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:

Keeping your tech gadgets clean

On Sunday, I watched the post-game show after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. As the victors lifted the shiny Lombardi Trophy high above their heads, I thought, “Wow, that thing is covered in fingerprints.”

Unfortunately, the same can be said for some of my favorite tech gadgets. Like many other tablets and smartphones, Apple’s iPad and iPhone literally require you to touch, tap, and swipe your fingers all over their screens. Even computer screens are occasionally touched or tapped as you try to point out something on the screen. Keeping up with all the fingerprints can feel like a losing battle, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up on cleaning. The following are a few ways you can keep your tech gadgets relatively clean.

Smartphones

Nobody wants a stylus” quipped Steve Jobs when he introduced the iPhone to the world in 2007. Sometimes, when I’m wiping my iPhone’s screen against my jeans, I wonder if he was wrong about this. Ugh!

To give your smartphone (iPhone or otherwise), a good cleaning, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure it’s turned off.
  2. Wipe with a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Avoid getting any moisture on any of the openings.
  3. Clean the Home Button with a dry, lint-free cloth only.

There are a couple things NOT to do, too:

  1. Do not use household cleaners, sprays, solvents, or any abrasives. All of these could harm your phone. For example, the iPhone’s screen features an oleophobic coating that’s meant to repel oils like those found in fingerprints. Household cleaners can reduce that coating’s effectiveness.
  2. Never spray your phone directly with a cleaner. As I’ve said, apply a slightly damp cloth to the screen.

Follow these steps every other day (less often if your phone is in a case) and your phone should remain relatively clean.

Tablets

A lot of the same rules apply to tablets as cell phones. Use a slightly damp, lint-free cloth, except on the Home Button, power button, or openings like the headphone port. Do not spray any liquids directly onto the tablet, and don’t use the types of cleaners I described earlier. Since a tablet’s screen is made of glass, it’s tempting to use window cleaner. Don’t.

Give your tablet a good wipe-down once per week.

Computers

Desktop and laptop computers are handled much less often than their mobile counterparts. Still, they do need a good cleaning occasionally. As you did with your tablet and phone, make sure your computer is off before giving it a good cleaning. That slightly damp, lint-free cloth is back on duty here, and can be safely used on the screen and chassis of your computer.

Again, keep moisture away from all ports and openings, and never spray directly onto the screen. Clean your computer once per month.

Keyboards

When it comes to keyboards, things can get nasty. Many keyboards are overdue for a good cleaning. In fact, it’s a good idea to regularly disinfect your keyboard.

  1. Disconnect your keyboard from your computer or, if it’s a wireless model, remove the batteries.
  2. Use a not-too-wet disinfectant wipe to clean an area, then use a dry, lint-free cloth to dry that area.

Again, there are a few things NOT to do.

  1. Don’t use wipes that contain bleach or any sprays.
  2. Avoid excessively damp wipes.
  3. Don’t let liquid pool.
  4. Avoid rough towels like paper towels.
  5. Clean your keyboards every other week.

Cleaning your gadgets only takes a few minutes and is well worth it.

5 more of my favourite organizing tools

Last Monday, I wrote about my “Five favorite organizing tools” that have been essential in the various homes in which we have lived. My list of favorites doesn’t stop there. The following are five more of my favourites.

Heavy-duty plastic shelving. Shelves are great because they allow you to use vertical space without piling items on top of each other. These shelves can be assembled and disassembled in minutes. Each shelf holds over 55kg (125lbs) of stuff and because they are made of plastic, they do not rust or mildew and they are not susceptible to water damage. They are ideal for garden sheds, garages, and basements.

Vacuum storage totes. These totes are useful for storing off-season clothing. We have several that store extra curtains that don’t fit the house in which we currently live, but may fit the next house we move to (as a military family, we move around so much they’re worthwhile to keep). Besides keeping textiles clean and dust-free, the totes stack nicely in closets and storage areas, whereas bags do not stack well.

Plastic filing boxes. Filing cabinets are handy for frequently accessed paperwork but for long term storage, filing boxes are great. They are plastic so they keep papers dry and dust free. They are easy to lift and stack. And each person in our family has one for souvenirs such as report cards, certificates, letters of reference, performance reviews, etc. One of their disadvantages, however, is they are not lockable. When moving houses, I tape them shut and sign and date the tape.

Collapsible fabric boxes. These boxes come in many pretty colours that will coordinate with any room. In various different houses we’ve use these boxes in entryways to store hats and mittens. In clothing closets they’ve held purses, sweaters, and other clothes. We’ve also used them to store hand towels and face cloths in linen closets as well as table clothes and napkins in the dining room. The thing I like about these boxes as opposed to baskets is that if you don’t need them they fold flat to save space.

