Read my blog.

There is enough time for what's important.

Andrew Mellen

Friday, April 29, 2011

Just my imagination

How often do you make choices based on how you imagine or desire things to be rather than on how they actually are?

I've got a client who consistently undermines his success because he bases his decisions on short-term goals and a fantasy view of what his life could look like if he were organized.

But he isn't organized.

And so, instead of committing to finishing his taxes or finally clearing away historic clutter and sentimental accumulation, he bails on himself. Repeatedly.

We've created and recreated a system for him to process his incoming paperwork, from receipts to bills.

He'll maintain the system for several weeks and feel great about himself. He'll feel in control and more than even feeling in control, in those periods of maintaining the system, he gets to experience actually being in control.

During that time, he's often euphoric.

And then something happens. Someone else's urgency trumps what he knows to be important and suddenly everything flies out the window and he's back to scrambling -- tossing and stacking things on any surface he can find.

He's running scared, trying to satisfy someone else's agenda and completely disregarding his own needs and self-care.

Does that sound at all familiar?

In addition, he refuses to dedicate enough space toward the processing of historic clutter because he wants to have a living room for entertaining. He doesn't want to look at all that junk piled up -- he wants it all stacked in his spare room. Out of sight, out of mind.

Now I think having a living room for entertaining is a lovely goal.

Once you've earned it.

Hiding outstanding messes (that currently surround you and that you've possibly been carrying around for years) behind a closed door as if out of sight, out of mind were a technique for dealing with these messes ... c'mon, now.

I'm all for people living comfortably and in a way that makes them feel good about themselves and their homes.

But if having that home that you imagine you're entitled to becomes more important than doing the work to ensure that you can maintain that home, you'll never be able to actually sustain that home.

Either you're going to play house or you're going to build a home.

And I'd certainly prefer to help you with construction rather than make-believe.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dear Andrew ... A comment from Amy

Dear Andrew,

Thanks for posting your desk picture for me, and especially for the accompanying explanation. I can now image my goal much more clearly.

As I sit here at my desk (I think it's under here somewhere!), many of the paragraphs in Unstuff Your Life! come to life for me.

What is my knitting doing on the desk?

Why is a pillow that I thought would help my posture, even though it didn't, sitting on the desk as well?

Why are the dining table leaves stacked up against the wall of my study?

And then there's that bouquet of receipts, freshly plucked from my purse. Now I know exactly what to do with them, too.

Thanks again!

Best regards,


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dear Andrew ... Another question from Amy

Dear Andrew,

I like the idea of a container just for receipts. Shmushing them into a hanging file did not work for me (minor explosion, followed by depression, effect).

But I'm not sure I "get" the concept of as many containers as I have credit cards, as you posited previously (we have four). With the boxes for "to read," "to file," etc., won't the desk be just covered with boxes? :)

A picture of a Mellen-ized desk would be so valuable for me . . . any hope?

Best again,


Dear Amy,

I don't know that I'd have all the boxes on your desk either -- that does sound overwhelming. I'd find a surface nearby where the receipt containers could live.

Having four containers means less sorting at the end of the month. I'd think they could be small-ish, but large enough to contain the volume of receipts generated each month.

Knowing that, I'd also suggest that you consider reducing the number of cards you carry and use down to three or two -- I carry one Visa and one Amex. All activity is on one or the other. And the balances are paid in full each month. No debt. I like the miles received, otherwise I'd use a debit card but there's no "reward" with that card other than the no debt piece and I don't overreach so ...

Here's a pic of my desk -- I don't have many baskets on my desk -- all my bills are electronic so I have very little of that kind of paper coming in.

Here's a breakdown of the surface of my desk, from LEFT to RIGHT:

Staplers: one jumbo and one regular
Laptop on stand
Two-hole punch
Monthly receipt envelope
Electric pencil sharpener
Desk lamp

I have one container for all RECEIPTS -- I enter them into Quicken every three or four days, so they don't pile up. Once entered, they are deposited into the manila envelope next to the basket, which is labeled with the current month and year on it.

