Category Archives: time management

WHAT HAS TO BE DONE NEXT? Time Management Tips for You

The Fair is coming! The Fair is coming!

The Fair is coming! The Fair is coming!

I don’t know about you, but right now, I’m running around like a crazed monkey in a giant puzzle box, trying to figure out what to do next.

I’m getting ready for the 80th League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair. It’s where I see most of my collectors and patrons for the year. It’s where I introduce new work. In my booth, I create the most beautiful displays for my jewelry, sculpture and wall hangings. This year, it’s where I’ll introduce my new presentation of my artifacts in restored vintage and antique wood boxes.

Ignore the woodworking shop in the background.  That's my friend Gary's studio where I've been working all summer.

Ignore the woodworking shop in the background. That’s my friend Gary’s studio where I’ve been working all summer.

It’s also where I’ll struggle to put up my booth on a ski slope, stand for nine days in 95 degree weather, and wonder if I’ll make enough money to get me through to next year’s show.

Joy and anguish, laughter and tears, exhilaration and exhaustion, uplifted spirit and aching body. Yes, welcome to the Fair!

I’m getting too old for this.

But I digress. This is about preparing for the Fair: Creating new work (which always seems to happen as the deadlines approach). Creating and mailing a postcard to my customer list (over 1,000, and I’m very picky about who gets on my mailing list nowadays). Rebuilding inventory. Trying to remember where I packed my display stands and signs two years ago. (I took a “sabbatical” last year for knee replacement surgery.)

There are two techniques I use to get everything done. And asking a question is the key to both.

The first is productive procrastination. I’ve written about this before, so briefly… If you procrastinate (come on, ‘fess up! No one can see you while you’re reading this!) then, when faced with a task you don’t want to do, ask yourself:

What else can I do instead?

This technique is powerful, because you can get so much done! Just not the one thing you really need to do.

The second just came to me this morning. (I am the slow learner. That’s why I still write about this stuff.) Today, for example, I have about a bajillion things to do. (Yes, the procrastination technique backfired.) So the last few days I’ve been frantic–absolutely frantic–(hence the monkey metephor) about how much I have to do, and how much has gone wrong, resulting in even less time to finish this. So this morning, I ask myself:

What has to be done next?

And the answer (today–finish my postcard mailing!) gives clarity. And relief. And peace.

It’s not my fault the mailing is running late. I gave the order to the printer in plenty of time to make my deadline. (I have learned the printing lesson the hard way, and almost always allow 3x the time needed for a print job.) But despite my best efforts, the print job is late, my new label making program is overwhelming complicated, and everything that could have gone wrong, did.

The fact remains, however… What I need to do right now is label, stamp and mail these postcards.

That clarity is enough to slow my heart rate and soothe my frazzled brain.

By the way, if you don’t get a postcard from me in the next few days (and you usually do), blame my mailing list/label high-tech woes. In the meantime, here’s all you need to know:

LUANN UDELL http://www.LuannUdell.com
271 Roxbury ST Keene NH 03431
Luann@LuannUdell.com 603-352-8633

I’m all better! I’m back!!! YES, I’ll be at the
80th League of NH Craftsman’s Annual Fair
Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, NH
Saturday Aug. 3 thru Sunday Aug. 11
10-5 daily rain or shine
Tent 2 Booth 203

NEW! My work displayed in restored &
refinished antique shadow boxes. They are
beautiful!! Create your own display!

(You can also scold me for not being here
last August….IF you bring chocolate.)

Photography by Roma Dee Holmes

And here’s the pic for the postcard:

Old new necklace displayed inside new old box.  Is that confusing?

Old new necklace displayed inside new old box. Is that confusing?

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Filed under time management, to do list

TIME FOR A CHANGE! Workshop on managing time to support creativity

Months ago I told you about Lyedie Geer’s extraordinary presentation on time and time management for creative people.

Well, now you can experience it for yourself! I’m goin’, and I hope you’ll join me!

A WORKSHOP ON MANAGING TIME TO SUPPORT CREATIVITY
FRIDAY, JANUARY 25TH 2013
HANNAH GRIMES CENTER, 25 ROXBURY STREET, KEENE NH

9AM TO 4PM

COST: $150

Call to Artists and Entrepreneurs: Invest a day in learning some resourceful and “out of the box” ways to approach managing your time and energy from an Integral Coach™ who specializes in advancing the capacity of artists and creative entrepreneurs.

• Learn the secrets of generating creative states more consciously and within time frames
• Get to know your relationship with time and how to work with it instead of against it.
• Come away with new methods for managing your energy so that you can make the very best use of time.

Lyedie Geer is a Certified Integral Coach™ who brings twenty-five years of experience in the areas of leadership, artistry and entrepreneurship along with a Masters Degree in Management & Leadership to her coaching practice. Lyedie has managed a number of artists over the years and is currently devoting herself to coaching. Her professional experience ranges from philanthropic roles in education and the arts to small business ownership. She was the Founding Director of The Moving Company Dance Center
(Now known as MOCO) and is currently serving as Vice President of the Board at Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

($50 DISCOUNT TO Creative Professionals Guild MEMBERS WHO SIGN UP BY JAN. 11TH)

http://www.Lyedie.com

802-881-3124

LYEDIE.GEER@GMAIL.COM

LYEDIE GEER – INTEGRAL COACH™ AND COUNSEL

L. Lyedecker Geer, MS ICC “Lyedie”
Integral Coach™ and Counsel
Leadership, Artistry, Entrepreneurship
Walpole, New Hampshire 03608

“Advancing my clients’ capacity in the fields that deeply matter to them.”

Website: http://www.Lyedie.com
Email: lyedie.geer@gmail.com
Voice: 802-881-3124

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I DID IT MY WAY

What with the big show I do in August (9 days, people–please remember that when I’m slow with your special orders!), and getting my daughter off to graduate school (first time she’s been too far away to visit) and then vacation (I did nothing for six whole days), I fear I’ve sadly neglected my blog.

I felt it, too. The guilt. Heck, I didn’t even do my morning pages. Didn’t keep up on Facebook, either.

This morning, I had an extra fifteen minutes, and pondered what to do with it. Check my email? Sure!

But then I realized I miss writing. I may drag my feet about it, but it’s like fun exercise–I always feel better after I do it.

So rather than waste time looking for my current journal, I simply started another one. (Because of this coping strategy, I often have three or four journals kicking around at any given point in time.)

And of course, I started off pissing and moaning about what an awful person I was for not writing for the past five weeks.

And then I stopped. I looked at what I’d written:

I haven’t written in…months.

And then I wrote:

So what?!

I’d made a choice, every day. Write….or go to the beach. Write….or go out to breakfast with my husband. Write…or sleep in. Write…or pick up Meg and go ride horses.

I did not choose to write, every day, for five weeks. That’s all.

