What to read next? This is a question that crosses my mind every day, yet not for long. That’s because I have a never-ending book list. This list is a key to my productivity, because I use my reading habit as a tool. Reading entertains me while I do boring drudgery, like housework and exercise, and it’s also my reward when I want to relax. More people should be spending more time relaxing, in my opinion, and what better way to do it than with a book?
We’re fortunate to live in a time when books are everywhere and you can even get them for free. A thousand years ago almost nobody was literate, and even two hundred years ago a lot of people couldn’t even sign their own name. Now you can trade books back and forth with your friends by the grocery sack load. You could probably go a year reading only books you got for free.
A lot of us could go a year reading only books we already have waiting on the shelf...
This is why I emphasize having a never-ending *list* rather than a never-ending *stack.* In my opinion, a stack of books is intimidating. It can’t help but look a little like homework. It’s that much worse when even one of them is a loaner book or a book club pick, when the pleasure of reading is tainted by social pressure.
This is why I haven’t finished reading the Game of Thrones series yet, although I’m sure I would have whipped through them in a couple of weeks if I felt like they were my little secret.
Being given books by other people is one of two pitfalls of being a constant reader. The other is having your books “borrowed” only to never see either the book or the borrower again. I have no idea why this is so hard to get right; it just is. Reading ebooks has mostly solved this problem for me, because I no longer have visible books in my living room to tempt my guests.
I still want to “help” my friends and family by curating book lists for them. This is one of my worst habits. I’m sure I’ll never stop, though. I convinced both of my parents to let me add books to their library wish lists, and honestly there are probably enough titles on there to keep them both busy for three years.
See, once you get into the habit of creating a never-ending (auto-correct just changed this to nerve-rending) book list, it’s easy to spawn more.
What goes into it, though?
It starts with knowing your own tastes. This is surprisingly uncommon. I am friends with a couple who are perpetually watching two-star movies and then being disappointed. Don’t you read the reviews? I ask. I could have told you from the description that you weren’t going to enjoy this. Chances are, I have a better handle on their viewing preferences than they do, which is bonkers. Recognizing genres and plot patterns can help here.
I personally find stories with a kidnapping theme to be totally uninteresting. Doesn’t matter what genre. This is a problem, because I’m drawn to thrillers, and they often revolve around kidnappings. I also can’t stand stories about extramarital affairs. Everyone has something - several people I know can’t handle ghost stories or anything spooky in any way - and the first step to building a book list is to make sure that nothing on it actively repels you.
The list itself, there’s a point. I am a big believer in using a list, rather than actively buying books more than a few days ahead. One of the reasons is that sometimes a new edition comes out before I manage to get to a title, and it will often include new material. Mainly, though, I find it oppressive to have an unread stack of books staring me down. It’s a distinction between feeling like there is a buffet of options, versus feeling like there is a syllabus.
I use my library apps as a working list. When I hear about a book that I want to read, I add it to the list. If it’s new and popular, I will put it on hold right away. This generates a steady feed of hot new titles, and probably 80% of my reading material is thus automatically queued up for me.
Once upon a time, I had a spiral notebook filled with titles I wanted to read. I had started it in ninth grade, so it was mostly of the college prep / “100 books to read before you die” variety. When I would read one, I would check it off the list. I threw it out a few years later, after my boyfriend found it and told me it was “crass.”
I wish I had it back. It’s one of the few things I’ve ever regretted downsizing. I no longer feel like it’s crass to want to track what I read, or to feel like I’m keeping up with a great conversation and staying involved with pop culture. Instead I feel like a dunce for letting some dumb pretentious boy influence my choices.
He did, though. That boy influenced what colors I wore, which cuisines I would eat, what music I listened to, what movies I watched, and indeed what I read. The stream did not flow in the opposite direction. I doubt he even knew what I would have chosen when I wasn’t actively trying to impress him.
My list is mine, and your list should be yours, something personal and private, a secret delight.
Where do the titles come from?
Those “most-loved books” lists
Books that I see other people carrying around
Newsletters from various bookstores, Goodreads, etc.
Reviews from selected sources (bloggers, podcasts, news articles), which I only read *after* I’ve finished the book because SPOILERS
‘Recommended’ placards at indie bookstores (which is why I go to them)
My favorite literary website, The Millions (themillions.com)
Have you ever found out, years later, that one of your favorite authors had a new book out? This doesn’t have to happen if you can find a way to stay in the loop. If you’re lucky, your favorite authors will each put out a new book at least once every few years, and your never-ending book list will continue on and on.
Open loops are distracting. That’s their nature. An ‘open loop’ is the term for unfinished business, according to Getting Things Done. Sometimes that open loop is a task that needs to be done just once, sometimes it’s a persistent problem, and I think sometimes it’s also a philosophical quandary.
This is why we can get resolution on situations even when they will never change.
I work with chronically disorganized people. The two main things they struggle with are making categories and choosing priorities. This is why they always feel like they don’t know where to start. They’ll cheerfully follow orders, as long as someone is standing in the room with them, and they have no problem getting rid of things or cleaning up really distressing messes. As soon as they’re alone, though, they spin out. They no longer know what to do.
