Declutter Your Reading List

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Cover design2 It's book chapter Wednesday. Here you go! Like it? You can buy the ebook here.

Simple Way #9

Reading List

Reading material constitutes a lot of the paper that people struggle with. If you get two daily newspapers, a few weekly magazines and 5-6 monthly publications, your reading pile gets high very quickly. Clipping articles for later is a good strategy, but it’s also time consuming and recommended only for important information you can’t get elsewhere or will use immediately.

Keep your paper stacks under control by making sure you allow time to read all that you subscribe to and when you can’t, that you get rid of back issues to make room for the new ones. This requires being honest about how much time you can and will devote to reading. Newspapers and news magazines should be the first to go because they become obsolete so quickly.

Right now:
If you still have yesterday’s newspaper or last week’s magazines, put them in the recycling now.


Embrace your personal organizing style

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“I can’t be organized.”

“I never learned about organizing.”

“My mom was a packrat and so am I.”

“My father was super neat and always gave me a hard time about my mess.”

“My grandparents lived through the Depression so they keep everything.”

Have you said any of those things? If so, here’s the truth:

Your ability to be organized has nothing to do with your genes.

It may have to do with your personal history, but only if you want to stick to that story.

Sandra Felton, the founder of Messies Anonymous, says that messies can come from “cleanie” homes or messy homes or any combination thereof. Whatever your experience was, you have the capacity to become a cleanie, or at least move in that direction.

One of my clients told me that her cleanie mother tried to teach her organizing skills and she just didn’t get it. She felt hopeless and dumb. Her story brings up another aspect of being organized.

There’s not just one way to be organized.

Isn’t that great news?

Your thinking style, learning style and personality style all factor into how you organize your world. Your mother may be organized but also visual and sentimental. She crowds tabletops with family photographs. If your style is more “hider”, you won’t grow up with any clues on how to organize in drawers, cabinets or closets because you didn’t witness it. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you haven’t learned how yet.

We are suckers for systems that lay out exactly what we should do for success, but then we blame ourselves when they don’t work. Here’s the thing: you need to hack the systems to suit you. Discover and embrace your own organizing style, based on who you are today, right now, and how you like to live.

The Sublime Thrill of an Empty Box

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It’s said people are motivated by two things: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Of course, we also want to make a difference in the world, be compassionate and kind to animals; that’s the big picture.

Those big picture motivators don’t always work so well when it comes to finishing an organizing project.

Sometimes we just don’t wanna do it and that’s that.

Discovering what motivates you in terms of pleasure and pain can help you over that hump. One of my clients noticed how excited and pleased she felt when she emptied a cardboard box and tossed it over to the door for recycling. Whee!

She realized how important it was to celebrate her “little victories.”

It gave her a ton of encouragement to go on, just seeing one more box leave her apartment for good. She exulted in the empty spot where the box had been taking up space.

What about avoiding pain? That can be pretty motivating. Finally setting up automatic bill pay after racking up way too many late fees is an example of that. Another one is installing a hook near the front door for your keys so you can stop being late to meetings.

What are some ways you’ve motivated yourself to do something that you really want to do, but are having trouble staying committed to?

Make a not to do list

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ImageTo do lists are a dime a dozen. I’ll bet you have a dozen hiding somewhere on your desk.

They have important tasks on them, but are also liberally peppered with:

  • things you don’t really have to do
  • things you keep saying you’ll do, but don’t
  • things you have no intention of doing, but think you should
  • things that were a good idea at the time, but have become irrelevant

You get the picture. The problem with having them on your to do list is that they distract you from the real to do’s, the ones that will make you money, advance your career and develop your super powers.

The beauty of a “not to do” list is that you’re allowed to keep it in the back of a drawer in the unlikely event that you’ll want to move something back to the do-able realm. Nothing will be lost. This also stops them from nagging at you.

That’s it! Start now. Hone your to do list into a powerful tool, not a catchall for every idea that comes across your desk.

What Should You Focus on Today?

