The #WearItAllJuly Challenge

On July 1st I posted a picture of myself on Instagram with the following description:

Can you wear entirely different clothes every day for a month? My friends and I are challenging each other to do this, not only to put on things we don’t wear that often, but to learn what we really use (and what we could let go of). Plus, it’s a fun game! Think you can do it?

A good look from co-creator @gavinverhey

Rule #1: Wear a completely different outfit every day in July.
Rule #2: After you wear a piece of clothing, set it aside. You can’t wear it again the rest of the month.
Rule #3: If you literally don’t own enough of something to accomplish this (for example, you only own 15 pairs of shoes total), you can loop back through them after you’ve worn them all once.
Rule #4: You choose what categories are excluded based on your own wardrobe and what you’re hoping to get out of the challenge. You can choose to exclude specialty clothes from your rotation, such as hiking gear and ballgowns. You can choose to not care about pajamas or underwear. It’s up to you. The important thing is that once you decide your rules you stick with them.
Rule #5: Your wardrobe is “locked in” at the start of the month. Anything new you buy after that gets put in the used pile and has to wait until August!
Rule #6: There may be times where wearing something twice is unavoidable, such as with work uniforms. Don’t sweat it – you’re doing your best, and that’s what counts!

Participants are encouraged to share some of their outfit creations with the hashtag #wearitalljuly

My friends and I all started the challenge with different goals in mind. For me, I liked it because it was the opposite of how I normally approach this kind of thing. I’m usually the one doing challenges that ask you to pair down and minimize your options, like with Project 333. And I pack extremely light, essentially forcing myself into a capsule wardrobe every time I travel. This challenge was completely different. Rather than limiting your options, it forces you to take all of them. None of us knew what to expect, and I don’t think any of us could have predicted the learnings we got from it. Here are a few of mine:

We were joined by others on Instagram, including user @jenn.rych

Clothes are meant to be worn – I know that when you work from home you should always get dressed, even if you aren’t going to leave the house. But I had been breaking that rule constantly. I realized it was because I felt like I was “wasting” my clothes by wearing them when no one would see me. It’s true that every time you wear and wash an item you are wearing it down a tiny bit, but I realized that I was still doing that to my pajamas by wearing them all the time. I have to wear something, and getting dressed really does make you more motivated to get work done.

Embrace discomfort – I’d been prioritizing comfort so much, I forgot what is and isn’t comfortable and to what degree. When I started to run low on shoes and pants I had to embrace Anti-Casual-Monday and wear a dress and heels to my writing group. And you know what? Heels aren’t that bad. Dresses aren’t that bad. Sure they aren’t the most comfortable things in the world, but if it’s only going to be a few hours of mostly sitting, who cares? And if you’re working from home, flowy skirts and dresses are a great option to stay cool on a hot day.

Co-creator @kristinahorner showing off some of the diverse looks we had to come up with over the month

Every day is a day worth dressing up for – I have this beautiful pink and white skirt that I love and always get complimented on, but I rarely wear it because it never feels like a fancy enough occasion to wear it. But this month I found myself wearing skirts to casual get-togethers and dress slacks to coffee shops.

Your first choice isn’t always the best choice – The first time I thought seriously about cheating was when I realized I was supposed to go to a Mariner’s game and I didn’t have any jeans left. I couldn’t fathom wearing anything but jeans to watch baseball. To me, sports = cold. But the weather report for the evening said it would stay warm past the 9th inning, and I had one more pair of shorts left in the drawer. This turned out to be perfect, as I was too hot for most of the bus ride down to the game, and perfectly comfortable the whole time I was in the stadium. I didn’t even have to zip up the hoodie I was wearing and never bothered with the additional long-sleeve shirt I brought to layer. By forcing myself to make the “wrong” choice, I was way better off.

Some of my outfits from the later half of the month

Hoodies4Life – Speaking of hooded sweatshirts, have y’all worn one of them lately? Because apparently I stopped wearing them ten years ago and I forgot how incredibly comfortable they are. No wonder I used to live in them.

It’ll be fine even when it doesn’t work – The second time I considered cheating was when I was invited to another baseball game. I had absolutely no pants or shorts left, and as much as it pained me to wear a skirt to a baseball game, I did it. Honestly I did it mostly because the people I was going with all knew I was doing this challenge and would have totally called me out on cheating. They of course all noticed and commented that I was pretty fancy for baseball in my long black skirt, but it was fine. I was maybe a little cold during the last few innings, but it wasn’t bad. And honestly if they hadn’t all known about the challenge, I wonder how many of them would have even noticed.

Nobody notices and nobody cares – Over the course of this month my friends and I put together what we thought were some pretty disjointed and weird outfits. But when the pictures showed up on Instagram everyone looked…fine. Even the very weird and dressy stuff at the end of the month probably would have escaped everyone’s notice if we hadn’t been watching for it. I think we all get these ideas in our heads about what works and what doesn’t, and they are way more restrictive than they need to be.