Almost everyone gets into a state like this at some level, tolerating a persistent problem, not knowing where to start or what to do next. We can ignore things that would drive someone else crazy, and vice versa.
The most obvious example of this is someone who clearly needs a new prescription for glasses. We see them scrunching up their foreheads, leaning forward and squinting. They don’t realize they’re doing it, even if they’ve worn glasses for decades and had to change prescription several times in their life.
Another classic is the person who comes to work, even though they’re obviously near death’s door with the flu or a bad cold. Go home! Get out of here before you get everyone else sick, you plague rat!
It’s when we’re struggling that we lose perspective on our problems.
We also lose perspective when life is coming at us from all sides. The harder things get, the less focus we have for what would normally be routine issues. The common cold is an example here, as well. We’re feeling low and only a few days later, the laundry is piled up, the fridge is empty, the sink is full of dirty dishes, the trash is overflowing, the nightstand is covered with bottles, and there are mugs and plates scattered everywhere.
We can use this as an analogy. Has anything been going on lately that is comparably disruptive, anything that has messed with our routines the way the common cold does?
When I come in to work with a client, I expect that almost nothing is working well. Their cars are full of clutter, usually including coins and cash on the floorboards. They have at least a three-day backlog of dishes and laundry. Unopened mail is everywhere. Their bathrooms are terrifying. They usually don’t have enough cleaning supplies, such as a total absence of a mop or even a sponge. They have health problems, their vehicles are breaking down, and if they’re employed then they’re often on the naughty list for being late all the time.
These things work like magic in my own life, because I have systems in place, so I barely have to think about them.
It’s an unfair comparison. The fewer problems you have, the easier it is to deal with them. You can tackle one at a time, especially when they only come at you one at a time!
For a chronically disorganized person, everything feels like it’s happening at once because everything is associated with a constant need.
This is one of the widest open loops. We have to have some kind of philosophical reckoning with the necessity of putting a large quantity of energy and focus toward boring drudgery. Every day.
My people tend to subscribe to the idea that: Why should I make my bed, when I’ll just have to do it again the next day?
The same exact thing could be said for eating meals, bathing, or brushing our teeth. We just keep having to do it over and over and over again!
Most of us eat because food tastes good to us, we bathe because it feels good, and we brush our teeth because minty fresh is better than filmy yuckmouth. We understand the connection between these things we do every day and the positive results we feel.
We can’t feel those positive results for things that we do not do on a routine basis.
It feels fantastic to be confident about your finances and your health, to have a solid reputation for being on time, to relax in an attractive home.
Meanwhile it feels dreadful to experience the anxiety of:
Missing important appointments
Paying unnecessary fines and fees
Getting in trouble at work
Rushing and being late all the time
Frantically searching for lost objects, or wasting hours looking for something
Not being able to get something fixed because your landlord might find out how messy your place is
Those of us who aren’t in that deep should take a moment to pause and feel grateful. As annoying as we might find it to do chores when we’d rather be doing something else, it could certainly be worse. Most of us don’t have problems with our executive function. We can make decisions and take action.
We can, but we don’t always want to. We feel that the annoyance of working on something is not worth it, not equal to the feeling of freedom that comes from a closed loop.
The most commonly procrastinated tasks are writing a will, planning for retirement, and dealing with health issues. This is because we aren’t very good at imagining older versions of ourselves or feeling compassion toward Future Self. Instead of thinking decades ahead, though, we can start by thinking a week ahead, or a day ahead.
Instead of asking ourselves, Why should I have to do this? we can ask ourselves, will I feel better tomorrow if I get this out of the way today?
What would it be like if I was confident about my health and my finances? What would it be like if I spent most of my time in a smoothly running home? Would I feel happy and relaxed if I dealt with my most obvious problems, or would I find a way to continue to feel anxious and distracted no matter what I do?
Action is usually easier and faster than we think. It usually takes us less effort to fix our problems than we thought. Once we finally get started, we’re halfway there. We deal with our routines ten minutes at a time, after all. At least when we are taking action, we can allow ourselves a sense of pride and satisfaction that we are doing something for ourselves.
Close a loop today, and find out how it feels.
Once a year I write about something morbid, and that day is Halloween. Every spiritual tradition has beliefs about acknowledging our mortality in order to appreciate the life that we have today. I have always found this to be both comforting and inspirational, so I am making the most of the opportunity. Previously I have written about being a full-body donor and writing your advance care directive.
This year I’d like to ask you to consider making an escape plan.
Several of my friends in different parts of California have had to evacuate their homes due to wildfire, both within the last month and over the last few years. To us this is a daily reality, and much more so in October. One of my close friends is currently changing AirBnB’s every ten days because her house burned up, and that was an ordinary house fire, not even a natural disaster. They had to put her little kitties on oxygen and they barely made it.
A football field every three seconds. That’s how fast these fires move.
To make matters worse, a lot of people wind up with no power before the fire reaches their area. There have been situations when they did not receive evacuation alerts, because:
Nobody has a landline
No electricity = no wifi
No wifi = no cell service (for a lot of us)
No cell service = no calls
The first they know that they need to run for their actual lives, it’s when police cruise down their street yelling out of a bullhorn, even though they assume that sector has already been cleared. A mere formality, but a smart one born of experience.
