Getting rid of someone else’s stuff

Last week an article by Nicole Hong in the Wall Street Journal focused on cargo shorts: their fans and their detractors. I don’t have any strong opinions about cargo shorts, but I did have an opinion about the following anecdote:

Dane Hansen, who operates a small steel business in Pleasant Grove, Utah, says that throughout his 11-year marriage, 15 pairs of cargo shorts have slowly disappeared from his closet. On the occasions when he has confronted his wife about the missing shorts, she will either admit to throwing them away or deflect confrontation by saying things like, “Honey, you just need a little help.”

Mr. Hansen, 35 years old, is now down to one pair of cargo shorts, and he guards them closely. He has hidden them in small closet nooks where his wife can’t find them. …

Mr. Hansen’s wife, Ashleigh Hansen, said she sneaks her husband’s cargo shorts off to Goodwill when he’s not around. Mrs. Hansen, 30, no longer throws them out at home because her husband has found them in the trash and fished them out.

I have no problem with someone discretely disposing of anything that is theirs, including gifts from a spouse or partner. But getting rid of another person’s items? That’s generally a horrible idea.

There are some specific circumstances when it’s okay to toss or donate another person’s possessions, including the following:

  • When that other person has given you explicit permission to do so. For example, sometimes one spouse will accept, or even appreciate, having the other manage his or her wardrobe. Or an elderly parent might appreciate some help with uncluttering — perhaps giving you general guidelines but otherwise allowing you to decide what stays and what goes.
  • When the other person is a child who is too young to make such decisions. But even children as young as three can be involved in an uncluttering effort, and parents are sometimes surprised at how much their children are willing to discard.
  • When you have the legal authority to make decisions for someone who can no longer make decisions for himself or herself.

But in general, it’s disrespectful to get rid of another person’s belongings, and it can build up resentment and distrust that have a wide range of negative repercussions. What can you do instead? The following are some suggestions:

  • Have a discussion about the items in question, where each party listens respectfully to the other person’s position. There’s always a chance that if you calmly explain why you’d like something to be discarded you can convince the other person to go along with you. Or maybe, when you fully understand why someone wants to keep something that you want to discard, you’ll change your mind and decide it’s fine to have it stay.
  • Reach a compromise. Maybe he keeps the cargo shorts but agrees not to wear them when the two of you go out together. If there’s a disputed item of décor, maybe it can be displayed in a spot in the home where you rarely go.
  • Agree on boundaries, where anything can be kept as long as it fits within a designated space: a dresser drawer, a storage box, a shelf in the garage, a basket for stuffed animals, etc.
  • Bring in a professional organizer. An impartial third party with recognized expertise can ask questions and make suggestions while avoiding the emotional landmines that can be triggered when a spouse or partner makes suggestions.

Store tools neatly every time

When I acquire a tool with multiple parts, I feel a familiar dread when I open its case for the first time: “I will never get this back into its box again.”

Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario. You’ve bought something new that comes with a storage case — an electric sander, for example, or a power drill. You take it out of the box, use it for a while, and then spend 20 minutes trying to remember how it was stored. Then, after struggling with several configurations, none of which let you close the lid, you either give up or find an alternate way to store you hardware.

I feel your pain, and there’s a simple solution.

Upon opening the storage box for the first time, before you touch a single thing, grab your favorite camera and snap a photo. Make sure you get a clear, focused, overhead shot that depicts exactly how everything is laid out at the factory. Next, print that image and place it inside the container. Done.

I like to tape the image to the inside lid. Alternatively, you can put it in a zip-to-close bag inside the box, or store it in the app of your choice, like Evernote or even a special album in your favorite digital photo management app. That way, the reference you need is only a few taps away.

This is a simple trick but it has saved me a lot of frustration and wasted time. Of course you needn’t stop at tools. Any multi-part piece of hardware — from toys to kitchen tools — can benefit.

Uncluttered tips for back-to-school shopping

Whether your child’s school year begins today or not for another month, August is when local and national retailers have their back-to-school deals. Before taking advantage of potential savings, there are a few best practices to follow before hitting your favorite supply store.

First and foremost, check the list of required supplies issued by the school/your child’s teacher. Often you’ll be able to find a list of suggested supplies on your school’s website, or perhaps a flyer was sent through the mail. Make sure you’ve got that in hand before you buy things you don’t need, or miss others you do.

Next, shop in your home before hitting the store. Are there any supplies lingering around your house that you can use: pencils, pens, notebooks and so on that meet the required items? If so, gather them up and keep them in a designated spot so they’ll be easily found when your child needs them.

