Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: March 2016

The Toys Have to Go

I’ve struggled with kid stuff for years and have written about it here, here, and here. My kids’ junk may be the main source of clutter-induced stress in my life. Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and my mother all agree that you shouldn’t get rid of other people’s stuff (how will they trust you afterwards?), but do kids really count? Mine never want to get rid of anything and I’ve tried all of the psychological tricks. Are my 2 and 5-year-olds really old enough to dictate how cluttered my house is?

I finally decided that the answer to that is a big, fat NO. I agonized over that decision for months before doing anything about it, wondering if I would somehow emotionally injure my children by removing most of their toys. Then, I came across an article that put an abrupt end to my agonizing: Ruth Soukup’s Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back). Soukup got angry one day and snapped. She cleared out her children’s rooms, all the way down to their comforters; removing everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. What made her do it? Her kids weren’t listening to her pleas to pick up their toys. That sounded all too familiar. That’s when I realized, the toys have to go.

Appreciation

My kids get their toys out by the hundreds and leave them in the living room, their rooms, the kitchen, and even the stairs. They are terrible at cleaning one thing up before getting another thing out. They float from one toy to the other. They don’t appreciate or take care of their toys.

Should we really be teaching our kids to superficially use something, then toss it aside? I now concretely believe that’s what we unintentionally do when we overload our kids with stuff.

After reading Soukup’s article, I wasted no time in clearing the girls’ rooms out.

Toys

All of the Toys

Sorting

I pulled all of the girls’ toys from every corner of the house together and sorted them into three categories:

  • Keepers: These are the classic toys that they come back to again and again. Great books, legos, markers, and our play kitchen toys all fall into this category.
  • Maybe: These are the toys that I wasn’t sure about; toys the kids occasionally played with and really seemed to like. I decided to keep them out of sight for a while and if the girls asked for them, I would bring them back into the rotation. Stuffed animals that are rarely played with and games that occasionally bring us joy, but are barely touched filled this category.
  • No Way: These are the toys that they never play with or that I hate. Loud toys, cheap happy meal toys, toys that are too big and never used. These went directly into a garbage bag.

For those in the Keeper category, I then placed them on the top shelves of their closets and put three items within reach in the toy box, brought down two stuffed animals and filled a small shelf with books. Everything else in this category, I put in a storage bin to rotate in. The new rule is that when one item comes out, another item goes back on the shelf.

What We Kept

The toys we kept were very simple, classic toys that I know my kids love. Art supplies and the easel, legos, blocks, the Lottie dolls, favorite stuffed animals, play kitchen supplies, and a sub-set of puzzles, board games, and books.

My Kids’ Reaction

 I braced myself for a screaming fit and a lot of tough questions, but to my surprise, this was a non-event. I did this while they played outside with their dad. I split the toys up and put them away before they had a chance to ask what I was doing. When they came inside, I told them that I put their favorite toys on their shelf. I told them about the new rule of having one toy out at a time and I told them that if they missed a toy that was not on the shelf that I would rotate it in.

Their response? “OK.”

“To my surprise, this was almost a non-event.”

How It’s Going

It’s amazing how much unfounded anxiety the anticipation of an unknown reaction can cause. This was one of the best things I’ve done since starting my minimalist project. My living room is cleaner. The basement is cleaner. It’s easier to clean almost every space in the house.

In the kids’ rooms I need to do a better job of reinforcing the new rule. Their rooms still get messy and old things are not put away before new ones come out. We just need to work on that. I will say that the time necessary to clean the rooms is much shorter.

This nuclear option seems to have worked for us!

I’m dying to know – how do you keep you kids’ stuff under control?

Saying No

Saying NoA few months ago I was promoted into a new job and I became the manager of the team on which I’d worked.

I won’t lie or sugarcoat this: the last few months have been rough. Instead of being an individual contributor on one team, I’m now expected to continue the duties I had (because our team didn’t grow in a way that allowed me to give up my responsibilities), be part of a leadership team, and acquire still more tasks related to that team. Two teams make it feel like I have two full-time jobs.

I haven’t been handling it well (or, at least, not the way I’d wanted). I used to love solving problems for people (even if it meant performing boring admin work), but now there’s so much on my plate that I need to force myself to block time to get the big career-moving stuff done. I’ve never been this overwhelmed in my life and it is imperative that I get better at saying no. I wrote this blog partially to brainstorm ways to do that better.

When to Say No

Seth Godin, Marketer Extraordinaire and writer of one of my favorite daily blogs, read my mind and published this insightful post about when to say No. Read it! I’ve printed it out and put it on my desk as a daily reminder not of what I should say no to, but what I MUST say no to.

How to Say No

That brings me to another tough problem. How, when you love to help people, can you politely say no? I’ve found the key is to keep it short and simple. Don’t try to explain yourself because that just gives the requester some room to try to change your mind. Here is my own list of ways to say no, which I’m happy to report I have been using a lot more lately.

  • Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I don’t have enough time to do this right now.
  • No thank you, I’m doing x instead and I loooove x. (This works well as a serious comment or a sarcastic one.)
  • I’m sorry, I know I won’t be able to focus on this and do a good job. I have to decline.
  • I can’t do this for you, but check with <insert someone’s name who can help>. (Don’t rely on this method too often or you’ll just overwhelm someone else.)
  • Why does this need to be done?
  • Here are the other things I’m working on, can you help me prioritize all these tasks? (This one is most appropriate when talking to your manager.)
  • <pause, as if you’re actually considering the task> No, I can’t.
  • No thank you, I can’t justify adding this to my plate right now.
  • Great idea! Why don’t you do that?
  • Come back later. (If you really want to help, but can’t at the moment.)

