Sunday, March 14, 2010


A few items...

1. So excited to give R my $10 Starbucks card! It's just a tiny item, but I didn't want it, and she could use it.

2. While I was putting items away during my 15-minute challenge last night, I knocked over the basket of pens and sundry small office items--it fell behind my desk and made a mess. In the moment, I left it in place (or all over the place, as it were), but today, I will have to crawl underneath and pick everything up.

3. I'm trying to decide where to donate all of the clothing and other items I've found. Yesterday, I read in the shul bulletin about a local girls' high school that will come to pick up items for their rummage sale. I think this is a great plan--both for the recipients and because they will come to me. My other really good option is to put the bags of clothing in my car and put them in the drop-box the next time I'm in the Jewel parking lot.

4. I saw the Chicago river--it's GREEN this week--and dropped R off at her conference. Now, with the afternoon ahead of me, I have LOADS of laundry to wash, dry, fold, and put away. I guess I should get off the computer. :)

I'm an Archaeologist

I feel guilty for not posting in over a week. If you think that means I have been ignoring my cluttering goal...well, you're mostly right. I had a rough week--lots of work, little sleep, but on Thursday night, I reminded myself that a friend would be coming to town the next day, so I'd better pick a new area and get to work.

I had these two boxes over by my living room window--right in front of the empty DVD rack and folding bookshelf that I am giving to a friend--so I went through them on Friday. (Pause to post on friend's wall regarding said DVD rack and bookshelf.) I got rid of plenty of stuff, and my shredder is still getting plenty of activity, but now I have a new problem. When I rearranged my living room a couple months ago, I had to take down several picture frames that were sitting in front of books on my bookcases. I figure that bookcases contain the (lovely, beautiful) clutter of books, but putting picture frames in front of them just makes everything look messy--so I have this box of pictures in frames. I'd love to display some of the pics--and recycle pictures to put new ones into a few of the other frames--but I have no space for them right now, so what do I do? Does it make sense to keep this box of picture frames? I know that I DON'T want to put these frames into the stuff box. I already have paid for them (or received them as gifts), and I know that I want to keep them. This is when an extra room or extra storage space would be really helpful. I assume that at some point, God willing, I will live in a home with more than my current 800ish square feet, and I will have the space and appropriate shelving to show off more pictures. So is it bad that I'm keeping these in a box for now?

Sorry for the rambling. There really is more to my story, including an explanation of today's title. My friend came to town Friday afternoon, and we've really had a great time together. It's always fun when R comes for Shabbat; she works in a synagogue and normally has to go to work on Saturday mornings, so it was nice for us both to sleep in and then for her to go to shul where she didn't have to be "on" all the time. Yesterday afternoon, in the waning hours of the day, R sat with me and we chatted while I nestled deep in my closet to try to sort through all the junk within.

Quick fast-forward to the end--you would not BELIEVE the massive amount of stuff that came out of my closet. It was insane.

For those who do not know, one of the best features of my apartment is its huge walk-in closet. In the beginning, it was really organized, but over time, that has changed. I started by making a laundry pile--turns out I have a lot of clothing, even if I can't ever find something to wear--and a donation pile. What else? The always-present garbage bag (filled two Target bags) and my favorite friends, the SHRED pile and the STUFF BOX pile. Actually, the stuff box did not gain a lot in this venture, but it's filled with plenty, anyway. I also found books, of course. This round included A Raisin in the Sun and Four Meals--both terrific reads. N appreciates that I find books everywhere in my apartment; it's part of my book-loving personality and one of the reasons we are so compatible.

At some point, I got deep enough to find another two pockets of the infamous stuff we throw in a corner and never, ever see again. Quite frankly, I'm a little shocked that I have found so many of these pockets in my apartment, and I'd be embarrassed to share this, but a) it's part of my accountability in this decluttering quest, and b) you might do the same thing, too. At this point, I found mail, the true bane of my existence. I quickly separated anything with identifying information (shred pile) and dumped the rest. And then wedding and shower invitations...I have a box of these under my bed, as I assume they will be good reference tools eventually. I am not bothered by keeping them because I have them contained and not making a mess--and now, fortunately, I have a new set to add to the box. I found CDs for restoring Windows Vista (insert expletives) and promptly dumped them. A few CDs later, my archaeological skills finally came into play when I realized that these were actually for my hated desktop...and that if I had found these, then the Office 2007 CD could not be too far away. I WAS RIGHT! I REJOICED WHEN I FOUND IT!!!!!! Now I can load Office onto my netbook without paying for a new version!!!!! (I guess there are benefits to cleaning.)

I got through that huge pile, and at this point, my legs were cramping. It was definitely time for the next activity of the evening. It was hard to stop working through the closet once I had started--there are still several problem zones--but I do have a huge area of empty floor in my closet now! I even recovered my PVC piping structure for a laundry bag with three sections. I'll try to rebuild it, and if it doesn't work--buh-bye and down the trash chute for you!

