Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Tech Gadgets

Holiday shopping time is here, and with it comes the opportunity to buy cool tools! Here are our picks for super-cool gadgets that the tech-friendly unclutterers on your list will love.

The iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit contains unique and essential tools for most electronics repairs like screen and battery replacements. It’s also useful for repairing other electronics and household appliances. It has a great little carrying case with designated spots for each tool so you know where everything belongs and can easily see when something is missing. If there’s a tinkerer on your list, or someone who wants to save money by doing repairs at home, this toolkit is a great gift.

The Automatic Pro is a small device that plugs into a port that most contemporary cars have. Once in place, it provides a whole host of useful information to the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android), including:

  • Diagnostics of engine warning lights
  • Parking tracking
  • Expense tracking for business travel
  • Crash detection and response

There’s even cool collaboration with existing apps and services. For example, have your Hue Lights turn on as you pull into the driveway, set your Nest thermostat to turn the heat down as you pull away or log trip distances onto a Google document automatically.

The KBAR USB charger looks like a power strip but don’t let that fool you. This charger has eight USB ports that intelligently charge up to eight high-power mobile devices like iPads, Android tablets, and full-sized smartphones simultaneously. I say “intelligently” because the KBAR recognizes all of these devices and charges them at their maximum designed speed. Plus, the built-in surge protection helps keep them safe during a electrical power fluctuations.

Finally, I want to mention the PIXNOR 7-piece tweezers set. I seem to always have trouble finding a pair of tweezers when I need them, let alone the right tweezers. This kit offers a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. Whether it’s removing a sliver from your finger or performing a precision repair, this kit has precisely what you need. At a little under ten dollars, it’s a super deal.

There you have our recommendations for gadget gifts for the organized. Happy shopping. Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Easily save and sort Gmail with G-Save

This is no surprise, but Unclutterer readers are a productive, clever bunch. Recently, a reader wrote in with a project that further reinforced this fact. Kate shared a great Google Chrome extension that she and some co-workers created called “G-Save,” which makes the company’s Gmail service just a little more pleasant to use.

Google Chrome Extensions are “…small software programs that can modify and enhance the functionality of the Chrome browser.” Chrome extensions often make a certain website or service easier to use, by adding additional or alternate functionality, etc. There are many extensions available across multiple categories, including productivity-enhancing gems like Papier, which lets you quickly jot down notes and random thoughts, and Taco, which lets you easily enter tasks and other information into the project managers Wunderlist, Evernote, Asana, Basecamp and Trello.

Installation

Kate’s G-Save has a sharper focus. Specifically, it lets you quickly and easily save emails and their attachments to some location outside of you email client, like Google Drive, Drop Box, Outlook…really anywhere you what.

Setup is so minimal it’s barely worth a mention. First, open the Chrome browser on your computer and navigate to G-Save’s home. Next, click the “Add to Chrome” button in the upper-right. You’ll get a confirmation window. Click “Add extension.” That’s it. You’re done. A small, red Gmail icon appears on the right-hand side of your browser’s toolbar.

G-Save is platform-agnostic, so it doesn’t care if you’re using a PC or a Mac. Here’s how to use it.

Use

With installation complete, it’s time to try this out. Open Gmail in Chrome and you’ll see a new button labeled “Save Email” beneath the familiar “Compose” button. To save a message, simply select it in the list and then click Save Email. The message and any attachments it contains are saved in a universal EML file, with any email client can read.

This appealed to me because I’m a huge opponent of using your email client as a filing cabinet/to-do list. G-Save lets you move messages out of Gmail and into relevant folders, be they for a project, reference storage and so on.

When a new email message arrives, you must ask yourself, “What is this?” It sounds silly but it’s crucial. There are three possible answers:

  1. It’s garbage
  2. It’s something I need to do
  3. It’s something I might refer to later

That’s it. Every message you will ever receive will fall into these three categories.

