Your surroundings impact your health, productivity, and happiness. This is not just the literal space, but what is in that space and why – including digital content.

Making a sustainable, healthy environment is not just about recycling and composting. It is about setting up the physical space you spend your time in to reflect the person that you are. That does not need to be as woo woo as it sounds. It is about letting your space work with you and reflect who you are, whether that means you are a collector of beloved cat figurines or a minimalist. For me bringing the outside world of nature to my indoor spaces is important, but it needs to generally be in an organized way that leaves plenty of “white space.” And don’t forget your digital world. Our gadgets give us vast amounts of storage in email inboxes and shared drives, incoming messages of all types and originations, and outgoing content that may or not be as meaningful as you want it to be.

Look around – is the space you are in now reflecting who you are? Who you want to be? Who you want the world to see? What needs to be added, removed, or changed to support the life you want to lead?

Quick Tips to Declutter

It is always darkest before dawn.

You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.

There are dozens of pithy sayings to describe the “hit by a tornado” look that happens when you finally tackle your clutter.

But those pithy sayings resonate for a reason – there is a kernel of truth there.

The Storm

Last summer I brought home my mom’s cross stitch supplies. Reorganizing them and incorporating them into my supplies seemed like a daunting task – physically (there was a lot) and emotionally (it made me sad to think of her death).

But every time I went in my office, I saw the pile of floss, needles, and patterns sitting there abandoned.

I decided the effort of organizing this section of my office was less than the effort of seeing the abandoned stash for one more day. I grabbed my tissue box for the tears that would inevitably come, set aside several hours and took over a large space to tackle the work.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Cynthia Occelli

My starting point. The key here is to expect the chaos – and don’t stop when you get to this point. Get rid of what is not working and categorize what you want to keep. Group like items together.

 

Midway – Messy thread contained onto bobbins. This could be a natural stopping point if the day and emotions required it. I still have labeling and storage to do here.

 

The final result. I have seen other crafty people use a label maker on their bobbins, but hand written was good enough for me. This was how I defined “done” before I started – thread on bobbins, organized in their boxes.

The Payoff

Once the chaos of decluttering passes, you know you will be pleased with the outcome and glad you did it. Here are some of the ways you might notice yourself feeling post-decluttering:

  • You will feel light a weight has lifted from your shoulders.
  • The mental clarity you feel at not looking at the clutter will be noticeable.
  • This wont be a space you avoid going to – you can fully enjoy your home.

https://www.instagram.com/juliemorgenstern/

Quick Tips to Get Started

  1. Define what done means before you even start. For me on this project, I wanted to get the labeled thread on bobbins in boxes. You might say you are done when your clothes fit in your drawers or the linens fit in the closet.
  2. Start small. Then go one step smaller. I originally was going to sort all of my mom’s sewing supplies this day, not just her cross stitch stuff. I thought I was starting small (just crafts, not all her stuff I brought home – clothes, books, jewelry, etc.). Then I went smaller and landed on just cross stitch. Instead of organizing the whole garage you might do the outside fridge or just the sport corner or shelving unit.
  3. Identify bailout points. Taking breaks or tackling project in small bits of time requires identifying natural bail out points. On this project, I could have sorted one session, labeled the next and stored the third. If you are taking your kitchen one drawer at a time, maybe this is something you do while you watch TV each night. The key is to stop at those bailout points – even if you feel like you have mojo to continue.

Your Turn

What is an area of your Environmental Surroundings that you want to declutter? How can you break it into smaller projects with defined breaks with an identified goal in mind?

By |2021-06-06T13:42:35-04:00June 8th, 2021|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

Chip Away at Everything That Isn’t David

Sustainable Productivity is pretty much what Michelangelo says about creating a masterpiece:

You chip away at everything that isn’t David.

Let me explain.

Before a masterpiece is a masterpiece, it is a block of marble, a ball of yarn, ink or paint in a jar, dirt. Or in my case – a kitchen table piled with crap.

At least most people would call it a kitchen table. I referred to it as a dumping ground. If we ate dinner together (which was already rare), we ate in the dining room so the kitchen table did not get used very much.

Unless you had a bag when you came in the house, then it went on the kitchen table. Same thing with sport equipment, mail, tools on their way back out to the garage, or any number of things. And these items never left. At one point I had a jock strap cup on my kitchen table for DAYS.

This was not sustainable.

What I Wanted

Let me tell you what my “vision of David” was – I wanted something welcoming and inviting when I came in the door from the outside. For me this means:

  • Uncluttered spaces
  • Inviting furniture
  • Restful colors
  • Meaningful knickknacks

Instead I had the home version of a block of marble.

I had a vision of the kitchen corner equivalent of the statue of David. I just needed to chip away at all that was NOT David – like the nut cup missing its strap.

Eliminate what is not working

Instead of trying to change the behavior of My People, I just got rid of the table. We took it down Thanksgiving of 2019 to put up the Christmas tree. Then decided to live without it “for a few weeks” to see if we missed it.

During that few weeks my mom died, a massive work project went live, then the world shut down for COVID.

