As you struggle to find places to store holiday gifts, it’s a perfect time to get rid of things you no longer use. Broken items, worn shoes and the like need to go into the trash or a recycling bin. But with a little effort, you can make sure that whatever still has life winds up with a suitable new home. It’s convenient to drop off items at places that take a wide array of things, but targeting your donations to places that share a passion for them is more satisfying — and you can be more confident that your discards will wind up in the hands of people who can use them. A couple of options: Give books, DVDs, CDs, laptops and digital cameras to Books for America (202-835-2665), which improves libraries in area schools, shelters and prisons. (You can also shop for some of these in the organization’s used bookstore, at 1417 22nd St. NW in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.) Blankets, coats and unopened and unexpired food — all sorts of things needed for daily life —are welcome at shelters. N Street Village, which serves homeless and low-income women in Washington, updates its wish list weekly. Body lotion, shampoo and other personal-care products are welcome at Alternative House’s emergency shelter for teenagers in Vienna (703-506-9191). More ideas are at Charity Choices.
You’ll need a record of what you own if you ever need to file an insurance claim for storm damage, theft or disaster. New online tools make creating an inventory easier than ever, and you can store the results on a hosted server, meaning you can access the information even if your computer crashes or your home is destroyed. The Insurance Information Institute sponsors Know Your Stuff. It’s free. There are also fee-based services, such as Stuff Safe. Taking pictures or walking through your house with a video camera is a good backup.
It’s a new year, so stop worrying about all the home repair chores you didn’t get to last year. Instead, give yourself a fresh start. Walk through your house and fill out a sheet of paper with two columns. In the first column, note major tasks, such as repainting a room. In the second, note repairs you can do in less than a day, such as replacing burned-out bulbs or cracked switch plates. When you’re done, decide on a handful of top-priority major projects, get out your calendar and pencil in dates for starting those. Then get ready to tackle a bunch of little projects. It’s often said that success breeds more success, so doing these first gets your year off to the right start. Shop for everything you need in one trip, and reserve a weekend day or two for the repairs. Then load up a tool caddy and power through your list, one room at a time. As you go, test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are working properly.
Make a safety plan
If your family doesn’t have a safety plan, the beginning of a new year is a perfect time to develop one. Make sure everyone knows escape routes and where to gather once you are out of the house. In case some family members are away at the time, decide on a relative or friend who lives elsewhere whom everyone can call and check in with. Also make sure everyone knows how to turn off gas, water and electricity.