The internet of things and home organization

Last week, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the world wide web (launched August 23, 1991). The phenomenal convenience — and distraction — we know today has evolved tremendously since then, from massive computers to the gadgets in our pockets. So what’s next? Engineers and computer scientists think it’s the “internet of things.”

What is the internet of things, or “IoT”? For our purposes, a working definition is:

“Every day objects with internet connectivity that are able to send and receive data.”

In other words, objects in your home that can grab information from the internet. It’s a compelling idea that has already spawned several interesting devices. But, will it help or hinder home organization? I looked at a few of the more popular IoT products to find an answer.

The Amazon Echo

Amazon’s voice-controlled, internet-connected speaker is part music box, part storefront, and a Siri-like personal assistant. Once plugged in and set up, the Amazon Echo cylinder knows when you’re talking to it and can provide, among other things, streaming music, weather, news, and the opportunity to buy from Amazon.com. How does it fare as an organizational device?

The benefit is the growing collection of services that are available in one place. You’ll get the news stories and streaming music that I mentioned before, but the Echo can also check your Google calendar, read audio books from Audible, even order you a pizza from Dominos. Mostly, it’s about efficiency and convenience. If you like using Amazon.com and want to talk to a device instead of type, it could save you time and be of assistance. If not, the phone in your pocket most likely already does similar things.

Key Finder Tags

Bluetooth-powered key finder tags like the Tile, the Chipolo and the Duet are cute, unobtrusive little doodads (not a technical term) that you connect to items you’re likely to misplace: keys, purses, backpacks, etc. Once paired with our smartphone via the accompanying app, it helps you find where your times have gone.

These get a ringing endorsement from me for their time-saving capabilities. I include “misplacing things I need” among my hobbies. It’s an annoying hobby, but also all too real. Key finder tags greatly reduce the time I spend stomping around the house in frustration.

Smart Lights

There are many Wi-Fi ready, “smart” lighting systems to choose from, each with varying degrees of functioning. The Switchmate, for example, is a tiny piece of hardware that fits over your existing light switch. Installation is as simple as taking the Switchmate out of the box and placing it over a switch. Install the app and it’s ready to use. From there, you can turn lights on and off with the tap of an app.

Meanwhile, the Philips Hue adds more functionality. These smart bulbs can be controlled by a mobile app to turn on and off when you like, notice when you’re home, and so on. They’ll also change the very hue of the light they put out and let you save the various combinations of reds, blues, etc. to meet your mood.

Perhaps I’m a crotchety old man, but my first impulse is, “Can’t I just hit a switch?” In part this seems like a solution looking for a problem. But I see how it could be handy to have your house illuminate as you approach, or turn lights on and off while you’re out, to make would-be intruders think there’s someone at home. In short, I think smart lighting systems are a fun convenience, but not a massive help. At this point, they seem like one more thing to break or go wrong, especially if your home WiFi is out.

The power of 15-30 minutes per day

Do you find yourself procrastinating about items on your to-do list? Do you keep meaning to do some uncluttering, but never seem to get around to it?

I’ve recently begun a new approach to tackling this kind of thing, and it’s working well for me. Instead of trying to get everything done at once, I’m taking the slow and steady approach.

Every day, I do one small task that I’ve been procrastinating about completing.

One day I began the refund process for an expensive item that has been recalled. For some reason I had put this off for nine months! And although I feared it might be complicated, it was actually very easy, taking only about five minutes.

Another day I went to my primary care doctor’s website and asked the questions I need answers to before arranging some routine tests. This took about 10 minutes in total, because I needed to look up some information.

And on a third day I just went through a bunch of papers that had accumulated when I was dealing with my hip replacement. (I’m doing really well now.)

Every day, I see if I can find three items to offer to my freecycle group or take to my local thrift store.

My garage isn’t a disaster area by any means, but I wanted to use its storage space better. So I’m going through the garage and carefully evaluating everything I have stored out there. A lot of it makes sense: my toolbox, spare stuff (paper towels, toilet paper, cat food, and light bulbs), a small number of holiday items, etc. But I’m also finding things I definitely do not need: six dishpans (intended for sorting papers, but never used for that), an unused car trunk organizer, two hula-hoops, etc.