The first one is simple. Spam, advertising you aren’t interested in, messages from old mailing lists you’ve lost interest in, etc. It’s all in the garbage category, so trash it — immediately.

The next category is the action category. These messages require someone — typically you — to do something. For instance, “Call Jane about the committee meeting,” “Forward the presentation to Frank,” or “Ask Faith about the camping trip next week.” Once you’ve identified what the required action is, make note of it in the appropriate place (on your to-do list or calendar) and then delete the message. Unless your company requires you to retain your email for legal reasons, then move it to an archive folder.

The final category is reference material. These messages do not require action, but they do hold information that could be useful someday. Identify what that information is, (sewing patterns, recipes, etc.) store it in the appropriate place and then delete the email. Yes, delete it. G-Save makes this simple.

Do what must be done

This step is a biggie. Just as you don’t pull a hot turkey out of the oven without first knowing where you’re going to set it down, you should’t delete that email message until you’ve identified a trusted place to put its important information. This is what David Allen calls a “trusted system.” Essentially, it’s an obvious, reliable stake in the ground that holds your information.

Congratulations to Kate and her colleagues for creating such a useful tool. Thanks for sharing and I hope you, dear reader, find a place for G-Save on your computer, too. I know it’s on mine.

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?

 

Uncluttering your digital junk drawers

The proliferation of inexpensive cloud services offer near-ubiquitous access to your files as well as something rather insidious: an out-of-sight, digital junk drawer. That drawer in your kitchen with the pens, receipts, batteries, fortune cookies from the 90’s, and who knows what else, is in your face every day. Its presence is a constant prompt to clean, sort, and organize. You tend to it because you see it.

Your Evernote account, however is hidden, just like your Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, or iCloud account. Digital files like documents, photos, music, and electronic receipts add up slowly but surely, and soon enough you’ve got a mountain of forgotten stuff just hanging out, taking up storage space.

Typically you’ll know it’s time to organize a digital junk drawer by observing how much time you spend searching for what you need. Instead of finding it right away, you scroll and scroll or use the search function, which may or may not be especially helpful. Suddenly that convenient storage solution is wasting time because it takes too long to find things and wasting money, as the cost of storage increases once you exceed your storage threshold.

The good news is it’s easy to clean out a digital junk drawer, as well as ensure it doesn’t get to a sorry state again. Here’s what we recommend.

Use the delete key

It’s time to get to know the delete key. Do not fear it. Instead, embrace its power and banish unwanted files to the Land of Wind and Ghosts.

I recently started to poke around my Dropbox folders. I found many documents I had not touched in months or years — parts of old projects long abandoned, screenshots I had no need for, old software I no longer wanted, unfinished articles that would never get written, etc. There was so much such stuff just sitting there, acting as clutter, hindering searches, and taking up precious space.

I took the time to go through each document, identify it, and if I no longer needed it, I deleted it. It felt great.

It is possible you’ll find documents that have been stored for a long time that you still need. That’s the difference between “reference” and “junk.” For example, the schedule for my local theatre is reference. It holds information that doesn’t require action, but might be useful in the future. User manuals and some receipts fall into this category, too.

Junk, on the other hand, has no value. That screenshot I took simply to post as a joke on Twitter? I don’t need that anymore so into the trash it goes.

A quick way to identify seldom-touched files is to sort a folder’s contents by “Date last opened” or “Date added.” Doing so gives you a clear picture of which files you use and which are collecting digital dust.

Be ruthless. Find a file, ask what it is, and act accordingly. When that’s done, it’s time to prevent it from happening again.

What’s in a name? Structure.

