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?

Celebrating success: a Bullet Journal experiment update

It’s not the prettiest Journal, but it works.

The first two weeks of September are always the busiest in my day job and usually I get to launch day exhausted, facing a hundred little crises, and with a knot in my stomach because I have not had time to complete some really important tasks.

This year, however, everything has gone as smooth as silk and I have to attribute the success to my use of my Bullet Journal. Of course, every year, I make to-do lists, but always in a haphazard manner on a variety of different pieces of paper and/or computer files and emails.

I also managed to be productive in my personal life as well. Remember how I made the decision to be purposeful about my choices in life? Well, that has extended into this crazy period of the year, and despite ten and twelve hour days at work, I’ve been in better and more meaningful touch with my husband and friends than I’ve been in years.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why the Bullet Journal has produced different results, but I do have a few ideas.

  • Part of it is because I knew I was using it as an experiment here on Unclutterer, so I never let a day pass without updating the Journal.
  • By giving work and personal life tasks and thoughts equal priority, one never took over the other. And success in one area motivated me and encouraged success in the other.
  • I hate rigid rules and the rebellious teenager in me always wants to break them, so having been told right from the start that “rules” for Bullet Journaling are meant to be broken, my inner-teen never needed to rebel.

The system isn’t perfect, of course. Now that I write everything down, if it’s not in the Journal, it doesn’t happen. For example, in preparing to go down to our apartment in La Rioja last Friday, I reminded myself to take the house keys off their hook and leave them out where I could see them, but I didn’t write it down. Did I forget my set of keys? You bet I did!

The index is useless for me. I know I am never going to go back to review things. My lists and thoughts are “in the moment” things. Once completed, I move on. In my next Journal, the index will disappear.

The Future Planning portion makes no sense to me. I prefer to have a section with the whole year divided into months so that the planning can go there (one side of the page with the days of the month and the other with notes).

I also have added a section. This Monday, I created a weekly calendar that went before this week’s lists. It helped me organize my time in such a way that I didn’t forget a single appointment and I managed to squeeze in free-time and relaxation before the week’s craziness took over.

Organizing for disasters: supplies that work and some that don’t

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been devastating to so many, and my heart goes out to anyone affected by these storms. My dad lives in Florida, so I followed Irma-related news pretty closely. (Thankfully, my dad is fine.)

I got many of my updates on Twitter, and I noticed two themes that might help anyone who wants to be prepared for potential disasters in the future.

Candles are not your friend.

Lots of people noted they were lighting up their candles as they lost power. But both public safety organizations and other experts kept saying, over and over again, that candles are a bad idea. The following are just some of the warnings:

  • The American Red Cross, South Florida Region:
    Use flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles.
  • Florida State Emergency Response Team:
    If there is loss of power, do not use candles or open flames as a light source.
  • City of Tallahassee:
    Flashlights, headlamps, etc. are better options for light if you lose power.
  • Miami-Dade police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, likelihood of a fire increases.
  • Dr. Rick Knabb, hurricane expert at The Weather Channel:
    Millions expected to lose power. Don’t run generators indoors – carbon monoxide kills. Don’t light candles and risk a fire.
  • Florida Department of Health:
    If the power goes out, don’t light candles in your home. It’s a fire hazard that can be avoided by using battery operated lights.
  • Plantation Fire Department:
    #SafetyReminder If your power goes out, utilize FLASHLIGHTS instead of CANDLES!
  • Oviedo, Florida police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, the likelihood of a fire increases
  • Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator, now in Gainesville, Florida:
    Hurricane #Irma, don’t use candles / open flames during the storm when the power goes out. The Fire Department doesn’t need more emergencies.

And the Miami Herald has a list of 7 stupid things we do during a hurricane that can get us killed and using candles is on that list.

So forgo the candles, and load up on some combination of flashlights, headlamps, battery-powered lanterns, and plenty of spare batteries. Some people like to include glowsticks in their emergency supplies, too.

A corded phone just might be your friend.

Key West lost most of its connectivity (cell phones and internet) after Irma, but reporter David Ovalle found a way to get the news out:

My savior. Patricia on Eaton St in Key West had a relic landline that worked after the storm, allowing me to call story after storm

Firefighters also used line to call their families. Her friends chided her for years. She has no cell, still uses an answering machine!

And someone else got good news via landline: “Random woman in Key West that still has a working landline just called me to let me know my parents are ok. #Irma This woman is my hero”

As Consumer Reports wrote, “A phone with a corded base can work during a power outage, as long as it’s connected to a conventional landline or VoIP service with battery backup.”

