Monday, March 31, 2008

Yet Again: Learning to Say No

candy that says Just Say No

I keep returning to this theme because saying no to requests for our time is such a hard things for so many of us.

Today's bit of inspiration come from Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work by Richard Carlson:
Saying no without guilt is not selfish - it's a protective necessity. If someone said to you, "Can I have the air you breath?" you'd probably question their sanity. You certainly wouldn't feel guilty saying no. Yet if someone says, "Can I ask you to do something for me that will push you over the edge and make you feel stressed out and resentful?", there are many times that you'll agree either out of habit, obligation, or simply guilt. Sure, the person probably didn't phrase the request like that, but in reality, that's what is being asked of you.

Related posts:
The Importance of Saying No: Two Perspectives
The Importance of Making Decisions
Learning to Say No
Miss Manners: How to Say No

[photo by Simone Scott Warren]

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Saving Things "Just In Case ..."

"There may not be much call for for a corset tightener on a day-to-day basis, but you never know ..." -- Don Aslett, Lose 200 Lbs. This Weekend

If you're one of the many people who saves things just in case, I've got some quotes that might inspire you to reconsider.

Louise over on Our Odyssey has a wonderful post abut the just-in-case stuff; she lists questions to ask yourself about all that stuff you are keeping that doesn't ever seem to get used. Here's just one snippet:
Can I rent or borrow it? Everything can be rented these days, from furniture to tuxedos, boat trailers to formal china. We need a car so rarely that we rent one when we do. Bake a cake once every three years? Your campground neighbor who bakes daily can loan you his pans.
Holly addresses the just-in-case clothes:
I have FINALLY come to the place of getting rid of clothes that I either don’t like, or don’t fit. You may think that is silly…but I would keep numerous/multiple clothing items around, just in case. Just in case of what, I’m not sure…just in case I lost weight, or gained weight, or the style came back in, or I ever happened to "like" the tacky item, or really wanted to be uncomfortable…who knows?
And so does organizer Jennifer Swanson:
Beware of spending money unnecessarily on closet gadgets to make room for a collection of "just in case" clothes (just in case I need five outfits to paint the house, just in case I lose weight and want to dress 80's style, just in case...) You probably have a better way to spend your money.
And here are some thoughts from the Flylady web site:
Does everyone save old mayo and jelly jars? "I might need it someday and it still is perfectly useful." Well...I decluttered one of my kitchen cabinets (stuff kept falling out when the doors opened). There were no less than 53 of these jars complete with lids. I do use them occasionally but 53????
OK, I'm off to dispose of that extra box of bubble wrap that hasn't been touched in years. And then there's that fondue pot ...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Seletti: A Stunning Bookcase and More

shelving from wooden boxes with siksscreen prints

Wow! Usually when I find something like this from an Italian designer, it can be hard to find places to actually buy the thing.

But this lovely piece from Seletti, called Assemblage, is for sale at Do, in London.

I'm going to quote from "Assemblage is made up of ten wooden crate style boxes, each with different silkscreen prints. The boxes nest inside of each other and can be stacked and held together by straps to create a shelf, or can be used separately as small side tables or storage units."

shelving assembled in various configurations

And here are some more pictures of how this pieces can be used.

four storage boxes labeled the book box, the summer box, the toy box and the x-mas box

While I was on the Seletti web site, I poked around and found some more interesting things - none as notable as that bookcase, but still worth a look. I haven't seen these storage boxes for sale on the web, but Seletti does provide a list of places that carry their products, from around the world.

coat rack in four colors

They also make a nice coat rack. Update on Jan 2, 2011: A reader just checked with Seletti's export sales folks, who told him this product is not yet available in the U.S. Too bad for those of us who admire it!

roll-up tool kit

And isn't this a nice way to store some basic tools?

box that says my recipes and has picture of an egg, and then a broken eggshell

Seletti also makes some nice little boxes that you can see (and buy) on this Swiss web site. The measurements on the web site are in cm; for those of you who think in inches, they are 11" x 8.66" x 4.33". You can see another style of box on Seletti's web site.

