Plan Your Staycation

Posted By on August 15, 2011

People need vacation time to renew and recharge themselves, but it seems Americans don’t take vacations as much as they should.

When I posted an ABC News article on Facebook about the importance of vacations, one of my friends said it was hard to truly take a vacation when you work from home and can’t afford to take a vacation.

So how do you take a staycation and stay away from work?

First, make your staycation a digital free vacation. Don’t look at email and social media. In fact, keep off the computer if you can. Turn it off and unplug. Once you spend a few days off, you may have a full inbox, but you will be in a better mood and better shape to deal with it.

Second, just because you’re staying home, doesn’t mean you have to stay at home the entire time. Are there day trips you can take? Is there a museum exhibit you want to see? A restaurant you want to try? Get out there and try something and some place new.

Third, do something nice for yourself. Check out Groupon, Living Social and other deal sites to see if you can pick up a deal on a massage, pedicure, or yoga class. If you don’t want to go somewhere else, pamper yourself at home.

Fourth, read a book. Stay away from work-related tomes and pick up a fiction book or memoir. If you’re not interested in a book at the moment, pick up a few magazines and include ones you normally don’t purchase. Personally, I’m a sucker for British decorating magazines.

Fifth, become a kid again. Run through the sprinklers, take naps, eat sno-cones, do a puzzle, watch cartoons, have cake for breakfast, play games, and play dress up with your fancy clothes. Go crazy.

Sixth, hang with friends. If you haven’t talked to an old friend in a while, give them a call or meet up for coffee. We need our friends. If you feel like your social life has been too reliant on Facebook, then it’s time to spend time face-to-face with people.

Seventh, spend time in nature. My idea of camping is a motel without a hair dryer, but we need to spend some time in nature. Sit outside and read a book, take a nap in hammock, or go to your local zoo or park.

With these tips, you can leave work behind and have a happy and healthy staycation.


Organizing Summer Camp: Paper

Posted By on August 5, 2011

Stock photo: Inbox stuffed with paper clutter

This week’s Organizing Summer Camp Project is Paper! Amazing how one sheet of paper is so flimsy and weightless. Put together a stack of paper, and you can get a hefty pile of clutter.

My personal goal is to be as digital as possible, and it’s easy to do when scanners are so readily available either as part of a printer or a separate device.

Bills. If you haven’t already, see what bills you can pay online so you can eliminate paper statements. You can pay your bills through your bank, through company’s individual websites, or through other services. If you’re paying bills online and still receiving paper statements, go online and eliminate the paper statements. That means less stuff coming into your house.

Mail. Mail can pile up if you don’t deal with it as it comes. Immediately toss junk mail into your recycling can. For the rest of your mail, you need to make a decision. Do you need to add it to your calendar? File it? Pay it? Shred it? Make sure you have a command center where you can easily remind yourself of action you need to take.

Shredding. I’m often asked if you need to shred everything to protect against identity theft. You don’t need to shred everything, only the paper with identifying information, such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other important data. If you own a home, your name and address are on the public tax rolls.

You can put shredding into a separate basket or trash can and then shred once a week or every two weeks. What you don’t want to do is to try to do a year’s worth of shredding in one day. Shredders are designed to work for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and then the motor must cool down.

Some shredding companies offer free shredding services if you bring the paper to them. Also, watch for free shredding days offered in your community.

Tax Stuff. If you haven’t already, set up a folder for this year’s taxes, and slip in any receipt you will need for taxes. That way when tax time rolls around, all of the receipts are in one place.

The Paper You Need. There’s a great deal of paper that you don’t need to keep forever, but there is some that you need to keep. These include: birth, marriage, and death certificates; divorce decrees; adoption decrees; your will and medical trust; and active insurance policies.

You don’t need to keep bank statements, cancelled checks, and bill statements forever. For myself, I toss or delete bill statements monthly – usually when the new bill comes in. I have my bank statements available online if I need them, and I have the bank keep the cancelled checks for the few checks I actually write.

Other Paper. For those of you with old school recipes you’ve printed out or cut out of magazines, scan them in or create your own personalized recipe binder by taping the recipes on paper and sliding them into plastic sheets. Use dividers to find your favorites easily. Another option for recipes is Recipe Relish, which is a stylish box with dividers.

Make a weekly sweep through the living room and gather up any newspapers and magazines to recycle. Some used bookstores will take magazines, and if you want to donate them to hospitals, check with them on their donation guidelines.

With these tips, you will be able to conquer the paper in your life!


Is Multi-Tasking an Addiction?

Posted By on August 1, 2011

Silhouette of woman juggling

In a word: Yes. I pondered this question after reading a blog post on one of my favorite sites called Tiny Buddha. The writer was discussing ways to slow down and do things one at a time, and she wrote how hard it was for her to stop multi-tasking that she wondered if she was addicted to it. I think she is on to something.

