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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A change of habit

As we face the coming new year, many of us begin thinking of the things we want to change - once and for all I'm going to stop doing xyz or this is the year I am going to finally do xyz. Change is definitely doable, you just need to be organized and have a plan...

Leo Babauta, author of, has written a terrific article on the subject. Here's the short version, I've picked out my favorite can read the long version by pasting this in your browser:

Keep it simple
Habit change is not that complicated. While the tips below will seem overwhelming, there’s really only a few things you need to know. Everything else is just helping these to become reality.

The simple steps of habit change:

1. Write down your plan.

2. Identify your triggers and replacement habits.

3. Focus on doing the replacement habits every single time the triggers happen, for about 30 days.

That’s it. We’ll talk more about each of these steps, and much more, in the cheatsheet below.

The Habit Change Cheatsheet
The following is a compilation of tips to help you change a habit. Don’t be overwhelmed — always remember the simple steps above. The rest are different ways to help you become more successful in your habit change.

1. Do just one habit at a time. Extremely important. Habit change is difficult, even with just one habit. If you do more than one habit at a time, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Keep it simple, allow yourself to focus, and give yourself the best chance for success. Btw, this is why New Year’s resolutions often fail — people try to tackle more than one change at a time.

2. Start small. The smaller the better, because habit change is difficult, and trying to take on too much is a recipe for disaster. Want to exercise? Start with just 5-10 minutes. Want to wake up earlier? Try just 10 minutes earlier for now. Or consider half habits.

3. Do a 30-day Challenge. In my experience, it takes about 30 days to change a habit, if you’re focused and consistent.

4. Write it down. Just saying you’re going to change the habit is not enough of a commitment. You need to actually write it down, on paper. Write what habit you’re going to change.

5. Make a plan. While you’re writing, also write down a plan. This will ensure you’re really prepared. The plan should include your reasons (motivations) for changing, obstacles, triggers, support buddies, and other ways you’re going to make this a success. More on each of these below.

9. Identify your triggers. What situations trigger your current habit? For the smoking habit, for example, triggers might include waking in the morning, having coffee, drinking alcohol, stressful meetings, going out with friends, driving, etc. Most habits have multiple triggers. Identify all of them and write them in your plan.

10. For every single trigger, identify a positive habit you’re going to do instead. When you first wake in the morning, instead of smoking, what will you do? What about when you get stressed? When you go out with friends? Some positive habits could include: exercise, meditation, deep breathing, organizing, decluttering, and more.

13. Become aware of self-talk. You talk to yourself, in your head, all the time — but often we’re not aware of these thoughts. Start listening. These thoughts can derail any habit change, any goal. Often they’re negative: “I can’t do this. This is too difficult. Why am I putting myself through this? How bad is this for me anyway? I’m not strong enough. I don’t have enough discipline. I suck.” It’s important to know you’re doing this.

14. Stay positive. You will have negative thoughts — the important thing is to realize when you’re having them, and push them out of your head. Squash them like a bug! Then replace them with a positive thought. “I can do this! If Leo can do it, so can I!” :)

15. Have strategies to defeat the urge. Urges are going to come — they’re inevitable, and they’re strong. But they’re also temporary, and beatable. Urges usually last about a minute or two, and they come in waves of varying strength. You just need to ride out the wave, and the urge will go away. Some strategies for making it through the urge: deep breathing, self-massage, eat some frozen grapes, take a walk, exercise, drink a glass of water, call a support buddy, post on a support forum.

20. Have rewards. Regular ones. You might see these as bribes, but actually they’re just positive feedback. Put these into your plan, along with the milestones at which you’ll receive them.

21. Take it one urge at a time. Often we’re told to take it one day at a time — which is good advice — but really it’s one urge at a time. Just make it through this urge.

Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones. - Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What goes with what

In a couple of days many of us will be knee deep in new electronics. All those shiny new toys will have a heap of cords, cables, accessories and manuals (if you're lucky).

Don't just toss those extras into a drawer and think that you'll remember what goes with what. Instead, put all the pieces from one, or maybe two, of those gadgets into a sealable plastic bag and write on on the bag what electronics they go to.

Don't forget that batteries are ewaste. Check the Resources page on my website for disposal sites near you.

Friday, December 18, 2009

But I got it as a gift

Today I was unpacking and organizing a kitchen for a client. When we got everything out of the moving boxes and I started asking her about certain items, she repeated a phrase I hear all the time... "I don't like it, but I got it as a gift".

