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Reader Callum submitted an email to Ask Unclutterer describing his difficulty parting with “I might be able to use this some day” objects and anything he has attached with sentimental value. The email contained the following:
Over the years growing up I always held onto everything I could, and even directly collected things I found or picked up. Like most people I’ve spoken to about this, I have found myself attached to most of my objects … I find it impossible to declutter beyond the very basics! I only just managed to give away some shirts today, which was hard enough as I have had some for a very long time and reminded me of when I was a different person. Luckily I took a picture of them just in case, but I’m not sure if this method will work for some of my more quaint objects.
Callum, right now, your situation feels like it is specific to magazines and t-shirts and electronics and knick knacks, but what you describe is at the heart of almost everyone’s issues with clutter. Simply stated, you are emotionally attached to the things you own. And, as a student who is not extremely wealthy, you fear letting things go because there may be a time when you will need something and not be able to afford buying it again.
Neither the emotional attachment nor your fear of letting things go is wrong. You’re human. You have fears and doubts and you also like to remember happy moments from your past. Everything you’re feeling is normal.
However, things have started to go to the extreme. You have reached a point where you are no longer in control of your stuff. Your stuff is starting to control you and your space. You can’t find the things you need and you can’t let go of the things you don’t want. This happened to me, and it happens to a lot of people. In your case, I think regaining control of your stuff and getting a clear picture of what you want for your life will help to alleviate this extraneous anxiety.
My first suggestion is to take advantage of any mental health services your school may offer its students. Talk through with a therapist why you feel such strong ties to your past and your things. Why are you so interested in making your past a continued part of your present? You may simply have normal levels of nostalgia, but there might be more to it and a therapist can help you make that determination. Since most student mental health services are free, I think it’s a great place to start.
Another action I think would be good for you is to immediately get rid of any item you’re keeping that has negative feelings attached to it. This is usually an easy task, even for the most sentimental of folks. There is no reason in the world to own anything that doesn’t make us happy or, at bare minimum, have no impact on us at all. Your space is limited, you can’t keep everything, so get rid of the bad.
Finally, I think it is important for you — for all of us — to be clear about what kind of a life you really want to lead. Do you have a clear vision of who you are and what is important to you? What does a good day look like to you? What does an ideal home look like to you? Spend some time reflecting on what you want for yourself and your space. Once you know what kind of life you want, you can take actions to create that life. You’ll know what objects in your home represent who you are and who you want to be, and what objects don’t belong in your space any longer. Once you know where you’re going, it will be a lot easier to get there.
This site is full of practical advice on how to organize cables and magazines and all the stuff you may eventually decide you want to keep, as well as has suggestions for where to donate unwanted items. When you are ready to get rid of the clutter, check out those tips. Until then, spend some time in introspection, discover what it is you want for your life, talk through the emotional ties with your past with a therapist, and get rid of the stuff that brings you down. After you’ve done these things, parting with the clutter will be much easier than it would if you tried to do it right now.
Thank you, Callum, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck to you on the next stage of your uncluttering journey! Also, be sure to check out the comments for additional advice from our readers.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
I live alone, and I’m pretty healthy. But emergency situations can happen to anyone, at any age — as I’m sadly reminded whenever I read about yet another tragic bike or car accident, or hear about someone who had a heart attack or a ruptured aneurysm at an early age. And it dawned on me that if something happened to me, no one might know (who could do anything about it, at any rate) for days.
I wear a watch with medical alert information on the back, including my allergies and an emergency contact number. But what if something happened where I wasn’t found — if something happened while I was home, for example?
People I was supposed to meet with would notice something awry, and might call, email or text. But would they do anything more? Probably not. The mailman might notice my mail piling up in my mailbox, but he’d be unlikely to do anything because of that.
And when I thought about all of this, I thought about my cats. They don’t have food just sitting out, because one of them is a pig and would eat all the food for both, and eat it much too quickly. So I just put out a measured amount of food at feeding times.
If something happened to me, the cats wouldn’t get fed. Thinking of them going hungry fills me with dread; also, cats can develop medical problems pretty quickly if they go without food. And of course there are other things they’d need, too: fresh water and a clean litter box.
So now I call my neighbors every evening, just to say I’m fine. They know if they don’t get that call to come check on me — and take care of the cats.
In looking around the Web, I see there are numerous programs for daily check-in calls, generally targeted at the elderly who live alone. Some are provided for free by charities, local governments or police departments, and others are provided by businesses that charge a small fee. Some of these programs use automated calls, and others make live calls. All will call a defined list of people (friends and/or family members) or follow an agreed-upon emergency procedure — again, the specifics vary — if no one answers after something like 2-4 calls.
I feel very fortunate to have neighbors who know me (and my cats) and can serve as my check-in service. We trade all sorts of favors, so this is just one more way we’ve helped each other out over the years.
