This is a story about minimalism and how it relates to productivity and happiness. At LightArrow, we often provide tips for becoming productive, organizing your life and living a happy, stress-free existence. We regularly remind our readers that they can be productive by doing less. Seems counterintuitive, right?
Simply put, everything you own or bring into your life must be cleaned, stored, fed, trimmed, serviced, refilled, watered, powered, etc. You get the picture. Taking care of all this stuff takes time and effort. The more possessions you have, the less time you have to enjoy life. Consequently, minimalism translates into more time to dedicate to you — not your stuff.
Today, I’m sharing my personal journey with you. Over the last three months, I shed more than half of my belongings; sold a house in less than a week; and moved from the booming and rapidly growing city of Austin, TX to the beautiful town of Boulder, CO, which is located at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
My husband, a seasoned veteran in high tech, was presented with an exciting and fulfilling job opportunity in Colorado. With careful consideration, we decided to embark on this journey after 10 years in Austin, TX. As they say in Texas, this is not our first rodeo. We’re practiced movers, as we’ve lived in the Silicon Valley, Portland Oregon and other cities.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
My personality is eclectic, with the unusual combination of right-brained tendencies with an affinity to logic, organization, order and consistency. I’ve always considered myself to be deeply organized. Everything has a place in my home, usually neatly labeled, stacked, grouped and color-coded.
What I didn’t realize until preparing my house for sale was there were nooks and crannies in this 4467 square foot, 1.24 acre home that contained unorganized messes that were pushed away like an ex boyfriend. Out of sight. Out of mind. The more space you have, the more you use. Something had to be done – and fast.
It was December 2014 that we decided to put the house on the market. It officially went up for sale on January 29, 2015 and was sold five days later. Prior to sale, a considerable de-cluttering and organizing journey was completed within 6 – 8 weeks (which would take most folks a year). How did we do it? I’ll get to that.
Over the years we accumulated lots of stuff. Frankly, stuff we don’t need. For me, shopping was always a form of recreation – an escape mechanism, retail therapy or a pacifier for a bad day. There was always a good excuse to buy a new pair of shoes.
I’m making the transformation. I’m on a journey to continue to shed many of my unnecessary possessions that burden me to focus on healthy and fun life experiences. I’m not saying that I will have only 50 or even 100 total things and live out of a backpack. I’m not saying that I won’t replace things that no longer work with new things. This is unrealistic for my family’s lifestyle, but the change is still profoundly significant.
Now, I find myself repeating this mantra, loosely quoting Voltaire or Stan Lee,
With more stuff there must also come great responsibility.
With any purchase there is prodigious consideration to the responsibility of owning it and its effect on the environment.
The Storm Before the Calm
If you’ve ever worked in the startup world, you know that deadlines can be crazy and you sometimes have to make the impossible, possible. This is exactly what we needed to do. Apply the startup mentality to what I would call “extreme de-cluttering, purging and organizing.”
I wouldn’t suggest this swiftness to the faint-hearted. Without a deadline, these steps can be spread over several months or even years, depending upon your urgency. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting.
You might ask. Does de-cluttering and organizing ever actually end? For now, the flood of activity still continues, but the urgency has diminished. Essentially, I’m now basking in the satisfaction of a job well done — “the calm.” However, maintaining the lifestyle continues.
A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. -H. Stanely Judd
By now, you’re probably wondering how we accomplished this transformation. First, I started with a SMART goal and then prepared a plan or roadmap.
SMART Goal: Achieve a non-cluttered and minimalist home environment with focus on a quick home sale within 4 – 6 weeks.
Time is money. Every day a house is for sale, you’re losing money. In order to reach this goal, we built a plan to get there. We recorded every task imaginable including repairs, painting, purging, organizing, cleaning and staging. We also established a budget and arranged the finances.
What Were the Rules?
We decided if we haven’t utilized a household or personal item in 5 -10 years, it would go. Exception – photos, things bonded with the sentimental and snow skis. Some items were easy to purge. For example, how many laptop bags from trade shows does a person really need? And some items were difficult — a basketball signed by Magic Johnson and a Schwinn almost-vintage bike? My husband wouldn’t budge on those. Some battles aren’t worth fighting.
Road to Success
We tackled the house room-by-room and started with the most cluttered and noticeable rooms with emphasis on the home sale. For example, we started with the great room and ended with the attic. We cleared countertops, removed personal items and stowed and grouped items. If you want to learn more about organizing and grouping, visit If You Want to be Organized, Learn This One Simple Concept.
