Dirty dishes in the sink. Putting your clean socks away. Replying to that one email that's been sitting at the top of your inbox for longer than you'd be willing to admit out loud.
We all have that small handful of tasks and chores that weigh the heaviest on our souls and our to-do lists. Most often, they're the things that occur multiple times a week, so that when you look at them, you think, "Didn't I just do that? And doesn't it take forever?"
And that's where our brains lead us astray. Because, although, yes, you did probably just do that – no, it doesn't take forever.
Fact: the physical space that we inhabit on a daily basis, especially our homes, is an extension of our minds and attitudes. Your thoughts influence your actions, your actions influence your environment, your thoughts respond accordingly, and so on.
I don't need to offer a strong argument that the passive life—that is, the life where other people and random events have determined your course—is no life at all. Bearing that fact in mind, your surroundings shouldn't be an afterthought, but a map of the deliberate decisions you've made to make the best use of your time, energy, and resources.
I recently wrote about how you can hack your habits by deliberately organize your home; this is one specific application of that precept. The goal here is to reduce clutter, and the tool is a simple, easy-to-memorize maxim:
One of my all-time favorite aphorisms is that Victorian era gem that shines from its facets of order, efficiency, and thrift:
A place for everything, and everything in its place.
I consistently use this idea to recalibrate the way I see my home and studio. My wife and I are work-from-home freelancers; we're in our house 90% of the week and share it with our very active toddler and three cats, working and playing and cooking three meals a day, so we make a lot of mess. Without direct intervention, entropy reigns supreme, with total anarchy its final goal. Thus I constantly ask myself when I put something down: Is that where it lives? If the answer is no, put it away for real.
Well, let's piggyback off the idea of "a place for everything" to deliberately use our physical space to make good habits.
As anyone who has worked in a high volume coffee establishment will tell you––and I am one of those people––keeping coffee equipment clean is a huge job. And while a professional shop has to maintain its equipment with a daily regimen of daily cleaning, descaling, urnexing and polishing, what I realized when I came home from my coffee shop was that my personal coffee equipment was some of the LEAST attended to items I had in my kitchen. I think for many people, coffee is such a utilitarian part of life, it is easy to lose track of how many brews your machine/grinder/kettle/aeropress may have gone through. And of course, coffee is not
Search “bullet journal” in Instagram or Pinterest and you’ll see a cornucopia of tricked-out notebooks. The Esteemed Society of Crafters on the Internet has truly created a thing of beauty. But if you’re one of the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That” (ANGTFT) set, don’t be fooled by the washi tape, calligraphy, and rococo calendar ornaments: a minimalist bullet journal is, hands down, the most efficient and robust planning tool in your productivity kit.
When I was younger, my mom always gave us a list of chores to do before we left town for an extended weekend. At the time, I didn't fully understand why my clothes needed to be put away or why all the dishes needed to be washed if we weren't going to be home, I just wanted to get to the hotel so I could jump in the pool. Luckily for me, my older brother is an absolute neat freak and he would get up early and finish most of the tasks on the checklist before I even got out of bed. Fast forward 20+ years, and I completely understand why my mom always made us complete that list of chores before we left town. Being older and slightly wiser than my 8-year old self, now I make sure to always do these 11 things before departing for my next adventure:
Every so often, a new idea is presented to the world that seems to have already belonged there for years. Like a perfect pop song, it's fresh and exciting, yet feels like it's been part of you for your entire life.
Your bachelor pad. Your family home. That apartment with all the architectural detail and the amazing view. Wherever you live, houses get messy. And they stay that way, until you clean them. When your plans to let someone inside ends up happening before your hopes of getting your home back to normal, then it's time to clean it. Quickly.
You don't have the time to deep clean and scrub, so make the little bit you have count. If you're smart and focused, you can pull it off in the running time of your favorite record.
Spring has traditionally been the time for deep cleaning and purging, but for my money, fall is the season best suited. It's the one time of year when all your layers are on display. You've pulled out your wool sweaters and heavy coats for the winter, but your short sleeves are still lingering in the closet. Only now is every single item you own in the same place. This, truly, is the time to assess what you have, and to what you can say goodbye.
For the last couple of years, I've been mostly set on woodworking tools. I've been collecting my large, stationary machines for nearly ten years now, and although I do plan to upgrade a few of them, I've been able to accomplish most of what I've set out to do with a little creativity and patience.
