Using Stuff Up

I love to use stuff up. It’s a great feeling to finish the contents of a container and then recycle or toss it, as appropriate. Now there’s one less thing cluttering up my cabinets!

The things I love to use up fall into two categories:

  • Things I use frequently.
  • Things I use rarely.

For things I use frequently, I generally notice that I am running low and have already purchased a replacement. So when I use up the old one, the new one is ready. Things that fall into this category are stuff like toothpaste, Tylenol, everyday makeup, and a box of 5,000 staples that I thought would outlive me.

For things I use rarely, it’s exciting to finish up something up that has been around for a while. I may not even buy a replacement because it gets used so rarely, so it gives me some free space. Things that fall into this category are stuff like specialized Band-Aids and colored printer paper.

So where does this system break down? For things that get used frequently, the system breaks down if I don’t have a replacement. If it wasn’t available at the store the day I noticed I was running low, I may forget about it and then find myself completely out of that item. Oops!

For things that get used rarely, the system breaks down if I forget that I have that item because I haven’t used it so long. Then I might end up buying a new one, and it’s not until I put it away that I realized I have a package already that’s almost empty. It’s so frustrating to have lost the opportunity to use it up!

When I work with clients, we often find multiples of the same item. If it’s an item that they use frequently, they’ll tell me that they wanted to make sure they didn’t run out so they bought a lot. But that’s not a good solution. Because they have so many, they don’t notice when they are on the last one, and they end up with none. Then they buy too many again. See the cycle?

If they have multiples of an item they use rarely, they’ll tell me that they forgot they had it or they couldn’t find it when they needed it so they bought another one. Often they didn’t even realize that they had multiples until I pointed it out, because they don’t have a good system for keeping similar things together.

Here are some guidelines for managing your stuff so that you don’t have too many or too few:

  • Buy only one backup for your frequently used items, and be diligent about replacing it after you start the new one.
  • Organize your stuff so that you know where everything is and you can see it, and keep like stuff together.
  • If you’ve been holding onto something for a long time and haven’t used it, toss it. A sure sign is that it has become dusty on top!

Coming Out of Hibernation

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve just emerged from a 16-month hibernation.

When New York City shut down in March of last year, it was such a shock to have all of the hustle and bustle grind to a screeching halt. My daughter asked me how long I thought it would take before we were back to normal. I told her that the flu epidemic of 1918 lasted two years, so we should expect at least year and a half. But deep down, I really didn’t believe it would take that long.

Little by little, I abandoned old habits and adopted new ones. Early on, I stopped wearing my rings because I was washing my hands so much. When mask-wearing became mandatory, I stopped putting on makeup and lipstick. I abandoned earrings because they interfered with the headphones I was wearing for virtual organizing sessions and Zoom meetings. I got used to wearing jeans every day. (At least it wasn’t sweat pants.)

Because all of my outside activities had been canceled, I spent more time reading books, finishing 84 books in 2020 and 55 so far this year. I even found time to polish my fingernails regularly, which I hadn’t done in years because I never sat still long enough.

For me, the thaw began earlier this year when I became vaccinated. But the big change was when the CDC announced that masks were no longer necessary for vaccinated people, except where explicitly required (such as on the New York City subway and bus system, and in taxis). Our local stores relaxed their mask mandate, and then my apartment building did. I no longer needed a mask to step outside my apartment door! I felt so liberated.

While I had gotten used to wearing no makeup, I started doing a little just for fun. Now I’m back to my usual 2-minute makeup routine, but with milder lip color that won’t stain my mask when I take public transportation.

The jewelry issue was a little more complicated. I have had my ears pierced since college, but I had never gone a year without wearing earrings. My right ear was fine, but my left ear was just not cooperating. I wasn’t ready to give up earrings permanently. I have very short hair, and earrings coordinated with my outfit are part of  “my look”. It took some daily effort to get back to where I was, but now I’m able to wear any earrings I own. However, when I try on some of the more elaborate earrings, they no longer seem like my style. I may end up donating some of them.

