Making resolutions and creating a 2012 Resolution Action Plan

According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, the phrase “get organized” is one of the top 10 resolutions people make every year. I’m not really sure how to validate this information, but my guess is that some version of “get organized” falls on the majority of resolution lists (“get the basement organized” or “have better time management”). If you add uncluttering into the “get organized” category, it’s likely a top 5 resolution.

If you fall into the group of resolution makers who wants to be better organized in 2012, the first thing to do is specifically identify why you want to be organized. Being organized isn’t usually a goal. Being organized is merely a path to achieving another goal. For instance, you might want to be better organized with your time after work so you finally get your business idea off the ground. You might want to be more organized with meal planning so you have less stress surrounding mealtimes with your family. Knowing why you want to be organized will help you with the remaining steps of the resolution-making process and with ultimately achieving your goals.

While brainstorming resolutions and the reasons you wish to make your resolutions, keep in mind that change is difficult and that research has found that it is easiest to achieve a goal when you’re only focusing on one at a time. This means you need to have 12 or fewer personal resolutions for 2012, giving yourself at least one month to focus on each resolution. If you have a resolution such as weight loss, and you want to be better organized with your meal planning to help you achieve that resolution, consider making your weight-loss resolution a six month or even an entire year-long resolution. You can focus on each step to help you achieve the weight loss each month — research and doctor’s visit in January, journaling food consumed and daily weight in February, meal planning in March, twice-a-week workouts with a personal trainer in April, four-times-a-week workouts on your own in May, etc.

After you have identified why you want to be more organized and have a rough idea of the resolutions you wish to achieve, your next step is to create a detailed plan of action. This Resolution Action Plan should include very specific language and planning. You need to identify exactly what you want to do in concrete terms and then the exact steps of how you plan to achieve these steps. Create milestones — small goals — for each resolution and rewards you will give to yourself when you reach each milestone.

Similar to last year, I will be taking on 12 monthly resolutions in 2012. Some of the resolutions are organizing and uncluttering related, but most are personal in nature, so I won’t be writing about them the way I did in 2011. I will check in with you over the course of the year, however, to see how you are doing with your resolutions and to provide tips for making and keeping your 2012 Resolution Action Plan. What resolutions do you have on your Plan for 2012? Good luck, and I wish you great resolution success in the coming year.

October resolution wrap up and introduction of November’s goal

October’s resolution was focused on improving my posture. After reading the book Willpower and learning that something as simple as reminding yourself to stand up straight can increase self-control and resolve in other areas of life, I decided to try it. My posture was awful and my willpower could have used a boost.

Willpower is an essential component of living an uncluttered life. You have to be able to avoid the distractions so you can focus on what matters most to you.

I started the month by implementing some simple strategies to help improve my posture (seeSimple strategies for changing a bad habit“). I’m glad to report that my posture has significantly improved and I’m fairly certain I’ll be standing up straighter in the future.

However, I’m disappointed to report that I didn’t notice much of a change in my willpower levels. To be fair, I started the month with a good amount of willpower already in my skill set. On a scale of 1 to 10, I was probably looking for an improvement from an 8 to a 9. The posture trick might be better suited to helping people who want to move from a 2 or a 3 up to a 5 or a 6. I’m interested in hearing from others who also worked on their posture this month to see if they experienced a boost in willpower.

In the end, I have better posture, and that is okay with me. Still a decent resolution, as far as I’m concerned.

For November my goal is to take one complete day off from work. I have not taken a day off from work since August 2008. I even worked for about two hours the day my son joined our family. Whether I’ve been writing, editing, jumping on a conference call, consulting with a client, deleting spam comments from the forum, checking load times, invoicing, responding to reader emails, or whatever it is that needs to get done, I’ve done at least some work every day for the past three years.

My friend Patrick Rhone so aptly tweeted yesterday: “The danger of being able to work from any where at any time is that we will always work every place all the time.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I haven’t yet decided when my day away from work will be, but I’m committed to making it happen. Honestly, I think the hardest part will be not thinking about work on my day off from work. Uncluttering my mind is going to be a struggle. As simple as this resolution appears on the surface, I’m extremely fearful that this may be the one resolution this year I do not achieve. I’m not sure I can actually “log off” from my career for an entire day. Do you need a day off from work? If so, join me on my November resolution adventure. If you don’t need a day off from work, what resolution are you working on in November?

