Curate your summer reading

Summer has kicked into high gear here in the northern hemisphere and this is when I like to retreat from the heat with a proverbial good book — but certainly not a “book” as my great-grandparents would have described one. Today, there are apps and devices that let you curate your summer reading from varied online resources and onto hand-held devices. With a little bit of time, an Internet connection and some free software, you can create your own digital reading experience and bring it to the beach, the hotel or even your favorite quiet corner of home.

Below, I’ve described several services that allow you to save or bookmark online articles for later reading. Once captured with the various apps, the articles are presented beautifully and legibly, as if you’re reading a digital book or magazine. Advertisements are stripped out, as are distracting sidebar ads and colors. You’re left with a great-looking and largely distraction-free reading experience. Best of all, these services are free and work on a variety of platforms, from iPads to Android devices to Nooks and Kindles.


Cost: Free
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, some Android devices, Amazon Kindle Fire, various web browsers

The web service Read It Later was recently re-branded as Pocket. Once you’ve created a free account online, you can add a special bookmarklet to your web browser. Then, when you come across an article you’d like to read later, simply click the bookmarklet. A small window will appear confirming that the story has been saved to your Pocket account. You can further organize things with tags at that point. For example, “beach reading,” “research” or “kids.”

When you’re out with your mobile device, launch Pocket and you’ll find all of the articles you’ve saved. Some of Pocket’s useful features let you browse articles by tag, add a star to favorites and view videos and images you’ve saved in addition to articles.


Cost: Free
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, some Android devices, Amazon Kindle, Nook Tablet, various web browsers

Readability works much like Pocket. Create a free account, install the bookmarklet in your browser and send articles to your mobile device. There are important differences, though. For starters, Readability’s bookmarklet is much more robust. You can opt to read an article right then if you like, and Readability with present it in a beautiful, distraction-free layout. You can also send it to your Kindle or Nook Tablet with a click. Once you’ve synced your devices, you can access your reading list when offline.


Cost: Free with optional subscription plan
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, some Android devices, Amazon Kindle and Fire, Nook Color and Nook Tablet, various web browsers

Instapaper is among the first of these distraction-free reading services. Today it’s available on a huge number of devices and supported by a passionate developer and legions of fans. The iPhone and iPad version has some unique features, like tilt scrolling. This lets you scroll through a long article simply by tipping your device back and forth. There’s no need to swipe with a finger.

You’ll also find lots of layout customization options, like font size, several color schemes, spacing and brightness. After a minute or so of fiddling, you can get Instapaper’s articles to look just how you’d like.


Cost: Free
Compatibility: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and Android

Flipboard is unique in that you don’t add content to it. Instead, you tell Flipboard what to find for you. It will search the web for stories, photos and videos across several categories, including sports, technology, travel, photography, news, music, film and so much more. It will even pull content (articles your friends have linked to) from your Twitter and Facebook accounts, presenting all of it in a beautiful layout that’s reminiscent of a high-end design magazine. You can even add local news and your favorite RSS feeds. It’s such a great-looking app and has become my favorite way to browse Facebook.

There you have four services that will let you curate your summer reading, across several devices. Now start collecting, get reading, and enjoy these lovely, lazy days.

Organize your travel plans this summer

Yesterday (June 20th) was the first day of summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere. I, for one, am very happy about the start of summer. The days are longer and there are so many fun things to do, like taking road trips and long weekends at the beach. I’m really looking forward to sharing new experiences with my husband and 5-month-old. Planning ahead will be even more important for us since we are now traveling together as a trio.

To make sure your summer travel plans go off (mostly) without a hitch, follow these simple steps:

Figure out everyone’s schedules

Whether you’re taking a weekend trip with your girlfriends or heading off to a week-long family vacation to Epcot, it’s important to know when everyone’s available. This may sound obvious, but it is essential and perhaps the most challenging part of planning. Get this information as early as you can and find out if there’s any flexibility with dates (just in case one or two people are not available when everyone else is). Sites like and can help easily coordinate this task. Once you know when everyone has time off, you can pick a date and then you will need to…

Decide where you’ll go

Once the vacation dates are selected, figure out where you’ll go. Will you be taking your annual trip to your favorite destination or will you go some place new? Are white, sandy beaches on your mind? Or, would you prefer something more active (like a hiking vacation)? Once everyone agrees on the location, do a little research to find out if there are any special events that you’d like to attend, and add them to your calendar.