Do I regret any of those choices? Not a bit.

Eventually, I miss writing. I restructure my day to allow time to do it. Or I suddenly have something to say, and drop everything to get it down before I forget. (Dear readers, you have no idea how much wisdom I’ve had that has simply blown away in the wind of my busy-ness like so much lint.)

What helped me get here today was this post on time management (NOT) by Danielle LaPorte, whose blog WHITE HOT TRUTH is one of my favorite reads. I’d long given up trying to be super-productive–lost my mojo a few years ago–but I hadn’t given myself permission to not feel guilty about it. When I read her post, I laughed out loud in relief.

Most of our choices are simply that….choices. Yes, there are good choices and bad choices. But it’s not always so clear which are which.

Work in the studio, or blow it off to have lunch with a friend? If you are honoring your art, and fiercely protecting your creative time, then perhaps the former is the right choice for you today. And maybe that friend is annoying, and always leaves you feeling vaguely unsettled.

But perhaps something says you need to honor your friendship today. Maybe your friend needs some love and support. Maybe it’s you who needs the love and support. (And hey, maybe, like me, you’re the annoying friend.)

Different times, different goals, different stages of life call for different choices. The sooner we allow ourselves to simply be who we are, today, the happier we can be.

So instead of a to-do list today, I simply set some priorities. I had three pages of writing with a great idea for an article. Done. I thought of all the ‘have-to’s’ I have to today, and picked the one that keeps coming back–the new design that’s just right for a store that’s waiting on some new work from me. There’s a friend who’s special order just keeps popping into my mind. I’ll work on her piece today. And I’ll make the phone call to another friend whose need is greatest, and make time for her.

But the first thing I did this morning, after my morning pages, was my favorite.

I went riding.

The first frost of the season killed off most of the annoying bugs. The sun was brilliant, but the morning was cool, perfect riding weather. I had unexpected (and welcome) company on my ride. My muscles are sore–I’m finally healing after a back injury last fall, and foot surgery this spring–and it feels good to be sore from riding. From doing something I love.

I feel…..

happy.

My blessing for you today:

May you choose for yourself today, the thing that will make you the happiest.

And may you have many opportunities to do so.

N.B. In the interest of full disclosure, I did write my column for The Crafts Report. And I did my columns for the Fine Art Views newsletter. And I wrote several times to my son, who moved out two months ago (to a house two blocks from here.) And I kept up on some crucial emails.

So, yeah, I wrote. But isn’t the point of this column still a good one?

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Filed under art, choices, craft, organization, time management, writing

HOW TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE Part 1

Concrete advice on how to get more done in a hurry, with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek, published Thursday in the Fine Art Views newsletter.

One of the necklaces on exhibit at the Sharon Arts Center this month.

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Filed under art, business, craft books, craft shows, time management

COUNT THE HOURS

A reader left a comment yesterday on my LESSONS FROM HOSPICE Part Deux essay. Only sixteen hours of the last year could be devoted to art due to family circumstances.

Now if sixteen hours is all you got, that’s a lot.

Here’s another thing to consider….

Months ago, I read an essay (and I apologize from the bottom of my heart that I cannot remember where I read it) on writing.

The author was working on a book project. At first, they tried to write whenever they had a good chunk of time. Over the course of a year, that came to a handful of days and half-days, and something like 10,000 words. Sounds impressive.

The next six months, they resolved to write for twenty minutes a day, no matter what.

In three months, they wrote 50,000 words.

That stopped me in my tracks.

Yes, some projects take a depth of concentration, a certain amount of time.

But others don’t.

So two possibilities are open to you:

Work in smaller time chunks.

Or….

Work on projects that don’t demand that total immersion. This is the time to work on sketches, samples, smaller works or simpler pieces.

I thought I didn’t have enough time to write and post this today. And for sure I don’t have time to do a deep editing.

But I started anyway, and this is how far I got in ten minutes.

How did I do? :-)

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WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO Part Deux

A visitor read my essay on being a hero. But, she asked, between babies and butterflies, cleaning and cooking, finding time for her partner and every else in life, how the heck do you find time to paint??

For Crystal: I feel your pain, and I remember those days. It ain’t easy, and I never said it was.

You are absolutely right. Those days when our children are young are so fleeting. It seemed endless at the time, but when I look back, I am amazed those tiny children are now young adults. As someone said, “The days are long, the years are swift.”

I chose to help them find butterflies, too! In fact, I did, over and over again. Time spent with your children is never wasted time. Even today, I hardly ever miss a chance to hang with my daughter, or spend some time with my son. When my husband says, “Do you wanna go for a walk?”, I rarely say no.

I get pretty lax about my work time in the studio, too. A friend in need, a bouncy dog on a beautiful sunshine-filled day, the giant dust bunnies under the table (oh, heck, I’ll be honest, all over the house) and there sits my latest project, taking a back seat to “something more important”.

But not for long.

It’s not about how much time you can spend in your studio. It’s about spending SOME time there. If all you can carve out is an hour every other week, then that time should be sacred.

It’s not about waiting til you have MORE time. That never comes. We all have our stuff. If it’s not our kids, then it’s a full-time job, or a more-than-full-time job, one that sucks up our evening and weekend hours, too. Or its other family issues–aging parents, a loved one with cancer. A flooded basement, a surprise visit from the in-laws, a party to prepare for. To quote Gilda Radner it’s always something. It’s recognizing the teensiest bit of time you can give yourself is precious.

It’s not about giving your all to one or the other. It’s about giving something to both. A wise woman once told me, “A woman CAN have it all. Just not always at the same time.”

And there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution. Even when you find something that works, it can change in an instant.

I was very fortunate. I had a husband who fully supported my desire and worked with me to make it happen. A partner who recognizes your right to have space, and time for yourself, is a true lifelong partner. (You’d do the same for him/her, right?)

The first thing I needed was a place, a space, no matter how small, for my own. For MY projects, for MY supplies. Where I could shut the door when I left it, and know everything would be ready to go whenever I returned. No matter when that was.

We talked about how we could make that happen. The solutions changed with each child’s milestones, with our income, with our growing awareness that both of us needed this.

I used attic space behind a bedroom for a studio, working an hour or two the two or three mornings a week my daughter was in preschool. That handful of hours felt like a bit of heaven.

When my son was born, eventually he needed that room. I rented a small studio outside our home. (It was a very cheap studio!)

As they grew older and spent more time in school, or with their friends, or on their own activities, that was my chance to work more regularly.

Finally, we moved to a larger house, and the old attached barn became my studio.

Having a circle of supportive friends, who truly see you as an artist, and who remind you of that when you can’t remember, can be a life-saver. They hold your vision for you until you can carve out a little time for yourself. You’d do that for them….right?

My point was, if you would make that effort for your child, for your partner, for your friend…why wouldn’t you do it for yourself? Just a little.

