Happy 12th Anniversary to Unclutterer

On January 6, 2007, we published our first blog post with our manifesto of simple living. It’s hard to believe it was 12 years ago but here we are, still promoting smart consumerism and avoiding distractions that prevent us from enjoying a modern, luxurious life.

Here are some highlights as we approach our “teen years”:

  • We’ve published over 4600 posts and received almost 75,000 comments.
  • Our first Unitasker Wednesday was published in May 2007 and since then we’ve featured almost 500 unitaskers.
  • The Forum was opened in November 2009 to allow fellow unclutterers to connect with each other and share ideas and resources. There are over 2000 topics and over 63,000 replies on our Forum.
  • Unclutter Your Life in One Week was published in November 2009.
  • Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter was published in January 2016.

We would like to thank all of the regular and guest writers that have contributed to Unclutterer over the years but most of all, we’d like to thank YOU, our readers, for your continued comments, ideas, and support, and encouragement.

Unexpected benefits of uncluttering: An interview with editor Erin Doland

Sue Brenner, PCC, PMP, and author of The Naked Desk, sat down with Unclutterer editor Erin Doland to learn about her path to simple living, and decided to let you in on the conversation that took place back in 2008.

Clearing out the excess clutter in your life has parallel benefits, sometimes unexpected. Just as each gotten-rid-of item is one less thing in your physical way, it is also one less thing to occupy your thoughts and emotions. You are freed up to focus on the subjects that matter to you without the weight of all that excess stuff getting in the way.

Erin, Editor-at-Large at Unclutterer says she wasn’t born with the orderly gene. (Me either. I didn’t begin to adopt that habit until well into my 20s.) But when the weight of “too much stuff” got too great, Erin was forced to learn how to lighten her load and create order — now she experiences a more enriching life as a result. Here’s her story:

When Erin was in her 20s, she could pack everything she owned except her mattress into her 2-door hatchback. But when the dreaded call from her mom came telling her, “All of your stuff in my house has to go,” Erin suddenly found herself with boxes filled with childhood memorabilia and college life, along with a desire to hang on to it all.

Not ready to let any of it go, she packed it all with her when she moved to Washington, D.C. Later, when she and her husband moved in together, they blended their lives and their things into an even smaller urban apartment. Every room spilled over with so much stuff they had no room to move.

Concerned, Erin’s husband sat her down. “I can’t even take one step,” he said. “We can’t live our lives together this way.”

Looking at all their stuff, Erin couldn’t imagine how they could organize it, and she couldn’t even think about letting any of it go. Just the thought of dealing with any of it stressed her out, but she agreed with her husband that living this way wasn’t an option.

Out of desperation, Erin had become interested in getting organized to set her married life off on the right foot. But with no built-in, natural propensity for organization or lightening her load, Erin had no idea where to begin.

“I could organize an argument for a paper and that was the extent of it,” she pondered, “but I didn’t know how to apply that idea to my home.”

So, Erin decided to do some research and find out. “That’s where my daily inspiration for Unclutterer comes from,” she explained. “I had to learn and I pass on what I learned to others. After Unclutterer, came my books, Unclutter Your Life in One Week (2010) and Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter (2016).”

Erin’s first step was to begin to assess what everything was that was cluttering up her home. As she’s written about in previous posts, Erin had kept every note from high school and middle school. Like a mouse collecting morsels, she had kept every trinket that came her way, such as various key chains and t-shirts she had been given at fraternity parties. So much stuff that she had no use for but had packed away at the time because the things seemed worth saving.

“Who knows what I thought I was going to do with all that stuff,” she said. Since it was tough to completely let go of all those memories, she decided to photograph a lot of the stuff — a great strategy for hanging onto the sentiment the thing represented without having to store the thing itself. Erin also realized that she was more likely to go through a photo album on a trip down memory lane than she was to ever go through boxes of stuff.

As Erin’s process continued, she came up with some rules to help her purge things: “If I couldn’t even remember where it came from, it was gone.”

Erin realized that letting stuff go wasn’t just lightening her physical load, but she was also beginning to feel lighter; she realized letting go of the past was allowing her to better move forward with her life. She hadn’t realized how much all that stuff was weighing her down as if she was dragging it all around like a ball and chain around her ankle. She explained: “All that stuff represented my past. I’m now focused on the present and the future with my husband.”