A week’s worth of outfits from participant @adarosefaery

No seriously, your first choice isn’t always the best choice – The final time I considered cheating was when I had to see a client on the very last day of the month. I normally wouldn’t dream of wearing a skirt when working with a client because I never know if I’m going to be reaching around awkward piles, moving furniture, crawling around on the floor, etc. But I’d been wearing a pretty sensible skirt and tank top combination all day, and it was still very hot outside when the time came to start our evening session. This was a client I’d seen many times before, and while you never know where the day will take you, I knew his house never seemed to involve a lot of manual labor. So I wore the skirt, and it was the best decision. I could still easily do my work, and I never got too hot despite it being well into the 80s while I was there. I never would have chosen the skirt, but it was the better choice.

All the photos included in the post are pulled from people who participated on Instagram. Check out the hashtag #WearItAllJuly to see more! And who knows, there may be a #WearItAllOctober in my future…

Inbox Zero #1: Defining the Problem

The most common kind of digital clutter I help people with is email inbox management. Most people don’t even realize that this is an area where change is possible. They assume that email just is what it is and will always be a source of worry and stress. But it doesn’t have to be. You can take proactive steps to improve your email inbox just like you can improve a physical space in your home. And you’re likely to find that with a clean, clear inbox comes a feeling of freedom and clarity.

A Mailbox, Not a File Cabinet

The first step is to define the problem, which means defining your email. Have you ever stopped to think about what email actually is? It’s a way for the outside world to get to you. In the same way a physical mailbox is a way for the postal service to deliver your mail without having to step into your home, the email inbox is just a place for email to arrive. Nothing actually belongs in the inbox, just like nothing belongs in your physical mailbox.

At its core, email is someone else’s demand of your time. It is someone in the outside world asking you to put your time and energy into their interests, problems, and concerns. This is true whether it’s a company wanting you to read about their latest products, or a customer hoping to buy something from you. Every time you open your inbox, you are asking the rest of the world how it would like you to spend your day.

The Psychology of a Messy Inbox

The management of any space ultimately comes down to the habits you have in that space. Here are some common habits that tend to generate negative inbox relationships, and what might be reinforcing them.

1. Checking your inbox dozens/hundreds of times per day

The human brain is primed to respond to novelty. The experiences you get from novelty don’t have to be universally good, so long as they sometimes are and you don’t know when to expect them. Many modern systems feed on this idea, including all social media (this is why I recommend people turn off as many notifications as possible across all devices). When you go to your inbox there is often something new. Sometimes that new thing is a good or fun or interesting thing. Sometimes it’s not. But you’ll come back, over and over again throughout the day, hoping to get that good thing again. In this way your email inbox is no different than a slot machine. The risk you take in letting this slot machine control your life is exactly that – it controls your life. Not you.

2. Never deleting anything

Many people hesitate before deleting an email because they are worried they might need it later. This stems from the same compulsion to keep possessions long after they’ve outlived their usefulness. You imagine a future “someday” in which an item might come in handy, so you feel like you need to keep it just in case. You don’t have clear parameters for what useful emails look like, so you keep everything. The risk you take is allowing your inbox to fill up with junk, getting in the way and distracting you from what actually matters.

3. Never filing anything

Theoretically once an email has been dealt with you should be able to get it out of the inbox, but that often won’t happen because you don’t know where to put it. You have folders for each organization you belong to, for certain individuals or projects, for stuff you want to reference later. But the lines between these folders are blurry. You don’t know where to put something that fits in multiple places or doesn’t belong in any. So you make more and more folders with increasing levels of specialization, until there are so many it’s too much work to find the right one. And the email stays in the inbox instead. The risk you take is not only allowing completed tasks to clutter your inbox, but in wasted time and effort trying to find all those poorly sorted emails later when you actually need them.

4. Leaving items in the inbox

Even when something isn’t trash and isn’t looking for a place to be filed, you may still end up leaving it in the inbox. You may even open it, read it, then mark it as unread to help you “remember” to deal with it later. This is often because you are subconsciously deferring a decision. You don’t know how you want to handle this particular email or aren’t sure how to proceed, so you don’t do anything. It’s as though you opened a letter, read it, put it back in the envelope, and stuffed it back in the mailbox for you to find again tomorrow. It’s not doing you much good, but it frees you from the immediate pain of having to consciously deal with the situation at hand. The risk you run is that there’s no set moment when you will switch from deferring the decision to acting on it, meaning things can get forgotten or dropped. Even if they don’t, you’re letting them sit in your inbox the whole time, nagging at you and stressing you out.

Question Your Incoming Emails

In the coming months I’ll cover different tactics and strategies to deal with all of these negative habits. But for now, you need to start questioning what you have. Rather than looking at each email individually for what it’s asking of you, start looking for patterns and categories. Generally, your email will fall into one of these five groups:

1. Tasks (including reminders for tasks)

2. Pertinent Info (no action is required but you need to know it right away)

3. Low-Priority Info (good info that isn’t time-sensitive, such as newsletters)

4. Reference (information you’ll need in the future)

5. Things you shouldn’t be getting (junk mail, as well as items that should have been sent to someone else or shouldn’t have come via email)

Thinking about your emails in terms of the categories they fall into helps to break the negative habit cycles you have, and forces you to take action more often. If you find a reference email but have no where to put it, perhaps you need a better system for keeping reference info. If you get a task but don’t do it right away or put it on your to-do list, perhaps some part of you is questioning whether or not this task should be done at all. If you find some junk mail, perhaps you’ll stop to unsubscribe and prevent more of the same emails in the future.

