Preparing your car for a road trip

Today we welcome John Walton, author of the British travel blog Voyagers, to give us incredibly useful tips for auto travel. Welcome, John!

This holiday season, with prices at the pumps lower but airline prices not really dropping, many of us are taking to the road instead of to the skies. But is your car, truck, or SUV ready for the trip over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house?

If you’re like me, your car is normally pretty clean, but this time of year there’s stuff in it that you don’t need. (I live at Land’s End in Cornwall. That free tourist map of Scotland isn’t much use, so I can take a digital picture of it and throw the paper version away.)

Loose objects in your car can be more than just an eyesore. They’re potentially lethal projectiles if you have to stop suddenly. So use those little nets, compartments, and pockets wisely. Embarrassing holiday incidents shouldn’t include a coffee flask to the back of the head.

Often, a messy car results from not having anywhere to put things away. When I downsized to a smart in 2008 it took me a while to figure out where to put my iPhone, water, and coffee. My tiny car doesn’t really have enough nooks and crannies, so I buckled a daypack-sized backpack into the passenger’s side seat belt so my stuff isn’t going anywhere if I have to slam on the brakes.

Take a look around your local auto supply store for things that would be helpful. Beware the temptation to acquire things just because they are  unique, though! You almost certainly don’t need a Purple Petal Mirror Muff, but one of those four-port USB chargers  could be a great investment.

If you’re going far, make sure that everybody in the car has something to keep them entertained. Before you leave on your trip is the time to load your gadgets with your favorite music or that thirteen-hour set of The Lord of the Rings.

Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, be sure your vehicle is mechanically prepared for the season — whether you’re below freezing in Norway or Nebraska or sunning yourself in Argentina or Australia. Make sure you are comfortable driving in the weather conditions. Invest in a car emergency kit. Check your local automobile association’s website for tips appropriate to your region — and remember to check for your destination too, if you’re traveling!

Happy travels and happy holidays!

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Rolling along with my ZÜCA bag

A few years ago, an employee at ZÜCA, Inc., e-mailed me and asked if I had ever heard of their line of luggage. I hadn’t.

At that time, I was in a hate-hate relationship with my overnight bag. It was a multiple-pocket duffle bag that had the worst strap configuration known to man on it. When I got it, the bag was empty, and I had no idea how much pain the strap could inflict on my shoulder with even the smallest amount of weight in it.

I decided to check out a ZÜCA bag and see if it might be a nice alternative. I’m glad that I did, because the ZÜCA bag is my new best friend for when I need to travel for a week or less.

These are the reasons why I think the ZÜCA bag is great:

  • The wheels. They maneuver better than any luggage with wheels that I’ve ever test driven. Plus, you can order customized ones that look like roller skate or skateboard wheels.
  • The built-in chair. The aluminum frame on the bag allows you to be able to use the piece of luggage as a chair. Often times, at the airport, I find myself waiting in lines. Now, I just sit while I wait.
  • The TSA-compliant zipper pouch. The pouch has a specialized pocket right inside the bag so that I can easily grab it when heading through security and then pop it back into place after putting on my shoes.
  • The laptop pocket. Actually, I’m pretty sure ZÜCA didn’t imagine the side pocket to be a laptop pocket, but mine fits right inside of it. When going through security at the airport, I just slide it out of the pocket without having to unzip or unsnap anything. I have to be careful, however, if I store my bag in the overhead compartment to either take my laptop out of the pocket or store my bag laptop-side on top.
  • The insert bags. I don’t always use each and every one of the insert bags, but I use most of them. I put my shoes and belts in one, my shirts in another, etc. They keep shoe crud from getting on my clothing.
  • The washable exterior. If the ZÜCA bag gets dirty, you can remove the bag from the frame and wash it. It’s also water resistant, so if it rains, your stuff is nice and dry inside. Also, if you decide you want something snazzy, you can change the bag to a different pattern the company sells.

My only problem with the bag is that I have yet to find a way to store a suit coat without it getting wrinkled. My assumption is that this is a failing of mine, and not a problem with the bag design. However, if the bag had a suit pouch that would wrap around the insert bags, I wouldn’t have a concern at all.

