Celebrating success: a Bullet Journal experiment update

It’s not the prettiest Journal, but it works.

The first two weeks of September are always the busiest in my day job and usually I get to launch day exhausted, facing a hundred little crises, and with a knot in my stomach because I have not had time to complete some really important tasks.

This year, however, everything has gone as smooth as silk and I have to attribute the success to my use of my Bullet Journal. Of course, every year, I make to-do lists, but always in a haphazard manner on a variety of different pieces of paper and/or computer files and emails.

I also managed to be productive in my personal life as well. Remember how I made the decision to be purposeful about my choices in life? Well, that has extended into this crazy period of the year, and despite ten and twelve hour days at work, I’ve been in better and more meaningful touch with my husband and friends than I’ve been in years.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why the Bullet Journal has produced different results, but I do have a few ideas.

  • Part of it is because I knew I was using it as an experiment here on Unclutterer, so I never let a day pass without updating the Journal.
  • By giving work and personal life tasks and thoughts equal priority, one never took over the other. And success in one area motivated me and encouraged success in the other.
  • I hate rigid rules and the rebellious teenager in me always wants to break them, so having been told right from the start that “rules” for Bullet Journaling are meant to be broken, my inner-teen never needed to rebel.

The system isn’t perfect, of course. Now that I write everything down, if it’s not in the Journal, it doesn’t happen. For example, in preparing to go down to our apartment in La Rioja last Friday, I reminded myself to take the house keys off their hook and leave them out where I could see them, but I didn’t write it down. Did I forget my set of keys? You bet I did!

The index is useless for me. I know I am never going to go back to review things. My lists and thoughts are “in the moment” things. Once completed, I move on. In my next Journal, the index will disappear.

The Future Planning portion makes no sense to me. I prefer to have a section with the whole year divided into months so that the planning can go there (one side of the page with the days of the month and the other with notes).

I also have added a section. This Monday, I created a weekly calendar that went before this week’s lists. It helped me organize my time in such a way that I didn’t forget a single appointment and I managed to squeeze in free-time and relaxation before the week’s craziness took over.

Organizing for disasters: supplies that work and some that don’t

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been devastating to so many, and my heart goes out to anyone affected by these storms. My dad lives in Florida, so I followed Irma-related news pretty closely. (Thankfully, my dad is fine.)

I got many of my updates on Twitter, and I noticed two themes that might help anyone who wants to be prepared for potential disasters in the future.

Candles are not your friend.

Lots of people noted they were lighting up their candles as they lost power. But both public safety organizations and other experts kept saying, over and over again, that candles are a bad idea. The following are just some of the warnings:

  • The American Red Cross, South Florida Region:
    Use flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles.
  • Florida State Emergency Response Team:
    If there is loss of power, do not use candles or open flames as a light source.
  • City of Tallahassee:
    Flashlights, headlamps, etc. are better options for light if you lose power.
  • Miami-Dade police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, likelihood of a fire increases.
  • Dr. Rick Knabb, hurricane expert at The Weather Channel:
    Millions expected to lose power. Don’t run generators indoors – carbon monoxide kills. Don’t light candles and risk a fire.
  • Florida Department of Health:
    If the power goes out, don’t light candles in your home. It’s a fire hazard that can be avoided by using battery operated lights.
  • Plantation Fire Department:
    #SafetyReminder If your power goes out, utilize FLASHLIGHTS instead of CANDLES!
  • Oviedo, Florida police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, the likelihood of a fire increases
  • Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator, now in Gainesville, Florida:
    Hurricane #Irma, don’t use candles / open flames during the storm when the power goes out. The Fire Department doesn’t need more emergencies.

And the Miami Herald has a list of 7 stupid things we do during a hurricane that can get us killed and using candles is on that list.

So forgo the candles, and load up on some combination of flashlights, headlamps, battery-powered lanterns, and plenty of spare batteries. Some people like to include glowsticks in their emergency supplies, too.

A corded phone just might be your friend.

Key West lost most of its connectivity (cell phones and internet) after Irma, but reporter David Ovalle found a way to get the news out:

My savior. Patricia on Eaton St in Key West had a relic landline that worked after the storm, allowing me to call story after storm

Firefighters also used line to call their families. Her friends chided her for years. She has no cell, still uses an answering machine!

