Organizing as a Practice

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I've been trying to start two new practices recently (I know I shouldn't say "trying;" am I afraid to commit?). One is meditating and the other is writing. Since I used to write fiction I know a practice is important but somehow I didn't think that also applied to non-fiction writing. My friend Deborah assures me that it does (and she gave me some great tips!). So I'm using an online timer and putting in 10 minutes (for now) a day. What I come up with is drivel, of course, but that's not the point.

Zafu My meditation practice is also often embarrassingly bad. Wow, is that really me thinking all those incredibly banal thoughts? Then I remind myself that I'm just practicing. I am not very patient and have never understood delayed gratification, so it's a big thing for me to let my practice be a practice and not a path to perfection.

Being organized, clutter-free and in control of your time is also a practice. You're not going to finally get it right one day and be home free. Some days will be better than others. You'll go through busy periods when your system gets a little frayed around the edges and then you'll take the time to get back on track.

I do emphasize having a vision for your organized life, a goal to work towards. However, if that goal is making you feel disappointed in what's happening today, just think of what you're doing as a practice. Instead of thinking, 'my office has to look like that one I saw on Apartment Therapy,' try 'today I'll clear off the top of the file cabinet.' Focus on action today rather than possible futures.

A practice has its own rhythm and is its own rewards. Try it and see.

Kitty with meditation cushion from jakemohan's photostream.

The Smallest Step

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I’ve posted before about the difference between goals and tasks. It’s similar to the difference between projects and to do’s. Goals and projects are not one-shot deals. They need to be broken down into do-able steps.

Sometimes even the next do-able step doesn’t seem to be getting done. In her Success Circle tip today, Ann Ronan pointed out that if you feel resistance to doing something, well, you probably will avoid doing it. She suggests taking the smallest possible step that won’t activate resistance. Say, put on your jogging shoes, but don’t actually jog around the block.

Ann takes this a step further by saying that you shouldn’t do any more than that one small action. If you do, you’re setting an expectation for yourself do keep doing more each day instead of celebrating the success you’ve had. If you persist at taking small steps, however, your resistance will begin to slip away and you’ll soon see real progress.

Sometimes I’ve counseled people to keep going if they’re on a roll, but I can see how this could backfire if you start thinking you’ve got to up the ante each time to sit down to organize. Today, I’ll suggest that if it’s a pile of paper you’re confronted with, take the first sheet off the top (or one from the bottom of the pile; that’s often easier), make a decision on it and act on the decision. Then you’re done. Pat yourself on the back!

Snail from Mr.Bones’ photostream

The Low Information Diet

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I’ve been reading Timothy Ferriss’s blog,
specifically his entries about the "low information diet." This is a powerful concept. It refers to not reading the newspaper, spending
less time on email and the web and generally limiting the information that
comes into your life. Here’s a great example of why you don’t need to follow
the news, from Ferriss’s interview with Drew Curtis of Fark.com:

Ferriss: If you had to limit your information intake to less than 30 minutes a day
(excluding email), what would you consume/read/watch?

Curtis: Nothing. I’d wait
until my friends asked me “did you see that?” and then say “no, why do you
ask?” and see if their response is interesting. You can always catch up later.
Oftentimes when news breaks it’s hours or days before anyone knows what
actually happened. Wait until next week for the summary if it’s that
important.

Why is this good? In your personal life, you free up more time to do
the things you want to do. At work, you stop being interrupted by questions and
requests all the time because a) you don’t answer your email fast enough and b)
people start to realize you didn’t read the article in question so you don’t
know the answer anyway.

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

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Two years ago, Jenny’s life turned upside down. “The Universe,” she says, “picked me up and spun me around.” She landed in Detroit with her computer and a few bags of clothes.

Nothing else.

At first, she missed her books and her photo albums, but none of the other stuff. Not a thing. That came as a big surprise.

Not only didn’t she miss her houseful of possessions, she actually felt good that it was gone. Relieved. Liberated. So she decided not to get bogged down in crap in the future. Now, she can pack a bag and go somewhere, tomorrow. Possessions will never weigh down her life again.

Having less stuff means having freedom.

We get attached to stuff. Jenny’s previous life was relatively prosperous. She had crafts supplies and baking equipment and lots of other things she rarely used. The intention of someday using them kept her tied to them.

“Purging gets easier the more you do it,” Jenny says. “As you give stuff away, you’ll start to feel freer and want to do it more. And your place will look better! When I did my purge, in every cubby, in every closet, there was just shit. Shit I hadn’t seen in years.

“The aha! is how much psychic space things take up.

