Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tip of the Week, May 17, 2009

We're one week into the 2009 Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge! (Missed last week's Tip with information on what the Challenge is and how to participate? Read it here.) Some of you may already have started weeding out unwanted and unneeded stuff from your life, while others may be in need of a boost in order to get going. If you fall into the latter category, or if you simply want ideas on how to go about deciding what to bid adieu to, read on.

Where to Begin?
As with any organizing project, one of the hardest things about this Challenge is knowing where to begin. This is especially true if it feels like there are many areas of your life and your space that are ripe for weeding: how can you choose just one?

There are a few different ways of selecting a starting point, each with its own benefits. Here's a brief rundown:
  • Choose the spot that bugs you the most. If there's a particular area in your home or office that annoys you day in and day out--the table in your front hall, for example, or the credenza in your office--you might opt to begin by decluttering it. The benefit: you'll tackle a big headache and will gain inspiration to keep moving forward.
  • Choose a highly visible spot. Tired of seeing a tangle of stuff on your kitchen counter every single time you walk in the room? Start with that area to bring a sense of visual calm to the space.
  • Choose a spot that will be quick and easy to declutter. If you already know that half of the stuff in the front hall closet, say, is ready to leave your life, let that closet be your starting point. You'll make a lot of progress fairly quickly and will gain a shot of motivation.
  • Choose a certain kind of thing to weed. Want to make a bunch of decisions about one type of item (magazines, shoes, cookbooks) in one fell swoop? Get things underway by culling a particular category of stuff, then lather, rinse, and repeat.
  • Choose a very specific space within a larger area. Finally, if you find you're best able to tackle organizing projects in small doses, opt to start with a micro-area like a medicine cabinet, one particular dresser drawer, one shelf in a kitchen cabinet, one desk drawer, and so on. You'll gain a sense of satisfaction without having to take on an entire room in one go.
Setting Guidelines
Once you've picked a starting point, I highly recommend taking the time to establish a few simple guidelines for what you'll be weeding. These guidelines can help make the process of deciding what stays and what goes much easier, as they essentially answer a few basic questions upfront, such as "What determines whether an article of clothing gets to continue occupying space in my closet?" or "What is my statute of limitations in terms of keeping travel books?"

Once you set a guideline that says, for example, "I will keep only clothing that fits me right now, is in good condition, and is something I'd actually be willing to wear out of the house," you'll know that garments that are too snug or too big, that are worn or torn, or that are out of style should be destined for the Giveaway pile. If you decide to hold onto only travel books published within the last three years, you'll know that those from the early 2000's are on their way out.

Remember, the overall goal of the 50 Things Challenge is to clear out stuff that doesn't support your efforts to live the best life you can. One very general guideline to keep in mind throughout the Challenge, then, for whatever it is you might be weeding, is "Does this contribute in some way to living my best life?" If it doesn't, it's time to bid it adieu.

Slow and Steady
Organizing is a process best done in a measured, steady way. Don't feel the need to find 50 things to get rid of all at once; trying to do so can be exhausting and overwhelming. Just as exercising for five hours one day a week can completely burn you out, so, too, can trying to tackle an entire organizing project in one go.

Instead, try setting aside a few 30-minute chunks a few times throughout each week to work on the 50 Things Challenge. You'll still get to reap the rewards (a clearer space, a clearer head) without feeling like organizing is taking over your life.

Good luck with the second week of the Challenge! I look forward to hearing about your successes and to helping you overcome any roadblocks that get in your way.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The 2009 50 Things Challenge

Tip of the Week, May 10, 2009

Drumroll, please: It's that time again--time for this year's Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge!

This annual event was inspired by an article coach Gail Blanke wrote in Real Simple a few years back (now a full-length book) in which she encouraged readers to let go of 50 things that were holding them back in life, whether physical objects, limiting thoughts and beliefs, or activities and events that no longer had purpose and meaning.

The 50 Things Challenge is a structured, time-limited way of reconsidering the stuff you're keeping in your life and making some significant strides toward clearing out what no longer serves you. Here's how it'll work, along with a few twists on the challenge this year.

How It Works
For the next five weeks--from now through June 14--your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to go through your home and/or office carefully to find at least 50 things to which you can bid adieu. As with Gail Blanke's original challenge, these can be actual objects, negative or limiting thoughts (such as, "I've always been disorganized and always will be" or "I'd be a bad daughter to get rid of this bowl my mother gave me, even though I don't really like it"), or activities that are cluttering up your life, including commitments you've said "Yes" to when you really wanted to say "No."

Every item, thought, or event counts as one thing. In order for anything to truly count, though, it must actually leave your life: the physical objects need to be donated, given away, recycled, or trashed (simply gathering them together in a bag and stashing them in the hall closet doesn't make them go away). The thoughts and beliefs need to be those you're truly willing to make the effort to get beyond, whether on your own or with help. And the extraneous activities and events should disappear from your calendar by the end of the Challenge.

