The clothes on your back and not much else

Warning: Today’s post is not a cheery one. It takes minimalism to the terrible extreme.

Recently Jeri wrote an article about being prepared for a tsunami. Never having lived in an earthquake or tsunami zone, I had never thought about it. I have, however, been thinking quite a lot about the refugee situation in Syria and about all the North Africans who take the very dangerous crossing to southern European countries.

Over a decade ago, I sold everything that didn’t fit into two suitcases and a dozen boxes and left Canada for France then Spain. The suitcases came with me and the boxes stayed in my parents’ house in Canada. When my parents passed away, some of those boxes plus twenty more made the trip across the ocean to tie my life here back to my Canadian past.

But what if I’d only had those two suitcases? Or less? What if I had no choice about leaving? That staying meant putting myself and my family in extreme danger? Or that my life where I was so bad that I was willing to face death to find something better?

If I had time, I would scan the family photos that I haven’t yet as well as my father’s artwork that hangs on the walls. I would put it all in a hard drive along with the photos already digitized and protect it as much as I could. I would add legal documents (including the deed to the house in case I could some day come back). I’d pack the extra batteries I have for my phone along with my international charger. The minimum toiletries and the most versatile and durable pieces of clothing I had would fill up the rest of the smallish knapsack (because clearly, anything too big would be hard to carry and easily lost).

Finally, on my way out the door, I would take a stuffed bear, not the one that my grandparents gave me for my first Christmas, nor the stuffed kitty I’ve had since the day after I was born. No, I would take the bear that has accompanied me on almost all my adventures in the past ten years and who has developed a personality of his own, who everyone we know recognizes as another member of the family.

And that’s it.

It’s not a pleasant exercise, nor is it easy, but I think that for those of us who live in relatively safe countries and come from rather privileged situations, it’s an eye-opener and forces us to understand the stress that refugees are under.

What about you? What would your absolute minimum level of extreme minimalism be?

Inherited work clutter – what will your successor have to deal with?

In my last post, I wrote about inherited family clutter. But there are other places we inherit other people’s clutter and the biggest one is at work.

Let me give you an example. Where I work, my former boss had been in her position for almost twenty years. Her mind worked better in paper. She liked to be able to touch things and look up information in books and files. After retiring this summer, she did me the mega-favor of coming in on her own time in September to clear out her office and leave me with what she considered to be the right amount of information.

I, however, don’t work the same way. As I think I might have mentioned once or twice, I hate paper, filing cabinets and bookcases full of books that nobody references.

This has meant that whenever I’m not focused on daily operations or moving the organization forward, I tackle a shelf or a handful of files. I have also rearranged furniture and eliminated several non-matching pieces that just begged to have unused paper piled on top of them, and in the process taken a sort of informal inventory of what we have.

Some areas of the office are bit chaotic since I haven’t been able to devote whole days to a beginning-to-end purge and reorganization, but I am bit-by-bit transforming the office, bringing it in line with the beliefs and habits of the staff who are paper-haters like me.

This process has raised questions for me about my own work habits and although I have just started in my position with the intention of staying in it a long time, having to go through the inherited clutter of my boss, I have been asking myself about succession planning and what someone who comes in after me will think of the way I’ve left the office.

Before I go any further, therefore, I’ve decided to formalize the organization and to depersonalize it. In other words, I am going to use the organization’s mission statement and objectives as my guide for what we end up keeping, what we get rid of, and even where and how we store it.

In doing so, if and when I move on, my successor will have a clear understanding of what is where and why.

In the end, I will have cleared out four bookcases, two small filing cabinets and what’s left over, the staff will able to use because they know what it is, where it is, and what it can be used for.

So, now my questions for you:

  • What information do you store at work?
  • Are you clear why you are holding onto it?
  • Are you making your organizing decisions based on personal preference or are they tied to the cultural beliefs and mission of the organization?
  • If you won the lottery tomorrow and stopped working next week, what would your successor have to deal with? Could he or she sit down at your desk and start working without too much trouble?

