Monday, September 02, 2013

Do It Now

Tip of the Week, Early August 2013

A few days back, I opened the box on my desk into which I'd stuffed various bits of paper and other gadgets when my boyfriend and I were preparing to move house last month. There was nothing time-sensitive in the box, but much of the stuff in there required some sort of effort on my part: reviewing, deciding on, filing, following up on, etc. 

So I did the obvious thing: I closed the box again, pronto.

And I could very easily have left it that way. Since there were no bills to pay in the box, I wouldn't have run into overdue fees by ignoring the contents for a few more weeks. No one was waiting for me to do anything with what was in the box, so there'd be no angry phone calls or emails if I continued to delay. Really, the only person who'd be affected in any way by my not dealing with the box 

The Lightbulb
So how did it happen that, with a sigh, I reopened the box and grabbed a chunk of stuff from it to deal with once and for all? Because I realized that even if I wasn't accountable to anyone else for delving into the box, continuing to put off that process would mean that every time I looked at the box, I'd feel a pang of guilt and "I should" at the fact that I'd been ignoring it. Every time I happened to think about the box, I'd feel one of those mental tugs--you know the kind: your brain's not-so-subtle way of reminding you that something needs your attention. Those pangs and tugs, they quickly add up to stress and wasted time spent thinking about (and regretting) not doing something, instead of just doing it.

It's kind of like what happens on those days when I promise myself I'll exercise and then don't: the resultant stew of fidgeting, feeling guilty, trying to make up for missing a run or a workout by cobbling together other forms of movement, usually in the most inefficient way (think 15 trips to the bedroom to put away laundry when normally one would do the trick), and chatter in my brain ("Hey! Weren't you going to exercise today? Did you forget that today was an exercise day? Do you need me to ask you again in another 5 minutes?!") is often so exhausting and crazy-making that it takes more effort and energy than I would have expended by just exercising.

What Will You Tackle?
I cried uncle and dealt with the box, and though, to be honest, it was a pain in the butt to work through the stuff in it, and ate up a weekend hour I would've much rather spent doing pretty much anything else, I was ultimately glad I did it. I no longer have to think about the box, and my brain is no longer keeping "deal with box" on its Remind Emily About These Tasks list. A clearer head and a bit less stress everyday are worth the time and effort it took.

So what's on your to do list that's causing pings and tugs? What can you do this week to tackle that task so it stops being a mental drain or a source of stress? If it's a big project, don't go overboard trying to finish it in one fell swoop; what matters is that you take a few concrete steps to move it closer to being done.

What will you apply "Do It Now" to this week? Share what you're committing to (and your success stories) on The Organized Life Facebook page.

Organizing Tidbits for June

Tip of the Week, Early June 2013

Here are some of the organizing-related stories, ideas, and posts that have caught my eye this month.

How Organized Packing Helps Overcome Fear of Flying
In an interview with Emily Brennan in the New York Times Travel section, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way and the newly released Safe Journey: Prayers and Comfort for Frightened Flyers and Other Anxious Souls, noted that taking an organized approach to packing before a flight helps ease her discomfort at flying: 

"Given that you're dealing with the fear of a lack of control, packing is one thing that you can control. Do it about two days ahead of time. I use a big journal for my morning pages, and I keep a running tab in it: 'Did you take extra slacks, extra contact lenses, extra lens solution, good perfume?' I do think there's something comforting about it."

The Organizing-Weight Connection
The latest issue of Real Simple features an article called "Is Your House Obesogenic?" that highlights the ways that our physical surroundings at home can contribute to unhealthy habits--and, of course, how they can just as easily encourage better habits. 

The article includes some interesting and easy-to-implement tips, such as clearing "fat clothes" (i.e., clothes that are too large for you) from your closet to signal to yourself that you're committed to not regaining the weight that you've lost, and making sure that any areas you use for exercising at home are clutter-free so you have fewer excuses for avoiding breaking a sweat. Finally, it includes some insights from Peter Walsh, author of Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, on the connection between having too much stuff and making poor decisions. 

Clearing Out and Letting Go
My colleague Amanda Kovattana posted a short but powerful note to Facebook the other day: "helped client empty boyfriend's sock drawer. We figured he wasn't coming back; he walked out five years ago." I love the messages here: first, there's much to be said for letting go of things that are tied to or remind us of past hurts. Doing so is a crucial part of healing. Second, it's never too late to do this kind of weeding. And third, having someone present with you while you do it can help make it less daunting. Kudos to Amanda for being that person for her client--and kudos to her client for taking this small but impactful step.

Wise Words
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." -- J.R.R. Tolkein

Here's to a summer full of those things!

