Introducing the 2015 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing the holiday shopping list

It’s the time of year when many people’s thoughts turn to holiday gift-giving. There’s a real joy in finding just the right gift for a close friend or beloved relative — and starting tomorrow, we’ll help you find some of those gifts in our annual uncluttered and organized gift-giving guide.

But sometimes gift-giving gets overwhelming and isn’t fun any more. If you’ve got a huge list of gifts to purchase and dread what that means, perhaps you can get some agreement to scale things back a bit. For a family, that may mean giving gifts to the children but not the aunts and uncles. Or, within any group, there could be a “secret Santa” approach where each person winds up buying for just one other person, rather than for everyone.

Such approaches may have the benefit of reducing the clutter caused by well-intended gifts that were sadly off the mark. And you can always participate in some charitable gift-giving opportunities that definitely won’t cause clutter and can make the holiday season brighter for the gift recipients.

I always take part in my local Adopt a Family program, providing things like warm clothes and grocery store gift cards to those in need. Many churches and civic organizations run similar programs.

If you want to focus on children, you could buy a toy for Toys for Tots. And some locales have book drives at the holidays.

Of course, you could also just donate cash to any of your favorite charities. Food banks that try to ensure people have a nice holiday dinner (as well as food throughout the year) would certainly appreciate anything you could give.

Do you like the idea of helping someone in particular? Some organizations help individuals in need make it over a tough spot in their lives caused by medical problems and more. You could help a family pay their rent and keep their home (or meet other pressing needs) by donating to one of the drives at Small Can Be Big or any similar program.

Or you could select a gift from the catalog at Good Gifts and buy a pig for an African subsistence farmer, tools for a trainee carpenter, etc. As Lucy Siegle noted in The Guardian back in 2007, “Most charities that run goat-gifting schemes pool the money from your gift. You might pay for a goat, but the money may eventually be used for a water project.” If you’re fine with that, there are many places to donate. But if you want your donation to buy exactly what you selected, Good Gifts is at least one way to make that happen.

If your friends and family are into such things, you could combine gift giving with charity. If you know people’s favorite causes, you could make donations in their names. Or you could get gift cards from CharityChoice or JustGive, and let them choose where to send the donation.

Minimalist packing for a weekend trip

As I write this, I’m on a bus making its way from New York City to Boston. I managed the whole thing — booking, clothing, toiletries, navigation, and recording memories — with a tiny backpack and no paper. A little planning and minimal equipment allowed me to enjoy a stress-free weekend away without clutter.


I’m a huge fan of rolling my clothes when packing. It saves a decent amount of space in almost any bag. Since I was attending an event in New York, I rolled up two black shirts, one pair of dark jeans, and something for bed. (Why two dark shirts? To avoid having a single point of failure.)

Next, I tossed in my pre-packed Dopp kit. Having one of these ready to go at all times is so helpful.


My smartphone (an iPhone) was my best digital friend on this trip. In the days before I left, I took several steps to get it ready.

I purchased my bus tickets and opted for digital delivery. After getting the QR Code that would be my ticket via email, I saved the QR code to Evernote (so I could access it online or from the Evernote app) and took a screenshot of each ticket, which I saved to my phone’s photo album. Again, I made sure the ticket information was in three places (email, Evernote, photo album) to account for the possibility that one of those storage solutions wouldn’t work.

Next, I opened my Maps app, found the places I intended to visit and marked them as favorites (saving them as points of interest in my navigation app). Again, this saved huge amounts of time later and eliminated that awkward moment of standing in the middle of a sidewalk, trying to find something. Plus, when I needed to travel from venue A to venue B, I didn’t have to search or type in an addresses. A simple tap was all I needed.

When I travel like this, I depend on my smartphone a lot. In fact, its battery is not ready for what I’ve got planned for it. Therefore, an external battery case is a must. These can be expensive depending on the make and model of your phone. If you travel often, it’s an investment that’s totally worth it. Mine adds a full charge to my iPhone, which means I can let the phone’s battery drop to 10 percent, switch on the external battery case and get it back up to 100 percent. I highly recommend these types of cases.

I also brought a set of headphones, my iPhone charger cable, and an AC adapter for the USB charger cable. Everything fits in a lightweight backpack that was simple to store on the bus and left my hands free when I was walking around wearing it.

Planning for your next trip well in advance of when you leave, identifying the bare minimum of what you need, and packing with a mind toward efficiency will go a long way in keeping your trip uncluttered and well organized. Good luck on your next adventure.