But if I didn’t have neighbors like this, I’d try to find a check-in program that worked for my situation. I hope I never hit the day when my neighbors need to do something, because I don’t call — but knowing that they are ready to do so brings me peace of mind and reduces any stressful thoughts that might be cluttering up my mind.
Over 50% of American homes have pets, so when uncluttering and organising there is a good chance you may have to take into account the needs of your pets.
Surprisingly, sudden changes in a pet’s environment may bring out different behaviour, such as aggression or depression. The following are tips to help you and your pet cope with uncluttering and reorganisation projects safely:
Before the Project
If not already this way, get your pet accustom to wearing ID tags. If people are coming and going with bags of trash and items to be donated, doors and windows may be left open. Pets can easily escape in these conditions. Talk to your veterinarian or local animal control office about types of IDs for your pet. Some pets can have microchips inserted as a second level of precaution. Take photos of your pet and list identifiable markings. Put this information together in a booklet or computer file so it is ready to circulate in the community in case your pet escapes.
If you will be uncluttering and organising in the room where your pet usually sleeps or spends most of his/her time, consider getting your pet accustom to a new area of your home. This will get the pet used to sounds and smells in the new area and make the uncluttering/organising process less stressful. Remember to give your pet some extra attention and affection during this time so he/she is comfortable in the new area.
During the Project
Keep your pet on his/her normal routine as much as possible. If your pet is used to being fed or walked at certain times, keep those times consistent during the organising project. This may require taking breaks from the work, but it will be worth it to keep your pet’s stress levels down.
It may be better to keep the pets away from the area being organised if it is a large project. Pets can be caged or kennelled or simply separated in another room by a door or safety gate. Stick a sign on the door of the room to let everyone know your pet is inside and to remind you to let the pet out later.
Remember to check on your pet every hour or so. Loud banging, thumping and unknown voices my cause some stress in your pet. Comfort your pet with kind words and lots of pats or hugs.
If you’re unable to keep your pet away from the area being organised, take extra care for your pet’s safety.
Birds are attracted to shiny objects and cats love strings and elastics bands, so keep small items such as buttons, coins, and other choke hazards off of the floor and out of reach.
Bones and meat-tainted plastic wrap can cause serious illness in animals if consumed. Foods sweetened with xylitol are very toxic to dogs. Tobacco contains nicotine, which is also toxic to pets. Grease, butter, margarine, and oils can get on bird feathers and damage them and make your bird ill when it tries to clean itself. Keep garbage out of reach!
Pets can suffocate in plastic grocery bags or dry cleaning bags. Roll up bags and plastic wrap into small balls and stash them inside a box to keep them out of reach until they can be disposed.
As you clear the clutter, electrical and phone cables may become more easily accessible. Loose electrical cords can become a chew toy temptation, too. Keep cords tied up so your pets can’t get tangled in them, trip over them or chew on them. You may wish to invest in some wire covering to protect both the cables and the pets.
Many pets are poisoned every year by accidental ingestion of household chemicals, human medications, and some common houseplants (e.g. Easter lilies and mistletoe). Remove unwanted chemicals and medications as soon as possible from the area. Secure the rest of these items in a locked cupboard or cabinet away from your pets. Keep houseplants out of reach before, during, and after the organising process.
Pets, especially cats, love to crawl into boxes. Be careful that you don’t close your pet in boxes, closets, or dresser drawers. If you’re working in a crawl space, keep the door closed as much as possible. If you’re working in an attic, keep the hatch down and move the ladder when you’re not using it. Make sure all heating and air vents have tight fitting covers. Small pets, such as rodents, birds, and reptiles, can easily get lost and stuck in the ductwork.
Don’t allow clothing and shoes to pile up on the floor. Immediately put it into bags and close the bags promptly. Animals love to hide and burrow in piles of fabric. Buttons and strings on shoes and clothing are choke hazards, too. If you are bagging up piles of clothing, do so carefully in case small pets (ferrets, rodents, snakes) have taken refuge in the pile.
Rabbits and rodents love to chew soft materials such as cloth and wood. Some fibres when ingested can cause illness. Keep old bits of carpeting and wood, especially chemically treated wood, away from your pets.
Fish tanks can be affected by organising. The removal of clutter from around the fish tank may change the amount of light to which the tank is exposed. This may change the temperature of the water and could lead to excess algae growth. Fish can be light sensitive just like humans. Gradually increase in light over fifteen minutes to allow fish to adjust to the their new surroundings.
Have you been organising your filing cabinet and shredding all that unwanted paper? Turn off and unplug your paper shredder. Mouse tails, bird feathers, and paws can accidentally start up the “auto-shred” function on some models of paper shredders. This could cause your pet to be injured.
