Monday, January 22, 2007

Vacation Time!

I'm off on vacation in a couple hours, returning on February 8. Expect to see the next entry here around February 9.

In the meantime, you can read my February newsletter, out a bit early, which focuses on time management.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Kitchen Duo: Collapsible Products & Food Storage Alternatives

collapsible funnel
Feng Shui practitioner extraordinaire Shannon Del Vecchio pointed me to a variety of collapsible kitchen products that can save you space: collapsible food containers, funnels and strainers, and measuring cups. Update on May 26, 2010: The site that had these items no longer shows them - but take a look at this more recent post for some collapsible kitchen products.

Along with the Rubbermaid collapsible food storage containers, some other interesting plastic food storage products are:
- The Trouvé products, which deal with the every-present lid issue
- The SmartSpin system (alert: video with annoying soundtrack starts up when you enter this web site)

However, as Shannon and I agree, there are some possible health issues related to plastic storage, as explained in a newsletter (PDF file) published by the University of Michigan's Housing Sustainability Program.

And Rolf Halden of Johns Hopkins says, "If you are cooking with plastics or using plastic utensils, the best thing to do is to follow the directions and only use plastics that are specifically meant for cooking. Inert containers are best, for example heat-resistant glass, ceramics and good old stainless steel."

So if you want to investigate storage options other than plastics, consider:

- Glass from Pyrex, Anchor Hocking, or Frigoverre, among others

- Stainless steel

- Ceramics/stoneware

[Modified on July 25, 2007 and May 20, 2009 to list different sample products as new ones became available and others disappeared.]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Innovative Shoe Storage: The Shoe Wheel from Rakku

shoe wheel

It must be my time for discovering new shoe storage options; see Wednesday's entry. But this is the most unusual one I've seen: the shoe wheel from Rakku, discovered through the interesting Popgadget: Personal Tech for Women. The wheel has 20 pockets and can store up to 30 pairs of shoes.

Wall Pockets - Not Just Plastic Anymore

gray wall pockets from recycled felt
You're probably all familiar with the basic wall pockets that have been around for years. And there are many fabric and mesh options, too.

Other options are the various Steelworx wall organizers and the utilitarian recycled steel wall files.

But one of my latest finds is the Grid wall pocket, available from Branch (and other places) - made from recycled felt! Update on August 15, 2011: This is no longer available from Branch, but I found them at

My other new find is the magnetic magazine pocket and memo board from Three by Three, whose web site is well worth exploring.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Filing: Paper Files vs. Digital Files

The GTD (Getting Things Done) Yahoo! Group is discussing reference files; does it make sense to keep these in paper form, or electronic form?

Kalnel (quoted by permission) makes these points about the advantages of going digital:
"Having a digital backup is hardly the only reason why you'd want to digitize paper documents. It also gives you:
- flexibility to work and access information remotely (or carry it with you)
- ability to find information and documents instantly
- security against document destruction and loss
- reduced storage needs and costs
- less clutter
- greater ability to share information quickly"

Other people feel that it's not worth the effort to create digital versions of their paper documents.

And questions about having business-related documents readily available from anywhere can easily morph into discussions of why you'd need that accessibility - and whether or not it's a good idea to be able to work from anywhere, at any time.

Another consideration would be any legal requirements for paper documents. The IRS accepts appropriate electronic records, according to an April 2006 article in The Christian Science Monitor - but check with your lawyer and/or accountant if you have any concerns.

If you want to go digital, that probably means having some good scanning tools, since not everything will come to you in digital form. A couple of scanners that I've seen praised are
- The Fujitsu ScanSnap (Windows and Mac versions available)
- The NeatReceipts Scanalizer (only available for Windows)

And, of course, good back-ups are even more critical the more you rely on digital files - but that's another topic for another day.

Paper or digital? I come down firmly on the side of "whatever works best for you" since each person's needs are different. And a "some of both" answer might work best for a number of people, too.

Coming Attractions: I've pulled The Myth of the Paperless Office off my bookshelf as the next organizing-related book to read; I'll report back when I've finished it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hotel Box - Unusual Shoe Storage

Hotel Box - stacking shoe storage

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story this morning (from the Washington Post), entitled Shoe-box storage gets better; it's about the Hotel Box from Pure Nomade in Denmark. The boxes come in a variety of patterns, as well as some solid colors. They are meant to be stackable shoe sort-of boxes - which could, of course, also be used for other things.

