Follow-up on the Arc Notebook

It’s hard to believe it was only January that I reviewed the Arc Notebook from Staples initially and two things have happened that inspired me to follow-up on this – to share more about how it’s holding up with even more time and usage.

I continue to greatly appreciate this notebook – it really is my go-to place when I need to write things down.  This includes my to-do list for the week (or occasionally, day), notes about any blog ideas, things that inspire me, and other things that it’s easier to hand-write (rather than using the iPad).

First, I need to share that there is something I forgot to talk about in my review – another positive aspect of this style notebook (both sizes) is that the rings allows for the notebook to be flipped over like a standard notebook.  This means that if you have limited space for the notebook to be sitting out, you aren’t limited to it lying there closed until you need to use it.  The poly style will lie flatter since the leather has some bulk and causes it to lie at a slight angle.

It’s been interesting though, the amount of paper that comfortable fit in the notebook seems so little.  My perception (and some of the people I work with also) is first that it’s easy to put too much paper in – I think the rings are deceptive in that it seems like more paper would fit easily.

I’ve also become curious about if we’re simply more comfortable with having lots of pages available to us – so when we see how much we need to cut back on the pages, we feel ill at ease.  I know I do – “uh-oh I only have 8 blank pages” – yet I have yet to use all those pages in a sitting.  And there is still a bit of discomfort about how few blank pages there are – hence my curiosity about how we view the access to blank pages in our notebooks.

And it finally happened – there is a page that is coming loose and does not want to sit back around the rings.  I shared in my initial post how it seems like the pages would not be easily moved around time after time – that there should be a limit before the punched paper will just stop working.  Although I initially had some pages where the punched paper was certainly flexible from moving it around, it still connected solidly with the rings.

The only page that has caught my attention with this issue is the first page I left in the notebook – I left in the cover page – and the bottom punch doesn’t want to stay.  Even though the cover page is beginning to not connect with the rings – it’s still only 1 of the punches.  The page has 7 other punches helping to keep it attached – so even when the paper is getting tired, it happens slowly and there is support so that the page is still part of the notebook.

I’ve been appreciating the Arc Notebook so much that it took me a while to start using the similar notebook from Ampad (blog about that coming fairly soon!) and my intuition tells me that I will still prefer the Arc Notebook.  As I see people making notes for themselves – either on random pieces of paper or just filling a spiral notebook with notes – I think about the Arc Notebook and how easy it is to keep like notes together – at least as long as you don’t fill a single page with notes that relate to different aspects of your life.  It’s probably obvious that I consider this product a great option for a variety of needs that require our writing it down.

Our Feelings & Our Organizing

I recently talked about how our minds are the most important tool for our organizing efforts in Our Minds & Our Organizing – how when we use it clearly we can figure out the solutions for our unique situation.  And of course our mind handles more than the logical data in our lives – it’s processing our emotions.  Our thoughts and feelings interact and intermingle influencing our actions and behaviors and when we improve our awareness then our choices will support our life and goals.

The feelings we have can inspire us to make changes – “this space feels cluttered,” “I’m so frustrated at how I’m managing my time,” and “I get so anxious when I have to deal with paperwork.”  As we recognize the feelings we’re having, we can then start the process of finding a way to change things and feel better – at least ideally.

Those same feelings can prompt avoidance and discouragement – where we cannot conceive that there is hope for things to be any different – hopeless, another feeling.  It can be challenging to withstand the influence of our feelings – shirking tasks we feel we’re not good at or can’t succeed with, procrastinating things since “what’s the point?” and giving ourselves all sorts of messages that support reasons that we cannot change things.  Yet if you examined those things logically, without the negative beliefs, would the evidence show your “complete incompetence” or just that you are not perfect and might need support, skills building, or practice?

These feelings can also trigger action to resolve the annoyance quickly – more of a reaction to your feelings.  Just like when interacting with people and someone blindsides you – it can be hard not to just react (whatever that looks like for you: snapping, yelling, apologizing, withdrawing) and realize later how things could have been handled better.  Similarly with our organizing, it can be easy to react to our organizing and tasks annoyances with our emotions.  Therefore, do we jump in and do anything to relieve the discomfort?  Or do we take some time to consider how to move things forward and make sure we’re not making more work or more complications for ourselves down the road?  If we’re busy reacting to our feelings of unhappiness, without evaluating our approach with the logic our mind can offer – it could be counter-productive.

We can draw an analogy to a typical junk drawer – it can be easy to just drop in all the random things we don’t or can’t deal with right now and it becomes the jumble where it’s hard to find anything.  The thing about a junk drawer is that it’s small and so what goes in and how much it can hold limits the degree of chaos you’ll have to deal with eventually.  Yet when we’re plagued with the need to fix that thing that’s bugging us, it’s often not as small and limited as a junk drawer.  That’s when the temptation to throw everything into the closet or a bin/bag/box, or rent a storage locker can lure us into thinking this is the best option.  And it might be the best option – the key is to consider your motivation, the logic of doing it, and then approach the stuff in a way that will minimize frustration and maximize getting your goals accomplished.