Yes, it was a lot of work — it took Erin about six months to fully unclutter her new dwelling — but as the days progressed into weeks and then months, Erin got better and better at purging all that stuff and began to feel more and more invigorated the closer she got to her goal.

“I have peace of mind now,” she said. “I don’t have that old dread when I leave the house that I will have to come home to that. All that weight is gone. Now my home is a place of relaxation and order; When I come home I get to rejuvenate. There’s a sense of calm.”

That is peace of mind. And confidence too, I’d add. A real sense of accomplishment that feeds all the other areas of your life.

So how has getting uncluttered influenced other areas of your life?

 

Editors note: Erin’s pursuit of simple living continues as she shares her adventures traveling across North American in an even smaller residence — a motor home! Find out more at her website Tumbleweed.Life and check out the amazing photos on her Instagram feed.

Generation Z

generation zMy Generation Z children are home from college for the holidays. We’ve had some good conversations about life when I was in college compared to their life now. Many things have changed. While they are lamenting the slow Wi-Fi on campus, I told them how I bought a 40MB internal hard drive for my 286 computer to run the statistics program for my thesis.

Next year will be a busy year for our family. My husband and I will be moving wherever the military sends us. The oldest will be finishing college and moving to wherever a new job takes her. The youngest will be moving out of the dorm and into her own small apartment. While talking about all of these moves, we got into a discussion about stuff, uncluttering, and what the Generation Z wants and doesn’t want.

Here are highlights of our conversations.

Home-ownership may not be a goal. The 3,000 square foot home with a 30-year mortgage may be a ball-and-chain for some Gen-Zers. Many want small, low-maintenance apartments or condos and would rather spend money on travel and adventure experiences. These kids have seen their parents spend holidays and weekends doing home renovations and believe that mowing the lawn is a “soul-crushing timesuck.”

Make it digital. Gen-Zers have no use for DVDs and CDs. They use streaming services like Amazon Video. They might want hard copies of select reference books or storybooks they read as children, but they would rather use a Kindle e-reader for everything else. An ideal holiday/birthday/wedding gift would be digital copies of home movies and family photos.

Less housework is better. Dusting and polishing silver takes effort, but Gen-Zers will do the work if they value and can use the items. They have no use for the figurines and silver-plated coin-banks I received for them at baby showers. Nor are they interested in Grandma’s good china that is neither microwave nor dishwasher-safe. However, they would value one or two serving pieces like the sugar bowl/creamer set, the gravy boat, or serving platters.

Only ‘my’ memorabilia. Gen-Zers have no use for the lobster trap their parents brought home from New England or the sequined sombreros from Mexico. They will keep items that are significant to them or that have important family history such as military medals, specific jewellery pieces, and artwork.

Functional furniture. Large antique dressers with drawers that don’t open easily and oversized sectionals do not fit into the Gen-Zers lifestyle. They want smaller-scale, furniture that can serve more than one purpose such as end tables with storage and ottomans that double as filing cabinets.

What does this all mean for the parents of Generation Z? Keep things because you love them and want them. If you are not enjoying certain things, ask your children if they want them now or will want them in the future (assuming they are old enough to make those decisions). If the children are able to take the items now, let them go. If not, make sure your final wishes are clear to avoid family disputes.

If you are in the Generation Z cohort or have Generation Z children, chime in with your opinions in the comments.

Uncluttering your schedule to keep clear of unnecessary stress

Being human can be difficult some days. I most often notice the difficulties when I’m stressed, full of anxiety, things are chaotic, and/or under pressure. Little problems that are usually dealt with easily turn into big issues because my abilities to see the whole picture or keep my cool are gone.

One time, I completely unhinged in front of one of my colleagues. I was quietly working at my desk one minute, and the next minute I threw a tantrum because a project we were working on took a turn I didn’t expect. Instead of reacting like a normal person, I chose the path of awful person. I used my “outside voice” for at least a full minute before I realized I was being a complete idiot. Thankfully, my colleague burst into laughter (instead of yelling back or quitting) and asked if my outburst helped me feel better.

It took me two hours to calm down and figure out what had happened. Many elements in my life were to blame:

Stress + Anxiety + Disappointment + Poor Planning = Awful Erin.

As full disclosure, one of these elements was completely out of my hands. I had no way to control the event that happened that triggered my disappointment. No matter what the day or how prepared I possibly could have been, I still would have been disappointed.

