Introducing the 2015 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Starting today and going through Dec. 7, we will be running posts for our annual Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide. What I’m finding a little difficult to believe this year is that it’s our NINTH Guide and the ninth one I’ve organized as the site’s editor-in-chief. Putting together the 2007 guide was my first big project after taking over the chief position in November of that year. How has time passed so quickly?

As in years past, you can expect there to be guides this year about experience gifts (fun and clutter free), highly utilitarian gifts (gifts that in the right hands will never be clutter), and organizing gifts (oh how I love gifts that help people to be more organized). There also will be suggestions for giving gifts to kids and our ultimate gift of the year. This year’s guide is fun and useful and I really think you’ll find it inspiring.

Speaking of inspiration, if you need a little right now, let me direct you to our past Guides: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Personally, I’m not yet thinking about getting gifts for loved ones as I’m rushing around to get our house ready for out-of-town Thanksgiving guests. If you’re in a similar situation, the following are some ideas for staying organized during the next week:

  1. Clean out your refrigerator and pantry first. Free-up space for leftovers and food you’ll prepare ahead of the meal by getting rid of anything that has expired and/or gone bad.
  2. Poll your guests now to see if anyone has food allergies, intolerances, or special dietary needs. Also ask if anyone needs transportation, so you can coordinate travel requirements ahead of time. No need for last-minute surprises that can easily be avoided.
  3. Meal plan for the entire week, not just the Thanksgiving meal. Figure out today what you’ll be eating all next week so you aren’t stressed about meals next week.
  4. Grocery shop early Saturday or Sunday morning. You don’t want to have to fight the crowds of last-minute grocery shoppers, so get this chore out of the way early.
  5. Make a detailed schedule at the same time you make your to-do list. Include things like cleaning your home and automobile (I like to do that Monday night) and looking over your Thanksgiving meal plans to determine what can be made ahead on Tuesday or Wednesday (desserts, like pies, are great to make ahead of time). A detailed schedule is important for keeping your to-do list from being overwhelming.
  6. Delegate! If you have children, put them to work taking care of some of the to-do items. Everyone who lives in your home should be involved and know their responsibilities ahead of time.
  7. Breathe. Remember that Thanksgiving is about coming together with people you love to be thankful for the good things that happened this year. Take time to enjoy being with your people. And if your people are making you feel like you can’t breathe, take yourself outside on a walk.

And, as a last bit of news, our offices will be closed next Thursday and Friday so everyone can enjoy the holiday.

Get the most out of an older iPad

It’s amazing to think that Apple’s iPad turns five years old this year. It’s so ubiquitous in 2015 that it seems like it has been around for a lot longer. Even old models are still in use, which brings me to my motivation for writing this article.

I own an iPad 2. It was released in March of 2011 and it’s still alive and kicking. Apple has even noted that the next update to its operating system, dubbed “iOS 9”, will run on the aging device. Still, it’s not as zippy as its younger siblings.

If you’ve got an older iPad around and have been wondering about its usefulness, let me point out these great ways to keep it useful and in service. The following are four ways to use an older iPad.

As a cable-free TV

I’ll admit it, I use my iPad 2 to watch TV shows and movies quite often. More often than my actual TV, in fact. There are a slew of apps out there that make this happen, including:

  • Netflix: TV, movies and great original content
  • Hulu: A stronger focus on TV than Netflix, but it has movies, too
  • Crackle: Sony’s streaming service has plenty of movies
  • HBO Go/HBO Now: The former is a free add-on for HBO subscribers, while the latter is a stand-alone subscription at $14.99 per month, and both allow you access to HBO programming
  • Amazon Instant Video: A video streaming service that’s included with the company’s Prime membership at $99 per year
  • Your cable provider: If you have cable television or internet, your service may have an app that lets you stream television to your iPad

As a remote control

Don’t want to cut the cable cord? Or maybe perhaps you prefer to enjoy TV and movies on your actual television? No problem. Most TV manufacturers offer universal remote apps. Additionally, if you use the Apple TV, there’s a free Remote app ready to go.

It might not fit into your “Remote Boat,” but the iPad does a good job of controlling your TV. And it reduces clutter by limiting you to one remote instead of a pile.

Weather Station

A friend of mine has this super-cool wireless weather station at his house that I really like. Realizing that an app is cheaper than a whole new piece of hardware, I went looking for a compatible app and found WunderStation. This great-looking app provides a wealth of weather information that you can browse in real time. You can also customize its presentation so that it’s displayed just how you want. Add a handy wall mount and you’ve got a very cool weather station.

