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Posts Tagged ‘organization’

I promised you a picture of my sock drawer.

But first, can I tell you how amazing my sock drawer is? I am not kidding when I say I am excited to choose my socks every morning. Because it’s so neat, and I can see all my options, and I can see when I’m running a bit low on socks. And I even have a separate pile of my dance socks so I can just dip in and grab them before heading out.

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I had no idea a sock drawer could give me any pleasure at all, but I have had my eyes opened. Yes, it does take a little longer to roll the socks after you wash them, but the extra few minutes is entirely worth it.

While we’re at it, why don’t we take a look at my T-shirt drawer, because that looks pretty cool too.

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I finished going through all my clothes about a week ago. In the end I got rid of maybe 40% of my clothes, twenty-one garbage bags donated to Goodwill. A few bags of pure landfill trash in there as well, unfortunately.

Next on the agenda was books. I did them all (except music books, which is its own special category) in one brutal afternoon. My friend came over to offer moral support. There are now stacks of books all over my house that I am giving away, once I box them up and maybe get a response to my email from the book sale I am hoping will take them away. Also a big stack of DVDs, and soon stacks of VHS tapes (why do I still have these?) and CDs.

Again, I am giving away a lot, but there is still so much left over. It is very humbling.

It is an intense experience to be engaging with my stuff in this way. The pure excess is shocking, and the amount of emotion that can come up is quite tiring. I have an actual aversion to buying anything right now. My favorite clothing store sent me an email about a sale and I instantly deleted it. Last weekend a friend mentioned there was a sock store down the street and I deliberately didn’t go that way. The last thing in the world I feel like I want is more stuff.

Marie Kondo says most of her clients take six months to tidy their homes, and I don’t know how they do it. I’ve been doing it four weeks, and I’m already so incredibly ready to be finished. In addition to CDs, which shouldn’t take long, this weekend is all about papers, and I either need to find a shredder to borrow or else I need to pay for a shredding service. Even the logistics of tidying are tricky and boring. No wonder I’ve been putting it off forever and ever!

But in spite of my fatigue at this process, I am still committed and really glad I’m doing it. As one of my friends put it, do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you? My stuff has been owning me way more than I would like. And this process also reminds me of the things I own that I truly do love: my beautiful copy of Hyperion, the wooden dragon I picked up in Bali, my collection of knee socks that keep my feet warm.

And then I can peel back yet another layer and say this: it’s all just stuff, and this isn’t where I want my primary focus to be long-term. It is how I spend my time and who I spend it with that matters, and the purpose of my stuff is to support that.

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Stuff has a weight.

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It doesn’t matter if it all has its own place. It doesn’t matter if much of it is hidden away behind doors and in cupboards and drawers. It doesn’t matter if it’s nice stuff or old stuff or ugly stuff or useful stuff.

Stuff has a weight, and I know that because engaging with it deeply the way I am now, I feel it. And so much of it carries the weight of the past.

I wore this skirt in high school. I got this T-shirt in Norway. I wore this dress to a high school formal or during a time when someone hurt me badly. I got this table from my stepmom who disappeared after she broke up with my dad, never to return. I wore this at my wedding. My mom made this. My mom gave me this. My mom owned this. My mom loved this.

I hold on so tightly to my stuff. But none of this is now. None of this is even close to now.

It’s as if this stuff, it proves these things happened. It’s physical proof. Coming from a household where memory was seen as the opposite of reliable, proof matters. I used to run over things that happened again and again because I was afraid I would forget, and by forgetting I would lose myself. And I’d seen exactly how ugly that could be. So I had my litany, like a horror show bedtime story, so I’d remember who I was and where I’d been.

It worked. I remembered.

And I realize now, so many years later, that I know what I know. I know what has happened to me. I know what I’ve done. I know the choices I’ve made, the good and the bad and everywhere in between. I know who has been important to me, who I’ve loved without measure, and I know the difference between the people I know who are safe and the people I know who cannot be trusted.

I don’t need stuff to tell me who I am, or who I’ve been.

Trust me to find something profound in engaging in spring cleaning. Yup, this is definitely who I am.

In The Life-Altering Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo says:

“It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

When I was a teenager and a young adult, there were things in my life I wished were different. Hard things. I thought about wishing they’d never happened. I mean, I did wish I’d had it easier. But then I thought, “Well, I am the person I am today because of everything that has happened to me. And I like who I am. So that is something to be grateful for.”