The other elements were all my fault, however. My poor planning resulted in stresses and anxieties that were wholly unnecessary, and which made me blow the incident with my co-worker completely out of proportion. If I had planned appropriately, I would have been able to move with the ebbs and flows of the day and not let the stress and anxiety overwhelm me. More precisely, I wouldn’t have been experiencing stress and anxiety — at least not at the level I was.

Later that afternoon, I made a heartfelt apology to my colleague, we had a good laugh, and then I went home to re-evaluate my schedule. I needed to be realistic about my abilities.

I revisited my initial estimations and doubled them. What I thought would take one hour, I doubled to two. What I thought would take a day, I scheduled to two days. I made phone calls and adjusted others’ expectations of my timeline accordingly.

With all things in life, the more stress and anxiety you feel, the less able you are to think and respond to the best of your abilities. Proper planning — being honest with yourself about how long it will take to complete action items, setting a schedule, and having the diligence to keep to that schedule — will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and in control of the things you can control.

After my tantrum and retooling of my schedule, I noticed a significant decrease in my stress and anxiety levels. I am not super human, and my new schedule was realistic and maintainable. Unfortunately, it took making a fool out of myself to realize I needed a change. How do you organize your time to keep stress and anxiety at bay, and how do you avoid potential stress meltdowns?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Sharing space and dealing with moments of chaos

There are many wonderful things about living with others, but dealing with their clutter is most certainly not one of them. Living with my husband (and before that roommates) has always been a special challenge during times of emotional stress.

You see, when I’m sailing through life, everything finds its way back to its place quickly because I put everything away as soon as I use it. However, when I’m feeling chaotic, you can’t see the bedroom floor and nothing goes back where it belongs. I nest using clothes and papers.

When I lived alone, it did not bother me. When I was feeling this way, I would just wade through the clothes to find the bed, knowing that I would get out of the funk and get things cleaned up sooner or later.

Now that I live with my husband in a tiny apartment, I can’t let the chaos take over too much.

We’re both human, though, and the chaos does hit, sometimes at the same time but usually at different moments (meaning one wants to clean while the other is in a nesting mode).

Living with others offers a challenge to staying organized because if one person is feeling chaotic, their clutter encourages others to let their own organizing slack off: “If his stuff is all over the place, why should I clean up mine?”

Say you are in a chaotic moment and your spouse/partner starts ranting at you about the mess you are leaving around. What would you do? In my case, my inner teenager comes out and I want to make the mess even worse just to get back at the unfair authority-figure ranting.

Let’s say however, that you are more mature than I am, and recognize the ranting is not an attack on your intrinsic goodness. Instead, you use it to move yourself out of the chaos, dealing with the physical side first and letting the emotional clutter clear itself out. How wonderful, no?

But what happens if it’s your companion(s) that let the clutter take over? How do you deal with it?

Here are three Definitely Don’t and three Possibly Do actions.

Definitely Don’t:

  1. Don’t nag. It will just bring out the inner teenager and they might rebel and do things on purpose just to annoy you.
  2. Don’t get judgmental. People in a negative state don’t need negative reinforcement. Besides, it’s not like you have never had moments of clutter, hmmm???
  3. You can re-order the place yourself, but don’t do it with a “how great am I?” nor with a martyr attitude. Do it because you want to or not at all. A superiority complex will only cause more problems in the end.

Possibly Do:

  1. Live with the chaos and hope that the person will snap out of it soon. After all, you go through chaotic periods too, I’m sure.
  2. Suggest an order the house day and make it a big fun event. Put on music, dress up in housekeeper outfits (or at least tie funny colored scarves on your head) and do a re-ordering.
  3. Re-order the place on your own and hope that the calm space will bring calm to the other person/people.

Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with the clutter in the home caused by multiple people experiencing the ups and downs of life at different rates.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Dealing with teenager’s clutter

As a father of a toddler, I can easily clean up the toys that she plays with and eventually leaves strewn about the room. I am not looking forward to her teenage years, however, if she turns out to be as messy during that stage as I was. I’m not exactly sure how I will deal with it, but maybe some of our readers can give me some pointers?

The reason I bring up teenagers and clutter is an old article I stumbled upon from Kevin Duggan of The Coloradoan. An excerpt:

Clutter is as natural to teens as acne and mood swings; it’s as aggravating to parents as gray hair and hearing loss. There lies the conflict.

My home is not immune to this problem. A tour at any time through my daughters’ bedrooms (and nearby rooms, for that matter) will reveal all manner of clothes worn or tried on in recent days strewn about the floor like so many pine needles in the forest.

