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CALM Cull, Ask, Locate, Maintain

Our last blog post was about how to make wiser decisions by thinking about what to consider when choosing. Fortunately, for most of us, the vast majority of decisions we make aren’t matters of life or death.

Yet the results of even simple daily choices affect the quality of life, and making decisions is harder for some people than others, a lot harder.

At the core of everything I have accomplished with clients over the last 22 years as an organizer and coach is to help them figure out what and who serves their best interests and what (or who) doesn’t.

When I work with a client, the focus of our time together may be how to arrange their paper information, process mail and pay bills, assess ways to support a struggling employee, or organize a plan and track a project.

But the underlying process has always been about making choices. Pay this, not that. Organize the paper this way and create a file for that email. We find ways to understand and choose how to communicate with an employee to do their best for the company and themselves. Sometimes the focus is choosing what to start or stop doing to develop a process that saves time and money.

Everyone wants to find ways to reduce the stress that comes from being overwhelmed with too much to do and too many decisions to make. Ironically, people are working hard to calm down.

I created this simple method to use for less complicated choices that affect your time and surroundings, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.


Cull What doesn’t serve you. (With apologies to Marie Kondo, not everything in your life “sparks joy.”)

Ask Where and when you will use this “thing?” Where can you fit this project on your calendar? Where are the resources that can help you?

Locate Your answers will tell you how to arrange things, items, or projects in places that are logical to you.

Maintain Repeating this process consistently maintains your surroundings, time, and even relationships without as much struggle.

During a recent Understanding Chronic Disorganization class, someone called out, “What does cull mean?”

“It’s similar to sort but stronger,” I told the class.

“Sorting items, and even time and tasks, means putting similar things together in groups, like sorting socks into pairs.

Sorting implies that you’re choosing what to keep after you’ve categorized them into groups."

Culling is going one step further by separating what’s valuable to you from what’s not as important. It’s critical because whether we’re talking about time, possessions, or obligations, it lightens your load,” I added.

Oddly, the word comes from an old French form of cuiler, meaning to collect. Or maybe that does make sense since you must collect things before you can cull them.

The first step to organize anything is to ask what needs to happen next and where something should be logically located. It’s not enough to just name it, which is where most people stop.

Once you’ve gathered your options, in this case, your socks, the next task is to sort them into categories — solid blue with bananas, green with pears, and repeating penguins. Or maybe you prefer to ignore the patterns and just separate your high-top socks from ankle height. There’s no right or wrong answer, but a decision has to be made to begin the culling process.

The CALM process works for organizing furniture, tasks, appointments. It can even improve your relationships when you choose how to CALMly arrange your time for maximum attention to those you care about.

Let’s organize your day together, CALMly.

You might feel swamped when thinking about all the tasks, emails, paper mail, appointments, and people waiting to spend time with you.

CALM down.

CALM your tasks

  • Start by collecting and gathering all your tasks in an easy to read/understand format.

  • Cull them by deciding that you can drop a few off your list (truly, you can do this).

  • Consider the due dates of each one and where you will work on them. You can then locate them logically according to those criteria. For example, put your computer tasks on your calendar or another list together on a (quiet) day when you can focus on them at your desk.

CALM your inbox

  • Organize your email inbox by culling ads, or things you know you’d like to read but probably won’t. (Tip: listen to calming (to you) music while organizing. It helps the process go by faster and prevents agitation.)

  • Prioritize what’s left, choosing to flag or store them in a file location based on a project or by person and whether it’s a reference or if a response is needed.

CALM your paper piles

  • Mail can be easily culled at the door when you have a recycling bag nearby.

  • Ask what’s left in the pile and what you need to do with it later.

  • Place the bills you want to pay near your checkbook. (Assuming, of course, you’re on a paper system. Otherwise, they go near your computer.)

  • Put items to read near your comfy chair.

  • Maintain your areas by culling the reading pile regularly.

CALM your relationships

  • Ask yourself how you feel about a specific relationship. Someone once told me he uses the “parking lot” test to decide if he can continue to work with a client. He notices how he feels when he sees them pull into his parking lot. If he has a less than positive response, he considers culling his customer list. This same exercise can work for any person in your orbit.

  • Locate (distribute) time logically in your calendar so you can wholeheartedly enjoy the relationship time without feeling like you need to attend to something else.

  • Relationships are maintained by good quality attention. When we organize our time CALMly, we can then focus fully on our time together.

Having a simple process like CALM helps you decide what’s important to you and organizes your time and surroundings to help you live the life you want.

Without CALM, our days are disorganized and more stressful. Even dressing for the day is a hassle when you dig through a laundry basket of socks you don’t want to wear or end up running to your third-floor bedroom because you forgot to bring them downstairs.

CALM your socks

  • Gather and cull your clean socks when you have time to spend on the task. No, it is not a waste of time to sort your socks.

  • Ask yourself where the most logical storage location is for you.

  • Enjoy the calm that comes from knowing that when you’re getting ready for work, your socks will be waiting in the kitchen drawer for you, right where you’ll be when you are ready to put on your shoes and leave the house. (We did say locate logically!)

Your socks, your choices, your life.

Choose CALMly, choose wisely.


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