Getting Past "Here's Why Not"

Tip of the Week, Early May 2013

This morning, I read an interesting article about a family from the Boston area who, inspired by a talk the father had heard that suggested the idea of occasionally taking a year of "retirement" throughout our working lives, moved to a remote village in northern Norway for a year. Though living above the Arctic Circle, as this family did, would not be for me (especially in winter!), I was intrigued by their experiment, and by the experiences they'd had living in a totally different culture.

Then I read the comments other readers had left about the article, and boy, what a downer. While some of them noted that the story was an inspiration, a look into a different approach to work and life, or simply an interesting way to start the week, many others ran along these lines: "Sure, it's easy for this family, who are well off, to take a year away from their jobs, but what they did is totally unrealistic for most of us--and besides, this fellow created a popular iPhone app while he was in Norway and is now making bunches of money, so he's a sellout." 

Admittedly, not all of us have the freedom to do what this family did, nor do our circumstances mirror theirs. For example, the mother was born in Norway, and therefore had Norwegian citizenship, which allowed her to take a teaching job there--the family's main source of income for the year, and not an option that would be available to all Americans. 

Echoes of Organizing-Related "Here's Why Not"s
Still, the comments rankled because they echoed what I often hear about organizing: "Sure, it's easy for other people to get organized because they have the money/time/help needed, but not for me, and here's why," followed by a list of excuses: I live on a limited budget. I'm too busy. I don't have anyone who'll help me. I need all the stuff I have, so it's not reasonable to do any sorting and weeding. I don't have the right skills. 

These "here's why not"s in turn mirror those sometimes offered up by people who say they want to make other life changes--eating more healthfully, exercising more, quitting smoking, spending less time watching TV, and so on--but then don't. What's with all the negative justification?

Envy and Disappointment Blockers
Several of the commenters on the Norway story, when pressed by other readers, eventually admitted that their negativity and "here's why not"s were rooted in envy of the family. But rather than simply saying, "Wow, sounds great--I'm envious!" they had to find ways of cutting the family down.

I think the "here's why not" excuses we often hear about organizing and other life changes are rooted in some challenging realities: making these changes takes effort and commitment, and they can be scary, especially because they involve setting goals we're not necessarily sure we'll accomplish. But instead of opening ourselves to possibly not meeting those goals, or having to admit that we need help and support from others, or simply having to say, "Yikes, this is harder than I thought it would be!" we come up with justifications that protect us from disappointment, from stumbling, from having to keep going through a process that may not be pleasant. 

Moving Beyond
It's human nature, I think, to want to protect ourselves from that unpleasant stuff, and to use "here's why not" excuses as a defense mechanism. But giving too much power to these excuses not only makes us more negative, it also prevents us from actually doing beneficial things, difficult though they may be (admitting envy, going through the hard process of weeding out our stuff, getting up and going out for a walk at the end of a long day rather than vegging in front of the TV). 

How do you get beyond "here's why not"s? First, acknowledge them when you find yourself thinking them. Then dig a little deeper: what's really behind the belief that you'll never be organized because you don't have enough money, for example? Is it a fear that truly being organized means you need to have perfectly matching boxes, bins, and accessories, as seen in magazines? That you need to pay a professional organizer in order to even get started? 

Reconsider and poke holes in these beliefs, and think creatively, with a mind toward achieving what you've set out to, about alternatives: can you create matching boxes on the cheap by covering unmatching ones with Contact or wrapping paper? Can you barter with a friend who's got a knack for organizing, exchanging some of his or her time and skills for something you're good at? 

Accomplishing what we want to, whether that's clearing out clutter, eating better, moving more, or escaping everyday life for a year and moving to Norway, requires that we deal with tough stuff as well as fulfilling stuff. Whatever it is that you're aiming to do, be aware of falling prey to "here's why not"s, which ultimately do nothing but leave you grumpy and miles from where you want to be.

Beyond Spring Cleaning: 5 Ways to Let the Season Inspire You

Tip of the Week, Early March 2013

[Note from Emily: Are you reading the date of this tip and the date it was posted and thinking, "Huh? Spring was half a year ago!" You're right, and we're a smidge behind, to say the least, in getting a few past tips posted here. So look for a few more blasts from the past to follow this one.]

After months of winter (especially in places where winter seems to linger much too long), the early days of spring are like a giant sigh of relief. Things that have been gone return. Things that have been stopped start again. As with the early days of the year, there's a sense of possibility and newness in the air.

If you take part in the ritual of doing a deep spring cleaning, you know the sense of satisfaction (if also the sense of exhaustion!) that comes with clearing old seasons out of your house in preparation for new, warmer, brighter ones. This year, go beyond the dusting, mopping, and window washing and take this changing time of year as a chance to restart, refresh, renew, and reconsider. Here are five ideas to get you started.