There’s no telling which clothes are dirty and which were recently washed but never put away. Included in the ground cover are food wrappers, CDs, papers, books and every shoe they own. Prized possessions are mixed in with trash.

So do we have any readers who deal with teenagers and their inevitable clutter? Would any parents be willing to brag about strategies for helping to raise a clutter-free teen? Trust me, I’m all ears!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Ask Unclutterer: Why is it so hard to let go?

Reader Trish sends in this question:

I grew up with a table with a center post. It came with extra leaves so we could expand it. We bought it second-hand and I have had for 40 years. Over the years, the legs have had to be screwed, or glued back on. I have been looking at center post tables for a while but couldn’t afford one. My son received a beautiful one and since he needs to move, he has offered it to me. I would love it! However, in order to get it, I have to throw my current table with its one loose leg into the garbage. Suddenly, that 40-year-old table is very beautiful and I have great sadness at the thought of tossing it out and have the garbage truck crush it to death. I am almost ready to back out of the deal. His wood center post table is beautiful and would be a great opportunity lost if I can’t detach my heart from my old broken table. HELP!!! I don’t understand why it so hard to let go.

That is a great question Trish. Many of us have a hard time letting go of things. A number of years ago, scientist examined the brains of hoarders and non-hoarders. Researchers found greater activity in a certain part of the brain when hoarders were faced with a decision to dispose of their belongings.1 This same part of the brain is also associated with maintaining a sense of “me.”2

This is not to suggest that you, or any of our readers who have trouble disposing items are hoarders. But, I wonder… if we own an item for a long period of time, will we have conditioned our minds to believe the item is part of us? It certainly seems that way sometimes.

From your submission, it sounds like your table, or parts thereof, could still be put to good use. Have you considered hiring a carpenter to build something from the salvageable parts of the table? Perhaps you could turn the table top into picture frames. Collect a series of photos showing your family around the table at birthdays, holidays, or special events and put them in the frames. You might consider building a shelf or serving trays from the table as well.

If you decide to build something new from the old table, set a time limit. If you have not moved forward with the project in six months, then give yourself permission to let the table go. If you are resistant to having it go in the garbage, consider donating it to a trade school or wood working club where the wood could be re-purposed. You might be able to find someone in a Freecycle or Buy Nothing group that would be happy to have the table and you would know it is going to someone who will appreciate it.

If you decide to let your table go, consider the advice provided by Marie Kondo in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. Think of the lessons that the table taught you and all of the wonderful experiences you had while you owned it. Thank the table for its devoted service and send it on its way. I held a funeral for a pair of riding boots that I owned for 30 years. I know it sounds crazy, but it helped.

Allow yourself to feel all the feelings. You are human. It is just a “thing” but the memories around the thing are important so do not feel guilty for acknowledging that.

Thanks for your great question Trish. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, 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 as “Ask Unclutterer.”

  1. Tolin, David F., et al. “Neural Mechanisms of Decision Making in Hoarding Disorder.” Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 69, no. 8, 2012, p. 832., doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.1980. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22868937
  2. McGonigal, Kelly. “Why It’s Hard to Let Go of Clutter.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Aug. 2012, psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-science-willpower/201208/why-it-s-hard-let-go-clutter.

Free pass to return or re-gift presents

Gift giving is an art. Some people have an amazing talent at picking out the perfect something. I, however, am not blessed with such a skill. Every now and again I’ll hit one out of the park, but those occasions are rare. I think that it’s my disdain for crowded shopping centers that fuels my ineptitude.

Regardless of the reason, my gifts are often received with a strange facial expression and the question, “What is it?” I’ll never forget the gift I got for my sister-in-law that drew the response, “This is such an interesting … uh … watering can?” It was a purse.

When I give a gift, I want the gift to be exactly what the recipient wants. I want it to be loved. I also want the gift to not end up as clutter or to cause stress. To avoid giving the imperfect gift or to cause stress, I’ve decided to follow David Seah’s suggestion in his post “Print Your Own ‘Re-Gift Receipts’” and create my own re-gift receipts to accompany my future gifts.

I’m not going to write mine up exactly like he has, but the principle is the same: a guilt-free return policy. It seems to be such a nice way to let people know that you will in no way be offended if they decide to return your gift.

Be sure to check out Seah’s template at the bottom of the post to save yourself time creating your re-gift receipts.

