I call it “To Read” mail. You could also label it “Subscription Mail”, “Browsing Mail”, or “Fun Mail”. Whatever you want to call it, this refers to newspapers, magazines, catalogs, political propaganda, and paper newsletters...mail that requires no action other than to peruse it if and when you feel like it. Because reading it is purely optional, we tend to set it aside to enjoy with a cup of coffee or when there’s just more time. However, “when there’s more time” is a nothing but a mirage. So it sits...and sits...and sits...collecting dust in a pile somewhere...accumulating until the cluttered buildup forces us to finally take some action.
The good news is that we can let ourselves off the hook for reading it anytime we want by simply plopping it into the recycle bin. Yet the bad news is that very few of us can do that without experiencing some level of guilt. Why is that?
I suspect a combination of having committed yourself to reading it and FOMO (fear of missing out) is at play here. When you set aside each issue as it arrived, you were making a statement: I’m going to read this. You obliged yourself to take this action in the future. And you recommitted to that action every time you caught a glimpse of it and chose not to throw it out then and there. Even if you began reading it, the unspoken promise to finish it later has dwelled deep within your semi-conscious brain, even as you continued piling newer issues on top of it. Abandoning that goal weeks, months or even years later feels like failure. Besides, what if there’s something important or compelling lurking within those pages that you’ll miss if you never complete your mission? You could be allowing the perfect double chocolate mousse parfait recipe to slip right through your fingers! You could end up with the only home on your block with a yard lacking the latest trend in garden gnomes, all because you missed the big sale in last summer’s Gnomes R Us catalog. This, my friends, is how we convince ourselves that we can't just take the easy way out.
Thus, you are left with a choice: continue suffering from subscription buildup, or practice routine prevention. Here’s my three-part prescription for shrinking that mass of unread periodicals and restoring a healthy balance in your browsing mail:
1. Taper the dosage - First, reduce the amount of catalogs you receive by putting yourself on the Direct Mail Association’s National Do Not Mail list, or contact the companies directly to request removal from their mailing lists. Next, cancel all subscriptions you struggle to keep up with, or switch to an electronic subscription. Finally, establish some rules to help you manage the volume of reading materials you save for later. Some suggestions:
2. Use as directed - Create a plan for when and where you will actually read these items. Work it into your daily/weekly routine. If necessary, put it on your schedule and create a reminder to do it until it becomes a habit. Whether it’s reading the paper on your train ride into work, setting aside 30 minutes to browse through catalogs in bed each night, or reserving an hour each Sunday afternoon to curl up with your favorite magazine and a cup of tea, having your strategy planned out in advance will increase its effectiveness.
3. Discard when expired - Once you’ve read it or let it expire, get rid of it! The easiest solution is to simply recycle your old reading material, but here are some other alternatives:
With unlimited refills of this prescription, even fighting subscription buildup will be easy peasy.
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Every item in your home should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, it is only in your way and should be purged. That goes for your paper keepsakes as well. The purpose of keepsakes is to preserve moments from your past that reflect who you have been, are and will become. So many people struggle to maintain control over this category of items because they lack a clear vision of what that means. The bad news is that there is no one-size-fits-all description I can give you, because it varies from person to person. The good news is that you don’t need me to give you one, because you can create one for yourself. It’s not the specific parameters that matter...it’s that you have some.
Think about your paper keepsakes like artifacts in a museum, where you are the curator. These are items that you select that tell a story about your life. Another way to look at it is to imagine that your stash of keepsakes is a time capsule you are sending to your future self and those you leave behind. What is most important to remember? What are the milestones, achievements, values and memories that have shaped who you are? Who were the people that mattered to you or impacted your life?
I recently combed through my own enormous stash of disorganized keepsakes and made some tough decisions about what to keep and what not to. I was able to pare it waaayy down from four oversized plastic bins to four small boxes (one for each member of my family). It was a lot easier once I laid some boundaries. Here are some examples of the ground rules I followed in case they may help you in setting your own guidelines:
Those were my rules. Yours may be completely different. The point is to decide what they are first. Write them down as a guide for when those really tough decisions arise...and they will. While you are unlikely to miss anything you ultimately decide to toss, making the decision to toss it can feel in that moment like deciding to chop off your own arm. Be brave and remember that avoiding that unpleasantness is probably how you ended up with such a big pile of stuff to go through.