At the end of each month, that envelope is filed in the closet in a box with the previous months. I reconcile my statements each month and those statements are filed with the envelopes as well.

Being who I am, I often reconcile the cash and coins in my pocket with the Quicken register as well -- I keep track of all my cash receipts, but that might be a bit over the top for some people.

I have a basket for ACTION ITEMS that lives under my desk -- invites and the like are immediately entered in my calendar so they don't need a home. If there is an rsvp card that needs to be sent back, that's either filled out as I'm processing the mail, or dropped into ACTION ITEMS until it's mailed back. The basket is not in the photo, it was on the coffee table, in play, as it were.

Also not shown is a TO READ basket by a chair in my living room -- magazines, articles others send me, etc. all end up here and once a week I schedule an hour or two to read through them -- harvesting whatever may be useful and recycling the rest.

ASKS get tossed as I already have a giving plan for the end of the year. An ask with a personal appeal from a friend would end up in the action items basket.

Hope that helps.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Freedom from bondage ...

At this confluence of Easter and Passover, with no offense to those that aren't Judeo-Christian in orientation, it's appropriate to consider what freedom looks like and feels like.

There are any number of ways that we may find ourselves under the influence or even control of someone else.

But the chains and limitations we place on ourselves are perhaps the most constraining and damaging.

We can tell ourselves that we 'must' do something, but I'm going to suggest that we really examine how accurate that statement is each time we invoke or apply it.

What is the source of that 'must'? Is it really something we are compelled to do, or is the must based on a story we tell ourselves, sometimes so quietly that we aren't even aware of our lips moving or words forming silently in our minds?

And when the must involves another person, particularly a child or parent or significant other, it becomes so easy to position that must into a selfless act, really only benefiting the other person.

We may even tell ourselves that we'd probably make a different choice if it weren't for the other person.

And when the above involves stuff, it becomes that much more debilitating.

How many times have you considered letting something go or not bringing something into your life, but then a story starts playing about the object AND someone else and you buckle, fold or procrastinate?

The next time you think your life would be easier if you did X but then that story starts up, why not give the story a time-out, do X and see what happens.

I'm willing to bet that two things will occur:

1) No one will even notice besides you;

2) Somewhere, at least one link in a chain will open.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dear Andrew ... A question about receipts

Dear Andrew,

I just found your book, courtesy of a digital downloadable version at my local library, then I bought the real one right away - knew it was a keeper!

I have what I hope is a quick, easy question.

What do I do with those receipts each night in my purse????

Put them in the credit card file they belong to? (I seriously doubt I'll do this each day!)

Have a "receipts" file? (This hasn't worked).

Let them pile up in my purse until it explodes? (This has happened!)

Throw them into the 'To Be Filed' box? (but they're so crinkly, they'll never stay put for the whole month while they're waiting to be matched with the bill).



Dear Amy,

Thanks for writing.

And thank you for reading Unstuff Your Life! and choosing to purchasing it -- I hope it proves useful for you.

I suggest a separate basket or box just for receipts -- deep enough to contain a month's worth of them.

Find a home for this container and every night empty your receipts into it. While you're doing that, any that were particularly crinkly could be smoothed out as they're being deposited.

If you use more than one credit card each month, and you care to, instead of one larger container you could have smaller containers, one for each card, and you could sort them into their corresponding boxes as you're unloading your wallet/purse/pocket each night. It would make matching them with their statements move much faster.

Best of luck and hope that helps.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Unstuffing the heart

In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” -- Mahatma Gandhi

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” -- Aristotle

Have a strong mind and a soft heart.” -- Anthony J. D'Angelo

Two things are bad for the heart - running up stairs and running down people.” - Bernard M. Baruch

"I am not a smart man, but I know what love is." - Forrest Gump

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Permission granted

So many people say that one of the best takeaways from an Unstuff Your Life! workshop is the permission to let things go.

