Clear Thoughts

Countdown to Summer

Posted by Lisa Higdon, Professional Organizer on June 14, 2013  /   Posted in Uncategorized

If you follow my Clear Spaces Facebook page, you know that I’ve been encouraging Spring Cleaning. Since May 29th, with twenty-two days until the start of Summer, I’ve been doing a countdown, and suggesting a cleaning task to do each day. Today with SIX days til summer officially starts, I thought I’d answer some questions about this venture.

 

  • Why did I do it?

Because spring in the great northeast has been pretty bad this year. We usually feel like it’s summer by now. We did have great flowers and the trees are green, but it seems to rain every other day, and it’s only been warm on a few days. It even snowed on Memorial Day! I thought that if we were getting something accomplished in anticipation of Summer, it might at least help our spirits.

  • Is it really spring cleaning if you don’t thoroughly clean every room from top to bottom?

According to the plethora of information that’s out there about Spring Cleaning, it would seem that if you don’t clean every room from top to bottom, you have not really done the job. I believe that this countdown is a way to make us more mindful about doing something each day to keep up with our homes. If you can do one thing, it is an upward trend.

  • So aren’t these just random tasks?

I’ve chosen tasks that don’t get done on a regular basis.  That’s what seasonal cleaning is all about.

  • I didn’t participate every day; or I didn’t complete some tasks very well; so my house isn’t really cleaned is it?

Ask yourself, “Was the house cleaner before we started the countdown?” If the answer is no, you’ve succeeded.

We now have SIX more days until Summer begins. That’s six more opportunities to take care of things that are so easily let go until “later.” When summer finally gets here we can enjoy – with fewer “shoulds” hanging over our heads.

Brain Purge

Posted by Lisa Higdon, Professional Organizer on March 09, 2013  /   Posted in Uncategorized

Is there is so much going on in your life that you feel like you cannot focus? I recommend a “clearing your mind.” I know that my business tag line is “Clear your space, Clear your mind,” implying that if your space is clear your mind is also, but sometimes the mind needs clearing first. I had been hearing the term “brain dump” lately and thought maybe this is the clearing that I’m thinking of. I did some research and found that it is, and yet it is not.

According to Wikipedia, (not being a student needing cold hard facts, I find their definitions good enough) a brain dump is:

  • generally, the transfer of a large quantity of information from one person to another or to a piece of paper.
  • a hurried explanation of a system, job, skillset, or other software engineering subject.
  • material that has been memorized from an IT certification [test] and used to provide an almost exact replica of the exam.the possibility that the contents of one’s brain can be loaded onto a computer.

It is also not the same as a brain storm. Brainstorming, also according to Wikipedia, is:

… a technique groups of individuals can use to generate novel ideas and enhance their collective creativity. This technique requires heightened expressiveness, postponed evaluation, quantity as opposed to quality contributions… Following a successful brainstorming session, group members will be left with an expansive list of ideas. Then, the most appropriate idea(s) can be selected, and further refined and perfected by the group members.

The mind clearing that I’m thinking of is much more personal than either technique described above. I’m thinking more of a term we Organizers love – PURGE. A Brain Purge would involve some aspects of both the Dump and the Storm. So this is the my Brain Purge.

First, get it all out any way you can – as a computer document, with pen and paper, onto a recorder… whatever works for you. Remember that this is not a to do list. This is the Dump part. What is going on this week? What is hanging over your head. What projects have you put off? What things do you really want to do? Just dump the tornado out of your head. You don’t even have to write this stuff on lined paper, and you can doodle or draw it out too.

Don’t worry about what to do with it yet. Like the other techniques, a Brain Purge focuses on quantity versus quality. Don’t worry so much about what you are writing, but how much you can get down on the paper. There is no need to make decisions.  It is not the time to evaluate or make the plan or agonize over details.
With the Purge – you are transferring the information in your brain to a place where you can look at it with some perspective. Are you feeling better? I always do. A Purge List is less intimidating than a “to do” list. The latter implies that it all needs to be finished, and soon, or else!

Now what? Now take a walk, get a cup of coffee. Try to do something that won’t make you start thinking again. Checking your email, for example, is not recommended. Just take a minute to do something different, and relaxing…something that will not take you too far away. You can even just sit with your eyes closed.

