Saturday, October 12, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Does anyone else remember this little book, published in 1994? Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James.

I bought it a year or two after it was published and it has lived in our downstairs bathroom ever since. (Everybody has stuff to read in their bathrooms, right?)  Some of the suggestions were a little weird or impractical even then.  Some of them just didn't suit me personally.  

Downsize your house? We'd just bought a BIGGER house. And we're still in it, with no intention of moving any time soon, although some day we may have to consider it.

No pets?  Not likely for us, and I still think the joy far outweighs the trouble and expense.

Rotate the same sensible all-black clothes every day? Dullsville. (And yet when I'm working at home, in the summer I rotate the same shorts and t-shirts, in the winter the same sweats. )

I have incorporated some other tips over the years.  I consolidate shopping and errands whenever possible. I repeat menus, even down to the same things on the certain days of the week, which I used to think was incredibly boring. My closet is fairly organized. (You do not want to see my make-up drawer, however...) My housekeeping standards have declined drastically. I make lists--I cannot function at all without a list.

But why think about this book? I have been feeling particularly overwhelmed the last few months. Then, in a post earlier this week, Hallie mentioned that she only watched Netflix and movies.  I suggested only half-jokingly that she should write a post on simplifying.

Then Wendy Corsi Staub said that she had written eighty books.  EIGHTY.  How, I wondered, is this possible? 

And we all know how crazy Hank's schedule is--she works as an investigative reporter, writes, teaches, travels... It's mindboggling.

Rhys? Two books a year, at least, plus short stories, promoting, and switching houses between California and Arizona twice a year...

Lucy switches houses, too, plus writing and promoting and traveling.

Julia manages writing, traveling, teaching, promoting, along with the hugely demanding job of parenting two kids in college and one still at home.  (Julia, we love The Youngest!)

Me? I haven't even finished my laundry from Bouchercon...

So I thought maybe that those of you who are more organized, or at least more efficient, might share a tip or two. 

REDS, readers, throw me a scrap of wisdom for the sake of the novel-in-progress--and my sanity! Is there one single thing you do that makes your life more manageable?


  1. Organized? That’s something I will never, ever be in this lifetime. Mostly it doesn’t bother me, unless I’m looking for something that I absolutely know I had a mere five minutes ago but has somehow managed to vanish into the black hole of wherever it is that missing things hide out until Saint Anthony takes pity on me.

    If I have my way, we will NEVER move again . . . far too much hassle and, besides, we really love our place here.

    Since black is one of the mainstays of my entire wardrobe, no matter what the season, I’m good with that.

    Lists seldom get written and the suitcase from my latest jaunt to Norfolk and back hasn’t even gotten unpacked, never mind the clothes having reached the laundry room.

    Somehow, however, the things that have to be done always get done. I’ve never given the “how” of that much thought. So, I've pondered this and realized that I always:
    Delegate the stuff I don’t need to do myself so I can focus on the got-to-do-this task . . . .
    Take a ten-minute coffee/tea/just relaxing break when I begin to feel frazzled . . . .
    Ignore the phone or the email or the social media or whatever it is that wants to gobble up my time . . . .
    Try to be good to myself, keep everything in perspective . . . .

  2. More manageable? Has to be that minute I take every morning to thank my Higher Power for another day above the ground. I learned this a decade ago during a personal crisis, and it has served me well. Perspective, priority, management.

  3. Hi Debs,

    The single thing I do that makes my life more manageable is keeping to a schedule. I am not obsessive-compulsive. This is a task I have taken upon myself in order to get something done before it's time to go to bed at night.

    My schedule doesn't always work out well, but it works out well enough most of the time. If I stay up writing all night, I start my schedule from the time I get up. What works best for me, now that I work at home, is not having rigid timing. Rather, I have things I must do on any given day and an order I do them in. So if my daily schedule must be interrupted for an appointment, when I am through, I resume my schedule from where I left off.

    Everything goes on my calendar. First thing in the morning I turn on my computer to look at my calendar. That one action gets me started and sets my mind to sticking to a plan. I look at the day, the week, and the month ahead. That puts the day in perspective and reminds me of any upcoming deadlines and other responsibilities.

    This never gets easy. It doesn't come naturally. I make myself do it. At the end of the day I'm not always happy with what I have accomplished, but I find it was worth it. The alternative is wondering where the day went when it's time to go to bed.