Keeping Track
As you work on letting go of things, keep a list on the computer or on paper of what's going. Remember to list each item separately so you can track them accurately. I'm willing to bet that you'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to reach 50--and that you'll be willing to keep going once you hit that mark.

Getting Support
Throughout the 50 Things Challenge, my Tips of the Week will focus on supporting you through the process, with pointers on making tough decisions, finding new homes for the things you're parting with, and making sure less unwanted stuff creeps into your life in the future. If you find yourself facing a particularly sticky or difficult situation in the course of the Challenge, post a comment and I'll offer a few encouraging words.

In addition, I'll be taking part in the Challenge myself, so I'll be sharing my own experiences over the next several weeks.

The Incentive
At the end of the Challenge, I'll be asking anyone who participated to send me their list of the 50(+) things they parted with over these five weeks. From the names of all of the successful participants, I'll then choose one at random and will send that person a signed copy of my book, Organizing Your Home, which can help with the next phases of getting and staying organized once the unwanted stuff is out of the way.

I'll also be sharing sections of the lists I receive in the final Tip in this series (anonymously, of course) so that you can see the range of stuff that has been cleared out of your fellow Tip readers' lives.

Remember, only those folks whose lists reach or top 50 things will be eligible to win the copy of the book, so I encourage you to get your own Challenge underway today. You have through Sunday, June 14 to clear your life and your space of whatever is holding you back. Good luck!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Organizing Projects for Mother's Day

Tip of the Week, May 3, 2009

Mother's Day is this coming Sunday, May 10, which means that this week will see many children of all ages rushing to stores and florists to buy Mom a gift. Candy, flowers, jewelry, and other gifts can all be lovely, but this year, why not give the mother(s) in your life the gift of organization instead? This is one present that costs little (if anything) and can be much more meaningful than something purchased.

Here are some ideas for moms with kids of various ages (including kids with children of their own).

For Mothers of Babies and Toddlers
For moms with very young kids, diaper bags can be catch-alls and can quickly become chaotic. Help empty out mom's diaper bag, chuck anything that's junk (such as dried-out wipes and stray Cheerios), and then refill the bag with needed supplies so they're easy to grab on the go. Small zippered pouches can help corral small items that might otherwise get lost on the bottom of the bag.

For Mothers of Preschool Kids
Preschoolers are among the most prolific creators of art, crafts, and other projects, many of which tend to be bulky and challenging to store (think macaroni-based masterworks). Giving mom a hand in sorting through her pre-K child's creations and creating safe storage for those she wants to keep long-term can help keep clutter at bay.

Start by collecting everything in one spot, and then help her choose what's truly worth keeping (one-of-a-kind works, for example) and what she's ready to let go of. (Take digital photos of anything she wants to remember but doesn't opt to keep.) Use a long, flat bin (like the Container Store's boot box) or a portfolio like the School Folio to stash the keepers.

For Mothers of Elementary School Kids
Moms of school-age kids are often the ones responsible for making sure that homework gets done, backpacks get packed, events get put on the family calendar, and everyone gets out of the house in the morning on time. Help give mom a break--and, as a bonus, help give the kids a greater feeling of responsibility and control--by working on some simple systems to help these daily tasks run more smoothly.

Create a landing spot near the front door for each child with a spot for his or her bag and a place to put papers that are coming from or need to go back to school. Work with mom and the kids to help create charts that show what has to happen each morning (get up, have breakfast, brush teeth, pack lunch, etc.) and each evening (empty backpack, do homework, add new activities to the family calendar, and so on). Then spend time with the kids getting them in the habit of checking off the tasks on their charts each day.

For Mothers of Junior High and High Schoolers
Older kids can give two important gifts: the gift of style and the gift of technical know-how. Moms of kids at this age might appreciate a "What Not to Wear"-esque closet overhaul and reorganization session, with the budding fashionista helping her weed out clothes that are passe or that no longer fit and then creating organizing systems that make it easy for her to get dressed each morning. To add a bit more flair, replace worn-out hangers (including any wire ones) with some nice new ones and add a few sachets to her dresser drawers.

Mothers with kids who have a flair for technology might enjoy a session of computer file sorting, weeding, and reorganizing. Helping mom get rid of unwanted files (like temporary files downloaded from the Internet), clear off her computer desktop, and get a few simple folders set up for electronic files like documents, photos, and music will mean fewer headaches for her and less time wasted on the computer.

For Mothers of College Students
Moms with kids in college might be feeling pangs of empty nest-ness (and might also be happy for that empty nest!). A project that can help them feel reconnected with their kids is a session of sorting and organizing family memorabilia, including not only stuff from the kids' childhoods, but also from mom's as well.

Spend some time helping mom gather photos and memorabilia from throughout the house and helping her sort through it. Take photos of items that she's ready to let go of (such as things handed down to her from her own parents or other relatives that she wants to pass on), jot down a few notes about each (such as where it came from and any special memories associated with it), and then use these pictures and descriptions to create a scrapbook (either digital or traditional).

