How to store Halloween decorations and costumes

As Halloween ends, two tasks stand before us. We’ve mentioned what to do with all that candy and in this post we’ll discuss organizing and storing Halloween decorations and costumes. Careful planning will keep your favorites in good shape for years of reuse.

For me, holiday decorations symbolize more than festivities. Many of the pumpkins, ghosts and black cats that we display each October have been with me since childhood. There’s the plastic pumpkin from the 1970’s that I distinctly remember putting on display as a child, long ago. The “mummy” that frightened my 11-year-old when he was a toddler now elicits a laugh whenever we remember his request to turn it to face the wall.

Is it crazy to have a emotional connection to a plastic pumpkin? Maybe. But there it is.

Protect your memories and traditions by following these steps:

  1. Use a durable, clearly-labeled bin with a lid, like these 14-gallon totes. The label makes the decoration bin easy to find next year. The lid keeps out dust, moisture, insects, humidity, light, and critters: all threats to the decorations you love.
  2. Put a laminated list of contents on the lid. If you’ve got enough stuff to occupy more than one bin, type out a list of what is in each, laminate it, and use some Velcro strips to affix it to the lid.
  3. Wrap breakable items in bubble wrap. When I was young, people used old newspaper to protect fragile decorations that were going into storage. Often, the result was shattered shards neatly wrapped in newspaper. Get some bubble wrap from the post office or a packaging store for added protection.

Aside from the decorations, consider keeping some of those costumes. Yes, some can be donated, but others are great for dress-up or can be re-used as paint smocks and so on.

Younger trick-or-treaters love playing dress-up. Get your money’s worth out of that costume by adding it to their play bins. Find a bin to store them or install some hooks in the play area. Plastics masks might not last long, but cloth outfits will provide lots of fun pretend play.

Other costumes – kids or adults – that you want to reuse can be hung in a closet with other clothes. Rubber masks are easily popped in boxes and kept on a closet shelf away from light and humidity.

If you lack the closet space, consider a vacuum-sealed bag. Items that can’t lay flat can be wrapped up in acid-free tissue paper, as that will help them keep their shape. Just remember to launder costumes and wipe masks clean before putting them away.

Like many things, decorations and costumes represent an investment. For many of us, their value is beyond the monetary. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep them around for years.

Unclutter the bathroom with these clever tricks

If you were to ask me which room is hardest to keep tidy, I’d say the bathroom. It is home to lots of small items that are used too often to be tucked away. Even the most diligent unclutterer’s sink or vanity can become a mess in no time as an endless parade of toothpaste, brushes, deodorant, razors, and floss makes its way into your home.

Fortunately, there is hope.

I spent a lot of time searching the internet for the best bathroom organization solutions. I don’t mean cutesy stuff that’s more clever style than substance. Instead, I’ve tracked down several useful ideas that you’ll actually want to put in place.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Let’s start with several items that love to congregate on vanities everywhere: toothbrushes and toothpaste. A cutlery sorting tray can keep these items separated and out if sight. I suggest using a plastic tray that is easily removed, as you’ll want to clean and sanitize it periodically.

Bottles

These things amass themselves incredibly quickly. Spice racks mounted to the wall will hold hair spray, lotion, mouthwash and more that would otherwise clutter up the vanity.

Bobby pins, tweezers and other metal tools

It’s tempting to toss these into a drawer (or, if you’re my daughter, anywhere at all). Adhesive magnetic strips attached to the inside of a drawer or cabinet door will corral these small, easily lost items.

Hair dryers and other bulky items

Now we’ll move from small items to larger ones. Here’s a fantastic idea for storing bulky hair dryers and curling irons. Some PVC cut perfectly and stuck to the inside of a door keeps them out of site yet at hand.

Of course, there’s no “miracle fix” for bathroom clutter other than diligence. Hopefully one of these projects will inspire you to tacking a particular cluttered area.