Your Mission

Open your email inbox, but don’t check your email. Instead, start at the top of the list and try to put each email into a category (it might help to get out a piece of paper to keep track). Ask yourself what you felt compelled to do with the email, and then consider if that’s the best option for the category the email is in. Here are a few suggested actions to consider:

Tasks > do it if it will take less than 2 minutes, otherwise add it to your task list

Pertinent Info > Read, then archive the email

Low-Priority Info > Read if it will take less than 2 minutes, otherwise add it to your task list or a “To Read/Review” folder

Reference > Confirm that it has the right keywords you’ll need to search for it later, then archive

Things you shouldn’t be getting > unsubscribe and delete junk, delegate things that aren’t your job, clarify with sender if you wished it wasn’t an email (maybe by setting up a call or meeting instead)

Set a timer for 10 minutes to do this activity. You don’t need to make it through your whole inbox, just enough to find emails from multiple categories. Good luck!

A Solution (or two) for That Drawer of Mysterious Power Adapters

Nearly every home I visit has a drawer, a bag, a box, or a pile of power adapters for unknown electronics. Power adapters usually don’t have many identifying marks on them to tell you what device they go to, and there’s no universal standards for plugs, which means some adapters work on multiple devices and others don’t. Once separated from their original device, usually the only way they will ever be returned is if you want to use the device and go searching one by one through the drawer until you find what you’re looking for.

The thing is, the bulk of what’s in the mystery adapter drawer is no longer needed. The electronics that you actually use have their adapters plugged in throughout the house. This drawer contains only power adapters for things you rarely use, or more often, things you don’t even own anymore.

There are two ways to handle this drawer. One is an easy way that lets the problem persists but will help in the long run. The other is a lot harder but will allow you to get rid of the mysterious adapter drawer permanently.

Let’s start with the easy answer: adding dates. When you know for a fact that one of the random adapters in your drawer is 10 years old, it’s a lot easier to part with it. But because you don’t know what they’re for, they all look the same, and they show little signs of age, the ones you got 6 months ago are indistinguishable from the ones you got 7 years ago.

So do your future self a favor and add dates to all of them (I usually use painter’s tape and a sharpie). Since you don’t know how old they are, you can start with today’s date, since they are at least that old. Or if you know you haven’t touched this drawer since last September, you could put that date instead. The point is that next time you come across the drawer, whether it’s one or three or six years from now, you’ll know that everything in it is at least as old as today.

The more difficult but ultimately permanent way to take care of this drawer is to gather together all of your electronics together. And I do mean ALL of them. Go through every closet, into every drawer, behind every piece of furniture, and across every shelf in the garage. You’re on a hunt for anything electronic that may have needed a power adapter at some point. You can ignore electronics that you use regularly and are currently plugged in, since you already have those adapters. You’re only looking for the lesser-used items.

Once you have all your electronics together, it’s simply a matching game. Find a device with no adapter and start plugging each one in until you get a match. You’ll likely end up with several adapters that don’t go with any device, which you can confidently send to the electronics recycler knowing that they don’t match anything in your house. With everything else, you can now store the adapter with the device itself, rather than jumbling them all together. I would even suggest you label the adapter itself with what device it goes to so that if ever it gets separated again, you’ll be able to match it up easily.

However I’d also suggest that this is the perfect time to cull some of those miscellaneous devices you found throughout your house. Consider how deep you had to search to find it, how long it’s been since you’ve used it, and how likely you are to ever need it again. With electronics specifically, the longer you hold on to it the less useful it will be to anyone else. A device that could go to Goodwill today will barely be of use to the electronics recycler five years from now. Many people feel guilt over throwing things out. The best way to avoid that guilt with electronics is to make sure your unwanted items leave your house in time to be wanted elsewhere.

Your Mission

Either put dates on every adapter in your drawer this week, or match them with all your current electronics. The first task shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes. The second one depends a lot on the size of your home and how much you own, but even with large homes shouldn’t take more than an hour if you stay focused on looking for electronics and don’t let yourself get sidetracked with anything else.

On the Subject of Books & Belle’s Library

You may have noticed a particular affliction among some of your friends, especially common in people born between 1981 and 1991. I call it Belle Library Syndrome.

Belle from Beauty & the Beast is an incredibly aspirational character. She’s smart, beautiful, self-sacrificing, brave, and demands respect from all the condescending men in her life. And she’s got the most amazing library in the world. It’s four stories tall and full of rounded walls and spiral staircases. Belle’s insatiable need for the written word finally meets its match when the Beast gives her free reign of the royal library. And as a little kid you watched her face fill with joy, and you had only one thought: I wish I could have a library like that.

I want to make something abundantly clear right now: if owning hundreds and hundreds of books truly brings you joy, then by all means fill your shelves with them. You know the costs of ownership and you’re fine with them. This article isn’t about you.

