editing your life and stuff

While organizing my notes for my book on small home living, I kept running up against a word that bothered me—downsizing.

I have pages of notes about downsizing. 13 pages—and I haven’t even explored the topic as much as I would like. It’s an important chapter because if you’re moving from a large home into a smaller one, you can’t take all your stuff with you. Or, if your home is crammed full of stuff, “cozy” can quickly become “cluttered.”

But, the word “downsizing” is so demotivating. The word conjures up, for me anyways, feelings of loss. Reluctant relinquishment. Forced decisions.

I tried on “rightsizing” to see if that would be any better, but it reminded me of “rightsizing a workforce”—a euphemism for laying people off. A poor substitute, although at least the intent was getting better. It’s not about having less stuff, but the right stuff.

Now that’s a goal I can get behind. It resonates with a book I’m reading, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. He writes, “Think of this book doing for your life and career what a professional organizer can do for your closet.” But, the essentialist mindset he writes about also applies to that closet and the home it’s in.

Essentialism is about living by design, not default. Look around the room you’re in right now, how much is really there “by design, not default?” The stuff of life accumulates around us. I know, I’ve moved stuff across the country twice. Yes, both times I donated carloads full of clothing, books and kitchen stuff. And this last time I donated a truckload of furniture too. But still, I have a lot of stuff.

It’s time to edit.

I’m a writer. Editing makes writing stronger. Editing clears away the lazy words used as crutches. When you edit, you have to let go of words, phrases and ideas your ego is attached to knowing they aren’t serving the goals of the piece. Editing eliminates redundancy and clutter. Editing provides clarity.

Editing is about making purposeful choices and changes that will improve your life. Edit your stuff, your schedule, your news stream, your to-do list, heck, edit your friends. Keep what enhances your life, let go of anything that doesn’t.

Start gently. Later today, I’ll begin my editing with something easy—a file box full of “important” papers that hasn’t been opened in five years. Where will your editing begin?


(Creative Commons licensed photo by LadyDragonflyCC. This post includes an Amazon affiliate link. I receive a small commission when you purchase the recommended product.)

You’re proud of your work. You do it well. And, you do it your way.

Then, one day, someone walks into your office, or into your space, and says, “From now on, we want you to do it this way because…”

Because whatever blah blah blah, you weren’t really listening for a few seconds because what the hell?!?! You’re bristling inside. You’re trying to keep your face under control as you refocus on the conversation.

Control. Ah, that’s the rub, isn’t it? You just lost control. Now you have to do it his or her way. There’s no question about it, they’re the boss.

Confession time.

Ugh, I hate losing control. There, I said it. Thankfully, one of the things I love about working for myself is I’m usually in control of my work, my income, my direction. So when I do lose a bit of control, it’s not such a big deal anymore because I have plenty of control in other areas of my life. Now, I can look at the situation in a more rational way unlike the old days when it would really work me up into a quiet tizzy.

I noticed this change in my reactions recently when a client gave me a list of topics to write about. In the past, I had come up with topics based on what I knew about their audience. I must admit, my first reaction to this list was mixed. I was relieved to see they had this list, but I was also a bit vexed because they weren’t my ideas. Oh my, someone still has control issues.

And I thought I was so evolved.

So I turned it around. This is the new reality. Now I have the opportunity to use my creativity to do something with these topics–some of which are a bit, let’s say, dry. I’ll embrace the restrictions and create something despite them. Or because of them. It’s time to exercise that muscle.

Like the chefs on Chopped who must create a dish using the items in their basket, I’ll take the ingredients handed to me and make them shine. My loss of control has now become my creativity exercise.

<After writing this I was thinking about the chefs on Chopped. Some of them look in the basket and start griping about the ingredients. But some of them just get to work. I wonder which ones go home first?>

Where do you feel restricted? What don’t you control that really gets to you? Rethink your normal reaction. Consider it a creativity exercise—embrace the restrictions, embrace that loss of control, get over yourself and your ego, and produce something that makes you proud despite the loss of control and because of it.

Can you imagine this approach working for you?

Embrace the loss of control as a creativity exercise, like the Chopped chefs do

If you’re looking for me, check out my food blog, Grabbing the Gusto. I write several times a week over there.

You can also find me online writing on the blogs of some of the best technology vendors in the association market, but I’m doing that undercover in collaboration with some of the best brains in the industry. I’m also helping them with case studies, white papers, tip sheets and articles.