An April opportunity to recycle old, broken toys

Many parents face the issue of toy clutter. Their children have more toys than they could ever need or want, often gifted by well-meaning friends and relatives. Or they just have toys their children have outgrown.

If the toys are in good condition, they can often be passed along to other families. But what do you do with the toys that are broken or missing parts? Sending them to landfill often seems like the only answer.

However, through April 30, those in the U.S. have a cool alternative. Tom’s of Maine and TerraCycle have joined forces to provide free recycling of these toys. Just go to the Tom’s of Maine website and click to get a free shipping label. Then fill a box with up to 10 pounds of toys and ship it off at any UPS location.

TerraCycle has a number of ongoing free recycling programs for Clif Bar wrappers, Brita items, Solo cups, Wellness pet food packets, and more — including Tom’s of Maine toothbrushes and much of the company’s product packaging. Tom’s worked with TerraCycle on a toy recycling program in April 2015, but that one was limited to 500 of TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes. The boxes were all claimed within four days, so this year’s program was designed to allow more people to participate.

What happens to the items sent in through the Tom’s of Maine Toy Recycling Program? Lauren Taylor of TerraCycle gave me the answer in an email:

The collected waste is mechanically and/or manually separated into fabrics, metals, fibers, and plastics. Fabrics are reused, upcycled or recycled as appropriate. Metals are smelted so they may be recycled. The fibers (such as paper or wood based products) are recycled or composted. The plastics undergo extrusion and pelletization to be molded into new recycled plastic products.

So if you cringe at sending things to landfill, here’s your opportunity to gather up those dilapidated stuffed animals, the puzzles with missing pieces, the mystery toy pieces, the torn playing cards — and any other broken, worn-out, or incomplete toys — and ship them off for recycling.

Three little helpers

Here are three little tools that help me do what I need to do, better and faster.

Card holder for smartphones

iphone_card_holderWhenever I go for a walk, I always take my iPhone to listen to music or a podcast, an ID card (in case of emergency) and occasionally my bank card because I’ll stop at the store on my way home. Women’s fitness clothing very rarely has pockets and I do not want to carry a purse with me, so I end up carrying my phone in one hand and tucking my ID and bank card in my sock or other article of clothing. More than once I’ve almost lost my cards because they have fallen out of my makeshift pocket.

The Adhesive Credit Card Holder allows me to carry my cards safely stuck to my phone. I’ve tried everything to “accidentally” remove the cards from this holder. I shook the phone upside down and wiggled and jiggled the pocket but the cards remained stuck until I opened the pocket and removed the cards.

I’ve started keeping my ID card and my bank card in my phone all the time. Because I use the GroceryGadget app to manage my shopping lists, I only need my phone with the card holder to do my shopping. I no longer need to carry a bulky purse around the store! Also, I save time getting ready for a fitness session because I can just simply grab my phone and go.

China markers

When I worked in a food chemistry lab, we used china markers (also known as grease pencils) all the time. We used them to label beakers and flasks in experiments. We used them to write on plastic, glass, and cardboard food containers we stored in the fridges and freezers.

At home I use china markers for writing names on cups at children’s parties (or wine glasses at adult parties) as well as dates and descriptions on containers of food in the fridge and freezer.

China markers are convenient. They do not “dry out” like regular markers nor do they need to be sharpened like pencils. The markings are water resistant and do not fade over time but they are removed easily from non-porous surfaces by wiping with a dry paper towel.

Hoof pick

If anyone asks me if I grew up in a barn, the answer is yes. I spent many years working with horses – and I still do. In the stables, an essential tool that keeps horses’ hooves free from stones, mud and other debris is a hoof pick.

A hoof pick is also useful around our house too. We have one just outside our front door. When our rugby player comes home, she uses the hoof pick to remove the caked-on mud and turf from her cleats. The stiff brush removes any bits of dirt still remaining. Hoof picks can clean up children’s muddy rain boots and dig out ice and snow from winter boots too. It also means there is much less dirt in the house for me to clean!

The power of writing it down

“Keep everything in your head or out of your head. In-between, you won’t trust either one.” ~ David Allen.