Decide who will do what

Who will be responsible for making the flight and hotel reservations? Or, will everyone handle their own arrangements? If you’re taking a road trip, figure out if you’ll drive to your destination together or if everyone will drive their own car. If you’re carpooling, do you need to rent a larger vehicle and who will handle that? Who will bring the snacks and drinks?

Decide how to take care of trip expenses

When traveling with a group, it’s important to discuss how the trip will be paid for before you travel or make reservations. Will one person pay and then get reimbursed? When will he/she get reimbursed? Who will pay for gas and snacks? Do you want to reimburse exact amounts or do you think it will all “even out in the wash?”

Decide what to bring with you

The last time I took a road trip, I brought the world with me. Since I would be on the road for eight hours, I wanted to have everything I could possibly need at my fingertips. When you’re driving with a child and dog in the car for more than an hour, you really don’t want any surprises. As it turned out, I didn’t use half of what I packed. But, now I have a better idea of what I will use the most and this will help me when it’s time for our next adventure.

Here are some things that will be helpful to have on hand (depending on your specific circumstances):

  • Medications
  • First aid kit
  • GPS and/or paper map
  • Paper money and coins (for tolls, snacks)
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Sun screen or sun block
  • Books, magazines, or Kindle
  • Baby gear, if you have a baby
  • Children’s games and music, if you have children

No matter where you decide to go this summer, put a few plans in place first. Planning may not seem like fun, but thinking things through ahead of time will make the trip less stressful.

Unclutterer now appearing on Women and Co.

Last month, I started writing articles for the financial advice website Women and Co. I’m not one of their regular bloggers (they have a full-time staff), but someone who will have featured articles from time-to-time on their site’s homepage. The focus of my writing is to provide tips on how being organized and uncluttered may help to improve your money management.

Once the technical aspects are settled, we’ll put a widget in the middle column of our homepage linking to my articles as they appear on the Women and Co. site. In the meantime, these are the articles I’ve written so far:

How to Create Emergency Binders
In this piece, I provide directions for making two binders — a Basic Emergency Binder and a Worst-Case Scenario Emergency Binder. There are checklists for what to include so your loved ones can find all the important documents and information needed to help you and your family in all types of emergency situations.

Make Some Extra Spending Money: De-Clutter Your Home
Without much effort, you can likely find some cash in your clutter — and not just an unexpected $5 in the pocket of your old coat. In this article, I provide detailed steps for how and where to sell your clutter.

How to Pack a Cooler (and Save Money) for Your Next Road Trip
If wanderlust has set in and you’re looking to hit the open road, this post may help you save some money when you head out of your driveway. Even though gas prices are high, it doesn’t mean you have to skip out on some of the treats that make road trips fun.

Are you prepared for severe weather and natural disasters?

This week is the first National Severe Weather Preparedness Week in the United States. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a number of other acronym-identified organizations, started the week to help Americans prepare for floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, major thunderstorms, earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires, and whatever else nature throws our way.

The first bit of advice they give is to identify what types of severe weather and natural disasters regularly affect your area. USA Today has a nice interactive map that lights up when you select the specific disaster. It’s not a perfect map — it doesn’t identify the Mid-Atlantic as having earthquakes or tornadoes, yet we had both in 2011 — but it’s decent for identifying the most likely disasters to hit a state.

Their second suggestion is to create a disaster kit and an emergency plan based on the disasters that are most likely to strike where you work and live. If you haven’t organized a kit or a plan, check out FEMA’s articles on how to build a disaster kit (they also have a flier with similar information) and how to make a plan to meet up with your family after a disaster strikes. They also recommend getting a NOAA Weather Radio. I noticed recently we didn’t have a single radio in our house, so I ordered one of these for our home. There are many different styles, I liked this one because in addition to batteries it has a crank and a solar panel for alternative energy sources.

The article doesn’t mention this, but it’s also a good idea to have an emergency kit in your car. The kits are small, easily fit into the trunk of your car, and can be life-saving in an emergency. If you don’t want to assemble one on your own, there are numerous kits available for purchase.

