Evaluating your computer backup strategy

World Backup Day is March 31 — a good reminder to take a moment to think about how you’re doing your backups, and whether or not there’s something you’d like to adjust. Consider the following points:

Are you backing up all your critical files?

Some backup tools will back up everything on your computer. Others won’t backup your software programs (Microsoft Office, Evernote, TurboTax, etc.), assuming you can simply reinstall those. Some may depend on you to list exactly which files you want to back up. And you may use an entirely manual process rather than a program, which also means you need to determine the files you include in your backup.

In the final two cases, especially, be sure you’re thinking about all your important files. I’ve seen people lose extensive collections of bookmarks/favorites from their favorite browser because the relevant files weren’t backed up. (They aren’t stored in the same place as documents and photos.)

Do your backup programs fit your needs?

You may choose to run one backup program or multiple ones for added protection (one local backup and one in the cloud, for example). In either case, consider the following guidelines:

  • Make sure at least one backup program runs automatically. Everyone’s busy, and almost everyone is a bit lazy about backups. Having a program that runs automatically can save you from yourself.
  • Make sure at least one program creates an offsite backup. That usually means using a cloud backup service, but it could also involve taking a backup drive and putting it in a safe deposit box. This will protect you if there’s a theft, a fire, or some other tragedy that could affect everything in your home.
  • Make sure at least one program saves files you’ve deleted from your computer as well as older versions of files you still have. If your only backup is one that mirrors your computer as it is at the time of the last backup, you’ll be in trouble if you delete a file by mistake, make an update you didn’t want to make, or wind up with a corrupted file because of a hardware problem.
  • If having a new or repaired computer fully functional as quickly as possible is critical to you, look for a program that will create a bootable external backup drive. This means you can start your computer using an external hard drive as the data source, rather than your computer’s internal hard drive. SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner are two alternatives for those using Macs, and I’ve been very happy with SuperDuper. I’m not as familiar with what’s available for those using PCs.

Do you check your backup status messages?

Programs will handle this differently, but all will provide some status indicator. For my cloud backup service, for example, I get daily emails. It’s easy to overlook these repetitive messages, but don’t do that. Take the time to make sure they aren’t alerting you to a problem.

Have you tested your backups?

As Gabe Weatherhead of MacDrifter tweeted, “A backup doesn’t count until you’ve done a restore from it at least once.”

While restoring all files for testing purposes is usually not practical, you can certainly try restoring a file or two and making sure things look okay. I knew someone who had to restore a great many files, and had never tested her backups until that time. Sadly, she found that while that files got restored, the date stamp on the files was not correct, which caused her numerous problems.

If you’re creating a bootable external backup drive, try booting from that drive and making sure everything seems to work okay.

Do you have the license keys and/or serial numbers for all your software?

In order to get your software programs reinstalled or to get them running again after you’ve restored them from a backup, you’re likely to need your license information. Do you have that information readily available? If not, gather it up now so you don’t need to scramble around for it when there’s a problem.

Just in time

Many businesses employ a “just-in-time” (JIT) production method. In the JIT strategy, supplies are ordered just in time for production so items are manufactured just in time for shipping them to the customer. The reason this system is popular is because factories do not have the expenses of maintaining large warehouses. Using funds to purchase and store unused inventory means those funds are not easily available for other opportunities.

Care must be taken when manufacturers employ the JIT method. If not enough stock is stored then deliveries, and associated delivery charges, increase. Also, the variations of cost prices can affect manufacturers to a greater degree.

A number of years ago when I realized that I had toilet paper stored in every closet and cupboard (when I counted them, I had over 200 rolls), and I always seemed to run out of shampoo, I realized that I had to start employing the JIT method for my household supplies.

The JIT process

Estimate how long it takes to use up the item. To help you estimate, when you open a package, write the date on the lid or underside of the box or bottle with a permanent marker. When you have used up the item, you’ll see the date and get a fairly accurate estimate. For example, depending on your household, you may use 1-2 rolls of toilet paper per week per bathroom. A 250mL (8oz) bottle of shampoo may last a month. It might take 3 months to use up 500m (500yds) of plastic wrap. Consider seasonal and situational changes as well in your estimations. You might use more plastic wrap during the school year when you are making children’s lunches. You might use less shampoo after you get your hair cut.