  • Take on a project you've been meaning to do, or started but never finished. After weeks of intending to do some reorganizing of my pantry cabinets--weeks during which (I admit it!) the containers I planned to use for that reorganizing sat in the middle of my kitchen table--I finally tackled that project today. Neater, more functional pantry? Check. Cleared-off kitchen table? Check. Sense of accomplishment and relief? Double check. 
  • Recommit yourself to your new year's goals and resolutions. By April, many of us have long since fallen off whatever wagon we enthusiastically hopped on in early January. Rather than staying off and giving up, though, use this as a chance to recommit to the goals you set. If you need to, reshape and reconsider your resolutions if they were too broad, unrealistic, or not enticing enough to keep you interested, and enlist a friend or family member to give you a little nudge.
  • Clear clutter from your schedule. Are there activities, meetings, or commitments hogging time on your calendar despite the fact that they're not particularly meaningful or interesting to you? Challenge yourself to get beyond the initial spurt of guilt you might feel by saying "no" to them, and then gently but firmly let them go.
  • Make something in your life more efficient. Too often, we get so used to the ways we do things that we stick with those ways even when it turns out they're inefficient or don't work all that well. Now's the perfect time to reconsider those systems or tools that aren't doing what you need them to do. Using a spreadsheet to do budgeting when you're not especially Excel savvy and have no desire to learn the more technical aspects of the software? Look for a more user-friendly online program. Tired of keeping one calendar for home and one for work? Research multi-part calendars that let you track both areas of your life in one spot.
  • Clear it out! Nothing undoes a good spring cleaning as much as clutter, so do the challenging but rewarding thing and use the new season as inspiration to reconsider what's hanging around your home and donating or disposing of what no longer serves you. Don't let the usual suspects ("But I might need it someday!" "But I paid good money for it!" "But someone gave it to me!") trick you into making space in your home for stuff you don't need, use, love, or find beautiful. Like the dust in the corners, it's time to clear it out.   

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Understanding Why You Keep Stuff--and Teaching Yourself to Let Go (Part 1)

Tip of the Week, Early February 2013

One of the biggest hurdles to getting organized, when that process involves weeding out unneeded stuff (which it very often does), is making decisions about what stays and what goes. "I might need it someday" is far and away the most common reason clients give for wanting to hold onto things, even when they haven't used them recently (if ever), don't particularly like them, or find that they're getting in the way--literally and figuratively--of achieving their organizing goals.

Getting beyond "I might need it someday" is critical to accomplishing what you set out to do in terms of organizing, but it's not an easy task. That said, with a simple but powerful technique, you can get to the heart of your true reasons for keeping things you very well may not need, and once you know these reasons, can take small steps toward letting go. 

A Lesson from Kate and Helen
To introduce this technique to you, I want to share a conversation my colleague Kate Varness of Green Light Organizing & Coaching in Peoria, IL, recently had with one of her clients, who I'll call Helen. (Kate shared this conversation recently as part of a larger discussion in a group for professional organizers, but she didn't share any identifying details about her client, including her real name.) Helen had amassed a significant number of magazines and newspapers, among other items, which were taking up lots of space in her home. She enlisted Kate's help in getting organized in order to have more time for other activities, including scrapbooking.

The pair started by sorting Helen's belongings into bins, each of which they labeled with its contents. Once the sorting was complete, they looked at the bins labeled "Magazines," and Kate asked Helen a question: "How long do you think it takes you to read one magazine?" One hour, replied Helen. 

Here's how Kate described the rest of the conversation:

I said, "We have 6 bins of about 150 magazines each, so that is 900 magazines. If it takes an hour each, that is 900 hours. If you spent one hour a day reading a magazine it would take you 2 1/2 years to get through these bins. And that doesn't count the magazines that you will continue to receive during that time. How will using 900 hours in that way impact your ability to do the other goals you have?"

Helen was silent. I could tell she felt very conflicted about the magazines. So I asked, "What's the worst thing that can happen if you don't have these magazines?" 

Her response was, "I won't have that knowledge available." I followed it with, "And what's the worst thing about not having that knowledge available?" She said, "I won't know the best way to fix a problem." 
My response: "Have you ever been able to solve a problem to your satisfaction without using information found in a magazine?" 
"Yes," she said hesitantly. 
"What made it possible for you to solve it without that information?"
"Well," she said, "I knew what to do because I had other experiences like it."

"So you solved it without needing these?" and I pointed to the magazine bins.

"Yes, but what if I have a problem that is something I'm not good at, like technology? I have to have these to help me with that."

I responded, "OK, let's say you have a technology issue. The first thing you would do is come down here and look through your magazines?"

