Every Step You Take

Dear Fitbit,

We need to talk. 

I know it’s totally cliché to start a letter that way.  And unfair really, given that you can’t even talk back.  But I have a few things I need to get off my chest.

When you came into my life a few short weeks ago, I had no idea you would turn my world around the way you did.  I’ve never fallen so hard, so fast.  I mean, I slept with you the first night we met.  My dog hasn’t even slept in my bed yet, and I’ve lived with him for three years.  But you, you promised so much.  You promised the moon and I believed you.

We were inseparable in those early days.  You were literally attached to me every second of the day.  I could hear you singing in my head, “Every breath you take, every move you make…” and I knew it was borderline creepy and I didn’t care.  I couldn’t take a single step without you.  I needed you to count them all.  “Every step you take, I’ll be watching you….”

Oh, and the way you made me feel when I hit that 10,000 step goal.  The vibrating, flashing party on my wrist never lasted long enough.  I’d stay up late, stealing away from my loved ones to sneak in extra steps with you.  Anything to make you happy.  “Every game you play, every night you stay….”

But when I didn’t make the goal I worried.  I wondered if you knew about the other women on my leader board, the ones walking 14,000 steps a day.  14,000 steps a day!  And in Canada no less, where it’s freezing outside?  Did you look at their numbers and wish you were on their wrists instead of mine?  Was I becoming a disappointment?  “Every vow you break, I’ll be watching you….”

And then one morning, I forgot to put you on after my shower.  And when I saw you sitting on my counter three hours later, I panicked.  Did you think I had left you?  All of those wasted steps, steps you didn’t know I was taking.  I took them for you!  I affixed you to my wrist tighter than before, desperate to prove my affection.  “Oh can’t you see, you belong to me…”

But since that morning, it hasn’t been the same.  I remembered those unencumbered hours, hours I spent free from the counting.  And I have a confession to make.  I’ve been looking at other wrists, bare wrists.  I’ve been imagining my wrist without you.   “How my poor heart aches, with every step you take….”

I don’t want to end this thing, but I can’t go on this way anymore.  I see now that what we had was a lusty infatuation, and not the kind of relationship that can last.   We can still see each other, but not every day.  Not every step I take.  Not every move I make.

I’m willing to try again if you are. 

Here’s to a fresh start,

Jess

7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter

I feel like this blog post should come with a warning.  I’m about to delve into an area in which I have little expertise – technology.  I’m heading into the arena before I’m ready because Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready.  They do things before they know they can do it.”  And I pretty much  do what Amy Poehler says.  But I’m also jumping in feet first in the hopes that if I drown when I drown, you all will rescue me with your brilliant ideas and vastly superior skills and knowledge.

 Public domain image via Pixabay


Today, I’m talking about digital clutter.  Somewhere, my computer-programming father and brother are ducking their heads in shame and whispering fervent prayers for me to keep this brief for the honor of our family name.  I’ll do my best.

Many of you know that I’ve taken on a 40 day challenge to eliminate clutter from my home.  So far, I’ve focused this series on actual, physical clutter, the kind you put in a bag and drive to your local Goodwill.  However, if we are going to be serious about eliminating the things that distract us from the things that bring us joy and meaning, there are a few things we have to talk about that can’t be carried out in a trash bag.  Digital clutter can be just as distracting as physical clutter, if not more so.  I’m going to share what’s working for me, and then I’m going to BEG you to share what you’re doing to minimize the clutter that occurs on your own desktops and phones and online world.

If you know me in real life, you know that I can contradict myself on the topic of technology in a mere sixty seconds.  On one hand, I love the tools available to us thanks to the Internet.  I don’t know where I’d be without my cell, and I once crowd-sourced my Facebook page to add even MORE app clutter to my phone.  On the other hand, I’d kind of love to find out where I’d be without my cell phone.  I have secret fantasies of throwing it in a lake and not replacing it.  I’ll rant about the dangers of losing our right to privacy in one breath and then hand my personal shopping list to Target in the next for a five percent discount on Cartwheel.  (Side note – once, when I pointed out one of my own self-contradictions to a wise friend, she graciously quoted Walt Whitman at me.  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well then I contradict myself.  I am large.  I contain multitudes.”  YES!  That’s it!  I’m not a walking contradiction, I simply contain multitudes.  I’m a piece of poetry!  And you are too!  I’m so thankful for that little piece of self-rationalization.  Go ahead and feel free to use it anytime.) 

