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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Paper clutter seems to be an almost universal problem. Even in this digital world, most of us still have too many papers cluttering up the surfaces in our homes and offices, with more sneaking in every single day. It’s hard to keep up! Setting up a reference filing system requires us to first answer three important questions:
The answers to the first two questions can be found in "How Long Should I Keep It" document that is part of the Paper Tamer Bundle you can download for free on this site. The third requires a bit more thought and effort. All reference filing systems require some amount of maintenance, but here are tips to ensure that yours stands the test of time with minimal upkeep. (Note: The Paper Tamer Bundle includes detailed step-by-step instructions on setting up/tweaking your reference filing system.)
With a little bit of thought and effort, coupled with these simple guidelines, setting up a reference filing system that stands the test of time will 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!
People say it all the time…”Live in the now”...”Practice being more present”...”Hold the moment”. But what does all that actually mean? How do you live in the moment? Aren’t you supposed to remember the past and plan for the future? How can you do that if all you ever think about is the present? Isn’t ignoring the past and future just plain irresponsible? These are all very valid questions that make living in the present feel so challenging to a lot of people. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Yes! And once you have the answers to these questions it will be.
First of all, let’s begin answering what it all means by talking about what it doesn’t mean. Living in the present does not mean never thinking about the past or the future. After all, they are equally important components of your life. Reflecting on the past helps you learn lessons you then carry forward with you to help you better navigate the challenges you find here in the present. Planning for the future gives you a sense of hope and provides you with goals that inspire your actions now in the present and begin your evolution into an ever better version of yourself. Both are essential ingredients to living a happy life. But there is a big difference between thinking about the past or future and dwelling in them. The goal should be to use your thoughts about the past and future to help guide your actions in the present. It’s important to realize that action can only take place in the present. You cannot act in the past...you can only learn from the actions you once took. You cannot act in the future...you can only plan the actions you hope to take when you get there.
Most of us have a natural tendency to spend way more time on reflecting and planning rather than we do on actually doing. Living in the present means flipping those proportions. It requires a continual, conscience decision in the present to change. That’s why it feels so hard sometimes. I don’t pretend to be past the hard part yet, but logic, experience and hope tell me that - just as with any other habit - living in the moment gets easier with practice. And guess what? Reflecting and planning are often solitary activities. If you want to connect more with the people around you, spend more time in the present.
Try some of these actions, or start with just one and gradually add more over time:
We are all living through an era of great uncertainty, where longing for the past can be a futile and depressing exercise and planning for the future is virtually impossible without more information. There is no time like the present to start living more in the present. With a little practice and a new perspective, even holding the moment can be easy peasy.
One of the most difficult aspects of social distancing is finding new and creative ways to stay connected to friends and loved ones. Zoom and FaceTime are great tools for having "face-to-face" conversations, but they are merely delivery tools much like FedEx or the postal service delivering a package. They do not replace the contents of the package itself. Traditional socializing has always been about so much more than just seeing someone else’s face while we interact. It also meets our need to celebrate milestones up close and in person, to burn off excess energy in real time as a group, work side-by-side in achieving a common goal, and exercise our collective creativity...all needs that are difficult to meet in this challenging time of social distancing.
In other words, sometimes we need more than just video conferencing to restore our sense of connectedness. Besides, Zoom fatigue is becoming a reality for many, especially now that so many of us use it for school and work. Below are just a few suggestions for ways to jazz up your socializing while maintaining a safe distance.* Best of all, none of them require a video stream!
Outdoor BYOP Movie Night (ok, this one requires video, but not that kind of video!) - All you need is a projector and a large screen or blank outside wall to host a family-friendly screening for your friends and neighbors. Allow plenty of distance between viewers and encourage participants to bring their own drinks and popcorn.
Drive-through Birthday/Graduation Parade - Encourage friends and family to drive by your house at an appointed time in cars decorated with balloons while the “guest of honor” stands outside to greet them as they drive by. Music and individually-wrapped candy or gifts tossed out the window are optional.
Outdoor String/Percussion Ensemble Concert - Medical experts have expressed concern about singing and some types of wind-blown instruments spreading the virus across a distance to an audience, but string and percussion instruments are safer and the performers are able to wear masks too. Set up a stage in your town square, or simply gather your neighborhood musicians on your driveway for a socially-distanced performance.
Patio Talks - Invite a few friends over to your outdoor space for an in-person visit. Be sure to wear a mask, maintain your distance and don’t share food or drink with members outside your immediate household.
Outdoor Olympics - Form teams from within your own household to compete at a distance with teams from other households. Suggested events include relay races, timed obstacle course (one participant at a time), horseshoe/cornhole/croquet tournament, bike/running races, and long jump.
BYOF Bonfire - Each family brings their own hotdogs and s’mores to a bonfire. Wear masks and maintain a distance while telling stories and playing socially-distanced games like cornhole, horseshoes, frisbee or croquet.
Sidewalk Chalk Gallery Walk - Neighborhood artists create chalk masterpieces on the sidewalk or driveways. Then invite neighbors to stroll through the neighborhood on a gallery walk and leave comments of their own in chalk.
Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt - Text or email out a list of items that can be seen from outside throughout the neighborhood and set a start/stop time for finding them all. The household who finds them all first wins. Cover a wide enough area that people can easily maintain distance while searching.
Tag-Team Community Project - Put your heads together to come up with a multi-step or assembly line project that benefits your community. Then assign each step or responsibility to a different household. Each family can photo-document their efforts to create a shared sense of accomplishment with the entire group.
Outdoor Storytime - Gather outside at a distance while wearing masks to listen to a family-friendly story narrated by a natural storyteller in your group. Encourage each family to bring their own copy of the book to better view the pictures. Having the storyteller use a microphone will reduce loud talking/shouting which can contribute to spread of the disease.
Round Robin Storytelling/Play - This is similar to Outdoor Storytime, only each family takes turns acting out a scene from the story for the audience. It can be an established story or play, or each family can add to a made-up story, improv-style.
What are some ways that you are staying connected? Share your ideas in the comments!
Hopefully the Covid-19 crisis will be behind us either this year or next, but it may not be the last of its kind. Finding new ways to maintain our social fabric even in the face of a pandemic will only strengthen us as a society for generations to come.
With a little creativity and a few willing collaborators, even socializing while distancing can be easy peasy!
*You should still wear a mask and maintain a distance of 6 feet between you and members of other households during each of these outdoor activities as well as refrain from sharing food or drink with individuals that are not part of your immediate household.
If you're suffering from what I call "Covid Fog", you are not alone! Almost everyone I've talked to has experienced this phenomenon on some level during the past six months. Covid Fog is when you have difficulty sharpening your focus and/or maintaining it for as long as you used to before the Coronavirus pandemic shooed each of us into our respective corners of quarantine. Several factors contribute to creating Covid Fog: looser schedules, more frequent interruptions, lack of structure, changes in routine, mild depression, fatigue, boredom, grief, a dearth of motivation, and lapses in self-care are just some of them. Whatever the cause, the results can affect everything from your job performance to quality of life issues. Adopting strategies to help you find your focus is an essential first step in coping with the uncertainty that is 2020.
Here are my top tips for finding and maintaining your focus:
With a little intention, perseverance, and these strategies, even finding your focus through the Covid Fog can be easy peasy.
Could it be that it was only eight short months ago when we were ringing in the new year and ushering in a brand-new, shiny decade full of hope? The anticipation of the coming U.S. presidential election and Olympic Summer Games energized the country and the world. In our house, it was the beginning of the countdown to our first-born starting her senior year of high school in September and turning 18 in October. Our son was eagerly awaiting a summer of hard training for his next vigorous cross country season in the Fall. My organizing business was finally booming and my husband’s career humming along very nicely. 2020 promised to be a banner year for the Sheridan family.
Then BAM! Seemingly out of the blue, a pandemic of epic proportions, quarantines, school closures, sports cancellations, postponed primaries...followed by murder hornets, protests, wildfires, hurricanes, fire tornadoes…and worst of all, death--lots of it, job losses, endless bread lines, potential foreclosures, and financial ruin for many...all piled up in a big heap, bringing everything to a standstill. The old saying that the only things in this life that are a certainty are death and taxes never hit more close to home. So here we are: at the crossroads of hope and uncertainty. What now? How do we merge these two seemingly divergent paths into one? How do we maintain hope amid all this chaotic uncertainty?
First, let’s take a step back to consider just why confronting uncertainty is so uncomfortable for most of us. Perhaps it’s because it threatens our need to feel in control. If we can’t see a roadblock up ahead, we can’t take an alternate route or steer around it to our advantage. Right now, most of us are just wondering when...when schools and businesses will reopen; when we’ll get financial relief; when a vaccine will be available that can allow us to resume something resembling normalcy. It’s hard to keep up with all the unexpected twists, turns and detours on Rt. 2020. Nevertheless, there are still three very crucial things that do remain totally within our control, should we choose to exert it. Let’s start there:
Whether you are ill (from anything) or fit as a fiddle, the choices you make about caring for yourself will affect how you feel both physically and mentally. Tune in to your body, as well as your soul, and make changes in any of the following areas, if necessary, to improve your well-being:
Whether you are quarantining alone or with others, your overall attitude plays a major role in your ability to cope with your situation. Keeping your outlook positive despite your circumstances will not only boost your own spirits, it can become a beacon of hope for others who may need a reminder of all the goodness still surrounding us. Attitude is how your perspective and priorities dictate how you interface with the world around you.
Whether you are working multiple jobs as an essential worker, furloughed at home desperately seeking employment, or finding yourself in the unexpected role of homeschooling parent, your actions are always a matter of choice and thus totally under your control. How well are your actions reflecting the attitude you want to convey? Are you eating junk food on the sofa, yelling at the other side’s politicians on TV, wallowing in gloom, self-pity and self-loathing, or are you reaching out to make a positive impact, using your available time to engage in proper self-care, helping others, hopeful thinking, and positive self-talk? The choice is yours. Make a good one.
