Innovative organizers to carry your gear

Every once in a while, we feature organizing items in development. Here are a few that help you transport your gear from one place to another effectively and efficiently.

E-Hive

The E-Hive is a sturdy carrier similar to a briefcase that can store and charge up to four phones and three tablets at the same time. It is lockable but lightweight with a comfortable handle. The no-slip elastic straps inside the E-Hive keep your devices secure and prevent damaged screens. One of the best things about the E-Hive is that you do not have dozens of cords strung all over the place.
e-hive transportable charging station
I have travelled a lot with my family of four so that meant 4 phones, 4 sets of earbuds, and a few other devices. We each dragged along USB chargers and cords and crawled under furniture in each hotel room trying to find enough available outlets. How I wish we could have had the E-Hive. We wouldn’t have forgotten the charger we had plugged in behind the curtains. We could have locked our devices when the hotel housekeepers came into our room.

I have a feeling it only works on the North American power grid (110V/60Hz) but it would be great if it was able to work anywhere in the world.

The Mommy Bag

backpack diaper bagMy children are adults now but I still remember struggling with various types of diaper bags when they were babies. I think The Mommy Bag is the best diaper bag I have seen in quite some time. For one thing, the front part of the bag opens fully so when you hang the bag on a hook, you have full access to what you need to change a diaper — including a changing pad. The neatest part of this bag is that the small side pocket has a slit so you can pull diaper wipes out one by one! The other side pocket is insulated to keep milk/formula cold. The Mommy Bag has 20 interior compartments so nothing gets buried in a big mess at the bottom of the bag. It also has a compartment for a 15-inch laptop so when baby falls asleep you can get some work done without having to haul around a separate bag.

It would be a great gift for any parent or caregiver. The only disappointing part is the name –“The Mommy Bag” doesn’t make it sound inviting for fathers, grandparents, or other caregivers.

SideKick: The Ultimate Gym Fitness Bag

Finally, people have put some thought into creating a gym bag that is not just a large, formless sack with a strap! Sidekick has three compartments — one main compartment and two separate compartments at each end. The end compartments have wide openings so it is easy to get a pair of shoes in and out, and they have ventilation holes to prevent moisture build-up. Sidekick also comes with a mesh laundry bag you can toss directly into your wash. The interior is lined with elastic strapping to keep your water bottles upright and your gear organized. Sidekick has detachable backpack straps to convert it from duffle bag to a backpack. It is extremely durable with heavy-duty, snag-free zippers and magnetic snaps instead of Velcro. But my favourite thing about the Sidekick bag is that it has an interior support structure so it stays upright making it much easier to find everything inside.

ultimate gym bag sidekick

Travel Bag Buddy

The Travel Bag Buddy secures a bag or purse on top of a rolling suitcase with an adjustable elastic strap and extra sturdy buckle. It sounds familiar but this item also holds your essential travel documents, phone, cash, cards, and a few other items to give you quick, convenient access when you need them. The Travel Bag Buddy works with almost all bag sizes and handle combinations. The bag strap can stay attached to your secondary bag and reattach to the handle in seconds so it will never get lost. Travel Bag Buddy folds flat so you can store it in your purse to keep your travel information organized and RFID protected.

Travel Bag Buddy - RFID Protected Travel Organizer and Secondary Bag Strap

I have seen many people (myself included) fumble with purses, bags, passports, boarding passes, and electronic devices while going through airport security. It is frustrating and time consuming. If everyone had a Travel Bag Buddy maybe we would all get through security checkpoints faster and in better humour.

 

What do you think of these designs? Would you invest in these products? Do you have any suggestions to make them better?

