Monday, June 29, 2009

Summertime R&R

Tip of the Week, June 21, 2009

Last weekend, I traveled to my parents' house in Connecticut to celebrate my niece's first birthday and to spend time with my family. During the time I was away, a wonderful thing happened: I got the opportunity to flat-out relax.

True, I had my laptop with me, and I checked (and responded to) e-mail while I was away. I also spent bits and pieces of time on other work-related tasks, including writing last week's Tip, participating in a phone conference, and scheduling clients. My main focus, though, was spending time simply kicking back. I played board games, sat on the porch shooting the breeze, read things totally unrelated to organizing, watched my niece practice her walking skills, sipped wine in the yard, and watched the sun go down as I indulged in a hot fudge sundae at a local creamery.

An interesting thing happened as a result of all of this downtime: when I needed to focus again on work, I was able to do so with impressive ease, and was able to get more done in less time. I also got to savor a sense of calmness at having struck a fair balance between being productive and being able, for a while, to let go of all thoughts of productivity.

I noticed a similar thing happen earlier this year when I decided to set Saturdays as Days on Which I Do No Work: though it was (and often continues to be!) a big challenge to steer clear of work-ish tasks each Saturday, doing so almost always makes me more productive, more focused, and more efficient come Sunday. I've also been able to let go of the fatigue and frustration that accompanied the sense that I was working every single day of the week, and my happiness levels have risen accordingly.

All of this is to issue a simple--if not necessarily easy--request to you: this summer, which officially begins today, challenge yourself to find ways of incorporating more chunks of pure rest and relaxation into your life. Ignore e-mail for a day (or at least half a day). For at least a few hours, turn off your cell phone, or leave your BlackBerry at home when you go to the beach. Let yourself enjoy at least a few bits of summer reading that give you nothing but pleasure. Spend an hour playing with your kids outside or listening to crickets in the yard instead of spending that hour worrying about getting organized.

For a little while, let summer slow you down a bit. There will be plenty of time to get back up to speed--and when you do, I'm willing to bet that you'll enjoy a greater sense of focus and productivity, and may even find that there's a little spring in your step.

Here's to a season of relaxation and renewal!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The 50 Things Challenge: End Results

Tip of the Week, June 14, 2009

We've reached the end of the 2009 Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge. Congratulations to all who participated, and an extra round of applause to those of you who were able to weed 50 things (or more!) from your space and your life.

This week, I want to share some of the results of the Challenge, announce the winner of the drawing for a free book, and offer a few tips to help you carry the spirit of the 50 Things Challenge with you throughout the year.

What Went
One of my favorite parts of the Challenge is hearing about the stuff people decided to part with over the past several weeks. Some of what went, according to those who shared their lists with me, was easy to decide to say goodbye to; other things were harder to let go. Here's a sampling of what has left your fellow Tip readers' lives over the course of the challenge:

  • Books [For some, books were the easiest things to part with; for others--like me--they were among the hardest. Proof positive that the experience of getting organized varies from person to person.]
  • Photos of pure scenery, without family members in them.
  • Recipes: one reader took a look through her recipe box, realized she was unlikely to use 90% of what was there, and saved only the 10% she thought she might refer back to. For good measure, she got rid of the recipe box, too!
  • Crafts supplies and unfinished projects. According to one reader, "I can't even do crewel embroidery anymore, and if I could my children wouldn't want it."
  • Handbags, some of which proved to be collectibles that could be sold on eBay.
  • Outgrown kids' clothes and shoes, as well as team t-shirts that one reader's 11-year-old refused to wear.
  • Several years' worth of magazines--Cooking Light and Real Simple were the biggies in this category.
  • Expired/old/weird/never-to-be-used items from pantry
  • Old computer disks
  • A notebook one reader used to plan her 1996 wedding
  • Lots and LOTS of kids' toys. [Kudos to those of you who passed these along to charity or shared them via Freecycle, and to those who made a few bucks consigning playthings that were still in great condition.]
  • Jewelry one reader had inherited from her mother but didn't care for. [Yes, it's absolutely OK to pass along things family members have handed down to you; better to get them into the hands of someone who'll really treasure them than to force yourself to keep them out of guilt or obligation.]
  • 20 vases
  • Clothing galore, some of which went to charity, some to friends, and some to consignment shops
  • Sympathy cards one reader had received following the death of her Dad; the sentiment remained, but the cards didn't have to.
  • Tons of paper, including old paystubs, bank statements, and bills.
  • Old light fixtures
  • A shower curtain that had been sitting in a drawer since a reader moved to a house that had one less bathroom
  • A TV set that had been in these readers' bedroom; with the switchover to digital broadcasts, they decided they no longer needed a TV in the bedroom, so out this old set went.
I could go on, but you get the idea! By deciding to part with these items, the Challenge participants who contributed to the list above also made the decision to let go of unneeded obligations, emotions, intentions, guilt, and so on. More power to them.