For the rest of us, the problem with Belle Library Syndrome is that we strive to match her library without nearly the same benefit. We collect more and more books, buying additional bookcases or at least wishing we could. We spend thousands of dollars on the books themselves, and thousands more over time on moving and storing them. And instead of joy, they bring guilt. Guilt because there are so many we still haven’t read. Guilt because we just bought more anyway. And if ever we dared to do the math, we’d realize that the rate at which we are acquiring books far outpaces the rate at which we read them. The sad truth: most of the books on our shelves will never be read at all.

Sometimes we place a sort of impossible reverence on books. Don’t get me wrong, books are an important and vital part of a learned, civil society. But not because of the physical object. They matter because of what’s inside: the stories, the wisdom, the ideas. It’s the reading the matters, not the books themselves. Books exist to spread knowledge. And I would argue that keeping a huge personal library that no one ever touches is, at its heart, antithetical to the idea of spreading knowledge through books.

If your concern is to revere and honor books, consider that sitting on a shelf, never to be opened or picked up again, is not the true calling of any book. Books are meant to be read – ideally read often and by as many people as possible. Books get read when they are out there in the world, getting bought and sold and donated and gifted.

I’m reminded of a different part of Beauty & the Beast, when Lumiere is singing to Belle at dinner:

“Life is so unnerving
For a servant who’s not serving
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon
Ah, those good old days when we were useful
Suddenly those good old days are gone.”

Your books have hopes and dreams and purpose just like you. They want to be out in the world. They want to be passed from person to person. They want to be read. So if you aren’t going to read them, considering letting them go free. Let them run out into the world to find a new love.

Your Mission:

Create a personal book policy. This is a set of principles you set for yourself that make it easier to decide what to hang on to and what to let go. Personally I have a few sentimental books, a few active reference books, and a set of principles to guide everything else. They are:

1) If there’s a book you want to read, get it from the local library. If it’s a particularly popular book, just request a hold on it and read it whenever it becomes available.

2) Don’t buy books for yourself. If you want to own a book or there’s a book you want that isn’t at the library, put it on your Christmas list for someone else to get you as  a gift.

3) The moment you finish a book you own, decide its future. If you didn’t love it, put it in the donation box. If you enjoyed it so much you feel confident you will re-read it within five years, it can go back on the shelf.  If you liked it but won’t re-read it soon, decide immediately who in your life might like it, and give it to them as gift next time you see them.

These are just my personal rules. You can use them or change them or throw them out to match what you want from your books. The point is to sort your books with intention, and be willing to let some of them go.

Ticket Stubs

For most of my life I have been obsessed with holding on to things, chronically things, tracking things. I kept every Christmas card I ever received, even the ones from my bank. I kept all my old school papers and every program from every play I saw. Most importantly, I kept all my tickets stubs.

I’m not just talking about plays either. I kept movie stubs, I kept those little raffle tabs they give you at small events. Even when they didn’t have any identifying markers on them, I kept them. For 28 years I kept them.

It never occurred to me that I was engaging in a kind of isolated hoarding, because I still hadn’t exceeded the capacity of the jar I kept ticket stubs in. It turns out ticket stubs are small, and you can fit a LOT of them in a jar. But just because I can fit them all doesn’t mean I need to keep them all. And the practice of keeping every stub meant I could never just toss a used stub in the recycle: I had to go open up the jar and stuff it inside. It was extra work every time, and work I didn’t have to do if I stopped keeping every stub. So I stopped keeping, and I started sorting.

Some stubs brought up memories. I found the ticket from the first time I saw Anything Goes at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2000, and from when I saw it there again in 2013. In 2013 my 27-year-old self noticed something that my 15-year-old self didn’t: that play gets weirdly racist at the end. I’m not sure why they keep doing it, except for maybe a burning urge to sing “It’s De-Lovely.” I threw out both stubs.

There were so many stubs from the UW School of Drama. I was an undergrad there, and the School of Drama productions were mostly performed by the grad students. So I was never in them and only casually knew the actors. But I still remember the show names perfectly after seeing them plastered on every wall and hearing my undergrad friends talk about running tech or getting supporting roles. She Stoops to Conquer, Big Love, Twelfth Night, The Quick Change Room. For all of these I have only a sliver of memory. Perhaps they were good productions, but I’ve seen so many good productions. I can’t hold on to them all. A few I will keep, because something about them really rings in my ears, even if I don’t remember all the details. I remember liking The Bacchae, though I also remember a lot of people hating it. I loved Arcadia, though that was probably Tom Stoppard’s fault. I know that Antigone was beautiful. The memories stay, but the stubs can go.

I had movie tickets that were ripped in half so you could only see the date and time, not the name of the film. Those got tossed. But that time I got to see the Dalai Lama speak? I’ll keep that.

I kept Young Frankenstein, which I adored. I tossed Spamalot, which was funny but not nearly so memorable.

I am positive I never actually saw Exorcist: The Beginning. Some vague memory says I was once handed the wrong ticket to a movie, but didn’t notice until afterwards. I know that whatever movie I saw, I saw it at around 10:40PM on August 22, 2004. But beyond that? Who knows. Plenty of good movies came out in 2004, including many I know I saw, and several that might have been playing in theaters that day. It seems strange to keep a piece paper that holds such a phantom of a memory. In the trash it goes.

