Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A different reason to declutter

Has anyone in the group ever taken a time management class? I don't know about you, but I got a real surprise when I took an online one a few years back (you can take it for free for 2 weeks, I think). I expected the class to spend the six hours talking about schedules and strategies for prioritizing tasks.

Wrong! Most of the class was about decluttering!

The class definitely changed my life. It was the first time I'd realized that I really had to get the junk out of my life. That was in November of 2011. Now it's almost March of 2013 and this month I'm going to have the first test that really challenges whether decluttering has helped me better manage my time.

This month I'm starting the Intensive Outpatient Program at an eating disorder treatment center in our area. It's three nights a week from 4:45-8:30 for 6-8 weeks. Don't forget to include the half hour it takes me to get there and then again to travel home. On Tuesdays I have guitar lessons at night, and on Fridays I swim for 1.5 hours. I'm still working full time. And I have to squeeze in two hours of dietician and psychologist appointments each week. I'm a little busy. Oh, and I made my final goodbye to my Grandmother this week**, so I'm going to have to do all of this while I'm grieving and trying to work out the complicated relationship I had with her. At least I'm already seeing a psychologist every week and we saw this coming for a long time. Fortunately my folks are both in the financial industry sto we can't try to empty out her (uber-organized yet somehow extremely cluttered) three bedroom condo until they finish tax season in April.

No, I'm not trying to play misery poker with any of you. A number of you have probably had weeks and months that were actually worse than this. But this is the craziest 6-week period I've had in a very, very long time so it's important to look ahead and plan how to deal with something that I know will burn me out very quickly. I would love your advice on how to handle crazy times like this.

I've already learned that if I'm not going to waste time on clutter and all of the problems it causes, I need to break a few bad clutter/hoarding related habits in a hurry!

1. Not putting stuff away immediately.  In the time management course, Dave Crenshaw says that you'll gain ten hours a week by avoiding "switch tasking." In other words, don't do a task in pieces. Don't let it get interrupted. Don't come home and drop the handbag on the couch and take a few things out and plan on emptying it out and repacking it later. It will take more time in the end than just doing it immediately. Touch it once, and do it now, do it now, do it now.

2. Put stuff back where it belongs. I don't have the luxury anymore of ten minutes to find my cell phone in the morning. Taking the time and mental energy to put it back in its home and to charge it at night will save me time in the morning. I don't have time to dig my clean clothes, my handbag, the contents of my handbag, my lunch, my keys, my badge and my brain out from under a pile of junk at 6:30 in the morning if I have to leave for work at 7:20.

3. Realize that I'm going to need to de-stress, and plan ways to do it that don't involve shopping, or involve minimal, strategic shopping. New toys are not going to take the stress away from this month or give me more time. Impulse purchases are going to be very tempting this month because I'm going to need to de-stress, and as I lose my eating disorder as a mechanism for coping with stress I know that some other habit will try to take its place. With me it will likely be shopping. So I need to plan days off from work to rest, self-nurturing activities like getting my hair done, and I need to allow myself the occasional, well-thought out purchase so that I don't feel deprived and then end up going on a spending binge.

Every moment I can save by being organized and by making sure that I own less stuff is more time I can spend relaxing, recuperating, and spending time with the Chief Engineer. Who definitely deserves some quality time from me, because yesterday I left the light on in the car and left him stranded when he had to go to work. So yeah, he deserves some positive attention.

What decluttering/organizing habits save you time?

**In a way, this is a blessing. She was in horrible shape on Saturday and in a lot of pain. She's lived a full life, and at this point the end is really the best thing for someone suffering so much. She'll soon be dancing with Grandpop again and that's an incredible comfort to me.

Monday, February 25, 2013

For shame!

Have you ever found something in your home or office and just thought, WTF?!?

I keep a small collection of trinkets on a shelf my desk. I'll show you my workspace in a post later this week--I'm looking for suggestions on how to improve it and what to get rid of! But anyways, I started looking through the trinkets to decide what to get rid of and spotted this.

It's missing a few pieces, and some marketing catch phrases. So let me try again: 
The Desktop Titanic...$6.95 worth of amusement "when you get that sinking feeling!"

