Posts Tagged ‘simplify’

Quit With The Excuses Already!

It's fine to keep things that you don't use everyday — I don't believe in the “you haven't touched it in a year, it's out of here” rule. But I don't want you convincing yourself to keep an item that gives you no real benefit and is just taking up space! After you've been doing it for a long time, holding onto clutter becomes a habit — and habits (especially bad ones) are hard to break! It's easy to continue justifying  your failure to clean out  the excess and unused with a variety of different excuses. “It was expensive.” “It was a gift.” “I've had it since I was a child.” “I don't just want to throw it away.” “I might fit into a size 6 again.” “But what if it comes back in style?” Yeah — right. I'm here to respond to each of these rationalizations with a bit of cold, hard reason — hopefully allowing you to see that you can let at least a few things go and you'll be none the worse off for it! Wink

  • is it beautiful, useful, or loved? (artist William Morrison developed the most effective way to determine if an item truly serves a purpose — ask yourself if the object is “beautiful, useful, or loved” — I teach this phrase to my clients like a mantra, repeated over and over and over (actually, they get a bit sick of it after awhile!) — all of your most treasured belongings seem to fit into one of these three categories — and if an object isn't beautiful, useful, or loved, then why are you keeping it?)
  • but it was expensive! (you may say that you are keeping an item because you spent a lot of money on it, and you can't stand to see it go to waste — I hate to burst your bubble, but if you aren't using it now, isn't it still going to waste? — keeping something simply because it was costly is not a good enough reason — these objects are nothing but high-price reminders of purchasing mistakes you made in the past — better to let it go and move on, and perhaps you can sell it to recoup some of the expense)
  • I might be able to wear it again (does keeping a garment that is too small encourage you to lose weight or fill you with shame because you still haven't reached your goal?  — we already heap enough guilt onto our heads every day without creating additional pressures — isn't it healthier to focus on feeling better about your appearance now? — why not take your old wardrobe to a consignment shop, then spend your profits on clothes that fit and make you feel attractive just as you are?)
  • get off the guilt trip (another rationalization that I hear fairly regularly is, “Aunt Mildred gave that to me, she would be so disappointed/hurt/angry if I got rid of it.” — I can only respond by asking, “Who runs your life? You or your Aunt Mildred?” — the idea of keeping something that you have no use for, just so you candrag it out when your relatives visit, seems a bit dishonest — and I firmly believe that once you receive a gift, that item is yours to do with as you see fit, even if you choose to discard it — we place too much importance on “stuff” as it is, without creating an unnecessary sense of obligation)
  • I've had it a long time (not to be rude, but so what? if it has no sentimental or historical value, I'm not convinced that longevity is the best reason to hang onto something you don't really care for anymore or use — your lifestyle and interests change over the years, and it's entirely natural for some of your belongings are going to become obsolete — they've had a good life, but now it's time to let them go and focus your energies on your current interests)
  • I don't just want to throw it away (clutter is not an either/or proposition — you have many other options besides just throwing an unwanted item away — find a local charity that will accept a donation, sell the thing on Craigslist or at a yard sale, give it to a friend or family member who could put that item to use — if it's still in functional order, you can always find someone who would love to have it and give it a second lease on life)

If you are still having a hard time letting go of your clutter, youmight try an alternative approach. Judith Kolberg, former head of the NationalStudy Group on Chronic Disorganization, suggests that you treat yourbelongings as “friends, acquaintances, and strangers.” Friends arethose items that you like having around — ones that really meansomething to you. Acquaintances are objects that come into your life,stay for a short time, are enjoyed, and then leave again. And strangers are easilydiscarded — you have no strong feelings of devotion toward theseitems. This method works particularly well for people who have powerfulemotional attachments to their belongings.

