Tag Archives: clearing clutter

Our music collection is finally going digital

CDs iPodA few weeks ago, we picked up an FM transmitter for our iPods, which has eliminated our need for CDs in the car. That was the last place we were listening to CDs at all, so at this point our music collection is just taking up space and collecting dust.

On Saturday we went through our CD collection and ensured that all of the music had been burned and saved to our hard drives. We boxed them all up and we’ll be taking them to the record store this weekend to sell what we can.We hung on to a handful of box sets and albums that we think might be worth a little more than we could get at the record store. We’ll try to sell them on Amazon or eBay. Anything too old or embarrassing for anyone to buy will go to Goodwill.

There are a ton of benefits to going digital with our music. The most obvious one is that we’re clearing the clutter in our apartment. But we also won’t have to move them again, and we’ll earn a little money for savings. Bonus! :)

My next step is going through my iTunes library, deleting duplicates, and organizing everything by album. Some of my music was burned with a different program years ago that required manual input of song information. I was lazy about it, so anything imported into my library before I got my iPod 3 years ago is a big old mess.

I’m considering trying one of the programs I found that automatically organizes songs, fills in missing file information, and deletes duplicates from the library: TidySongs or TuneUp. Both offer a free trial, but you have to pay $20-$30 if you want to edit more than 100 songs. Anyone had any luck with these programs? Or can you recommend a free alternative?

I’ll probably decide it’s not worth the cost and manually organize my collection, but that could take some time with almost 5,000 songs in my library.

How do you handle your music? Do you still listen to CDs or have you gone digital?

Photo by s3a

Our method for digital photo organization

photographerBack in the days of film cameras, I always thought it was such a waste when I developed my film and half of it was taken up with bad photos. For every great shot there are 5 photos that are blurry, poorly framed, or just not as good as you thought they’d be, especially when you’re photographing kids and pets.

Digital cameras have made it easy to take hundreds of photos and pick and choose the best shots. It’s made amateur photography more accessible. However, it can also clutter your hard drive if you can’t let go of bad photos. Like anything else, if you don’t have a system in place for organizing them, digital photos can become a big headache.

I used to be one of those people that never deleted digital images. I just dumped them all on my hard drive. Now that we have a camera that shoots huge images, we have to be pickier about which images we keep to conserve space on our hard drive.

Here’s how we’ve been choosing and organizing images:

Look at each photo with another set of eyes.

I take most of the photos with our camera, so Tony and I sit down together and quickly go through each photo. If either of us likes the photo, we keep it. Most of the images deleted at this point are just plain bad photos.

Choose between similar images.

Sometimes when I’m trying to get a particular shot, I’ll take five or six similar photos. I used to keep all of them, but now Tony and I go through and choose the best. There’s no reason to quadruple the disc space you’re using with photos that are essentially identical.

Use a practical file system that works for you.

My old camera automatically uploaded images into files and folders by date. This new camera doesn’t. To make it easier on myself, all new photos are dumped into a folder called “New.” From there I delete anything I don’t want to keep, and I manually move the files into folders by date and event.

There are folders for each year and each month within that year. Within the month folders are separate folders for significant events, like “Graduation” or “Honeymoon.” If there is no significant event associated with the photos, then the folder is just named by a date.

This system has made it easy for us to find images quickly. Since I started manually moving images into the folders, it’s also made it easier for me to weed out throw-away photos to conserve space.

Invest in an external hard drive for back ups and archives.

You can get a pretty decent sized external hard drive for about $50 or $60. Ours is 120GB, and we paid $60 for it. We back up all of our photos on this hard drive as well as important documents from our computers. Eventually as our digital photo collection grows, we’ll probably invest in a larger hard drive for archives. This is an essential investment if you take digital photos. It’s like keeping digital negatives. Don’t let a computer malfunction erase all your memories!

How do you manage your digital photos?

Photo by bigtallguy

Guest post: 12 essential tools for your frugal kitchen – Part II

Photo by quintanaroo

(Here’s the second part of my husband Tony’s guide for 12 essential (and multi-tasking) kitchen devices that will help cut down on the clutter coming in and the dollars going out.)

