Ask Unclutterer: Where can I donate stuffed animals?

Reader Darlene recently asked the following question in the comment section of the post What to do with those old toys:

I have bags of slightly used stuffed animals. I’ve found most places like hospitals and day care center don’t want them because of germ contamination. Where can I find a site that would welcome them? How about for the flood victims in Texas or hurricane victims in Florida or even … victims in California? Give me some ideas please.

Darlene, this is a common concern, so I’m very glad you asked the question. The following are a few suggestions that may help anyone with gently used stuffed animals looking for new homes.

Give them away directly to people who want them

I’ve successfully used my local freecycle group to give away stuffed animals. It doesn’t always work, but it sometimes does. Other similar possibilities are Facebook, Nextdoor, and the free section of Craigslist.

Give them to Goodwill or other thrift stores

While many thrift stores don’t accept donations of stuffed animals, a number of them do!

Each Goodwill chapter has its own policies regarding what it accepts — and some specify that they take stuffed animals, such as Goodwill of the Heartland in Iowa and Goodwill of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties in California.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County in Oregon is another example of a charity that takes stuffed animals for its thrift stores. Again, each local organization will have its own policies, but you might find that yours will welcome your donation.

Note: These policies can change over time, so be sure to check before each donation.

Donate via SAFE: Stuffed Animals for Emergencies

SAFE is a 20-year-old non-profit organization that helps get gently used stuffed animals (as well as blankets, children’s clothes, and other items) to those who need them. You can donate through one of the chapters in Florida or South Carolina. Or you can send them to one of the urgent needs locations that SAFE has identified. Here’s just one of the places currently listed:

Edmund D. Edelman’s Children’s Court is the court that handles all the juvenile dependency cases in all of Los Angeles County. These cases usually deal with abuse and neglect issues. Annually they handle about 30,000 cases, and some of these cases require the children to speak. The courthouse has asked us if we could donate stuffed animals to help ease these children’s fears during a very stressful time in their lives.

SAFE also has good instructions for cleaning stuffed animals (PDF) before donating them.

Donate to police or fire departments

An 8-year-old girl in Colorado who had been in an auto accident donated her stuffed animal collection to the Denver police department to give to other children like herself. You could certainly ask if your local police or fire department would like your stuffed animals to hand out to children in similar traumatic circumstances.

Give them to animal shelters

As reader Monique mentioned in the comments, this is always an alternative to consider. And it will work for toys that have stains (even after washing) that would make them unsuitable for giving to children. Please check with the shelter you have in mind, as not all of them will want such donations. But some, such as Four Peaks Animal Rescue in Arizona, do include stuffed animals on their wish lists.

Take-out menu filer

Ever wanted to order in something other than pizza, but you can’t think of anything other than the usual Chinese place? Something I’ve done for quite a while is file take-out menus in an Itoya portfolio that I keep on a bookshelf for easy access. Whenever I come home to find a Mexican, Salvadoran, Kabob, or whatever menu slipped under my door, I stick it in my portfolio. I use one pocket for each type of cuisine–all the Chinese menus go together, same goes for the pizza menus, etc.

When we feel like ordering in, we just flip through the pages and pick a cuisine. Then pull out the menus and make our choice. The key here is always dropping in menus when you get them in the mail or with your order, and throwing out obsolete ones when you find them. This beats piling them on a table by a phone, sticking them to your fridge, or cramming them in a drawer. And if you prefer, here’s a binder designed just for menus.

 

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

More little changes that make a big difference

In his post about simple living and labour-saving devices, Unclutterer PJ stated that technology in the service of simple living can help us save time. Unclutterer Jeri showed us that certain tools can help make organizing a little bit easier and how little changes in your home can make a big difference.

Here are a few changes we have made around our house that have helped us save time and effort.

We added wheels to a large, heavy computer cabinet. It took some effort to install the them but it was oh-so-effortless when we needed to move the cabinet to adjust the computer cables behind it, or to retrieve toy cars that had rolled underneath, or even just clean!