Every night after work, I scheduled hours on my calendar dedicated to these tasks. We spent sixteen or more hours every weekend. My family moved away a month before I did, so I tackled much of it alone. Like I said, this plan is not for the faint-hearted. This was de-clutter bootcamp.
We divided everything among donate, trash, recycle, sell and give away. What wasn’t sold was given away. After approximately 30 SUV-loads of items purged, we achieved the clutter-free environment for which we had hoped. As a small example, I donated 100 pairs of shoes and fifty percent of a three-tiered closet of clothing to Goodwill. We dug deep.
How and Where Did We Get Rid of All This Stuff?
If you wish to embark on this satisfying but challenging journey, the essential places, websites and apps are listed below:
- Apps: iRecycle is an amazing app. Every time it was questionable as to where to recycle an item, I just accessed this app. Love it!
- Sites and Locations for Selling Things: Craigslist (use caution!), Amazon, Ebay, Nextdoor, Plato’s Closet
- Great Places for Donating Items: Goodwill, Salvation Army. This article from Apartment Therapy also provides some ideas — 25 Places to Donate Your Stuff.
- When You’ve Just Had Enough: 1-800-GOTJUNK
A garage sale or yard sale is also a good option. If you’re on a tight deadline like us, a yard sale might be unrealistic because of time constraints. And don’t forget to ask your friends if they want your stuff. Your trash can be someone else’s treasure. It’s amazing what they’ll take. For example, a friend who manages several rental properties took our cleaning supplies and other items that were prohibited by the moving company.
How Do I Feel Now?
It’s heartwarming and satisfying to sell (at a very low price) and give away things that you don’t use or need. The hugs and appreciation that I receive are gratifying beyond belief. We’re now living comfortably in a house that is half the size of the previous home. We are almost unpacked and we continue to donate and purge items daily. The environment is non-cluttered and feels peaceful. We know where everything is and the work involved in maintaining the home is next to none.
What I learned
If you’re someone who’s just starting out and entering the “acquiring years,” take this advice seriously. When you have too much stuff, it weighs you down. It negatively affects your energy level. It doesn’t allow you to have the time you need to get things done and experience life like you should. I feel as if a weight has been lifted – a monkey off my back. For example, I have the freedom to take a hike with the dogs after work instead of raking leaves out of the pool or sweeping the patio. Your time is priceless — guard it.
I honestly don’t miss those things and I don’t think I ever will.
Please Share Your Experiences with De-cluttering and Minimalism
We would love to hear your experiences with de-cluttering and minimalism. Please share or write a post.
One of the first rules of getting and staying organized is to get rid of the things you do not need any more. That home ab cruncher you bought six years ago and swore you would use every day? Since you only used it twice, you might as well get it out of the closet and into the hands of someone who might actually use it. That vintage rock concert T-shirt that you love so much? If your wife will never let you wear it (even just to do household projects on occasion) it is better off in the hands of someone who will really make use of it.
If you are in a position to be able to do so, you could consider donating them to charity. If you are not in that position given that these are challenging economic times, you should be able to get some cash for the things you don’t need any more by selling them on Ebay.
If you are an experienced eBayer, you already know all the tips and tricks to maximize your selling effectiveness. Maybe you have even read one of the countless books on the subject But if you are new to the eBay game and your seller feedback score numbers in the tens or hundreds, not the thousands, then you should benefit from these 4 tips:
1) pick what you sell: there are many factors that go into what you should spend your time trying to sell on eBay. Start by using common sense. If you have, for example, a hundred pound kettlebell that is only worth $5, then it is doubtful that anyone will want to buy that from you and pay the high cost to ship it. If you are not sure what something is worth or what people will pay for it, try doing a search for the item in eBay and look at the completed auctions – chances are someone else sold an item like yours, or something close enough to it to give you an idea of what it will fetch. Avoid convincing yourself that “no one will buy this”. Jay Leno has done a segment for years titled “Stuff We Found On Ebay” where they show things that most people would have thought would never sell, but they did sell.
2) put the item’s best foot forward: one of the biggest concerns of an eBay buyer is getting something different from what they thought they were getting. You can help prevent a potential buyer of your item from thinking this if you take good photos and write a comprehensive description of the item, including all its features, specifications, measurements, and (especially) condition. And make sure you choose words for your listing’s title and content that are meaningful and will attract users. Remember that people looking for something like what you are selling who are using search engines will come across your listing if you word things right.
3) determine if your listing should have a reserve price: eBay lets you put a reserve price on a listing — if no bid goes above that price, the item is not sold. If you are the kind of person that will really regret letting something go for less than you thought it was worth, then you should set a reasonable reserve price for the item. Beware that eBay does not display this reserve price to potential bidders; they only see that it has a reserve price. This can scare some bidders away, so you should not take the decision to set a reserve price lightly.
