Posts Tagged ‘simplify’

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!

Reality Check

It's incredibly difficult for folks to admit that they can't do everything themselves. Well,  guess what — you can't! And I don't know that you'd want to, even if you had the time. Some activities are unpleasant, outside your range of expertise, or just not what you want to spend your time on. There's nothing wrong with bowing out, as long as you can find someone else to take care of it. The not-to-do list helps identify those chores, errands, and daily responsibilities that can (and should) be delegated. This is assuming that we're talking about a job that even needs to be done in the first place — if not, let it go and move on!

Unfortunately, most of us don't realize how close to the edge we are until it's too late and we're about to fall off the cliff. The key to creating a successful “not-to-do” list is awareness –paying attention to what you do, how long it takes, how often you doit, and whether or not you get some benefit from that particularactivity. However, we spend so much of our days on autopilot and in astate of overload, that simply trying to recall how you spent yesterdaymorning can be a real challenge!

Keep a notepad handy, and record your activities for a week. You don't have to log every second of your day (“8:00 — got up / 8:05 — used bathroom / 8:15 — had breakfast” isn't going to help you be more effective and efficient!) But if you can start tracking your work responsibilities (a paid job, housework, or whatever fills your day), travel time to and from activities, and any other external responsibilities (committee meetings, carpools, volunteering), you will begin to see places where you can trim and tighten your schedule through delegation. Make a note of what you are doing — such as “checking e-mails” or “cleaning oven” or “buying groceries.” Then, estimate how much time you have spent on that particular chore (don't forget travel and prep time). Later we'll look at whether this action needs to be done at all (!!) and whether it needs to be done by you. But for now, that's the start of your “not-to-do” list.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

YOUR
ANNUAL INCOME
WHAT ONE HOUR
IS WORTH
ONE HOUR PER DAY
FOR A YEAR
$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500
** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.

Look At Costs Versus Benefits

Have you ever caught yourself spending a lot of time on a very low-payoff activity? Low-payoff doesn't mean worthless. This task might actually need to be done — like addressing 1,500 envelopes for a business mailing or cleaning all of the window screens in your house. But it's not something that will immediately and drastically improve your quality of life. And it might be a hugely time-consuming activity, where the rewards you will reap don't even begin to compare to your investment of time and energy. Most of these low-payoff jobs really serve as maintenance — but if left undone, they can erode away at your home, your career, your health, your peace of mind and cause serious problems down the road. That makes these chores perfect candidates for your “not-to-do” list — items that really need to be completed, but not necessarily by YOU. Here are some of the most common suggestions I hear from my clients — see which resonate with you as being potentially delegable:

  • house cleaning
  • grocery shopping and meal preparation
  • paperwork (filing/mailings/organizing)
  • errand-running
  • yard work and landscaping
  • home maintenance and car maintenance
  • follow-up with clients (phone calls/e-mails)
  • travel, meeting, and event arrangements

Of course, you also have to ask if you really enjoy the work. Even though I could probably find someone else to maintain my website for me, I love the process of creating new pages, bringing ideas to life, and watching my baby blossom and grow. It is time-consuming, but I'm filled with renewed energy each time I sit down and add a new section to the site. So the payoff for me comes as a sense of satisfaction and a continued outlet for my creativity — and that is priceless, regardless of what my hour is worth. On the other hand, my sister loves gardening. She finds it incredibly relaxing to dig in the dirt and watch a tiny bud explode into color. Lawn care is pretty much my idea of hell — so I would probably hire someone else to take care of my shrubbery and flowers (if I had a yard!) It's all a matter of what energizes you, what fills your life with joy, and what you look forward to doing. If an activity fits this description, keep it for yourself and find other less-pleasurable chores to include on your not-to-do list.

Is This The Best Possible Use Of Your Time?

The final question I ask my clients when setting up their lists is, “What's the best possible use of your time at this exact moment?” Americans in particular tend to focus too much on the daily grind (paying bills, keeping the house clean, writing reports, etc.) and too little on our real priorities. Those many details may seem urgent at the time — but if you look at the bigger picture, that they really aren't all that pressing. And it's sad when we end up missing out on the important things in life (experiences and relationships) because we're so caught up in the minutiae. Do you really need to be organizing the garage, or spending time with your kids at the park? Is it a higher priority that you decide how to arrange the chairs at the upcoming sales meeting, or that you develop a strong agenda and provide guidance during the group discussion? Will you benefit more from zoning out in front of the television, or taking a walk around the neighborhood with your spouse? Ask yourself where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. That should be where you focus your attention, and let someone else handle the rest.