Our Raffle Winner
Thank you to all who submitted their 50 Things Challenge results for a chance to be entered into the drawing for a signed copy of my book. And the winner is...Gerry McCafferty! Congratulations, Gerry. I hope the book will be a useful guide as you continue to bring more order and calm to your home and your life.

Continuing the Challenge
Finally, while the 50 Things Challenge is officially over for this year, I encourage you to keep up your decluttering efforts. Everything that gets space (emotional or physical) in your life should truly deserve a spot there. Regularly check in with yourself to see if there are items or beliefs that have crept into your world that shouldn't be there: things you're keeping out of obligation, guilt, or the belief that you might need them someday; misguided and limiting thoughts about what you are and aren't capable of; and, above all, absolutely anything that makes you feel bad, inadequate, annoyed, or depressed.

Take time throughout the year to do a mini version of the Challenge--perhaps getting rid of 5 or 10 things a month. You'll keep your space (and possibly your head) free of clutter and will set yourself up to live your best life.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in this year's Challenge. Here's to a less cluttered, more enjoyable life!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The 50 Things Challenge: Final Thoughts and Motivation

Tip of the Week, June 7, 2009

This is it: the final week of the 2009 Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge! (Missed the Tip with information on what the Challenge is and how to participate? Read it here.) As a reminder, everyone who sends me a list of the stuff they've weeded out during the Challenge will be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of my book, Organizing Your Home. (See the sidebar for details on the book.)

If you're still a few things shy of the 50 mark, or if you're looking to go above and beyond and get rid of more than 50 things, now is the perfect time for a final dose of motivation and inspiration. So this week, I offer up a few simple but essential ideas on how to identify and part with the stuff in your life that's holding you back or bringing you down.

#1: Remember that every possession is a responsibility
I was so inspired by this phrase that I devoted an entire Tip to it last year. (Read that Tip here.) The gist is that everything we own requires that we care for--and about--it in some way, and that each of our possessions requires some measure of our time, energy, and attention. We need to decide what to do with our things, perhaps worry about them being broken or damaged, give some thought as to where to store them, dust them, display them, hide them, sort them. What kinds of things are lurking in your home or office that don't merit this kind of attention and care? What could you do with the time, energy, and attention you'd save if you didn't have to take responsibility for these things anymore?

#2: Strongly reconsider what deserves to take residence in your space
One of the things that tends to be most striking about hoarders is the extent to which they give over their living space--often including essential spots like bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms--to stuff, much of it utterly worthless. Of course, most of us don't go nearly to those extremes, but if we looked closely, we would probably realize that at least part of the space in our homes or offices is dedicated to storing stuff we don't particularly want, need, or use.

It's time to be far more selective, and to take back your space! Rather than simply focusing on the things that obviously don't deserve to live with you, look at the entire contents of one room and decide what really DOES deserve to be there. What would happen if you got rid of the stuff that didn't pass that test? You'd clear out some space (potentially a lot of it), and would very likely be better able to enjoy the stuff you actually want, need, and use.

