Saturday, May 29, 2010

The 2010 50 Things Challenge, Week 2: How to Know What to Let Go

Tip of the Week, May 23, 2010

Welcome to Week 2 of the 2010 Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge. (If you missed Week 1, click here to read an overview of the Challenge and why you might want to participate.) Kudos to those who've already started identifying the stuff you'd like to clear out of your life over the next 4 weeks.

For those who need a nudge and a bit of direction getting started, this week's Tip offers a few ways of knowing what sorts of things to let go of--and why and how to part with them.

What Should Go: Anything that gets in the way of stuff you actually want, need, use, or find beautiful
  • Why: I see it happen all the time: a client's kitchen counter will be crowded with rarely (if ever) used gadgets and appliances while the truly useful stuff (think toaster) has to be hauled out of--and then returned to--some distant cabinet every day. Or someone's schedule will be so packed with activities and busywork that there's no room for the important, meaningful stuff. Or a mantel will be so crammed with knick knacks that family photos and truly special pieces get all but completely lost in the shuffle.
  • How: Over the course of the Challenge, be on the alert for the stuff that really adds value and meaning to your life--as well as anything and everything that gets in its way. Commit to clearing out the non-essentials and the clutter so the seriously important stuff gets to shine.
What Should Go: Anything that makes you feel bad
  • Why: Giving space in your life to stuff, beliefs, and habits that cause you to feel bad is like repeatedly having dinner parties to which you invite friends you know will berate, belittle, and insult you. Why surround yourself with such downers? Just as you get to decide who comes to dinner--and can withhold invites from your frenemies--so, too, can you decide to jettison whatever it is that's bringing you down.
  • How: For the next few weeks, work on honing your sense of how the stuff around you makes you feel, with the aim of giving pride of place to whatever brings you joy, contentment, a sense of accomplishment, and so on. That box of letters and photos from an ex who shattered your heart? The clothes several sizes too small that remind you (miserably) of the body you had 10 years ago? Show them the door.
What Should Go: Reminders of tasks you're unlikely to do
  • Why: This past weekend, I went through a reckoning with the contents of my coat closet, finally extracting a few jackets that had lingered there for (cough) a few years because I was determined to get their linings repaired, or their multiple missing buttons replaced, or lingering stains removed from them, or all three. What changed my mind? I acknowledged that getting those repairs made involved tasks I didn't consider important enough to do, even though they seemed simple. And I got tired of reminders of those unimportant tasks staring me in the face each time I opened the closet--not to mention taking up space I need for the jackets I wear all the time.
  • How: The Challenge is the perfect opportunity to cut yourself some slack and erase a few lingering tasks from your mental To Do list. Keep an eye out for things you're holding onto because you intend to repair them, use them to undertake a complex project, sell them, paint them, send them to Cousin So-and-So, pass them along to your grandkids, and so on. Then ask yourself if you really, truly, honestly want to do such tasks, and whether they're actually worth your time and effort. Unless you can answer a resounding "Yes!", let the stuff go.
What reasons for getting rid of stuff would you add to this list? How have you decided what to part with as you've undertaken this year's Challenge? What guidelines help you determine what truly deserves space in your life and what doesn't? Leave a comment and let me know; I'll include your suggestions in some of my upcoming Tips, and will also share them on The Organized Life Facebook page.

Here's to a successful Week 2 of the 50 Things Challenge!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Introducing the 2010 50 Things Challenge

Tip of the Week, May 16, 2010

Need an organizing boost? Ready to clear out the things in your life that have been holding you back? Just want to engage in a bit of competitive fun? Then the 2010 Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge is for you.

This annual event was inspired by an article life coach Gail Blanke wrote in Real Simple a few years ago (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 an incentive to jump into the fray.

How It Works
For the next five weeks--from now through June 20--your challenge 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'm too lazy to keep up an organizing system" or "If I gave away this reminder of my dad, I'd also be getting rid of my memories of him"), 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 your computer or on paper of what's going. Remember to list each item separately so you can track them accurately. I bet 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 guiding 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, leave 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. If you have successes to share along the way, please send them along; it's always fabulous to hear how the Challenge is helping you make changes to your space, your stuff, and your life.

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 draw one lucky winner, who will receive a copy of one of my books or e-books: Organizing Your Home, my Guide to Organizing Papers & Files, my Guide to Less Stressful Holidays, or my forthcoming Guide to Organized Travel.

Remember, only those folks whose lists reach or top 50 things will be eligible to win, so I encourage you to get your own Challenge underway today. You have through Sunday, June 20 to clear your life and your space of whatever is holding you back. Good luck!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Smart Packing Tips

Tip of the Week, May 2 and 9, 2010

I recently had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe with friends, and I learned that packing smart is essential if your excursions involve, say, porting a suitcase through the narrow, cobblestone, bridge-filled streets of Venice. Even if you're not heading that far from home, though, you'll save time, frustration, and achy muscles--not to mention excess baggage fees--by being an efficient packer. Here's how.

Choose the smallest suitcase you need
Unless you're moving, traveling to one place for a month or more, or fortunate enough to have someone else to handle your luggage, using a giant suitcase will likely cause you grief. Instead, choose the smallest suitcase that will comfortably serve you for the length of your trip.

