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.

Organize a first aid kit for the car

A first aid kit isn’t one of those things you think about until you need it and when you do, boy do you need it! You can avoid making a stressful time even more difficult by planning and buying a roadside first aid kit now. They’re inexpensive, easy to maintain, and compact. Here is what every driver should have tucked away in the car.

The right container

There are a lot of pre-made first aid kits available. Most are great, but I recommend building your own from scratch. Why? You’re more likely to know exactly what is inside a homemade first aid kit as you think about, buy, and place each item. You might glance at a pre-made kit’s contents, but the steps required for building your own force you to really think about what is inside.

Also, when you build your own kit you have more control over the container. Find something that has clear compartments, so you can see where items are. Also, if you can find something waterproof, that is ideal. This MTM Dry Box is a great example, as it’s durable, brightly-colored, and water resistant. Plus it’s small enough and study enough to live in the car’s trunk for a long time.

Supplies

When it comes to supplies, I defer to the professionals at the Red Cross. This comprehensive list, entitled “Anatomy of a First Aid Kit,” includes:

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)

There is a lot more, and I’ll let you read their full recommendations. If you’ve got a baby or kids who travel with you, make sure you have children’s versions of the listed medications.

You might also consider adding a basic first aid manual. Again, I look to our friends at the Red Cross for this. Lastly, consider things like a flashlight, blanket, tool to break a window, Here’s a look at what else to keep in your car.

As I said, a first aid kit is often overlooked. Take some time this weekend to get one organized. I hope you never need it!

Choosing the right luggage tag

Ah, baggage claim. Forget Disney, I want to spend time in the basement of a monstrous building with a hundred other exhausted, bleary-eyed people while we wait for our belongings to pass by on a noisy conveyor belt. The buzz of fluorescent lights and the hard, industrial tile only add to the experience.

If you’re like me, you want to spend as little time in baggage claim as possible. A good tag can help.

It might seem like a minor thing. Most people use the tag that came with the suitcase or rely on the sticky paper one the airline will affix. This is a mistake, as neither meet the requirements of a truly useful luggage tag. Here’s why you need to choose your luggage tag carefully.

  1. The airport prints out that big sticky tag. Is it enough? No, mistakes can happen. Perhaps there was a misprint, maybe the wet ink got smudged or more likely, rough baggage personnel ripped it in two.
  2. The right tag makes it easier to identify your bag at baggage claim. A sticky tag on a black suitcase is hardly a unique look. Something big and bright stands out.
  3. Get a tag that can stand up to some abuse. Your bag will be tossed around. Make sure the tag is durable enough to withstand it.

Choosing the right design

When searching for a luggage tag, select one with a small loop that holds the tag closely to the bag. Large loops are more likely to get snagged as they travel on and off of the plane.

Next, consider construction: where the loop attaches to the tag, stitching that seals in your personal info, and any closures (snaps, zips or clasps). Will they easily fall apart? Are the stitches tight and close together? Can you lift the entire suitcase by the tag without it tearing?

Of course, find a bright, colorful tag or one of unusual design that will stand out on the turnstile. Mine is bright orange and quite large. It’s easy to see from a distance and, being unique, other people don’t mistake it for their own.

Now that we’ve defined a good tag, let’s discuss what you’ll write on it.

Information

You needn’t write the story of your life on the luggage tag. In fact, I don’t think you need to put much personal information at all. For example, I never put my full name, address, phone number, etc. on a tag. Instead I go in the opposite direction: instead of listing where I live and so on, I note where the bag should be going. For example:

“D. Caolo, traveling to Boston, MA on JetBlue #1234 on July 4 2017 – [my-email-address]).”

This way you’re covered if there’s a problem with the tag the airline printed and my personal information isn’t being advertised to everyone in the airport.

What about carry-ons?

Does your carry-on bag need a luggage tag? Yes and yes! If you’ve ever been on a flight that’s booked solid, you’ve probably seen the workers at the gate ask if anyone is willing to check their carry-on to save room on the overhead compartments. I always volunteer my bag in that situation, and I do not want it going into the belly of the plane without a tag.

All of this applies to people going on cruises, too.

It seems like a little thing, a luggage tag. But the right one can be very beneficial, just as the wrong model can be a hindrance. Give it some consideration the next time you travel.

For more on successful, organized travel, check out our recent conversation with an airline pilot.

Two unusual types of uncluttering

When you think about uncluttering, you probably think about the stuff or the papers in your home or office. You may also think about uncluttering your calendar or your relationships.