The one standard machine that's been missing from my shop is: the jointer. I knew I didn't want to buy a tiny benchtop machine, or even a too-small 6" model. I told myself I'd wait until I was in my "forever" shop, then get the machine I wanted; one I could use for the rest of my life.
Once we bought our house last year, I started a Craigslist alert, and painfully watched every listing from ubiqituous Harbor Freight tools to overpriced secondhand things from people who have no idea that what things are actually worth.
Over the last eighteen months, only a few 8" models even came up for sale. The woodworking community in my town snatched them up as soon as they were listed, and so I waited. And waited.
And then - enter this Delta DJ20. Built in the 80s when machines were machines. Complete with parallelogram beds, dead flat and coplaner tables, and an awesome fence, this was being offered at less than the price than the new Grizzly it's based on, plus no shipping, no assembly or degreasing, and it came with a mobile base.
I made my offer, went to check it out, and - boom! - I'm now the owner of a vintage 8" Delta jointer.
I've heard it said that minimalism isn't really about "getting rid of stuff", it's about refining it down to the "right stuff". I'm halfway through a 30-day shop purge and I have a few lessons learned, a few personal reflections, and a lot more space.
I wasn't always a bedmaker. It wasn't until I was living in the dorms in college, and my bed also had to serve as the sofa, chair, desk, laundry-folding area, and dining table that I got in the habit of the daily bedclothes readjusting. And my bed needs it, cause I sleep like a freaking tornado and things end up in impossible places.
It's a habit I'm glad I've held onto. Research shows that people who make their bed are actually happier. And because
A few years ago, I was attending a conference, and, as I recall, not really listening to the keynote speaker. It was one of those trying to eat-lunch-and-try-to-meet-new-people-and-I-can-barely-hear-from-the-back-of-the-room sort of things.
But, in a moment of unexpected drop in the banquet room din, I caught something that sunk in. The speaker, musing on happiness, suggested that it's all those little tasks and the clutter that hang over our heads and keep joy from settling in. That knowing you have a million little tasks to do is more stressful than actually doing those tasks. And it's not the big work projects, the term papers, the spring deep cleaning that keep us down, but the little stuff that piles up and creates anxiety about when we'll get it all done.
Anyone who regularly uses the same water bottles several times a week - runners, cyclists, hikers, athletes, or any general person-on-the-go that likes to stay hydrated - can attest: they can get nasty. Even if nothing but water and ice ever go in, the crud can still build up, and non-H2O fluids like sports drink or add-ins make the taste, odor, and junk even worse.
I recently heard an episode of the NPR podcast, Selected Shorts, in which Sean Astin read Ray Bradbury's short story, "The Sound of Summer Running." The story tells of special place a pair of sneakers holds in the heart and imagination of a young boy, and how he passes along that imagination to those around him as he tries to acquire a pair. I don't know if it was Bradbury's genius or the nostalgia of hearing it read by Rudy / Samwise Gamgee, but the story moved me. I got the thinking about the sneakers I loved as a boy and how quickly I wore them out.
Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We've selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day.
My shop is a very useful place, it's full of tools to cut, shape, smooth and attach all manners of wood and metal together to create an endless line of projects. But with so many tools, come plenty of dangers. While these are not technically tools, and they're definitely not as fun as a big spinning sawblade, I consider them essential to the toolbox. I mean, name one other item you're going to use on every project. Not even a tape measure sees as much action as a pair of safety glasses.
Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We've selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day.
Oh...the clean up. In some ways, it's the least exciting part of any project. But it's an essential step to any creative DIY project or home repair effort, and, once you embrace it, it becomes part of the making efforts. It gives you one more chance to sort through the wood chips and saw dust or demo detritus, a perfect way to end a day of creativity.
Of course, let's not get too poetic. It's not really about the process of cleaning; it's about having a clean shop or garage or office or basement so that your workspace is ready for you to tackle something else. So, clean up should be fast, it should be efficient, and it should be effective.
If you find yourself with a day off this holiday weekend and a bit of free time before the festivities really start, take advantage of the opportunity to get something done: like cleaning out your car. (Presuming, of course, you own a car. Same goes for bikes or even your day bag where you stash your bus pass.)