Tag Archives: decluttering

Tips For Adulthood: Five Self-Help Books That Changed My Life

self helpOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve never been much for self-help books.

As a general rule, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. And for a long time I think I was a bit of a snob where self-help books were concerned, thinking they were somehow low brow.

I was wrong. In the past few months, I’ve had occasion to read a couple of self-help books that have had a profound impact on how I want to move forward with my life. And in reflecting back, I realize that there have been a few others along the way that also left their mark.

So today I’m going to share five self help books that changed my life – organized by theme – in the hope that one of these might motivate you to change some aspect of your life that you’re not entirely satisfied with either.

Before I begin, If I can offer one piece of (self-help) of on my own, it would be that you not “dabble” in these books. While it’s fine to start and stop and/or to read them alongside something else, be sure that you read each one start to finish, because each one has its own internal logic which builds, chapter by chapter.

Above all: do the exercises. They are there to force you to confront tough questions about yourself and you won’t progress if you don’t use these tools to identify your strengths – as well as whatever it is that’s holding you back.

Finally, be patient:  some of these books are deceptively short. You might spend an entire month on one page before moving on to the next chapter. That’s just fine.

To wit, five self-help books that changed my life:

1. Happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s happiness franchise needs no introduction. She has a popular blog, several books and a podcast, all geared towards how to be happier in life. Gretchen’s basic philosophy is that through better self-understanding, most of us can make even tiny changes in our daily life that would make us happier, regardless of our baseline. So it’s not necessarily about rushing out and buying a new espresso machine or embarking upon an extreme sport vacation. Rather, small things like figuring out if you’re a chronic under-buyer or over-buyer and shopping accordingly or adopting a personal motif to inspire your creativity can improve your mood on a daily basis. Personally, I found her advice about singing in the morning to work wonders.

2. Career Change. I’m a huge fan of one of the most well-known guides to career change ever written: What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles. This book is so famous it has almost become a cliché. But when I left academia to go into journalism, I locked myself in a café several hours a day for several months and did nothing but follow this book’s script. The book’s basic premise is that to make a meaningful career change, you need to zero in on two variables: what you like and what you’re good at, and where these overlap (harder than it sounds). Six months later, I had a great job as a producer with Chicago Public Radio. I still recommend this book every time someone asks me if I have any advice on how to change careers without spending more than $15.

3. Creativity. I’m shouting to anyone who will listen about Elle Luna’s amazing The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. Like “Parachute,” this book is also partly about how to finding meaningful work and/or embark upon a career change. But it’s so much more. It’s about going to the very core of who you are and figuring out how to be authentic to that self – what Luna calls our “must.” It isn’t an easy or comfortable journey. (Try the “write your own obituary” exercise and you may well end up in tears.)  But the book is utterly inspiring because Luna believes so firmly that each of us really does have an amazing gift inside. We just need to figure out how to unlock that creativity and release it into the world. Bonus: because the author is a visual artist, the layout and design of this book are worth the shelf price in and of themselves.

4. Decluttering. Yeah, yeah I know. The whole decluttering thing is soooo…now. But Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever is another deceptively short and simple book that’s loaded with so much more. Kondo’s essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” Sure, as one of the friends I recommended this book to put it: “Your socks need to ‘relax’? Has it crossed your mind that this lady might be a teensy bit OCD?” (If you google her video on how to fold the perfect underwear drawer, you might find yourself agreeing…) But by the last chapter you will forgive her everything because what she’s really trying to do is to use tidying as a vehicle for achieving clarity in our lives (e.g., change careers/get a divorce/take up windsurfing/etc.) If we can get rid of all our excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed.

5. Platforms. This one is for all you aspiring writers out there who think you have a book in you. I’m currently reading Christina Katz’ Get Known Before The Book Deal. It’s the second time I’ve read this book and I’m finding it much more useful this time around, possibly because I have a much clearer idea for a non-fiction book proposal now than I did when I picked this up several years ago and was vaguely thinking about writing a novel. This book is written for all those aspiring non-fiction writers who want to be an “expert” in something but haven’t yet created their platform. It shows you how to do this, step by step. I found the chapters on identifying your target audience to be particularly useful.

How about you. What self-help book would you recommend?

Image: Self Help Books by Angie via flickr.

