Please send me those special “comments” — outlandish things others have said to you — by email at get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com or you can leave them below, and I’ll be in touch soon. Thank you!
And here are two other interesting stories I came across while researching this book:
- This one from the NYTimes on Sunday from a white father raising two black children. It’s a good essay, and one line that stood out for me was this: ”Raising kids of color by white parents is not just a matter of love; it requires a racial consciousness that is common in families of color, but rarely developed in white families.”
- This NPR story called “Holding Onto The Other Half of ‘Mixed-Raced‘” about a Norwegian-American woman with one white son and two older, mixed-race sons — one of whom prefers the term “mixed-heritage.”
Last week we talked about filling your closet with the right stuff for fall. (And one lucky reader nabbed a free book out of the deal!) This week, let’s focus on putting those clothes — and shoes and bags and boots and all the other clutter — in their rightful place. Time to finally get those closets in order, people. And organizational expert and best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life Andrew Mellen is here to help us kick the clutter habit … this includes the Mountain of Paper right there in the corner of your kitchen. Yes, we can all see it.
Q: How did you get so organized?
Andrew Mellen: I was always organized about the things that matter to me. Which is what I’ve discovered in my work as a professional organizer — that people can get and stay organized in those areas where their values are engaged and there’s a clear buy-in for them around organization. For example, when I was a kid I collected baseball cards and matchbox cars. They were always neatly organized.
My mom basically cleaned my room. She did the wash so whether I dropped the clothes on the floor or put them down the laundry chute, magically they arrived back in my room clean, pressed and folded. So clothes weren’t really on my radar.
At this point in my life, I have a deep commitment to using my time as strategically as I can – and the easiest way to do that and to manage that is to stay organized. That way, when I’m working I’m as efficient as I can be, and when I’m playing I can relax without stressing about my to-do list.
Q: What’s the most important thing to know and remember when one sets out to “unstuff” one’s life and simplify?
AM: The two most important things are:
1) Getting and staying organized are not the same thing. They work in concert with each other but they are separate activities. So you could apply these principles going forward and never create more clutter, but that doesn’t address the clutter that you’ve already accumulated. That needs to be accounted for and addressed. The promise there is that if you are successful at staying organized and deal with your historic accumulation, you’ll never have to do it again.
2) The Organizational Triangle® is the foundation of both getting AND staying organized: One Home For Everything, Like With Like, and Something In, Something Out.
One Home For Everything means exactly that — everything has one home and only one home. There’s no rule about where that home is, meaning where your keys live doesn’t have to be where my keys live. My keys live in a dish on a table just inside my front door – your keys might live on a hook just inside the door from the garage. The only rule is that the keys are either in your hand unlocking something or they’re in their home.
Like With Like means all like objects live together. Not most, but all. All the office supplies live together, all the tools live together, all the small appliances live together, all the outerwear lives together.
These two principles will clean up 90 percent of anyone’s disorganization.
Something In, Something Out is about achieving stuff equilibrium — having enough of everything that serves you and nothing that doesn’t. So when you get to stuff equilibrium, when you’ve eliminated everything that no longer serves you and you have enough of everything that does, you’re no longer in the business of accumulating. You’re replacing, upgrading, swapping… Whatever you want to call it. But you’re no longer bringing home random things just because they are pretty or shiny or cheap or a bargain, etc.
Q: Is there an overriding philosophy to which we can subscribe?
AM: If you consider The Organizational Triangle® a philosophy, then sure. If not, then I would just suggest paying attention, being mindful. Clutter is nothing more than a series of deferred decisions. Let go of “someday” and “later” as time-management tools and you’ll never create clutter again.
Q: We’re all busy. Parents barely have time to say the word “busy.” Is there a “shortcut” to getting organized?
AM: Sadly, no. Getting organized takes as long as it takes to deal with that historic accumulation. Staying organized takes no time at all.
Q: With your clients, is there a common mistake that you see? If so, what’s the solution?
AM: The most common mistake is the degree of denial or magic thinking. It goes back to the fantasy that ”someday” and “later” exist and are some sort of “get out of jail free” card. We all get the same 24 hours so spending them doing what’s important is what we’d all like to be doing, but many of us get distracted by what’s urgent and set aside what’s important thinking you’ll eventually have enough time to get around to it. But by the time someday or later arrives, either one arrives with its own agenda and commitments. The notion of free time that’s uncommitted magically appearing in our schedule is probably the biggest trap that most people fall into.
Q: What room seems to need the most help when it comes to parents and families?
AM: When it comes to parents and families, I’d say it’s common areas – either kitchen or family room. It’s typically where everyone is hanging out, where everyone brings their stuff, and where everyone leaves their stuff rather than putting it back in its home.
Q: For parents with school-aged kids, what’s your best advice on tacking the dreaded Mt. Paper? All the incoming and outgoing pieces of paper parents gather up from school, where can we put it all?