Cordless power tools. In my opinion cordless power tools are the best things since sliced bread. There is no more hunting around for electrical outlets or searching for and tripping over extension cords. Many brands such as Ryobi, DeWalt and Makita sell cordless tool kits that come with extra batteries and a handy carrying case so you have everything you need in one nice, easy-to-store kit. Cordless tools work internationally as well. When we moved from Canada to the UK, all we needed to do was to buy a battery charging station that worked on the UK power grid and all of our power tools were ready to go.

Mise en place beyond the kitchen

Thomas Keller is one of the most respected chefs around; his restaurants Per Se and The French Laundry have won numerous awards. So when Keller gives advice, as he did in his book Ad Hoc at Home, it’s worth listening. Greg Baugues points to the following excerpt:

Being organized — as we say in our kitchen, ‘working clean’ — is a skill to develop. We call it mise-en-place, French for, literally, ‘put in place.’ The term can be very specific, referring to ingredients needed to complete a recipe, measured out and ready to use, or it can be more general: are you organized, do you have everything you need to accomplish the task at hand?

Good organization is all about setting yourself up to succeed. It means getting rid of anything that would interfere with the process of making a recipe or preparing an entire meal.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written about mise en place before, but this quote got me thinking (as it did for Bauges) about how we can extend the concept beyond the kitchen.

For example, my mise en place for going anywhere in the car involves having the following items with me:

  • My wallet with my credit cards, ATM card, driver’s license, medical and auto insurance cards, auto club card and a set amount of cash
  • My keys
  • My smartphone, charged up, with interesting podcasts loaded and with driving instructions (if needed) ready to go
  • A full water bottle and some energy bars
  • If shopping is involved: some reusable tote bags and any coupons I plan to use
  • At least a half tank of gas (because if there’s an earthquake, getting gas might be difficult)

All of these items have their specific places, too, so that they’re readily available when I need them.

Having once had a minor accident in a parking lot, and discovering to my horror that the insurance card in my wallet was out of date, I know how important it is to make sure I do indeed have everything in order. And I know how discombobulated I feel if I forget my water bottle, even for a short trip.

But the “getting rid of things” part applies, too. It’s easier to listen to new podcasts if I’ve deleted the ones I’ve already listened to. And my car will be better prepared for future trips if I’ve made sure to remove everything that doesn’t need to be there: purchases from prior trips, the wrapper from an energy bar eaten on the last long drive, etc. If I’m making an emergency run to the doctor with a neighbor, as I did recently, I need to ensure the passenger seat and floor space are clean, not loaded with stuff that shouldn’t be in the car.

Another example: Any home improvement or repair project (assembling furniture, fixing a leak, and so on) will go much easier with an appropriate mise en place. Having all the necessary tools right at hand and having a clean workspace for using them will avoid all sorts of problems.

Do you use a mise en place equivalent for tasks beyond cooking? If so, please share in the comments.

Five favourite organizing tools

In the past 20 years, I’ve lived in eight different homes. Over this time period, I’ve come to realize there are some essential tools I have used in every home to get organized. The following are five of my favourites.

Expandable half-shelves. Many homes in which we have lived did not have adjustable shelving in the kitchen cupboards. Expandable half-shelves have allowed us to store more dishes in the cupboards and be able to access them easily. We also have used expandable half-shelves in bathroom cupboards to organize toiletries and cleaning supplies. I’ve even used a half-shelf behind my computer to save space by storing the external hard drive above the power bar.

Drawer organizers. We have dozens of drawer organizers and we use them everywhere. Most of the houses in which we live have odd-sized kitchen drawers that do not fit a standard cutlery tray. We use drawer organizers to keep our cutlery in order. We also use drawer organizers in bathroom and nightstand drawers. Drawer organizers help keep our office supplies in order and we also use them in our large toolbox so we can find what we need easily.

Plastic shoeboxes. I use these boxes to organize my shoes in my closet. I really like these boxes. They are transparent so I can immediately see the contents. They have tight fitting lids and they stack easily. They are useful for storing and organizing so many things beyond shoes, too. I’ve grouped all my sewing and craft supplies into these boxes so I can easily find them. We use one for our first-aid kit, one for holding our medications, and another for dental care supplies. Our electronics and gaming gear are also stored in these shoeboxes.

Plastic drawer cart. We’ve lived in houses that have not had any storage space in the bathroom. These carts have been extremely useful to store hairbrushes, cosmetics, shaving supplies, and extra rolls of toilet paper. Because they are plastic, they are not susceptible to water damage like wood or metal storage units. We have used these carts in other areas of the house to organize toys, art supplies, and office supplies. They also function well in entryways to keep mittens, toques, and scarves in order.

