Inch by Inch

Posted by suevenman on May 15, 2014  

luggage full and ready to travelLast week when I was in the throes of final packing for a trip, I called my dear friend, Joan for moral support. After gently listening to my overwhelm, she reminded me of my own organizing advice: do one small area at a time. I’ve shortened that to Inch by Inch (after my favorite David Mallet song).

Elaborating on this sage advice, Joan shared with me her recent decision to deal with the most challenging clutter-area in her life: the mountain of mail underneath her dining room table (I can hear several of you groan in sympathy). She decided that she could and would deal with just three pieces of mail at a time. She knew she could handle three because it would take less than five minutes.

And she did! By dealing with just three pieces at a time, and then the next three, and then the next three, over the course of a week, she reduced the mountain to an empty box!

So I climbed my own mountain, reciting the mantra: Inch by inch. Inch by inch. Starting with just my socks, and moving, one by one to each area of my wardrobe, I reduced my mountain of overwhelm to a packed suitcase.

This Inch by Inch strategy can be used to make sense of just about any organizing project: from a linen closet (one shelf at a time), to a bedroom (first the top of the dresser, then the top right hand drawer), to the garage (gather and sort all the garden tools, then move on to the automotive supplies). There’s no single right way to break down a project; any way that makes sense to you is the right way.

Back from my trip, I’m using Inch by Inch in reverse. I’m unpacking my bags, first all the clothes that need to be washed, then everything that goes in my top drawer, followed by the next drawer down, and the next, and finally, all the clothes that need to be hung. But that still leaves my books … How many did I think I could read in 4 days away???

Inch by inch: That’s the magic!

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!







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 »

The Road Goes Ever On

Posted by suevenman on Aug 18, 2010  

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
~JRR Tolkien

I’ve always envied people who put away everything from their vacations the evening they arrive home.  The contents of my suitcase, the piles of CD’s and souvenirs I acquired while on vacation were still scattered on the living room floor a week after I returned.  Do I need a vacation to unpack from my vacation?

No.  What I need is a PLAN.

First, SCOOP:  Put everything vacation-related in a box. Now, everything is together in one place, and the house no longer looks like a souvenir shop gone haywire.  Instant relief.

As soon as possible sort the contents of the box into distinct categories:

Urgent:  Anything that is time-restricted such as refunds, returns, thank you notes and photos.

Put Away: Including things that already have a home, such as presents meant for later and the hand knit sweater purchased for next winter; and things that need a home, such as the wood carving that you want to hang on the wall.

Fun Memory Stuff:  How to keep on relishing the vacation long after it’s over? The beautiful shell from the beach and the coaster from a favorite brew pub remind us of the relationships we made, the sights that moved our hearts and the music that touched our souls.  Joanna’s suggestion, “Create a place for vacation treasures that you can see every day.” I have a just the place – a shelf near my office desk.  The treasures from my trip will remain there until they no longer sing to me, or until other treasures come along to replace them.  Perfect.

Toss:  Even though that brochure looked inviting when I picked it up, is it REALLY something that I’ll ever refer to again?  And what about all those receipts? I don’t need them!  Travel is meant to free us up and give us a new perspective, not drag us down.

Once you have the contents of the scoop box in categories, work on processing one pile at a time.  If that feels too overwhelming, try working for just 10 minutes a day until everything is put away. Start with the most urgent items.  If you find that you’re still struggling to get to the bottom of the piles after a couple weeks, invite a buddy in for coffee and clearing.  You’ll have the fun of sharing some of your vacation stories.

Happy travels … and, happy returns!