Co-tenancy Agreements And Why You Should Have One

If you’re just starting out on your own, chances are you’re sharing your living space with someone else. Whether it’s a blind pairing or two or more friends sharing a pad, living with roommates instead of Mom and Dad can be an exciting adventure.

The Problem With Roommates

The problem is that everyone’s a little different. Some people are raised in messier homes than others. Some people manage themselves and their things more carefully than others, and some people have a more relaxed attitude than others regarding what is “their” space. You’ll never truly know a person well until you’ve lived with them for a while, and too many roommates learn the hard way about someone they thought they knew well.

Conflicts among roommates can be draining and stressful, and can be expensive. These conflicts vary widely from situation to situation but most often cover the following areas:

  • Cleanliness
  • Personal property disputes
  • Payment of bills
  • Guests
  • Noise levels

If all of you signed the lease, getting rid of a problematic roommate without breaking your lease can be difficult and depends on your local laws. Landlords are notoriously reluctant to get involved in roommate disputes, and usually will only do so if the property is being damaged or other tenants file complaints about you. Furthermore, most often all co-tenants will be held “jointly and severally” responsible for payment of all amounts due, meaning that they don’t care who pays it, but you’re all in trouble if it doesn’t get paid.

Enter the Co-Tenancy Agreement

A co-tenancy agreement is a written agreement signed by all roommates in the house. It discusses division of chores, cleanliness expectations, house rules, who is responsible for paying bills, and more. RocketLawyer offers a free co-tenancy agreement form online,  but such agreements usually discuss these items:

  • Division of household chores and how often they are to be done
  • Where personal property is to be kept
  • Is smoking / drinking allowed in the space?
  • House rules on guests
  • Noise policies and quiet hours
  • Who is responsible for paying bills and when that person is to be paid by other residents
  • Use of common property and other people’s property (e.g. can everyone drink that milk or does it belong to someone?)
  • How violations of the agreement are to be handled and consequences for violating the agreement

A co-tenancy agreement allows roommates to resolve disputes by referring to the written agreement, and if properly executed and documented, gives roommates legal recourse in dealing with a problematic roommate.

Who Should Sign It?

Everybody who is a legal occupant of the space should sign it. Guests don’t need to, but typically the resident that brought them in is responsible for their presence and their behavior. All residents should discuss the terms and agree on them, then set it down in writing and sign it.

A Final Word

If you don’t know a prospective roommate, or don’t know them well, you should absolutely execute a co-tenancy agreement with them prior to moving in together. Even if you know someone well, you should consider one. Just in case.

How To Navigate A Grocery Store

How you shop a grocery store depends on what you’re looking for, but no matter what your primary goal in beating the system is, there are tricks to it.

The first and most important rule is to remember that a grocery store’s layout is not by chance. Everything is carefully placed to get you to spend as much as possible on things you don’t need, preferably those items with the most profit margin, since grocery stores have a razor-thin profit margin. CheatSheet lists some of the many ways that grocery stores are carefully planned to get you to spend.

So, here are some tips to help you make the most of your hard-earned dollar in the grocery store.

1. Make A List And Check It Twice

Don’t walk into the grocery store without a grocery list. Before you leave, go through your shelves and your fridge, to see what you have and what you need. Keep an inventory of your pantry to make sure that any needed items get replenished.

This can be done either on paper or on your favorite phone app – of which there are many.

2. Eat Before You Go

Never, ever walk into a grocery store when you’re hungry. Eat out or grab something out of the vending machine at work if you have to. If you do, you’re almost sure to buy things you don’t need. A better choice is to plan a meal at home just before a grocery store trip – you’re shopping full and have already been in your kitchen recently, so you have a good idea (and hopefully have written down) what you need.

3. Coupons and Savings Cards

If your grocery store has a phone app, consider using it. Sure, it helps them, but it also helps you. At the very least, have and use the savings card for your favorite grocery store. You can save quite a bit.

That said, I’ll say this: don’t buy something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy just because it’s on sale. That means you’re falling for the trap of buying things you don’t need just because it looks like a sale. You’re still spending more money than you save in the end, no matter how good the deal.

4. Look Down, Look Down

A grocery store shelf has a plan to it. The stuff at eye level is the most expensive stuff, the stuff the grocery store wants you to buy most. The stuff directly below that is the next most expensive, then the stuff at the top. The best bargains will be on the bottom shelves, including the large bulk containers.

5. Unit Prices Rule

When shopping for food, always look at the unit price to determine the value you’re getting. The retail price tells you how much you’ll spend for that box, but the unit price tells you how much bang is in that buck you’re spending. Usually, the smaller the box, the less bang you’re getting for your buck. When comparing two brands, compare the unit price, not the retail price, because those prices are normalized against a standard unit.

5a. Bulk Isn’t Always A Bargain

Generally speaking, large containers mean you’re paying for more food and less packaging, so the unit prices will be better on large containers. However, if you buy such a large container that you’ll never use it all before it goes bad, you’re throwing your money away on the portion you can’t use. If you only use a small container of milk, don’t buy a big one, because you’ll waste most of it.

On things that don’t spoil, go for the bulk packaging so long as you have the space to store it! Bulk is a great way to get paper products and cleaning products.

6. Cheaper Isn’t Always Better

Yes, that store brand can is 20¢ cheaper than the national brand. Sometimes, that’s a really good deal, but only if the store brand is equivalent quality to the national brand. It isn’t, always. The reality is that store brands can be very hit-or-miss in quality, and an item that is poor quality will need to be doubled up or replaced more frequently – and if that is true, are you really saving money?

Be cautious with off-brands. Try different products in the off-brand, but you’ll find sometimes that the off-brands don’t cut it and you’re actually saving money by spending a bit more on a high-quality product that lasts longer or that you can use less of to get the same effect. My experience tells me that you’re almost always better off with the national brand for these products:

  • Trash bags
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Paper plates
  • Canned peas (off-brand frozen veggies are usually fine)
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Laundry detergent

7. About Display Placement

You know those displays of various things on the end of every aisle? Those are called end-cap displays, and those are items that the store is being paid to set out in a special place, or things that they want to sell more of. If it’s not on your list, skip it.

