Book Review: Crucial Conversations

One of the most difficult tasks when it comes to organizing the home is talking about it with other family members. It’s far too easy for conversations to deteriorate into arguments and suggestions about clutter to turn into accusations and attacks. In the end, the one wanting to unclutter becomes extreme wanting to throw everything out and the one resisting begins to hold onto to every little piece of paper saying that it’s all vitally important. No one’s happy and the clutter problem isn’t just still there, it’s grown into the focus of a battle of wills that can’t be won.

Fortunately, there exists a solution, and it comes in book format. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, 2nd Edition, is a book that helps people to prepare for delicate conversations, to transform anger and hurt feelings into dialogue, and to make any situation safe enough for all parties to freely discuss any topic.

My background is Anglo-Canadian, and so I come from a culture where delicate conversations were never held. I never learned how to initiate and participate in (possibly) anger-producing discussions; we would just avoid them. So, for me, finding this book has been a lifesaver both at work and at home.

Just looking at the table of contents provides a plan for tackling delicate situations:

  • Ch 1: What is a Crucial Conversation? And Who Cares?
  • Ch 2: Mastering Crucial Conversations: The Power of Dialogue
  • Ch 3: Start with the Heart: How to Stay Focused on What Your Really Want
  • Ch 4: Learn to Look: How to Notice When Safety is at Risk
  • Ch 5: Make It Safe: How to Make It Safe to Talk About Almost Anything
  • Ch 6: Master My Stories: How to Stay in Dialogue When You’re Angry, Scared or Hurt
  • Ch 7: State my Path: How to Speak Persuasively, Not Abrasively
  • Ch 8: Explore Others’ Paths: How to Listen When Others Blow Up or Clam Up
  • Ch 9: Move to Action: How to Turn Crucial Conversations into Action and Results
  • Ch 10: Yeah, But: Advice for Tough Cases
  • Ch 11: Putting it All Together: Tools for Preparing and Learning

At the beginning of the book, there is a quiz to help you determine what challenges you face in particular when it comes to the issue, and suggests which chapters should receive your special attention.

How has this book helped me?

Well, at work, I have to evaluate staff and sometimes provide feedback that no one wants to hear about themselves. Previously, I would have softened the message so much that no one was ever sure I was critiquing them. Now, however, I have a framework to use that doesn’t attack the listener, but allows me to express my concerns about their job performance.

And at home, instead of never saying anything because I did not want to upset my partner, I can now open up and create a safe space for discussing pretty much anything.

If I had read this book back when I was organizing professionally, it would have helped my business immensely. Often organizing clients feel ashamed or attacked when anyone speaks to them about their clutter and conversations slide into defensive, emotionally-charged situations. When family members are involved, these conversations can become full-blown arguments.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for everyone, but most definitely it needs to be read by anyone who finds that delicate conversations either don’t happen or become arguments that harm their relationships when the goal is only to help those around them.

Crucial Conversations is available in print or in e-book and has a follow-up title called Crucial Accountability (previously titled Crucial Confrontations), also available in print or e-book (I have not read this latter book yet, but if it’s anywhere as useful as the first book, it’s a must-read as well). And if you like your books bundled, the two come as an e-bundle offer, as well.

Thoughts about passwords on Computer Security Day

According to those online calendars with daily “holiday” listings — Sandwich Day, Love Your Red Hair Day, etc. — today is Computer Security Day. Since computers are vital organizing tools for so many of us, this specific holiday caught my attention.

While I can’t find any computer security organizations promoting this event, I did read this advice on daysoftheyear.com:

One very important thing to do for your online security is to have strong passwords and keep them updated regularly, as this reduces the chances of your personal data falling into the wrong hands. ….

One strategy is to mix upper and lowercase letters with symbols, as this can be harder to guess and also difficult to hack – and passwords increase in difficulty the longer they are. … And don’t use the same password over and over for every online account you have – this ensures that if someone manages to get into one of your accounts, then they can access all of your accounts. Bad idea. So make strong passwords, don’t recycle them, and update them regularly.

However, expert advice on passwords has changed over time — and part of this advice is now dated. As Katie Reilly wrote in Fortune, “The man responsible for the widespread requirement that passwords include letters, numbers and special characters is now walking back that advice.”

Bill Burr came up with those guidelines in 2003, while working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. As Robert McMillen wrote in The Wall Street Journal, Burr said, “Much of what I did I now regret.”