My internet service provider bundles a phone line with my internet service, and I’m glad to have it. Corded phones are relatively inexpensive, too. You might want to join me in having a corded phone in addition to a cell phone, just in case.

Unitasker Wednesday: Brussels Sprout Prep Tool

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

For those of you who, like me, enjoy Brussels sprouts, the Chef’n Twist’n Sprout Brussels Sprout Prep Tool offers a quick and easy way to prepare them. It claims to quickly remove the stem and core of the sprout and loosen the leaves for broiling and roasting. You simply pierce the stem with the tip of the tool and rotate the sprout to trim the core.

I’m not sure the Chef’n Twist’n Sprout Brussels Sprout Prep Tool is any better than a knife. At least when a knife gets dull, you can sharpen it. When the Sprout Prep Tool gets dull, I guess you just throw it out. What a waste!

Also, this tool seems to be made for larger sprouts. Our family prefers the smaller, less bitter varieties of sprouts (also called “button sprouts”) so I doubt this gadget would work without me also shaving a layer of skin off my fingers. Left-handed people may find this difficult to use because you can only turn the sprout one way to trim it. Fortunately for us lefties, knives can be used with either hand.

You can try it if you want but I’ll keep my kitchen drawers clutter-free thanks.

Thanks reader Leah for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

Get organized to help in an emergency

As Florida and Houston deal with the aftermath of devastating storms, I’ve seen messages from good-hearted people on social media opening their homes to those who have been displaced. Countless people are affected by these disasters, and will be for weeks and months to come.

It’s a fantastic act of selfless generosity to open one’s home to someone in need. It also takes a lot of planning and organization. If you plan to have friends and/or family stay with you for an indeterminate amount of time — especially when they’ve lost so much — there are steps you can take to make the experience better for yourself and for them.

First, ensure how many people you can safely and comfortably accommodate. Everyone will need space to sleep, so count up bedrooms as well as couches, air mattresses, cots or sleeping bags. If using the latter, make sure that there’s an opportunity for privacy for all. Not everyone wants to sleep on the living room couch. Maybe you can make a rotating schedule. While you’re at it, make sure there is ample room for the belongings they will bring with them.

If you plan on accepting many people, you might even want to check with your municipality for advice on how many people can safely occupy your home.

Next, stock up on supplies. More people means more food, water, toiletries, etc. If you have time, buy these supplies before your guests’ arrival and designate a tidy an accessible place for storage.

Guests forget stuff at the best of times, and in this instance, they might not have the opportunity to grab essentials. Buy extra toothbrushes, disposable razors, extra towels and so forth and make them available.

Your guests will also have clothing to launder. Providing a few mini pop-up laundry baskets will allow guests to keep their dirty clothes out of their suitcases and transport them to and from the laundry area with ease.

Also make sure you’ve got a first-aid kit on hand, as well as some common over-the-counter medications, even pet food if your guests will be bringing a dog or cat with them.

Have phone chargers for various models available, as theirs may be gone, as well as a mini charging station. Make your Wi-Fi password available if you have one (you should). A crank-powered radio is also useful, especially if your own home is in or near a danger zone.

If you’re opening your home to people in need, our hat is off to you. If you don’t have that opportunity but still want to help, contact the Red Cross.

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?

Dropmark organizes links and digital files

Two years ago I was lousy at organizing web bookmarks. If I found an article I wanted to read later, a recipe or anything else I couldn’t attend to right then and there, it went into Dock in Apple’s Mac operation system, where it sat indistinguishable and forgotten. What a mess.

Determined to rise above that disorganized mess, I explored four solutions: Instapaper, Historious, Pinboard and Ember. Each has its pros and cons, but I eventually landed on Instapaper. It’s quick and easy. Still, that was two years ago and I thought the idea deserved another look. This time, I’ve discovered Dropmark.

What drew me to Dropmark is that it is a lot more than an archive of links. Instead, it sorts things you’d like to save into “collections.” The collections can be customized however you like. To get you started, Dropmark offers six default collections:

  • Inspiration
  • Recipes
  • Playlist
  • Save for Later
  • Video Que
  • Book Club

Each collection has its own permission settings. You can make it private, available to a select few, or public. Once you’ve created a collection, simply drag and drop something from your computer into a browser window to add it. It’s then listed in a tidy grid. You can increase search-ability by adding tags to any item.

Organizing bookmarks (my personal goal) is easy, too. Simply click to add a new item, choose “Link” and paste the URL you’d like to save.

While I’m just looking for a digital organizational tool, Dropbox can do much more than that. You can form teams for collaboration, and share any collection you’ve got.

