My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 9

Well, this is it! My work is not yet done; but what is left is the off camera sorting of bins. For the next 6-8 weeks, I will continue to further sort and disposition the remains of the Great 48 and; then move on to sort bins that are in a storage locker. One of the interesting things about this process has been how it carries over into other parts of the house, car and office. I find myself taking care of the little things now before they snowball or create avalanches!

Today’s post is about some of the little things that have helped in the process of de-cluttering and organizing my spaces. The first one has to do with “going”paperless” or at the very least limiting the paper that that circulates in my environment. We’ve already talked about Paper Demons; but this is about saving documents that you don’t necessarily have room for. I decided against desk drawers and file cabinets in my home office for the simple reason I tend to use them to hide things. Out of sight, out of mind! Also, there really isn’t room to archive everything I want to keep; so I’ve been scanning certain documents, storing them on a thumb drive and on a cloud. The most important papers go on a Swiss Army flash drive so that in case of an emergency, it’s all there in the kit.
One of the things I picked up at IKEA a couple of weeks ago was a BΓ€rbar tray (pictured below, top left.) I placed it atop my non-fiction shelves and, use it to empty out my pockets (see below, top right.) This prevents stuff from going into the wash that should not… say like an iPhone (Did you know that an Otterbox will protect your iPhone from many things but it won’t save your iPhone from drowning in the wash and rinse cycles of a Maytag?) Anyway, the tray has proven to be very handy in keeping track of things. I know where my keys, wallet and iPod are all the time now πŸ™‚
In the top right photo, you’ll see a couple of other things that have been helpful in keeping my stuff together:
  • The tin in the top left corner of the photo contains a lot of old marbles. It’s pretty heavy and I use it as a book end for the row of audiobooks that sits across the top of my NF shelves;
  • There are two watches (top left of the tray) one yellow and one black. One is set to standard time and the other to daylight savings time. Each cost less than $3.00 at Rite Aid. No more fussing with re-setting my watches or wondering if my time is correct! Even though I carry an iPhone which carries the correct time always, I’ve been in a situation or two where my iPhone was unavailable (see drowned iPhone incident above) and having a watch was very handy.
  • The wallet (bottom right of the tray) was a gift from a friend who was sick and tired of me using a raggedy pink thing from Target. Unfortunately, as much as I love black, the wallet was always difficult to find when it slipped under the car seat or come other equally dark and mysterious place. So I got a little leopard print duct tape and slapped some on the wallet. Now the wallet has greater visibility and can no longer lurk in the shadows undetected.

  • At my workstation I have a few items that need to recharge overnight. In the mornings, when I would pull whatever fully charged item(s) I needed, the cables had a propensity to slide behind my desk. There is a bulletin board over my desk, so I jury-rigged some hooks from tacks and they seem to be doing the trick! (see above, bottom left photo)
  • As for all the writing implements and scissors and bookmarks and chopsticks that I own, I placed many of them in pen holders which were formerly cake frosting containers. The highlighters went into a wire penholder that actually couldn’t hold anything else as everything else kept slipping through the openings :-/ Anyway, the four pen holders then got put on a 12″ lazy susan which in turn got placed in one of the cubbies at my work station. The whole things saves space and keeps all that stuff convenient and organized!
Well, that’s it folks! We’ve gone from a dark and dangerous place to a viable work space in two months! The things I’ve learned to do in the past few weeks have been helpful in other areas of my life and even though there won’t be too much happening that’s blog-worthy, the process continues off camera. In a couple of weeks I’ll be returning to an IKEA to pick up an office chair; but if I happen across anything else helpful, I’ll be sure to update!

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 8

Ah, The Great 48 – the forty-eight cubic feet of stuff that occupied the center of my home office/library has officially been virtually eliminated. I won’t say that it has been vanquished yet; but the morass of papers-and-things has been sorted down into six small bins. My idea is to tackle each of these bins in the coming weeks (off camera) and make them disappear altogether. The solution to some of the paperwork will be to scan and store the documents; while in the case of some children’s books and toys that I want to keep around will find a home on a birch bench that I plan on acquiring for the space beneath my window; and still yet still more stuff will be “let go.” We talked a little bit about letting go last week, in that in many cases pragmatism must win out over sentimentality when clearly hanging on to stuff works against us. When stuff is taking up space and not doing us any good, it’s time to let it go. This week I want to talk about another kind of letting go: This is about Projects. Maybe it’s the Scout training we got when we were kids; or maybe it’s watching too much of The Home Improvement Network; but you know how it goes. We see a Project and we think: I can do that! I should do that! I want to do that! In the excitement, we get the stuff together to start the Project and then… something happens. Or more accurately, nothing happens. For whatever reason the project stalls and the stuff lies around gathering dust, getting lost, getting damaged, and taking up space. For me, the projects ranged from making bottle cap fishing lures, to creating gift baskets for my niece, to making an iPod recharger from an Altoids tin. It’s time to let go of all that. While it is true that I can or should do certain projects, the fact remains that I simply do not have the time. I work full time and have a family and dogs. When I do have spare time, what I like to do is read. Albeit, in the past few weeks I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to read, owing to this project; but the fact remains that once my time is freed up, I am going to be somewhat less inclined to about gilding mirror frames than I am going to want to catch up on my reading. And so, the Projects go: The bottle caps and Altoids tins get thrown away, the baskets get donated to a charity, the used clothing fabric I was saving for quilting project will become rags, be donated or thrown away. I need to stop thinking that “one day” I’ll get around to it. I need to Let Go πŸ™‚