You can see that our emotions can have a tremendous effect on our efforts – whatever those efforts might be – both in a positive as well as a detrimental way.  These feelings can drive us – hurrying us to get through them – after all, when emotions are uncomfortable, why would anyone want to hang out with those unpleasant feelings?  It can be tricky to distinguish between our thoughts and feelings since there is such interplay between them.  Yet when we examine things from a logical point of view – looking for the evidence that supports and rejects our ideas – we can make the most of our emotions for inspiring change.  Ideally we’re using both our minds and feelings to develop the systems that will help us simplify and accomplish what we want.

Our Minds & Our Organizing

I think we are all doing more – we have more to track and stay on top of – than in past generations.  I don’t claim to know whether we’re saying ‘yes’ to more things or if there’s more to do.  Whatever the reason, it can mean that it’s easier to get overwhelmed and for things to simply not get done.  I could probably write a whole post about saying ‘no’ to things – even those that we put on ourselves – yet this isn’t what this entry is about.  When we have what feels like endless things we need to track and accomplish, organizing can be one of those pieces that feels less important.  Although if we know where things are and where they go, we can be more successful with all the other things we’re trying to handle.

When you decide organizing is important and will benefit you – it doesn’t happen magically.  (If only it was that simple! :))  The way we think and process interacts with our organizing efforts – in all ways, the decisions we make in choosing what, where, why, and how we put our things and then both in creating new systems as well as in maintaining what you’ve set up.  Our minds are critical to the process – and they can fool us.  How so, you ask?

Have you noticed that you can set aside the time, energy, and focus for organizing and then after you’ve done all the work realized that it’s not as logical as you’d thought?  I’m not sure how many people see this – that the way we think can end up creating some additional challenges to our efforts.

First, there’s more than one “logical” system we could create for ourselves considering the way we work.  If you’ve ever tried to categorize things, you’ve probably encountered those items that fit in more than one place and then have to choose one – and then, most importantly, remember which place you chose – and all at some unknown future point.  Filing is an example of specific example – what to call this or that file and then finding where you decided to put those specific papers.  Sometimes the fact that things can be misplaced even with thoughtful and logical decisions can be upsetting for people – potentially to the point of avoiding making decisions on systems.

One way to help you track your systems is to make a list or a map – keep it relatively simple.  I have a list of each file name and which drawer it’s in and then one of those files has lists of the boxes in storage and what the rough contents are so if I need to find a specific thing I can reference my file and go directly to the box it’s in.  I recently made a map of a dresser for a client – where each box, labeled with a short description of the contents (mostly 1-3 words), represents a drawer in the dresser.  Whatever you can do to help your mind focus on the things that really matter is what’s important.

example of a map for the contents of a dresser

An example of a “map” to identify where things are stored

Second, we might be impatient to find our solutions.  The level of frustration at how chaotic things feel – whether that’s searching for things or how many things we’re dealing with – can tempt us into rushing into setting up something – anything.  And then we change our minds – and set up something else.  Maybe we do this over and over and over again – and avoid sticking with any one system long enough to find out how it does help us.  Just because something doesn’t work immediately does not translate into its being useless.  It’s too easy to discount the importance of our habits – that it takes time, energy, and most importantly effort to shift them.  Do you remember the process of learning to ride a bike?  It took time and practice.  Therefore, make a decision – hopefully thought out – and stick with it for a while, working on being consistent with it.

In our search for answers – the way to make things easier – the thought of spending time thinking can be objectionable.  “What, you mean, I have to not act, let the crummy system/space continue?  And sit still and think?”  Well, mostly yes (you don’t have to sit still ;-)) – if we avoid considering how this or that did or didn’t work, all the various pieces of it; we’re going to keep jumping randomly from one idea and system to another.  Meanwhile, life isn’t going to be simplified and finding things that work for you are likely to elude you – defeating the purpose of trying to make things easier.

Although it might feel counter-productive to evaluate your systems – “a waste of time” – taking the time to do this will save you time, energy, and effort in the long run.  And when it appears that a system has broken down – take the time to re-evaluate things.  You might discover that something else – not the system – has changed.  There are plenty of times that things can become fully functional with some tweaks here and there, whether they are new to you or established yet fluctuating systems – and not require an overhaul, i.e. more time, energy, and effort from you, unnecessarily.

The benefits of being organized are innumerable – the reduction of stress and worry (at least in the organizing area) is priceless.  It would be hard to argue that it’s not valuable – though there are certainly times that it isn’t high on the priority list.  It requires we spend our valuable time and energy on it – all the more reason to not rush into it.  And ideally we’re going to approach our organizing efforts with our mind focused and relatively clear.  It’s your best asset for discovering the systems that will enable you to simplify and focus on all those other things you’re handling.  Therefore, use your mind to choose a system to try, set it up mindfully, and then stick with it for a while – and of course evaluate how it’s working or not for you.

