Uncluttering and organizing odds and ends

Sometimes we have suggestions for uncluttering and organizing random things in your life, but those tips don’t warrant a full post on their own. When that happens, we save them up for an odds and ends post and dump them all together.

Fall and winter sports

My son’s soccer league is in full swing, and I suspect some of you have kids in basketball, hockey, football, and/or ballet, too. Sports means equipment, and equipment needs organizing. It’s no fun scrambling to find a dirty jersey an hour before you need to leave the house.

In our home, we’ve instituted the “soccer basket.” It’s a medium-sized wicker basket that lives by the back door to our house and stores shin guards, shorts, sweat pants, sweatshirt, cleats, jersey, and anything else soccer related. Once clean, all soccer gear lives in the basket. (The items stored here return to their long-term storage homes during the off season.)

For more on keeping sports equipment organized and handy, the following might be helpful to you:

Create Evernote templates

I attend a lot of meetings at my non-Unclutterer job, and that means taking notes. My preferred app for this task is Evernote, which we’ve discussed extensively here at Unclutterer. However, I only recently found this trick for making reusable templates.

Typically when I’m in a meeting, I set up my notes the same way: The top of the page is labeled NOTES in bold, 18-point font, and below that, ACTIONS, is set up the same way. It only takes a minute to create this, but I’ve found an easier way.

As Document Snap describes, I can use the Copy to Notebook command to make a copy of my setup, complete with the styling and tags I want. I love it and it saves me a good amount of time over the course of a week.

Keyboard shortcuts

I recently received a nice, new Windows laptop to use at work. Which sounds nice, except I’ve never used a Windows computer before.

All the wonderful keyboard shortcuts I’ve committed to muscle memory over the last 20 years are suddenly useless to me when I’m on this machine. Fortunately, a list of Mac OS and Windows shortcut equivalents exists. I’ve since printed it and hung it up by my desk.

For more on keyboard shortcuts:

Increase your productivity with keyboard shortcuts

Never underestimate the power of a tray

We all have that one surface — countertop, dresser, end table — that loves to accumulate clutter. You’ve tried to extinguish the behavior of piling up to no avail. If you can beat ’em, join ’em…with a tray.

A simple tray in the troublesome spot provides a clearly-defined landing area for whatever likes to accumulate. Plus, it’s self-limiting. If something won’t fit, move on and find it a new home. When the tray is full, put everything on it back to its official storage space. When guests come unexpectedly, hide it. It’s not a long-term solution, but it works better than nothing at all.

Are there any decluttering and organizing odds and ends you’ve been working out lately? Share your quick tips in the comments.

Mobile apps for smart, organized travel

A good vacation, like so many other things in life, will be more successful with ample planning. If you have one, your smartphone is more than up to the task of helping you in this area. There are smartphone apps that can help you back up important information about your trip, pack your things in an orderly way, and finally find tickets for a plane, a train, or bus if you plans change mid-journey.

Perform a backup

This next bit of advice isn’t about an app, but it is vitally important for organized traveling: before you leave for vacation (or on a trip for work), back up your smartphone. It’s likely that you won’t be able to do so while you’re away, and possible that your phone could be lost, stolen, or damaged on the road. While most mobile app purchases can be replaced for free, your pictures, home videos, and certain app data cannot. Performing a backup before you leave means you’ll be able to perform a clean restoration, if necessary, when you return home. Refer to your device’s instructions for making a backup.

It’s also a good idea to export your contacts to a separate file (like a .csv to your desktop or the cloud), just to be safe. For example, the utility called Easy Backup (free) can export your iPhone contacts as a .csv (.csv stands for comma separated value and is easily read by Excel).

Create a packing list

Few things are as satisfying as scratching something off a list. Your smartphone lets you ditch the pencil and create an electronic list to use on the go. There are many list apps available, and I encourage you to conduct a search with the terms “List” and “Packing.”