Spring Cleaning

Well hello there. I’m back from my travels. So I thought I’d pop in to say hello. (Cue: “Just popping in to say cuckoo. Cuck-oo!”) (Sorry. Couldn’t resist. And If you didn’t get that musical theatre reference,* I’m not quite sure what to say to you.)

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in our household, what with all the continent-jumping we’ve been doing. And I’ve responded to the jet-lag induced craziness by…cleaning.

Yes, that’s right. Cleaning. It is Spring after all. (75 and sunny when we touched down at Heathrow Friday night, thank you very much.)

Since we arrived home, I’ve been a veritable machine, clearing out books…toys…clothing…videos. Heck, even the decade-old double stroller that once attached to our bicycles is finally getting tossed! (Why, you may ask, do *still* have a double stroller when our children are ten and seven?)  And well you might ask. Rest assured that the responsibility does not lie with yours truly. But thank goodness we hung onto that sucker for as long as we did, as it makes an incredibly useful device for transporting said goodies to the upcoming Nearly New Sale, where said stroller will remain…

There’s nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned de-clutter to relax the mind and bring peace to the soul. But I’m not going to stop there. Having tackled the dining room, living room and both bedrooms, the next target is…drum roll please…my inbox.

As I write, I have some 2,896 messages in my inbox. (Half of which probably say something like “Clean out your inbox!”) And while I was going to push off the horrid task of sitting down, rolling up my sleeves and ploughing through that bad boy until next week – after getting a few blog posts under my belt – I then thought, why wait?

After all, I’m already on a spring cleaning roll. So I want to capitalize on that momentum before it disappears.

Plus, I’m not sure if I’ve shared this little tidbit with you, but the country in which I currently reside (that would be the U.K.) has basically shut down for the month of April. Between the gi-normous Easter break they take every year, coupled with assorted Bank holidays (European Labor Day is next Monday), not to mention that whole Royal Wedding lollapalooza they’ve got going on later this week (and we all know how excited I am about *that*), this place has basically been a ghost town for the entire month. Every other day, it seems, is a public holiday.

A case in point: My son will have attended school for three whole days this month; my daughter, a whopping eight. Which means that I’ve been a bit short of free time of late.

So – channelling my old friend Naomi Williams – I’ve decided to go with the spring cleaning mania that would appear to be coursing through my veins, rather than resisting it. I’ve cleared out my inbox before with terrific results. But this time I’m going to go medieval. I’m giving myself five days to reduce my inbox – if not to zero – than to as close to zero as I deem reasonable.

So wish me luck. I can’t wait to come back to our conversation. So much has happened over the holidays that I’m dying to share with you.

But for now – as we say in The Sound of Music* – so long, farewell…

 

Image: Spring Cleaning – #3 by lastonein via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. A while back, I linked to the absolutely hilarious mock twitter feed @mayoremanuel, which provided a fictionalized account of Rahm Emanuel’s bid to become mayor of Chicago. Now the Atlantic has published a riveting account of the guy behind @mayoremanuel (who has finally gone public), a fascinating tale of satire, narrative structure, and just good old-fashioned fun.

2. I loved my Politics Daily colleague Alison Fairbrother’s account of what it was like to shoot a gun for the very first time…while mourning her father. Beautiful.

3. I always enjoy learning how writers practice their craft. Here’s a description of 20 acclaimed authors and their writing rituals at A Book Inside.

4. And while we’re on the topic of writers, I loved my friend and fellow writer Naomi Williams’ description of how she de-cluttered her house and her checkbook in two short months, even while continuing to write furiously. Best line? “Jesus, I thought, I’m turning into Emily Dickinson.”

5. Well, someone had to do it. Here are Charlie Sheen quotes captioned for New Yorker cartoons.

6. And speaking of Charlie Sheen, here’s a lovely little quiz in The Guardian where you figure which wack-job is speaking: Charlie Sheen or Muammar Qaddafi. (Hat tip: @donnatrussell)

7. Finally, here’s a piece I wrote for Politics Daily about the resignation of the Director of the London School of Economics because of the university’s extensive ties to the Qaddafi family.

Have a great weekend!

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Clear Out Your Inbox

Every week I offer tips for adulthood.

As many of you know, I recently moved house. And in the process of tossing out assorted long-dormant items like my son’s erstwhile Playmobil castle and the fish poacher that was serving as a spice rack, I realized that I shouldn’t limit my decluttering to actual stuff. It was also time to do a virtual declutter.