We’ve written about David Allen’s Getting Things Done several times at Unclutterer. In a nutshell, it’s a system of best practices around doing what you need to do. It’s easy to get “on the wagon” so to speak, and it’s just as easy to fall off. This weekend I spent five hours getting back on, and it’s been great.

Today, I have 86 open projects between work and home, and I feel great about every one. I haven’t made significant progress on any of them. Nor have I ticked off any major milestones or delegated the more repetitive tasks. What did was to get them out of my head and organize them into a system I trust.

As David Allen would say (and I’m paraphrasing here), your brain is not for storing to-dos, it’s for solving problems. When you ask it to do the former, it causes stress. If you’ve ever had a moment when you’ve thought, “Oh no! I need to do [x]!” when there was no chance of doing so, you’ll know it’s the worst. Getting tasks out of your head and into a trusted system can eliminate that feeling.

Last weekend, I sat down and wrote out all of the outstanding projects I need to work on. I define a project as anything that takes more than one step to complete so “draft an outline for volunteer orientation” and “get the oil changed in my car” are both treated as projects.

Once everything is written down, I organize it in a project management system I trust. For me, that system is Todoist (I’ve written about Todoist here before). It’s not the only solution, but it works well for me. I list the project and each step that must be done before the project can be marked as completed.

Once that’s done, I can look at the list of 86 open projects and feel on top of all of it. I know what needs to get done. I know the steps I have to take. I know exactly how to make progress on all of it — and I don’t worry about forgetting things! Finally, nothing feels better than clicking the little checkbox next to a completed task.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take the time to do a “mind dump” and get everything out of your head and into a trusted system, whether it be a piece of software or simply a list. It will help you feel good about all of your projects, no matter how many you have.

Dealing with the clutter of previous generations

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to help a friend clear out the family home that needs to come down before it falls down. The house, which fills half a block in a small northern Spanish town, is a 17th century villa cut up into living quarters, a bar, a garage, and now-inaccessible storage space. My friend grew up with his parents, two uncles, a grandmother, and various other family members at different points over the years. When half the house was renovated and modernized, the unchanged part became a dumping ground for all those things no one quite knew what to do with.

The bar has been shut for over 15 years and yet (apart from the dust) it looked like it could have closed a few weeks ago. Every bedroom still had all the furniture, bedding, leftover clothes, and memorabilia from the last person to occupy it. The two living rooms had wall units that were stuffed to the brim with everything imaginable.

I was curious to see exactly what was in the dumping ground, but my friend told me the floors were not safe to walk on, meaning whatever someone had stored two, three, or ten decades ago was now gone for good more or less (perhaps to be rescued when the demolition starts).

A local charity shop was going to stop by to take furniture, wearable clothing, and “anything that is sellable.” That last category was never quite defined, so when it came to clearing out the house, about 80% of what was in the cupboards, closets, and wall units ended up in garbage bags. After two full days, the main living spaces were cleared out and ready for the charity pickup, but that still left the bar, the accessible storage spaces, and the terraces (I forgot to mention earlier the two large internal terraces full of more stuff).

With the sheer amount of junk to deal with, no one suggested organizing it all for recycling. Everything went into the same garbage bags, meaning it would all end up in landfill. And being non-sentimental types, my friend and his cousin were ruthless — photos, letters, report cards, everything went out. Their thinking was “if we haven’t missed it in ten years, we don’t want to know about it.”

That attitude seems to be one that is growing among people my age. We grew up with parents who were born just before the Second World War (or during the Spanish Civil War) and that generation for the most part, liked to hold onto things. My parents (who lived in Canada) were very organized people, but they had a house of over 4000 sq ft plus about six outbuildings. It gave them a lot of room to hold onto a lot of stuff.

My friend is single and works in an industry that requires him to move quite a bit. He has no interest in collecting anything. His cousin told me that as soon as she was done with the family home, she was going to go through her own house and clear out most of the stuff because she didn’t want to leave the same disaster for her own kids.