Rubbermaid 14 gallon (55L) Roughneck Tote. There are several reasons I really like this particular bin. I find it easy to carry safely even when it is quite heavy. The handles are well designed allowing for a good solid grip, my arms are a comfortable distance apart, and I can keep the tote close to my waist. We store off-season clothing, sports equipment, toys, paperwork, and holiday decorations in these totes. Another reason I like these totes is they are made from plastic that doesn’t get brittle and crack or break in cold temperatures. This is essential for storing items in cold Canadian attics, garages, and non-climate controlled storage units.

Home maintenance

Buying a house is the biggest expense many people make. In order to keep the property’s value from depreciating, regular upkeep is important. Even if you do not own your own home, you may be required to perform specific maintenance tasks as part of your rental agreement.

If you have recently moved to a new area, you may find that some tasks that you may have done in your previous home may not be applicable in the new home or may need to be done at a different time of the year. There also may be tasks you’ve never done that you now have to complete.

The former owners of your home or your landlord may be able to provide you with a list of required maintenance. The staff at your local hardware store may also be able to provide you with beneficial information since they know the area and materials. Your municipality or town council will often provide details on outdoor maintenance such as maximum heights of trees and hedges and during what periods of the year these plants should be trimmed.

Neighbours who have homes of similar age and design can be a valuable resource, too. For example, in one town where we lived, our neighbour told us that we needed to clear leaves and debris to ensure water would flow freely through the culvert under our driveway because if the water started to accumulate, it would cause flooding in our basement. We were very grateful for this information.

It can be hard to keep track of maintenance tasks because many of them are done only once per year. Checklists can help ensure these important jobs are completed. Both Microsoft and The Art of Manliness offer thorough home maintenance checklist templates. You will probably need to modify these checklists for your climate and to suit the type of home you have.

If you need to hire a professional trades person to perform specific services, such as furnace or chimney cleaning, you may find that during certain times of the year it can be almost impossible to get an appointment. Lifehacker provides a Google calendar to which you can subscribe and get reminders of what needs to be done and when. With the Google calendar, you can also add in reminders to book service personnel.

Home appliances, including lawn mowers, snow blowers, barbeques, and automatic garage door openers need maintenance, too. Most instruction/warranty books for your appliances will explain routine maintenance tasks that you can add to your spreadsheet. If you do not have the instruction/warranty book you can usually download it from the manufacturer’s website. It’s also very nice to keep these maintenance records in perpetuity for reference, remembering who serviced items if you used a company and if you were happy with that service, budget planning, and to eventually pass along to the next owner of your home.

Remember to include routine safety and security maintenance to your schedules. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency escape ladder, and your home alarm system.

Getting past uncluttering stumbling blocks

Some things are fairly easy to get rid of: broken items that will never get repaired, excess food storage containers that are missing their lids, etc. But other items are harder to deal with and might delay your uncluttering project, including the following:

Inherited stuff

You don’t need to keep something just because it belonged to a beloved relative. If it’s something you don’t like and don’t use, and it has been stored in the back of a closet for years, it’s not serving anyone. Personally, I think it honors the memory of that relative much more to get the item back in use, even if the person using it isn’t you. Remember that most relatives, given their love for us, would not want us to be burdened by their things.

Maybe another family member would appreciate having the inherited item. If not, it can be given away, thus taking on a new life as part of someone else’s home. Depending on the circumstances, the new owner might even appreciate hearing the story behind it.

And before you give the item away, you can always take a photo of it to serve as a smaller keepsake.

Potentially useful stuff

These are the “I might use it someday” things. Here you need to evaluate the trade-offs between keeping the item and passing it along. The following are some questions to consider:

  • Is it worth giving this item space in your home today because it might be useful at some future time?
  • How likely is it that you’re really going to use it?
  • If you give it away and wind up needing something like it later on, could you borrow one from someone else?
  • If you had to rebuy it, would that be difficult or expensive?
  • If you wind up needing something like this seven years from now, would the one you have now even be likely to meet your future needs? (Some things are timeless, but others aren’t.)
  • If someone else could make good use of the item right now, would giving it to that person make more sense than having it sit on a shelf in your home, so you have it “just in case”?

Other people’s stuff

This category is often filled with things that belong to adult children who no longer live at home. If those children are still fairly transient and living in a limited space, such as a college dorm room, you may want to keep storing these things for them, for the time being.

But if the stuff is taking up space you want for other purposes and you’ve had it for ages, you may decide it’s time for a change. If the owners live some distance away from you, consider sending them photos and letting them know you’ll be donating any items they don’t specifically tell you they want, and include a deadline for responding to you.

Be sure you also set a date in the not-too-distant future by which the owners will pick up the items they’ve asked you to keep. Alternatively, make arrangements to have the items mailed or shipped to them.