spring

Now that it’s spring and (finally) seems to be brightening up here, I have been “lightening up”, not only physically but emotionally.

In the winter, all of us tend to “hibernate”. Physically, we want to stay warm and comfortable–some might venture outside to participate in winter sports (like I do) but at the end of the day, we crave security and comfort. Part of this due the weather (which tends to be cold and snowy for most of us), and part of it is because of how early the sun sets. As the weather becomes warmer, and daylight savings time “springs” forward, we are awakened again. It becomes a time for motion, change, organization, and preparation for the summer season. Like almost everyone who practices some form of “spring cleaning”, I find myself experiencing this shift as well.

My room before cleaning (just kidding).
My room before cleaning (just kidding).

So why do I title the post “Lighten Up” instead of “Spring Cleaning”? Because I find spring cleaning and the other energetic components of springtime help me (and others) to lighten up. We reduce our loads by cleaning, planting, enjoying the warmer weather, and most importantly, giving to others. This can bring emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits–by cleaning and “moving the energy around”, I reduce my weight and become healthier; my mood gets lighter; I feel less burdened emotionally; and of course, I feel a renewed energy and enthusiasm for life. For the past several weeks, I have made it a resolution to clean something every day. For some people who are more organized than I, this would be a difficult resolution keep–but I can see opportunities for improvement everywhere. At both my home and business, there are stacks of paper, accumulated stuff that needs to be sorted, organized, or given away, and “housekeeping” tasks like vacuuming and dusting that need to be completed.

Striving to make my desk (and the rest of my surroundings) this clean!
Striving to make my desk (and the rest of my surroundings) this clean!

Several weeks after starting my “lightening up” process, I discovered that I was not the only one embracing the practice of shedding items that no longer serve me. The book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo has become a best-seller, and according to sites like The Cut (NY Magazine) it’s become the new juice cleanse. I’m still waiting to have enough money to get my hands on a copy, but basically the idea is to look at an item, see if it brings you joy, and if it doesn’t get rid of it. I had been doing a variation of this well before I heard of this method–I would pull items out of my closet and think, “do I really love this?” and if the answer was no, I would put it in a box for donation. If I couldn’t decide and it wasn’t seasonally appropriate or didn’t fit right now, I put it in a plastic bin, to revaluate in a few months. Although I used to hate cleaning, now I think of it as a challenge to find things to donate or sell, or discover new treasures that I forgot I had.

Here are some things that have helped me “lighten up”:

1) Clean something every day: This can be a daunting challenge, since some tend to think of this as a big endeavor. It doesn’t have to be! Cleaning can take many forms, from cleaning out your desk or closet to something as simple as dusting a piece of furniture (very well) or sorting through a stack of papers. By starting small and building up to bigger projects, this task can seem less daunting.

2) Set a timer Set aside time each day for your “cleaning project”, and tune it to what time you can personally stick to. It can be as little as 10 minutes (if you are really pressed for time) to several hours. Then keep cleaning. Try not to be distracted by TV, computer work, or anything that will pull you from your task. So many times I have started cleaning, just to get caught up in a Law and Order marathon or sorting through my emails. Dedicating time to cleaning only can help refine your efforts–this doesn’t mean you can’t watch TV or listen to music, just make sure you don’t switch focus and start focusing on that instead. FYI, this technique helps with anything you have to accomplish–I have found that singleminded focus on a goal is more effective than doing a little bit of everything at the same time.

3) Speaking of sorting through emails, I have started doing this as well. As Kondo notes in her book (I’m paraphrasing), freeing up space of any kind can provide greater opportunity to dedicate the time and energy that was absorbed by that clutter to what you want to do. In other words, if you have less emails in your inbox, you can easily sort through and take care of the ones that are really important.

That doesn’t mean you have to click “delete all”. I have a lot of important documents, photos, and other files that I don’t want to delete. But you can sort them for easy access. I know GMAIL has a very easy system for sorting. I have created about 20 folders thus far to sort items into, including school, work, account info, etc. And I have gone from approximately 9,000 emails to about 7,000 and counting, which believe it or not does make me feel more serene.

3) Use “life-hacks”

I discover more and more that my young friends are posting on the Internet, (hey, I’m almost 25, I’m ancient) and one thing I have stumbled upon is the concept of “life hacks”. These are basically techniques or tricks that make life easier–and some of them apply to organization and cleaning. For example, you can use post it notes to clean between your keyboard, and toilet paper rolls cut longways and wrapped around wrapping paper rolls to keep the rolling paper from unrolling. Of course, there are some that aren’t such great ideas, but for the most part they are good tricks to simplify your life. Here are some links:

http://1000lifehacks.com

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/100-life-hacks-that-make-life-easier.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/readcommentbackwards/37-essential-lifehacks-every-college-student-or-a-dmjk#.gydMPPNvW

4) Give:

Part of the joy of cleaning and organizing, in my opinion, is the opportunity to give. Throughout the past few weeks, I have been finding items in my closet or stored away that I no longer use, so offered relevant items to friends. I know there is sometimes a “stigma” about giving away your used items, but I can say as someone who has been on the receiving end of such donations that it was usually at the time I needed said items the most.

Almost ten years ago I received trash bags of clothes from various friends when I couldn’t afford to buy my own, and wore that clothing to shreds. I was truly grateful that my friends liked me enough to try to help me in that way.

