Find your fool

Today you should look around for dumb stuff you do that creates chaos in your life. Find your bad habits and build better alternatives.

A few examples:

Foolish trick: regularly getting too busy at work and delaying or skipping lunch.
Antidote: stock some non-refrigeration-requiring healthy snacks and quick meals in your desk.

Foolish trick: pants are all wrinkled after the first wearing because you drop them on the floor.
Antidote: put a clothes butler rack (or a chair) right where you tend to fling things and drape things that get would otherwise get wrinkled neatly over it.

Foolish trick: buying expensive stuff and then regretting it
Antidote: take your credit card out of your wallet and store it at home (or at least seal the damn thing inside a paper onto which you've written pithy questions like "Why are you buying this?" "Will you still be happy about this purchase in a month?")

Drop the pop

Go read the can or bottle of the beverages you're drinking today. Here's a good example of the kind of thing some of you might find:

Carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine.

What do those ingredients do to your body? Are you draining yourself or fueling yourself?

Drink more water and start cutting out the sugary (or fake sugary) caffeine bombs. If you're relying on the bump from your drinks to get you through the day, you're masking a bigger problem and making your body pay the price.

Do you really need a car?

This tip is probably only relevant to city-dwellers, but even those in the country should mull over just how much vehicle they really need.

How much do you spend on car payments, repairs, insurance, parking and tickets? The average is about $500 a month.

I took a look at that number and thought about the hassle of driving, parking and protecting a car in the city and opted out.

I could rent a car every weekend and still come out ahead, but what I've found is that I don't really need a car very often. I have a membership with City Carshare and use it between zero and 3 times a month usually. I take a cab an average of once or twice a week. Otherwise, I walk, take public transit and carpool with friends from work.

I save money, get exercise, avoid stress and dramatically reduce the impact I have on the environment.

What would your life be like if you lived in a vibrant neighborhood where you could walk to shops, restaurants & entertainment and if your commute gave you time to read, catch up on email or just stretch your legs?

For all that talk about cars helping us stay connected and giving us flexibility, I've found quite the opposite to be true: I'm less isolated and more free without a big metal box on wheels.

Getting Your Move On

Many, many people, myself among them, do not get enough exercise.

Now I'm not going to tell you that I can suddenly turn you into the kind of person who races out the door every day for a 10 mile run, but I think I can help you – and me – get moving more and gain the benefits of that activity.

You do want those benefits, believe me. Exercise strengthens your body, helps control your weight, and, thus, helps you live longer. Not only that but it cures depression.

Unfortunately, when you're depressed, you're also lethargic, but you don't have to go jogging for an hour to shake that off. Just walk down to the end of the block.

Go ahead and do it. Grab the recycling and take it down to the bin and then just keep going. Take a look around at what's happening on your street. Any new neighbors moving in? Flowers blooming in yards or windows? Kids playing? Houses getting painted? Garden gnomes? Trees budding? Animal tracks? Sleeping cats? Barking dogs? What's the exceedingly local news?

When you get to the corner, see how you feel and maybe you'll want to go all the way around the block. If not, don't worry about it. Come on home and do a little stretching inside.

Every day get 10 minutes of walking in. Just 10 minutes. That we can definitely do, you and I.

Back to Basics

Sometimes things just slip a bit out of control and it can feel like you've lost all the ground you'd gained, but don't panic!

As I write this, I'm at home and sick for the third workday in a row. The pessamist in me wants to moan about how I'm "wasting" my personal time off and the email is piling up at the office and I'll have to overdo it to get things under any kind of control again and this cold won't go away and blah blah blah.

To still that voice, I'm getting myself back to a baseline level of normality. When things get out of hand, try this:

– Breathe deeply. Take 10 long breaths and let them out slowly.
– Take a shower and shave or at least wash your face, hands and the back of your neck.
– Brush and floss your teeth and splash a little mouthwash around in there.
– Make sure you're up to date on your medicines (in my case, allergy meds).
– Put on some comfortable clothes.
– Collect the trash & recyclables and put them by the door.
– Make a cup of tea.
– Open the curtains and let some light in.

Decide on one – just one – thing that needs to be done and do that thing without getting pulled off into other distractions.

When that's done. Decide one thing you'd really like to do – read a book, watch a movie, play a game, call a friend, whatever – and do that.

Don't panic. It's all going to come out fine.

Will Secondhand Do?

About to go shopping? Think about whether all of it really needs to be brand new.

Sure, you don't want hand-me-down underwear or food, but a winter coat? a dining table? a breadmaker?

