prepare accordingly. Plus, it’s kind of fun with everyone involved and working together. Remember, too, that nagging has never motivated anyone, so leave that off your list of motivating strategies.

Have clear-cut responsibilities

I’m best when working from a specific list. When my wife hands me a list of chores or tasks, that’s great, as I have a clear definition of what needs to be done. For kids, you might take a photo of what an acceptable definition of “clean room” looks like and outline exactly what steps you want the child to take to get the desired result.

If a list would make other people in your home’s heads explode, use a less formal method of divvying up tasks. “I’ll do the laundry and mow the yard today.” “I’ll run the dishwasher and take out the trash.”

Have solutions that work for everyone

What works for one person in your home might not work for all. A three-step process for putting something away might be just fine for an adult, but a one-step process might be more appropriate for a toddler. When discussing your expectations, consider organizing and mess-busting solutions that everyone in your home can follow. You might be able to take off your shoes at the door and immediately walk them down to your clothes closet to be stored in labeled boxes, but your spouse might have trouble doing much more than taking off his or her shoes and not tracking mud through the house. A shoe storage solution by the main entrance of the house might be perfect for him or her, even though you have no use for it, and will help to keep the entrance clean to your specifications.

Five things to keep in your car

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

First aid kit

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

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

A window smasher

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

Emergency road assistance kit

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

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

Shoe organizer

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

The manual

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

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

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