Inbox Zero

I never thought I’d finish this one, but I’m thrilled to cross off another item on my 30 Before 30 list, #25: Organize my email inbox.

In my offline life, I’m pretty organized. I’m the opposite of a hoarder, always trying to find things to get rid of and spaces to declutter. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to carry that mentality over to my email inbox. At the beginning of this effort, I had thousands of random email messages from several years, not categorized or labeled in any way. I just needed to sit down and power through it.

So, after a few hours of deleting, folder organization, and laughing at silly emails from years past, I am excited to see this message for the first time ever:

Now my new goal is to keep it this way forever and not let my email hoarding tendency come back!

Custom Vinyl Decals

For my birthday this year, my in-laws generously gifted me with a Silhouette CAMEO electronic cutting tool. I’ve been wishing for one for a long time and I’m super excited to start cutting all the things!

For my first project, I decided to start small. We had some large plastic bottles lying around, so I thought some custom labels would be fun. I threw together some quick labels in their editor, which was pretty easy to use for simple designs.

After the CAMEO cut the self-stick vinyl, I transferred the vinyl to the transfer paper and then transferred them to the bottles.

The labels didn’t adhere as quickly as I’d hoped, but after some time, it’s looking good. I’m not sure how the steam of the shower will affect the labels, but for now, I’m super happy!

For the Love of Mnemonic Devices

As I’ve been getting older and my late night studying sessions fade into distant memories, I’ve found it more difficult than ever to remember things. I can remember people’s birthdays without effort and without fail (that’s another post entirely), but numbers, addresses, and lists just can’t stick. Luckily, I realized that using mnemonic devices actually works. Crazy, right? Most of the facts I learned in school are long gone, either gathering dust somewhere in the deepest confines of my brain’s filing cabinet or lost entirely. However, any facts I associated with a mnemonic device I can spout off like it was five minutes before an important final.

So how do I go about finding mnemonic devices that stick? Just try and have a little R&R: make it rhyme and make it ridiculous. If you’re a fan of Modern Family, you might remember Phil Dunphy’s silly way of remembering people’s names.

“The other day I met this guy named Carl. Now, I might forget that name, but he was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. What’s a band like the Grateful Dead? Phish. Where do fish live? The ocean. What else lives in the ocean? Coral. Hello, Co-arl.”

This quote is hilarious because it’s so ridiculous. But truthfully, the more ridiculous your mnemonic, the easier it can be to remember. And as Phil Dunphy demonstrates, use what works best for you. If the standard mnemonic device doesn’t help you remember, then create one that will. Even if it’s a four-step one like Phil’s, remembering a name after ten seconds of thinking is better than not remembering at all. So let’s start with a well-known mnemonic you might already employ.

ROY G. BIV: everyone’s favorite color remembering system. ROY G. BIV is the mnemonic device for the colors of the rainbow in order from top to bottom. While the simple name can help most remember the colors, it helps me to take it a step further. I imagine Roy G. Biv as an eccentric fine arts professor teaching his students about color theory. For class, he dresses in the colors of the rainbow from top to bottom: red hat, orange bow tie, yellow shirt, green belt, blue shorts, indigo socks, and violet shoes. Ridiculous, right? But I never forget. Now let’s look at one I used in 7th grade science class.

Ants Have No Fear Of Ice Cold Beer is the rhyming phrase I used to remember the eight elements of the periodic table that exist in diatomic states, meaning they form molecules consisting of only two atoms (e.g. Oxygen is written O2). While this is a list of items that serves me no real purpose in life, I’ll never forget it. Just picture the little ants enjoying a cold one during a hot summer picnic. The more rhymes you can fit in, the better. There’s a reason nursery rhymes are so easy to remember.

So what about common, everyday things like your ATM PIN? While four numbers isn’t particularly difficult to remember for some, I still prefer to have a mnemonic device in my back pocket just in case. Let’s say your PIN is 8279. You might conveniently have a previous association with these two numbers. Maybe you were born in ’82 and your brother in ’79. If not, come up with a little phrase to help you remember. For PINs, I recommend making it conversational, short, and to use loose rhyming. Hey isn’t an exact rhyme for eight, but no other number from 0-9 sounds as much like it. Clementine is an uncommon name where the Clemen sounds like seven and tine rhymes with nine. And to top it off, when you’re typing in your PIN, always think of a friend calling out to a tiny little orange.

So next time you find yourself cramming for a test, trying to remember your PIN, or memorizing the definition of a word, get ridiculous and come up with some mnemonic devices. And remember, don’t lay your tent over a latent volcano.

Organized Lunch

At the beginning of each year I find myself in an anxiety-filled frenzy of organization. Clay and I emptied and scrubbed down our refrigerator, making our food the first thing to keep organized this year. I wanted to maintain that organization with me during lunch at work, so I searched for some bento box lunch containers. I couldn’t find any at our local Oriental market, but I did find these Klip-It Lunch Cubes at the Container Store.

The containers are only $4.99 and perfectly fit the size of meal I prefer. I bought two, one for my small lunch and one for my afternoon snack. I’m sure it wouldn’t give many people much joy, but it really excites me to see my lunch in organized little compartments. It’s the little things I guess. And, truthfully, anything to make my lunch-bringing more consistent is great in my book.

