Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You be the professional organizer: our front hallway

Those of us who seem to enjoy decluttering also seem to like to help others. So I figure it might be fun to give y'all a look inside our condo and tell me what you think we could do to get ourselves better organized.

(And by 'fun' I mean "a great way for me to have to do no work and everyone else to come up with brilliant ideas for me.") Just kidding. I've read a lot of great comments to my posts and I'm really curious what you all might think we could do to get and stay better organized. 

This is our entryway. 

The main features are

The hall closet: There's a hall closet a bit to the left, which you can't see. That's where our coats are supposed to go, though they don't always end up there. 

The little bookcase: We have the small bookcase for shoes, handbags, and general junk. Mostly the shoes and bags end up piled on the floor next to the bookcase. The bags don't seem to get emptied until the next day, if at all.

The wall hooks: for coats and/or handbags. Sometimes for a lot of handbags. 

The charging station: for cell phones, sunglasses, wallet. Sometimes these things actually end up here. 

The mail rack on the wall: Home for his mail, her mail, and mail to go out. They never seem to get empty!  Also there's room for keys. Mine make it up there about half the time. 

We have places for stuff, we just don't seem good at using them. What are your thoughts on how we could improve?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Confession time II: I was emotionally attached to a cardboard box

Is this a dream or a nightmare?

For a while in my life it was a dream, believe it or not.

This is a picture of the inside of the Davis Cookware store in Nashville, Tennessee. Between 2008 and 2009 I spent a year in Nashville doing my fellowship in clinical medical librarianship at the local hospital. I was only there for a year and didn't have much to do when I wasn't at the hospital. So of course I passed the time enjoying the local shops.

Davis Cookware was and still is my absolute favorite. It's owned by two brothers. When they're not nagging each other they're selling cookware, sharpening knives, peddling gourmet teas and coffees, sharing the local gossip, or trying to find someplace -- any place -- to stuff the next shipment of eclectic cookware into their store. They were hilarious and the store had a lot of, er, character. Take a look for yourself:

Pictures were taken by Jett Loe, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jettloe/
Shopping there was always a treasure hunt. It was like a visit to my mother's basement, but fun! Look, that tower of boxes might fall on you, but inside those boxes are the prettiest stainless steel measuring cups you've ever seen! Don't stub your toe on that pile of imported tea strainers! If you dig deep enough on the table you'll find a hand-polished alabaster mortar and pestle! Don't knock those mix-and-match rolling pins on the floor or you'll get your foot smashed, but it's okay because you work at the hospital and can probably fix it yourself!

It was a treasure hunt for kitchen porn (because you only wish your kitchen looked this good). And even better -- my mother wasn't there spying on me to keep me from throwing anything out. The anti-hoarder in me winced. But at the same time it was oddly comforting because it reminded me of home. Plus -- 100 kinds of tea!!

Point being, I didn't get a lot of souveniers from my stay in Nashville (besides the emotional scars of standing in the trauma bay and being told, "No, we don't have any questions for the librarians because two patients died last night and two are probably going to die today, and there's really no one else left who isn't fine.") The only fun physical reminders of my stay were my Davis Cookware purchases.

There were actually only five of these. One was a teapot that came in a box that one of the Davis brothers's granddaughters had drawn on. I thought that was awesome and made me nostalgic for a time when everyone in town knew who owned the shops in town. The box was a reminder of the store and of a bygone era where everyone knew everyone in town.  For the longest time I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it. I was emotionally attached to a cardboard box.

But you know what? When we throw out things, we're not throwing out memories. We're not throwing out feelings. I do miss seeing those two hilarious old guys whenever I need more tea or have to get my knives sharpened. But I don't need a box taking up space to remind me of that experience. You can write down your memories instead of having to keep the object to keep the memory. 

If  you are determined to keep something because it reminds you of a good experience, check to see if you already own something that you use that fits the bill. My measuring spoons were from Davis Cookware and I use them regularly. So I don't need a box to remind me of the store.

Now what to do with the box? I knew who could enjoy the box more than me. Our gerbils! It was perfect for them to chew on.

the box complete with artwork

Rye gerbil investigates

hmmm, this might work

he likes it!

The Reckoning

Item 77 - My Davis Cookware teapot box. Gotten for free, now it's now gerbil furniture. I do actually use the teapot that came inside the box.

Total money wasted so far: $947.

(Ironically, when my mom did hop down to Nashville, we visited Davis's Cookware and she had a blast. I'm not even going to begin to psychoanalyze that experience.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Don't use stuff to remind you of what's on your to-do list. (Decluttering tip #12)

Question: When is a to-do list not a to-do list?