It's an odd product, so let me just briefly quote from the article: "The $25 Hotel box, devised by Pure Nomade, is not only cheerful to look at, it also works as both storage and furniture. The unusually shaped, easy-to-assemble cardboard cubby can corral cosmetics, electrical cords, small toys or, of course, shoes."

I'm not quite sure what to think about this one, beyond "how interesting."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

9 Alternative 3-Ring Binders

Italian leather 3-ring binders

Binders can be great organizing tools, and you can find basic vinyl three-ring binders almost anywhere. But if you want to get something special, here are some options:

1. Bella Italian leather binders, courtesy of See Jane Work; I got Jane's newsletter today, and it featured these, and inspired this blog entry. See picture above; pricey but (apparently) beautiful.

2. Rustic leather binders from Renaissance Art - a totally different look.

3. The M.O. Signature Binder
Update on Dec. 28, 2011: I'm no longer finding this product.

4. A variety of binders from russell+hazel

5. Cargo binders from acid-free fiberboard

6. SteelWorx binders - made from aluminum to minimize weight and optimize strength

7. Binders from pina zangaro - in aluminum, acrylic, or pressed hardboard

8. The Presence 3-Ring Binder from Case Envy

9. Rebinder recycled binders

Monday, January 15, 2007

Time Management for Unmanageable People

book cover, Time Management for Unmanageable People

I picked up Time Management for Unmanageable People, by Ann McGee-Cooper with Duane Trammer, at a local used bookstore - adding it to my rather large collection of organizing-related books.

While I didn't get a whole lot from the book, I did feel the authors came up with some wonderful phrases. One was hurry sickness, which I discussed earlier.

Another was joy break - "anything that will rest and renew you by taking your mind off work for a little while." The authors talk about taking a morning joy break - doesn't that sound good?

Finally, I really enjoyed the discussion of how we contaminate time - we do this "when we are not able to stay focused in the moment, or when we are trying to do one thing, but are thinking about another."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

When It's Time to Donate, Sell, or Otherwise Dispose of the LPs

LP album frame

Getting rid of your LP collection? You might want to frame a few especially memorable ones. Thanks to professional organizer Marcia Rugen of T.O.S.S. (Total Organization - Simple Solutions) in Northern Virginia for the pointer to this LP Album Frame.

And why might you be getting rid of your LP collection? Possibly because you've used the ION USB Turntable to convert your records to MP3 files. Thanks to professional organizer Susan Lannis of ORGANIZATION Plus! Inc. in Clackamas, Oregon for the pointer.

Or if you want to convert your LPs to CDs, the TEAC GF-350 Turntable / CD-Recorder will do it.

If you want to try to sell your LPs, Cherry Records has a seller's guide.

OrganizingLA Blog

John Trosko has a great blog, full of news, tips, and products - and a whole category on celebrity organizing.

A few recent offerings from John that I found particularly useful:
- His take on A Perfect Mess (also discussed here)
- Organizing for Seniors - Stylish Garment Lifts
- Multi-Tasking Twin Bed for Modern Design Lovers - I love multi-taking products!
- Fine China Organizing Ideas Served Up from Gumps - which might be just the right product for a friend of mine.

Time Management for System Administrators

book cover, Time Management for System Administrators

A few days ago, I mentioned this book by Thomas A Limoncelli. I just finished it, and it was well worth the read. As I suspected, although it will be most helpful for the intended audience of system administrators, there are plenty of ideas that are useful to some of us working in other fields, too. (But if you don't have any kind of technical background, this is not the book for you.)

Now, I always think it's a good sign when an author builds on other authors I think highly of. In Tom's book, I heard lots of David Allen echoes (write everything down - don't trust your brain) - and Tom references David's Getting Things Done. He also references my other new favorite, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, when talking about goal setting. And there's a reference to PeopleWare, which was always one of my favorites - so I appreciated Tom's emphasis on not working lots of overtime on a regular basis.

The main idea I walked away with (as someone who is not a system administrator) was Tom's 10-minute first-thing-in-the-morning daily planning, when you create today's schedule and to-do list - a concept I think could integrate with David Allen's GTD approach quite nicely. The idea of putting x hours for request-system tickets and y hours for interruptions on that daily plan made a lot of sense, too - for people in other fields, there may be different "time holders" that need to be on the plan.