A Look At How Junk Mail Gets Started

Where does all this unwanted paper come from anyway? Any time that you interact with a business, you are put on a mailing list — and you may not even realize that you've added to someone's direct mail plan until it's too late, and you've been flooded with solicitations. Here's how it works — you purchase a product or service, your name is added to that company's customer list, and your contact information is sold or rented to a list broker. Your name and address is then sold to literally hundreds of organizations, and each adds you to another list. The effect is exponential — one list can lead to hundreds of pieces of junk mail. The best defense is a good offense, so it's best to assume that EVERYONE is out to send you junk mail and be proactive in your dealings. EVERY time you engage in a transaction where you have given out your address, be sure to tell them up front not to include your name on any lists, not to send you any marketing materials or solicitations, and not to sell/rent your name to anyone else.

The Biggest Sources Of Junk Mail

Another big offender in the junk mail game is the credit industry. The credit bureaus make a lot of money selling your name to banks and lenders so that these leeches can fill your mailbox with those annoying and dangerous “pre-approved” offers (more than one person has had their credit ruined when someone stole an unsolicited card application from their mail!) Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to “opt out” of this practice. Simply call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT or visit — it is completely safe to give your social security number (that's how they locate your credit reports), and you have a choice of opting out for 5 years or permanently (be sure to pick permanently). Your name will be removed from those sleazy marketing lists, and you will NEVER again receive an offer that was generated through misuse of your credit report. I will tell you that this is the BEST thing I ever did to stop the junk mail — I don't get a single financial solicitation from anyone anymore!

Much of the rest of the generic junk mail you receive is created by direct mail service companies — an entire industry has blossomed around the idea that your address and contact information are valuable commodities. However, these folks are legally required to remove your name from their lists at your request. You can get off lists for “Val Pak” coupons and other impersonal junk mail by contacting the following services:

  • ADVO Inc. List Service — 239 W. Service Road, Hartford, CT 06120
  • Cox Direct Operations — 6030 N. US 301, Elm City, NC 27822
  • Carol Wright Gifts — 340 Applecreek Road, Lincoln, NE 68528-1501
  • Harte Hanks Direct Marketing — 100 Alco Place, Baltimore, MD 21227-2090
  • Money Mailer — 14271 Corporate Drive, Garden Grove, CA 92843
  • Val-Pak Coupons Address Info. — 8575 Largo Lakes Drive, Largo, FL 33773
  • Direct Marketing Association — PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
  • Polk List Order Services Opt Out — 1621-18th Street, Denver, CO 80202
  • Donnelly Marketing Name Supression Service — P.O. Box 3502, Ames, IA 50010-3502
  • List Services Corp. — 6 Trowbridge Drive Box 516, Bethel, CT 06801
  • Metromail Corp. Consumer Services — 901 W. Bond, Lincoln, NE 68521
  • Database America Compilation — 100 Paragon Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645
  • Walter Karl Consumer List Mgmt. — 1 American Lane, Greenwich, CT 06831
  • Dun & Bradstreet — 899 Eaton Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18025-9922   

Just send them a brief postcard, asking to have your name removed from their marketing lists — and be sure to include all permutations and misspellings of your name and address. This should stem most of the tide, but it's a good idea to keep a template of your letter on your computer — that way, you can also whip out a “remove me from your list” card to send to any company that is sending you junk mail you didn't request.

Junk Mail From Unexpected Places

Junk mail is just like a leak in your roof or termites in your walls — you can't always tell where the problem is originating from. And without a starting point, you stand little chance of ever regaining control over your mailbox. You would think that the companies with which you do business would actually honor that promise to “protect your personal information” — unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. You have to proactively protect yourself by ask to “opt out” anytime you give someone your contact information (even if it's for a shipping or billing address). Use the words “please do not rent, sell, share, or trade my name” and ask that your name be put on an “in-house” list only. More importantly, don't give out your contact information unless it is absolutely necessary.

For example, you never want to send in a warranty card on a new product that you have purchased — your warranty is still good even without the card, and they often go to list brokers rather than the manufacturer. You may be tempted to enter a lot of contests and drawings, to sign up for giveaways, “send me more info” packets, and samples — but the only prize you will win is a ton of unwanted junk mail. Just say no! And while it's nice to get a break at the grocery store, signing up for store scanner “discount cards” adds you to more mailing lists — just an FYI.