Take this home “shopping” opportunity to round-up all the school supplies you have and put them into a single location. Your child will likely need a fully stocked homework station this year, so get that organized now. If you have significantly more items than your child could possibly use or supplies that are no longer age appropriate — I’m looking at you, large crayons — donate them to the school for classes where they are still needed.

If you have time, do your research on pricing. Gather flyers, compare prices online, and collect coupons (digital or not) that will save you a few bucks.

As much as your kid might fight it, it is a good idea to take him/her with you on any clothing and/or shoe buying trips. Having your kid present will ensure you get clothes and shoes that actually fit (or are a tiny bit too big, as is my buying custom for school wear) so you’re not having to make multiple trips to a store to return ill-fitting items.

Finally, don’t stress if you can’t get that last item by the first day (no sense in cluttering up your mental health, too). It’s very unlikely that the one item you have yet to acquire will be used on the very first day of school. Simply have it for your kid on the second day or the third. Two weeks into the school year you’ll be so swamped with activities, neither your child nor your child’s teacher will even remember you sent Elmer’s Glue on the second day of school.

Getting motivated to unclutter and organize

Starting and completing an organizing project can be hard — it takes time and continued focus on your goals. Some people get motivated when their frustrations become overwhelming. They are tired of not being able to find things, of feeling embarrassed by their homes, etc.

Sometimes people find their motivation in something they’ve read. Although organizers often find a collection of unused organizing books on people’s bookshelves, sometimes reading just the right book (Erin’s latest book, Marie Kondo’s book, etc.) at the right time can provide the inspiration needed.

Other people get motivated by images of organized spaces they see in magazines or on Pinterest. While these photos are often unrealistic — I’ve never met anyone whose home looks as picture-perfect as those shown in magazines — they can still inspire some people to imagine what their homes might look like and start taking steps in that direction.

For other people, the best way to stay motivated is to have a deadline. That can be a self-imposed deadline or one that comes from others: the IRS, family members, etc. I’ve seen people who had talked about getting organized for years, with no success, who became successful once they had deadlines they had to meet.

The following are some deadlines I’ve seen work for people:

  • I’m going to adopt, and the agency is coming to do a home visit.
  • My parents are coming to visit, and I want my home to look good when they get here.
  • I need to file my tax returns, so I have to get my papers organized.
  • My boss gave me a month to get more organized.
  • I’m replacing my broken garage door in a few weeks, and I have to clear out my packed garage before then.
  • I’m moving in a month, and I can’t take everything with me.
  • I’m going to be getting a roommate, so I need to unclutter the room she will be renting from me.
  • I’ve made an appointment for next month with someone who may want to buy some of my stuff.
  • I’ve told the storage facility that I plan to give up one of my three units next month.
  • I committed to my therapist/coach that I’d get going on this project before our next visit.
  • I want to participate in our neighborhood garage sale.
  • I promised my sister-in-law that I would send her the clothes my kids have outgrown, because they’ll be just the right sizes for her kids.

Note that if you are setting your own deadline, you can make sure it’s a realistic one for you. If you have multiple storage lockers, you can set a deadline for clearing out one of them at a time. You can set deadlines that are a month out, not next week.

And finally, many people are motivated by seeing progress. If you can find something that motivates you to begin the uncluttering and organizing process, you may find it easier to stay motivated to continue.

Staying safe while organizing with tall bookshelves, dressers, etc.

Bookshelves, armoires, and dressers are some of the common furniture pieces we use to organize our possessions. But if they aren’t used properly, they can cause serious problems.

You may have read about the Ikea recall of a number of its chests and dressers, which are “unstable if they are not properly anchored to the wall, posing a tip-over and entrapment hazard that can result in death or injuries to children.” Two types of items are included in the recall:

  • Children’s chests and dressers taller than 23.5 inches
  • Adult chests and dressers taller than 29.5 inches that do not comply with the performance requirements of the U.S. voluntary industry standard, ASTM F2057-014.

The recall followed the death of three toddlers in three years. While the dressers and chests all shipped with wall anchoring kits, the items involved in these tragedies were not anchored.

While the Ikea recall got a lot of press attention, it’s certainly not the only product that has this kind of tip-over potential. Other recent recalls include Bestar Dream Dressers (juvenile five-drawer dressers) and a dresser and nightstand in Bernhardt’s Marquesa line.

