February, 2010

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On Being Content and Giving Away the Excess

Friday, February 26th, 2010

My nursing-major daughter, Emily, joined a medical mission to Quito, Ecuador two summers ago. One of the things that impressed her most was the attitude of the people she helped. Their homes were shacks with dirt floors and meager furnishings. Emily said, “These people don’t have running water or electricity, but they are happy!”

What a convicting statement for us in the U.S. who have more than we need! Are we happy with simple food, shelter and clothing, or do we find ourselves looking for the latest great thing? What hole are we trying to fill with this excess? When does contentment kick in?

ThuRs Recycle and Reuse

ThuRs Recycle and Reuse

Professional organizers usually are called in to work with folks who have too much “stuff.” Many times we find that this excess is choking our client and must be cut down a bit. As a result, we are always looking for people and places that will either recycle or route used goods to people who need them.

I want to pass the resources I have found on to my readers. I am starting a series of “ThuRs Recycle and Reuse” posts to do just that.

Letting go of belongings you don’t need or love is a great way to help someone else. It feels good, too! Next Thursday will be the first installment on recycling toys.

More posts in this series:

What are You Holding Onto That Belongs in a Museum?

Friday, February 19th, 2010

One of the benefits of my professional organizing job is learning about the fascinating lives of the people I serve. As we work together, we sort and make decisions about what to keep and what to give. Naturally, the history of an item comes up in our conversation.

Recently I was working de-cluttering a client’s closet when she pulled out several hangers in plastic bags and said, “Martha, you will enjoy looking at these.” She proceeded to explain to me that her mother had saved several special pieces of clothing from when she was a young girl growing up in Deadwood, SD.

My client is a very youthful 93 years old. That meant that these were 1930′s fashions! Perhaps it is my love of fabric, or of history, but each piece was unique and elegant.

We decided to see if the clothing would be of interest to the OSU Textile and Costume Department. Gayle S. said they were swamped with donations at the moment and referred us to the Adams House Museum in Deadwood.

Arlette H, the curator there, was thrilled with the prospect of receiving the historical donation! Since my client’s family was well known in the legal profession, Arlette recognized the name. I’m sure that made the discovery even more valuable to the town’s history.

This is a synopsis of the clothing items we mailed to the museum in Deadwood:swing dress bodice

  • A “swing” dress of colorful silk with a flare skirt that my client wore in High School when she danced to big band sounds in neighboring towns of Leed and Silverfish.
  • The two-piece lace and wool dress that she was wearing when she competed in oratory contest at the state level.
  • A “reddin” coat and dress set of peach knit with trapunto accents.
  • The grey silk blouse with hand sewn buttonholes and shirring that completed a suit.
  • Finally, my client pulled out a faux fur coat made of a long, curly brown fur that I found later was carakul or Persian Lamb imitation.

This story means a lot to me because we were able to find a place that would value and care for these unique items. My client was so pleased and relieved to know that the clothing would be displayed for others to enjoy.

Perhaps you have held onto something that you feel is unique and valuable. My suggestions to you are:

1. Brainstorm about the interest angle a particular group of people or organization might have in that slice of history.

2. Do some research on where, when and how these items came into your possession.

3. Contact two or more schools, museums, or organizations with a description of the items and some of the historical significance – the “stories” behind the things.

4. Send digital images to highlight the unique qualities of each piece.

5. Be ready to make a donation of value to benefit others unless the item(s) are extremely rare and costly.

This is one of the more enjoyable parts of my job… discovering buried treasure to share with others.

Making Clutter Decisions – Swing, Batter!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

The Paper Tiger lady, Barbara Hemphill, wrote, “Clutter is postponed decisions.”  That is a profound four word sentence that sums up the reason clutter happens. Does that statement resonate with you as it does for me? These are decisions that I struggle with that – left unanswered – clutter up my life and the surfaces in my home / office!

  • How should I answer that email?
  • What is the best place to keep this so I can find it again?
  • Where can I put this so I will not forget to RSVP?
  • Which of these projects should I work on first?
  • Should I mail this now or wait?
  • Who can I give this to who might appreciate it or actually use it?

The pile of things to do grows each time I don’t make a decision on how to deal with that item, email, or piece of paper. That is clutter, the result of my postponed decisions. In addition to physical clutter, my brain sends messages reminding me of those things still to take care of , producing mental clutter!

It helps to envision myself as a baseball player up to bat. The ball (a decision to make) comes my way. I can choose to do something with that pitch or let it go by for “ball one.”