Add what works

Needless to say, we had quite a bit of time to plan our next steps. We decided we wanted a cozy coffee corner vibe. I went to town on Pinterest boards for couches or chairs, end tables or coffee tables, book cases or cabinets. We spent time talking about what we would do in that space – I would read a book while Bixby cooked or he could work on his computer while I cleaned up after a meal. This would be a more welcoming and comfortable space that sitting on a bar stool across the counter in the kitchen.

We decided not to shop for a couch online because we just needed to sit on some couches to decide what we wanted. After a few shopping trips in early 2021, we got the tape measure and painters tape out to help us imagine using the space how we wanted with the set up that the furniture allowed.

After we got the couch in place, we lived with it for several days talking about what else to add to the space to create the look and feel that we wanted.

We chipped away at what was not working. The first was not having a spot to put our phone or coffee cup (or Diet Coke can). The second was how sterile it looked with just empty tables. We took knick knacks from other parts of the house to make this corner look cozier.

One miss we had is assuming we knew better for everyone. What is cozier than a having your dog snoozing on her bed next to you while you read under a blanket on a rainy Sunday morning? We bought Lucille’s dog bed before we even had the couch delivered. She loves her 2 beds in other parts of the house. We were wrong about this one though.

Your Turn

Do you have an area in your home that is not working for you? What could you chip away in order to make your home more of a restful masterpiece? It does not have to be clearing a space and waiting 4 months for furniture. It could be moving photos around or resorting books stacks. Purging a shelf to give more open space. Check out the Edit Your Life podcast episode 233, ” Small Yet Powerful Home Edits” to hear about some of the ways they recently chipped away at what was not working.

By |2021-05-23T08:02:33-04:00May 25th, 2021|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

Non-Soul Sucking Ways to Clean the Kitchen

All I wanted is to find was to find a way to a non-soul sucking way to clean the kitchen.

I had a vision for how a “good” parent and partner keeps her kitchen. Where this comes from and why I subscribe to it is a story for a whole other post. But here is what I know – having a ritual of “closing down” the kitchen with clean surfaces and a dishwasher running untangles knots in my belly.

My vision is for counters wiped down, things in their place, hand washed dishes air drying on their mat, and the dishwasher running so my family has clean plates to eat off of and no one is eating their food off a Tupperware lid.

A good parent and partner must live here.
Source: Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

This vision rarely manifests to reality. I am tired after working for 12 hours and my couch has this weird force field that makes it difficult for me to escape. Plus we are in the middle of binging Big Bang Theory and there are about 7 million episodes.

I feel shame when I sink into the couch on my 3rd episode while the meatloaf grease congeals in the pan and the mail lays unopened on the counter.

This is not productive nor sustainable.

Can you relate?

Let’s solve this story problem together.

Step 1 – Ask the Questions

Creating a life you don’t need to escape starts with asking the Sustainable Productivity questions.

Is this Productive: Am I getting the result I want?

No. Tomorrow Susan is annoyed when Last Night Susan could not at least run the dishwasher to have clean coffee cups for the morning. I know my environmental surroundings contribute directly to a Sustainably Productive life and not cleaning up  is not helping me create the life I want.

Is this Sustainable: Can I continue this lifelong if I want?

No. I don’t want to feel weighed down by inertia on the couch and glued to the TV. Guilt, shame, shoulds and embarrassment are not feelings I want to keep around lifelong.

Time for an adjustment.

Step 2 – Make an Adjustment

Clean the kitchen before sitting down for TV. Boom done.

But it is not that easy. Sometimes a recipe seems to take every dang dish in our cabinets. Sometimes the shenanigans of the day leave me not able to even chuck the cloth napkins in the hamper.

To make an adjustment that is Sustainably Productive, we need to start small. What is a one small thing that can be repeated each night after dinner to signal the kitchen is “clean and closed”? Here are some suggestions:

  • Load and start the dishwasher. Some models have delayed start allowing for those teenagers in your house having second dinner to add their dishes. If the cycle starts at 3:00 am you can still have clean mugs come morning.
  • Wash and put away the pots and pans.
  • Set up the coffee pot to be ready to start or set the timer if your model has one.
  • Chuck any papers in the box designated for this.
  • Clear surfaces of dog leashes/treats, backpacks, books, and other random crap that accumulates.
  • Corral shoes left in the kitchen, sending them back to their proper homes.

This is a list of adjustments to make, non-soul sucking ways to clean the kitchen. The intention is not to do all of it all the time. When I am fired up and motivated, I make checklists to do ALL of these things EVERY night. Then night comes and I can’t do it all so I do none. Guilt, shame, shoulds and embarrassment.

The adjustment is to pick one. Maybe it’s the shoes. Maybe you need to start smaller – it is your shoes. Every night this week put away your shoes. That’s it. If you do anything else, great. But putting away your shoes is how we are defining success.

Then at the end of the week, see how you did.

Step 3 – Evaluate Your Progress

After a week, check in to see how it went. Maybe putting away your shoes gave you momentum to drop the papers in the box, which lead to firing up the dishwasher between episodes. Great!

