This is not (only) a basket

basketloadedAs the Earth makes another trip around the sun, we find ourselves arriving once again at that day for collectively celebrating and honoring her awesomeness. And it is on this occasion that I’ve chosen to share a little tale about how we can become mindful and respectful of her resources while we connect with one another.

The story begins with a visit to southern Germany shortly after my partner and I started dating. One of the things that struck me was the sight of women carrying baskets to and from the village bakery for their daily loaves and pretzels. There was something so old world and quaint about these containers, while at the same time, their use made so much modern-day environmental sense. They were decorative, multi-functional, and they  eliminated the need for paper bags and the accompanying accumulation and storage of the latter.

IMG_5246Back at home, I kept re-noticing the beautiful Ghanaian Bolga baskets I coveted so much on the arms of my fellow farmers market shoppers. Oh, how much I yearned to have one, but it was impractical to walk to and from the market with a full and often heavy load hanging from my arm. Those baskets are great for someone who walks just a couple of blocks or drives. Our forays to the farmers market are on foot, by public transit, or by bicycle. Sturdy reusable bags or a backpack are ideal. Once I started pedaling there, panniers became the carrier option of choice.

The idea of integrating a basket into my life never left my mind. One day I had an aha moment: we visit the bakery down the street with enough regularity to warrant a designated receptacle for transporting and storing our purchases. Finally, I had a reason to acquire a fair trade Bolga basket! Beyond bread-like things, it gets used for transporting goods to parties and other social gatherings.

But let’s get back to the bakery for a moment. More often than not, the worker-owners at the bakery cooperative down the street express gratitude whenever we bring and use our basket. A brief conversation often ensues at the register while the transaction is completed. They wish more people saw the benefit of bringing their own bag or container, and all we can say them is that we hope our basket will inspire and motivate others who see it in action. One cashier, complimenting me on the basket, told me it reminded her of the market baskets used Mexico where she grew up. We chatted about that for a bit. It was then and there that I realized the basket is more than a device for carrying or storing things. It’s also a catalyst for communicating with others and sharing our stories. In fact, whenever he sees me with the basket in tow, the owner at the corner cafe gets a kick out of what he calls my mushroom hunting basket. I hadn’t thought about becoming a mushroom hunter, but there’s an idea…

 

 

How to tame your paper piles

IMG_1982I’ve written about paper before, and I’m writing about paper again. Why? Because one area of life people routinely wish to get under control once and for all is the overwhelming array of papers that congregate in any number of places around the home.

While paper can cause feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, you’ll be happy to know that once it’s reined in, the very same paper can also produce calm and control.

For many, paper congestion begins at the mailbox, and I’ve got a handful of steps you can take to curb the influx, increase the paper flow, and create greater clarity and control. Continue reading

The stuff in her dad’s garage

A little over seven years ago, a friend invited me to meet her parents at their home in San Jose. Her father had amassed a collection of stuff in the garage, and she asked me to bring my camera in case I was inclined to photograph it.

Having been told little about what to expect, but assured I’d be interested in what was there, I was prepared for a garage packed to the gills scenario.

We arrived at the house where she grew up and rang the doorbell. Her mother met us at the front door, and said she’d see us at the garage. We walked back toward the car and waited a few minutes on the driveway for the wide double door to rise.

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The day I threw away my journals

When you’re in the throes of a drought and a rainy day is but a far off promise the meteorologists continue to dangle in front of you, you have to take matters into your own hands. This past weekend, I gave myself a rain day.

A couple of stay-indoors-and-focus kind of projects had been gnawing at me for quite some time. They were never in the way, but they managed to push their way to the front of my mental line. These were purge-y kind of endeavors, but they were far from urgent. In fact, they’d been out of sight for years, contained in bankers boxes on a shelf in the back of the closet. It was decision and action day. My initial targets: a series of journals. Continue reading

Perfectly imperfect: Coming to a Grocery Store Near You?

hugging carrots

 

hugging carrots

Food was the gateway to a more mindful and sustainable approach in my life, and it happened very much by chance. Shortly after my move to San Francisco in the early 90s, I found myself having adverse physical reactions to a wide range of fruits I had always eaten. When a roommate suggested I try their organic counterparts from the corner market five blocks from our flat, I was set on a new path. Around that time, too, I was introduced to Whole Foods. The retail chain didn’t have a location in San Francisco just yet, and someone brought the then car-free me to their understated outpost in Mill Valley, CA, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. “Beautiful food for beautiful people,” was how the store and its customers were described to me.

