Is money becoming obsolete?

Recently I went an entire week without taking any money out of the bank. Every single one of my purchases was done online, via digital transfers using my bank’s app, or with my bank card in stores.

There are definite advantages to living this way, the most important being my ability to track my spending. For example, my bank’s app has a ‘summary’ function that looks at my purchases and sorts them by type of company, dividing them up into categories and months. It then tells me what it thinks I will spend this month and how much left I have in my budget.

Back in the late 90s when I was saving for a house, my budgeting was based on putting specific amounts of money into envelopes labeled with categories. When the envelope was empty, I couldn’t spend any more in that category.

Things have changed a little bit since, then, haven’t they?

Here in Spain, paying by cell phone is becoming more and more popular — you just position your phone near the store’s terminal and a wallet app opens, allowing you to confirm the payment. Again, each transaction is then automatically recorded, so you can later review what you spend and where.

Is there a downside to all of this?

That depends on what you think about personal privacy and data mining. For example, each time I purchase an ebook on Amazon or a flight via an online operator, my Facebook feed fills up with ads for similar books and vacations. It’s a bit disconcerting to think that companies track my spending and use it to advertise to me, but for me, it’s a small price to pay for the convenience.

If I were still running my own business, I’d be thrilled with the detailed tracking of my expenses. Instead of hours of input into whatever financial program I was using, I could simply open up an app and see exactly what I’ve spent and where. If I had separate bank accounts for personal and business spending, I wouldn’t even need a financial program anymore, as it would be all there for me to see and consult whenever I (or my accountant) needed to.

What do you think? How much actual cash do you spend these days? Is the digitization of money a good thing? Will paper money disappear at some point?

When was the last time you re-organized?

When we moved into our apartment, we had completely renovated the place, right back to the exterior walls. Being two organized people, we took the time to think through our designs and make sure everything had a place, and we didn’t fill up the house with too much stuff.

Fast forward two years…

The spacious walk-in closet feels cramped. There are expired packages of food in kitchen drawers and cupboards. We can’t see the floor under the sink in the bathroom. CDs have found their way off their shelves and onto various surfaces throughout the house, and random computer cables have snaked their way over the spare bedroom/office.

How could this have happened? We tidy up and clean our flat every week and we both adore being organized!

Well, life happened. Familiarity bred blindness. And so, bit by bit, the house has lost its shiny-new look and feel.

It doesn’t have to stay that way, however.

Some things are simple to re-organize, like the CDs and computer cables. We’ve added them to our weekly cleanup tasks and they no longer threaten to invade spaces not specifically assigned to them.

As for the rest, it’s required a series of weekend projects (or in our case, a series of mid-week projects as we like to keep our weekends free for fun activities).

To start with, my husband tackled the walk-in closet paring down our clothes and reorganizing what we had left. It’s something that needs to be done periodically as clothes come in and out of fashion, our weight goes up and down, and more obviously, the seasons change, requiring different sorts of outfits.

He then cleared out what was below the bathroom sink. It turns out that when we moved in, we put a bunch of things that we weren’t quite sure what to do with down there in baskets and then forgot about them. And in the manner of all disorganized spaces, the clutter attracted more clutter. To find space for what was there, he reorganized the drawers in the bathroom and managed to carve out room for everything else and make it all more accessible in the process.

Our next task is the kitchen. In our house, it’s probably the most used room as we both love to cook. You’d think that would mean that it’s the most organized space, but no. I’m not sure if we’ll attack it one drawer at a time, or go all out and reorganize and clean everything at once. Given how much better the first two spaces turned out, it’s not something we’re going to let slide much longer.

And now you say: “Great, thanks for the personal story, Alex, but what does it have to do with me?”

Well, how long have you lived in your current abode? How long since you’ve taken a look at the various places where things get stored? Can you access everything easily and do you even know what’s there? Because if you’ve forgotten you have something, you might as well not own it.

So tell me, what mini re-organizing project are you going to take on?