The team manager (me again) reminds me that I get three strikes before I am OUT. I encourage myself to take a stab at the next ball (decision.) I may connect the first time. I tell myself to do it NOW!

I may make a few mistakes. I may flub a few decisions the first time. But I  learn more from the mistakes than from making no decisions at all. The best part is – the piles of clutter are disappearing little by little. Hooray!

Organizing Your Dream Bedroom

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Your bedroom is a cluttered jumble. Whatever you had in mind when you put furniture in there, what you have now is not it!

Perhaps you want a room that soothes frayed nerves and gets you ready to snooze. Maybe like my husband, you need a man-cave where you can watch football while you work on finances. Or you just want a pretty retreat that pleases your eyes and makes you feel beautifully feminine.

Why not start now? Follow these steps to customize your room to your personal taste.

  1. Take time to dream!
    Close your eyes. Pretend you are Jeannie in the bottle and you can blink your eyes to make your dream come to life. What would your new bedroom look like? Make your vision in Technicolor. Put your favorite colors on display. Will you want candles burning; what scent can you smell? You can feel the comforter, the rug, the throw on your chair. Are they silky, cool cotton, or faux fur? Is there music playing in the background? Do you have water next to you on a nightstand?
  2. Plan activity zones
    Now that you know the feel and overall purpose, of your bedroom, you are ready to make some practical decisions. What activities will you invite into your room? Make this a conscious choice. You are the designer, the manager of this “hotel” room. Whatever you say goes. Where is your dressing area going to be? Do you want to do any writing, reading, or paperwork here? Will a television help or hinder your purpose? What about music?
  3. Decide on furnishings / storage
    Can you see how these choices will then translate into furnishings and storage? If sleeping is your main activity, what size bed do you want? Will you have a chair, bookcase, and ottoman for a reading area? Do you want a media center? Will your clothes be stored here in a dresser or armoire?
  4. Finalize a floor plan
    Measure your bedroom. Know what furnishings and/or storage will enable you to live your dream. (Hint: Less furniture translates into more free space that feels expansive. Keep is simple!) Use graph paper or an online design program to rearrange until you find a workable floor plan. Two online design programs you can use are SeeMyDesign.com and the icovia® Space Planner.

Are you finding that having a goal that excites you and has such positive benefits is a wonderfully motivating force? Are you are finally ready to clear out all the “stuff” that got dumped there because you didn’t know what else to do with it or company was coming?

  • Take action to clear the clutter. Learn how to take action in my [intlink id="393" type="post" target="_blank"]three-part series[/intlink].  Also, don’t forget to [intlink id="864" type="page" target="_blank"]register[/intlink] to receive my free “60 Tips to Organize Your Life.” and how to use the L.I.F.E. method.
  • Use decorative containers that enhance your desired look and feel. Perhaps double purpose furnishings can add useful storage as in storage ottomans, a headboard with shelves, sidetables with 2-3 drawers.
  • Add colorful accents, accessories, drapes, cushions to complete your vision for your new space.

You can make your bedroom line up with your personality, your goals and needs. After all, you will be the beneficiary of this labor of love. As the L’Oreal commercials say, “You are worth it!”

Jerry Seinfeld Had a System

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

In the organizing profession, we are always talking about systems for managing paper, reducing clutter, and making use of time efficiently.  In following up, an organizer will make sure the systems put in place are compementing the client’s personality and lifestyle.

What exactly do we mean by a system? One dictionary definition for system is “orderliness, the use or result of careful planning and organization.” Orderliness is definitely a desired result, but a better description of the system an organizer means is “a way of proceeding, a method or set of procedures for achieving something.”

Jerry Seinfeld had a system. His neighbor, Kramer, found he was spending too much time in the shower and asked for Jerry’s advice.  Jerry said he could take a shower in 10 minutes flat. He had found a procedure that worked for him.

Think about it for a minute… do you reinvent the order that you wash body parts each time you shower, or do you proceed on autopilot?Are you pretty sure that when you are done, you have achieved the desired result? Is dirt and bad smell gone? CHECK! Is skin clean and good smell back? CHECK!

You just followed a system, a certain way of proceeding to get the job done.

The beauty of a workable system is:

1. The system can be documented and repeated.

2. One planning session yields desired results over and over, saving time over all.

3. A  system followed consistently becomes easier as skill increases and habit kicks in.

Kramer did not have a system that was working for him, he questioned the amount of time he was taking and could have used the advice of a professional (Jerry) to become more efficient. If you saw the episode, you know that didn’t happen.  I think Kramer could have used a professional organizer.