#3: Believe that you have the capacity to get organized
Remember, the things I encourage you to get rid of during this Challenge aren't just things; they're also beliefs, ideas, and limiting thoughts that keep you from being the person you want to be and living the life you really want to live. If you've been reading the past few weeks' Tips and have thought, "Yeah, no way can I possibly get rid of 50 things. I'm just a disorganized person, and I'm terrible about making decisions about what to get rid of, and I know I'll always be this way," stop right there. Toss out those three negative beliefs and, for one, you'll only have 47 more things to get rid of.

For another, you'll also give yourself an escape hatch into a better life. Repeat after me: organizing isn't about perfection, Martha Stewart, those photos you see in Real Simple, only touching things once, never having a pile of anything ever, having a house so clean you could eat off the floor, or forcing yourself to get rid of the things that are really, really useful, important, meaningful, and special to you. None of the above. Organizing is about making room--physically and mentally--in your space and your life for what truly matters. You have the capacity to do that.

#4: Beware the "But I might need it someday!" trap
Let's be frank here: almost anything ever could potentially be useful someday. Boxes teeming with scraps of wrapping paper? Someday, maybe your kids could use them for art projects. That collection of greeting cards? Yup, someday you might start writing letters again, even if you haven't since the dawn of e-mail. That issue of Gourmet from 1992? Sure: someday you might need that one specific recipe you surely remember is in that particular magazine. The collection of career clothing you haven't worn since you left the office to be a stay-at-home parent several years ago? Maybe you'll return to the corporate world in a few years--and maybe suits from 2000 will still be in style then.

"But I might need it someday!" is hands down the #1 reason I hear from clients, friends, and family alike (and, because I'm human, too, probably the #1 excuse I use) for holding on to things that don't have any real value or function in the present. I understand the thinking behind it, and I can sympathize with the desire not to let go of stuff we might have a burning need for any day now, but it also drives me more than a little crazy. Far too often, the stuff we might need someday crowds out the stuff we actually need (use, want, and love) today. And as part 2 of its 1-2 punch, it also tends to make us feel something we'd rather not feel: guilty about not using those scrapbooking supplies we once spent a whole lot on, wistful for the days when those smaller size jeans fit, depressed by the physical reminders of things we thought we'd do or be that we're not doing or being.

In this, our final week of the 2009 50 Things Challenge, I want to ask all of us--myself included--to toss "But I might need it someday!" out along with everything else we're getting rid of. Unless what you're holding onto is truly irreplaceable, keeping it because you might maybe possibly perhaps need it someday, at some uncertain point in some hazy future, means it's probably going to be clutter until that day arrives.

Let's use this coming week to shift our focus away from what we might need down the line and toward what we need, use, love, and find beautiful right now. Because right now is where we're living.

Here's to your success in this final week of the Challenge!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The 50 Things Challenge: One Reader's Experience

Tip of the Week, May 31, 2009

We're heading into to Week 4 of the 2009 Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge! (Missed the Tip with information on what the Challenge is and how to participate? Read it here.) I've loved hearing feedback from many of you on the things you've weeded from your lives over the past few weeks (vases and t-shirts and papers--oh my!), and was particularly blown away by a message I received from one Tip reader, Rick D.

To say that Rick has taken this Challenge and run with it would be a bit of an understatement, so I'm going to let his words (used with his permission) describe what he's been inspired to clear out of his space and his life. Here's what he shared about his 50 Things Challenge experience.

"This 50 item challenge hit me and for some reason, I am on an incredible roll. It has improved my quality of life. Here is my progress so far, with more to go until June 14.

I have 3 email accounts: work, personal and subscriptions. Looking at hundreds of emails in each account is just depressing and defeating. The results [of my weeding]: reading, acting on and deleting more than 400 emails in my work account and archiving about 50. Personal email: there are only 6 left that are reminders for items this week. Subscription email: more than 500 and now 0!!!

