Sunday, April 29, 2007

An Organizing Challenge

Tip of the Week, April 15 and 22, 2007

I recently read a Real Simple article in which author Gail Blanke, a life coach, challenged her clients and her readers to get rid of 50 things. Blanke's mission is to get across the message that clearing out the stuff that clutters up our space can help clear out the stuff that clutters our minds.

Her article is an interesting and inspirational read, and I want to extend her challenge to you: for the next two weeks, aim to get rid of 50 (or more) things. Here's how this version of the challenge will work.

The purpose
I see over and over again situations in which someone who has too much stuff--whether or not he or she realizes it's too much stuff--is saddled with stress, disappointment, fear, worry, sadness, and other unpleasant emotions. Of course, these don't all stem from clutter, but there does seem to be a clear correlation between the two. On the flip side, when clients and I start working on clearing out the excess, the negativity starts to dissipate.

So this is the point both of organizing in general and of this challenge in particular: I encourage you to reconsider what you're devoting space, time, and effort to in your life not to force yourself to live like an ascetic, but rather to make sure the things around you are those you love, use, find beautiful, and believe reflect and support your life as you're living it now. The rest of it so quickly becomes clutter, and clearing out that clutter can create physical, mental, and emotional space for more important things.

The challenge
For the next two weeks, aim to remove from your life at least 50 things. A "thing" here can be a book you'll never read again (or have never read in the first place), a broken necklace you're unlikely to fix or an earring with no mate, a kitchen gadget that's long been relegated to the back of a drawer, a piece of sports equipment gathering dust in the garage, a coffee table you've never liked, an item of clothing you haven't worn in years or that makes you feel bad when you do wear it--anything that doesn't contribute positively to your life as you're living it now.

For the purposes of this challenge, the things you get rid of must be ones you already have when you begin; stuff like new mail that comes in during the next few weeks or new things you buy don't count.

I'll take a further page from Gail Blanke's book and encourage you to write down the stuff you get rid of, large or small, so that you can see both what you were holding onto and what you're letting go of. If you're willing to share your list with your fellow Tip of the Week readers, you can e-mail it to me and I'll publish it in a follow-up Tip a few weeks hence. (I'm happy to post these lists anonymously if you'd prefer your name not be used.)

If you find yourself inspired to keep going after you've reached the 50 mark, great! There's no upper limit, so anything that feels like it no longer deserves a place in your life is fair game.

Follow-up
In the week of April 29, I'll post the results of this challenge, so I want to hear from you. In addition to sending me a list of what you let go, please feel free to send me your thoughts on what it was like to go through this process, what you discovered (literally or metaphorically) along the way, and what you think of the end result. Other ideas and musings are also welcome.

Good luck scrubbing the unwanted, useless, unlovely, and irrelevant from your life! I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Earth-Friendly Electronics Recycling

Tip of the Week, April 8, 2007

Although Earth Day is still officially a few weeks off, it's not too early to start thinking about ways of caring for the environment. One task that often seems painfully environmentally unfriendly is getting rid of old electronics. None of us wants to send used TVs, computers, monitors, and cell phones off to the landfill, but it's often hard to know just what to do with them.

Luckily, there are some great organizations dedicated to taking these things off your hands and making sure they don't end up as trash. Here are a few of my favorites.

Earth 911
Earth 911 (www.earth911.org) is dedicated to making "every day Earth Day." Type in your ZIP code, choose the type of item you're looking to get rid of (everything from cell phones to printer cartridges to TV sets) and it will provide info on where and how to safely unload your stuff. The sites that accept your donations are committed to either re-using them or to responsibly disposing of them, so you won't have to worry about what happens after you bid your old fax machine adieu.

National Cristina Foundation
If you're upgrading to a newer computer and don't want to relegate your old one to the slag heap, consider donating it to the National Cristina Foundation (www.cristina.org). The NCF, whose motto is "Machines you can write off. People you can't," provides computers to people with disabilities, at-risk youth, and the economically disadvantaged. Though there are certain requirements for what the NCF will accept, many computers, monitors, and peripherals (such as keyboards) will qualify. If your machine is of relatively recent vintage, donating it to the NCF is a great way of assuring that it continues to be used.