With all emergency kits, it is important to maintain them and check them twice a year. If you already have kits, National Severe Weather Preparedness Week is a good time to go through them and make sure all parts are present, in good condition, and nothing has expired. Even though they’re not fancy, emergency kits are extremely useful gifts for graduating seniors.


Popular road in Britain reworked to be clutter free

Today’s edition of Britain’s Daily Mail includes an article, photo gallery, and impressive infographic describing London’s newest clutter-free street, which officially opened earlier today. The piece “No kerbs, pavements or nanny-state signs: Britain’s longest clutter-free street is unveiled to make things SAFER” explains the initiative to improve safety on this stretch of road by removing visual distractions:

Britain’s longest ‘clutter-free’ street was opened today with the aim of making cars and people co-exist harmoniously — without the need for hectoring signs and protective steel barriers.

Indeed, the newly revamped Exhibition Road in the heart of London’s museum quarter in Kensington, visited by millions of people from around Britain and the world, doesn’t even have kerbs or pavements.

The idea underlining the project is that when nannying rules and orders — in the form of countless signs, traffic signals and barriers — are removed, motorists take more personal responsibility for their own actions and drive more attentively, making more eye contact with pedestrians.

In addition to taking on projects in London, two years ago national officials in Britain formally began encouraging city council leaders to decrease road signage to improve road safety. This specific decision to rework Exhibition Road came in 2003 and is based on popular urban design and engineering concepts from Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. Monderman’s engineering ideas are implemented in many areas of Europe and Asia and are referred to as “shared space” planning design.

More about the clutter-free road from the Daily Mail article:

Councillor Daniel Moylan, deputy chairman of Transport for London (TfL), said: “… The psychology of this scheme is fascinating. Experience seems to show that when you dedicate space to traffic and control it with signs and green traffic lights, motorists develop a claim on it. It becomes ‘my space.’ Drivers become annoyed if people move into it.

They get angry if a mother pushing a buggy moves across the crossing just as the lights are about to change.

This new scheme is more like the behaviour in a supermarket car park. Drivers know there are people around pushing shopping trolleys and so drive more cautiously. They are looking out.

They don’t feel that pedestrians are invading their space. They don’t therefore get annoyed.”

Image from Britain’s Daily Mail. Thanks to reader Samantha for bringing this post idea to our attention.

Cabin fever? Organize your summer travel plans now

At least for those of us in the northern hemisphere, January is a great time to make summer travel plans. You are able to beat the rush and still get some good deals on popular travel destinations, as well as you are able to think about things other than the cold and wind and snow currently going on outside. It’s also a good time to curl up under a warm blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and thumb through travel magazines or travel guides to learn as much as you can about the place (or places) you want to go.

When planning a trip, it’s best to start by analyzing your budget. How much do you already have saved? How much can you save before deposits and tickets need to be made or purchased? How much can you save before the actual date of travel?

Once you know how much you will be able to save for your vacation, you can narrow down the locations of where you wish to go, how you wish to get there, where you will stay while there, and what you wish to do when you’re there. Or, as you probably refer to it as, an Expense Budget. As you’re writing down your expenses, don’t forget that you may need to purchase a few special items before your trip — a new swimsuit or larger memory card for your digital camera or a travel jacket — and you’ll also need to eat while you’re on the road. If you’re someone who buys a trinket or two while traveling, budget for these expenses, too. has a terrific round-up of travel websites that can help you to save money, “40 Most Useful Travel Websites That Can Save You a Fortune.” The article is a few years old, but most of the websites are still in business. When making your plans, you want to be sure to get the best deal possible so you aren’t wasting any of that money you so diligently saved.

With the money part of the equation settled, turn to the internet and/or your travel guides for itinerary inspiration. Save articles to Instapaper or Evernote. Pictures of destinations can be pinned to Pinterest. Maps, hotel reservation numbers, flight plans, car rental receipts can also be saved to Evernote. Services like TripIt work, too. If you are traveling outside the U.S., you may want to keep a file folder of this information to carry with you, especially if you don’t plan to have an international data plan for your smart phone when you’re overseas.

As the months pass and you get closer to your time of travel, check out travel expert Chris Guillebeau’s article “Stress, stuff, and world travel.” It’s crammed with extremely useful information for jet-setting in an uncluttered fashion.

