Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sustainable Valentine's Day

I didn't want to close out February without a nod to Valentine's Day.

In keeping with my goal this year to reduce my intake of stuff, to celebrate V-Day, I applied a few of the suggestions from my Holiday Survival Guide.

The Intangible Gift

With my own krafty little hands, I created my version of the coupon/gift card:

Themed Origami Hearts

The design of each represented the sentiment I wished to express or something I promised to do for my True Love.

Best of all . . .

. . . No new materials were bought or brought into the house to make this gift.

I repeat: No new materials were bought or brought into the house to make this gift.

Drawing From The Stash

  • designed my own origami paper using clip art and my handy dandy word processor
  • printed the designs on paper already in my possession
  • searched the Internet for folding instructions in order to make the hearts
  • practiced the paper-folding technique using sheets from my Recycle Paper Pile, before finally folding with the paper I designed
  • embellished the folded hearts with a bit of ribbon
  • selected a gift box in which to place the hearts, from my collection of same (What!? You don't have a collection of gift boxes. . . ?!)
. . . and VOILA!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Back in the fall I discovered craigslist!

Of course, I had heard of it. I'd viewed the occasional apartment listing and read articles about it's phenomenal, almost cult-like popularity, but beyond that I hadn't had occasion to actually use it myself.

That is, until receiving a less than enthusiastic response for something I posted on Freecycle™ one lazy Sunday afternoon. I remembered that my cousin had mentioned getting stuff through craigslist so, on a whim, I decided to give it a whirl. How bad could it be? I set up an account, posted my item in the "free stuff" section, and didn't give it too much more thought. However, when I checked my email later that day, I was astonished at the response my post had received, since the same item hadn't gotten so much as a nibble on Freecycle™.

I selected a respondent, made p/u arrangements, and the rest is declutter history. Let me tell you, I got rid of more stuff in the month after that than I would have ever thought possible. I'm talking even the odd or unusual stuff that mysteriously accumulates over time. The kind of stuff you can't imagine anyone else would want, but, therein lies the problem for the Packrat, eh?

That is not to say craigslist was not without its drawbacks, which I'll get to in a moment, but in spite of the pitfalls I encountered, it was like discovering a Secret Declutter Weapon, and craigslist remains an extremely vital tool in this Packrat's arsenal. Again, I only have experience with posting items in the "free stuff" section. I haven't tried to sell anything through the site, so I can't speak to what the experience is like using any of those categories.

The good news. . .

  • there's no charge to set up an account and it is very easy to do
  • you can upload photos of your item at the same time you enter your written description, also quite easy
  • you can choose to anonymize your email so it is not exposed to the "elements". The site creates a unique email for that post which responders see, and their queries are then forwarded to your email. You decide whom to contact after that.
  • although your posts remain available to you indefinitely on your Acct home page, they "expire" or are delisted from public viewing after a certain period of time. You can also manually de-list an item if you want. Alternatively, it is easy to relist an item as well. I find this feature to be hugely convenient, since on Freecycle™ this must be done manually.
. . .and the not so good news
  • be forewarned, craigslist is strictly no frill's. If you are looking for a slickly designed site, with java script animations, flash displays, etc then turn back now! The craigslist interface is plain, Plain, PLAIN!

  • for completing certain tasks, the site's design is less than intuitive, so it can be tricky to navigate or figure out how to do what you want, or why something occurred

  • like Freecycle™ there is the problem of people indicating they are interested in an item, but then not following through when you contact them about P/U arrangements, however, I have been fortunate that given the number of items I've gotten rid of using craigslist, this hasn't happen too often.

  • there are numerous craigslist communities for different cities or regions both in this country as well as all over the world. You must post to the one to where you (and your item) are geographically located. craigslist communities are "self-policing" and may vary in their thresholds for what they consider to be bad or inappropriate behavior. Community members can flag a post for removal if they deem it to be spam (i.e. advertisement or promotional in nature, or too many posts from one user within a certain timeframe) in violation of site policy, or otherwise inappropriate. If a post receives too many flags, it will most likely be removed.

    The problem is you have no way of knowing beforehand what that threshold might be, nor are you necessarily even alerted to the fact that a particular listing has been flagged, that is a message in your Acct while you are logged in as opposed to an email that may not be sent until sometime later. If you even get that. From what I could gather after wading into the help forum, some people said the didn't even get an email.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) I got the first email, perhaps 30 minutes after initially posting what I thought to be a mere four items (not a problem on Freecycle™). Up to that point I had just posted one thing at a time with a day or two in between. But Hey! It was the beginning of the New Year and I was feeling ambitious! I would later find out that apparently all four posts were flagged. Luckily only two received a threshold number of flags, but they were still up long enough that a few responses trickled through so I was ultimately able to carry out my Exit Strategy for them.