Organizing during grief

Everyone goes through periods of grief or bereavement at some point in life. This intense sorrow is often caused by the death of a loved one. However grief can be caused by many other events. Some of these events include:

  • The loss of anyone with whom you have a close bond, including pets.
  • The ending of a close relationship such as estrangement from spouse, sibling, parent, friend or even a business partner.
  • Physical, mental, emotional, and/or behavioural changes of a close family member or friend (such as a parent diagnosed with dementia or family member struggling with addiction).
  • Moving away from a long-time home, even if the change is due to a happy event like a new job or marriage.
  • A military deployment of a family member, even if the deployment is not to a hostile area.
  • The realization that a lifetime goal will never be achieved for example you did not get an anticipated job promotion or not accepted into a certain school.
  • For some people, the loss of certain possessions can trigger grief such as having to part with your first car or losing your wedding ring.

Grief causes stress and stress creates physiological changes in the body and brain. This may cause you to feel and act differently compared to non-stress situations. Although everyone feels grief differently, it is common to experience fatigue and irritability much more quickly. It may also be more difficult to concentrate, make decisions and solve problems.

Sometimes during periods of grief you may be expected to remain productive or even do some major organizing. Here are a few tips to help you through this difficult time.

  1. Get help with the grief. The most important thing is to get help to manage the feelings of grief. Confide in a friend or family member. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or mental health professional. Look for community support groups in your area.
  2. Adjust your expectations. Now that you know grief interferes with your ability to organize and make decisions, accept that during this period you probably won’t be at the top of your game. Relax and don’t be so hard on yourself.
  3. Prioritize. Our previous posts, Managing the overwhelmed feeling and Seven ways to cope with stress offer some great advice on prioritizing.
  4. Reduce the number of decisions. Some people try to reduce uncluttering to one decision – either keep everything or keep nothing. It could be that neither of these options is the best. Yet, deliberating over each individual item is frustrating and time-consuming. Instead, make some overarching decisions. For example, if you’re uncluttering books, you may decide to keep only those that were signed by the author and let the rest go to charity.
  5. Reduce the time, increase the frequency. If you’re having trouble concentrating on one task, try changing tasks. You could unclutter or organize during the commercial breaks of your favourite TV show. You could alternately read one chapter of a book then organize for a while. There is power in just 15-30 minutes a day.
  6. Hire a professional organizer. Members of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) are skilled in helping people who are having difficulty with organizing and productivity. They are also caring, compassionate, and discrete.

If you have tips for our readers on how to stay organized and productive during periods of grief and bereavement, please share them in the comments.

Being organized about computer security

Decision fatigue is always a potential problem when you’re uncluttering. You can get to the point where you’ve made so many decisions that making any more seems like more than you can handle. When you find yourself at that point, it’s time to take a break.

While I’ve often read about (and had experiences with) decision fatigue over the years, I recently read about a somewhat related concept: security fatigue, defined as “a weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security.”

After updating your password for the umpteenth time, have you resorted to using one you know you’ll remember because you’ve used it before? Have you ever given up on an online purchase because you just didn’t feel like creating a new account?

If you have done any of those things, it might be the result of “security fatigue.” …

A new study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that a majority of the typical computer users they interviewed experienced security fatigue that often leads users to risky computing behavior at work and in their personal lives.

If you give into security fatigue, you really do put your information at risk. The following are some ways to make it a bit easier to use good security:

Prioritize your important accounts

You may have heard the advice that you should never reuse passwords. But in a 2010 interview with Ben Rooney of Tech Europe, security expert Bruce Schneier indicated that might be going a bit overboard:

“I have some very secure passwords for things that matter — like online banking”, he says. “But then I use the same password for all sorts of sites that don’t matter. People say you shouldn’t use the same password. That is wrong.”

Don’t try to remember all your passwords

There are two ways to avoid relying on your memory. The first is to use a password management program. I use 1Password, but other people like LastPass, KeePass, or one of the other available choices. A password manager can store your passwords (and your answers to security questions) so you don’t need to remember them all.

If you don’t want to use a password manager, writing your passwords down can be okay, too — Schneier has actually recommended that. I’ve had my wallet stolen, so I wouldn’t feel good about keeping my list of passwords there (as he recommends) unless I did something to obscure the password, as suggested by Paul Theodoropoulos in a blog post.

But keeping a list of passwords in a file folder with an innocuous name might be fine. Or you could write them inside a random book, as another blogger suggested.

