Since we’re in the midst of prime gift-giving season (aka December), I thought I would do a couple of additional gift suggestions posts, all centered around the idea of keeping your life organized, decluttered and simplified.  This is the focus of my new organizing business: Well Ordered DC.  (Tell all your friends!)

In my last post, I shared some great time/life planner products with you.  Today, I share some gift ideas for the reader in your life.

 

Kindle

You probably know about the Kindle, but I am a huge fan of it, so I wanted to mention it here straight off the bat.  The Kindle is Amazon’s e-reader.  I recommend either the basic Kindle or the Kindle Paperwhite (These are their two dedicated e-readers.  They allow you to read books electronically. That’s it).  I have the basic Kindle and I love it for a bunch of reasons:

  1. It’s small and lightweight. I used to avoid carrying around certain books I was reading because they were too big.  This is not a problem with the Kindle.  It fits in even my smallest purse.
  2. It’s easy on the eyes.  I work on the computer ALL day.  The last thing I want to do at night or on the weekend is stare at another glaring screen.  The Kindle screen is designed to look like a piece of paper – no bright light staring back at you.  The Paperwhite has a new type of screen which is also designed to be easy on the eyes, but comes with a special kind of built in light. I have not tried this version myself, only watched the videos on the Amazon site.  I’d love to hear what you think of the new screen in the comments!
  3. It stores a ton of books. No matter how many books you own, its still the same size – unlike your home library! You can obtain more books with no additional clutter.  This might be my favorite feature of the Kindle.  There is also a new service/product called kindle matchbook.  If you bought a paper version of the book in the past (from amazon) you can buy the kindle version of the book for a discounted price.  Another way to clear off those shelves!
  4. It’s a reasonable price.  Tablets are expensive. Period.  The Kindle starts at under $100.  For a little extra, you can buy a version without ads.

 

Subscription to Audible.com

If the book lover in your life is also an audiobook lover, maybe they would like a subscription to Audible.com.  Audible.com has a ton of audiobooks available via a subscription service, much like Netflix’s DVD program.  For a monthly fee you get X number of audiobooks per month.  Non-members can also purchase books for a higher price. You can listen to the audiobook on your computer, your phone, or your tablet – they have tons of compatible devices.

What I like about this gift idea is that it might be something the recipient would love but wouldn’t consider buying for themselves – my favorite type of gift to give and receive!

*Also, I don’t mean to only promote Amazon on this post.  Audible used to be its own company, but was bought by Amazon last year*

 

Library Site Lesson

My final gift suggestion is an experience gift – something new I’m trying out this year.  Did you know that your library probably has e-books and audiobooks (and maybe even e-magazines) available for borrowing?  I pretty much guarantee that the process to actually obtain these books is complicated and a bit convoluted.

So as your gift to the book lover in your life, offer a lesson in how to use their library’s e-collection service.  Start to Finish.  You’ll first need to figure out how to do this yourself – so plan accordingly!  Once you’ve got the system down, sit down with the gift recipient and walk them through the process, step by step.  Make hot cocoa, turn on some relaxing music (Jazz Holiday Radio station on Pandora, anyone?), and spend some computer time together.  Be patient and go at their speed – not yours. :)

 

Any other gift ideas for the reader in your life?  Please share in the comments!

It is officially December, which means a busy month of holiday parties and celebrating.  We’re also nearing the end of the year, which always makes me look forward to starting a new year and thinking about what improvements I want to make to my daily routine.  This year, I’m focusing on finding a new paper-based productivity product.

Whether you’re looking for a new system for yourself or need a good gift to give, here are a few products that I recommend.  These products all can double as planners for the year and as places to store your ideas and various to do lists.

Moleskin Weekly Planner+Notes

This little notebook I used all through college and grad school.  It’s small (3.5″ x 5.5″) and has a soft cover.  On the left hand side of the page is each day of a given week.  The right hand side is a lined page for notes.  There’s a ribbon bookmark and an elastic band to wrap around the book itself – keeping everything nice and tidy.  Moleskin has lots of other calendars as well; there are daily versions, full size planners, and hard covers too, if that’s more your style.