After the Project
Look through the area and think like your pet: What looks tempting? What’s eye-catching? It helps if you get down on the floor and see things from their point of view. Check all those places where your vacuum cleaner may not fit, but your pet will, and look for dangerous items like string, coins, buttons, and electrical cords. Clean out those areas or block access to them.
Look for heavy things that could fall over if your large dog barrelled past. Secure the heavy furniture to the wall. Keep stacks of boxes from becoming too high.
Make sure you haven’t inadvertently created a “staircase” out of stacked boxes. Keep piles of boxes at the same height and away from open windows and skylights.
Some animals are fascinated my moving objects, such as the gears of exercise equipment. Unplug this equipment so it can’t accidentally be turned on and injure your pet.
Now that the clutter has been cleared, your pet may have access to rocking chairs and reclining chairs. These pieces of furniture can easily harm your pets. Consider moving the furniture out of the area your pets are in if these types of chairs are a temptation. The backs and undersides of furniture can have nails and staples that can cause harm to animals. Repair your furniture so that it is pet-safe or block access to these areas.
Mirrors and windows are dangerous for birds because they are often mistaken as places to escape and a strong collision may result in injuries. Keep mirrors and windows covered when birds are flying loose. Special decals can be applied to mirrors and windows to discourage birds from flying into them.
A bird’s respiratory system is very sensitive to impurities in the air, such as carpet powders and household deodorising sprays. If you’re cleaning after uncluttering and organising, keep these airborne chemicals away from your birds.
At the end of the day you can let your pet explore the uncluttered area. There will be many new places to explore and investigate. New and different smells may make your pet feel insecure. It may be best to confine the exploration to a smaller space and a shorter time depending on how your pet is reacting to the changes.
Once you are sure your pet is safe and comfortable in the newly organised space, you’ll be able to enjoy it together.
Today we welcome a guest post from Janice Marie Simon, MA, CPO, a Project Director and in-house organizer at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she helps researchers and clinicians with productivity, organizing, technology management, and life management. She has a blog at TheClutterPrincess.com and is the Organized Auntie at SavvyAuntie.com.
As a professional organizer who works inside an academic medical facility, my clients work in offices, cubicles, laboratories, and patient clinics. No matter what their space is, some things are universal to their workplace environments: The look of their workplace matters – especially to the boss. And, too much paper and too many ineffective meetings are a daily part of work life. These three things aren’t relevant only to my clients, but to all employees who find themselves in a traditional office environment.
The Look of Your Space
A Career Builder Study shows two out of five managers are less likely to promote someone with a messy desk. Messy offices were once a sign of creativity or busyness, but shows such as Hoarders and Buried Alive have brought serious clutter issues out in the open. Standards have changed.
Since I began organizing, I’ve always had clients who were encouraged (sometimes very strongly) to call me on the recommendation of their bosses. In the past couple of years, the number of those clients has definitely increased.
In a few cases, the boss may be “hyper-organized” where even an organizer looks like a hoarder to them. In these cases, the boss is judging other’s spaces through a skewed lens.
Most cases, however, the client’s boss identified normal cluttering issues. Since presentation is everything, we focus on making long-term changes to their spaces. Simple steps we take:
- Remove all sticky notes and papers taped on the computer, printer, overhangs, and walls.
- Confine any papers and pictures to the borders of bulletin boards and the pushpin space of the cubicle wall.
- Have only one container for pens and markers. Put the extras in a drawer.
- Items such as the tape and stapler can go in a drawer if they’re not used every day.
- Toss any trash, including half-filled coffee cups.
If you look organized, you feel organized. It also makes the boss happy.
Go Digital and Go Paperless
It’s easier than ever to go paperless. You can use a scanner or many office copy machines now come with the ability to scan documents into PDF format.
While converting to digital, start where you are with your current work. There’s no need to go back and scan everything in your office. As you go forward, you can grab a handful of older papers to see what needs to be tossed or shredded and what should be scanned. Remember: not everything is scanworthy.
Detach attachments from your email and keep them with your digital documents. Email systems are not the best way to file documents since the files take up a great deal of space. If it’s important and you want to keep it, save the file to a documents’ folder, and rename it if necessary.
Have More Efficient Meetings
Make meetings more productive by having a detailed agenda you email out beforehand. Outline action items that require decisions so people attending the meeting know what decisions they need to make. This really helps introverts who like to have time to think about decisions ahead of time and be prepared. My fellow extroverts and I talk to think instead of thinking and then talking.
During the meeting, stick to the agenda and keep the action moving. If someone brings up a topic not on the agenda but requires additional time and research, put the item in the “parking lot” to be discussed next time.
Banning smart phones during meetings is becoming popular. This keeps people from multi-tasking and checking email instead of paying attention and participating in the meeting.
When you get back into your office after a meeting, capture action items on your to-do list. Sort the handful of paper you more than likely received, toss the items you don’t need, and scan in the ones you do.
