Ditching the Digital Clutter: E-mail

1197149991928309730zeimusu_Thumbtack_note_email.svg.thumbWell, the sixty photo albums are going to have to wait because I was inspired to focus on something else.  I planned on dealing with this after I finished the house, but after I saw Marie Kondo’s post about tidying up your laptop, I decided to shift gears.  Time to tackle your digital clutter.

The clutter around our homes is easy to see – drawers that won’t close, counters covered with stuff, closets overflowing.  But digital clutter?  Well, just close your laptop or shut down the computer and poof – it’s gone – but not really.  The problem with digital clutter is that it doesn’t take up physical space, so we’re less likely to feel the need to tidy it up. But the reality is, storage space is limited and at some point, you will have to pare down. Clearing out old files now and staying on top of it could mean that maybe, just maybe, you won’t get those annoying “device storage almost full” messages ever again.

I want to talk about e-mail first because that’s the one thing that almost everyone has – and most of us probably have more than one account.  I’m going to consider e-mail to be the digital equivalent of clothing in the KonMari method. There probably isn’t a lot you’ll be emotionally attached to, and once you get going, it should be easy to determine which messages need to stay and which need to go. On the upside, clicking “delete” is a lot easier than filling trash bags.

You MUST Have a Personal E-mail Account

If the only e-mail account you have is the one you were given at work, you are making a huge mistake.  Yes, it may be more convenient and is one less password you have to remember, but your work e-mail is not private.  The account belongs to your company and so do all of your messages. So, instead of trying to remember if there is something in your account that you would prefer your boss and the IT guy NOT see, set up a free account through Yahoo, Google, or your home internet provider.

Inbox Overload

First as an Instructional Technology Facilitator and then as an Instructional Media Specialist, I spent fifteen years working with teachers on technology. Part of my job was also technical support, so I often had occasion to get on a teacher’s computer to do some troubleshooting.  I thought I had seen it all until the day I saw over 25,000 messages in one teacher’s inbox.  You read that right – twenty-five THOUSAND.  I’m hoping no one reading this is in the same boat, but if you have even hundreds of emails in your inbox, I’ve got news for you – you are NEVER going to read them. So let’s tackle this inbox KonMari style; the basics will be the same discard (or in this case “delete”), then organize, but we want to make sure we don’t get rid of the important e-mails that might be lurking.

  • Sort Keep from Trash
    • All e-mail systems have a way to create a new folder under your inbox, though they might call it something different. (Gmail refers to them as “labels”.)  Create a new folder/label and name it “Keep”.  This is where we are going to temporarily store the messages that you don’t want to get rid of.
    • To locate those messages, use your e-mail client’s search feature.  You can search the sender’s name or the subject of the message if you remember it.  In some cases you might have access to an advanced search that allows you to narrow down parameters even further (such as by date), which is especially helpful if you have a lot of emails that fit that search criteria.
    • Once you’ve found the message(s) you want, click to select each and drag over to your “Keep” folder.  Return to your full inbox, and repeat as many times as necessary to retrieve the messages you want.
    • All that remains in your inbox now should be trash.  Typically there are ways to select all the messages you can see – do that and start trashing!  It may take a while, but you will feel so much better as you see those items disappear.
  • Organize
    • You need to create folders/labels so that you have a place to put the messages that you want to keep so that your inbox doesn’t grow to huge proportions again.  Go into your “Keep” folder and look for multiples.  Any person, entity, or subject that you have multiple messages from should have its own folder.
    • Create those folders the same way you created your “Keep” one.  When you’ve got all the folders you need, open up the “Keep” folder and drag the messages to their new homes.
    • When the “Keep” folder is empty, delete it.  This will (hopefully) eliminate any temptation you have to use it as a holding tank for messages you want to deal with later.
  • The Trash is NOT a Holding Tank Either
    • The trash can is not a place to store messages you might need – that’s what those folders we just created are for.  Once every couple of weeks, empty the trash (if your system doesn’t do it automatically – some do.)  Again, that reduces the temptation to keep messages “just in case”.

