Create your own home maintenance manual

Recently I recommended becoming your family’s technology manager. With a little forethought, you can be on top of backups, passwords, and your devices. This week, I’m expanding that notion to include general home maintenance by creating a DIY Home Owner’s Manual that will save you time and money.

The first project

I started my Home Owner’s Manual while repairing an old clothes dryer. Its drum had stopped turning, leaving a pile of warm, damp clothes. I grabbed the toolbox, unplugged the machine, and got to work.

After removing the rear panel, I saw its simple mechanics. A thin belt ran between the motor and the large drum. That belt had snapped in half, leaving the motor to chug along without disturbing the drum full of wet clothes. “Ha!” I thought. “I can fix this.”

I Googled the model number to find the right part, which I bought from the hardware store. At home, I took notes while making the repair.

I sketched the dryer, noting the screws that held the rear panel. I drew the interior, labeling the components. Next, I noted the model number and part number, and sketched out the process of replacing the rear panel. In a matter of minutes, the dryer was back in the clothes-drying business.

I’ve since made pages about replacing the furnace filter, changing the lawn mower’s oil, and wiring our smoke detectors. Today, I have a fantastic reference to our home, written by me, that’s fully annotated, and you can do the same.

Take your manual digital

You can very easily go digital with your manual, and make it tremendously easy to find just the page you need. First, get yourself an Evernote account, if you don’t already have one. Make photo notes of your manual, tagging the images as appropriate. Now, you’ve got a ubiquitous, digital home owner’s manual you can reference on your mobile device. But there’s one more cool trick you can pull off as part of this digitizing process.

You can create QR codes for one-tap retrieval of the project page you want. Every Evernote note has a unique URL. To find it, simply open the note in your Evernote app and select Copy Note Link from the Note menu. Then, make a QR Code with that URL, using a free QR Code generator like KAYWA QR Code Generator. Once that’s done, print the page on sticker paper, cut out the code and stick it to the side or back of your dryer, lawn mower, whatever. (You could also tape a regular sheet of paper to the device with a piece of packing tape.)

Whenever you need your notes for that device, all you need to do is scan the QR code and presto! Evernote will launch and open the exact manual pages for you.

A DIY Home Owner’s Manual can be an invaluable tool, and organizing one is easy. Take the time whenever you perform a home improvement or maintenance project to create the pages you’ll want again in the future. You’re creating a great reference that you can even pass on to others in your home or future homeowners if you sell your place.

Investing in good tools

I’m about to buy a new vacuum cleaner, and it’s somewhat expensive.

When I first looked into buying this vacuum cleaner, I winced at the price. But the more I read reviews and thought about what to buy, I decided it was a wise purchase for two reasons:

  • It has the features I need. It will pick up cat hair, and it’s relatively quiet so my cats won’t freak out too much. Having a really good tool should mean I don’t procrastinate about vacuuming as I do now, which just makes the job worse when I do get around to it.
  • It should last much longer than cheaper vacuum cleaners, so I’ll spend less over the long term, and I won’t be sending broken appliances to a landfill. And I won’t need to go through the whole time-consuming what-to-buy decision process again in a couple years.

All of which made me think, once again, about how much good tools can help us be productive and make even tedious tasks more enjoyable. Sometimes all you need is a tool that performs really well, but sometimes “good” can also include aesthetics. Kevin Do is a designer at Grovemade, a company that makes desktop accessories (as well as other things). In a recent interview with website Core77 he said, “When your work space is beautiful you are much more inclined to work.”

One place I’ve found I appreciate some beauty is in my note-taking tools. While I use a digital calendar and address book, I prefer using pen and paper for taking notes when on the phone, when working with clients, etc. My on-the-go tool is a pocket briefcase, but I’ve been making do with basic notepads in my home office. I don’t enjoy using those, though, so I’m planning to indulge in a small splurge and get a really nice notebook.

Looking around my office I see lots of tools that work well for me, including my computer, my scanner, and my shredder, But there’s also my Camelbak Eddy water bottle, which someone once described to me as a sippy cup for adults. Because it’s so easy to take a few sips, I tend to drink more water throughout the day. It’s perfect to have sitting next to me when I’m working at my computer, because I’m not courting disaster as I would be with a normal glass or mug — and two cats who often jump onto the desk.

