Being organized about computer security

Decision fatigue is always a potential problem when you’re uncluttering. You can get to the point where you’ve made so many decisions that making any more seems like more than you can handle. When you find yourself at that point, it’s time to take a break.

While I’ve often read about (and had experiences with) decision fatigue over the years, I recently read about a somewhat related concept: security fatigue, defined as “a weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security.”

After updating your password for the umpteenth time, have you resorted to using one you know you’ll remember because you’ve used it before? Have you ever given up on an online purchase because you just didn’t feel like creating a new account?

If you have done any of those things, it might be the result of “security fatigue.” …

A new study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that a majority of the typical computer users they interviewed experienced security fatigue that often leads users to risky computing behavior at work and in their personal lives.

If you give into security fatigue, you really do put your information at risk. The following are some ways to make it a bit easier to use good security:

Prioritize your important accounts

You may have heard the advice that you should never reuse passwords. But in a 2010 interview with Ben Rooney of Tech Europe, security expert Bruce Schneier indicated that might be going a bit overboard:

“I have some very secure passwords for things that matter — like online banking”, he says. “But then I use the same password for all sorts of sites that don’t matter. People say you shouldn’t use the same password. That is wrong.”

Don’t try to remember all your passwords

There are two ways to avoid relying on your memory. The first is to use a password management program. I use 1Password, but other people like LastPass, KeePass, or one of the other available choices. A password manager can store your passwords (and your answers to security questions) so you don’t need to remember them all.

If you don’t want to use a password manager, writing your passwords down can be okay, too — Schneier has actually recommended that. I’ve had my wallet stolen, so I wouldn’t feel good about keeping my list of passwords there (as he recommends) unless I did something to obscure the password, as suggested by Paul Theodoropoulos in a blog post.

But keeping a list of passwords in a file folder with an innocuous name might be fine. Or you could write them inside a random book, as another blogger suggested.

Find an easy way to choose secure passwords

There’s no total agreement on the best formula for secure passwords, but two common approaches are:

  • A long string of random characters including letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols
  • A set of randomly chosen unrelated words

The first type of password is easily created using a password manager. LastPass even has a random password generator anyone can use.

The second type is created using an approach known as Diceware, which is fairly tedious. But there’s at least one website that provides a Diceware app, making it extremely simple to generate these passwords. A Diceware password like doodle-aroma-equinox-spouse-unbolted might be odd, but it’s easier to remember than something like 831M5L17vY*F. (Of course, you can just cut and paste your passwords in many cases, but sometimes you really do want one you can remember.) However, Diceware won’t work on sites that set character limits that are too short.

Treat security questions just like additional passwords

Do you provide your pet’s name as an answer to a security question? On a banking site, you might want that name to be something like Z8#3!dP47#Hx or grill-anthem-tinderbox-baguette-cosmetics. On a less important site you don’t need to be as cautious, but using your pet’s real name is still a poor idea.

More advice for buying a filing cabinet

Dave recently provided some great tips for buying a filing cabinet. The following are a few additional suggestions from my own experiences.

Unclutter first

With any organizing project, buying the containers (in this case, the filing cabinets) is one of the last steps. If you don’t remove the paper clutter first, you may wind up buying more storage than you need.

So much information we used to keep in files can now be found online. And if you’re comfortable with digital files, many papers that you receive which have valuable information can be scanned, reducing what needs to be kept and filed.

But once you’ve decided what to keep, be sure to buy filing cabinets that can store all your papers without overcrowding the drawers. It’s nice to keep each drawer no more than 80 percent full so it’s easy to add and remove files.

Consider what size papers you need to keep

Many people just need files for letter-sized paper, but you may have documents you want to keep in paper form that are larger (such as real estate documents in the U.S., which are often on legal size paper). Some filing cabinets can accommodate multiple paper sizes.

Choose to use hanging files — or not

Most filing cabinets come with rails for hanging files (or have high drawer sides designed to accommodate hanging file folders without the use of rails), so that’s what most people use. However, David Allen of Getting Things Done fame used to recommend a different approach:

I recommend you totally do away with the hanging-file hardware and use just plain folders standing up by themselves in the file drawer, held up by the movable metal plate in the back. Hanging folders are much less efficient because of the effort it takes to make a new file ad hoc.

