Daily Setup for Success

One of the best habits I've built up over the past year or so, with the most consistent payoff, has been tidying the bedroom every day. Sometimes I get it done in the morning, sometimes it's not until just before dinner, but almost every day I return the room to calmness and breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction just looking around.

I put away any clothes that are sitting on the floor, chairs, or dressers. I put the change from pockets into the coin jars (one for quarters and one for everything else) in our home office. I empty the trash basket and straighten the throw rug. Most importantly—and this happens virtually every day—I fluff the pillows and make the bed; so easy with just a sheet and duvet!

For the rest of the day and, most importantly, right before bed I see a space that's exactly how I want it: a calm, restful nest for a great night's sleep. In the morning, I'm greeted by a room with everything in its place, ready to launch a good day.

Introduction to Discardia

There is no need to hold on to what's obsolete: One never loses what one tosses away deliberately. —Veronique Vienne, writer

Living better through letting go

We are all busy people—busy with work and projects, busy with play and dreams, busy with our communities and friends and families. We look at our homes and think “What a mess! There is no way I can get this clutter under control without spending weeks working on it full time!” We look at ourselves and think, “I’m a mess! What am I doing with my life? What do I even want to be doing with my life?” It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the seemingly vast distance between the way things are now in our lives and the calm, clear lives we’d like to be enjoying.

    We know we don’t have everything we want. We know we have things in our homes and minds that don’t match the ideal we want for ourselves, but the idea of adding anything or taking on more to-do’s to change things is overwhelming. We view that dreamed-of excellent life as a thing we need to squeeze into the overcrowded chaos of the one we live now. The good news is that it’s already in there, just buried and hidden under a bunch of stuff we don’t need or want.

    The quarterly celebration of Discardia—a new holiday—is the time to carve away all the nonsense that isn’t making us happy, and uncover what does. We don’t have too little; we’ve piled too much on top of ourselves. When we steadily scrape away the junk with one good decision at a time, our true selves begin to shine through. Discardia doesn’t require us to radically change course; rather, it is the simple practice of leaning the boat in the direction in which we want to sail. Little adjustments lead us to wonderful new places.

    Letting go and lightening our loads create positive motion; when combined with a light touch on the rudder—a little leaning of the boat—we have the ability to turn our lives in better directions.

    The tips in the book [coming September 2011], plus the supportive community of Discardia fans (whom, for convenience, I’ll refer to as Discardians) found in multiple online locations, will help you put your energy where it counts: in making your dreams real and in living a less stressful life full of awesomeness.

So what, exactly, is Discardia?

It’s a new holiday—invented by the author in 2002—with deep roots touching unconsumption, the slow movement, downshifting, and voluntary simplicity. Unlike many holidays, it doesn't involve obligations or expense or overblown expectations of specialness. It does not require us to interact with people whom we do not wish to interact with. In fact, it doesn't require us to do anything. Discardia is celebrated by letting go of what doesn’t add value to your life—whether physical object, habit, or emotional baggage—and replacing it with what makes your world truer to your essential self. The core concept is this: If we continually discard what doesn’t help us, we’ll be left with more of what does—more space, energy, and time to make our lives even better.

    Such a positive shift doesn’t require taking a vow of poverty or scarcity but instead simply increasing the frequency with which we make choices that improve the quality of our lives. This transformation isn’t a magical change that will come about when the stars align or some hundredth monkey does the right thing. It’s practical and, for the majority of folks, it’s not even that hard. (Note: If you’re wrestling with a very serious challenge that moves you from the realm of clutter into hoarding, I recommend that you consider Discardia one of the other tools in your toolbox as you work with an experienced professional in that area. The International OCD Foundation and Children of Hoarders are good places to find more information and assistance.)

    Discardia reminds us to think about what could we be doing or feeling if all this stuff wasn’t in the way. It also reminds us to spend some time shifting our lives toward more of what makes us thrive. Each of us has a different definition of what that exciting, fulfilling, less-stressed life consists of, but the path we take to make it real is one we can travel together. Our first step is to remind each other to think about what we want and compare that to what fills our lives now.

    Whatever enters our lives might clutter it up. We have a choice about letting it enter and about letting it stay. Our choices make us who we are. If we are aware of who we want to be, we can make the decisions that steer us toward our better selves and away from things that bog us down.

A guide to the guide

The book provides a practical introduction to the celebration of Discardia. It takes a tour through the Discardian seasons with straightforward tips reflecting three key principles for building a happier life. Along the way, you’ll hear how Discardians around the world have changed their lives for the better.

    Though the book is arranged around a Discardian year, I recommend reading it straight through the first time no matter what season it is when you first celebrate Discardia. Most of the tips aren’t bound tightly to the calendar and build upon one another. With the underlying principles under your belt, you can then dive into the appropriate section as reminders for future Discardia holidays.

    You will also find an extensive list of resources at the end of the book, which you can use to dig deeper into some of the tools and techniques shared within.

This is not just another “throw out your crap” book. Discardia is a reminder and a framework for personal change. I want to give you the tools you can use to achieve a life that is ideal for you. Try them. Take the ones that work for you. Incorporate into this framework other good advice and techniques you’ve learned for simplifying your days, uncluttering your head and home, upgrading your life, and being true to your real self. Build the system that works for you from the good tools and techniques you find.