  4. Letting housekeeping slide is a biggie. And making a list every morning that sits beside my desk all day long. The first thing is always Write. Exercise is always on there, too, because if I stretch my body, whether on a brisk walk or at the gym, then I stay calmer about everything else.

  5. Such good ideas from all of you--thank you! Julie Hennrikus was telling me at bouchercon that she relies on an app that locks her offline. Havent tried that yet but I'm tempted. Almost back from a fab trip to France--I cut way back on email and have to say, it wasn't painful!

  6. oh boy, I was just thinking about writing an article/blog entry about this the other day. Not because I'm some productivity guru. I'll never be super organized or efficient at everything but I have gotten better at time management/not procrastinating after life experience and I feel like someone else out there is learning everything the hard way (like me) and could profit from me sharing my process.
    - Accept less than perfection in all things.

    - Don't fold or put away laundry. Really! Okay that might seem kind of gross to some people, but I have two small boys who love to get dirty and my older son has a school uniform too. That's a lot of clothes. I do wash and dry a load of laundry every day, but folding and putting is a "wanna do" not a "gotta do." It sits in the basement on our couch in the basement. My husband's work shirts get done professionally. Everything else we wear is wrinkly. See rule number one :-)

    - Hard and important things at the "easy time" of the day. Easy less important things at the "hard time" of the day. I exercise and write in the morning (my personal "good time" of day) because those things are challenging and important to me and I feel more energized and accomplished for getting them done. I break this rule sometimes, but I always end up regretting it.

    - Keep my smart phone plugged in for as long as I possibly can in the morning and plug it in at dinnertime and don't check it again until right before bed. I "found" a lot of time just by not filling up little lulls in the morning and evening by checking Facebook, the news, etc. I'm a junkie for the rest of the day, but having limits helps me ;-)

  7. Jack:
    Around here, it’s pretty much a continual, all-day-long conversation . . . it may not help me be more organized, but it definitely keeps everything in the proper perspective . . . .

  8. So interesting. Honestly there are times of my life when everything feels overwhelming... but organizing does not equate to simplifying for me. I only organize when the chaos overwhelms and then WATCH OUT! Because it's often rage that propels me.

    But my kids are grown, no pets, and a nice roomy house to let the chaos expand into, and my husband has learned to keep his piles confined to his office, his attic, his basement, and his garage.

  9. I vaguely remember hearing about that book. I probably thought it was Fiction!

    I used to be better organized but then Life happened. (Physical challenges from spine problems and arthritis, a family situation that takes up time and brain cells, etc). The only thing I'm still fanatical about is the laundry, which I do at a laundromat. Unlike Jill (and most people I know), I like folding laundry. It makes me feel productive, I think!

    There ARE a handful of things that make me feel a little more organized:
    I objected at first but finally started buying most pants in black for ease in putting together a wardrobe, but wear colorful tops with them. I prefer bright colors, especially purple or red, so I do a lot of black and purple or black and red. It wouldn't surprise me if people thought it was some sort of uniform!

    Each evening I set out each item of clothing I will wear the next day, including underwear. I get breakfast and lunch ready for the next day, too. (I bring both meals to work with me. I am too slow an eater to be able to eat breakfast at home.)

    I do boring/easy meals, even though I like to cook, because they are easier to plan, and require less time standing in the kitchen. Also, I read somewhere that if you want to watch your weight, sticking to boring meals can help to keep the weight down. I think maybe the theory is that the more flavors you experience, the more flavors you will want. I have no idea if there is any truth to this. To cut down on impulse food purchases, I have a food budget and take exactly that amount of money to the store with me, usually writing a check ahead of time for the amount. I always get at least a couple of dollars back. There is no way I can exceed that amount.

    I am always reading articles about how to reduce clutter and have decided the authors are some of the best fiction writers around! There will always be clutter in my home, and a fair amuont of dust, too. Personally, I do not feel comfortable in a home that is totally free of all kinds of clutter. It makes me wonder if the home is just there for "show" and the people actually sleep elsewhere!

  10. Have my husband do all the shopping and most of the cooking! He's retired. He enjoys it and I am very grateful.

  11. OH, Im reading this VORACIOUSLY! Back in a minute...

  12. Jill, I really like your tips. I am mentally disorganized - I honestly suspect I may have some sort of adult ADD. Lacking any natural sense of organization, I rely on a few routines that never vary. Everything that I might need for taxes gets tossed into a large basket. (I've tried folders, but I simply don't use them. The basket, I do use.)One load of laundry per day, Youngest folds, everyone puts his or her things away.
    Bills go in a basket, stamps go in a basket, stuff going from downstairs to upstairs goes in a basket (you see a theme here?)

