Book Review: The Organized Mind

The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin, is a mixed bag. Some chapters are packed with interesting information, while others are much less compelling. However, I learned enough from this book that I’m definitely glad I read it. The following are some of the key ideas, organized by the book’s chapters.

The first things to get straight

Levitin begins by describing some basics about how the brain works, with a fascinating explanation of why memory is so fallible. There’s also a nice explanation of how our brains handle categorization. Both of these brain traits affect the recommendations he provides later on for getting organized.

Organizing our homes

One principle that Levitin emphasizes again and again is “offloading the information from your brain and into the environment” so you “use the environment itself to remind you of what needs to be done.” Everyone who has ever done something like leaving the library book that needs to be returned next to the car keys has made use of this principle.

One interesting example that Levitin provides is: “If you’re afraid you’ll forget to buy milk on the way home, put an empty milk carton on the seat next to you in the car or in the backpack you carry to work on the subway (a note would do, of course, but the carton is more unusual and so more apt to grab your attention).”

Levitin also emphasizes the importance of putting things away in their designated places, because there’s a special part of our brain dedicated to remembering the spatial location of things. However, the brain is only good at remembering stationary things, not things that move around — so if you put your car keys in a different place every time, your brain is less likely to help you out when you go to find them.

Categorization is also emphasized in the text; since our brains are good at creating categories, using categories well gives us an easy tool for getting organized. Levitin discusses the need to balance category size and category specificity; for example, someone with just a few tools will categorize them very differently than someone with many more. Levitin is also a big fan of the junk drawer for things that simply don’t fit in any category.

Good labels matter, too. As Levitin writes, “A mislabeled item or location is worse than an unlabeled item. … With mislabeled drawers, you don’t know which ones you can trust and which ones you can’t.”

Levitin also notes that creativity and organization are not antithetical — rather, they go hand in hand. He provides examples from musicians Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, Michael Jackson, and John Lennon to drive home this point.

Organizing our time

You’ve certainly heard this before, but Levitin emphasizes it repeatedly: Brains are not designed for multitasking. “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” The continual shifting “causes the brain to burn through fuel” and depletes the brain of nutrients. There’s also a study that shows that learning new information while multitasking “causes the information to go to the wrong part of the brain.”

Levitin writes that it’s very tempting to continually check email, because handling email appeals to the novelty-seeking portion of the brain, and each response triggers a “shot of dopamine” that makes us want to do more of the same. But we’ll be more productive if we check email a few times a day, rather than every five minutes.

Levitin also provides considerable information on the importance of getting sufficient sleep. You’ve probably heard that before — but if you ignored the advice, this book might convince you that it really does matter.

Organizing the business world

Levitin provides tips to remember when filing: “File things, either electronic or physical, in a way that will allow you to quickly retrieve them. Ask yourself, ‘Where will I look for this when I need it?’ or ‘How can I tag or label this item so that I’ll be able to find it?'”

There’s also some good advice about scheduling meetings. Rather than scheduling meetings back-to-back, give yourself 10 minutes after each meeting to make sure you’ve captured all relevant information. It also helps to have 10 minutes free before any meeting. “Because attention switching is metabolically costly, it’s good neural hygiene for your brain to give it time to switch into the mindset of your next meeting gradually and in a relaxed way.”

Organizing information for the hardest decisions

Anyone dealing with making a major medical decision will find a lot of useful information here about understanding the probabilities associated with each choice, and balancing risk and reward.

Five tips for storing your treasured books

Even with the popularity of e-books, many of us still have collections of treasured physical books. But do we treat those books like the valued possessions we say they are? The following five tips will help you preserve the books you wish to keep.

Pay attention to heat, humidity, and light

In regard to storing books, the Art Institute of Chicago states: “Ideal levels are 68-72° F, with 40-50% relative humidity. Monitor temperature and humidity levels. Excessive fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity can be particularly damaging.” There’s no perfect agreement on the best humidity level, though. The British Library recommends 45-55 percent relative humidity and the Library of Congress recommends 35 percent. The State Archives of Florida provides this commonsense advice: “A good rule of thumb is, if you are hot and sticky, your books are, too.”

