It's the time of year for cleaning out closets and clearing away clutter. In my apartment, it's my home office that needs the most attention. I still have a some boxes that I never unpacked from my family's cross country move last year. And then, there is the growing stack of finger paintings and drawings from my two very busy 4-year-olds, not to mention a number of documents and statements that need filing.
This season, I went in search of some unique ways to help with the tedious task of spring cleaning and found there are some really helpful free and inexpensive tech tools that might make a difference throughout the house. So whether you're reorganizing the cabinets, going through all those boxes in the garage or tackling that pile of papers on your desk, here are 10 digital resources to help you tackle the mess in just about every corner of your home.
It doesn't matter whether the pile is in your garage, attic, or basement. Fact is, many of us possess a collection of old gadgets and hardware we no longer use. Spring is a great time to consider
e-cycling -- putting unwanted cell phones, hard drives, TV's and the like to good use and keeping their reusable materials out of landfills. You can find out how and where to donate your items from the comprehensive online resources of the US Environmental Protection Agency .
Make sure to safeguard your personal information before giving away hard drives and cell phones. The EPA says deleting old files on your computer is not enough. You should download software to erase your personal information or better yet, leave it to the professionals to wipe it clean. Remember to take the SIM card out of your old cell phone, too. April 5 th -11 th is National Cell Phone Recycling Week. Look for local events and drop-offs in your area.
2. Pay It Forward
Once you start to prune away the extra stuff your storage areas, you have a terrific opportunity to do some good for others. The service, ExcessAccess.com collects wish lists from local charities and matches them with donors in the same zip code. You pay a $5 listing fee and can post all of the things you want to donate, including furniture, clothing, toys, etc. and then the charity will contact you and will arrange the pick-up. ExcessAccess also provides a receipt for your tax-deductible donation.
THE BEDROOM CLOSET
3. Weed Out Your Wardrobe
If you're planning to go through your wardrobe this season to reorganize or to discard things you never wear, you don't necessarily need a professional organizer or stylist. Consider the assistance of your mobile phone. Closet Lite is a free iPhone app that allows you to shoot photos of your clothing and catalog each and every item, including accessories. There is also a function to help you put together outfits for each season so when the next big job interview or date night or engagement party comes up, you'll know what you already have to wear in your closet.
4. Swap Toys
Pass on gently used toys, books, clothing and baby gear to other families and earn points to get some new things for your growing kids. Zwaggle .com is a virtual swap meet where users post items they want to give away and earn points or "Zoints" to buy things they need. You assign the points value to your items. No money is exchanged. The person wanting to obtain what you are getting rid of is responsible for shipping costs. There are also lots of active neighborhood groups, so the company says drop-off/pick-ups are pretty common. New users get a complimentary 50 "Zoints" when they register.
THE HOME OFFICE
5. Go Paperless
A recent Yahoo! survey found that nearly 70% of Americans pay their bills online. That's up from 4% back in 1995. Close to half of those surveyed told us "They could not live without the Internet to pay bills." This spring, explore the online bill pay options with your bank. Or consider Billeo.com. It's a free toolbar you download to your computer that enables you to pay your bills in one fell swoop with any form of payment. Billeo stores your passwords and connects you directly to a vendor's website when you want to make a payment. It also keeps track of where you shop online and the passwords you use at each of those sites.
6. Organize Your Passwords
If you still have your passwords written down on sticky notes or haven't changed them in a while, this is a good time to upgrade your system. When Yahoo! surveyed Internet users recently, we found that 20% of people never change their passwords. The makers of Keeper Password and Data Vault by Callpod, the #1 downloaded password app on iTunes and Android, say they their product makes it easier for people to keep track. Keeper is a free app for most mobile phones that allows you to store all of your passwords in one military grade encrypted space. It unlocks with one master password - That's the one you have to remember. You can also purchase Keeper software for your Mac or PC, which will sync with your mobile device.
THE LIVING ROOM
7. Clear Out Catalogs
Do you have a pile of catalogs gathering dust in your living room or den? There is a pain free way to stop the flood of junk mail invading your space. Sign up for Catalog Choice- a free service that takes your name off the mailing lists of companies that send those annoying direct marketing materials in the mail. You simply register your name in the non-profit's data base and then select the catalogs from their list of more than 1,300 titles. Since Catalog Choice was founded in 2007, it's processed more than16 million opt out requests which, according to the group, is "equivalent to saving 566,000 trees and reduced CO2 emissions equal to taking 15,000 cars off the road."
8. Do Away With Manuals
When you make a big purchase like a new TV or kitchen appliance, it's hard to part with the paperwork that goes with it. Luckily, many manufacturers now publish their user manuals and instructions online. Check Manuals Online to find out which hard copies you should keep and which you can toss. The free resource boasts 300,000 manuals from 5,000 brands including Frigidaire, Sony and Samsung. Think how much drawer space you'll reclaim!
9. Check the Shelf Life
If cleaning out the fridge is on your list, consult the website Still Tasty.com. It's a reference guide to find out which things in your refrigerator or pantry are still good and which should be trashed. You can also load it onto your iPhone for a handy way to keep track of random things like whether it's time to toss the barbecue sauce in the back of your fridge or the hamburger patties in the freezer. The $2.99 app also has an alert function to remind you when food will expire and a shopping list so you can restock.
10. Create a Digital Gallery
If you have a refrigerator or countertop packed with masterpieces by your little Picasso, it might be time for a high tech solution. One easy way to clear out the clutter and still preserve memories is to scan or photograph the paintings and drawings and create a digital gallery on a photo-sharing site like Flickr. Once the images are uploaded to the web, you can display the art in a slide show on your home computer or TV screen. Or you can turn them into a book by downloading software from Blurb.Blurb's BookSmart software is free to download to a Mac or PC. You can select from hundreds of professionally-designed layouts and import your photos, scanned artwork, text, or even your blog. Books start at $12.99 for a 7 x 7 soft cover.
These are some of the creative ways I've discovered to help organize my life and home. No amount of technology will cut down on the time and effort it takes to do the hard work of sorting and discarding. But at least these modern resources may put a fresh spin on the work to be done.
Which websites or mobile apps will you be using this spring to help you purge and de-clutter?
Heather Cabot is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Well Mom (www.thewellmom.com), a weekly e-zine that empowers and inspires moms to better care for themselves in mind, body and spirit. She also serves as Web Life Editor for Yahoo!.