AM: Remember that math homework is not a sentimental object. You definitely want to establish what I call “command central.” That’s where everything entering the home from school goes first. Then paper can get sorted based on what it represents.
Is it a permission slip, which is an action item, meaning it needs to get processed and returned to school ASAP?
Is it a report card which needs to be reviewed, possibly signed off on and returned to school?
Is it an art project that, if exceptional, gets hung on the wall – and if not, gets sent off to relatives (for them to discard after they’ve enjoyed receiving it)?
Is it a schedule or calendar that needs to be referenced throughout the school year, so kept handy on a wall or cork board?
All paper is not created equal — you need to be able to distinguish trash from treasure with a cool eye and clear guidelines.
If you moon over every scribble and mark your child makes on a piece of paper, you need to think carefully about what you’re communicating to your child. Some children will naturally gravitate towards sentimentalizing everything they come in contact with. You can be a power of example to show them that some things are more important than other things, some things are worth keeping and others are just part of the process of learning — where they begin to see that sometimes the experience itself has greater meaning than the milestones of progress we create as we gain that experience. For example, when artists do sketches before creating a painting, some of the early sketches are discarded – they were experiments but not meaningful in relationship to the final painting. Other sketches, that seem to be studies of that future painting, are retained as a more focused roadmap for the artist as well as the viewer who’s intrigued by the artist’s process.
Q: What about with teaching our kids to get organized … is there a way for parents to help their kids pick up de-clutter habits from early?
AM: Any child over the age of three can grasp The Organizational Triangle®. Remember also that your kids are watching you. They are far more likely to mimic your behavior then comply with your rules and suggestions.
Q: How about parents who like to hang on to everything from their kids (baby socks, bibs, artwork, first this, first that, etc.), what’s your advice for them? How can they de-clutter when sentimentality comes into play?
AM: Get really clear on whether you’re keeping these things for yourself or for your children. Remember that your children lived their childhood — they are great teachers about being in the moment. They may want a few mementos to memorialize a particular event, but more likely than not, the experience of being there was superior to the experience of freezing it in time. Imagine leaving your parents’ home for your own home and they hand you random school lunch menus and your 3rd grade math timetables as “souvenirs” of your childhood?
If the things you’re holding onto are for you, be a thoughtful curator. Again, you have an opportunity to distinguish trash from treasure. Choose a pair of baby shoes not every pair of baby shoes. Choose one Halloween costume rather than all of them.
Q: Best way to get stringent about “Keep It/Toss It” decisions when de-cluttering?
AM: Be clear about what you value. Return to your core values and use those to inform what stays and what goes. Vague will never be your friend when it comes to making these kinds of strategic decisions. The more specific and intentional you can be, the better your results will be. It’s seldom a good enough answer to say when asked why are you keeping something: “because I like it.”
Put yourself on trial and defend your choice — that’s where the rubber meets the road. If you can’t convince your unemotional self that there’s a good and specific reason to hold onto something, it’s pretty clear there isn’t a good reason to hold onto something.
Q: If you had to boil it down to four key tips to getting organized (for good), what would they be?
AM: I’d say you only need The Organizational Triangle®. Apply it liberally and consistently and you will get and stay organized. For good.
Giveaway time! Do you want to unstuff your life? Leave a comment below about your organization challenges and you might walk away with a free copy of Andrew Mellen’s book.
So last year, the first day of October landed on a Monday. I mentioned that something about it felt fresh, like it was time to start something new and good and possibly a bit out of your lane. This craving for something different quickly turned into the #30WriteNow October Writing Challenge.
The rules were simple: Every day of October, you write something for 30 minutes or one full page. It could be for your blog, an essay, your novel — doesn’t matter — just write! It’s about commitment, consistency. And for 30 days,* you strive to get it done. No editing or second-guessing what’s on the page, just write. Write now.
(*Yes, yes, October has 31 days, but back then we used it as a sort of safety net day.)
There were even daily one-word prompts provided. Every morning I would tweet out a word — courage, passion, regret, memory — for those who needed a little help jogging the creative. Folks were sharing blog links, pages, etc. It was a good, productive month.
This year with September sprinting downhill towards the finish line, the thought of doing another writing challenge for October did pop up. But I thought it was too late — hell, it was already October 1. But then a Twitter buddy asked if I had started another one, wondering if she had missed the start. That’s all I needed.
So … despite being two-and-a-half days into the month, I’d like to announce the #30Write Now October Writing Challenge 2.0! Who’s in?
We’ll run it from October 3-November 3 (there’s something cool about the 3′s, yes?). And the word prompt for tomorrow, should you need one, is: CLASSIC.
Write On. Write Now!
