Last month I rode in The Last Gasp, a 60-mile bike ride across Cape Cod, MA to raise money for various charities. I trained for months. I ate well. I was ready.
On the morning of the ride, the sky threatened rain, but the sun fought hard to shine through. It was hot, especially for mid-September. The 300 riders were gathered, tires inflated, back pockets filled with Gu, and after singing the national anthem as a group, we were off.
My legs felt strong, the humidity loosening my muscles, not to mention a slight push from a gentle tailwind. The gaggle of cyclists thinned out with each mile, speedier riders eating up the distance faster. The first rest stop at mile 23 came quickly. After eating half a PB&J I was back on the road.
Folks along the route—Cape Codders with an interest in the charities as well as members of the community—cheered us on, bringing me back to the road. You see your mind wanders on long bike rides as the miles collect beneath you. Past experiences, long lost friends, and ideas for better, more comfortable bike seats pop into your head as cars whiz by, some too close for comfort.
I glided into the second rest stop at mile 43 still energized. Gulped down some blue Gatorade, a banana and was off. This last stretch was rolling hills and that tailwind was now a headwind. My legs stared to tire. I thought about stopping. I thought about thumbing it. I thought about my couch.
That’s when I saw people up ahead on the side of the road. Soon I was upon them, a father and three toddlers holding colorful signs. “Thanks for riding for my mommy!” read one sign, written in the scrawl of a child. That’s all it took. Like a shot of adrenaline, my muscles felt rejuvenated. That little bit of encouragement, that little reminder of why I was putting myself to this grueling test, was huge.
Like a coach yelling, “You can do it!” from the sideline, a teacher writing “Good work” on your English paper, or the simple words of a child, a little encouragement is sometimes all it takes to reach your goal.
One day last spring I dropped off my car at the parking garage like I’ve done a hundred times, leaving it in the narrow space where cars enter and exit. Putting the car in park, a text came in which I answered while removing my bags and bike. By the time I walked into my apartment my phone was ringing. “Where are your keys?” shouted the garage attendant. “No one can get in or out!” Instead of leaving the keys in the ignition—like I always do—I took them.
So when my sister Meredith invited me to attend a mindfulness workshop in July, I agreed. Mindfulness is, quite simply, being aware of what’s going on around you. Yet quite often, we’re not. We’re doing two, maybe three things at once, with nothing getting our full attention and things occasionally falling through the cracks. The workshop taught how just a few minutes of conscious breathing every day could help correct that.
Studies show that people who are “in the moment” are happier. Makes sense. If you’re not, then life is passing you by. Along with lowering stress, decreasing anxiety and helping with weight loss, mindfulness can help you stay organized.
Take your closet. You organize it. Better yet, you hire an organizer to organize it. The next morning you pick out a shirt. You try it on and decide to wear something else. Okay, now this is where mindfulness comes in: do you refold the shirt and put it back properly or just toss it onto a shelf? Now it’s your closet, you can do what you want, but being mindful means taking the time to do it right. Putting it back haphazardly also says you’re not worth having a nice closet. If you’re too tired or busy to put it where it belongs, don’t put it away. Wait until you have the time to do it mindfully.
When I returned to NYC and pulled into my parking garage last month, wouldn’t you know, a text came in at the same time. Ignoring my phone, I gathered my belongings as the attendant sprinted out of the booth.
“Keys in the ignition,” he said, more statement than question.
I nodded. “Sorry again about that,” I said. “My mind was full at the time.”
3 Easy Steps for Mindfulness Breathing
- Sit up straight, close your eyes, rest your hands on your lap or one hand on your belly to feel the breath going in and out.
- Focus on your breathing, feel your stomach expand and lower.
- Continuously bring attention to your breathing. Your mind will wander as you do this exercise. Just bring it back to your breath. The whole point of the exercise is to reign back in your thoughts, as it will wander over and over. Start with two minutes a day! That’s it.
Hello Blog Readers!
Taking a moment to thank you for sticking with me through over 250 blogs! Reading your feedback continues to motivate me to keep writing. (“What?” you say. “Felice needs motivating?”) Yep. Sometimes. And while I love writing, I also love actual hands-on organizing–turning chaos into order.
That’s why I started a YouTube channel. It will show Before & After videos of other people’s closets, garages, storage spaces and (fill in the blank) getting organized. Which is where you come in. I need messy spaces to work on. I am often traveling between New York City and Cape Cod, MA, but am willing to travel farther, and if you have a space that needs help, I’m there. So if you’re ready to say “Buh Bye!” to some of your stuff and make your home or office look great, please send an email with a picture of your space to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the link again to sign up for my YouTube channel. Please share it with your friends.
