Monday, March 30, 2009

March, Week Two: Save Time

Oh yes, I know I am WAY past Week Two. I have fallen behind, I confess. But as I posted a few weeks ago, I knew this month was going to be difficult. We returned yesterday from nine days on vacation, and before that I was working a lot of overtime in the evenings and weekends (my organizing time).

I expect to be working on my study until well into April, because it's the biggest project in the house at the moment.

So...Week Two focuses on how to save time.


First, Regina Leeds discusses multitasking and offers suggestions on how to multitask effectively. I'm a major multitasker already; in face, I am one of those who should probably multitask LESS. For example, I'm known for reading while I'm walking. (Yes, it's true. I've only fallen once--and I ripped a hole in the knee of my trousers! Did I stop? Well, no...) Leeds talks about the art of multitasking...and the healthy way to multitask. (She would probably frown on my reading-while-walking many safety-conscious people would!)


Could someone else do the mundane tasks that I do? I definitely could delegate more effectively, and that includes engaging my children more in the cleaning and organization of our house. As for the initial organization and decluttering, however, I do feel that I need to do this alone. My children are notoriously horrible at getting rid of things. Our oldest son cried when we had a new roof put on and the roofers carted away the old roofing materials! (This was many years ago, but it illustrates his sentimental attachment to things.) So my strategy is to do the decluttering and organizing myself and set up systems and processes so that they will be engaged in future cleaning efforts. I wish I could engage them in the decluttering, too, but trust me...that would not be an effective strategy. It would take me five years instead of the one.

In a total turnaround in our personalities, years ago Mike thought we should engage the kids in identifying things to donate to charity. I wanted to do it behind their backs. (This is a turnaround because I'm much more likely to be the one who wants to be up front and honest with the kids on a variety of topics.) He has now recognized that it's much more effective and quick to do it behind their backs. Most of the items we get rid of they never miss. Occasionally they do, and if they ask us "where did my N-Gamer magazine from May 2003 go?" I can blithely say "I have no earthly idea." It's not a lie, as I've explained to Mike.

Leeds talks about a woman she knows who is more caretaker than parent for her children, who never clean, do laundry, wash a dish, or have to pick up after themselves. Personally, I know we could improve in this area...I would like to engage my children in choosing menus and helping prepare the food in our house, for example. But we haven't gotten ourselves organized enough to do so. Perhaps that's on the list for next year, after we get our house organized. I do not want to raise sons who are incapable of doing laundry or cooking. I do not want their future partners to curse us! We have only 6 years left to get Chris trained in these areas, so we'd better get cracking!! He does clean, when prompted, but he could do could Kieran. They are not the type of fantasy children who are dying to clean things (like one of my nephews), so it's really up to us to engage them more in this area.

Saying No

I've become much better at this...for example, I rarely commit to things that involve evening or weekend meetings. I have to spend a lot of time at work in meetings, and I have realized that I have a low tolerance for meetings after hours. I am trying to only engage in activities after work that enrich my life, are fun, or add value in some way.

Saying No to Electronic Pests

Leeds reminds us that we don't have to reply to every voice mail or e-mail that comes our way. And that we don't have to answer the phone each time it rings. Caller ID has been a huge godsend in our household. We never answer the phone unless we recognize the name AND want to talk to that person right at that time.

Have you ever phoned someone who picks up the phone and announces that it's a really bad time to talk? WHY DID THEY ANSWER THE PHONE??? It's beyond me. I think some people have a very difficult time just letting it ring. Just say no to answering the phone when you are busy!

Leeds also recommends using e-mail versus a phone call to communicate with people who are notoriously chatty. This can be a big time saver. She also reminds us that we don't have to be polite with telephone solicitors. That's why I don't answer the phone unless I know the person who is calling. I am polite to people who are soliciting for organizations I support, but for other purposes, I ask to be taken off their call list.

Visualizing Our Goals

Leeds advises that we take a few minutes and visualize what we want to see in our lives. This advice dovetails nicely with an article I read recently, in the "Everyday Cheapskate" newsletter. Author Mary Hunt talks about how many Americans feel poor right now, and advises ways to feel richer. One of these recommendations is curbing clutter. "If you have clutter, it's pulling you down." Amen, sister!

I need to continue to visualize a clean, organized house. Visualization works for me--it helped me to keep my hope alive when I gave birth to a 24-weeker, 1-pound, 6-ounce baby who had to stay in the NICU for 117 days, and it will propel me to keep decluttering and organizing.

What Really Matters?

Leeds suggests that we set a short-term goal and a long-term goal. So here goes:

Short term (to accomplish in the next year): Finish organizing each room in my house according to the One Year to an Organized Life book.

Long term (to accomplish in the next 5 years): Teach my children how to cook and do laundry.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Slow-down in My Organizing!