Find an easy way to choose secure passwords

There’s no total agreement on the best formula for secure passwords, but two common approaches are:

  • A long string of random characters including letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols
  • A set of randomly chosen unrelated words

The first type of password is easily created using a password manager. LastPass even has a random password generator anyone can use.

The second type is created using an approach known as Diceware, which is fairly tedious. But there’s at least one website that provides a Diceware app, making it extremely simple to generate these passwords. A Diceware password like doodle-aroma-equinox-spouse-unbolted might be odd, but it’s easier to remember than something like 831M5L17vY*F. (Of course, you can just cut and paste your passwords in many cases, but sometimes you really do want one you can remember.) However, Diceware won’t work on sites that set character limits that are too short.

Treat security questions just like additional passwords

Do you provide your pet’s name as an answer to a security question? On a banking site, you might want that name to be something like Z8#3!dP47#Hx or grill-anthem-tinderbox-baguette-cosmetics. On a less important site you don’t need to be as cautious, but using your pet’s real name is still a poor idea.

Unitasker Wednesday: Finger stand support rests

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

While working on last week’s unitasker post I came across another unitasker — Finger Stand Support Rests.
1610_unitasker_fingerholdersThis is a set of five hard plastic stands on which to put your fingers when you’re painting your fingernails. The stands are not attached to each other so you’ll have five little things cluttering up your cosmetics bag/drawer.

When painting your nails, the finger stands must be perfectly spaced to support all of your fingers. If your hands are small, you’ll have to stretch because the bases of the supports need to be wide enough to stop the stands from wobbling. I can’t imagine that they are comfortable being made of hard plastic.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to use a rolled up towel under your fingers? A towel would be much softer and you could cover it with a napkin or tissue to absorb any nail polish spills.

Organize your Google Drive

1610_google_drive_logoFor online document editing and collaboration, Google Drive is still king. Last month, Bradley Chambers said the following while writing for The Sweet Setup:

“When it comes to needing an easy way to share a document with someone, Google is still the standard choice for me and most people I work with. The fact that they were always a web-first platform has given them a head start in the interface and syncing technology.”

That’s exactly why I continue to use it: free, web-based (which means nearly ubiquitous access to your files), easy and accessible.

But just like any tool, your Google Drive can become disorganized.

Here, I’ll describe some best practices you can adopt to organize the files you’ve got stored in Google Drive. Let’s begin with something simple: sorting.

Get sorted

Once you’ve got a lot of files on your Drive, it can be tricky to find the one you’re looking for. Fortunately, you can quickly sort the list. First, click the button on the top right to toggle between List View and Grid View. Both sort folders from files, and list view lets your further sort by title or creation date.

Powerful search tools

Google is synonymous with “search” (how many times have you heard someone say, “Google it”?), and as such you’d expect robust search options in its products, like Drive. A simple click reveals that they are in place.

To begin, simply click the search field to perform a search by type: PDF, text, spreadsheet, presentations, photos & images and videos. That’s helpful, but it’s just the start. Click “More search tools” (or the disclosure triangle at the right of the search field) to access a slew of useful features. From there, you can search by:

  1. File type
  2. Date
  3. Title
  4. Words found in the body of the document
  5. The owner (if you’re sharing files with a collaborator)
  6. Who it’s shared with
  7. What folder it’s in
  8. Any “follow up” actions — again, if you’re collaborating

All of this makes it very easy to find the file you need.

Select many files at once

Occasionally you’ll want to move, share or otherwise interact with several files at once. You could click them one at a time, or hold down Shift as you click to select in bulk. This tiny tip can be a huge time-saver.

Look to the stars

You can add a star to any file or folder in Google Drive by right-clicking on it and then selecting the star from the resulting contextual menu. All starred items are immediately accessible from the star menu in the left toolbar. Just don’t go too crazy with this feature, or you’ll have a list of starred items that just as unwieldy as the “un-starred” masses!

Quick preview

You can quickly preview a document without opening it to save a lot of time. Simply click once to select it, and then hit the “eye” icon that appears in the toolbar above to get a peek at what that document contains.