7.) If you are only willing to buy one knife, make it a good one.
But good doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. Cheap knives can be unsafe; the simple truth is that the money you save on an $8 Chef’s knife might end up going to a hospital bill later. If you only buy one knife, make sure it’s in the 8- to 10-inch range, full tang (that is, the metal runs through the handle), and non-serrated (because serrated knives can’t be honed and sharpened). The cheapest and best quality knife I’ve ever found runs for less than $30 on Amazon. If you have it in the budget to get a few more, get a paring knife for small jobs and a relatively inexpensive serrated slicer for breads and tomatoes.

6.) Heavy wooden chopping block. If you’re going to buy a good knife, you might as well get something proper for it to cut on. You’ll be surprise how often you genuinely use it. A heavy wood cutting board will help keep your knife in good condition, and is ideal for cutting vegetables, fruit, and just about any non-meat related item. Use a cheap, food-grade, dishwasher-safe plastic cutting board for chopping, cubing, or cutting raw meat.

5.) Wooden utensils. They’re cheap, kind to your non-stick pans, dishwasher safe, and won’t melt.

4.) A pizza slicer. Not just for homemade pizzas: use to portion brownies, quesadillas, etc.

3.) Glass storage containers. Pyrex, for example, won’t stain or hold smells; it’s safe for the freezer, the oven, or the microwave; it’s durable and difficult to break; and it’s dishwasher safe. Although slightly more expensive than plastic, when you buy your second or third round of plastic Tupperware after marinara or chili stains the interior, think of how you wouldn’t be buying another set of glass.

2.) Crock-Pot. The appeal of the Crock-Pot began as a device of simplicity and convenience, but most recipes call for few or common ingredients and it has become a worthy tool of the frugal kitchen. In reality, it performs many of the same functions as the cast-iron dutch oven (except direct contact heat), but it also doesn’t require your presence, nor does it require the power and energy generated by an oven, either on the burners or from inside.

1.) Cast-iron skillet. One of the cheapest and most reliable kitchen materials is cast-iron. It involves some annual seasoning, but it holds heat like a volcano (perfect for making a steak if you don’t have a grill). Cast iron is about as indestructible as cookware gets, so it has the potential to last forever. A 10- or 12-inch skillet is a must-have for any kitchen; typically less than $20, it can be used for searing, baking, frying, braising, or practically any other task. With time it develops its own natural non-stick coating, and you can’t beat cornbread made in cast iron.

Tony is my husband, an excellent cook, and a grad student. If you want to read more from him and you like movies, check out his movie review blog.

Guest post: 12 essential tools for your frugal kitchen – Part I

kitchen tools
Photo by photoartist3

(This is a guest post from my husband, Tony, an amateur chef who cooks professional-quality dishes. As the primary beneficiary of his culinary talents, I can absolutely attest to his abilities in the kitchen. Here are his recommendations for the only 12 tools you need to make pretty much anything without cramming your cupboards or breaking the bank.)

Stocking a frugal kitchen is a balancing act. Weighing the pros and cons of a particular tool and trying to figure out how much money you should put down for it is as delicate an art as cooking or baking. Depending on the situation, money either is or is not synonymous with quality, which is why the only rule you should ever have when buying a kitchen tool is this: is it a multi-tasker?

I don’t want to suggest a kitchen can survive with just 12 pieces. But these strategically purchased pieces can help cut down on the clutter coming in and the dollars going out.

12.) A 10- or 12-inch nonstick pan. I would never pay more for a non-stick pan than I would want to pay again in the next few years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you buy the cheapest non-stick pan or the most expensive non-stick pan: both are susceptible to that single nick that will cause them to lose their functionality. Although keeping a non-stick pan in pristine condition for multiple years is certainly not impossible, most of us don’t store it in a museum display case and will have an accident that will begin to ruin the pan. Look for a pan in the low-middle cost range; something that has a little heft to it (to hold heat and allow for even cooking, which the cheapest ones don’t) but won’t make your bank account cry if you chip it.