How big a problem is this? The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a report in 2014 (PDF) that included the following statistics:

  • An estimated 38,000 emergency-department-treated tip-over injuries in 2011-2013. Of these, 56 percent involved only furniture falling, 41 percent involved televisions (or TVs plus furniture), and 4 percent involved appliances falling.
  • 430 reported fatalities related to tip-overs between 2000 and 2013. Of these, 37 percent involved TVs falling, 27 percent involved a TV plus furniture, 28 percent involved only furniture falling (with the largest category being chests, bureaus, and dressers), and 7 percent involved appliances falling. Children from 1 month through 10 years were the victims in 84 percent of the fatalities.

The CPSC launched an “Anchor It” campaign in June 2015 with a lot of common-sense advice, including the following:

  • Existing furniture can be anchored with inexpensive anti-tip brackets. New furniture, such as dressers, are sold with anti-tip devices. Install them right away.
  • Anti-tip devices are sold online and in-stores for prices ranging from $5 to $25. Consumers can visit their local home improvement, electronic or mass merchandise store to purchase anti-tip devices. An online search for “anti-tip strap” or “anti-tip kit” will result in a variety of purchase options. Install the anti-tip devices according to manufacturer instructions, and always double check the attachment points to make sure the device is secure.

The campaign also has a poster (PDF) showing how to anchor furniture.

While tip-over dangers are often associated with children, who like to climb on furniture, the CPSC report makes it clear that they aren’t the only ones who get hurt by tip-overs. And those of us in earthquake territory have an added incentive to secure our top-heavy furniture. The Earthquake Country Alliance provides good information on just how that can be done for filing cabinets and for bookcases, china hutches, armoires, etc.

As Rain Noe wrote on the website Core77:

If you live in a household with children and own tall furniture of any variety, PLEASE take the time to anchor them to your wall. If you have friends who are parents, please urge them to do the same. And if you or they don’t know how to do it, you’ll find plenty of videos on YouTube demonstrating the process. You might need to spend a few bucks on a drill, a studfinder and/or some wall anchors, but it’s money well spent.

And I’d add: If you don’t know how to do it and you aren’t horribly handy, you can always hire someone to do it for you. That’s what I did, and it was worth every penny.

Should you buy a commercial or a residential vacuum?

Over the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of commercial cleaning. I’m using powerful chemicals and exceptional hardware, like vacuum cleaners and shop-vacs that are built to endure lots of use. This made me think: should I use commercial cleaning products at home? They’re effective and built to last forever. But are they appropriate for domestic cleaning?

The short answer is no, as commercial cleaners and domestic products are built to perform different jobs in different environments. A perfect illustration of this is the vacuum cleaner.

Should I buy a commercial [insert product you’re considering] for my home?

In the case of a commercial vacuum cleaner, it’s an attractive idea, isn’t it? Commercial vacuums are built to last and take more abuse than their residential counterparts. Let’s attack this question by looking at some pros and cons.

The pros

I struggled with putting cost in the pro vs. con column, but eventually pro won out. Yes, a commercial vacuum is expensive. For example, I’ve been using a Sebo 370 at work, which retails around $870. That’s not cheap, but Dyson makes home models that are in the same range. The idea here is that a commercial model will have a longer life than a residential machine, thereby costing less in the long run.

Readily-available parts. Big-box stores will infrequently stock parts for residential vacuums. If there’s an authorized retailer in your neighborhood you’re in luck (for example, I’m lucky enough to live near a Miele dealer). And you can often pick up parts for commercial units directly from the manufacturer or even a local distributor. So long as you’ve got that brand nearby, it isn’t an issue. If you don’t, this would move to the con column.

As I noted earlier, commercial vacuum cleaners are built to last and withstand abuse. They’re built of high-quality components and often have longer cords and heavier bodies. They’re designed with superior structural integrity to help them endure daily use as well as getting banged around a bit.

Lastly, they’re often more powerful than residential units. The first time I used a commercial machine I was amazed at what it picked up with a single pass.

The cons

They’re less comfortable. The Sebo I use at work is heavy. While it feels substantial and solid while pushing around, just haul it up a flight of stairs a few times and the bloom starts to come off the rose.

In general, home vacuums are designed to be lightweight and comfortable, while commercial units are meant to get a job done. This means a heavier machine, yes, but it also means that convenience items are missing like power control levels, that cool retractable cord, and tools for above-the-floor cleaning.

In addition, many commercial units have a reusable cloth bag instead of the disposable units your home machine has. No fun. You have to clean that bag.

I mentioned the power earlier and that sounds like a good thing, unless you have a delicate carpet. A commercial machine cares not about your precious carpets! It merely wants to get the job done. In fact, it can be too harsh for what you’ve got on the floor. Remember, these are meant for hotels, schools, and restaurants. In other words: industrial carpeting.

Lastly, they’re loud. As in, you turn it on and reflexively say, “Wow, that is loud.” Pets will run, birds will leap from the trees, and bunnies will cover their big, floppy ears.

