Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rhys's New Year's Resolution: Decluttering

RHYS BOWEN: Hank asked us last week about our New Year's Resolutions.
I have a special note book and every New Year's Day I sit down and write the highlights of the last year, my plans and dreams for the upcoming year. Then I check off last year's plans and dreams and check the ones I accomplished. Also checked off items on my bucket list.
Recently my expectations have more to do with enjoying life, staying healthy, spending more time with friends and less being stressed about my writing. Yes, I'm moving into a Zen-like state.

One of my decisions for the new year was to de-clutter. I love coming to our condo in Arizona because it was new when we bought it. I furnished it with light Skandanavian-style furniture( okay, I confess, Ikea) and we keep a minimum amount of clothing and books here. It's easy to clean and looks uncluttered. In contrast to our home in CA that has accumulated thirty years of family living, far too many book cases of books, as well as boxes of vinyl records and cassette tapes that will never be played, clothes that will never again be worn, photos that will never get put into albums.

So I'm started a serious clean-up campaign. I've been weeding out clothes that are still good, still timeless--like those dark suits kept only for New York visits--and yet are rarely worn. Or the bright jacket with palm trees on it worn only on trips to Hawaii. Or shoes that are good but actually hurt me after twenty minutes.

I've been through my toiletries and ousted lipsticks and mascara that must now be too old, bath products I've been given but really aren't my scent, medicines that are past their sell-by date.  And books. I'm being sensible about books. Even if I loved it, I'll probably never re-read it (the exception to this is Agatha Christie. She's my go-to comfort read. As is "Our Hearts Were Young And Gay.") And if I do decide to re-read there are libraries and Kindle.  And do we really need my forty-year-old daughter's high school English paper comparing the Heart of Darkness with Lord of the Flies, even if it did get an A?

But the serious de-cluttering is being done on my computer. I get at least 100 emails a day. And most of them I didn't want, didn't ask for and don't need. All the on-line stores at which I bought one Christmas present, charities I donated to at Christmas, and now think they can send me weekly updates.  Every cruise line in the world because we took a cruise last year. All the publishing-related sites like Shelf Awareness that are actually interesting but I simply don't have time to read. Yahoo groups to which I've belonged for years but again are neither helpful or relevant. Jokes that friends think I'd like to read. Snippets from the BBC and English newspapers that my husband thinks I should know about.

So I've been going through ruthlessly with the UNSUBSCRIBE button and hope to end up with about twenty important and relevant emails per day.

And ruthlessly eliminating apps I never use on my iPad and phone too.

So how about you, Reds? How do you handle electronic cluttering?

HALLIE EPHRON: I did all my holiday shopping online, but once the packages were delivered I UNSUBSCRIBEd, so my email doesn't need to be de-cluttered. I do go in occasionally and delete email folders I no longer need, or move them a layer down so I don't see them every day. But I've done it often enough that I'm afraid to do too much deleting for fear I'll lose something I really need.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I do the e-de-cluttering for both my laptop and for Ross's computer, so I tend to make it a regular task. (Unless anyone mistake me for a Highly Organized Person, I will say this is probably the ONLY decluttering I do regularly.) Like everyone else, I also get a gazillion unwanted emails, which usually filter into the trash, so all I have to do is empty it on occasion. I tend to save most of my non-commercial email, unless it's something that's otherwise saved online, like newsletter subscriptions or our Jungle Red listserv. I have my mail program set up to automatically delete attachments when I delete the original email, and that saves a lot of time and space.

The part that continues to overwhelm me are my kids' pictures and music files. Having never taken photos with film, they've never learned to carefully set up one or two shots and take them; instead they snap away on their phones and cameras like professional papparazi and upload EVERYTHING. Begging them to sit down and edit their files has been...less than successful. So when I can, I try to slip in and delete most of the blur-of-motion, finger-over-lens and feet pictures. Not my favorite chore by far.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You are such an inspiration! I have just spent a joyous half hour unsubscribing. It's funny--every morning I check my computer, and spend several minutes just deleting stuff, unread, and being annoyed. Why didn't I think of unsubscribing? It's fabulous. Thank you.