When you are ready, go back and look at your Purge List. Think of it as looking at your mind from the outside, in. From this perspective you should be able to see things more clearly. It gives you a chance to step away and look at the overall picture from afar, instead of having it all swirling around inside your head.

Next, continue the purge like an Organizer would do with the things in your home… Keep/Put Away, Give Away, Throw Away. Be brutal!

What can you throw away? There are things that you can decide to just give up, like ideas for projects that you’ll never get to, or unfinished ones. How long have you been holding onto some of these things? Let them go. And guilt is not allowed! Remember that choosing to give something up does not make you a failure. It makes you a smart person who knows how to set limits in order to be successful!

What can you give away. This is called delegating! Some of us are not very good at it.  Do you really have to be the person responsible for every detail? This category also includes not signing up for something new. Just like some people have the rule, new clothes in-new clothes out, don’t sign up for something new without giving up another obligation.

At his point you should be feeling less overwhelmed. The things left on you list are what you are choosing to Keep and Put Away. These are the things to plan for and act on! Make each one a concrete goal, and plan your tasks around those goals. Keep things written down, so you can look at them from afar, and try to be comfortable with the fact that it won’t all get done at once.

This is the way… to Organize!

Posted by Lisa Higdon, Professional Organizer on February 01, 2013  /   Posted in Blog

After she read last week’s blog, my cousin wrote me a lovely note saying that it reminded her that our grandmother always took time to pick up before she went to bed each night, even washing dishes that had been used after dinner. I never remember my grandmother being frazzled about her house. I remember that her house was in order, and she had time to sew, play solitaire, and do jigsaw puzzles. What’s different for women today? We know that for my grandmother, caring for her home was her job; and granted, I knew her when she no longer had four girls to care for. She also wasn’t being pulled in many different directions like we are today.  But it got me thinking that some of the “old fashioned” ways of getting things done could still serve us well. One of these is to assign a specific task to a specific day.

 

It’s like the song, “This is the way we wash the clothes, wash the clothes, wash the clothes. This is the way we wash the clothes so early Monday morning.” A chore assigned per day. Of course, this was written at a time when the washing was much more labor intensive. There was no putting in a load and leaving it while you attended to other things. Maybe that wasn’t as bad as we might think. Now is that we’ve got so much distraction, and we often have no systems in place to keep us organized. Assigning a task to each day is just that. A system.

Since I do my writing on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I decided it is a good time to do laundry. Doing it two mornings a week means it isn’t necessarily finished every time. I can live with this. If you can’t, choosing a day to get it completely finished would work better for you.

Look for things that should be done on a regular basis; things that tend to be forgotten. For me it’s cleaning. I’m good at picking up, but real cleaning – not so much.

So this is what I’ve come up with:

  • Monday: Cleaning up the bedroom. This room tends to gather miscellaneous stuff. I need to spend a chunk of time on it, on regular basis, picking up, dusting it, and changing the sheets.
  • Tuesday: Laundry
  • Wednesday: Washing floors. The bathroom and kitchen floors need a good washing regularly – not just a lick and a promise.
  • Thursday: Laundry
  • Friday: Cleaning my shower. Again, it’s some that needs more regular attention.

Great plan! You can make a great plan too. Make a list of the things that need more regular attention than they are now receiving. These are the things that you know are just getting away from you. Pick a few. Even one can be enough to begin. Consider which day, and what time of day will work for each task. There you go! You have a plan.

This idea can be used for office practices too. Billing on Mondays, correspondence on Tuesday, follow up phone calls on Wednesday… And exercise! This is especially good if variety would keep you going. Spin class on Monday, Wii Fit on Tuesday, treadmill (while watching favorite tv show) on Wednesday…

The key is, of course, implementation! How do you do it? Just like you wrote it. Post it somewhere visible and take one day at a time. If you miss a day, don’t sweat it, just go on to the next day and the next task. You’ll get it next week.

Soon things will become routine. We put the garbage out on a certain night, right? External forces made us develop that habit. We can develop habits from our internal forces too. Try it for a while.

This is the way…!