Once you've made a list of items that you would love to delegate — who do you hand them off to? You have so many options! Just remember, you aren't in it alone. You simply have to decide whatyou want to delegate and then be willing to ask for help. At home, you can get your family involved in the act (see my dear hubby doing dishes?) Kids and spouses are just as capable of handling those daily chores as you are! At the office, don't be afraid to ask a co-worker for some assistance — and offer to help out the next time he or she needs a little bit of a break. Also make use of your support staff (administrative clerks, assistants, and other assorted minions) — that's what they are there for. If you don't have these sorts of support networks to call upon, hire an independent contractor or freelancer to help with household and business tasks that you don't have time for. You might also think about developing a local co-op for sharing those time-consuming domestic (trading off on cooking, cleaning, errand-running, or child care) — or set up an informal swap with a neighbor.

A Bad Case Of Indecision

You know what “waffling” is. It begins when you decide to get rid of that old waffle iron you never use. As you put it in the donation bag, you think to yourself, “But what if someone wants waffles?” You take it back out. Then you think, “That's silly. No one has wanted waffles in more than 5 years.” You stick it back in the bag. “I could start making waffles again.” It comes out. “I hate making waffles.” It goes back in. This continues for another 15 minutes until you go to the dark side with, “But I might need it someday.” You put the waffle iron back in the cabinet, to collect dust for another 5 years. Why do you do this? It's not because you are an evil and indecisive person. You simply lack a solid set of criteria for determining an item's worth. No longer!

The key to trimming down the clutter is being honest with yourself about what purpose that item serves in your life. If you can't conjure up at least one plausible scenario requiring the use of that green shag toilet-seat cover or dot-matrix printer from 1988, you may want to ask yourself if it is worth hanging on to. Try to provide solid answers to each of these questions:    

  • Why would I need it? (try to come up with one occasion when you would need that particular item again — what would have to happen in your life for it to be useful, relevant, and valuable to you)
  • Where would I need it? (if the item in question is only useful up north and you now live in Miami — or only useful in a corporate environment and you're now self-employed, why keep it?)
  • What would I need it for? (what purpose does this item serve? are you still involved with that activity? no reason to keep letterhead from an old job or tap shoes if you gave up dancing)
  • Who would ask me for it? (people seem to hang onto stuff because they are afraid someone will ask them for it someday — if it's the IRS or the police, keep it — if not, think twice)
  • When would I need it? (okay, you might need it “someday” — but when is will that day arrive? 3 months or 35 years from now? is it worth hanging onto that long?)

The Past Is Future

Ifyou haven't touched something in years, chances are thatyou're not going to use it anytime soon. Clothes and sporting goodsseem to be some of the worst offenders! It's natural for people to havea hard time letting go of the past. And if an old outfit or a bowlingball really means that much to you, put it away with yourkeepsakes. Just don't take upvaluable space in your active storage areas with items you don't use. Behonest and realistic about this one! At what point will the aforementioned green shagtoilet-seat cover be crucial to your survival? If you can picture aspecific, concrete instance when you will need it in the foreseeablefuture, then by all means keep it. “I might need it someday” isn't agood enough rationale.

What Is The Worst Thing That Would Happen If You Got Rid Of It?

When my clients are anxious about discarding an item, they are reallysaying, “I'm afraid of what might happen if I got rid of it.” This issimply fear of the unknown — uncertainty about the consequences oftheir actions. So I ask my clients to let their apprehensions run wild,and to imagine the absolute worst-case scenario. Will the world end if you toss outthat ring binder you haven't used since college? Probably not. Thisknowledge helps dissipate the fear and makes letting go a little easier.

So let's say you do get rid of something, and then decide thatyou need it 6 months later (my mother claims this always happens toher, as a justification for postponing cleaning out!) This isn't alwaysa problem. Ask yourself what would be required for you to replace thislost treasure. If we are talking about an expensive or hard-to-finditem, you are certainly justified in thinking twice before tossing it.But if it's just an old butter dish or an extra stapler, it's not such a big deal. You have to consider cost versus benefit — it may cost you more (intime, space, energy, or money) to keep the item than to replace it ifand when you ever need it.

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!