Category Archives: Technology

Untangling Electronic Cable Clutter

cable salad

Who hasn’t opened a desk drawer to see a snarled rats nest of cables and electronic devices from the past? An intimidating and unappealing cable and device salad?

We live in a time of amazing technological advances but one of the drawbacks is that devices quickly become obsolete. Our consumer culture pressures us to keep replacing things, which creates a constant stream of electronic litter in our homes.

The charging and connecting cords that go with these items create an extra layer of frustration and confusion around the issue. Hot tip: when you get a new device, take the time to wrap the cables! Purging old electronics becomes so much simpler when you can quickly grab the device and all it’s parts and cables.

bundled cables

Many people get rid of the electronics but don’t search for the cables (and even the CDs that that go with them) to dispose of at the same time. They’re left with a box of cables they are afraid to get rid of.  There might actually be a useful one in there for a device they still have. The box of chaos becomes a project for that mythical weekend when you’re going to organize your garage, sort your photos and finally deal with that box of cables. Yeah, right.

The simplest way to bundle cables is using twist ties. You can use the grocery store variety or a heavier duty kind – silicone twist ties, which are sturdy and easy to use. Ziploc bags work well to group accessories and software with the cables making it even easier to dispose of the group when the time comes.

It sounds like such a straightforward solution, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the most elegant.  And they can save you from future frustration. Your time is precious, invest a little bit up front to save yourself hours later.

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Filed under Decluttering, disorganization, Garage, General Organizing, home organizing, Office, organizing, Products, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Technology, Time Management

Giving Your Photos and Memorabilia a Reason for Living

photo organizing

Do you have piles of photos stored somewhere in your basement or attic or the back of your closet?  You’re not alone.  Many of our clients hit a wall when it comes to tackling the photos and memorabilia.  It always seems to be the lowest priority until a life event like a birthday or graduation prompts the need for quick and easy access to your loved ones photos.  It’s then that you realize how inconvenient you’ve made it for yourself to view your family memorabilia.

Organizing photos (digital or printed) is a lot like organizing anything in the house – the first step is to determine why you would be keeping them.

Take a few minutes to consider the bigger picture…what do you want your photos for? Do you imagine that you’ll pass the unfinished project on to your kids? Would you like to have some on display or in albums? How important is it to identify people or events for others?

Before you dive into the backlog spend some time framing (pun intended) the picture of your immediate and long-term goals – it will give needed clarity to your sorting and purging.

Figure out what you’re keeping. This takes setting aside time, regularly, to gather and weed your collection.

Divide your photos into 4 categories:

1 – Photos to display, share or put in an album

These are the best of the best; the ones you would be sad if they were destroyed. You may never actually create the album, but it’s important to make the separation in case you or your family member gets motivated.

2 – Photos to keep but not display

The second cut, those you want to store or archive for safekeeping and possible future use.

3 – Photos that tell a story

Even if they are not perfect, don’t automatically toss a great picture if it tells a significant story. They can be illustrative of some specific point in time or mark a milestone.

4 – Photos to dispose of

Come on!  Do you need to keep the 5th copy of a photo you don’t even like? Blurry photos, poorly composed photos, photos of people you don’t even remember can all be tossed.

Next step, determine the keepers.

Set up containers with the 3 separate categories labeled — Album/Display, Archive, Trash — so it’s easy to separate them.  The pictures that tell a story can be tagged with notes and put in the appropriate category.

Once the initial sort happens, you can drill down into more specific categories.  Categories help with retrieval. They help you browse the archive for retrieval or help determine the structure of an album.

Would a picture of Aunt Mary on vacation with you in Hawaii get sorted into Vacations, Aunt Mary and Her Family, the year & month of the trip or …?

There are no right or wrong choices, but you will need to make a choice.

Post-its and index cards, Ziploc bags are great temporary ways to sort printed photos until you arrive at your final organization. Start with broad categories or themes and know that you can come back and fine-tune, if desired, later. To keep the process moving, limit your time with categorizing of each particular photo to a couple seconds. Resist the urge to reminisce; there will be plenty of time for that later.