"Ah, no."

"What would you do?"

"I would probably call my son," she said.

"And then you would come down to look at the magazines?"

She was quiet. And I knew that she knew there was very little chance that she would ever get around to reading or referencing these.

The Technique: Challenging Your Reasons
Kate helped guide Helen to this realization not by belittling her or playing up the impossibility of ever reading all of the magazines she'd amassed, but rather by gently challenging Helen's stated reason for holding onto her magazines: that they contained info she might need. 

Through Kate's questions, Helen came to acknowledge that, first off (and most importantly), she had a greater capacity for solving problems than she'd given herself credit for, and that she hadn't had to rely on magazines to get her unstuck.

She also acknowledged that, if she did find that she needed information she didn't have, her trove of magazines wouldn't be the first resource she'd turn to--and, ultimately, she realized that she quite possibly wouldn't turn to the magazines at all.

Learning to Do This on Your Own
Helen had the benefit of having Kate, a trained professional organizer, to guide her through the process of challenging her reasons. If you're able to enlist the help of a friend or family member to be your gentle interrogator the next time you're faced with weeding, go for it. 

But even if you're approaching your next organizing project solo, you can still use this technique. Ask yourself, "Why am I keeping this thing?" If your answer is "Because I might need it someday," keep pushing: "What's the worst that could happen if I needed it but didn't have it? If I needed it, would I truly remember that I have it? Would it be easy to access? Have I been in a situation where I needed it before? Did I use it then, or did I fill that need in some other way?" As you use this technique, you'll learn to target your line of questioning so you can quickly get at--and challenge--your underlying reasons for keeping things.

Coming Up: Taking Steps Toward Letting Go
In the next Tip, we'll take a look at how Kate and Helen tackled the process of parting with the magazines Helen realized she didn't need, one small step at a time.

Stick with Your Goals by Finding a "Meaningful Why"

Tip of the Week, Early January 2013

When I went to see my doctor for a physical last summer, he asked me to get some standard blood work done and handed me a few papers to take with me when I went to the lab. Those papers have been sitting in the Follow Up folder on my desk for, well, many months now, because there's almost nothing I hate more than having blood drawn--or anything else involving needles--and since nothing bad will happen if I don't follow up, I've been dragging my heels.

I thought about those lab order papers last week when I came up with one of the things I'd like to focus on in 2013: being as healthy (if not more so) in my late 30s as I was in my late 20s. When considering what this goal entails, I realized it goes beyond the usual suspects (eating well, getting some kind of exercise most days, drinking more water, and so on); it also includes being sure I know things like my cholesterol levels so I know the baseline I'm starting from.

A Meaningful Why
All of this got me thinking about one of the reasons I sometimes fail to follow through on goals and challenges I set for myself, and why I sometimes see the same thing happen with my clients: there's no meaningful why behind those goals. 

For example, when clients tell me they want to undertake an organizing project because a partner or other family member has asked them to, or because it seems like a worthwhile thing to do, there's a good chance they won't succeed. Why? Because there's nothing meaningful driving them to do the hard work involved with getting organized for good. Who wants to put time, effort, and energy into something simply because they (or, worse, someone else) think they should? Not me, that's for sure!

On the flip side, when there's something meaningful driving my clients, they tend to be much more likely to stick with the organizing process, even when it gets tough. For example, a client who found herself completely overwhelmed by several years of unsorted, unfiled papers was determined to tackle them because they caused her stress every time she looked at them, which meant every day (as they were overtaking her office), and she knew that that stress not only weighed heavily on her mind almost constantly, but also made her more likely to snap at her family. 

Taming her papers required a lot of her, but she kept with it because the reasons why she took on the project in the first place--reclaiming her office, radically decreasing her stress, and improving her relationships with her husband and kids--were so meaningful to her.

What's Driving Me
I asked myself what my meaningful why is for my 2013 goal, and here's what I came up with: I want to aim for excellent health so I can banish the stress I feel when I don't get enough exercise, don't eat well, and don't drink enough water, and so I have more energy to do some of the dozens of things I want to do but don't always feel up for at the end of a busy day or busy week. 

When I'm faced with rough patches throughout the year--when, say, sticking with my regular exercise schedule means heading to the gym in the rain when I'd much rather stay home, or when knowing where I stand health-wise requires (gulp) getting blood drawn--it's these motivators I'll keep in mind.

As we head into week two of the new year, take some time to come up with your own meaningful whys. Remember, the idea is to go beyond simply stating a goal to get at what's really driving you to reach it. Jot down your whys somewhere convenient so you can refer back to them throughout the next few months, when many resolutions are either made or broken.

