Monday, May 28, 2007

Organize Your Clothes with a Dose of "What Not to Wear"

Tip of the Week, May 20, 2007

I confess: one of my favorite guilty pleasures is the show "What Not to Wear" on TLC. Each week, the experts on "WNtW" help a fashion-challenged guest jettison the clothes, looks, and habits that don't work and find his or her own true style. One of the central pieces of the show involves the hosts sorting through the guest's wardrobe and tossing items that don't fit, are out-of-date, don't flatter the person, or are otherwise examples of, well, what not to wear. The guest then gets some image tips from the hosts and heads out to find clothing and accessories that are truly flattering. The result is a slimmed-down wardrobe that emphasizes quality over quantity.

You don't have to be a guest on "What Not to Wear" to apply the show's principles to your own closet and dresser. Use the guidelines below to sort through your wardrobe, weed out the undesirables, and organize what's left.

Guideline #1: If it doesn't fit, get rid of it
One of the biggest blunders the show's fashion experts run into is guests wearing clothes that simply don't fit: oversized shirts, undersized pants, too-tight sweaters, shapeless dresses, and so on. These clothes are usually the first to hit the show's trashcan.

I would venture to guess that most of us (yours truly included!) have items in our closets or drawers that don't fit us well. Wearing clothes that pull, tug, bunch, ride up, billow, or sag isn't exactly a confidence booster, so why do it? Take the time to try on the things in your wardrobe; if they don't fit comfortably and make you feel confident wearing them, let 'em go. (If you feel strongly that you must hold onto clothes that once fit but no longer do because you intend to lose weight, store them neatly outside of your main closet and dresser; having these things staring at you each day is more likely to be depressing than motivating.)

Guideline #2: Does it flatter you?
Another common fashion error is clothing that doesn't flatter the wearer, either because of the fit (see above), or because of the cut, style, pattern, or color. I recently realized that as much as I love all shades of green, the lighter ones, which tend to have yellowish undertones, make me look washed-out and pale. So I've been weeding the light green items from my wardrobe and replacing them with colors that complement my complexion.

Take a look at your clothes and pull out any that aren't flattering to your complexion, body type, age, or profession. These are prime candidates for donation or disposal.

Guideline #3: Is it in good shape?
It's time to bid them adieu: the jeans with tears in conspicuous and inconvenient spots, the shirts faded from one too many washings, the undergarments that don't cover or support what they're supposed to, the socks without mates, and the shoes with holes in the soles. This doesn't mean you need to get rid of the stuff you wear to lounge around the house when no one will see you or the clothes you don for painting, gardening, or other dirty jobs; it does mean letting go of the things that are so past their prime that they're no longer comfortable to wear.

Deciding what to wear
Once you've rid your wardrobe of clothes, shoes, and accessories that aren't comfortable, flattering, and in generally good shape, take an inventory to see what (if anything) you need to add to your clothing collection. If, for example, you've let go of multiple pairs of ill-fitting black dress pants, you might replace them with one or two high-quality pairs that suit your body type.

Don't use this as an opportunity to refill all the space you've just emptied; rather, view it as a chance to replace quantity with quality. It's more efficient to have a few nice things you're able to wear often than it is to have many pieces of clothes you wear rarely, if ever.

Keeping it organized
Finally, get your closets and drawers in order. Decide on the most efficient system for you--clothes divided by color? by type? by when you wear them?--and stick to it. Hang things that are quick to wrinkle and stash small and casual clothes (like undergarments and t-shirts) in drawers. If your closet and dresser are stuffed to the hilt, you probably need to either weed more or find alternate storage for off-season or less-worn items.

Each week (laundry day is an opportune time), take a few minutes to put away anything that has migrated out; once every few months or so, take a more in-depth look at your clothes and repeat the processes outlined in the guidelines above.

You don't have to be a fashion plate to have a wardrobe that fits and flatters your body and your life; you simply need to focus on quality over quantity and give precedence to the things that make you feel put together and confident. Your closets and drawers will thank you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Mid-Year Check-In for Your 2007 Goals

Tip of the Week, May 13, 2007

Unbelievably, June--the mid-year point--is just a few weeks away. That means we're almost halfway between January and December, or, put another way, between having made 2007 resolutions and looking toward making 2008 resolutions.

If you're like many of us, you may need to refresh the goals you set for yourself this year. There's no reason to let those goals go unmet for the rest of the year; now is the perfect time to take another look at them and to think about ways of organizing yourself for success. Here are some straightforward steps you can take to get yourself back on track (or to continue on the road to success).

Reconsider what you resolved
Start by reacquainting yourself with the goals and resolutions you set earlier this year. (If you chose not to set any back in January, use this time to decide what you'd like to focus on and to establish some goals you'd like to achieve by the end of the year.) Take a critical look at what you resolved to do in 2007 and ask yourself if it's specific, realistic, and achievable.

