Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Black Lives Matter: Organizing Products from Black-Owned Businesses

colorful lidded basket

I’ve been pondering what I could do, as an organizer, to support Black Lives Matter. And then I read calls to support Black-owned businesses, and I found my answer.

So here are some products to consider, if you’re so inclined!

I’m thankful for the Veranda article about Black-owned home brands which led me to Goodee, a “curated marketplace” which carefully vets the companies whose products are included, so that all products are “ethically made and transparently sourced.”

And there are some cool organizing products! The item at the top of this post is one of the baskets from Baba Tree.

hampers, in three coors

There are also some nice baskets, in various sizes, from Makaua — a totally different style than those from Baba Tree. Makaua is “a family-owned and women-led company that produces woven products for the home.” The products are “handmade by a community of 50 families in a low-income region of Mexico.”

turquoise kiwi bird, with removable head (making it a storage container)

And then there’s this kiwi bird storage container from ecoBirdy — expensive, but cool.

lidded basket with blocks of colors: red, pink, etc.

The same Veranda article also led me to Jungalow and its organizing products, including this basket from Uganda.

colorful lidded basket

Yet another great source for baskets is Expedition Subsahara, which has this mission: “To build and maintain a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) school for young girls in Senegal.”

lidded basket

And there’s also Tackussanu Senegal, with yet more terrific baskets; thanks to Better Homes & Gardens for pointing me to this one.

coasters that say, "For the love of God protect the Ikea furniture"

Finally, Elle Decor sent me to Peace & Riot, which has a nice apron with multiple pockets. And while they’re not organizing products, these coasters gave me a good laugh and I wanted to share them. (Lots of people have organizing products from Ikea, such as the Billy bookcase, so there’s a tenuous connection to organizing.)

Since this list is basket-heavy, I’m going to keep looking for more Black-owned businesses selling organizing-related products beyond baskets.  Hopefully, I’ll have another group of products to share.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

In Honor of My Mom: Organizing in Blue for 2020

rectangular tray with complex design featuring a lot of owls

Thirteen years ago today, my mom died of pancreatic cancer. (Yes, it’s ironic that this anniversary happens to fall on Mother’s Day this year.) Her favorite color was blue, so this has become my annual tribute to her.

Two years ago I led off with a tray from Jamida, with art by Emma J. Shipley, and this year I’m doing the same — with a new tray that’s as amazing as the prior one. It comes in two different sizes.

rectangular tray with flowers, in various shades of blue

But that’s not the only tray I have to show you. Here’s a very blue tray from Sweetgum Home, designed by Sandra Venus.

rectangular tray with an Art Nouveau design

And here’s the Ianthe tray from Liberty of London, with its Art Nouveau design.

square blue alarm clock, round white dial, yellow second hand, red alarm indicator

Moving on from trays: The Farbe alarm clock from Lemnos is nice and simple, and it’s easy to read. It runs on one AA battery, and it does make a light tick sound as the second hand moves around, so it wouldn’t work for someone sensitive to such sounds.

Blue bowl made from fabric-wrapped rope, on a table, filled with fruit

This wrapped-rope basket from Forest Hill Creations could be used to hold any number of things. Their turquoise bowl looks lovely, too.

blue wide-mouth utensil holder

Chatham Pottery has a lovely blue utensil holder. The utensil holder with the hand-painted fish is also nice!

blue bookend holding up some books

These Dumbo bookends, manufactured by Tortuga Studios, are made from powder-coated steel, so they should do a good job of holding books upright. The blue color isn’t offered on Tortuga’s website; I found it at the MoMA Design Store. You can find Tortuga’s navy and teal bookends at Sight Unseen.

ribbon board: white fabric with blue kingfishers; orange ribbon

And finally, here’s a lovely notice board from artist Cherith Harrison.

Curious about my posts in prior years? Take a look at all of them.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Meal Planning While Sheltering at Home: Cooking and Baking — Or Not

Packages of Tasty Bite Jodphur Lentils, Seeds of Change Seven Whole Grains, and Tasty Bite Ancient Grains

As so many of us shelter at home, I see a lot of folks getting into cooking and/or baking, and that’s great. Their food looks terrific.