The Great 48: Ten weeks ago
The Great 48, much diminished and up against a wall:
Four weeks ago (left ) & Three weeks ago (right)

The wall space this morning (left) and;
The remnants of The Great 48: Six bins full of sorted materials (right)
Last week, I mentioned talking about “Going Paperless;” but I think I’ll talk about it a bit next week when I talk about some other “Details.” And you know what? That’s it! Next week will be the last post in this series! Originally I had planned on this running 13 weeks; but things have moved along much faster than I had anticipated and; the stuff I’ll be doing off camera will be a constant ongoing thing: Sorting and dispositioning items. Boring but necessary and extremely satisfying!

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 7

I live in a ranch house that was built in the 1950s. My husband and I believe in a decorative aesthetic in that we try to match the interior furnishings of the home with with the period in which the house was built. To that end, several years ago, when we first moved into this house, I acquired two pieces of furniture for my home office: One was the blue drawer unit (on the left in the picture below) and the other was the desk (pictured on the right.) The blue drawer unit was purchased for $5.00 at a yard sale and; the desk was purchased online from a dealer on Ruby Lane for $150.00. Other people who have seen the blue drawer unit have wondered when I’m going to repaint it; but I’m not! There’s something about that blue and the fact that it doesn’t clash with the wall paint color that appeals to me (What I didn’t realize when I chose that wall color is that you have to be very careful about what other colors you set against it, otherwise it looks pissy yellow. It’s actually a pear green!) The desk unit was a birthday present from my husband and I was thrilled. At first. What had not been disclosed in the listing was that it originally had been a sewing table. The top had been replaced and the support truss underneath was notched to accommodate a treadle. Moreover, when the guys shipped the desk, they broke off the legs and included the pieces and hardware to repair it. Sigh. It did it’s duty for 5 years here; but then something else became apparent overall: The way people lived and moved in the 1950s was really a lot different than the way people live and move today. There are some obvious differences like needing jacks and grounded outlets; but there is a more subtle difference in the way we use space. People live larger these days. Women don’t sit primly at secretaries and write thank you notes. They need a little more space for a computer/monitor, printer, keyboard/mouse… in order to compose e-mails and messages. Technically, you could get away with doing it all in a small niche; but given a choice, many would prefer more elbow room. There seems to be a subconscious demand for more space in the things that we do even if the task at hand doesn’t absolutely mandate more square footage. Anyway, the cute little ’50s sewing table-cum-desk wasn’t cutting it. I felt guilty about deciding that it had to go because it was a birthday present from my husband; but pragmatism won out over sentimentality in the end. Also, it helped that my husband has been, and continues to be, very supportive in my efforts in this project. So, the desk went to the Salvation Army, along with the cumbersome computer monitor; and an IKEA work station was brought in.

IKEA?! Yes, IKEA! I’ve often disdained IKEA furniture as being grad school furniture along the ranks of milk crate shelves and mass market paperbacks. IKEA is notoriously cheap and flimsy. But not all of it. In fact, the original Expedit shelves that I purchased about nine years ago survived a trans-continental move and serve as my non-fiction bookshelves today. The new Expedit shelves that I purchased a couple of years ago serves as my fiction- and TBR- shelves now. Neither has buckled under the weight the way the Billy bookcases did in my old apartment (yes, the one I had during grad school!) So yes, off to IKEA I went last week-end and this is the transformation wrought:

Before & After

Before & After

Obviously, some other things had to happen in order for this arrangement to happen: Most notably, what’s left of the Great 48 has been moved into the living room. This coming week, all of that will have to be dispositioned: thrown away, put into storage, whatever; but it will no longer take up unorganized residence in my home office. There are some other finishing touches to this area that need to happen as well: I need to dress the cables, get a poster framed for over the printer area, replace the generic office chair (IKEA’s Jules swivel chair in birch finish,) decide how the remaining squares in the work station are to be filed, etc.; but it’s a start.

