Tag Archives: clutter clearing

PowerPoint prowess pays off

PowerPoint: n. a presentation program that is part of Microsoft Office, which can be used to put an audience to sleep — or can inform and inspire.

Prowess: n. extraordinary ability

Pay off: v. to reward for hard work

I recently taught a two-hour feng shui class for a group of feng shui novices, and if I say so myself, it was RAD!

I had used slides in PowerPoint once before to illustrate a feng shui talk, so I knew how effective pictures could be. However I was still struggling with an A/V inferiority complex that developed in high school watching geeky male classmates run the Rube Goldberg contraption known as a movie projector.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet read Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen, which is an absolute MUST resource for any would-be presenters.

First, out went any slides with bullet points. Then out went slides with more than a few words, unless it was a succinct quotation. That left me with….

Almost nothing.

I started over. This was my process (h/t to Garr Reynolds):

  • Get a stack of Post-It sticky notes and a big white board.
  • List all the points you want to get across – one per sticky note, and then  figure out what visual images would convey them even more effectively than words.
  • Gather lots and lots and lots of pictures – from your own camera, scanned from magazines, found on Google Images and Flickr. Note each one on a sticky.
  • Look also for images that are extreme examples (what not to do, before & after, stumbling blocks, etc.) to emphasize your point or defuse fears.
  • Shuffle the notes on the white board till they make some sense.
  • Import the pictures into PowerPoint using the totally blank slide as your template, so the pictures are full-screen (means your pix must be in landscape format).
  • Shuffle them around in the Slide Sorter View until they tell the story in a way that flows most naturally.
  • Now you can add some text floating in front of some of the pictures or on transition slides.

Here are a few examples of images I found:

To illustrate what a feng shui consultant does when she/he comes to your house – conveying both the fresh eyes which can see your home more clearly AND addressing the fear many potential clients have that she’ll be some sort of critical witch:

eyeballs1

Or these three slides, which illustrate the dilemma of clutter. First the extreme possibility that you could be buried alive by it:

cluttercartoon

Then, the inertia we feel when viewing the clutter-clearing task ahead:

boulder1

My audience laughed hysterically at this boulder – recognizing themselves.

And then I encouraged them with the concept of momentum… what happens once you get started tossing crap:

domino-effect

I’d say it took a solid 40 hours to put together 150 slides for a two-hour talk, and a lot of creative thought while I was half-asleep. But it was totally worth it.

imPermanence: snow melts and tempus fugit

Permanent: n. continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change

Impermanence:  n. an essential element of Buddhism – that everything is changing, inconstant, in flux. Because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering.

The Portland area was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow for most of the week up until Christmas. My grandkids –  Elliott who’s 4 and Alexander who is 7, were beyond thrilled to be able to enjoy a white Christmas with their two super-fun uncles, who are young at heart at 25 and 37.  (Their parents – my daughter and her husband – were not so thrilled to have to drive up here from sunny California in such nasty weather, but they picked the only 12-hour window in a week to make it through!).

The joint was jumpin’ for six days – the boys of all ages seemed more excited by the snow and playing Pokeman (a P post for another day) than the prospect of presents.  Gifts were pretty sparse anyway, giving us the chance to focus more on hanging out together.

Here are my two sons and Alexander, after inserting the snowman’s carrot nose, and clapping a hat on his head:

snowman-done

Starting Christmas night the temperature began rising. The snowman began shrinking. This is how he looked this morning, right after the Californians left for home:

melted

He was only about 15″ high then; a few hours later he’s just a tiny snowball.

And now the house is totally quiet again.  The holiday came and went as fast as the snow, and I feel a lot like our snowman. Quite deflated and a little soggy.

One of our snowed-in activities (which turned out to be much more fun than my older two first thought) was going through the many boxes of their’ memorabilia which I’ve stored in one garage or another since they left for college eons ago.  “Whatever stuff you want to keep,” I said, “is going to henceforth be living with you, so choose wisely.”

Heather had only one box left here, but Ethan had six – packed to the gills. To keep him company I brought out a couple of boxes of my own written memorabilia to sort through. I have to hand it to him; he carefully plowed through a couple of boxes every day, examining each item (mostly artwork, homework, book reports, photos and letters), tossing about half of it, but savoring and repacking the rest.  Already in middle school you could see hints of who he would become – the fascination with edgy design – the originality of his ideas – and his writing skill, which I’d just taken for granted until he began writing for HuffPo last month.