But here are two different types of uncluttering I’ve read and thought about recently.

Uncluttering your hotel room

Designer Karim Rashid was recently quoted as follows in an article that Mark Ellwood wrote for Bloomberg:

The hotel industry loves to fill rooms up with things, which comes from the idea that a hotel room is an extension of your home. But for me, it’s too much stuff, too much clutter. If I’m going to spend three days in there, I need to be really free and able to think. I take every piece of paper, every note or book, and put it in drawers to hide them. I don’t like visual clutter. And in the bathroom, too — there’s a crazy amount of stuff they shove in there.

I read this and thought about how I do almost the same thing when I’m in a hotel room with such amenities. Everything I won’t need — the TV remote, the magazines, and most other hotel literature — gets put away somewhere so I won’t see it in the coming days. I stash away the excess pillows, too.

Uncluttering the meals you’re cooking


Ailbhe Malone wrote on the BuzzFeed website, “The secret to making a good pasta dish is to respect your ingredients. I know this sounds a bit cheffy, but that basically means: Don’t throw the kitchen sink in.”

You’ll find countless lists of 5-ingredient recipes, which can certainly make preparation easier. Also, limiting the ingredients may mean that you buy fewer ingredients that get used in one recipe and never again, so they sit around just taking up space.

But Malone seems to be thinking more along the lines of food writer Christopher Hirst, who stated in the Independent, “My favourite food involves the least possible culinary intervention — dishes where the quality of the ingredients is allowed to speak for itself.” Uncluttered dishes have benefits beyond saving time, money, and storage space — they often taste wonderful.

As noted chef José Andrés says, “Simple ingredients, treated with respect … put them together and you will always have a great dish.” I took a brief look at his tapas cookbook, and I saw many recipes that adhered to this principle.

The writers advocating for these uncluttered recipes aren’t saying that more complicated recipes don’t have their place, but rather than simple ones can be outstanding, too. When I think back to some of my most memorable meals, it’s often the ones with a few high-quality ingredients, well prepared, that come to mind.

Do you unclutter your hotel rooms? Do you like uncluttered recipes? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Pack and organize for a convention

Taking the time to prepare for a conference – either for work or fun – will significantly affect what you get out of it. Here are a few tips to make sure you enjoy the big show.

A single point of failure

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people sit down at very expensive conferences with only one pen. If it breaks or runs out of ink, you are out of luck. When I was an IT professional, we called this a “single point of failure,” and it’s not good. Identify the potential points of failure in your conference supplies and double up on:

  • Pens and paper
  • Phone/tablet charger and cables
  • Money

I have a good reason for keeping cash on hand at a convention. A few years ago I was in San Francisco for a conference and needed some quick cash for a last-minute event. I sprinted to the only ATM I could see only to find it was out of service. Right then, I wished that I had stuffed fifty dollars in my wallet before leaving home.

What to wear

Professional conferences often require more formal attire than a show attended for fun. For example, you’ll need business casual outfits for the workshops in your field, while the Star Trek T-shirt you’ve had since the 90s is perfectly appropriate for the science fiction convention.

Regardless of the type of convention, comfortable shoes are essential. You’re going to be on your feet, maybe for hours. If I’m at a fun, casual event, I’ll wear sneakers. Otherwise, I wear my beloved OluKai shoes, as they’re the most comfortable pair I’ve ever owned. Plus they slip on and off, which is great for getting through security at the airport.

I also dress in layers, as it’s almost impossible to predict how warm or cold a convention center or hotel ball room might be.

Gear

No matter what kind of show I’m attending, I always have a battery case for my phone. When I’m at a show I’m taking photos, communicating with colleagues, and sharing on social media. After several hours, my phone is ready to give out. Mophie makes a huge variety of battery cases for several models. I’ve used them for years and have only good things to say.

If the show you’re attending has an official convention app, install it. These often contain itineraries, maps, a description of events, and so on. With that said, also grab a paper program if you can. Remember that whole “single point of failure” thing?

Lastly, I always bring a bag. If the show is a more professional one, I bring a nice-looking messenger bag. If not, I’ll throw on a backpack. It’s nice to be able to throw a bag over your shoulder so you have both hands free to shake hands with colleagues, pick up corporate literature, or take photos of your favorite celebrities.

Many venues restrict certain items (e.g. professional cameras, pocket knives, etc.) so always check the policies before attending. There will often be a bag check upon entry, so factor that time into your day.