Next week, I’ll talk about the last of the Great 48: “Letting Go, Part 2” and “Going Paperless.”

See Also:

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 6

Before: 6 Weeks Ago
Last week I mentioned that I’ve had an unintended, but not altogether unpleasant surprise: Now that I have space cleared in my Home Office, the dogs and my daughter now like to come visit! In the case of my daughter, she has actually moved in! She has a whole playroom to herself as well as a bedroom; but my Home Office is now where she likes to do her homework. So, we brought in her bean bag chair, her desktop and got a little rug to define her space. Now she has her own little encampment next to my non-fiction shelves. I found this very appropriate as my child has a very non-fiction sort of mind. My DH and I both love to read; but are somewhat more inclined towards fiction. Our daughter, however, is very much a non-fiction-oriented child. She would rather read reference books, books about how machines work and even cookbooks – rather than read a story. As cool as this is, she still needs to understand narrative; and chapter story books are a part of her required reading. After much fussing over homework and the mandatory 20+ minutes of reading that she must do every night, we finally hit upon the solution: She reads in her space, in her bean bag chair while I hang out with her. When she has finished reading her book en toto, we go to the local bookstore and pick out another book. This seems to be working well enough for now. I say “for now” because I’m not sure what is going to happen at the end of the year when the local bookstore closes. They have decided not to renew their lease, which will leave this town of sixty-thousand people without a bookstore. Sure there are a handful of used bookstores and an independent bookstore eleven miles away; but the neither has the selection that one would want and besides, I hate the indie bookstore that’s eleven miles away – They are not helpful, friendly or knowledgeable 😦 The library is another headache altogether and a topic for another post.
Anyway, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it (Can you cross a bridge before you get to it?) and for now we’ll take a look at the progress I’ve made at the Home Office. There’s still a lot of tchotchkes on top of the shelves. I seem to be fascinated by mostly three kinds of gewgaws: tins, figurines and mugs. With the lifestyle and space I’m leading and living in respectively, there’s really no room for this stuff. What I need to do is throw away the broken figurines and Altoids tins and; pack the mugs and figurines away. The mugs and figurines I’m packing away may come out at another stage in my life, like when I’m old and take a liking to gilded vitrines; but not now πŸ™‚
If you’re wondering, “Hey! You’ve posted two “Before” photos; but no “After” photo!” that would be because I haven’t made much progress in this area. And that would be because as you’re reading this, I’m actually in another city shopping for a couple of things for this room! Next week, I will show you what I came up with and talk about “Letting Go.”

Also, next week on my tumblr blog, I will be introducing another phase of My Future Self. This phase will have to do with physical self improvement, health- and beauty-wise, from head to toe. That will be a feature that will post every Wednesday. If you’re interested in following on tumblr, I’m “dog eared copy”
Before: 2 Weeks Ago
That blotch of light on the wall?
That’s sunlight coming in from the window!

See Also:
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation (Physical & Psychological Effects of Clutter)

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 5

The sorting continues with me taking sections of the Great 48 (the roughly 48 cubic feet of landfill that was occupying the floor of my office) and dumping them into two white bins, and then breaking down the contents of the white bins into papers (see last week’s post), stuff to put away and stuff to donate. When I first started sorting things out, I hadn’t realized how much stuff other than papers was hidden within! I found more office supplies to be returned to the company I work for, audiobooks, jewelry, trash (like expired hand warmers, dead pens and toys that I have no way of ever acquiring the skills to repair) and quite a bit of stuff to donate!

The kinds of things I donate go into two stacks: Items that will go to my niece who is three years younger than my daughter and; items that will go to a charity. The items that go to my niece are brand name clothes, books and/or toys in excellent, new or-like-new condition. The items that go to charity are clothes, books and/or other stuff in very good condition. I don’t use either my niece or a charity as a dumping ground for stuff in poor condition because I think that’s just, well “bad form” or downright tacky.
Anyway, yesterday I took a station wagon load of stuff over to Salvation Army. I was shocked. There was virtually nothing in the receiving area and when we went into the store front, the floor and shelves were nearly empty. I know many people only remember to donate at the end of the year because they want to be able to get the tax write-off; but I was stunned at the lack of inventory nonetheless. The people at S.A. were extremely grateful for the stuff I was donating and I admit I felt a little guilty knowing that I still have so much more that I no longer want or use that could go to someone in need.
So now, I’ve decided that every second Saturday of every other month is going to be the big Donate Day in our household. Why every second Saturday of every other month? Because that’s the day that The Medford Food Project picks up the food donations from our doorstep and it’s an easy reminder to give in other ways too: set out the bag of food and then load up the car with stuff to go to a charity/charities.
There were a couple of unanticipated side effects to my Home Excavation project that occurred this past week. One was that my DH also became inspired to do some “Home Work!” He is currently working on trying to ameliorate the mess that is our one and only bathroom in the house. Yesterday, I nearly went insane looking at paint and tile samples in various shades of white, beige and neutral; but we somehow made it out with a gallon of paint and our relationship intact πŸ™‚
The other effect of my Home Office Excavation project is that people and dogs now want to come into the room! The dogs now saunter in and lay at my feet as I tippity-tap at the keyboard. Before, there was no room and, in fact, at one point there had been an incident where our yellow lab walked into the room, but was unable to get back out. Some dogs don’t do backwards walking very well :-/
The other new visitor to my office space is my daughter. Next week, we’ll talk more about the purple bean bag chair and Princess rug now in my office, along with what it means to be “Fiction Parents Raisng a Non-Fiction Child!”

One corner of my office 6 weeks ago (left) and the same corner 1 week ago (right)


The same corner of the room this morning

See Also:
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation (Physical & psychological impact of clutter)
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 2 (Physical & psychological impact of light; and importance of planning)

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 4

So you’ve read about the shifting strata creating mini-avalanches in my home office. These were mounds of stuff that roughly took up 48 cubic feet of space in my home office. It has been daunting to tackle; but I made steady progress this week-end by clearing roughly half of it. I’ve been shocked at The Paper Demons that have been taking up residence in my Mom Cave! Last week, I mentioned the stamps and envelope thing; but there are other Paper Demons:

Receipts: I saved receipts of everything! There are three reasons:
  1. Upbringing: My mother is a hoarder, a legacy of the Depression and I learned this behavior from her. My Mom not only saved the receipt, but the original box to a major home appliance that stopped working one day before its 30-year warranty expired. The snarky customer service rep told her that she would only get a refund if my Mom had saved the original box. My Mom got her refund and the last laugh besides;
  2. Paranoia: I used to think that something bad would happen to an ex-boyfriend or someone else I didn’t like and I would be the police’s number one suspect. I envisioned scenes where the officer would ask,”Where were you on the night of March 8, 1993?” And I would be able to whip out a receipt and playbill and say, “I was at The Shakespeare Theatre seeing Hamlet being performed by Tom Hulce!”
  3. False Sense of Historical Importance: I envisioned a future anthropologist digging through my stuff and oohing and aahing over the fact that s/he had discovered that I had a Big Mac on January 4, 2012 at 1:15 in the afternoon, effectively forgetting that upon my death, my immediate/closet of kin or a marshall would not care about this and throw it all out way before some historian had a crack at it. I blame this False Sense of Historical Importance upon Anne Frank, who kept a diary of her quotidian routines and inculcated a love of journal keeping and artifact retention in countless little girls, myself included.
Coupons: Again, this is something learned at my mother’s knee. In years past I have clipped coupons, saved receipts with discount offers on them, and even kept used/expired gift cards. The problem is, I never use coupons. I shop at a grocery warehouse that doesn’t accept coupons and, even on the rare occasions I go to a “real” supermarket, I forget the coupons at home.
Lists: Oy, the lists. I have fought with this particular Paper Demon for years! I have tried to become the person who is not tethered to lists; but I’m afraid it’s a part of my neurotic, compulsive self. I make endless lists every day, on Post-It Notes of every size, backs of envelopes and papers, memo pads, (not to mention google docs and Notes app on my iPhone!) What’s on these lists? Titles of books, audiobooks, challenges, series and, quotes; timelines and schedules of all sorts; lists of people and contact info; things to pick up at the grocery store, hardware store, wherever. I create the lists and then they get eaten up by the Great 48 never to be seen again and so, to be re-constructed yet again on another piece of paper.
What do do with all of this stuff and make sense of it all?
I started by dumping sections of the Great 48 into white bins, labeling the dining room table into six categories and sorting through every single piece of paper:
  1. Important Papers: Bank statements, medical receipts, tax-related materials and insurance papers…
  2. Memorabilia: Ticket stubs, playbills, photographs, personal correspondence (letters and cards), artwork & drawings of my child’s
  3. School Papers: My child’s report cards, returned homework and tests and, school artwork
  4. Recycle: Old catalogues, newspaper clippings (heck, even whole newspapers!), lists that were written on index cards…
  5. Shred: Credit card offers, alumni and Church appeals, receipts that had rather detailed personal information in them
  6. Trash: Paper with any sort of adhesive on them (Post-It Notes, envelopes), used up and expired gift cards, three-dimensional artwork and artwork created from foodstuffs, food wrappers…
After a couple of weeks of this, my DH insisted on re-claiming the dining room table so The Important Papers, Memorabilia and School Papers each got assigned a much smaller blue bin (I discovered five of them in the Great 48!) and later I will break down each bin even further. At that point, I’ll talk about storage solutions.
There was one other category that I hadn’t planned on but which became quite the consideration, and that was the Donate stack! Besides papers, I was finding a lot of “artifacts” as well. Some of these things got put back where they belonged and others ended up in a couple of bags to donate to local charities. Next week I’ll talk about donations.