Also, the bag isn’t cheap. It retails for close to $300. A quick search through some other luggage websites finds that the price is comparable to similar bags of its size. I believe the price is worth it, though, especially for people who travel a lot for business. If you’re in the market for a new piece of carry-on luggage that holds up to a week’s worth of clothes in an incredibly organized manner, you definitely need to check out the ZÜCA bag.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Innovative organizers to carry your gear

Every once in a while, we feature organizing items in development. Here are a few that help you transport your gear from one place to another effectively and efficiently.

E-Hive

The E-Hive is a sturdy carrier similar to a briefcase that can store and charge up to four phones and three tablets at the same time. It is lockable but lightweight with a comfortable handle. The no-slip elastic straps inside the E-Hive keep your devices secure and prevent damaged screens. One of the best things about the E-Hive is that you do not have dozens of cords strung all over the place.
e-hive transportable charging station
I have travelled a lot with my family of four so that meant 4 phones, 4 sets of earbuds, and a few other devices. We each dragged along USB chargers and cords and crawled under furniture in each hotel room trying to find enough available outlets. How I wish we could have had the E-Hive. We wouldn’t have forgotten the charger we had plugged in behind the curtains. We could have locked our devices when the hotel housekeepers came into our room.

I have a feeling it only works on the North American power grid (110V/60Hz) but it would be great if it was able to work anywhere in the world.

The Mommy Bag

backpack diaper bagMy children are adults now but I still remember struggling with various types of diaper bags when they were babies. I think The Mommy Bag is the best diaper bag I have seen in quite some time. For one thing, the front part of the bag opens fully so when you hang the bag on a hook, you have full access to what you need to change a diaper — including a changing pad. The neatest part of this bag is that the small side pocket has a slit so you can pull diaper wipes out one by one! The other side pocket is insulated to keep milk/formula cold. The Mommy Bag has 20 interior compartments so nothing gets buried in a big mess at the bottom of the bag. It also has a compartment for a 15-inch laptop so when baby falls asleep you can get some work done without having to haul around a separate bag.

It would be a great gift for any parent or caregiver. The only disappointing part is the name –“The Mommy Bag” doesn’t make it sound inviting for fathers, grandparents, or other caregivers.

SideKick: The Ultimate Gym Fitness Bag

Finally, people have put some thought into creating a gym bag that is not just a large, formless sack with a strap! Sidekick has three compartments — one main compartment and two separate compartments at each end. The end compartments have wide openings so it is easy to get a pair of shoes in and out, and they have ventilation holes to prevent moisture build-up. Sidekick also comes with a mesh laundry bag you can toss directly into your wash. The interior is lined with elastic strapping to keep your water bottles upright and your gear organized. Sidekick has detachable backpack straps to convert it from duffle bag to a backpack. It is extremely durable with heavy-duty, snag-free zippers and magnetic snaps instead of Velcro. But my favourite thing about the Sidekick bag is that it has an interior support structure so it stays upright making it much easier to find everything inside.

ultimate gym bag sidekick

Travel Bag Buddy

The Travel Bag Buddy secures a bag or purse on top of a rolling suitcase with an adjustable elastic strap and extra sturdy buckle. It sounds familiar but this item also holds your essential travel documents, phone, cash, cards, and a few other items to give you quick, convenient access when you need them. The Travel Bag Buddy works with almost all bag sizes and handle combinations. The bag strap can stay attached to your secondary bag and reattach to the handle in seconds so it will never get lost. Travel Bag Buddy folds flat so you can store it in your purse to keep your travel information organized and RFID protected.

Travel Bag Buddy - RFID Protected Travel Organizer and Secondary Bag Strap

I have seen many people (myself included) fumble with purses, bags, passports, boarding passes, and electronic devices while going through airport security. It is frustrating and time consuming. If everyone had a Travel Bag Buddy maybe we would all get through security checkpoints faster and in better humour.

 

What do you think of these designs? Would you invest in these products? Do you have any suggestions to make them better?