Thinking this way didn’t make everything okay. But it did make it meaningful, and that was enough for me to move forward, to keep trying, and to not give into despair and rampant cynicism.

This is what I think about now while I make decision after decision about what stays and what goes. I’m not getting rid of the things I really love right now. And because it’s me, that’s a fair number of things. There’s no worry about me going all minimalist any time soon.

But it is not the stuff that matters. And some of this stuff, I’ve been dragging it around from place to place for reasons that are no longer true. If they ever were.

I’m letting go of the things that are heavy.

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I have a lot of stuff.

I am not extreme, in that I don’t have a storage unit and my apartment doesn’t require daily excavation to get from point A to point B. In general, each piece of my stuff has its place where it lives, and there is an order to the madness, and while there is definitely some clutter, it’s not all that bad.

But. That being said, I still have an awful lot of stuff.

So I decided to get rid of some of it.

Getting rid of stuff is not something I’m particularly good at, hence the aforementioned lots of stuff issue. This is due to two factors, that together prove to be fairly intractable:

  1. I get very sentimental. This is unfortunate. If I got something on a trip, I have trouble getting rid of it. If I got something as a present, I have trouble getting rid of it. If I have a bunch of memories relating to an item, yup, you guessed it, I have trouble getting rid of it. And heaven forbid it used to be owned by my mom, because then I lose all willpower.
  2. I struggle with feelings of scarcity. I fall very easily into “maybe I’ll need this one day” and “this could be useful” and “you should hold onto this so you don’t have to spend money to buy another one later.”

The best time to clean my things out would have been when I moved out of a house three years ago. And I did get rid of huge amounts of stuff. But ultimately that was such an enormous job, and I was freaking out about money the whole time, and so I ended up holding onto a lot of inessential stuff from a combination of exhaustion and fear. Fast forward to now, when I still have a lot of that stuff weighing me down.

Anyway, I decided to start with clothes, because I’d been wanting to do that anyway, and because Marie Kondo says you should start with clothes in the part of her book I read for free on the Amazon preview page.

Side note: You cannot speak to people about doing a major clean-out right now without them bringing up Marie Kondo. It is literally impossible. So I am helping all of you out by bringing it up myself.

It’s a good thing I determined to start on clothes first, because once I actually began, I wanted to do anything BUT clothes. I wanted to go through my DVDs. I wanted to go through my papers and figure out what can be shredded. I even wanted to go through my books (which is going to be simply awful). I wanted to do anything but what I’d actually committed to doing.

Also I refused to dump all my clothes out on my bed, which is another thing Marie Kondo tells you to do. I’m pretty sure if I did that, a.) I wouldn’t be able to finish by the time I wanted to go to bed at night, and b.) I would start to cry over the sheer quantity of items to go through. I really like clothes. Most of my stuff is clothes. And books. My two materialistic vices. (I also weirdly have a lot of kitchen stuff, but I don’t care as much about that so I have gotten rid of a bunch of it over the years.)

Here is what I’ve bagged up to donate so far:

The first spoils of war.

The first spoils of war.

And there’s a lot more to go through. I haven’t even started on my dressers yet. Yeesh.

Shall we talk about a few of my victories? Hopefully they will fuel me to greater heights of throwing shit away.

  • I had a pair of my mom’s old socks. They were argyle. They had holes in the toes. I’ve had those socks for eighteen years. I threw them in the garbage.
  • I had a plaid button-down shirt that I thought would work great in some kind of Wild West costume. It looked a lot cuter on the hanger than it did on me, so I never actually wore it. I donated it.
  • I got rid of an entire bin of cheap costume pieces and random stuff, except for one beanie that is soft and my favorite color and maybe I’d actually like to wear it once I wash it.
  • I’m donating some expensive dresses that I don’t like and that don’t fit anyway. It’s always harder to get rid of things when they cost a lot.
  • I threw away every single old bra that isn’t in my current drawer, none of which is the proper size and all of which I was holding onto anyway because???

Next up is socks. And then T-shirts. I think I will pile both of these items on my bed. Separately. So I can see how ridiculous it is how many of them I have. (Also did you know you can’t donate socks? You can’t. Unless they’re brand new.) And then I will watch more Marie Kondo folding videos on Youtube. (If I actually fold my clothes based on her techniques, I will post pictures. If I don’t, we will pretend this never happened. Deal?)