Power Sort Box

Power Sort Box from Creative Memories for sorting physical photographs

Digital photos need this kind of attention and maintenance also! Don’t kid yourself – the accumulation of thousands of unsorted digital photos will create just as much overwhelm and hassle as the boxes or bags of printed photos taking up closet space. Digital photos can be tagged with multiple categories.  This is a great advantage; it’s the equivalent of having the same photo in 3 or more different places.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tackle bite-sized chunks.  Commit to just one box of sorting, or time yourself and do one-hour blocks of time or enlist an interested party and make a date to do it together.

IMPORTANT! Moving forward, make sure you have a sound system of photo management in place so you’re not contributing to the backlog. For most of us this means managing digital photos. Here are some tips:

  • Figure out how to sync your devices and/or copy photos to ONE master location
  • Make sure you have a backup system!
  • Use additional folders for sorting and/or use tagging to mark a photo as belonging in more than one category
  • Make actual prints of favorites so they can be enjoyed on display

If this article has left you feeling completely hopeless and overwhelmed instead of inspired, it’s time to ask for help! Search the Association of Professional Photo Organizers (www.APPO.com) for a local resource.

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Filed under Decluttering, disorganization, Empty Nest, Memorabilia, middle-age, Moving, organizing, paper organizing, Perspective, Strategies, Technology

How to Recycle Your Electronics

e-waste-704513_640

Technology changes so rapidly it seems we are constantly generating electronic waste. Other than avoiding buying new products to begin with, the main way to prevent ewaste ending up in landfill is to responsibly recycle it. Here are 3 local resources for properly disposing of your electronic waste.

 

e-waste-otx-logo

Oakland Technology Exchange West (Oakland)

Since 1995 OTX West has been redirecting computers and electronics away from landfill and into the hands of Oakland public schools and low income families.

They accept donations at their warehouse located at 1680 14th Street in West Oakland.  They will pick up larger donations from businesses and organizations. They were recently featured in an article in the SF Chronicle.

All donations are tax deductible and there is no cost assciated with donating. They state they securely erase data from all hard drives.

OTX West accepts:

  • Desktop and laptop computers (PC and Apple)
  • LCD Monitors
  • Keyboards and mice
  • Hard drives, cables, etc.

ewaste collective

 

 

eWaste Collective (Berkeley)

Convenient drop off location in west Berkeley near Gilman Ave. They take all manner of electronics; here’s a full list of accepted items. All donations are tax deductible. They also have a program for distributing refurbished computers to schools and individuals though it isn’t their main focus. Bonus – they also accept bubble wrap and packing peanuts.

 

 

 

e-waste-el-cerrito-logo

El Cerrito Recycling Center (El Cerrito)

Basically this is the mothership of east bay recycling. Aside from a few controlled items you do NOT have to be an El Cerrito resident to drop items here. They accept all kinds of ewaste for free, however your donation is not tax deductible. Here is their full list of accepted items.

—>Have an additional resource you’d like to share? Let us know!

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Filed under Closets, Decluttering, Garage, General Organizing, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Technology

Organize Your Passwords-Revisited

password-post-it

With all the cyber security breaches these days prudent password management is vital. Here is a refresh of a previous post about passwords.

Does keeping track of your online passwords make you want to pull your hair out? Having an organized system for password management reduces that frustration.

Just as people have to choose between digital and paper calendars these days, there are both digital and paper ways to manage your password information. Different methods have different advantages.

Digital

Managing your passwords digitally offers many conveniences but introduces security risks. While not nearly a comprehensive list – and not a specific endorsement — here are some options:

  • Maintain a list or spreadsheet on your computer…not named “passwords.” File could be stored in the cloud (Evernote, DropBox, Google Drive) to access across devices. You can password protect this document for an added layer of security.
  • Use Facebook, twitter or Google to log in
  • Use password management software such as 1Password, LastPass or KeePass. These typically work by storing all your individual logins under one main “master” password.
  • If you use a Mac, you’re most likely familiar with Keychain, which comes with OSX. Basically, it’s a password manager that uses your OSX admin password as the master password.

