Monday, October 17, 2011

Clean Your Way to a Better Life

The Scrappy Genealogist’s announcement on Friday that she will be featuring guest posts from different geneamommybloggers this week (“How She Does It - Secrets from the Geneamommybloggers”) has inspired me to share my recent experience in trying to organize my house and simplify my life to clear the way for the things I really want to do, especially family research and blogging about my research.

My daughters are young adults now (18 and 21), so I have survived the super-intense earlier phases of raising children. I now have a bit more time to do things like read, research, and write (when work isn’t so insane that my workdays run long and leave me too exhausted to do anything that takes a brain cell or two).

And yet even before work started to demand more and more of me, I noticed that my productivity in the area of family research was falling. I realized that the main culprit was the messy accumulation of clutter, compounded by a few other things that gobbled up a lot of time.

My solution involved about a dozen elements:

1. Throw out a lot of stuff.

2. Give a lot of stuff away.

3. Identify, locate, centralize, and organize your most precious heirlooms, family documents, and physical and electronic research documents and records.

4. Figure out a system for holding/storing anything you have a lot of (books, CDs, etc.). Buy whatever shelves, boxes, storage bins you need to accommodate them.

5. Throw out some more stuff.

6. Cut down on purchases, especially those that add unnecessary “stuff” to your household. This also means fewer birthday, Christmas, and special occasion gifts.

7. Figure out what items can be replaced by their electronic equivalents. My family and I are not terribly good at this, and my husband and I in particular are attached to the physical forms of many things (= books and CDs). However, my daughters are getting e-readers for Christmas and I am getting an iPad. We figure that most of our fiction reading and some of our nonfiction/research reading can be handled on these platforms. I would like to reduce the number of DVDs we buy, since so much can be viewed online. There is still some ethnic/esoteric music that I order in CD form, but these days there is a lot more of my “weird” music on iTunes than there used to be.

8. Give away some more stuff.

9. Identify and eliminate unnecessary and time-consuming chores. For me this year this will be writing the annual Christmas letter. As a genealogist, I know that Christmas letters can be goldmines of family information, but I am just tired of writing them. It started out as a way to save time, because I was individualizing each card for each recipient to the point that it was an exhausting undertaking. But you know what? Now I have a blog, use Facebook and Google Plus, and am always happy to correspond by e-mail. With a great deal of regret, I also discontinued my Follow Friday posts.

10. Clean house, clean out and organize your closets and junk drawers, and scrub and dust off those remote corners, high shelves, and other places you rarely visit to clean. It’s a pain, but it should take care of dust moozy/dust mite havens for another year or two. Clean out the fridge and clear the shelves of old food (you know you’ve got stuff that expired in 2008 in there).

11. If you have the time, energy, and money to do so, take care of any other matters that are a drag on your energy if you leave them undone: clean up your finances and financial records, get minor household repairs done, get the car fixed and cleaned, schedule medical appointments you have been putting off.

12. Clean up the yard, or at least take care of the worst eyesores: mow, pick up twigs and sticks, pick the worst weeds.

This is what I (and my husband and even occasionally my daughters) have been doing for the last two months. I am not listing all of these things to sound virtuous. If we had been more conscientious and better organized to begin with, things would not have reached such a critical state - to the point that I felt too paralyzed to effectively continue my research. I did not take a complete hiatus from blogging, but I definitely slowed down a bit.

Most important of all: Figure out what things are most important to you, and figure out how you can focus on them and include all of them. My priorities are:

Family life - spending home time with my family, going out to eat or see movies, and taking vacations together. This includes taking time to play and cuddle with our cats and actively participating in church. Keeping in touch with other family members, including cousins and “research cousins.”

Continuing to educate myself: in the area of languages (for my profession/vocation), in the area of genealogical research (for my hobby/avocation), and in the area of general knowledge (simply for personal development and enjoyment). Putting aside time to read and listen to music.

Family research. Getting my resources (including my bookmarks and Research Toolbox) in order. Continuing to get that cousin bait out there. Attending conferences. Taking research trips.

Gardening and feeding the birds in our yard.

That’s it. Pretty simple.

Now, after peeling off layer after layer of things accumulated after more than 20 years of being a family with children, I am just about ready to crawl out from under my rock and start some serious research.


  1. I'm getting ready to move after 33 years in the same house. One of the many things I'm looking forward to is being forced to re-organize my files and memorabilia and "family archives". I'm sure I'll find some things I forgot I had!

  2. I'm exhausted just reading your post! Glad you were able to get all that done ... I probably need to do the same thing. Maybe that will go on my New Year's List of Resolutions That Might Get Done in 2012. I am proud of you, Greta! What a wonderful accomplishment!