I’ve seen Multi-Tasking Addiction in my clients, my nieces and nephews, my friends, total strangers and myself.  When flying, as soon as the plane lands and taxis to the gate, you hear the tiny, chirping sounds of cell phones being turned on. Often this is accompanied by riveting conversation, such as, “Yeah, we landed.”

Some other examples I’ve seen in action:

  • People who have to play Angry Birds or check email at stoplights.
  • People who get on the elevator talking on their phone (pet peeve of mine!) or who are too busy playing on the phone that they forget to push the button or get off the elevator at their floor.
  • People who are talking to you but looking at their computer or phone while they do so.
  • People who check their email during meetings.
  • People who have their email alert flashing, IMing someone on their computer, answering texts on their cell, and trying to do some work in between.
  • Me turning off the TV to get the attention of my nephew or niece whose name I’ve been calling for 20 minutes.

So how can you break the Multi-Tasking Addiction?

  1. Just do one thing at a time. Sounds easy enough, right? You just need to drive without chatting on the phone, fiddling with the radio or eating (please, if I’m on the road with you). Just drive. See how that feels. Try it with other tasks. Just focus on a task for 20 minutes; just eat without checking email, reading or watching TV; or just talk to someone without looking at your computer or email. Just be and engage yourself with one task.
  2. Manage Your Email. Turn off the email alert and only check email at certain times of the day. Email shouldn’t be used for emergencies also. If something is urgent and important, handle it with a phone call or an in-person visit. When an email thread has gone back and forth three or four times, it’s time to pick up the phone. Delete the emails you don’t need, detach the attachments and put them on the server, and file the emails you do need.
  3. Write Stuff Down. Don’t try to keep things in your head and rely on your memory. Multi-tasking actually affects your short-term memory. Capture your action items via paper or digital means, and make sure you can access them when you need them.
  4. Determine your MITs. What are the three Most Important Things you MUST get done today? By asking yourself this question, you automatically prioritize your tasks for the day. Yes, priorities may shift during the day, but it helps you to focus and prioritize.
  5. Take a Digital Vacation. When you take your vacation, unplug from work email. Your brain and body need the rest, and you can’t fully rest if your mind is still on work. Yes, you will have lots of emails when you get back, but you will be in a better frame of mind to deal with it. A digital vacation can also include personal email and Social Media, such as Facebook. When I see people tweeting or on Facebook writing about how they’re in Paris on vacation, I always think, “Go and see Paris. Forget Twitter and Facebook.”
  6. Make a decision. Clutter piles up when you don’t make a decision, and if you have lots of postponed decisions hanging around, it can feel like you’re being attacked by a swarm of gnats. Decide what emails you need to keep, decide what papers you need, decide what bills to pay, decide what you’re having for lunch. Whatever you do, make a decision about the stuff lingering around you. No, you can’t make a decision to do it later. What are you dragging your feet on? Why? What’s holding you back?
  7. Celebrate Small Victories. Our toughest critic is usually ourselves. Celebrate the progress you make on a project. Every step forward is a win. If you clear a stack off your desk, that’s a win. If you delete a bunch of old emails, that’s a win. If you can go several hours without checking your email, and the world didn’t stop spinning, that’s a win.

Organizing Summer Camp: Living Room

Posted By on July 15, 2011

Even if you don't have a living room as gorgeous as this one (I know I don't), you can still keep it neat and organized.

Okay, Organizing Summer Campers, it’s time to tackle the clutter in the living room.

Living rooms are for living, and it’s no wonder they become magnets for all sorts of things. First of all, take a look around your living room and make sure every item still works for you. Do you have any unfinished projects in the living room? Do you like the way the room is laid out?

Here are some tips for the following:

Remotes. Corral remote controls in a basket or a box so you know where they are. No more searching for the remote in the depths of the couch cushions. Keep any instructions for the remote in the box for when guests are visiting.

Reading Materials. Books, magazines and newspaper can collect in the living room, and if this happens to you, make a sweep through the living room once at a week to put away books and toss magazines and newspapers into the recycling bin.

If you find yourself not reading magazines, newspapers or books, it’s time to cancel your subscriptions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients tell me how guilty they feel when they don’t have time to read their periodicals. Several magazines and newspapers are available online or via an iPad app – so there’s no paper clutter.

DVDs, CDs and Games. These can pile up quite easily. Sort through them and see what you really want to keep. Sell the ones you don’t want to a half-price book store or donate them. To spend less, try renting videos. If it’s a family favorite, then buy it.

Make sure any DVDs, CDs and games you do keep can be accessed easily without causing a mess. Game controls and related paraphernalia can be rounded up into baskets or entertain center drawers, depending on the furniture you have.

The DVR. Most cable services now have a DVR service, and even though you don’t see it, the DVR can gather up clutter. Go through the DVR recordings and delete the shows you are not going to watch or have watched. Cancel the recording settings you have on shows you never seem to watch. It’s okay.

Family Photos. I love my family photos, but since I have growing nieces and nephews, I periodically update the photos in my frames. If you have photos but no frames for them, buy frames so you can display them.

If you have a hard time choosing among your photos, buy a digital photo frame to display your family photos. One digital frame takes up less room than several photo frames, and you can easily delete or add photos.

Couch Cushions. You will be surprised by what you find in the couch. Take up the cushions, vacuum out any crumbs, and fluff up your cushions. Take a peek under the couch and see what’s rolled underneath. It’s easy for you to move your couch, move it so you can vacuum underneath it.

Project Space. Watching TV while folding laundry, sorting receipts or doing other chores is a good way to accomplish things you need to take care of. Make sure you have space to spread out your projects, but make sure to clean it up (or put the laundry away) when you’re finished.

If you pay your bills in the living room, have a portable box with things you may need, such as stamps, envelopes and your checkbook. If you pay your bills online, you won’t need immediate access to checks and stamps.

With just a few steps, you can whip your living room into an organizing space.


Evil Plans: Finding the Work You Love

Posted By on July 14, 2011

Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination by Hugh MacLeod

I was drawn to this book because of the title. When asked what my future plans or goals, I have often flippantly replied, “Global domination.”

Cartoonist and professional blogger Hugh MacLeod advocates the need to have an Evil Plan to find the work you love so you can love what you do. MacLeod knows of what he speaks, and he wrote this hilarious book about how he quit his corporate job and found his passion working for himself.

MacLeod worked as an advertising copywriter for many years before leaving it behind. He began blogging in 2001 at his site Gaping Void and draws cartoons on the back of business cards. MacLeod left New York City and now lives in West Texas.

“Sigmund Freud once said that in order to be truly happy in life, a human being needed to acquire two things: the capacity to work, and the capacity to love. An Evil Plan is really about being able to do both at the same time,” MacLeod writes.

I am lucky to have a job that I love where I help people organize their offices, their minds and their lives at work, and then I have my “night” job with my Clutter Princess blog and other writing.

MacLeod doesn’t necessarily offer new information that you haven’t heard before, but in this relatively short book, he fills the 170 pages with inspiration and motivation. He writes, “You were given a gift by the Creator, God, the Universe … Whatever. Until you have returned the favor, life will have a certain, feckless emptiness to it.”

In these tough economic times, I know there are people out there working at jobs to have a job, and they may not feel passionate about what they’re doing right now. MacLeod urges his readers to find something they are passionate about and to make their own evil plan. So even if you feel stuck, you can find something to ignite passion.

If you need a cheerleader, check out this book.

How Keeping a Clear Inbox Makes Your Life More Relaxed

Posted By on July 12, 2011

Whether you’re a geek or a technophobe the chances are emails become a really big part of your life. Pretty much all of us have to deal with it at work, and there’s a pretty good chance of it playing a pretty pivital role in your social life. But what’s that got to do with a blog about clutter? Well, you may be doing a great job of keeping your home neat, tidy and under control, but can you say the same about your inbox?

You might not feel it, but a cluttered and disorganised email inbox is having an impact on your daily life. Those two or three minutes finding a missing email or half hour procrastination session that comes out of being uncertain what to do soon adds up. The accumulation actually often makes the difference between leaving on time and a stressful late night work session.

So what can you do to declutter your inbox and feel more relaxed? My first tip is to unsubscribe yourself to all those email newsletters. Chances are you never read them, and all they are doing is taking up space in your inbox. Just because you may have a huge amount of capacity in your inbox doesn’t mean you should use it. If you do decide to leave yourself on any newsletters, you’re best setting up a rule that directs them to a specific folder. That way they aren’t a distraction, and you can view them on your own terms when you are taking a well-earned break.

Chances are your work computer probably has an email notification setting that pops up in the right-hand corner of your screen whenever you get a new email. I reckon that being the default setting in Outlook is responsible for millions of wasted minutes every day. No matter what you’re doing, seeing the flash of a new email arriving will distract from the task at hand. It may only be a fraction of a second, but it will break your flow. Turn it off, this second. Stop reading and do it now. You may think I’m joking, but doing this actually changed my life.

Choose a system and stick with it. There are all kinds of ways you can categorise and sort your email. Whichever you choose doesn’t really matter much. What does matter is that you stick with it, so go with what you feel most comfortable with. My approach is simple. I have my inbox (which I try and keep clear); a folder for dealt-with items; a folder for unimportant items called “back burner” and an important folder called “follow up”. These are the things I need to do something about.

If this post about keeping your inbox tidy has inspired you, there’s great news. There’s a whole movement dedicated to keeping your inbox neat and tidy. It’s known as Inbox Zero. There’s been a lot written about the topic, and you’ll find dozens of how-to guides, which will make keeping your virtual in-tray as neat and tidy as your home.

Rhian Jones is a clutter fighter who, when she isn’t keeping things minimal, writes for DealZippy a fairly new website dedicated to daily deals.