The Magic of Garlic, Part 2

Posted by suevenman on Jun 19, 2014  

Spring Garlic BLast November I posted a piece on planting garlic bulbs. An odd topic for a coach-organizing blog? Perhaps.  But the lesson that “cropped” up was more organizational than culinary: time spent culling and organizing in the present saves time, energy and frustration in the future.

Examples of this age-old lesson abound. A short amount of time nesting flower bulbs in the autumn soil results in a spring bouquet of color; working out regularly helps insure healthy, happy years to come; and money invested wisely in the first decade of your career grows into a robust retirement portfolio. Similarly, the time you spend organizing results in time saved and frustration averted in the days and weeks to follow.

Last week a client lamented that her family teased her for “wasting time” alphabetizing her herbs and spices. Yet the 15 minutes it took her to put the jars in order saved her the familiar frustration of digging through the jumble of jars in her cupboard for the oregano, marjoram or dill. Did she save hours and hours? Not in the short run. But over time, a few minutes here and a few minutes there add up. And personally, I’d rather be spend time digging in my garden than digging through my cupboards for more thyme.

My garlic is growing beautifully: a testament to careful spacing (which is a code word for organizing). But few things stay organized forever. I’ve already weeded the bed twice. If I ever thought that gardening was a “plant-grow-harvest” proposition, without commas in-between for weeding, then I was sorely deluding myself.

Once and done is an organizing myth. Whether it’s putting the herb jars back in order, a quick re-sort of your top desk drawer to pare down the pencils that have reproduced in the dark, or the relentless battle against junk-drawer-creeping-chaos, every organizing project needs occasional restoration and maintenance. If you find an exception to this rule, please notify me immediately.

The trick is not to let the garlic, herbs, desk or junk drawer devolve to their former states. When you notice that something is out of order, it takes just seconds to return it to its proper place. But if you ignore this necessary maintenance and wait until you can no longer find the safe deposit key, the celery salt or the garlic among the weeds, the 30 seconds becomes an hour of dedicated time that could have been spent reading a good book.

So, whether it’s weeding or alphabetizing herbs and spices, maintaining what you’ve worked so hard to organize is like money in the bank – or garlic in the spaghetti sauce.

Happy summer!

For the next couple months, I’ll be revisiting some favorite Joanna posts from years gone by: tips worthy of a second run. Enjoy!

To Do, or Not To Do?

Posted by suevenman on Feb 28, 2014  

My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.      Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Back in my hurried and harried days, I judged my importance by the number of keys hanging from my key chain and how many Xeroxed pages I was toting around in my backpack. Sad? Sad. Whether keys or copied documents or yet another meeting, I now get it: more is not always better, sometimes it is just more.

Listchecklist-154274_150 Scenario: You have 15 things on today’s to-do list; everything from picking up cat food to talking to a colleague about the new product idea you’ve been pondering. At the end of the day, you accomplished 14 of the tasks. Work well done? Perhaps. But what if the remaining task was the most important and time sensitive of the lot? Work well done? Maybe not.

Leading a less harried life and reducing the “more” to less takes commitment and courage. Because prioritizing isn’t just about deciding what to do. It’s also about deciding what not to do; and we’ve all found out that saying, “No” takes a strong spine.

So how do you decide when to say, “Yes” to and when to say, “No?”

To make a sound decision, you need criteria. Have you ever seen one of those egg-size sorters? The egg rolls down a shoot with graduating holes, smallest to largest. If the egg’s the right size, it drops through the hole (presumably onto something soft), leaving the larger eggs to keep rolling. Task criteria are like sizing eggs: well thought through criteria will objectively sort the least important tasks (the smallest eggs) from the most import (the duck eggs).

To develop sound criteria, consider:

  • Consequences
  • Risk, and
  • The human element


  • What will be lost or gained as a result of choosing to work on one task versus another?
  • For example, not paying a credit card on time has a costly consequence; but there is little consequence if you postpone planning your summer vacation when it’s still the beginning of January.


  • Is there the risk of a negative outcome if any one of the tasks is not accomplished?
  • For example, if you delay ordering the rare book you finally found after a 10 year search, will someone else snap it up?

