The Top Five Life Simplification Plans for 2014

The theme for this year’s Get A Grip project is “Don’t even tell me you don’t have time!”  But, what if you don’t?  What if you have so freaking much happening, so much new information coming in, so much noise and stuff and nonsense that you just don’t know where to even begin looking for 15 minutes every day to get something done?

My dear,quite simply, it is about simplification.

There are 46,000,000 ways to simplify your life according to The Google.  Similarly overwhelming results come up on Pinterest.  And they’re ridiculous.  “Five Hundred Ways To Simplify!”  Trust me, honey, five hundred of ANYTHING is not going to be simple.  Ever.  “A 365-Day Project for Simple Living”.  Um, I don’t know anyone who isn’t overwhelmed by the thought of committing to a 365 day project.

So I did some digging.  I think any list for simplifying that has more than about 15 things on it is missing the point.  I found some that I really like, though.  Check them out:

  1. Checklist:  Tips To Simplify Life  I love this one.  It’s all about setting boundaries–storage, time, and your personal commitments.  If you have lots of storage space, you’ll need lots of stuff with which to fill it.  If you have lots of junk mail coming in, you’ll find yourself surrounded by it or the stuff it leads you to buy.  If you’re in a group that makes you uncomfortable, you’ll spend time and energy trying to fit in with people you don’t even like.  Lose it.  Lose it all.  Unsubscribe from every last bit of it.
  2. 8 Ways to Simplify Life This one focuses on the stuff that we need to do and have, and looks at it from the perspective of simplifying processes.  Yes, you have a yard.  Does it have to be a complicated yard?  Yes, you have to eat.  Does everything have to be a 3 course extravaganza every night?  Yes, you need potions and pastes with which to make yourself presentable.  Do you need a hair style that takes 45 minutes every day?  Do and have what you need, but there’s no need to put on a show.
  3. 10 Tips To Start Living In The Present  This one is about how we feel about where we are in our lives.  It’s deep.  Only one of them is about stuff, and the other nine are about you.  I keep coming back to it–think  beyond old solutions to problems?  BOOM.  He’s talking about fixing from the inside out, because what’s going on inside of your head is likely reflected in your surroundings.  Ouch.
  4. Almost Amish:  10 Principles for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life I love me some Amish.  I love the quiet community of it.  I love quilts and barnraisings and buggies.  I like that this article includes the idea of knowing your neighbors and sustainability by shopping locally–money is important, and keeping it close to home and spending it wisely provide such peace of mind.  It also touches on God and faith, and while I’m not outwardly religious, I find great comfort in my concept of a higher power.
  5. 10 Ways To Simplify Life By Color Coding Those papers in your office that are just all over the place and you know what’s in there but finding any one thing involves messing all of it up?  Yeah, they go here.  Anything, any process can be color coded.  The first time I ever saw the true genius of color coding was in the movie “Yours, Mine & Ours”–the original with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball.  Two people with 17 kids between them fall in love, and Henry Fonda comes up with a system that assigns them a bed and a bathroom schedule.  Holy crap, it was genius.  Color coding will revolutionize how the people in your home identify and use stuff.

BONUS:  Zen Manifesto:  72 Ideas To Simplify Your Life OK OK I know, 72 ways to be simple CANNOT by definition be simple.  But I like ZenHabits, and I like Leo Barbauta’s blog.  And this isn’t a list of 72 things to be done, at the end of which your life will be simple.  Pick five, ten things on the list that fit your life and go with them.

Simplifying your life is about setting boundaries.  Anything that adds stress to your world, and this includes people, should be subject to the boundaries you set.


Holiday Deconstruction

It’s beginning to look a lot like two days after Christmas.  It was WAY more fun to decorate than it will be to take stuff down and put it away, I know.  This year Boo is not-quite-four, and she was very much a part of things this year.  She has a teensy tree of her own which provided endless entertainment (plus the whole “don’t touch the big tree! you can play with your own ornaments on your own tree” strategy…).  She put the little colored birds on the ceramic light-up tree


Note how all the red birds are together, all the green birds are together, etc. That’s not an accident.

and she totally bought into the whole Santa thing this year.  A good time was had by all

But now it’s time to start taking it all down.  UGH.  Naturally, I have a plan for this.  This morning I pulled all of the bins out of the closet under the stairs.  First up? Candles.  I love me some Christmas flavored candles.  I have one that smells just like peppermint bark and it makes me so happy.  Candles are a big part of the holiday decor, so putting them away first puts a big dent in the whole job.  This is also a good opportunity to throw out any that are done.  You know the ones, right?  They kinda sorta smell like something, but the jar is all sooty and it’s just not nice anymore?  Yeah, that one’s done.  Last year, I threw away all of the heavy glass lids to the candle jars, which was sort of angsty for me,  But they took up space on the counters when the candles were lit, and they made the box too heavy when the candles were put away.  Much better now.