[via Bookshelf]

Friday, March 28, 2008

File Folders: Declare That You Are Organized (or Not)

file folder that says: I am organized

I've just stumbled across a series of file folders that specifically talk to our desire to be organized.

1. Crane & Co. sells the file folder shown above; in case you can't quite read the print, it says I am Organized. Update on Feb. 15, 2010: This product is no longer available from Crane & Co.

file folders that say: one of these days I'm going to get myself organized

2. And here's the file folders for those who can't yet claim to be organized, created by Bob's Your Uncle and sold many places on-line. Update on Sept. 19, 2011: I'm no longer finding any place that has these.

six files folders, labeled labeled urgent, later, much later, ignore, never, and really never

3. And for those trying to get organized, here's a set of letterpress procrastinator file folders, labeled with priorities ranging from Urgent to Much Later to Really, Never! OK, I don't know how practical these are - but I had to share them, anyway. Update on Sept. 19, 2011: I'm no longer finding these file folders.

manila file folders labeled file folders, labeled Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, Next Month, and Who Knows

4. Along the same lines, these letterpress file folders range in priority from Yesterday to Next Week to Who Knows. Update on Oct. 8, 2012: I'm no longer finding these, either.

Related Post:
File Folders: Moving Beyond Manila

Thursday, March 27, 2008

12 More Options for Colorful Storage

chest with brightly-colored drawers

Want some bright colors to enliven your home? My last post on colorful storage was quite popular - and since I've since found more interesting options, it's time for an update.

1. Let's start in Melbourne, Australia this time, with one of the many delightful pieces shown on the Wilkens and Kent web site. For a few more quick peeks, look here or here.

pink chest of drawers

2. Moving over to the U.K., this pink chest of drawers is sold by Graham and Green.

sky blue bookcase

3. Staying in the U.K., this sky blue bookcase comes from Zenzu.

blue bookcase

4. You might think a company called New England Lifestyle was based in the U.S. - but they're in West Sussex, U.K. They call this the Blue New Hampshire Bookcase. Update on Jan. 17, 2010: Now there's just the New Hampshire Bookcase - and it's white.

storage pieces in letters C, O, L, O, R. S

storage shaped like the letter M

5. Heading over to Switzerland, we find these very cool alphabet storage pieces. [via Apartment Therapy]. The web site is in German, but it's reasonably easy to navigate even for someone who speaks no German, and a translating tool will help out when you need it. There are multiple options for each letter, with either a front door (with shelves or drawers) or an open back (with shelves) to provide storage.

blue buffer

6. Coming over to the U.S., red egg has some lovely pieces. They don't sell to the public, but you can find their buffet (shown above) and bookcase at Design for Real Living. Update on Jan. 17, 2010: Design for Real Living no longer has these products, but you can see them at Cottage & Bungalow.

red Asian-style cabinet

7. If you're looking for red, big pagoda has a few options.

white bookcase with blue backing

8. As you'd imagine, a furniture company called A Colorful Place has a lot of options.


9. Vermont Woods Studios makes painted cottage furniture.

dark red cabinet from barn boards

10. This cabinet is made from 100-year-old barn boards! See the Barn Board Treasures web site for more pictures of this piece, and to see the other types of furniture they make. Update on Jan. 17, 2010: Sadly, this company seems to have disappeared.

orange dresser

11. Damian Velasquez makes his pieces from steel and wood.

three trunks - green, red, white

12. More mainstream companies also have colorful storage. These trunks come from Pottery Barn, which has a number of other colorful options. Update on Jan. 17, 2010: These trunks are no longer available.

Related posts:
Old Office Furniture Gets a New Life
10 Options for Modular Shelving

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Storage to Make You Smile: Hand-Painted Furniture

cabinet painted with birds in trees

I first saw hand-painted furniture on sites like Room Service Home; that's one of theirs above. Other sites in somewhat the same vein are Touch of Class and The Well Appointed House.

