Thursday, June 8, 2017

Neatness Vs. Order

Neatness and order are not the same.   It is possible to have neatness without order, and order without neatness, but the consequences are different.

Neatness without order

If you have neatness without order, your house will look gorgeous inside and you’ll have lots of bins and drawers and places to put things, but you will still feel like your life is in shambles and like you can’t get a handle on everything.  (Duplicates everywhere. Things getting lost.)

Neatness without order is often what one achieves when you have to clean up the guest room for people coming to visit but you don’t have time to organize it all so you just stash things in boxes and hide them away.

Neatness without order is also what advertisements are selling when you see a picture marketing the newest desk or closet system or garage-rack-hanging-from-the-ceiling.  It’s visually appealing. It makes you think if you only had that thing, then you could be organized and live a less-cluttered life.

What it doesn’t show you is the mental systems that are in place to create order and which maintain order over time. It doesn’t show you the work that people do to keep things looking neat and organized over months and years. (Yes, it is a little bit of work. It’s just spread out and made habitual over time of practice.)

Order without neatness

Order without neatness is not particularly visual appealing, but it works. The consequences of order without neatness is that a person’s life flows pretty well, they are on top of things…but they may have a feeling every so often that they want to escape the complexities of life. Or they might stare longingly at home decorating magazine spreads of minimalistic interiors. Systems are in place to handle things, but they aren’t very pretty.

Sometimes people think that order-without-neatness is not really organized because it doesn’t look nice.  I disagree. The purpose of organization is to help us deal successfully with life and live happily, while not missing appointments or losing things, or neglecting important responsibilities.  If you can do that with your systems, you are living successfully.  The marketers selling the spiffy organization aids don’t want you to think so, but you are.  You don’t have to listen to them.

If you want to try to create more visual appeal for your systems, you can.  If you have order without neatness, odds are you have enough wisdom to see beneath the surface of any object designed to organize and tell whether it is really going to help you or whether it will actually become a hinderance.  (Yeah, hindrances exist, I’m sure you can think of at least a few examples.)

Happy medium

I have a certain amount of order-without-neatness. I have personally noticed that if I try to add too much neatness, I actually create more of a burden for myself.  (Or this could be ADD tendencies...) Specialized containers for odd-shaped things can break and then are hard to replace.  If something breaks from a matching set of containers, it is almost impossible to find a replacement for that either.  If I let categorization can get too granular it can be too unwieldy to maintain.  Bags in boxes in containers in crates make things hard to get to for often-used things, but they are okay for things rarely accessed.

I think the key is to prioritize functionality over style. It is best to find a happy medium. Your home may not look like a Better Homes and Gardens organization issue feature, but it will be attractive and really functional.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Zoob on collections

Retail therapy is alive and well across the galaxy..

Monday, November 10, 2014

Zoob on tender memories

Do aliens have troubles with decluttering?  Maybe...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A professional organizer sounds off about family portraits

I come from a family that would get a family portrait just about every year by a professional photographer.   A few of them were in matching outfits and some of them were in very nice natural settings.  I give a lot of credit to that photographer and his wife for their skill in wrangling smiles out of all seven of us kids all at once.

My dad would order a large 2’ x 2’ photo print of our family each year to put on the wall in the hall leading down to the master bedroom.  (Okay, I don’t know the actual dimensions, but I know they were large.)  The older we got, the more fun it was to meander down the hall and look at all the family pictures to see how we had changed over time.  When we brought dates home, they were similarly enthralled with the picture wall.

Cut to one year ago when I’m helping my mom go through all her parents’ belongings at her parents’ house to try to decide what to keep.  Her mother (Barbara) is still alive, but now staying with my mom, across the country from Barbara’s house.  Gma Barbara can’t care for her house anymore and will likely never return to it.  In the process of looking for letters, important documents, home movies, photo albums, journals, and so on, my mother finds a large framed black-and-white portrait photograph of her grandfather (my great-grandfather McKnight).  It’s 2’ x 1.5’.  She decides to keep it. 

So my professional organizer mind started thinking about this picture of my GGpa McKnight and I realized what a hassle large family portraits can become over time.  Is GGpa McKnight’s portrait something my mom wants to hang on the wall, or is his picture going to go in a box somewhere?  And if on the wall, why such a large portrait for only one man?  Where is the rest of the family?  From a family history perspective, you want a portrait in a small form so you can copy and share it.  Large portraits in frames make it hard to do that if they are larger than a normal-sized flatbed scanner.