The process was a powerful reminder of how many lives we each have lived through, in what seems like the blink of an eye. Friends, passions, projects… developing, ripening, disappearing. Many forgotten until a picture or letter brings it back.

My own journals and letters are voluminous. I’ve got them going back to college and it will take a long time to sort through them. The triviality of most of my concerns appalls me, but it’s all there – bringing the past temporarily back to life.

If I hadn’t recorded all those experiences they’d otherwise be gone gone gone – melted away like our snowman.

Update 1/4/09: Blogfriend Splodge forwarded this cartoon… too good not to append.

snowman

Powell’s in Portland: paradise for book lovers

Powell’s Books: n. a world-famous independent book store in Portland OR, occupying a full city block with a rabbit warren of rooms stuffed with new and used books – plus separate satellite stores for technical books, home and garden, and travel books plus a major online presence. Visitors to Portland MUST go to Powells.

Paradise: n. a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight

Books are among the things I need to winnow out in this down-sizing project. So a couple of days ago I made a pilgrimage to Powells with three boxes of books I hoped they’d want.

The door to the book-buying room is on a very busy corner and it’s not always possible to park close by, so my son met me at the door and hauled the boxes in while I went to park.

He also helped me unload the boxes onto the counter for the buyer to view. This was a mistake, because I had included some children’s books in the collection. Every few books, he’d grab one with a little cry of delight and place it back in the box:

“Oh, The Woodland Folk! I loved that book. You can’t get rid of that!”

“Hey, Wembley’s Egg! Give me that!”

“Wait a minute! Why Cats Paint!”

This is my very manly 25-year-old son talking, not a nine-year-old. Sigh.

Nevertheless Powell’s bought about half of what I brought and gave me a decent amount of money for them. Immediately we got lost in the aisles, and the money would have gotten spent in a trice if we hadn’t had to be someplace else.

We both agreed that a it would be heavenly just to spend the entire day at Powells, getting lost in the stacks and not even noticing.

A friend of mine was telling me that when her son was turning ten, she was looking for a way to avoid throwing a birthday party for a bunch of rowdy boys. She offered him a day’s adventure anywhere, or a concert or movie or theatre experience. He immediately announced he wanted to go to Powell’s and stay as long as he wanted, maybe even all day. Which they did, and she says he still remembers it as his best birthday ever.



Parigraha: holding on to stuff

Parigraha: n. ancient Sanskrit word meaning grasping, hoarding, holding onto one’s stuff.

Sooner or later – and the way the economy and my savings are going right now it’s looking like a lot sooner – I’m going to have to sell my house and move into much smaller quarters.

I am therefore faced with two inarguable reasons to let go of a lot of my stuff:

1) A home that is sparsely furnished shows better when it goes on the market because prospective buyers have enough open space that they can imagine themselves and their stuff in it.

2) My future home, which will be about half the size of this one, can comfortably fit only half as much stuff – if that much, maybe less.

In yoga, we study the yamas and niyamas, which are about how we want to be in the world as compassionate enlightened yogis. Patanjali wrote them down about 150 BCE (!) as part of the Yoga Sutras.  They’re kind of like rules of conduct – not rigid or dogmatic – but more like ideal states of being to continuously work towards.

The fifth yama is aparigraha (the opposite of parigraha) or non-grasping, non-hoarding.  Ideally we yogis are not attached to our stuff. It flows in and out of our lives – we use it and let it go, use it and let it go. Ideally.

But our stuff means so much to us! It is SPECIAL stuff. Even if it stands in the way of emotional and physical freedom, we clutch it close.

My current spiritual practice involves gathering the equivalent of a box of stuff every day – either for disposal (recycling LOTS of paper right now), re-use (Goodwill, here I come), or sale. I’m starting with easy stuff – a couple of days ago it was ancient computer manuals, old tax papers and receipts. I’ve got boxes and boxes and file drawers and file drawers more paper to go.

Not wanting to overwhelm my recycle pickup service I switched yesterday to culling socks, stockings and tights.

Today is table linens. I have an amazing number of napkins that I never use because they clash with my dinner dishes, or are stained, or are insufficient (why is it I buy a set of SIX napkins, when I rarely feed less than EIGHT for a company dinner??).

I know I’ll have to make much deeper cuts in every department, but I’ll use the easy stuff like mental weight-lifting, to strengthen my resolve.

The hardest will be stuff that I equate with memories – of a special person, place or time. Down the road.

