How do you deal with slips in your projects?

One of the main goals of Unclutterer, apart from helping readers lead a more organized and streamlined life, is to help you create long-lasting change in your routines, habits, and life. Many of our articles revisit similar themes so that you can keep moving forward with your goals, revising what you are doing well, and identify when you need a course correction.

In my case, I am trying to merge my work and home life personalities. At work, I am decisive, productive, proactive, and passionate. At home, I never make decisions, ignore projects, react before thinking, and live with neither ups nor downs.

As regular readers know, I’ve been using the Bullet Journal system to transfer my work personality to my home one. And while the system has helped me keep my head above water during a stressful period at work, I’ve let my passivity to life stay in control and have pretty much converted my Bullet Journal into a solely work-related tracking system.

So, something needs to be done, and I think I’ve found the trick: the Moleskine app for my iPad Pro. One of the reasons I’ve let the personal life slide is because the work list was taking up a full page, leaving me with no room to add personal stuff and I refused to have a single day in two different pages in my Moleskine notebook. Sure it’s an excuse, but it was enough to derail me.

However, with the Moleskine app (available for iOS) I can have multiple notebooks and yet have only one item to carry. The app is free if you want the basic notebooks of Weekly Planner, Plain Paper, Lined Paper, and Grid Paper. You can buy other notebooks for Photos, Recipe Tracker, Travel Journal, and Wine Journal, but for now I have no interest in those ones. If you are an avid cook, travel writer, or wine lover, these journals might come in handy for organizing your thoughts.

By using the app, I’ve created five different journals:

  • Weekly Planner: to schedule my days and know what’s coming up. This planner looks into the future and includes both work and home.
  • Work Journal: to organize all my work-related tasks. I love the color and pen thickness options in the app and can keep track of all my tasks and priorities in a vibrant, colorful way.
  • Home Journal: to keep my personal-related actions, desires, and ideas front and center. This journal is copied from my work one and will hopefully, over time, instill my home personality with the more active traits from my work personality.
  • Connection Journal: to remind myself to connect with my social circles. As an introvert, I could easily go through a week only talking with work mates, but friends and family need to be taken care of or they won’t be there when my introverted self decides it wants company.
  • Time Tracker: to make sure I take time for myself each day. I can easily be busy, busy, busy, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep without taking even 15 minutes to read, write some fiction, or just stare at the ceiling. This journal looks at what has actually happened each day and serves as a good reminder that without personal time, I will burn out completely and start cutting myself off from the rest of the world, which is the exact opposite of my goal.

Wait a second… Five different journals? Isn’t that a lot of work?

Yes, it is, but the changes I want to make in my life are big and doing any less has proved too easy for my (nearly) 50 years of habits to take control and derail my plans.

I love my iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil — it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a digital notebook, and now that I can use my favorite notebooks in digital format, I couldn’t be happier. Productivity and perseverance thanks to technology.

What changes are you trying to make in your life? Are you aware of any slips? What are you doing to correct them and maintain momentum?

 

The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking

As fall nears and the weather cools, I start looking forward to a good bowl of chili while watching my favorite football team play on a Sunday afternoon. My thoughts of chili then progress into musings of stews and soups and all the wonderful things that can be made in my slow cooker.

I like using a slow cooker because it means that I dirty it and no other pots or pans during meal preparation. There are a few exceptions when an additional pan is needed to brown or sear meat, but these instances are rare. After the meal has been served, cleanup is as simple as moving the empty crock from the slow cooker to the dishwasher. The slow cooker is definitely an uncluttered kitchen solution.

If you don’t currently own a slow cooker, there are really only two features that I see as essential components. The first necessary feature is a separate, removable inner crock. The second feature is a temperature indicator that has at least three settings: Off, Low, and High. I have never found use for any of the other slow cooker features currently on the market. A crock pot with these two features also has the benefit of usually costing less than $30 and will last you many years.

The majority of the recipes I make in my slow cooker are in my head. However, I took a trip recently to my local bookstore and saw that there are now dozens of slow cooker recipe books in publication for people seeking printed recipes. Also, an internet search for “slow cooker recipe” yielded thousands of recipes from online sources. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the slow cooker cookbooks on the market:

Enjoy your uncluttered cooking experience!

 

This post has been updated since it was originally published in September 2007.

Hole in the bucket organizing

When I was a little girl grandmother and aunt taught me Harry Bellefonte’s Hole in the Bucket song and of course I remember watching the classic Sesame Street performance on TV.

 

The Hole in the Bucket is a classic endless loop dilemma that at we all get stuck in at some point. If you’re stuck in an endless loop in your computer program you can simply press CTRL +ALT +DEL to break the cycle. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t have CTRL +ALT +DEL buttons so you’ll need to look for another way to exit the endless loop.

The first step is to recognize that you’re in an endless loop. If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, write down the list of tasks you need to complete to achieve your goal. If you’ve written a task more than once, you’re likely in an endless loop. In the song, Henry’s problem was the hole in his bucket.

Change focus. Henry was focused on getting a whole bucket of water. If he had focused on another part of his task list, for example sharpening his axe, he would have realized that a small cup would have carried enough water to wet his stone. If you’re trying to organize your home and you keep focusing on the kitchen, consider focusing on the dining room instead. An organized dining room may free up enough space to allow you to easily organize the kitchen.

Working with new people can help escape an endless loop. Henry was working with Liza who was offering no real solutions and seemed to be perpetuating the loop. If Henry had spoken with a neighbour, he could have borrowed a bucket or an axe and had his problem solved. Talking to a friend, family member, or hiring a professional organizer can provide new and insightful clues to resolve your organizational problems.

Using your wildest imagination could provide unique solutions. If buckets didn’t exist, how would Henry get water? What would buckets be made of so they would never get holes? In your own situation, what if you could just wave a magic wand and have the clutter disappear? If you had unlimited funds, how could you solve the problem? Even if the answers are outlandish, they just might just lead to a solution you may not have previously considered.

Have you ever been stuck in an endless loop? What helped you escape? Please share with our readers in the comments.

Are you ready to succeed?

Last week, I spoke about turning to experts when you want to achieve something, and to develop a plan. Now that you have the plan (in my case, lose weight and eat more healthily), you need to make sure you stay motivated along the way. And you do that by taking a look at your goals and ask, “How much do I really want this?”

Think about your life – what are you doing because you feel you should want it? Or I should say, what are you not doing even though you feel you should want it?

Weight-loss is a common goal, and yet report after report all over the western world show that obesity is on the rise. If say you want something, but aren’t doing anything about it, stop a moment and ask yourself some more questions.

When do you claim to want something but then let fear stop you?

Fear of failure and fear of success are the two biggest stumbling blocks. The former is easy to understand. If diets and changes in lifestyle haven’t worked in the past, why will they work this time around? I have food intolerances. When I eat outside of my healthy choices, I put on weight (apart from feeling generally out of sorts). The temptation to eat the not-good-for-me food is always high, and I always end up falling off the wagon. It would be easy for me to never start because I never manage to not fall off the food-intolerance wagon.

When it comes to fear of success, I also often fall victim to a twisted piece of illogic. You see, if I succeed in my goal of changing how I think about food and keep off the weight once I lose it, I will have to recognize that I am a capable, confident person. At times, it’s easier to believe that I am neither of those things, so I sabotage my progress with whatever goal just to prove to myself that I can’t follow through on anything. That, however, isn’t true. I am capable. I can be confident. I just need to act on my desires.

Which, unfortunately means work. Lots of work. And that leads to another question to ask yourself:

What are you not tackling because it’s too much work?

I believe that human beings are rather lazy by nature. Successful change requires work and that all too often is enough of a demotivator to never get started. Better to stay safe and sound with the current situation. At least we know it well.

In her one of her hugely successful writing courses, 30 year writing veteran Holly Lisle says “SAFE never starts.”

