Reader Question: What to do with digitized CDs and DVDs

Recently, reader Sarah asked us this:

I don’t know if it’s still true, but it certainly was the law in the USA that if you own a music CD and rip it to create mp3 files (or similar), you had to continue to physically possess the CDs from which you did the ripping, otherwise it was considered illegal use. Perhaps someone can update me on that?

That’s a great question – and yes, it still is the law. Copyright law protects the work of artists. If you make unauthorized copies, you are taking the artists’ works without providing payment. This type of theft is called piracy. You may have seen the FBI anti-piracy warning shield on movies you have watched. Although audio recordings may not have a warning label, they are still subject to the same copyright laws. Thanks to the internet, piracy is a world-wide problem and law enforcement agencies in many countries are working together to protect intellectual property.

The Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA) has a great summary of the different actions that are considered music piracy but they also applies to movies. Piracy can include uploading and downloading unauthorized versions of copyrighted music/movies from peer-to-peer networks as well as ripping CDs/DVDs to your own computer and selling the originals at a garage sale.

What does this mean for uncluttering and organizing if you can’t dispose of the original CDs/DVDs once you’ve converted them to a space-saving digital format?

First of all, you can sell or give away the original CD/DVD, but only as long as you no longer have any copies of the music/movies in any format. Once our children were older, we donated all of the DVDs and CDs that they were no longer interested in. It didn’t take long after that (mere minutes, in fact) for me to delete every digital copy as well. Bye-bye Barney and Friends!

Go through your collection. Are there any movies you will no longer watch or any music you won’t listen to anymore? Delete the digital copies and let the originals go.

DVDs and CDs tend to take up space because of their bulky, and rather breakable “jewel” cases. You could take the disks out of their case and put them into classy storage albums. This type of album also has storage for lyrics sheets or movie notes. It will take up much less space on shelving and allow your disks to be easily accessed whenever you need them.

After we downloaded our music onto our computer, we stored our entire CD collection in “cake boxes,” the spindle-type containers in which you can buy a stack of computer CDs. These are easily stored in the back of the drawer of our filing cabinet. The disadvantages of storing CDs in cake boxes include difficulty finding and accessing a CD if you need it again and lack of storage for movie notes or lyric sheets.CD storage box

Storage boxes like this one, can hold over 300 CDs/DVDs. The advantage of the storage box is that you can store movie notes or lyric sheets with the disks. It’s a good idea to put disks in sleeves to protect them — just in case the box gets tipped over onto the floor. Accidents can happen.

Regardless of how you organize your CDs/DVDs, you should also create an inventory and store it separately from the collection. You may wish to take photos of the disks and original packaging and include a copy of the sales slip. This information would be useful if your collection was ever damaged or stolen.

The organized nightstand

Over the years we’ve written many articles about maintaining an organized bedroom. Today I’ll talk about the faithful nightstand. Other than your bed, the nightstand is likely the piece of bedroom furniture you’ll use most often. Everything from your phone to your current novel rests on this little table, and it can get cluttered. Here’s how to pick a nightstand that’s going to work for you, and keep it tidy in the process.

Drawer or no drawer?

I’m anti-drawer fan when it comes to nightstands. I had a nice old desk next to my bed for years. It had a drawer that I filled with appropriate things: tissues for when I was feeling sick, a book, wallet and keys, and so on. Then I started to put other things in there such as greeting cards, books of stamps, little notebooks, batteries, headphones, small paperback books, and so on.

I’d purge the drawer and start again, only to get the same result. The nightstand drawer became my go-to destination for those “Where do I put this?” items. So, I eliminated the nightstand with the drawer and I haven’t looked back.

Incidentally, if you’re looking to reclaim a junk drawer, we’ve got you covered.

Light source

This is one area I still need to update. Currently I’ve got a small desk lamp on my nightstand. It’s great but the base takes up a too much space. A clip-on model would save space and every little bit counts.

Containers

Many of the items on my nightstand are small, like my keys, pocket flashlight, pocket knife, notebook, wallet, and pens (my Everyday Carry). To keep these bits and bobs from making a mess I use a Sturdy Brothers Catch All. It looks great and keeps all of that stuff together.