4) choose the day your listing ends carefully: the end of an auction is where the real action happens. It is where the most bids start getting entered as the battle between interested buyers heats up. Therefore, you want this time to be when the most people can participate. eBay lets you specify how long your auction will run. If the length of auction you choose ends at 8am eastern time, for example, that is 5am pacific time. Such an auction will likely miss out on a lot of west coast bidders. Most eBayers will tell you that the best time to end an auction is mid-afternoon to evening on a Sunday.
Given those tips a try and see if you can make some money from all that stuff collecting duct in your closet.
When it comes to all of the information in your life, what is the best way to get organized? And once you achieve your new year’s resolution to get organized, what is the best way to stay that way? Everyone is different, of course, and one size does not fit all. But here are some tips that most folks should find helpful in achieving those goals.
According to a paper by the Alliance Academy, 83% of Americans want to be more organized. When we were younger, being organized wasn’t as important, or nearly as difficult. Maybe it wasn’t as important because it wasn’t cool, not as much depended on it, or we were just more carefree. It probably wasn’t as difficult because we had a much smaller circle of acquaintances, there was much less going on in our life, or everything just moved more slowly before things like the internet and wireless handheld devices came along.
Whatever the reasons, it seems increasingly harder to do now. Here are five things you can do to deal with the information overload in your life:
- Determine what kind of information you have the most trouble keeping up withMaybe you find it almost impossible to remember when you have a dentist appointment. Or perhaps you keep forgetting that your father-in-law’s first name is Bob. Or maybe all of these are true and you think it may just be hopeless. Knowing the scope of the issue and the type of information involved is the first step in being able to identify the best way to organize it.
- Decide what type of organizational tool fits you bestOnce you know what kind of information you need to organize, you have a better chance of choosing the right tool that will work for you. If you are a techie and you always have a gadget with you, then a mobile phone, tablet computer, or PDA may suit you best. If you’re a luddite, then you’ll probably want to stick with something like a Moleskin notebook or other paper-based solution.
- Put your information into your organizational toolMost people have a tendency to want to keep track of “everything”. But you’re probably better off culling out the stuff you’re never going to use so you can get down to something more manageable and less overwhelming. Once you have identified what’s really important, think about the best way to organize all of it, and then put it into your tool in a way that makes sense to you.
- Get into the habit of using your organizational tool by establishing a routineThe more you use your organizational tool of choice, the more useful information it will contain. The more useful information it contains, the more you will want to use it. See how nicely that works? The best way to ensure that you are capturing useful information is to establish a routine for putting information into it. When you meet someone new, put their contact information into your organizational tool right away. When you are scheduling an appointment, consult your tool to see when you’re available and immediately record your appointment.
- Periodically refine your processEvery once in a while, it pays to evaluate how well this whole model is working for you. You might start out using a paper-based system but, after having gotten an iPhone for your birthday, become much more comfortable with technology and more productive using it. Or, you may have changed jobs from one that involved working with lots of different people and required maintaining a bunch of contacts to one that is less people-oriented and requires keeping track of tasks and projects.
Those tips may not help get your junk drawer sorted out, but hopefully they will help you get your information in order.
This time of the year, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. Last minute shopping to finish out your gift list and getting ready for the holidays take almost all your energy and attention. But this is the best time to make sure that you take care of several important chores before the big crystal ball drops and the calendar switches from 2011 to 2012.
To help you make sure nothing falls through the cracks, we’ve put together the following end of year checklist to make sure you are prepared for the new year:
- Make charitable contributions: you may be able to deduct charitable contributions from your taxes for this year if you itemize. Make a rough estimate of your income and other deuctions for the year so you will know if your charitable deductions will be phased out because you earn too much. The 2010 publication from the IRS about charitable contributions can be found here.
- Take advantage of your health insurance deductible: many health insurance “plan years” are on a calendar basis. If yours is and you have already met your deductible, then you will want to go ahead and make the appointments with your healthcare providers you have been putting off. If you haven’t already met your deductible, then you may want to schedule those for after the new year so that they can apply to next year’s deductible. Of course, you should never put off anything other than routine doctor’s visits – don’t sacrifice your health for the sake of an insurance deductible!
- Complete your FSA spending: Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA’s) are “use it or lose it”. Therefore, you don’t want to end the year with unspent money in that account. If your health insurance plan year is on a calendar basis, then so is your FSA. If that’s the case, then add up all the receipts that qualify for reimbursement under your FSA. If you have not yet met your FSA total, then make purchases of the items you need that are eligible for reimbursement through your FSA (the list from the IRS for 2010 can be found here.)
- Update your will: Hardly anyone likes to think about dying, but it’s wise to prepare for that day by having an up-to-date will in place. If you don’t have a will, draw one up. If you do have one, review it to see if your life situation has changed in such a way that requires you to update your it. In it, make sure you name an executor and, if you have children, designate trustees and guardians.
- Plan taxes: In addition to the charitable contribution planning described in step 1, perform other tax planning. If you itemize and your deductions are not phased out because you earn too much, you may be able to deduct things like your property taxes which often are due by January 31. If that’s the case for you, then you can decide whether you’re better off making those payments before the end of the year so you can deduct them on your 2011 taxes, or after the first of the year so you can deduct them on your 2012 taxes.
- Asset review: Go through all your valuable assets and make sure your documentation for them is up-to-date. The kind of information you should keep for your assets includes purchase receipts, model and serial numbers, and photos or videos of the assets.
- Insurance update: as you buy things, or are given them as gifts, it’s easy to foget to add them to your insurance policies. It’s also hard to remember to periodically review your insurance policies to make sure you have adequate coverage for all the things you own. Once you’ve done the review described in step 6, you should go through all your insurance policies to review your coverage.
- Health planning: get a jumpstart on your new year’s resolutions by evaluating your current health and setting goals for 2012 for yourself. Think about any changes that have happened in the last year to you or your relatives so you can update your health history and inform your doctor. For example, if a blood relative was recently diagnosed with diabetes, you now have an increased risk factor for diabetes, and you should make a note to inform your doctor about that.
- Physical: the old addage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is definitely worth remembering — schedule your annual physical.
- Household chores: so that you can easily change your a/c and heater air filter every month, it’s helpful to go ahead and buy 12 of them so that you have them ready and available. That increases the likelihood that you’ll actually do it. If you have a battery-operated smoke detector, check its batteries.
– An Ultimate Productivity Approach.
GTD devotees know that there are 5 phases to mastering workflow – Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do. But how you apply technology to the task of actually putting these 5 phases into practice?
We propose a system that takes an organic view of productivity to more truly reflect how we get things done in life. This system takes into account all the real-life elements of getting things done – things beyond notes and lists of tasks. For example, with something as complex as planning an event (like a birthday party or wedding), going on a family vacation, or embarking on a large household project (major landscaping improvements), tasks and notes with simple reminders only take you so far. Many more elements are involved, such as services utilized, managing the providers for those services, shopping, bookmarks, sharing with and managing event co-hosts, travel companions, or project team-mates, in addition to a comprehensive calendar view of everything with proper reminders.
LifeTopix does 5 things to make it all come together more naturally.
- Quick Inbox
- Device Integration
- Social Collaboration
Let’s quickly take a look at each concept.
1. Quick Inbox
It’s not just about quickly entering something to be processed later. It’s about capturing an item that can become anything – a project, a trip, and event, etc. While it resides in the Quick Inbox, it can be marked as something to be done soon, or someday, it can be given a type from the beginning, it can be converted later into a specific type, and it can be managed in the inbox to track the next action date, while simultaneously being managed from whatever topic the item got converted into.
Once it’s converted, the ability to associate all items with it in the app as it naturally does in real life, is key. To be able to manage shopping for a trip from within the trip, manage tasks, reminders, checklists, appointments, bookmarks, media, services, providers, notes, files, and share with participants from within the trip, from the same app, is priceless. Touchpoints are exactly that.
Across everything you are doing/planning/thinking, across everything you need to know, configurable dashboards put it all together in helpful panes like What’s Next, Recently Updated, and Quick Access to the most popular items from a a single place. The power of expensive business apps in the palm of your hands for organizing your personal life redefines what a top productiviy app does.
4. Device Integration
Use the contacts in your device directly, while knowing how the people in your life are associated with things you do over time – trip companions, event attendees/hosts, task owners, project mates, service relationships (doctors. plumbers, etc). Take advantage of the device calendar in a way that fully integrates it with all things managed in the app. Utilize location to know errands, shopping and other location relevant items. Whether at home or on the go, get more from your device to manage the information in your life.
5. Social Productivity
Facebook, Twitter, MobileMe, Google Docs, Dropbox – the list keeps growing. By using your favorite social and cloud apps directly from the things you do and need to know, usher in a level of productivity impossible to imagine with simple apps that do one thing only – like manage tasks, or keep lists, or just jot down notes. Go pro. Check out LifeTopix – tell us what more you want from this new kind of app.