This morning I also took down the stockings and holders, and all of the little Santa doorknob covers and bells and twirly things (what are they called? you light the candles and it makes the windmill thingy spin and it’s lovely?  Yeah, whatever that thing is.).  I washed the Christmas candy dishes and cookie plates and they’ll be ready to put away when they’re dry.

That’s all that’s happened so far.  I’m off this week (and Boo’s at school so let the vacay HAPPEN), so there’s time to do a little every day without being overwhelmed.  I’m cleaning stuff out as I go, too.  Anything that we don’t use or love is OUTTA here.  Some things don’t get put out anymore but they make us happy so they get to stay.  Nothing gets a free ride, though.  We’ve all been through too many drama-filled family holidays, and sometimes just looking at the things that were surrounding us at those times is enough to bring it all back.  As my good friend Sweet Brown says, Ain’t nobody got time for that.

There’s no small amount of relief when the whole holiday season is over, I know.  Yes, it’s fun and full of joy and laughter (or it should be… ) but there’s a lot of pressure to meet expectations.  Christmas cards have to be sent by a certain day or THEY WON’T GET THERE IN TIME!  I ask you this:  in time for what?  Most of my cards were delivered yesterday, and it’s fine,  really.  I didn’t do a lot of baking this year because I don’t really enjoy baking so I leave it to the experts.  The Christmas that we had was the Christmas that we needed, and that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Using my words

We spent most of Boo’s second year of life encouraging her to use her words.  She would become frustrated about something and would get all stompy and arm-swingy.  “Use your words; tell me what’s going on and I can help you fix it.”

Of course now that she’s got the vocabulary of a 45 year old truck driver, we spend a lot of time telling her to hush.  I digress.

Using your words is powerful, because it means that you’re able to identify and articulate what’s going on in your head.  I know that when I don’t have a forum–like a blog, or even a group of real life people (fancy that!)–I tend to lose focus.  There’s nothing being said, so there’s nothing to be done.  I’ve always sought outlets for expressing what’s on my mind.  In the immortal words of Hedley Lamarr, “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”  Ditto, Hedy (“That’s Hedley“).

The flip side to this coin is when I have something to say about something important, but nobody is listening.  It’s a given that not everybody is going to care what someone thinks all the time, but there are instances in which it’s necessary to pay attention to what the stakeholders are thinking.  That really bothers me about my job–nobody ever asked me what I thought about it, or gave me a say in the matter. It just happened.  It was just decided that henceforth, I would be over there, doing that other thing.  My skillset, my background, my plans, my goals, none of that mattered.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year devising responses to the questions and conversation that I feel should have included me.

Not having a say really pissed me off.  I spent a lot of time and energy being pissed off, too.  I cared a lot about them not caring.  I was like that crazy chick in Fatal Attraction (YIKES SCARY ALEX) and I was all “well I’m not going to be ignored!” and that’s quite possibly the least productive approach I could have taken.

Turns out, I was going to be ignored.  I’m likely still going to be ignored for as long as I’m there.  It’s probably to my benefit if they do, as they tend to manage like seagulls.  If they’re ignoring me, at least they’re not screwing my stuff up even more.

Which leads me back to my topic of using my words.  My voice is powerful.  I’m funny as hell (ask anyone).  When I am at my best, I have a way of bringing the people around me to their best as well.  I am one hell of a counselor because I know how to lead a conversation toward a solution without being all bossy and Lucy Van Pelt about it (five cents, please).

Why is this relevant to organizing?  Because organization is a solution.  It’s not the singular end-all, be-all solution to every problem, but sometimes just clearing a path through the chaos helps.  And I can help with that.  Clearing that path is like finding your own voice amid all the static.

Out of the (very very organized) closet.

I have previously alluded to the day I would inform my father (with whom I have a solid, albeit occasionally tricky) relationship about this whole Get A Grip thing.  That day? was Friday.

It needed to happen, because the next day we were all going to a party, and people would be there who knew about Get A Grip, and I could not run the risk of him finding out from someone besides me.  People were going to talk about it.  Lots of people know about it, but it was time for my father to know the truth about my life and how I was spending my time.

It was time to come out of the closet to my folks.

It started as most of our visits do.  “So,” my stepmom asked,  “What’s new?”  I took a deep breath and I told them that we needed to have a conversation about work.  Dad asked if I was having problems with work again?