I’m a fan of the Kayak app (free, and pictured above) because in addition to booking transportation and hotels, Kayak lets you create shopping and packing lists. Its approach is unique: list templates are populated with items you might take on one of several types of trips, family, business, romantic and general. It has pre-populated lists and you can create your own lists. Erin is fond of PackingPro ($3), which is good because it allows different groups of lists and is sharable for families.

Make travel arrangements

I’ll admit I love finding and tracking flights with my smartphone. I can remember the hours I used to spend on the phone and even in front of my computer trying to find a flight. Not to mention scrambling to find my gate and read the information displays at the airport. Now I do all of it with the pocket-sized computer I keep in my pocket.

Again, I primarily use Kayak to look for air travel. The app polls several top travel sites and airlines for flights that match your criteria. The results can be filtered by airline, number of stops, airport, price and duration. You can also sort by cost, duration and departure time (leaving soonest). You can use the app even if you booked your flight with another site.

Individual airlines have apps, too, which may be helpful to you if you are a loyalty member on a specific carrier. A little research before you purchase your tickets can let you know if booking through the airline’s app will get you a better price.

Land travel

Of course, traveling doesn’t always mean flying. I often travel between Boston and New York City by train. Once again, the smartphone replaces time spent at a desk or on the phone with several handy apps. For train travel, I use the Amtrack app (Free), which allows you to
buy tickets, track a train, browse schedules, share your status with waiting family and friends, and more. Some stations in the US are even testing paperless check-in with smartphone customers through the app.

Bus travel is a little less organized right now, so it’s best to do a Google search to find all the carriers in the area where you’ll be visiting and then find their specific apps. Many have mobile apps as robust as the Amtrack one. Same goes for hired cars (like Uber and Lyft), local taxi services, and metropolitan bus and subway systems.

Efficient travel tips from an airline pilot

My sister has been a commercial airline pilot for more than a decade. Whenever I’m taking to the skies for travel, I hit her up for tips. (Because who knows more about efficient airline travel than pilot, right?) The following is some of the organized travel advice I’ve garnered from her over the years.

First, if an overhead bag fits perpendicular to the airplane and baggage overhead bin, place it with its wheels out. The bag will fit in deeper in the overhead bin when its wheels are pointing toward the aisle. Throw your coat on top of that bag if you can. While you’re packing, prepare a small bag to be kept under the seat for things you may need during the flight. Your small, under-seat bag might include electronic devices, chargers (many seats have outlets), any medicine, travel docs (passport, etc.), wallet (you may want to buy inboard food or order Direct TV), packed sandwich or snacks (bananas, apples, granola bars) and your own bottle of water that you purchased once inside security. Also consider bringing your own headset if you want to watch TV without using the painful coach headsets, a neck pillow, and something light to throw over yourself in case it is chilly.

It seems easiest to pack your zip-top bag of liquids into the aforementioned small bag, so only one bag has to be opened at security. This also prevents your liquids from getting crushed/squeezed in the larger bag.

When it comes to avoiding delays, taking the first flight of the day can be very helpful. The first flight out is ideal since MOST airplanes have been at the airport overnight and there is less of a chance you’ll encounter delays related to late inbound aircraft. You’ll also have less of a chance of other flights getting canceled and rebooked on a morning flight, there are typically smaller security lines, smaller crowds in the terminal, and fewer weather delays as early weather tends to be less intense than it is later in the day.

While enroute, look at the airline magazine in the seat back pocket. These magazines contain airport diagrams for major airports. This helps give you an idea about where you’ll be when you get off the airplane. It helps you to anticipate where to exit the airport for pickup (arrivals is typically on the baggage claim level) and where to transfer to your next departure gate when continuing on to a connecting flight. Feel free to ring the overhead bell to call a flight attendant and ask for the anticipated gate arrival number. The crew typically knows the gate assignment 30 minutes prior to landing.