And someone else got good news via landline: “Random woman in Key West that still has a working landline just called me to let me know my parents are ok. #Irma This woman is my hero”

As Consumer Reports wrote, “A phone with a corded base can work during a power outage, as long as it’s connected to a conventional landline or VoIP service with battery backup.”

My internet service provider bundles a phone line with my internet service, and I’m glad to have it. Corded phones are relatively inexpensive, too. You might want to join me in having a corded phone in addition to a cell phone, just in case.

Ask Unclutterer: Opt-out resources to stop junk mail

Reader Sherry wrote in a comment on one of my recent posts:

Thanks for the RedPlum link! Have you all done an article collecting all of the opt-out resources?

Sherry, thank you for the good question! There are some excellent websites that already collect this information, so I don’t want to duplicate their work. Two of the best sites I’ve seen come from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition. That second one doesn’t have any information that’s specific to the San Francisco Bay Area — it would all apply throughout the U.S. Both of these sites provide both opt-out resources and suggestions about ways to avoid getting on mailing lists.

If you’re specifically concerned about junk mail from charities, you can refer back to my prior post on this subject.

There are also services you can use that will handle opt-out requests for you. One of these is Catalog Choice, a free non-profit service (which accepts donations). Despite the name, it handles more than just catalogs. It can remove you from quite a few political and charitable mailings, too, especially from larger organizations.

And the PaperKarma app is one more option. The app has new owners and was just relaunched this month as a subscription service. You take a photo of your junk mail and press send, and PaperKarma takes it from there.

You may have heard the suggestion, supposedly from the late Andy Rooney, to mail back unwanted junk mail in the postage paid envelopes some mailers provide. But as Snopes noted, there’s no proof this advice ever came from Andy Rooney, and it’s not a great way to tackle the junk mail problem, either.

Returning junk mail to direct mailers on their dime (by stuffing it back into their postage-paid return envelopes) may cost them some money and provide you with a bit of personal satisfaction, but it won’t cut down on the amount of junk mail you receive. In fact, it may actually increase your junk mail load, since the primary metric used to gauge the effectiveness of many direct mail campaigns is the number of responses received (even if those responses are negative).

All of the resources I’ve mentioned so far are focused on the U.S., but other countries also have services for helping their residents minimize junk mail. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Marketing Association has a Do Not Mail Service that sounds similar to what’s available through the Direct Mail Association in the United States. Canada Post has more suggestions on its website, too. More examples: The Hague published junk mail minimization advice for the Netherlands, and Clean Up Australia has advice for that country. Residents in the U.K. can visit the Royal Mail website for information on how to opt-out of junk mail delivery.

A donation resource list for harder-to-donate items

Back in May 2014 I wrote a list of places to donate furniture, fur coats, musical instruments, and more. I’ve since found additional donation alternatives that I’d like to share. These are mostly places that take harder-to-donate items. Others just caught my eye because their missions might appeal to some donors — and many of us find it easier to unclutter when we know our items are going to good new homes.

Medical equipment: Donating lightly used items such as walkers and hospital beds used in home care can be a challenge. Med-Eq matches donors with charities that need what the donors are offering. You fill out a simple online form, and the staff at Med-Eq will choose a recipient. The receiving party covers any costs, such as mailing expenses for smaller items. (Larger items would be picked up.) My thanks to organizer Adonna Braly, who recently reminded me of this one.

Diabetes supplies: Nicole Kofman and Kelly Close wrote about a number of places to donate these often-expensive items on the website diaTribe. While you’ll incur some expense in mailing these items off, you’ll have the reward of knowing you’ve helped someone in need. I learned about this from organizer Julie Bestry, so she gets a big thank-you, too.

Wigs: EBeauty Community has a wig exchange program providing free wigs to women experiencing hair loss due to chemotherapy.

Musical instruments: Although I’ve covered instruments before, I recently discovered another resource: Instruments in the Cloud, which allows donors to connect with local teachers who are looking for instruments.

Postage stamps: You may want to sell these, but if you prefer to donate them the American Philatelic Society will gladly take them. The society says, “Most common material is used for youth and educational programs.” Those programs need several hundred pounds of stamps every year! Supplies such as glassine envelopes that are in good condition are welcome, too. Of course, you could also check with a local stamp club, if you have one. And some teachers might find these useful, too.