Add-ons

Finally, consider the huge library of add-ons that are constantly being released and refined for Google Drive users. These easily-installed tidbits address all aspects of using the service, with the focus on making it more efficient. PC World recently published a nice round-up of great Google Drive add-ons, including Consistency Checker, which scans your docs for incorrect hyphens and other such errors, as well as Data Everywhere, which makes it easy to share across platforms (Google, Excel, etc.).

I hope this was helpful. As I said, Google Drive is a fantastic collaboration tool. With a little effort, you can make it an efficient, organized experience as well.

What to do with all that Halloween candy

1610_candy_chemistryIn one week’s time, many of us will find an unwieldy pile of candy on the kitchen table. Or spread across the living room rug. Or even, if your kids are like mine, stuffed inside a plastic pumpkin mixed in with empty wrappers, discarded boxes of less-favorable raisins, and utterly forgotten pencils.

Halloween is almost here.

I love Halloween and I enjoy trick-or-treating with the kids. Heck, I’ll even grab a few peanut butter cups out of their stashes. But as a veteran of the holiday, I know the routine: within a few days, this candy will be forgotten about and left to collect dust. What is there to do with this sugary clutter? Actually, a lot.

Now, before I get started with a list of what you can do with that leftover Halloween candy, a note: I’m not saying, “Take your kids’ candy away!” While I realize that sugary snacks are often nutritionally bankrupt, I also want kids to enjoy the brief time that they get to be kids. If that means scarfing down a Pixie Stick or two (or ten), great. Have fun. In this article, I’m referring to that abandoned pile that becomes clutter. That said, let’s get to it.

Re-use

  1. Freeze your favorites. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Exactly what’s fun about those tiny, ‘Fun Sized’ candy bars,” here’s the answer. When frozen, they’re fantastic. Put a few in the freezer for a frozen, out-of-sight treat for weeks to come.
  2. Cooking. Whip up some M&M cookies, chunky brownies or what-have-you. My favorite recipe for leftover Halloween candy is Trash Bark. Melt some chocolate, dump in the works and enjoy a holiday bark that puts the peppermint variety to shame.
  3. Transfer it to another holiday. Put some candy aside for an Advent calendar, gingerbread house or piñata filling.

Donate

  1. TroopTreats gathers and ships items needed and appreciated by troops who are serving our country abroad. Help them feel a little of that Halloween spirit no matter where they are with a donation of holiday candy.
  2. Do a buy back! Many business — especially dentist offices — will collect unwanted candy and distribute them to members of the military.
  3. Ronald McDonald House charities gladly accept Halloween candy every year, for distribution among the families of the severely ill children that they serve.

Learn Food Science

Did you know that you can paint with Skittles, practice prediction skills with candy bars or blow up balloons with Pop Rocks? Maybe the kids are strong-willed enough to discover exactly how many licks it does take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. You can do these things and more, while showing the kids how to have unexpected fun with candy. Of course, if you’re enjoying the science and want to explore even more, a kit like Candy Chemistry is a lot of educational fun.

There are a few ideas. If you’ve got a great solution that I haven’t thought of, sound off below. And quickly, before I secretly eat the whole stash!

More advice for buying a filing cabinet

Dave recently provided some great tips for buying a filing cabinet. The following are a few additional suggestions from my own experiences.

Unclutter first

With any organizing project, buying the containers (in this case, the filing cabinets) is one of the last steps. If you don’t remove the paper clutter first, you may wind up buying more storage than you need.

So much information we used to keep in files can now be found online. And if you’re comfortable with digital files, many papers that you receive which have valuable information can be scanned, reducing what needs to be kept and filed.

But once you’ve decided what to keep, be sure to buy filing cabinets that can store all your papers without overcrowding the drawers. It’s nice to keep each drawer no more than 80 percent full so it’s easy to add and remove files.

Consider what size papers you need to keep

Many people just need files for letter-sized paper, but you may have documents you want to keep in paper form that are larger (such as real estate documents in the U.S., which are often on legal size paper). Some filing cabinets can accommodate multiple paper sizes.