Estimate repurchasing time. The time it takes to purchase replacement items may not be an issue if you can easily pick the items up during your weekly grocery shopping. However, if you purchase items from a specialty store that you visit infrequently or order items online and have them delivered, you may need to plan well in advance. For example, our family loves Kraft Caesar salad dressing from Canada. It takes us about two months to use up a bottle. We have an open bottle in the fridge and we store one extra bottle in the cupboard. As soon as I open the bottle from the cupboard, I order another one because it takes about 3-4 weeks to ship from Canada to the UK.

Allocate storage space. The storage space that you have will determine the amount of product that you purchase and how frequently you need to repurchase. You may determine that you don’t need to store as much as of some items as you thought. (I really didn’t need 200 rolls of toilet paper!) This may allow you to free up some space to store other items that take more time and energy to purchase. For example, storing an extra bottle of your favourite salon shampoo would result in fewer trips across town to the factory outlet.

Hone your forecasting methods. It isn’t always easy balancing how much of certain items you need with the storage space that you have. Certain changes can affect your forecasting such as changes in household routines as well as changes in the products, such as package size and price. If you keep the JIT method in mind, over time you’ll determine what is right for your needs.

Book review: Better Than Before

It’s rare that I come across a book and think, “every Unclutterer reader could benefit from reading this book.” But Gretchen Rubin’s latest book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives falls into that exclusive category.

As the title suggests, this book is about creating beneficial life-long habits. The book doesn’t prescribe which habits a person should create, rather it’s a comprehensive exploration of HOW to make lasting habits that YOU want to make. If you want to be more productive, manage your time better, stay current with household chores, live in an organized manner, have better follow through, or any of the other “Essential Seven” changes like exercise regularly or eat and drink more healthfully, this book can help you to make that happen.

First and foremost, Rubin acknowledges that everyone is different and a one-size-fits-all approach to habit formation is ineffective. In the Self Knowledge section, she provides questions and examples to help the reader learn more about him/herself to determine what methods and strategies will actually stick. She points out that most people fall into one of four habit tendencies — she calls them The Four Tendencies — and structures the advice in the book around this concept. (For example: I’m predominantly an Upholder, but have a few Questioner leanings. Therefore, I know her suggestions for Upholders will almost always work for me and if not, the Questioner suggestions are what I should try next.)

From there, Rubin recommends strategies for how to determine which habits you wish to cultivate and why you may wish to introduce specific habits into your life. She believes, as I do, that “How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives.” Our daily habits are who we are. She defines habits as “freeing us from decision making and from using self-control,” and more clearly explains this definition of habits a few paragraphs later:

When possible, the brain makes a behavior into a habit, which saves effort and therefore gives us more capacity to deal with complex, novel, or urgent matters. Habits mean we don’t strain ourselves to make decisions, weigh choices, dole out rewards, or prod ourselves to begin. Life becomes simpler, and many daily hassles vanish.

So, once you have clarity of what you wish to do and what habits you wish to incorporate to reflect your identity, you can set forth on your habit creations and life changes. She believes there are four Pillars of Habits: Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability. You’ve likely encountered these concepts before in terms of goal setting — you need to be able to monitor (in a quantifiable way) the process and outcomes, you need to begin with a foundation of changes that will produce results quickly and in a rewarding way, you need to schedule when the habits will take place, and then have a way to be accountable for your changes. Rubin provides varying types of strategies in each of these Pillars based on your tendency type.

Next, she addresses how to begin the new habits. And then, what I see as the most valuable part of the book, Rubin explores the most common ways people fail at sustaining good habits and how to overcome those problems based on their tendencies. In the chapter “Desire, Ease, and Excuses,” I was most drawn to the sections on Safeguards and Loophole-Spotting.