Jo Craven McGinty explained the problem in another Wall Street Journal article:

The rule makers didn’t anticipate how people would apply the guidelines when they invented passwords.

If forced to include a number in a password, they tended to tack a “1” onto the end.

If compelled to use a special character, they were inclined to use substitutions like “$” for “s” or “@” for “a.”

If obliged to throw in an uppercase letter, they might lead with it, as if the password were a proper noun.

In short, they were predictable.

Predictable patterns lead to insecure passwords, since hackers know all the patterns. So now the advice has changed, quite radically. The NIST released its new report this past June, with very different recommendations for those creating sites or systems with passwords. They should:

  • Allow passwords as long as 64 characters, with a minimum length of 8 characters for user-selected passwords
  • Allow any combination of characters, with no requirement for upper and lower case letters, numerals, or special characters.
  • Disallow easily compromised passwords: a single dictionary word, repeating characters (such as aaaaa), sequences (such as 1234abcd), etc.
  • Stop requiring passwords to be changed periodically. Only require a change if there has been a security breach.

Now, you probably use sites with password rules that violate these guidelines, and there’s not much you can do about that. If the site requires your password to have at least one letter, one number, and one special character, you’ll have to comply — and, for security’s sake, try not to follow the patterns noted above. And many sites don’t accommodate passwords over 8-15 characters.

But when you have the option, it’s wise to choose a long password — especially if you’re protecting your finances, your email, or critical information of any sort. That password might well be a phrase that’s meaningful to you and no one else, which makes it fairly easy to remember.

“I eat applesauce and pancakes every night in April” is easier to remember than “2zdfY9?bky.” (No, I don’t really eat like that. It’s just an example of a silly phrase that I’d have no problem remembering.)

For more suggestions about organized approaches to passwords and password management tools, you can read our articles from May 2017 and April 2014.

Organize that messy locker

Locker OrganizerBack in my school days, my locker was a complete disaster. Lockers just don’t lend themselves to becoming organized. There is just too much space that doesn’t get used and the pile at the bottom of the locker grows with each passing week. (At least that’s what happened with my locker.)

So what does a student do these days to organize his locker? Well, there are many options to remedy the messy locker and here a few that may do the trick:

Unitasker Wednesday: Eggstractor

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

Cocktail parties, luncheons, and potluck suppers occur as we approach the holiday season and many of them involve food – specifically eggs. From fancy hors d’oeuvres deviled eggs to dainty egg-salad sandwiches (with the crusts cut off) to the big jar of pickled eggs at the local pub, lots of eggs are boiled and peeled during this time of year.

If you’ve got a lot of eggs to prepare for your parties, you might consider buying the Eggstractor Egg Peeler which claims to peel eggs ten times faster and easier. But you need to watch the video several times to understand how the Eggstractor works. You’ll also need some space in your cupboards because the Eggstractor will need to be stored somewhere when you’re not using it.

Instead of cluttering your cupboards with another unitasker, try these tips to prepare lovely peeled eggs for your next party.

First of all, follow these simple steps to make hard-boiled eggs and they will be easier to peel. This was the method my grandmother always used. I’ve been using it for years and have never had a problem.

  • Add 1 tablespoon (15mL) of white vinegar to about 4 cups (1L) of water
  • Wait for the water to boil then add the eggs. Boil gently for 14 minutes.
  • Chill the eggs in an ice bath immediately when they are done.
  • Peel the eggs as soon as they are cool.

To peel eggs, this video to shows three different ways to do it in under ten seconds; the tap and roll method, spoon method, and “abra cadabra” method. You can also use a cup and some water to peel and egg as shown in this video.

So, there you have it. Perfectly peeled hard boiled eggs with multi-tasking equipment you already own.

 

Thanks to reader Kimberly for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

Organize for holiday house guests

As November gives way to December, it’s time to prepare for holiday guests. You’ll be ready in no time by systematically going through each room/area of your house or apartment. Here’s a simple plan for organizing the house in time to welcome holiday guests.

The front door

Let’s begin right at the front door. This is where guests will want to remove coats, hats, boots, and so on. When I was a kid, visiting grandma meant piling coats on her bed until we were ready to leave. That’s fine for a quick visit, but not when a guests stay for several days. Get the front entrance closet ready by finding a new, temporary home for the many coats, jackets, vacuum bags, flashlights, etc. that live in there so that guests may comfortably store their own items inside.