Uncluttering social media frustrations

Over the past few months I’ve seen various people complaining about social media interactions, with comments such as the following:

  • My Facebook (or Twitter) timeline is filled with people saying horrible things.
  • My aunt (or co-worker, college friend, etc.) shared an article that’s factually wrong.
  • Someone is continually saying things I find abhorrent.

What can you do in such situations? There are a number of choices:

Take the time to respond with reliable information or a well-reasoned argument

This can be time-consuming, so I’d recommend limiting this response to situations where the other person is likely to be influenced by what you write. For example, when people fall for a story that has been debunked by, they often appreciated being directed to accurate information. But if the subject involves long-held political or religious beliefs, you are unlikely to sway them to your point of view.

Just ignore it

As the xkcd comic says, people are wrong on the Internet all the time — wrong according to your view of the world, at any rate. So in many cases, just ignoring what someone has written is the easiest way to avoid frustration. For example, you don’t need to read a relative’s entire 500-word post supporting a political candidate you dislike. You can see it, shake your head, and move on. That will save you time and limit the annoyance factor.

Similarly, if many people in your social media circle are discussing a topic that always gets you angry, that may be a good time to ignore Facebook, Twitter, or other such networks for a while.

Hide updates you don’t want to see

Ignoring something can be hard, so it may be better to unclutter your timeline and just not see certain posts in the first place. Twitter readers such as TweetDeck, Tweetbot, and Twitterrific allow you to mute text strings. If you don’t want to read anything about a certain person, organization, or event, you can just mute the relevant name or hashtag. That’s not foolproof, because variations on the name might still make it through your filter, but it will catch a lot of the aggravating posts.

With Facebook, you can choose to hide a specific story that appears in your newsfeed. That means you’ll still have seen it once, but you don’t have to keep seeing it as people respond.

Disengage with selected people

Sometimes it works better to hide posts from selected people than to hide posts based on the topic. While you may certainly want to read posts from people who disagree with you, some people’s posts may be so frustrating that seeing them doesn’t serve you well.

You may feel obligated to friend your relatives on Facebook, but you can still unfollow them — which means you’ll stay connected but you won’t see anything they post. (Alternatively, you can choose to just see fewer updates from these people.) If you don’t feel any obligation to be connected to a specific person, you can just unfriend someone whose posts continually annoy you. On Twitter, you can unfollow someone (the equivalent of unfriending on Facebook) or just mute the person.

Get the most out of Netflix streaming by being organized

Like many of you, I love Netflix. For just a few bucks a month, I can watch a slew of TV shows and movies on demand, across devices. Identifying what I want to watch is easy. So easy that my “queue” of videos gets out of control quickly. Perhaps this sounds familiar? Fortunately, there are things you can do to organize and take control of your Netflix account.

My kids watch shows on Netflix as do I. That’s fine until Netflix starts suggesting I watch Pokemon and Uncle Grandpa. No thanks, Netflix. The solution to keeping what you watch separate from what others in your house watch is to create a specific profile for each person. Thankfully, profiles are pretty easy to create.

In the upper right-hand corner of your screen, you’ll see a link for “manage profiles.” When you click it, a new window will appear with the option to “Add Profile.” Give everyone in your house an icon and a name and you’re good. The new profile will join your list and you can even edit restrictions for kids, which I recommend doing.

If you don’t have kids, or if you’re the only one watching Netflix, you can still make use of profiles. You can make up to five per account, so set them up for genres you like. Comedies, horror, documentaries, etc. That way, you’ll get great genre-specific recommendations … which leads me to my next point.

Rate what you watch. Netflix’s algorithm is pretty good at learning what you like — and dislike — and making recommendations based on those preferences. The best way to improve those results is to rate everything you watch accurately. You can do this in the Netflix viewing app or through their website, if you wish to bulk rate things you have watched in the past.

Next, I recommend using a third-party website to find what you want to watch. Sure, you can scroll through Netflix’s suggestions, but it’s faster to make use of a website that’s designed to help you find something decent. For example, What Is On Netflix lets you browse titles that are top rated by Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and more. Instawatcher is another good choice, as it lists what’s popular as well as each title’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you plan on watching on your computer, learn some keyboard shortcuts. They can save a lot of time:

Enter/Spacebar: Toggle pause/play
Left Arrow: Rewind
Right Arrow: Fast Forward
Up Arrow: Volume Up
Down Arrow: Volume Down
M: Mute

Streaming video services can be quite convenient. I enjoy Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Streaming, and others. (So does Erin, she doesn’t even have a cable television subscription any longer.) With a little effort and organizing, the experience gets even better.