So today, print up this blog.

It's your official "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

You are hereby granted complete and thorough permission to release any and every thing that is standing between you and your heart's desire. This includes any piece of paper, object, clutter, clothing or gift that you have, until now, felt compelled to hold onto, even to your detriment.

On the count of three, open your hand and let it go.




Monday, April 18, 2011

Clothing and someday, part II

Continuing from yesterday ...

We've already discussed not buying something random and throwing it in your closet in the hopes that you'll eventually create an outfit around it.

Today I want to talk about shopping as entertainment.

I appreciate that shopping is a pastime for some people. For those individuals, I'd suggest that you could still do the activity of shopping without actually purchasing anything. You could spend the day with friends wandering through stores, checking out the latest fashions, and still not bring anything home beyond an experience.

That could be a valid day of hanging out and enjoying the company of people you care about.

It's really no different than any other activity -- picnicking, hiking, rafting -- since the day was about being with those dear to you.

Here's where trouble begins:

Heading out in search of something new that you don't need.

This may happen for any number of reasons, one being an attempt to distance or distract yourself from a feeling or situation that you find uncomfortable. Even so-called boredom.

The whole point of getting organized is to free up time for all those things that you lament not having enough time for.

Few of us actually have enough time for the things that are important to us. And if we're lucky and focused and have enough time, we'd still probably want even more time whenever possible.

So be clear when you're choosing a distraction or 'killing time,' that you are actually stealing time away from some future activity.

Unlike money, no one has a savings account with surplus time. The clock resets itself every night and we all wake up with the same 24 hours to spend as we choose.

If you're inclined to complain about the lack of time in your life for those things that are important, now is the time to be honest with yourself.

Of all the things that you could be doing, of all of the things that you say are important, where on that scale is shopping for clothes?

There are plenty of ways to shift away from something uncomfortable without spending money or adding to the clutter that surrounds you. Focusing on someone else is one of the easiest.

So the call today is to be mindful about all of the choices we make and to consistently choose to live our values, even or especially when we're uncomfortable.

That would seem to be the best time to have a value to fall back on.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Clothing and someday

At a recent workshop, a woman asked about cleaning out closets and letting go of clothes. Specifically, items she had worn and was fond of from previous seasons. She wasn't wearing them currently, because she had new favorite pieces. But she might want to wear them again 'someday,' although there's no clear understanding of when someday would occur.

As we talked, it became clear that it was more about sentimental attachment than practicality -- about her feelings about the clothes rather than a real sense she would ever actually wear them again.

I suggested it was like keeping an old boyfriend around -- you don't love him anymore, but on a desperate Saturday night, if no one else is free, you might go out with him as a last resort. But probably not.

Several things about this situation are noteworthy.

The first is:

Once you've gone through your closet and made your determination of what stays and what goes, and then fill in any missing pieces to create a comprehensive wardrobe for yourself, you should have enough clothes for any occasion.

What that looks like will be different for each person, but reaching 'stuff equilibrium' and having enough of everything that you need and nothing that you don't, is the goal.

Whether you have a 1000 SF walk-in closet, live in a studio apartment with one tiny closet, or rotate seasonal clothes in and out of your closet, enough is still enough in each of these cases.

So rather than buying things randomly that strike your fancy, which is perhaps how you have historically shopped, you should now be shopping with some deliberateness.

Shopping becomes about filling out outfits, not creating wardrobe challenges for yourself, i.e., "I love this sweater, it doesn't go with anything I own, but I'll get it anyway and eventually I'll find the perfect ... whatever ... to go with it."

That would be similar to buying a crepe pan if you never make crepes, but you figure, it's on sale (surprise!) and eventually you'll pick up all the ingredients and start making crepes.

When you're tired of a particular outfit and you've swapped out pieces from it with other outfits and you've played every card in your wardrobe hand and can't imagine putting on those tired old clothes one more time, that would be the time to head out to replace items.