Some guests will have their hands full with luggage or housewarming gifts so make sure there is plenty of designated room for all of these things. Ideally you would have:

  1. A coat rack or some decent hangers if you have a closet.
  2. A designated surface to receive items like housewarming gifts, potluck dishes, or anything that needs a temporary landing spot.
  3. A spot for boots, hats, gloves, and other wet items that won’t make it into your house proper. I have one of these boot trays and I love it, as it’s an obvious place to put wet, muddy footwear and quite durable.
  4. A space to receive bulky luggage, or a clear path from the door to each bag’s home for the duration of your guest’s visit.

A big part of accommodating your visitor’s stuff is getting your own things out of the way. Prior to receiving company, clear away any family members’ shoes that are not being worn regularly by storing extras in their owners’ bedroom closets while guests are visiting.

Guest room

First, clear out anything that’s yours, like spare change, jewelry, bathrobes, and so on. Next, I like to make a small guest basket of little things they might need but forget, or items that can’t be carried easily on an airplane. For example, travel-sized toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and shower gel, pain reliever, toothpaste, lotion, makeup-removing wipes, mouthwash, disposable razors, and dental floss. You can tuck these into a basket or caddy that can easily be carried in and out of the bathroom.

Bathroom

Keep bathroom essentials in plain sight. You don’t want anyone to get “stuck” when they can’t find a roll of toilet paper! While you might ordinarily keep these items tucked away, move them into an obvious, accessible location during your guests’ stay. Also, make sure there are plenty of towels and wash cloths available and accessible.

Living room

A few years ago my wife and I started writing out exactly how to use our electronics, like the TV. While we’ve got the routine memorized — use the grey remote to turn the TV on, then hit the red button before picking up the black remote — it’s a mystery to visitors. A set of clear, concise instructions for the television, stereo, etc. makes guests very happy. You might want to share your Wi-Fi password as well, or even create a temporary one for guests.

We also have a collection of take-out menus that we also set out for guests, as well as descriptions of local points of interest, directions to nearby bank machines and gas stations.

Unfortunately the holidays can be stressful. However, with a little planning, you can make this time of year more enjoyable for you and your guests.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Wrap up

This is our last post in the Holiday Gift Giving Guide series for 2017. In case you missed any of our suggestions, here is a summary of uncluttered, organized, and/or useful gifts this year.

For more great gift ideas, feel free to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Kindle Omnibus Editions

I’m a huge fan of my Kindle, well actually of my Kindle app on my phone. I used to be devoted to the Kindle itself, but over the years have got accustomed to reading off my phone (although maybe this year I will ask for a new Kindle, like the Kindle Paperwhite), but as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of gift certificates (I find them impersonal).

Much to my delight, however, I’ve discovered that people can send me Kindle books via email as a gift, meaning my Christmas list has just got a whole lot longer!

As I suggested last week, box sets and omnibus editions of books make a great gift, and to celebrate Cyber Monday, why not buy these gifts digitally?

For example, I’m a mystery fan and given how quickly this type of book reads and given how many books may appear in a series, buying an omnibus edition of several in the series just makes sense. My most recent purchase was the first four books in the Agatha Raisin series by British mystery writer M.C. Beaton (the character, I’ve just discovered, also appears in a TV series for those who prefer to watch mysteries).

Here are some other popular Kindle omnibus editions that the voracious reader on your gift list might enjoy:

Or, if these books aren’t on your favorite reader’s list, check out our search on Kindle bundles for exactly what you’re looking for.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Practical gifts

Not everyone wants a practical gift, and what’s practical for one person might be useless for another. But for the right person, one of the following might make a great non-clutter gift. These are all things I own and find incredibly useful, so perhaps someone you know would appreciate them, too.

A gift subscription to the AP Stylebook Online

This can be a truly useful gift for the writer or editor in your life. I prefer the online subscription to the physical book because the search function is so useful — and because you can submit questions to the editors if you can’t find an answer to your question. (They usually reply quickly.) You also get updates throughout the year instead of just annual updates.

To purchase a gift, just order as you would for yourself and indicate you have a gift order during checkout. If the gift option doesn’t seem to be working, you can contact the help center to place your order: [email protected] or 800-353-6798 (U.S. phone number).

Really good kitchen shears

I’m not sure these Wüsthof shears are the ones I have, but they are pretty close. I use these all the time, both for cooking and for various other purposes.