Passion Planner

I just ran across this planner today.  Currently there is a Kickstarter to get it into production, and there are a lot of features I like in this planner.  It’s similar to the Moleskin planner in basic appearance; it has a soft black leather cover with a ribbon bookmark and an elastic band.  This planner is full-sized and contains lots and lots of  room for notes and big picture planning, in addition to calendar planning.  You can also download and print your own two page weekly layout for free.  Print out a copy or two to try it out in your own life.

Emergent Task Planner

This is another downloadable I found recently.  This planner is designed around the notion that you should set 3 main tasks to complete each day.  On each sheet is room to block off time for each task (and includes mandatory break times!) as well as space to make additional notes on other tasks or ideas that come up during the day.  Various sizes of the forms are available from the designer’s Amazon shop.

Circa Notebooks

For the person who wants their planner fully customizable (myself included!) – there is the Circa notebook system.  There’s a couple of key ideas that make these notebooks unique:

  • You can combine any type of paper you like in a single notebook.  Pads are sold pre-punched from the store – including plain lined pages, to do lists, and calendars (monthly, weekly, and daily).  They also sell hole punches, which allows you to use any paper you’d like – including either of the free printables I’ve mentioned above.
  • You can move papers around within the notebook.  I love this feature.  I often find myself tearing pages out of notebooks that I no longer need or wanting to move various lists or project plans from one section of a notebook to another.  These notebooks allow me to do both of these things without making a mess of my notes or notebook.

Levenger.com offers a sampling kit for $40, which includes basic supplies for 3 different size notebooks and get this – a $40 gift certificate to the store.  Shipping is additional, but the deal is pretty close to free!

 

 

This is second installment of my extensive, two-part series on organizing my CDs and DVDs. Today I’ll be sharing my organizing process for my DVDs.

For me, one of the keys to a successful organizing project is first understanding how you use/interact with whatever you’re trying to organize.  Once I’ve got a clear picture of this, then I move on to how I’m actually going to do the organizing!  Starting with the WHY, rather than the HOW or WHAT for the project.  <I try to be selective when it comes to actually adopting what I call “business-speak”.  This  idea, though, is a keeper>

On to the DVDs! Those discs won’t organize themselves, will they?

The DVDs

A big difference between my CDs and my DVDs is how often I need access to them.  With my CDs pretty much never.  With my DVDs, I  still need the physical disc whenever I want to watch the tv show or movie.  I am a repeat watcher of both tv shows and movies.  Don’t even make me admit how many times I’ve watched Sex and the City or Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You.  Or Greys Anatomy for that matter.  Actually, I stand by my Clueless viewings.  It allowed me to do super well on this quiz.

Oh, we were talking about organizing?  Okay, back to that.

On the one hand, using a CD binder for my DVDs would have worked – it holds round shiny discs just fine.  On the other hand, I don’t think looking at one of those on my shelf all the time is much of an improvement over the DVD cases themselves.  So, I decided to search for a different solution.  This lead to a lot of clicking on Amazon.

The (many many) Product Choices

To save you some precious time, here’s a summary of what I found.

  1. Regular Binders – I already mentioned these, but there are special inserts for DVDs so that you can store your DVD cover or booklet along with the DVD.  Why DVD cases aren’t the same as CDs I do not know.
  2. Nicer looking bindersThese are designed to not look like they’re holding discs at all.  They look like traditional hard cover book or photo albums from the side.  These just weren’t my style.  Also, they were going to be a bit pricier than I wanted to spend on this project.
  3. Photo box – With these boxes, you can keep the DVDs in their original cases.  The original purpose of this project was to downsize, so this wasn’t going to work for me.  However, if you’re attached to the cases but not how they look on your shelf, this is a good option.  Be prepared to need lots of boxes though!
  4. Photo box with individual sleeves – There’s lots of options in this category.  I have some of these boxes from IKEA that I store actual photos in.  Here is one option and one box I was seriously considering.  This second box, I love the look of!  However, in order for this system to work, I would also need to choose a sleeve style for the discs (yes, there were many options of these as well!).  That’s the main reason I didn’t go with this system.  Also, I thought if all of the discs were in the one box, I might get annoyed about flipping through the discs to find the one I wanted.  I could see this system working well to store computer-related discs.  For example, backups of your OS and digital photos.
  5. Mini bindersThis is the product I ultimately went with.  They look good, they hold a lot of discs and the price was right.  Additionally, there are four separate books which can help you order and ultimately find a particular disc quickly.  The small colored ovals on the spine of each binder is actually a piece of paper, so you can label what is in each binder.

The Process

DVDCollage

My DVDs before; In the process of loading the cases and trimming some DVD covers; the final product (From left to right)

Filling up the mini binders was super quick.  I grouped movies together, followed by tv shows. Most of the discs were labeled with the movie/show name, so I discarded the entire case – doing my best to separate anything recyclable from the rest.  There were just a few movies that only had their name in very very small print around the center of the disc.  For these I saved the paper cover of the movie, trimmed it to CD case size (again, why this isn’t the default size, I do not know) and slid it in behind the disc.  A little extra work, but I’m glad I did this extra step.

I ended up having to order a second case.  Greys Anatomy sure does take up a lot of those sleeves!! There is plenty of room in the second set.  I could definitely fit all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in there if one day I decide I need to watch the series AGAIN.  Another added feature that I discovered is that the cases of the mini binders are stackable.  There are little grooves on the tops and bottoms to help keep the cases in place on your shelf.

The End Result

Again, I’m super happy with the end result!  The DVDs take up so much less space in our living room, but the discs are just as easy to access as they were before.  In the case of Mad Men, they’re even easier to access.  (Please let me know if you know what I’m talking about!) I did need to spend a lot of time searching for the right container for the discs.  That is pretty typical for me, so I hope by sharing my work with you, I’ll save you some time in the future!

Also, if there’s any organizing projects you’re thinking of doing (or have been avoiding doing), please share them in the comments!  I’ll use these for future organizing posts.

 

When we moved from Wisconsin to D.C., there were a lot of decluttering/downsizing projects I wanted to complete before the move. A lot. Pretty much everything we owned needed to be looked at and assessed.  In my next two posts, I’ll share two of those projects – dealing with my CD and DVD collections.  In my life, these are two distinct collections that needed to be handled differently, so I wanted to share both projects as two examples of how to organize physical media collections.  Hopefully one of my solutions will work for you next time you’re thinking of downsizing any kind of disc-shaped collection you may have.

The CDs

I use my CDs differently than my DVDs.  In fact, I don’t actually use the physical CDs to listen to music anymore.  Around 8 years back I uploaded all the music I owned a physical copy of onto my computer (using itunes) and now I almost exclusively buy digital copies of new albums and songs.  So for the majority of the past decade, I haven’t used my cds for actual music listening.  They’ve sat on a shelf, or more recently, in a crate, stored away.  You would think I would be ready to be rid of all of those cds completely, but honestly, I wasn’t.  It’s not just that I spent good money on those CDs; there are a lot of memories tied into them from high school and college.  I compromised with my uncluttering self and decided to do away with all of the plastic cases and consolidate the discs into a single large CD binder.  The decision to go with the large black binder was pretty straight forward for me because I knew I only had a few requirements for my storage solution:

  1. I don’t need access to the discs often.
  2. I wanted something that was easy to store away.
  3. I wanted the discs to be protected from dust and dirt.
  4. I wanted all discs to be together, in some sort of order.

Finding a large CD binder is really easy.  The main requirement is knowing what size you need.  I estimated I had around 150 discs to store, so I went with 208 disc binder made by Case Logic.  Here is the actual one I ordered and here is one I just found that has a different ring system inside, and appears to have a nicer cover than the one I own (darn it!).  Nothing is very special about these cases, but they both cover all of my project requirements.   They hold CDs (all of them). They are compact and zip close.  They both allow you to open the binder rings and insert additional storage pages, if you need to.  I wasn’t very concerned with this because I rarely buy new CDs and I thought I would have plenty of extra space in the binder once I got all of my cds in there. (That was almost true)

The Process

Here’s a quick rundown of my organizing process:

  1. Take all of the CDs out of the crate. In any organizing project, the first step is to remove the items from their natural habitat.  It helps gives a new perspective on the items.
  2. Organize the CDs into piles.  I decided to put the discs into the binders in alphabetical order, so I made one pile for each letter of the alphabet.
  3. Starting with the first pile, remove the disc and the cd cover from the plastic case.  On a case by case basis I decided whether or not I wanted to keep the liner notes.  In some cases I kept the entire thing and in others I kept only the front cover, to help me recognize the disc.
  4. Separate the plastic cases from any paper covers.  The paper covers I could recycle myself; the plastic cases I knew I could not recycle in the normal fashion, so for now I put them to the side.
  5. Load up the binder!  I chose to switch to a new page with each letter of the alphabet.  This left few spots empty, which maybe I’ll use in the future if I ever buy another physical CD.
CDCollage

My previous storage solution; CDs sorted into piles; the finished product! (Images clockwise, starting at the top left)

 

CDRemainsOh and here’s the aftermath of the organizing project.  The pile on the left are all the paper covers and cases and are all recyclable.  The pile on the right is a bunch of hard plastic cases.  After some searching online, I found that the local children’s museum accepted CD cases for one of their hands on exhibits.  I was more than pumped to find out I didn’t just need to trash all of that plastic.  They also accepted things like corks and yarn, which I also needed to deal with before the move.  I’ve never been to this museum, but I imagine kids are bringing home a very fancy piece of junk – I mean recycled art work – at the end of that exhibit.

The End Result

Overall, I’m very happy with this project.  It wasn’t very hard to select a case to use.  It did take me a full afternoon to do the sorting and filling of the binder.  Sitting on the floor for that amount of time might not have been my best decision…  But the end result looks great!  I can find any CD easily and I’ve saved the CD covers that I liked the most.  The binder was easily packed away during our move and now lives in the back of our main closet.  I know where it is, but haven’t found the need to reach for it since arriving in DC.

Reflecting back, I know I wasn’t ready to get rid of the CDs for sentimental reasons.  For now, I am okay with that.  Music played a big part in my life during my teens and early twenties.  I have so many memories of seeing these bands, searching out these albums, and driving around Cleveland listening to this music.  Every once in awhile, I’d like to bring those memories back as I flip through the pages of the binder.  It’s almost like another kind of photo album for me.

My husband and I pack our lunches pretty much every day.  Actually, when we first started dating, we ate lunch together every day, so making our lunches together in the morning also became one of our things.  I sadly broke this tradition when I left grad school and got a full time job.  Now we take turns packing lunch and snacks for each other each work day.

Some years back, I started to reconsider what I was using to pack my lunches and started looking for ways to reduce the waste I was producing each day.  Here’s a summary of that process (which has been several years in the making).  Also, just to be clear, this is a summary of the products we’ve used personally.  I didn’t do any additional research for this post, nor did I receive any endorsements from the companies I mention.

Stage 1 – Tiny Plastic Baggies

I have a hunch that there are a two types of families out there – those that use ziplock bags in their school lunches and those that use the fold-over baggies.  My house was the latter, supplemented by waxed paper expertly folded and creased into a sandwich wrap.

As an adult, I used these baggies for my lunch as well.  I started saving and reusing bags over and over, but a bag only lasted so long before you got mustard all over it, or you accidentally mixed up your cheese bag and your carrot bag… And you’d have to toss out the baggies and get a new set, which is why I tried moving on from the tiny plastic baggie.

Stage 2 – Plastic Tupperware

I actually skipped this stage altogether.  These containers work great for some – they are reusable, washable, and lightweight.  I just didn’t want to replace one type of plastic with another.  I won’t even get into the headache of organizing all of the containers and their lids in the dreaded tupperware cabinet.  On a hilarious note – when I first met my husband, he owned one tupperware container.  It held about a gallon of liquid or enough food for a family of 6.  This did not stop him from bringing it in for lunch though.  Some days he ate a LOT of pasta.

Stage 3 – Reusable Lunch Baggies

So, to replace the disposable plastic baggies, I bought two different types of reusable lunch baggies.  One type was made from organic cotton and the other was a coated fabric.  Both used velcro to close.  Both were really disappointing.  Our sandwich bread was always a little dry on the outside by lunch time and completely stale if you forgot to eat your sandwich (which happened to my husband more than one would think).  Chips and pretzels were stale by lunchtime (only 4 hours after packing!) and baby carrots were always dried out by the time I wanted to eat them.  The velcro closure didn’t work for any type of cut fruit – juice just got everywhere.  This was a very sad time for lunches in our household.

Also, these containers were not cheap.  I can’t remember the exact amount, but it was a little less than $50 on the two sets (for about 10 bags in total).  They were both small US companies, so I felt okay spending a bit more on something I was taking a chance on.  Boy, did I learn my lesson.  I did not check the return policy before purchasing and let my impulse win over my typical long, drawn-out process of researching a product before purchasing.