For example, if getting organized made an appearance on your list of resolutions, did you choose a specific area or aspect of your life to organize (the hall closet, for example, or your family's schedule), break the project down into reasonable chunks, and start chipping away at each chunk? If not, take some time now to add these details to your goal: what specifically would you like to focus on? What will the end result be? How can you realistically make changes in your life to move yourself toward this goal?

If you've achieved the goal you set, or if it no longer seems desirable or relevant, ask yourself if there's a replacement goal you'd like to add to your list. This might be maintaining the changes you've made, going one step further with the accomplished goal, or starting from scratch and choosing an area of your life in which you'd like to make changes.

Break it down
Once you've clarified, renewed, or created your goal, do a bit of strategic planning: what are the specific things you need to do to achieve your goal, and how will these things fit into your life? If, for example, you'd like to eat healthier foods, you might decide that you'll carve out time each week to plan your meals, choose recipes, shop for fresh, unprocessed foods, do some basic food prep for the week, and set aside at least a few minutes a day to cook or assemble meals. Once you have your list of tasks, you can then work on slotting them into your weekly calendar. Perhaps Saturday afternoon will be meal planning and recipe research time, Sunday will be shopping and chopping time, and at least three nights a week, you'll allot 30 minutes to cook dinner.

Remember that the smaller the tasks you set for yourself are, the more likely they will be to work with your daily and weekly schedules, and the easier they'll be to stick with.

Organize for achievement
Another way to support your goals is to make sure you're organized enough to achieve what you want to achieve. Let's say you resolved back in January to stay on top of your mail so that you could avoid late fees on bills, could respond to event invitations more efficiently, and could keep better track of the reading material you receive each month. If you didn't have a system set up that let you put the mail in the same spot each day, sort through it quickly to get rid of the junk, and spend a few minutes each week pulling out the important stuff, that goal was probably pretty hard to work toward.

Take the time now to determine what you need to organize in order to get and keep yourself on track toward your goal: a particular space, your calendar, your desk, your recipes, your computer, your e-mail Inbox, and so on. Remember, you don't need to strive for perfection here. You simply need to be organized enough to ensure that you can efficiently do what you need to do to work toward your goal.

Find an accountability partner
Finally, consider enlisting an accountability partner to help keep you focused. This could be a friend, family member, co-worker, professional, or neighbor--anyone who understands your goal and can support you in it is a worthwhile candidate. You might ask your accountability partner to check in with you on a regular basis--once a week, say--to see how things are going; your end of the bargain will be to honestly report on your progress toward your goal. If you can find someone with a similar goal to be your partner, all the better: you can share successes and frustrations and can get each other back on track when things get tough.

It's definitely not too late to accomplish your 2007 goals. Take a bit of time as we approach mid-year to review the steps above and get yourself set up for success.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

An Organizing Challenge: The Results

Tip of the Week, May 6, 2007

Thanks to all of you who took part in my challenge to get rid of 50 things over the course of three weeks, and an extra dose of gratitude to those who wrote me to share their "let go of" lists. This week, I want to share with you some of the results of the challenge, and offer a few tips on how you can keep yourself motivated to edit the things you allow into your world even after the challenge is over.

What went
Here are some of the things--tangible and intangible--your fellow challenge participants have let go of over the past few weeks:

  • 3 ugly workout shorts
  • 1 pair of shorts that didn't fit right when I bought them 15 years ago
  • 15 cookbooks
  • 1 pizza cutter
  • 5 random kitchen gadgets
  • 3-wick candle with only one wick working
  • Calculator from high school that Dad told me I needed to learn to use and I never did, forefiting a $15 reward
  • Preferred Stock cologne (a.k.a. a mistake--poured down the drain)
  • 17 cologne samples from the 80's and early 90's
  • 3 luggage locks
  • Green floral-rimmed Corel saucer set from the 70's
  • Electric toothbrush, dead
  • Oversized purple pen
  • Various pieces of luggage (80's, ugly, brown, ripped)
  • Myrtle Beach notepad
  • Eyeshades from Business Class [on an airplane] that I will never use
  • Set of hot rollers--I've had these since 1989. My hair will never be that long again and if it is, I probably won't use hot rollers.
  • Massager--haven't used it since 1993. Too big and bulky.
  • Old sheets & towels--all of them had holes in them. Used 'em up. Move 'em out.
  • Antiseptic Towelettes--purchased for an infection our dog had when she was about 5. She died at the age of 15 in 2004. I think they can go.
  • [10-year-old son's] Boy Scout Bridge--this has been hiding behind a piece of furniture for over a year.
  • Not Answering All of My Emails--I had set up this idea that I had to answer every email by the end of every day. This led to long nights or lots of anxiety. I've let go and now realize I can answer the important ones and leave the rest for later inspiration.
  • Job Commitments--The biggest joy of all was letting go of a teaching commitment that no longer fits my schedule and desires. I'm grateful to have enough work so I can let go of this one. I just wrote the email tonight, informing the head of the school that I'm letting go of this commitment. Now, this won't happen until the fall because I've committed through the summer session; still, I wrote the email to start the ball rolling. But let me tell you, that realization was like a losing 15 pounds. Immediately I felt lighter and happier and stronger and more creative. Fabulous.