“No, not again.  It’s ongoing.  It’s not going to get better, I don’t think.”  I went on to describe the environment, which isn’t a bad environment, necessarily, it’s just not the right place for me.  I’m not my true self at work, and the stress of it is causing problems in other areas of my life.  I’m not happy, and I deserve to be.  So a few months ago, I started exploring my options.  Experimenting, if you will, with alternatives to the mainstream life I was leading.  And I have discovered a new path that really is putting some joy back into my life.

It was my father’s worst-case scenario for my career choices.  One of his children wanting to leave the fold and be something else?  And leave a pension and benefits?  Our people don’t work for ourselves.  We are hard workers, yes, but we work for somebody. Not “clients”, and by the way, what sort of people will you be dealing with?  Who doesn’t know how to clean a house?  Who will hire you?  Your friends?  What happens when you run out of friends?  You might as well be a goddamn insurance salesman.

Le sigh.

Trying to explain internet marketing to my father is like….. trying to explain internet marketing to my father.  He is of the generation that still writes a check at the grocery store, and prefers to do business in person, face to face.  The internet is for email and tracking down classic cars and evidently people also put dirty pictures on it (such a funny story, the day my father became aware of this phenomenon), but to depend on it for your livelihood?  Does not compute (HA! Compute. That’s a joke, son.).

In the end, and as it stands now, he’s supportive of this new alternative lifestyle I’m trying to put together.  I’m pretty sure he thinks it’s just a phase, and I’ll grow out of it, but he’s on board.  He’s got my back unconditionally, as ever. He knows that I’m not going to do anything that puts our ability to keep a roof over our heads at risk. He wants me to be happy, and he knows that when I stand my ground on a big decision that I know he doesn’t like, I mean business.

This is me, out of my very organized closet, standing my ground.  I mean business.

I’ll be your tour guide today…

I’m fairly certain that we all have a role to play during our time on earth.  Some are leaders.  Some are followers.  I?  I am The Directions Lady.  If there is a group of 50 people around me, I’m the one that a total stranger will approach and ask how to get somewhere.

Great moments in my history of giving directions include:

  • Once, while riding in the car with Mr. Incredible, an impossibly hot gentleman in a sports car I couldn’t even identify in the lane next to me made the universal gesture for “please roll down your window”.  I did, and he asked me “Do you know how to get to Paradise?”  Now, there is a street in town called Paradise Road, and we were headed in the opposite direction from there.  And the answer that I very nearly gave him (“Honey, you better believe I do know the way….” etc) could have changed the entire course of my life (um, sorry babe).  Wisdom prevailed and I pointed him in the appropriate direction. We’ll never know if HotStuff McHorsepower reached Paradise, or what he found when he arrived.  Alas.
  • I have been to New York City for a total of 72 hours in my life.  On the third day, before I caught the train to DC (that sounds so very cosmopolitan, yes?) I was roaming the streets, soaking it all in.  Now, I’m not widely traveled, but being from where I’m from, I know what tourists look like, and I endeavor not to look like that.  I blend.  I decide to take a rest in Bryant Park (best public restrooms on the planet, btw) when a group of tourists (fanny packs, knee socks, maps and all) approached me.  I could hear the (likely self-appointed) leader say “She looks like she’s from here, let’s ask her.”  I look like I’m from New York?  Really?  Made my day.  As a bonus, she was asking where something was and gave the intersection.  If you know your numbers, you can navigate Manhattan.  She’s welcome.

I don’t know what it is that make total strangers think I know what I’m talking about.  I just go with it.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find it (whipping out my phone to google something as they stand there with their phone in hand makes me feel smug beneath my altruism, truth be told).  I like it when I’m able to give legitimate help to someone who asks for it.  Professionally, I’ve been at my most successful when I’m in a role that includes sitting down with someone to work toward a solution.  Not every question has a black and white answer (although directions generally do…) and I’ve been told that I have a knack for finding the best path.

Evidently I’m approachable.  I’ve been told countless times that I remind people of someone they know–a relative or a roommate or some good friend from long ago.  So when people are lost (even little kids, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy) they come to the first familiar face they see, and that’s me.  I’m cool with that.  Even though I’m not really a people person, it’s important to me to be helpful when I can.

What’s your hidden talent?  It may be so hidden that you don’t even see it, but others might.  Are you a Directions Lady too?  Or can you accurately estimate how many people are in a crowd of thousands?  I have a friend who’s a Bringer of Truth, and that’s a valuable person to have in your circle.  Whatever it is, cultivate it.  Helping people find the right path is what led me to professional organizing, and since I started heading in this direction, things have just felt right.

Failure is not an option.