My freecycle group allows three offer messages per day, so I decided to look for at least three things per day that I no longer need. And it’s working very nicely. I don’t get overwhelmed with the task, and I’ve created storage space for things I do want to keep that I had no good space for before.

Several times a week, I spend 30-60 minutes helping a friend with her uncluttering efforts.

My friend’s husband died some months ago, and he was quite a packrat — so there’s a lot to go through. Although my friend wants to unclutter her home, the effort can sometimes seem overwhelming. So I’m spending a little bit of time with her as many days as I can to help keep the momentum going. Other people are helping her, too, and there’s substantial progress being made. It’s wonderful when we uncover something that had been missing for years!

This is not to say I won’t ever do any hours-long efforts, as those work well for me at times, too. But for now, doing a little bit every day has helped get me unstuck.

Digital notes to manage kids’ activities

Digital note apps are fantastic for easily taking information with you. I use Evernote as my cold storage for reference material. (That is, information that doesn’t require action, but might be useful in the future.) This has been my primary use for digital tools for years … until I had kids.

Today, I’m constantly recording information into Evernote to help me manage everything related to my kids. For example, I need to remember the address for Jane’s mom’s/dad’s house, or the dance studio, all the soccer fields, and so on, and this recorded information helps me do it. If it weren’t for a digital notes app, I’d end up texting my wife for that information or asking the kids to text their friends and then share the answers with me — a total waste of time.

To keep things organized and to save me time, I use text documents in Evernote for each new piece of information. I’ve designed what I refer to as a “Kid Info Database.” Any text note I create includes all of the following relevant tags:

  • Daughter’s name
  • Son’s name
  • Friends
  • Address
  • Activity

That’s it. I can search any of those tags and bring up all the relevant notes. For example, “Jane Address Grace Friends” brings up the driving directions to Jane’s house as well as a live link to Google Maps. The same goes for dance, scouts, and sports. It’s easy to set up and is very useful.

I can add to the list at any time simply by adding one of the tags to the notes I create. The link to Google Maps is excellent too, as I can get turn-by-turn directions from any starting point. Leaving Jane’s mom’s house and heading to the dance studio? No problem.

Using Evernote in this way has been a real shift for me as, like I said, I’ve always considered apps like Evernote to be a digital filing cabinet. Now, it’s a dynamic database that I use daily. If you’re like me, give this a try. It’s better than constantly texting people, “What is Jane’s address again?”

Easily assemble a new product

I remember the specific look of dread that would cross my father’s face when he would see “some assembly required” on a toy or item we acquired as kids. And I’m pretty sure that look has crossed my face a time or two, as well. Who needs that stress, right? Not dad, not me, and not you. Fortunately, if you’re willing to spend a little extra time and adopt some persnickety behavior, you can say goodbye to the intimidation of “some assembly required” in the future.

The key to moving past “some assembly required” anxiety is organization. I follow (and recommend you do the same) these steps, in the same order, every time.

Step one is read the instructions completely before beginning. I mean from start to finish, before you lift a single screwdriver or hammer, read all the instructions. This way you’ll know what tools you’ll need, what techniques are expected of you, and how much space and time you’ll need to get things done. Will the kitchen table suffice? The living room floor or even the back yard? Figure that all out before you begin.

The second step is to gather the tools you’ll need. Go and grab the hammer, screwdriver, tape measure, or whatever is necessary. Now you’re almost be ready. In addition to those things, I regularly add the following:

  1. A plastic bowl. This is used to store screws, nuts, bolts, and any other small, easily lost parts while working. These small bits won’t roll away or disappear into the carpet when they’re safely contained.
  2. A designated trash bin. It’s annoying to have torn cardboard, plastic, and other trash in your work area. I always grab a trash can, trash bag, or box to be the designated spot for trash as I work.
  3. My smartphone. Occasionally the written instructions aren’t clear. When that happens, I search YouTube for a video that might help. Often I’ll find a clip of someone putting the very thing together and it’s very helpful. You might also want to snap a picture if you discover a broken part or want to keep a copy of any product information.