Why do temperature and humidity matter so much? As Cornerstone Book Publishers explains, “Hot and dry conditions will desiccate and embrittle leather and paper; damp conditions will encourage mold growth.” And the State Archives of Florida notes that changes in temperature and humidity cause paper and bindings to swell and contract at different rates, which causes warping.

All of this means you probably don’t want to store books in a garage or an attic, unless you have temperature and humidity controls in those spaces. You also want to keep them away from fireplaces, radiators, clothes dryers, and other sources of indoor heat. Bookshelves are best placed away from windows and outer walls because these are the indoor areas most prone to temperature and humidity fluctuations. And, keep books away from heat and air conditioning vents.

Excess light can also damage books. Sunlight and fluorescent light are the biggest culprits when it comes to fading, because of their high UV component. UV coatings for windows are one way to help protect your books.

Watch out for pests

Lots of pests are attracted to books. Keep your books away from any area that gets rats or mice, heeding the words of the Cornell University Library: “Both rats and mice use paper to make their nests, and many fine books have lost chunks of text through their jagged gnawing.”

Insects such as silverfish and carpet beetles are also attracted to books. Silverfish like warm, moist areas — one more reason to avoid such storage areas. Keeping book storage areas clean helps prevent insect problems.

Use good bookshelves

Which bookshelves are best? The Art Institute of Chicago provides this advice: “Book collections should be stored on bookshelves made from metal or sealed wood. Unsealed wood releases damaging acidic vapors into the environment and can accelerate the deterioration of books.”

Also, make sure the bookshelves are deep enough for your books, since books that overhang can warp.

Keep books upright, or in short stacks

In general, books are best stored upright — using bookends, if necessary, to avoid angling. Oversize books might need to be stacked, but keep the stack reasonably short because a tall stack can damage the spines of the books on the bottom. Cornerstone Book Publishers and the Yale University Library (PDF) both recommend a stack of no more than three books. Nora O’Neill, writing on The Bookshop Blog, suggests the stack be no more than 12 inches tall.

Pack books properly

If you have books you are keeping in storage boxes rather than on bookshelves, make sure you’re using boxes that won’t damage the books. Cardboard boxes should be acid-free and lignin-free (though pests can easily eat through cardboard, so keep this in mind). Certain plastics — polyester, polypropylene and polyethylene — are also safe for books. The Library of Congress recommends packing the books flat, with the largest ones on the bottom, or packing them with the spine down.

Once the books have been packed, consider this additional advice from Cornerstone Book Publishers about storing the boxes: “Always allow at least four inches of space between the boxes and the walls, ceilings, and floors (lift the boxes up on wooden pallets).”

Unclutterer updates

This week has been incredibly exciting in our Unclutterer world and I’m eager to share the details.

First up, I signed a contract for a second organizing book. The working title is Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter and it is scheduled for an early 2016 release. I had a burning desire not to rewrite my first book, so this one took awhile to develop and find the right home for it. It’s full color and fun and will be a visual processor’s delight. I’m working with Harlequin Non-Fiction for this book, which at first might seem like an odd choice, but is actually perfection. Harlequin understands digital better than any other publisher out there, and I wanted the digital version of my book to be as amazing as the print version.

My editor for this book and I have such a similar vision for Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter that it is a little creepy. It will feature hundreds of projects you can complete in as little as 30 seconds, a minute, five minutes, all the way up to full weekend activities. There are quizzes and inspiring quotes and the whole book makes you want to get up off your tushy and get organized — even when you’re pressed for time. I am so excited about being able to make this book for you and others who are interested in finding more organization and less clutter in their lives.