Homemade blankets: Do you enjoy quilting, knitting or crocheting and wind up making more quilts or afghans than you, your family, and your friends can ever use? Project Linus will be glad to take them to give to seriously ill or traumatized children ages 0-18. Materials that can be used to make blankets can also be donated, if you want to reduce your stash. You can drop off donations with local chapters or mail them in. Thanks to quilter Louise Hornor for reminding me about Project Linus. Note: These must come from smoke-free environments for allergy reasons.

Beanie Babies: Operation Gratitude sends care packages to deployed troops, and all those care packages include Beanie Babies or other small plush toys. Gently used ones are accepted.

Amazon Echo and Google Home: Best thing ever or just clutter?

I’m a member of a Yahoo group that discusses digital management and lifestyle tools, including paperless management approaches. Lately there has been a lot of discussion about voice-activated home assistants such as the Amazon Echo (powered by Alexa) and Google Home (powered by Google Assistant). Both of these have a lot of fans. And while I understand the appeal to other people, I realized that for me, right now, a device like this would just be clutter.

The following are some of things the devices can do, and why they don’t have me running to buy one.

Control “smart home” devices

If you have smart home devices, such as the Philips Hue smart light bulbs, something like the Echo could certainly have some appeal. As Grant Clauser wrote in The Wirecutter:

Imagine walking into your home in the evening with your arms overflowing with groceries. To turn the lights on you’d need to put the bags down, pull out your phone, unlock it, open the app, find the control for the lights you want and then tap the icon. With Alexa you simply speak the words “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.” Presto! the lights come on.

But I don’t have any such smart devices. I turn on my lights with a light switch. I adjust my thermostat manually. I use a key to unlock my front door. All of these work fine for me. If I had a larger home, if my life involved more travel, or if I had certain physical limitations I might want some smart home devices, but right now there’s no problem they would be solving.

Play music, podcasts, or audio books

Unlike a lot of people, I only listen to music or podcasts in the car. When I’m home, I almost always prefer silence. And as much as I like to read, I never developed an interest in audio books.

If I did want to listen to music or podcasts, the smartphone in my pocket could take of that just fine. I wouldn’t need another device.

Respond to voice commands to provide information

You can ask these devices to tell you the temperature or how long a commute you’re facing. You can ask it to pull up information from Wikipedia. You can ask a variety of straightforward questions and get answers. And some people find this really useful.

Me? I generally prefer written or visual information. When I’m checking my commute before leaving home, I like looking at the map from my local traffic agency that shows me where any slowdowns or accidents are located. If I want information from Wikipedia, I want to read it, not have paragraphs of information spoken to me.

I’d be fine with voice responses to simple questions such as “What’s the score in the Giants game?” or “What is 20 cm in inches?” but I don’t often feel the need to ask this kind of question. And I could just pull out my iPhone and ask Siri the question if I didn’t want to type it into a search engine. (After many years with iPhones, I just tried asking Siri some questions for the first time, so you can see how much I care about this functionality.)

Add items to your calendar or lists

The Amazon Echo works with various calendars, but not the one I use — and Google Home requires using Google’s calendar, which I don’t. So that’s not a feature I could use.

The Echo lets you add things to a shopping or to-do list, which then show up in the Alexa app on your smartphone. (Google Home has something similar.) This feature appeals to me more than any other, but I don’t really have a problem with how I handle these lists today, without an extra device.

I’ve seen people mention how cool it is to be shopping and see something pop up on their shopping list that another family member has added. But my only other household members are my cats, and I don’t they’ll be adding items to my shopping list.

Generally make life easier or more fun

I’ve seen numerous rave reviews like these:

And other people just enjoy the features that aren’t all that useful or interesting to me. These devices make other people’s lives easier and more productive, and I think that’s great.

This goes to show that one person’s clutter can be another person’s invaluable item. We all have different needs and preferences and will make different purchasing choices.

An April opportunity to recycle old, broken toys

Many parents face the issue of toy clutter. Their children have more toys than they could ever need or want, often gifted by well-meaning friends and relatives. Or they just have toys their children have outgrown.

If the toys are in good condition, they can often be passed along to other families. But what do you do with the toys that are broken or missing parts? Sending them to landfill often seems like the only answer.

However, through April 30, those in the U.S. have a cool alternative. Tom’s of Maine and TerraCycle have joined forces to provide free recycling of these toys. Just go to the Tom’s of Maine website and click to get a free shipping label. Then fill a box with up to 10 pounds of toys and ship it off at any UPS location.