    One thing I'm considering is getting housecleaning help. My neighbor across the street, a mom who homeschools her three young boys, has a woman come in twice monthly for four or five hours at $80 a pop. When I found this out, I thought, would I pay $5 a day to have a clean house without actually having to spend any time or thought on it? Hell, yeah.

    Oh, and don't believe Joan when she says she's not organized. She's been the very capable administrator of my Reader Space for well over a year, and she's so on top of things that I literally have nothing to do. Thanks, Joan!

    But the ultimate trick to simplifying your life is, I think, to let yourself take time to do things just for yourself. Read. Watch a movie. Garden. Knit. Anything that allows you to pause and refresh yourself. Your life may still be as disorganized and demanding as ever, but you won't feel overwhelmed.

  13. SOmetimes I take five minutes just to breath e and remember I am lucky. This REALLY makes a difference, even though sometimes I only make it through about four minutes.

    I try to keep back clutter, throw it throw it throw it, and fail only on the dining room table. That is not the marketing center, and there's no way to undo it. :-)

    LISTS! I cannot live without them.

  14. Lists! Yes! So necessary to my life. And if I make them in a pretty notebook/journal - even better! I recently found some wonderful purse sized ones at the Quarter Moon Bookstore and loaded up.

    I have to say though, at least from my experience, going to a smaller house did nothing really to simplify or lives. If you're collectors like Donald and I, you're going to still be collectors.

    I've learned that I'm organized only when I have outside motivation - like a job. Now that I'm retired, I am much less organized, and truth be told - I miss it. So. I work at it because being organized, like a list, is necessary for me, otherwise I just feel scattered and accomplish less.

  15. Julia, I think I'm AADD, too. So scattered, so easily distracted. I need lots of quiet and ALONE time to even begin to organize my thoughts. And schedules--(thanks, Reine. Working on it.)

    On the housecleaner, Julia, by god, yes!!! Yes yes yes (Picture Meg Ryan in WHMS here.) Twice a month (although your prices are cheaper in Maine:-)) Worth every penny. In between, I keep the kitchen clean, do laundry, and TRY to sweep the hardwood floors a couple of times a week. You can't imagine what a relief it is. Do it. Do it now!

  16. Kaye, glad (or maybe horrified, re my dream house) to know that moving into a smaller place didn't magically simplify your life...

    But yes, the notebook. Cannot live without the notebook. Actually, there are two--a little spiral-bound one I keep for running grocery and shopping lists (and yes, I know I can do it on my phone, but somehow that seems more trouble...) and a bigger one that is my running "life" notebook. Phone calls, messages, to-do lists, notes from business conversations, etc. All dated. When a notebook is used up, I use a label maker to put the dates it covers on the front. I have a place in my office secretary where they go. And yes, I know I can do this on the computer, but someone it doesn't connect with my brain in the same way.

  17. I think I deserve a little pat on the back this year for having done a huge organizing job--The Great Book Project. Not only did I organize, catalog, re-store or re-distribute twenty years worth of copies of my own novels in multiple languages and editions, I also purged and re-organized every book shelf in the house (Half Price Books, how do I love thee...) It was a huge job, and I'm determined not to ever let the books overwhelm me again. A lot of it had to do not-so-much with the physical work (I had help from a couple of adorable young guys) but in making decisions and coming up with organizing systems.

    Next, when the b-in-p is finished, the black hole of our house, the business office.

  18. Take a look at how you are spending your time... decide what you want to stop spending time on.. hire someone to do it for you. Think about what your time is truely worth in dollars and cents.

  19. I use to be extremely organized, especially when I worked, could lay my hands on anything in/on my desk or anyone else's....

    When I hit 50, my organizational skills seemed to fly out the window, our office looks like a tornado went through it

    I look for things for a while then give up because they don't appear

    DH started to remodel the house 4-1/2 yrs ago - he got the 2 bedrooms, office, our tiny bath and the guest bath done, along with flooring in all those room and hallway..........

