Posts Tagged ‘cleaning out’

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink

Clear Out The Clutter

Your filing system is a lot like your junk drawer. Every time you find something that you think might be useful, you stash it away. Some of those things come in handy later on — others just take up space. But every once in a while, you have to clear the decks and start fresh with your storage. Now, here's your chance!

Empty every folder out of your file drawer and start by asking yourself if that category is still meaningful and relevant to your life. Completed projects, old client files, and obsolete reference topics may be able to go away. You can then sort through each “keeper” folder and clean out unnecessary and outdated paperwork. Remember, only current and relevant documents should reside in your active files. If you don't use it all the time but might possibly need to refer to that information again in the future, place the item in your archive files. If not, and there is no legal reason for you to keep it, toss or shred.

A New Coat Of Paint

While you've got your file system emptied, take a minute to look at your supplies and see if they pass muster. Are your folders getting old and raggedy, coming apart at the seams and losing their grip on your hanging file rails? Why not replace them with new, clean files. Are your labels a mess? Too many cross-outs and write-overs make it hard to find the folder you need — so get some fresh labels and neatly type or print the correct title for each file. Are your filing cabinets dysfunctional, with dented and hard-to-open drawers? If you have to fight with your cabinet every time you need a document, it's time to consider a replacement.

Also examine your naming convention and make sure that your files are labeled in a way that makes sense. The goal is to start each file with the name of the larger category to which it belongs (ex: utilities), then add on the descriptor that lets you know exactly what paperwork that folder contains (ex: utilities — water or utilities — electric), moving from general to more specific. Color-coding your files and/or labels is another great way to distinguish categories of files from one another.

Put It All Back In Order

Finally, it's time to get each document back in its home. Once you have all of your file folders labeled and placed in the drawer, check around your home or office to see if there are any loose piles of paper sitting out — on a desk, shelf, countertop, or credenza (don't forget to look for homeless papers stuffed into drawers or boxes, as well!) Go through each stack and clear out any junk — papers that you thought might be useful, but now turn out the be outdated, obsolete, or no longer relevant to your interests.

Once you've trimmed the piles down to only what you know you want to keep (and will use in the future), file those papers one-by-one in your existing categories. Don't just ask yourself where it should go, but also where you would LOOK for it when you need that document down the road. And if you don't have an appropriate category (or subcategory) for that item, create a new file.

By the time you are done, every piece of paper should have a home and be easy to locate whenever you need it. If you missed spring this year, don't worry — you can clean up your paper management act any time you need to. Don't put it off until next spring!

You Have To Move A Pile Off A Chair So Someone Can Sit Down

Having a closet where you hide it all away is one thing (not good, but certainly a bit more tolerable). However, when your “junk” starts spilling out into your active living and working spaces, it's time to re-evaluate the situation. I have seen clients who couldn't turn on the stove because it was piled three feet high with unopened mail, used their shower as “storage” for  boxes of who-knows-what that they hadn't opened in 10 years, and never slept in their bed because it was covered with “stuff” they hadn't gotten around to putting away yet. If you are unable to use portions of your home or office because of clutter, it's time for the hard hat and shovel!

You Know You Own A Pair Of Scissors, But You Can Never Find It

Not being able to find things when you need them is a sign — your belongings are homeless and crying out to you for a place to live! Don't let them suffer any longer! If you want to stay organized, you need to have an assigned storage area for each and every thing you own. And not just any old place, but a logical, rational, and defensible spot nearest the point where you use that item. It's really pretty simple. Ask yourself where you would look for scissors when you needed them — that's where they should be stored. And if you use scissors in several different places around your home or office, buy 3 or 4 pairs and give each its own unique home.

It Takes You Three Tries To Get Out Of The House In The Morning

Let me guess — you walk out the door without your briefcase. You go back for your briefcase, then head out again sans keys. You return for the keys and get all the way to your car before you realize that your lunch is still sitting on the counter. No, you're probably not suffering from Alzheimer's at the tender age of 37. This is nothing more than poor planning. Take a minute the night before to gather up everything that you need to take with you in the morning. Put it in a designated holding area near the door so you won't forget it — a “launching pad,” if you will. You can even put a sticky note on the door to remind yourself to get your lunch from the fridge!