Paper

Some people don’t want their passwords stored anywhere in their computer. Storing them on paper prevents electronic hacking but it also limits your access to them when you are not home near the list. You also need to think about how to keep the list secure at home.

There are many options for managing passwords in paper form:

  • A small address book is an easy way to list passwords alphabetically by site name. Small address books are also easily hidden.
  • Some people keep a paper file in their file cabinet labeled “password”… you could make it a bit more secure by naming that file something random but unique to you like “junkdrawer” or “Rumpelstiltskin.”
  • An alphabetized index card box or business card box makes a handy place to drop in the post-its and scraps of paper you write passwords on.
  • To keep lists more secure, rather than writing down the actual password your list can be prompts that only you know. For example, if your password is some non sequitur like bootPolandgelato5, your prompt may be “footwear – country – food – number”. Or “147Guccigreen3970” could be prompted with “childhood address – favorite designer –color – past phone number.”

Password Strength

Regardless of what organizing tool you use to keep track of passwords, if you aren’t relying on software to generate secure passwords for you here are some tips for creating strong passwords:

  • Ideally use a mix letters, characters, numbers, and capitals
  • String together words to make a phrase. For example “I love ice cream” could become 1L0v31c3Cr3@m if you replace all the vowels with numbers or characters and capitalize the first letter of each word.
  • String together unrelated words as in the example of Boot, Poland, Gelato, and 5 becoming “bootPolandgelato5”

There isn’t one right solution or answer; ultimately it’s a personal style and risk management choice we all have to make. Whatever system you choose, pick one and stick to it.

What one smart step can you take to make your digital life more convenient AND secure?

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Filed under Decluttering, Office, Paper, Strategies, Technology

Using Goal Periods For Time Management

 

Goal Periods

Breaking a master to-do list into discreet goal periods helps manage the “too much to do overwhelm.”  Trello is a free online tool to implement this strategy.

Have you ever had that feeling of overwhelm when you look at your to-do list, see a million items, feel unsure about where to start or even that the work will never end? We have too!

Inspired by her business coach, Sean Hicks, Katherine has been experimenting with using “goal periods” to help bring focus to her workday.

A goal period is a set block of time when you plan to get things done: seeing clients, doing administrative work, paying bills, running errands, doing chores.

Depending on what’s going on, each day can have several goal periods. A typical length of a goal period is 1.5-3 hours. You decide for yourself how long it should be.  But it should be consistent for you.

Planning Session

The first step to trying this out is to set aside ½ hour 2 times a week for a planning session. This is the time where you will take stock of your giant to-do list, review your schedule for the next few days and decide when your goal periods will be and which tasks will be in them.

What To Do?

Start by having a look at your master to-do list. Ask these questions to narrow the possibilities of what you’re going to tackle this week:

  • What is time sensitive?
  • What’s most important?
  • How long will each item take?

When To Do It?

Now it’s time to take a look at your calendar and set aside some goal periods for the week. Remember, it’s a good idea to do this planning twice a week so you’ll have a chance to shift items around if needed.

  • Block out as many goal periods as your schedule allows (You can have goal periods for exercise and fun stuff too!)
  • Decide which tasks are going to happen in which blocks of time.

Get Working!

When a goal period occurs, get to work on the items designated for that time. When the period ends, stop working on those tasks.

This is essential! Once you have committed to doing something within a goal period, if you don’t finish it within that goal period you have to wait until the next planning session to schedule time to work on it.

So how do you get through tasks that will take longer than a goal period allows? Split that task up into parts and schedule those. If your goal period is 2 hours and you have a task that you think will take 6 hours, you need to break that task down into parts and schedule them into 3 different goal periods.

Maintaining these boundaries is a critical part of the goal period strategy. It has helped Katherine feel the joy of accomplishment without feeling the burden of an unending list of to-dos. This technique also helps give you permission to put a period at the end of a work session, with the opportunity to get refreshed and ready to take on the next set of pre-decided tasks.