Step three is the persnickety bit I mentioned, so bear with me. In this step you’re going to confirm that all of the parts are present and functional, and get them ready to go.

  1. Identify each part against the assembly instructions. Is “Dial A” and “Pole B” in the box? Great. Remove each part from its packaging. Put the packaging in the trash bin.
  2. Inspect each part to ensure that it’s not broken. It’s better to make this discovery now, instead of when you’re halfway done.
  3. Lay out all of the parts in a neat, easily-accessed grid in your work area. This is the part that makes my kids roll their eyes. I put each part on my work surface in a neat little arrangement. This way I can see and grab exactly what I need instantly.

At last, it’s time to put the thing together, and you’re fully prepared. You know what the process entails, you’ve got the trash out of the way, the necessary tools are in place, and each part has been inspected, accounted for, and prepped.

This does take a few extra minutes and can seem nitpicky, but it’s worth it. I hope this helps and that you, too, can laugh in the face of “some assembly required” by being well organized as you work.

The least glamorous part of organizing

A significant uncluttering and organizing project can be exhilarating. You can see huge progress, and things that bothered you for a long time can find solutions.

But then there’s the ongoing maintenance: putting the toys back in place, dealing with the mail, etc. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this part of the organizing process, but it’s critical. Sadly, there is no magical organizing fairy who can complete the maintenance work with a wave of her wand. Given that, the following are some suggestions for tackling maintenance activities.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Getting behind on maintenance happens to everyone I know at times, including myself and other fellow organizers.

Minimize the amount of maintenance required

If dealing with mail is overwhelming, you might invest some time in getting off mailing lists so there won’t be as much incoming mail. You can also look into going paperless for bank statements, bills, etc.

Reconsider who is doing the maintenance work

If you share your household with a spouse, domestic partner, children, or roommates, look at how the maintenance work is divided and see if there might be a better way to split up that work.

And if your budget accommodates it, consider paying someone to do certain tasks that are time-consuming or especially annoying.

Make the maintenance easier

Sometimes little adjustments, such as adding (or repositioning) a wastebasket, recycling bin, or laundry hamper can make a big difference. Using hooks instead of hangers can make it easier for some people to put away their coats, bathrobes, and such.

If your closets and other storage spaces are already quite full, minimizing new purchases (or instituting a one-in, one-out rule) will make it easier to ensure everything has an appropriate storage space, so it’s easy to put things away.

Determine what schedule works best for you

Do you do best with a short amount of maintenance work daily, or a larger chunk of time once/week — or some other schedule? Experiment and find a routine that feels comfortable for you.

Create holding places for items in between maintenance sessions

An inbox for mail, receipts, and other scraps of paper will keep them from being misplaced until you go through them to toss/recycle, shred, scan, or file. Maybe you’ll want a bin for things left laying around the living room (or other spaces) until your next scheduled time for putting all those things away.

Plan for ongoing uncluttering, too

Even if you’ve done a complete uncluttering exercise, it’s worth revisiting your possessions periodically. Children outgrow clothes and toys. Adults find their interests change. And almost everyone makes a few purchases that don’t work out, resulting in items that should be returned, donated, etc.

Look for ways to make maintenance time more pleasant

Having good tools (a shredder that doesn’t jam, nice clothes hangers, etc.) will make the work less annoying. A pleasant workspace for handling the paperwork can make a big difference, too. Some people enjoy listening to music as they do the work. Others give themselves mini-rewards after the work gets done.

The ease of a non-junky junk drawer

In the 45 years I’ve spend on this planet, I’ve been in many homes. From my humble childhood home in Pennsylvania to the elaborate dwellings of well-off friends, all homes seem to have one thing in common: a junk drawer.

