Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Clearing Out the Old

If you are like me, your life has become Clutter Central. Tonight, you and I are going to look the problem squarely in the eye: too much stuff. Now say after me ...

The clutter must go. Tomorrow, I will work on inventing a new, organized me. I will take the first small step toward freeing my mind and body of a cluttered life.

There, didn't that feel good? You and I deserve to be free of all our useless stuff: papers, brochures, receipts, outdated clothes (oooh, that smarts!) and boxes of treasures. Nobody else wants our stuff, so it is time to loosen it from these four-walled cages, and give it new life somewhere else.

If this feels painful to you, fear not: I am a career clutterer, but also a black-belt organizer. Sound like a dichotomy? It is not. I know how to get rid of clutter, and I do it all the time. It's the major cleaning-out in life that takes some thought. Thankfully, I learned a method when I sold my family home ten years ago.

I remember the trauma of that move: it was a family home, full of a lifetime of trash and treasures. A real estate agent taught me how to salvage that worth saving and unload the rest.

First, the furniture. We walked around the house, tagging what I wanted "forever" with Post-it notes - the rest either "belonged" in the house, or needed recycling. In order to do this, I had to imagine what a piece would look like in a brand-new place. If it fit, and it had function, it was marked. I cleared out the rest - it either got sold or recycled at a thrift shop.

NOTE: you might have the time and inclination to try to sell your old furniture online - I did not, since I was up against a deadline and needed my energy for the actual move. Moving under pressure is actually freeing, and I have no regrets (well, hardly none) about items that were jettisoned in the name of progress: mine.

Next, we tackled the mass of everyday items people tend to accumulate - kitchen things, bathroom things, bedroom things, spare room things, etc etc. Everything was pared down, room by room. Since I was down-sizing, I paid particular attention to linens, pots-and-pans, dishes, books, knick-knacks, clothes, and electronics

Here is how we did it. First, we cleared out a room, which we used for sorting. Mine was a downstairs rec room. You may not have the luxury of a "spare room" - there is still a work-around, unless you are totally overrun with "stuff", in which event you may be looking at plastic bags and a shovel. I recommend a covered porch or carport.

If a sorting area is impossible, this method may not work for you. I was lucky to have one, and here is how I sorted my belongings, room by room, into four corners of that room:

1) Necessities - keep
2) Treasures - may keep or store
3) Store - pay to store
4) Toss

Without value judgement (this is the hard part), I sorted. I did this after I was rested and well-fed, and I did not linger on any one item: it was categorized and sorted.

The prep-work was thinking about what distinctions existed between a necessity, treasure, storage item, or discard. My real estate agent helped me with definitions; they do this all the time, when they deal with abandoned homes or staging a house for sale. This was my learning curve; I share this knowledge with you:

1) Necessities

I had to be realistic about my "necessities." We are talking, life-and-limb: food, essential clothing, toiletries, my piano (okay, everyone has something like that - yours could be a ukelele or a manual typewriter - make sure you have plenty of spare ribbons, because I think your Corona is out-of-date.)

Just kidding. Actually, I had the most trouble with this category, which is why I stayed "stuck" for so long.

A real life example: one of my "necessities" was a set of serving bowls from my wedding, only I had not used them in nine years. They were redundant, and heavy. Since I couldn't bear to part with them, they went into the "Store" corner.

2) Treasures

Next, the "treasures." These are items of intrinsic or sentimental value. In my case, I looked them over carefully, and thought about what value they added to my life. If they were just random items taking up space, such as an old pom pom from high school, they probably had outlived their usefulness: like the old saying - "it's time to go."

(Caution: never try to place a value on a treasure that belongs to someone else; a wise real estate agent knows this, and will tell you why!)