Also, have you ever noticed that the candy and/or cookie aisle almost always coincides with some essential that every parent needs? I’ve seen candy across the aisle from peanut butter, bread, fruit juice, and even diapers. Dirty pool, if you ask me – that’s a great way to get a harassed mother shopping with her kids a chorus of screams for candy. This isn’t an accident. As I said above, grocery stores are carefully planned by psychological and marketing experts to encourage you to make impulse purchases. Consider not having the kids (or your SO/spouse) in tow when you grocery shop to avoid this trick.

8. Don’t Hesitate To Ask

Grocery stores are forever moving things around on shelves and reorganizing the store. They also have a nasty habit of placing a key item that everyone buys somewhere that no sane person would ever think to look for it. This behavior is on purpose — it’s intended to force otherwise savvy and organized shoppers to slow down, hunt the shelves, and look at everything on display in hopes of encouraging one or more impulse purchases.

Don’t waste your time or money on this ploy. Find a clerk and ask them where the item you want is to be found. They know the store very well usually and will help you find it without any further fuss.

9. Where The Goodies Are

This is a tip for the health-conscious shoppers. If you’re trying to eat better, the good stuff is around the perimeter of the store. Frozen, dairy, meats, produce — all these items are to be found around the edges of the store. There are a few items in the middle that you’ll want, but by and large, the middle of the store is where you’ll find the junk. Stay to the edges, with a few forays for specific items, and you’ll shop more health-consciously.

One caution, though — the flowers and the baked goods near the door are designed to bombard your senses, so focus on your list and ignore the rest.

10. Groceries Can Be Had Online, Too

There are a number of grocery delivery and pickup services out there, where you can shop online, make your picks from the comfort of your couch, and have it brought to your door for a nominal delivery fee. They don’t always offer all the things you buy, though, so I don’t find that it works for me, but if you’re busy, it can be a godsend.

It can also keep you out of a lot of the head games played by the grocery stores, so if you’re tired, it’s an appealing choice.

11. Don’t Use A Bigger Basket Than You Need

When you have an empty space, the temptation is to fill it. The bigger basket you use, the more you’re tempted to buy. If you’re only going in for a few items, use the hand-carry basket, or seek out the smaller half-carts.

A Final Word

A grocery store can be a minefield of budget-busting choices. Shop mindfully and don’t let yourself get sucked into the head games, and you’ll eat well for less than eating out would cost you.

How to Load A Dishwasher (And Have the Dishes Actually Get Clean)

Loading a dishwasher is harder than it looks at first blush. Plates that don’t get clean, glasses with spots all over them, melted plastic takeaway containers — all these things and more can happen to your dishes. The good news is that there are some tricks and tips that will help you get the most out of your dishwasher – without a lot of headache.

Use The Right Product

There are three cleaning products that you need to know about in order to keep your dishes sparkling fresh.

  • Dishwasher detergent: This is not the same as dish soap. Unless your idea of a good time is cleaning a mountain of wet suds off of your kitchen floor, do not attempt to use Dawn or similar in your dishwasher. Doing so could also damage your dishwasher, so please just don’t. My personal preference in dishwasher detergent is liquid Cascade Complete, but I know people who swear by the dishwasher pods, and that’s okay too. I find that liquid dissolves better than powder form, so I recommend the liquid. It’s less likely to leave unwanted leftovers.
  • Spot rinse: This stuff is a blue liquid you find in a squirt bottle or a pod that clips to the upper rack of your dishwasher under the names Jet Dry, Finish, or similar. It keeps water spots from forming on your glassware. Useful but not overwhelmingly essential unless you’re cleaning for company.
  • Tang: A quick and cheap way to clean your dishwasher, which you’ll want to do from time to time. Fill the soap holes with powdered Tang and run a full cycle with no dishes in it. It’s surprisingly effective.

💡 “But I drink Tang! Can it seriously be used as a cleaning agent, and if so, why am I drinking it?” Keep in mind that many foods have cleansing properties. Diet Coke can take corrosion off a car battery terminal, vinegar will remove urine from fabric, and lemon and baking soda will eliminate that nasty smell in your garbage disposal. Don’t let this fact turn you off of Tang, if you like drinking it.

Don’t Overdo It

Are you tempted to rearrange and cram that one last item in there, so that you don’t have to wash it by hand? Not so fast, tiger. One of the main reasons dishes don’t get clean is that the dishwasher is so full that the spray can’t reach every item in it enough to be effective. While running your dishwasher half-full is wasteful of both soap and water, running it excessively full may mean having to wash everything again, which is just as wasteful if not more so. You’ll spend less time and energy total if you wash that one last thing by hand and don’t have to redo the whole load because you overfilled the dishwasher.

My photo hosting is being a pain at the moment, but tomorrow I’ll try to post pictures of what a good dishwasher load looks like and what an overload looks like.

Turn It Towards The Water

Take note of where the sprayers are in your dishwasher. Most dishasher have a rotating one between the racks. When you load the dishwasher, turn it so the dirty side faces the sprayer.

On the topic of that rotating sprayer, don’t block it, or your dishes won’t get clean.



Rinse Your Dishes First

Get the worst of the food and crusties off the dishes by rinsing in the sink before you put them in the dishwasher. They don’t have to be perfect before you put them in there, but they shouldn’t be crusted over, either.

Everything Doesn’t Go

Some things shouldn’t go in the dishwasher at all.