Our kitchen garbage pail is inside a cupboard so the dog cannot use it as a luncheon buffet. While it is now safe for the dog, it is a little inconvenient for humans. To solve this problem, I attached a small metal joining plate to the bottom of the cupboard door so that hangs down below the edge. I covered the end with Sugru so it wouldn’t be sharp. This allows me to open the door with my foot — instant hands-free access!

 

Most non-Canadians probably are not familiar with Robertson (square head) screws but I use them exclusively. Robertson screws, do not slip or strip. You can get maximum torque with even if your hands are not very strong (like mine). When I buy something like a curtain rod and the hardware is included, I’ll swap out the screws provided for Robertsons. As a bonus, Robertson screwdrivers are colour-coded — screw size is indicated by handle colour. No longer do I waste time rummaging through my toolbox trying to read worn writing on handles or examining tips to get the proper screwdriver. And because I only need to have one type of screw and screwdriver handy, I have an uncluttered toolbox.

Have you made any simple changes like these that have made your routine tasks easier? Share them with our readers in the comments.

Organize a fun game night

The holidays are over and many of us are settling in for winter — hunkering down, closing the blinds and staying warm. It’s a classic time to play some board games.

Don’t think of board games as simply a way to pass the time until you can get outdoors for recreation. With proper preparation, a “game night” party can be a lot of fun for friends and family alike. For many, it’s a unique way to spend time together and socialize.

Gaming has many benefits. It is a chance to bond as a family or group of friends; an opportunity to teach young kids how to win and lose graciously (the lessons of sportsmanship aren’t unique to organized sports); to pull people away from digital screens and yes, a chance to indulge in some serious organization.

With all of this in mind, here’s how to organize a game night for your friends, family or a combination of both. I’ll describe some equipment to buy, steps to take before guests arrive to ensure a good time, and more.

A successful game night is an organized game night. A sure way to dampen the fun is to invite five or six people over to stare at each other and ask, “So, what are we going to play?” Here’s how to ensure a fun evening for everyone.

Consider who will be attending

I typically use the term “tabletop games” instead of “board games” because there’s such a wide range of gaming experiences available, from simple card games to board games many of us grew up with like Clue and Monopoly. You’ll also find mind-bending Euro-style games and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. When picking games to play, know your audience.

You might be excited to get Settlers of Catan to the table, but that won’t work with a Monopoly crowd. If you group is mixed, have two separate play areas so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the type of gaming they like.

In short, ask yourself:

  • How many people can comfortably fit in your space?
  • How many people can play the games you want to play?
  • What kind of group do you want to have?

Sometimes a game just doesn’t work so it’s great to have back up games.  Have something fun that is easily learned just in case.

Share information ahead of time

It’s a good idea to share instructions or rules before your get-together, as that can cut down on time spent teaching and learning. Board Game Geek has digital rule books for countless games that you can download for free. Share them with your guests via a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net so they can familiarize themselves with potential games, or even decide on what they’d like to play.

Get set up

If a small group is coming, the kitchen table will probably suffice. If you have a large group on the way, (Good for you!) you’ll need tables and chairs to accommodate the extra company.

I’ve used these flexible folding chairs many times and they’re great. Lightweight and comfortable, they won’t leave you sore after a few hours of use and fold neatly away when not needed. As for a table, this folding camp table has also served me well for years.

Consider Snacks

People like refreshments at parties and game night is no exception. When planning snacks, consider what can be eaten utensil-free without being too messy.

I love these drink holders. They clip onto the edge of a table and go a long way towards preventing spills. You and your guests will be constantly reaching across the table to move game pieces, grab snacks or gesticulate wildly with each dramatic move. It’s easy to overlook a bevy of beverages, so get them out of the way.

Have a schedule

As a host, take control of game night. Guests won’t appreciate an evening that ends too early or drags on too long. Here’s a good formula to follow:

  1. Start time, about 30-45 minutes. Have drinks and snacks ready to get people warmed up and ready to spend time together.
  2. Break time. A built-in and obvious break time lets people use the bathroom, get something to eat or excuse themselves.
  3. Ending time. Let people know when the evening will end, to eliminate fears of an endless night.