While I think investing in good tools is often a wise decision, some good tools don’t cost much at all. Moving beyond my office, a tool that works extremely well for me is a specific brand of floss picks. I’ve always found other flossing tools to be awkward to use. But with these it’s easy for me to floss, so I actually do it.

Good tools make us more efficient, help us tackle unpleasant tasks, and add a bit of joy to our daily lives. If there’s a tool you use frequently that isn’t working well for you, replacing it might be a wise choice if your finances allow you to do so.

Organizing summer with a professional organizer

“Disorganization is a delayed decision.”

That was the most valuable quote and pervasive theme of my conversation with Heidi Solomon, the woman behind P.O.S.H., or Professional Organizing Systems by Heidi. Now 10 years into her organization business, Heidi took some time to sit with me to discuss best practices and creating a summer organization system that will last well beyond the warm weather.

After a little New Englander bonding (Heidi is in Boston), I asked about her definition of an organized person. “A big part of [being organized] is deciding where does something go, do I actually need it, etc. early and often. But truly, the systems you employ are irrelevant.”

“I’m an organized person” means life can erupt and not cause an immense amount of stress to reset your space.

Summer is starting, so we discussed strategies for being organized after coming home from a vacation or a trip. When you already have established locations for all the things you own, unpacking and returning to normal can be accomplished in a couple of hours, as opposed to living with suitcases for a few days.

My summer kicks off for real on Wednesday, as that’s when my kids will be out of school. The end of the school year, Heidi says, is a perfect time to evaluate the systems you’ve got in place. “Kids’ interests and developmental and physical changes are rapid. A system that worked six months ago might be breaking down as these changes occur. Take this time to look at what’s working and what isn’t. Are there clothes that no longer fit? A play area or toys that are no longer appropriate/receiving attention?”

“Plan along the natural calendar schedule of the school year,” she advises. “In August, set aside a day or two to go through belongings and identify what’s no longer relevant. As the year progresses, for example, they outgrow boots or hats. Have a bin that’s a destination for these things — again, we’re back to making decisions early. Christmas and summer are also great opportunities for a check-in.”

To me, summer means using a lot of towels. We live on a lake and that means the back porch is continually draped with towels. And bottles of sunscreen. Plus a few swim masks, beach toys…you get the idea. For many, summer introduces a unique mass of stuff. How, I asked, can we create a system for “summer stuff” that will last beyond August 31? She said it starts with what’s available to you.

“If you have a closet that can accommodate these things in clear, labeled containers, great,” she told me. “If not, a door hanger works so well. Put the kids’ stuff at the lower level. That way everyone can just grab and go (and replace!) with ease.” Why clear containers? To help the young ones see what goes where.

“For many of the younger set,” Heidi said, “items are out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Simply being told the sunscreen goes on the back of the door might not be as effective as it would with an adult. Using clear storage lets them see what is where, and fosters recall of where it goes when not in use.”

As far as creating a sustainable system that will work for everyone, a little conversation goes a long way. “Not everyone organizes in the same way. It’s based on the way you learn, which is, in part, a function of how you process information. Ensure [to use] each ‘user’s’ preferences and learning style. Kids are often visual learners, so the see-through containers help them.”

With a little thought, frequent re-evaluation and consideration for everyone in your organizing system, you can get through the busy summer — or any season — with solutions that work effectively. Big thanks to Heidi for taking time to chat with me.

Being a productive communicator

Are you sometimes frustrated when people don’t reply to your emails, texts, or voicemail messages? The following are two reasons that might be happening.

You chose a suboptimal communication method

When I was a magazine editor, I worked with someone whose preferred method of communication was email. That was fine with me, since I like email, too. But we also worked with a number of writers and photographers, and she sometimes had problems getting them to reply to her messages. I’d often find myself suggesting she try switching techniques and calling the person instead of sending yet another email.

We all have our preferred communication tools, and insisting on yours without recognizing the other person’s preferences can lead to frustration all around. In a professional situation, having a discussion about your preferences and deciding how you’ll work together can help ensure messages get a timely reply. There’s no point in leaving a voicemail message for someone who hates voicemail and never checks it. You may want to note the person’s preferences in whatever tool you use to store phone numbers and email addresses.