  • Plastic types 1 (PET), 3 (PVC), and 7 (other): PET is meant for disposable plastic items and will warp or melt in the dishwasher. PVC is used for plastic pipes and outdoor furniture and is not considered suitable for food storage. Type 7 plastic is a catch-all category that may or may not melt and may or may not be toxic. It’s a crapshoot and the safest move is to simply recycle it.
  • Cast Iron Cookware: This includes any cookware like aluminum that has to be seasoned, but is most especially true of cast iron. Cast iron cookware will rust in the dishwasher, which means you’ll have to scrub the rust off with a Brillo pad and re-season it. This is a pain.
  • Fine china and special finishes: Fine china, handmade pottery, and some baking pans have special finishes that may be damaged or ruined in the dishwasher. In the case of fine china, it may also shatter or break when subjected to forceful sprays of water. Better not to risk it.
  • Wood items: Wooden spoons, picnic items, and bamboo can warp, discolor, go dry, or even burn in the dishwasher. Hard pass.
  • Excessively large items: If it’s big enough that it blocks the free rotation of any sprayer, it’s too big to go in the dishwasher.

Most other things will be okay in the dishwasher, although some things should only go in certain places.

Careful With That

These items should go only in the top rack:

  • Plastics 2, 4, 5, and 6: These are reusable food-grade plastics and can go in the dishwasher, but all plastics should be confined to the top rack.
  • Small items: Most items of this nature are okay in the dishwasher but need to be prevented from flying everywhere. Placing them in the top rack where they won’t be hit quite so hard is the best means of accomplishing this.

A Final Word

Remember that anything that goes into your dishwasher comes out hot. It also consumes a fair amount of water and electricity. A thrifty move that will also keep your from burning your fingers is to plan to run the dishwasher while you’re asleep. Electricity is cheaper in the wee hours of the morning in many places, and you’ll wake up to clean dishes. Many dishwashers now have delay timers for exactly this purpose.

Good luck! I’ll post pictures tomorrow of how I do it to aid in explaining how it works, when I can bend Flickr to my will.

Cleaning Supplies and Safety

This is a blog post that I never thought I’d write, until I knew someone who put Dawn in the dishwasher. If you have ever wondered about this, this is not a good idea. Different cleansers are formulated to tackle different problems and generate varying amounts of suds in the process. Using a cleaner for a purpose or in a way not indicated on the label may result in damage to the object being cleaned, personal injury, or just an unholy mess.

Ground Rules

Many cleaning supplies are toxic, acidic, basic, or some combination of the three. Observe these safety precautions when handling cleaning supplies to prevent accidental poisoning or irritation.

  • Always read the label first. The label will indicate if the cleaner is safe to use on a given surface, will discolor or stain fabric, should be used in a ventilated area, and more.
  • If your hands are easily irritated, consider using gloves and/or a mask when using cleaning products. Some of them absolutely require it. Asthmatics should keep an inhaler handy and use a mask.
  • Ventilate the space when using a strong cleaner. Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan, or open a window. Opening two windows, one on each side of the domicile, creates an air current that will move air through the house very nicely.
  • Never store cleaning supplies in the same area as food or anything that handles food. An entire locked cabinet somewhere in your house or flat should be reserved for these items. It is safe for them to share shelf space with non-food items such as pesticides, herbicides, gardening items, tools, paper products, and similar, but should not be stored with anything that comes into contact with food for humans or pets.
  • Similarly, whether you do self-checkout at the grocery store or have a checker do it, cleaning supplies should never be sent home in the same bag as a food or food item. Never do it yourself and don’t be afraid to correct a grocery store checker who does it.
  • Do not mix cleaners unless directed, and if multiple types of cleaner need to be applied to an area, rinse well between cleaners. Failing to observe this rule can produce toxic fumes or even an explosion.

‼️ Bleach and Ammonia

Advice regarding mixing ammonia and bleach can be summed up in one word: NEVER. Here’s why.

To put this into perspective for you, here’s some fun factoids about the chemicals described in that link.

  • Hydrazine was one of the components of the liquid rocket fuel used by the space shuttles.
  • Hydrochloric acid is present in your stomach acid. It’s also an industrial acid along with sulfuric acid.
  • It is possible for chlorine gas to escape this chain reaction. If it does, it’s corrosive and toxic and will appear as a green gas hugging the floor.
  • It is not true that mixing urine and bleach produces mustard gas. Mustard gas has sulfur in it, which is not present in this reaction.

Some things to keep in mind to keep this from happening:

  • This reaction can also happen if you are using concentrated chlorine products such as bleach or pool chlorine in the presence of water to clean something that has a lot of decomposed organic matter, such as an old fish pond or a composting toilet.
  • Urine is composed of ammonium salts and water. Under normal circumstances such as a bathroom or dirty diapers, the concentration of ammonia salts isn’t high enough to cause a dangerous reaction, and bleach is safe. However, a cat’s litterbox or a source of stale urine will have higher concentrations of ammonium salts in the urine and use of chlorine products such as bleach could cause this reaction to occur.
  • Use vinegar to denature the ammonium salts present before attempting to bleach items of this nature. In the case of the catbox, a mixture of Dawn and water to scrub it out followed by a cup of vinegar left in it for five minutes will suffice.

If you should accidentally cause this chemical reaction to occur:

  • Remove pets and children from the area.
  • Close interior vents and ventilate to the outside (open a window or turn on exhaust fan or both).
  • Get out of the area for several hours.
  • If you or anyone in the area experience any burning on skin or eyes or have trouble breathing after doing this, go to the nearest emergency room.
  • If any pets appear to be in distress, take them to an emergency vet.

A Final Word

Always remember: cleaning supplies, while necessary to the maintenance of any home, are usually toxic chemicals. Treat them as such, and treat them with respect and care.

The Basics of Laundry, Part I

Did your mom always do your laundry for you when you were growing up? Does she still do your laundry when you go home? If so, I’m terribly sorry, because now you have a bit of a problem – you might not know how to do it yourself, and your mom will not always be around to do it for you.

