Defeat clutter; author Jeff Bredenberg tells how
Perfection is such a motivation killer. When it comes to getting organized, author Jeff Bredenberg says it's okay to cheat a little.
By Judy Stark, Times Homes and Garden Editor
Published February 2, 2008
If you are one of those people who spent January neatly arranging your stuff in see-through plastic boxes and identifying the contents with a Dymo labelmaker, please go do something else. Alphabetize your spices. Clean the grout with a toothbrush. This story is not for you.
This is a story about organizing for the rest of us.
Especially those who are - let's be diplomatic here - "terminally disorganized," says Jeff Bredenberg. "Everybody wants an environment they can feel good about. Nobody sits around their house and says, 'How can I be more disorganized?' The fact is, a lot of people don't try harder because most organizational systems are way too complex."
Riding to the rescue is Bredenberg, 54, author of How to Cheat at Organizing: Quick Clutter-Clobbering Ways to Simplify Your Life (Taunton, $14.95). He advocates "organizing just enough."
Here's his theory: "Efficiency experts say that in a project that takes 10 hours, you spend the first five hours completing 90 percent of the work, and the last five hours on the last 10 percent of the project, the fiddly details, the fine points. My feeling is, I'm happy to get something done in half the time, and if I'm only 90 percent organized, that's a great tradeoff for me."
Here's how it works: the S4 theory. Strip, scrap, sort and store. Strip means you empty the shelf, the drawer, the closet, the coffee table top, the garage. Scrap? Throw away everything that's nonfunctional, stale, broken or unidentifiable. Sort like things together. Store the things you want to keep in a container: a CD rack, a magazine holder, a basket, a plastic box.
Bredenberg did this not too long ago in his family's pantry. That "pantry" is actually two sets of industrial-strength metal shelves, 4 1/2 feet wide and five shelves high. "My approach was that I'd be nice to myself and pick the messiest set of shelves and do that. The other one looks okay right now." (He's big on shortcuts, narrowing your focus and giving yourself a break.)
He threw out stale food, unidentifiable items and things he knew the family wouldn't eat. Then he grouped all the soups together, the pastas, the paper goods.
Of course there's some inevitable erosion as the days go by and family members who don't care as much about organization as you do fail to maintain the system. "But fine-tuning something that has been sorted before is much easier to do than starting from scratch," Bredenberg, also the author of How to Cheat at Cleaning, said in a phone interview from his home in the Philadelphia suburbs.
The book covers clothing, food, storage, the home office, collections, scheduling, personal finance, health, your car and special events, which includes holidays and travel. Here's a travel tip that's worth the price of the book: Upload your digital photos every night to an online service such as kodakgallery.com or shutterfly.com. You'll start out each day with a clean memory card. And if your camera is lost, stolen or damaged, all you'll have lost is that day's photos.
Bredenberg extends a helping hand to those who have become, in his words, "accidental collectors." You know how this works: You acquire one item - a pig figurine, a butterfly ornament - and suddenly your friends catch on and they bury you in dozens of pigs or butterflies. How do you deal with a collection you never intended to start?
Try these tips, says Bredenberg, who found his collection of pig figurines growing exponentially: Identify the source of the gifts (certain friends or relatives) and drop broad hints into your conversation: "I'm so past pigs now. . . I'm maxed out on pigs . . . I've got a wonderful handful of pigs, I'm retiring my pig status."
And be alert to new sources of clutter in your life, notably e-mail. Turn off your monitor's automatic alert and pledge that you'll check your e-mail only at certain times of the day, not every five minutes. That can become a giant time-waster as you scan the spam or think you have to respond instantly to every message or read every joke or watch every video your friends forward.
Simpler is better, Bredenberg says. "If you have to take a daylong course to understand your organizer notebook that you paid $100 for, something's really, really wrong!"
Judy Stark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8446.
Jeff Bredenberg says he packed his book, How to Cheat at Organizing, with "organizational shortcuts, the easiest way to get something accomplished, ways to get 90 percent of the way there." Here are some of his quick tips, drawn from professional organizers and other experts.
- Got a stack of magazines you never get around to reading? Take one with you when you know you'll have some waiting time, like at the doctor or at the kids' swim practice. Read it while you wait, then leave it behind for someone else.
- Get out your driver's license and look at the expiration date. Go to your computerized calendar and send yourself a reminder to renew it a month in advance - even if the expiration date is years away. It's too easy to forget.
- Less is more. No one is going to look at 20 framed photographs. Choose a half-dozen and display them in one place.
- Relieve yourself of the Unwanted Gift Headache by getting it out of your life at once. Exchange it, donate it to charity, give it to someone else, put it in the yard sale box.
- Place an "out basket" in every room. Use an attractive container half the size of a laundry basket. Objects that belong somewhere else go in the basket. Whenever you pass the basket, return an object to its destination.
- Never bypass the shower caps in hotel bathrooms. Wrap your shoes in them when you pack; wear them as slippers on the plane (secure with a rubber band); wrap one around your camera body when you're photographing in the rain; pack your wet swimsuit in one.
[Last modified February 1, 2008, 13:33:19]
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