However, obtaining even that much information was a hassle. The email I received was an automated thingy with a boilerplate advisement stating that the vast majority of postings were usually removed because they violated craigslist guidelines and it suggested that I check the terms of use to make sure my post was in accordance with it (as far as I could tell they were). For a more detailed explanation I was directed to post a question in the appropriate craigslist help forum. After some minor difficulty figuring out how to access and post to the help forum, I was able to glean several possible reasons as to why my posts had been flagged, but It I was still left feeling a bit nebulous about the whole thing.

Be all that as it may, I have still found craigslist to be an extremely effective declutter tool. After My Experience I made sure to space my posts out or tried listing multiple items in one post and don't seem to have had any more problems.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Title Trader

I finally settled on Title Trader as my CD/DVD swap site of choice. Although I had some initial difficulty figuring out how to list my items, once I did, I was good to go, and was able to successfully trade the bulk of my items there. Also, Title Trader does not limit you to trading only CDs or DVDs. You can list all kinds of other stuff such as books, magazines, audio-cassettes, even household items ala Freecycle.

Here's how Title Trader stacked up against my criteria:

  1. Shipping

    Alas, while you can print a shipping label, inexplicably, it is not paid postage!?! nor at this time, are you able to pay for it online via credit card. . .

  2. Avoiding the Post-office

    . . .therefore you still have to go to the post-office, stand on line and deal with the quirks of the postal staff. Bummer!

    For example, I do not trust the postal service not to manhandle my CDs/DVD packages as they wend their way through the system. So, to decrease the chances of any damage during shipping, I err on the side of caution and try to pad the envelope really well. One postal clerk eyed my package suspiciously and asked what was inside. When I told him, he asked why was it so thick, was anything else in there . . .? But, after processing it he just carelessly tossed (more like hurled) it into the mail bin behind him, which is EXACTLY why I padded it to the hilt. I'm thinking to myself, "My package has hardly even gotten into the post office good, before it getting roughed up! Thankfully, so far the CDs/DVDs I've shipped seem to have arrived intact.

  3. Liner notes, artwork & case

    At Title Trader you have the option to send as much or as little of the accompanying material as you want. Some traders will note this type of information in their listing, which I found helpful in choosing with whom to trade.

  4. Simplicity

    It's very easy to set up an account. The site also loads quickly on my dial-up connection.

    Each book, CD, and DVD is worth one Request Point and can be used to request a book, CD, or DVD from Title Trader's collection once you have received positive feedback. An email notification is sent when one of your items has been requested and you can print a shipping label at that time. I listed several items, and got requests right away, but again, how quickly or how many of your items are requested will be dependent on what you have to offer.

    Although, at first I found Title Trader a little tricky to navigate (I couldn't figure out how to list my items) once I did, things went more smoothly. Searching by UPC or ISBN can also be a little tricky. Sometimes those number don't work, but then, plugging in the title or artist will yield the item. Just be forewarned that you may have to fiddle around with your search queries a bit.

    Also, in one case, I had a problem printing a shipping label because the recipient's address could not be verified in the USPS database. Although, I emailed the site for assistance on several occasions, as far as I can tell, I never received a response unlike the speedy one obtained from SwapSimple's customer service department. (see my post on that here) However, since shipping labels are not postage paid, you can manually create your own shipping label without losing anything, which is what I ultimately ended up doing.

All in all, even though the need to go to the post office is somewhat of a hassle, the site's overall ease of use and laid back feel is what won me over in the end.

One More Thing: Premium Features

Title Trader premium access costs $19.95/year. However, when you first sign up, they will give you a 30 day trial that includes a few of the site's premium features, most notably a daily, customizable, email listing newly added items

Other premium features include:

  • Wishlist Notification - email alerts when items appearing on your wish list have been added to the Title Trader inventory
  • Saved Searches - allows you to maintain a list of your most frequent searches. When an item is added to the site
  • Buddy List - allows you to bookmark your favorite users so you can keep an eye on what they have listed.
  • Safe Swap Premium Member - enhances you status as a reliable trading partner.
Again, please note that this reflects my particular experience ONLY! You're mileage may vary.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Another swap site that I looked into as an Exit Strategy for my CDs and DVDs was SwapSimple. At SwapSimple you can trade books, DVDs and video games, but not music CDs (go figure!). Setting up an account was easy enough. I provided an email address, made up a password and I was in like Flynn. I then received an email confirming my registration which included a clickable link leading to a few other questions to answer, such as how I'd heard of the site, my age (you must be 18 years or older), and stuff like that.

