Saying Yes to Mess?

Posted by suevenman on Apr 24, 2014  

Minus the question mark, this was the title of a New York Times Home & Garden article by Penelope Green, which I rediscovered while combing through my files in search of inspiration. Ms. Green discusses the mess-apologist movement in light of David Freedman’s clutter treastise, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. In it, Freedman explores the high cost of neatness and jokes about the country’s obsession with decluttering containers.

While I’m not a mess-advocate, I’m also not a clutter-busters-buy-containers groupie. My stance is somewhere in the middle.

For me, it all comes down to whether or not the space you inhabit helpseinstein-quote-clutter you be who you want to be and do what you want to do. If you’re happy in your space, your household isn’t rebelling and the fire department hasn’t declared your home a hazard, then let it be; even if the Martha Stewarts of the world are tut-tutting.

The degree of acceptable messiness is not about what your mother, your neighbor or your Uncle George consider acceptable. It’s all about what allows you to thrive and what helps or hinders a life of joy and serenity.

Now, I’m a very visual person and happiest when surrounded by order and beauty (which is why I have 5 daughters).  I like looking at the spaces I occupy and cherishing what I see. When things get too cluttered I get grumpy and can’t think straight.

On the other hand, my husband is very content in his (somewhat messy) study, where he talks with colleagues, works at his computer and gazes out onto the back yard pondering his next garden project; all while happily surrounded by what I consider clutter. To paraphrase Green’s article, he’s able to find what he needs and be creative amidst the chaos. More power to him.

If you work well in a mess, call it creative clutter and carry on! There are many more important things in the world that need attention. But if you need more order and find that clutter clogs your path to happiness, then by all means, de-clutter, de-clog and de-light in your new space.

It’s all about you!



Packing the Possibilities

Posted by suevenman on Mar 21, 2014  

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz;
I wonder where the birdies is?

Robin in SnowThis poem has nothing to do with my post today. It simply celebrates this first full day of spring. Although given the kind of weather we’ve had, it should be revised to read:

Spring has sprung, the birdies fly;
I wonder why the snow’s so high?

Spring brings with it my yearly spiritual retreat: a time of refreshment, renewal and rest. Yet whenever I go away, on a retreat or business trip or family vacation, I spend far too much time figuring out what to pack, afraid I’ll forget something vital.

Clothing is a guessing game at this time of year. Up in the mountains the weather can swing from a blissful day of sunshine, to overnight ice, to a heavy blanket of snow – all within 24 hours. So, basically, I bring everything, minus the bikini.

However, the STUFF is more complicated.

All travel is a lesson in letting go and trusting. Yet when the Piles of Endless Possibilities stare you in the face, your mind races to the What-if’s? What if I feel like drawing? What if someone invites me to cross country ski and all I brought were snowshoes? What if Just-the-Right-Book remains at home on the shelf?

But packing for every possible What-if? adds up to heavy bags, sore backs and the chaos of too much stuff.Suitcase

So how do you let go and trust that what you need will be there when you need it? Here’s a simple process that helped me let go of the worry without packing for every possible contingency.

Start by walking away from the packing frenzy and clearing your head: it’ll be easier to consider what you truly need. Sit someplace quiet with paper and pen in hand. When your heart is no longer racing, try these 3 steps:

1) Breathe deeply and bring to mind the intention of your journey. Write down 3 qualities that capture its purpose. In the case of my retreat, rest, nature and connection best captured my hopes.

2) List 5 categories of items that you’ll need. For my retreat, I’d need clothes, books, outer gear, writing supplies and snack food.

3) Now focus on one category at a time. Ask what items in this category will support each of the 3 qualities listed in Step 1. For example, what clothes will I need for resting? I’ll want clothes that are comfortable and loose fitting. What clothes will I need for time in nature? Snowshoes, sturdy boots and a day pack enable this quality. Should I pack my dress shoes? Only if connection means I’m going out to a fancy dinner.