Many years ago, I came across a fantastic article from PC Magazine that tackled this topic beautifully. It’s about intelligent and purposeful naming. It suggests that file names meet the following criteria:

  • unique
  • indicative of what the file contains
  • in line with how you (or your business) thinks about information
  • “scannable”  (with the human eye) according to how you (or your employees) find information
  • naturally ordered alphabetically (or numerically)
  • consistent

I’ll let you read the whole article — you really should — but I’ll point out a couple of ideas here. First, the second item on the list, “indicative of what the file contains.” Photos are the biggest culprit here. Your camera or smartphone will give images names like “img5468.jpg.” That means nothing when your scanning through a list of files (more on that in a minute). Instead, use something like “201710WineTour.jpg.” That way you know exactly what it is from the title, and sorting is so much easier.

I touched on “scannable” above, but it’s worth repeating. Instead of scrolling while muttering to yourself, “Hold on, it’s in here somewhere,” you can see exactly what you want in an instant.

Also, consistency is key. It may take more time to rename files prior to storing them but it’s worth it when you consider the time saved on the other end.

This weekend, spend a little time with your digital junk drawers, be they a cloud service or even your computer’s own hard drive. It takes time to get sorted, yes, but it’s completely worth it.

Dropmark organizes links and digital files

Two years ago I was lousy at organizing web bookmarks. If I found an article I wanted to read later, a recipe or anything else I couldn’t attend to right then and there, it went into Dock in Apple’s Mac operation system, where it sat indistinguishable and forgotten. What a mess.

Determined to rise above that disorganized mess, I explored four solutions: Instapaper, Historious, Pinboard and Ember. Each has its pros and cons, but I eventually landed on Instapaper. It’s quick and easy. Still, that was two years ago and I thought the idea deserved another look. This time, I’ve discovered Dropmark.

What drew me to Dropmark is that it is a lot more than an archive of links. Instead, it sorts things you’d like to save into “collections.” The collections can be customized however you like. To get you started, Dropmark offers six default collections:

  • Inspiration
  • Recipes
  • Playlist
  • Save for Later
  • Video Que
  • Book Club

Each collection has its own permission settings. You can make it private, available to a select few, or public. Once you’ve created a collection, simply drag and drop something from your computer into a browser window to add it. It’s then listed in a tidy grid. You can increase search-ability by adding tags to any item.

Organizing bookmarks (my personal goal) is easy, too. Simply click to add a new item, choose “Link” and paste the URL you’d like to save.

While I’m just looking for a digital organizational tool, Dropbox can do much more than that. You can form teams for collaboration, and share any collection you’ve got.

Lastly, there are browser extensions and mobile apps for iOS and Android that let you manage your collections with ease. It’s simple, good-looking and available both as a free app and a paid service. The pro version ($50/year) lets you add comments, annotations, and choose from several style options. It’s a very nice service and if you, too, struggle with organizing digital bookmarks and files, give Dropmark a try.

Tips and tricks for Google Keep

About a year ago I wrote a post praising Google Keep, the light, effective note-taking app from Google. At the time I was only a few months into using it but I was already smitten. The fast, lightweight app let me store and find notes easily. Twelve months later, it has become an indispensable part of my day.

Along the way, I’ve picked up some very cool tricks that make it even more useful. If you’re a fan too, I hope you learn something new here. If you haven’t used Google Keep before, consider this your formal invitation to give it a try. It really is useful. Now, the tips.

Transcribe notes from pictures

I learned this trick from Tech Republic and it has become my favorite. If you take a photo of written text with Google Keep, it can extract the text in the photo and turn it into editable copy in a note. Just follow these steps:

  1. Take a photo with the app
  2. Tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner
  3. Select “Grab image text”

That’s it. Keep will find the text in the photograph and paste it into the body of your note. Super cool.

Drag and drop notes from Keep into Google Docs

Here’s something I tried on a whim. Much to my delighted surprise, it worked. Just follow these steps.

  1. With a Google Doc open, click “Tools” from the menu bar and then “Keep Notepad.”
  2. A list of your notes appears on the right.
  3. Simply drag the one you want out of that list and into your document.

The cool thing here is that the formatting in the note is retained. Drag an ordered list, and you’ve got an ordered list in your doc. Drag an image and it’s an image. Text is text. The lesson here is always poke around the tools menu.