But the photo at the top of this post is part of my pantry. It also has things like veggie packets from Tasty Bite, energy bars, pasta, pasta sauces and wonderful canned sardines. Most of these items (excluding the pasta and pasta sauce) are also good earthquake supplies.

Prepared meals: chicken coconut curry

And here’s part of my refrigerator. It also has peanut butter, tayberry jelly, fruit juice and cheese. It sometimes has the leftovers from meals delivered by my local Himalayan restaurant. The freezer has veggies and bread — and as of tomorrow it will have locally made gelato.

For me, meal planning means making sure I’ve ordered enough food delivery that I can have tasty and healthy food to pop in the microwave, bread to pop in the toaster, etc. — along with some treats. I’ve developed a nice list of places that will ship or deliver things I enjoy, mostly at reasonable prices. (OK, the gelato is a splurge.)

I don’t feel inspired to cook right now, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to get good food in other ways. If you’re similarly inclined, this is just a reminder that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Decluttering While Sheltering at Home

The Stay Home Club XL tote, available for purchase

I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has pretty strict shelter-at-home rules — and I’m over 65, which increases my COVID-19 risk. So I’m only leaving home for short walks in my residential neighborhood and for essential vet visits (where the vet has protocols to ensure things are done very safely).

Most places that would normally take donations are closed — and even if they weren’t, dropping off donations and electronics for recycling aren’t “essential activities” in most cases, with some moves being the exception. I own a freecycle group, and I’ve told members to hold off on offering items unless they are the things we’re allowed to go shopping for: groceries, pet food, medical items (non-prescription on freecycle), etc.

So what do you do if you happen to be inspired to declutter? Here are some ideas:

1. Focus on papers. These will either be filed, shredded or recycled — all of which can be done without leaving home if you have a shredder and curbside recycling. Many people think paperwork is the most annoying thing to handle, so it can pile up. You don’t have to do it all at once; doing just a tiny bit at a time will still help.

2. Focus on computer files. I’ve found myself deleting old files, emails and browser bookmarks — as well as cleaning up my contacts.

3. Put physical items in clearly identified boxes, bags or bins for donation or recycling at a future time. It’s not ideal, but that’s what I'm doing. I have one box for books, one tote bag for electronics recycling, and a big bin for other items to be donated or freecycled.

4. Mail things off to friends or relatives if you have things you are sure they want. In the U.S., you can schedule a pickup with the postal service. There are some weight limitations and you have to attach proper postage, as explained in the FAQs.

5. Using the same USPS pick-up service, you could ship clothing and household goods off to charities using the Give Back Box service and its prepaid shipping labels. (As of 18 days ago, organizer Lauren Mang confirmed that Give Back Box was still up and running.) If you feel OK leaving the house and your locale permits it, you could also use a UPS drop box; UPS has a location finder.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Computer Backups: An organizing project you can do while sheltering at home

box that says World Backup Day

This post is a day late; yesterday was World Backup Day. But I’m being gentle with myself during this time, and not fretting about that. And anyway, you want to be doing backups every day, not just on World Backup Day.

And I guess I had this subject on my mind, because I had an odd dream last night. I was working in some nondescript corporate office, had my computer stolen, and immediately thought about when I did my last full backup!

I’m not going to suggest specific backup products; you can find a lot of advice about that from others who have more expertise than I do. But I will emphasize that you want at least one of your backups to be offsite (in case of fire, theft, etc.) and you want at least one of them to be automatic, because otherwise you’re tempting the fates. And yes, multiple backups are a good idea. I use a cloud backup program (offsite backup, automated) and a program that backs up to an external hard drive (much faster recovery time). But if you have no backups now and get one backup process running, you’ve already made a huge improvement!

And remember you want to back up any critical files on your cell phone, too.

So if you don’t already have backups running, consider taking some time to remedy that. You don’t want to be like Matt Dempsey, who tweeted back in 2017:
Having my work hard drive/computer die yesterday has forced me to look at the bad backup decisions I’ve made. Damn
And if you’re already running backups, are you also testing those backups? If not, that’s a step you might want to take.

