Posted by Sue on Jun 13, 2013
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~Hans Hofmann
A while ago I was working with a young mom whom I’ll call Linda. Linda asked me a question which I hear at least every week, if not every day, “How much stuff is the right amount?”
At the time, we were talking about her 3 year old son (I’ll call him Timmy). Toys, craft materials and children’s books were taking over the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the den, as well as Timmy’s bedroom. You couldn’t walk through a room without stepping on a Lego or a stuffed animal. It was making the whole family pretty cranky. These young parents wanted to provide as rich an environment as possible for their young son, but knew that something wasn’t working.
After discussing the situation for a bit, my answer came in the form of two questions, “How much stuff can Timmy realistically manage at his age?” and, “What does he really love?”
Working with these questions as our measuring sticks we sorted through the toys and books and divided them into categories:
- Things Timmy loves.
- Things Timmy might grow into.
- Things Linda wasn’t sure about.
- Things to donate (anything in good shape that didn’t fall into categories 1, 2 and 3).
- Things to throw out.
Our next steps were to box and label stuff from categories 2 and 3, put the box of donations in the car and tie up the throw-aways in a black garbage bag (so that Timmy wouldn’t be able to see what was leaving the house).
We then did a deeper sort of the Things Timmy loves box, deciding how much stuff Timmy could realistically manage. We provided him with enough variety of toys books and games to keep him stimulated, but not overwhelmed. By boxing and storing the rest of the Things Timmy loves into a “library” box, we created a stash of alternate toys which Liinda could periodically swap out for the current stash. This allows for fresh engagement without overburdening the family with the Too-Much-Stuff syndrome.
These questions have become keys to helping folks decide how much stuff is the right amount. It boils down to:
- Are you able to do what you want to do without clutter getting in the way? If yes, then you don’t have a problem.
- How much can you manage well?
- What do you really love?
How much is the “right amount of stuff” for you? Remember that less is (almost always) more. And by following the guidelines above, you’ll create more room in your life for what truly matters.
Here’s to more of less!
Posted by Sue on Jun 6, 2013
Summertime … and the livin’ is easy. ~ Porgy and Bess
Each year, it takes me until mid-June before I’m willing to put away my turtle necks and switch out my flannel sheets for percale. Yes, I live in Vermont where it’s not unusual to have a wood stove burning in May. But mostly, I have trouble letting go of the rigor of the cold months and relaxing into the spaciousness of summer living.
To help me make that transition, I tried a fun exercise. If the spring to summer shift (or, in Vermont, the mudseason to blackfly-season shift) has got you down, I encourage you to give it a try.
Go into your stash of postcards which you bought while on vacation but never sent (don’t try to tell me you don’t have one of these) and choose one of a particularly luscious, “I wish you were here” variety. Address it to yourself, date it September 2, 2013, Labor Day, and list all the things you accomplished this summer. Include both fun escapades (class reunion at an amusement park) and practical projects (painting a side of the house). Be realistic (notice I wrote “a side” rather than the whole house), but stretch your imagination a bit to include a couple out-of-the-box adventures.
Now go to your calendar and match events to dates. Inevitably you’ll need to defer some events to next summer (jot them down on the last page of your calendar so you can include them in your summer 2014 plans) and some will fall into the, “great idea, but … really???” category. But, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” and you’ll have a greater chance of sending that postcard in September if you take the time in June to shift some of your summertime dreaming to summertime doing.
What are your top three adventures or projects that you want to include in your Labor Day postcard? Share them below. At the end of the summer you can let us know how they turned out … by postcard!
Posted by Sue on May 30, 2013
After posting last week’s blog I realized that I never completed Brenda’s story. I hope the cliff hanger didn’t keep any of you awake at night.
First, a recap. In my previous post our heroine, Brenda, wanted to make her office more accessible. I wrote, “If there is nothing [in the room] that sparkles and shines and reminds you of how much you love and are loved” than the room will feel flat and dull.
Brenda’s office was missing this quality of inspiration I call, Ping! The problem was not just that the space was poorly organized: it lacked personality, specifically, Brenda’s personality. I suggested that the room would become more attractive if she hung pictures she loved or displayed objects that were beautiful or reminded her of something special. So she went in search of things that go Ping!
With Ping! in mind, Brenda pulled out a couple of paintings she’d been storing in anticipation of hanging, “one of these days.” She also found a vase she loved and her daughter’s clay sculpture which brought a smile to her face. We cleared space on a side table where we placed these objects to inspire our organizing adventure. Once we had cleared and reorganized the office we hung the pictures above her desk and artfully arranged the objects – near enough to be seen but away from the flow of work.