This advice seems to have been removed from the latest edition of Allen’s book, but it might still appeal to you. If you want to go this route, you’ll want a filing cabinet that has those movable metal plates, often called follower blocks.

Make sure the cabinet drawers have full-extension slides

Some filing cabinets have drawers that don’t pull all the way out, making it hard to reach the files in the back. Be sure to look for cabinets with full-extension drawer slides (rather than something like three-quarter extension) so you can easily reach everything without scraping your knuckles.

Don’t create a tipping hazard

If you’re at all concerned about the cabinet falling over — because you have small children or you live in earthquake territory, for example — get the materials needed to anchor the cabinet to the wall.

Be sure a filing cabinet is the right tool for you


Just because so many people use filing cabinets doesn’t mean you need to do the same. There are other options, such as file carts, which may suit your organizing style better. Or you may prefer to keep at least some papers in binders rather than in file folders.

When organizing goes too far

Organizing isn’t something you do just for the sake of being organized. Rather, it’s something you do to make the rest of your life easier. When you’re organized you can find things when you need them. You have the space to do the things that matter to you: have company over, enjoy your hobbies, cook good meals, etc.

When you look at getting organized, there are always trade-offs to make. How much time do you want to spend organizing your books, your photos, etc.? One thing to consider is whether the time invested in doing the organizing will save you more time over the long run.

I just read an article by Brian X. Chen in The New York Times that touched upon these trade-offs. Chen consulted with Brian Christian, a computer scientist and philosopher, about organizing his digital photos.

Mr. Christian said photo organization illustrates a computer-science principle known as the search-sort trade-off. If you spend tons of time rummaging for a specific photo, then sorting photos may be worthwhile. But if you hunt for a picture infrequently, sorting may be a waste of time.

“If it would take you eight hours to tag all your friends, you should not undertake that until you’ve already wasted eight hours digging up photos of your friends,” said Mr. Christian, co-author of Algorithms to Live By, a book about using algorithmic principles to improve your life.

There are photo-management services such as Google Photos that can do some auto-sorting, and Chen went on to write about those. But the basic trade-off concept applies to all sorts of things beyond just photos. For example, I organize my books into general categories but don’t bother alphabetizing the fiction by author because I can find books quickly enough without taking that next step.

Similarly, as we’ve noted before, many people will find that they don’t need a bunch of folders for email because they can rely on their computer’s search function to find what they need. But others find that using folders works better for them, even if that makes email filing more time-consuming.

Organizer Lorie Marrero wrote on the Lifehack website about being too organized, and she provided this example of when the return on invested time doesn’t pay off:

People think it might look neat to have all matching plastic containers in their pantries that all nest nicely together and present a picture-perfect shelf. But for the ROI of simply having a pretty pantry, you have to spend a lot of time transferring every new food item from its original store packaging into the containers.

But if it really makes you happy to have a pantry with beautiful matching containers, then maybe you’d want to transfer foods into them even though this doesn’t make sense from a purely practical perspective. That’s a perfectly fine choice to make if it works for you.

Color-coding provides one more example what works for one person might be overkill for another. Does it help you to color-code your files? If so, it may well be worth the effort, money, and space to keep file folders in different colors on hand. However, if you’d work just as well with files that are all the same color, why not use the simpler approach?

As you set up your own organizing systems, think about what might be “just enough organizing” to allow you to function well and enjoy your home or office space.

Why computer backups matter

160930-externalhddIt’s been over a year since I last encouraged you to have a computer backup strategy in place, and some recent news made me want to emphasize this once again. More than ever, many of us store precious photos and documents on our computers, so taking the time to back them up properly is vital. The following stories illustrate just some of the reasons for having those backups.

Protecting against fire (or other natural disasters)

The following story by Matt Sledge in The New Orleans Advocate had a happy ending, but it could have ended tragically:

Gideon Hodge, 35, describes himself as a playwright, novelist and actor. When his fiancée told him that their apartment was on fire, he left work in Mid-City and rushed to the scene. That’s when he realized that his only copies of two completed novels were on a laptop inside. …

Hodge dashed into the building. He ran past the smoke and the firefighters yelling at him to stop and managed to grab the precious laptop.

“Anybody that’s ever created art, there’s no replacing that,” Hodge said. “It’s got pretty much my life’s work.”

Hodge could have been seriously hurt, and his laptop could have been unsalvageable. Fortunately, everything worked out fine. But if he just had an offsite backup, he wouldn’t have felt compelled to take such a risk.