By clearing your desk, ditching the paper and having more effective meetings, you will work smarter, not harder.
When going through the uncluttering process, once you’ve decided what to keep and what should go, it can be easy to get hung up on the next step: actually getting rid of the non-keepers.
The following are some things to consider as you approach this step:
Is it worth your time to sell it?
I’ve set a dollar limit for myself; anything that I don’t think I can sell for that amount or more gets donated rather than sold.
I also tend to sell in the ways that are easiest for me. For example, I’ll sell used electronics through services such as Gazelle and GreenCitizen, which offer a fixed price. I could make more money, perhaps, using eBay — but I find eBay to be difficult for a very infrequent seller like me. For items other than electronics, I’ve sometimes used Craigslist.
Some people love yard sales or garage sales — for the social aspect as well as the moneymaking aspect — so such sales make sense for them. For others, giving up a day or two to a yard sale doesn’t make sense. And some people, like many apartment dwellers, have no good place to conduct such a sale.
If you’d like to sell some items and don’t have the time or skills to sell them yourself, would it make sense to use the services of someone such as an eBay specialist to sell them for you or to take them to a consignment store which handles your type of item? You’ll be splitting the proceeds, but at least the sale is actually happening.
Another consideration: Depending on your tax situation, getting a tax deduction for a donation may remove some of the sting of not getting cash in hand from a sale, if you decide against going to sales route.
Is giving it away to family members or friends realistic?
Would the other person really want it? You don’t want to make your clutter problem become someone else’s clutter problem.
If the person you’re thinking of doesn’t live nearby, is shipping the item financially worth it? Some things are easy and inexpensive to ship off to others, but many items aren’t. Unless it’s a sentimental item, you wouldn’t want to spend more in shipping than the item is worth.
And if you’re just thinking it would be a good gift for someone, without having anyone specific in mind, you may want to reconsider. How much gift giving do you do? Do you have an area where you store gifts? Is it already full?
Does it need to be recycled? Or can it be recycled?
Know the laws in your area for hazardous waste and electronic waste disposal. If you live in an area with curbside recycling, be sure you know which items are accepted and which are not. In my area, I’ve seen that the same waste collection company has different rules in different cities, for some reason.
Does freecycle work for you?
Freecycle communities and similar groups are run locally; some communities work really well, while others don’t. Using freecycle might take more time than just dropping things off as donations. Finally, freecycle will be easiest for you if you’re okay with people coming to your home to pick things up. If having strangers know where you live makes you uncomfortable, freecycle may not be your best option.
Are there donation places that are convenient and want what you have?
Many donation places provide lists of what they accept and, of course, you want to honor any restrictions they have in place. Some places will pick things up at your home, which can make things extremely convenient. For some people, the group you’re donating to matters a lot. Do you agree with the group’s mission and values? Do you want a place that gives your items to people in need, rather than just selling them to raise funds?
Is leaving it at the curb a good solution?
This can work really well in some neighborhoods, like those with high foot traffic. Some apartment buildings also have areas where people tend to leave things for other tenants to take, if they want.
Out of all the possible ways to dispose of your items, which ones will you really do?
If you’re doing a massive uncluttering project, you may want to go for the easiest answer, at least for the bulk of your items. Tell your inner perfectionist to be quiet, and realize that you don’t have to find the absolutely perfect new home for every single item you unclutter — a “good enough” solution is just fine in many cases.
Although most people think about older adults or young children falling, falls can happen to anyone at any time and most falls can be prevented. Across all age groups, unintentional falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries in the United States and the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide.
It’s no surprise, as I was laying on the floor in the dark at the bottom of the stairs a few mornings ago, I thought about organising the home to prevent falls.
Here are some organisational tips to make your home safer.
Clear the Clutter
The most common cause of falls is tripping over items on the floor. The Unclutterer site is full of resources to help you reduce the clutter in your home. It is especially important for high traffic areas to be clear of clutter as well as narrow hallways and staircases.
- Repair cracks and abrupt edges of sidewalks and driveways.
- Paint the edges with brightly coloured paint to denote changes in levels.
- Install handrails on steps and on sloped walkways and ensure they are secure.
- Keep walk areas clear of snow and ice. Hang tools for snow and ice removal neatly near the doorway so they are easily accessible when needed.
- Install motion sensor lighting at doorways and along walkways leading to doors.
Flooring and Stairs
- Repair uneven walking surfaces inside the home such as uneven floorboards or wrinkled carpets.
- Use only non-skid mats or use double-sided tape to secure rugs in place.
- Use a change colour to denote changes in flooring surface types or levels.
- Place non-slip strips on stairs. Apply brightly coloured paint or tape to the face of steps to make them more visible. (This is a great idea for basement and stairways in dark areas.)