TerraCycle has a number of ongoing free recycling programs for Clif Bar wrappers, Brita items, Solo cups, Wellness pet food packets, and more — including Tom’s of Maine toothbrushes and much of the company’s product packaging. Tom’s worked with TerraCycle on a toy recycling program in April 2015, but that one was limited to 500 of TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes. The boxes were all claimed within four days, so this year’s program was designed to allow more people to participate.

What happens to the items sent in through the Tom’s of Maine Toy Recycling Program? Lauren Taylor of TerraCycle gave me the answer in an email:

The collected waste is mechanically and/or manually separated into fabrics, metals, fibers, and plastics. Fabrics are reused, upcycled or recycled as appropriate. Metals are smelted so they may be recycled. The fibers (such as paper or wood based products) are recycled or composted. The plastics undergo extrusion and pelletization to be molded into new recycled plastic products.

So if you cringe at sending things to landfill, here’s your opportunity to gather up those dilapidated stuffed animals, the puzzles with missing pieces, the mystery toy pieces, the torn playing cards — and any other broken, worn-out, or incomplete toys — and ship them off for recycling.

How to hire a professional organizer for the holidays

Holiday organizing sometimes means calling in a professional.

The winter holidays represent a busy time for many people. In addition to the day-to-day tasks of running a household, you may take on:

  • Traveling
  • Hosting visitors
  • Planning/hosting a party
  • Decorating the house
  • Shopping
  • Cooking

…and so on. Add to that the general cleaning, laundry, maintenance, homework, etc. of a typical month and it’s very easy to get stretched way too thin. When that happens you might consider hiring a professional organizer. This extra set of hands can be a real life-saver, if you approach it carefully. Here are a few tips for finding, hiring and getting the most out of a professional organizer around the holidays.

Find the right organizer for you

Hiring the right organizer for you isn’t as easy as firing up Google and contacting the top result. There’s a lot to consider, starting with trust. This is a person who will be working in your home, and potentially be working with stuff you don’t often share with strangers. The truth is just about anyone can call themselves a “professional organizer.” There are, however, a few steps you can take to find a trustworthy, qualified professional.

Your best option is to start with an industry association such as the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). There are NAPO members all over the world however, many countries have their own associations. See the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA) for an association in your country.

Most associations require their members to have a certain amount of training and carry insurance before they can be listed on the association website. Additionally, members must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics.

It is also a good idea to ask around. Perhaps a friend, relative or coworker has used an organizer successfully. Create a list of two or three likely candidates and then schedule interviews.

Spend twenty or thirty minutes to spend talking with each candidate. Many will offer this type of consultation for free. During this chat, you can get to know his or her personality, experience, credentials, history and organizational philosophy. Get even more specific by asking about:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • What type of organizing do they specialize in?
  • What do they charge and is there a written contract?
  • Do they prefer to work alone or with others?
  • Can they provide references?

Professional Organizers in Canada (POC) has a great list of Frequently Asked Questions about hiring an organizer that may be helpful.

Once you’re satisfied with that I think of as the “technical” aspect, move on to the tricker questions, like:

  • How do they deal with clients who have a strong sentimental attachment to items?
  • Can they remove items marked for donation?
  • Will they purchase organizing items like baskets and bins or is that my responsibility?

A consultation can help you get the kick-start you need, find the right person and most importantly, identify the person you’re going to get along with.

How much will an organizer cost?

Rates for a professional organizer can range from about $50 to $100 an hour, and most have a 2–3 hour minimum requirement. You’ll want to know if he or she charges by the hour or by the project. Rates may vary between geographical areas and travel charges may apply depending on your location. While it’s possible to find that person who will work for $20 per hour, that “bargain” might not deliver the results you’re looking for.

Other considerations

This one might sound silly, but ask if they have advertising on their car. Perhaps you don’t want the neighbors to know you’ve brought someone in. Most organizers have confidentiality agreements to protect your privacy. If the organizer doesn’t mention this, raise the subject with him/her.

Also, know just what type of work you’re looking for. In this instance, you might want help with prepping for a party or organizing holiday decorations. Therefore, someone who specializes in bathrooms or kitchens might not be your best choice.

Pro organizer or personal assistant?

Perhaps you want to go in the other direction entirely. That is to say, hire someone to take care of the little errands while you stay home and organize the party, put the decorations away neatly and efficiently, etc. In this case, a personal assistant may be what you need. Websites like Care.com can help you find one.

In any case, best of luck with getting it all done. Hiring an organizer or assistant can be a great way to reach your goal and enjoy a more stress-free holiday. Let us know how it goes.

