Why Wait?

When you think of home, what comes to mind? It may be the place we go every night and wake in the morning. Or it is where we spent our childhood with our family. For others, it is where multiple generations have lived. Often our idea of home consists of time, place and people blending together to bring about feelings of peace and comfort. From the youngest couple, getting their first place together. To the couple celebrating for 60th anniversary. We all work to create an ideal environment. Often with dreams of it being the place in which we can relax and be comfy for the remainder of life. Somehow though, all too often, our dream can turn a little scary.

A familiar topic conversation among my middle-aged friends is the onslaught of stuff in their home. A, heretofore, unnoticed collection of stuff which seemed to grow until not one more artifact of our existence could be fit into a usual ‘hiding’ place. Our homes, like our lives, can easily be overrun when we are not proactive caretakers. Too often we reach and age at which home maintenance and stuff management becomes difficult. It is then, that we begin to consider the overwhelming task of going through our stuff and deciding what to do with it.

Why not start now? There are some real benefits to saying farewell and passing your treasures to a new owner.

  • Action taken today, won’t require action tomorrow.
  • The recipient’s life will be enriched. Whether a barely worn coat, or a family heirloom, gifting an article to someone who either needs or cherishes it, will brighten their day and make a difference in their life.
  • A side benefit, which does still exist, are tax deductions for charitable gifting.
  • As sad as it may be, disagreement over personal articles of the departed cause many family rifts. Listing them in the TPPM (Write It Down! Posted 9/21/2017) greatly lessens the risk of this happening. But personally handing it to a new owner accentuates the gift with a special memory.
  • There are positive emotional benefits for decluttering your home and life.

Don’t know where to begin? Well, this is Steps For Today….

  1. Set your expectations for success. Like the bonsai tree, our home and life requires a little pruning from time-to-time. And like the bonsai tree enthusiast, we should have a vision of what the perfect tree looks like before we start trimming. In an earlier post (What’s the Plan 11/7/2017) you were encouraged to envision life in retirement. I’ll bet that vision doesn’t include about 95% of the items squirreled away in boxes within the deepest recesses of your home, or, God forbid,….storage locker!
  2. Make it easy. In our home, we keep a box near the front door for items to donate to charity. This makes snap judgements easier to accomplish because there is already a place for gifts.
  3. What’s in Box #1? If you don’t know where to start, just pick a box and start making decisions. The point is not ‘everything musts go’. But rather ‘Do I need this? Or might it be time for someone else to enjoy it?’ It may be best to just set a goal; maybe one box, closet, shelf, or area a month. But stick with it.
  4. Take a picture. Few are blessed with a perfect memory. Often we hang on to an old article because it reminds us of a great experience or time with those we love. Try taking a picture of the article before passing it on. A picture on the wall, in a book, or online will most likely bring those memories forward way more often than an article in a box in the back of the closet.
  5. Have those difficult discussions with your adult children about personal belongings in which they show interest. One of the last things my mother did before she passed, was to personally pass on her jewelry. I believe that doing so in person made the exchange more precious than the items. And in doing it personally, she minimized the conflicts which may have ensued if multiple people cherished the same item.

I hope that’s enough to get started. Don’t wait too late to get started. Or someday all that stuff will just pop up out of nowhere and surprise you. Trust me, you’ll feel a sense of relief with each item that makes its way to a new home.

Thanks for reading.
Please like and share with those who are struggling with these issues.
And remember to take the next step.

Saying Goodbye to Things

In my books and articles, I write a lot about organizing your home and life. But there is usually more to getting ‘organized’ than just finding a place for everything. There is decluttering.

It’s been my experience that the ‘skill’ of collecting too much stuff has many different origins. I have talked to farmers who wouldn’t dream of throwing away a left-over nut, bolt, piece of steel, wire, or lumber. They know that something will eventually break, and it’ll probably be needed. Besides, it’s a long drive to town. Other people might associate their feelings about a person or event with a related object. Still yet, some just have a lot of unfinished business (see prior post Help for Household Stress – Steps For Today®). Whatever the cause, just the mention of decluttering can evoke anxiety in most. And, therefore, is something we often avoid.

In the book Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki, Japan’s most famous minimalist takes you through his personal journey to a life with more focus on living and less focus on things.  It’s an interesting read as he learns more about himself with each step in the process. Here are a few steps from his book:

1. Discarding takes skill. Like all skills, you have to start somewhere. Do something simple at first. Start small and work your way up to larger items. Try just adding one additional small item to the trash and then immediately taking it all out to the bin.

2. If you can’t remember how many gifts you’ve given, don’t worry about things you’ve gotten. We’re often concerned that throwing out a gift that we no longer use will offend the giver. But wouldn’t you, as a giver, prefer for that the gift no outlast its usefulness?