Keep living large!
For teachers, there is a moment when the student becomes the master. That’s not to say every once in a while the teacher couldn’t use a refresher course.
I’ve helped many people clean out their closets, unloading out of fashion old clothing that no longer fits. Most are happy to part with the stuff, but occasionally a heartstring gets tugged. One client, five years divorced, devoted an entire closet to her expensive wedding dress. Emotion is often involved. Or history. Or finances. It’s understandable. It takes time. I try to be gentle, but firm. Sometimes they need a push.
Turns out, we all do.
Last weekend my younger sister Meredith came for a visit. Over the years I’ve organized every dorm room and apartment she’s ever lived in. But on Saturday the shoe was on the other foot. She orchestrated every move. And move it did. Out of my closet and into a giveaway bag. Well, bags.
- 5 pairs of pants
- 4 Blazers
- 2 dresses (one with the tag still on it!)
- 12 Shirts and blouses
- 3 sweaters
- 4 pairs of shorts
- 5 scarves
- 2 skirts
- 3 belts
- 7 pairs of shoes
Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I’m constantly culling through my stuff so why was this time so hard? Maybe because Meredith was directing. I felt, what do you call it? Oh yeah, vulnerable. Is this what it’s like to be my client? But I trust my sister when she says, “Too baggy.” “Fits funny.” “Oh, that has to go.” So I tried to relax as the tower of clothing grew higher.
The next day I brought the heavy bags to donation. My arms were burning, but the feeling of separation was visceral. I chided myself: this is not your first rodeo. You’ve given away tons of stuff. Soon the bags were whisked away and I was handed a tax receipt. Walking home, a lightness appeared with each step. Not just physically, but mentally. The burden of ownership of all that stuff was simply gone.
Returning to my apartment I looked inside my closet. White slivers of the back wall were visible between hanging pieces of clothing. The clothes now had room to breathe. And you know what? So did I.
At first, the acorns fell. Then Home Depot rolled out the snow blowers. Finally, a third sign that fall was approaching was this text I received from my 12-year-old niece Paige:
“Aunt Weecee, can you help me get my room ready for school?”
I tossed the handful of acorns I’d been collecting from my parents’ driveway into the woods and drove straight to my sister’s house.
Standing in Paige’s room amid the chaos of her childhood discards (Barbies) and new pre-teen accessories (make-up), I had a flashback to being twelve myself. Remembering that age all too well, I exhaled; glad never to have to go through that again.
First up, the dresser, one drawer at a time. Considering Paige grew 1.25 inches since June (and apparently not slowing down anytime soon) older clothes flew in all directions. A Donate pile! A Keep pile! A Felice pile! (Being the exact height – for now – as my niece, I was happy to accept her discards. Note: GAP Kids has a lot cuter stuff). As I was adding the remaining clothes neatly into drawers, Paige made a shocking revelation: “I don’t know how to fold.”
Stop the presses! This can’t be. Not my own organized flesh and blood. Following a brief tutorial (“Hold at neck, fold in, flip twice…”) Paige learned quickly.
“That’s so easy,” she said. I let her fold the remaining. After three shirts, Paige was a pro and I was beaming with pride.
Then we turned our attention to the closet. (See time-lapse video above by clicking on image or here.)
In a little more than an hour we’d done what she’d privately wanted to do for months: clear her room from the intersection of childhood tchotchkes and pre-adolescent preparations for Teendom.
“Now I’m ready for high school,” Paige said excitedly, grabbing her cell phone and plopping herself onto her newly made bed where she intended to chat and text for hours. Gathering the plastic bags of old toys, mementos (crayon drawings of a visit to the zoo in fifth grade) and assorted hand-me-downs, I turned to look once more at my niece, who when she uttered her first word “Duck!” at age one, made me tear up.
“Yes, you are so ready for high school,” I said, leaving her to Snapchat with her friends. Outside her bedroom door my nine-year-old nephew was waiting. “Felice, can we organize my room now?”
I nodded, wiped my eyes and followed him down the hallway.
In this day and age of enormous homes, two cars in the driveway and each child with their own iPad, it was refreshing to meet Lynsi and Sam Underwood, a couple who are the designers and builders behind SmallDwellingCompany.com in Texas, at the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, CO. The design of their tiny home mirrors their personal belief: life is better the simpler it is.
But they didn’t always think like this.
“I used to work seven days a week for six years as a project manager building homes and buildings,” said Sam. “Those were important years that the kids were growing up and I was missing it.” Sure he was working to provide for his family, but it got him thinking, “What’s the point of working all the time if I never get to see them?”