Because a disaster where over 1000 people froze to death in icy waters because somebody thought appearances were the most important things is something to compare with small disasters at the office! 

I was born on the 71st anniversary of the Titanic sinking and it's fascinated me since I was a child. My mom got me this little "desktop Titanic,"complete with mini lifeboat, a few years ago. I finally looked at it and realize I can't keep it in good conscience. I have plenty of books that treat the subject with respect. What was left of this little model went in the trash. 

What's your WTF?! item?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Everything but the kitchen sink

I wanted to say thanks to everyone for their support after losing my friend Holland last week. We had a three-day weekend in honor of Presidents' day this week and it seemed like a good way to keep going with life and honor Holland's spirit of joie de vivre was to do something fun. In my case, that was some decluttering!

It's been a long time since I've decluttered or organized anything so I wanted to start with something small that would be a quick and easy project to finish. I hadn't taken a look at the cabinet under the kitchen sink since we moved in last year. It's become a bit of a dumping ground.

Everything squeezed in. Mostly.
Everything on the floor.

It amounted to: a wire basket drawer, a sink plunger, several boxes of trash bags, three vases, two containers of detergent, the ingredients for more detergent, a caulking fun, a paper towel holder, a dustpan, and baby oil for the cabinets (works like a charm!).

I recycled the metal basket drawer that was half rusted. I removed the metal tracks that were screwed into the bottom of the cabinet so now we can actually crawl underneath the sink without hunks of metal digging into our backs when we have to change the filter or fix the disposal. It opened up a huge amount of room. I hung the little dust pan up inside the door. Then I found these.
Granite cleaners and leather cleaners. Shame we don't have a granite countertop OR leather furniture!
All of those were freebies. I took them into work and gave them away. People snapped them up. I don't even know how I ended up with them! Does that ever happen to you? Stuff just sneaks into your house?

Okay, so it doesn't look much better with everything back in. But at least there's a little space and I was able to put a liner down to keep any spills from ruining the cabinet.

I'm happy. Now, to figure out how to keep it this way! How do you keep everything under your sink from getting disorganized? What would you have kept or trashed that I didn't?

Friday, February 15, 2013

May all your hell weeks...

"In this world we walk on the roof of hell gazing at the flowers." — Kobayashi Issa
Eleven years ago today was one of the strangest and most painful days of my life. My now-husband's father had passed away the day before and I spent that Friday morning watching the Chief Engineer bury his father. I got back to school where I was a freshman at a women's college and this was the middle of Hell Week -- a parody of sorority rush week, of sorts. Our college didn't have sororities and hazing wasn't acceptable so we had to make fun of it, of course. As freshman we got to pick a "heller," a sophomore friend who would give us silly stunts to do. It was a rite of passage. And it was insane. And on that day I was not. in. the. mood.

Among other things, I had to run into my heller's Urban Studies class in the middle of lecture and scream "The suburbia's coming to get me and I'm moving to Canada!!" and then run out. In my German class I was to speak only Spanish. A friend of mine was supposed to provide Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary for Spanish class, punctuating her statements by throwing baby carrots when the spirit moved her (extra points for hitting the prof.) My best friend sat in lecture with a bottle of vodka that was actually filled with water, and periodically would take a few slugs. My geology prof was also in his first year at our school, so he got helled too, and had to give lecture on a skateboard.

Multiply these antics by 300 students and life on campus gets a little crazy during Hell Week.

The irony of all of this is that it's one gigantic conspiracy. Hell Week starts on a Wednesday and  runs until the following Tuesday. Friday night the seniors gather up all of the frosh and read "bedtime stories" to them (everything from Green Eggs and Ham to the snippets of the Kama Sutra) and then the frosh do group calisthenics in preparation for the annual Saturday 5:15 AM 3k run from our college to a the nearby duck pond. Last one to the pond gets thrown in. It's quite the party, actually.

Most of us were pretty freaked out abut the duck pond run. After all, it's February in PA and effing cold, and the duck pond is frequented by swarms of geese. But when it's all over at the end of the week you get led into a room full of flowers and handmade cards from all the upperclasswomen in your dorm. Only you don't know it's coming so it's a great surprise. You've spent the whole week thinking that it's all about the upperclasswomen enjoying making your life "hell," and then you find out it's really about them having a chance to surprise you with some unforgettable shows of affection in the form of flowers and handmade cards. The week ends with flowers.

