Posts in "Organizing"

Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books

The following is a guest post from Robyn Devine of She Makes Hats, originally posted to Becoming Minimalist:

It is unmistakably comforting to curl up in a thick chair with a tattered copy of a book you love, listening to the rain while you let yourself get carried away by the words on the page. I know – I used to hoard books. Don’t let the title “minimalist” scare you off – I have a love of books that dates back to my years toddling around with Dr. Seuss, a love that was handed down from my mother.

Until just a few years ago, books were stacked everywhere in my home. My two huge book cases were double-stacked with volumes ranging from children’s fiction to college text books, and piles had formed next to couches and the bed, not to mention on any available surface. I could not imagine my life without these friends surrounding me – the very thought of letting go of just one was enough to send me hurling at my shelves, attempting to wrap my arms around every book I owned in protection.

Today, I am the proud owner of approximately 20 books – six of which are craft books. To move from one extreme to the other took some serious work, and was not an overnight process. It started with the realization that I was not so much attached to the stories and words themselves, but the physical books sitting on the shelves. Once I had that realization, I began to let go of some of my books, and moved slowly towards a more minimalist reading collection.

The best way for any book-collector to tackle their bookshelves is by looking at one book at a time. When we look at the whole expanse of our book collection, it can be hard to imagine ever letting a single book go, but in reality there are volumes hiding on those shelves that we truly don’t need or want. Taking time to pull a book down off the shelf and truly look at it as an individual item will help you decide for that book alone if staying on your shelves is the best option.

Here are a few suggestions to help even the biggest bibliophile relieve your sagging shelves of stress:

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1. Write It Down. Sometimes, it’s the way a book made us feel, our connection to the story or a character that keeps us from letting go of the book itself. Take some time to write down those feelings, those connections. Maybe you’ll keep these notes on your computer or in a notebook, or maybe you’ll begin a blog for them. Once you get those emotions and thoughts out, it can be easier to pass the book on to someone else who you think would love the story as much as you did.

Tiny Action: Grab a notebook and start writing down your thoughts about each book as you take it off your shelves. If you can’t think of anything to say, you probably won’t miss the book if it weren’t there anymore.

2. Divide. Get ruthless with your “yet to read” pile. My rule of thumb is simple: If it hasn’t been read in six months, it probably won’t ever be read. I went so far as to test this theory myself as I found books on my shelves I hadn’t yet read, but couldn’t yet bear to let go. I dedicated a shelf to “need to read” books, and noted the date. Any books that started out on that shelf on that date but were still there six months later I purged – I had discovered I truly had no desire to read them!

Tiny Action: Let go of any book you haven’t read yet that has been on your shelves for more than six months. Afraid you’ll want to read it someday? Make a note of it in your notebook – title, author, ISBN number even – so you can find it at the library if you truly want to read it later.

3. One of the best ways to make use of your book collection is to share it with others! As you look at books, anytime you find yourself thinking “So and so would LOVE this book!” write that name down on a sticky note, stick it on the front cover, and set the book aside. After you’ve got 20 or so books in a pile, begin handing them out – drive to friends’ houses and drop them off, or put them in the mail (book rate shipping is SUPER cheap).

Tiny Action: Pick five books off your shelves that you’d love to share with someone else, and then send them off to their new homes. Today.

4. Set aside one shelf of your book case as your “desert island” shelf. Most book lovers have books they know they will never let go of, no matter what. I call these “desert island” books – they are the books I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island, that I could read over and over again for the rest of my life. As you come across these books in your collection, add them to your shelf. Not only is it comforting to see those books being saved as you pare down others, you now have a physical boundary – you can have no more “desert island” books than will fit in this one space, so you are forced to think analytically about your collection.

Tiny Action: Clear off one shelf to keep as your “desert island” shelf. It can only hold one row of books – no double stacks or piles!

5. Organize your non-fiction books by topic. I found when I began to organize my non-fiction books by topic, I had overlaps in some subjects. For me, the largest overlaps came in religious studies (my major in college). As I saw where I’d doubled up on topic, it was easier to let go of a few books.

Tiny Action: Organize your books by topic and author. Begin to pare down where you see overlaps.

6. Look for multiple copies, and get rid of them. You may laugh, thinking you would NEVER buy a multiple of a book, but trust me when I say I’ve found multiple copies of books on the shelves of almost every sentimental bibliophile I’ve met. Once you have more than a shelf or two of books (not a book CASE or two, a SHELF or two!), the chances of your remembering what books you own dwindles. Even if you love the book, there is never a need to own more than one copy of it!

Tiny Action: Every time you notice a multiple of a book, immediately give one copy away.


While going through this process, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Take breaks. When I first began paring down my books, I would get dizzy after 15 minutes!
  • Take five minutes to step away anytime you begin to feel overwhelmed – this is a new experience for your body, and it takes some getting used to!
  • Stay hydrated. I found I would get drained and tired as I went through my books – keeping a glass of water next to me helped keep me alert and focused.
  • Set a timer. Sort through your books for no more than 30 minutes the first go-round or you will find yourself getting frustrated and overwhelmed.
  • Honor your emotions. Your sentimental attachment to your books is not something to feel ashamed of or sad about. Acknowledging your emotions as you sort through your books can be the first step in helping you move past that attachment and towards a more minimalist reading habit.
  • And above all, remember this: you did not acquire those books overnight, so you will not release your attachment to them quickly either. By spending a few minutes a week and by letting go of a few books at a time, you will find your feelings shifting towards the stories and the moment rather than the books themselves.