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Okay, this is not one of those posts that gives you a formal method for prioritizing your to do list once and for all. That’s not really my style. Here’s a post about not prioritizing, though.

Today I’m offering you a different way of looking at figuring out what to do next. A way that I hope will make you go, ahhhh. Because a bunch of rules to follow about what to do when just makes you cranky sometimes. Here goes:

Do the thing you’re inspired to do.

That’s it. When you are feeling full of good juju about a project, the work you do on it is going to be fabulous. And you’ll feel good about it. What could be better, I ask you?

Now, this might sound like you get to wait around for the muse and you can just go eat ice cream because you’re inspired to. I’m betting that eating ice cream is not on your to do list, though (because, really, no one should need to be reminded to eat ice cream. That’s just scary.).

To be clear, we’re just talking about the things you’ve already decided are a good idea to do.

We’re also not talking about the stuff that has a looming deadline. Yes, you have to do that stuff. The projects that don’t fall into that category are all prospective candidates for your work-energy today. So work you do on any of them is progress.

If you’re totally in love with all your projects, fantastic! You still have to choose something to work on now, today, because we live in a space time continuum that does not allow you to work on more than one thing simultaneously (even multitasking is not truly simultaneous. And I don’t recommend multitasking anyway.

This actually does dovetail with more standard advice about prioritizing, that you should use your most mentally alert time to do work that requires you to think hard. Use your low energy times for shuffling papers and sorting emails.

This strategy will bring out your best work.

When you pick something to focus on that inspires you, that project gets a rush of happy oomph to move it forward. And you’ll feel great. Did I mention that part yet?

Get out your listy list and scan down it, hunting for the thing that makes your heart sing. Whee! Then go do it and bask in the fulfillment of doing great work.

Green Decluttering

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A common concern I hear from people when they’re decluttering is that they don’t want their stuff just to go to the landfill. They don’t want to be responsible for creating more trash, or they feel that their stuff could be useful to someone. They want to be green!

Here are some options:

Sell your stuff
Craigslist is a good choice if you want to sell things locally such as furniture and other large or hard-to-ship items.

Go with Oakland auction houses such as Michaan’s or Clar’s to sell big lots and expensive items. In this economy, people aren’t buying or collecting the way they used to, so selling is also harder. Both auction houses offer free appraisal services.

Selling on eBay means you’ll have to take care of shipping, so make sure it will be worthwhile for you. Check out what’s been paid for items like yours to find out how to set your price.

While selling your stuff seems like an easy way to make a buck, remember that you’ve got to do the work of posting your ad, including a photo (required on eBay and suggested on Craigslist), answering questions and scheduling pickups. Make sure your asking price is worth the time you’ll spend.

For this reason, I don’t recommend garage sales. They’re often a huge waste of time. Only do one if you publicize it well, get other households involved and don’t mind spending the day sitting in front of your house.

Give stuff away
If you can’t be bothered to sell, just offer up your goods for free on Craigslist or Freecycle. This is the fastest way to unload unwanted items. People want all kinds of wacky things, especially when they’re free!

For larger quantities of household goods, donating to local thrift stores is a good option. In some areas, pick-up services are offered. This varies a lot, so call your local store to find out.

Crafty items find a home at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. This store caters to artists and teachers. They accept items that you might not think of donating, such as imprinted stationery, maps, popsicle sticks, yarn and film canisters.

If it’s clothing you want to donate, consider getting together with friends for a clothes swap. This is especially good if what you’re donating doesn’t fit anymore. You’ll be able to replace it with cast offs from friends that do fit.

Don’t forget Oakland’s Bulky Waste Pickup program. This is the way to get rid of trash that’s too big to fit in your garbage bin, such as mattresses, broken TVs, tires and furniture.

Next Step
Make sure you actually get the stuff out of the house! Try not to stockpile unwanted items in your garage where they’ll gather dust and be forgotten about, while still taking up precious space.

Reminders for "Messies"

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Author and "Organizing Lady" Sandra Felton has written many books about organizing for "messies." She herself is a recovering messie so her advice comes from first hand experience.