Another problem I’ve noticed is someone sending a text message to another person without realizing the number they’re sending it to is a landline that can’t accept texts. If you’re going to be texting with someone, be sure you know that person’s cell phone number. (And remember that some people don’t have cell phones.)

Your email looks too intimidating

Long chatty emails with friends can be delightful. But if you’re sending an email where you want a timely response, it helps to make your message easy to absorb. An email with a bunch of long paragraphs is one that many recipients will skip over on an initial pass through their email inboxes.

To make your email more reader-friendly, you can:

  • Be sure your subject line is descriptive.
  • Use short paragraphs and bullet points.
  • Make sure it’s very clear, preferably near the beginning of the message, exactly what it is you want the other person to do. Include any associated deadlines.
  • Keep the email focused on a single topic. If you combine topics and the recipient isn’t ready to deal with just one of them, you may not hear back about any of them.
  • Be as concise as possible while still conveying all the necessary information. Long rambling messages tend to be ignored, but so do messages that leave the recipient confused.
  • Include all critical information in the body of the message, not in an attachment. And avoid attachments entirely whenever you reasonably can.
  • Take the time to edit your email. I’ve found I can almost always improve on my first pass of an important message.

Fix these two problems and you can be on your way to more timely responses.

Organizational tips from top tech CEOs

Tim Cook (Apple CEO), Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO), and Jack Dorsey (Twitter founder and CEO) are some of the biggest names in business. It’s likely that their products touch your life every day. With such a tremendous amount of responsibility, how do these titans stay organized and on top of everything they need to do?

Late last year, TIME magazine published a look at how high-profile tech CEOs stay organized. I love articles like this since a peek at such high-level organization and productivity is rare…and often surprisingly simple. The following are my favorite insights from the article.

Jack Dorsey gives each day a theme. Mondays are for management tasks, Tuesdays for focusing on products, and so on. I’ve set aside a day for administration type work, but never thought of giving each weekday a theme and, therefore, a focus.

Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer (president and CEO of Yahoo) looks to the impromptu moments that happen between meetings and scheduled get-togethers to spark meaningful ideas. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” she wrote to her employees in 2013.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg embraces the power of creating goals for himself. In 2010, for example, he set out to learn Mandarin Chinese. Just four years later, he stunned an audience at China’s Tsinghua University by conducting a 30-minute interview entirely in their native language.

Finally, Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction, makes a point to empty her mind and spend time on reflection. “I take 15 minutes every morning for contemplation and to empty my mind. I take a bag full of thoughts I need cleared and each morning I pick one out, read it, and send it down the river near my house.”

I love this one as it seems we spend less and less time in quiet reflection, processing the day’s activities, lessons and challenges. It’s so easy to succumb to the temptation to fill every quiet moment with a smartphone or an app that there’s no time to let your mind work on what needs attention. I’m going to adopt this practice and intentionally make myself stop, reflect, and process each day.

Simple tools to help you organize a laundry room

I recently added a basic table next to our washer and dryer and it has been tremendously useful. From holding clean clothes while I find a basket to letting those “lay flat to dry” sweaters do their thing, I’ve fallen in love with this simple addition to our laundry room. Since I started experiencing the benefits of this table, I’ve become obsessed with maxing out the laundry room’s efficiency and usefulness, and I want to share the best of what I’ve found with you.

A table or shelf

I should note that when I say laundry room, I really mean a corner of our basement. That proves an important point: you don’t need a dedicated room to have a functional laundry area. Likewise, a simple table or shelf will work wonders in this space, as I’ve described. Find something inexpensive and you’ll find a hundred and one uses for it. (Just don’t let it become a place for clutter to accumulate.)

Room-specific baskets

With four people living in our home, everyone is responsible for putting their own laundry away. A simple shelving unit with labeled laundry baskets solves the issue. Fold, sort and hand them off to the right person for putting away.

A place for pocket finds

We’ve got two kids and we’re often finding odd things in their pockets. These have a tendency to get piled up on top of the dryer, but all that does is clutter up the space. Instead of the entire top of the dryer, I brought in a small container just for these objects. Now I can put the bobby pins, coins, LEGO figures, and who knows what into a nice, portable bowl for redistribution.