Set a goal for the party

This one might seem silly but it’s essential. Have goal for the evening. “To play games” is not adequate. Maybe you’ll choose something like:

  • To laugh a lot
  • To try out a new game we’ve been itching to play
  • To welcome new neighbors
  • To get to know people better and bond a little
  • To try something new and expand horizons

When you’ve selected a goal, express it in your invitation:

Saturday at my place, let’s get together to play hilarious party games! We’ll have snacks starting at 7:00 and then break open two super fun party games: Telestrations and Wits and Wagers. We’ll wrap up by 10:30. See you then!

The day of your party

It’s game night! Now that you’ve selected appropriate games, distributed rules or other pertinent information to your guests, and set up a gaming space(s), it’s finally time to play.

Have the chosen games on display for guests to view. Let people mingle, get a snack and/or a drink and settle in. Again, take control as host and announce when it’s time to start playing, as well as the chosen games and a brief description of each. Lastly, as host, play! You might be tempted to tend to the drinks, snacks, and other guest needs. That’s noble, but your guests will appreciate it more if you play with them.

Have fun and enjoy an organized game night. You might even pick up a new hobby.

Getting started with getting organized

If you want to unclutter your space and get organized, I recommend 30 Days to a Simpler Life, by Cris Evatt and Connie Cox. It’s chock full of tips and it will inspire you to get started simplifying. At times the book can be a bit too new-agey for my taste (for example, they recommend that you “say the names of things you see” to become “fully present,” and to eat with your left hand if you’re right-handed so that you eat more slowly and thus better savor your meal), but those parts can be easily overlooked if you don’t care for them. The rest is very good.

What I like about this book is that Evatt and Cox recognize that simplifying has two separate parts: first you unclutter, then you organize. If you just organize, all you’ll accomplish will be neatly stacking piles of garbage — rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic, to be dramatic about it. Evatt and Cox propose a three-step method to eliminating clutter that makes so much sense that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. It certainly helped me pare down my cluttered spaces.

Three piles

The first thing you do is that you pick an area you want to unclutter. Don’t try to do too much at once; focus on what’s causing you the most stress. (Let’s say it’s your closet, but it could be your files, or your kitchen, or anything else.) Schedule ample time to dedicate to the task and go through every item in your cluttered space. Place each item into one of three piles: the “love and use” pile, the “recycle” pile, and the “ambivalence” pile.

  1. The “love and use” pile requires little thought because it’s for those things that you immediately know are essential to you and that you use a lot. A pair of jeans that you wear at least once a week would certainly go in there.
  2. The “recycle” pile should also be simple. It’s for those items you immediately know you should get rid of. You’ll ask yourself why you still have the thing. A big elbow-padded sweater from the 80s would be a good example. Anything you haven’t worn or used once in the past year should certainly go in there. It’s called a recycle pile because you can often donate these things or give them to a friend who might be able to use them. For me, however, it’s often just a “garbage” pile. If you don’t want it, what are the chances someone else will? And you won’t believe how satisfying and liberating it is to walk to the garbage chute with a big bag of stuff from your stress area knowing you’ll never have to worry about these things again.
  3. The last pile is the trickiest, but the key to the system. Into the “ambivalence” pile go things that you don’t love, that you don’t use very often, but that you can’t bring yourself for whatever reason to throw away. Many people never wear a particular garment but won’t get rid of it because it was a gift from a loved one. That goes in the ambivalence pile. You’re not going to throw away anything in this pile, so don’t be afraid to be generous with your ambivalence.