Build a time buffer into your schedule

Under-scheduling your day — even by just 30 minutes — can be an effective method for keeping to your schedule all day.

I’ve been working from home, in one capacity or another, since 2009. Six years’ experience has allowed me to come up with many great organizational and productivity tricks, and one of the most effective strategies is essentially accounting for the unpredictable.

I’m a big fan of routine and scheduling. I know when I’m going to work on a given project or area of focus. Before I go to bed at night, I review what must be done the next day. That’s a great way to eliminate the dreaded “what should I work on first/now?” questions. By the time you sit at your desk, you should be ready to go.

But that’s not my favorite trick. I schedule nothing — not a single task — for the last hour of the day. This “time buffer” is handy in so many ways. A last-second appointment come up? No problem. Kids need to be picked up from school? Got it. Even if nothing comes up, you’ve now got to time to process email, work up your schedule for tomorrow, maybe even relax a bit and decompress for the day.

It’s easy to schedule every minute of the day, and even over-schedule. Try building in a time buffer each day for a week to see if it’s beneficial to your effectiveness and productivity. I suspect it will be.

Children and age-appropriate chores

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t give me any household chores. My mother, who handled most of the household activities, hoped I would see her doing housework and offer to help. Being a fairly normal child, I was oblivious and never offered.

As an adult, I look back and think assigning chores to me would have been a much better strategy. I would have learned more about maintaining a home, and my mother would have had some help in keeping the house organized. Everyone would have been better served.

But what chores are appropriate for what ages? I’m not a parent myself, so I went looking for resources to help answer that question. I found some lists in a brochure I bought years ago entitled Ages and Stages of Getting Children Organized (available in PDF format) by organizer Marcia Ramsland. The following is part of what Ramsland recommends (with ages added when needed to make comparisons easier):

Toddler, ages 1-3

  • Pick up toys in a small area (floor, shelf, table) and put them away
  • Put books on shelves, clothes in hamper

Preschool/kindergarten (3-5 years)

  • Make bed daily with help
  • Carry belongings to and from car
  • Help set table and clear dishes

Primary grades (1-3rd grades, which would be 6-8 years)

  • Make bed before breakfast/school
  • Put away own things (backpack, lunch box, coat)
  • Empty dishwasher

Upper grades (4-5th grades, which would be 9-10 years)

  • Put clean laundry away
  • Keep room neat

Middle school

  • Be more self-reliant with homework, activities, carpool rides
  • Clean bathroom, closet, and drawers
  • Vacuum and dust

Organizer Geralin Thomas included the following suggestions (and more) in her book Decluttering Your Home: Tips, Techniques & Trade Secrets:

3 to 5 year olds:

  • Sort laundry by color
  • Pick up dirty clothes from around the house
  • Carry newspapers/old schoolwork/magazines to the recycling bin

5 to 8 year olds:

  • Make the bed
  • Help with folding laundry by matching socks

8 to 11 year olds:

  • Clear the table after meals
  • Load the dishwasher
  • Put dishes away
  • Wheel the trash bin to the curb
  • Do a load of laundry

Jessica Lahey, who wrote The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, suggests that younger children can often do more than we might expect. The following are some of the items on her lists:


  • Put their dirty clothes in a basket or hamper
  • Fold simple items of clothing or linens such as pillowcases or washcloths
  • Put their clothes away in drawers
  • Throw trash and recycling away in the proper place
  • Put toys away in tubs and baskets when they are done playing with them

Kids between ages 3 and 5:

  • Make their bed
  • Straighten their room
  • Sort and categorize items, such as utensils in a drawer or socks in the laundry
  • Clear their place at the table

Between the ages of 6 and 11:

  • Laundry — all of it, from sorting to putting it away
  • Replacing the toilet paper when it’s gone
  • Setting and clearing the table
  • Vacuuming and mopping floors
  • Helping to plan and prepare grocery lists and meals

Suggestions like these can help you develop a chore list that’s right for your family. As you’re deciding what chores you want your children to take on, be sure the scope of each task is clear. Something like “straighten the room” needs to be broken down into specifics, so your children understand exactly what that means.

Of course, children will need to be taught how to do these tasks, and this might well mean repeated lessons. Written how-to reminders will often be helpful. Regarding the laundry, Lahey suggested: “Post a list on the washing machine and dryer after you’ve conducted the requisite one-on-one lessons in order to provide reminders for all the steps. One mom pointed out that dry-erase markers write and erase well on the side of washers and dryers, so she simply writes instructions on the appliance itself.”