 

This post has been updated since its publication in 2008.

The 5-, 10-, and 15-minute unclutterer

When it’s hard to carve out an hour or two (or more) to complete an unclutter mission, sometimes we forgo organizing at all.

That’s where the speed unclutterer comes in handy. When your boss is about to drop by your cube or friends have called to say they’re coming right over, uncluttering has to take on velocity. I have found that this works best when you close off all distractions, focus solely on the targeted area, set the timer for 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments and unclutter until the timer dings.

What you do in your 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments depends, of course, on the degree of disarray in the area you plan to unclutter and the system you use. Here are some ideas to get you started. Adjust them according to your situation.

The 5-minute Unclutterer

To know where to begin on a 5-minute uncluttering project, asking yourself questions will sharpen your focus. As I wrote on page 20 in The Naked Desk:

If you have limited time to organize, ask yourself, “What single action would make the greatest impact right now?” Or, “What can I do in five minutes that will make the biggest difference?” Scan the office and choose the area that is calling out for order the most. Then take action!

These questions will help you quickly home in on the area that if you unclutter it, will bring you the greatest relief, serenity or beauty. Overwhelmed? Put a bull’s eye on one corner of the table to get started, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing.

Zen Habits also has a great list of 5-minute uncluttering actions in the article 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.

I love Leo’s tip #6:

Pick up 5 things, and find places for them. These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.

Make a mental note of the new spots for items so you can retrieve them when you need them.

The 10-minute Unclutterer

You can power through a small uncluttering task in 10 minutes or make progress on a larger project.

Admittedly, the morning dishes in our home sometimes get left unwashed as family members dash out the door for work and school. I set the timer daily for 10-minute dish washing blasts — instant sink and counter uncluttering. Other things you can knock out in 10 minutes include:

  • File one inch of paper
  • Organize a book shelf
  • Start a load of laundry

From home to work, there are many 10-minute uncluttering opportunities. For example, you can reserve the last 10 minutes of the day to unclutter your desk to start fresh and clear the next day.

To fend off return-from-home clutter piles, make it a habit to use your first 10 minutes through the door to put things away, such as your umbrella in the umbrella holder, your jacket in the closet and your keys on the landing strip.

The 15-minute Unclutterer

With all that you can accomplish in five or 10 minutes, 15 minutes can make an even bigger dent in clutter. You won’t streamline a bedraggled garage, but you can clear out one box.

When you find yourself with an unexpected block of 15 minutes, you can use the time to clear out clutter from your home or office. For example, you’ve arrived 15 minutes early for a lunch appointment — unclutter your car. Additional ideas:

  • Remove all broken or obsolete items from a junk drawer
  • Clear out your purse or wallet
  • Organize your monthly receipts

To unclutter and clean, check out About.com’s Sarah Aguirre article”15 Minute Cleanups.” The article provides cleaning checklists for six different rooms, from the kitchen to a kid’s room.

I put the Bedroom Cleanup checklist to the test one evening from 8:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. As I followed each of Aguierre’s steps (except I substituted vacuuming with dusting), the room took on an extra sparkle. (Earrings that had collected on my dresser got returned to their home. I also unpacked my husband’s suitcase from last week’s business trip.) It was fast and easy to run through someone else’s pre-made to-do list. I’m glad I did it and will try her suggestions for other rooms.

Some cluttering projects do take hours, days, or months to finish. But, starting with 5-, 10- or 15-minute uncluttering bursts can give you instant progress. These timed uncluttering sprints are also useful for daily maintenance.

What are you able to get done in 5-, 10- or 15-minute unclutter sprints? Let us know your regular routines in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Book review: The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life

In The Minimalist Home, author Joshua Becker suggests that one of the problems affecting many of us is that we are living in homes that mass marketers want to sell us instead of the homes that our hearts and souls crave. Even the highly publicized “minimalism home” with white-washed walls and stark rooms with the occasional piece of expensive (and probably uncomfortable) furniture, is not what we truly need. Becker states, ” Successful family living was never about the size of a house. So, make more of the people within your household, and make less of the house itself.”

The Minimalist Home helps readers define their vision and set goals for how they want to live in their space, whether that space is an apartment, house, cottage, houseboat, or mobile home. Becker gives readers practical advice on how to engage and motivate family members to create the ideal home for everyone. He believes that with less stuff occupying your home, there will be fewer worries on your mind and you will appreciate and make better use of what you do own. You can then focus on your family and enjoy activities together. I appreciated this particular quote:

The goal of minimalism is not just to own less stuff. The goal is to unburden our lives so we can accomplish more.

