Posts Tagged ‘simplify’

Donating Household Items

Nearly anything you clean out of your home can be donated to a local thrift store. It's okay if items are worn (people know they are used when they buy them), but make sure they are clean and functional — don't just dump broken junk into the donate bag, because that creates more work for the thrift store employees. The nice thing about donating your discards is that someone else will get some use out of them — as they say, one man's trash is another's treasure. You can clean out with a clear conscience, knowing that your stuff isn't clogging up a landfill, but moving on to a new owner who will love and cherish it. And, of course, if you choose a non-profit or church organization, the resale of your donations will benefit their cause.

Donating Office Items

Some thrift stores simply can't take office furniture, business electronics, and computer equipment — but there is no reason for these items to end up littering the landscape as trash. Why not go straight to the source? There are many worthwhile non-profit agencies in your town that are running on a shoestring budget and have a hard time affording the basics — these organizations can always use donations of business supplies. Whether you're cleaning out a desk or a box of file folders, a copy machine or a high-end printer — you can easily find a group that would appreciate the help and put your discards to good use. If you're not sure where to start, contact your local United Way and they can point you in the right direction.

Donating Building Supplies

Cleaning out as you renovate has always been a challenge — thrift stores have zero interest in items like cabinets, cans of paint, tile, grout, windows, doors, sinks, fixtures, and lumber. But now, there's a great way to keep these items from ending up in a landfill. Habitat For Humanity's Restores accept donations of building supplies — both new and used. They then resell these items through their “building thrift stores” which are open to the public (FYI: a great way to find inexpensive items for your next fix-it project). Everyone benefits — you receive a tax deduction and a greener way to dispose of home repair and construction materials, and someone else gets a great bargain on discounted building supplies.

Commonly Accepted Recyclables

You can actually recycle more household items than you might think — most recycling centers will take some or all of the following (visit Recycle.net or GRN.com to find a drop-off near you):

  • clear and frosted plastic bottles
  • glass bottles, jars, and containers without the lids
  • aluminum (cans and foil)
  • steel cans (the kind that canned vegetables come in)
  • plastic and paper grocery bags
  • white copy paper and office paper
  • junk mail and colored paper
  • magazines
  • newspaper and newsprint
  • telephone books
  • corrugated cardboard (not slick)
You can also recycle a number of other items — it just takes a bit more effort to find a drop-off location:

  • aseptic packaging (milk cartons, drink boxes, etc.) — call Coca Cola at 800-888-6488
  • refrigerators, heat pumps, and air conditioners — must be taken away by a certified hauler
  • packing “peanuts” — the Plastic Loose Fill Council offers a list of drop-off sites
  • polystyrene packaging — contact the Alliance Of Foam Packaging Recyclers
  • carpet and carpet padding — Dupont Antron has a program for recycling carpet
  • eyeglasses — the Lions Club accepts donations to fit with new lenses for the needy
  • holiday cards — send to St. Jude's Ranch to be made into new cards
  • GreenDisk has a program to recycle media (digital or magnetic) and computer components
  • tires and rubber, scrap metal, and automotive parts — contact your local mechanic
  • ink and toner cartridges — choose from a number of recycling programs
  • cell phones, cordless items, and rechargeable batteries — contact Call2Recycle

Toxic Substances

Some items are considered toxic and will poison a landfill if thrown into the trash. These must be handled with care, and can't be recycled along with your glass and paper — but you can take them to a hazardous materials recycler for correct disposal. Take motor oil, antifreeze and other automotive fluids to your local quick lube shop. You can call your local garbage company for advice in dealing with fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, household cleaners, poisons, paints, and solvents. Lead acid batteries may be taken to an automotive shop — or contact The Battery Council for a referral. And if you have a smoke detector (which contains radioactive material) to discard, call First Alert at 800-323-9005.
While the goal is to recycle as much as you can, some things just can't be re-purposed and must be tossed:

  • other grades of plastic (varies by local area)
  • waxed, food contaminated, and oil-soaked paper
  • stickers and plastic laminated paper such as fast food wrappers
  • pet food bags
  • carbon or thermal fax paper
  • sanitary products or tissues
  • plate glass and mirrors
  • crockery, china, or pottery

Know Thyself, Know The Season

Do you spend every holiday grumbling about all the work that you have to do? Complaining about the cooking, shopping, decorating, and entertaining? I hate to seem unsympathetic to your plight, but I don't understand ruining the joy of the season with a lot of bitching! If you dislike an activity so much that all you can do is whine about it, why do it? If your answer is, “Because it's a holiday tradition,” my response will be, “So what?!”