Answer: When it's a postcard.

When I finally took a bulldozer to my desk I found this postcard. In the past I kept things like this just because they were pretty. Now I've learned not to keep things just because I like the way they look nice (wait, that's another blog post. darn.)

Then I asked myself, why am I keeping this?

The answer: it reminded me that I needed to send a letter to the person who wrote me a card. And then -- amazing! -- I realized that if I actually would use a to-do list, I wouldn't have to hang on to it.

In the book Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding the authors mention that some hoarders keep certain items (like bills, reminder notices, ads) as a way of reminding themselves of something they need to do. The reasoning behind this is that if you keep the bill you will see it, and then you will remember to pay it. This becomes a problem for hoarders because they have so much stuff that they can't find the item in question and then they forget to do what they were supposed to do with the item.

The real problem is that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They lose the bill in the hoard and then they forget to pay the bill. The next month's bill comes in with a late fee and they panic, feel guilty and angry, and are afraid of missing the next bill payment. So they hang on to the bill so that they won't miss the next payment. The bill gets lost in the hoard. And on, and on, and on.

I am not getting caught in another hoarding habit. If you can learn to use a planner (hey, I'm still working on this myself) then there are probably a number of items that you can get rid of because you don't need them around to be your reminders. Are you holding on to anything just because it reminds you of something you need to do?

The postcard is going in the paper recycling. And the task is going in my planner.

Now to actually write that letter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Just put down the camera. Just put it down.

It's really easy for those of us who are getting our groove on with this decluttering/dejunking/anti-hoarding thing to lose the forest through the trees. It makes a lot of sense. We've spent a long time buried under so much junk that we can't see our lives through the piles of stuff. We want to look up and see something other than clutter. 

Some nights I'm so determined to make more of a dent in what's left of the hoard that I end up spending the whole night organizing or decluttering. Have you ever gotten so enthralled with getting rid of stuff that you actually forget to spend time on the hobbies, the family life, the relaxation, the things that motivated you to declutter in the first place?

In life it's easy to miss the big picture. Today we had a very special event in DC. The hubs and I took off work to go downtown to see it. Between the two of us we had four cameras (if you count the phones). Of course, as soon as I saw it, I put my camera up to my eyeballs and started taking pictures and videos: 
The NASA space shuttle Discovery made its final flight today. After strapping the shuttle to the back of a modified Boeing 747, they flew it from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida up to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's annex outside of DC. But to give our town a treat, NASA took the shuttle on a 40-minute fly-over of the National Mall and northern Virginia.

The hubs and I are big fans of the US space program so we were completely psyched to see this. We spent the weekend before researching the best places to see the shuttle. And what did I do as soon as we spotted it? I put a camera up to my eyes. 

The shuttle made three laps around the National Mall before departing for Dulles airport in Virginia. I spent the entire first lap with a camera up to my eyes before I realized that my husband wasn't taking any pictures. Any at all. So I put my camera down and started actually *watching* the amazing sight before my eyes. And you know what? I think I appreciated it a lot more when I could look at it with my own peepers instead of a narrow lens. 

In the end he did stop to take a few pictures and videos but only after he'd gotten his fill. I'm thrilled that we have those so that years from now we can show our kids and tell them about the time we watched the space shuttle get flown over the Capitol. But I'm so glad I looked up and really, really looked at it. 

So when you're decluttering, don't forget to stop every once in a while and appreciate what you've accomplished. Stop and go back to those hobbies or those yoga sessions even if you're not done cleaning off that bookshelf. Put the camera down and look at the space shuttle with your own eyes. You'll probably never get to see it again. 

And yes, I really was just trying to figure out how I could get away with writing a post on a decluttering blog about going to see the space shuttle. I hope you enjoy seeing the pictures and video as much as I enjoyed being on the National Mall today.

And if you're wondering how it is we were that high up -- visit the Old Postal Service Tower next time you're in DC. Until the Washington Monument's earthquake damage is repaired, it's the tallest building in Washington that's open to the public.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

You too can buy achievement for the low, low price of $455!

How many times have you gone to great lengths to make a better impression at your job? How much has it cost you in time? In energy? In money? Was it worth it?

A few years ago I interviewed for a Big Deal internship in my field. I'd done the proverbial "sweating blood" for it and it would only last a year. I wanted to make a lasting impression. How did I do this?

While living on $1000 a month and paying $500 each month in rent, I went and bought an interview suit that I thought would give me confidence. I dipped into my savings and spent $500 on it.