Three weeks later, Brenda reports that she successfully uses her office. And, because she doesn’t want to block her view of her precious Pings!, she has kept the office (relatively) clutter-free. Hurrah for Ping!
Read last week’s post to see what steps you can take to go from blah to Ping!
And, may the Ping! be with you.
Posted by Sue on May 15, 2013
Be like that bird who,
pausing in flight feels
the bough give way
beneath her feet
and yet sings,
knowing she hath wings.
~ Victor Hugo
Brenda, a fifty-something woman with teenage children, an active civic life and a full time job requested a home office consultation. Her main problem was that during the two days each week that she worked from home, she took over the dining room table. She wanted to make her office more accessible and reclaim her dining room table for family meals.
The first thing I noticed walking into her office was not the clutter, it was the lack of anything interesting anywhere in sight: not a family photo, not a kindergarten finger painting, not even a houseplant. It was no wonder she never wanted to sit at her desk.
To make a space attractive, organizing is only half the work. If there is nothing that sparkles and shines and reminds you of how much you love and are loved, than the space won’t be compelling, no matter how well organized. Whether it’s grandma’s wedding photo, the collar from a favorite pet dog or shells collected from the shore, objects that inspire are essential to transforming space.
So here’s the plan:
- Look around your home for a couple of pieces, pictures or paintings that go Ping! Ping! is the sound of inspiration. It happens when objects connect with something deep inside. It might remind you of a childhood friend or a dearly loved grandparent; it might make you smile or chuckle; or it might remind you that you are bigger, bolder and more beautiful than you think you are.
- Clear and clean a space that can easily be seen from where you spend the most time. If you need to scoop everything in a box for sorting later, so be it. Once you’re inspired, crazy things are possible!
- Arrange just enough of your Pings! to inspire without cluttering.
- Once you’ve set up your inspirational space, don’t let it get stale. Notice when you stop noticing (when the Ping! becomes a Pong) and be willing to swap out for another Ping!
Now, breathe deeply and allow inspiration to wash over you! Ping!
Posted by Sue on May 9, 2013
My hiatus from tip writing began with a 2-week visit from my middle daughter. As she hadn’t been out east for a couple years, her visit became a 2-week daughter-fest. This was followed by a succession of one-time, time-consuming events, ending last week with magnificent performances of the Bach Mass in B Minor by my chamber chorus.
All were wonderful and fun and joyous reasons to interrupt my normal weekly rhythms. And as I emerge from the last six weeks of delightful disruption, I ponder how to stay on track when events – whether joyous, difficult, sad or just annoying –disrupt the flow of living.
As I often do, I sought advice from the masters; in this case, Deniece Schofield and her book, Confessions of an Organized Housewife. Deniece suggests six household areas which, when maintained, create a sense of peace, even when life’s a little crazy:
- I am able to keep the house picked up.
- I am able to keep the laundry current.
- Meals are well prepared and served regularly.
- The kitchen is usually in good order.
- Bathrooms are cleaned and straightened regularly.
- I am able to keep entry areas clean and tidy.
Your list might look a bit different, but the idea is to not ignore the basics, even when life becomes challenging. Despite my added responsibilities, I somehow found five minutes here and there to put away the dishes, throw in a load of laundry and put something green (that’s not mold) on the table. Sometimes I dressed out of the dryer and flinched when the doorbell rang; but overall, my stress was lower and getting back to normal has been a lot easier.
As I emerge from this extra-busy time, I’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. But the house is still standing and I’ve had an exceptional-crazy-heartwarming-busy-delightful spring.
And now (thankfully!), back to routine.
Posted by Sue on Mar 8, 2013
What to do with your V.I.P.s ~ Your Very Important Papers
In honor of tax time, I’ve been running a series on managing paperwork. The amount of paper we receive through snail mail, our kids’ schools and our own work has far outstripped our ability to deal with it. Every one of us needs a personal assistant to handle processing and filing!
In the last two posts I reviewed guidelines for what financial and medical papers to keep and for how long. If you missed any of the series, just scroll down and you’ll find them. Today’s topic is identifying and properly storing your VIPs ~ your Very Important Papers.
Why this obsession with paperwork? Two years ago, the Brooks House, an historic brick building in downtown Brattleboro, burned, destroying much of the top floors’ 59 apartments. Eighteen months ago, homes and businesses were carried away by Irene’s devastating floods. These disasters reminded me how cavalier I can get about my VIPs. If my home burned to the ground, would I still have access to my legal and financial documents? How about my household inventory? If I’m hit with a disaster, do I want the burden of reconstructing my paper trail on top of reconstructing my life?