Maintenance

If you don’t want to rebound here, you have to stay on top of it; we don’t have the same control over what lands in our inbox as we do over what lands in our closets. Since e-mails come in fast and furiously all day and all night; it is easy to find yourself buried all over again. So here are a few suggestions on how to maintain all the hard work you’ve just put in:

  • Read, Act, Move/Delete
    • Get in the habit of handling a message as soon as you open it, when possible.
      • Read (self-explanatory)
      • Act – Is there an action that needs to be taken? Does the e-mail require a response?  Is it a reminder of something you need to add to a calendar or to-do list?  Whatever the action is, do it as soon as practical so that you can do the next step which is…
      • Move or Delete –  If you need to keep the message for future reference, move it into one of the folders you already created.  If you only need it until the action is completed, leave it in your inbox – temporarily. As soon as you’ve completed the task or responded and no longer have to address the message, delete it.
  • Create a Separate “Junk” Account
    • If you don’t want the message about the family reunion to get lost in a sea of sales promotions, create an e-mail account that you use only for shopping or other times you’re asked to give an e-mail address and you don’t want to use your personal one.
  • Delete, Delete, Delete
    • Whether it is at work or at home, we all lead busy lives, and even with our best efforts e-mail can pile up again.  Take time periodically to go through and delete items you no longer need, even in those folders. If you access your e-mail on a mobile device,  do this when you have time to kill while waiting in line or at a doctor’s office.

This initial purge takes the longest, but once you’ve done it, maintenance will be much easier – just like when we KonMari our homes.

Next up – all those files on your computer…and your thumb drive…and the cloud…

Getting Back on Track

ON POINTI would love to tell you that the reason I haven’t posted recently is that I have been diligently KMing for the last month, have finished, and have lots of news to share with you. Unfortunately, that is not the case.  I was so ready to get back into it and get it all done before the school year ended but we had an unexpected house repair that needed to get done, so that took up a fair amount of time.  I also started a part-time job online, and I have discovered that I embraced my retirement so whole-heartedly, that getting back into a work routine of any kind is not as easy as I thought it would be.  So there’s that. And there’s also this – I share my home with my husband and you can’t KonMari other people’s stuff. So while there are spaces I really, really, really want to work on, I can’t because they are filled with items that he needs to address.  And he will – eventually.

There is some good news – I haven’t rebounded.  My dresser drawers are still as tidy as the day I learned how to fold the KonMari way, as are the kitchen cabinets and my desk. I’ve stayed on top of the paper clutter and we got all of my daughter’s tubs put away so that we can actually see the floor of her room.  So it’s not all bleak…it’s just that what lies ahead are the hard categories – sentimental items and photos.  Keep in mind, we held on to 400+ T-shirts for sentimental reasons…

So, how do you get back on track if you’ve fallen off the KonMari wagon? (Pardon the mixed metaphor…)  Here are my suggestions:

  • Revisit the Book – I don’t think it’s necessary to reread the entire thing, but skim through it, or just go over the Table of Contents even, to help remind you of things you might have forgotten
  • Have a Plan  – I’ve got the hard stuff ahead of me, so I know that I am going to have to schedule time and create space in order to be productive.  Make yourself a check-list, put tasks on a calendar, hang a “do not disturb sign” on your door – use whatever strategy you know works best when you have a big job ahead of you. Make a plan, set a deadline, and get busy.
  • Remember Why You Started This – What inspired you to KonMari your home in the first place?  The vision you have for your space – did you draw a picture or write a description of what that was?  If so, find it and hang it someplace prominent – the fridge, a bathroom mirror, above the coffee pot – wherever it will be a constant reminder of what you are striving for.  Sometimes all it takes to get going again is to remind yourself why you wanted it.

And here’s something else that might help. If you’ve got seven days to devote to a refresh or you haven’t started and want to dip your toes in the KonMari way, check out the 7-Day Kon-Mari Organizing Challenge.  I think it probably moves too quickly for a beginner, but I do think that it’s a good start and, it might actually be beneficial for those who’ve completed the process, but are feeling like clutter is creeping back in.

I promise it won’t be another month before you hear from me again, but I will tell you this – pictures are next for me and I’ve got 60 photo albums…

KonMari in Action

978-1-60774-730-7Marie Kondo is everywhere these days.  In the last few weeks she has been on The Ellen Degeneres Show and Rachael Ray.  There have been articles on Parade.com – Sunday With: Marie Kondo and an interview with Good Housekeeping.  There was even a Mother’s Day quiz on Elle Decor – “Who said it – Marie Kondo or Your Mom?”  But probably the most anticipated event for her loyal followers, was “Tidy up with KonMari” a two-part series that aired on NHK World.  We finally got to see her in action as she assisted two different women in New York to KonMari their homes.  The books are great, but nothing beats actually getting to watch her work her magic with real people (except maybe having her come and work on MY home!)  Don’t miss out – the videos are only available to watch until May 23!

