Kondo Method for the rest of your life?
April 7, 2016 4:36 PM   Subscribe

What are your best ideas for keeping the rest of your life organized?

My life is filled with clutter, and a lot of it is what I consider "mental clutter" -- remembering to book the dog for boarding; forgetting to use coupons or buy at sales; putting food out to cook, forgetting, and ending up with spoiled food; forgetting to get cash to pay the housekeeper; running out of checks . I haven't been to the gyn since my daughter was born. I routinely buy plants and then they die because I forget to water them, even though I walk past them every day and think "I need to water that plant." You get the idea. How in the world do I get on top of things like that? I have a running to do list, but I forget about that, too. I'm a writer and a mom to a toddler, so I am easily distracted and also go through intense periods of writing, where everything else isn't a priority.

I'm willing to try apps, but I forget to use those, too. I can throw some money at this, if that's the best solution.

Please let me live a life of joy, instead of one filled with cursing, as I try to find boarding for my dog the week before Chrsitmas.
posted by mrfuga0 to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if this helps, but the only thing I've found to work is to downsize and simplify. Get rid of your plants. Stop using coupons. Only buy easily-prepared food. Go through your mail and stop all subscriptions. Auto-pay for everything. Recurring calendar reminders for the most important things - like put in a boarding reminder for november 1st now and have it recur annually.

And getting rid of a lot of possessions has helped a lot - instead of worrying what to wear or use, the number of choices has decreased significantly, and I'm not wasting time or energy on smaller decisions.
posted by umwhat at 4:51 PM on April 7, 2016 [32 favorites]

For the plants, get several kinds. Take care of them in the way that you can handle. Whatever lives is the kind of plants you are supposed to have. Get more of the survivors.
posted by bilabial at 4:53 PM on April 7, 2016 [27 favorites]

you mention marie kondo. did you do it? i did, and now i'm doing it again. i find that when i have less "stuff" there's more room for me.
posted by andreapandrea at 5:34 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I bought big cheap lightweight Ikea picture frames. Flipped over the paper that it came with inside out so it has only a white background. Got me some cheap whiteboard markers. I would put one of these into the 3 major rooms I use frequently and write a To Do list that is specific to the needs in and around that space. For example:

1) Kitchen: this is where I would keep a running grocery list, things I need to put into my purse or to bring to work (since it's located right by where I head to the garage), reminders to bring my reusable bags if I'm going shopping, anything to do with the backyard (because I see it from the kitchen).

2) Living room: this is where I remind myself to vacuum, water the plants, record a TV show, call my parents, make appointments over the phone (because this is where my land line is), general stuff.

3) Bedroom: this is the list for things like laundry, clean the bathroom, check my meds, stock up on personal products.

I'd nail these right by the doors so that I can't miss them each time I walk in and out of those 3 rooms.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:38 PM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I routinely buy plants and then they die because I forget to water them, even though I walk past them every day and think "I need to water that plant."

Next time just stop and do it. Ignore the voice that says "but it's so haaaaard and I'm so tiiiiiired" and just do it. I'm the same way as you and just doing it creates a momentum and a conscientiousness that builds on itself.

Basically just decide to be conscientious. It's a mental habit like any other and can be built like a muscle.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:41 PM on April 7, 2016 [11 favorites]

I ask myself about non-physical things in my life: does this spark joy? Less of what doesn't, more of what does.
posted by instamatic at 5:46 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Umwhat's recommendations are fantastic. To that I would add that you should just get in the habit of using a single system for managing to-dos and stick to it. I use OneNote for this. It works on my computer and my phone/ipad and I can sync stuff up.

So, at the beginning of each new year, I archive the previous year under a tab and then create a page for each month. I have mental illness, so my first page is a checklist of things I should do daily to try to maintain health and living space--take meds, shower, do a quick 15 minute clean of my kitchen/bathrooms, take a walk, that sort of thing. I also have a list for weekly things--water plants, dust/vacuum, clean bathrooms, etc. Most people don't really need something like that, but I do, so I mention it for completeness.