No one has surprise formal weddings and you're unlikely to receive a call that you're needed at a state dinner tonight.

The point is you're not going to have a sudden clothing emergency where you wake up one morning with nothing appropriate to wear. I promise.

You may have nothing clean to wear, but that's another situation that has a simple and easily identified solution: do the laundry.

We'll talk about the other noteworthy part of this question tomorrow.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Begin where you're most uncomfortable ... or eat the frog!

I'm often asked, "where do I start? I'm surrounded by piles and mounds of stuff. Everywhere I look. It's all so overwhelming!"

And what I always tell people is, begin where you're most uncomfortable.

What room, space, or pile is making you the most upset? What random clump of stuff contains things you'd most like to have available to you or would most like to finally have out of your life?

That's the place to begin.

Brain Tracy says that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, it's likely to be the least pleasant thing that happens to you all day.

I'd agree.

So just like eating that frog, turn your attention to the task you'd most like to avoid and you'll discover that as you work through that task, whatever it is, you'll gain confidence, momentum and enthusiasm.

You might not expect that to be true, but it is. Try it and see.

You can always procrastinate tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What did you find most helpful about the workshop?

Late night last night in Jersey. Great turnout -- in spite of some crummy weather. Good questions. Here's what some folks said they were taking away with them:

The concept of 'stuff' triage -- making hard, immediate choices without looking back

Every task has a beginning and an end

Understanding "the stuff behind the stuff" for myself

How to deal with sentimental objects and your concept of "Sentimentaland"

New ways to look at old problems

How to work with my kids to get them engaged and organized

Reminders of things I know but let slide anyway

My partner can't hear criticism from me about his stuff

After an event like this, I'm even more engaged in wanting to share this work with as many people as possible.

It's so not about me and is so much about people returning to what is significant and powerful in their lives.

Clutter is a tremendous distraction and it keeps us passive, overwhelmed and defeated.

It is strikingly apparent to me that the world would look, feel and run much differently, and I believe better in every way, if people were re-engaged in their lives and not hobbled by stuff, objects, or clutter.

Willingness and some consistency ... that's all it takes and the way is clear.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Value is in the eye of the beholder

How much is that doggy in the window?

As much as you're willing to pay.

There is at least one person at every workshop who is holding onto something, not because they love a particular object, but because they believe it to be worth something. And certainly worth too much to just give it away.

Well, it takes two people to establish the value of anything. One that's selling and one that's buying.

If you can't find a buyer willing to pay you what you think something is worth, either you change your opinion of what something is worth or you wait for the right buyer to appear.

In the meantime, you're living with or storing something that brings you no satisfaction. It's just loaded with potential. Not unlike me as a child.

So, unless you're in possession of serious art or antiques with clear provenance, be very clear about the choices you're making around stuff and its value.

How long do you want to live with something, with the hope that eventually you'll pull some additional money out of it? What is your discomfort or inconvenience worth?

Maybe that's a better question to be asking.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The seed of an equal or greater opportunity...

I'm all about the ellipses today.

They're the perfect punctuation for that sense of undefined ... something ... just ahead.

"Within every disappointment is the seed of an equal or greater opportunity." -- Ray 'Skip' Scheetz

Of course, when disappointed, the above seems like slim comfort.

What lies between magic thinking and faith?

When one's heart is breaking, when the air leaves the balloon, when one more step seems one too many ...

(There they are again.)

Why is it that, while it takes no more effort to be kind as cruel, it seems so much easier for cruelty to appear?

What's the difference between patience and surrender when outwardly they may appear the same?

Is it courageous or foolish to unclench your fist before a bully?

Open hand, open heart, open book.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Diagnosis -- friend or foe?

Some labels are useful.

It's good to know what the bottler considers a serving when buying juice.

A label that offers instructions is very helpful, particularly when trying to repair a flat tire.