Variations in Traditional Products

With so many products available – sometimes only online – it’s challenging to know what the possibilities are for your needs.  And I cannot claim to be an expert.  Yet, I do love discovering the variations and considering how and where they might be helpful.  Therefore, with that in mind, here are some variations on a couple of traditional products.

3-Ring Binder Pocket

I first discovered this at Walgreen’s for $0.99 and was impressed by its quality, though I haven’t been able to find this specific one in recent years.  There are now other brands available with various differences.  It can be helpful to have a closeable pocket or folder that then lives within a larger container – in this case a 3-ring binder.  I prefer the side opening; it makes the contents easier to access.  If you are a fan of using binders, there are limitations when you have smaller items that need to be included and this is when having the pocket helps.  (You might remember this is one of the benefits I’d talked about with the Unikeep binders.) Typical binder pockets and page protectors can be a way to include smaller items, though things can fall out of these since they don’t close.  In searching for the specific style I’d found, I realized there are some variations available – from the top or side opening and the type of closure: string, Velcro, and plastic snap (though this plastic snap is harder to find).  Most are designed to expand as the contents need – which is another reason they can be helpful – as the typical binder pockets and page protectors are intended for a limited number of pages.

3 Ring Binder Pocket

My last unused 3 Ring Binder Pocket (from Walgreens) holding the rest of what I talk about here.

Bookmark Index Cards

Index cards have many variations – they have colors, lined and unlined, 2 size choices, and binders and spiral bound to contain for your index cards.  Then there’s the bookmark style from Mead – where it looks like a ruled index card only there is an area that is cut so you can attach it to a page.  Now you can make more extensive notes and easily keep it where it relates in the book.  These can be found locally, Office Depot lists it as being sold in stores, so you might have seen these already.  A friend shared a handful with me and I’ve been using them some – they can fall off the page, though I’ve been using them on the side rather than the top so that might be part of the problem! I like how they have color on the top and back so they stand out and that due to their size I can write more details.  Then if I want to remove them from the book and save them, it’s easy to do.

Bookmark index card

Colorful bookmark index cards – the backs are colored completely in the color of the front edge

Tree Free File Folders (in SuperTab style)

Most of us use file folders at least some – even if you avoid a typical filing cabinet – and we’ve probably all seen all the colors and patterns available.  Did you know that you could buy file folders that are made differently?  These are made from sugar cane waste fiber that they say is sustainable, bio-based, and is a renewable resource.  The file folders are biodegradable, recyclable, and made through a sustainable, eco-friendly manufacturing process.  These have the 1/3 cut tab and are the SuperTab style – which means the space for your label is larger.  I can say that they feel sturdy – maybe even more than the typical file folders we’re all familiar with.

Tree Free File Folder

Highly eco-friendly file folders

 Project Planner Notebook

I’ve mostly seen project planner pages sold in packets that you then add to your day planner or other customizable notebook, like the Arc Notebook.  Granted I don’t personally have a great need for a whole notebook dedicated to project planning.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting option – and now that I have a one from the NAPO Conference Expo – it’s been handy. The distinct spaces for making notes is conducive for planning and keeping track of your progress – and different project planners have different allotments of space.  Although it comes spiral bound, sometimes the pages are perforated so removing them and putting them somewhere else is clean and simple.

Project Planner Notebook

Here’s one example of what the pages in a project planner notebook look like


All these products relate in some way to common organizational tools we’re all familiar with, yet these are variations that you might not have known existed.  There’s part of me that thinks we already have too many choices – too many options – yet there’s also a need for alternatives to the traditional tools.  Since we’re all different, having a variety of needs, and handling things uniquely our own way – this means we can likely find the tools that can assist us along the way.  Are any of these items likely to benefit your organizational life?

Reasons We Lose Things

The list of possible causes for misplacing things might be endless.  As with life, there are many variables and complicating factors.  It’s probably not as simple as “here it is, the sole cause for why I can’t find my things” and rather a combination of different reasons.  Therefore, considering the common causes can help us identify our own triggers, which is the first step toward limiting how much we lose things.  Here I’m talking about emotions – their tremendous impact in both organizing and locating our things.

  • When we’re distracted, tired/exhausted, angry, hurried/impatient we are exponentially more likely to forget where we put things.  We’re also not being thoughtful about what we are actually doing.  This is not a good time to make decisions about how to set things up for future use – wait until you can focus on the process.
    • I’m a big fan of being mindful, being in the moment as much as you can.  And if we could will ourselves to be in that state all the time we could eliminate this as a challenge.  Yet we all know that it’s not that simple.
    • Sometimes we can catch ourselves and control the distraction or whatever – “now is the time to focus on this.”
    • Other times it means recognizing that you are not in the best mindset for dealing with your stuff – do it later when you can be mindful.  If there is some urgent need to get things elsewhere, get like items grouped roughly together and find a place you can get them out of your way – rather than attempt to actually organize anything.
    • There are times when you need to take a few seconds to get things into their home; if you frequently misplace necessary things like your keys, cell phone, wallet/checkbook, etc. – take the seconds it will take to make sure you put them into their home – however frustrated or impatient you might feel.