I think a junk drawer is a good thing to have. It’s a place for oft-used items like pens and note paper, as well as those piddly little things that don’t fit anywhere else: bobby pins, rubber bands, scissors, a ruler. As a storage option, it’s fine, as all those items need a home. In execution, however, there’s often a problem.

The casual nature of a junk drawer fosters an overall lenient attitude. It is very easy to have a mess on your hands. Once it becomes difficult to find what you want, it’s time for an intervention.

First, pull out the drawer (if that’s possible) and move it to a large work surface like a table or counter. Next, remove everything from the drawer and lay it flat on the work surface. Then, while the drawer is empty, give it a good cleaning.

Next, turn your attention to uncluttering your drawer’s contents and answer a few questions about the objects:

  1. Is there somewhere else this should be? I mentioned bobby pins before, and perhaps they should be returned to the hair care supplies in your bathroom. Likewise, maybe the rubber bands and ruler would be easier to find if stored with office supplies in your home office.
  2. Do I need this? Any true examples of junk in your junk drawer should be treated as such. Throw them out.
  3. Does this still function? Pens with no ink, miniature pencils with no erasers, and so on need to go.
  4. Is this a duplicate? Do you need five Chip Clips in the drawer in addition to the four in use?

Once uncluttered, focus on organizing the drawer. Would an in-drawer organizer or small boxes (like those your checks came in) help you to keep objects in a specific place? (If you want to make recycled objects appear coordinated, you can always wrap boxes in washi tape or printed duct tape.)

Finally: Why did you wait so long to organize this space? I know that I often procrastinate on a project if, deep down, I don’t think I can successfully do it. But that’s not the case here. The junk drawer seems so low-priority, so informal, that I tend to ignore it until the day I realize I’ve got to pull it completely out to find anything.

To combat that tendency, I’ve put a six-month reminder on my calendar to get in there and have a good sort. It only takes fifteen minutes, costs nothing, and results in a storage area that’s easier to use — and that’s time well spent.

A straightforward seven-step process to achieve your goals

This coming weekend will mark a first for me: I’m competing in a sprint triathlon. As with any activity requiring preparation (moving, changing jobs, going away to school), there has been a great deal of planning and organizing involved to get ready for the race. When I made the decision to work toward this goal back in January, I felt like a project manager as I tried to figure out how to get to where I am today. Ultimately, I decided to use a basic, seven-step process to reach my goal.

To give you an idea of where I was before I decided to take on this project, I didn’t know how to swim. I could float around and not drown, but I didn’t know how to swim laps or do any proper strokes. I’d also never been on a racing bike, and the only bike in my garage was my two-year-old daughter’s, complete with training wheels. I couldn’t run a mile continuously and the idea of swimming, biking, and running back-to-back-to-back genuinely terrified me. I needed skills, gear, training, and confidence.

The first step in the planning process for this triathlon was the same as it is for any project: research and gather information. I read The Triathlete’s Training Bible, Triathlon Anatomy, and a couple more books. I jumped on YouTube and watched videos from races. I learned about all the equipment I’d need (swim goggles, a racing bike, fast-drying triathlon clothing, gym membership, running shoes …) and put together a rough estimate of how much it would cost and how much race expenses would be (hotel, travel, race registration). I extensively studied dietary needs for athletes. This is also the point where I saw my doctor for a physical and underwent other forms of athletic testing (anaerobic threshold, body fat and lean mass analysis, etc.) with a triathlon coach to learn as much as I could about my body.

The second step in the planning process was to evaluate the gathered information and decide if I wanted to proceed toward the goal as anticipated. In a typical project, this step might include changing the goal or moving the completion date or deciding if you need to bring in additional resources before continuing. You look at the information gathered and analyze it to see if you can achieve your goal. For me, the decision was much more personal in nature. I have a genetic disorder that makes competing in triathlons not the best idea I’ve ever had. My disability doesn’t prohibit me from doing a triathlon, but it certainly makes things more complicated. So, I had to decide if I wanted to continue knowing the risks and my limitations. I decided to continue, but I also had to agree to do everything I possibly could to reduce my risk of injury and complications.