I still have the cards in a shoebox in, ironically, that old childhood bedroom in my parents' place. I realized only today that it's still there. Those cards mean a lot to every woman who went to my school. We proudly displayed them outside our doors for the entire second half of the year. The upperclasswomen each year spend a lot of time on them, and they're a way of showing you that you may not be with your family anymore but now your friends and classmates are your family and they really do care and want you to be happy, and that anything hellish will end in beauty if you let it.

I managed to leave the cards at my parents' place when I moved out in a hurry. How important could they have been? They're just an object. And I forgot about them. But did I really forget about them?

No. Today on Facebook all of my college friends were changing their profile pictures to flowers, we were sending each other messages and quotes about flowers, and wishing each other Happy Hell Week like we were back in college. We do this every year for Hell Week, sending each other real and virtual gifts, and quotes about flowers.

It's just another reminder that the stuff isn't important.

My good friend Marta was roommates with Holland freshman year during Hell Week and posted this beautiful memory of her:

"Sometime in February 2002 an email was sent to the sophomores of our dorm that room #321 will categorically NOT participate in the Hell Week. Room #321 was Holland and me. It was against our personal freedom and we were not going to be prisoners of the system and surrender our lives to the madmen (or women). Holland ranted about the oppressions of social ideologies while I in complete agreement nodded and chain smoked in the walkway Arch, and then just when we thought we got away with it.. it started being awesome. And now Holland passed away the week of Hell Week, and I feel like so many memories of my freshman year are coming back, and at the same time, they're gone for ever. 11 years is a really short time, it is too soon in so many ways. Only half of the rebellious #321 left - not sure what to do with this, but sure feels sad."

The flowers we get may die. The cards may get left behind. The friends and family may pass away.

Back to the story that started this post -- The Chief Engineer and I didn't start dating until four years after his father's passing. But we kept in touch in part because a terrible experience bound us together. That Friday morning I learned what it meant to say "when he's cut, I bleed." It's no coincidence that I became bulimic on this Friday 11 years ago. It hurt too much to watch him and that was how I coped. But I'm in treatment now and discovering that I have a really awesome life. The Chief Engineer and I finally got our acts together and started dating, and of course, got married (best decision ever. Love you darlin'!) Once again, something awful somehow turned into something good.

The Hell will end, things will get better, the memories will still be there, and there will be flowers in your heart for the rest of your life. To hell with the stuff. And that's why my friends and I still celebrate Hell Week even though it's been over a decade.

May all your hell weeks end in flower days.

And oh, yeah, may your Fridays have fewer fashion foibles. I didn't forget! Today's Friday's Fashion Fallout for this week: 

yeah, they don't fit. no reason to keep 'em.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Upside down

The world is a little upside down for me tonight. The first of my college friends has passed away.

Holland was the only girl I've ever met with her name. I remember her jumping up during introductions at our dining services training my first week at college and watching her bounce up and down about how excited she was to be at Bryn Mawr. She loved math, had a wicked sense of humor, loved bikes, her dogs, and Austin. She jokingly called herself a "lululemon whore" and made fun of those ridiculous "keep calm and carry on" posters. We never realized how sick she was because she never made a big deal out of it.

The last time I saw her was almost three years ago. I was visiting my husband while he was still living in Austin and we met up for coffee. She was excited to start her PhD in mathematics. I made a silly math joke and she laughed. That's the last memory I have of her. She had such a beautiful laugh.

I'll miss you, Holland.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Diagnosis: affluenza, with a side of sequestration and Robitussin

Sorry for the disappearance -- I'm coming off the worst case of bronchitis I've had in years. Blogging has somehow gotten lost in the 11 hours of sleep I've been needing each day for the last two weeks!

I may have been skipping blogging but I've also been skipping spending! My non-necessary expenses since I got sick have gone through the floor, even though I've still been going to work during the last week. I wish I could keep this no-spending kick I'm on going for the rest of my life. But I'd prefer a solution to permanently decrease my purchasing that doesn't involve spending the rest of my years coughing all the time and spending most of my free time napping.