Safeguards, at least as I interpreted them, are plans you create in advance for when you expect to fail or when you will make exceptions to your habits. It’s knowing yourself well enough to predict how you will fall off the proverbial wagon and then plan what you will do about it when it happens. They’re backup plans formulated in the If-Then method: “If _____ happens, then I will do _____.” For example, I abstain from eating doughnuts — I’m not a huge fan of them and they’re not a healthful food choice. However, based on experience, I know there is one situation where I have virtually no self-control when it comes to consuming them. Therefore, I have a safeguard in place for when I find myself in that specific tempting situation. “If someone offers me a doughnut, then I will eat one ONLY if I am standing in a doughnut shop and the doughnut is hot and fresh off the production line.” I am a person who doesn’t eat doughnuts except in that specific situation, and since I am rarely in that situation, I at least know how I will handle myself if/when I encounter it. In 10 years, I have only encountered that situation twice.

Loophole-Spotting is similar to Safeguards in that it requires you to plan how you will behave when you seek out loopholes. I’m not a huge loophole seeker (I like to finish projects more than start them), but one of the loophole examples Rubin provides was something I do all the time. She names 10 common loopholes (you’ve likely used the “This Doesn’t Count” Loophole when you’re sick or on vacation and the Tomorrow Loophole when you put things off until tomorrow) and the one that screamed at me was the Concern for Others Loophole. This loophole is when we excuse our behavior because we believe our exceptions to our habits are for another person’s benefit, when that actually isn’t the case. She provides numerous examples that I’ve made countless times in my life and one just the other day: “It would be rude to go to a friend’s birthday party and not eat a piece of cake.” Similar to doughnuts, I’m not a huge fan of cake and I prefer to abstain, yet I eat a slice of cake at every birthday party I attend because I don’t want to seem rude! Her advice for dealing with loopholes is sound:

By catching ourselves in the act of invoking a loophole, we give ourselves an opportunity to reject it, and stick to the habits that we want to foster.

I personally found this book to be incredibly helpful. If you want to make changes in your life through the adoption of positive habits, I strongly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s latest book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Again, I truly believe all unclutterers could benefit from the research and analysis contained in it. Establishing uncluttering and organizing habits can simplify one’s life, and Rubin’s methods can show you how to do this effectively.

Reduce visual clutter

Even when you have a place for everything in your home and everything is in its place, you still might feel like your home (or part of it) continues to appear cluttered. The article “Measuring visual clutter” in the Journal of Vision explains how this is possible and ways you can reduce visual clutter in your already tidy spaces.

How to reduce visual clutter

Create one focal point in each room. When you walk into a room, your eye should be instantly drawn to one object/area in the space and that object/area should be where you want attention to be drawn. In the bedroom, the focal point is most likely the bed. The table is most likely be the focal point in a dining room.

Keep the floor clear. Obviously, keep stray objects from impeding traffic patterns throughout a room. Also, remove small area rugs and replace them with one larger one, which will make the room/area feel more open because the eye sees a large unbroken space. (In other words, don’t have four area rugs in your television watching space, but one large rug under the couch, chair, media center, and coffee table.)

Avoid having too many conflicting patterns in the same room. Patterns draw attention and if there are numerous patterns, it’s difficult to visually process all of them. For instance, if you have patterned wallpaper, do not have a different pattern on your curtains and another on the carpet and yet another on every cushion on your couch.

Display only small groups of collections. If you have a collection of items, keep what is on display small in number. Either keep the collection small or only display a portion of it each season (and be diligent about switching it out, properly storing what isn’t on display, etc.). This will allow individual objects to stand out because they’re not hidden amongst other pieces. Some interior decorators suggest opting for larger, single pieces because decorative accents that are smaller than a cantaloupe can make a room look cluttered.

If for display purposes only, organize books by decorative elements. It is much easier for the eye to look at straight lines and blocks of colour than zigzag lines and bits of colour here and there. At Unclutterer, we don’t recommend people in small spaces store physical books for purely decorative purposes, but if your home is large and you can properly care for a book collection, size and color organizing will create less visual clutter in your space.