Garage Organization

Last night I was able to complete one more item on my 26 before 26 list. I’d been working on it slowly over the last few months and can finally cross off #17: Organize the garage.

While our little house has plenty of closets, there wasn’t much outdoor storage for larger items and those not needed in the house. For the first couple years, we used an old storage shelf I had bought for an installation art piece during college. It had been painted so many times that the pieces no longer fit together properly. So I decided it was time to get things in order.

Here’s our garage before:

While this is nothing compared to the clutter most people have in their garages, it made the organizer in me cringe. Stacked chairs, sports equipment, Christmas decorations, and much more just sat where they wanted, occasionally falling over when we accidentally bumped against them. Not a great situation.

I had Clay help me remove the useless cabinet from the garage wall. Doesn’t he look excited to be here?

Then, I put together two new storage shelf units from Home Depot to fill the space. They were $70 each and much cheaper than any other cabinet option we considered.

And here’s the after with all of our boxes and things on the shelves. The organizer in me wanted to get all matching containers, but the thrift shopper in me said to make do with what we have.

The last step was to get some Elfa wall hooks and hangers from The Container Store to get the rest of the stuff up off the ground and out of the way. It seems like such a small change, moving the items 5 feet above where they original sat, but it makes such a difference. These items are the ones we only use once in a while or seasonally, so having them on the wall clears up walking space and keeps them out of harm’s way until we need them.

(Disregard the pile of building materials. These are simply waiting to be installed in our guest bathroom and will be gone soon!)

When we moved in, we had made it a point to always be able to park inside our garage (especially during the hot summer months). It’s easy to start packing and stacking items in there and soon your garage is overflowing with things you don’t even care about. This new system will hopefully make it quick and easy to keep things organized.

Digital Archiving

With only eight days until my birthday, I’m making a mad dash to complete items on my 26 before 26 list. I’ve been working on this one for a while and finally completed it: #20: Digitally organize and archive all photos.

I took this opportunity to not only organize my photos, but all my documents and media. I picked up a LaCie 1 terabyte external hard drive and started filling it up. All my artwork, schoolwork, music, and movies were easy to transfer from various storage systems and now are all organized in one place. My photos were a different story. I had boxes and boxes of prints, CDs, memory cards, and negatives to sort through. Luckily, Target took care of most of it for me. I dropped off bags of prints and negatives and picked up some neatly stacked photo CDs. I now have digital copies of all my photos and even found some pretty good ones from the past (see below).

Plug Hub

Even if you aren’t an organizing junkie, this product is bound to make you swoon. Cable clutter is a constant struggle for me, especially since Clay has three PC’s and a television on his desk. Currently we have an embarrassing jumble of cables gathered by two IKEA Signum cable organizers. The Plug Hub is a minimalist, unobtrusive cable organizer that hides the clutter while keeping plugs accessible. It’s only available for pre-order right now, to be pushed into production if enough people show interest. At only $23.95, I sure hope all the organizers out there are just as excited as I am.

Book Organization

photo by heipei on flickr

Although digital books and eReaders are becoming more popular, I still know several people who prefer to read and keep real books. While most of us don’t have a full library, we do have a few cases worth of books to store. Organizing these books can be both daunting and confusing; there are several different ways to do it. There are four main questions to consider before choosing an organizational method:

  1. Who else, besides you, will need to find specific books in your collection?
  2. How frequently will books need to be found for reference or other purposes?
  3. How much do you care about the appearance of your bookshelves?
  4. Are you fairly limited in shelf space?

Here are the three easiest ways to organize your books. Of course, the answers to the previous four questions will determine which method is best for you.

Alphabetically – This is the most standard way of organizing your books. Because this is your library of books, you can choose to organize alphabetically by title or by author. Choose the method that is quickest for you to find them. This method is best for those that have a few different people referencing the same library of books and if the books are referenced frequently. While this won’t make your bookshelves look like anything special, it will be easy to navigate and easy to keep organized. Recommendation: separate books into fiction and non-fiction.

By Size – Grouping your books by size has two main benefits: an aesthetically pleasant library and the best possible use of space in your bookcase. If your bookcase has adjustable shelves, organizing by size allows you to position the shelves tighter together. Each shelf contains one size of book and doesn’t need to accommodate several different sizes. This method is best for those who don’t need to reference books as frequently and if shelf space is fairly limited. Hidden benefit: As most books of similar genres are around the same size (novels vs. reference textbooks), this method also tends to group books by purpose.

photo by

By Color: Organizing your books by color is probably the least practical, but the most visually stunning. This method is best for those who store their books in main living spaces and would like to use their books as decoration. It does require an existing knowledge of the library’s catalog, as well as a memory for individual book covers, so this is not a good method if more than 1 or 2 people are referencing them.

photo by

Recommendation: If you’d like your books to have visual impact, but can’t afford to organize them by color, consider making custom jackets for your books. They can still be beautiful, but organized alphabetically or any other way you choose. The photo above features custom book covers meant to look like traditional vellum. You can use any kind of material you’d like. Even something inexpensive like basic brown paper with black writing would look great.


Every Sunday I look through Post Secret and occasionally I’ll see a secret I can relate to. This Sunday, however, I saw a secret that I could have written and sent in myself. Here is that secret plus a tweet I posted earlier this year in March. It’s always fun to see how similar we can be, even as strangers.