Protecting against hard drive failures

The Advocate has an eye-catching photo of Hodge running into his home to get his computer. But as Dinah Sanders wrote on Twitter:

No one is going to take dramatic photos of “Writer frowns quizzically as hard drive just up and catastrophically fails one day.”

Such failures are an ongoing risk computer users face every day, and backups mean we’re protected when they happen.

Protecting against accidentally deleted files

Another situation where backups come in very handy is when a computer update goes wrong. Josh Marshall wrote in great detail about his recent experience using a new feature of Apple’s latest operating system for the Mac. He has both a home computer and a work computer, and when he tried using the new feature, things went very wrong. Without going into all the details (some of which are specific to his set-up), the following is one excerpt from his narrative:

In a flash all the files on my desktop disappeared and were replaced by the files from my work desktop.

Arghghgghhgghgh!

Anyone who has had an update go wrong can imagine how this would feel. Fortunately, Marshall had a good up-to-date backup and was able to restore all his files.

Protecting against theft

Michael Zhang wrote about one sad story on the PetaPixel website, where the lack of offsite backups was devastating:

Oakland-based photographer Jennifer Little had her home broken into last week, and her loss was devastating. In addition to stealing 8 of her cameras, the burglars also took 21 hard drives containing Little’s life’s work as a professional photographer.

Our precious computer files are the opposite of clutter. I would hate for any Unclutterer readers to lose any such files, so please take the time to create and implement a thoughtful backup strategy (if you haven’t already) that includes files on your computer and any files you’ve offloaded from your computer to external hard drives, thumb drives, CDs, or DVDs.

Tech for winter storm preparedness

As September gives way to October, we enter the heart of hurricane season. We’ve written about organizing your storm supplies before, and today I’ll focus on tech to help you weather a storm. If you haven’t organized your preparedness kit yet, there’s still time.

Stay informed

When a storm hits, it’s important to receive information from authorities. The American Cross ZoneGuard Weather Radio is great for this. It finds and delivers alerts for your area, flashes color-coded warnings and tunes into AM, FM and NOAA digital radio stations. It runs off of AC power or AA batteries.

A good hand-crank radio is also great to have, like this one from Esky. Just 60 seconds of cranking 20 minutes of use. There’s a solar charing option as well, but stormy days aren’t usually very sunny.

Your smartphone

If you own a smartphone, you’ve got a tiny computer that can be tremendously useful in an emergency. When your home’s power goes out, Wi-Fi goes with it. So grab your phone and rely on cell connectivity.

There are several great apps available, including The Red Cross, which offers apps specific to certain disasters, text alerts and first aid information. Of course, none of that matters when your phone’s battery dies. Keep it going with an Eton Boost Turbine. As you may have guessed, it’s a hand-crank charger for your phone and other USB devices. Just plug it in and get cranking.

Of course, don’t forget a good old corded phone. When cell/internet service goes down, or when your your power goes out, a corded landline phone will let you call out.

Shine some light

Finally, I have to identify my favorite flashlight of all time, the Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. LED flashlights are brighter than those with traditional bulbs, and the HP1 shines a powerful beam indeed. It takes rechargeable batteries, is water resistant, impact resistant, compact and feels great.

There’s a lot more you should do to prepare for a storm. Today we’ve pointed out a few bits of tech that you can rely on. We hope this was helpful. Be careful out there.

Being more productive by hiring some help

Unclutterer received an email from a reader who had a number of questions, many of which related to hiring people to help with various tasks. There are many reasons you might want to hire some help:

  • You may need to hire help to do things you physically can’t do yourself. I had this situation when I first came home after my hip surgery and had many movement restrictions. I needed someone to come in weekly to do the laundry, vacuum the floors, and run some errands.
  • You may need to hire help with specific expertise that you don’t have. For example, many people hire someone to do their tax returns.
  • You may want to offload time-consuming tasks that you don’t enjoy to free up time for other things that are more important to you.

And sometimes you may want to hire someone for more than one of these reasons. The only ongoing help I have is with my yard. My gardener knows much more about plant care than I do. She can readily climb a ladder to trim tall plants while that would make me uncomfortable. And I just don’t enjoy most gardening work and tend to put it off until it becomes problematic.

How do you best go about hiring the help you need? The following are some suggestions.

