Free shredding in Foster City, CA

I love free shredding events. I walk in lugging bags of sensitive papers and documents and walk out with nothing–except the confidence that no one will be able to extract my Social Security number or bank account number from that pulverized pile of paper.

If you have documents you’d like demolished, bring them to the Foster City Recreation Center, 650 Shell Blvd., in Foster City, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 16. Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Miracle Shred will shred them at no charge.

Wondering what to bring? Old credit card statements, documents containing your Social Security number, legal documents you no longer need, pay stubs (once you’ve received that year’s W2 forms), old credit card statements and voided checks.

Here is the Washington State Attorney General’s list of what to keep and what to shred.

And while you’re at it, why not toss in disappointing report cards, rejection letters from colleges and jobs and unflattering photos of yourself? How satisfying to see them all destroyed!



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Put A Cap on Your Collection

Can you imagine collecting 109,000 of anything? Think of the space you’d need to display them all. Consider the time you’d have devote to cataloging and tracking your holdings. Then mull what would happen to your collection after your death.

The question of what to do with ore than 109,000 caps landed Scott Legried, 40, on the front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. The cap collection belonged to his dad, Roger “Buckey” Legried. The elder Legried died last fall and left the world’s largest hat collection—verified by the Guinness Book of Worlds folks—to his son. The caps fill “a garage, a basement and three 13-meter semi-tractor trailers at the Legried family farm” in Minnesota, the article says.

None of the hats is particularly valuable, and the family can’t find a place willing to display the caps. And even if they did, would anyone really want to visit … a collection of random caps? Yet Scott Legried feels compelled to find a home for them.

The Legrieds’ situation is an extreme case, but it’s not an uncommon one. Parents often leave their worldly goods to their children, who then must shoulder the burden of deciding what to keep and what to give away. I’ve met many people who have garages, basements, drawers and even rooms filled with their late relatives’ silver, dishes, furniture and personal goods—all items they don’t want, don’t use and don’t enjoy but feel tremendous guilt about removing from their homes.

I encourage clients in this situation to select the items they love and incorporate them into their own homes so they can be enjoyed. And I recognize that people who are paralyzed by those decisions might not be ready yet to act. Perhaps they’re still grieving or are overwhelmed by a deep sense of loss. If the loss is fresh, I encourage them to wait a few months and then check in with themselves. If time isn’t the issue, I gently suggest counseling to help them pinpoint why they feel they cannot part with these items.

In Scott Legried’s case, he wants to honor his dad’s memory with a cap display. He’s even willing to spend $15,000 to find a permanent public space for the colection. Here’s an idea for Scott that would honor his dad’s memory without saddling him with the burden of overseeing 109,000-plus caps:

Give the caps away to anyone who wants one. Offer to mail the caps all over the world, provided the recipients pay the cost of postage. And attach a tag or iron-on label to each cap detailing how it was part of a world-record collection amassed by Roger “Buckey” Legried. The family would then have the satisfaction of knowing that each cap found a wearer and that every cap went to someone who wanted it. And they’d be able to divest themselves of tens of thousands of caps that are just gathering dust.

What better way to honor the memory of a man who couldn’t put a cap on his collection?

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You Did What To My Email?

Are you still dealing with emails you received during the summer or Labor Day weekend? If you have a backlog of emails awaiting your attention, don’t bother responding.

Instead, just declare email bankruptcy. Yes, delete ‘em all and move on. If something’s really important, you’ll surely hear back from the people who tried to contact you.

Ludicrous? Yes. Disrespectful to people awaiting a response from you? Absolutely. And for real? Unfortunately, yes.

I discovered email bankruptcy thanks to this post in the otherwise insightful blog One Thing New. OTN dubs it “the best email management tip ever” and credit the idea to Thomson Reuters’ Lauren Young, who oversees wealth management coverage. They quote her saying, “There’s something so liberating about going into your inbox and deleting it all.”

I’m sure there is. There’s also something childishly irresponsible about email bankruptcy, akin to the behavior of the tot losing at checkers who slams the board shut before the game ends. Deleting your entire inbox appears to be a sign of being in control. But it’s really a display of how panicked and overwhelmed someone like Lauren Young feels when staring down a bulging in box after a vacation.

That’s understandable. Too much of anything scary can paralyze even the most fearless of folks. But tossing it all, whether it’s memorabilia, photos or clothes, isn’t a lasting solution. And that approach doesn’t help anyone develop or exercise critical life skills – like prioritizing, managing time and energy and making wise decisions.

Next week I’ll offer some strategies for preventing emails from taking over your life. If you have any strategies that have worked well for you, I’d love to hear them and will share them here. I read every email from readers, so you can be sure your note won’t end up deleted and ignored.



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Paying the price for organizing

Here’s the original Inquirer article, first published more than 23 years ago.

As a rule, I don’t like having to pay for something I can get for free. Yet in the name of organizing and decluttering—and maybe in the name of posterity—I recently shelled out $2.95 for a copy of an article that I wrote and already had in my office file.

The article was about a Northeastern Pennsylvania publisher named Jean Kwiatkowski who printed a successful magazine about couponing and rebating. The piece first appeared in The Times-Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where I was a 23-year-old reporter. It was then distributed by the Associated Press and was printed in The Philadelphia Inquirer on March 12, 1989. (That was when a $30 Walkman  “AM/FM stereo cassette player” was the hottest device for listening to music, as an ad on the same page reminded me.)

