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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 14:30

The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin, is a mixed bag. Some chapters are packed with interesting information, while others are much less compelling. However, I learned enough from this book that I’m definitely glad I read it. The following are some of the key ideas, organized by the book’s chapters.

The first things to get straight

Levitin begins by describing some basics about how the brain works, with a fascinating explanation of why memory is so fallible. There’s also a nice explanation of how our brains handle categorization. Both of these brain traits affect the recommendations he provides later on for getting organized.

Organizing our homes

One principle that Levitin emphasizes again and again is “offloading the information from your brain and into the environment” so you “use the environment itself to remind you of what needs to be done.” Everyone who has ever done something like leaving the library book that needs to be returned next to the car keys has made use of this principle.

One interesting example that Levitin provides is: “If you’re afraid you’ll forget to buy milk on the way home, put an empty milk carton on the seat next to you in the car or in the backpack you carry to work on the subway (a note would do, of course, but the carton is more unusual and so more apt to grab your attention).”

Levitin also emphasizes the importance of putting things away in their designated places, because there’s a special part of our brain dedicated to remembering the spatial location of things. However, the brain is only good at remembering stationary things, not things that move around — so if you put your car keys in a different place every time, your brain is less likely to help you out when you go to find them.

Categorization is also emphasized in the text; since our brains are good at creating categories, using categories well gives us an easy tool for getting organized. Levitin discusses the need to balance category size and category specificity; for example, someone with just a few tools will categorize them very differently than someone with many more. Levitin is also a big fan of the junk drawer for things that simply don’t fit in any category.

Good labels matter, too. As Levitin writes, “A mislabeled item or location is worse than an unlabeled item. … With mislabeled drawers, you don’t know which ones you can trust and which ones you can’t.”

Levitin also notes that creativity and organization are not antithetical — rather, they go hand in hand. He provides examples from musicians Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, Michael Jackson, and John Lennon to drive home this point.

Organizing our time

You’ve certainly heard this before, but Levitin emphasizes it repeatedly: Brains are not designed for multitasking. “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” The continual shifting “causes the brain to burn through fuel” and depletes the brain of nutrients. There’s also a study that shows that learning new information while multitasking “causes the information to go to the wrong part of the brain.”

Levitin writes that it’s very tempting to continually check email, because handling email appeals to the novelty-seeking portion of the brain, and each response triggers a “shot of dopamine” that makes us want to do more of the same. But we’ll be more productive if we check email a few times a day, rather than every five minutes.

Levitin also provides considerable information on the importance of getting sufficient sleep. You’ve probably heard that before — but if you ignored the advice, this book might convince you that it really does matter.

Organizing the business world

Levitin provides tips to remember when filing: “File things, either electronic or physical, in a way that will allow you to quickly retrieve them. Ask yourself, ‘Where will I look for this when I need it?’ or ‘How can I tag or label this item so that I’ll be able to find it?'”

There’s also some good advice about scheduling meetings. Rather than scheduling meetings back-to-back, give yourself 10 minutes after each meeting to make sure you’ve captured all relevant information. It also helps to have 10 minutes free before any meeting. “Because attention switching is metabolically costly, it’s good neural hygiene for your brain to give it time to switch into the mindset of your next meeting gradually and in a relaxed way.”

Organizing information for the hardest decisions

Anyone dealing with making a major medical decision will find a lot of useful information here about understanding the probabilities associated with each choice, and balancing risk and reward.

Post written by Jeri Dansky

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The post Book Review: The Organized Mind appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "Jeri Dansky" Tags: "Books, Home Organization, Time Managemen..."
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 14:30

Back in July, the editor of Waffleizer.com messaged me and asked if I wanted an advanced copy of his new book. I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” And then, in August, Will it Waffle? arrived.

Ever since, I’ve been trying out different recipes from Daniel Shumski’s book, and am now a devoted fan. My family loves the meals I’ve made from it, too, which says a great deal because they’re a bunch of picky eaters. The Zucchini-Parmesean Fritters are their favorite. (Its paperback list price is $14.95, but Amazon has it for less than $12 right now and the Kindle edition is less than $10.)

The premise of the cookbook is that when used only for waffles, your waffle maker is a unitasker, and people should typically avoid unitaskers. But, since a waffle maker is the only way to make fresh waffles at home, Shumski sought out ways to turn it into a multi-tasking appliance. His was a noble quest, and it’s refreshing that he succeeded. The cookbook contains more than 50 recipes to create on a waffle iron.