Lastly, there are browser extensions and mobile apps for iOS and Android that let you manage your collections with ease. It’s simple, good-looking and available both as a free app and a paid service. The pro version ($50/year) lets you add comments, annotations, and choose from several style options. It’s a very nice service and if you, too, struggle with organizing digital bookmarks and files, give Dropmark a try.

Donating to help needy animals

A friend recently told me that a local wildlife center welcomed donations of Beanie Babies and other such small stuffed animals because baby raccoons and other small animals like to cuddle with them.

Your local humane society, animal shelter, or wildlife rescue organization may be able to use many things you might be looking to unclutter.

Many such organizations take blankets (especially fleece) and bath towels, but always check with your local organization before bringing in donations. Many do not want sheets, but some do. Other obvious potential donations, depending on each organization’s policy, are pet care items in good condition: food, food bowls, grooming supplies, cat trees, laser toys, catnip, cat litter, pet carriers, etc. The SPCA of Solano County wants cardboard flats or beer trays to use as disposable litter boxes.

A lot of these organizations also need office supplies, which many people have in excess. Pens, highlighters, copy paper, staplers, rubber bands, and Post-its are just some of the items I’ve seen on numerous wish lists. The San Diego Humane Society has surge protectors and calculators on its wish list, and I’ve seen many homes with unused calculators sitting around.

Cleaning supplies are also on many organizations’ lists: laundry detergent, bleach, hand sanitizer, trash bags, dish soap, hand soap, etc. Humane Animal Rescue specifically wanted Original Dawn liquid dish soap, but many organizations don’t care about the brand.

Rather than recycling your newspaper, you might give it to a shelter or rescue organization that asks for it, as many do. Some also want shredded paper. There might be some restrictions — for example, Humane Animal Rescue specifically notes the shredded paper should not include shiny ads. The Humane Society of Missouri can use long-cut shredded paper, but not confetti-like crosscut shred.

I’ve also seen a number of organizations, such as Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter and the SPCA of Solano County requesting gardening tools: hoes, shovels, rakes, garden gloves, garden hoses, etc. Flashlights and batteries are popular wish list items, too. ASH Animal Rescue in the U.K. also wanted general tools to be used in maintenance: screwdrivers, drills, hammers, pliers, etc.

Some of these organizations, such as the Peninsula Humane Society and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, run thrift stores whose profits support their work. These stores can be a great place to donate a wide range of items in good condition.

Then there are the requests that are more unusual:

So if you’re in an uncluttering mood, you might check with your local animal shelter or rescue organization and see what’s on its wish list.

RIM: Part seven, records maintenance

We’ve worked for a few weeks now on building a functional and practical records management system. However, it won’t stay that way for long if we neglect routine maintenance. For those comparing our records and information management system to the S.P.A.C.E. model of organizing, we’re now working on our equalization step.

Daily or weekly maintenance

I prefer to spend 5 minutes at the end of every day (usually right after supper) and do the following:

  • Clear receipts from my wallet and file them in the inbox for reconciliation with bank statement.
  • Check other locations in the house (e.g., mailbox, spouse’s purse/wallet) for receipts and documents and place them in the inbox.
  • Move receipts from my email inbox to the receipts folder on my hard drive and file the email.
  • Move any files from my downloads folder and desktop and place them in the appropriate electronic filing cabinet folders.

We have a busy household so it is more effective if I perform these tasks daily. Some people may find it easier to perform these tasks on a weekly basis. In my experience, leaving these tasks for longer than a week may result in lost receipts and generally makes maintenance tasks more time-consuming than necessary.

Monthly maintenance

Your inbox should be completely cleared monthly. It doesn’t matter what day in the month you choose to do your maintenance. If all your bills are paid by the 13th of the month, then you could choose that day. You could also choose the last Sunday of the month — whatever works best for your schedule. Monthly maintenance should usually take no more than 30 minutes as you can rely on your retention schedule to indicate where records should be filed and how long they should be kept.

  • Reconcile your bank statement and dispose of any receipts (paper and electronic) no longer required.
  • Scan paper receipts for high-value items or items that you’re keeping long-term, especially those printed on thermal paper as they are subject to fading over time. Move scanned receipts and any similar electronic receipts to your Guarantees and Instructions folder for long-term storage.
  • Check your retention schedule and dispose of any records (paper and electronic) you no longer need or any that you can move to your inactive folders.
  • Check your electronic file names and ensure you’re adhering to the file naming system you set out (typos are possible!)