PRONUNCIATION:  (guh-DAHNG-kuhn-ik-SPER-uh-muhnt)

MEANING:  noun: A thought experiment: an experiment carried out in imagination only. (source)

What would you do if you knew you would not fail?   

I mean, besides the obvious “win the lottery” or “convince George Clooney that he should indeed get married again and that I’m perfect for him”. When you’re drifting off to sleep, or zoning out while standing in line at the store, or watching the clock at 3:08 PM on a Thursday, what do you think about doing? On a clear night, when you wish upon a star, what do you say?

I’ve always wanted to be in charge of what I did. The jobs where I succeeded the most were the jobs where I was given the autonomy to devise my own processes. I’m at my best when I am allowed to reach the end result in a manner of my choosing. I think it’s a big part of why I’ve been struggling in my current position–even if I’d been given all the training and information in the world on this topic, it’s not part of the culture here to carve out one’s own path. I understand why, for the most part, given that we must maintain compliance with Federal regulations blah blah blah… but it’s one more reason that this isn’t where I’m supposed to be.

When I wish upon my star for that at which I cannot fail, it’s for a world where nobody gets testy when I arrive at 8:03 AM or leave at 4:58PM.

My Gedankenworld (new. favorite. made-up. word) has no fluorescent lighting. We are encouraged to put holes in the walls as we decorate our spaces with things that inspire us. It smells nice because people know not to put fish in the microwave. It is a transparent world in which expectations match the reality.

The experiment I began to carry in my imagination in November 2011 has become a tangible thing–it’s no longer just in my…. gedanken (which sounds a lot like badonkadonk, but I assume it’s slightly higher, anatomically). I didn’t know where this Get A Grip thing was going to take me, or whether it was even viable. It took months before I told anyone–even Mr Incredible wasn’t in on it until recently.  

I knew I was on to something when I started thinking about blog topics, or implementation of Best Practices for the business instead of dwelling on the negative stuff that would keep me awake until the wee small hours. I just couldn’t let go of this–it seems like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. So, although I never said to my wishing star, “I wish I may, I wish I might…. tell people how to clean their houses.” I feel like I’m on the right track. I feel like if someone were to ask me “What’s your passion?” I wouldn’t just roll my eyes and think “oh shut up you freaking hippie”; I’d actually have a coherent answer.

I’m spending a lot of time putting the nuts and bolts of the business together, because the whole point of this project is to turn it into a livelihood. I’m excited to see where this is going. Big things are coming.  This is what I am doing, because I know I will not fail.

Wishin’ & Hopin’ & Thinkin’ & Prayin’

The last thing I want is for people to roll eyes at what I write. (Click the link, read the post, and smirk about just how much you don’t relate to a word of it.)

I mean, I get that the whole self-improvement thing can easily get happy clappy, and suddenly we can see the potential awesomeness in EVERY.SINGLE.THING around us.  We look at our lives and we know that there’s got to be something better that can happen.  We seek so much.  We want to have less and still somehow manage to have more.  We work hard for the money (so you better treat us right) and sometimes we get frustrated by people who seem to work less and pass us by anyway.

I’m still at the very early stages of figuring out what this Get A Grip thing is going to be.  It’s very easy to sit here and write a bunch of myopic tripe on how to be perfect or better or whatever.  I could focus very specifically on one topic (I just love this chick) or I could try to cover everything in the world (God help me, I love her too).  In determining the goals for this…. project, then, I’m going to work through creating my own goals.  What do I want my world to look like when I’m not sitting here writing about how to make the world better?

I want to wake up at Not 6:30AM.

I want to have more time with my daughter out of the car doing cool things

than I do with her in the car on the way to stuff that sucks.

I want what I do for a living to have value.

I want the time spent away from my family to be worth being away from my family.

I want to love what I do.

There’s more, I’m sure.  Interesting that 3 of the 5 things that came to mind first are about time.  My time is not my own right now, and I think that’s a big part of why I’m seeking a change.  I’ve played the game for quite long enough.  It’s scary to think about letting go of the security of a state paycheck and pension, but the status quo is making me wither away (oh, the drama of it all…) and I just want more.  I need more than this.  I need to give a damn and be surrounded by people who give a damn about me giving a damn, dammit!

I don’t know what else to write.  I’m sitting in my sad cube at 3:10PM on a Friday, with work to do but no interest in doing it, and no real incentive other than the prospect of some vague personal satisfaction that might spark as a result of getting something done.  All I can think of is where I’d rather be.  Not geographically, although I’m always up for some discussion about fabulous vacations.  Not personally, because I can’t imagine being happier with home and family than I am now.  Professionally, though, it’s wide open.  I am more than a square on the bottom of some crappy org chart.