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Peeking Inside Cupboards, Garages and Closets

 
If you’ve ever peered in the windows of homes as you drove through a neighborhood at night or looked in a medicine cabinet at a friend’s home, you’ll find
these short videos irresistible. They feature UCLA anthropologists talking about—and showing in rich detail—the middle-class homes they studied for their 2012 book, Life in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors.
 

In the videos, the researchers’ cameras pan over stockpiled food, cluttered bathroom counters, heaps of toys, and refrigerator surfaces papered in school schedules, photos and calendars. It’s all a bit overwhelming, yet simultaneously engrossing.
The anthropologists never pass judgment, but they do offer context. Noting the stockpiles of prepackaged convenience foods in freezers, pantries and second freezers, they observe that families with children and two working parents make fewer trips to the market each week, but they buy more.
 
The items they load into their carts are prepared foods that can be baked, microwaved or toasted. The researchers claim that these goods, which are designed to be time-savers for busy families, shave a mere 12 minutes from the time it takes to make a from-scratch entrée—but I’m wondering whether that estimate takes into account the time needed to plan a recipe and buy ingredients.
 
Other episodes track which rooms families use the most, where “stuff” accumulates and how kids’ toys take over non-kid spaces. Watch all the episodes of “A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance” and you’ll find yourself looking differently at the contents of everything in your home.

 

 
 

Don’t Resolve to “Get Organized” in 2016

 

Vowing to “get organized” is a perennially popular New Year’s resolution, right up there with losing weight and exercising regularly. It’s no coincidence that the National Association of Professional Organizers declares January “GO” Month, with “GO” meaning “get organized.”

 Yet like most resolutions, “getting organized” is easy to make but tough to keep. Whatever goal you have or organizing project you plan to tackle in the year ahead, stack the deck in your favor by employing a few strategies to boost your odds of success:
 

  • Create clear, specific goals. “I want to be able to fit my car in my garage.”

  • Develop a realistic plan to get there. “For the next three Sundays, I’ll spend 9 a.m. to noon decluttering my garage. I’ll finally open those boxes we haven’t touched since we moved in and donate the bikes the kids have outgrown.”

  • Get help. “I’m going to enlist two friends to assist me, keep me focused and bring chocolate.”

  • Find a “goal buddy.” This can be a friend, a colleague or a spouse who will cheer your successes and help you stay on track. “As we planned, I’m going to check in with Susan after I make a Goodwill drop-off and before I sweep out the garage.”

  • Expect setbacks. “Three Sundays in a row was too much of a commitment. Instead, I’ll tackle this job the first Sunday of every month.”

  • Think creatively. “I can store duffel bags inside smaller suitcases, which I can store inside the larger ones. I’ll hang gardening tools from a rack on the wall.”

  • Develop strategies to ensure success. “Instead of piling empty boxes in the corner of the garage, going forward, we’ll flatten them and put them into the recycling bin.”

  • Reward yourself. “I’ve scheduled a massage as a treat.”

 
 

If You Have Only 15 Minutes …

 

Take stock of your stationery. I know, I know … why bother? No one writes letters anymore. Emails and texts are so much faster and don’t require a stamp, an envelope or a pen.

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But there are times when handwritten correspondence should prevail: condolence notes, gracious thank you notes and love letters. You don’t need much; a box of personalized notecards—nothing cutesy, please—is ideal for just about any writing need.

 
Discard or recycle any stationery that is yellowed, creased, worn or dated. If you rarely send notes and have a drawer full of them, why not jot a few lines to some of your favorite people, telling them how much you appreciate them?
 
It never hurts to keep a few birthday cards on hand, either. Trader Joe’s has an excellent and ever-changing selection for 99 cents each. Pick up some “forever” stamps, too, and keep them with your notecards so you won’t have to hunt for stamps when you need them.

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