December 21, 2011

End of Year Decluttering

Another year is about to end, and leaving with it should be the detritus that tends to gather over the months. The end of the year is a great time to clean up your email, clean up that cluttered computer desktop and maybe even dump a few friends on Facebook. Even though this cleaning session is only for electronic clutter, the mass of information can weigh heavily on your psyche.

Here are the three things that I will be doing to welcome 2012 with a fresh outlook:

1. Clean up email inboxes

Why does it seem like at the end of each year I get the dreaded "Your inbox is nearly full" message? Oh yes, I've been just keeping everything (and their attachments) in my inbox. I will be dumping both received and sent messages that are over 8 months old and I will be saving some messages and their attachments in a Dropbox account or in a file that is related to the project. I also remove emails that are rated as "Enormous".

I will be doing this with both my work and personal email accounts. Remember to also clean out any email accounts that you use primarily for forwarding purposes and to dump the Trash for each account.

2. Organize projects

Do a full backup of all your 2011 projects. Then do a backup of your backup. I have three systems of backups: an off-site server, an external hard drive and on DVD. The server and external drive are for more current projects, while the DVD is usually for projects that are three or more months old. Getting old projects out of your sight will enable you to concentrate more on the current projects.

3. Clean up Facebook

Facebook is used for everything now including logging onto other sites, posting comments and creating accounts. The end of the year is a good time to remove yourself from groups you are no longer interested in, to dump old (and potentially embarrassing) photos, remove apps that have access to your account, and remove old messages.

Take a good look at your "friends". Can some of them quietly disappear? If you are not interested in being friends with random people, then click on the Friends area of your account, click their checked Friends box and scroll down to Unfriend. It's painless.

Now, to remedy removing a few of your friends, take some time to catch up with your true friends on Facebook. Send a note to someone you have been meaning to say hello to for a while and maybe plan an off-Facebook meet-up.

Photo courtesy of Muffet/Flickr

December 5, 2011

The Capsule Wardrobe

 Wikipedia calls a "capsule wardrobe" a set of clothing, normally around 24 items, which can be mixed and matched to create a wide variety of outfits. The idea is aimed at people who want to make the most of a small clothing budget, or people who find that they spend a lot of money on clothes that they never wear.

My already minimized wardrobe will be getting a capsule makeover as well. I'm determined to get my clothing items down to 20 pieces. On top of those 20 pieces will be a few hats, scarfs and some jewelry to dress each item up or down.

The keys parts of a capsule wardrobe are:

1. Each item should go with several other items. You should be able to pair a shirt with several pants and skirts and a pair of shoes with many different outfits.

2. Keep to several colors. Have you seen those massive wardrobes that look like a fabric rainbow? There are so many clothes that they need to be color coordinated. Keep your wardrobe to four or five basic colors. Mine happen to be black, gray, purple/mauve/blue and red.

3. Make sure you love each item. In this previous blog post, I said you should look at your closet as if you are going to a party. Do you walk into the party and see all your best friends, or do walk in and see only people you don't know? Each item of clothing should fit, be comfortable and you should want to reach for them over and over again.

The difficult part is how to have a capsule wardrobe when you live in an area with four distinct seasons. The lightweight blouses in my closet have to share space with bulky fleece, flip-flops have to share space with clunky winter boots. So, I've decided to have a capsule wardrobe for warm weather and a capsule wardrobe for cold weather. Items from the warm weather section can also be used (T-shirts, long sleeve T-shirts) as layers for winter.

Now, my goal is just to look as fabulous as Miss Golightly.

Photo courtesy of pwbaker/Flickr

December 1, 2011

Why do we keep certain things?

As I look around my space, I begin to wonder why I keep the things I do. I keep a green bowl that I bought in Ireland because it was the same color as the water in Dingle Bay in County Kerry. The bowl is full of shells, rocks and coins from Fiji, Florence and Florida.

I keep a beat-up old wind chime out in my Russian Olive tree because the little tune it makes reminds me of warm, summer breezes. I keep a small statue of the Buddha in my office because he makes me want to take a deep, soothing breath each time I look at him.

Is there a special meaning behind each item that you keep? If there isn't, you might not want to keep it. Of course, a random kitchen item or a comfortable shirt might not have any meaning behind it, but if you can give it a back story, you can give it more of a reason to stay in your home.