My brother and sister had the same reaction after clearing out our parents’ house (having picked up and moved to Europe a few years earlier, I had already purged everything I’d owned).

There are lots of articles on inherited clutter here on Unclutterer, but I wanted to talk about my recent experience because it raised some questions for me:

  1. Are Generation-Xers less sentimental and less interested in holding onto stuff?
  2. For those 40-somethings with parents still alive, have you encouraged them to streamline while they are still around to help give context to some of their collections?
  3. Are our children going to hold onto everything because we don’t?
  4. And finally, on an unrelated note, does having a lot of space always mean building up mounds of unwanted clutter?

I’m not going to try to answer any of these questions. Instead, I’ll leave them open to you to answer them in the comment section.

Managing kids’ screen time

When I was a kid in the 1980s, “screen time” wasn’t really a thing. Personal computers were rare, expensive things that few people had and were mainly for business. Telephones were “dumb” and tethered to the wall, and television offered 13 channels, many of which were snow.

What a difference 40 years makes!

Today, my kids have a staggering amount of media and entertainment available to them at all times. As a parent, I struggle with raising the first generation of kids to never know a day without the internet, pocket-sized computers, and on-demand entertainment. It’s not easy to manage but oh, so important to do so.

Research has demonstrated the dangers of unbridled screen time. A study recently conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “…children [between the ages of] 8 to 18 spend, on average, close to 45 hours per week watching TV, playing video games, instant messaging, and listening to music online.” That’s more time — far more — than they spend in a classroom.

What’s the result of all this time spent staring at a glowing rectangle? As of this writing, it’s hard to say. Since this issue is so new, there haven’t been a lot of longitudinal studies conducted. But research is being done. A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior suggests that sixth graders who abstained from screen time for a period of time were better able to read human emotions than those who did not.

So how can we stay on top of it? Organize a healthy “media diet” with the kids. Here are a few ideas.

First, be aware of what’s age-appropriate. Know what they’re watching, playing, and listening to. I know it sounds obvious, but new entertainment comes out so often, we as parents must actively stay up to date.

This doesn’t just go for content. While digital entertainment is being made for two-year-olds, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV or computer screens (including phones and tablets) for that age group at all.

Next, set family rules and stick to them. Our rule is this: two hours of screen time after dinner and that’s it. Of course, this is considering that all homework is done, lunches and snacks are prepared, and bags are packed up for the next morning. Both parents must be consistent with rule enforcement here. This leads me to the next tip.

No media in bedrooms. You can’t monitor your children when they’re in bed. If a phone or tablet is at hand, the temptation may be too great to pass up.

So far I’ve put all of the focus on the kids. That’s important, but phone-addicted parents need a reminder to put their devices down, too. A recent study noted that kids can feel unimportant when their parents spend so-called “quality time” looking at a phone . Face-to-face interaction is the way children learn.

I guess we could all do with a little less screen time. Manage the amount of time your kids — and you yourself — spend looking at a phone, tablet or computer screen.

Organizing for emergencies and Tsunami Preparedness Week

It’s Tsunami Preparedness Week in California, where I live. Since my home is near the coast, I decided to take another look at what’s recommended for those who live in — or visit — areas which may be impacted by a tsunami.

The Red Cross has a three-step plan describing how to prepare for all sorts of emergencies: fire, hurricane, earthquake, etc. It’s a useful framework that can be tailored to whatever scenario you’re planning for, including a tsunami. If you’ll never face a tsunami risk, you may want to do the same thing for the risks that affect your area.

Get a kit

You can find many resources on preparing a kit for emergency situations: an evacuation or a need to stay at home without access to your normal stores and services. You can buy pre-packaged kits or assemble your own, making sure to accommodate the needs of any children or pets.

If you live or work in a tsunami zone, you’ll probably have hours to evacuate if a tsunami arrives as a result of an earthquake far away. However, a strong local earthquake might cause a tsunami with very little time to prepare. And you may need to evacuate on foot, if at all possible, since roads may be damaged or clogged with traffic. This means you’ll want a portable kit with the real essentials ready to grab and go. A kit for work might need good walking shoes.

