Thursday, November 29, 2012

Giving the Gift of Safety

LED headlamp

Yes, I know — the items on this list aren't glamorous or cool. But although they're items we hope to never need, they certainly aren't clutter. And what could be more important than keeping our loved ones safe?

Gifts for Disaster Preparedness

Hurricane Sandy has many of us thinking about emergency supplies; few of us are as prepared as we could be. The Red Cross provides a list of things everyone should have as part of a survival kit — so if someone you know is missing some items on that list, you could fill in the gaps.

Another item that I see many people recommend is a headlamp — so that might be a good thing to give to someone who, like me, hasn't gotten around to buying one yet. (Yes, I'm going to take care of that right away. Nothing like writing a blog post like this to make yourself accountable.)

ResQMe tool to escape from a car in emergencies

And yet another item I've seen mentioned a number of places is the ResQMe — "a combination windshield hammer and seat belt cutter that can attach to your keychain," as Lifehacker says.

Gifts for Coping with Medical Emergencies

medical ID bracelet

I once got someone a medical ID bracelet, listing the person's name, allergies, and an emergency contact phone number. I still think it's one of the best gifts I ever gave.

App - Pocket First Aid and CPR

Or what about gifting an app? The one I have is Pocket First Aid and CPR from the American Heart Association, sold by Jive Media. I bought it after reading how it saved someone's life after the earthquake in Haiti.

Gifts for Personal Safety

Impact Bay Area

Mac McClelland just recommended gift certificates for Impact Bay Area's self defense classes, and noted their are Impact chapters in a number of states, as well as in England and Israel. I'm sure there are other wonderful self-defense programs out there, too.

Book cover - The Gift of Fear

And finally, I'd like to recommend a wonderful book: The Gift of Fear. This one was recommended to me years ago, and I keep recommending it to other people; I just suggested it to someone earlier tonight.

Related Post:
Christmas and Other Holidays: Five Final Gift Suggestions for 2009 (see the last item)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gift-Giving Ideas: Kids Can (Almost) Always Use Art Supplies

crayons shaped like rocks

I've worked with a lot of families with overwhelming amounts of toys — and the art supplies were always some of the most-used items, and the ones we rarely wound up giving away. They're consumables of a sort, which is always nice — and they're one of many ways to encourage creativity.

So if you have a child you're buying a gift for, I've got some ideas for art supplies that are a bit out of the ordinary. You just might find yourself wanting to do some art projects, yourself.

Let's start with Crayon Rocks; the image above comes from Bella Luna Toys, one of the many sites (besides Crayon Rocks) which sells them. They're non-toxic, although they are a choking hazard for children under 3 — so be careful there. The crayons are made in Kentucky from "U.S.A. grown and processed Kosher soy wax and several other organic waxes such as carnauba."

paints with colors like basil, pomegranate, and berry blue

Prefer paint? Take a look at Glob Natural Paints. These are made in California from "fruits, vegetables, flowers and spices with natural ingredients and organic extracts." [via Cool Mom Picks]

girl working with paints

Another paint option is Earth Paint, where "naturally colored clay is ground, dried, crushed and sifted into pure pigments." While there's an oil paint version, you may well prefer the Children's Earth Paints; they contain organic milk protein, which makes them water soluble. You just mix water with the colors "to create a creamy paint similar to tempera, or add more water to create watercolor-like effects."

Veggie Sidewalk Chalk

We Can Too makes edible art supplies, like this veggie sidewalk chalk. While it's most definitely not intended for food, it is safe enough to eat — so if the end of a stick of chalk does make its way into a child's mouth, there's no need to panic. "Made with organic ingredients. ... vegan, no wheat, no sugar, no preservatives, no dairy!" The company makes crayons and finger paint, too.

tote bag that says Stop Pinning, Start Making - Whimseybox

Or you could go with WhimseyBox; after you subscribe, you get a box of different craft products each month. The company explains: "Since Whimseybox is about discovery and expanding your creative mindset we don’t include instructions to make a specific project in each box. We’re different than a traditional craft kit in that way." The company uses the information in your profile to select items it thinks you'll enjoy working with. And you can find a lot of ideas on the company's website — and share your own creations. [via swissmiss]

Related Post:
Christmas / Holiday Gift Ideas: Consumables for Kids

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gift-Giving Ideas: Charitable Donations In Lieu of Presents

reindeer sweater
Reindeer sweater from NorthStyle

Give Grandma a bit of credit! These holidays, would she rather receive a silly reindeer sweater or help a schoolchild acquire glasses to see the blackboard clearly for the first time? — Nicholas Kristof

Gifts of charitable donations won't work for everyone, but even Miss Manners agrees that they can work under certain conditions:
1) those concerned agree to it as a policy, and 
2) the particular charities chosen are those that are of interest to those being honored. 
Families that feel that presents have become superfluous or burdensome sometimes do this.
If this is a strategy you'd like to follow, you have a huge range of choices. I've mentioned a number of interesting choices before — see the related posts at the end — but here are some more organizations that have caught my eye recently.