Just 5 Minutes to Clear Spaces

Posted by Lisa Higdon, Professional Organizer on January 18, 2013  /   Posted in Blog

This week I decided that there was just too much “stuff” hanging around my house. Not in the “I have too many possessions, let me clear things out” stuff. It was more like the things that just don’t get put away. In other words – I needed to pick up after myself. It’s a simple concept, but one that can elude us in our busy lives. I decided to take one room each day, and make myself pick it up for five minutes. It didn’t matter if the whole room was not finished in that time. The point was just to do it. I put the challenge out there on my Facebook page, and got some takers.

On day one, I chose the dining room. It’s been a temporary office for me since December, and that has put a crimp on family dining. There were papers on the table, leftover Christmas cards, and mail that tends to get left there. In five minutes I got the holiday things taken care of, and sorted through some of the papers. Most of it could be recycled. Soon I’ll be moving back to my real office, and I’ll be able to finish this room. For now it did feel like I’m putting closure on the holidays.

On to the living room for day two. This room is used mostly for reading, and there are too many books lying around. There were magazines to toss, and books that belonged on shelves in different rooms. I decided that the only ones to be stored in the living room are ones that someone might be able to read for just a few minutes, such as a book of Garrison Keilor’s poems, and one about the New York State art collection. I found a lot of dust, and some lost gumdrops.

Some rooms are more of a challenge. Today I will be tackling the upstairs bath. There are things there that everyone must think belong to someone else. None of it seems to be being used. This will require a family meeting, but again, five minutes will easily do it. It will make a big difference in clearing the space out.

Overall this Pick Up Project has been a success. I could be concerned that it left no room perfect; but I prefer to think of it as leaving all the rooms improved. Although it started out as an exercise to get caught up on things, I’m planning to turn it into habit. By spending five minutes on one room each day. I expect that I’ll be less likely to get behind. Also – and this is really, really important – it should make me more mindful of what I leave around in the first place. This will create an upward spiral and things will just keep improving. It will prevent “emergency” situations when guests are coming. Try it this week. It’s easy to make a plan. Write on the calendar which room you will do each day. Just five minutes. Ready? Go!

Organized to Organize

Posted by Lisa Higdon, Professional Organizer on January 12, 2013  /   Posted in Blog

So. How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming along? It’s only been 11 days. Really! You may be thinking that you’ve already broken yours, or that you never did get started. It’s okay. You are reading this, so making changes must strike a chord for you; but it’s really hard to jump in and do it. Any day can be your January First. It’s just a matter of making the commitment and having a plan.

Last week I wrote about New Year’s Resolutions versus Goals. For example, the difference between the resolution to lose weight, and the goal of losing 10 pounds by April first. The difference is that a goal is specific.  When you have a goal you can organize yourself to achieve it. But what is the driving force that will motivate you to get started? The answer is FEELINGS!

There’s an old saying that dieters use: No food tastes as good as thin feels. But if you don’t know how good thin feels, how do you get started? You have to imagine how you want to feel.

To apply this to organizing goals, think about what parts of your life being organized would help. How would that change feel? How do you want to feel when you walk into your house? How do you want to feel when it’s time to make dinner? How do you want to feel when someone shows up at your door? How do you want to feel when you sit down at your desk?

Next, consider why your house, kitchen, desk, etc is not creating these feelings. Is there never any food in the kitchen? Is the messy porch an embarrassment? Is it the desk cluttered with things that interfere with your work? Be specific. The messy porch could be broken down like this:

When someone approaches my house I’d like to feel proud of it. I’d like people to feel welcome and safe. At this time, there are kids’ toys and old paint cans on the porch. It’s cluttered and possibly dangerous.

Take some time and write out your vision. This is the beginning of clarifying and organizing your goal. If writing things out isn’t for you, have a conversation about it with someone. It would help if that someone is also affected by the disorganization.