Try some of these strategies to make it easier:
When you take the time to define what’s meaningful, you honor your past without hindering your ability to live comfortably in the present and to make new memories for your future. With a little perspective and a few basic parameters, even controlling your keepsakes can be easy peasy.
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Piles of papers make me anxious. You will not find stacks of paper anywhere in my home. I dispose of any random slips of paper found in my pockets, purse or car as eagerly as tossing out used tissues. When I see unfiled papers, I see unmade decisions, incomplete tasks, and uncertainty, all of which provoke in me a sense of dread and anxiety. So keeping up with my daily influx of paper is my #1 organizing priority. Believe it or not, taming your own paper dragon can be as easy as changing a few bad habits and adopting one new one.
Nine bad habits that can lead to paper pileup:
1) Clipping coupons - Let's be honest...there are a very few people out there who do couponing well. The rest of us are just kidding ourselves. Unless you are a serious couponer who has a proven system that works, accept the fact that the time and effort you are wasting on clipping, saving, and organizing coupons that rarely get used before they expire might be better spent actually processing your mail instead. Toss all coupons but the ones you know you will 100% use. No, you don't need to look through them to see what you're missing. Your time is worth more than the few cents you might save.
2) Saving articles, ideas, recipes, or brochures for "future reference" - These days, very little of what we find in newspapers and magazines is not also available for free online. Chances are that it will take more time/effort for you to find a clipping you saved when you are ready to refer to it than it will to just Google it and find it online instead. Information on events can usually be found on an organization's website. Pinterest is great for finding and bookmarking decorating, entertaining, fashion, gift, and cooking ideas. You can bookmark links to relevant articles which are also often archived online by publication. If you really need to, you can maintain a list in your phone of places you hope to someday visit, helpful websites, names of recipe or other topic sources, etc. to help you find something later. There's no need to keep a stash of old clippings.
3) Using paper piles as a tickler for action items - Instead of creating an action pile, create an action file. Put the papers away and enter a reminder in your phone or calendar or on your to-do list to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Get in the habit of consulting these tools daily, or ask Alexa or Siri to remind you. Using the papers themselves as your tickler is ineffective because over time, as the paper clutter increases, they are likely to get lost or overlooked. By filing them, you will know exactly where to find what you need when you are ready to complete the task. The key is developing a system you trust for keeping your action tasks front and center in your mind, rather than on your desk or table.
4) Keeping papers out of fear/uncertainty - Do you really need to keep those old statements...receipts...canceled checks? Many people save old records unnecessarily because they think they may need them later. While it is true that there are definitely some important documents you should archive, many of us save papers unnecessarily "just to be on the safe side". it's worth taking the time to educate yourself on what you should keep and what can be tossed so that you can free up some space in your filing cabinet and make the filing chore less cumbersome. You'll find a downloadable guide here to get you started. Download the FREE Easy Peasy Paper Tamer Guide for suggestions on what documents to keep and for how long. You can also check with your accountant or financial advisor if you're uncertain if you really need it. Just don't keep papers by default simply because you don't know whether or not you can safely get rid of them.
5) Saving information for others - Stop saving clipped articles for someone you think might find them interesting! Chances are, you will forget to give it to them, and they may prefer a text telling them where to find it online anyway. While it's nice that you are thinking of them, most people don't want more paper to deal with!
6) Saving papers to scan later - If you really want to scan it, scan it right away or schedule an appointment in your calendar for scanning everything and keep it. Almost everyone I know with a "to scan" pile never gets around to scanning it and ends up eventually just tossing the whole pile.
7) Hoarding old magazines/newspapers - Keep only the current issue. If you haven't read it by the time the new issue arrives, toss it. If you find you aren't reading most of them, you should cancel your subscription. I'll bet you've never heard of anyone dying or suffering a significant consequence simply because they missed reading an issue of their favorite magazine...BUT, stacks of magazines and newspapers can present a dangerous fire hazard!
8) Reading/opening junk mail - Ignore the obvious junk mail! It's only purpose is to get you to buy something. If you truly need something, you'll remember without the solicitation and will seek out information on available options at the time you're ready to actually make a purchase. Tossing your junk mail will help you resist the temptation to acquire unwanted items that will only clutter up your home. If you feel a cursory glance is necessary, do it on the way in from the mailbox and then trash the sales pitch right away. It should never even touch any surface in your home!
9) Believing you have to shred everything - It may come as a surprise to many that your address is public information. Shredding everything will not keep it out of the hands of nefarious forces, unfortunately. You only need to shred items with sensitive information such as complete account numbers, your social security number, your tax ID, etc. Receipts that only contain the last four digits of your credit card number do not need to be shredded. Reviewing your credit report each year from each of the major reporting companies is helpful in protecting yourself against identity theft. If you have a large amount of old papers that really do require shredding, consider paying to have it shredded, or look out for free community shredding events in your local area to get it out of your way. Invest in a home shredder and keep it handy to shred as you go so that it doesn't continue to pile up.
One new habit to adopt:
Go through all incoming papers and mail each and every day before you go to bed and decide what to do with each piece. If you keep up with this, it should not take you more than 5-10 minutes per day to keep your surfaces clear of paper clutter once you get rid of your backlog. Set up a simple paper triage system to help you keep your papers neat, organized and put away out of sight (yes, that's right...see #3 above for why this is a good thing!) until you can complete any next steps like paying the bills or making a follow-up phone call. There are specific instructions in the FREE Paper Tamer Guide on how to set up and use a simple daily paper triage system to help you convert your paper piles into labeled files that are easier to manage.
With a little discipline and a large recycle bin, even preventing paper pileup can be easy peasy!
Today's adults are busier than ever…we are kids' chauffeurs, homework helpers, community volunteers, short order cooks, corporate slaves and marathon commuters. The demands on our time are never-ending. In a world of instant access, we keep trying to cram more and more into the same 24 hours. Then, we fill our homes with stuff we think will make life “easier”...time-saving gadgets in the kitchen, clever electronic devices in our pockets, anti-stress and anxiety medications in our cabinets. Our constant need to “keep up” with our friends and neighbors lures us into an endless quest for the latest fashions in clothing and decor, the newest video games, the best new this, that or the other. Before we know it, our cluttered homes, hectic schedules, stretched budgets, and frazzled nerves seem to conspire against us to withhold from us the one thing that most of us crave: simplicity.
Simplicity is the removal of the unnecessary to make room for peace and clarity. Less stuff, fewer commitments, efficient routines, clearer priorities all both lead to and result from simplicity. So how do we achieve simplicity?
It all begins with greater self-awareness. You cannot remove the unnecessary from your life until you identify what is truly necessary. To do that, answer these questions:
What are your priorities? What most fulfills your sense of purpose? What brings you joy? What activities do you truly need to have in your life to feel whole? If you want to live the simple life, you must build your life around these priorities, not the other way around. Do your career choices, hobbies and volunteer activities reflect your priorities, or arrived at the road you are on simply because it was the path of least resistance? Very often, what feels like the easier path at the beginning turns out to be the more difficult one in the long run. But do not confuse simplicity with ease. Achieving simplicity usually requires change, and change is rarely easy.
What are your strengths? Identifying your strengths enables you to play to them. It also highlights what are not your strengths. Find people with different strengths from your own to help you with your weaknesses. Life becomes simpler when we accept these realities and include them in the planning process. And when we cannot avoid performing tasks that are not among our strengths, modifying our expectations of ourselves...giving ourselves the patience and grace to be less than perfect...gives us the courage to try.
What is your plan for getting where you want to go? Be patient enough to plan. There are no shortcuts. Everything worthwhile takes effort, even simplifying. It’s where you invest your effort that makes the difference. Invest it in making a plan and then executing that plan. If you plan carefully and patiently, knowing your limitations and playing to your strengths while giving yourself the grace to stumble, fall and learn, follow-through becomes much simpler and more straight-forward.
What do you really need that you don’t already have to achieve your goals? You may be surprised at the answer to this question. It is likely not to be more physical belongings. Time. Space. Money. Energy. Confidence. Understanding. Moral support. Knowledge...none of these needs will be met by an Amazon delivery or trip to the store. If you truly want to simplify your life, remove those non-necessities.
What do you already have that you do not really need? Remove the unnecessary to make room for more peace and clarity. Make room in your home for more living. Make room in your head for more thinking and dreaming. Make room in your heart for more caring. Make room in your calendar for more planning.
Our lives are cluttered with extra steps because we don’t plan properly or are trying to be too perfect; with extra commitments because we don’t acknowledge our limitations; with extra effort because we are so rushed we mess up, having to do it all over again; with extra stuff because we haven’t taken the time to figure out what we actually need, versus what we want; and with extra stress and anxiety because we don’t know who we are or how to achieve simplicity.
But we can change all that. With a little planning, self-awareness and some resulting simplicity, even the most cluttered, frazzled life can become easy peasy.
Space truly is the final frontier! Everyone seems to be on an endless quest for it...for space in their homes...on their desks...in their busy lives! Yet it eludes most of us. Just as soon as we find some....poof! It’s gone and the search begins anew. But what if instead of spending all of our space, we kept some of it….empty?!! Today, I’m making a case for space!
First, how is empty space even useful?
Preserving your empty space boils down to choosing space over stuff. You may be asking...if empty space is so valuable, then why do people tend to choose stuff over space? Good question! Clients usually call me when their lack of space begins causing a problem in their lives. They are aware that they need more space, yet still seem compelled to fill it back up again when given the opportunity. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons, along with my counterpoint for each one: Do any of these sound familiar?
Fear of being without something you may need (clothes, paper towels, shoes, serving dishes).
Counterpoint: If you run out of something, you can go shopping, do laundry, borrow from a neighbor, order online. If none of these are possible, you will likely find a way to make do in an emergency. Such emergencies will be very rare and far outweighed by the everyday benefits of having more space. Think up a back-up plan in advance if that makes you feel less afraid to part with something. (Personal aside: At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when toilet paper was difficult to find, I came up with multiple contingency plans for if/when we ran out. I never had to use any of them, but now that I have them, I don’t feel a need to use up my valuable space hoarding toilet paper.)
Avoiding a deep-seated (and usually misplaced) perception of poverty and/or a misperception of “wealth”.
Counterpoint: Having more stuff doesn’t make you rich. It actually costs you more in the long run. Would you rather be “rich” in stuff that gets in your way, or rich in time and energy that can be spent on having new and meaningful experiences, learning more about the world, and forging/maintaining important relationships? Which will matter more at the end of your life? Remember, the old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth.
Unwillingness to make choices (aka decision deferral).
Counterpoint: Making decisions gets easier and quicker with practice and takes less time when you do it on a daily basis. Developing a habit of making decisions in the moment takes effort but will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Need to fill up the other aspects of life that feel empty (relationships, self-esteem, productivity, sense of control).
Counterpoint: Space gives us freedom. We need space to live in, move in, fill up with the people and activities that bring us joy. When we do that, we will not feel emptiness; we will feel fulfilled.
So how do we create and maintain empty space?
Simple: Choose space over stuff. Now that you understand the value of empty space and why you may have chosen stuff instead in the past, it will be easier to make more intentional decisions in the future. There are three key components to this:
With a little conscious decision-making and a few good habits, even holding onto empty space can be easy peasy!
When it comes to saving space - and money - nothing beats the power of multi-taskers. Getting in the habit of investing only in items that serve a double-duty function can yield some big dividends when it comes to creating more space in your home.
So what does this look like? Well, consider the many areas of your life where you can get double the usefulness objects:
The key is to get into the habit of brainstorming how you can use your belongings in more ways than one. Before you buy something new, look around to see if you already have something else that will fulfill your need. You'll be surprised how much space (and money!) you'll save...and trips to the donation dropoff too.
With a little creativity and a few multi-taskers, even creating more space in your home will be easy peasy.
Even if your house doesn't look like this, you may still have too much stuff. Every object you own comes with overhead costs. Too much stuff = steep overhead costs that lower your quality of life over time. Your stuff may be costing you more than you realize, and far more than you wish to spend!
How to identify it
Do any of these statements describe you in your home?