1. Animal Adoption Programs

You could adopt a raptor and support the Peregrine Fund; the bird above is a kestrel that's currently available for adoption.

Or you could adopt a chicken from a Los Angeles organization called Taking the Reins. [via the Los Angeles Times] Update on Dec. 9, 2013: I'm no longer seeing this "adoption" program on Taking the Reins' website.

boys playing with soccer ball

2. Save the Children

Give the gift of a soccer ball, mosquito nets, newborn care packages, books to help stock a library, or one of the many other options in the gift catalog. [via Apartment Therapy]

coral reef

3. The Nature Conservancy

Give a gift of conservation — adopt a coral reef, restore wetland habitat for whooping cranes, help provide clean water to the people of Mozambique, or pick one of many other options from the gift catalog.

Vermont Foodbank card saying a gift has been made in your honor

4. Your Local Food Bank

This eCard comes from the Vermont Foodbank, but there are plenty of others to support, too.

5. Any Charity Whose Work You and the Gift Recipient Admire

Want some ideas? Look at this list of recommendations from John Scalzi's blog readers back in December 2011.

Related Posts:
Christmas and Other Holidays: Donations as Gifts
Christmas and Other Holidays: Adopt-an-Animal Programs Provide Clutter-Free Gifts
Christmas and Other Holidays: Giving to a Good Cause
Christmas / Holiday Gift Ideas: Donations to Good Causes

Monday, November 19, 2012

Getting the Clutter Out of Your Emails

Comic from The Oatmeal showing a very long email
Image from The Oatmeal, used with permission.

Want people to read and respond to your emails, right away? Many people get hundreds of messages a day, and they may be reading them on cell phones. They'll appreciate it if you remove these types of email clutter.

1. Overly wordy text
Are you familiar with the acronym tl;dr? That's "too long; didn't read." If you want your emails to get read, try to keep them as concise as you can, while still providing the necessary information. Yes, it takes more effort to write a good, short message. But it's often worth that effort.

As Rands says: "With each paragraph you write, double the amount of time you spend editing. ... Is your point clear, literate, and concise? Have you pruned aggressively to find the core of what you’re saying?"

2. Unnecessary text from prior messages
If you're replying to a message, you may not need to include all of the prior message for reference. You almost certainly don't need the other person's signature file, and there's a good chance you can cut much of the rest, too.

3. Huge signature files
Really long signature files can be annoying. As Craig Jarrow says: "Your half-page signature doesn’t need to be on all of your emails. Do you send emails with a 1 word response and then half of a page of signature? As well, please lose the attached graphic and cute quote."

Or as Scott Stratten says: "If I need to scroll through your email signature, you may want to shave that puppy back a little."

And here's Peter Shankman: "If you have a 29-line email signature, you probably shouldn't be allowed to use email."

4. Email backgrounds or stationery
I don't see this too often, but once in a while someone still uses a background. As Walt-O-Matic says: "Honestly, plain white is easier to read and prints better. Let’s do without the visual noise and extra attachment overhead."

5. Unnecessary attachments
One organization I'm a member of often sends out messages with Word file attachments when the information in those files could simply be put into the body of the email message. Attachments often serve a purpose, but sometimes they're just silly.

6. Unnecessary recipients
Does everyone you're sending the email to really need to get it? (As Seth Godin asks, would they complain if they didn't get it?) Do you really need to "reply all"? Tim Sanders says that in a study he did, only 12% of "reply to all" occurances were necessary.

Related Post:
Email Replies: Is Shorter Always Better?

Friday, November 16, 2012

7 Strategies for Avoiding the Heartbreak of the Single Socks

a floor full of single socks
Photo by Suzba / xyla barraclough, found on Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons

Last night I sat in the hallway and counted the single socks that have collected in our little pink sock basket. There were 72 single socks and nary a match!!! — unknown writer on Fredericksburg Parent and Family

I've seen many a household with dozens of single socks taking up precious drawer space. Sound familiar? Want to avoid the problem? Try one of these approaches.

