Most THINGS don’t Matter Unexpected Gifts Do

Life Lesson: Most THINGS don’t Matter Unexpected Gifts Do

Oftentimes, we are caught up with THINGS.

We collect things. We clean, organize, and display them. We feel a loss when things go missing.

Yet, if we let go of some of these things or even better, don’t bring them into our homes, we’ll receive unexpected gifts that may surprise us.

Brenda Avadian in Mexico Drinking la Leche fresca de CocoWhile on a trip to Mexico, my husband and I lived high on the hog, we also lived along the middle of the hog, and under the hog. Okay, I’m stretching the cliché a little.

We returned home appreciating that we had a shelter even though it was a fixer-upper. We questioned if we should proceed with remodeling.

Even now, in our information-rich world, the more things we acquire, we run the risk of creating physical clutter, which soon grows into toxic mental clutter that takes time away from what matters in our lives.

Ever ask a person a question and not get a straight answer?

C’mon, what is it? Yes or No?

It’s hard to decide with a clutter-filled mind.

Instead, when we declutter the various cluttergories in our lives, we feel lighter, more focused, and are more decisive.

At around 7 minutes in the video, you’re invited to do an exercise. Click on link for an overview of the STUFFology 101 Cluttergories. Print a copy and then write your notes (from the video) on the reverse.

And the hog?

We finally ate the hog, but carnitas are not part of this story except for an unexpected gift.

I crossed one item off my Bucket List—a goal I’d had since I read stories in the 5th or 6th grade recounting family gatherings in Mexico.

What was it?

Watch the end of the video for my unexpected gift.

Yours will be different, and that’s what makes these gifts unexpected.


If the embedded video does not display below, click on



How to be clutter free

The dog days of summer are nearly upon us; Graduations, Father’s Day, vacations, and maybe a project or two. What is on your to do list? May I suggest picking a spot to de-clutter?

In STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter we said, “The stuff we think we’ll need some day often gets in the way – and this is what we call clutter.” It is the physical clutter that I want you to think about for your de-cluttering project.

Since you define your own clutter, pick an area that would make you feel better if it was clutter free. Many items are available to you to clean and organize that area in a method that suits you personally. A quick trip to Home Depot illustrates the many options to choose from. How-to-be-clutter-free_De-Clutter_bins_2015 - R

I favor plastic storage bins because they resist water and critters better than cardboard, and come in many shapes and sizes. They can also be stacked neatly in a closet or used in conjunction with utility shelving in the garage.

Decide which will work best for your situation before purchasing something just because it is on sale or looks good at the store. Once you have what you need for your project, put some serious thought in what you want to keep, toss, or donate. Putting everything in bins on shelving in the garage is not necessarily de-cluttering your living space.

Out of sight and out of mind in the house is just moving clutter to the garage in plastic bins. Do not do this! Rather, keep what is important to you in the bins, and donate what is not. Be as ruthless as you can be with yourself. You may be surprised at how easy it is once you get started.

How-to-be-clutter-free_De-Clutter_shelves_2015 - RFinish a specific area of clutter before moving on to the next. This process should make you feel lighter as you complete each, momentum is a good thing. A quick review of S.T.U.F.F. may help.

I suggest working in 30-90 minute increments so you can complete a given area versus trying to do the whole house in one day. De-cluttering is a process, not an event. If you don’t feel like you are making meaningful progress it will not get done. Who wants that kind of frustration?

Take before and after photos to record your success; maybe even send us a note and picture to to share with others. Sometimes seeing how other folks do things can inspire us to take action with our own clutter.

Summertime presents us with the opportunity to consider the physical clutter in our living space. Use the storage solutions available at your local retailer to de-clutter just one area TODAY.


Which type are YOU when managing emails?

I disagree with Joe Pinsker’s article in the Atlantic that “Those who can comfortably ignore unread notifications, and those who feel the need to take action immediately.”

A Third Type of Person

There’s a third kind of person when it comes to email messages and I find myself among them. We are those who check our email inboxes throughout the day to respond to important, urgent, and sometimes quick emails. We are those who consciously decide what to subscribe to and what to let go. We are those who may have multiple email addresses. We are those who access our emails when we want to and, in some cases, turn off the notification sounds to avoid annoying Pavlovian bells.