While I sort out my own contradictory feelings about technology, I’m constantly trying to minimize its distractions while enhancing its benefits.  If you’re not ready to pull the plug on your technology either, then pull up a chair instead and let’s chat about our other options.

1.  Your Computer’s Desktop – Let’s start with our desktop.  It’s the first thing we see when we turn on the computer and the visual assault of so many items can be overwhelming.  The desktop is just a copy of things stored elsewhere on our computers.  Try creating a file system that works for you and diligently save things to files instead of all over the home screen of your computer.  The same principle can apply to your phone.  Whether you love folders, or prefer to have your apps out in the open, keep the most important tools up front and center and hide (or better, delete) the apps you don’t use or need.  If you share a family account on your cell phone, consider changing your settings so you don’t automatically receive every version of Minecraft your kids upload.  (If you kids are teenagers, disregard that advice, you might want to see every app they are downloading to their phones!)

2.  Email – Check out Unroll Me.  This is the best thing that ever happened to my email.  This service will scan your email for every single subscription you have (I had 278!?!) and then allow you to select Unsubscribe or Rollup to any subscription you do not want in your inbox.  Rather then clicking at the bottom of each individual email that comes to your inbox in order to unsubscribe (and sometimes having to remember a password) it takes care of all of that for you by acting as an interception point for those emails. Any subscription you put in your Rollup will come in one, consolidated email.  I cannot begin to tell you what a difference this has made for my inbox.  Everything is still searchable too, so you don’t have to worry about something important being lost in your Rollup.  Additionally, your Rollup will continue to scan for new subscriptions and ask you what to do with them on a daily basis.

3.  Password Help – I cannot remember my passwords.  How can anyone?  We’re supposed to come up with these highly unique passwords like UniCorn146&RaInBoW9sprinkles and manage to remember it later? There’s not a chance.  Thankfully, you have choices.  You can write your passwords in one little book and keep it with you, but if you are someone who loses things regularly, this probably is not the best plan.  There are several online password services like LastPass that remember and encrypt your passwords so you only have to remember one password and it will log you into everything else.  If that’s still a little too insecure for you, the same service can be done on your local computer with software like 1Password.

4.  Music – This one speaks to both your digital clutter and your actual clutter.  Consider a subscription to a service like Spotify to store and catalog music for you.  You’ll have access to a huge variety of artists, the ability to download songs to your phone for offline use, and the ability to take them off your phone when you need your space back.  We’ve been using it for a couple of years now and it has actually increased the amount of time I spend listening to music (which for me is a win) and the variety of music, all without increasing digital or actual clutter in my home.

5. Pictures – This is where I fail you.  I have too many pictures.  I have so many pictures that I have to use separate external hard drives to store them.  I’ve developed some recent habits that have helped, such as turning off my Photo Stream so that I can manually delete pictures from my phone before moving them over to my computer (thus slowing the flow of screen shots ending up in my iPhoto library) but I could still use a lot of support in this area.  Any ideas?  What do you do to keep your favorite memories but not allow them to overtake your computer?  What’s your favorite software for photo storage?

6. Screen Time – The key to not allowing my digital clutter to overtake my life is to set screen limits for myself, just like I do with my kids.  At some point, they’ll be old enough to make their own choices about how they spend their time online and I want to model behavior I’d like to see them emulate.  Total disclosure — this is a huge struggle for me.  I recently downloaded this app called Moment that tracks my time online. I ran it in the background of my phone for a couple of weeks to see how much time I was spending online before setting goals and was not happy with what I found out about myself.  I’m still using the app, but allowing it to send me reminders every twenty minutes I’m on my phone.  The app allows you to set limits and even has options for powering down your phone for you when you’ve reached your daily limit.  