I was enchanted, and I've recently gone looking to see what else is available. Here's just some of what's out there.

painted armoire

Patina sells hand-painted furniture from Italy, including this armoire.

painted armoire with flowers on the side

Picking just one piece from Clairborne Ferry Furniture was hard. Picking this one meant passing up the fish, and the cave drawing, and so much more.

painted semanier - green, with frogs

Cody Riess Designs has a maddening web site, with way-too-small pictures of what seem to be lovely pieces.

two mini-armoires - a cat and a mermaid

Reincarnations sells all sorts of painted furniture; these are two of their mini-armoires.

cabinet with picture of Aan Migual de Allende

La Loba has a number of cabinet options; this one has a picture of San Miguel de Allende.

calla lily armoire

This calla lily armoire comes from Magnolia Studios - another maddening web site, but I'm glad I didn't give up on it.

dresser with painting of morning glories

This piece comes from Nicole Wolf of Wolf Designs.

dresser with painting of bunny in grass, with a bird in the nearby tree

The bunny dresser comes from You're Art! by Corie Kline.

cabinet with ravens

Picking just one piece by Hillary Riggs was another hard decision. Choosing this raven cabinet means not including the butterfly cabinet or the poppy armoire - or one of the many other stunning pieces.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Definitive Guide to E-waste, Part 3: All Recyclers Are Not Created Equal

girl about to smash computer monitor CRT with a hammer

OK, you know your e-waste shouldn't go in the garbage. You read about an electronics recycling event or a place that accepts old electronics, and that seems to solve the problem. But maybe not. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition has a section in its E-Waste Briefing Book (pdf) entitled Most "Recyclers" Don’t Recycle Our E-Waste - They Export It To Developing Countries. It says, in part:
Currently, a large portion of the hazardous electronic waste collected for recycling in the U.S. is actually exported to developing countries. There the products are dismantled and separated using such primitive and toxic technologies that workers and communities are exposed to many highly toxic chemicals.

In countries like China, India, Viet Nam, and Pakistan, workers in e-waste yards (working with few health and safety protections) actually “recycle” very little of these products – they use hammers, acids, and open burning to reclaim minimal materials and dump the rest.
If you get a chance to see the videos produced by the Basal Action Network, you'll be horrified.

So what can you do? The Minneapolis - St.Paul Star Tribune suggests asking
- If the recycler is certified (such as an ISO 14001 environmental management certification) and if you can read their environmental statement.

- If most of the e-waste materials collected (at least 90 percent) is recycled, and does that happen domestically.

- If they have signed the Basel Convention Pledge.
Let's go over each of those points, in reverse order. Note that this advice mostly applies to the USA, although some points could be useful elsewhere. (I'll touch a bit more on other countries at the end of this article.)

1. Find a recycler who has signed the Electronic Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship (pdf) - also known as the Basel Convention Pledge.

As Zak Enterprises says:
In order to be compliant with this pledge, recyclers must commit to complying to three fundamental truths in their recycling efforts:

- Prevent hazardous e-waste from going to municipal incinerators or landfills.

- Prevent export of hazardous waste to developing countries.

- Use free market rather than prison labor to dismantle and recycle e-waste.
You can find a list of such recyclers from the Basel Action Network (mostly U.S.; some in Canada and South America) or the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (U.S. only).

September 12, 2008 update: Or, if the recycler seems otherwise responsible, ask why the company has not signed the pledge; there may be a good reason.

2. Question the recycler about how much is recycled, and where.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition suggests that you "question the recycler on issues listed on the responsible recycler’s pledge. If you cannot get a direct answer, they are probably exporting. Beware of collection events and recycling fairs and ask if the recycler processes on site. If not, they are likely to export, contributing to the global e-waste crisis."

3. Ask about ISO 14001 compliance.

ISO is the International Organization for Standardization. ISO 14001 is one of its standards; the ISO describes it this way:
ISO 14001:2004 specifies requirements for an environmental management system to enable an organization to develop and implement a policy and objectives which take into account legal requirements and other requirements to which the organization subscribes, and information about significant environmental aspects. It applies to those environmental aspects that the organization identifies as those which it can control and those which it can influence. It does not itself state specific environmental performance criteria.
OK, did your eyes just glaze over? I'm not surprised. Even this Plain English Introduction can be overwhelming. Maybe you'd rather see a video.