I tossed a lot of ticket stubs for Mariner’s games, but I kept the one from that day my boyfriend and I saw the only combined no-hitter in Mariner’s history. Though regular no-hitters get all the glory, combined no-hitters are actually more rare, since a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter is rarely removed from the game.

In terms of keeping a stub I should have tossed, the winner was a ticket for US Airways from Seattle to Las Vegas. It wasn’t even my ticket stub – the ticket was for my friend Chelsea from college. I messaged her asking if she knew why I might have her ticket stub. She said she thought she remembered me randomly finding it in a library book that she had apparently checked out before me. Perhaps that’s why I kept it. It must have felt like fate at the time.

These stubs, like all the memorabilia and mementos I save, have a common thread. It’s right there in the name: memory. These are the physical objects that are supposed to trigger those memories in me. But for years they just stayed in a jar. They didn’t trigger anything, they merely took up space. There was a certain pride in being able to say I’d kept every stub I ever received, but to what end? What good are mementos if those memories never leave the jar?

Ultimately the deciding factor on what stayed and what got tossed was how immediately the paper conjured up a memory. Anything that took too much work wasn’t worth keeping around, including one movie stub so wrinkled and faded that I could no longer make out a single word on the stub. Perhaps that memory would have been great, but it’s gone now. All the stub is (all the stubs ever were) is me clawing after something that once was, based on the assumption that the worth of the past is sacred and unchanging. But I think some memories are meant to dissolve, just like the paper they’re printed on.

“I Might Need It Someday”

One of the most common excuses we have for keeping things we don’t use is that we “might need it someday.” Someday it might be useful to have this costume jewelry. Someday I might need this half-used box of crayons. Someday I’ll have a problem that can only be solved by eight sets of takeout chopsticks.

We can store an almost unlimited number of things in Someday, because it doesn’t actually exist. Someday is, by definition, a day that we never get to live. When we say that we need to keep something because we might need it someday, we are not just holding on to the object, we’re holding on to the potential. And potential can be very difficult to give up.

Rather than imagining an amorphous Someday with all its potential and all it’s needs, imagine your specific future self and the exact situation that might come up. Keeping asking questions about that future self and situation until you come to a confident answer: either you should definitely keep this item, or you obviously shouldn’t.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What is the exact situation where I will need this item? You’re not allowed to say that it “may come in handy”, or that it “seems useful”. Plenty of objects in the world are useful, but that doesn’t mean they are useful to you. I once got a set of fun cocktail garnish toothpicks as a gift and kept them for years before admitting that I was never, ever, going to host a party where I served fancy cocktails.

How likely is the future need? You still have the Allen wrench from when you put your Ikea dresser together. It was very useful at the time, but will you ever actually need it again? Do the screws in the dresser ever loosen, or have they stayed tight in the years since you first bought it? And how many identically sized Allen wrenches do you have anyway? Is there really going to be a time in the future when you simultaneously need two of the same sized Allen wrench?

Why did I stop using it? Perhaps you have some jewelry that you liked when you bought it but haven’t worn in awhile, or eyeshadow palettes that you haven’t opened in months. But you might use them again someday, right? There’s a reason you haven’t worn these things in a while. Maybe the jewelry is too flashy for your taste, or the colors don’t look good with your complexion. So what will be so different Someday that hasn’t happened yet? Will your complexion change? Probably not. Will your style change? Perhaps, but there’s no reason to believe it will change in the direction of the pieces you already have but don’t wear. In fact, it’s probably the least likely direction you’ll go, since some part of you has already proven you don’t like it.

Why haven’t I needed it already? You’ve got a box of cables and a bunch of power adapters because maybe you’ll need them in the future. But you’ve been using all the electronics you own just fine without them. Is it possible that these are all adapters for electronics you’ve already discarded? Or extra cables that were included but never needed? If you know why the items haven’t been used yet, it might tell you whether they will ever be used at all.

Will I actually want this when the time comes? Many people find themselves with stashes of certain free items, such as hotel toiletries, pens, USB drives, etc. The giveaway versions tend to be of a lower quality than what we’d buy for ourselves. So even if you do run out of all your current chapsticks, you won’t actually want to use the cheap version you got for free. You’ll just go buy new chapstick.

Is this just an inferior duplicate? Similar to the question above – I find this is most often an issue with clothing, such as pajama pants with loose elastic that have shrunk into high-waters. They’re functional as PJs, sure. But you never reach for them. You’d rather wear the better PJs you already own. Imagine if all your best pajamas were gone and this pair was all you had left. How long would you wear them before you bought replacements anyway?

How often do I get more of this item? I understand keeping a couple pairs of unused takeout chopsticks in the silverware drawer just in case you order takeout and the restaurant forgets to include them. But the reason you already have spares is that you’re usually given too many. They are easy to acquire. So you can ditch most of them, secure in the knowledge that more will arrive at your house soon – whether you like it or not.

