Saturday, April 12, 2014

Process of Piles

I wish you could see my apartment right now... actually I'm quite glad you can't see it. But if you could you would understand my organization style a little and see it is far from neat. I like to call it "Ordered Mess".  When stuff doesn't have a place it belongs, or if I am in the process of organizing, it all end up in little piles all around my house. Now I am the first to admit that a pile can become a very dangerous thing if it is allowed to grow and take up a permanent location in your house. It can become a breeding ground for disorder and a source of stress and negativity. But there can be meaning to the madness and making piles can be a valuable form of organization. I want to share with you my Process of Piles, which I am implementing heavily in this time of simplification and reduction.

This past week I have been sorting through all my clothes and getting rid of items that no longer fit or that I no longer wear. This can be a very daunting and time consuming task. I have two large drawers under my bed where I keep most of my clothes. It had become a disordered mess in there, everything had become unfolded and little used items had been pushed to the bottom or way to the back. I had been putting off organizing my drawers for awhile. It felt good to finally tackle them and because of my Process of Piles I didn't have to do everything at once.   

1. Create a work space that will get in your way. 
Yes, you read that right. When I begin an organization project, I want to work in a place where the stuff will be in my way later if I choose to leave it there. I prefer to use my bed. That way I MUST deal with the stuff before the end of the day. Other good places would be the kitchen table, or the middle of the living room floor. The temptation is going to be to set up your work space in that unused corner of your bedroom or living room. But in my experience that is the WORST place to work, because it is too easy to allow your piles of stuff to sit and not get taken care of. That unused spot can suddenly become that stuff's permanent home. As I type, there are several stacks of books staring me down from the corner of my living room. I began the organization process but never finished... at least they are not in my way, right? Wrong. Make the things you must sort through in your way. 

2. Prepare to Pile
In this process there are going to be piles and sub-piles. This can be as orderly or as chaotic as you want but remember this one thing: every pile must have a purpose. We will get into this more in a bit. To begin, prepare spots for four basic piles. Throw Away, Give Away, Not Sure, and Keep. For Throw Away I don't bother with a pile, I just grab a trash bag for that. I have a canvas bin I use for Give Away so that's not really a pile either, but it is still important for me to keep it orderly. One rule I have is that once something goes into the Throw Away or Give Away pile I am NOT allowed to remove it. Sorry, count it as incinerated. The Not Sure pile is for any item that will take a little longer for you to decided if you want to keep it or not. If at any time during the sorting process you find yourself lingering on one item for more than a few seconds, "Should I keep this or not?" just put it in the Not Sure pile and come back to it later. I usually put my Not Sure pile right in the middle of my floor so that I still have to deal with it before the day is up. Your Keep pile will consist of anything that you still like, but by the end of the day you may not actually be keeping everything in your Keep pile. This pile is actually going to be many sub-piles, more on that in a bit. 

3. Unfold and refold everything. 
Obviously, this step only applies to clothes. In the example of my drawers I completely emptied them. Most things were unfolded already, but the things that were by some miracle still folded I unfolded. Why? So that I could get a good look at each item. Trust your gut in this moment. If you know you are never going to wear that item again put it straight in the Give Away or Throw Away pile. If it is an item you would like to try on first then put it in the Not Sure pile. The other day when I did this I was home alone. So I just closed the blinds and tried on the clothes as I organized. There is no shame folding clothes in your underwear. But if you would rather try on clothes later, that is what the Not Sure pile is for. The things that are going into your Keep pile, fold neatly.