Get familiar with your local resources. What kind of things do the different thrift stores have? Are you in a Craig's List area? Does your community have something like a "pay-and-take" where unwanted goods can be exchanged?

Don't forget to ask your friends and family! Maybe someone has just what you need languishing in a closet and will give it to you, sell it cheap, or swap.

Comparison shop between new furniture and antiques. My Ikea office cabinet and my beautiful 1920's armoire weren't really very different in price, but the latter gets much more active use in its place of honor in the living room.

Whatever you settle on, remember that you have a lot of options beyond what gets advertised.

Last thing, first thing

Today you should take a look at what you've set up for yourself as the last thing you see before you go to sleep and the first thing you see when you wake up.

Has your bedside table become a cluttered mess?  Unattractive surroundings in general? Are there nagging unfinished projects in view from your pillow?

Cut the clutter and tune your bedroom to reduce stress.

Make a place for your change. I use my father's silver baby cup for laundry quarters and a wide-mouthed ceramic vase I bought when I was an undergraduate in Wales for all my other change.

Do you like a warm place to put your feet when you get out of bed? Treat yourself to a good small carpet if you need one.

Is your bedside light too bright or too dim? Or are you lacking one altogether and relying on an overhead light that doesn't soothe your senses? Give yourself good diffused lighting that it's easy to turn off when you're ready to drift to sleep.

Do you have all your potential and in-progress reading piled right beside the bed? Tidy it up into a better holding location – perhaps a very small bookcase? – and just keep the active titles at arms' length.

Got a jumble of remotes? Could they go in a little basket or in a nightstand drawer instead?

Think about what you really need to have right beside the bed and contain it appropriately in something pleasing to your senses. Give your room a feeling of rightness and comfort which will soothe you to sleep and refresh you when you wake.

And, just a reminder, when you're dusting, sweeping and vacuuming always start with your bedroom so that it stays the cleanest place in the house. Allergies most definitely aren't relaxing.

Discard enertia

Discardia is an attitude as much as an act. You don't need to make a lot of massive changes all at once or do every activity I suggest to be a discardian; just commit yourself to change and take more consideration about what new things you bring into your life.

Do what you can. If you don't have time or energy to clean that closet, just do 30 minutes on it or go through the things on one shelf.

Don't fall into the trap of spending a ton of money on new organizational toys unless you're really sure you'll get enough benefit from them. Maybe before you buy that expensive storage compartment system, you should dry-run the concept with some stacked shoeboxes. Finish your first rounds of purges before you lock yourself into a new arrangement for things.

Whatever you do though, do a little something that starts you moving in the direction you want to go.

Do one thing, just a little thing, right now.

Pantry Sort

Grab the trash, two empty paper sacks and some damp paper towels, it's time to get all your non-chilled foods in order.

Begin with the space where you put the boxes & cans so that if you don't do everything today, you'll at least have gotten the main stuff tidied up.

Pull everything out of the cupboard or off the shelf, tossing the spoiled items in the trash as you go.

Wipe down the surfaces with the paper towels. Spills attract vermin, so make it non-gross.

Now go through the collection of foods. Anything you realize you'll never actually use, but which isn't past its sell-by date and is unopened, goes in one of the paper sacks for donation to charity. Anything else still good that you realize you don't want, but which has been opened, should go in the other bag to give to friends/co-workers or in the trash. Yes, if you won't eat it and you can't think who would then throw it away and be wiser when you're shopping in future.

Okay, here's the fun part. Look at what's left and group it into the same kinds of foods. Now arrange those things together back in the pantry with the oldest package of any type of food at the front of its stack so it gets used first.

For example, in my big kitchen cupboard, I have from left to right on the bottom shelf:
– oils and vinegars
– canned tomato sauce & paste
– pasta & polenta
– boxes of Annie's Mac & Cheese
– cans of various kinds of beans
– potatoes and onions
– cans of meat (tuna, chicken)
– to-go items (breakfast bars, lunchbox-size applesauce, Fig Newmans, rice cakes)
– lentils, barley, etc.
– flour
– quick soup packs
– bottles of Clamato

When it's time to go shopping, I just scan the cupboard and can tell at a glance if I'm running low on any staples because they're all grouped together. No more buying things it turned out you already had plenty of!

Get your pantry act together and you'll probably also find you cook and pack a lunch more often. When you are hungry and take a look, seeing the pasta right next to the jar of sauce will probably remind you that you have an easy option a lot faster than sending out for pizza.