Category Archives: minimizing

Simplifying Email Saves Time

It is amazing how much time email can take up. I recently made some changes in the way I work with email and it really surprised me how much time it saves me each day. There are a number of ways you can streamline your email process.

Reduce Volume

The first step should be reducing the volume of incoming mail. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you’ve lost interest in (don’t forget Yahoo, Google, and similar “Groups”). Same thing with Usenet Newsgroups. Are you getting unwanted mail from e-commerce sites? If it is a site you do business with, log on to your account with them and check your communication options. Many have an option to only send you mail regarding actual orders (status, shipping notices, etc.) but no marketing mail. If it’s a site you don’t do business with, but is a reputable site, follow the unsubscribe instructions they give at the bottom of each email. If all else fails, blacklist the sender via your spam or other blocking filter.

Fewer Accounts

Many of us have multiple email accounts. One for business, one for e-commerce, one for family and friends and even one for blogging. If you have to go to different websites or use different programs to check each one, a lot of time is wasted logging in and out checking each one. Multiply that by how many times each day you make the rounds of all your email accounts. If you don’t really need that many, you might be able to drop one or more of them. If possible, migrate all your correspondence to one email address. If you can’t do that, then you should try to get all your email in one inbox. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Forward

One way would be to set up all but your favorite account to forward your mail to the favorite one, or perhaps a new one you create for just this purpose. This also works as a great first step toward  reducing the number of email accounts you maintain. The downside of this method is that you will be handling all mail through a single account, and all your replies will come from the account you are using. This may confuse some recipients. You can mitigate this confusion by placing a note in your signature line explaining what you are doing and suggesting that everyone please start using your preferred address.

Fetch

Some email providers will retrieve your mail from other accounts, allowing you to manage all your mail in one place.  This gets all your mail into one inbox, while allowing each email address to keep its own identity. This is one option if you plan to keep separate email accounts for different functions.

Use A Local Email Client

Back in “The Old Days” everyone used a local program to manage their email. While many people still use an email client, especially with ISP or workplace provided email accounts, web-based email has become much more common, especially among the free email providers. The advantages to the user are virtually no setup, ease-of-use, and the ability to do mail anywhere, on any device with a web browser. The advantages to the provider are a drastic reduction in need for tech support as well as the ability to tightly control the user experience (read “advertise”).

There’s A Better Way

If you are willing to make a one-time investment in time and effort, and possibly enlist the help of a techie friend if you are not so inclined, then you can set up an email client. Using an email client will do several things for you. It will allow you to collect all your email in one place, with a single look and feel. No more bouncing around to different websites and systems. It will give you an ad-free email experience. No more distracting links to your email provider’s other properties, nor ads for products and services you don’t want and don’t need. It will give you total control over your email experience. Size and place windows so they are easier for you to work with. Manage all your contacts in one place, and share them among all your email accounts. Share email easily among accounts, too, even replying and forwarding across account borders.

Time-saving Features

Better filters with more sophisticated rules. Spam protection, blacklisting, and whitelisting to remove distractions from unwanted mail. Download mail in the background so you don’t waste time waiting for each email to load. Specify whether or not to display embedded images. Download all your mail and work offline – great for slower connections and dialup (free up your line for calls while you’re reading and answering email) , as well as for working on the go when there’s no WiFi or 3G connection.

More Time-saving Tips

Receiving and displaying your email as efficiently as possible speeds up email handling tremendously. Streamlining the way you work with email helps, too.

FIFO Handling

Once you’ve got all of your email coming in to a single in-box, you can deal with it in a linear, first-in, first-out fashion. Open the first piece of new mail. Deal with it right now. If an action is required, like a reply, do it immediately. Once you are done, but not before, move on to the next piece of mail. Doing this helps you fully focus on each piece of mail. Unimportant items are quickly discarded. Important items receive your undivided attention and are promptly handled.