You might also think about any non-digital documents that you’d be distressed about losing, and consider getting them in digital form to then be included in those backups you’re running. This warning comes from a tweet by author Susan Orlean:
Had a small flood in my office. Some handwritten notes are now abstract watercolors. Fortunately I’d typed them up, but yikes.
Finally, I’d like to mention a different kind of back-up. If you’ve ever published things to a website that just might disappear, make sure you’ve backed up those documents or images, too, if they are still important to you. I know one magazine writer who didn’t do this, and she lost her work when the magazine folded and didn’t keep its website around.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Productivity in the Time of Coronavirus

electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
Image from NIAID-RML, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Not everyone has the luxury of worrying about productivity; here’s a thank-you to all the doctors, nurses, delivery people and such who are out there taking care of us. If you hire housecleaners, it would be a kindness to tell them to stay home while you still pay them.

But for those trying to work at home (or in an office, hopefully with plenty of social distance — or those just trying to get personal projects done — I wanted to share some words of sympathy and advice I’m seeing on Twitter.

A “you're not alone” thought from Caroline Moss:
Is anyone else’s brain so broken that you’re beating yourself up for not being productive enough about work during an unprecedented global pandemic
Advice from David Griner:
Real talk: If you’re not feeling productive, it’s not because you’re working from home or poorly managing your time.

It’s because life right now is just a horrible grinding background noise that never leaves your brain. Be kind to yourself. Let things go.
And sympathy plus advice from Jessica:
I’ve worked from home for 20(!) years, I love it, I’m made for it, I can’t imagine not doing it—and I’ve gotten absolutely *nothing* done for the past week.

Newly WFH folks, the situation now is totally unconducive to concentration and productivity. Be gentle with yourselves.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Time Management: Balancing parenting and work

I’ve been listening to a new podcast called Business Dad, which got me hooked with this description:
How do you balance it all?

Working moms are asked this question incessantly, but it’s rarely asked of working dads. After Alexis Ohanian’s daughter Olympia was born, it took months before he was asked about work-life balance and the inevitable trade-offs of being a working parent.

In a new podcast from Initialized Capital, Alexis Ohanian ... opens this question up to some of the most successful men across business, sports, entertainment, and more, for candid conversations about what it means to be a father in today’s world and how they balance their careers and family.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj is the guest on the first episode; his daughter is 20 months old. He said that it wasn't until a few months in that he “really realized the relentless nature of parenting; it doesn’t stop.”

He also noted that he has dedicated time with his daughter every day:
My wife forced my hand ... Beena is the one who told me, “You have to set time with her, every day, to: 
A — develop that bond and
B — if you don't you're going to regret it.”

So from 6:30 to 8:30 every day it's our time, before I come to the office.

I remember having that initial pushback like “Come on, are you serious, every day?” And now it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.
The editor in chief of Wired, Nicholas Thompson, is the guest on the second episode, which I enjoyed even more than the first one. Nick has three sons, ages 5, 9 and 11. Given his children’s ages, his interactions with his sons are quite different than those that Alexis and Hasan have with their young daughters. But he also has dedicated time with them:
I try to keep a very structured schedule where I take them to school, I go to work, then I leave work almost every day at 6 to go home, and put them to bed, and tell them stories, and play with them, and work with them on their things and then they go to sleep and I got back to work ... I go back to my computer.
He goes on to talk about the trade-offs — the things you don’t have time for when you’re spending time on work and family. I also loved his stories about engaging his boys in his work; for example, they helped craft his first interview question to Secretary of State John Kerry. And when Nick was choosing between two job offers, his top decision-making question was this: Which job will make you a better dad for your children?

Tired of only women being asked how they balance work and family? If so, you might enjoy this podcast, too.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Non-Clutter Gifts: Art Supplies for Kids

Crayola crayons - box of 120 colors

I’ve always liked the idea of giving art supplies as gifts. They’re consumables, so they don’t tend to become clutter (unless a parent believes they must keep everything their child creates) and they encourage the creativity of children who have an artistic inclination.

