Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cut Back on Info to Clear Some Head Space

Tip of the Week, April 10 and 17, 2011

From where I sit at my desk as I type this, I can see this past Sunday's newspaper loitering on the ottoman in my living room and too many magazines jostling for space in a magazine rack nearby. The Read/Review section of my desktop file sorter holds newsletters that have been waiting for perusal for...a while, let's say, and I don't even want to think about the contents of that same folder on my computer desktop.

And if that's not enough, new info comes at me each day. It's enough to make me a little crazy, especially since it sometimes feels like I'll never be caught up, no matter how much I read. Worse still, I love reading, so it's disappointing when it starts to feel like an obligation or a chore.

When we think about what causes clutter in our lives, information--magazines, newspapers, newsletters, e-mail messages, blog posts, and the like--may not spring to mind, but I've seen those types of things cause as much stress in the lives of my clients, and in my own, as physical clutter. Info comes into our lives every single day, and unless we're devoting hours and hours at a stretch to keeping on top of it, it can quickly spiral out of control.

It's time to make a change.

Here's what I'm going to do to cut back:
  • I'm going to sort through the contents of my magazine rack and recycle anything that's more than one issue old, whether I've read it or not.
  • I'm going to avoid subscribing to any new magazines.
  • I'm going to ruthlessly unsubscribe from any regularly delivered e-mail that I don't truly enjoy and value.
  • I'm going to clear out my Read/Review folders, and will think twice--and then think once more--before adding anything new to them.
  • I'm going to put my newspaper delivery on hold whenever my weekend schedule is such that I know I won't have at least a few leisurely hours on Sunday to read and finish the paper.
And in the spirit of cutting back on information, here's one more change in the works: starting with this one, I'll be writing my Tips not weekly but twice a month, and they'll likely be quite a bit shorter than they have in the past.

Why? Because I'm willing to bet that like me, you get a lot of e-mail, and that it's hard to keep up with all of it, especially in addition to the various other kinds of information that come into your life on a regular basis. I want these Tips to be informative and inspiring, but I don't want them to be info-clutter.

And on those weeks between Tips, you can always poke around this Tip of the Week Archive to peruse some of the more than 300 past articles I've written.

Or you can do what I plan to do: turn off the computer. Take an extra-long walk. Enjoy a glass of wine with a friend. Indulge in an afternoon nap on the sofa. Call my niece. In short, do any of the dozens of things that bring me joy but too often get pushed aside in my quest to deal with my reading pile.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Honor What You Love: Put It to Use

Tip of the Week, April 3, 2011

In an episode of Oprah on which he worked with a family to declutter their home, Professional Organizer Peter Walsh made an observation that has stuck with me for years. While sorting through items with Peter in the family's cluttered basement, the lady of the house expressed a sense of attachment to an old food processor that was buried under a jumble of other things, saying that it used to be her grandmother's and reminded her of the times the two of them had cooked together.

Peter noted that her desire to honor her grandmother's memory by holding on to the food processor was offset by the fact that the object was down in the basement, where the client never came into contact with--or even saw--it. Truly honoring something means not just keeping it, but also treating it with respect by giving it a spot of importance in your home and, where possible, putting it to use.

I'm reminded of this exchange each time a client drags something from the back of a closet, for example, and then explains to me why it's important to him, or opens the cabinet that holds his fancy china set that he loves for its beauty but is too scared ever to use for fear that it will break.

If you're not regularly using--or at the very least displaying-- the things you claim to love best or to find most meaningful, they simply become clutter, and allowing something to become clutter strips it of its specialness and its status as an object of honor and admiration.

A Challenge
So here's my challenge to you: think of something you've been keeping because it's special to you in some way, whether a fancy set of stationery, an object given to you by someone important in your life, special-occasion dishes, artwork created just for you, and so on.

Then give that thing the honor and respect it deserves by using it. Write a letter to someone on that special stationery. Use your grandmother's food processor or your favorite uncle's decanter--or at least put it on display somewhere meaningful where you'll actually see it on a regular basis. Eat dinner on your best china at least once a month, even if you're only having grilled cheese. Put that custom artwork up on the wall, or at least on the front of the fridge.

Alternately, if you don't have a need for the item in question and don't want to display it, consider honoring it by passing it along to someone who does need it, or will happily hang it on the wall, or will otherwise be thrilled to put it to good use. It's always far more respectful, in my book, to give grandma's food processor to a budding chef who might not be able to afford a new one but will happily use this one every day than to let it be clutter in the basement or the back of a cabinet.