Also consider creating some simple, safe storage for pictures, cards, letters, and other loose, flat bits of memorabilia (acid-free photo boxes are a good bet).

For Mothers of Adult Children
Finally, for moms of offspring who are adults and who no longer live at home, offer a simple but impactful gift: clear out anything you might have stashed in her house, from old yearbooks to furniture you promised to collect years ago to your own boxes of memorabilia. Giving mom back space in her house for her stuff won't cost you much (if anything), but it'll be priceless for her.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Tackling Your Reading Pile

Tip of the Week, April 26, 2009

My uncle, who's a bookseller, recently e-mailed me and mentioned that he and my aunt had spent part of the day sorting through the stacks of books that had accumulated on and around their bedside tables. He reported that while they were able to weed out several items from their respective weeding piles, they were still left with significant stacks.

I wrote back to him and confessed that although the piles of books I'm in the process of reading are more or less under control (although they do seem to sprout up throughout the house), my challenge is staying on top of the newspapers and magazines that hit my doorstep each week. Add to them the online reading I do and it sometimes feels like I could spend days on end doing nothing but reading.

I'm happy to report, though, that I've recently put in place a few ground rules that have helped me tackle my To Read piles more efficiently, and that have made those piles feel less like chores and more like the chances for education and entertainment I'd really like them to be. Here's an overview of my ground rules. Try them out on your own reading pile and see if they help make it easier to stay in control.

#1: You don't have to read everything that comes your way.
I've made a pact with myself: if an article, a blog post, or a newsletter doesn't interest me, I'm free not to read it, regardless of how educational or important it might seem. This means I have permission to skip over articles in the paper or in the New Yorker on the Middle East, the war in Afghanistan, most sports, and many, many topics having to do with the economy. (NPR helps me get a general overview of those subjects, no reading required.) The same holds for any reading on gardening, crafts, home repairs, and many scientific topics. I can take being a bit less well-rounded if it means not having to slog through reading that isn't engrossing to me.

#2: Go on hiatus from subscriptions when need be.
Though I always stop my newspaper delivery when I'm out of town, I've also started putting it on hold when I simply need a break or want time to catch up on my reading backlog. This is a simple step that I very strongly encourage. Almost every magazine and newspaper will allow you to put your subscription on hold (without losing issues or otherwise being penalized), and you can always visit a publication's website to catch up on what you've missed if you truly feel the need.

If you do a lot of online reading, consider temporarily unsubscribing from blogs or newsletters you might follow, batch-deleting unread material and starting fresh, and not subscribing to anything new for a while to give yourself the chance to take a breather.

#3: Give your reading material a second life.
I find it much easier--and much less guilt-inducing--to offload reading material (especially magazines) quickly when I know it's not just going straight into the recycling bin once I'm done with it. When I'm feeling overloaded with magazines, I pass some along to friends, leave a bunch in the reading rack at my gym, or bring them to the coffee shop down the street for others to enjoy. Books I'm ready to part with (whether I've read them or not) go either back to a bookstore for resale or on to a charity shop.

#4: Wait until you're ready to read a book before getting it.
I constantly come across books that interest me, but I've learned the hard way that buying them or getting them from the library before I know I have the time to read them leaves me feeling overwhelmed. By the same token, I don't want to forget about the titles that have caught my attention. So I've found a middle ground: I keep a list of things I want to read eventually. When I've finished whatever book I'm currently working on, I refer to my list to choose what's next. This helps minimize the stacks of books throughout the house and also lets me stop trying to remember what it is I want to read.

#5: Give yourself permission to purge.
Last but definitely not least, I've decided that it's absolutely ok--more than ok, even--to get rid of reading material I haven't read (or have read once and thought I'd get back to...someday). This decision inspired me to go through my shelves and pull off a bunch of organizing books to give away, most of which I'd never cracked the covers of. I figured, Hey, I wrote my own organizing book, and I think I know much of this stuff by now. I also know that if I ever need a novel solution to a sticky organizing issue, I can always turn to my colleagues or the Internet for ideas.

I can't tell you how freeing this was! All of those organizing tomes--some of them several hundred pages of nothing but text--are moving on to better homes, and I get the benefit of a giant sense of relief (not to mention space on my shelves). While it can be difficult to let go of books, magazines, and other material you haven't read--it's so full of promise! it could have exactly the solution you need to that problem you've been wrestling with for so long! it contains important information you should know!--sometimes cutting it loose is hands-down the best solution. Remind yourself that unless you're dealing with, say, the absolute last copy in existence of a particular book, you can pretty much always track something down again if indeed you find that you really and truly need it in the future.

I hope you'll consider applying a few of these ground rules to your own reading stack. You'll make room (mentally and physically) for the reading that's truly important and current, and will regain control over your To Read pile.