How easy/cheap will it be to replace? A popular rule of thumb is that if it would take less than 20 minutes and $20 to replace, go ahead and get rid of it. The time and money you’ll save in aggregate by getting rid of your excess will make up for the few occasions when you’ll actually need to replace something.

Do I really need so much of this? Certain categories of just-in-case items make sense to keep for some people, such as an active crafter keeping spare fabric, paint, and supplies. The problem is not that you’re keeping extra stuff around, just that you’re keeping too much. If you rarely dip into your spare fabric, you probably don’t need five bins of it. In this case, I often encourage clients to choose a designated amount of space they want to devote to the category (two drawers, one bin, a single bookcase, etc), and pick out only the best items to keep until the space is full. This also makes it easy to keep the collection in check, since you’ll know you have too much when it doesn’t fit in the designated spot anymore.

Will I EVER use this much? When items are smaller, such as bobby pins, it’s hard to use the Designated Space solution. In this case, I think about lifetime usage. Even if you regularly use and regularly lose bobby pins, if you have hundreds of pins it will take you years to get through them all. In fact, the more you have of something the more careless you will be with it. A person with only 20 bobby pins is more likely to keep track of them than someone with 500.

Ultimately, there are two possible futures in front of you: one in which you still have your Someday item, and one in which you don’t. One in which your house is filled with items you almost never use, and one in which you occasionally kick yourself for getting rid of something too soon. Choose the future that brings you the most happiness.

Your Mission:

Pick at least one of your “I might need it someday” areas this week and ask yourself the questions listed above. Can you believe in your Someday event all the way through to the bottom of the list?

Three Things Marie Kondo Never Says (and Three Things She Does)

With the popularity of her recent Netflix show, a lot of people have been asking me what I think of Marie Kondo. Personally I like her work and agree with many of the things she says, even if my own approach is slightly different. What I find more interesting is the misconceptions people seem to have about her. Here are three things I’ve heard about Marie Kondo that she never actually says, and a few overlooked things I wish people would focus on more.

#1 – You should be getting joy from that hammer if you want to keep it.

This is an argument that tends to go away as soon as actually try her technique. When Marie Kondo tells you to only keep items that spark joy, she’s not talking about the joy you find in a hot fudge sundae or a favorite movie. At least, not exclusively. Joy doesn’t have to be frivolous or impractical. Joy is something you can attach to any item or action. I find this easiest to see in kitchen tools. If you have two can openers, one is usually better than the other. One is easier to use or quicker to clean. One cuts smoother edges or fits better in your cupboard. You’re happier with one than the other. You want to use one more than the other. In other words, there’s more joy in one than the other. If not, you probably have two crummy can openers and it’s time to invest in one you actually want to use (and get rid of the two you hate!). The point is not to find joy in the action of opening cans, but in how this particular tool makes that action more enjoyable.

#2 – Throw unwanted items in the literal trash.

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo tends to use the word “discard” as a catch-all term for removing things from your home (or more likely, her translator Cathy Hirano chose this word). As a result, you will often hear commenters lamenting that we shouldn’t be throwing out perfectly good clothes, that we should be donating, recycling, etc. There’s no part of Marie Kondo’s method that insists items need to be thrown in a trash can, simply that if they don’t belong in your life then they shouldn’t be in your house. In fact, in one story she talks to a client about “getting rid of this garbage” in one sentence, and minutes later is talking about “what you throw out or donate.” On the very next page she suggests asking family members ahead of time if there’s anything they need that you might come across in your discarding, so you can set it aside for them. While the language may be a little off-putting, it’s much easier to use universal words like “discard” than specify the unique ways in which each item needs to be removed or disposed of. By all means, recycle and donate whenever you can.

#3 – Burn all your books.

I watched the whole Marie Kondo Netflix show anxiously waiting to see her sort books. I’d heard people were upset over something she’d said, something that implied you should throw unwanted books in the trash or only be allowed to keep a few. It wasn’t clear exactly what she’d said that angered people so much, but clearly it was bad. So I was both surprised and disappointed to find that most episodes skipped books completely, and the ones that included books featured only brief scenes. My guess is that sorting books doesn’t make for very good TV footage. But if she didn’t talk about books much in the show, where did all this Marie Kondo book hate come from?

I did a little digging and as far as I can tell, it started with a small joke on twitter that referenced Kondo, which wasn’t really intended to make fun of her specifically. The joke spiraled, people combined this with their own assumptions about decluttering, and suddenly the conclusion was that Marie Kondo thinks you should only have 30 books and literally burn the rest. However the closet thing I can find to this sentiment was in her book when she’s talking about her personal journey: “I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time.” That’s it. Marie Kondo says she personally owns less than 30 books. She has never suggested that anyone else do the same. In fact, in response to this backlash, she’s suggested that anger over someone else trying to take your books is a sign of what’s important to you, and you should use that knowledge to help you tidy. Here she is explaining this further: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWFYFzwT_HA

What Marie Kondo Is Secretly Saying

So if those are all things she isn’t saying, what might she be telling people instead? Most people know about her ‘spark joy’ philosophy and specific folding methods, but there are a number of other messages I see coming through in Kondo’s work. Much of it is below the surface, so much so that I can’t say for sure which ones are intentional and which are the unintended consequences of a good method:

#1 – Admit to Your Duplicates

By making you sort an entire category at once, the KonMari method forces you to see and acknowledge your duplicate items. ALL of them. Sometimes we store like-items is different spots throughout the house, either because the preferred storage spaces are full, or because it’s easier to grab things if they are in a more convenient location. By pulling out everything from one category at once, it becomes clear that you don’t need six black tank tops or enough dinnerware for forty people.

#2 – This is Not a Fight

Marie Kondo spent five years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and it’s clear when you watch her work that she has reverence for both spaces and the belongings in them. Kondo starts her work at a house by greeting the house in silence. As some of the guests on her show have pointed out, this reminds you that the house is not the enemy. The things are not the enemy either. They have done great things for you in your life, and it’s time to repay the favor by letting them breathe. And sometimes, by letting them go.

#3 – Men and Women Approach Clutter Differently

Gender does not come up much in Kondo’s book, however it was extremely apparent in the first season of her show. The different ways in which men and women are socialized to care about their homes, their stuff, their chores, etc., is on display in many of the episodes. Her Netflix show is a good masterclass on how the burden of the home is often put on women, sometimes without anyone intending to do so. It also highlights how much happier families are when that burden is more evenly distributed, and men and children are allowed to take on more responsibility for their living space. I wasn’t sure how much Marie Kondo was aware of this until I found out that her senior thesis in college was titled, “Tidying up as seen from the perspective of gender.” So yes, she knows.

 

Let me know in the comments if you have heard any other strange misconceptions about Marie Kondo and the KonMari method, or if you know where I can get a translated copy of her senior thesis.

Doctor Heal Thyself

When talking to friends and family about what kind of problems I help people with, I’ll often bring up examples from my own life. I’ve struggled with all the usual issues: buying useless things, accepting dumb junk just because it’s free, stuffing my drawers so full they won’t shut, keeping sentimental items I don’t really need, keeping non-sentimental items out of guilt, etc. People often laugh at first, surprised that someone who declutters professionally could possibly have a problem with clutter. But that’s exactly the type of person you need.

I didn’t come to this decluttering ability naturally. Like any child I loved to hoard my treasured possessions. I responded to the targeted advertisements for toys like everyone else, I longed for the beautifully colored bath products in the drug store even though I didn’t end up using half of them. It’s a natural human tendency to desire things, and it’s encouraged in a modern capitalist society to constantly acquire new possessions.

The thing I did have that may have set me apart was a strong desire for order. So while I did keep every issue of Seventeen Magazine I ever received, I kept them all in perfect chronological order. I liked sorting my loose change into bank roll sleeves. I was the only one in the house with a strong desire to re-alphabetize the VHS collection.

It was sometime right after college that I started to see how my desire for order was at odds with my need to own things. I had to move apartments seven times in ten years, and each time I grew more and more frustrated with the sheer volume of stuff I had. I started to get rid of a few things and realized how much happier I was when there was less around. But it wasn’t easy. This wasn’t a bunch of junk – every object was there for a reason. I had to figure out why the things I swore I wanted to own were also making me miserable.

It was little by little, one step at a time. Actually using up my bath supplies, ending my $10 DVD habit, deciding that I didn’t need to keep every scrap of fabric that crossed my path, etc. I had to fight all those battles myself, usually by myself. Until one day I looked around and realized that not everyone had gone on that journey with me. Some people didn’t know how to fight those battles alone. They needed help, and they needed it from someone who understood what it was like.

I own much less now, but I still struggle with my own clutter. I’m still not sure about a few of those DVDs, a couple of those books. I still have an awful lot of fabric even if it’s way less than before. I still fight those battles, and I remember what it was like when I faced them the first time. I think that’s why I love helping people with this particular kind of problem. Once you’ve found something that makes you happier, that makes your whole life better, all you want to do is tell everyone you know how to do the same. And that happiness, I’ve found, doesn’t come from a set number of books or one fewer kitchen appliance. It’s not about which things stay and which things go. It’s about looking at your bookshelf and smiling. It’s about sitting down at your desk and actually feeling like you can do your work. It’s about owning an object more than it owns you.

That’s what I spent the first 30 years of my life learning, and what I hope to spend the next 30 years teaching to others.

Ask An Organizer: Monsters Under the Bed

Every once in a while I’ll find myself on an online forum with people asking for help decluttering. This is a question I answered a while back that I thought might resonate with others. If you have an organizing or decluttering question you’d like answered, send it to me at katrina@katrinaconsults.com.

Her Question:

“I have been persistently de-cluttering for years now. I moved from a two bedroom oversized sublet to a 50 sqm apartment with no real storage. It used to be a serviced apartment so there is the illusion of storage without any real space.

I’m getting down to some designer footwear that I’ve not worn for years but can’t quite get rid of or pass on, and a bag of old clothes that fit into a small under-the-bed zippy bag. Out of sight, right?

There is a great deal of symbolism in these dresses and I am inching closer and closer, but it’s hard. With these specific items. Everything else I manage to clear without problems but I’ve dragged these guys everywhere, for the last 15 years.