Practice living without it

The stuff in your “love and use” pile can go back into the closet or whatever other area you’re organizing. Of course, you’ll use good quality hangers and other thoughtful organizers, but those are posts for another day. The stuff in your “ambivalence” pile, however, you fold neatly and place into attractive storage boxes. Seal up those boxes, label them, and put them in an out of the way storage space where they won’t be clutter. If a month later you realize you want to use or wear one of the things you put away, you know where to find it; no need to worry. However, after six months, or a year, or whatever short period makes you comfortable, take the ambivalence boxes with everything that’s still left in them (which is very often everything you first put into them) and throw them down the chute. You won’t feel bad, I promise. The reason is that, as Evatt and Cox say, you have practiced living without these things and you’ve effectively already thrown them out in your head. Practicing living without things is a great way to transition from a cluttered to an uncluttered space. After a year or six months, if you haven’t used something, you likely never will.

Design systems

The last step is to design simple systems that will keep you from getting cluttered again. This is the part where, once you’ve uncluttered, you can begin to get (and stay) organized. Sharing many of these little systems is much of what I hope Unclutterer does.

When you’re done with these steps, and your ambivalence boxes are tucked away, you will find that your closet is now incredibly simplified. You won’t have such a hard time picking out what to wear because all your favorite things will be readily visible. And you won’t believe how much space you’ll have. The best feeling, though, is the feeling of lightness that comes from getting rid of stuff that just doesn’t belong in your life anymore, combined with the security that it’s all there if you really do need it again. So go nuts doing this with your drawers, your living room, and every other nook.

 

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

The minimalist and the maximalist

When I lived alone, my minimalist tendencies could flourish. Each surface in the house was either bare or had one or two items on it. I regularly went through the house and pared down anything that had found its way onto a shelf or table without a conscious decision to put it there.

I lived this way because I am a naturally disorganized person. The more I have, the less organized I am, and the less I clean. Wiping the dust off a shelf that has two carefully placed items is much easier and faster than removing the ten knick-knacks, wiping them all down, and then placing them back where they are supposed to be.

The less I had also meant the less I bought. I didn’t need to buy anything because I had all I needed. When I travelled I almost never brought back souvenirs and my holiday decorations never grew because I had just the right amount in the exact style I was looking for.

My husband, however, is not like me at all. He believes that if there is a surface free, it needs to be covered with something. He loves reminders of places we’ve been. And he’s an incredibly organized person. He adores organizing in a way that boggles my mind. In fact, he’ll spend an hour moving things about a shelf until he gets the just-right arrangement.

His attention to detail exhausts me, although I have to admit that I love how the place looks, even with all the bits and bobs that I would never have on display if I were living alone. If he were to read Apartment Therapy’s 10 Signs you might be a maximalist, he would agree with almost every point.

So, how do a minimalist and a maximalist live together? By applying the basics. We compromise, we communicate, and we encourage yet moderate each other’s natural tendencies.

For example, in December my husband goes nuts with all the new holiday decorations that come out. If he had more space and money, he would fill shopping carts with cute, stylish, and fun decorations. I, on the other hand, will go out of my way to avoid going into stores at this time of year. Our compromise is this: I promise to show enthusiasm for the few things that really do catch my fancy, even if there is no need to buy them, while he recognizes that finding a few choice pieces increases the likelihood of using and appreciating each item rather than buying everything and using nothing.

And when it comes to cleaning, I focus on the daily surface tasks, while he will do the occasional deep-cleaning and reorganizing that is required with a bookshelf full of books, knick-knacks, and keepsakes.

Whether you are a minimalist or a maximalist, the key is to not to go to extremes. If you are embarrassed to have someone over, perhaps your maximalist tendencies have left you knee-deep in clutter. Or if people ask you if anyone actually lives in your home, perhaps you need to create a sort of moderate minimalism in your life.

Post-holiday cleanup, part 3

We linked to an article in Post-holiday cleanup, part 1, which described ways to dispose of a real Christmas tree. Storing an artificial tree, however, can be a task that worries even the most uncluttered of us.