Now you can come up with a specific goal. The kids toys need to be purged and sorted and put in a permanent place, and the paint cans need to be disposed of. Yes, you knew that on some level but this is concrete, especially if you write it down. It may still seem overwhelming at this point. The key is to break the goal down into manageable steps:

Step 1: contact the city to find out about what to do with hazardous waste
Step 2: do whatever that is
Step 3: purge the toys
Step 4: discard the purged toys
Step 5: put away the kept toys in an appropriate place

Set a realistic end date for completion of your goal. Doing all the steps in one day is probably too much – that’s why the job hasn’t been done before. Take one step at a time. Be okay with the fact that some steps may take more than one day to complete.

You have just gotten organized! I realize that this example lacks detail. I could write a blog about each step. The main thing is to get yourself going. Set a goal, make a plan that does not overwhelm you, and get started!

Organizing Resolutions

Posted by Lisa Higdon, Professional Organizer on January 04, 2013  /   Posted in Uncategorized

I’ve been researching  the “Top 10 New Years Resolutions” cited in various online articles. Acknowledging that some of these are similar to others, the top ten come to about the Top 15. In no particular order:

Quit smoking
Get fit
Lose weight
Eat healthier
Volunteer/help others
Be happier
Spend time with family
Save money
Get out of debt
Spend less
Drink less or quit drinking
Learn something new
Be less stressed
Enjoy life more
Travel to new places
Get Organized

How many are on your list? Which ones have you made before but seem to elude you year after year? There is something inherent about New Year’s Resolutions that says, “Don’t take it seriously, no one expects you to really keep them.” The gyms and weight loss programs are packed in the first week of the year, but by February they are emptying out. These businesses expect this, and in fact, count on making money from people who pay the yearly fee and then stop showing up.

How do we get beyond this mentality? If we are making the same resolutions year after year but not following through, there is something wrong. Our desires don’t change, but we can’t seem to make change happen. The key is to rethink the Resolutions and instead create GOALS. Look again at the resolution list. Almost every item on that list is vague. A goal is concrete, and specific. It has time frame, a plan for accomplishing it, and a means for evaluating progress.

As a goal, organization should really not be on this list at all. Organization is the tool that you use to reach your goals. People resolve to become organized because it creates an avenue to reach other goals and bring peace of mind. Try this: make a list of things that would happen “if I was more organized.” That is the Resolution List. Write out each one as a specific goal. For each, decide on a few steps you can take that would bring you closed to the goal.

For example, if you resolved to eat healthier, the written goal could be. “For the next six weeks, I will eat fresh vegetables at least once a day, and red meat no more than two times per week.” Perfect? Probably not by a lot of nutrition standards, but it is specific and achievable. The next step is to decide how to incorporate those vegetables into the daily meals, and what the substitute for the red meat will be. That’s creating a plan. Keeping track of progress could be as easy as checking off on the calendar on the days that vegetables are consumed. At the end of six weeks the goal can be reevaluated. At that time you would decide what further steps to take.

In other words organization is the key to every goal!

 

Organizing an Imperfect Holiday

Posted by Lisa Higdon, Professional Organizer on December 10, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Wow! December 10th! Chanukah is already here, and Christmas is just two weeks away. I’ve been on a break from writing Clear Thoughts because I was trying to get my website upgraded. I thought it would be a one or two week break, but it has turned out to be seven weeks! That is way too long, and I’m going to tell you why it happened. I WAS BEING A PERFECTIONIST!

 

Clearspacesorganizing.com was down for about a week because someone was working on it for me. When it came back up, it was not all I had hoped it would be. I didn’t write because I didn’t want anyone to see the website as it was. It is still not where I want it to be, but I had to make the decision. I had to bite the bullet and just let it be seen. For today, it is good enough.

This is quite relevant to Organizing and Planning; especially at this time of year. We worry about perfection. We worry about tradition. We worry our children’s expectations – even our adult children. We are often afraid of disappointing others.

Do you try to bake every single kind of cookie that mom used to make? Do you beat yourself up if you don’t get it done? What about decorating the house? I decorate our fireplace mantle in a way that I think is quite festive. However, yesterday I saw a pinterest photo of a fireplace all decked out that was just amazing. Of course that got me thinking, “Hmm…. Maybe I can up my game.” Those magazine and tv divas, and yes, even mom, can make us feel very inadequate.

Let me tell you a secret. The divas have staff; and your mom was probably exhausted.

