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?


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

Have you missed my Reads of the Week posts? I’m sorry I haven’t been sharing good reads with you here, but I’m still sharing them on my Twitter account. I take reading and sharing quite seriously. 

It’s been a busy spring of conferences, a hiking vacation in southern Utah (see below), weekends away and lots of work for clients. Clients come first, otherwise there wouldn’t be any conferences, vacations and weekends away! 

Luckily, I have another platform to share my thoughts and ideas about association management — my weekly post on the Avectra blog. Tomorrow, my post is about the advice given to a national association by its members. In recent weeks, I’ve written about leading from the cubicle, spending a day in the life of members and new membership models.

I’m always looking for ideas, practices and programs to share with the association community, so if your association is doing something innovative, please let me know.

Proudest personal accomplishment: facing my fears and climbing to the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park. This photo is taken from 2 miles up the trail at Scout Lookout. The last half mile is up that crazy fin to the narrow summit. I DID IT!!!!

Proudest personal accomplishment: facing my fears and hiking to the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park. This photo is taken from 2 miles up the trail at Scout Lookout. The last half mile is up that crazy fin to the narrow summit.
I DID IT!!!!

“It’s a tragic fact that most of us know only how to be taught; we haven’t learned how to learn.”

Jeff Cobb, self-described “lifelong learning fanatic” and founder of Tagoras and Mission to Learn, introduced me to that quote from Malcolm Knowles, the adult education expert of the late 20th century. In a recent webinar about his book, 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, Jeff talked about why it’s so critical, especially now, to be a lifelong learner:

  • Because of the speed and complexity of our world, we are at risk of information overload. We have to develop techniques to navigate this flow, absorb it, and develop knowledge from it.
  • Learning doesn’t stop at graduation. In “the other 50 years” we need to keep developing. Learning is a process, not an outcome.
  • We live in a learning economy, or as Jeff calls it, “a figure-it-out-on-a-daily-basis economy.” To thrive, we must keep acquiring new knowledge and skills.

According to Jeff, lifelong learning is no longer optional, it’s required. When he talks about learning, he means self-directed learning as well as formal learning (courses and classes). He defines learning as “a lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes.”

In 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, which you can also download as an eBook for a very inexpensive price, Jeff advises starting with one or two of the Ways. Focus first on them and make them part of your life before trying any others. At his website, he provides resources to help you explore each one. Here are a few to consider.

Read the rest of Lifelong Learning is a Requirement, not an Option at the Avectra blog.

lifelong learning

Photo by integerpoet (Flickr)

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Like Christmas, the advertising industry and its collaborators have sucked the life out of it. Couples buy schlocky cards and last-minute sweetheart gifts, and go out for the obligatory romantic dinner in herds of two. Baaaa. It’s what’s expected, what’s done.

But are these efforts really from the heart? Wouldn’t a handwritten note or homemade meal be a more meaningful gift of the heart?

Katya Andresen, Chief Strategy Officer of Network for Good, blogged about a better way to celebrate gifts of the heart – Generosity Day.

Make tomorrow Generosity Day! The Cause page explains how.

“We’re rebooting Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day: one day of sharing love with everyone, of being generous to everyone, to see how it feels and to practice saying “Yes.” Let’s make the day about love, action and human connection.”

That sounds so much better, doesn’t it? Katya says: “Say YES on February 14th to every opportunity to be nice, help out, or delight with generosity.”


You know me, I can’t help thinking: How could associations and their members celebrate Generosity Day?

  • Open up your member wall, if you still have one. Let everyone get a taste of your members-only benefits.
  • Make it a day of community service.
  • Spend time with students and young professionals – answer questions, give tours, invite them to work alongside you, provide guidance and mentoring.
  • Spend a day with elderly retired members who perhaps feel a bit forgotten.
  • Invite members to share how they’re celebrating the day. Everyone who submits a story gets a special promo code.
  • Buy your staff breakfast, lunch, afternoon treats or happy hour drinks.
  • Ask staff to submit anonymous notes about how they appreciate their colleagues, for example, “I appreciate Ralph because he always cleans the kitchen counter even when it’s not his mess.” Read one note about every person on staff. Remember those poor kids in elementary school who only got one Valentine’s Day card when all the other kids got 30? Don’t let that happen, make sure you have a note to read about everyone, even if you have to write it yourself.

Now, make a note to yourself about next year’s Generosity Day. Plan ahead and give your members a chance to spread love and happiness.

Generosity Day for Associations

Big Heart of Art by QThomas Bower (Flickr)

Here I am, running to catch up to the Change the World in 2012 meme that every other association blogger has jumped on already. Two weeks ago I was tagged by Aaron Wolowiec and Elizabeth Engel to give my take on Maddie Grant’s original post, a wildly popular one.

So where have I been? I’ve been thinking! I didn’t make resolutions this year. Instead, I took my own advice: I’m slowly changing my habits. I’m living the life that the better me would live: committing to daily exercise or yoga, eating more nutritious foods, using my time more effectively (meaning: be more focused), flossing regularly, going offline more frequently, and spending time with friends more often.

Now it’s out there. Accountability. It’s only been three weeks but I’m doing okay. Slow and steady.

What’s this have to do with changing the world? I’m not setting out to change the world, but I’d like to make a difference in the little worlds I live in. A better me can do that, a lesser me would think she’s too busy.

I never aspired to be famous or rich, or even leave a legacy, but I want my life to matter. I want to be a positive presence in the lives of others by being a better me and a better girlfriend, friend, sister, daughter, cousin, aunt, colleague and acquaintance.

How will I make a difference in my little worlds?