Everything else

What else is permitted on my nightstand? My Kindle is there, and my phone, which I use as an alarm clock. Often times I’ll put a bottle of water there as I like to take a drink when I first wake up but that’s it.

I realize that different needs will necessitate more or less on a person’s nightstand, as well as the features of the furniture itself. Please chime in. How do you keep your nightstand organized?

Getting rid of the kitchen: social media dining

Unless you’ve been sitting on top of a mountain meditating the last five years, you’ll know the term food-porn: the exhibitionistic display on social media sites of everything we eat. I’m guilty of this, especially when it comes to the food we make at home. We love to cook and we love to share what we cook, and not just in our Instagram accounts. We also love to have people over for dinner and often when some service we use regularly does a great job, we take a cake or perhaps homemade donuts to them as a token of our gratitude.

In my search for examples of a non-ownership world, I’ve discovered a network of sites taking social media dining to the next level, like an Airbnb for meals. You join an online community, find home-based chefs in your area and look at what they are offering. You order your meal and arrange its pickup or delivery. You get a home-cooked meal without having to pay the price of a personal chef.

At first glance, this service doesn’t seem much different from the rest of the take-out options we have, but if you think about it, a home-based chef doesn’t have the high overhead a restaurant has. Nor does the home-based chef have to market; she just needs to be a member of an online community. Plus, in the majority of cases, a home-cooked meal is going to be a lot healthier than one you can get as take-out.

There is of course, one major problem with the service: in most places, it’s illegal to sell food that has been prepared in a home kitchen.

According to the digital news outlet Quartz.com, however, some U.S. states are looking to change that. California, for example, is looking at introducing a new category to its food and safety regulations, allowing home kitchens to prepare and sell food.

So, what does this mean for a non-ownership world? Back in the early 2000s, a friend of mine moved from Toronto to New York, where she said that her kitchen was so small and the local supermarkets so expensive that she found it more practical and economical to have a binder of local take-out options and only prepare breakfast at home. I’m pretty sure that if a social media dining community existed back then, she would have tossed out the take-out menus and would have enjoyed home-cooked meals on a daily basis.

Think about it… if you only had to prepare breakfast, you wouldn’t need a large kitchen. A kitchenette would be sufficient really, saving on space and energy costs. You wouldn’t need a large fridge, or even an oven. A combination microwave and grill would cover your needs. A coffee maker and a small stove top would round out all the appliances you’d need. One or two cupboards for dishes and glass. Someone dedicated to the social media dining lifestyle could pretty much do away with a kitchen altogether.

In many large cities, like New York, space comes at a premium. Put the kitchen in a walk-in closet and you have more space for living, perhaps an actual dining room, instead of having to perch on the edge of the sofa, hoping not to spill anything on the fabric.

Finally, many of those who are going to inherit a non-ownership world – the teens and twenty-somethings – have no idea how to cook and next to no interest in learning to do so. For them, social media dining has all the benefits of living at home without having to wash the pots and pans afterwards.

If you want to give social media dining a try, check out one of these communities – they might have someone in your area ready to cook for you: Josephine, MealSurfers and Umi Kitchen.

Avoiding an excess of tote bags

When I first started working as a professional organizer I often found people had what seemed to be an excessive number of grocery bags — paper, plastic, or both. If they agreed, I would often take those excess bags and donate them to charities doing food giveaways.

However, starting in 2007, laws in California changed — first in certain cities and counties, and then at the statewide level. California now bans many stores from providing single-use plastic bags at check-out (with a few exceptions), and stores now charge a small fee for paper bags.

There’s good reason for such bans, as Chelsea Harvey explained in The Washington Post:

Plastic bags are infamous non-biodegradable sources of pollution — although they will eventually break down into tiny pieces, scientists believe this process can take hundreds of years, or even up to a millennium, in landfills.