An emergency kit for the car

Living in earthquake territory, I put a kit in the trunk of my car to ensure I have some critical supplies with me in case I get trapped away from home. I also got kits as gifts for my brother and sister-in-law when they moved to California. But a kit can be good preparation for all kinds of emergencies. You can create your own or buy one that’s already assembled. If you go for a ready-made kit, you can choose one with just the basics (food, water, ponchos, survival blankets, basic first aid supplies, etc.) or one that’s more comprehensive.

A TubShroom

I got one of these last year and it’s the best hair catcher I’ve ever used in my shower. It’s a little thing that makes my life a bit easier, and I’m glad to have found it.

Spurge item: really good binoculars

These Zeiss binoculars cost a lot, so they would probably be a gift for a special someone, or perhaps a gift from a group rather than an individual. But I got mine 20 years ago and I use them for all sorts of things: watching the birds in my back yard, getting a closer look at the performers at a play or concert, taking a good look at the top of a stained glass window in a cathedral, etc. The compact size makes it easy to carry them with me whenever I might find them useful. This isn’t a gift for someone who tends to misplace things, though!

Old favorites

There are some items we’ve mentioned before that would still make good practical gifts:

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unitasker Wednesday: Grilled Cheese Sandwich Toaster

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

I love grilled cheese sandwiches. Sliced extra-old cheddar is my favourite type of sandwich cheese but sometimes I mix a variety of grated cheeses together to put on my sandwich.

You might think I would enjoy the Nostalgia TCS2 Grilled Cheese Sandwich Toaster. Simply butter the bread, insert the cheese between the slices and drop it into the toaster. It makes superb grilled cheese sandwiches grilled to your preference. It even has a defrost function in case you happen to be using frozen bread.

I already have an easy-to-clean ceramic frying pan that works perfectly well to cook grilled cheese sandwiches — even if I happen to be using frozen bread. The bonus part about my frying pan is that it is flat. My grated cheese would not fall to one end as it would in the toaster. I’m not convinced that this toaster would be as easy to clean as my frying pan either.

But, the one review that made me give up on this toaster completely, was that it did not fit sandwiches with more than one slice of American cheese. No sandwiches with thick slices of extra-old cheddar, no shredded Parmesan, no Brie… Never mind then. I’ll stick with my frying pan.

Thank you to professional organizer and fellow cheese lover Julie Bestry for pointing this unitasker out to us.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Tech Gadgets

Holiday shopping time is here, and with it comes the opportunity to buy cool tools! Here are our picks for super-cool gadgets that the tech-friendly unclutterers on your list will love.

The iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit contains unique and essential tools for most electronics repairs like screen and battery replacements. It’s also useful for repairing other electronics and household appliances. It has a great little carrying case with designated spots for each tool so you know where everything belongs and can easily see when something is missing. If there’s a tinkerer on your list, or someone who wants to save money by doing repairs at home, this toolkit is a great gift.

The Automatic Pro is a small device that plugs into a port that most contemporary cars have. Once in place, it provides a whole host of useful information to the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android), including:

  • Diagnostics of engine warning lights
  • Parking tracking
  • Expense tracking for business travel
  • Crash detection and response

There’s even cool collaboration with existing apps and services. For example, have your Hue Lights turn on as you pull into the driveway, set your Nest thermostat to turn the heat down as you pull away or log trip distances onto a Google document automatically.

The KBAR USB charger looks like a power strip but don’t let that fool you. This charger has eight USB ports that intelligently charge up to eight high-power mobile devices like iPads, Android tablets, and full-sized smartphones simultaneously. I say “intelligently” because the KBAR recognizes all of these devices and charges them at their maximum designed speed. Plus, the built-in surge protection helps keep them safe during a electrical power fluctuations.

Finally, I want to mention the PIXNOR 7-piece tweezers set. I seem to always have trouble finding a pair of tweezers when I need them, let alone the right tweezers. This kit offers a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. Whether it’s removing a sliver from your finger or performing a precision repair, this kit has precisely what you need. At a little under ten dollars, it’s a super deal.

There you have our recommendations for gadget gifts for the organized. Happy shopping. Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Box Sets and Special Editions

Christmas is a popular time for the release of box sets and special editions of books, CDs, and TV and movie franchises. As a minimalist, I always thought them to be a waste of time and money, often considering them pure moneymakers for publishers. And I’m not the only one. The Canadian band Barenaked Ladies takes a good poke at the topic with the song Box Set.