However, for me, that's about where the "simple" part of SwapSimple hit the road, and what I will mostly be discussing in this post.

  1. Shipping

    SwapSimple members can print a free shipping label, which to me was very appealing. 'Nuf said!

  2. Avoiding the Post-office

    Of course the pre-paid shipping label also removes the need to go to the post office, so long as your item weighs less than one pound. Another plus!

  3. Liner notes, artwork & case

    SwapSimple, members are expected to send all accompanying material, rather than just the disk alone, so that suited me as well.

  4. Simplicity

    Now, here's where things started to fall apart.

    Although, I initially listed three items, I only actually ended up trading one of them. And while I was able to send out that one item without incident, I found the actual process of doing that to be so exacting, that shortly thereafter, I delisted the other two items.

    • Pop-up Panic!

      For one thing, to even list an item for trade, in addition to my name I had to provide my gender and telephone number, something I wasn't too wild about, and wondered why that was necessary. Then, some pretty specific and rather stern pop-up instructions appeared about using the site and what needed to happen when, in order to effect a successful trade.

      There were other, similarly dire, warning pop-ups at just about every subsequent step of the transaction, through finally printing the shipping label once someone requested one of my items.

      Don't Get Me Wrong! In and of themselves, none of the stipulations were at all unreasonable. I definitely understand that some people need to have such things spelled out as explicitly as possible, because left to their own devices they simply won't follow through. Still, as a fairly reliable sort, myself, I was left feeling vaguely anxious. Even with the best of intentions, we all can slip up at one time or another. I tend to pursue several Exit Strategies at a time in order to maximize the chances of actually getting rid of something! As far as I'm concerned, all bets are on until that item is out of my house and into the hot little hands of someone else. So, I was terrified that I might fail to remove a no longer available item from my SwapSimple inventory quick enough! Consequences for such a failure included possible penalty charges or the suspension of my account.

    • Point System

      SwapSimple says that their point system is straightforward, but it seemed a little complicated to me. The site figures out and assigns a "market" value to the items you post. You receive a fraction of that value immediately upon listing the item (aka Instant Trade Credits) and the rest of it upon successfully completing your trade. From this standpoint you begin accumulating points and can request items right away. Also, as long as you have points, you can trade for any category of item. For example if you trade a book, you are not limited to requesting another book. You can request a DVD or a video game of whatever value, so long as you have accumulated the necessary points.

      However, when I went back to check on my account after the one trade I completed, I was surprised to find out that I hadn't earned any credits! I contacted Customer Service about it and to their credit , they got back to me pretty promptly. They explained that my trade item had a "market value" worth less than $0.50 and that they only award credits in whole numbers. Unfortunately for me, they round down instead of up. So my traded item ended up being worth zero points instead of one. They further advised that there were many 0-credit items that could be requested. I checked this out this category, but there weren't all that many things available, at least on the date I looked. But, in honor of completing my first swap, SwapSimple credited my account five points. Still, if I had not contacted them, I probably would never have received these points.

      Also, swapping is not actually free, unless you are:

      • swapping within a personal swap network of friends, their friends, etc. or . . .
      • . . .swapping items worth 10 credits or less

      otherwise, trading items worth more than 10 credits with people outside of your network will cost you $1.00 (items worth 11-20 credits) or $2.00 (items worth 21 credits or more) per swap.

      While not completely inscrutable, I would not exactly call this system straightforward either.

    • Site Feel and Navigability

      Finally, swapping via the Internet is probably an inherently social activity, however I would say that this social networking aspect is very much accentuated at SwapSimple. Just to say, that this may not be everyone's cup of tea.

      Also, I am probably one of the few people left in the universe with a dial-up connection, so it took a bit of time for some of the site's graphics and doo-hickey's to load as I navigated through the site. This became a particular issue while I tried to figure out how to display my inventory. Me and my dial up connection spent more than a few frustrating minutes clicking various links and then waiting for the screens to load while I tried to figure it out what I was doing wrong.