Erin’s 2011 monthly resolutions: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October.

‘A nice little home out of a garbage can’

California-based artist Gregory Kloehn likes to recycle used metal into sculptures of familiar objects, people, and animals. His work is usually quite whimsical, with a dash of social commentary.

Recently, Kloehn spoke with video blogger Kim Aronson about his decision to study housing and what constitutes a home. Beyond providing basic shelter from the elements, Kloehn concluded a home also includes a place to cook a meal, a bathroom, and a safe place to sleep. Once he narrowed down the qualities, he sought to find something metal he could recycle to make a bare-necessities home.

What resulted was his creation of a house inside a trash dumpster. From Aronson’s video interview:

Kloehn doesn’t live in this house, but he thinks it may be able to provide a place for someone who either doesn’t want the burden of a more traditional dwelling or someone in great need of shelter. I think it could work as a meditation cabin, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live in it full time.

Is a house nothing more than shelter from the elements, a place to cook a meal, a bathroom and a safe place to sleep? I don’t know if I agree with Kloehn’s conclusions — a house to me also includes a place to entertain friends and family — but I’m also not certain I completely disagree with him. A home doesn’t have to be gigantic to be a good (safe, sanitary) place to live. Maybe if the item he chose to recycle wasn’t a trash dumpster I would have less of an issue with the structure? I don’t know. He has certainly given us all something to ponder.

You can find more fine art from Gregory Kloehn on his website. (via Good)

Four sanity restoring strategies for the over-committed

If you’re constantly pressed for time, it could be because you think you have more time in your day than actually exists or you can’t stop saying, “yes,” to every commitment that comes your way. If you’re being pulled in more directions than you want to be, now is a great time to start putting the breaks on the constant agreements and start being more selective with your time commitments.

None of the following ideas is revolutionary, and you have likely heard them before today. However, they’re good reminders for all of us, especially those who fall into the realm of the over-committed.

  1. “Let me get back to you,” should be the first thing you say in response to any request that comes your way. A little time between you and the request can give you some perspective.
  2. Make rules for your agreements — If the request is from someone very dear to you and the request is for her well-being, you will very likely accept the request. If the request is from an organization you find morally questionable, and you don’t want to do the work, you’ll say, “no.” Length of commitment, obligations outside of meetings, and the person or organization making the request should all be considered when creating your rules.
  3. Keep your attention focused on what matters most to you. (If you aren’t clear about what matters most to you, check out “Make a list, check it twice.”) Keep your eye on the big prize.
  4. Reframe your perspective. Saying, “no,” to a less-important action gives you the opportunity to say, “yes,” when a request you really want to accept comes your way.

July resolution wrap up and introduction of August’s goal

I’m very likely the odd ball, but August is by far my favorite month of the year. August is celebrating my grandmother’s birthday (she’ll be 102 this year), it’s having a beer on the patio and watching the sun set, it’s long days, it’s cicadas singing, it’s getting ice cream and sitting on a bench with nothing else important to do. August is the perfect month to simply be.

My resolution for July was to evaluate and reconfigure our family’s routines, schedules, and goals. This happened without much stress or anxiety. One night my husband and I sat at our kitchen table and reviewed what routines we’d been following, identified which ones were no longer meeting our needs, and then created a new routine chart. So far, the new routines are working well and our house is back to running smoothly.

Our family routines include meal preparations, meal cleanup, meal planning, laundry, trash, yard work, exercising, getting ready for the day and bed time, general pick up around the house, room-by-room intense cleaning, paying bills, mail processing, pet care, and running errands to the grocery store, bank, and gas station. If you do not have routines in place for these recurrent activities, check out the article “Establishing routines” for some guidance.

We went through the same evaluation process with our work schedules and our family goals, and we’re back to feeling like we have a handle on our time. It’s nice to know where you want to go and how you plan to get there.

My goal for August is to get our “In case of …” files up to date. Since we moved, some of the information in my file is no longer accurate and it needs to be updated. Since no one, including me, likes to think about “in case of …” situations, it’s best that I do it during a month that I find especially cheerful.