Make labels extremely legible. When making labels to identify the contents of bins or binders, use one, easy-to-read typeface. (Such as: Helvetica, size 20, regular, all caps.) Ensure the labels are the same size and shape and aligned at the same height on the bin or binder. The same rule should apply to labels on file folders in your filing cabinet.

Accidents in Uncluttering

A few years ago, Unclutterer’s editor-in-chief Erin Doland described her regret at accidentally disposing of vital documents when uncluttering. While we would all like to have instant clutter-free lives, it is important to take your time to properly sort items before you dispose or donate them. When uncluttering and organizing, think of the process as more like a marathon than a sprint. The following are a few tips to help you avoid accidents when you’re uncluttering.

Take your time and examine every item before disposing it. Often money is forgotten in old purses and coat pockets or between the pages of a Bible. Sometimes expensive jewellery can be mixed in with costume jewellery. Occasionally, a toddler will have a hidden cache of useful items between the sofa cushions or tossed valuables in with Lego bricks. People with dementia or mental health issues may hide money, expensive items, or important documents in places that may not seem logical, such as inside mattresses. Last month, a thrift shop in Nova Scotia turned over to police thousands of dollars in cash that they found in donated curtains.

When organizing paperwork, you do not need to read every scrap of paper, but it is important to scan documents to determine their significance. Tax accountants and lawyers can provide important information regarding which documents are important to keep for legal and tax purposes. Obtaining advice from these professionals is especially important if you are helping someone unclutter whose personal business you’re not familiar with, such as aging family members.

Consult with family members and friends about sentimental items, documents, and photographs. You might feel that an object has very little value, but it may hold powerful memories for another family member. If your family and friends live far away, it might be difficult for them to stop by the house to view items. Consider setting up a website or a Facebook group to share photos and descriptions of items you wish to pass along to family and friends.

When uncluttering, clearly separate the garbage from the donations. Use only black or dark green bags for trash and transparent bags or cardboard boxes for donations. If different bags or boxes are going to different charities, clearly label them on both sides of the bag or box. Astronaut Chris Hadfield had intended that a box of memorabilia from his time in space be donated to a science centre but last week his flight suit was found for sale at a Toronto thrift shop due to a mix up with donation boxes during a move.

Get an expert opinion before you dispose or donate items with which you are not familiar. You may be able to determine the approximate value of items by looking online at sites like eBay or specialized sites for specific collectibles. You may not find a comic book that will pay your mortgage but you may be able to earn a few extra dollars. If you don’t even know what the items are, check out our tips on how to deal with UFOs (unidentified found objects) before you dispose of them.

Have you ever found an expensive item stashed in a strange place while uncluttering? Have you accidentally donated or disposed of something you wish you hadn’t? Help fellow unclutterers by sharing your stories in the comments section.

Organizing a small space

People who live in small spaces have unique organizing challenges. There may be limited storage space (small closets and no garage, attic, or basement) and limited living space (small rooms used for multiple purposes).

The following are some suggestions for organizing in this kind of small space. The same ideas could be used in any space, but they are more important when space is at a premium.

Unclutter

Assuming you’re planning to live in the same tiny space for a number of years, it’s time to be extremely selective about what you let into that space. You probably don’t have room for stuff that’s just okay — as much as feasible, limit yourself to things you love. You’ll want to avoid (or limit) those unitaskers, too.

Remember the wise words of Peter Walsh in his book It’s all Too Much, where he recommends you begin your uncluttering/organizing project this way: “Imagine the life you want to live.” If you’re holding onto things that don’t fit with your current reality or your realistic imaginings, it may be time to bid them farewell. (You may want to take some photos of special items before you part with them.)

You’ll also want to give thought to how many of any one thing you need. How many sets of sheets? How many T-shirts?

Go vertical

If you have limited floor space, look to the walls. Can you use shelving (freestanding or wall-mounted)? What about hooks and/or wall pockets? Would a hammock for the stuffed animals make sense?

Consider vertical versions of standard storage pieces, too. For example, a shoe tree may work better than a horizontal shoe rack.