The Women

Gina lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. Marie walks through the house with her and sees items piled on every horizontal surface and spilling out of every drawer, closet, and cabinet.  I had my doubts.  And yet, the before and after is remarkable. Emily is single, but planning to move her boyfriend in with her.  She didn’t have as much clutter; it was mostly relegated to one room, but it was a room that was unusable because of the clutter.  And it contained the hard stuff – the sentimental items.  Yes, there were tears.  You really need to watch these episodes for your yourself to appreciate what KonMari does, but here are my take-aways:

Start with the End in Mind

Marie asks each of the women what their ideal life will be like after they’ve finished tidying.  That helps to set your goal and keep you motivated.  So draw a picture, make a list, or put up a photo that helps you to envision what your space – and your life – will look like when you are finished.

Gather and Sort Works!

Whether it is clothing, papers, or bathroom supplies, each and every time she brings categories to a central location and sorts them.  When you see like items all laid out in one place, you get a true sense of what you have and it makes it easier to discard those that you don’t need or want.  It is a lot of work, but you’ll see that it is the most efficient way.

Don’t Buy Storage Items

You probably already own all the bins, dividers, and boxes you will need.  And most items actually end up going into drawers and cabinets where space has been freed up.  Use what you have as you go.  I also noticed that some spaces ended up being temporary storage until they were complete.  Once you’ve finished discarding and your entire space has been KonMari-ed, then you can see if you need to buy something that you don’t already have.

Decisions, Decisions!

As you are going through this process, you are making a lot of decisions.  But remember this – you are deciding what to KEEP, not what to discard.  That initial shift in thinking is tough, but it really does improve your sensitivity to what holds value for you.  And Kondo says, if you really can’t decide, that is probably a sign that you should let the item go.

No Judgment

Marie does not make any judgments about what the women decide to keep.  She guides them when they seem to struggle and she is quiet as they work through the emotions. So if she’s not going to judge, you shouldn’t either!  If something sparks joy and you want to keep it, then keep it without guilt and move on.

It Can be Done

I was thoroughly impressed by the fact that both women were able to complete this in two weeks.  Yes, they did a little bit with KonMari at their side, but the bulk of the process was done during the two weeks that she was gone.  Granted, these were small New York apartments, but I’m not sure it’s about the size.  The women were committed and focused; you have to be ready and you have to want it.

We’re on hold here at my house.  Ready to get back at it after the garage sale, then some home repairs took priority.  But my KonMari journey is far from over…stay tuned!

Progress – Finally!

20160503_203104Whether it’s losing weight, tackling your inbox, or KonMari-ing your home, we are all motivated by making progress.  Numbers on the scale get smaller, the list of emails grows shorter, clutter is reduced – and we feel compelled to keep on.  I believe this is why Kondo is so adamant that you take on your tidying festival in one fell swoop.  She knows that when you don’t see progress it is easy to just throw in the towel and assume this is just how it’s going to be.  I thought I was making progress, cruising right along through this KonMari Method – until I wasn’t.  We had a couple of missteps (see my post The Weight to refresh your memory) that pretty much ground progress to a halt – until now.

Sending the Clutter on its Way

Even though I had taken some items to be donated earlier on in the process (remember all the boxes of kitchen stuff?), there were many items that we came across that we decided to save for a garage sale. After being plagued by one rainy weekend after another, we finally got a break – sort of. Expecting a rainy Friday but a sunny Saturday, we decided to take a chance – and held it on a Thursday.  Best decision ever.  Who knew that Thursday is actually the prime garage sale day?  We barely had the stuff out of the tubs and bags before customers started showing up.  And you can imagine how long it takes to lay out several HUNDRED t-shirts?  But it was worth it.  With one customer after another I was sending the clutter on its way, letting go of items without remorse or regret, and feeling positively giddy – joyful. Yes, the money is definitely nice, but the almost physical feeling of being unfettered as each piece left the garage is even better. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…(click an image to enlarge)

We still have a few tubs of books to go to Half Price Books and lots of EMPTY tubs to use as needed.  We even sold some at the garage sale! But I now feel like I can tackle the rest of the items in the house with a clearer focus – and they will be the hardest. Collectibles, sentimental items, and photos – in sixty albums.  Mull on that for a minute.