It’s grim out there this week. So much bad news and scary shit happening, it’s hard to keep my shoulders from crawling into my ears. And this unbelievable government shutdown feels like the sour cherry on a rotten banana and spoiled-milk smoothie.
Let’s talk about something bright and light to cut through the grey, if only for a few minutes, I say. Let’s talk about fashion. (Plus, there’s a giveaway in there as well.)
Here’s my latest piece on xoJane, all about finding my own fall fashion rules. You can read it below. And I tacked on some intel from my longtime friend, the “style guy” himself, Lloyd Boston on the 10 things women should have in their closets this season.
The Style Rules Keeping Me Sane This Fall
Fall is officially here! So…what are you going to wear to it? Yeah, I have no clue either.
And I like this time of year. It’s my favorite season, actually. I’m often singing the praises of autumn’s promise of fresh starts and newness. If only my fall wardrobe would stay on message.
It’s not as though my closet is some “Hoarders”-style crapshoot. I have some good staples from the checklist* in there — LBDs, tailored skirts, cashmere, smart-cut dark denim, white button-down shirt, varied leather pumps, knee boots — timeless pieces that have saved me many, many times from having to run to the shops with every invite and event.
Just last weekend, I went to a lovely wedding in the Dallas heat without an ounce of pre-packing agita around what to wear. I had four solid options hanging in the hall cedar closet. I kind of felt celeb-fab going in there and just pulling looks from my “fashion closet.”
OK, it took some willing suspension of disbelief, and there was no stylist shoving designer labels and jewels at me…but life felt easy and privileged for about 10 minutes. Let it play, man.
The point is, I’m not completely fashion senseless. No ambush makeover needed here. The challenge, though, is assessing what other things I could add to the current collection to step my whole game up this fall. I’m talking pieces that make sense for my writer/home office/mama life.
Because I can tell you what I’m not going to do: rock sky-high, fly pumps and an eggshell, wool pant with a brandy brown lightweight leather jacket to the grand opening of — what — my son’s cheddar bunnies pouch? To the official reading of my editor’s emailed notes at my desk, after starting another load in the washer? That’s a “no” from me.
Practical, stylish, effortless, that’s what I’m looking for this season, but I’m a little lost about where to find it. Forget the fashion bibles and blogs. Translating what’s coming down the catwalk into clothing that can be worn in my real life is not something I have a ton of time for anymore. Look, I just want to pick up a few new tops and bottoms and maybe a pocketbook that make me feel warm and good wearing them.
And the trends — no matter how bedazzled, cropped, drop-crotched, crocheted, puffy shirted or absurd (hey there, sneaker wedges) — have been driving the train, while driving us all a little mad as well. The number of times I’ve pulled something out of the storage stack, while making the seasonal clothing switcheroo, and wondered if this is what it feels like to wake from a brief soap opera-style coma with amnesia. Why? How? What? Who am I?
Then I think about my mum’s closet. And that’s where the style rules that will end up keeping me sane come in.
Growing up, she was a definite style icon for me. The lady was always ready for every season, fashion-wise. She knew what worked for her body, and was completely fine with the host of things that didn’t. There was no squeezing herself into the too-short or too-long or too-young thing skimming the mannequin’s body in the window display. My mum bought classic clothing, with a few trendy pieces mixed in for accent. (Oh, indeed, shoulder pads factor in here.)
For her, it wasn’t just, “Does this skit/shirt/jacket fit me,” but more, “Does it fit my lifestyle?” It was the unspoken one of her style rules: Work with what works for you.
As I start plotting my strategic fall closet fix, I’m keeping my mother’s advice and influence on the front burner. Her other two rules are equally straight-forward and easy to follow: Always wear quality, supportive undergarments. And rock fabulous shoes. See? Already feeling confident about waking up my wardrobe and the oatmeal cookie I just ate while writing this. Body love.
Best part is, I’m not feeling so anxious about building out my fall wardrobe this time around. So this weekend when I do the seasonal clothes switchover, I’ll have an actual plan, some structure and fresh fashion ideas to sow.
*And here’s what Lloyd Boston had to share on the 10 things he thinks all women should have in their closets this season.
It’s all about working within your means and style, Boston says. “None of these will break the bank, and it varies with your particular lifestyle,” he says, “but these 10 items will always serve you.”
All right. Pull on your shapewear and good undies, people, and let’s begin:
- Crisp, white shirt. “It’s a quintessential icon of style that is completely versatile.” Buttoned down and with a straight point collar, you can layer this shirt or accessorize it. You can also go more men’s style with it — literally shopping in the men’s or young men’s department — but avoid anything too boxy, Boston says. Stick to tapered, with darts or princess seams to give you an hourglass figure.