An organized approach to passwords for World Password Day

I’m not usually a big fan of business-sponsored special days, but World Password Day is an exception. The four recommendations provided on the website are all good ones, and they are presented clearly and succinctly.

Step 1. Create strong passwords.

Rich Shay of MIT, who was involved in Carnegie Mellon’s research into passwords, told The Washington Post, “There is no perfect password.” And while there are some guidelines that many experts recommend, some of Shay’s research (PDF) indicated that “participants generally wished to create strong passwords, at least for some accounts; they just did not always know how to do so.” In some cases, “weak passwords resulted from misconceptions, such as the belief that adding ‘!’ to the end of a password instantly makes it secure.”

The World Password Day guidance places an emphasis on password length, although other strategies are also noted. Many experts are now recommending long passwords, which can be based on a phrase (as long as it’s not something like a published poem or song lyric). The Washington Post gives the following example:

  • Bad password: [email protected]
  • Better password: boughtthejackalopeatwalldrugstoreinsouthdakota

Step 2. Use a different password for each account.

As I’ve noted before on Unclutterer, different passwords might not be necessary for accounts where you aren’t concerned about the security — if you happen to have any like that. But any website that has your medical or financial information or provides access to critical services such as your email should certainly have a unique password. That way if the passwords at one site get compromised your other accounts will still be secure.

Step 3: Get a password manager.

It’s a lot easier to comply with steps 1 and 2 if you’re using a password manager. Tools such as 1Password, LastPass, and KeePass are what people usually think of when it comes to a password manager, and they are the type of password manager that World Password Day has in mind. Besides storing your passwords, many of these tools can also generate random passwords for you — and some can do auto logins for you, too.

However, a piece of paper can also serve as a password manager, as explained on the Crash Override Network website:

You’ve likely read advice telling you to “never write down your passwords.” This is because we, as human beings, have a bad habit of leaving the password to a secure computer sitting on the desk next to the computer that is being secured. Physical copies of passwords can be kept secure just like any small, valuable item you own. Treat passwords in paper form the same as money, passports, legal documents, your great grandmother’s antique pearl earrings, the deed to old man Withers’ silver mine, and of course, the keys to your house. Don’t leave passwords on the desk at work or taped to your monitor.

The piece-of-paper approach doesn’t have the added features a digital password manager might have, and it’s something that could be lost in a disaster like a fire. Still, it might be the best solution for those who are uncomfortable with other tools.

Step 4: Turn on multi-factor authentication.

The World Password Day site states: “In 2017, our call to action … is to #LayerUp Your Login by enabling multifactor authentication. A password alone is no longer enough to protect online accounts.” You’ve probably seen news stories about people whose passwords were discovered, sometimes because they were tricked by a fake email message. With multi-factor authentication, your account stays secure even if your password becomes known.

What exactly is multi-factor authentication? Parker Higgins, writing on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, explained that there are three factors that can be used to authenticate your access to an account:

  • A knowledge factor, like a password or PIN. Something you know.
  • A possession factor, like a key or a hardware dongle. Something you have.
  • An inherence factor, like a fingerprint or an iris. Something you are.

The way this often works on a computer is that you enter your login and password (something you know) and then a code gets sent to your smartphone (something you own) in a text message. You enter that code into the computer, and you’re set.

Alternatively, for even safer verification, you could use authentication apps such as Google Authenticator or physical tokens such as Yubikeys if either of those options are available.

Not all sites allow for multi-factor (or two-factor) authentication — but many do, although it might go by a different name. As Gennie Gebhart wrote on the EFF website: “Different platforms sometimes call 2FA different things, making it hard to find: Facebook calls it ‘login approvals,’ Twitter ‘login verification,’ Bank of America ‘SafePass,’ and Google and others ‘2-step verification.'”

So if you want to be fully security-conscious, search for this option on the websites that provide it.

Unitasker Wednesday: K-9 Condiment Caddy

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

When I think about large parties, specifically backyard barbecues, I imagine that there are people all over the yard. It may be difficult for everyone to have easy access to condiments for their hamburgers and hotdogs if the condiments are only in one place.