A single sweater, 12 ways

While at my local outlet mall a few months ago, I picked up a Long Sleeve Classic Cozy from the Donna Karen New York (DKNY) shop. I was instantly drawn to it because of its versatility, and over the past few months have truly fallen in love with this cashmere and silk sweater:

In theory, I can get 12 looks from the sweater. I’ve only been wearing it for 5 of the looks, however. Even wearing it just 5 ways, I feel like I got a wonderfully uncluttered deal with 5 looks from 1 sweater (and at the outlet store, I paid only $70 for it). It’s also ideal for travel and bringing to the office. Its instructions say to dry clean, but I’ve been very carefully washing it by hand with a little Soak Wash and laying it flat to dry. It’s my new favorite piece of clothing — flexible and fancy.

There are videos for how to create all 12 looks and even a smart phone app. I’ve donated a number of my other sweaters to charity since I haven’t been wearing them. I love this multiple-look addition to my wardrobe.

Planning a vacation in an orderly fashion

I’m a little strange in that I almost get as much enjoyment out of planning a vacation as taking one. I start researching the place usually six months before the trip. I’ll read travel guides, review sites created by locals, and novels based in the city I’ll be visiting. I take notes, a lot of notes, and learn as much as I can.

My research always begins with a search of the area on Google maps. Then, I delve into the reading. For a place like Paris, France, I’ll organize all the data I collect by arrondissements. Once I have the items grouped by neighborhood, I’ll subdivide the notes into categories like museums, restaurants, and cheese shops. This way, if we choose to go shopping in St. Germain or buy armagnac at Ryst-Dupeyron, I know we also can pop into the amazing taxidermy shop Deyrolle while we’re in the 7th arrondissement.

If the destination is in the U.S., I’ll save all relevant vacation documents to Evernote — maps, Google street images, webpages, hotel reservation numbers, PDFs I’ve made of notes, etc. I can access Evernote on my laptop and smart phone, so everything I need is with me (and I password protect my phone for safety, in case a pickpocket takes off with my phone).

If I’m traveling overseas, my smart phone service can be less reliable. On a trip to Iceland, I might decide to pay a few extra bucks for international cell and data service. On a trip to Shanghai, China, I would still save all the documents to Evernote, but I would print all the documents before traveling and carry them with me in a folder. (Web access can be tricky in China.)

Services like Tripit are great alternatives, if Evernote isn’t your cup of tea. However, you still can have issues using the service when traveling internationally.

How do you plan a vacation? What method and services do you use? Those of you who do a lot of traveling in parts of the world with interesting data and cell coverage, how do you store your travel plans? I’m interested in reading everyone’s advice in the comments.

Transitioning back to reality after vacation

Returning home and back to work after a vacation usually feels like a punishment for temporarily ignoring your responsibilities. There is a mound of laundry to do, a heap of emails and regular mail to process, and a small crisis that must immediately be attended to and which could have been completely avoided had you not left town. If you’re lucky, you’re still riding the high of the vacation and can bear the mountain of tasks without too much frustration. If you’re not lucky, your vacation was a bust and you consider never going on one again.

To help ease your way back into non-vacation life, try some or all of these tricks:

  • Clean before you go. Have your desk at work and your home as shiny as possible before leaving on your vacation. Even change the sheets on your bed so things will be fresh when you return. Doing this means that you will only have to deal with vacation messes when you get back. Ants won’t have attacked your kitchen because there were dirty dishes on the counter and your office mates might actually use your inbox instead of plopping more work down on top of an existing pile.
  • Walk in the door and straight to your laundry room. The first thing you should do when you get home is start a load of laundry of your vacation clothes. Once the washer is going, then you can reset your thermostat to a normal temperature and check to make sure a tree didn’t fall in your backyard (or whatever it is that people do when they first come home from vacation).
  • Take an extra day before heading back to work. I like to think of this spare day as the vacation from my vacation. It’s the day to get reacquainted with your routines. We typically return from trips on Saturdays so we have all day Sunday to recuperate.
  • Arrive an hour early to work. You’ll want to get a solid footing on your day before you’re bombarded by co-workers asking about your trip and giving you more things to do. Scan your physical inbox and your email to search for any you-must-do-this-first-thing-when-you-get-back items. Quickly sort your mail and throw out or shred all junk mail. Review your calendar for the day and create an action list of the most important things you have to do. When other people arrive, you’ll be able to handle whatever they throw your way.
  • Give yourself a free day the following weekend. Playing catch-up with your life can be exhausting, so take a weekend day to sleep in, leisurely drink a cup of coffee, catch up on items around the house, or do nothing at all. If you have kids, this applies to them, too.

