Purging School Papers and Why Saying Hoarding Should be a Crime

I mentioned that doing the room re-vamp is a good excuse to sort through some old papers. The truth is, the little 2 drawer filing cabinet I picked up in college contained these college papers so well, they were together and out of the way. With all the things in life that needed to be done, I had no pressing need to pull out those papers and go through them. That is, until we decided to empty the room and remove the little filing cabinet! Fortunately, by then I had already decided that I needed to go through them and purge them.

But first, before I go on, I have a confession to make. I hate labeling behavior. Doesn’t make a difference if it’s mine or someone else’s. I just do not see much value in applying labels and see that they can too often apply to a wider audience. The problem lies in the negative connotations that we associate with the labels and being reluctant to think of ourselves with these labels. I am thinking of “hoarding” and in writing this I decided to look up the definition. According to Merriam Webster, hoarding is “the act of collecting and hiding or storing (esp. valuable items) for preservation, security, or future use; treasure up (esp. money); store in the mind etc.”

I was working with a woman who had labeled herself in this way. I was talking to her and mentioned that I struggle with “hoarding” too. As an organizer, she dismissed my claim, unable to believe that I hold onto things more than I probably should. Yet, the truth is that there are things that I am reluctant to get rid of. I believe that we each have things that we hold on to, things that someone else might not see the value of, and organizing is about finding places for the things that matter to the individual. The important piece about holding onto things, is making a place to keep those things we value, and as long as they have a logical place and do not hinder life, it does not matter how or what we collect.

At this point, I am almost embarrassed by the fact that I have kept all my college and, even worse, many of my high school class notes and handouts, and a few from middle school. I have lugged them through many moves and cannot say that I have used or read them since I acquired them. Many years ago, I did gather each class together, in either a three-ring binder or a folder, and labeled each of them. They lived easily together. As I was moving them out of the room, I made sure to keep them all together.

Despite my not looking at them for so long, I think it is important not to just toss them. I have been going through them, looking at the name of the class, which helps me know if there are likely things I might want to save, and directing me on how much time I might spend on going through the papers.

One of the first things I discovered, which validates the importance of going through things before tossing, was some drawings my best friend made on some poems I had written for a class. I have found other things that I still value and want to keep.

As I continue the process of reviewing these, it has become obvious that I will need a way to organize and store the papers I still want to save. I am pleased because I also can see how much I have decided to get rid of and that far outweighs what I am keeping. The things I still feel are important also show me what I am still interested in and value having information on.

Here is a YouTube video of the process of going through old notes and papers.

Some of the notes and papers I have saved are the reproductions that classes have included as part of the required reading. I find this is one of the hardest areas to sort. I am an avid reader, and books are one of the things that I am loathe to part with, so I will take more time going through these photocopied essays and poems. They were useful for the class itself since they were organized by the order they needed to be read. One of the major reasons that they are not fully functional as they are currently is that I do not really know what I have amongst them.

Likewise, I have made another YouTube video for the reproductions from classes and how to approach the task of sorting and saving what is important.

Maybe I am unique for holding onto school notes and papers for so long, even finding some that date back to middle school, yet it was obviously something that I valued. Does it make me a hoarder? Does it matter? The crucial point is how we do not let our collections interfere with living life and to organize them so that when we want to appreciate those things, we are able to do so.

Revamping the Dumping Grounds in Your Home & Other Lost Rooms Part 2

As soon as we finished taping the last segment, my husband turned to me and said, “Why don’t we paint the room?” This would be the best time to get that done, so what else was I to do but say yes. Most furniture would be out of the room and what wasn’t could easily be covered. This is how another item was added to the list of things to do.

First, I talked about gathering things together as I moved them out of the room. It is important in limiting the stress of re-doing a room to actually do sorting and grouping as you are moving it out. If you are moving it, why duplicate your efforts by finding out as you are moving it back into the room that various items no longer belong there?

It feels tedious to have to sort at all, and when you are excited with the new vision, it can be challenging to take the time up front. Part of emptying a room to re-do it means creating a fair amount of clutter elsewhere in the house during the process. When you do the pre-sorting you can reduce the extent of clutter in the rest of the house by being able to re-locate items as you are moving them.

In addition, having items grouped together you can logically go through the things. In a small file cabinet, I kept some college notes and articles. It has been many years since I have looked at them and since we were not planning on keeping the two drawer file cabinet, I can systematically go through all the papers. My goal is to purge as much as I can. Keeping them together allows me to know whether there are inadvertent duplicates, and I can keep topics together easily for what I decide to keep.