- Install handrails on all staircases and ensure they are secure.
- Keep a basket with a handle at the top and bottom of the stairs. If you have to carry more than one item up or down the stairs, put them into the basket. This way you can still hold the handrail with one hand and carry the basket with the other. Store the basket next to the stairs, not on the stairs.
- Mount liquid soap and shampoo dispensers on the bathtub wall.
- Place a small plastic stool with non-slip feet in bathtub to sit on if you’re tired, injured, or ill.
- Install sturdy grab bars in bathtubs and shower stalls and ensure they are secure and can hold your weight.
- Place non-slip matting in bathtubs and shower stalls.
Lighting and Electrics
- Place a lamp within easy reach of your bed. Also keep a flashlight by your bed in case the power is out and you need to get up.
- Put night-lights in the bathroom, hallways, bedroom, and kitchen.
- Install motion-sensitive lighting in dark areas such as basements, attics, and garages.
- Light switches should be installed at both ends of hallways and staircases.
- Reduce the need for extension cords by having an electrician install more electrical outlets.
- Secure electrical cords and telephone cables to baseboards.
- Place phone close to bed if you expect calls while you’re sleeping or if you may need to make emergency calls.
- Put glow-in-the-dark paint or stickers on light switches so you can see them in the dark.
- Rearrange furniture so it is easy to move around in the room. Ideally there should be at least a 30-inch (75cm) path for walking between pieces of furniture.
- Repair or remove wobbly or unstable furniture.
- Consider removing castor wheels from furniture (e.g. office chairs) or replace the furniture with the type that does not have wheels.
- Keep a chair or stool by the door so you can sit down to put on or remove boots and shoes.
- Move pet feeding dishes out of main traffic areas.
- Reorganise the kitchen so the most often-used items are more accessible and within easy reach.
- Keep a mop and broom handy by hanging it on the kitchen wall or in an easily accessible pantry so you can wipe up any spills immediately.
- Use ladders, not chairs or tables, to reach items on upper shelves. Remember to NEVER stand on chairs with wheels.
- A safety ladder can be folded and easily hung on the wall or slid into a closet so it is always handy.
- Get into the habit of doing a safety check on your ladder before you use it.
- Around the house, consider wearing footwear with non-slip soles.
- Ensure all your shoes fit you properly. Shoes that are too big or too small can cause you to slip or trip.
- During the winter months, be sure to wear boots with good traction. Keep a set of ice grippers in a basket at the front door so they will be easy to put on if the sidewalks are icy.
As for me, I have started putting on my non-slip footwear and turning on the light before I walk down the stairs to make breakfast in the morning.
Today’s guest post is by Amanda Scudder, Organizing Consultant with the company Abundance Organizing. Please give her a nice welcome.
Have you heard the song “The 3 Rs,” the incredibly catchy Jack Johnson tune:
Three it’s a magic number. Yes it is, it’s a magic number …
We’ve got to learn to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle …
This seemingly straightforward ditty holds a profound truth: three little words — reduce, reuse, recycle — are magic. There are endless ways you can apply them to your life — fun, creative ways that can cut clutter while benefitting your health, your budget, and your planet.
Today, I want to apply them to an often-unrecognized source of clutter: cleaning products. An unofficial survey of my Facebook friends revealed that the average American home has somewhere between a bajillion and a gazillion cleaning products stashed in cupboards, under the sink, and in other prime storage areas. Not only do these products create physical clutter, they also create chemical clutter, which can pose significant risks to your health.
The EPA reports that the air inside our homes can be five to ten times more toxic than the air outdoors, containing as many as 150 different pollutants, many of which come from petrochemical cleaners.
Let’s turn to the three Rs to tackle this problem.
Reduce – There are some easy ways to reduce the number of cleaning products you have to store and, more importantly, reduce the number of toxic chemicals in your home.
- Switch to an environmentally friendly multi-purpose cleaner. There are many on the market, some greener than others, so read the label and beware of green-washing (clever marketing phrases used to make a product appear more eco-friendly than they really are). For Consumer Report’s recommendations, visit GreenerChoices.org’s article “Can one cleaner do it all?”
- Another great resource is GoodGuide, an online tool to help you find safe, healthy, green and ethical products or to find out how your favorite brands rank.
- Make your own multi-purpose cleaners using three basic household ingredients: baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice
Unfamiliar with how to use these three ingredients to clean?
Use baking soda to:
- Deodorize pretty much anything from cat boxes to carpets
- Clean your shower
- Scour your sinks
- Remove grease stains
- Polish silver or your teeth
Use vinegar to:
- Wash windows and floors
- Remove product buildup from your hair
- Clean the microwave
- Clean the coffee pot
- Trap fruit flies
Use lemon juice to:
- Sanitize cutting boards
- Boost the effectiveness of dish soap
- Deodorize drains
- Remove stains
- Clean toilet bowls
Reuse – Because you are mixing your own cleaning combinations, you can reuse spray bottles and buckets, cutting down on the amount of plastic heading to landfills. Mild solutions of water and vinegar or lemon juice left over after cleaning can be used to water acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. Stronger solutions can be poured on weeds you would like to eliminate.
