Category: home-tips

Stop almost all of that junk mail

Everything from credit card offers to weekly circulars, you start to realize that you’re getting way more mail that you don’t need to respond to or act on. After switching everything to online billing and electronic correspondence, it’s surprising that you still get 8 credit card offers, 2 circulars, and 10-12 different store catalogs per week. The following steps are perfect for you if you no longer want to receive any useless mail:

  • get your name removed from the credit card offers list:
    1. Go to and find the Permanent Opt-Out Election form online
    2. Once you fill out the online form, you’ll need to print (yes, print), fill out, and mail the signed form to the address mentioned
    3. Wait a few weeks, and start to realize that you are literally not getting any more of those ridiculous credit card offers!
  • if you’re still getting the occasional offers, you can actually reach out to the vendor directly to have them remove you from their offers list (I would get some from my bank and American Express, until I told them to stop sending the offers by mail)
  • weekly circulars sometimes have an online location that you can opt out of receiving their mailings….I found the link to these typically on the back of the circular or near my name & address. The removal process is pretty straightforward and you’ll no longer receive that extra paper that you typically burn or recycle
  • store catalogs- for this, it’s almost exactly like the weekly circulars…just look for an online opt-out link on the catalog and let the company know that you no longer wish to receive anything
  • online billing and correspondence- for all of my utility companies, I’ve switched over to online billing and paperless correspondence. It’s almost pushed by the companies at this point since they get paid faster (normally) and they spend less on their mailings.

Is there any other junk mail that you typically receive?

Managing your data for your entire family

Everybody I talk to saves their data (either knowingly or unknowingly) to some device or cloud service. When discussing with families on how they backup their photos, music, videos, and other documents, most plans of attack usually involve a variety pack of solutions. With so many devices syncing to cloud services and people running backups to external drives or USB flash drives, it’s easy to see how we all end up in some sort of data disarray. Below are some steps that I’ve taken to ensure that my private data (not including music) is backed up in some way that keeps it safe in case of disaster. The top recommendation I can give to families to ensure all of their data is backed up properly is to pick a certain methodology and STICK WITH IT.

Laptops, desktops, tablets, phones, and everything else

With most households nowadays, you’ll usually see more than one of the above devices. This can quickly turn into a headache if you want to make sure everything is being backed up to a cloud solution or to an external drive that gets stored away safely. For me, the easiest thing to do is to have a “home base” of sorts, where most current and up-to-date data was stored. I decided to choose my home laptop which also has an external drive attached to it (for all backups of media). All of my photos and documents are easily located in centralized locations (for Windows, usually the ‘My Documents’ folder is almost a standard spot to put data like this), and I typically run Microsoft SyncToy to sync everything to the attached external drive. Currently, my fiance uses her laptop and external drive for her backups. Fortunately for us, it’s only two people that know how to easily manage and backup their data.

Once you add a kid or two, you’ve got a whole different ballgame. There will be lots of training (and even more re-training) to ensure that they know where they’re keeping their data. All you need is for one of your kids to go and delete something permanently and then get really sad/mad about where it went.

Below is a brief checklist to hopefully make family data management a little bit easier:

  • Try to trim down devices – laptops, desktop, tablets, eBook readers, smartphones, storage arrays/NAS devices, this list goes on nowadays
  • If your kids are old enough, have them manage their own data – personal pictures, music, books, TV/movies, games
  • If you have little ones and chose to give them devices, make sure you use proper software to lock down what they can actually do. Also, you’ll want to give friendly reminders to keep them aware of all the data at their fingertips (and to use it for good!)….this isn’t so much a data management tip, but more of a ‘hey, you might want to think about this’ tip.
  • I personally find it simplest to keep a main storage device and to use syncing software (clients) on my endpoints to constantly keep the main storage up-to-date with any changes. For people that hear of the “cloud”, there are numerous services that you can get to help manage this easily.