But then I married a music collector and over time my attitude has changed. My husband grew up loving British pop music in a time when it was next to impossible for him to get CDs or vinyls delivered to him in Spain. Now, twenty years later musicians like Bananarama, George Michael, and the production trio Stock Aiken and Waterman are re-releasing special editions with extra material, detailed liner notes and remastered versions of the original songs. And he’s over the moon! Instead of grainy-sounding copies of the music of his youth, he has crisp, clean sounding versions with all the information the music addict in him could want, and more!

Before buying your loved ones a box set or special edition of something, there are some things you’ll want to consider:

Does the gift contain enough extras to be worth the cost? For example, the George Michael special edition has extra CDs and a DVD. But if your George Michael fan never plays DVD concerts at home, there’s no real point in getting it.

Is the series complete? At the end of every season, Game of Thrones releases another combined box set (take a look at seasons 1-6 versus seasons 1-7). Knowing, however, that the series just has one season left (although we are going to have to wait until 2019 to see it), buying the current box sets will just create clutter, especially for a die-hard fan who will want the complete series when it comes out.

Will the box set be used or will it just sit on a shelf looking pretty? Box set and special editions are excellent gifts for my husband because he will spend hours pouring over the liner notes, discussing the differences in production quality from the original to the new versions, and going into detail with me about how when and where the extra tracks were created and why they didn’t appear in the original. However, for all that I’m a mega-fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, buying me the 18-book set of the series would just mean having to find shelf space to display them. Someone with a large library, though, may be thrilled to get the 8-book Outlander series.

Finally, is the format on its way out? I know people who still hold onto VHS movie box sets, even though they no longer have a VHS player in the house. It’s the same with DVD. As BluRay and the new Ultra HD BluRay formats take over, buying a DVD box set of the Harry Potter franchise might be like giving someone a set of stone tablets instead of a book.

With all that in mind, here are some suggestions for box sets and special editions that might just be the perfect gift this holiday season.

Books:

Or pretty much any series that you might want.

TV Series and Movies:

Or, again, any series or movie franchise you could imagine.

Music:

And check out box sets or special editions in Amazon for anything else that might tickle your fancy.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids

Buying organization-minded gifts for kids and teenagers is always a challenge. Being young, they often want fun gifts over practical. With that in mind, we’ve worked to assemble a list of gift ideas that satisfy both the desire for something fun and cool as well as something that is practical and useful. Here’s our uncluttered holiday gift guide for kids.

The Lay N Go bag/play mat is made of durable materials. Its clever design results in a play mat that is also a super convenient storage bag. It is perfect for the kids who play with LEGO bricks, Matchbox cars, or anything else that is a collection of small, easy-to-lose pieces. Place it down and spread out for play time, and then cinch it closed for easy storage when play time is over. Additionally, if you’re going to travel with children and some of their stuff, this is a great way to transport it all.

My high school-aged daughter is just starting to explore makeup. Before her collection overtakes her desk, we got her a decent desktop makeup organizer, much like this one. It is big enough to hold all of her cosmetics (I recently learned what a “palette” is), yet not so massive that it covers her entire desk. Plus, she thinks it’s pretty sophisticated.

I think this Brick Building Play Mat is pretty nifty. It’s similar to the Lay N Go, though it’s more for play that storage. Unroll it and it serves as a base for LEGO or DUPLO bricks. Again, this is great for travel and anytime an impromptu play surface is called for. When not in use, it simply rolls up for easy storage.

While we’re taking about LEGO bricks, grab a Brick Popper for the fan on your list. They’re extremely handy for releasing those stubborn bricks that just don’t want to let go once secured to a surface.

For older kids who play sports, consider the Wet Gear-Hockey Equipment Dryer Rack. It’s a great way to store gear in one place and dry it out between games (to avoid that “used sports equipment” odor). While designed for hockey gear, it would work just as well for football, soccer, lacrosse gear and more.

OK, the Baby Keepsake Library isn’t technically for the baby, but it is pretty great. This collapsible collection of keepsake boxes is the perfect way to preserve records of baby’s many “firsts.” It’s all made of acid-free paper for careful preservation of these initial treasures. It comes with 50+ labels, nine drawers, eight vertical files and options for customization.

There you have several options for gifts for the kids (and one for mom and dad). Happy shopping! In the meantime, feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.