Define exactly what you want the person to do

Make sure your expectations are as clear as possible. This will mean writing things down, spending time explaining things verbally, or both. All the things you do by second nature will need to be specified. For example, when I hired household help I had to tell the person how my washing machine worked, what settings I used, how much detergent I used, etc.

Also determine what things you don’t care about. My home helper asked how I wanted my non-slip socks paired up and put away, and I told her to do it any way she liked.

If you make tasks as easy as possible for your helper, things will go more smoothly. When I sent my helper grocery shopping (with a list that included brand names and package sizes), it helped when I could tell her where in the store things were located, especially those that weren’t obvious. I also made sure she had my cell phone number so she could send me a text if she had any questions. If someone is going to unload your dishwasher, put away laundry, or otherwise tidy up, you may want to label the cabinets and closets indicating what goes where.

If someone is working on a project for you, make sure your communication expectations are clear. What kind of status updates do you want, and how often should they be provided? How quick of a response do you expect to calls, texts, or emails?

When relevant, be sure you’re clear about what supplies you’ll provide vs. what supplies the helper will provide. If the helper is providing things like cleaning supplies, do you have any restrictions on what products are used?

And be sure you’re clear about pricing and billing. If there’s an hourly or weekly rate, what’s included and what’s extra? Billing surprises are no fun for anyone!

Sometimes you may not know the specifics of what you need done, since you are hiring help to fill in for your lack of expertise. But even then you probably have some expectations you can define. For example, my gardener knows that I need to keep all plants from touching my house to minimize the risk of termites.

Consider your hiring options

Nolo has a helpful article about hiring household help. As the article explains, you can hire a company, hire a worker through an agency, or hire an individual. I got my home helpers through a company, while I hired my gardener directly.

And be sure you understand the legal aspects of your hiring decisions, including tax and insurance issues. Again, Nolo explains the basics, and you can consult a lawyer for more information.

Don’t be afraid to make course corrections

If you failed to specify some of your expectations (which can easily happen when you first set about hiring help) and now the work isn’t being done as you would like, talk with your helper about making changes. Sometimes just a tiny change can make a big difference.

If the change is too significant and you realize you and your helper are a mismatch, you may want to find someone better suited to your redefined needs. An ongoing mismatch may well make both you and your helper miserable, so ending the relationship can be best for all concerned.

Five uncluttering and organizing tasks you can do every day

The following are five simple things you can do every day to stay on top of your clutter-free home.

Make the bed

When my sisters and I were young, and our clothes or hair were a mess, my mother would tell us, “You look like an unmade bed.” Aside from looking messy, a bed piled with sheets and blankets is no fun to get into at night. It is, however, inviting to the dog, who will gladly deposit his fur on your sheets. Spending the three minutes it takes to make the bed will make things easier on the eyes and more pleasant at night, all while foiling the dog. You can always air out your sheets while you shower, and make the bed afterward if you’re worried about your sheets getting stagnate.

Do a load of laundry

Laundry can pile up very quickly. Miss a day and it feels like you’ve got a mountain on your hands. I’ve taken to putting a load in each morning and moving from washer to drier after work and folding it after dinner. It only takes a few minutes, and it keeps me from wasting an entire Saturday afternoon on conquering Mount Laundry.

Process the mail and papers

What piles up faster than laundry? The incessant onslaught of mail, papers, permission slips, advertisements, and so on that enter my home. Instead of piling it up in a heap, deal with it immediately (if possible). Keep a trash can, recycling bin, shredder, pen, and physical inbox in a convenient location to your main entrance so you get rid of the junk and trash immediately, and get the important paperwork identified and processed.

Prepare for tomorrow

If you adopt only one suggestion from this list, let it be this one. Each evening I ask, “What’s needed for tomorrow?” Kids lunches, umbrellas because it’s supposed to rain, gas in the car, permission form signed, what everyone is going to wear, etc. This allows me to avoid the last-minute scramble to do these things in the morning, teaches the kids to do the same, and lets me enjoy my evening knowing that nothing is going to blow up in the morning (probably).

Create an errands list

Let’s say on Monday you realize that the TV remote needs batteries, you’re almost out of toothpaste, and the car’s state inspection is due in 10 days. These all need to be taken care of, but they’re exactly the type of thing that will slip through the cracks of your memory if you don’t capture this information and get it on your to-do list or calendar. Have a reliable, simple way to collect these things — an app, a dry erase board on the refrigerator, whatever — that you can review. Then, the next time you’re in the car, you’ll know exactly where you need to go.