As you might expect, there are a handful of sandwich recipes in the book. A waffle maker and a panini press are quite similar, so this section of recipes is to be expected. (Not to say they’re boring recipes, because they are quite delicious. Family favorites are the ham and cheese melt with maple butter and the Cuban sandwich.)

What’s most impressive to me about the book are the recipes that you wouldn’t expect — for example, chicken fingers, wontons, crispy kale, tamale pie, pizza, soft cell crab, and steak. And, unlike in other preparations, most of these recipes don’t require consistent monitoring. You put the item on the waffle iron, set the timer, and simply wait until the item is done cooking. You’re free to make sauces or side dishes or set the table in the meantime.

Based on your model of waffle iron, cleanup afterward is also extremely convenient if your waffle iron has removable plates that can go in the dishwasher or a non-stick coating you can wipe down with a damp cloth and be done with it. I like easy, and all of the recipes I’ve tried and their cleanup were a breeze.

One of my favorite sections of the cookbook is about creating your own recipes for the waffle maker and, specifically, the listing of what won’t waffle. Foods requiring a lot of moisture, like rice, won’t work in a waffle maker and neither will things that have a lot of butter, like shortbread cookies. Then, obviously, foods like soup are out of the question. But, I was surprised by how much is able to be waffled and am glad Shumski provides this encouragement for creativity.

If you have a waffle maker and you’re interested in transforming it from a unitasker into a multi-tasker, check out Shumski’s book Will it Waffle? Then, start thinking about the other small appliances in your home and how you can put them to use in multiple ways.

Post written by Erin Doland

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The post Not a unitasker: The waffle maker appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "Erin Doland" Tags: "Kitchen, Reviews, Unitasker Wednesday"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 14:15

2013

  • Organizing with pets
    The following are tips to help you and your pet cope with uncluttering and reorganisation projects safely.

2011

2010

2009

  • Organizing a party pantry
    I was recently given a copy of the book Simple Stunning Parties at Home by its author Karen Bussen. In the book, Karen suggests organizing a “party pantry” so that “when it’s time to throw a dinner party or a wine and cheese night on the spur of the moment, I look [to it] for design inspiration, and I pull together all the elements I need.” She lives in a small New York City apartment, so her party pantry isn’t large or cluttered. She recommends a “small closet, a cupboard in the kitchen, or an antique hutch — whatever works for you.”

Post written by PJ Doland

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The post A year ago on Unclutterer appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "PJ Doland" Tags: "A Year Ago"
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Date: Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014 14:48

Back in 2013, I wrote the article “Marking up your to do lists for increased productivity” about formal methods of marking up your notes and lists to make them more usable and easier to reference. I was reminded of it recently when I came across a Fast Company article, which introduced yet another trick for organizing a notebook that I like quite a bit.

I carry a little notebook in my pocket all the time. Even though I’m a a professional techie, I still feel that the best way to jot something down I need to remember is with a pen and a piece of paper.

Any problems I encounter with this system come from retrieving the information that I’ve written down. The rapid nature of quickly jotting something down often means poor organization of the captured information. To help solve this issue, this is where Rachel Gillett’s advice in the Fast Company article applies.

Cribbing from Adam Akhtar, Rachel suggests writing a sort of index in the back of your notebook while taking notes or jotting ideas down. This index is comprised of themes or topics that come up while you’re writing things down. In her example, she wrote down the following topics:

  1. Writing
  2. Editing
  3. Social media
  4. CMS
  5. Analytics
  6. New Staff

She recommends leaving one line between each index topic. Then, when she writes something down that corresponds to one of these topics, she makes a mark on the edge of the page that corresponds to the line on which that word is written. The image at the top of this post illustrates this idea pretty clearly. Then, when she wants to find notes on writing, she can turn to the back page and quickly see the pages with relevant content. Flipping to them is quick and easy.

I think this system is a brilliant solution. It’s easy to see how this will work outside of business, too. Topics like “kids,” “school,” “work,” or whatever applies to your life would be perfect.

Again, check my older article for some additional ideas for adding a bit of organization to your notebooks. Jotting something down is easy. Finding it when you need it later doesn’t have to be a problem.

Post written by David Caolo

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The post Organize your notebooks for quick reference appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "David Caolo" Tags: "Home Organization, Office Organization, ..."
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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 14:30

Home-based businesses may be small, but they are (hopefully) a significant source of income for their owners and they provide a valuable service to their customers. For this and numerous other reasons, it is essential for these businesses to be able to quickly return to normal operations after a disaster.