7.  Information Overload – Part of the reason that I struggle with screen time is that I love to absorb information.  I recently took a StrengthsFinder assessment for an organization I’m involved with, and was not too surprised to learn that my top strength is something they call Input.  Basically it means I like to absorb huge amounts of information on a daily basis.  The Internet provides that for me in spades, but it’s also a little like offering someone with a coffee addiction (also me) a lifetime membership to a local coffee shop with unlimited free refills.  There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  I’ve had to learn am still learning to set limits and one tool that has really helped me is an app called Pocket.  Pocket saves your content so that it is accessible offline, and eliminates the clutter of a dozen open Safari tabs. If I see an article that looks interesting, or that someone shares online, I’ll save it to Pocket for reading at a later time. That’s key for me, the later time part.  Then, at the designated reading time, I open up Pocket and decide if I really want to spend my precious reading moments on this content, or if I’d rather dig into a novel or seek out information on my own on another topic.  It puts the agency back in my hands in a less impulsive setting.  If this is a problem for you too, give it a try.

I’m sure this will be a constantly evolving process for me, figuring out how to use technology without abusing it.  Do any of you struggle with this too?   I’d love to hear what you do to minimize digital clutter in your life and how you navigate this brave new world.  Feel free to comment here, or find me any of the social media platforms on which I currently spend too much time. 

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values


Donating Outside the Box

Confession.

I’m 21 bags into the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge and all I’ve actually accomplished is the putting of the items in the bags and the moving of the items into my garage. 

Okay, I’ve also found new homes for a number of items via a photo album on Facebook, which is functioning like one large, free, virtual garage sale.

The fact remains that only a handful of non-trash items have actually left my property.  They just now live in my garage (and my car has been evicted to the driveway).

My stuff holding place.  A little public humiliation can be motivating, right?


My plan for this week is to deliver every single item I’ve discarded to its new home.  I shared about my control issues around where my discarded items wind up, and while I’m working to let go of that to a certain extent (meaning, I will be loading up a fair number of these bags and bringing them straight to Goodwill because it is the closest place to donate and it has a drive through), I want to share with you some other great places to donate your belongings.  Some of these will be specific to the St. Louis area, but if you are  not a local reader, there might be similar programs where you live as well.

But before I talk specifics, may I make a personal request?  When we are in the process of getting rid of unwanted possessions, we have a few options for what to do with the items.  We can sell our items, we can donate our items, or we can throw away/recycle/upcycle our items.  I’m focusing on donations here on the blog because that is where the majority of my items will end up.  If that is the case for you too, this is my request:  please do not donate your crap.  Do not donate any clothing that is not in good enough condition to wear yourself or put on your own child.  Do not donate housewares that are in disrepair.  Do not offload the task of actually going through your items and determining their worth to someone else.  One of the tasks I’ve done as a volunteer at The Crisis Nursery is going through clothing donations to decide which clothing they can use and which must be discarded.  The Crisis Nursery makes sure that every child that comes through their doors leaves with a new to them outfit, and we want that outfit to be just as cute and clean as the clothing on any other child.  Children (and adults for that matter) living in poverty have the same concerns about appearance and dignity as those above the poverty line.  Please respect that when passing along the items that no longer fit the members of your family or support your family values.  Style is subjective, but we can be objective about clothing and items that are torn, tattered or beyond repair.  We should aim to donate items that can be of worth and value to someone, and if that means that we have to throw away some of the things that aren’t and deal with the guilt of adding to our landfills, we should do that ourselves and not ask someone else to do it for us.  Okay, climbing off my soapbox now.

 My husband demonstrating that taste truly is subjective. 


Once you do have your worthwhile items ready to go, there are myriad options for places to bring them. 

1.  Baby/Child Clothing & Goods:  There are so many options for donating your no longer needed baby items.  In addition to the above mentioned Crisis Nursery, your town might have a maternity home like Sparrow’s Nest or Our Lady’s Inn that seeks donations.  Shelters for victims of domestic violence are another great option as they often bring their young children with them.  Your community might have a foster care alliance to support families providing foster care.  Our church is currently partnering with Safe Families for Children and creating a resource closet of infant and child clothing as well as baby and toddler supplies for children that are in care.  Before you bring your clothing to any of the above places, please call to verify their current needs.  Last, but certainly not least, consider sharing with another family that you already know.  We have been on both the recieving and sharing end of this deal, and it is pretty exciting to get a free winter coat for your child, and unbearably sweet to see your ten year old’s baby clothes on a newborn you love.