    Where the hall floor and top of stairs meet, the carpet is duct taped down so no one trips on it, stairs are bare wood -

    the living room has 2 sewing machines in cabinets, 2 dining chairs, a outdoor folding chair, my portable exer-cycle, and about 100 stuffed doggie toys, I keep telling AB to put her toys away, she doesn't listen, that is in addition to our "living room" furniture

    the family room downstairs (we live in split foyer) has become a storage room, I have a suitcase down there I have not unpacked from when we spent 4 months in Florida (1-1/2 yrs ago) caring for his Mom before moving her to live with us in TN -

    DH asked why suitcase is not unpacked - because I'm a stress eater and put weight on while in Fla at his Moms, then more weight when we moved her in with us; so I can't fit in my "smaller" size clothes, why unpack them until I can wear them - DH does not understand that logic

    We have to jack up the wall that runs between living room and the kitchen/dining area behind living room - cathedral ceilings and over 40 yrs weight of roof has pushed wall down

    So....we have to empty family room, get rid of pool table and jack wall up from downstairs - major undertaking - #1 reason remodel came to a halt 4 yrs ago.....

    I'm a pack rat, is there a support group for that ?

    I have about 15 - 20 boxes of mysteries down there, boxes of decorative painting design books, 100's of bottles of acrylic paints, brushes etc, I haven't painted in over 1-1/2 yrs

    DH keeps saying, just organize the stuff so I can put things in storage.....a must since there is no place to put this stuff while finishing remodel.

    He seems to forget my organizational skills left 9 yrs ago, and his are not much better since we can only use 1/2 of our 2 car garage

    Debs, I also have not finished unpacking from trip to NY, at which I got to see Debs again and also meet Elly Griffiths and spend some time with both of them

    I also got to meet Hank and get her new book signed, nice meeting you Hank !

    what an awesome day that was, I had 5 days in a row of seeing friends I hadn't seen in 35-40 yrs, seeing Debs and meeting Elly (we've been online friends for 5-6 yrs)best vacation in Years !!!!!!

    I digress (per usual)DH tells me I do this all the time, I just tell him that means I can multi task

    AS to organization - once again I fail......

    I haven't finished unpacking from trip to New York and a few items I purchased seem to be among the missing, hoping they will appear when I finish unpacking

    I've tried lists, I lose them, maybe I should figure out how to write lists on my phone - so far I haven't lost my phone, I sometimes send myself emails if I have to make a call a specific day about something, but that means I have to check my email, which sometimes I dont do until 10p-11pm - too late to make those calls

    So, Debs....I can't say I have any organization tips for you but could sure use some myself :)

  20. Mar, I feel SO much better:-)

  21. Do I *ever* remember that book! It lived in our bathroom, too, and I would read a few tips each day, hoping to incorporate them into my life. Some of the suggestions were so helpful that I remember them to this day. One idea in particular is something I still use: waiting a month before making a major purchase so you could think about whether or not you *really* needed and wanted the item. I also ask myself if I already own something that can do the job of the item I'm considering purchasing.

    Three years ago we had our house renovated, and before work began we removed every single item. We lived in a Residence Inn for 14 months during the renovation, and had a minimum of our possessions with us, the rest having been put in storage. When we moved back I had our boxed up belongings shipped to the house and stored in our garage. I've been working with an amazing organizer since then, usually once a week, going through each box deciding what's coming back into the house and where it's going to live. During this time I've been brutally, uncompromisingly ruthless about weeding out our stuff. We've donated gobs of furniture (everything except our dining room table), household, kitchen and home dec items, clothing and craft items, books and more.

    It's been a GREAT feeling, disencumbering ourselves of things we didn't need, liked but didn't love, could live without and knew someone else could and would make use of. Talk about simplifying. Our house will never have a minimalist or Zen look to it, but there's a spareness to the decor that's soothing and calming to me.

    I also heartily endorse the idea of hiring help as finances allow. I did it when we moved back home, because I have a couple of medical conditions that keep me from being able to care for our house properly, and I didn't want it to suffer from lack of attention. I have a marvelous housecleaner who comes twice a month and makes our home sparkle.

    And speaking of Higher Powers and perspective, I'm right there with you Jack and Joan. Perspective and gratitude. Friends kept asking us how we were doing during the reno, and we could truthfully say, "Great! We're having so much fun." They'd look at us like we'd lost it. But how blessed were we to be able to have *any* work done on our house, to be able to live off-site so the work could be done more quickly (and to find a place that accepted our cats), and to have found the incredible contractor we did?

    So absolutely - Thank you, thank you, thank you. And being grateful for all I have instead of bemoaning what I don't keeps my heart uncluttered and my thoughts simplified too.