And even when things get too crazy, don’t just don’t drop your dream and walk away from it forever. The hole in your heart, and your spirit, will remind you of your loss every single day.

That is not a good message to send to your kids.

Try to find a way to keep even a little of that dream visible in your life.

And never give up trying to find your own way to make that happen.

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Filed under art, balance, choices, craft, time management

NEW COLUMN AT Fine Art Views!

Wonderful news! In addition to my column at THE CRAFTS REPORT magazine (scroll down to my regular column, “Craft Matters”), I have a new writing gig!

I’ve just accepted a position as a regular contributing writer for the Fine Art Views Newsletter, a newsletter with almost 11,000 readers.

It’s a free daily newsletter packed full of tips for making, marketing, exhibiting, teaching and selling your art.

They’ve reprinted several of my articles in the past, such as this one on LEAVING YOUR TRIBE. Now I’ll be contributing on a regular basis–every other Thursday to start, perhaps more often if I get organized. (Don’t get your hopes up, but then, anything can happen….)

I’ll be sure to post a link to their newsletter when they run my stuff. Be sure to add lots of comments about how wonderful I am how helpful you find my articles. If I have to resort to bribery, I will.

Oops, you didn’t hear me say that!!

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Filed under announcement, art, business, marketing, time management, writing

FIXING A FIXER

Why it’s okay to say no sometimes. Maybe a lot of times.

Years ago, an older gentlemen came to my booth at a big show. His visit changed my life.

He was so excited by my work. He was an artist himself, and he had incredibly rich things to say about my art. And about me.

“You’re a shaman!” he exclaimed over and over again. “You’re a shaman!”

I felt uncomfortable with that. Who am I to say I’m a spiritual healer?? I can hardly figure out what MY life should look like. Where would I get the gall to tell someone else how to run theirs?!

He went on to explain. And I’ve never forgotten his words.

All shamans are artists. But not all artists are shamans.

All shamans are teachers. But not all teachers are shamans.

All shamans are healers. But not all healers are shamans.

He went on to say much, much more. And some of it I still work through. (For example, I wondered why I still feel uncomfortable telling people this story, until a new friend told me that “shaman” is never something a true shaman calls herself; it’s what other people call them.)

What do these shamanistic traits–creativity; healing; teaching–have in common?

They are all about seeing ahead to what cannot be seen right now.

They see possibility.

A healer sees a person with has discord, imbalance, pain. They also see the person person could have balance, comfort and peace of mind. (Like hospice, not necessarily curing, but healing.)

A teacher sees a person does not know, and cannot do. They also see the person could learn, and grow, and achieve.

An artist knows something is inside her that needs to come out into the world to be seen, heard, experienced. It is not there until she makes it.

Personally, I think we all have our moments of shaman-hood. A parent, a good friend, a stranger, all have the ability, perhaps for a moment to lift us out of ourselves and help us see our true potential.

But I digress. Because I think sometimes, these things that make us a good parent, or a good friend, or a good artist, or a good healer, also makes us a very bad “good person”…..

A…(gasp!)…fixer.

In hospice, “fixing” is akin to “curing”. It’s simply not what we’re here for.

But the healing/teaching/creative arts tend to call to fixers. (It has to be trained out of us.) One of my trainers calls herself a recovering fixer. I LOVE that phrase! Another name for it is “Helpful Hannah”.

I hate that tendency. If I’m not careful, I let myself get sucked into someone else’s little life drama. Or I’m soon handing out advice they didn’t ask for, or don’t even want.

Some people don’t really want to be “fixed”. They get something out of being the way they are, or being in the situation they’re in. (I love Dr. Phil’s line, “Is that working for you?”)

Because everyone knows (especially us who had to learn it the hard way)….

You can’t fix other people. You can only fix yourself. (And let me return to that statement, because even that can be a trouble-maker….)

Just so I don’t sound heartless and unsupportive, what does help someone in dire straits is to simply….listen to them. Listen deep. Someone once said, the best gift you can give someone is to listen–really listen–to them. (I tried to Google the quote but came up with really naughty links…) Good docs listen to the stories their patients tell about themselves. Likewise, shrinks, social workers, priests, good friends, parents. This will also help you sort out the people who are really trying to work through something, and the time-suckers. Because the time-suckers just keep telling the same story over and over and over, as often as you’ll listen.

But I digress again.

So….Sometimes the things that make us a good artist–being open, trying to know what is inside us, being sensitive to what our work needs–makes us even more vulnerable to the influences of the outside world and other people. Because we can also be vulnerable, sensitive and open to the needs of others.

Especially situations and people who look like they need fixing.

If your art comes from a deep, healing place in your heart, this is especially true. You will be sensitive to people and situations that need healing. Your impulse to fix, if left unchecked, will pull you off track.

It’s a constant struggle. Hospice is teaching me not to be a fixer.

So why did I say “you can only fix yourself” is trouble-making?

Because sometimes it’s not about fixing yourself (which is linked to trying to be perfect.)

It’s about forgiving yourself for being human.

So don’t beat yourself up when it happens. When you drop everything to help someone. When you volunteer for every good cause. When you say “yes” to every question, to every phone call, to every excuse not to make your art.

Just ask yourself where the impulse comes from. To make that person feel better? Or to make yourself feel better?

Make a good choice. Know what you’re setting aside, what you’re giving up.

Sometimes, it’s the right thing to help someone. Sometimes, it’s you that needs to be the healing heart.

And sometimes, it’s your creativity, your art, that is needed to bring healing to the world.

Congratulate yourself when you make a good decision.

And forgive yourself when you don’t.

For more articles along this line, check out:

The Importance of Solitude

Everybody’s Mother

It’s Not My Problem

Helping

Oh, gosh, apparently this is a prominent theme in my life! So folks, do what I say, not what I do, okay?

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Filed under art, choices, craft, creativity, hospice, lessons from hospice, life, mental attitude, mindfulness, networking, time management

BANNER BUY

I subscribe to a newsletter from Rena Klingenberg called Home Jewelry Business Success Tips. I always learn something new.

Last week, I read this article on web banners.

I’d been struggling with making my own banner. I love the one my beloved friend and photographer Jeff Baird had made for me. Unfortunately, I was having trouble formatting it to different applications, and there was no text in it. I always had to add that, sometimes with lamentable results.

I thought I’d play around making my own, but the learning curve was too steep. I just didn’t want to spend the next three weeks on this when I have so many other, more pressing things to take care of.

So I bought a banner from this guy for $30. I’ve never bought graphic services online before and I was a little nervous.

Even though I ordered the banner at the height of Labor Day weekend, Neil got back to me within a day or two. He sent a little survey, so he could get what colors I like, my style, what applications I needed it for, etc.

I’m pleased with the results. (You can see the new banner above.)