Take a load off your summertime travel plans

Today we welcome the phenomenal Monica Ricci as a guest author on Unclutterer.  A professional organizer hailing from Atlanta, we’re happy to have her share her uncluttering wisdom with our readers.

With the escalating cost of jet fuel, airlines have had to make service cuts and are trying desperately to improve the bottom line wherever they can. Unfortunately, to this end, most airlines are now charging for every checked bag. I’ve had a long-standing policy of not checking bags anyway, so this new rule doesn’t affect me, but if you’re reluctant to pay the extra baggage fee, here are some tips I find handy for packing light.

Use a consistent packing checklist. I have used hand-written lists in the past, as well as the LobotoME Pack-Me List (pictured). Your packing checklist should be a standard template, not a fresh list each time. This helps you standardize your packing, which means less thinking and fewer on-the-spot decisions.

Plan your wardrobe around a limited color scheme and choose your neutral first. I typically choose either black or brown, and then plan the rest of my clothing around two other colors such as blue and tan. This way I can mix, match, layer and create a bunch of different outfits without needing a ton of items.

Use your shoes as containers. I can get three pairs of socks and my sports bra into my sneakers! Men’s dress shoes are roomy too, as are some ladies shoes. Plus when your shoes are stuffed it keeps them from getting crushed. Bonus!

Call your hotel ahead of time to see what they offer in the way of conveniences to save space in your luggage. I never need to haul a hair dryer, steamer, or iron because most hotels will provide them at no charge if you ask.

Leave home any inessential toiletries. Airlines restrict the liquids and gels you can carry on, pack only the toiletries that are unique to your situation and leave shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash behind. Most hotels are providing those items as standard now (and usually good brands at that!). You can also pick up travel sizes at a local shop at your destination.

Get yourself a couple of Pack-It Folders! These folders keep your clothing in a nice tight bundle, reducing movement thereby reducing wrinkling.

If you carry a purse, don’t make it your second carry-on bag. Change out your purse to a small one just for the trip, and bring only the bare essentials in it. Then stuff the whole thing inside a larger carry-on bag or your laptop bag. Poof. No checked baggage.

If you just have to have that second pair of shoes, suit jacket, or your workout clothes and they just won’t fit into your carry-on luggage, ship them to yourself in advance.

Bring shoes that will serve more than one purpose rather than a specific pair for each outfit. Ladies’ shoes with a low to medium heel can usually serve multiple functions and are a great compromise because they can dress up or down depending on the outfit. This saves you a ton of space in your luggage. The same goes for a comfortable pair of men’s leather lace ups.

Keep your travel size toiletries full and packed at all times. Refill any travel size containers as soon as you get home from a trip. This way, you’re already good to go for your next trip, and you won’t risk forgetting something important.

These are some of my favorite tips for traveling light. Be sure to check out Unclutterer’s post on the One bag travel website for folding help. How do you travel super light and avoid checking luggage? Do you have any great tips or secrets to share?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Organizing cosmetics for college

Our youngest daughter leaves for college in August. Moving belongings from home to a dorm room halfway across the country is a challenge. We have only seen photos of the dorm room and we still have some questions about storage space. According to the dorm’s private Facebook group, the bathroom vanity is almost non-existent and there is no storage area in the bathroom for cosmetics or hair accessories.

Currently, our daughter keeps these items in drawers in our bathroom. She uses a sectioned organizer in one drawer and a set of storage trays in the other drawer. This system works well at home but it definitely will not work in her dorm room. Also, she will want to take her cosmetics and hair supplies with her when visiting her brother or grandparents on an occasional weekend or traveling home for longer holidays.

In tackling this challenge, our first step was to unclutter. Our daughter went through her things and discarded all of the items she no longer needed or wanted. Some items, such as the black nail polish, were given to friends. Broken hair clips and worn out hair elastics, expired cosmetics and toiletries went into the garbage. Make-up and hair brushes were cleaned and dried. She also invested in silicone make-up applicators because they are easier to keep clean than sponges.

Once the uncluttering was complete, we took a look at what items remained. We also thought about what needed to be transported and how often. She needs to transport all items in one unit so she doesn’t have to keep running back and forth between the bathroom and her dorm room and be able to get her items from home to school and back on an airplane. The items should also be easily accessible because she will need them on a daily basis.