You Pay At Least One Late Fee Or Interest Charge Each Month

If you had a standard way of dealing with financial paperwork as it came in, you wouldn't get behind. Set up a small filing rack where you put all of your bills — lined up in the order in which they should be paid — and write the due date on the envelope. Then, schedule time on your calendar twice a month to pay the bills that are due in the next two weeks. Treat your bill-paying time like an appointment — block it off in your planner and don't let anything get in the way of completing that chore. Of course, if you find that your bills are late because you simply don't have enough money to pay them, then it's time to re-evaluate your spending patterns and plug those money leaks!

You Regularly Request An Extension On Your Tax Returns

For some people, tax day isn't April 15th — it's August 15th! Most folks who file extensions do so because they can't get all of their paperwork together on time (but if you're an organized small business person like me who has been advised that an extension is the best way to skirt the first-come-first-served rule regarding audits, you can ignore this section!) Otherwise, set up a filing box just for tax documents. Break your receipts down into basic categories — office supplies, charitable donations, medical expenses, travel, etc. — and file any new ones as soon as you get them. Then, you can hand the entire box over to your CPA at the end of the year. Better yet, set yourself up on a computerized accounting program (your accountant will love you!)

You've Never Seen The Bottom Of Your In-Box

If you have a hard time staying on top of “to-do's,” I would first ask if you are setting aside time each week to deal with incoming paper. You should sort through all the new stuff — mail, faxes, memos, etc. — once a day. That means doing more than just putting it in a pile on your desk How on earth will you know what you need to do if you don't at least open the envelopes? When you pick up a piece of paper, make a decision about what action you need to take (put a sticky note on it to remind you, if you need). Then, schedule that action into your calendar. You should set aside regular time each week for making phone calls, writing letters, filing, data entry — whatever “to-do's” you normally do.

Your Typical Workday Ends Three Hours After Everyone Else's

Workaholism has become a serious problem in our society — but not everyone who works late does it out of a compulsion. Some people have to put in longer hours to make up for the fact that they are less productive during the regular work day. Do you get a lot done while other people are around — or are you constantly being interrupted and distracted? Make a list of all the things that draw your attention away from work during the day — drop-in visitors, clutter in your office, time spent surfing the web — and start tackling these “time wasters” one-by-one. Once you get organized, you'll find that you can go home on time every night of the week.

You Can't See Your Desk Under All The Stacks And Piles Of Paper

People who pile instead of file tend to do so because they have never set up a really useful filing system. Some are afraid that sticking an item away where they can't see it is a recipe for disaster — not if your files are working for you. Look at your folders — do the categories make sense? Are they grouped into logical clusters of information (all of your insurance paperwork together, utility bills in the same place, computer manuals in one home)? Do you have multiple files with the same information in it (a “car” file, a “Toyota” file, and a “vehicle” file)? Are your drawers cluttered with ancient paperwork that you really don't need? It might be time to re-vamp, re-organize, and clean out!

You Are Always Running Someone Else's Errands

Have you learned how to say “no” yet? I have never understood why people think that “no” is such a bad word — as though they are being disrespectful to the other person by turning them down. What you are actually doing when you say “no” is being respectful of yourself — understanding and accepting the limits of what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. You aren't doing anyone a favor by overloading your day with responsibilities. In fact, you are doing others a disservice by rushing from one activity to the next without giving any of them your full attention. And you are certainly causing yourself a lot of unnecessary stress. Stop it!

Your Life Feels Out Of Control

Many signs of clutter are tangible — you can see and feel them. But that vague sense of overwhelm can be ten times more damaging than a stack of unopened mail or a pile of junk in your closet. Do you feel that you are terminally behind and will never get caught up, no matter how hard you try? Or that you are losing your mind because you can't deal with the mess anymore? The first step to curbing these anxieties is to take that first step — tackle a cluttered drawer or a today's mail or a shelf in the garage. Just putting a dent in your mess will take a great weight off your shoulders — and often give you the motivation you need to dig in deeper.

