A Pile of Postponed Decisions

Does your desk have a pile of papers on it that never goes away? Mine does. It gets smaller (sometimes) and larger (mostly), but it’s always there.

My very wise organizing colleague, Barbara Hemphill, declared that “Clutter is postponed decisions.®” Nowhere is this more evident than in the pile of papers on my desk. It is a pile of postponed decisions.

Last month, when our illustrious Governor Cuomo declared that everyone should be staying home, I decided that I would tackle this pile of postponed decisions once and for all. Then I did pretty much what I always do with this pile. I sorted through it for the so-called “low-hanging fruit” — the items that I knew could be dealt with quickly. Some of the papers were no longer relevant and could be thrown away. Those are the best! But the papers that would take more time and thought continued to sit there.

The pile as it looked this morning

New papers are always coming in either by mail or via my printer. Every time I have a Zoom meeting with colleagues or a FaceTime organizing session with a client, I straighten up by taking all the loose papers and adding them to the pile so that the my desk looks better. And the pile continues to grow.

This morning, I said, “No more!” and I set out to really tackle that pile. I reviewed each piece of paper and determined what the next steps were. For some, I just had to read it and then either file it away or toss it. Others I was able to take immediate action on. Unfortunately, some of the papers can’t be be acted on now because businesses are closed or would be hazardous to visit (such as the bank). Those will continue to sit in the pile until it is safe to handle them.

What’s different about the pile now is that every piece of paper has a sticky note on it stating what the next action is, so I will be able to quickly act on them when the time is right.

The pile as it looks now

So the pile continues to live, but smaller than before, and better organized.

Where are the postponed decisions in your home? Maybe now is the time to tackle one.

Down Memory Lane

Back in January, I wrote about Projects That Never Get Done. In that post, I publicly promised to take the first step on a long-delayed project in my house: getting rid of our two video cameras, which we haven’t used in many years. The first step was to find the videos that we had taken, so that I could inventory them prior to sending them off to be digitized. After all, I might need the cameras to properly inventory the tapes.

I did that first step around the end of January, and then for about six months, I took no further action. In the meantime, my daughter came home from college for the summer. In the back of my mind was the idea that if we were going to watch these videos to figure out what we needed to digitize, it would be more fun to do it while she was home. Finally, about a week ago, I realized that she was going to be headed back to school in three weeks, so we had better get started.

Emily on her 3rd birthday, documented in our home movies

For several nights over the past week, my husband, daughter, and I (and our dog) have sat down to watch these home movies, which started when she was 12 months old and we brought her home from China. We’ve gotten as far as her third birthday, and I can’t remember a time when we laughed so much as a family. Some of the incidents we filmed are still fresh in my memory, and others I had forgotten about completely. It has been a blast to see my husband and me, along with family members and friends, as we looked nearly 20 years ago. And of course seeing my daughter as a clueless little one has been an absolute hoot.

This seemed like an onerous project to take on, but now we eagerly look forward to having a spare hour or two to take a look at the next installment.

I bet you’ve got plenty of memorabilia lying around your home. Are they in a form in which you can enjoy them, or are they just more sources of clutter? Dig out those old movies, photos, and ephemera. Take the time to review them with your family. Relive the memories. Have some laughs, and maybe even some tears. If they are not being stored properly, work with a professional to preserve them. After all, if you can’t enjoy them, why save them?

My home movies turned out to be a great source of pleasure for me. I’m looking forward to finishing the project and finally freeing up the space that those two video cameras are taking up!

The Right Time to Buy A Suitcase

For a while now, I have been meaning to buy a new suitcase. I use a carry-on suitcase whenever I travel — whether I’m going away for a weekend or for two weeks. My cute little red carry-on was perfect for me: roomy on the inside with outside pockets, and easy to pick out of a group of suitcases due to its color.

However, ever since I started noticing suitcases with four wheels instead of two, I have been wanting one. I even went to the Container Store travel sale last year to look at what they had. But I came away empty-handed because the mechanism for the extra wheels took up too much room inside the suitcase. I decided to wait.

There was also some part of me that didn’t want to replace my red suitcase. It had served me so well, and I was afraid I would be sorry I had replaced it. Besides, I couldn’t replace a perfectly functional suitcase, could I?

My red suitcase must have known that I was planning to be unfaithful, and it started acting up: the retractable handle was resisting retraction. I figured out a work-around for that but knew that it was just a matter of time before I had to get a new one.

The coup de grâce occurred late last month when I was on my way home from the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). I got to Pittsburgh airport sooner than I needed to because I had shared a taxi with some friends who had an earlier flight. I retrieved my suitcase from the taxi driver and pulled up the handle. But it only went up halfway. No matter how many times I retracted it and released it, it only would come up halfway. (This was a new problem: previously it had only failed to go down, not up.)