Have you ever had a firefighter beat his fist on your front door because your apartment complex is on fire? I have.
I was sleeping on an air mattress only ten feet from the door, and I didn’t hear it. I have sleep issues, and even as a kid in grade school I couldn’t guarantee to you that anything will wake me up. This includes having popcorn dropped into my slack sleeping mouth. Fortunately my entire family was home and someone was able to physically drag me out of bed and haul me to my feet. WAKE UP!
Wake up. It’s time to get ready.
We know neither the day nor the hour. That means our time could come tonight.
We’re not really sure yet what we would do if a fire comes to our new place. There are a lot of factors in play.
1/3 chance it would happen while we are sleeping (8 hours out of 24)
5/7 chance that if it happens during the day, my husband will be at work several miles away
Non-zero chance he will be on business travel or airborne in a plane
It’s statistically unlikely that we would be in the same building when the snit hits the fan. Therefore we have to have a plan for how to find each other, and that plan has to assume that phones and internet are down across our region.
There are two other confounding factors for our household. They may or may not apply to yours.
We have two pets
We live on the top floor of a pretty big apartment building.
I’ve practiced putting on my go bag, getting my animals out of their crates, and getting them out of the door. My husband says “you could get out of here in one minute” but I know better. Even without smoke, it’s a bit complicated. Get a flapping, panicking parrot into a box and then clip a leash onto a struggling, wriggling dog.
Next step. I have to choose between either the elevator (BAD IDEA), three flights of stairs with three doors, or trying to lower everyone out of a fourth-floor window. Um...?
There are other natural disasters that might come for us besides fire. Tsunami? This is the only one where living on the top floor is actually an advantage. Earthquake? You feel it more on the top floor, but we will probably be fine unless it’s well above a 6.0. Our building is old enough to have been through a few rumbles. Fire is the one that demands quick thinking and preparedness.
Plan A is just to stay put. Chances are that we’ll be fine and so will our neighborhood. We don’t need to be blocking the roads or getting in the way of emergency services if it isn’t necessary.
Plan B, I stay put and my husband tries to get home to me. In a rough scenario, if he had to walk in bad conditions, it could take three hours, assuming a walking speed of one mile per hour. He is a certified emergency medical responder, so if he was late I would assume he was helping other people.
Plan C, I take our animals to the nearest Red Cross shelter and he has to figure out where that is.
If we can’t get through to each other by phone, we can call each other’s parents. If we can’t do that, we can find internet somehow and send each other email. If we can’t do that, I have index cards, pens, and masking tape in my go bag. If I have to leave, hopefully I have an extra 60 seconds to tape a note on the door before we go.
Everything we own can burn. It’s okay. We can always replace our passports and those are the only really important physical possessions we have. I would walk without a second thought. I need the time to be able to help my neighbors, not save my... what? Leftovers out of my fridge? Socks?
To be able to keep our heads clear in a crisis, we have to practice. We have to understand on a gut level that “losing everything” is just stuff. We have to get ourselves out because if we dawdle and try to lug a bunch of suitcases, an emergency responder might die trying to come after us.
We have to GET OUT and we have to do it on our own.
Please, after all the costumes and decorations have been put away and all the candy has been eaten, please extend your role-playing just a bit longer. Take a few moments to visualize how you are going to get yourself and your household OUT OF THE HOUSE in case of emergency. Especially if you have kids. Draw pictures. Set a timer and practice. Make sure all your doorways and hallways are clear. Make sure you and yours can get out if you need to.
As much as I like sweaters and boots, there are three things heralded by the arrival of fall that I don’t enjoy, and those are:
and weight gain.
I should say ‘candy’ because it’s alliterative and probably more honest, but I do enjoy candy and of course that’s my problem. There happens to be a bag of rainbow-colored candy in my otherwise empty fruit bowl right now.
I’m also fighting a cold. Since I live in Southern California, the weather is glorious, as it usually is in October, and I can’t complain about that. It seems to add some extra poignancy to be bundled on the couch, seeing the cloudless blue sky and infinitely preferring to be outdoors.
As far as I know, I’ve had a cold at least once every year of my life. Since there are supposed to be roughly 200 varieties of the common cold, I should be immune to them all in roughly 150 years, which will be fantastic. Until then, it’s become a predictable part of our lives to the extent that we just bought cold medicine in bulk at Costco. Two weeks before I got sick.
Given its predictability, we can plan around it to an extent.
To me, one of the worst things about getting sick is the week afterward. You’re still feeling low and your place is full of dirty laundry and empty of groceries. Dragging around feeling like it will never end, taking out the trash in the rain. Why do people like fall again??
This is why I become vigilant this time of year. I don’t generally believe in “stocking up” but I do check our quantities of a few things.
Pet food. Mucinex. Canned soup. Also my special jar of Super Bio Veg, aka “bouillon cubes” due to its striking taste of mushrooms and garlic.
The best thing about living in the 21st century is grocery delivery through an app. Last winter, I got sick while my husband was out of town, and I was able to order all the soup, juice, and cough drops I could ever want straight to my front door. The only issue with this is that only a portion of a store’s inventory is available online, and you can’t always get what you want.