4. Create piles with purpose.
This is where Ordered Mess becomes a beautiful thing. Begin to sort everything in your Keep pile into sub-piles (with clothes, I begin this process as I am folding them). Every pile must have a purpose. Give it a name. I talk to myself as I am doing this, talk about the items you are sorting, why you like them and how you use them, this will actually help you categorize them. Don't just sort shirts, pants, and underwear, get even more specific than that. For example, yesterday I was sorting through all my T-shirts. I have over 15 T-shirts. Instead of just making a T-shirt pile I made sub-piles of "comfy", "work day", "cute" and "sentimental." Why bother doing this? Because even though all those shirts are in the same category of "T-shirt" I use them all for very different purposes. The ones that I consider to be cute I will never wear during a work day where they might get dirty or torn. I'll never wear a strictly comfy T-shirt in public if I don't think it's cute (unless I REALLY don't care that day, but I have days like that maybe once or twice a year), and I will hardly ever wear a work day shirt when I want to be comfy because it just feels like mixing work with rest (I know, it's a mental thing). And with my sentimental pile I usually don't actually like those T-shirts except for the memories they bring back to me, so I just need to decided if the nostalgia factor is worth keeping them. When you sort things out in this way you are able to ask yourself, "How many comfy t-shirts do I really need?" "How many of these cute T-shirts will I actually wear?", Etc. This will help you reduce your items down to what is really necessary. In my case I've reduced my T-shirts from 15 to 10. Not a huge reduction, but it is a start. Other sub-pile examples would be favorites vs. rarely-worn, books according to authors or genres, casual vs. dressy, etc.

5. Take an honest look.
Once you are satisfied with your piles it is time to take an honest look at what you have. How many of these things do you REALLY need? How many of these things do you REALLY use? How many of these things do you REALLY like? Figure out how many you need, pick out your favorites, and then get rid of the rest. Ask yourself honest questions (again, talk to yourself as you work). "Do I REALLY need 25 pairs of underwear? I wear about 10 of those consistently, can I ditch the rest?" "These two shirts are very similar, can I do away with one of them?" "I really enjoyed this book, but will I ever read it again?" "I love my grandmother and she gave me this tea pot, but will I ever actually display it?" You'll be surprised how much you can reduce your stuff just by being brutally honest. 

6. Put away the piles 
This is one reason I actually love piles. If they are kept small they are actually really easy to move and put away. After I cleared out my drawers and sorted everything into piles I did not have time to really ask honest questions about each pile. But I was able to put each pile back in the draws and every day since then I have pulled out one pile and sorted through it. I've turned my drawers into an active workstation. In another day or two the project will be complete. Another option would be to get large plastic or canvas bins to put your piles in. BUT make sure this does not become an "out of sight out of mind" matter. Put the bin somewhere prominent, in the middle of the room even, so that you will be reminded that the job is not done. 

This Process of Piles is not beautiful while you are doing it, but sometimes you need to make a little mess in order to reduce your mess. Working in this way will help you be aware of the purpose of every item you have. If something doesn't have a purpose, it shouldn't have a place in your house. Get rid of it. Embrace the Ordered Mess, it can be a beautiful thing. 

Bonus Tip: Use the Process of Piles to quickly help organize any mess in your house, even if you do not have a lot of time to commit to a full blown project. Is stuff starting to accumulate on your table or counter space? Is your living room getting cluttered with objects casually placed down? Put things into purposeful piles and they will be so much easier to take care of later. 

This way of organizing may not be for everyone, but I wanted to share how my brain works. Maybe this will help bring some Method to your Madness.

Miranda Joy        

Thursday, April 10, 2014

3 Bag Challenge

Right now I am in a hyper-reduction mode. I am preparing to move out of my apartment at the end of April and for a couple weeks I will be staying with my parents until I go off to Colorado for the summer. I will be working as a horse wrangler at a guest ranch, living in shared accommodations. After this summer I am not sure yet what I will be doing exactly, but there is a good chance that I may get to go off to Northern Ireland for a few months. So, it looks like I may be living out of suitcases for the next six months to a year. This is the perfect motivation for me to simplify my possessions.

If you are looking to undergo a big transition in your life- such as moving off to college, transferring to a new town, or traveling the world- I invite you to join me on the 3 Bag Challenge. 

Can you reduce your possessions down to three bags? Why three bags? Because that is the number of bags I am able to comfortably travel with by myself. I am choosing to limit myself to one large suitcase that will have to be checked on a plane, one small suitcase that will fit in an overhead compartment and one carry on bag that will fit under the chair in front of me when I fly. I will let you interpret this challenge however you wish. 

