CLEANING THE STUDIO Redux

Lord, I hope “redux” means “revisited”…. Just checked Wiki–yes!!

It all started when we cleaned out our daughter’s old room. She came home to help. I had visions of the two of us cutting a swatch through the piles o’ stuff, filling bag after bag of stuff to be tossed, given, moved or….or….what else do you do with a 1942 manual on identifying enemy planes?

Instead, we spent a leisurely afternoon of Robin browsing through old journals, school notebooks and yearbooks. We tried on the hats we bought on family trips to Boston. (We once defused a family spat by stopping in a little shop on Newbury Street called TOPPERS. We all bought hats. Now it’s a family tradition.) Finally, after hours of delicate sorting, Robin announced she’d salvaged everything she wanted. I was free to take care of the rest. (My professional writer voice is calm and dignified. My mother voice is about to scream.)

From there, I’ve managed to keep up with my goal of removing one bag o’ stuff a day from her room, the attic and my studio. It feels like truly sisyphean task. I comfort myself by doing the math. If I keep it up, in a year I will have removed 365 bags. Not too shabby, hey?

This has all happened before. It will all happen again. (Who says you can’t learn something important from Battlestar Galactica reruns?

Sometimes it helps to know how you did it before. Other times, knowing what’s in store can add to the overwhelming nature of the task. (The first words out of my mouth when I tore my ACL the send time were, “Oh, NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!” I knew I was in for another surgery, I knew I was in for at least six months of recovery, I knew it would be at least a year before I felt back to normal.

I couldn’t face it. But….

I did it anyway.

So today as I dig in once again, I share with you three thoughts and resources that are helping:

1) “Leave it for someone else.” Too many of my clutter–er, collecting–impulses are fueled by the thought that I’ve discovered something wonderful, and I need to save it from oblivion in the thrift shop.

But now I ask if I truly love it or have a use for it. If not, I know it will be found and cherished by someone else. So….I leave it for someone else.

2) “Would I buy this again today?” I can’t believe how much this helps me decide what will stay and what should go.

3) This website, Clutter Buster, by Brooks Palmer.

I can’t remember where the first two questions came from, but will credit them when I track the source down.

In the meantime, I need to go fill another bag.

What strategies help YOU clean out?

Happy spring cleaning!

CLEANING THE ATTIC #17: Persistence of Utility

One of the biggest obstacles to de-junking is worrying you’ll get rid of something you’ll really regret later.

All of us have a story like that. One week, you throw away all your red widgets. The next, you realize you desperately need more red widgets. And they cost three times as much as what you paid for them last time.

Or you give away a wodget you didn’t use for ten years. And a week later, you think of some usage that wodget would be perfect for.

A friend once explained that phenomenon to me. It needs a good name. Like “rue-membering”.

The reality is, you’d already forgotten you had that wodget. if you hadn’t cleaned out your attic and come across that wodget, you still would not have thought of it a week later.

Or if you did find the perfect use for it, and remembered you had it, you wouldn’t have been able to find it anyway.

You remembered it only because you touched it recently.

It’s like that “persistence of vision” thing when you look at a bright light, then look away. You don’t really still see the light–you see an image of the light that’s temporarily “burned” on your retina.

Similarly, you are having a “persistence of utility” for that object.

And it creates just enough regret to slow down your purging process.

Remember that when you’re making your stay/go decisions and your supports-my-vision/distracts-me-from-my-vision decisions.

And if you find yourself still full of second-guessing, here’s a good statistic to keep in mind:

Out of the thousands of items I’ve given away in the past month, I regret giving away oh, maybe one or two of them.

And I can’t even remember what those are right now.

CLEANING THE ATTIC #15: Paper Chase

Someone told me years ago that 90% of the clutter in our homes is reading material.

After working on my studio purge, I believe it.

I am a readaholic. Too bad there’s no 12-step program for me. But I’m beginning to see the light.

Being a readaholic is connected to having packat-itis. Whatever mode we use to collect information, that’s a cue to what we hoard. Whatever gives us inspiration, that’s another cue.

Great insights, all. But the simple fact is….

I simply have way, way, way too much reading material in here!

First there’s paperwork. Experts claim we only use 20% of the papers we think we need to keep “just in case”. So we can safely ditch the other 80%. But how to decide??

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but whenever you read expert advice about organizing your paperwork, the first thing they tell is to keep seven years’ worth of records in case you’re ever audited by the IRS.

That…is a lot of paperwork.

And that’s exactly the kind of boring paperwork I’d love to chuck. If I have to keep stuff, I’d rather it were stuff I like to look at…

Can you say “internet banking”? Or “Quickbooks?” Okay, you still have to keep paper records or be absolutely sure you always back up your computer files. I have a sad story to tell about that, and no, it wasn’t my fault. Another time.

I have one solution that works really well, especially if you have to clean a pile in a hurry. You put all your important papers in big grocery bags or boxes. Set them aside (preferably out of sight, like in a closet or under a desk) for oh, six months to a year.

Then, when you have a few hours to spare, pull them out and sort through them. (Tip: This works even better if you leave it long enough to totally forget you even have it.)

I guarantee you’ll throw most of them away. (This wonderful cleaning tip comes from my mother. Blame her.)

Okay, you might find a few papers that will make you slap your forehead and go, “Ohmigod, that’s where that form went!!” So maybe you should pull out the bills, show applications, etc., the papers you know you need to deal with–and put all the “maybe’s”, “we’ll see’s” and “oh geez” ones in those aforementioned bags.

It’s amazing how those “maybe” things just don’t seem so compelling six months later.

Next are the catalogs. I am a catalog queen. I love catalogs. But I realized there are really only half a dozen or so I need to refer to regularly. And with so many companies now offering online ordering, I only need to keep the ones that are really informative and fun to read. I threw out all the others.

Another professional insight: Years ago, I considered sending buyers my catalog on a CD. I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for them to actually use it. In my purge, I found one company had sent me a CD of their catalog. I looked at the date. Sure enough, I hadn’t looked at it once in three years. So substituting a CD doesn’t work as an alternative to a really good paper catalog.

Then there are the magazines….where do I start? I have given away hundreds of magazines in the last few weeks. I quickly skimmed many of the trade publications to see if there was anything that begged to be kept. There were a few. But the rest got passed on to other artists. (My home and lifestyle magazines were donated to various waiting rooms across town, including the emergency room at our local hospital, and to Freecycle. Thank you, gentle readers and fellow Freecylers, for the great suggestions!)

Books. Ahhhh….books.

If you’ve been reading this series all along, you know we’ve already purged well over a thousand books from our attics, hallways, bookshelves and living room. I’ve even managed to move on a few cookbooks.

It got harder in my studio. Hey, they’re all such great books! How-to (make jewelry, dye wool, solder silver, succeed in business) books. Books about art. Books about how to make art. Books about what to do when you hit a rut and you aren’t making art anymore. Clip-art books so you can use someone else’s art. Books about African, Japanese, Native American and prehistoric art. Books about bugs, sea shells, rocks, textiles, dolls and beads. Books that I intend to alter. Books for cutting up to decorate the books I intend to alter. And books that teach techniques for doing this. Even books that feature projects I wrote for making….books.

I have to pull the box-and-stuff-it-in-the-attic thing for a lot of these. It’s just too hard to ask “stay-or-go”.

But it’s actually getting easier as I go along. I have quite a pile of really cool art books that just aren’t for me anymore. Hopefully, some lucky visitor to my Open Studio will go home with one (or several!) instead.

The short story is this: I looked at everything and asked myself:

Do I LOVE this book/magazine/catalog? Does it continue to excite me and inspire me?

Or are those designs and projects now ho-hum?

Does it inform me?

Or can I get the same information quickly and easily on the internet?

Is it still useful to me? Am I really going to make that project, use that image, try that recipe, read that again to get that one little insight again?

Or is that moment over for good?

It’s surprising how quick and simple the answer usually is. And if it’s not, well, I just set the item aside to go upstairs for awhile. Maybe when I check again, the answer will be more clear.

It’s easier to let go of a title these days. Even if I find I have to own that book again, I can always buy another copy. It used to be really hard, and sometimes expensive, to find a specific book. But with today’s powerful search engines, and great resources like BookFinder, you need never go bookless again.

It helps, too, when I think about writing my next book. This is all in service to that worthy goal.

I’ve recycled most of this paper stuff. It’s either getting passed on, sold or put in the recycling bin.

A new book is still a delicious treat, a new magazine is a cheap and quick fix. Nothing like it. Some women buy a new lipstick, I buy a new magazine.

And when I am researching an idea, I love to immerse myself in all the possibilities. It works for me.

But I think I’m going reacquaint myself with our local library, too.

Um….you’ll forget everything I said about cutting down on books when it’s time for you to buy mine, right?

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!