“I don’t judge my self worth based on the stuff I have, so I didn’t expect to react strongly to getting rid of those things. I certainly didn’t expect the feeling of liberation.”

Me: Now that you have all this physical and psychic room, what has come into your life?

“What hasn’t? It’s opened up so much. When I look back, it seems like I was helpless with all the things that happened, but on the other hand I took charge of my life in a way I hadn’t before. I freed up space for new possibilities and the new possibilities just keep coming.

“Once you realize you can do something like this, you realize that not only are you okay, but you feel a lot better. It opens your mind to a lot of possibilities. Maybe other assumptions you have are wrong too. It was a very strengthening kind of experience.”

Me: How do you resist the lure of the new and shiny?

“There’s nothing to resist. The realization that I felt better having less stuff was so strong for me that it wouldn’t make any sense to start acquiring stuff again.

“In fact, there’s tension and hesitation when I think about bringing something new into my life. I don’t think that collecting junk is anyone’s goal. There’s an unconscious grabbing, buying and keeping.

“Having things is a false comfort. It’s a lie.”

Me: How can people get this kind of freedom without jettisoning all their belongings and moving 500 miles away?

“I encourage people to push their comfort zones and get rid of a lot more than they think they can. You think you’re going to miss it but actually you feel very free and light. It’s counter intuitive.

“I don’t think I would have discovered this if I hadn’t been put into a situation as I did. You don’t have to get rid of everything, but purge just a little more than you thought you could.

“Have the intention of freeing up space for yourself.”

~~~~~

The lovely and talented Jenny B Bones runs an empire dedicated to changing the world through words. Because she pared down and simplified her life, she’s got a laser focus on doing what she loves and what she can help others with. Read her spicy, witty blog here.

In case you were wondering, I help people with purges large and small. Too much stuff in your home, on your desk, or in your head? Click here to find out how much better it can be.

Why You Shouldn't Read This Blog

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Action figure We know it's important to limit our time online when it involves pointless web surfing. But a lot of what we read and discover online is really interesting, helpful stuff (like this blog!). You could easily spend all day finding treasures on the Internet.

This goes for interviews and videos you download too. Those are more insidious because once they're downloaded, out of sight, out of mind. You think you learned something valuable today because you have the thing, but you haven't actually listened/watched yet.

The problem with doing that is that you don't spend any time incorporating that reading into your life by practicing the new skill, trying out the new idea or using that important thought in your thinking. That's the grunt work of change.

I am guilty of this as much as anyone and it takes willpower for me not to read something that could be interesting. I need to remind myself (out loud, if necessary) that I don't have time to take in this new information because I'm busy with the projects on my whiteboard. I've got time to read it, but not to do anything useful with it.

That's not to say that all reading must be purely practical. There's value to reading for pleasure or intellectual curiosity. It's a good idea to be conscious of your purpose though, so you know how you're spending your time.

If you're reading to develop a new habit or learn a new marketing strategy, you'll need to act on that reading, or else it's a pointless as the aforementioned surfing. Be aware of why you're reading and decide on one thing you'll do to take action.

My aim with this blog is to express one simple idea with each post and suggest a way to put it into action. So here it is. The next time you find yourself knee deep in some fascinating article on the web, ask yourself "what action will I take to make this part of my life?"

Action figure from Fuyoh!'s photostream.

Create Room for Meaning

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Chris Zydel, the Wild Heart Queen, says people want to buy experiences that will give their lives meaning. More and more people are realizing that stuff doesn’t bring them happiness, and it certainly doesn’t bring them meaning.

I know some folks are put off by “organizing” and “decluttering.” It sounds like work. And boring, yeah. It’s the kind of thing other people do, not you. So let’s get some different words.

Living and working in a space that’s been thoughtfully edited and arranged for ease and flow provides a meaningful experience. Paring extraneous stuff from your life is a mindful activity. It can also be unexpectedly liberating.

It creates room for you, your imagination, your spirit.

When you visit an art museum you aren’t confronted by rows of paintings stacked eight deep that you have to wade through. Exhibits are curated so that you see an intentional selection of works arranged around a theme. In fact, making art is generally a process of taking away, not loading more on.

You can curate your own environment.

Making your environment, either work or home, into a place that uplifts you means you can feel that way every day. And you’re there every day, right? This is the place you spend the hours of your life in. It’s not a place you visit occasionally.

So it should be as fabulous as you can make it, n’est-ce pas?

It’s like buying nice sheets. You spend one third of your life lying on them! That’s a lot of time to spend having an experience that’s not wildly enjoyable. You’re spending that much time in your office too. Maybe more. Then there’s another bunch of hours you spend in your home. How many is that?

See where I’m going with this?

Unless you’re a park ranger or a telephone lineman, you’re spending time in these rooms. Rooms that you have the power to make into oases of creativity and energy and joy. Spaces that reflect your beliefs and dreams. And if you need a boost up with that, I’m your gal.

Can You Be Too Organized?

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The keys to my dreams. You're too organized if doing the work of organizing starts taking up half your day. The organizing you do should be at the service of the rest of your life and your work, not the other way around.

People shy away from organizing because they think it's a huge project or it will be enormously time consuming. Now, if they want to organize their entire homes top to bottom and they've been collecting stuff since the dawn of time, this is a realistic fear. For everyone else, it's not.

Organizing can be a few simple things you do to make your life run more smoothly. Things like putting your bag in a place where you can find it again or jotting an event onto your calendar so you don't rely on (cursed) memory.

To find your perfect organizing level, observe what's working and what's not. What bothers you and what's fine the way it is. If what's not working is being able to get out of the house on time in the mornings, figure out what the specific obstacles are. Can't find the keys? Forgot some important information? Trying to squish too many tasks into the morning?

Now you've got something to work with. If you're really bugged by running around the house searching for keys, you'll be motivated to find a special place to stash them when you come in the door. You might not do it every time. Even if you do it half the time, you're ahead of the game.

Analyze what is working for you. Maybe you've got a "don't forget" list on the wall right next to the front door that you see when you leave the house. You always look at it and it helps. How can you use that technique in other ways? You might make a list of morning routine tasks and attach it to the fridge or the bathroom mirror.

It's the little things, people. Small things that help your life work better.

Found keys from Otacon_85's photostream

The Art of Slow Living

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Slowing down to combat the stress and dehumanization of modern life isn’t a new concept, but it’s been taken to greater and more charming heights by Ella and Bruno Contigiani. Their “slowmandments” offer tips about avoiding multitasking and hurrying and a few more novel and Italian-inflected ones, such as the ones below.

“Write your text messages on your cell phone with no symbols or abbreviations and get in the habit of starting with “Dear…”

“Don’t force yourself go shopping; most probably there is enough food in your cupboard to make something tasty for dinner”

This wonderful sentiment is on their home page:

To stay for all your life a free thinker: this is the meaning of Slow living; to have the courage to stop, ponder and made your own choices before external events and trends will sweep you away.

The Seven Deadly Organizing Sins: Pride

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the organizing sin of pride

This is sin #6: pride. I’ve already written about gluttony, wrath, lust, greed and sloth.

Now, being proud is not always a sin. Pride has to do with self-worth. The problem, or organizing sin, comes in when your self-worth derives from stuff you have rather than who you are.

Pride drives people to buy fancy cars, huge houses and designer goods. They might really want or need those things. Or they might want to impress the neighbors and keep up with the Joneses. Worse yet, they want to be better than the neighbors (and their credit card bills are enormous!).

If you find yourself buying something because of how others will think of you when you own it, you’re in organizing sin territory. When you drop references to expensive items you have or celebrities you’ve hobnobbed with, you’re trying to look more important; hey, the sin of pride!

How should your possessions make you feel? I like the William Morris quotation: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Your things should make you feel good, based on your own needs and desires, no one else’s.

To avoid sin: Reflect on your motivation when you’re faced with a buying or acquiring decision. Ask yourself: do I truly need or want this thing because it’s immediately useful or I feel that it’s beautiful and it makes me happy? Make sure you’re not deciding based on impressing others or one-upping them.

Must You Keep a Gift?

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

Simple Way #7

Unwanted Gifts


Don’t hang onto gifts you’ve received just because they were gifts. Anything that does not please you or have an important use to you is not worth keeping in your life. Of course, it’s important to be tactful and not hurt the giver’s feelings. However, there’s no point to feeling guilty about not wanting a gift.

What is a gift? Ideally, it’s an expression of gratitude or friendship. That’s the most important part. When the giver and receiver participate in this exchange, they both win. Once you accept a gift and give thanks, you are free to do whatever you want with it. The same goes for gifts you give.

Try to avoid getting stuck in believing that it’s your responsibility to find a good home for an unwanted gift. That’s what recycling centers and thrift stores are for. Your job is to get it out of the house as fast as possible.

Right now:
Find a gift in your closet that you’ve been saving because you feel guilty getting rid of it. Put it in your donation bag or pass it on to someone you know will appreciate it.