My second announcement is that I’m a featured expert in the August 2014 issue of Real Simple Magazine. I answer a series of readers’ questions about topics ranging from photographs to refrigerators. If you are a subscriber, you should have received the issue earlier this week in your mailboxes. If you aren’t a subscriber, you can get the August issue on newsstands today. The feature begins on page 77 with a drawing of me that doesn’t include a single wrinkle (you’re welcome to pencil those in around my eyes if you prefer authenticity).

I am very thankful to Real Simple for including me in their Ask the Organizer series. I believe I’m the eighth organizer, and they are featuring 12 this year. The feature has been terrific, and I recommend checking out the advice from each month for some amazing tips.

There is also a possibility I’ll be in another issue of the magazine this fall. I’ll keep you posted as we get closer to that publication date.

Book Review: 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business

A couple months ago, I purchased the digital version of 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business by Julie Bestry. Julie is a professional organizer specializing in office and paper organization, and I thought her secrets might be useful for Unclutterer’s readership and for myself. If her name is familiar to you, she has appeared on the site in the past.

While there are 57 short chapters in this book, there are more than 57 secrets for keeping your business organized. Each chapter is packed with useful and easy-to-implement tips that immediately solve organizational problems for anyone who works in an office or maintains an office in their home.

There are several chapters on time management and how to stop procrastinating. Julie provides information on how to take advantage of technology to reduce your workload by using databases and auto-responders. One of my favourite chapters was “Automate to Levitate.” Julie advises people to:

  • Create checklists and scripts. When meeting with prospective clients or vendors, the same questions are asked each time. By writing these questions down and creating a script or checklist, interviews and meetings will go much more smoothly and you’ll have all of the information you need. These checklists can also be important when training staff to perform these tasks.
  • Design templates. Instead of creating responses to each inquiry from scratch, develop letters (or sections of letters) that can be easily reconfigured to create responses. Simply copy and paste the required sections and customize the key points. For Gmail, templates can be made using “Canned Responses” from Google Labs.
  • Observe and document rituals. Build routines for complex tasks such as bookkeeping or data-entry. Write down each step in detail so that if you had to turn the entire project over to someone else, such as a virtual assistant, the work would be completed correctly and to your standards.

Julie also describes how to write effective emails and make productive phone calls so you get all of the information you need at one time instead of sending dozens of messages back and forth between coworkers.

Like many professional organizers, Julie encourages readers to set goals and become masters of their task list. The advice Julie shares in this book help readers discover which type of “to-do” list is best suited for them. She also talks about goal setting and attainment the “SMARTY SKIRT” way.

Julie teaches readers how to be a “File Whisperer.” She clarifies for how long documents should be kept and offers alternatives to the traditional filing cabinet for document storage. She also describes how to escape the traps that many people fall into when they build a filing system. Julie even shares secrets to building an effective mobile filing system for those who travel for business.

57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business also includes myriad tips on how to improve your writing skills, manage your finances, use social media effectively, prepare for emergencies, and set boundaries between work and home. A few more of my favourite tips were:

  • Schedule specific office hours and share your schedule. By creating specific office hours and sharing your schedule with co-workers, they will know when you are available to answer questions and help solve problems. By leaving a memo-board on your office door people will be able to leave messages for when you are available.
  • Arrange your furniture. Keep the extra chair outside your office door and bring it in only when visitors are expected. A chair could be positioned at a small desk or tucked in a corner so unexpected visitors would be discouraged from staying longer than necessary.
  • Designate gatekeepers. During designated office hours, specify someone else to deal with non-emergency problems. For example, a virtual assistant might respond to all general inquiries or in a home office situation, a spouse or older child might deal with all household related issues.

57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business was a pleasure to read and was peppered with references to pop culture (Does everyone remember Gladys Kravitz?) and famous people such as George Clooney. Julie’s comparison of loose papers to “floozies” made me smile, not only because it was funny but a surprisingly useful comparison.

Whether you are the owner of a small business, an employee in a large corporation, or head of your own household, I recommend this book for those wishing to make a positive change in their office environments.