Meetings with friends and colleagues

One of the best things about many conventions, is that you get a chance to see people from across the country and from around the world. Before you leave home, connect with as many friends and colleagues as you can and schedule meetings, lunches, and dinners. Add these events your calendar. Conventions tend to be crowded. You may need to connect with your colleagues to designate a specific meeting place so include their contact information in your meeting reminders.

Good luck and have fun.

Car accessories that are worth the investment

Frugality is a big part of the uncluttered lifestyle. When I say “frugal,” I mean thrifty and never wasteful. That said, there are certain things I’m willing to spend a little extra money on. While changing a flat tire in the snow last week, a few automotive options came to mind. Here’s a list of auto accessories that I think are worth the expense.

Jack

A compact, portable floor jack is worth the cost. This aluminum, 1.5 ton model from Pittsburgh Automotive could be just what you need. For starters, it’s so much easier to use than the scissor jack that probably shipped with your car. Consider that you’ll have to turn the nut on the scissor model 25–30 times before your car is elevated to an adequate height, while a floor jack will get in there in about five pumps. Likewise, a floor jack will slowly and safely lower your car within a few seconds, while the scissor jack requires 25–30 more twists, this time counter-clockwise.

There are some cons to consider as well. First, it’s heavy. At 31 pounds it’s heavier than your scissor jack. It’s also big; the compact model I’m suggesting is 23 x 10 x 7 inches (the handle can be removed so it’ll fit in your trunk). Lastly, it’s more expensive than the “free” jack that comes with the car.

I fell in love with the portable floor jack the night I was struggling to lift our Mazda. After many minutes of effortful turning, the jack itself slipped and the car came down upon it, crushing it. I called AAA and a worker arrived with a portable floor jack. He had my car raised and the tire off in about 90 seconds. That’s when I was sold.

Spare tire

Speaking of tires, I like to have a full-sized spare. Here in North America, it’s a good purchase decision. But that isn’t the case everywhere. I know that in Europe, for example, many cars don’t come with spares at all – not even a “donut” (half-sized spare) because there are service centers all over the place. In that case I would recommend paying extra for the donut.

Here in the States we get the half-sized spare, or donut. It’s meant to be a temporary fix that gets you to a service station. You shouldn’t exceed 45 m.p.h. with those things and they really aren’t the safest. Since a flat can strike at any time, and service stations are often few and far between here in the U.S., you could be stuck with the donut for several days. I recommend getting a spare rim for your car (find a local junk yard to save some money) and a good quality tire. Your local tire shop will gladly put the tire on the rim for you. Yes, it takes up more room than the donut, is heavier and expensive, but as far as safety and convenience are concerned, it’s well worth it.

Floor mats

Next, I’ll recommend heavy-duty floor mats, if you live in the right region. Here in New England, we have Sand Season, Snow Season and Slush Season. They’d be overkill in Texas, for example but if you experience winter, read on.

Several years ago I purchased these Weather Tech mats for our little Volvo and I love them. Unlike other heavy-duty mats, these are designed for the specific make, model and production year of various vehicles, so they absolutely fit and stay in place. Ours endure summer beach sand, autumn mud and frozen winter nastiness easily. To clean, simply snap them out and hose them off. They aren’t cheap – you’ll pay about a hundred dollars – but I’ve had the same set in my car since 2008 and they look great.

Other suggestions

Here are a few more quickies. An auto-dimming rear-view mirror is a nice upgrade, especially now that so many cars seem to have those weird blue headlights that seek out your retinas and burn them to cinders. This “car cup” charger for long road trips when everyone wants to be fully juiced.

I’ve debated recommending factory-installed GPS with myself and I still don’t have a definitive answer. That’s mostly because I’ve never experienced it. I just used my phone, which is portable and reliable. I bring it into a rental car, for example. Of course, not everyone has a smartphone with GPS capability, so I’ll leave this one hanging. Perhaps some testing is in order.

Lastly, let’s talk about road-side assistance services like AAA, CAA National, OnStar, etc. They day you need help (especially when you’re far from home) is the day you’ll recognize their value.

Remember, “frugal” doesn’t mean “cheap.” It means nothing is wasted, including your money. While these add-ons are expensive, I think they’re worthwhile investments. Let me know if you agree.

The perfect souvenir

A while ago I was visiting the site GoThreeTwentyFour. It was created by Stephanie and her goal is to visit all 324 (now 325) countries on the Travellers’ Century Club list.