Try smaller versions of standard items

Many shelving units are 12-18 inches deep; for example, the Kallax system from Ikea (which replaced the very popular Expedit) is 15 3/8 inches deep. If you don’t need that depth, you could get a shelving system that’s only 10.3 inches deep.

Look for other situations where a smaller product will meet your needs, saving precious space.

Consider collapsible and folding items

You can get collapsible versions of many kitchen items: colanders, whisks, scales, dish drainers, etc. Another example: Gateleg tables fold up into a small space when not in use.

Look for hidden storage spaces

Not everyone likes to store things under the bed, but if this doesn’t concern you, consider getting bed risers to provide more under-bed storage space. Paper towel holders can be mounted on the bottom of the upper kitchen cabinets. Shower curtains can have storage pockets. These are just a few of the ways to make use of every bit of space you have.

Consider dual-purpose furniture

I’ve visited friends who have no kitchen or dining table in their small home, but their coffee table has an adjustable height and it converts into a dining table quite easily. Some of this dual-purpose furniture is on the expensive side, though.

Go digital

If you’re comfortable with digital solutions, you can save a lot of space that used to hold papers, books, CDs, DVDs, etc.

Avoid most bulk purchases

Even if it saves money, you’ll probably have to pass on many bulk purchases because you simply won’t have room to store what you’ve bought. Some people manage to find space for a few high-priority bulk purchases (toilet paper, paper towels, cat food cans, etc.) but forego the rest.

Keeping essential home work supplies on hand

As spring approaches and winter thaws (it will eventually thaw, right?), my family and I have found ourselves in that dreaded time of the elementary school year: projects. It’s like a perfect storm, when everyone’s energy levels are low, the cold and dark days have all of us down, no one feels like completing anything requiring a great deal of mental effort, and certainly no one wants to doing anything that involves creative depths, pasteboard, stencils, or Papier-mâché.

This is also the time of year that supplies start to run low around the house. None of the pencils have sharp points or erasers. Lined paper is at a minimum, and I assure you the teacher won’t accept a paragraph written on the envelope from the water bill, no matter how neatly it’s written. With that in mind, the following is a list of items you can grab to restock, organize, and survive the second-half of the school year.

Pencils. My kids, at nine and eleven, are not yet to be trusted to complete homework in pen. So, we buy pencils in bulk and store then in mason jars right at their desks. Doing this sure beats the nightly search for a pencil. Speaking of…

An electric pencil sharpener. Spend some money on a heavy-duty sharpener that’s going to last a long time. Remember that hand-crank job that was probably screwed into the wall of your elementary school classroom? Don’t put that nightmare in your house because it will only cause a mess. And please avoid those little handheld jobs that deposit pencil shaving all over the floor. Instead, look for an electric sharpener with a heavy base for one-handed sharpening. We have a Bostitch model at home and it’s dependable.

Erasers. By now, all of our pencil erasers have been worn to mere shadows of their former existence. A large box of pink erasers is a great alternate when erasers detach from their pencils. Divvy them up among your kids’ work spaces and never hear “Does anyone have a pencil with an eraser?” again. Similar to pencils, erasers can be stored in jars, and inside desk drawers in a drawer organizer.

Index cards. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I still think index cards are fantastic homework aides. I use them as flash cards, of course, but their usefulness extends way beyond that. For example, I have the kids use them as to-do lists for larger projects. When attached to all related papers with an office clip, you get a handy, mobile reference packet. They’re also good for scratch paper when working out math problems or outlines. They’re a high utility tool for all offices. Wrap the index cards in a rubber band and store them on top of the spare paper and notebooks mentioned in the next item.

Lined paper and notebooks. We’ve been in the situation in our house where the only available paper is a sketch pad, and that doesn’t pass muster with a teacher. Keep the paper and notebooks (and the index cards mentioned above) in a traditional office desk inbox to keep them organized.

A designated homework zone. A space dedicated to doing homework will help prevent papers, supplies, and assignments from migrating to the kitchen table. And, as is the case in our house, the kitchen table is where homework quickly transforms into clutter.

With these essentials on hand and organized so they’re at the ready, you’re prepared to take on any big, winter projects teachers assign.