Judging from the comments to his article, others agree.

In 1995, I had one email account with AOL. I received about 35 a day and replied within the hour and in some cases, within 24 hours. Even then, colleagues lamented the fact that they couldn’t respond quickly due to a deluge of 35 emails a week!

Ahh, it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Over the years, my email input has grown and leveled off at about 100+ emails daily. I respond within the day or 24 hours—sometimes, just to acknowledge receipt and that I’ll respond by a given date. (This assures senders that their email was received and the ball is now in my court.) I’ll hit “Reply” then add a note in my calendar or in brackets at the start of the subject line of the draft reply email  such as [PROMISED Reply by #/##/####] before saving it to my Drafts folder.

Emails and Volleyball

I view email correspondence like a game of volleyball. When the ball’s in your court, you need to return it.

Sure, there are people who insist on making others play volleyball by themselves. I’ve heard my husband say, “If you really need to reach me and I haven’t replied to your email, call me.” Others place the burden on the sender with an automated reply informing them of the hundreds of emails they receive and if they don’t reply, to resend them the email. Again, this places the burden on the sender to run to the other side of the net and serve, to keep the ball/email in play.

Organize Emails

To organize the emails I receive daily, I use nine email addresses: six for work with two different websites ( and and my publishing company; two personal email addresses; and a Google account I use twice a month.

We have our own methods to organize our emails, just as we organize our sock drawers. However, a little inspiration and new ways of organizing can go a long way. While some use all the bells and whistles (tagging, filtering, flagging, categorizing), I go so far as to create subfolders in Outlook. I find these especially useful when I’m corresponding with a client on a project. Once the assignment is finished, I delete the subfolder.

Lost Subfolders

Brenda Avadian's Outlook folder - Digital declutterEarlier this month, after work-related travel subsided, I directed time and energy to two old subfolders with a combined 200 emails. They included Los Angeles County emails, environmental studies, initiatives, reports, and related correspondence from my work last year as a town council president. I was shocked to discover they were gone. GONE!

I back up every week, but I just noticed this, which means I’ve since backed up Outlook with the lost subfolders. Besides, in one week I can get through 1,000 emails. Restoring last week’s backup would mean redoing a LOT of work. Just a thought for you to consider when relying on backups.

A visit to the online forums indicated that Outlook subfolders do have a tendency to disappear. This is the first time this has happened to me without my being aware of the cause.

At a crossroads and in a quandary

Is this one of those unexpected gifts?

On the one hand, I’ve saved myself a lot of time, because these data-intense emails will no longer take my time.

On the other, what about the lost records?

Those who can DELETE

Some people, you may be one of them, easily delete backlogs of emails when they grow too large. One publisher/broker wrote to tell me his Outlook froze after having tens of thousands of emails. YIKES!

One of our readers wrote that she deleted 4,000 emails since 2010. I’ve learned in most cases, when people tell me this, it’s usually because they haven’t deleted those sales announcements, newsletters, and other non-essential emails that fill their inboxes daily.

What I’m writing about are those emails that require follow-up during the course of business, day to day.

In STUFFology 101, I shared my goal to reduce all top-level emails to less than five carried over to the next day. I’ll achieve this goal this year. It takes disciplined effort during days, evenings (without TV), and even some weekends to dive deep. Not letting the ball drop and surprising people (even after a year) are worth it to me, an old-fashioned person who believes in following up. After losing touch with some, they’ve ended up becoming clients.

Reducing emails brings me clarity of mind, increased focus, and a feeling of lightness that comes with reducing digital clutter in order to have less mental clutter.


STUFFology 101 Review – Frugal Simplicity: 99 Ways to Declutter, Save Money & Simplify Your Life

Frugal Simplicity: 99 Ways to Declutter, Save Money & Simplify Your Life offers more than just tips on how to deal with the clutter in your life. Author Sally Thomas talks about multiple issues that may be preventing you from living your life simply. A look at the Table of Contents shows these include mindset, decluttering & living with less, frugality & money, and getting more out of life.

Her 99 ways are broken down by sections in the book. Each section incorporates tasks for the reader to complete before moving forward. The section on mindset offers a quick overview of why it (your own mindset) is important to the decluttering process.