You might prefer the window seat for the view, but put a bit more thought into where you’re going to sit. Window seats are good for sleeping. Choose a seat near the wing if your body does not like to fly and you have tendency to have air sickness. Choose a seat near the front of the coach section, near an exit door or in economy plus/business/first class for a quick exit on and off. If you’ll be on a 50-seat regional jet, choose the single first three seats to (usually) have more personal space on a smaller aircraft.

Step into your seat and let passengers pass until you see a break in the boarding passengers to step out and find an overhead bin for your bag. Seating in the front of coach aids in getting first dibs on overhead space, so you never have to search. Some airlines board by zones … look for zone one first for the same bags reason.

Additional tips to make your experience more pleasant:

  1. Pack lightly. Take advantage of laundry service or a washer and dryer at your destination if you’re staying more than four days.
  2. Anything you bring with you can be lost or forgotten. “Do I really need it with me?” should be your mantra.
  3. Keep certain items packed at all times in your luggage.

Finally, follow these considerations for getting through security: wear slip-on shoes, don’t wear a belt, and avoid wearing large jewelry. Travel can be a hassle, but a little effort and some organizing can make all the difference.

Traveling to see family? Maybe leave these items at your destination

The older I get, the less tolerant I am of the miles that separate the members of my family. My wife and kids live with me, but my extended family is far-flung indeed. I’m here in Massachusetts while my parents are in Florida and my sisters live with their families in New York and Pennsylvania. We get together as often as possible, though scheduling and cost still make our gatherings more rare than I’d like.

Spending time together often means flying. I’ve written about flying before, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here. However, I will share a tip for keeping things easy while you pack, at the airport and once you’ve arrived.

Each of the family members I mention are host to some of my belongings. They have agreed, and we have in return, to care for a few things that make traveling to see each other even easier and more organized. Some choices are obvious, while others are not. The following are suggestions for how you can reduce the amount of stuff you have to pack and have to schlep across the country, as well as keep from forgetting the items entirely, when going to visit family.


This one is pretty obvious. TSA restrictions affect these items, so I avoid carrying them on planes and leave a set at my parents’ house, etc. Despite the silly name, I’ve assembled a “Dopp kit” that covers most of the basics, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, floss, travel-sized soap and shampoo, and finally a razor, blades, and some shaving cream. And all of these items are in a nice bag.

You can get as fancy (pictured above) or economical as you prefer. The bag isn’t completely necessary, of course, but I like to make it easy for my hosts to put my stuff away when I’m not around. No sense in adding clutter to their lives.


This one could be tricky, as clothes are bulky and we don’t want to create a storage nightmare for our generous hosts. Instead of keeping a full wardrobe remotely, I store just a few things like a sweatshirt, a pair of jeans, some t-shirts and what my mom calls “lounge pants.” I still have to pack some clothes, but not as much as I would otherwise.

Here’s a tip: leave neutral colors at your destination. That way you don’t have to try to coordinate your packing with items that are in another state.

Small electronics

I admit to being a gadget addict. For me, “fear” can be defined as no Wi-Fi or a dead battery. So, I keep a cable and wall adapter to charge my iPhone at my parents’ house. Both are very small and can be tucked away in a tiny drawer. As someone who has forgotten to pack a cable and who has left one behind, I really enjoy the peace of mind that I get knowing my charging needs will be covered while I’m in the Sunshine State.

Here’s a tip about electronics. The TSA requires smartphones and tablets to be powered up enough to be turned on at the gate, should an agent want to. If you’re leaving a charger at home knowing there’s one at your destination, make sure that phone has enough juice to run between home and the security gate.

Finally, here are a few that are destination-specific. I keep a tube of sunblock at my parents’ home in sunny Florida, because my son has some weird eczema thing going on and needs special sunblock. It’s easiest to just buy it there and leave it instead of constantly transporting travel-size bottles of the stuff. Finally, I keep a charged subway pass at my sister’s New York City apartment. One less thing for me to forget.