Here's to a happy, healthy, successful 2013! Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lab appointment to make.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Rightsizing Your Holidays

Tip of the Week, Late November 2012

In her book Rightsizing Your Life, author Ciji Ware defines the term "rightsizing" as making sure that your surroundings and your possessions support your life as you're currently living it. While this often means paring back and getting rid of excess, it can also mean adjusting and expanding as your life changes--making space for a new baby, for example, or changing traditions you adopted as a single person when you enter a long-term relationship.

Ware writes about rightsizing primarily in relation to retirees and empty-nesters who are facing changes as they enter new phases of their lives, but I think the term applies equally well to other situations, including the one we're currently in the midst of: the holidays.

Balancing Your Celebrations
There always seems to be a tug-of-war this time of year between the lavish over-the-top-ness we tend to see in ads, in stores, and in magazines, and the desire to simplify how we observe the winter holidays. While I'm generally a proponent of taking the simpler, less stuff-focused approach to everything when possible, holidays included, I definitely believe there are times when bigger, more involved celebrations are worth the splurge. 

For example, if you have family members who only travel for the holidays every few years, those rare times when they are with you may well be cause for larger gatherings with more bells and whistles. On the flip side, in years when your celebrations are limited to smaller groups, you might opt for more low-key affairs. 

Life events can also have an impact on whether you celebrate on a grand scale or keep things simpler. Newlyweds enjoying their first holidays together might want to mark the occasion with a big party full of friends and family, while a family that's just moved and is still settling in to a new house might opt instead to go super-simple so they don't add the stress of elaborate holiday preparations to their already long To Do list, and don't strain their budget after incurring the expense of moving.

Where Are You on the Spectrum?
What "size" holidays are right for you depends on a several factors, from who you're celebrating with to what else is happening in your life to whether your bank account is feeling comfortably flush or is a bit more austere. Because these factors can easily change from year to year, it's worth taking some time now, before the season is in its fullest swing, to think about what it means to rightsize the holidays ahead. 

Once you have a clear sense of what feels like the right balance for you--larger, more elaborate celebrations, small and simple observances, or something between the two--it'll be easier to plan everything else, from gift lists to menus to budgets, accordingly. 

By creating and sticking with plans that are right for you based on the realities of your holidays this year, you'll skip the stress that comes with worrying that you're either underprepared or overprepared (that is, that you've overspent), or that you're simply going along with holiday plans and traditions because they're what you've always done, whether or not they fit your life right now. And, of course, with less stress, you'll be better able to enjoy what the season brings, no matter how lavish or how simple.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"If It Doesn't Add, Then It Detracts"

Tip of the Week, Early October 2012

Normally I'd take the opportunity this week to send you links to some of the most interesting organizing-related articles, stories, and ideas I've seen over the past month. However, when this article came into my Inbox this week (courtesy of Jim of the Clutterless group Pleasanton), I knew I wanted to share it with you in its entirety, as I love what the author has to say about how to choose what gets space in your home and life and what doesn't. And if you like this article as much as I did, I encourage you to check out Sharon Crosby's website, Mind Over Clutter, for more wise words. --Emily

Outta Here in X Amount of Time? by Sharon Crosby 

Most advice about clutter says that if you haven't used it in X amount of time throw it out. You haven't used that widget in six months so get rid of it. You haven't put on that gorgeous dress in a year, so let go of it. I agree that this method is good for many items, perhaps most.  But how many of us actually do that? Or even feel like we can? It seems like there are often exceptions to that rule.  Items that when we try to apply the rule of "Out of here in  X amount of time" we find it very difficult. We struggle and then give up. Or sometimes we end up throwing something out and really regret it. Why is that?

Conventional wisdom implies that if something was important to us we'd be using it. But conventional wisdom forgets that many of us often put what's less important to us ahead of what is really important to us. Time management experts are aware of this when it comes to how we use our time. But we usually don't realize that we do this with belongings too.

Based on my experience, I am recommending something a little different than the X amount of time method.

When I began learning how to become a writer, I learned this simple phrase about making my writing more powerful. "If it doesn't add, then it detracts." In other words, every sentence or word that doesn't add to what I've written actually detracts from the overall effect.

Similarly, Phil McGraw, author of Relationship Rescue, has an interesting statement about relationships. He says something to the effect that in any relationship you are either nurturing it, or you are poisoning it. There's no in between. I believe the same applies to belongings. We do have a relationship of sorts with our belongings. And those belongings are either nurturing you, your life, and dreams...or it is poisoning it. It is either adding to your life, or it is detracting from it.

This is what I believe should be the main basis of whether you keep an item or not. Is it contributing to the life you want? Does it add to your happiness or well being? If it's not then take a good hard look at why you're keeping it.