One of my two cats is about 18 pounds, so I’m not sure how I’d carry him if I needed to evacuate on foot. (His normal carrying case would be unwieldy to carry for any decent distance.) A wheeled carrier or a backpack, maybe? Fortunately, since I’m just outside a tsunami evacuation zone, I don’t need to worry about that.

Make a plan

Your tsunami plan, if you need one, would include both evacuation and family communication. Be sure to understand what plans are in place for any of your schools or workplaces that may need to evacuate, so your personal plans can incorporate those other plans.

It helps to practice traveling along any chosen evacuation route so you can travel it without a lot of thought, even if it’s dark or the weather is bad.

For some disaster situations you can take steps to help minimize the risk. There are a number of ways to make your home a less dangerous place in an earthquake. If you live in tornado country, you may be able to build a safe room.

In a tsunami situation, there are no equivalent steps you can take. However, your plan might involve buying flood insurance if your home is at risk.

Be informed

If you live or work near the coast, you’ll want to know if your home, workplace, or school is in an evacuation zone. For those in the U.S., you can find the relevant maps online. You’ll also want to know about any designated evacuation routes and safe gathering spaces, as well as your community’s warning plan.

If you’re a tourist, you’ll want to be aware of evacuation procedures in the area you’re visiting.

And both residents and tourists will want to know the warning signs of a potential tsunami, since warning systems might not have time to alert you about a tsunami generated by a local event. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services has a good list of these warning signs: strong long-lasting ground shaking from an earthquake, unusual sea-level fluctuations, an abnormally large wave, or a loud ocean roar.

It took me a couple hours of searching the web and reading reliable information sources to feel like I understood my tsunami risk and what I should be doing, just in case. I think it was time well spent.

Reader question: Organizing Broadway playbills

Unclutterer reader Jackie (great name by the way) wrote in to ask:

What does one do with old pictures of actors, and Broadway programs and playbills?

This is a great question and it also encompasses programs and photos from other cultural events such as posters from special museum exhibits, sporting event programs, and photos from themed conventions (e.g., Comic-Con, etc.).

The first question to ask yourself is, “Do I still want to keep these items?” If you decide that you want to part with some or all of these items, then here are a few ways to do that.

  • Friends/family: Pass items along to friends or family members who show an interest. Include a brief description of the item’s history; how you got it and why you kept it.
  • Aficionados: If you belong to a group of theatre-goers or a fan-club, other members of the group may be interested in your items. If you’re not a member of a fan group, you could contact a local club and let them know what items you have to sell or donate. Some businesses might be interested too. For example, a small café near your local theatre might wish to use Broadway programs as part of their décor.
  • Local theatre, historical group, or archives: Photos, pictures, and playbills from a local theatre may be of value to your community archives. Consider contacting these groups to make a donation.
  • Online selling: Using online auctions sites (eBay) or classified ads sites (Craigslist, kijiji, Gumtree, etc.) will allow you to find buyers from outside your local area.
  • Disposal: Paper items whose condition is too poor to sell can be recycled. Photos, posters, and other non-recyclables could be donated to a community group to be dismantled for a craft project or placed directly into the garbage.

For those items you wish to keep, here are some ways to organize and conserve them.

An archival 3-Ring Binder Box with heavy-weight, archival sheet protectors would be ideal to store and organize programs and playbills. You could slip a little acid-free index card in the pocket to record the date you saw the show, with whom you saw it, and a brief review. Labelled tabbed dividers can help further organize your playbills into subcategories. You could subdivide by year or by genre – whatever makes the most sense to you.

Dirt and oils on your fingers can degrade paper and photos, so always handle the items carefully with clean, dry hands. When you’re organizing, avoid areas with food and drinks. If the kitchen or dining table is your only organizational space, cover the table with a clean cotton cloth before you start to protect your collection while you work.

If your materials contain staples, remove them carefully and replace them with archival thread. However, closures such as sealing wax, ribbons, stitches, and unusual metal fasteners may enhance the value so when in doubt, leave these items in place.