Many scientists are growing particularly concerned about plastic pollution in the oceans. Research suggests that 5 million to 12 million metric tons of plastic may have been dumped into the ocean in 2010 alone. There, the waste is frequently eaten by seabirds and other marine animals — or it breaks down into tiny pieces known as microplastics, which scientists believe can be harmful or even toxic to sea creatures who ingest it.

If you want to know more, Ed Yong wrote a fascinating article for The Atlantic explaining why some seabirds are attracted to this plastic. If you still use plastic grocery bags, you’ll want to be sure they get reused (by you or others) or disposed of responsibly so they don’t wind up in the ocean. Bags that are left in the street often get washed into gutters, and go from there into various waterways.

As a result of these new laws restricting single-use bags, reusable tote bags have become popular. And now I often see people with an excess of those bags, partly because tote bags get given away so often. I’ve gotten bags at conferences and received bags as gifts from charities. I got one when I subscribed to a certain newspaper.

I use a lot of bags in my work — they’re handy for hauling away items my clients want to donate, recycle, or give away. But even I wound up with more bags than I could possibly use, without buying a single one. This is a common problem, as Noah Dillon noted in The Atlantic:

In a 2009 article about the bags for Design Observer, the Urban Outfitters designer Dmitri Siegel claimed to have found 23 tote bags in his house, collected from various organizations, stores, and brands. …

He notes that because the bags are large, flat, and easily printed on, they’re great for embellishment and product placement. They’re given away with purchases at galleries, bookstores, eyeglass boutiques, grocers, tattoo parlors.

Besides cluttering our homes, these bags have another problem: They take a lot of resources to produce. Dillon noted that a bag made of recycled polypropylene plastic would need to be reused 26 times to be as environmentally sound (from a resource usage standpoint) as a plastic bag. And a cotton tote bag would need to be used 327 times!

So what can someone trying to live a green and uncluttered life do? For one thing, you can decline to take extra bags you don’t need when they are offered. If you always carry a tote bag with you, it’s easy to tell a store that you don’t need theirs for your purchase. (Small bags that have limited reuse possibilities are especially annoying.) Get in the habit of always having bags in your car or carrying one or more with you when you walk, bicycle, or take public transit to any place where you might do some shopping. Many bags fold up to a very small size and can fit in a backpack, purse, briefcase, etc.

Similarly, if a charity offers a bag as a reward for making a donation, decline that offer if you don’t need any more bags. When you see clever tote bags on sale (and there are certainly many that I’ve found tempting), consider whether it’s something you’ll really use or if will just become clutter — just as you would with any purchase.

Finally, you can give away excess bags. It seems that not everyone has too many, because I successfully freecycled about a dozen a few months ago.

The inherited-photos dilemma

Do you struggle with a collection of old photos? If so, you may relate to the following question I got via email, which the sender agreed I could answer here since this situation is not uncommon:

I have a ton of old pictures that I ended up with when my mom passed away three years ago. Sadly, some of them I have no idea who they are. I dread organizing them and wonder if you have any tips to help me. Many of them are in old photo albums on black paper with those little edges.

I’m wondering if I should save those as is or take them all apart and scan and get rid of them. I’ve put this off for three years now. Help me before I put it off for another three years — or more!

I also have slides that my parents took and have no way of looking at them to see if I even want to keep them.

First of all, you are under no obligation to keep old photos that have no meaning to you, which would be the case with photos of unknown people. Just as with anything else you inherit, you can decide which items you want to keep and then find appropriate homes for the rest.

What would be an appropriate home for those photos of mystery people? If anyone in your family is into genealogy, that person might well appreciate getting the photos. My brother began researching our family tree over the past few years and has identified many of the mystery people in the photos we inherited from my mother. You might bring the photos to a family gathering and see if anyone wants some.

If no family members have any interest, you could check to see if a local historical society would be interested in them. An art school — or any school’s art class — might enjoy working with them. Some people have had luck using freeycle groups, Craigslist, or eBay to sell or give away old photos.

If none of these ideas work out for you, it’s okay to just toss the photos that aren’t meaningful to you. As Earth911 explains, many older photos have a chemical coating that keeps them from being recyclable, so they may just need to go into the trash bin.