Last week:
  • Two physical therapy sessions: $70
  • Guitar lesson: $45
  • Parking for physical therapy: $5
  • Eating out: $5
  • Eyebrow waxing: $28
  • Eyeliner: $11.50
New objects: 1 (eyeliner, and that's consumable)
Total:  $164.50

And now this week:
  • Guitar lesson: $45
  • Physical therapy: $35
  • Eating out: $46.44
  • No spend/no peek bonuses (guitar fund): $20
New objects: none
Total: $146.44

There would've been less eating out this past week, except that I was at a conference one day but largely feeling too horrible to pack my lunch and breakfast. The Chief Engineer has also had the same bronchitis at the same time so neither one of us has been up for any grocery shopping or much food prep.


I've paid back the Chief Engineer for my ski boots and I'm now in the black!

But even better is that I've made a discovery that helped me cut down my extraneous spending. My planner has this little four-column chart in the back of it. Instead of trying to come up with dozens of categories of spending, I really only have four:

1. guitar lessons
2. medical expenses and eating disorder treatment
3. eating out
4. everything else.

In the last 6 months I consistently spent approximately $150-$180 a month on guitar lessons and about $50 a month eating out. I'm content with both of those and for the moment I can afford them. My medical expenses have been all over the map but I don't have much control over those.

On the other hand, I've been consistently spending anywhere between $600 and $1200 on the "everything else" category. To sum it up, three out of the four categories of expenses are either predictable and under control or are vitally necessary and can't be reduced. So all I need to focus on is that fourth category.

I now use the chart in my planner and keep my eyes on the last column. My goal is to have as many days as possible this month where that column is blank. I'm even adding some incentive for myself. For every day that I don't buy something in the "other" category, I can put $5 into my guitar fund. And it's working! Hallelujah!

Just in time, too. If you live in the states and have been watching the news you've probably heard about something called sequestration. This means that the federal government has to cut its spending across the board by 10% if Congress can't get a budget by March 1st. Practically everyone here in the DC area is affected by anything financial that goes wrong with the government whether they work for the government or not. Where I work, we are expecting to be furloughed. For twenty-two days in the next six months. That amounts to a 20% pay cut for the next six months. And it may not happen, and it probably isn't going to happen, but something will happen, so I guess I better be prepared. I finally feel like I'm getting my act together with my spending and just in time. But 22 days at home should be good for decluttering, which hasn't happened lately!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday's Fashion Fallout: Seven Jeans, True Religion, I Say No But They Keep Givin'

I bought these jeans because of a song.

No, I'm not kidding! Fergie had a song with the lyric,

Seven jeans, True Religion, I say no but they keep givin'

when I was in grad school. And this incredibly consumerist and rather insultingly-titled song "My Humps" apparently got to me because I went out and bought a pair of Seven jeans on clearance when I had my first real job. I can't believe I actually listened to and liked Fergie at any point in my life.

Funny part is, I adored the jeans. They were the only pair I owned that was in good enough condition to wear outside of the house and I looked awesome in them. But now they've got holes in them. I replaced them with two pairs of jeans from Target, which fit better and cost the same amount as this one pair of jeans. I'm realizing now that I can't count these towards Friday's Fashion Fallout because they got replaced with not one but two items! But hey, at least I'm not holding on to them anymore even though I could probably get a couple more wearings out of them. Not without risking some pretty embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions. 

Sad part is, with the Target jeans, no one compliments me on my rear end anymore. Or rather, on the label on my rear end. Not so sad.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday's Fashion Fallout: The best things in life aren't free

Because when they are free, you tend to acquire them even if you don't really like them. 

We had these things called "free boxes" in college. They were on every hall and were a place you could drop off stuff you didn't want and grab anything you did. Me being me, I was always grabbing things from the free box. Come on, free stuff!  

Except that when it takes time and energy to hang on to the free stuff and keep it organized, and dig through it when you need to get to other things, it suddenly really isn't free anymore. This skirt was costing me space in my closet, and my sanity every time I put it on because it was too small and a funny length. Not to mention, it was terribly itchy because it was made of wool. Item 80: A free skirt that doesn't fit, looks funny, and itches like mad!

Have the "free boxes" in your life been a problem for you?