Take-out menu filer

Ever wanted to order in something other than pizza, but you can’t think of anything other than the usual Chinese place? Something I’ve done for quite a while is file take-out menus in an Itoya portfolio that I keep on a bookshelf for easy access. Whenever I come home to find a Mexican, Salvadoran, Kabob, or whatever menu slipped under my door, I stick it in my portfolio. I use one pocket for each type of cuisine–all the Chinese menus go together, same goes for the pizza menus, etc. When we feel like ordering in, we just flip through the pages and pick a cuisine. Then pull out the menus and make our choice. The key here is always dropping in menus when you get them in the mail or with your order, and throwing out obsolete ones when you find them. This beats piling them on a table by a phone or sticking them to your fridge. And if you want to pay $25 instead of $5 for an Itoya Profolio, here’s a binder designed just for menus.

Getting started with getting organized

If you want to declutter your space and get organized, there’s one book I recommend above all others, 30 Days to a Simpler Life, by Cris Evatt and Connie Cox. It’s chock full of tips and it will inspire you to get started simplifying. At times the book can be a bit too new-agey for my taste (for example, they recommend that you “say the names of things you see” to become “fully present,” and to eat with your left hand if you’re right-handed so that you eat more slowly and thus better savor your meal), but those parts can be easily overlooked if you don’t care for them. The rest is gold.

What I like about this book is that Evatt and Cox recognize that simplifying has two separate parts: first you declutter, then you organize. If you just organize, all you’ll accomplish will be neatly stacking piles of garbage — rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic, to be dramatic about it. Evatt and Cox propose a three-step method to eliminating clutter that makes so much sense that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. It certainly helped me pare down my cluttered spaces.

  1. Three piles — The first thing you do is that you pick an area you want to declutter. Don’t try to do too much at once; focus on what’s causing you the most stress. (Let’s say it’s your closet, but it could be your files, or your kitchen, or anything else.) Schedule ample time to dedicate to the task and go through every item in your cluttered space. Place each item into one of three piles: the “love and use” pile, the “recycle” pile, and the “ambivalence” pile.

The “love and use” pile requires little thought because it’s for those things that you immediately know are essential to you and that you use a lot. A pair of jeans that you wear at least once a week would certainly go in there.

The “recycle” pile should also be simple. It’s for those items you immediately know you should get rid of. You’ll ask yourself why you still have the thing. A big elbow-padded sweater from the 80s would be a good example. Anything you haven’t worn or used once in the past year should certainly go in there.

It’s called a recycle pile because you can often donate these things to Goodwill or give it to a friend who might be able to use it. For me, however, it’s often just a “garbage” pile. If you don’t want it, what are the chances someone else will? And you won’t believe how satisfying and liberating it is to walk to the garbage chute with a big bag of stuff from your stress area knowing you’ll never have to worry about these things again.

The last pile is the trickiest, but the key to the system. In the “ambivalence” pile go things that you don’t love, that you don’t use very often, but that you can’t bring yourself for whatever reason to throw away. Many people never wear a particular garment but won’t get rid of it because it was a gift from a loved one. That goes in the ambivalence pile. You’re not going to throw away anything in this pile, so don’t be afraid to be generous with your ambivalence.

  • Practice living without it — The stuff in your “love and use” pile can go back into the closet or whatever other area you’re organizing. Of course, you’ll use wooden hangers and other thoughtful organizers, but those are posts for another day. The stuff in your “ambivalence” pile, however, you fold neatly and place into attractive storage boxes you can get at the Container Store or elsewhere. Seal up those boxes, label them, and put them in an out of the way storage space where they won’t be clutter. If a month later you realize you want to use or wear one of the things you put away, you know where to find it; no need to worry.However, after 6 months, or a year, or whatever short period makes you comfortable, take the ambivalence boxes with everything that’s still left in them (which is very often everything you first put into them) and throw them down the chute. You won’t feel bad, I promise. The reason is that, as Evatt and Cox say, you have practiced living without these things and you’ve effectively already thrown them out in your head. Practicing living without things is a great way to transition from a cluttered to an uncluttered space. After a year or six months, if you haven’t used something, you likely never will.
  • Design systems — The last step is to design simple systems that will keep you from getting cluttered again. This is the part where, once you’ve decluttered, you can begin to get (and stay) organized. Sharing many of these little systems is much of what I hope this blog will do in the future.
  • When you’re done with these steps, and your ambivalence boxes are tucked away, you will find that your closet is now incredibly simplified. You won’t have such a hard time picking out what to wear because all your favorite things will be readily visible. And you won’t believe how much space you’ll have. The best feeling, though, is the feeling of lightness that comes from getting rid of stuff that just doesn’t belong in your life anymore, combined with the security that it’s all there if you really do need it again. So go nuts doing this with your drawers, your living room, and every other nook.

    A manifesto on simple living

    I was a bit surprised when I looked up the term “simple living” on Wikipedia. Obviously the result of authorship by committee, the article makes it a point to explain that the idea of simple living is not incompatible with any political belief, and notes that a capitalist can choose to live simply consistent with his beliefs. However, the article states or implies in several places that simple living is a rejection of consumerism. It also says that “its proponents are consciously choosing to not focus on wealth directly tied to money or restrictive, cash-based economics,” whatever that is. I’d therefore like to tell you a bit about what simple living means to me.

    I like wealth and property as much as the next red-blooded American. To me consumerism–defined as consumption beyond one’s basic needs–is not an evil in and of itself. I don’t need all the clothes I have, and I certainly don’t need a DVD player and movie collection to live a satisfied life, but those things make me happy and give me enjoyment, so I think they’re fine to have. Living beyond one’s basic needs becomes a problem only when the accumulation of property becomes a source of stress rather than enjoyment. Unfortunately, I think finding balance is difficult for many because purchasing and accumulating can be effortless, while planning ahead and organizing takes effort.

    Recently I came across an article in The Atlantic about the burgeoning industry of people who specialize in managing the property and lives of billionaires. If you’re that rich, you can have so much stuff that you can’t possibly take care of it all yourself. One might not have enough cash to hire a “lifestyle consultant,” yet nevertheless have enough accumulated stuff to feel overwhelmed. Choosing to live simply, to me, is trying to find balance in order to enjoy what one does have, and to avoid becoming overwhelmed by clutter. It means consciously choosing to have fewer things, but knowing that what you will have will be high quality items that you truly cherish.

    Simple living, therefore, should not be about asceticism, but about getting rid of (or preferably avoiding) distractions that prevent us from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. As Albert Einstein said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”