1. Buy many pairs of the same sock.
Find a sock you like, and buy it in bulk: five pairs, ten pairs, whatever makes sense depending on how much you wear that type of sock. This lets you toss socks in a drawer without pairing them up, and means that if one goes missing or gets a hole, it's no big deal. As Philip Kaplan says, "Life is so much easier when you have an entire drawer of identical white socks, and a drawer of identical black socks."

two mismatched but color-coordinated socks

2. Decide to wear mismatched socks on purpose.
This won't work for everyone, of course. But it's worked for Patrick Wensick, who might wear "a blue argyle matched with a red wool." Wensick writes:
I gave up matching my socks almost 10 years ago. One day I just stopped seeing the point. There was never any intended fashion statement. Though, I guess, people could see it that way.
You can even buy mismatched socks. LittleMissMatched, used by Seth Godin, sells socks in sets of three; those are some of the company's shown above. Socklady, also known as Marianne's Solmate Socks, just sells pairs; the socks are "knit in the USA at a family owned knitting mill, hand finished and then 'mismatched with care.'" Both of these sites sell socks that are color coordinated, although not matches. You could buy multiples of the same set, or go further afield and mix-and-match across sets.

pairs of socks, clipped together

3. Clip the socks together when you put them in the laundry bin.

A fellow organizer, Maria White, pointed me to the Sock Clip, shown above. Book of Joe mentioned the Sock Cop clips.

socks in a mesh bag, ready to be washed

4. Launder the socks together in some sort of bag.
Parent Hacks suggests using lingerie bags for baby socks. No Odd Socks, an Australian company, sells a mesh bag intended specifically for socks. [via Lissanne Oliver]

lost socks clip rack

5. Use some sort of lost socks rack or bin to help singles find their match.
I found the rack shown above a number of places: here, here and here. But you can also take the do-it-yourself approach. For inspiration, take a look at the ideas I found on these sites: Rambling As Usual, Sew What's New, Danielle's Place,  The Painted Parsonage, Decor-ganize Crafts, Blissful Bucket List and Apartment Therapy.

6. But don't keep those single socks around forever.
At some predetermined point — Erin Doland on Unclutterer suggests three months — consign the socks to the rag bag, or just get rid of them. As Manhattan Mini Storage says:
Get tough on your single socks. Signing them up for an online dating website won’t work. We know it hurts, but you have to banish them to the dust rag bin.

Sock insurance for lost socks

7. Get sock insurance.
OK, I know it sounds crazy. But Betabrand does indeed offer socks that come with sock insurance, for up to one year, specifically for lost socks. See the Betabrand website for all the details. [via Swissmiss and Laughing Squid]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Celebrating Local Stores and Handmade Products: Organizing Items Found at Cottage Industries

three stacking Shaker boxes

I live in the small city of Half Moon Bay, which has a charming downtown area. I was walking around with a friend a few days ago, and one of the shops we went into was Cottage Industries. I'm quite taken with much of the store's furniture and accessories, and I couldn't help but note that many of the products I saw were organizing-related.

So with the permission of the owner, I took photos of a few of them to share with you. First, let's admire the set of three Shaker boxes.

Shaker desk set

The same Shaker style is used in this desk set.

coat rack made of cherry wood

And then there's the cherry coat rack; like hooks, coat racks can provide an easier-than-hangers way to hang things up.

wood wine storage cabinet

Here's an eye-catching wine storage cabinet.

beautiful handmade jewelry box, wood

And finally, the store has quite a collection of lovely jewelry boxes.

Given the materials and workmanship, these items are not inexpensive — but they are also items that will be treasured for many years to come. And those of us not in the market can still enjoy their beauty.

Related Post:
Woodworking Gallery in Half Moon Bay: Stunning Storage and Other Organizing Products

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In the Aftermath of Sandy: Re-thinking Preparedness

Red Cross shelter - Hurricane Sandy response

Major disasters catch our attention — and images of Sandy and the destruction it caused continue to cross my path, and to tear at my heart. So what can those of us outside the affected area do? Here are two suggestions, based on my readings and on a recent conversation with Louise Hornor, who has been very involved with Red Cross relief operations through the years.

1. If you're inspired to donate, please donate appropriately.

In most cases, cash works better than anything else, as this video from the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster illustrates, in a low-key way.

FEMA reiterates the message, saying "A financial contribution to a recognized disaster relief organization is the most effective donation to make."

Giving goods can work, IF a well-organized relief effort is asking for specific items, and you're prepared to give exactly what is being requested. Occupy Sandy, which was written up in the New York Times, has used an wedding registry to ask for specific items and get them shipped to the right place.

Where to donate? What are those "recognized disaster relief organizations" that FEMA mentions? I gave my money to the Red Cross, but there are many organizations to choose from. Louise and FEMA both pointed me to National VOAD's list.

2. Do your own disaster preparedness.

Rather than talk about disaster preparedness in general, I'd like to mention three lessons from Sandy.

Number One: That "72 hour" thing is not enough.

Being prepared for 72 hours is a good start, and certainly better than nothing — but ideally, we should be prepared for a significantly longer period. Louise asks this question: "What would your life be like if you had no power for two weeks?" And remember that clean water depends on electricity. Food is easier to find than water, Louise says — so please stock up with lots of water, as well as food.

Looking at the Occupy Sandy wedding registry, I see listings for diapers and tampons — two of the numerous other things, besides food and water, that you'll want to have stockpiled, if applicable to your family.

