Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for clutter-prone rooms

2016 gift giving guideThe holidays are a time to gather with loved ones, feel a deep sense of gratitude, and receive presents! I kid of course…kind of. We all have a list of things we would love to have but we would never buy for ourselves. In this article, I’m going to point out several such items for the areas of the home that are very prone to clutter: the home office, the kitchen and the shed or garage. These items will delight the unclutterer on your list.

For the home office

There are many fantastic digital organization tools available. Still, there is nothing like a paper planner, and my favorite by far is the Hobonichi Techo. This Japanese brand day planner/notebook has been on my desk for years. It features thin yet remarkably durable paper that resists ink bleed-through. It can be used as a notebook, planner, journal or sketchbook. The spine features lay-flat binding, which I love, and it is sized for travel. There are cool covers available too, if you want to go all out.

field notes notebookJust like the Hobonichi Techo, I have a fierce loyalty to Field Notes notebooks. While the Techo sits on my desk, the Field Notes notebook is in my back pocket, all day, every day. It is a durable tool that’s ready for work. Anything I need to capture in the moment – an appointment, an idea, a request or a task to add to a project – is written in my notebook. At work, people simply say to me, “…put it in your notebook,” because they know that’s just what I’m going to do. Field Notes are stylish, sturdy, and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. I’m literally never without one.

You’ll need a pen for all that writing, and you can’t go wrong with a Fisher Space Pen. (And yes, it did go into space.) This rugged, compact pen can write at any angle (for the times when the only flat surface is a vertical wall) and on almost any material – including wet paper! It’s the perfect companion to the Field Notes notebook.

For the kitchen

11212016_dishrackCan a dish rack be beautiful? If you’re thinking of the Polder KTH–615 Advantage Dish Rack, the answer is “yes.” The Polder is strong and stable with a small footprint. It’s also got a huge utensil rack that can hold an impressive collection of forks, knives and spoons without falling off. For those days when you’ve got more dishes than usual, the slide-out tray will accommodate them all.

The bakers on your list will love the Joseph Joseph 20085 Adjustable Rolling Pin. Here’s what’s really cool about this rolling pin: with a simple adjustment, you can ensure that you’re flattening your dough to a specific, uniform thickness. Baking demands precision and this tool lets you achieve just that. No more worrying if the dough is too thin.

For the garage/shed

11212016_toolboxNothing beats a good set of tools, except the container you use to store them all. While big metal toolboxes are nice, I love the Jobsite Work Box by Milwaukee. The great feature here is that the Jobsite Work Box stores tools vertically in slots, completely eliminating the jumbled pile of tools that nearly every other toolbox contains. It’s lightweight, portable and very durable. There are other boxes that offer vertical storage, and most are much more expensive than the Milwaukee.

There you have it. If you know someone that would like one of these items but wouldn’t go out and buy it him/herself, go ahead and purchase it for that person. Demonstrate what an insightful gift-giver you are this holiday season.

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

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Long-lasting kitchen gifts

2016 gift giving guideThis year my husband and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. In honour of this occasion I am presenting a list of items we bought or were given early in our marriage that we still own and use all the time. These items have not only lasted through 25 years of marriage but ten household moves – four cross-continent and two trans-Atlantic.

Mixing Bowls

mixing bowls with lidsPyrex bowls with matching lids are amazing. Made from durable glass so they are oven, microwave, fridge, freezer and dishwasher safe. They nest inside each other so they take up minimal space in cupboards. Because you can seal the bowls with a lid, you can mix ingredients and store them on the counter or in the fridge and do the final preparations later. They can also double as serving bowls or, snap on a lid and easily take a salad to a potluck dinner.

Flatware

stainless flatwareGood quality stainless steel flatware means you will only ever need to have one set because it is durable for every day use and nice enough for meals with special guests. Stainless steel is dishwasher-safe (easy to clean after dinner parties) and unlike silver, it never requires polishing. If this is a gift option for someone you know, I suggest a classic design that is not likely to go out of fashion or out of production. Look for a pattern that also has matching serve ware (butter knife, slotted spoon, etc.).