Also check to see if your credit card company lets other businesses sendpromotions to its card holders, and ask to opt out of these. You caneven instruct your credit card company to quit sending you in-housemailings aside from your bill — this will stop the new card offers, thepromotional invitations to sign up for an entirely scammy creditprotection plan, and those stupid “balance transfer” checks they seemso fond of. And be sure to contact current magazine and catalog subscriptions to opt out from their lists. While you're at it, ask yourself if you actually read the publication when it arrives, or if it just sits there gathering dust and cluttering up your life each month. If you answered “b,” just cancel the damned subscription or get off the catalog list and be done with it!

Your Government, Hard At Work For You

Here's another one I'll bet you didn't know about — the U.S. postal service, a governmental agency with a monopoly on the letter-sending business, sells change of address lists to marketers! When you submit a permanent change of address form through your post office, you are added to the “National Change Of Address” database. You might think that moving gives you a fresh start, but all that annoying direct mail is going to follow you to your new home. If you've submitted a change of address in the past, just ask to have your name removed from the NCOA database by sending your name, old address, and new address  to NCOA Customer Support / 6060 Primacy Pkwy. #101 / Memphis, TN 38188.

However, you can avoid this issue altogether with a sneaky but effective little trick. Only permanent address changes go into the NCOA database — so check the box for “temporary move” and set the time frame for 364 days. You will receive the same year-long mail forwarding service as a permanent change, and avoid any risk of junk mail moving with you.

Some Unorthodox Approaches

Instead of just bitching about how much junk mail you get and throwing it all in the trash, create a pile for those items you don't want to continue receiving — then sit down once a week and contact each company to have them remove you from their mailing list. I personally prefer to call rather than write (because I can get confirmation from a live human that my request has been processed). But sometimes, it's just better to get the offending item out of your life as quickly as possible. Plus, it's also deliciously vengeful to know that you are costing those folks who annoy you with their marketing materials a little extra money.

If you receive a solicitation that includes a postage-paid return envelope, put the item back in the return envelope and include a note saying “stop sending me your junk” — when you mail it back, the company is charged an additional postage fee, and you're essentially sending your removal request at their expense! You can also write “return to sender, remove me from your list” on any piece of first class junk mail and put back in your mailbox — the post office is obligated to send it back to its source of origination. First-class mail isn't cheap these days, and it's unlikely you will get any more solicitations from that company. You can actually refuse any piece of junk you receive, even bulk mail, and the post office is required to deal with it. I used to take all those grocery store flyers and “dear occupant”solicitations, bundle them together with a rubber band, and put a noteon it saying “refused: a gift for the postmaster” — the USPS just loved me! If more and more people do this, eventually, the postal service might stop making it so easy for companies to send out crap advertisements that recipients don't want in the first place. At least I like to dream…

Success Is A Trade-Off

When life doesn't go the way we planned, we become big-time excuse-makers — it's human nature, a defense mechanism. People often blame “circumstances” for keeping them from achieving their dreams. This is code for “I would have had to do things differently to make it happen, and I just wasn't willing to pay the price.” What they're really saying is that they didn't want it badly enough to work for it. Want to be president of your company? How do 80-hour work weeks sound to you? You can be debt-free, but you'll have to put a moratorium on unnecessary spending for a while (no eating out, no movies, no impulse buys) — can you do that? Do you want to write a book? It will only if you turn off the TV. Wish you were in better shape? Are you ready to sweat — every single day of the week?