This is also a great time to review the contents of the large filing cabinets. For me, there are several drawers that I know are well organized and maintained. I took to using tabbed pages to separate years in the business files, so I could easily pull the old years for shredding when it was time. Nevertheless there are some drawers that could be looked at and probably stand some purging. I needed to empty several drawers so they could be moved for the painting, and before refilling the cabinets, I can go through the old files. This is especially important since I want to use a drawer to hold some of the office supplies, the supplies we use infrequently.

Having all the various items out is the perfect time to evaluate what is important to keep and what you can get rid of. It can be illuminating, for instance, I suddenly realized that I have 20 3-ring binders. I know that I will never need that many, so I can part with most of them.

Now that the room has been painted, the furniture moves in.

There are a couple of approaches to furniture arrangement. Probably the most effective way to decide on how to place furniture in a room is to make diagrams, precisely measuring and cutting out equivalent paper to represent furniture. This provides a good visual for how cluttered it might feel as you lay out the paper furniture over the room diagram. There are computer programs now that can do this for you, some even offering a “walk-through” view of the room.

With how much furniture we were eliminating, we did no measuring; we sketched out a rough drawing and talked about ideas. We’ve moved in the furniture we know we want in there and are still in the process of finding some potential furniture for the room.

Meanwhile we can start arranging the things that need to live in the room. I am keeping with the popular approach of zones within a room, where you designate spaces for specific tasks. I’ve set up the front half for the largely functional things, the computer peripherals and filing cabinets. On the other side, the chair will be the place to relax by the window and you will be secluded from the functional items in the room by the bookshelves.

The decision to create distinct zones reduces much of the decision making process. Office supplies need to find places within the front part of the room. Although the specifics are still being worked out, this was considered as the vision of the room came together, and we decided that it would be possible to achieve by using the filing cabinets and the shelving units that hold the computer peripherals to hold the office supplies.

Most important to me was that the back half of the room needs to be a truly relaxing place to sit and having office items easily visible would reduce that effect. This is part of the power of thinking of your rooms as having zones.

See the zones in person and what has been done so far.

Revamping the Dumping Grounds in Your Home & Other Lost Rooms

Do you have any rooms or parts of rooms that have become dumping grounds? You know what I’m talking about – the dining room table that the kids use for backpacks and various sundries that spill out of them, or the guest bedroom that looks more like a warehouse than someplace your friends or family can use to spend the night. When I’m in someone’s home and find a dumping ground, I starting examining and questioning the function of that room. Does it have a clear purpose, or perhaps, does it have a useful purpose? If the purpose of a room is lacking, it can show with the amount of clutter filling it, though there are many possible reasons that a space is not orderly.

Trying to re-imagine what you are going to do with a space can be challenging. You need to be able to take a step or two back and get some distance. What changes do you need and want?

What needs do you have? Do you want a space for exercising? Or doing crafts? What about a place to relax? Or to curl up with a book or a movie?

If you have a space, utilize it to fulfill your needs if possible. Feel free to use the room to meet multiple purposes. We’ve all heard of people who use part of their kitchen for their mail center. Challenge yourself to be as creative as you want or need. If you enjoy crafts, give yourself a specific space that allows you the freedom to do that; I have heard of people setting aside part of their dining room for that since the table can function well for that. Whatever your needs and interests are, you can discover ways to implement spaces for those.

The biggest challenge is to wait until you have decided before taking any action. Sit in the area that you want to change, look around, think about your needs and wants, and if others share your space, talk with them. Sometimes inviting a friend over and brainstorming with them can provide a launch pad for more ideas. Don’t be so tempted by the first idea that you stop thinking and jump to altering the layout. Allow yourself the freedom for the possibilities to percolate. The best is when the concept for a space excites you and meets all the needs you have identified.

I have one such room in my home that my sister-in-law vacated over a year ago! It had been the computer and paperwork room and some of those functions still need to stay there. The computer peripherals, filing cabinets, and office supplies are best suited for this space in our home. Yet, we wanted to utilize it more than just for those things. We have been going back and forth with ideas, none of which grabbed us enough to take action while it slipped into a dumping ground, an easy place to drop things “out of the way.”

Happily, we have come up with a plan, which excites us and feels like it will accommodate some the dilemmas we’d been stuck on previously. I am taping as I go so you can see the process in stages, and eventually the final product.

Having made the decision about the space, the process can actually start moving. Yeah! Since it is large reorganization, I actually made a list, largely chronological, so that the actual doing can go smoothly and with limited chaos.

