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  • Being a Minimalist Takes Work + Tips to Make it Easier

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    I’ve been working hard the last couple of weeks to declutter my house. The concept of minimalism has begun to appeal strongly to me, and while I doubt I’ll ever be a true minimalist, the idea of having less stuff is very attractive.

    In addition to dropping off a car-load full of items at Salvation Army last week, I’ve been reorganizing parts of the house to put things out of sight (for less visible clutter). And I’m realizing how much cleaning my house needs – surface cleaning as well as deep cleaning.

    All that got me thinking about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and entropy. Because without constant culling and consolidating, the clutter and dirt just multiplies.

    Here are some strategies I’ve come up with to make decluttering and cleaning easier:

    • Group things in containers. It doesn’t really matter what kind of container you use. Containers just instantly make things look neater, and they’re easier to move when you’re cleaning.
    • Establish routines. I sound like Flylady when I sing the praises of routines, but I totally understand why she’s all about them. My kitchen sink and counters stay relatively clean because of my nightly routine of washing every dirty dish and wiping off the counters. My mornings have improved since I established a new nightly routine of clearing off the dining table so it’s not covered in papers and toys when we come downstairs for breakfast.
      New routines are easiest to establish when you focus on one thing at a time, and stick with it until it becomes second nature. (And this is why Flylady advocates cleaning the bathroom everyday, something I have yet to embrace doing.)
    • Establish rules. You’ll have to find rules that work for you, but there are lots of ideas out there for keeping clutter to a minimum. For example, there’s the “one thing in, one thing out” rule that requires you to discard something every time you bring in a new one. Another example I recently learned about is Project 333, which is about paring your wardrobe down to 33 items.
    • Ask for consumable gifts. My wish list this holiday season included fair trade cocoa powder and green tea. These gifts will actually save me money since I would have bought them for myself anyway, and they’ll get used up for sure.
    • Minimize your stockpile. There are some times when it makes sense to let deals pass by and focus on using up what you have. For the last year and a half, I have had to stop myself from buying cupcake liners because two Easters ago, I bought half a dozen packs on clearance and I’m still using them up. It may be a little strange to deliver goodies in pastel liners to the bake sale in October, but I suspect I’m the only one who noticed the bunny on the bottom!

    What are your best tips for decluttering and cleaning?

    Getting Messages to Declutter

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    Maybe I’m just imposing my subconscious desires/pressures onto my everyday reality, but I feel like I’m getting a divine message to declutter my home.

    It started with Gretchen Rubin’s column in a recent issue of Good Housekeeping, in which she discusses the correlation between the lack of clutter and happiness.

    Then I read Cheryl Richardson’s email newsletter this week, and it was about how she and her husband discovered that they had way more stuff than they wanted/needed when they moved.

    And finally, this morning I read I’m an Organizing Junkie‘s post on letting go of clutter that you’re holding onto out of guilt.

    You can see why I feel like there’s a message from the universe being beamed at me.

    Decluttering is something that’s perpetually on my to-do list, but it’s also something that I’ve neglected lately. Quite possibly because I don’t schedule it, and I don’t have a deadline.

    I like Gretchen’s project of going room by room, shelf by shelf, during the school year. So I’m adopting it and making it my goal to finish a full round of decluttering the entire house by the time school gets out on May 31. I’m already daunted by the files in banker’s boxes in my closet. But I have a fast shredder now – so I can conquer paper clutter, LOL!

    How do you minimize clutter in your home?

    Declutter Tip: File papers as they come in

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    About a month ago, one of my weekly projects was to file the stack of papers that had built up on my desk over the course of several months. It took less than an hour, but it was tedious.

    Ever since then, I’ve been filing papers as they’ve come in. Which means that I don’t have a month’s worth of papers to file right now, and that feels like a gift to myself. It helps that we’ve cleared away some clutter so it’s easier than ever to access the filing cabinet.

    It only takes a few seconds to file each sheet of paper as it crosses my desk. It takes nearly the same amount of effort to add the paper to my filing box, but this keeps the paper clutter from accumulating.

    The one exception I make to this rule is papers that don’t have a home. There are a few files I need to create, but I’m not quite sure how I want to organize them yet, and some papers I just need to keep for a short time and then can toss. So those pages have been added to my filing box but the pile is so much smaller than what it used to be!

    Tips for getting rid of and cutting down on paper clutter

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    As I’ve decluttered the house for the last few months, I’ve discovered that the worst culprit of all is paper clutter. I can’t believe how much of it there is. Here are some tips for getting rid of it, and keeping it from returning:

    1. Know what you have to keep and what can go. Here’s a handy list of financial documents and how long you should keep them.