Don’t feel awkward about giving items to friends–if it makes you feel better, preface the donation with “I don’t use it anymore and thought you might like it”, or end the conversation with, “if you don’t want it, feel free to pass it on to someone else”. You can also say, “I wanted to give you this because I would rather someone I know use and enjoy it rather than throwing it out or giving it to the thrift shop”. Lastly, if they seem hesitant or uncomfortable, you can say, “of course, if you don’t want it, no hard feelings, I’ll just donate it”. That takes the strain off of them to say “YES” even if they don’t want an item. And if all else fails…

Give to thrift!! Most people have thrift stores in their area, whether it’s a Goodwill store or a local thrift store.

5) SELL SELL SELL

I know that seems counterintuitive when I have just been talking about feng shui, giving, and serenity, but when you have items that you can sell, it seems silly not to take advantage of the opportunity. With more and more websites popping up to help you sell old books, clothes, and who knows what else (not to mention our friends at Amazon and Ebay) it is becoming easier and easier to find an audience for your old stuff.

Personally, I have been going on a book selling spree. Yesterday I pulled my entire library apart and tried to find books to sell that I wasn’t using…a few days before, I did the same thing. Now I have three or four parcels going out to four different sellers, and each of them will pay me via paypal when the books are received and appraised.

The easiest way to determine what books are being bought by various vendors is bookscouter.com. I wish I had discovered this earlier this week when I went on the first book selling spree. Book scouter allows you to enter an ISBN number and then aggregates all vendors and the prices they will pay for the item.

I do have two tips though–remember, most book vendors will only accept buybacks at a certain price threshold (in other words, you can’t just sell two books for 50 cents each–you must meet a certain amount of buyback allocation to send them your books–for me, it was five and ten dollars on two different sites). And also, make sure the site you are selling back to has a good reputation. Reading the reviews next to their name on the book scouter website is a good start, but I also googled “(fill in the blank with the website name) scam” to make sure I wouldn’t send my books and never be compensated.

If you have textbooks (maybe not ones that are over a few years old) or a particularly valuable book, this is a good way to get some money back fairly quickly for them.

You can also sell your old phones at an Eco ATM, which is a machine that takes your phone in exchange for instant cash. I just cashed in an old iPhone 4 and got 30 dollars for it. There are kiosks throughout the US where you can recycle your phone–not only is it recycled and therefore not being thrown in a landfill, but you can get cash for something you’re not using anyway.

Another good site for almost everything is obviously Ebay. I have sold quite a few items on the site, and recommend it to everyone. But first, you should do your research–check if there is an over saturation of a certain item (for example, don’t expect to get a lot of money for a collection of beanie babies unless they are super-rare–there are so many “lots” of beanie babies it has rendered the market oversaturated)–and see what others charge. Then you can undercut them and sell your item quicker.

In my experience, it’s easiest to sell collectibles and vintage items on eBay, but I have also sold older (read: circa 1990s) Disney plush toys, clothing, DVDs, and book collections (I sold an almost complete set of Nancy Drew books for over 100 dollars last year!). Of course, it also depends on the market at the time and “what’s hot”. You can do research on that too.


The journalist who wrote the article for the Cut about this seemed to think Kondo’s message of tidying up to improve your life was just another useless fad. She seemed to think it was unimportant to spend time on such a silly endeavor. I agree, sometimes we have bigger things to think about. And we shouldn’t focus solely on ourselves and our personal quests (that goes for anything, whether it’s dieting, cleaning, exercising, the list goes on) but it doesn’t hurt to try to help ourselves either.

She begrudgingly admitted that there is a link between health and tidiness as per a study noted within the article, and also included another study that said looking at a messy environment can correlate with unethical behavior. Personally I’m not looking at the studies as a reason to do this, I’m looking at my life as well. For years I have made it a resolution to clean, to make my room a sanctum and a place I look forward to spending time in, not a place where I enter and say, “God this place is a mess”. Sometimes there is enough turmoil in our daily lives that having a clean place to return to at the end of the day can be immensely comforting. It doesn’t have to look like a place from “Better Homes and Gardens”, but I feel the priority should be how you feel in the space and if you can accomplish what you want quickly and easily–in other words, it’s more about if the place supports you and your way of life than if it is an aesthetic masterpiece.

I’m not saying that you should get rid of everything you own. I’m also not saying that you should tell everyone they’re worthless if they are not subscribing to this practice (I think that’s part of the reason the author of that article was so disenchanted with the movement, because it was being used as an insult by acquaintances and a way to assert superiority over others). I’m saying that the choice to de-clutter can be powerful, and has been (and continues to be) worthwhile to me. Even a little bit goes a long way.

In the end, it’s all personal. It’s not about meeting a certain requirement, or doing certain things. She thinks it’s not a good use of her time and that’s cool–I do feel it works for me, so do use some of these principles.  It’s a personal decision.

I know personally that I feel an immense set of accomplishment after cleaning, and yes, do feel more liberated and creative. I feel better in a clean space than a dirty one, and feel a visceral reaction of increased peacefulness and reduced stress–my muscles are less tense, I feel more comfortable and peaceful, and I feel supported by my space. I can get work done better if everything’s as organized as possible; when it gets too messy, I feel stifled. So I would have to disagree with the author that this decluttering is “unimportant”–to me it is helpful, so I do it. At this point in my life, as I get ready for new adventures and feel obliged to pare down and only have “the essentials”, this revolution could not have come at a better (or more coincidental) time.

In conclusion, there’s a lot to be said for tidying up. As I try to get my body and mind “in shape”, it only makes sense to follow suit with my surroundings. And even though I have, in the past, been “allergic to cleaning”, I’m genuinely enjoying the process. 🙂

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