Seems a little radical, I know. To be fair, I should probably call this the 3 Bag 2 Bin challenge. I have two large plastic bins to store away anything I won't need this next year. Items such as my sewing machine, dishes and cutlery, books, and sentimental items I'm not willing to part with. Thankfully, my parents are willing to store some of my stuff while I am abroad. They would be willing to store more, but I want to try to reduce all of my stuff down to what could easily be shipped or transported in one car. That means I will be selling all my furniture and will be getting rid of any item that could be easily replaced later on. 

Reducing my possessions down in this way forces me to keep only the things that are useful and meaningful to me. How much STUFF do I have that I don't even use or think about? And by limiting my stuff to three bags, all the items I need will be close at hand and could be moved at a moments notice. This may not be important or even appealing to someone who is already settled down with a career and family. But for someone like me who has the itch to travel, simplifying my life in this way feels like a dream. 

I will be posting updates as I wrestle this challenge. Follow me on Instagram @themirandajoy and if you decide to take on the challenge, please hashtag #3bagchallenge

Miranda Joy

Friday, April 4, 2014

The American Dream

I am a fairly patriotic person. I love living in America and I believe in the American Dream: For every man and woman to own their own home, live in a safe and harmonious community, support a family, live in good health, take vacations and have a dog. But I do not like what the American Dream has become. Since when did living in freedom and happiness become about how big your house is and how much stuff you own? Along with that naturally comes large amounts of debt, which in essence is bondage, not freedom. It's more like the American Nightmare. 

I do want to own my own house, I do want to have a family, I want to live in good health, I want to be able to take amazing vacations and I will always have a dog (and birds). But I want to do it without the debt and without the stress that seems so common these days. 

My solution? My house is not going to look like this:

It will be more like this:

And eventually, when my family grows, like this:
(Last two images courtesy of

Living in a Tiny Home will essentially force me to keep my life simple, but will also allow me to focus my time and resources on what I really care about. 

One can build a nice tiny home for about the same cost of a down payment on a typical American home. This will do away with the 30 year mortgage that most Americans are enslaved to. Also, the cost of utilities is significantly less. Utilities will depend on what climate one lives in and how one intends to heat and power the home. One man I saw interviewed on said his electricity bill was in the single digits for the whole YEAR! And when your space is that small, going off the grid with solar, wood burning or gas is extremely simple. All that money saved can go into enriching one's life with what they really care about and investing in their family and community. 

Tiny homes are not for everyone. If your idea of a happy life is not complete without a large 4 bedroom home with vaulted ceilings, that is perfectly ok. Investing your time and money into your large home may be worth it to you. But for me, my idea of a happy life has far less to do with the size of my house and much more to do with the freedom to go on adventures and create lasting memories with my friends and family. I want a safe and comfortable home where my future family can thrive, but I can do that in less space. 

Of course, I don't live in a tiny home yet. I am still in my second floor 2 bedroom, 870 square apartment with too much stuff, too much wasted space and too little order. I'm paying $800 a month plus utilities, which I know is great for some areas of the country, but it's just not working for me. 

This summer I will be working at a dude ranch in Colorado. I will be sharing a room and will basically be living out of a suitcase. So, as it is I need to simplify my things for this temporary arrangement. Then, in the fall I hope to move into a much smaller studio apartment. It still won't be the same as having my own tiny home, but it will be an exciting step in the right direction. 

This will be an interesting learning experience for me. I am not a naturally organized person, though I do crave order. I am a sappy sentimentalist, and I hate waste as if it were sin. These too things have contributed to me being a bit of a pack rat. Thankfully I've not ever reached hoarder status. The next couple months I will be ruthlessly reducing my stuff, downsizing my furniture and preparing to move into a tiny lifestyle. I appreciate any knowledge you wish to share. Maybe we can all learn something together. 

I really do want to see every American own a home if they want to. I believe that if people can simply change their mindset of what a prosperous life looks like and more people embrace a tiny lifestyle, the American Dream will stop being a nightmare wrapped in wishful thinking and return to being a happy reality. 

Miranda Joy