As I’ve said before, I’m not one of those die-hard Inbox Zero types. I’ve come to accept that there will always be a certain base level of flotsam cluttering up my inbox. Otherwise, I’d do nothing but eliminate emails all day long.

But there comes a time – and everyone has a different threshold – when you just can’t bear to look at your inbox splitting at the seams anymore. For me, it was when my inbox went over 1000 messages. (I won’t tell you how much over or you might gasp.) And I knew that it was time to get our my virtual hacksaw and start chopping.

If you’re like me, you probably dread the idea of sitting down and going through your inbox. Maybe there’s stuff in there that you’re trying to avoid. Or you fear that by managing your inbox, you will necessarily *not* be doing something else with your time. Or maybe the whole task is just too daunting.

But today’s post is meant to help you see that by setting aside time to clear out your inbox, you’ll actually feel calmer *and* more productive. Here’s why:

1. You get ideas. I’ve posted before about how I come up with ideas, whether it’s taking a “thinking shower” or going outside for a walk. When I get those ideas, I usually write them down in a little notebook I carry around that’s precisely for that purpose. But sometimes – and especially if it’s an idea that I plan to save for a later date – I write myself an email about the idea with the thought of subsequently storing it in a file on my computer. Except that sometimes I never actually complete that second step. And so the idea – which has subsequently gone completely out of my mind – is essentially lost, drowning in the sea that is my inbox until I find the time (which could be weeks, even months) to rescue it. Clearing out your inbox reminds you of those little gems that are hiding in the recesses of your brain.

2. You take action. And once you’ve been reminded of that cure for cancer you came up with while jogging one Thursday afternoon back in March, you might actually be inspired to do something about it. In my case, my virtual decluttering prompted me to send off an essay I’d written (gulp) 18 months ago to a major media outlet and also to get in touch with an agent I’d flagged but never actually contacted. Those were both things I’d been meaning to do for ages. But until I happened upon those items in my inbox, I completely forgot that they were even on my to-do list.

3. You reconnect with people. Just as the decluttering entailed in moving house reminds you of important people from your past, so too does scrubbing out your inbox remind you of friends and relationships that matter. I just found an email that was several months old from a friend of mine who moved to Colorado last year. In it, she not only brought me up to speed on what she’s been up to, but sent me an article about her new employer that reminded me – in turn – of an idea I’d been meaning to write about (Twofer! See #1). Another email from an old friend reminded me that his father had passed away. While I’d already sent my friend a condolence letter, I now remembered that I’d wanted to send his mother one as well.

4. You feel accomplished. If you’re like me, half of your inbox is filled with things like “Buy bananas!” “Get birthday present for X!,” “Write post on Z!” So half of your inbox is filled with things you’ve already done. (And we all know the joy of retro-actively crossing things off our to do lists!) With the rest of the items, you’re hopefully either executing them (see point #2) or storing them in a virtual home. Either way, you’ll feel like you’re getting stuff done.

5. You relax. And this is perhaps the greatest benefit of all. There’s nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned declutter, whether real or virtual. It takes years off your life…removes pounds from your body…lifts scales from your skin. (O.K., I”m mixing metaphors a bit but you get my drift.) Short of doing yoga, there’s really nothing quite so soothing.

Image: Inbox Zero by eweibust via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Songs To Listen To While You Move

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Today’s list is inspired by – what else? – my imminent move.

I remember when I was leaving graduate school and needed to pack up my apartment. I called an old friend and asked him for advice on how most efficiently to do this. His advice? “Get really drunk and stay up all night shoving things into boxes.”

That may have been good advice for that particular phase of life (even then, it remains doubtful), but it certainly isn’t how we’ve been approaching this move. Instead, to distract us from the minutiae as well as to motivate us to clear the final hurdle, we’ve been listening to a lot of music in our house of late.

And I’m finding that when you’re moving, listening to music that’s about actually about moving can be particularly inspirational. In that vein, here are five songs to get you psyched up for a move:

1. Cleaning Out My Closet. O.K. Definitely not one to listen to with the kids around, what with all those references to killing one’s mother and the like. But there’s something really cathartic about the rage and determination that Eminem brings to this song that will have you decluttering in no time.

2. Movin’ Out. Yes, I’m a die-hard Billy Joel fan. I’ll fess up right here (along with admitting to a certain fondness for Barry Manilow.) The great thing about this song is that it’s all about New Jersey (“Who needs a house out in Hackensack? Is that all you get for your money?“) And New Jersey is the great state where I grew up – and, significantly, left at the age of 18. So for me, this song is a poignant reminder of why there are times in your life when you just need to move on.

3. Movin’ On Up. Oh, come on. Surely you remember this one. It’s the theme song from that 70s sitcom about the upwardly mobile African-American family, The Jeffersons. (Still don’t remember? Sure you do. Listen to this to jog your memory.) What an awesome song (and show.) I’ve been humming it for weeks now, as we contemplate a move into a bigger space with a nicer view. It’s not the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I’ll grant you. But next to where we’ve been living (see yesterday’s post), it’s not too shabby.

4. Leavin’ On A Jet Plane. The Peter, Paul and Mary version, puh-leeze. My husband hates folk music of any sort – or as he puts it, music that “inspires you to sway.” Me? Can’t get enough on it. Especially when it’s loaded with nostalgia, like this song is. So if you want to inject some melancholy into your departure – to really savor nostalgia for a place – pop this bad boy into the CD player and start swaying.

5. Hit The Road Jack – And then, once you’re done feeling sombre, it’s time to kick it with the incomparable Ray Charles. Here he is performing his classic Hit The Road, Jack. Say no more.

What have I forgotten?

Image: Packing Sucks by John and Katurah via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Make A Move Easier

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I mentioned yesterday that we will soon be moving.

Did I mention how much I absolutely *hate* moving? If I had my fictitious wife, I think I’d put “orchestrate all moves” at the top of her list of duties.

Not everyone feels this way about moving. I think it’s a great example of something where there are just two kinds of people. One friend of mine, for instance, loves to move because it enables her to throw away all the things in her house that annoy her. My husband doesn’t actually mind it either. It gives him an excuse to re-allocate our many gadgets within an entirely new space. (Aha! So the Dustbuster really *can* fit on top of the television! Whaddya know?)

But for me, moving is the very embodiment of hell. So if, like me, you dread moving house, here are five tips to make the process easier:

1. Get boxes beforehand. Lots of them. This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many boxes you need to carry out even a small move. Fortunately, after all of my work on the PTA soliciting donations from various local businesses, most of the merchants in my neighborhood on a speed-dial relationship with me already. So I don’t foresee a problem obtaining boxes when I need them. But if that weren’t the case, I’d begin collecting now. Buying them from Mailboxes Etc. really adds up. Trust me!

2. Make a Change of Address List. Right now – while you’re thinking about it – sit down and make a list of every possible place that needs to know that you’re moving. Not just obvious places like your kids’ schools and your doctor’s office, but all of your frequent flyer programs, any utility companies who send you a paper bill, your grocery store if you have food delivered, and especially your local voting authority. There are way more than you think.

3. Declutter Now. I’m not a natural de-clutterer. I tend to favor putting things into neatly stacked piles, only to ignore them until said pile topples over under the weight of freshly sorted material. And particularly with this move we’re about to embark on, it looks like we’ll be moving into a considerably larger space. So it’s really tempting to just hang on to that PlayMobil Castle and all its attendant turrets, even though my son hasn’t played with it for years. But that would be a huge mistake. Because there are so many things – clothes, toys, kitchen aids – that we simply don’t use and must go buh-bye. (Unsure of what to toss? Here are 8 specific tips from the decluttering guru, Gretchen Rubin.)

4. Have someone else pack for you. Sadly, we can’t afford to pay someone to pack up for us this time round. But I have done that twice in my life and my husband often comments that those may well have been the two happiest days of my life. (Too bad all I owned at the time was a suitcase, a guitar and a futon, which did take a bit of zing out of the pleasure, it must be said.) But there is *nothing* like having a couple of people whisk into your house and pack up your belongings while you sit there sipping a cup of tea with your feet up.

5. Buy some Xanax. Really, just do it now. You’ll thank me later.

*****

Speaking of moving, Aiden Donnelly Rowley had an interesting post over the weekend on Ivy League Insecurities about what it’s like to sell a house and that bitter-sweet feeling that accompanies the open house. Have a look…

Image: Packed Boxes Upstairs by Arthaye via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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