As the travel season approaches, I hope this makes things a bit easier for you, assuming your hosts are okay with this arrangement.

Small productivity tips with large benefits

The following are four super-simple things you can do in less than five minutes to make a huge improvement in your productivity and efficiency.

First and foremost: disable the alert sound that announces every new email you receive on your computer. This alert sound is such a compelling distraction that it can pull me out of almost anything I’m doing. It’s similar to the sound of a ringing phone — no one can resist it. A lot of people learn to check email at pre-determined intervals (which I recommend), but even just silencing that insistent little beep and checking your email whenever you want will go a long way to reducing distractions and increasing productivity. I killed the beep on my iPhone, too. You can easily turn these notifications back on if the need arises.

A second suggestion and another large improvement for me was eliminating leisure computing after 9:00 p.m. Nothing increases productivity like sleep, and late-night Facebook browsing or tweeting was robbing me of that precious commodity. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! I’m going to order the book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us by Larry D. Rosen for more insight on this topic. But even my modest efforts have been beneficial, as I’m getting more sleep.

My favorite online calendar is Google Calendar. I’ve been using it for years and I love it. However, I only recently discovered the “Quick Add” feature. Here’s how it works: when creating a new event, click the downward-pointing arrow next to the “Create” button. Then, enter an event that follows the what, where, and when pattern (note that only “what” and “when” are required). For example, “Meeting with Tom at Starbucks on Tuesday 2.15 p.m.” Using natural language is SO much faster than creating an event and filling each field one at a time. How did it take me so long to find this?

Finally, and this is my favorite, install an app launcher. This is a piece of software that, among other things, lets you launch applications with only a stroke of a key or two. I’m a Mac user and I swear by Alfred. LaunchBar is another popular alternative. On the Windows side, consider Launchy. With Alfred, I can open any app by hitting Command-Space and then typing just the first one or two letters of that app’s name. I can’t even measure how much time this saves me throughout the day. All of these programs do a lot more than launch other apps, but this feature alone makes them worth installing. In fact, when I get a new computer, the absolute first thing I do with it is install Alfred.

You can get fancy with your productivity enhancement to great benefit, but remember that sometimes small changes can make huge differences. Share your favorite small tips that reap huge rewards in productivity and efficiency.

Steps to unclutter Twitter

I love Twitter. It lets me stay in touch with friends and colleagues, replaces email and text chat in many situations, is a relaxing hangout and the end of the day, and is often a source of entertainment.

It can also be really annoying and a time waster.

Depending on whom you follow (or how many), the social media darling can introduce a lot of clutter into your digital life. Fortunately, you can take steps to make Twitter less annoying and more pleasant to use, and not be a total time suck.

  1. Use an app. Many people use Twitter via a web browser at Twitter.com. Since I’m often using a browser for other things, I dislike jumping back and forth to that window whenever I want to attend to Twitter. So, I use a stand-alone app, which can be hidden, recalled, quit, or ignored as I like, without forcing me to keep a browser tab open. There are so very many apps available, I can’t even begin to list them here. Safe to say, if you use a Mac, Windows, iOS, or Android, you’ll find one to your liking after doing a Google search and reading reviews.
  2. Mute and muffle. Depending on the app you use, you can choose to mute, muffle, or otherwise hide certain tweets from your timeline. You know those people who turn Twitter into a public chatroom with a hashtag like #AnnoyingChat? Mute that tag and you won’t see any of those tweets. You can also mute users (often temporarily), keywords and more. It’s a great way to de-clutter the stream.
  3. Hide the stream entirely. I’m required to do some tweeting at my day job but I don’t always want to see what everyone else is saying. Fortunately there’s Wren for Mac, which lets me publish tweets without seeing anything that anyone else is sharing. Sorry, Windows users. I searched high and low for an equivalent for you but failed.
  4. Pick a time of the day. Twitter is like potato chips: you can’t eat just one. If you tend to binge on the service, pick a time of day to use Twitter and stick to it. Set a timer and don’t let social media eat away at your productivity.
  5. Disable notifications. Many mobile apps will pop up a message when you receive a reply or a mention on Twitter. Others also alert you when one of your tweets has been marked as a favorite by another user. That’s nice to know, but unless you really need that information, consider killing those notifications.
  6. Use lists. Twitter introduced lists a while ago, and you really ought to use them. This feature lets you group users or messages by keyword, and see just the tweets that meet your criteria. This is a great idea if you need to use Twitter for work or just want to turn down the firehose of information a bit.
  7. Don’t go #nuts with #hashtags. Hashtags are those brief bits of text preceded by the pound sign #. They let users group similar tweets or follow a given topic. Some people abuse their hashtag power and go way overboard, though. Don’t be one of those people.