The first key to creating a peaceful holiday season is identifying those holiday rituals that you enjoy and those that you don't. When you spend your precious time and energy on activities that you don't find rewarding, you are destined to become frustrated and cranky — and probably make those around you unhappy, as well. So go ahead and be honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes before the season even starts. Make a list of every possible holiday “obligation” that you can think of. Your list might contain (but not be limited to) the following:

  • send greeting cards
  • bake holiday goodies
  • decorate the house
  • shop for gifts
  • wrap gifts
  • make the holiday meal
  • attend church services
  • go caroling
  • volunteer
  • visit extended family
  • visit friends
  • spend time with spouse
  • plan family get-together
  • spend time with kids
  • decorate the tree
  • clean house
  • shop for food
  • attend a concert/play
  • watch holiday TV
  • visit Santa
  • look at lights
  • host a party
  • attend a party
  • take a walk in nature 

 

Now, here's the fun part — circle those items that you enjoy doing and absolutely don't want to miss this holiday season. Then cross out those that you hate, despise, and dread. Be honest here! If you loathe baking, don't try to convince yourself that this year you will turn into Donna Reed with a batch of homemade gingerbread — ain't gonna happen! And you can get very specific if you need to. You might love visiting with your parents, but can't stand seeing your critical Aunt Louise. That's fine — make visiting your parents one activity and seeing Aunt Louise another. It might be a good idea to have everyone in your family make their own lists — everyone has different ideas about what activities are joyous and which ones are miserable.
 

Fitting In The Joy

Which items did you circle? Did you feel so strongly about some activities that you double-circled them or put a star by the side? Those are your true priorities — no matter what else happens this season, you need to make time to fit them in. Notice I didn't say “find” time — you have to MAKE it happen, actually scheduling that activity into your calendar! If walking around your neighborhood with your family singing carols and looking at holiday lights is a priority, sit down together and pick an evening and have everyone block it off. It's as simple as that.

At the start of the season, decide which activities are the most important.  Of course, you'll have to be realistic about what you have time for — you might need to limit each person to three priorities instead of eight. And you may have to do a little trading with your loved ones — “I'll go to Christmas Eve services with you, and in return I'd like for you to go for a nature walk on Saturday with me.” Creating harmony in any situation is about compromising — just don't allow yourself to bend so far that you give up all of your priorities for someone else's. Each person should feel that his or her needs are being met.

Let Go Of The “Have-To's”

The big question now is “how do I fit in my priorities when I've got chores to do?” It can seem hard to make time for the good stuff when you have so many other obligations. Those “have to's” will absolutely kill you! But why do you “have to”? Are you being graded on how much you accomplish during the holidays? Will you be judged if you skip out on the cards or parties or baking this year? (and why do you care what others say about you in the first place?!) A simple “no” should suffice — especially if you run across an activity that everyone in your household has crossed off of their lists. Remember, the only things that you “have to” do are pay taxes and die — putting up a Christmas tree isn't required!

Let me share a story to illustrate. A while back, my husband and I had a really rough year and decided to skip out on the traditional family Christmas get-together for the first time in our lives. We chose to go on a trip by ourselves — cross-country skiing in the middle of nowhere in Colorado — instead of spending the holidays with relatives. And since we were going out of town so early in December, we only put up minimal decorations and didn't send any greeting cards. We worried and worried that we were going to offend someone with our crass insensitivity — but do you know what happened? Everyone we talked to (family included) said, “Boy, I wish I had the courage to do that!” It turned out that 90% of the people we knew had considered doing the same thing at one point in time, but had never been able to walk away from the pressure of the “have to's.” Well, we had a marvelous time (one of our best Christmases ever), everyone loved hearing about our trip, and we now take a holiday vacation every other year.