In one of her blog posts, she recounts how she was in Cyprus on the beach where the mythical Greek goddess Aphrodite emerged from the sea. Stephanie’s first thought was to take one of the small, smooth stones as a souvenir but she did not. It was one of her biggest regrets about her visit to Cyprus. It was this experience that got her thinking about the traits of the “perfect souvenir.”

Stephanie indicates that a souvenir should have at least four of the following characteristics.

  • Useful – You need to use the item you purchase. Eat the candies. Display the artwork.
  • Collectible – Consider purchasing the same or similar item in every location but make sure you are clear on how to develop the collection.
  • Personal – This should be something you identify with on a personal level, not just a fridge magnet with your name on it.
  • Local – There should be something about the item that you can’t find anywhere else.
  • Connective – The item should be a reminder of the place and the people you met along the way.
  • Practical – It should be affordable and easy to take back home.
  • Unique – Don’t shop at the same chain stores as you have at home. Get something that has its own story.
  • Quality – Make sure the souvenir is durable enough for you to enjoy for a long time.

These tips can be applied when you’re buying souvenirs for friends and family too.

Stephanie says a rock from the beach in Cyprus would have had at least five of the characteristics of a perfect souvenir. She feels that the important characteristics for a souvenir might be different for each trip and different people might give the qualities varying degrees of importance.

Here is a quote from Stephanie, an idea that we at Unclutterer approve of:

“The goal is to skip buying something that will be a waste of money and recognize when you totally need to grab the rock on the beach.”

We would like to thank Stephanie for allowing us to share her infographic with our readers. Please visit her site, GoThreeTwentyFour for more details on the “Perfect Souvenir.”

 

perfect souvenir

Every day carry: weekend getaway

phone watch wipesI’m packing for a weekend getaway as I type this, which has inspired me to write an “Every Day Carry” (EDC) tech guide for weekend getaways. You don’t need to carry a lot in order to be prepared for a weekend away. In fact, pocket clutter is real and should be avoided. My “getaway” EDC varies a little from what’s typically on me, but not by much. Let’s take a look.

Mophie Juice Pack

I use my phone frequently when I’m away, particularly to find directions and taking pictures. That puts a hit on the battery, especially when a map app is receiving GPS data. For that matter, I always have a Mophie Juice Pack charged and ready to go. The Juice Pack is an iPhone case with a built-in battery. When my phone’s battery hits 20%, I flick on the Juice Pack and it’s back at 100% in no time.

iPhone

This goes with out saying, but the pocket computer called “iPhone” is completely essential. From finding directions and taking photos to calling hotels, restaurants and family, it’s my go-to gadget.

Apple Watch

My Apple Watch isn’t as essential as my iPhone, but it’s maturing into the useful accessory that Apple wants it to be (the same can be said of most smart watches). My favorite feature, however, really shines when I’m in a new place: walking directions. The first step, of course, is to get your destination’s address onto the Apple Watch. There are several ways to do this, and the fastest are these:

  1. Ask Siri for directions. The virtual personal assistant will automatically open Apple Maps with the directions ready to go.
  2. Start on Apple Maps on your iPhone. The app will automatically sync with Apple Watch.
  3. After you’ve entered the information on the iPhone app, open the watch app to view the directions.

Following a route Once you’re ready to get moving, just tap Start. The Watch will guide you along, via clever use of Apple’s Taptic Engine:

  1. A series of 12 taps means turn right at the next intersection.
  2. Three pairs of two taps mean turn left.
  3. A steady vibration means you’re at the last direction change.
  4. A more urgent vibration (which I call “the freakout”) indicates your arrival at your destination.

Imagine walking from, say, the train station to a hotel in a city you aren’t familiar with. You’ve got a bag in your hand and a million things on your mind, like check-in, getting settled and whatever brought you there in the first place. Now you can walk with your eyes front and your head up. Perhaps you’ll even note a few landmarks along the way, to make the return stroll easier.

Ursa Major face wipes

I used a face wipe from Ursa Major for the first time a few years ago. I was in NYC visiting family. After a sweaty day of walking through Manhattan, I was given one of these to use.

It was amazing.

The wipe is cool, smells great and not greasy at all. It evaporates quickly and let’s me “wash my face,” if you will, when I can’t do so properly. It seems like a small thing but I really like these things.

That’s the gear I carry when I’m away. It’s a short list, but all very useful. Do you have a special EDC for certain situations? Let me know.

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.

Things everyone should own (or not)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding the clutter of free stuff

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

It makes sense to take the toiletries under specific circumstances:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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