Related to the last, if you have a hashtag abuser among your followers and you use Tweetbot for Mac, check out these instructions from Brett Kelly on how to automatically hide any tweet with more than two hashtags.

My last bit of advice on de-cluttering Twitter is the most powerful: walk away from Twitter. Yes, it’s a lot of fun and often informative but honestly, unless you have a real dependence on that information (work, etc.), take some time off and walk away. It’ll be fine. I #promise.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re already on Twitter, be sure to follow us at @unclutterer.

Ten awesome Dropbox tricks

Dropbox is a service that offers online storage of your stuff. It’s tremendously convenient and used by lots of people world wide. Dropbox is a quick-and-dirty sharing and backup tool that many workers (including yours truly) couldn’t work without.

What many people don’t realize is that Dropbox is capable of a lot more than drag-and-drop storage of your files. There are numerous cool things you can do with it, but the following are 10 useful tricks I’ve discovered to help keep me organized and reduce my digital clutter.

Save space with selective sync

My personal computer is a MacBook Air with just 128 GB of storage. I know that sounds like a lot, but with a bulging music collection and photo collection, it gets full pretty quickly. Fortunately, my work computer can hold much more. I can hand pick which files get synchronized to Dropbox and then to my MacBook Air, and which get ignored.

To do this, open the Dropbox preferences on your computer. Select the advanced tab and then click Selective Sync. From there, tell Dropbox which folders to sync to that computer. Those you choose to ignore are still available at dropbox.com, they’re just not automatically synched. You still have access to them.

Access previous versions of files

Dropbox offers one huge benefit that many people overlook. It saves versions of your files for up to 30 days. That means, for example, if you make changes to a Word document you’ve got in Dropbox and then decided you wish you hadn’t, you can restore a version that existed before you made all of those regrettable edits.

Go to dropbox.com and find the file. Right-click on it and select Previous Versions from the resulting menu. A list appears; select the one you want. Easy.

Backup your smartphone photos automatically

This is a very nice feature that was introduced within the last year or so. Dropbox for iPhone and Android can automatically move a copy of every photo you shoot to a folder on the service. Check your mobile app’s preferences for the setting to enable this. It offers real peace of mind.

Mark files as favorites for offline access

I do this one quite a bit, especially when traveling. As you know, Dropbox stores your stuff on its servers. However, if you mark a file as a favorite, a copy will be downloaded to your mobile device, allowing you to view it even when you don’t have Internet access.

To mark an item as a favorite, simply navigate to it on your tablet or smartphone and tap the star icon.

Recover deleted files

“Ack! I didn’t mean to delete that!” No worries. If you delete a file, versions from the last 30 days remain. To get something back, go to dropbox.com and navigate to the folder where it used to be. Find the Show Deleted Files icon and click it. Then select it from the list.

Back up your blog, two ways

I use Dropbox to back up every post I publish to my blog. There are at least two ways to do this. I use a service called IFTTT, or If This Then That. You can use IFTTT to build actions or recipes to accomplish tasks for you. I have one that watches for any new post I publish to my blog. When it finds one, it copies the text to a file in my Dropbox account. If worse came to worst, I’d still have all of my posts.