Play: prescription for kids

Play: n. recreational activity ; esp. the spontaneous activity of children

Prescription: n. a written direction for a therapeutic or corrective agent ; specifically one for the preparation and use of a medicine

You’ve read about “nature deficit disorder” a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. It refers to the trend of children spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems and loss of appreciation for and understanding of the natural world.

Now we’re worried not just about kids playing outside, we’re worried that they don’t play much, period.  The experts say they need more time from freewheeling play at home and in school.  Not only is it bad for their little psyches, it’s downright unpatriotic as budding American citizens.  The kids will be at a disadvantage in the global economy where creativity, innovation and cooperation are needed.

The National PTA has launched a “Rescuing Recess” campaign. The American Academy of Pediatrics is chiming in with recommendations as well:

*Developing “safe spaces” where children can play freely outdoors in their neighbourhoods.

*Reduce use of “passive entertainment” including TV and computer games.

*Promote use of imagination-nurturing toys such as blocks and dolls.

* Encourage fantasy role-play for preschoolers.

*Let kids play at playgrounds, etc., without feeling their parent is watching every move.

*Don’t insist on playing with your child if he or she is happily playing alone.

All I can say is GOLLY. When I was a kid (and walked five miles barefoot uphill in the snow to school), we had very few toys. My favorite toy was dirt.

I’m not kidding…dirt. Plus a big spoon, a pot or piepan, some rocks, sticks, and a little water. I was as happy as a piglet playing with these magical ingredients.

Inside my sisters and I threw a blanket over the dining room table and played house. We played teacher and practiced writing like grownups – loopy scribbles that we pretended were real words telling real stories.

We each had a large collection of paper dolls. A favorite game was issuing invitations addressed to a particular paper doll: “Martha is invited to a gala weekend in the country. There will be a hunt on Saturday, a ball Saturday night, a swim party on Sunday, followed by a picnic. Please plan your wardrobe accordingly.”

Of course “Martha” may not have come with clothing appropriate for such a weekend, so we’d have to make our own outfits with crayons and scissors.

Fast forward to a feng shui consultation I did a few years ago. Although ten-year-old Janice, the couple’s only child, had recently been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they wanted me to focus on boosting the flow of wealth into the home.

The house was modest in size and pretension, but there was no place to sit, except at the dining room table. Every chair in the living room had a large stuffed animal in it. The woman had so many potted plants that she spent most of her minimal free time caring for them. And then we went into Janice’s room.

Toys everywhere. EVERYWHERE.  On the chair, on the bed, on the bookcase, spilling out of the toy chest, and all over the floor. Some still in the original box or wrapping. Little Janice sat on the floor, paralyzed by the plethora of toys.

Once in awhile the critical mother-in-law in me overpowers my dispassionate consultant self, and I told the parents that their first priority was to get rid of 90% of the toys and stuffed animals and plants, creating a calm environment so that poor Janice could have space for her self.

They weren’t happy with my analysis. They couldn’t imagine being separated from all this stuff that had taken so long to acquire.  Five years later, I heard that Janice had a bout of depression so severe she was hospitalized.

If I’d known then what was going to happen, I’d have suggested that the family rent an unfurnished home in their neighborhood and move only the most crucial pieces of furniture in from the old house. See how that felt. See how Janice responded. Then maybe add a few favorite books, dolls, etc.  After they adjusted to the spare existence, have an estate sale company sell everything else from the original house.  When it was finally empty, they could move the critical stuff back home from the rental.

Ah, the benefit of hindsight.

Poor me: from posh to pauper

Poor: adj. characterized by poverty, lacking an adequate supply, exciting pity

Posh: adj. typical of or intended for the upper classes

Pauper: n. a person with little or no money, a person destitute of means except such as are derived from charity

I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. And really, I don’t because I have so so much for which to be grateful.

BUT.

In the space of a few months my situation has gone from middle class comfortable to precarious. If I didn’t know that there are millions of others like me out there, I’d be totally freaked out. With each plunge of the markets (stock and housing) I watch my life savings flutter away into the skies like the autumn leaves I just raked on Re-wind.

I always knew that some day I’d need to move into smaller digs. At times, when the yard work or home upkeep seems overwhelming, I actually look forward to living in a tiny place.  But like so many, I envisioned that time to be years in the future.

Now it appears that time is upon me.