The tried and true Swiss Army Knife

We often discuss unitaskers but today I want to talk about multi-taskers. The classic Victorinox Swiss Army Ranger Pocket Knife measures in at 3.5 inches and weighs a minuscule 4.8 ounces as it packs a whopping 20 different tools including:

  • Large and small knife blade
  • Corkscrew
  • Can opener
  • Bottle opener
  • Cap lifter
  • Screwdriver
  • Wire stripper
  • Reamer, punch
  • Multi-purpose hook
  • Nail file
  • Nail cleaner
  • Scissors
  • Metal file
  • Fine screwdriver
  • Wood saw
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Key ring (ok, so this isn’t really a tool)

You can’t take it on an airplane, but around your house it has endless possibilities. This is the gold standard of multi-taskers. You can get a left-handed version here. A Leatherman Multitool is the only multi-tasker that plays in the same league. Go get your MacGyver on!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

The Tupperware is everywhere!

One of my pet peeves in my kitchen has been the Tupperware drawer. Most food storage containers aren’t that easy to stow away in an organized manner. In my kitchen, we had a plastic tub that barely contained the clutter of all the bowls and lids. They just didn’t fit together nicely and the overflow began to make me see red every time I reached for a container.

Our solution was fairly simple. We purchased a set of Tupperware FlatOut containers and happily dumped our old set into the recycle bin. The FlatOut containers are collapsible and flatten down to a half an inch which makes storage so much easier. Now when I reach for Tupperware, my blood pressure doesn’t rise and the clutter in that drawer is completely gone. I highly recommend these containers, which are dishwasher safe and also very durable.

Since the original publication of this post in 2007, Tupperware has ceased manufacturing FlatOut containers. However, Thin Bins are an ideal alternative. These containers are made from food-grade silicone. The lids have an airtight seal plus a vent so that steam can escape during microwave heating. They are microwave and dishwasher-safe.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Second favorite organization tool: The labelmaker

I have written in the past about the ScanSnap, my favorite organization tool. Today, I want to talk about the item that runs a very close second on my favorite’s list, which is the labelmaker.

I’m actually a little surprised that I haven’t written more about it on Unclutterer. Any storage box in my home that isn’t clear gets labeled. Same applies to every file folder in my filing cabinet, the recycling bins, containers in the bathroom, and about 1,000 other items in my home.

Until I had one, I didn’t know what I was missing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to say about the labelmaker because it is such a straightforward device. Maybe its simplicity has something to do with why it’s so high on my list of favorite organization tools.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Book Review: Crucial Conversations

One of the most difficult tasks when it comes to organizing the home is talking about it with other family members. It’s far too easy for conversations to deteriorate into arguments and suggestions about clutter to turn into accusations and attacks. In the end, the one wanting to unclutter becomes extreme wanting to throw everything out and the one resisting begins to hold onto to every little piece of paper saying that it’s all vitally important. No one’s happy and the clutter problem isn’t just still there, it’s grown into the focus of a battle of wills that can’t be won.

Fortunately, there exists a solution, and it comes in book format. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, 2nd Edition, is a book that helps people to prepare for delicate conversations, to transform anger and hurt feelings into dialogue, and to make any situation safe enough for all parties to freely discuss any topic.

My background is Anglo-Canadian, and so I come from a culture where delicate conversations were never held. I never learned how to initiate and participate in (possibly) anger-producing discussions; we would just avoid them. So, for me, finding this book has been a lifesaver both at work and at home.

Just looking at the table of contents provides a plan for tackling delicate situations:

  • Ch 1: What is a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares?
  • Ch 2: Mastering Crucial Conversations: The Power of Dialogue
  • Ch 3: Start with the Heart: How to Stay Focused on What Your Really Want
  • Ch 4: Learn to Look: How to Notice When Safety is at Risk
  • Ch 5: Make It Safe: How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything
  • Ch 6: Master My Stories: How to Stay in Dialogue When You’re Angry, Scared or Hurt
  • Ch 7: State my Path: How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively
  • Ch 8: Explore Others’ Paths: How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up
  • Ch 9: Move to Action: How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results
  • Ch 10: Yeah, But: Advice for Tough Cases
  • Ch 11: Putting it All Together: Tools for Preparing and Learning

At the beginning of the book, there is a quiz to help you determine what challenges you face in particular when it comes to the issue, and suggests which chapters should receive your special attention.