Here's a simpler summary: "ISO 14001 doesn't define companies' environmental impact. Rather, it requires them to analyze environmental aspects of their products and services and then, based on local regulations and other considerations, set goals for controlling and improving that impact."

Given how flexible ISO 14001 is - you must have an environmental management system, but there is a great deal of latitude in what the system says you will do - you might want to actually read the company's EMS before assuming they are a responsible recycler. (But then again, how much time do you have?)

However, this recent excellent article in IT Pro (pdf) says that "reputable e-waste recyclers are usually ISO 14001 Environmental Certified" - so asking about this certainly seems reasonable.

For those outside the U.S.: This section will be much less definitive, since I'm not as familiar with the complexities in each country. (If you have information to share, I welcome your comments.)

In the European Community, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) is in effect - but it's not yet fully effective. You can read more about the WEEE implementation in each country at sites like WEEE Ireland.

ZDNet Australia indicates there's no national policy for handling e-waste in Australia, but there are some notable trial programs.

Read the earlier parts of this series:
Part 1: What's the Big Deal?
Part 2: Old Cell Phones

[photo © Basel Action Network 2006]

Monday, March 24, 2008

What I'm Reading: In Praise of Slowness

book cover - In Praise of Slowness

After watching Carl Honore's excellent talk on slowing down in a world built for speed, I knew I wanted to read his book.

I've just begun In Praise of Slowness (titled In Praise of Slow outside of the U.S.) and I'm enjoying it a lot. I love a nice turn of phrase, and was delighted to see him write about "today, when all the world is a store, and all the men and women merely shoppers." Here's a longer quote I'd like to share:
As well as glittering careers, we want to take art courses, work out at the gym, read the newspaper and every book on the bestseller list, eat out with friends, go clubbing, play sports, watch hours of television, listen to music, spend time with the family, buy all the newest fashions and gadgets, go to the cinema, enjoy intimacy ... with our partners, holiday in far-flung locations and maybe even do some meaningful volunteer work. ...

My own life fits the pattern. Children are a lot of work, and the only way to survive parenthood is to downsize your diary. But I find this hard. I want to have it all. So instead of cutting back on my hobbies I contrive to squeeze them into a schedule that is already bursting at the seams.
The chapter I'm reading right now explores the Slow Food movement. Coincidentally, today I had a lovely leisurely lunch with muralist Ellen Joseph, and got reminded again just how delightful that is, and how reinvigorated I feel afterwards.

Words to Live By: Keep Calm and Carry On

framed poster that says Keep Calm and Carry On

I first heard about the Keep Calm and Carry On poster from Victoria at sfgirlbybay, and now she's selling them (in six colors) on Etsy.

You can read the history of the poster at Barter Books in Scotland - which sells reproductions of the poster, as well as Keep Calm mugs.

While the poster was designed for WWII, the message seems to resonate with many people today; you can find Keep Calm t-shirts and tote bags and all sorts of things.

I'm guessing that in our often overly-busy lives, it's nice to be reminded to Keep Calm.

[Picture from Keep Calm Ltd, which sells the poster in various colors - as well as postcards with the same phrase. Via Anh-minh.]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Freecycling Runs in the Family

Shawn (my cousin-once-removed) and her husband Justin are adopting a baby. As an ardent Freecycler, I was delighted to read that Shawn's used Freecycle to get car seats, clothes, crib sheets and blankets, a baby swing, and more.

Related Posts:
The Thoughtful Consumer Uses Freecycle
Freecycle Makes the New York Times

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Now Where Did I Put That Note?

sticky notes surroudning computer screen

Are you a visually-oriented person who works best when certain bits of information are kept right in front of you? Here are some alternatives to the little-scraps-of-paper-everywhere approach, or the sticky notes on the computer.

memo holder with single alligator clip; base is a seated penguin

1. If you just need a place to keep a couple things, the memo holders at Office Playgound might work for you. This is just one of a number of options.