In conclusion, this project is going to take me a while. And maybe I should buy Marie Kondo’s book.

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Dichotomies are popular partly because they’re catchy and partly because they’re so easy on the brain.  Black vs. white, capitalism vs. socialism, introversion vs. extroversion, right vs. wrong.  Sometimes I wish things were actually this simple, but most of the time I don’t because these comparisons don’t allow any wiggle room or tolerance for difference or adjustment.

So when we talk about quantity vs. quality, both of these attributes contribute to overall well being and success (I’ll save defining “success” for another time).  Is one more important than the other?  I would argue that for many people, one is weaker than the other, and therefore we need to expend more effort and awareness on whichever side is more personally difficult.  Let’s look at some definitions.

Quantity:

  1. Music: number of hours spent practicing and learning new music.  Also preparing music for a performance or audition deadline.
  2. Writing: butt in chair principle; number of hours spent writing and revising, or a daily word count goal.  Also would include having a submission goal of how many markets you submit to per period of time.
  3. Interpersonal: amount of time spent both thinking about what your relationship (and loved one) needs and implementing that, whether by spending more time talking, doing activities, writing emails, cleaning the house, or what-have-you.
  4. Running a business: amount of time spent both on finding and implementing strategies in advertising, marketing, getting your name out there, as well as time spent providing your core service or product and planning special events.  Focused on goals either financial or quantity-based.

These are all great goals, concrete goals, measurable goals.  They require self discipline and commitment to achieve on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, sometimes quantity is not enough.  Standing in the practice room day after day for sixty minute practice sessions that go exactly the same way every time is not usually going to lead to improvement or make a great singer.  Being so obsessed with word count that you can’t afford the time to stop and think how you can use your words more effectively does not make a better writer.  Trying really hard to be a better spouse without being willing to take some personal risks isn’t always effective.

But what happens if we don’t focus on quantity?  Our brilliance is often derailed by lack of organization or dedication.  Projects don’t get finished or maybe don’t even get started.  Businesses fail due to lack of exposure or avoidance of hard financial numbers.  The people we love may feel neglected or friends might characterize you as a flake.  We might sound great when singing but our inability to learn music on time and behave professionally holds us back.

Quality:

  1. Music: choosing one or more technical suggestions to work through during that day’s practice session.  Being willing to try new things even if they feel weird and don’t work right away.  Working on what your teacher brought up during your last lesson and then giving her feedback as to how it’s going in practice.
  2. Writing: choosing subjects/stories that are close to your heart and therefore dangerous.  Taking the time to revise as much as a story needs.  Doing the necessary preparation work (whether that be research, outlining, note taking, character profiles, etc.) that you personally need to write your best story.  Focusing on a particular aspect of craft while writing, even if it slows the work down.
  3. Interpersonal: prioritizing by finding out what makes the most difference to the other person in the relationship.  Getting to the root of any issues between you.  Attempting to see that person without your usual bias and love them unconditionally.  Being honest and open about hard things as well as good ones.
  4. Running a business: Providing individualized service to your clients.  Prioritizing the goal of improving your product or your abilities.  Remembering the people factor in business.  Not cutting every single corner for cost reasons if the quality detriment is high enough.  Focusing on goals of service and satisfied customers.

What happens if we don’t focus on quality?  We work hard for many years and get “stuck” in the same spot, like we’re running in place.  We crank out large volumes of work lacking the spark that will lead to publishing that novel or winning that part during auditions.  Our relationships coast along but don’t necessarily deepen.   The business tends to get a higher than average turnover of clients or customers.  We rush to complete a task without thinking of the meaning behind the task and making sure we do it to their best of our abilities.

Now for me, quality is a lot harder than quantity.  Quantity is easy for somebody like me who has determination, self discipline, and organizational skills in spades.  Quality, on the other hand, is a bit more mystical because it depends on stuff you can’t measure in numbers.  It depends on taking risks.  It doesn’t always conform to plan.  It could end in spectacular failure instead of middling mediocrity.  So for me, I need to put a lot more focus on quality to get myself in balance.

What about you?  What do you need to focus on, quantity or quality?