Recycle – Turn old sheets, single socks, or stained towels and t-shirts into rags and use them instead of paper towels for cleaning. You can even tuck a dry or damp rag around one of those long handled floor dusters instead of using expensive disposable pads. Wash them and reuse them again the next time. Repurpose a plastic bag holder as a rag dispenser — pull them out through the opening in the bottom and, after they are washed, put them in the top.
So your challenge for today: find one cleaning recipe to try and see if you can eliminate at least two ready-made cleaning products from your cabinets. Be sure to dispose of any toxic products safely (check your local government’s website for where to dispose of hazardous materials in your community).
You go shopping, buy a bunch of things, and bring them home. Later on, you decide to return a number of items. That’s a great way to unclutter, right?
Well, sometimes — and sort of.
Certainly, you’ll want to return anything that’s defective. I bought some shoes online earlier this year and they looked exactly like what I wanted. But when they arrived, I found out they squeaked when I walked. Fortunately, I had bought them from a site that makes returns very easy.
On the other end of the spectrum, some returns are questionable, even if stores accept those types of returns. I don’t think it’s okay to buy a dress, wear it to a special event, and then return it. Nor do I think it’s okay to buy a nice TV right before the Super Bowl and then return it after watching the game. Some stores are fighting back against this practice, as The Cut reports:
Bloomingdale’s has had enough. … So they’re attaching three-inch black-plastic tags to visible places on clothing, like the front bottom hemline. … The new devices on Bloomingdale’s clothing are unhidable; once removed, they cannot be reattached. No more wearing and returning, unless you decide to pretend “visible tags” are a new trend.
But many other return situations are less straightforward. I’d never really thought about the problems returns can cause until I read a discussion on Ask Metafilter, where a number of members who worked in retail shared what goes on behind the scenes. Here are just two of the many perspectives:
I can talk about retail for clothing, two industries I worked retail in. For clothing, if the garment was still selling at full price, and showed no signs of wear, we would re-tag and sell it again at full price. If it were no longer selling at full price, we would re-tag and sell it at the current sale price. If it did show signs of wear but we were obliged by policy to accept it, we’d deeply discount it, donate it or just throw it in the trash.
I can tell you from my experience in working at Restoration Hardware and at a few convenience stores/pharmacies: a good portion of stuff is thrown out. Everything that is possible to put back on the shelf is (unopened, like-new packages, unworn clothing, unused cushions and the like) and all products that can be returned to the manufacturer are. This is, at least at those stores, maybe 40% of returns. Everything else is logged and thrown away. We are trying to find more avenues to donate returned items, but most items that are returned are thought of as liabilities. … If you’ve tried on headphones, they were chucked. I mean, would you want to buy something that someone else had put in their ears?
Another thing I just learned is that a number of retailers are using a program called The Retail Equation aimed at helping to eliminate return fraud and to control what the company calls returnaholics. Some of these returnaholics may have a problem with compulsive shopping and need help in fighting that condition.
But most of us can be more thoughtful about our initial purchasing behaviors. If we don’t buy things we don’t need we won’t have to return those things we later don’t want, irrespective of the reason. Additionally, do we have valid reasons for the returns we do wish to make? Or, are we needlessly creating more work for the stores, and causing good merchandise to wind up in the trash? Would donating the item to a charity that needs that item be a better way of handling the unwanted merchandise?
Of course, if you need to return defective merchandise, you’ll want to be very aware of the store’s return policy. I overlooked this recently, and bought some non-returnable “fits all sizes” socks, which didn’t come close to fitting me. I wound up donating them to charity. When making purchases, you’ll want to check for:
- Whether the item is returnable at all.
- How long you have to make the return.
- If a receipt is required.
- Whether you’ll get cash or a store credit.
- If there’s a restocking fee.
It is generally accepted that persistence is essential for success and happiness. However, in their research, two scientists found that the persistence of unattainable goals in certain cases can be a detriment to health and well-being, especially for adolescents.
What does this mean for parents? If you are pushing your children to continue an activity that they do not like or in which they are not interested, you are likely increasing their stress levels — and yours too!
Sometimes all it takes is for parents to assist their child in setting new goals. This may help the child re-engage in the activity with a renewed definition of success. However, if goal redefinition isn’t working, consider quitting the activity if:
- the child complains constantly before, during, and after the activity;
- the child is not advancing as fast as his/her peers and is frustrated;
- you must constantly push the child to practice the activity;
- the child does not speak about the activity with pride or excitement.