If you don’t want to fiddle around with IFTTT (and you own a WordPress blog), check out this great plugin for one-click backups.

Print a PDF right to Dropbox

Here’s a great tip that’s reserved for you Mac users. You probably know that you can turn nearly any file into a PDF by choosing Save to PDF when printing something. What you may not know is that you can direct that PDF to save right to Dropbox.

When you click Save to PDF, you’ll see Edit Menu as the very last option. Click it, and then click the “+” in the resulting window. A new list appears. Navigate to your Dropbox (or any folder therein) and then click OK. Now, that folder will appear in the Save to PDF menu every time. Simply click it, and a PDF will be automatically shuffled off to Dropbox.

Back up your Instagram photos

Here’s another IFTTT trick. I’ve created a recipe to monitor my Instagram account for new photos. Whenever it finds one, it moves a copy to a folder on my Dropbox account. The photograph is backed up and I didn’t even have to lift a finger.

Publish a website (pancake)

Pancake.io is a free service that lets you publish a blog or website right from your Dropbox account. It’s quite simple to set up and you can find all the details on how to do it on the Pancake site.

Uncluttering is a lot like running

When you’re looking for inspiration and motivation to accomplish a goal, it can be helpful to look for analogies or similar features with other topics. Doing this can also reinforce the purpose of a goal or even help you to see things a little differently. You’ve probably noticed that losing the weight of clutter is often associated with losing those extra pounds that can creep up on your body. I once likened clutter to armadillos and, recently, it seemed to me that uncluttering can be a lot like running. Both require discipline and strong commitment if you’re to accomplish the results you’re looking for. Often, the tips given to people who are just starting a running program can also be applied to becoming more organized.

Create a plan with action steps

New runners can benefit from setting particular goals they want achieve each time they go running (distance, specific pace) as well as time-based goals (daily, weekly, monthly). Unclutterers need a plan, too, for without one, your activities will be scattered and you won’t have a good way of tracking your progress. To give yourself a better chance of succeeding, break your overall goal into mini-goals or action steps and add deadlines to help keep you accountable.

Unclutter every day

To get in the routine of running, new runners will likely need a bit of practice. Hitting the pavement (or the treadmill) sporadically may not help you develop that routine, so those taking up the activity for the first time are often advised to run for a few minutes every day. The same holds true for uncluttering. Engaging in a few minutes of daily organizing activities will help you to tackle the clutter and solidify a regular set of organizing habits, especially if you’re not feeling very motivated at the outset.

Use the right supplies

To avoid injury, runners must find a shoe that is not too small or too big — it must fit properly from toe to heel. Since sizes differ from brand to brand, it’s important to have your feet measured at the time of each purchase.

Just as runners need the right pair of shoes before they hit the pavement, it’s important for unclutterers to get the right tools. It may be tempting to run out (see what I did there?) and buy containers in multiple sizes and colors without giving any thought to:

  1. The volume of things that you’ll keep
  2. Where you’ll store your items

Avoid that buying temptation by first sorting and indexing the items that you’re keeping. That way, you can then find the right containers to fit the number of things you have in the designated storage location. Otherwise, purchases made without advanced planning can end up adding more clutter to your space.

Track your progress

Some runners keep a journal to look back on past successes and obstacles that they overcame. Journaling can be an inspirational tool and help you to continue reaching your goals. As you unclutter, consider writing down your successes as well as specific strategies that have worked for you. These will be helpful, particularly on days when things don’t go according to plan.

Work with a friend

Running doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. But, new runners may be a bit self-conscious if they don’t have the proper running form yet or are really slow. I suspect that people who decide to get more organized may have similar fears and be worried what their friends may think. But, when you partner with someone, the process can seem more manageable, you can get much needed help, and you may learn new strategies. Working with someone that you trust can not only distract you from the fears you may be feeling, but he/she can also help you stay focused on the uncluttering task at hand.