And I liked the idea of using a wiki for documentation - that's something I'll certainly be suggesting to the appropriate audiences. (Wikis really came into their own after I left the IT environment, so I'd never really thought about all the ways they could be used.)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Organizing the Baby Food Jars

baby food jar organizer

Skip Hop makes an interesting baby food organizer called Chow - as well as a nice selection of diaper bags.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Organizing Your Bookshelves

I just finished some decluttering and reorganizing of my own bookshelves; I had new books and no place to put them, so some of the old ones had to go. Somehow, every time I face this situation, I seem to find a few more books that I can give up without regret.

eHow has some good advice on how to organize your bookshelves. Here is how it begins:

STEP 1: Mull over the role books play in your life. Do piles of books make you feel cozy and literate? Are your shelves rich with volumes of literature, drama and history that you know would make you a better person if you read them--but that you also know you never will? To some people, books are sacred and not to be thrown away: Are your old college textbooks collecting dust? Do you still have a shelf of Encyclopedia Britannica volumes? Once you understand why you have the books you do, you can begin to figure out what to do with them.

Julie Morgenstern's article on organizing your collection of books has a somewhat similar beginning:

1. To thy own self be true. Before you do anything, ask yourself, "Why do I stockpile books? Is it to have meaningful words nearby? To lend to friends? To build a reference library? To create a particular atmosphere? Do I plan to read the books or just have them in the background?" Your collection should reflect your intention.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Problems With "A Perfect Mess"

The new book A Perfect Mess - and the articles about the book - have both received their fair share of criticism. Here are just of few of the critiques.

I complained about the New York Times coverage of the book back on December 21.

Kathy Waddill responded to one of the authors on NPR's Talk of the Nation on December 29.

And today, Cynthia Friedlob at The Thoughtful Consumer has written a thoughtful (what else?) essay, responding to both the New York Times article and what that tells her about the book.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Managing Your To Do List (in one of 20 ways)

Anne Zelenka on Web Worker Daily has a wonderful list of 20 Different Ways to Manage Your To Dos - both paper-based and computer-based options. Surely something in this list (or in the many comments posted in reply) should work for almost anyone!

Now, the trick is to pick something and use it!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Freecycle Makes the New York Times

Freecycle logo

The New York Times Magazine had an article about Freecycle today, entitled Unconsumption.

I've long been a Freecycle user and fan - and the article even mentioned our Coastside Freecycle community, which I help moderate. I've used it to dispose of items that need just the right owner (a clock shaped like an airplane, a Pin the Fig Leaf on David game, etc.) and I've also picked up some items (such as old copies of Real Simple, and used file folders). Highly recommended! There are Freecycle communities throughout the USA as well as some in other countries; consider giving your local one a try.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Time Management Diets

In a twist on normal New Year's resolutions, Tom Limoncelli recommends some time management diets: A TV diet, a mailing list diet, and a meeting diet.

It's a good thing I didn't resolve to go on a book reading diet, because finding this article got me interested in Tom's book, Time Management for System Administrators - which seems to have at least some broader application. (But as a one-time system administrator, this book had special appeal to me. And O'Reilly publishes great books.)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - Resources for Reuse

Re-Use Guide from RecycleWorks in San Mateo county, California

An e-mail from the San Mateo County RecycleWorks reminded me how thankful I am for all the organizations that work at the city, county, state, region, or country level to provide information on where to donate unwanted items - so we can reuse, not just recycle.

Just in the San Francisco Bay Area, besides RecycleWorks, we have a number of other resources, including:
- Palo Alto's Recyclopedia (recycling and reuse)
- SF Environment (San Francisco - mostly recycling but some reuse)
- from Alameda County (select Materials to be Reused from the Where do I Recycle? menu)

And a quick search shows me a whole range of useful sites, such as:
- Greener Miami
- The Delaware Reuse Guide
- The Environmental Protection Agency in New England
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - a UK site, which has introduced me to the term scrapstore.

Time Management and the TV

Do you relate to this scenario from 43 Folders? "I used to smugly think TiVo was my salvation, but I now realize how often I’m sitting through yet another C.S.I. or King of the Hill–shows I love, but that I have seen a half-dozen times and now just treat like a constantly-replenished bowl of video M&Ms."