Ultimately, when deciding between purchasing a commercial unit and a residential unit, it’s worth the time to weigh the actual pros and cons of the item before assuming the commercial unit is better for YOU. It might not actually be what you want, and you can end up creating clutter in your home and wasting money.

Tackling major projects

Your to-do lists probably include many small tasks, but it’s likely that you also have some big projects you would also like to get done: getting in better shape, organizing your home, writing a book, planning a vacation or a major event, etc.

For some people, staying on track to accomplish major tasks can be a real challenge. The following are some ways to make sure things get done:

Make a realistic plan

An unrealistic plan is discouraging — no one likes falling behind. And creating an unrealistic plan means you’ll spend a good amount of time re-planning.

To keep your plan realistic, break big tasks down into smaller ones where you can better estimate the time needed. A project called “organize the house” is hard to estimate, but estimating how long it takes to sort through a box of papers is much easier. (And if you have many boxes and haven’t yet gone through any of them, you may want to go through one before finalizing your plan.)

When coming up with a plan, it’s always wise to remember Hofstadter’s Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” People always tend to underestimate — forgetting some tasks, being too optimistic on how long certain tasks will take, and ignoring all the ways things might go wrong. Try for realistic estimates of each task, and then add some overall contingency time. The more this project differs from anything you’ve done before, the more contingency time you’ll want.

Schedule time to get the tasks done

Once you have a plan, you need to set aside the time to do the tasks on that plan. Some projects don’t even need a detailed plan — they just need dedicated time to accomplish the work. One example is writing a novel, and author Neil Gaiman explained how it’s done:

Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your WiFi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable. 

And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.) …

Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write.

This idea extends well beyond a writing project. As Austin Kleon tweeted:

How to X more:

Set aside dedicated time for X.

The end.

Track your progress and celebrate your accomplishments along the way

Tracking your progress against your plan is crucial in case adjustments are necessary. If your plan isn’t working, the sooner you realize the problem, the better. You’ll have more time to work with others, if necessary, to change the deadline, the scope, or the budget to create a more workable plan. Also, keeping track of your estimated times vs. your actual times will let you make better estimates in the future.

Celebrating your progress can help keep you motivated. That can be something simple like a triumphant update on Facebook or Twitter, or (especially for major milestones) something more substantial — providing some sort of treat that’s meaningful to you.

Avoiding uncluttering regrets

Are you afraid that if you get rid of something you’ll find a use for it the next day? Douglas Adams and John Lloyd created a word that relates to this:

Nottage is the collective name for things which you find a use for immediately after you’ve thrown them away.

For instance, your greenhouse has been cluttered up for years with a huge piece of cardboard and great fronds of gardening string. You at last decide to clear all this stuff out, and you burn it. Within twenty-four hours you will urgently need to wrap a large parcel, and suddenly remember that luckily in your greenhouse there is some cardb…

But in reality, with all the clients I’ve worked with, I’ve never seen this happen. What sometimes happens is more like Josh Barro’s experience, which he wrote about on Twitter:

About a year after adopting Marie Kondo’s advice about throwing things away, today’s the first time I’m annoyed I don’t have something.

Of course, Kondo says if you discover you really do need something you threw out, you can buy another. So I ordered it from Amazon.

(It’s a book that’s not very interesting but is suddenly relevant for a story I’m working on.)

The following are some specific strategies you can use to ensure you don’t wind up with unclutterer’s remorse:

Treat easily replaceable items differently than others

Barro could easily replace the book he discarded. If I ever regret getting rid of my kitchen thermometer, I could easily get another one, inexpensively. I could even just borrow one from someone, if I had a one-time need.

But other items are less easily replaced. They may be handmade items, sentimental items from long ago, or expensive items where a replacement doesn’t easily fit into your budget. For these items, you’ll want to be more thoughtful about your discards. Be sure you’re making your decision when you’re at your best, not when you’ve been making a lot of other decisions and may be hitting decision fatigue. With sentimental items, you may want to take a photo of them before letting them go.

Respect your emotions

If the thought of getting rid of something brings you to tears, you probably aren’t ready to get rid of it, even if your logical side says to let it go.

Consider uncluttering in phases

Although Marie Kondo will tell you to do all your uncluttering in a single pass (all the books, all the clothes, etc.), you may find it’s easier to unclutter the easy, obvious things first: clothes that itch or never did fit quite right, for example. Then after you’ve built up your uncluttering muscles, and you’ve had time to appreciate the benefits of that first pass, you can go and do a second pass — tackling the things that you weren’t ready to deal with the first time through.

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.