The third step is mostly complete after the research stage, but it’s important to create an official budget for the project. No matter the project, be sure to build in a line item for unexpected expenses. Then, maybe, triple that line item. (I forgot I’d have to pay for childcare, for example.)

The fourth step is a lot of people’s favorite step: create timelines and to-do lists. This is the point where you identify what needs to get done, by whom, and when. As I previously mentioned, I needed to take lessons on how to swim and how to ride a racing bike. I had to weight train and build endurance. I also needed to overhaul my diet so I wouldn’t do damage to my body, which meant months of meal planning. I created milestones and points where I would check-in with my coach (for a work project, this would be where you check in with your client) and points to evaluate how my training was going so I could make changes, if necessary, as I progressed. Be specific during this step — swim 30 laps, pack two boxes, sort through one dresser drawer, write 1,500 words — so that it is clear to you each day when you look at your calendar exactly what you need to do.

The fifth step is the hardest and (typically) the longest: do the work every day. Once everything is in place, it’s time to get your hands dirty. This is when you crank the widgets. I joined a gym with a pool. I bought a racing bike. Some days I was up at 5:00 a.m. for swim classes. Other days it was raining or freezing or extremely hot and training was the last thing I wanted to do, but if I wanted to reach my goal I had to do it. You write the code or build the house or pack all your belongings into boxes.

The sixth step I have yet to complete on this project, but it’s my favorite step in the process: complete your goal. For me, this will be Saturday when I (hopefully) cross the finish line.

The seventh step is the final one and often the most overlooked: evaluate your performance. Once a project is finished, it is tempting to move on to the next project without taking the time to identify what went right, what didn’t, and your final expenses and time sheets. But doing so will help you in the future — the next time you move or build a website for a client or compete in a triathlon. This information will be a valuable resource to you in the future, so take the time to complete this step and help your future self. You won’t regret it.

All of these steps are intuitive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to rush ahead to start with step four before doing steps one through three. Or be so happy to be finished with step six that you skip step seven. Do all of these steps and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals. Taking on a large project also can create anxiety, but breaking it down and going through this process will help you to see that your goal can be reached.

Getting rid of someone else’s stuff

Last week an article by Nicole Hong in the Wall Street Journal focused on cargo shorts: their fans and their detractors. I don’t have any strong opinions about cargo shorts, but I did have an opinion about the following anecdote:

Dane Hansen, who operates a small steel business in Pleasant Grove, Utah, says that throughout his 11-year marriage, 15 pairs of cargo shorts have slowly disappeared from his closet. On the occasions when he has confronted his wife about the missing shorts, she will either admit to throwing them away or deflect confrontation by saying things like, “Honey, you just need a little help.”

Mr. Hansen, 35 years old, is now down to one pair of cargo shorts, and he guards them closely. He has hidden them in small closet nooks where his wife can’t find them. …

Mr. Hansen’s wife, Ashleigh Hansen, said she sneaks her husband’s cargo shorts off to Goodwill when he’s not around. Mrs. Hansen, 30, no longer throws them out at home because her husband has found them in the trash and fished them out.

I have no problem with someone discretely disposing of anything that is theirs, including gifts from a spouse or partner. But getting rid of another person’s items? That’s generally a horrible idea.

There are some specific circumstances when it’s okay to toss or donate another person’s possessions, including the following:

  • When that other person has given you explicit permission to do so. For example, sometimes one spouse will accept, or even appreciate, having the other manage his or her wardrobe. Or an elderly parent might appreciate some help with uncluttering — perhaps giving you general guidelines but otherwise allowing you to decide what stays and what goes.
  • When the other person is a child who is too young to make such decisions. But even children as young as three can be involved in an uncluttering effort, and parents are sometimes surprised at how much their children are willing to discard.
  • When you have the legal authority to make decisions for someone who can no longer make decisions for himself or herself.