Forget about the X amount of time rule if it requires you to throw away something you love. Take the time to get clear on what you want and don't want. Listen to your instincts.  Become aware of what belongings are really important to you.  Then let go of what is not important. That way you have time for that hobby equipment that used to sit in the corner buried under other stuff you cared less about. What you care about will be more accessible with less stuff surrounding it or taking up your time or distracting you.

There is another X amount of time rule out there. This advice says, "If you find you can't part with it then put it in storage for X amount of time. And then if you haven't used it by the end of that time toss it."

The method usually involves putting stuff you can't seem to part with, despite not having used it in several months, in a box. You tape the box up, put it in storage and give yourself a date that you will throw it out by. If you haven't gone back to retrieve anything from the box then you are to toss it out at the allotted time. And you are not supposed to open the box before you throw it out because you just might keep what's inside after all.

Again, it's good advice because it proves to us that we can live without those things we don't use, but are afraid to get rid of. But putting things in storage can be expensive.  If you put stuff into a storage unit at $30 for six months that comes to $180. That's nearly $200 that I personally would prefer to spend elsewhere. Wouldn't you?

I also view this as a Band-Aid approach. If you feel the need to keep it after having boxed it up for several months then you obviously haven't dealt with the core issue of why you couldn't let go in the first place. Why delay it? Why not instead get straight to the heart of the problem. Why are you having such a hard time letting go?

This "X amount of time" method delays the process of becoming free of stuff that is dragging you down. It also delays, sometimes indefinitely, dealing with the emotions tied with the stuff and to letting go that drags you down too. It takes an inactive approach instead of a pro-active one such as really listening to yourself. Not only are you losing money if you put it in a storage unit, you are wasting time and perhaps emotional energy.

Let me explain what I mean by "wasting emotional energy."  If we are reluctant to throw things out there are reasons for that. And by just boxing things up and delaying when we toss it we don't face what those reasons are. The reason may be that we feel guilty about throwing away Aunt Myrtle's wedding present to us, or whatever. By keeping the stuff out of sight and then just tossing it out at the end of a time period we delay or never address the fact that we felt guilty about something we really shouldn't feel guilty over.

Anytime we feel we should keep something based upon a negative emotion such as Indecisiveness, guilt, guilt, fear that throwing it out might be a mistake, etc. It disempowers us. Also, when we are reluctant to throw something out because deep down we really want it, but think we *should* throw it out anyway, we are creating inner conflict. And inner conflict drains our emotional energy.

If you find that no other option works for you, should you truly find you can't let go, or you find you really do completely want this stuff, go ahead and put things in storage as a last resort. But wouldn't it be great to save that money and space if you can? Wouldn't it be great to stop struggling with something so simple as letting go of stuff you don't use or want? And in a matter of hours, or maybe even minutes, instead of months?

So what to do instead? I am not going to say just toss it.  You may be able to soon find yourself doing so without feeling pangs of withdrawal, but you'll probably have to do some other things first.

When faced with stuff you can't seem to let go of ask what you are feeling and what is at the root of it. You may find it easier to write your thoughts down in a notebook. Or you may wish to just have an inner dialogue with yourself. Or try talking with an understanding friend or counselor.  Allow yourself to say and accept whatever comes to mind,  even if it makes you uncomfortable. The importance here is not so much to let go of stuff as to face and let go of the uncomfortable feelings involved. It is only by facing whatever thoughts or emotions that holds us back that we can let go of those thoughts and emotions. And perhaps let go of the stuff as well.

By doing this you don't have to draw out the process of letting go. You can find yourself readily giving up things that moments before you were reluctantly clinging to.

So, asking yourself if you've used things in X amount of time and sometimes temporarily storing it away for X amount of time are important strategies to consider. But in many cases asking ourselves how important something is to us, our lives, our family and such could be more helpful. Now that you have done this you can make a more informed choice as whether to keep, toss or put it into storage. And all without having to face the two versions of "Outta here in X  amount of time" unless needed.

Copyright 2002 Sharon Crosby - Mind Over Clutter. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Organizing as Life Editing

Tip of the Week, Early July 2012

In my last Tip, I included a link to a video of a TED presentation by Graham Hill called "Less Stuff, More Happiness." In his talk, Hill refers to "the benefits of an edited life," a phrase I love both for its simplicity and for the way it presents organizing in a different light.

Very often, the thought of organizing brings to mind forcing yourself (or being forced) to get rid of stuff, having to give up things you love, or living like an ascetic. And if that's what organizing entails, who would blame us for being turned off by it? It sounds like a total drag, along the lines of a woefully restrictive diet or having to go cold turkey on watching TV.