The good news is that the Internet is full of resources on how to do and fold laundry. I recommend Mama’s Laundry Talk – it’s a blog specifically about laundry. I’ve learned a lot from her, and from my mother.

If you’re just starting out, though, you probably don’t have enough laundry to make all of her tips and opinions work for you. For example, she recommends not washing sheets and towels together, nor does she recommend washing sheets and towels with dirty clothes. Chances are that you don’t have enough of any of these items to wash them all separately, and if you’re using a coin-operated laundry, doing so becomes expensive as well as wasteful.

With that in mind, this post suggests a method that won’t waste your whole day or a ton of water and soap. I’ll discuss clothes that need special treatment in a different post; this post covers only the very basics of T-shirts and underwear.

Do not wait to do laundry until you have no clean clothes. I suggest doing laundry when you’re down to two clean wearings of anything. You should own enough clothing that you can do laundry on a weekly schedule; this would mean that you own about 8-10 outfits.

Step 1: Sort Your Laundry

Some sorting does have to be done. The most important sorting criteria is by color and by fabric type. How you sort your laundry will depend on how much of each color you have, and that’s going to depend on what colors you like to wear. If you’re like me and wear a lot of blacks and understated colors, you’ll have larger dark loads. Colorful dressers will have lots of colors, and almost everyone has some whites.

If you don’t sort by color, you run the risk of having a darker garment bleed dye onto a lighter one. The classic example is washing a white shirt and a red one in the same load ending with your white shirt being turned pink. If this happens, there usually is nothing you can do to save the garment.

Some fabric types need to be washed more gently, or not thrown in a washer at all. Separate these out; the tag that dictates how it should be washed will be either in the back of the neck or in one of the side seams near the bottom of the garment.

💡You won’t always have time to do multiple loads of laundry, so consider purchasing socks and underwear in both light and dark colors. Even if you only have time to do one load, you’ll always be able to throw a few pairs of socks and underwear in every load.

Step 2. Setting Up the Washer

Water Temperature

Generally, the lighter the clothing, the hotter water you want. Whites can be done in hot water; colors are by default done in warm water, and dark clothes should be done in warm or cool water to prevent dye bleed.

Some fabrics and stains absolutely require that the garment be washed in cold water to avoid damaging the garment. For example, any garment that has blood on it should soak immediately in cold water and then be washed in cold water. Warm or hot water will set the stain and make it permanent. I’ll talk about stains in more detail in another blog post.

Washing Machine Cycles

For jeans and T-shirts, normal cycle is fine. Most washers have a normal cycle. Delicate fabrics will want the Gentle or Low cycle, but I’ll talk about that in another post.

Adding Laundry Product

There are multiple types of laundry products that serve different purposes:

  • Detergent: Soap. Gets your clothes clean.
  • Fabric softener: This substances relaxes the fibers in your clothes, so that they come out soft and relaxed instead of stiff and scratchy.
  • Bleach: Removes stubborn stains from your clothes and is often used as a disinfectant. Use cautiously, because if it isn’t color-safe, it will remove all color from your clothes! (Chemical name is sodium hypochlorite.)
  • OxiClean: Similar to bleach, with similar effects via a different chemical method. This is calcium percarbonate, which when dissolved in water becomes hydrogen peroxide and calcium carbonate or washing soda.
  • Pre-treatment (Shout is a common one): This stuff when dabbed or sprayed on stains and left for a few minutes helps remove stubborn stains from your clothes.

🏠💡 Bleach is good for many things in the home, including cleaning; OxiClean is more specialized for laundry but is just a touch safer. I’ll talk more about “safer” in a future post about cleaning supplies.

Detergent can come in powder/crystal form, liquid form, and in pre-portioned capsules commonly referred to as Tide Pods. Liquid dissolves better than crystals, but is somewhat more expensive and difficult to lug around if you have to transport your laundry a lot.

⚠️ No matter which form you choose, before you buy laundry detergent, check the washer you will be using! If you see the designate “HE” in a blue and white circle, you need high-efficiency laundry detergent to use that washer. A box or bottle of the right type of detergent for these machines will have the same logo on the front. Never use traditional detergent in an HE washing machine, or you’ll end up with a mountain of suds all over the floor and clothes that need to be washed again because they’re still full of soap – after you clean out the washing machine!

As long as you have the good sense $DEITY granted a garden slug and know better than to attempt to eat a Tide Pod, I recommend them for people new to doing laundry. One is sufficient for an average laundry load, and it contains both detergent and fabric softener. Toss it in before you toss in your clothes.

One caution — they don’t work so well in cold water. Make sure you leave them at the bottom, or there’s a risk they won’t dissolve completely, and if you have to wash in completely cold water, you may wish to consider liquid detergent.

If you use crystal/powder or liquid detergent, or liquid fabric softener, read the manufacturer’s instructions on how much to use, and do not exceed that amount. If in doubt, go easy on how much you use. If you don’t use enough, the worst that will happen is your clothes won’t get clean; if you use too much, it leaves a residue in the washer that will affect the next load of clothes. If you’re using a laundromat, the next person to use that washer could be allergic to your detergent, and they really won’t thank you to overdo it.

Step 3: Are Your Clothes Clean?

When the washer is set up, start the washer according to instructions. Once the cycle finishes, check the wet clothing.

  1. It shouldn’t smell like anything but maybe detergent or fabric softener.
  2. It shouldn’t crackle – if it does, it still has soap in it. Run a rinse cycle, with no product, to rinse it more thoroughly.
  3. No soap bubbles should be visible.
  4. It should be damp, not soaking. If you can wring water out of it, it didn’t spin very thoroughly. This is annoying, not serious, but do wring the water back into the drum before putting the clothes in the dryer or else you’ll grow cobwebs waiting for your clothes to dry.

If they’re clean, time to put them in the dryer. Stay tuned for part II!