If you do not have an “In case of …” file, let me recommend that you make one in August. If you have one, this month might be a good time to review the file’s contents to ensure they’re fully accurate. Your loved ones will feel more comfortable knowing this file exists, and so will you.

What are your resolutions and/or goals for August? How did you do with any resolutions or goals you made for July? If you have annual resolutions instead of monthly resolutions, how are these advancing? Are you on track to accomplish what you are hoping to by the year’s end? Share your experiences in the comments.

Erin’s 2011 monthly resolutions: January, February, March, April, May, June, and July.

A long-distance commute increases the likelihood a marriage will end in divorce

Social geographer Erika Sandow at Sweden’s Umea University has published her doctoral dissertation analysis of long-distance commutes and their impact on income and relationships in “On the road. Social aspects of commuting long distances to work.” In brief, her research found that a commute of greater than 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) typically has economic and career benefits (large paycheck, job advancement) but significantly increases the likelihood a person will divorce (40 percent), especially if the long-distance commuter is male.

The dissertation used data collected from more than two million Swedes during 1995 and 2005. The findings, although based on Swedish data, seem to be very applicable to other European and American countries.

From the university’s press release about Sandow’s dissertation:

… those who commute long distances gain access to a broader job market and often to greater career opportunities and better income development. But women and men benefit in different degrees, with income increasing more for long-distance commuting men. However, these commuters’ partners lose income, and since most long-distance commuters are men, this means that many women both take home less money and take on the responsibility for the family and children.

– It’s also common for women to take a less qualified job close to home, or to start working part time, in order to drop off and pick up the kids at day care, says Erika Sandow.

Her findings show that expanding work regions primarily benefit the careers of men, and continued increases in long-distance commuting may preserve and reinforce gender differences in the home and on the job market.

Weighing the benefits and disadvantages of a long-distance job prospect is already difficult for one’s life. Knowing that it also carries an increased likelihood for divorce and stress are just additional points to consider.

You can find the majority of the dissertation online. However, the text of four of the chapters is not included, only their abstracts.

Book review: Keeping It Straight

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read Keeping It Straight — You, Me, and Everything Else by Patrick Rhone. It’s a digital book that is part memoir, part simple living and productivity guide, which through a collection of short essays addresses clearing clutter from your life to greater experience happiness. If you are a Mac user, you may be familiar with Patrick’s website

It is a quick read, but an intimate look at how and why someone has embraced simple living practices. I certainly gained some wonderful insights from the text, and wanted to share a handful of excerpts with you.

I really liked his approach to smart consumerism:

… anywhere I can make a buying choice that I, with proper care and maintenance, will never have to make again for the rest of my life, I do. In those cases, I’m willing to pay far more for an item if I know it will last a lifetime and, even more importantly to me, if I will never have to spend the mental energy making a choice again. Especially because making final choices often requires far more time and research then making regular ones. In fact, I would argue that the more final the choice, the longer it should take to make it. Also, what you spend on the front end usually repays exponentially, and in many different ways, on the back end.

His thoughts on saving time by learning a piece of software and its associated short-cut keys:

if you use an application more than once a day you can save so much time and effort by learning the keyboard shortcuts for the features you use. Do you know how to reload a page in your browser without touching the mouse? How about opening a new window in the Finder? While those may seem like no-brainers to some, I can tell you from personal experience that it still takes me conscious effort to use my keyboard to jump into the Google search field in Safari because the muscle memory of clicking it is so strong. Bottom line, if you find yourself performing regular actions, see if there is a way to automate those.

A non-traditional perspective on creating to-do lists (especially in contrast to the Getting Things Done maybe/someday list):

Your to-do list should be a sacred place. It should be filled only with the things you really plan on doing, things you are constantly evaluating, and things you are taking active steps to move forward and to get them done.

And his humorous, yet poignant view of productivity tools:

The Three Most Important Productivity Tools — The trash can, the delete key, and the word “no.”

If you enjoy a memoir with helpful simple living and productivity advice, Patrick’s book of essays is available for sale at and It is also available for download from Amazon for the Kindle.