SAFE can keep you locked up in your house, never daring to step foot outside the door. It can keep you locked in a job you hate that has no future, just because you’re afraid if you walk away you will never work again. SAFE can kill your hopes and dreams by telling you they were never worth pursuing, that you were never good enough to make them real, that you were only kidding yourself.

Basically it all comes down to excuses and because you’re getting something out of your inaction. As long as you don’t move forward, as long as you don’t follow through on your dreams you still have hope that the dreams will come true. The thing is, no matter how much hope you have, if you don’t act you’ve already failed.

Are you actively engaged or on autopilot?

One of my favorite phrases here on the blog is “life is choice” – from the decision to get up each morning through to going to bed at night (well for me the last one isn’t that much of a choice – my body just shuts down at some point and I get no say in the matter). It’s easier to go with the flow than to make active choices that might inconvenience other parts of her life. Getting out and getting exercise means not working quite so much. Taking time from work means the renovations on the house take longer and vacations can’t be as exotic as she would like. And so on and so on.

If you grew up in the 1980s, you might remember a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. Life’s like that – full of choices with consequences. Are you going to decide what action you take or will you let some invisible author make those choices for you?

When are you choosing safe over happy?

Sometimes safe is important – for example in the basic needs of life, but beyond that, safe does nothing but block our desires. Don’t risk, don’t stand out, don’t be different from anyone else. As long as you choose safe over happy, you’ll always feel unfulfilled and happiness will always remain out of reach. Happiness requires risk. What are you willing to risk to gain happiness?

It’s time to wake up, take control of your life and make the changes you want to make.

By doing nothing you already have your no, so why not try for yes instead?

Achieving objectives – asking for professional help

For so many of us September is just as much the start of a new year as January. And with that fresh start comes many new projects and objectives, from doing well at school, to making a commitment to store holiday gear and summer toys properly, to self-improvement goals.

My husband and I fall into the third category this year. Over the past 18 months we’ve let our weight slide. We love cooking and adore baking so we people over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all the time. While this has done great things for our social life, it has taken its toll on our bodies. Also in my case, approaching 50 years old means that the weight doesn’t distribute itself all over like it used to and I’ve developed the beginnings of an inside-out hourglass shape.

So, our self-improvement goal is eating better. We refuse to say we’re on a diet because that implies a short-term program that will stop when we reach our desired weight. Instead, by focusing on changing our eating habits in general, we will not only take off the extra weight, but train ourselves to choose healthy options in the future.

There are many things to consider when setting off on a major life-shift like this one. To do it well means being organized about it and planning it from beginning to end (while of course remaining sufficiently open to unknown variables and unexpected challenges).

Over the next few months, I will provide tips on staying organized during habit changes and update you on how our own journey is going.

First off, before starting anything, it’s important to know exactly what to do and how to do it. There are different ways to do that of course. One is reading sites like Unclutterer or reading the Unclutterer books (Never too busy to cure clutter and Unclutter your life in one week). Another is asking a friend who has gone through a similar process for his/her thoughts on the experience and adapt it to your needs.

Then there’s what we did. We didn’t want any fads, gimmicks, or quick-loss schemes so we went to a professional for advice, in our case to a nutritionist who was recommended to us by a friend who saw incredible results. When you are building a house, you don’t start grabbing bits of wood and brick and stacking them together. You go to an architect and draws up detailed plans for the builders to follow. Or if you need your house or business streamlined you hire a professional organizer. For us, working with a nutritionist just made sense.

All too often people say, “Who needs to pay for help? I can do that!” Then when they don’t reach their goals, demotivation sets in, the plans and goals off the rails and it’s even harder to start all over.

When do you think experts should be called? And how have you decided that the professional of your choice is the right one?

Words to keep you motivated

Listed below are the most common pieces of advice I give to people on the topic of uncluttering. With a three-day weekend on the horizon for those of us in the States, I thought that some encouragement might be appropriate. Have a great holiday, everyone!