11.) A thick rubber-handled manual can opener. Cheaper than an electric variety, easier to clean, and if the handle is rubber, it can moonlight as a jar opener.

10.) A large pot, 8 to 12 quarts. Perfect for soups, stews, and stocks. (Every frugal kitchen should be making its own stocks!)

9.) In most cases, buy plastic instead of metal.
It’s cheaper and it lasts longer. Metal, particularly stainless steel, looks beautiful — but cheap metal measuring cups can bend at the handle, and cheap metal measuring spoons can rust. My mother still uses the same simple plastic measuring devices she received at her wedding. And if you’re looking into plastic utensils (particularly flexible-head spoon spatulas), it’s worth the extra dollar or two to buy something that is safe to high temperatures; melted plastic is never a tasty ingredient.

8.) Tongs. They’re like a third hand. If you can only buy one, get the ones with heat-resistant plastic on the ends so they won’t ruin your non-stick cookware.

Tony is my husband, an excellent cook, a grad student, and a movie reviewer. Check back tomorrow for the second installment of his guide to essential tools for the frugal kitchen!

Spring cleaning can help you make (& save) money

photo by florriebassingbourn

One of my goals for the next few weeks, despite my busy schedule, is to get myself motivated to get some real spring cleaning done. We’ve been living in the same apartment for two years, and we just signed the lease for another year. We’ve got some serious clutter build up that I’d like to clear.

My weaknesses are closets, drawers … anywhere that I can stuff things to deal with them later. It’s a terrible habit, and every few months or so I have to whirl through the house clearing away all the things I don’t really need that I stashed away “just in case.”

For some reason I insist on keeping things for much longer than I actually use them. That’s why I’m really pushing myself to get organized and get rid of everything we don’t use, including books, CDs, and DVDs.

Since I’ve been so busy, it’s pretty easy to push something like cleaning aside for other, more lucrative pursuits. In an effort to motivate myself (and hopefully some of you), I’ve thought up some ways that cleaning can actually help you save and make money.

Your clutter may be worth money.

Your junk may be worth something to someone. Every month that it sits in your closet collecting dust is a missed opportunity for extra income.

A clean house leads to better focus.

Have you been struggling with work and home life? Do you feel scatter brained and unorganized? Clutter reduces productivity, which could be preventing you and your spouse from reaching your maximum earning potential (not to mention getting the most out of home life). Hidden under all those papers and junk mail could be bills that may go unpaid, leading to late fees or worse. Getting organized will leave you freer to make more money and maximize your income.

You may find something that you need but forgot you had.

Do you have a list of spring and summer items you need? A fan, summer clothes, your kids’ Easter baskets? Before you run out and purchase them, make sure you’ve dug through all the clutter in your closets, attic, where ever you store things. You might find something you need that you didn’t even remember storing away. If you already have it, you won’t have to spend the money to replace it.

If you can think of any other ways that a clean house can improve your finances, please add them to the comments! I need all the motivation I can get. :)

Where do you sell unwanted items?

Tony and I need to do a little spring cleaning. That’s an understatement, actually. We have several boxes of books, DVDs, and other items that we don’t want anymore. That in addition to the stuff still on our shelves that will soon be added to our “sell” pile.

Most of this stuff isn’t worth any money, so we’ll probably donate it. But we have a few items that are rare or worth a bit of money that we just don’t want anymore. We’d like to sell them and increase our savings, so I’d like to know: which selling method works best for you?

Are online selling sites like eBay and Amazon more trouble than they’re worth? Since I’ve never sold anything on those sites before will I have to list my item for much cheaper than other sellers? Have you had better luck on Craigslist? Do you recommend any other sites that I’m not even aware of?

Let me know what works for you so I can get rid of this stuff, increase our space, and increase our savings!

How we’re spending our no spend weekend

Most of the spending we do — from groceries to unnecessary extras — takes place on the weekend. Because we work all week, we typically don’t have time to do any shopping. Trips to the grocery store, Target, and the occasional recreational window browse often lead to extra spending. We try to limit unnecessary spending, obviously, but even items like dog food, tooth paste, and other necessities can add up.