In my home, we collapse the tree and keep it in its original packaging when not in use. If you didn’t hold onto your original box, or if it’s impossible to fit the tree back inside of it once it has been used, here are some storage alternatives:

  • Artificial Tree Storage Bag — With a reasonable price tag, this appears to be a cost effective option with the benefit of having a handle for transporting the tree in and out of storage.
  • Artificial Christmas Tree Box — This option is more expensive, but because it is flat you can stack things on top of the box the other 11 months out of the year
  • If you aren’t seeking something aesthetically pleasing, large leaf and lawn bags could work nicely.

Check out our other posts in this series:

 

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

Does this wardrobe suit me? Reviewing my closet

Last February, here on Unclutterer, Dave took at look at his closet and made some wardrobe suggestions for men over 40. In a few months, I’ll be one year away from 50. In the past two years, I’ve moved up in my day job and have become upper management. And in my personal life, I much prefer going out for a nice dinner or having friends over than going out clubbing until dawn.

All these things have meant a change in my dressing habits. However, I don’t feel almost 50 years old and most of my friends are younger than me so I have no interest in looking stereotypically middle aged.

In reviewing what I have, I’ve noticed that over the past few years I have actually been moving towards a more mature style. I have fewer t-shirts and more button-ups. None of my jeans have holes in them, I don’t do “skinny” anything, and my collection of dress trousers has more than doubled.

My shoe choices have also matured, fewer sneakers and more currently in-style brogues.

It’s good to know that I don’t need to make any major changes to my wardrobe choices. I do, however, need to pare down a bit. I have more than enough shirts for a whole month, the same with t-shirts and about half that number in trousers. My shoe collection has increased from my previous two or three to more than ten. Clothing is the one area of my life that I am most definitely not a minimalist.

On the positive side, I have a walk-in closet so I more or less have the space to store it all, but I have to ask myself if I honestly wear it all.

In doing so, I’ve taken Dave’s guidelines from last year as a baseline.

  • A suit — one that fits and looks good. Suits! I haven’t mentioned suits. I have several because I don’t believe that one is enough. If a woman had a single dress for any formal situation, people would be shocked, and yet we think it’s perfectly fine that men repeat the same suit consistently.
  • A nice hat. I have a few nice alpaca caps for winter and a baseball cap for the beach.
  • Decent lounge wear. I’m a pyjama guy. When I lived in Toronto with central heating, I was in the habit of sleeping in very little (or nothing). Without central heating now, however, I have several pairs of pyjamas which also serves as lounge wear. For yoga class, I have some baggy t-shirts and a pair of short sweatpants.
  • Dress shirts — somewhere between three and six of them depending on your lifestyle. This is where I need to cut back, but in looking at my closet, I realized that I actually wear more than 20 of my nearly 35 shirts.
  • Shoes. Have a brown pair and a black pair, something casual and something dressy. Sneakers are for kids. In this I also don’t agree with Dave. Stylish sneakers look good with a suit and I often combine my dress trousers with them as well. Besides, I have ankle tendon issues and, unless I want to look like a grandfather, dress shoes are not the best for my poor feet.
  • Pants — have at least one decent pair of jeans and a few pairs of casual pants in your regular rotation. Here is another category I could cut back. I don’t wear quite a few of my trousers, so will lighten my wardrobe by getting rid of them. I also need to seriously review my collection of shorts as most of them are too young for me.
  • Socks and accessories. My rule for these is that if they fit into a drawer, I don’t need to worry about them. I replace them as they wear out.

Being fashion-minded and working with teens and young adults, I also have a t-shirt collection, as well as stylish sweaters and a couple of sweatshirts. Looking at the teetering pile I have of those, these are three more categories I can also pare down on.

Although, to be honest, I doubt I’ll get rid of much. As I’ve already said, despite having a lot of clothes, I wear almost everything. I’m just going to have to find a better way of organizing it all and commit to regular maintenance of the piles.

How about you? How often do you review your wardrobe?

And of course, if you need help, there are any number of books that can help you with your wardrobe choices.