I was elated to have my byline appear in a major paper. I carefully folded the page it appeared on and saved it in a file. It traveled with me from newspaper jobs in Pennsylvania to Florida to Georgia to California.

Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly reducing the amount of paper in my office. I’ve been discarding what I no longer need, giving away useful items to charities and scanning articles I want to save digitally.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t easily scan the Jean Kwiatkowski article. It was laid out with a column running from the top of the page to the bottom and then with several paragraphs stretching across the top of the rest of the page. It wouldn’t fit on my scanner without major cutting and pasting.

I visited the Inquirer’s website and in less than a minute had located my article in its digital archive. After a $2.95 charge to my credit card, I was able to download it and save a digital copy.

I reread the article, using my 20-plus years of additional experience to mentally edit and tweak it. I remembered the thrill I felt when I saw my byline in the Inquirer. I appreciated that I’d always have the digital copy, never yellowing or lost, in my digital file and backed up in the cloud. Then, a little reluctantly, I tossed the yellowing, tattered newspaper clip.

For less than $30, you could own a portable AM/FM radio and tape player. Everyone wanted one. Remember?

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Thirty-nine pairs of shoes

That’s how many pairs of shoes, on average, were visible in the homes of 32 middle-class, two-income couples, according to researchers from UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families. Don’t be mistaken: This doesn’t mean that families own 39 pairs of shoes.

Rather, researchers found 39 pairs of shoes in plain sight in Los Angeles-area homes, not in closets or boxes or otherwise put away and contained. I’m fascinated by that information, and I’m sure I’ll be equally captivated by the other findings in their book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century”, which will be available next month. A Wall Street Journal article this weekend gave me a taste of what to expect in the book, which is the result of four years of study of these families and their possessions.

The Journal reports that the researchers meticulously catalogued every single visible item in each home, snapped 20,000 photos and gathered 1,500 hours of videotape of family activities. Among their conclusions, the paper reported: “The more objects attached to the front of a family’s refrigerator, the more objects per square foot in the house overall.”

The research team of archaeologists, anthropologists and other scientists also found that 75 percent of the garages in the study were so packed with stuff that there was no room to park a car. Another finding that captivated me was the 30 percent increase (estimated) in a family’s number of possessions with each new child just during the preschool years. Everyone who’s had kids will nod in astonishment at that figure. I’m surprised it’s not higher!

I can’t wait to read this book because I’m sure it will help me:

—  show clients that they’re not alone in being overwhelmed by what they own

—  better understand what people hang on to and how it becomes clutter

—  develop more techniques to help my clients simplify their lives and ease the stress that all this stuff creates

And clutter does create stress, the researchers found. As the WSJ reports: “Mothers who used words indicating that their homes were messy or cluttered in their videotaped, self-narrated house tours had higher levels of stress hormones toward evening, as measured by saliva tests. There was no such correlation with fathers.”

Which perhaps explains why all my clients have been women!

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Is it really almost July?

Several friends have lamented to me that summer, traditionally a long, lazy span of idle time, is whizzing by like a hummingbird on speed. I can’t say I disagree. I don’t even have to flip my week-by-week calendar to see that June gives way to July on Sunday. I’ve discovered that trying to schedule a summer Sunday with friends is futile because so many families are traveling or sending kids to camp. So much for free time.

The folks at Doodle, a scheduling app, say their research finds that events are scheduled about two months in advance. How do they know? They combed key words that users of their event-planning software cited. The words “summer vacation” peaked in mid-May and enjoyed a smaller but longer-lived search through June. And it was all down hill from there until August. Interestingly enough, “summer vacation” made a brief appearance on the Doodle chart in February. That’s probably because camp enrollments begin around then, and parents need to plan camp around vacation, or vice versa.

If you feel that summer is passing you by, don’t despair. It’s not too late to manage your summer break–or create one.

— Pick two or three activities you’d like to do this summer. Choose something manageable, like seeing an art exhibit, going to a concert or taking a day hike, so you’re not overwhelmed by scheduling logistics.

— Schedule days to do these things. Write those dates on your calendar. Arrange for childcare if you need it, or request the day off from your boss.

— Tell at least two friends or family members about your plans. Promise to report back to them about your adventure. Being accountable makes you more likely to follow through with your plan.

— Take a photo of yourself enjoying your summer activity. This will help you remember the experience and give you pleasure when you share it with others.

Here’s a photo from yesterday’s trip to Felton, Calif., to go zip lining among the redwoods. Summer memory: Check!

What have you planned for this summer?

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photos and videos go digital

If you’re curious about services that will convert your old photos and videos (VHS, anyone?) into digital images you can store on your computer or in the cloud, a recent Plum District offer from Pixmonix might be worth a try. You get $60 worth of digital scanning for just $25. The deal is good only for the next five days, and you’re limited to no more than three coupons per person.

Pixmonix’s website lists charges as 49 cents per picture for 300 dpi (dots per inch) or 69 cents per picture for 600 dpi. The higher the resolution, the greater the cost. Negatives are 59 cents or 79 cents a piece, and 35 mm slides are 69 cents or 89 cents.

This deal won’t empty the shoeboxes of old photos in your closet, but it does give you a chance to stick a toe in the digital pool. And you get your originals back … but if you like the digital format, you have my permission to discard the old photos and instead keep the digital images.

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