The second section formally begins the 99 ways to simplify with “declutter and live with less”. I appreciated these tips because they are easy to understand and follow. Some are common sense, but she took the time to assemble them in an organized fashion. These tips deal with different areas of the house that tend to accumulate clutter as well as her thoughts about the mechanics of decluttering in general. Frugal Simplicity Book Cover

In the third section the author highlights 42 different ways to save money, which fit well with the broad topic of the book, simplicity. The advice in this section reminded me of things our parents may have done and took for granted; her list provides a gentle reminder for the next generation.

The fourth section concludes her 99 ways to simplify under the heading of “simplify & get more out of life”. I liked this section because the tips made me think a little deeper about how I prioritize my day. Simple advice is often clear on paper but not necessarily easy to follow because of our hectic lives. The book also contains a bonus section, but I won’t spoil the surprise!

In STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter we focus on fun and flexible approaches to get your mind out of what you define as clutter. Frugal Simplicity: 99 Ways to Declutter, Save Money & Simplify Your Life is a bit broader in scope, but still a quick read full of actionable advice. If you want to declutter and simplify your life it is well worth your time.


What STUFF means

What does our STUFF mean?

Better yet, what does our STUFF say about us?

Throughout our lives, we accumulate STUFF for diverse reasons.

We aspire to make a statement.

Years ago, while I lived in Wisconsin, an Indiana-based consultant asked me why I don’t wear a Rolex watch. I told him my Seiko works just fine. He advised me that a Rolex would help create an image of success. I reminded him of the irony that he had driven four hours in his Mercedes sporting his Rolex, because he needed my advice.

We acquire a unique item while on travel.

Coke Bottle from Armenia and The Wooden Spoon 5 - webWhile in Armenia, I brought home a bottle of Coke with Armenian lettering.

Take a moment, right now to recall something you acquired within the last week or two.

What was it and why?

I bought a pair of crop pants on sale at Costco. Why? They were a compromise between too-short shorts and pants. I’ll just roll up the legs to just above my knees and they’ll be perfect.

Then we hold onto the STUFF we acquired.

We hold onto a reminder of a loved one.

I still hold onto The Wooden Spoon. If you haven’t yet, read the story in STUFFology 101.

We think we’ll need it, later.

We paid a lot for the item and can’t justify letting go of it.

Yep, these are some of the reasons we accumulate clutter.

Long after the reason for acquiring an item has passed, we’re still holding on.

What’s with that?

Oh, I’m not criticizing. I do it too!

As a STUFFologist, I make it my business to define my own clutter, but it takes time to get rid of STUFF.

Deciding what we hold onto defines who we are. Our STUFF makes statements about how we see ourselves.

WOAH, you say! Not all my stuff!

I agree.

Over time, we try to find containers to store the stuff that we don’t need, right now.

And even though it’s out of sight, we remain tethered to our Stuff.

I still have recordings and videos from over a decade and a half ago when my husband and I taped my father while he lived with dementia. He couldn’t make sense of his image on TV and insisted we call the station manager because there was a guy that looked just like him on TV. I thought about making a video to help people understand what it’s like living with dementia. Enough time has passed. There are far better videos available, today.

I am ready to let go.

Nooo, you say. You can get them converted by a service!

Again, retrieving all the videos and audio recordings and then determining which items to convert, takes time. However, it bears mentioning, we don’t have to reduce ourselves to an all-or-nothing choice. I may choose to preserve at least one of those memories.

Still, I don’t want to live through another Station Fire to be forced into rush decisions about what I keep and what I let go.

An earthquake? A fire? A flood?

I am letting go of things now, so I don’t leave others with the burden of getting rid of my STUFF.

I Start by defining the clutter in an area, Trust in the process, Understand the cyclical nature of clutter, Focus for a time, and Finish getting rid of my S.T.U.F.F. in that area.

These mini successes encourage me to keep going whether it’s getting through emails, a pile of magazines, books, paperwork, and more. I think of Queen’s refrain: I want to break free. It’s not easy, but if we keep at it, we will break free of clutter.

The older I grow, the less STUFF means to me.