I have to confess that I've hit a bit of a wall in my organizing efforts. I've been extra busy at work and have been working at home in the evenings and on the weekend, preventing me from tackling my study!

Combined with the fact that we will be gone for 9 days for spring break, I think it's nigh impossible that I will finish the study during March. I might have to spend 2 months on the study, which would be okay considering the fact that April is "bathrooms," and I already did a lot of cleaning and organizing in our bathrooms last winter. (Although painting the bathrooms is another project altogether!) I know that this would not suit my husband or my friend Shelia, who are serious rule followers. But this is my blog and my year of organizing, so there! ;)

On Friday we are leaving for spring break--we are going up to Vancouver Island, BC, for a week...with one night in the Seattle area sandwiched on either side. We have a house on the water, about 40 minutes outside of Victoria. I can't wait!!

Tonight was another evening of working on the laptop, keeping me from cleaning and organizing. I am hoping that I can get in at least a few more evenings this week before we are off on our adventures.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I can't post any photos yet because the room is still a mess...but the bookshelves are highly organized! We now have two bookcases for fiction, and two for nonfiction. They are roughly arranged into the following categories:
  • writing
  • spirituality
  • women's issues
  • home improvement
  • gardening
  • crafts
  • travel
  • parenting
  • cooking
  • politics
  • fiction
  • memoir and biography
  • general nonfiction
  • library books
We've offloaded so many of our books (they are in bags and boxes ready to be sent off via, taken to the church library, or donated), we actually have quite a bit of empty space on our bookcases. A miracle!!! Maybe we will move more of our cookbooks downstairs. I really could get rid of more of our cookbooks!

I love cookbooks, but the reality is we often use the same ones over and over again. And nowadays I also look recipes up online--sometimes that's faster than poring through cookbooks. Maybe when the study is clean, I will be more likely to look in cookbooks I haven't used much before, because they will be easier to access!

I notice that I tend to prefer cookbooks with pictures in them. I told my mom that the other day, and she said that she prefers cookbooks without photos, because they can fit in more recipes. But I guess I'm a highly visual person. I always prefer visuals!

Well, enough time on the computer--I'd better get downstairs and put in some organizing time tonight...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Continuing Thesaurus Saga...

Okay, I misspoke. Apparently we have NO LESS THAN THREE thesauruses!! And I have to give my dear hubby a huge round of applause, because he has decided that the one I hadn't noticed, the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, is the best of them all and has everything he one book! Glory hallelujah!!

He has also agreed to shed ALL of our Japanese language books plus quite a few of his many writers' books too. This is fun!! Now we will have two fiction bookcases and two nonfiction bookcases...very roughly organized into categories, when it makes sense.

These are just for adult books, of course...then we have the children's books upstairs in their rooms!

How Many Complete Book of the Olympics Does One Man Need

This is the question of the day! One of the results of my book organizing is that amongst the 5 million Olympics books the love of my life owns, I've discovered two editions of this book, one from 1992 and one from you think he will let me get rid of the 1992 version? I'm taking bets...

Okay, I Guess that One House Cannot Have Too Many Thesauruses!

Apparently hubby likes both of them and uses them for different purposes. He informed me that one of them has all kinds of lists in it, such as a list of all kinds of horses! Haha! Don't ask. Never take away a thesaurus from a writer! (Although I too am a writer, so I guess that doesn't make much sense...)

Now I'm trying to organize our books into some semblance of order...we already have two shelves of writing books, and now I'm trying to group other genres together--such as poetry and collections, religion and spirituality, classics, etc. We'll see how far I get before I get fed up. We have A LOT of books, even though we are constantly cycling through them.

When I first met Mike and proposed to him the idea of turning in our books to used bookstores (we have Powell's here in Portland), he was horrified. But true to male form, I have discovered over the years that I must plant the seed and wait for it to grow. When it finally sank in that he could get MORE books if he turned in the ones he'd already read, he finally got with the program. Then he took tons of his old English books to Blackwell's in Oxford, and we got more money.

I have relegated some of our hefty Japanese dictionaries--there's one particularly enormous one that Mike got when he was doing some editing and translation for a Japanese kanji book--to a box for Mike to go through and consider whether we can move them along. Maybe I will leave it as my "seed" in the middle of the study and wait for it to grow on him! :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How Many Thesauruses Does One House Need?

I mean, really! Especially now that you can look just about anything up online. Until yesterday we had two. No more! I kept one...but maybe we don't really need it since we have the you've got me thinking...

An appraiser is coming tomorrow to take a look at our house--we are in the midst of the refinancing process, getting all our ducks in a row in case the interest rates fall. I wish all of our house was cleaned and organized, but alas, it is not. I hope it doesn't horrify her. But I'm sure she's used to appraising the bones and potential of the house and overlooking the mess...I hope! At least the kitchen and our bedroom are still clean!!! Hooray!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Just Wading through the Muck

Last night I came up with a big bag of spiritual-related books to donate to the church library. Even though we haven't read all of them, now we know where to find them if we do want to read them...and other people can benefit from them as well.