Kitchen Helper

I’ve been using my iPad in the kitchen pretty much from day one. Of course it’s great for storing recipes and keeping them handy for when you want to cook. But you can increase its usefulness with a kitchen-friendly stand. I use a ‘fridge mount from Belkin to keep my iPad 2 away from messy spills while I’m cooking.

Alternatively, you can use a Chef Sleeve or go low-tech (but just as effective) with a zip-top kitchen bag.

It’s funny to think of something that’s only five years old as near the end of its usefulness, but such is the nature of tech. However, I think the iPad is an exception. The usefulness for this device has certainly exceeded its cost at this point, and I plan to use it for many more years to come.

Organizing for aging in place

Unclutterer reader Liz recently wrote to us describing her biggest organizing challenges:

My organizing or decluttering issue is the garden — I need to make the gardens a bit easier to manage as I get older. Some of it will be resolved by switching to services to do the work. In other places, it will be to simplify what I do.

For my home, it is also about decluttering, organizing and getting ready for “aging in place.” I want my home to be easier to handle if I get a medical problem. For example, if I am going to update my kitchen or bathroom, am I making the right changes for an elderly person?

Of course, in some cases, this advanced-age thinking does make it easier to get rid of things.

Liz, it sounds like you’ve already got a good plan in place for the garden. But I do have the following organizing-related suggestions regarding aging in place. Many of these ideas could benefit a lot of people, not just the elderly, but they become increasingly important as someone gets older.

Unclutter first

From your comments, Liz, I think you are well aware of this. But it bears repeating because this step so often gets ignored. I recently read something about aging-in-place solutions that jumped right to installing closet organizers. Yes, that can be important — but the first step is uncluttering what’s in those closets. Once that’s done, you’re ready to consider those closet organizers.

Look for accessible storage options

To make things easy to reach, you’ll want storage that’s not too high and not too close to the floor. If you’re able to remodel your kitchen, the AARP suggests that you:

  • Hang your upper cabinets 12 to 15 inches above the countertop instead of the normal 18 inches
  • Place your lower cabinets six inches above the floor.

You could also install pull-down shelving into existing upper cabinets. For lower cabinets, adding rollout shelves (or replacing the cabinets with drawers) can make things much more accessible. Anne-Marie Brunet on Next Avenue provides numerous examples of how lower cabinets can be replaced or redesigned.

When it comes to the clothes closets, storage solutions that get the shoes off the floor are generally a good idea since bending becomes harder with age. Pull-down closet rods can make clothes easier to reach in closets where the rods are fairly high.

And then there’s the bathroom. I never thought about adding a shower niche at shower-seat level until I saw that feature in one design.

Some of the fanciest products I’ve seen are the Closet Carousel and the various offerings from StorageMotion: AutoPantry, ShoeSelect, etc. Most people will be satisfied with far simpler solutions, but it’s still interesting to see the innovative storage products that are available to keep things within easy reach.

Improve the closet lighting

The Livable Design National Demonstration Home includes good lighting in both bedroom closets. In the master bedroom walk-in closet, a solar tube is used to add lighting. In the second bedroom, the website notes: “Typically, standard linear closets do not include lighting. This bedroom closet has LED lighting on a switch so it’s easier to pick an outfit in the morning.”

Consult an expert

If you’re making a significant investment in remodeling your home, you may want to work with someone who has special expertise in universal design and/or aging in place. For example, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry has a Universal Design Certified Professional Program.

Digital recipe organizing solutions to love

Elaine recently asked Unclutterer:

I have a specific need related to paper management — recipes. I’d like to take all the scraps of paper with notes about recipes I have in books, torn out newspaper clippings, torn out magazine clippings, recipes from the inside of product packaging (like recipes on the inside of the cream cheese box) and get them organized digitally. It needs to be searchable, which is why I haven’t just done some sort of scanning thing … what thoughts/recommendations do people have?

Elaine, I know this problem well. When I was a kid, my mother used what I called the “fly paper method” of organizing her recipe clippings. If you had opened any cabinet door in our kitchen, you would have found soup can labels, magazine pages, newspaper clippings, hand-written index cards, and more, all taped to the inside of the doors. While convenient in that they were all in the kitchen, searchability was a nightmare. There must be a better way. And, in fact, there are several. The following are some digital options to consider.

