Episode: SLT 010: How Clutter Affects Your Life, & Secret (But Simple) Military Communication Techniques

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SLT 010: How Clutter Affects Your Life, & Secret (But Simple) Military Communication Techniques

How Clutter Affects Your Life, & Secret (But Simple) Military Communication Techniques

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Special Announcement: Especially for listeners in and around San Antonio/Austin, TX

Our friend and colleague Karen Meade of Let’s Get Organizing will be hosting her annual Organize and Energize workshop. It’s on Saturday, January 19th, 2013 from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM at TriPoint on North St Mary’s, in San Antonio, Texas. There’s a great lineup of speakers talking about organization, meal planning, health and fitness and Dan will be there talking about tech. For more information check out LetsGetOrganizing.com or Facebook.com/LetsGetOrganizing. Hope to see you there!

Main Topics  

Vanessa’s Topic: How Clutter Affects Your Life

So, what is clutter?  Here’s how some experts define it:

  • Princeton University’s WordNet defines clutter as:
    • “a confused, multitude of things”
    • “to fill a space in a disorderly way”
    • “a confused, disorderly, jumble of things”
    • “filled or scattered with disorderly accumulation of objects or rubbish”
  • Clutterers Anonymous defines clutter as:
    • “anything we don’t need, want, or use that takes our time, energy or space, and destroys our serenity”
  • Clutter is more than piles and piles of stuff.
    • It’s a combination of new, old, unused, forgotten, misplaced, and emotionally (or coerced into being emotionally) “attached to” items.
  • Clutter is more than just a physical item…clutter is also about how an item is or isn’t being used. For example, a magazine in-and-of itself isn’t clutter…it’s just a magazine.  But when that magazine hasn’t been read for two weeks, two months, or even a year and is just sitting on top of a stack of other magazines that are several years old, and that stack is on top of your desk preventing you from being able to use it…that’s when that magazine is now considered “clutter.”

So for the rest of this topic, let’s just consider clutter as “anything we don’t need, want, or use that takes our time, energy, space and serenity”

Examples of clutter:

  • Things that are expired (food,  medicine and toiletries for example)
  • Duplicate items (3 coffee makers, 4 vacuum cleaners, 3 punch bowls, 3 of the exact same North Face jackets…all the same color and style…you get the idea)
  • Things that belong to someone else (stuff you’ve borrowed and never returned)
  • Broken toys
  • Broken dishes
  • Broken appliances and tools
  • Outgrown toys
  • Clothes you’ve grown out of
  • Knick knacks that don’t serve any purpose
  • Gifts that…let’s face it…you never really liked  (“in a million years I wouldn’t be seen dead in this” kinds of gifts)
  • Hand me downs or inherited items that you’ll never use
  • Just in case items…for emergencies
  • “Don’t know” (no idea why it’s there or how to use it…but darn it, I’m keeping it!)
  • Stuff that causes safety concerns (pose a hazard such as fire or physical harm)
  • Stuff that can cause health concerns…old food sitting around the house, trash lying around attracting bugs and rodents, etc.
  • Obsolete / outdated papers
  • Piles of papers and mail that have never been opened or are waiting to be opened and sorted

Other not-so obvious clutter items aren’t necessarily physical items, but impact your lifestyle

  • Overcommitment
  • Meaningless activity / duplication of effort (activity that is unfulfilling or serves no real purpose)
  • Old resentments and ill feelings / unresolved issues
  • Unsatisfying relationships
  • Unsatisfying work (paid work, work at home, volunteer work, etc).
  • Digital clutter (emails, photos, online documents)

So those are a few examples of what clutter is, but how do you know if clutter is affecting you?  

You see…the truth about clutter and accumulating more, is that eventually you’ll be overwhelmed by the physical clutter which in turn will overwhelm you emotionally in terms of stress, indecision, guilt and so on. Clutter slowly but steadily creeps into your home and sucks the life out of you.  It can affect both your mental and physical health.

 As Peter Walsh said in his book It’s All Too Much:

“Clutter robs you of far more than the space it occupies–it steals your life!”

So if you’re unsure if clutter is affecting your life, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • More often than not…are you embarrassed to have people over because of the state of your home?
  • Do you have trouble finding things…your wallet, glasses, checkbook, keys, bills, etc?
  • Have you missed paying your bills? Regardless of your economic states, one of the first questions I ask is if you’ve missed your payments.  Its usually not a matter of being able to pay the bill…it’s a matter of too much clutter and disorganization.
  • Do you have rooms or items not being used for their intended purposes? (bed, table, desk, office…I’ve had clients that have used bathrooms or guest rooms/offices as storage closets).
  • Do you like to bargain hunt and love getting a good deal on items at the store?
  • Do you like to collect freebee items from conferences and workshops?
  • Do you eat out a lot because it’s too difficult to use your kitchen at home to cook?
  • Do you have more possessions than can reasonably fit in your home?
  • Are others in your life affected by your clutter?
  • Are your relationships strained because of the state of your home?