Photo courtesy of jakeprzespo

October 4, 2011

Decluttering (Not) Your Office

Do you work in a typical cubicle environment where your gray cube or office is spic and span? What about that empty cube across the hall? You know the one: the employee was laid off or left two years ago and it has become either a storage space or has masses of scattered files that date back to 2003. In your decluttered life, doesn't that cube give you itchy fingers? Don't you just want to tackle that space and make it gray and shiny once again?

This is a rocky position to be in. Your supervisor and other employees could be the types to support your efforts, or they could see you as a busybody that has no business straightening up an area that's not yours. What's the best way to go about it?

1. It helps if you have some seniority. I'm in this position right now where a few offices and cubes down the hall from me are bursting at the seams with remnants of old conferences, un-filed files, awards that were never given to their recipients and employees' children's toys.

As the senior employee, I am using this stance to say "This stuff from 10 years ago was supposed to be filed away, but wasn't. I'll take care of it." I then proceed to use the circular file religiously.

2. Tell instead of ask. I initially asked in a roundabout way if the work was ever going to get done. Nothing came of that. So before even tossing a paperclip, I took some meeting time to mention that I was just taking a few mornings (I come in early) to straighten a few cubicles up. That was received more positively.

3. Announce that it would make the department look a little more professional. We have a new employee coming in soon and I don't want us to look like slobs...except I don't say it like that.

4. Make use of the company's locked recycle bins and shredders. Have a large recycle bin available nearby and make sure the cleaning crew will be emptying out it and the garbage cans each night. 

5. Create a "To Be Filed" box. Don't throw away or recycle everything. That could cause some issues with people who are addicted to printing and filing everything. Items that you are not sure of should go in this box with a dated sticky note on top. Give this filing job to an intern.

6. Show off your work. Once everything is clean and organized, decorate with a small plant or some art and show off your hard work. Tell everyone where they can find things that have been filed and accept some recommendations. The plant or artwork will hopefully deter the department from filling up the cubicle again with office detritus.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall/Flickr

June 21, 2011

Extreme Couponing = Hoarding?

The show, Extreme Couponing on TLC is another "shock and awe" program along the lines of 19 Kids and Counting and Toddlers & Tiaras. It profiles people and families who live to clip coupons and save as much money as they can on their grocery trips.

It is fascinating to see what people can get for free with some store and online research, good math skills and a lot of quick scissor work. Many of the people on the show spend 40-70 hours a week doing their coupon work and amass huge stockpiles of food, beauty and home products. Much of it they donate to their local food bank or shelter. I'm all for never paying full price, but these people will not get anything unless it is free. In addition, they will get anything that could potentially be free, even if they don't need it.

Their desire for more and more stuff seems to take over their lives. One woman who was profiled lives to shop and get things for free, and her overflow of items is taking over her house and has even started making their way into her husband's "man cave". One shopping trip took at least half a day with over two hours spent checking out at several registers.

Another person on the show was able to get their $1,000 bill down to $50. But what did they get? Dozens of bottles of sugary soda, hundreds of boxes of pre-made noodles, candy bars and a huge container full of deodorant. Personally, for $50, I would rather have some fresh produce, some great cheese, bread and wine and some excellent organic meat...and I would be able to fit it into my refrigerator.

June 15, 2011

Organizing Modularly

The term "module" is popping up in many different areas: teaching, biology, new media, design, architecture, etc. A module is a fully-functioning and self-sufficent item or piece of information that can be connected to another item or piece of information. For example, modular housing uses self-contained structures that can be attached to each other to make a full-sized house; modular Web design uses self-contained, fully written code that is combined with other "containers" of code to create an entire website. Another key to modules is that they are interchangeable.

When decluttering and organizing your home or space, think modularly. Is your wardrobe fully functional on its own or do you have to go to other parts of the house or your bedroom for your shoes, underwear or accessories? Does your garage work as a self-contained unit that can be used for all your yard and outdoor gear? Does your vehicle (as its own separate module) seamlessly fit in with the garage? If not, really think about how you use each area of your home, and try to make each area work on its own as well as with the rest of the house.