When you follow these 3 steps, you set aside the What-ifs and focus on the I-wills; you support your travel intentions rather than encourage your packing overwhelm. And with a clear head, a lightened suitcase and your plans penned in the celestial travel notebook, your trip cannot help but be an adventure.

Don’t forget your toothbrush!







14 Reasons to Love Organizing

Posted by suevenman on Feb 14, 2014  

I thought I’dFebruary 2014 010 add my two (chocolate covered) cents to the Valentine’s Day hoopla by expressing why I love organizing. If you don’t love (or at least like) organizing, consider this Love Fest countdown:

14) You’ll impress your friends, family and neighbors.

I know, it’s a pretty lame place to start (that’s why it’s #14); but praise is so satisfying.

13) Knowing your V.I.P.s (Very Important Papers) are in order and accessible.

This one should probably be higher on my list of favorites; but it’s just not that sparkly, which is also why it’s a tough one to tackle. Just think of the relief knowing that if you need your passport, you can not only find it quickly, but it’s even up to date! You never know when someone is going to invite you on an all expenses paid trip to Paris. Best to be prepared.

12) Lose weight.

I don’t know of any studies that actually link weight loss with decluttering, but I’ve seen it happen time and again. Maybe it’s the hauling and lifting, or maybe it’s signaling your subconscious that it’s okay to let go.

11) Strengthen your life purpose.

This one’s a little out there, but I ask you, how can you figure out what your life’s about when you spend all your free mental and physical energy trying to stay on top of the chaos?

10) Uncover hidden talents.

There’s real truth in theory that we knew who we were and what we wanted to be when we were 10. And then life happened and we lost our “I am” amidst the “You should.” When you organize your life you uncover puzzle pieces of your whole self – pieces that will remind you of who you wanted to be when you grew up. It’s never too late.

9) Find long-lost treasures.

Ever wonder what happened to that beautiful vase you bought years ago, or the photo album of your honeymoon you labored over? Chances are it’s in the house … somewhere. Wouldn’t it be nice to invite your treasures back where you can truly appreciate them?

8) Focus on what you really want to do.

Clutter has a loud voice that drowns out all other voices, especially that small voice inside you that would really like to express what it wants and needs.

7) Save money.

Buying duplicates (“I know it’s there someplace”), paying late fees, losing – rather than using dollars-off coupons, eating out rather than cooking in add up to dollars and cents quickly.

6) Save time.

If you could have back all of the time you’ve spent this past year looking for your shoes, your wallet or your keys, how would you spend that precious time?

5) Free up more energy for the things and people you love.

Once you’re freed from the tyranny of chaos, you have so much more energy to devote to doing the things you love with the people you love.

4) Open your home to company (without cringing).

Oh, how well I know the fear of the knock on the door. Organizing doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never experience the cringe-factor. But if guest happen to arrive on a bad-entryway-day, just show them your junk drawer. That’ll impress ’em!

3) Be less stressed.

Need I say more?

2) Love where you live.

What would it be like to walk into your house after a long day at work and sigh a deep sigh of contented bliss? Your home is your sanctuary, not your compost heap.

And finally … drum roll, please …

1) Make more of yourself available.

When you’re overwhelmed by too much stuff, the stuff begins to define who you are, what you do and why you do it. And let’s face it, you’re a unique and pretty special human being, and the world needs more of you. So, get organized and strut your stuff!

Here’s to your loving, lovely Valentine’s Day!

Go for It! Part 2

Posted by suevenman on Jan 31, 2014  

Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

 The bottom line is, if it’s too hard to put something away, you simply won’t do it – not because you’re lazy, but because you have more important things to do with your time.   ~ Julie Morgenstern

I recently received an email bemoaning the futility of organizing: “I spend all this time cleaning out the junk drawer, but 2 weeks later, it’s back where it started – a hellacious mess! How do I stop this vicious cycle?”

The email was well timed, because this week we’re finishing up the series, Get Ready, Get Set, Go! which lays out the steps to any organizing adventure.

If you’ve been following along these past few weeks, you’ve had drilled into you that, without Planning & Preparing (Step #1), your chances of successfully completing any project is significantly reduced. Once you’ve completed Step #1, you moved on to Step #2, Clearing & Cleaning, followed by Step #3, Sort & Purge. Each is explained in previous posts. If you missed them, scroll down.

UU Closet 03Step #4, Create involves designing the space you’ve just cleared and cleaned to best accommodate the items that, in Step #3, you determined belong there. The organizing principle, Containerize and Label comes in handy here. The more you can break down larger spaces, like shelves or drawers, into smaller spaces, the easier they will be to maintain. Containerize (I know, it’s not a real word) like items in appropriate sized boxes, such as shoe or check boxes, or purchased units designed for this purpose. Once you’ve created the space, label the containers. This may seem like overkill (and you will get teased), but trust me, labeling spaces increases the chances that the right thing finds its way home to the right space.

You’re finally ready for the last Step, #5, Practice. Why practice? Because we all need time to get used to any new system, and until it’s been tested, we won’t know if it works. If it needs tweaking, so be it; but give it a 3-week trial run before making any drastic changes.

So, there you have it, the, Get Ready, Get Set, Go! of organizing in 5 simple steps. You can download a PDF map of these steps by clicking here.

If you have comments or questions you’d like to share, please do so below.

Next week: Sue’s 10 Best Reasons to Get Organized.

Go! Proceeding on to Success

Posted by suevenman on Jan 23, 2014  

GoIf you’ve been reading the last two weeks’ posts then you know that “Go!” is preceded by a couple of, “Stop: Do not pass Go” warnings. Jumping in feet first may be good for some activities like the Polar Plunge, but it’s not very effective when you’re tackling a project.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, your chances of successfully completing any project will increase exponentially if you take the time to plan and prepare before taking the plunge (If you missed the plan and prepare posts, scroll down to read them). And because planning, preparing and taking action each requires a different mode of thinking, you’ll maximize your energy and efficiency if you separate them into three separate sessions.

Once you’ve planned your project and prepared your space and yourself, you are (finally) ready to take that plunge.

Organizing any space can be broken down into 5 steps.

  1. Plan & Prepare
  2. Clear & Clean
  3. Sort & Purge
  4. Create
  5. Practice

This week we’ll look at the second and third steps.

Step #2 is Clear and Clean – no mystery here! It means to clear out everything from the space you’ve chosen. If you have limited time or energy, you may want to break a larger space into sections. For example, work on one shelf in the closet or one drawer in a dresser. Emptying the contents of the space can be messy work. If you lay out an old sheet on the floor, table or bed, you’ll avoid dead bugs on the rug.

Once you’ve cleared, time to clean; and if you’re a shelf-paper type person, it’s time to cut and paste. Now your space is clutter-free and shining. Time for …

Step #3: Sort & Purge. This is often the most difficult step for folks. So, take a deep breath and let’s get started. You’ll need 5 boxes, labeled:

  • Keep – things which belong in the designated space
  • Goes Elsewhere – things which need to be put away someplace else in the house (don’t put them away until you’re done with your organizing session – it’s too easy to get distracted)
  • Give Away or Belongs to Someone Else
  • Recycle or Sell
  • Don’t Know – for anything you’re not sure you’re going to keep or just don’t know what to do with

And, of course, a Big Black Garbage Bag!

Now (drum roll, please) pick up the item on the very tippy-top of the pile, ask yourself what it is and where it belongs, and put it in the corresponding  box. In order to avoid being left with only the tough-to-process items, I recommend that you work from the top down.

Once you finish the pile, pat yourself on the back and distribute each box’s contents appropriately. Don’t put back the items that belong in the space you are organizing until you complete step 4, which involves creating a space to suit the stuff. We’ll discuss this and finish off the organizing cycle with step 5 next week. If you can’t wait until then, check out Joanna’s wonderful little book, Decluttering 101.

So congratulations! You’ve just completed the first 3 steps in your organizing adventure. You deserve a break. A hot cup of cocoa would taste great about now. Do you like marshmallows?