One of the more frequent “disasters” in small business is data loss. This often happens when a virus infects the business computer or if the computer’s hard drive fails. The easiest way to protect your business from data loss is by ensuring you have up-to-date anti-virus software and to do regular backups of your computer’s hard drive. Daily backups to an external hard drive is an inexpensive way to ensure you can access your data and continue business operations should your computer crash. However, if your office were destroyed by fire or flood you would also lose your external hard drive, so I strongly recommend a cloud-based data storage solution, too. There are many inexpensive, secure online backup services available.

Protecting your computer system itself is important. Small business owners should purchase a surge protector and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) battery for each computer. A UPS will prevent electrical power surges from “blowing up” the computer system, and, should there be a loss of power, the battery will provide enough power for the user to back up data and shut the computer down safely.

Fire, flooding and theft are disasters that unfortunately occur all too often in small businesses. Having a detailed inventory of business assets (electronics, furniture, etc.) is essential in order to restore operations as quickly as possible and ensure the insurance company can process the claim promptly. Record the make, model and serial numbers along with receipts of purchase of all your business equipment. Copies of important paper-based records should be available after a disaster. Scan items such as insurance policies, cheques, and signed contracts. If you’ve stored this information on your computer and backed it up to your online storage area, you can access it easily and provide this information to your insurance company.

Disasters do strike, but if you’re organized and prepared your small business will be protected.

Post written by Jacki Hollywood Brown

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The post Protect your home business computer appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "Jacki Hollywood Brown" Tags: "Computer Data, Office Organization, Tech..."
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Date: Sunday, 05 Oct 2014 14:15

2013

2012

2011

  • Can mise en place make your cooking more organized?
    I don’t typically measure out all of my ingredients or get them out of the cupboard before starting the cooking process. This step, referred to as mise en place, has always seemed to me to be unnecessary. I also think measuring thins ahead of time dirties a ridiculous number of bowls. Or, rather, I thought it was ridiculous until reading Michael Ruhlman‘s newest cookbook Twenty.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Wheelmate Laptop Steering Wheel Desk
    I have to confess — this week’s unitasker has more than one purpose. Not only is it great for holding your laptop, book, cell phone, and food as you drive, but it’s also perfect for crushing your ribs and/or impaling you when you get into inevitable accidents!

2010

  • Creating a mail center in your home
    One of the easiest ways to keep paper clutter from overwhelming your space is to set up a mail processing center immediately inside the door by your mailbox.

2009

Post written by PJ Doland

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The post A year ago on Unclutterer appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "PJ Doland" Tags: "A Year Ago"
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Date: Friday, 03 Oct 2014 19:29

All over the world, subscribers to the Unclutterer shipment from Quarterly have received their fifth mailing from us. If you didn’t subscribe to the fifth mailing, but were curious as to what we sent, I’ve detailed the kit below.

Each box is sent with a letter from our team, and I penned the fifth one. This time we focused on safety, since September (when the boxes arrived) was National Emergency Preparedness Month. What was in the box?

A box!

Okay, more accurately, it was an ANSI standard portable first aid kid with almost everything you could possibly need to administer first aid.

As with our previous mailings, if you missed out on this one and are interested in buying the contents now, a few will be made available through the Best of Quarterly Shop in the coming weeks.

If you’re interested in subscribing to our four mailings a year, we have a sixth mailing coming out in the next quarter (and then a seventh and eighth …). I’m putting together our next one and we’re excited about how it is coming together. Sign up if you want to subscribe to the organizing shipments. If not, we’re totally cool with that, too.

Post written by Erin Doland

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The post What was in Unclutterer’s fifth Quarterly mailing? appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "Erin Doland" Tags: "Unclutterer"
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Date: Thursday, 02 Oct 2014 14:30

If you share a home or office with others, you’re going to need to consider their needs when setting up your organization systems. The following are some things to consider when putting these systems in place.

File Names

I knew a couple where the wife set up the files, and the husband couldn’t find the insurance policy when he wanted it. His wife had filed it under the name of the insurance company, and he never thought to look there. (He may not have even remembered which company they bought the insurance from.)

Insurance files are a good example of how varied a naming system could be. Would a car insurance policy go under “Insurance — Car” (along with “Insurance — House” and “Insurance — Medical”)? Or would it go under “Car — Insurance” (along with “Car — Purchase” and “Car — Maintenance”)? And would you use the word “car” or “auto” or something else, such as the make of the car, or the car’s name (for those who give their cars names)?

There’s no one right answer, but file names need to work for everyone who might be adding to the files or retrieving items from them. Discuss and agree upon the naming convention so no one wastes time.

Labels

Once you’ve decided what goes where — in the kitchen cabinets, the garage, the linen closet, the office storage cabinets, the toy area, etc. — it helps to label those spaces to ensure that everyone putting things away remembers where they go. If young children are involved, those labels might include pictures. If you are fortunate enough to have housekeeping help, and your helpers speak a different primary language than you do, you may want bilingual labels.

Reachability

If you want children to hang up their clothes, make sure there are hooks or hangers they can reach. A double hang rod can ensure there’s at least one set of clothes closet hangers that kids can reach.

Similarly, a tall adult setting up an organizing system will need to consider the needs of any shorter adults using that system. This might include placing frequently used items where everyone can easily reach them and ensuring there’s a step stool handy for reaching the highest cabinets or shelves.

And if some household members have problems reaching things in low cabinets, installing pull-out shelves might be worthwhile.

Organizing style

There are many different ways to be organized, and two people sharing a home or office may not share organizing styles. Just one example: One person may prefer everything to be put away behind closed doors, while another prefers things to be out and visible.

One way to handle these differences is to let each person have some non-public space to organize according to individual preferences (within certain limits for health and safety), while coming to some compromises on how public areas will be handled. If you prefer to fold your socks and put them away using little drawer dividers, while your spouse or partner prefers to just toss socks into the drawer, there’s no need for either of you to convert the other to your system. Reserve your energy for figuring out a way to organize the kitchen and living room to suit you both.

Post written by Jeri Dansky

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The post Organizing for two or more appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "Jeri Dansky" Tags: "Home Organization, Tips"
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014 14:30

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 week’s selection is a quintessential example of a unitasker. It may very well be the Platonic Form of the unitasker. When discussing unitaskers in the future, it is the French Toast Stick Maker that I shall use as my example:

This is a stand-alone, 44 sq. in. appliance whose sole purpose is to make French toast sticks. Not plain French toast, but French toast sticks. A food you can make with a multipurpose pan and a multipurpose knife with less effort than with this machine. By owning this, you would obviously sacrifice space but you also would waste time — as the plates of the French Toast Stick Maker are not removable so you have to clean them by hand (whereas you can put the pan and knife in a dishwasher).

If this were a Taylor Swift song, she would summarize by pointing out the incontrovertible Truth: unitasker gonna unitask.

Post written by Erin Doland

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The post Unitasker Wednesday: French Toast Stick Maker appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "Erin Doland" Tags: "Unitasker Wednesday"
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014 14:15

2012

2011

2010

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Cool Cones
    Is eating store-bought ice cream bringing you down? Well, let Cool Cones turn that around!
  • Exercise and focus
    A neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, Arthur Kramer, in “Ageing, Fitness and Neurocognitive Function” in Nature magazine, reports on another way to improve your ability to focus and brain cognition. The answer: Regularly participating in aerobic exercise.

2009

Post written by PJ Doland

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The post A year ago on Unclutterer appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "PJ Doland" Tags: "A Year Ago"
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Date: Tuesday, 30 Sep 2014 14:30

Long ago in a town far, far away, I was an undergraduate student. I had one teacher, professor O’Brien, who insisted that his students communicate with him via email. Back then, I sent and received at most two messages per week.

Today, you can put a pair of zeros behind that number.

I’m sure I’m not alone. For many, reading emails is more of a chore than a convenience. One thing you can do to make things easier on your recipients is to write clear, uncluttered subject lines. It’s not very difficult, but can go a long way to making this often irksome task more pleasant and efficient.

First and foremost, keep your subject lines short. According to Business Insider, most computer-based email applications only show around 60 characters in email subject lines. On smart phones, mail apps show maybe half that number. Full sentences won’t really work to meet those restrictions, so consider key words or ideas. Focus on the heart of what you’re going to say. And, to be clear, “Hey!” is not a worthwhile subject.

Since mobile phones give you so little to work with, get the most important words out first (often it’s a verb). “Cancel lunch Friday,” for example, is just 19 characters, the crux of the message, and “cancel” is featured first.

With that point made, it’s time for some decluttering. We aren’t shooting for a diagrammable sentence here, so implied words may be sacrificed. This isn’t always a good idea, of course, but if you’re pushing the limit, feel free to jettison an “although” or even an “after,” if you can without changing the meaning.