I continued wading through the much this evening, disposing of stuff and trying to put what's left into some semblance of organization. We seem to have an excess of Christmas gift bags! Funny, because I often tend to wrap our presents. I will have to commit to using them this year instead.

Some of the treasures that are destined for Goodwill are a version of Our Bodies Ourselves, updated for the 90s!! Think I'll be consulting that if I have a health problem?? And a Personal Finance for Dummies published in 1997. Surely things have changed since then! I also earmarked for donation a bunch of old three-ring binders. We have an excess of gardening books which probably need to be weeded (ha!) out too!

Wonder if my lovely husband will agree to get rid of any of his many Olympics books? His writing books occupy two shelves of the bookcase, but I trust that he actually looks at them occasionally and doesn't just collect them for memorabilia. His corner of paperwork and articles, etc., is growing.

One result of all my decluttering is that I have over $50 in trade at my favorite resale store! With more to come, I'm sure. I'm brutally discarding toys that haven't been played with much, and last December I already tore through the game closet, giving away or discarding much of the games. The reality is that oldest son loves the Wii, books, and music; middle son loves art, dress-up, and producing plays; and young son has the biggest burst of testosterone, loving cars, trucks, and balls--oh, and Cinderella--so much for the testosterone burst! :)

I can see the floor in parts of the study, at least, which is an improvement.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

CD ROMs, Books, and Piles of Crap

My 12-year-old son told me that he was giving me permission to swear in my blog, but he suggested that I not use the "F" word. He doesn't read this blog (thank God--otherwise he would learn how much of our possessions I'm disposing of!!), only the other one, so I'm going to feel free to let rip (as much as I do, which is not much). Granted, my mother-in-law does read this blog, but I'm hoping she will forgive me for my foul language!


Today I spent several hours filling Goodwill, garbage, and recycling bags, and making a small dent in the office clutter. Before we got a Wii, Chris enjoyed playing CD-ROMs on the computer. However, he hardly ever does any more, and we had boxes of them. Kieran, the 5-year-old, likes to watch movies but has expressed very little interest in the computer himself. So I went through the boxes of CD-ROMs and also quite a few CDs and kept very few. We'll see if Chris notices!

I've been going wild posting books on, too, which is a slow way to move our books along, but I already have around 13 credits amassed...and have been using very few of them, since I'm loath to accumulate more books. The site is good to use for gifts though (I ordered quite a few family Christmas gifts from there), and I do occasionally order novels or other books that are nice to have.

I have four big bags for Mike to take to Goodwill this week, and a bag of CD-ROMs to take to the resale shop (in case they want any of them), with more to come!

The major areas in our study that need to be organized, in addition to the general CRAP, follow:
  • My art supplies--paper, pens, beading, and other craft supplies
  • Gifts--I collect gifts ahead of time and they tend to spill out of our gift boxes
  • Holiday and wrapping stuff
  • Frames and artwork
  • Mike's writing stuff
  • Filing and paperwork
  • Books
  • Cards, photos, and memorabilia
  • Office supplies
I think that covers most of the items that don't fit into the CRAP category.

March, Week One: Home Office Questions

Leeds begins this chapter by asking the reader to answer "yes" or "no" to these questions:

1. I have the money in my account but I forget to pay my bills on time.
No: if it were up to me, I might pay my bills late. But as I said previously, Mike is on top of this.
2. The minute I see a legal paper of any kind, I become immobilized. I just don't deal with it.
Not exactly: I don't become immobilized, but I don't generally have a lot of patience for minutae.
3. I could be more productive at work if I didn't have a million voice mail messages, e-mails, and faxes to respond to.
Yes: I seriously have to get my work life organized too. I keep on top of my voice messages and e-mails, generally, but I do not do an adequate job of filing my e-mails and deleting unnecessary ones. And I get A LOT of e-mails. Regina also has a book about One Year to an Organized Work Life, which I plan to get my hands on!
4. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Good help is hard to find.
Yes: isn't that the mantra of the oldest child? Mike and I are both oldest children, so we are really sunk.
5. I'm too busy with other things to file my papers.
Yes: Given that we do have a paper problem, I suppose the answer to this question, honestly, would be yes.

Leeds says that each one of these statements is based on fear, and she poses several questions to flesh out these fears. Here are some of them:

What do you remember about your childhood in terms of the work lives of your parents? Did they enjoy what they did?

Yes, I believe they did. Both of my parents earned their bachelor's degrees in education but then later in life went back for master's degrees, in social work and counseling. So I did get the sense that they pursued their gifts and their interests in finding careers.