Temperature, humidity, and light will affect items in storage. Ensure that you store your collection in a suitable climate. Archivists recommend no higher than 21°C (70°F) and a relative humidity between 30% and 50%.

You may decide to frame some posters or photos that have great meaning to you. We suggest that you use acid-free materials and UV-resistant glass when mounting your items. Hang your work out of direct sunlight to ensure it retains its beauty.

Good luck with your collection Jackie. For more information on conserving these types of documents, check out the Northeast Document Conservation Center website.

Living with a small kitchen

Are you living in urban studio apartment with a galley kitchen or a dorm with a shared kitchenette? If so, this post is for you. Small kitchens can become very functional with just a few adjustments. I’m one who knows.

My family’s house has a small kitchen. When we first moved into the little summer cottage that would become our year-round home, the oven and refrigerator couldn’t be opened at the same time because the door of one would bang into the other. We’ve remodeled, but the space constraints are mostly the same. There is very little counter space, only a few cabinets, and we are a family of four. You can do the math on that one.

To make it work, we’ve had to prioritize about what we really need, efficiently store the items we keep, and eliminate anything we can live without. Here’s how we’ve made it work.

If the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location, the small kitchen mantra is prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. When storage and counter space are at a premium, every item must earn its right to be there. Go through your kitchen and decide if each item can stay or needs to go. Here’s an example.

We got rid of the microwave oven after realizing all that it really offers is convenience. That is to say, it doesn’t accomplish anything that the stovetop and oven can’t do. It’s quicker, but getting rid of it freed up a couple cubic feet of space. We’re years into living without it now, and haven’t missed it one bit.

Think about the bulky items in your kitchen such as the juicer, mixer, and coffee pot. (I know, nobody is going to give up a coffee pot!) Is there a smaller version? Can an item be eliminated entirely?

Once you’ve culled the bulky items, consider the “must haves.” These are the things you can’t do without, like utensils, cutlery, plates, pots, and pans. For each item on this list purge down to only what’s necessary.

Next, adopt a zero tolerance policy for unitaskers. There is no room in a small kitchen for the Jumbo Jerky Works Gun. Seriously though, these things take up space and almost never get used. Don’t just take our word for it. Celebrity chef Alton Brown breaks down exactly why there’s no room in your kitchen for these things.

Here are a few other suggestions for living with a small kitchen.

  1. Stack up, not out. Like me, you’ll probably have more vertical space than horizontal.
  2. Store items near where they are used.
  3. Find things that work with your space, not against it. For example, a magnetic knife mount is much more efficient than a knife block when counter space is at a premium.
  4. Clean as you go. This is probably the best tip of the bunch. There just isn’t room to make a big mess, so clean up as you work.

Here’s hoping this was helpful. Tiny kitchen life can be cozy and fun if you’re doing it right.

Do we outsource our memory too much?

Recently I started a new course that’s rather stressful and time-consuming. To prepare for it, at work, I wrote down everything I have to do between now and my August holidays. For Unclutterer, I didn’t do anything because Jacki has a lovely Google Calendar with all our publishing dates. And I informed my husband of when I would need to work on my course so that he wouldn’t feel ignored.

All good things, right? Communication, written task lists, and using sharing technology to its fullest. The height of personal organization.

But then, at work in doing one of my monthly tasks, I left half of it undone. Plus I didn’t go look at Jacki’s calendar and almost missed a publishing date (thanks for reminding me, Jacki). The only thing that didn’t go wrong was my relationship.

I asked myself why that happened.

I began by looking at my task list at work. When I’d written down the monthly task, I wrote down only the information for the first part of the task and nothing about the second. When I relied solely on my memory, I always went through a mental checklist to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Having written it down, I didn’t feel the need to go through that list and didn’t even remember the second part existed and it’s something I’ve been doing monthly for over 3 years!

Then I thought about the calendar and why I didn’t consult it. Lack of habit and assuming that I already knew it. I have to admit that last one is a biggie for me. I get convinced of something so much that I don’t bother checking to make sure that it is true.