It’s great for social media drafts

Sharing isn’t limited to Google Docs, or course. Open a note on your smartphone (Android or iOS) and hit the three dots or Share Button to send the contents of that note to Twitter, Facebook, Slack, etc.

Create reminders

I only discovered this recently. You can use Keep to send you a reminder. To begin, just create a note and click the icon of a finger wrapped in a string. From there, create your reminder. That reminder will automatically appear on your Google Calendar, the Chrome browser (if it’s signed into Google) and your Android device.

As you can see, Keep is for much more than jotting down shopping lists (though it does that, too). I’ve grown to love it and I bet you will, too. Give it a try.

Software to help organize your thoughts

When I was young, a phone was a communication device attached to the kitchen wall. Curly wire, a rotary dial, that whole thing. If you were lucky, the wire was long enough to reach the closet for a private conversation (and create an annoying obstacle for everyone else in the house).

A modern phone is more than just a glorified walkie-talkie. It is a camera, game station, note-taker and bane of many a parent’s existence, among other things. For now, let’s look at the phone as a note-taker.

I use my phone to jot down information that would have been relegated to paper a few years ago. My phone is always with me, making it convenient, and often a decent paper substitute. From creating a simple list to managing a full-on brainstorm, there’s an app for your note-taking needs. Here’s a look at some of my favorites.

When I want to brainstorm a new idea or project, I create a mind map. (I’ve written about mind mapping here before). It’s a more formal way to get the flood of ideas down, creating a nice visual that depicts the relationships between each thought. Yet, it’s still unstructured enough to not interfere with the process.

For me, the best option is MindNode. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the Mac and iPhone. If you use those platforms, go and grab this app. It syncs across devices almost instantly and is very easy to use. It also features easy import/export options, so getting your information out is as easy as getting it in.

If you’re an Android user, I recommend MindMeister. Like MindNode it’s easy to use, and makes collaboration easy, so members of your team/group/family can contribute.

Next up is Google Keep, which I’ve talked about it before. I’m happy to report that I still love it. Keep is lightning fast and feels streamlined and unclutterered. It syncs between the mobile app and a browser almost instantly and lets me jot things down nearly as quickly as I do with paper and pen. Plus you can categorize, tag, color-code, and share. It’s a real keeper.

Meanwhile, I know a lot of people who swear by Notebook by Zoho (available for iOS and Android), Notebook – Take Notes, Sync across devices on the App Store. What’s nice here is it lets you sort notes into “Notebooks” with custom titles and covers, making it very easy indeed to find what you’re after.

Dropbox Paper is a direct competitor to Google Docs, (which is in competition with Microsoft’s Office 3650. Like the others, Dropbox Paper goes well beyond simple note-taking and offers a suite of online productivity tools, aiming to be a way to create and share text documents.

It will be overkill for many, but if you’re looking for an alternative to those larger suites, give Dropbox Paper a try.

Is digital better? Yes and no. The near ubiquitous access is nice, and sharing is a lot easier. But I think paper is faster, plus it won’t crash or succumb to a dead battery or weak Wi-Fi connection. For more on the paper/digital debate, check out Reconciling paper and digital productivity and organizing tools.

Download, store, and organize your Google data

Google is a big part of many people’s digital lives. Services like Blogger, Google Photos, the note-taking app Keep (my thoughts on Keep are here) and the Fit app — not to mention the Chrome browser — receive a lot of data every day, in the form of family photos, blog posts, notes, workout data, and more.

That data is safe in the cloud (i.e. Google’s servers), but did you know that you can download a copy of this information to your own computer? With just a few clicks you can retrieve and then store a local copy of your Google data. Here’s how (and why) to get started.

Why should you backup Google data?

So-called “cloud computing,” which is the system that allows you to save information on a network of remote servers hosted on the internet, offers convenient, near-ubiquitous access to our most important digital information. There’s peace of mind in knowing that data is stored and cared for by people who specialize in such things. But according to Jack Schofield, it’s not enough.