1.  Be grounded, curious, grateful, conscientious and accepting. In short, be everything yoga books, podcasts and teachers prescribe. I’m inspired by how others live their lives, so I hope to be a positive influence for those in my little worlds, whether they’re close to me or far away, in person or online. We’re all works in progress, writing our own story, a story that can change direction when another character enters the room.

2.  Share what I know, learn and think if I believe it will help others. I’m approaching this from two angles.

  • Practical: I like being a resource, so this is easy. I really should have been a librarian, but I like to talk too much. What I really want to do is spark excitement, energy and hope in others. I try to do that with my professional writing, especially for the association community. I want to help people see things from a different perspective, come up with a new idea, solve a problem or improve their professional lives. I’m doing that as a newly trained volunteer docent for kids at the North Carolina Museum of History, shifting their perspective and sparking their curiosity about life here in NC in the past centuries.
  • Woo woo: We teach what we need to learn. We’re not very good students because we keep having to learn the same things year after year: choosing our reactions, really listening to others, living in the present, and not judging a whole character based on one trait.

3.  Connect people who would benefit from each others’ company — a very satisfying thing to do if you keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. Of course, it’s easier if you’re out there meeting people and, more importantly, learning about them instead of talking about yourself (note to self). I can do this professionally as well: my writing helps companies connect with their audiences, so they can live happily ever after together.

Thanks Maddie, Aaron and Elizabeth for writing your posts and inspiring me to put this out there. Thanks to all my other friends and colleagues in the association community for sharing your intentions for 2012. When we all live our better lives together, we’re an awesome and inspiring bunch.

Changing the world in 2012

Dig by Incubus: “Dig me up from under what is covering the better part of me.”

I used to silently wish I was creative. I assumed I wasn’t. Creative was for other people, not me. Silly girl. Where was Walt Disney when I needed him?

Gert Garman, Global Creative Development Manager for Disney, visited my local Triangle chapter of the American Marketing Association last week to share Disney’s secrets to innovation. At Disney the prevailing philosophy is “everyone’s creative.” They believe their ability to tap into that creativity is their competitive advantage.

It took me a long time to come to the same conclusion, but I finally wised up. Yes, I’m creative. Heck, I make my living as a writer; I’m at least somewhat creative. But if you had asked me whether I’d be writing for a living five years ago, I’d say, oh no, that’s not practical, I’m not that creative. Here’s the truth: we’re all creative; some people just tap into and leverage their creativity better than others. I’m still working on that.

I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot because it’s ASAE’s Innovation Talks Week in the association management world. I’ve written two blog posts recently for one of my clients, Avectra, about Innovation Week and Disney’s secrets to a creative and innovative culture. Enough with organizations, now it’s time to delve into personal creativity.

Shall we play a game?

Most of us were conditioned by our education, parents or society to tone down our creative bent. Art and music, although recognized as important for our development, weren’t serious subjects. You had to do things “just so” or “according to procedure.” You tried to fit in and, sadly, not fly your freak flag. Maybe that’s why I became a restaurant manager after college. Although I had to comply with budgets, corporate procedures and regulations, I could also express my whole self more than I probably could have in other environments.

Play, games and exercise help get the mind’s juices flowing. Someone recently told me they have a dartboard in their office; when they’re stuck, they start playing and soon their mind is churning. No wonder start-up companies make a big deal about game rooms and exercise facilities – it works! When will the rest of America figure that out?

Creative space

Gert also suggested we create an area to brainstorm and capture our ideas. Many of my friends swear by their whiteboards. Several ASAE staff painted their walls with IdeaPaint.

Did you ever notice that the offices and cubicles of graphic designers are always full of personal, beautiful and interesting items? My offices at work were always spartan. Now I surround myself with things I like to look at that make me feel good, including a dog and cat for playtime.

Don’t forget music. I like listening to a mix of music, familiar but mostly unfamiliar, so I usually tune into the local college station or listen to the jazz or classical stations if the college station isn’t doing it for me.

Disney tips to creativity

Here’s a list of tips from Gert that will help release your inner Creative.

  • Dedicated idea notebook

Capture ideas as they occur. Keep notepads on your desk, in your purse, next to your bed and in your car. Use the recorder on your cell phone. Gert even writes on shower walls with an erasable marker.

  • Thinking that makes sense

Our senses wake up our brain, so go out and literally smell the roses. Listen, really listen to the sounds around you. Look at textures. Touch stuff. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, tells her readers to go on Artist Dates, weekly solo field trips where for a few hours you explore and feed your senses.

  • Take risks

Fail forward so you can learn and grow. Stretch your comfort zone. Don’t listen to nay-sayers. Disney was told many times he’d fail.

  • Reward yourself

Finish the draft, have a beer or a piece of expensive cheese, whatever rocks you. And if you manage others, recognize and reward their creative efforts too.

  • Ha Ha to A-Ha!

Play, laugh, be silly and let go.

  • Ask questions

Gert’s favorite is to ask “why” three times. I can imagine doing this in an office where “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the knee-jerk answer. The first and second answers to “Why?” are usually the lame party line. By the third you’ll start getting to the real truth.

  • Bend the rules

Ask for forgiveness later. I’ve always liked the stealth approach to innovation. Good luck with that!

  • Network and collaborate

This might be my favorite. Surround yourself with a diverse selection of people who have different perspectives and lives than you. Become more interesting because of the people around you. The more diversity around you, the richer your life will be.

I’d add one more: read widely. Look for random interesting well-written blogs to add to your Reader, or smart people from different professions to add to your Twitter follows. If you want to learn more about “fully owning our innate creative spirit again,” then you must read Patti Digh’s Creative is a Verb: If You’re Alive You’re Creative. It’s a beautifully illustrated book full of thoughtful prose, poems, quotes and exercises.

Now go on out there and dance this mess around!

personal creativity disney innovation

Photo by Pixel Addict (Flickr)

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