But labels for people in the form of a diagnosis may be of little use or detrimental, so perhaps we should move slowly and deliberately when considering one that's been applied to us.

Do we trust the source?

Were we already frightened when we went looking for outside information?

How about when we first heard the label?

Is acceptance of the label the answer to a long-held fear or worry?

Does it fill in a bunch of missing pieces?

Or does the label scratch at the back of our neck (figuratively)?

Is it ill-fitting but we still feel like we have to wear it?

With all of the information constantly directed at our receptors -- our eyes, and ears and mouth, our skin and our hearts and our minds -- I am a bit suspect of labels like OCD and ADHD as panaceas for an inability to focus and concentrate.

I definitely believe that those conditions exist and people suffer from them.

But I wonder if, sometimes, they're just easy to reach for and slap on anyone who has a hard time sitting still or is easily distracted.

Could the inability to focus be about hunger? Or thirst?



Some other condition?

I was often told that I wasn't working to my potential as a child. But no one ever tried to engage my potential.

They just evaluated my disinterest as a failure on my part. As if, since I wasn't interested in what they were teaching me, they had no responsibility to seek new or different ways to engage me.

I was even moved into a gifted child program for one year where I was charged with creating my own curriculum. I was ten years old at the time. Really? Left alone to teach myself at ten?!

I certainly worked to my potential when I was riding my bike, or playing little league, using my chemistry set, hunting frogs, or any number of other activities that drew me in and fed my imagination and desire to master something.

As an adult, in spite of my occasional under-achievement as a child, I'm engaged most of the time. Because now I have the confidence to trust myself and the ability to think critically. Neither of which I learned from a course in school. I may have picked it up while at a school, but it was never something that was directly taught to me.

So if you've been labeled, I want to suggest that you consider carefully the source of the label and if it really fits.

Are you willing to accept it because it's easy?

Or because it's accurate?

Do you feel empowered or defeated by the diagnosis?

Does it feel like a relief, like finally there's a name for what you've been feeling all these years or do you feel labeled and trapped within the diagnosis?

When attempting to get organized, and applying these principles to move your life forward in a powerful and focused way, I don't want you to let yourself off the hook with a simple label that singles you out and makes you ineligible for the benefits of an organized life.

There are workarounds for diabetes, and many other chronic conditions and diseases. There certainly are for ADHD and OCD.

A diagnosis does not disqualify you from living a full and fierce life of your own creation. Only you do.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What's costing you time?

These are some comments from the most recent workshop in Houston. How many of these things are also costing you time?

Disorganized garage -- it's almost impossible to find a tool when I need it

Email overload

Going through piles of papers over and over to find exactly what I'm looking for

Lack of good organization at the start of the day and transition home from work

Lack of organization at home -- I lose things all the time and am constantly late

Laundry piling up

Managing eldercare for my aging parents with no system or consistency

Moving things around the house from location to location but never getting organized

My romance with "someday"

Not using my non-work time efficiently

Obligations to other people

Other people's things being stored in our home

Over-committed schedule -- I don't know how to say "no"

Over-committed schedule -- I'm changing careers and am juggling training with my current practice

Picking up after others -- they have a different relationship to stuff than I do

Poor organization at home and ineffective time management


Snail mail - no process or method for dealing with it

Starting projects and not finishing them, then starting them again

Too much clutter makes me not want to do anything


There is some comfort in knowing that you're not alone.

And that if you suffer any of the above, your dirty secret isn't really that secret.

Do you feel better or worse knowing that you're not so special after all?

The cure for everything listed up top is outlined in my book, Unstuff Your Life!. But since I don't want this to be a hard sell, here's a principle that will help with much of what's listed.

Every task has a beginning and an end.

Just because you can 'see' the end of a task doesn't mean that you've actually achieved it. Stay mindful of either bailing on yourself or letting yourself off the hook too early. The end of the laundry is an empty basket back on top of the dryer, not a full basket of clean clothes sitting on the bedroom floor.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Crisis of faith?