I'd love to hear from you: how do you honor objects that are special, meaningful, or important to you? If you took me up on the challenge above, what's the special item you chose, and what did you do with it--start using it? Find a way to display it so you can see it regularly? Pass it along to someone else? Please leave a comment and share your stories.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

How to Deal with Organizing Naysayers

Tip of the Week, March 27, 2011

One of the best ways to help ensure success on any organizing project is to enlist the support of a friend, family member, or other collaborator who can celebrate your progress and give you an emotional boost when you need it. Frustratingly often, though, I hear from some of my clients that they not only don't get this kind of cheerleading from the people closest to them, but that their friends and families actively criticize them or put down their attempts at organizing.

If there are organizing naysayers in your life (and I offer some tips below on how to recognize them), it's worthwhile to build up ways of dealing with them so that they don't derail your efforts. Here's how.

Naysayers 101
People who won't support you as you work to get organized tend to come in a few different forms. There are those who might try to fill you with shame about the fact that organizing is a challenge for you, or that your organization skills aren't yet what you'd like them to be. Some people, on hearing about a project you want to undertake, might not insult you or belittle you but also won't do anything to support you or lend a hand. And sometimes people will actively work against your efforts, whether by the things they say--such as "Why even bother getting organized? It won't last"--or by the things they do, such as family members who work to undo any organizing progress you make.

What's Behind Their Lack of Support?
People's unwillingness to support you as you tackle an organizing project can stem from a number of different things:
  • A true inability to understand how disorganization negatively impacts your life, and why you want to make a change--or, on the flip side, an inability to understand that not everyone is as naturally organized as they might be
  • Fear that getting organized might inspire you to make other changes in your life, such as losing weight, changing jobs, or leaving an unsatisfying relationship--changes that others worry may have negative repercussions for them
  • Difficulty dealing with change, even when it's positive, and even when there's very little they need to do to make it come about
  • An unwillingness to provide emotional support, or a fear that the organizing process may bring up difficult emotions for you that they don't feel comfortable witnessing
If you're able to get a sense of where the naysayer in your life is coming from, you'll be better equipped to deal with him or her.

Coping Strategies
How best to handle a naysayer depends in large part on what's behind their lack of support.
  • For those who can't understand disorganization's impact on you:Try using concrete examples, perhaps even a few that involve the naysayer, such as, "Coming home to a cluttered kitchen every day makes me really stressed, which sometimes makes me short-tempered with you when you haven't done anything wrong. I think having a more organized space would help me feel calmer, which in turn will help make our relationship stronger."
  • For those who don't understand why you're not naturally organized: Explain that organizing is a skill that, like any other skill (artistic talent, athleticism, a head for numbers), is innate for some people and learned for others. Tell them you haven't had the chance to learn it yet but are committed to doing just that.
  • For those who are worried about what other changes getting organized might inspire you to make: Respectfully acknowledge their fears and then offer some reassurance that the changes you'll be making will benefit both you and them--for example, "I know it's a bit unsettling to think that once I'm organized, I'll be inspired to find a new job, and that that would upset our family schedule. In reality, though, if I were to take on a new job that paid better, it would mean that you wouldn't have to work as much overtime."
  • For those who have trouble dealing with change: Let them know that you understand that transitions can be uncertain and frightening, even if they're ultimately for the best. You might even admit (assuming it's true, of course) that you're a bit nervous yourself about the changes that might come about as the result of getting organized, but that you believe the benefits of going through the process will be worth it.
  • For those who aren't willing or able to offer emotional support: Consider asking for some other type of help, such as dropping off things you've decided to donate to the local thrift store, lending a hand with installing a closet system or assembling a new set of shelves, or organizing papers into categories in a filing system.
  • For everyone: Consider "bartering" support. In exchange for a friend helping with your organizing project, you might offer a few weeks of lawn mowing, a hand with preparing meals, help with a painting project--whatever it is you're good at and your friend would appreciate. And if family members pitch in, give them the chance to ask for your help on a project that's interesting and important to them.
In some cases, despite your best efforts, naysayers will steadfastly remain naysayers, at which point your best bet is to look elsewhere for support (a long-distance friend who can cheer you on from afar, an online support group, a Professional Organizer, etc.) and to renew your commitment to getting organized in spite of others' unwillingness to help.

But before you throw in the towel, take some time to try to understand what's behind your naysayers' naysaying, and then use the techniques above to try to get them to understand why you want to make the changes you're considering, and why their support would be so important to you.