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Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Home Life

My War on Clutter: Never "organize" what you can discard

One of the most basic concepts Peter Walsh talks about in _It’s All Too Much_ brought a total breakthrough for me. If the stuff that you accumulate doesn't help get you closer to the life you want to have, it's simply not worth keeping. Period.

Obviously (and unavoidably), this goes for a family room that's turned into a junk drawer for DVDs and books, and you can clearly see it evidenced in a kitchen where no flat surface is free of junk mail, bills, and newspapers. Those you can't miss.

But, for me, the real story is about the ways you try to solve clutter problems solely by getting more space or obtaining more containers -- jamming all those DVDs into cabinets and stuffing those newspapers into bigger volume baskets. The clutter doesn't need a prettier package; it just needs to go. Now, and in very large quantities.

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My War on Clutter

As I mentioned the other day, I learned about the anti-clutter book, _It’s All Too Much_, when its author, Peter Walsh, was interviewed for the Unclutterer site.

Well, the timing must have been right, because I bought a copy, and by the time I'd finished the first chapter, a switch had flipped in my head. I say "timing" because, while the book is pretty good (if perhaps not particularly groundbreaking), the author's observations on why people allow themselves to live with too much crap were an overdue existential bitchslap for me. And, I'll admit, he has simple cures for dealing with this seemingly intractable challenge, and for me that's a hard combination to beat.

Clutter of every kind has been the default state of my physical world forever. Although no official record of the conversation exists, I would not be surprised to learn that I tried to talk the staff who delivered me into letting me keep my first diaper; just because -- y'know -- you never know when it might come in handy. Bad habits formed early, bad habits stuck, and, for the most part, bad habits remain intact to this day.

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Unclutterer talks with "Clean Sweep" host, Peter Walsh

Peter Walsh answers questions for Unclutterer.com

Thanks to my self-imposed media tunnel vision (and the bulging TiVo that enables it), I've apparently managed to miss a show on TLC called Clean Sweep that sounds like it's potentially up my alley. I guess the idea is that they parachute in to crazy-messy houses and help the harried occupants affect a makeover.

The wonderful Unclutterer.com recently interviewed the show's host, Peter Walsh, and he had a couple interesting things to say about origins of clutter that get to the root cause:

Clutter comes in many forms and the reasons why people hold onto it is similarly complex. There are two main types of clutter: Memory Clutter – which reminds one of an important person, or achievement or event from the past – and I-Might-Need-It-One-Day Clutter – this is the stuff held onto in preparation for all possible futures that one might encounter. Keeping things from the past or sensible planning for the future are great things – it’s when the objects take over that there’s a problem. With many of the people I encounter, their primary relationship is with their stuff. Instead of owning their stuff, their stuff owns them. This clearly is not only unhealthy but also a real stumbling block to happiness and a fulfilling life.

Here's Walsh's new book: It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff. Already ordered our household a copy.

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“I answer an e-mail once every 6.66 minutes”

Where Work Is a Religion, Work Burnout Is Its Crisis of Faith -- New York Magazine

This enjoyable article on burnout includes a bit that I love (and sympathize with):

Woo hoo. Re: An appendix to the principles of Jewish Buddhism. Saying hi. Re: Hey pal. Burnout. WHEN are we eating? Open Enrollment Info. Quick q. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.

You are looking at nine e-mail subject lines I received in a one-hour period last week. It was then that I realized I answer an e-mail once every 6.66 minutes. The very thought of committing this fact to paper has kept me crippled for several seconds. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing my boss should know.

One has to wonder whether the developments of a high-speed world haven’t made burnout worse. First, the obvious: With the advent of e-mail, cell phones, laptops, BlackBerrys (or “CrackBerrys”—the argot here seems extremely apt), and other bits of high-speed doodadry, it has become virtually impossible, in senses both literal and metaphorical, to unplug from our jobs. As Schaufeli, the Dutch researcher, notes, one of the strongest predictors of burnout isn’t just work overload but “work-home interference”—a sociologist’s way of saying we’re receiving phone calls from Tokyo during dinner and replying to clients on our BlackBerrys while making our children brush their teeth.

I suspect that children will eventually support some kind of thin-client email-to-affection gateway. From an evolutionary standpoint, it may be the only solution that scales.

HOWTO cook a moister turkey: Ice it, pilgrim

Although I’m not much of a hand at generating tasty birdflesh, I heard a great tip a while back, gleaned from Mr. Harold McGee, author of the all-time-awesome geek food book, On Food & Cooking.

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Insomnia: 12 ways to better sleep


This looks like a useful resource for people who're having trouble sleeping. It includes some educational hand-waving, tips on finding out why you aren't sleeping, plus cautions on the usual outboard sleep solutions (from the environmental to the pharmaceutical).

Here's their long-term, sustainable tips for developing better sleep hygiene:

  • Wind down prior to bedtime
  • Do not smoke (nicotine is a stimulant) or consume caffeine
  • Try warm milk or a light snack before bed (if this doesn't interfere with another treatment you are using)
  • Exercise daily, but not right before bedtime
  • Take a warm bath, but not right before bedtime
  • Keep a regular bedtime and rising time
  • Get in the habit of going to bed when you are sleepy and sleeping where you sleep best
  • Reserve your bed for sleeping only
  • Don't have any clocks visible to you
  • Reduce the amount of time you allow yourself to sleep until you fall asleep easily (your health care provider can help with this form of "sleep restriction therapy"
  • Schedule worry time during the day and put worries out of your head when it is time to sleep; you can write them down on 3x5 cards, and then let go of them
  • Get up if you have not fallen asleep in 15 minutes and practice a relaxing activity (e.g. handwork, reading a boring book) until you feel sleepy

Personally, I cast aside their hand-wringy warnings last night and treated myself to a cocktail of Melatonin and Valerian; slept like a lamb, I tells ya. Now on to cutting out tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, clock-watching, and worry. Yep. Need to get right on that.

What works for you? How do you beat insomnia?

TOPICS: Home Life, Links, Tips

Mark Morford on de-cluttering (and the SF reuse culture)

The always-enjoyable Mark Morford has a cure for the clutter in your life that doesn't involve gnashing of teeth or the intervention of a TV show. He calls it getting rid of stuff.

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43F Podcast: 'Cleaning off the bed'

43 Folders: 'Cleaning off the bed' (mp3)

Every good habit requires a fresh start. Can you find the opportunity for a good habit hiding under a huge pile of crap?

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Tips from the Wiki for watching less TV

There's a really good, evolving page on the Wiki about tips for Watching Less TV. Some of the most immediately useful advice comes in the "Dealing with channel surfing" section:

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New book _Laundry_ from the author of 'Home Comforts'

Cheryl Mendelson has a new book called Laundry.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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