The human element:

  • Who will care about your decision if you do or don’t do this task, and how important are their feelings?
  • For example, if you insist on finishing every last task on your to-do list, you’ll be late for your child’s birthday party. Does it matter? Maybe not to you; but your child will be crushed if you don’t show up.

Lesson: there are times when you need to put down the to-do list and take up the more important things in life. Chances are, the list will still be there when you return.

Here’s to making your to-do list a playground, not a prison.

Making Space When Time Gets Tight

Posted by suevenman on Nov 20, 2013  

Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky. ~Malvina Reynolds

Does it seem to you that November is racing by? Is it possible that Thanksgiving is just around the corner? And then, before we have time to take a breath, it’s December! Gadzooks! Just when you’d like to be kind and gentle to yourself, your family and friends, the time-treadmill lurches into the high speed.

And it’s not only time pressures that accompany the holiday season, it’s also the pressure of stuff.

So how do you make a bit of space: space for you and space free of clutter and chaos?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Magic of Garlic

Posted by suevenman on Nov 11, 2013  

With snow predicted, I finally took the time to plant garlic. Digging in the dirt in November sends my heart a-pitter-patter. I may not have my snow tires on the car, but at least I’ve got a crop of garlic in the ground. I’m now ready for winter.

There’s a certain magic in planting bulbs or, as a dear octogenarian gardener friend of mine says, “Putting them to bed for the winter.” You prepare the soil (garlic likes it rich with humus), dig in compost or manure, loosen and stir up the dirt ’til it looks like chocolate mousse (I always think of the Ents from Tolkien here), dig trenches and then nestle in the bulbs and cover them up. Patting down the soil reminds me of gently patting a baby’s back as she’s falling asleep.

I’m always surprised when the crocuses and daffies and tulips pop up. I never remember what I planted where, so it feels like magic. But the garlic is not so random. I watch the garlic bed, awaiting the tiny shoots that herald spring. For some folks, the robin is the first vernal sign. For me, it’s the garlic. Shooting up out of the earth, green and singing of spring, it brings the promise of pesto and roasted cloves on French bread and its sweet smell simmering in butter …

What does planting garlic have to do with organizing? 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 »

Hurried, Harried Happiness

Posted by suevenman on Sep 5, 2013  

With September comes a lot more than colored leaves. Summer recess gives way to team sports, extracurricular activities and a myriad of meetings. When life feels like it’s going to run you over, a little organization goes a long way.

One memorable fall, each of my five daughters was on a different sports team. This meant five separate practices on five separate fields with five game schedules to coordinate and, hopefully, attend. My job (if I wished to accept it) was to make sure they had rides to and from, clean uniforms for games, healthy snacks before practice and somehow fit in homework and piano practicing. I also needed to prepare dinner in advance so we could eat before everyone fell apart and hope against hope that I didn’t forget to pick one of them up along the way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Summertime Treasures

Posted by suevenman on Aug 29, 2013  

“Summertime, and the livin’ [was] easy.”~ Porgy and Bess

I had my first sighting of fall colors the other day. No matter when they show up, it’s always too soon.

As summer days decline and back-to-school sales start to look a bit frayed around the edges, I ask what summer treasures I want to bring forward into the cooler weather. I have the pickles and salsa I canned earlier this month to remind me of vine-ripened freshness. But what warm-weather-ways might brighten my spirit as the days grow short? 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 »

Christmas in August

Posted by suevenman on Aug 2, 2013  

Flipping through a magazine this week I was startled to see an ad for an ornamental Christmas tree. You know the sort: plastic 3-foot evergreen covered with Birds of the World. Someone’s idea of holiday spirit. But it wasn’t just the tree that startled me. It was the presence of a Christmas advertisement in July. It’s one thing to see red and green adorning the drugstore aisles before Thanksgiving; but in August?!?

Besides the cooling reminders of snowflakes in the middle of a heat wave, does thinking about the holidays while perspiring into our iced tea offer us anything constructive?

When I wait until the holidays are banging on my front door, the stress I feel kills the possibility of joy. Read the rest of this entry »

Summertime Dreaming

Posted by suevenman 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. Read the rest of this entry »