  1. You don’t have to unclutter in one fell swoop. Many projects, spread out over weeks and months, will get you the same results as if you had tackled it all at once.
  2. Benefits of uncluttering can include being better organized, less stressed, and having fewer things to clean. When you walk into a room, you’re able to relax because there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  3. Your motivations and visions for your uncluttered life are your guiding star when taking on uncluttering projects. Keep your eyes on your goals and you’ll find that uncluttering has less to do about the stuff and more about the life you want to lead.
  4. You can do it!
  5. You don’t have to unclutter alone. Seek out friends, family, or organizational professionals to help with motivation and keep you focused on your uncluttering goals.
  6. Keep things in perspective. If you relapse and get bogged down, don’t become frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Start again tomorrow. This is home and office organization, it’s not brain surgery. There are worse things in the world than not succeeding your first time with an uncluttering project.
  7. The person with the most amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award.
  8. The person with the least amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award, either. Living an uncluttered life doesn’t mean that you have to live an ascetic life. Simple living is about getting rid of distractions that prevent you from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

What advice, motivations, or thoughts have helped you to be more organized? Let us know what has influenced you!

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Did you get the most out of summer?

For those of you with kids, summer can be a crazy time. The are very few routines and the kids are off doing some activity or another while you continue working. Or perhaps you had some time off and managed to get away or had a supposedly relaxing stay-cation.

The big question, however, is: Did you have fun? Did the kids have fun?

We don’t have kids, but my holidays are always in August each year, so while I don’t have others relying on me to plan and deliver on fun times, I always reach September and ask myself whether I took advantage of the time off I had, or whether I could have gotten more out of the time away from work.

In July before finishing work, I came up with a list of possible things to do in August. With thirty-one days to fill, I wanted to have something to do every single day if we felt like it. Of course, we allowed ourselves to say “no way, not today!” and spend the day in bed, by the pool or reading a book in a nice patch of sun, but what I didn’t want to happen was what has happened all too often when we both have time off together.

Husband: What do you want to do today?

Me: I don’t know. How about you?

Husband: No idea.

(We both go back to our smartphones and surf around social media.)

Me (an hour later): So what are we going to do?

Husband (looking at the time): We have to go grocery shopping and then there’s that pile of laundry over there…

And nothing fun happens. It’s just another day.

So, to avoid this issue, I came up with thirty-five different things we could do. Some were one-off events, others were repeatable depending on how much we liked them, the weather, and who we were with.

We knew who would be visiting us when and who might invite us out on day-trips or weekends.

I thrilled to tell you that it was a total success. We’ve never had a better summer and it was a sort of stay-cation. Normally we go away on some big trip where we exhaust ourselves squeezing fun and sun out of every second, but this year we divided our time between our two apartments. We went to the beach, took bike rides, put on the rollerblades that have been collecting dust for the past ten years, and visited little towns that we’ve been talking about for ages about seeing. We also made time for friends, including those we rarely get to see except when everyone has time off.

Most importantly, we relaxed with intention. That is, we made the conscious decision to do nothing some days. Rather than falling into a lazy day by accident and feeling like we were missing out on the summer.

And now, I’m ready to go back to work and routines refueled and refreshed.

How about you? What sort of summer have you had?

Public clutter: whose responsibility is it?

Two weeks ago my husband and I went out for dinner and a movie with friends, young friends, so we ended up going to Burger King. The place was full of teenagers and apart from the incredible amount of noise they produced, they also produced a horrifying amount of garbage. Half-eaten food on the floor stepped on and smeared across the tiles, drinks spilt across the table, and bags and wrappers strewn everywhere.

When they finished, they got up and walked away.

Then last week we went to Pamplona for its famous festival, and although it’s more known for running with the bulls, the festival itself is really an opportunity to drink obscene amounts of alcohol in public and let loose. The broken plastic cups, plastic bags and bottles of all sorts made walking a challenge and each morning the city’s garbage crews spent hours and hours sweeping up the plastics disaster.