Links for April 21, 2011

These items caught my attention over the past couple weeks, and I wanted to share them with you. They weren’t large enough to stand on their own as full posts, so I gathered them together in a link roundup:

  • The company Electrolux sponsored nine teams at the Domus Academy in Milan to design the kitchen of the future. The concepts are pretty impressive, especially for small space and storage design. Electrolux ReSource.
  • The show Clean House is looking for cluttered homes to be made over for future episodes. The show is filming next season in the greater Los Angeles and New York City areas, and to be considered you must own your home and at least two adults must live in the place. If you want to be on the show, email your name, address, phone number, list of everyone in the house and relationship to them, photos or videos of three rooms in your home that are messy, and a brief explanation for why you want to be on the show to Rose at for LA consideration and Amy at for NYC consideration. You must submit your email by tomorrow, April 22, 2011.
  • SwissMiss featured a great little product that bands your writing utensils to your favorite notebook, clipboard, or book. The pencil holders are called Clever Hands and they’re made by an artist on Etsy. I think these would be a great organizing tool for students.
  • A website, hysterically named BookshelfPorn, features daily pictures of (usually) organized bookshelves from amazing libraries around the world. After our post earlier this month about keeping clutter off your bookshelf, I thought you all might enjoy seeing these (mostly) amazing solutions.
  • My friend Julie Bestry, a professional organizer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently wrote a post for the Metropolitan Organizing website on how to become a Certified Professional Organizer. If you’ve ever thought about a career as a professional organizer or are already a professional organizer and want to be a CPO, I highly recommend checking out her post.
  • Another professional organizer friend of mine, Allison Carter based in the Atlanta area, has a quick post on uncluttered gift ideas for moms for this upcoming Mother’s Day.
  • Last August, NPR featured a 40-minute segment on Fresh Air exploring “Digital Overload.” It’s a long segment, but it’s interesting as it looks at people’s addiction to multi-tasking.

March resolution wrap up and an introduction to April the Super Simple Month

March is supposed to come in like a lion but go out like a lamb. In my case, it transformed from a lion into a stampede of angry bulls. I liken this past March to the running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, and I am donned in a white shirt with a small, red (a little bloody) scarf tied around my neck.

My March resolution to have our entire house unpacked was a failure. Somehow, I forgot that until our previous home sells, many of our large pieces of furniture will still be in that house. For example, our more than 12 feet of bookshelves aren’t in our new home. This means we have 17 unpacked boxes of books on the living room floor where the bookcases will one day reside.

I’ve decided that I’ll revisit the unpacking resolution after we sell our previous place. In the meantime, I’m moving on to my favorite resolution each year — I’m declaring April a Super Simple Month.

To me, a Super Simple Month is defined as no travel for work, one social engagement a week or less, no shopping except for necessities, and no new large projects (craft, writing, organizations, etc.). The goal is to finish some items already in progress on my to-list, relax as much as I can with my family, and be as low-key as possible.

I need time to recuperate from all 2011 has thrown at me so far. I have to get my feet back under me. I’m ready for the lamb that March promised me.

Can April also be a Super Simple Month for you? What rules would you impose to achieve this goal? If not a Super Simple Month, what resolutions do you have on tap for April?

Erin’s 2011 monthly resolutions: January, February, and March.

Responsibilities of ownership

One of the downsides of owning a lot of things is you have to care for a lot of things. Caring for copious possessions is simple if you have a team of people to do it for you — cleaning, maintenance, security — but not so simple when you’re the one with all the responsibilities.

I’m not an ascetic. I have stuff. My son has toys, and our family has a car. I’m not an advocate for a possession-free lifestyle. Rather, I adhere to smart consumer practices (spending less than you earn, researching products before your buy them, buying the best quality you can afford, only buying products you need or help you pursue the remarkable life you desire, and trying your best to refrain from acquiring clutter).

Another thing smart consumers acknowledge is that stuff is more than physical objects. Stuff is storage space in your home. Stuff is protecting your things from theft, pests, mold, mildew, and the elements. Stuff is taking time for dusting, cleaning, and returning things after you use them. Stuff is shipping costs, taxes, upgrades, accessories, and energy to power. Stuff is the tradeoff of time, energy, money, and space that you could have used for something else — something you might want more in your life.