Cookware

If ceramic cookware had been available when we got married I would have appreciated a set with lids that fit both the pots and the pans. We did receive a lovely stainless steel pot that is still in wonderful condition. If you give or receive a gift of ceramic cookware, get a set of nylon cooking utensils – essential to protect the ceramic coating. Our set of utensils has lasted through our entire marriage.20161118_ceramic_pots_set

Bakeware

I love our bakeware set. It is dishwasher-safe, can be used in the microwave or oven, and can be easily transferred to the refrigerator or freezer. I wish our set had included plastic lids. It would be much easier to store items in the fridge or freezer, or to take them to potluck dinners. Since bakeware lasts a long time, if you’re considering this item, choose a classic pattern that will coordinate with all types of décor.20161118_bakeware

Knives

I recommend an excellent set of kitchen knives. Check out our post from 2011 for our list of recommended kitchen knives.

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

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Experience Gifts

2016 gift giving guideExperience gifts can be one good way to avoid clutter, although you still need to select them with care to match the recipients’ interests. The following list goes beyond the common gifts (such as a gift certificate for a massage) to give you some more food for thought. Although the examples come from selected U.S. cities, you may be able to find something similar in other areas.

Because some people want to give something tangible, I’ve also suggested books you could match with these experience gifts.

One reminder: If using your gift will cause the recipient to incur significant additional expenses (babysitting, parking, etc.) then consider including some cash to cover these expenses or arranging to have them pre-paid, when possible.

Visits to local attractions

There’s a saying about tourists seeing places that long-term residents never do, and that can certainly be true. In my area, the Winchester Mystery House is a well-known place that I’ve never visited in the 40+ years I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. The ticket prices always seemed a bit high, but I’d definitely go if someone got me a ticket. You may know of similar places your gift recipient would like to visit.

It’s always easier on the recipient if you can buy a gift certificate rather than tickets for a specific day. If the website doesn’t mention gift certificates, try calling. That’s what I did for the Winchester Mystery House, and I found out that gift certificates are indeed available.

If you’d like to include a book, one option is Side Walks — a journal that encourages readers to explore their cities.

Museum gift cards

We’ve mentioned museum memberships on Unclutterer in the past, but a gift card (or gift certificate) allows the recipient to purchase a range of things: admission (or a membership), classes, food and beverage at the museum café, etc.

Of course, the gift card can also be used at the museum gift shop, which will result in more stuff, but that’s the recipient’s choice.

These gifts can work for both adults and children. Just a few of the museums that offer gift cards are the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Appropriate books will depend on the type of museum and the age of the gift recipient. For adults interested in natural history museums, you might choose Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums. Children ages 8 to 12 might like Animalium: Welcome to the Museum, which has gorgeous illustrations.

Arboretum and state park gift cards

As with museum gift cards, these are an alternative to memberships or annual passes (which can also be great gifts). The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum notes that its gift cards (which can be used for admission, membership, classes, restaurant meals, etc.) never expire. The Morton Arboretum has a long list of things the cards can be used for, including chamber concert tickets, tram tours, and Mother’s Day brunch. They can be bought in any denomination, so you can spend the amount that works best for you.

Arizona State Parks gift cards can be used for day use, overnight camping, and cave tours (as well as gift shop purchases). Ohio State Parks gift cards and certificates can be used for camping, cabin or lodge rentals, six state park golf courses, boat and bike rentals, etc.

An interesting companion book might be Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails and Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness.

Ball park tours

Most of these tours require you to buy tickets for specific dates and times, but Wrigley Field tours are available via gift certificate. Others might offer gift certificates if you called and asked — if not, you would need to coordinate with your gift recipient. If you want the gift to be a surprise, you could always give a greeting card saying, “Good for a tour of the ball park. Let me know a good time for you and I’ll buy the ticket.”

One possible book to partner with this gift is the novel Bang the Drum Slowly. For children, books from the Ballpark Mystery series might be fun.

City art and architecture tours

There are all sorts of city tours available, many focused on food and beverages and others focused on the city’s history. But some of the most interesting-sounding tours are ones like these:

Of course, there are many wonderful books about art and architecture that could get paired with a gift certificate or tickets for such tours. One book to consider is The Architecture of Happiness.

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Inflatable Cow Skull

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

This past summer we moved from England to Texas. Since we arrived I have been wondering how to tailor our décor to better adapt to our local environment. At long last, I have found what I (don’t) need – a wall-mounted, inflatable cow skull.

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With the soft plastic construction and realistic photo print no one will ever know we’re not native Texans! The bonus part? When we move back to Canada in three years, we just deflate the skull and roll it up. No special packing foam or boxes required!