I’ll be writing a bit more about SyncToy in a future article, which will hopefully help to keep things a little more tame when managing all the data. Eventually you’ll be the CIO for your extended family!

Basic Laptop Buying Guide

During the holiday season, it’s typically easier to find great deals on some of the better quality laptops out there. Right after, you also have CES, which gets potential buyers excited for the new technologies that will likely come out that year. When hunting down laptops, you always have to compare it to buying a new car, or any similar depreciating asset that you would put wear and tear on. If you are a serious gamer, developer/programmer, or media editor, this blog post is not for you. This is geared towards the everyday average Joe or Jane, that browses the web, watches streaming media, and stores some photos, movies, and music.

Processor – typically the Intel Core i7 processor will give you the best bang for your buck. I’ve had various laptops with this processor, and it just tends to withstand the tests of time. Some older and slower processors will work fine, but it’s just probably something that you should invest in with the knowledge that it will help you add more time to your laptop’s life, as long as you don’t drop it in a pool or do any major damage.

Amount of RAM – in this day and age, you should have at least 4GB of RAM to keep things running fast. I would highly recommend spending the small amount of money to even go just a little further with 8GB of RAM. Prices have come way down since Y2k, and you might as well treat yourself to a speedy laptop.

Type of storage – normally, when buying a lot of laptops, they try to give you a disk-based hard drive. When hunting down that new laptop, be sure to get a solid state drive (or you’ll probably see it as SSD, most often). This is a disk-less hard drive without the worries of a slow mechanical arm scanning the drive platter. Even better is that it can withstand small drops without breakage…just don’t run it over or drop a brick on it.

Other considerations – so I would definitely ensure that if you want a long-lasting laptop, you should at least note the proc/RAM/storage down. The rest of this post focuses on some nice-to-haves that’ll just make you happier with your purchase, sometimes at a bit more cash than you might want to spend.

Battery – the lithium ion batteries that have come out in the last 4 years have been amazing, and you can have your laptop running for 8 hours without spending too much extra money. 8-cell batteries are my usual recommendation nowadays, as these will tend to give you more juice during those long flights or airport delays.

Weight / screen size – typically the weight of the laptop goes hand-in-hand with the screen size. A good majority of people that I speak with prefer 5lbs or less, and a screen size of 14 inches. Obviously the less poundage will incur higher costs, unless you get a netbook or Chromebook (but those usually don’t have the best processing power over time).

Ports – pay attention to the available ports when shopping around…the more USB ports, the better. Also, some laptops (ahem, Apple) don’t even come with Ethernet ports anymore, which might be a necessity when plugging into a hotel room or at your apartment desk.

Trying to minimize the things in life (a checklist)

  • Sell anything that I don’t use or need at all, and can get decent money for (old TVs, laptops, desktops, adapters, mp3 players) – use eBay, Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, or a tag sale
  • Donate anything that could be of use to somebody else (clothing, blankets, pillows, unused toiletries, lightly worn/unused shoes) – use Planet Aid bins; they recycle older clean undergarments and accept numerous items
  • Recycle anything that just hangs around, and that can actually be recycled (cardboard boxes, beer growlers/bottles, magazines)
  • Buy what I need (and sometimes what I want) – this is probably the most important thing once I’ve already minimized the amount of things…obviously treat myself to some consumables like desserts, candy/chocolates, beer, flowers for somebody, and other things that a frugal person would not buy
  • Encourage relatives to donate to a charity instead of buying you gifts on special days
  • Scan all needed documents into PDF files, save them locally and on an encrypted drive that you can keep in a separate location, and shred the documents afterwards (ensure that the document does not need to be retained as a hard copy first). This should help get rid of all that paper clutter and push you close to living paper-free….I tend to use my shredded paper to help burn some firewood
  • Uninstall and remove any applications on your phone – if you’re on an old flip phone, you probably don’t need to do this, but this definitely helps to be clutter-free in the digital aspect

These are just some small things that I want to get done over time to be a minimalist. Obviously this doesn’t mean I’ll sacrifice the things that I love like my comic books, DVDs, and books. How do you plan to decrease the amount of things in your life?