The second page is my "running list" of todos. Each one of those tasks should be a "doable" thing, in GTD parlance. Like, "yardwork" is not a "doable" thing. The list should actually read something like, "re-seed side yard, weed flower beds, re-mulch mailbox berm, make appointment with lawn treatment guys." And each one of those tasks might require subtasks, so I enumerate those. "Re-mulch" might require going to Lowe's to buy a bag of mulch, getting some new garden gloves, that sort of thing. Anything that must happen in order for the main task to happen becomes part of the "project." I put project lists in their respective months. So if I am thinking about yardwork in January and want to stop having these thoughts running in the backround, I make the checklists and then move the list off to May or whatever. Whenever I have new yardwork thoughts/ideas, I just search for the term in the current year's notebook and add to it.

Whenever I have time sensitive things appear in my brain, I add it to my calendar. So if I have to, say, arrange for dogsitting for a trip 5 months from now and I know I need to reserve a spot 6 weeks in advance, I put that in my calendar as a to-do item for a particular day. I also have recurring items in my calendar set to run in perpetuity. Like, I know I have to buy for Mother's Day, Father's Day, and four birthdays that occur within a relatively short timespan, so I add the shopping for *everything* to my calendar for a couple weeks in advance of all of those events.

And, finally, if I have an amorphous idea for something I might want to do someday but isn't important right now, I keep those lists in a tab called Someday/Maybe. "Plan trip to New Zealand" or "Take knitting class" or whatever. I review these at the end of each month. If I've lost interest, I delete it. If I decide to move forward with it, I move it to a month page. If I'm still interested but have no immediate plans, it stays where it is.
posted by xyzzy at 5:48 PM on April 7, 2016 [21 favorites]

Put a post-it on the last pad of checks that reminds you to order new ones! You'll see it when you refill your checkbook with it, and the idea is that you'll immediately order a new box.

Anyway, I'm not sure if this will work for everyone, but: a few years back during some slow time at work I wrote down every possible task/obligation I could think of into a notebook. Getting everything out of my head and onto paper brought my mental clutter down significantly and I trained myself to depend on the book to tell me what to do. (It helps that I get ridiculously jazzed about making lists and crossing things off of them.) And as months went by and I still hadn't done things, it became easier to gain some perspective on the uncompleted list items, and I ended up crossing out a lot of the unimportant things. Recurring important things (birthdays!) migrated to automated calendar alerts, and there's a pad in a very obvious spot on my desk with upcoming big events like trips and family visits that gets rewritten as it gets too messy from additions/cross-outs. I keep it visible so I can be constantly reminded about the events without actually having to constantly remember that they're in the pipeline.

On a day-to-day basis I make a checklist of things that absolutely need to get done, and sometimes I'll add items from the to-do notebook so I can get those done, too. Busy days get scheduled as though everything were an appointment as a way of tricking my brain, which treats appointments as ultra-important non-negotiable things. I really had to work to make the daily to-do list a habit that I didn't forget about, and even then it's not foolproof because I have some personal motivational issues that tend to stonewall me. But! My mind isn't overwhelmed with the things I need to be doing, which actually helps me to have a clearer head to remember what else needs to be written down on the to-do list AND helps me generally feel lighter and better equipped to deal with the motivational issues.
posted by phatkitten at 5:53 PM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think a few things would help. First, pare down to essentials: don't buy new plants. (Maybe get fake ones.) Next, do things in bulk: get a month's worth of cash for the housekeeper, and set a calendar reminder to do this each month. Speaking of calendars, figure out what works for you: I started using Google calendars for everyone in the family, but ended up with a big paper calendar on the fridge and it works much better for us. Finally, follow through and don't stop what you're doing in the middle. If you get out food, chop it up and cook it. If you take laundry out, fold it and put it away. Do an entire action, not just half of one, and then you won't have anything to remember to go back to.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:08 PM on April 7, 2016

Also, xyzzy mentions David Allen's "Getting Things Done" above, and another GTD concept is that if you can do it in two minutes, do it now. Don't note it on your list for later -- that will just add to mental clutter.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:10 PM on April 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm willing to try apps

google keep google keep google keep google google google

Super easy to take notes that sync across browser and phone, you can color code them, you can set reminders for them (time, location, recurring, etc), you can add pictures and drawings, you can make them show up in google calendar and in your inbox so you never forget that they're there...