Right now we are fast approaching panic time. I have exactly nothing done. That’s unusual for me; but this year is unusual. Until just yesterday, I have had no kitchen sink, water, or counters for about two months. I’ve left my salaried job, so the irregular income makes it harder to get the gift buying done. But – taking a deep breath – I’ve decided to let it go.

For the past three years I’ve hosted the family – 20 plus people – for Christmas dinner. I love it! This year my sister expressed an interest in hosting in her new home. I hesitated. Isn’t it tradition to have it here? Can I let go of this? When I decided that the answer is YES, I truly relaxed. For some freeing reason it changed my whole mindset. I not only let dinner go, I’ve decided to edit some other things too.

Everything important will be done. Every detail will not be magazine perfect. It never will be. It never should be. You and your family, your home, and your circumstances – are ever growing and changing. Your traditions and celebrations can change to reflect this. By rethinking our definition of perfect, we can truly enjoy the holidays with our family and friends. Perfect is the wonderful feeling created by the time well spent with family and friends.

Happy Holidays!

Slacking

Posted by Lisa_Hidgon_Professional_Organizer on October 19, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

This week I am on vacation in Los Angeles, so instead of writing something brand new, I want to see how you all are doing with the “Throw Away” experiment. If you read Clear Thoughts on October 5th, I hope you are participating in getting rid of one thing a day until Thanksgiving. It’s been two weeks. With five weeks to go, you can still jump in.

Some people have told me that it is harder than they thought it would be. Just remember that it doesn’t always have to be big things. One day I threw out a some rusty tweezers, and on another day, some old make up. We literally threw out the kitchen sink last week. Someone picked it up from the curb within 15 minutes. I hope it was a scrap metal collector, and that it is not becoming someone else’s clutter.

Yesterday, since I was traveling, I thought I wouldn’t be able to toss anything, but opportunities arise. Southwest Airlines serves their coffee with a red plastic stirrer with a little heart on it. It’s sooo cute! It wasn’t easy but I resisted the urge to keep it. I gave it to the flight attendant instead of shlepping it to Los Angeles and back home; where it would sit around in some awkward place until I eventually decide that I really never will use it. This illustrates am important point: Getting rid of things can be made vastly easier by not acquiring them in the first place!

My concern for the “Throw Away” participants is that at two weeks in, it may be becoming easy to forget about. Remember to check off each day in your planner, or on a calendar. Also try writing a list of everything that you have let go and post it in a visible place.

Well friends, not to rub it in, but I’m writing this is a sunny courtyard next to a fountain. I know that the Northeast winter is not far away, so I’m going to close and soak up the sun. I would love to hear from you about how your Throw Away is going.

Home Organizing Albany New York

Tetris

Posted by Lisa_Hidgon_Professional_Organizer on October 12, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

I have a confession. This week while battling a cold and not sleeping well, I found the Tetris video game on line. It has consumed me. I try to write. I wander back to Tetris. There is a definite guilt factor here. While I know that I should let myself rest, I feel that I should be doing something productive.

The good news is, while I was flipping the shapes to fit into the correct spaces, I was subconsciously thinking about my writing. Something that I have recently read in a book about adult ADHD explains this. It seems that this is just how some people think. It’s your mind going where it needs to go, while you are doing something else. Usually the “something else” is considered a mindless activity. Do your best ideas come to you in the shower? If my kitchen design clients only knew how many solutions I have found in there! I am also the person who doodles all over the printed agenda at a meeting. You’d think I wasn’t paying attention, but apparently doodling is allowing me to pay attention.

The trouble is I can let myself go on Tetris “creative breaks” at a moment’s notice. It’s so easy to get sucked in. Just one more game, and one more game. This distraction could be the internet or television, or anything that keeps us from tackling the things we really should be doing.

What is the solution? How do we offset the plusses of the distraction with the time they take away from productive work? Here are some suggestions:

Use a Timer – make yourself work for a predetermined period of time. I often do this for writing, but especially for tasks that I don’t want to do. Cleaning is one for me. I will make myself do it for 20 minutes. This helps me to get started. When the timer rings the job either done, or I want to keep going.