This led me to wonder about using lists, relying on memory, or employing technology. Which works best and why?

With smartphones and prior to that day-planners, we have external memory devices around us all the time. No need to actually remember anything, right? But is that lazy of us? Over on Life Hacker, Thorin Klosowski did a personal experiment back in 2012 where he stopped relying on anything other than his brain to remember what he had to do and where he had to go.

To make sure he did everything he needed to, he would walk himself through the day each morning, similar to what I did for my monthly work tasks before making the mistake of half-writing them down. He found the experiment extremely helpful and although he didn’t stick to a brain-only memory prompt, he did decide to rely less on paper and technology.

Fascinated by Klosowski’s experiment, I thought I’d go see what else was out there and found an article in Wired from 2014 that looked at an experiment that tested people’s ability to remember things with or without the ability to write it down first. The results did not support note-taking as a memory tool. Those who relied solely on memory performed better.

“Okay, okay, maybe these are two isolated incidents,” I said to myself. “Let’s see what else is out there.”

Moving up to 2016, Motherboard published an article about how using technology to remember tasks makes it easier to forget them.

The author, Rachel Pick, was in a situation really close to mine — lots of commitments with different dates and requirements and no simple way to merge them all into a single list. She tried a physical planner, but just like me, she forgot to take it with her. She then tried apps, which were either too complex or too restrictive.

She finally tried Google Keep (which I use to remember restaurants in other cities, birthday gift ideas for my husband, and things that we have to take to the cottage). And she liked it, so much so that if something wasn’t written down in the app, it was like it never existed.

Being a curious person, Pick spoke with a neuroscientist to find out why this was happening. What he told her was basically what Klosowski discovered on his own — Pick was outsourcing her memory to Google Keep and was changing the way neurons were firing in her brain.

What was the neuroscientists advice? Rely more on memory and less on tools.

With so many things going on in my life, I can’t rely on just my memory, but what I have to do is start asking myself, “Are you sure that’s all? Are you missing anything?” and go through my mental checklists with paper and technology acting as prompts and light support only.

Making filing easier

For me, one of the most annoying parts of setting up a filing system is creating the labeled tabs on the hanging file folders. It’s a fussy and time-consuming process, dealing with those paper inserts for the plastic tabs.

One solution is to avoid hanging file folders altogether and just use standard file folders, but that’s awkward for many people, given that many file cabinets are set up for hanging files. But there are other alternatives, and if you get as annoyed as I do with the standard plastic tabs, you may want to consider one of these.

Erasable hanging folder tabs are the ones I’m going to try, myself. You can use them with the hanging folders you already have, although they cost about 25 percent more than the normal 1/3 cut plastic tabs do. (I much prefer the longer 1/3 cut tabs to the shorter 1/5 cut tabs, because you can have more meaningful filenames.) You need to use a permanent marker and a standard white eraser, which could be a minor hassle — but many offices I’m in already have those lying around. Alternatively, I’m guessing you could attach a self-adhesive label made with a label maker to the tab if you prefer that to handwritten labels.

If you don’t already have hanging file folders, you might want to try the folders with built-in erasable tabs. You can get them in this moss color or in assorted colors, and there’s a box-bottom option if you need the extra space. However, these folders may be problematic for those of us who prefer straight-line filing, since the tabs come in sets with three positions: left, right, and center.

If you want to use labels from a label maker, and don’t care about the erasable feature, you could buy similar hanging folders with built-in 2-ply reinforced tabs. You could also write on these with pencil and erase as needed, but penciled labels may be a bit too faint to read easily.

The unusual Find It hanging files have a lower top rail so you can easily see the tabs on the interior folders — so you don’t need any tabs on the hanging folders. These folders can also help those who have file cabinets where normal hanging folder tabs don’t fit because of the drawer height.

This solution assumes you use interior file folders in your hanging files, which not everyone does. (I often don’t.) But for the right person, these can be a great choice. I know someone who gave away all her other hanging file folders and uses these exclusively.