If you feel dialed into this new non-soul sucking ways to clean the kitchen, stay this course. If you still feel negative feelings about it, start back over at step 1 and identify what is the biggest pain point. Make the adjustment. Evaluate progress.

Your Turn

Let me know where you want to apply the Sustainable Productivity questions in your life. Together we can brainstorm ways to break it down and create a life you don’t need to escape.

By |2021-03-28T15:48:11-04:00March 30th, 2021|Environmental Surroundings|2 Comments

10 Ideas to Conquer Digital Clutter

One of my goals for 2021 is to conquer digital clutter. That is a vague, ambiguous goal so I set a more specific, measurable goal to clear the digital clutter from my phone weekly. Generally my digital clutter falls into three categories: photos, notes, and websites. Here are ten ideas in these categories that will help you reduce the digital clutter.

Photos

This is the largest bit of digital clutter I have – and I bet most of you are in the same boat. Right now I have 685 photos on my phone. It is overwhelming to go back and declutter all of them so I am starting where I am. Each week I deal with those photos I took in the previous week. There are a few of the actions that you can take.

  1. Delete. I cannot be the only one who tries to carry too many things and ends up taking photos of the side of the car. Or trying to get a cute photo of the dog sleeping, I end up with 10 of the same snoozing pup. Delete the obvious, narrow down the precious.
  2. File. Screenshots fall into this category. Some examples might be the screen shots of books I want to read or products I might want to purchase. Each week I add to my To Be Read list on Goodreads, buy the item if is a no brainer, or add it to my Amazon wish list.
  3. Inspiration. Quotes, ideas, or other inspiration I want to use for Sustainable Sue work goes to Trello or Scrivener. Trello is a project management app where I can create a “card” with the quote (or whatever I took a photo of) and add it to the board. For example, the board might be quotes on digital clutter I could use in a post about the same topic. Then when I want to write about digital clutter, I pull that quote off of my Trello board and place it in the post.
  4. Save. Some photos I save for scrapbooking – these live in Lightroom. Each week I put a heart (on my iPhone – I bet Android has an equivalent) on those photos I want to save. On the first day of each month, I have a reminder that pops up telling me to move photos to Lightroom. I don’t have to scroll through 600+, I just get the hearts and move them to Lightroom and then delete from my phone once Lightroom is backed up.
  5. Share. I share memes and old photos with friends and family. Here is a gem that came up this week of me and The Girl back in the day.

Notes

This is the digital equivalent of Post It notes.I keep notes in a couple places on my phone so decluttering my notes is a critical component to conquer digital clutter.

  1. Lists. When I am driving down the road and need to capture a thought, I ask Siri to capture it and she adds it to my “Braindump list.” This is a catch all that is sorted at least weekly. Sometimes I add things to my calendar, sometimes things move to another list, sometimes things are deleted because I have no idea what I meant.
  2. Notepad. This is another catchall spot that builds up. If I hear something meaningful I want to remember later I will open the Notes app and jot it down. Same with a website I want to check out later from a webinar I am watching or perhaps shared notes. But these notes are not helpful if they just live in the Notes app. Weekly I move them to a place that is more useful. This might look like any of these:
    • Set a time block in the upcoming week to review the website.
    • Move the quote to a Trello board.
    • Delete the idea that seemed brilliant in the middle of the night, but seems useless in the light of day.

Websites

This is a recent pain point for me. I am not sure when my browser got so out of control. Today I have 64 windows open. Experts disagree on if this impacts your phones performance or not. What I am interested in is whether or not this is Sustainably Productive. When you shine the lens of sustainability on 64 open Chrome tabs – no big deal. But the productive side of the equation is different. I can’t find a ding dang thing amidst 64 open windows. Not productive.

“Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living.” Peter Walsh

For this task I set a timer as part of my weekly digital declutter session. 5 minutes to close windows. I start with the most recent and close. I look at the website that is open before closing it in case there is an action step I needed to take.  For example, I may have left the window open because I was halfway through paying for an online meal pick up for the week when the doorbell rang and I forgot to go back to it. Some windows are quick – when Facebook opens in Chrome, for example. No brainer – close it, I would rather use the app.

I would love to help you conquer digital clutter. Check out the Sustainable You Environmental Surroundings course to learn more today.

By |2021-01-23T18:47:55-05:00January 26th, 2021|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

3 Step Plan to Decluttering

The end of the year is a time we all need a 3 step plan to decluttering. Holidays often have an influx of STUFF. Especially if you have kids. Christmas and Hanukkah means gifts galore from friends, family, school, and houses of worship.

In cold weather months we can find ourselves spending more time inside, which means we see more of the clutter.

Getting organized is one of the top 5 resolutions that Americans make each year. I want to give you a 3 step plan to decluttering that is Sustainably Productive.

Start Where You Are

If you have clutter in only one area of your home, congratulations – you know exactly where to start. That is not most people though. Where to start can cause analysis paralysis for many.

 

I encourage you to start where you are. This might be literally or emotionally.

