How to Knock Stuff Off of Your To Do List

Zombie To Do ListI’ve been laughing at myself a lot for the last two weeks because I figured something out about myself that you might be able to relate to. I make simple things hard. All the time. And then I feel put upon. And resentful. Because all of a sudden I have a mountain of things to do and they all feel hard. But the reality of it is that they aren’t particularly hard, or unpleasant. They are just things I need to do and I don’t want to do them. That’s the part that is making me laugh and shake my head because I live,  by most of the world’s standards, a very comfortable, free life. I don’t worry about day to day violence or unrest; I am safe, well fed and free to do as I choose. So the my problems are not external. My problems are in my head dancing around having a ball and driving me nuts. I’ve even taken to writing the word “easy” on my hand when I’m having a bad day, because really? Most of the stuff is pretty damn easy. I’ll let the hard stuff in life be hard but I’m determined that the easy stuff should be easy.

One of my favorite productivity gurus is David Allen of Getting Things Done fame. He teaches us that getting things out of our heads and  into a system that you can trust such as a notebook or productivity app is the only way to go. We walk around thinking of stuff all day long and it stresses us out! He suggests doing a brain dump and then start sorting out your thoughts and turning them into actionables.

A lot of  things that we have on our to-do lists are not actually actionables.

For instance  I have “deal with insurance bill” on my to do list. But it is actually a project, not an action. (Sidenote: don’t be afraid of the word “project”–they come in all sizes and just means that you have multiple steps to resolve an issue.)  David Allen would say “So, what’s your next action?” as in, what is the action that needs to take place to advance the project? In order to “deal” with it I need to 1. collect my receipts and bills, 2. compare them to current insurance bill and then 3. call the insurance company (ugh). Even though this is an unpleasant thing to do, each step will probably only take 15-20 minutes at the most. I can knock it out in an hour and get on to doing the more pleasant things on my list of things to do (such as: buy fresh flowers or sketch new embroidery project). This principle can be applied to anything you are dealing with at home or at work. And it certainly breaks things down into doable size actions that can be scheduled or knocked out once you have spent a few minutes thinking about what actually needs to get done.

Declutter the house is not a to-do. It’s a project made up of tiny little actions. Some of those actions are a royal pain and some of them are actually pleasurable, but if you put them all in one lump that it won’t get done, you won’t get to experience the pleasure of a finished result and you most certainly will prolong the pain. You can spend weeks, months or years avoiding taking care of stuff that is far easier to do than you are imagining. I pinky swear. And when you get to something hard, enlist some help from a family member or friend. Or pump yourself up by wearing your favorite shirt or listening to a shake your booty song. Or both! Empower yourself by breaking down some of the stuff on your to-do list and start feeling better about making the easy stuff easy!

If you haven’t already, give this simple but super effective tool a test drive and let me know what you think! Are you a fan of David Allen? Do you have some secret weapon that you use when you are trying to go Ninja on your to-do list? Let me know in the comments below! I love hearing from y’all.

Totally awesome photo by ironybelle

Why Clutter is Bad for Your Well Being

paper-96243_640My kids got out of school nearly three weeks ago and in those three weeks I have been avoiding going through their mountains of papers, art projects and grody notebooks like it’s my job. (Side note:  I cannot, for the LIFE of me, figure out how my 10 year old can make a lovely, fresh, new three ring binder turn into a floppy, dog eared, hot MESS in less than one semesters time. Maybe he kicks it down the halls at school instead of carrying it?  Tell me I’m not alone in this.) Every time I walk through my dining room I have been frustrated to see my normally lovely and empty flat surfaces overflowing with stuff.

And you know this rule:

Messes beget messes.

So instead of the piles staying the same, they’ve collected random art supplies, new art projects (my daughter is prolific), headphones, cds, toys, magazines and lots of other random junk.

Clutter grows if you aren’t careful. Paper clutter, in particular, grows faster than a garden full of zucchini.

I was avoiding going through it for two reasons:

1) it’s emotional for me to put the school year to rest and

2) I had figured it would take me most of an afternoon to get through it all.

I finally talked myself into going through it on Saturday. I geared myself up and got myself a tall, cold drink, put a podcast on my Ipod, popped on my headphones (a good visual “do not disturb” sign for the loved ones), grabbed a laundry basket for recycling and got to work. Do you know how long it took me to do this onerous, long avoided task?

23 minutes.