    On any given day, work from the side for which you have the most energy by adding more access to what you love or carving down to less of what you hate to have in your way. You will find that a particular technique may be valuable to different people for different reasons. For example, you may be chatting with a friend and saying that you’re going to spend the next 45 minutes working hard through your to-do lists—ready, set, go! This may work for one of you because of the synergy that comes from being connected and supported; for the other, it may work because you’re less likely to procrastinate if you know that someone is paying attention.

    Discardia is fun and flexible. Because the length of the holiday varies slightly on each of its appearances, it remains new and energizing, able to reflect the different rhythms of our lives. Enjoy yourself! It shouldn’t just feel like you’re flossing your apartment. Moving on from who you’ve been to who you’re being deserves celebration.

When is it?

Discardia takes place four times a year. Sometimes it's short and sometimes it's long, since, in an effort to uncouple the holiday from any cultural bias, it is scientifically timed by our world’s natural motions through the solstices, equinoxes, and their following new moons. The precise dates can vary depending where on the Earth you’re located, but I encourage you to discard being too fussy about that. Use the indicators in your own calendar or the dates I list here on the Discardia website or just celebrate it sometime during March, June, September, and December each year. For convenience, the dates for the next few years (with thanks to the calculations of Discardian engineer, Seth Golub) are:
    September 23–27, 2011
    December 21–24, 2011
    March 19–22, 2012
    June 20—July 18, 2012
    September 22—October 15, 2012
    December 21, 2012—January 11, 2013
    March 20—April 10, 2013
    June 20—July 8, 2013
    September 22—October 4, 2013
    December 21, 2013—January 1, 2014
There is also a public Discardia iCal calendar linked in the sidebar.

The daily art of living a Discardian life year-round

Celebrating Discardia once will make your life better than it was the day before. Celebrating it four times a year, every year, will begin to have positive, long-term impacts on your happiness. That’s plenty of benefit for very little effort! If you really want to start feeling the wind in your sails, though, try being a Discardian every week or, better yet, every day.

❏ Throughout the book, you’ll see this icon, which highlights timely directions you’ll use on a daily or weekly basis, such as best practices for starting your day at work.

Open your eyes to the blockades you’ve put between you in this moment and where—and who—you really want to be. When you see those barricades, knock them down. Build bridges to your creative, happy self. Quick fixes can add up to deep changes.

    I have been living the Discardian life for nearly a decade now and it has brought me more delight, in more aspects of my life —from the mundane to the most important—than I would ever have predicted. This approach to living has enhanced my work, whom I spend my time with, how I spend that time, and the myriad details of my daily surroundings. My enthusiasm for Discardia comes from knowing how much happier it has already made me and feeling the certainty that it can make us all—you and I—happier still.

In the book I share what I’ve learned in great detail, but I want to tell you something right now. Regarding the daily art of Discardia, there are two big habits you can use whenever you’re faced with a choice or an opportunity:
    1.    Continually opt for that which will most avoid hassles and unpleasantness in the long-term; and
    2.    Continually make what you have to do more comfortable and enjoyable.
This is what makes the difference. Keep an eye out for a change you can make to improve things; then—here's the important bit—do it.

Can we have it all? All the good stuff and none of the bad stuff? Probably not, but if we have ever more of the good and ever less of the bad, that's a fine thing.

Run a Quick Lap, So to Speak

It’s not just tough to get moving when you’re first beginning with Discardia; it can be difficult to get yourself in motion any day of the year, no matter who you are. Sometimes ya just don’t wanna. So how do you fight this resistance to your life becoming more awesome? Well, remembering that that’s what you’re working on helps, but even when we know we’ll be happy about the outcome it can be hard to start. The solution to this is to run The Lap.

Any progress is better than no progress, so rather than say “I’ll do it later,” make a deal with yourself to do just a little now.

One of my favorite forms of The Lap is powered by something I love doing: hearing my favorite music. Listening to an album straight through doesn’t take all that long, particularly when you’re doing something else, and good tunes can be a great motivator. Combine these two pieces of information and you’re ready to go for the record.

Sometimes a whole album’s worth of plugging away takes more time or energy than you can muster. That’s when the short lap is your best bet. Set a digital timer or put on some music and go for four or five songs. Don’t say “Later,” say “Okay, just … minutes now and then I can stop.” You’ll be amazed at what a difference fifteen or twenty minutes focused progress can make against even the worst chore.

This approach can also train you to better define your tasks so that the very first step to take is obvious and the project doesn’t repulse you as much. When you find something lingering on your to-do list for a long time, it’s a good sign that you need to do just fifteen minutes to break through that block or better define the project.

Laps like this work well in combination with a reward. Maybe you get home and want to take the rest of the night off, but before you do, devote just fifteen minutes to a happier home. Try setting your sights on the kitchen. Ready? Find ten things that you don't want in your kitchen anymore. You get more bonus points the bigger they are. Kick them out to the trash, charity, or wherever they belong. Gone. Done. Better. That was pretty quick wasn’t it?  Trust in a quick burst when time, energy, or enthusiasm feels like it’s in short supply. There are certain chores that get put off because they seem too big to get done in a little bite of your day. It's easy to view “clean the kitchen,” for example, as a monumental roadblock, but you don't have to do everything in one go and even twenty to thirty minutes can make a big difference.

Next time you're feeling daunted say “Okay, short burst,” put on some good music or a podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to or set the timer and make a little progress. You'll be amazed at your ability to carve a few bursts out of your day when you'd never believe you had a spare hour to spend making things nicer. Go ahead and laugh when your stubborn “don’t wanna” mood sometimes evaporates and you find yourself working cheerfully on long after that timer goes off. Getting started is truly the toughest bit.


(An historical note for long-time readers: In the past, I referred to these short bursts as "sprints," but now that I've learned more about the use of that term and "timebox" in agile development – and am adapting it to personal purposes in the form of agile self development – I've decided to switch to "laps" as a better representation of a short chunk of effort put in against a current set of goals).

Avoiding Hassles with the Look-Ahead

Life is full of surprises, true, but there are plenty of things that we get stressed out about which we could have predicted and made less painful if we'd only planned a little bit. You can dramatically reduce your craptastic moments by following this simple practice:

  • Look at what's coming up on your calendar and to-do list.
  • Think about what you'll need to make it go right and about what could go wrong.
  • Look at the equivalent past period of time and think about what was less than optimal.
  • Think about how you could avoid or reduce hassles.
  • Implement as many of those positive changes as possible.
  • Confirm that any preparatory to-do's are properly noted on your list, especially anything that requires an errand.

It's so simple, but we all see people failing to do this. That guy at the DMV having a hissy fit because he's been waiting in a line and didn't bring anything with him which would allow him to turn that into productive or enjoyable time? Don't be that guy. That gal running all over town on her lunch break trying to find a present for a birthday party she's attending right after work tonight? Don't be that gal.

It's really not hard to steer yourself clear of a lot of pain.

Once a month have everyone in your household sit down together with their calendars and quickly go over the next six weeks and the past six to make sure everything that impacts any other people is known and what works well gets learned. Everyone should know when there are houseguests coming, when they need to give someone else a ride or otherwise be available for assistance, or similar significant features in the domestic landscape.

Once a week do the same look-ahead for yourself with your work and personal calendars for the next and past month.

At the end of each day, do a look-ahead for the next morning, noting commitments and writing down any loose threads from now that you want to pick up again then.

Set yourself up for happy calm, it won't always work, but it's always worth it when it does.

A shocking proposition: Stupid Simple Filing

Many people procrastinate on filing. In fact, most of them (us) dread it. Here's my theory: this is because most filing systems suck. They are painfully over-complex and inefficient.

Now folks like David Allen have suggested ways to make this less awful – use a simple A-Z order, only when needed should you make folders for a specific thing (filed behind the folder for that letter), and, most importantly, keep way fewer things. You can also make the filing process less unpleasant by using pretty folders and nicer filing cabinets and fancy labels and… ah, screw it. Filing is dull and uninspiring.

Here's how I do it.

1. Arrange to receive things you do not need to keep in digital form rather than on paper. Bank statements are a great example of this kind of thing which you can later access online in the rare case you need it.

2. Keep only papers you have high confidence you'll need again or that the government requires you to keep or that it stresses you out to think about discarding or shredding at this moment.

3. Make as few folders as possible for your comfort. Yes, A-Z, but also make folders for the stuff you know you'll have a bunch of (e.g. "Next Year's Tax Prep") or will need in a hurry or when stressed (e.g. "Homeowner's/Renter's Insurance," "Health Insurance," "Automotive Repair").

4. Make a folder called "Manuals" and throw the booklets for new stuff you acquire in there. Warranty info and purchase receipts for major things can also go here until they expire. I like to put the newest thing at the front of the folder and to weed it out once every year or so to purge manuals for stuff I got rid of and forgot to send the manual along with the item.

5. Put everything else you think you have to keep in one stack.

Seriously, just stack it up.

Make it very handy for adding to the stack and very unoffensive to your eye. My stack has sat on an upper shelf just above eye level when I had a seated desk and now resides behind two more constantly used desk items below eye level at my treadmill desk. (If I happen to spot a nice 9"x12" open-topped box, I might incorporate it, but so far it hasn't been necessary).

My discovery was that I spend far less time flipping quickly down through the reverse chronological stack to find one of the few things I actually wind up needing to refer back to than I ever did filing, so why file?

When the pile gets unappealingly high (or reaches 1 foot high, whichever comes first), whip through it quickly and pull out obviously stale stuff that can now be discarded or shredded or for which you have since created a file folder because you turned out to need those papers all together very often.

Here's the really sneaky part: since you know you'll be adding to it again soon you are not actually required to completely file or discard everything in the stack. If you feel anxious about what to do with it, just leave it there on the bottom and deal with it next time when it's less emotionally loaded or uncertain.

Is it perfectly orderly? No. Do I know just where to look for something when I turn out to need it? Yes.

Less time filing = more time for working on things that really matter to me!