  • Literally – Where do you spend the most time? Since I work at home, for me this is my home office. Specifically this is the desk in my home office.
  • Emotionally – Where do you feel the most negative emotions? Although my desk is a hot mess and that is where I spend the majority of my awake hours, I can power through the piles and focus on the computer screen. I feel negative emotions when the kitchen is cluttered. Not the cabinets and such, but the surfaces.

Which space is it for you? It does not have to be a room. It could be your nightstand. What about that drawer that sticks every time you try to open it because it is too jammed with stuff? A closet or box in the corner perhaps?

Once you identify where you need to start, you can move towards a plan to tackle it in a Sustainably Productive manner.

Identify Small Steps

This is the part of the plan where you make it productive. If you don’t see progress, you will lose interest in the work. Let’s say your nightstand is piled with stuff and the drawers cannot hold one more thing. You know it is where you need to start because it is an energy drain to look at first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Old Method

Let me know if these steps sounds familiar to you. This is the old way of getting things done.

  1. Add “Organize Nightstand” to your to do list.
  2. Get overwhelmed and avoid it.
  3. Berate yourself for being lazy and a quitter.

Sustainably Productive Method

To make decluttering your nightstand Sustainably Productive, break the job into small steps. Then make them even smaller. Ridiculously small. Nope – smaller than that. Let me give you a suggestion on a small step to start with.

  • Take the dirty dishes off your nightstand, put them in dishwasher.

Boom. Done for the day on Project Nightstand. You can cross that off today’s to do list. What feels more productive than that? Productivity is accomplishing a task towards a goal. you just nailed it.

Feeling like you might be able to do some more? Try one of these:

  • Throw away obvious trash (ex: dirty tissues, crumpled paper) on the surface.
  • Recycle anything obvious on the surface (am I the only one with a Diet Coke can on her nightstand?).

Notice the keyword there is obvious. This does not mean to go through the drawers and find trash. I did not even suggest you open any drawers. Yet.

Which leads us to the sustainable portion of Sustainable Productivity.

Continuous Improvement

This is the part of the plan where you make it sustainable. Plan to continue the progress in a way that you can maintain. This could look different for each person.

I encourage you to find the MVP – the Minimum Viable Product of the project you are working on. Back to the Project Nightstand example. Maybe the most you can dedicate to this project each day is 15 minutes. Great – add that to your calendar during a time you generally feel motivated. This might be mornings before you start your Pandemic-Home-Schooling-While-Working-Full-Time-Remotely job. If you are a night owl, this might be after everyone else goes to bed.

Literally add a time block to your calendar, “Project Nightstand.” If you use a digital calendar, you might want to add a reminder to pop up. Another option is to do a reminder on your phone. You can now make these recurring reminders so you can actually “Complete” the reminder and still have it fire the next day.

When the reminder goes off, pick a small task and knock it out.

Now you have a 3 step plan for decluttering!

  1. Start where you are.
  2. Identify small steps.
  3. Continuous improvement.

If you are stuck on how to break down your decluttering project or getting motivated to start decluttering at all, check out the Environmental Surroundings lesson of the Sustainable You program.

Reply to this message or comment below to let me know what project you decide to tackle. Join me on social media so I can celebrate each small step you accomplish!

By |2020-12-24T10:20:18-05:00December 22nd, 2020|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

3 Ways Your Environment is Causing Burnout

Just like factors contributing to climate change crisis, we have personal factors causing a burnout crisis in our lives. I want to bring awareness to 3 ways your environment is causing burnout. 

What is Burnout

Burnout is a real thing. It is not something you can manage through or toughen up against.

There is a difference between stress and burnout. Think of stress as overwhelm and burnout as a drain. Stress is the piling on. Demands on you may look like taking care of kids and parents or covering another person’s job during a hiring freeze. Or the pressure of weeks of daily carpooling that never lets you have a moment to yourself. With stress, you still feel there is hope to find a system, route, or process that can improve things.

Burnout, on the other hand, is empty of that hope. It is the drain of mental exhaustion. Often people who are burned out don’t always notice when it happens.

In the Sustainable You course, participants learn about the differences between stress and burnout, but let me tell you this here: The same ways your environment is causing burnout begin by being stressors in daily life. The canary in the coal mine if you will. The Universe tries to be be good to us signaling politely that there is a problem. Then a kick in the pants. Then a brick wall falls on us. Then our world chews us up. 

The hard truth is that part of this is our own fault. We choose what to consume every day. Not just food, but what we see and hear too. Let’s dig in. 

News Media

Here at Sustainable Sue, when we talk about media consumption, we talk about all of the news, movies, books, TV, podcasts, social media, and magazines that you take in on a daily basis. Consider these the nutrients in your media diet. Media is all aroundus. It is not productive nor sustainable to avoid it altogether. Just like the nutrition component where we have to eat three or four times each day, we do need to take in media at various points of our day.

The issue is keeping it in balance of a sustainably productive life. A study by Johnston and Davey in 2011 found that participants who viewed the negatively skewed news show (as designed by researchers) showed increased anxious and sad mood as well as a significant increase in the tendency toward catastrophic thinking related to a personal worry.