Children’s book review: Franklin is Messy

There are books available for adults on the whys and wherefores of getting organized but there are not that many for young children.

Franklin the Turtle is a Canadian book series that first appeared in the mid-1980s. I love this entire series of books. Franklin is amiable, cheerful, and enjoys playing with his many friends. These wonderfully illustrated books are written to engage beginning readers.

Specifically, Franklin is Messy recounts how Franklin misses opportunities to play with his friends because he can’t find his costumes or toys. Franklin gets exasperated at not being able to find what he needs as he attempts to do some tidying himself. His parents offer assistance and together they create storage solutions adapted to Franklin’s needs. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing Franklin’s perspective on his organized and tidy room!

When I organized families, younger children would often be intimidated and nervous that a professional organizer was going to overhaul the house, and possibly throw out all of their treasures. I felt that Franklin is Messy was so well written that I took it with me whenever a client had children under eight years old. I would have the kids help me clear a space on the floor and I would sit with them and either read the book to them or have them read the book to me. Often, I would tell the pre-teens to sit with us too — so their younger brothers and sisters would have familiar company.

Usually, as soon as we finished the book, the children would start organizing on their own. Sometimes it was because they wanted to find lost treasures like Franklin and other times it was because they understood that a tidy room meant more time playing with friends.

Franklin is Messy has been translated into over 30 languages and views the benefits of getting organized in a brilliant, well written way that children can relate to in their own lives.

For those who prefer to watch rather than read, the books were adapted for television in the mid-1990s. In this Youtube video, the Franklin is Messy story starts at 11:40.

Book Review: Joshua Becker’s Clutterfree with Kids

Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker is not a book of organizing tips. It does not tell you what type of baskets to buy. It does not tell you how to arrange clothes in your closets. This book helps you evaluate the choices you make and develop new habits to lead a life that is full of meaning and free of clutter.

The book begins by introducing the concept of minimalism and leading a minimalist lifestyle. Many people believe that a minimalistic lifestyle is stark and boring but Mr. Becker explains that “minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”

Mr. Becker describes the empty promises of advertisements and their attempt to convince us that the more we own the happier we will be. He recounts the journey he and his typical American family have taken towards living a minimalist lifestyle and the challenges they faced.

In the first section, “Change Your Thinking”, Mr. Becker presents an alternate way of thinking about uncluttering and organizing. He explains the impact minimalism can have on contentment, generosity, and honesty in one’s life and also debunks many of the myths of living a minimalist lifestyle. It really is not stark and boring!

The section of the book that focuses on parenting states, “the lifestyle of minimalism requires far more inspiration than instruction.” It describes how parents can best model the minimalistic lifestyle. It also outlines the benefits of family life where possessions are deemed less important than self-development and interpersonal relationships.

Mr. Becker outlines a roadmap to becoming clutter free and explains how to include your children on this journey. He does not stick to hard and fast rules but asks questions that allow the reader to choose the minimalistic path that is right for his/her family.

Clutterfree with Kids will show readers new ways of thinking about, and establishing better habits, regarding children’s toys, clothes, artwork, and collections. There is advice on how to adjust schedules to spend more time participating in developmental activities and reducing the amount of ‘screen time’ – be it computer or television.

Some other practical advice provided in the book includes how to:

  • Become clutterfree with a reluctant family member
  • Deal with gifts and excessive gift-givers
  • Resist the influence of advertisements in our consumer-driven culture
  • Prepare for a new baby
  • Pack for holidays and vacations

Clutterfree with Kids is an enjoyable, refreshing, easy-to-read book. Mr. Becker provides practical advice in a non-judgemental way. He encourages readers to adopt a level of minimalism with which they are comfortable. Whether you are new to minimalism or you are new to parenting, this book can help you move toward a happier and more minimalist life.

