Monday, May 30, 2011

Introducing the 2011 50 Things Challenge!

Weeks of May 15 and 22, 2011

Drumroll, please: it's that time again! Once a year for the past several years, I've challenged Tip of the Week readers to join me for my Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge, and it's time now for the 2011 version of this event. The 50 Things Challenge is a fun, structured, and motivating way to clear from your life the stuff, habits, and beliefs that are cluttering up your space and your head, and to celebrate as you let go of them.

This year's Challenge is a bit different from past years' (think bigger and better), though the core goal is still the same: to help you part with what's holding you back to make space for what really matters.

Read on for a bit of background, along with an overview of how the 2011 50 Things Challenge will work.

The Background
In 2007, I read an article in Real Simple magazine by life coach Gail Blanke in which she made a connection between the physical stuff in our lives and our emotional well-being and challenged readers to get rid of 50 things bits of clutter. Inspired, I extended that challenge to Tip readers, and then repeated the 50 Things Challenge for the next several years. (Read my original Tip introducing the Challenge back in 2007, and check out the book Gail Blanke wrote on the basis of her article.)

How It Works
The Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge spans several weeks. Over the course of those weeks, I challenge you to identify 50 things that no longer belong in your space and in your life, and to get rid of them by donating, selling, or recycling them, or by passing them along to someone you know will use and love them.

Throughout the Challenge, I offer support and motivation, along with resources for getting rid of the stuff you're ready to part with. At the end, I invite you to share with me your list of 50 things; each person who successfully completes the Challenge is entered into a drawing to win a prize.

What's New in 2011
To keep things fresh, and to up the ante a bit (because, hey, this should be challenging!), a few things will be different this year:
  • The Challenge will run for 6 weeks total, beginning now and ending at 11.59 PDT on Sunday, June 26.
  • Instead of just 50 things, I challenge you to part with at least 75 things over these weeks. Remember, a "thing" can be as large as an old sofa or as small as a single earring. Stuff you'd already be likely to get rid of, like regular household garbage or junk mail, doesn't count. What does count is anything you've been holding onto that doesn't support or add value, beauty, or enjoyment to your life as you're living it today.
  • For the first 50 things you get rid of, you'll gain one entry into the end-of-Challenge prize drawing. For each additional 25 things you part with, you'll get one more entry.
  • Throughout the Challenge, I'll be offering ways of earning more drawing entries: by donating still-usable stuff to charity, by making solid steps toward changing your habits around the stuff most likely to become clutter in your life, and more.
  • Prizes that'll be up for grabs at the end of the Challenge include such clutter-free goodies as a half-hour phone consultation with yours truly, one of my e-books, movie tickets, and more.
As always, I'll be participating in the Challenge as well, and will share with you my experiences, my roadblocks, and what I do to motivate myself to identify what's really important to me--and to clear out the rest.

On Your Marks, Get Set...
Ready to join the Get Rid of 50 Things Challenge? There's no need to register. Simply start identifying things in your life that no longer deserve the space they've been occupying and give them the heave-ho. As you sort and weed, keep a list of what you part with, and once you make the decision to let something go, make a solid effort to get it out of your space ASAP so you can start to enjoy the clarity and lack of clutter that will be the fruits of your labor.

I'm extra excited for this year's Challenge, and I hope you are, too. Here's to your success over these first few weeks!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Are You Ready for an Emergency--for Real?

Tip of the Week, April 24 and May 1, 2011

The coverage of the recent tornadoes that tore through the southeast region of the U.S. has been both jaw-dropping and heart-wrenching. Though I'm no stranger to living in disaster-prone areas, having grown up in a hurricane zone and now residing in earthquake country, the particular damage wrought by these twisters is almost unfathomable to me.

One of the most remarkable things I read was the story of a woman who, finding debris in her front yard from towns that were hundreds of miles away from her, started a group on Facebook to post information about these objects--photos, mortgage documents, and other kinds of papers--in the hope of reuniting them with the people who'd lost them. (Read the story here.) I was struck by how far these items were carried, and it occurred to me that even those people in the tornado zone who had prepared for emergencies by gathering their important papers in one spot for grab-and-go access could potentially be powerless against the might of one of these storms.

Beyond Basic Preparation
Much of the advice about emergency preparedness focuses on creating a disaster readiness plan, having essential supplies on hand, and having easy access to the critical records you might need in the wake of an emergency--all excellent advice, and all worthy endeavors. (See below for links to some of my favorite resources for this kind of preparation.)

However, what the recent tornadoes remind us is that it's also extraordinarily important to take the extra step of ensuring that your most vital records, whether you define those as financial account records and copies of passports and birth certificates or duplicates of cherished family photos and letters, are stored somewhere other than your own home, as it just may not be possible to grab your grab-and-go kit if you're forced to flee with seconds to spare.

Here's what I recommend:
  • Use an online service like Evernote or Dropbox, to store digital copies of your important documents. If those documents are ever lost in a disaster, you'll still have access to the info they contain.
  • Send hardcopies of important documents (like insurance policies and wills) and data (such as account numbers for credit cards and bank accounts) to a trusted friend or family member who lives well beyond your local area.
  • Consider scanning your favorite photos and storing them online via a service like Flickr or Picasa.
The extra bit of effort involved in creating offsite storage solutions for your valuable papers will pay off hugely should you ever find yourself facing an emergency that prevents you from getting your hands on them when you need them.

And if, like me (I confess!), you could stand to brush up on emergency preparedness basics, here are some resources that can help with that.
  •, FEMA's comprehensive emergency preparedness website, with information on disaster planning for individuals and families as well as businesses.
  • Preparation Nation blog, written by my organizing colleague Margaret Lukens, which features info and projects designed to help you be better prepared for natural and other disasters.
  • Securita's Vital Records PortaVault, a grab-and-go organizer for important papers and data. (I tried the PortaVault out a few years ago and wrote a Tip about it.)