If any of these describe your living situation, you have too much stuff! Ideally, you should be able to easily find and access objects you use regularly and be able to verbalize why you are keeping any object in your home without hesitation or sputtering. There should always be a little bit of additional “room to grow” in your cabinets, closets, shelves and drawers so that new purchases or gifts can be put away as soon as you get them home. Most importantly, your home should feel like the calm, comfortable sanctuary you deserve.
How to fix it
Just like diet and exercise, decluttering and purging is an ongoing, lifelong necessity. I know, I know...that’s not a declaration most people want to hear. However, creating and maintaining adequate space in your home doesn’t have to involve endless hours of drudgery. The key is getting into the habit of streamlining as you go. As soon as you begin to see any of the signs that you have too much stuff, it’s time to take action. That action can be as simple as pulling out just a few unwanted items from your closet or cabinet and dropping a bagful of them off for donation or scheduling a pickup. You’d be surprised at what a noticeable difference eliminating just a handful of items can make. Think of it as a maintenance diet for your home.
Perhaps you have many “pounds” to lose first, though? Rest assured that even if your entire house is stuffed to the gills, you can still start small. The important thing is just to start! Pick a cabinet, closet, shelf or drawer that is really bothering you and spend 15-30 minutes identifying stuff you no longer need. Chances are good that there are a lot of deferred decisions and objects you’ve kept by default in there.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect, keep the process as simple as possible by breaking down the job into three easy steps I like to call The Three D's (Decide, Divide, Dispose):
Step 1: Decide - Pull everything out of the space (drawer, shelf, bin). Then pick up each object and choose between two options: 1) Yes, I need it and will use it; or 2) No, I can live without this. Don’t bend yourself into a pretzel trying to justify keeping it. Don’t think right now about whether or not this is the proper place in your home to store it. Don’t worry that you could maybe someday find an alternative use for it. Don’t puzzle over who else might want it during this step or agonize over how much money you spent on it or whether so-and-so would be hurt that you got rid of his gift. Just answer Yes or No to needing/wanting it. Put the Yes-es back in the cabinet or drawer. You can better organize them later or designate a new home for them another time. Step 1 is just about deciding between keeping and not keeping.
Step 2: Divide - Place your Nos into three categories: 1) trash/recycling; 2) donate; 3) sell. First, a word of caution: Do not even think about selling unless you are 100% sure you are going to invest the time and effort that involves and are willing to set a deadline for seeing through that goal. Selling requires you to have a game plan for when, where, who and how much. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the effort. Too often, you end up procrastinating and holding onto items with the best of intentions for far too long. My advice is to limit your sell category to only those items likely to yield enough money to make it worth your time. Place the sell items into a box or bag and write your deadline on it. If you don’t meet the deadline, these items should be donated as soon as possible after the deadline has passed.
Step 3: Dispose - Place trash and recycling in their proper receptacles. Drop off donations at a local charity as soon as possible or schedule a pick-up. Find an out-of-the-way place in your home to temporarily stash your “for sale” items after entering the appropriate action reminders on your calendar so you don’t forget about your deadline.
How to prevent it
Over-accumulation usually results from a combination of two things: Impulsiveness and Deferment. We buy things (or say yes to others giving us things) without first asking ourselves the right questions. Do I really need that? How/when (specifically) will I use it? Where will I store it so that it won’t be in my way? Do I really have room for it? What is my Plan B for it if Plan A doesn’t work out? Our default setting when it comes to acquisition is Yes when it should be No. That's the Impulsiveness.
Then when we are faced with tough decisions on what to do with something when its usefulness comes into question, we attempt to delay making any decision at all by keeping the status quo. That's the Deferment. What we fail to recognize is that merely keeping the status quo is a decision...it is a Yes when it often should have been a No. All these Yes-es eventually add up to clutter, disorganization, frustration, claustrophobia, discomfort, embarrassment, and stress and end up costing us time, money, and opportunity.
Make more purposeful decisions about what to keep and what to acquire, and you will soon find yourself with more space for living! With a little forethought and discernment on how to best “spend” your space, even clutter-free living can be easy peasy!
"Isn't it adorable?! And wow...you just can't beat that price! I'd be a fool to turn down such a steal!" If you struggle with clutter and this sounds like you, read on!