I don't know how iphones work these days but on Android at least you can set a google keep widget to be on your home screen so your notes are always right there in front of you, easy to see and easy to jot stuff down in.

I can't say enough good things about keep. It seriously has changed my whole life organizing world.
posted by phunniemee at 6:12 PM on April 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

For housecleaning, the biggest thing that helps me is inviting people over to my home. I actually enjoy cleaning and organization, BUT I will let it slide when I'm busy. Scheduling a weekly play date or brunch at my house is the absolute best motivation for me to get my house clean. I'm not saying that's an ideal system, but it works every time! If I schedule a Saturday afternoon play date, I will clean Saturday morning.
For plants: my family often leave cups with an inch or two of water in them around the house. Or a sig water bottle with a tiny bit of water left. I dump this water in the plants. Just kind of made a mental switch from "this water goes in the sink" to "this is plant water." It's routine enough that it keeps the plants alive because omg why can nobody pick up their water bottles.
posted by areaperson at 6:26 PM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

timers timers timers! Every time you do a thing that you are likely to forget, set a little timer. I like my phone because I can just tell it "Remind me in an hour to check on this chicken on the counter" and it will do that. Set up recurring reminders with alarms either on your calendar or your phone. Figure out what you check the most often and put reminders there. Have five or ten minutes every day to go over your lists and add/remove things. Put everything in whatever place you have tour reminders. Seriously I have a reminder for my rent because I never know what day it is. I also have a big year at a glance wall calendar (NeuYear) on the wall above my desktop computer that has the big chunks of time I do things blocked out, so whenever I am leaving town or performing a wedding or have an article due it's up there in red/pink ink. It's a little redundant but at least I don't forget.

I am also a big fan of the "do it now"approach and also of spending a little time at the beginning and end of each day without being on-screen so you have time for reflecting about the things that maybe need doing, that weren't done and that maybe are future-need things.
posted by jessamyn at 6:33 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh! And for scheduling things like the dog kennel or hair cuts, doctor appointments: always, always schedule the next when you're leaving your appointment! I used to resist this because I think I somehow thought I couldn't pinpoint when I would need the next appointment or that my schedule was to crazy to plan ahead. But then 6 months would go by between hair cuts or oil changes. Just schedule it when you're leaving the salon, etc and remember, you can reschedule later if you need to! Calling to reschedule is easier than trying to remember to make appointments. This might sound obvious, but it was a game changer for me.
posted by areaperson at 6:36 PM on April 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

I am very much like you. Life is easier when I plan as if future me is about 5 plus distractible and forgetful. For example, if I remember during the work day that I need to get gas on the way home, I write "GET GAS" in red letters on a bright yellow post-it and stick on my purse.

I use auto pay where ever possible.

I use the reminders app on my phone for regular reminders and also for shopping lists. I've learned I absolutely have to put everything on my calendar.

I also use the idea - I think from Getting Things Done - of breaking things down into the smallest possible next step. So for booking a doctor appointment that might be asking friends via FB for recommendation. Step 2 might be checking to see if my insurance covers them. Step 3 would be looking up their phone number. Step 4 - making an appointment. Even if I only take one step every day, it gets done.