I am such a clutterbug, and am working so hard to stop. I made a nice basket to put all the to-do bills and stuff in. So I could be organized and pretty.  The basket filled to overflowing. So much for THAT idea. But suddenly I am madly throwing stuff away. I don;t know what got into me. When the mail comes, Jonathan looks at each piece, and then just puts it down. Recently I started (sweetly) requesting that he *deal* with each one instead: Action file, storage file, or toss. Gotta start somewhere right, so might as well be with him.  :-) 
RHYS: While I'm ruthlessly eliminating I've been searching sites for useful decluttering apps and one of my favorites is EVERNOTE. This is what is said about it. I find it amazingly useful:
Evernote - Decluttering + Organization
Also during the search, you may find a lot of papers in various locations. Whether it's important documents, warranties for appliances, or recipes handed out in grocery stores, these all add up to one giant mess. Enter Evernote, which has the capability to scan these papers into a into digital form which can then be accessed anywhere the internet reaches. Evernote is also handy for making lists, reminders, calendar events, documents, and more to make the ultimate home binder. Free - Available for iOS / Android / Windows Phone
And if you have reached the desperate stage in real lie decluttering need then this is the app for you:
up a bit, the homestead now has a lot of new possibilities. Rebirth that living room by shifting the layout around, but save your energy with a little digital ingenuity. MagicPlan takes your room's dimensions with your smartphone camera and creates a flattened room layout to play with. Add in furniture and move it around to see what can go where. Free - Available for iOSAndroid

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Unfilth Your Habitat - Maintaining Cleanliness
Once everything is done, maintain cleanliness and order with rigorous discipline. Some of us excel in this department, while others weren't born with Martha Stewart instincts when it comes to household maintenance. Enter Unfilth Your Habitat, a tough love app that when used correctly guides users towards less obvious chores around the house. Select a random one that takes either 5, 10, or 20 minutes, use the pomodoro timer to get productive (20 minutes of work, 10 minutes of rest), or create a list of tasks to accomplish. $2 - Available for iOS /Android

So, dear Reds and Readers: what decluttering tips can you share with us? Any more brilliant apps?


  1. Like everyone else, my email has far too much junk in it. Since I haven't found any miracle apps, I unsubscribe, dump out the spam files, and delete all the junk. Unfortunately, it seems to have a life of its own.
    In an effort to keep it under control, I scroll through the list of new email messages and ruthlessly delete, delete, delete before I open a single message. That leaves me with a much more manageable inbox holding only the mail I want to read.

  2. I'm a clutterbug, too - love that word, Hank! I do deal with junk mail as soon as it enters the house. Right now my office is approaching the "too cluttered to work" stage, so I might be taking this blizzardy afternoon to toss stuff and tidy up. And do some unsubscribing while I'm at it...

  3. Clutter. OMG, the clutter. I doubt anyone can top my clutter.

    I actually wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago on extreme decluttering, a goal I have failed to achieve. The clutter collection in my house approaches that of a stage-two hoarder, but it is clean clutter-- I am constantly moving piles of stuff to vacuum or scrub underneath.

    It's apparently a familial thing. Our mom kept an immaculate house, but when I had to empty my parents' apartment, I found boxes of pictures, letters, doohickeys, etc., that should have been organized but never were. And until he retired, my dad actually had a double office, one with the desk at which he worked and saw clients, and the other-- right next to it-- where his desk was piled two-feet high.

    He owned an office building for over 40 years, and stashed everything in its basement because he could. When he sold it-- on 27 days' notice-- it fell to me to empty it. My parents had moved to an apartment by then, but everything that had been in the basement of their house or in my grandmother's attic was somewhere in that office building.

    I was also the one who got to empty the family summer home-- four houses filled with five generations' stuff accumulated over seventy-five years. (Our family never had garage sales; we just took everything "to the Lake.") And we won't discuss what it took to empty my parents' apartment after they died.