[insert appropriate guitar lick]
Along with predictable inventory issues, we can predict that our households will probably be out of commission for at least a week every fall and winter. Think back a few years. I’ve known families with little kids in which the whole lot of them seem to be down three weeks a month. They basically put up an alert on social media saying DON’T COME OVER.
What does this mean? What can we do?
We have to take advantage of the time we have available when we are feeling relatively energetic and vertical. That’s what we can do.
Here is an exercise. Join me over here on the couch, if you will, and lie down. That’s it. Close your eyes. Now take a deep sigh and open your eyes and look around the room. If you see anything that annoys you or makes you feel glum, pop up and take care of it. I can tell you from down here, as soon as you get your first cold of the year, you’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at it, and you’re certainly not going to enjoy it any more when you’re ill than you do today.
In my case, the objectionable item happens to be my P90X DVDs, taunting me by reminding me how far I am from peak energy level right now.
For others, depending on where their couch is, it might be a pile of laundry, or a bunch of donation bags that haven’t gone out, or a stain on the carpet, or a desk covered in papers. Who knows. I don’t but I bet you do.
I have a lot of sympathy for Sick Me because her days are difficult and boring. From a distance it can seem cozy. Oh yeah, it will be great, I’ll just catch up on reading and have some naps. In reality, I can never concentrate on a book when I’m ill, and I seem to have a lot of legendary nightmares. Attacked by crocodiles that have hatched in the living room, hair full of spiders, all that good stuff.
If only our sick time could be a happy kind of downtime, a sweet staycation full of dancing around the living room and picnics on the lawn.
It can be very difficult for us to imagine Future Self and use that image as motivation to make our future lives easier. Yeah, sure, like I’m really going to “save money” for that crazy old bat. Who does she think she is? Well, me I guess. Future Me is me.
I think, though, that most of us can call up an image of being down with the flu or a pernicious case of the common cold. We can remember the last time, what we did that week (cough cough), and how it felt. We can use this image for a little extra boost of inspiration. Negative inspiration, yes, but many of us do better with a pushing-away image than we do with a pulling-toward.
Please, Past Self, save me from having to do three weeks of laundry while getting over the flu! You’re my only hope.
The truth is that I’m not really all that sick. Not compared to previous iterations. Sick enough to need two two-hour naps a day, sick enough that it’s a struggle to bring my dog downstairs in the elevator for a potty break. Sick enough that I need to lie down for a while if I’ve been vertical for ten minutes. But, no respiratory symptoms, no cough, no fever. I’m hearing that whatever is going around seems to cause laryngitis, and I certainly don’t have that. I can feel my immune system doing its job. Moral: zinc works.
The point of my story is that most of the work we do, we do for our own selves. We’re always trying to give ourselves a soft landing. A little extra for Future Self. Let’s all take a moment to show compassion for Future Sick Self and prepare a little while we’re up.
Here’s my wish that this year, you make it through unscathed.
I just moved, and this book was a big help to me. What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You, sometimes, is “either pay for a bigger apartment or get rid of some stuff!” Unlike most clutter books, this one focuses more on the inner work and less on the routine organizing aspects of space clearing. In this sense, it’s a better pick for those of us who sometimes struggle to let go.
Q: Why is my house so full of stuff?
A: I have no idea!
Kerri L. Richardson gradually downsized from a 2,000 square foot house to 500 square feet. I’ve done a similar process, and I can verify that this experience definitely clarifies what you do and don’t need! On the other hand, I’ve also found that when people discard a lot of stuff in a short period of time, they can feel so distraught that it becomes traumatic.
This is exactly why it’s so important to focus on the emotional aspects of why we care so much about our stuff.
What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You covers everything, from sorting through clothes and books and papers to setting boundaries with people. This is a very rich topic, because so often a person’s family members have made more choices about the stuff in the home than the owner has.
Richardson’s book is an excellent companion for the intense work of space clearing. If you’ve been feeling stuck or struggling with why you can’t seem to motivate yourself to get rid of clutter, maybe you should find out What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You.
I define clutter as anything that gets in the way of living the life of your dreams.
What am I tolerating in my life?
Organizing your mental clutter begins the process of establishing realistic expectations.
Once my clutter is gone, I’ll be able to _______________.
How long would it take to wear everything you own at least once?
This is a bit of math that always confounds my people. I have them do an assignment called “How many shirts?” We count off how many they need, according to their own standards and preferences, and then we count what’s in the closet and compare the numbers. They always have at least triple what they thought they needed.
Then when it’s time to sort and cast off some of the excess, they freeze.
There’s another classic indicator of unwillingness to proceed, and that is the concept of taking inventory.
Count everything you have in this category.
What if you needed to file a claim with your renters insurance because the upstairs neighbors broke their waterbed?
If the thought of taking inventory is overwhelming, then the stuff is taking over. Your home is for you, not for a bunch of inanimate objects. YOU live there. The stuff just takes up space.
I’ve been very aware of this lately because we just moved into a much nicer, slightly larger apartment with about half the storage of our old place.
I’ve started the Wear Everything project.
The goal is to put together an outfit featuring each article of clothing in my wardrobe at least once. When I wear it, I can take notes. Do I like it as much as I did when I first got it? Do I still have at least three other garments that I can combine with it? Does it fit the same? Is it getting worn out?