For the photos you do want to keep, scanning at least the best of them is a good idea. Digital photos can be stored and backed up so they won’t be lost if you were unlucky enough to have a flood, a fire, etc. Also, digital photos can be easily shared with other family members. You could scan them yourself, using a flatbed scanner, or pay one of the many photo scanning services to do this for you.

You can then decide whether you want to keep the originals of the photos you’ve scanned. For any you do want to keep, using an album or box that has passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) will help ensure the photos don’t deteriorate over time. Albums can make for nicer viewing, but photo boxes take a lot less space.

You are lucky that your photos are in albums with the little corner holders, so it will be easy to remove them as needed. If you have any hard-to-remove photos in those magnetic sticky albums, you can follow the advice from the Smithsonian Institution Archives about safely removing those photos.

For dealing with the slides, you can buy a slide viewer fairly inexpensively to allow you to look through the slides. Slides you would like to keep can also be scanned for easier viewing in the future. If you don’t want to pay a service to scan them, you could consider renting a slide scanner rather than buying one for just a one-time project.

Finally, work at a pace that is comfortable for you. Some people like to set aside a whole day or more for a project like this, while others prefer to do a little bit every day or every week.

Unitasker Wednesday: Smartduvet

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Smartduvet is non-permanent insert that attaches to your existing duvet and slips inside your duvet cover. Once activated using your smartphone app, it will make your bed for you.

I must admit, this is a pretty cool piece of technology. I agree with the manufacturers that it would be very useful for those who have mobility challenges but beyond that, do people today really need an app to make their own beds?

Considering how much time my own teenagers spend staring at their phones, it’s a possibility. However, I do not think Smartduvet is the answer for them because every morning the duvets are on the floor. On the weekends duvets are often dragged out to the living room so the teens can continue sleeping on the sofa.

But, I ask this philosophical question, “If a bed is unmade when no one is home to see it, does it really matter?”

Thanks to reader Llynn for pointing this unitasker out to us.

Clutter and productivity

A few years ago, we pointed out a study conducted by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute which demonstrates how a cluttered environment can negatively affect productivity:

“Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”

In other words, having lots of “stuff” in your visual field can make it difficult to achieve the focus needed for meaningful work.

It’s a compelling finding and one that I relate to. How often have I delayed the start of a project because my desk is a mess? Many. This is anecdotal of course, but I don’t believe that’s always a function of procrastination. After tidying up, I feel like, “Ahh, now I can work.”

Of course, I don’t want to work in a spartan, decor-free room, either. So what do I keep around my work space? Here’s a quick tour of the few items that I allow in my immediate work space.

Desk

On my desk you’ll find the expected. A computer, keyboard and mouse. There’s a coffee mug fill of pens. The mug has sentimental value to me, as I bought it while on a family vacation. Seeing it makes me smile. Next you’ll find a stack of 3×5 index cards and a desktop “inbox,” much like this one.

Lastly, there’s a coaster for the odd drink (tea, etc.). Notably absent: photos. I know many people feel motivated or happy when looking at photos of loved ones. I understand that, but those images make me wish I was with them and not at work! So no family photos for me.

Wall

To the left of my desk is a bulletin board with quick-reference material. I’ve written about my love of bulletin boards before. Mine stores phone numbers I need to know, policies that must be public and a few other similar items.

Computer screen

I like a tidy computer desktop as well. For me, that means the wallpaper must be either a solid color or depicting a simple image. Also, I can’t handle a screen littered with icons. I know that many people like to keep icons representing oft-used documents and applications on the desktop, and I can respect that. I just prefer folders.

There’s a quick look. For me, visual clutter definitely interferes with my ability to focus on work. With that in mind, these are the few items I’m glad to have around. How about you?

Active meditation, or why I love ironing

Whenever I tell people that I love ironing, especially large items like sheets and duvet covers, I get the strangest looks, like I had just told them I scrub my floors with a toothbrush.

“Your sheets?!?” they say aghast.