I had to laugh at myself when I looked at my watch. I mean, it wasn’t even an hour, let alone my imagined half day chore. It turned out that this ginormous pile was mostly practice sheets, old tests and generally easily recycled items. It wasn’t particularly emotional or even difficult to part with 98% of the stuff. There were some school supplies that I tossed in our craft cabinet and the rest of the stuff was just oddball items that had been added to the pile simply because it was there.

I had successfully psyched myself out and wasted mental energy thinking about this task that took 23 minutes to complete.

So much of our clutter and our messes are just like this. We think it will be too hard, it will take too much time and will require more of us than we want to give. We avoid it because humans prefer pleasure over pain. But truth be told, the trade off sucks.

Avoiding dealing with our clutter is a massive energy drain in our lives. We think we’re pulling a fast one by averting our eyes or closing the door on our clutter, but our minds and our bodies keep track of everything.

Humor me and test my little theory. Close your eyes and mentally walk around a room in your home. Try to really feel what your space feels like. Does your mind immediately jump to a project that needs finishing? Does it easily drift around without judgement? Pay attention to the messages that pop up in your mind. Then open your eyes and feel what’s in your body. Are you more tight and tense or serene and relaxed? Did your breath stick in your chest or did it flow easily? Our bodies are a beautifully sensitive to our surroundings. Listen to what your body is telling you. If it is feeling tense and unhappy, listen. Pay attention. Because even when we think we have a handle on our stuff, sometimes we really don’t. And sometimes, it only takes 23 minutes to clear it up.

Let me know what your mental tour turned up. Are you happy in your space? Do you feel like you have some room for improvement? If you are motivated to tackle a project, time yourself and let us know in the comments below if it took you more or less time than you predicted. I’d love to know how you do!

Travel Tips 101: How to Make Yourself Comfortable Wherever You Go

Travel Tips 101We’ve been lucky over the last few months and have had the opportunity to travel to both Vancouver, British Columbia and to the Florida Panhandle. Although the types of travel we’ve done are different (business vs. pleasure), we’ve followed the same strategy to settle in and make ourselves comfortable. I’ve found that with a little effort to up front (ideally as soon as you arrive), that you can avoid headaches, frustration and meltdowns (both for the kids and the grownups) later on down the road.

Here are my best tips for spending less time finding your stuff and more time enjoying yourself. 

1. When you arrive, immediately assess how much storage you have and decide where your stuff should go. Remember: like goes with like. Books, pens, notepads, brochures, maps etc.. go together nicely. If you have a desk, put them there. If you don’t, just keep them together in a drawer, tote bag or even a designated spot on the floor. Each time you use one of those things be sure to return it to its designated spot when you are done. In terms of clothes, bedclothes go with bedclothes, tops with tops, bottoms with bottoms and socks with socks. Just like you do at home! If you are travelling with kids, give them the bottom drawers so they can take care of keeping up with their own clothes. Keep everyone’s shoes in the bottom of the closet or lined up by the door.

The same is true for all your gear. We go to the beach a couple of times each year so we have a beach bag that contains sunscreen, hats, goggles, sunglasses, towels, snacks and water bottles. We can just grab the bag and go with minimal stress.

2. Create activity bags. Depending on what type of trip you are taking, you will be doing a number of types of activities. They tend to fall into a few categories: business (you’ll need a travelling office in a bag), shopping, touring, hiking/swimming/outdoors. In each bag put the things you’ll need together and then replenish your supplies at the end of each day. For instance, if we were planning on hiking in the country side I’d put together a bag that had maps, tour books, water bottles, granola bars, Band-Aids, pain relievers,sunscreen, hats and a handkerchief. At the end of the day, I’d dump everything out, sort it, throw away the trash, rinse out the water bottles and refresh the snack selection. Hindsight is 20/20, so the evening after you’ve done your activity is the best time to add whatever item you forgot to add to your sack for the next day. About 50% I forget some little item that I wish I had like lip balm or eye drops. You can’t win ’em all.

3. Decide where home base is. Pick a spot where you can keep your keys, wallet, passport, travel documents, phones, gadgets and important medications you might need. If you can contain them somehow either in a bowl or a basket, fantastic. If not, no worries. Just designating a spot will make things easier for you.

Bonus points if this spot has some plugs for your electronics to charge in.

4. Make a laundry hamper for yourself. Where should your dirty clothes go? You can hang a plastic bag on a doorknob, find a corner of a closet or maybe you will luck out and actually have a laundry basket or bin to use. Designating a spot for your dirty duds early on help you figure out what is clean and when it’s time to do a load of laundry!