As an under-buyer and someone who hates shopping in general, I tend to hang onto things until they are really getting past the point of acceptability. I had to reluctantly put something in the rag bag a couple of weeks ago because I realized the entire chest area was becoming threadbare, exposing undergarments that I did not intend to become outergarments.
That’s one thing for pajamas, and quite another for a professional wardrobe.
Unlike most people, I was carefully taught how to do mending, ironing, and stain removal. I can even darn socks. The trouble with this is that I lean toward a Depression-Era sensibility. I don’t need to be walking into a conference room looking like an extra from Oliver Twist.
In my closet, things tend to fall into two categories: Stuff I rarely wear, and Stuff I wear until it’s ready to fall apart. The Wear Everything project is meant to bring attention to both categories. Should I be wearing certain things more often, or is there a solid reason they aren’t in regular rotation? Are there things I rely on a little too much that have served their time?
For the past twenty years, I’ve followed a cost per wear formula. How much did I pay for something, and how often would I have to wear it for it to work out to $1 per wear? If I pay $50 for something, I should then wear it about once a week for a year, or twice a month for two years. The exceptions to this guideline are formal occasions, like evening clothes or, most especially, an interview outfit.
How much is appropriate to pay for a garment that helps you get a $10,000 annual raise?
This was a challenging lesson for me to learn. I remember waffling over an $80 discounted interview suit for weeks, going back to visit it three times before I shakily handed over my debit card. I got the offer ten minutes after the interview, and that suit had paid itself off by the end of my first day on the job.
BUT… think of how many thrift store outfits I could buy with $80! (not the point, knock it off, Scarcity Brain)
Scarcity is the single biggest issue behind the clothing issues that my people have. With a single exception, all of them have had absolute mounds of clothes. Three dressers in one bedroom is standard for my people. Most will have a range of at least three clothing sizes - I personally have retained six sizes at one time.
Why? Why do we keep things that don’t fit, that we don’t like to wear, that we may never have worn even once?
Example: a brand-new pair of men’s formal slacks, the inseam of which had never been sewn together, due to postponed alterations
We keep things because we like how they look (on the hanger, not on our bodies), because they were gifts, because of what they cost, because the act of sorting is overwhelming, because we strongly identify with the aspirational image that these clothes represent, because they remind us of a moment in time, because we can’t even see or find them in the depths of the wardrobe.
We should be keeping them because we wear them regularly, they fit great, they work well with other things that we also wear regularly, and we look good in them.
There can easily be a wide gap between these two standards!
Most of my people wear a small selection of clothes over and over again, pulling them out of a laundry hamper, when 80-90% of their total wardrobe languishes on hangers, in drawers, on top of the dryer, on the floor, scattered across a dresser, piled on the couch, in the back seat of a car, et cetera.
Get rid of everything that doesn’t get worn and a huge series of problems magically disappears!
What I’m finding as I methodically Wear Everything is that I don’t always LIKE everything. I wore a top the other day and felt like, This is so low-cut, why did I even buy it in the first place? (The answer: it probably didn’t fit the same way when I bought it four years ago).
As I do the laundry, I pull out the awkward space-fillers in my wardrobe, fold them, and put them in the donation bag. Inevitably they will suit someone else better than they suit me today.
Or not. Excess clothing is a global problem. What we really need to do is to slow our roll, to buy fewer things in the first place, cut back demand and manufacture less.
Bulging closets are one symptom among many. When we have too many clothes, we often also have too many books (yes there is such a thing), too much in our pantries, too many papers, too much in our bags weighing down our shoulders, and too many demands on our time and attention overall.
At this transition between one season and another, I’m Wearing Everything because some of it has to go, just like autumn leaves turn color, fall off, and turn into soil. It’s time for me to replace many garments that have served me for several years - ten years in a few cases! Considering what I will be wearing this fall, and the next few autumns as well, helps me to look forward, imagining fun times to come. I release what I no longer need, making space for the new.
This is an instructional post about how to inventory your stuff while you pack for a move. I’ve done this a bunch of times and it’s what works for me. I based it on the concepts from the Paper Tiger, a justifiably famous book about a system for filing papers.
The basic principle is this:
Put a number on a box. Write down the contents under that number.
Move on to the next box and repeat.
Don’t worry about - and this is the hard part - don’t worry about any more complicated system. The only things you have to worry about are making sure you don’t duplicate numbers and that anyone else who packs with you is on board with the system.
There is only one Box #1. There is only one Box #19.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if a box has logical categories of contents. The idea here is that if you’re looking for something specific, you can figure out what box it’s in. If the boxes are clearly labeled, then you have a good chance of finding that box and getting your precious thing back out.
If the boxes have been packed in roughly the order that they were numbered, then you probably even have a rough idea of where each box is!
Also, if you’ve packed in one direction, from one end of your dwelling to another, then the boxes probably got loaded into the truck in the opposite direction. What was first shall be last, and what was last shall be first.
When the boxes are unloaded into the new place, the direction reverses.
Your numbered order is, then, roughly the same all the way through.
This is pure mysticism. Don’t try to understand it, just accept it and meditate on it. Or visualize someone pulling into a parking space and then backing out again.