Are you saying no often enough? How are you saying it?

Spark Joy: KonMari & Organizing My Wardrobe

Marie Kondo has a new book out, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, that serves as a deep dive into the KonMari Method and aims to explain all of the questions left by her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m only a few chapters into it, but I’ve happily discovered that she does explain many of the confusing aspects that I’d wondered about after Life-Changing Magic.

 

On the Necessary Stuff that Doesn’t Spark Joy

For example, “What do we do with the stuff that doesn’t spark joy, but that we NEED (like a funeral suit or a screwdriver)?” The answer is keep the item, but thank it often for the service it provides. Appreciation helps you get over the fact that you dislike it — at least until you can replace it with something you love.

On Starting Over

I still haven’t finished discarding my sentimental items, but I’m starting to see new things creeping into the other categories (like that new T-shirt I got from work that I’m pretty sure doesn’t spark joy). I was starting to wonder if I had to start over. Kondo answers that question too and the answer is no. Keep going and when you organize you’ll naturally cull the new items that don’t spark joy. (Although, since I know that T-shirt doesn’t spark joy, I should probably walk right into my bedroom and throw it out right now.)

On Organizing Clothes

I liked how most of my shirts were organized in my closet, but I think Kondo is right about folding them. I was so inspired by her illustrations of how to fold clothes that I was dying to try it. So I did!

Spark Joy - KonMari Drawers

KonMari Drawers

Spark Joy

Folding my clothes DOES take longer and I’ve often found myself annoyed when I have a pile of them waiting for me. That feeling disappears when I get the clothes in the drawer. It is easier to pick them out because you can see each and every one. It is also a nice way to know when you’re accumulating too many clothes again. When the drawer feels stuffed, it’s probably time to consider whether everything in there sparks joy.

I thought this method might fall apart in a couple of weeks, but it’s been 1.5 months and I’m still using it. My underwear looks really nice all folded and lined up from light to dark. I actually have matching pairs more often than not because I can see all the options. (My husband likes that. Could that be one extra benefit to the KonMari Method that Kondo doesn’t mention in either book: improved marriages?!)

Have you organized your clothes KonMari style? How’s it going?

Eat That Frog!: A Book Review

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain

This Mark Twain quote is the premise behind a wonderful productivity book with a funny name: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. In his book (which I finished in one sitting on a flight to San Francisco last December), Tracy highlights 21 productivity habits, that I have found myself coming back to again and again. Here, I’ll share a couple of the most useful nuggets, guaranteed to save you more time than you’ll spend reading the book (or this blog post)!

Concentrate Single-Mindedly On Your Most Important Task

The centerpiece skill that is developed throughout the book is your ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, follow-through, and get it done. Tracy insists that this is the key to success and happiness. If you can form a habit of doing this for everything in your life, you will accomplish wildly more than you imagined possible.

I believe it. On the days when I block off two hours at the beginning of the day and concentrate on my most important task until I finish, I feel really, REALLY good the rest of the day.

Eat That Frog! Encourages you to do this for everything in your life. But what if the task at hand is too big to finish in one sitting?

Tip #1: Seven Steps to Achieving Your Goals

Any goal can be achieved by following these seven steps and making sure you work on something that moves you toward your goal EVERY SINGLE DAY.

  1. Decide what you want to do.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Set a deadline (and sub-deadlines).
  4. Make a list of everything you can think of to achieve your goal.
  5. Organize the list into a plan.
  6. Take action on your plan immediately.
  7. Do something every single day that moves you toward your goal.

This is basic project management, boiled down to the essentials and accessible to anyone. It takes a little bit of up-front planning, but the beginning is the best time to pour your heart and soul into your new goal.

Tip #6: Plan Your Day with the ABCDE Method

I’ve written about planning out your day by adding timing to your to do list, but I’ve found that the ABCDE method of planning your day is even more powerful. Here’s how it works:

First, lay out your to do list for the day. Then, assign each item a letter: A, B, C, D, or E according to this key:

  • A = Very important task that only I can do (subdivide if necessary to prioritize tasks into A-1, A-2, etc)
  • B = Should do this task, but only minor consequences if I don’t
  • C = Nice to do this task, but no consequences
  • D = Delegate everything you don’t have to do
  • E = Eliminate any tasks that no one has to do

When I started to notice my notebook was numbered A-1, A-2…A-7 with no other letters, I switched the order in which I assigned labels. Now I search the list first for D’s. Delegating is a tough skill that takes practice, so I need to pay extra attention to it. After that I work my way backwards from E to A. That helps me avoid thinking of everything as the most important task.

This works amazingly well and helps me cope with not finishing parts of my to do list. If, at the end of the day I’ve only gotten A-1 done, so be it. At least I did the most important thing that I could that day.

Tip #20: What Would You Do If You Were Going on Vacation?

Sometimes, we are our worst enemies and it helps to have some tricks up our sleeves to overcome procrastination.

One question that Tracy suggests asking yourself when you’re not sure where to start is, “If I were leaving on a sudden week-long vacation tomorrow, what would I get done today?”

It’s so simple, but it tricks your brain into looking at your to do list in a different, healthy way!

There are 18 more, wonderful time management and productivity tips in Eat That Frog!. Reading the book may be one of the best time investments you make this year.

What is your favorite productivity habit?

© 2017 Minimalist in DC

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