In The Minimalist Home, each room has a dedicated chapter, from family rooms to bedrooms, from outdoor spaces to hobby spaces, and even spaces dealing with family pets. Within each chapter there are sections on defining the vision and goals for the space, implementing a step-by-step plan, and reflecting on possessions to include items that tell your family’s story. There is a “minimizing checklist” at the end of the chapter so readers can ensure they have reached their goal. The Minimalist Home also includes maintenance guides — from daily maintenance like putting away the mail and dishes, to yearly maintenance such as spring cleaning and filing income taxes.

This book has no glossy photos nor examples of the latest home décor trends. As a matter of fact, Becker does not propose rules on how much of each item to keep or toss. He encourages the reader to analyse his/her lifestyle and minimize to that level. It is a very nice change because so many books about minimalism make the readers feel that they are keeping too much or shaming them for feeling sentimental about souvenirs or heirlooms.

The last two chapters in the book are particularly interesting. Becker discusses the advantages of downsizing, not just when the kids have left for college or at retirement, but at your current stage of life, whatever it is. He raises points such as it takes less time to clean and maintain a smaller house, and mortgage payments and utility bills will be lower too. The dollar-value calculations he shows, reinforce his reasoning. Becker also recounts the stories of several people who minimized and downsized and then were able to pursue their passions — from travelling to volunteering for various causes. He states:

…minimalism doesn’t guarantee that you can find meaning and significance in life. But it does, almost always, open your eyes wider to these issues and create a context where you can think through them better.

If you are looking for help to define your vision and set goals, to work together as a family to create a welcoming home that is your ideal of comfort, that nurtures your passions, The Minimalist Home is the book you need.

Creating a personal strategic plan

Setting goals, working on projects, and tackling action items are three things I do on a regular basis to keep my work and personal life afloat. They’re the backbone of what I refer to as the Daily Grind.

The Daily Grind doesn’t happen by accident, though. I’m not a person who sits around and lets things fall into her lap or wish for the perfect opportunity to open up to me. I try to have purpose to my actions and am proactive in my dealings. Because of my desire to live with purpose, guiding my Daily Grind is a personal Strategic Plan. Much like a Strategic Plan that guides a business, my plan guides who I want to be. It keeps me on track, helps me reach my goals, and keeps me from feeling like I’m in a rut or walking through life as a zombie.

Similar to how a business creates a Strategic Plan, I created a plan for myself. In the book How Organizations Work by Alan Brache, strategy is defined as “the framework of choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization.” If you replace the words “an organization” with “my life” you get a solid idea of a personal Strategic Plan.

Brache continues in his book to discuss how to create an effective Strategic Plan for a business. Building on his ideas, but with a bent toward the personal, I created the following process for how to create my plan and how you can create a plan, too.

Five steps to living with a personal Strategic Plan

  1. Collect data and analyze your current situation. What are your strengths? (The book Now, Discover Your Strengths can help you answer this question.) How do you process information? What in your life do you love? What activities in your life do you look forward to or wish you had more time to complete? What are the activities you loathe and want to get out of your life completely or reduce dramatically? What competes for your attention? What are your core beliefs and how does your life reflect those ideals? Do you like the things you say you like, or is habit guiding your behavior?
  2. Make the tough choices. How far into the future are you willing to work with this Strategy? (I recommend no more than three years.) Review the data you collected and analyzed in the first stage, and put into words your core beliefs that under no circumstance are you willing to break. State what obligations in your life you must fulfill. State your strengths and which of these should continually be highlighted in your life. What stands out the most in your life as being the positive force for your actions? More than anything else, what makes you happy?
  3. Communicate (draft) your personal Strategic Plan. Put into words the plan that will guide your Daily Grind. Write it in words that you understand and trigger memories of why and how you chose your plan. Your Strategic Plan isn’t a mission statement, it can fill more than one sentence of text. It probably won’t be a 20+ page document like many businesses create, but it should be at least a page or two containing the gist of your vision. Be realistic and let the document wholly reflect who you are and who you want to be. This is just for you, not anyone else, so let it speak to and for you.
  4. Work with your Strategic Plan as your guide. Make decisions about how you spend your time and all aspects of your Daily Grind under the guidance of your plan. Try your best to keep from straying outside the bounds of your Strategic Plan. Live with purpose.
  5. Monitor and maintain your Strategic Plan. Sometimes life throws us a wrench when we were looking for puppies and rainbows. Or, something even better than you ever imagined can happen. Update and monitor these changes and see if your Strategic Plan needs to be altered as a result. If no major change has taken place, evaluate your performance within your plan and check to see if you’re getting lazy and letting things slide. Maybe you realize that your plan wasn’t broad enough, or maybe it was too specific. It’s your plan, so work to keep it healthy.