The question is: how do I get from where I am today – in this comfy house full of family treasures (including my mother’s baby grand piano and antique dining table, boxes of photos, framed art) – to the small digs I can afford?

It’s one thing to downsize when you can get a decent price for the stuff you must jettison in the process.  It’s something else when you have to unload valuable things at a big loss (like my house – my biggest investment!).  In another five or ten years my kids might live in large or permanent enough spaces to take these precious family heirlooms, but the stuff can’t wait.  That hurts.

All the kids will be here for Christmas, so maybe they’ll have some good ideas about my down-sizing plan. Or maybe I’ll just have Santa bring me a sugar daddy.

Paperholics Anonymous

Hi, My name is Joy and I am a Paperholic.

I’m grateful to be here with you today at Paperholics Anonymous. I don’t know where else I can turn.

My addiction began innocently enough. I was in college, writing an essay on feminist thought in early Ibsen. I had notes on index cards, notes on scrap paper, notes on the backs of envelopes and in the margins of books.

It was 6 a.m. and I’d been working on this !@#$% since noon the previous day. It was due in two hours and I COULD NOT FIND the scrap on which the perfect ending quote was scrawled.

I pawed pathetically through the papers till my desk looked like the bottom of a hamster’s cage. Minutes before my deadline the note surfaced and I typed my brilliant conclusion.

But ever since that day I’ve had a Paper Problem.

I LOVE paper. Books, magazines and newspapers, of course. But even better I like articles clipped from magazines and ripped from newspapers. I read the newspaper like I’m on an easter egg hunt. I scan to rule out all the drivel I don’t want to read, but when I find an interesting article, I tear it out and set it aside to read later.

The pile on which I place it grows ever taller, because every day there’s more to read. The pile must compete with a steady influx of the New Yorker and Newsweek magazines (both relentless weeklies – I get only one monthly, National Geographic.)

The New Yorker is especially challenging because I like to rip out the good cartoons to distribute to various acquaintances. Like here’s one for my son, the industrial designer:

And here’s one for a friend considering surgery:

The only good news is that I’ve managed to cut my junk mail and catalog intake to almost zero. (This demands dogged dialing to each company’s 800 number.)

Two spots compete to attract the most paper: the end of my kitchen counter, and the top of my desk. It’s an all or nothing proposition. If the space is clear, I can stay on the wagon… for awhile.

But then I have a little slip; maybe I get too busy to put things away before I rush off to the next thing. “I’ll just put it here for now…” I tell myself, as I set a piece of paper on the counter top.

I should know by now I can’t just save one piece of paper. Before I know what hit me I’m buried again.

How buried? Imagine an exhibit at the Natural History Museum, where you’ve got a cross-section of the earth’s layers…

The top-most layer is light and fluffy – mostly current newsprint, Toyota tuneup coupons and an occasional offer for a 2-for-1 dinner.  That’s about six inches deep.

The next 6” layer is more compressed – printouts of articles I read online, reports, manuals, magazines yet to be ripped into. Printer paper doesn’t fluff as nicely as ripped newsprint.

From time to time, I moisten the pile with a cup of spilled coffee or tea. Using both hands like salad tongs, I turn the pile as I seek some piece of wisdom I know is about halfway down. This serves to aerate the pile nicely. Over time, the lowest layers begin to heat up and decompose.

The bottom six inches is where my addiction begins to pay off. That’s where I’ve got dark brown crumbly compost, complete with happy earthworms. It grows great tomatoes.

You may ask, what have I tried to cure my addiction?

I had great hopes when it was rumored that the advent of computers would bring us the paperless office. This didn’t work for me: my computer just brought me in contact with MORE articles I wanted to print.

I tried taping my eyes shut so I could no longer read. I tried going cold turkey – installing a paper detection/rejection system at the door.

But then I found myself rifling through my neighbor’s recycle bins in the middle of the night seeking day-old paper.

So, now I’ve hit bottom and I’m here at Paperholics Anonymous. Can you help me?

Practice, Persevere, Purge: wisdom from Ira Glass

So you want to be a writer? Storyteller? Screen or radio writer?

Ira Glass of This American Life (a masterful collector of uniquely gripping radio stories -now also on TV) has great advice for you.  Boiled down, it amounts to three of my favorite p-words:

  • Practice (write or record a lot of crap, and maybe occasionally some good stuff).
  • Persevere (do it some more, and then some more and then more after that).
  • Purge (you’ll produce lots of crap and will need to let most of it go).