My ring situation was even more complicated than my stubborn left earlobe. When I put on my wedding ring, it was too big, maybe because of the weight I lost during the pandemic due to my healthy eating program. I have had it resized and am wearing it again, if I can remember. Sometimes I leave the house without it because I’m still not used to having it on.

As for wearing jeans — well, that habit is here to stay. I also want to continue my reading habit.

I’m still contemplating how busy I want to become as things reopen. I enjoyed the less hectic lifestyle that was forced upon me during the shutdown. I need to keep an eye on my calendar to ensure that it doesn’t get overly full.

Interestingly, I’ve left the house several times recently without a mask even though I am going somewhere where I know I’ll need one. I guess I was ready to ditch that habit!

Packing Up

We took our 18-year old daughter to college a few days ago. It was a huge undertaking – physically, emotionally, and of course, organizationally.

As I’ve mentioned before, I deal with emotional upheaval by getting organized. (See Love, Loss, and Organizing). Getting my daughter and all her stuff to school was a logistical puzzle that kept me focused and helped keep the emotions at bay.

Before I go on vacation, admiring friends often say to me one or two weeks before, “I bet you’re already packed.” In actuality, I never pack until the night before. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think about what I’m going to pack until the night before. I spend weeks planning and strategizing, so when it’s time to actually pack the suitcase, it’s relatively easy.

Emily at GWU

Emily and George

That is the way I approached my daughter’s relocation to Washington, D.C., to begin her freshman year at George Washington University. We started preparing earlier in the summer by reviewing a checklist provided by her school, as well as a checklist from Bed Bath & Beyond which they provided in advance of a college event held in July. We identified what we already owned and what we still needed. We picked up quite a bit at the BB&B event, and ordered some other things on-line. Gradually, over the summer, we accumulated all her linens and other supplies.

I used her departure for college as an opportunity for her to review everything she owned and make decisions. Every item of clothing, every toiletry, every book, every electronic device, every makeup product needed to be looked at and evaluated for its future use. Whatever she didn’t want anymore got thrown away, donated, recycled, sold on eBay, or given away to friends and neighbors.

When we cleaned out her desk, we put all the office supplies she wanted to take with her into one drawer. This made it very easy to pack those things when that time came.

My daughter wanted to take all of her remaining clothes and shoes with her. I used my professional organizing techniques to guide her to more selective decision-making. She still brought too much, in my opinion, but she brought less than she had originally intended.

Two days before she left, we got down the suitcases and started packing.  All of our prior preparation paid off, and it was relatively stress-free. When we got her moved into her dorm room, we were pleased to discover that her stuff fit very nicely into her space.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so I filled up some of the empty space in her room by buying a small sofa bed. I may have lost a daughter, but I’ve gained a guest room!  At least until Thanksgiving.




Keeping It Simple

What’s important to us changes over time.  When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I was willing to put much more time into my appearance – my hair, my nails, my clothes.  Now I like to keep my routines as simple as possible.

When I’m working with clients, I find that they have piles of clothes, footwear, and accessories that need some sort of action – actions that they feel they “should” take care of but keep putting off.  (I’ve written about the negative power of the word “should” in my previous tip, No More Shoulds.)   In some cases, these tasks are being put off because they are unpleasant, and my client really doesn’t want to do them (such as ironing, or removing a stain.)  In other cases, they are being put off because they are just too much trouble (such as fixing a broken piece of jewelry, a broken zipper, or a damaged shoe or boot.)

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Organizing Your Makeup

My 14 1/2-year old daughter and I share a bathroom, since we use a lot of the same products.  When she was younger, we were able to keep all of our makeup in a check box in our medicine cabinet.   (That’s right, the box that my checks came in).   However, two events have forced us to outgrow such a small box.  One, my daughter became old enough to babysit, and she now has more disposable income than she used to.  Two, Sephora opened a store a few blocks away.   You get the picture.

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