What I let go of
Although I give myself credit for being pretty good about not holding onto things I don't need, use, or love, setting out this challenge inspired me to go through my own stuff to see if I was actually practicing what I preach. It probably won't come as a surprise that I found plenty to get rid of: business cards from the job I left 3 years ago, 14 issues of a magazine I was unlikely to ever read again, jars of spices so old I could no longer identify the contents, a bag of curry poweder my friend Monica gave me when she moved--in 1998, a passel of used file folders I would likely never use again, two packets of active yeast that were years too old to be active...the list goes on.

I also let go of the feeling that I need to read magazine articles that might be interesting or useful but that don't grab me from the start. My reading pile is huge and my reading time precious; if something doesn't pull me in immediately, I pass it by. Another intangible that went was the intention to cook elaborate recipes. Realistically, this isn't going to happen. Basic recipes and creative improvisation I will happily do; page-long recipes or anything with more than two components, forget it. I let that intention go without a whit of guilt.

Keeping the challenge alive
A time-specific challenge like the one we've just finished is a useful way to jump-start the process of editing the things in your life, especially if competition is a motivator for you. But you can still keep up the editing process even now that the challenge is over.

Doing so takes an increased awareness of what you allow into your life, what you hold on to, and why. Do you accumulate or keep things for reasons other than needing them, using them regularly, loving them, or finding them beautiful? Do you let items clutter your life because of fear, guilt, sadness, misplaced intentions, or pressure from others? If so, consider staging an intervention with yourself (or ask a supportive friend, family member, or professional for help) to get to the root of what's keeping you from paring down the things in your life to a comfortable level.

You alone can decide to surround yourself with things that are meaningful and useful to you and to let go of what is holding you back or bringing you down. I hope this challenge has helped you do precisely that.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

An Organizing Challenge: Disposal Ideas

Tip of the Week, April 29, 2007

In my last Tip, I set out an organizing challenge: can you get rid of 50 things in two weeks? I've had some great responses from my readers so far, so I'm extending the challenge for one more week. If you've already started scouring your home, office, and life for things, thoughts, and tasks that aren't contributing to your life in a positive way, keep up the good work! If you haven't yet had the chance to start, here's your chance. In next week's Tip, I'll share some of the results.

In the meantime, I'll answer a question one reader sent me: what can you do with the things you're getting rid of? Here are a few options.

Donate them
One of the main reasons it can be difficult to get rid of things is because they're often still in perfectly good--and hypothetically usable--condition. Of course, you all know that just because something might be usable doesn't mean it should be in your life.

A great way to solve this dilemma is to make a conscious effort to donate things you don't need, want, use, or love--but that are still in good condition--to a person or group who will be able to put them to use. You'll get a double dose of satisfaction here: the satisfaction of clearing out clutter, and the satisfaction of knowing that your stuff will go on to have a second life.

Where you donate depends on what you're getting rid of, what's important to you, and how you'd like your things to be used. You might choose to simply give everything to a group like Goodwill, which will sell your items and use the proceeds to support its programs. You might opt to donate to an organization that will put your things to direct use, such as a shelter, soup kitchen, library, school, or hospital. Or you might choose to pass along your things to a friend, family member, or neighbor who can use them. Where and how you donate is up to you.

Sell them
If the stuff you're parting with is in decent shape, you might also consider selling it. There are several ways to go about this. If you're ambitious, have a lot of stuff to get rid of, and have the energy and patience to arrange it, you can have a yard sale. This is a great option if you enjoy the coordination that goes into such a sale, have a location to hold it, like interacting with people, and don't mind the work involved. Depending on what you're getting rid of, you might turn a decent profit or you might wind up with pocket change. If you don't want to tackle a sale on your own, consider enlisting neighbors or friends to hold a group sale with you.

Another selling option is an online venue like eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon. If you're tech savvy, willing to put in the effort to list your items and field replies from interested buyers, and willing to either mail your stuff or arrange for pick-up, these venues can be a good choice.

Dispose of them
Finally, you'll likely have some stuff that's served its purpose and isn't in good enough shape to be worth donating or selling. These items should head for the trash or the recycling bin.

I'd like to recommend making the trash can your last resort. Whenever possible, recycle as much as you can; to find out what can and can't be recycled in your area, contact your local sanitation department or city hall, or visit These resources can also help you find disposal sites for things that can't be recycled but shouldn't go into the trash, such as old paints, household toxics, motor oil, and other potentially poisonous or dangerous materials.

Good luck!
Good luck with the final week of this challenge. Remember, I welcome you to share with me your results, thoughts, and experiences; simply drop me a line. I look forward to hearing from you.