It’s Always Something

So, I can’t leave this post without telling you about the crib.  When we moved from our rental house (22 years ago), we moved our little girl into a toddler bed and out of her crib.  We took the crib apart and stored it in the house. At first it was tucked under a bed, but the longer we stayed here and accumulated more stuff, we sent it over to the storage unit we had to rent.  And there it stayed until we emptied that unit a couple of months ago. There was a baggie of springs and bolts that my husband diligently kept up with so we could use the crib again for a grandchild some day.  But in the spirit of tidying up and letting go, we decided that the crib could go too. We couldn’t sell it on day one of the garage sale because we couldn’t locate the baggie of bolts, but on day two – success!  But not really. As he gathered up the pieces to set out he realized something – we did not have the metal rods that the moving side of the crib slid up and down.  They weren’t left in the storage unit, we were certain of that, because the more we thought about it, we couldn’t remember EVER having seen them. It is entirely possible this crib which we moved from our old house, to our new house, to the storage unit, and back to the house had been missing pieces for twenty-two years. My husband made sure we had the springs and bolts; sadly, we had nothing to attach them to. Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

If One is Good, More is Better?

20160425_103858Last week in our KonMari Facebook group we were challenged to identify a task we wanted to complete by the end of the week.  As you may have already discovered about me, I’m a big fan of deadlines (most of the time), so I was on board.  My goal was to declutter my desk area.  It’s where I write this blog and pay bills and, even in this digital age, I still have a tremendous amount of paper clutter. (Though I did take five boxes to the shred truck a couple of weeks ago.)  The desk was starting to get overrun and was not the most conducive space for writing, so I started the discard process.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had too many pairs of scissors, so the extra ones went, along with some blank CDs and envelopes, a box of Crayola markers, and half-a-dozen flash drives. I was left with a much more orderly space that invites me to sit and work (or pay).

What didn’t I discard?  Pens. Sharpies. Mechanical pencils.  Apparently, I live by the motto, “If one is good, a bajillion is better.”  Ten tubs of t-shirts. Sixty photo albums. Sixty-seven writing implements.  SIXTY-SEVEN. How many do I use regularly?  Two.  A black ball point that writes beautifully (it was a favor from a wedding I attended last year), and a Bic mechanical pencil. I use them each for different tasks in my planner (yes a paper planner – digital immigrant, not native), and the others I just like to look at.  This total doesn’t even include the box of colored pencils I haven’t opened to go with the adult coloring book I still haven’t opened, or the pencil cup that sits by the phone in the kitchen.  Sixty-seven pens, pencils, and Sharpies at my desk and I use two.  And you know what?  I’m okay with that.

I’m not artistic, but the colored pens make me feel like I could be.  I love to write, and a keyboard makes that so much quicker, but sometimes a pen is more efficient. Mechanical pencils mean there is no need for a sharpener. And Sharpies…well, do they really need any explanation?  The question central to the KonMari method is, “Does this spark joy?” My answer is yes; these pieces spark joy for me.  And I don’t care that I have sixty-seven of them within arm’s reach.  And I don’t think Kondo would care either. Don’t pass judgment on yourself.  The whole point of this tidying-up process is to make your living and/or work space joyful for you.  If that means multiples, so be it.  Four-hundred t-shirts isn’t really working for me anymore, so they are going. But sixty-seven writing implements in varying styles and colors make me happy – so they stay.  In the future, I might decide to part with them (or at least USE them), but for now this is how it stands. The longer you KonMari, the more attuned you become to what’s important to you.  Follow that instinct and you won’t go wrong – even if it means keeping unused Sharpies.

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Sometimes Life Gets in the Way

So, you’ve read the book (or both!), you’re motivated, your tidying festival is underway – and then you have to halt or pause or just take a break.  In a perfect world, everyone and everything in your life would understand that you must KonMari NOW.  You have a goal, and Kondo says that you must do this all at once.  But this is reality and sometimes those outside forces just will not cooperate.  I firmly believe that trying to fight those forces will only lead to frustration and may cause you to give up altogether – or to rebound.  So here are a few tips to help keep you on track, even if life is trying to force you off the rails.

Celebrate Small Accomplishments Along the Way

If you know there is no way you are going to complete your tidying marathon in six months, break it into smaller, easily attainable goals to help you stay motivated. Set a deadline for completing one category (or subcategory) in its entirety.  When that task is complete, take an after picture, post/tweet/Instagram it, share with friends, or just check it off your to-do list. Mark the occasion in some small way so that you will feel that sense of accomplishment and know that you are one step closer to reaching clutter-free nirvana.

