July 21, 2015

Getting Down to Business

It is a very good Tuesday here in sunny, hot and humid Arizona. I am sitting at my desk, blogging, and it is almost 1:30 p.m. My routine has been upset today, thanks in part, to my email not working properly. I have had issues with my email for the past couple months, but it was very sporadic, so I didn't make a big deal about it. The past couple days, however, have been trying. I have felt like I wasn't getting my emails at all, and that was really bugging me to no end. I spent the better part of the morning trying to fix whatever was wrong with my inbox. I have thought for a long time that the problem was with my service provider, Cox, but now I am thinking that it is Thunderbird (a Mozilla product) that is causing the problem. I read online that there was a known bug in the program. The main issue I have is that all my emails are stored in Thunderbird, and I cannot import them into another reader so that they will be accessible to me. It frustrates me, but I know that in time, it will be okay. This too shall pass...so the saying goes. I guess the blessing of having email problems is that the work I did, trying to get everything fixed, spurred me to get organized, and that as Martha Stewart says, is a "very good thing."

Organizing My Life

There are many systems or ways to organize one's life. I think most people like to be organized, but for many, the process of organization seems to be what causes them the most problems. I happen to be an organizer by nature. I find organization fun to do, and I like to get my things in order. I guess I am like this because of the way my brain works. I tend to find clutter distressing, and I worry about missing important dates or assignments simply because I might misfile them or misplace them on my desk or in one of my many organizers (file folders). I tend to stick to an old fashioned system of organization, and as such, my process is all about sorting and collecting like items. I don't really maintain file cabinets anymore, simply due to a lack of space, but also I found that I tended to stuff things away (never to be seen again), and that really didn't benefit me in the end. I have since taken to purging, and I love the feeling of getting rid of things. In fact, I am thinking of picking up on the latest fad in organization called "Kondoizing," which is based on the book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing," by Marie Kondo. I am not sure if I can go all the way with Kondoizing or not, but I do think there is value in purging, and creating a streamlined and slimmed down, minimalist approach to life.

The Minimalistic Approach

As I plan for fall 2015, I am already thinking of ways to stay organized. You see, I haven't found the perfect solution to keeping tabs on all my students yet. I checked today, and I think I have about 130 students at GCU, and more than likely, I will have about 25 at ACU. This means I need to track assignments and grades for close to 150 students. On top of this, I also have my studies at Regent, and I need to start planning for my Qualification exams in the fall. In all, I need a good system of organization to help me stay focused and on track -- right on through to December -- Praise the Lord! So for right now, I am contemplating several ideas that will help me be more organized come August. I need a system for school (teaching), exam prep (Regent), and home keeping (my current house and my future home). In the past, I have tried several systems. They each had pros/cons. I am seeking a new way, a better way than these tried-and-true approaches. I am thinking of going minimalist, but not 100% minimalist as I stated. I am looking for something in between, something that suits my style, my needs, and the way my brain works. Hmmm....

1. The Box System

One of the many systems I have tried to use in the past is a box system. In a box system, everything that belongs together is placed in one box. I like this idea, and it seems simple enough. The negative to it is that it makes it difficult to find that "one item" you may need because it is sitting at the bottom of a box. I tend to go to the box system first because it fits my mind well. I typically categorize my tasks so that I can know what I need to tackle next. So for example, I label my tasks according to their group -- classes at Regent -- for example. This enables me to work on a task, but it back into its box, and then forget about it while I move on to another box. I compartmentalize well. I am just not sure if this is the best way to organize my life, know what I mean?

2. The File Drawer/Cabinet System

For many years, I lived by file drawers and cabinets. I think it was a left-over from my days working in offices where everything was filed in folders and hanging folders. In those days, we had walls of cabinets, offices filled with cabinets, and everything had its place in its own folder. Folders were grouped into categories based on their function, and then placed in cabinets stored for convenient retrieval. For years, my home office also had file cabinets in them. My ex-husband was a good one for liking the file cabinet system so we had dozens of file cabinets. I found them to be dust-catchers and after a while, they seemed to be "dead zones" where you put stuff you didn't want to keep out on the desk. It seemed like to me they were simply good for hiding the clutter, the mess of materials an office collects over time. I came to hate them in the end, and now I do not have a file cabinet to speak of in my house.

3. The Less is More Approach

After the divorce, I had to give away much of my old life because I didn't have enough storage space for it. I kept the most important "things" attached to my memories, but generally, I purged like crazy. It felt so good to let things go, especially those old dusty things that didn't really matter to me, but were stored on a shelf or in a drawer for "emergency use." Yes, I was happy to finally get rid of all the "just in case" stuff that cluttered up my life. Now, I am thinking of using this system again, the paring it down to the bare minimum, just so that I can learn to live with less. I really like the idea of form and function, having one thing to meet a need rather than 3 or 4 similar items that get used rarely. I have started to think about this in terms of clothing because I tend to hoard shoes, purses, and t-shirts. I love shopping, even though I don't buy expensive clothes, I do have a thing for t-shirts.