Best Buy
The next time you bring home a shiny new piece of electronics equipment, chances are it'll displace something else. All Best Buy stores now have free eWaste recycling kiosks right inside the front door where you can drop off old cell phones, printer cartridges, and rechargeable batteries. If the store delivers a new piece of electronics equipment to you, they'll also haul the old one away (for a charge). And the company is holding a series of weekend recycling events at stores around the corner throughout 2007. To find out more about Best Buy's recycling programs, visit http://communications.bestbuy.com/communityrelations/recycling.asp.

Call2Recycle
More and more small electronics, from power tools to video cameras, run on rechargeable batteries. The good news is that these batteries are generally more environmentally friendly than the non-rechargeable kind; the less good news is that sooner or later, they'll lose their charge for good. When that happens, you can find a recycling drop-off spot near you by visiting www.call2recycle.org. (You can also find locations for recycling cell phones.)

Collective Good
If you want to put your cell phone, pager, or PDA to use beyond its time with you, consider donating it to Collective Good (www.collectivegood.com). You can choose the charity you want your donation to benefit, then can mail your mobile device in for recycling (shipping is free for certain charities). Your gadget will be recycled, any proceeds from the still-usable parts will go to the charity of your choice, and you'll get a tax write-off.

Green Citizen
Though this resource is currently for the San Francisco Bay Area, with luck the idea will spread throughout the country. California currently has some of the strictest laws on eWaste disposal, and Green Citizen (www.greencitizen.com) is dedicated to helping consumers do the right thing when it comes time to toss that old computer, monitor, scanner, printer, DVD player, and so on. The company has drop-off sites throughout the Bay Area, and disposal of many items is free; others have a nominal disposal fee (which helps cover GC's costs). Your cast-offs are recycled responsibly, not sent to the dump.

The next time you're ready to replace one of your electronic gadgets--or to attack the pile of old stuff that's been building up in your closet, basement, attic, or garage--use the resources above. You'll keep needless (and often dangerous) waste out of landfills, will give the earth a virtual pat on the back, and may even get the satisfaction of knowing that what was useless to you has been put to good use by someone else.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bringing Humor to Organizing

Tip of the Week, April 1, 2007

Unless it's a task you really love, or unless you're a fantastically happy person in general, getting organized probably doesn't strike you as being a laugh-a-minute sort of activity. Indeed, clearing clutter, sorting and weeding, creating filing systems, and re-ordering clothes in a closet aren't quite hilarious tasks--but there's a lot to be said for approaching organizing with a sense of humor. This week, in honor of April Fool's Day, I offer you a few ways of bringing some fun to getting organized.

Get kids involved
I call kids professional DISorganizers, given their penchant for creating disorder (delightful, charming disorder though it might be) wherever they go. It might seem counterintuitive, then, to involve the small people in your life in your organizing processes, but the truth is that they can make otherwise dreadful tasks a lot more fun. Kids have the ability to see almost anything as a game if the circumstances are right. Clearing clutter from the family room can be a race against the clock, with the winner being the person to put as many things as possible in their rightful homes before the buzzer goes off. Playing dress-up while weeding out an adult's closet can bring laughter to a ho-hum task. Use your imagination--and your kids'--to create fun, funny ways of keeping on top of organizing.

Look for and delight in absurdity
At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked lightheartedly whether the fact that one of the attendees had given his garage over to storing stuff worth "dozens of dollars" while his many-thousand-dollar car languished outside meant he needed to bring a bit more organizing to his life. The group got a good chuckle, but his point was well made: how many times do we place more importance on things that are relatively worthless while the valuable things, people, and tasks in our lives get displaced?

Serious, chronic disorganization is no laughing matter, and if you suffer from disorganization to such a degree that you can't use major areas of your home as they're meant to be used (can't cook in your kitchen, for example, or bathe in your bathtub) or find that disorder has an appreciable negative impact on your life, it's important to seek professional help.

But if you wrestle with less serious (though still annoying) disorganization, try looking for and finding humor in examples of absurdity. Are you, like the fellow mentioned above, devoting valuable storage space to items worth "dozens of dollars"? Are your morning routines like something out of a Keystone Kops movie because you can never seem to find your keys, shoes, lunch, briefcase, and jacket when you need them? For a few minutes, let yourself enjoy the silliness in these situations, and then translate that into inspiration to make some changes.