Then I started thinking about all the large family portraits on the picture wall.  What happens to them when my parents die?  They will probably be split among my siblings and I.  But let’s face it; it’s going to be hard for us to choose our favorite picture.   And do I imagine that we’ll settle perfectly on our own choice without some squabbling?  No, it will be a difficult negotiation process.  Looking through the sequence makes them all the more interesting, so I imagine that deep down we’d all like a copy of all the pictures, but none of us will have room at home for them all.   In this kind of situation, family portraits become much more useful if they can be shrunk down to 8’’ x 10” size and put in page protectors in a family history binder or photo album.

This is when I realized that if family portraits had been printed that size (or smaller) in the first place, we would not have this issue to begin with.  

I have clients who store a stack of large framed family portraits of older generations or divorced family because there is no room to hang them on the wall or they are from too long ago, but they can’t get rid of them because it is family history and they can’t find any smaller way to store them.

So here’s my opinion of large framed family portraits:
·      They’re a waste of space
·      They make it hard to pass family pictures on to the next generation because of the difficulty of storing them and sharing them.
·      They’re too big to scan in a normal scanner

In contrast, 8” x 10” family pictures are ideal.
·      They are big enough to frame and put on a wall.
·      They are small enough for the next generation to remove from the frame and put in a scrapbook.
·      They are small enough to put in a flatbed scanner, digitize, and share widely.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Do you really need to seasonally change your décor?

One of the ways that our consumer culture tries to get us to buy more is to attempt to convince us in trendy magazine articles that we must redecorate every time the season changes.  The rationale is that the change gives the house a fresh look.

As a professional organizer, I take exception to this because it multiplies clutter.
  • If you are into the seasonal décor thing, that means each season you have 3X more out-of-season décor you have to store someplace! 
  • If you feel the need to change your décor every three months, that’s an indication that your décor isn’t meaningful enough or doesn’t have enough of a visual impact for you to want to display it all the time.
I recently saw an article that suggested changing out sofa throw pillows, flowers, table center pieces, wreaths, books, family pictures, and chalkboard quotes.  Here’s my response:

Change out sofa throw pillows—To speak frankly, your couch must be boring if you have to buy throw pillows to make it interesting.  A couch is such a big part of the room and stays there for so long that it really is worth shopping around (or ordering something custom) in order to find a couch that will remain visually fresh to you all the time.   (And if you’re wondering, yes, I did take my own advice on this.  My couch is hyper-actively rainbow-colored.)

Flowers—I’m not complaining here if you use fresh flowers.  But if you rotate through arrangements of fake flowers, it is possible the flowers arrangements aren’t giving you all the visual impact that you need. 

Change out wreaths—Once upon a time, people used to make their own wreaths out of plants they gathered themselves.  Once the wreath decayed, it went into the trash or the compost heap, so there was nothing to clutter storage spaces.   Multiple fake wreaths are just more to store.

Chalkboard quotes—If you do this, don’t do it just because it is the fashion.  Do it because the changing quotes help you stay inspired.  Chalkboards are messy and not inherently attractive.

Change out the books on display—I’m sorry, but rotating books on display just because of the different covers seems so shallow to me.  Books are an ingenious device for transmitting one person’s ideas across time and space to another person, a repository of thought and knowledge.  Aren’t you interested in reading them? 

Changing out family pictures from frames—If you’re changing out the large family pictures, you probably have too many pictures.  If you’re changing out the small pictures, your pictures probably aren’t nice enough to stay up all the time.  If your small pictures are nice enough to stay out all the time, you probably should blow them up larger (but not too large) and frame them so they will have more visual impact. (8” x 10” is just right.) (I'll say more about family pictures soon.)

Changing out table centerpieces—If you’re changing out centerpieces, your centerpiece collection is taking up valuable storage space. 

DO NOT BUY INTO THE ADVICE TO ROTATE YOUR DÉCOR!   It is just a ploy to get you to buy more and it will just fill up your storage with low priority stuff you don’t really need.

Instead, acquire pieces with maximum impact that you will enjoy looking at for years and years.  

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Let them go for something better

4 Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord; for what is property unto me? saith the Lord.
  5 Let the properties of Kirtland be turned out for debts, saith the Lord. Let them go, saith the Lord, and whatsoever remaineth, let it remain in your hands, saith the Lord.
  6 For have I not the fowls of heaven, and also the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the mountains? Have I not made the earth? Do I not hold the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth?
  7 Therefore, will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom, and to bring forth in abundance? saith the Lord.
  8 Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?
  9 Therefore, come up hither unto the land of my people, even Zion. (D&C 117:4-9)

It is interesting to read this block of verses from the perspective of decluttering and organizing because they point out an important principle that can help us deal with feelings of loss.