Avoid Procrastination Enablers

I used to like to sort my email into different folders based on mailing list, sender, and other criteria. I had filters set up to do the sorting automatically. I was pretty proud of myself, thinking how efficient I was. In reality, I’d just been making it easier to procrastinate. Sure, it all looked organized, but I wasn’t reading and replying in a timely manner. The folders gave the illusion of having done something, and enabled me to empty the in-box faster, but left lots of unread mail. Experience has taught me that the best plan is as I described, handling all mail in the order it is received. No flagging, filing, or other procrastinating. If I don’t deal with it now, chances are it will sit until It ends up being too old to matter and gets deleted.

Your Ideas?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions on handling email in a simple and efficient manner. Comments are open!

How I Discovered Minimalism

Notice that I didn’t call this “How I Became a Minimalist.” While I’m certainly displaying tendencies in that direction, I’m not quite sure I deserve to wear the label “minimalist” — at least not yet.

Making Changes

All of us who are or who aspire to be minimalists have our own reasons for initially seeking this path. Often as we learn more, our own point of view changes, and along with it, some of our goals take different shapes and priorities.

When I made the decision several years ago to move from a three-bedroom house to a tiny motorhome, many people considered that to be a very minimalist move. I suppose it was, seeing as I parted with over 90% of my possessions to do so. Would I miss them? Would I feel deprived?

A New Feeling

Guess what? Instead of feeling deprived, I felt liberated. Free of the clutter. Free of the responsibility of maintaining and protecting it all. Free of the fear of it being stolen or damaged. No more spending weeks (or months!) packing and unpacking if I had to move.

Clutter Returns

I was feeling liberated by my tiny mobile dwelling and my lack of stuff. So far so good. I wasn’t really thinking too much about it as a lifestyle or a philosophy, though. I just sort of lived my life. Now and then I’d realize I needed something I lacked, or, more often, I just wanted something I saw, and eventually, after a few years, I realized that I’d accumulated an awful lot of stuff in my tiny home! Uh-oh. Not so liberating anymore. Especially when moving was taking nearly a week of rearranging and cramming so as to make this thing drivable, and then a half a day of unpacking and rearranging just to be able to use my bed, kitchen, and toilet once I’d arrived at my next destination.

A New Quest

It seems that when I had first downsized and simplified, I hadn’t made the necessary changes in my habits and behavior to sustain that simplicity. Funny how clutter can creep up like that. A trinket here and a gadget there doesn’t seem like much at the time, but they slowly, almost imperceptibly accumulate until suddenly you look around one day and go WTF? I wanted to get back that feeling of freedom and serenity.  I consulted my favorite research tool, the internet, looking not only for decluttering tips, support, and inspiration, but perhaps some help on figuring out how, once I get things back to how I’d like them to be, to have them stay that way.

A New Community

I found a small but thriving (and growing) community of bloggers, most of them calling themselves minimalists, each at his or her own stage of dealing with a similar situation, and sharing their experiences for each other and anyone else to benefit from. In addition to practical how-to advice, I was also reading about  why and about the results and how entire lives were being changed, enriched by removing needless clutter and excess material goods. As I became more involved, and started participating in the comments, I found not only inspiration for my decluttering challenges, but also a renewed interest in my own blog.

Thank You!

I’d like to express my thanks to this community, of which I now feel I am at least a small part, for not only all your words, but for inspiring me to write more of my own words. You’ll find most of the blogs that I regularly read are listed in the blogroll in the right-hand column. Maybe you’ll find some you haven’t visited before, or haven’t visited lately. And thank you to my readers and commenters, who remind me that my own blogging is a worthy endeavor.

