Simple Practices: Forming New Habits and Taking Conscious Risks

Better Than Before Risk-Reward

 

Earlier this week I attended an author series featuring two best-selling authors whose new books “challenge readers’ daily approach to work and life.” Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, and Anne Kreamer, author of Risk/Reward: Why Intelligent Leaps and Daring Choices Are the Best Career Moves You Can Make, take a look at new ways to approach the small moments in work and in life.

There are two kinds of people in the world, or so it’s said, those who divide people into categories and those who don’t, and Rubin and Kreamer definitely divide by category—as a way to better understand ourselves, say the authors.

In Better Than Before Gretchen Rubin’s thesis is that the key to changing our lives is to change our habits. The more we develop habits, the less we have to depend on willpower. “One of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t…have to make decisions.” In the book, Rubin identifies 21 strategies to use to make or break habits that will work for each of the personality types she identifies: Upholder (one who meets inner and outer expectations), Questioner (one who resists outer expectations but meets inner ones), Obliger (one who meets outer expectations but resists inner ones), and Rebel (one who resists inner and outer expectations).

The takeaway: What bad habits do we have – dropping the mail as soon as we come in, not putting things away when we’re finished with them – that we could change by creating good habits? How would this transform our issues with clutter?

Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, which we talked about here.

In Risk/Reward Anne Kreamer says that embracing “conscious, consistent, and modest risk-taking at work can help us become more able to recognize opportunity when it appears, and more likely to seize the chance to make the right change at the right moment.” Much of this seems relevant to managing our homes, too. Kreamer writes about four Risk/Reward personality types: Pioneers, Thinkers, Defenders, and Drifters, and presents a matrix so the reader can identify his or her own innate risk style.

The takeaway: What conscious risk can we take – one that may seem radical at first but is really modest – that will directly alter the way we look at the tasks we perform to keep our homes in order? How will this help us make the right change at the right moment?

Both authors show how a little thought, a little more awareness about what we do each day can lead us to rethink our routines. What works for us, and what doesn’t? If something doesn’t work, can we shed it and replace it with a habit that does work? If a practice works for us, can we enhance it and make it work even better? Are we up to the challenge of taking a risk to change our behavior?

The key takeaway from these authors is to be aware of the small things we do every day and to make those moments more meaningful. As Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” Here’s to forming new habits and taking conscious risks to make our days better.

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Gretchen Rubin signing books at @Macaulay Author Series.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

 

Preserving War Letters

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This week has been National Preservation Week, a week when libraries and other institutions call attention to what we can do, both individually and collectively, to preserve our personal and shared collections of various kinds.

It’s also spring cleaning time, a time when we try to “get rid of the stuff” while “keeping the memories.”

And of course, in less than a month we will celebrate Memorial Day, honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country.

So this seems like an appropriate time to address the question of what to do with old war letters we may be keeping–or finding–in boxes or drawers, on shelves or in files, in our homes.

Clearly, old war letters are not just “stuff.” They’re an important part of our collective history. They can be valuable to historians–and to the rest of us–in trying to help us understand wars as they have been experienced by those who lived through them, not just as they have been written about in history books. They should be honored, and preserved, as valuable documentation of servicemen and women’s lives: of the sacrifices they made, the fears they felt, the difficulties they overcame, the pride they felt in serving their country.

Keeping old letters in homes, especially in rooms where they are subjected to extremes of temperature and humidity, or to dust, is not a good idea. But how should they be kept, and where?

The good news is, there’s a whole new Center for American War Letters being created to provide just such a place. The Center is directed by Andrew Carroll, who in 2013 donated his entire collection of 100,000 war letters to begin the Center. The touching story of how he came to this work is told in a Washington Post story here. “Every day, letters get thrown out,” Carroll says, in the interview. “When people move or pass away, they get lost.”

That is really just a shame.

So, as you work on downsizing or spring cleaning this year, you should know that if and when you are ready to find a safe home for any family war letters you may be holding onto, that now there is a safe place for them to be.