In the past, I’ve set up condiment stations, placing ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc. on small tables at several different places in the party area. I figured this would allow guests to find and use what they needed. They could even set their food down on the table while accessing the condiments.

Silly me! I needn’t have set up tables when my trusty canine companion could have carried the condiments around from guest to guest with his K-9 Condiment Caddy. Wearing this wipe-clean jacket, he’d be able to carry six different condiments at a time!

I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered if he smelled like fishy lake water (he swam almost constantly) and was covered in dirt (from rolling in the sand after swimming). My dog also thought that chasing chipmunks and squirrels was a priority over anything else in the universe so it might be a little inconvenient for guest to have their condiments disappear into the bushes. But hey, my dog could have had a job! He would also have eaten your hamburger.

Resisting the call of clutter

Here’s the book I didn’t buy last weekend. Neat, eh? It’s a copy of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual Hardcover from 1979, written by the late Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. I first played “D&D” in 7th grade with my friend Dave. Today, I still play with a guy named Dave, though it’s a different Dave.

When I found this in the antique store, the nostalgia soaked my whole being. I was immediately transported to Dave’s kitchen table (the original Dave, whom we’ll call “Dave Prime”). Dave Prime introduced me to the game and I instantly fell in love. I wanted to play constantly, and did.

Holding the book last weekend, I recalled all of those amazing memories. I also thought of bringing it to “Current Dave’s” kitchen table and passing it around. I knew that gang would appreciate it and enjoy the same feelings of nostalgia.

But then what?

Well, I’d take it home. I’d show it to my kids, who’d feign interest long enough to get dad to go away, then I’d show it to my wife, who would not offer the same courtesy. Finally it would go onto a shelf or in a drawer where it would sit — for years — doing nothing.

That, my friends, is the definition of clutter.

I certainly have purpose-free items around the house, most of which are part of collections. We’ve written before about identifying a collection and this D&D book did not meet the criteria for being part of any of my collections.

Maintaining and adding to my stamp collection is an active pursuit that helps me relax, and as a bonus I meet new people at the philatelist meetings. My collection of board games provide fun family time.

That book, well, I just knew it would get ignored after an initial week or so of entertainment. Recognizing that fact helped me resist buying it and in turn, kept my home clear of clutter. So I ask the readers, are there any tricks you use to fight purchasing nostalgic items?

Are you able to disconnect?

Here in Spain, today is Labor Day. At this particular moment, instead of being at my desk, I’m in our apartment in La Rioja, Spain’s wine country, recovering from having eaten too much yesterday at a home-style restaurant that keeps serving food until you’re ready to explode — and then they bring out dessert.

But forget about my bout of over-eating; the thing to focus on here is the fact that I’m in the process of completely disconnecting from work and having a bunch of laughs with friends.

Sometimes that disconnection is difficult for me. I love my job and often find myself thinking about it outside of work hours — in the shower, while falling asleep, while watching a movie, when I’m out for dinner. And when I’m not working, I am thinking about articles for Unclutterer, or thinking about how I could squeeze more out of each day.

Shep Hyken, in an article in Forbes, says that working outside working hours is normal, especially the higher up you go. However, he also believes that everyone has the right to disconnect from work and even quotes the cheesy line: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

With smartphones and constant connectivity, it’s often hard to leave work at work, or any other passion, for that matter. So what can we do to truly disconnect from the need to be productive?

The Huffington Post offers several ways of organizing disconnection time:

  • Make time off a priority
  • Delegate tasks
  • Meditate mindfully
  • Use your smartphone to remind you to disconnect more
  • Write about your stress in order to release it

And SmartChic goes even further with ten disconnection ideas:

  • Prepare your next day before leaving work
  • Set limits and stick to them
  • Derail work thoughts when you are outside of work with fun distractions
  • Relax with a hot shower when getting home from work
  • Exercise
  • Get hobbies that are not productivity-related
  • Have non-work friends
  • Spend time with (chosen) family
  • Do something creative
  • Turn off electronics

These are all really good ideas, but to be honest, I’m exhausted just reading about all the ways to disconnect.