Managing your wardrobe: award shows vs. real life

I’m not much into fashion, but one of my guilty pleasures is reading Tom and Lorenzo’s run-downs of the dresses and suits worn to award shows like the Grammys and the Oscars. I’ve been thinking how their comments do (or don’t) apply to non-celebrities and how those comments might be used as guidelines for creating a flattering, uncluttered wardrobe.

Choose colors and styles that work for you

Tom and Lorenzo were full of praise for David Oyelowo’s red tuxedo at the 2015 Oscars, noting that the color looked great on him. If you read through their write-ups from a number of awards shows, you’ll see plenty of comments about something being a good look (or not such a good look) for that particular person.

So feel free to ignore “what every wardrobe needs” advice, which will almost certainly include something that won’t look good on you or doesn’t fit your needs. I cringe every time I see a white blouse listed as an absolute necessity, since white is most definitely not my color. Also, given my current lifestyle, I really have zero need for a white blouse, even if it would look good on me.

Don’t worry too much about trends, either. Marsala is the color of the year, but don’t buy something in that color if it doesn’t become you.

Instead, fill your closet with clothes that are right for you, specifically — clothes with flattering colors and styles, and clothes that are appropriate for the way you live. If you’re not sure what looks good on you, ask a friend with good clothes sense or splurge on hiring a wardrobe consultant. (You might save money over the long haul by not buying clothes you wind up discarding because you discover, too late, that they’re wrong for you.) You might also consult an expert who focuses just on identifying your best colors; I did that some years ago, and it was extremely helpful.

Pay attention to the fit

Tom and Lorenzo’s commentary is filled with notes like: “The pants are too long” and “The pants need hemming.” There are also comments about clothes that are too tight or too baggy. These comments are directed equally to men and women.

This is a case where the awards show commentary applies to everyone else, too. I’m short, so I know how frustrating it can be when you need to get most of your pants hemmed, but I also know it’s a necessity. If your clothes need hemming, either do it yourself or take your clothes to a local tailor. (My dry cleaners do hemming.)

When shopping, be honest with yourself about whether or not something really fits. If you love something and it’s perfect except for a slightly wrong fit, consider whether it could be easily altered. If so, do you have the skills to do that, or are you willing to pay to have it done?

Don’t worry about repeating an outfit

In commenting on one woman’s gown for the 2015 Grammys, Tom and Lorenzo wrote, “We’d swear we’ve seen her in that exact dress dozens of times.”

That’s a reasonable comment from fashion critics writing about a celebrity. But unless you work in a fashion-conscious industry, you probably don’t need to worry about wearing the same outfit (or outfit components) fairly frequently. Either no one will notice, or no one will care. However, the more memorable the outfit, the less frequently you may want to wear it, as people will recall something like a jacket with a wild, brightly colored print.

If you have the money and space for an extensive wardrobe, and clothes are your passion, you may want to own enough of them that repeated outfits are infrequent. But those who prefer a more streamlined wardrobe can often go that route without concern. Some people even choose to own multiples of basic wardrobe items so they can wear identical outfits every day. That choice might well be noticed — think of Steve Jobs and his 501 jeans, black mock turtleneck and New Balance sneakers — but needn’t be a problem in the right environment.

And sometimes even a large degree uniformity isn’t noticed, or at least not remarked upon. A male TV presenter wore the same blue suit (but with different ties and shirts) almost every day for a year, and neither he nor the station got any comments about that.

Music and its relationship with organizing and productivity

There have been many studies over the years about the effect of music on productivity in industry. One study has suggested that music increases productivity when workers are engaged in repetitive tasks that may not be intellectually stimulating. The findings of another study show that music has a positive effect on a person’s emotional state and can help with self-motivation.

Dr. Lesiuk of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami carried out a study in which workers could listen to whatever music they liked for as long as they wanted. She found that those people who were reasonably skilled at their jobs realized the most benefit. Workers who were identified as experts saw almost no effect on their productivity and some novices found that listening to music was distracting and did not help them accomplish the tasks (which makes sense as they were acquiring new skills).