It’s hard to let go – especially since I can justify the space…”

My Answer:

The fact that you have thought about these items and been bothered by them enough to go online and craft a post asking for help speaks to the burden they represent in your life. Your logical self is saying that they aren’t a big drain on the physical space and therefore you can keep them. But that self doesn’t take psychological space into consideration. You are wasting mental energy on these items. Storage has nothing to do with it.

I’m guessing the footwear is hard to let go of because it cost a lot, and it feels like a waste of money to get rid of them. That’s a really common problem, I’ve faced it myself. But you are getting no value out of shoes that sit under your bed. The money spent on them is gone, it’s already been used and wasted, no different than if you’d gambled it away. They are zero value now – less than that because they are making you fret. Let the local thrift shop make some money off them, they have no value for you.

The fact that you said the dresses are ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘sentimental’ seems telling to me. That usually speaks to an item that means nothing itself, but is directly related to something emotional that is important. If the memory is positive, consider the difference between the memory and the items. Is there anything else you intend to keep that reminds you of that time? You don’t need every object associated with a memory. Would the dresses be just as effective as memory tools if you had pictures of them? What if you cut off the best parts and made them into art, or a blanket? Ask yourself what really matters about the dresses. Not all of that fabric is crucial.

If the memory is negative, these should be gotten rid of immediately. They only serve to remind you of a part of your life that is in the past – a part that can only hurt you if you keep thinking about it and letting dresses under the bed remind you of it.

In short: it is upsetting for you to continue to have these items. You should only keep them if their value in your life (current, not potential) is greater than the grief they bring. That is the only thing to consider.

Her Response:

You’ve helped me to articulate consciously what has bothered me for some time, but not been able to pinpoint. There is nothing that needs to be retained. Nothing.

There are no good memories here.

I’ve booked the charity collection for the 22nd.

Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash

No, You’re Not Going to Sell It

There’s a scene I’ve come to expect when helping people declutter their homes: a client will finally make the decision to let an item go, only to insist that it can’t be put into the donation pile because they could sell it online and make back some of their money. While this sounds like a smart idea, it almost never actually happens. And when it does happen, clients often regret doing it. Here are some reasons why:

First of all, it’s a lot of annoying, difficult work. You need to set up the item in the right room with the right lighting and take a bunch of pictures until you think you’ve got a good shot. You have to draft the posting for it, possibly looking up specifications and details that you know will be important to potential buyers. If you don’t already have an account on the chosen site, you have to create one, potentially waiting several days for confirmation. Once your item is listed online, you have to answer questions, negotiate prices, arrange for pickup, or package and ship the item. Each individual task doesn’t sound that bad, but put together they are a lot of work. What’s worse, the work will be drawn out over several days or weeks.

Second, it’s expensive. Shipping costs money, not only in the materials to ship and the actual cost of shipping or postage, but in the time and effort to package and send items out. Even if you’re selling locally, you may end up having to drive to a specific meeting location to avoid giving your home address out to strangers.

Third, it’s probably not worth what you think it is. No one wants to buy a used item from a stranger for the same price as a new item from a store, which means you aren’t getting all your money back. Additionally, very few goods retain anything close to their original market value over time. The ones that do are high-end specialty or collectible items, like fine art, diving watches, and original Star Wars figurines.

Finally, you will almost never get enough money to make it worth it. To make selling an object worth doing, your profits need to be in excess of the cost of shipping plus the 2+ hours you personally spent making it happen. Even if you only value your time at about $15 an hour, we’re looking at $50 just to break even (and that’s assuming you’re not shipping something large or heavy). Which means you can really only count the money someone pays you in excess of that $50 as profit. Unless you are personally struggling a lot financially, anything you sell for less than $100 is unlikely to feel worth it.

So when IS it a good idea to sell things?

Here are a few factors that make selling items preferable to donating:

1) The items are high-end or luxury goods that are in good condition and are known for retaining their value

2) There is a collector’s market for this specific type of item (think Jackie Robinson’s rookie card, not “my grandma always said this type of china was very popular”)

3) You personally are used to selling things online, so you have your own eBay store already, you’ve got all your packing materials, and you’re confident in your ability to appraise your items correctly.

4) You have a lot high-quality items to sell, allowing you to batch the work and make the total setup cost worth it in the long-run. I would suggest a minimum of 10 items that you are positive will sell for more than $50 each. Being “positive” of your price means you’ve done research on what similar items have sold for.

Your Mission

If you are dead-set on selling an item, you have 30 days to get it out of your house. If you’ve been holding onto an item with the intention of selling, your 30 days starts now. If you can sell it in that time, great. If not, you need to donate it. If you’re trying to sneak around the system by saying that you have a big thing you’re working on right now and you couldn’t possibly focus on selling something until afterwards, then your due date is 30 days after whatever thing you listed as your excuse. Put it on your calendar. Busy with finals until April 3rd? Get it sold by May 3rd. Getting married and won’t be back from your honeymoon until July 20th? The stuff needs to be out of your house by August 19th. If you still want to hold onto it after that, try writing me an email explaining why you should get more time (katrina@katrinaconsults.com). See if you can get all the way to the send button before deciding you’d rather put it in the donation box.