Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Avoiding "Someday I Will..." Clutter: Part 2

Tip of the Week, March 21, 2010

"Someday I will..." clutter is stuff you're holding onto because you intend to use it someday, even though you have no use for it in your life as you're living it now. In last week's Tip, we looked at "someday I will...make that trip to Paris" clutter; this week, we turn our attention to two other familiar type of aspirational clutter.

Type #2: "Someday I will...lose those 10 pounds" clutter
What it is: Clothing (often including shoes) that's too small to fit into now but that you're holding onto because "it's perfectly good" and "it'll fit just fine as soon as I lose 10 pounds," which you're bound and determined to do...someday.

Why it's frustrating: Holding onto clothes that don't fit you can be frustrating and depressing on so many levels. First off, if your closet is filled with stuff you can't wear comfortably now, chances are it's annoying to try to get at the clothes that do fit--the stuff you wear day in and day out.

Second, having to come face-to-face with too-small garments may be motivational for some (Hey, if I want to fit into those jeans again, I'd better hit the gym this afternoon!), but for most of us it's just deflating (I used to be able to wear those jeans--and even needed a belt for them! What happened to me?).

Third, if you've been holding onto smaller-size clothes for more than a few years, there's a good chance at least some of them will be out of style when you do lose the weight you're intending to lose.

Finally, having "perfectly good" clothes hanging unworn in your closet or socked away in drawers means that those "perfectly good" clothes are going to waste. They'd be so much better off on the backs of people for whom they're the right size right now.

How to deal with it: First, there are at least two good and valid reasons for holding onto too-small clothes--because you're pregnant (or have recently given birth) or because your weight gain is due to a short-term medical issue. There is, of course, no need to jettison items from your closet if your body is a different size temporarily, and if there's a very good chance that you will indeed lose weight in the near future.

In most other cases, though, keeping a full wardrobe of out-of-size clothes will only leave you feeling frustrated, ashamed, guilty, sad, annoyed...need I go on? Keeping around clothes that don't fit means you'll also be keeping around these emotions.

If you're actively working on losing weight, you might opt to hold onto some favorite pieces in your target size, along with a few items that just about fit but are a bit too small. Being able to comfortably wear a beloved pair of jeans again can be a great way to honor and celebrate the work you've done to get healthier.

If, however, your plans to lose weight fall within the "someday" realm, strongly consider weeding out things that are too small and passing them along to a friend, family member, or charity who will put them to good use. Can't bear to part with all of your smaller size pieces? Designate a small, contained spot--half of a dresser drawer, one corner of a closet shelf, four inches of closet rod space, etc.--and hold onto only the pieces that will fit there.

It can be difficult to let go of clothing in an aspirational size, especially since this can also mean setting aside the aspiration to reach that size again. But clearing from your closet and dresser clothes that don't serve your life as you're living it now means you'll gain more space for the pieces you actually wear--and won't be faced with guilt-inducing reminders, each time you open a drawer or a closet door, of what you once were.

In next week's Tip: Avoiding "Someday I will...really get into scrapbooking/knitting/photography/beading" clutter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Avoiding "Someday I Will..." Clutter: Part 1

Tip of the Week, March 14, 2010

Though it takes many different forms, one of the most common types of clutter I encounter in my work is stuff related to a client's intentions, aspirations, or "someday" plans.

Harried parents might be holding onto boxes and boxes of scrapbooking supplies because they intend to create memory books for their kids...someday. Folks who have gained a few pounds keep around clothes two or three (and sometimes more!) sizes too small because they're determined to lose the weight...someday. A well-meaning client has stashed books, toys, clothes, knicknacks, and kitchen gadgets that she plans to pass along to friends and neighbors...someday.

This "someday I will..." clutter can be among the most frustrating to deal with, because not only is it clutter, plain and simple, but it also tends to come with big heaps of guilt, frustration, sadness, or anger at the things it reminds us we're not doing.

Over the next few weeks, we'll take a look at 5 of the most common types of "someday I will..." clutter, why they're frustrating, and how to deal with them. First up: aspirational travel clutter.

Type #1: "Someday I will...make that trip to Paris" clutter
  • What it is: Articles, books, magazines, and other info you've collected about a place you might want to visit or an activity you might want to do (hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail, for example) eventually but have no plans for anytime soon.
  • Why it's frustrating: Information clutter gets out of control much too easily, and the more info you have, the harder it is to find what you need. Plus, travel-related info changes so rapidly that guidebooks and articles are often out of date within a few years. Finally, while having a "Trip to Paris" folder front and center in your file cabinet can be aspirational for some, it can also be frustrating and disappointing if a vacation in the City of Lights is nowhere on the near horizon.
  • How to deal with it: First, don't prohibit yourself from hanging onto info related to travel destinations you actually do have plans to visit within the next year or so. In fact, creating a folder or a binder to store plans and ideas for upcoming trips can be a great way of keeping that info centralized and available.
That said, challenge yourself to weed out articles, guides, maps, and other information related to places that aren't on your near-term travel agenda, especially if this info is more than a few years old. Can't bear to part with it all? Cull the bits and pieces that are most useful or most meaningful to you and store them, then let go of the rest.

Another option: create a folder on your computer (or with an online tool like Evernote--a free resource for storing electronic files, web pages, notes, audio files, and more) and scan the info you'd like to save. You'll still be able to refer back to it when you're finally ready to embark on your travel adventures, but it won't take up physical space (or your effort, attention, and energy) in the meantime.

In next week's Tip: Avoiding "Someday I will...finally lose those 10 pounds" clutter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

5 Great Ideas from "Never Check E-mail in the Morning"

Tip of the Week, March 7, 2010

I recently read Julie Morgenstern's Never Check E-mail in the Morning (And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work) and came away impressed. Though the book is ostensibly written for people working in offices and other professional environments--and feeling overwhelmed by their workspaces, schedules, and task lists--much of the advice it contains applies just as well to those of us who don't work in traditional offices.

Here are five of the most interesting and most useful ideas I took away from the book.

Idea #1: When choosing which tasks to tackle each day, think about what's closest to your revenue line
If you're anything like me, you know the feeling of staring at a crowded To Do list and feeling paralyzed as you contemplate which tasks to deal with first. So I loved Morgenstern's simple formulation for choosing where to start: pick the tasks that are "closest to your revenue line," or the ones that'll have the biggest payoff. In the world of work, these might be tasks that will help you win new clients or customers, or that will actually bring in money (such as sending out invoices). On the home front, these tasks might be ones that will save you money, such as calling your cell phone company to ask about a family plan or doing an inventory of your pantry before you go grocery shopping so you don't unintentionally buy duplicates of supplies you already have.

Idea #2: Give yourself less time to do things and you'll actually get more done
Morgenstern calls this "crunching your container": by limiting the amount of time you have to devote to dealing with tasks, you're more likely to be more productive in the time you have. How long a task takes can often expand to fit the time you give it, so consciously allowing yourself less time lets you get the same amount (or more) done while also encouraging you to avoid distractions. I've tried this technique over the past few weeks and can report that giving myself stricter time limits has done wonders to make me more efficient and, interestingly, also more productive.

Idea #3: When facing an organizing project, build on what already works
As Morgenstern writes, "No one is disorganized everywhere: There are always sections of your office...in good order." This is an idea I share with my clients all the time: rather than feeling like you need to start from scratch on everything when you're working on getting organized, identify something that's already working well--an orderly and functional drawer in the kitchen, or your habit of immediately recycling junk mail as soon as it comes in each day--and expand on that. You'll find that the organizing process flows more smoothly, you're more confident in what you can achieve, and the work you do will be more likely to last long-term.

Idea #4: Leave yourself a breadcrumb trail
If you need to access one piece of paper from a file, do you take the entire file out and leave it on your desk until you're done with that single paper? Morgenstern suggests instead leaving a trail: put a Post-it note in the folder from which you take the paper, and a matching one on the paper itself, to remind you that the two go together. To make things even easier on yourself, write a note on both Post-its. On the one in the folder, note what you've removed (e.g., "January 2010 utility bill"); on the one on the item out loose, note where it belongs ("Utilities folder, bottom right-hand drawer"). The same technique can work just as well for objects as it does for papers.

Idea #5: Use delegation to make sure the best person to do a job is doing it
Both at work and at home, chances are you're trying to do too many tasks--and that there's someone around who could do them just as well as (or better than) you could. Here's where delegation can help. As Morgenstern writes, though, "Delegating is not about getting rid of the stuff you hate and only doing what you enjoy. It's about making sure that the best person to do a job is doing it." You may really dislike having to take out the recycling and trash each week, but if your spouse works late on trash night, you might in fact be the best person to handle that chore. On the flip side, if you don't mind balancing the checkbook but find that it takes you twice as long as it takes your partner, that might be a task you pass along.

To delegate wisely, make a list of all of the tasks you regularly do, as well as any occasional or one-time projects, and then ask yourself whether you're the best person to do them. Do you have the time, skills, and motivation, or is there someone in your office or at home who could get them done just as well? Aim to match the right people with the right tasks.

Try putting these ideas to work over the coming weeks for a productivity boost both at work and at home.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Organizing Memorabilia: Part 2

Tip of the Week, February 28, 2010

In last week's Tip, we looked at ways of deciding which keepsakes to hold onto for the long haul and which to bid adieu. This week, we'll explore ways of storing or displaying your memorabilia, along with resources that can help ensure the safety of your mementos for years to come.

Storing vs. displaying
Once you've chosen the photos, letters, heirlooms, and other items you want to keep, the next step is deciding which ones to display and which to store. When making these decisions, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I like this thing enough to want it on display? Not every meaningful item you choose to keep will be pleasant enough to look at every day.
  • Can I safely display it? Some things--especially older items or those made of fragile materials--might not be able to handle the exposure to light, air, moisture, and dust that display could involve.
  • Do I have room to display it? Remember, the goal is to surround yourself with meaningful keepsakes without feeling cluttered, cramped, or overwhelmed.
Aim to pick a few favorites that you can safely and comfortably display, and plan to store the rest. To keep things interesting, take a tip from museums and rotate what you have on exhibit every few months, storing things that have been displayed and bringing out stuff that's been tucked away in storage.

Designing displays
How you display the things you've chosen will depend on what they are, how fragile they are, and what your display space is like. You might, for example, opt to showcase a collection of silver candlesticks on your mantel, provided that the space isn't subject to a lot of moisture and offers enough room to hold the objects you want to display. Old family photos could be matted on acid-free paper, enclosed in simple matching frames, and hung in a collection on a wall that is otherwise empty and isn't in the path of direct sunlight.

Whatever display methods you choose, make sure they allow you to enjoy your mementos while keeping them safe. Be aware of potential hazards like children, pets, natural occurrences (such as earthquakes or flooding), and potential contaminates like dust, mold, and moisture. Remember that it's always possible to change or undo a display if you find you don't like it or if it seems unsafe.

Safe storage
You will likely find that many of the mementos you want to keep will need to be stored, due to display space limitations, the nature of the items themselves, or your own preferences. Choosing the best storage solutions for your memorabilia is an important step in avoiding damage or deterioration.

Storage recommendations depend on a number of factors, including how old an item is, what it's made of, and what sort of climate you live in. In general, it's always best to avoid spots with extreme temperatures--such as garages, basements, and attics--or any location that's subject to excessive moisture or dryness, pest infestations, extreme dust, or other contaminates.

The Resources section below features links to comprehensive information on how to store and preserve a wide variety of memorabilia. You don't necessarily need fancy containers, tools, or gadgets to keep your mementos safe, but they will definitely benefit from an organized and well thought-out storage system.

Sharing the memories
Finally, as you sort through your mementos--or others', if you're tasked with taking care of a parent's or friend's items--you may well find that you want (or need) to distribute them among a group. Choosing who gets what can be an involved process, and it's beyond the scope of this tip, but there are two excellent books that can walk you through it. Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand and Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate? by M. Stum can help bring order and ease to what's often a messy and challenging task.

I've found the following sites, articles, and resources useful; each has detailed information on storing, displaying, and preserving your mementos.

Keepsakes Inventory Worksheet from Real Simple magazine

Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar

Preservation projects and techniques at About.com's Genealogy site