It's like that famous quote about the world-renowned pianist. At a concert someone said, “I wish I could play like you.” The pianist replied, “If you knew what I had to do to get here, you wouldn't.” You can have anything (and I mean ANYTHING) you want in life, as long as you're willing to make space for it to happen. But most people settle for what life hands them, instead of going after what they really desire most — usually because they have a hard time recognizing their long-term goals in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Knowing What You Really Want

The big question is what are you willing to give up NOW to have what you want most? It's easy to become shortsighted — with so many immediate responsibilities and distractions (delayed gratification is not most people's strong suit!) But when you fail to see beyond the end of the week or the end of the month or even December 31st, you're giving your future happiness a short shrift.

My husband and I have given up a lot of things — the huge house, the hot sexy car, and a lot of expensive “playthings” — because we have our eye on the bigger prize. Our goal is freedom — the ability to do what we want when we want it, to be able to travel endlessly without having to ask for time off, and especially financial freedom (which we define as having enough money to cover our daily expenses without having to hold a full-time job). We're looking at a longer timeline than just what we do for enjoyment “today”.

Our Story

In order to do this, we've chosen a fairly unconventional life. Matt and I both used to work for someone else doing the 9 to 5 grind thing until we started our own business. It was scary, we worried that we wouldn't have enough money (thankfully that didn't happen) — but we can work in our pajamas, and take the day off any time we like. That's freedom.

Our lives are not as “tied down” as a lot of people's. We have cats instead of kids (but we never considered not having children a sacrifice!) Tried homeownership, didn't like it — so we're full-time nomads, living out of a 29-foot Airstream Excella instead. We travel the country, stopping to “live” for a while anyplace that strikes our fancy. That's freedom.

Matt and I try to live frugally, because we don't want to spend our lives working to pay the bills. We have no debt and we refuse to pay anyone interest for anything if we can avoid it (which means we have to save up to afford each purchase — no financing). We only have one car, when we need a new one we buy used (with cash), and then we drive that vehicle to death. We don't eat out every day of the week, I shop for most of my clothes at thrift and consignment stores, and we don't pay the exorbitant fees that most folks do for cable or satellite TV (we wait until the end of the season and get our shows on DVD from the library or Netflix. And we put money away in savings every month toward our goal of financial independence. That's freedom.

How About You?

The point is not to say “ooh look at how great we are” or brag about our lives — it's simply to point out that everything Matt and I “give up” is a conscious decision, and we do it because there is something else out there that we want even more. Some people think we're weird and wouldn't want our lifestyle for anything in the world, and that's fine — everyone has to decide what their dream is and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it.

So I guess I would ask — what kind of life are you leading now, what would you really rather be doing, and what would you need to give up in order to have that? How badly do you want your dream to come true? Are you willing to go there, no matter what it takes? And what will your first step be? It's all up to you!

A Faster Way To Get It All Done

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 and appointments) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have little control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. The trick to successful time management is making effective and productive use of “micro-moments” — little chunks of time scattered throughout your day, in-between the other bigger commitments. Instead of watching TV, why not get something meaningful accomplished? Any time you can cross a to-do off your list during one of these normally “wasted” periods of time, you're one step ahead of the game.
  • wrap and mail a gift you've been meaning to send off
  • pay the bills that have been sitting on the counter waiting for your attention
  • clean out a cabinet or a drawer that's been driving you up the wall
  • repair a ripped hem
  • respond to a couple of emails or return a few phone calls
  • set out your clothes for the next day
  • make tomorrow's lunch today
  • sew a missing button
  • tackle a small home “fix-it” project (tighten a screw, hang a picture, etc.)
  • do the dishes and wipe down the counters
  • run the vacuum or sweep the floor
  • throw a load of laundry in the washer or dryer
  • put away a pile of clutter that's been staring you in the face for too long
  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • reorganize your CDs or DVDs in categorical / alphabetical order
  • gather up outdated magazines and newspapers to put in the recycling

See how easy that was? Wink

Breaking Free

There's nothing about the act of bill-paying that's any more inherently onerous than, say, filing or making follow-up phone calls or taking care of any other to-do — why then do we dread it more than other tasks? It's funny the effect an outlay of cash has on people. We love to spend money in the abstract — but when the time comes to ante up, we panic. A good deal of financial procrastination is simply buyer's remorse — we don't want to face our spending habits, those impulse buys and unnecessary purchases that now seem so foolish.