- Basic Black Dress. Boston typically stays away from calling it the LBD since “little” can be intimating for some women and what it means varies from figure to figure, he says. For the dress, skip trendy details (gold panels, lace inserts, etc.) and stick with a classic, sheath dress with cap sleeves, he says. “You can do boat-neck, deep v-neck, sweetheart neck – totally you choice is yours, but definitely keep the dress length short,” Boston says. The end of the dress should land so it “cuts the kneecap in half.” Although it boils down to your budget, do find a comfortable fabric, he says. The dress should that skims the body, not be skin-tight. And then accessorize the hell out of it. “Skinny belt in taxicab yellow or a pair of textured tights in the winter — accessories are your best friend here.”
- Good quality, dark rinse, indigo jeans. Boston highly recommends snagging a pair of straight leg trouser jeans with a slight flare. “Skinny jeans won’t always be in,” he says. “In all price ranges, from Gap to Gucci, it’s the jean that women don’t know they need, but it can be sexy and stylish.”
- Cashmere. “A little goes a long way,” Boston says. And the price of this fine wool has come down over the years, so it’s doable on nearly any budget. It’s super versatile, too. Boston says you can rock with a black or camel turtleneck, a crewneck, a sweater set, a sleeveless turtleneck, or just a cashmere tank. Basically, go with what you like. “It can elevate even your most casual pant: weekend cargo, denim, chino. Works with all of it.” Plus, think about how easy it is to throw on your cashmere flyness on top with your whatever bottoms, shoes, and you’re out the door and golden.
- Knee boot. This is a key part to any classical arsenal, Boston says. “It adds a sporty, sexy edge that pumps can’t necessarily deliver.” Again, you’ve got choices here: go flat, high heel, kitten heel, or somewhere in between. But make sure the boot fits your calf properly. “There should be no gaping,” Boston says. For color, start off with classic black or chocolate-brown leather. Later you can up your knee boot game with some fresh to def tans, taupes and suede options.
- A-Line skirt. Timeless, this shirt flatters most women’s figures, Boston says. When trying A-lines on, pay the most attention to how it fits your waist and hips. Everything else can be fixed with the help of a good tailor. (Another thing Boston recommends for grown women: Find an expert tailor and never let them go.) For fall, go with black, navy or charcoal grey, he says, but don’t discount the fabulous that is camel, eggplant or chocolate-brown for this wardrobe staple.
- Cream dress pant. Call it off-white, eggshell, or cream, Boston says you need a pair, and can roll with these all year long, if you find the right fabric (ex. tropical-weight wool). “It looks fresh, wealthy and elegant.” He recommends going for straight, but not too wide of a leg. Also, make sure you find pants that fit properly. “Even if you have to go up a size, don’t worry about the number on the inside tag. Focus on the fit!” There’s some work involved with finding the perfect-fit pant, but with your homey the tailor helping you out, you’ll get there.
- Lightweight leather jacket. Cropped (not bolero!), no-collar, racing style leather jacket can stretch your wardrobe. You can definitely get a lot of looks out of this one. Wear it indoors as a blazer replacement, Boston says, or outdoors with a heavier top underneath. “Most of your closet — about 95 percent — is matte, a little leather will add a subtle sheen to things.” You can go vintage here too. But, hold on, Fonzie. Vintage doesn’t have to mean the 1950s. Boston suggests checking out consignment stores as well. “Sometimes you can get a great bargain there on a piece that’s only four or five years old.” He also recommends stopping by the young men’s department at your favorite stores.
- Feminine Day-to-Night Top. Go for something “uniquely feminine,” Boston says. Think silk shell, sequined tank, ruffled top, secretary tie top. (Or, better, think Olivia Pope!) If it feels smooth and sleek against your skin, rock with that. Boston says with this top as your base, you can slip off your workday jacket, add a fresh lip color and you’re ready for you’re an evening moment without having to head home.
- Elegant evening clutch. This poor thing usually gets the after-thought treatment or — let’s keep it funky — completely overlooked. “Women often try to pass off their 9-to-5 bag after 6 o’clock,” Boston says. “And it just doesn’t feel as elegant as having that statement evening bag.” Good news is, for a killer clutch, you can go vintage and bag one of 20 bucks or, if you have the means, breeze into Fendi and slink out of there with one for $1500. Boston says that the bag should be small enough that it fits securely in your grasp. But that’s it. The rules of the clutch end there. It can be slim and trimmed in satin or short and shaped like an envelope. It’s not about function; this bag is all fab and fun. “Sensible is fine, but whimsical is so much better,” Boston says. “This bag should be a conversation-starter, completely over-the-top. It matches nothing and therefore goes with everything.”
All right, friends, there you have it. Now, make it work … but make it work for you.
Giveaway time! What are you buying for fall? What are your hard and fast style rules? Leave a comment below and you could walk away with a free copy of Lloyd’s book: The Style Checklist: The Ultimate Wardrobe Essentials For You. It really is a good one to have on your shelf (or nightstand).