How has this book helped me?

Well, at work, I have to evaluate staff and sometimes provide feedback that no one wants to hear about themselves. Previously, I would have softened the message so much that no one was ever sure I was critiquing them. Now, however, I have a framework to use that doesn’t attack the listener, but allows me to express my concerns about their job performance.

And at home, instead of never saying anything because I did not want to upset my partner, I can now open up and create a safe space for discussing pretty much anything.

If I had read this book back when I was organizing professionally, it would have helped my business immensely. Often organizing clients feel ashamed or attacked when anyone speaks to them about their clutter and conversations slide into defensive, emotionally-charged situations. When family members are involved, these conversations can become full-blown arguments.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for everyone, but most definitely it needs to be read by anyone who finds that delicate conversations either don’t happen or become arguments that harm their relationships when the goal is only to help those around them.

Crucial Conversations is available in print or in e-book and has a follow-up title called Crucial Accountability (previously titled Crucial Confrontations), also available in print or e-book (I have not read this latter book yet, but if it’s anywhere as useful as the first book, it’s a must-read as well). And if you like your books bundled, the two come as an e-bundle offer, as well.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Box Sets and Special Editions

Christmas is a popular time for the release of box sets and special editions of books, CDs, and TV and movie franchises. As a minimalist, I always thought them to be a waste of time and money, often considering them pure moneymakers for publishers. And I’m not the only one. The Canadian band Barenaked Ladies takes a good poke at the topic with the song Box Set.

But then I married a music collector and over time my attitude has changed. My husband grew up loving British pop music in a time when it was next to impossible for him to get CDs or vinyls delivered to him in Spain. Now, twenty years later musicians like Bananarama, George Michael, and the production trio Stock Aiken and Waterman are re-releasing special editions with extra material, detailed liner notes and remastered versions of the original songs. And he’s over the moon! Instead of grainy-sounding copies of the music of his youth, he has crisp, clean sounding versions with all the information the music addict in him could want, and more!

Before buying your loved ones a box set or special edition of something, there are some things you’ll want to consider:

Does the gift contain enough extras to be worth the cost? For example, the George Michael special edition has extra CDs and a DVD. But if your George Michael fan never plays DVD concerts at home, there’s no real point in getting it.

Is the series complete? At the end of every season, Game of Thrones releases another combined box set (take a look at seasons 1-6 versus seasons 1-7). Knowing, however, that the series just has one season left (although we are going to have to wait until 2019 to see it), buying the current box sets will just create clutter, especially for a die-hard fan who will want the complete series when it comes out.

Will the box set be used or will it just sit on a shelf looking pretty? Box set and special editions are excellent gifts for my husband because he will spend hours pouring over the liner notes, discussing the differences in production quality from the original to the new versions, and going into detail with me about how when and where the extra tracks were created and why they didn’t appear in the original. However, for all that I’m a mega-fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, buying me the 18-book set of the series would just mean having to find shelf space to display them. Someone with a large library, though, may be thrilled to get the 8-book Outlander series.

Finally, is the format on its way out? I know people who still hold onto VHS movie box sets, even though they no longer have a VHS player in the house. It’s the same with DVD. As BluRay and the new Ultra HD BluRay formats take over, buying a DVD box set of the Harry Potter franchise might be like giving someone a set of stone tablets instead of a book.

With all that in mind, here are some suggestions for box sets and special editions that might just be the perfect gift this holiday season.

Books:

Or pretty much any series that you might want.

TV Series and Movies:

Or, again, any series or movie franchise you could imagine.

Music:

And check out box sets or special editions in Amazon for anything else that might tickle your fancy.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

How do you deal with slips in your projects?