The lesson here? Just because you think that you “have” to, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else feels the same way. Most people are overwhelmed by the holidays and would like for them to be easier — but no one seems willing to make the first move. Be honest with folks about what you want and don't want this year, and you may find your to-do list dwindling all on its own!

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

As this tenth-grader rattled off her list of daily activities, the problem was apparent. She rose at 5 AM for school and stayed 1-2 hours late each day for a different extracurricular club. She then had either soccer practice or dance class, and spent 2-3 hours a night on homework. She would fall exhausted into bed around 11 PM, get 6 hours of sleep, and start all over again the next day. By Friday night, she was so wiped out that she slept all weekend, just trying to recuperate.

Does this sound familiar? Are you inadvertently pushing your kids too hard, asking that they fit more than is humanly possible into a 24-hour day? I'm sure you don't mean to, but you can't help it. As adults, we aren't very good at recognizing our limits — and we're passing this disability on to our kids. We try to do too much, set unreasonable expectations for ourselves, and walk around feeling overwhelmed most of the time. Our children see us in action and mirror our behavior — they're just doing what they're taught.

What most kids are mirroring is overload. In simply raising our offspring, we're creating a newgeneration of stressed-out, overcommitted adults — but we have theability to change this by consciously adjusting our attitude toward time. Start by recognizing that you can't do everything, no matter how hard to try. Take a second to figure out your own priorities, then bring your behavior into alignment with those values. The key to teaching your children good time management skills is for you to learn them, first. “Do as I say do, not as I do” just doesn't cut it with kids. You have to show your children that you are in control of your schedule (not the other way around).

Re-Evaluating Your Child's Schedule

When you want your child to have every opportunity, it's easy to go overboard. But when their days are filled with structured “enrichment,” there's no time to explore, daydream, and just be a kid. I find it disturbing that children can't even knock on a friend's door and ask if so-and-so can come out — they have to schedule a “play date” in advance. I'm not sure when society collectively abandoned the idea of goofing off as part of growing up, but it's not a bad tradition to try and bring back. Leave some unscheduled time in your child's day, even if you have to limit the extracurricular side to do it — they'll thank you for it later when they grow up to be more balanced adults.
If you tell your kids that family is important but find yourself working 80 hours a week, they will get the message — just not the one you intended. Do you really want to live your life like a cheesy Harry Chapin song? Set aside at least one evening and one weekend day as “family time” – no one is allowed to schedule anything else so you can actually enjoy each other's company. Even you just order pizza and play board games, you will be teaching your kids  how to make room for life's true priorities.

Getting Organized As A Family

Have you ever had one of those frustrating days when no one in your family knows what anyone else is doing? At the last minute, Tommy asks for a ride to soccer practice, and Susie needs 3 dozen cupcakes for the class party tomorrow — but Mom has a meeting that she can't get out of and Dad has to work late tonight. Chaos! Sit down together as a family once a week and plot out each person's schedule for the next seven days. Hang a wall calendar in a high-traffic area like the kitchen, and record each person's activities in a different color pen (blue for Tommy, red for Susie, green for Mom, purple for Dad). You will immediately be able to see and correct scheduling conflicts, plan ahead for upcoming events, block off your “family time,” and even plan the week's meals. Just be firm about your policy. If it isn't on the calendar, there is no popping up at the last minute expecting everyone else to rearrange their schedules. When Tommy forgets to tell you that he has a ball game on Wednesday night and you've already planned to go to your book club, don't cancel on his behalf.

Remember that old saying, “Your failure to plan ahead does notconstitute my emergency.” It's his responsibility to arrange a ridewith a friend or he will just have to miss the game. And next time,he's more likely to put it on the calendar. I know it sounds mean, butit's time for a little tough love!

The Keepers

The first step toward cleaning out the clutter is recognizing that not everything is a keeper! Even those things that used to be keepers can slide into the “Get Rid Of” category without you realizing it. “Keep” is only meant for items that you have defined as CURRENTLY beautiful, useful, or loved. Deciding which items are “Keep's” should be fairly obvious — if you use it all the time or consider it a cherished memento, that's a “Keep.” You may even want to have several boxes of “Keep's” — each box labeled for a different area in your house. That way, you can take all of your “Kitchen Keeps” and “Bedroom Keeps” and “Basement Keeps” to their respective homes without making 30 different trips.

