One of the things I'm most grateful for is my mom's decision to move back in with her parents following a messy divorce when I was just 5 years old. The six years I spent living with my grandparents were among the best of my life - I had a great childhood and have a ton of fond memories. Unfortunately, I may have also picked up a few bad habits along the way.
My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and like so many in their generation, they got into the habit of not throwing anything away. They weren't hoarders or anything, but they did hang on to stuff they thought might be useful in the future - plastic containers that could substitute for Tupperware, paper grocery bags, twist ties from loaves of bread and much, much more.
As an adult, I find myself doing the same thing. It's not because I think we're heading for another depression (although some would argue that we're on that path), it's because I have a difficult time getting rid of something that still has value - I keep things just in case.
But that's all about to change.
For 2011, I've decided to get completely organized. My theme this year is "simplify, minimize, automate and upgrade." My goal is to get out of my own way, and I believe these four steps will help me do that. Here's a short definition of each.
Simplify: This one's easy - it just means have less stuff. If you don't love it and you don't need it, get rid of it.
Minimize: Because I have no illusion that I'll completely break my habit of keeping stuff, I've decided to make things smaller. I've converted all my photos to digital images. I'm putting my music library into iTunes and getting rid of the CDs. I got an Amazon Kindle and am buying electronic versions of all my books. And I'm scanning in old bills that I just can't seem to throw away, so I'll no longer need the paper copy.
Automate: I've decided to put my life on auto-pilot, so I'll have less stuff to think about. I'm signing up for auto-pay on all my recurring bills. I'm planning meals in advance, so we don't have to play the "what to do for dinner" game every night. And I'm doing my best to develop good habits, like running or working out first thing every morning.
Upgrade: Last but not least, I'm slowly but surely replacing old or broken items with newer, better versions, and - this is important - I'm throwing away the old item. So often people buy a new gadget but keep the old one for some reason - as if they'll really go back to the old vacuum if the new one breaks.
I've already seen a huge change in my life from the changes I've begun to make, but now I'm running into a new problem: It seems the computer stays the same size no matter how much stuff you cram into it, so it's really tempting to make everything digital. In talking with a few friends in the industry, it looks like I'm not the only person who has this issue.
A lot of people keep all their old e-mails; quotes and spreadsheets from three years ago; old carrier forms and plan designs; and reference material that may be useful "one of these days." And because they have so much stuff in their computers, it's difficult to find the information that they really need.
If you can self-diagnose yourself as a digital pack rat, I have a couple suggestions. The first is a tip from success guru Brian Tracy - as you go through your digital files, ask yourself this question: What would happen if I couldn't find this file? If you could get it somewhere else, or if you could live with the consequences, delete it.
The second is my own advice - if you just can't part with your old files but can be honest enough with yourself to admit that you probably won't need them again, put them on a backup hard drive, password-protect it, and put it in a fire safe or safe deposit box.
Then delete the files. You can rest assured that you still have your old data - just in case - but it'll no longer be slowing you down. This should help you let go of the past and focus instead on working toward your goals.