Luckily I’m short, so I managed (awkwardly) to get it into the terminal and through security. Then I arrived at the airport shopping concourse and a light bulb went on over my head. I had a broken suitcase and a lot of time to kill, and I was surrounded by shops. A few minutes later, I was in Brookstone and a sales clerk was showing me the latest and greatest in four-wheel carry-on suitcases. He pointed out a surface behind the counter where I could try out a couple of the models I was most interested in by transferring in my stuff.

Half an hour later, I was marching securely towards my gate, the proud owner of a Samsonite Spinner suitcase. (I let the store keep the red one.)

I am grateful to my old, familiar suitcase for letting me know when it was time to let go. Without that push, I would have been mired in analysis paralysis, looking longingly at the new models but not being able to figure out which model would be best. I am also grateful that this push occurred in a place where there were many suitable replacements for sale!

Plan Ahead

Plan AheadAs a child, I remember being very amused by a sign that said “Plan Ahead” but on which there was inadequate room for the letter “d” at the end, requiring it to sit on the next line. As a Professional Organizer, I pride myself on managing my time and my obligations, anticipating what needs to get done and by when so that I can meet my deadlines calmly and with confidence.

And then there’s last Thursday.

I had offered to take photos of the final dress rehearsal of a play being produced by the theatre group with which I have been active for many years. I’ve done this many times before and thought I was fully prepared. I arrived at the rehearsal with my iPhone fully charged (and with my charger in my bag, just in case). I took several hundred photos in the first 45 minutes, and then I saw the message: “Not enough storage”.

Over the next few minutes, I did what I am now calling my iPhone Fire Sale. I dumped as much off my iPhone as I could, The first to go were photos that I had taken before that day. That enabled me to take more photos, but I was afraid I was going to run out again. So during intermission, I started going through my apps and ditching the ones that I don’t use frequently. That did the trick, and I was able to make it to 800+ photos without running out of room again.

So where was the breakdown? Why had this happened? As I was cursing myself and dumping data off my phone, I remembered that I usually clear the pictures off my phone in advance of photographing a show, but had neglected to do that this time. I also have been adding a lot more apps lately, some of which — like Evernote — hold a lot of data.

What’s interesting is that I clean up my phone fairly regularly. I frequently review and reorganize the apps on my phone. I didn’t think I had much on there that wasn’t being used. But during my panic mode, I started evaluating my apps much more stringently – was this app on there “just in case” or was it something I was really going to miss if I deleted it? The end result is a leaner and more streamlined phone.

This is a good metaphor for what we should be doing in our everyday lives. Rather than waiting until an emergency, we should be continually reevaluating the stuff that we have gradually acquired and thinking about whether it really needs to be there. Often, these decisions don’t get made until we are relocating, or until overnight visitors are coming and we need to clear out some space for them. By then, we are in panic mode and don’t always have the time to make good decisions.

Start with your smart phone or your computer desktop. Warm up your decision-making muscles by getting those in shape. Once you have some successes under your belt, you’ll have the confidence to move on to the more complex areas of your home. Don’t ignore the “out of storage” message that your home might be giving you!



Projects That Never Get Done

My clients have them, I have them, and I bet you have them, too. I’m referring to those projects that you will get to “someday”. If you have one of those projects that you really want to accomplish this year, here’s a suggestion as to how to approach it.

First, evaluate the project and decide if it’s still worth doing. You may have been putting it off for so long that you haven’t really considered whether it makes sense anymore. Does it belong to an earlier phase of your life? Does it relate to goals you no longer have? If you never did this project, would it make a difference? Be truthful with yourself. If you decide it’s not worth doing anymore, then strike it permanently from your list of things to do — and eliminate the guilt that goes with not getting it done.

If you’ve decided that it’s still a go, here’s what to do next. Figure out the first step. That’s all, just the first step. Make it a small enough step that it doesn’t seem too intimidating. Then decide when you will do this step. Put it on your to-do list, or add it to your calendar.

Once you’ve done the first step, reevaluate whether it’s worth doing. If yes, then identify the second step and figure out when you are going to do it. Lather, rinse, repeat until it’s done.

Here’s an example. My “someday” project is to review the videos we took when our daughter was little, have them converted to DVD, and get rid of our two video cameras. We transferred most of the movies to VHS after we took them, and some are still in the original format as well. The whole project seems so intimidating that I have been avoiding it.

To take my own advice, I’m going to identify the first step. I think it would be to locate and inventory the tapes. That doesn’t sound too scary, since I know exactly where I keep them. I’m going to commit to myself to get this done by the end of January.

What project has been nagging you, and what will you do this month to get one step closer to making it happen?