Book review: Joseph Ferrari’s Still Procrastinating

Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done is a book that explains, in an easy-to-read format, the results of the past 20 years of scientific studies on procrastination and procrastinators.

The book defines procrastination as “the purposive delay of the starting or completing a task to the point of subjective discomfort.” More simply, procrastinators voluntarily do not work on important tasks and feel bad or uncomfortable about their delays because they know that this course of action will have negative effects in the future.

Studies cited in the book indicate that although everyone procrastinates about a few things, approximately 20 per cent of adult men and women are chronic procrastinators — they procrastinate habitually in many different areas of their lives. The studies also show that procrastination is a learned behaviour. If people understand why they procrastinate, they can get the support they need and develop strategies to help them learn new behaviours.

There are several types of procrastinators identified in the book.

Thrill-Seekers: These procrastinators claim they do better under pressure, when they feel the deadline is looming. Scientific studies show that these types of people are easily bored and the adrenaline rush of completing the task just before the deadline is a thrill they enjoy. What the studies also show is that even those these types of procrastinators believe they produce better results at the last minute, in reality they make more errors and do not complete all of the task’s components thoroughly.

Indecisives: These types of procrastinators delay making a decision until a choice is made for them. For example, they may wish to purchase tickets for the symphony but they can’t decide which night to attend and they delay so long that there are no tickets available. Studies show that Indecisives may have grown up in situations that did not allow them to acquire good decision-making skills.

Self-Saboteurs: These procrastinators intentionally place obstacles in their paths to prevent successful performance of a task. In this way they can blame external factors, such as not having enough time, to mask their anxiety and self-doubt. However, if this type of procrastinator completes the task successfully despite the obstacle, he/she will protect his/her self-esteem. Many of these self-saboteurs have low self-control. They are unable to delay their need for instant gratification and focus on the task at hand. They do not often reward themselves for a job well done and instead enjoy the “fun stuff” before they get their work done.

Perfectionists: Perfectionist procrastinators maintain impossibly high standards. They delay starting or finishing a task because being perfect is not realistically achievable. These types of procrastinators have a strong desire to be liked by others and show how hard they are working. They often justify their procrastination by saying delays will result in a better quality of work but this is not usually the case.

Regardless of the type of procrastinator with which people identify, Dr. Ferrari is optimistic about procrastinators changing their habits and behaviours. He suggests starting with small changes and gradually progressing. He indicates that getting organized is “Your Secret Weapon in Task Completion.” Do any of these four types of procrastination ring true with you or are you someone who only occasionally puts off tasks?

Professional organizers can certainly help procrastinators in their efforts to become non-procrastinators by helping them declutter, minimize distractions, and improve their time and task management skills. Sometimes consulting a mental health professional such as a cognitive behavioural therapist, may be helpful. Seeking support from family and friends who are non-procrastinators is advisable. These are the people that care for you and will hold you accountable for your changes in behaviour. Checking in daily with an accountability partner or having someone hangout with you as you work on a project at home (like cleaning out your closet) can be beneficial.

Dr. Ferrari states that procrastination is more than just having poor time management skills. Procrastination is an ineffective strategy to cope with the challenges of everyday life. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life and taking action, you can become less stressed and more productive.

Useful book to help you care for and preserve prized possessions

Do you have some precious heirlooms — things with great value, sentimental or monetary — you want to preserve and pass down to other family members?

If you do, it’s well worth the effort to make sure these items are taken care of properly. And, whenever I get questions about how best to do it — for art, books, textiles, etc. — I pull out my copy of Saving Stuff. I’ve owned the book since 2008, when it first came out, and it’s a reference I always keep close at hand.

As Deb Lee mentioned before, Saving Stuff encourages you to be selective about what you keep. But once you’ve decided something is a keeper, it teaches you how to make sure you’re taking good care of it.

Saving Stuff was written by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar. Williams is a senior conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, so I trust his advice. Pair him up with a professional writer like Jaggar, and you’ve got a winning combination.