There are a few people I communicate with regularly who have a habit of indicating whether or I not I need to respond in the subject itself. For example, “no response needed” or “please respond.” I don’t like this practice, though I know many do. I think it’s just extra words for me to process, but I also understand that if you’re skimming your inbox, it can help identify which messages need attention and which can be set aside. I’ll leave this one up to you.

If your recipient understands the meaning, a message that is completely conveyed in a subject line can be ended with an EOM (end of message). This is good for simple status messages like “Finished (EOM)” and “Meet me in lobby in 5 (EOM).” It saves your reader time by knowing they don’t even have to open the email. If you have more than 25 characters, however, it’s best to keep the subject line brief and put a longer message in the body of an email. Anything longer than that and your reader might have to open the email anyway to see the whole subject line.

Finally, I have two pet peeves I want to share with you. Unless you’re aiming to be funny, don’t start a sentence in the subject and then finish it in the body. Typically I din’t know that’s what’s going on, and I read the body as a fragment sentence, which is confusing for a few seconds until I interpret your setup. I’ve seen this work where the subject is the setup and the body is the punchline, but that’s rare.

And, this should go without saying, don’t use all caps. Slogging through email is annoying enough; yelling doesn’t help.

Sometimes I long for the days when I was sitting in the library at Marywood University, that orange cursor blinking at me while I banged out a simple, three-sentence message to Dr. O’Brien. Two messages per week? I could live with that.

Post written by David Caolo

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The post Declutter your email subject lines appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "David Caolo" Tags: "Computer Data, Decluttering, Technology,..."
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Date: Sunday, 28 Sep 2014 14:15

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Guacamole bowl
    For many years, I’ve been unable to eat guacamole at home because I did not own this extremely specialized serving device just for guacamole.

2012

2011

  • Clutter can kill creativity and innovation
    Career expert and author Jonathan Fields shares his insights in a guest post on the connection between order and workplace productivity, creativity, and innovation.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Rice Cube
    When using really good sushi rice, you don’t have to use a mat or seaweed. All you need are your hands to make the sushi into any shape you desire. If you want your sushi to look like something other than a circle, just mold it. A rabbit! An hourglass! A snake! A cube … which brings us to today’s unitasker, the Rice Cube

2010

2009

  • Reasons to unclutter
    The September 1 issue of Woman’s Day magazine provides 12 “surprising benefits of getting organized.”

Post written by PJ Doland

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The post A year ago on Unclutterer appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "PJ Doland" Tags: "A Year Ago"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Sep 2014 14:30

As you are reading this, I’m at home recuperating from shoulder surgery. As such surgeries go, it was pretty minor, but there was still a reasonable amount of preparation I needed to do.

I never had a pre-surgery checklist before, so I had to think through things fairly carefully. The following were some of the things I had to consider:

Learning how my calendar would be affected

Besides knowing the date of surgery, I had to find out what post-surgery appointments I would have and what physical therapy would be needed. Doctor’s offices often tend to tell you only the next step, but it makes planning easier when you know what’s coming at least for the next month. “So, we’ll see you the Monday after surgery” is not what you want to hear with little notice when your doctor’s office is not nearby, and you need to ask someone for a ride.

I also needed to learn what restrictions I would have that would affect my ability to work, socialize, drive, etc. That’s somewhat hard to tell, because everyone heals differently, but getting at least a usual range allowed for some planning.

Organizing (and stocking up) the house

Medical supplies: I got all my post-surgery prescriptions filled, and made sure I had gel packs and packages of frozen peas to ice my shoulder.

Clothes: When you can’t raise one arm, it affects what you can wear. I had to buy shirts that button rather than go on over my head.

Food: I stocked up on the easy-to-digest items I need post-surgery. Also, since cooking will be a challenge for a while, I got some frozen dinners. And I determined which restaurants in my area do home delivery.

Utensils: I don’t have a dishwasher, and doing the dishes by hand might be difficult for a week or two. So I brought in the paper plates and plastic silverware I had stashed away in the garage.

Heavy items: I bought a large bag of cat food and emptied it into the kitty food storage container. The food comes in a heavy bag, and I usually use two hands when I’m going to refill. That could be awkward for a while after surgery.

Having the right legal documents in place

Since I already had my estate documents done, including a medical power of attorney, the only thing I had to do was bring that power of attorney document with me on the day of surgery.

Arranging for help

As someone who lives alone, this is a big deal for me — but even those living with someone may need help from others.