Remind yourself that you are an unclutterer

On those days when you’re feeling a little discouraged, be sure to keep your negative thoughts in check. If you let them hang about, this can lead to stress. Forcefully push doubts aside and remind yourself that you are an unclutterer. The seasoned runners at RunnersWorld.com recognize newbies can become discouraged in the beginning and use this quote as a reminder to turn those thoughts around: “We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”

Stay productive and organized while working from home

I’ve been working from my home office exclusively since 2009. In those four years, I’ve learned a lot about managing home and work life, staying productive while cozy at home, avoiding distractions, and more. Based on these experiences, the following are my ten tips that keep my work on track when I’m at home.

Before I delve into my list, I should define “home worker.” It certainly includes telecommuters, freelancers, and those running a business from home, but that is not where the definition ends. Anyone who runs a household definitely works from home. Also, the number of people who spend 9–5 in an office, school, or at an off-site job, but then take additional tasks home to work on, is increasing. When I was young, I knew one family who had an “office” in their home, and I thought it was the oddest thing. Today, it’s pretty much the norm.

Now that we’ve got that sorted, on with the tips.

  1. Define a workspace. You needn’t have a dedicated room to be a productive home worker. A corner of the kitchen, back porch, or garage will do, as long as it accommodates the tools and space you need. I have an IKEA desk in my bedroom that is my office. Occasionally, I want a change of scenery, so I’ll move my laptop to another part of the house. Other times I’m forced out entirely, which brings me to …
  2. Have an emergency backup office. There will be times when the power is out or your internet connection is down. Or, perhaps, a construction crew is working on The World’s Loudest Project right outside your window. When this happens, you’ll need a backup site to go to. My default remote office is the public library. It’s clean, well-lit, quiet, and has free Wi-Fi. The employees don’t care how long I stay and there are electrical outlets everywhere. Good thing I travel light.
  3. Define a lightweight office-to-go. Figure out the bare minimum of tools you can get away with and remain productive. Something you can fling into a bag and go. Will your computer do? An iPad? A camera? Figuring this out ahead of time will save you a lot of aggravation when you need to vacate your home office pronto.
  4. Make your home office efficient but also pleasing. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your office, so make it a pleasant place to be. I have LEGO projects on my desk, Star Wars toys, and a pencil holder that my daughter made for me. Since I am at home, I need not comply to corporate decorating policies, and neither do you. Find things that you love and make you feel good and add a little style to your space.
  5. Adopt a system you trust. Unless you’re in business with your spouse, partner, or housemate, you likely don’t live with a co-worker or superior. That means that you are both the worker and the supervisor. Conquer the latter role by devising a system you trust. I follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done system and, in effect, that system is my supervisor. Trust is the critical factor here, as that’s the only way your brain will stop nagging about all of your undone tasks.
  6. Don’t be too informal. This one applies mostly to those who are earning their living from home. Since you are in the house, it’s easy to adopt a casual attitude about your day. In my experience, adding a bit of formality helps draw a line between work time and leisure time. I always shower, shave and put on nice clothes. I make a cup of tea and begin the day in the same routine one might in a traditional office. When I’m done with work for the day, I turn my computer off, kick off my shoes and join the family downstairs. That routine also helps me feel like I’m truly “off the clock” when the workday ends.
  7. Get your own inbox. This simple tip has vastly improved my marriage. My wife and I shared an “inbox” (an end table by the front door) for years and it made both of us crazy. My stuff mingled with hers, she liked to store things one way and I another. Now, I have an inbox on my desk and she has one on the end table. I process my inbox items on my schedule and according to my system, and my wife does the same her own way. I cannot recommend splitting this up strongly enough if you live with other people.
  8. Take Breaks.I alternate between work time and break time all day. A great Mac app called Breaktime lets me alternate between 25-minute work times and 5-minute breaks all day. This practice helps me maintain a productive streak and is also a luxury I wouldn’t have in an office.
  9. Take advantage of working from home. You work at home and that means you’re at home! Take advantage of this opportunity that many aren’t able to experience. Sit on the porch, eat lunch in your own kitchen, and never miss an event at your kid’s school.
  10. Be flexible. This lesson was the hardest for me to learn. I’d make a plan for my day, only to see it fall apart thanks to a sick kid, malfunctioning computer, flooding basement, and more. Understand this might happen, and don’t get too stressed when it does. Try again tomorrow.