In short, music will likely help you and/or your employees be organized and productive. If you have a project you have been putting off for some time or if your task involves repetitive work (such as sorting through clothing), turn up the volume and listen to your favourite music to get you motivated.

However, if your task involves complex decision-making (such as writing a research proposal), you may want to keep your surroundings quiet, especially if the task is something you don’t usually do.

Personally, I find when I listen to dance music with a fast beat (anything from the Big Band Era to Disco to Electronica) my house gets organized and cleaned much faster. When I have a large re-organizing job such as a storage area clean out, I listen to classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Rush, Van Halen, AC/DC). If I’m working on a project that requires my full concentration such as writing or working on data analysis, I don’t listen to music at all because I end up singing to the music and getting distracted from my work.

Most of the time I work from home so I can choose the music I like, but if you share a working space, keep a set of comfortable headphones handy so as not to disturb your co-workers. At the office, always check with your manager or supervisor before you don your headphones. Some companies have policies regarding listening to music during working hours. If you are a manager, consider letting employees listen to music if you find it makes them more productive.

Do you find listening to music helps you be more or less productive? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

What personal collectors can learn from museums

Having a collection can add joy to your life, but a collection can also get out of hand and take over your home and your bank account. Museums have Collections Management Policies (PDF), and some of the topics discussed in these policies could also apply to anyone building and maintaining a collection. You may not need a written policy, but considering the following items may be useful:

Defining the scope of the collection

Have you thought about exactly what kind of thing you’re collecting? For example, a stamp collector might want to focus on first day covers or, alternatively, may have no interest in those covers. You may start out with a wide scope and decide to narrow it over time.

Adding to the collection

What are your priorities for adding to your collection? Do you have some holes in your collection that you want to fill? What’s your budget?

Museums have policies for “unsolicited donations,” and you may want a policy about gifts from well-meaning friends who notice your collection. Do you want to discourage them from buying you gifts to add to that collection, or are you happy to receive such gifts?

Removing items from the collection

When do items get removed from your collection? Museums sometimes remove items if they are redundant with others in the collection or if they are “of lesser quality than other objects of the same type in the collection.” They may also remove items that are “unduly difficult or impossible to care for or store properly.” Items may also get damaged to a degree where they no longer fit within the scope of the collection, and those items would be removed.

These same types of considerations could easily apply to your personal collection. And if the scope of your collection has changed over the years, you may find items that no longer seem to fit.

Taking care of the collection

Museums only display part of their collection at any time, rotating the items on display. Therefore, a museum’s policies will need to deal with caring for items currently on display and those in storage for future display. You may need to consider both situations, too.

Just as a museum would, you will want to consider whether items in your collection need to be kept at any specific range of temperatures and humidity. Depending on what items you collect, you may need to plan for pest control. You’ll also want to think about how to keep fragile items from being broken when on display and when being stored.

Making loans

Would you ever consider loaning out items in your collection? If so, think about whom you might make a loan to and how you’d want to handle any such transactions.

Maintaining an inventory and documentation

If you have a large collection, not all on display, having an inventory will help you remember what’s being kept where. An inventory will also keep you from buying duplicate items by mistake.

At some point, your collection will move on to others. You may choose to sell some items or give them to friends and family members, or others may inherit them from you. If you’re selling an item, the buyer may want evidence of authenticity, so you’d want to have a plan for storing any documents you have that address this. If items are being inherited, the recipients will often enjoy knowing the stories behind the items — when and where you got them, and why are they meaningful to you.

Getting insurance and appraisals

If your collection includes items of significant value, you may need specific insurance to cover the collection, which might involve getting appraisals done. That proof of authenticity mentioned previously may also affect the appraisal. In case of a loss (due to theft, fire, flood, etc.), the inventory list previously mentioned would be extremely helpful when making a claim to your insurance company.

Three organizing tips from recent news

As I read the news for the past couple weeks, I noticed a number of stories that touched on organizing themes. The following subjects caught my eye:

Handling Craigslist exchanges

Would you like to sell some things on Craigslist, but finding a safe place to do the exchange of money and stuff has you concerned? Lily Hay Newman wrote an article for Slate about cities where police stations are offering their lobbies as those safe places.