Sometimes it also helps me to mentally change the priority on something that's important but not urgent. I tell myself that if I do nothing else all day I have to do The Thing. Usually once I do it The Thing takes 5 minutes and then I still get all the other stuff done.
posted by bunderful at 6:52 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

The whole point of Marie Kondo is to simplify, not to better do more stuff. I remember how I used to keep lists of books I wanted to read, and then I wouldn't read them and I would feel like a failure for not checking things off my list. One day, I realized: who said I had to read these books? What law or rule was there which required me to do these things? None. And what would happen to me if I did not read something? Nothing at all. My husband would still love me. I would still go to my job, and to restaurants and to see friends. There would be no negative consequence at all.

So, think of the things you are now not getting done. Who says you have to do these things? Don't buy a plant anymore, and all the energy you spend on trying to water it, not doing so and then feeling bad about it goes away. Who says you have to use coupons? If you are willing to 'throw money' at this, you can afford to buy groceries as you need them, coupon or not.

Systematize the other stuff. Cook once a week and freeze it all. Do certain chores on designated days---Sunday is laundry day, Monday is vacuum day etc. And even those can be simplified. I hate to vacuum so I have wooden floors and a few throw rugs. I swiiffer once a week and shake the rugs out from time to time.

My point is that probably a third of the stuff you think you have to do is probably not a law of the universe. Remember that :-)
posted by JoannaC at 7:16 PM on April 7, 2016 [13 favorites]

A little tip related to plants and the home. I have many indoor plants but a big outdoor garden: some years I manage to do a lot and other times I just do what I can. I pay for someone to help do major yardwork and another person to clean every few weeks and it's wonderful. If you can afford it, I recommend paying for help around the house. I, too, have a lot of clutter. However, knowing that the floors are already shiny and toilets already cleaned helps me focus on cutting clutter rather than feeling overwhelmed by everything. I also decided to not buy any new plants this year for my home or garden: my goal is to focus on cleaning the garden clutter, be it old planters or weeds, and maintaining what I have (repainting furniture, making cuttings, etc.) It's been helpful for when I'm out and get an urge to buy something new. It's also had noticeable results that bring a lot of joy in the present and make me excited about good changes. (Tonight I was getting excited about going to the landfill rather than having the immediate joy of a new plant and then the long stress of putting of planting it.) This may or may not apply to you but has been working for me!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:52 PM on April 7, 2016

Get this stuff out of your head! It doesn't matter what app or tool you use to do it, as long as you get it out of your head and into a place where you can do something about it later. Getting Things Done is the go-to recommendation for that but I generally find that too rigid and complicated.

Here's my system:

For work, I keep one master to-do list per week. I set it up on Friday for the upcoming week, writing down everything that I need to do. Each of the items on the list is an actionable thing, like "write report" or "get three quotes", as opposed to just a project name. I add things to it throughout the week as they come to mind or are assigned to me during meetings. I consult the list every time I have a moment to decide what to do next. I try to prioritize the list over email, and set aside a specific time to do emails all at once instead of being distracted by all the new ones coming in.

For personal stuff, I have a couple different methods. For anything with a deadline or that needs to be done for example during the work day or as an errand on my commute, I put it in Google calendar with a notification to both pop up on my phone and email me. If I do the thing, I delete both notifications right away, but if I need to wait to do the thing, then I have the email to remind me to do it. Google Calendar recently introduced Reminders, which basically do what I've been doing with appointments. I include things like watering plants and taking out the trash and taking my birth control pills on this calendar. Nothing is too small, if it's something I won't remember to do automatically.

I also use Google Keep to manage lists (things to buy, things to do) that are shared with my husband. When we need something from the grocery store, it goes on the list, and then the next person who is at the store checks the list and gets it. I even make a note on the list if I have coupons for the item, and the coupon goes in my wallet when I clip it so it's with me at the store. I also use a Google Keep note in a similar manner to my work to-do list - everything that doesn't go somewhere else gets added to it and I review it regularly when I have time to do some of those things.