And if you’re not ready to give them up yet, you can find good advice about how to keep them safe for posterity here.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

More Spring Decluttering: Cleaning Out Your Garage

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With the warmer weather finally here, spring cleaning is unavoidable (as much as some of us would like to avoid it!) and that means cleaning out the garage, too.

We know that there is a life beyond for the things we no longer need. Our trash can be someone else’s treasure if we take the time to get the items we would like to discard to the right places.

Here are some suggestions for recycling certain items in your garage.

Tires

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, in 2013 more than 95 percent by weight of the scrap tires generated in the United States were reused: as tire-derived fuel, in ground rubber applications such as playground surfaces, and for engineering and construction uses.

Regulations for recycling tires vary by state. To locate a place to recycle tires in your area, search online under “local tire recycling.”

Motor Oil

Used motor oil can be recycled. Many service stations and repair facilities will accept used oil and used oil filters. Local recycling centers may accept motor oil or be able to steer you to a place that does. The best way to locate a collection center is to visit Earth911 and search by ZIP code.

Bicycles

For places to donate your bike and for places that help recycle/reuse bicycle parts, check out Ibike.

There are programs that provide bikes to developing countries, such as Bicycles for Humanity and World Bicycle Relief; you won’t get rid of your bike but you will help others to obtain a bike that is “an engine for economic and cultural empowerment” as they say on one of the sites. What could be better than that!

Sports Equipment

Play It Again Sports will buy back used sports equipment and this blog post on houzz offers suggestions for getting rid of sports equipment in an eco-friendly way.

Sometimes an organization like the Boy Scouts or a church youth group will sponsor a drive for gently used sports equipment. Check out organizations in your area to see if they are interested in your used items.

Tennis Balls

ReBounces has suggestions for recycling large numbers of tennis balls and check out “How to Recycle Tennis Balls” at 1-800-Recycling.com.

Shoes and Sneakers

And if you have worn-out or outgrown sneakers and sports shoes lying around, check out our post on where to recycle shoes.

Keep the memories of you and your kids playing sports or enjoying a bike ride in the park, but get rid of all the stuff you no longer need. The result? A more organized garage, a grateful recipient of the donated items, and a healthier environment.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Spring Decluttering: Keep the Memories, Get Rid of the Stuff!

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Yay!!! Spring is here at last–at least for most of us it is, and for those who think it will never come–it will, it will!

So it’s time to think spring cleaning–and spring decluttering–once again.

Here are five tips for making the task less painful, more productive—maybe even a little bit joyful. Don’t believe it? Read on…

Find ways to enrich the lives of others (and/or protect the environment) as you make your home a more comfortable place to live in.

Clothing, kitchen items, furniture, unused appliances—all of these things can make life easier and better for people in need and for the organizations that help them. Many organizations will pick up furniture and clothing, and get it to people in need. Best Buy stores accept electronics–TVs, computers, printers, etc.,–and will properly recycle them. Staples and Office Depot give store discounts for returned printer cartridges, and collect batteries for recycling. Many libraries still take books, and if they don’t, schools, prisons, hospitals and other community organizations can use them. (And you can find ideas for other places to donate books here.) Old sheets and towels can be donated to animal shelters. You get the idea! What you don’t need, someone else can use, and for many people who are loathe to part with things, knowing that’s it’s going “to a good cause” can help.

Break large, overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.

Does the sight of an overstuffed closet make your heart sink? Don’t be discouraged! Start with just one shelf, or the floor of the closet. Or work by category: today, shoes, tomorrow: sweaters. Ignore the rest for now (develop tunnel vision!) and press on. You can do it! One step at a time. 

Take time to congratulate yourself along the way.

Who said this task was easy? It’s not! Take time to celebrate the progress you’re making. DON’T focus on all there is still to do. Instead, DO look at that one shelf, or corner of a room you just cleared. Doesn’t it make you feel good?! Okay, now, back to work!

Allow yourself to back away from difficult decisions “for now.”

Sometimes what it is unbearable to think about parting with on Day 1 can be much easier to let go of in a month, a week, or even the next day. Don’t linger over difficult decisions–or even worse, give up on the task. Just put those items aside and keep on making the easier decisions.

Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff!

This has become our mantra. Find ways to honor, safeguard and keep the precious memories that make it hard for you to get rid of some of the things cluttering up your life. Take pictures, tell stories, write them down (or record them) to share with family and friends. For most people, with most objects, the memories are what count: they don’t take up space, and giving them away is a joyful and good thing.

Our e-book has helpful stories about the imaginative ways people have found to make the process of downsizing and decluttering less tedious, more joyful. And the resource section in the back of the book, with helpful links, will help guide you toward places where you can donate or recycle everything from grand pianos to wine corks, from nearly-new prom dresses to old carpets.

And–think of this–this is one book that won’t take up space on those shelves you’re trying to clear. :-)

 Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

The Universe is Made of Stories…

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“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” ― Muriel Rukeyser

Stories come in many forms: memoirs, interviews, videos. Sometimes a story can be told in photographs or even in a list of the things that resonate with us. The one thing we want to share with our loved ones is the stories of our life, in whatever form we choose. Sometimes we transform a story just by telling it over and over, learning to see it in a new way each time we share it.

We’ve told stories here in our blog in a variety of ways.

We’ve told a story about a favorite object, a bowl, and its importance in our life, and we’ve written a story about the memories of a favorite place in our grandparents’ house. We’ve written poignantly about a cherished brother and a beloved father.

We’ve talked about sharing family stories in a way that will help keep our family history alive, and challenged you to tell us your stories – including a wonderful one about the memories of a treasured family item.  And sometimes you’ve told us a story – about living with less. We’ve also talked about how to get rid of stories – at least the ones in the many books on our shelves!

If you would like some help in telling your family stories, you might start by writing in a journal or by getting professional help to record and share your stories from sites like Legacy Stories or at Story Corps. Perhaps you want to get help writing about your family history from such places as the Armchair Genealogist, Genealogy.com, and from this blog post. And see how telling family stories can help heal and give strength.

So get the family together, invite the kids, make sure to include the grandparents, and encourage everyone to tell a story. “Keep the memories…” by sharing your stories.

Then join other storytellers for National Tell A Story Day, celebrated on April 27 this year. You have a month to get your stories together!

We all have a story to tell.

What’s yours?

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Downsizing Tasks for Snowy Days

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Snowed in, are you? Here are three great downsizing tasks good for snowy days:

1. Attack that pile of junk mail, magazines, etc. that is staring you in the face and that you now find even harder to ignore. Recycle anything you don’t need/want. File (right away!) anything you do need/want.

Now: Enjoy gazing upon a clear, clean surface, where once only guilt and dread were staring you in the face.

Alice & Johnny HulstrandUncle Lewey war letter

 

2. Do something about the old family photos/videos/movies/letters you keep meaning to “do something about.” But before doing anything, read up a bit on the issue of digital preservation. You can learn about why this is a complicated issue here, or here. And you can get some help in knowing what to do about it from the following sources:

From the Library of Congress http://digitalpreservation.gov/personalarchiving/

From the National Archives http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/ (Most of the information here is good, and still current. Some is surprisingly out of date, for example the allusion to videos. (Budget cuts?)

From The Legacy Project  http://warletters.com/preserve.html 

3. Browse around this blog and see what other information may be helpful to you as you plan your attack on All That Stuff when spring is here. It won’t be long now!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Dr. Gail Steketee Shares Her Insights into Hoarding

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Dr. Gail Steketee is Dean and Professor at the Boston University School of Social Work. Her work on hoarding is a corollary to her work on obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders. She has published over 200 articles and more than a dozen books on these topics. With colleague Dr. Randy Frost, she co-authored the best-selling book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) and the first edited scholarly volume on hoarding disorder, the Oxford Handbook of Hoarding and Acquiring (Oxford, 2014). With Dr. David Tolin and Dr. Randy Frost, she co-authored Buried in Treasure: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding (Oxford, 2013). Dr. Steketee received the Outstanding Career Achievement Award from the International OCD Foundation in 2013. She a gives frequent lectures and workshops on hoarding and related conditions to professional and public audiences in the United States and abroad. Dr. Steketee graciously accepted our invitation to be interviewed for this post.