It did give me confidence. I stood taller, carried myself more confidently, and smiled more because damn, I looked good. I landed the fellowship.Of course, I gave the suit some of the credit. I still do.

Apparently so did my fellow interns. It turns out we all poured a ton of money into our clothes. At the end of the first day, we asked the program director, "So, what's the dress code for the rest of the year?" She looked us up and down and said, "Just keep dressing like you are."

Peach pinstripes on a grey suit? What was I thinking?
So we all ran out and spent huge amounts of money on clothes. Fortunately we were getting full-time, really, really good paychecks by this point. But I still spent $2000 on three suits, three pairs of pants, and five shirts. 

I still work in the same field in a very similar environment and I still feel like I need to dress as well (or better) than everyone else to be able to compete. Fashion seems very important in my office. Makeup too. To the point where I once heard someone express the opinion that she feels like a stellar wardrobe is important to get ahead in our office. It's purely opinion, of course. But clothes do seem to matter in my field.

But as I've gone through my closet I'm realizing that I can't afford to look like I've walked out of a magazine, either financially or emotionally. I would rather be blogging or playing with my gerbils than picking out my 50th blouse at Ann Taylor. Besides, my tastes and size are going to change and my clothes will end up being unwearable.
Oh yeah, that label says what you think it says.

I spent $500 on this suit. I wore it maybe four times before I realized I hated it. Then I gained 15 pounds and I'm determined not to risk having a relapse of my eating disorder by trying to lose weight to fit into it.

I couldn't bear to just donate the suit so I did what Minimalist Mommi suggested (thanks Megyn!) and I sold it for a measly $45. I don't think this suit got me ahead at work. But I was really, really confident while I was wearing it and that did get me ahead at work. Was it worth the $455 I lost? Can you put a price tag on confidence?

We're a fashion-conscious world. People in the workplace can and may judge you based on your clothes. Have you found the happy medium between being a slave to fashion and being able to use clothes to give you that extra bit of confidence?

Can I learn to get my confidence from things other than my clothes? Or can I learn to use nice clothes in moderation to boost my confidence without violating my wallet?

The Reckoning

Item 76: A suit that doesn't fit that I hate.
Fate:The consignment shop.
Cost: $500, made $45 on it.
Total money wasted on junk I never should've bought: $947.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Let's just burn the books, why don't we?

from zazzle.com

I am a minimalist.

I will eschew purchasing anything new, and this includes books. I will tout the wonders of public libraries, and then go write an e-book that must be purchased to be read because it's not available at the public library. In that book, I'll tell people how important it is that we use less so that those who are poor can have more.

In that book I'll tell you how to live an incredibly happy life with no financial cushion and only a poverty-level salary. And then I'll charge two hours' minimum wage for the privilege of reading my e-book. That e-book, by the way, doesn't contain anything that anyone else hasn't said before (though I'm saying it in a different way, which has its merits.) But I'll sell my book about avoiding the pitfalls of marketing and our spend-spend-spend society by marketing it as something new, and then telling people they should buy it.

I will quit my current job and write satire for a living because it's my dream.

Okay, maybe not. That's probably a good thing since the only part of satire I'm good at is offending people.

We're minimalists. But we're also human and we live in a capitalist society. There are minimum amounts of money needed to live. I understand why many minimalists have decided to write e-books for profit. Self-publishing avoids the corporate midldeman and empowers the individual.

E-books are becoming incredibly popular. Meanwhile, public libraries in the U.S. continue to lose funding. Unlike regular books which can be purchased individually, e-books are purchased by libraries as part of expensive subscription programs, which many libraries can't afford or soon won't be able to.

E-books have the potential to disseminate information farther than traditional books. While authors do need to make a living, many e-books and the information contained in them are effectively off-limits to those who aren't well-off financially. In the past, if you wanted a book but were poor you could go into the public library and borrow the book for free. And if the library didn't have it? You could get the book via interlibrary loan or ILL, also for free.

 'Access to information shall not be abridged' - that's the first article of the constitution of a futuristic society in Lois McMaster Bujold's award-winning sci-fi novel Barrayar. At this point, most e-books are out of the reach of the poor. The poor can't afford expensive e-books and neither can libraries. Minimalism shouldn't be for the rich.

So next time we tout living simply so that others may simply live, let's make sure that those who have to simply live can afford to benefit from what we've learned and have written.

And now back to your regularly scheduled anti-hoarding.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How am I not naked after getting rid of all of these clothes?

I'd like to thank everyone who commented on the last post for your support. I know a lot of you are sharing the same struggles, and I understand how much strength it takes to be able to come out and admit that.