A Different Perspective
But what if we think about organizing not as depriving ourselves but as a way of editing our spaces and our lives so they better reflect who we are, don't require us to spend money we don't have, and contribute to greater happiness? 

Think of a book or a movie that's poorly edited: the story might meander and lose your interest, it might seem to go on forever, or it may feel like it has so much information that it's overwhelming. The same holds for a museum that's crammed full of art or other display objects: it can be hard to focus on or enjoy any one thing because there's just so much.

On the flip side, a well edited book or movie or a skillfully curated museum exhibit can capture and hold your interest, tell a compelling story, and give you enough information that you feel like you have a good sense of what's being communicated but aren't so bombarded with facts or ideas that your brain wants to shut off. 

Life Edited
The same basic principles are easy to apply to space and stuff. Are there things in your home that give you the same feeling of overwhelm (and perhaps boredom and annoyance) as those extra 50 pages in a book that's too long? What could you edit out that would do the equivalent of turning a rambling, flabby movie into one that's well paced, engrossing, and thought-provoking? What's the excess in your own personal museum that detracts from your enjoyment of the stuff you truly love and want to highlight?

In his video, Graham Hill shares the story of his quest to edit his already-small apartment by using movable, modular furniture, very little d├ęcor, and a mostly white color scheme. He also suggests digitizing papers, books, and movies. That's some serious editing--for me, the equivalent of a Reader's Digest abridged book. (No thanks!) But he also acknowledges that different degrees of life editing will work well for different people. That may mean simply getting rid of the mystery boxes you've moved from home to home but haven't opened, for example, rather than giving up all of your books. Remember, the goal isn't deprivation or sacrificing what you love; it's cutting the fat so that it's easier to focus on and enjoy that meaningful stuff.

Give It a Try
In the weeks ahead, I encourage you to do a bit of life and space editing. What gets left on the cutting room floor as you trim? What's your newly edited and curated space like? Does approaching the organizing process as editing you choose to do make it feel different from decluttering you're forced to do? Leave a comment and let me know, or share your experience on The Organized Life Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Organizing Tidbits for June

Tip of the Week, Early June 2012

Here are some of the organizing-related articles, ideas, and resources that have caught my eye this month.

A Day Devoted to Your Finances
Ron Leiber, the Your Money columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote an article suggesting a day-long financial tuneup once a year, during which you tackle tasks designed to get your money--and your financial paperwork--in order. 

Also worth browsing is the blog post with his readers' replies to the question, "What did you do for your financial tuneup?"

And while we're on the subject of money, a colleague recently shared an online guide aimed at answering what is, for many of us, a perennial question: How long do I have to keep this financial paperwork? How to purge your financial clutter, by personal finance writer Liz Weston, offers a comprehensive set of guidelines. 

Clever Ways of Putting Your Stuff to Use
Sunset magazine has a great feature on its website about projects designed to help you reinvent stuff you may have hanging around the house. Finally, a use for those cd cases and that decorative plate collection.

Common Clutter Culprits
I love Apartment Therapy's list of 12 Things You Probably Own Too Many Of. Want an easy clean-out project this summer? Tackle the things on this list one category at a time.

An Easy Way to Get Updated Addresses
Postable is a free online service that lets you send requests to friends, family members, and anyone else you want to keep in touch with via mail but may not have a recent address for. Sign up, send out a link to your personal address book, and have recipients add their info through a secure page on the Postable site. And if you're not a fan of online address books, you can export and print a copy.

Less Stuff, More Happiness
Finally, here's a short and sweet video that poses an interesting question: does having more stuff make us less happy? Graham Hill, the presenter, doesn't belittle or preach, which makes his message all the more appealing.

Have a great organizing or productivity article, idea, or resource to share? Leave a comment and let me know, or share your experience on The Organized Life Facebook page.

Outsourcing Organizing Support Tasks

Tip of the Week, Late May 2012

I recently worked with a busy couple who wanted to tackle several trouble spots in their home. As we did a walkthrough, they pointed out several mini projects they'd started but hadn't finished, including assembling a new entertainment center (neither of them, they said, was particularly skilled with handy tasks); shredding several bags and boxes of paper with sensitive info (they had a small shredder, but it had jammed, and was painfully slow to use even when it worked); installing various hooks and doorstops throughout the house (back to not having a knack tasks like these); and getting out of the house the stuff they'd already weeded through and decided to get rid of (their schedules during the week were extremely hectic, and doing Goodwill runs wasn't tops on their list for weekends).

I noticed a theme as we talked: while these folks had both the desire and the motivation to get organized, they didn't have a lot of time each week to give over to organizing-related tasks, and they experienced bottlenecks when it came to dealing with mini-projects, especially those they didn't have the skills or the resources for. 