  • Likewise, when we’re in the middle of strong emotions like any of the above – it becomes extraordinarily easy to become blind to that thing we are looking for.  This is turn can exacerbate our feelings – the frustration of panicked searching – the idea that we’ve lost something again and then when we found it and it was “right there all along” (if it was).  For some people, the mere suggestion something has been misplaced will send them into this state of stress.
    •  We can become frazzled when we can’t find that thing we need – whether it’s our keys and we need to leave the house or if it’s some paper we need in the next week.  This state – the adrenaline pulsing means we’re reacting emotionally rather than logically – and therefore our ability think clearly is compromised.  No wonder it’s harder when we feel stressed about losing the thing to then find it.
    • If you can recognize when your mind is racing, practicing stepping back – find a way to relax and calm your mind.  This is easy to say and can be excruciating to try to apply!
    • When you become aware of how your emotions are dictating, consider the true urgency of finding that lost thing – is it something that can wait, even for an hour or more?  If finding the item can wait, then distract yourself with something else – something that will take your attention for a while.  Then you might find when you revisit the search that you can be calm and methodical and it’s found quickly.
    • If you need the item urgently, it’s likely your reactions are going to be that much stronger and you’re going to be more emotional too.  Ideally you can take a minute or two to calm yourself.  This can be anything that helps the anxiety subside – in order for you to think and process more clearly.
    • This is not the time to problem solve what contributes to your misplacing things.  The stress of dealing with this frequently is often a motivator for finding solutions.

For some people, losing things is virtually a catastrophe.  While for other people, it might be uncomfortable; it is something they largely accept as part of life.  Both sets of people as well as everyone in-between still have to deal with strong emotions around misplaced items – no one is exempt.  It’s amazing and sometimes disturbing how our emotions can distort our thinking and perceptions as well as how challenging it can be to keep them in check.  And not just in one-way, but both sides – trying to organize or finding our things.  This doesn’t mean avoid your feelings, rather when we can see their impact, we can make smarter choices – which sometimes means simply (or not so simply) waiting for a better time and state of mind.

Review – Containers


  • a way to keep like items together
  • can maximize space
  • can increase accessibility
  • useful for smaller items of similar category


  • not a guaranteed solution for organizing struggles
  • contents within can “disappear”
  • can become more work to access and replace in its space


Here’s another somewhat nontraditional review – since it’s on containers in general, not a specific container.  When I talk about containers I am referring to any object that has the ability to keep things grouped together.  This means that a drawer, a filing cabinet, a bin, a bag, a basket, and so on are all containers – even your purse, if you use one.  We all use some containers under this definition although how useful the containers we use will depend on who we are and how we use them.  There are times that using containers can make things more challenging – even if you want to use them.  With this broad definition of a container, you might consider when and how they work for you and when they’re actually counter-productive.

In many ways the world seems to assume that we all need containers – we’re “weird”, maybe “wrong” if we don’t want to or can’t use containers.  The filing cabinet is a great example – many people believe they have to use a filing cabinet – “it’s what it is designed for.”  This is one of the fallacies of containers – even when they are designed for a specific purpose it doesn’t make them function for everyone.  Then it’s time to consider other options for keeping items contained.  You can create systems for containing that doesn’t require containers.

Figuring out when and where containers will help you is the most important thing – for if they only complicate your process, that’s defeating the point.  Therefore let’s cover a few situations that can make containers more useful.

  1. Are there things that seem to get “lost” frequently?  Small items in a bigger drawer can be one of these things getting lost.  This can be a time to consider a container of some sort to keep those smaller items together and accessible.  This is when it’s time to consider if you simply need a bin – in this example, something without a top to provide visibility and is easy to use – or if another solution needs to be found.

    Pantry drawer showing containers

    Here’s one of my pantry drawers – using containers to corral smaller items together

  2. Are there areas that are harder for you to use – spaces that are less accessible for you?  If you are shorter, high shelves can be a challenge to use – although if you put less frequently used items into a container, it provides easier access.  As a short person, the lip of a container means that you can slide the things you need out without the hassle of getting the step stool.  And it’s not just the lip of a container – it’s the handle, lid, whatever – having the items contained means you have access to hard to reach areas and the things you store there.  This can apply equally to deeper areas and low areas if it’s a challenge to bend or sit on the floor – containers offer easier access to get and move the things to a more convenient area while you need the contents.  The key to making this work is to limit the weight of the containers in the hard to access areas.

    Tall closet showing containers

    Both these shelves are hard for me to reach – yet by putting like items into containers, I can grab the handle, loop, edge to get easy access. This applies even to that box above.