If you’re like me and haven’t taken the time to identify and properly store your VIP’s, give yourself the gift of Peace of Mind by identifying and properly storing your Very Important Papers.
First let’s identify what a Very Important Paper looks like. Your VIP’s are:
- Legal and Probate papers; including wills, marriage and divorce documents, birth and death certificates and adoption papers.
- Advance Directives; including Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney.
- Any papers or records that prove ownership; such as property titles and deeds, auto titles and stock and bond certificates.
- Household inventories of furniture, jewelry, valuables, including valuable collections and appraisals.
- Any additional papers that would be expensive, difficult or impossible to replace or to which you would need immediate access if a disaster occurred.
Make of copy of each document and file it with your household records. Better yet, scan each document and create back up discs. You can earn extra brownie points by taking a panoramic video of each room of the house. This will help you reconstruct missing pieces and jog your memory if ever it is necessary. The originals, the disc with the scanned copies and copy of the video should live in a safety deposit box at your bank or a fireproof home safe.
Hopefully, you’ll never experience the kind of disaster that would make safe storage necessary. But if you do, you’ll know that you bought yourself the right kind of insurance – Peace of Mind.
Next time ~ Where to put it all: storage solutions for paperwork.
Posted by Sue on Feb 20, 2013
In my last post in the series, “What the heck you do with all that paper?” I reviewed the keep vs. shred guidelines for financial papers. I heard from a couple of you about special circumstances where my advice wasn’t 100% accurate; self employment being one. So, my caveat: if you have special situations, please consult your accountant.
This week we’re tackling which medical records you need to keep. Every visit to the doctor, pharmacy transaction and insurance payment generates paper. Most of these papers end up either in the trash (often unopened) or in the nearly-toppling-over-figure-out-or-file-pile. So, here’s the plan:
There are four categories of medical information you need to pay attention to:
- Prescription information: Include drug name and dosage, refill dates, number of refills remaining and one copy of the drug information fact sheet the pharmacy gives you, which is good for identifying drug interactions and side effects.
- General health: Don’t go overboard, because up to date information about almost anything is available on the internet or from your practitioner. Keep only information that you know you’ll want to refer to.
- Specific medical condition information for each family member, with separate sub-files for each condition or each family member.
- Health insurance information: Include payments and authorizations, services covered by your insurance company and doctors that participate in your health plan.
Make four file folders labeled with the four categories listed above. All of your health information should fit into one of these file folders. You may also decide to include manila folders within each of the four folders, on for each family member.
Here are some general guidelines to determine how long to keep these records:
- If you take the itemized deduction on your taxes, keep records of insurance payments with tax records for 7 years; otherwise, discard them after 1 year.
- Insurance policies: keep only the most recent update of current policies.
- Immunization records, operations, doctor, lab and hospital reports: permanent.
Next time: Handling your VIP’s: What to do with your Very Important Papers.
Posted by Sue on Feb 18, 2013
Paper Tip #1:
What Financial Papers to Keep
Every other year at this time (this time meaning tax season) I like to run a series on dealing with paper. For most of us, the amount of paper we handle on a day to day basis far exceeds our ability to manage it. It is, by far, the biggest issue faced by Breathing Space clients and readers. So trust me, you’re not alone if you feel as though you’re about to be buried by a mountain of paper.
Often I hear from clients some version of, “I have an attic full of old checks and financial papers. How long do I have to keep them?” Here’s the low-down on what financial papers to keep and what you can safely shred. Caveat: I’m not an accountant; so if you have special circumstances, please check with a Certified Public Accountant.
- Tax returns and supporting documents: 7 years.
- Check registers and canceled checks: 1 year, unless tax related.
- Deposit/ATM/debit slips: Discard after reviewing monthly statement, unless tax related.
- Bank statements: One month, or long enough to check that all transactions are accurate; unless the statement is your only record of a tax related transaction.
- Credit card receipts: Discard after reviewing monthly statement, unless tax related.
- Credit card statements: Shred as soon as you check the accuracy of the statement, unless tax related.
- Investment statements: Keep end of year summaries 7 years after you close the account; discard monthly or quarterly statements when you receive end of year summary.
- Investment buy/sale confirmations and purchase records: 7 years after sale of security
- Pay Stubs: Until you receive your W-2
- Stock & bond certificates: Keep in safe deposit box as long as you own the security
- W-2’s: Until you begin claiming Social Security. W-2’s are a great way to estimate earnings and entitlements
With on-line banking, it’s important to check how long statements and check images will be available to you. Make hard copies or save them as documents if necessary.