But in general, it’s disrespectful to get rid of another person’s belongings, and it can build up resentment and distrust that have a wide range of negative repercussions. What can you do instead? The following are some suggestions:

  • Have a discussion about the items in question, where each party listens respectfully to the other person’s position. There’s always a chance that if you calmly explain why you’d like something to be discarded you can convince the other person to go along with you. Or maybe, when you fully understand why someone wants to keep something that you want to discard, you’ll change your mind and decide it’s fine to have it stay.
  • Reach a compromise. Maybe he keeps the cargo shorts but agrees not to wear them when the two of you go out together. If there’s a disputed item of décor, maybe it can be displayed in a spot in the home where you rarely go.
  • Agree on boundaries, where anything can be kept as long as it fits within a designated space: a dresser drawer, a storage box, a shelf in the garage, a basket for stuffed animals, etc.
  • Bring in a professional organizer. An impartial third party with recognized expertise can ask questions and make suggestions while avoiding the emotional landmines that can be triggered when a spouse or partner makes suggestions.

Store tools neatly every time

When I acquire a tool with multiple parts, I feel a familiar dread when I open its case for the first time: “I will never get this back into its box again.”

Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario. You’ve bought something new that comes with a storage case — an electric sander, for example, or a power drill. You take it out of the box, use it for a while, and then spend 20 minutes trying to remember how it was stored. Then, after struggling with several configurations, none of which let you close the lid, you either give up or find an alternate way to store you hardware.

I feel your pain, and there’s a simple solution.

Upon opening the storage box for the first time, before you touch a single thing, grab your favorite camera and snap a photo. Make sure you get a clear, focused, overhead shot that depicts exactly how everything is laid out at the factory. Next, print that image and place it inside the container. Done.

I like to tape the image to the inside lid. Alternatively, you can put it in a zip-to-close bag inside the box, or store it in the app of your choice, like Evernote or even a special album in your favorite digital photo management app. That way, the reference you need is only a few taps away.

This is a simple trick but it has saved me a lot of frustration and wasted time. Of course you needn’t stop at tools. Any multi-part piece of hardware — from toys to kitchen tools — can benefit.

Apps for your student

Technology is routine for the modern student. And that technology can help your favorite student to stay organized and productive this school year.

Tinycards from Duolingo helps young students learn a language with engaging, fun, and effective lessons. My daughter’s Spanish class started using it when she was in 7th grade. Now, the company has released Tinycards, a flashcards app (free, iPhone only) that’s as handy as it is beautiful. There are thousands of pre-made decks to choose from, or you can make custom sets to support specific course material.

By late elementary school, students take on the extra responsibility of managing their time and duties. myHomework Student Planner is an app that will help them do just that. Available for iOS devices, Android, and Windows, this comprehensive solution lets tech-savvy students toss out the paper planner and go digital with a nearly ubiquitous access to all of their assignments that’s synchronized across devices for them. Students can get reminders of what’s due, browse their class schedules, and check in on assignments. Plus, it looks great.

Speaking of college students, EasyBib quickly creates bibliography citations for use in an academic paper. There are hundreds of styles available, from APA to who-knows-what. You can even use it to scan a book’s bar code to create the citation. EasyBib is available for both iPhone and Android devices. As someone who wrote a lot of papers in APA format, I can say it’s quite nice to have an organized and portable style guide like this.

My last pick has a bit of environmentalism built into it. Forest (available for iPhone and Android), lets you set aside time for concentration and study. Simply pick your work time and get started. As you work, a small on-screen seedling grows into a beautiful tree. What’s very cool is that a real tree results as well. As you use the app, your earn in-game currency that you can spend to plant real trees. Forest’s developers have partnered with Trees for the Future, a non-profit organization that will plant a real tree for every 2500 currency you “spend” in the app. Neat.

The new school year is upon here and finding the right app for you or your kid can help make the year more productive, organized, and educational.

Is a garage sale right for you?

I’m seeing a lot of garage sale signs in my neighborhood lately. If you have things you’d like to move along to new homes, is running a garage sale a good idea?