One of the main goals of Unclutterer, apart from helping readers lead a more organized and streamlined life, is to help you create long-lasting change in your routines, habits, and life. Many of our articles revisit similar themes so that you can keep moving forward with your goals, revising what you are doing well, and identify when you need a course correction.

In my case, I am trying to merge my work and home life personalities. At work, I am decisive, productive, proactive, and passionate. At home, I never make decisions, ignore projects, react before thinking, and live with neither ups nor downs.

As regular readers know, I’ve been using the Bullet Journal system to transfer my work personality to my home one. And while the system has helped me keep my head above water during a stressful period at work, I’ve let my passivity to life stay in control and have pretty much converted my Bullet Journal into a solely work-related tracking system.

So, something needs to be done, and I think I’ve found the trick: the Moleskine app for my iPad Pro. One of the reasons I’ve let the personal life slide is because the work list was taking up a full page, leaving me with no room to add personal stuff and I refused to have a single day in two different pages in my Moleskine notebook. Sure it’s an excuse, but it was enough to derail me.

However, with the Moleskine app (available for iOS) I can have multiple notebooks and yet have only one item to carry. The app is free if you want the basic notebooks of Weekly Planner, Plain Paper, Lined Paper, and Grid Paper. You can buy other notebooks for Photos, Recipe Tracker, Travel Journal, and Wine Journal, but for now I have no interest in those ones. If you are an avid cook, travel writer, or wine lover, these journals might come in handy for organizing your thoughts.

By using the app, I’ve created five different journals:

  • Weekly Planner: to schedule my days and know what’s coming up. This planner looks into the future and includes both work and home.
  • Work Journal: to organize all my work-related tasks. I love the color and pen thickness options in the app and can keep track of all my tasks and priorities in a vibrant, colorful way.
  • Home Journal: to keep my personal-related actions, desires, and ideas front and center. This journal is copied from my work one and will hopefully, over time, instill my home personality with the more active traits from my work personality.
  • Connection Journal: to remind myself to connect with my social circles. As an introvert, I could easily go through a week only talking with work mates, but friends and family need to be taken care of or they won’t be there when my introverted self decides it wants company.
  • Time Tracker: to make sure I take time for myself each day. I can easily be busy, busy, busy, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep without taking even 15 minutes to read, write some fiction, or just stare at the ceiling. This journal looks at what has actually happened each day and serves as a good reminder that without personal time, I will burn out completely and start cutting myself off from the rest of the world, which is the exact opposite of my goal.

Wait a second… Five different journals? Isn’t that a lot of work?

Yes, it is, but the changes I want to make in my life are big and doing any less has proved too easy for my (nearly) 50 years of habits to take control and derail my plans.

I love my iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil — it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a digital notebook, and now that I can use my favorite notebooks in digital format, I couldn’t be happier. Productivity and perseverance thanks to technology.

What changes are you trying to make in your life? Are you aware of any slips? What are you doing to correct them and maintain momentum?

 

Organizing gift wrapping supplies

Tubes of gift wrap are cumbersome and always find a way to cause a mess. If you don’t already have a designated storage system for your gift wrap, then you may want to consider putting one together or purchasing a pre-made system.

I use the Gift Wrap Organizer (pictured), which has served me well over the years. I hang it in my office closet and only pull it out when I use it. I purchased tape and scissors specifically to be stored with the gift wrap so that everything is in one spot when I need it.

I keep five tubes of wrapping paper in the storage sleeves: One roll of heavy, plain white (for wedding and anniversary gifts), two rolls of holiday paper (one with a snowman print and the other a solid gold), a conservative stripe (for father’s day and male birthdays), and a neutral with polka dots (for mother’s day, female birthdays, and baby showers). If I had children, I would probably have a sixth tube of printed, youthful paper. In the front pockets I have stored bows, ribbons, and clear scotch tape. The side pocket holds a pair of scissors. The top back pocket holds white, cream, pink, and blue tissue paper. Finally, the bottom back pocket holds 10 gift bags in varying sizes (most of these are recycled from gifts people gave to me).