But even without regretting the purchase, there's still stress involved with bill-paying. You might worry about rising interest rates or dropping home values, the security of your paycheck or how much is being withheld to cover taxes — or any of a number of other issues that are entirely beyond your control. So much of what happens in the world of finance these days seems out of our hands, and uncertainty is always unnerving. The good news is that you don't have to worry about getting your bills paid on time, not with the right system (and as Forrest Gump says, “That's good! One less thing!”) Here are a few tips for making that monthly round of check-cutting a lot less stressful.

  • cut down on your expenses (it goes without saying that the fewer bills you have, the easier it is to pay them each month — of course you need electricity and groceries and a home to live in — but I'm sure that if you examine your statements and receipts, you'll find at least a few recurring items that could be trimmed from the budget — memberships you don't use, subscriptions you don't read, services that duplicate one another, excessive numbers of multiple credit cards, each with just a few charges on it — these bills do nothing but complicate your finances each month — it's time to clean house in the bill-paying sense — if you don't need it, lose it, and make your monetary life a lot easier right from the start)
  • align your bill-paying dates (part of what makes bill-paying such a pain in the neck is having to do it multiple times each month — one round of bills come due on the 1st and another on the 10th, then more on the 15th and a final batch near the end of the month — it's no wonder staying on top of it all takes so much of your time! — what most people don't realize is that most companies can adjust your billing cycle to end on whatever date you like — of course, your utilities and mortgage will always be due at the start of the month, so why not have your phone, internet, credit cards, insurance, and other monthly bills arrive at the same time? — that way, you only have to engage in one round of “pull-out-the-checkbook” each month)
  • pre-pay for the year (with set fees like insurance premiums, memberships, and flat-rate services, you can often save money by paying for the entire year up front — and even if there is no discount attached, you'll still save a lot of time by skipping monthly billing — if you have the money in-hand and know you'll be with that company for at least 12 months, ask if you can pre-pay your account for the year — just make sure that you'll be refunded the pro-rated amount if you cancel your service before the end of that period)
  • consolidate (a number of years back, Matt and I decided that we were tired of having to keep track of so many different bills — we examined our options and decided to pay as many bills as possible with our credit card, so we would only have one check to cut each month — it turns out that almost anything can be charged to your Visa or Mastercard — of course, gas and groceries and haircuts, but I'm also talking about your mortgage, your insurance, and even your utilities — I'm allergic to “convenience fees,” so we only do this if there is no additional cost for a credit card payment — and it only works when you pay the card in full — but it's amazing how much this one change simplified our finances — it also makes budgeting easier, because we can review every purchase for an entire month with one glance)
  • set up auto-pay (another step toward lifting the yoke of bill-paying from our necks was shifting everything to auto-pay — I came to realize that there was no good reason for me to ever have to write a company a check again, when I could have the bill either auto-charged to my credit card or auto-drafted from my bank account — my preference is for the first option, so if a company makes a mistake and takes too much money, I can dispute the charge before the cash comes out of my account — I really only use bank auto-drafts for paying the over-arching credit card bill — a lot of people are scared of auto-pay, because they're worried they'll get ripped off — but if you are reviewing your statements every month and reconciling your accounts like you should be, the chance of this happening is almost non-existent — and if you're not, you're just as likely to have an error go unnoticed, even when you pay all of your bills by check)
  • create a monthly routine (now that you've simplified bill-paying as much as possible, you just need a good routine for staying on top of it all — set one day a month aside for bookkeeping — start by reviewing all of the bills you've received, both paper and electronic, for errors — then reconcile your credit card and bank statements, double-checking to make sure that every bill on auto-draft was paid — finally, write and mail checks for the remaining bills that must be paid manually, if there are any — and don't forget to record those in your register — three simple steps and you're done until next month!)