I’m pleased that Neil asked detailed questions about how I saw my art, my business, my brand. The results look similar to what I had, just a little fresher. I like that my signature is in there.

Most of all, I like that Neil picked up on something I hadn’t even articulated to him–that I lean towards a “museum-like” aesthetic in my work, in my display, and in my presentation. He liked the gray background Jeff had used in most of my images, and incorporated that into the banner as well.

Neil also featured the horse images prominently. Yes, I do other animals, even non-figural artifacts, and I’m feeling the urge to create some people artifacts now, too. But even when people fall in love with my bears, my otters, my birds, my pods and stones and shells, they still refer to me as “that woman who does the horses.” For better or worse, my horse has become my brand. And I’m secretly glad, because they are the heart stone, the first source, where all my work comes from.

My old banner will be at my website for a short while, if you’d like to compare the two.

And as always, lemme know what you think, okay?

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Filed under art, banner, business, craft, marketing, resources, selling, selling online, style, time management

10,000 HOURS

Several thoughts reached congruence for me today. The result is a huge kick in the pants.

A few days ago, I listened to a call-in seminar provided by Christine Kane, singer/songwriter/blogger/creativity coach.

She spoke about New Year’s intentions, very different than resolutions. It was really cool. I found where my sticking point was. I’m thinking on how to work on that this year.

But one phrase reached out and really whapped me on the head. (The proverbial dope slap through the telephone, so to speak.)

She said our current culture creates “a conspiracy of distraction.”

I work in a studio connected to our home. It used to be only the doorbell and the phone that broke up my days. (Well, and crying children, too, to be fair.)

Now the disruption is constant. Email. IM. Texting. Facebook. Blogging. My beloved Twitter. I even have two phone lines, one for our house and one for my business and faxes. One phone is hard enough to ignore, but two….

All contribute to a constant stream of of interruptions and distraction throughout my day.

I know the simple answers: “Turn off the phone!” “Take the computer out of your studio!” Just focus on your artwork!” Yeah, that works. Just like, “Don’t eat that box of cookies at 10 p.m.!”

Bad habits are hard to break. I’ve tried to break this one before, and failed.

Fortunately, I am not alone, and good people are at work in the world, writing books and telling me how to deal with this. (Except, of course, the irony of taking time to read yet another book that tells me how to improve myself.) Perhaps this shorter blog article will do the trick.

But it has to happen. Today a dear friend sent me a link to this article by artist Katherine Tyrrell in her blog, Making a Mark.

She talks about how it takes 10,000 hours devoted to something to make it really outstanding.

This make me think about that conspiracy of distraction, and how it sucks our time so completely.

We need that time, so we can put in our 10,000 hours.

This all relates back to a little half sheet of paper that changed my life.

I was struggling through my kickboxing training, about two years in. I felt like I was making no progress. Instead of getting better, I was painfully aware of how bad I really was. My instructor ran back to his office and came back with a half sheet of paper, which he gave to me.

On it were the four stages of learning.

Most people quit at stage two. It’s simply too painful, and they quit dieting, stop their studies, quit making art, stop writing.

Just knowing that….just understanding that it’s going to be hard at this stage…was enough to keep me going.

I’ve written about this before, but I can only find this short version I wrote for Robert Genn’s website awhile back.

The 10,000 hours ties in nicely with the four stages of learning.

The last piece of the puzzle was reading about how it can take eight tries to make a major change in your life. Whether you’re trying to stop smoking, exercise more, jump start your new art career, sell a wall hanging, you will fail, or you will hear “no”, an average of eight times.

Maybe my past efforts to make these crucial changes failed. But I will keep trying.

Because when the universe tells you three times to sit down and do the work, you better listen.

So why did I take the time to write this out, instead of jumping up to sew a fabric piece?

Because writing is one of my creative processes.

Because if I write it down, then I won’t forget it.

And if I publish it, then I can share it with you.

p.s. Just as I finished this, the phone rang.
p.p.s. And the doorbell rang.

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Filed under action steps, art, business, choices, creativity, martial arts, mental attitude, time management, writing

SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT from the inside out

It’s funny how one day, I have absolutely no idea what I could write about that would possibly interest anyone. The next, I’m flooded with the same idea over and over and over again.

The last few days, I’ve seen “environment” road signs all over the place. But not the “environment” we usually mean.

I’m talking about our own personal environment.

I saw the first sign yesterday, at an inspirational black belt ceremony in my old dojo. I remember when the candidate began his journey in martial arts. I wrote this article about him in my old blog. To me, this guy epitomizes the powerful and transformative journey to black belt. He is now officially one of my life heroes.

One of the teachers read a speech he’d written about achieving black belt level, about how important our environment is to the process. Everything in our environment–the people we interact with, the support we receive, the choices we make, the food we eat–all contribute to who we are.

If we intend to transform ourselves, we must create the environment that supports our intention.

The second sign was on my way home. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Last night I found the third sign.

It was this odd little book on my dining room table. It’s called As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. It’s been floating around my home for months. I kept picking it up and moving it here and there. I think I know who gave it to me, but I’m not sure. It seems like it just appeared on day. (You can download a copy here for free.)

The premise is, what you think is who you are. We create our own reality, and we see the world through our own filter. Believe your life sucks, and that’s what you see. Believe you can make it better–and incorporate the choices that make it happen–and you will.

I finally started to read it last night. I glanced at the back…right where it says, “Environment is but his looking-glass.”

Which stopped me dead in my tracks.

This metaphor–our environment reflecting us–was suddenly very clear.

Yeah, it took three signs, but I finally got it.

Our personal environment is powerful. The environment we create will either support us in positive ways, or in negative ways. You can turn your life around and make it all the way through to black belt. Or you sit around, confused, overwhelmed and troubled, wondering where you lost your way.

Either way, it’s our choice.

I’m sitting here realizing I’ve let my environment slip.

I got a great start creating a better workspace, as you can follow with my series of articles on Cleaning the Attic.

I’ve added yoga to my activities, which has had huge mental and spiritual benefits.

But I’ve let other things slide.

I’ve made it entirely too easy to make unhealthy food choices, and hard to make healthy ones.

I’ve been lax on creating opportunities for daily workouts.

I’m still too quick to volunteer my time and energy to things that either hugely annoy me or endlessly distract me.

I still agonize over whether I spend time with people I “ought to” vs. people who will inspire me and support my artistic vision.

Or maybe even “no people at all.” Years ago, I remember being stunned when an artist said she let days go by where she wouldn’t even answer the phone–because she needed to protect her creative time. She was an amazingly self-absorbed person, but she was also an amazingly talented and productive artist.

I want to be a good mom/daughter/friend/wife/citizen–but I also want to be an amazing artist. I need to find that good balance point again.

So I’m realizing that “protecting our environment” can mean many things for me right now.

I need to be selfish with my time, sometimes.