Cleanies vs. Messies
She often writes that "cleanies" tidy up automatically, without having to be reminded or nagged at. That’s because they immediately see what is out of place and feel uncomfortable until it’s put away. Cleanies can find it hard to understand why messies don’t just spend a few minutes getting rid of the obvious mess in front of them.

But messies tend not to see the mess until it gets so big that they can’t find anything or put one more thing down. At that point, it seems too overwhelming to do anything about. What messies need is a way of reminding themselves to tidy up regularly, since visual cues don’t work for them.

Make a List
I suggest having a list of all the tidying tasks in the house posted prominently. Breaking the clean-up into smaller tasks means you can glance at the list, find a task and do it in a few minutes. It also means that other family members can do the same thing (yes, enlist all of them!). Note that this list is for straightening up, not for house cleaning, so it should be obvious whether a task such as "clear the kitchen counter" needs doing or not.

Pair Up Tasks
Another idea is to pair up tasks with other activities you do regularly. One of my clients decided that she wouldn’t check her email until she spent a few minutes clearing off her desk. She didn’t have to finish clearing it, just put in some time. But since she checks her email a lot, it will get tidied up pretty fast!

Write It Down!
The important thing to do is write down the tasks and make a habit of looking at the list. Don’t try to remember to do them. Don’t worry that you shouldn’t need to be told to clean up. It’s okay to need a reminder.

Do It Now
Don’t put them off for later. Tasks that take two minutes or less are worth getting out of the way right now, because a pile of two minute tasks quickly becomes half an hour or more. Put your purchases away as soon as you come home from the store, for example, even if it means walking all over the house.

Simple habits like these will make a huge difference in the clutter level of your home. Start right now!

Winner: most hilarious cleaning product

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I just laughed out loud when I saw these dusting slippers in the current issue of Organize magazine!  They also come in hot pink!
I must confess, I love to Swiffer, but these also look like swell fun. My floors are wood, and I can easily imagine myself getting up some speed and then sliding across the floor in them. I bet they’re nice and slippery. Just put on some music and bust your best moves.

Giving Away Clutter

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My friend Addie is a connoisseur. She’s also very picky and demanding and on a constant quest for the perfect __________ (fill in the blank). Luckily for her friends, she culls her possessions regularly to get rid of the ones that just aren’t up to snuff (we wear the same size! Wheeee!)

A few times a year, her friends eagerly paw over the bags of goodies she’s brought. She’s happy to see them appreciated and we’re happy to get them. Whatever remains unloved gets taken to the thrift store drop-off.

This is a terrific way to weed out your closet. Two caveats: don’t make it an exchange where others also bring things. If you do that, you’re in the mindset of getting as well as giving. When it’s just you, you’re only thinking about giving stuff away (you can certainly take turns being the giver).

Second, don’t take the leftovers home! You got them out of the house; that’s the hard part. Drive straight to the Goodwill, or leave the bags in your car till you can get there. To prepare for next time, keep a shopping bag in your closet so you can toss things in there the moment you decide you no longer want them.

Have you tried this? Got other ideas to share? Leave a comment below!

Note: I grew up in Mexico City and used to shop at the Liverpool Department Store. Haven’t thought about it in ages!

The Seven Deadly Organizing Sins: Lust

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Just for kicks, I’m going to start a little series based on the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. It’s a way for me to provide some organizing tips in a lighter, more amusing way. So, don’t take it too seriously.

Lust. This would be desiring fancy, expensive organizing gear and spending lots of time, money and energy on it, to the detriment of actually getting things done. It’s lust when you cannot resist the shiny object no matter how little sense it makes to acquire it.

None of us is completely immune to this. We see ads for delectable, sexy, sleek iPhones and we desire them. Advertisers know this, of course. They’re not interested in what we need, they want us to crave the product.

To avoid sin: There’s no harm in looking, but try to curb your shopping impulse until you get to know the device in question well enough to want to go steady, rather than just have a one night stand and then throw it in a drawer.

Swamp Lust from Marxchivist’s photostream