However, I probably won’t take the cow skull back to Canada. I’ll order the wall-mounted, inflatable moose head – much more suited to a northern climate.

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Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Convenient tech

2016 gift giving guideTechnology offers the promise of convenience and ease. These awesome tech gift ideas deliver on that promise. From taking notes to the ultimate bedside charging cable, we’ve collected the best tech gifts that add convenience to your day – or night. Let’s get started with those who work in both the digital and analog world.

The Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad is a clever and useful device that marries hand-written and digital note taking. On the right, it’s pen and paper. Take notes, write text, plan world domination. When the planning is complete, simply hit a button and the information is transferred to your iPad, iPhone or Android device where you can share, enhance or continue your work digitally. The final product can be shared as JPG, PNG, PDF or WILL file formats. As for the Cloud, you can export directly to Dropbox, Evernote, and OneNote.wacom smartpad

The Tile Slim is a treasure for the wanna-be organizer who is prone to misplacing certain items (I’m raising my hand here). Once attached to smartphone, keys or whatever else you’re likely to lose, simply pair it with the mobile app and you’re a tap away from finding that pesky wallet. It’s not flashy but it is very useful.

The Amazon Echo Dot is a tiny device that takes online shopping to a very convenient and handy place. When connected to external speakers, the Dot listens for your voice to issue commands. It can play music, make purchases, control smart home devices and so much more. What’s even better is how easily it can be tucked away. Since it doesn’t need to “see” a remote of any kind, you can put it neatly on a shelf, behind a house plant or a stack of books. At $50, it’s affordable convenience that geeks and non-geeks will enjoy.

night cableThe Night Cable. I use my smartphone as an alarm clock, which means it spends the night charging up on my night stand. Unfortunately, the wall socket is kind of far away, so I needed a charging cable longer than what’s in the box. The Night Cable is a full 10 feet long, made of very durable material and, best of all, features a weighted knot just a few inches from the end. That way, I never have to silently shake my fist as it falls – once again – behind the table.

All of these gifts will please the convenience-loving techie on your list. Here’s hoping you find something great, and enjoy your holiday.

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

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Organizing gifts for kids

2016 gift giving guideThe holiday shopping season is upon us. I’m sure that, like me, many of you have kids on your list. It’s always fun to buy gifts for kids, young and old. Of course, I’m doing so with an organizational flair. In this article, I’ll describe gifts that will keep kids organized and keep their interest at the same time.

Gifts for the Gamer

Many kids (and adults, including yours truly) enjoy playing games, both digital and tabletop. It’s a great hobby with a huge potential for clutter. Keeping things neat and easy to find makes the gaming experience much better. Here are a few great gifts that will do the trick.

You can’t go wrong with a game controller charging station. These convenient accessories store controllers in a tidy, accessible fashion while charging their batteries at the same time. You’ll find models for the Xbox One and others for the Wii, Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation. Any gamer would want these!

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The Cablebox from Bluelounge isn’t the flashiest gift but it’s such a pleasure to have. It houses almost any size power strip with plenty of room for cords. There’s easy access from either side, so place it where ever you like.

Board games come in big boxes with lots of components that must be stored in a tidy manner, or else setup will take a lot longer than it should. For tabletop gamers, I recommend the game-specific, in-box organizers from The Broken Token. These folks make the most beautiful, durable inserts for large, popular games like Dead of Winter, Lords of Waterdeep, Carcassonne and so many more. I can’t say enough good things about these inserts.

Gifts for the Student

20161114_reconbackpackA good backpack will serve your high school or college student well, and the North Face Recon is a good backpack. It’s durable and water resistant, which is good for dashing between classes on a rainy day. The Recon features several fleece-lined pockets that are friendly towards gadgets and electronics, and a vented back so you won’t arrive to school with a sweaty shirt.

For the college student, a box of “basics” is a great way to go. Grab items like bath towels, bed sheets, some dishes and silverware…all of the stuff that doesn’t necessarily receive the TLC it deserves while in the dorm.

Gifts for the Reader

Readers love to share books, but fear the possibility that they will not be returned. That’s where the Knock Knock Personal Library Kit comes in. This tidy kit lets kids act as their own librarians, affixing “return date” cards to their books via personalized front-cover pockets. It’s fun, convenient and helps guarantee that beloved books will be returned.

Gifts for the Youngster

20161114_woodblocksetI have yet to meet a kid who dreams of receiving a storage solution as a gift, so don’t wrap up Rubbermaid bins for them. Instead, look for appealing toys that come with reusable storage, like this great set of wooden building blocks.