I need to make sure I have salad greens in the fridge, and I need to make sure there’s no more Halloween candy in my studio.

I need to make just as much time for working on a fiber piece as I do for folding the laundry.

I need to limit the time I spend with people who would be happy to suck up every spare minute of my time and emotional energy. But I’m still hopelessly addicted to “being nice”, so I gotta work on that.

I need to find something, some activity, that demands I work out hard, for at least an hour a day. My fitness has suffered greatly since I left behind my almost-daily kickboxing practice. If I can’t find the self-discipline to do it myself, I have to find a way to have someone else make me do it.

I must decide where/how I can study martial arts, where IF I ever make it to black belt, I can be an asset, and not an embarrassment, to the school.

A friend said once, “When you feel your prayers aren’t being answered, see what’s in the way that blocks them from being answered.” I’m thinking about this right now. Because that blockade is part of the environment we’ve created for ourselves.

I don’t have it all figured out yet. It’s an ongoing process, my biggest “work in progress”.

But that’s what I’m thinking about right now.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #20: Where Do You Use It?

Well, I thought I was done with this series, but self-discovery continues…

I’ve heard this tip before. But when I actually applied it, it’s amazing what could be moved out of my studio.

Do you actually use what’s stored in your studio, in your studio?

Here’s a great example. I sometimes overdye the fabrics I use in my wall hangings.

I have quite a collection of dyes, special fabric detergent, dye fixer, etc. All of these were stored in a little two-drawer unit on a counter top in my studio.

During the final cleaning frenzy before my Open Studio, I realized (duh) I don’t actually dye fabrics in my studio.

I dye in an upstairs bathroom, or in the laundry room.

Fortuitously, I had just cleared out my laundry room. I knew my supplies would fit in there on a newly- emptied shelf.

So I moved it all up there. The storage unit fit perfectly on the shelf. (Another “duh”. After all, they were part of the same storage system.)

A small change, but huge in so many ways.

I now have half a counter top available for my new Lortone rotary tumbler I bought from Santa Fe Jewelry Supply earlier this year. A more efficient use of space.

My dye supplies, tools, and to-be-dyed fabric are now all stored where I use them. What a time-saver!

Look around your work space. Is there something there that just doesn’t belong?

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GETTING UNSTUCK

I posted a brief answer to a question on an art forum and realized (as usual), it also applies to moi.

It was about being stuck, and not knowing how to get back to making more artwork.

There are two easy questions to ask yourself when you get stuck.

1) What do I need to do/have/find out in order to finish this piece?

I kept sitting down to my jewelry table to make up more earrings for an upcoming show. (It’s a show where only my lower-priced work will sell, so I need to make product to fit that niche.)

But I kept finding myself wandering around the studio, focusing on other little tasks instead.

I realized when I was actually making the earrings, I’m missing some critical beads for that design. But once I got up, I forgot I need to order more.

To be specific, they’re going to take some tracking down, and that’s the part that’s creating an obstacle.

Today I realized I’ve got to dedicate some time to finding them. I’ve contacted my regular suppliers, sent samples to an African bead trader, and did a quick search online.

Just knowing I’ve done what I need to do to move forward has increased my interest, and energy level.

IF that doesn’t work, ask yourself this question:

2) Do I really need to finish this piece?

If not, guess what–you don’t have to! You can simply change your mind and set it aside. (Unless it’s a special order, in which case, hunker down, sister!)

And about here it dawns on me, the other reason I’m having trouble settling down:

I do have special orders to take care of! In the frenzy to clean my attic and studio so I could work and host an open studio, I forgot I have a few orders to take care of. Well, duh.

Now I can settle down to work, knowing I’m focusing on the right task.

And I’m relieved knowing the other task has a solution in process. When I’m ready for it again, it will be ready, too.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #12: Love Your Inner Pack Rat

Last week, I was at a point in clearing out my studio I thought I’d never be again.

I simply could not decide what to do with certain stuff.

I know I’m not going to make a name for myself with altered art or paper collage. I know I’m never going to make pillows for my living room ever again. I could ditch all those funky old books that are such incredible candidates for altering, the old dictionaries and paper ephemera I’ve accumulated for paper collage, and the lovely home decorating fabrics I’ve collected.

But it’s hard. Really, really hard! Why??

The purging process slowed down to not-moving-at-all again, and I was frantic. Fortunately, we were social butterflies this weekend. We had so many social engagements, I didn’t have time to do more than think about cleaning the studio.

And that’s when I got my next three insights:

Vacations are important.

Those “not-part-of-my-vision” pursuits are still enjoyable. They’re totally fun, with not much riding on the outcome–a sort of artistic vacation from my major work.

Like a vacation, they don’t take up a lot of my time. I really only indulge once or twice a year.

And also like a vacation, they they get me thinking outside the box. Some of my best ideas have come from playing with new processes.

When I’m stuck on a more “arty” project, these little sidetracks often get my creative process jump-started again. Many times, coming up with a totally unrelated project for a craft book editor solves a technical problem I’m having with fiber, or jewelry.

I’d hate to kick this to the curb when it’s still working for me.

So….stay or go?

I can decide not to decide.

Neither.

That’s when I realized that it’s easier to make decisions about stuff in the attic, or stuff that’s been out of sight, out of mind for awhile. It’s harder when you’ve looked at it every day and just can’t see it anymore. (Or worse, can’t see what you’re supposed to be looking at…)

In this case, I will use the attic for what it’s supposed to do: Storage for items I want to keep but don’t use every day.

The next stage is simply boxing up most of these treasures, and putting them in an accessible storage spot upstairs.

Next spring, when my open studios are over, my book proposal is in and the weather warms again, I’ll be able to look at the stuff with a sterner eye than I can today.

I can accept my inner pack rat.

I will always be a pack rat. It’s part of who I am, and how I create art.

But I don’t have to be a passive bystander to pack rat-itis.

I can understand this part of my nature. Even embrace it. But also one I will monitor more closely from now on.

I think this is working for me.

I’ve been out junk shopping since I came to this conclusion. I’m finding it easy to resist buying the stuff I normally buy: funky books, old sewing patterns, etc. I’ve seen what I have on hand already, and now I know–I have enough of these things. (At one booth, I actually said out loud, “Luann, step away from the button jar….”

I don’t feel sad about passing over them. I’m leaving them for someone else to find and enjoy.

Until, that is, I find something so totally awesome, I just have to have it! I did buy a beautiful piece of vintage willow green velvet fabric for a new wall hanging. And a green sap bucket for a wastebasket. I’m still a pack rat by nature, after all.

The cycle will start again. And that’s okay.

Because now I know this is a cycle. It’s part of my artistic process. One that I will recognize, respect and accommodate. I just need to make sure I purge my work spaces and storage areas more regularly.

And find more friends with pick-up trucks.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC Tip #10: What’s the Point?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the hard things about letting go of something is remembering how much I paid for it.