Organizing Your Desktop so You are Cleared for Action

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Don't let a cluttered desk drain your energy

What does the top of your desk say about your ability to focus? Do you have to write over other papers that you are afraid to put away for fear you will forget  something?  Do you jump from one task to another depending upon the last item that caught your eye?

Your main workstation, your desktop, plays a key role in how effective you are in your office, at home or away. A cluttered desk drains your creative energy, pulls your attention from the task at hand, and steals your time as you constantly search for that paper you saw just a minute ago.

By following these four steps, you can regain control over the “stuff” on your desk, and ratchet up your productivity!

1. Place tools and equipment on your desk by “handedness.” Are you left or right handed? Put your writing implements on that side of your desk. How do you answer the phone? Most people use the hand they do not write with, so your phone will go on the opposite side. Computer placement is usually against a wall for safety and electrical access.  Be sure to leave a  space you can write on comfortably.

2. Only keep items on your desk that you use daily. These are the categories that qualify for daily use:

  • A pencil holder with pens, pencils, a highlighter, a Sharpie, and scissors.
  • A stapler, tape dispenser, paper clip holder (preferable magnetic), and a post-it pad.
  • Phone, computer keyboard/monitor.
  • An IN (To Be Sorted) box that serves as your designated  intake for all papers. A three-tiered letter tray will allow for IN, OUT, and TO BE FILED boxes in a small footprint.
  • One vertical incline sorter for current projects and ready reference lists.

3. Clear your desk of all paper piles immediately. Separate any current projects and place them in colorful folders that you can spot easily, then store in your vertical file to access quickly.  Place papers that require action in your IN (To Be Sorted) box. The rest of the paper can go in a storage container under your desk. After a couple of weeks, anything left in the box that you have not needed is either trash, or can be filed remotely as reference.

4. Take advantage of available vertical space. Adjacent walls are a great place for that calendar, schedule, or white board. Install hanging shelves within arm’s reach for reference books, catalogs, paper supplies, or pictures of your loved ones.

By following these steps you now have a desk that is cleared for action. You can see at a glance what projects you are working on currently , with  all supporting documents together in one place. All supplies are within arm’s reach. You can concentrate on one task at a time. Now maybe you can actually get some work done!

Benefits of Downsizing BEFORE You Have to Move

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Coconut Postcard

Should I keep Aunt Agatha’s prized gravy boat and platter? What will I do with the coconut postcard (written ON a coconut!) my dad sent from Hawaii? Something has to go!

Usually the term downsizing is used in terms of moving to a smaller dwelling. That move forces home owners to reduce the contents of their current house.   You may face selling the home you have lived in for 5, 10, 20, 30 or more years. That is why I suggest that folks start early weeding out possessions they don’t use or absolutely love.

I like to think about downsizing the amount of belongings in a home as a worthy goal even when no move is pending. Very few folks (in North America especially) keep only those things they use or find beautiful. The extra stuff becomes physical, visual, and mental clutter. Clearing our homes of these distractions can only add to our quality of life.

So, when to begin downsizing? Ideally now, but certainly during the period 6 months to 1 year before an expected move.

Downsizing BEFORE you have to move offers great benefits!

  • You save $$$.  Moving companies typically charge by weight. The cost of rental trucks is based on volume needed.  Moving less means less money spent on the move itself.
  • You save time by not packing & unpacking extra stuff. You don’t move what you don’t need or truly love.
  • You have the luxury of making decisions before the time crunch of moving. Retirement, job change, illness, or moving ailing parents can force a move you weren’t expecting.
  • You are able to donate/recycle rather than throw things in the trash. How do you find out your neighbors are moving? There is a huge pile of good stuff on their curb and people are getting out of their cars to check it out. Don’t advertise that your house will soon be empty.
  • By downsizing early, you gain space and enjoy living clutter-free.
    Have you prepared for a move and enjoyed for 2-3 months the changes you wish you had made 5 years earlier?
  • As you de-personalize and de-clutter room by room for a pending move, you are able to paint and make necessary repairs. You will be ready to put your home on the market quickly when the time is right.

Any time is the right time to reduce the amount of things that own your time and occupy your thoughts. Shedding possessions that require maintenance and repair and take up precious space in your life can be quite freeing! Start downsizing now and you will be ready for that move… whenever.