Let me give you my foolproof way of disconnecting. I learned how to do it when I went through a health crisis decades ago and was forced to do nothing.

Ready?

  1. Sit on the sofa or in a comfy chair
  2. Focus on a blank patch of the wall or the ceiling
  3. Let your mind wander with no judgement about any thoughts that may occur to you

And that’s it. No rules, no disconnection productivity tips, no processes to learn. Disconnecting is about disconnecting. Remember, as En Vogue sings, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.

Avoiding “sorry for the late response” emails

If I didn’t email you back it means I set your note aside to consider more carefully later, then didn’t. — Michael Green, on Twitter

I read this tweet and smiled, because I’ve done the same thing, as have so many others. Marissa Miller once tweeted, “adulthood is emailing ‘sorry for the delayed response!’ back and forth until one of you dies” and her tweet got shared 27,000 times, so this obviously resonates with a lot of people.

Susanna Wolff recently wrote a humor column in The New Yorker entitled Sorry For the Delayed Response that is full of imagined way-too-late email responses, starting with the following one:

Sorry for the delayed response. I opened your e-mail on my phone while my date was in the bathroom, but then I saw that it required more than a “yes” or “no” reply, decided that was too much work, marked it as unread, and then forgot about it entirely until just now.

So how can we avoid the delayed response syndrome?

Suggestions for email senders

In an article entitled Let’s All Stop Apologizing for the Delayed Response in Our Emails, Melissa Dahl wrote about what she saw as the “real problem with replying to email”:

When … are you supposed to reply? Sometimes people make this clear, explicitly noting that they need an answer by the end of the day, or week, or whatever. But this doesn’t happen as often as it should.

So try helping your email recipients by making it clear just how urgently you need a reply: right now, tomorrow, by a specific future date, etc. You can also adopt the practice that Tsh Oxenreider describes on her blog, The Art of Simple: her friend Sarah ends some emails with “No need to reply!” Not every email requires a response, so it helps to make it explicit when no response is expected.

Also, make it easy for your recipients to see exactly what response is needed. A few days ago I got an email from my brother with five numbered questions, and it was extremely easy to respond quickly — and I knew he needed a quick response because he told me that. Each question was brief, including exactly the information I needed in order to answer. Did I want to go to either of two choral performances (with dates and location provided)? How did I feel about a potential family reunion at a specific place on a specific date? If only all my emails were that easy to handle!

Suggestions for email receivers

If it’s not clear when a response is needed, you can write back and ask. This will help you respond appropriately, and it might also train your correspondents to include this information in the future.

As we’ve discussed before on Unclutterer, you can create your reply faster by using a text expansion tool to handle frequently used text.

But the advice I read that I personally found the most meaningful came from Melissa Febos, writing in the Catapult online magazine and addressing her fellow writers: “Stop trying to get an A+ at anything but writing your best work.” The specific thing you’re trying to get an A+ in may be almost anything, but it probably isn’t email replies. Yes, work emails require professionalism and clarity. But I know I’ve sometimes spent way longer on an email response than was necessary. The latent perfectionist in me likes those A+’s, but I know that my time can often be spent more wisely.

Book Review: Downsizing the Family Home

A few weeks ago, Alex wrote about dealing with the clutter of previous generations. It took me back to my childhood when my extended family pulled together to sell my great-grandfather’s farm. That was back in the day where you hired an auctioneer, put ads in local newspapers, and all the neighbours in the county showed up to bid on items the family had dragged out onto the lawn.

Times have certainly changed. Family members live all over the country, neighbours don’t necessarily know one another, and online auctions are the norm. Marni Jameson’s book Downsizing the Family Home is very helpful to those of us in the modern world dealing with liquidating a family estate.