Designated space for air dry items

Some items can’t go in the dryer. Those that must lay flat to dry can do so on the table or shelf. For the rest, an inexpensive garment rack can do the trick (and the one I linked to and is pictured above it features two bars for hanging clothes and is fully adjustable, which is great). Plus, if you get one on wheels, you can push it out of the way when you’re done.

What does it mean to be organized?

I’ve read many good definitions of what “organized” looks like, but I recently came across one from organizer Matt Baier, which read in part:

My definition of organizing is “taking the less important stuff out of the way, so that you can get to the most important stuff.”

To me, organizing isn’t effective, if there isn’t a process of prioritization. … Furthermore, I believe subtraction always has to be part of the process. By saying “out of the way,” I don’t mean just discard and donate, but also sell, store, and archive. You can still keep things, but when you free up the most space for just the most important items, it is easiest to STAY organized. Of course, taking the less important things out of the way, must be done in such a way, that you can always TRUST that you can find what you want, when you want it, in storage and archives too.

This definition really resonated with me because of my own situation this past month. I had hip replacement surgery, and I knew I’d have a lot of movement restrictions when I came home. So I really needed to put this definition of organizing into practice.

Since I wouldn’t be able to bend down very far, I needed to prioritize what sat on my counters, within easy reach. So down came the food processor, since cooking just wasn’t going to happen for a while, and up came the paper plates for serving the Chinese food I could get delivered. In the closet that serves as my pantry, down came the staples for cooking (tomato sauce and such) and up came things like the bran cereal.

Because of my movement limitations, I wound up working with a home services agency to get someone to come in weekly to do light housekeeping and laundry, and to run errands for me. Fortunately, my garage storage is organized, so I was able to tell her just where to find things like a new toothbrush.

And yes, there was definitely some subtraction. One example: I knew I needed to find a place to stash the Bosu balance trainer which took up valuable floor space I would need when using a walker. I certainly wouldn’t be using the Bosu for a while! But then it dawned on me that this was a piece of equipment I probably wouldn’t want to use at all in the future (for fear of losing my balance and coming down in a way that damaged my new hip) and I gave it away on freecycle.

The prioritization process also applied to my to-do list. I considered what things had to be done pre-surgery and was comfortable deferring everything else.

Of course, Matt’s advice about prioritization works for everyday situations, too. There were many things I didn’t need to change, because my prior organizing efforts meant the most important things were already identified and readily accessible. But one side benefit of preparing for surgery was taking some time to re-evaluate what was important, and making some changes that will benefit me even after I’m fully recovered from the surgery.

Things everyone should own (or not)

How many times have you seen lists like this: Top 10 Kitchen Tools Everyone Should Own? This particular list included a kitchen thermometer — which is something I happen to own, but soon will not. As I reviewed the list I realized I just don’t cook the types of things that require a kitchen thermometer, so it’s just clutter to me.

And that’s the problem with lists like this. Everyone’s work and home lives, and the items needed to support those lives, are unique. If you use “things everyone needs” lists as ideas and suggestions, that’s fine. But no one should feel the need to buy something just because it’s on such a list.

I often see long must-have lists when it comes to baby stuff. NewParent has a checklist that illustrates the problem of taking such lists as requirements. Changing table? Not everyone has room for that, or finds it useful. Some parents are perfectly happy to use a changing pad on a dresser top (or other surface) and a diaper caddy of some sort. Fifteen baby hangers? Not everyone is going to hang up the baby clothes.

Diaper bag? Some parents rely on them (and appreciate that most are spill-proof inside) but others find them to be useless. Many parents get by fine with backpacks, duffle bags, or similar items they already own.

The Minimalist Mom wrote about a great way to avoid baby and little-kid clutter: “We had playdates at each others homes and let the babies try each others toys, exersaucers, bouncy chairs, etc.” If her child loved something from a friend’s house, she could then go get one (if she wanted to) knowing it would be a success, rather than something the child ignored.