Yes, my sheets, and dishtowels, along with all my shirts and any trousers that aren’t denim.

Why do I love it so much? Apart from the oddly comforting vision of wrinkle-free fabric, when I’m ironing, I don’t think about anything else. It’s just me, the fabric and the steam-iron, putting order to my inner and outer world.

And it’s not just ironing that I love. Sweeping and doing the dishes create the same sense of tranquility for me. In fact, if I owned a store, whenever I didn’t have clients, I’d probably be outside sweeping the sidewalk and humming to myself.

This type of imposed order on chaos could be compared to the creation of a Japanese Zen garden. Just as a Zen priest rakes the gravel into near-perfect abstract patterns to help focus his thoughts and reach a deeper level of meditation, my household chores help me disconnect from the stresses of work, family, and daily life.

I’ve tried seated meditation in the past and it doesn’t work for me. I have poor posture (too many years at a desk job) and a very active brain. Between the pain of trying to maintain a sitting position for more than a minute and the million and one thoughts that pass through my mind, meditation just doesn’t happen.

In the 1970s, a new term for active meditation – Dynamic Meditation – was popularized by the Indian mystic Osho, although now the term is used to describe any sort of meditation that includes movement. The idea behind it is that since it’s difficult for modern people to sit still, the body can be in movement while the brain and spirit go on the meditative journey.

Here is how I meditate dynamically while getting my household chores done:

  1. Put on music – It doesn’t have to be soothing music. In fact, the other day, I listened to a selection of Greatest Hits by the rather out-there Army of Lovers. The point of the music is to create some background noise that reminds me of the existence of the outside world.
  2. Organize what I’m going to iron – It sounds silly, but to invoke the right frame of mind, I have an order to my ironing:
    • Handkerchiefs, tea-towels, cloth napkins: These small quick achievements make me happy and begin to disconnect me from any stress I might be feeling.
    • Trousers and shirts: These are the tricky things, and as they need the deep concentration if I’m not going to miss a part or burn the cloth, I am forced to pay full attention to the task at hand.
    • Sheets and duvet covers: At this point when I’m relaxed and highly attuned to the movement of cloth and machine, I can take my time and let my thoughts drift while my hands do the work.
  3. Admire the results – One of the rewards of raking gravel in a Zen garden is later sitting and looking at it, so if you don’t admire the neatly folded pile of sheets and crisp shirts on hangers then you are getting only half the benefit of the active meditation.

Apart from ironing, sweeping, and doing the dishes, other household chores that I’ve turned into active meditation include: weeding the garden, shoveling snow off the driveway, raking leaves, and even painting the house.

The next time you groan at the thought of the pile of ironing waiting for you to get around to, or the latest snowstorm demanding your attention, try looking at it as a chance to meditate and free yourself from the stresses and cares that have been building up inside you.

Conference handouts: do you ever refer to them?

If you have ever been to a conference, I’m sure you’ve received more than your fair share of handouts and other paper, from the organizing body, speakers and vendors. Plus you’ll also have whatever notes you take.

Conferences sometimes can feel like the New Year, a perfect time for resolutions, vows and promises to ourselves about what we’ll get right to work on when we’re back at our desks. But like most New Year resolutions, our good intentions get buried in the day-to-day details and mini-crises that make up a normal workday.

Years ago, in my most minimalist stage, I refused any and all handouts, relying on my memory. I had the theory that if a presentation didn’t cause a strong enough impression that it stuck in my brain, it wasn’t of much importance or priority to me.

The there are those who go to the other extreme, not just collecting everything they can, but also organizing and archiving it so that they can access the information at any point in the future. My mother was the latter type and although she didn’t refer back to every piece of information from every conference, she quite often pulled out some useful tidbit or other when working on a new project.

I just got back from a conference in Barcelona where I learned a lot about things that we are either in the process of implementing or could introduce at work. And since I’m no longer so minimalist, I took copious notes and after getting home, I downloaded the handouts/presentations of each of the sessions I attended. I was also given marketing material about products and processes the vendors offered. Between paper and electronic documents, I probably have a full day’s reading.