Before making a purchase or acquiring a new object, pause and ask yourself if you are willing to accept all the responsibilities that accompany the object. When sorting through the things in your home, ask yourself the same questions. Recognize how the things in your life will impact your future. Don’t get caught off guard by the responsibilities of ownership.

Say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do

Guilt and regret are powerful forms of clutter. They can be small, but continuously present at the back of your mind, weighing on you for years. Or, they can overwhelm all of your thoughts and be the ultimate distraction.

Obviously, if we could find a way to avoid guilt and regret completely, we would. This is an impossible feat, though, as we’re human. We aren’t perfect. We do things that disappoint others and ourselves, and we simply strive to keep these disappointments to a minimum.

How we handle the guilt and regret in our lives can play a large part in how much they clutter up our thoughts. Large regrets may never disappear completely. Even after apologies have been given and wrongs rectified the best they can, you still might carry some guilt with you the rest of your life. Conversely, and thankfully, most small regrets can be alleviated by taking actions to rectify the situation.

The following plan of action will not work in every situation, but in many situations it can help to assuage the guilt and regret that comes with unintentionally saying something hurtful or acting in a hurtful way:

  • Stop being defensive. When we have done something wrong, it can be easy to turn to the defense. Being defensive, however, isn’t helpful when we’ve actually done something wrong. Fight this reaction, and try your best not to make the regret worse.
  • Acknowledge your mistake. As quickly after you recognize you’ve done something to disappoint others or yourself, acknowledge this mistake.
  • If appropriate, apologize. Not all guilt-inducing situations call for an apology, but many do. If your situation would be improved with a heartfelt apology, step up and give one. Even if the apology should have come years ago, an apology is almost always welcome. Don’t apologize, though, if you’re not sincere. An insincere apology will only exacerbate a problem.
  • If appropriate, provide restitution. Similar to an apology, not all guilt-inducing situations require restitution. However, if your situation would be improved through an act of righting the wrong, do it. If you borrowed a friend’s car and got in a fender bender, paying for the repairs and a rental car while her car is in the shop are good places to start to provide restitution.
  • Do what you need to do. Not all guilt and regret comes from wronging someone else. If you are carrying guilt because you have failed to act in some way or procrastinated on something that is important to you, now is the time to act. Schedule time to do the thing you need to do. Stop making excuses and take care of what needs to get done.

Stop guilt and regret from cluttering up your mental space: say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do.

Would you pay more for less?

Scott Adams, the artist behind the Dilbert cartoon, wrote on his blog back in August about his desire to live in a more simple world — a world without so many options that he can stop wasting time and energy trying to make a decision. He rants about too many choices when booking travel reservations, too many features on his digital watch, and movie theaters with special seats and meals. From his post “The Less Feature,” discussing his travel preparations:

Over the next several hours [trying to find an airline ticket on Orbitz] I tried sorting by flight time, shortest route, and price. Then I tried JetBlue’s site because it’s not included in Orbitz. Then I tried United Airlines’ site because I didn’t know if they would have extra options, and I needed to check my miles. The flight I picked had all sorts of seating options and levels of travel that I needed to research. Then I needed to arrange the rental car, the hotel, and the airport pickup. Then I took all of the information and reformatted it in a way I could read. At some point in the process I crossed a line: The time to plan and book the trip took longer than it will take to fly across the entire country.

Adams continues on to talk about Apple, and how he believes they’re one company that is more in-line with his “Less Feature” desire:

Apple often gets the less features thing right. The iPad didn’t add a fast boot-up speed, it subtracted a hard disk. It didn’t add a touch screen, it subtracted a keyboard. You want to print? Forget it. The iPad is awesome precisely because it has fewer options. If I want more complexity I can purchase apps.

With an endless supply of applications you can download from their app store and the numerous models of computers, I’m not so certain Apple has the “Less Feature” perfected. However, I agree that they’re better at uncluttering their product lines than many other companies.

Where do you stand? Do you believe that too many options clutters up your daily experience? Would you prefer fewer options, or do more options mean you are able to find exactly what you need for your clutter-free life?

Thanks to MinimalMac for leading us to this interesting Scott Adams blog post.