Working from home has become easier and more productive with the hosts of desktop and mobile apps built especially for this purpose. But before you can take full advantage of these powerful programs, you'll probably need to clean up and perform some maintenance on the home iMac or MacBook that will soon become your office. Luckily, that's easy with the following tips and app downloads.

Gather the tools

The first step in any project is preparing the tools. In this case, that means downloading two incredibly helpful, free apps.


But even before that, there's a pre-Step 1: update. All of the following steps will work better if the computer is running its latest operating system. If you're anywhere near the newest version of MacOS, simply open the App Store and download MacOS Sierra for free. This could be the longest step, depending on your internet connection. Opt for a direct Ethernet connection for the fastest download.

Clean

Once your MacOS is freshened up, choose your tools. Two of the best are both free (for their trial versions). Dr. Cleaner will jumpstart your cleaning with its easy-to-use interface. It lives in the menu bar, tracking in the background and offering quick access to memory usage stats and junk file cleaning. For the initial clean, click System Optimizer and explore the file tabs: "Junk Files," "Big Files," the new "Disk Map," duplicates, apps and more. The categories are self-explanatory and will help erase clutter in the Mac's hard drive. Quickly delete leftovers from uninstalled applications and app caches, target the biggest files that might be unnecessary and scan for duplicates.

For $15, Dr. Cleaner Pro will actually delete the duplicates it finds (the free version only locates and lists them). It also unlocks smart app uninstall.

The other app that will help with the initial clean is Cocktail. It's free for the first ten launches and costs $20 after that. With similar functions to Dr. Cleaner (but a deeper, more technical interface), Cocktail might be the preference for someone looking for deeper interaction with the OS. It also has options for changing the behavior of the OS, like changing animations and customizing the dock.

Keep it clean

Now that you've searched, scrubbed, optimized and purged, the marathon task is keeping it all clean. Diligence is required for this but several apps will also help you stay ahead of the clutter. AppTrap is a simple, free app that acts in the background, residing in System Preferences and keeping watch for app extras that linger even after the app has been deleted. Without any effort, AppTrap will warn you about app leftovers when you delete something and offer to wipe the remnants.

Part of maintaining your new "office" is security. This is important for every computer but it's vital for a computer storing sensitive business data. You can spend plenty on name-brand software or you can download Sophos Home, a free security package for your Mac (or PC). It works in the background to protect your computer from malware, adware, malicious websites and those with known security flaws. It also monitors tracking and lets you manage up to ten computers from its in-browser dashboard. As part of your initial clean, it would be wise to perform a full scan (this could take several hours).

For the price (free!) it will be tough to beat Sophos's features set and user-friendly interface.

Back it up

By fully exploring the tools available and performing a smart, thorough cleanup, you'll have reinvigorated your Mac and prepared it for office duty. The last step in ensuring future success with your digital workspace is the most important: Back. It. Up.

Maybe you've never experienced a computer failure before. Maybe you've never even chipped the casing or eaten in the same room as your Mac. Nevertheless, things happen. Besides a hardware failure, your computer could suffer a glitch while updating to High Sierra later this month. A historically safe website could suffer a freak malware attack that damages your computer. One important file could disappear over the weekend. Backing up ensures that even the smallest, least painful glitches won't affect your life or your business. Plus, it's easy.

Your Mac has Time Machine, which is a great, built-in, automatic backup system. It doesn't really get better. All you need is an external hard drive. Buy one that's as big as you can afford. Twice the size of your hard drive might sound like enough, but that will only store two backups, at most. Storage is cheap and becoming cheaper every day. A 2TB Seagate backup hard drive is less than $80 on Amazon and can store lots of backups so you have the best chance of catching everything you need and anything you might have lost.

Make the right choice for your future self and invest (this is an investment in your future) in a backup drive. Simply plug it in, turn on Time Machine and forget about it. Your home office is ready to work as hard as you do and it won't let you down when the pressure is high.

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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.