I began this morning reflecting on the recent event in Houston and the sorrow and despondency that some folks arrive at the workshops with. It's heartbreaking.

I'm grateful that after a few hours in the room, these people leave feeling energized and focused, with a clear plan of attack and renewed vigor. But I'm concerned that so many people seem beaten down by overwhelm, by their struggles to get out from whatever they believe is holding them down or holding them back.

And that those crummy feelings feed on themselves. Like bunnies, they reproduce at an alarming rate.

Success breeds success and failure breeds failure.

So if you tell yourself often enough that you can't do something, you'll probably convince yourself that you're right. Regardless of whether that's an accurate statement or not.

You will come to believe that something is beyond your reach or ability.

Now, if you're not currently an M.D. with a specialty in neurosurgery, cutting up someone's brain may be beyond you -- but that's more likely about education and experience rather than capability.

Fortunately, right now we're just talking about never losing our keys again, possibly cleaning up some historic clutter, and clearing a path to spending more time doing what's really important to us. Unlike practicing medicine, those things are not beyond anyone!

So if we can believe a bunch of garbage about ourselves, why is it seemingly so difficult to believe something affirming about ourselves?

Here's a tool that might prove useful.

When having a bad day, or a bad morning or a bad moment, as soon as that impulse to label it a bad whatever appears, take a deep breath and say "no." Even "no, thank you!"

"No, I'm not having a bad ... whatever, I'm just upset or disappointed or frustrated. Which has nothing to do with my ability to take on this project. I believe that this task is well within my abilities and this was just a momentary distraction. I will take another breath and begin again."

Feelings don't need to be any larger than they are. And a feeling that you don't like is not necessarily indicative of a crisis of faith. It's just a feeling you don't like.

It seems so easy to abandon faith in ourselves, in goodness and possibility and slide down to a place where everything seems out to get us, to thwart us and keep us down.

But that's just a story.

When you're feeling strong and secure and focused, it's easy to see how simplistic and even ridiculous it is to think or expect that you'll never be upset even with faith.

So, here's a challenge: connect with your faith daily. Even for a few minutes. Consider it emotional or spiritual aerobics.

Whether your faith is centered in something larger than yourself, or that the sun will come up tomorrow, or that a good night's rest or something to eat or helping someone else will shift your focus from what isn't working back onto something that is, reach for your faith long before you need it, and it will be there when you eventually do.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Top 10 Closet Do's & Don'ts

In honor of my appearance today on The Nate Berkus Show, here's my top 10 list of things to do and not to do when organizing your clothes closets:

1) Create zones
Just like in your kitchen, arrange similar items together, i.e., all slacks together, sweaters together, long sleeve blouses, short sleeve blouses, fancy T-shirts, workout clothes, etc.

2) Hang pants/slacks/trousers by their cuffs
This avoids unwanted lines and creases in your pants and takes up less room. Again, when hanging them, all the butts and crotches face the same direction. IF space is a consideration -- you just don't have enough tall hanging space available -- you may hang pants folded over on a robust trouser hanger (not the thin cardboard ones you bring home from the cleaners).

3) Never hang knits
Surest way to stretch out shoulders, waists and create divots and puckers that may never go away. One exception may be very tightly woven twin sets. IF you have satin hangers that in NO WAY put any pressure on seams or shoulders, you can try to hang them but DO check these items frequently to see if gravity IS stretching the fabric out. If you notice any movement in the garment, immediately remove it from the hanger and fold.

And store 'like' knits together, so bulky sweaters live with bulky sweaters and thin sweaters live with other thin sweaters.

4) Hang everything facing the same direction
Seems simple enough, eh? Note how your dry cleaner or laundry hangs their garments -- they're not likely to change their procedure so unless you're unhappy with their service, use their directional choice to inform yours.

5) Uniformity of hangers
Everything is easier to see and find when it's all hung at the same height.

