On Simplicity

May 14, 2008

Quick and Dirty Guest Cleanup

Filed under: House & Home,Quick & Dirty — Serendipity @ 5:00 am
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You just found out that company is coming tonight. The house is less than perfect and you’ve got limited time. How should you clean to get the most bang for your limited cleaning minutes? Check out the following Quick & Dirty guide:

1. Hit the toilets. Sure they’re gross, but that’s kind of the point. Even if your house is immaculate, if a guest has to use a dirty toilet, they’re going to remember your house as filthy. It may be unfair, but it’s accurate. So scrub the interior and wipe down all exterior surfaces, especially the underside of the lid. The good part about cleaning the toilet(s)? It’s pretty fast.

2. Light a scented candle in the rooms you’ll be using. By the time you’re done, the fragrance should have time to permeate the room and welcome guests. Easy alternative: open the windows to air things out.

3. Pick up out-of-place clutter. Grab a laundry basket and throw in anything that’s in the wrong place, like toys, shoes, projects, blankets, dog bones, laundry, books, etc. If you’ve got time, return the items to the right place. If not, just hide the basket and put it all back at a later time. Just getting “stuff” off the floor and surfaces can make a huge difference in how clean your house feels.

4. Clear kitchen surfaces. Put the dishes in the dishwasher (or sink), wipe down the surfaces, and get any stray items off counter surfaces. If you’d like it to look great, put away the things that belong on the counter as well, like the toaster, cannisters, or coffee maker. It may be cheating, since those items are going right back on the counter as soon the guests are gone, but it sure makes room look clean without deep cleaning.

5. Dust obvious surfaces with a feather duster. This is not about nooks and crannies. This about major surfaces that guests might touch, like dining room tables, end tables, and shelves at hand and eye level. Feather dusters won’t get rid of the dust, but they’ll get it off the surface quickly.

6. Fluff and arrange sofa pillows.

7. Make the bed, if this is an area guests will see. If not, close your bedroom door and call it even.

8. Clean any urgent floor surfaces, if necessary. If the floor looks “clean enough,” don’t give it a second thought.

You’re done! Relax, pour yourself a glass of wine or tea and kick your feet up. The bottom line: Cleaning for guests is common courtesy that shows respect, but trying to make them think you live in a magazine ad is a disservice to everyone. Now is not the time for perfection; your guests will have more fun if you’re relaxed, so give yourself a break. Also, remember that friends and family don’t expect perfection, and may even get a kick out of seeing how you really live.

April 16, 2008

The One Pencil Philosophy

Filed under: Productivity,Starting Out — Serendipity @ 2:25 am
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My personal trend toward simplicity can possibly be traced back to a small decision. What was the foundation-rocking change I decided to make? I would have just one pen and one pencil in my pencil cup at work.  Yeah, I know–big deal. Still, I highly recommend this easy move, as it embodies much of what is useful and enjoyable about simplicity.

Imagine a pencil cup (or tray, or what have you) that always has your favorite pen in it.  You know–the one that feels wonderful in your hand, lets you write smoothly, and is the most stylish.  No more crappy pens with embarrasing pharmeceutical ads on them. (I had a Viagra pen at one time.  Funny sometimes. Reeeeaaaally embarrassing at others.)  No more pens that have run out of ink.  No more fumbling around your desk for a pen for 30 seconds just to write a two-second note.  With the one pen/pencil system, you’ve always got the best at your fingertips. 

There are three main benefits of reducing your writing implements to just one or two, and that’s what I’m going to focus on here.

The first benefit is that you surround yourself with best and get rid of the junk.  A lot of people keep things in their lives for a very logical reason: because someday, they might need them.  This isn’t a bad philosophy, and is great in terms of recycling and consuming less.  However, what this method taught me was that it was only things of lasting, reliable value that were worth saving and giving space to. When I placed one trusty pen and one solid pencil in my cup and deep-sixed the rest to a supply drawer, I found that I rarely needed those other items.  They had been adding nothing to my desktop while subtracting cleanliness and ease.  I learned that one great pen is worth about 20 cheap freebies, and I learned to seek out only quality things.  This is one of the lessons that translated well into other areas of life. Wouldn’t you be a happier person if always had the best of everything at hand?  While that doesn’t always work, it’s pretty easy to implement it in this one area of your life.  Let yourself smile when you pick up that trusty pen that always writes and feels wonderful in your hand.  It won’t be an earth-shattering event, but why not enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures every single time you need to write?

The second benefit is that this system can train you to value things of quality.   When I only had one pen on my desk, I kept much better track of it.  I didn’t carry it to the cabinet and leave it on a shelf, where it would collect desk for a few weeks.  I knew that if I needed to write, I had to take good care of my pen.  In response, I always put it back in the right place.  Rarely did I have to scrounge under piles of paper for a pen; I knew exactly where mine was.  I was learning, in a baby step, to be more responsible with things I valued. 

The third major benefit of the one pencil philosophy is that you’ll spend less time searching and more time doing.  The few seconds spent choosing between the umpteen writing instruments in my cup weren’t a big, but little things to add up.  I was losing seconds each time.  If having everything within reach was supposed to make work easier and more productive, I was finding the exact opposite to be true: I was wasting time hunting down disposable pens for no good reason. More importantly, I was losing focus.  “Green pen or blue? That one only writes half the time, so I’ll pick the red one.  Wait–where’s the red one? Did I leave it in the conference room?  Okay, blue it is.” This speedy thought process wasn’t enough to make me lose a good train of thought. Still, it was enough to dim my focus.  I found it much easier to stay in a flow state when I was able to eliminate the small distraction of hunting down pens. 

All in all, I have to say this is an idea in which the benefits can really outweigh the possible consequences (which are pretty much nil). It’s a great way to “try on” the idea of simplifying without having to create an elaborate organizational system or commit to any big measures. Plus, it really puts the entire philosophy of simplifying in a nutshell.  Ready to give this tangible thought experiment a whirl? Here are my implementation tips.  Tomorrow, I’ll touch on some of the larger lessons that can gleaned from this idea.

Implementation:

1.  Designate one pencil cup/tray/area.

2.  Choose your single most favorite writing implement of each style you need. I have one pen, one pencil, and one highlighter.

3.  Don’t toss the other items.  Keep a few spares in a supply area such as a nearby closet or drawer.  Give away the others and throw away or recycle what can isn’t usable.

4.  Keep non-essentials in a nearby but out-of-the-way place.  If you know 18 colors of Sharpies are just a reach away, you’ll be less tempted to clutter your everyday workspace with these items.

A lot of people keep things in their lives for a very logical reason: because someday, they might need them.  This isn’t a bad philosophy, and is great in terms of recycling and consuming less.  However, what this method taught me was that it was only things of lasting, reliable value that were worth saving and giving space to. 

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