    I wound up with four storage rooms (I'm down to two) and a garage, all full of stuff that I'm still working on. To be fair, one of the rooms is filled with dead files from 40 years of law practice. I'm required by law to save some things for various periods. The rest have to be checked for clients'personal possessions and then shredded. We're talking a floor-to-ceiling WALL of banker's boxes here, folks. (I'm about halfway through it.)

    And is anyone out there into Currier & Ives? My parents left me with over 600 huge (about 30 inches by 18 inches) multi-page Travelers Insurance calendars on archival paper (my dad had been a Travelers agent). Each calendar contains a dozen reproduction lithographs, and each year's reproductions are different. (They range from about 1959 to 1989. Year patterns repeat; this year is the same as 1970, 1981, and 1987. Get 'em while they're hot, folks!)

    Do I win?

  4. Every time I declutter my email, I find another author, group, etc. that sounds really interesting and I must follow their blogs, or their FB page. I hate to unsubscribe because I don't want to hurt their feelings.
    The house is different - as we get older and remember cleaning out relatives homes we try to get rid of a little more and not bring more in!

  5. I love, love, LOVE Evernote. Take a note on my phone, shows up everywhere.

    I'm pretty ruthless with email. At the day job, I aim for "inbox zero" every week. I save stuff until I've dealt with it, then gone. Personally, I'll save things like hotel reservations until the visit is over. I have a couple of emails from friends I save to read on days when I hit the "you must have been joking when you thought you could write" wall.

    Our bug-a-boo is receipts. They clutter the desk where I keep my laptop until I get them in the computer - piles and piles. And why are they so long? I bought milk and eggs. Why is the receipt three feet of paper (an exaggeration, but not by much).

    The rest of the house is okay - I'm generally good with leaving the back shelf and front bench alone. But then I get a bug and the clutter just HAS TO GO - and you better not leave anything valuable out, because it's headed for the trash!

  6. On the email decluttering, I use a different approach. I set up a junk rule that sends all emails from that sender to a junk folder that I periodically purge.

    That way, should I happen to be wanting to buy something from retailer XYZ, I can check for recent offers -- and when I do buy something, I don't have to go through the unsubscribe routine again.

    ~ Jim (who wishes he was organized, but knows he really isn't despite what some people think)

  7. Oh, yes, Mary, some days I get the THROW IT OUT fever--and beware of anything on the countertop!

    I do fear for the dining room table though. It's so easy to park stuff there.

  8. I declutter clothes and shoes every six months. I've been doing this since I was in my 30s. I never regret giving anything away.

    When the economy went south in 2008, I took stock of my finances and decided to stop buying books and go to the library instead. (I also get DVDs at the library.) I took 6 huge bags of books to the Goodwill. I thought I'd cry in sadness over this act, but like the clothes and shoes giveaway, I never looked back. It was a a relief to leave them behind. I still buy some books, but 99% of the books I read are from the library.

    Late last year I started unsubscribing from email lists, too. Catalogs were next. I started getting a bunch of them late last year in time for the holidays, and it was such a waste of paper and mailbox space. I never buy things from catalogs. www.catalogchoice.org is a great way to take care of this problem.

    The hardest thing to do is declutter people in my life that I just don't want to deal with anymore. Do you all know what I mean? The people who are bitter, negative, or were friends at one point but we just don't hang out anymore for one reason or another. How do you approach that one?

  9. Thank you, Rhys. I am late commenting because I just spent the last hour unsubscribing from junk emails, instead of just deleting them every morning. Duh. I do normally delete things from my inbox daily that I don't need to keep, so that's something.

    And Evernote, Rhys. I have it on computer, phone, and tablet, and I use it some but don't think I'm really taking advantage of all its features. Maybe I should take time to watch a tutorial?

  10. PS Rhys, is that YOUR condo in the photo? It's gorgeous!

  11. This is very timely, since I've been decluttering the laundry room this morning. And I'm planning to weed out books later today, although with the number of books in this house, if I got rid of them all the whole joint might rise up half a foot or more.

    It's a constant battle. As much as I protest, family members and friends continue to give me gifts, mostly stuff I don't need, don't really want, and have no idea what to do with. And paper! Geez, Louise, I swear it multiplies in the night, like rabbits, or amoebae.