But there’s one aspect of art supply gifts I never thought too much about until I read this on Twitter:
PSA: If you’re doing shopping for artsy kids this holiday season, avoid these art sets. Every artist I know got these as a kid and LOATHED them, because the quality sucks. Instead, find out what medium the kid likes and get nice versions of that specific thing. —Adam Ellis 
When Adam says “these art sets” he’s referring to the all-in-one kits, selling for around $25, that come with crayons, colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, scissors, watercolor cakes, oil pastels, markers, etc. He went on to suggest better gifts, and a lot of people joined the conversation. Some points made:
  • The gift-giver’s budget obviously needs to be taken into consideration. But to meet budget constraints, you can consider getting a smaller quantity of higher-quality stuff. 
  • The age, interest level, and skill level of the child matter; not all kids will appreciate the higher-quality items. The boxed sets can be fine for a kid who would just like to try different mediums: watercolors, colored pencils, markers, etc. But kids in their teens might really appreciate some better supplies. 
  • Even Crayola crayons are a step up in quality from many of the kits. (Lots of people mentioned Crayola products as a good alternative!) You can get better quality than the kits without going to top of the line. (Dried markers were a top complaint about the kits.)

But if you have a child on your gift list who is really into art, some suggested gifts from Adam and others were:

boxes of Prismacolor colored pencils

Colored pencils

Favorites included Prismacolor, Caran d'Arche and Faber Castell. Over on Dick Blick I saw a tin of 12 Prismacolors for $7.10 (well below list price) — and I also saw a set of 160 Caran d'Ache pencils in a wood box for $463.99. Obviously there are plenty of choices between these two price points.

Author Ann Leckie made a great case for good colored pencils:
I’ve been looking for the tweet I saw where someone said basically that low quality art supplies can make you feel like you can’t do the thing, because this is very true. Particularly colored pencils, which, by and large the cheap ones are just disappointing and frustrating. ... Speaking as someone who has recently been taking art classes—the difference between cheap colored pencils and good ones is AMAZING.

box of 10 tubes of Van Gogh brand watercolors


Adam mentioned Winsor & Newton watercolors but noted they are expensive — and that there are cheaper options that are perfectly fine. Other folks mentioned Daniel Smith and Van Gogh. The picture above is the 10-tube Van Gogh set.

And here’s someone making the case for good watercolors:
Decent watercolors were a game changer for me. I hated those little pan sets that they gave us in school. They made me furious at their badness. Turns out I love painting. I hate bad paint. 
I am so on team Give Kids Good Art Supplies.

six Micron pens in various sizes

Pens for Ink Drawings

Adam mentioned Microns (and Copic Multiliners as a huge upgrade). Someone else prefers the Artline Drawing System. This set of six Microns lists for $17.99 and can be found for much less.

SL Huang makes the case for good supplies, including these pens:
Since art supplies ARE so expensive, if you *can* get the Very Artsy kid in your life something specific & high-quality they’d prob be over the moon. I know I lusted after SO MANY art supplies I couldn’t afford as a kid & was always thrilllllled when ppl gifted them to me

Also, many times, a truly arty kid would be much more excited with 5 microns for the same price as this big crappy set.

Flax Art & Deisgn gift card

Gift Cards

If there's a good art supply store close to where the child lives, a gift card could be a great option, too. (Flax is a store in San Francisco that I’ve enjoyed for gift-buying.)

Sunday, December 1, 2019

8 Charging Stations for Your Phones, Tablets and More

wall-mounted charging station, looks like a box with charging items laying on the top

Everything in my life needs charging. —Francine Hardaway

If you’re like Francine, I’ve got some interesting products for you! (Note: For this post, I’m excluding wireless charging products.)

The item above is the Charge-Box from Konstantin Slawinski, which comes in a variety of colors. It can be wall-mounted, as shown, or it can sit on a flat surface such as a countertop or desktop. You can also find it at Connox (with fewer color choices), but if you’re in the U.S. the shipping charges are going to be quite high from either site.

wood shelf with slot in the rear, where a tablet is resting

The Stage shelf from Spell lets you charge up to five items and keep the cords hidden. There are four options: walnut, oak, white, and black. It’s lovely, but expensive.

wood shelf pulled out from the wall showing the interior with two products charging inside

The items being charged could be kept inside or out.

charging station that has slots for the seven items being charged

When it comes to charging stations that arent wall-mounted, there are a few basic designs. This 7-slot one from Satechi was recommended by iMore, which notes that “each slot is large enough to accommodate even the largest of smartphones and any cases that you may have installed.” It’s also available in white.