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The Value of a Plan

Let’s talk a bit about the practical part of my blog title, shall we?  Being a free spirit is great fun, but a rush of inspiration isn’t often enough to carry an idea to fruition.  At some point, you’ll have to come back down to earth and make a plan.  I love plans, I live on plans, I feel worried if there is no plan.  And yes, if you couldn’t guess, I’m also a maker of lists.  But for those of you who may not be so enamored by the idea of planning, let me tell you some reasons why they’re so wonderful.

1. A plan will give you a way to hold yourself accountable.

Because let’s face it, everyone wants to be lazy sometimes, and if I have a choice between curling up on the couch and watching a cheesy movie and working hard, well, I might occasionally be somewhat tempted to do the former.  Particularly if I’m tired.  Or I don’t feel well.  Or something happened to upset me.  However, if I have a plan to which I’ve committed (either  to myself or to others if I need an extra kick in the pants), I’m a lot more likely to postpone the movie until later and actually get stuff done.

2.  A plan allows you to break your goal down into small, obtainable goals as well as larger-reaching ultimate goals.

If you haven’t run in ten years, having the goal “I want to run ten miles a day” might be completely overwhelming.  But if your goal is to start by running ten minutes, three times a week, it doesn’t seem quite so impossible.  For many large goals, all of your incremental goals will add up to the final product.  Writing a novel is a great example: if I’m writing a 70k young adult novel, and I have a daily word goal of 1000, five days a week, at the end of fourteen weeks, I’ll have a completed rough draft.  Goal met, and I never even had to build up to something.

3. A plan will help keep your motivation high.

Every time you reach one of those smaller goals, it’s like giving yourself a treat.  After awhile, you crave those regular treats; you even expect them to happen.  Having had the positive reinforcement in the past, it becomes easier to buckle down to receive that reward again.

On the other hand, let’s say you have no plan.  You have this exciting idea and work on it for a short time fueled by your enthusiasm.  Then your excitement peters out and the idea sits in the corner, collecting dust.  And make no mistake: you won’t always be excited about your idea, oh no.  At some points you’ll think it’s painfully boring, at others you’ll think it sucks, at others you’ll hate it with all the fiery passion in your being.  With a plan, you might be able to force yourself through the hard times.  Without a plan?  The path of less resistant will look oh so tempting.

Also, there’s been a fair amount of talk in the newspapers in the past year about how willpower is a limited resource.  While it might be possible to increase your own willpower, having a plan will help you prioritize the most important use for the willpower you’ve got for any particular day or week.

4. A plan will help you decide if you’re really serious about your goal.

I am not a crafty person, but I have a lot of crafty friends, many of whom know how to knit.  For awhile, I found myself often saying, “Oh, I wish I knew how to knit, but you know, I couldn’t possibly, I have these wrist issues, I’m not a crafty person” and whatever other excuses I felt like creating.  And of course, these excuses would be followed by protestations that of course I could learn, my friends could teach me, and you can guess the rest.
Finally, I sat down and thought about what it would really take to learn to knit, and realized I had no actual interest in it whatsoever.  I was interested in the results, sure: I’m a scarf fanatic and always want more scarves in different colors, and I want the opportunity to bond with my friends.  But I wasn’t at all interested in the actual process of knitting.  So now I don’t say “I wish I could knit” anymore, which both saves myself the defeatism of thinking of all the reasons I couldn’t possibly, and my friends the irritation of me making knitting about me (when I don’t even do it!) instead of relaxing and appreciating their fine talents.

5.  A plan will help you respect and value yourself and your work, regardless of outcome.

There are some things in life we just can’t control, no matter how kick ass our plans might be.  However, even if you’re not where you want to be right now, having a plan means you can at least be actively working towards your ideal life.  In my experience, having concrete tasks that will help me move towards something I want is a lot more happy-making than sitting alone in a dark room wallowing, “I don’t have what I want.  Why don’t I have what I want?”  Yeah, not very fun.  And even if I don’t reach a certain outcome for a plan, I’ve still shown I was capable of following through and working on a project (whether that be a novel, a weight loss plan, organizing a vacation to Europe, throwing a themed mystery party, or what have you) to its finish.    Completion of a plan gives a lot of personal satisfaction, and it helps build awareness of your capability and personal awesomeness.

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