But he says this with much more pizzazz than I do, so you must watch these four videos on You-Tube.  REALLY. They’re only five minutes each and packed with wisdom.

Start here – #1: Building blocks of the story. The power of the anecdote. Raising questions and then answering them. Reflecting on the point. Every preacher or public speaker should listen to this one.

Then here #2  Finding a decent story – do lots of work then ruthlessly purge the crap.

Then here #3:  How your work almost always, for YEARS, falls short of your taste, your vision.  But do it anyway. A lot. Persevere. 

And finally #4  Two common pitfalls.

Pajama Pastimes

Pajamas: a loose-fitting garment, consisting of trousers and jacket, for sleeping or lounging.
Pastime: an activity that occupies one’s time pleasantly

No no. This isn’t that kind of blog, even though porn is a P-word.

A pajama pastime is when you get up in the morning, look out the window at the cold windy drizzle, consider your pulled pectoral muscle and decide you will NOT go to exercise class, and in fact you will not go anywhere. You’ll just putz around in pajamas all day.

That’s what I did yesterday and it was paradise.

I’m not a sloth, however. I spent most of the day at my desk plowing through papers, tossing, filing, re-organizing and re-labeling (with my precious P-Touch – see post two below).

If one is a paper person, as I am, this task should be done at least once a year. Usually I take a couple of days after Christmas for this project, but last year I was in California visiting my kids, and the year before that my kids were all here.

Of course someone who has the orderly mind and desk of David Allen would always be on top of things. HIS desk only has one piece of paper on it… the one he’s working with. I find this inconceivable.

SInce I trained as a feng shui consultant seven years ago, I know how cluttered my thinking gets if my desktop is cluttered, so I do get it cleared about once a month. Unfortunately the system breaks down in two places – more comes in than I have time to process, and my file system gets too full or out of date for current material to find a home.

By the time I went to bed last night my file drawers were conscious and current. I felt like a new woman. Today I can tackle what’s actually important…

P-Touch Power!

David Allen, the productivity guru and author of the perennial best-seller, Getting Things Done, recommends that followers of his organizing principles get themselves a little device known as the P-Touch labeler. It’s a hand-held battery-operated gizmo with a miniature QWERTYUIOP keyboard that produces crisp black letters on white sticky tape and can be used for affixing labels on just about anything, but especially file folders.

I have had the PT-65 (now replaced by the PT-80 or PT-1000) for several years.

One long weekend a few years ago I holed up with my P-Touch and labeled every single file (as well as a bunch of binders and boxes). Everything was so legible that they could be read at ten feet by a blind man.

My youngest son found my P-touch passion incredibly amusing. When I wasn’t looking one night, he made labels for other things around the house “refrigerator” “toilet” “closet” and even one for the cat: “Fritz” and himself: “Wylie”.

Oh, and he labeled the labeler “Nerd Mobile.”

I don’t mind being ridiculed – these labels keep in place the façade of order. Even if the file folders fill up with useless outmoded information over time I feel good when I open the drawer.

This week I did clutter-clearings for two separate clients, one new, and the other a return visit. When I first walked into the new client’s home I was wondering what the problem was. The entry way, living room, dining room, master bedroom and bath were spare and in perfect order.

But then we entered the family room. The big round coffee table was heaped with books, papers and exercise DVDs. The couch was similarly covered.

“I like to work here because I don’t really like my office,” she said. “I just feel less scattered here.”

So then we went into her office.

No wonder she felt scattered! Paper everywhere. Piles on the floor, piles on the table, piles nearly burying her computer. One corner was filled with boxes of photos, clippings for future collages, and magazines to be clipped for future collages. A basket held mail she hadn’t opened in a week.

I wish I could say that after two hours we made major headway. But she was so petrified by her piles that it took an hour of tea and talking for her even to touch the first pile.

Then I brought out the P-Touch. We labeled a few file folders with it and stood them upright in her file drawer. She was so happy.  Suddenly she could imagine order, control.

She’s buying her own P-Touch.

Yesterday I revisited a couple I’d seen before Christmas. Both of them had major paper issues. The husband got hooked on the P-Touch and has been tossing crap and labeling the rest ever since. The wife was finally willing to move ahead herself.

We talked about how she’d like her office to be once she was done, and with that vision in mind she became a tossing fool. We filled three big boxes with paper of every sort. Then we labeled a few files with her husband’s P-Touch. Another convert. She’s buying her OWN.

Brother should give me a commission.