    Two things I have gotten rid of: Catalogs and credit card offers. We used to get three or four each week, which drove me nuts, thinking of all the waste. So I joined Catalog Choice www.catalogchoice.org and requested removal from dozens of mailing lists. Voila! No more catalogs.

    Credit card offers were not as simple, but this turned out to be the most effective way: Using the prepaid envelope, AND the preprinted application, either mark on the application, or use a sticky note, this:

    "We are not interested in this service/product. Please remove our name from your mailing list, or forward this request to someone who can."

    Since you're using the prepaid envelope, which costs them to receive, it gets their attention.

  12. Not my condo, Debs. I have pix of my condo but couldn't find them last night. However I've taken more this morning and will add to this post, so take a second look. It is also pretty nice.

  13. Hi Rhys, de-cluttering is my big project for the year too, starting with paper piles (my downfall). And, I'm going to re-do my office so it's not a store room. I hate working in it ... blech.

    BUT, I hadn't thought about electronic decluttering. Oh ... yeeks ... I have 1000s of emails in my Inbox!

    I will begin by unsubscribing!

  14. Rhys, I'm on the same mission for 2015. I've lit a fire under my husband's feet, as well. He is the world's worst hoarder. I've told my kids if I die first they must make sure he doesn't become one of those old men who are killed by their stacks of junk and lie dead for weeks before found.

    We've been going through clothes and shoes and giving away or throwing out. I bought a new shredder (because the motor on our old one burned out a long time ago) and have been shredding away--Ben has discovered that he loves doing it. This may be a solution. He refuses to recycle his junk mail and hoards it instead, but last night he ran out of things to shred and ran all the day's (totally recyclable) junk mail through it, just for the fun of it.

    I've been decluttering the kitchen. Who needs multiples of every tool? And why do I keep those small appliances people have given me as gifts when I never use them?

    Books are our huge bugaboo, of course, but I hope that we can declutter everything else first and that will give us impetus to tackle the book problem.

  15. Rhys, lovely photo! But where are John's teapots? :-)

  16. I want to start with the physical decluttering of my house. As the painter works his way through it and new floors are installed, I have realized that most of what is in my closets needs to go. I also have lamps I'm retiring, so those will go in a yard/garage sale this spring. Books are simply everywhere, and it's getting to be something with which I have to deal. So, in putting my house back together, there will be major weeding.

    On the computer, I have so many emails I need to delete right now, embarrassed to say how many are currently in my new mail box. I do a major clearing every so often and then vow to keep the mail cleared out weekly, but it seems I always slip up and let it build up. That could be a good goal for the New Year, keep my email in check. I also need to week out old memes and cute pictures that I have on my desktop. Then, there are my documents with which to do a major clearing. I do feel a little more inspired after the post today.

    Oh, Ellen, what an insanely gargantuan lot you've had to deal with. Wow!

  17. When de-cluttering for a move, I set aside all the items (including all those school photos) from each child's past. I then purchased 3 large (3" or larger spines) ringed binders and a package or two of page-sleeves. I put all their items in the books in chronological order.I even had the last square of one daughter's "blankie." I gave one to a new son-in-law who had not met us in person before the wedding. It gave him a great history of his bride. One I gave to another daughter when we were going throw a rough mother-daughter time. Each was the talk of the event involved and much treasured by the recipients. And the bonus - I got 3 big boxes of things out of my house.

  18. Anonymous: before she died in 1989 my mother gave me a similar binder containing report cards, school pictures, and other various memorabilia in an old-fashioned scrapbook. I still look at it from time to time and I'll be sixty this year. While I can release almost anything (including her cedar chest just recently) these very, very personal items still resonate. So, parents: if you have those things, collect them and give them to your children now.

    Like almost all of us here I've gotten rid of thousands of books over the years, but I still manage to accumulate more than my shelves hold,including four complete sets of Dickens novels. I just can't make the conversion to e-books. And as far as knickknacks go, I gave up collecting those (except cheap refrigerator magnets from my travels) long ago.