Some people are hesitant to let go of what they don’t need because they argue, “They don’t make things like that anymore.”  The implication is that craftsmanship has degenerated since the making of that object, and its like will never been seen again.  Therefore, the reasoning goes, I must hang on to this last vestige of excellence even though I have no real use for it. 

I saw this attitude for the first time in an older woman who was determined to keep a broken plastic serving platter—she pledged to glue it back together—because, as she said, “They don’t make them like that any more.”  To my eye, the platter deserved to be discontinued, but I did not say so; after all, she was allowed to have her opinion as well as I, and she owned it, not I.  But I tried to tell her that there are so many platters that have been made in this world and surely there would be something out there she’d like as well if not better.  She was not convinced.  I suppose she never frequented eBay and the variety of styles, ages, colors, and designs that are represented for sale there. 

In the above block of verses, the Lord was trying to get the Saints to let go of their lands in Kirtland in 1838 and move to Zion.  No doubt the Saints were convinced it would be impossible to find a situation of property so advantageous as the place they lived.  The Lord’s words in verse 6 and 8 are a reminder that the earth is a very big place with plenty of space, far bigger than they realize, so the chances of finding other advantageous places to settle is high.   And, in verse 7, He even offers the comfort of miraculous transformations—even if the place they end up is solitary and desolate, the Lord can make it blossom, bloom, and bring forth in abundance so that it becomes advantageous. 

These same reasons can help us today let go of what we don’t need.  What does it matter if we decide we need it again in the future?   The Lord can bring something just as good if not better into our lives.  Or, if we can’t find what we need, He can help us make something that is just what we need.  The principle the Lord wants us to learn is letting go with the faith that there is something just as good if not better that will come to us. 

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Avoid clutter by avoiding covetousness

One of the 10 commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai is very helpful for avoiding clutter.
“Thou shalt not covet…” (Exodus 20:17)
The opposite of covetousness is contentment.

In the age of Moses, societies that coveted would go on conquests and try to take what they wanted with violence.  People who envied the Jones family wouldn’t work to have what the Jones family had; they would attack and loot the Jones family instead.  (I’m really glad I don’t live back then..)

In modern times, covetousness traps us in acquisitiveness and prevents us from enjoying what we have.  It traps us in a hostile envious state of mind that gets in the way of us realizing the work we need to put in to be blessed the same way.

Covetousness sees any reduction in the amount of goods one has as a threat, rather than a blessing, no matter the reason, no matter the goods.  Covetousness sees more as better, no matter what.  Covetousness has no conception of priorities or stewardship, no idea of consecration, no way to tell how much is enough, and no enjoyment of security.  Security is always just out of reach.

Now, let’s look at the full verse. 

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:17)

If you notice, these are all tangible things listed.   What about spiritual things?  Is it okay to covet our neighbor’s spiritual gifts?   Perhaps, if it provokes us to pray and seek for obtain those gifts ourselves in order to bless others as our neighbor does.   And the cool thing about spiritual gifts is that they can’t be taken away and they don’t clutter the house!  J

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Product Analysis for ADD: The hanging toiletry bag
Hanging toiletry bags like this one from iKOU seem to promise us AD/HD people that we can attain organization.  After all, look at all those pockets!  This is when we dearly need to analyze the product to see if it really will work with our unique needs.  One of the best ways to do this is to actually go through the motions of using the product and notice where you start to get annoyed with it and notice where you begin to think of avoiding using part of it.  (Playing with it requires that you be at a store, rather than buying it online.)  Here's what I found when I analyzed a folding travel bag that was very similar to this one.

Good points
  • The pockets are see-through.  AD/HD people are very visual, so we need to be able to see what we have.  
Bad points
  • It takes more effort to put toiletries back into its bag than it does to just leave toiletries on the bathroom counter.  
  • You have to remember which pocket each toiletry goes in once you take it out.
  • No matter where you hang this in the bathroom, some part of it will be awkward to get to.  Hanging it from the shower bar (up high) will make it awkward to reach into the top compartments.  Hanging it from the towel bar (chest level) will require you to stoop to reach the bottom compartments.  This ensures putting toiletries back every day will hassle an AD/HD person.
 With more bad points than good points, this product will probably not serve an AD/HD person as well as, say, something with one compartment that you can just throw things in.  