  3. Do you need (or want) to maximize the tall and/or deep shelves?A cabinet shelf – one of any style stand-alone shelf – can help make the most of tall shelves in closets and then you use containers on top and bottom of these, as they’re useful for you.  One of the challenges of tall and deep shelves and using the cabinet shelf without containers is that loose things can topple off and things can disappear behind things – so the combination of tall and deep shelves and using containers means that you can make the most of the space.  You can also stack containers in these spaces, though that can make it harder to get to all of them and then possible resistance to returning them to their spot. Containers used in the front of these types of closets can then be easily moved when you need access to the items further back, which hopefully are need infrequently.

    Stand alone shelf in a tall and deep closet shelf

    Here’s a stand-alone shelf in one of our tall and deep closet shelves – where the containers on top and below provide greater storage. There are containers behind on both levels as well – helping to make the most of the space.

With all the variations of containers available to us, it is worth evaluating what features will assist you in getting and staying organized when a container is called for.

  • What size do you need?

Remember, wait to get a container until you have gathered and sorted all the like items you want to store together.  By doing this, you will know your specific needs.  It’s worth considering if the amount of items is typical too – are you likely to pick up more things that would need to be stored there too?  Do you actually have more than you’d like to store normally, so in the future a smaller container would make more sense?

  • What is the container made of?

With all the options out there, we’re virtually unlimited in our choices – plastic, canvas, wicker and woven materials, metal, and so on.  Yet, there are more than preferences for the material involved.  For instance, wicker and other woven type containers can snag things unless they’re lined.  Some people want to avoid using plastic, though that often means the contents aren’t visible from the side.  Are solid sides important?

  • Will you forget what’s inside if it’s not transparent?

Some people are quite visual – if you can’t see it, it’s like it doesn’t exist.  Sometimes this means that labels aren’t enough, so being able to see the contents becomes critical to the system working.  Other people, who are visual in a different way, come to strongly associate a particular container with specific contents – where the orange bin is autumn decorations.

  • Does it need a top or will the top just get in the way (or get lost)?

Lids can be important when we are stacking containers on top of each other, or if you will need to tip the container and not have the contents spill out.  They can help keep dust and dirt out of the contents too.  Other times, it makes more sense to have open containers – it’s easier to put things in and pull things out.  Inside a drawer is a prime place to avoid lids – you can see and access the contents easily.

  • Is there a shape that will work better for the stuff or the space?

Most of the time, a square or rectangular container is going to help maximize your spaces – since most spaces are designed with right angles.  Yet, is this container going into such a space?  If it’s a decorative hamper that you’re going to put in the corner of your living room to hold your yarn – it doesn’t need to have right angles for the space or the contents.

  • How much does it matter if it has a place for a label or is challenging to label?

One of the challenges with containers is the ability to label – or rather the inability to label them.  Many adhesives don’t attach securely to canvas, metals, wicker and woven materials and so on.  There are containers designed with a built in label while the bulk of them don’t provide this feature.  Figuring out how valuable this is for your situation is important.  Of course there are alternatives for hard to label containers – I’ve gotten attached to binder clips holding the label – as they can work with most containers.

Despite the perception that containers should work for everyone and are the solution for organizing challenges – it doesn’t make it true.  We need to consider our situation, the space, and how we work.  As much as I love containers, they do not function equally well for me – it depends on different factors.  This means that to discover what will work for us, in whatever context, we need to evaluate our needs.  Containers certainly help us contain our belongings, yet they are not the only way for us to keep our items together.

Organizing Photos

This can be a daunting prospect, especially if you have little to no system in place.  It’s similar to dealing with paper – these relatively small things that each need to be looked at and dealt with.  Yet photographs are often one of our most prized possessions, and creating a system means that not only are we protecting them, but also that we can appreciate them when we want.  As I touched on last month in Technology – Digital Pictures, organizing photos is becoming even more of a challenge to organize since we often have both physical pictures as well as digital ones.

As with virtually everything that we need to organize, the first step is to figure out what you want to do with your photos – besides keep them of course.  Do you want to put them into an album?  Do you want to scrapbook them?  Do you want them all printed or scanned – keeping them all in one specific medium?  How would you like to be able to appreciate them?  There is no wrong answer – although many people are embarrassed they don’t want to do more with them than have some order.

Let me make a couple of things clear early on – one, you do not have to set aside a weekend or a day to begin organizing your pictures, you can decide to spend an hour here and there (as with all organizing endeavors).  Two, as precious as photographs are, challenge yourself to part with the blurry and unnecessary duplicates.  Three, if you want to keep the physical images safe, look for archival containers (including albums and pages) that might not be available locally.  Four, consider whether you need to organize the larger pictures independently from the standard size pictures.

Often the traditional thinking with pictures is to get them into chronological order.  If the mere thought of figuring out the chronology of all your pictures leaves you wanting to scream, don’t worry – there are other options.  The ideas for organizing photographs can work with both physical and digital – though digital has other challenges associated with it.