My first move after the divorce was to a rented town home. I had about 1200 SQFT and plenty of room for storage. I purged initially, and then a bit more after I was settled for a bit. When I moved from this home to my present home, I had to purge even further. Mostly, I gave up "things," household things, because I was merging my house with my parents. I packed some keepsakes away, but again, I purged and tossed anything that was not functional or that I thought wouldn't be used over the next couple years.

Since that time, I have purged again, and now I am ready to really get organized, to make use of the remaining items, and to put together a system that will work going into the future. One thing is for sure, I am never going to live in a cluttered and dirty (grimy and dusty) home again. I lived that way for 30 years, and while I made the best of it, the truth was that I never could get used to the fact that my ex was a hoarder. He would try, but in truth, he never could toss anything away. He would complain at me all the time, telling me that I need to clean and clear away the clutter. The problem was that there was no place for me to store things because he had items that were 20 and 30 years old (in boxes, never touched, never used). When you live like this for a long time, you get used to it. I mean, you finally give in to the overload, and you realize that there is no way to tackle the mess, so you just ignore it. I know for a fact that part of the reason why I was so unhappy back then was because of the mess. I cannot live in mess, I just cannot. I am not a perfectionist, a Mary Poppins, so to speak, where everything must be "spit spot." No, I do have some clutter around, but for the most part, it is minimal mess.

In clearing away the clutter, I have always used the following system for sorting/prioritizing my tasks and my things:
  1. Most important, first
  2. Most valuable, second
  3. Most tedious, third
  4. The rest...
It seems weird, but I tend to accomplish tasks based on a values system. I do sort by time/date, but then I decide based on value -- what has the most value or bang for the buck. In organizing my home, it is which task will reap the biggest reward. This way, you can accomplish one task and see the results right away. Sometimes people focus on all the little tasks, and while they are good to get out of the way, the big picture is still a bit of a mish-mash (a pistache!) I have also followed this approach with good success, especially at work.
  • Make a list of everything that must be done today. Mark them as urgent and non-urgent.
  • Assess the value of each item. Prioritize based on value -- is a school assignment more important than replying to emails? Do what is most important first. Save the busy work for later.
  • Set realistic goals for what can be done each day. Don't try to do too many things, instead focus on what is "do able" for that day only.
  • Budget some "flex time" so that you can handle emergencies. Sometimes life happens so make sure your 'to do' list is not so packed that you cannot be flexible to handle other immediate needs.
  • Say NO to the time wasters - social media, telephone, TV, Netflix, etc. These things can zap your time and shorten your attention span so that it is impossible to accomplish anything.
When it comes to clearing up around the house, well, then a better system is to decide schemes based on room use. For example, in the living areas of the home, I cannot stand clutter. I need to have everything put away, and I like to have a purely functional space to do things in. So for example, in my kitchen, I rarely have things on the counters. I keep only those items that are necessary on the counter, and everything else gets put underneath or in the pantry closet. In the family room, I have space cleared for sitting, reading, and TV watching. I don't like to see newspapers, mail, magazines, or even books littered about. I like to know that should someone pop in for a visit, my main areas are clean and presentable.

In the back of the house, I try to keep the bedrooms ordered. I always make the bed, every day, and I always put my clothes away. I don't stack laundry in piles or baskets, but I put them where they belong. I also make use of closet space and cupboards so that seasonal items are put away. I use the under the bed space too, and I try to minimize the number of "things" that catch dust. I hate to dust, it is right up there next to vacuuming so I have learned that the best way to keep from having to do it, is to reduce the clutter and items that collect dust.

Around the House

Everyone has a different idea about what they want to see in a home. For me, the most important part of home keeping is "keeping a home" so that it is functional and useable. My home is very important to me. It is a place of solace and a place where I can decompress from the stress of my work. Therefore, I need a home that is ordered and clean. The very thought of coming home to a mess is what drives me crazy. The first thing I would do is want to clean -- and after a long day teaching -- it is the last thing I should be doing every day. Thus, my home is my castle, and as such, I am particular as to how I keep it in check.

Home keeping has been defined many different ways over the course of the past hundred years. Check any of the free online dictionaries and you will find two definitions: 1) staying at home; and 2) not gadding about. According to Merriam-Webster, the term, home keeping has been around since 1616. Generally, it was used to denote the roles and responsibilities of those who "keep a home." This would include the cleaning and caring of a home as well as storing items used for or in the home.

Home keeping to me means all the things a person must do to keep their home functioning well. This includes repairs, inside and out, as well as practical solutions that serve to prevent problems from arising in the future. Good home keeping then is essential to maintaining a well-ordered, well-run, and well-maintained home.

Getting Started with Minimalist Thinking

As I mentioned in the opening for this post, I have seriously considered going the "Kondo" way when it comes to "less is more" thinking. I don't think I could go 100% minimalist, but I certainly can adopt some of this thinking to shape the way I choose to think about items. For example, some organizer/bloggers suggest rethinking the idea of "space as a cost" measure. The idea is that often we grant something a place in our home simply because we have "room for it." So for example, in that spare room you might be storing things that have never been used or not used in years simply because you have room to keep them. Secondly, some bloggers suggest that it is important to consider the cost of keeping items -- not just from a space/value perspective -- but from a mental clutter perspective. This is my big issue -- clutter isn't just about space, but it is about the energy generated or drained from items that are nonfunctional and useless. In my view, holding on to boxes and boxes of pictures, for example, is a waste of space and energy. It is better in my view to take out the precious photos, scan them to CD, and save them electronically. This frees up floor storage space, while also making them available for use online. Furthermore, saving some of these photos and arranging them in frames would make them easily accessible for viewing. I know I rarely dig through those old photos anymore, and over time, they are fading and becoming quite brittle. If I don't preserve them soon, they will be unrecognizable.

Purge, Purge, Purge

I am at the point now where I feel like there are several areas I can still purge to reduce the clutter. The first is with my closet. I have a lot of clothes, and as I am intent on losing this last 20 pounds, more than likely many of these items will be tossed to the Goodwill. A natural purge is on the horizon for sure. Still, I must resist the temptation of buying the same amount of things, just in a smaller size. I am thinking of creating a wardrobe that is pared down, minimalist, and functional. Steve Job was known for his minimalist approach to dressing. He favored jeans and a black turtleneck shirt (or tee shirt). He wore the same thing every day, and no one every looked at him and said "Oh poor, Steve Jobs! He doesn't have any clothes to wear!" In truth, Jobs certainly could afford a luxurious wardrobe, but instead, he chose a simple style that fit his personality well.

I read a review for a book I am thinking about purchasing on Amazon. I like the premise, and the reviews are fairly positive. It is called, "Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving" by Lorilee Craker. In the book, the author interviews Amish people to find out how they are thriving during a down-turned economy. The book jacket states, "When writer Lorilee Craker learned that the Amish are not just surviving but thriving in the economic downturn, she decided to find out why. What she found was about a dozen tried and true financial habits the Amish have employed for generations that will make your cash last longer and help you build wealth."  So I am not planning on converting to Amish Mennonite any time soon, but I do value the hardwork and the diligence these people seem to characterize most. Craker mentions four specific principles that seem to predominate Amish thinking towards sufficiency and contentment.

I find that I can identify with these tenets as well.

Use It Up!
  1. Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without
  2. Rethink your gift giving
  3. Repurpose, recycle, and reuse
  4. Eat like royalty for a peasant's pittance
According to Jeff McMahon, "Money Secrets of the Amish isn’t so much about making money; it’s about family, discipline, and redefining what wealthy means. This is a great read that helps us all to see more clearly what’s really valuable in our lives." I think this is important to remember -- what we strive for in life must always be of the most value to us. The Bible says it this way in Matt. 6:19-24 AMP,
Do not gather and heap up and store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust and worm consume and destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But gather and heap up and store for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust nor worm consume and destroy, and where thieves do not break through and steal; For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your entire body will be full of light. But if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the very light in you [your conscience] is darkened, how dense is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise and be against the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (deceitful riches, money, possessions, or whatever is trusted in).
The idea is that what we attend to or give preference to is a right indicator of where our heart is focused. Thus, if we focus on things, accumulation of things, and we do not keep them in check, we run the risk of placing undo attention on them. I believe that living in a messy or cluttered home, a place where there is an accumulation of "stuff" is indicative of a mind/heart issue. I am speaking of myself here, so as not to point the finger at anyone else, but it is something to pause and carefully consider. You see, in the Word, we know that the Lord told His disciples not to accumulate "things" because they would not need to worry about their daily requirements. Jesus said that the Father would provide for them, so they didn't need to amass a large wardrobe or even carry much with them when they traveled about doing the Father's business. I see a parallel with how most Christian's live their lives today. Should the Lord say "Arise, take your stick and walk" would we be able to do so without it taking months to purge, to clear away the dross, and to make ourselves ready to do His work?

In this day and age, living simply can have many benefits. First, it can help us to stay focused on the Lord's work in our lives, and on ministry opportunities where we can be used to help others. Second, it is a way to clearly define our lifestyle from that of the world. The Amish have done this for centuries, and yes, while they refrain from using "worldly things" such as electricity, they have made a mark as "plain people," people who have learned the value of living simply. Three, when we live without by choice, we say to ourselves that we are choosing to live freely and without incumbrance. We can move about, go where we need to go, all because we have little to hold us to one particular place. Last, minimalism is also frugal, and it make use of every item, in every way, and it enables a greater respect of the item's function and form simply because it is useful (utilitarian).

I started thinking today that perhaps I would keep a second blog titled, "My Simple Life." I don't know...it is not like I have a lot of time to blog about living simply, minimally, these days. If the Lord chooses for me to do one, then I will do one. Until then, I am thinking about ways to downsize, to minimize, and to live more simply. I think there is value in the purge, the pursuit, and in the end, the process. I am thinking perhaps the Lord is preparing me to live this way. I am okay with this direction, and the Lord knows that I am content to live in whatever condition He chooses for me. Perhaps this whole process of purging, of letting go, has been to get me ready for the next step, the way He has in mind for me. I am ready, Lord. I am ready.

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