If you've ever watched one of those hoarder TV shows, you already know that compulsive shopping often leads to big problems with clutter. But what about impulsive shopping? While it may not lead you into bankruptcy or land you on an episode of "Hoarders: Buried Alive", making purchases without thinking them through beforehand could be unraveling all of your grand plans to get organized.
The first step in any organization project is to purge items that aren't really needed to create more room for the ones that are. One of the most common comments I hear from clients during this process is "But I paid good money for this and never even used it," or "I'd definitely use that if only I had a good place for it." Worse still, "Oh, I totally forgot I had these and just bought more last week."
Plan before you buy!
Whether it's a new armchair or a new paring knife, knowing when, where, and how you will use it and store it are decisions that should be made before you even get to the cash register. Without a plan in place, you run the risk of adding to your existing clutter and possibly wasting your time, effort and money. Consider the following scenarios:
Freebies aren't really free!
These questions also apply to all those freebies you collect and bring home. You'd be surprised how much less appealing all those giveaways appear when they are cluttering up your drawers and surfaces. The truth is, nothing is truly "free"...it costs you space and overhead. One of my favorite quotes from a fellow organizer is "Treat everything like a gallon of milk and put it away as soon as you get home with it." If you truly follow this rule, you won't be as likely to buy on impulse. If you don't know where its designated home will be at your house, perhaps you should leave it in the store for now. Next time you clean out your closets (or your car), you'll be glad you did!
With a little impulse control, even decluttering can be easy peasy!
Each January there's an outbreak that reaches almost epidemic proportions. Professionals like me are inundated with requests for house calls to try to eradicate it from homes like yours...I call it 'Gift Guilt", and it can be debilitating, especially for the organizationally-challenged.
When it comes to purging unwanted "stuff" during the organization process, gifts rank high on the hard-to-part-with list. Whether we realize it or not, there's a sense of obligation hidden inside every gift box...the obligation to like the gift and appreciate it and keep it FOREVER. What many people have difficulty understanding is that the thing we are obliged to like, appreciate and keep is the sentiment, not necessarily the object representing it. This is a hard concept to embrace, and since not everyone is able to innoculate themselves from gift guilt, there are precautions gift-givers can take to help defend recipients from this malady.
Chances are that when you give a gift, you focus primarily on whether or not the recipient will like it. That's great, but not enough. Just because they like it doesn't necessarily mean they have room for it, or wish to go to the effort to dust/clean/iron it, or know where to store it or how to use it. Each of these issues can harbor the gift guilt bug inside. Consider instead a consumable gift that will only need to be stored temporarily until used up.
Here are a few suggestions:
Services - Give a gift certificate or make a coupon that offersyour help with one of these:
Food/Beverages - Bake a batch of cookies, package up a mix (with instructions for finishing it), buy a bottle of their favorite tipple. Just be cautious about food allergies.
Charitable Donations - Make a donation in their name to a worthy cause that touches their heart. Guides like the United Way's Guide to Charitable Giving can help you select an organization that will make the most of your giving dollars.
An extra added bonus is that most of these are easier to wrap and require less paper than most traditional gifts.
No one ever intends to give a burden as a gift, but sadly, a gift can become just that if the recipient can't use it or doesn't have room for it. With a little imagination and the right attitude, gift-giving and receiving can be easy peasy.
If you really stop and think about it, the decision to get organized is a hopeful one. We hope that by decluttering our homes, sticking to a new routine, managing our time more efficiently or writing a To-Do list, we will finally, FINALLY gain control over the uncontrollable and attain peace of mind in our chaotic world. I may be a professional organizer, but as the mother of two (three if you count the big kid I'm married to), I am the first to admit that "being organized" is a matter of relativity. There's no such thing as a "totally organized" life, and even if there were, I seriously doubt you'd want to live it.
One of the most common issues I uncover when I go to a new client's house is that they have at least one large, unwanted, unneeded object sitting right in the middle of the most important area needing organization...their minds. The object is a negative thought that they keep tripping over. It takes up space that could be put to much better use. It obstructs easy access to other things sharing the space. It inserts itself into every task, and creates unwanted "noise". It detracts from the peacefulness of the space and, let's face it, it can be downright unappealing.
Obviously, the first step is to remove this negative thought from your mind. Do any of these sound familiar?
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.