How did your parents relate to paper?

I don't remember my parents struggling quite as much with paper as we do, but I think when I was a child we just didn't have as much PAPER! (in the dark ages...) Seriously, though, we didn't have the excesses of everything that we do now.

Did you pick up after yourself as a child or did someone do that for you?

Certainly no one picked up after me! Even as a child, I was a "piler." Early in my life, I developed the habit of accumulating clutter, and then occasionally going on a clean sweep and cleaning the whole lot, feeling a great sense of satisfaction. I was certainly never a neatnik, but I also was never a complete slob.

Were you a good student with effective study habits?

I've always been the type of person who spends more time doing what I really enjoy. I guess I'm lazy! The result was I got to high school and had never really had to study much before, so I didn't do very well in Algebra 2 or Physics...and my grade point average really suffered. I was able to turn it around my senior year and college. But I have seen this tendency in my oldest son, who definitely prefers literature, history, and language arts over math and science! The way it manifests itself in my life is that I spend my time doing things I enjoy, while less enjoyable tasks do not always get done (hence my disorganized house).

Are you married? Yes. Are you the one who handles the day-to-day business? No. Do you feel that you are appreciated? Yes. Would you be happy if you could turn the reins over to someone else, whether that's your spouse, an assistant, a CPA, or a bookkeeper? As I've said, Mike handles many of the house details already. I struggle with guilt about paying someone to clean our house or do other tasks I should be capable of doing myself. It's not so much fear as guilt! And I do know a number of people (my sister included) who have had house cleaner I guess there is a certain amount of mistrust as well.

Are you on top of your paperwork? If not, has it always been an issue? Or did something derail you? For the most part, we are on top of it, but there is definitely room for improvement!

Leeds then tells three stories about her clients and their individual struggles with paper in their lives. One question she asks is whether our distribution of labor regarding home paperwork benefits both of us. This is a question Mike and I should discuss. I'm curious to know whether he feels the paperwork responsibility is a burden, and whether it's something we should be sharing. He describes himself as "obsessive" about these types of details, so I suspect that he wouldn't want to share it with me. (Similar to how he feels about driving the car: he prefers to be in control, which is fine with me, because I'd rather be reading!)

The goal of this first week is to "uncover your personal relationship with the business of life." My goal of this first week is to make a healthy headway in the mess that is our office.

March: Organizing the Business of Life

March is the month to tackle the home office. It's a good thing that March is a long month, because we are going to need every possible opportunity to clean and organize the messiest and least-organized room in our house. It's become a trash heap. We have an enormous paper and book problem.

I used the remaining days of February to make some headway in clearing out the kids' bedrooms, and I have only made a dent in that project. But since today is the first day of March, I could no longer put off beginning to tackle the study.

In the introduction to March, Regina Leeds talks about the need to conquer "the paper bogeyman." She says that many adults fear tackling the piles of paper for fear that they will throw away something important. In our house, I describe Mike as the "household manager," which is far more all-encompassing than "stay-at-home dad." I earn the income, but he does our taxes and pays the bills--in addition to taking care of the kids and organizing their lives and commitments. (I think I have the easier job!) He also organizes our paperwork and files, and usually does a very good job of it. (We've already received our tax refund!) However, with the demands of three children, combined with the fact that both of us are heavy readers, we seem to have accumulated lots of piles of paper!

Leeds recommends asking the experts in the field (financial advisors, tax preparers, real estate agents) if we wonder how long to keep a particular document. In many cases, this information can be obtained on the internet. She also gives some general guidelines of how long to keep certain records such as credit card receipts, warranties, insurance policies, tax records, and mortgage information). She also advises keeping the most important papers in a fireproof safe or box. (NOTE TO MIKE: We need to buy a fireproof box!)

She also makes the point that many of the papers and articles we feel we have to hold onto can be now found on the internet. Mike has a tendency to collect writing articles, which pile up and don't get filed away. (I'm not sure whether he actually reads them later on or not.) For now, I'm piling all of his papers in one corner of the study, in the hopes that he will be brutal in weeding through them. Leeds says that "our goal is to fly free, taking with us only what we truly need. Think lean and mean. Well, okay, lean and organized!"

The big event the book covers this month is learning how to set up a file system. Since we already have a reasonably okay filing system, for me the task will be organizing and cleaning the study so that it can be a nice place to sit in (and so we don't have to close the door when guests come over!). If I have time left over, perhaps we can revamp our filing system.

The habit of the month: Leeds suggests that when we open our mail, we toss away extraneous matter. This, I'm happy to say, we already do. Mike leaves the mail out for me to look over when I come home, and then we immediately recycle as much as we can. At least this is one extra habit I will not need to add to my list...since I'll have my hands full with the office cleaning!