~ What led you choose to study the subject of hoarding?

I was working closely with colleague Dr. Randy Frost on research on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) when he indicated that some of the students in his course on OCD had decided to study hoarding symptoms and had sought information from people contacted through their local paper.  They got scores of responses to an ad for “pack rats.” Gradually it became clear that this was a serious condition that merited our attention as researchers.

~ Do you think there is a continuum of behavior from cluttering to hoarding and, if so, what are the signs people can look for in themselves to help them stop sliding down that slope?

Yes, certainly this spans a range from very mild to very severe and impairing. A red flag is when the person is reluctant to invite people over because they are embarrassed by the clutter in their home.  If it would be hard to find a place for a visitor to sit down comfortably, the problem has probably gone over the edge into the realm of a psychological disorder. But the true hallmark of hoarding is difficulty parting with objects that most people would throw out – this symptom begins early and does not necessarily produce serious clutter for some years.  So it is not simply a matter of the amount of clutter which can accumulate for a variety of reasons.  Rather, the crux of the problem is inability to discard or remove items that are no longer needed.

~ In the introduction to Buried in Treasure: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding, you say “This book is for and about people who have trouble managing their possessions.” What a wonderful description of people who have too much clutter! Is there one thing that you can recommend for people to do to improve their relationship with their stuff?

Know your own goals and values.  What really matters to you in your life?  Be sure to follow those goals and question whether the objects around you are serving those purposes.  If not, it’s time to bite the bullet and learn to part with things that are in the way of attaining what you truly believe in.

~ You have said in Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things that among the top reasons that people hoard are “to avoid wasting things that might have value” and “that the object has emotional meaning.” This is true for people with too much clutter, too. Can you give us your advice for addressing the wish to avoid wasting things?

This is not a simple matter, but in general, concerns about wasting and emotional meaning are really about our identity – who we are.  For fears of wasting, it’s worth asking how big a “sin” is wasting this thing versus the benefit of getting rid of an object that is not serving your main goals and values.  If you want people to visit your home, or if you want to enjoy reading in your living room, talking to your friend over tea in your kitchen, or cooking a meal for your family, is that a more important goal than suffering the guilt of not “wasting” this by discarding it? These are hard choices, to be sure, but essential ones.

~ And advice for dealing with the pull of emotional meaning?

Emotional attachment is similar.  It is worth asking what each of us would save in the 5 minutes before a fire consumed our home. Those items are likely to be the most emotionally important items, and the rest are nice, comforting even, but not essential to our being. Again, this returns to our own values – what is most important in our lives and is that truly represented by objects or does it lie within ourselves and our remembered experiences? But even for truly sentimental items, we can still ask – If we lost the photos of our father who has passed away, does that erase our memory of him and his influence on our lives?

~ What is the best way for people with a friend or family member who has a hoarding problem to approach the situation? What should they do or not do?

There is no simple answer except that an accusatory, critical and hostile tone won’t lead to change and is likely only to provoke anger and refusal to change. Calm, quiet, honest questions about what the loved one needs in order to reduce clutter is a great approach, but still might not yield any movement if the person is not convinced they need to change. If the situation is dangerous – the home is unsanitary, the clutter could easily cause a serious fall or a fire – the family member must seek help from authorities who are familiar with hoarding and can be thoughtful in requiring specific changes for safety’s sake.  The goal here is harm reduction first. If there is no major safety risk but the clutter is unacceptable to the family member, she or he will need to ask for specific actions and reasonable timeframes and indicate the benefits and the consequences of making or not making the change. This process may well require help from a professional, as it is not easy to decide what’s fair and reasonable in such situations.  I highly recommend Tompkins and Hartl’s book Digging Out intended for family members with a loved one who is very reluctant to change hoarding behaviors.

Thank you, Dr. Steketee, for sharing your insights into hoarding with us.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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