Travel must-have lists often amuse me because I’ve done a fair amount of travel without ever carrying many of the items listed. Travel + Leisure has a list of 23 carry-on must-haves, and I would never carry at least five of them:

  • Eye mask and ear plugs: I never need these to sleep. I may have trouble sleeping on a plane, but that’s because of comfort issues, not sound and light.
  • Extra ear buds: I find ear buds uncomfortable. I take headphones or nothing, depending on the situation.
  • Travel document holder: I keep critical items (passport, etc.) in a money belt.
  • Luggage strap: I just have no need for this. My luggage zipper is fine, and I can readily identify my luggage without a strap.
  • Binder clips: This would be pure clutter to me.

This doesn’t mean these are bad suggestions — they just don’t fit my personal travel style and needs.

Lists of must-haves may remind you of things that really would be useful, but they may also include items that would be a total mismatch for your personal situation. Use them wisely and they won’t lead to clutter.

Organizing with an ADHD mind

Today we welcome guest post author Ryan McRae, who is the founder of the website TheADHDnerd (a blog dedicated to helping people with ADHD be more productive). If you’re interested in learning more, he has a free book for download, Conquering Your Calendar and Getting More Done.

I’ve had ADHD all of my life and I never had the natural ability to organize; I distinctly remember my third grade teacher dumping my desk out when I couldn’t find something. I remember misplacing my wallet constantly and having clutter surrounding me most of my days.

The amount of time I have wasted letting my ADHD run my organizational life could have earned me a Ph.D.

No more. The following are the strategies I use to get my ADHD to cooperate with my need to have my life in order.

Pick your battles

If you are looking to clean your house, your ADHD mind will quickly attempt to deter you from this enormous project. You have to break it down into manageable pieces and if your ADHD still pressures you to catch up on your Netflix queue, break it down into smaller bits and pieces.

Instead of “cleaning the bathroom” decide to simply tidy up the sink and throw out old, empty containers. Once you do that, you’ll find one more task to do and then do that. Set that strategy on “repeat” and you’ll find you cleaned the entire place without firing up “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Double duty

One task I absolutely detest doing is laundry. The entire spectrum of the task from loading the washer to putting away the folded t-shirts puts me into a fit.

So what I do is put on a movie I’ve seen before or a podcast and listen to it while I do this abhorrent task. If there is ever a Kickstarter project that eliminates this task, I’ll put a lot of money behind it.

If you can couple something you love with something you don’t quite enjoy, you’ll be much better off. As Mary Poppins said, “A little This American Life makes the laundry get put away…”

Develop routines

When I used to get home from work, I’d change out of my work clothes, flop down on the couch, and think about what dinner was going to be. Many times I didn’t get up from the couch. I noticed that the next day I couldn’t remember what I did with my keys and where my shoes were. My mornings didn’t start off great and left me no time for coffee. And who has two thumbs and loves coffee? This guy.

So I had to develop a routine that I would launch into as soon as I went home so I knew where my stuff was as well as leave me room for my beloved nectar, my best friend, coffee.

When I get home now, I simply do the following:

  • Grab the mail and go through it and only take in the house what I need to process. Throw out the rest.
  • Empty my pockets in the container by my front door immediately.
  • Change out of work shirt and evaluate if it can be worn again: hamper or hang it.
  • Wash hands
  • Fix Dinner

I do this every time. This way I know where everything goes and I don’t have to sweat getting my evening going. I’ve built a great morning routine and before-bed routine as well. This minimizes my stress and headaches searching and wondering what I’m doing next.

Maintenance day

I stole this idea from Chris Bailey in The Productivity Project. Having one day, a maintenance day, to do all of your low energy tasks is much wiser than alternating between something that takes a lot of time (cleaning out the garage) and then trying to do something simple (dusting the living room). Batch all of your simple tasks together.

He calls these “low-return” tasks. Instead of doing them throughout the week, depleting some willpower throughout the week, just knock them out all in one day.

For example:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Clean house and office
  • Do laundry
  • Water plants
  • Clear out the inboxes

Since my Thursday is my maintenance day, I will get up early, and attempt to get all these little tasks done before 1:00 p.m. It’s my own personal competition — this way they are cleared out for the week and I can set my mind on other larger projects.

Simplify

ADHD can trick me into being collectors of all kinds of things. My weakness is t-shirts. My t-shirt collection grows due to sales and convention swag every year. I can’t get enough t-shirts.

It becomes a storage issue quite quickly. So I have my own personal Hunger Games when it comes to my t-shirts. Once I can’t fit the folded shirts in the drawer, it’s elimination time.

I use my ADHD to quickly assess which t-shirts will remain and which will be donated to the local thrift store. I simply sort them and if they don’t grab my attention, they must go. If I try it on and it’s a bit of a stretch, it is soon eliminated.

Scan, store, or shred

Paperwork can grow like this overwhelming kudzu, filling the desk and creeping into every bare surface in the house. When it comes to paperwork, there are only three choices.

Paperwork I know that I need in a moment’s notice, I’ll scan using my smartphone. I save everything on Evernote and make sure it’s secure. Examples of what I scan are: travel itineraries, passport information, and my car insurance card.

When I need to store something larger, I have a file folder system — this is for manuals, workbooks, etc.

Otherwise, I shred it and don’t look back.

Avoiding the clutter of free stuff

When you stay at a hotel, you’ll usually be provided with toiletries that are free for you to take along: shampoo, shower gel, hand lotion, etc. However, some people seem to feel compelled to take these at every hotel they visit, and they wind up with huge unused stashes at home.

It makes sense to take the toiletries under specific circumstances:

  • You didn’t open them, and there’s a charity you support that needs such things. And you’ll be able to drop off donations in the near future.
  • You used them, and you really like them. You want to use the remainder and maybe order more — or just enjoy an extra bit of luxury. I rarely take hotel toiletries, but this happened to me on my last stay.
  • You used them, and they were just okay, but there’s enough left that you hate to see the partially used bottles go to waste. You’ll take them home and use them yourself or you’ll give them away using Freecycle or some other organization that accepts open bottles.

That last one can be problematic — will you really use those toiletries or pass them along? Or will they just sit in a cupboard for years? If you already have a collection of such bottles, it’s a good sign that perhaps you should just leave these new ones behind.

Other things you might take if you will use them (or donate them) include sewing kits, note pads, and pens. But this advice from Mikey Rox on Money Crashers seemed odd to me:

While I don’t personally need to shine my shoes, I can still use that small shoeshine kit as a stocking stuffer or to add to a grown-up Easter basket.

I don’t know anyone who would want to get a hotel’s shoeshine kit in a Christmas stocking — but if you do, and you have a place in your home to accumulate stocking stuffers, then taking the kit might make sense. It certainly fits within the list of consumables that hotels expect you to use or take.

If you happen to take long-haul flights or fly in business or first class, you may get an amenity kit with toothpaste, a toothbrush, eyeshades, etc. If you get this on an outbound flight and don’t want to haul unwanted amenities around for the rest of your trip, you might decline to take the kit so things don’t go to waste. But if you want just some of the amenities, there’s often no great option — you either toss the things you don’t want or you let them clutter up your bags until you get home to donate the items you won’t use.

If you do decide you want the hotel toiletries, remember to take time to ensure they won’t leak during the rest of your trip and cause a huge mess. It would be a shame to have a freebie ruin something like your luggage, your clothes, or your electronics.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

Spring is finally here (well, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and it’s time to do some spring cleaning. Previously, we’ve discussed how to prepare, start, and focus your spring cleaning efforts on specific areas of your home, like the yard. Today, I’m looking at your smartphones and tablets because your electronic devices need to be cleaned, too.

This topic deserves more attention than you might think. Given that tablets and smartphones are sensitive electronic devices — not to mention expensive — there is a right way and a wrong way to clean them. Additionally, keeping your devices looking great no only makes them more pleasant to use, but it usually enhances its resale value.

First things first

The simplest bit of advice for keeping your smartphone and/or tablet clean: Keep your device in a case. You can buy a protective case for the most extreme conditions (think protection from water, dirt and falls), but if you’re simply interested in avoiding dirt, lint, and other day-to-day messes, a simple case will do. I use a plain leather case from Apple most days and it does its job well.