You may locate a few stray objectsthat are missing a part or in need of an accessory. Of course, youwould be perfectly happy to use these items — if you only had thoseessential lost components. Put these fabulous finds into a box labeled”need to buy,” and make a list of all the parts and pieces you arelooking for. Then you can take the list with you on your next shoppingtrip. You can do the same with any object that requires modification or repairbefore it can be used. But set a time limit — if you don't get an item in functional workingorder by your deadline, it gets moved to the “Get Rid Of” pile.

You can also create a space for unfinished projects that you still intend to tackle. However, this box is not meant to be a graveyard for past guilt. Askyourself if each task is still as meaningful as when you first beganworking on it. Macramé potholders may have sounded like a good idea 10years ago, but now? It's okay to admit that you will never write thegreat American novel. You're not going to hell if you decide that tennis just isn't for you anymore. I hereby grant you permission to let go ofoutdated interests, and to focus on activities that bring you joytoday. And if it sits in the project box for more than a couple ofmonths, it's out of here!

Get Rid Of

This box is for those objects that you are certain you don't want any more. Oh no — you have to make a decision?  Whatever will you do! I know the concept is frightening, but what I'm asking really should not be that hard — you ought to be able to look at a broken lamp or an old book you haven't read in 20 years or a pair of pants that will never fit you again and know that it serves no purpose in your life (if not, we've got much bigger issues to tackle than disorganization!) Remember, we're only looking for those items that you can immediately identify as clutter — ones that don't require a lot of thought or deliberation. Of course, you may want to break “Get Rid Of” into some smaller categories — such as “Throw Away” for the trash, “Give Away” for those things you would like to donate, and a even a “Sell” box for anything you think might be worth money.

You're also going to find some “Get Rid Of's” that aren't even your responsibility. If you are like every other person on this planet, you probably havecustody of at least one item does not belong to you. These orphanedsouls create a sense of guilt, of incompleteness, and of loose ends tobe tied up. How freeing would it be to rid yourself of other people'sclutter? Let's put these in a box labeled “To Return,” and then schedule time to get them back to their respective homes. I promise that — once youhave freed yourself of everything that doesn't belong to you, serve a purpose in your life, or mean anything to you –you will find it much easier to organize the rest. And you will havetaken a tremendous weight off of your shoulders — the weight ofunnecessary clutter. Just be sure to go through this process at leastonce a year to keep the piles trimmed back!

Not Sure

While I would love (in a perfect world) for you to be quick and decisive about each item, I realize that you are going to run across a few things that stump you. I give you permission to label these as “Not Sure.” That having been said, it's best if you can try to keep the “Not Sure's” to a minimum. This box is supposed to be for belongings that you can't rationally justify keeping — but some gut feeling won't let you part with them yet. Remember, your “Not Sure Box” isn't a dumping ground for things that you just don't want to take the time to think about. The last thing we want to do is ask the same questions about the same objects over and over again. Try your very best to make a solid “yes or no” decision about your belongings the first time that you pick them up.

If you honestly can't decide what to do with an item, put it in “Not Sure.” When your box is full, tape it shut and label it. Make sure you list the contents (kitchenware, books, clothing), the date you packed it away, and any special storage instructions on the outside. Then, I want you to stash this box in the garage, attic, or basement — some place out of the way. Trust me on this one. I actively want you to forget about this stuff for a while. Just make sure that you put your box where its contents won't get ruined (that means, don't place something that will melt in an attic without air conditioning!)

Make a note in your calendar (you are using a calendar, right?) to check back in 6 to 12 months. If, during that time, you haven't needed anything out of your box, it will be a lot easier to let go of those “Not Sure's.” If you still can't part with an item, that might be a hint that it is more beloved than you first thought. Either way, this will help you make a final decision about what to keep!