Choose to use hanging files — or not

Most filing cabinets come with rails for hanging files (or have high drawer sides designed to accommodate hanging file folders without the use of rails), so that’s what most people use. However, David Allen of Getting Things Done fame used to recommend a different approach:

I recommend you totally do away with the hanging-file hardware and use just plain folders standing up by themselves in the file drawer, held up by the movable metal plate in the back. Hanging folders are much less efficient because of the effort it takes to make a new file ad hoc.

This advice seems to have been removed from the latest edition of Allen’s book, but it might still appeal to you. If you want to go this route, you’ll want a filing cabinet that has those movable metal plates, often called follower blocks.

Make sure the cabinet drawers have full-extension slides

Some filing cabinets have drawers that don’t pull all the way out, making it hard to reach the files in the back. Be sure to look for cabinets with full-extension drawer slides (rather than something like three-quarter extension) so you can easily reach everything without scraping your knuckles.

Don’t create a tipping hazard

If you’re at all concerned about the cabinet falling over — because you have small children or you live in earthquake territory, for example — get the materials needed to anchor the cabinet to the wall.

Be sure a filing cabinet is the right tool for you


Just because so many people use filing cabinets doesn’t mean you need to do the same. There are other options, such as file carts, which may suit your organizing style better. Or you may prefer to keep at least some papers in binders rather than in file folders.

Unitasker Wednesday: Tweexy, the wearable nail polish holder

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’ve spent most of my career working in places where painted fingernails were not permitted, consequently I’ve never spent a lot of time thinking about how to best to apply nail polish. I innocently assumed that you would place a bottle of nail polish on a flat, stable surface (perhaps in a bathroom at home), and proceed to paint your fingernails.

tweexy nail polish holderBut why look for a flat, stable surface when you have Tweexy, the wearable polish holder. This light-weight, portable gizmo will allow you to easily open your nail polish bottle using one hand and polish your nails in a car, on a train, at the movies, on your bed, or even in the bath!

tweexy nail polish holder in bath

Maybe I’m missing something because I don’t paint my nails that often, but I just can’t imagine my own hand being more steady than a flat, stable surface.

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

Every day carry: weekend getaway

phone watch wipesI’m packing for a weekend getaway as I type this, which has inspired me to write an “Every Day Carry” (EDC) tech guide for weekend getaways. You don’t need to carry a lot in order to be prepared for a weekend away. In fact, pocket clutter is real and should be avoided. My “getaway” EDC varies a little from what’s typically on me, but not by much. Let’s take a look.

Mophie Juice Pack

I use my phone frequently when I’m away, particularly to find directions and taking pictures. That puts a hit on the battery, especially when a map app is receiving GPS data. For that matter, I always have a Mophie Juice Pack charged and ready to go. The Juice Pack is an iPhone case with a built-in battery. When my phone’s battery hits 20%, I flick on the Juice Pack and it’s back at 100% in no time.

iPhone

This goes with out saying, but the pocket computer called “iPhone” is completely essential. From finding directions and taking photos to calling hotels, restaurants and family, it’s my go-to gadget.

Apple Watch

My Apple Watch isn’t as essential as my iPhone, but it’s maturing into the useful accessory that Apple wants it to be (the same can be said of most smart watches). My favorite feature, however, really shines when I’m in a new place: walking directions. The first step, of course, is to get your destination’s address onto the Apple Watch. There are several ways to do this, and the fastest are these:

  1. Ask Siri for directions. The virtual personal assistant will automatically open Apple Maps with the directions ready to go.
  2. Start on Apple Maps on your iPhone. The app will automatically sync with Apple Watch.
  3. After you’ve entered the information on the iPhone app, open the watch app to view the directions.

Following a route Once you’re ready to get moving, just tap Start. The Watch will guide you along, via clever use of Apple’s Taptic Engine:

  1. A series of 12 taps means turn right at the next intersection.
  2. Three pairs of two taps mean turn left.
  3. A steady vibration means you’re at the last direction change.
  4. A more urgent vibration (which I call “the freakout”) indicates your arrival at your destination.

Imagine walking from, say, the train station to a hotel in a city you aren’t familiar with. You’ve got a bag in your hand and a million things on your mind, like check-in, getting settled and whatever brought you there in the first place. Now you can walk with your eyes front and your head up. Perhaps you’ll even note a few landmarks along the way, to make the return stroll easier.