Annual maintenance

Annual maintenance can be done at any time during the year. January 1st is a popular time because it is the beginning of the new year but may not work for some people because of the holiday season. March/April might be a good time for annual maintenance as it is around the same time as you would file your income taxes and you are probably working through your files anyway.

Whatever time of year you choose, I suggest scheduling about four to six hours for annual maintenance. You could do it all at once or spread the work over several days. Here are some things that should be done during your annual maintenance.

  • Evaluate your system. Is there is anything you’d like to adjust? Would you prefer to have all your insurance documents in one file, or would you prefer to have them split so auto insurance is filed with your other automobile documents, and house insurance is filed with other house documents? The annual maintenance period is the best time to make those changes.
  • Review your retention schedule. Using your citations, ensure there have been no changes to retention times for your records. If there have been changes, update your retention schedule and save it with a new file name rather than over-writing the old file. This way, you’ll be able to look back and see the previous rules you had for document retention. (This could be important if you are ever audited.) Remember to update the location of documents if you’ve made changes.
  • Check each company or agency you deal with (bank, credit card, electric, phone, etc.) and ensure copies of all statements, bills, receipts and slips have been downloaded or received. Make arrangements to get copies if you don’t have them.
  • Review email folders and ensure all receipts are transferred to the appropriate folders on your hard drive.
  • Transfer all receipts you can claim on your income taxes (tuition receipts, charitable donations, etc.) to the current year’s Income Tax Note any items that you may be missing and follow up with the agency to make sure you get the documents you need to file your taxes.
  • Move receipts from important purchases (e.g., high value items and those still under warranty), from the current year’s receipts folder to the Guarantees and Instructions Scan receipts if you haven’t already done so during your monthly maintenance. Retain these receipts as this shows proof of ownership should you require repairs to the items or if they are lost due to fire or theft.
  • Review items in your Guarantees and Instructions folder and dispose of any receipts and instruction booklets for items you no longer own.

Once your annual maintenance is complete, move your inactive paper records to storage to clear a space for your new, incoming active records. On your computer, create a new “filing cabinet” folder with all of the same sub-folders for your new, incoming electronic records.

With your annual maintenance complete, you’ll be ready to start a new year of records management with ease.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our series on records and information management. Feel free to participate in our Information Management Forum and share your challenges and successes.

Other posts in this series:

What to do when your yard sale fails

Typically people hold a yard sale for one of three reasons:

  1. They want to earn some money.
  2. They want unwanted stuff to go to a good home.
  3. They want to pare-down possessions.

In any case, the organizer hopes for success — a few extra dollars in the pocket, some free space in the house, less clutter — however you define a successful yard sale.

Even if you plan a successful yard sale, sometimes it flops — nothing is sold or huge items such as a sofa or credenza are left. It’s the end of the the final day and you’re standing outside with a pile of unsold merchandise. The inevitable question pops into your head, “Now what?”

Let’s take a look at what you can do when your yard sale bombs.

First and foremost, don’t get frustrated with the leftovers. There are many potential variables that could have affected your sale:

  1. You had more stuff than you had time to sell.
  2. Your prices were higher than the typical customer was willing to spend.
  3. The right people didn’t find you.
  4. The weather or timing was bad.

But today we’re not looking at what when wrong (we’ve got a guide for that). Instead, it’s what to do with all the leftover stuff. There are many options.

Right away, before you bring a single item into the house, divide your goods into the following piles:

  1. Donation
  2. Sell online
  3. Free to whomever wants it
  4. Items for the next sale
  5. Keepers

Now, a look at each category.

Donation is self-explanatory. Often doctors’ offices or hospitals will take magazines. Think of friends or relatives who might want what you’ve got. Perhaps there’s a Scout troop, school, or other charitable organization in your area that will gladly accept certain gently used items.

Selling online is a great way to go. My wife and I have had tremendous success holding a “virtual yard sale” on Facebook. It was pretty easy to do. We took one or two photos of each item, added them to Facebook Marketplace and shared them on our walls. Within two days everything was sold and picked up by the buyers. If Facebook isn’t your thing, consider Varagesale. Creating an account is easy and, in my experience, most items sell quickly. Of course there is also Ebay and Freecycle.

Don’t be afraid to try another yard sale. Maybe the weather was bad, or a holiday weekend meant fewer people in the neighborhood. In any case, try again but make some changes. First, wait a few weeks and mark the prices down. Also, set up a “free” table for items you simply want to get rid of. You can even do a raffle at the end of the day. For example, for $3, visitors get a chance to have their names drawn and then the winners can take as much stuff away as they want.