I found other pre-made systems that would work well, too:

Keep gift wrap from causing a mess in your home with a self-made or purchased organization system specifically designed for this purpose.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Staying on top of tasks: a Bullet Journal update

A couple of months ago, I committed to experimenting with the Bullet Journal process for organizing my time and tasks. I wanted to know several things before deciding if it was a success or not.

Does the system work?

As I’ve said in previous articles about the system, I’m really quite impressed by it. It works because it’s simple. With the amount of work stress I’ve been under the past six weeks, anything that gave me more work would have failed on the second day. I can honestly say that far from creating more work, it has saved me a lot of last minute crisis solving because I got things done before they reached crisis point.

Is it flexible enough to adapt to different situations?

Any system that cannot adapt will never be viable. The Bullet Journal system manages to adapt not only to people’s individual ways of working, but also to the changing needs of the same person.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in future notebooks, I would get rid of the Future Planning section, put the month-by-month planning first and then add a weekly calendar before my day-to-day lists. The first two items will actually happen, but the weekly calendar is something I need only when I have a lot of appointments. Most of my tasks aren’t tied to specific dates, so I don’t need to plan out my week normally, but when I do, starting with a blank page rather than a pre-designed calendar, I can create a weekly plan only when I need to.

Can it carry me through very stressful times?

September is always a crazy time of year work-wise. This year, it was even more so because we are installing a new client database. Being a bit on the distracted/obsessive side, when faced with huge and/or stressful projects, I tend to focus on them and let the rest slide.

In previous years, my staff (who are the front-line workers in our industry) haven’t received the support or materials they need to do their jobs well because I’ve been to busy focused on the administrative side, forgetting that if we don’t deliver the service well, we won’t get clients.

By writing down all my tasks (and rewriting postponed ones the next day), very few things have slipped through the cracks this year, and staff have been more prepared than ever.

Can I use it to maintain a work/life balance?

My slightly obsessive nature often causes me to forget about my home life when work gets busy. This year, however, despite doing ten or twelve hour days in the office, I’ve managed to avoid the unfortunately all-too-true cries of abandonment at home. We like to stay busy, organizing weekends with friends at home or away.

Normally at this time of year, I leave all of that organizing up to my husband and basically take for granted that he will do what needs doing so that I can relax and have fun on the weekend.

Not so this year, for once!

We have really come together as a team, participating and communicating so much more, so much that two weeks ago when I told my husband that yet again the following week I would be doing morning and afternoon shifts, he answered with a simple “okay” rather than any expression of disappointment.

And can I maintain it?

This is the one thing I’m not sure about. I’ve already pretty much abandoned the system on weekends. But I’m all right with that. Weekends are when I can disconnect and I believe that if I kept up the Bullet Journal on weekends as well, it would turn into a chore and I’d be quicker to abandon it during the work week just out of resentment. Fortunately, however, none of my system breakdown fears has come true.

In my next Bullet Journal experiment update (once my work life has settled into its normal routines) I’ll let you know how well I’ve managed to maintain the system.

Planning for system breakdowns: a Bullet Journal experiment

This week when I return to work I will officially start my Bullet Journal experiment. While it looks like a good system and has already helped me in some ways, I question whether I will be able to maintain it. Here are some issues that may cause a breakdown in the system, along with some possible solutions to them.

Boredom

Although I love creating systems and routines, I find maintenance of them rather dull. I need constant proof that a system makes my life easier or I abandon it for something new after a few months at the most.

For this Bullet Journal experiment to work, I am going to have to be aware of any imminent boredom and find ways to tweak the system without tossing it aside completely.

Distractions

Good habits aren’t easy to form, but so simple to break. Think about a gym-commitment. How many times do you start some exercise program only to stop because for two days in a row, you are too busy to go to the gym? This happens to me all the time at work. My best intentions get trashed because I arrive and have to solve any number of mini (or not so mini) crises.