I knew someone had to drive me to surgery and back, and someone had to stay with me for a while after I came home from surgery later that day. I’m lucky enough to have family members who live in the area (and some helpful neighbors) who could take care of that for me.

But beyond that, I have a list of people I can call on for any other help I may need. I know I’ll need a few rides, but I imagine there will be other things I’ll need that I haven’t thought of, even with all my preparation. Having that list of people who are more than willing to help out means I’ll never need to worry about getting whatever assistance I may need.

Post written by Jeri Dansky

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The post Organized preparation for medical procedures appeared first on Unclutterer.

Author: "Jeri Dansky" Tags: "Tips"
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Date: Wednesday, 24 Sep 2014 14:30

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

My children probably have no idea what gallon milk containers look like because I don’t buy gallon milk containers. The kids can’t lift and pour a gallon yet, so I get 1/2 gallons that the oldest one can manipulate and the younger one eventually will. When we do make the switch to gallon containers, however, I can guarantee we won’t also be purchasing the Roll N Pour:

In the words of Skippyjon Jones, “Holy frijoles!” This plastic rocking chair for your gallon milk jugs is enormous! The product description says it’s “great for kids and seniors” but I don’t understand how — there is no way my 5 year old son or my husband’s 99 year old grandfather could even get this device AND the attached gallon container out of the refrigerator. Putting it back into the refrigerator would be just as disastrous. It adds weight and girth to the milk container, making it heavier and more cumbersome. And no one with limited or developing mobility needs or wants “heavier and more cumbersome.”

Okay, I’ll admit, there is something adorable about a gallon of milk rocking away the hours in the refrigerator. I imagine it would take up knitting and ask me to keep quiet during its stories. But, for the itty bitty amount of help it might give someone with pouring, those benefits would quickly be erased by the amount of storage space you’d have to sacrifice in your refrigerator and in the process of having to carry it in and out of the refrigerator every time you wanted a drink.

If handling large gallon containers is an issue for you or your family, do what we do and simply buy smaller, easier to carry and pour containers (which you’re likely already doing). Or, buy the larger container and have or provide assistance in pouring some of its contents into a more manageable small carafe. If handling gallon containers isn’t an issue for you or anyone in your family, this device is just downright ridiculous. I think we can chalk the Roll N Pour’s unitasker status up to over-engineering that intended to be helpful, but isn’t.

Post written by Erin Doland

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Author: "Erin Doland" Tags: "Unitasker Wednesday"
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Date: Wednesday, 24 Sep 2014 14:15

2013

2012

2011

2010

  • Multifunctional children’s furniture
    The multifunctional WeeCANDU Chair can be transformed into a playtable/desk, bedside table, easel, step stool, rocking chair, regular chair, and magazine/book rack.
  • Qualities of a good to-do method
    After years of auditioning the most popular to-do management methods (and a few obscure methods, as well), I’ve found that it’s incredibly obvious which methods are likely to be helpful and which ones are duds. For a method to be good at actually getting me to do my work, it has to have the following components.
  • Ask Unclutterer: Clutter is causing marriage woes
    Reader Jenny is worried her clutter and lack of house-keeping skills is damaging her marriage.

2009

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Even more elaborate butter cutters
    I am 100 percent serious when I say that I don’t understand why someone would prefer to use one of these butter cutting devices instead of a knife.
  • The Stash for organizing the small stuff
    Organizing small things, specifically small things you regularly need at your fingertips, can be frustrating. Most of the pre-made organizing products for small things aren’t very attractive and/or made exclusively for drawers. While searching for a way to organize my son’s bath supplies, I came across an attractive organizing system that is made specifically for small things that sit out on a counter or hang on the wall. The Stash by Boon.

Post written by PJ Doland

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Author: "PJ Doland" Tags: "A Year Ago"
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Date: Tuesday, 23 Sep 2014 14:30

Organizing. Straightening up. Cleaning. Tidying. Arranging.

These are some of the terms that describe varying levels of what everyone who has possessions does to keep their dwellings from being messy. By their very nature, each term’s definition can vary greatly from person to person, spouse to spouse, or house mate to house mate. In the name of domestic harmony and effective un-messying, I’m opening a dialog on how we define these terms and what we expect from each. A similar conversation like this in your home can ensure everyone is on the same page when talking about establishing and maintaining order. It doesn’t matter if your terms match mine, simply that all of you agree on the definitions of the words and phrases you use.

Defining organizing

For me, organizing is to apply logical structure to an unstructured collection of items. The items can be physical, like books or LEGO bricks, but they also can be intangible, like ideas or plans.