However, a big component of all these systems is that when the reminder comes up or you have five minutes while the water's boiling to get something done or you walk by that dry plant or empty toilet paper roll or overflowing trash can or laundry basket - you have to DO IT. Work on making it a habit for 30 days that every time you have the thought "I should do X..." where X is something you can actually do then (ie, you are not driving; it's not a project that will take three hours that you'll be starting at midnight) you have to stop and do it right then and there. It is a habit that can be developed.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:09 PM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might like this book which is Kondo-inspired. I think it's right on point that "being organized" = simplifying your life, which really comes down to not caring about stuff.

Try this. Name everything you own in a spreadsheet. Now filter out anything that you don't use at least once a week. If you don't use it once a week, you don't need it.* Not only do you not need it, it's using up valuable head-space while you worry about keeping it clean/safe/protected.

* with a few exceptions, like seasonal clothing
posted by deathpanels at 9:04 PM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I use reporter's notebooks and write down every single thing I need to do every day. I cross off the completed tasks, and start a new page every day. I like the physical presence of the notebook more than an online spreadsheet or app.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:40 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Came in here to recommend that book. It really is spot on for what you're after. Between clearing mental clutter and a great little free app called Wunderlist, my headspace is a lot better these days. Good luck to you!
posted by iamkimiam at 12:00 AM on April 8, 2016

I really agree with all of the above advice, doing brain dumps of all the things is good, and then you need cues in your environment to spur you to action when the things are in front of you (post-it notes are great).

Overall though the toddler phase can be really demanding and it leads to this sense of not being able to keep up with anything and it does get better, my son is nearly 5 and now I find that my house is somewhat mostly clean and stays clean a bit longer, I have time to cook better, I can keep my plants alive, but these things were not true until recently.

I left milk out so many times when my son was younger, it was maddening. Same with cash for babysitters (can you start just having a stash of money in the house for things like the housekeeper, pizza deliveries, etc.), sales, on and on. The Kondo method has helped as fewer things means it's easier to clean up and see what's in the fridge or cupboard and counter and so on, but I really just had to stop doing and buying so many things and try not to feel bad about it, to stop complicating my life out of habit. For instance I wanted to be cooking most meals from scratch, it was just too taxing some weeks (and I was wasting so much produce by thinking I'd be able to use it), same with driving to a specific store at a specific time to take advantage of sales, I was unnecessarily complicating my life with a list of "shoulds". There's nothing wrong with paring down so that your staple meals are frozen (healthy burritos, pre-made stir-fry's, pre-made smoothies), bread is always in the freezer and defrosted as needed, the pantry is stocked full with cans of diced/crushed tomatoes, salsa, beans, and grains and pasta, and toddler-friendly things like cereals and applesauce, and your fresh staples that you get weekly are apples, bananas, eggs, and milk - you can do a lot with just those things.

Can you set aside a few hours twice a week to get a bunch of things done at once? That still helps me a lot, to do banking at once, gas for the car, groceries, library books, all in my go, I get laundry going before leaving the house. You can get a lot done in 2-3 hours, you can even fit in time to do nothing which it sounds like is really what you need. It sounds like you are good at prioritizing your writing which is great, so you just need to start making some space on a regular basis for the daily hassles that keep things running smoothly.

You could get a personal assistant to run errands for you, I've known people who do that to take car of things like booking appointments and car maintenance and so on, it can help when you're in an intense writing phase.
posted by lafemma at 7:06 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing that a lot of this is about simplifying -- and some of that is about letting go and reducing in more abstract ways.

For example, don't worry about sales and coupons. Instead, adjust your meals so that you are eating according to budget without them (more beans, less meat). For cooking, simplify to a weekly schedule. Tacos every Tuesday might be a little boring, but you'll know it like the back of your hand, and will be able to shop and cook on autopilot. Then you just change up the whole schedule every so often when you want variety.