If you feel drained and anxious after watching the news, perhaps that is a signal it is time to make some changes. Different sources, less consumption, different timing of consumption, etc.

Beware of jumping from the frying pan into the fire though – social media can be just as damaging. 

Social Media

If you have watched The Social Dilemma you know have heard the terrifying statistics of what social media is doing to our brains and the brains of our kids. But it doesn’t take a panel of experts in Silicon Valley to tell us this. Conduct an experiment of one – how do you feel after scrolling Facebook and seeing everyone’s perfect back to school photos when your kids covered their face with their book bag and ran out the door? What thoughts go through your mind when you see photo after photo on Instagram of everyone’s perfect Thanksgiving table when you did not have the energy and ended up having Indian takeout?

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”

― Jose Ortega y Gassett

Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides. Those posts are rarely the whole story and the photos often include filters. If social media drains you, perhaps it is time to turn to the real life relationships instead of the ones online.

But alas, those relationships can be tricky too!

Friends, Family, and Others

This blog post is live the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – a holiday where often families sit around the table and argue about politics. Because of COVID many families instead had to get on Zoom to rehash the pandemic and who is and isn’t following protocol. Family relationships can be hard.

And what about friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.? Do you continually surround yourself with people who drain you? Sure it is hard to make friends after we leave school, but that is no reason to settle for less. If a relationship feels off or unfulfilling or one-sided, I encourage you to explore why.

  • Is your friend always late and you feel like your time is taken for granted?
  • Do the other neighbors on your street ask you to join a party planning committee, then you end up doing all the work? 
  • Are you only accepting invitations out of obligation or fear of making other people mad? 

Let me ask you this question, my fellow people pleasers: WHERE ARE ALL THE PLEASED PEOPLE?

You deserve more. You deserve people in your life who delight in your presence. You deserve to feel fulfilled and lifted up when you are among friends and family. 

Be selective about who and what you surround yourself with. Each choice compounds to contribute to a sustainable you – towards creating a life you don’t need to escape. 

By |2020-11-29T19:59:07-05:00December 1st, 2020|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

3 Reasons to Let Go

As we develop sustainably productive habits, there is a need to flip the coin over to look at what we need to stop doing. To let go of what is not serving us physically, mentally, and environmentally means we make room for what we want to build in our lives. 

Let’s be clear – letting go is hard. But we can do hard things. I am inspired by what Louise Smith has to say about it.

“You can’t reach for anything new if your hands are full of junk.”

Louise Smith

Today’s post will apply this idea to each of the three dimensions of sustainably productivity. 

Physical 

For many years I considered myself an endurance athlete. I raced in dozens of triathlons, half marathons and marathons. I am turtle slow, but they gave me a race bib so I call what I did racing. All the miles eventually caught up with me and running became unsustainable for my body. I had a few orthopedic surgeries. Then the doctor said if I wanted to be able to hike and walk the dog in my 80s I needed to stop running now in my 40s. 

I cried right there in the office. I did not want to let go of running. Which is so ironic considering 

1 – I am not good at it. See Team Turtle comment above.

2 – For years playing basketball, running was punishment.

3 – Running hurt.

But alas, love hurts, right? All the songs tell us that. But Tina Turner reminds us: What’s Love Got to Do With It? 

Lucky for me I was in a place in life where I was making changes towards sustainable productivity. I knew that continuing to run was not something that would be productive for me long term. That surgeon knew exactly what button to push with me.

Yes – I do want to be able to get out in nature in my 80s (and beyond!). If I needed to leave my ego and my running shoes behind to do that, I was open to it. 

Mental

Speaking of Tina Turner, have you ever been in a relationship you knew had run its course. You knew it was not good for you, but you just did not seem to leave it? We may not have an extreme version like Ike in our lives. But I bet we all have Ike-light relationships we are hanging on to because it’s hard to let go. 

Do any of these sound familiar to you:

  • A friend who is always bashing her spouse and encourages stories about frustrations with your partner. 
  • A coworker you go to lunch with regularly who has to “one up” everything you say.
  • A book club where you are the only one who actually reads the book and didn’t just come to drink wine. 

Relationships can weigh heavily on our minds, drag down our spirits, and even negatively impact our physical health. After following 10,000 subjects for 12 years, a study found that compared to subjects in healthy relationships, those in negative relationships were at a greater risk for developing cardiac issues – including fatal heart attacks.

We need to let go of relationships that do not support who we are or who we want to be. This will make space for relationships that are sustainably productive. Maybe that relationship is with yourself. 

What would happen if you ate lunch alone instead of with your needy colleague? You might read, listen to music or podcasts, or just sit and eat with no distractions. What if this is the break you needed to take your afternoons by storm. Could you finally make headway on that project that has been stalled? 

What if you surround yourself with other women who cherish their partner? Sure they still have conflict in their relationships. But they have encouraging stories about how they worked through it because they had a partner who was worth it. 