Jaggar got interested in the subject when she had a flood in her basement, and lost many items she treasured: old scrapbooks, photos, her daughter’s art projects, and more. She shared the story with her friend, Williams, and asked for advice. I loved this bit from The Christian Science Monitor’s interview with Jaggar:

“He helped save the Wright Brothers’ airplane, and he’s helped save Archie Bunker’s chair,” she says. “And I’m sitting there asking, ‘How do you save the macaroni art that my daughter made?'”

So how do you save stuff? Williams begins by explaining about perfect preservation:

The best way to ensure that stuff lasts is to place all your collectibles in an Egyptian tomb and then seal them in — after leaving the prerequisite deadly curse on all who dare enter. Stuff lasts for a really long time in a cursed tomb. Why? No light, no humidity, no contaminants, no bugs, no furry friends, and no people.

But since that’s not what anyone is going to do, he goes on to explain the major risk factors, and then tells us which ones are most relevant to different kinds of stuff we might be saving. The remaining chapters deal with the different forms of items we save: photos, newspapers, linens, old letters, sports memorabilia, etc.

While there’s plenty of detail for the dedicated preservationist, there are also numbered lists of simple rules: seven rules for photographs, eight rules for preserving coins and stamps, 20 rules for preserving textiles, 22 rules for caring for stringed wooden instruments, etc.

And the book sometimes gives you multiple ways to preserve a category of stuff. For example, for vintage books, there’s the “quick ’n’ dirty method,” the “middle road,” and “Pharaoh’s tomb” (the last one being for books you want to preserve forever).

If you have stuff you want to be sure you’re saving properly, this may be a book to buy or to borrow from your library to help you protect the few cherished sentimental items you choose to keep.

Uncluttering books: What to let go

Earlier this month, the post “Books: To donate or not to donate?” provided insider information on donating books to libraries. Many of us love our books, so pruning the collection can be difficult. Still, it’s sometimes useful to do a little discarding and donate books to your local Friends of the Library or other group — such as when you want to make room for new books. And, you’ll likely have a good feeling when you let go books that no longer serve you.

In my latest round of bookshelf clearing, I found 25 books I really didn’t have any reason to keep. Maybe you have similar books taking up space on your shelves:

Books you won’t read again

I really enjoyed reading The To-Do List, but I’m never going to re-read it; someone else may as well enjoy it! I’ll never re-read The Poisonwood Bible or The Tipping Point, either.

Books you won’t ever read

There were a number of books I realized I’m just not going to read. I’m sure Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 is a wonderful book (it won a Pulitzer Prize), but given how long it’s been on my bookshelf, I thought it was time to admit I’m just not going to read it. I had a few other history books in the same category: good books that deserve to have an owner who will read them.

Books that just don’t work for you

The Synonym Finder was recommended to me as an alternative to a thesaurus. While it sounds like a book that a writer would find quite useful, I only tried using it twice in all the years I owned it — and it didn’t really help me. Different tools work for different people, and this was a tool that didn’t work for me.

Books with information you can find online

I had two books related to green cleaning. After writing about uncluttering your cleaning supplies, I realized I can easily find equivalent information on the Web.

What-were-you-thinking books

These are books that are good, but just not right for me — and I should have realized that before I ever bought them. Home Comforts got rave reviews, but I’m just not the type of person who needs or wants an 837-page book on “the art and science of keeping house.” I’m much more casual about housekeeping than the author is. But, I’m sure someone will love this book, so I’m glad to let it go.

Travel-related books

I had some really nice books about places I’ve been — with the kind of information you don’t easily find online. But, I’m highly unlikely to ever go back to those places or refer back to these books (which are likely outdated). Even through they served me well at the time, there’s no reason to keep them now.

Next steps: After I identified the books I was happy to remove from my shelves, I sold some to a local used bookstore and freecycled others. The remainder went to a local charity that is about to have its annual book sale — I’ll get a small itemized tax deduction for that donation.