I expected this book to be rather dry; a “how-to” book full of instructions and checklists. Instead, this book was a warm and compassionate recounting of the author’s own experience as she cleared out and sold her childhood home, and helped her parents transition to a retirement centre. She writes like she’s talking to her friends. I chuckled to myself when Jameson recounted how she found “bundles of Christmas cards saved by year going back to William the Conqueror” as well as, “…enough baskets to re-create the miracle of the loaves and fishes.” Many families have similar collections that have to be sorted and disposed of.

However, this isn’t a novel. Jameson shares the information she learned from the experts she consulted and provides many hints and tips throughout the book. It is full of useful information on how to dispose of items — whether to sell, recycle, donate, or just take to the dump. There are several chapters dedicated to helping readers find resources to determine the value of antiques, artwork, and other family heirlooms.

One useful thing I learned was that in most families the stories surrounding family heirlooms are often wrong. For example, though generations have been told the story of great-grandma’s Tiffany® lamp, it may actually be just a replica. Some items may not be as valuable as expected but if it is a piece you love and has significant sentimental value, it doesn’t matter what its re-sale value would be.

The book also provides advice and suggestions on preparing and selling a home and tips on dealing with real estate agents and the challenges that occur when the adult children live across the country. One of those challenges being the emotional anguish of letting go of your childhood home.

Downsizing the Family Home was an enjoyable book to read. If there is a downsizing process looming in your future, you’ll find this book extremely helpful.

Saying goodbye to musical instruments, part two

Last week, I shared the story of my inability to let it go of my drum set during our big basement clear out. I had succumbed to sentiment! After much deliberation, I’ve made a decision — the drum set stays — for now. There’s a deal in place, which I’ll describe in a bit.

First off, I’m going to refurbish them. They need new heads, a good tuning, some cleaning, and maybe some new hardware. (The bass pedal is older than my marriage.) Once the upgrades are done, I’m going to play a bit and see how it feels. I’ll adopt a regular practice schedule and see if I can stick to it while working off the years of rust. Perhaps my kids will express an interest. If so, I’ll provide lessons.

Now here’s the deal. If, at the end of one year, the drum set is still satisfying the definition of clutter (an item that is unused and without purpose), then away it goes. What will happen to it? There are several options for an unwanted musical instrument:

  1. Selling is the most obvious choice. These drums are very old and not worth a lot, so I’d give them to a young musician who is looking for his or her very first set. It would be nice to see them inspire a student they way they once inspired me.
  2. Donation is also an option (and I can get a tax write-off too). I’m sure a local community center, church, or school would gladly take a free drum set.

I could get real fancy and turn them into art, but that’s a bit beyond me.

Parting with sentimental clutter is never easy, but it’s something we must do eventually. Memories are more important than the things themselves and great memories are never clutter. Additionally, here’s a good opportunity to practice the concept of non-attachment. It reminds me of this little parable, the origin of which I do not know.

There was a man who kept a glass on his bedside table. He loved the glass and would look at it and think, “How lovely this glass is. When it catches the light it looks so beautiful. When it’s full of water, how lovely it appears. If I tap it with my finger, what a pretty note it plays.”

“But if I bump the table and the glass crashes on the floor, I may think, ‘Oh, of course.’ Or, I can realize the glass is already broken. Then every moment with it is precious.”

In a way, my drum set is already gone. Some day it will fall apart, or be in the dump, or reside in somebody else’s basement, or I’ll be too old or frail to play it. And that’s OK, because every moment I’ve had with it has been precious.

Working in groups productively

We live in a condominium of 15 floors with 4 units per floor. While that might not sound like a lot of units to high-rise dwellers in cities like Toronto or New York, here in the Basque Country, it’s considered a huge number of neighbors.

While normally we are quite happy with the set up, at times having so many neighbors can create friction, such as when work needs to be done on the building as a whole.

Over two years ago, shortly after we moved in, the company that administers the building announced that the government was requiring an inspection of the state of the building (it’s over 50 years old). This study revealed that while the façade is in good shape, many balconies and window sills are in danger of crumbling.