Number Two: Cold-weather preparedness has its own challenges.

How would you keep warm if you had no power, no heating system? The Red Cross has a winter storm safety checklist (PDF), which provides a good starting point for thinking about cold-weather preparedness.

And then there's this from Joe Cutter of New Jersey 101.5: "Red Cross spokeswoman Gwen Eamer says there are two issues with braving it at home without heat: having enough warm clothing and blankets to keep warm, and knowing when to leave before hypothermia sets in." Eamer also has advice about using space heaters and fireplaces safely.

Number Three: Be careful if you're planning to use a generator!

If you're planning to use a generator — or any other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device — be sure you know how to use it safely. And please install carbon monoxide alarms! We don't want any more stories of those who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, like this onethis onethis one and this one.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stylish Storage: Rope Baskets

three hand-knitted rope baskets

Certain types of storage products seem to come into style, and then (sometimes) fade away. Something I'm seeing a number of places recently are hand-knitted rope baskets, like these from Nkuku in the U.K. If you're in Australia, you can find the same baskets at The Gift Corner. [via swiss miss]

rope basket

Rockett St George is another U.K. source for rope baskets.

rope basket, blue

In the U.S., Ferm Living is one place to shop for rope baskets.

three yellow rope baskets, different size

Land of Nod promotes its baskets as kids storage, but of course they could be used for many other purposes, too. [via swiss miss]

rope basket

And finally, for something a bit different, take a look at the great baskets from Find Your Happy, a design studio based in Orange, NSW, Australia

Monday, November 5, 2012

2013 Calendars that Support Good Causes

2013 Beagle Freedom Project calendar

How's this for a good idea - a delightful calendar that also support a great cause?

Sound appealing? If so, the 2013 calendar from the Beagle Freedom Project is one calendar to consider. The Beagle Freedom Project works with various labs that use beagles for research. "When they are no longer wanted for research purposes, some labs attempt to find homes for adoptable, healthy beagles. Working directly with these labs, Beagle Freedom Project is able to remove and transport beagles to place them in loving homes. All rescues are done legally with the cooperation of the facility."

2013 American Bullmastiff Association Rescue Service calendar

Many other animal rescue organizations produce calendars, too. Here's the one from the American Bullmastiff Association Rescue Service.

2013 Bow Valley SPCA calendar

A number of SPCAs in the U.S. and Canada raise money through calendar sales, so that's yet another option to consider. The one above comes from the Bow Valley SPCA in Alberta.

2013 Broadway Barks calendar

And here's the 2013 calendar from Broadway Barks, "a star-studded dog and cat adopt-a-thon benefiting New York City animal shelters and adoption agencies. The event produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and sponsored by the ASPCA and with additional sponsorship by the New York Times."

The calendar is sold by the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, which tells us that "Animal-related holidays appear each month, so you won't miss Adopt a Senior Pet Month (November), Hairball Awareness Day (April 30), International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day (February 23), or any other serious or fun celebrations of the animals who share our lives!"

Related Post:
2013 Calendars with Cats, Dogs and Bunnies — and Whales

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Renting or Borrowing vs. Owning

Leica camera lens

Would you like to try out a new hobby or sport that requires specific equipment?

Or maybe you'd like to save space, and you realize you have a bunch of what Claire Brown, in her guest post on Get Rich Slowly, calls once a year goods — "the items that only see the light of day a few times a year: camping goods, DIY equipment, sports gear, and cooking appliances like ice-cream makers." Update on July 21, 2021: This blog post seems to have been removed.

These are just two of the situations where you might want to look into renting vs. owning. I've written before about renting tools, wedding dresses, maternity clothes, baby toys and textbooks. But here are some more things you can rent!

Camping and Sports Gear
Jacki Hollywood Brown writes about the many advantages of renting this stuff, including these:
Renting sporting gear such as boats, bicycles and skis allows you to try out several different models or designs. This will permit you to make an informed decision should you decide that the particular activity is something you wish to pursue.

If you have growing children, renting sporting equipment may be a great option. Many kids will outgrow ski boots after one season or decide they no longer wish to participate in the sport.
REI and LowerGear are just two of the places that provide such rentals. And has listings of bike shops throughout the U.S. that provide bike rentals. [via Maria Thomas]

Camera Lenses and Other Gear lets you borrow more than just lenses; you can also get lighting equipment, audio equipment, camcorders and more. [via Robert Scoble]

Mannequins and Dress Forms
You can rent both of these from Mannequin Madness.

If you're in Paris, you can rent these from la Fabrique de Lunettes for periods ranging from one day (10 euros) to 12 months (15 euros/month). [via Springwise]

Related Posts:
Renting Things You Never Knew Could Be Rented
The Sharing Solution
1 Way to Avoid Future De-Cluttering Decisions: Rent the Wedding Gown