If your time management challenges are more TV-related than web-related (see previous post), the 43 Folders wiki about watching less TV might help.

And if you seriously want to change your television viewing habits, I recommend reading Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander.

Time Management for Web Surfers

Do you tend to lose track of time when you're browsing the web? Browser Timer will shut down your browser after a predefined number of minutes. It's free software, but only works on Windows. Thanks to Robert Lynch of The Now Habit Yahoo Group for the pointer.

And if losing time on the web is an issue for you, you might enjoy this comment from Paul Ford: "Distraction is necessary. Minds need to wander to get anything done. But the Internet is sort of the mental equivalent of the snack aisle at a convenience store, filled with satisfying fatty chips and tasty cream-filled cakes."

Friday, January 5, 2007

Resolution: Get Organized

Sharon May writes in the Cedar City Review, "The second most popular New Year's resolution, according to the U.S. Department of Stupid Statistics, is to be more organized. That's why Wal-Mart's sales of plastic storage tubs exceed the entire GNP of Bolivia during January.

Having containers, we don't have to actually throw anything away – just 'organize' our stuff in matching Rubbermaid tubs. Then, slowly during the year, when you ask yourself, 'Where's that Barry Manilow Classic Love Songs CD?' or 'What did I do with that electric rutabaga slicer?' you start rummaging through your storage containers. Before you know it, everything's back inside your house and your 2006 clutter has returned."

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Throw a Shredding Party!

After all my recent postings about shredders, here's an idea: have a shredding party. From a story in the Novato Advance: "Eight of my client's friends came over for what we call a ‘shredding party'. She asked each friend to bring along a paper shredder. She served wine and brunch, and then everyone helped shred her excess papers. It was so much fun that later all her friends had their own shredding parties."

Finding Lost Keys (and other items)

Generally, my bias would be to work on developing habits so you don't misplace your keys (or other items), rather than relying on gadgets to help find those lost items. But sometimes that habit-building approach really isn't feasible - and then something like the KeyRinger could really come in handy.

Once again, thanks to Organize Your Family's Schedule . . . In No Time for the pointer.

I Did My Chores!

chore tracking system

This chore tracking tool is designed for children ages 4-12. Thanks to Organize Your Family's Schedule . . . In No Time for the pointer. (I must admit to having some qualms about the token reward system, though.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

The Wall Street Journal has a blog called The Juggle - on choices and tradeoffs people make as they juggle work and family. It's written by Sara Schaefer Munoz.

Recently they've posted some New Year's Resolutions, including this one: Make Time for Friends. To quote, in part: "Friends of mine — some whom I’ve known since childhood — have always been a source of joy and support. This year I’ll try to make time for even brief phone calls and more often indulge in a movie or dinner out with them."

Another one was Do Less Housework. Again, to quote part of the blog entry: "I’ll start with the little things, such as cutting down on some laundry. Is it really that terrible to wear the same pants more than once, or even twice? In addition, I’m going to put a container in the garage especially for junk mail, so it doesn’t even make it into the house. And if it’s a beautiful Saturday morning, I vow to walk right past those dirty dishes in the sink and head outside with my daughter. . . . So maybe this year my house will be a little grimier or my clothes a little more wrinkled. At least my daughter won’t feel like she’s always competing with the vacuum for attention. And I’ll remind myself that when my kids are grown and off to college, I can spend weekends scrubbing the stove to my heart’s content."

Now obviously that second resolution is all wrong for someone struggling to keep the house in reasonable order - but it might be the perfect resolution for others.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Staples MAILMATE Shredder

Staples MAILMATE shredder, sitting on kitchen counter top next to the coffeemaker
How odd - the Staples MAILMATE Junk Mail Shredder is the third unusual shredder I've written about in the last month or so.

As a recent article in the St. Petersburg Times says, "It's [sic] looks like a coffeemaker because it's meant for the kitchen appliance counter where who knew? most people sort their mail."

January 2007 Organizing Tips and More

My January newsletter is now available. The theme is Junk Mail (and other Junk).

Product of the Month: kiri wood magazine rack

Donation/Recycling Idea of the Month: Re-Gifting (done with care and caution)

Organizing Event of the Month: Get Organized Month