One approach for organizing photos is to consider a broad timeline idea – more than chronological.  One person I worked with chose this idea: since kids, couple-hood, before spouse, and earlier generations.  In this situation, we needed 4 empty boxes/containers for those categories and we sorted the boxes of pictures into them, just adding another box into the category when the first was filled.  In another situation, after using floss to remove old pictures from albums, we spread out the pictures to divide them into decades – the ‘10s, ‘20s, ‘30s, and on.

If you think about scrapbooking – not that you are going to do this – the idea is to have a theme, the focus of the particular scrapbook and gather those photos together.  You can use this idea for organizing, the themes for your family and life – trips; family traditions (i.e. holidays, celebrations, etc.); athletic/theatrical/nature-loving/etc. kids; family “monsters” (pets); state of the home (garden pictures, renovations, etc.).  This is a time for you to think about your family and the things you are capturing in the pictures.  These themes become your broad categories – the piles or boxes that you sort into.

Imagine having a collection of pictures from each year your child was in soccer (or whatever activity) all together.  Organizing your pictures in this way allows you to see the progression over the years – there is a continuity to the photos that also offers perspective, “look how much they grew from that first year until their last year.”

Even if you stop at this point in the organizing process you will have a system in place.  Of course, you can continue to refine that system more – breaking those broad categories down so that specific photos can be found.  This is when you can use other groupings within the larger category – so all the Halloween pictures of your kids or Halloween pictures of your kids from the 1980’s are together.  You get to create the way you break it down or not.

From a preservation standpoint it’s recommended that you refrain from labeling the photographs themselves as inks can end up damaging the images.  From an organizing perspective, labeling each picture can be time-consuming and maybe even frustrating.  It’s easier to label the envelopes, index cards, and box for each category.

There it is – the process to getting your photographs into a system.  Yes, it will take time to get through your photos and into the organizing system that makes sense for you.  Yet with these dear memories, how wonderful would it be to have easy access to walk down memory lane or to find pictures to share with others?  And with the system in place if you decide later on to do something different – like make an album – the photos are already organized.  Any new pictures coming in can also be easily added to their place in the system.

Review: Ampad Shot Note

4 out of 5 stars

Ampad ShotNote

Ampad ShotNote


  • take written notes and turn them into digital notes
  • share notes with other people and programs
  • easy to use
  • pads of paper come in various sizes as well as blank,  wide ruled, and dot graph
  • iPhone app is free
  • ability to make a multi-page note


  • focus was quite variable
  • requires purchased paper to use
  • no control with sending to Dropbox


When I decide to write a review, I approach the product with as much of a blank slate as possible – keeping my mind open to see the benefits and drawbacks.  Except with this one – the Ampad Shot Note (paper and iPhone app), I discovered I had high expectations.  I’d been imagining how I could use it – even modifying it to suit other ideas.  And I immediately began trying it out in these other ways – before exploring it in the way it was designed.  As soon as I realized this, I took a step back and began testing it out exactly as they intended.  Similar to my trying to use it with the variations, my experiences shifted and changed throughout my using it.

As with many of the products I review, it came from the NAPO conference where they shared some of the paper and gave us a demo on how it works.  The paper has special symbols on the four corners, which the app uses.  You take notes, sketch, doodle, or whatever on this paper and then use the app to take a picture of it.  These images are limited to the paper – it uses those corner codes to eliminate anything else – so you won’t get distracting background.  It also keeps the image straight.  It’s easy to make your notes more than 1 page when needed, even when it’s an afterthought.  After taking the pictures of your notes, the next step is to put in a title and if you want, a description and tags, which will help you find your digital notes later.  That’s the process.  If you want to share it, you have the option for different methods: camera roll, email, Evernote, Dropbox, and Twitter.

Once I slowed down, I wrote out things on their paper to use with the app.  Although I wasn’t in the brightest of places, I could not get the app to capture an image of my notes that was crisp and clear.  I need to add the caveat that I often have a tremble that can make taking focused pictures challenging.

Test 1 First test of the Shot Note

First test of the Shot Note

I continued to experiment – testing out the same notes outside on a bright day in the shade and then out in the sun.  It was surprising how blue the notes were in the shade.

Test 2 outside shade

Test 2 of Shot Note
-outside shade

The best has been the note that was taken outside in full sun.

Test 3 outside full sun

Test 3 of Shot Note
– outside full sun

During this process it occurred to me that some of what this product is offering might be available from simply using the camera within the phone.  Therefore, I tried using the iPhone camera to see how the images compared.  Inside, the iPhone performed better and you have the option for flash with it.  With your iPhone (maybe other smart phones?) you also have the same options for sharing with email and Twitter.  It’s already on your camera roll.

Although neither of these pictures are truly good – the words are blurry – they show the (blown-up) differences between the Shot Note program and a general iPhone picture of the same note.  Both of these were taken with the first batch, inside.