Confessions of a Book Addict…

I love books. In fact, I read at least an hour every day. But… books take up a lot of space. Some, like the Complete Works of Shakespeare, take up a LOT of space. Others, like J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, are only a hundred pages or so (I refer to the book here,  not the multi-film franchise!), but you can still only put one object in one physical space. Damn those pesky laws of physics!

Enter my iPhone.

Now, you may not have an iPhone; you may not have a smartphone at all, or a Kindle, or anything of the sort… if you don’t, this won’t apply to you. But a lot of people do own one or more of these devices.

In my iPhone, in the iBooks app, I have:

  • Aesop’s Fables, Volume 1
  • three copies of Dante Alighieri & Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Divine Comedy
  • five volumes of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales
  • The Night Before Christmas
  • Naked Came the Phoenix (a serial novel by a bunch of authors, of whom I read J.D. Robb)
  • Peter Pan
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
  • A volume of Chaucer, including The Canterbury Tales
  • Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook (and I intend to get the remaining 9 volumes)
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • Yesterday’s Son and Time for Yesterday by A.C. Crispin
  • Origin by Dan Brown (and I intend to get the other four volumes)
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • two copies of A Christmas Carol, and copies of David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and A A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • two copies of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Introduction to Shamanic Journeying by Frauke Rotwein
  • all 25 volumes of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone / Alphabet mysteries (ending with Y is for Yesterday due to the author’s death)
  • two volumes of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
  • most of the Benjamin January Mysteries by Barbara Hambly (beginning with A Free Man of Color) – including five novellas; the rest are in the Kindle app, which list will follow…
  • the Darwath trilogy, Icefalcon’s Quest, and Mother of Winter by Barbara Hambly
  • two copies of Les Miserables and a copy of Notre-Dame De Paris by Victor Hugo
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
  • The Jungle Book, Just So Stories, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Second Jungle Book, Short-Stories, and The Works of Rudyard Kipling by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Adept, books 1-3, The Temple and the Crown, and The Temple and the Stone by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
  • Crusade of Fire, On Crusade, and Tales of the Knights Templar edited by Katherine Kurtz
  • Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz
  • most of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series
  • The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci – Complete
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  • A Song of Ice and Fire (all five volumes to date) by George R.R. Martin
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin, illustrated by Gary Gianni
  • the Crystal Singer series and part of the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey
  • Moby Dick, or, The Whale by Herman Melville
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
  • Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained by John Milton
  • five volumes of the works of Edgar Allan Poe
  • How to Break Up With YOur Phone by Catherine Price
  • the complete works of J.D. Robb
  • whole bunch of books by Nora Roberts (not gonna list them, but damn near everything since she quit writing for Silhouette/Harlequin/whatever)
  • Pottermore Presents…. three volumes by J.K. Rowling
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, plus separate copies of Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, the Sonnets, and Twelfth Night
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Treasure Island and one volume of the Swanston Edition of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson (need to get the rest of that!)
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • The Two Towers and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkein (the rest is in the Kindle app)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Then, we have the Kindle… which, coincidentally, is also an application on my iPhone!

  • A copy of the script/libretto for Jekyll anD HYDE (the musical)
  • Beginner’s Dutch Oven Cookbook by Mark Hansen & Matt Pelton
  • The Hero’s Tale and A Tale of Heroes by Mark Hansen
  • Finish your Dissertation Before You Die by Joseph Nolan, PhD
  • Writing a Dissertation for Dummies
  • Move the Rock of Academic Writing
  • Demystifying Dissertation Writing
  • How to Write an Exceptional Thesis or Dissertation
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  • Sir Kay: A Study of the Character of the Seneschal of King Arthur’s Court by Harold Jerome Herman
  • A copy of the script/libretto for Oliver! (the musical)
  • Magic 101 by Mercedes Lackey
  • a bunch of Anne McCaffrey novels, some duplicated on the iBooks app
  • The Great American Jerky Cookbook
  • a 2011 Toyota Rav4 manual (I used to drive one)
  • Statistics for Dummies
  • Statistics Essentials for Dummies
  • Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz (yes, another copy)
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Gabriel’s Angel by Nora Roberts
  • Lessons from the Lion, the Ox, and their Little Friends adapted from Aesop
  • The Bane Chronicles, The Infernal Devices, and the City of ___ series by Cassandra Clare
  • What the Fox Learnt, adapted from Aesop
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein
  • most of the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • On Masturbation by Mark Twain (don’t ask!)
  • a manual for my 3D printer
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein…

and about 60 or 70 other works.

In one iPhone.

In my pocket.

At any given time.

The capacity of my iPhone is 256 GB.

I am using 214.78 GP, with 14,465 photos, 103 videos, and a bunch of audio books.

If you have limited space? I highly recommend using a mobile device to store your library. It takes up a whole lot less space!


How to Create Spaces For Things

I’m sure you’ve heard your mother (or grandmother, or aunt, or uncle, or grandfather, or other person in your life say “a place for everything, and everything in its place” approximately 1.3 umptillion times. It’s kind of like a Microsoft error message: absolutely true, and not very helpful if you don’t know how to decode it.

The problematic part of that adage for many people is the first part: “a place for everything”. Too often, a thing sits on the dining room table for weeks at a time because you don’t know where it should go, or because its place isn’t in your home. But, how do you determine where it should go?

Questions to Ask

To decide where a thing should go, ask yourself the following questions:

Does it belong in my house?

Is this item even mine? Is it useful to me? Will it be useful to me in the next year? Am I required to keep it? This question often needs to be asked of paperwork, which I’ll talk about in more detail later in the post.

If the item is not yours, it needs to go back to the person to whom it belongs, unless you have permission to borrow the item and are actively using it. If you’re actively using it and have permission to borrow it, proceed to the next question.

If you have a lot of visitors in your home, you might consider a wicker basket or box in your main room or near your front door that serves as a “lost and found”. Anything that someone left behind or that you borrowed and aren’t actively using should go in this box, to be reclaimed the next time that person comes over.