Without letting go of the relationships that are not working for you, you can’t make way for the ones that will serve you and sustain you. 

Let go

Environmental

Decluttering is always popular and it seems like this quote applies most intuitively here. If you are hanging on to your literal junk, you cannot reach for anything new. 

I have a section of my closet dedicated to my business suits. I no longer wear business suits. If I am honest, I probably no longer fit into said business suits, but am unsure because it’s been 15 pounds 10 years since I tried. 

But alas I cannot let go of these suits. As I have been cleaning out closets in our home, these suits have loomed large in my conscience. They seem to be waving at me (or flipping me the bird) when I go into my closet. I seem to be given them lots of power. 

Instead of just fabric, for me they represent moments in my career where I felt strong and in flow:

  • Job interviews
  • TV segments
  • VIP presentations 
  • Community lectures

I finally took down one suit over the weekend and channeled my inner Marie Kondo. As I took it off the hanger, I thought of all these moments of flow with fondness. I had a moment of Wizard of Oz type of clarity that the suit did not give me strength and flow to deliver on these occasions. It was in me all along. I am still here, the business suit was just a witness to it. And now it is time to allow it to witness for someone else. It is time for me to reach for something new. In order to do that I need to let go of these suits. 

Now to be clear, I was still a little sad and still have about 10 more suits in the closet. But a start was made. That is all we need to do today is start. 

What do you need to break off a little piece and let go of? Is there something in your life that you are holding tight that you might need to release? What if you just loosen the grip?

3 Must Have Tools for Digital Organization

Experts estimate we will each spend 3,680 hours in our lifetime searching for misplaced items. As we spend more of our lives online, more of that time is lost on digital clutter – on our computers, phones, and tablets. I want to share with you three must have tools for digital organization that keep our house and family sustainably productive.

Long Term for Reference

Google Drive is our family’s choice for long term storage of files we need to keep for reference. These might be files we are actively using or just need to archive. Google Drive is free and can be used on Mac or PC, Android or iPhone for mobile. Here are a couple ways we have used it recently.

Collaboration

The Girl graduated high school this spring, and we wanted to send announcements. She and I created a spreadsheet on Google Drive and shared it with her mom so we could make sure friends and relatives from all four of her parents’ families were included. Google Drive makes it easy for several people to work on a document together. Bonus points because you can all be in the document at the same time, and it will tell you who else is in it and where they are. This eliminates version hell that can happen when collaborating on files.

Storage

Like many of you, we have about a zillion owners manuals. They took up about 4 folders in our filing cabinet. In order to find something, we had to sift through all 4 folders to find the manual we needed. We decided not to do a “Command Center Binder” with all of them because it is a waste of space (and ugly, in my opinion) to have a row of binders.

One evening while watching some random episode of The Office (again), I pulled out all of the manuals and searched for them online. Then I saved them to Google Drive by the title of the appliance. This helps tremendously with retrieval. When an appliance breaks, I am already annoyed. When I just need to know what the model number for a replacement part at Lowe’s Hardware is, I am already inconvenienced. This is the time to make life less of a hassle. One of my rules of organizing is to think about what will make it easier to access something as you plan for its storage and organization.

Sustainable Productivity Tip: Plan your organization and storage around retrieval, not clean up. Make it easy to find, then train yourself to put it away in that spot.

Down side

It will fill up – you only get 15 GB free. Sometimes I use Google Drive to share photos when I do volunteer photography work or am just sharing with several people who were at an event together. Each year (usually at the end of the year) I make sure to clear them out of Google Drive because I am too cheap to pay for storage. Pro tip – don’t forget to empty your digital trash, it counts against you with the free storage.

Project Work

The Pain Point

Although the tool I am going to tell you about is used in corporate America, for our family’s purpose I use the term “project work”  very loosely. But we take it very seriously. It is our food. Bixby is quite a foodie and an excellent cook. He is in charge of our meals. This was something we agreed on early in engagement. He said he would cook meals as long as when he said he wanted to go out to eat, I would not complain.

I agreed quickly before the concussion cleared up. I jest! There was no head injury, just new love.

So while he is quite a chef, he is also an absent minded professor type that hates to meal plan. So that leaves me to nag him and the kids into picking dinner for at least the next three nights, checking to see what ingredients we have, ordering groceries online, and reminding him to start making dinner. [As I write this we are still distancing due to COVID so the only time The Girl leaves her room is to pick up groceries from the curbside service so I am relieved of that chore currently.]

I could not keep track of what meals we had picked during meal planning so I tried to keep a list in the kitchen. This system quickly went by the wayside. Sometimes the paper would be lost. More often Bixby was in his office and did not want to take 20 steps to the kitchen. Sometimes I had a recipe to share and I would email it, but he has over 11,000 emails in his inbox so he could not find it. I would text it, but then 4 days would go by, and it was lost in the texts I had sent since then. This was not a sustainable system.