Have questions on how to implement this for yourself? Ask them here!

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Filed under Decluttering, organizing, Perspective, Strategies, Technology, Time Management, Work

Organize Home Receipts Now For Big Bucks Later

plans

Don’t just save the plans after a remodel – save receipts too!

Sheila is 85 years old and has decided to downsize into a retirement community. Her house is worth a whole lot more than what she paid for it 60 years ago. Let’s say she paid $25K and is able to sell the house for $625K. That means she may have to pay taxes on as much as $600K profit – or gain (minus a $250K exclusion the IRS grants).

Sheila’s accountant tells her she could pay significantly less taxes because she can add the costs of various improvements she made over the years of ownership to the base amount she paid for the house. This is called increasing the cost basis of the home. But where is the documentation?

This is where being organized comes in handy. With a simple system, homeowners can preserve the records of improvements they have made to their property. When the house sells and the accountant is asking for ways to reduce your tax burden, the seller can produce the receipts and records which could save them thousands. Selling the family home and moving is stressful enough without adding last minute scramble to dig up old documentation.

The simplest system is a single file drawer or filing tub to hold all the purchase and improvement related documents. From there you can get more organized if you desire by separating different types of documents into different folders. If you’re planning a full remodel or major improvement it is helpful to keep all the permits, contracts, inspections, receipts and invoices together labeled by the name of the project.

Here is specific info from the IRS’s publication, Pub 523 – Selling Your Home, which outlines what qualifies as a cost basis improvement

Improvements

These add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses. You add the cost of additions and improvements to the basis of your property.

The following chart lists some examples of improvements.

home improvements chart

Repairs done as part of larger project.   You can include repair-type work if it is done as part of an extensive remodeling or restoration job. For example, replacing broken windowpanes is a repair, but replacing the same window as part of a project of replacing all the windows in your home counts as an improvement.

Examples of improvements you CANNOT include in your basis.

  • Any costs of repairs or maintenance that are necessary to keeping your home in good condition but do not add to its value or prolong its life. Examples include painting (interior or exterior), fixing leaks, filling holes or cracks, or replacing broken hardware.
  • Any costs of any improvements that are no longer part of your home (for example, wall-to-wall carpeting that you installed but later replaced).
  • Any costs of any improvements whose life expectancy, when installed, was less than 1 year.

Exception.   The entire job is considered an improvement if items that would otherwise be considered repairs are done as part of an extensive remodeling or restoration of your home. For example, if you have a casualty and your home is damaged, increase your basis by the amount you spend on repairs that restore the property to its pre-casualty condition.

Obviously everyone’s tax situation is unique and there are other variables that can affect the picture, even year-to-year. We are simplifying for the point of illustration.

So no matter when you bought your home, now is the time to gather up all the house related receipts and start keeping any original improvement receipts. If you neglected to keep them, at least make a list of known improvements and try to estimate what you spent.

Did you find this article helpful? Let us know!

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Filed under Decluttering, Moving, Paper, Seniors, Strategies, Technology

Gift Lists – Organized!

Pinterest Board_Family Gifts

Here is a sample of a Pinterest Gift Board

‘Tis the season for shopping and gift giving. Keeping track of what to get everyone is essential to managing holiday overwhelm.

This is a great opportunity to use technology to make your life easier. Here are 3 digital ways to track and sort gift ideas:

  1. A simple note on your phone or computer. Handy to access year round, it makes it easy to jot down gift ideas when they occur. This method is text based – no photos.

iPhone Gift List note

  1. Pinterest is a great visual tool to capture photo links to gift ideas. You can share websites to Pinterest in order to have photos that are linked to shopping sites.
  1. Evernote Is a great app to combine both text and images (and sound!) to collect photos, websites, and notes of potential gifts.

Evernote Gift List

In all cases you can create one note, board, or notebook for each person on your list OR one general one for gifts and the details within that.

Happy shopping! Got a great method for keeping your gift lists organized? Share it here!

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Filed under Holidays, organizing, Technology