Ideas and Suggestions

What you choose to put into your plan is a deeply personal choice and how your plan looks is as unique as your finger print. If you’re looking for ideas or suggestions to get you started, consider the following:

  • Your relationship with your children, spouse, parents, siblings, friends.
  • Your spiritual and philosophical beliefs, how you practice those beliefs, and how you incorporate them into your daily life.
  • Your career goals and how much energy and focus you choose to commit to these achievements.
  • Your time and how you choose to spend it.
  • Your health and your objectives regarding your health.

Your strategic plan shouldn’t be a list of goals about these topics, but rather the guiding philosophies behind those goals. For instance, if in your Daily Grind you have action items about losing five pounds, those action items might reflect your Strategic Plan: “I enjoy the time and active relationship I have with my growing children. Staying healthy and in good physical condition allows me to have energy for this time with my children and allows me to work when I’m at work. Good health also is one way that I can work to have more years with those I love. It is important to me that I make healthy choices with regard to nutrition and exercise.”

Do you have a Strategic Plan? Does it help to keep clutter — especially time and mental clutter — from getting out of control? If you haven’t written a personal Strategic Plan before, do you think this is a tool that can help you?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Book Review: The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room: And How To Keep It That Way

At first glance, The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room is like many other organizing books. It has information about uncluttering and some nice glossy pictures.

BUT…

This book is much more than that. It provides great advice on how to pare down your possessions and create not only a functional home, but a stylish one too. My favourite quote is:

A streamlined home is like a symphony with pieces that work together. Instead of assigning items specific roles and hoarding junk in a drawer, imagine that your home is a boutique where everything works together.

The uncluttering and organizing instruction they give is relatively standard — group your items together, decide what stays, and eliminate what you no longer want or need. They furnish a great list of options on where to donate most items. I like their suggestion of labelling bags of raggedy clothes as “unsuitable for resale” so charities can sell them directly to textile recycling without wasting time sorting through them.

The Real Simple Method suggests that readers practice small, simple habits that make a big difference in the look and functionality of the home. This way they only spend a few minutes each day doing housework rather than spending most of the weekend moving things from one pile to another. There is plenty of useful advice on how to get family members involved in a positive and productive way (no bribery or coercion involved!).

Throughout the book there are beautiful, glossy, eye-pleasing photos — and they are realistic. The closets and drawers are full of clothes. The rooms have a typical amount of normal-sized furniture and there are colours! So many home décor magazines I have seen use scaled-down furniture, have only a few items of clothing in each closet or drawer, and the colours range from white to beige. The Real Simple Method is a nice change!

In the book, each room is assigned its own chapter. Within each chapter there are suggestions about how to make the room functional. For example, the experts suggest that the most efficient way to organize is to make sure the room is arranged to allow you to move through it freely without crisscrossing. This will help you perform tasks in an orderly manner.

Each chapter contains a list of the tools (furniture, stylish storage items, etc.) for the suggested look and functionality of the room. There is also a section within each chapter that gives alternatives for small spaces — great for those who live in apartments and small homes. The experts also include a checklist for tidying if you have five minutes, 15 minutes, one hour, or a whole weekend and provide time-saving tricks on to how to keep the room organized and clean with minimal effort.

For each room, they take one clutter problem area that most readers have difficulty with such as the junk drawer (kitchen), handbag (bedroom), or shelving (living room), and do an in-depth exposé into how to conquer the chaos and create a functional stylish space once and for all. There is a guide for hanging wall art, a list of ways to set your table incorporating colour and style elements, and suggestions on how to store your fine dinnerware and stemware dust-free so you can be ready to entertain in minutes.

From indoor spaces to outdoor spaces, from kid spaces to pet spaces, this book covers it all. If you are looking for a book that not only provides useful organizing advice but helps you create and highlight your own style, all while doing less housework, check out The Real Simple Method to Organizing Every Room.