What additional tips would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the comments.

Three easy projects for a Monday

Do you have uncluttering or organizing projects on your mind? Consider one or more of these three easy projects:

  1. Pull a weed. You can do this either literally if you have a garden, or figuratively if there is a small task on your to-do list that will take you just a few seconds to complete. Do it and be done with it. There is no need for that pesky item to bother you any longer.
  2. Plan ahead. Many people in the U.S. have next Monday off from work in observance of Memorial Day. If you want to spend the three days relaxing and not tackling a giant list of to-do items, create a list now of the things you need to do before Saturday morning arrives. Then, make a plan for your week for how you’re going to accomplish these tasks. Three days without a giant list of responsibilities hanging over your head will be good for you.
  3. Pack a suitcase. There isn’t a reason to really pack a suitcase, but now is a great time to put together a packing list for the next time you head out on a summer trip. Having a checklist is a terrific way to pack wisely and not forget anything when you travel, and making the list now gives you time to get your list in shape. I have 10 packing lists saved on my computer: Romantic weekend with husband, 4-day conference for work, 3-day consulting with client in business casual environment, 3-day consulting with client in corporate business environment, 3-day trip with extended family, 7-day trip with extended family, 3-day relaxing trip with friends, 7-day beach/mountain trip with friends, 3-day sight-seeing trip, and 7-days as a tourist in a foreign city. The lists are all built on the same foundation (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.), but each is tailored to meet the experience.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100: An ultra-portable paper clutter reducer

Yesterday at CES, Fujitsu released its latest model in its ScanSnap scanner series. The S1100 is a mobile color scanner, smaller than my shoe:

ScanSnap sent me a model to test a couple weeks ago, and I think it’s a great little machine. (It’s weird how I drool over scanners and their paper clutter-reduction powers … I may have a problem … ) It works with the same dependability and quality as other ScanSnap products.

It took me about four minutes to install the software, and I was able to use the scanner instantly after that. The software works with both PC and Mac.

My only complaint is that it doesn’t scan both sides of the paper you feed into it. However, since I have a desktop scanner that does duplex, it’s not such a big deal to me. This device is really built for lugging around in your briefcase or suitcase, so its compact size and convenience outweigh the lack of duplex scanning. If you attend a lot of conferences, you want a small scanner like this that weighs next-to-nothing (my home scale said it weighed half a pound) and quickly processes all the paper you collect. You could easily leave an event without a single piece of paper cluttering up your travel bag.

When ScanSnap contacted me to see if I might want to review one of the S1100 models, I asked if they might be interested in giving away a few units to our readers in celebration of Unclutterer’s fourth birthday (assuming I liked the unit). They were generously game (the units are currently retailing for $199 a piece), and later today we’ll provide details about the giveaway. Stay tuned if you’re interested in winning one for yourself. I think a lot of Unclutterer readers could use an ultra-portable scanner like this.

British officials demand reduction in street sign clutter

British officials have found that excessive street signage impedes driver safety, in addition to cluttering up a picturesque view. As a result, national-level British officials are writing to city council leaders across England demanding road signage be decreased. From a Reuters article about the uncluttering:

When busy Kensington High Street in central London was stripped of excess road furniture, for example, it helped reduce accidents by 47 percent.

Reducing the signage clutter also reduces the cost of making new signs and replacing old ones for a local government. Again from the article:

“Our streets are losing their English character,” [Communities Secretary Eric] Pickles said. “We are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed-off roads — wasting taxpayers’ money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council (local) tax down.”

Is your city or neighborhood cluttered with too many signs? My specific suburb isn’t, but downtown Washington, D.C., is a much different situation. It will be interesting to see if the signage uncluttering in Britain becomes a trend across the globe, and helps reduce accidents caused by signage clutter.

Thanks to reader Carol for this news tip.