Note that the charging cables do not come with it, though, so it won’t look as cool as it does in this photo unless you buy the cables, too.

charging station with slots for products; the charging cables attach to the side of a mushroom-shaped outlet

For a very different take on the same basic design, there’s the charging mushroom. The mushroom also serves as a night light!

charging station, box-like, where cords are kept inside and products rest on top or stand up against a rail

Other products, like the Sanctuary4 from Bluelounge, are designed to hide all the cords. As you might guess from the name, it has four USB ports. You can get the Sanctuary4 in either black or white.

charging station that's like a box with slats on top; three products (phones and tablets) are standing in the slats

Alldock provides another take on the hidden-cord charging station. It comes in two sizes: the medium which charges four items and the large which charges six. Products are available in black, white, bamboo, and walnut.

same box-like charging station as above with an attachment that holds an AirPod case

There are optional Apple Watch, AirPod, and FitBit mounts, too.

charging station with places for MacBook, iPad, iPhone, AirPod case, Apple Watch, Apple Pencil, and Apple TV remote

And here’s yet another design. NytLite makes cool charging stations designed specifically for all Apple products. The one I’m showing is the one that accommodates the most products, including the Apple TV remote (or a second iPhone).

woman sitting on a bed that has a bedside pocket that holds products being charged

You can also get a product designed for bedside charging. Z-charge provides three pockets on each side of the bed. There’s a larger pocket in the back, kept in place by that Velcro latch in the upper corner. Z-charge currently comes in four colors: white, black, chocolate brown and dove gray.

Friday, November 22, 2019

2020 Wall Calendars for Good Causes, Part 2

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust calendar for 2020, with a photo of elephants

As I mentioned in my prior calendar post, lots of folks still use paper calendars to keep track of their time. So I always enjoy sharing some that help support good work around the world.

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues orphaned baby elephants in Kenya. I first heard about the trust on Twitter from Yashar Ali; he’s a huge fan. And I just discovered that SWT has a 2020 calendar.

International Animal Rescue calendar for 2020, with a photo of orangutans

International Animal Rescue has an Orangutan Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo, Indonesia — and IAR has a 2020 orangutan calendar.

Safe Harbor Lab Rescue calendar, with a photo of a lab on a big expanse of grass

Many rescue and shelter organizations focused on dogs and cats (and other domestic animals) have calendars, too. Many of those rescue organizations work with a particular breed, such as Safe Harbor Lab Rescue.

2020 First Responders & Rescue Animals calendar, with a photo of fire truck and firemen in full gear holding various small animals

I’m also seeing some cool pairings of people and animals. “First responders from all over the State of New Hampshire volunteered to pose for photos” with adoptable animals (as well as some which had already been adopted) from the Manchester Animal Shelter to create this 2020 calendar. Proceeds go to the shelter and to charities chosen by the first responders.

Minnesota Wild 2020 Canine Calendar, with a photo of player holding a dog

Members of the Minnesota Wild ice hockey team teamed up with Coco’s Heart Dog Rescue to create this 2020 calendar. “All net proceeds benefit the Minnesota Wild Foundation, Coco's Heart Dog Rescue, and Soldier’s 6 - a local non-profit that provides honorably discharged veterans and first responders who may suffer from PTSD with service animals.”

Seva 2020 calendar which says "see the change" and identifies Jon Kaplan as the photographer; photo is of a little girl
Not all charitable fundraising calendars are animal-focused, of course. Seva puts out a lovely calendar every year. (Seva “works with local communities around the world to develop self-sustaining programs that preserve and restore sight.”) You can get the 2020 calendar at the site for buyers in the USA or the one for buyers in Canada; the USA site has a number to call if you live elsewhere.