  3. Isn't it freeing to get rid of clutter and be organized? Good job.

  4. Hello Greta...I'm visiting via GeneaBloggers, and I'm soooo glad I got here before your Fall CleanUp Campaign is over. Gosh, you may become a Minimalist Genealogist before you're done, although if you're Family Tree is as full as mine, there is no way of Minimalizing anything or anyone in Texas. It's true what they say about Texas and Texans...Everything is Bigger and if it's not...we just Tell Tall Tales!

    I've enjoyed browsing your great full of good information and great links. I see we have a Texas Connection. I'd be pleased to be added to your Texas List.

    I'm a new follower and have added you to my GeneaBlogger Sidebar List. Thanks for all your research and great links. I'll be back often.

    Sue..CollectInTexas Gal/Tracks of My Texas Ancestors

  5. Congrats on all your hard work! I'm about ready to start cleaning out our house too. I don't know how we accumulate so much stuff.

  6. I'm going to benefit from your list, because I feel like you're talking to ME. Although, I don't have much clutter (other than genealogy papers and stuff), there are several things I should do (like clean refrig.). I'll also be cutting way back on fb, the biggest waster of time, time better used on research.
    Thank you so much for another great blog post.

  7. Sounds like the things I (or we) need to do. I have an 18 and 20 (soon to be 21).We have lived in our house for 21 years and have sooo much stuff!!

  8. This is a great list. It's funny, been doing a lot of thinking while reading the geneamommyblogger posts and one thing that keeps coming back to me is get rid of the clutter. Even though I feel like I do it a lot, it is probably time for a bigger fling of things that aren't needed, wanted, used or loved, ala Fly Lady. Thanks for the reminder! And thanks for the link. Jen :)

  9. Mary - I can't even think about moving because we still have so much stuff! And you will definitely find some things you forgot you had - I did and we are using and enjoying them now.

    Jenny - Desperation is a great motivator, and I really let things slide since my last big cleanup in ... gasp ... 1999!

    Nancy - You are right; doing this has improved my spirits 100%!

    CTG - Glad to hear from another Texan! And, nah, I'm minimizing other stuff to maximize my research. Welcome to GeneaBloggers!

    Tina - You'll be glad you did it at this early stage. And I never really noticed how much stuff we had accumulated until I had to clean it. Sigh.

    Barbara - You are always so kind. The funny thing is, just to look around inside my house, the difference might not be that noticeable (except for the basement), but I know that there is a big difference in drawers, closets, etc.

    Harriet - Your case sounds so much like ours! And we've been in this house for 28 years.

    TSG - Your idea for the geneabloggermommy series was a stroke of genius - I think the spirit of helping one another is definitely going to be contageious!

  10. Greta, thanks so much for this post. I feel like you're talking directly to me. My kids are the same age as yours and we've accumulated a tremendous amount of stuff over the years. My big project for the upcoming winter is to clean out and pare down. I know it will be a time-consuming process but it has to be done. I'm saving your post for inspiration!

  11. Great post! I've been doing something similar for the past five and a half months. I lived 16 years prior in a place that was way too small for my ever-accumulating collection of stuff. Now I have the opportunity to spread it out and either throw it away, give it away or keep and organize it. It took a month of long days just to go through books and papers and financial records.

    I've been doing this because I'm at an age where it feels more and more burdensome to keep dragging it forward. I find clutter an incredible energy drain. It feels like there's a thousand things to do and no time to do any of it, never mind the actual priorities. If we don't decide on our own version of 'all' and grab that time, Time is going to go anyway.

  12. Greta, We are pretty much at the same stage of life with our families so I definitely feel like your post couldn't have been written for us!

    On top of it all, I've got the "remnants" - lots and lots of remnants from the Family Home that sold this summer. We have an awful lot of cleaning out to do this winter.

    I love the list. I think I'll print it out and put it above my desk as a motivator. Thanks for your openness. It helps the rest of us realize we are not alone in being paralyzed from doing research by all the clutter. lol

  13. Shelley - I wish you the best of luck with your project - and I know that as you make progress it will make you feel so much better and give you more energy!

    JL - It is so true - clutter is an energy drain! I need to print that out and put it above my desk. The papers and financial records were also hard for me, and I found that I had unnecessarily duplicated files.

    Michelle - It is so strange now to realize that those file drawers and cabinets are not hiding chaos - I am just getting used to the idea that I can sit down and research without guilt and without "brain fog."

  14. Great list, Greta - I've been decluttering for about a year now as I realised I just had Too Much Stuff. I've chucked/donated loads of things and now I can usually find what I'm looking for and cleaning is a breeze. Having less Stuff saves time and energy :-)

  15. Greta,
    This post could not have come at a better time. Been looking for the nudge to tackle the accumulated stuff that we have acquired and have taken permanent residence in the basement. Thanks for inspiration and push I needed!

  16. ip - Being able to find things is perhaps the top benefit of cleaning up - so much stuff that I didn't remember I had or couldn't find - and now I'm using it!

    Valerie - Good luck, and I know you won't regret it!