3) Store

The third corner, "store", is where I calculated square footage for storage space. Each item that went in here - rakes, lawnmower, garbage can, mixing bowls - took up space. As I learned to do, ask yourself, "If I had to pay to store this stuff, would I be willing to?" Now, ask yourself (as I did), "What would I be willing to give up, to keep this stuff in storage?" That will be the decider, and you can take it to the bank! If the answer to those questions is NO, then it is time to put it into the "toss" corner.

There are ways to whittle down storage items, such as re-gifting and second-hand donations. If they are intended for family some day, and the "family" is grown people, why not now?

My real estate agent cautioned me about keeping items I planned to sell, either on consignment or online - it is tempting to hang onto something, because of some perceived value. Most of these items will become storage fodder, and they will just sit in a room or locker somewhere. Time to let go: tis nobler and expedient to donate.

NOTE 1: If you still have items in the storage pile, box them away and vow to revisit them every six-to-ten months. It may be time for triage, if they have remained stored for more than a year, and there is no plan for their consumption or disposal. Some exceptions: true collections - rare books, for instance, or craft supplies. Rule of thumb: only keep what you will use within a three years time.

NOTE 2: There should be a separate category for "records storage", but there is not. I chose to store my records where I could access them, NOT in a storage unit. Here is what I learned about records.

Receipts: keep the ones for major items, such as appliances still in use, vehicles, investments and collectibles indefinitely - mainly for warranties and insurance. Create a file for healthcare (including dental, vision and pharmacy) receipts and information, and rotate it every three-to-five years. The rest: three years is plenty, and all the IRS requires.

Keep your old income tax returns, important papers such as military records, and employment achievements / awards. Also keep your family photos.

4) Toss

Fourth corner: TOSS. This was my bug-a-boo, and my agent helped me move past the fear of being wasteful or rash. This is actually the "feel good" category, and I pass this on: do what this name implies. "Toss" can be a garbage can, donation bin, or any type of recycling place. Some community garbage "transfer stations" have recycling centers for items that are too good to scrap, but no longer needed: find one of these, and you are on your way to freedom!

A special word about food: get rid of anything over two years old. We're talking dried, canned, and frozen items. Old spices need to go, along with baking supplies and mixes - fresh is best. Same with vitamins and over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Some fire districts have collection boxes for old medications, including the above mentioned items: ask you local fire department where the nearest safe disposal site is.


Epilogue: I did my sorting, and moved my keepsakes into a small, rented cottage. Most of the furniture I had accumulated was sold or donated. Triage was done on storage items - my real estate agent handled this part for me, as part of her commission; she rented three indoor storage "cages" and paid to have the stuff moved there. My house sold, and eventually I bought a smaller one.

The major sort has been done, a fait accompli.

Are you feeling lighter already, like I am?

There now, here is our plan. Sleep well tonight - I know I am going to, starting in just a few moments. First, a cup of herbal tea, with my feet up.

Tomorrow, the sort begins. Then, I will put away the necessities; find a nook or cabinet for my treasures; and, revisit my storage boxes this Spring.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mind Wanderer ... Where Have I Been?

Time has passed, and I have been away but not wandering. I have criss-crossed the Country, laterally and vertically, and am back home. Today is another grey day, but it is good to be back.

My laptop traveled with me, and we are back online again. With a little sleuthing, you can glean anything from the Internet, or so it seems.

That is how I am spending my free time today, trying to fire-up my synapses.

This all started innocently, while reading email and trying to ignore the pesky "Windows Update" restart box. Now really, what could be so important that my mind-wandering has to be interrupted every thirty seconds or so by some nerdy reminder?

Okay, so I was feeling distractible today. The subject line from an email message grabbed me: BLOG FOR US AND FIND YOUR BREAKTHROUGH.

Wow, an email that caters to my vanity! I have been looking for a breakthrough all my life.

There are lots of opportunities listed in this message, some of them requiring a small investment. Even so, I carefully cut-and-paste the Top Story link into my browser.