Finally, this year it looks like the work is going to start, but we still have the biggest hurdle to leap — getting neighbors to choose which company will do the work.

When the project was first announced, my husband and I spoke and we decided that I would join the committee that would review the proposals and make recommendations to the neighbors. Once the project is underway, this committee will also meet with the construction company to make sure everything is going as planned and that the building as a whole stays informed about the project.

I could have decided not to bother getting involved, as the majority of the unit owners have done, but we plan on living here for at least a couple of decades more and we care about our home just as much as any homeowner.

And I have to say that I’ve really appreciated my organizing background during the process as it has helped keep everything and everyone on track while minimizing arguments and chaos.

Specifically, being organized has helped me in the following ways:

Short, effective meetings: I hate meetings that constantly go off topic and last forever. For that reason, I have gone to every meeting with the basic tools of paper and pen, and with questions prepared to ask the administrator or the construction company reps. Most of the others on the committee have lived in the building or neighborhood their whole lives, and they can easily get distracted by other topics. Gently, but firmly, I pull them back on topic, and being the “new” neighbor, they realize that they are merely reminiscing and then they get back to business.

Simple visuals: The proposals and budgets we were given to study were twenty pages each and filled with technical details and column after column of numbers. Even the summary the architect gave us was incomprehensible. To make sure I understood the situation correctly and that we weren’t missing information, I created a four-page summary with the following:

  • What will / won’t be done
  • Guarantees
  • Cost comparisons
  • Financing options
  • Optional additional work
  • Pros & cons of each company

I took this summary to subsequent meetings. The administrator and architect corrected a few items that I had confused, and cleared up questions that all of us had.

Only essential information: An even shorter two-page version has been given to every neighbor to be used as the basis for discussion; removing options, personal opinions of the committee, and details of the work to be done. The debate is going to be heated because it involves a lot of money so we decided to remove any extra information that might be used as an excuse to argue more. Basically, the government has declared that the work is necessary, and the only decision to be made is which construction company will do the work. Anything not related to that decision has been cut out completely.

Learning from similar projects: In our area there are twelve towers of the same style that were built at the same time. Several of them have already had this work done. Using the connections that the long-time residents have, we’ve learned what extra work is not worth the effort and what details to pay attention to. For example, in a recent renovation two towers over, the balcony design included tear-shaped posts. When the wind comes down over the mountain, the new balconies now whistle. We will definitely be avoiding fancy balcony designs.

So that’s my situation. But what does this have to with all of you? How can my experience help you?

Whenever working on committees, whether it’s for a renovation in the building you live in, or an upcoming volunteer event, here are the four basic principles that can be applied to any project:

  • Short, effective meetings: Respect people’s time. If meetings go on too long or wander about, volunteers will be more likely to quit. If people want to chat, organize a post-meeting coffee where participants can go as far off topic as they like.
  • Simple visuals: In any project, there is always an insane amount of information to be sifted through and decisions to be made. Reducing the options to simple tables and bullet points filters out extraneous information and focuses the decisions on what’s really important.
  • Only essential information: While transparency is important, very rarely does everyone need to know everything. Create a committee to filter out details that the rest of the stakeholders don’t need. Also, when providing just the essential information, the committee ensures that decisions already made at the committee level aren’t rehashed by everyone else.
  • Learning from similar projects: As the phrase “there’s nothing new under the sun” implies, we can always learn something by looking for similar situations in the past. What worked, what didn’t, etc…

Am I missing anything? What has your experience working on committees taught you about being productive in groups?

An exercise in uncluttering: books and magazines

Some people expect that since I’m a professional organizer my home will be somewhat like that of minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn, and it’s not at all. I get a lot of pleasure from having carefully selected art work on my walls and selected horizontal surfaces. My cats like having a lot of good places to curl up, so my house has lots of baskets, blankets, and plush mats strategically placed for them.