As we enter the biggest gift giving season, we will all be faced with this - the gift from a friend, relative or coworker that we just don't have a use for, or that we just flat out don't like.

I am constantly amazed at how much stuff people keep that they don't use or like because someone gave it to them. They drag this stuff from house to house, paying for us to pack it, and the movers to move it and us to unpack it.

So, I am giving you permission to accept the gift, acknowledge the thoughtfulness and then pass the gift on - whether to someone you know who could use it or to donate it to a worthy cause. You do not have to keep things you don't use, have room for or like. And that's the end of that!

Friday, December 11, 2009

More organizing gifts

By popular demand, here are some more of my favorite organizing tools that you can give as gifts and use as stocking stuffers...

My new favorite thing - by Copco, To Go Cup - perfect for the car, BPA free- - $7.99

Any P-Touch labeler - Office Depot - prices vary by style

I love these clips for sealing snack bags, from Ikea - Bevara - $2.99 per bag

OXO Good Grip storage containers - from Bed Bath and Beyond - prices vary.

Keep Boxes - with airtight snap lids - The Container Store - $8.99 and up depending on size of box.

Last, but not least, how about the gift of organizing - give me! Call me for a gift certificate and happy holidays!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday chaos, controlled

This time of year our lives are jammed packed with activities and events, which are all suppose to be fun. However, it’s not fun when our organizational systems are stretched beyond the breaking point and we can’t wait for the season to be over. If you’re heading toward overload, here are some tips to help calm the holiday chaos:

Junk mail, especially catalogues, should be tossed immediately. If they are not from stores you usually shop at or from anyone you actually know, there’s no sense letting these things pile up and become a trip hazard on the floor.

Use up all the wrapping paper, ribbons and left over holiday cards before you buy new. Don’t buy anything that is oversized for the container or drawer you store it in. The bag with 1,000 bows is no bargain when half of them have to be tossed because they got crushed on the bottom of the closet floor.

Keep a gift wrap supply box containing pens, scissors, tape, tissue paper and other small items. The box gets stored with the ribbons and paper so you always have fast access to it.

Sending out holiday cards should not be an obligation and you do not have to send out cards to everyone you have ever met. It should be a pleasure to send a card to only those people you choose and who you do not see on a regular basis.

Say, “let me check my calendar and get back to you”, when you are invited to an event you don’t think you can make or aren’t really interested in. This saves you from the automatic “we’d love to” that you regret later.

Prepare a designated space in the pantry or garage before you go shopping to store the party goods. Keep paper plates and party supplies in large plastic bins with tight lids so that they do not get dirty or crushed in between events. Be sure to label the bins so you know what’s inside.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Storing your holiday dishes

Many of us keep special sets of dishes and serveware just for holiday meals. Cute mugs with snowmen for hot chocolate, plates with Santa and all the reindeer, special cutting boards for the turkey, etc.

Unfortunately, I often find these items stashed in the back of closets, tossed in a box in the garage or gathering dust on the highest shelf of a cupboard.

Like everything else we own, taking good care of dishes and silver will prolong their life and make them easier to find and use, when the appropriate holiday arrives.

I always recommend that dishes and glassware be stored in zippered cases, preferably with some kind of protective layer in between each dish. I've successfully used paper plates and coffee filters between dishes when stacking them on cupboard shelves.

Likewise, glassware and stemware can be kept in cases or boxes with dividers between each glass.

Silver should be polished and stored in special silver cloth to keep down on the tarnishing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Feeling overwhelmed all the time

This week I returned to the home of one of my clients because her home office had gotten completely out of sorts. A remodel had forced her office to be used as the "holding" room for furniture and stuff from other places in the house and she was overwhelmed with having to dig herself out - not to mention the time lost from keeping up with her business.

We live in a very fragile manner these days. I can see this for myself when I am away from my own office for a few days, how quickly it all piles up - the mail, the email, the calls to return, the stuff to check on and order, the blog to keep up, the forms to fill out and the endlessness of trying to figure the computer stuff out. Even I can be overwhelmed, throw up my hands and head out the door to Peet's to run away from it all...

I think OVERWHELMED is the word that best describes us this decade - everyone I know is overwhelmed with just about everything. There's too much coming at us too fast. Too much to do, too much to keep up with, it's just all too much!

For myself keeping up with electronic/computer stuff is my personal torture...everytime I figure Google out they come up with something else that I have to spend countless hours delving into. I am not a computer fan...I use it because I have to, but I still don't understand it, nor do I have time to...