Jack has written what are now known as Schofield’s Three Laws of Computing. His Second Law states that data does not really exist unless you have at least two copies of it. In short, never assume that your data is 100% safe. Making two backups doubles your chances of a successful recovery if and when a catastrophe strikes. Are your photos safe at photos.google.com? Of course. Can I guarantee that they are 100% safe? No.

Now that we’ve got a good picture of why you should backup your Google data, let’s look at how.

How to back up your Google data

Before you begin, you’ll have to make two decisions. First, identify specifically what data you’d like to save, and second, where you plan to store it.

Pick your target data by visiting https://www.google.com/settings/takeout. You might have to sign in to your Google account first. From there, you’ll see a list of all the Google services currently associated with your account.

Depending on what services you use, it can be a pretty long list. On the left-hand side of the list, you’ll see each service’s name. To the right you’ll see a small disclosure triangle and a green toggle switch. Click the disclosure triangle to view details on exactly what aspect of that service can be downloaded.

For example, when I click the triangle next to “Google Photos,” I get the following options:

  1. Include all photo albums (selected by default)
  2. Select photo albums

Clicking the latter lets me pick and choose the albums I want to download. All photos and videos are downloaded in their original format.

Finally, the toggle switch is green if a service’s data has been selected for download, and grey if it has not. Once you’re made your selections, scroll to the bottom of the list and click “Next.”

This summary screen presents three options:

  1. File type. Choose between .zip, .tgz and .tbz formats.
  2. Maximum archive size. If your archive is larger than your selection (for example, 2 GB), it will be broken down into parts that are 2 GB (or less) each.
  3. A delivery method.

Number three requires special attention. It’s likely that a backup will be very large, so choose your destination carefully. Google lets you receive a download link via email, or it can send your archive to Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.

If you choose the email link, make sure your computer has room for the download, as does your eventual local destination (connected hard drive, etc.). A great option is a large, connected drive (like this one) that’s regularly backed up by a service like BackBlaze or CrashPlan. That way your data lives in three locations: Google, your local drive, and the backup service of your choice. Take that, Mr. Schofield!

Cloud computing is convenient and yes, a great way to safely store irreplaceable files. But don’t become too reliant on it. A simple routine like this will help ensure all of that precious data will be available for years to come.

Book Review: A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos

Like many of our readers, I find one of the most daunting projects is organizing and digitizing our family photos. Fortunately, when I was at the recent NAPO conference, I had the opportunity to speak with Mollie Bartelt, co-founder of Pixologie and author of A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos. She gave me a copy of her book to review.

If you’ve inherited family photos or you just want to get your own photos organized and digitized, this book is for you. It is well written and easy to read. It provides advice on many different scenarios (family photos, a professional photographer’s collection, etc.). As well, the book explains how to incorporate physical photos and digital photos into one organized collection.

In the first part of the book, Bartelt explains how to get started. She describes the time, space, tools, and equipment needed manage this type of project. I was rather confused when I saw dental floss on the list of required tools. However, Bartelt goes on to explain that dental floss can used to remove photos that are stuck in old-fashioned “magnetic” photo albums. Sliding the floss carefully underneath the photos will unstick them without having them curl up at the corners. This makes it much easier to scan them.

Bartelt also recommends which photos to keep and which to let go. For example, to remember your family’s trip to the zoo, you can keep a photo of your children in front of the elephant enclosure. There is no need to keep a dozen pictures of the elephant itself.

Prior to organizing your photos, Bartelt suggests building an age chart for family members to help determine what year photos were taken. For example, if Charles was born in 2010, the photo of him beside a cake with six candles (his sixth birthday) would be from 2016, and we would know that he was in the first grade that year. Anne would have been four years old and in preschool.

When sorting photos, Bartelt provides suggestions on how to choose major categories and how to divide the major categories into sub-categories. She discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each method and provides real-life examples of projects that have used each method.