Stuff at Home
  • Clothes: donated 14 items.
  • Envelopes: had saved 100s of small, old envelopes that were blank. Would never use them as I have more formal ones. Recycled 100s.
  • Old cell phones: recycled/donated 5 of them.
  • Store room in basement:
A. Keep getting material [for work] and don't toss outdated stuff. Tossed 2 shelves worth--filling 2 recycle bins.

B. Tossed binders, folders and envelopes with old monthly account statements. Kept year-end summaries. [Sent] about 6 years worth--1000s of pages--to be shredded.

C. Tossed 9 huge 3-ring binders that I wasn't using--saving 'just in case.'

D. Had half a shelf of excess Fed Ex supplies I wouldn't use. Took them to local Fed Ex and they were glad to get them back.

E. Tossed papers and memorabilia that was trash. A brochure from Wall Drug in South Dakota from when we were there in 1997! A sticker from our 1999 trip to Disney World!

From all this, I cleared 4.5 large shelves. This allowed me to take plastic bins with the stuff we save for the kids' memorabilia (we have 6 kids) and put them on the shelves. These bins were on the floor blocking our indoor basketball game (that we love to play on but couldn't). With the bins gone, I fixed up the basketball game and the kids haven't stopped playing!

"My Office--My Prison"
I have worked from my house for 19 years and I spend a whole lot of time in my office. As crap piles up, it is discouraging and depressing, especially starting a day like that. So, at your suggestion, I tackled it over 2 weekends. Every paper must be read and dealt with, no pushing aside.

  • Had a pile of software that was educational and kids' games. Most would only play on Windows 95!!! Tossed 18 software titles.
  • On my bookshelf, found 3 art kits for a color printer I haven't had for 6 years. Tossed.
  • Books. I am in the investment business and am given/get books all the time. I took 24 books from my shelf and glanced at each and kept 7. I took a second look and kept 4. I have started reading one. I donated 20.
  • [Went through] a stack of papers 4-5 inches thick, evaluated each piece, and tossed 95-98% of it. Everything I kept is in a marked manila folder.
  • I have binders for each territory [I cover and they] get too full. I weeded them out.
  • I had 13 business folios (fancy fake leather binders that hold a pad of paper). I kept one for me, gave on to my daughter, one to my son, and donated the rest to a place that helps people get jobs.
  • I had a stack of about 45 business cards I had collected and needed to follow up--some were a few months old. Followed up and tossed cards. (This one is maybe the best example: my mess in my office prevented me from doing the basic follow-up to a meeting. Now I am back on my game.)
  • I cleaned out and tossed thousand of papers and articles from my file cabinet. Was able to free up about 35% of the space.
  • I even cleaned my tool cabinet in the garage and tossed so much, including screws and instructions for a bike that we haven't had for 11 years!
The Benefits
Soooo, you can't even measure how much I have done. It is incredible. My office looks great, I feel better walking in and out, and I will never have to clean up last minute for a party or someone who shows at the door. Somehow, you gave me the direction and I took it, and my life is better."

Wow! Rick's is the sort of story that makes me love being a professional organizer, because he proves that being organized isn't just about how things look, it's really about how things function.

Not everyone's experience with the 50 Things Challenge will be the same as Rick's, but I hope the results he's shared will inspire you to keep going with your version of the Challenge. This week, think about what you can get rid of that will let you be more effective at work and/or at home, find room for whatever is truly important to you, and clear out some mental clutter in the process.

Want to share your 50 Things Challenge experience? Leave a comment.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The 50 Things Challenge: Deciding What Goes

Tip of the Week, May 24, 2009

Welcome to Week 3 of the 2009 Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge! (Missed the Tip with information on what the Challenge is and how to participate? Read it here.) I've thrown myself into the Challenge feet first, and in this week's Tip, I want to share with you some of the stuff I've gotten rid of, both to give you a sense of how the Challenge is playing out for me and also to get you thinking about things that might be lurking in your own home or office that no longer need to be there.