Obligatory Disclaimer: Anyway, as I stated in last week in the SwapaCD post, this review reflects the criteria that are important to me and how this impacted my particular experience ONLY! You're mileage may vary and SwapSimple may suit your needs perfectly.

Next up: Title Trader: The CD/DVD swap site, I finally settled on.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


SwapaCD is a popular music CD swap site. I actually discovered this site while checking out Paperback Swap, with whom they're affiliated (I also see they've added a DVD swap site to their offerings. I'll have to check that out!).

I have not, as of yet, used SwapaCD for reasons initially outlined in My CD/DVD Cup Runneth Over and which I will discuss in further detail below.
  1. Shipping

    While not necessarily a complete deal breaker, ideally, a swap site would allow me to generate a postage paid shipping label (either free of charge or for which the costs can at least be prepaid by credit card). SwapaCD members must pay the shipping costs when responding to requests, as well as a charge of 0.49 per trade, plus 1 CD credit. SwapaCD provides a downloadable template for a paper envelope mailer, which pulls the recipient's address information, however at this time, it does not also include the postage.

  2. Avoiding the Post-office

    In terms of ease and convenience, I would prefer to avoid a trip to the post office or waiting on a long line there. If you just send the CD in their special mailer as recommended, SwapaCD estimates that postage costs will probably be little more than a first-class stamp, give or take, and you can just drop it in the mailbox. However, if you add the goodies (jewel case, liner notes, artwork) it will probably be more. Depending on what you decide to ship, unless you have a scale at home or are comfortable guestimating the charges, a post office visit could be in your future. Which brings me to my next point.

  3. Liner notes, artwork & case

    Not so much with DVDs, but for music CDs I like having the artwork and liner notes, which can often include song lyrics or information about the artist and other musicians. A jewel case makes it easier to store, but those are otherwise easy enough to get elsewhere, if you want them.

    While SwapaCD members are certainly free to ship as much of a CDs accompanying materials as they like, in order to keep mailing costs to a minimum, SwapaCD recommends that they only ship the CD itself, using the aforementioned envelope mailer. However, they also provide tips and information about the approximate costs for various other shipping options and configurations.

    Incidentally, I have to say that at the particular time that I was considering SwapaCD, I was skeptical that a mere paper envelope would allow a CD to be delivered through the mail unscathed, while shipping them in their protective, plastic jewel cases might actually increase the likelihood of their being damaged (this in spite of proper padding which adds to the shipping costs). But, that was before I discovered and joined a popular DVD rental club and have since come to experience the efficacy of the paper envelope mailer, as paradoxical as it may seem! So far, in about a year's time, I have only had one DVD to arrive damaged.

  4. Simplicity

    Finally, a swap site should be as simple as possible to use, not only in terms of listing and tracking items for trade, but in comprehending the point scheme. Of primary concern would be

    • How is value assigned to the items being traded?
    • How do you accrue the necessary value to make requests?

    In all fairness, since I did not end up joining SwapaCD, I can't really speak to how easy or not, it is to use the site, but based on the information I was able to read there, it seemed easy enough. Of course, you'll need to take my comments here with the necessary grain of salt.

    The point system in use seems quite straightforward. As previously mentioned, each CD trades for one SwapaCD credit along with the 0.49/trade charge. You can earn one free credit after posting your first ten CDs. If you want to request CDs before you have accumulated enough points you will need to purchase SwapaCD credits available in increments of $5.00.

    Now, depending on your reasons for trading, the point scheme may be less important to you. Perhaps you have a glut of CDs you just want to get rid of and don't care so much about acquiring others. On the other hand, you may get into swapping as a way to acquire and enjoy new content, while avoiding the accumulation of stuff that you don't like so much. As I explained in Something for the Bibliophile, swap sites allow you to hold onto an item for as long as you want (forever, if that's the case), or trade it back once your finished with it.

    So again, logistical matters such as these are something to be aware of and keep in mind when considering a swap site.

Obligatory disclaimer: These are the criteria that are important to me and how they played out in evaluating this particualr site, however your needs may be quite different.

Next up: My experience using SwapSimple, another media swap site.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

twigghugger turns 1 years old!

A year ago today, I took the plunge and began this blog (see What Yet Another Blog). Why? Well, for one thing, I had finally finished grad school and consequently, had time to turn my attention to other matters. Since me and my tiny apartment harbor an Inner Packrat, paramount was the need to reduce my accumulation of stuff.