Post-holiday cleanup, part 2

Ornament StorageStoring ornaments throughout the year is a bit of a pain, but it is necessary if you own them. Ornament sets usually come in flimsy and not very user-friendly boxes.

A couple years ago, we finally ended up purchasing a few Christmas ornament storage boxes, very similar to the ones pictured at right. The boxes are easy to store and protect the ornaments well. The boxes are not fool proof. If you drop them, you will most likely shatter quite a few of your ornaments. So, if you have antique ornaments or fragile ones that you do not want to lose, you may want to upgrade to a container that has some padding that will protect your keepsakes a bit better.

Check out our other posts in this series:

 

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

Post-holiday cleanup, part 1

Over the course of the next few days, we’re going to explore that sad time after the holidays when decorations and gifts must find a place to be stored or disposed. Putting away a menorah or Christmas tree or New Year’s party hat is never as much fun as bringing it out of storage or buying it. And, for a number of us, it’s cold and cloudy outside and the temptation to procrastinate the whole affair is pretty strong. Our couches and blankets call to us to sit for a while longer and relax while digesting all of those holiday meals.

I want to provide you with some links that you can peruse from the comfort of your couch. No need to be called to action just yet. Consider this “research.”

  • Here is some advice from our readers on handling holiday cards: What to do with holiday cards? Recycle!
  • Jan. 6 is the traditional day for taking down your tree, and here are tips on how to get rid of your real tree: How to dispose of a Christmas tree
  • Want to make space for all of your child’s new toys? Here is some advice on that subject.
  • Too much gift candy sitting around your home tempting you? Freeze it in small zip-top bags and bring it out in small portions over the next few months.
  • Want to regift an item but wonder if it’s horribly tacky? Read these rules for regifting.
  • Need to return or exchange an item because of damage or ill fitting size? Start by doing a Google search of the brand name and the phrase “how to return and exchange an item.” In some cases, you’ll need a gift receipt and tags, so be sure to know what you need before taking on the crowds in the stores.
  • Wondering what to do with leftovers from all of your holiday meals? Wonder no more! Stilltasty.com has the most helpful advice.
  • Need to replenish your home bar after all of your festive parties? Here’s a great list of essentials.

Check out our other posts in this series:

 

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

Little changes that make a big difference

Helen Rosner recently asked on Twitter, “What are some tiny things you’ve done this year to make your life immeasurably better?” She got a lot of responses, and I noticed many of them had to do with organizing and uncluttering.

Lots of people wrote about improving their closets. One person bought 100 identical hangers from The Container Store to replace her old mismatched poor-quality ones. Someone else got “the black velvet ones,” which would be the Joy Mangano Huggable Hangers or an equivalent. “Closets fit so much more, it’s easier to see what’s in there, and clothes don’t get stretched in weird ways from hanging,” she wrote.

While I understand the visual appeal of identical hangers, I haven’t yet gone that route myself — although I’ve been tempted. But I did just buy some more Olka hangers, since they’re the best I’ve found for preventing shoulder bumps. Whatever hangers work best for you, so clothes stay put and maintain their shape, can be a worthwhile investment.

Other people wrote about the benefits of owning duplicate toiletry items: one for home and one for the travel bag. For those who travel a lot, this can be a time-saver and a stress-reliever. But while Kirk England wrote, “Best $40 ever,” Bryna Levin wrote, “Except for women it’s $100-$500.” I don’t think it’s just gender that defines how expensive it would be to duplicate the toiletries — I don’t use all that many products so my cost would be well under $100. An alternative approach, for those who don’t want to make the investment, would be to develop a good packing list.

Someone else’s travel organizing change was using packing cubes. As Beth Skwarecki explained, “They let you rummage through your stuff without getting everything mixed up! They take up very little space themselves but help you pack more efficiently. I roll my clothes inside one cube, put underwear and toiletries in another, etc.”