The picture on the left was taken at night (actually at about 4:00 a.m.) and appears a little murkier than the picture on the right, which was taken during the day.

See Also:
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation (wherein I talk about the impact clutter has on me, both physically and psychologically)
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 2 (wherein I talk about the effect light has one the space and me and; the importance of planning)
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 3 (wherein I talk about momentum)

Flashback Friday: The List (to see an example of a list I kept. Imagine about a thousand of these lists! That’s the nature of the beast I’m contending with. BTW, I came across that very list at about 2 o’clock this morning and it was put in recycling)

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 3

OK, so, again, what we’re looking at doesn’t appear so dramatic in terms of “Before” and “After”; but the ability to get a clear and detailed shot of the same space is a testament to the importance of light in the space! Also, to give you a sense of scale, the mound of papers in the “Before” photo is approximately 16″ high and 42″ long (not counting that basket.) Progress was made rather quickly because of something I had not anticipated: momentum. After Week 2’s efforts, I was really eager to start on Week 3! I wasn’t even finished (and am still not) with the list of things to do from week 2; but I found myself itching to tackle the next segment of my home office. Throughout the week, I was ferreting through the floor stacks, recycling, shredding, throwing things away and, shoring up the stacks as they threatened to slide into cleared areas. And that’s the other thing: no shoving things back into a previously cleared space. Once it’s cleared, it needs to stay that way! I caught myself stacking more books onto the floor next to the shelves before I realized that if I kept doing that, I was creating my own Sisyphean hell :-/
So what were some of the Found Objects this week?
Another Copy of Animal Farm (by George Orwell; illustrated by Ralph Steadman): Oy, I just bought a copy of this a couple of weeks ago! I saw it in the window of an independent bookshop and I knew I had to have it! What I didn’t realize was that I already had a copy. And that’s the thing: I don’t even know what I have any more. That said, if I had wanted to get to the copy that I had first bought, I couldn’t have because it was “lost” in all the chaos. I’m keeping both copies as a reminder of my folly and a reminder against impulse purchasing. There are a lot of books on those shelves and most are catalogued on goodreads; but when I have cleared the room, a major reorganization of those books is in order.
Jumbo Office Clips: Five years ago, I bought a box of twelve jumbo office clips. Apparently they breed! I found over fifty! What this really means is that when I was taking work home, the office clips were somehow getting left behind when the work went back to the office. I was not intending to steal office supplies; but technically, that’s what I was doing. This week I returned all of them (minus twelve.) I’m marking the remaining twelve with a spot of nail polish so I can more easily identify what is mine and what is not!
Christmas Decorations: From 2010. Three bins as a matter of fact. This past Christmas, we couldn’t figure out where some of our Christmas decorations went, including a creche! There were here under a mound of stuff. These will go into a storage unit that’s not my Mom Cave.
Old envelopes and stamps: When I was maybe eight-years old, I was fascinated by a series of animal stickers which the issuing company called stamps. I told my Mom that I wanted to collect stamps and she thought that I was interested in philatelic pursuits. My godfather, a hardcore stamp collector was eager to encourage me as well. I never screwed up the courage to tell them I wasn’t really interested in stamp collecting, so for many years the misunderstanding stood. As a result, I actually have a rather nice collection of stamps and first day covers; but what I also have that’s not so nice is a habit of saving envelopes and canceled stamps even though I don’t collect anymore. All the envelopes and canceled stamps that I was “saving” for the past five years either got put in the recycling bin or thrown away. Its’ amazing how much space all these bits of paper took up!
Next week, we’ll look at some other paper demons….
See Also:
Epiphanies 2011 (“MyFuture Self”)
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation (wherein I talk about the impact of clutter)
My Future Self: Home Excavation: Week 2 (wherein I talk about the effect of light and, planning)