My Current Goal

My immediate goal, at least with regards to stuff, is to get things to the point where I could easily pick up and go at any time, with a minimum of hassle. I want to be able, while in traveling mode, to still have access to all the necessities without that sensation of being in a tile puzzle.  The closer I get to that goal (which, looking around me, is still a ways off), and the more I work on decluttering, minimizing, and simplifying, the more I seem to be absorbing of the deeper meaning of minimalism. Not just decluttering, but why. I’m seeing how I am not defined by what I own, and how too much of it can weigh me down, and getting rid of the excess sets me free. And not just the physical things, either, but how simplifying life and my approach to living it makes it better and gives me more time for what I want to do. So perhaps I am a minimalist after all. Or at least well on my way to becoming one.

How about you?

Do you consider yourself a minimalist, or at least seeking that path? Do you maybe lean in that direction, but prefer a different label? Do you find yourself occasionally straying from your chosen path, and need that occasional jolt of reality (or reading about someone else’s) to set you right again? What is your immediate or next goal?

Pantry Purge (fifty pounds of crap)

I  spent yesterday going through all my cupboards, nooks, and crannies with the goal of purging them of excess, expired, and otherwise unwanted food items. The task netted me a 30-gallon trash bag filled with about fifty pounds of crap!

Now if you’ve read my recent post about Right Sized Shopping you’re probably wondering how I even had that much junk to glean from my shelves. Well, I haven’t always been such a careful shopper. Preferences and eating habits change. Some things I bought on a whim and ended up not liking. Also, I’d only been applying the right-size principle to food I bought. I sometimes get food elsewhere, like neighbors moving out or doing their own pantry purges, for example. Someone asks me “Want free food?” and I say “Sure!” I don’t take stuff I would never eat, but I’ll take something that looks interesting, or that I might eat, or that I already have plenty of. After all, it’s free, right?

Some Statistics

So what ended up in the bag? Here’s some stats:

  • Oldest expiration date: Feb 1999 (12 years old!) baking powder
  • Expiration date of most discarded items: 2008-2009
  • Largest number of same item: 12 boxes of strawberry Jello
  • Honorable mention: 8 assorted ramen noodles with 2008 dates
  • Strangest item: 5 jars of marshmallow fluff (what was I thinking?)

Plus lots of other goodies like half-used bug-infested bags of flour and masa, countless boxes of long-ago expired Hamburger Helper and Rice-a-Roni (as well as their generic equivalents), toaster pastries (I don’t even own a toaster!) and, well, I think you get the idea.

Bonus Round

While  superfluous foodstuffs were my primary target, I also managed to find and remove some extra vessels and containers, too, further lightening my load and reducing the cupboard clutter. I might miss those pretty blue glasses for a little while — lovely to look at and nice thick, heavy glass — but they just aren’t practical for me and I can’t remember the last time I drank from one of them.

Lessons Learned?

While the purge was necessary and well worth the time and effort for its own sake, paying attention to exactly what I was throwing out helps me better learn how to avoid accumulating too much (and eventually wasting) food in the future. Here’s what I took away from the experience:

Shelf life may be shorter than expected, due to vermin – Buy smaller sizes of infrequently used ingredients so I can use them up before bugs get to them.

Know what I already have to avoid buying duplicates – I had multiples of many items that I regularly eat, probably bought because I saw them on sale (or got them free) and didn’t realize I already had plenty on hand.

Rotate my stock – With some things, I found I had very old expired product in the back, with newer product in front. As I add new ones to the front, the ones in back just get older.

Use a shopping list and stick to it -  This is one I really need to work on, as it would eliminate a number of problems. The way I tend to shop is a combination of a “need” list – these are must-have necessities that I am out or almost out of and will definitely buy. The rest of my shopping is what I like to call “opportunistic shopping” (or perhaps “grazing” would be a better word?) — I stroll the aisles of the store and pick up items based on what looks good, what is on sale, or what  piques my curiosity. I try to rely on my memory to avoid overstocking (which apparently doesn’t always work as well as I’d like).

I don’t have to take something just because it is free – Even if I think I am saving it from the trash, better it go directly there than to let it take up space here and eventually get thrown out anyway. It goes against my instinct to not waste food, but so be it. All incoming food should be selected with the same care as food I buy. If I don’t need it or wouldn’t buy it, why should I take it for free?