When it comes to digitizing photos, it is important to determine a file name methodology before the process begins. Bartelt has several suggestions but her preferred file name system is YYYY-MM-DD-description; where the description can be the event or people in the photograph.

Bartelt explains that for the digitizing process, all-in-one printer scanners can produce good quality digitized photos. However, using the flatbed option is very time consuming if you have a lot of photos to scan. Some scanners have an auto-feed function but this may damage photos because they are forced to bend around rollers before they are scanned. Pixologie, the company Bartelt co-founded, offers photo organizing and digitizing services. They use an E-Z Photo Scan’s Kodak PS80 Photo Scanner. This is a high-speed, straight-feed scanner that produces scans of very good quality. It is very useful for scanning many photos very quickly.

A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos provides valuable information on recommended settings for scanning photos. Most family photos are scanned at 300-600 dpi as superior quality JPGs. Historians and professional photographers should scan at 600-1200 dpi as TIFF. She also describes how to store digital photos both on- and off-site and how to incorporate a digital photo collection into a recently digitized collection of physical photos.

If you’re considering a photo organizing project, whether it be your family photos or the portfolio of a professional photographer, I highly recommend reading A Simple Guide to Saving Your Family Photos before you start. You will save yourself a lot of time and effort by taking the advice offered by Bartelt.

Uncluttering old iPods

Recently I found an old iPod while cleaning out some drawers. It wouldn’t power on as the battery had long since died, so I connected it to my computer and was delighted to find that it worked. The next question was clear: what should I do with it?

If you find one of these things lying around, or if you inherit one from someone else, the first thing to do is identify the model. Apple’s website helps you do just that. I’ve got a third-generation iPod nano, the so-called “fat nano.” This squat little guy can store 8 GB worth of music, photos, and video, plus a few extras like rudimentary games and notes. It acquires all of these things by syncing with iTunes on a computer. For playback it’s great, and the dash of nostalgia is fun too.

Compared to contemporary devices, though, it’s a dinosaur. It can’t connect to the internet so streaming music on Spotify or Apple Music is a no-go. I can’t install apps either. So what is it good for? My solution is audiobooks.

I love to listen to audiobooks while driving, but they take up a lot of storage space on my phone. This little iPod gives me 8 GB of dedicated audiobook storage (minus space that the OS uses). It will remember where I left off and happily sit in my car, ready to play back an audiobook as I drive. Of course there’s no Bluetooth connectivity, so I have to use a cable from the iPod to the care stereo, which is fine.

If you find an iPod that you’d rather get rid of, either through donation, trade or sale, here are some options to consider.

Apple has its own recycling program for electronics. You can participate at an Apple Store or online. Qualifying items can get you Apple Store credit, which is a nice bonus. Many big box stores have similar programs.

You can always donate working devices to local schools, recreation departments, veterans, the Music and Memory Project, and so on. Perhaps you’ve got a friend or relative who’d love to have it. I even heard of two far-flung friends who would mail an old iPod back and forth, each filling it with with their own favorite music for the other to listen to for a while before returning the favor.

And yes, you can sell an old iPod. Ebay is the obvious option, but outlets like Swap.com and Gazelle are also good choices.

Finally, what about the cables and chargers? If you don’t have ones, Apple sells several adapters to get your iPod working with contemporary devices. If you find broken ones bring them to your local big box store for recycling.

Of course, if you can find a way to use it, I say do it. Though limited compared to what we’ve got today, these older iPods are still a lot of fun.

Being organized about protecting your computer (and your smartphone)

You’ve probably heard about the ransomware attack that hit numerous computers earlier this month, with hospitals in the U.K. being some of the major victims. When computers became infected with the malware, their files were locked unless a ransom was paid to unlock them.

While this specific attack probably didn’t affect you, it’s a good reminder that you can take an organized approach to protecting yourself from future attacks by following a couple simple strategies. These won’t protect you from all malicious attacks, but they are critical parts any strategy for keeping your computer files safe.