Saving information before it disappears from the Internet

Many of us are keeping less paper than we used to because the information we want is available online. In some cases, we expect it might disappear and we’re fine with that. We know that stores don’t stock the same products forever, for example.

But what if you find something such as a particularly poignant personal essay that you want to keep for future reference? As Carter Maness wrote:

We assume everything we publish online will be preserved. But websites that pay for writing are businesses. They get sold, forgotten and broken. Eventually, someone flips the switch and pulls it all down.

Maness wrote from the perspective of authors whose work is no longer available to show to editors who may want to hire them. But for those of us who are the readers, it’s a good reminder that we can’t assume that creating a bookmark or favorite will ensure we can retrieve a precious bit of writing. Besides the commercial websites that Maness mentions, there are personal websites and blogs that the owners decide to discontinue (or which get taken down after a death).

You may be able to find a missing article through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, but there’s no certainty about that. Therefore, you may want to keep selected articles in digital form on your own devices by saving them to Evernote, by printing them to PDFs, by saving them as webarchive files (if you use the Safari browser), etc.

Preparing for your digital afterlife

Dave has written before about estate planning for your digital assets, but there’s a new twist. As Rachel Emma Silverman reported in The Wall Street Journal:

A controversial new state law is making it easier for estate executors to access digital data — such as email, photos and social-media postings — after the account holder dies.

Many Internet companies strictly limit access to their customers’ accounts to the account holder, in accordance, they say, with federal privacy law. …

But under a Delaware law passed last summer, executors can now access online accounts without a court order, unless the deceased has instructed otherwise. Similar legislation is under consideration in several other states.

Silverman went on to explain why this may also matter to people in the U.S. who don’t live in Delaware. Her article may inspire you to ensure your own estate-planning documents clearly state your wishes when it comes to accessing your digital files. Consult with your personal estate attorney to get guidance regarding your particular situation.

Left-handed organizing

Tools are extensions of your hands. When you use proper tools, you decrease the possibility of injury, pain, and fatigue because they require less continuous force and can be used without awkward postures. The correct tool also reduce clutter because you have the best tool for a job and aren’t constantly purchasing the same item repeatedly in search of the ideal tool for you. How you complete processes is similar, too, because when you work in the best way suited for you work times are reduced, you’re more organized, and more comfortable.

When fellow Unclutterer, Dave talked about the value of his utility knife, I had to agree with him. However my utility knife is different from Dave’s because mine is a left-handed utility knife.

If you’re a southpaw or live or work with one, the following are some productivity and organizing tips that might be beneficial for you.

Buy good quality left-handed tools. As stated earlier, the proper tool for the job is essential. It will lead to increased productivity, less fatigue, and fewer injuries. Start with the tools used most often such as scissors, can openers, vegetable peelers and even manicure scissors. Consider purchasing other left-handed equipment that can make certain tasks easier, such as gardening shears and sewing scissors.

Set up your personal space. On the desk of a lefty, the pen caddy would be placed on the left side and the telephone on the right side. Because lefties sit facing the right side of the desk, the desk lamp should be placed on the right side as well. Professional organizer Julie Bestry has a great post about left-handed notebooks that might help lefties increase productivity.

Set up shared spaces together. When lefties and righties share space, it can be a bit more difficult to be organized and productive.

Sometimes shared spaces can be set up ambidextrous, for example, putting the telephone in the centre of the desk so it can be answered with either hand. Alternatively determine who uses the space for a greater period of time and set it up according to that person’s hand preference.

Research indicates that individuals show a preference for the use of one hand, and it is not always the same hand for two different tasks. This suggests that right- or left-handers are not general categories, but rather are defined as a function of the tasks. For example, many lefties prefer to use their computer mouse with their right hand so a shared computer would have the mouse on the right hand side. This means when people work together to organize a space they can develop solutions that will allow all users of the space to be productive.

For a great overview on left-handedness you may wish to read, “Why are some people left-handed? An evolutionary perspective.

For left-handed shopping try: