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Tidying up: Decluttering your space and its unexpected benefits

Decluttering your home

I finished reading The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. In the book, she explores her method for decluttering the homes of thousands of messy clients around the world. She champions counterintuitive organizational methods.

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Why bother decluttering?

Kondo argues that our possessions are the physical artifacts of our decisions. Thus, a messy room indicates that our minds are disorganized. The state of our belongings is a reminder of what we value and plan to maintain. Ordering the home helps us order our lives. It helps us focus on the objects and thoughts that matter most to us. It helps us reduce decision fatigue and streamline our priorities.

Declutter once and for all

Because clutter begets clutter in mindset and in physical order, Kondo recommends tidying everything in one big session. She has observed in her organizational consulting career that gradual decluttering leads to frustration. For details on why, grab the book. The theme of batch processing of organization comes up in several places. You don’t have to do it all in one day, but this should be done over the course of a week or two. Envision what you want your home to look like.

How to attack the clutter

Lay out all your belongings in categories. Each respective category should be laid out in it’s own respective open space in your house. You won’t be moving your objects from one meta-hoarding space to another.

Discard what you don’t need first. Her method for choosing what to discard sounds hokey. But, it seems to work for me. Hold each object in your hands and note how it makes you feel. Do you love this object? Does it bring you joy? Do you feel guilt about it? Do you fear losing it would effect your future? Do you fear you’ll be disrespecting a family member or your own memories by discarding it? If you want to create your home as a joyful and guilt-free place, the objects in it should be thoughtfully chosen to evoke these feelings. How does it feel to walk into your living room and think: “I wish I could get a new TV, but my cousin was so nice to fix this one for me, I couldn’t get a new one.” Do you really think you’re cousin would be happy to know you’re not getting the TV you want because they fixed it? If an item doesn’t bring you joy or a sense of wholeness, get rid of it. Don’t dump it on another family member, don’t store it for future use. Get rid of it.

The Decluttering Order

Kondo specifies an order to discarding things, ordered from easiest to hardest to discard.

  1. Clothes

  2. Books

    1. Discard everything but the books you love keeping and the ones you are reading. Don’t keep around books you’ll “read someday”. The time to read a book is within a couple months of attaining it.
  3. Papers

    1. Discard all except items you are
      1. Using now
      2. Need for a short time
      3. Need forever
    2. Keep them all in the same place.
    3. Discard manuals, keep warranties (until they expire.)
  4. Miscellaneous

    1. Discard product boxes, you rarely need them.
    2. Throw away excess cords and spare items.
    3. Discard health craze items (ab roller, weight loss machine, etc).
  5. Mementos/Photos/Nostalgic Items

    1. This is difficult, but important, because it helps us come to terms with our past and keep it where it belongs (behind us.) Our space should reflect and amplify who we are, not who we were.

Storage

Kondo doesn’t like storage. In a contemporary society with Amazon and local stores, it is unneeded. Regardless, some things are prudent to keep around. They are best kept in closets out of the way (mentally and physically). Similar items should be kept together (clothes with cloths, electronics with electronics, etc…) They should be ordered vertically so each item can be easily picked from the storage area without having to dig through a stack or pile.

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Offseason items can go on top of shelves.

Hang sponges so they dry out. Keep bathroom items out of the tub area so they stay dry and don’t collect scum.

Keep items off the kitchen counter. This is a space for food preparation.

Remove words on items showing words. They bring “noise” to an area. Get the book for a deeper discussion as to why this is.

Bags can go inside each other to maximize space.

Specific advice on clothing storage and folding

The book has some important tips on storing and folding various types of clothing. Keep your clothes vertically folded and standing next to each other. Not stacked. You’ll have to watch videos for a better explanation.  Everything gets folded and placed into drawers in your closet unless that is impractical as is the case with coats, jackets, skirts, suits, dresses, and some pants. Socks never get balled up (and stretched out.)

When are you done?

When you feel like your space clicks and doesn’t have any excess objects. This is purely qualitative. Kondo finds applying metrics only upsets people and leaves us feeling out of touch with the process of having the space the way we want it.

When to stop the decluttering

Every item will have its place in a room. It will be simple and natural to return it to that place when you are done with it. The items left after the declutter will feel important and worth treating well. It will naturally be easier for things to have a place, when there are fewer items vying for places.

Her clients show more respect for their belongings and feel a deeper sense of gratitude for them. They come to an understanding of what they value. They learn to let go of physical possessions that are holding them back.

The Magic of Tidying Up

The book was on my list for a while because it’s at the top of Amazon organization lists and I have a fascination with optimizing space. Programmatic organization first interested me last year when an NPR show pointed me to a book on personal organization by a computer scientist. The Magic of Tidying Up was one of my favorite reads of all time. I definitely recommend you get the book for a more rigorous  examination of the ideas explored here.

Over the past few months, I’ve been striving to live in a more simple environment. I’ve been purging belongings I don’t need. As Kondo mentions in her book, our fear of needing things is overblown. I can’t even remember the things I’ve discarded. And I notice that my mind is freed up to think about the tasks and thoughts I want to focus on, rather than on the clutter of objects in my space. Having a messy space means constantly being physically reminded by the objects around you “where does this go?” “what should I do with that?” “I should address this thing on this paper”. Clutter begets clutter in the mind and the world. I think it’s good to have things and think about the things in your physical space. But, these things should be thoughtfully ordered such that your mind is focusing on the things that bring you joy and fulfillment; the things that order your life to the production of the tasks that move you to your goals, whatever they may be. Are their objects in your space, on your desk or in your drawers, or on your floor, bring mild discontentment into your life? If you’re OK with that, ask why.

Finding opportunities right in front of you

My friend invited me along last summer for a weekend of drinks, food, boating, and revelry in Pittsburgh with a group of friends I hadn’t spent much time with before that point. That weekend happened again two weeks ago. We ate savoury foods, wandered the hills of Pittsburgh’s suburban ring, and cruised the greenish waters of the Monongahela in the basking sun. Three guys in the group I knew well, and two I didn’t know so well.

 

During the trip last year, one of the guys I didn’t know so well got to chatting about how underrated his current city of Cincinnati is. Being the traveler I am, I was intrigued. I’d never heard anyone brag about Cincinnati. I’d written it off as a small town with a few sports teams and maybe homicide or two. But, I told this guy I’d visit. This guy I’d only met once. We conversed a bit on that original Pittsburgh trip and I knew we had a few common interests. I was intrigued by the idea of Cincy and was determined to make a trip happen.

 

Here’s what I did differently than everyone else did. I didn’t spend 5 years talking about how I heard “Cincinnati was a cool town” or how “I’d go there someday.” I waited 8 months until it was reasonable to start planning for this summer’s travels, and I started chatting with this new friend online. I pushed us over a possible weekend, which I based partially on dates that had reasonable flight prices. I bought the flights and confirmed the time with my new friend.

 

This is simple in concept, difficult in practice. People love making excuses not to travel and not to expand their friend circle. Excuses someone might make in my situation:

 

  1. It’s weird to visit someone you’ve only met once.
  2. It’s a long flight and traveling is annoying
  3. I can’t get off work
  4. Cincinnati probably isn’t as fun as he says. It’s just a third-tier city.
  5. It’s probably dangerous
  6. It will be “awkward”
  7. I’m so busy and have so much to do at home.

 

We make time for important things. We weather the storm for things we really take joy in. If people genuinely don’t want to travel, or even if they can’t, that’s fine. But don’t be the person that constantly says how they “wish they could go visit Europe but just don’t have the XYZ right now.” If you have the resources, make it happen. If you don’t, then fine, accept that and make the changes in your life to make it happen. Don’t have the resources at hand to make something happen but never do it. This is an expression of dishonesty, laziness, and an admission of ineptitude. You and others will view your statements as wishes, not guarantees. Your language and verbal declarations of desire can be more than wishes.

 

The trip ended up being amazing. My new friend is interested in food blogging. I met a ton of his friends, bounced around business advice, went to a packed pool party, played soccer with his co workers on the Bearcats’ home field, ate at 7 new restaurants (I’ll do a non-emailed post on that), and wandered around the Kentucky hills overlooking the Ohio. This was way better than an average weekend at home. All because I took action and made it happen.

 

Two lessons:

  1. The best way to make connections with new people is through people you already know. Surround yourself with good friends, ask them to introduce you to other friends. Be willing to try new activities and enter new social circles. Chances are you’ll find surprising opportunity there. Two books come to mind. Connected gives a sociological look at the power of real-life social networks and the penetrating and two-way impact our lifestyle choices have on one another. Did you know your verbal decision to vote statistically determines whether or not over 10 other people in your social network will vote? The other one is Never Eat Alone. The author explores how the way you arrange your life with your social network will change the way you see the world. He has an insightful podcast commentary on how he arranges his dinner parties here. Socializing comes natural to some people, for others it doesn’t. But don’t feel like if you’re an introvert that planning and structuring your social interactions is manipulative. People genuinely want to meet you. They want you to take the effort to talk to them and visit them. It took Harvard 80 years to figure out that happiness is greatly attributable to the quality of our relationships. Don’t let it take you that long.

 

  1. Don’t be a person who publicly makes excuses not to go to events or travel or try new things. If you prioritize other things (like time with family, exercise, alone time, work time, significant other time), then make that clear to your friends. If you don’t want to go, politely decline. Your friends and acquaintances can’t help you grow if they don’t know what you want. This is especially true if you say one thing but mean another thing. Stop “wishing you could” and start taking action. Figure out the steps you need to take to get yourself in the position to do the things you love or think you might love. Find reasons to do things. Learn to convince yourself to do new things by reminding yourself of the positive aspects a decision to take part in something with new friends might have. Be resourceful. Tony Robbins is right in emphasizing that most of Western society gets unhappy not because we don’t have the resources, but that we don’t have the resourcefulness. What are we telling ourselves subconsciously when we constantly wish we could travel? Or how much we want to lose weight but just can’t? Or save money but just have too many bills? Or find a healthy relationship but can’t take control of an unhealthy situation? We’re telling ourselves that we are a victim to our circumstances and current resources. Is that something we want to be telling ourselves?

 

Video Interview with fitness and weight loss expert John Fawkes

 Audio-only version

Who is John Fawkes?

John has a fitness website helping people get into shape and live better lives. Currently, he is transitioning gradually from targeting beginners to working with an intermediate and advanced clientele. His goal is to help people aspire to greater heights­. Fitness is not just about fitness. It’s about self-improvement. John searches and advises people on efficient self-improvement. That’s why I wanted to interview him.

We met on Reddit. John started his business two and a half years ago as a career advice and job hunting advice website, then rebuilt it as a fitness website. He started using Reddit for market research. This led to questions on fitness, and eventually, a coaching service.

John almost got his Masters in Business Administration. But, he’s very interested in psychology. He took a class in the psychology of personality that he loved. His teacher said that for a period of about 20-30 years there was a near consensus amongst psychologists that people really don’t even have personalities. Because everyone is really just like the people around them. But the reason that shifted is because they realized it’s not that you’re trying to be like the people around you, it’s that you self-select an environment to fit in rather than trying to fit into a specific group or environment.

His blog talks about your social environment and how it can be more supportive in your goals. You will be the average of the people that you hang out with. Either, you live with people you admire, or you live alone.

Facebook Tips for avoiding distraction

Following friends and unfollowing friends, while still keeping them as Facebook friends. Distancing from people, you can unfollow, and put them on your “acquaintances list.” Put the most inspiring people on your “Close friends list,” rather than acquaintances list. Get rid of the uninspiring people in your life. This will shift your Facebook feed to align with your goals.

What led you to get into fitness?

He had been underweight for most of his life. Thanks to the Keto diet, he transformed. He was denied acceptance to a martial arts class at his college years ago, then starting attending the gym, working out, then re-applied to the class and got in.

Compensatory Behavior

Some studies have shown that people using fit-bits have lost less weight than people without them. That people taking diet pills, green tea—caffeine—even Ephedra, people had lost less weight, compared to the people that took none of those. Because when people think they’ve done something good, they think they deserve to do something bad… Don’t think of fitness as a balance sheet. Think of it as a construction project. You add things, not subtract things.

In his fat-loss course, there’s an exit strategy, where you follow the course in reverse. It’s about transitioning to maintenance mode. When your weight stabilizes, that’s when you stop reversing and you’ve found your balance point.

Grocery Shopping

He likes Trader Joes and occasionally Whole Foods, mainly because it’s cheaper than GNC for his vitamins/nutrients. Coconut oil is his diet staple. He’ll make meat and cheese sandwiches (no bread). Cinnamon in tea is good for blood sugar control. He eats a lot of nuts, especially Brazil nuts, that have a lot of Selenium, since he’s on the Keto diet, which depletes Selenium levels.

Keto Diet Experience

He tried the Keto diet several times previously, trying to ease into it each time. He had to dive into it, to make it stick. He fasted before he went pure Keto. He got the Keto-Flu. Recommending Potassium and sodium to avoid the bad Keto-Flu symptoms. He does recommend fasting before a Keto-Diet to make it stick, though.Diets that are low-carb but not ketogenic, don’t dip into ketosis for just a bit because there’s no positive effects. Either go in fully or get out.

Keto-wise, his energy levels are way higher and much more level. Before the keto diet his energy levels were up and down, the blood sugar swings. He slept terribly before the keto diet.

General multi-vitamins are dosed way too high (10 times higher). Take minimum dose. He thinks that’s okay.

John’s Ideal Day

Waking up around 8-9am. Getting some tea. Getting online, browsing Reddit. Then being “insanely productive” for five hours. Gym in the afternoon. A little more productivity, relax a bit, shower, video games, read, hang with friends. It’s a work/life balance.

Hardest Test?

In Grad school… he went to spring break in Florida, came back with the flu, got an allergic reaction to the antibiotics he received from the doctor… Then, on his own volition, he took anti-histamines with super drowsy side-effects… his memory was messed up, couldn’t think straight, he barely could stay awake. Meanwhile, he had a huge presentation for a non-profit… the test was trying to get through that…

What’s the coolest place you’ve been that hasn’t been on TripAdvisor?

Namibia, just outside the capital city. Amazing hot springs. Inexpensive and enjoyable. Lots of nature and minimal people.

If you had to repeat a phrase to yourself once a month for the rest of your life, what would it be?

“This, too, shall pass.” Don’t get too caught up in temporary problems.

What would you be happy to find out that was in your life five years from now?

Rock band. Actually, starting a rock band now. Would be very happy if five years from now, the band is still going on and slightly successful. Just for fun, though, not for money.

What would you tell someone… say they were in college now.

The number one rule is put a lot of thought into what success means to you. You want to ask, what is going to give me happiness versus just mammalian, hedonistic happiness?
See more from John at Johnfawkes.com