Paprika. I’m tempted to start and end my list right here, because the Paprika app is such a nice solution. First of all, it’s available on many platforms: Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire, and Nook Color. (Prices vary based on the platform, but it’s just a one-time cost of $4.99 for iPhone to give you an idea of what to expect.) Also, the features are fantastic. It syncs via the cloud, so all of your devices can hold the same information. Entering a recipe manually is easy, and you can download recipes you find online with a single tap. It will generate a shopping list for you, and even sort it by aisle in your grocery store. Finally, the interactive recipe feature allows you to swipe an ingredient to cross it off when you’re done with it, and tap to highlight the current step you’re working on in the recipe. I’m sure you’ll love it (I do). But, for the sake of options, let’s explore a few more.

Plan to Eat. Plan to Eat is an app that focuses on what you’ll cook when, but also stores your recipes and shares them across devices. To get started, you enter your recipes manually. Then, you plan you week’s meals by dragging and dropping the dishes you’d like to make onto a calendar. Plan to Eat then makes a shopping list for you that appears on your phone. Plan to Eat is free for 30 days, then $4.95 per month or $39 per year.

Basil for iPad. I’m not sure what device(s) you’re using, which is why I shared two platform-agnostic solutions so far. However, I’ll go out on a limb and say, if you have an iPad, consider Basil. Not only does it store your recipes beautifully and offer a very capable search function, Basil understands that you might not use it forever. Therefore, it lets you export all of your recipes as plain text. They’re your recipes, after all. It also features timers and easy unit conversion.

Evernote. Not meant specifically for recipes, Evernote is a good candidate because it excels at two things: storage and search. Scan a recipe, add the appropriate tags, and, presto, you’ve got an excellent digital recipe book.

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.

Happy Thanksgiving from Unclutterer

Unclutterer is taking the day off to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones. We hope you’re having a great, restful day, too. In the meantime, here are some posts from Thanksgivings past to review at your leisure.

Have a great day and we’ll be back in full swing next week.

Have a great day, folks! We’ll see you next week.

Not a unitasker: The waffle maker

Back in July, the editor of messaged me and asked if I wanted an advanced copy of his new book. I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” And then, in August, Will it Waffle? arrived.

Ever since, I’ve been trying out different recipes from Daniel Shumski’s book, and am now a devoted fan. My family loves the meals I’ve made from it, too, which says a great deal because they’re a bunch of picky eaters. The Zucchini-Parmesean Fritters are their favorite. (Its paperback list price is $14.95, but Amazon has it for less than $12 right now and the Kindle edition is less than $10.)

The premise of the cookbook is that when used only for waffles, your waffle maker is a unitasker, and people should typically avoid unitaskers. But, since a waffle maker is the only way to make fresh waffles at home, Shumski sought out ways to turn it into a multi-tasking appliance. His was a noble quest, and it’s refreshing that he succeeded. The cookbook contains more than 50 recipes to create on a waffle iron.

As you might expect, there are a handful of sandwich recipes in the book. A waffle maker and a panini press are quite similar, so this section of recipes is to be expected. (Not to say they’re boring recipes, because they are quite delicious. Family favorites are the ham and cheese melt with maple butter and the Cuban sandwich.)

What’s most impressive to me about the book are the recipes that you wouldn’t expect — for example, chicken fingers, wontons, crispy kale, tamale pie, pizza, soft cell crab, and steak. And, unlike in other preparations, most of these recipes don’t require consistent monitoring. You put the item on the waffle iron, set the timer, and simply wait until the item is done cooking. You’re free to make sauces or side dishes or set the table in the meantime.

Based on your model of waffle iron, cleanup afterward is also extremely convenient if your waffle iron has removable plates that can go in the dishwasher or a non-stick coating you can wipe down with a damp cloth and be done with it. I like easy, and all of the recipes I’ve tried and their cleanup were a breeze.

One of my favorite sections of the cookbook is about creating your own recipes for the waffle maker and, specifically, the listing of what won’t waffle. Foods requiring a lot of moisture, like rice, won’t work in a waffle maker and neither will things that have a lot of butter, like shortbread cookies. Then, obviously, foods like soup are out of the question. But, I was surprised by how much is able to be waffled and am glad Shumski provides this encouragement for creativity.