And then there are the books. After writing about minimalism yesterday, I decided it was time to take a look at the bookcase in my home office, because I wasn’t at all sure the books on those shelves still enhanced my life in any way. Sure enough, I found myself freecycling 24 of them right away, with more to come. And one went into my recycling bin when I decided the extensive technology-related information was too dated to be useful to anyone.

None of these books were bad purchases — they served me well when I first bought them. But I no longer need a huge collection of books about organizing, even if I think the books are excellent. I have a few favorites that I do pull out at times, and there are some with specialized information that come in particularly handy. But most of them just sit there, year after year. I had a lot of marketing-related books that never got looked at, too. No more!

It’s easy to get accustomed to having things in your space and to stop really noticing them. In The Organizing Sourcebook, Kathy Waddill wrote about going through your home with the eyes of a stranger, looking at everything as if you’ve never seen any of it before. An exercise like that can get you to question things like those books I had in my office.

As I went through the organizing books, I looked at what I had highlighted in each one. If a sentence or two particularly resonated with me, I typed the sentences into a text file for future reference. One of those books I was passing along is Order From Chaos by Liz Davenport, and I noted this line: “If you have more than a three-inch pile of things to read, what you have is a stack of guilt.”

Reading that made me think about the pile of magazines in my bedroom — which was only 2.5 inches tall, but still felt like a stack of guilt. The pile consisted of multiple issues of a single magazine, and that same magazine had recently sent me numerous renewal notices that had piled up in my in box. I decided it was past time to make some decisions here, so I looked through the entire pile and realized that as much as I had enjoyed the magazine in the past, there was nothing in the current issues that I wanted to read. So they went into recycling (being a bit too specialized to be donated to doctors’ offices or such) and the renewal notices will get discarded.

So now I have less guilt and a bunch of spare space on my previously stuffed-to-the-limit bookcase — not bad for a few hours of work! This exercise was a nice example of how even a small uncluttering project can make a noticeable difference.

Is “organizing” a dirty word?

The two men known as The Minimalists wrote an essay entitled Organizing is Well-Planned Hoarding in which they stated, “We need to start thinking of organizing as a dirty word. It is a sneaky little profanity that keeps us from simplifying our lives.”

Well, yes and no.

Certainly putting things away in an organized manner doesn’t do much if the underlying problem is that you need to unclutter. In his book Clutter’s Last Stand, Don Aslett wrote about “junk bunkers” such as shoe organizers (for shoes you never wear) and magazine binders (for magazines you’ll never look at again). That’s why professional organizers will tell you that buying cool containers (if you find you need them) is one of the last steps in organizing, not the first.

I also find that this “elevator pitch” for minimalism makes a lot of sense:

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

If you look through the tour of minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn’s home, you’ll see he owns very few things, and that obviously works for him — and a similar approach works for others, too.

But perhaps the things that add value to your life are work or hobbies that require stuff: a carpenter’s tools, an artist or crafter’s supplies, sports gear of various sorts, etc. For example, if you make a contribution by providing quilts to cancer patients and others facing a tough time, you’re going to have a stash of fabric.

Or maybe you’re passionate about music, and you have a large collection of vinyl albums. You’ll want to have some organizing scheme for those.

Another example: You may have family members whose well-being depends on a number of medicines and medical products, which you certainly want to keep organized.

It pays to look through that stuff periodically to make sure you still want all of it. Do all those hobbies still have a meaningful place in your life? Did you buy a package of scrapbook pages but only really like half of them? Do you have old tools that have been replaced by better ones? Did you buy an album on speculation just to find it’s not to your taste at all? Have your prescriptions changed so that you now have medicines you no longer need?

But once you’ve decided what to keep, you’re going to want to have it organized so you can find things when its time to use them.

So yes — the first steps in organizing are to “imagine the life you want to live” (as Peter Walsh says in his book It’s All Too Much) and to discard those items that don’t help you achieve that goal. But after you’ve done the imagining and the uncluttering, you’ll also want to take whatever final organizing steps — giving everything a defined storage space, keeping like with like, containerizing, labeling — will help you store your things so you can find them later.