Close-up of Shot Note

Zoomed in picture from Shot Note


Zoomed in image of same Shot Note with iPhone camera

Zoomed in image of same Shot Note with iPhone camera













As far as Evernote options – the Ampad Shot Note gives you the option for connecting the two programs, so all your captured notes with Shot Note will go into a specific Evernote folder.  That specific Evernote folder is assigned within settings, so this isn’t something you decide with each specific note.  Everyone who has an Evernote account also has a special Evernote email address where you can email anything directly into Evernote.  You can also choose to send emails into specific folders in Evernote on a case-by-case basis.  Evernote has handwriting recognition, so any note is then searchable – regardless of its original source.  Both Shot Note and camera images with writing had the same recognition within Evernote, as long as the images were clear – the blurry though still readable to me images did not come up with the search.

With Dropbox, Ampad Shot Note creates a folder in your Dropbox where everything you share with it goes – you cannot define where each note goes (other apps are giving you the option for choosing it’s exact places, i.e. within other folders).

From the moment I was introduced to this product, I asked about using it without having to buy the paper.  They explained that the 4 corner codes are critical since the program uses those in how it processes – the app has guides/boxes on screen that you center over the 4 corner codes – although they said otherwise, it should work.  I had what I thought was a great idea… to use those 4 corners with other papers.  I cut all 4 of them out and placed them on the 4 corners of another piece of paper and tried to use the app.  It tried to take the picture and I received an error message, although it did save the image where you can share it.  I then tried cutting off the top and bottom of the paper and placing the 2 strips on the top and bottom of another paper – the same thing happened.  Somehow the app is smart.  The program isn’t “complaining” when you place another piece of paper on top of the pad with the corners showing – and will treat that image just like it was your notes, sketches, or doodles.

The idea of this is wonderful – a way to unite the paper world with your digital realm.  This means that first you are already comfortable with the technology, that you appreciate the digital aspects available to you.  Second, it’s also designed for people who are largely limited to their phones (and computers) for their access – since you can more easily use an iPad for taking notes with your handwriting.  Then the question is whether you have a need for the features of this product.  It’s not often I take handwritten notes that need to be with me or that I want to share with someone else – or rather if I do, I use my iPad for that.

Can you think of how this can benefit you and your life?

More Brief Overviews of Organizing Products

It’s a bit mind-boggling that it didn’t occur to me sooner to share these various products – whatever they might be.  My thinking had been narrow, yet as I shared last time – just because I’m not prepared to write an independent review doesn’t mean these aren’t worth sharing.  In this world where we can be overwhelmed with the choices available to us, there’s a line between being informed and being paralyzed by the options.

Without further ado let’s jump right into the products.

1. DoubleSeal Envelopes from Ampad – We’ve probably all known someone who moistens the envelope flap and then puts tape over the flap as well.  Heck, there are times when the moistened seal doesn’t seem to be adhering well and we need the tape to keep the contents contained.  Here’s a product that provides that tape right on the envelope itself – no running to retrieve the tape – and adds that extra level of security.  This isn’t a product for everyone, though if this is something that would make your life easier – know that it’s available.

Double Seal Envelopes

Double Seal Envelopes from Ampad

2. Packaways  – This was a new product for me from this year’s 2013 NAPO conference and I really wished they had a miniature sample to bring home with me and let everyone play with it.  These are reusable plastic storage boxes that come in translucent and 3 bright colors in all three styles they make: classic (3 sizes), under bed, and tote.  There are a number of features which make them unique: they collapse and reassemble repeatedly without anything else required – no tape, they have wipe away panels for labeling on 2 sides of the box, corrugated plastic construction protects from water and humidity, and all styles are designed to have the same footprint which makes stacking them easy.  This was certainly a product that surprised me this year – playing with pressing the opposing corners to make the bottom fold into place and then collapsing them – I was impressed with the apparent durability and ease.  There’s a good chance I will purchase at least one of these eventually and if it’s as good as it seems, I will share my impressions with you.

Packaways green classic plastic storage box

Packaways Classic Plastic Storage Box

3. OrganizedUp Heavyweight Vertical File Folders from Smead  – Here’s another organizing product that offers the vertical option, although it does have the option for using and labeling on both the vertical and horizontal to make it more versatile.  I’m happy to see that the vertical options are growing – that approach makes it easier to identify the specific papers you are looking for since the title will be at the top of the opening.  This style also makes organizing papers in backpacks and similarly designed bags easier.  These are water resistant, closed on two sides, and designed to hold up to 25 pages.  Each pack comes with 3 colors – either earth tones or bright tones.