Screen protectors are another option. These adhesive bits of transparent plastic are custom cut to fit perfectly over your phone’s screen, offering a layer of protection without sacrificing touchscreen features or sensitivity. Most peel off without leaving any residue as well.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

First, get a microfiber cloth. Unlike paper-based tissues, a microfiber cloth does not pose a risk of scratching your device’s casing or screen. They attract oils and dust for complete removal, versus your cotton t-shirt which just spreads stuff around. Microfiber cloths are readily available, and you might even get one for free if you ask your local optometrist nicely.

Next, turn your device off or put the display to sleep. This is done to make it easier to see the grime. Wipe to clean one section and then move on to the next. Soon the whole device will look shiny and new.

It’s important to keep the cloth clean as well, as repeated use will cause a built-up of the oils and dust that you remove. Just briefly soak it in warm, soapy water, rinse well and let it air dry. Don’t ever throw it in the dryer with a sheet of fabric softener.

If you don’t have access to a microfiber cloth, just grab some scotch tape. It does wonders for lifting fingerprints and dust from a glass screen. Just press it on and then lift it off. Repeat until you’ve cleaned the whole screen. It’s a bit more wasteful than a cloth, but will work in a pinch.

What not to do

First and foremost, never spray cleaner or water directly on your device. Ever. Also, never use alcohol-based cleaners. These can damage or remove the protective coating that exists on the screens of many smartphones and tablets.

Next, don’t spend too much money on those commercial cleaners. If you have a stubborn bit that the cloth can’t remove on its own, you may turn your device off and then dab a small portion of your cloth into water and then gently scrub at that bit on the screen or casing. Most times that will work just as well as the cleaners. Just don’t get the water near any openings (speaker, jack, etc.) and don’t dilute alcohol and water together. It’s been demonstrated that even a diluted alcohol solution can damage a device.

Finally, paper towels, facial tissues, napkins and the like have a very high likelihood of scratching a screen. Avoid them entirely when it comes to cleaning your tablet or phone.

There’s how to safely extend spring cleaning to your devices. With a little TLC they’ll work for a nice long time, until you’re ready to sell for a good price.

Simple, powerful organizing advice

Last week, I came across a helpful article from 2007 on Zen Habits about 27 simple organizing habits. Twenty-seven is a lot of habits, but one of them (a three-parter) really struck me as being essential for an uncluttered life. If you’re looking for straightforward and easy advice to follow, consider adding Leo’s #21 as basic habits to your every day routines:

  1. Write things down
  2. Execute
  3. Tidy up along the way

Write things down

The act of writing things down helps you remember details. Think of the notes you took in college or the shopping list you can “see” in you head. Today more and more people are producing digital notes, but research suggests that’s not the best method as far as recall is concerned.

In 2014, the Association for Psychological Science conducted a study on note-taking and recall. A group of students were told to take notes on a lecture. Half of the subjects used a laptop while the others used pen and paper. While both groups memorized the same number of facts, the pen-and-paper group outperformed their counterparts in tests on the material. Why? It could be because writing is slower.

A recent study by Scientific American suggests that, in a note-taking scenario, we can’t possibly write everything down verbatim. Instead, we must listen closely and record key words or concepts that represent what’s being said in a meaningful way. Conversely, speedy typing lets us “drone out” and record everything, as if simply taking dictation.

Execute

Procrastination is a vile, seductive monster. While beneficial procrastination is possible, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Stop procrastinating and take time to do what must be done and simply do it. I start each day with my three MITs, or Most Important Tasks. When they’re complete, everything else I tackle that day is a bonus.

Tidy up along the way

I recently revealed here on Unclutterer that the tidy life doesn’t come easy for me. As such, I really dislike the idea of an entire Saturday spent cleaning. That’s why I’ve adopted the habit of tidying up along the way. It requires almost no additional effort and is immensely helpful.

Walking upstairs? Grab that book that goes on the upstairs bookshelf. Going outside? Put the recycling on the curb. All of these tiny tasks add almost no time to what you’re already doing, are super simple, and have a huge impact on the state of things in your home and office.

Big thanks to Leo at Zen Habits for inspiring this post. Three simple ideas — write it down, execute, and tidy up — can have a massive improvement on your surroundings and your day. If you make them a part of your routine, you’ll enjoy the results.