Resources to help you during a move

Moving TruckMoving is stressful, especially if you are closing on two properties on the same day. The amount of things that can go wrong or over looked are innumerable, so it helps to be very organized. Luckily, I’ve got my ultra-organized wife to help me in this endeavor. She has a checklist for every detail: the movers, the insurance, utilities, finances, closing, and packing. I’m a bit less organized. I have a scrap of paper on my desk with a series of names and numbers that I have to contact. I’m not perfect.

Here are some resources that can help:

Obviously, some of the items on these checklists should be handled by your real estate agent. That is what they get their commission, but it is also good to be on top of everything when the closing and moving dates arrive.

Tips for quick grocery shopping

GroceriesGrocery shopping is a necessary evil. Does anyone look forward to their weekly visit to the grocery store? If you’re like me, you defer these duties to your spouse. My wife has the grocery shopping down to a science. She tries to get in and out of the store as fast as she can. Don’t we all?

Here are some tips that she has to make your grocery shopping visit easier to deal with:

  1. Make a meal plan: Decide what you’re going to eat this week and what you’ll need to make that happen. (Erin will write more on this specific topic next week.)
  2. Make a list from your plan: Not only will this help you remember what you need, it also discourages you from picking up things that you don’t need.
  3. Separate the items on the list into their own sections (dairy, condiments, cereal, produce, etc.). This will reduce the chances of having to double back for something that you forgot in another section.
  4. Go shopping at off-peak hours. The less of a crowd the faster the shopping goes. Avoid weekends. (My wife goes before work early in the morning.)
  5. Sale items above all: Look over your weekly sale items before heading to the store. Saving money on groceries is a good thing.
  6. Get physical. Don’t be afraid to elbow fellow shoppers to get to the checkout ahead of them.

Ok, so that last one is a joke, but I hope these tips help you use your time more wisely. The less time you spend in the grocery store, the more time you spend doing something you actually enjoy.

Conquer kid clutter

Having a 20-month old is a bit like taking care of a drunk friend. They don’t really know what they are doing, but they are having fun while they do it. My daughter is getting into the “terrible twos” a bit early, so hopefully they’ll end early.

One thing that seems to get worse as she gets older is the toy accumulation. I’ve mentioned this problem in some prior posts and I must say that my wife and I continue to struggle with it. I’m always on the lookout for new ways of curbing clutter that is kid specific. So, I was pleased to read this article in the Detroit News that had a long list of kid specific clutter tips. Tips such as:

  • Divide and conquer:
    Big toy boxes make it too easy for toys to get jumbled together. Better: a bin for Legos, another for action figures, another for dollhouse furniture, etc.
  • Toss the flimsy crayon boxes:
    Same goes for the marker and colored-pencil boxes. Instead, put drawing tools into lidded boxes or bins. And don’t bother saving every free crayon you’ve collected from restaurant visits. Teachers say most kids just grab the top two or three anyway.
  • Craft supplies:
    Keep a vinyl tablecloth with the art supplies. It’ll be on hand to protect the table or rug (skip disposable ones: not sturdy enough).

These tips aren’t earth shattering, but they are helpful. The accumulation of toys is the hardest thing to get under control, in my opinion. Forces beyond our control are at work. These forces, mostly Grandma and Grandpa, are unrelenting. Be vigilant in your removal of old and unused toys, and your toy clutter will stay manageable.