Moving is often the catalyst for chronic disorganization. A household is moving and they fall victim to the Planning Fallacy. This is the basic cognitive inability of the human brain to accurately estimate how long it takes to do complicated things. Everything is behind schedule and over budget because even highly trained experts and professionals are subject to the Planning Fallacy. No escape.
The household that has not planned the move with expert precision suddenly finds itself in panic mode. Every spare person who can be enlisted to help shows up and starts throwing things into boxes. I can tell you from experience that professional movers will put full wastebaskets into boxes and tape them closed. Same with wet laundry, according to lore. Random friends, relatives, and neighbors can be expected to have even less experience. They just want to get it over with and go home.
The result is a bunch of randomness multiplied by randomness. Fifty cardboard boxes of different size, dumped in whatever room had the most space, all labeled MISC (the dreaded misc).
Trying to settle into the new house feels like a disaster. Every box has items that properly belong in different rooms. Every box has loose hardware, coins, crayons, bits of small toys, and office supplies. Every room is likewise full of similar boxes of MISC (the dreaded misc). Where to start??
Most of these boxes will still be sitting in their miscellaneous form until the next move, which will be even more disastrous than the last.
Living in this kind of cardboard chaos is demoralizing in the extreme. It’s like being surrounded by Dementors. I know it because I can feel them flying out when I show up to help, and it isn’t even my stuff.
The Box Tiger method works because you can read through an inventory as you plan to unpack. You can pull a specific box because you know you need those items and you know where you are going to put them.
Box Tiger also works if you are able to maintain the placid mindset and take the extra few minutes to write down what’s in each box. Everything is under control, you breathe, and tomorrow will come. Soon this chaos will be whipped into shape by the strength of the orderly, problem-solving human mind.
I can imagine this into shape, and since I can imagine it, I can make it happen.
I can look at other people’s pinboards for inspiration.
A lot of people fantasize about having a sewing room one day, or a canning room, or a mud room, or something cool like a guitar-making workshop. What is so appealing about all these visions is that they reflect order, an ability to find the right tool for the right purpose on demand.
A whole house can be this nice.
Know where everything is. Do it one item at a time.
Box Tiger is easier for me for a few reasons. One, it’s my own system, I like it, and I’ve put it into practice. I trust it. I trust it because I’ve used it to find important items during a move, and that feeling is a huge sigh of relief and a two-inch dropping of tense shoulders.
Two, Box Tiger is easy for me because I’m a minimalist and I purposely don’t have much stuff. Why would I? Stuff I don’t use and don’t need? It doesn’t look cute and it just gets in my way.
Three, Box Tiger works well because my home works well. Keep things near where they are used, that’s the basic rule, and when we do this it makes it easier both to pack and unpack. Towels in the bathroom, towels in one box, towels in the new bathroom. Put in the extra 10% effort to carry small items to the room where they make the most sense, and that pays off in a more streamlined move.
Leave random items skewed and scattered everywhere, and that effect is multiplied with each move. Total disorganization reigns supreme and everything is hard to find.
Rationally, if something is important and useful to me, I should be able to find it and use it. If I love it and I love looking at it, then it should be easy to see as often as possible. I can’t make a case for not being able to find or see my stuff.
Box Tiger is the reason I’m able to finish unpacking 95% of my stuff in three days. I can make a move as streamlined as possible and go back to our regularly scheduled programming.
It’s also worth mentioning that minimalism enables us to fit in smaller homes, pay less rent, and live in more desirable neighborhoods where standard-size homes are unaffordable for most people. Every time we move, we downsize a little bit more, because it has always paid off.
We moved over the weekend.
Sure, most people do it that way, at least people who work a standard office job with a standard schedule. What I mean is that we moved over the weekend, and now we’re back to business.
It is hard to believe. My husband woke up Friday morning and went to work. The only disruption to his routine was shifting his schedule an hour later so he could drop off our dog at doggy day care. When he came home with the dog, it was to our new address.
When we went to bed Friday night, it was amidst a cardboard city of box towers. We could sleep in our bed, use the shower, and microwave food, but otherwise it was pretty obvious that we had just moved in.
By Monday morning, the bathroom was DONE
and the kitchen was DONE
and the desks were DONE
and the laundry was DONE
and all the furniture was set up in its correct location
and there were only two boxes left to unpack in the bedroom
and thirty-five of the fifty boxes were unpacked
and the flattened, empty boxes were carried down to the parking garage to be given away
and the old apartment was mostly clean
and there was much rejoicing.
On Friday, I sent occasional text updates. I knew my honey was super stressed and worried about the move, and I knew he would be able to focus better if he felt like everything was under control. We were ahead of schedule and everything was going according to plan. I could feel the smog cloud of stress lifting off him with each bulletin.
THIS JUST IN: everything is fine
Instead of stress, the feeling that started to come across was curious anticipation. What’s going on over there? What’s it going to look like?
I raced the clock all day, knowing I was going to be tired no matter what, determined to get as much as possible done before dinner. I also had a vision of my partner’s expression when he walked in.
He was stunned and impressed. He was also extremely pleased that he hadn’t had to haul anything himself!
The great thing about all this is that we’re closing in on our tenth wedding anniversary. As we both think about this milestone and the early days of our romance, he will be thinking of me in this context.
As the moving day updates were coming in, my hubby’s colleagues were checking in as well. “Aren’t you moving today? Why are you here?”
“You don’t understand. My wife is the logistics manager. She’s ON IT.”
“I was bragging on you today,” he tells me, and the last time it was about my homemade banana bread.
This is all part of a conscious strategy on my part. I believe that two heads are better than one head, and that a solid partnership of any kind is incredibly helpful for spiritual growth, not to mention career performance. This can be true of colleagues, friends, and siblings, of course, and even neighbors. When it’s a marriage, it can work on even more levels.
One of these mastermind benefits of marriage is that we can facilitate each other’s career growth. This is fun and it also leads directly to money.
Divorce, on the other hand, can be one of the most expensive things of all. It’s a good thinking exercise to ask oneself, What is the opposite of this?, and see if it makes sense. What is the opposite of divorce? What would be the opposite response in this scenario to what my partner’s ex would do? (Or mine).
My hubby and his ex had quite a bad fight over a relocation, their marriage was never the same, they eventually split up, and now I have him. I also have an easy visual of What Not to Do with this particular man.
What’s the opposite of a marriage-killing feud over a difficult move? Hmm, she ponders.
A quick, easy, streamlined one!
For most people, a move is an extravagant disruption. The turmoil can stretch on for months, and indeed a lot of people never completely unpack every single box. The same box of MISC (the dreaded misc) will be hauled from house to house.
I determined to do it differently. I’d make our move a mere blip. We’d leave our cruddy little studio with the inconsiderate chaos muppets upstairs, and we’d get ourselves a lifestyle upgrade as quick as we could go.
This is good in such a number of ways.
I dominated over this move. It’s true that we still have boxes to unpack in the dining room and living room. It’s true, too, that we went from Fifty Boxes to Slightly Messy Apartment in only three days. Our pets both clearly love it here and it’s so, so quiet. We don’t have to say “we’re moving” any more. My honey can work in his office and give total focus and attention to his projects.
I haven’t mentioned in all this that our home is my office. The main reason I took on this move alone, besides earning a million brownie points, is that I knew it would give me latitude to do it my way. I could choose where I wanted my desk and create my ideal rooms in so many ways. Usually women feel more stressed about cluttered living environments than men do, for whatever reason, and I know that’s true for me. If I planned the move myself, I could do it on my schedule and my terms. I could close the loop.
Now that loop is closed, the move is effectively over, and everyone concerned is back to business.
The movers showed up early and got straight to work. I had “a couple of last things” and they were done before I was, our entire studio apartment unloaded in two hours.
Everything in our studio apartment fit in fifty boxes.
I’m surprised and embarrassed about this, but what can I say. At least six of those boxes were just our bedding and pillows!
We managed to pull up to the special “only available between 11:30 am and 3:00 pm on Fridays” loading zone at 11:32, and the movers were done at 2:30.
It took longer to unload the truck than it did to load it, because they had to wheel everything down a ramp, through the basement garage, to the elevator, and up to the fifth floor.
Due to that long lag time, I was able to unpack quite a lot of stuff between loads. It wasn’t like I could leave, or take a nap, when I needed to answer questions about where things went and what direction the furniture should face. I felt like I was racing against time, that the more boxes I unpacked, the more cardboard the movers would cart away for me.
Get food into fridge and freezer
Set up the bed
Set up the shower
Set up the pet bowls
Unpack enough in the kitchen to be able to microwave something or cook breakfast
By 5:00 pm I had done all of these things - and a few more - and I am feeling pretty impressed with myself.
I have this special moving inventory system, and this time it really saved the day. I realized when the movers were bringing up our massive California King mattress that I should probably get the little floor protector coasters under the wheels of the bed frame first. I whipped out my phone, skimmed through the inventory note to find the right box, located that box (behind and under as many boxes as possible, of course), moved the other boxes out of the way, opened the correct one, dug out the appropriate container, found the coasters, flipped up the box springs, and was putting the coasters under the wheels when the movers came in.
A non-trivial task, to find four 2”-square flat objects in the midst of fifty boxes in five minutes.
That bit of effort will save the nice dark wooden floors from any further scarring - it’s quite obvious the previous tenants didn’t think of this kind of nicety - and potentially save us from having to pay for repair work when we move. Probably more to the point, it will save my husband and me from either feeling like we’ve procrastinated on a honeydo task, or having to move the mattress and box springs in the midst of unpacking.
Done and dusted!
This is how we organized the one-day move.
As of dinnertime, we can sit on the couch, feed the dog, charge our devices, shower and brush our teeth, sleep in our bed, and even find our clothes.
I’ve unpacked fifteen boxes, most of them the large size. I’ve unpacked about a quarter of my clothes and set up my desk. One kitchen cabinet is set up. All our plates, bowls, and glasses are in the new dishwasher. There is a path through the living room.
Probably the most important thing that we’ve done was to plan a housewarming party. We always used to love having an open house every week, and now there are interns in our life instead of college students. Having a social date on the calendar gives us a deadline and a sense of excitement.
It was really sweet to hear how excited these kids are about the open house theory!
Now, I can’t claim that we moved “in one day.” The old apartment still needs to be cleaned, and all our cleaning apparatus is still over there, every single thing from the dish gloves to the steam mop. We still have almost three dozen boxes to unpack and we don’t even have internet.
It is fair to say, though, that all our furniture went from OVER THERE to OVER HERE in one day, and that we can sleep here and start living a fairly normal life from tonight on. As normal as it gets for us, anyway.
Ironically, our place is more functional in the midst of a move than what most of my clients experience on an ordinary day. We have more freedom of movement from room to room, even with the boxes. We can find more stuff. We can cook and bathe. If someone needed to make a repair tonight or tomorrow, we wouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to let them in. This is partly because we are very organized, partly because we don’t have that much stuff, and mostly because we hold ourselves to a certain level of expectations.
Alas, now I’ve set the bar and all our further moves are going to have to meet those expectations! A one-day move on Friday and back to business on Monday?
We’re moving again, for the seventh time in our ten-year marriage, and I’m in charge. I’m in charge because I’m better at it. This move has been more complicated than some of our past moves, for bureaucratic reasons, and it’s better for all concerned when we acknowledge our comparative strengths.
My husband’s reaction to moving is the same as most people’s would be: a wave of depressed overwhelm.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him. I got this.
Now, as an engineer, my mate has excellent Pack Fu. Bring him a bunch of luggage, bags, and boxes, and he will expertly fit them into a given space. He can also tie down a load like a professional. Honestly I don’t think I could have married a man with no Pack Fu or tool skills.
Where he tends to get bogged down is in the planning and the logistical nightmare of all the thousand tiny widgets. There’s also a slew of phone calls and errands, personal relationships to be built, and that takes a certain kind of patience.
Having made my bones in social services, I understand bureaucratic red tape like nobody else.
Example: Where to Put the Moving Van, Chapter Five.
Apartment manager says we will need a parking permit from the city. City says there is a jurisdictional dispute with state transportation agency. State says they do not issue parking permits. City office closed for following three days; revert to alternate plan. Landlord says there is a loading zone. Street is marked No Parking between 3 pm - 7 pm, and so is loading zone, the exact window when we would be parking the van. After a full week of calls, email, and strategy sessions, I finally negotiate to have the movers come at 8 am instead of 2 pm. I have spoken to six separate individuals about: a parking spot. That will be in use for two, maybe three hours total.
Note that these movers could easily have said, sorry crazy lady, find another moving company. Look at our schedule board, posted openly right there on the wall. Anyone can easily see that we can’t make this happen for you with only four days’ notice. I wouldn’t have blamed them at all, and I would have shifted to calling other movers and asking for recommendations for other hard-working people who like money.
It helped, though, that I am so patient and easy-going. It helped that I know how to work a phone when I need to. I’ve beat the IRS twice and I can certainly figure my way through competing parking regulations.
There’s also the not-inconsiderable body of skills I have picked up while working with hoarders and the chronically disorganized. Not to mention the strong minimalist streak I have developed from same.
I married a man with a vast garage, a garden, and the components of several workshops, from robotics to woodworking to replica coins. A man who owns his own personal tree stump for artisanal purposes. He’s bought in to minimalism as a lifestyle, but he still has the instincts of a homeowner, a homeowner who aspires to a couple acres of orchard.
He looks at all our stuff, thinks about moving it, and quivers inside. I look at all our stuff, overlaid with multiple images of hoarded homes, and I shrug.
I’m picturing our new place. In my mind, we’re already gone.
We’ve done this so many times, seven times but technically nine moves. We both moved when we got married, and we also stayed temporarily in a furnished apartment when we first moved to SoCal. I can still remember what size of carton is required for certain objects and which items fit well together. I estimated forty boxes when we started planning this move, and we’ll see how close I got on moving day, but it’s looking pretty accurate right now.
Divide number of days until Moving Day by estimated number of boxes. Simple. There’s your quota. Now get to work.
In past moves, unless we’ve had the luxury of professional movers, we’ve always done multiple trips. We were able to carry over a carload at a time, unpack it, and bring the empty boxes home to reuse. This makes it a bit more challenging to count the total number.
The first time, we had one hundred.
Then we got it down to eighty.
Now it’s looking like forty.
Some of the boxes are smaller, too! A lot of the boxes that got cut were small boxes full of books, getting the numbers down and also eliminating a lot of the total mass.
Yeah, yeah, I thought I loved books as much as you think you do. I thought that until around the fifteenth move. Now I’m on somewhere around twenty-eight and you know what? Dead trees, man. They heavy. Digital all the way.
The funniest thing about planning this move is that I’ve done more home cooking during this process than I have for the past month. I even made banana bread the other night. I see it as using up containers that we won’t have to pack. Since I’m getting the baking pans down anyway...
I’m handling this process with great good cheer. I’m totally excited about the new apartment, counting off the days, and the growing box towers are visible proof that we’re almost there. I want to impress the movers with how hard I’ve worked. I want them to feel my gratitude and how much I’ve done to get ready for their 8:00 am knock.
I visualize how close I will be to fully unpacked, how great our new place will look when my hubby comes home from work. He’ll leave our old place and come home to our new place. All the machinations and wheeling and dealing and planning and scheming will have been done, not to mention the packing and hauling. How relieved he will feel.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies