Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Life Management 101--Possessed by Our Possessions

This Tuesday feature is currently exploring Laura Stack's Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It.  This week, we consider Chapter 5, "Mastering the Fifth Pillar--POSSESSIONS."

In this chapter, Stack focuses on the ways in which our possessions possess us, and what we can do about it.  We begin, as with each of the eight pillars of productivity, with a self-assessment related to this troublesome area.  (You can find the entire productivity quiz on Stack's website.)  Mine revealed that Possessions is my second weakest pillar.  Coming from a long line of clutter clutchers, this doesn't surprise me.  I obtained my embarrassing score by rating each of the following ten quiz items as:   1) to no extent; 2) to a little extent; 3) to some extent; 4) to a considerable extent; or 5) to a great extent.  My responses are in red.

To what extent do I . . . 
  • Have a systematic plan to get and stay organized.  [2]
  • Eliminate clutter and resist adding more.  [2]
  • Keep my briefcase, tote, or purse organized and clutter-free.  [2]
  • Maintain clutter-free drawers and closets.  [2]
  • Organize memorabilia such as photos and keepsakes.  [2]
  • Keep kids' toys, clothes, and books organized.  [1]*
  • Set up and maintain my kitchen in an organized fashion.  [2]
  • Keep my car organized and clean.  [2]
  • Set up an effective office space in my home.  [2]
  • Keep my house neat and tidy up daily.  [2]
Stack's advice on what to do about all this dysfunctional behavior is a little overwhelming--perhaps even cluttered.  For each item, she generates a long list of tips and tricks.  If I were to implement her suggestions, I would:

1.  Institute a six-week approach "to begin conquering clutter" [emphasis mine], consisting of six weekends, each with its own designated project, such as closets, paper, storage and fix-it--all of which would take me more like six years.
2.  Discard unhappy reminders.
3.  "Stop being an information hog."  (What?  Throw out my carefully assembled collection of magazines, culled from grocery stores and subscriptions, and purloined from waiting rooms?)
4.  Get rid of 25% of my "recipes, books, tools, self-improvement tapes, Internet bookmarks, sporting equipment," and so on.
5.  Jettison things I don't like.
6.  Stop buying things just because they're on sale.
7.  "Label and limit."
8.  Get rid of one old thing for every new thing brought in.
9.  Not give clutterizing gifts to others.  (My daughter enforces this.)
10. Always put back what I get out.
11. Clean out my purse and my briefcase, and keep them that way.
12. Organize my drawers, using trays and dividers.
13. Use baby food jars for storage.  (I don't buy baby food, and never did.)
14. Store office supplies away from my work area.
15. Have only one junk drawer, and keep it organized.
16. Donate useful items I no longer need.
17. Reserve closet space for only this season's clothes.
18. Use bins and bags for sorting laundry, mending, give-away items and dry cleaning.
19. Buy less clothing items, of higher quality, and keep and wear them for a longer time.
20. Organize clothing and accessories by color, and type.
21. "Organize photos into boxes."  (Most of mine are stored in cameras and phones and various computers--and in one large drawer in my china cabinet.)
22. Designate boxes for keepsakes.
23. Cull and organize children's art.  (I lost this battle a long, long time ago.  My eldest child finally did it for herself.)
24. Establish a baby book for each child.  (My "children" are 33, 19 and 17.  I started one for each, and have by now probably forgotten much of what should have gone into them.)
25. "Create a school memories book for each child."  (For two of my children, this advice conflicts with #2 and #5.)
26. Keep children's things in their bedrooms.  (They're teenagers.  They keep themselves and their friends in their bedrooms--along with most of my dishes--and strew their things around the house.)
27. Organize my entryways.
28. Organize library materials.  (I actually do this one.  Especially since unintentionally "purchasing" a periodical that vanished irretrievably before I even read it.)
29. "Sort clothes and hand-me-downs."  (I keep trying, but we still have more clothes than we could all wear in a year, and too many that fit none of us.)
30. Don't give kitchen space to low-use items.
31. Purge unwanted kitchen utensils and other equipment.  (She probably would even have me throw out the broken coffee-maker my husband is keeping.)
32. Organize pots and pans and other frequently used items.  (I have done this, but only one of my male roommates has figured out my system.)
33. Keep counters clear.  (As my son would say, this is an area of "epic fail" for my household.)
34. Don't keep food we won't eat.  (So simple.  Why didn't I think of that?)
35. Routinely clean out the refrigerator.  (I am trying to do this with our new fridge--but old, bad habits die hard.)
36. Return items to the same place after each use.  (I get a solid B here, but my housemates? Not so much.)
37. Use organizers to corral belongings in my car's back seat.  (You mean the whole thing is not just one giant in-box?)
38. Use a center console for holding purse, gloves, cell phone, drinks--all that stuff that currently occupies my passenger's lap and the floor of my car.  (I haven't yet found one that fits in my stick-shift, center hand-brake Subaru.)
39. Get a caddy for holding things in the passenger seat.  (Where my passengers are usually sitting.)
40. Similarly organize my car's trunk, the dry cleaning I'm transporting (who can afford dry cleaning?), the dog, my CD's and trash by purchasing the appropriate product for my car.  (No less than eight organizational gadgets and gizmos are recommended for my vehicle.)
41. Organize and equip my home office for success.
42. Put items closer to where they belong, when I don't have time to put them away.
43. Use the stair steps to store items, and prompt their return, rather than running up and down the stairs repeatedly.
44. Decorate simply, so that cleaning and straightening don't take so much time.  (My dog already discouraged the use of numerous throw pillows, by chewing on them.)
45. "Devote a few minutes a day to putting stuff away room by room."  (A few minutes?  She's kidding, right?)

I recognize much of this as sound directive, but I think the state of this crumbling, tilting pillar of mine calls for more of a duct tape approach.  I don't have time to find all the time I could find by attacking this problem wholesale.  But I do plan to spend a bit more time perusing this list to identify two or three quick fixes I might employ, and to work my way up from there.

Next week, Paper--tied for my worst pillar.  I can hardly wait.

* Since my youngest “child” is 17, I rated myself on how well I have: managed the storage of their outgrown things; taught them to manage their own things; and kept up with the visiting grandchildren’s wake.

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