Let's face it: this has been a difficult year so far and the only thing we can be certain of is that yet more uncertainty surely lies around the next corner. But by staying focused on the things that are still within your control, even confronting uncertainty with hope intact can be easy peasy.
Imagine standing in the bottom of a deep pit, looking up and wondering how you will ever get out! Actually, most of us don’t have to imagine that...we experience it every time we look at our long To-Do lists and bulging calendars (assuming you even have those...not having them is more like realizing you’re at the bottom of a deep well but being unable to even see the sky). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the only way out of a deep, dark pit of any kind is to climb out. You need a ladder, a rope, a staircase, or a lot of well-placed toe- and hand-holds. Then it’s just a matter of climbing one carefully-planned step at a time. Well, today I’m gonna teach you how to build yourself a staircase leading out of that pit of endless tasks, chores, projects and appointments that make up “adulting”.
As with building any sturdy, reliable staircase, the first step is always to set aside planning and building time. Constructing it in a slap-dash-as-you-go fashion will leave you with nothing but a rickety pile of lumber that could give way at any time, sending you back down to the bottom of the pit with potential injuries. So, if you don’t already have a calendar, get one. It can be an app you use on your phone/tablet or a good old-fashioned paper day planner...whatever works for you. Add to it a weekly appointment with yourself, preferably at a consistent time and in a quiet location with limited interruptions so that you can focus. Do not blow off this appointment...EVER! I know, I know...you’re busy...things come up...the kids never give you any peace and quiet. Just remember: you are stuck in a pit! Nothing can be accomplished--for anyone--until you manage to pull yourself out of it. So finding a way out should be your #1 priority!
During your first appointment, create a blueprint for your staircase by considering your hierarchy of life priorities. What’s at the top? Health and fitness? Time with family? Your career? Knowing exactly which side of the pit you want to emerge on will determine how you build your staircase, so it’s worth recording your hierarchy and referring back to it whenever you’re not sure how to prioritize. For more guidance on how to determine this, go back and read the Achieving Simplicity post from August 3, 2020.
Next, you'll need to gather all your building materials. This involves brainstorming about everything you think you might need to do this week. Include errands, chores, phone calls/emails, research, work and home improvement projects, appointments, volunteer work, meals, and all other commitments and responsibilities. This step will become easier in time as you gain a sense of which materials (to-do items) you really don’t need for your staircase and build up a stockpile of the ones you use each and every week. Keep a running task list that you continually add to as you think of new things.
Once you have a comprehensive list, identify the components you really don’t need and get them out of your way. In other words, delegate as many tasks as you reasonably can and eliminate or defer the optional things that don't align with your top priorities. (Here’s where that blueprint really comes in handy!) Where might you be able to relax your standards or expectations to make this climb a bit easier? What optional tasks can wait? By the way, relaxation time is not optional. While you may need to tweak how much of it you get from one week to the next, trying to make do without it is like building a staircase without any hardware. Eventually it will collapse under the pressure.
Now you just need to order your steps. Fill out your calendar and daily tasks lists while answering these questions:
Once you’ve completed your staircase, you’re ready to start climbing. But first, don’t forget a daily safety check. Each morning, consult your plan, just as you would double-check the reliability of each step before placing all your weight on it. If you discover a weak or missing tread up ahead, don’t panic...just replace it. It’s a whole lot easier to tweak your staircase as you go through your week, than it is to try to climb out of that pit without one.
Download our FREE Week-Ahead Planner to help you get started.
The best news is that the more staircases you build, the better and quicker your construction becomes. With a well-drawn blueprint and the right tools, building a staircase to any solution can be easy peasy.
Have you ever noticed how time-consuming consuming food can be? First we have to decide what food to eat. Then we have to acquire the food. Next, we have to prepare the food. After that, we actually eat the food. And finally, we must clean up from preparing and eating the food. And this cycle never ends. Most of us perform each of these tasks several times, every single day. It stands to reason that any effort to simplify our lives must include simplifying how we consume food.
Whether you are cooking for a large family or eating alone, a little planning can go a long way toward saving valuable time, effort, money and energy in the kitchen. Knowing in advance what's on the menu will allow you to take advantage of some shortcuts and ultimately leave you feeling less stressed and more satisfied by your meals. As you may have gathered, I'm a big advocate of meal planning and have created this free guide and menu planner to help teach you just how easy peasy it can be. But whether you plan a week's worth of dinners in advance or not, here are a few tips to help you simplify your eating:
The most important rule of all to follow when it comes to cooking and eating your food is to enjoy the moment! Take a much-needed break from your daily stresses as you eat. If you're eating with others, enjoy the time together and some good conversation. If you're eating alone, enjoy the quiet solitude and time to reflect. Either way, put your phone down, turn off the TV, and give yourself some time to unwind. Eating should be about replenishing your mind and soul, as well as your body. Be present in the moment. You invested a lot of time and effort in creating it...make it worth it!
With a few tips and a healthy appetite, even keeping food simple can be easy peasy.
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Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.