We’re already nearing our budget limit for spending and entertainment, but we’re headed out of town for the weekend for a frugal trip to Washington DC. Because we’d like to have some extra money for a meal and other extras, we’re attempting to have a no spend weekend. That means no recreational browsing, and no shopping even for the necessary items if it can wait. We’re buying the bare bones minimum groceries to get us through the week, and that’s it.

Setting this goal made me realize that we spend more time on the weekends spending money than I’d like to admit. No, we don’t go on wild shopping sprees. But the little bit of spending we do adds up, especially when you consider the fact that we spend $0 on the typical weekday.

To keep ourselves busy, we’ve come up with a no-spend itinerary for the weekend so we can have fun without spending any money. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

Friday: We made a homemade pizz, rented a free Redbox movie, and relaxed on the couch.

Saturday: After breakfast, we’re going to put on some warm clothes and take the dog for a hike at the state park. It’s beautiful and sunny outside today, and I think he’ll enjoy sniffing the hiking trail. The best part is I get to skip the gym for today since we’re getting exercise outside.

Sunday: Unfortunately, our Sunday plans aren’t really fun, but they are frugal. Tony’s parents are coming to visit the week after next, and since we’ll be out of town all next weekend, we’ve got to do some major cleaning and preparing. We want to get a head star on Sunday, clearing clutter out of the guest room, and deep cleaning all the nooks and crannies of our apartment. I’ll also squeeze in a trip to the gym, which isn’t exactly free since I pay $20 a month for the membership, but won’t cost anything extra.

I hope you’re all enjoying a lovely frugal weekend, too!

Reducing stress a little at a time

I’ve got a busy couple of months coming up. We’re taking a mini-vacation to Washington DC at the end of the month, then we’re expecting several visitors in March and April. In addition to that, I just found out I’ll be going on a business trip at the end of March.

When I get busy, it’s more important than ever that I keep stress levels down. I find the best way to reduce stress is avoid it by staying on top of this a little bit at a time. Even if it’s something small, every little bit helps.

Here are some of the little things I do to keep things running smoothly and reduce stress:

  • Make my lunch and lay out my clothes before bed to avoid rushing around in the morning.
  • Spend 15 minutes a day tidying up to avoid a major mess at the end of the week.
  • Do one load of laundry every night to avoid a pile-up.
  • Plan a menu for the week.
  • Avoid letting clutter pile up on flat surfaces (tables, shelves, etc.)
  • Keep a small notepad with me to make notes and monitor my to-do list.

Avoiding stress a little bit at a time works for me. What little things do you to to avoid stress when you’re busy?

Slightly off topic odds and ends

First things first: Tony and I finally buckled down and completed our fall cleaning list today. We were a little late (our original goal was to finish by the end of September), but better late than never, right? I also dug all my fall and winter clothes out of storage and boxed up my summer clothes until next year.

Now I just have to stop procrastinating and finally get around to selling the CDs and books we’re getting rid of on eBay or Amazon. Sigh. One goal at a time.

After our intense marathon cleaning session, we celebrated with a matinee. We always see the last matinee of the afternoon because it’s discounted an additional 50 cents. Only $5.25 a ticket!

Now that our apartment is nice and tidy and the fall candles are burning, I’m ready for the cool weather. Anytime now. Here in North Carolina, it’s still about 80 degrees every day. We tried to turn off the air conditioning last week. I wanted so badly to just open the windows. No go. The temperature climbed to a humid 90s degrees in our third floor apartment. Sigh. Another two weeks of air conditioning for us it seems.

Finally, on a blog-related note, I’m planning to switch from WordPress hosting to another service so I can have more control over my template. I want to make the switch over Thanksgiving weekend so I’ll have a big block of time to devote to making the switch and ironing out the kinks.

Right now I’m doing some research and looking for a good deal on a reliable hosting service. Anybody have any recommendations for me? I just need basic but reliable hosting, WordPress ready, and I’m hoping to pay about $5 a month. Am I dreaming?

Now I’m off to enjoy turkey meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Yum! My apologies for this rambling, all over the place post. It’s just been one of those days.