What about you?

Do you have any tips or techniques that help you keep your pantry pandemonium and cupboard clutter in check? Or your own story of excess edibles? Please share them in the comments.

Extra Challenges of Decluttering a Tiny House

I live in a tiny house. True, it isn’t what most people imagine when they think “Tiny House”, but at 100-150 square feet, depending how you measure, it is indeed tiny by most people’s standards, and even by some minimalist’s standards. Living in such a small space presents some unique challenges when it comes to decluttering procedures.

Stuff-To-Space Ratio

If I were to take everything I now own and put it in my old 1000 square foot house, I’d still have oodles of space. If lumped together, it would barely fill one room. If appropriately distributed throughout the house, it would probably look pretty minimalist.  But put it all back here, and it fills this tiny space quite thoroughly, and it is painfully obvious that I have too much of it.

The Task

There are probably as many ways to declutter as there are declutterers, but they tend to be variations on one of two basic methods: either empty the zone being decluttered (room, closet, drawer, whatever) and then put back only that which you are intentionally choosing to keep, or go through the zone being decluttered and remove everything except that which you wish to keep. In either case, some sort of staging area is needed for the removed items as they are sorted for discarding, donating, freecycling, or selling. In a bigger house, even if very cluttered, it is usually possible to empty part of a room, covered porch or patio, or at least clear off large table, or something, even if it means temporarily making a larger pile elsewhere.

My Problem

There isn’t really enough space in here to reserve any of it as a decluttering staging area. My bed and seats can be used very temporarily, but not for anything that lasts even overnight (especially the bed). I’m left with outdoor space, which means I have to hope the weather cooperates. And I certainly don’t want to leave anything of any value (although I may have decided that I no longer need something, it still has value and is worth protecting until it becomes someone else’s responsibility) out in the dust and dirt and sun and the various desert critters for very long.

If I knew exactly what to get rid of, and I was ready and able to dispatch the cast-offs instantly, It would be a lot easier. Trash (including various trinkets that are of such little value they aren’t worth the effort of doing anything other than trashing) can be eliminated quickly and easily. Items for donation can collect in a box or bag until my next trip into town. Items for resale are a bit trickier. They need to be tested, cleaned, and if they’re going on eBay or Craigslist, they need to be photographed and descriptions written. And then they need to be kept somewhere clean, dry, and safe for up to two weeks with eBay (or even longer if they don’t sell on the first try).

How I’ve Been Doing It

First I made an overall sweep for obvious cast-offs — stuff that I knew needed to go without any real thinking about it. I just pulled the individual items out and dealt with them as appropriate. Next, and this is the stage I am currently in, I go through small zones — perhaps a corner or a storage bin — that I can expect to complete in less than a day, using the bed or table as a sorting area. Since I don’t really have room for a “think about it” or “hide it and see if I forget about it” pile, anything I’m not certain that I am ready to part with goes back from whence it came, at least for now. Then I move to the next box, bin, or drawer. Once I’ve gone through them all, I start all over again, finding more things I can live without. It seems each round I have a bit more insight — becoming more attuned to minimalist philosophy perhaps. Often more of the “maybe” items go, but sometimes something that I thought was a definite keeper eventually gets the boot the second or third time around.

And So It Goes

Slowly I progress. Or so I hope. Sometimes I think this stuff multiplies all by itself while I’m not looking! WIth such a small place to work in I sometimes feel like I’m doing one of those puzzles where you have a frame full of tiles except for one and you must arrange them in a certain order by shuffling them one at a time in and out of the single empty space. I’m open to suggestions, especially from those who have already completed their major decluttering and/or are living in a very tiny space. Don’t be shy now, that’s what comments are for.

Towel Day

I almost forgot (and didn’t get this posted in time, either): Today is Yesterday was Towel Day. Do you know where your towel is?