Another thing to consider: Leave your children as much latitude as feasible in how tasks get done, as long as the end results are fine. They may approach something a bit differently than you would, but that’s not necessarily a problem!

Organize your Facebook friends

For many, Facebook is the primary way they communicate with far-flung family and friends. Keeping those contacts organized is pretty easy, if you know where to look.

Many people complain about Facebook — and it does have its problems — but for no-hassle communication it works easily. One of its biggest issues is organization. After a few weeks, months or even years of casually adding friends, you end up with a big, disorganized list. Thankfully, there are ways to fix this issue.

To get started, visit your account’s page and click “Friends” in the left-hand column. A new page will appear with the full list of every account you’ve marked as a friend. Next to each name and photo, you’ll see a drop-down menu labeled “Friends.” Click it to reveal several options.

Close Friends

Facebook doesn’t put every update that your friends post into your timeline. If they did, the result would be unreadable for anyone with a reasonably large list. Instead, the Facebook software uses an algorithm to guess as to what information you’d most like to see and features those posts based on your previous commenting and liking. You can force this system to see particular people’s posts by adding people to the “Close Friends” list. These folks’ posts will appear in your timeline more often, and you’ll be notified every time they publish something new. It’s best to add people to this list who mean the most to you. Leave acquaintances to be organized by using custom lists.

Custom lists

Next to the name of your friend or acquaintance, hover over the Friends’ drop-down list and click “Add to another list…”. There are two types of lists there. Those with a little lightning bolt icon are “smart lists.” Facebook creates these self-maintaining lists for you. Your friends are sorted by variables like work place, college, geography, etc. As your friends make changes to their own accounts, they’re moved among these lists.

As you scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll see “New list.” Use this function to create a new list manually. Simply create lists and move contacts into them. “Sorority pledge class” or “First cousins” are types of subcategories you might make into lists.

Organizing your friends on Facebook is a bit time-consuming, but usually worth it. Why? Because you can determine who sees what you post. The next time you create a post, click the “Public” drop-down menu, and then “More options.” Now you can pick from the lists you made and send a post directly to one group or another. Don’t want your work colleagues to see your Throwback Thursday pictures? This is simple when you have lists established and can easily exclude everyone in your office from seeing your photo.

Recycling made easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing tasks: The key to less mess in your home

In a rare moment of solitude a few weeks ago, I found myself stomping through my house being extremely frustrated. Wood puzzle pieces were strewn across the living room floor where my two-year-old daughter had been playing earlier. Dirty clothes and a wet towel were next to the hamper in my six-year-old son’s bathroom. A lone plate sat on the table in the kitchen from a snack my husband had eaten earlier. And MY makeup was left out on the bathroom counter from that morning. I was annoyed with the mess, and I was as much responsible for it as everyone else in my house.

After I calmed my inner-Hulk down to a constructive level, I immediately identified the problem. No one in the house was properly finishing anything they were doing:

  • Taking a shower isn’t finished until the towel is on the towel bar, the wash cloth is wrung out and hanging on its clip to dry, dirty clothes are in the hamper, the bathroom lights are turned off, in addition to all the other obvious post-shower activities like getting dressed and brushing teeth. For a shower to be finished, everything has to be reset and ready to go for the next time someone comes in to use the bathroom.
  • A snack or dinner isn’t over until all the dirty dishes are loaded into the dishwasher or washed and put away, cupboards are closed and ingredients properly stored, the table and counters have been wiped down, the floor has been swept, all leftovers have been put into the refrigerator, and there are no signs that anyone had eaten a meal there except for maybe a lingering smell. Dinner isn’t over when you stop eating.
  • Playtime isn’t over until all toys are put away in their proper storage areas. This one is tricky because it requires continuous planning — time has to be set aside for picking up before going to the next activity. Until a child’s age is in double digits (and maybe even after that), it may require an adult to give a five-minute warning to allow time for toys to be put away. Or, in the case of small children like in our family, adults may need to participate in the five-minute pick up process.
  • And, obviously, I’m not finished getting ready in the morning until my makeup is back into its storage container and my hair dryer is stored beneath the sink.
  • It seems so obvious, but making sure tasks are finished greatly reduces messes in your home. It’s not rocket science, but the simple shift in perspective results in much less stress and a less messy home.

    A clean-slate office

    Having recently started a new job, I’ve come into a real treat: a brand new workspace. A complete blank slate. It’s a rarity and a treat.