If you find yourself saying yes to many of these questions then clutter may be negatively affecting your life.
When clutter is controlling you instead of you controlling it…that’s probably a good sign to make a change.

So where do you start if you or someone you love needs help? (NOTE…website links are listed at bottom of these show notes)

  • Educate yourself via books, magazines, podcasts, websites, etc.
  • Take classes: Adult continuing education, certification courses, check out the National Association of Professional Organizers or NAPO…and other
  • Professional organizations such as the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, Clutterers Anonymous (all have good information and resources)
  • Or, Seek help from a professional organizer! (Some specialize in home, business, productivity, chronic disorganization and hoarding)

Now, of course I have an entire website: Get Simplifized.com, dedicated to getting organized and helping you control the clutter with TONS of written posts and videos…and I even offer virtual organizing and consultation, just click on the Virtual Organization tab at the top of the Get Simplifized website.

So you can check that out, but the fact of the matter is, there are tons of resources out there…it’s just a matter of taking the time to tap into them.

Dan’s Topic: Secret (But Simple) Military Communication Techniques

Communication should be so simple and natural, but often it’s not.  But, I think universally, effective communication is a common goal. Everyone who is a party in that communication has  responsibilities in that communication. But that doesn’t always happen. When we say that there’s a “breakdown in communication” more often than not it’s a case of someone not meeting their responsibilities in the communication process.

So, I thought I’d share a few techniques that can help simplify communication. You can use these at home, work, school…wherever.  If you think these help, let me know and I have a couple more that I be happy to share in another show! Now I’ll preface this right up front that these are techniques I learned long-long ago as part of my training and they served me well throughout my time in the military and when I was teaching at university.

The Sender-Message-Receiver-Feedback Model

There are 4 main actors in effective communication and if one of them is out of sync then there will likely be some breakdown, so you’ll have ineffective communication.

  • The Sender is the one responsible for initiating the communication. Before the Sender attempts to communicate they should have a reasonable expectation that the message they send will be received. You know how sometimes kids will just start yelling “Mom!” from their room, with the door closed? Pretty frustrating, right? The Sender is also responsible for analyzing the receiving audience before they formulate their message to ensure the Message can be easily understood.
  • The Message should be formed using the correct language, at the right education level, the right tone, culturally correct, situationally correct, ensure any jargon would be understood by the Receiver, etc. The Message should be clear and concise and in the proper form. Trying to reach someone in their car my mail makes no sense!
  • The Receiver has responsibilities, too. They need to actively listen, not just hear, for effective communication to take place. If the Receiver is in a situation where communication is taking place, they’re expected to be an actively listening. Wearing earbuds in a classroom not only precludes the receiver’s ability to hear the message, it’s probably going to offend the sender and effective communication will be pretty unlikely. And the Receiver has one last and MAJOR responsibility. The last part of the sender-message-receiver-feedback equation is Feedback.
  • Feedback tells the Sender that the message was received, and whether the Receiver understood it or not. How frustrating is it when you communicate with someone and all you get is a blank stare back? Or send a text or email that’s not responded to? Or leave a voicemail and never get a reply?  The receiver has the responsibility to provide feedback. If the receiver gives no feedback, the sender should assume that effective communicate didn’t take place, and the Sender should reformulate and resend the message or ask for feedback.

Giving Tasks or Directions Properly: The next technique is a foolproof way to make sure you give out tasks properly that include guidelines and expectations. We’ve all been in situations where we’re given a task and sometimes the task itself is vague or most likely, the expectations are vague.

A Poor (But Unfortunately, Typical) Example of Communication

Your spouse calls or leaves you a note that says “pick up some eggs.” That night your spouse gets home, goes to make the meal and oops! No eggs. You say “well I’m going shopping tomorrow.” “Well I needed them tonight!”

So obviously, the task was vague and the expectations were vague.

Here’s a solution that is so commonplace in the military that it’s taken for granted. It’s called  the:

Task-Condition-Standard-Time Model

Here’s what each one means:

  • TASK: what needs to be done
  • CONDITION: Your resources or the situation
  • STANDARD: Self explanatory, but should be specific
  • TIME: How much time you have to accomplish the task or when the task needs to be done (event driven)

So using the buying eggs example, let’s use the Task-Condition-Standard-Time model:

  • TASK: Buy eggs
  • CONDITION: Given time, availability, proximity, money, etc..
  • STANDARD: Call if you can’t pick them up. Don’t get the white eggs, I want the big brown organic eggs
  • TIME: I get home at 5:00 o’clock and I need them as soon as I get home today.