Ursa Major face wipes

I used a face wipe from Ursa Major for the first time a few years ago. I was in NYC visiting family. After a sweaty day of walking through Manhattan, I was given one of these to use.

It was amazing.

The wipe is cool, smells great and not greasy at all. It evaporates quickly and let’s me “wash my face,” if you will, when I can’t do so properly. It seems like a small thing but I really like these things.

That’s the gear I carry when I’m away. It’s a short list, but all very useful. Do you have a special EDC for certain situations? Let me know.

Do you maintain a clutter preserve?

Earlier this week I was reading a nice series of posts at Organized Home on “Decluttering 101.” It’s always good to brush up on the basics. The author, Cynthia Ewer, shared some good advice, as well as a concept I found quite interesting: the “clutter preserve.” I’ll let her explain it.

“Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries. In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it’s thrown on the chair.”

A part of me shivers when I read this. If I create a clutter preserve — even one that’s out of the way — I fear it will foster others. As if it is tacit permission to make a tiny, obscure stack here, an unobtrusive pile there, and so on.

I see the logic in it, too. As Cynthia says, no one is squeaky-clean all the time. “Even the tidiest among us tosses clothes on the floor from time to time.” I can even relate this to email processing. Sure, it would be amazing to read and respond to every message every day, but for many of us that is not possible.

Now I want to ask you: do you maintain a clutter preserve, or maybe more than one? If so, do you attack it on a regular basis or is it there to offer sanity-saving permission to not be 100% perfect? Sound off in the comments, I’m eager to read what you think.

When organizing goes too far

Organizing isn’t something you do just for the sake of being organized. Rather, it’s something you do to make the rest of your life easier. When you’re organized you can find things when you need them. You have the space to do the things that matter to you: have company over, enjoy your hobbies, cook good meals, etc.

When you look at getting organized, there are always trade-offs to make. How much time do you want to spend organizing your books, your photos, etc.? One thing to consider is whether the time invested in doing the organizing will save you more time over the long run.

I just read an article by Brian X. Chen in The New York Times that touched upon these trade-offs. Chen consulted with Brian Christian, a computer scientist and philosopher, about organizing his digital photos.

Mr. Christian said photo organization illustrates a computer-science principle known as the search-sort trade-off. If you spend tons of time rummaging for a specific photo, then sorting photos may be worthwhile. But if you hunt for a picture infrequently, sorting may be a waste of time.

“If it would take you eight hours to tag all your friends, you should not undertake that until you’ve already wasted eight hours digging up photos of your friends,” said Mr. Christian, co-author of Algorithms to Live By, a book about using algorithmic principles to improve your life.

There are photo-management services such as Google Photos that can do some auto-sorting, and Chen went on to write about those. But the basic trade-off concept applies to all sorts of things beyond just photos. For example, I organize my books into general categories but don’t bother alphabetizing the fiction by author because I can find books quickly enough without taking that next step.

Similarly, as we’ve noted before, many people will find that they don’t need a bunch of folders for email because they can rely on their computer’s search function to find what they need. But others find that using folders works better for them, even if that makes email filing more time-consuming.

Organizer Lorie Marrero wrote on the Lifehack website about being too organized, and she provided this example of when the return on invested time doesn’t pay off:

People think it might look neat to have all matching plastic containers in their pantries that all nest nicely together and present a picture-perfect shelf. But for the ROI of simply having a pretty pantry, you have to spend a lot of time transferring every new food item from its original store packaging into the containers.

But if it really makes you happy to have a pantry with beautiful matching containers, then maybe you’d want to transfer foods into them even though this doesn’t make sense from a purely practical perspective. That’s a perfectly fine choice to make if it works for you.

Color-coding provides one more example what works for one person might be overkill for another. Does it help you to color-code your files? If so, it may well be worth the effort, money, and space to keep file folders in different colors on hand. However, if you’d work just as well with files that are all the same color, why not use the simpler approach?

As you set up your own organizing systems, think about what might be “just enough organizing” to allow you to function well and enjoy your home or office space.