What kills me is that I am seeing more and more of this kind of baggie advertised on the various blogs I read!  These are primarily advertised for kids.  Which is where I think the problem lies.  The adults who buy or make these baggies don’t try them out for themselves.  If they did, they would realize what a poor job they do keeping a lunch fresh and edible.

Stage 4 – Hybrid Approach

I know this sounds silly, but we were pretty bummed out by our experience trying to reduce our lunch waste and we weren’t really sure what to do next.  I remembered my mom’s technique of wrapping sandwiches in waxed paper, so I decided to try that.  Waxed paper is paper, so I thought this was a bit better than the plastic baggies.  At the store, I found a box of waxed paper bags all ready to slide my sandwich in!  They also worked pretty okay for chips and pretzels – if you ate them that same day.

I also introduced bringing food in glass pyrex each day.  I switched away from the daily sandwich around this time as well, so I needed something other than a baggie anyway.  The only downside to Pyrex is their weight.  If you drive into work, this isn’t a big deal.  But lugging a couple of pyrex full of food on the bus and then up a hill (my current commute) actually weighs you down.  Add in DC humidity and I was an unhappy bee by the time I made it into work.

I’ve found mason jars are lighter than Pyrex, so I also use those sometimes for yogurt and granola, or servings of cut up fruit.

Stage 5 – The Bento Box

This brings us to just a couple of months ago.  Our house is doing just okay with lunches.  My husband is still eating sandwiches, so the bread gets sent in the same bag over and over again; the jar of PB is at work, along with some bag of snacks usually.  We’re big on homemade granola bars, so those go in a baggie (same one over and over again).  I am lugging those 2-3 glass containers every day up a really steep hill and I am tired of it.  Did I mention I like snacks?  That’s why I have so many containers with me each day.  Moving on…

Enter the Bento Box.  I had seen some bento boxes on blogs I read.  Some were plastic (which I still didn’t want to buy) and some were stainless steel.  I was concerned with a couple of things about the stainless steel ones:

  1. Would they weigh less than the Pyrex?
  2. Would they hold the right amount of food?
  3. Are they worth the price?

I had seem lots of kids lunches packed in these boxes, so I wasn’t sure if the food I like would fit in the small boxes and I wasn’t sure how many of these boxes I would need to lug up that hill daily.

Luckily, the pain of wasting money on those other bags was still fresh enough in my mind and heart to keep me from making any impulse purchases.  And yes, a lot of time had passed at this point, and yes it still bothered me that I wasted that money.

I looked at two brands closely:  Lunchbots and Planetbox.  Lunchbots has a couple of different types of containers, but generally are on the smaller size.  At Planetbox, their product looks like a cafeteria tray and comes in different sizes for different sized appetites.  Ultimately, the Lunchbots system seemed better suited to my needs.  They would fit into my current lunch bag along with my thermos or in the bottom of a large tote without much trouble.  The weights of the containers were posted on the site, so I was able to weigh my empty Pryex and compare.  The stainless steel containers were, in fact, a good bit lighter than the Pyrex!  Additionally, Lunchbots had a 30 day return policy.  So if they ended up not working, I could send them back.  So I went for it and bought the Stainless Set – three containers in total, each with a different number of compartments.

The verdict? We love them! Here’s what my lunches look like now, everyday! lunchbots-ricebearsJust kidding!  My lunches look pretty much the same as they used to; the foods I like fit fine in the bento boxes.  Whole fruits are too big, but half a banana or apple quarters fit fine. On days I need to reheat my entree, I bring a Pyrex.  While the containers are well constructed, each section is not leak proof, which means putting pickles in the same container as strawberries is not a good idea.  I’ve seen pictures of using lettuce to hold different foods – like these rice bears on the right – but I’ve been using silicon muffin cups to separate foods when I need to.  A little cup holds a serving of nuts or hummus easily.

Below are a couple more (realistic) pictures of what fits in these boxes.  These lunches are still fancier than what I do daily, but they hopefully give you an idea of what you can do with the containers.  All images are courtesy of the Lunchbots site.  They have a gallery full of really nice looking lunches that will put your mom’s brown bag lunches to shame! (Just kidding Mom!)

lunchbots-snackslunchbots-work-lunch

Bo-pinioned!