The Good Old Who-What-When-Where-Why-How Model (aka “5 Ws & How”)

This tried and true model is great for written or oral communication. If you’ve gotten away from this you may want to revive the habit. But add the necessary elements of Task-Condition-Standard-Time in there when applicable.

Example: Say you’re sending a party invitation… the 5W and How explain all the basics, but adding the Standard could sure help when it comes to things like the appropriate attire for the party. That could be an embarrassing thing to leave out…especially if it’s a costume party!

Bonus: And a quick tech tip to go along with it is if you’re a Gmail user, build one of those Canned Responses that Vanessa talked about in an earlier episode and then anytime you need that format, just pop it in!  Or, if you’re not a Gmail user, in virtually any email system you could just build a template for these communication techniques and just save it in your drafts to copy when needed.

So there you have it, two not-so-secret, but potentailly quite helpful, military tips, one reminder for the old school “5Ws and How” with military spin, and a quick tech tip. All to help you with more simple and effective communication. Again, if you think these help, let me know and I have a couple more that I be happy to share in a future episode, sound good?

The “Thing” Segment:

Vanessa: I love Quality!

I’ve mentioned that I’m a frugal gal, but there are a few things I don’t mind spending a little extra on….like my Vera Wang boots and Saddleback leather tote bag.  I buy them at a discount, but quality beats quantity almost every time!

Dan:  Spreadsheets in Google Docs

I don’t have lots of use for spreadsheets but when I do, I love the functionality of them in Google Docs or Drive. They keep track of all older versions and I can always restore to an earlier version. plus, both Vanessa and I can work on them at the same time and everything syncs! I like to use them for online forms, too! Super easy, they work essentially the same as an Excel spreadsheet. For power spreadsheet users they may not have all the functionality of an Excel sheets, but for people like me who still count with their fingers and toes, they’re great! You can even use the forms function for surveys, etc, on websites and in emails. I’m using them to track our stuff for the Edit & ForgetIt Challenge, too. They’re functional and simple…that’s why they’re my Thing this week!


Emily wrote on the website: “Found you through Cliff’s podcast – great first show, I look forward to catching up and then keeping up with it. You have inspired me to continue on with my own simple living podcast, that I recorded twice and then stopped, and have been waffling about whether to keep it going.

On iTunes, Mamabearny wrote: “Great tips to start 2013 out right! This is the first time I’ve listened to a podcast and I’m glad I listened to this one. It was a great use of time and the hosts provide great practical advice that can be implemented right away to help simplify your life.”

Closing Thoughts:

Once again, Happy 2013 and we hope this year is a great year for simplifying your life. If you haven’t started yet or have just been thinking about it, now is a great time to start. We’re blessed to be able to share some ideas and some of our experiences as we journey toward a simpler life in the modern world and we’d like to hear some of your experiences, too.

It sure would help if you you took just 2 minutes to review the show in iTunes. The more positive reviews we get, the higher the show is in the listings and that’s how people find us.

If you like the show, please subscribe and consider giving us a good review in iTunes. It takes less than 2 minutes to review the show in iTunes and that’s the best way for people to find us.

  • In iTunes just search for Simple Life Together
  • Click on the green “Simple Life Together” picture…
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  • Click “Submit”! It’s as easy as that and it really helps to get the word out about the the show.  Thanks for doing that.  

If you know someone else who might enjoy the journey too, send them a link to SimpleLifeTogether.com

Connect with us on Twitter, I’m @DanielHayes and Vanessa is @GetSimplifized. You can find links to our Twitter and Google Plus profiles on the left side of the home page.

Be sure to leave comments below, send us a voicemail from the little microphone icon on the right side of the page, or you can go “old school” and email us!  Comments, questions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions…they’re all welcome and we’d love to hear from you!

So, here are other links we mentioned in the show:

Karen Meade of LetsGetOrganizing

Clutterer’s Anonymous

Institute for Challenging Disorganization

Peter Walsh: It’s All Too Much

National Association of Professional Organizers

GetSimplifized Links:

The Truth About Clutter

Lots of YouTube Videos to help you get rid of clutter and get organized!

Be sure to subscribe in iTunes and leave a review in the iTunes store! It helps others find the show! Thank you!

Simple Life Together
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