So Sam quit his job. They got rid of their $1,200 monthly car payments. And now? “We share a car,” said Lynsi. “And it’s fine.” To pay their bills the couple mows lawns together, which eliminates the need for a gym membership. “Working together also makes us closer,” said Sam, who decided to put his skills to better use designing custom built tiny homes to help others live simpler and happier lives.
It’s also a family business. Their son Wyatt, 12, who loves video games and The Three Stooges, handles all computer needs. Does he feel deprived of anything? “Not at all. I have everything I need and so much I don’t need,” said Wyatt, his braces glistening, who often goes through his closet getting rid of stuff. (A kid after my own heart.) Their 14-year-old daughter Sammi, a dog lover, oversees the social media for the family business including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
After quitting his job, the family could no longer afford lavish vacations or keep up with the Joneses. Do they feel ashamed? “Not one bit,” said Sam. “We might make less money than our neighbors, but we’re more happy. We no longer stress about life or bills and we spend a lot of time together as a family. Who gets to do that?”
“We instill in our kids that life is more than material possessions,” said Lynsi “and that happiness is not tied to finances.”
Sam and Lynsi have been together 15 years and look like newlyweds. “Everyday is a vacation.” Sam smiled at his wife. “In all our years together, we’ve never exchanged gifts.”
“We write letters instead.” Lynsi smiled back at her husband. Did I mention they’re romantic?
“They’re joined at the hip,” said Sam’s mom, who was also on hand to lend support at the Jamboree.
From the never-ending long line waiting to look inside their tiny house model, I’m sure their lives won’t stay simple for long.
The past week had me sharpening my organizing skills as I tackled two major “before and after” projects – one in a busy office, the other a two-bedroom condo. Both the kind of jobs I used to do on a daily basis that left the client thrilled and my lower back screaming for days.
They were the jobs that, while the lessons in my book are helpful, needed more than motivational insights – they needed immediate full-on triage. Instances where the piles had piles. Where “paper mountain” avalanches were common. And where one had to take caution before opening a closet door for fear of something falling on your head. (Remember Fibber McGee?)
How does stuff take over a life? Usually without warning. Maybe health issues, a job loss or possibly depression. Truthfully, it may not matter how it happens, but the point is we are all susceptible.
Which is where I come in. I am Ray Donovan and Harvey Keitel rolled into one pint-sized “Cleaner.” There is no judgment as I fill garbage bags faster than the client can spit out their first, “Buh-bye,” motivated by progress, pushed by the certainty of how they will feel when we are done – free of chains and free to have more time to decide to do what they love.
Inevitably the bad stuff goes away and in its place a system to keep it from happening again. There is often emotion involved. Sometimes tears, but always, always relief. That’s what keeps me going and going and going.
Last week I spoke as part of The Naked Challenge: Creative Mastery Global Summit on mastering creativity for writers, musicians, filmmakers and others. My talk gave tips on how to make the time to write, not find; proving that even in a busy life, there is time for doing what you love.
10 TIPS TO GET YOU WRITING (or whatever you enjoy doing)
- SCHEDULE THE TIME. Put it in your calendar. When you have a dentist appointment, you go, yes? The same with writing. Treat it as an appointment… to write. Just as you’re committed to your teeth, be committed to your writing.
- BE MORE ORGANIZED IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE. Our stuff is a big culprit in the time-suck of our days. We spend time cleaning stuff, putting stuff away and working to pay for stuff. Get rid of stuff that’s taking up valuable time. The stuff left over is the stuff you want and need and should have a place so you can find it quickly.
- DON’T WASTE TIME. Checking Facebook and watching YouTube videos of cats eats up valuable time. Take control and use it wisely. Have a lunch break? Write. Have a long train commute? Edit. Or wake up one hour earlier and write. Writing takes concentration, as opposed to checking Twitter. If you’re making the commitment to write, give it your all.
- CREATE A ROUTINE. Studies show a new habit takes 21 days to become routine. Put in your schedule book: “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3…Day 21.” Do it every day, even if only for 15 minutes. Get used to the daily event, even the chair, until you begin to look forward to that time. And if you think, “I’ll just skip today,” don’t. Do you skip brushing your teeth? Even if you just reread something you wrote the day before or jot down ideas, get in the seat. The rest will come. We are starting a new habit and that’s not easy. But nothing worth it is.
- COMPLETE LITTLE TO DO’S. Before your scheduled time, spend 15 to 30 minutes completing easy tasks like making the bed or replying to emails. Tackling these small tasks first removes the distraction that inevitably pop up of “I need to do this” when you sit down to write. It’s also an incentive toward the larger goal: writing.
- ELIMINATE DIVERSIONS. Shut. Off. Your. Phone. Ringers and notifications can take you away from your writing. It’s easy to get distracted, but remember you’ve got a scheduled appointment. Stick to it.
