Look at this

The interactive Sistine Chapel.

(h/t: Sippican Cottage)

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Overcommitted

Hi kids,

Don’t ever promise more than you can deliver. There’s a universal business saying “Under-promise and over-deliver.” That way you can make your customer very happy. Amazed, actually. (As Mark Twain once said, “Always do the right thing. It will gratify some and astonish the rest.”)

When 2011 started, I made just two New Year’s Resolutions – Be Healthy* and Be Hospitable (which translated means “throw more dinner parties and don’t be such a hermit.”) But every January when we turn the calendar over to a bunch of shiny blank pages, I’m seized with the urge to do more, accomplish more, make this the year I GET IT ALL DONE!!! Whew.

So naturally I went a little nuts in January with the hospitality. I threw a drop-in Jan. 1, then right after that a dinner party on Jan. 14 – a Friday, mind you, and I work for a living! I made plans to throw a dinner party every two weeks thereafter. I was busy drawing up guest lists for parties into March. I had a spreadsheet with guests, menu ideas, notes on food allergies, notes on previous menus so I didn’t serve the same thing twice to a guest, etc., etc. (On Jan. 1 when I thought about serving the same meal twice to a guest, I thought, how gauche. Now looking back over the whole Excel mania, I think, how bonkers.)

The dinner party frenzy has slowed down. Specifically, it has come to a halt. Why, Aunt Jim? Well, since you ask, while I was aiming to be the hostess with the mostess, I also was going into overdrive to achieve several different educational goals in Toastmasters. I’ve joined two clubs in addition to the club I belong to at work and agreed to be a club coach for yet another club. I’m going to be giving four speeches in a three-week time frame. (One of which involves memorizing Elizabeth I’s “Golden Speech” and interpreting that.) Oh, and I agreed to help assist at a Toastmasters training event February 26 by chairing a volunteer team.

Then there was that insurance certification class at work, which I signed up for in November thinking that the February exam was a LONG WAY OFF and I had plenty of time to study. (I passed on Feb. 11!!)

So, as you can see, I’ve been a tad overcommitted. Just a tad. But finally, finally, I had the backbone to say “No” to a request. A friend in our Adult Bible Fellowship at church asked me to serve on the leadership team as the outreach chairman. I would have loved to have done that; after all – outreach – that’s hospitality, isn’t it? But it would have involved going to five additional meetings a month – plus more tasks! I just couldn’t do that after all the other commitments I’ve made. What made it worse for me was this was a request to do something for my church. Ah, the guilt! But you can get so busy doing church work (no matter how well-intentioned) that you neglect your own inner spiritual and prayer life. So I found the guts to say no.

Now, I just have to work on my prayer life.

*An entirely different discussion for another time.

Changing the negative to positive

My friend Bess sends me the newsletters from Sparkspace, a business retreat center which helps employees build great teams. One of the January newsletters is well worth looking at again – it’s on how to turn the top five causes of negativity at work into positive solutions. What are the top five?

  • Poor communication
  • Gossip
  • Wrong assumptions
  • Not feeling valued/lack of respect
  • Too much to do, too little time

Ever feel like that’s happening to you? I read through that list and thought he worked at my job. Then I read further – and the answer to solving those problems lies within you.

How I De-Cluttered My Spare Room (and Found Inner Peace)

This is the speech I’ll give to my Toastmasters group which meets on Saturday mornings:

Fellow Toastmasters: My name is Jennifer, and I’m a packrat.

The joys of living simply and traveling light do not resonate with me. For years, I saved every single paystub from my job. This sounds good and responsible until you consider I’ve worked there since 1999. When my company implemented electronic Notices of Deposit it didn’t really help. I simply printed the NOD and shoved that paper in the bulging file.

Accountants say you should save all bank statements for seven years – just in case the IRS decides to audit your tax returns. But my motto is why do when you can overdo? I had shoeboxes full of statements going back to my first professional job in 1990.

I say had, because two years ago, I bought myself a paper shredder for Christmas. Some would call that an odd gift to buy oneself, but it made me happy. I wanted to take control of my clutter. I was starting to fear that one day the TV news would blare “Irmo woman trapped in home by falling towers of paperwork. Film at 11.”

The day I brought home my shredder, I happily shredded for six entire hours, until the machine jammed and quit. I can’t blame it for wanting to rest – even after that six hours I had a weeks’ worth of shredding left to do.

For a while (a very short while) I had my hoarding tendencies under control. Then, in 2009, I enrolled in an accelerated graduate degree program. For over a year and half, I let everything else in life slide while I studied. Come August 2010, I graduated to find myself sitting (once again) amid piles of paper.