Other small purchases also helped people be organized and save time. Leon Overweel did the often-mentioned trick for avoiding mismatched socks: “I ordered 50 pairs of basic black socks off alibaba for $22 (including shipping) and removed all other socks from my drawer. Now every morning I blindly grab two and just put them on. No more orphan socks or matching socks in the laundry!” While 50 pairs of socks is more than many people would buy, the basic concept is sound — assuming you often wear basic solid-color socks rather than more flamboyant options. Someone else added a towel hook closer to the shower. And a number of people mentioned the benefits of buying long charging cords for their mobile phones, to work around inconvenient outlets. I got a long charging cord back in 2015, and I find it invaluable.

Uncluttering was another big theme. Haley ED Houseman did what she called a “product purchase cleanse” where she used up (or gave away) the consumable products she had before buying any more. (Things that were too old got tossed.) Cathy Lanski said she “donated a bazillion sample sized products to a women’s shelter. They were sitting in a basket stressing me out, but were probably a treat to them.” A lot of these were “not quite right products from subscription boxes.” If you’re one of the many people with a large collection of toiletries, this could be the type of change you’d like to make, too.

For those who get overwhelmed with letters or email asking for donations to worthy causes (and can afford to make some donations), this change might be a good idea: “I set up recurring donations to the charities I feel strongly about, so I don’t feel bad about ignoring most of the fundraising mail I get.”

And I was delighted to see one person write, “We use grandma’s good china.” If you’re going to own “good china” it’s wise to actually use it and enjoy it.

Not everyone agreed about all the suggestions. There are the fervent bed-makers and those who feel that making the bed is a waste of time. There was one person who was delighted with her new honeycomb shaped drawer organizers for her underwear and those who refuse to fold undergarments. That’s only to be expected — organizing solutions are very personal.

My own small change this past year was storing some things more conveniently for my cat sitter — which meant the things were also more convenient for me. I just needed that “cat sitter is coming” push to get me to do some rethinking.

Year-round resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are an ancient ritual, stretching all the way back to the Babylonians and the Romans who made promises to their gods to do things better in the coming year.

However, just because something has been done for a very long time, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessary, or even useful. And, to be honest, how many people do you know actually follow through on their resolutions? Fitness centres rely on resolutions for a influx of income knowing that the majority of new clients will only attend classes for a few weeks, but will actually pay for several months, or even a full year.

One of the main reasons that I don’t like New Year’s resolutions is that they set us up for a fall and create a failure mentality. Despite knowing that we are unlikely to follow through on our resolutions, we promise ourselves quite often outrageous things, possibly even fundamental changes in who we are. (For me that would be resolving to go to networking events in the city and thus go against my introvert nature.)

When we make unrealistic resolutions, we are basically telling ourselves that we aren’t good enough as we are and need to change. All you need to do is look at common resolutions to see how poorly we think of ourselves:

  • Lose weight (I’m fat.)
  • Be more positive (Life sucks.)
  • Get out of debt (I’m not financially responsible.)
  • Improve my career (I hate my job.)
  • Learn something new (I’m ignorant/uncultured/lazy.)
  • Get organized (I’m a disaster.)
  • Be nicer (I’m a grump.)

And the list goes on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for introspection and self-improvement, but doing it once a year in a fervor of self-punishment is not the best way to achieve a goal.

I believe a much better way is the following:

  • Know yourself. What type of person are you? What works for you? What doesn’t? Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies is a great book to read if you want a simple and efficient way of answering these questions.
  • Examine your life. What’s working? What isn’t? Don’t look at your perceived faults and failings. Take a look at where you want to be and where you are in that process. By doing so, you remove the personal judgement and make it an objective review of your objectives. Burnett’s and Evans’ The Designing Your Life Workbook is a good tool for that.
  • Monitor your progress and set up regular reviews. As I have been doing with my Bullet Journal experiment, check in regularly with your objectives. Progress needs to be examined on a weekly basis at the very least (if not daily), the circumstances need to be reviewed, and minor alterations in course need to be made. For me the Bullet Journal system has been working very well so far.

So, instead of asking you what you resolutions are, I’ll ask you what goals you are working on and what progress you’re making with them.