After some deliberation, we settled on a train case. It is sturdy, lockable, and easy to transport. The wide opening allows access to all the items. It can sit on a counter or the floor. Apparently, it can be open, closed, and carried without smudging wet nail polish. All of her items fit inside and there is extra space for storing small bottles of shampoo and other toiletries. Along with a backpack, it would be all she needs for a weekend away.

This organizing dilemma has been solved for us but I’d love to hear cosmetics organizing solutions from our readers.

Switch purses often? Don’t miss a thing

Occasionally, I’ll look for something I keep in my bag, and inevitably it’s in my other purse. This can be frustrating. Over ten years ago, the now-expired website Paperclippy.com brought purse organizers to our attention. At that time, they wrote:

Switch purses often? Then you have no doubt been faced with the problem of missing items that results from switching the contents of your handbag in a hurry. Well, here’s the solution. The very clever Purse Organizer has pockets large enough for cell phones, a notepad, sunglasses, lipstick, or just about anything else. Just switch out the organizer and you’re good to go.

Now, there are so many sizes and styles of purse organizers. They have a place for everything and allow you to keep everything in its place. They are great for backpacks, suitcases, briefcases, and diaper bags.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Reader question: Should I sell my stuff in storage?

Reader Tonie wrote in with this question:

I’m living overseas and I have items in storage such as china plates, crystal glasses, and Charles Babb paintings (about 12 of them). Everything else I sold — all my furniture, my car — but I’m having a hard time getting rid of these items. It has been a year and a half and I’ll be here another year and a half. Should I just sell everything?

This is a great question Tonie. Our family had to make similar decisions when we moved from Canada to England for three years. It’s not always easy to decide what to keep and what to let go. Here are some things that helped us make our decisions.

The first step is to determine what is not worth keeping. (You obviously did that and decided to sell your furniture and car.) In our situation, our appliances were about six years old. After three years of storage, that meant nine-year-old appliances — almost at the age we would want to replace them anyway. At six years old, they could still fetch a pretty good price in the used appliance market so we let them go.

We decided to part with many children’s items as well. After three years abroad, we knew our children would be too old for many of their toys and games and definitely too big for their heavy winter clothes (essential for Canadian winters but not at all needed in England). Many items went to charity, others were sold.

Once you have eliminated the non-essentials, take a look at the items you’ve decided to keep and determine their value. Check auction website such as eBay to determine how much the item is worth used, — how much you could sell your items for right now. For antiques or artwork, you may wish to contact a dealer and get a quote. You should also determine replacement value — the amount it would cost to buy the item (or one very similar to it) brand-new if you needed it.

Next, calculate the cost of storage for the period of time you’re abroad. Remember to include insurance costs and any other incidental fees relating to storage.

If the cost of storage is more than the replacement value of your items, you may decide it is a better option to sell all of the goods. This means it would be less expensive to sell your goods now and buy new later, than to put them into storage.

It is very difficult to put a dollar amount on the sentimental value of an item but that too must be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, we at Unclutterer cannot do that for you. You’ll have to make that determination yourself.

So, back to your issue Tonie — you have about 18 months left before you return to your items in storage. Here are my suggestions:

  • If you honestly do not want the items, and you are coming back to visit family and friends anyway, then go ahead and sell the items during your visit home.
  • If you do not want the items and have not planned on coming back, but a trip back will cost less than the storage fees, then consider returning to sell the items.
  • If you are unsure but can afford the storage fees until your return, wait until you get back to liquidate the items you do not want.
  • If you are not coming back for a visit and cannot afford the storage fees, find a reputable liquidator, or friend/family member you can trust, to sell the items on your behalf.

The above suggestions are based on a financial perspective. Please take a few moments to listen to your heart and take the sentimental value into consideration when you are making your final decision.