And my, oh my, the produce was beautiful. Similarly-sized and arranged in impeccable formations, it seemed sacrilege to interrupt the peppers and heads of lettuces – many varieties which I’d not seen before –  in order to selections to my basket. But more than beautiful, the produce was kinda sorta strangely perfect. Perfect produce? How on earth was that possible?

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A donation for a favor

“Paper is a big challenge. The mailman always brings more.” I hear some version of that sentiment quite often. Even after they have gone through the process of opting out of credit card and insurance offers, a large percentage of my clients struggle with an influx of unsolicited mail. Envelopes filled with pre-printed return address labels, bundles of cheesy seasonal cards, calendars, and the occasional random penny or nickel, yield slippery piles of unruly papers. And all the senders of these “gifts,” invitations, and pleas want is a donation for their good cause. Ninety-some-odd percent of the time, their attempts result in generous contributions to recycling bins and short-lasting relief on the faces of these clients.

Mind you, I’m all for good causes. I spent many years working in the nonprofit educational realm – art and natural history museums in NYC and San Francisco – and volunteer in my spare time. Nonprofits depend on the support of individual donors, and I’m happy to contribute to their betterment of our world and ways each year. But I had a lapse recently when, for the first time ever, I became a museum member. (One of the great benefits of museum employment was free museum entry at any reciprocating institution. I miss that.)

Weeks after my membership welcome arrived in the mail, so too did a solicitation from another museum. Oh dammit. That’s right. Nonprofits sell our information to other nonprofits, and in my case, the unsolicited mail cycle was resuscitated. I stopped that train mid-track by phoning both organizations to ask that my name be removed from all mailing lists and to request they do not sell or distribute my information. The unwanted mail ceased.

As we find ourselves in the midst of the season of giving, sharing, and storytelling, my hope is this little tale can contribute to the betterment of your desk, entryway, dining room table and/or countertop as the new year begins.

It is extremely rare to find a “donate” page on a nonprofit’s website that provides a box for you to specify if your donation is in honor of someone/s, write a note or message to the organization, and/or allow you to opt out of being added to their mailing list. So here’s what I do. I resort to a tried and true approach and mail a check with a letter. The basic version goes something like this:

To whom it may concern,

Enclosed please find my donation to [awesome nonprofit]. I am happy to donate because of the meaningful and vital work you do.

In exchange, I wish to ask the following: Please do not add me to your mailing lists or sell my information. I hope you will honor my desire to provide support without being inundated by mail that I do not wish to receive. My mailbox is on a diet : )

Sincerely,

P.S. Perhaps you’ll consider adding a box to the main donation form page on your website for donors like myself to donate quickly while providing us with an opt out option at the same time. I bet it could help save you time and resources in the future.

Less paper to manage yields more time for things that matter. Think of all the things you can do if you minimize your time shuffling unwanted mail.

And that, my friends, is my gift to you!

There are few more checks to be written over here…

Unexpected thoughts on the label maker

Old school Dymo label maker

Behold the mighty old school label maker! I found this little red beauty while helping a senior client organize a bookcase filled with office supply treats. Asking the usual questions when such a unique artifact appears, I learned that she neither uses it nor has tape for it, but she likes knowing it’s there just in case.

The more high-tech versions of these devices have been and continue to be the topic of many conversations with colleagues and clients alike. For many, the label maker is a staple in their daily work/life diet and the thought of being without one is unimaginable. Others, like myself and my fella environmentally conscious organizer colleague, Miriam Ortiz y Pino, CPO®, of More Than Organized in Albuquerque, NM, have a different perspective. We combined forces and wrote an article, “Unexpected thoughts on the label maker,” for NAPO News, the bimonthly publication of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). It was published in the September/October 2014 issue, and is republished here by permission.

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Giving things away by passing them along

tiny violinistMy great aunt took great joy in giving possessions away during the latter years of her life. I recall one afternoon when she told me she’d had “a talk” with her long-deceased mother-in-law, and that they agreed it was time for the old German chair – a bit of a family heirloom I long admired – to go home with me. She insisted it leave that very day, despite my uncertainty as to whether it would fit in the backseat of the car. (It did.)

She loved knowing the chair had a new home and would frequently ask about it. The chair continues to make me smile, and it gets used every day. But this story isn’t about the chair.

When she passed away I acquired a handful of meaningful items I continue to enjoy. The smallest of these was a tiny silver violinist.

During the years I visited and sipped many cups of tea with my aunt, this little guy and his instrument sat behind me atop the mid-century modern buffet and china cabinet. To me, this was the material manifestation of the proverbial sad song on the world’s tiniest violin. (You know it: the song you mime by rubbing your thumb and forefinger together while making a faux sad face as a friend tells you a story that is far from pitiful.) But I also found it to be quietly uplifting and inspiring. My great aunt and her husband were fans of classical music and loved attending the symphony. Her father (a.k.a. my great grandfather) was a violin teacher.

Up until a few weeks ago, the figurine lived on a ledge above my desk, fiddling a tune for an equally diminutive dancing Ganesh. When I was presented with an invitation to a dear friend’s middle school graduation party, it took no time for me to ponder and determine the perfect gift. A passionate and dedicated violinist since her single digit years, I had a hunch she’d appreciate the story attached to this slightly tarnished fellow. It’s better than anything I ever could have found in a store. Passing along this little token from my biological family to someone who is part of my chosen family felt like the right thing to do. After opening it, she decided it needed to live on top of the piano.

Thank you so much for the tiny violinist! It’s very motivating and it will definitely be a good reminder to practice the violin, in addition to the piano.

Did I mention my great aunt played the piano, too?

Earth Day Special: On Environmentally-Conscious Organizing

self-portrait with compost, recycle, trash signsat solar living instituteA famous amphibial puppet speaking of the color of his felt famously sang, “It’s not easy bein’ green; It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.” “Green” has seeped into so many things – far too many – that the word has been overused to the point of being meaningless. This is precisely why, two years ago, a group of professional organizers decided to redefine their specialty from green organizing to the more ecologically- and holistically-infused environmentally-conscious organizing.

Steeped in the traditions of voluntary simplicity and sustainable living, this work stems from the values and ethics associated with helping others adapt simple lifestyle changes that support them wherever they are on the environmentally-conscious path. It’s about building awareness and engaging in dialogues to guide clients to a place where they can observe and effect change in the choices they are making each and every day.

Most of us are already working to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible, and environmentally-conscious organizers encourage these practices and more. What will create more impactful and lasting change is exceeding these foundational R’s and allowing ourselves to go deeper.

Take, for example, the multi-faceted practice of reducing. Choosing the path of less packaging, reduces the need to recycle or throw away resources. This is especially powerful when you consider that 25% of landfill contents in the U.S. is product packaging. By reducing consumption of single-use disposable plastics (i.e. packaged and bottled water), we reduce the need for more fossil fuels while reducing the risk to ecosystems from oil drilling and transport of these resources. Reducing the need to store cases of plastic bottles creates more physical space while having the added health benefit of reducing your family’s exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor found in certain plastics. The effects of our choices can be cascading.

When we begin to make time and allow ourselves to rethink our choices, refuse what we don’t need, repair what needs fixing, and let food waste rot into nutritious compost, we’re moving closer to what’s most important in our lives. That’s often the end goal of organizing for many of our clients: creating the time and space to do what matters most.

Each of us has the power, through small acts each day, to make ripples of change in the places where we will see and feel those shifts most directly – in our homes and communities. As Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote in her book, Green Washed, Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet, “…consciousness is a starting point, not an end point.” As we stand on the precipice of Earth Day 2014 (April 22), where are you going to start? Hint: It takes one small step.

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This piece was originally written for and posted on NAPO’s Get Organized Blog.
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