Staying on top of these things is easy. Just take on a few simple new habits and you’ll notice your life moving in a smoother manner.

Managing the overwhelmed feeling

I recently read an article in The Onion that, while satire, seemed very close to reality. The whole thing is worth a read, but the following is an excerpt:

Local man Marshall Platt, 34, came tantalizingly close to kicking back and having a good time while attending a friend’s barbeque last night before remembering each and every one of his professional and personal obligations, backyard sources confirmed.

While cracking open his second beer as he chatted with friends over a relaxed outdoor meal, Platt was reportedly seconds away from letting go and enjoying himself when he was suddenly crushed by the full weight of work emails that still needed to be dealt with, looming deadlines for projects that would take a great deal of time and energy to complete, an upcoming wedding he had yet to buy airfare for because of an unresolved issue with his Southwest Rapid Rewards account, and phone calls that needed to be returned. …

According to sources, Platt tried to put his responsibility-laden thoughts out of his mind and loosen up by opening another beer but suddenly remembered a magazine subscription that needed to be renewed by Friday, a medical bill he thought might now be overdue, and the fact that he needed to do laundry by tonight or he would run out of clean socks and underwear.

Many people get this overwhelmed feeling at times. The following are some strategies for dealing with it:

Get everything out of your head and onto a list

That could be a paper to-do list, a collection of sticky notes, a computer file, or a list within an app. You could create multiple lists (as the Getting Things Done methodology would promote) or a single list. But one way or another, have one or more lists that capture all those thoughts about obligations. Just creating a physical or digital list removes some of the stress — you no longer have to keep a mental list and worry about forgetting things — and it gives you a starting point for taking control of your situation and moving forward.

Prioritize by pretending you’re going on vacation

Many of us, as we prepare for vacation, suddenly get very clear about what must be done now vs. what can be put off until later — and the quickest way to deal with things. In the case of the imaginary Marshall, paying the medical bill and doing laundry would jump to the top of the list. But some emails probably don’t need an immediate reply, and those that do need a reply can perhaps get by with a couple sentences rather than five paragraphs. Instead of making an after-work trip to Bed Bath and Beyond for linens (another part of that Onion scenario), maybe buying online would be quicker and less stressful.

Renegotiate deadlines when necessary

If looming project deadlines seem next to impossible to meet, talk with the appropriate people (your boss, your client, etc.) to develop a new plan. Maybe there’s some flexibility in those deadlines. Maybe the scope of the projects can be changed. Maybe someone else can take over some of your non-project tasks to give you more project time.

Focus on the one thing you’re doing now

I remember going into a panic at one of my first jobs because I had so much to do. My wise boss helped me determine what needed to be done first, and then he had me clear my desk of everything not related to that one task. And it worked! I went through my many tasks one at a time, in priority order, focused each time on a single task. And everything got done just fine.

Remember that fun things can be priorities, too

Taking time to go a friend’s barbeque can be just as important as other things on your list. And if you’ve created your to-do list, set priorities, and renegotiated deadlines as necessary, you should be able to truly enjoy some time just having fun.

Get organized at a new job

Transitioning to a new job can be stressful. There’s a new culture to adapt to, a new schedule, new routines, and the desire to demonstrate that you are, in fact, the right person for the job. If you’re returning to the working world after an absence, the stresses are even greater. To keep your anxiety in check, let organizing help you.

New information

Whenever you start a new job, you receive a lot of information all at once. Numerous papers (maybe even binders) from the human resources department (retirement, vacation time, policies and procedures, etc.) and work-specific protocols (how to reserve a meeting room, where to take breaks) all hit you at once.

If you’re working in an office setting, I recommend buying two binders ahead of time or acquire two hanging file folders. Label one binder or hanging file folder Policies and the other Benefits. Then, get dividers for the binder or manilla folders for subdivisions. Sort the papers you receive into the two categories major categories right away. Next, divide those two piles into reference materials and things that require action. The reference material can be safely stored in the appropriate binder, while the actionable forms (retirement, wellness policy, etc.) should be scheduled on your calendar for when to be completed and returned (you’ll likely want to make copies of these documents, too, to keep in your binder/file).