I will start with gathering the clutter together and dealing with what I can. The relatively little stuff, not furniture, needs to be contained and separated into similar categories. Some of the piles are my husband’s and he will need to go through them later, but I can get them altogether now. (A good post topic would be on sharing space and organization!) All the office supplies, from desk drawers and top of the desk, will stay together and need to be relatively accessible during the transition.

I am thrilled that we are going to be re-purposing items in our home so we will need to spend virtually no money. We have two double-sided library bookshelves up against walls, limiting their full usefulness. Both will be in this room by the end, providing considerable additional shelving as well as a way to divide the room.

Some furniture will be removed completely, freeing up considerable space to offer in the end, a secluded place to sit and relax by the window.

This is where I am starting. Stay tuned to find out what happens after this has been accomplished.

To-Do for Room Re-Vamp

Clearing Room
Box up magazines
Gather husband’s papers together
Go through papers on my desk
Clear off top of desk
Empty desk drawers items into box
Move stuff out from under desk
Move desk top unit into another room
Move dresser to basement
Move desk to basement
Empty out small file cabinet
Move small CD cabinet out of room
Move art and decorative items out of room
Move etc. pieces out of room – book boxes, scratching post…
Empty bookshelf
Empty most of 4 drawer file cabinets (enough to move them)
Move computer chair upstairs for husband
Take shelf down & patch holes

Room Cleaning
[Paint] – Sweep, mop, & dust

Moving Furniture In
Move bookshelf perpendicular into room
Move other library bookshelf downstairs, into room
Move small bookshelf into room (possible another bookshelf in too)
Move chair into room
Put rug in room?
Put folding table into room?

Moving Everything Else In & Decorating
Hang art back up
Arrange books on shelves (maybe catalog as I go?) 🙂
Move plants in
Find place for computer components
Find place for office supplies

Loving What You Own

When was the last time you looked around your home with a critical eye? Do you truly love and value the things that you have out in your home? What about the items that you have in boxes?

The things that you keep take up valuable space, whether they are out where you can see them or if you put them into containers and rarely look at them. Too often, we become blind to the items around us, they fade into the background and we do not even think about them.

It is challenging to take that emotional step backwards to evaluate your belongings. Yet, if they are not dearly loved, is there a good reason to keep them?

You deserve to be surrounded by things that make you happy and content. The items that you decide to store need to be valuable to you, worth the space that they require for storage. More and more people are renting storage units as their homes are getting too filled with stuff. Do you want to be one of those people?

I have a memory box for some well loved items from childhood and adolescence. I actually review it periodically and make sure the things are still important enough to keep. It needs to stay a reasonable size though, and I make sure things are worthy enough to be in there.

It can be helpful to think of your things deserving love. This is anthropomorphizing, attributing personality to inanimate objects, yet if you think of it in this context, you could discover how much you are willing to part with. Someone out there would be thrilled to have this or that item from your home and actually need or appreciate it. Thinking about your belongings in this way can help determine whether it is something that is worth saving.

There are so many different options for finding new homes for your things, ways for them to be valued by someone else.

Charities and shelters are often grateful to receive items to support people who are struggling. There are many varieties in each city with their own policies and what items are most needed. You can check out the ones I’ve bookmarked for Milwaukee on my delicious site under donating.

Swap parties are growing in popularity as a way to share and help others in your community. I spoke at the Holistic Mom’s Network and they had arranged one, where the focus was children’s stuff, and toys and clothes were exchanged. Of course, if the goal is to not bring more stuff home, this may not be the way to go about it!

One of my favorite ways to give items away is FreeCycle. Their mission is about reusing and to help keep things out of our landfills, and who does not appreciate that! You need join (free) and make the effort to post your things, but the person you select is responsible for picking up the items. You choose who receives your things and it is obvious that your belongings are going to people who could use them and also likely that they can be re-posted later to go on to someone else who will appreciate them.

I challenge you to try to reevaluate the things you have in your home regularly since our feelings and thoughts about things are constantly changing and evolving. If someone you knew said they would really like such and such, would you mind giving it to them? If so, you likely do not need to keep that item and finding a better home for it would clear up your space in the process.

What are you going to find a better home for?

More Chores. Just Less Frequent.

Routines are something I advocate.  Life is simpler when we have some in place to keep things running smoothly and more importantly gives our minds space and peace not having to track that additional data.

I already talked about the chores we need to do daily or weekly, but what about the less frequent, yet still regular tasks on our lists?