5. Bring a bit of home with you. Getting enough rest on your trip is super important if you want to have a great time. My husband and I honeymooned in Florence, Italy and we managed to have a hotel room directly above an ambulance dispatch. Let’s just say it was less than romantic having sirens go off all night long right under our window. We learned from that experience to never leave home without a small noise machine (there are also some great free apps that do the same thing) and earplugs. My must have bedtime list of stuff duplicates what I do at home. I bring my favorite pjs, hand cream, eye drops and eye mask. Those little rituals trick my brain into thinking I’m home and to quiet down and go to sleep.

5. Figure out your garbage situation. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough waste baskets where you’re staying. Plastic grocery  bags are perfect for this. You can use multiple bags to sort your recyclables too. I like to toss 3-4 bags in my suitcase for bagging garbage, keeping dirty shoes off of clean clothes and for wet clothes and bathing suits. When I’m done with them I recycle them if I can.

Putting a bit of thought into where your stuff should go so it can serve you instead of hinder you is a great way to make yourself comfortable wherever you go.

Now I want to hear from you. What sort of travel tips do you have up your sleeve? Do you have a favorite thing (or things) you always travel with? I love learning from other travellers! 

7 Ways to Stop Clutter from Coming into Your Space

Welcome HomeThe most important thing you can do today to get on your path to living an organized, decluttered life is to stop bringing clutter into your space to begin with. That may sound terribly obvious but I am always surprised at how often it is not mentioned or explicitly laid out in organizing and decluttering articles and books.

How on earth can you possibly get organized, let alone stay organized if there is a constant stream of stuff coming into your already uncomfortably full space? You can’t. The stuff creeps into your home and gets spread around your space, weighing you down, keeping you from finding what’s really important (like car keys, permission slips and your phone charger to name a few). And the irony is that, for the most part, you don’t even want this stuff. You just don’t know what to do with it so it accumulates into bigger and bigger piles of stuff.

Look at it this way: those piles in your space are just piles of indecisions. Think about it. Each item needs to be dealt with and you are the decider. Do you love it? Is it useful? Do you have space for it? The best way to get a handle on all of this is to decide what do you want living with you in your precious space before you even walk through the front door. Here are seven simple ways to reduce that flow:

1. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you need it. How many times have you been given a free tshirt or promotional item (magnet, mug, pen) and you brought it home and never used it? Do yourself a favor and politely say “No, thanks” when you are offered these little “gifts.”

2. When you are out shopping at, say, Target, and you’ve run in for toilet paper and some socks, steel yourself against those sales racks and end caps. Seriously. Don’t even look. You are not saving money if you are spending it. Whoever designed Target is a mad genius at getting us to think we need more stuff. We don’t. Time yourself to get in and out of the store as fast as possible. The longer you stay in the store the more money you will spend and the more stuff will end up in your house.

3. If your are having a bad day and feel like some retail therapy, give yourself a limit of both time and money. Walk around with your would-be purchases for a while and give some serious thought about what you will do with this stuff when you get home. Imagine that cute blouse that’s on sale (andyoujusthavetohaveit) and where it will go in your closet. Think about how well it’s made and what it will go with that you already own. Be mindful of emotional purchases. They often end up as clutter in our homes and sometimes weigh us down with guilt.

4. Shop with a list and stick to it. This is true for all kinds of shopping not just the grocery store and Target. Before you head out, think about what you need to bring home and make a detailed list. If you don’t, it’s likely that you’ll come home with a bunch of random stuff and will have forgotten what you actually needed to begin with. Lists give you control and a reality check. Try it.

5. Leave brochures, pamphlets, menus and newsletters where you find them. You can almost always find the information online and you’ll have less paperwork to deal with. In the same vein think before you use your printer. Don’t create more paper clutter than is absolutely necessary.

6. Reduce the stuff in your mailbox by unsubscribing from magazines you don’t read (you can always redirect them to someone else or to an organization who would like them such as a nursing home) and cancelling catalogs that are online anyway.

7. Hand me downs and other people’s stuff are tough to say no to. If you are comfortable with being direct, than a polite “No, thank you” is best. If that’s too uncomfortable (this is a tough one for me) and you do end up with their cast-offs, then remember this: they are giving you things that they don’t want themselves and you should pass them on as you see fit. Guilt free.

If you spend a little time thinking about what is coming in your house you will be empowered to only let things in that you love, need and use. All the rest can go on it’s merry way!

I’m curious to know: how are you stopping clutter from coming into your space (virtual or physical)? Do you have any ways of stopping clutter from sneaking into your space? Any areas that are easier than others? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Photo by Katie Smith

Practicing the Fine Art of Letting Go (of Your Stuff)

Open_Hand_Art_of_Letting_Go

My personal interests usually involve domesticity. Martha Stewart I am not, but I was born to putter, clean, organize and beautify. I love learning new things and tend to immerse myself in whatever topic or hobby I am tackling.  And if I get to learn about something I can do at home then I am one happy camper.

When my kids were very young (they’re in elementary school now) I decided needed to learn about frugality (Hello, one income), simplified living (homemade everything, cloth diapering Mom at your service) and cooking (Jacques Pepin, I owe you a lot). I read loads of books, hung out on forums and subscribed to blogs by the handful. I read, I learned, I practiced, I integrated and then…

I moved on.

I evolved. My kids got older and so did I. I learned all that I needed to learn and found that I didn’t need those resources any more. What had been new and exciting eventually became clutter to me. So I unsubscribed from blogs, stopped dropping in on forums and happily passed on my books, cloth diapers and that blasted yogurt machine I never could figure out how to use. I kept a few of my favorite cookbooks because they still inspired me and I passed on the rest.

I needed to make some space for the people we were changing into.

Hanging on to old stuff that you don’t need, love or use doesn’t serve the person you are right now. My 10 year old can’t stuff himself into the shoes he wore when he was five. And I can’t stop my kids from getting older by saving every last drawing they made or every toy they’ve played with. Their tastes have changed so their belongings should mirror that.

We all need the room to grow and breathe.  Be true to who you are right now.

So tell me, do you have some stuff from a time in your past that you could let go of? A hobby, sport or interest that no longer suits you? Maybe you could pass it on to someone who could better use it or maybe it’s simpler to pass it on to a charity instead. It could be as simple as unsubscribing from some emails or rss feeds. What can you let go of to make room for something fresh and new to come into your life?

photo by: Beshef

Top Twenty Five Reasons Why Organizing Your Stuff Can Make You Happier at Home

Clutter Free Bedroom1. You can find your keys. Always.

2. Your purse or wallet have a home.

3. Everything in your fridge is edible.

4. You know what food you have in your pantry. You can see what you have and it inspires you to cook.

5. When the family whines “I want a snack!” or they demand “What’s for dinner?!?” you can calmly point them to the basket full of healthy snacks and the dinner calendar posted on the fridge. No more arguing.

6. Everyone always has clean underwear.

7. When it’s time to put away the laundry there is actually room in your drawers. No more cramming clothes into drawers brimming with clothes that you haven’t worn in ages.

8. Your devices have a docking station so you don’t lose them and they are always charged.

9. You aren’t battling with your winter coats and ice hockey stuff in the coat closet when it’s 92 degrees outside.

10. You have fun getting dressed in the morning because everything in your closet works on the body you have right now. The clothes all work together, make you feel great when you wear them and there is room to see all of them.

11. You know what day the garbage needs to be taken out. And it actually goes out.

12. Your kids don’t get mad at you because you lost their field trip permission slip/birthday invitation/important school form.

13. You get birthday cards in the mail on time.

14. You get to see flat surfaces in your home for the first time since you moved in!

15. You can find your insurance forms, wills and tax related paperwork in 5 minutes or less.

16. Your bills are paid on time because you actually know where they are and their due dates are written on your calendar.

17. You can park your car inside your garage.

18. It is liberating to let go of  things that you don’t love like promotional items, well meaning but unloved gifts and collections that no longer serve you.

19. Getting ready in the morning doesn’t take forever because your toiletries are pared down to what you love and use and the extras are passed on to someone who can use them.

20. Your email inbox is empty and you have folders for action, pending and reference messages.

21. Your computer can work optimally because it is not bogged down with files and bloatware.

22. Your bedroom is the sanctuary that it’s meant to be. Only the things you love get to be in that room with you.

23. Less stuff means fewer things to wash, dust, fold, mend and maintain. (Less housework!)

24. Your family can work together because they know where everything goes and you won’t have to do everything yourself.

25. The more organized your life is, the more time you get to spend with the people you love doing the things that make you happy!

Gain Space in Your Home by Changing Your Perspective

Have you ever walked into a room in your house and just felt the energy drain out of you when you look at all that needs to be done? My kids room can feel that way to me. The rest of my house is usually in pretty good shape (as in, I’d let people come in my house and not die of embarrassment) but the kids room? It can go from semi-tidy to where’s the floor in well under an hour. Even though I live and breathe  organizing, decluttering and beautifying, my kids room drives. me. nuts. It’s not my stuff and I don’t like to declutter it by myself, yet when I help them clean and declutter it I don’t always have the patience of a saint when they are agonizing over every Lego, birthday party favor and note passed in class. I won’t lie, I’ve been known to get a glass of wine when tackling this problem. So I’ve been thinking about how to solve it and I realized that I’ve been focusing on the micro perspective and ignoring the macro perspective. You know, the Big Picture.

When looking at a decluttering or organizing issue start BIG and then go small.

In other words, take a step back from the space (figuratively and sometimes literally) and think about three things:

  1. What is the purpose of this space?
  2. What is it actually being used for right now?
  3. How do you want to feel in this space?

So in my case, I would answer those questions like this:

  1. My kids share a room so this space is used for sleeping, relaxing, playing and occasionally doing homework.
  2. All of the above things + our household linen closet + storage for not currently played with toys + childhood mementos (saved by yours truly) + hand me down clothes that don’t fit them yet = That’s nuts
  3. I want to feel calm and happy in this room. I want my kids to easily be able to put away their toys, books and clothes and to be able to find things without stress.

Now that I have that figured out, I realize that I need to declutter the linen closet stuff (extra sheets, blankets and pillows) and consider what I can remove from their current living space and put into storage (a.k.a. the attic) like a plastic tub of hand me downs or twice-used-a-year sleeping bags.

*Bonus tip #1: If you put things in storage like you basement or attic be sure to label it clearly and then go to your calendar and figure out when you need to take it out and make a note of it. (e.g., I would use my Google calendar to make this note:  Attic: Take down purple tub of  kid’s summer clothes 5/1/2014)

*Bonus tip #2: Break out your camera and take some pictures of the space you’re going to be working on. All of it. We stop “seeing” a space after a short while and this will give you an instant change of perspective. Truly, give it a try and see for yourself. This quick tip can give you Decluttering Superpowers. Honest.

So I have some work cut out for me. I will use Trusty Timer (love her!) and limit my project to an hour. I know that by changing my perspective of that room that I can free up some space to better organize their belongings. And get closer to how I want to feel in this space.

Goodbye energy draining space, hello sparkly room!

clear some clutter and make your life sparkle!

I have a real love/hate relationship with stuff. Stuff can be sooo much fun. Getting a new pair of jeans that make you feel like a million bucks, finding a new lipstick in the latest trendy color or buying a beautiful new mug to drink your morning coffee in are all lovely things and can make your life sparkle. One of my favorite times of the year is back to school time when those fresh new notebooks, pencils and journals all hold so much potential. A new beginning. A fresh slate. I love having a pretty home and get sweaty palmed and juiced up thinking about new throw pillows,  organizing do-dads and kitchen ware. I feel the pull of new stuff just like the next person. So while I do have minimalist leanings, I have a nice collection of lipsticks and shoes and have no interest in letting those things go. Why should I? I love them. They bring me joy and they do make my life sparkle.

Clean_organized_office

But what about the things that don’t add value to my life?

While the word hate is really too strong, I do strongly dislike having too much stuff in my house and in my life. It makes me cranky to be tripping over Legos, slipping on books and looking at piles of paper. Or how about not being able to fit the plastic food containers back in the drawer where they belong because. there. isn’t. any. room. left. I dearly love my family but when the stuff of our lives starts taking over our house I can get a wee bit short tempered. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this probably drives you crazy too. Am I right? So when this happens I take my own advice. I pick a spot that is making me crazy, get out my trusty timer (oh how I love you, Dear Timer!), put on some fun music (rowdy music is awesome for this) and start making decisions! Paperwork from my kid’s school? File the current ones, recycle the rest. Adorable drawing done by my daughter? Put that in the “to be sent to Grandparents” pile. Dirty dishes get corralled to the kitchen. Sewing project leftovers get put with the sewing stuff. Keys get hung up on their peg and purse goes right next to them. Beep beep beep! Time’s done and I’ve cleared a surface. And clearing a surface inevitably leads to one of my favorite organization and clutter maxims:

Order Begets Order.

Try it, you’ll see. Put some sparkle back in your space.