Next, recognize that you probably don’t need to know all of that new information right now. Give yourself permission to read a little bit a day instead of all at once (feel free to schedule this reading time on your calendar, too).

Buy a small, portable notebook

The last time I started a new job in an office setting, it was the first time I had worked outside of my home in many years. I had a lot of questions and a lot to learn. To keep track of it all, I carried around a small notebook. When I learned a new protocol that wasn’t covered in the official documentation, I jotted it down. Even simple things like where to park in the parking lot when it was snowing, how to fill out a help ticket with the IT department, etc. Eventually I had a portable database of answers to assist me in navigating this new experience.

The benefits of my notebook extended beyond portability. For example, it cut down on the number of questions I had to ask. That’s always embarrassing as the new guy. Also, it let me record ideas that I wanted to share in a weekly meeting with my supervisor.

Personal effects

The amount and type of personal stuff you can bring to work — reference books, photos, earphones, bobbleheads — depends on many factors, like the type of work you do, the setting, and the company’s policies. Another factor to consider here is the culture. Do your new co-workers decorate their workspaces? Are you in an office or out in the field? Take a week or so to get a feel for how that stuff is handled before considering what to do with your desk.

Quick tips

Lastly, there are a few quick tips that you will probably want to adopt, no matter what your new gig entails:

  1. Find a veteran at the company who can answer questions and help you navigate the daily grind who isn’t your boss or supervisor — a buddy to explain all the little stuff. Keep it casual and try not to overwhelm the person, too.
  2. Set expectations. Ask your supervisor for a weekly check-in meeting, at least for the first month.
  3. Be clear on the company’s dress code before your first day. A quick call to the human resources department will help you with this before you buy a new wardrobe or show up in a suit while everyone else is in jeans and t-shirts.
  4. Politely ask how people wish to be addressed. Does your boss wish to be called Bob or Mr. Barker? And, if you’re unsure as to how to pronounce a co-worker’s name, again politely ask for guidance and practice until you get it right. The last thing you want to do is be at a company for years and then learn you’ve said someone’s name wrong the entire time.

Good luck! Starting a new job is exciting and with a little organization you can get past the initial anxiety quickly.

Strategies for creating a good new habit

As I recover from hip replacement surgery, the final thing I need to do is build up my strength and stamina, and my doctor recommended walking as the best way to do that. I used to walk 10,000 steps a day, but had given that up when medical issues arose. I wanted to get back into that habit, so I put the following strategies in place to ensure I was successful.

Find an easy tracking tool

I had been using a Fitbit, but I had kept having problems with the battery. A friend was using the Pedometer++ app on her iPhone, so I gave it a try, and it’s meeting my needs. Not all of my pants have pockets, which means I miss some steps because my phone isn’t with me. So I may go back to some sort of wearable, but for now the app is working okay for me.

Set a reasonable goal

I couldn’t go from very limited activity to 10,000 steps all at once. Looking at how much I had been walking just going grocery shopping and such, I set my first goal at 4,000 steps per day — more than what I had been doing, but not so much of a stretch that it felt intimidating.

Track progress against that goal

Once I had my tool and set my goal, and then hit that goal for a number of days, I didn’t want to break my run of successful days. I really wanted to see my step count showing as a green bar (rather than red or orange), showing I’d made my goal. And if I had one low day, I tried to compensate by walking more than normal the next day, so my week average was at least 100 percent of my goal.

This reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s method for getting himself to write every day, as recounted on the Lifehacker website:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

Adjust the goal over time

Now that I’ve been hitting my 4,000-step mark pretty consistently for a week, I’m going to go up to 4,500 steps. I’ll keep increasing my goal, probably in 500-step increments, until I get to the activity level where I ultimately want to be.

Have a partner working toward a similar goal

I have a neighbor who is also trying to build up her daily walking habit, so many evenings we go walking together. If one of us is feeling lazy, the phone call from the other is just enough to get us both out the door. And we can push each other to walk just another block or two.

Celebrate successes

I haven’t given myself any sort of treat, but I am definitely noticing how much better I’m feeling now that I’m out walking again. And that’s all the reward I need right now!

I also share my success on social media, periodically, because the encouragement from friends feels good and keeps me inspired.

Whatever habits you want to build — health-related habits, uncluttering habits, etc. — similar strategies might work for you, helping to ensure you make time in your day for these new habits to take hold.