Those with many kids will love a set of Mabel’s Labels. These super-cute labels clearly display your child’s name and come in many sizes, colors and themes (dinosaur, nature, etc.), and they stick to just about anything. Pop them on camping gear, baseball hats, sports equipment and more.

 

For more gifts for kids, feel free to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Introducing the 2016 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide

2016 gift giving guideOver the next two weeks we will be running posts for our annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. This is our TENTH Guide and we’re thrilled!

This year you can expect there to be suggestions on gifts that withstand the test of time, fun gifts to help children stay organized, and gifts of useful technology tools. We’ll also be sharing one of our favourite posts – fun and clutter free experience gifts.

We hope that our gift ideas will be a helpful guide for you during this busy holiday season.

For more inspiration, feel free to browse through our previous Holiday Gift Giving Guides: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Unitasker Wednesday: Handerpants

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

Are your hands cold inside the house but you don’t want to wear your outdoor gloves? Then you need Handerpants!

20161109_unitasker_handerpants

Handerpants are fingerless gloves resembling men’s underwear. Made from a cotton/spandex blend, they will stretch to fit most hands. In the winter you can wear them underneath normal gloves – underwear for your hands!

Handerpants are marketed as having “hundreds of uses” but I can’t see this product being any more useful than regular fingerless gloves – except to add more clutter to your closet.

Kitchen tech and gadgets to help holiday cooking

November is upon us and soon the winter holidays will be here. In addition to the mountain of organizing that must be done, it’s time to begin planning for holiday meals. Yes, it’s work, but it’s also nice to cook for the people you love. Make the job a little easier with the following gadgets, each of which deserves a place in your kitchen.

I love using my tablet (in my case, an iPad) for recipes. It’s convenient and dare I say even a little fun? The only drawback is that it is an expensive electronic device that does not like fluids or other kitchen messes. The good news is that there are many covers and cases available to keep splatter away from your device, and my favorite is the combination of the inexpensive Arkon Folding Tablet Stand (for iPad Air, iPad mini, iPad and various Android tablets) plus a simple zip-to-seal bag.

Just place your tablet into the bag and rest it on the stand. The Arkon is well designed; nearly any tablet can rest on it, so you needn’t worry about compatibility. It really is useful.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for great recipes apps, click here for several recommendations.

knife sharpenerThe AccuSharp 001 might be the best handheld knife sharpener you’ll own. It’s such a far cry from the unwieldy honing steel we used when I was a kid. Simply run the AccuSharp over the knife blade a few times and it’ll be noticeably sharper. Plus it’s under ten dollars.

A few years ago I received a potato ricer as a gift. Today, it’s one of my favorite kitchen tools. I guess it’s a unitasker, in that all it does is mash potatoes, but the result is just fantastic. Plus, it’s kind of fun to use. I highly recommend it.

Finally, the Crock-Pot SCBAG Travel Bag is perfect for when you’re cooking and then traveling. If there’s a potluck in your future or if you’ve been asked to bring one thing to dinner, this will work wonderfully. It will hold a 4- to 7-quart oval-shaped slow cooker with ease.

Thanksgiving dinner (and other holiday meals) are easier to prepare when you’ve got the right tools in place. These goodies will serve you well. Happy cooking and enjoy the winter holidays.

Organizing dresser drawers

Last week was Intimate Apparel Week in the United States, and I want to acknowledge the event with something that’s intensely personal: your dresser drawers.

I’m a 45-year-old man but I still organize my clothes according to how I was taught as a child. There’s really no logic in place, like perhaps frequently-worn items in the top drawers, etc. Yet to me, it makes perfect sense. In fact, this system is so deeply ingrained that I can’t even entertain the idea of doing it any other way. Here’s how I organize my dresser drawers. I’d love to know what your method is.

In the top drawer I place sleepwear, socks and underwear. There’s no question about the very top drawer. It has been and forever shall be “the pajamas, socks, and underwear drawer.” I roll up each of these items like a burrito to maximize space used.

The second drawer is for t-shirts and only t-shirts. I have a lot of t-shirts, so many in fact, that my wife has issued several temporary buying freezes. I fold t-shirts in thirds lengthwise (arms and sides together) and then in half and in half again. This way I can fit several into a single drawer.