Some people have the habit of collecting items or keeping extras of things that might be useful “someday”. These people are called pack-rats. If you’re a pack-rat, ask yourself this: what are the odds I’ll need or use it in the next year? If you won’t, get rid of it.

Some items you’re required to keep, depending on your situation. This is especially true of paperwork, but might also be true of window blinds, doorknobs, etc,, if you’re renting your property and don’t want to use the ones supplied by your landlord. If you don’t put the ones your landlord supplied back when you leave, you’ll be charged to replace the item. Having a box in your closet for such items might not be a bad idea, if you’re prone to doing this.

What is its function?

Is it an art or craft supply? A personal care item? An entertainment item? To what activity, requirement, or item is this item associated? If you can definitively answer this question, that’s a big help. That means that wherever its space is, it’s most likely near or in the same room as other items associated to that activity, requirement, or item. If it’s associated to an activity, it should go in the room in which you most commonly perform that activity.

Does it have special needs?

If the item is particularly large, heavy, small, or fragile, that may limit where you want to or can put it. An item that needs access to running water (e.g. a coffee machine) should be placed in a room that has running water available (e.g. the kitchen, although I’d forgive anyone who needed coffee so badly that their coffee machine lives in the bathroom).

A small item that is easily lost should be placed in a bin or container with other items that serve a similar function or are also related to the same activity – for example, if you draw or paint, all your paints should be in a bin, your brushes/erasers/pencils/sharpeners in another bin, and so forth. Bins and containers come in every shape and size and don’t have to come from the Container Store. Mason jars make wonderful containers for many kinds of small items. Be sure to decide whether the container in question needs to close before purchasing, and let that inform your choice of container.

Large and/or heavy items may need to be placed on the floor, but you may need to pick and maybe clear a specific space for that item.

Fragile items may need to be placed somewhere specific that is out of reach of pets and children and does not pose a falling risk.

If the item(s) in question need to remain out of public view, be sure to account for that. Choose a container or cover that is opaque and maybe lockable.

Do I have room in the appropriate area for it?

Can I put it with its buddies in the same area? Am I out of space? If so, you might need to designate a new area, possibly nearby. Before you do, though, ask yourself the first question again: do I really need all that I have, and is it all still useful to me? For example, going through your paints and identifying any that have dried up might help you clear enough space to put your new things.

It’s also worth asking yourself this question before you buy a new thing. Doing so might save you both money and clutter headaches.

Finding the Perfect Spot

Once you’ve answered these questions, your own unique situation might guide you in finding a place for an item. For example, if you’re 5’1″, the items you use every day should be on lower shelves, since you’ll need assistance or a stepladder to get to the upper shelves.

Small items should not be loose on counters or surfaces. Find a container that suits the item and the number of items you have.

Think in three dimensions. Think in terms of more than just “on shelves” and “on counters” and “in drawers”. Look at your walls. Do you have wall space that could harbor shelves? (Shameless unsolicited plug: IKEA Kallax shelves are $DEITY’s gift to organizers. The smaller ones can be mounted on walls with appropriate hardware and are sturdy enough to move with you time and again.)

Also consider wall hooks to hang items that are bulky but light such as easels, embroidery hoops, and portable looms.

Don’t forget your closet walls! Items that are large and flat might do well hanging on a closet wall, or a long mounted hook might hang tomorrow’s outfit.

Organizing Paperwork

Paperwork can be a problem all its own, because it’s hard to tell what you need to keep and what you don’t.

What You Need To Keep

There are some items that you should absolutely always keep. Some items need to be kept for a period of time, some should be kept forever, and some should not be kept at all.

  • Keep Forever: Current identification documents (e.g. your current passport and birth certificate), proof of ownership documents for things you own, love letters, medical records
  • Keep For A Period of Time: Expired identification documents, tax-related documents, bank statements, paid bills, old lease documents
  • Don’t Keep: Notifications, ad mail of any kind

You do not need to keep correspondence from any organization with which you do not do business.

Know the statute of limitations on all official correspondence, and keep it for that period of time. For example, if you file taxes in the United States, you should retain a paper copy of your taxes, and all documents associated to your taxes, for ten years, because an IRS audit is allowed to go back through your tax filings for ten years.

What You Need to Dispose of Securely

Identity fraud – the representation of oneself as another person in order to steal money from them or take out credit in their name – is rampant in this day and age. It can ruin your credit, your reputation, and cost you thousands of dollars. It’s a very, very serious problem.

Shred any paper that has any of the following information on it.

  • Your full legal name
  • Your name and address together
  • Your social security number
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Account numbers of any kind
  • Any correspondence from your bank or credit card provider
  • Any correspondence from a government entity
  • Any monetary balances for any account

If it’s a magazine with your name and address on it, just tear the page out and shred it, then trash or recycle the rest.

The Value of Going Paperless

Treeware is a pain in the you-know-what to keep organized. Data storage is cheap. Every bill that you can receive electronically and every receipt you can get by email is one bill that isn’t cluttering up your desk. File your bills on your computer and back them up, and search functions will save you a lot of time and space.

(Just be sure to encrypt your stuff.)

Filing Cabinets

Your filing cabinet does not have to be a bulky thing on wheels, and for most people, it shouldn’t be. Size your filing by how much paper you process (if you go paperless, you’ll have a lot less) and how much space you have. Anything that can accommodate hanging folders will do the job — I had a bright pink milk crate with grooves on the side for hanging folders, and that was my filing from the time I first went to college until I bought my own home.

If you have to keep it and it’s paper, it goes in a filing system, and that filing system should live in a room that is not routinely open to visitors. If you have a lot of visitors, whatever you use for filing should lock with either a combination or a key.

Consider a fire safe for the key documents. These are heavy, but don’t have to be expensive, and will protect the documents you’ll need to restore your life should everything you own burn to the ground or be lost in a flood.