6) Tops over bottoms
Think of the direction of your clothes, from head to toe. Hats on the top shelf. And if you have double hung rods, hang skirts, slacks and shorts on the bottom rod and blouses, shirts and other tops on the upper rod. It's visually pleasing and makes sense when pulling outfits together.

7) Location, location, location
Just like in your kitchen, think of where and what you wear most often and locate that closest to the closet door. Don't give up prime real estate for novelty items. Unless you're a socialite, you probably don't need your ball gowns within easiest reach.

8) Only one button
Again, your dry cleaner may not comply, but when you hang something up, save yourself some time and inconvenience but only buttoning one button at the neck of any garment to hold it on the hanger.

9) Keep outfits together
If you have more than a few navy skirts or trousers but only two suits, why make it a struggle in a possibly poorly lit space to try to match the top and bottom? Keep suit components together so when you need them, they're within reach of each other. Each piece or item still has its own hanger, the sets are just grouped together.

10) Arrange each category of garment from white to black
It's much easier to find your favorite white blouse if it's next to all the other white blouses. This also helps when identifying any gaps in your wardrobe. When arranged by color, you'll finally recognize how many of each color you own.

BONUS) Use baskets to corral smaller items
Avoid shelves cluttered with random items such as small bags and clutches or teetering towers of silk scarves. Get some baskets or bins and group all like items together in each. If the container isn't see-thru, clearly label the contents so you don't need to pull each one off the shelf every time you're looking for something.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dear Andrew .... A question about whether to digitize or not to digitize

Dear Andrew,

Thanks for the great workshop this past weekend -- I really got a lot out of it!

Would you please expand on one of the questions asked during the workshop about photos and negatives?

And can you tell us some specific ways to save space and cut down on clutter by turning hard copies of things (photos, family movies, music, financial statements, recipes, etc.) into their electronic equivalents?

What items are worth the potentially time-consuming and/or pricey investment?

Thanks again for your great work! I hope to see you again the next time you're in town.


Dear A.T.,

Thanks for joining us this past weekend and for your excellent question! Here's my suggestions on streamlining the amount of stuff that we have currently and new things coming into the home.

As I mentioned during the workshop, cleaning up clutter from the past requires a certain investment, either time or money or both. Going forward, you need never accumulate the same amount or kinds of things if you are willing to make different choices.

Starting today, if you haven't already, pull together all your money accounts -- from banking to credit cards, monthly vendors like insurance companies, utility companies, etc. and open online accounts for them all. Go paperless and activate reminder emails so you either get the statement electronically OR get an email announcing that your current statement is now available.

DO download those statements and create a series of folders on your computer to store them in. In my book, Unstuff Your Life!, you'll find detailed instructions on how to create and maintain computer files and folders, so I won't outline that here.

Looking backward, the only statements you'll probably need to keep are the ones that show a major purchase (i.e. large appliances, autos, capital improvements) or have non-reimbursable business expenses that you will or have used in preparing your taxes. If you won't need to refer to the statement for something specific, chances are you can shred it. Do check with a tax professional or accountant to confirm this is correct for your particular situation.

Home movies and family photos that you want to retain should be scanned and/or digitized. There are lots of places and people who will do this for you if you don't have the time and do have the money to spend. You can scan old negatives IF you intend to reprint the images again. If the photos are in an album and that's as much interaction as you're likely to have with the pics, you could let the negatives go.

Likewise, CDs and other audio sources. The process of ripping digital music to a hard drive is highly automated by this point and could easily be done while doing other work on the computer -- it mostly takes place in the background. But if you've got thousands of CDs and want to make the investment, you'll find plenty of services that will do this for you, quickly and efficiently, retaining album art and accurate song titles, etc.

With recipes, you have to weigh the frequency of use with sentimental value and other intangibles. If it's a favorite recipe that isn't from your family AND you could find it at one of the many online recipe banks, i.e. Epicurious, why spend the time scanning?