    2. Start purging. Not everything needs to be shredded, but you’ll probably find that the type of papers you hold onto are the kind that have personal information on them. So at your “purging station,” you’ll need a wastebasket for papers that can go straight into the trash, a box for papers that need a new home, and either a shredder or a box for papers that will be shredded later. I opt for the box for subsequent shredding, since I store my shredder in a closet for safety reasons.

    3. If you don’t have a shredder, get one. There’s no easier or faster way to get rid of documents that contain personal information, and you can get a decent one pretty inexpensively these days.

    4. Relabel your files if appropriate. I’m a cover-all-bases kind of girl, so I keep copies of payoff statements and such. Rather than keep each sheet of paper in a separate file, I recently created a “closed accounts” file to hold all of these papers.

    5. Go paperless. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m starting to really go paperless. I started by eliminating hard copies of documents I really don’t read, like the annual reports and prospectuses for investments I’ve committed to holding. I download and don’t print e-statements for accounts that never sent paper to begin with (such as those with ING and Sharebuilder). I’ve now begun the process of completely switching to paperless with all of our banking statements, investment statements, and bills.

    6. Have a digital backup plan in place and use it. I wasn’t ready to make the full switch to paperless until I had a plan for backing up all of my saved documents. I do this regularly, at least once a week. And I’ve stored a backup of my backup in our safety deposit box at the bank. It obviously won’t have the most recent documents, but at least if disaster strikes we’ll have something. You may want to read this article on digitally storing financial documents.

    7. Keep it manageable. Flylady has taught me that I can accomplish a lot in 15 minutes – even just 5 minutes. You don’t have to go through all of your files at once. Keep the task in front of you small, and eventually the big task will be done.

    Three tips for decluttering your email inbox

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    I recently whittled two email inboxes down from thousands of emails in each inbox to less than 30. It took a lot less time than I expected, and was way easier than decluttering paper (more on that another day). Here are three tips that worked for me:

    1. Make the most of the organizing tools at your disposal. Gmail has labels and an archiving function, so you can make it easy to find emails you you want to keep but don’t necessarily need in your inbox. Other email programs offer similar functions (Yahoo uses folders, for instance). Use these tools to “put away” email that doesn’t need to be in your main inbox.

    2. Start at the end. I found that it was easiest to start with the oldest emails, because it was easier to decide whether to delete or archive them, using one of the functions described above.

    3. Keep the task manageable. When the count at the top of your inbox tells you there are 2400 emails, it can be overwhelming. So just dispose of 100-200 at a time. It’ll go faster than you think!

    A Reader’s Advice on Decluttering

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    Last month, I mentioned that I have been decluttering like crazy and listed some of the items I’d gotten rid of. Reader Harvey emailed me with a few good points that I wanted to share:

    On expired medication, he said:

    I hope that you removed your name from the label leaving the description of the medication intact and then returned it to a pharmacy. Pharmacies are supposed to accept expired medicine as they have procedures for proper disposal. These medicines just cannot be thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet as they will eventually get into our water supply and food supply.

    I didn’t know this! I’ll do this from now on.

    On expired food, he said:

    Expired food is still good – unless it is spoiled (bulging can and jar tops, “pasta bugs” in the pasta, etc. It appears that in the past you liked to shop (probably for bargains on sale) but then you did not make a concerted effort to eat what you bought. Unfortunately, food pantries don’t normally take donations of past the use-by date food. I would have used it up. I just used a can of soup
    that was several years expired and it still tasted fine and I am still here to write you this e-mail.

    And on food we’re unlikely to eat, he said:

    Again, the product of buying something on sale, I would assume. You should challenge yourself to use up all your food on a regular basis.

    I like to buy bargains – with coupons – and I like saving money. Sometimes, that becomes just a thrilling recreation. I know that if I were a compulsive bargain hunter, I would probably develop a close relationship with my local food bank. If I could buy several hundred dollars of food for a few dollars, it would all go to the food bank. Then I would make a tuna salad sandwich using up one of the cans tuna of my two year supply in the cupboard.

    I can’t remember exactly what food I tossed, but a lot of it comes down to now using up what’s in my pantry. After decluttering, I’m more aware of what’s on hand, and I can make a more concerted effort to use what we have before it expires. But I do need a better system for keeping track of what I have on hand – the rotating-old-food-to-the-front thing just doesn’t work for me!

    I actually end up sharing a lot of food bargains with friends, and sending non-perishable convenience food via AnySoldier.com.

    Thanks for these insightful tips, Harvey!

    I’m not done yet – I’ll have more on decluttering later this week!