A Faster Way To Get Kids Organized

Contrary to popular belief children were not put on this planet to perpetuate chaos — hell-bent on undoing your housework and leaving piles of clutter trailing behind them. Kids actually thrive on order, but it's not something they can easily maintain until you teach them how — and children have short attention spans, so you can't expect a 6-year-old to stay focused as long as an adult might. You'll get a better response (and your children will experience a greater sense of achievement) if you ask your kids to complete just one small task at a time — something concrete and specific.  With the right action plan, there will be no misunderstanding about what you expect from your offspring, and your kids will soon be picking up after themselves without you even asking! Have your kids:

  • sit down with you to draw up a chore chart for the week
  • help prepare a week's worth of packed lunch “basics” (veggies, cookies, crackers, fruit, etc.)
  • collect up all their scattered pairs of shoes and coats to put away in their closets
  • go around the house, gathering their stray toys from each room into a basket
  • put away any games or toys as soon as play time is over
  • sort their dirty clothes into “whites,” “colors,” and “darks” on laundry day
  • put away their newly cleaned laundry
  • clean out all the broken crayons and used-up paint in their art supplies
  • go through their school supplies and clean out anything they no longer use in class
  • label each of their drawers with a picture of what's stored inside (shirts, pants, undies, socks, etc.)
  • sort their craft paraphernalia into separate tubs (for beads, glitter, markers, construction paper, etc.)
  • pull out any toys that are too childish for them to donate
  • try on last year's school clothes and get rid of what no longer fits
  • go through their art papers and pick only those favorites to hang or put in a scrapbook
  • go through their school papers and pick only those favorites to keep as memorabilia
  • choose their school outfits for the next week
  • gather up everything they need for school the next day and sit it by the front door
  • group their books together by author or type (coloring, picture, story, etc.)
  • put all their CDs, DVDs, and software discs back in the correct cases
  • sort their sports equipment into containers according to the game and label with pictures

See how easy that was? Wink

Examine Your Wardrobe

One source of the problem could be wardrobe clutter. If the clothes you love are hidden in a sea of outfits you never wear, it's going to slow you down in the morning — and having too many options makes it harder to decide what to wear. So the first step is to trim down to only those items you love, wear all the time, and really enjoy.

Start by pulling out everything that no longer fits and asking yourself when you plan to be that size again. You may feel tremendous pressure to be a stick insect,but those too-small clothes only make you feel bad about yourself. And I'm not talking about “someday” —  if you're going to keep something that doesn't fit, you need to have a reasonable goal set for yourself (wishful thinking only creates more clutter). If it isn't going to happen within the next couple of months, it might be time to let go of that size 6 clothing and accept yourself as a beautiful and confident size 10! Also imagine the day that you do shrink back down to the size you were in college — are those outfits still going to be in style, still going to be your style? Probably not.

Now take a look at what's left (accessories, shoes, hats, purses, and jewelry included). I'll bet that your closet still contains some outfits that simply never see the light of day. When it's time to answer the burning question of “what am I going to wear today?” you tend to pass these skirts and pants and blouses over again and again. Why? Well, there's obviously something about them that just doesn't click with you Maybe you hate the color of that lime green jacket, or that skirt is annoying because it always rides up when you sit down, or those shoes pinch after you've had them on for more than an hour, or that pleated pair of pants just makes you feel fat. That's fine — lose them. Life is too short to wear clothes you hate. Everything you own should be flattering, comfortable, and make you feel fabulous. If not, why keep it in your closet?

Finally, some items in your wardrobe are currently unwearable because they require “service.” You might have a pair of pants that needs hemmed or a blouse whose seam has come undone or a pair of shoes whose heels have come loose — set up a “repair/alteration” basket for these injured souls. If you have clothes that need to be professionally cleaned (especially those with stains that require special treatment — like that favorite suit that got a spill on it at a networking lunch, and you haven't been able to wear it since), set up a basket for “dry cleaning”. Then before the week is through, tote your baskets to ONE location that offers both services — get everything taken care of at the same time, and start off next week fresh with a closet full of functional clothes.

Discover Your Natural Beauty

It's easy in this country to become a slave to the cosmetics industry. Advertising tries its best to convince us that if we don't have a 16-step skincare routine, spend an hour a day creating the perfect hairstyle, and engage in a weekly full-body home spa treatment, we're unattractive and poorly groomed. Don't buy into the lie! If all you do in the morning is wash your face, put on some moisturizer, and brush your teeth, you will survive just fine — I promise!