Upright file folder from Smead

Vertical File Folder, heavyweight, from Smead

4. Pliio – This product is a clothing filer – yes, a way for you to file your clothes (it just might help me shift my reaction to the idea of “filing”).  The design makes it quick and easy to fold your clothes while keeping the shape uniform which then means it’s easier to find the clothes you are looking for.  How intriguing that by using these you could line your clothes upright; no more toppling stacks of clothes as well as not needing to dig to the bottom of the pile to get the item you want.  These help make the most of your storage space and when you are packing for a trip.  Even better they are now available at Bed, Bath & Beyond so you can see them for yourself in person.

Pliio fold, file, and find your clothes

Pliio – clothing filer

5. HomeZada – This is online and mobile software for organizing your home with a free version and a paid, premium version ($59.00 a year or $5.95 a month).  With the free version, Essentials, they offer: a home inventory where you can collect warranties, owner’s manuals, receipts, and pictures; property documents where you gather insurance and mortgage documents, plans, permits, and tax documents; contacts for your service providers and emergency contacts; and news & alerts which provide you with maintenance tips and seasonal checklists.  With the premium version you get everything that Essentials include as well as many benefits relating to home maintenance and a section for home improvements projects: templates, financial planning for the projects, and shopping comparisons, and finally the option to manage up to 3 homes, which could be great for landlords.

Screenshot from Home Zada and home maintenance

Screenshot from HomeZada and its home maintenance section

As with any and all products it’s important that we evaluate what could help us and avoid the temptation to get simple because it’s neat.  For me, the Pliio is the latter – it seems neat and could be fun, yet I already manage my clothes well, it wouldn’t help me simplify.  We also need to be mindful for the time and energy we have to put into things – when it comes to programs, it’s easy to become enamored of the idea that it could make things easier except that we’ll need to learn it and use it – sometimes this easier said than done.

I’ve tried to include a variety of products that are out there which were developed to help us get and/or stay organized.  These are not products I’ve used (and abused) to see how well the function – they are simply options that I know about.  Would any of these meet your needs?  Are there things that you need yet the products you know about don’t fill those needs?  What products are you interested in knowing more about?

Misplacing Things?

It happens to all of us – we forget where something is or can’t find that thing we need.  I’m currently even in the middle of one of those times – one of our magazines has a place, I’m sure of it – yet I cannot seem to locate where they are.  It bugs me!  And granted I can be a bit of a perfectionist; it’s more than that though, it’s unsettling to know you have something yet cannot get your hands on it.  Although on some level losing things is inevitable, it’s worthwhile to work at minimizing that.  Therefore let’s look at some of the causes of losing things as well as steps to take in order to limit how much we misplace.

  • We don’t put things away when we’re done with them.
    • Put things back into their home when you are done with them.  How’s that for an obvious solution?  Yet, the better we can get about this, the easier our lives can be.
    • This can happen for any number of reasons and sometimes it can even make sense at times.  There are steps for dealing with things we aren’t ready to put away so they won’t get misplaced in the process.  First, is there a place nearby the home that keeps the item more accessible?  For instance you have an item you pulled out of the bathroom medicine cabinet/drawer/cabinet and want to leave on the counter – it might be the reminder of seeing it or making it easier to access.  I have a counter of sorts for in process stuff – everything goes there, waiting to be used and then returned to its home.
    • Also, keep things moving toward their home – I know I don’t always want to run upstairs/downstairs to just put something away – yet I have containers for items that need to go in that direction, so the next time I’m moving that way, I take it along and take the few moments when I get there to put the things away.
    • Does something else need to change?  We had a chronic problem with scissors in our home – they kept disappearing.  When we talked about it, we realized that we really wanted more around – it was too inconvenient and not easy enough – and once we got a couple of more pairs, they each go back to their homes after they’ve been used.
  • We put like things in different places – whether that’s forgetting where we’d put that x thing before, or wanting those x things in multiple areas for ease of use, or changing our minds about where to keep x and not moving the earlier place into the new place.
    • Put x in only one place and do it every time.
    • Early on in getting things organized, focus only on choosing a place and putting the things in that place.  That’s the most important consideration initially and later you can think about other considerations.
    • Also, if you’re early in the organizing process, remember to think in broad categories first – so all “office” supplies get put in one place, or like I talked about recently with papers in Paper Pyramid, all papers to be filed in one place.  You can refine these once you’re further along, though those things will likely be close together at that later point too.
    • There can be times when having more than one place for x thing: cleaning supplies in each bathroom, items you want on each floor of your home, products that are currently open and being used like Ziploc bags, toilet paper, garbage bags, etc. are examples that might have two locations – those that are in use and those that you pull from when needed.  As with almost everything, it’s not completely an absolute – unless you can make it so.

Here I’ve only covered two of the reasons we can misplace things among the many possibilities that exist.  I’ll discuss more in the coming months.  And you will probably begin to see how much overlap there can be among the culprits that lead to our misplacing things.  With these two examples – we might not put things away when we’re done with them because that item could go in more than one place – so it’s easier to simply not put it “away.”  It can help to examine which is your primary struggle with misplacing things and then try different strategies to limit or even eliminate these tendencies.