3. Things bring more things. When we buy new things, we often get caught up in all of the accessories. For example, a couch can lead to matching chairs, rugs, curtains, etc.

4. Getting rid of things frees you from the stress of keeping up with the Jones’. He writes that we spend too much thought, time, and treasure on trying to keep up with everyone else. And that letting this go is a feeling of great relief.

Sasaki has many more reasons for getting rid of things. Some might say he takes it to the extreme. But he believes having less things, gives him a greater ability to focus on, and appreciate, the events of his life.

One thing that Sasaki doesn’t really address, is the passing of ‘heirlooms’. I don’t know why people wait until they are no longer able to participate, to take this opportunity to give a wanted gift. It can be a great experience. See my next post for ways to make this happen.

Thanks for reading.
Please like and share with those who are struggling with these issues.
And remember to take the next step.

It’s in the Garage Somewhere

It’s springtime. Time to clean out the garage of its winter accumulation of clutter. You know, all those things that needed a place to rest, but it was too cold to spend any time out there making a home for them. Things like the new power tool you got for Christmas or the leftover sidewalk salt and shovels that you hopefully won’t need again till next winter. But, if you’re like me, it’s also time to take a long look at some of the things that you’ve been keeping just in case you ‘might need it someday’. There can be so much to do, it just may seem easier to shut the door and wait for a warmer day. But won’t it be better to be doing something fun on that warmer day? Might as well get started. But where?

To get started, I usually pick one area and work through it first. I typically put away the winter toys and tools first. Getting the winter toys back into the attic clears up a lot of space quickly. I know I can rotate the tools to the back of the tool rack, and rotate out the gardening tools. It just makes it that much easier when I need a shovel, saw, or trimmers.  It’s also a good time to look for any old tools that you just haven’t used in a while and their taking up space. Likewise goes for when you’re putting away the driveway salt and ice scrapers. Maybe there’s not enough salt to keep over the summer, or the scraper is worn out and should be replaced.

After that’s finished, I like to work on cleaning up a section at a time. Maybe the workbench first and then move on to the shelves and cabinets. The point is that the small successes of each area tend to inspire me to keep working. I’ll eventually get around to all the smaller, nuts and bolts and things, which can take a lot of time to get to their proper location.

Cleaning up the garage is rarely a one-day project. It’s usually broken down into several steps and executed in between my other projects. I just know I get a real feeling of accomplishment when everything is back ‘where it should be’.

Thanks for reading.
Please like and share with those who are struggling with these issues.
And remember to take the next step.

Things Change

My prior post focused on keeping track of documents in order to lessen worry and confusion, especially when the documents are critical and you’re in a hurry. But anyone who has dealt with the long-term maintenance of documents knows there is another type of confusion that occurs when the document doesn’t match your memory or the authors prior stated intention. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about an unauthorized revision. I’m talking about an authentic last version of the document which doesn’t match your, or someone else’s recollection. This can create a whole lot of unnecessary confusion and anxiety. Trust me, this can even happen when you’re the one who made the changes (and can’t remember why).

There is another document that I recommend but don’t write about often enough, the Master Log. The log contains a record of revisions to the document, including thoughts and rationale for the changes. This short document, kept with the original copy of the document, will explain what the author was thinking when the changes were made. This can go a long way to alleviating any ill-conceived notions about the authors intentions. Especially when the author is no longer available to explain it themselves. I have witnessed the runaway train of thoughts that can occur when a will is unclear in its intent. Why not take this simple step to preclude this from happening.

For more information on how to use this, and other stress preventing documents, is available in my book, First Steps For Success is available at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RQZJ2VD.

Thanks for reading. Please like and share with those who may benefit from this information!
And remember to take the next step.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In the spring of 1993, my life was chaotic to say the least. In the last 5 months, I had lost my wife, moved to another state, and started a new job. I was working hard to try to figure out what life would now be like for my three children and me. Most days it felt like trying to run with a full glass of water; you know somethings going spill.

One afternoon, I was going through some of the moving boxes that still resided in my garage, and what did I find? A stack of mail. Mail from this week, and maybe that week, and so on. I didn’t remember putting it there. But I didn’t remember a lot about what was going on at the time either. So, there was a mystery.

There was no mystery, however, that some of the mail contained overdue notices. I had no idea there were overdue bills because I relied on the mail to prompt me that something was due. Trying desperately to maintain some resemblance of control on any one part of my life, I decided this was something I could easily do better. Grabbing a pencil and paper, I went through the mail, my checkbook (remember those), and anything else I could find which would help me list out my financial obligations, and their due dates. Having this one simple sheet of paper greatly reduced the amount of anxiety I had about bill payments. I still use a ‘more modern’ version of it. No more mystery about what is due when!

The other mystery, about how the mail was misplaced, was soon solved too. As it turned out, my sweet 4-year-old daughter was “…just trying to help me.” And I guess, in a round-a-bout way, she did!

I’ve made a free, downloadable, bill payment spreadsheet is available at https://www.stepsfortoday.com/shop/. While you’re there, take a look around for other items and ideas to help organize your home and life. What tricks or tools do you use to help keep life on track?

Thanks for reading. Please like and share!
And remember to take the next step.

The Unexpected Journey

I went for a drive in my car.
My navigator took a nap.
And I took no map.
Now I don’t know where we are.

It’s a silly little rhyme about ending up lost due to lack of planning and taking responsibility. But how many times have we heard this same story, only it’s about life itself? It’s deceptively easy to just start driving ahead in life without making a plan, preparing for the trip, and working together to reach your goals. And, all-to-often, we can find ourself in a place we never intended to be; unprepared, emotional, and lost.

Steps For Today® was created to help minimize the unexpected detours of living. First Steps For Success was written as an inexpensive tool to help everyone design a map to navigate their journey through life. It’s loaded with ideas, detailed explanations, and examples for:

  • Getting your home and life organized
  • Starting a financial plan
  • Building and protecting an estate

If you’re wondering where to start, somewhere in the journey, or just want to make sure you’ve got your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed, this book is for you!

Thanks for reading. Please like and share!
And remember to take the next step…

Creating a Portable Home Workspace

School is back in session and some parents are now working from home. Many households have now discovered that workspaces are at a premium. Most homes do not have an office for each person. And unlike having a desk in which your tools and paperwork can be neatly stored for later retrieval, the home workspace tends to be temporary and varied in its location. This can lead to a lot of frustration and lost productivity as we search for misplaced items and paperwork. Here are some quick steps for organizing a home workspace.

One easy solution for creating a portable workspace is purchase a portable file box. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and features. My favorite is the ‘Iris Clear Letter-Size Portable File Box with Lid Organizer‘. It is somewhat translucent, has a place to store pencils and small supplies in the lid, and supports the use of hanging file folders (a must for me). They are stackable, but how high do you want to go with that before you’re tempting the fates with a catastrophic collapse into a swirling collage of papers and tears.

Outfitted with a portable file box, the industrious student (or employee) can organize their papers into tabbed manila folders securely contained within a colored hanging file for easy retrieval. I prefer 3 tab manila folders because their larger tab gives me more room on which to write descriptive information. The more information on the tab, the easier it is to find the right folder. And always write the date, and possibly the expiration date (when applicable), on it so you know when you can dispense with it.

A separate storage box can be set up with useful shared materials and tools such as scissors, tape, staplers, hole punches, and erasers. A trip to the hardware store may be your best option to locate a box for these materials. A 15 inch toolbox should hold a holepunch and rulers. There’s usually quite a variety of boxes from which to choose.

Of course, tools for organization only work when used with some discipline and routine. As any parent knows, making a game of ‘clean-up’ motivates their children into another level of industriousness. With a little ingenuity, it may even work on adults too!

Hope this brings a little less confusion and anxiety into your home as we continue to push through 2020.

As always, thanks for reading.

And remember to take the next step…


Help for Household Stress

Household stress comes from many sources. One contributor can be disorganization. Having a home in physical chaos not only causes confusion, it can also create a constant nagging sensation of unfinished business. Which, of course, stresses us out even more. A 1927 study by Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik showed that when work was interrupted before completion, the details were more readily recalled from memory. This ‘Zeigarnik Effect’, may possibly be due to the brain keeping all of that tasks related information ready, expecting the work to be completed. So if a daily walk through your home, office, or life churns stressful feelings of unfinished business and loss of control over life, then how chronic stress be avoided?

The effects of chronic stress not only wear on us emotionally, they can actually change our brain. Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School addressed these findings in his 2018 article https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-from-stress. In there he concludes that there is evidence that chronic stress can rewire your brain; building up the part which is designed to handle thoughts associated with removing threats, while reducing the size of the brain tasked with more complex thoughts and higher-order thinking. Ugh. Who wants that?!

Here are some steps which we can take today to relieve some of this stress:

  1. Grab a sheet of paper and look around the room you’re in. Write down something that needs closure. Perhaps it’s cleaning the windows, filing some papers away, cleaning up a bookshelf, whatever. The size of the task doesn’t matter, except it may be best to start small.
  2. Write down this one task on your sheet of paper. Now write down how long it should take to complete if you really focus all of your attention on getting it done.
  3. Write down what reward you’ll give yourself for completing the task.
  4. Decide if you can do it now or write down when you’re going to do it.
  5. Tell others of your intention. This may seem silly, but having the social expectation will help reinforce its completion. And who knows, maybe they’ll decide to help. But you might have to share the reward!
  6. If completing the task later, set a reminder on your phone, calendar, mirror, wherever necessary.
  7. When working the task, don’t let anything distract you from its completion. Put on some of your favorite music and use a favorite candle or essential oil to make the process more enjoyable
  8. When finished, write DONE in big letters on the tasks sheet of paper and hang it for all to see (especially you). Give yourself the reward you’ve earned. And let those you told about the task know that you’ve finished.
  9. Wasn’t that fun!
  10. Go back to step 1 and repeat….

This all may sound a bit extreme, but you are actually using an arsenal of tricks to rewire your neural pathways and cement a new habit into your life. Give it a shot, it may actually be fun.

I’m always interest in feedback. What other tips, tricks, and techniques do you use to make a task seem more enjoyable?

Find more steps for organizing your life at www.StepsForToday.com.

As always, thanks for reading.

And remember to take the next step…


Going Back to Normal?

Educational and motivational powerhouse Lou Tice, of the Pacific Institute, often said that he never wanted someone to tell him that he ‘hadn’t changed a bit after all these years’. His point was that he always wanted to be growing and changing in some way. During this season of lockdown and self-quarantine, many of us have had a little extra time to reflect on a great deal of things. I would venture a guess also, that there have been a great many who have made resolutions of how they’re going to change when ‘things get back to normal’. But just like with those New Year’s resolutions’, if this fresh crop of resolutions are not getting a little daily care, they’ll wither a die of neglect.

To give our resolutions the best chance of success, we need to keep them in focus; finding daily motivation, initiation, and appreciation of the intended accomplishment. To keep the focus, here a few Steps For Today:

1. Ask yourself why is this change important? There is usually some epiphany driving a new desire for change. Take a few minutes to dig for the underlying ‘why’ until you are satisfied with your answer.

2. Either journal, or download the ‘Today’s Expectations’ worksheet from the website, to capture this ‘why’, and the thoughts from the steps below.

3. Write down a few words or phrases describing how making this change will affect your life and/or the lives of those you love. It’s important to write these down so that you will recognize the changes as they begin to occur.

4. Create daily reminder to reflect on these steps. Writing something down daily forces us to take just a few minutes to record our thoughts and accomplishments, and refresh our intentions.

5. Ask a reliable person if they can be your accountability partner. Someone who will take the time, at to whom you’ve given the ‘all clear’, to ask you about your progress.

6. Tell others about your intended goal. Knowing that others expect a change will help solidify your resolve.

These simple steps will go a long way towards helping you reach your new normal.

I’d love to hear any tips or tricks which you use to help keep focus on your resolutions!

As always, thanks for reading.
And remember to take the next step…

PS: The Today’s Expectation worksheet can be downloaded for free from the website store. It is a one-sheet, pdf file, with an identical front and back. Each face of the sheet contains the following areas:

– A place for 3 good expectations for the day
– A place for 3 areas to focus on
– 15 lines with checkboxes for activities to accomplish
– 3 lines to write down expectations that were met and/or pleasant surprises
– 3 lines to write down expectations for tomorrow

How To Stop Misplacing Your Stuff

We all have experienced it. That 15th time we’ve looked for our phone or keys. Or, maybe that missing pair of shoes that never seem to be ‘where they should be’. Whatever IT is, it’s something we know shouldn’t keep happening. But it does. And every time it happens, we think to ourselves, I’ve got to quit doing this; but rarely take steps to stop it. It’s almost like it’s some kind of game that our subconscious mind is playing with us. And it is, in a way. It’s your hippocampus burying the location information under a sea of other information. When you think about it, items are usually ‘misplaced’ when we are preoccupied with another task. While we’re focused on it, we’re not creating as many markers in our memory regarding our more normal activities. Thankfully, there are a few things we can do to avoid this game.

Here’s a few Steps you can take Today to organize your stuff and help with recall:
1. Create a space just for that item. Weather it’s a basket by the door, or a certain place in the closet. Create a dedicated space to look first.

2. Record that location in a journal or document made for keeping track of things. Writing something down engages another set of brain functions and helps with recall of the event.

3. Use sticky notes to remind you of the items new, intended, location.

4. Create entries on your phone or calendar reminding you of the change.

5. Try doing something different up front. If your constantly losing your keys, hold them differently until you put them down. For your phone, turn it upside down, or stand it on edge; but do something different than normal when you set it down.

6. This sounds silly, but even uttering a certain phrase when setting something down, can help cement the recall information. The more off-beat the better. I recommend “Poughkeepsie” because it’s fun to say.

7. As stated before, engaging different senses is a real help in establish recall for an event. Some people keep a rubber band on their wrist and snap it during an event they want to remember. I don’t do this….yet.

It also may be wise to create a spare set of really critical items. There may not be unlimited time to hunt for things like keys, medications, glasses, or important documents. Make sure that these are always kept in the same place.

As always, thanks for reading.
And remember to take the next step…

For more articles on organizing your home and life, visit www.StepsForToday.com!