SPEED is another killer - literally - people are dying on the Bay Bridge because they simply can not slow themselves down by 10 miles an hour to travel it safely. Driving the speed limit on the freeway will get you killed because the person behind you is trying to go faster - in the slow lane! Everything seems to be moving at the speed of light. I've lost potential jobs because I didn't get to the phone fast enough and I mean within minutes - not hours.

I don't yet have answers for a lot of this. I can only do what I can do in a day...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A postcard from San Francisco

My niece emailed me yesterday that they had the first snow fall in the Midwest. While I do miss the snow (on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day), I feel obligated to share with all of you do not live here a November 3rd day, in the bay area. It was 73 degrees yesterday, not a cloud in the sky and no wind to interfere with our enjoyment of the day.

I am working with a business client who has an office, at the Ferry Plaza, in San Francisco. So I hop on the ferry here in Oakland and in 25 minutes I am sipping coffee at The Blue Bottle Cafe in SF. So, here's what the day looked like...

For those of you not familiar with SF some background... This part of San Francisco was, up until 1990, almost useless space. It was old, run down and neglected. The reason was because a major freeway had been built running through this entire portion of the city and the area around it was a deserted wasteland, part of the old port of San Francisco, no longer in use by commerical shipping. Then in October, 1989, an earthquake changed everything. Portions of the freeway collapsed and the decision was made to tear it all down. When the freeway came down, we looked at the fantastic unobstructed views and decided to develop and revitalize this entire portion of the city. Now it is the hottest, hippest place to be! The center of this jewel is the rebuilt Ferry Building and Plaza, which is home to the Ferry Plaza Market. The market is a collection of local businesses that revolve around food. (Similar to the Pike's market in Seattle.)

So, this is from the back of the plaza where the ferries from Marin and the East Bay dock.

Here's the Ferry Building clock tower and the front of the building. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, local farmers come and set up booths in front of the building.

Facing Market Street and a view of all the relatively new buildings that sprung up after the quake. This is the city's Financial District.

Inside the Ferry Building, some of my favorite shops and restaurants...

The Blue Bottle Coffee Company.

Miette Bakery.

Il Cane Russo.

The Gardener.

Prather Meat Co.

Cowgirl Creamery. 2,000 cheeses!

The Fungi shop.

Sur La Table.

Crispy Noodles - my lunch at Slanted Door.

Heading home...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A spare room spared

My clients had always envisioned turning their now grown son's room into a guest/crafts area. But, as so often happens, the room never quite got there. Instead, it became the "catch all" room where everything landed in a heap. Month after month went by and the room just got more and more cluttered. Finally, they just closed the door and left it.

This spring, they decided they had to take action and called me for help. I met with them and devised a plan for getting the room cleared out. We started by sorting items into groups of what would be kept, what would be donated and what would be discarded.

Several years earlier they had an architect make a drawing for creating a wall to wall bookcase/craft area and their goal was to finally build it in the room. After our sorting sessions, the keep boxes were moved to the garage and the construction on the space went forward. The new desk/bookcase/craft table was built, the carpet replaced and the room painted. Then we brought back the boxes of items that would remain in the room and assigned them their new places.

The end result is a lovely space that can now be used for sewing projects, reading and keeping a guest comfortable during short stays.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Refrigerator magnets

I know how much you all love your refrigerator magnets! I wish I had stock in the companies that dream up these things. I can't remember the last time I walked into a house and didn't find the refrig covered in plastic sushi, animals of all kinds, postcards, photos, outdated menus, plumber ads for plumbers who are no longer in business - even a refrigerator magnet of a refrigerator!

But if you're wondering why your kitchen always feels cluttered, then look at your refrigerator. If it's covered in a multitude of magnets then it just adds to the kitchen clutter.

So after I cleared off the magnets and misc stuff, we just picked ONE that represented her favorite subject - cats. Completely changed the feeling of this kitchen and inspired a general decluttering of the entire space.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Life in a garbage truck

This comes from Katie Brody....she found it on Apartment Therapy. Just a brilliant use of a very small space!

" Big thanks to AT reader Maren who sent us these awesome photos of a guy who lives out of...garbage truck? Correction: A highly modified garbage truck. This small space is nicer than some apartments we've seen! Hardwood floors...custom kitchen (with perfect storage!)...and a comfortable built-in sectional."

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