Whose Story Is It, Anyway?

Posted by suevenman on Feb 19, 2014  

Marge, a 60-something professional with a Masters in Social Work sought my help to get through a difficult organizing project. Despite years of guiding people as they made tough decisions, she was overwhelmed with all the decisions she needed to make as she cleaned out her late mother’s attic.

We cut through much of Marge’s overwhelm by following the organizing steps I laid out in my January posts (if you missed them, scroll down to the January posts, starting with January 10th).

Following these steps, we divided the contents of the attic’s 50-plus boxes into piles:Box w Letters C

  • Keep
  • Donate
  • Throw Out or Recycle
  • Don’t Know

Later, as we were hauling out the accumulated pile of garbage, I picked up a cardboard box that had been thrown into the pile before I arrived. From the denominations of the stamps in its corner, it had clearly been around for a while. I asked Marge if she’d been through the box. She dismissed it saying it was full of cards and letters her mother had received from her grandchildren in the 80’s and 90’s.

A light bulb went off in my head: Teaching Opportunity!

I set the box aside until we had a dust-free moment (which accompanied a cool and very welcome glass of iced tea). I pulled out the box and suggested to Marge that when we’re faced with the difficult task of figuring out what to do with someone else’s possessions, one of the questions we need to ask about each piece we encounter (except the frayed dish towels and the 60 years of collected National Geographics) is, Whose story does this tell?

Most of the time, stuff is just stuff. But now and again, stuff tells a story. If it’s your story: I won this vase at the State Fair and gave it to Mom for her birthday, then you get to decide what to do with it. But if it’s someone else’s story: for example, cards and letters from beloved grandchildren, then deciding what to do with the item in question is not your job. What is your job is reconnecting the stuff with the storyteller.

Sorting through another person’s possessions is a huge, and not always welcome responsibility. Asking the simple question, Whose story does this tell? breathes space into the task, and with the space, a bit more clarity.

Hats off to those of you facing this daunting job.


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 »

Gifts that speak of kindness

Posted by suevenman on Dec 13, 2013  

Greetings from icy, sleety, snowy Vermont!

This week, I want to respond to a question I received about holiday giving. “What can I do when I know that the people I am trying to find gifts for already have way too much stuff?”

What a great question! Thank you for the chance to expand on last week’s post.  Remember the ads that declared, “For the man who has everything..heart gift.” and then tried to sell you some expensive gadget as a measure of the love you have for him? If he has everything then does he really need more stuff? Isn’t there a better way to express your love and appreciation? Read the rest of this entry »

Re-gifting: Gifts that Keep Giving

Posted by suevenman on Dec 6, 2013  

You still have time to try this holiday tip. It’s something that I thought about a lot as countries from throughout the world gathered in November in Warsaw for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. My tip is about making re-gifting a great thing to do for your loved ones and the planet.

I just finished reading a wonderful book that was given to me by a client who had finished reading it, didn’t plan to read it again and enthusiastically passed it on to me.

It turns out that this book is on a good friend’s book group reading list for 2014 and I drew her name in a Secret Santa Swap. I know that in the past giving her this well-read copy would have been considered a cheapskate move – giving a present of lesser value than a brand new copy. But I propose we rethink this perspective. Why is a brand new copy better than one that is gently loved? Read the rest of this entry »

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 »