    My first thought, of course, was to populate it with the tech and tools that I’ll need to get my work done. I started making a list when it dawned on me to stop, throw the list away and take an altogether different approach. Let experience dictate what I add. It’s been quite an eye-opening experience.

    I started with the bare minimum: pens, some index cards, and a calendar. Big items like a computer and printer were supplied by my employer. Everything else I’ve added only when I’ve needed something.

    First, I realized I needed my smartphone and a charging cable for it. Rather than schlep a charging cable back and forth every day between my home and office, I bought a cable to live at my desk. Next, once I knew for certain that wearing headphones was acceptable when working, I added a set of earbuds go my supplies. Nothing says, “Can’t talk, I’m working,” like a pair of headphones. Plus, I’m more productive and happy when listening to music.

    (More on keeping wired earbuds under control.)

    Next, I added software I wanted as I needed it. Unfortunately, there are strict policies on getting software approved for a corporate computer, so this process wasn’t instantaneous. Eventually, I received approval to to get all of the software I depend on, and they’re all browser-based cloud services. Namely:

    Not only can I get to work with my preferred tools, all of my documents, preferences, etc. are in place.

    It’s nice to start new and not have any software or equipment cluttering up my work. Instead of assuming I’ll need something, waiting until I actually need it has kept things to an appreciated minimum.

    Of course, you don’t have to accept a new job to approach your office or workspace with a clean slate. Take a week or two and notice what you use and what you don’t. Write down what you need but don’t have, and finally observe what you have but never use. Then make adjustments. You just might end up with a tidier, more efficient and more productive work space.

    Uncluttering your reading material

    Do you have a huge backlog of things you want to read sometime? Does that sometime never seem to come? The following are some steps you might take to unclutter that reading backlog — and keep it from building up again. I’m going to ignore books for now and focus on some of the more ephemeral materials: newsletters and magazines.

    Consider general guidelines for the reading materials you keep

    You’ve probably heard the famous words of William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I look for the equivalent in my nonfiction reading matter: useful information or engaging writing on a topic of interest. Useful information, to me, is something new that I can definitely see myself using in the near future, usually in my work — not something that might be useful, someday, in some unspecified way.

    Manage your online newsletter subscriptions

    It’s easy to wind up oversubscribed to online newsletters because it just takes a click to subscribe and so many of them are free. But they can just as easily overwhelm your email and create a huge reading backlog. And I should know, since I recently noticed some newsletters I had sitting around from October of last year. (They are gone now.)

    Because of that backlog, I’ve been re-evaluating the newsletters I get. There’s one I subscribed to a couple months ago, knowing I wasn’t sure about it but wanting to give it a try. I just unsubscribed from that one because the content simply wasn’t compelling enough to give it my time. I also dropped a long-term subscription because my interests have changed, and another one because the author’s style no longer appeals to me.

    One of my newsletters is purely a current news update so I make sure to delete it daily, even if I don’t get around to reading it the day it arrived. There’s always more news, and the stories in yesterday’s news digest may well have been updated by today. So I get rid of that newsletter the same way I would recycle a day-old newspaper.

    My remaining four newsletters (two daily, two weekly) are either useful in my work or just really fun to read, so I feel fine about keeping those subscriptions and letting the newsletters accumulate in my email for a little while — a week or two, perhaps — if my schedule is too crowded for me to read them right away.

    Manage your magazine (and paper newsletter) subscriptions

    Again, it’s easy to wind up with subscriptions you don’t really need or want. For example, I know people who have bought magazine subscriptions in order to support a fundraising effort, even though they didn’t really care about the magazines. (In such cases, it might be wise to ask if you can just donate to the cause directly, rather than through buying the subscription.)

    It’s also easy to wind up with a subscription that expires many years out, because those renewal notices sometimes keep coming, and you may forget you’ve already renewed. If you have subscriptions to magazines you no longer care about, you may want to cancel them now (and perhaps get a refund) rather than just waiting for the subscription to expire.

    Other magazines that can cause trouble are those that come every week, especially if they are not light reading. The New Yorker may be a fine magazine, but it’s very easy to develop a large pile of unread New Yorkers. Be honest with yourself about how many magazines you can reasonably keep up with, and you’ll enjoy your subscriptions more.

    Personally, I’ve realized I’m not good at making time to read magazines, so before this week I was down to two subscriptions: one I chose and one that comes along with from my auto club membership. As I went to write this post, I realized that I don’t really want the auto club magazine, so I just called and got that one cancelled.