Books: To donate or not to donate?

Today’s guest post is written by Ruth DeWitt, the Friends Coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library in Kansas. She is responsible for overseeing all the book donations that come to the library. We contacted her to give us deeper insight as to what to donate, what to trash, and what to sell or Freecycle. Her insights taught us a great deal. You can learn more about the Lawrence Public Library — an extremely vibrant and technology-driving library — on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Uncluttering? One of the hardest things to get rid of is our books. We have emotional ties to our books. Whether we bonded with a character, learned a lesson from the story, or were inspired by someone’s biography, books make personal memories for us — and because of that, they are almost impossible to throw away. But … they take up room, and there are only so many bookshelves we can put in our house, they are heavy to move around, and are we really going to re-read that mystery when we already know the ending?

So, how do you get rid of your books? First, the hard truth is, some books actually can be thrown away. If books have gotten wet in a damp basement, are moldy with brown spots, have covers torn off or pages missing, it is time for them to be recycled. (Note: it is not always easy to find a waste company that recycles books, please check with your local service first.) Even very old books usually lose their value when they are in terrible condition. So, be brave, honestly assess the condition of some of your favorite reads, and if they are bad, please discard.

Second, check with your local library to see if they have a Friends group. Generally, Friends groups are separate entities from your library, which have as their mission raising money in support of the local library’s programming, collections, equipment, or activities. Not all, but many Friends groups resell donated books either through online sales, used book sales, book stores in the library, or honor-system displays scattered around the town, or a combination. In other words, many Friends groups’ very bread and butter are your gently used, donated books. It is a great way to unclutter your space, and feel great about passing your books on to a new home. And, in some instances, you can get a receipt for a tax donation.

But, before you back the moving van up to your library, please check with your Friends group. They probably have a list of what they will and can’t accept, and please respect that list. You can probably find it on your library’s website. If you have a huge donation, please contact them directly, as it is sometimes difficult to accept huge amounts of books at once or there may be a different place to drop large donations, rather than a typical lobby drop box for a couple of bags. Because of liability issues, it is not easy for a Friends group (who are mostly staffed by volunteers) to come to your house and pick up your books. It may be possible, but that is based on the group’s policy. Most likely, you will need to get the books to the library yourself.

Our Friends group in Lawrence, Kansas, recently adopted some guidelines when we moved into a smaller space because of a library renovation. We had to stop accepting vinyl (which we plan to resume when we move into the renovated building), but many Friends groups have stopped taking it all together. We followed the lead of many of our local Friends entities, and are no longer accepting VHS or cassette tapes. We cannot take magazines, yes, even National Geographic, or Encyclopedia sets. A lot of us have found our beautiful Encyclopedia sets are taking up a lot of room, and have been displaced by something called “the internet,” but they don’t sell at Friends sales regardless of what terrific shape they’re in. They do, however, often get snatched up on Craigslist or if you have a local Freecycle network where they can be listed for free. There are some folks out there who are happy to give them a good home. DVDs, Audiobooks, and sheet music are usually good sellers, and we accept both video and board games, and they do very well.

Again, please be sure to check with your local library before you bring your piles of books to them. No matter where you are, it is a guarantee that your library Friends will put your donation to good use by not only selling your books, but giving the proceeds back to the library. The group also serves to promote literacy by getting low priced books into the community, and makes reading and the love of books accessible to all. There is hardly a better cause, and you’ve created more space in your living area at the same time.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: A new productivity book from 99U featuring advice from Unclutterer

This past fall, I was contacted by the amazing people at Behance and 99U about contributing to a book series they’re editing and curating. I’m a big fan of 99U and have been in the LifeRemix network with Scott Belsky (the publisher behind Behance and 99U) for years. It took me exactly one second to agree to the project before I even really understood what it entailed.

The book, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, released today is the first in a three-part series exploring creative productivity, time management, individually tailored processes, and great design. 99U’s traditional focus is the creative community (artists, designers, writers, etc.), but the information in this book is applicable to most everyone — especially those of us tied to desks all day.