If you have a waffle maker and you’re interested in transforming it from a unitasker into a multi-tasker, check out Shumski’s book Will it Waffle? Then, start thinking about the other small appliances in your home and how you can put them to use in multiple ways.

Nine questions to help unclutter your recipes

For people who like to cook, it’s easy to wind up with overflowing recipe files. While this may be more of a problem for those who keep paper files, even those who keep their recipes in a digital format can get overwhelmed at times.

If you would like to unclutter your own recipe collection, the following nine questions may help you to reduce your number and better organize those you wish to keep:

  1. Does this recipe fit with the way I eat? Our food preferences change over time, so our recipe collections should evolve, too. You may also have health reasons — your own, or those of family members you cook for — that lead you to change the type of recipes you cook.
  2. Does this recipe call for things I don’t have? If a recipe calls for a number of ingredients you don’t normally use, the recipe might not be one you want to keep. The ingredients may be hard to find or just things that will linger on your shelves, unused, and taking up space. (Of course, sometimes trying a new ingredient is a fun adventure. If you are feeling adventuresome, buy the smallest container of that ingredient you can.)

    I’ve also found that if a recipe calls for a tool I don’t have and wouldn’t use regularly, such as a tajine, I’ll probably decide it’s not worth keeping unless I can readily borrow that tool from someone else.

  3. Does this recipe take a long time to prepare? Sometimes, a time-consuming recipe is worthwhile — for a special occasion, perhaps. If the recipe will make many servings and it’s something I can refrigerate or freeze for future use, that helps. But some recipes just don’t seem worth my time, and I let them go.
  4. Is this another recipe for something I already cook? If you have a favorite recipe for brownies, do you need another one? For some people, the answer may be yes. But, if you know you’ll always choose your old reliable recipes, you can get rid of the others.
  5. Am I keeping this recipe purely for sentimental reasons? You may have recipes you want to keep but never intend to cook: recipes inherited from your parents, for example. In such cases, you may want to store the recipes with memorabilia rather than with recipes you do use for cooking.
  6. Alternatively, does this recipe bring back unpleasant memories? If a recipe is strongly associated with a person or an event you’d rather forget, you may want to ditch the recipe.
  7. Am I keeping this recipe because I think I should prepare it? Maybe a friend or a health practitioner gave you the recipe. Or maybe you have some other reason why you think you should prepare this recipe. I’m giving you permission to stop should-ing yourself, and let the recipe go if it’s not one you want to make.
  8. Have I kept this recipe for months or years without trying it? If you have many such recipes, you may want to create a plan where you try some of them on a regular schedule: once or twice a week, perhaps. If you don’t plan to ever make it, you may want to let it go.
  9. Why am I accumulating so many recipes? If you subscribe to numerous magazines for the recipes, maybe it’s time to reevaluate at least some of these subscriptions.

Refrigerator cleaning and organizing

Having a clean and organized refrigerator can help save you time when planning what to eat for meals and money on groceries. We’ve talked about organizing your refrigerator before, but there are additional suggestions that might help you to save even more time and money.

Start organizing your refrigerator by removing all of the food. Toss anything that is no longer edible or is past its expiration date. Place the food you intend to keep in a cooler with a few ice packs to keep it cold while you work.

It is important to clean and sanitize your refrigerator. Cleaning is the process of removing food and grime from a surface. Sanitizing is the process of reducing the number of microorganisms (germs) to a safe level. If the surfaces in your refrigerator are not clean, the sanitizer will not have a good contact with the surfaces and it will be impossible for the sanitizer to kill germs. Also, some sanitizers, such as bleach, react with organic matter (food) and will be less effective if the surface is not properly cleaned.

Remove the shelves and scrub them with warm soapy water. An old toothbrush can be useful to clean out small cracks and crannies. Rinse the refrigerator parts well and dry them with a clean towel. Clean and dry the inside walls of the refrigerator as well.

A diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach, 4 parts water) or sanitizing wipes can be used to disinfect the shelves and racks as well as the inside of the refrigerator.

Clean the outsides of bottles and jars before returning them to the refrigerator. Not only do gunky bottles make a mess, bacteria and germs love to grow in the mess. Remember to clean the outside of the refrigerator as well, especially the door handles.

When returning food items to the refrigerator, think about what is used most often and what is used least often. The foods used most often should be put just inside the door to minimize the length of time the door is open. This may save on energy bills but also reduce meal preparation time, as the foods used most often are closest to where you need them.