The only time this might actually be a good idea is if you travel a lot and change hotels every night.  Another situation in which it might be helpful is if you share a bathroom with a lot of people and there's not room for everyone to store their toiletries there. (But in that situation a caddy would probably work better than this.)

Thinking about what you will have to do to use an organizing product is an important part of shopping for organizing supplies.  A product can look like the coolest thing in the world, but if it doesn't make life easier for you and doesn't fit into the way you do things, it's just a waste of money.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

This is your kitchen speaking.

Ahem.  This is your kitchen speaking.

I am the place of safe food preparation and storage.  You may have forgotten this, so I will explain it very carefully to you.

I am not your entertainment center, so you can remove the TV.  And the videos.  And the iPad (except if you’re following a recipe on it.)  And the laptop.

I am not your filing cabinet, so you can remove the stacks of papers.

I am not your child’s toy chest, so you can remove the blocks, the little cars, and suchlike.

I am not a greenhouse, so you can remove all but one or two very small potted plants that you keep off the counter.

I am not a disco or a dance club, so you can remove the stereo system and all the CDS and tapes off the counter.  If you must have music, place the stereo outside so it doesn’t clutter the counters. 

I am not a candy store.  I want to you keep a healthy diet, so hide those jars of candy in the cupboard instead of leaving them out on the counter.  Better yet, toss them in the trash.

I am not the garbage can, so you can remove all the empty wrappers and put them in the trash.

I am not the refrigerator, so put all the partially eaten food in there instead of leaving it on the counter.

I am not your mailbox, so the mail can be moved elsewhere.
I am pretty darn good at being a kitchen, but when you ask me to do all that other stuff too I can't do my job as well.  So don't ask me to be what I'm not.  I'm a kitchen. 

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

How priorities can help us get de-cluttered

Sometimes it is hard to make a decision to de-clutter because we forget about how things fit into the big picture.  For instance, when you have a box of Christmas cards that you are agonizing over, it is hard to imagine letting go of any of them.

 This is when it is helpful to look at a list of priorities and see where that stuff fits into the big picture of your possessions.

Things that are physically necessary
Transportation—cars, kids’ bikes (if bike to school)
Coats, hats, gloves, boots, and other outerwear (put in front hall closet)
Laundry supplies
Toiletries (put in or near the bathroom)
Cleaning supplies  (commonly under kitchen sink or on a shelf over washer and dryer)

Things that are emotionally necessary
Photo albums

Things needed to accomplish common living tasks and for learning important skills
Cooking equipment
Office supplies (put in or near desk)
Car tools (in garage)
Home tools
Gardening tools
Craft supplies
Electronic and computer supplies (put near computer)
Musical instruments and music 

Things that are more for fun
Makeup supplies
Books, videos, and recorded music, video games
Outdoor play equipment
Toys  (Kids may see these as necessary)
Board games
Camping equipment
Decorations—knickknacks, pictures, sculpture
Holiday and seasonal decorations
Additional memorabilia

Perhaps you noticed that the three lists above are grouped according to
1.     things that are pretty necessary
2.     things that are needed to accomplish common living tasks and for learning important skills
3.     things that are more for fun. 
Perhaps your priority lists would have certain things on them that mine don't.  Maybe you would consider musical instruments and music to be more fun than part of learning an important skill.  That's okay.  But it is important for you to know what belongs on YOUR lists based upon your skills and interests. 

Things on the fourth list (the fun stuff) are the things that tend to cause the most clutter in our lives.  You have to keep an eye on these things because they can and will easily grow beyond the limits of your space. Whenever you need to de-clutter, it never hurts to start by examining the things on that list first.   (You can also de-clutter things on the third list if you look for where you have a surplus that you can't use up easily or that you aren't interested in using.  For instance, I might de-clutter music for my musical instruments by looking through to find music that I like least of all or that I never play.)

This post started with the question of saving Christmas cards.  Christmas cards would fall into the category of extra memorabilia and memorabilia is not absolutely necessary.  It’s nice, but not as important as, say, our journals and photo albums.

Looking at where Christmas cards might fall on a priority list helps us remember how important those cards are with respect to everything else we own and reminds us that we have to be picky about what memory items we keep, otherwise it can take over.

Extra Credit Exercise:
In the following list, where would you place these items in the priority lists above?
  • A pair of earplugs
  • A set of scriptures
  • A frizbee
  • Cake-decorating equipment
  • A hoodie with your favorite sports team logo on it (it still fits you)
  • A book from your childhood
  • Five Precious Moments figurines
  • A screwdriver
  • Your  graduation cap from your high school graduation
  • A package of ramen
Related post: 

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