Being productive with Nextdoor, for uncluttering and more

About a year ago I joined my local Nextdoor community. For those who aren’t aware of Nextdoor, it’s a “private social network for your neighborhood.” Nextdoor is currently available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

As a locally focused network, Nextdoor won’t have messages about national politics. The following are the kinds of messages I usually see:

  • Lost and found pets: dogs, cats, and chickens
  • Other lost and found items, including keys, phones, and jewelry
  • Items for sale (or items being given away for free)
  • Items people are looking for (usually free or inexpensive)
  • Requests for a good painter, plumber, handyperson, house cleaner, etc.
  • Notices about local events
  • Notices about local road closures

As with any such network, taking time to use it effectively will pay off. If you’re using Nextdoor (or considering such use in the future), please keep the following suggestions in mind.

Choose your notification options carefully

Nextdoor lets you choose to get emails about every post from your neighborhood (and top posts from nearby neighborhoods), no emails at all, or something in between. You can also choose to get a daily digest, and the contents of that digest can be customized a bit. You can also select which “nearby neighborhoods” you want to see messages from, whether that’s via email or on the Nextdoor website or mobile app.

You can also choose to get mobile alerts about urgent items: missing children, natural disasters, etc.

You may not be sure which messages you want to get at first, so just make your best guess and then adjust as necessary after you’ve been in the network for a while.

Use good subject lines

Just as with email, you will make everyone’s life a bit easier if the subject line makes it obvious what your message is about. I get a lot of Nextdoor emails every day, and I want to be able to quickly scan to see which ones may be of interest.

I saw a message this week with the subject line “Hi all” — which wound up being someone who was looking for a vacuum cleaner. A subject line saying “Wanted: vacuum cleaner” or “Need a vacuum cleaner” would have been a whole lot better.

Similarly, a lost and found message entitled “Lost bracelet at or around Farmers Market” is much better than one that just says “bracelet.”

Include good photos when relevant

Just as you would with Craigslist, be sure to include good photos if you’re offering something for sale (or even for free). Even if it’s something where the looks don’t matter (such as tickets to an event) or something pretty standard (like a Kindle), a photo can help because the message will look better in the online listings.

This is one area where I want to commend my neighbors, who have generally done a good job of this. One person even included a picture of the “free clean dirt” being offered — which got taken pretty quickly!

Also consider photos when posting about lost or found items or pets.

I haven’t yet used Nextdoor to give things away, since my local freecycle group usually works fine for that. But I have some china to get rid of, and I just might try selling it on Nextdoor.

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.

Recycling made easy


I was lucky enough to be in France recently, and I was pleased to see garbage cans in public places that had two sections: one for recyclables and one for pure trash. This led me to reflect on how much easier basic recycling has become over the years, with public recycling containers in many venues, curbside recycling for homes in many U.S. cities, etc.

Root Solutions notes that making a recycling initiative (or any behavioral change) easy can be critical for its success, and that involves making things physically easy and cognitively easy. Making something physically easy involves three things, per Root Solutions:

  • Reduce the number of steps
  • Make each step as simple and convenient as possible
  • Keep the distance, time, and effort required to a minimum

For example, Root Solutions cited a study showing that giving employees individual recycling bins rather than relying on a centrally located unit increased the recycling rate from 28 percent to 98 percent. It’s a nice reminder to provide sufficient recycling containers within the home, too (assuming you live somewhere where it’s reasonably easy to recycle).

On the cognitive side, it helps to provide easy-to-use reminders as to what can be recycled, and which bin is used for which recyclables. As Joe Franses wrote in The Guardian, “When in doubt, materials tend to be discarded rather than recycled.” Recycle Across America has a wide range of labels that can be used on recycling bins — a nice complement to more detailed information that might be available on flyers or websites.

A few weeks ago, at my local grocery store, I found a new super-easy recycling option: The Crayon Initiative. This program takes unwanted crayons, recycles them into new ones, and donates these new crayons to hospitals that care for kids.

I’d heard about the program before — through a video — but it seemed focused on collecting crayons at restaurants that hand them out to children. I was delighted to see the program expanding, making it simple for parents and kids to drop off excess crayons, including those that are broken (and therefore not easily donated elsewhere).