And every time I mention that, someone suggests I sell the item on Ebay. Or take it to a consignment shop. Or have a yard sale.

I decided not to do those things. In the long run, it really isn’t worth it to me, for several reasons:

1. The time involved.

Learning to do Ebay effectively takes time. And brain energy.

Silly as it seems, I’m still not that comfortable with a digital camera. I have no idea how to upload images. I know those are skills I have to learn eventually. But stopping to learn them right now feels distracting to my de-junking mission.

Someone ran me through the process of selling on Ebay, and it’s a lot to come to grips with. I completed one auction. I couldn’t believe how much time it took up.

It takes time to decide what’s really worth selling. Time to describe each item, time to come up with my terms, time to package each item for shipping, time to run it to the post office. Time for the auction to run its course. Time to respond to customer questions.

If the item doesn’t sell, I have to decide once again whether to relist it, hold onto it again for another auction, or give it away.

I end up making lots of decisions about each individual item.

Same with a consignment shop. Time to figure out what they’ll take and what they won’t. Time to haul it to the store (usually by appointment.) Time spent determining a price. Time to haul the unwanted stuff back home, and to decide what to do with it again.

When an item sells, usually you can expect to get about 25% of the retail price (depending on its condition and desirability). If it sells. And if the store doesn’t have to further reduce the price to move it.

Whatever doesn’t sell, guess what? You have to take it back (unless you give them permission to dump it or give it to charity.)

Same with a yard sale. It takes time, time, time, to gather, tag, store, set out and sell each item. And then dispose of each unsold item.

Time, time, time. Time I’m not spending directly on my art.

Which brings me to the second reason:

2. What is my focus?

We hear over and over, what you pay attention to, will flourish. Well, I want to pay attention to my art, not my stuff.

Is all this extra time spent relocating my stuff for money really moving my business and art forward effectively?

I would rather move this stuff on and get back to making–and selling–my art.

Nicole Caulfield, the artist who walked me through an Ebay auction, sells small works of art there called ACEO. The time spent using Ebay directly helps her art business. It might be worthwhile exploring Ebay if I intend to sell my work there. But I don’t, for now.

The last reason is more subtle. But it helped me the most.

3. Giving helps me emotionally and spiritually.

The donations I made to the Sharon Arts Center “yart sale” helped them raise funds for new programs. It helped other artists who could really use those supplies. And it helped me. I got a tax deduction, equal perhaps to what I would have made at a consignment shop or yard sale.

Giving books to our public library’s book sale helps them raise money for new books. And other people get to read my books. I get to make space for new books! (Ohmigod, I can’t believe I said that!!!)

Donating to Planet Aid helps others around the world, donating to Project Share helps local kids have a good Christmas, donating to Freecyle creates good karma.

Many of these items I’ve been holding on to represent dreams I used to have. But I have new dreams now.

Letting go of your old dreams may help someone else’s dreams come true.

A friend once told me, “Sometimes when we pray, we may feel our prayers aren’t being answered. It’s because we haven’t made room for them. We have stuff blocking the way. The answer can’t get through.”

I think about that a lot. Lots of things can get in the way.

Junk. Hanging on to old dreams. Getting caught up in recouping money from our past mistakes.

Need one more reason to move it all on quickly?

Making room for your prayers to be answered may help be the answer to someone else’s prayers.

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CLEANING THE ATTIC #7: Get People to Come to You!

I think the hardest thing about doing a major attic/house/studio purge is hauling the stuff away.

It’s hard enough making the millions of choices: “You, you can stay. We still need each other. But you, you and you–you all have to go. I know. I loved you, and a part of me still does. But I’ve changed. We’ve both changed. We both have different needs now. It’s time to acknowledge that and move on.”

Yes, it’s like a break-up thing. Except that, once you’ve broken up, the stuff just sits there til you do something about it.

So you thought about breaking up, and then you had to go through the break up, and now you have to pack them up and drive them to the train station. Ow!

Oh, wait–that’s getting your adult kids to move out.

To date, we’ve managed to find relatively easy ways to move stuff on (Freecyle, curbside donations, and Planet Aid.)

Yesterday, I found another way to make the process a little easier. I called the owner of a local used bookstore to come and take a peek at the twenty-five remaining boxes of books.

(Yes, we managed to fill not one, but two county jail libraries with our previous donations.)

She came that very same evening, and we went through the books together. It was pleasant (she was funny and nice) and it went quickly (she knows what she wants for her store.) She was also collecting children’s books for a friend who ships them to school libraries on reservations out West. So I got to donate to yet another worthy cause. (And someone else will be doing the packing and shipping, to boot.)

We could have gotten a nice check, or store credit, out of the deal. Maybe I still will. I told her I really didn’t care–which encouraged her to take more books than she would have otherwise. Hey, if I make enough to buy just a few really nice books from her store, I figure I still come out ahead.

It helps that the owner lives fairly close to us, and could easily stop by. So this option isn’t for everyone. But you’d be surprised how many people might be willing to come to your house, evaluate your stuff and take it away with them. Some charities do it–call your favorite one and ask.

Sometimes they’ll even pay you! They’re called “pickers” and they will resell your stuff at auctions, flea markets and their booths at group dealer antique stores. Some even turn around and sell it at consignment shops. Maybe you’ve seen their ads in the classified section of your local newspaper: “Wanted–old furniture, old jewelry. Call for an appointment today!” They show up with a big van or a truck or trailer. They are ready to deal!

Obviously, if you are trying to sell items of value, then you’d want to consider the picker’s reputation. And maybe even take action yourself–go the route of consignment or auction. Mostly they want to buy cheap and fast and move on. Be ready.

But if nothing is too precious, and your time and energy are precious commodities, and you just want the stuff G*O*N*E, then why not let someone else do the grunt work? And let them make a little money in the process.

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CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #3: Curb It!

I’m guessing a lot of people are now thinking, “Why doesn’t she have a yard sale and make some money? Or sell that stuff on Ebay??”

Ebay is not an option right now because it would mean a whole new learning curve. I just don’t have the time for that. (I have too many other projects on my plate with a steep learning curve.) Most of what I’ve moving on is hard to pack, or not worth shipping.

A yard sale is out because I don’t have the big stuff that makes a yard sale a success–furniture, appliances, etc.

I also don’t have the time to spend gathering stuff, tagging it, lugging it out and displaying it on tables (not to mention hauling the tables down from the barn attic), making and putting up signs or paying to run an ad in the paper. I don’t want to sit outside in the hot, hot sun for six hours while people haul away TRASH for $5, yet haggle me over 25 cents for something really nice. (Yes, this happens all the time at yard sales.)

And then the yard sale is over and you still have boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, and a hundred bucks in your pocket for all your troubles.