Keep your software up to date

The computers that got infected this time were those that had not installed the relevant security update from Microsoft, which was released two months prior to the attack. And some of computers were running Windows XP, a version so out of date that patches weren’t even being released unless special support contracts were in place. (Microsoft later made the necessary patch available to everyone.)

Whether or not you enable automatic updates of your computer’s software, it’s important to install any security patches promptly. This is not a time to procrastinate! Besides the operating system (Windows, OS X, macOS, etc.) you may need to install security updates to software such as your web browser — I just did an update to Safari. Adobe Flash Player is another bit of software that gets frequent security updates.

While updates can be complicated in corporate and industrial settings — think about operating systems embedded in things like MRI machines — in most cases it’s much simpler for those of us with our personal computers.

Keep your smartphone updated, too

Smartphones and tablets can also need software updates for security purposes, so don’t overlook those. The phones that get security updates the fastest are Apple’s iPhones and the Android phones that come directly from Google rather than from a third party vendor. As Kate Conger explained on the TechCrunch website back in March:

Google has spent the past year working with third-party manufacturers and phone carriers to improve its update system for Android, which is often criticized for not being fast enough to protect users from known vulnerabilities. And while Google says it has made some progress in this area — Android issued security updates to 735 million devices from more than 200 manufacturers in 2016 — about half of Android users still aren’t receiving important security patches. ….

While Google-manufactured Pixel and Nexus phones and tablets receive automatic updates, hundreds of manufacturers that run Android on their devices don’t push security updates to their customers immediately. This practice can leave customers waiting for months to get updates, and their devices are vulnerable in the meantime.

Also be aware that some older phones may no longer have guaranteed security updates, so you may need to replace your phone to keep it secure. As Google notes for Nexus phones (with a similar statement for Pixel phones):

Nexus devices get security updates for at least 3 years from when the device first became available on the Google Store, or at least 18 months from when the Google Store last sold the device, whichever is longer. After that, we can’t guarantee additional updates.

Do your backups

We’ve written about the importance of backups here on Unclutterer in the past, and ransomware attacks are just one more reason these matter so much. Backups won’t protect your computer from being infected with malware — but if you have good backups in place, you could use them to recover from any such attack.

Is money becoming obsolete?

Recently I went an entire week without taking any money out of the bank. Every single one of my purchases was done online, via digital transfers using my bank’s app, or with my bank card in stores.

There are definite advantages to living this way, the most important being my ability to track my spending. For example, my bank’s app has a ‘summary’ function that looks at my purchases and sorts them by type of company, dividing them up into categories and months. It then tells me what it thinks I will spend this month and how much left I have in my budget.

Back in the late 90s when I was saving for a house, my budgeting was based on putting specific amounts of money into envelopes labeled with categories. When the envelope was empty, I couldn’t spend any more in that category.

Things have changed a little bit since, then, haven’t they?

Here in Spain, paying by cell phone is becoming more and more popular — you just position your phone near the store’s terminal and a wallet app opens, allowing you to confirm the payment. Again, each transaction is then automatically recorded, so you can later review what you spend and where.

Is there a downside to all of this?

That depends on what you think about personal privacy and data mining. For example, each time I purchase an ebook on Amazon or a flight via an online operator, my Facebook feed fills up with ads for similar books and vacations. It’s a bit disconcerting to think that companies track my spending and use it to advertise to me, but for me, it’s a small price to pay for the convenience.

If I were still running my own business, I’d be thrilled with the detailed tracking of my expenses. Instead of hours of input into whatever financial program I was using, I could simply open up an app and see exactly what I’ve spent and where. If I had separate bank accounts for personal and business spending, I wouldn’t even need a financial program anymore, as it would be all there for me to see and consult whenever I (or my accountant) needed to.

What do you think? How much actual cash do you spend these days? Is the digitization of money a good thing? Will paper money disappear at some point?