Then there's the special interest memo holders, for those interested in physical therapy or those who love Scotties. And there's also this very cool skull, and this shark, and these buildings. Update on August 7, 2010: Sadly, these special-interest memo holders have mostly disappeared. But the cool skull is still here!

two memo holders with fish head base

2. These fish head memo holders also have limited capacity.

tower of alligator clips holding notes - and keys

3. The Tower of Clips comes from the MoMA Store. They say it's made of remnant steel from the tabletop industry.

desktop organizer - 6 brightly-colored rubber bands hold items to acrylic board

4. The MoMA Store also has this item they call the Snap-It-Up Organizer.

flower-shaped desktop memo holder

5. Umbra sells the Posy Desktop. This one is widely available - at Stacks and Stacks or The Container Store, for example. Update on August 30, 2011: I'm no longer seeing this product at either of those stores - but you can find it on other sites such as, Useful Things and

desktop message holders with stone base

6. VivaTerra had these Stone Swirl Message Holders, but it appears they aren't available right now.

memo holder clipped onto computer

7. The Paper Tracker isn't as cute or pretty as some other alternatives - but it could be perfect for someone. Update on August 30, 2011: I'm no longer seeing this product.

[lead photo by Brandon Brunson]

Umbra: Tools for Your Recipes and Cookbooks

recipe holder

The Portochef provides a different way of storing recipes you've clipped from magazines or printed off the web. It comes with 26 plastic sleeves.

under-cabinet cookbook holder

And then there's the cooknook under-cabinet cookbook (and recipe card) holder.

Related Posts:
Under Cabinet Cookbook Holder
Organizing the Recipes in Three Steps

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The In Box: 9 Options

cat in the in box

Any devotee of David Allen's Getting Things Done will know the importance of the in-basket. Allen actually recommends that you have at least three paper-holding trays: one for an in-basket, one for an out-basket, and others for work-in-progress support papers and/or a "read and review" stack.

Liz Davenport in Order From Chaos also writes about the in-box. "What goes into the In Box? Everything new. New mail, new phone messages, new faxes, new information form others, anything you have not yet seen, reviewed, or dealt with. Other people put things in your In Box, but so do you. If you return from a meeting with a project file full of things to follow up on, but you have to run off to the next meeting before you can deal with them, put the file in your In Box for later review."

Davenport also recommends a To Read Box and a To File Box.

Now, what do you use as your in-basket or in-box - and those other baskets/boxes? Any office supply store will sell you trays that can work - but here are some other options.

stackable wood drawers

1. Levenger sells these stackable drawers. Update on April 27, 2014: I'm no longer finding these on the Levenger website.

leather letter desk tray

2. Levenger also has this leather letter tray. You can find other leather trays at Frontgate, Prestige Office Accessories and Bosca Leather.

4-tray paper organizer in bright colors

3. If you'd like something a bit different with stacking trays, there's this one from Lakeshore Learning - intended for teachers, but perfectly fine for anyone else, too.

four colorful trays

4. You certainly don't need to be limited to office supply vendors. These trays from DucDuc (a company selling children's items) look pretty wonderful. They are hardwood with non-toxic lacquered paint, available in eight colors. [via Babygadget]

bamboo tray

5. Here's a bamboo tray that could work just fine. Update on Sept. 9, 2010: The site that sold this tray no longer seems to do so.

hardwood serving tray

6. This hardwood serving tray could work fine, too.

woven in basket

7. For those who would like an actual basket for their in-basket, there's this one from Peterboro Basket Company.

two lidded water hyacinth boxes

8. These water hyacinth boxes are yet another nice option. I'd leave the lid off on a day-to-day basis. Update on Sept. 9, 2010: Crate and Barrel no longer sells these boxes.

square kitty bed

9. And just to encourage you to think differently: This kitty bed is what I used for my own in box for a long time, until I had my office repainted and the colors no longer worked. (The cats didn't like it, so I found a different use for it. Now I've given it away to someone whose cat does like it.)

Related Post: Your Mail Needs a Home

[lead photo by Stephanie Booth]