Photo courtesy of [jared/Flickr]

May 25, 2011

One is Enough

This concept just hit me the other day: one is enough. There is no need to stock up on multiple items of clothing, shoes or electronics. One is all you can use at one time. Even though you have two ears, two eyes and two hands, you can only listen to, read and type one thing at a time. You can only drive one car at a time, you can only ride one bike. This idea has freed up a lot of mind clutter, and the desire to stock up on items that I will eventually forget I've stocked up.

Photo courtesy of [Mrs. Logic/Flickr]

May 11, 2011

Disasters and Our Stuff

It seems there have been numerous disasters hitting our world this year: the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Alabama tornadoes and now the Mississippi flooding. When faced with these types of disasters, whether we are in them or watching them on the news, we wonder how we would react to an act of nature destroying our lives and worldly possessions.

I was recently watching a documentary on the Katrina disaster and I wondered about the people who chose to stay in the city even after being warned about the hurricane's strength. I hope most of these people were not staying for their things.

Imagine losing everything you own. How would you feel? Of course, it would be difficult to lose your house and all the items you've worked hard to obtain, but what about the things in your house? Are you so attached to your furniture, TVs, computers, knick-knacks and dinnerware that you would risk your life to stay with them? If you feel that you wouldn't miss these items at all, you might react differently during a disaster than someone who holds on to everything and sees value in everything they own. No matter what you do, there is no physical way you could save your house from a tornado or an earthquake.

Tammy of Rowdy Kittens has a great post on putting together an emergency/disaster bag and in addition to her list of items to pack like food, water, first aid and copies of personal paperwork I would like to add the following:

Children and pets
Make sure your children and pets have their own supplies including emergency backpacks for the kids and carrying cases and food for pets.

If you can't take your computer, make sure to back up important files from your computer to DVD or to a free Dropbox account.

Personal photos
These should also be backed up digitally.

Your purse or wallet
During a disaster, the last thing you want to leave behind is your ID, some cash, keys or a cell phone.

Your safety always come before your things.

Photo courtesy of [Fox News Insider/Flickr]

April 27, 2011

Dumping Virtual Clutter

How in the world did I end up with four email accounts? I have a Gmail account, a freelance account, a work account, and a Hotmail account for friends and spam that I have been checking since 1995. This week I made a decision that I will be dumping the Hotmail account for several reasons: the junk mail outweighs the regular mail, I don't particularly like the features of Hotmail or the news from MSN,  I don't really use Windows Live or MSN Messenger, and I need to simplify my virtual life even more. So I'm saying goodbye to my 16-year-old email account.

First, I'm contacting all my friends and family and letting them know that they can email me at my Gmail account instead. As I do that I will be deleting the addresses of people I no longer write and updating other friends' addresses. Second I will be changing the email address for my bank, Paypal, Ebay, Amazon and other companies who have my address on file. And last, I will backup a few old emails by forwarding them to my Gmail account.

Virtual clutter is still clutter. Even though I can just stop checking my Hotmail account, I would rather just remove it from my everyday to-do list.

Photo courtesy of [freezelight]

March 30, 2011

The Minimal Gym Bag

I am in the process of culling my rather large gym bag down to a more manageable system. For years, I've been dragging around a large L.L. Bean bag that is rarely full of gym items. The half-empty bag then takes up most of the room in my very small gym locker and I end up always trying to shove it in. So, I am getting rid of the bag and scrutinizing what I need at the gym.

I do several gym "sports" including running, walking, stairmaster, aerobics, Zumba, yoga and swimming. I've realized that I only need one set of gym clothes for everything and just a swimsuit, cap and goggles for swimming laps. So my gym "system" now consists of:

  • running shoes
  • one pair of socks
  • a sports bra
  • tank top
  • yoga pants
  • swimsuit
  • cap + goggles

There is nothing extra like another pair of socks, a hoodie or various t-shirts.

The toiletry portion of the gym bag has also gotten minimized. The bottom of my bag was always littered with half-empty shampoo bottles, hair clips, combs and dried up bars of soap. Now I have:

  • olive oil soap for both body + hair
  • conditioner
  • lotion

With just the addition of a small, easy to dry towel and some flip-flops, I am on my way to a more minimal gym locker, all carried home in a slim tote bag when it's time to do some laundry.

Photo courtesy of [mikecpeck/Flickr]