Get Set: Prepare for Success

Posted by suevenman on Jan 16, 2014  

Get Set: Preparing to Succeed

One sunny Saturday morning last summer I jumped out of bed eager to tackle the clutter in the second floor of my barn. If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you know that my barn is my space-nemesis: the one place on my property that I’m convinced has a vindictive spirit that will one day defeat me.

Before 6.12 (2)By 8 a.m. I was moving boxes and filling bags with old clothes, papers and books with the intention to make a couple trips to recycling before it closed at 1. By 10 a.m. I was flat on my back, covered in dust and cobwebs, in the midst of piles of half-filled bags and boxes ~ totally defeated; In my eagerness to plunge in, I’d forgotten to eat breakfast, wouldn’t stop for water, and had tried to deal with the entire 30 by 40 foot space that day.

Once again, the barn had defeated me. Read the rest of this entry »

Get Ready

Posted by suevenman on Jan 10, 2014  

Get ready. Get set. Go!

Happy New Year!

Are you ready to make 2014 your best year ever? I certainly am. So let’s get started!

A couple days ago I received this email from a client:

Sue, I finally decided to tackle that closet we’ve been discussing. I read in Decluttering 101 about clearing the space before cleaning and organizing it. I even remembered to lay out an old sheet to put all the stuff on! The only thing that I forgot was the open house we were supposed to attend at 4:00. Just about the time I’d pulled everything off the shelves and was ready to scrub everything down, Steve came through asking if I was ready to go. Ready? The only thing I was ready for was tripping over all the stuff I’d pulled out of the closet. Here I am, 3 days later, and I can’t seem to get myself motivated to finish the job. Help!

Decide2What happened? Read the rest of this entry »

5 Steps to Quit Quitting

Posted by suevenman on Oct 23, 2013  

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” ~ Vince Lombardi

Eleanor has lived on Maple Street for 27 years. Of those 27 years, 24 of them have seen sincere attempts to clean out her attic. Back in ’88 she moved the entire contents of her old attic plus the inherited furniture, trunks of old photos and boxes of linen tablecloths from her mother and grandmother into the attic on Maple Street.

Each spring she sets out to “finally organize this junk!” She puts a date on the calendar, makes sure she’s got enough boxes and garbage bags on hand and then digs in with hope and gusto. After several hours of combing through dusty boxes and crumbling paper, she decides to take a break and get back to it, “a little later in the summer,” which, predictably, doesn’t happen.

Where did the hope and gusto go? Why, after 24 sincere attempts, is Eleanor’s attic still a disaster zone? Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by suevenman on Oct 18, 2013  

Does this sound familiar?

You’re looking for the gift you’ve been planning to give your sister. Maybe you stashed it upstairs in the hall closet when you had last-minute guests. You go upstairs and find a box on the top shelf tucked under a couple shoe boxes (photos? old baseball cards?), a precariously balanced deviled egg platter and what looks like a Christmas sweater box. You can feel your forehead tighten.

Your mind starts to churn. What’s in that box? Let’s see, it was probably last summer when you put it up there … hmmm … tick-tick-tick … whrrrrrr … buzzzzzzz … but the box really isn’t the right size, so maybe the present is in the bedroom closet. But then, what’s in this box? No time to take it down now: supper is on the table and then there’s that board meeting.

As you drive to the meeting you find yourself thinking about that box and mentally unpacking it. Maybe the present is smaller than you remember and it’s in the box after all. Grrrrr … tomorrow you’ll take the time to pull out the step ladder and get down the box and see what’s in it!

And what could have spared you all those additional grey hairs? Read the rest of this entry »

One Hanger at a Time

Posted by suevenman on Aug 15, 2013  

With only 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there, the closet clean-out seemed like it would never get done. But blouse by blouse, hanger by hanger, I cleaned it out, sorted through and reorganized the clothes so that I could once again access the clothes I need.

It all began yesterday, when I went to put away a clean basket of laundry, more than half of which needed to be hung. After using up the 3 available hangers (where did all those hangers go that used to hold up these garments?), I got frustrated and left the laundry in the basket on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »