Thursday, June 20, 2024

And the Reason Is...?

 I’ve been using a book of prompts for my morning journaling and one day last week, I chose one that said, “If you had to delete all but three pictures from your phone, which three would you keep?“

I spent only a few seconds considering the question before I quickly decided that I couldn’t do this and, more importantly why should I? What would be the purpose of cutting all my photos down to three? Sure, I could get rid of all those random shots of my feet that I took by accident, the clothing I already posted on Poshmark, and books I took pictures of so I wouldn’t forget the titles when I was making my list of books to reserve at the library. That all makes sense.

But what of the rest? Which friends would I cut? Which family photo would rise above all the rest? Which vacation photos from trips I may never take again should I drag into the virtual trashcan?

You may be wondering why I chose this prompt at all if I were going to be combative about the whole thing. But I’m not being combative. I’m being strategic. 

Whether it's photos, or clothes, or papers, or something else entirely, this is what we do when we organize. We don’t set random rules about how many of one thing we can have. We consider the limits set by space, hygiene, and common sense and, after that, it comes down to personal preference. 

And personal preference changes over time. Things that seemed impossible to part with five years ago might easily make the cut now. Items we keep when space is no object might be easy to eliminate when we’re downsizing.

When it comes to organizing, what you keep and what you don’t keep is entirely up to you. Some decisions are easy, others are not. Why should we make deep cuts if we neither have to nor want to?

I’m certainly not advocating keeping every scrap of paper or item of clothing that makes its way into your home. But, so often when we organize, we think we need to be ruthless when really, we don’t. At least not most of the time. There are, admittedly, life situations that call for us to make the deep cuts. But, when it comes to day-to-day organizing, small steps are often enough to keep clutter under control.

Organizing is a process. If you don’t get rid of it today, maybe you’ll get rid of it tomorrow. Or maybe you won’t.

And maybe there’s no reason to get rid of it at all.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Coming at it From Another Angle

 It's summer! Okay, perhaps not officially, but once spring semester is over, it's summer in my world. And, when the summer classes start only a few days after spring semester ends, I feel justified in my proclamation of the season.

As usual, I started my list of things I want to accomplish this summer even before spring semester ended. Some are directly connected to organizing, but others are a bit more peripheral.

The closet. I made some small changes in my closet on the last day of classes, driven as much by the thought of summer and leisure as the reading I'd been doing about style (in the fashion sense). Returning home after my last class with summer and leisure in mind (and in the air), I pushed my long-sleeved, professional wear off to the side, (but still visible -- my personal style is I need to see it, after all), placing my short-sleeved, casual clothes front-and-center for easy access and review. This summer, I want to go through all of those short-sleeved tops with an eye toward removing anything I don't feel good in, or that no longer fits my style (or perhaps never did). Doing this a few pieces -- or even just one piece -- at a time is the next logical step in the process. Organizing doesn't always have to be a big project. Sometimes, small steps work just as well.

Painting. Though I've finished painting the walls in my dining room, the trim is still crying out for attention. Does beautifying a space count as organizing? Maybe not technically, but the process typically includes reorganizing and often inspires a new perspective on an old space as well, nudging us to upgrade our organizational systems along with the d├ęcor. If I'm truthful, finishing this painting project is not a task I'm looking forward to, but it's not (yet) so an onerous task that I'm willing to pay someone else to do it. Adding these finishing touches has something in common with organizing, too -- almost finished is not the same as finished, nor does it give us the same satisfaction. So, final touches, it is.

Creative pursuits. Last spring, I read about trash collages and decided to give one a try. I loved it, so I began devoting some time to collage-making. Unlike the scrapbooks I made when my daughter was small, these latest creations reveal my love of words while also tapping into my creative style. The organization connection? Flexing my creative muscles will, I believe, lead me to be even more likely to explore creative solutions to organizing dilemmas.

So often, we think of organizing as simply de-cluttering and making things look nice. While those skills are definitely important in achieving and restoring order, coming at organizing from another angle can shake things up (in a good way) and inject a little fun into the process as well. 

And I can't think of a better time to add a dash of fun than summertime.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Culling the Closet

 Lately, I've been on a closet kick, re-organizing both the overall set-up and the clothes themselves, which took me back to this post from six years ago.

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, April 4, 2024

The Convergence of Time and Persistence

 Part of my morning routine includes answering a question in my One Question a Day for Self-Care journal. I'm on year two of the three-year journal, and discovering so far that this year's answers aren't that different from last year's. 

But one recent question proved an exception, or at least an indication of growth: "How realistic are your expectations for yourself?"

This is, indeed, something I've been working on for several years. Work-life balance. Time management. Pausing before saying yes to everything. Reasonable to-do lists. 

It's that last one that inspired an aha moment for me. This year, I have to say my expectations are pretty reasonable. Part of this is due to the work I've been doing to make it so, but another part has to do with a tool I've written about here before.

My planner.

Against all odds and personal expectations, I adopted an undated planner almost three years ago, and I'm currently on Volume 6 (the sixth physical copy of the planner). What makes this planner so special is that it aligns with my thinking -- the time management version of organizing by STYLE.

I've written about this concept and this planner before, so I won't go on and on about it here. Instead, I'll say something else I've said (a lot) before.

It's a process.

What does all of this have to do with my expectations?

The layout of each planner page allows space for only three priority items each day. Sure, I can try to cram four, five, or even six into the space, but the visual alone is proof that my expectations aren't realistic. 

Below the three priorities, there's plenty of room for a to-do list for everything else, but the tacit expectation is that those are not expectations for the day but, rather, extras. If I get to them, great. If I don't, that's okay too.

After nearly three years of shaping my expectations in this way, it has become a way of thinking for me: What are the most important things I need to do today? Those are the items that make the top three. Sure, there are days when I cram four things into the space for three, but I recognize that making that the norm isn't a good idea. 

Neuroscience is clear that, from a brain perspective, what we do is who we become. The more we practice healthy habits, whether for body, mind, soul, or some combination of the three, the more those habits become an ingrained part of not just our routines, but of who we are as well. Sometimes we're aware of our own becoming as it's happening; other times, we see our growth only in hindsight. Either way, it's a process, one that takes time and patience.

How realistic are your expectations for yourself? And do you have the tools to help you meet them? 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Right Fit

 I’m an Apple girl: iPhone, iPad, MacBook. Last week, when I accidentally created a too-close encounter between my MacBook Air and a glass of iced tea, I never considered replacing my dearly departed computer with anything but a new MacBook Air.

Actually, I'm pretty brand loyal in other areas, too. Exhibit A: my collection of Kate Spade handbags. Exhibit B: Multiple pairs of shoes with the same name inside (Kate didn't win that contest). Exhibit C: My daily Starbucks run at which I order the same drink 95% of the time.

I could go on, but I won't. The thing is, I know what I like. And, when I find something I like that works, I stick with it unless I'm given a good reason not to do so. Sticking with what works is an easy way to combine something functional with something that brings me joy, not to mention that it makes shopping more efficient.

This comes in very handy when it comes to organizing — in fact, it’s what organizing by STYLE is all about. 

So why do we persist in using things that don’t work? 

I have a personal list of exhibits here, too. Exhibit A: file cabinets. Exhibit B: binders. Exhibit C: any container that hides what’s inside (unless I can put a label on it).

For years, I tried to make myself fit into those boxes. These were the tools I grew up on, the ones that were readily available and used by other people whose opinions I valued. But, as it turned out, these tools failed me.

Do me a favor. Go back and read the last sentence of that last paragraph again.

The tools failed me. They may be perfectly fine tools, but they weren’t the right fit for me. Since then, I’ve found replacements — tools that are a better fit for the way I think and the way I organize.

It’s exactly that kind of fit that keeps me brand loyal. When a tool works, fits my lifestyle, and is within my budget, it’s a win-win situation. When that delicate balance is no longer met, it's time to look elsewhere, guilt-free and judgment-free. 

Maybe even splurge a little.

In the end, buying a succession of inexpensive tools that don’t work can be as costly as just buying the right thing — the one that works for us — in the first place. And, when we find that right thing, we might even want to stock up.

Especially if it goes on sale.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

X is for Excited (Sort of)

  I wrote this post yesterday afternoon, then promptly posted it in the wrong place, a mistake I discovered late last night.


Apparently it wasn’t just my to-do list that didn’t go according to plan :-j

I'm one week into the semester and I'm already breaking promises to myself. 

Tuesdays were supposed to be a "light" day with respect to schoolwork. While today hasn't exactly been a super busy day, I blew right by my time guideline early in the day, and I'm not finished yet.

It's not that the workload is overwhelming. It's that I have lots of ideas and I actually have time to look into them. Maybe even implement a few.

For a change.

Writing was on today's calendar and, with the exception of this blog post, that's probably not going to happen. I could switch gears and switch tasks, but I kinda want to follow these new ideas for my classes and see where they lead. 

Undisciplined? Maybe. But, the truth is, I work better when I follow my heart. Enthusiasm is a catalyst that augments my energy and that's a resource I don't want to lose. 

So, it's off to my web search. Today, I'll be applying my creative energy to my classroom work and, as for my writing, tomorrow is another day.

I promise.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Imperfect But Improving

 This post from 2019 connected very nicely with my current situation. A lot of this fits together with a podcast I recently guested on and a post I wrote on Monday for The Porch Swing Chronicles about using my time wisely in a semester where I'm teaching fewer classes. In addition, it is, I hope, a good reminder to all of those who entered February with little progress on that New Year's resolution to get organized. 

There's still time. There almost always is.

I used to be embarrassed by the state of my house often. It wasn't terrible -- just cluttered and very, very lived-in. My I need to see it/drop and run styles were in evidence in many places and on many flat surfaces. Having visitors required either hours dedicated to finding homes for things and putting them in those places or a frantic dash through the house to grab and stash.

These days, I'm embarrassed a lot less often. If you were expecting me to say I'm never embarrassed, I hope you're not shocked or disappointed. The fact is that knowing about organizing -- and even writing about organizing -- is different from doing it.

When it comes to organizing (and keeping things uncluttered) the "doing" is often hampered by real life obstacles. Things like time, space and conflicting priorities lead us to take shortcuts that feel comfortable in the moment (like dropping and running, cramming and jamming or putting things somewhere), but that lead to piles and clutter we end up having to tackle later on.

Organizing is not a one-and-done process. (Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were?) Balancing what comes in with what goes out in a timely fashion requires consistent time and attention. As long as  both time and attention are plentiful, things go relatively smoothly. But, when we get busy or overwhelmed or other priorities emerge, it's easy for things to pile up. Quickly. 

Tomorrow is my last day of classes for the semester. This week, I've emerged from the grading cave long enough to tackle a pile or two and create some clear space. Because I have workable systems in place, it's a fairly easy process, but it still requires time and attention. Fortunately, each clear space motivates me and reminds me that I know how to do this. I just need to have all of the tools -- including the intangible ones -- at my disposal.

When it comes to organization, no matter how much I learn and how much I write about it, I remain a work in progress. Some days, it's hard not to see this through the lens of failure -- as though simply understanding what I need to do will get the job done.

But it won't. Although knowledge alone is insufficient to keep my surfaces clear, there is one piece of information that helps me keep things in perspective -- one that I remind myself almost daily.

It's a process.