TV Disposal and donations

As the holidays get closer and most of us will be getting some cool new gadgets, there are some great options to donate any old electronics, including televisions. In most US cities, various charities will pickup older working televisions to be provided or sold cheaply to those who cannot typically afford a brand new flatscreen (although prices have been historically dropping, even as they get skinnier/lighter). In upstate New York, my parents had the Red Cross pick up their old and very heavy 40″ CRT television.

Be sure to look around your specific area, as there are numerous charities that will provide pickups typically – Red Cross, Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity, to name a few. For non-functional televisions, some companies around the Boston area that will charge a small fee are Electronix Redux, Surplus Technology Solutions, and CRT Recycling Inc.

For those looking into free pickups, MassDEP works with Recyclesearch to assist Massachusetts residents in finding a dropoff location or a pickup provider. Just navigate to the website and enter your address to find the best option. Also, Best Buy and Staples have previously been helpful in getting rid of old electronics for free (please check with them first before dropping off – do your due diligence!).

….if you are an electronics recycler, don’t end up like some of the companies listed in this article!

Sharing documents for collaboration with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides

The last few years, I’ve used Google apps extensively for sharing documents via the “cloud” to friends and co-workers. Google has their own apps that are very similar to Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These apps are Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Once you create any of these types of documents, you can simply share out a shareable link (URL), or with specific Google account holders. Collaboration is seamless if the users are online and you don’t have more than 50 editors (at the time of this writing), or a combined total of 200 editors and viewers.

The only downside is when you have a user that does not have a Google account. Some options for those users (no worries, they can still edit the document!) are the following:

  • give them a shareable link so they can download the document and edit it offline – this kind of takes away from the whole instant collaboration piece of Google Docs/Sheets/Slides
  • give them a shareable link where they will also be able to edit the document in their favorite browser – I have not tested this feature, but only found out about it while writing this article which is a huge plus
  • have them create a Google account and share the document explicitly with them – while this might not make your friend or co-worker too happy, at least they’ll now have an account to use many of Google’s apps!

To share a document that you created with Google, you can either right-click the document and click the ‘Share…’ button, or click the visual icon for sharing (seen here). Then you can either copy a shareable link, like I mentioned above, or you can add people’s Google email addresses and then click ‘Done’ to send them an email verifying that they have access to the document.

Helpful Shipping Website – ShipGooder

When shipping a numerous variety of products across the US, it’s usually very time-consuming to check shipping prices on various sites (USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc). While searching for a website that might be able to compare multiple shipping companies, I came across ShipGooder. This site is so easy to use, it saves me a ton of time and effort when trying to compare various rates for shipping. They also recently upgraded a bit so that you don’t need to enter a full street address. Now you can simply enter city/state/zip along with the package details. If you’re in the business of shipping (and don’t have your own API built), check out ShipGooder and give it a go!

Check your Apple product warranty

Apple provides a convenient site to check the warranty status of your Apple product (includes iPhones, iPods, iPads, and MacBooks). Just navigate here and you’ll be able to punch in your serial number of your product and get the make/model and warranty status.

Quickly save a list of your songs in iTunes

In iTunes, there is a way to quickly save or print a list of all of your songs in your iTunes library. As long as you have the songs properly identified throughout your library (either by downloading directly from CD or the iTunes store), you should have a nice list by the end of this quick tutorial:

  1. Open iTunes on your computer
  2. Click ‘File’ and then ‘Print’
  3. Select the ‘Song listing’ radio button, and then click ‘Songs’ in the dropdown list
  4. Click ‘OK’
  5. At this next screen, you can physically print out the song listing to a printer, or you can select to save in XPS or PDF format (you will need proper XPS or PDF printers installed prior to this)
  6. Once you have a saved list of your songs, you can simply save that file elsewhere for safekeeping. I simply save my song listing once every few months and toss it into my Google Drive.