Over this past year, slowly, but surely I have made great strides in achieving just that. While constantly chanting the twigghugger mantra to myself over and over (...and over!)

  • Identify
  • Gather
  • and Remove!
I searched the Internet for donation, reuse and exchange options. I was delighted to find that there were many more such choices available than had even been the case just five years prior.

Space cleared, has miraculously, remained so! Let me tell you that I consider this to be a huge accomplishment! Before, I was basically just shifting the piles around, but the Secret to My Success has been the gradual, but actual removal of excess things. Now, not only does it look more neat and orderly, it stays that way. I even survived the holiday frenzy without too much disruption to this hard fought for turf.

If you are as serious, a packrat as I am (was...?), reaching this point may seem daunting, if not impossible, but by breaking it down into many, tiny steps over time you will gradually see results, like I did. As I stated last year, maybe the idea of hugging a tree is overwhelming, so start off small and do it one twigg at a time, and you'll get there! Also over this past year, consciousness about the environment has grown phenomenally, so I'm hoping my approach to decluttering will continue to grow easier as well.

Now, I'm not quite out of the woods yet! There are still a few things to tweak here and there, as well as working on a couple of projects like my Magazine Mountains, better clothing organization and Oh! A special mission impossible type project I've been procrast…that is saving for last: Kitchen!: the Final Frontier! (aka as 2008: A Lack of Space Odyssey).

But, this year, for the most part, will be about Accumulation Control. I plan to maintain last year's gains, by giving careful consideration to what gets brought into the house in the first place.

Anyway, in honor of twigghuggers first birthday, shout outs to

A year later, I can definitely answer, "Yes it can!"

Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday Postscript: The Wrap Party

Before the New Year gets under way, I just wanted to share a few pix from my very own wrap party where I used some of the tips revealed in the Holiday Survival Guide, pt.2. When I get into this mode I give my Inner Packrat time off and my Inner Krafty Kat Wrapper gets pressed into service.

First: The Stash...

As a self-confirmed packrat I've accumulated quite a bit of wrapping paraphernalia over the years, but I do make an effort to reuse it when it comes time to wrap a gift. In The Stash I have

  • wrapping paper (stored more or less neatly in a "wrapping paper carrier" as well as an old shopping cart)
  • assorted bows and ribbon
  • accumulated tissue paper
  • assorted and accumulated boxes
  • a variety of stickers obtained from numerous sources (not shown)
  • greeting cards which I re-use to make gift tags (not shown)

It took me nearly 12 hours to wrap all my gifts this year (Phew)! But, I also enjoyed expressing my artistic side. Below are examples of a few of my creations. Note, that with one exception, all of the wrapped items shown here re-use items from The Stash List.

...And The End Result!

The Santa Wrap

To wrap this gift I used the technique I described in the Holiday Survival Guide, pt.2, but which I originally got from the Wrap Art site. It allows you to use those leftover bits and pieces of paper that by themselves are not big enough to wrap something, but when combined, give you more wrapping mileage.

After wrapping this gift, I added ribbon to "dress up" the seams between the two wrapping papers. The ribbon was then topped off with a gold "Santa" seal sticker.

The Art of Wrapping the Gift Card

As I discussed in the Holiday Survival Guide, pt.1 the giving of Gift Cards may seem a bit impersonal. So, I tried to take a creative approach to wrapping this gift, a gourmet food store gift card. After finishing up one of my rolls of wrapping paper, I used part of the inner tube it was wrapped around (which now-a-days is more like paper than cardboard) to make a mini brown paper grocery bag (remember those!?). To jazz it up I also used some green tissue paper along with a gold seal sticker from The Stash.

Festive Gift Box

In this case the item came with the blue box you see in the picture. I thought the box itself was already attractive and decided to just add some simple green ribbon and a gold seal to give it that extra special something.

Poinsettia Power!

Wrap fixin's for this gift included the box, the pretty poinsettia tissue paper and ribbon. The contents were a little larger than the box itself so I couldn’t put on the top (it's actually on the bottom), however because the tissue paper is so pretty it worked out. Also, the box itself was a pretty peach color so I felt it didn't need to be wrapped.

Let it Snow!

Of the gifts shown, these two items were wrapped with newly bought paper. I had to wrap a gift for a grab bag at work, which I didn't have a chance to wrap it at home. I ended up having to run out at the last minute to get some paper, however the ribbon and seal are from The Stash.

So, another holiday season has come, gone and been survived.

After this post my Inner Packrat returns.

See you in the New Year!