What about the money invested in the activity?
If you have paid for a session, you may want to finish it and explain to your child about obligations and commitment, especially if the child is playing on a team such as soccer or basketball and other people are depending upon your child. If you have paid in advance, whether or not you continue with the activity, your money is already spent. The question is, do you want to spend your time pushing your child to participate in an activity he or she doesn’t like? Your time and your health and those of your child are usually worth more than money. Review the situation, ask questions, and bail without guilt if that is what is right for you and/or your child.
Remember that saying “no” to something you don’t really enjoy means you’ll be able to say “yes” to something that you may really enjoy.
I’m sure you’ve heard the adage “opposites attract.” In my experience with home organizing, I’ve found that opposites do attract more often than not. One person is usually a neatnik — thrilled by clear surfaces and closet organization. The other is a pack rat — inspired by the endless potential of stuff, glorious stuff! When these two extremes live together, sooner or later, conflicts arise. How can you make it work? Surprisingly, it has very little to do with the stuff itself and a lot to do with mindset.
The first trick is to realize that neatniks and pack rats are two completely different species, so to make living together harmonious, you need to think about habitats. A bird and a fish may be able to live comfortably in the same house, but not in the same container. Put the bird in the bowl and she’ll drown. Put the fish in the cage and she’ll asphxiate. To make it work, both parties must agree on a standard for common areas and carve out a place where one can sing and the other can swim.
Nine steps to create a co-habitable household:
- Agree to the acceptable uses for shared areas. For example, you might agree that the living room is to be used for watching TV, reading, and playing games.
- Remove anything that is not associated with those activities from the shared area. In the example of the living room, this would mean no craft supplies, dishes, laundry, or egg incubators.
- Create specific homes for everything that belongs in the shared room — a bookcase for books, a drawer for videos, a cabinet for games. Labeling makes it easier for visual people to remember what goes where.
- Return each item to its home after each use. If it doesn’t have a home, it can’t stay.
- Make a sign to hang at the entrance of the room:
THIS ROOM IS FOR WATCHING TV, READING, AND PLAYING GAMES
Anything not used for these purposes must stay away!
- Anyone breaking the rule can be fined. Use the money to hire a cleaner or go out to dinner.
- Set aside a few minutes each day to patrol the room. Use a hamper or basket to collect items that don’t belong. If something has a home elsewhere, put it back. If not, hold an “auction” to give household members a chance to bid on it. If they buy it, they have to find a home for it.
- Anything not bid on is going … going … gone! Same for anything that repeatedly ends up back in the basket. Take these items to a local charity and feel good about having fewer items to take care of.
- Find at least one place in the home for neatniks to live unfettered by clutter and one place for pack rats to stash their collections. Respect these separate spaces!
How to stay positive when the going gets tough:
No matter how successful you are at establishing shared and separate zones, you are still likely to run into differences of opinion about both. Before becoming combative over any stuff-related arguments, remember why you are together — love, money, you lost the key to the handcuffs, whatever. The point is, there is a reason you are living together. Remembering that reason may help you calm down when you are feeling frustrated. Try the practice of gratitude, in which you intentionally focus on the blessings in your life, no matter how small. This makes less room in your head and heart for the negative voices and can improve your patience and sense of well-being. When you are in a good place, you are less likely to say snarky things that will get the other person’s defenses up. Let me assure you, once the defenses are up, change is just not going to happen.
Lastly, consider the fact that objects are like ink blots. Rarely do two people see the same thing and what they do see depends largely on past experiences and perspective. The overflow of crafting supplies looks like crazy-making chaos to one person, but is a beautiful harmony of endless potential to another. The clear counter-tops that make one partner hum with contentment remind the other of a sterile hospital stay when no one came to visit. So you must be patient with each other. Say what you see and ask the other person to do the same. Try to see the space through each other’s eyes, and, please, keep your sense of humor. If you need an outside perspective, ask a neutral third party or hire a home organizer or other professional to be your mediator.
With large doses of patience and humor, you will be able to see the other’s sleek scales or resplendent plumage and recognize how truly glorious our differences make us.
It is important to note that if the health and safety of household members is compromised by behavior at either end of the spectrum, the above strategies are not enough. Please consult a professional with licensed credentials in these extreme circumstances.
How do you decide what to include on your packing list for any given trip? Obviously, the nature of the trip will determine some things, such as the need for hiking boots or formal wear. The following are some questions to consider as you develop the rest of your list:
- For air travel: Do you want to have carry-on luggage only? Going carry-on only gets you out of the airport sooner, and it minimizes the risk of lost luggage. It also means you’re dragging more stuff through the airport and fighting for space in the overhead bins — and sometimes it’s simply not going to be practical. I make different trade-offs on different trips. You need to make this decision first when you’re flying.