Ladies, let's have a serious heart-to-heart talk here. When it comes to cosmetics, you have to pick your battles — you don't need to look like Tammy Faye every time you walk out of the house. For me, the only two real priorities are lipstick and mascara (my lashes are so blonde they practically disappear). I personally haven't owned blush or foundation or lip liner in years — and I somehow manage to make do with only one shade of  eyeshadow, one eyeliner pencil, and one tube of lipstick. My entire makeup and skincare collection will fit into a single toiletry bag, and I save time and money to boot. To me, that is simplicity.

The problem is that everyone is trying to achieve the current most popular style, but most of us just aren't built to look like Hollywood's hottest celebrities. I learned this lesson early on as a child in the 70's, when I found out that Farrah Faucett's blue eyeshadow and lip gloss and “wings” just didn't translate as well to my curly hair and freckled face (it was a devastating discovery, and it was then that I decided to go my own way in terms of fashion!) I know, I know — we always want what we don't have, and modern technology gives us the ability to change our looks on a whim. Folks with straight hair fry their locks with hot rollers and a curling iron, those with kinky hair use gels and blow dryers to flatten their waves, fair-skinned folks spray on fake tans while darker women use creams to lighten their skin — they say that beauty is 50% illusion, but the other 50%is an investment of time, effort, and money! Some people spend hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) attempting to look a way that God never intended. I guess, if that's how you want to use up your precious life energy, it's your choice — but I have better things to do with my day!

I'm one of those folks who can get ready, from jumping in the shower to walking out the door, in about 15 minutes. This wasn't always the case, but over the years, I've decided that I just don't want to waste half my day in the bathroom — I would rather be out there experiencing the world than constantly “preparing” for experiencing the world. The trick to a quick and easy morning routine is finding a style that flatters your natural features with as little effort as possible. It was a great day when I stopped fighting my hair and finallygot the right haircut — now, all I do is put in a little gel, comb itinto place, and let it dry (bye-bye hair dryer!) It also helps if you can stop jumping at every “fad” when it strikes. Just because everyone else is wearing pink lipstick this season, that doesn't mean it will suit you — find your own color palette and you will always be in style, you'll spend less money, and you'll have less clutter on your vanity. Sure it's fine to have a few funky items in your arsenal for playing dress-up — but if you'reputting together a “special occasion” look 7 days a week, you might beworking too hard!

Making Mornings Easier

Finally, take a look at your AM routine and see where you can plan in advance, so your morning isn't quite so hectic. For example, figuring out what you want to wear the next day and laying out your clothes the night before will help you get ready much faster (especially if you tend to hem and haw, taking forever to decide on an outfit.) Don't forget your shoes, purse, jewelry etc. — the accessories can take as much time as the clothes for some people! Then get all of your “take-with-you” paraphernalia together, including paperwork, car keys, briefcase, umbrella, etc. — whatever you need to take with you to work or school. And if you bring your lunch or a snack from home, pack it the night before, put it in the fridge, and leave yourself a sticky-note on the front door, so you don't forget it. Just the bit of time you invest in advance will help you experience less stress the next day.

Another important step folks forget is to review their calendar or planner the night before, so there are no nasty surprises the next day. I can't tell you how many times I either had an early appointment (usually with the dentist) that I forgot, or thought I had a crack-of-dawn meeting  (that I didn't) and bounded out of bed believing I was late (which will totally throw your day off) — until I learned to look at my damned calendar every night! You will sleep better and get up more refreshed in the morning if you go to bed knowing exactly what appointments and to-do's and projects you have ahead of you in the morning.

And if you're the sort of person who runs late because you try to do too much before you leave the house, set some boundaries. Maybe you don't NEED to check your email first thing in the morning — can it wait until you get home? It's not vital that your house be completely spic and span before you head out to work — I'm pretty sure those couple of breakfast dishes in the sink will be just fine, even if you don't wash them until this afternoon. If you want to get more done in the morning, set your alarm an hour earlier and be productive to your heart's content. But also set an alarm telling you when you need to stop and walk out the door — productive stops being efficient when it makes you late for work!