The problem had come to a head: I was too embarrassed to have friends over. Anna Quindlen once wrote that she had closets which she didn’t let visitors open for fear they’d be injured in the ensuing crash. I had an entire room I didn’t want friends going into! That doesn’t sound so horrible until you consider, my little patio home is only 1100 square feet. I couldn’t afford to lose the space.

This is what my little spare room looked like before:

The bed before decluttering
The spare bedroom before decluttering
The office before decluttering
The other half of the spare room before decluttering. Books askew everywhere!

My road to recovery started with an ad I e-mailed to a few friends. This is the text of the e-mail and ad:

Dear Ladies,

I need your help. This is embarrassing to admit but over the past 18 months my spare bedroom has turned into a junk room or perhaps more accurately a landfill. More books than I have room for, an old computer monitor, reams of paperwork and old bills cover the bed and floor.

I’m looking for one person to help me “declutter.” I do NOT expect this person to work. All I need is someone to stand over me and make me do the job. Every time I start to declutter on my own I’ll pick up an old book and start reading. Two hours later nothing is done. I want someone who will give me advice on what to keep, store or throw out and keep me from reading the books instead of organizing them.

In my e-mail I included this job description:

Wanted – one good-natured but strict supervisor to monitor one lazy worker prone to goofing off. Job expected to take one hour. Set your own schedule. Pay: Soft drinks while on the job, reciprocal supervisory service if requested, undying gratitude and invitation to dinner party at future date.

I have great friends. Five immediately volunteered.

My friend Dee came over the next Saturday afternoon and immediately whipped the room (and me) into shape. She didn’t just supervise – she was a drill sergeant intent on a wholesale re-organizing. She’d point at items and fire questions at me: Do you need that? Have you used it in the last year? Are you ever going to read it again?  She was relentless, forcing me to throw away items that I wanted to keep but will never miss. She even got me to make a stack of books to give away to the library.

Far from supervising me, Dee did most of the work. I really tried to help, I did. I’d pick up a book, and show it to her, saying “oh this is a great book, you should read it!” As Dee rearranged my bookshelves her work was punctuated by me saying over and over “Oh, I like this book.” Oh, I really like this book.” “Oh, now this book – I like this book.” After hearing that for the umpteenth time Dee turned to me and said “Jennifer, you’ve never met a book you don’t like!”

After three excruciating hours – not one – the job was done. We had stuffed several Hefty bags full of junk ready to throw out, and boxed up:

  1. One box of supplies to take to my office
  2. One box of computer parts to donate to charity
  3. One ENTIRE box of books to donate to the library …  and
  4. Seven boxes of books to store neatly in my attic.  (Hey, I wasn’t giving away everything!)

Here’s what the room looked like after Dee got through with it and me:

The spare room after Operation DeClutter
After Operation De-Clutter
My desk after Operation De-Clutter
I can actually use my desk now after Operation De-Clutter.

We are so obsessed with stuff in this country that we’ve created an industry – Self Storage – with $22 billion dollars in annual sales. Naturally, there are web sites devoted to this.  My favorite is “the Fly-Lady” – yes, that’s what she calls herself – who will send you daily e-mails for free telling you what to organize that day. I love her de-cluttering method. As she goes through a room deciding what to give away, she sings “Please release me, let me go!”

But George Carlin really deserves the last word on stuff. I can’t repeat everything he said, but George’s Youtube routine on stuff says it all. Like he says, all your house really is, is “a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”

January Report

So how am I doing on those New Year’s Resolutions?

Diet – the less said the better. I’ll be back at Weight Watchers this Thursday.

Hospitality – that’s going much better. I had a dinner party the second Friday in January – wonderful time! I also had guests over for a New Year’s Day drop-in, and I hosted this month’s prayer gathering for the Sunday school class.

And I did a bunch of other stuff – got sick (again! Good grief, this season I’ve been down at least three or four times),  had beautiful new flooring installed – that’s its own separate drama and post – and joined two new Toastmasters groups. I’ve been staying too busy to post much. Sorry ’bout that, kids. I’ll do better.

Now for your viewing pleasure, a link my cousin Tim in North Dakota sent me about a train plowing its way through snow so deep you can’t even see the tracks (just click on the link):

http://d.yimg.com/kq/groups/1311127/711011378/name/RR_XING_ND.wmv

Video taken at a crossing near Donnybrook, North Dakota, about 40 miles northwest of Minot on US 52.