Some of you will breathe a sigh of relief, because this is exactly what you’ve been doing. But I expect many of you will find that you’ve saved far more paper than you need. But don’t try to pare down the whole pile at once. Instead, grab a box of old paperwork, a shredder and an old movie (Jimmy Stewart anyone?) and deal with one box, or even one handful at a time. Use the skills you’ve learned here to stay on track: get an accountability buddy and make sorting appointments with yourself. Set a target date for finishing and then work backward to see how many boxes you need to tackle each week. And finally, remember to breathe!
Bonus question: What papers pose the biggest sorting challenge for you? Reply to this post with your answer and I’ll try to address it in a future post!
Posted by Sue on Jun 5, 2012
My self-imposed come-to-Jesus talk last week must have done the trick. As you can see by these pictures, I finally started the hands-on decluttering my barn.
The steps I took to organize my yarns were similar to those outlined by Joanna (the founder of Breathing Space) in her book, Decluttering 101, with a few tweaks to fit this project. I hope that those non-knitters among you will be able to translate these steps into other organizing projects that involve sorting materials of various kinds.
1) I cleared a space to sort onto (in this case, my bed). I opted not to cover the bed with a clean sheet, as recommended by Joanna. I regret this, as the yarn was messier than I’d expected (especially the stash in which a clever mouse had hidden her winter’s supply of seeds).
2) I gathered all my yarns from around the house and barn.
3) I sorted the fibers into piles. The categories I chose were cottons, wools, blends, “fuzzies,” and as-yet-unknitted sweater wool. Another knitter might have sorted by color or weight. Your sorting should reflect the way you plan to use the materials.
4) Because I knit prayer shawls from scrap wool, I have a reason to keep bits and pieces. I decided that I wouldn’t keep any ball smaller than 1 inch in diameter. Another knitter might use different criteria. Setting criteria for what to keep and what to toss is essential to this process.
5) I bagged the sorted yarns together in large zip-bags and stored them in clean plastic bins. I still need to research a safe anti-moth solution to keep away unwelcome visitors.
I started work on my knitting tools – needles, stitch holders and so forth. I’ll finish up that part of the project this week and report in on my next blog post.
I’m curious how you folks out there have tackled organizing your projects. Please share your challenges and successes with all of us. Hobbies are so much more enjoyable when you can find what you’re looking for!
Posted by Sue on Jun 1, 2012
Confessions of a Professional Organizer, Chapter 4
Last weekend I reviewed my organizing map and target dates (see my last blog post). By now I should have completed organizing my knitting supplies and gotten rid of the defunct electronics. To date, it’s Chaos 2, Sue 0. So much for target dates.
Lesson learned: Just because I put a date on the calendar doesn’t mean I get the work done.
Second lesson learned: Get more realistic about how much time I really have.
Third lesson learned: Don’t be so hard on myself.
It’s the second of these lessons that I want to look at here. When I scheduled to work on my knitting supplies two weekends ago, I looked at my calendar and thought, “No problem. Daughter Ruth is graduating from college on Sunday; I’ll have plenty of time to complete that organizing project on Saturday.” Yeah, right. Graduation on Sunday meant traveling to Boston on Saturday for her art opening at 5:00. My ever-hopeful, magical-thinking brain still thought I’d have plenty of time (are you beginning to see a pattern here?).
To make the art opening at 5:00 I had to leave Vermont at 1:00. Still, no problem. But then I remembered that I hadn’t done any of the weekly housecleaning. And the “plenty of time” I thought I had disappeared into a bottle of spray cleaner.
A similar “plenty of time” mishap occurred this past weekend. This time the organizing project took second place to our traditional gardening weekend. Although my magical-thinking-plenty-of-time brain figured I’d just squeeze in a little organizing on the side, reality had other plans.
Was doing these next steps in my barn organization project just not a high enough priority for me? I don’t think so. I do think that I wasn’t acknowledging that there is “a time for every purpose under heaven;” and the purpose of these last two weekends were graduating a daughter from college and planting a vegetable garden.
In reflecting back, there are three questions that will help determine in the future whether my target dates and organizing map are truly doable.
- What else is on my plate?
- What do I have to say “No” to in order to say “Yes” to my plan?
- Is there preparation that I can do ahead of time to make the project easier?
I’m going to use these questions this weekend and see if I can’t make more progress on my plan. I’ll report back how well they worked next week.
If you give my reality check questions a try, let us all know how they worked for you.