But let's move away from the serious and have a little fun rummaging through my closet. Here's what went to the clothes donation box in our building this week, and why. I put my best recollection of prices on the items that I didn't really wear much. If I left the price blank, then I'm not going to count the item because I got use out of it and it was a good purchase. Let's see if we can find some themes:

Too many memories of wearing
this on my first date w/ an ex 
Too tight ($10)
Too embarassing
(ew, armpit stains!)

Too short ($12)

Too scratchy ($25)
Too short

Too reminiscent of a job I hated ($15)

Too stained
Too short. Waaaay too short. (free)
Too poorly made ($10)
(One leg was bigger than the other.
I still bought them because they were cheap.
Too stupid (priceless).
Just kidding! $15.

That Titanic shirt has got to be the dumbest piece of clothing I've ever purchased. What's yours?

The Reckoning

Item 69-75: Clothes I hated that I never really wore.
Fate: The Planet Aid donation box in our building. 
Cost: $87 
Total money wasted on junk I never should've bought: $492.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Accidental project 333

After reading Fairy's post on her adventures with project 333 (living with 33 pieces of clothing for three months), I started thinking about whether this project would work for me.

For a long time I've been the kind of person who I would rather own three pairs of pants from Brooks Brothers (bought on clearance with a discount gift card, of course!) than 15 pairs of cheaper pants. So this should be easy, right? Yet I've still managed to be someone who does own 15 pairs of pants.

How? One word: Bulimarexia.  Since 2001 I have alternately binged and starved myself. Fortunately, I haven't purged in the more typical sense of the word. Since 2007 when I last made a batch purchase of clothes I have been 118 pounds at my lowest and 141 at my heaviest. I own everything from a size 4 to a 10. After I got married in 2010 I gained the last 10 pounds. I'm now a very consistent size 10. I have also not had any bingeing or restricting incidents in the last 35 days. My ED is dormant, for the moment.

I've been in treatment for the ED for two years now. I can spout phrases like

There will never be a 'thin enough' for me, I have to start accepting my body size now.

No one who matters to me is judging me by the size of my pants.

Holding onto my past (pants) is keeping me from moving forward.

I was artificially keeping my weight down by restricting my food. This is my body's true weight, the one that God has given me. He loves me just the way I am and because of that I can be respectful of my natural size.

It doesn't mean I've come to believe these statements are true.

Right now 80% of my closet doesn't fit. I have two choices:

1.I can keep dieting and trying to be a size 4 again. This will probably kick-start my eating disorder. But I won't feel bad about getting rid of $1000 worth of clothes.


2. I can get rid of all of my old clothes, knowing that I will not fit into them again. This will probably help me start to walk down the path of accepting my current body size. But gah, I spent a ton of money on those clothes!

The desire to give away all of the clothes that don't fit is admitting that I'll never be a size 4 again. Two weekends ago I actually cried myself to sleep about this. But in fact, giving away all of the clothes that don't fit is actually probably just a sign that I am finally taking the first steps on the path to accepting the body I'm in.

I like the idea of Project 333 because it will force me to empty out my closet and fill it with the things that actually fit and look good on me. I'm not emotionally ready to dive in just yet. Besides, there's no Brooks Brothers clearance for another few months, LOL! But in the meantime I can start to clear out my closet as much as I can bear to part with. Today I took a first pass through my closet. It's a substantial enough pile so I'll post the reckoning for it in a day or two.

Have any of you done project 333 and had weight, clothes size, or body image issues at the same time?  What are your thoughts?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Little blue pills for Post Its

I hate Post Its. You write something on them and then they inevitably get lost because...

the post - its need a little white tack to stay up for long
think of it as Viagra for post - its.
I wish I could take credit for that little joke. Alas, my best friend from high school has a much better sense of humor than I do. When she departed her job to move west, I was hired in her place (nepotism, anyone?). She left this note on the computer monitor as a parting gift.

It's the only Post It I keep. I hate the things because I think they do more to make me disorganized than organized. I'm trying to learn to keep all of my sudden scribbles in one of three places: my to-do book at work, my journal at home, or my cell phone. 

I stumbled on these Post Its from the days when I thought Post Its were God's gift to organizing until I realized they just exist to prove how disorganized my head really is. 

You can get rid of Post It notes (and just about any other kind of office supplies) by donating them to your office or a friend's workplace. Most people love them and are happy to have the extras. In fact, I probably snagged these from one of my previous workplaces. My office mates seemed happy to have them. 

The Reckoning
Item 68: My Post It collection.
Fate: My office's supply cabinet.
Cost: Free. 
Total money wasted on junk I never should've bought: $405 and holding.