Without further ado, here's a peek at the start of my list of 50 things.

Item: a 4-cd set on marketing and selling
  • Why I'd kept it around: I'm always game for hearing about new marketing tactics and techniques and figured these discs would be a good way of doing that.
  • How long it had been with me: Since I won it in a raffle at a dinner meeting sometime in 2005
  • Why I decided to let it go: I started listening to the first disc and, alas, couldn't stand the sound of the narrator's voice. I'd rather read her tips on her website using only the voice(s) I hear in my head.
Item: an unused 2006 daily planner
  • Why I'd kept it around: I thought I might use it with my clients as an example of the types of planners that are available.
  • How long it had been with me: Since an organizing conference in late 2006 (yes, it came into my life well after I could really put it to use)
  • Why I decided to let it go: I had never even taken it out of the drawer in which it was stored, much less brought it to a client meeting.
Item: an old pair of glasses
  • Why I'd kept it around: I figured it was smart to have a back-up pair of glasses in case my normal pair broke.
  • How long it had been with me: Since at least 1997
  • Why I decided to let it go: I put the glasses on, looked in a mirror, and audibly gasped at how horrible they looked on me. Plus, I only wear glasses when I'm driving at night or watching a movie or play in a theater, so if my current pair did break, I could wait to get them replaced.
Item: a roll of double-sided carpet tape
  • Why I'd kept it around: This was a classic case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. The only reason this particular item managed to occupy space in my house was because I had totally forgotten I had it.
  • How long it had been with me: Excellent question! I have no recollection of this object coming into my life.
  • Why I decided to let it go: I have precisely zero carpets in my house that need to be adhered to the floor.
Item: a black knit shirt with a gaping hole under the arm
  • Why I'd kept it around: It was comfortable and made a great layering piece under sweaters.
  • How long it had been with me: Probably since sometime in late 2006
  • Why I decided to let it go: Though I had managed to sew up an earlier (and much smaller) version of this hole, my sewing skills and supplies were not up to the task of another round of mending, and I wasn't about to pay my tailor to fix a $15 shirt.
Item: printed handouts from 5 years of teleclasses
  • Why I'd kept them around: A professional association I belong to offers dozens of teleclasses each year, and I figured that by printing and storing the handouts for the classes I'd taken, I'd be more likely to refer to them on a regular basis.
  • How long they had been with me: Starting with mid-2004 and running through early 2009
  • Why I decided to let them go: From the two bulging 3-ring binders holding handouts from many, many classes, I have only ever referenced--count 'em--TWO documents. In addition, I realized that I also have the majority of these handouts in electronic form. Should I ever need to look through one of these documents, I can do so on my computer rather than flipping through page after page of paper.
What I'm realizing
As I go through the 50 Things Challenge, what strikes me is that the majority of the stuff I'm getting rid of simply doesn't mesh with my life as I'm living it now. Many of these things--the cd's, the planner, the handouts--represent ideas and intentions that just never played out for me: I intended to improve my marketing skills by listening to several hours of audio on the topic, to become the sort of organizer who brings product samples to show her clients, and to regularly browse through handouts from classes I'd taken.

I did none of those things--and I'm absolutely OK with that. By getting rid of the stuff related to those unrealized intentions, I also get to dump almost all of the guilt I feel around the intentions, which, in turn, lets me focus more solidly on the goals and plans I'm actually following through on.

As for the carpet tape, should I ever find myself in need of such a thing, I'd rather go out and buy it again than have to store it for many years in the meantime (as it loses adhesiveness all the while). And when it comes to the shirt, I can safely say that I've gone through each phase of this Shaker rhyme: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Phase 4 of that, here I come.

Onwards! What unneeded stuff can you let go of this week?