Jocelyn K. Glei, the editor-in-chief of 99U and this book series, explains:

In Manage Your Day-to-Day, we address the specific challenges that this 21st-century influx of information presents for creative professionals, and offer solutions for how to build a daily routine, maintain focus amidst a constant stream of distractions, and keep your creative mind (and work) fresh … Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, Manage Your Day-to-Day provides a playbook of tried-and-true best practices for producing great work. To accomplish this, we recruited 20 of the smartest creatives and researchers we knew—from Stefan Sagmeister to Seth Godin to Gretchen Rubin to Tony Schwartz to Dan Ariely—and asked them to share their road-tested insights on what helps them do great creative work.

The chapter I wrote for the book is “Learning To Create Amidst Chaos” and admits that “like it or not, we are constantly forced to juggle tasks and battle unwanted distractions” while working and to “truly set ourselves apart, we must learn to be creative amidst chaos.” I provide advice for ways you can train yourself to find focus in disruptive circumstances, much like a basketball player has to learn control so he or she can be successful throwing free throws on a rival team’s court.

The official book trailer:

The book is published by Amazon’s new publishing house and is available in paperback, audio, and digital format for the Kindle. Learn even more about the project and the contributors at 99U.

The challenge of letting go of books

Do you love books? I mean, do you love books with paper pages? Do you enjoy the feel of turning the pages? Do you relish that experience? While digital books offer the same content as their paper counterparts, the experience is not exactly the same, is it? You can’t smell the paper. You can’t feel the paper’s texture. I used to think that it was these nuances that made books so difficult to let go. But, could it be more than that?

The author of the blog Epic Writer summed up the complex relationship she has with books (and that many people have with books) in her post Show Me Your Book Clutter:

The problem is I have so many books I want to read. Or, that I need to read. It’s funny how varied the genres are–from reference to family history to novels to religious to just about everything. Aside from my cluttered side table, I have digital and paper clutter where I have recorded books I want to read. From my “wants” list on to titles scribbled on scraps of paper, I am overwhelmed with the amount of books I will get to someday. Even with feeling almost buried by it all, I have no desire to change. I love books. I want to see books everywhere.

I also discovered that how one selects a book to purchase seemed almost as important as the book itself. From Dell Smith’s post on the blog Beyond the Margins, The Psychology of Books: Why We Read What We Read:

Buying and reading books are deeply emotional and personal acts. Your choices of reading material are based on an intricate and truly limitless combination of marketing influences and mercurial emotions. This goes for both buying books and deciding which book to read next. Two different things, but closely related as each is influenced by a mysterious algorithm of instinct and urge, want and need, stimulus both external and internal. Your desire to buy and read a book uncovers the dark hinterland of your soul. Your choices are often a reflection of your id.

Clearly, people love books and everything about them. But, it is possible keep a reasonable number so that they don’t contribute to the clutter in your living spaces. As challenging as it may be to let your books go, if they are truly meaningful to you, you won’t let them languish haphazardly on bookshelves and nightstands. Otherwise, they would simply be taking up space and you wouldn’t benefit from having them.

And, if your books feel like old friends, then it would seem like a one-sided relationship if they simply lay about your home, untouched and waiting to be read someday. Most people tend to interact with their friends, to call them on the phone, and even meet them for coffee. So, instead of waiting for some far-off day to eventually read (or finish) that book that you will probably never read, why not pass it on to someone else who would appreciate it? Like an interesting movie or new restaurant, books are meant to be shared with others. When you share (let go), you’ll be creating new memories (that you can capture with pictures or record in your journal).

The books you choose to have in your life can indeed be very meaningful to you. They may very well be an extension of who you are, of who you aspire to be. You can honor them by being selective about the ones you purchase and by keeping your collection in order. Then you wouldn’t have to choose between enjoying them and having a uncluttered space.