- HAVE A DESIGNATED WRITING AREA. Whether the living room, an office or Starbucks, try to get the same seat if possible to help get you into the proper mindset. Also, have writing supplies ready to go, including drinks and snacks. Don’t let thirst or hunger stop your process. Another suggestions, wear a writing cap or fuzzy slippers. I used to wear an old cowboy hat (don’t laugh) and it felt like I was getting into character. Whatever works for you.
- WARM UP. When you play basketball, you stretch first, right? Same with writing. Open a new document or take a blank piece of paper, think of a topic, maybe a childhood memory, and write for a few minutes. If you want to keep going, then by all means. You might toss it when you’re done or it may lead to a chapter idea. Either way, it helps “warm up” your subconscious thoughts, settles you down and gets you in the writing mind.
- BREAK IT DOWN. Just like a marathon is made up of steps, books are made up of chapters, chapters are made up of sentences, and sentences are written word by word. Breaking it down makes any task less daunting and more attainable. Little accomplishments net greater results by keeping you coming back again. Here are some ways to break it down:
- GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE. Deadlines are great motivators. Think of each deadline as your editor telling you what to do. If your editor said, “Chapter One is due Friday.” Guess what? You’d have Chapter One done by Friday.
- TIME’S UP! Set a timer for an hour (or however long you want) and when it goes off, stop, you’re done. This removes the pressure of thinking you need to sit there all day. It also gives you structure. You get a lot more writing done in one hour than NOT writing for one hour. Oftentimes, after the timer goes off, you’re in the groove and sit for another hour.
- DON’T STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES. When you’re writing don’t worry about spelling or grammar, just let the words flow. Even if you think you’re going off on a tangent or it’s not making sense, don’t hold yourself back. Editing can be tomorrow’s goal.
- HEAR ALL ABOUT IT! Tell people you’re writing a book. It adds pressure and accountability. Even better, ask a friend to read your work. This gives you incentive to get something written, since you’ve asked for their critique.
- REWARD YOURSELF. Rewards add incentive. Tell yourself, “When I finish my writing time today I will go for a walk, get an ice cream, watch an episode of “Ray Donovan.” Whatever it takes. Of course, writing itself is a reward…
- SAY “BUH-BYE” TO EXCUSES. Why do they always say, “Give a project to a busy person”? Because having a lot to do makes you spend your time more wisely. Saying, “I don’t have time” is just an excuse. Finding ways to carve out time is key. So what if the laundry doesn’t get done today, you know it’s going to eventually get done. Or maybe throw the laundry in and use the wash time as your writing time.
Sometimes you need to sacrifice something else for what you really want, but I promise, when you’re looking at your finished book, nothing will feel as good. Not even having clean laundry.
My parents live on a beautiful private street. It’s a circle actually. Twelve homes, some hugging the edge of a pond, all vary in style – cottages, colonials and a couple of ranches – each with towering trees filled with songbirds. It’s a great street to walk around. And around.
Once around is a quarter mile. It’s not as exciting a walk as, say, the streets of Manhattan or along the beach, but it’s a different kind of walk. Whether at first light as the day awakens or after dinner, when the dishes are done and the day is settling into night, this reflective stroll lets one contemplate anything or nothing.
Last December, after both my grandfather and uncle passed away, I came home for a visit. It was cold, but I knew my mother needed to get fresh air. I suggested we walk the circle, saying the cool air would do her good. So we bundled up, unrecognizable in layers, and walk we did, over and over, round and round.
I knew, however, after I returned to the city, my mother would need some incentive to continue the walks without me there to push her, so I came up with an idea.
“Okay,” I said, picking up four broken branches from the front lawn. “Every time we complete a lap, we toss a twig into the woods. This way we don’t have to count, just walk. Plus,” and I knew she’d like this part, “we’re cleaning the yard at the same time!”
In the weeks and months after I left, my mom would tell me over the phone, “Dad and I walked eight times around the circle.” Some days it was twelve. Some sixteen. Some days she walked alone, the twigs her veiled incentive. As winter turned to spring, and spring to summer, those twigs allowed my mom to walk without counting, focusing her attention instead on the memories of her father and brother, while at the same time giving her a goal and bringing her back to herself.
Every goal or journey begins with a first step, but it’s that first step that is the hardest. It’s easier to sit still, grasping on to despair or anger or whatever may be holding you back. But here’s the beauty of that first step, once you’ve taken it, you’re one step closer to where you want to be.
This week my blog post “Want to Get the Most Out of Your Day? Begin Your Morning Routine the Night Before” was published at EverydayPowerblog.com, a great motivating website.