Often, when people are asked why they care so little about public clutter like this, they answer “that’s why the city hires street sweepers” as if they have no responsibility in maintaining the streets litter-free.

I was reminded of a photo I saw once posted online by Canada’s environmental fighter David Suzuki. The photo showed the sea of plastic that was left in a public park after a fundraising concert for the environment. The anti-consumerist website Make Wealth History talks about this problem providing details about the garbage collected one year after the supposedly environmental-friendly Glastonbury Festival:

Glastonbury picked up 6,500 sleeping bags, 5,500 tents, 3,500 airbeds, 2,200 chairs, 950 rolled mats and 400 gazebos.

Fortunately, most of that material could be donated to refugee sites, but what about the rest of the garbage? If attendees left all this behind, how much plastic did they not bother taking away with them?

All of this got me thinking. Whose responsibility is public clutter? Those of you who are parents, what do you do to ensure that your children clutter the world as little as possible?

Who are you?

That’s the question the Caterpillar asks Alice and she is unsure what to say. In a very short time from the moment she falls down the rabbit hole Alice has been many things: tall, small, assertive, passive, one of many animals, an outsider in an unfamiliar world.

On the Internet, you can find any number of personality quizzes, and if you dig a little bit, you can find a whole bunch of quizzes related to organization and clutter. Are you a collector? Are you a minimalist? A visual person? A logical person?

Forget the quizzes. The answer to the Caterpillar’s question is:

You are you.

You can be organized, disorganized, visual, logical, kinetic, frenetic, calm, and overwhelmed.

When I worked one-on-one with my organizing clients, I never tried to pigeon-hole them. I took them at face-value with the situation they were dealing with at the moment. People are never the same at any point. Over a bridge in Toronto, there’s a paraphrased quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “This river I step in is not the river I stand in.” Who we are changes constantly because our circumstances change constantly. If we are tired or stressed we aren’t going to be able to organize ourselves well (unless of course, you are one of those who deals with stress by organizing).

Recently, Unclutterer re-posted an article by Erin Doland from back in 2007 in which she asked What causes clutter in your life? In the list of circumstances she includes, nothing is fixed — each point can change, and depending on how much of one or the other is affecting you, your ability to get and stay organized will change.

Instead of boxing yourself into a corner with the question “Who am I?” ask yourself “Who am I at this moment?”

If the Caterpillar had asked Alice that question, she wouldn’t have had such a tough time answering him.

Keeping the memory but not the possession

antique green teapotNew research recently published in the Journal of Marketing, showed that people who were encouraged to find a way to preserve memories found it easier to part with the sentimental items.

This study was originally initiated to help increase the flow of goods to charity shops (e.g., Goodwill). The “supply chain” of goods to these shops depends solely on people’s willingness to donate. The researchers looked at ways to help people let go of unneeded, yet sentimental items.

Researcher Rebecca Reczek of Ohio State University, states that when we give up sentimental items, we often feel like we’re giving up a piece of our own identity — part of who we are. This is what makes it so difficult to let go of certain objects.

The study showed that when people were encouraged to take photos of items and preserve the memories, donations to non-profit charity shops increased. Additionally, those that took a photo of the item, reported less “identity loss” compared to those who did not take a photo.

Reczek indicated that although these memory preservation strategies will probably work for most items, they may not work for items with high sentimental value such as the baptismal gown your grandmother handmade for your child.

We’ve written a few posts on sentimental clutter over the years, so please feel free to check out Unclutterer’s advice on how to capture memories and let go of some of these items.

If you need some support and encouragement in dealing with bouts of nostalgia while uncluttering, visit our forum on Sentimental Clutter.

 

P.S. The photo shows my great-grandmother’s green teapot in which she served green tea. I still use it to serve green tea.

What causes clutter in your life?

One of the important aspects of getting clutter under control in your life is to discover why your home and life are cluttered. Spending as few as 15 minutes in quiet reflection often can help you to discover the root of your problem.