Organizing in the Face of Illness

Blah, blah, blah, blah, You Have Cancer, blah, blah, blah…

That’s about all you hear when you receive a serious diagnosis. Then you start to research your condition, investigate treatment options and plan your future. You are so stressed, the last thing you want to think about is getting organized. Yet, getting organized can do a lot to reduce stress for both you and your family.

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This post was inspired by Albuquerque professional organizer Hazel Thornton’s blog article Organizing to De-Stress a Major Illness. With her permission I have put my own spin on her original content, which can be viewed here.


Organizing Your Medical Records and Important Papers

When you face a major illness, you feel out of control. One way to feel more in control is to create a control binder. A control binder keeps all your medical records and important papers together and organized, so you can find what you are looking for when you need it. You may keep it at home, or take it with you to medical appointments.

Create a Control Binder.  Get a 3-ring binder with tabs, create sections for research, second opinions, medical history, appointments, treatment plan, medications, contact information for health care professionals, and a miscellaneous section. Chances are your insurance and billing papers will fill an accordion file all by themselves, so establish secondary storage for overflow.

Organize your Important Papers.  Before entering the hospital, you will be asked for copies of important papers, including advance directives (Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney). LifeinCase® is an example of one personal document storage system, but there are numerous products with varying price points.

Organizing Your Support System

People with support systems are healthier and recover more easily from illness than those without them.  Your support system can be a network of family, friends, neighbors, loved ones, colleagues and professionals. It can be uncomfortable to ask for help, but think about how you would feel if the tables were turned, if a friend or family member were ill. Give them the same opportunity to do for you what you would be happy to do for them. Not everyone can or wants to help the same way. Fortunately, there are many ways to help and a number of free online tools make it easier for everyone involved.

Appoint a communications director. Communicating the same information over and over to concerned friends and family can be emotionally and physically exhausting. This applies to both the person who is ill and to caregivers. Designate a trusted friend or family member to speak on your behalf. Caring Bridge is a free web service that connects people experiencing a health challenge with their family and friends. With CaringBridge, you can communicate en masse, rather than one by one, and they can stay in touch with you. MyLifeLine is a similar site. If several people need to be kept aware of your schedule, calendar sharing programs like Google Calendar may be useful.

Designate a support services manager. There are all kinds of services that may be helpful to you and your family.  Do you need meals prepared? Your dog walked?  Your car serviced? Food shopping? Someone to accompany you for medical treatment? Someone to take your mother-in-law to the doctor’s (which you ordinarily do)?

Your support manager can organize these activities, providing you and your family the support you need and offering friends many different ways they can help. Online tools such as Lotsa Helping Hands, Care Calendar, and Meal Train let friends know what you need help with and when, and enable them to schedule when they can help.

Your support system could help you with housekeeping chores, or you may qualify for Cleaning For a Reason, a program that provides monthly free house cleaning for cancer patients.

This is no time to worry about whether bills are being paid on time. If you are responsible for family finances, appoint a trusted advisor to take over this task or to help you accomplish them.

If you’ll be getting care out of town, hotel stays for you or family members can be expensive. Check to see if the medical center participates in a hosting program, like Hosts for Hospitals that provides patients and family members with free lodging.

 Organizing Your Medications

Major illnesses usually involve major medications. A organizing system that works for 2 or 3 prescriptions may not work for a dozen or more, many of which change frequently. You’ll need a system to keep track of what you’ve got on hand, when they need to be renewed, what you need to take and when, and what you’ve already taken. Many kinds of daily and weekly pill dispensers are available. Since medications may make you drowsy or unable to focus, designating someone to help you manage your medications is a good idea.

Organizing Your Self

Stress and medications both impact memory, decision-making and the ability to focus. Keep a notebook handy to jot down reminders of calls you need to make, grocery lists, questions for doctors, etc.  Create checklists to help with daily routines, doctor visits and health care treatment. offers hundreds of pre-made templates as well the option of creating your own.

Be kind to yourself. This is not the time to beat yourself up over all the things you are not doing. Give yourself permission to do less by asking for help and putting some things on “back burner.”  This may mean relaxing some of your standards, and forgiving yourself for accomplishing less than you would like.

Nearly everyone knows someone who is in the midst of a health crisis. Maybe you are the person who is ill, or maybe you are the caregiver. Maybe it is your family that is going through this, or maybe it’s a friend or relative. Often, you wonder what can I do?  Keep this post. Share this post. Offer to help when asked.

On a personal note. My youngest was 3 when I was diagnosed with cancer (he is now 27). After treatment, I remember sitting on our porch on a glorious spring day with him on my lap, thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this moment, right now.” But soon I was back at work, in my old routine, and the lesson of what is truly important receded. Serious illness often brings with it a mindfulness of what really matters in life. Hold on to it. It is the one gift your illness is giving you.

Much of the information for this post was taken from a blog article by professional organizer Hazel Thornton at Organized for Life in Albuquerque, NM, home of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection  — with these handy tools by your side, clutter will simply flow out of your home, office and life!