This is where the idea of routines I think becomes even more powerful.  Those things we do every other week, once a month, or quarterly can easily become nagging worries.  Do we remember when we last changed the oil in the car?  Or changed the toothbrushes?  Has the pile of paperwork that needs filing started toppling over?

When you set routines, combine the tasks that happen at the same interval together.  It reduces the amount of thinking required of you and eliminates the worry about trying to remember them.

Be careful not to make it overwhelming though.  You want to make it relatively simple.  If there are a number of monthly tasks that could make it to your list; think about breaking them into two chunks.  

I dislike filing and I am not a proponent of immediate filing (though it works well for some people), but find it makes a decent monthly chore.  At that level, it is not overwhelming and quite simple and straightforward to accomplish.  I also need to run vinegar and water through the coffee pot once a month (again not necessarily the frequency of anyone else) so I do these two things once a month.  

Later in the month, I have several other monthly tasks that I do.  I break up the filing from some of these other tasks since I do not enjoy filing and need to make it easier.  Another monthly task is time consuming and becomes something that feels a little tedious, so that goes into the other group.

When was the last time you changed your toothbrush?  I don’t know about any of you, but I would struggle to remember when I was supposed to change them again or even when I last changed them.  My intentions were always good, but amidst all of life, it would slip my mind.  The American Dental Association recommends changing them every three to four months depending on how the bristles are wearing.

By coordinating changing the toothbrushes with the changing of the seasons, it became something I no longer had to think or worry about anymore.  I already put out seasonal decorations, so I just connected these tasks together and changing the toothbrush becomes automatic.

Setting up routines, whether for the regular chores or in coordinating your tasks, is about ways to make your life simpler.  It also allows your mind to have that much less to try to keep track of and offer you the chance to focus on the things that matter to you.

What are you going to do to make your life simpler?

Chores. Ugh.

Let’s face it, nobody likes chores.  The word evokes not-so-fond memories of childhood, with your parents as taskmasters, keeping you from having fun by making you dry the dishes, clean up after the dog, or clean the toilet.  Yuck.

Now that you’re an adult, you know that they’re necessary to keep your household running smoothly, but that doesn’t make it any better.

I recently got some additional insight into chores.

You see, after several busy days, I had a full day to work on things around the house and time to run errands.  I had planned the day to accomplish things.  As I was working on those things, a friend called, inviting me to breakfast, and I decided to add that to my day, knowing I had the time.  She found out that I had been working on chores and asked what was on my agenda.  I listed a few of the items and she commented that then she did not feel bad pulling me away from them.

It struck me how she seemed to view the tasks I had set for myself as “chores.”  She comments fairly regularly to me when we go out that she really should be running errands or working on things around the house, but she’d rather hang out with me.  Her chores are burdens and she struggles with feeling them hanging over her head.

When you need to play catch-up with standard tasks is when they become tedious.  Life in general can start to feel out of control and overwhelming when you know that there are so many things waiting on your action, especially chores.  Then you make time to catch up, only to let them get out of control again.  Laundry is always accumulating and dishes are always getting dirty again.

The solution for this is to create a system to keep dishes, laundry, or other chores from piling up, so they don’t have the power to overwhelm you, a process so you can keep up and avoid worrying about being behind.

Part of creating your system is making time for each task that can grow to become a burden, and think about what each task requires to keep it under control.  How many loads of laundry would you need to do each week to maintain decent levels for your family? 

That does not mean you need to do all those loads on one day, unless that is what works best for you.  Yet, it does mean that you will know where you stand.  If you have done only one load and it is Friday, but you have five loads you still wanted to wash, you might start to feel overwhelmed.  While on the other hand, you have accomplished four loads, you can rest easy knowing that there is only one other load you wanted to get done.  You can start to figure out how to integrate laundry into your schedule at intervals that work for you and your schedule.

I have found that actually assigning specific days for certain tasks can be helpful, but you want to avoid being too rigid about it, for then it can become a chore again.  I know someone who chose two days a week to accomplish four loads of laundry.  The days were specific, but the key is that she knows if one of those days does not end up working for laundry she just changes the day to another one that week that works better.  She decided on a routine for herself and will know automatically that she will need to modify her laundry day when another appointment arises.  She shared that by having this system and being able to modify it to fit her schedule without falling behind actually helps her feel more successful.  She can be flexible with her routines and does not feel controlled by them.

Routine household tasks are not invigorating or exciting.  However, by staying on top of them, finding a way to fit them into daily life, they do not become burdens.  An amazing peace of mind and sense of tranquility can come from setting up routines for yourself.

How are you going to reclaim some control over your chores?


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