Group similar condiments together in baskets. By putting all the salad dressings in one basket you only need to grab that basket from the refrigerator and place it on the table when you make salad for dinner. Small baskets prevent small items from getting lost in the back of the refrigerator. You can also use baskets to contain small round cheeses, cheese slices and cheese sticks, mini yogurt containers and soy sauce, and ketchup packets for lunches.

It is a good idea to group leftovers on one shelf. Use clear plastic containers to store leftovers so it is easy to see what is in each container. Label the leftovers so that family members will know how long the container has been in the refrigerator and when it should be thrown out. A piece of masking tape and a marker make it easy to label containers, so keep these items handy.

Refrigerators are designed to keep foods cold enough to prevent food spoilage. The temperature of your refrigerator should be between 32ºF and 39ºF (0ºC and 4ºC). Freezer temperature should be 0ºF (-18ºC) which stops bacterial growth.

Use a specially designed thermometer and adjust the refrigerator dials to ensure that you’ve reached these temperatures. It may take a day or two of adjusting your refrigerator dials to ensure you’ve achieved the correct temperature.

A few more tips…

  • Clean out the refrigerator before grocery shopping — you’ll be able to get a better sense of what you have and have space to store what you buy.
  • Dispose of old leftovers just before trash day — you won’t smell up your kitchen with the odor of rotting food.
  • If you keep raw meat in the refrigerator, ensure that the drippings do not fall on fresh produce or already cooked foods. If you do not have a “meat drawer,” store or defrost meat on a plastic tray that you can remove and easily clean and disinfect.
  • Use a corner cupboard organizer to stack plates of food and maximize vertical space.

If your refrigerator is organized it is much easier to clean. Remember: Clean refrigerators are healthy refrigerators!

Inspiration Friday: Spice storage

It’s Friday morning and my brain is already convinced it’s the weekend. As a result, I’m just going to throw a little inspiration your way and set off to find some pie (it is Pi day, after all: 3/14).

Today’s inspiration comes from The Wall Street Journal, which includes a profile of chef Nick Kokonas’s home in the article “A High-Powered Home Kitchen in Chicago.” Gastronomy aficionados will enjoy the article, and anyone with a home kitchen will drool over the corresponding photographic slideshow.

By far, my favorite part of the profile is the peek into Kokonas’s spice storage cupboards:

Image by Callie Lipkin for The Wall Street Journal.

How do you store your spices? I’m thinking I need to completely redo my spice storage this weekend. It looks nothing like this. Sigh. Thanks to chef Kokonas for having such an inspiring kitchen.

What’s in your junk drawer?

Many people seem to have a kitchen junk drawer, and these drawers hold a wide variety of stuff. If not in the kitchen, the drawer full of random stuff might be in a utility room or a hallway or a desk. Usually, they’re filled with a few things you need but those things could be surrounded with clutter.

Most items found in junk drawers can be classified into a few categories:

True junk

Becky Harris at wrote that she got rid of these things recently from her junk drawer:

  • Eyeglasses with hideous frames from about 20 prescriptions ago
  • Hardened Liquid Paper (I don’t even have any use for Liquid Paper anymore)
  • 5 sets of Delta Airlines headsets
  • 6 inches of carpet tape, which is perhaps enough to use on a dollhouse area rug.
  • Packaging and headphones for every iPhone and iPod I have ever owned, including some that are no longer in my possession.

An online discussion at of junk drawer contents inspired someone else to do a cleanout. She got rid of these items, among others:

  • Halloween cookie cutters (I never really make shaped cookies)?
  • a blunt breadknife with a melted handle

If you take the time to remove the pure junk, you can then consider giving your junk drawer a new name. Laura Gaskill suggested the “really useful stuff” drawer in a post she wrote for Houzz, organizer Monica Ricci calls it the utility drawer, and Becky Harris calls it the catch-all drawer.

Random useful stuff

As commenter Nicole wrote on Be More With Less:

I organized my former junk drawer a few years ago and now it’s the useful drawer. I keep markers, scissors, tape, little screwdrivers, chip clips, that rubber thing you use to open jars, and the manuals for my small appliances (rice cooker, for instance) in there.

Other common things include batteries, binder clips, coins, coupons, gum, hair elastics, matches, postage stamps, reading glasses, receipts being held onto until it’s clear the items won’t need to be returned, rubber bands, sticky notes, and a tape measure.