What organizing looks like

If I were to organize something, you can expect to see a collection of items arranged in a neat, systematic order. In other words, a messy pile of [x] becomes a tidy arrangement, sorted by a system that is easily understood.

Defining straightening up

Straightening up is different from organizing in that it implies that organizing has already been done, and only some minor maintenance is needed to restore order.

What straightening up looks like

My kids’ shoes are stored in three wicker baskets near the back door of our house. Three baskets for three kids. The organizing has been done — having baskets for each kids’ shoes. To straighten them up, I’d ask the kids to put their shoes in their basket.

Defining cleaning

Cleaning implies no organizing or straightening up. For me, cleaning means simply: to bust out the window cleaner, mop, broom, vacuum or what-have-you to remove dirt, dust, and the like.

What cleaning looks like

I’ll admit it, I don’t like cleaning. It’s the most labor-intensive of the activities, and involves taking things down, moving furniture, and telling the kids, “Stay off the floors!” We can get nit-picky and differentiate between “cleaning” and “a good clean,” but that’s for another conversation.

Other words

There are even more words in the English language to discuss un-messying your home. Tidying is one that implies the least amount of effort of the bunch. If I’m going to “quickly put these things in to some semblance of order before our dinner guests arrive,” I’ll spend likely less than 10 minutes resetting order. If your home is organized and you take time each evening to straighten up before bed, tidying is usually all you need to do when you have people over to visit.

Now I turn to you, readers. How to do define these un-messying words? What do you expect of each, and, finally, are there any terms specific to your household? I once had a friend from the midwest who said, “This room needs ‘red’ up.” I think that meant cleaning up.

Post written by David Caolo

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Author: "David Caolo" Tags: "Cleaning, Home Organization, The Big Pic..."
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Date: Monday, 22 Sep 2014 14:30

Organizing and uncluttering may seem like an overwhelming job, but that is only if you think about your entire house or your entire office as a single project. Instead of feeling anxious about the tasks you have set out for yourself, make a realistic plan you can manage. The following are a few tips to help you keep the momentum and not become discouraged:

Slow and steady wins the race. Clear one small space at a time. Organize just one drawer or one shelf per day. Think about looking at the empty spots and making them bigger. Working for just five or 10 minutes a day will help clear the clutter. Walk around a room with a trash bag. Put everything you see that is trash into the bag. Place the bag by the door and take it out the next time you go. Repeat this task with a bag for items you wish to donate to charity.

A detour does not mean you’re losing! There will be setbacks. You may have a day where you’re just too tired or ill to unclutter. Don’t let it stop you — just start again as soon as possible.

Done is better than perfect. It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay for your uncluttering and organizing efforts to be not quite right. Keep the overall goal in mind and you’ll make it to the finish line.

Think (but not too much). If you’re making long, complicated decisions about each item, you’ll never finish uncluttering. Don’t spend more than a few minutes on any particular item. Ask for help if you need to. Just because you can think of many ways to use an item, does not mean you have to keep it or that you will ever use the item in all the ways you imagined. If you haven’t used the object in a year or haven’t even seen it in ages, you can probably live without it.

Take a risk. The people who gain the most are usually the people who are willing to risk the most. Play a game with yourself by asking, “What’s the worst that can happen if I throw this out? And how bad would that really be?” Chances are, the worst is not as bad as you think.

Make it easy. It may seem like a simple idea, but having the trash can or garbage bag easily accessible makes it easy to get rid of trash. Rather than putting garbage down just anywhere, put it in a trash bag. If you need to, put a trashcan, recycle bin, and donation basket in every room. It may take a little longer to collect up the trash bags on garbage day, but each room will be cleaner.

Sort before discarding. By grouping similar items together as you work, you speed up the organizing process. It is hard to get rid of one white shirt but it is a bit easier to get rid of 18 of the 20 white shirts.

Grand Prix! Give yourself a prize each time you’ve successfully reached a goal. Vow to give yourself a treat such as a special dessert or an evening at the movies if you’ve uncluttered 20 minutes per day for a whole week.

Post written by Jacki Hollywood Brown

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Author: "Jacki Hollywood Brown" Tags: "Decluttering, Home Organization, Tips"
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Date: Sunday, 21 Sep 2014 14:15

2012

  • Money saving ideas that can create clutter
    You can turn your clutter into cash. Check out these six money making ideas and tips to keep clutter from infiltrating your space.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Elegant Baby Cup
    At $160, this Elegant Baby Cup signals to all the other babies that your baby knows how to live it up and fine dine with the mucky muck. Even though your baby can’t hold up its head or find its mouth with regular consistency, pay no mind.

