Don't be a 'digital hoarder'

Don't be a 'digital hoarder'

Saturday was an organized day. Or at least it started out that way.

We’d recently cleared away the debris from the horizontal surfaces around the house in anticipation of out-of-town guests. The time was ripe to take the next step: get rid of the stuff that was shoved into the garage as a result.

Saturday was the quarterly electronics recycling collection at Parkland College — an event I usually remember the day AFTER it’s held. So after Blog Photodropping off one child for a cross-country meet and another for a band competition, I gathered up the pile of old cords, printer parts, keyboards and an old modem that I’d refused to throw in the trash and headed out to Parkland.

The plan was to drop off the recycling, stop at Best Buy to recycle some batteries, take another load of donations to charity and head home for more organizing before picking up my daughter at noon. I was feeling very together.

Forty-five minutes later I was still sitting in the line of cars at Parkland, trying to figure out whether the carbon dioxide emitted from the hundreds of cars in line offset the environmental good we were doing through our recycling efforts.

When I finally got to what I thought was the front of the line, I realized they were Blog Photosimply diverting cars to a parking lot, where the line snaked back and forth for another 45 minutes.

With my gas tank nearing “E,” I flagged down the volunteer. “Do you have a TV?” she asked. Luckily I didn’t, so I could take a short-cut to the non-television dropoff. She also gave me a guide to places that accept electronic components year-round.

Ten minutes later I was free and clear, unlike the suckers with all the big-screens.

I’ll save my rant about our disposable society for another day. But I’d run out of time for my other dropoffs.

I related my tale to a woman who has spent her life helping other people get organized, Central Illinois native Deniece Schofield, who is hosting a workshop in Urbana two weeks from today.

I complained that it seems like it’s always two steps forward, one step back — or is it the other way around?

“You’re absolutely right,” she said.

Schofield was an organizer before it was an industry, and has written several books on the topic.
Bur she wasn’t born that way. Schofield “hit bottom” after she had her third child in five years. “At that point I couldn’t keep up my bad habits.”

There was no “Real Simple” magazine then, no HGTV shows or blogs on organizing and decluttering. She just figured things out through trial and error. She started by making a list of all the nagging tasks that swirled in her head every time she tried to sleep — “put the pressure on the paper,” she said.

Then she tackled them one at a time — setting aside those never-ending piles of laundry for certain days, for instance; then she didn’t have to think about it the other days.

If something didn’t work, she tried something else until she hit on a solution. Once her list was finished, “it kind of turned into a whole system for organizing the house and managing the family. That’s all I wanted.”

That was back in 1982, and it led to a career for Schofield teaching others how to organize.

Today there are endless tools to help, from websites to closet systems to entire stores of organizing products — which can lead to their own clutter issues, Schofield said.

“If you want to organize your hot dogs, you can buy a hot dog organizer,” she said. “People think they need it, or just know it might come in handy someday,” but then never use it.

While basic organizing principles haven’t changed from 30 years ago, there’s a whole new digital world to apply them to. We have email to manage, thousands of digital photos to find a home for, and electronic components to recycle.

“Digital hoarding” is now a thing.

“You can hoard stuff digitally and nobody knows. When you’re a physical hoarder and people can’t get in the front door, they can see it,” Schofield said.

On the flip side, it’s easier to go paperless, with Google calendar and countless apps to organize photos or anything else — though Schofield said she never used to buy reams of paper the way she does now for her printer.

“Digitizing has helped a lot of people. And for a lot of people it’s been a conundrum,” trying to decide which pictures or paper to keep and which to digitize, she said.

Most women these days hold down a job, and people are just busier with kids’ activities or the frenetic pace of life, said “Simple Solutions” organizer Teri Pfau of Bement.'

"They don’t have a good flow of paper work and things inside of their home, or a good system to keep things organized,” said Pfau, who has helped clients organize or downsize for about 15 years.
That’s why the industry has boomed, Schofield said.

“There’s just so much now. It’s sensory overload, so many things you can do and buy, and so many demands on your time,” she said. “Everything’s just a breakneck pace with our lives today. Everything is instant. Everything’s got to be right now.”

In her presentation, Schofield talks about “finding more space without throwing everything away,” organizing things as they come into your house, managing time and getting rid of all those floating pieces of paper.

Schofield is scheduled to appear from 10 to noon and from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Hampton Inn and Suites, 1200 W. University Ave., U. The cost is $25 at the door; no reservations are required. For information, call 800-835-8463.


Organizing tips:


Professional organizers Deniece Schofield and Teri Pfau have some tips for managing your 20,000 photos and other digital clutter:
— Decide where the final “resting point” will be. Most people don’t like to stand around a computer or phone to look at pictures, Schofield says.
— Work the delete button. Ask yourself: How hard would it be to replace this information? With so much online, it’s usually not that hard, she says.
— As with physical possessions, keep the things that are the most meaningful or historical, or have long-term or sentimental value. That photo of your delicious brunch might have been a great conversation piece, but two months later no one cares.
— If you have boxes of photos stacked up in your house, use your scanner or a free phone app like Shoebox from to upload them and store them on a digital site like Flickr or Dropbox.
— For those old components: Check out to find stores near you that will take old computer parts, old TVs, batteries, mattresses — you name it, Schofield says. Champaign County also maintains a recycling website.
And here's some old-school advice from Pfau and Schofield for organizing your life:
1. Involve everyone in your family. Consider how your family space should be used, what items should be in the space, how the family functions in the space, and then evaluate what is working and what is not, Pfau says. If a child drops everything at the door when they get home, try placing baskets near the door with their name on it so they can drop their shoes and gloves. Then hang hooks for coats and backpacks.
2. Plan. Do your weeks fly by completely in chaos, forgetting appointments, missing kids’ practices, late night homework, or running to the store for a last-minute gift? Take time each weekend to plan out your upcoming week of activities, appointments, project deadlines, errands and phone calls, Pfau says. 
3. Make Lists. Create lists of daily or weekly things you and your family need to do, places to go, things to buy, people to call and errands to run, Pfau says. Create weekly grocery store lists and menus to plan meals. Teach your kids to use lists and how to add to your lists - like when the milk runs out.
4. DeClutter. Everyone in the family should take some time once a week to organize their room, a closet, a toy room, etc., Pfau says. Keep a donation box in a location that everyone is aware of, so they can put anything in this box that is no longer needed, loved or used. Once a week or once a month, make a trip to donate the items collected.
5. Stop perfectionism: Even if you don't have time to wash all the windows, you might have time to wash one, Schofield says. Large blocks of time are hard to come by; learn to be happy to accomplishing things in incremental bits of time.
6. A home for everything. Every item in your possession should have a home, Pfau says. After you use it, put it back where it belongs. Store your items where you use them so it's convenient to put them away.
7. If you feel overwhelmed, try the tidbit method. Instead of one room at a time, tackle one drawer or corner at a time, Schofield says.
8. Learn to say NO: Families today are busy filling their days with activities and commitments. Teach your family to say “no” by being a role model, Pfau says. Do not overbook your days with multiple activities, projects and commitments. Make time to be home as a family.
Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette.Leave a comment below, or contact her at, (217) 351-5226, or via Twitter @jawurth.



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rsp wrote on October 14, 2015 at 7:10 pm

When my kids were young I started teaching about giving to others by having them go through their toys for any they didn't use or want. We would do this before Christmas and also remove broken things while we were at it. Everything in good shape we cleaned up, made sure we had all parts and donated. Some years over half the toys in the house went and they were always excited about the kids who were going to get the toys. It was so much easier to go through them before Christmas than after all the gifts from their grandparents and aunt. The kids had a better idea of what they liked and used.