Thursday, June 28, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Questions For Non-Ruthless Clutter-Busters

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Any tidying/clearing out project starts with taking stock and asking two questions: what's here and how much of it do I really need?

Wouldn't it be nice if the answers were as simple as the questions?

If even the thought of decluttering makes you cringe, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to make progress more quickly and simply.

Can I part with this? Yeah, I know -- pretty obvious. But the things that are easy to be ruthless about are often not found at the top of the pile or front of the closet. Beginning with the back of the closet or the bottom of the pile can make it easier to gain momentum by starting the process with some easy answers. What if you find hidden treasures that are too hard to part with? Simply set them aside and keep moving through the pile. No one said you had to do this all at once.

Can something new replace something old? One in, one out is a great way to keep clutter from building up. Buy a new pair of black pants? Get rid of the old one. Need both pairs? Get rid of something else. Or maybe two things. Small steps lead to clear spaces, one item at a time.

Will someone else love this? Quite honestly, the answer to this is usually no. In the case of some items, though, like clothing, books and toys, consigning, donating or passing them along to a specific person or organization can make it easier to part with it.  Be sure you know where it's going, though, or it's all too easy to simply move it from one spot to another instead of moving it out.

Not everyone is a ruthless clutter-buster, but that doesn't mean there's no hope for those of us who prefer to tackle our piles a little at a time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Does The Thought of Decluttering Make You Cringe?

Last night, I had dinner with friends, all of whom are in the midst of summer vacation. We talked about travel plans and summer projects (among other things) and one of my friends told us about her  recent (ruthless) closet purge. She had two categories: useful and trash. Another had recently changed positions within her organization, and her approach to the transition was similar. Years of materials went directly into the recycling bin.

No one cringed at these stories. In fact, I think most of us were motivated to go home and do the same thing. 

The ruthless closet clean-out is not something all styles manage well. In fact, Let it go! is probably the toughest part of the STYLE process for many of us, even if we don't claim the I love stuff personal style as our own. Maintaining a balance between what comes in and what goes out is, however, a necessary part of the process; without it, we quickly overrun our living space, making organizing far more complicated -- and exhausting -- than it needs to be. And we all fear those times (like this morning, less than 24 hours after my desire to ruthlessly clear out a closet), when we regret our ruthlessness, and long to be able to access something we got rid of in a fit of efficiency. (White pants! Why did I get rid of those comfy white pants?)

Sorting through things and figuring out what to do with them can be overwhelming, but it can also be liberating. Some things are easy to toss. Is it broken? Missing a piece? Hopelessly out of style? A duplicate, triplicate or worse?

Others are more challenging. The dress we paid too much for and wore only once. Clothes we hope to fit into again some day. The makings of a craft or home improvement project we never got around to. Greeting cards, kids' drawings, faded photographs and other similarly sentiment-inducing items.

If you're not the ruthless type, taking small steps to reduce, declutter and recycle can yield the same satisfaction with less (or maybe even no) regret. Restoring order to one space, moving things from an old, too-small container to a new one that's more realistic or starting at the back of a closet or the bottom of a pile (where old and outdated items often lurk) can make weeding a natural part of the process instead of a dreaded task.

Starting with a purpose can help. How many times have you gone looking for something you needed only to come across several things you didn't need in the process? This type of organic cleaning out can be satisfying without being emotionally draining.

You don't need to be ruthless to make progress. Look around. What can you let go of? Start with what's easy and build from there.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Tackling Those Summer Projects

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Despite the fact that I've been retired for six years, traces of the school schedule that defined my routine for much of my life still remain. Two of these have lingered longer than any others: the need for a break sometime between 2:30 and 4 pm and summertime as the time to take stock and dig in to projects I've been meaning to get to.

Since I kicked off this summer by teaching a class, I'm getting a late start and therefore unlikely to tackle any major household projects, with the possible exception of clearing clutter from the basement and crawlspace. Otherwise, most of my projects are writing-related -- and there are plenty of them!

Are you ready to face some long overdue projects of your own? Here are some keys to making progress with them.

Variety keeps things moving. Big project? Small project? Detailed project? All of the above! Making a little progress on a big thing leads to a different kind of satisfaction than checking something off the list entirely. Finishing quick projects motivates me to tackle the big stuff and mixing it up means that more things get accomplished.

Let the spirit move you. Though we can't always wait for the mood to strike, there's nothing like being in the right frame of mind to spark motivation. Sometimes, we can set ourselves up to be ready to tackle something by planning on it; other times, we can just tackle whatever we feel like digging into at that moment. Either way, something gets accomplished.