2011

2009

Post written by PJ Doland

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Author: "PJ Doland" Tags: "A Year Ago"
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Date: Thursday, 18 Sep 2014 14:30

In an effort to get more done each day, we’re often tempted to multitask. As Erin has noted before, sometimes this is fine — for example, running a load of laundry while I’m writing this post is unlikely to cause any problems. However, when both tasks require focused attention, multitasking can actually be detrimental to productivity. As Tim Wu wrote in The New Yorker, “The brain is not good at conscious multitasking, or trying to pay active attention to more than one thing at once.”

While this attempted multitasking would usually just make us less efficient, sometimes it can be downright dangerous. The dangers of texting while driving are self-evident, since taking our eyes off the road can’t be a good thing. One study showed that the crash risk when texting was 23 times greater than when not texting. (Another study reported a less drastic figure, with an eight times greater crash risk, but that’s still very high.) Drivers who texted had their eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds, which is long enough to go the length of a football field for someone driving at 55 miles per hour.

But studies show that talking on a cell phone while driving, even hands-free, is also very dangerous. A white paper from the National Safety Council (PDF) states: “A few states have passed legislation making it illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving. These laws give the false impression that using a hands-free phone is safe.”

In an 18-minute video, Dr. David Strayer of the University of Utah’s Applied Cognition Lab explains the problems with talking on a cell phone when driving, noting that:

  • Someone talking on a cell phone, hands-free or not, is about four times more likely to be involved in an accident than someone who isn’t using a cell phone. That’s about the same risk level as a person who is driving drunk at a .08 blood alcohol level.
  • Listening to the radio at normal volume levels doesn’t result in impairment. Neither does talking to a passenger. In fact, talking to a single adult passenger actually lowers the crash risk a bit. (David Teater, the senior director of Transportation Initiatives at the National Safety Council, makes this same point in another video.) Passengers will know to stop talking if the driving situation gets difficult, and can serve as a second set of eyes.
  • “Just looking at something doesn’t mean you’ll see it.” When people are talking on cell phones, their attention is diverted from processing traffic-related visual information (pedestrians, cars, traffic signals, etc.) and they “fail to see up to half of the information that they would normally have seen.”
  • People talking on cell phones tend to only look straight ahead, rather than also looking at things in their periphery by using their side mirrors and rear view mirror.

While many U.S. states have restrictions on texting and driving, and some restrict talking on a handheld phone, it’s currently legal in all states for most drivers to talk on the phone hands-free. (Young drivers, novice drivers, and bus drivers are restricted in some states.) However, the studies show it’s a bad idea.

For increased productivity with your work, avoid multitasking when you need focused attention. More importantly, avoid the types of multitasking that can create dangers for yourself and/or others. If you’re driving, pull off the road if you need to make a call or send a text message.

Post written by Jeri Dansky

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Author: "Jeri Dansky" Tags: "Time Management, Tips"
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Date: Wednesday, 17 Sep 2014 14:30

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

ARB is a chain of stores in Australia that makes accessories specifically for 4X4 trucks. As opposed to most 4X4 owners in the US, it appears 4X4 owners in Australia occasionally take theirs off road. (Who knew?!)

One of the things ARB manufactures is tents that attach to 4X4s (by extending off the truck bed or the trunk or on the roof or in some other awesome manner) and regular ground tents for hikers who drive exciting places off road. But, lo! Their tenting doesn’t stop there! They also make a special cutie patootie itty bitty tent just for your boots. The ARB BootSwag:

We really aren’t pulling your leg with this. It is a real, genuine product. According to their website, “the ARB BootSwag provides a sheltered enclosure for storage of footwear and other items.”

Now, I would assume that one’s tent or enormous 4X4 would also provide this kind of shoe storage … but, apparently not?? I’d also think a large zip-top bag could do the same thing and keep snakes and spiders (or whatever deadly critters roam the Outback) out of one’s boots (this does not, as the bottom flap doesn’t close). But, what do I know? I drive an all-wheel vehicle and the only “off roading” I’ve ever done is in a busy Target parking lot after a big snow. And the closest I’ve come to camping in the last two decades was in a cabin with central air.

Thanks to reader Richelle for introducing us to this fun unitasker.

Post written by Erin Doland

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Author: "Erin Doland" Tags: "Unitasker Wednesday"
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