Asking The Big Questions

In everything that you do throughout the next 24 hours, take a second to ask yourself “why.” For example, as I was organizing one of my clients on Monday, I caught her folding up each piece of mail she had opened and putting it back in the ripped envelope, before then placing the envelope in her action files. Not only was her to-do stack was twice as thick as it needed to be, but she had added three steps to her process — re-stuffing the envelope, having to empty it again when it was time to tackle the to-do, and throwing the envelope away. When I asked “why?” my client stared at me with a blank look. The response was, “I don't really know.” I pointed out that she could save time and effort if she tossed the envelope immediately, and kept only the important part. I watched the lightbulb go on over her head as she said, “You know, you're right!” My client is not stupid, she had just gotten into a habit, doing things the same old way every time, without questioning whether or not that way made sense.

We have so much to accomplish and stay on top of these days that weoften run on autopilot, engaging in behaviors without recognizing the purpose behind them. But the key to REALLY simplifying your life is awareness. You have make conscious decisions about what you will do (and not do) — otherwise, you're sure to get off track and find yourself wasting precious energy on activities don't actually do anything to improve your quality of life. Do you find yourself flipping channels, completely zoned out, not even paying attention to what's on TV, when you could be engaged in a more rewarding pursuit? Shuffling the same pile of magazines around your office  month after month without ever actually reading them? Stashing more and more boxes of junk in an expensive storage unit, rather than cleaning out the stuff you don't use? Running out at the last minute for a missing dinner ingredient because you didn't planahead? Picking up after your kids when you could put that energy into teaching them to be responsible for themselves? Why?

What Benefit Do You Get?

If you can't identify a specific benefit you get from that behavior, it's quite possible it isn't serving any purpose in your life. For example, if I ask why you brush your teeth every morning, you will respond by saying, “so I don't get cavities” — good! But if I ask why you clip coupons that you never remember to take with you when you go shopping (that subsequently expire and have to be thrown away 2 months later) — and you tell me, “I might use them someday,” that just doesn't cut it. You're not getting any value from the time and energy invested NOW, so you have two choices — either stop that activity and put your resources into something more meaningful, or change your habits so that you DO get some form of payoff. It's really that simple.

So in this example, you could set up an expandable wallet with individual sections for the different types of coupons you collect (groceries, household items, personal items, eating out, car care, whatever). After clipping, you could file them in this wallet and stick it in your purse or car so you always have it with you. When you plan your weekly shopping day, you could go through the wallet as you write up your list, pulling out those coupons that you know you will use. Then each week, you could also toss out those coupons you ended up not needing. In an ideal world, you would never forget to use a coupon again, and you would save at least a little money at the store. But it sounds like a lot of work to me. Is all that effort really worth the $5.86 you will save? Perhaps, after looking at the time investment versus the payoff, you'll might determine (like I have) that coupons simply encourage you to buy a lot of stuff you don't need (just to get the discount) and give up on the whole activity altogether. Or you may find that you pocket an extra $150 every week and systematizing your clippage is the best decision you ever made. The point is, it will be a conscious choice, based on your values and goals.

Is There An Easier Way?

Finally, ask yourself if there isn't an easier way to accomplish the task that you're performing. Do you really need to spend a half an hour in the morning arranging 27 decorative pillows on your bed, or would simply smoothing the comforter be good enough for the room to feel “tidy?” Then let 'em go! Does it take you 12 tries to get out the front door, because you always forget your keys? Then hang a hook by the door so your keys have a home from the moment you walk in — and they are always right where you expect them to be. Why run a different errand every day (dry cleaning, returns, the library, getting that picture framed) when piling all of your to-do's into a “going out the door” basket and making one trip a week (an organized, geographically-planned trip, complete with directions and confirmation of the store hours) would be much less time-consuming? And why do you keep throwing away the same solicitations and catalogs over and over again, when one phone call would get you off of their mailing list?

I'll end with another favorite quote of mine from “The Mosquito Coast” — “For Father there were no burdens that couldn't be fitted with a set of wheels or runners or a system of pulleys.” That's sort of how I feel about simplifying your life. There is no challenge so overwhelming, no time-waster so ominous, no frustration so severe that you can't find a solution. Of course, the solution may involve setting up a simple system, or it may require you to rewire your brain and rethink your lifestyle — but it's always worth it in the long run!