Is your home and life cluttered because of:

  • Emotional avoidance? (Are you holding onto your past because you fear the present and future? Are you afraid that you’ll lose the memories of someone from your past if you get rid of a physical object of his/hers?)
  • Physical exhaustion or limitation? (Have you been injured and cannot pick up objects as easily as you once could? Would you benefit from the help of a hired hand?)
  • Mental exhaustion? (Are you emotionally overwhelmed because of a work or social situation?)
  • Lack of time? (Are you working too many hours or traveling too often to keep your home well maintained?)
  • Feeling overwhelmed? (Is there so much stuff in your home that you don’t know where to begin organizing and/or cleaning? Are you over-committed to clubs and activities outside of your home to give your life its proper attention?)
  • Laziness? (Do you just not want to take care of things right now?)
  • Compulsive shopping? (Are you buying more than you can use and need? Are you constantly buying things to make yourself feel better?)
  • Procrastination? (Do you want to have your clutter disappear but would rather sit and watch television instead of deal with it?)

Once you identify the cause(s) of clutter in your life, you can work to keep clutter from reappearing in your home. The causation of your clutter might be able to be solved by simply changing your attitude (like with laziness) or hiring a professional organizer to get you started. Solving your time crunch problem might mean something more drastic like changing your job. In some cases, you might even consider consulting a counselor or life coach to help solve the root of your problem. In all cases, though, identifying the cause(s) of your clutter and working to solve it can help to keep your life clutter free in the future.

 

This post was originally published in June 2007.

What have you learned about yourself while uncluttering?

You can learn a lot about yourself while uncluttering. What’s more, that lesson changes over time based on your circumstances, age, and stage of life. Pay attention as you organize and clean, and you’ll see a bit of who you are.

A thread on the Unclutterer Forums brought this to my attention. Initiated in 2010 by reader AJ, the posting has several insightful and interesting comments from Unclutterer readers like “toberead,” who writes:

Your uncluttering strategy depends a lot on your circumstances. Six months ago I moved into an apartment that has a washing machine, the first time in 18 years that I’ve had my own. And it has made me rethink my wardrobe. When I had to spend 3-4 hours in a noisy laundromat every time I wanted to wash a load of clothes, it made sense to have at least 3 weeks worth of clothes, and I made that work in the most uncluttered way possible. But now I can see much more clearly which clothes I really love, and which ones I wore just because it was better than going to the laundromat.

I had a similar experience when moving from an apartment and into my home. I was able to get rid of a lot of the stuff that I considered temporary, like kitchenware that had seen better days.

Meanwhile, reader “Sky” writes about the appeal of eliminating unwanted stuff:

Decluttering my home has made me look at ‘things’ differently. The more I get rid of, the more I want less and less. I love having space in drawers and closets. I even have some empty drawers!

I’ve realized how few things I really want beyond what’s necessary. No more collecting, storing and shopping. It is freeing beyond belief.

I love throwing stuff away. The house just feels “lighter” once I’ve eliminated a big pile of stuff that I haven’t touched in ages. It’s a mental boost, too, as a tidy, uncluttered work space can actually improve productivity.

Finally, reader “nelliesb” writes, “I am realizing how little most things mean to me.” I really got this lesson in 2012 when my dog chewed a commemorative baseball I had received while visiting Fenway Park barely 24 hours prior:

The ball itself isn’t what was important. All of the memories I relayed in this article I conjured up without it. The ball is now in the trash bin; the memories and emotions of that day are in me. When I realize the ball is chewed, or my life is short, I’m reminded every moment with it was precious.

Yes, a moment can trigger a memory. But it’s the memory we’re after, right? Not the thing. I’ve been able to part with many things because they aren’t what’s meaningful to me. It’s the event, the person or the time and place that brought me to that thing in the first place.

There’s so much more to this topic. Perhaps uncluttering teaches you about your shopping habits, your interests, your habits at large. As you’ve tidied and organized, what have you learned about yourself? Share here or over on our forum.