Most of all, I don’t want to sit on stuff for a week while an auction runs. Or have it languishing in the garage while I gather enough for a yard sale. I want this stuff outta here as soon as I cull it. I don’t want to have second thoughts!!

So here’s another tip on how to just make the stuff go away:

Leave it on the curb.

I learned this years ago while helping with a fund-raising yard sale. The end was nearing, and we still had a lot of crap left over. I asked the woman in charge if she wanted it packed up and hauled anywhere.

“Oh, no!”, she replied. “Just leave it on the tree lawn. It’ll be gone by tomorrow morning!”

I was astonished. But we hauled it to the curbside and left.

Sure enough, when I drove by the next day, 90% of it was gone.

I don’t know who these people are, these yard sale scavengers, nor what they do with all the unbelievably useless stuff that’s usually left over from such events. But bless ‘em!

So now when I get tired of keeping track of Freecycle pick-ups (or get discouraged by the no-shows), and it isn’t clothing (which can go to Planet Aid or local thrift shops), and when the thrift shops are full from everybody else unloading their attic junk, I just put stuff out on our tree lawn.

I put out a bunch of items last night, lined up so I could tell from the gaps when things were taken. Within a few hours, everything except a wicker bread basket was gone. (Why did they take a slightly disheveled mauve wicker wall basket from the ’80′s but leave a perfectly good bread basket? Don’t they ever serve bread to company?)

You know what was sweet? I put everything in small boxes so people could just pick it up and carry stuff. But most people just took the stuff and left the boxes behind.

Last night, I left two perfectly good white organizer shelves and they’re still sitting out there today. Uh oh. Has my luck run out?? I just ran out and restacked them so they like like shelves instead of pedestals. I’ll bet they’re gone within the hour.

P.S. Don’t abuse this privilege. If you have stuff out there every day for the summer, your neighbors are bound to complain. Unless they’re the ones doing the picking!

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CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #2: Planet Aid!

Another tip for cleaning and purging your home….

Check out Planet Aid!

This organization sets out drop boxes (see photo at their website) to collect used clothing and shoes. The goods are sold to finance aid programs in Africa and Asia.

I have many charities I donate goods to. But I LOVE Planet Aid, because a) there are no hours–just drop boxes; b) they don’t seem fussy about what they get–it doesn’t matter if it’s out of season, and they are never “not accepting donations”; c) you keep good stuff out of landfills and dumps; and d) the proceeds go to programs to helps others.

I was surprised to find Planet Aid drop-off boxes in our small community (25,000). Not that Keene is that small, but from their website, it looks like they only operate in big cities. See how to host a box in your community here.

Sometimes during peak periods (end of college term, etc.) the drop boxes will fill up. You can’t leave your donations then, and that’s a drag. (Anything you leave has to go inside the drop box.) Sometimes the boxes move around and that was a drag til I learned you can call them to find out the nearest location to you.

But the short story is, they make it really, really easy to offload giant garbage bags full of your teen-aged daughter’s clothing, and that’s all I care about right now.

Can you tell that I just found out that, for the last eight years, whenever we told our daughter to clean her room, she simply filled as many garbage bags as she could with her stuff and stashed them upstairs in our attic? (I just found them today….)

Don’t delay. Call them today for a box location near you!

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CLEANING YOUR ATTIC Tip #1: Freecycle!

I’ve been cleaning and purging not one, not two, but three attic spaces for the last two weeks.  And nibbling away at my studio stuff. I would clean my studio first, except I have to make room in my barn attic for the stuff I want to store in my studio.

My studio is just too full. Partly from months of being unable to even unpack fully from last year’s shows (my Year of Surgeries and Injuries), partly from a kid moving into her own place (and leaving behind almost as much stuff as she took), partly because we realized we still have unpacked boxes from when we moved to Keene 20 years ago. (Oh, my….) When we moved into this house 8 years ago, it was lightening-fast, and I never got to really purge our stuff. I think we even packed and moved dirty laundry, it was that fast.

I’ve read a lot of books on the market about how to clear stuff out, and they are marginally helpful at best.

“If you haven’t used it in a year…” doesn’t take into account the stuff that can happen in a year. Just because I was too injured to decorate our Christmas tree last year doesn’t mean I should get rid of all my tree ornaments.

“Make four piles to keep, give away, to the garbage” blah blah doesn’t help, because if I could decide that easily, I wouldn’t have three attics full of stuff.

The most inspirational one I ever read was CLUTTER’S LAST STAND by Don Aslett. He gives you compelling reasons why you should move that stuff on.

I was going to say, you can’t go in the same river twice and that rereading such a book never works for me. But then I read all the reviews and I’ve decided I will read it again NOW.

Caveat: As I read the reviews at Amazon. I realized what I loved–and hated–about this book. I love that he shows how destructive clutter can be physically and emotionally. I HATED his derogatory comments about “people of size”, and cats! He is opinionated, thoughtless and ruthless. But what he says about C*L*U*T*T*E*R is gold. So read it with a thick skin and a grain of salt, and take what works for you.

Before I do, let me share another strategy with you.

I’ve got something I want to move on, but for whatever reason I don’t want to just throw it in the trash. Maybe it’s not worth the time and effort to sell it. (Honey, remember the dresser we kept taking to consignment shops and bringing it back home when it didn’t sell?) I don’t want to drive around with it trying to find which thrift shop will take it this week. (Sometimes they’re full, sometimes they won’t take out-of-season items, and sometimes they’re just really picky about what they accept.)

Renting a dumpster is expensive though it’s great for getting rid of a lot of stuff fast. But unless you’re sure everything is pure de junk, it makes it worse when you have to throw away perfectly useful items you spent good money on. Or maybe you don’t have a bunch of people with a full day or two free to go through this process. (In my case, I have to triage the process.)

Even if you throw the item away, you may get charged extra by your garbage company if you leave out too much stuff at a time, or ask them to take big items like furniture and appliances.

What’s the solution?

Let me introduce you to FREECYCLE. Freecyle can be a nice intermediary step between driving around town with bags o’ stuff in your car, and simply throwing everything out to the curb on garbage day.

My local chapter of Freecycle is Monadnock Freecycle. Here’s how it works:

I go to my Freecycle group online and post an “offer”. This is a post with the word “OFFER” in the subject line with a short description of the item. (“OFFER: 12 back issues of Bead & Button magazine”)

I can add more details in the actual message: “This is a mixed lot of back issues, in good shape, no torn articles, etc.” I can add any other information, too, such as my general location (“In Keene”) and any conditions for pick-up (“These need to be out of here within a day.”) I’ve been adding, “Please let me know when you could pick these up, as this will help determine who gets these…”

I post the offer to the group. Depending on whether people have opted to receive offers as they come in, or in the form of a daily digest, the takers start to email me.

We arrange for a pick-up time, I give them directions to my house, and voila! Soon the item is gone to a new home where it may finally be put to good use.

