Monday, June 30, 2008

Smart Packing for Summer Travel

Tip of the Week, June 22, 2008

I've always been a big proponent of carry-on luggage for plane travel. It cuts down on time--lines for passengers checking in without checking bags are almost always shorter, and there's no wait for bags to appear once you reach your destination--and lets you keep much closer tabs on your bag. And now several airlines have added another reason to my list: starting this summer, American, United, Continental, and USAir will all charge you to check even one bag. (Most airlines already charge for checking a second or third bag.) With airfares already on the rise, this extra fee can add to the cost of your trip.

So now's the perfect time to consider carrying on. Here are a few tips that can make it easier and less of a hassle to bring bags on the plane with you, which, in turn, can take some of the stress out of traveling.

#1: Know your airline's carry-on limits
Most airlines allow you to carry on one piece of luggage and one "personal item," such as a briefcase, laptop bag, or purse. In addition, each carrier limits the size of bags that can be considered carry-ons; usually, bags must fall within certain dimensions, and at least one of your carry-ons must be able to fit under the seat in front of you. If you're not sure whether the bags you're considering carrying on board with you meet your airline's criteria, visit the airline's website and search for "baggage policies," or give the carrier a call.

#2: Use easy-to-maneuever bags
Since you won't be handing off your suitcase to baggage handlers, it's especially important that you choose luggage that's easy to move; otherwise, you'll regret it halfway to the gate. Look for a suitcase with sturdy, smoothly rolling wheels. Upright "wheely bags" with wheels on one of the bag's short ends are a much better choice than older wheeled suitcases with four small wheels along the bottom edge (and an all-but-useless hand strap). If you're carrying a shoulder bag, a comfortable, padded shoulder strap is a must.

#3: Pack judiciously
Traveling with only carry-on luggage means you may not have as much suitcase space as you would were you checking bags, so it's key to pack smartly. This is easier in the summer, when you won't need heavy sweaters, jackets, or other cold-weather gear. My standard advice applies here, as always: do some research on the weather in your destination so you'll know what to expect, opt for mix-and-match basics rather than many different and elaborate outfits, and go easy on the shoes, which tend to be among the heaviest and bulkiest items to pack.

#4: Keep valuables in your purse or briefcase
Even if you follow your airline's carry-on rules to the letter, there's always a chance your bag will need to be gate-checked if the plane's overhead bins fill up or if you're traveling on a small jet with limited bin space. So it's smart to keep your most valuable items--computers, cameras, jewelry, prescriptions, and so on--packed in your one "personal item": the purse, briefcase, or computer bag you'll always be allowed to keep with you when you're on board.

On one trip, I had a connecting flight on a small regional jet whose cabin was too small to accommodate suitcases of any kind, necessitating all of us to check our larger bags at the airplane door. When we de-planed and retrieved our bags in the jetway, the woman behind me called the flight attendant over and told him that the camera that had been in her suitcase when we'd taken off less than an hour before was now gone. Don't take the risk of this happening to you; always, always, always keep your valuables in whatever luggage you're sure will be with you at all times.

If you're traveling by plane this summer, save yourself time, hassle, and money by carrying on your bags instead of checking them. With these four tips, you'll be able to glide down the aisle like a carry-on pro--just as soon as that guy blocking the way in front of you takes his seat.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An Organizing Challenge: The Results

Tip of the Week, June 15, 2008

Thanks to all of you who took part in my organizing challenge over the past few weeks (you can read about the challenge here), and special thanks to those who shared their results with me. To wrap up the challenge this week, I'll share a few of those results, and will leave you with a few ideas on how to keep up your awareness of what you allow into your home and your life throughout the year.

What went
Here are some of the things Tip readers let go of over the past few weeks:
  • About 25 books
  • 2 purses
  • 40 plastic tube hangers
  • 4 mailing tubes
  • 9 large envelopes (11.5" x 14.5")
  • An Office Depot collapsible wheeled cart
  • A hemp bag, briefcase size
  • Old t-shirts from high school plays the reader's daughter was in many years ago
  • LOTS of paper
  • Several unused sheet sets
  • Pet care gadgets the reader's pets never liked
What I gave up
Though I try to do regular sorting and weeding sessions throughout the year, I find that I still tend to have things I hold onto for a while before I realize they're not worth keeping around. In the course of this latest challenge, I gave up two sturdy shoeboxes I'd been carrying around in my car trunk for about nine months, fully intending to use them for...something. Needless to say, they never proved their usefulness. I also recycled several mailing boxes (I just don't do all that much shipping!) and brought a bunch of wine shipping inserts to my local wine shop. Software discs for a computer I no longer have? Gone. A purse with a broken strap I briefly considered getting fixed? Adios. (The repair would've probably cost more than the purse did.) Various do-dads from throughout the house? I won't miss them.

As I let these things go, I was reminded of how good it feels to clear out unneeded stuff from my life, especially stuff that I think I should find a use for (like those shoeboxes). By doing so, I let go not only of things that can cause clutter, but also of the pangs of guilt, frustration, and annoyance that can come with never actually putting those things to use. I'd much rather procure another shoebox if I ever need one than carry some around with me just in case that day ever comes.

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, June 15, 2008

An Organizing Challenge: Disposal Ideas

Tip of the Week, June 8, 2008

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 www.earth911.org. 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. And be sure to read next week's Tip for the results of this challenge.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

An Organizing Challenge, Take 2

Tip of the Week, May 25 and June 1, 2008

Last year, I issued an organizing challenge: could you get rid of 50 things over the course of a few weeks? The response to my challenge was fantastic, and since plenty of stuff tends to accumulate over the course of the year, I thought it would be fun to tackle the challenge again.

Here's the background of the challenge, the purpose, and details on how it works. Good luck!

The background
Last April, I 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 three 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 three 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; you can also post a comment with your list here on the blog. (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 June 15, 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.