Cleaning forgotten clutter zones

Our dog “Batgirl,” a middle-aged Boston Terrier, has a habit of holding a toy in her mouth as she looks out the window. If someone is walking down the street, she’ll grab a tennis ball and give them a good stare. If a car is parking at the neighbor’s house, she’ll welcome them with a squirrel chew toy and a mild growl. Her behavior is a sign that she’s protecting the family and showing off her favorite goodies in the process. The only problem with her scheme comes when she barks.

Inevitably, the tennis ball will fall from her jaws and tumble behind the couch. Mr. Squirrel sometimes suffers a similar fate. So, one of us has to pull out the couch to retrieve those objects, and usually discovers a whole menagerie of lost and forgotten things.

Items I’ve found behind the couch: Pencils, erasers, notebooks, action figures, hand sanitizer, and a water bottle I’d been missing for ages. After cleaning behind the couch, I typically turn to other forgotten places in my house that love to accumulate junk:

  • The top of the washing machine. We often find little bits and bobs in pockets while doing laundry. Designate a small, portable basket to capture/redistribute these treasures, and then return objects to their proper homes ever couple weeks.
  • Under beds. The classic “out of sight, out of mind” storage solution is a magnet for clutter. Get some low-profile, open containers on wheels to help keep these areas stay organized and useful.
  • The junk drawer. I’ve written about this before. Make an appointment to dig in there every few months or so to keep clutter from getting out of control.
  • That one closet. You know the one. For us, it’s right behind the front door, and houses the vacuum cleaner, a mop, and other cleaning items. The problem is that lone shelf that loves to gather anything and everything. Labeled bins can help organize this space.
  • Your home’s primary entrance. People love to drop shoes, backpacks, umbrellas, and clutter right at the door. Give this potential problem area some TLC once a week.

Those are the big offenders here at Chez Caolo. What are the forgotten clutter zones in your home? What’s it like under your kitchen sink? Sound off, and let us know how you keep hidden clutter areas under control.

Organize a home recycling station

When I deliver our recyclables to the town transfer station, I must root through my bins. I’d like to just dump them in the proper receptacles, but the kids sometimes put glass in the paper, or plastic in the glass, and so on. The sorting was annoying enough that it inspired me to create a home recycling center that worked for all the members of my family and consistently remained organized and uncluttered.

Getting started

If you’re interested in doing the same, the first thing to consider is if your county/city/recycling service supports single-stream recycling (also called “single-sort” recycling). If so, things will be quite easy for you, as you’ll need only two bins: one for recyclables and one for trash. If not, you’ll need as many bins as types of materials you’ll need to sort.

Where will the recycling be stored?

Your answer to this question will depend on your home. Do you want your recycle bins hidden away or can they be in plain sight? Tucking them away reduces visual clutter, but they’re more convenient when in the open. If you dislike the look of your bins or if you only need that one (you lucky, single-streamers!), then find a spot that’s away, like a pantry, enclosed porch, or garage. Just ensure that the location isn’t too inconveniently placed or the temptation to toss that plastic bottle into the trash will be larger. Also, if you choose a garage, porch, or other semi-outdoor location, ensure that critters cannot get at your bins.

At home, I opted for multiple white bins in the kitchen. We have the floor space for it, the bins look nice as long as they’re clean, and they’re terribly convenient in the kitchen.

Clearly mark each bin

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a crucial step. At first I tried keeping bins in a particular order: paper, glass, metal, and plastic. People forgot which was which. Next, I wrote labels on the lids with permanent marker in big, unmistakeable block letters. That’s been much more effective.

Effective, but not the prettiest solution. Fortunately there are many ways to improve the aesthetics. The Open IDEO has several great suggestions if you want to check out more attractive options.

Keep the area clean

A messy recycling center is like an irresistible party invitation for ants and other pests. Thoroughly rinse all containers for recycling before storing them, and occasionally clean out the bins themselves (I hit them with the hose as needed). If for some reason you miss a week’s pick up/drop off, either find a spot to keep what didn’t get picked up until next time (like a shed) or find an alternate drop-off site.

Lastly, line your bins. Your town might have guidelines for this, or even special liner bags that must be used. I just use brown paper bags from the grocery store. They keep mess out of my bins themselves, they’re free, and recyclable.

With a little time and attention, you can have a home recycle center that works. It’s relatively inexpensive and will save you time sorting.