Scheduled Breaks – Decide when to break and for how long. Employ the timer again to remind you to get back to work. An alternative is to plan a break activity with a definite finish – like five games of Tetris. This doesn’t give a set time but is still limiting. You have to be careful about the activity you pick. If you check the mail you could get distracted by something you receive, and find yourself paying bills while the original task goes unfinished. Something that has a definite finish like washing dishes may not seem like a break, but the mindless task may be enough to let your brain relax.

Buddy System – Tell someone your plan. It keeps you accountable.

Plan to split the task. With writing I write on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The Tuesday session gets me started. Then for forty-eight hours I have my ideas in my head. By Thursday I find that things come together and I can complete the work.

I must finish with a corny analogy. I tried to resist, but here goes… Like the pieces of the Tetris puzzle, it’s a challenge to make it all fit. Many times things get turned around and put in the wrong place. Make your plan, but be ready to adapt it. If it doesn’t quite work out, when the time is up you get to try again.

Life Organization Albany NY

‘Tis the Throw Away Season!

Posted by Lisa_Hidgon_Professional_Organizer on October 05, 2012  /   Posted in Blog

Funny how something that seems inconsequential at the time can be life changing. About thirty years ago I read a magazine article in the break room at work which turned out to be very influential in my attitude towards organizing and purging, simplifying, etc. It was called, “The Throw Away Lent.” Lent is a season preparation observed by some Christians for the forty days before Easter. It’s a preparation time of fasting, prayer, self denial, and repentance. Many people will “give something up” for Lent, like dessert or television.

The author of “The Throw Away Lent” told about when she decided to get rid of one thing each day for each of the forty days. She had a bag for give away and throw away, and I think that she also gave herself permission for a “maybe” pile.  The author’s purpose was to clear out and simplify her home. She was surprised by the unexpected benefit of emotional weight being lifted from her shoulders when she wasn’t bogged down by so much STUFF.

This appealed to me so tried it. She was right. It was freeing. I’m sure this experience is what inspired my business tag line, “Clear your space. Clear your mind.” I continued the habit after the forty day experiment. I became really good at getting rid of stuff. This was very helpful, as we lived in seven places during our first seven years of marriage. Unfortunately, after one lives in the same house for twelve years and adds a few kids, it is easy to get off track.

Right now we are having work done in the house. It has involved clearing out our kitchen, basement, and bedroom closet. What a wake up call! There is nothing like being forced to move things around to remind you how much stuff you have. I could argue that it barely counts as clutter, because it is organized and not really in the way. But consider the things that I have organized in the back room of the basement. Why was I keeping paint from three wall colors ago? And tiny baseball gloves from Little League? And worn out sleeping bags? I guarantee that you, like me,  have too much unnecessary stuff.

Life Organization Albany NY

This is a great time of year for a planned purge. The weather is not too hot or too cold, and it’s before the holiday season. Whether you decide to do the closets, the kitchen, the linens, or the toy room, you can create your own “throw away” time period. We have seven weeks until Thanksgiving. Could you get rid of one thing a day until then? The beauty is that it is not a goal which requires you to finish something. If you “throw away” once a day, you have met your goal. You will begin to see results well before the end of your chosen time period.

A few suggestions:

Make this about “stuff” – not papers. Getting rid of objects will feel like a more concrete accomplishment.

Create places for things you want to give away. I have a box for charity items, a box for an after school art program, and a place for things I’m giving to friends and family. Be careful of that one. Don’t make your junk someone else’s.

Give away the “give away” items! When things are still in the house, it’s very easy to change your mind and keep them; or to end up storing the give away boxes – which is really still stuff cluttering up your house.

It’s okay if you get inspired to throw out two or three things at one time, but resist the urge tackle a whole space in a day. The beauty of the one item a day experience is that it’s very manageable. You can choose to concentrate on one space for the whole time if you want. You’ll see great results without overwhelming yourself.

Most importantly keep track of your progress. Check off each day on a calendar that you can see. This visual reminder will keep you going. Don’t give up if you miss a day.

I wish I still had that magazine article. I’ve done online searches for it with no luck. I’d really like to give the author the proper credit – and my thanks. But I will honor her by participating in this for pre-holiday 2012. I hope you’ll join me. Forty-nine days. Ready….. GO!

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