However clean the inside of my closet appeared, the space right outside my closet looked like a war zone. It was time for a 15-minute challenge. I raced around the apartment, moving the shred pile into the kitchen by the shredder, transporting all of the laundry to the living room, where I will sort and wash it today, putting all of the items to be donated together in a pile, throwing garbage down the chute, moving books, stuff box pile, and more to their appropriate locations, such as the nail clippers, gauze scissors, and ace bandage that I also found. The day also netted around fifteen cents for my tzedakah box. (Did I mention my rule that money found while cleaning goes to tzedakah?)

This has been my longest post ever, so congratulations if you are still reading! My closet looks GORGEOUS, even if I know it's not done yet. I got rid of TONS of clothing that I never wear, and I think my take-away for the day is that the emptier my apartment gets, the fuller my life feels. Decluttering has a long-term relaxation effect... and eventually, you will probably find the items you truly need.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

One Step at a Time

On Friday, I wrote in a hurry and didn't really have time to edit, so I hope it made sense. What has happened since then? A number of things...

I had friends over for dinner on Friday night, and those who are readers of this blog were invited to take a look at the area surrounding my desk. :) On Saturday morning, I wasn't really up for going to synagogue, so I sat down on my couch and wondered which of the several books on my list I should read--and then I remembered that I had a stack of magazines. I skimmed through them all, dogeared a couple pages to return to later, and recycled the rest. (FYI--I have now pulled the two pages of interest, one of which is highlighted here, and dumped the magazines.)

Later in the afternoon, I removed an old 13" TV from where it has sat unused on my dresser--for the last four years. Does anybody know how to recycle a television? I moved it into the living room, but I'd like to get it out of here as soon as possible. I dusted the top of the dresser and replaced the TV with framed pictures of friends and family. I'm not sure those pictures are arranged the best way or that that location will be their permanent home, but it works for now. (FYI--learning to be satisfied with something that's good enough, rather than perfect, is a big step for me. I'm working on it.)

I have started the arduous process of cleaning out my bedroom closet. It was surprisingly easy to part with a number of articles of clothing that I don't wear anyway--even a bridesmaid dress from one of the slimmest points in my life. I now have a HUGE bag of clothing to be donated, and it's only the beginning.

I went through a couple of boxes of stuff I described a few days ago as something akin to let-me-throw-this-over-here-maybe-I'll-look-at-it-in-a-few-days-and-sort-it-appropriately-but-shhh-i-might-forget-about-it-forever. My garbage bag got fuller, and my shred pile also grew, too. (Last night, I had so much fun with the shredder that I had to give the machine breaks a couple times because it started overheating from extreme usage. Yes, it was fun.)

I have noticed one issue...I seem to be easily distracted, but in a bizarre way. When putting items away in one location, I tend to then move over and declutter in that location next, rather than sticking with one location start to finish. This isn't bizarre--it's ADD. (Relax. I know it's not REALLY attention deficit disorder. If you're going to jump down my throat for something, pick something better.) Anyway, this is bizarre because one of my personal challenges is precisely starting a project when I cannot see the finish line. I haven't wanted to start the closet until I had a Sunday with nothing else scheduled, but now I see that I can do this in multiple steps over multiple days. It's really all about breaking down huge goals and tasks into simple, specific steps. You can do it, too!

And finally, the STUFF BOX has grown so much that I have put everything into a larger box (and yes, recycled the old box). What stuff do I have now? Here's an abridged list:

art project for 4-year-old
self-teaching chess set
The Game of Life
two jigsaw puzzles
Boston mug
U of Iowa mug
Starbucks mug
mascara (still in package)
two mouse pads
Ulta cranberry hand cream
non-CFL light bulbs
athletic armband that holds 3rd-generation iPod nano (ipod not included)
charger/radio transmitter for ipod shuffle
Office 2003 (hmmm, is it legal for me to post that?)
ginormous red candle
silicone pot holder
Bath and Body Works creamy body wash (unopened)
cotton bag for holding all those plastic bags from the grocery store
Remember those flag pins we made years ago out of safety pins and beads? I have an American flag pin and an Israeli flag pin.

Let me know if you're interested in anything, or feel free to come over to look through the whole box.

Happy Decluttering!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

This is truly my organizational theory. I need to have everything in sight, or I will forget about it. (Turns out that doesn't really work...) Today, I tackled my desk. I was worried about this one. I was avoiding it. The truth is that I only did it because I had a ulterior motive.

This week, my new computer arrived. It's the cutest little netbook, and I am typing on it right now. Since I started my own business last summer, I've tried to justify the purchase of a new computer because my current one was a piece of junk, but I wanted to really earn it. I made myself wait until I hit a certain business benchmark, and when I got there last week, I CELEBRATED! I got my netbook, and I am looking forward to how it will help me keep track of my business. The only issue I have right now is that I want to install Microsoft Office, but I can't find my 2007 CD. Shockingly, my desk and its shelves were a mass of paper and other stuff. Hmmmm...

This afternoon, I took 90 minutes to attack my desk. I have a full bag of garbage, a stack for the shredder, more items for my stuff box, and a super clean desk! I am so excited to throw away the dusty, disgusting plastic drawer units that were on the desk's shelves; as soon as I post this entry, they are doing down my garbage chute. (Gotta love living in a highrise...)

What did I throw away? Are you kidding? EVERYTHING! The real question is what I kept:

Pens (now in a small basket)
Items for geniza (will take next week)
CDs (already tucked away in my CD book)
Printer paper and cardstock (who knew I had this stuff? WOW!)
three socks--straight to laundry bin!

In addition to getting rid of clutter, I'm actually FINDING money in my home. How great is that? Here's what I found:

At least a couple dollars in small change--all went straight to my tzedakah box.
Crate and Barrel gift certificate
Krispy Kreme gift certificate
Several other gift cards. They are all in a stack on my kitchen counter, and I'm going to call the 800 number on each to find out the balance. Cards with zero balances will be tossed, and I'll use a sharpie to write the remaining balance on the rest.

Ninety minutes of cleaning and sorting, 20 minutes of putting everything away. My home might not look perfect right now, but I have moved one more step in the right direction.

Except that I still haven't found that Office CD.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reminder: You Need A System (I Do, Too)

Today was a long, long day at work, followed by a nearly-panic-attack-inducing 15 minutes upon my arrival at home, during which I could not find a pretty large insurance check for car repairs from a recent collision. I found the check and immediately clipped it to the refrigerator door, where it should have been in the first place. (I have intentionally toned down the drama of this story. Trust me, it's better if you don't know. :) ) Tonight was my reminder: This Is Why I Need A System. This Is Why I Must Have A System.

Fifteen years ago, when I was on a summer youth group trip, I had a strong emotional reaction to shoes. I was in Poland at the site of the former death camp, Majdanek, and several of the barracks buildings now hold piles and piles of shoes that were worn on by Jews before they were brought to the camp and gassed. I had such a visceral reaction because I had recently had an argument with my parents about a pair of shoes I wanted to wear to prom...and here were thousands of shoes that made our squabble petty. I have never forgotten that day, and I still have those shoes, those gorgeous black ribbed pumps with only one tiny flaw--the shoes don't fit my feet.

Fast forward to 2010. I have a shoe organizer hanging out the outside of my bathroom door, and mostly it just hangs there, holding lots of shoes that are worn seasonally or not at all. Tonight, I went through the shoes to determine which pairs to toss.

Yes, I'm throwing away old shoes. They're NOT perfectly good shoes. They should NOT be donated anywhere. They are old, falling apart shoes that I have worn into the ground and then some. The black ribbed pumps remain in the shoe organizer. They will be donated.

This process was much less emotional than I had imagined. As soon as I was honest with myself about what I really do and don't wear, it was easy to throw shoes into the bag.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Declutter, Day One

I've heard Oprah say over and over again, "Your home should rise up to meet you." I have one--and only one--particular friend whose apartment gives me that feeling, and I'm inspired to do the same for myself.

A bit about me. I'm a packrat. Not a hoarder (really), but someone who loves to keep memories of this or that. Since moving out of my parents' home after high school, I moved every year or two through college, work, grad school, etc., giving me ample opportunity every 12-24 months to sort through and toss unneeded items. Now I've lived in the same place since August 2005, and I love-love-love my apartment, but I don't love that I've never gone through everything that has ended up here.

So here I am with my plan: six weeks of slow but serious decluttering, with the intention of freeing me of the burden of gratuitous stuff--and developing a home that will rise up to meet me.

I began tonight with a quick sort of the front closet and some serious work in the kitchen. It's amazing how much you can get done in a short period of time when you set a timer--in my case, the exact period of time my dinner needed in the oven. I grabbed an empty box that I had around and set it down in the hallway. This is the stuff box. Everything placed here will be usable but not part of my life anymore. Friends and family are welcome to come and take whatever they'd like from the stuff box, and anything left will be donated, recycled, or otherwise eliminated during these six weeks.

I tackled the kitchen, shredding mail, setting aside magazines (one Shabbat to read through them, and then they go away, too), putting things away (corkscrew? can opener?), and wiping down the counter. It looks great! I know there's still a lot to tackle inside the cabinets, but on the outside, it looks significantly better than an hour earlier. This is a good beginning.

light bulbs (not CFLs)
refrigerator magnets (wide variety: travel, Mary Engelbreit, magnetic poetry, random)
ginormous candle I did not know I owned--found in the back of the dairy cabinet
hand lotion

Let me know if you're local and interested in any of these items.

Coming soon--the junk drawer, the kitchen cabinets, and the "people-are-coming-over-let-me-dump-everything-over-here-I-think-I'll-go-through-it-in-two-days-but-secretly-probably-never-ever-again" corner of the apartment.