A Final Word

Still can’t figure it out? Some people simply have an eye for organizing a space, and some simply don’t. If you don’t, see if you can bribe a friend who does to help you out. I do this for my friends circle; I barter it for other work that I personally hate doing. Many friends circles have this type of arrangement, so make friends in your new spot.

How to Tackle a Serious Mess

You’re staring at a mountain of empty takeout containers, dirty socks, papers, soda cans, books with spills on them, and a tangled length of cloth from that sewing project you promised your friend you’d do. Under all that, it’s rumored, is bedroom furniture. Your mattress has a bare spot on it where you sleep, approximately a third the size of the actual mattress. It hasn’t seen sheets in months. You’re not sure what color the floor is. And you’re staring at the lot of it in horror, wondering, “Where do I even start?”

Tackling a serious mess can be overwhelming, and some people don’t even tackle a moderate mess because it’s too much. I know someone who’s broken down in tears staring at a serious mess. Now you’re looking at tackling the mess and making the place livable — or getting evicted for poor housekeeping.

An old saw about tackling major projects asks, “How do you eat an elephant?”

The answer to that question is: “One bite at a time.”

The same applies to tackling a serious mess. You handle one thing, or one area, at a time, and don’t worry about the rest of it yet. Let’s break this down and make a plan.

NOTE: The following method is written with a full-blown hoarding situation in mind, and I’ve used it to tackle hoarding situations. Your situation probably isn’t that bad, and you may be able to skip some steps depending on what is and is not actually part of the mess. You may also have other elements that I don’t include here. Add them as single elements to your plan.

Step 1: Remove Garbage

Grab a trash bag or two, or three, or however many you think you’ll need. Scour the messy area for anything that you’re sure is garbage — the soda cans and empty takeout containers, for example. Any food that you didn’t put down less than an hour ago is garbage. Make sure to get not just everything on the floor, but also things on the furniture. Take any garbage bags that are full to the dumpster or garbage area for pickup.

💡👋: Need help identifying what is and isn’t garbage? Enlist a friend who can help you decide.

Step 2: Remove Food and Dirty Dishes

Scour the messy area (including the furniture) for any food or dirty dishes that aren’t currently in use. All food goes in the garbage. Take the dirty dishes to the kitchen (or if there are too many, to the bathtub) and fill each of them with warm water. Leave those to soak and proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: Remove Laundry

Grab either a laundry bag or another trash bag. Scour the messy area, including furniture, for anything that can be considered laundry. Clothing, sheets, towels, blankets, anything of that nature counts in this category. If it’s scattered on the floor or not neatly put away, you probably should wash it again, so if you aren’t sure, it should go in the laundry.

Step 4: Determine What Should Be Donated

Grab a box or bin. Scour the room, including floor and furniture, for items that you no longer want or need but that are in good working order or wearable, and toss these items into the box. When the box is full or you’re done with this step, mark it for donation to your local Goodwill or other charity of your choice, seal it with tape, and set it aside.

💡 👋 Some people have a tough time letting go of belongings that they no longer need or can use. If this is you, enlist a friend to talk you through it.

Now, take a good look around the area. Chances are, taking care of those three low-hanging fruits has made the area look a good bit different. Your next step is to figure out what to do with the stuff that didn’t fit into the other categories. This leads us to Step 5.

Step 5: Prepare A Sorting Area

Choose a fairly large piece of furniture in the area you’re cleaning to serve as a sorting area. If you’re cleaning a living room, the couch is a good choice for this. If a bedroom, the bed is ideal. If a public space, maybe a dining room table. The floor isn’t a good choice, because you’ll want to clear that space first in future steps.

Once you have your choice, identify everything on it that isn’t where it belongs. Sort these items into four piles:

  1. Items that don’t have a home (you don’t know where they go);
  2. Items that have a home, but that home is in another room;
  3. Items that have a home somewhere else in this room.
  4. A jar or a bowl for small items such as coins, screws, push pins, etc. that end up in the corners of every room.

💡 It is often helpful to put pile #2 in a laundry basket or other container next to the furniture in question. This lets you remove them from the room in Step 7 or Step 8 if that makes those steps easier.

Step 6: Sort The Out-of-Place Items

Scour the entire area for items that aren’t where they belong, and sort them according to the system you created in Step 5. This means everything that isn’t actually in its home, even if it belongs in the same room. Just sort it for now; you’ll put it where it belongs later.

💡 Normally I advocate handling each item once and only once, but in this case, sorting it all first lets you see how much space you really have in that spot, and whether maybe you need to move something to a different spot.

Step 7: Go Under and In the Furniture

Move all the furniture in the room. Open every drawer in the room. Dig into the couch cushions. Execute Steps 1-4 and Step 6 on everything you find.

Step 8: Clean the Rest Of the Room

By now, the rest of the room aside from your sorting area should look pretty manageable. Deal with any pests you find. Dust, vacuum, polish, and remove stains and spills from every surface except your sorting area.

Step 9: Put The Sorted Things Away

Now it’s time to turn your attention to your sorting surface. Using your newfound space in this room, first put everything away in pile #3 away where it belongs.

Pile #1 will take the longest to address. For each item, you need to decide where it belongs, whether it is this room or another. If it belongs in another room, add it to pile #2. If it belongs in this room, find it a spot that makes sense to you and put it there.

💡 👋 If you’re not good at figuring out where it makes sense to put an item, enlist the help of a friend who is a good organizer.

💡 This may be a good time to split pile #2 into smaller piles by what room the item belongs in, especially if you have many rooms to tackle. You can then take each pile into the appropriate room and address it when you tackle that room.

Pile #4 should be accorded a home of its own, whether in this room or another. Separate out the screws and other small items. Having a change jar somewhere in the house helps you save, and more than a few times I’ve taken a full change jar to the coin sorter in the grocery store and gotten enough cash to pay for my groceries that week!