I only store short-sleeved shirts this way. Long-sleeved shirts are hung on hangers, as are my button-down shirts. I’ll admit that sweaters kind of exist in a no-man’s land for me. You can’t hang them as the hangers produce ugly “bumps” in the shoulders, and they’re too bulky to store in drawers. During sweater season, I usually place them on top of the dresser.

Drawer three is for jeans or shorts, depending on the season. Again, they’re folded up nice and small for efficient use of space. Finally, the last drawer is for what I call “dress pants.” I almost never go in this drawer (I can wear jeans to work), unless there’s a wedding, funeral or job interview I must attend.

Tangential items like belts and hats hang on nearby hooks.

Like I said, there’s no rhyme or reason here. I spend a lot of time organizing, uncluttering and making my systems work efficiently. But here’s an example of something that comes down to “…because I said so, that’s why.” It works for me, so why fix it?

Do you have a system for dresser drawers? Speak up.

Time management and cognitive biases

Cognitive bias is a term used to describe some ways our brains can lead us to make poor decisions. Dr. Travis Bradberry explained it this way: “Cognitive bias is the tendency to make irrational judgments in consistent patterns.”

Wikipedia lists 175 such biases, which is hard to get your mind around. Buster Benson decided he wanted to understand these biases better, so he created his Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet, which condenses those 175 biases into a 20-item list. As I read through that list, I realized at least two of the biases can affect your time management.

Bias: In order to get anything done, we’re motivated to complete things that we’ve already invested time and energy in. The behavioral economist’s version of Newton’s first law of motion: an object in motion stays in motion. This helps us finish things, even if we come across more and more reasons to give up.

This way of thinking can be very useful if you’re working on something important: creating an emergency preparedness kit, for example. But it can also trick you into spending time on things when giving up might be a better option.

The “sunk cost fallacy” fits into this category — that’s the thinking can cause you to hold onto a bad purchase because the item was expensive. The money is gone, whether or not you keep the purchased item. Michael Davidson, writing on the Lifehack website, gave an example of how this same way of thinking can get applied to time, not just money:

“I might as well keep watching this terrible movie because I’ve watched an hour of it already.”

Or reading a terrible book that you are 100 pages into, or continuing a T.V. series on Netflix that has gone downhill, etc.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve already invested time into whatever media you are consuming. If you don’t like the movie, you can walk out of it.

Here’s another example: I’ve had ideas for blog posts here on Unclutterer that just didn’t work out. No matter how much time I had already spent on writing them, at some point I needed to realize the ideas just weren’t as good as I had thought, and move onto other ideas before I wasted any more time. But that can sure be hard to do!

Bias: We favor options that appear simple or that have more complete information over more complex, ambiguous options. We’d rather do the quick, simple thing than the important complicated thing, even if the important complicated thing is ultimately a better use of time and energy.

Information bias falls into this category: “Believing that the more information that can be acquired to make a decision, the better, even if that extra information is irrelevant for the decision.”

I thought about this as I sat with my long California ballot, with 18 propositions and a number of local elections. I tend to want to learn as much as possible about the issues so I can make an informed choice. But in some cases, I’ve realized, I don’t need every bit of information I could potentially gather. Sometimes the candidates’ stands on a few key issues tell me all I really need to know — I don’t need to understand the details of their positions on every last thing.

Other times you just need accept that you can’t get perfect information and become comfortable with the ambiguity. When I needed to replace my year-old printer that stopped working, there was no obvious best choice. But in order to have a functional printer again I needed to make the best decision I could, without taking forever to decide.

Understanding these cognitive biases helps you realize when you’re falling into their traps, so you can make other decisions and use your time more productively.

Unitasker Wednesday: Banana Surprise

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

Two years ago we introduced the DestapaBanana from Argentina, a unitasker that cored bananas and filled them with a sweet filling. Now we have a competitor on the scene – the Banana Surprise.

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The Banana Surprise will change the way bananas are eaten! Use the special tools in the Banana YumStation to fill your banana with chocolate, strawberry sauce, fruit purees or cream. Instantly fill bananas in four easy steps!

I’m not sure how “instant” four easy steps are but I am sure that, just like the DestapaBanana, this device will turn wholesome fruit into junk food and fill your kitchen cupboards with clutter.

Rhik Samadder, a kitchen gadget reviewer for the Guardian, describes the Banana Surprise as “traumatizing” and gives it a zero out of five rating. At Unclutterer, we agree!