Don't forget to celebrate your matter the size of the project. One of the things that can turn run-of-the-mill accomplishments into a pattern of success is the decision to keep track of what we accomplish. Something as simple as writing accomplishments in a planner provides visual evidence of our hard work and can create a sense of satisfaction. In addition, seeing what we've accomplished, whether by gazing upon newly cleared spaces where clutter once reigned or by reviewing the notes in our planners, can nudge us to do more to keep the momentum -- and the satisfaction -- going.

So, what are we waiting for? Let's dig in! What's on your summer project list?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tweaking the System
For the past decade, or close to it, I've used the same type of desktop calendar: a notepad-style, page-a-day calendar with lines perfect for making lists and keeping track of appointments. But this year, I began to question whether or not it was earning its keep in terms of the real estate it took up on my desk. So, when I couldn't find one when I was looking for my 2018 calendars (honestly, I didn't look very hard), I decided to go a different way.

I'm thrilled with the planner I purchased on sale in January, although it is not, in fact, serving as a planner for appointments and lists as much as a planner for ideas and projects. I'm liking it...but it hasn't replaced the tool it was supposed to replace.

Overall, the system that has evolved has been a good one, but I'm still finding too many loose ends. My writers' group sticky note, for example.

Over the two decades I've been going to my writers' group, I've allowed procrastination to reign. Each month, I find that I'm down to the wire in getting ready for it. Several years into my notepad planner system, I got tired of the meeting sneaking up on me, so I took a bright pink sticky note, wrote "Writers' Group Next Week!" on it and inserted it into my notepad calendar, sticking it to a page in the week before the meeting.

That's right. A week ahead of time. My simple, cheap anti-procrastination device.

This afternoon, as I was once again suffering through last minute-itis before my meeting, I thought of that sticky note. I mentally ran through all the tools I'm using, but could find no good place for that magical sticky note in my current system. Sure, there are other ways I can remind myself that the meeting is coming up, but that sticky note was perfect for my I need to see it personal style.

So tonight, after the meeting, I did a little online searching. I found lots of cute notepad calendars, but most were too big and/or too expensive. I'm not usually cheap when it comes to tools that I know will work, but a $13 notepad that would do the same job as a 99¢ memo pad from Target was a hard sell.

When I found the notepad above for less than $6, I decided it was worth a shot. Sure, a cheaper notepad might be workable, but this one, already imprinted with weekdays and the magical phrase "Next Week" seemed like just what I was looking for. I'm excited for it to arrive, and optimistic that it will help me rein in my procrastination.

Now I just need to find a place for it on my desk.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Chipping Away at that Big Project Due Tomorrow

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Today, I had a project to complete. Trouble was, I couldn't muster any enthusiasm to complete it, nor could I find a way in. This is unusual in that this project was in an area I typically enjoy, but it had gotten pushed aside for so long that I was now down to the wire. Let's just say that adding a deadline did not make this project any easier to approach.

By the end of the day, I'd completed the project -- all but the finishing touches -- and I was good with that. Here are the three keys I followed to make that happen.

Stop procrastinating. Usually, it's silly to even say this. Telling a procrastinator to stop procrastinating is somewhat akin to telling a smoker to stop smoking. It's just not that easy. But, since procrastination doesn't come with physical symptoms, a deadline is often the cold, hard reality that puts a stop to this bad habit.

Find a way in. Though it might be counterintuitive to take small steps, sometimes that can be the best avenue. If you can dig in and develop some flow, that's great. If not, break it down into ten minute intervals (what I did), or chop it up into chunks, taking breaks after each one. Eventually, momentum begins to build and progress happens.

Listen to yourself. What do you need to get this done? A nap? A break? Some variety? With my ten minute plan, I alternated between the task at hand and my to-do list. While I wasn't making any progress on the project by checking things off my to-do list, I was creating a sense of accomplishment that fed the momentum to get things done. Accomplishing small things and checking them off my list somehow managed to make even the project seem less overwhelming.

Could I have just buckled down and barreled through? Maybe. To be honest, that was the plan. But, when I tried to do that, I found myself fidgeting and panicking, so I ended up getting a lot more done by simply changing courses. Ten minutes at a time?

That I could do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Balance of Summer

What's on your yellow sticky note?
(Photo: darkmoon1968 via Pixabay)
This summer, for the first time, I am teaching a class. I've taught little mini classes -- classes that last a week or less -- in the past with elementary students but, this summer, I'm teaching a semester's worth of college material in a five week summer session. Monday through Thursday, I teach for two hours a day. Before class, I finalize my lesson and in the afternoons and evenings, I make time to grade papers, create exams and prepare for the next day's class.

It's not a tough gig -- I've taught the material before, and it's a small class of students who can be nudged fairly easily into discussion -- but it's a challenge because it's new and because, once again, my routine has shifted.

Last week, I wrote about my simultaneous need for and dislike of routines. When I worked as a school counselor, one of my favorite things about my job was that no two days were the same. There was a predictability from one day to the next, in that my days began and ended at about the same time and, for the most part, took place in the same building. Other than that, they could be filled with all sorts of different things -- meetings, classes, chats with kids and staff on a wide variety of topics -- and that kept things interesting.

It's only as I write this now that I realize that I once again have a similar sort of routine (finally), but find it frustrating. Only one of my jobs (teaching) begins and ends at roughly the same time each day, but the tasks necessary for its completion exceed the boundaries of that time frame. Between its insistence on seeping into time outside of the classroom (a necessary occupational hazard) and the fact that my other job (writing) needs to be completed within the those same out-of-class time frames,  I often feel that no matter what I'm doing, I should be doing something else.

While I find a certain amount of routine comforting, too much routine leaves me feeling trapped and too much to do leaves me feeling stressed. Without a routine, however, all of my unscheduled time looks like time off, but feels like time I should be devoting to one task or another. That simultaneous push/pull leads to a feeling that I'm never doing what I "should" be doing and can pull me dangerously close to workaholism.

Over the past few semesters, I've finally gotten into a routine where my start time is the same each day -- something I needed, but didn't know I needed until it became my norm. Now, the next step is finding a balance between work and play in the time that remains.

And that begins with giving myself permission to play as well as work -- before I hit the point where play is the only option because I'm too mentally or physically tired or unmotivated to work any more. Last weekend, I spent some time at the beach recalibrating. It's a start.

How about you? Do you thrive on routine? Have you struck a successful balance between work and play, or have you forgotten what play is? If the latter is true, perhaps there's no better time than summer to make sure play time -- and maybe even nap time -- is a part of your schedule.

Even if you have to put it on your to-do list.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to a Vacation that's Really a Vacation

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Although I knew this post would be late, I was optimistic that I'd get to it sooner than 10:30 PM. Still, one of my favorite parts of coming to the beach is writing outside on the screened-in porch. Consequently, since I knew we'd be here tonight, I was saving my post. I had it all sketched out this morning, but now I'm tired, and so I'm going another way. 

And so, without further ado, I give you my 3 Keys to a vacation that's really a vacation.

Destination. Choose a place that enthralls or restores you. For me, the beach is the latter. I don't even have to be on the beach to feel a sense of calm and, when I sit out on the screened-in patio with my laptop, I'm a happy camper.

Travel with your favorite people. As parents of an only child, we elected to take family trips more often than not and so now, my husband and I are slowly adjusting to trips without our daughter. They're not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they are different. I suspect that trips with other couples and even tour groups are in our future but, for now, trips for two, interspersed with the occasional vacation for three are just what I want.

Know when to say "enough." My husband used to be the sort of traveler who wanted to fill every second of vacation with things to do. Over the years, my daughter and I have converted him to our way of thinking: some days are the kind of days you fill, others are the kind of days in which you languish. There are exceptions, of course -- one day stopovers in places you're unlikely to get to again any time soon, for example -- but too much scheduling makes a trip seem more like work than a vacation. 

How about you? Do you agree? Disagree? What are your three keys to a vacation that's really a vacation? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Packing, Schmacking

Pexels via Pixabay
It was in June two years ago that we found out that my mom was sick, and in June last year that we lost her. Finding any up-side in a loss this substantial seems almost impossible but, from time to time, small things pop up.

Like packing.

In the year that my mom was sick, I made a lot of trips between my home in Pennsylvania and the place I'll always think of as home, New Jersey. I got really good at putting a couple of days worth of clothes and necessities into their various bags in short order, a life skill that comes in handy when I'm packing for vacation or another destination that doesn't require me to give much thought to wardrobe that's anything but casual.

Unfortunately, this has also created a false sense of confidence about my packing speed, which only feeds my packing procrastination, both of which puzzle (and sometimes annoy) my husband.

This weekend, we're doing some traveling, so last night, my husband spent close to two hours packing. I haven't even started yet -- unless you count doing laundry, or making mental lists. I've got lots of those.

In my defense, there are things I need to do before our departure -- tasks whose deadlines will come and go long before we do. This blog post, for example, and prep for my class tomorrow morning.

It's in these moments that I'm grateful for the packing experience all those trips to Jersey provided. Though the chore of packing looms, the shortcuts I've created (pre-packed toiletries, for example), combined with the knowledge that I really can throw most of what I need into a bag in under 30 minutes (provided what I need is clean) help me to put thoughts of suitcases (mostly) aside while I do the things that need to be done first.

When I finally check that last prerequisite off my list and drag my bag upstairs to fill it, I'll approach the task in my usual I need to see it fashion, laying out piles in categories (shorts, jeans, tops, etc.) before transferring them to the suitcase. I might even go super simple and pack nothing but solid bottoms and black and white tees so everything mixes and matches. When the piles are gone, I'm finished.

And if I'm not, there's always shopping.

Of that, I know my mom would approve.