Step 10: Clean Your Sorting Area

Execute Step 8 on your sorting area. Dust, polish, vacuum around it, remove any stains and spills.

Ta-da! You should be left with a cleaned room.

Step 11: Wash The Dishes

Remember all those dishes you left in the kitchen or bathtub in Step 2? Go wash them and put them away where they belong.

A Final Word

Whew! That’s a lot of work, and it probably took you several hours to do. To avoid having to go to that much effort again, it’s best to pick up after yourself as you go. Every time you finish with an item, put it back where it belongs. Dirty laundry belongs in a hamper or laundry bag, and should not stop for a cup of tea on the floor. Garbage should go straight to the trash can instead of happy hour on your desk. Dirty dishes should go straight to the kitchen before you go to bed on the day you used them, or as soon as you’re done with them. You’ll spend far fewer spoons cleaning in this way than you probably spent on the steps above.

Don’t forget to take the box of donations you put together in Step 4 and take all that stuff to the charity you choose.

💡✍️ Do you itemize on your taxes? If you’re just starting out, probably not. If you own your home, you probably do. If you do, be sure to take note of what you donated to charity, because the fair market value of all that stuff is deductible on your taxes! Charitable donations up to $500 can be claimed as tax deductions without documentation, but many thrift shops and charities can provide this documentation to you. Check out ItsDeductible from Intuit to help you determine fair market value for your stuff.

The Secrets To A Clean and Tidy Home

Note: Because I have so many friends with chronic illness and disability, including more than one on the autism spectrum, I refer often to “spoon theory” to describe energy expenditure for everyday tasks. You’ll see this reference throughout this blog.

Handle Each Item Once (And Only Once)

When I was growing up, my mother used to cook dinner, strewing empty boxes and cans and piles of potato peelings all over the kitchen counters, and only when dinner was done and it was time to clean up did she address the mess she had created. To be fair, she addressed her own mess, but it usually was a mess.

After she passed away untimely, my father’s approach took over the house. Was I done with that can or box? Into the recycling bin with it as soon as it was emptied. Potato peelings? While the food was cooking, stuff them down the garbage disposal. Didn’t use that dish? Put it away. Raw meat plate? Put it in the sink, or straight into the dishwasher if space and time allowed.

After I finished college and moved out on my own, I started with my mother’s approach, and gradually shifted to my father’s approach as I realized something. As you finish with each item, putting it where it belongs as you go simplifies final cleanup a lot, for little or no extra energy expenditure. Cleaning up the mess afterwards cost me a couple of spoons, because I was often looking at a fairly extensive mess. Doing it my dad’s way, I might spend one spoon for all the work together. I had more energy and time for my evening if I cleaned as I went.

The takeaway: Handling each item once and putting items away when finished with them is the most efficient way to maintain a tidy home or office.

Clear the Clutter

A cluttered home eats the mind. It really does. It’s irritating and visually distracting, and navigating through a home that has too much stuff in it chews through spoons like you wouldn’t believe.

The reality is that most Americans have way, way, way too much stuff. Our consumeristic society tells us we need X number of movies and DVD’s and piles of books and clothes and the latest gadgets from Amazon to be happy. I’m happy to report that in general, that isn’t true. Remember that the only things you can take to your grave with you are your memories and your conscience. You’re unlikely to lie on your deathbed wishing you’d had just one more video game.

There are a thousand resources on the Internet for how to clear the clutter from your home and workspaces. Half of them disagree with each other, and a good quarter of them think you should trash 90% of what you own. That’s taking it a bit far (humans are so good at taking things too far!), but paring down your belongings to what will fit inside your living space is a reasonable and advisable thing to do.

One concept that has taken hold recently is the concept of döstädning, or Swedish death cleaning. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually practical. Meant especially for older people, it’s about who will care for your belongings should something happen to you, and is it really fair to make them sort through that much stuff?

The rule that I use is: if it doesn’t serve a specific function, and it doesn’t make me smile, out it goes, or if I’m looking at what to buy, I don’t buy it.

The takeaway: Having too much stuff wastes your time and energy to no purpose. Consider paring down your belongings to what will fit neatly into your living space.

Break It Down Into Smaller Bites

If you’re faced with a chore list that is five miles long, you can expend a significant amount of energy on being overwhelmed and figuring out what to do first. Instead, break that big to-do list into days, so that you do two tasks on Monday, two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and so forth, so that instead of having ten or fifteen tasks on Saturday, you have only five or six, and you get a lot of your weekend back without losing all of your weekday evenings. For example:

  • Monday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum stairs. Total work time: 45m.
  • Tuesday: Main floor litter box, basement litter box, dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum main floor. (I live in a townhouse, so any given floor isn’t very big.) Total work time: 1h.
  • Wednesday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum office and upstairs hall. Total work time: 45m.
  • Thursday: Main floor litter box, basement litter box, dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum and straighten bedroom. Total work time: 1h.
  • Friday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen. I tend to go out on Friday nights, so that’s it. Total work time: 30m.
  • Saturday: Clean downstairs powder room and sweep/mop kitchen and bathroom. These are usually my social run-around days, so that’s it unless I’m prepping to have people over. Total work time: 20m.
  • Sunday: These are my real work days. Towels get grabbed and tossed in the laundry pile. Laundry, all four litterboxes, clean the master bathroom, restock towels, clean the kitchen, straighten and vacuum living room, fold laundry and put away. Take the garbage to the curb. Total work time: 5h, though not all at once. I still have time to goof off some on Sundays usually.

The garbage and recycling goes to the back door as needed.

The takeaway is this: To keep a tidy house without losing your mind or your social life, do a little at a time every day.

And that, my friends, is how an unmarried woman with a full-time job takes care of a 1600 sqft townhome on her own and still has a social life. Am I Martha Stewart? No. 🙂 I keep my home at what I call a friends-clean level – I have better things to do with my life than keep my home company-clean all the time, and so do you, I bet.