Thursday, July 9, 2015

Do you have any tips for tidying?

Why, yes. I do. In fact, I have ten tips for tidying. How's that for alliteration?

But first, in author-y news, remember that book I told you was coming out next month? Well, it arrived at work today and it looks SO GOOD! I really can't say thank you enough to Emily the illustrator, Emily the editor, Kevin the other editor, Jessica the other other editor, Kelly the marketer, and Shawnda the designer, who all made this book happen. They are my heroes.

And while I'm on the subject, I might as well put in a little shameless plug for the book itself. It's way cute, guys. If I could buy you all a copy, I would, but that seems a little counterintuitive. Maybe I'll just have to do some giveaways on my blog or something instead. In any case, it's not that expensive, so if it sparks joy for you or you think it might spark joy for some small child in your life, you can preorder it here, and since it's actually in our warehouse now, it'll probably arrive way before the earlier date I told you (August 12).

Ahem. Back to tidying . . . and speaking of sparking joy . . .

(See how smoothly I made that transition? I'm a writer—I know my transitions.)

Here are my tidying tips of the day:

1. Start big.

If you're following the KonMari method, you'll want to start with your clothes. I've realized after the fact that there are several good reasons to start here. Clothes are bulky. If you think about it, all your outfits are as big as you are. Plus clothes tend to get strewn all over the place. At least mine used to. Now they don't last long on the floor before my inner tidier just sort of automatically puts them back where they go.

Anyway, clothes are a great thing to start tidying with because you will naturally create some instant breathing room. You'll see right away how much more space you could have once you eliminate all the clothes you no longer like, never really loved, or have loved to death. So start with your clothes. Don't get discouraged when the dust bunnies attack your sinuses. Just power through and then sit back and enjoy how much your life has already improved.

2. Assign everything a specific spot.

This tip works with every category. Remember that as you're sorting through your things, you shouldn't put anything away until you've finished that whole category (or subcategory). But when you do start putting things away, be very deliberate about where things go. Do it in a way that makes sense to you, but don't just stick a random assortment of makeup into a drawer. Put your mascara in one spot, your eyeliner in another, and your foundation in another. If you assign even the littlest things their own specific spot, you'll know exactly where to look for them later and exactly where to put them when you're doing your routine "auto-pilot" tidying later.

With clothes, this specificity comes into play when you hang your clothes from longest to shortest in a left to right way. I know exactly which hanging item goes where. In fact I can tell you without looking that right now my closet lineup goes like this: white dress, black dress, dark blue dress, wrap dress, light blue dress, yellow dress, black and white striped dress, maxi skirt, black skirt, white skirt, purple skirt, pink skirt, pink blouse, turquoise blouse, dark blue top, yellow top.

And now that I've listed those, I'll check to see if I'm right. Ha! I knew I was forgetting something. There's another black skirt right before the pink skirt and a polka-dot blouse right after the pink skirt.

Anyway, the point is not to memorize the contents of your closet. The real point is that if your brain knows exactly where something belongs without you even really having to think about it, then tidying up will be so much easier later on. You won't have to constantly be figuring out where to put things or setting them down haphazardly only to lose them later.

3. Don't listen to music.

At first this will be really weird. You might think you'll get bored to death without music to entertain you. But trust me when I tell you that while music is perfect for hard manual labor like washing the car or working in the yard or even doing dishes, it is really not helpful when you're trying to tidy. If you absolutely must listen to something, choose calming instrumental music. Something you might listen to on a quiet Sunday morning. You want that feeling of peace as you're tidying. You want to be able to hear yourself think. It's much easier to sense your emotional reactions to the stuff you're sorting through without some peppy pop song playing in the background.

4. Get it gone.

This process took me a month. In that time, I made three separate trips to DI, filled up my big garbage can at least four times, and hauled an entire carload of books to Pioneer book. Could I have consolidated all that stuff and saved myself some trips? Sure.

But I think it would've been harder for me to do it that way. I really, really, really encourage you all to completely finish one category before moving on to the next. Don't just pile all the garbage in one corner, all the donations in another, and all the stuff you want to sell in yet another pile. If you do, all you'll see are more piles. That's hardly encouraging when you're trying to become tidier. Instead, take the garbage out one small bag at a time. Make weekly trips to your favorite secondhand store. And definitely sell your books as soon as you know which ones you no longer love. The sooner you can start seeing all the empty space you're making, the better off you'll be.

5. Resist the urge to regift.

If you don't want that colander, chances are your sister won't either. Save her from your stuff. Thank the colander for all its help in the past, and then donate it so that someone who really needs a colander can use it. Or if it's rusty or worn out, just throw it away. But still say thank you. That colander did a lot for you. Even if you own things that never worked or clothes you never wore or books you never read, you should still tell them thank you. They fulfilled their purpose by pointing you in the direction of what you really wanted.

6. Use the money you find, make, and earn to reward your efforts.

I'm pretty sure that I came out of this whole tidying thing with something like $200. And all I had to do was touch every single thing I own. With all my loose change, old cell phones, an iPad I don't use anymore, and those books I mentioned, I made quite a bit. But instead of just adding that money to my bank account, I kept it as cash and I'm using it to buy fun stuff: lunches out with friends, inexpensive picture frames for a couple of photos I found, a few new clothing items to replace the ones that didn't fit anymore, a night at the movies, a new book, and even a trip home in two weeks! It's fun to feel like I have some wiggle room in my normally tight budget for extras. And all because I tidied.

7. Donate.

I probably could've made even more money than I did if I'd had some sort of garage sale, but I'm not really into that. It's too time consuming and I don't actually have a garage—just a carport. Plus I really enjoy donating my things. Sometimes I feel like I don't have much to offer others. I'm so busy with work and writing and everything else that I forget to give. And my budget doesn't allow me to be as generous as I'd like. But we all have things we can give away. Things that don't fit our lives anymore. Nice things that someone else will love and appreciate.

8. Trust your memory to be kind to you.

Now that I got rid of the program from that evening, I no longer have physical evidence that I sang in Carmina Burana in 2013. Guess what. I still remember doing it. Same thing with my Star Wars movie ticket stub from Episode I. And that was in 1999. Ditto sacrament meeting programs, and notes from high school, and even letters from friends. Just because you get rid of the physical stuff, that doesn't erase the memories. In fact, my brain is really good at remembering the good stuff and it kindly softens the bad moments as time goes on. For me, keeping things from my past only magnified those bad moments long past when I should've let them go. Goals I never attained. Relationships that didn't work out. Those things don't need to haunt me forever.

My rule of thumb: don't hold onto anything that makes you feel guilty, anxious, regretful, or angry. Let it go. Let it go. And rise like the break of dawn, friends. Elsa will love you for it.

9. Take your time.

Don't feel like you have to do this all at once. Take days off. This is especially important toward the end of the process when you're dealing with your sentimental stuff. I found that I couldn't handle more than about twenty minutes of sentimental tidying at a time. It's really hard to face a lifetime of things that are precious to you. If you're not in the right frame of mind going into it, you could make decisions you'll regret. For example, hypothetically speaking, if you start crying as you're holding your cherished stuffed animals from childhood, that's probably a pretty good indicator that now is not the time to tidy. That's okay. Just wipe away the tears, set down the teddy bear, and come back to it another day. Not that I would know what that's like from personal experience or anything.

Speaking of my childhood, I found this photo while I was tidying and I love it so much that I framed it. Talk about a golden age in my life. Eight was definitely one of my best years so far.

10. It's okay to feel emotional about all this.

I realized that a lot of the items I'd been keeping were triggers for me. I expected them to act like portkeys and magically take me back to a time in my life when things were different. But the truth is, your stuff is just stuff. It can't take you back in time. It can't change your past. But getting rid of the bad stuff can make your future better. Yes, your things will trigger emotions and memories. That's the reason you kept them so long. And it's okay to feel emotional as you go through this process. Just remember that objects only have meaning if we assign them meaning. The feelings and emotions come from you, not your stuff.

You'll still be the same person you were, even if you no longer own all the same things. Only the space around you will change. And trust me, it will change for the better.

Happy tidying!


  1. Way to go Heidi! Thanks for keeping me inspired. I'm so proud of you for actually doing it!