Pack with the intention to mix and match
Simple, versatile clothes in solid colors or basic prints, which you can mix and match into multiple combinations, are the way to go when traveling. As a rule of thumb, I require that everything I pack must go with at least two other things. (The exception: specialized items like my running clothes.) A basic color palate, with one neutral (like black) and a few colors, will serve you well.

Fold or roll carefully
I swear by Eagle Creek's packing cubes, which keep folded clothes contained and organized within my suitcase. I use one for tops, one for bottoms, and one for undergarments, socks, and pj's. Other smart packers (including the flight attendants and pilots profiled in this piece from the New York Times) opt to roll their clothes, a la George Clooney's character in Up in the Air. Regardless of the method you choose, a little bit of meticulousness here is worth the trouble, as clothes will get less wrinkled en route and finding what you need when you're ready to unpack will be much easier.

Carry on your essentials
Toiletry bags for travelIf you're planning to check bags, be sure to also pack a carry-on that can hold your essentials. These include any and all valuables (cameras, cash, jewelry, computers, and so on), along with medications and anything else you'd need access to if your baggage was lost or delayed.

When I check luggage, I stash in my carry-on something I can use as sleepwear, a clean shirt, socks, and undergarments, and a few basic toiletries (as in the top bag in this photo). That way if my checked bag doesn't make it to my final destination when I do, I can at least function comfortably for a day without having to buy new stuff.

Leave room to expand
Finally, it's always smart to leave room in at least one of your bags for stuff you might gather during the course of your travels. I make it a habit to reserve about 1/4 of the space in my luggage for things I know I'm going to leave behind (such as magazines I'll recycle when I'm done reading them or gifts I'll leave with the people I'm visiting) so I have space for souvenirs. If you're traveling with only one bag, pack a crushable/portable tote inside it so you'll have something for overflow on your return trip.

Monday, May 10, 2010

3 Ways to Simplify

Tip of the Week, April 25, 2010

A recent article in Real Simple magazine featured a couple who, after a fire that destroyed their multi-story home (and all of its contents) opted not to build another large house, but instead to convert a few smaller outbuildings on their property. The result was a significantly simpler home with far fewer things. And although the couple admits to missing a few things about their former house (such as the ability to have dinner parties with more than one other couple when the weather isn't nice enough to eat outside), overall they report being thrilled with the change.

While it's certainly not necessary to take such radical measures to reap the benefits of simplicity, it's well worth considering small changes that will help you simplify your own life and be happier with less. Here are a few to get you thinking.

Simplifying Your Schedule
One of the most significant causes of stress in modern life is over-packed schedules on the part of both adults and children. We try to do so much to keep ourselves engaged and well rounded that we often end up frazzled and overbooked. Often, letting go of even one activity--especially if it's one that occurs regularly (weekly or monthly, say)--can help you feel more in control of your time and more satisfied with the other appointments on your calendar.

Try This: List all of the activities you do both on a regular basis and occasionally, including those you consider fun and those that you consider responsibilities. (If other members of your family are also feeling over-scheduled, have them do this, too.) Then be brutally honest about one or two you'd prefer to let slide. Are there "fun" activities on your list you're no longer really enjoying? Responsibilities you no longer feel connected to (such as volunteer work that doesn't resonate with you)? Letting go of these activities will leave you with more room in your schedule and more time for the things that are meaningful to and enjoyable for you.

Simplifying Your Stuff
I witness this paradox all the time in my work: though we often think that the more things we have, the happier we'll be, often it's precisely the inverse that's true. More stuff requires more storage, more time, more energy, and more thought, and can also mean less money, more stress, and more worry. If I had to name the best reason to declutter, it would be this: having fewer, more meaningful, higher-quality, longer-lasting things helps you feel more in control, less stressed, and generally happier.

Try This: Pick the most stress-inducing spot in your home of office, and take a close look at what's there. What causes clutter in that space? What do you have too much of? What's lurking there not because it's meaningful and useful to you now but because you might need it someday? Commit to dedicating this space only to useful, meaningful, high-quality stuff, creating a simpler, more relaxing, more functional spot.

Simplifying Your Consumption
During a recent vacation with friends, four of us went to the grocery store to pick up provisions for a few days' meals, and we managed to leave with more food than we could've possibly consumed unless we were eating 24 hours a day (though it did feel like we were eating that much!). Clearly we could've done with a simpler grocery shopping experience, without each of us adding a few non-essentials to the cart.

One other lesson from my vacation was that having limited contact with the sources of information that generally fill my days-e-mail, websites and blogs, the newspaper-made me much calmer, and very happy. I was still able to check in a few times a day and attend to the important stuff, but I didn't feel a constant need to be consuming info and communication.

Try This: Because clutter (and its resultant stress) is caused just as much by the new things we buy and accumulate as by those we already have, sharpen your awareness of just what you're consuming. Are you purchasing or collecting things you don't particularly need or want? Do you go for elaborate things when simpler, multi-function things would work just as well-or better?

If you consume a lot of information, where can you cut back? You might limit the amount of news you watch, read, or listen to, unsubscribe from magazines, newsletters, or e-mail lists you're not especially interested in, or give yourself permission to stop following blogs or other sources of online reading that clutter your calendar and your attention span throughout the day.

Simplification doesn't require going Amish or your house burning down; it simply requires becoming more aware of what you allow in your life and what gets to take up your time, space, attention, and energy. What will you do this week to start to reap the benefits of simplicity?