Hmmm, says here I am on my way to fame and fortune, ten dollars for each top blog that gets published. Bloggers need to submit a bill to get paid on the 1st and 15th. And it looks like prospective authors need to sign up for a "business blog" site to receive a logon "token" ... which could cost money ... says here in the Acceptance Agreement.

A bell rings.

On to the next opportunity, which has to do with something called a "Waggle." This one involves joining (uh-oh, a J-word) some type of movement, then organizing a "job club." Again, a small investment is required.

I am getting the picture with these opportunities. A while back, I signed up for this email newsletter, but now I am thinking of unsubscribing.

I dig a little deeper: there must be a pot of gold somewhere for my time and effort. Yes! There it is, a contest for the best user-submitted video entitled, "Why You Should Hire Me."

Abandoning the computer, I race off to capture my best-dressed image on video, pleading for a job.


Oh My God. I will never win this contest.

Too bad. I will never win a contest that requires me to act like a monkey. I would rather sit on the curb with a tin cup. Definitely need to unsubscribe from that newsletter.

Wait. The contest prize is something I had not seen before, a "FlipVideo" camcorder (next time, Tory, use Spell Check: the name is "Flip Video.")

Turns out, this is my prize for the day, a free preview of a new hardware gadget. Too bad the sound card on my computer went south, this looks like the next new thing from (yes! I still have stock!) Cisco.

I am momentarily captivated, but I have trained my finger to wait before clicking. Same principle as buying stock: don't jump when the monkey rings the bell, and NEVER invest in something that looks good to Paul Allen (sorry, Paul, but you are much better at music and real estate.)

So, Cisco acquired this company from a start-up. While the gadget is sexy, I fail to see how this is going to capture market share from other recording devices, such as cell phones. Furthermore, some of the Cisco links are broken on their web site ... not a good sign, especially the "Jobs" link.

Say, speaking of another "J-word", how are you all doing out there? Are you like me, cruising the Internet, running from the job-cops? Or are you still hanging on by your nails?

Hold your head up like I am, and say "no, thanks" to fake jobs. You know the kind: you have to pay something out to get something back. Say NO to even slicker job coaches.

Times are not good, but I prefer the system approach to solutions. No three-month "working interviews", desparate video clips, or begging. If I am going to beg, I will let you know up-front and will preface it with a "please."

It is time to stand up and say ENOUGH BS.

So what does this all have to do with Cisco, hardware gadgets, and Jobs? The other words I have not mentioned are Las Vegas, Hindu, IBM and Bangalore. Read my blog tomorrow, and find out. Among other things, I will tell you what ENOUGH BS stands for.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Day 1, and already behind ...

Another grey day on the Canal, the kind that slows down my body but keeps my creative juices flowing.

For those of you in a different part of the world, welcome to mine. It is so quiet here you can hear the Great Blue Heron swoop by. The birds-of-prey catch me unaware, when I am gazing out over the frosted Olympics and grey-blue water; eagles, heron, king fisher, crows, starlings, hummingbirds, seagulls, and many others.

If you are a bird-watcher or a nature-lover, this is your paradise. If you want city life, this place is not for you; there are no clothing stores, theaters, or culture of any kind (trust me.)

I've given you a little window, a sneak preview, and there is more to come.

I want to talk about the changes happening here: we are running out of oxygen in the Canal, folks, and the fish are disappearing. Nobody knows exactly why, but the State has invested tons of money for studies, so we'll see if anything comes of this.

In the meantime, there are plans in the works for a "world class" NASCAR track up the congested road (the only ingress-egress route around.) The "back the track" folks will not let this issue die. Stand by for BIG changes.

We have become a world village, of sorts: loggers, foresters, and Guatemalan brush-pickers share the same spaces.

This is where the snowbirds roost in the Summer. Increasingly, people are moving here because of the pristine air, water, and sense of community. We build, and they come. The scales are tilting more toward year-round residence, but the struggle to find work that pays a living wage can be daunting.

Lots of issues. I have lots of time. We'll chat some more, because right now, I am a bit behind.