Also, be wary of changing everything all at once. Pick ONE thing (eg floss every night) and just focus on that for about 3 weeks. Then once it is ingrained in your routine, add the next ONE thing.
posted by veery at 7:08 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to be like you, and in addition to some of the tips above, one thing I took to heart was a quote that I read here on AskMe. I wish I could find it again so I could credit it properly, but the jist was "What can Today Me do to help Tomorrow Me?".

When I think about everything I need to get done tomorrow and how much/little time I have, I say "oh, shoot, I should just get things 1 through 3 of my tomorrow list done right now so that I will have more time to do things 4 and 5 on my list without stressing". And you know what, it's totally working for me.
posted by vignettist at 8:02 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't mean to armchair diagnose or make you feel uncomfortable by any stretch but...

The single most helpful thing for me, with this issue, was an ADHD diagnosis. With the diagnosis did come medication, but not only medication - also support and ADHD-targeted organizing books (mefi consistently loves ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life) and an extra kick to just forgive myself for mistakes in those areas.

So, maybe you don't have ADHD (or who knows, maybe you do...if you've ever wondered, well, evaluation can be an excellent investment) - but those are problems that a lot of people with ADHD chronically struggle with and you might find value in ADHD-targeted resources with or without a diagnosis. Here are five links on organizing targeted at people with adult ADHD (full transparency, I only skimmed them - the book linked above is definitely even better). If you're open to the idea of resources that implicitly suggest you might have particular trouble in this area (and there's no shame in that), you might find them more explicit and comprehensive than other tips n' tricks.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:42 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have a wall calendar that I write all my appointments on, because if I can't see them, I forget. This system is the only one that has ever worked for me.

I keep all my important papers and checks and stuff in one filing box. Like all in a heap. Back when I tried to neatly file everything, it was too much hassle and I'd leave things all over the house because I couldn't be bothered. Now, I just throw it in the box, and if I need my W-2 or insurance info, I know it is somewhere in the box and I'll be able to find it in 5 or 10 minutes.

Plant cuttings are your friend if you want plants without the hassle of watering plants. I keep cuttings of pothos ivy (which is a bit poisonous, so maybe on a high shelf in your house) in pretty glass bottles. They can live like that for years, and I only have to top off the water once a month. Ponytail palm is also really, really hard to kill. I keep most of my houseplants in the kitchen and bathroom--it's a lot easier to remember to water them when the sink is right there.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:59 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh i get this so hard. My plants died repeatedly but they are important to me so a friend helped me set up an irrigation system. I use the fridge as a white board for shopping lists. I keep longlife milk in the cupboard. The robot vacuum cleaner wasn't very good, but not having rugs is. I have caribiners sewn into my handbag which i clip my keys and swipe cards to. The handbag is worn across my body so i dont lose it but this has the effect of undoing my shirt buttons so i wear shirts without buttons. All my bills are paid automatically, as is savings and i have budgeted spending money going to one account that doesn't have fees for eftpos. I have apps on my phone so i can see how much is there.

Most recently I've just been accepting that despite the time and money I've thrown at this, i won't ever be good at it, but that is really sad, so i don't recommend that.
posted by b33j at 7:12 AM on April 9, 2016

For work, I keep one master to-do list per week. I set it up on Friday for the upcoming week, writing down everything that I need to do. Each of the items on the list is an actionable thing, like "write report" or "get three quotes", as opposed to just a project name. I add things to it throughout the week as they come to mind or are assigned to me during meetings.

On this tip, you can set up a series of appointments with yourself in MS Outlook or Google calendar (e.g., 9-9:30 am, respond to emails; 10-11 a.m., work on this report; 11:30-12 pm, review that new policy) so you have time dedicated to getting certain things done.

The best part is the (default) alert notification 15 minutes beforehand, which has more than once saved me from someone who walked into my office and won't stop talking. The alert noise goes off and I can say, "Ooh, I have to get to that!" and then I do, because they leave. [This part may not work for a stay-at-home parent with small children, I realize.]
posted by psoas at 3:16 PM on April 11, 2016

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