- For other travel: What space constraints do you have? If you’re not going by air, you’ll still want to consider how well your luggage will fit in the car, bus, train, or other vehicles you’ll be using. How much space will you have for your things?
- How much technology do you want with you? Sometimes I’m going to need to do enough work that I’ve got to bring my laptop with me. On other vacations, I won’t take the laptop, but I will bring some smaller devices so I can do quick email checks, read e-books, etc. Other people prefer to go technology-free on a vacation.
- How will you handle washing clothes? I’m usually a daily hand-wash kind of traveller, which lets me pack a limited amount of clothes. I’ve got a friend who’s a Laundromat user, so she packs more than I do. If you prefer not to do laundry at all — and your trip is short enough to allow that — you’ll need to pack to accommodate this decision.
- How much wardrobe variety do you want? Sometimes we need a range of clothes to handle different types of events or different weather. But, sometimes how much we take is more a matter of this: How crazy will you go wearing the same few things every day? Will adding some accessories, which take less space than more clothes, give you enough wardrobe variety?
- What would be hard to get at your destination? Some things are easy to pick up if you need them for any reason, but others are more difficult. The answers to that questions will change depending on your destination, and they’ll also vary from person to person. Are you OK with using hotel shampoo, or do you really want your own brand, which may not be available at your destination? One thing I always pack is a spare pair of prescription eyeglasses — ever since I broke a pair on a trip and didn’t have a spare pair with me.
- Do you want to bring gifts? There are definitely times when I do want to pack some gifts: to give to people whose homes I’m staying in and/or to give to any special people I meet along the way. I do try to ensure that whatever gift I’m giving won’t create clutter for the person I’m giving the gift to; consumables often work well. Sometimes I can just purchase a gift like flowers or chocolate at my destination, but other times I really want to give something representative of home or something very special that I can’t just get on the run.
- What worked well in the past? I keep a personal packing checklist so I don’t forget what things I want to take, based on prior travels. I’ll never pack everything on that list, since it covers a range of locations and weather conditions, but taking a look at the list ensures I won’t forget something important.
- What do other people suggest? There are online packing lists that you might find useful: from Rick Steves, One Bag, Real Simple and more. These might give you ideas for your own list.
We all have our time management weak points — mine involves a love of information. I could happily spend ages just reading all the wonderful things printed online.
There’s so much to read and watch — and so much of it is good. I mean, just think of the links that flow through Facebook and Twitter. … All the craft and care that comes flooding through my browser tabs every day hour minute.
But, of course, I don’t want to spend all my time in front of a screen (or a newspaper, or a magazine) reading this wonderful stuff. I need to work. I want to see family and friends. I want to pursue other interests.
So, what is the answer to not being overwhelmed by all the possible stuff to read or podcasts to listen to or videos to watch? While I was driving to the dentist this past Monday, I happened to listen to a podcast called Minimalism for the Rest of Us, hosted by Robert Wall. Episode 26, called “Drinking From the Fire Hose,” had Wall in conversation with Patrick Rhone, and some of it really resonated with me.
Here’s the first thing that caught my attention, from Rhone:
What it really comes down to is: Instead of drinking from the fire hose of information, being real picky and choosy about the information that you want to engage with.
“Information you want to engage with” was a phrase that really grabbed me. So much of what’s out there might be interesting and important, but I’m not going to engage with it.
What information would I engage with? Here are some examples:
- Information that helps me serve my clients better.
- Information that I want to share with friends, family, colleagues, etc.
- Information that helps me make a decision: who to vote for, what route to take.
- Information that spurs me to action: calling my senator or cooking a healthy meal.
- Information that helps me learn about a subject I’ve consciously decided to spend time educating myself about.
But that means there is a lot of information I won’t engage with.
And that brings me to another quote from the podcast:
Wall: I had a point at which I thought I should be just reasonably informed on world news. … If I just subscribe to like CNN Top Headlines, nine times of 10 I could read the headline
Rhone: and get everything you need to know.
I’ve had this same type of realization. Oftentimes, a headline or a tweet tells me all I need to know about a topic. If I feel I need to know more, the first paragraph of the article might be all I need. I still tend to have a nagging sense of guilt about not reading the full article, especially when it is a well-researched and well-written piece. But hearing Wall and Rhone talk about this might make me feel somewhat less guilty.
Here’s an example of a headline being plenty: As I’m writing this, the New York City mayoral primaries are being decided. I don’t live in New York; I’m not going to engage with that information. I do want to know the results, but a quick glance at a headline is all I need. I really don’t need any details beyond that.
Here’s some final advice from Rhone, about deciding whether or not to let an information source into your life, be it an article someone linked to, a podcast, an RSS feed, a magazine, or anything else: “No is the default.” If something is truly important, he says, multiple people will point him to it, and that might lead to a Yes.