Thanks for your great question Tonie. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

 

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

A post-travel plan

Here is a simple plan for what to do after you return home from vacation or a business trip:

  1. Walk straight to your washing machine.
  2. Take dirty clothes out of suitcase, put them into the washing machine, and start the laundry.
  3. Put clothes that need to go to the dry cleaners into designated dry cleaning bag.
  4. Carry suitcase to closet and put away shoes, belts, and other items that didn’t need to be washed but belong in closet.
  5. Repeat step #4, but with items that belong in the bathroom.
  6. Look at self in mirror and give yourself a thumb’s up for being unpacked only five minutes after returning home.
  7. Put suitcase away in closet.

Okay, I’ll admit, this list is a little silly. I think the point of the post is clear, though: Unpack your suitcase immediately after you return from a trip so that it won’t sit around cluttering up your space.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Beating midwinter blues with vacation planning

Here in the northern hemisphere, we are in the midst of midwinter blues. At this point in the year the cold and lack of sunshine has started to get me down and without a single break work-wise until Easter, the horizon is indeed bleak.

So, it’s time to cheer myself up — and nothing makes me happier than doing some planning, specifically summer vacation planning.

This year for the first time in a while, my husband and I may actually have the time and money to take a major vacation. In the past few years, we’ve had to book our vacation at the last minute and take what was available.

Being able to organize a longer trip in advance is like heaven for me. Before getting married when I traveled with friends, I would be The Organizer, coming up with the most interesting train routes, looking for quaint places to stay, and finding those off-the-map places that really make a trip memorable.

I’ve never done it, however, with an actual vacation planner in front of me. I just tend to make notes in a document on my computer. Out of curiosity, this time round, I may pick up a planner and see if it helps in any way, because there’s always something I forget and sometimes it is the thing that makes the difference between a good holiday and a great one.

With or without a vacation planner, this is my process for dreaming up ideal holidays:

  • Decide the maximum budget. There’s no point in looking at holidays in the Maldives if we aren’t going to spend more than a thousand euros each.
  • Come to an agreement on what type of vacation we want. If my husband is thinking sun and sand and I start planning a train tour of eastern Europe, no one will end up happy.
  • Look at dates. For us, this is usually what delays planning. My husband often doesn’t know when he has free time in the summer, so in my midwinter plans I need to be flexible about when we can take a trip.
  • Dream. I say dream because it makes me stretch and imagine possibilities that aren’t typical. For example, renting a camper and driving down the center of Italy.
  • Come up with a variety of options. The fun in vacation planning is letting the brain go in various directions at once. Plus having several different destinations means we can spend cold, wet Sunday afternoons discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Since this is only the planning stage, there is no need to make any firm decisions, which is the best part for me. The excitement of what’s possible doesn’t have to end (until the spring when we start firming up our plans).

When it comes to that firm planning stage, I will take a good look at vacation planners. And for that I’ll turn to you: any recommendations on vacation planners (either in print or digital)?tag=unclutterer-20

The inefficiency of a cluttered car

We have given some tips on keeping your car uncluttered in the past. Recently, this aspect of clutter popped into my head again when I rode in a car that was unbelievably packed with anything and everything the driver had brought into the car over the years. I’m not exactly sure why some people feel the need to use their vehicle as a trash can, but the back seats of the vehicle I rode in were rendered useless by the amount of junk that was strewn about them.

In this 2007 article, Karen Youso of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune raises some valid concerns that extreme car clutter can cause for a vehicle:

“No matter the reason, however, operating a cluttermobile has some real drawbacks.

‘All that junk adds weight, and that affects fuel economy, especially in town, with its stop-and-go driving,’ said Bruce Jones, professor of automotive engineering technology at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The heavier a car is, the more force or torque is needed to get it going again once it’s stopped, he explained.

And, in turn, it takes more effort to stop a moving junk car. The brakes won’t last as long…

…More important, however, is safety. The stuff inside cars can become ‘weapons’ in a crash, and not just in a roll-over or a serious collision. Hitting something at 30 miles per hour might stop your car, but it doesn’t stop all the stuff inside from flying around. If anything strikes an occupant, it can severely injure and possibly kill them, Marose said.

In addition, when the airbag deploys, it comes out at about 200 miles per hour. Any object in its way is ejected at nearly the same speed, with the same consequences, he added.”