And now for my exciting news: I just signed a contract with a publisher to write a book about strategies for living in small spaces. This opportunity fell into my lap, or, more accurately, into my inbox. After mulling it over for weeks (okay, maybe months) and seeking advice from author and publisher friends, I decided to go for it. Must live up to my motto and grab the gusto.

And for no particular reason except I really love it, I’m sharing this photo I took last weekend of the pier on Ocean Isle Beach at sunset. I love the way it makes me feel and I hope it makes you feel that way too.

Ocean Isle Beach pier at sunset | Deirdre Reid

Ocean Isle Beach pier at sunset | Deirdre Reid

I have a question for association, membership and marketing execs: How often do you pick up the phone at the front desk or in the call center?

nina simon tweet re working at the front desk

Nina Simon is the Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and blogs at Museum 2.0. Her “guilty pleasure” is a smart idea. She also told me she spends about ten hours a month in the galleries with visitors. That’s like a free focus group!

Imagine how those visitors feel when she talks with them. The museum is no longer an intimidating institution – although I’m sure her museum has never been considered that during her watch – her friendly face is the face of the museum.

Those of you who work in a small associations, you’re excused from this exercise since you probably answer the main line as much as anyone else in the office. But if you work in an association that has a dedicated call center or member service team, you probably only receive calls that are direct-dialed or forwarded to you. That’s a shame because you’re missing out on a convenient, cheap way to understand what’s on the mind of your members and other stakeholders.

If you don’t have the time, budget, or inclination to spend a day in the life of your member, then spend 30 minutes every few weeks in your call center. The experience will give you an opportunity to listen, ask questions, and even lay the foundation for further conversation with members you probably don’t know.

You will also set a positive example for your staff by spending time getting to know members. Let them see you on the frontline making the effort to learn about member needs and concerns. Your example could convince them to build similar activities into their week, like calling new members to welcome them to the association and learn more about their expectations, needs, and aspirations. Or, calling “old” members to find out what’s on their mind.

This simple 30-minute task is one you can put into your schedule right now. And it’s a small step that can nudge your organization’s culture into a new direction.

phone calls with members

Before Google makes an acquisition, the target company must first pass co-founder Larry Page’s toothbrush test:

Is the company’s product or service used regularly to make people’s lives better?

How does your organization live up to that test?  Do your clients or members depend on something you provide to do their jobs? Does that product/service improve their professional or personal lives? Does it help them reach their goals?

If not, it’s way past time to research your market, talk to people and find out how you can meet their needs in a way that no other organization can.

If you do offer a “golden toothbrush,” can your clients or members get that same product elsewhere? If they can, what makes your offering so different or special? Why would they have a relationship with you?

Does your marketing copy brag about this product? Do you show how it can improve their lives? Do you provide proof – a testimonial or case study?

Attention, loyalty and dollars go to those who deserve it and prove it, day after day.

For more on Google’s toothbrush test, read Google has one essential test when it thinks about buying a company by Max Nisen at Quartz. 

membership B2B product service value toothbrush test

Photo by William Warby/Flickr CC license

It’s time for #ASAE14! A bunch of my friends are already there but I’m not arriving until late Saturday afternoon. Here’s the last in my series of post about Nashville dining. I covered downtown restaurants in Part 1 and restaurants in Germantown, Midtown and Music Row as well as Nashville’s hot chicken restaurants in Part 2.

If you decide to play hooky on Sunday morning and go out for brunch, the Nashville Guru and Visit Music City each have a list of their picks. 

I’m going to Adele’s (Twitter, Instagram) in The Gulch on Monday night with my DelCor pals. Decisions, decisions – fried okra or watermelon gazpacho, crispy trout or Jonathan Waxman’s chicken? Jonathan Waxman was one of the chefs responsible for the American food revolution and is known in the food world for his tenure at Chez Panisse, Michael’s in Santa Monica, Jams and his own restaurants in New York. 1210 McGavock St., .6 miles/13 minute walk from the MCC.

The 404 Kitchen (Twitter, Instagram) is a tiny place (actually a bright orange shipping container) in The Gulch that fills up quickly so make reservations. If I were there for dinner I’d start with the farro salad with lacinato kale, petite arugula, cantaloupe, hazelnut and feta, then rabbit with ricotta gnudi, stinging nettles and king trumpet mushrooms. And for dessert, banana semifreddo with crispy rice, peanut butter and marshmallow. It’s closed Sunday and Monday. 404 12th Ave. S., 2.5 miles/8 minute drive from the MCC.

Chef Hal Holden Bache turned an old grocery store into Lockeland Table (Twitter). If you go, I hope you try his Nashville hot crispy pig ears – I know I would. Not your thing? Then go with the chicken liver pâté with smoked peach perserves followed by roast chicken with pepper jam, pimento cheese grit cake and collard greens. Finish with the Olive & Sinclair (a local chocolatier) Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet with vanilla gelato. 1520 Woodland St., 3.3 miles/10 minute drive from the MCC.

nashville dining restaurants #asae14

Adele’s JW chicken with kale and salsa verde (Adele’s Instagram)

Nashville BBQ

I live in the land of seriously good barbeque – North Carolina. My preference is the Eastern NC style – whole hog slowly roasted in a pit, chopped and moistened with a vinegar-based sauce. If you’re not lucky enough to live in a great barbecue state, you may want to check out Nashville’s offerings.

Jack’s Bar-B-Que (Twitter) – Try their sampler plate with brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage and two vegetables. Allow time for waiting in line, a 20 minute wait is common. Downtown at 416 Broadway, .3 miles/6 minute walk from the MCC.

Peg Leg Porker (Twitter) has some intriguing dishes like BBQ Nachos, chips with lots of cheese sauce, smoked pork, spicy sauce and jalapeños. Or Memphis Sushi which is cheese and sausage on saltines. I’ve read raves for their smoked green beans and the yard bird platter draped in a tangy, white sauce. Closed Sunday. 903 Gleaves St. in the Gulch, .5 miles/12 minute walk from the MCC.

Edley’s Bar-B-Que (Twitter) is known for their Tuck Special, a brisket sandwich topped with house-made pimento cheese, an over-easy egg, red and white sauce, and pickles. Or try their pork tacos with slaw and pico de gallo. 2706 12th Ave S., 2.9 miles/9 minute drive from the MCC.

Martin’s BBQ Joint (Twitter) sources heritage breeds from the Fatback Pig Project, a collaboration that supports ranchers who are pasture-raising their pigs using humane methods. The owner, Pat Martin, is cooking this week at the James Beard House in New York – quite an honor. Nashville Lifestyles recommends ordering the smoked wings with Alabama white sauce, redneck taco with pulled pork or smoked sausage plate with two sides and Texas toast. 3108 Belmont Blvd., 3.7 miles/12 minute drive from the MCC.

Tex’s World Famous BBQ is my friend Teri Carden’s (ReviewMyAMS.com) favorite BBQ joint. She says, “It’s right near a bunch of trucking companies so you know it’s good! Only open on weekdays last I checked. It’s more of a sticky sweet BBQ.” 1013 Foster Ave., 2.7 miles/8 minute drive from the MCC.

Teri adds, “A spit’s distance from anywhere is sure to be a Whitt’s Barbecue which is a popular TN chain with the vinegary kind of BBQ.” There’s also one at the airport in Concourse C. 5211 Alabama Ave., 5.9 miles/11 minute drive from the MCC.

dining restaurants nashville #asae14

Photo by Ian Rutherford/Flickr CC license

Meat and Three

Before I end my series of food posts, we must discuss meat and three. It’s a Southern thing — a meat dish and three sides. The typical choices for the meat are fried chicken, meat loaf, roast beef, sugar cured ham, country-fried steak, fried catfish and such. Sides might include green beans, fried green tomatoes, black eyed peas, creamed corn, cheesy grits, stewed okra, hush puppies, mac & cheese, turnip greens and so on. Don’t leave any of these places without getting dessert – chess pie, fruit pies, banana pudding, oh my!

Arnold’s Country Kitchen (no website, Twitter) – Chef Sean Brock (Husk) says this is the best meat and three “hands down.” I read that Arnold’s chef Kahlil Arnold bakes his sweet potatoes twice, first with sugar, citrus, and butter, and then again with sugar, butter, and molasses. It received the James Beard America’s Classic award – maybe because of the Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie. Only open for lunch Monday through Friday. 605 8th Ave South., 0.5 miles/11 minute walk from the MCC.

Monell’s Dining“All meals served with our famous skillet fried chicken, meats of the day, several hot southern vegetables, salads, drink, dessert and biscuits.” Closed between lunch and dinner and closed for dinner on Sunday and Monday. 1235 6th Ave N. (Germantown), 2 miles/9 minute drive from the MCC.

Swett’s Restaurant, a meat and three with barbecue too, is open daily and has an outpost in Concourse C at the airport. 2725 Clifton Ave., 4 miles/9 minute drive from the MCC.

See you in Nashville!

This is the ninth in a series of posts about Nashville for ASAE Annual Meeting attendees. Thanks to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, I received complimentary registration and accommodations during the 2014 digitalNow conference – giving me an excuse to spend more of my money on Southern food and craft cocktails.

dining restaurants nashville #asae14

Arnold’s Chess Meringue Pie
(photo by Daniel Zemans/Flickr CC license)

When I went to Nashville in May for the digitalNow conference, I expected to be wowed by Nashville’s music scene, but I was blown away by the art that surrounded me everywhere I went. I wasn’t expecting that.

I can think of no better way to recharge your brain than to spend some time enjoying art. Any kind of art will do but all you have to do to feast your eyes on some visual art is to stroll through the halls of the Music City Center or cross the street and wander through the Omni.

Most hotels have thematic bland art in their public areas, hallways and rooms. Not the Omni. But then again most hotels don’t have an art curator like the Omni does. Half of the Omni’s 350-piece collection is by Nashville artists and 75% of it is by Tennessee artists. Everywhere you go throughout the hotel, even in the spa and restaurants, you’ll come upon music-inspired art. For a preview, check out this Nashville Arts article and this Omni blog post.

But you don’t even have to cross the street to get a bit of bliss, although you should. The Music City Center has a 128-piece (and growing!) art collection with all but five works by Tennessee artists. Every staff person I encountered on my tour of the Center had a favorite piece. And they’re labeled with QR codes so you can learn more about your favorites.

art nashville #asae14

“Nudie Suit Series” by Dolan Geiman in the Omni Hotel

After the conference, on Tuesday afternoon, August 12 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., you can really get your art on with the ASAE tour, The Flip Side: Exploring Nashville’s Art Scene. One of the stops on the tour is the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, a fantastic art museum housed in an old art deco post office.

The Frist doesn’t have a permanent collection. Instead it organizes and brings exhibitions to Nashville. The curators like setting up conversations between exhibitions. For example, when I was there, you could walk from Goya’s Disasters of War down the hall to Steve Mumford’s War Journals – watercolors of recent wars that reminded me a bit of Homer’s Civil War watercolors. Both were powerful exhibits.

While we’re in Nashville, the Frist has a few exhibitions worth checking out.

  • Watch Me Move: The Animation Show – If you have limited time, this is the exhibit to see. It covers 120 years of animated imagery starting with early film experiments and moving on to Disney classics and computer-based animation.
  • Country star Marty Stuart’s photographs of fellow musicians, celebrities and regular folks will be a pleasant surprise if you can steal a bit more time for art. The show, American Ballads: The Photographs of Marty Stuart, heads to the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art later this year.
  • The writer in me is interested in seeing Maira Kalman’s show featuring the paintings she used to illustrate an edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
  • And there’s an exhibit from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Real/Surreal.

Hatch Show Print, one of America’s oldest letter-press print shops and located inside the Omni, is another stop on the ASAE tour. Hatch does all the posters for the Ryman Auditorium – you can see some of them in the back corridor of the Ryman. Walk down the hall past the Omni reception desk, past the gift shop and you’ll come upon large windows on the right that let you look into the studio. Check out the Hatch gift shop too. Here’s a tip for meeting planners: if you have a meeting in Nashville, you can work with Hatch to create a commemorative poster for your event.

art nashville #asae14

A selection of Hatch Show Print posters

The ASAE tour also visits the 5th Avenue of the Arts – a group of 15-20 art galleries in downtown Nashville.

Are you into puppets? That’s a serious question. The Nashville Public Library has the largest city-owned puppet collection in the world. You’re wondering by now how I know these things, I know.

An Andy Warhol show, Flowers, is at Cheekwood. The Cheeks are the family behind Maxwell House, once a local brand. Their estate is now home to art and gardens. The Warhol exhibit explores his use of floral images throughout his career.

If you’re in Nashville on Friday or Saturday, check out the free 11th Annual Tomato Art Fest – “a celebration of the beloved fruit/vegetable” – in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood. Highlights include a costumed parade, an exhibition of tomato-focused art by more than 200 artists, live music, and tomato contests like the Tomato Haiku Contest, Tomato Toss, Bloody Mary Competition, Biggest-Littlest-Ugliest Tomato Contest, and a pet fashion show. How can you resist?

This is the eight in a series of posts about Nashville for ASAE Annual Meeting attendees. Thanks to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, I received complimentary registration and accommodations during the 2014 digitalNow conference – giving me an excuse to spend more of my money on Southern food and craft cocktails.

art nashville #asae14


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