2.  Adult Clothing:  When we started working through the book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess with our friends, this was the first area that we tackled.  After we gathered up an inordinate amount of clothing from our closets we all did some research on where to take it.  We landed on The International Institute in St. Louis, because a large portion of our clothing was business or business casual, and the International Institute helps outfit immigrants and refugees for job interviews and employment.  During our research, we found some other great places to bring adult clothing, including domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and some great social entrepreneurial partnerships, like REFRESH, a resale shop whose profits go to support kids in the foster care system.  If you have unwanted shoes that are still in great working condition, consider donating them to Solea Water (formerly The Shoeman), a local non-profit that sells shoes on the used shoe market and uses the profits to dig wells for fresh water in a number of participating countries.  If you have clothing that is unique to a specific time period, consider donating it to a local theater company.  Many theater companies keep an inventory of potential costumes on hand and would love to have your purple suede prom tuxedo.

3.  Books:  The first place I go with books I want to donate is my public library.  Our local Friends of the Library organization holds book sales to sell donated books it does not need for circulation as well as other books they’ve moved off the shelves, and last summer’s sale raised over $80,000 to fund programs like the summer reading program.  The book sale  is also a fantastic place to score great reads for as little as a quarter but I guess I’m not supposed to be giving you ideas for where to accumulate more belongings (pssst….the spring sale is April 17th).  Some of the places listed under baby clothing are also great options for donating children’s books, as well as local schools, Head Start Programs, or programs like Ready Readers, which keeps a list of books they’d love to receive on their website.  One of the most creative ideas I’ve seen for books you are ready to part with are these adorable Free Little Libraries.  If any of you decide to make one, send me a picture and I’ll feature it here (and help keep it stocked) because I think these things are the coolest.


4.  Household Goods:  One easy way to find a new home for household goods is a website called Donation Town.  Donation Town keeps track of hundreds of local charities, and will match you with a charity that will pick up your donation at your house.  If you have new household goods (perhaps you’ve moved into a new home and are replacing the stock lighting with your own lighting), consider donating to the Habitat ReStore, which sells house and building supplies to fund its home-building mission.  You could also consider contacting local homeless shelters to see if your household goods could help someone transitioning out of homelessness into a home.  Another great social entrepreneurial partnership west of St. Louis is Agape’s Hometown Thrift Shop.  The shop is run primarily by volunteers, and proceeds benefit the Agape food pantry.  Freecyle is a great option for sharing items within your community, as it connects you with local people giving away or in search of items you might have to share.  I like to think of it as a free Craigslist.  Or, you can always just put everything at the end of your driveway after a neighborhood-wide or city-wide garage sale and it is sure to disappear by the next morning. 

5.  Electronics:  This category intimidates me a little, which might explain why I have a 13-yea-old iMac in my basement.  Before you donate any electronics, it is imperative that you completely wipe clean your hard drive, and since I don’t know how to do that, my old computer is now my kids’ “spy communication device.”  I’m hoping one of you can help this task seem less daunting.  In the meantime, I do have some suggestions for where those of you who are a bit more tech savvy can take your old electronics.  This is one category where Goodwill really shines.  They’ve partnered with Dell to refurbish or recyle electronics for use in your local community.  Do you have video games or handheld gaming devices to share? Get Well Gamers is a non-profit that donates used video games to children’s hospitals.  Have a cell phone that is still in great condition?  Cell Phones for Soldiers connects your phone to an active service member.  Keep in mind that if your electronic devices are not in good enough working order for you, you probably should not donate them to someone else.  If your electronics are beyond repair or use, please recycle them.

I hope some of these ideas help any of you who might be hanging onto belongings because you haven’t found the right place to take them.  However,  keep in mind that at the end of the day (or in my case, 40 days), if we are serious about reducing the number of possessions that we are storing and caring for, at some point we do have to prioritize them actually leaving our houses.  That may mean that we don’t get to drop each item off at the absolute perfect place.  It may mean that we put our bags on the porch for the next agency that calls to schedule a pick-up, no matter who it is.  That’s okay.  So go ahead, brainstorm for ideas or share with your friends, but above all, set a date on your calendar after which your donated belongings are going to the place of least resistance.  Don’t let your garage be your new basement.

Now excuse my while I go load up my minivan. 

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values