Sound Familiar?
This couple's hurdle is one my clients often face: they try to do as many of the support tasks related to their organizing project as they can, even though those tasks can slow them down significantly--and sometimes bring them to a complete halt. If reorganizing your files involves weeding out and shredding the papers you no longer need, but you don't have a working shredder at your disposal, you may find yourself putting the project on hold until you can get a shredder--in itself another project. 

The Benefits of Outsourcing
There comes a point when trying to tackle the soup to nuts of an organizing job on your own will do little more than slow you down (and possibly make you more likely to want to throw in the towel). Before you reach that point, it's well worth finding ways of enlisting others to help with the tasks that need to be done but--unlike making decisions on what stays and what goes--don't necessarily need to be done by you

Outsourcing organizing support tasks like donation drop-offs, shredding, picking up supplies, and doing handyperson tasks like furniture assembly or hanging things on the wall is an excellent way of getting these tasks done quickly and well, allowing you to focus on other things and helping ensure that your organizing project doesn't lose momentum.

Finding Help
Luckily, I think it's easier than ever before to find good, reliable, reasonably priced help for organizing support tasks. With summer ahead, there's always the option of enlisting a trustworthy high schooler or college student who's on break and wants to earn a few extra dollars over the summer. And, of course, it's often worth asking around with friends, colleagues, and neighbors for recommendations of people who'll take on such tasks and do them well.

Rather hire a pro? I really like Task Rabbit, a service that lets you post the tasks you're looking for help with and then browse bids from people willing to do them. Unlike classifieds websites like Craigslist, Task Rabbit screens the its "rabbits" (by essay, video interview, and background check) before they're allowed to take on tasks, and also offers a feedback and rating system. 

One of the things I like best about Task Rabbit is the range of tasks you can post, from dropping off donations at Goodwill to alphabetizing your cd collection to unpacking your luggage after a trip. For every organizing support task you come up with, there's a good chance you can find someone on Task Rabbit to do it. Want to give it a try? Use this link to get $10 off your first task. (Though Task Rabbit is only in a handful of cities right now, it's growing all the time, so check back if you don't see your area available.)

There are also other Task Rabbit-like services popping up, like Exec (which is currently only available in San Francisco), and the more such services there are, the better your chances of finding an assistant who can take care of the tasks that would otherwise slow you down.

Have you used a service like Task Rabbit or Exec, or found another way of getting help with organizing support tasks? What was your experience like? What would you suggest to others who are considering outsourcing these tasks? Leave a comment and let me know, or share your experience on The Organized Life Facebook page.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Organizing Tidbits

Tip of the Week, Early May 2012

Here are some interesting, inspirational, and helpful organizing-related stories I've read on- and offline over the past month.

Spring Cleaning of a Different Stripe
The magazine Good devoted a month to daily email tips on spring cleaning, and they went far beyond the traditional cleaning routines and standard organizing projects. These were two of my favorites:
  • Better Ways to Sell Your Stuff--10 websites and services that can help you make good on your intentions to sell the unwanted, unneeded stuff that's cluttering up your closets and drawers. 
  • A Dose of Your Own Medicine--Tips on bringing order to your medicine cabinet, including how to decide what to toss, options for safe disposal, and recommendations on how to stock a first aid kit with the essentials. 
Get Real
Apartment Therapy is a website dedicated to all things home, including decorating advice, home tours, and how-to articles. Though some of the spaces they feature are too picture-perfect for my tastes, they often have down-to-earth articles with realistic advice. 

One recent article I loved (and can relate to, as our "guest room" is an air mattress on the living room floor) was Real Life Advice: Hosting Guests Without a Guest Room, which includes both straightforward tips (invest in a good air mattress) and reminders for things it can be easy to forget (have an outlet for your guests to use for recharging cell phones and other electronics).

Another Apartment Therapy article that caught my attention was 10 Snapshots You Should Keep in Your Phone's Photo Album, which suggests some of the best uses for your smartphone cameras. Two super-smart ones: take photos of the types of bulbs your light fixtures use so it's easy to replace burned-out bulbs, and snap shots of your prescription medications so refills are easier and you don't forget anything when your doctor asks what you take.

Well Said
Finally, two quotations I came across this month that have stayed with me:

"Creation is a better means of self-expression than possession; it is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed." --Vida Dutton-Scudder, The Privilege of Age (I love this for its reminder that we're not what we own, but what we do and what we create in the world.)

"There are many trails up the mountain, but in time they all reach the top." --Anya Seton

Your Turn
Have ideas, suggestions, recommended resources, favorite organizing products, or tips to share? Leave them in a comment or post them on The Organized Life's Facebook page.