As I mentioned, it's often a math equation -- how much time will something take and what is your time worth? If you could earn more money working, it may make sense to pay someone else to do some of these things. If you get pleasure out of these kinds of projects, then make these tasks priorities. Add them to your calendar and actually move through them with deliberation and focus.

What to do with the hard copies once you’ve gone digital? With photos and movies, you could see if other family members would like the originals now that you've gone digital. Otherwise, you may want to donate them to an art school or someplace where they may find a new second life. If that feels too public, destroy them.

Likewise with CDs and DVDs -- you could sell them, trade them or donate them. Hospitals, rehab centers, half-way houses and shelters are always seeking these kinds of items.

I hope this helps and best of luck on letting go and moving forward!

Here's to more love and less stuff!



Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thomas Aquinas weighs in on possessions ...

"Man should not consider his material possessions his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need." -- Thomas Aquinas

Talk about holding something loosely in the palm of your hand.

How does this idea make you feel?

Is this something you could or would even consider? Does it hold any appeal as a benchmark or something to strive for?

Even as an ideal that holds no interest for you, could its underlying theme open up a different exploration of impermanence? Something that might shift your thinking and feeling about anything from junk mail to precious heirlooms?

Even those among us who cling to every object tightly have tossed something broken or empty away, recognizing its loss of practicality or usefulness.

Could that ability to discern be expanded upon and used in other places in your life?

Are you currently holding onto something that could, with a little imagination, be considered the equivalent of an empty yogurt container?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why customer service sucks

What is it with customer service? What does that even mean today?

As with many other phrases that used to represent a commonly held ethos or ethics, today most companies toss that phrase around as if it still means something. But if your experience is anything like mine, customer service is completely slanted towards the convenience of the vendor, most definitely not the customer. All while they keep saying over and over again how well they understand my frustration. Yet remain unwilling or unable to actually affect any change that would relieve said frustration.

I wonder if the CEO of Time Warner, Inc. (Jeffrey Bewkes), actually had to call his own customer service if he would think that they were providing 'excellent' service or sound as ridiculous to him as they did to me just now.

First of all, whomever is writing those scripts should be fired.

They read like a bastard hybrid of two agendas: legal counsel making sure that the co.'s butt is covered mashed together with some incompetent person in 'Customer Relations' who thinks that by reading all the right words something genuine is being communicated.

My favorite is when they do absolutely nothing to resolve an issue and then reply, "OK, is there anything else I can do for you today?," as if they've already done something for me.

The absurd irony seems lost on them that I'm still waiting for the first issue to be resolved to my satisfaction, not theirs.

And whomever is training the sales team should be fired, too.

Those poor people not only sound like they are reading a script -- they are so robotized (and probably terrified of losing their jobs) that any attempt to speak naturally and conversationally sends them scurrying to find the right scripted response. Even to a question or comment that could never have been anticipated.

Today I was canceling service at my old address -- I already have service at my new address. They repeatedly expressed their disappointment at 'losing' my business, even though I reminded them several times that I still have service in my name. This seemed to really stump them as they have been instructed to both 'retain' me and guilt me, apparently simultaneously.

Wouldn't it be better to train people to be smart and human and responsive? To be able to think and respond in real time to real people with real concerns?

I'll tell you, the company that does that, that allows me to speak with actual human beings who seem capable of some degree of critical thinking and human interaction, would win my custom and keep it.

To date, Apple Computer comes closest.

Time Warner, HP, Dell, Earthlink AT&T, GE ... these are but a few that deserve a place in the customer service hall of shame.

Here's a thought: those great feisty nuns who show up at corporate board meetings demanding transparency and equity should move that every board member, CEO, CFO and senior level staff be required to call their own off-shore outsourced customer service teams and try to get something accomplished. Weekly.

If that happened, I'll bet we'd soon be speaking with representatives possessing a degree of competence and efficiency we haven't seen since I was a child.