The answer to that question will vary from person to person. The first consideration is whether or not you can even have one, logistically. If you live in a condominium complex, for example, there are likely to be regulations about such sales. Some cities have laws about garage sales, too.

But if there are no such issues, the following are some things to consider.

The upside of garage sales

The obvious advantage of a garage sale is that you make some money. And unlike some other ways of selling, like eBay, you don’t need to worry about shipping things after a sale. Yes, you could also donate your items and take a tax deduction for the fair market value (assuming you’re filing U.S. taxes). But if you don’t itemize your deductions, you won’t get any financial benefit from making the donation.

Knowing you are having the sale might inspire some additional uncluttering. Some children get into selling their old toys, especially if they get to keep the profits or if the profits are being donated to a good cause that is meaningful to them.

Some people really enjoy the social side of garage sales. They can be a fun way to get to know your neighbors better. But if you’re an introvert, the social side may be a drawback rather than a benefit.

The downside of garage sales

One of the largest downsides I see is that people set aside things for a garage sale and then never have one, so the unwanted items continue to take up space in the house. Even if you do have the sale, you’ll have things accumulating until the sale date, rather than leaving your home immediately as they could if chose to donate instead of sell (or chose another sales method that got individual items out of your home more quickly).

Another significant downside is that a garage sale is a lot of work. Successful garage sales usually involve a lot of preparation (making signs, placing ads, getting permits if needed, determining pricing, figuring out how to best display the items) as well as continual work on the day of the sale. And there’s post-sale work, too: taking down those signs and disposing of anything that didn’t sell.

And while you can certainly make money through a garage sale, it may be less than you expected. Garage sale shoppers are looking for bargains and will often haggle over your prices, even if you thought they were very low already. That haggling can be especially stressful if the item in question is sentimental in some way. Another consideration: If you have bad weather, you might get fewer shoppers and make much less money than expected.

To avoid garage sale regrets, you might want to estimate your probable profits, using realistic estimates on what is likely to sell and at what prices. (Visiting other garage sales in your area could help with this.) Then you can decide if you feel that amount of money is worth the time and effort the sale will require. Some people are fine with making as little as $50 or so from a sale, while others would want to make much more.

If you do decide to have a garage sale, Geralin Thomas has a lot of good advice for running it successfully.

Uncluttered tips for back-to-school shopping

Whether your child’s school year begins today or not for another month, August is when local and national retailers have their back-to-school deals. Before taking advantage of potential savings, there are a few best practices to follow before hitting your favorite supply store.

First and foremost, check the list of required supplies issued by the school/your child’s teacher. Often you’ll be able to find a list of suggested supplies on your school’s website, or perhaps a flyer was sent through the mail. Make sure you’ve got that in hand before you buy things you don’t need, or miss others you do.

Next, shop in your home before hitting the store. Are there any supplies lingering around your house that you can use: pencils, pens, notebooks and so on that meet the required items? If so, gather them up and keep them in a designated spot so they’ll be easily found when your child needs them.

Take this home “shopping” opportunity to round-up all the school supplies you have and put them into a single location. Your child will likely need a fully stocked homework station this year, so get that organized now. If you have significantly more items than your child could possibly use or supplies that are no longer age appropriate — I’m looking at you, large crayons — donate them to the school for classes where they are still needed.

If you have time, do your research on pricing. Gather flyers, compare prices online, and collect coupons (digital or not) that will save you a few bucks.

As much as your kid might fight it, it is a good idea to take him/her with you on any clothing and/or shoe buying trips. Having your kid present will ensure you get clothes and shoes that actually fit (or are a tiny bit too big, as is my buying custom for school wear) so you’re not having to make multiple trips to a store to return ill-fitting items.

Finally, don’t stress if you can’t get that last item by the first day (no sense in cluttering up your mental health, too). It’s very unlikely that the one item you have yet to acquire will be used on the very first day of school. Simply have it for your kid on the second day or the third. Two weeks into the school year you’ll be so swamped with activities, neither your child nor your child’s teacher will even remember you sent Elmer’s Glue on the second day of school.