The Solution

So my programmer husband introduced me to Slack. The tool Silicon Valley uses to create a new digital world is what we use to organize our grub. Here are a few features:

  1. You can access Slack on a website (what I do when I am at work) or download it to your computer (what I do when I am on my laptop at home) or as an app on your phone (what I use when I bully them into meal planning around the dinner table).
  2. Slack is free and can be used on Mac or PC, Android or iPhone.
  3. You can chat, drop in links or add photos.

Screeshot of Slack in action

You can see on Thursday, June 25th at 6:20pm I shared a recipe and added a comment that we would use halibut instead of tilapia. Then Friday, June 26th at 12:31pm I reminded my people what the dinner plan was for the next few days. At the bottom where it says, “Message #dinner” is where we type messages to each other. #dinner is the Slack “channel” we have dedicated to food. We also have a channel for Sustainable Sue since Bixby does tech support for me. I do not want to mix up food and tech support.

Screenshot of Slack in action

Here you can see a photo of a less formal recipe posted to Slack. To the right of the screen you can see you can set a reminder to pop up – maybe so you know when to start cooking or as a tickler to remind you what is for dinner. You can see above that on Wednesday, June 24th I still have to remind the chef manually. Perhaps he will learn this reminder trick from this post?!

Shared Tasks

Benefits

The third tool sustaining our digital organization is the Our Groceries app. It has benefitted us in several ways with issues we were struggling with.

  1. Like many people we were forever forgetting to bring the list to the store. Since we never forget our phones, we always have the list.
  2. Bixby was forever asking me to swing by the store on my way home from work. If I was driving, it was difficult to write down what he needed me to pick up. Now he can just add it to the app.
  3. I try to get as much out of my brain as possible so I wanted to keep a running grocery list. It was not sustainable for me to have to remember that 3 days ago someone said they needed XYZ product. Especially as the kids got older and they had preferences about toiletries.
  4. Which leads me to my last major benefit of this app – it helps us teach the kids that groceries do not just magically appear.
How We Use It

All four of us have the app on our phone. No matter if the kids are at their mom’s house or out and about (during non-COVID), I can send a text asking them to add what they what by thus and such time. Then when the deadline comes, I take what is on the app and order groceries online. If they run out of an item, they can add it with specific details as soon as it runs out. No one has to remember they needed it.

This worked so well, we expanded to other lists. Here is the list of our lists.

Screenshot of Our Groceries app

Bonus points for the Our Groceries app is that Bixby has integrated Our Groceries into the Alexa and Google Home devices we have. [Yes, we have both home assistants. Jesus take the wheel.] This is really helpful if we run out of something while Bixby is cooking. He can ask the home assistant to add it to the app without having to stop what he is doing. We like to keep him focused on a single task at a time (see previous absent minded professor).

What digital clutter pain points do you struggle with? How can the tools covered here help you be more sustainably productive?

By |2020-06-29T14:27:53-04:00June 30th, 2020|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

It’s My Birthday Week – Let’s Celebrate!

No one loves to celebrate their birthday more than I do.

  • Not 1 year olds getting to taste cake for the first time.
  • Not 6 year old princesses having a pink-everything party.
  • Not 21 year olds getting to consume alcohol legally.

Happy Birthday!

Young Susan on what might have been a birthday celebration, pictured with Grandpa.

I am grateful to be alive, and I celebrate the whole month. I started this in my 20’s because when you have a job and all, it is a lot of pressure to put on one specific day. I cannot ask my vendors to avoid pulling a contract on June 20. Have you ever tried to ask someone to not rear end your car 5 minutes ago because it is your birthday? So I celebrate the whole month of June with my favorite treats and small gifts I buy for myself (garden Sasquatch anyone?!). I make sure I enjoy my birthday to fullest.

My People, on the other hand, do not. The kids are teenagers and it confounds them I exist most days – forget about remembering my birthday. If it were up to Bixby, I would tell him what to buy me, then I would accept said box from the Amazon delivery man and be on my way. Don’t laugh – that is literally what happened this year.

Me to Bixby on a Monday: I have decided what I want for my birthday. A bubbly drink at home maker thing.

Bixby: {quizzical look}

Me: Some brands I have seen are XYZ and Soda Stream.

Bixby: {leaves to go do research}

He is a man of few words, but he does love to make me happy. In 10 minutes I had an email with his analysis of each, including links to order. He was back in my office asking which I wanted.

It took me a few more days to reach a decision, but I finally picked one. Bixby immediately placed the order, and the creepy Amazon van delivered it. {Is it just me that thinks of The Handmaid’s Tale vans when you see those vans crawling around all the neighborhoods?} I was set up and in business bubbles in less than 5 minutes.

Bubbles

These are a few of my favorite things – a book, a journal, a nice pen, sunshine out the window…and BUBBLES!

There are a few reasons why this is such a great gift for where I am in my life these days.

Saving Money

I drink a lot (I mean A LOT) of carbonated water. Lacroix and plain club soda are my jam these days. The Soda Stream takes water from our fridge and turns it into a cold, bubbly treat – eliminating the need to buy Lacroix and club soda. I cannot quite bring myself to calculate the savings because that would mean admitting how much I was spending on said Lacroix and club soda.

Bonus – since grocery shopping has been wonky with the pandemic, often my grocery store has been out of both Lacroix and club soda. Having the Soda Stream operate straight from the fridge water means we never run out!

Reducing Plastic

Although “sustainable” on this blog refers to personal energy, I think I tend to be a little crunchier than the average North Carolinian. As we have already discussed, I consume A LOT of Lacroix and club soda. I was not excited about the amount of plastic that I was using. Sure we recycle, but we all should be brutally aware of how little that really does for the Earth. What if we did not consume plastic at all? Soda Stream allows me to use the same 3 bottles repeatedly. They are BPA free so I am not polluting my body by reusing plastic.

It Is Delicious

I hesitated a few days before having Bixby pull the trigger because I was worried I would not like the taste. I was specifically worried about it not being fizzy enough. I love me some fizz. But Soda Stream has a “Monster Fizz” option that we run it on, and it does NOT disappoint. It actually is more carbonated than what I was drinking before. Which leads to my last feature…

Advanced Level Crunchy

Soda Stream gets its bubbles from the CO2 cartridges. To be a little more environmentally friendly, these can be exchanged at local stores or directly with the company. In my research, I found an even better option! Now that we have confirmation that I love to make my club soda at home, we will be purchasing a CO2 tank from our local home beer brewing store and hooking it into the Soda Stream. The cost analysis in the article I found is remarkable. Bonus is my science geek spouse finally has a fun project on his Honey Do List.

It is a gift for everyone on my birthday!

PS – As much as I love to get presents, I also love to give presents. I am not great at it like my sister is, but I try hard. I am going to be opening a small shop on the website in the coming weeks. The first item that will go up will be stationery with beautiful photos and inspirational quotes. You will be the first to see when it is live so check back often!

PPS – This is not a paid endorsement. We paid for our Soda Stream. I am a fan, not a salesperson. No affiliate links.

By |2020-06-16T21:01:01-04:00June 16th, 2020|Environmental Surroundings|2 Comments

Eye of the Storm: (Re)considering What Brings Happiness

For years I told my husband that I did not need bouquets of flowers in order to bring me happiness.

“It’s a waste of money,” I said. “They will just end up dying.”

“A nice sensible potted plant is fine,” I said, “but flowers are silly and frivolous.”

I think the truth is I decided way back when that flowers would not bring happiness because then my feelings would not be hurt when I did not get them. This has nothing to do with Bixby – this goes back about 25 years. 

Young Susan

Back in the day there was a special kind of hell called “Valentine’s Day Carnation Sale” at our junior high and high school. This was a day ear marked to make sure everyone saw me loping through the halls (keep in mind I was one of the tallest PEOPLE, not just tallest GIRLS in my grade) empty handed. At least that is what it felt like.

The pretty, petite, popular girls carried armloads of red carnations, giggling about the secret admirers and boy friends who sent them flowers. I scuttled off to the gym for basketball practice, my feelings hurt and my hands empty.

awkward teenager
Me in 7th grade. Yes the photo quality is bad, but the reality was not much better.

So I boarded up my heart and decided I did not want flowers. If I did not want them, then it was me who got what I wanted when I did not receive any. Or so I told myself. Sometimes we make up weird truths to not have hurt feelings, instead of just saying our feelings are hurt. 

Today Susan

I’d rather be a hypocrite than the same person for 20 years. 

Adam Yauch, Beastie Boys

I am not sure when I turned the corner to want flowers. Definitely after I was married. For sure when I was growing joy in my own garden. 

vase of flowers is happiness

Everything in this vase came from my own garden. One of my favorite times in the garden is the end of a few hours of work. There is always a sense of accomplishment:

  • Patch of weeds cleared out
  • Compost spread onto growing veggies 
  • Newly planted flowers bringing color to a blank area
  • Backache that says I exerted an effort

This is when I go around with my scissors or clippers and take a small cutting of a bunch of random things. Then I bring them in and arrange them. At least arrange them like a PE major. I have seen gorgeous arrangements in garden centers by the pros, but I love mine because they are from my clumsy paws. 

Better yet, someone gave me everything in the above photo.

  • Pampas grass from a neighbor
  • Iris from a friend thinning them out
  • Euphorbia that Ellen Ashley gave me after helping in her gorgeous garden

The cheapo in my is giddy because they were free, of course. But there is another layer. There is always another layer if you sit quietly enough. This arrangement has a story. Even the vase, which I picked up for only 50 cents. This vase is from Reconsidered Goods, a non-profit creative reuse center in Greensboro. 

One of the three pillars of sustainable productivity is having a physical environment that works with you and brings you joy. 

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris

It turns out I love having bouquets of flowers in my home. I love it even more when these flowers come from my garden. Embracing what is true has helped me to be able to improve my physical environment. This is all part of the process of creating a life that does not need to be escaped.

Look around the space you are sitting in right now. What do you love and would benefit to having more of? Could you throw out or donate something? What is keeping you from taking action on either of these things?

By |2020-06-17T17:43:28-04:00May 26th, 2020|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

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