Mock the overly organized
An ad in a modern design magazine I read yesterday caught my eye: it was a spot for kitchen cabinetry, and it showed a very sleek, very beautiful kitchen with a killer view out a lovely set of windows over a shiny chrome sink. With the exception of a tiny bowl that held a few perfectly arranged oranges, the counters were entirely bare. As I took in the ad, I snorted and thought, Yeah, right. WHO LIVES LIKE THAT?

Images of "organization" in magazines, on TV, in others' homes, and in the popular imagination can make most of us feel like we're not up to snuff. But if you can turn that sense of disappointment, of not measuring up, on its head, you can bring a bit of glee to the process of getting organized enough. For instance, when you come across an ad like the one I saw, make some modifications: draw in a stack of mail, a coffee maker, some dirty dishes, a roll of paper towels, a half-eaten sandwich, and whatever else might appear in the kitchen of an actual human who actually uses their kitchen. Then make a promise to yourself that your own kitchen only needs to be organized enough that you can efficiently do whatever you need to do there and can then get on with your life.

This month, approach organizing with levity and a sense of humor. If nothing else, you might find that what once seemed like drudgery or a series or boring, repetitive tasks can sometimes be fun.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Organizing for Spring: the Bedroom

Tip of the Week, March 25, 2007

Bedrooms are meant to be spaces of calm and restfulness where you can go to escape from the world. Clutter, unpleasant surroundings, or jarring elements in these rooms can make them more stressful than restful, though. This week, focus on bringing some order to the room where you spend many hours of your life.


  • Move anything that doesn't belong. Bedrooms (especially master bedrooms), while meant for sleeping, relaxing, reading, and other relatively low-key activities, are often magnets for items unrelated to those activities. Take the time to really look around your bedroom, find the things that don't really belong there (such as kids' toys, crafts materials, papers and files, and items for storage) and either move them to their rightful homes or get rid of them. Aim to keep the bedroom free of extraneous stuff, and to keep it from being the default location for activities that should be done elsewhere.
  • Clear off your dresser and other flat surfaces. In the bedroom, as in other rooms in the house, flat surfaces easily become clutter magnets. Make a clean sweep of the flat surfaces here and either put away or toss the items that don't belong on your dresser, shelves, or nightstand. If you find that certain items often wind up on flat spaces here because they have nowhere else to go (such as jewelry, the contents of pants pockets, buttons, and coins), designate a contained home for them, such as a small basket or a decorative box.
  • Do a once-through of your closet and dresser. A full sort/purge/organize session in your closet and dresser drawers can take a good chunk of time, and may well be beyond what you can or want to undertake at this point. However, you can do a quick version: go through each section of your closet and each dresser drawer, removing anything that's stained or torn beyond repair, anything you're sure you won't wear again, or anything you're simply ready to pass on. Toss or recycle dry cleaning bags and hangers (many dry cleaners will take these back) and buy new hangers if needed. Make sure each drawer is categorized in a way that makes sense to you so you don't have to search in multiple spots when you're looking for something.
  • Make a list of spring cleaning chores. The warmer days of spring are a natural sign that it's time to do a deeper cleaning to prepare for the change of seasons. You may not be ready to undertake the spring cleaning process just get, or may opt to hire someone else to do it for you, but you can create a list of the tasks you'd like to do. Whether it's vacuuming under the bed, cleaning the windows inside and out, dusting hard-to-reach corners, or sweeping out the bottom of the closet, knowing what cleaning chores you'd like to attack will give you a starting point for working through them.
  • Make a list of projects and improvements. Finally, start a second list, this one dedicated to projects and improvements, small or large, you'd like to focus on for the bedroom in the weeks and months ahead. Perhaps you'd like to deep clean your winter bedding before putting it in storage, rotate your mattress, replace a piece of furniture you don't like, paint the walls, buy or make new curtains, or find a home elsewhere in the house for an activity area you no longer want to have in the bedroom. This can be a running list, and will help you prioritize, plan, and start to break these projects down into manageable chunks so they're less overwhelming. (Of course, you might also want to create a list for improvements you want to make in other rooms, too. The idea is to get them out of your head and onto paper or an electronic list.)


Clearing the clutter from your bedroom can help make the space more inviting, more restful, and less stressful. Whether your bedroom is a place you already love to be that just needs some small tune-ups, or a place you avoid as much as possible, these tips can help make it the refuge it was meant to be.