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.)

Ah, Friday, and a long weekend too for many of you. Not for me – too much work to do – a good thing, so trust me, I’m not complaining. I’ll make room for enough down time to feel recharged on Monday morning, in case you care. Caring is in the air, you know, or it should be, we can make it so…

The world needs more “everyday mundane acts of caring” like the ones John Haydon shares in his post, The #1 Paradigm Shift You Need to Make in 2013. His simple truth is this: “In order to succeed you actually have to focus 1000% on your supporters and not your own agenda! The more you do this, the more your supporters will want to support you!” Simple, yet we find it so hard to do in our stressed out work days. Time to shift.

Maddie Grant shares a “must read” post by Clay Shirky on disruption. If you’re interested in education and MOOCs and such, you’ve probably already read it. But, you might not have read Maddie’s commentary and questions, important questions that associations need to address, now. As she says, “This is a HUGE OPPORTUNITY – not a threat.  What are YOU doing to prepare for the disruption of higher education?

Walking meeting, anyone? I love this idea from Nilofer Merchant at the Harvard Business Review. Why walk when you can sit? Because, haven’t you heard, sitting is killing us! I’m dying here!

What’s Worth Paying Dues For…And What’s Not? That’s a question I ask myself every time I get a membership dues renewal form. Maggie McGary questioned the value of her ASAE membership and decided not to renew. “If the main value of association membership is networking, why pay dues when you can maintain those contacts easily and for free on your own?” Sure enough, even though Maggie and I are (or were, in her case) both ASAE members, I met her online and then deepened that relationship outside of ASAE. That’s no longer that unusual. Associations should pay attention to her words: “If I’m paying for something, it has to be something that provides value for me on a personal level, and something that goes beyond what I can already get for free.”

Only 25% of associations have a content strategy. Yikes. Monica Bussolati says, “Putting out a lot of content without a clear and comprehensive strategy is like mining without a light. You’re sure to wander and squander resources, like time and money, both precious commodities these days.” She provides nine steps to creating a content strategy that will work for any organization, not only associations.

Did you make New Year’s resolutions? How are they going? I didn’t make resolutions but I did set goals and identify habits I want to develop. So far, so good. In case you need help, Jonathan Fields provides seven keys to successful behavior change and quest achievement in his post, How to Get Your Mojo Back and Do Big Things TODAY.

You know I’m a big fan of craft beer, especially local craft beer. I’m a beer geek for many reasons – taste and tasting experiences, friends in the industry, homebrewing, and the fact that passionate people are producing a high-quality product with a lot of love. Nation Hahn’s post, Kinston, NC and @MotherEarthBrew Have an Answer for Rural America, reminds me of even more reasons why local breweries are so good for their communities. Support your community by supporting your local brewer.

I’m not only a beer geek, I’m a giant squid geek too. Huge news on the Architeuthis front: for the first time we have video of a living giant squid in its natural habitat. Cool. In case you’re at all curious about this fascinating creature, Richard Ellis’ book, The Search for the Giant Squid, is excellent. For fiction lovers, it’s odd but good: China Mieville’s Kraken.

I read this Atlantic article, There’s More to Life Than Being Happy, by Emily Esfahani Smith last weekend and it really struck home with me. Mere happiness isn’t enough; we need meaning and a sense of purpose. Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl wrote about this in his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Esfahani Smith writes, “The pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.”

And with those inspiring words, I wish you a happy Friday and an enjoyable weekend!

Poor fella. Photo by NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet (Flickr).

Poor fella. Photo by NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet (Flickr).

Something unusual happened to me yesterday. I had a conversation on Twitter.

You might be surprised to hear that, after all, I’ve been a Twitter resident for a long time. But somehow the magic between me and Twitter has faded over the years.

When I first started using Twitter regularly back in 2008 I spent much more time there, especially after I was laid off in early 2009. Back then Twitter seeded many relationships for me – both in the association and Triangle communities. Many of those relationships were deepened during meet-ups and conferences and soon turned into friendships.

It’s easy to rationalize time spent on socializing and professional development, and easy to get sucked into long Twitter sessions. As I got busier with freelance work, I had to change my Twitter habits. I began scheduling my time there and even setting a timer so I wouldn’t spend more than my allotted 20 minutes.

I now use Buffer to schedule tweets and share good reads. I’ve always loved sharing information and resources, even in past careers – the frustrated librarian in me, I guess. Originally I intended those automated tweets to merely be a supplement to whatever I tweeted in real time. But some days, those seven posts were the only sign of my Twitter presence.

Sometimes I would get on Twitter for my 20 minutes, find a lot to read, but not see any opportunity for conversation. Sure, scores of tweets passed through my stream from the nearly 2000 accounts I follow, but either I couldn’t think of anything to say or the tweets were automated. Sometimes I would reply to someone and then never hear back. I don’t take it personally, that’s how Twitter is now.

Luis Suarez has also seen changes in Twitter and got riled up enough to write, Twitter is Where Conversations Go to Die. My tweet and Laura Talley’s retweet of his post inspired the Twitter conversation we had yesterday. The three of us had just a short conversation, but I’m hoping it marks a turning point for me.

If we put our minds to it, can we reclaim Twitter for conversation? Can we reclaim it in a sustainable way? I’m not going to spend hours a day on Twitter and neither should you. How do we make it work?

My first tactic is to create new lists for conversation with those I know, those I don’t know but whose brains I admire, and fellow writers. I already have lists for many of my professional and personal interests but these lists will be a bit more filtered. Perhaps by focusing on these new lists, I can find the conversations I desire amidst all the broadcasting.

I’ll continue to keep my All Friends stream in its usual place in Hootsuite because I love the serendipitous finds it brings me. Plus, maybe I’ll find conversation there too. I’m a dreamer.

One solution to my problem is to participate in more Twitter chats, but they’re a heavy investment of time. I used to always participate in #assnchat, the association community’s weekly chat at 2pm Eastern on Tuesdays, but if I’m in a good writing flow, and I usually am at that time of the day, I don’t want to break away for an hour-long chat. Perhaps another scheduling challenge I need to overcome.

What’s that you say? Yes, we know the #assnchat hashtag is odd, but we’ve come to love it.

I’m curious. Has your approach and use of Twitter changed over the years? Do you find yourself hanging out on other platforms because Twitter has become disappointing? How do you use Twitter to have good conversations?

twitter conversation change

Photo by Alan Levine (Flickr/cogdogblog)

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.”