Crayon Collection is another program that collects crayons, but it doesn’t remanufacture them; it just distributes them to schools. And as Dave has mentioned, Crazy Crayons (in conjunction with the Crayon Recycle Program) also collects crayons. But it’s so much easier to do the recycling when there’s a handy bin at a store you go to regularly.


Another extremely easy recycling/re-use idea doesn’t require you to leave home at all and doesn’t require any crafting skills. If you have a dog — and you have old blankets, towels, or clothes — you can get a Molly Mutt dog bed duvet and stuff it with those items. (If you’re craftier than I am and have the time to spare, you could make a duvet like that yourself.)

Have you found any ways to make recycling easy? If so, please share them in the comments.

Disposing of unused medications

You may find yourself with unused medications for a variety of reasons. For example, your doctor could make a change to your prescription, or you may have medications that have expired.

How do you properly dispose of those medications? You have three options.

Donate them using repository programs

In the U.S., some states have programs for medication redistribution. Many of these are conducted at the facility level, allowing pharmacies and nursing homes, for example, to find alternatives to destroying usable medications.

However, some states have drug repository programs that will accept medications from individuals, as long as the medications are in their original sealed and tamper-evident packaging (such as blister-cards) and won’t expire in the near future. Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin are three of the states that have such programs. You can search online to see if your state has a similar program. Note that these programs cannot accept controlled substances, which include some pain, sleep, and anxiety medications.

Safely dispose of them using medication take-back programs

Take-back programs are a great way to safely dispose of expired or excess medications. In my area, there are drop-off containers at many police stations. Other locales in the U.S. use boxes from the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (with its Rx Drug Drop Box) or MedReturn, which have box locator functions on their websites. Some pharmacies also accept medications, and Dispose My Meds has a pharmacy locator.

You can also search for medications at Earth911 to find a disposal site near you. And you could check with your trash/recycling service provider to see what options are available in your area.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, along with local law enforcement organizations, used to hold an annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Because there are now more options for disposing of these medications — the law was changed in 2014 to allow for more authorized collectors — the DEA has no plans for future take-back days.

Other countries such as Canada and Australia also have take-back programs.

Safely dispose of them at home

The FDA has instructions on how to safely dispose of medications as part of your household trash if no better option is available:

  • Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds.
  • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  • Throw the container in your household trash.
  • Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of your empty pill bottle or empty medicine packaging to make it unreadable, then dispose of the container.

The FDA also provides a short list of medications that can be especially harmful if used by anyone other than the person for whom they were prescribed. If these specific medicines cannot be disposed of quickly using a take-back program, the FDA recommends flushing them down the toilet as soon as they are no longer needed. Specific disposal information may have come with the medicine, but the FDA also links to that information if you don’t have it. This is the only time when flushing is recommended. In general, flushing is strongly discouraged for reasons that the Environmental Protection Agency explains (PDF).

Favorite organizing tools for containerizing

Jacki has written about her favorite organizing tools, and Dave has written about his favorite multitasking, utilitarian tool. So I thought I’d chime in and share some of my favorite tools — the ones I find myself recommending continually. The following list skips things like scanners and shredders and focuses on containers.

Handled baskets. Yes, I know that not everyone likes plastic. I often choose to avoid it, too. However, I’ve found these specific baskets come in extremely handy in many situations. The handles make them easy to pull off a shelf, especially one that’s a bit overhead. I’ve used these baskets in kitchens and pantries, in closets where toiletries are being kept, and in garage cabinets. The sides are higher than on many other such baskets, and they are pretty sturdy. They come in both white and clear.

Photo boxes. While many of our photos are digital now, you may still have photos from your pre-digital days that need to be stored carefully, especially if there are no plans to have them scanned. When it comes to storing precious photos, I want to keep them in a container that has passed the Photographic Activity Test, so I know that the photos are well protected. For those who don’t want to fuss with creating photo albums, or who don’t have the space that photo albums require, these photo boxes can work well. They hold up to 1,700 photos that are 4″x6″ or smaller. The envelopes allow you to divide the photos into categories.

Excess coffee mugs. Almost everyone has more coffee mugs than needed for drinking coffee. But these coffee mugs make great desktop pencil cups, and they also work nicely to hold toothpaste and toothbrushes in the bathroom. The mug above is the pencil cup in my own home office.

Anything that makes you happy. Storage containers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, materials, and prices — there’s something for everyone. You can use conventional storage pieces or choose something as unusual as the frog in my office, which is meant to be a planter but works fine as a combination trip memento, piece of art, and storage piece for various electronics.