Some of that random useful stuff might better be kept somewhere else — you probably shouldn’t keep any papers in the junk drawer, for example — but that’s a personal choice.


The Junk Drawer Project asks participants: “What is your fondest memory surrounding an object in your junk drawer?” The answers show that many people choose to keep bits of memorabilia in their junk drawers.

Marie Irma Matutina said: “I have a bunch of new and used birthday candles, some with glitter, some are alphabets or numbers and they remind me of all the great parties, get togethers and gatherings I’ve had over the years with really great friends.”

And Leah Jackson said: “A birthday card from my mom that I can’t seem to get rid of.”

Other people mentioned cards and candles, too.

Odds and ends

I relate to Michelle W., who said this in another discussion of junk drawer contents: “My junk drawer is full of things I am hiding from the cats — rubber bands, bread bag ties, hairbands, etc.”

And then there’s Randy, who said the oldest thing in his junk drawer is a harmonica. “It just feels wrong to get rid of a harmonica, so it sits there mocking me because I never learned to play it.”

Your individual junk drawers

Erin Thompson, who maintains The Junk Drawer Project, was interviewed by Jillian Steinhauer about the project:

I started asking my friends about their junk drawers and quickly realized that the way that people curated their own junk drawer totally made sense for their personalities. I am finding that you can learn a lot about a person by way of their junk drawer.

What might your junk drawer say about you? If you don’t like the answer — or if your junk drawer just isn’t working right for you any more — maybe it’s worth spending a bit of time to make a change.

Uncluttering expired canned goods

When cleaning out your kitchen pantry, there is a good chance you’ll find cans of food with date stamps like “Best By 04/2013.” What do you do with those cans?

You may want to keep them.

Obviously, if the cans show signs of problems — bulges, dents along the seams, etc. — you won’t want to keep them. But if the only concern is the date, the food might be safe to eat. As the FDA says, there are surplus grocery stores and food-salvage stores that specialize in such products — and if you buy carefully, those foods can be fine.

The USDA explains: “A ‘Best if Used By (or Before)’ date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.”

NPR interviewed John Ruff, president of the Institute of Food Technologies, who had a lot of interesting things to say on the matter, too.

According to Ruff, most products are safe to eat long after their expiration date. …

That’s because it’s not the food that sat on the shelf too long that makes you sick, Ruff says. It’s the food that got contaminated with salmonella or listeria bacteria, or disease-causing strains of E. coli. And that food might … have arrived in the store only yesterday.

“In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can’t think of [one] that was driven by a shelf-life issue,” Ruff says.

Canned food, in particular, can stay safe for a really long time.

And an article by Nadia Arumugam, which appeared in Forbes and The Atlantic, said:

“Foods can remain safe to consume for some time beyond sell-by and even use-by dates provided they are handled and stored properly,” says Dr. Ted Labuza, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota. … Canned foods and shelf-stable goods like salad dressings, Labuza adds, can be consumed for years beyond their expiration dates. While their quality might suffer — for example, emulsified dressings may split — they will not pose a safety hazard unless contaminated. Apart from baby formula and certain types of baby foods, product dating is not even required by federal regulations.

You might donate them.

Some food banks will accept these cans, and others won’t — so check what the policy is at your local food bank. And, of course, food banks won’t want those damaged or bulging cans, either.

One woman who volunteered at a food bank shared her experience:

I literally, personally had to throw away over 3 huge trash cans, each weighing more than 350 lbs, of dented and expired cans. … What I did learn though was that you can donate expired canned goods up to 6 months from the date on the product.

The Food Bank of Iowa has a list of Food Shelf Extended Dates, listing exactly which “expired” foods, including canned items, it accepts. This same list might also help you decide which products you feel comfortable keeping and using yourself.

You might compost the contents.

I’m no expert in composting, but it seems that canned goods are fine to compost, with a few exceptions. For example, meat and fish products can attract pests, so don’t compost those. Some sources indicate that canned goods with salt may be problematic, too.

You might empty the contents and recycle the can.

Even if you aren’t composting, you could open the cans, dump the contents down the garbage disposer or into a trash bag, and recycle the cans.

You might just throw them away.

Sometimes you may decide to just throw away the cans you don’t want. This is especially true when doing a large uncluttering project, where getting the work done may take precedence over being ecologically conscious. Or, maybe dealing with old food just makes you squirm. As with almost any organizing project, the “right choice” is a very personal thing.