Assuming I actually look at it all, which I won’t.

I will hold onto my own notes and the presentation notes until I finish the projects we are working on that prompted me going to the conference. And the marketing materials will go straight into the recycling bin as will materials about the conference itself.

That’s me though. I don’t have a filing cabinet, or even a single drawer. I hate collecting paper. (Okay yes, I am still a minimalist at heart.) If you are someone who does like to hold onto information, however, here are some things to think about when it comes to deciding what to keep:

  1. Determine what part of your job the handout relates to. Make a note of it on the handout and store it with your other files on the same topic.
  2. If it’s not connected to anything you currently do, is it something you want to try in the future? If so, create a “future plans” document on your computer and add the basic ideas to it. Toss out what you picked up from the conference,, because when you finally get around to the idea, it’s highly likely you’ll need to research the topic again to find out the latest advances.
  3. Are you ever involved in running events? I am, so parts of my notes include my impression of the conference itself: what they did well and what wasn’t quite so good. I put these notes in with my event planning files (which in my case are all electronic — I really do hate paper).
  4. Record the vendor details in your preferred contact management system, along with a note about why you might be interested in working with them, and get rid of the marketing materials. Vendors are always happy to provide you with new information at any time (which these days can almost always be found online).

What do you do with conference handouts? Have I missed anything? Share your tricks and tips in the comments.

Do you need to toss those old items in your pantry?

In the U.S., there’s no federal law regarding food product dating, except for infant formula where an expiration date is required because the nutrients decline over time. Some states have additional requirements for products such as milk and eggs.

But most commercially produced food items, including shelf-stable items such canned corn, jars of mustard, and packages of pasta, also have date labels: sell by, consume by, use by, best by, best if used before, enjoy by, etc. And sometimes there’s just a date, with no label at all to indicate what the date means.

All of this can be confusing and can lead to food waste. As NPR explained:

Companies use the labels to protect the reputation of their products — they want consumers to see and consume their food in as fresh a state as possible. But those dates often have the perverse effect of convincing over-cautious consumers to throw perfectly good food into the trash.

Now two major trade associations, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have suggested that manufacturers and retailers use just two labels (unless laws require otherwise):

  • Best If Used By: Describes product quality, where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume.
  • Use By: Applies to the few products that are highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package – and disposed of after that date.

The FMI and GMA press releases on Feb. 15 summed up the situation nicely:

“Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error,” said Jack Jeffers, Vice President of Quality at Dean Foods, which led GMA’s work on this issue. “It’s much better that these products stay in the kitchen — and out of landfills.”

These are voluntary standards, and you won’t see the new labels immediately, but it’s a move that should (over time) help everyone make more informed keep-or-toss decisions. In the meantime, you can still recognize that a best-by type of date on a non-perishable food item is a flavor indicator, not a food safety indicator. The cans to toss for safety’s sake are those that are bulging or leaking, those that have deep dents, especially if the dents affect the seams, or those with rust along the seams.

If you want to consider donating the items, check with your local food bank or other food donation center as to its rules. My local social services agency accepts non-perishable food up to one year past the “best by” date.

Another note: According to the FDA, that bottled water you’ve stocked up on as a critical part of your emergency supplies will still be safe past any labeled expiration date, as long as it’s in an unopened, properly sealed container. It might have an off-odor or taste, though.

Unitasker Wednesday: Boot Sandals

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

The classic American TV commercial celebrated the accidental combination of chocolate and peanut butter. The result was “two great things that taste great together.”

That’s not what happens when you combine boots and sandals.

Redneck Boot Sandals combine cowboy boots and sandals into a single article of footwear. On their own, sandals are great. Cowboy boots are very nice as well. Together, however, we have a problem.

Let me note that I am not a fashion guru. I throw on some jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap and call it a day. It’s even worse where footwear is concerned. I’ve got sneakers, a pair of shoes for work, and winter boots. So take my fashion advice with a grain of salt.

While boot sandals are cute as a novelty, I won’t be buying a pair. How about you?

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.