Advantages: I don’t have to clean or repair the item before it finds a new home, as long as I accurately describe its condition.

I don’t have to load it up on my car and then drive around for days because I forgot the Salvation Army isn’t open on Sundays, or before 10 a.m., or after 5 p.m.

In fact, sometimes I post, someone answers–and picks it up within the hour.

And sometimes I find out my item has gone to a really good cause, or to a person or family who desperately needed it.

Best of all, a still-usable item has not gone into the landfill.

Disadvantages: The no-shows: The people who swear they are coming by at 9 a.m. Tuesday–and you never hear from them again.

Or someone says they want it, and then they let you know they can’t pick it up for a week. Well, half the fun of clearing stuff out is having it GONE. So when you have to stash it in your mudroom or garage for another week, it can be disappointing.

You need a computer, though you can always use one at a library if you don’t have your own.

You also may not like strange people coming to your house, in which case you can always make different arrangements–leaving it somewhere more public, or delivering it to them, or arrange for times when you are not alone in your house.

Not everything flies out the door. I’m always amazed at what gets taken and what gets ignored. Sometimes you post the stupidest thing and you get six people begging to take it off your hands. Other times a perfectly nice item languishes. You just have to hope the right person sees it at the right time. Some days, the group doesn’t seem too active–your offer gets no response. Other times, it’s really hoppin’, and your items get dibs on them almost as fast as you can post. I’ve learned to simply wait a few days and repost with an item that didn’t go. More than that, it goes to a thrift shop–or the dump.

Oh, and another great feature of Freecycle–you can ask for things, too. I actually asked for–and got–a number of nice baby items for a friend who was expecting: A baby backpack carrier, a bouncy chair, etc. People were happy to pass these on to a new family. A couple years ago, I asked for a used bike for my son, and got two nice ones. Some people get carried away and ask for stuff like cars and houses. Good luck with that!

Anyway, it’s fun, it’s easy, and you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas. Give it a whirl! If your area doesn’t have a Freecycle chapter, maybe you can start one.

Please feel free to share your strategies for moving stuff on to other people, too.

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Making Room

So what great insights came from my four questions session yesterday?

Carol and Barb came over for two hours. We had coffee and a quick nosh. (Can’t work on empty stomaches!) We “checked in” briefly to see what everyone was up to.

Then it was time to start.

What did I want to talk about?

I wanted to talk about my vision for my art. Wanting to catch everyone up on where I was coming from, I presented a five-minute summary of the last couple years:

My realizing I still have a vast new audience to present my current body of work to….(validation!)

Me knowing my work will evolve naturally and organically once I can clear space in my studio to get back to work….(relief!)

Me recognizing that writing, though abstract, makes me feel like I’ve done something…and may be distracting me from my actual art production time/energy….(hmmm…at least I see it, though I’m not sure what to do about it.)

Me remembering that last year my first surgery, and first foot injury happened two months before my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair…(manageable, but still putting me off my game.)

and that it was the first fair I’d done in eight years without my daughter Robin assisting me every step of the way…(difficult.)

Me understanding the many negative things that happened to me at last year’s Fair (let’s just say that sometimes, there’s nothing scarier than your fellow craftsmen), and how long I’ve had to deal with the repercussions….(frustration.)

Me realizing my cancer scare began almost immediately after the Fair and lasted through several months of testing and follow-up….(emotionally exhausting.)

Followed by two more surgeries in December…(uh oh.)

Resulting in being housebound, in constant pain, inactive, incurring weight gain and depressed….(it was, well, depressing.)

And me now realizing we have to clear the garage for a new wood boiler, and clean out our house attic so we can insulate before winter….(yikes!)

And I still need to clean out my barn attic so I can begin to clean out my studio….(double yikes!)

There! “So,” I said, “I’m ready to talk about my plans for my art.”

“Not so fast, sweetheart!” exclaimed both my friends in unison. “We can see what the problem is here. And it’s not what you think.”

The problem wasn’t about the art. The problem was making room for it.

They both pointed out that the first step was to get a plan of action for this huge de-cluttering laid out–before I even begin to think about making more art.

They said they understood, because they’ve both struggled with the same issue. And gone through the process, and come out the other side–lightened, encouraged and energized.

And they said they both happened to be very, very good at creating such plans for action.

When they said that, a huge weight lifted from my heart. How perfect that these two people were doing this exercise with me.

I knew they were right. I knew I had to do this. I had no idea how I was going to do it.

It turned out they were going to give me exactly the help I needed.

They guided me through a visioning exercise. I mentally walked through my studio, “creating” the perfect new work environment. I thought about what really needed to be there and what didn’t.

Then we took a quick tour of the two staging areas. With their eyes helping, it was even easier to see what could be “at hand”, and what could go upstairs into the barn attic.

Shelves will keep my current storage containers more accessible, and labeling will help, too.

Teen-aged boys will be forbidden to set up a man-cave in the attic. (If you have teen-aged boys, you know what I’m talking about….)

The list goes on.

Someday, perhaps I’ll be able to section off part of the barn and actually insulate or heat it during the winter, so my office and shipping station can be upstairs, away from my actual workspace. (Email and internet stuff can be a huge distraction!) For now, there’s a lot that can be stored up there for quick grabbing when I need it. A little hassle to run upstairs (especially in winter!), yes, but better than tripping over E*V*E*R*Y*T*H*I*N*G underfoot.

My friends also offered to help.

It was so hard to ask! “Come on, Lu, say it—’Will you help me?’–four little words! You can do it!” they urged.

I did, and they said yes. (They want pizza, beer and music. I think I can swing that!)

They encouraged me to make a list of other people I could ask for help, too, and how to make it easier for people to do so. (Keep the request to a couple hours, add the music and food.)

They encouraged me to set a deadline (three weeks!) to see how much I could accomplish by then.

They promised to come back for another session to make sure I’m making progress, and not getting bogged down in details.

As we stood by the top of the barn stairs and talked, I worried about how much shelving and labor would cost.

And then looked up and saw…..a stack of shelves, commercial-quality slotting and brackets I’d bought seven years ago, originally to use in my studio but set aside because I hadn’t needed it.

Here’s the funny thing. If you’d asked me where it was, I would have said I’d given the stuff away already! I’d walked by them a hundred times in the last few years, and yet not seen them.

Yet at the exact moment I realized I needed that stuff, there it was. (Okay, I’m not sure I can find the brackets, but those should be easy to buy again.) (I hope!)

In the end, nothing monumental or too big too handle. Just something that’s easy to do for others, and sometimes so hard to do for ourselves.

Update: I’ve already packed up six boxes of books for a prison library; set out a ton of stuff on our tree lawn which disappeared within hours; posted stuff on Freecycle which was picked up in minutes, and thrown out two bags of trash. I think it’s working!

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