Finally, acknowledge that there may be some keepers may have popped up during the sale. During our recent sale, my son identified a toy that he really wanted. Limit yourself to one keeper, as the idea is to get rid of stuff, but that single item can earn its way back into the house if you’ve really got a good reason for keeping it.

It’s depressing when a yard sale doesn’t live up to your expectations. But there’s plenty you can do with your remaining items. And remember the positive: you conducted a big purge and organize, you got some stuff at least to people who’ll use and appreciate it and you’ve reduced the clutter in your home. I think that’s a win.

What would you do in a public emergency?

With the recent terrible attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona, we thought here at Unclutterer that it would be a good idea to review some basic things to consider when faced with a public emergency.

Be prepared. Familiarize yourself with the venue’s layout. Pay attention to the location of medical tents, first aid stations, washrooms, and escape routes. Also pay attention to dead-ends, you don’t want to become trapped in a space where there is no exit.

Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you get the slightest feeling that something may be wrong, you need to listen to your instincts and act fast. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, such as a rapid increase in the crowds in your area or perhaps a suspicious loner that doesn’t seem to belong, it’s probably a good time to find the nearest exit.

If you’re caught in a crowd, think of it as a flowing river — swim with the current and slowly make your way to the edge.

Prior to the event, choose a meeting spot in case anyone gets separated from the group. Ensure everyone has each other’s phone number. It is helpful to have a contact outside the event that can be called to coordinate planning should something go wrong at the event. In large crowds, mobile phones get lost and damaged so being able to contact someone outside the event is helpful.

Take photos of your group or yourself if alone — share them with your friends at the event and your contact outside the event. If you get lost or separated, you can show a photo of your friend and say, “Have you seen this guy/gal?” Authorities will also want to know a detailed description of what your friend was wearing. Your memory may not work so well under stress so having a photo is helpful.

Now for what to do if something horrible does happen.

First off, stay calm. This is probably the hardest thing to do. With chaos around you, it’s human nature to panic and when we panic, we end up doing things that we normally wouldn’t ever consider doing (I knew someone that in an armed robbery started grabbing people and pulling them on top of her, something she was horrified for having done afterwards). As much as possible, try to keep your thoughts clear and practical.

Next, make sure you’re safe, and if as long as you don’t put yourself at risk, help others get safe too. In most cases, this means getting as far away from the situation as possible, but that may not be possible. For example, exits may be blocked or as happened in Charlottesville, there were so many people in the street and there was nowhere to go. After the Barcelona attack, my husband and I had a conversation about how we always know where we would go in case of emergency. We read evacuation plans in hotels and tend not to put ourselves in situations where there are limited exits. We also talked about how the intuitive way out might not be the best. For example, we live on the ocean. If something happened while we were on the beach, intuition would suggest heading inland, but it may be better to head out into the water where it’s less likely we’d be trampled.

Of course, once you are safe and away, let friends and family know that you’re fine. They’ll be worried about you. Facebook, for example, has a function that they turn on in such situations, allowing you to let all your contacts know that you’re safe and sound.

If you’ve had some sort of first aid training, or see something you can do without putting yourself in danger, do it. As I mentioned above about panic, in emergency situations it’s human nature to think of ourselves first and to maybe cause others harm inadvertently. Maybe the best way you can help is to get out of the way, but if you see someone suffering and it’s in your power to do something, take a deep breath and offer assistance.

When the worst of the situation has passed, find out what you can do to help. Whether it’s donating blood, clothing or food, or volunteering in whatever manner is being requested, it is actions that count. It’s all well and good to express your horror and support publicly via social networks and minutes of silence, but real assistance comes from doing something productive, not just making ourselves feel better with words and flowers.

In this age of social media, it’s important to remember to put your smartphone away and do not distribute images or videos of the tragedy unless asked to do so by authorities. Most of us are not reporters and it’s not our job to inform the world of what’s happening. When my father had a terrible swimming accident, I was shocked that I actually had to tell someone to get out of the way of the paramedics and stop gawking. And the man was hovering about with his phone, as if he wanted to take a picture or something. Watching the news about the Barcelona attack, I was horrified to see people taking selfies while the police were cordoning off the area. Remember that the person you’re filming is someone’s mother, brother, or child and imagine how you would feel if it was your loved one.

And finally, check your facts before spreading information. With news and rumors easily confused online, it’s important to take a moment and make sure that what you are about to share is real.

The Unclutterer site has quite a lot of information about emergency preparedness and I suggest taking a moment to check out our archives to make sure that you know what to do when life takes a tragic turn.

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.