A top priority for this experiment, therefore, will be at least five minutes a day updating my journal no matter what else is happening.

Success

How can success cause a system breakdown? Simple, if things are going well, I relax. Who needs to be diligent if everything is going well? The phrase “sitting on one’s laurels” comes to mind in this instance. I pat myself on the back, tell myself how awesome I am, and forget that continued success requires more effort.

To combat this possible error in the system, I will need to be aware of any feelings of overconfidence and remember that success comes from constant work; it doesn’t fall out of the sky randomly.

How about you? What issues have caused blips or breakdowns in your own Bullet Journalling projects?

Hide your ironing board

Where do you put your ironing board when it is not in use? If you have a designated spot where you do all of your ironing you may want to check out the Wall Mount Ironing Board. You can hide your ironing board in plain sight and no longer keep it under your bed, in the closet, or in the middle of your laundry room. Other clutter-free storage options for your ironing board include wall-mounted holders, like what you might find in a hotel closet, and over-the-door holders, with or without accessory storage.

All of these options are better than the one that my wife and I currently have — ours just sits on the floor in the middle of our laundry room. I’m eager to give one of these alternatives a try.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in August 2007.

Changing habits painlessly: a Bullet Journal experiment

A couple of weeks ago I stated my intention of using a Bullet Journal to improve not just my work productivity but to keep me on track with all the events I have throughout the year in my personal life.

Thank you to all of you who took the time to comment and to encourage me. The two most common suggestions were to customize and to take care not to get sucked into all the extras, and that advice has been duly noted and absorbed.

Fortunately I am a lazy person and my artistic interests lie in textiles not scrapbooking, so I won’t get drawn into forums or into making my journal pretty. My goal for using the Bullet Journal is to make sure that I use my time productively at work (so as to avoid chaos) and to not get into trouble at home by forgetting to plan special moments in our lives (something that happens quite often given my head-in-the-clouds personality). If at any point I find using a Bullet Journal takes more time than any of my other productivity systems in the past, out the window it will go.

As for customizing the system, I’ve already done that. According to the website, I was “supposed to” set up a Future Planning section where events and tasks for more than the current month and then a Monthly Calendar/To Do List at the beginning of each month.

This didn’t work for me. Given the nature of my job, and the way I tend to leave personal tasks to the last minute, I need to have the Monthly Calendars/To Do Lists laid out from the start. The Future Planning section will likely get ignored or will be used to put general topics only. And maybe next year it will disappear altogether. Time and use will tell.

I can see the benefit of using a Bullet Journal already, and I haven’t even started using the day-to-day lists (I’m waiting until after my vacation to get started on those). As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m horrible at remembering to plan for anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and so on. It’s like they suddenly jump out at me out of nowhere, like October 8th (our wedding anniversary) happens at some random point in the year and I never know exactly when it will show up.

By just setting up the Monthly Calendars and giving myself a full page beside each calendar for the To Do Lists, I’ve already started to think about special events that are going to happen between now and next August and have even started planning them.

For example, in 2018 the Eurovision Song Contest will be happening in Lisbon (and will likely never be so close or so affordable in many years again). This is a very popular event and will not just sell out quickly, but Lisbon itself will fill up and soon there will be no place to stay. Taking past habits into account, my normal mode of acting on this desire to go would be to wait until April 2018 to start organizing everything, or to wait until my husband brought up the topic. However, by marking the date in the Monthly Calendar and in the Future Planning section of the journal, I’ve made myself doubly aware of the need to plan. May 2018 is not really that far away. I added a note in the November section of the Future Planning to say that we need to start organizing the trip by then or it’s not going to happen.

That’s one habit changed, without any fuss or struggle. Yay me!

I can’t wait to see how else using the Bullet Journal will bring about changes in habits and productivity.

For those of you who do use Bullet Journals, how has the system changed things for you?