Find Like-Minded Individuals to Share With

I was going to say “find a support group”, but this isn’t an illness!  (Although some friends and family might disagree…)  But seriously, having folks with whom to share your victories and your frustrations can have a huge impact on your success.  First of all, they understand the process and know how challenging it can be.  In addition, your fellow KonMari devotees can offer helpful suggestions when you need them.  The Facebook group I belong to has been there to offer encouragement, answer a question, and let me vent. The best part?  You never have to explain, “Well, I read this book about tidying by a Japanese woman…”  We all get it!

Know When to Fold ‘Em

I’m not talking clothes here.  You know you best.  And you know your family and household best as well.  So if you know that starting the next category or subcategory would not be prudent at this time, then don’t. And don’t feel pressured by the book; I know that sounds crazy, but Kondo is so inspirational, that you can almost feel like you are letting her down if you stray from her guidelines.  But here’s the thing – she wants everyone to be successful, so if you know that the only way you’ll be ready to continue is if you take a short break now, then so be it.

This Isn’t Basketball – NO Rebounding

Just because you are taking a break, it doesn’t mean you forget all you have learned and accomplished so far.  Kondo warns that rebounding (going back to all that clutter) is inevitable if you try to do this a little at a time. I understand her point and I even agree; it is very easy to revert if you are not seeing results. But I have to say that my closet, drawers, and kitchen cabinets are still in the same great shape now as they were when I completed those areas months ago. The impact of getting rid of so much stuff still resonates with me. To avoid a rebound it’s vital to maintain the areas that you’ve already completed.  Pick a date to resume the process, and take your break with a clear conscience.

I wish I had been able to KonMari my whole house in six months; I probably would have made it if we hadn’t made the decision to empty the attic and storage unit in the middle of the process.  But at least I’ll know that no stone has been left unturned; everything we own is clearly visible.  And soon there will be much less of it to see.

Komono – Just Because

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buttons2Does anyone else out there have a grandmother who had an old coffee can full of spare buttons?  I’m betting a lot of you are nodding your head.  Now, how many of you have your own stash of spare buttons?  Still nodding I bet, and that’s okay because I am too.  But when was the last time you ever actually used one of those buttons?  Can’t remember?  Me either…and I’m guessing that’s because the answer is NEVER.  How about the spare piece of yarn (thread, fiber?) that comes with some woven items?  I’ve got those too, but honey, if I’m not sewing on a button, I’m darn sure not going to repair a pull in a sweater!  So why do we keep these things?   Typically, the answer is “just because”.  Because why?

The buttons, the items in the junk drawer, the innumerable pens you picked up at the last convention you attended – all of these are a part of what Kondo refers to as komono – miscellaneous items that don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories.  And komono is everywhere.  Just sitting here at my desk I see that I have three pairs of scissors (all the same size), half a dozen flash drives (no idea what, if anything, is on them), and Sharpies in an array of colors.  I can easily get rid of the flash drives – they probably contain old work info and I’ve been retired almost a year now – and two pairs of scissors can go too (besides, there are two more pairs in the kitchen!)  None of these items spark joy, and I no longer need the flash drives, but scissors do come in handy. Those Sharpies bring me joy, however, so they are staying!

That’s the thing about the miscellaneous stuff – some items you just have to keep because they serve a distinct purpose; you can’t be running out to buy a new pair of scissors every time you ditch an old pair for not bringing you joy.  But do I need six pairs? Probably not. To me komono is one of the more challenging categories because it encompasses so much, and it is in every room of the house. How many times have you cleaned out your junk drawer only to have it fill up again?  Folks, there’s a reason it is called a JUNK drawer – and you probably do not need ninety percent of what it contains.  I can sort of envision the whole KonMari process as cleaning out the junk drawer.  If you tackle that drawer once and for all and never put anything back into it that doesn’t belong there, you will never have to clean it out again.  The same goes for tidying the KonMari way; if you do this massive tidying one time, you should never have to do it again. That’s the goal, though it will be a while before I can test that theory.

So, I’m moving on to komono and junk drawers and who knows what I’ll find. The key is going to be to keep only those items that serve a purpose or spark joy. I’m sure there are probably a lot of items that were kept “just because” – but that’s how you end up with a can full of buttons…or ten tubs of t-shirts.