Whether you work out of your vehicle or you have a few children to tote around, make sure your vehicle is clutter free. The safety of yourself and your passengers may one day depend on it.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Did you get the most out of summer?

For those of you with kids, summer can be a crazy time. The are very few routines and the kids are off doing some activity or another while you continue working. Or perhaps you had some time off and managed to get away or had a supposedly relaxing stay-cation.

The big question, however, is: Did you have fun? Did the kids have fun?

We don’t have kids, but my holidays are always in August each year, so while I don’t have others relying on me to plan and deliver on fun times, I always reach September and ask myself whether I took advantage of the time off I had, or whether I could have gotten more out of the time away from work.

In July before finishing work, I came up with a list of possible things to do in August. With thirty-one days to fill, I wanted to have something to do every single day if we felt like it. Of course, we allowed ourselves to say “no way, not today!” and spend the day in bed, by the pool or reading a book in a nice patch of sun, but what I didn’t want to happen was what has happened all too often when we both have time off together.

Husband: What do you want to do today?

Me: I don’t know. How about you?

Husband: No idea.

(We both go back to our smartphones and surf around social media.)

Me (an hour later): So what are we going to do?

Husband (looking at the time): We have to go grocery shopping and then there’s that pile of laundry over there…

And nothing fun happens. It’s just another day.

So, to avoid this issue, I came up with thirty-five different things we could do. Some were one-off events, others were repeatable depending on how much we liked them, the weather, and who we were with.

We knew who would be visiting us when and who might invite us out on day-trips or weekends.

I thrilled to tell you that it was a total success. We’ve never had a better summer and it was a sort of stay-cation. Normally we go away on some big trip where we exhaust ourselves squeezing fun and sun out of every second, but this year we divided our time between our two apartments. We went to the beach, took bike rides, put on the rollerblades that have been collecting dust for the past ten years, and visited little towns that we’ve been talking about for ages about seeing. We also made time for friends, including those we rarely get to see except when everyone has time off.

Most importantly, we relaxed with intention. That is, we made the conscious decision to do nothing some days. Rather than falling into a lazy day by accident and feeling like we were missing out on the summer.

And now, I’m ready to go back to work and routines refueled and refreshed.

How about you? What sort of summer have you had?

Post-vacation planning

Returning from holidays is always stressful, isn’t it?

Catching up with what you’ve missed, dealing with the dozens (or hundreds!) of emails, getting back into the rhythm of a routine, expectations from bosses and coworkers, the need to deal with employees who’ve gotten used to you not being around.

Sound familiar?

It almost makes you not want to go away on vacation.

It doesn’t have to be like that, however.

There’s a trick to getting ready for vacation that most of us miss. In planning our absence, we look at that last day before holidays as our objective: get everything organized so that people can cope without when we are gone. When we reach that day, we let out a big sigh and switch into relaxation mode blocking out the horrid reality of that eventual return to the office.

What if we change our focus a bit? Instead of focusing on the last day before our holidays, we should look at the first week we get back.

Take the last few days before you go away to get everything organized for your return. Consider how you are going to handle each of the following items:

  • How much time will you need to set aside each day to catch up on email and other communications? Block out that time now.
  • Who will you need to meet with to find out what has moved forward (or not)? Schedule those meetings before you leave.
  • What routines do you need to get back into? Slide into them slowly, adding one routine a day (gym, preparing lunches, etc…). If you have the chance, how about reintroducing them a few days before you start up at work again?

This year, I didn’t quite get everything planned before my last day (last Monday), so I took a few hours (rather randomly) in my first couple of days free to tie up a few loose ends and to better plan my return. Yes, it ate into my holiday a bit, but I’d much rather lose a few hours at the beginning of my time off so that I can thoroughly enjoy the rest of it and not return to work to chaos and stress.

Vacations are to relax and recharge. By planning your return, you can preserve all the tranquility you’ve created for yourself (in fact I think vacation planners should come with a post-vacation planning section). As an added bonus, by thinking beyond your last day and focusing on your first week back, you don’t need to worry about anything while you are gone. You can truly go on holiday, disconnecting from everything at work, even forgetting altogether that it exists.